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kintsugi

golden scars
Location
waiting for the fog to roll out
Pronouns
she/her
Partners
  1. silvally-grass
  2. lapras
  3. golurk
  4. custom/booper-kintsugi
review responses! psyche, rip suNday. sooN (TM)

Hi kintsugi.
Hi Rain!!

Passing by here. I confess that I haven't read further than I already had long ago, and I plan to get there, eventually; I also confess that I have silly reasons for commenting now: I wanted to be post 137 in the thread here. : )
lol, apologies if this is a dumb question, but why 137? am I being called out on quantum stuff already lol
(either way, glad to see you back here! always a treat to hear your thoughts, regardless of the format that they're in!)

If anyone thinks "What is this grammar? Why is it so bad and what's the structure here?" or "What the fuck do these words even mean??", then you're not alone. I don't know what I was thinking about my writing, and I don't know how to make it better at the moment, lol
oh my god what a mood. also, bless, I think this is the first time I've seen you swear.

I did listen to The Beekeeper previously, and just did again. Seems like this was from WildBoots and Pen. (The first times I heard the song, it did not do it for me, yet now it's just! wow.) The orchestra! the piano. the vocalist. the choir. the drums, the strings, the wind instruments. The (pre & post)-echoing chorus, the solemn walk, the stillness in the night, the stalwart-spirit march, fist upraised, eyes unfazed.
This song really slaps, and yeah, it's from Boots and Pen! I think Pen recommended the song and Boots pointed me to the orchestral cover, correctly guessing that it'd be even more my aesthetic. It definitely paints a specific imagery for me, and I think we're on the same page with the kind of tone it sets, yeah!

Cleaving and furrowing, rending asunder, is there a way to put the pieces back? (Coming back to this before posting: I was initially thinking of The Beekeeper and the no-return choice presented by Reshiram, and just realized: these all link to the kintsugi concept.)
omg for once I referenced cracks here without intentionally making it about the kintsugi concept--in this case this scar is probably not one that changes things for the better.

(Still hung up on the kindred instruments. Cleaving and furrowing, cultivation or healing, by incision & division?)
What becomes of the colony? Did we bring the night upon ourselves?
In the context of "Beekeeper" I understand it as expressing the sentiment that doctors and farmers are equally valuable to our society, that their tools require equal amounts of skill to use, parallel imagery of cutting something open to sustain life--and yet we greatly revere one over the other. But that's just me! I think music often means what we want it to.

This statement was featured in the title post. I believe psychology (or certain studies within it) may have showed us that many of us are much more prone to lie than we realize. Once the baseline brain power to conceive of possibilities and references is there, it's available. What does this bode for the nature of pokemon? What's the context in the first place. Is it beyond statements? I'll just have to read on to find illumination on it.
This is actually a game quote from N--and I agree, it's one I find fascinating. Attributing someone with the ability to lie means assuming they're capable of morality, choice, and some degree of intelligence. So for N to so casually suggest otherwise is wild to me. This does get revisited, and frequently, although the main focus of it in the beginning is just: who should we be asking to tell the truth in this situation?.

Mmmm, interesting. Optimal pathsearching given constraint conditions, limited info, and individual agency by all participating parties, of which there are many. Is a world where everyone is happy possible? Maybe, and also sounds frightfully elusive. And the eternal consideration: do the ends justify the means? Here turned around in some sense. Life/reality is there, you don't really get to experiment all-out to find a best solution. Natural deems that the real suffering of even thousands isn't worth the additional time needed to discover and forge a different path and hopeful conclusion.
This solution is far from ideal, yes. But as the Hero of Truth that's kind of par the course, unfortunately.

(And is "people" in the general sense here, or is it very specifically for a certain set of human communities?)
N uses "people" in the general sense to refer to anyone he thinks is a person--this includes humans and pokemon. Most pokemon consider themselves people. Most humans, based off of the common phrase in the games "people and pokemon", do not consider pokemon to be people. The divide created by that exclusion is pretty core to this fic and its themes, yup!

Oft-commented characteristic of this story. Perhaps like many, an initial response was "How?" Again, I'm very not far into the story, but it seems in part to be a neat way to explore the roots and reasons for choices and how events unfold.
Ha, I wish I had a cool quantum answer for you but the answer is more or less "your life flashes before your eyes in the moment before you die."

Always a pleasure to hear from you! Loved the unique perspective and line-by-lines here; it's always great to see what this fic makes people think about.

So, first of all, sorry it took me so long to get to this. I’d heard great things about this fic and I wanted to build myself up to read it because I have a lot of passionate thoughts about the Pokemon world, and as you might know, it’s something I’m trying to abandon since I’ve stopped following the series. I’m also really stubborn when it comes to reading other people’s headcanons, which isn’t anyone’s fault, it’s just to do with my preferences to read something that aligns with my different takes on Pokemon, which ironically led to me staying in my own comfort zone.
Hi Nebby, long time no see! I know you've been drifting away from the fandom, and I definitely get that--there's a lot of weird shit in this specific fictional universe. Ironically I feel like we do end up circling the same drain here with our general confusion about the Pokemon world lol.

You’ve also pulled no punches with N’s antihuman views by describing a tangible example of how much ruin they’re capable of bringing, not as a vague conflict specific to the Pokemon world, but as tangible atrocities in this world as well since it’s written all over our history. At one point, we discussed the issue of colonialism and Pokemon, and that’s certainly applicable here with how Opelucid City sits on the ruins of the Valley of the Dragons and how the settlers took that away from them.
Honestly I'm always baffled when the dex casually mentions that humans almost killed off multiple species of pokemon (lapras, stantler, farfetch'd) and it's like, y'all know we aren't supposed to be complicit in the genocide of our friends, right???

On that note, I’m not sure if N described the slaughter of all life there including the natives, or just the dragons (I could be misreading something there), but if it’s the former, it adds even more validity to his points. In any case, this more grounded tone I’ve come to expect from your fanfiction (just from reading Handfuls of Dust) properly matches the darkness lurking beneath Pokemon’s worldbuilding.
nope, you're very right on the pickup there, and I'm glad you spotted it/that the one-sidedness of this comes through--N grows up around dragons and not native Unovans, so when he talks about that specific part of history he focuses on the pokemon only. It's a pretty glaring flaw of his and it's generally a root of why he fails to understand certain characters in future chapters.

The perspective change made my head spin for a moment, and I wasn’t sure if it was still confined to a Pokemon’s perspective or changed over to the human announcer. When Wave finally got his name (or species) drop, it was a brilliant moment just based on how unique this Pokemon perspective is. And this whole setup as well. The coordination of league battles and all the recording and PR behind it is something that gets taken for granted from what I’ve seen in the show and other Pokemon fics. So I really appreciate that this chapter gives a behind the scenes look at what goes into running a league battle. And I’ve dabbled in photography and film, so I get Wave’s struggles here too.
Ha, I'm glad you made the POV jump okay! It's been kind of a weird thing to juggle because I definitely want to make people feel like they aren't reading about humans, but at the same time it's a lot to ask as far as jumping to weird heads.

As I mentioned before, the transition to Wave was a nice change of pace, and serves as a great counterpoint to Vaselva; unlike Vaselva’s relationship with Hilda, