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  • It's time for Thousand Roads' yearly one-shot contest! This year we're focusing on the theme of partnership between humans and Pokémon. You have all February to craft an entry--see more details here!

Dragonfree

Ace Trainer
Staff
Location
Iceland
Pronouns
she/her/hers
Partners
  1. butterfree
I am here again, having read chapter one!

God, your prose is beautiful; I kept wanting to highlight bits. I think you did a fascinating job of characterization here: Vaselva genuinely loving Hilda but doing so because other people took her away from her mother and presented her with a purpose they constructed that she was too young to treat very critically; Hilda just very human, caring but not really understanding, a talker but not so much a listener; N having come to this conclusion after wishing otherwise. The two humans talk past each other, Hilda not really understanding N wanting to hear from Vaselva herself, Vaselva presenting this naïve POV that fails to move him, even though ultimately it is true that here, now, she does want to stay with Hilda, and would be left with nothing if they were separated. The whole thing is just complicated and sad.

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.
Really good nugget of characterization, of Hilda caring but bottling up her feelings.

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.
Strange phrasing: she's saying she'll not let him do it, but then Vaselva asserts that it's too late to let him, which is the opposite of what she wants to do.

I enjoy that Vaselva really does regard Hilda as someone she needs to protect and care for.

“Relic Castle. This isn’t the first time I’ve been up here, but I’ve never come this far underground. Do you know the legends of this amphitheater, Hilda?” he asks. He’s almost conversational about it, almost pleasant, but you sense thorns beneath the roses.

Something’s changed since you last saw him. He never had thorns before.
Ooh, this is very good and intriguing, in a story that runs backwards. Instead of foreshadowing what's coming, you can hint at things that have changed, that we have yet to see.

He never considered what would happen if he failed, never once doubted that on his quest he could fall short
Some strange phrasing again: if he never doubted that he could fall short on his quest, then he always expected he might fail, whereas everything else suggests you're saying the exact opposite.

Most humans make backup plans, contingencies. Hilda does. That’s why she’s been such a successful trainer; she has so many plans in motion at any given moment that even if she fails, she’s victorious.
Also a really good, vivid nugget of characterization, and perhaps of what advantage humans have over Pokémon here.

“Reshiram will put things back to how they were,” he says at last. “Before humans made pokémon suffer, they used to live happily, separately. We’ll bring that back. Split them apart. Make sure pokémon never get hurt by humans again.”

Split them apart. You wonder if he even knows what it means to be taken from someone you love.
Oof. Yeah, a whole lot of Pokémon will suffer as a result of N's actions here, too, and that's one thing he doesn't quite seem willing to consider.

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.
Chilling for her to think of it this way, as if humans calling the shots and Pokémon obeying is just a natural order, and anyone in opposition to those predefined roles is wrong.

But you can’t help but pity Hilda, who was so good at leading that she never learned to listen. She latches on to the last word of the sentence and nothing else. “Make them? That’s draconic.”
Latching on to one tiny part of someone's argument is an extremely human thing to do and hits hard.

“It’s not your fault, Hilda. This world was made for you, but you didn’t make it. And it’s not your fault either, Vaselva.” You think at first he misspoke, but he looks directly at you.
The fact Vaselva is so used to nobody addressing her or being interested in what she thinks about anything, oof.

{N, this isn’t what you want. Humans have been cruel to us before, but pokémon and humans are meant to live alongside one another, and you can’t change that! Look at Hilda and me now. If you seek to separate us you are no better than Ghetsis. And.} You freeze. Grateful, at the very least, that only N can hear your words. Hilda would surely withdraw you if she heard what’s about to slip from your mouth. {I’m sorry for what happened to him. I know you’re upset by that.}
Similarly extremely alarming that Vaselva believes Hilda would withdraw her if she realized Vaselva was... expressing sympathy.

“I wasn’t,” N says softly, “talking to you.”
A good line, and telling that it continues to not occur to Hilda that N is talking to Vaselva, but the dialogue tag split happening there feels awkward - makes me hear it as if he's pausing there, in a weird place in the sentence.

Almost sounds sad, if you could believe that a human like him would pity a creature like you.
O O F please save Vaselva

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.

“Vaselva, Leaf Blade!”

Your mother, your siblings, your sunny days. You lost them all. All you have is Hilda now.

Hypothetically. What would happen if you disobeyed?

No. You already know your answer to that. This is why you cannot deal in hypotheticals.

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.
This is just heartbreaking.

For me this all raises a whole lot of questions. Does Hilda not understand that her Pokémon are sapient? Well, probably she does, based on the bit where she asks what Vaselva is telling N - that implies she knows she's able to tell him things in some meaningful way. So why is she not interested in what they want and what they have to say? How have we ended up here, with Vaselva convinced Hilda would recall her for expressing anything vaguely resembling dissent, that humans are supposed to lead and Pokémon are supposed to obey and that's just the way it is and anyone who doesn't align with that is bad at being a human/Pokémon, that humans caring what Pokémon think or sympathizing with them is unthinkable? Hilda sounds like she earnestly believes Pokémon and humans should be able to live in peace, as partners, without exploitation; does she seriously not see the hypocrisy here? Why does she not care? Does nobody in this world care except N? Really?

(Which, to be fair, is a problem that I had with the writing of the Gen V games themselves; it was all a bunch of humans insisting everything is fine because they say so, with barely anyone appearing to think the Pokémon's opinion on the matter was at all relevant, and it was weird and uncomfortable. I regarded that as simply poor writing failing to make the point they were trying to, whereas you're running with it and taking it seriously, which is an entirely legit thing to do. But it does leave me with some of the same frustrations that I had with the games doing it: okay, but seriously, why doesn't anyone want to ask the Pokémon? Why do all the Pokémon apparently just put up with this? Are they all taken from their mothers and indoctrinated so young they accept it without question, and does nobody think that's an obviously dodgy thing to do?)

Obviously I'm only a prologue and a single chapter in and my impression is you'll be exploring this stuff more as it goes on! So that's not a criticism per se, just a what-I'm-thinking-as-I-read thing.

This is a really compelling read so far; will definitely be continuing, whenever I get around to it. You really get into the characters' heads and let things be messy and convey it in a gorgeous, understated way. I'm into that.
 

MidnightMutetation

Reviewing 'til I drop~
Location
Singapore
Pronouns
Her/She
(Oh good lord I'm so sorry this is so late)

Hello, hello Kint! I'm here with a review, and as a quick preface, here is the format I normally use: specific thoughts > general thoughts > SPaG mistakes, if any. If you aren't really fond of this format, let me know and I'll be happy to switch to a more traditional review style in the next review 8D

(Due to the length of the first chapter, I'm combining the first two chapters.)

With that out of the way, I'll get into it!


-/ First thing I read in this story is a klinklang basically dismembered and strewn across the ground. Surely that means good things for what follows this! 8D

-/ Oof, the rest of the pokemon (even the legendary!) don't look too good either, with the exception of the serperior and her trainer. This Chapter 1 is definitely starting out heavier than I'm personally used to... But damn, is it entertaining to read!

-/ I will preface this by saying that I've only ever read PMD fics when it comes to pokemon fanfiction, so while this is my first time ever reading from the perspective of a canon mainline character, I somehow already feel like I'm being spoiled by having this as my first experience ; )

-/ [Natural Harmonious Gropius] ... I love N, I really do, but I somehow forgot how awful his real name is, ha ha. But "ha ha grope" jabs aside, I love this set-up. Short (compared to the following chapters) and sweet, all the while providing a sliver of insight in N's head. And something I want to quickly mention before moving on to the next chapter: I normally dislike second person view a lot. But somehow, second person view brought me a lot *closer* to the story instead of further, so I guess it'll be an interesting experience starting from now.

-/ Oh, this is from the serperior's perspective? Sweet! 8D
Pff, and I love that N's referred to as the "leaf-haired one" because grass-type. Tiny things like this are part of what makes a story so entertaining to read.

-/ Amara? I hope she's not a character from the mainline games, I'm terrible at remembering them

-/ [He'd make a much better pokemon.] Ouch. Vaselva probably didn't mean this as an insult, but it feels like one. Stings like one, too D8

-/ [He would much rather take commands than give them.] Reading this statement hurt, just because I remember how he's basically acting at Ghetsis' puppet in the game and presumably in this story too.

-/ putting aside the fact that I nearly thought it was Vaselva being pregnant and freaked at the thought of a pregnant pokemon fighting Her thoughts are really fascinating. Again, it might be just because I'm just not used to reading a non-PMD fic, but seeing what I used to regard as a simple mass of pixels I couldn't interact with in the games actually have form her own opinions on both friend and foe, as well as have a small glimpse of her time before Hilda, is just *so* fascinating.

This whole paragraoh probably sounds a little bad, but I swear it's a compliment xD

-/ One thing I want to note: when Vaselva called N's words hypnotic, it really does read as sounding hypnotic instead of being called hypnotic without actually being so, if you know what I mean. A lot of fics fall into that pitfall, which is why I'm happy to see that this doesn't do the same.

-/ I get that it's basically the whole point of the feud between N and Hilda, I still have to say that I love the clear contrast between them. I'll expand on it a little more later.

-/ Oh jeez, these pokemon were given to human children as children themselves? Yeah, at least Vaselva was excited about it, but that somehow makes it worse...

-/ Wait, Vaselva has to fight Reshiram? I feel like this is really, really cruel for the grass-type, but hey, stakes are sky high right now. What can a person do?

-/ Vaselva... Vaselva doesn't even remember the name her own mother gave her? And her thoughts, before going to battle a goddamn *legendary*, is not Hilda, but her own mom? Aaaaaaa stop making me feel things at the climax of the chapter!

-/ All she has left is Hilda. Normally, this sentiment coming from a trainer's pokemon would be a sweet one, but in this case, it just comes across as disturbing. Even Stockholm Syndrome-y, like an earlier review mentioned.


And that's it for the first two chapters! Where to start... First, I really loved it. As far as story and prose goes, I don't really have any nitpicks about it. Everything just went together like bread and butter. Like I mentioned earlier, the second person view somehow makes the stakes here feel a lot more personal. Not just that, but the decision to have the chapter's point of view be from Vaselva's eyes is, in my opinion, a good choice. Just because she's arguably someone with just as much insight to the situation as the two humans present, given she's been with Hilda since the start of her journey, and yet she's able to be relatively unbiased. Sure, she's obviously still on Hilda's side, but she's able to see the flaws with the *both* of them, and... I dunno, you could've easily have Vaselva be completely on her trainer's side, but you didn't, and I just really liked it! At the very least, it provided a lot of interesting insight on how N and Hilda operate, as well as some interesting backstory from Vaselva that tied into her current situation rather neatly.

The environment was beautifully described, too. While it did kind of peter off nearer to the end, it did its job to set up the scene right from the start: a devastated battlefield between opposing truths and ideals. And even when it did start to peter away, excellent dialogue more than made up for it. I won't start rambling about it, since others have already dug into it deeper than I could hope to, so I'll just say that it was excellently done in my opinion. Kept my attention all throughout, and this is coming from someone who has trouble staying focused for even a paragraph of text.

I couldn't spot any SPaG mistakes to speak of, so I'll end the review here. I know you've gotten a lot more insightful reviews from others, so I hope you don't mind that this is pretty much me gushing over the first two chapters, ha ha. Let me know if you're alright with this reviewing style, and until I can drop another review, please keep up the great work!
 

Dragonfree

Ace Trainer
Staff
Location
Iceland
Pronouns
she/her/hers
Partners
  1. butterfree
Hoo, boy, chapter two. This was something.

I thought you picked a fun choice of POV with a camera drone Rotom, and the fight was intense! Everything continues to be beautifully written. Everyone once again completely fails to meaningfully address the opposing point of view, as people do.

Ghetsis and Alder are both terrible, but as far as I'm concerned Ghetsis is not only uniquely loathsome, he constantly undermines his own points, and overall fails to make any coherent argument for his position. The grain or two of an actual point that he has in here are not actually supporting the point he thinks he's making, and he entirely sidesteps the really meaningful moral questions at hand. I spent most of the chapter just internally frothing at the mouth at him. Ghetsis for Worst Person Ever Born 2k20. It was entertaining to read, but I have to say I felt it undermined what you'd built up a bit for me - I loved the nuance in chapter 1, where the situation was complicated and people were people and little hints suggested things weren't right, but it feels like there's a lot less of that here and a lot more Ghetsis just being terrible and dishonest, forgoing the difficult questions in favor of meaningless rhetorical games, and I thought some of the worldbuilding implications here were strange and/or confusing. I'm going to just get to quote reactions so you can watch me slowly dissolve into a loud Ghetsis-hating puddle before I summarize the issues I had with it better. I'm still enjoying the story overall, though, and looking forward to what you do in later chapters which I'm assuming will be a bit quieter and more introspective again compared to the bombast and carnage here.

(This got pretty long and ranty and I got very mad at Ghetsis. Edited for tone 9/19, I was probably too grumpy at 4AM after all this Ghetsis and I'm sorry)

Alder always throws a little high, but you know that, so—you’re spot-on with setting the shot composition.
Tricky things, dark types. Always hiding, always with the illusions. And the dark bits don’t show up well without careful attention to the exposure.
Some nice little moments, showing Wave's experience as a 'cameramon' - gave it a lot of flavor and made them convincing.

“This is the end, Alder. Acknowledge me as champion,” the challenger says calmly, quietly. It barely picks up on your microphones, so you tilt in closer. His voice reminds you of the way liepard walk through gravel without disturbing a single rock. “Acknowledge that I have won, that pokémon battling is archaic and outdated, and that humans can no longer be permitted to sacrifice their companions to this bloodsport.” You can’t see both eyes from this angle, but there’s a steely glint in one of them, enough to give you pause.
That's quite a leap there, Ghetsis, that just because you win a battle you'll have somehow proven your opinion on Pokémon battling right.

Ever the optimist, even with his back against the wall, Alder speaks loudly and clearly. Which is good; panning back and forth across a scene like this would be unprofessional, and you’d probably get told off for giving viewers vertigo. “Bloodsport? Stop being so dramatic. Pokémon like battling. It helps them become strong. You’ll never change that.”

“I’ll change it. When I’m Champion that’ll be my first command.”
I know you said to Chibi that he doesn't mean he'll change that Pokémon like battling, but the way this is phrased absolutely makes it sound that way, going from "You'll never change that." to "I'll change it." (Love how Ghetsis doesn't concern himself at all with whether it's true that Pokémon like battling.)

Maybe announcers don’t get it, maybe they’ll cut away from this to a jingle for casteliacones, but you understand perfectly why at least either side would be stalling for time.
This sentence struck me as a bit funny - "at least either side"? I'm not sure what "at least" is meant to be modifying in the sentence, but it looks like it's modifying "either side", which is nonsensical. Probably better without it.

Alder’s scarred forearms emerge from beneath his poncho, fold across his chest. He’s mimicking his volcarona now: perfectly still, coiled up like a spring. “Even if I fall, the League will not listen.” For the first time in their entire fight, Alder’s voice drops until it’s low, deadly, quiet. “You think centuries of tradition will be uprooted over the results of one battle? Defeat me here and you prove nothing except that you raised stronger pokémon.”

“So if I lose, it’s because I didn’t train my pokémon well enough, and that your superior ideals allowed you to vanquish me. And if I win, I prove true that training pokémon makes them stronger, and me as well.”
Alder never actually said either of those two things; he said "If you win, all you prove is you raised your Pokémon well" (nothing about this proving any point about the validity of Pokémon training in general, and also nothing about what it would mean if Ghetsis loses).

I will never permit Unova to follow someone as extreme as you.
Alder trying hard to out-dick Ghetsis.

“You think what we’re doing is safe?” He gestures to the field of fire around them, where patches of flames still burn impotently amongst the rubble.

“I knew the risk, and so did you. Our pokémon weren’t going to get hurt.”

“If they did?”

“They didn’t. I’m not here for imagining,” Alder growls. “Now stop stalling and fight me.”
Alder insisting the Pokémon would never have gotten hurt (by which I assume he means get seriously hurt, as in in a way that would qualify as making it "unsafe" - Ghetsis seems to interpret it that way too), and then responding "They didn't" to this perfectly obvious hypothetical, makes it sound like the League never has Pokémon get seriously injured and he just has no answer to what would happen if they did, so he just gets flustered and defensive and acts like it's ridiculous and would never happen and the possibility can be dismissed out of hand. But the chapter then goes on to make abundantly clear that this is not remotely the case, so I don't know what Alder is supposed to be on about here - why doesn't he bring up the provisions that are in place for excessive force? I felt this exchange implied a particular thing about the world, only for that impression to be wildly contradicted later.

He turns so he’s not just a side profile of green hair, but so he’s looking you straight in the lens, and suddenly he’s seeing straight through those layers of mirrors and glass and straight into your core. One side of his mouth twists into a smile, and when Ghetsis speaks, his words are for his hydreigon, for you, for everyone watching.

“Take off its wings.”
Ghetsis, absolutely insisting that Pokémon battling is horrible and brutal, while himself being the one to order literally all the actual brutality happening here. Nice. I'm impressed he thinks this is going to prove anything to anyone, other than that he's an evil dick.

However. If Hydreigon can just do that with zero fuss, Volcarona totally defenseless against it, Alder not even attempting an order in response (nor Volcarona attempting any defense on its own)... why is he not just recalling Volcarona as soon as he hears this? Or, at least, as soon as it's abundantly clear Hydreigon is about to leave it unable to battle either way? You have a bunch of time passing here, make the act seem to take time to carry out, stop for Alder staring at it, and later you make a point of Volcarona and all of Alder's other Pokémon still just lying strewn around the battlefield... all I can think is why on earth hasn't he recalled them? Even if Alder is just a total callous dick who gives zero fucks about his Pokémon as people, surely it should at least register that hey, if he lets Volcarona get mutilated that's also a serious personal inconvenience for him, as a trainer who wants to use Volcarona? If there were any indication that Alder was actually hoping to accomplish something by keeping it out, that'd be one thing, but as it is I just can't make any sense of his decision to not recall them. It kind of feels like it's just there to artificially make the outcome more brutal than it has any actual reason to be, to make Ghetsis's point look better than it actually is.

Clearly any decent or sensible trainer would just recall here, and Alder just standing there not doing so is honestly more of an indictment of him than of the system. Recalling doesn't mean Pokémon can't get seriously hurt before the trainer can do anything about it, of course, but it should mean in most any case they can get medical care "immediately", rather than lying there bleeding on the battlefield.

Maybe we're going to learn in a later chapter that somehow there was something going on here that suppressed Pokéballs or something, prevented Alder from recalling his Pokémon - but if that's the case, I'd expect that to be a major plot point in this chapter, with Alder trying to recall, Markus commenting on how if only recalling worked, Wave remarking on it as he watches the mutilations - not everyone just treating it like this is normal, somehow.

In front of you, not on the radio signals lancing around you, someone is bellowing in rage. They have to be close, since the feedback loop is transforming into a high-pitched squeal on your end, and when you swivel around and focus, there’s Alder staring at the volcarona limp on the ground, his face twisted open into a wordless scream.
seriously Alder WHY HAVE YOU NOT JUST RECALLED IT IT'S ALREADY FAINTED

But aside from that, I do like how Wave's not even aware who it is that's screaming.

“Very bad. Bad, Zahhak,” Ghetsis admonishes. He points his cane lazily towards the hydreigon. “Very naughty. Bad pokémon. You know better.” He looks back at Alder and shrugs. “That’s a yellow card, right?” he asks politely.

“A yellow card?”

“For excessive force. How was I to know that that was going to hurt your pokémon?”
Okay, so, the cards. Later you explain that you can get away with three yellow cards and one red per match. If something of this caliber (we learn towards the end that Volcarona will never battle again) is actually a yellow card offense, that's kind of completely bonkers and I don't buy it - again, even if we assume literally everyone in this world is a horrible person and doesn't care a whiff whether a Pokémon lives or dies, that would mean in any given battle a trainer can expect to lose up to four of their Pokémon permanently, if the opposing trainer chooses to be a dick! That's, like, years of their time just gone in an instant. I don't think there's any universe where people would consider that acceptable rules for a sport.

So, I'm going to assume that Ghetsis is just lying through his teeth here about this only being worth a yellow card, especially what with his whole spiel about how how was he even supposed to know anything bad would happen - but if he is, that defeats his entire point! If he's actually flagrantly breaking the rules and would have been thoroughly disqualified right now if he weren't literally holding the referee hostage - then literally what does he think he is proving with this? Who is supposed to be convinced of what here, other than that Ghetsis is an evil dick? This is like an Olympic runner suddenly punching out all their competitors on the track and then acting as if this demonstrates some inherent fault in the Olympics.

He may be trying to say that if unintentional this would only be a yellow card, even if he'd normally be disqualified for doing it intentionally. But - first of all, no, I don't buy that that's only a yellow card either, not when it's caused a permanent debilitating injury; and second of all, then he's not making any kind of proper point with this at all, if his problem is with the possibility of accidents. Serious accidents can happen in literally any physical sport, or essentially any human activity whatsoever, but people accept sufficiently small risks all the time. Sure, it's extremely possible to break your leg skiing, but that doesn't mean skiing is bad or that people can't genuinely in their right minds want and choose to ski! Trying to prove a point that skiing is dangerous by going around deliberately smashing skiers' legs isn't proving anything at all - they don't accept the risk because they don't realize it's possible, they accept the risk because it probably won't happen and that risk is worth it to them.

(Of course, that's assuming the Pokémon do genuinely choose to participate in battling, which is an entire other can of worms that I gather you will be opening later, and I look forward to it! But Ghetsis has not done so and has given no indication that he gives a shit if they do. If the Pokémon really are mostly unwilling and he knows it - then what the hell is any of this other stuff for, that's literally all you need to establish! Forcing people to participate in sports they don't want to for others' amusement is wrong even if they're not painful or particularly dangerous!)

Later he tries to make this point better by talking about how common excessive force is (which is relevant!), but none of this has anything to do with that whatsoever. Deliberately maiming people doesn't say anything about how often that happens accidentally. All he's accomplishing here is publicly murdering some of the people he claims to be fighting for in a way that doesn't support his point whatsoever, and has definitely turned people against his cause, by virtue of how shockingly most people don't particularly like unrepentant murderers. Well done, Ghetsis, you absolute cretin.

[“Wave, shut the broadcast.”]

Markus’s voice, blaring directly to your onboard comms, is a relief. It’s something you can latch on to. You scramble for something to get him what he wants, but—
What do you mean, you scramble for something to get him what he wants - what he wants is shutting down the broadcast? Unless that's not meant to be him and this line is just confusing? It occurs to me that maybe the idea is Wave didn't register what Markus was saying at all, but then it seems kind of incongruous to show the sentence there anyway. Either way I think it's a bit hard to tell what's happening here.

“Zahhak, again? We’ll have to talk. Two cards in one match? That’s only happened fifteen times in League history.” Ghetsis doesn’t smile. He makes a show of looking at his empty hands instead. “But no one’s even given me my first card yet! How could I possibly know that this match is too violent if no one tells me?”
Again, he's literally holding the referee hostage; he's undermining his own point so hard by going out of his way to point out that somebody should have disciplined him already under normal circumstances. Why is he doing this? (Okay, maybe it's just that he is obviously meant to be a dick, and he cares less about the cause than about lording his power over everyone. But good God. Ghetsis, you absolute nincompoop. You horrid fuckwaffle. You are the worst.)

Disregarding that, I'm happy to see him actually start to make a concrete point, about how often excessive force actually happens and is permitted by League rules. That's a legit thing to focus on and criticize if it's a common thing. However, I think this is undermined a bit by the fact we don't actually have a concrete idea what a yellow card means. Sure, Ghetsis called what he was doing to the Volcarona a yellow card, but as we've established I don't believe him, and even if this sort of permanent injury really is in the upper end of what counts as a yellow card (leaving red cards for literally nothing short of actually killing someone, I guess?), that doesn't tell us what the average yellow card is given for. The notion that every yellow card is a permanent debilitating injury doesn't make sense - that'd mean the excessive force penalties start at that. So what, in practice, does it actually mean that there have been fifteen matches where two penalty cards have been given? It's very hard to tell.

We also don't actually know how long League history is. Has it been around for 2000 years? Are there dozens, hundreds of matches every year? If so fifteen matches over the course of all that history with two penalties doesn't actually seem like all that much, but then again maybe there are much fewer matches or it's a lot younger. Ghetsis is implying it's a completely unacceptable amount, but I'm not exactly inclined to take him at his word at this point.

[“Get the damn door open. Someone has to get in there before someone gets hurt!”]
This is presumably meant to be a line demonstrating the hypocrisy of humans, acting like the Pokémon who've been getting maimed this whole time don't count - but that point is kind of rendered moot since we already saw everyone also be just as horrified, just as desperate to get in there and stop this, when it was only the Pokémon. It shows us there exists one human who is a dick (plus Ghetsis), but the rest of the setup doesn't really seem to suggest that this is a common view, so ultimately I'm not sure this says all that much.

“Tell me, Alder,” Ghetsis says conversationally over Markus’s commentary, over the brutality behind him. “Does this count as the same match? If Zahhak accidentally hurts Shauntal’s pokémon do I get a third yellow card or do I get one that’s separate? I truly do not know; I studied the rules carefully before I came here and there are no stipulations for how many incidents can be accumulated in a lifetime. You’ve got, what, forty-six? Forty-seven? The one where your volcarona gave that poor unfezant third degree burns in the semis last year was ever so hard to call.”
Ghetsis makes an actual good point here, finally (amidst being a dick)! If someone has a pattern of using excessive force over and over, it's clearly no longer an accident and that person should be disqualified from the sport and disgraced. I am successfully persuaded that Alder should not be a Pokémon trainer, and that the League's rules are apparently way too lax in a way that enables abuse.

(However, this is an argument against Alder and the League's current rules, and not against the very concept of Pokémon training. This problem would be solved by just fixing the rules, and Ghetsis has made no argument that it's necessary to abolish training altogether.)

He smiles calmly to your camera. “Nothing that I have done today is illegal under the League rules. Nothing that I have done today is even uncommon under League practices—a gym leader battles up to eight times per day; excessive force is bound to happen. Everything I have done is absolutely cruel. But under a system that offers amnesty to trainers who make mistakes in battles, under a system that assumes that the burden falls on pokémon both to inform us of their pain and moderate how they inflict it, I can cause pokémon to suffer.”
I am absolutely not buying that none of this is illegal under League rules. If it weren't, why'd Ghetsis even have to take the referee hostage in the first place?

While "excessive force" of some kind may be bound to happen accidentally now and then, excessive force resulting in something like permanent loss of limbs seems a whole lot harder to do by accident, and it's hard to imagine it happening on a regular basis. If the situation in this world actually is that Pokémon are regularly losing limbs - then Ghetsis really should actually say that. (But it doesn't really sound like it, given how everyone reacted to Ghetsis' maiming - everything sounded like this was extremely exceptionally brutal.)

Clearly, what allowed him to be so cruel here, intentionally cruel, is not that the League's rules are lax on what they're willing to consider accidents (after all, absolutely nobody thinks any of this was an accident), but that he stopped everyone who was supposed to stop him, and did try to stop him because he absolutely was breaking the League's rules, by force. That doesn't show a flaw in the rules, any more than burglar successfully breaking into your house and stealing your TV shows the law doesn't condemn burglary strongly enough! Once again, Ghetsis has demonstrated nothing but the fact that he is an evil dick.

“Two thousand years ago Unova was shaped by a battle of legends, and its destiny was dictated by a legendary trainer who tamed that dragon. Fifteen years ago Alder defeated Maevis and received in return the crown of Champion. 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. And where was your outrage? Was the Champion’s throne not a position of power not two decades ago, when the man who wielded it only had quiet ideas that didn’t conflict with your own? Why didn’t you fear the regime change then?”
This is interesting, and it's worth criticizing the fact the Champion here has significant political power simply by virtue of winning a battle - that's definitely nonsense that should never have been allowed to happen. But he's also kind of undermining his own point again - okay, so the current lax rules that constitute his main point against Pokémon training were literally just enacted by Alder fifteen years ago? So really the badness here is pretty much all just because of this one jackass and the bad political system that gave him power, and not because of anything inherent to Pokémon training? It pretty much sounds like just deposing Alder and enacting some political reforms would fix that problem.

“Accidents like this happen all the time. If enough of them accumulate you stop seeing bodies and you start seeing numbers. By the end of the day, a team of specialists will have helped that pokémon regrow his wings; by tomorrow, he will physically be able to fight just as well as he could today. The volcarona is lucky; his trainer is wealthy and high-profile, and as such can bypass the normal waiting times that such an intensive operation would require. Is that what you want to hear? Is that the truth you would rather know? Forgive me if I fail to stay quiet, Unova. For you it is just another match; for pokémon, who must live in the gaps between your bursts of glory, the violence is all they know.”
Wait, what? So this kind of injury isn't permanently debilitating, and is instead entirely fixable and the only obstacle is waiting times and money? This came completely out of left field for me; another bit where I was taking one message away from the worldbuilding only for you to suddenly present an entirely different picture. Why hasn't anyone been treating this like it's curable or potentially curable (or even vaguely something that happens on a regular basis) up to this point? Granted, it does turn out that it totally was permanently debilitating, so maybe this is just Ghetsis lying through his teeth again, but I can't imagine why he would be, or why no one's calling him out on it if he is. I'm so confused by this.

(Obviously, even if it's curable that doesn't make it fine and dandy, especially if healing it is hard and expensive and the Pokémon would be in pain the entire time. But it is significant! Permanent injuries are much, much worse than healable injuries. People consent to suffering pain and potential injury all the time when it's expected to simply heal, while when you've got a serious risk of permanent damage you start to talk about banning the activity.)

He’s so casual how can he be so casual there are pokémon here that are going to die
Wait, are they? There's been nothing suggesting this so far (or at least I was surprised when I got here), especially after Ghetsis just insisted it's not even a permanent injury - one would've thought Wave should have brought that up at some point earlier, if the Pokémon had what they judged to be fatal injuries (and would have reacted more strongly to Ghetsis lying that Volcarona will be back in shape by tomorrow). It's hard for the reader to extrapolate what might be common sense in the real world onto the Pokémon world in cases like this, since canon and fanfic are all over the place with regards to what Pokémon are able to recover from.

You realize, then, what Ghetsis is trying to say. Markus can treat this like just another match because, to him, it is. It doesn’t matter if Ghetsis is purposefully trying to maim his opponent’s pokémon or not; the outcome is still the same. For you, at least. For the humans? The intent mattered to them, somehow. As if the pain was somehow less if it was inflicted on accident.
He hasn't been treating this like just another match, though? We saw Markus be coerced into continuing when he wanted to stop recording, and Wave's own narration has repeatedly made a point of how Markus is trying to narrate like he usually does but not quite managing to.

I would maintain that of course intent matters; if you step on my foot deliberately you are an asshole and I will want to avoid you from then on, whereas if you step on my foot accidentally it hurts just as much but it does not reflect upon your character or your future likelihood of stepping on my foot in any way, and I will still be happy to hang out with you. But more importantly, Wave's line of thought here isn't coherent to me? Ghetsis did purposefully maim the Pokémon. Treating that like just another match, the thing Wave thinks Markus is doing, is treating it like intent doesn't matter (like this is no different from any match where this sort of thing might happen by accident), while thinking this particular match is specially evil (which it is) is treating it like it matters. But Wave's talking about it like it's the other way around? This doesn't make sense to me.

Hilda Verdandi
Nice. I guess if she represents the now, she represents the status quo, in a way.

“Flame Charge, Amara!”
Oof, the gut punch of seeing the name Amara after last chapter. The whole backwards effect is really fun and interesting!

Ghetsis doesn’t even look up at the announcer’s box, but you can feel that this next statement is meant for the two of you, for the thousands watching. “When a pokémon is forced to withstand an attack of this caliber, that is cause for sport. Celebration, even! But when it is turned on a human, you suddenly realize how cruel it is. Unova! How many more pokémon must suffer before we realize that they, too, feel pain?”
Wellll, that would generally be because (at least in the vast majority of interpretations) humans are a lot squishier than Pokémon, and will be killed or permanently injured by things that a Pokémon would shrug off. It is not weird or hypocritical for people to react differently to something that might hurt but is ultimately harmless than to something that will literally kill or maim someone. The person having chosen to partake is a perfectly valid reason to accept and embrace the former, whereas the latter is obviously extremely alarming and should be stopped. It has nothing to do with not realizing that Pokémon can feel pain, or some hypocrisy of considering humans' pain more important than Pokémon's - unless you're interpreting the world in a way where humans literally can shrug off Flamethrowers to the same degree Pokémon can, of course. Which I don't think you are - if you are I think that probably should be clearer, because then that's really significant.

Her reuniclus’s shield is starting to splinter and crack. But Ghetsis isn’t done yet, and evidently neither is the hydreigon—while the dragon spews fire, he spews words with an equal, raging intensity. “If she burns, will you cheer her on to fight through it? If she falls will you beg her to fight through the pain so that you can watch it happen, safe and comfortable from the sidelines? If she faints, will you shout to her, ‘Come on! Get up!’? Which one of you will run into this room and card me for excessive force?” The one eye he has left is furious and wide, and yet—you can see it perfectly—there’s no madness in there. This isn’t a madman. This is someone who knows exactly what he’s doing. “Minutes before, Unova, you cheered when this very same thing happened to Alder’s accelgor. Will you do the same now? Don’t worry, she’ll only pass out. I will be lenient. My hydreigon is well-trained; there is only a minimal risk of death. With a bit of healing she should be as good as new. I’ll even be generous and pay for the cost of her treatment myself.”
This could be indicating humans really can shrug off Flamethrowers, but let's be real, everything indicates Ghetsis is just lying again.

“If you think this is too barbaric for a child, that a non-zero risk of death is too high, that healing pain does not indemnify the inflictor, consider your simple hypocrisy and understand that you do not view pokémon as your equals.”
I mean, there is a non-zero risk of death when you do literally anything. Nobody actually expects a zero risk of death - sometimes people say they won't accept a non-zero risk of death, but then they go drive cars anyway, which definitely has a non-zero risk of death. If she really would only pass out, and death or permanent injury would be a freak accident, then yeah, sure, she can fight a Pokémon, if she wants to; why not? (But unfortunately, Ghetsis is lying and nobody should trust him.)

Not that this in particular is a situation where anyone is freely choosing to be there, though; might I remind you, Ghetsis, that she is here to stop you, because you have been murdering people.

“Ghetsis, please!” Alder begs over the sound of the flames. “You’ve made your point!”
He really hasn't. In all of this Ghetsis hasn't once mentioned whether the Pokémon involved in battling (truly and freely) want to be. That's the really important question here, and he doesn't even care. Ghetsis you absolute maggot of an excuse for a human being. You hypocritical fucknugget. You agency-denying ass.

And with the name he sends a burst of raw, unfiltered high-pitched noise, large enough in magnitude that it washes out your other thoughts; it’s not really enough to hurt a creature like you, but definitely enough to startle, and instinctively you turn to where he’s directing, which is a blessing and a curse both, because your unfortunate timing is about to broadcast—
O o o f, please rescue Wave, why is everyone so terrible

Over in the corner, the eelektross and the serperior stop their fighting immediately, looking like a pair of guilty purrloin caught mid-theft.
An unexpectedly cute image in the middle of a lot of unbounded horror.

Zekrom snarls in response, and then casts a bloody gaze around the room. Takes it all in. You see the skin above the fangs curl back instinctively at the sight of the downed pokémon on both sides, and then finally, the gaze settles back upon Hilda. {You called to me, Hero of Ideals. I heard in your call the purest future I have ever felt dreamed in thousands of years. You have been tested. I find you worthy. But explain to me. Why does the future you envision require this?}
...says Zekrom, as if Hilda is in any way responsible for the carnage here? Her vision doesn't require this; Ghetsis' did. What does any of this have to do with the future she envisions? As imperfect as Hilda appears to be, I'm guessing the ideal future she's envisioning doesn't have Ghetsis in it.

{She means no harm!} cries the serperior, straining. {Please, do not take offense! She can’t understand you. But she’s a good human—}
Aww, Vaselva, still misguidedly defending Hilda to the end. Hits harder having read the previous chapter, which hasn't yet happened.

{Slumbering, still,} replies the hydreigon when no one else answers. You can’t place it, but it almost sounds like he’s bitter.
I like this, and how we know why he's bitter because we found out last chapter (later).

{I will not harm my own mortals without provocation,} Zekrom grates. You can feel a vibration in every piece of sheet metal on this body you’ve chosen to inhabit; it rumbles like a great seismic wave. One claw points forward. {My fight is with the Hero of Truth alone. This is your only warning.}
Ghetsis murdering people doesn't count as provocation?! I don't have a beef with Zekrom having somewhat blue and orange morality and not helping, being a godlike being and all, but calling it without provocation seems absurd.

For a single, delusional moment, everything is going to be okay, everyone is going to stand down, and words will prevail.

The floor beneath the hydreigon erupts. An enormous, red-scaled creature that you recognize as Grimsley’s krookodile appears, bearing the unconscious body of a cofagrigus in her jaws; behind the krookodile, the slender form of a mienshao sprouts forward and plants her foot in the hydreigon’s head. The hydreigon reels backward, already weakened from the previous fights, and he struggles in midair to regain his bearings.
Oof. I like this a lot, how there was actually a brief peace and the potential for things to end better (like in the previous chapter, too) only for Grimsley to emerge and inadvertently ruin it.

Ghetsis tilts his chin up. “Caitlin. You’re an empath. You could read your parents’ minds when you were six, they say. Haven’t you ever felt your pokémon’s pain?”
What about whether they want this, Ghetsis, you literally just said she can read minds.

But he’s got a point, hasn’t he? Has she felt it, and ignored it? Or did she never think to reach out in the first place?
I'm really curious about what people generally believe about Pokémon in this world. You're implying here again that they don't realize Pokémon can feel pain, which is just a deeply strange idea to me - is that an actual common thing people believe here?

The humans shy back. That’s when you decide for sure that Ghetsis isn’t a human. Maybe he’s a machine like you, maybe not—but when instinctively all of the other humans crouch away from the incoming disaster, Ghetsis is the only one to reach forwards, along with you, and his bisharp, and even Hilda’s serperior.
This is a neat moment.

It isn’t right. It isn’t right that Ghetsis, who called the shots, gets to walk off to trial, while the blood of his hydreigon slowly goes cold and seeps into the dirt.
This is also a neat moment, but I think it's undermined a bit because this is simply down to the entirely coincidental fact that the ceiling went and collapsed on Zahhak and not on Ghetsis. If the police had come in and shot Zahhak while arresting Ghetsis - that'd demonstrate an injustice, and calling it not right would be a call to action, something wrong with the world that a character can be left wanting to correct. Here, it's only "not right" in the sense that a natural disaster happening to kill a good person while a bad person lives is "not right"; it's kind of instinctively dismaying, sure, but it's not unjust and it doesn't mean anything. I'm curious why you chose to have Zahhak's death be an accident (and not even an in-battle accident from the use of excessive force, like the accidents Ghetsis kept going on about, but an accident only tangentially related to there having been battling going on). As far as I can tell it only kind of weakens this ending?

All in all, I find Ghetsis pretty frustrating to read, here. He is doing a very poor job of making any of the points he wants to be making, and maiming and murdering Pokémon here served literally no actual purpose in it. You establish the Champion has political power and can alter laws and regulations; if so, why doesn't he just beat Alder in a battle the regular way, become a perfectly normal accepted Champion, and then enact the changes he wants? But no, instead he does something absurdly alienating to anyone with the slightest shred of a conscience, trying to somehow demonstrate that the frequency of accidents resulting in major injuries is unacceptable by deliberately inflicting major injuries on a bunch of Pokémon that, so far as we can tell, are in no way responsible for the system. Ghetsis himself talks about how Alder uses excessive force all the time; I can't help but wonder why he isn't instead trying to goad Alder into doing that (to his own Pokémon, who might actually volunteer to be injured for the cause!) so that he could actually demonstrate that these things happen routinely and legally at the hands of respected trainers and not just when an evil murderous dick comes along and deliberately maims Pokémon while disabling the referee. Obviously Ghetsis is meant to be villainous here, and you did a great job of making him hateable. But I have a hard time understanding his motivations, what he's actually trying to accomplish with any of this - it seems so hypocritical and self-defeating. And it troubles me that in-universe I feel like he's being taken more seriously than he should be.

I also had a bit of trouble following the worldbuilding properly here - we seem to learn things that are contradicted later, or we learn things abruptly that were not even vaguely hinted at before, or chains of reasoning hinge on aspects that are left vague and difficult to entirely wrap one's head around. I think it'd be worth making some things clearer, or trying to show them more effectively throughout - stuff like exactly how much Pokémon are routinely able to recover from, exactly how common permanent injuries really are, how a yellow/red card are defined, what the general populace actually believes about Pokémon. Understanding these things seems pretty fundamental to understanding the nature of the issue here; without it I felt kind of frustrated evaluating what Ghetsis was saying, having to couch things in conditionals. I expect we'll be seeing more of how actual battling Pokémon feel about battling later, and that you probably want to save that for then, but that's another issue that is extremely significant to the moral dilemma and leaves it difficult to make sensible judgements on it.

All that said, it was a gripping read and man, you must be doing something right to make me have this many feelings on it. (Once again, I am sorry for how ridiculously long this is.) I hope this has been at least an amusing read and gave you something to chew on! I'm intrigued to see how the following chapters work with all this.
 
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love

Memento mori
Pronouns
he/him/it
Partners
  1. leafeon
Given the social context in which this story takes place, can/do pokemon consent to battling?

I wasn't sure where to start talking about this story, so I'm just going to start with that question. I'd say it's an important one, after all---one on which the validity of N and Ghetsis' positions rest.

I would be inclined to answer "no" (at least for the "do" part of the question). Chapter 3, "nuestro," definitely made me feel that way. Carnel makes it clear that he does not want to battle, but he is powerless against Cheren's pokeball. He is then very unambiguously coerced into battle against Amara.

Tourmaline's words to him imply that this kind of coercion is commonplace. "None of us want to be here." She is staying only to avoid worse treatment. "If I stay with him I cannot be caught by someone else."

This chapter alone is enough to convince me that the institution of pokemon training/battling needs to be rethought. Even if some pokemon are alright with it, it should not have been allowed to get to a point where trainers as bad as or worse than Cheren are the norm, or to the point where coercion is common.

I might as well talk about Ghetsis now. I remember there was a conversation about him on the Discord server earlier, and it seemed like he was a bit of a divisive figure. I can see why---but personally, I feel inclined to sympathize with him. It is true that his actions are obviously hypocritical---I imagine Ghetsis would probably acknowledge this himself if he were pressed. But that's kind of beside the point, in a sense. He has seen---thanks to pokemon battles---that the masses are enamored with spectacle, that they respond to it. He chooses to make his point in the way he does because he thinks---reasonably, as far as I can tell---that he will reach the most people that way. He thinks the resulting good will outweigh the harm he causes. He might be right; he gets through to Wave, at least. I think I was more charitable than most people in interpreting his arguments; specifically, I was kind of surprised to see a complaint made that Ghetsis never addressed the question of whether pokemon consent to battling or not. Personally, I just assumed reading chapter 2 that it must be widely understood that pokemon don't consent to it (or consent under duress), because otherwise *of course* it's something he would have addressed---his entire argument rests on that premise!

I read Ghetsis as someone who is frustrated with peoples' complacency. Maybe he tried changing minds with reason, and it didn't work. Now he's willing to do whatever it takes to force people to acknowledge injustice, even if it means committing unjust acts himself.

I feel I should talk about Chapter 6, "noted," too. This was one of the more memorable chapters for me. Looking back on it, though, I wonder if I'm missing something, because there's part of it that doesn't make sense. Take this quotation from Zahhak:

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.

N replies that he hasn't found any pokemon who claim to hate their masters. When I read that initially, I didn't think too much of it. But now I find myself thinking back to what Tourmaline says of Cheren in Chapter 3:

I dream of clawing his face off at night, but I also know he is not the worst trainer in Unova. Some of the trainers we rescued pokémon from were truly vile.

So, she would claw his face off, and even then she thinks there are worse trainers. I daresay her heart may have "turned black with rage." The fact that N hasn't met any pokemon like her seems surprising to me? Either she's a rare case, or N hasn't gotten around as much as I thought. At the absolute *least* he must have encountered some pokemon who will admit they think being coerced into battling is wrong, even if they don't hate their masters. The fact that pokemon freed by Team Plasma don't all choose to return to their masters kind of supports that idea. You take great pains throughout the story to convey that pokemon are a diverse group, capable of feeling a broad range of emotions. It's great to see all those emotions, but I also wonder if that complexity isn't working against you, in a way.

Anyway, I'll put that aside. I think the question posed by chapter 6 is interesting. I would put it as: "Regardless of intent, is it right for someone to decide pokemons' future for them?" Coming from a utilitarian moral framework, I'm inclined to say yes. I don't care about freedom or choice; I care about happiness and the reduction of suffering. What matters is: does N have good reason to think that the future he wants will make pokemon and humans happier? And again, from what we have been shown, I am inclined to say yes. We see pokemon abused and coerced by humans throughout the story---Tourmaline and the bisharp were abused (forgive me for forgetting their name), and even the joltik in Chapter 8 was implied to have been manipulated by its previous trainer to some extent:

{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.}

And Ghetsis also makes a compelling case that trainers have far too much power over their pokemon, I think.

Conversely, I don't think humans would really lose out on all that much if they were to be separated from pokemon. Obviously they would miss out on a lot of sport (boo hoo), but... I don't see much integration of pokemon into society outside of battling in this story. I don't get the sense that humans are relying on pokemon for electricity, or construction, or for anything really practical like that. Basically, humans would be fine without pokemon. Life would go on.

So, anyway, I'm with Zahhak on this one. N's plan should succeed. If violence has to be used, then it may be justified. It's just a question of whether violence would actually be more effective than relying on a legendary dragon or whatever.

Also, I just want to say that the feels in this chapter were good. Emotional, but not saccharine. That was something I enjoyed.

In the interest of fairness, I feel like I should talk about Ace and Amara. They actually want to be with their humans. In Amara's case, though, it's clear that she has doubts. Also, I think that her personal philosophy is poisonous (she seems to think she's only worth a damn if she sacrifices herself to protect something)... But I suppose if that mindset is something inherent to her species, then there is an argument to be made that it should be honored, if only because it's too ingrained to be changed. But the fact that she has doubts implies her mind *can* be changed, in which case... shame that didn't happen.

Ace also seems sort of... Brainwashed, I almost want to say? Maybe not deliberately, but... Well, his internal monologue never really seems to address Rhea's arguments, and as soon as Sam comes back he's quite eager to stop thinking about it. "It’s all going to be fine now," he thinks to himself. That sentence implies to me that things weren't fine before, that Rhea's arguments really were a threat to his worldview, and that maybe if he actually thought about them instead of defaulting to what he's been told his whole life, he might start to see the merit in them.

Anyway, I should probably actually try to comment on the writing. Frankly, since I think it is good, I don't have much to say about it. There were very few parts I would have changed, and some parts I would have praised, but I never really wrote them down because I just wanted to read the damn story. Sorry, kintsugi. If you want better feedback, you're going to have to start writing worse.

Basically, I feel like you are good at writing dense, realistic dialogue and getting in the head of each pokemon in the story. Second person is an unusual choice, and I don't usually like it, but I think I see the idea behind it here. You're directly challenging us to put ourselves in the pokemons' shoes, to think as they think, and that makes sense given the ideas in the story. At least, that's how I saw it.

In particular I want to mention that Chapter 2, "notorious," was really well done in my opinion. I feel like it must have taken an absolute ton of work to write and revise, but at no point did the pacing falter. It was engaging for me throughout all 7k or so words (at least, according to the wordcounter I used. Jesus, mate. That's a lot of words). As good as any action movie I've seen, in that regard.

So yeah, I think you basically know what you're doing, and as such I don't have much to suggest right now.
 

kintsugi

golden scars
Location
waiting for the fog to roll out
Pronouns
she/her
Partners
  1. silvally-grass
  2. lapras
  3. golurk
ahhh, whoops, here are some late responses! better late than never? theme of my life I guess

God, your prose is beautiful; I kept wanting to highlight bits. I think you did a fascinating job of characterization here: Vaselva genuinely loving Hilda but doing so because other people took her away from her mother and presented her with a purpose they constructed that she was too young to treat very critically; Hilda just very human, caring but not really understanding, a talker but not so much a listener; N having come to this conclusion after wishing otherwise. The two humans talk past each other, Hilda not really understanding N wanting to hear from Vaselva herself, Vaselva presenting this naïve POV that fails to move him, even though ultimately it is true that here, now, she does want to stay with Hilda, and would be left with nothing if they were separated. The whole thing is just complicated and sad.
hghghghg thank you!! I really struggled with getting the tone of this one right--it's a really muddy topic and I had to swing it back and forth to get where I wanted. I'm glad this one lands it better.

Strange phrasing: she's saying she'll not let him do it, but then Vaselva asserts that it's too late to let him, which is the opposite of what she wants to do.
I think that's fair! I tweaked the phrasing there to be more clear.

Ooh, this is very good and intriguing, in a story that runs backwards. Instead of foreshadowing what's coming, you can hint at things that have changed, that we have yet to see.
Yeah! That was the heart of it--among other things, on a meta level it's really hard to make BW plot surprising to people. I find it far more interesting to flesh out how they got stuck there.

Some strange phrasing again: if he never doubted that he could fall short on his quest, then he always expected he might fail, whereas everything else suggests you're saying the exact opposite.
I'm really sorry, I think my brain is dead--could you rephrase this one? I'm sure there's something weird but I can't pick up on where it's tripping you up.

Oof. Yeah, a whole lot of Pokémon will suffer as a result of N's actions here, too, and that's one thing he doesn't quite seem willing to consider.
I think he does, actually! But Vas doesn't see that, so we don't get to know that for a while. It's definitely a messy answer for everyone and N knows that, though.

Chilling for her to think of it this way, as if humans calling the shots and Pokémon obeying is just a natural order, and anyone in opposition to those predefined roles is wrong.
Yeah, maybe leaning too hard into the direct/completely unfiltered game interpretation here, but i think that's sort of what I take away from these games--pokemon never really get agency in the games, and when they do it's either a) a direct extension of what the player wants/needs, or b) it's a huge inconvenience (i.e. traded pokemon refusing to listen, fainted pokemon refusing to battle).

Latching on to one tiny part of someone's argument is an extremely human thing to do and hits hard.
Yeah, rip! A lot of problems here where people would just realize that they're all on the same side, if they could only just listen properly.

The fact Vaselva is so used to nobody addressing her or being interested in what she thinks about anything, oof.
Same as game comment from above--I always feel weird when NPC's tell me that I must love my pokemon so much, but I never get to really ask them? rip HGSS

A good line, and telling that it continues to not occur to Hilda that N is talking to Vaselva, but the dialogue tag split happening there feels awkward - makes me hear it as if he's pausing there, in a weird place in the sentence.
mmmm, I agree here but I'm not sure how to rephrase this one at this time. I'll mull it over!

O O F please save Vaselva
reverse chronology! she's fine!

For me this all raises a whole lot of questions. Does Hilda not understand that her Pokémon are sapient? Well, probably she does, based on the bit where she asks what Vaselva is telling N - that implies she knows she's able to tell him things in some meaningful way. So why is she not interested in what they want and what they have to say? How have we ended up here, with Vaselva convinced Hilda would recall her for expressing anything vaguely resembling dissent, that humans are supposed to lead and Pokémon are supposed to obey and that's just the way it is and anyone who doesn't align with that is bad at being a human/Pokémon, that humans caring what Pokémon think or sympathizing with them is unthinkable? Hilda sounds like she earnestly believes Pokémon and humans should be able to live in peace, as partners, without exploitation; does she seriously not see the hypocrisy here? Why does she not care? Does nobody in this world care except N? Really?
Lot of questions! Love them. Some/most definitely intend to be answered in the story; all I'll answer here.
Hilda/sapience--yes, to some degree? I think it's easy to get indoctrinated into bad ideas if you were raised in them, so this idea that some people matter less than others/I'm not hurting them enough for it to be worth stopping can come be insidious. She's definitely not planning on being evil, and does work hard to confront bad things when she sees them.
Why is she not interested--in this exact case, it's hard, there's bigger fish to fry, something about the dragons choosing her so she knows she's at least mostly right. It's harder to talk to Vas than it is to talk to N, who is literally talking to her and about to end the world. In long terms--she does try to talk to them, but again, it's hard both to understand them and to unlearn ideas that are founded in not listening to them.
How have we ended up here--mostly in the story, but I mean the short version: Vas is partially wrong, trainers have to lean pretty hard into the system to get this far (so Vas is also partially right), and some elements of society are really insipid and awful lol.
Hilda + hypocrisy--I always wonder this question in this fandom tbh--why battling is always seen as the only/ideal way of cooperation. Hilda unfortunately has to be the figurehead of this, since that ends up being the player's stance on this, but I do think it's easy to slip into that mentality and it's fun to explore it. She does care! Just ... not in ways that end with her summoning a dragon to end the world, sort of caring.

(Which, to be fair, is a problem that I had with the writing of the Gen V games themselves; it was all a bunch of humans insisting everything is fine because they say so, with barely anyone appearing to think the Pokémon's opinion on the matter was at all relevant, and it was weird and uncomfortable. I regarded that as simply poor writing failing to make the point they were trying to, whereas you're running with it and taking it seriously, which is an entirely legit thing to do.
haha, this tbh. And "why does X not care???" is a question I've found myself asking increasingly more in the real world, so it's a shitty thing for people to do, but I think it's a pretty realistic one.

But it does leave me with some of the same frustrations that I had with the games doing it: okay, but seriously, why doesn't anyone want to ask the Pokémon? Why do all the Pokémon apparently just put up with this? Are they all taken from their mothers and indoctrinated so young they accept it without question, and does nobody think that's an obviously dodgy thing to do?)
super fair I think. I don't think I'll be able to answer this one in a review/single conversation--sort of why I got into writing this lol

This is a really compelling read so far; will definitely be continuing, whenever I get around to it. You really get into the characters' heads and let things be messy and convey it in a gorgeous, understated way. I'm into that.
Thanks so much!! I'm really glad you enjoyed, and I appreciate the thoughts here.

(Oh good lord I'm so sorry this is so late)

Hello, hello Kint! I'm here with a review, and as a quick preface, here is the format I normally use: specific thoughts > general thoughts > SPaG mistakes, if any. If you aren't really fond of this format, let me know and I'll be happy to switch to a more traditional review style in the next review 8D
omg no you're fine!! This review was really lovely and I'm so glad for your thoughts, whatever form they come in! I was grinning maniacally the whole way through.

-/ Oof, the rest of the pokemon (even the legendary!) don't look too good either, with the exception of the serperior and her trainer. This Chapter 1 is definitely starting out heavier than I'm personally used to... But damn, is it entertaining to read!
<3 <3 <3! This fic is ... heavy even for me, I think. I'm glad that you're enjoying it!

-/ I will preface this by saying that I've only ever read PMD fics when it comes to pokemon fanfiction, so while this is my first time ever reading from the perspective of a canon mainline character, I somehow already feel like I'm being spoiled by having this as my first experience ; )
okay this sounds really cheesey but I did blush irl when you said this

-/ [Natural Harmonious Gropius] ... I love N, I really do, but I somehow forgot how awful his real name is, ha ha. But "ha ha grope" jabs aside, I love this set-up. Short (compared to the following chapters) and sweet, all the while providing a sliver of insight in N's head. And something I want to quickly mention before moving on to the next chapter: I normally dislike second person view a lot. But somehow, second person view brought me a lot *closer* to the story instead of further, so I guess it'll be an interesting experience starting from now.
His full name is really stupid! I try to use it as little as possible.
I'm glad the second-person is working, though. It's a story about people being told that they have to be someone they don't want to be ... so I think second-person was the best narrator to tell that. But I definitely know it's kind of disconcerting for people and it causes a lot of confusion--I'm glad it works though!!

-/ Oh, this is from the serperior's perspective? Sweet! 8D
Pff, and I love that N's referred to as the "leaf-haired one" because grass-type. Tiny things like this are part of what makes a story so entertaining to read.
Definitely! My main frustration with BW is how, like, we never get to ask our pokemon how they feel about this whole ethics thing. So this is a fic about understanding what they think, and seeing how they think differently!

-/ Amara? I hope she's not a character from the mainline games, I'm terrible at remembering them
You're fine! She's an OC we meet earlier/later.

-/ [He would much rather take commands than give them.] Reading this statement hurt, just because I remember how he's basically acting at Ghetsis' puppet in the game and presumably in this story too.
It's rough! For me I think canon N's defining characteristic is just ... being unsure of himself, not being sure if what he's doing is worth it. And I do think this permeates to everything about him, even at the last minute.

-/ putting aside the fact that I nearly thought it was Vaselva being pregnant and freaked at the thought of a pregnant pokemon fighting Her thoughts are really fascinating. Again, it might be just because I'm just not used to reading a non-PMD fic, but seeing what I used to regard as a simple mass of pixels I couldn't interact with in the games actually have form her own opinions on both friend and foe, as well as have a small glimpse of her time before Hilda, is just *so* fascinating.

This whole paragraoh probably sounds a little bad, but I swear it's a compliment xD
haha, no worries! here for crit too. I think it's fascinating to run with this idea that pokemon actually want to be with you--how did they get here? why do they think this?

-/ Wait, Vaselva has to fight Reshiram? I feel like this is really, really cruel for the grass-type, but hey, stakes are sky high right now. What can a person do?
That's sort of the motto of this chapter! Tons of people entering horrible situations because they don't know what else they can do.

And that's it for the first two chapters! Where to start... First, I really loved it. As far as story and prose goes, I don't really have any nitpicks about it. Everything just went together like bread and butter. Like I mentioned earlier, the second person view somehow makes the stakes here feel a lot more personal. Not just that, but the decision to have the chapter's point of view be from Vaselva's eyes is, in my opinion, a good choice. Just because she's arguably someone with just as much insight to the situation as the two humans present, given she's been with Hilda since the start of her journey, and yet she's able to be relatively unbiased. Sure, she's obviously still on Hilda's side, but she's able to see the flaws with the *both* of them, and... I dunno, you could've easily have Vaselva be completely on her trainer's side, but you didn't, and I just really liked it! At the very least, it provided a lot of interesting insight on how N and Hilda operate, as well as some interesting backstory from Vaselva that tied into her current situation rather neatly.
I'm really glad that you've been enjoying this! I know this is a pretty far cry from PMD, so I appreciate that you gave this story a chance and that it landed for you!

I couldn't spot any SPaG mistakes to speak of, so I'll end the review here. I know you've gotten a lot more insightful reviews from others, so I hope you don't mind that this is pretty much me gushing over the first two chapters, ha ha. Let me know if you're alright with this reviewing style, and until I can drop another review, please keep up the great work!
omg noooo you're totally fine! A lot of people have looked at these early chapters and I'm constantly tweaking them, so I've had a lot of help here! If you ever have anything to say, positive or negative, I'm always happy to hear it! Thank you so much for the very thoughtful feedback here!

Hoo, boy, chapter two. This was something.
haha, glad you came back for more! lots to discuss here too <3

I thought you picked a fun choice of POV with a camera drone Rotom, and the fight was intense! Everything continues to be beautifully written. Everyone once again completely fails to meaningfully address the opposing point of view, as people do.
communication is certainly a major theme in this story tbh

Ghetsis and Alder are both terrible, but as far as I'm concerned Ghetsis is not only uniquely loathsome, he constantly undermines his own points, and overall fails to make any coherent argument for his position. The grain or two of an actual point that he has in here are not actually supporting the point he thinks he's making, and he entirely sidesteps the really meaningful moral questions at hand. I spent most of the chapter just internally frothing at the mouth at him. Ghetsis for Worst Person Ever Born 2k20. It was entertaining to read, but I have to say I felt it undermined what you'd built up a bit for me - I loved the nuance in chapter 1, where the situation was complicated and people were people and little hints suggested things weren't right, but it feels like there's a lot less of that here and a lot more Ghetsis just being terrible and dishonest, forgoing the difficult questions in favor of meaningless rhetorical games, and I thought some of the worldbuilding implications here were strange and/or confusing. I'm going to just get to quote reactions so you can watch me slowly dissolve into a loud Ghetsis-hating puddle before I summarize the issues I had with it better. I'm still enjoying the story overall, though, and looking forward to what you do in later chapters which I'm assuming will be a bit quieter and more introspective again compared to the bombast and carnage here.
I think that's a reasonable take on Ghetsis--he's definitely not supposed to be a good guy. Ch1 is a lot about people who are doubting the paths they've chosen but unable to really put into meaningful action why they feel that way/what they'd do instead; Ch2 is about people who have put their flags in the sand and will die next to them. I don't think Alder would've had an interesting conversation with N, for example; just like I don't think Hilda would've had a productive talk with Ghetsis. I picked this cast for this chapter because I think it made sense that the point of no return realistically gets decided by two people who have decided that they're already past it--Alder isn't backing down or engaging Ghetsis any more than Ghetsis is engaging him. They both lose out on their chance to pull the other back from the edge.

(This got pretty long and ranty and I got very mad at Ghetsis. Edited for tone 9/19, I was probably too grumpy at 4AM after all this Ghetsis and I'm sorry)
haha ilu, edits are bae! I appreciate that you were thinking about this even after dropping the review.

That's quite a leap there, Ghetsis, that just because you win a battle you'll have somehow proven your opinion on Pokémon battling right.
haha, maybe a bit too much importing of game logic here as well, and a bit of unexplained political structures--I think the in-game argument that N will somehow utterly end battles if he becomes Champion, and how that's the drive to the climax, was always kind of weird. Trainers will just go along with this? Why? Really?? It's a pretty weird opinion when we look at it from both points of view, I think. In-universe, Ghetsis believes, perhaps correctly, that the political weight of being Champ will lead him down the road to where he wants. Perhaps not overnight, but eventually--power comes in many forms. I think I'll retool a bit of the dialogue in this chapter to reflect that + other things better.

I know you said to Chibi that he doesn't mean he'll change that Pokémon like battling, but the way this is phrased absolutely makes it sound that way, going from "You'll never change that." to "I'll change it." (Love how Ghetsis doesn't concern himself at all with whether it's true that Pokémon like battling.)
Definitely fair! Been a bit caught up and haven't been able to do early-game edits + this one has been hard to rephrase for some reason, but this is certainly on the list.

This sentence struck me as a bit funny - "at least either side"? I'm not sure what "at least" is meant to be modifying in the sentence, but it looks like it's modifying "either side", which is nonsensical. Probably better without it.
Mmm, good fix, meant for this to be "at least" modifying Wave would know when other people would not. An easy one that I can fix right away at least!

Alder never actually said either of those two things; he said "If you win, all you prove is you raised your Pokémon well" (nothing about this proving any point about the validity of Pokémon training in general, and also nothing about what it would mean if Ghetsis loses).
Yeah, this exchange leans a bit too heavily into my internal thoughts and doesn't make the characters as clear--I'll try to retool this one a bit in the future; not entirely sure how I intend to do so in this exact moment.

Alder trying hard to out-dick Ghetsis.
this entire chapter in a nutshell tbh.

Alder insisting the Pokémon would never have gotten hurt (by which I assume he means get seriously hurt, as in in a way that would qualify as making it "unsafe" - Ghetsis seems to interpret it that way too), and then responding "They didn't" to this perfectly obvious hypothetical, makes it sound like the League never has Pokémon get seriously injured and he just has no answer to what would happen if they did, so he just gets flustered and defensive and acts like it's ridiculous and would never happen and the possibility can be dismissed out of hand. But the chapter then goes on to make abundantly clear that this is not remotely the case, so I don't know what Alder is supposed to be on about here - why doesn't he bring up the provisions that are in place for excessive force? I felt this exchange implied a particular thing about the world, only for that impression to be wildly contradicted later.
Kind of a tricky thing to get at since I can't get into Alder's head in this chapter, but what I want to convey here is that Alder thinks that the provisions for excessive force are enough effort; Ghetsis does not. At the heart of this exchange is "how much pain is permissible?"--and Ghetsis's answer is close to zero, while Alder thinks there is some amount that's allowed on accident, if you don't mean it.

Ghetsis, absolutely insisting that Pokémon battling is horrible and brutal, while himself being the one to order literally all the actual brutality happening here. Nice. I'm impressed he thinks this is going to prove anything to anyone, other than that he's an evil dick.
lmao, Ghetsis isn't a great ally here, and I'll never claim otherwise! I don't want to make him a good guy, since he's such a shitty human in canon--but I do think you can have good thoughts and express them in horrible and ultimately destructive ways, which is the route Ghetsis goes for here.

However. If Hydreigon can just do that with zero fuss, Volcarona totally defenseless against it, Alder not even attempting an order in response (nor Volcarona attempting any defense on its own)... why is he not just recalling Volcarona as soon as he hears this? Or, at least, as soon as it's abundantly clear Hydreigon is about to leave it unable to battle either way? You have a bunch of time passing here, make the act seem to take time to carry out, stop for Alder staring at it, and later you make a point of Volcarona and all of Alder's other Pokémon still just lying strewn around the battlefield... all I can think is why on earth hasn't he recalled them? Even if Alder is just a total callous dick who gives zero fucks about his Pokémon as people, surely it should at least register that hey, if he lets Volcarona get mutilated that's also a serious personal inconvenience for him, as a trainer who wants to use Volcarona? If there were any indication that Alder was actually hoping to accomplish something by keeping it out, that'd be one thing, but as it is I just can't make any sense of his decision to not recall them. It kind of feels like it's just there to artificially make the outcome more brutal than it has any actual reason to be, to make Ghetsis's point look better than it actually is.
Tricky questions here! A bit to look at.
I don't think a pin is specifically a reason to withdraw your pokemon immediately--a lot of "normal" responses would probably be like, "use Crunch" or trying to get in for a close range attack of opportunity instead of specifically aiming for the weakest spot and immediately intending to cause permanent + horrible harm. I think this is a byproduct of trying to quantify how much pain is acceptable--you become a lot less capable of identifying dangerous situations, since you're expecting good ones by default. Ghetsis inflicts pain in bad faith, but his point is that allowing pain in good faith is still bad.

Maybe we're going to learn in a later chapter that somehow there was something going on here that suppressed Pokéballs or something, prevented Alder from recalling his Pokémon - but if that's the case, I'd expect that to be a major plot point in this chapter, with Alder trying to recall, Markus commenting on how if only recalling worked, Wave remarking on it as he watches the mutilations - not everyone just treating it like this is normal, somehow.
Hmm, I think that's an option but not the route I wanted to go here--in this chapter, a lot of choices are being made, even if people aren't aware of it at the time.

Okay, so, the cards. Later you explain that you can get away with three yellow cards and one red per match. If something of this caliber (we learn towards the end that Volcarona will never battle again) is actually a yellow card offense, that's kind of completely bonkers and I don't buy it - again, even if we assume literally everyone in this world is a horrible person and doesn't care a whiff whether a Pokémon lives or dies, that would mean in any given battle a trainer can expect to lose up to four of their Pokémon permanently, if the opposing trainer chooses to be a dick! That's, like, years of their time just gone in an instant. I don't think there's any universe where people would consider that acceptable rules for a sport.
I think this is fair! Ghetsis later goes on a speech about how the volcarona could've been healed with immediate treatment (something that Ghetsis does intentionally or not prevent--again, lots of questionable decisions being made here in the name of some greater good), but I can work to make that more clear. It's hard to convey worldbuilding in reverse order, so I do see the struggle here--but I do think that in training, accidents of this severity this are bound to happen by accident, ie when kids are running around, when super strong pokemon fight relatively weaker ones, etc. Healing tech kind of helps erase how horribly severe these things can be for those of us who don't have to experience it first hand--it's just another way that you get to look away, until you can't. But I'll look at this and try to make it more clear--terrible things can happen, but the humans in this setting are just used to these terrible things being reversible. Once they see here that it isn't, it becomes clear how terrible they really are.

(Of course, that's assuming the Pokémon do genuinely choose to participate in battling, which is an entire other can of worms that I gather you will be opening later, and I look forward to it! But Ghetsis has not done so and has given no indication that he gives a shit if they do. If the Pokémon really are mostly unwilling and he knows it - then what the hell is any of this other stuff for, that's literally all you need to establish! Forcing people to participate in sports they don't want to for others' amusement is wrong even if they're not painful or particularly dangerous!)
haha, this might sound a bit cynical, but I wish it were that easy? People's minds are hard to change. One of the sad/fascinating things about going backwards is seeing the methods getting less and less extreme--but people sticking to their guns is what causes this kind of escalation in the first place, unfortunately. Ghetsis skips like six steps here, but as a whole I try to go about Plasma slowly getting forced into a corner, just like Alder and Hilda and everyone else is.

Later he tries to make this point better by talking about how common excessive force is (which is relevant!), but none of this has anything to do with that whatsoever. Deliberately maiming people doesn't say anything about how often that happens accidentally. All he's accomplishing here is publicly murdering some of the people he claims to be fighting for in a way that doesn't support his point whatsoever, and has definitely turned people against his cause, by virtue of how shockingly most people don't particularly like unrepentant murderers. Well done, Ghetsis, you absolute cretin.
I think it's a rough dichotomy! To use your language, Ghetsis doesn't believe accidental murder/maiming is better than purposeful murdering/maiming, when it comes to the people who are being murdered. The people he's fighting think that accidents are a valid excuse, and that they've done the best they can. Bit of an impasse--there are definitely better ways to convince moderates about this, but in this canon Plasma's definitely tried and failed with those.

What do you mean, you scramble for something to get him what he wants - what he wants is shutting down the broadcast? Unless that's not meant to be him and this line is just confusing? It occurs to me that maybe the idea is Wave didn't register what Markus was saying at all, but then it seems kind of incongruous to show the sentence there anyway. Either way I think it's a bit hard to tell what's happening here.
yup that one's a fair fix that I can implement tonight! done

Again, he's literally holding the referee hostage; he's undermining his own point so hard by going out of his way to point out that somebody should have disciplined him already under normal circumstances. Why is he doing this? (Okay, maybe it's just that he is obviously meant to be a dick, and he cares less about the cause than about lording his power over everyone. But good God. Ghetsis, you absolute nincompoop. You horrid fuckwaffle. You are the worst.)
It's pretty shitty to have someone hold you hostage and then talk on your behalf about what they're saying is best for you, yeah.

Disregarding that, I'm happy to see him actually start to make a concrete point, about how often excessive force actually happens and is permitted by League rules. That's a legit thing to focus on and criticize if it's a common thing. However, I think this is undermined a bit by the fact we don't actually have a concrete idea what a yellow card means. Sure, Ghetsis called what he was doing to the Volcarona a yellow card, but as we've established I don't believe him, and even if this sort of permanent injury really is in the upper end of what counts as a yellow card (leaving red cards for literally nothing short of actually killing someone, I guess?), that doesn't tell us what the average yellow card is given for. The notion that every yellow card is a permanent debilitating injury doesn't make sense - that'd mean the excessive force penalties start at that. So what, in practice, does it actually mean that there have been fifteen matches where two penalty cards have been given? It's very hard to tell.
mostly agreeing here; the worldbuilding could be incorporated a bit more cleanly here. Struggling a bit to rephrase it at this exact moment but I'm mulling it over!

We also don't actually know how long League history is. Has it been around for 2000 years? Are there dozens, hundreds of matches every year? If so fifteen matches over the course of all that history with two penalties doesn't actually seem like all that much, but then again maybe there are much fewer matches or it's a lot younger. Ghetsis is implying it's a completely unacceptable amount, but I'm not exactly inclined to take him at his word at this point.
I think that's an interesting question though--how many horrible injuries is too many before you should change the system? And twice, in the same match, with the same people? Ghetsis stans zero. Alder does not.

Ghetsis makes an actual good point here, finally (amidst being a dick)! If someone has a pattern of using excessive force over and over, it's clearly no longer an accident and that person should be disqualified from the sport and disgraced. I am successfully persuaded that Alder should not be a Pokémon trainer, and that the League's rules are apparently way too lax in a way that enables abuse.

(However, this is an argument against Alder and the League's current rules, and not against the very concept of Pokémon training. This problem would be solved by just fixing the rules, and Ghetsis has made no argument that it's necessary to abolish training altogether.)
Agree! I'm trying to find an elegant way to bring the worldbuilding up earlier and stumped tonight, but workshopping it for now.

And yes! It would be a better compromise from Ghetsis's POV if people just retooled the League system to make sure that pokemon aren't hurt any more than they rightfully would want to be, just like it would be a better compromise from Hilda's POV to do anything besides summon Reshiram and end the world. But here we are, backed into corners because no one wants to listen.

I am absolutely not buying that none of this is illegal under League rules. If it weren't, why'd Ghetsis even have to take the referee hostage in the first place?
Might be me being cynical here + a lot of current events leaking in to my own writing, so I get why this might not be convincing but--in my country it's a lot easier to get away with literally murdering people if you're a cop and can claim the "valid" reasons of self-defense or something than you can if you're a regular person. Laws can be written in a way that favor the people who enforce/make them, and wildly against the people who don't. And I think we're a lot more likely to internally justify people doing bad things if we agree with the person doing the bad things. Ghetsis is aware of this. I, uh, have many modern day examples that I am currently living with that I can cite if you're down, but I also understand why this isn't really a fun reality to think about, since I fucking hate that it's real for me as well.

This is interesting, and it's worth criticizing the fact the Champion here has significant political power simply by virtue of winning a battle - that's definitely nonsense that should never have been allowed to happen. But he's also kind of undermining his own point again - okay, so the current lax rules that constitute his main point against Pokémon training were literally just enacted by Alder fifteen years ago? So really the badness here is pretty much all just because of this one jackass and the bad political system that gave him power, and not because of anything inherent to Pokémon training? It pretty much sounds like just deposing Alder and enacting some political reforms would fix that problem.
Mmm, agree here, in my head Alder just speeds up the decline, not starts it. Again, some irl frustrations leaking here that I think I should've conveyed a bit more clearly. Fifteen years is also a long time to be able to fuck people over in my country, haha, but I do respect that in areas that aren't based in America the infrastructure might be strong enough to resist that.

(Obviously, even if it's curable that doesn't make it fine and dandy, especially if healing it is hard and expensive and the Pokémon would be in pain the entire time. But it is significant! Permanent injuries are much, much worse than healable injuries. People consent to suffering pain and potential injury all the time when it's expected to simply heal, while when you've got a serious risk of permanent damage you start to talk about banning the activity.)
Yeah, a bit of a hard port from our world/perception of pain to someone else's--I think the key word is as always "consent". I guess my counterpoint here is that I can heal a bruise over a (relatively) short period of time with (relatively) no consequence to myself/my well being, but I don't think that makes it okay to inflict that on me without my consent. Again, the rough and messy issue of how much suffering is permissible suffering: Ghetsis says none, Alder says some; where should we stand?

I would maintain that of course intent matters; if you step on my foot deliberately you are an asshole and I will want to avoid you from then on, whereas if you step on my foot accidentally it hurts just as much but it does not reflect upon your character or your future likelihood of stepping on my foot in any way, and I will still be happy to hang out with you. But more importantly, Wave's line of thought here isn't coherent to me? Ghetsis did purposefully maim the Pokémon. Treating that like just another match, the thing Wave thinks Markus is doing, is treating it like intent doesn't matter (like this is no different from any match where this sort of thing might happen by accident), while thinking this particular match is specially evil (which it is) is treating it like it matters. But Wave's talking about it like it's the other way around? This doesn't make sense to me.
Mmm, yeah, this is a dichotomy I want to write in a bit more clearly; still not sure how to tackle it now--but tldr: I think being able to assume someone is doing something by accident is a luxury in itself, one that requires that you assume someone could possibly have good intent. If you're Wave, and you have to watch humans witnessing, causing, and ignoring pokemon pain over and over again--would it be easy to really assume they mean well?

Wellll, that would generally be because (at least in the vast majority of interpretations) humans are a lot squishier than Pokémon, and will be killed or permanently injured by things that a Pokémon would shrug off. It is not weird or hypocritical for people to react differently to something that might hurt but is ultimately harmless than to something that will literally kill or maim someone. The person having chosen to partake is a perfectly valid reason to accept and embrace the former, whereas the latter is obviously extremely alarming and should be stopped. It has nothing to do with not realizing that Pokémon can feel pain, or some hypocrisy of considering humans' pain more important than Pokémon's - unless you're interpreting the world in a way where humans literally can shrug off Flamethrowers to the same degree Pokémon can, of course. Which I don't think you are - if you are I think that probably should be clearer, because then that's really significant.
More of the former, less of the latter--humans ignore pokemon pain on the same scale that humans do for this battling canon to work. And again, I think this just boils down to who draws lines where: League/Alder thinks some pain is allowed, that if you can hurt pokemon to a point that they can still heal/aren't permanently ruined from it, it's still okay.

This could be indicating humans really can shrug off Flamethrowers, but let's be real, everything indicates Ghetsis is just lying again.
No yeah he's shitposting argument that he's seen in favor of permissible levels of pokemon pain and applying them instead to human pain.

I mean, there is a non-zero risk of death when you do literally anything. Nobody actually expects a zero risk of death - sometimes people say they won't accept a non-zero risk of death, but then they go drive cars anyway, which definitely has a non-zero risk of death. If she really would only pass out, and death or permanent injury would be a freak accident, then yeah, sure, she can fight a Pokémon, if she wants to; why not? (But unfortunately, Ghetsis is lying and nobody should trust him.)
Yes, I think that's fair, but I also don't think Ghetsis cares. There's a non-zero chance that my dog will get hit by a car if I take her for a walk, but I'd still be viewed as a shitlord (and I would say rightfully so) if I used her to dogfight. The ends don't justify the amount of non-zero risk being asked here.

He really hasn't. In all of this Ghetsis hasn't once mentioned whether the Pokémon involved in battling (truly and freely) want to be. That's the really important question here, and he doesn't even care. Ghetsis you absolute maggot of an excuse for a human being. You hypocritical fucknugget. You agency-denying ass.
Alder doesn't really get what Ghetsis is trying to say here, which is why Alder says the point has been made. Alas. No one is listening, 2020.

...says Zekrom, as if Hilda is in any way responsible for the carnage here? Her vision doesn't require this; Ghetsis' did. What does any of this have to do with the future she envisions? As imperfect as Hilda appears to be, I'm guessing the ideal future she's envisioning doesn't have Ghetsis in it.
Fair, but also like, Zekrom doesn't really know the context here. They sort of show up and it's oops all carnage all the way down, and no one really catches them up.

I like this, and how we know why he's bitter because we found out last chapter (later).
Zahhak has Thoughts (TM) about Reshiram summoning lol.

Oof. I like this a lot, how there was actually a brief peace and the potential for things to end better (like in the previous chapter, too) only for Grimsley to emerge and inadvertently ruin it.
no one! listens! 2020! sad feels for days, but yeah--I think there's a lot of potential here for the good end here, but we keep missing it.

What about whether they want this, Ghetsis, you literally just said she can read minds.
Tricky question! His son can talk to them and hasn't gotten resoundingly positive responses, so yeah, he finds it kind of weirds that Caitlyn's going for the 100% correct route--sort of like when a guy says he got 100% of the votes in an election with more than one part; you sorta gotta call bullshit.

I'm really curious about what people generally believe about Pokémon in this world. You're implying here again that they don't realize Pokémon can feel pain, which is just a deeply strange idea to me - is that an actual common thing people believe here?
Agree, sort of driving the point into the ground here, but I did want to answer all these questions since they happen a lot--it's not that they don't think the pain exists; it's just that they think what's happening is tolerable.

This is also a neat moment, but I think it's undermined a bit because this is simply down to the entirely coincidental fact that the ceiling went and collapsed on Zahhak and not on Ghetsis. If the police had come in and shot Zahhak while arresting Ghetsis - that'd demonstrate an injustice, and calling it not right would be a call to action, something wrong with the world that a character can be left wanting to correct. Here, it's only "not right" in the sense that a natural disaster happening to kill a good person while a bad person lives is "not right"; it's kind of instinctively dismaying, sure, but it's not unjust and it doesn't mean anything. I'm curious why you chose to have Zahhak's death be an accident (and not even an in-battle accident from the use of excessive force, like the accidents Ghetsis kept going on about, but an accident only tangentially related to there having been battling going on). As far as I can tell it only kind of weakens this ending?
It's ... messy, and again I think tied perhaps into things that are happening in my own world and not in other places? When you treat someone as a threat you're more likely to end up killing them, even by accident. If you assume they're able to endure more pain then you are, you might accidentally think they could survive a ceiling collapsing on them (what's this attack vs a Rock Slide, really?). If you escalate a situation and start going for more lethal methods of subduing people, you might fuck up and kill them. Whereas, if just a human were in a collapsing building, would the first result really be to burrow through the foundation? Caitlyn teleported in with no issue; the krookodile response here is ultimately unnecessary because humans have accepted that some risks are acceptable, and it ends in tragedy.

All that said, it was a gripping read and man, you must be doing something right to make me have this many feelings on it. (Once again, I am sorry for how ridiculously long this is.) I hope this has been at least an amusing read and gave you something to chew on! I'm intrigued to see how the following chapters work with all this.
My response to the two beeg lovely paragraphs above this were kind of scattered across this response, but in general--I think these are fair takes; just not sure how to address them at this exact second! Like you said, a lot to chew on. I definitely wanted to keep the nuance here, but it's a bit hard to build these up the way I want. Thinking these through, and I really appreciate that you wrote these out!! I'm just, rip, struggling to figure out exactly where I want to tweak, but I'm really glad you took the time to write this all out!

Given the social context in which this story takes place, can/do pokemon consent to battling?
👀
(also, hi! Thank you for chiming in here.)

I think your assessment on this question in general is exactly what I wanted to convey here. I'm really glad that you pulled from the various threads across this story. This is pretty much exactly why I picked these narrators in these spots, so it's really reassuring to see that these later beats land where they should.

I might as well talk about Ghetsis now. I remember there was a conversation about him on the Discord server earlier, and it seemed like he was a bit of a divisive figure. I can see why---but personally, I feel inclined to sympathize with him. It is true that his actions are obviously hypocritical---I imagine Ghetsis would probably acknowledge this himself if he were pressed. But that's kind of beside the point, in a sense. He has seen---thanks to pokemon battles---that the masses are enamored with spectacle, that they respond to it. He chooses to make his point in the way he does because he thinks---reasonably, as far as I can tell---that he will reach the most people that way. He thinks the resulting good will outweigh the harm he causes. He might be right; he gets through to Wave, at least. I think I was more charitable than most people in interpreting his arguments; specifically, I was kind of surprised to see a complaint made that Ghetsis never addressed the question of whether pokemon consent to battling or not. Personally, I just assumed reading chapter 2 that it must be widely understood that pokemon don't consent to it (or consent under duress), because otherwise *of course* it's something he would have addressed---his entire argument rests on that premise!

I read Ghetsis as someone who is frustrated with peoples' complacency. Maybe he tried changing minds with reason, and it didn't work. Now he's willing to do whatever it takes to force people to acknowledge injustice, even if it means committing unjust acts himself.
I really love this analysis and I think it's almost clearer than the one I had in my own head, haha. Yes. This! This all the way. Ghetsis is messy, he does horrific things, but yes, there are some correct things here.

N replies that he hasn't found any pokemon who claim to hate their masters. When I read that initially, I didn't think too much of it. But now I find myself thinking back to what Tourmaline says of Cheren in Chapter 3:
I think this analysis is also right--it doesn't really make sense for either of them to say this, lol. What I wanted to get at is the heart of some future chapters: you don't have to hate someone to cause them harm. I also think that future chapters are (in theory) going to approach this in a way more nuanced way, so I'm going to edit around this section as soon as I figure out how I want to do that.

Anyway, I'll put that aside. I think the question posed by chapter 6 is interesting. I would put it as: "Regardless of intent, is it right for someone to decide pokemons' future for them?" Coming from a utilitarian moral framework, I'm inclined to say yes. I don't care about freedom or choice; I care about happiness and the reduction of suffering. What matters is: does N have good reason to think that the future he wants will make pokemon and humans happier? And again, from what we have been shown, I am inclined to say yes. We see pokemon abused and coerced by humans throughout the story---Tourmaline and the bisharp were abused (forgive me for forgetting their name), and even the joltik in Chapter 8 was implied to have been manipulated by its previous trainer to some extent:
Bisharp doesn't have a canonically-referenced name yet, so no worries!

And yes, I really appreciate the phrasing of the argument here! I think N is right to think what he does; ultimately his solution is still messy, but does he have a better choice? Maybe? Probably no?

Conversely, I don't think humans would really lose out on all that much if they were to be separated from pokemon. Obviously they would miss out on a lot of sport (boo hoo), but... I don't see much integration of pokemon into society outside of battling in this story. I don't get the sense that humans are relying on pokemon for electricity, or construction, or for anything really practical like that. Basically, humans would be fine without pokemon. Life would go on.
Same as in the games tbh--we usually only ever see this from the human's POV, where practical things like electricity and construction are brought up as human benefits, but what do pokemon get out of this? And what better things do they get out of battling, where they constantly are faced with tons of harm--is there a reward that could justify that in this partnership? The answers aren't really satisfying, and I wish people in this universe would think more about them.

Also, I just want to say that the feels in this chapter were good. Emotional, but not saccharine. That was something I enjoyed.
muh babbies

In the interest of fairness, I feel like I should talk about Ace and Amara. They actually want to be with their humans. In Amara's case, though, it's clear that she has doubts. Also, I think that her personal philosophy is poisonous (she seems to think she's only worth a damn if she sacrifices herself to protect something)... But I suppose if that mindset is something inherent to her species, then there is an argument to be made that it should be honored, if only because it's too ingrained to be changed. But the fact that she has doubts implies her mind *can* be changed, in which case... shame that didn't happen.
Bit of an (unfortunate) running theme, I think--lots of people could've probably been backed off of their positions, if anyone had just asked them and listened.

Ace also seems sort of... Brainwashed, I almost want to say? Maybe not deliberately, but... Well, his internal monologue never really seems to address Rhea's arguments, and as soon as Sam comes back he's quite eager to stop thinking about it. "It’s all going to be fine now," he thinks to himself. That sentence implies to me that things weren't fine before, that Rhea's arguments really were a threat to his worldview, and that maybe if he actually thought about them instead of defaulting to what he's been told his whole life, he might start to see the merit in them.
I listened to very tilted talk radio to get myself into the mindset to write Ace, yeah. Method acting writing has some thoughts, but I do think it's unfortunately pretty realistic to trench yourself into an extreme opinion, no matter whose side you're on, and refuse to listen to anything else. Sad dog times.

Anyway, I should probably actually try to comment on the writing. Frankly, since I think it is good, I don't have much to say about it. There were very few parts I would have changed, and some parts I would have praised, but I never really wrote them down because I just wanted to read the damn story. Sorry, kintsugi. If you want better feedback, you're going to have to start writing worse.
Well! Luckily! I might just have the thing--

Basically, I feel like you are good at writing dense, realistic dialogue and getting in the head of each pokemon in the story. Second person is an unusual choice, and I don't usually like it, but I think I see the idea behind it here. You're directly challenging us to put ourselves in the pokemons' shoes, to think as they think, and that makes sense given the ideas in the story. At least, that's how I saw it.

In particular I want to mention that Chapter 2, "notorious," was really well done in my opinion. I feel like it must have taken an absolute ton of work to write and revise, but at no point did the pacing falter. It was engaging for me throughout all 7k or so words (at least, according to the wordcounter I used. Jesus, mate. That's a lot of words). As good as any action movie I've seen, in that regard.

So yeah, I think you basically know what you're doing, and as such I don't have much to suggest right now.
I really really cherish this review and I'm glad you took the time to write it; entirely serious here--it's really satisfying to see the things I'm trying to say land right where I wanted them to, in all of these weird and nuanced ways that I wasn't sure about executing correctly. Thank you so so much for taking the time and brainpower to engage with this on the level that you did here!!
 

kintsugi

golden scars
Location
waiting for the fog to roll out
Pronouns
she/her
Partners
  1. silvally-grass
  2. lapras
  3. golurk
author's note:
hi, it’s me, long time no see.

In many ways, the first half of this fic came easily. It was vaguely predictive, but in reality it was mostly retrospective, musings on a world that is in many ways similar to the one I’ve known for most of my life.

By nature, as my fiction goes further back in time and I go further forward, the world I’m writing diverges steadily from the world I’m living. The end was easy to think about, and easy to imagine, and above all easy to justify how people found themselves backed into the corners they were in—they’d been painted there. But the beginning was harder, and especially as the world outside spiraled further into chaos, I found it harder and harder to write about blissfully unaware children slowly wandering down the road that took them to the end, painting boxes around one another.

I’ve had to face the music that things in real life probably won’t clear up in the next few weeks, or months. As I tried to illustrate in this fic, good and bad change is systemic, and therefore gradual. I doubt I will reach that mindset where it becomes easy and wholesome to write peaceful beginnings any time soon. If anything I expect my online presence to diminish pretty heavily in the upcoming weeks, so, in the interest of cutting that off at the head: first drafts all the way down are better than no drafts all the way down. I will try to revisit this in the upcoming months, with no promise of when I’ll be able to capture that mindset properly. I’ll be editing and poking at these chapters, but for now—if you don’t want to read the crappy versions, and I truly do not blame you, please consider coming back in a year or four. Hopefully fewer.

Anyway. Thank you for reading to the halfway point. We have seen the consequences of inequality: wrath, ignorance, fear, and ultimately, envy. Now we return to eden.
 
x. nudum

kintsugi

golden scars
Location
waiting for the fog to roll out
Pronouns
she/her
Partners
  1. silvally-grass
  2. lapras
  3. golurk

x. nudum

※​

My dear sister, Kobo told you once, I have learned a terrible secret.

Kobo broke your pack’s rules, and with that breach came a terrible price. There wasn’t punishment from the pack, for the truth he learned was a horrible one—the world had punished him enough. But it didn’t punish him swiftly, didn’t stop him from spreading his secret to you.

As far as humans are concerned, zoroark and their children no longer live in Unova. At first it was a choice; in recent years it had become necessary. Your kind wasn’t meant for fighting, but that was all humans thought you would be good for. Companionship was such a scant reward for what they wanted to make you do—it was safer to never come down the mountain again, and let the memory of the skinchangers fade from their minds until they stopped seeking you. Your great-grandparents were the last of your kind to be close enough to a human to know one, but the stories persist. Humans are spiteful, horrible creatures, whose fragile bodies cannot even contain all the hate they hold within, so they must instead inflict it onto others.

When Kobo returned, he told you the other version that the humans told themselves: long ago, a pokémon forswore herself to a human, and promised that she would always hear when that human called. And from that day on, pokémon would always appear when humans cried out.

But one day, a young human, callow and foolish, fastened a sword, with which he smote many pokémon. He continued sundering with no remorse until finally, he searched far and wide for more pokémon to fight and found none. In that moment, a that pokémon appeared to him, and bowed low.

“If you continue to strike down my siblings with your steel,” the pokémon warned, “from your kind with our fangs and claws we will extract our toll.” And in that moment, the pokémon transformed, opened her mouth, and bared her wicked fangs.

The human, horrified, threw his sword into the sea, and pokémon once again agreed to live peacefully alongside humans so long as humans never again took up the sword.

This, Kobo told you when he returned, is what the humans told themselves. You responded that it was a stupid story. If humans were so good that they could fight their own battles, why did they have the need to capture pokémon? You liked the part where they human tried to kill everything he could see, because that at least made sense, but what human had ever stopped because someone had asked him nicely? Who could be both helpless and all-powerful? What did it matter what your ancestors promised? What did it matter what theirs did?

Kobo spent too much time with humans. The zoroark version of the legend goes a little differently.

Mitama, the first zorua who was gifted with the ability to change face, ventured down to the human villages one day. She found in suffering a human boy, about her age, who cried for her aid. Touched, she offered him one of her tricks, and showed him the secret of how she could appear as one thing and be another.

The boy took it eagerly, and honed it. He learned to craft her illusions into his words, and fashioned himself a pretty lie: that Mitama’s kindness bound pokémon to humans for the rest of time.

Kobo’s secret is simple, but as soon as you hear it, you understand why it has remained a secret all this time—it simply makes no sense.

Inari, the humans love us more when we serve their whims, but they have been loving us this whole time.

It is a stupid lie. It has to be. But after you saw what they did to him, after you realized what learning their secrets had made him become, you couldn’t help but follow him down the slopes as well.

You’ve heard the legends. Humans are full of hate. How else could they so effectively ensnare pokémon? If they ever doubted themselves, if they ever thought they were trying to be kind, surely they’d pull back from the cruelty they were inflicted. So they must know what drives them. Right?

Mitama is a warning to those who would forget that zoroark are predators. Her lesson was passed down for the rest of time, so that all of you could understand where she erred. You do not pity a blitzle before you kill it, after all. You do not claim you love it.

You know what lies at the heart of your illusions, even if you hide that heart from others. Zoroark can deceive each other, but they cannot deceive themselves. This is only logical, after all. You create the illusion. It does not create you. You have mastery over it, and you can choose when the illusion falls and your true self remains.

If humans think what they do now is love … then they have crafted a very powerful illusion indeed.

The boy who took Mitama’s gift never took her heart. He was never raised to understand what it means to change your skins; to have one face for prey, one for battle, one for family. Your face can never fool your own eyes, but spoken lies can reach your ears, and through there, your heart. This was Mitama’s revenge, although she did not know it at the time: humans crafted lies so strong that they fooled even themselves.

You looked through Kobo when he told you that secret, and you stayed with him until the day turned to night.

And in that moment you knew: you would have to find this out on your own. So you, too, crept alongside the sun down the mountainside to find what illusions the humans have woven in your centuries apart.

※​

You aren’t quite sure what starts it, not from where you’re pressed in the throng of humans. But you’re halfway through twisting your way around a palpitoad’s legs when you hear a scream, and then a pop, and you turn just in time to see a gas cannister strike a scolipede in the thorax. The cylinder lodges between the chinks in its reddish armor, and then it begins seeping burning-hot gas while the scolipede shrieks in pain, bucking around wildly.

The rest dissolves into chaos. A water bottle goes flying. Someone is trying to calm the scolipede, which is an impossible task in itself given that she’s five times the human’s size and receiving second degree burns. The air thickens to white haze. More shouting.

You hiss, already scrambling to double back the way you came in, but now that the crowd’s twisting into motion, it’s a lot harder to push through unseen. Should you even try to break through the herd? Every hunter's instinct tells you no; the first one to run is the first one to be picked off.

But this isn’t a hunt; this is humans, you have to remind yourself, and you are not prey. But you can look like one, if that’s what it takes.

You drop to all fours and begin bounding out of the crowd, heedless of the way that the illusion of the human child is far too small and hairless to be responsible for the people you’re shoving away from you.

A man in red clothes is reeling back, coughing into his elbow, and he almost trips over you but you dart left, just in time to avoid a sparking zebstrika, her stripes glimmering gold through the haze. Someone keeps launching more cannisters of gas into the crowd. Other people are shouting commands in great, artificially-booming voices, but you can’t hear them over the chaos, and even if you would, it’s not like you’d listen anyway.

Away. You have to get away. There’s a watchog on the ground, lying limp and making no attempt to pull himself away from the feet that stray too close to crushing him. You stare after him for a moment before a beam of red light envelopes him and he’s gone, and then you’re on the run again, cursing yourself for wasting precious time.

You’re almost out when the gas finally gets in your lungs, sends it festering and burning deep, deep in your chest. You pull up short, gagging, and in that moment your illusion shatters and the child is replaced with the predator.

A roar erupts and you pull up short as the scaled neck of a hydreigon spirals out of the chaos, eyes bloody and wild. His words have no meaning to you; your people forgot the tongue of dragons long ago, but you feel all eyes turn to him. There’s another dragon by his side, her form easily dwarfed, and she lashes out with tusks each as long as your forearm.

That’s all you need to see, you have to remind yourself. You know what happens to dragons. Everyone does. If this is where they choose to make their stand, then it will be their last. Your world will be none the brighter for it, but what are you going to do about it? You need to go; anyone left in the square in the next five minutes will be in a bloodbath. Your breath tries to sear its way out of your throat; the air is burning, burning

Who is responsible for this? There’s a wall of humans in front of you staring back like they’ve been carved in place; there isn’t a shred of empathy that you can see as they fire and fire and fire—

“Mistralton PD! This is unlawful assembly!” someone shouts into a metal cone. “Please return to your homes!” And it’s when you hear that please that you realize Kobo might be right after all, if they think this is what a request looks like. What else would they think, these humans who have forgotten how it feels to hunt another? You should’ve known better; of course humans would be the only people cruel enough to do this to themselves.

More shouts. Cannisters spiraling through the air, dark spheres converging on the hydreigon and his companion—

Behind you the crowd has scattered as well; some are charging at the line of black-bodied, uniformed humans in front of you; some are fleeing towards the back. You skirt around a pair of uniformed ones who pay you no heed and burst out from beneath the wrought iron entryway again. You don’t know the geography around here. Another mistake. But you’re out of the thickest part, and you’re sprinting through the streets, lungs burning, legs about to give out. With a glance back you toss the image of a herdier onto yourself, blue fur flaring out behind you into a cape as you dash headlong forward on all fours. The air is clearer here. You’re almost out.

“Herdier, Halt!”

The image stops, but you certainly don’t. You hobble forward, trying to keep the coughs from crawling up your throat, your claws from clicking on the cobblestones. The problem with illusions is that they can never cover up the noise.

“Blue, is this one of ours?” the human voice says. You can’t see their face or who’s next to them; some of the excess haze is leaking out of the street behind them and cloaking them as well. “Hey, Herdier! Where’s your officer?” He’s fumbling at his shoulder for a black box.

Too late, you realize your mistake when you recognize the pokémon at his side, blue and brown fur and hackles. You’ve dressed up as one of them.

The herdier has his nose pointed straight at you, and you know you’re doomed. You can smell like a herdier if you want to, and with this much gas floating around you’re sure his nose is just as shot as yours is—but can you smell like his herdier? Lillipup packs rarely separate after birth, and even when they do, they will never forget the scent of a sibling.

You inch back slowly, leaving the illusion staring patiently at the two of them, until cold bricks settle up against your hind legs and you’re pressed up against a wall.

The herdier growls, and then the sound deepens into a bark.

Can you scare him off? You know how this works. They have packs because they’re poor hunters alone. He’ll try to intimidate you; he might even trust his nose before his eyes, but as long as you stand your ground, he’ll be too afraid to close the distance; no power on earth would compel a lone herdier to lash out against cornered prey. You puff up the illusion’s fur and let a hissing growl of your own accompany it. {My kind has haunted yours since the beginning of time. Try me, mutt.}

“It must be one of theirs. Retrieve, Blue.”

The human. The human. You forgot about—

The herdier leaps forward in a blur of brown, and you see now that he’s not aiming for the illusion. He has your scent.

Could you outrun them? Probably not, and they can see through you now. Fight? You square your shoulders, claws at the ready for the incoming impact—

“Stop! Hey! That’s my pokémon!”

You’re in a daze, so time seems to skip ahead a few moments until there are shoes in front of your face, a human figure standing in front of you, arms outstretched. The purple silhouette of a liepard twines around her ankles. The herdier pulls up short as soon as it sees the girl, and his attack fizzles out immediately.

“This is a restricted area! Get back!” the man is shouting. But he’s not commanding an attack point-blank, not yet, not with another human in the way.

“Herdier,” the interloper says, trying and failing to sound stern. “Let’s go.”

What is she talking about? Go where?

But the liepard around his ankles fixes you with a flinty gaze. {This is your only chance. Can you stand?}

There’s something in her voice that makes you believe them. You can stand. You’re already standing, one forepaw braced on the ground. But you push the image of the injured herdier to its feet.

“Hypocrites, the lot of you,” says the uniformed human. His voice is muffled by his mask, so it’s hard to make out the specific words, but there’s no mistaking: “Fighting against owning pokémon and then using pokémon yourselves. Stop using them as an excuse just because you want to get ahead. Go home, kid.”

You see the human who saved you stiffen, but she keeps her hands outstretched and keeps backing up. Doesn’t turn her back to either you or the uniformed one. “C’mon, Herdier,” she says pleadingly.

What do you have to lose?

Stop using them as an excuse just because you want to get ahead.

The man doesn’t follow the three of you down the streets, but his words do. They ring in your ears as you follow the human and the liepard down a dash of side streets, the perfect image of a dog trotting obediently after her master. But the man’s words fester in your mind, bouncing around with Kobo’s.

The humans aren’t using you. You were angry long before anyone told you that you were allowed to be.

※​

{You can drop that now,} the liepard says lazily after the girl closes the door, and you find yourself in a dimly-lit room with grungy walls and short ceiling. Ahead of the two of you, the girl fumbles her way against the bed in the center of the room—she has poor night vision, you remember belatedly—before she manages to turn on one of the lamps on the bedside table.

{Drop what?} you ask innocently.

{Skinchanger, I have met no herdier that speaks the forest’s tongue like you do.}

{We can’t all fawn around humans,} you smirk, and you watch as the hairs running down her spine stand on end in response. But you don’t drop your illusion, not around friends like these.

Where are you? Where have you fled to? Where will you go next?

While you ponder this, the girl fusses over every square inch of the liepard, murmuring under her breath. She’s produced strange-smelling white cloths that she rubs over the liepard’s fur until they turn yellow. Sometimes you’ll hear a hiss of pain, followed by a sharp, “Are you okay? Did that hurt?” You watch out of the corner of your eye and then busy yourself with grooming your own fur, patting the mats out as best as you can. Something stings the roof of your mouth when you lick your fur, and almost gag as the acrid scent of gas hits you again. None of that, then.

But the liepard for the most part bears her inspection stoically, and when they’re done, the girl whispers something to the liepard.

{She says you don’t look hurt, but she wants to know if she can check on you too.}

{I’m fine,} you reply frostily. To have a human run her hands over your true body, over your heart—no. You would rather lick your fur until your tongue burned itself off.

The liepard butts her head against her human, and the girl nods and moves off into the other room. You skulk in the corner, tucking yourself between a trash basket and a tall wooden box holding a black screen, while the liepard stares you down from the floral-patterned bedspread.

{Tourmaline,} the liepard says levelly.

It takes you a moment to parse that as a name. {Inari,} you say by way of response.

{Why were you at the protest at all? Do you have somewhere you want to return to? Tonight it is likely unsafe to travel, even for you.} There’s a hint of guarded derision in her words, just a hair, but not enough to spur you to respond in kind. You are tired, and hurt, and besides. If they had wanted to cause you serious harm they would’ve tried by now, surely.

{I am searching for a human. That is why I was lost in the crowd.}

That catches Tourmaline’s attention. Her head pricks up; her eyes narrow to shards of amber, glittering from the dark fur around her face. {What business does a skinchanger have searching for a human?}

You think of Kobo’s voice, the way it lilted in your ears when he shared his secret. He was always the quiet one of the two of you; he selected each of his words with pride. But before his time with the humans, he never once changed his face. He wore the skin of a zorua every day of his life, since the two of you left the womb together until the day he went down the mountain. With the others, you were used to recognizing their cadences, for you could not always see their faces—but with Kobo, you never had to, until the day he returned, with the same voice but a new face.

His thorny secret was not the only thing he received from the humans.

{I owe him a great debt.}

{Oh?} Tourmaline rearranges herself to one side, lazily rubbing her back legs up against the bed’s fabric. Dark fur mixes against the faded pattern of flowers. {Quite unlike you, skinchanger, to have any doings with those of us down here, least of all to owe them something.}

Does her kind scorn yours? Perhaps, depending on where she grew up. Liepard were given fangs and claws, muscles that could rend tree trunks and jaws that could crush skulls. The only thing zoroark had was Mitama’s gift, and she was foolish enough to share. If the blessed wanted to look down on you for not sharing their fate, let them. Why would you care?}

{The human I seek is probably twenty suns old by now.} You scrunch your face up, trying to remember. Was it more? Kobo left long, long ago, when you were still a zorua and your claws were not yet grown. {Maybe more.} Another pause. {Maybe less.} You’re determined not to let her hear the hesitation in your voice. {He has hair the color of grass, and he knows the desert tongue. I followed him into your crowd.}

More than that, you watched him speak in the thick of the crowd this morning. You watched him weave an illusion into the air with only his words. You watched him tell of a future where humans did not need to be full of hate. You watched him claim to love pokémon. You had almost reached him before it all broke.

What a pretty story he told. No wonder this was the one who returned Mitama’s gift to Kobo.

{I admire that you did not run,} Tourmaline says in a quiet voice. {You are brave for that.}

You frown. What did she see? You bolted from the crowd and left them to their own squabbles. If she wanted to be like Mineta and put her lots in with humans who would attack even their own, then let her. Her kind chose to stay with the humans, and if it meant binding stones to her feet while the river took her, then she could do so and admire her handiwork the whole way down.

Her respect seems genuine, though. You watch jealously as she licks at her paw and begins to groom the matted fur of her forelegs back into place. {Why are you fighting alongside them?}

She pauses in her grooming and looks down at you from the bed. Behind her, her tail twitches, an erratic hop in the slow, methodical rhythm it’s been sweeping out this entire time. {Skinchanger, your kind has fled the cities for too long. I do not fight alongside her. Rhea fights alongside me.}

{Why do you say that?}

The liepard tilts her head towards the back room, where Rhea is silhouetted in harsh fluorescent light, pacing tight circles, bare feet on the tiles. The girl holds a box to her ear; alternates between whispering words into it and letting it babble back to her. Her face is pale, and with her free hand she twines a spiral of bright purple hair around her index finger. She’s bleeding from a scrape that runs down her forearm; it’s shallow but caked over in dirt and acid; you can see how she itches to touch it.

Your kind strayed from the humans long ago, but you can recognize the panic of cornered prey when you see it.

{She would be happier without any of this,} Tourmaline explains quietly. {She has no desire to fight; she dropped out of her gym circuit long ago.} You aren’t sure what the words mean, but you imagine a blitzle who has chosen to stop running, and to fall instead into slathering jaws. {But it hurts her to see us hurt, so she fights.}

Humans that would defy their own, for their own reasons. Is this what Kobo meant by the ones that thought they knew love?

“Are you hungry?” Rhea asks, her voice drifting into your conversation, and Tourmaline mewls lazily. It’s wordless, even in her own tongue, but you can sense the affirmation.

There’s a pause, and the sound of someone rummaging through a box. “Blukberry?”

The liepard takes a moment to consider, but says nothing.

“It’s that or rawstberry, Tourm. We weren’t planning on staying in this motel long so I didn’t get us many options.”

Tourmaline huffs and lowers her head onto her front paws. After a long silence, she mewls again.

“Does our friend want some as well?”

{It’s for eating. It is sweet and tastes good,} she says, staring at you. {If you don’t eat yours I would take it for you.}

You’re not quite sure what to make of it. She would share her food with the intent to steal it back? Why even offer it in the first place? {I will try some.} You are ravenous, though. Unless it tastes like poison you will certainly eat yours, and hers if you can find it.

Another yowl.

The girl emerges from the back room, juggling a series of weirdly shaped plastic objects in her arms. She tosses something white to Tourmaline, and then a cylindrical lump lands in front of your herdier illusion. Scentless, too-white, weirdly smooth. What is this?

{The top is weak,} Tourmaline explains before stabbing her claws in through the lid. When her paw emerges, it is covered in pale blue mud, which she languidly begins licking.

What strange habits they have in these parts. You eye the container carefully, and when you look up, Tourmaline’s eyes are fixed on you as well, or at least where she thinks you are.

Mentally, it is too much effort to eat and pretend that the herdier is doing the same. You know this. Very well. If they would share their food with you, you can at least do them the decency of showing them your face. You drop the illusion in front of Tourmaline’s curious eyes, and blink slowly back at her.

{I did not ask for your drama, skinchanger,} she remarks, lazily hunting a fleck of yogurt that spilled onto the bedspread. {I was merely hoping that you were too stupid to open it, so I could have your share.}

You huff and snatch your yogurt into your claws, eyeing it before retreating back under the desk in the corner of the cramped room. Is this supposed to be some sort of fruit? You stab your claws through the top like you saw Tourmaline do, and it gives way almost immediately.

She is correct. It is sweet and tastes good. By the end of it you’ve shoved your snout into this strange, smooth fruit so that you can reach all of it, and you lick it clean.

“That’s not a herdier,” Rhea says, quite astutely, when she gets back and you’re searching for the last bits of yogurt off of the lid.

She is a lucky one. Few humans have seen a zoroark. Even fewer know they have.

But she doesn’t seem to comprehend her blessing; instead, she looks back at Tourmaline, who mutters, {I wish I could explain.} Finally, Rhea shrugs and then flops onto the bed, where she begins unwrapping a meal of her own.

“You okay down there?” she asks. “Hungry, thirsty? Anything? You wanna leave tonight?”

Your head perks up when you realize she’s talking to you, and you hit your head on the underside of the motel’s desk. You bite back a hiss of pain and shake your head pointedly at her.

“Okay, just let me or Tourm know,” Rhea says, and produces a pathetic sandwich from the wrapper, which she begins devouring. “I think everyone got away okay,” she says to Tourmaline between bites. A few crumbs hit the bedspread, which Tourmaline noses after. “I don’t know. But pretty much everyone’s checked in by now.”

{You’re hurt,} Tourmaline responds, and begins licking at the scrape on Rhea’s arm.

“It’s nothing.” She makes a move to push the liepard away. “Don’t lick. I washed it but it could still have gas in it. You’ll be hurt.”

{I have licked my wounds before.}

Rhea flops back, her half-eaten food sandwich forgotten in its wrapper beside her. The liepard shifts and lays her head on Rhea’s chest, and for a long while they are silent and motionless, save for the rise and fall of Tourmaline’s head on the girl’s stomach. In the silence you feel like you’re intruding on something precious.

“That was horrible, Tourm,” she says at last, and it’s only when you hear the shaking of her voice that you realize how young she must be. “I … I didn’t think it’d turn out like that.”

{If they escalate,} Tourmaline reminds her gently, {that means it’s working.}

“Like, I’ve seen it on the news in some of the Hoenn protests, but I never thought they’d turn on us here.” One arm has flopped uselessly onto the bedspread; with the other, she traces over the golden circles on Tourmaline’s back. “I’m scared. Jackson says he doesn’t know what to do either. I’m supposed to get in touch with the Driftveil branch tomorrow so we can get a proper gameplan together; apparently they’ve had to deal with this a little longer than we have, but … gods, Tourm. What are we going to do? I’m not ready for this.”

A slow purr slowly rumbles through Tourmaline’s body.

“I know.” Idly, her hand resumes it slow, repetitive petting. “I know.”

Neither of them say anything else. You watch them for a while—warily, at first; for all you know, this could be another human trick. And then, as Rhea’s hand slows and they both seem to drift off into slumber, your watch changes to one of distanced interest.

This must be what Kobo meant, these humans who thought they were loving you this whole time. Are they even so wrong to believe that? Rhea, with her gentle hands; Tourmaline, with her firm convictions—this could be love. This could be a lie they’ve crafted between the two of them. Either way, you would believe it.

{Skinchanger.}

When you look up, Tourmaline’s eyes bore through you. You thought she’d fallen asleep long ago. {What?}

{You reek of poison.}

{And?}

The liepard huffs. {Come close, and I will clean it for you, since you seem incapable of doing so yourself.}

Surely the poison hurts her as well. You know how it tastes on your tongue. By tomorrow, it may dry and reach your skin, but for now, your fur is thick enough that it is harmless. {You needn’t worry.}

{You reek from here, Skinchanger,} she says quietly. {And clearly you seek to prevent both of us from resting well with your discomfort.}

The liepard is a clever one. You’ll give her that. Grudgingly, you climb up onto the bed beside them, careful to sheathe your claws to avoid snagging in the blanket, and let yourself be groomed like a kit.

She is careful and methodical, rooting around in the thick tufts of your mane to find the tangles and clumps that you missed. You wait expectantly for her to gag, to give up as you did, but she remains persistent. It is both comforting and disquieting to feel someone else so close to you—you haven’t shared your space with another in so long—but you can slowly bring yourself to relax.

You would have endured the acrid taste for Kobo, you tell yourself, or for anyone else in the clan. Just not for yourself.

{The human you seek,} Tourmaline says when she’s finished with your mane and has moved down to your lower back, pausing between licks. Her tongue is larger than Kobo’s was, so she works more quickly. {I can direct you to him.}

Your head pricks up. {Where?}

{I need a favor first.}

Carefully, you bite back a growl. You shouldn’t be surprised. You would’ve asked the same, surely. And this way you know that she isn’t just sending you into a trap; her instructions must be genuine if she is to request something in exchange. {What is your favor?}

{There is a human I am interested in as well. She is familiar with the one you seek, if that reassures you.}

{Is she a friend of yours?}

The grooming stops again. {No.} And then: {Maybe she could’ve been.}

Interesting. It isn’t like liepard to hold their sentimentality like that. {And you want me to find her?}

{I want you to steal from her. She has a strange stone in her possession. It is perfectly round, and black. I want it.}

Oh. Certainly not a friend. {Why?}

{So that she cannot have it,} Tourmaline says simply.

You mull it over. This was more what you expected from a pokémon that would permit herself to live alongside a human. Always scheming, always planning to exchange one thing for the next. It soothes you somehow, to know that this is how things are going to be. {Why would you not go yourself?}

{Rhea needs me here. I am busy. And.} She adds the next part grudgingly, like it pains her to say: {She keeps the orb directly on her person. I would struggle to steal it. But you, with your gifts, would fare much better.}

{Flattery will get you nowhere.}

{No,} she responds lightly, {but I will tell you where your human friend is, and I find that to be much more compelling than flattery.}

{Well met.} You pause, to mull over your options. You could find the changeling human yourself, you suppose. You almost had him before. But Tourmaline has been kind to you, and you will repay her favor in turn. That seems only fair. {I will do as you ask.}

{Thank you, Inari.}

She finishes cleaning you without another word, and you slowly drift off to sleep.

※​

Mistralton is strange, even for a human city. It hums periodically, and then it whines, and then the sky is split apart by enormous metal creatures that don’t move as they fly overhead. None of the humans seem to care. You make your illusion flinch back at the first one, since that seems like the only truly logical response, but when you notice that the rest of the humans trickle about their day, you make your illusion pay it no mind either.

Kobo sought out the humans to return one of their own, their strange laughing cub that they’d left to the elements. As you look at the quiet morning, creep around the rows and rows of shops, you see now that it was the perfect task for one someone who regarded the humans with curiosity rather than fear, but it was so ill-suited to one who had yet to learn how to hide his face. Kobo never learned how to hide his face properly, and could cast no illusions on his behalf. Without his skinchange, the deerling and the blitzle saw him as a predator. The liepard saw him as competition. So he went further down the slopes instead, but down here, surely at best he was just something rare and pretty to be put up behind a glass case and admired.

You decide to wear the changeling’s face as you saw it in the crowd yesterday, to remind yourself what you’ve been looking for. Idly, you cast yourself in the illusion of a tall male human with a puff of green hair, a slight slouch, distracted fingers that fidget with the skin of his pants. It’s the details that matter. He had a quiet face, one that you don’t think anyone would take offense to or even approach. A slightly lilting way of walking, very careful and seemingly random at the same time. The voice doesn’t matter, but his words still ring in your ears.

When asked about the nature of a pokémon’s plight, a human can never know the truth. How can we, if don’t listen? But when it comes to the nature of their own suffering, this much is clear: pokémon never tell lies. How can we possibly claim to know better than all that they know?

The crowd you watched believed him. And, standing confidently on his makeshift stage and addressing a crowd that was about to shatter, he certainly seemed to believe himself. But they all would, of course. That’s what lies are for.

“N?” someone calls. You prick your ears slightly. She sounds tentative, but certain. It’s possible you could change your face in time. You pull up short but don’t turn around, struggling to remember the details of a man you’d passed before. He was old and had golden hair. Hopefully she won’t notice that his face doesn’t match your stature. “N, what are you doing here? I … I saw what happened yesterday. Are you okay? I thought Skyla said you all had to leave town.”

There are footsteps on the pavement, and you turn around with your new face just as she runs up to you. Her face falls when your eyes meet, and she stops short of touching you.

“I’m so sorry,” she says. Her face reddens and she looks at her feet. “You just … you looked like someone I thought I knew. Sorry.” And before you can consider if grunting will make the illusion even more unbelievable than it is, she’s hurrying off, her face flushed bright red.

You stare after her while you keep the illusion smiling peacefully at its feet. Thunderous eyes. A proud chin. Dark brown hair, poofy enough to hold many secrets. The description doesn’t quite fit the apologizing, embarrassed woman in front of you, but you’re sure this is the Hilda Tourmaline told you about.

Right after she rounds the corner, you cloak yourself as a purrloin and pad after her.

Hilda is very boring for a human. She walks around downtown for a bit while talking to her phone. She visits her injured zebstrika in the healer’s building—it’s injured just cut it loose—and now she’s just milling around downtown again, looking in all the shop’s windows and never once going in.

By sunset she retrieves her supplies from the healer’s building and sets up a camp on the edge of town. A fire follows soon after.

Your real issue will be the bird, Touraline warned you. She’ll usually make camp with all of her pokémon. Her psychic stargazer will be blind to you, not that it matters—his eyes are always on the constellations, cryptic whispers but never open ears. The grass snake will have her eyes on Hilda and Hilda alone. The zebstrika might’ve given you issues, but she’s spending the night at the healer’s building. The bird, though—always quiet, always watching. You were warned.

She releases the three of them from their pokéballs, and you’re careful to keep your distance—now that the sun is set and her fire is coaxed into a warm, crackling roar, the shadows on the trees are harder to imitate. You’re good, but why take the risk?

It goes just as Tourmaline said it would: the bird immediately takes to the trees, his overlarge feet finding purchase on a branch. Her grass snake stays close, and when you see her emerge you can see she’s too small to be a proper threat anyhow. The stargazer burbles something and floats off into the trees, and you’re happy to let him.

Meanwhile, Hilda props a metal box up on a rock, and light surges across its surface until it forms the face of a smiling, blonde girl.

“Hey, Bianca.”

“Hi, Hilda! Oh, and hi, Vaselva!” the image, apparently named Bianca, says cheerfully, and then her face contorts into a frown. “Are you okay? I saw what happened on the news and I was so worried, gosh. I know you were in Mistralton …” She leaves the rest unspoken.

Hilda was in the crowd. You know, because you saw her and her zebstrika, lancing cannisters down with spears of lightning. So you weren’t expecting it, but you aren’t shocked, when she says, “Don’t worry about it, I was nowhere near.”

Bianca isn’t very good at detecting lies, so her sigh of relief is audible even from where you’re lurking. “Thank goodness. I remember you’d been interested in some of the Plasma, um, stuff, so when I heard …”

She trails off again, and you idly wonder if this is a good distraction to steal the stone or if you should wait until they all drift off to sleep. Hilda’s voice doesn’t shake one bit when she says, “I mean, they have good ideas, but after what they did to you? I can’t just stand with people like that.”

There’s a long pause. Bianca mumbles something like, “Actually, I was planning on—”

{What are you doing?}

You spin around to see the stargazer, his eyes glowing with a strange blue light.

You don’t hesitate. Your claws sink through his shimmering green ectoplasm and up against his chest, and a pulse of dark energy knocks him out in an instant. You look up over your shoulder, worried that perhaps your cover has been blown, but the grass snake is just resting her head on Hilda’s knee, and Hilda’s enraptured with the screen in front of her.

“—Bi, you can’t be serious. Can you even drop a fellowship like that?”

“I’d do research; it’s fine,” Bianca replies calmly. “Juniper won’t mind as long as it’s for her, right?”

“Yeah, but you can’t know—”

“I do know,” Bianca says, with enough conviction that Hilda stops short. “Look. I thought a lot about what they told me after they gave Munny back, and … they’re right, you know? I’m not cut out for this. And honestly I don’t think any of my pokémon want it that badly; they all seemed happy when I broke the news to them. That stuff you told me, about how my pokémon get hurt if I’m not good enough to protect them? That’s what Plasma told me too. And even Iris. And … I think all three of you are right.”

You tune them out a little, and instead set your focus back on her backpack. The stone’s in there. They’re probably distracted enough, and besides—you’ve only got until she tries to recall the stargazer before Hilda notices something’s up. You narrow your eyes at the lump of fabric. Would it be in one of the pockets? Tourmaline didn’t know, and you can’t be sure either.

“That’s not what I meant,” Hilda’s saying while you calculate the angle of her backpack from here, trying to gauge the type of illusion that’ll cover enough of it while you go through the side pockets. “There’s a way to do this without being a bad person, you know? Good people can demonstrate good training.”

“Is there such a thing? And what if bad people don’t listen?”

The changeling’s words ring in your ears again. How can we possibly claim to know better than all that they know?

“I don’t know, Bianca. I’ll make them listen. At some point you can get strong enough that people can’t ignore you, and when I do, I’ll change things.”

The air ripples, and you tense. For a moment you’re afraid that the stargazer is back, but then you see everyone else has felt it too—both Hilda and her grass snake are staring at the bag.

But Bianca, safely protected by the screen, doesn’t feel a thing, and blithely continues, “And I’ve always been really impressed with you for that, you know? But that’s not for me.”

While they’re distracted, you creep closer to the bag, delicately undoing the side pockets as quietly as you can. You can feel something now, humming at the bottom, dormant and forgotten. You reach forward, and your claws clasp on something smooth and round.

In that instant, it feels like lightning strikes you. Your fur stands on end, and there’s a clamoring roar in the back of your mind, inexorable as a waterfall, screaming for attention—

You shriek and scramble back, your outstretched arm hanging useless and numb.

“What’s that?” Hilda’s turning around; her grass snake is faster on the uptake, already funneling green energy around the leaves of her neck. You see Hilda’s gaze sweep across the campsite, across your shattered illusion, the stargazer’s limp body at the edge of the clearing.

Before she can say anything else, you’re gone.

※​

Tourmaline is kind. She holds up her end of the bargain, even if you only tried to hold up yours. {I didn’t know what I expected from you, skinchanger,} she says tightly, but you sense a tinge of concern in her words. {Truly, I thought you would’ve just run.}

So you put on the illusion of Hilda—any human would do, really, but she’s the one whose face you remember the best—and Tourmaline she takes you to see the changeling human. Up close, you see the details you would’ve gotten wrong in his face the first time—his jawline is softer than you imagined; his smiles don’t quite reach his eyes.

You remember the stilted, transitive conversation between you and her and Rhea, and you sigh. This might take a while. {Tell him I want to ask him a question.}

{He knows,} she responds archly. When you turn around, the human is waiting patiently, his hands in his front pockets as he watches your conversation with polite but distanced interest.

{How does he—}

{He listens,} Tourmaline answers simply, and bounds away.

“My name is N,” the human says in a carefully-controlled voice. “What’s yours?”

{Inari.} You make the image of the girl’s mouth move alongside yours, twist the growls out of her lips, and you’re sure from his reaction that this is the most frightening illusion you’ve cast today. Have you messed up her face again? Humans are hard. Do they only have two fangs, or are they supposed to have more?

Idly, you try shoving in more, so that the next time she smiles her mouth is just a mess of pointed teeth. Judging from his reaction, you went in the wrong direction.

His jaw and eyes aren’t all you would’ve gotten wrong if you’d taken his face instead, though. This one has shapechanged quite a bit since you last saw him. Humans are weird—they change slowly, instead of all at once. But if he’s who you think he is, you haven’t seen him in almost a decade. {I wanted to talk to you. You’re the one who changed my brother.}

He has trouble looking the illusion in the eye; he ends up looking somewhere at her midriff, which, coincidentally, leaves him staring blindly into your face. “What?”

{We found you in the forest. Your parents were careless to have let you wander so far when you could barely walk.} Your voice is rising in excitement; you’re sure he doesn’t even understand everything that you’re saying, but you want him to know. {Some of us wanted to raise you. You babbled in the desert tongue. A good trick for a human, especially one so young. Some of us thought otherwise. Where one human wanders, a thousand more will follow. That has always been the rule of the wild. When you find a stray cub, best to throw it back before the rest follow the scent.}

He doesn’t answer for a long moment. His brow goes slack. It’s like he’s staring off into the distance, into a time years in the past. “You aren’t the zorua who took me back, though. He sounded different, but … like you, as well.”

You try not to sound stiff. {Kobo and I shared one womb.}

“Is he …” He trails off.

Kobo came back from his time with the humans with a horrible secret and a new face. Both were equally terrifying, and both drove you to seek out the changeling. The secret, for what it said. And the face, for what it didn’t. When Kobo left, he could cast no illusions. When he returned, he refused to show you his true face, or his false face, or any face at all. He was just a voice lingering in the wind, staying with you but never showing itself.

He had learned something from the humans, you’d decided once he’d fallen silent and you could no longer find him. He’d finally learned how to lie even to himself, hidden his face so well that no one could coax him out of it.

{He lives,} you say, which is both the truth and easier than explaining the truth. You narrow your eyes as you survey this human. He has a nice face. Could you peel it back with one claw to find out what he hides beneath? You aren’t sure what there would even be to hide. He is a poor illusionist. You see why Kobo pitied this one. All of the emotions are on the surface, plain for everyone to see.

It must’ve taken a long time for this one to return Mitama’s gift. Kobo left with the changeling in the fall. Winter came, then spring, then summer, then fall again. Over and over again, until one day, Kobo came with the seedlings pushing their way through once-frozen soil. He came with a new face and a sad smile and a horrible secret.

{After he returned you, did he stay?}

“A bit,” he responds. “He was very kind.”

{Why did he leave you?}

The human swallows nervously, but he doesn’t try to lie, which is wise of him. “He learned—I should start from the beginning. I was led to understand that Kobo and the rest of your family live far away from humans,” he begins, which doesn’t answer your question at all. “Is it because you don’t wish to be bothered by them?”

{Your family is arrogant, cruel, and blind,} you retort proudly. Let him fight you, like the human who tried to put pokémon to the sword. Let him try. {Me and mine have no desire to bow to your whims.}

But he doesn’t seem surprised by your response. Instead, he blinks placidly, and continues: “My … brother thought much the same. And my father as well. Between them I was never permitted to look away from the atrocities of what humans have done to pokémon. Kobo was more optimistic.” He pauses here, and has to pick the rest of his words carefully. You imagine him carefully crafting his lies into words. “For a while. He firmly believed that it was just the evil humans doing the bad things, and once we rooted all of them out, we would fix things. For a while I believed him too.”

There’s a cut on his cheek that gleams red in the streetlamp.

“Kobo is a fast learner, faster than me. He realized you don’t need to hate someone to be cruel to them. If you ignore their pain, you can watch them suffer and still claim to love them. Many humans do that. When he learned that, he left us. He said among his clan there is no sympathy for those whose lies fool themselves, nor is there any for those whose lies cannot fool others.”

{And what do you think now?} you ask carefully.

“I’m not sure.”

It’s when you look him in the eyes and see the dejected despair that you understand: your poor, sweet brother was right all along. You’d wanted to see the strange human who had returned to him Mitama’s gift, who let him hide so well, but you should’ve known—Mitama’s gift can only be given, not shared. If this human gave such a perfect version to Kobo, he could have kept none for himself.

This one wants to fight for pokémon. You gathered this much from him and Rhea and Tourmaline. But he lacks the conviction still, lacks the ability to convince others to change. He used all of that power on your brother instead.

{You gave my brother a great gift, although you may not know it. I do not understand how, but you taught him what we never could: you taught him how to change.} You shift your weight, your snout tilted defiantly up so it almost touches his chin. {But I see now you have forgotten how to teach that lesson.}

You may as well have raked your claws across his face for the way he stiffens and then looks away. There’s a slouch in his shoulders, you notice. If he could hold himself upright, he’d be at least an inch taller. You want him to respond. He needs to say something. He needs to know.

But instead he stands there, silently, doubting. What had he expected in that pretty speech on his grassy meadow? What did he think his words would get him? He certainly didn’t get it, and when he didn’t, he faltered.

You owe someone deeply for what they tried to do for Kobo, but that someone is not the human in front of you. You are not like the pokémon in the human’s legends; you will not be forsworn because you gave your word to another.

But—perhaps, if he can become that person again, your debt can be repaid to its original holder.

{My brother owes a great debt to someone who taught him to change. I travelled far and believe that person to be dead. But if you find that human again, if you find him ready to show others how to change, then call to me, and I will hear. I will fight for that human until the end of the world, so that the kindness that was shown to my brother is repaid. Until then, you are a stranger, and I owe you nothing.}



p | n
 
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OldschoolJohto

Don’t underestimate seeds.
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. custom/moka-mark
  2. solrock
Overall: good, yes.

I'm just going to dump all my line-by-lines out, and we'll see what insights emerge.

My dear sister, your brother told you once, I have learned a terrible secret.
I think you can call him Kobo here, since "dear sister" already implies "your brother."

Kobo broke your pack’s rules, and with that breach came a terrible price.
Kobo broke your pack’s rules, and it came at a terrible price.

Your kind wasn’t meant for fighting, and that was all humans thought you would be good for. Companionship was such a scant reward for what they wanted to make you do—
Oof.

Humans have a legend of how your partnership went.
I wanted a colon instead of a period here. Also yay story time and yay talking back to the Canalave myths.

Kobo didn’t think that was fair, after all. Why did it matter what your ancestors promised?
Kobo didn’t think that was fair. After all, why did it matter what your ancestors promised?

She found in suffering a human boy,
A little muddy who is doing the suffering.

she offered him one of her tricks,
You've got a couple commas you don't need throughout. Here what follows is another verb but you don't have another subject. Skip the comma.

He learned to craft her illusions into his words,
This comma too.

Your kin left the reach of humans long ago. It was easy to deceive them, after all. They had only stolen your illusions; they could not see through them, could not craft them flawlessly enough to fool your eyes. Many generations ago, the zoroark took their kits and fled into the mountains, leaving mankind and their troubles to fight their own squabbles.
So does this mean zoroarks can see through each others' illusions? 🤔

Suggestion: It was easy to deceive them, after all. They had only stolen your illusions, not the ways of seeing through them, and they could not craft them flawlessly enough to fool your eyes.

The first and last sentence here also seem to be repeating the same point.

Kobo was the curious one out of the two of you. He was so comfortable in his own skin that he never disguised himself as any other pokémon.
I wasn't sure whether this meant curious like odd or curious like inquisitive. If the second, then the sentence that follows doesn't quite flow. I also sort of want the order of this paragraph to be a little different. Zoroarks gossiping about him and oh what a shame, but you know that he was actually just comfortable in his own skin.

one who could not even craft his illusions to speak on his behalf.
I thought illusions couldn't make sound though, boo.

It was no surprise that when the opportunity was given to him, he followed Mitama’s path and crept down to the human settlements.
Comma after that?

Kobo’s secret is like a thorny vine. It crawls through the forest and takes root in your heart, plants its seeds so deep that even if you ripped out the tendrils on the surface they would just grow back and twine around you again.
d0n'T uNdErEst1MatE s3eDs

At their core is an engine fueled only by hatred
I like this image, given ... Zek and Resh.

The humans love us more when we wear their faces, love us most of all when we live in subjugation, but they think they have been loving us this whole time.
Oooof.

Kobo sought out the humans to return one of their own, their strange laughing cub that they’d left to the elements.
On first read, "their strange laughing cub" made me think that Kobo and Inari were claiming him as their own.

Suggestion: Kobo sought out the humans to return one of their own, a strange laughing cub that who'd been left to the elements.

You don’t make the same mistake you imagine he made, the kind that gets you captured by humans for the better part of a decade. You have your illusions and your tricks, so when you slink into reach the shimmering city, you wait until just before dawn, when it is just beginning to rouse itself from fitful slumber. You get a good look at a passing human and skulk through the shadows as he walks aimlessly through the city, conversing in hushed tones with a strange silver object in his hands.

You can’t get close enough to listen, just close enough to see. He walks past you, unaware. You count five heartbeats, and then you walk in the opposite direction wearing the illusion of a tall male human with a puff of green hair, a slight slouch, distracted fingers that fidget with the skin of his pants.
I wanted the paragraph to break at "You get a good look at a passing human." I wasn't sure if she saw N and then replicated him or if she saw some rando and is remembering N. If it is N ... does she not recognize him or assume that he must be one of several humans with green hair? I'm especially perplexed here given that, by the end, it seems like she came to the city looking for him specifically.

Regardless of whether her intent was to find N or not, this passage felt a little incomplete as-is: You have your illusions and your tricks, so when you slink into reach the shimmering city, you wait until just before dawn, when it is just beginning to rouse itself from fitful slumber. She waits ... to what?

This city is strange. It hums periodically, and then it whines, and then the sky is split apart by enormous metal creatures that don’t move as they fly overhead. None of the humans seem to care. You make your illusion flinch back at the first one, since that seems like the only truly logical response,
Suggestion: you make your illusion flinch back at the first one you see

Nice detail though.

but hit it hard enough, and it would shatter away to reveal the dark beneath. You were always soothed by that, while Kobo was disturbed.
I thought this warrranted a little more explanation! Why does it soothe her? Knowing that illusions can be broken? That there is consistency, an underlying pattern, even if you can't see it at first?

You keep your eyes narrowed, and pad in down another side street. A man is staring intently at the glowing screen in his hand. Twenty yards away from him, a woman trims the overhanging branches of a tree that has dipped into the path. A figure off in the distance is unfolding chairs and setting them up around tables.
I like that these are sort of human illusions. Talking to our phones is definitely some illusion-play, and so is carefully controlling what the plants inside the city look like. I wanted more commentary from her here, though. What is she seeking? What does she make of this human activity?

“N?” someone calls. You prick your ears slightly. She sounds tentative, but certain. It’s possible you could change your face in time. You pull up short but don’t turn around, struggling to remember the details of a man you’d passed before. He was old and had golden hair. Hopefully she won’t notice that his face doesn’t match your stature. “N, what are you doing here?”
This is a good quick trick! It also made me wonder whether Hilda was our sweaty trainer earlier. I'm inclined to say yes, but I wasn't sure. Instead of tentative, I suggest nervous.

This one is interesting. You can’t place your finger on it. All humans are boring, of course. Their most fascinating feature is their propensity for violence and cruelty, but—liepard are more creative, for example, and a clever zoroark is more entertaining. Humans just waddle around pretending they can’t hurt people when realistically that’s all they ever wanted to do.

Kobo’s secret rings in your ears. This one apologized to you. That must be why you think she’s strange. But perhaps she only spent her time because of your human face. Would she have wasted her words if you were a pokémon?
The thread gets lost at the end of that first paragraph.

Suggestion: Humans just waddle around pretending they can’t hurt people when realistically that’s all they ever wanted to do. But ...

Also beeg oof at "Would she have wasted her words if you were a pokémon?"

she zips up her jacket and ducks her chin into the collar. What a silly illusion.
Lol! I wanted this to play out a little further, a speculation about what Hilda might be trying to accomplish or failing to accomplish.

As you both get closer, and you
Comma again.

It’s a good place to hunt, you can’t help but notice, except you aren’t here to hunt today.
This feels a little softballed. It's not that she wasn't planning on hunting today, is that she doesn't think she's the hunter.

“Are you here for the rally?” someone asks, and you bite back a smirk. Despite her best efforts at staying invisible, the human you followed is quite bad at it.
At first I thought this was a pokemon addressing Inari rather than a human addressing Hilda. I think you can fix that with a transition.

Also! Interesting that Hilda speaks to some of the folks watching. Is it Cheren, or does she low-key know some Plasma folks?
You follow their gaze to a man standing on top of a pile of boxes, a clumsy stage in roughly the center of the lawn. He’s got a white buttondown, khakis, and a mane of green hair blooming down his back. No pokéballs, but behind him stretches the biggest hydreigon you’ve ever seen.
Again, does she not recognize him? Is green actually a common hair color or does she think it is?

How can they, if it is all they know? So—”

A rock arcs over the crowd and strikes the man in the shoulder, cutting him off midsentence.
:c :c :c :c Not our boy.
I also wanted a word or two more of what he was going to say.

hile the hydreigon’s three heads snap asynchronously, his body curled protectively around N’s even as the humans are trying to extract him.
LOL I love that Z's so hellbent on protecting him that he's in the way of protecting him. No protecc! Only protecc.

Not a smokescreen, but intentional.
Isn't a smokescreen usually intentional?

The buildings suddenly loom over, impossibly large.
Either loom over you or ditch the over.

You’ve seen this before.

A particular favorite trick of yours was to project images of three liepard coming in from separate directions. In avoiding them, you could easily trick your prey into a dead-end, and they’d soon find out which jaws were the real ones.
👏 Very effective.

A few people are narrating into their phones, pointing them in one singular direction.
Oof. All that proof doesn't stop the demonstration from going to shit though.

“Return to your homes!” someone is shouting, while someone else responds, “Go to hell!”
:D

But you’re halfway through twisting your way around a palpitoad’s legs
This felt a little too intimate and purposeful. I'm picturing what my cat does when he wants attention.

Someone is trying to calm the scolipede, which is an impossible task in itself given that she’s five times the human’s size and receiving second degree burns.
🙃 Poor baby.

your illusion shatters and the purrloin is replaced with the predator.
Isn't purrloin also a predator, if a small one?

its body too small to cover your own, but what are you going to do about it?
Does that mean her real body is sticking up through the deerling body? Lol.

sniffing around, nose to the ground, and then he freezes with his face pointed directly to you.
Oh no, Ace. Might be nice to remind us of sense of space here: pointed directly at you, nowhere near the deerling.

“Hypocrites, the lot of you,” says the uniformed human. His voice is muffled by his mask, so it’s hard to make out the specific words, but there’s no mistaking: “Fighting against owning pokémon and then using pokémon yourselves. Stop using them as an excuse just because you want to get ahead. Go home, kid.”
🙃 This feels realistic though.

“N? You’re N?”
Does nobody recognize the guy who was just giving a speech?

A single zoroark would never hunt a zebstrika, even wounded, even alone.
A single zoroark would never hunt a zebstrika, even one that was was wounded, even one that was alone. (So these don't sound like modifiers on the zoroark.)

you squeeze your eyes shut, picture the hydreigon from before, and let the dragon tear its way out of the deerling’s gut. Like all your illusions, it’s completely silent as it unfurls, so you add some teeth to each of the heads and have it snap threateningly—all you have to do is buy a bit more time
I love how this foreshadows (?) the trick of her pretending to be Resh.

You were angry long before anyone told you that you were allowed to be.
👏

{He knows,} she responds archly, and when you turn around, the human is waiting patiently, his hands in his front pockets as he watches your conversation with polite but distanced interest.
I love this.

the fur running down her back bristling.
Lots of gerunds! I'd cut running.

{Predators always recognize when prey presents itself,} you say at the same time that the liepard says, {We were open targets.} You both look at each other.
Almost friends if not for police seizure. :c

{This was new. This was the first time we were openly allowed to march alongside you. And it’ll only continue to escalate.}
Middle sentence here feels out of place.

We need to figure out if they arrested anyone, we need to make sure—I need to find Rhea.}
Oh nooooo.

{We found you in the forest. Your parents were careless to have let you wander so far when you could barely walk.} Your mane rises up; you aren’t sure why you suddenly feel the need to appear big, threatening, imposing. It doesn’t even matter; in your current illusion no one can see, but. {Some of us wanted to raise you. You babbled in the desert tongue. A good trick for a human, especially one so young. Some of us thought otherwise. Where one human wanders, a thousand more will follow. That has always been the rule of the wild. When you find a stray cub, best to throw it back before the rest follow the scent.}
I love how the zoroarks see baby N here--makes a lot of sense for them.

“Is he … do …” He trails off. You give him enough time to understand what your silence must mean. “I’m sorry.”
:c

All of the emotions are on the surface, plain for everyone to see. And all the thoughts seethe deep, deep beneath the surface, so far down that you can barely even trace out their ripples on his pale skin.
Hm, this is a little at odds with itself. He isn't putting on illusions, but his emotions are burried deep?

until one day, Kobo came with the seedlings pushing their way through once-frozen soil.
This felt disconnected from the earlier metaphor. Felt too literal here.

“My … brother thought much the same.
Z A H A K

For a while I believed him too.”

There’s a cut on his cheek that gleams red in the streetlamp.
Ugh. 💔 This paragraph break is so effective. And also poor N.

He said among his clan there is no sympathy for those who will not change.”
Oof!

It is time for this one, too, to shed his illusion.

But he doesn’t. Your claw stops on the face of a human, who bleeds, who weeps for the dead, who lies so he can flee from battles.
I wasn't 100% sure what to make of this. Is it that she still doesn't quite trust him even after she recognizes that he's not putting on an illusion?

There are two realizations to be made in regards to being right. The first is that you will not always be right. The second is that anyone who has failed to make the first realization will not care if you are right, lest your existence invalidate theirs.
This was a little muddy for me. I think it's all wording, not content, but it's tripping me up. Which is a shame because her ultimatum to N rests on this.

If he could hold himself upright, he’d be at least an inch taller.
that checks out. :c

on his grassy meadow?
I love this little hit of xeno perspective on what a park is, haha. Also feels oddly biblical.

Until then, you are a stranger, and I owe you nothing.}
I think he needs to respond somehow! Make a promise. Or promise to promise.

Okay so I blame the wine, but I'm not pulling together an overall picture of what I think is "off." Most of my real questions revolve around whether she recognizes N and how actively she's looking for him.

But the rhythms of this are fun! Or, well ... Fun is the wrong word. I liked Hilda recognizing "N," and then being embarrassed when she was wrong. I liked N sticking up for the "deerling." (Might be nice for him to suggest what could happen to an unclaimed pokemon in that scenario since it's clear that the human protesters are also in some danger.) It's hard not to sell me on it when its a protest chapter, honestly. The theme of hunting and being trapped was really interesting here. The way the crowd splits and scatters. Good sense of movement when things pick up and get hairy. I also really liked the Tourmaline x Inari dialogue.

Here's one last thought: Inari challenges N to become once again the person who can make people change. But it seems like what she really wants could be a human who actually knows what love means, not the abuse they tell themselves is love. That might be something she needs proven to her in this moment. Especially if she wasn't sure what she wanted to learn from humans or what she was seeking in the city. He's not the type to try to convince a pokemon to come with him, but he might do it by accident anyway just by demonstrating real caring.

Okay, BED. Looking forward to talking about this one more later. <3
 
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Dragonfree

Ace Trainer
Staff
Location
Iceland
Pronouns
she/her/hers
Partners
  1. butterfree
Chapter three time!

Your gaze is drawn first to the human. He’s taller than you—but then again, most humans are. You think. You haven’t really seen that many, just the one that was yours. You can’t really see all the way up to his face, so you look at his shoes instead. They’re a bit frayed on the edges. The rest of him blurs into progressively less focus as you look up—he has blue on his legs, and then the rest of him is a white blob with a smudgy face and a mop of black fur on top. But you can still feel his eyes roving across your form, sizing you up. The feeling of being watched makes you stop fidgeting despite yourself.
I really enjoy the POV details here, Carnel unsure how tall most humans are supposed to be, their poor eyesight given they live in a cave. Gives it a lot of immediate flavor. I also like how Carnel's main concern is this migration and the environments that they're used to. All in all, a great sense of a Pokémon that has a life of its own and just has no time for this.

At his side is a small, blue humanoid clutching at a pair of scallops. Behind them is a smug-looking, slightly smaller green biped wearing leaves.
I had real trouble telling what Pokémon you were talking about here - the scallops suggested the Oshawott family although the "humanoid" confused me, but the first thing I thought of for the second description was Snivy. Maybe this is intentional, because Carnel is also confused on what they are? But for me it felt kind of more distracting than immersive, in any case.

You aren’t sure how you ended up here. The last thing you remember was trailing behind Spur a bit and then the sucking sensation of a pokéball, and then—
Curious how the whole weakening the Pokémon in battle first works here - is this a routine thing, with Pokéballs usually effective even with the target at full health, or did Cheren just get very lucky here?

Panic begins to set in. Where are you? How long have you been in the pokéball? Where is your old human? Did he abandon you? You squint around the room, trying to find a trace of his mossy hair. He’ll come bursting through the door any minute, explain the situation for you, make things right.
Huh, I got the impression from the opening that Carnel had once been N's, but was currently just wild, what with the migration and all - but then it'd be kind of weird for them to expect N to be here now. (This is cute, though - love what you convey of N and Carnel's relationship with this even without directly showing them together at all.)

I also really enjoy Carnel having a slightly different dialect from Cheren's Pokémon - just a lovely little detail that adds verisimilitude.

You look at the human, since usually they call the shots.
I guess despite Carnel's own experiences with N, they've gathered other humans call the shots? That feels a little incongruous, though - the opening suggested Carnel hasn't seen many other humans at all.

And then the green one chatters something else, and this time there’s no mistaking the laughter in his voice, even if the words don’t have meaning. His tail flicks back and forth in a motion that you take as amusement, and the way that his face contorts into a grin is unsettlingly human-like.
Nicely unsettling. (I remained so confused on Maxis' species first time through, though.)

Her skin, too, is like nothing you’ve ever seen. It’s fur-clad like the webspinners, but where they were golden, she is like a gemstone. One of your kind was born different; the rocks of his body were not the bold colors of ore and gold, but were a deep, vibrant—you aren’t sure what word to use for the color. It is between clear sky and blood. That is her color.
Love them not having a name for purple. These little details really make this.

Again, though, I drew a complete blank on what Pokémon you were describing here, even after you got around to talking about golden rings. I wonder if there's a way to make it easier to tell without breaking Carnel's POV.

This seems to get Ico’s attention once more. {Ambrella,} he corrects.
Oof, correcting someone on their own name. Yeesh.

Ico whispers something to the green one, and they both laugh at you again. He repeats in the same broken syllables, mashing them together with all the wrong rhythm so you can hear: {Fool.} The dewott smooths his palms on the darker blue scales that border his legs. You wonder if it was an evolutionary trait that made his kin resemble humans, or if this was just an accident.
Here, though, suddenly you just call Ico a Dewott, even though nobody's told Carnel the name and they explicitly didn't know what it was called. That's kind of surprising, given you've until now gone out of your way to avoid naming the species.

It's kind of funny for Carnel to talk about an evolutionary trait - do Boldore have scientists that have figured out evolution?

Tourmaline looks at you smugly. {That Cheren is not my trainer, and cannot name me—} she pauses. A good pause. It reminds you of how your siblings speak {—and that I suspect he is not your trainer either.}
The punctuation there is a bit weird, but still love these extra touches of flavor.

{Cheren caught many boldore before he found you. If he’s kept you around this long it probably means you’re strong in the ways he wants.} There’s something infecting Tourmaline’s voice now. It reminds you of rot.
Nice and creepy.

“All introduced?” Cheren breaks into the conversation. “Great,” he says before you can respond. “Glad you’ve met the team. I’m Cheren.”
Oof, Cheren's obliviousness - probably could have picked up on the hostile tone of the "introductions", if he hadn't just been staring at his phone.

Your name is Monolith, he tells you. He’s your trainer. He has four other pokémon: a dewott, a simisage, a tranquil, and a liepard. The liepard is named Ambrella. The tranquil is being treated for some wounds he got in a previous fight.
Tranquill has two l's!

It's interesting how Ico's more the villain here than Cheren, really - acting out of active malice, where Cheren seems more to just not think very hard about his Pokémon and simply assume that everything's fine (though there is the moment of him recalling Carnel when they try to leave).

I'm kind of surprised Carnel doesn't try harder to communicate with Cheren - even when there's a language barrier, people will usually try to find ways of making themselves understood anyway. I could easily buy Cheren just not properly noticing or caring or understanding even if Carnel tries to reach him, but it feels odd they don't attempt anything.

But that was for a reason, and even then, channeling the earth is dangerous. After many years a roggenrola may shapechange, trade two legs in for three. Once you’ve done that, your body is permanently studded in biotites—your blue becomes a mix of ore and orange. The biotites let you speak to the earth. Inside each crystal is the potential for great strength, but you must be careful with it. Use the power too callously and the earth may punish you for it. She doesn’t do it directly, no: she lets you take as much from her as you want. But if you take too much, she will forsake her structure and collapse on top of you. You ask for the earth’s help as a last resort; otherwise, you solve your problems without her help.
Love this Boldore lore (Boldlore?). Feels like realistic mythology about how cave-ins can happen if you break up the rock too much. The respect for the boulder having come all the way out here is cute, too.

Your biotites glow again, and you ask a few more rocks to join in. You let one support a slightly bigger one; this little strange one with a funny lip tucks under the one that’s mostly micah. An arch starts to form, and then a small tunnel, and then a little path leading up to the cleft in the boulder. Yes. That’s the shape, you’re sure of it. This is good. This is a good way to show him. You direct a small pebble to hover by the tunnel you’ve formed, and then you scuttle over to your replica of your cave and turn to Cheren expectantly.

{My cave,} you say. A big pause, so it can sink in for him better, since he seems a little slow. {This is my cave.} You let the small pebble by the entrance of the tunnel wiggle a little, and then you direct it to roll into the entrance, where the rest of its brothers and sisters are waiting. {Please let me go back to my cave.}

All of the little pebbles rattle in excitement when their brother comes back. You could direct them to file out of the cave now, go very very far away from this place so that when the snows start to come they can all stay warm, but—
Ah, love this! I was just talking about how they weren't trying to communicate with Cheren but here we are. So good and creative. Carnel is a lovely rock who tries so hard and deserves to be happy.

(Cheren you ass look at your Pokémon's beautiful communicative artwork)

“Dunno. Juniper kept saying big dragon, lots of fire.” She pauses. Another good pause. You could fit an entire mountain in the gap there. “It didn’t work.”
So good. Carnel is precious.

I also love how you use this previously established bit of Carnel's POV to emphasize this pause, give it more visible weight for Hilda that it didn't work.

It sparks like webspinner, but it has stark colors, like veins in stone.
Missing an article or plural there, I assume? (Neat description, though!)

You sidestep a little closer to your boulder to protect it.
So precious! Please protect this very good rock.

You look back at the scattered pebbles, all so far from their little home. Waiting to be together again.
Oh nooooo

{So were you …} You struggle to remember the name. {Gilda’s partner?}

She’s still as a statue, but all of the fur running down her spine stands to attention. {Absolutely not,} she says frostily. It’s like she has a second mane now. Fascinating. You wish you could do that. {Hilda will never be my trainer.} The liepard’s tail flicks errantly back and forth through the air.
Hmm, not sure I entirely get this - Carnel seems to be suggesting Tourmaline was traded from Hilda to Cheren without being consulted about it, which'd certainly explain why Tourmaline resents Hilda in particular even more, but it seems kind of a weird leap to make for someone who seems to understand so little about trainers, and Tourmaline's will never doesn't really read like that's it. But if it's not I'm not sure what to make of this.

The liepard stares. You’re close enough that you can see the individual furs that run down her neck. {Listen to his words, Carnel, because he speaks against himself better than I ever could. Your weakness. Our loss. His strength. Cheren gives us many things, but never the good. When he fights, he is a trainer. There is no denying that. He isn’t one of us. And because he isn’t, he gets to pick and choose what he shares, what is taken and what is given.}
Hmm, this point doesn't feel entirely convincing to me. These particular words of Cheren's are pretty reasonable as far as his oblivious understanding goes, I think? Like, if commenting on something Carnel did in particular, what else would he do but refer to Carnel specifically? Stating that we lost is treating them all as having equal part in the loss, which is surely what you'd say if you do regard yourself as part of the team and bearing an equal responsibility for it. And stating you want to become stronger is surely a pretty reasonable thing for someone to want for themselves, and is an acknowledgement that you yourself have been lacking and need to put in work? I'd see her point if it were a "Pokémon lose, trainers win" situation, but in these cases it doesn't seem to me that Cheren's words are actually betraying that sort of mindset - Cheren does plenty of other things here that show he disregards Pokémon and doesn't really pay attention to them as people with their own wants and needs, but this doesn't really feel like one of them.

I admit I may be misunderstanding what she's getting at entirely, though; it's a little opaque and I'm kind of tired.

You imagine Tourmaline’s voice stalking through tall grass that rises up to her shoulders, sneaking up on her prey.
Lovely image.

The—oh, the colored leaves atop her head, you surmise. The flower. The color is a good one, a deep red, like a ruby. The shape is wrong; it wouldn’t make a very good crystal and it flops around in a way that makes you a little uncomfortable to look at. Were it made out stone it would melt away into mud immediately, a warning before a landslide. {I like the color,} you respond, so as to be polite.
Such a good, characterful description.

Tourmaline's 'lesson', and the way it consists of looking at other Pokémon and kind of putting words in their mouth based on her interpretations and extrapolations about features of their physical bodies and not on anything they as individual people have actually expressed feeling or believing, kind of gives me the same uncomfy vibe as those evangelical tracts going into loving detail about how much intricate work the human body will do to accommodate a pregnancy, in order to conclude that abortion is profane and evil - this unsettling way of treating bodies and their evolved, automatic processes as somehow truer and more real and important than the actual people who inhabit those bodies. (That's not to say it's not true that these Pokémon don't really want to be here - but the way Tourmaline is approaching this revolves entirely around the idea that you can just tell by looking at them, and seems entirely unconcerned with whether that's what they would actually tell you if you asked.) It's an effective, memorable scene, and the insidiousness of it is chilling, but I'm not quite sure if that's actually the vibe that you were going for here?

There is a phrase for her kind of request. She would not know the story, but—there was a tale once of a roggenrola that tried to climb a steep mountain. As he neared the top, he lost his footing, and rolled back to where he started—in the process chipping off some of his protruding crags. The more times he tried, the rounder he got, and the more impossible his task became.
Love this Roggenrola take on a Sisyphean sort of myth - the Roggenrola becoming more rounded as he goes really adds to it.

She gestures with her chin towards your biotites. {Your cave. Your siblings. All those bits of you that can still feel. Hide them deep, deep away. Where no one else can see them. Not me, not Cheren. Not even you, unless you know exactly where to look. Hide them somewhere no one else can take it from you. Do not bring them into battle with you; they will only get hurt.}
This is good and stirring and sad, as an expression of this mindset of learned helplessness.

Enjoyed this chapter a lot - Carnel is just such a lovely character and you get them across really well in the space of just the one chapter. So many cute moments of them being a good rock and good real-feeling Boldore culture and myth. I am so charmed. I don't know if the fic's going to go for multiple POVs for the same Pokémon but there is the intriguing possibility we're going to see Carnel's time with N later and if we do I am here for it.

It's hard not to wonder, since Cheren's main problem seems to be not paying attention more than anything else, if it wouldn't be perfectly possible to get through to him and get him to take a hint, at least a little, just by trying a bit harder. In the battle we see here, Cheren misunderstands Carnel's efforts to communicate as simply missing an attack, because it doesn't even occur to him to try to interpret what they're doing as anything but an attempt to follow his command - but what would happen if Carnel just turned around, stared right at Cheren, and pointedly did nothing at all? Surely it couldn't continue to escape him that Carnel's not just trying and failing? Surely he'd eventually at least give up and realize Carnel's useless to him as it stands and release them? Tourmaline's advice to just grin and bear it seems like the absolute worst approach, given (as she claims) that Cheren is just a fool and not malicious.

I find Tourmaline pretty interesting - my read on her is sort of as a damaged figure poisoned into futile toxicity, having persuaded herself that there's no point trying to communicate or resist, to a point where she's now actively sabotaging herself, digging her own grave by participating in her own oppression. And as she does so, she imagines that inherently everyone else is going to be pretending the same way, too, and the way to tell how they really feel is these just-so stories about their physical features. I'm not sure that's entirely what you were going for here, but it's something that sticks with me a bit.

All in all, really fun read, A+ rock.
 

unrepentantAuthor

A cat that writes stories.
Location
UK
Pronouns
they/she
Partners
  1. custom/purrloin-salem
  2. custom/sneasel-dusk
Hi kint!

I read the first two entries, since the first was short and I've been dealing with the oneshot comp instead of reviewing this. Sorry for the wait.

So, first up I love the introduction. It was so clear and so striking that I could practically see it in cinematic form, and it was a gripping hook. I must read on, to know how it came to this! Following from that, the prose in general is really lovely, or at least it suits my tastes very much. There's a lovely balance of tension, contemplation and physical presence, and there's exactly the right amount of words given to the state of each of the pokémon in the opening sequence particularly.

There were a few lines that really stuck with me, like the note about klinklang not spinning, the observation that N would make a better pokémon, or N's correction that he was addressing Vaselva about relative youth. Also, " for the second time in your life, you watch the birth of a god." That hits well.

As a concept, I'm really looking forward to a comprehensive exploration of N's whole deal from the perspective of pokémon. Vaselva's very much a sapient, but very much not human, and you write that well here. I'm confident that future chapters will explore different species' psychology via other pokémon characters, and that's absolutely my jam. It remains to be seen what I think of the arguments presented for N's ideology, but the reference to haxorus extermination leads me to suspect he has a much stronger case in this fic than he's generally given, which should be interesting.

Nice work so far, Kint. Very nice.
 

Pen

the cat is mightier than the pen
Staff
Partners
  1. dratini
This chapter is premised upon a terrible secret. This secret changes Kobo, changes N, but not enough, and sends Inari seeking a human. The secret is, we're told, "The humans love us more when we wear their faces, love us most of all when we live in subjugation, but they think they have been loving us this whole time." But this chapter doesn't show us why this secret is terrible. The backstory of the zorua felt very muddy to me, and I didn't get a sense of how their relations with humans turned ugly and what violence has been done to them. Inari thinks of humans by default as 'violent' and 'full of hatred' but unlike with Zahhak and the story of the destruction of the dragons, it's not clear what actually happened there. There's a sense that zorua were especially singled out, which is why they have to hide, but what exactly happens to them is hazy. Why do the zorua think humans hate them? As predators, if they consider humans their predators, wouldn't they know enough to know that predators don't hate? Wouldn't they consider destruction without hatred the norm? And if she doesn't think of humans as predactors, what does she analogize them to? The secret doesn't land for me, because I don't see how it can land for Inari. Why does Inari even think Kobo had it right? There's nothing in the chapter that demonstrates a proof of concept. We don't see any claims of love, only violence. I don't see how what Inari witnesses at the protest would make her think that humans think they love pokemon even when they do violence to them.

In terms of structure, a lot is confusing in this that I don't think needs to be. The chronology of Kobo, which seems to be -- takes baby N back to humans, stays with N a long time, returns, dies -- is really scattered, and that he dies isn't really clear into the very end. Is the idea that he died from, what, the weight of the secret? That feels very melodramatic. Also, why would Inari want to thank the human who brought the realization upon him if that caused his death? What did Inari set out to do and how much did she know? I don't see why Kobo wouldn't have told her about N, so why is she so surprised?

Pokemon never tell lies is a pretty central phrase in this story. It makes sense for a chapter with a zorua protag to interrogate it, but I felt like the result was muddied. You use the zorua's shapechanging as a metaphor for a lot of different things in this chapter, and some are contradictory and didn't feel in-POV to me. Illusion as tool, illusion as speech, illusion as lie, illusion as hiding, illusion as change. Do zoroark lie when they change forms? How are human lies similar or different to zoroark illusions? The zorua myth implies that humans learned to lie from the zorua. Is that the case? Or is the idea that humans perverted something that is natural and proper in zorua?

The scene with N at the end felt like it ran in circles. We've got language about N coming to a realization which there's no turning back from, but we know now isn't when that happens? And indeed, the chapter ends with Inari saying he hasn't changed yet. There's a metaphor about him breaking the illusion he projects, but what that really seems to be about is him breaking illusions he holds about the way the world works, like Kobo did. So maybe there's something to be explored with internal and external illusions. But the implication with the ending is that if he could make that change, he would be able to do something. Yet we're told Kobo learned to change, and the only result was paralyzing doubt and eventual death? So why is that the goal and why is that something Inari is glad happened?

I feel like I'm going in circles a bit with this, so I think I'll stop here. We will chat :)


My dear sister, your brother told you once, I have learned a terrible secret.

Kobo broke your pack’s rules, and with that breach came a terrible price. There wasn’t punishment from the pack, of course, for the truth he learned was a horrible one—the world had punished him enough. But it didn’t punish him swiftly, didn’t stop him from spreading his secret to you.
Hm, why does Inari believe his secret and what is its significance to her? The very dramatic language here isn't borne out by the rest of the chapter.

Zorua are largely asocial, rarely venturing down from the mountains to interact with humans.
This is odd, sounds like it's defining sociality by interactions with humans? That may be how humans would define it, but not how a zoroar-POV would.

At first it was a choice; in recent years it had become necessary. Your kind wasn’t meant for fighting, and that was all humans thought you would be good for. Companionship was such a scant reward for what they wanted to make you do—it was safer to never come down the mountain again, and let the memory of the skinchangers fade from their minds until they stopped seeking you.
The timescale here is hard to grasp. Recent years and 'let the memory fade' are really different. Are we talking within Inari's lifetime? Her parent's lifetime? That would ground it more for me.

Humans are spiteful, horrible creatures, whose fragile bodies cannot even contain all the hate they hold within, so they must instead inflict it onto others.
It's a little odd that this chapter has no examples? Obviously as readers we know about the slaughter of the dragons, but what is the equivalent for the zorua? Or have they just seen things like that and wanted no part of it? I think we need some specific examples here that have shaped this idea in Inari.

Humans have a legend of how your partnership went. A pokémon long ago forswore herself to a human, and promised that she would always hear when that human called. And from that day on, pokémon would always appear when humans cried out.

Kobo didn’t think that was fair, after all. Why did it matter what your ancestors promised? If the sins of the father did not taint the son, then neither should the promises.
'Sins of the father' is a kind of human thing? Feels odd here. Also, I thought Kobo was the pro-human one initially?

He preferred the other version that the humans told: a young human, callow and foolish, fastened a sword, with which he smote many pokémon. He continued sundering with no remorse until finally, he searched far and wide for more pokémon to fight and found none. In that moment, a strange pokémon appeared to him, and bowed low.

“If you continue to strike down my siblings with your steel,” the pokémon warned, “from your kind with our fangs and claws we will extract our toll. It must and will be done, unless you find the difference between our support and our subjugation.”

The human, horrified with what he had almost allowed to come to pass, threw his sword into the sea, and pokémon agreed to live peacefully alongside humans so long as humans never again took up the sword.
Huh. While myths are often this bloody and random, it doesn't make much sense internally? The human is killing every pokemon he finds--what does that have to do with support and subjugation? Also seems like an odd reversal of the human-pokemon relationship, that a human would have the single-handed power to kill pokemon. A big point in early chapters is that humans don't fight their own battles.

Touched, she offered him one of her tricks, and showed him the secret of how she could appear as one thing and be another.

The boy took it eagerly, and honed it. He learned to craft her illusions into his words, and fashioned himself a pretty lie that said that he was the destined one to curb pokémon to his heel, that a single pokémon and a single human together were capable of making a decision that would stand for the rest of time.
I think this story needs a lot more. What is the lie, exactly? Is it the first story, that Mitama bound all pokemon by her actions? Did Mitama stay with the human after she taught him? Did all the zorua, since the chapter says at some point all the zorua leave humans, implying they had been with them before? Who was the lie for?

Trick = illusion = lie here. Is that equivalency your intention? Are the zorua the first liars, or is it more complicated than that?

Your kin left the reach of humans long ago. It was easy to deceive them, after all. They had only stolen your illusions; they could not see through them, could not craft them flawlessly enough to fool your eyes. Many generations ago, the zoroark took their kits and fled into the mountains, leaving mankind and their troubles to fight their own squabbles.
Okay, now we have many generations ago, not in recent years. This temporality in this chapter is very confusing, with Inari and Kobo as well. I think it's needless confusion that's getting in the way of the story.

The point about leaving humans and deceiving them aren't really tied together here? Is the idea that after zorua left, humans couldn't find them, because zorua hid with illusions?

He was so comfortable in his own skin that he never disguised himself as any other pokémon. He was always listening, always quiet, always watching. You’d watched the other zorua whisper that your mother had done something awful to be cursed with a mute son, one who could not even craft his illusions to speak on his behalf.
This paragraph is contradictory. First it portrays Kobo's not skin-changing as positive--'he's comfortable in his own skin.' Then it depicts that as a negative, akin to being mute. Are illusions speaking or hiding? If illusions are speaking, are they speaking lies?

he followed Mitama’s path
I don't have a good sense of what the zorua think of Mitama culturally. Is she considered a heroic figure, a tragic one, a traitor? I would have liked more on her and her significance, ala Sagaris.

Some people were meant to be exiles. If they didn’t like what the skinchangers offered, they would find it somewhere else. Such was the way of the world.
I'm not sure this adds much. I think something more personal about how she felt when he left would do more work.

It was a surprise that he came back, changed, his eyes dead and quiet.

Kobo’s secret is like a thorny vine. It crawls through the forest and takes root in your heart, plants its seeds so deep that even if you ripped out the tendrils on the surface they would just grow back and twine around you again.

My dear sister, I have learned a terrible secret.

You can’t stay still after you hear it; the thoughts infect you like a plague. You have to see for yourself.
So, at the moment, I'd say the secret doesn't match this hype. The pumping up feels kind of melodramatic.

Also, from the way this is written, I got the sense that Kobo was alive. Wasn't until near the end I realized he'd died at some point. It felt like the ball was hidden there on purpose, but I don't think holding that info to the end created impact. I was just sort of like, 'oh wait, he's dead?'

You’ll be more careful than Kobo, you decide. You’ll watch but you won’t get involved. You won’t share your secrets with the humans, won’t teach them how to see through their own illusions.
Not sure why she's deciding to go.

They hunted you and your kind, after all. At their core is an engine fueled only by hatred. You’ve heard what they do to the pokémon who don’t have your tricks. How could Kobo be right?
Again, I really need to know what Inari is thinking of here.

Kobo sought out the humans to return one of their own, their strange laughing cub that they’d left to the elements.
"Ghetsis' A+ Parenting (Or, Five Time Ghetsis Tried Childhood Abandonment and the One Time He Said, Fuck It, Fine, I Will Raise It To Summon a Dragon and Tear Down Society.)"

You count five heartbeats, and then you walk in the opposite direction wearing the illusion of a tall male human with a puff of green hair, a slight slouch, distracted fingers that fidget with the skin of his pants.

It’s the details that matter. He had a quiet face, one that you don’t think anyone would take offense to or even approach. A slightly lilting way of walking, very careful and seemingly random at the same time.
Ooh, nicely done N description.

conversing in hushed tones with a strange silver object in his hands.
I thought this was a cellphone at first and was tickled to realize it's Zara's bucket. Where does bucket go during the rally, though?

A human jogs past you, clad in bright colors and strange, flexible cloth. She pants heavily; sweat drips down from her brow. Is this what training means now?
This doesn't quite work for me, because I don't know what Inari thinks training is like.

You make your illusion flinch back at the first one, since that seems like the only truly logical response, but when you notice that the rest of the humans trickle about their day, you make your illusion pay it no mind either.
Nice. It's clear how unfamiliar and threatening the city feels to her.

In your pack, each member could cast up an illusion, a prettier way to imagine how they wanted to be seen—but hit it hard enough, and it would shatter away to reveal the dark beneath.
Hm. Calling bs on this metaphor, I think. They aren't doing it to be prettier, they're doing it to hunt or hide or even to express themselves, from what the story has said so far. Or are we supposed to believe that all zorua suffer from deep self-loathing and can't stand their natural appearence? And I doubt that dark type pokemon consider "the dark" to be a bad thing.

Without his skinchange, the deerling and the blitzle saw him as a predator. The liepard saw him as competition. So he went further down the slopes instead.
I like this--that the zorua occupy a particular place in their ecosystem, and Kobo could only escape it if he stayed by pretending constantly to be what he's not.

Kobo’s theory about human cities is simple: hit them hard enough, and they would shatter away to reveal the dark beneath.
It's a great line, but I just don't think it makes sense.

“N, what are you doing here?”

There are footsteps on the pavement, and you turn around with your new face just as she runs up to you. Her face falls when your eyes meet, and she stops short of touching you.

“Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry,” she says. Her face brightens and she looks at her feet. “You just … you looked like someone I thought I knew. Sorry.” And before you can consider if grunting will make the illusion even more unbelievable than it is, she’s hurrying off, her face flushed bright red.
Hah, this encounter was fun.

This one is interesting. You can’t place your finger on it. All humans are boring, of course.
The flip here is way too rapid. And--how many humans has Inari encountered? Pretty much none, right? So what's Hilda in comparison to here? And is 'boring' really the way you'd described violent scary species you're constantly hiding from?

Their most fascinating feature is their propensity for violence and cruelty, but—liepard are more creative, for example, and a clever zoroark is more entertaining. Humans just waddle around pretending they can’t hurt people when realistically that’s all they ever wanted to do.
Again, I just feel a bit lost because I don't know what Inari is drawing on here. The waddling around pretending they can't hurt people doesn't sound like her earlier thoughts about humans at all. I feel like a lot of this is sort of you saying stuff, not Inari.

This one apologized to you. That must be why you think she’s strange. But perhaps she only spent her time because of your human face. Would she have wasted her words if you were a pokémon?
Not sure why Inari would even bother to consider this. Doesn't it go without saying for her that Hilda only apologized because she saw a human?

you realize that it isn’t just the crowd that makes you uneasy. The walls are close here; the grassy lawn is an open space, but the brick walls tower into the sky, more than fifty feet high. They blot out the sunlight around you. It’s a good place to hunt, you can’t help but notice, except you aren’t here to hunt today.
Nice work incorporating Inari's hunting instincts and knowledge into the scene-setting. Gives a good mental picture while characterizing her.

What a strange image, you can’t help but think. Shouting his words into a crowd, crafting an illusion of negotiation, and then the dragon.
Huh, I don't think shouting words into a crowd crafts an illusion of negotiation? Negotiation implies reciprocatory dialogue, which shouting into a crowd is not.

As if sensing your thoughts, one of the hydreigon’s heads catches you in the corner of its eye, and then all three of them swivel to stare at you. The wings flap in a slow, repetitive cadence.

He sees, you can’t help but think, even though your illusion is impenetrable. He knows.
Curious what the zorua think of the dragons?

this much is clear: pokémon never tell lies.
You've picked a POV character that kind of puts that phrase to the test. Like with handfuls of dust, I'm not sure you're making clear the distinction between how you see zorua lying with their illusions and how humans lie.

The frills around the hydreigon’s necks flare into three black stars when he roars.
Absolutely gorgeous.

The crowd shattered along with the window.
Ooh, nice.

A particular favorite trick of yours was to project images of three liepard coming in from separate directions. In avoiding them, you could easily trick your prey into a dead-end, and they’d soon find out which jaws were the real ones.
I like how Inari understands the tactics being used here.

They must be new to this. Of course they are. They’re so used to being the hunters that they let themselves forget.

The real remaining question: do you leave them? You certainly can’t help.
I'm not sure at this point whether Inari sees humans as hunters or not? If she does, I'd expect more surprise here, at some humans acting like herd and others like hunters?

"You certainly can’t help." is odd. Why would she want to help? She considers humans hate machines, right?

you turn just in time to see a gas cannister strike a scolipede in the thorax. The cylinder lodges between the chinks in its reddish armor, and then it begins seeping burning-hot gas while the scolipede shrieks in pain, bucking around wildly.

The rest dissolves into chaos. A water bottle goes flying. Someone is trying to calm the scolipede, which is an impossible task in itself given that she’s five times the human’s size and receiving second degree burns. The air thickens to white haze. More shouting.
You and OSJ nailing these protest scenes.

“This is unlawful assembly!” someone shouts hoarsely. “Please return to your homes!” And it’s when you hear that please that Kobo’s words rear back in your head with a vengeance: they think this is response is necessary, helpful. What else would they think, these humans who have forgotten how it feels to hunt another?
Wait, are the police shouting that? Hoarsely doesn't match the image of the silent wall of officers.

And now she thinks humans have forgotten hunting? Really unclear how she envisions humans at this point.

"they think this is response is necessary, helpful." I get how you're applying this, but I don't think the chapter's made it clear at all.

“Halt!”

The deerling image stops, but you certainly don’t. You hobble forward, trying to keep the gags buried in your throat. The problem with illusions is that they can never cover up the noise.

“Check for more,” the human voice says. You can’t see their face or who’s next to them; some of the excess haze is leaking out of the street behind them and cloaking them as well. “There might be more.”

And you see a strange pokémon, blue and brown fur and hackles—the word herdier settles in belatedly—sniffing around, nose to the ground, and then he freezes with his face pointed directly to you. A sharp bark of affirmation.

“Take Down.”
Huh. I'm a bit confused why the police are focusing on a random pokemon here? I would have thought the tactic would be to get as many humans as possible, since humans are viewed as the only ones capable of organizing?

“Deerling,” the interloper says, trying and failing to sound stern. “Let’s go.”
<3 N

“Hypocrites, the lot of you,” says the uniformed human. His voice is muffled by his mask, so it’s hard to make out the specific words, but there’s no mistaking: “Fighting against owning pokémon and then using pokémon yourselves. Stop using them as an excuse just because you want to get ahead. Go home, kid.”
oof.

He’s so wrong. You hate his words. You want to tear the rebuke from his lips, with claws he’ll never see.
Okay, I feel that way about what he said, but I have no idea why Inari would? She has no context. Is she just offended that he's implying a human is using her? I feel like the reaction there would be more 'hah stupid human has no idea I am hidden predator, nobody uses me.'

So you squeeze your eyes shut, picture the hydreigon from before, and let the dragon tear its way out of the deerling’s gut. Like all your illusions, it’s completely silent as it unfurls, so you add some teeth to each of the heads and have it snap threateningly—all you have to do is buy a bit more time
Wondering where Zahhak got to now. A hydreigon is a bit big to lose in the crowd.

snag the nice human’s arm
lol, when did N become 'the nice human'?

Stop using them as an excuse just because you want to get ahead.

The uniformed ones are too slow to follow you, but his words aren’t. They ring in your ears as you drag the human and the liepard down a dash of side streets, throwing up illusions of empty pavement behind you. His words fester in your mind, bouncing around with Kobo’s.

The humans aren’t using you. You were angry long before anyone told you that you were allowed to be.
I'm not sure I buy those words making an impact on her. She's never interacted with humans before. Of course they aren't 'using her' and the idea is so distant that I don't see how it could effect her. The bit about her anger also feels non-sequitor. Who would be the one telling her she's allowed to be angry in this scenario? (Again, I think this is more kintsugi than Inari?)

{So then tell him to stop.}

{He knows,} she responds archly, and when you turn around, the human is waiting patiently, his hands in his front pockets as he watches your conversation with polite but distanced interest.
Nice.

He couldn’t possibly—no, best not to think too hard on this one. Liepards are not humans, and they certainly are not zoroark, but they know a thing or two about crafting words into lies. Perhaps she’s mistaken, or perhaps this human lies well. It doesn’t matter.
I'm not sure it would even occur to her to interpert that as N understanding?

The girl from before is probably unobtrusive enough for this conversation, and far from here. You piece together the image of her brown hair and travelling clothes, toss the black vest on top, and—

They’re both staring at you. The liepard’s hackles are raised.
Hah! Love how Inari has no context for the N-Hilda thing. I am very curious to see whatever N-Hilda encounter Tourmaline was party to that made her so pissed.

{Inari.} You make the image of the girl’s mouth move alongside yours, twist the growls out of her lips, and you’re sure from their reaction that this is the most frightening illusion you’ve cast today.
Hm, seems like things are already pretty tense between N and Hilda? I'm not sure I got that from their encounters (real and fake) earlier in the chapter.

{Predators always recognize when prey presents itself,} you say at the same time that the liepard says, {We were open targets.} You both look at each other.
#justpredatorthings

Anyone could’ve told you the police would see it differently if people like me were allowed to march,} she scoffs.

“It can’t be just that. We must’ve just done something wrong, maybe Mistralton PD is just—”
So pokemon are not normally present at protests? Does the 'allowed to march' mean they got a permit, or just that plasma decided to take that risk?

I realize you've got N parroting the standard take, but I think I want a bit more here--what does he think they did wrong? What have his past experiences at their protests been?

{This was new. This was the first time we were openly allowed to march alongside you. And it’ll only continue to escalate.}
So in the past, no pokemon marched, and the police left them pretty much alone?

{We need to organize. We need to train people against that. We need to figure out if they arrested anyone, we need to make sure—I need to find Rhea.} She seems to make the connection mid-sentence, and the last of her words drop like lead weights onto the ground.

The liepard is halfway through leaping into a sprint when N calls, “Do you need my help?”

{To find her? No. For the rest?} A sad scoff. {Absolutely, if only we knew how.}
Tourmaline the organizer has shit to get done and is done with N's waffling.

You realize what’s strange about the human, though, the way he speaks to your words as if they actually have meaning to him. And his scent is starting to linger as well, stirring memories that you thought had gone forgotten years ago.
'Familiar' instead of strange, maybe?

{We found you in the forest. Your parents were careless to have let you wander so far when you could barely walk.}
Gotta love that A+ parenting.

Your mane rises up; you aren’t sure why you suddenly feel the need to appear big, threatening, imposing. It doesn’t even matter; in your current illusion no one can see, but.
Hm, I'm not sure either?

“Is he … do …” He trails off. You give him enough time to understand what your silence must mean. “I’m sorry.”
This confused me. Having finished, I think the implication is that Kobo is dead? But the timeline with Kobo jumps around so much, I really had no idea at this point that he was.

He has a nice face. Could you peel it back with one claw to find out what he hides beneath?

No. He is a poor illusionist. You see why Kobo pitied this one.
You do this technique a lot, of the statement, no, reversal, but here it's not working for me, because I don't feel like I understand how she's drawing her conclusion.

All of the emotions are on the surface, plain for everyone to see. And all the thoughts seethe deep, deep beneath the surface, so far down that you can barely even trace out their ripples on his pale skin.
Really good description of N, but I'm not sure I buy Inari understanding that he has these beneath-the-surface thoughts?

Kobo left with the changeling in the fall. Winter came, then spring, then summer, then fall again. Over and over again, until one day, Kobo came with the seedlings pushing their way through once-frozen soil. He came with a new face and a sad smile and a horrible secret.
A fool, to weep for the dead.
Yeah, see this confused me. First paragraph doesn't imply he died, just that he returned changed. I didn't understand the second, because I didn't think Kobo was dead.

You saw the clay amalgamation hovering behind him earlier. It was terrifyingly large, but you could sense the underlying hum of psychic energy beneath it—if he is angered by your words, he and his thrall are no match.
Not sure what this is referring to? I thought the only pokemon with N was Zahhak?

“My … brother thought much the same.
BABIES

You imagine him carefully crafting his lies into words.
I feel like I need more context for why Inari thinks he's about to lie here.

“Kobo is a fast learner, faster than me. He realized something a few years ago, something that I’m only now able to understand: you don’t need to hate someone to be cruel to them. The opposite of love is apathy, not hatred.”
Good stuff, but don't think this chapter shows that thesis? And it's odd that N says he's able to understand here, since it ends with him seeming to not have learned/changed yet?

He swallows. His eyes are still distant and wild, tinged red by the gas from before. “When he learned that, he left us. He said among his clan there is no sympathy for those who will not change.”
those who will not change = ie N. So changing here has the subtext of learning, not of deception.

Your poor, sweet brother. Babbling his horrible secret the whole way down, infecting others even as it devoured him from within.

{He told me that humans think they have been acting out of love this whole time.}
The secret just isn't landing for me. It's too abstract--nothing tangible in the chapter is communicating the sense of horror it's supposed to impart. Getting a lot of tell, but not a lot of show.

You reach out with one claw to the cut on his cheek, slowly, gently. It is time for this one, too, to shed his illusion.

But he doesn’t. Your claw stops on the face of a human, who bleeds, who weeps for the dead, who lies so he can flee from battles.

You withdraw your claw.
This feels a little sudden to me--Inari seems to have taken to N really quickly. And--he hasn't bled in this chapter, has he?

Study him closer, and you see the same thing that festered away at Kobo, that left him paralyzed and despairing until the elements took him: doubt.
So, earlier it sounds like Kobo came to that realization, it changed him, and he left. And N needs to similarly change, but he hasn't been able to. But now the change leads to doubt?

It wasn’t in Kobo when he left, wasn’t in N when he’d taken to his makeshift stage an hour ago, but you see it in the human now, blossoming. What was the breaking point for him? Was it when the rock hit him? When the gas began? Maybe it was gradual, snow piling on an overhanging branch until the weight suddenly became too much to bear.
This makes it sound like N's hit some irrevocable point of no return, but we know he hasn't--the next time we see N he's super bubbly and thinking the best of everyone. So it feels weird for this to be written as if there's some major turning point taking place here.

There are two realizations to be made in regards to being right. The first is that you will not always be right. The second is that anyone who has failed to make the first realization will not care if you are right, lest your existence invalidate theirs. And once you make that second realization, it is like inviting a predator into your home: you must fight or flee from it every day thereafter.
I get and support this, but again, don't think it's arising from the chapter as written.

He and Kobo and now you have stumbled upon the same secret. It is easy to fight an enemy who says they hate you. But what do you do against someone who weaves their abuse into the shape of love?
Weird in a chapter where we haven't seen any abuse weaved in the shape of love. What abuse there has been has been pretty outright.

{You gave my brother a great gift, although you may not know it. I do not understand how, but you and yours taught him what we never could: you taught him how to change.} You shift your weight, your snout tilted defiantly up so it almost touches his chin. {But I see now you have forgotten how to teach that lesson.}
Okay, so N taught Kobo to change--but Kobo when he returned was full of doubt and died? What was the gift there?

And isn't it completely taking away from Kobo's agency and unfairly crediting N here, considering N said that Kobo came to the realization on his own, independent of N? How did N 'teach' him?

But instead he stands there, silently, doubting.
That checks out.

He certainly didn’t get it, and when he didn’t, he faltered. Of course he did. What else could he do in the face of Kobo’s secret?
Well, he could do what Inari chose to do.

{My brother owes a great debt to someone who taught him to change. I travelled far and believe that person to be dead. But if you find that human again, if you find him ready to show others how to change, then call to me, and I will hear. I will fight for that human until the end of the world, so that the kindness that was shown to my brother is repaid. Until then, you are a stranger, and I owe you nothing.}
So, Inari was looking specifically for N? I'm still confused about the timeline and what Kobo told her. Presumably if he told her the secret he told her how he learned it?

Why does N helping her brother change create an obligation on Inari to fight until the end of the world? Why should those actions bind her? Seems just as fallacious as the story told about the first human-pokemon partnership.
 

Dragonfree

Ace Trainer
Staff
Location
Iceland
Pronouns
she/her/hers
Partners
  1. butterfree
Oof, this one's Amara, preparing for retroactive heartbreak.

Love the mythology throughline here, though it's interesting you suggest her father's human told him this story - it definitely sounds like a myth the Zebstrika would come up with, centered around them. The way that it creates a culture, one that makes sense for herd animals, is neat - they live their lives cooperating, protecting the less powerful, and that colors the way Amara views having a trainer. And of course, that view is kind of pathological in the end, brought out of the context of the culture where it developed: if nobody needs protection, then she's left without purpose, and it makes her not want that to happen, even though by itself that's clearly an objective good.

This isn’t like her. She used to get caught out after dark like this, but that was long ago, when you were just a blitzle. She learned after the first few times. That’s what she does best, after all. She’s always calculating, always planning. It’s the only way she can be one step ahead of everyone else. Hilda’s always believed that if she just thinks hard enough, she’ll be able to plan a way to keep everyone safe. And she’s usually quite good at it. You respect that much about her.
I like Amara respecting Hilda's ability to plan and think.

Hilda tilts her head up at your words, but she doesn’t hear them, not really. She glances at you and then looks back at her x-transceiver, typing furiously into the screen.
Hmm, here we see Hilda apparently noticing that Amara is trying to say something, which I'm tempted to see as a contrast to Cheren last chapter - but later in the chapter you indicate she doesn't listen to her Pokémon either. I'm curious why this line is here, if so.

Reshiram would not turn a human to mulch. Reshiram would never harm a human. Maybe serperior refused the mandate, maybe her kind never took up the mantle of being a guardian, but you know: the dragon who gave you your task would never fight those who could not fight back.
Love this unflinching conviction in the purity of the dragon.

{Then she shouldn’t pick fights she can’t win on her own.}
While Vaselva's response to this isn't a great argument, this sentiment is kind of weird in that it basically precludes all cooperation. If N really were a madman who needed to be stopped - should Hilda just shrug and stand by because she can't take him on her own? Or should she rally others with her so they can all go and stop him? It's valid to question why the need for all the nonessential fighting they do, but when it comes to a cause that Hilda believes is legitimately important for the fate of the world, saying she just shouldn't have picked the fight because she can't win it on her own is kind of a strange attitude.

First Reshiram, now this. You stamp your foot. Sparks fly from it, and you have to quell your anger before you draw attention. But you needn’t have worried. Hilda doesn’t pay attention to the doings of her pokémon on a quiet evening, after all. She’s five feet away from you and she doesn’t even blink.
This feels a bit incongruous with that previous bit where we did see Hilda noticing the Pokémon's conversation - I'm not sure why here, where there's more to notice, she apparently doesn't.

The pit of ice sinks low, low into your hooves. {Don’t you think I tried?} You rack your brains. Was she there? You’d only just evolved; she would’ve been a servine then. Did you see her there, this little blur of emerald? You don’t remember. That is the only reason you don’t lance her down with lightning right now, that and the fact that at this range you would turn Hilda’s arms to ash. {I did. Right after the fight for the Quake Badge. I ran. I got fifteen minutes outside of town before Hilda found me. Got stopped by a trainer who’d seen the alert for a runaway zebstrika; he knocked me out and took me to a pokécenter. Reylin had evolved by then, so it took him four minutes to fly out to me with Hilda. ‘You poor thing,’ she told me. ‘I was so worried you’d gotten lost.’ I never stood a chance.}
Oof. This kind of seems like another instance of a trainer who apparently means well simply misunderstanding what a Pokémon wants, though - surely if Amara had tried again a couple more times, Hilda would have seen the pattern? I feel like in your efforts to write the trainers as being semi-sympathetic while also writing the Pokémon as desperately wanting to leave, you're kind of dodging the incongruity of it a bit by relying on the trainers being oblivious and the Pokémon then just shrugging and making no further attempts to make them understand.

You fix him with a glare, but he only blinks back. You aren’t sure how much he understands; the tongue he knows died centuries ago with the rest of his kin. You’ve never heard him speak.
Huh - wouldn't most people at least try to pick up the new language in this situation, or at least communicate nonverbally?

You don’t have the words to answer her because you don’t have a good answer for yourself. But Hilda offers you one thing no one else in your herd could: you can protect her without facing death. You can be her strength without risking your own life. You can, like your father before you, fulfill the mandate of the dragons, over and over.
The dramatic irony of this is wrenching.

Hilda is a poor tactician if she thought you could be stealthy. The tower is made of stone and has plenty of space to echo. You have hooves. But you try your best. The clopping resonates up the whole of the spire.
It feels a little incongruous that after you've repeatedly brought up how Hilda is good at planning and thinking even in Amara's own eyes, you casually have this here. (At least I would have expected Amara to be surprised Hilda would make such a mistake, given how she spoke of her earlier?)

You, who thwarted N at so many turns. You helped Hilda beat him back time and time again, since the very beginning. He wouldn’t, couldn’t take you, not when you’ve made yourself into his enemy so many times. No human would.
Hmm, is this implying that she thinks N will only make the world better for selected Pokémon?

He doesn’t actually want this. He doesn’t actually mean it. He couldn’t, of course. No human would unilaterally want to do something so unselfish.

Not even unselfish—it has to be pure. There is no human equivalent for the word kafara. The one who warned the others when a predator arrived, even though crying out for help marked them as weak, as prey. There is no equivalent human term because there is no such thing as a human kafara. Humans always have ulterior motives. You aren’t surprised that he ends up no different in the end, when placed under the dragon’s discerning lens.

Yes. That’s why you’re happy to take him down, right? This man who would demand your freedom and have your love. He’s no better. He’s a liar, just like everyone else.

“Amara! Wild Charge!”

Yes. He’s a liar. You were a fool for believing otherwise. You let your frustration and your anger with her, him, with everyone, surge through your veins and outward to the edges of your body, lighting up your mane in fritzing light. That’s what you’d normally do. But you’re angry, and you have the power to release, so you pour more of it in, until you’re lit up like a beacon, no blinking at all, no stripes, no black, no white, only thunder. You canter forward.
Love this gutwrenching moment - Amara's just gutted that N seems to not be who she wanted, and channels that into anger at him.

The klinklang’s voice is urgent. {He’s right; we have to fly.} You count six whirs. {Inari, you need to distract them.}
Huh, how does the Klinklang understand Reylin? I'm willing to go with N understanding him, since N understanding Pokémon seems like kind of a supernatural ability anyway, but why would Klinklang understand the language of a fossil Pokémon any more than Amara does?

Hilda chose you first, before you chose her. But the klinklang is so wrong. Your choice was made long, long ago, back when the first zebstrika made a promise to the ancient dragon. There’s no turning back.
Oof. Very good gutpunch. You're really good at these stark moments; you deliver the emotion every time.

The creature is enormous, straight out of a storybook, scraping at the ground with four legs, enormous tail lashing wildly. The scales on their back give way to enormous feathers, each one looking to be the size of your body. Light scintillates around the room in a dazzling, almost blinding pattern. Behind you, Hilda has fallen still and silent, in awe of this celestial god. There’s a clattering up the stairs, shouting, and the incoming police stop short as well.

Your heart sinks when you see the dragon unfold fully. You know what Reshiram is supposed to look like, and it isn’t this.
This was a really neat moment too - the Zebstrika having preserved knowledge of the dragons that neither N nor his Zoroark have, being able to recognize that the illusion isn't right. (Still a very clever trick on N's/Zoroark's part, though!)

The ending is a great emotional punch and pretty characterizationally interesting - perhaps some of Vaselva's attitude is because Hilda doesn't confide her doubts and fears in her, but does to Amara. Amara doesn't seem to like Hilda very much at all, but will still be there for her in her misguided, unshatterable sense of duty. This whole chapter is just very sad. Poor Amara, who wanted to see N succeed, but died before she could.

I am having a bit of a hard time telling exactly what it is that Amara thinks N is going to do, though - what does it mean to say humans won't need protection anymore? I didn't really consider this a terribly important question in the previous chapters, but with Amara specifically thinking about the world N wants and comparing it to the current reality, I do wish I understood better exactly what it entails.
 
Last edited:

kintsugi

golden scars
Location
waiting for the fog to roll out
Pronouns
she/her
Partners
  1. silvally-grass
  2. lapras
  3. golurk
wowoww you guys are spoiling me!! splitting these into sections again <3

Overall: good, yes.
[...]
Okay, BED. Looking forward to talking about this one more later. <3

mood, yes, this, bed, ugh, will workshop this chapter at some point in the upcoming weeks. As on discord--making line edits on the current draft feels like painting the walls before the plumbing goes in, but I will revisit this in full at some point. <3

Chapter three time!
!!!
I really enjoy the POV details here, Carnel unsure how tall most humans are supposed to be, their poor eyesight given they live in a cave. Gives it a lot of immediate flavor. I also like how Carnel's main concern is this migration and the environments that they're used to. All in all, a great sense of a Pokémon that has a life of its own and just has no time for this.
I'm glad this worked! One of the things I really wanted to justify in this fic was in having so many viewpoint characters--what does everyone bring to the table? Is this a gimmick or am I presenting a reasonable case for why everyone should have a voice in this story? It was kind of a tough line but I'm glad that the xeno worldbuilding is working.

I had real trouble telling what Pokémon you were talking about here - the scallops suggested the Oshawott family although the "humanoid" confused me, but the first thing I thought of for the second description was Snivy. Maybe this is intentional, because Carnel is also confused on what they are? But for me it felt kind of more distracting than immersive, in any case.
Oop yeah this is really fair! Some wires got crossed during editing here and I'll clean these up + the general references to species across these chapters.

Curious how the whole weakening the Pokémon in battle first works here - is this a routine thing, with Pokéballs usually effective even with the target at full health, or did Cheren just get very lucky here?
Boldore have weirdly high catch rates for where they are in the game, actually. In-universe I would chalk that up to being a quirk of their species generally not knowing what a capture is, let alone attempting to resist a capture if they knew what it entailed.
(I actually used your calculator to back myself up when I was writing this, ha! Level 28 Boldore at full health is roughly a 42.6% chance in an Ultra Ball and an 84% chance in a Quick Ball on turn 1, and I do figure Cheren's enough of a tryhard that he'd just spamcatch a ton of Boldore and then PC or trade the bad IV ones)

Huh, I got the impression from the opening that Carnel had once been N's, but was currently just wild, what with the migration and all - but then it'd be kind of weird for them to expect N to be here now. (This is cute, though - love what you convey of N and Carnel's relationship with this even without directly showing them together at all.)
This does get explained a bit later (since it happens earlier, haha). There was a bit of an oopsie with Carnel.

I guess despite Carnel's own experiences with N, they've gathered other humans call the shots? That feels a little incongruous, though - the opening suggested Carnel hasn't seen many other humans at all.
Mmm yeah I can make this more clear/logical.

Love them not having a name for purple. These little details really make this.
Color naming in linguistics is fascinating to me! It's probably a stretch that rocks care about color at all, tbh, but I figure that at the very least, Chargestone natives wouldn't really have much reason to see purple.

Oof, correcting someone on their own name. Yeesh.
nickname pokemon on their behalf is deeply awkward to me haha

It's kind of funny for Carnel to talk about an evolutionary trait - do Boldore have scientists that have figured out evolution?
Mmm, probably not lol. Good call.

Tranquill has two l's!
rip

It's interesting how Ico's more the villain here than Cheren, really - acting out of active malice, where Cheren seems more to just not think very hard about his Pokémon and simply assume that everything's fine (though there is the moment of him recalling Carnel when they try to leave).
I'm kind of surprised Carnel doesn't try harder to communicate with Cheren - even when there's a language barrier, people will usually try to find ways of making themselves understood anyway. I could easily buy Cheren just not properly noticing or caring or understanding even if Carnel tries to reach him, but it feels odd they don't attempt anything.
It's messy imo--when does being ignorant stop being a passive thing and start being the act of ignoring something?

Ah, love this! I was just talking about how they weren't trying to communicate with Cheren but here we are. So good and creative. Carnel is a lovely rock who tries so hard and deserves to be happy.
(Cheren you ass look at your Pokémon's beautiful communicative artwork)
So good. Carnel is precious.
Carnel lil' baby tries so hard </3

Hmm, not sure I entirely get this - Carnel seems to be suggesting Tourmaline was traded from Hilda to Cheren without being consulted about it, which'd certainly explain why Tourmaline resents Hilda in particular even more, but it seems kind of a weird leap to make for someone who seems to understand so little about trainers, and Tourmaline's will never doesn't really read like that's it. But if it's not I'm not sure what to make of this.
I could make this one a bit more clear, yeah--Carnel doesn't really understand how trainers work lol. He had an old human who for ??? reasons ??? is no longer around, so he sort of just assumes this is how things work. He puts together a guess based on what he knows, and is very wrong about it.

Hmm, this point doesn't feel entirely convincing to me. These particular words of Cheren's are pretty reasonable as far as his oblivious understanding goes, I think? Like, if commenting on something Carnel did in particular, what else would he do but refer to Carnel specifically? Stating that we lost is treating them all as having equal part in the loss, which is surely what you'd say if you do regard yourself as part of the team and bearing an equal responsibility for it. And stating you want to become stronger is surely a pretty reasonable thing for someone to want for themselves, and is an acknowledgement that you yourself have been lacking and need to put in work? I'd see her point if it were a "Pokémon lose, trainers win" situation, but in these cases it doesn't seem to me that Cheren's words are actually betraying that sort of mindset - Cheren does plenty of other things here that show he disregards Pokémon and doesn't really pay attention to them as people with their own wants and needs, but this doesn't really feel like one of them.
Yeah, I think Cheren's words are reasonable for someone who's being oblivious--but that's sort of Tourmaline's point. Cheren isn't doing any deeper thinking beyond himself. Cheren might think he has equal responsibility in this team, but saying it doesn't make it true.

Tourmaline's 'lesson', and the way it consists of looking at other Pokémon and kind of putting words in their mouth based on her interpretations and extrapolations about features of their physical bodies and not on anything they as individual people have actually expressed feeling or believing, kind of gives me the same uncomfy vibe as those evangelical tracts going into loving detail about how much intricate work the human body will do to accommodate a pregnancy, in order to conclude that abortion is profane and evil - this unsettling way of treating bodies and their evolved, automatic processes as somehow truer and more real and important than the actual people who inhabit those bodies. (That's not to say it's not true that these Pokémon don't really want to be here - but the way Tourmaline is approaching this revolves entirely around the idea that you can just tell by looking at them, and seems entirely unconcerned with whether that's what they would actually tell you if you asked.) It's an effective, memorable scene, and the insidiousness of it is chilling, but I'm not quite sure if that's actually the vibe that you were going for here?
Honestly, kind of? I think I'll unpack it a bit more in edits but I really wanted to get into this issue from both angles. It's typically accepted in fandom/canon to be like, oh yeah, this Boldore didn't resist being captured when I threw a specially-designed capture sphere at it so clearly it wants to come along; Mega Lucario growing spikes out of its chest and turning into a bloodrage means he loves me; pokemon levelling up when they're around humans means that this is them getting stronger--it's a weird implication of consent when I don't see any being given. Tourmaline doesn't ask these pokemon if they want to be here, but she's also been around trainers her entire life and most of them don't ask her if she wants to be there either. They just assume what's convenient for them, and conveniently ignore her when she disagrees.

And it's a tricky question of course! How do you get consent without communication? I think the socially acceptable answer is to assume that "not Yes" is equivalent to "No", and that if someone isn't enthusiastically giving positive consent, the safest thing is to assume that they don't want to do it. Tourmaline here is advocating for "if they can't answer clearly and positively, leave them alone until they state otherwise"--there's perhaps the logical flaw in her argument that some of the pokemon might've answered yes and she can't know for sure, but I would say she's making a stronger moral stance than Cheren's "if they don't run away before I notice, that means they want me to keep them".

Love this Roggenrola take on a Sisyphean sort of myth - the Roggenrola becoming more rounded as he goes really adds to it.
sneaking in all of the lore, 2020

It's hard not to wonder, since Cheren's main problem seems to be not paying attention more than anything else, if it wouldn't be perfectly possible to get through to him and get him to take a hint, at least a little, just by trying a bit harder. In the battle we see here, Cheren misunderstands Carnel's efforts to communicate as simply missing an attack, because it doesn't even occur to him to try to interpret what they're doing as anything but an attempt to follow his command - but what would happen if Carnel just turned around, stared right at Cheren, and pointedly did nothing at all? Surely it couldn't continue to escape him that Carnel's not just trying and failing? Surely he'd eventually at least give up and realize Carnel's useless to him as it stands and release them? Tourmaline's advice to just grin and bear it seems like the absolute worst approach, given (as she claims) that Cheren is just a fool and not malicious.
Definitely messy questions! I dunno if anyone in this fic has all the right answers.

Actively refusing to fight--I think this would be a logical counterpoint if it was guaranteed to end in being released into the wild, which it might not be? The pokeball gives humans a ton of power in this situation, and Cheren can literally control whether or not Carnel gets to see sunlight/be conscious ever again. A pokemon that refuses to battle might get released back into the wild, or they might be sold, or they might be put in the PC box forever. Is it worth the risk? Their fate really ends up tied to the emotional quotient of their trainer, which, in Carnel's case, is not very high with respect to pokemon agency.

(Side note, I did want this to be reminiscent of traded pokemon not obeying you unless you have enough badges--the in-game solution is to just become a more powerful trainer, and then the obedience problem just vanishes! Spooky imo).

I find Tourmaline pretty interesting - my read on her is sort of as a damaged figure poisoned into futile toxicity, having persuaded herself that there's no point trying to communicate or resist, to a point where she's now actively sabotaging herself, digging her own grave by participating in her own oppression. And as she does so, she imagines that inherently everyone else is going to be pretending the same way, too, and the way to tell how they really feel is these just-so stories about their physical features. I'm not sure that's entirely what you were going for here, but it's something that sticks with me a bit.

All in all, really fun read, A+ rock.
It's rough! Tourmaline ends up in a shitty point in life, and I don't think she acts 100% flawlessly but I don't know I'd do better in her shoes. I'm glad that the futility is coming across though, and I do love this rock so I'm really glad you love him too. I'm glad you're enjoying so far! Your reviews are such a treat and I love how much thought is going on under the hood here.

ohhai ohhai!! thanks for stopping in!

I'm glad you're enjoying so far! This is a topic that fascinates me and I think at some point it became easier to just write a novel rather than try to straighten out the thoughts into anything shorter than that. Glad the prose is working out so far!

There were a few lines that really stuck with me, like the note about klinklang not spinning, the observation that N would make a better pokémon, or N's correction that he was addressing Vaselva about relative youth. Also, " for the second time in your life, you watch the birth of a god." That hits well.
living for these reacts!

As a concept, I'm really looking forward to a comprehensive exploration of N's whole deal from the perspective of pokémon. Vaselva's very much a sapient, but very much not human, and you write that well here. I'm confident that future chapters will explore different species' psychology via other pokémon characters, and that's absolutely my jam. It remains to be seen what I think of the arguments presented for N's ideology, but the reference to haxorus extermination leads me to suspect he has a much stronger case in this fic than he's generally given, which should be interesting.
Yeah, I wanted to lean into the idea that this is a story told by pokemon rather than humans--if you want the human version, BW is a solid game haha. This is mostly just a fun exercise in writing as many flavors of xenofic as I can, tbh.

Re: haxorus genocide--I always think it's strange that the early games have so many casual references to human-induced genocide and canon people are just like, oh yeah, that was a thing that happened. Lapras, farfetch'd, and stantler all come to mind. I'm pretty sure those lore bits don't fully make it to Unova, and also if canon N came out and said this and the player has to openly take up arms against the guy who's against genocide ... I could see this not working out terribly well as a canon plot, yes, but I'm more than happy to engage it here.

Thank you for your thoughts! I'm glad you're enjoying so far.

Oof, this one's Amara, preparing for retroactive heartbreak.
Awww yeah, here to put that backwards timeline through its paces and justify my stupid formatting choices.

Love the mythology throughline here, though it's interesting you suggest her father's human told him this story - it definitely sounds like a myth the Zebstrika would come up with, centered around them. The way that it creates a culture, one that makes sense for herd animals, is neat - they live their lives cooperating, protecting the less powerful, and that colors the way Amara views having a trainer. And of course, that view is kind of pathological in the end, brought out of the context of the culture where it developed: if nobody needs protection, then she's left without purpose, and it makes her not want that to happen, even though by itself that's clearly an objective good.
!! I'm glad this bit worked too! I definitely had to kick this chapter around a bit to get the tone I wanted, and all the cultural bits came out more strongly in later drafts so I'm glad they work here.

Hmm, here we see Hilda apparently noticing that Amara is trying to say something, which I'm tempted to see as a contrast to Cheren last chapter - but later in the chapter you indicate she doesn't listen to her Pokémon either. I'm curious why this line is here, if so.
I dunno if I explained this one well in the chapter itself--Hilda's been a little distracted lately, and now a cult is trying to summon god and end the world, so some of the harder things like talking to Amara sort of go out the window when they might not have before? But yeah, I can make that one more clear.

Love this unflinching conviction in the purity of the dragon.
Dragon is a good friend do not insult Amara's friend the dragon

While Vaselva's response to this isn't a great argument, this sentiment is kind of weird in that it basically precludes all cooperation. If N really were a madman who needed to be stopped - should Hilda just shrug and stand by because she can't take him on her own? Or should she rally others with her so they can all go and stop him? It's valid to question why the need for all the nonessential fighting they do, but when it comes to a cause that Hilda believes is legitimately important for the fate of the world, saying she just shouldn't have picked the fight because she can't win it on her own is kind of a strange attitude.
Yeah! I think the fun/sad thing about writing these conversations is I get to make everyone a little right and a little wrong. BW has an interesting plot to me because the stakes are pretty high by the time you get to the League; there's no turning back and there's a lot to be lost if you fail. But it's also strange since you're basically fighting for the right to keep pokemon fighting--I always thought it was strange that this question just got solved by who was the better battler, since basically it's you as the player asking people to put their safety on the line so you can continue to have the right to ask them to put their safety on the line.

This feels a bit incongruous with that previous bit where we did see Hilda noticing the Pokémon's conversation - I'm not sure why here, where there's more to notice, she apparently doesn't.
I think I'll edit this around a bit! maybe sometime in the next few days; i'm tired tonight lol I don't want her to be too unsympathetic.

Oof. This kind of seems like another instance of a trainer who apparently means well simply misunderstanding what a Pokémon wants, though - surely if Amara had tried again a couple more times, Hilda would have seen the pattern? I feel like in your efforts to write the trainers as being semi-sympathetic while also writing the Pokémon as desperately wanting to leave, you're kind of dodging the incongruity of it a bit by relying on the trainers being oblivious and the Pokémon then just shrugging and making no further attempts to make them understand.
I think that's fair! One of the messier things about this chronology is that a lot of attempts already have been made; we just haven't seen them yet. The characters who make it this far have been in it for the long haul; although the outside world is crumbling, a lot of their internal thought processes have been set in stone for a while now. The further back we go, I think the more room for questioning/believing people will understand we get to see, if that helps any.

Huh - wouldn't most people at least try to pick up the new language in this situation, or at least communicate nonverbally?
Reylin has Thoughts about talking to strangers tbh.

It feels a little incongruous that after you've repeatedly brought up how Hilda is good at planning and thinking even in Amara's own eyes, you casually have this here. (At least I would have expected Amara to be surprised Hilda would make such a mistake, given how she spoke of her earlier?)
This is an excellent call! Thank you.

Hmm, is this implying that she thinks N will only make the world better for selected Pokémon?
She does think that N wouldn't accept her with open arms since she keeps screwing up his plans, yeah.

Love this gutwrenching moment - Amara's just gutted that N seems to not be who she wanted, and channels that into anger at him.
100% this!! I'm glad y ou picked up on this; I always wonder how much to tip my hand with moments like these.

Huh, how does the Klinklang understand Reylin? I'm willing to go with N understanding him, since N understanding Pokémon seems like kind of a supernatural ability anyway, but why would Klinklang understand the language of a fossil Pokémon any more than Amara does?
This is actually something we get to see later! I'm really really glad that you questioned it now though--there's a couple of weird things that I get to pull off with reverse chronology, and stabbing at backstory through implicit continuity errors is sort of one of them.

Oof. Very good gutpunch. You're really good at these stark moments; you deliver the emotion every time.
!! gah, thank you! This means a lot

This was a really neat moment too - the Zebstrika having preserved knowledge of the dragons that neither N nor his Zoroark have, being able to recognize that the illusion isn't right. (Still a very clever trick on N's/Zoroark's part, though!)
Yeah! N doesn't know everything. No one really does. This is important!

The ending is a great emotional punch and pretty characterizationally interesting - perhaps some of Vaselva's attitude is because Hilda doesn't confide her doubts and fears in her, but does to Amara. Amara doesn't seem to like Hilda very much at all, but will still be there for her in her misguided, unshatterable sense of duty. This whole chapter is just very sad. Poor Amara, who wanted to see N succeed, but died before she could.

I am having a bit of a hard time telling exactly what it is that Amara thinks N is going to do, though - what does it mean to say humans won't need protection anymore? I didn't really consider this a terribly important question in the previous chapters, but with Amara specifically thinking about the world N wants and comparing it to the current reality, I do wish I understood better exactly what it entails.
N's canon goal is to create separate worlds for humans and pokemon, and tbh I really just like the way Negrek took that in Decoherence and I thought it was fair to keep that as his goal here as well. Given the state of our world, which is lacking in pokemon but not in problems, I do think it's a bit (ahem) idealistic to believe that humans won't need protection/won't somehow create conflict if pokemon aren't present, but tbh this is why plants don't like to deal in hypotheticals--way too many questions with no answers.

Vas is definitely a bit jealous, yes. :(

I'm so glad you're enjoying though! Your reviews are really brightening my day and you guys are spoiling me so much, lol. <3

I feel like I'm going in circles a bit with this, so I think I'll stop here. We will chat :)
this one too. we will chat. when i have. better answers. to chat with.

Thank you for the spot-on analysis though. I will yell at this chapter for a bit, and probably slap it in the face with this review, in the upcoming weeks and see what comes out of it. In general the answer is probably, yes, all of this advice is excellent for when I finally figure out how to knit it into a nice chapter, thank you, you are an angel.
 
xi. necktie

kintsugi

golden scars
Location
waiting for the fog to roll out
Pronouns
she/her
Partners
  1. silvally-grass
  2. lapras
  3. golurk

xi. necktie
※​

Skyla holds herself like a wind vane—her head is constantly changing direction, her eyes surveying a new corner of the room with every breath, but no wind will knock her over. She shifts smoothly, stirring a splash of milk into her cup.

“So you two have gotten a lot better.” Skyla smiles tightly. Her spoon makes a tight vortex as the liquid turns from dark to pale. “What’s next, Iris? Surely you’ll try for Champion.”

Iris doesn’t like coffee. You know this. But Skyla likes people who like coffee, so Iris pretends. Her back is ramrod straight, and she exhales into her cup before taking a sip. The café chatters around her. “Probably not this year. Drayden doesn’t think I’m ready.”

“You?” Skyla’s eyes widen almost comically. The flower on her beret flops over as she slams her cup into the table and dabs at a bit that splashes out. “Not ready? Your team is strong, girl. Me and Swanna didn’t stand a chance against Fraxure.”

“Nonsense. You gave Sienna a run for her money; the two of us haven’t had a fight that close in weeks! Your Air Slash accuracy is really something.” Iris shrugs and takes another sip of coffee. To give herself time to think, you’re sure. It’s not like she enjoys it. “It’s not like Alder’s going anywhere anytime soon, you know? So if Drayden says I should wait, I’ll wait.”

Her voice is breezy, to match the woman sitting across from her. But Skyla doesn’t get knocked over the by breezes. She rides them.

“Your funeral,” she says with a shrug, and Iris laughs cheerfully back.

But you know. You and Iris share one skin. She hides her disdain well, but you can feel it roaring within her, chafing at the leash Drayden has placed her on, raging at Alder’s untouchable crown, seething even at Skyla’s casual acceptance of it all. If it were just the two of you, you’d roar.

Instead, Iris calmly stirs her coffee and exchanges pleasantries with the most influential woman in Western Unova. You are the dragon and she is the girl, after all; it would not do her any good to rampage here. These humans have silly constructs of power. You beat Skyla’s team in a fight without even trying, and yet Iris is still the one groveling; you’re still the one sitting primly by her side.

“By the by, I heard there’s supposed to be a Plasma protest this afternoon in the square.” Skyla adds, her tone almost conspiratorial as she leans in.

Iris remains stock-still, like a patrat under a winged shadow. But beneath the table, you wrap your tail around her ankle, and feel the tendon in it tense. The hand on her thigh clenches into a fist, and you imagine her channeling her frustration back into you, where it can be carefully stowed under your armor and unleashed later.

“Oh?”

“Mistralton PD will respond with necessary precautions.” Skyla’s looking teacup, swirling the dregs around the leaves. Before you can decipher if the threat of violence was intentional, she continues, “I will not have my town be made into a pedestal for fools.”

A long silence. Iris weighs her options. Surely she must know the implied question, but you already know she’s going to make Skyla say it.

“I’m sure you’ve got a friend of a friend who knows what’s what, with all the things you’re involved in.” Skyla’s smile is more strained than her tea. “Could you pass the message on for me, Iris?”

There isn’t a correct answer to give. Skyla’s too far up in the clouds to know the difference; all she sees are people sending her petitions, blocking her streets, staking signs on her lawn. People in her way, to be intimidated or bribed or charmed into moving. If she listened to all of them she’d know that there was a difference, that whoever runs Plasma isn’t on Iris’s leash any more than Iris is on hers. But Skyla doesn’t know that difference, and somehow that makes her question even harder to answer. Does Iris have the time to delineate this? Would Skyla even care? You both know the answer.

“I’ll see who Drayden can talk to.”

“Wonderful!” Skyla’s laugh is just a touch too loud, you think. “Now, did you happen to catch the match between Burgh and Cilan last week? I only caught the second half and I thought it was one of the best I’ve seen all year!”

Eventually, their conversation winds down and Skyla floats off to the rest of her weekend duties.

Iris simmers in her seat, and you nuzzle up against her hand.

{Why do you do this?} you growl. There are no other pokémon in the shop; no one else to listen. {You despise her.}

“Not here,” she murmurs back. Perhaps she doesn’t understand the exact meaning of your words, but the intent is clear enough, and she knows you too well to be deaf. “When we get home.”

She glances at her phone with one hand and idly scratches the ridge at the back of your head with the other. Weekdays are for duties—early morning training, fielding gym challenges for Drayden, a random assortment of logistical tasks involved in organizing the largest gym on the Unovan circuit, meetings with the League, the occasional interview. Saturdays are for the unofficial battles: meetings with the local interest groups, marches, action. And Sundays are usually for quiet training, relaxation, sometimes a few socially-weighted visits. Today is one of the Sundays that’s morphed into an endless train of commitments. Posturing, smiles.

Skyla’s a tricky one. You’re reminded of the sawsbuck that change their coats with the seasons. She’s not venomous, but she isn’t completely innocent either—she’s whatever she needs to be. You don’t fully understand Unovan culture, but Skyla and Iris are similar in one regard: they’ve both been groomed into the roles they have now. From the outside there’s no telling if they truly enjoy who they pretend to be. From the inside, well. You know Iris better than any other person on this earth, and she knows you. She is yours and you are hers. You will guard her heart with your life.

“Hilda, over here!” Iris calls, waving to a gangly, brown-haired teenager who’s milling in the doorway of the café, one hand clutching tightly at the strap of her backpack. Her head flicks over to the two of you and she begins weaving her way through the tables. Her heels never touch the ground.

You look this Hilda over. Hmm. Practical garb. Good boots. Her daypack is new, hardly broken in. Must’ve been her first. Gleaming pokéballs—only four, this far in? Interesting. Her clothes are loose, comfortable, mostly plain. Looks like she doesn’t carry a city wardrobe; she’s probably not a big enough up-and-comer to warrant that quite yet.

An interesting one. Juniper always picks the strangest candidates.

“Do you want anything?” Iris asks. “They’ve got a really good artisanal tea blend.”

“I’ll just have a water, thanks.” Hilda flashes a tight smile. “Gotta keep hydrated, you know?”

Iris smiles politely back. “It’s on me—I remember the traveling life. No room in the budget for hand-bagged double-filtered brews, right?”

You may have assessed wrong. The new backpack made you think new money, the kind that loves trendy joints like this. The Skylas of the world. But Iris has always had the better eye for strategy, so if she sees something that you don’t, it’s probably there. You try to reassess while Iris flags over a waiter and orders drinks for them both. Juniper’s sponsorship could’ve come with new gear. You look Hilda over again—if it’s all new, how did she manage to make it this far? The boots look like the only thing that’s older than her journey.

“So, five badges already?” Iris asks after they’ve folded up the menus and the waiter whisks them away. “Skyla next? Your zebstrika just evolved, right?”

Another tight smile. “I see Juniper’s already told you everything.”

“Not everything. That’s what these chats are for.” Even though it’s empty, Iris cradles her coffee cup while it rests on the table. An old habit, one she’s never tried to break. Her natural tongue has her talking with her hands and her words. She learned to sing with her fingers before she could walk. But here, in a posh coffeeshop tucked away in the business district of Mistralton, flannel-clad hipsters and low-fi tunes trickling around you, her unspoken words would flag her as an outsider long before her spoken words would. The accent’s faded from her lips but it’ll never fade from her hands. “I like to check in with all the fellowship trainers by the third or fourth badge. Forgive me; I didn’t expect you to move so quickly.”

Hilda’s voice is almost mechanical; the words come out like they’ve been memorized by rote. “My zebstrika’s just evolved. My servine is probably close to follow; I’d say she’ll evolve before the next badge. My duosion is probably a long way off from evolution. I’ve recently acquired an archen and we’re working on getting to know each other.”

There’s a long pause. Iris drums her fingers against the edge of her mug and stares into it for a second. “You know, in my year, there were actually four fellowship trainers. A record high sponsorship rate. Those sound like rookie numbers to you now, I’m sure—Juniper has three this year alone, right?—but back then it was pretty much unheard of. Drayden had never floated a mentee into the ring, not since he started. And then Corrin, who used to run the Striaton Gym, went ahead and sponsored three kids at once. So suddenly there were four, and the strangest thing was that no one in Unova had heard of any of us.”

Skyla was sponsored two years before Iris. You remember having a similar conversation, except Skyla was the one staring archly down across a cup of tea, her glittering pink eyeliner doing nothing to soften her gaze. You’d heard that her braviary could spot prey from two miles up, and in that moment you’d wondered if he taught that to her or if she’d taught it to him.

But Skyla had been born in the league circuit, holding her grandfather’s hand in his interviews since she was four. It hadn’t been a question of who he’d pick to succeed him in his gym; just when, and how much he’d rig the proceedings in her favor.

You and Iris and the triplets and their simians were the first to break the mold. You were all plucked out of obscurity and thrust into the spotlight. Iris—who still talked with her hands in interviews, whose tusked earrings accidentally sparked a short-lived line of costume jewelry, who had a strange green dragon that she refused to put in a pokéball at any time—was their favorite, of course. Unova loved the idea of a tough girl with a pretty face. She couldn’t be too tough, of course. But that’s what you were for, to give the fangs a different face from the flower.

“You were the same year as Cilan, Cress, and Chili, right?” Hilda’s still guarded. You imagine her with a rapier in hand, poised to deflect the incoming blows. But Iris isn’t the one she should be afraid of.

“They were Izan, Andrés, and Julian when I knew them, but yes.”

The water returns with two cups of tea. Small. From the scent it looks worth less than the cup it’s in. Fascinating, the world you’ve left and what you traded it for.

Iris swaps her mug for a teacup and cradles it tightly, despite the steam rippling off the surface. “Our year was a little different from yours, I think, but the roots are still there. There was an early interview with the triplets once. Izan mentioned that their mother used to cook empanadas, and she’d passed the recipe down to him. An offhanded comment, probably thirty seconds in an hour interview. The label stuck. Now they run a restaurant and have to dye their hair and use ridiculous imported pokémon to fill out their rosters. Izan didn’t realize it—and knowing him, if he’d known I’m sure he would’ve said nothing at all— but in that moment he created a brand.”

Hilda frowns and blows into her tea.

She’s still new to this, you think. You and Iris learned this together when you came here, when she learned to talk with her instead of her mouth, to leave her thoughts hidden with you. The flow of a battle is guided by targeted, direct strikes. Every attack has value and weight. The flow of a conversation is different. Precision doesn’t matter nearly as much as just getting it out there. You watched Iris learn this lesson the hard way. You can build a mountain with words and force people to climb up to get you.

In a quiet, clear voice, Hilda finally says, “You said you meet with all the fellowship trainers at around this time. Bianca said you approached her in Castelia. But I don’t think you’ve talked to Cheren yet, have you?”

There is, of course, a second approach to someone who builds a mountain with words: ignore it, and build one of your own.

Iris smiles and stands up, kicking back her chair with the one of her knees as she does so. “I’m bored. Do you want to have a practice spar? There’s a park nearby.”

Hilda frowns, one hand uselessly wrapped around her cup. “But the tea,” she manages.

“Take it with you,” Iris says dismissively, tucking a fold of bills under her empty coffee mug and scooping up her teacup into one hand. “They’ll call me if they care. They know how to reach me.” She leaves the rest unspoken.

Iris stopped talking with her hands, and hid her mother’s earrings, and changed her clothes to blend in with the rest. But there were some things, she explained to you, that you cannot yield on. They can be small; they can be big. Breaking the small rules reminds you that you have the strength to break the big ones. So she takes coffee cups. She refuses to put her dragon in a pokéball even where public areas don’t allow you. By making defiance part of her brand, she got Unova to commend what they would’ve condemned in anyone else.

Iris sweeps out of the café, tossing a jaunty wave to the shopkeep with her free hand. Hilda hesitates for a moment, and then grabs the tea in her hands and follows.

“It’s loud in there,” Iris explains as the door jangles shut and they step onto the street. You mentally translate her words—there are too many people who could listen.

“You don’t think Cheren needs this talk,” Hilda says. She drifts slightly behind on the pavement; you don’t leave Iris’s side and the sidewalk isn’t big enough for three.

“How does Cheren dress, Hilda?”

Iris has mastered this way of talking and sweeping along, not looking back. Observing out of the corner of her eyes. It conflicts with your predator instincts; all your life the two of you only needed to look forward. But it’s good practice, and you can see Hilda’s brow furrow before she responds, “Um, three-quarters buttondown, blue windbreaker, jeans.”

“Pants,” Iris corrects.

“Pants?”

“Jeans are casual. He wears pants, not denim.” Iris wears jeans, and she shoves her hands into her back pockets as she continues strolling down the avenue. Heads turn towards the three of you. You walk stiffly beside her, project her indifference for the world to see. “The difference is important. Anything else?”

Hilda’s silent for a moment. “No?”

“Red tie.” Iris doesn’t even look over her shoulder as she begins to cross the street. You glare at the cars for her.

“The tie?” Hilda shouts over the honking. “Really? It’s a stupid thing that he picked up for the first photoshoot …” She trails off.

“Tell me why.”

“What?” Hilda finally manages to cross the street. Back when Iris did this in Castelia, the Bianca girl had to wait for the crosswalk. “What do you mean, why?”

“Tell me why I didn’t schedule a conversation with him. Here’s good, by the way.”

You stop on a grassy lawn, fenced in on three sides by an array of shops. The square is quiet at this time of day; most of the interesting practice battles will happen closer to the gym, where Skyla’s appraising eye could happen to land on them. You square your shoulders.

Drayden wasn’t a very good mentor. It took you a while to put your finger on why. When you were young, his druddigon beat you up daily. Training practice. He didn’t ever talk during it. No pointers. In a way that was the best lesson he could’ve given you—you learned how to find your own weaknesses and overcome them. There’s a blind spot where the tusks can’t defend, close to the rear leg. Lure enemies in and then dispatch them with a fire attack. You learned to take your shorter stature into stride: you can’t fight like a fully-grown haxorus until you are one. Drayden didn’t actually want to teach you two, but he did a good job of it by accident. The lessons stuck when you had to find them on your own.

Iris learned that the hard way, but she’ll pass it down. Both of you will.

“The tie is his brand,” Hilda says slowly. A bit of a guess, but it’s the only obvious answer. She’ll have to figure out the rest on her own. “Elesa’s got her modelling, Clay’s got his mines, Burgh’s got his art.” Her brow knits together. She runs her hands over her belt. “But that’s the important part to you? The tie?”

There’s a flash of red, and a lanky servine appears in front of you, all curls of green and golden leaves. The scales around her eyes narrow as she meets your gaze, and she tilts her neck to one side. You can tell from the arch of her tail that Hilda wasn’t exaggerating earlier; this one’s soon to evolve.

“Lenora adores him. He’s your friend, Hilda. You’ll know him better than me.” Iris’s hands are jammed firmly in her pockets and she stares straight ahead, but you study her target for the two of you. “But I saw the headshots Juniper published when she announced her candidates. He changed up his look because he thought he needed to.”

She leaves the rest unspoken, but you’ve seen Skyla around the two of you, and Izan and his brothers. You know what Hilda does not: the people who matter will never accept you. Iris could wear as many outfits as she wanted; the two of you would always just be simisage in dressup to them. But if that’s the path her friend has chosen, then that’s the one he’ll walk. When he reaches the end he’ll learn his lesson, one way or another. He wants to dress up like them; they’ll see his tie and drag him around by the neck.

“You didn’t think it was worth having a talk with Cheren.”

“I don’t think he needs to have that talk with me,” Iris responds smoothly. “He already knows what he’s after. For him the outcome is simple: either he’ll get it, or he won’t. But I admit I’m not quite sure what you want yet.”

An airplane jets overhead. Iris stands on the edge of an empty sidewalk, cars blowing past her, her face a clay mask that betrays none of her pent up anger that’s been seething beneath your scales for eighteen years. Across the street, a pair of teens in hoodies stroll by in the opposite direction.

Hilda is a mess of emotions and distrust, and who could blame her? She would have better luck taming dragons than taming Unova. But beneath that tangle, you see something familiar: the smoldering sort of rage that only comes from wanting something she’ll never get.

“You two can go first,” Iris says after a long pause, gesturing to the lawn where her servine is casually rearranging the leaves of her tail to get more sunlight.

Hilda balks. “Oh. Right.” A pause, and then: “Open with Slam.”

The servine jerks out of her reverie and tenses, preparing to leap. Iris raises her eyebrows at you and then tilts her chin forward.

“If you really think all of that,” Hilda begins, and peters off. At her side, her fist clenches. She straightens. “Just. Why are you doing this? Why don’t you do anything about it?”

You catch the servine on your shoulder; she’s dangerously close to impaling herself on your right tusk and you have to tilt yourself out of the way to avoid causing any serious damage. Still, you tap her with the flat of it as she recoils away, and you catch the back of her head before she can manage to twist around for another attack.

Iris raises one eyebrow. “Is that what you want? To be able to do something about it?”

You expected Hilda to flinch. This isn’t a world for idealists, after all. You and Iris learned that lesson young. There are things you want, things you deserve, and things you are given. Fight as hard as you can for them to be the same, but never expect them to be.

But instead, she squares her jaw. The rage is back. “Vaselva, Leaf Blade. Keep your head back.”

An interesting response. Juniper really does pick the strangest candidates. Most of them don’t get anywhere, instead falling to the wayside after their first few badges and returning to do research for her—which was probably what Juniper wanted the whole time. But this one has the battle chops to do well in the League, and maybe the backbone as well.

The servine coils around herself, a blur of emerald and beige scales, and you see the glow concentrating around at her tail, whispering with grassy energy.

There’s an adage that battling is how trainers get to know each other. Some would say that that isn’t correct, as you can only really see the pokémon fight, that you’re the ones who are on the field, after all. But what you see in this servine is a reflection of her trainer’s grim determination. The grass-type didn’t seem particularly eager for the battle; she seemed far more happy when she was letting her leaves relax in the sun. But now that she’s in it, the hesitation is gone. She exhales sharply as she readies herself, and in that one breath you can sense all of her—exhaustion, grit, loyalty, pride.

Human battles are all about conversations, posturing, and hiding yourself. And they certainly aren’t designed to be fair—Skyla left herself wide open, but it didn’t matter. The rules already said she got to win anyway. So is it really cruel to believe that some people have to fight in other ways instead?

You parry the first attack, but the servine ducks low and aims for your knees.

{You’re a fast learner,} you hiss approvingly in draconic as you catch the second swing on your scaly forearms.

{I try,} she responds frostily.

{Don’t wind up as much,} you add when her third jab easily goes wide over your shoulder, a crackling blur of green energy. {You don’t need it.}

“And you think if you stand where I am, you’ll get it?” Iris hides her cynicism with a laugh; you vent her frustration into your next thrust, and open-palmed strike with your claws tucked safely out of the way.

It isn’t her fault. You’re both looking at a firestarter who thinks that if she battles hard enough and believes in her pokémon, she’ll get whatever she wants. This is a land where opportunity can be pried from the earth for all those who dig deep enough, of course. What would stop you?

The air is thick, though, and suddenly Hilda’s holding her rapier again, defending against attacks that aren’t aimed at her. “You’ve got a better shot than me.”

“What would be the first thing you’d change?” This one isn’t a rhetorical question. Iris isn’t trying to coax her anywhere. This is a genuine query to the ones who follow in her footsteps—if I didn’t fight hard enough, what would you have done in my stead?

You wrap your hand around the servine’s neck and slam her into the ground, a cage of dragonfire glimmering on the tips of your claws.

Iris isn’t exactly subtle; that was never your style. Clay bribed an entire industry to support him; Drayden used his dragon-wielding protégé as a stand-in; Alder was a punching bag for anyone who wanted to pull his strings—but Iris’s only weapon was raising her voice. The problem was that people never listened for good, even if it was obvious, even if it demanded to be heard. Iris was the first female League Finalist of native descent. She was the point person for expanding the training sponsorship program to mandate funding for lower income families, and campaigned for the Unovan Endemic Species Protection Act, and chafed loud and hard against the rest of the archaic and outdated rules that had kept the League tilted toward the wealthy for years. And she was twenty-two, and had a long climb ahead of her, longer than setting up kids like Hilda for sponsorship, or making sure that hydreigon didn’t go the same way haxorus were.

But what people hated to see was slow change, these baby steps up a mountain so massive. It reminded them that the battles that really mattered weren’t like the ones in the League, with the cameras and the glitz and the lights. It was slow, boring, and discouraging work. In fifteen years maybe the two of you will have enough power to start tackling the things that really matter. In twenty years maybe you’ll have the courage to look back towards your home. Twenty-five years, or maybe thirty, you’ll come to peace with what you had to lose to get yourselves here.

A group of five—three humans, a liepard, a scolipede—goes past on the sidewalk across the street, their shouts muffled by the cars.

In the time that those thoughts flare through your head, you’ve thrown the servine to the ground, and Hilda’s got an answer. “The League gives out battle-competitive starters to all children who want one at age ten.”

“Oh, taking a page out of Kanto’s playbook?” Iris asks, a faint smile on her lips. “Do you think that fixed things for them?”

“It was a start,” Hilda says firmly.

“Are you concerned that this would open up the system to a higher percentage of pokémon abuse? Statistically there’s a higher incidence of accidents in younger and lower-income—”

“The old and the rich are harder to prosecute.”

Iris settles back, but the smile hasn’t faded. Hilda has good responses for her age. Iris always has a knack for finding firebrands, after all.

“I’ve seen you involved in the Pokémon Liberation stuff,” Iris says lightly, but now her words are loaded and heavy. “Be careful which causes you support, Hilda. You won’t be allowed to get away with that forever.”

Her servine trills in alarm, and Hilda finally looks down for the first time and sees that you’ve twisted the servine in a u-shaped messy knot, tangled her up in her own feet and pinned her to the ground. You see the horror flood into her face, and a pang of regret—and then there’s a flash of light, and the servine is gone. Hilda whispers something to the ball as she clips it back on her belt, but her eyes are still on Iris. “Get away with what?”

“Contradiction,” Iris says shortly. She normally isn’t one for curt, mysterious statements—rather just say something glancing and polite—but even you know it’s too risk to elaborate here. Contradiction between Hilda’s ideals of equality for the kids like her? Contradiction by raising points against the League that brought her here? A bit of both.

“Thanks for the advice,” Hilda says drily, and that’s when you know she’s not going to listen. Of course she isn’t. Five or ten years ago, just starting out, you would’ve been in the same boat, idealists and dreamers, believing if you can fight hard enough you can change the world overnight.

But Iris is a bit more stubborn. “You’re a quarter native, right? Your mother’s father, or your father’s mother?”

“Mother’s father,” Hilda answers without thinking, and then immediately after: “How—”

Iris shrugs. “I’m a good guesser.”

Her father’s father would’ve been permitted to keep no sons. Her mother’s mother would’ve passed down her dowry earrings.

“Why does it matter?”

“Because you of all people should know,” Iris replies stonily, “how it feels to have a pale man stroll into your life, rip off your tusks, and declare himself your king.”

※​

This time she doesn’t bother with tea, or a battle. It’s not like she’d need to. The entire videocall lasts ninety seconds, and even that feels agonizingly long.

“Is that all? Thank you for your time.”

“Would you like me to say anything in response, Ghetsis?”

“No. I will make no promises. We will respond with as much civility as we are given.”

{You’re the gym leader’s fawn,} they hydreigon’s heads prick up, and he hisses over the human’s shoulder. Even in the grainy image of the x-transceiver, you can sense the judgment and disdain leaking from his eyes. {The last fraxure. I thought you’d be taller.}

Perhaps Iris doesn’t speak the dialect of dragons in its entirety, but she’d have to be deaf not to hear the fury in his words; she’d have to be numb not to feel the responding rage that screams up inside of you.

“Skyla intends to let the police handle this,” Iris says smoothly while you glower back at the hydreigon, and that’s as urgent of a warning as you’ve heard her give anyone.

“Then let her. The time has come for Unova to witness what happens to those who stand idly by, and what happens to those who take action.” Pause. “If you have nothing further to say, I would hate to waste your time.”

“Have a good evening.”

He cuts the connection. Iris buries her head in her hands, and you place your chin in her lap. Idly, she begins to rub at the spot where your blade meets the jaw. “Do you think we succeeded?”

{No. He wants what he wants, same as the rest.}

She may not have an ear for your words, but she doesn’t need them. She never did, not for you. “I know. It was a longshot.”

{It isn’t your job.}

“No.” She sighs. “But it is my responsibility.”

It isn’t your responsibility either, you want to tell her, but that’s the beauty of duty—it can be anyone’s. And it should be. Skyla should want to keep peace within Mistralton. Plasma should want to minimize violence. But everyone outsources the hard problems because they think problems should belong to someone else.

There’s a certain terribleness of growing up as an other. You only belong until they decide they want you to be an other again. You’re an angry activist to Skyla, and a complacent gym leader to Hilda, and a Unovan puppet to Ghetsis. No matter that in someone else’s eyes, you could’ve been an ally.

“It’s only going to get worse, this whole Plasma thing. You can sense it too, can’t you?”

Yes. The blood of dragons courses through your veins, and it is stirring. Unova is on its breakpoint—but really, it’s been lumbering there for years. Only now, when it’s too late to turn back, are the symptoms finally clear enough for everyone to see. {Unova will not slumber forever, and neither will we.}

“No,” she says grimly. “We can’t.”

※​

N stands on top of a wooden crate. The megaphone in his hands amplifies his voice. You and Iris wormed through the crowd to get close to him; there’s easily two hundred people already, and the march hasn’t even begun. Behind him is a smattering of humans holding signs, a scolipede with a festive banner draped across her flank, a smiling leavanny with a brightly-colored poster. And then, further behind, you see Ghetsis and the hydreigon, both impassive among the exuberant crowd.

You glance around at the mix of humans and pokémon around you, dread curdling in your stomach. It’s quiet for now—they’ll cheer intermittently, when N pauses for breath—but none of the humans look worried; none of their pokémon seem to hide their fear for them. They don’t realize that this calm is balanced on a razor’s edge.

“When I look at battling I see the ultimate symbol of humans claiming to speak for pokémon, to know better they do what it means to fight, to suffer, and to be strong,” the megaphone says for N, twisting his calm voice into a shout and hurling it into the crowd. This must be the tail end of his speech; you can catch the intensity slipping into his voice from where you stand. The urgency speeds up his words. “We have fashioned our society around this for too long, to the point that we have deafened ourselves to the idea that pokémon could want more than violence. Can you consider that world with me? A world where pokémon are free to be their own people?”

The crowd erupts into cheers while you and Iris watch stonily. As you watch N, you realize to him you must be one of the lucky ones. You and Iris are one life; not one without the other. She speaks for the two of you with her words, and you speak for the two of you with your actions. You listen to each other, and how could either of you not? You are one. And her gym matches are grueling and intense, and part of you would rather not fight them—but there are so many things you need to right first. You are the last free fraxure in Unova, but he thinks you are in chains because you choose to live among him.

When the crowd quiets, N continues, “And you must understand!” “When asked about the nature of a pokémon’s plight, a human can never know the truth. How can we, if don’t listen? But when it comes to the nature of their own suffering, their own dreams, this much is clear: pokémon never tell lies. How can we possibly claim to know better than all that they know? How—”

A rock hits him in the shoulder.

N staggers back, almost tripping off of his makeshift platform.

The frills around the hydreigon’s necks flare into three black stars when he roars.

Your head flicks over, but the crowd has already burst into chaos. Another rock goes flying, and this one strikes the window of a storefront.

“Get back!” someone is shouting at N, but the hydreigon’s three heads snap asynchronously, his body curled protectively around N’s even as the humans are trying to extract him.

“Sienna,” Iris says in a low voice. While you were looking at the stage, she was studying the crowd, eyes darting back and forth across the faces. “Protect the stage. We need to stop this before it gets worse.”

You hiss. You will not leave her side.

“I’ll catch up. I need to find Skyla and get her to deescalate. Go. They need you.”

You hiss again. {They could never need me more than you do.}

“I know.” She kisses you gently on the forehead. “Go, Gaasyendietha. I will find you.”

Snarling, you wrench yourself free and shoulder your way through the erupting crowd. Iris. Always trying to be a hero. Always inspiring you to be the same. How could you betray your heart? You turn back to catch a glimpse of her in the seething crowd, but it shattered alongside the storefront window. She’s gone.

It’s hard; the panic hangs low and thick over the crowd, and you’re both too short to command their presence and too powerful not to. A human girl runs over your tail and almost stumbles into the ground. {Be calm!} you hiss, but she’s already mumbled a sorry and is sprinting off.

Where are they—

Look up.

It isn’t just the crowd that makes you uneasy. The walls are close here; the grassy lawn is an open space, but the brick walls tower into the sky, more than fifty feet high. They blot out the sunlight around you. It’s a good place for a hunt, you can’t help but notice.

The humans won’t listen. But there are one, maybe two people who will. You drop to all fours and push your way to the platform, where it looks like the hydreigon and N are in a tense disagreement about whether or not the human can survive going on dragonback.

{You’ve trapped yourselves. You both need to get out,} you say tersely. {Immediately.}

{We were just trying that, little fraxure. Run along. This is no place for you.}

{I’m trying to help,} you respond stiffly. If Iris can make smalltalk with Skyla, you can be polite here, under these circumstances, where an old man tells you he’ll never recognize you as clan leader. No place for you. If only he knew.

{You really think that?} A chuckle rumbles from one of the three heads; it’s hard to tell which and the sound is slips away into the panic of the crowd. {Little fawn, run back to your rules and your gym battles. They might care about who your human is, but they’ll never care about what your human wants.}

N’s been staring at you, with his eyes narrowed. “Why did you come to warn us?” he asks softly.

How do you put it into words? The walls, the square. Humans must have organized this, humans who couldn’t see that they’d all walked into a dead-end, and now—

“This is Mistralton PD! Step away from the line!”

{You’ve trapped yourselves,} you repeat hoarsely, eyes scanning the crowd. Where is Iris? She sent you away but she needs you, needs you desperately for what’s about to come next.

By the time they fire the first tear gas cannister towards the hydreigon, you’ve already got a glimmering Protect shield raised, and it bounces harmlessly off. Not good enough. It hits the concrete just outside of your barrier with a soft clink—this is the part where Iris would rush forward and pour water on it, but—it erupts into a roiling cloud of white, heavy smoke.

You feel the air spike in temperature behind you, and you slash wildly with your tusks, gouging into the hydreigon’s right arm. The fireball blooming in its throat hits you in the side of the cheek, and even through your scales you can feel the blistering heat.

He snaps his teeth at you but doesn’t aim for your neck. {You—}

{You can’t fight them!} you shout back.

{You can’t stop me, little fawn,} the hydreigon snarls. {We already warned you. We will not stand idly by.} This time it’s the left mouth that blossoms into flame, and the blue light of dragonfire flickers across your vision. You struggle to project another Protect shield, the image of a haxorus suddenly in the back of your mind, one hand extended to stop a torrent, and in that moment you’re not just yourself but—

His attack goes high, and lances another gas cannister out of the air. It explodes in midair, and you see another deadly cloud form before the blue fire consumes it.

{You’re going to get someone killed!}

{What would you rather we do, let them land on us?} he shoots back.

“What are you saying we should do?” N asks.

Iris normally is the one who says these words, but you feel a thrill of excitement. He understands your words, even if he doesn’t understand your plight. Perhaps there’s hope for him after all. {You can’t fight. Not here. They outnumber you and if you escalate, they’ll just hit back harder. You need to get out of here, regroup somewhere else. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but you can’t stay here. They’ll crush you.}

You try to remember. How old is Plasma, really? Do they not know how this game works? It’s a war of attrition, not a pokémon fight. You can’t just beat someone down until you get what you want. The rules don’t work like that, not with humans—they beat you down until you prove that you’re strong enough to take it.

The area of the crowd furthest from you has become a makeshift line—you see glints of Protect shields, a few Reflects, but not nearly enough. Even as you watch, two shields go down. Most of the crowd has fled already; this is just the stragglers. They didn’t come expecting a fight. But even though the barrier is so far away, they’re still concentrating their fire over the front line, focusing on …

{They’re aiming at you,} you say quietly, almost inaudible over another hiss of fire that rockets a gas canister into a wall. {You can’t be here.}

You wait for a witty retort, but he’s silent.

You look over at N. {You can blend into the crowd. He can’t. You have to recall him and run.}

“I can’t just—”

{Now!}

The one similarity this has to a battlefield is how quickly the tides can change. You look over your shoulder. The glimmering lights are gone; their front line is already shattered. There isn’t much time left before the police force their way through.

“Will you come with us?”

There’s a line between you and them, one that you’ve toed but never crossed.

He must think you’re lucky, to have a partner like Iris rather than a trainer. But to you, he is the lucky one, blessed with the position to ignore you and Iris’ shared plight. What would this human boy who calls himself king know about being someone else’s tool? You and Iris spent this world watching warily for decrees that came from castles; he was born in one. Unova is cruel. Iris knows this and fights it, and if she needs you to fight as well to lend legitimacy to her words, then so be it. A world where pokémon are free to be their own people is a pretty thing indeed, if you can believe humans are fair to people now. That assumption alone speaks volumes for what he sees and what he refuses to.

{I have my rules and my gym battles,} you say coldly, straightening your back. Even then you’re nowhere close to his height. And you might help them, but you would never flee with them, not while your heart is still with Iris, somewhere in the haze below. {I’ll be fine. Go.}

N turns away. “Thank you,” he says softly.

The hydreigon studies you for a long moment, three gazes spearing into you as one.

{You’re small for a haxorus,} he says, before flicking his tall onto the recall button and vanishing in a flash of red.

※​

What you hate most about people like them is how much they refuse to understand.

Ten thousand years ago, a dragon shaped Unova from fire and thunder and ice. From that dragon, the Twin Gods were born.

Two thousand years ago, the haxorus of the Dragonvalley entered into an accord with the humans who lived there. They would share these lands and protect the valley together. If nature willed it, their children would hatch at the same time, and the two would live in the image of the Twin Gods—not one without the other. For as long as there were twins to remind them why they were the same, the peoples of the Dragonvalley could live in harmony.

Three hundred years ago, Unovan settlers discovered the Dragonvalley and routed the peoples who lived there into less fertile, less desirable pockets of land, where they could die without being seen. The haxorus who refused were put to the sword. The humans who refused were given necklaces of rope. The peoples of the Dragonvalley who fled wept bitter tears, which washed into an enormous river; once crossed, they would never return.

Twenty-two years ago, a meteor streaked across a moonless black sky. That night, Tsis’swakeras was born to a loving human mother and father. On the same night, an axew hatched, and her proud mother named her Gaasyendietha, for the meteor of old that hatched into the Twin Gods, and for the new comet that proclaimed her birth. Although neither child knew it, the reservation rejoiced, and the children were joined as twins. Tsis’swakeras wasn’t a very vocal child, but her hands babbled. Gaasyendietha was large for an axew, and a voracious learner.

Eighteen years ago, Unovans returned once more to the diasporic peoples of the Dragonvalley. They proclaimed that haxorus were an endangered species, that licenses and permits were required to raise them, and all hatchlings had to be surrendered to the League for safe rearing. They came for the human children as well, also for safe rearing, and to teach them things that could not be learned on the settlement. But Tsis’swakeras and Gaasyendietha were one life, one pain—not one without the other. So both were taken together, too young to understand why their parents wept and why it would not have been dishonor to do the same.

Thirteen years ago, Drayden Kennsington wanted a haxorus, but saw no legal way to obtain one. What he saw instead was a young, malleable girl and the axew who slashed at all who came close, save her. The girl mattered little. The axew was the last unlicensed female in Unova, and therefore the only one from which he could breed a lineage. And so, for their tenth birthday, he extended to the twins a great and terrible gift.

Twelve years ago, in her first interview on national television, Tsis’swakeras froze when asked to repeat her name. A sea of unfamiliar pale faces stared back at her. The foreign language heavy on her lips, her quivering hands screaming into white-knuckled fists, Drayden’s hands on her shoulders, she murmured my-name-is-tsis’swakeras, but what came out was a jumble, and then eh-ras, and then an overly-enthusiastic, “Let’s give it up for Iris!”

Plasma claimed to want to give you back your freedom. What they fail to understand is that your soul has only ever known a leash. Unova has always held you both by the neck; there is no separating your struggles from hers. Not one without the other.

You will be free the day she is, and not one day sooner.


p | n
 
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OldschoolJohto

Don’t underestimate seeds.
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. custom/moka-mark
  2. solrock
These chapters are always such a challenge for me because I think you and I are inclined to similar leaps of logic, which is fun because it so often puts us on the same team ... but also it means I have to really squint to see what might be getting skipped over. I think I have a few useful thoughts here, and hopefully Pen or another wise reviewer will catch what I don't. 💪

Overall: this is interesting! This is the first time we're seeing something approaching a reciprocal relationship. And there's lots of world-building around trainer life here that's very, very juicy to me. Logistics and brands and social media bullshit all day, yesplease.

I do think this one suffers from a bit of the same problems the first draft of the Ace chapter did--our POV character feels sidelined for the humans. Granted, what they're saying is interesting to me, but some of the observations feel more Iris than Sienna. Like, yes, they're very close and so Sienna would probably understand this stuff better than, say, baby turtle in a bucket. Or even N! What does he know about neckties? But it's not delivered with dragon flavor. (I've highlighted some of those places in my line-by-lines.) I also feel like a lot of the emotional weight for their relationship comes at the end of the chapter, which means I don't have it to support the earlier sections. Something that might help you feed two birds with one scone (preferably old raspberry and avocado)--get us more rooted in Sienna POV and also give more information about their relationship--could be to play with the Sienna/Iris twinness as opposite sides of the same coin. You have some hints at this. Sienna notices Iris tensing when maybe others wouldn't, and Iris plays nice when Sienna wants to roar. But you could amp it up more in Sienna's observations. Use Sienna's memories of their shared existence before the League to show us what's going on beneath the surface and what "should" be.

Iris doesn’t like coffee.
She's wrong, but that's fine.

The flower on her beret flops over as she slams her teacup into the table and dabs at a bit that splashes out.
This is a good repaint. Skyla's design is bonkers. Windburn, help.

seething even at Skyla’s casual acceptance of it all.
This could be teased out better. Skyla is willing to shrug it off with the "your funeral" comment, but she did seem to be nudging Iris forward at first.

These humans have silly constructs of power. You beat Skyla’s team in a fight without even trying, and yet Iris is still the one groveling, you’re still the one sitting primly by her side.
Oof at this reality. But also oof because there's some assimilation buried in here that I'm not sure was on purpose: you beat Iris, but Iris isn't powerful here, what? I guess she could be seeing it as you plural, but that's not clear.

like a patrat under a winged shadow.
I really liked this one.

Skyla’s looking teacup, swirling the dregs around the leaves. What future does she see in it?
Do dragons know about reading tea leaves? Also, I was confused re: coffee/tea. Because Skyla likes people who like coffee, I assumed she would also be drinking coffee. Also, Skyla is looking very teacup. :c

There isn’t a correct answer to give. Skyla’s too far up in the clouds to know the difference;
I liked the way you let her embody airiness in several different ways, and here I think it makes sense that she's too high in the power ladder to understand the ants crawling around at the bottom. But I also thought this could be teased out better and/or get a better transition. This paragraph is about her being indifferent to the activist movement and mostly wanting to shut it down, but the sentence leading into it is her asking Iris a question that (I thought) was erroneously ascribing Iris a larger role in Plasma than what she actually has. That seems to me like a two step process: 1) Who, me? Girl, nah. 2) That's not what this is about, you airhead.

Skyla’s a tricky one. You’re reminded of the sawsbuck that change their coats with the seasons. She’s not venomous, but she isn’t completely innocent either—she’s whatever she needs to be
👏

You don’t fully understand Unovan culture,
Is it Unovan culture or Unovan humans?

You know Iris better than any other person on this earth, and she knows you. She is yours and you are hers. You will guard her heart with your life.
This is sweet. ❤ But it didn't feel earned until the very end, maybe a little too late.

Hilda, over here!” Iris calls, waving to a gangly, brown-haired teenager who’s milling in the doorway of the café, one hand clutching tightly at the strap of her backpack.
Unclear which of them is clutching a backpack strap. But! This is a surprisingly generous description of Hilda. Gangly! Makes her sound younger and more vulnerable than we've seen her before.

You look this Hilda over. Hmm. Practical garb. Good boots. Her daypack is new, hardly broken in. Must’ve been her first. Gleaming pokéballs—only four, this far in? Interesting. Her clothes are loose, comfortable, mostly plain. Looks like she doesn’t carry a city wardrobe; she’s probably not a big enough up-and-comer to warrant that quite yet.
Hard agree. And I approve of the split between city clothes and travel clothes. But! this is another moment that felt very human.

An interesting one. Juniper always picks the strangest candidates.
I like this idea of there being a weird, storied history there. But, again, I'm not getting a sense here of how a dragon measures a human's strangeness.

The accent’s faded from her lips but it’ll never fade from her hands.
This is deeply Kintsugi-core.

I’ve recently acquired an archen and we’re working on getting to know each other.”
Hahahahaha RIP, good luck, buckaroo.

whose tusked earrings accidentally sparked a short-lived line of costume jewelry,
Ooof

But that’s what you were for, to separate the fangs a different face from the flower.
Having trouble parsing this one but I'm super intrigued and there's something lovely here already.

They were Izan, Andrés, and Julian when I knew them, but yes.”
👀
Another great repaint, honestly. I did it for my country the brand.

Izan didn’t realize it—and knowing him, if he’d known I’m sure he would’ve said nothing at all— but in that moment he created a brand.”
I like this idea of brands as ladders but also as traps.

There is, of course, a second approach to someone who builds a mountain with words: ignore it, and build one of your own.
Hahahahaha. I like to observation that Hilda is noping out there. Not sure about dragons and building mountains though. This is one that might work is some of the others slotted into perspective more.

Breaking the small rules reminds you that you have the strength to break the big ones. So she takes coffee cups. She refuses to put her dragons in pokéballs even where public areas don’t allow them. By making defiance part of her brand, she got Unova to commend what they would’ve condemned in anyone else.
👏

all your life the two of you only needed to look forward. But it’s good practice,
Does Sienna have to look forward if Iris is? Practice for what?

young, his druddigon beat you up daily. Training practice. He didn’t ever talk during it. No pointers.
This says a lot about his character in very few words.

You learned to take your shorter stature into stride: you can’t fight like a fully-grown haxorus until you are one.
This is good advice. I was also! Unsure what evolutionary stage she's in right now in the chapter's present.

but you’ve seen Skyla around the two of you, and Izan and his brothers. You know what Hilda does not: the people who matter will never accept you. Wear as many outfits as you want; you’ll always just be a simisage in dressup to them. But if that’s the path her friend has chosen, then that’s the one he’ll walk. When he reaches the end he’ll learn his lesson, one way or another. He wants to dress up like them; they’ll see his tie and drag him around by the neck.
People accepting you/outfits gets a little too human for me again.

But beneath that tangle, you see something familiar: the smoldering sort of rage that only comes from wanting something she’ll never get.
Oof. Wanted to see more of what kinds of things being othered denied Iris.

Iris says after a long pause, gesturing to the lawn where her servine is casually rearranging the leaves of her tail to get more sunlight.
*Hilda's servine

Still, you tap her with the flat of it as she recoils away, and you catch the back of her head before she can manage to twist around for another attack.
Another moment I wasn't sure what evolutionary stage she's in, and that made this hard to picture. The action is springy though! And I like that she's intentionally fighting gentle to teach something.

Why don’t you do anything about it?
This felt disconnected. I'm wondering if maybe this is clearer later/in the past? But I'm not sure what Hilda means now.

There are things you want, things you deserve, and things you are given. Fight as hard as you can for them to be the same, but never expect them to be.
Oof.

But the servine exhales sharply as she readies herself. Hilda’s only a reflection of the gritty determination on the field. Human battles are all about conversations, posturing. And they certainly aren’t designed to be fair—Skyla left herself wide open, but it didn’t matter. The rules already said she got to win anyway. So is it really cruel to believe that some people have to fight in other ways instead?
There's juicy stuff here! But I'm also not totally clear on the connections. Pokemon are proxies for their humans' emotional states, or no? How did Skyla leave herself wide open?

Don’t wind up as much
Maybe "so much"? Reads a little clearer to me.

But what people hated to see was slow change, these baby steps up a mountain so massive. It reminded them that the battles that really mattered weren’t like the ones in the League, with the cameras and the glitz and the lights. It was slow, boring, and discouraging work. In fifteen years maybe the two of you will have enough power to start tackling the things that really matter. In twenty years maybe you’ll have the courage to look back towards your home. Twenty-five years, or maybe thirty, you’ll come to peace with what you had to lose to get yourselves here.
Oof oof oof.

A group of five—three humans, a liepard, a whirlipede—goes past on the sidewalk across the street, their shouts muffled by the cars.
Tourmaline--? (Eyes on the prize.)

Her servine trills in alarm, and Hilda finally looks down for the first time and sees that you’ve twisted the servine in a u-shaped messy knot, tangled her up in her own feet and pinned her to the ground. You see the horror flood into her face, and a pang of regret—and then there’s a flash of light, and the servine is gone. Hilda whispers something to the ball as she clips it back on her belt, but her eyes are still on Iris.
Whoops, Hilda. Oddly touching though.

But Iris is a bit more stubborn. “You’re a quarter native, right? Your mother’s father, or your father’s mother?”
!

“Because you of all people should know,” Iris replies stonily, “how it feels to have a pale man stroll into your life, rip off your tusks, and declare himself your king.”
Is this Ghetsis, or The Man? Also 👀

We will respond with as much civility as we are given.”
🙃 Yeah, that went well.

Then let her. The time has come for Unova to witness what happens to those who stand idly by.”
But she's *not* standing idly by?

Skyla should want to keep peace within Mistralton. Plasma should want to minimize violence. But everyone outsources the hard problems because they think problems should belong to someone else.
OOOOF.

There’s a certain terribleness of growing up as an other. You only belong until they decide they want you to be an other again.
Wowowowow, yup.

You’re an angry activist to Skyla, and a complacent gym leader to Hilda, and a co-conspirator to Ghetsis. No matter that in someone else’s eyes, you could’ve been an ally.
Again, I guess this could be you plural, but it's not totally clear.

nature willed it, their children would hatch at the same time, and the two would live in the image of the Twin Gods—not one without the other.
Ooooooh!!!

routed the peoples who lived there into less fertile, less desirable pockets of land, where they could die without being seen.
🙃 Everything is fine.

It is nice that we're finally starting to get into some of Hilda's complexities! We're also seeing some of why Vas feels like she has to protect her dumb human, TBH lol.

Looking forward to reading more thoughts on this. 👀
 

Flaze

Don't stop, keep walking
Location
Chile
Pronouns
he/him
Partners
  1. infernape
I'm going to start off by saying that, since I had to read 11 chapters in a row, I'm not gonna get into the nitty gritty of every chapter (cause I'll spend a whole week on that otherwise) and instead give a more general review of my thoughts on the story. I hope that's okay.

Now, I think this story or more like this series of vignettes, told in backwards order to boot, is probably the best exploration of black and white's concepts and ideas that I've seen (I admittedly haven't read that many but I'm pretty sure it's at least really up there) at first I thought the backwards order was kind of gimmicky but it makes sense if you look at it from a "how did we get here standpoint" and since your chapters are very in the moment, meaning we don't get a lot of background info, knowing where they'll eventually end up gives the past more weight. Plus it's a good framing device for giving us ideas of who these characters are at the start and then slowly peeling off the masks of each one.

This especially helps a lot when we see events and characters constantly coming in and out of the story. Tourmaline, the Milstraton protests, Hilda's relationship with their pokemon, allowing us to see where things end up makes seeing what led to those outcomes all the more heartbreaking as well as giving context to the part each character played.

I've told you before what I love about your character but I'll say it again. You give them a certain complexity that's really tangible, a lot of writers (myself included) tend to emphasize in wanting people to either like or dislike a specific character, it doesn't necessarily make them bad characters, but it's equivalent to the story telling them how to feel. Three dimensional characters are beyond that, it doesn't matter if you like them or not, because they're people and as thus they'll just behave in the ways they think work for them. That's something that each of your characters embodies to a degree, with layers that contradict and constantly pull at each of them as their insecurities and desires are laid out in front of us. Every chapter gives us an idea of what the pov character wants, what's hindering them and how that makes them feel as well as their opinion on the world.

Those opinions are something I really have to give you kudos for. The story is relatively light on proper worldbuilding but what we do get we get through the characters, seeing how each species has its own characteristics and way of looking at life and the world and how that clashes with the ways humans and other species relate to that same world not only make it feel more lived in, it also plays into the themes (that I'll get into later) that make those viewpoints clash. And that's without mentioning all the stories, motifs and symbolism that appear in different chapters but are given new light thanks to the fact our focus character has a different viewpoint on them.

Before I touch on the aspects of the story that really kept me going, I will say that my issues with the story so far is that there are a few chapters where it's a little unclear what species we're following. In chapter 10 I thought we were following a zorua but it turns out it was a zoroark, it didn't threw me off until the end where it scratched N's cheeks and I was like "with what?"

Okay, I think you can clearly tell that I probably didn't give this a super detailed look where flaws are concerned, but it's basically flawless for what it's trying to be, anything else I could say about it would literally go against the point of the story.

So, let's get to themes.

What jumped at me most from these 11 chapters is all the big themes and sub themes you explore throughout, but there are three that encapsulate everything else. Fittingly, these themes also align with your source material and they are:

Truth
Justice
and Ideals

(yes yes I know kyurem technically represent emptiness, but justice being blind and all it kind of reminds me of kyurem who acts as a balance)

I'll start with truth.

The theme of truth comes up a lot throughout the story especially when it comes to the idea of what the world is, what it was and what it should be like. We see that each point of view character, and in turn the characters they interact with, has a different take on everything that's going on in Unova. Some characters are fine with the way things are, maybe because it benefits them for things to stay the way they are or maybe because they don't realize the way in which they system they live in oppresses, disenfranchises and subjugates both people and pokemon.

Trainers are sold this idea of being the best, of standing above everyone, when in reality being a trainer is a road filled with harsh realities that might make someone forget why they even set out in the first place. It's no longer just about pursuing a dream or a career, being a professional trainer means being an icon, someone that's willing to discard their identity to get ahead. That in turn feeds into the many ways pokemon are mistreated since newer and newer trainers go out in pursuit of this desire without realizing how they, and in turn their pokemon, are being trapped by it as well.

Along those lines you also have the sub-theme of understanding. In a more direct way, there's the fact that humans can't understand pokemon and as thus they force their own interpretations of what human-pokemon relationships should be, and because they can't understand pokemon they're also not privy to how they can change things for them. It's something that causes pokemon to hurt, to feel like their lives and choices don't matter, as exemplified with Carnel in chapter 3 and Reylin in chapter 9. How can they change things when the people forcing them out of their lives won't even listen to them?

Understanding, or rather misunderstanding, isn't solely between humans and pokemon. It happens between pokemon and between humans. Different species with different values and thoughts on what the world is. Pokemon that were raised in different environments that shifts their priorities. And that's without mentioning all the different languages pokemon occupy, further dividing them as well.

It affects humans as well. N's and Team Plasma's cause is a right one, if the system didn't have a problem then they wouldn't have appeared in the first place. But people can't understand that just because they don't see something wrong straight in their faces it doesn't mean that everything is perfect. Similarly you've got the classic case of characters hiding what they think and feel from others in an attempt to keep them from using that against them, or judging them and in the case of characters like Iris, in order to "belong" and be considered as human at the least.

I think the best way in which this theme is conveyed and how it can be fixed is in chapter 5. Bisharp and Mei are a pokemon and human, both who shared a bond with a pokemon abuser and who now must deal with the ramifications of someone else's actions. But by learning to understand one another and being there for each other, they are in turn able to support the other in overcoming that ordeal. If everyone could see eye to eye with each other then things would be better, if only they tried to understand and put their own ideas behind.

That leads into ideals. Everyone has an idea of what the world should be like. Whether it'd be changing the current system or maintaining them. They all have something they fight for and are striving to accomplish it in different ways. That of course, causes those ideals to clash and that's at the core of this story.

I thing one specific aspect of the ideals theme you touch on, both directly and indirectly, is the concept of protecting others. Hilda says she wants to create a world where the strong protect the weak so that no one suffers, N wants to change the world to protect pokemon, Vaselva is willing to endure everything the world throws at her in order to protect Hilda.

But chapter 4, Amara's chapter, deconstructs this idea of protecting others pretty well. Someone that protects is someone that's willing to put others before them. They hide their suffering and pain, avoiding weakness and always being willing to risk their lives for those they care about. Who protects the one that sacrifices themselves to protect others? and is dedicating oneself to the idea of guarding those you care about truly a good road to take.

The concept is juxtaposed with N and Hilda pretty well. Again, they're both people that want to change the world but neither of them are able to lay their life on the line themselves. A big part of N's character arc is understanding that he won't be able to achieve anything until he realizes that he has to put his heart and soul into his ideals, to fight tooth and nail for what he wants even if everyone tells him he's wrong. On the other hand, Hilda constantly talks about being the one to change the world and protecting others...but she's always being protected herself. She expects her pokemon to adhere to her ideals and fight for her, even if that's not what they truly want. Where Hilda is unyielding to the point she ignores others' suffering, N is too meek and flighty, crumbling when things don't go the way he expects them. So it's interesting how N ends up fully embracing what he wants, not knowing where it will truly lead, while Hilda ends up questioning if her decisions were the right ones.

Another part of the ideals theme is...who's right? It's clear that the current system is broken and should be fixed but...how? What approach will truly create a better world. One that would take a long time and possibly not result in much of anything like Iris'? One that's ambigous and hard to properly draw out like Hilda's? Or one that completely uphills the system like N? At the end of the day it's hard for anyone to see face to face with one another because they can't see how their ideals can fall and how another person's can help. Even in Team Plasma there's a divide between Ghetsis' more extreme actions and N's pacificism.

And all that leads to justice. Whose ideals will win, what truth will come out of that, and who will justice smile upon in the end. Among the webs of contradiction, love, hate, apathy and suffering. Can justice really be achieved?

Honestly I could talk for a long time about this story because each one of your chapters is really dense with subtext and meaning, and even though everything I talked about here (and a lot of things I didn't!) comes up in every chapter, they all focus on a different aspect of it.

So I'll just close this review by saying that out of everything I've read from you this is my new favorite kin-fic. And I'm reallly looking forward to seeing where this story ends (or begins I guess)
 

Pen

the cat is mightier than the pen
Staff
Partners
  1. dratini
Unova has always held you both by the neck; there is no separating your struggles from hers. Not one without the other.

This chapter introduces more complexity into an already-complex story. Thus far, we've dealt with pokemon as a disadvantaged group. But this chapter raises another disadvantaged group--the people of the Dragonvalley--and forces the issue of intersectionality. Sienna's struggle is the struggle of pokemon, but it is also the struggle of the people of the Dragonvalley, because Sienna is one of them, too. How then, can she support a movement that speaks only to one of these identities? One that makes no distinction between Iris and Drayden?

Those are hard questions, and I'm curious if the remaining chapters will take them up at all. One place I would have liked to see more was in the conversation between Zahhak and Sienna. Zahhak clearly considers the story of the massacre of the Dragonvalley to belong to him, to inform his history and identity--but unless I misunderstand, the hydreigon weren't involved in this. I'm curious what Sienna thinks of the claiming of a common draconic identity. And what Zahhak would say to the proposition that Sienna has more in common with Iris than with Zahhak. I think a longer scene that gave these two a chance to talk would have been really interesting, and would further the goal of the story to center the voices of pokemon. Perhaps an in-person meeting, rather than by phone, where the two dragons could go off? That would also show rather than tell that Iris has connections and a certain amount of respect in activist circles; even if it's not sufficient to be listened to, it's at least enough to be heard. A reaction to Iris from the Plasma rank-and-file would also be illustrative of how she's perceived/received.

In telling the story of Tsis’swakeras and Sienna last, the chapter hides the ball a bit. I'm conflicted; while I do think there's some impact for saving the full story till the end, I think we need more before the end to get us invested in and aware of the complexities the chapter is exploring. As is, the chapter seems very focused on Iris, at the expense of Sienna's POV in many places. There seem to be plenty of opportunities to expand Sienna's POV--one is with Zahhak, the other is with Vaselva. I'd have liked a more detailed conversation between them--perhaps Sienna feeling out Vaselva in parallel to Iris feeling out Hilda. The two also have parallels--both feel like they have nothing to root them except their connection with their human. Would speaking with Sienna alter Vaselva's mind in any way? Would it perhaps even further convince her that she must support Hilda to the end? (I'm curious how this would read with the Ghetsis scene coming before the Hilda one--not sure that would be better, but a thought to explore.)

Speaking of Hilda, it's exciting to get some insight into her head in this chapter. A picture is beginning to form of a girl who's had a hard, unhappy life, and struggled for what she has. I'm looking forward to seeing more of what her ideals are and also what her early involvement in Team Plasma looks like. I talked about this a fair bit in the line-by-lines, but it seems like her break with Plasma happens off-screen, unless Iris just completely misreads her here? That's a moment/process I'd be interesting in seeing.

Lastly, word-building. Lots of it. Most of my substantive points are in the line-by-lines, but a bigger picture thought--if pokemon liberation and human equality are to be cast as goals in opposition, N's solution seems to dispense with that dichotomy--pokemon training can't exacerbate human class inequality when it doesn't exist.

Anyway, solid base--excited to see where you take it.

Skyla holds herself like a wind vane—her head is constantly changing direction, her eyes surveying a new corner of the room with every breath, but no wind will knock her over. She shifts smoothly, stirring a splash of milk into her tea.
I like the metaphor, in that the image of a weather vane suggests moving with political winds, and is obviously appropriate with her type specialty. But wind vane and 'wind won't knock over' aren't really concepts that work together in the way they're being phrased here. A weather vane is designed to move with the wind, that's the point (and your point as well, I assume.)

Her spoon makes a tight vortex as the liquid turns from dark to pale.
I like the image of the spoon making a tight vortex! Small suggestion, [Her spoon makes a tight vortex, turning the liquid from dark to pale.] since there's causation.

Iris doesn’t like coffee. You know this. But Skyla likes people who like coffee, so Iris pretends.
. . . why is she drinking tea if she likes people who like coffee?

as she slams her teacup into the table and dabs at a bit that splashes out.
Bit hard to picture this. People don't usually "slam" teacups, and at a fancy place, I doubt it's filled to the brim?

Her voice is breezy, to match the woman sitting across from her. But Skyla doesn’t get knocked over the by breezes. She rides them.
Odd reasoning/transition. I don't think anyone gets knocked over by breezes. Breezes are pretty much defined as the kind of wind that's mild enough not to knock things over.

You and Iris share one skin. She hides her disdain well, but you can feel it roaring within her, chafing at the leash Drayden has placed her on, raging at Alder’s untouchable crown, seething even at Skyla’s casual acceptance of it all. If it were just the two of you, you’d roar.
Hm, if you want them to truly seem to share one skin here, maybe, "If it were just the two of you, you’d roar and she would join you."

Instead, Iris calmly stirs her coffee and exchanges pleasantries with the most influential woman in Western Unova. You are the dragon and she is the girl, after all; it would not do her any good to rampage here. These humans have silly constructs of power. You beat Skyla’s team in a fight without even trying, and yet Iris is still the one groveling, you’re still the one sitting primly by her side.
Ahahaha hello 'dragons =/= political power' fancy meeting you here. This is one of my favorite paradoxes/questions of the pokeworld--what creates power here? If having the most powerful pokemon doesn't, why not? Should it?

Iris remains stock-still, like a patrat under a winged shadow. But beneath the table, you wrap your tail around her ankle, and feel the tendon in it tense.
Great details here, felt in-POV.

Skyla’s looking teacup, swirling the dregs around the leaves. What future does she see in it?
Dropped words. Also, an artisan teashop is probably not serving tea with leaves in? Either they're overpaying for fancy tea bags or they got a teapot. Either way there won't be loose leaves in the cup.

“I will not have my town be made into a pedestal for fools.”
Is pedestal the word you want here? Maybe theater? Stage? Platform, even?

Skyla’s a tricky one. You’re reminded of the sawsbuck that change their coats with the seasons. She’s not venomous, but she isn’t completely innocent either—she’s whatever she needs to be.
The implication that sawsbuck changing their coats with the seasons denotes treachery is odd to me. They change coats to survive, not deceive. Also not sure about the dichotomy of venomous and innocent.

You know Iris better than any other person on this earth, and she knows you. She is yours and you are hers. You will guard her heart with your life.
This falls a bit flat since we don't get the context until the very end.

brown-haired teenager who’s milling in the doorway of the café
Maybe idiosyncratic, but I think of milling as only being for a group? So Hilda could loiter or linger, but not mill?

Her heels never touch the ground.
Baffled by this. It's impossible to walk this way unless she's literally tip-toing or hopping?

“I’ll just have a water, thanks.” Hilda flashes a tight smile. “Gotta keep hydrated, you know?”
Oof, I love how transparent her excuse is here.

An old habit, one she’s never tried to break. Her natural tongue has her talking with her hands and her words. She learned to sing with her fingers before she could walk. But here, in a posh coffeeshop tucked away in the business district of Mistralton, flannel-clad hipsters and low-fi tunes trickling around you, her unspoken words would flag her as an outsider long before her spoken words would. The accent’s faded from her lips but it’ll never fade from her hands.
Gorgeous

Hilda’s voice is almost mechanical; the words come out like they’ve been memorized by rote. “My zebstrika’s just evolved. My servine is probably close to follow; I’d say she’ll evolve before the next badge. My duosion is probably a long way off from evolution. I’ve recently acquired an archen and we’re working on getting to know each other.”
Nice to get a chapter giving me some feels for Hilda. It's clear she's been trained to take any interest in her wellbeing as interest in her training progress. And. She's not wrong. I like that we see here that Hilda's idea of strength is being shaped by external forces more powerful than herself in the same way that Vaselva's is.

“You know, in my year, there were actually four fellowship trainers. A record high sponsorship rate. Those sound like rookie numbers to you now, I’m sure—Juniper has three this year alone, right?—but back then it was pretty much unheard of. Drayden had never floated a mentee into the ring, not since he started. And then Corrin, who used to run the Striaton Gym, went ahead and sponsored three kids at once. So suddenly there were four, and the strangest thing was that no one in Unova had heard of any of us.”
Skyla was sponsored two years before Iris. You remember having a similar conversation, except Skyla was the one staring archly down across a cup of tea, her glittering pink eyeliner doing nothing to soften her gaze. You’d heard that her braviary could spot prey from two miles up, and in that moment you’d wondered if he taught that to her or if she’d taught it to him.

But Skyla had been born in the league circuit, holding her grandfather’s hand in his interviews since she was four. It hadn’t been a question of who he’d pick to succeed him in his gym; just when, and how much he’d rig the proceedings in her favor.
So I'm majorly hype about this world-building around sponsorship, branding, income inequality. A little confused, though--are sponsored trainers and fellowship trainers the same thing? Or are fellowship trainers a subset of sponsored trainers? I assumed fellowship trainer was basically like scholarship trainer, but is it? And what does being sponsored mean? You get a mentor? Is that supposed to be Juniper for Hilda? It seems like what sponsorship means as applied to Skyla and Iris are pretty distinct.

It's interesting that all four fellowship trainers became gym leaders.

whose tusked earrings accidentally sparked a short-lived line of costume jewelry
Oof.

Unova loved the idea of a tough girl with a pretty face. She couldn’t be too tough, of course. But that’s what you were for, to separate the fangs a different face from the flower.
The last sentence got mangled; not sure what it's saying.

You imagine her with a rapier in hand, poised to deflect the incoming blows.
Bit of an odd metaphor for a dragon POV to leap to.

Small. Six dollars each. Fascinating, the world you’ve left and what you traded it for.
Also an odd focus for the POV, I feel.

Izan mentioned that their mother used to cook empanadas, and she’d passed the recipe down to him. An offhanded comment, probably thirty seconds in an hour interview. The label stuck. Now they run a restaurant and have to dye their hair and use ridiculous imported pokémon to fill out their rosters.
Yikes. This sounds almost like the Hunger Games.

You can build a mountain with words and force people to climb up to get you.

In a quiet, clear voice, Hilda finally says, “Bianca said you approached her in Castelia. But I don’t think you’ve talked to Cheren yet, have you?”

There is, of course, a second approach to someone who builds a mountain with words: ignore it, and build one of your own.
Interesting observation

Iris stopped talking with her hands, and hid her mother’s earrings, and changed her clothes to blend in with the rest. But there were some things, she explained to you, that you cannot yield on. They can be small; they can be big. Breaking the small rules reminds you that you have the strength to break the big ones. So she takes coffee cups. She refuses to put her dragons in pokéballs even where public areas don’t allow them. By making defiance part of her brand, she got Unova to commend what they would’ve condemned in anyone else.
I like this, but you're really centering Iris here at the expense of Sienna. This is all stuff Iris does. Does Sienna do anything? Iris explained this to Sienna. How did she come to the realization? Did Sienna have nothing to do with that process? Relatedly, what does assimilation look like for Sienna? Does she think this is an Iris-only problem, or does she struggle with it in ways that go beyond 'not allowed to roar whenever want'?

Iris has mastered this way of talking and sweeping along, not looking back. Observing out of the corner of her eyes. It conflicts with your predator instincts; all your life the two of you only needed to look forward.
This is a bit muddled because we've got 1) Iris does not look back 2) Iris observes out of the corner of her eyes 3) Iris only needs to look forward

“Pants,” Iris corrects.

“Pants?”

“Jeans are casual. He wears pants, not denim.”
Wow, that's Cheren nailed in one exchange.

Hilda finally manages to cross the street. Not bad. She’s fearless.
Unless "She's fearless" is meant as sarcasm, this seems like a huge leap and makes Sienna seem very easily impressed.

You learned to take your shorter stature into stride: you can’t fight like a fully-grown haxorus until you are one. Drayden didn’t actually want to teach you two, but he did a good job of it by accident. The lessons stuck when you had to find them on your own.
Oof, and rings unfortunately true.

She leaves the rest unspoken, but you’ve seen Skyla around the two of you, and Izan and his brothers. You know what Hilda does not: the people who matter will never accept you. Wear as many outfits as you want; you’ll always just be a simisage in dressup to them.
Seems odd to go with simisage here. Wouldn't Iris be a dress-up dragon or something? The 'you' POV also gets weird here, because presumably Sienna is not perceived as a simisage in dress-up.

He wants to dress up like them; they’ll see his tie and drag him around by the neck.
Ouch, snappy.

The servine jerks out of her reverie and tenses, preparing to leap. Iris raises her eyebrows at you and then tilts her chin forward.
Might have been nice to get some description of what Vaselva was doing during this convo. Sienna is pretty politically attuned, wouldn't she be observing and judging Hilda's pokemon as well as Hilda to see if her pokemon have what it takes to navigate this world? An example of a trainer who couldn't fit into this lifestyle due to their pokemon would make an interesting counterpoint, actually.

Iris raises one eyebrow. “Is that what you want? To be able to do something about it?”

You expected Hilda to flinch. This isn’t a world for idealists, after all. You and Iris learned that lesson young. There are things you want, things you deserve, and things you are given. Fight as hard as you can for them to be the same, but never expect them to be.

But instead, she squares her jaw. The rage is back. “Vaselva, Leaf Blade. Keep your head back.”
Nice Hilda characterization, and I appreciate how this is completely consistent with her behavior in chapter one and two, but also feels like something new in this different context. There it felt like an inability to listen to criticism of the world as is; here it feels like a rejection of being told to settle for the world as is.

Juniper really does pick the strangest candidates. Most of them don’t get anywhere, instead falling to the wayside after their first few badges and returning to do research for her—which was probably what Juniper wanted the whole time.
Well, that's too real. Though Hilda doesn't strike me as am obvious candidate for 'would make good research assistant.'

Human battles are all about conversations, posturing. And they certainly aren’t designed to be fair—Skyla left herself wide open, but it didn’t matter. The rules already said she got to win anyway. So is it really cruel to believe that some people have to fight in other ways instead?
Interesting how much this dovetails to Zahhak's arguments to N.

“And you think if you stand where I am, you’ll get it?” This time Iris cannot keep the bitterness out of her voice, even if you’re there to hide it for her.

It isn’t her fault. You’re both looking at a firestarter who thinks that if she battles hard enough and believes in her pokémon, she’ll get whatever she wants. This is a land where opportunity can be pried from the earth for all those who dig deep enough, of course. What would stop you?
Huh, I didn't get a bitterness vibe from Iris up till this point.

The line about land feels oddly phrased to me in the context of the final section.

a cage of dragonfire glimmering on the tips of your claws.
Ooh, lovely.

Iris isn’t exactly subtle; that was never your style. But the simple reality is that even if she’d bothered to hide her meddling, kept it through a network of bribed patsies like Clay, summoned a stand-in challenger like Drayden, legislated through the throne like whoever pulled at Alder’s strings—it didn’t really matter. People never looked for good, even if it was loud, even if it demanded to be seen. Iris was the first female League Finalist of native descent.
This paragraph is a bit muddled and I'm having trouble following the logic. Pared down it seems to say, "Iris isn't subtle. But even if she'd bothered to be subtle, it wouldn't have mattered, because people never looked for good, even if it was unsubtle." Which is ? to me.

She was the point person for expanding the training sponsorship program to include funding for lower income families, and campaigned for the Unovan Endemic Species Protection Act
A bit confused by the timeline--it sounded like both these things were the triggering events for her being sponsored? That the haxorus line was protected as endangered?

But what people hated to see was slow change, these baby steps up a mountain so massive. It reminded them that the battles that really mattered weren’t like the ones in the League, with the cameras and the glitz and the lights. It was slow, boring, and discouraging work. In fifteen years maybe the two of you will have enough power to start tackling the things that really matter. In twenty years maybe you’ll have the courage to look back towards your home. Twenty-five years, or maybe thirty, you’ll come to peace with what you had to lose to get yourselves here.
Very real. But it's a bit hard to suspend my disbelief and say Sienna would know this? That level of self-reflection is difficult, and they're both young, as far as I can tell.

“The League gives out battle-competitive starters to all children who want one at age ten.”

“Oh, taking a page out of Kanto’s playbook?” Iris asks, a faint smile on her lips. “Are you concerned that this would open up the system to a higher percentage of pokémon abuse? Statistically there’s a higher incidence of accidents in younger and lower-income—”

“The old and the rich are harder to persecute.”
Ooh, okay. Finally a nugget of what Hilda's ideals are. A measure to level inequality of opportunity in pokemon training. It would be interesting to get more of a sense of how pokemon training relates to other opportunities in the world. In Making It Big, for example, pokemon training is used as a way to indirectly determine class in job interviews, because kids of a certain class do the pokemon journey and others don't (with the in-world justification that pokemon journey success proves responsibility, etc.) So far what we've seen here is a pretty insular training world, where the opportunities given by sponsorship are pretty much to gain one of a limited number of positions as gym leader--not exactly a sweeping societal solution.

That Skyla's immediate response to this proposition is to invoke pokemon abuse is also very interesting. Suggests that pokemon abuse is a widely discussed issue? I get that it's being used here exclusively as a way to block an equality initiative, but this suggests high enough rates of pokemon abuse that there have been studies establishing that it happens more with younger and lower income kids? How is pokemon abuse defined in eoe world? On one end of the scale we have Gardening Bish's trainer, but I don't think that would be common enough to be supporting studies?

“The old and the rich are harder to persecute.”

Iris settles back, but the smile hasn’t faded. Hilda has good responses for her age. Iris always has a knack for finding firebrands, after all.

“I’ve seen you involved in the Pokémon Liberation stuff,” Iris says lightly, but now her words are loaded and heavy. “Be careful which causes you support, Hilda. You won’t be allowed to get away with that forever.”
HUH. So Hilda is sympathetic to Team Pokemon lib in this chapter? Is what happens in the previous ie next chapter her turning point? Because we don't really see that shift, and I kind of want to. I assume future (past) chapters will give more insight into Hilda's interest in N's movement, but I want to see her disillusionment too.

that’s when you know she’s a lost cause. Of course she is. Five or ten years ago, just starting out, you would’ve been in the same boat, idealists and dreamers, believing if you can fight hard enough you can change the world overnight.
This seems contradictory, to say Hilda's a lost cause for having one snappy response, while saying that is took them years to abandon their ideals?

Her father’s father would’ve been permitted to keep no sons. Her mother’s mother would’ve passed down her dowry earrings.
Rip.

“Because you of all people should know,” Iris replies stonily, “how it feels to have a pale man stroll into your life, rip off your tusks, and declare himself your king.”
Oh wow. Are we subtweeting N? I don't think Iris means him, but I feel like, with some of Hilda's later (er, previous?) comments, she ends up feeling this way about him.

{You’re the gym leader’s fawn,} they hydreigon’s heads prick up, and he hisses over the humans shoulder. Even in the grainy image of the x-transceiver, you can sense the judgment and disdain leaking from his eyes. {The last fraxure. I thought you’d be taller.}
Ahh Zahhak with his charming aggression. I would have liked to see more interaction here. Sienna seems to just brush him off, but I want to know why.

“But it is my responsibility.”

It isn’t your responsibility either, you want to tell her, but that’s the beauty of duty—it can be anyone’s. And it should be. Skyla should want to keep peace within Mistralton. Plasma should want to minimize violence. But everyone outsources the hard problems because they think problems should belong to someone else.
Good stuff, buuut feels a bit like authorial voice coming through.

There’s a certain terribleness of growing up as an other. You only belong until they decide they want you to be an other again. When they want to hate you, you and Iris are whatever anyone wants you to be. You’re an angry activist to Skyla, and a complacent gym leader to Hilda, and a co-conspirator to Ghetsis. No matter that in someone else’s eyes, you could’ve been an ally.
I like the sentiment, but the execution is a bit muddied. "You’re an angry activist to Skyla, and a complacent gym leader to Hilda" states the point really well. But "You only belong until they decide they want you to be an other again" is hard to parse out.

"a co-conspirator to Ghetsis." He didn't seem to think of her as a co-conspirator?

"No matter that in someone else’s eyes, you could’ve been an ally." Not sure quite what this means.

Also, the you POV here really seems to be Iris. I get that the idea is that they share one body/soul whatever, but the effect of that here is just that we're talking about Iris. Sienna is not "a complacent gym leader."

What you hate most about humans like Ghetsis is how much they refuse to understand.
What about Zahhak? Does she hate pokemon like Zahhak for the same reason?

Ten thousand years ago, a dragon shaped Unova from fire and thunder and ice. From that dragon, the Twin Gods were born.

Two thousand years ago, the haxorus of the Dragonvalley entered into an accord with the humans who lived there. They would share these lands and protect the valley together. If nature willed it, their children would hatch at the same time, and the two would live in the image of the Twin Gods—not one without the other. For as long as there were twins to remind them why they were the same, the peoples of the Dragonvalley could live in harmony.

Three hundred years ago, Unovan settlers discovered the Dragonvalley and routed the peoples who lived there into less fertile, less desirable pockets of land, where they could die without being seen. The haxorus who refused were put to the sword. The humans who refused were given necklaces of rope. The peoples of the Dragonvalley who fled wept bitter tears, which washed into an enormous river; once crossed, they would never return.

Twenty-two years ago, a meteor streaked across a moonless black sky. That night, Tsis’swakeras was born to a loving human mother and father. On the same night, an axew hatched, and her proud mother named her Gaasyendietha, for the meteor of old that hatched into the Twin Gods, and for the new comet that proclaimed her birth. Although neither child knew it, the reservation rejoiced, and the children were joined as twins. Tsis’swakeras wasn’t a very vocal child, but her hands babbled. Gaasyendietha was large for an axew, and a voracious learner.

Eighteen years ago, Unovans returned once more to the diasporic peoples of the Dragonvalley. They proclaimed that haxorus were an endangered species, that licenses and permits were required to raise them, and all hatchlings had to be surrendered to the League for safe rearing. They came for the human children as well, also for safe rearing, and to teach them things that could not be learned on the settlement. But Tsis’swakeras and Gaasyendietha were one life, one pain—not one without the other. So both were taken together, too young to understand why their parents wept and why it would not have been dishonor to do the same.

Thirteen years ago, Drayden Kennsington wanted a haxorus, but saw no legal way to obtain one. What he saw instead was a young, malleable girl and the axew who slashed at all who came close, save her. The girl mattered little. The axew was the last unlicensed female in Unova, and therefore the only one from which he could breed a lineage. And so, for their tenth birthday, he extended to the twins a great and terrible gift.

Twelve years ago, in her first interview on national television, Tsis’swakeras froze when asked to repeat her name. A sea of unfamiliar pale faces stared back at her. The foreign language heavy on her lips, her quivering hands screaming into white-knuckled fists, Drayden’s hands on her shoulders, she murmured my-name-is-tsis’swakeras, but what came out was a jumble, and then eh-ras, and then an overly-enthusiastic, “Let’s give it up for Iris!”

Plasma claimed to want to give you back your freedom. What they fails to understand is that your soul has only ever been on a leash. Unova has always held you both by the neck; there is no separating your struggles from hers. Not one without the other.

You will be free the day she is, and not one day sooner.
Excellent.
 

Adamhuarts

Mew specialist
Partners
  1. custom/mew-adam
  2. custom/celebi-shiny
Dropping by to leave a review on this fic. Though I read both the prologue and the first chapter, the former was so short that I don't think it'd be fair to review them separately.

Anyway, Envy of Eden is certainly a very interesting fic, and I see exactly why it's been praised repeatedly in the forums. There's this eerie but somewhat whimsical vibe your fics have that makes them feel like reading a classical work of philosophy than just pokemon fanfics.

From what I can see here, it appears that this fic literally starts at the end and then we go through the rest of the story backwards? I'm curious as to why you decided to go for this approach, and also how you've been able to maintain suspense since we start with what first and then why later in subsequent chapters. It's a delicate balance, but given the praise this fic has gotten, I'd say you probably handled it well overall.

N and Hilda's conversation was pretty good to read, and Veselva's point of view was also pretty interesting. She just accepts things as is without asking why they are. N's dialogue came across as more compelling than Hilda's if I'm being honest, and I suppose she lost the battle that came next because she faltered. I kind of wish the fic was taking place in the aftermath of the prologue though honestly. As much as I want to know what events lead up to this, I'd much rather know about what came next. It's… kind of why I dislike spoilers. Knowing the end up makes me much less interested in learning the events that lead to it, and it might be hard for me to follow this since the fic is explicitly moving backwards. While this is a unique narrative structure to take, it's not one I'd find myself being fond of. That's just my prejudiced opinion in the end however.

Overall, I'd give this story a positive rating.
 

kintsugi

golden scars
Location
waiting for the fog to roll out
Pronouns
she/her
Partners
  1. silvally-grass
  2. lapras
  3. golurk
wooh! okay! more review responses

general patch notes:
- added a short scene in ch4 and some scattered dialogue about Hilda, general continuing battle of making lategame Hilda more sympathetic and interesting
- added a few notes in ch2 referencing Hilda's status as a sponsored trainer
- changed the Ghetsis dialogue in ch2 (re: pokemon like battling/i'll change that)
- changed some Tourmaline dialogue in ch3 (re: the hypocrisy of guessing what pokemon want without asking them), general typos/phrasing fixes there, boldore no longer have a theory of human evolution
- changed some Zahhak dialogue in ch6 (re: needing hate to be right)
- added some references in ch7 about Cheren being a very good sponsored boi
- some typos

taking this week off of publishing to do rewrites on the previous two chapters + the next chapter. see y'all on the 18th.

These chapters are always such a challenge for me because I think you and I are inclined to similar leaps of logic, which is fun because it so often puts us on the same team ... but also it means I have to really squint to see what might be getting skipped over. I think I have a few useful thoughts here, and hopefully Pen or another wise reviewer will catch what I don't. 💪

lmao we certainly have our questionable morality babies

I do think this one suffers from a bit of the same problems the first draft of the Ace chapter did--our POV character feels sidelined for the humans. Granted, what they're saying is interesting to me, but some of the observations feel more Iris than Sienna. Like, yes, they're very close and so Sienna would probably understand this stuff better than, say, baby turtle in a bucket. Or even N! What does he know about neckties? But it's not delivered with dragon flavor. (I've highlighted some of those places in my line-by-lines.) I also feel like a lot of the emotional weight for their relationship comes at the end of the chapter, which means I don't have it to support the earlier sections. Something that might help you feed two birds with one scone (preferably old raspberry and avocado)--get us more rooted in Sienna POV and also give more information about their relationship--could be to play with the Sienna/Iris twinness as opposite sides of the same coin. You have some hints at this. Sienna notices Iris tensing when maybe others wouldn't, and Iris plays nice when Sienna wants to roar. But you could amp it up more in Sienna's observations. Use Sienna's memories of their shared existence before the League to show us what's going on beneath the surface and what "should" be.

This one was trickier tbh--Ace's chapter is definitely just like, oops, humans were way more interesting--but I wanted this chapter to have the idea that Sienna ... doesn't feel as out-of-place among the humans. She doesn't have much by way of agency but she's very much assimilated to all of this. I wanted to play more with her thoughts being Iris's thoughts but I should probably lean into that more.

Will! Probably be overhauling this chapter and the Inari chapter but I think there's a lot of vibes to recycle here.

Oof at this reality. But also oof because there's some assimilation buried in here that I'm not sure was on purpose: you beat Iris, but Iris isn't powerful here, what? I guess she could be seeing it as you plural, but that's not clear.

English's lack of you-plural really kills me here. If we had a literary formal version of y'all I would've done the whole chapter in that lol--Sienna and Iris would probably use that pronoun convention in this format.

Do dragons know about reading tea leaves? Also, I was confused re: coffee/tea. Because Skyla likes people who like coffee, I assumed she would also be drinking coffee. Also, Skyla is looking very teacup. :c

Sorta wanted a rules for thee, not for me vibe here--can flesh this out.

Is it Unovan culture or Unovan humans?

I think both! The line between humans and culture is ... vague at best.

This is sweet. ❤ But it didn't feel earned until the very end, maybe a little too late.

Fair! Debating pulling the last scene up to the front, but I like having it at the back because it's very on-brand with the reverse chronology + seeing the reasoning/justification for things at the very end. Not sure.

Unclear which of them is clutching a backpack strap. But! This is a surprisingly generous description of Hilda. Gangly! Makes her sound younger and more vulnerable than we've seen her before.

she smol. added some bits in earlier chapters to also make her more smol.

Hahahahaha RIP, good luck, buckaroo.

the good ol' fashioned college try!

There's juicy stuff here! But I'm also not totally clear on the connections. Pokemon are proxies for their humans' emotional states, or no? How did Skyla leave herself wide open?

I needed to use more words here I think! Sienna jumps back to thinking about how human conversations aren't fair--you can win without being right/better/stronger, which is what Skyla does.

Tourmaline--? (Eyes on the prize.)

👀

Is this Ghetsis, or The Man? Also 👀

I think both tbh. Incarnations of people exploiting to get to the top, and then once there, using their newfound status to make sure that no one else can follow. Iris recognizes the (unfortunate) potential that training gives humans to raise their social status and open doors that might've been permanently closed to them otherwise; Plasma being headed by a relatively wealthy/powerful individual (who also relies on his own pokemon for status) then turning around and telling people that he did these bad things but you aren't allowed to do them now--it's just another verse to the same song in Iris's eyes.

🙃 Everything is fine.

everything is fine!!

ty ty for this. will be doing overhauls in the next few days <3

I'm going to start off by saying that, since I had to read 11 chapters in a row, I'm not gonna get into the nitty gritty of every chapter (cause I'll spend a whole week on that otherwise) and instead give a more general review of my thoughts on the story. I hope that's okay.

you read sooooo fast :oooo

I am in awe and also really flattered that you took the time to write this all out. It's really fun to see big picture thoughts on this--did I get these themes across well? How do people feel about the overarching arc of things? Lots of fun to see.

Now, I think this story or more like this series of vignettes, told in backwards order to boot, is probably the best exploration of black and white's concepts and ideas that I've seen (I admittedly haven't read that many but I'm pretty sure it's at least really up there) at first I thought the backwards order was kind of gimmicky but it makes sense if you look at it from a "how did we get here standpoint" and since your chapters are very in the moment, meaning we don't get a lot of background info, knowing where they'll eventually end up gives the past more weight. Plus it's a good framing device for giving us ideas of who these characters are at the start and then slowly peeling off the masks of each one.

This mostly haha! There's ... one chapter coming up that really cemented why I wanted to tell the story in this order + the reasons you gave here, but I knew going in that it was going to be a weird gimmick for people.

And in general I think it's a fun way to explore this vague question of how did we get here that I find myself asking when looking at history. It's easy to think of flashpoint events as isolated, inevitable things, but they all started from something.

I've told you before what I love about your character but I'll say it again. You give them a certain complexity that's really tangible, a lot of writers (myself included) tend to emphasize in wanting people to either like or dislike a specific character, it doesn't necessarily make them bad characters, but it's equivalent to the story telling them how to feel. Three dimensional characters are beyond that, it doesn't matter if you like them or not, because they're people and as thus they'll just behave in the ways they think work for them. That's something that each of your characters embodies to a degree, with layers that contradict and constantly pull at each of them as their insecurities and desires are laid out in front of us. Every chapter gives us an idea of what the pov character wants, what's hindering them and how that makes them feel as well as their opinion on the world.

aslkjfeiwoj thank.

Before I touch on the aspects of the story that really kept me going, I will say that my issues with the story so far is that there are a few chapters where it's a little unclear what species we're following. In chapter 10 I thought we were following a zorua but it turns out it was a zoroark, it didn't threw me off until the end where it scratched N's cheeks and I was like "with what?"

These are totally fair! There's ... a lot of stuff I'm going to change about that chapter, but this will be one of them.

Truth

Justice

and Ideals

!!!

I loved that you took the time to break this down--it's awesome to see that these are what's coming out in the story! I tried to juggle a lot but the beeg dragons and their domains are at the heart of this, even if they only show up physically at the end.

The theme of truth comes up a lot throughout the story especially when it comes to the idea of what the world is, what it was and what it should be like. We see that each point of view character, and in turn the characters they interact with, has a different take on everything that's going on in Unova. Some characters are fine with the way things are, maybe because it benefits them for things to stay the way they are or maybe because they don't realize the way in which they system they live in oppresses, disenfranchises and subjugates both people and pokemon.

Trainers are sold this idea of being the best, of standing above everyone, when in reality being a trainer is a road filled with harsh realities that might make someone forget why they even set out in the first place. It's no longer just about pursuing a dream or a career, being a professional trainer means being an icon, someone that's willing to discard their identity to get ahead. That in turn feeds into the many ways pokemon are mistreated since newer and newer trainers go out in pursuit of this desire without realizing how they, and in turn their pokemon, are being trapped by it as well.

Definitely! And this is sort of where I hit the block that truth and ideals are intrinsically tied to one another--the truth of training is that the ideal isn't happening; the ideal of training is that the truth (what pokemon want, what humans want, etc) is known and honored. And the concept of truth is an interesting one especially in these times; at what cost do you see truth in the world around you? What luxuries do you gain instead by closing your eyes to it?

Along those lines you also have the sub-theme of understanding. In a more direct way, there's the fact that humans can't understand pokemon and as thus they force their own interpretations of what human-pokemon relationships should be, and because they can't understand pokemon they're also not privy to how they can change things for them. It's something that causes pokemon to hurt, to feel like their lives and choices don't matter, as exemplified with Carnel in chapter 3 and Reylin in chapter 9. How can they change things when the people forcing them out of their lives won't even listen to them?

Understanding, or rather misunderstanding, isn't solely between humans and pokemon. It happens between pokemon and between humans. Different species with different values and thoughts on what the world is. Pokemon that were raised in different environments that shifts their priorities. And that's without mentioning all the different languages pokemon occupy, further dividing them as well.

!!! yessss definitely! For me this is really where I wanted to overlap both themes: how can you know the truth or ideal of a world if you can't understand half the people in the room? What does it mean to be understood? With pokemon there's a very literal case to be made for talking past each other, but in general a lot of problems develop when people don't listen.

I think the best way in which this theme is conveyed and how it can be fixed is in chapter 5. Bisharp and Mei are a pokemon and human, both who shared a bond with a pokemon abuser and who now must deal with the ramifications of someone else's actions. But by learning to understand one another and being there for each other, they are in turn able to support the other in overcoming that ordeal. If everyone could see eye to eye with each other then things would be better, if only they tried to understand and put their own ideas behind.

<3 gardening bisharp was a late addition to the cast but I am so glad they made it

That leads into ideals. Everyone has an idea of what the world should be like. Whether it'd be changing the current system or maintaining them. They all have something they fight for and are striving to accomplish it in different ways. That of course, causes those ideals to clash and that's at the core of this story.

I thing one specific aspect of the ideals theme you touch on, both directly and indirectly, is the concept of protecting others. Hilda says she wants to create a world where the strong protect the weak so that no one suffers, N wants to change the world to protect pokemon, Vaselva is willing to endure everything the world throws at her in order to protect Hilda.

Yes, definitely! I think this roots really into the idea of what pokemon battling is actually for--and to me it becomes inextricable with the idea of one person hurting so that someone else doesn't have to. And I think that's a really interesting lens to view social change through as well, and it lets me ask interesting questions about what happens when sacrifice becomes acceptable or necessary.

The concept is juxtaposed with N and Hilda pretty well. Again, they're both people that want to change the world but neither of them are able to lay their life on the line themselves. A big part of N's character arc is understanding that he won't be able to achieve anything until he realizes that he has to put his heart and soul into his ideals, to fight tooth and nail for what he wants even if everyone tells him he's wrong. On the other hand, Hilda constantly talks about being the one to change the world and protecting others...but she's always being protected herself. She expects her pokemon to adhere to her ideals and fight for her, even if that's not what they truly want. Where Hilda is unyielding to the point she ignores others' suffering, N is too meek and flighty, crumbling when things don't go the way he expects them. So it's interesting how N ends up fully embracing what he wants, not knowing where it will truly lead, while Hilda ends up questioning if her decisions were the right ones.

These two are fun to mirror, I think. Hilda has her convictions until the very last second, when she sees the consequences of her/Amara's ideals play out; N has his doubts until the very last second as well, for much the same reasons.

Another part of the ideals theme is...who's right? It's clear that the current system is broken and should be fixed but...how? What approach will truly create a better world. One that would take a long time and possibly not result in much of anything like Iris'? One that's ambigous and hard to properly draw out like Hilda's? Or one that completely uphills the system like N? At the end of the day it's hard for anyone to see face to face with one another because they can't see how their ideals can fall and how another person's can help. Even in Team Plasma there's a divide between Ghetsis' more extreme actions and N's pacificism.

And all that leads to justice. Whose ideals will win, what truth will come out of that, and who will justice smile upon in the end. Among the webs of contradiction, love, hate, apathy and suffering. Can justice really be achieved?

</3 my heart lol this paragraph means so much to me!

It's so true though, and I love the way you phrase these questions because they're pretty much the exact questions I want people to be asking when reading this.

So I'll just close this review by saying that out of everything I've read from you this is my new favorite kin-fic. And I'm reallly looking forward to seeing where this story ends (or begins I guess)

thank youuuuuuu this is so nice!! I'm shocked you read the whole thing so quickly and I'm over the moon that you enjoyed it, haha. Happy to talk shop with you on Discord any time if you have more questions!

This chapter introduces more complexity into an already-complex story. Thus far, we've dealt with pokemon as a disadvantaged group. But this chapter raises another disadvantaged group--the people of the Dragonvalley--and forces the issue of intersectionality. Sienna's struggle is the struggle of pokemon, but it is also the struggle of the people of the Dragonvalley, because Sienna is one of them, too. How then, can she support a movement that speaks only to one of these identities? One that makes no distinction between Iris and Drayden?

Scope creep: a tragedy in eighteen parts

This is a question I've been dreading unpacking since the beginning of this fic but also one I knew I had to look at eventually. I don't know if there's a satisfying answer to give anyone here, fictional or otherwise--it's certainly one I haven't found the answer to irl, just a messier can of worms.

Those are hard questions, and I'm curious if the remaining chapters will take them up at all. One place I would have liked to see more was in the conversation between Zahhak and Sienna. Zahhak clearly considers the story of the massacre of the Dragonvalley to belong to him, to inform his history and identity--but unless I misunderstand, the hydreigon weren't involved in this. I'm curious what Sienna thinks of the claiming of a common draconic identity. And what Zahhak would say to the proposition that Sienna has more in common with Iris than with Zahhak. I think a longer scene that gave these two a chance to talk would have been really interesting, and would further the goal of the story to center the voices of pokemon. Perhaps an in-person meeting, rather than by phone, where the two dragons could go off? That would also show rather than tell that Iris has connections and a certain amount of respect in activist circles; even if it's not sufficient to be listened to, it's at least enough to be heard. A reaction to Iris from the Plasma rank-and-file would also be illustrative of how she's perceived/received.

I do think I'll be rewriting this + Inari chapter to get this across better.

re: pan-draconic identity: another messy one, I think. The hydreigon weren't present for Sagaris/the Dragonvalley, but they see their own plight mirrored in her story, just like the humans of the Dragonvalley do as well--Sagaris might've been one of the most famous pokemon (or dragons, or even just humans) killed by humans, but she certainly wasn't the only one. And I think both sides are valid for feeling a claim to that culture as well, and it gets further complicated because Sienna barely remembers her own roots and as such it didn't feel right to have her firmly gatekeeping Zahhak here either. I think I'll touch more on this in the rewritten version, but in my head it's a big messy ball of what happens to a culture after you scatter its people and salt the earth--who gets to claim that struggle? Intersectionality is a hell of a drug.

In telling the story of Tsis’swakeras and Sienna last, the chapter hides the ball a bit. I'm conflicted; while I do think there's some impact for saving the full story till the end, I think we need more before the end to get us invested in and aware of the complexities the chapter is exploring. As is, the chapter seems very focused on Iris, at the expense of Sienna's POV in many places. There seem to be plenty of opportunities to expand Sienna's POV--one is with Zahhak, the other is with Vaselva. I'd have liked a more detailed conversation between them--perhaps Sienna feeling out Vaselva in parallel to Iris feeling out Hilda. The two also have parallels--both feel like they have nothing to root them except their connection with their human. Would speaking with Sienna alter Vaselva's mind in any way? Would it perhaps even further convince her that she must support Hilda to the end? (I'm curious how this would read with the Ghetsis scene coming before the Hilda one--not sure that would be better, but a thought to explore.)

agree, pacing was a wreck in this chapter and I think the pokemon needed to have more time to talk. Too much coffee shop AU trying to set up a compelling case for human oppression being alienated from pokemon liberation movements.

Speaking of Hilda, it's exciting to get some insight into her head in this chapter. A picture is beginning to form of a girl who's had a hard, unhappy life, and struggled for what she has. I'm looking forward to seeing more of what her ideals are and also what her early involvement in Team Plasma looks like. I talked about this a fair bit in the line-by-lines, but it seems like her break with Plasma happens off-screen, unless Iris just completely misreads her here? That's a moment/process I'd be interesting in seeing.

It's! Kinda messy. Originally the Ferris Wheel is where I wanted the real breakpoint to happen, but it's not so much a clean break into "I'm anti Plasma now" and more of "I really empathize with what you guys are doing but please stop telling people I'm destined to summon a dragon and lose the fight for Unova's soul". But I think you're right and she needs more agency/there needs to be a more clear picture of how all of that goes down.

Lastly, word-building. Lots of it. Most of my substantive points are in the line-by-lines, but a bigger picture thought--if pokemon liberation and human equality are to be cast as goals in opposition, N's solution seems to dispense with that dichotomy--pokemon training can't exacerbate human class inequality when it doesn't exist.



I like the metaphor, in that the image of a weather vane suggests moving with political winds, and is obviously appropriate with her type specialty. But wind vane and 'wind won't knock over' aren't really concepts that work together in the way they're being phrased here. A weather vane is designed to move with the wind, that's the point (and your point as well, I assume.)

d'oh! this is very true. as are the other line edits, lol.

Ahahaha hello 'dragons =/= political power' fancy meeting you here. This is one of my favorite paradoxes/questions of the pokeworld--what creates power here? If having the most powerful pokemon doesn't, why not? Should it?

it has, and I mean this 100% uniroincally and with the biggest of love, been such a fucking roller coaster to see what you've published since June 1.

Nice to get a chapter giving me some feels for Hilda. It's clear she's been trained to take any interest in her wellbeing as interest in her training progress. And. She's not wrong. I like that we see here that Hilda's idea of strength is being shaped by external forces more powerful than herself in the same way that Vaselva's is.

So I'm majorly hype about this world-building around sponsorship, branding, income inequality. A little confused, though--are sponsored trainers and fellowship trainers the same thing? Or are fellowship trainers a subset of sponsored trainers? I assumed fellowship trainer was basically like scholarship trainer, but is it? And what does being sponsored mean? You get a mentor? Is that supposed to be Juniper for Hilda? It seems like what sponsorship means as applied to Skyla and Iris are pretty distinct.

Oh oops! they are the same.

I think of it as like, having similar prestige to clerking for a SC Justice--it's a year, if you do a good enough job many doors will open for you, and it's likely that you'll become recognized as the spiritual successor to that Justice/that you get tapped as the unofficial favorite for later nominations. I will also stop saying more details before I inadvertently tip my hand about how little I understand about clerking. Further headcanon details--gym leaders appoint their successors but they have to be voted on by a council that's the other gym leaders + the League; typically the vote stage is a formality but sad 2020 sounds

I will pick a word between sponsorship and fellowship and stick with it--they're supposed to be the same but I don't particularly like either term.

I like this, but you're really centering Iris here at the expense of Sienna. This is all stuff Iris does. Does Sienna do anything? Iris explained this to Sienna. How did she come to the realization? Did Sienna have nothing to do with that process? Relatedly, what does assimilation look like for Sienna? Does she think this is an Iris-only problem, or does she struggle with it in ways that go beyond 'not allowed to roar whenever want'?

Muddled here too! I sort of wanted Sienna to be assimilated to the point that she and Iris have the same POV, but I don't think it really worked here. Cobbling around with that for a bit.

Unless "She's fearless" is meant as sarcasm, this seems like a huge leap and makes Sienna seem very easily impressed.

Too much Zahhak sideline commentary slipped in here, but yes, crossing a road is a Very Important Accomplishment for this trainer gold star good job you must be so proud

Seems odd to go with simisage here. Wouldn't Iris be a dress-up dragon or something? The 'you' POV also gets weird here, because presumably Sienna is not perceived as a simisage in dress-up.

Simisage was for the triplets! But I see why that got buried.

Nice Hilda characterization, and I appreciate how this is completely consistent with her behavior in chapter one and two, but also feels like something new in this different context. There it felt like an inability to listen to criticism of the world as is; here it feels like a rejection of being told to settle for the world as is.

<3

Well, that's too real. Though Hilda doesn't strike me as am obvious candidate for 'would make good research assistant.'

hedge your bets and get a good bianca, let cheren and hilda fall where they may

Interesting how much this dovetails to Zahhak's arguments to N.

the dragons could be good friends if they just had more time tbh

This paragraph is a bit muddled and I'm having trouble following the logic. Pared down it seems to say, "Iris isn't subtle. But even if she'd bothered to be subtle, it wouldn't have mattered, because people never looked for good, even if it was unsubtle." Which is ? to me.

ahhhh yes that paragraph took many turns.

A bit confused by the timeline--it sounded like both these things were the triggering events for her being sponsored? That the haxorus line was protected as endangered?

Mmm, in my head she's working to legalize the loopholes that got her in in the first place--Drayden would've sponsored her if she were rich and poor (because he just wants Sienna in his pocket), and in my head Corrin/the guy who picked the triplets was just massive chaotic energy, but before this there was no included trainer stipend, so it'd be like taking an unpaid internship unless you could also convince your sponsor or rich friends to pay for you. Haxorus were protected but I think I'll change the phrasing of that act to be more about the Habitat--wild populations vs captive ones, to root back into the Dragonvalley and wow golly yay disputes about indigenous peoples and land management that's such fun fiction.

I will figure out how to explain this better in the text lol. There's a lot happening in this chapter.

Ooh, okay. Finally a nugget of what Hilda's ideals are. A measure to level inequality of opportunity in pokemon training. It would be interesting to get more of a sense of how pokemon training relates to other opportunities in the world. In Making It Big, for example, pokemon training is used as a way to indirectly determine class in job interviews, because kids of a certain class do the pokemon journey and others don't (with the in-world justification that pokemon journey success proves responsibility, etc.) So far what we've seen here is a pretty insular training world, where the opportunities given by sponsorship are pretty much to gain one of a limited number of positions as gym leader--not exactly a sweeping societal solution.

Unova fascinates me from a social standpoint since it's the first region where the gym leaders also seem to have massive social/fiscal clout outside of their gyms and accompanying celebrity status--Elesa's got a fashion brand, Clay is a rootin' tootin' piece of shit, that snowflake guy did acting, Skyla, Lenora is basically 1/3 of academia somehow??. And I fully get that that was probably just fun character designs, but in this canon I wanted the position of gym leader to be tempting not really for the gym, but for the doors it opens in other sectors--it basically gives you the clout to dominate a chosen field for as long as you want, grants better access to resources/weird pokemon/funding, etc. Having a gym leader vouch for you would effectively get you into that network as well--in my head there's a ton of art students who basically just speedrun their badges to get to Burgh as quickly as possible, for example. Cheren's fallback on this is just to get in Lenora's good graces (which canonically he does do, if we assume I haven't yeeted BW2 into the void).

But! Again I really see why this doesn't come across in what's been published so far.

That Skyla's immediate response to this proposition is to invoke pokemon abuse is also very interesting. Suggests that pokemon abuse is a widely discussed issue? I get that it's being used here exclusively as a way to block an equality initiative, but this suggests high enough rates of pokemon abuse that there have been studies establishing that it happens more with younger and lower income kids? How is pokemon abuse defined in eoe world? On one end of the scale we have Gardening Bish's trainer, but I don't think that would be common enough to be supporting studies?

Mmmm, I tried to fit too much into this section. She's mostly probing Hilda and trying to see the extent of Hilda's pro-Plasma sentiments here; I would say that at this point in the timeline abuse isn't widely discussed but Hilda and Iris are both individuals who happen to have their hands on that pulse.

HUH. So Hilda is sympathetic to Team Pokemon lib in this chapter? Is what happens in the previous ie next chapter her turning point? Because we don't really see that shift, and I kind of want to. I assume future (past) chapters will give more insight into Hilda's interest in N's movement, but I want to see her disillusionment too.

yeaaaaahhh I gotta fix this

This seems contradictory, to say Hilda's a lost cause for having one snappy response, while saying that is took them years to abandon their ideals?

I think it's both--Sienna recognizes that it wasn't any one conversation that talked her and Iris down from this position, but years and years of seeing the same shit play out. In her eyes Hilda's mind won't be changed any time soon.

Oh wow. Are we subtweeting N? I don't think Iris means him, but I feel like, with some of Hilda's later (er, previous?) comments, she ends up feeling this way about him.

It's! Again really messy. The scope creep on these issues for this part of the story gets wild. Iris struggles with the idea that other people who have gotten to positions of power within/by supporting a system that has murdered/oppressed people (here, humans) would then be morally allowed to turn around and explain that it's unethical to rise to positions of power in a system that oppresses people (pokemon).

(and of course there is also a solution there of "we should keep infringing on pokemon rights until humans have also achieved equality", which isn't correct and also isn't fully what Iris wants, but it's more that she's chosen one cause to dedicate her life to and it's about exacting justice for her hometown. really sucks that these groups don't just talk together and team up though)

Also, the you POV here really seems to be Iris. I get that the idea is that they share one body/soul whatever, but the effect of that here is just that we're talking about Iris. Sienna is not "a complacent gym leader."

verrrry fair!

What about Zahhak? Does she hate pokemon like Zahhak for the same reason?

she has! mixed feelings on pokemon like Zahhak. I think she's more willing to give them a pass because she knows they at least do understand, and then their unwillingness to take her side at least becomes a position of opinion rather than one of ignorance.

ty for these <3 I think this chapter's a bit easier to clean up than the previous one, but I also think that cleaning up the Inari one involves massively restructuring this one, lol! I think I'm settling on a direction for this 4-chap arc that's working out a bit better though; thank you for your unending patience and excellent advice here.

Dropping by to leave a review on this fic. Though I read both the prologue and the first chapter, the former was so short that I don't think it'd be fair to review them separately.

hi hi!! I'm really glad you stopped in. I know you're looking for more optimistic fics and I was nervous that this one wasn't going to be quite it. But I'm really really glad you enjoyed and I love that you took the time to write out your thoughts here!

Anyway, Envy of Eden is certainly a very interesting fic, and I see exactly why it's been praised repeatedly in the forums. There's this eerie but somewhat whimsical vibe your fics have that makes them feel like reading a classical work of philosophy than just pokemon fanfics.

From what I can see here, it appears that this fic literally starts at the end and then we go through the rest of the story backwards? I'm curious as to why you decided to go for this approach, and also how you've been able to maintain suspense since we start with what first and then why later in subsequent chapters. It's a delicate balance, but given the praise this fic has gotten, I'd say you probably handled it well overall.

I kind of wish the fic was taking place in the aftermath of the prologue though honestly. As much as I want to know what events lead up to this, I'd much rather know about what came next. It's… kind of why I dislike spoilers. Knowing the end up makes me much less interested in learning the events that lead to it, and it might be hard for me to follow this since the fic is explicitly moving backwards. While this is a unique narrative structure to take, it's not one I'd find myself being fond of. That's just my prejudiced opinion in the end however.

haha, this and second-person were definitely the two style choices that I figured I'd get nailed on, so don't feel bad for pointing them out! This is probably the most stylistically unorthodox thing I've written and I think it's important that I'm able to (at least try to) offer a valid reason for why I've done it--otherwise, it's needlessly distracting to people and a bad stylistic choice.

Part of it I think actually hinges with your comments on spoilers below--direct retellings are basically just walking spoilers. I don't really know if there are major events here that I can keep hidden: N succeeds at summoning Reshiram; Hilda discovers she's the Hero of Ideals and summons Zekrom; we ride a Ferris Wheel and learn N is the leader of Team Plasma!; Hilda beats up Cheren; etc. These are plot beats in a story that's now old enough to be a pokemon trainer--I don't think I'd really be able to build any sort of interesting suspense since everyone know what's going to happen.

And I think you're right--what happens before isn't super important, since we know it takes us to one end point. I wanted to tell the story in reverse because I wanted to look at why things happened before, and how we ended up at this point that everyone already knew was coming. It's ... kind of esoteric and weirdly philosophical, so I completely understand if that format just doesn't work with you--I did want to shed some light on why I went this route though.

N and Hilda's conversation was pretty good to read, and Veselva's point of view was also pretty interesting. She just accepts things as is without asking why they are. N's dialogue came across as more compelling than Hilda's if I'm being honest, and I suppose she lost the battle that came next because she faltered.

Haha, yeah! The dragon battle is an interesting set piece to me since it's apparently fueled on convictions--canonically N loses because he doubts and because your beliefs are stronger than his. But what if they weren't?

Overall, I'd give this story a positive rating.
<3 thank you for stopping in! I really appreciate your thoughts on story structure--I'm a bit tied to it now since I'm so far in, but I think your opinions here are super valid, and things I was hitting my head against before publishing as well.
 
xii. noogenesis

kintsugi

golden scars
Location
waiting for the fog to roll out
Pronouns
she/her
Partners
  1. silvally-grass
  2. lapras
  3. golurk

xii. noogenesis

※​

Ten thousand years ago, a great flood washed over Unova, and wiped it clean of war and hatred.

But before that, a clever human and his pokémon companion watched the stars, and foresaw the flood. So when the clouds rolled in, they had already built an enormous boat, which they used to save those they could. When the waters receded, the survivors began to rebuild. The lines they had drawn between themselves had been swept away by the storm; now, in the fertile and flooded earth, they could learn to love one another again.

But the human and his pokémon could find no peace. While others tilled the fields, sowed new crops and reaped them, the two stood on a high place and stared out at the placid sea. They must fear a second flood, the survivors whispered among themselves, but this was not the case. The human and his pokemon could not forget the violence that had first caused the storms. The gods had cleaned the world once, but people are people—one day, the gods would purge it again.

Or worse, they wouldn't.

So the human and his pokémon returned to the dragon gods, and stole from them a single scale. Together, they fashioned it into a sail for their boat, and when the winds blew, their boat lifted into the starry river that stretched across the night sky. Thus prepared, the pair began an endless voyage amongst the stars for peace.

Every thousand years, the sky cries and traces one tear across the horizon. Legend would tell you that it's the two companions, holding fast to one another during their journey into the void. Your denwatcher would tell you that it's a comet of ice and flame, orbiting your sun and only coming close enough to be seen for brief moments of its relatively huge galactic lifespan. But just because it's not visible doesn't mean it's not there.

You were imparted on the day that the comet passed overhead. Your denwatcher, Venant, had watched the skies for centuries. Though their eyes had long grown rheumy, Venant knew their duty, and could hear the comet's call. From their arms split two children—from the right arm came you, Denebola; and from the left came Albieba. The den rejoiced, for children were rare, especially in these times. Albieba was a gifted child, with a burbling of two songs wrapped up in her one mind, like the binary star for which she was named. But you held Venant's pride, and their right side, and the expectations that had rested on their shoulders as watcher of the East. Many minds before, many right sides ago, Venant and their forebearers were soothsayers for kings and queens, and perhaps one day you would be as well.

Twenty-two years after that wondrous night when Venant's consciousness faded and then flared to life in the mind of another, you allowed a human child to capture you. She called you first solosis, and then Jericho.

When she walked past, the other solosis felt nothing. They lived in complete worlds, linked together in their minds. But for you, Venant lived again, and all the lives before them did too. Seven lifetimes ago you advised kings, and in that one frail moment, you felt the ancient weight upon your shoulders.

So you leapt from the protected decks of the world you'd always known and fell with her like a comet, hurtling across the night sky towards her destiny.

※​

Most people have hazy ideas of what they want the world to be. You can feel those potential futures, and they glow with the strength of the one who imagined them. That is the power of Venant's sight, the one who foresaw kings.

In Amara's ideal world, she's a zebstrika, but also not a zebstrika. You don't understand the distinction between these two zebstrika but you sense a conviction at the very heart of the blitzle's being. This is different from a regular zebstrika. You'd asked her about it once, when the five of you were gathered around a crackling campfire.

{The difference is kafara,} she'd said solemnly, and though her words were clear to you, their meaning was not.

But from what you can gather in the flashes of her mind, of her one day standing tall and fierce, mane crackling with the storm she contains, it involves being a zebstrika.

She evolves in your fight with Elesa. The plan was that first Amara would wear down Elesa's team, then you; Vaselva could handle the rest.

You stayed on the sidelines longer than you'd expected: that day, Amara had something to prove. Perhaps it was in the way Elesa's zestrika cantered proudly onto the field, hooves sparking blue and against the mirrored floor, Elesa casually lounging sidesaddle on his back. Or maybe it had been when Elesa's zebstrika whinnied and fired a thin bolt of lightning into the air, cueing the pre-timed spotlights and a raucous cheer from the audience. Or maybe it had been when Elesa's zebstrika snorted in response after Elesa smoothly dismounted in six-inch stilettos and surveyed the four of you, one eyebrow raised, and remarked, "She looks feisty, Cavalli, wouldn't you agree?"

Hard to say, really.

Amara evolves after the first emolga goes down in a spiral of flame, and for a brief moment she's radiant. You've seen enough dreamers outside of your den to know what's coming, and you stare hungrily at that bright light, the pride, the culmination. She'd dreamt of being a zebstrika her entire life, and she'd finally made it.

The radiance fades. A second emolga takes to the air with a teasing giggle. His air slash shreds the tile floor, and Amara's newly-mended flanks with it.

※​

"I'm going to the carnival. Do you want to stay out, Jer?"

Hilda's stony. Vaselva must've lost to the zebstrika after you fainted.

That's a surprise. You wish you'd seen it. The servine calls the shots around here, as far as you can tell. She and Amara battle for Hilda's heart. That's fine with you. You only care about her mind.

"One for yes, two for no, Jer," Hilda says when you don't respond. "Reylin said no. The others are staying at the pokécenter for now."

Was Elesa's zebstrika really strong enough to hurt Vaselva that badly, or is she just sulking? You try to think back. The second emolga was simple—any contest that involves range was always yours to win. Hilda showed you quickly enough that the shimmering blue lights that the denwatchers used to communicate are somewhat explosive upon contact with an unprepared target. Most pokémon in battles on the circuit are unprepared targets.

The zebstrika was not an unprepared target, and he also preferred to fight up close. Your battle to lose. The sensation was unpleasant, but for you at least it's easy enough to project your mind somewhere else, to a time where your body doesn't feel pain, while your ectoplasm knits itself back together. Hilda's ideal world, for example.

It takes you a moment to retreat from it, rearrange your mind carefully back into your ectoplasm. There's no pain now.

The carnival. You roll the word over in your mind. What is a carnival?

You aren't sure, but you'd like to see it. You chirp once.

It's a bit of a walk from the pokécenter, but even from a distance you can see this carnival—an enormous, shining collection of gemstones, twinkling against a purple sky. Nimbasa shimmers even at night. Even in the midst of Unova's jewel of a city, this thing is impossible to miss, with all its glamor and flashing lights. The sounds come next, a blur of laughter and mechanical screeching and canned music.

But Hilda seems to shrivel up the closer you get, tucking her hands into her pockets and her elbows close to her side. You orbit her head, struggling to stay close in the throng of people.

She seems bothered, but she chose to come here. Strange. You ponder that one for a while as the two of you make your way through the carnival. An apron-clad man hands ice cream cones out of a red-and-white striped cart to a group of giggling children. A tinny earworm of a song wafts through the air, twined with the sounds of elated screams as a roller coaster whooshes overhead.

With this many people around, you can relax. Hilda was quick to learn this lesson: you do not do well in small groups of people. Their thoughts and their threads spin around your mind, each one screaming for its place. All of them seek things, and you can see where those desires end. Once, Hilda left you alone near Amara, and came back to find you had buried yourself in a pile of leaves to drown out the raging imperfection of her too-short, frayed thread—this one will be cut soon. She learned fast; now, you only come out when the entire group is out, when there's enough minds around to protect you from themselves.

At home, in the dens, the reuniclus and the duosion and even the young solosis knew how to exist alongside one another without screaming their thoughts. You knew each other's minds and they were no more foreign than your own. No one spoke louder than the rest.

Here, with this many people, it's almost the same. The thoughts become a seething mass, no single one louder than the rest, and you can tune them out as white noise. Does the girl passing you wish to evolve into a watchog one day? Is the palpitoad to your left upset that he lost that battle, or is it the human boy beside him? It doesn't matter. You float alongside Hilda, content to take in the sights and sounds, unimpeded by the sea of thoughts that swirls beneath them.

Hilda's hard to pin down right now. If you open yourself up too much to her thoughts, you won't be able to tune out the flood. What you get is snippets:a girl crumbles pieces of of her sandwich for pidove in the schoolyard, her hands tremble as she dabs septic on a glimmering cut in Vaselva's scales, her fingertips close around the cool surface of a smooth, dark stone.

"Ever been to one of these?" she asks as she wanders. You do not think she has any direction in mind.

There are stalls where human children gather to throw red and white stones at a pyramid of bottles; the two of you pass a snaking line for some sort of enormous spinning disc. But nothing seems to catch her fancy.

You chirp twice for no.

"Me neither," she says in a low voice. "Never been to one growing up. I was curious."

It's a good reason, same as yours.

A short scream of frustration draws both of your attention—your heads whip over to see a boy's hand pinned to a table by an enormous robotic throh. Can you beat the legendary arm wrestler? the sign above their heads asks.

You're not sure she understands what you mean when you chirp thrice, when she says, "Looks like I wasn't missing out on much. Just another place where the games are rigged for you to lose."

In that moment her ideal world is plunged into darkness, and in that blackness you can see her as she sees herself.

She fed the pidove and went to class hungry. She withdrew Vaselva and cried silently, flipped her pokédex over and over in her hands. She hid the stone from Lenora after she heard it call to her, because she didn't trust anyone else with it, because somewhere deep inside she had to know what it truly meant.

"Then again, I'd probably have a better chance of winning here, don't you think?"

Two chirps.

Hilda brightens, just barely. "Thanks."

The stalls thin out, and you see: perhaps unknowingly, she's wandered back to the spinning wheel. There's hardly a line now; seems like everyone would rather be elsewhere.

"What do you think, Jer? Ever ridden a ferris wheel?"

Two chirps.

※​

In Reylin's ideal world, he doesn't have to fight.

It took Hilda maybe fifteen minutes after meeting him to realize he hates it. She was faster on the uptake than Amara or Vaselva, stymied as they were by his strange tongue, but now everyone agrees. The archen sits and flinches during training; in battles, it's even worse. You fought Cheren last week, and Reylin clumsily flapped behind Hilda's boots, quaking as he peered out from behind her ankles, squawking incomprehensible words.

You don't blame Reylin for hiding from this fight; Cheren's dewott was frightening. Newly evolved, proud of his power, and eager to show it—when the dewott lashed out with his shells, he left gouges in the pavement. Hilda waited until the pansage came out, and asked Reylin again. This time, he found the courage to fight. With his eyes squeezed shut as he stabbed blindly with his beak, he took out the pansage in one hit.

Sometimes Hilda's mind wanders and she strays into that ideal world, where people like her wouldn't have to claw their way to the top, where people like him aren't caught up in it. None of you are that different, really—you all only have this one path out of the lives you were given; you all have no choice but to walk it. Reylin was a gift from Lenora. As you understand it, when pokémon are given as gifts, it becomes less about the pokémon than about the humans behind them. Was Lenora testing her when she gave Hilda that fossil? Or was it simply a genuine offer of support? Either way, Hilda's fresh-faced and inexperienced; training three pokémon this early is already difficult, but four—and a strange, skittering species at that—four is a clear challenge.

Reylin's ideal world is very simple. It involves him, a turtle, and an endless sky.

Hilda dreams of something different. Some of it is amorphous, vague, unshaped. When it comes to Reylin she's not sure what the rules would be, how you'd govern out this loophole where pokémon don't have to fight, but they don't have anything else they're allowed to be. But in this future, it's simple: you and Vaselva and Amara are powerful. Reylin can stay, or he can go—he simply doesn't have to fight any more, not now that Hilda's strong enough that she doesn't need a fourth. That's a similarity between the two of them—Hilda's not necessarily in Reylin's ideal world, either. She's not definitively absent from it, written out the same way that he erases battles and gyms from existence in his, but she doesn't have to be there, either. There's a dim corner where she could be; there from one angle and gone from the next.

His world doesn't shine very brightly, because he doesn't have much faith that he'll ever get there.

"I'm sorry," she tells Reyin after she calls your sparring match with him to a close. Now she's fussing over the dressing on his wing. They're always so delicate with his plumage. "Okay, so a physical build isn't working out. Maybe something ranged?"

The archen tilts his head back and stares at her, blinking.

"I know," Hilda says quietly. "But you're strong, okay? You just need to recognize it."

He squawks something in an unknown language.

"You are! I've seen you." She leans in and tickles under his chin, earning a weak trill. "You're getting so much better already! I saw you dodge that attack. That was so fast."

She isn't lying, not quite. It's not impossible. She just doesn't think it's likely.

Later that evening, when he had relaxed onto her lap and sunk into a twitchy sleep, you heard her murmur, "Even if I let you free, where could you go?"

His ideal world is simple, dim, and empty. For one so unhappy, there's relatively little that he actually wants.

※​

The wheel ticks up slowly. You can feel each creak emanating from the central hub, the way the motor strains. As the two of you inch higher and higher, Nimbasa shrinks below. The sky's turned almost black by now, but looking down you see the glimmering star of the gym.

When you look over, Hilda's watching it too. Half of her face is reflected in the mirror of the carriage, and while she isn't facing you, her reflection stares back, washed-out and blurred.

"Was that your first gym battle?"

One chirp.

"I wasn't sure."

You tick higher.

"I researched before I went into this battle. Elesa usually doesn't use her zebstrika for fourth badge fights."

This concept of battling is new to you. It's lucky that you're good at it, but its intricacies are still foreign. You reach back to remember what the Venant before Venant knew about this. That Venant saw a war, and that Venant understood: you only use your full strength for an opponent you truly respect.

Three chirps.

The reflection's face darkens. "She didn't want us to win."

You have to turn that idea over and over a few times. The denwatchers shared one mind. Even if a fight had ever taken place, there could be no loss. But the humans, you have learned, are not so closely linked.

Wins and losses are also a strange concept. When you all share your thoughts, there's no such thing as being alone, being better, being worse. When you are linked with all the ones around you, why would you strive to defeat them?

You ponder for a moment, and the answer to your own question surfaces in your mind: if you do not think of them as an ally, if you see them as someone separate from yourself, you will not care if they lose. The answer is simple: you have to become unlinked.

One year ago a shadow slipped into the back of the den. It wore a face like yours, but when you reached for it, you found nothing. It was like you only in shape and image; beneath the surface, it was dark, empty, vapid. Intrigued by this strange reflection of yourselves, you and Albieba had warbled over to where it watched from the surface. And the shadow grew teeth; with a wicked smile it leapt forward and sank its fangs into Albieba.

The den ripped into motion, but you dropped to the ground. The air was a thick haze of psychic energy; you could only watch, paralyzed, as Satevis, the watcher of the West, hovered forward, a storm brewing around their arms. They twisted, and gravity seemed to triple. You couldn't rise from the ground; with their hands, Satevis tore the world and a blinding bolt of thunder erupted.

The shadow screamed and sprouted tufts of red and black fur. The scent of singed flesh rose in the heavy air. The watcher of the West fired again; blue lightning filled the den. When the light finally cleared, the shadow was gone.

it took you a moment to understand what was strange. But when you did, the void was everywhere. {Albieba,} you'd gasped, when you were finally able to feel again.

Satevis turned back to look at you. {Albieba,} they said solemnly. {Albieba is with you now.}

Your split was only supposed to be temporary. The two of you came from Venant's arms; one day, you would create a mind in her image, and grow arms of your own. But you were never supposed to search for her—she would always be by your side.

Venant's right could see the futures people desired. Venant's left could see which ones would come to be. In the moment that she went dark, Albieba took with her Venant's true sight.

But that wasn't what you really lost. Your den, your siblings—without Albieba, they didn't feel fully yours any more. The denwatchers were kind, but you could sense their stifled shudders when your minds touched. They couldn't hide how they pulled back instinctively at you and your mismatch. You were one of them—and yet not.

You think back to the look on Elesa's face, the lilting amusement when she'd called Hilda and Amara feisty—perhaps she hadn't been amused after all, just trying to cast out what she thought didn't belong. And all at once, you understand why Hilda is frowning, why her hands have curled into fists.

The thick glass of the ferris wheel shudders, and the attendant opens the door. You blink, looking around. Nimbasa's no longer a tiny pinprick in the distance. You're at the bottom again.

※​

In Vaselva's ideal world, she's with Hilda. Everything is the same, except for one small detail, that you scarcely notice at first. When Hilda calls Vaselva's name, she doesn't say Vaselva. But even though you can hear the word loud and clear in the vision, when you try say it aloud you find it's always out of reach.

※​

There's someone waiting at the bottom of the ferris wheel.

"You wanted to talk?" he asks quietly.

"Hey, N," Hilda responds glumly, which you realize doesn't answer his question.

Maybe she does want to talk. More than likely, she doesn't, because she doesn't say anything at all. Humans have to speak in order for their denmates to understand them, although sometimes it seems to you that they understand each other fine without speaking at all.

They walk for a bit. Hilda keeps her eyes on her feet. Her hands are in her pockets, her lips tightly pursed. And N's much the same, but he's looking around at all the sights. His eyes linger on a booth where a man is painting liepard spots onto a young girl's face. His face flickers with a scowl as he passes a sign proclaiming SUPER SIMISAGE SAMANTHA in blocky letters above the image of a simisage on a unicycle, her hands pressed firmly to her lips.

Finally, he looks at you. "Hi," he says uncertainly. "I don't think we've met. I'm N."

{Jericho.}

"Jericho." He sounds the syllables out carefully on his tongue. "Did I pronounce that right? Nice to meet you."

Hilda finally looks up at the sound of your subdued conversation. "You really can talk to pokémon, can't you."

It's not a question.

"Since I was a child, yes."

What a strange talent for a human. Unbidden, you think of Super Simisage Samantha and her unicycle. Would there be another tent for this one, where everyone else can marvel at him for his unique skills?

"He's newish. Can you ask him if he's happy?"

He looks expectantly at you.

{Hilda will change our world. I want to see it.}

N relays the message with a strained smile.

"Him too?" Her laugh is strained as well, and for a moment you're sure she's going to end the conversation then and there. "I swear, all of you have the same ideas."

She's uneasy, but that's okay. The fate-touched are never aware of what the world is calling them to do. That's why your kind watches the stars.

The three of you walk a little further, until Hilda says, "Is that why you're with Team Plasma? Because you think you'll change the world?"

"In a sense, yes." He rolls his shoulders and sighs.

"I was on board before you …" She swallows her words alongside her anger. Each syllable is clipped short. "Did you know, N? Did you know that Team Plasma is stealing pokémon?"

"Liberation isn't theft."

Hilda's face hardens. "So you know."

"I've always known." His voice sounds almost gentle, almost pleading, when he adds, "Liberating pokémon is why we founded Plasma."

Hilda's jaw tightens, and you watch her shore up the gap between her eyebrows. "Plasma stole my friend's munna. Bi is a good trainer, N. Did you know they targeted her?"

"I did. I was there." N's stiff now too. "Munny asked to go back to her human, so we helped her do that."

For a moment you feel something leaking off of him, a wish, an ideal, some sort of regret. You lean forward, toward this strange black hole, and—

Hilda's rage pulses stronger, and with it the image of a shattered Plasma. A future splinters off of her, one where having power didn't mean you could just go around doing whatever you wanted, taking what you wanted, hurting who you wanted.

"You don't even know what you did to her, do you?" Hilda scoffs. "Do you know anything about her?"

The answer the two of you get isn't one you expected: N smiles warmly. "No. I don't. What would you like me to know?"

Hilda's a seething ball of anger; you can feel the thoughts lashing out around her even if you can't read them fully. She was never one to let something stand between her and where she needed to be, yet when someone doesn't try to fight her … what does she do?

She doesn't say anything. So instead, you find yourself answering, {Did you know that training is the highest-income profession in Unova that does not require a high school degree?} There are words in that statement that are lost to you—but you'd heard Hilda explain this over and over to Bianca, back when she was begging Bianca not to quit.

N's smile falters. Just a little. "I did know that," he says quietly.

{For some people, it is the only choice they have.}

"Wouldn't you rather they have more choices though, Jericho?"

You can't help it: you reach out again. Surely a sentence like that, such a wondrous question—surely he would be able to see that world; surely he would be able to know what those choices even are.

There's nothing. Nothing at all.

{Wouldn't you?}

"Is he … what is he saying?" Hilda looks between the two of you, her gaze guarded. Is she afraid she'll betray you like Elesa? You could never do that to her.

"He respects your drive." N fiddles with the edge of his shirt. "And he would stay with you." There's another pause, and you see him twist the fold of his sleeve into a tight spiral. "Even if he had somewhere else to go."

"So that settles it, doesn't it? You talked to Munny, and now Jericho." A pleading edge slips into Hilda's voice, and there's another world now—one where Plasma can be good, where they focus their efforts on the abusers and the cheaters and—

"Tell me, Hilda. When you climb Unova. When you get to the top. What do you see?"

Hilda swallows. "I understand why you don't like battling, N. I really, really do. You don't think it's fair that pokémon aren't free to be people." When she looks at him, her world shines with the brilliance of the sun. It's so bright that she can barely take it into her hands and form words, but when she does, she's unflinching. "But I don't think it's fair that people aren't free."

In that moment, N begins to glow, and you see the thread forming between them, two minds that could touch and feel and share—

"Is that … it is! Hilda Verdandi! Juniper's very own sponsored trainer, here in the flesh!" Someone's pushing through the various throngs of carnival-goers; you see a camera, a looming boom mic. "Hilda, I'm with Nimbasa Nightly. Do you have a second for an interview?"

Reflexively, Hilda takes a step back from the fuzzy mic overhead, and then another one to avoid the one that was thrust up in her face. You see what he wants from this, a tangle of chatter and words across a page and you're trying to parse what he means by news when she answers—"Sure?"

"Right. Jeremy, get in tighter." You focus on a man: thin-faced, brown hair, sharp jaw, fast talker. He leans in conspiratorially close to Hilda. "Hiya folks, here with Hilda Verdandi, Juniper's very own sponsored trainer! How's it going, Hilda?" He doesn't even wait for her to finish her pained nod before: "So, some of our viewers at home are wondering what happened! After your stunning defeat of Burgh, even with a bad type matchup for both of your pokémon—has Elesa made you lose your groove?"

"What? No, I—"

"Focusing on other things, perhaps?" He winks at the camera. "Other people, perhaps?" he adds, and you see Hilda's face lurch when the camera lurches over to point at N. "Folks, you saw it here first. The Nimbasa Carnival ranked in our top fifty good places for a first date, after all, and—" He trails off suddenly, staring at N's hair.

"Battle me," Hilda says in a strangled voice.

"What?" N looks surprised. Perhaps he doesn't realize what's happening, what everyone else is starting to piece together.

Hilda knows the unwritten rules. In a conversation, humans only look at themselves. But in a battle, they'll only look at the pokémon. If he battles her now he'll be nothing more than a blur in the backdrop. If he loses, if he doesn't keep it close, no one will be able to see him afterward, either. Victory makes you shine in Unova. It lifts you into the light of the future.

"Battle me," Hilda repeats without meeting his eyes.

"Hilda—"

"Jericho, you're up." Her voice is hard. She spears N with a flinty glare. Please, she mouths.

Maybe he gets it. Maybe he just trusts her. Either way, he takes a step away.

"You know the public battle rules. Thirty feet back."

This time he backs up all the way, almost to the end of the promenade. The rest of the crowd has started to take note, and they're clearing out, giving you all space—but the camera's trained on you and Hilda. She stares forward with a level gaze.

You see a flicker at the far end of the makeshift pitch, and what looks like a scraggy disentangles himself from the crowd when N calls. A few more follow suit—the low, flickering glow of a darumaka catches your attention; followed by some enormous, floating, rainbow bird that you've never seen before.

There's a brief exchanging of words over on N's side of the field. The bird hums something in response, and then flutters forward.

"Screens," Hilda says curtly. "Eighty percent to the sides."

You pick up what she means by that almost immediately, and a prismatic wall glimmers up around you, scintillating green and blue. You've been practicing hard; by now, it's milky and translucent, almost like a wall of glass. Idly, you angle it between yourself and the cameraman, filling the lens with a stab of dazzling light. You hear him hiss in annoyance, but he doesn't move more than five feet from Hilda. You tab him in your mind as you hover closer to the bird, in case he tries to reposition.

"Psyshock." Her voice is flat. There's no enjoyment in this. You can see from the way that the bird bobs up and down in a smooth, predictable arc that this is going to be a one-sided battle.

You reach out with your mind, and an arc of blue light forms around you. The crowd gasps in shock as the light fans out, splitting off into a dozen glimmering spheres, and then with a single movement you send them all swatting down on the bird like falling stars.

"Shields to front, and then Psyshock again," Hilda says, just before the bird lashes out with a wave of pink energy. You swivel the screen forward, and the wave breaks against it, sending shards of pink light onto the ground. A psychic attack of some sort? You don't risk probing the bird's head to check. It regards you silently. No battle cries, no shouts of pain, nothing, and you strike it down.

N gives a muffled cry of warning, but he's too late, and another barrage of blue knocks the bird to the ground. "Withdraw, withdraw!" N's shouting frantically, and the scraggy runs up in the bird's place.

"Hidden Power." You slam the scraggy with a ball of searing heat while he's still scooting forward.

The scraggy falls down and stays there. N runs over and scoops him up in his arms. He's too far away for you to see the details on his face, but you sense a tinge of desperation.

But he doesn't fight back. He doesn't ask Hilda to stop. Instead, he clutches the scraggy close to his chest, whispers something to the darumaka at his feet.

{I will do what it takes,} says the darumaka in the dialect of sand.

N screws his eyes shut when he hears the answer. "I'm sorry," he whispers—he's much too far away to hear, but he isn't too far to see.

You look past him, not with your eyes but with your sight, as something impossibly bright leaks off of him.

You can't place what makes it strange at first. It glows like all dreams do, perhaps a bit brighter. A glimmering hydreigon curls up alongside a human boy and a gently crackling fire. The hydreigon flicks his tail while the boy reads aloud from a book in his hands, and—

The words on the page are razor sharp. The image is clear. There's no haze, no areas he's left unimagined, because he isn't imaging at all. This isn't a future. This is a past.

You recoil in disgust.

Every night the stars are a little different than the night before. Somewhere in the nightly expanse, they're hurtling away; from where you stand, they only shift a hair, in tiny, barely noticeable steps that must be watched across generations. When the stars wander, they do so in different directions, dancing over one another. But none of them double back the way they came. You cannot wish for that. It's simply not right.

In that moment your mind splits into two. You are both Denebola, and you are both different, and you are both one. It comes in flashes at first, but then it's the brightest thing you've ever seen.

Albieba? You reach out tentatively.

She isn't there. But Hilda is.

One mind sees: Hilda's battling. She's finally strong enough. Vaselva's a serperior; you're a reuniclus. There's a monster with green hair in front of her; she beats him down, down, down while everyone watches with breathless anticipation as she becomes a hero. The people in power get to make the rules, but if she's more powerful than anyone else? If she gets to make the rules now?

Then she'll do what everyone up top kept failing to do, and she'll protect the ones beneath her. No matter the cost.

"Jericho, Protect!"

You raised a glimmering green against a wall of fire. Raising? Will raise? Where are you?

Another mind sees: Hilda's battling. Your power flares to life. You've never used this technique before—but you sense in a language deeper than words that this is what must be done. A protective barrier appears just as the darumaka's flames are about to make impact; they splutter away and hit the ground with a sizzle of embers. You wheel back—for a moment it is a dozen feet tall and made of black scales and three bloody heads; the next instant, it's a sputtering darumaka barely taller than you are. Which one is it?

Eyes glowing blue, you send a stab of psychic power through her forehead.

Your arms are buckling from the strain, but wait—you don't have arms yet.

"Jericho?" she's shouting from behind you.

Where are you? All you can see is light, and the smudges of creatures who get too close. There's a sandile in front of you now, scuttling around, its mind curiously blank. You reach out and your probe slips smoothly off: it must be partially dark. There's nothing there, nothing for you to latch onto.

The sandile burrows out from under the ground, his jaws snapping. In another world he's not aiming for you; his scales are red and his frame is enormous as he digs through the floor of the League, eyes hungrily fixed on something just out of reach.

But the sandile in front of you is close enough. His fangs dig into your side, teeth digging furrows that blossom into pain, and it's in that moment you understand how someone like Hilda can make an ideal shine so brightly that no one else can see it: you create two minds.

This must be what Venant learned when they ascended, what all reuniclus must face upon evolution. You must do as the human strategists do. With one mind you understand your enemy; with the other, you snuff them out. With one mind you accept that the world is broken; with the other, one that you keep far away, you swear to change it.

Amara, fully grown, brays in pain from hundreds of moons away. One day she dies while you hold a shield up like this one; one day she is safe in her pokéball, unaware of the events that will fray her thread until it snaps.

Which one is it? With one mind, you lash out, ripping up a concrete battle hall to rain stone on an oncoming dragon, cast him back, back, back. With one mind you look up, and the sandile is a tiny brown lump in the middle of a cratered stretch of pavement twenty feet across. N is running forward, his face twisted in horror. You bob forward as well, one of your minds reaching out with a twinge of sympathy only to find that the dark-type's mind is as shielded to you as ever; Hilda's raising her hand and—

"That's the difference between me and a random trainer," Hilda explains to the camera. "Thank you for your time."

※​

When Hilda walked past you, your combined lifetimes hit you at once, and you felt her calling to you to leap, leap into the starry river.

There are some who walk this earth who pick out points of light where others would see only darkness. The truly bold can look into the void and trace out what they want to see. Like forming a crown from a constellation. Hilda is one of those minds. Venant another. But what made her shine to you wasn't the light that she saw. It was the future she dreamt of, that she held deep inside, so bright that it reflected around everything she touched.

When you were born, you could look to the skies and see the Voyagers studded out, entwined in their constellation as they sank slowly into the sea each summer. There were hundreds of other constellations, each one with its own story mapping out how it came to watch over you, and the den could tell you one each night for an entire year before needing to repeat.

You think about N's vision again, the way it screamed out to you, raw and wrong. When the human sailor and his companion fashioned their boat, it was because they knew the gods were wrong: flooding the world would only return things to how they were. It would not stop those things from happening again.

There is beauty in constellations, stories hidden in the past. But even those shapes drift over time, and when they do, you must let them. It means it is time for a new story to begin.

Venant knew this, and understood: there is one star that traces the same path across the years. It outshines all the rest, and it rises in the East.

Hilda's destiny is cyclical, as is the destiny of all heroes. She will rise in the summer sky and sink into the starry river come autumn. It might take her weeks, or months, or years, but she will burn her way across Unova, with you by her side. Someone else will take her place. And you will all only move one way.

The last part of the vision, of her ideal world, is the most visceral, one that almost has no words. Searing pain. Your shield and your body shattering. Behind you, the deepest black you have ever seen, but it is more than a mere absence of light.

A god roars and acknowledges the one who will reshape Unova.

※​
 
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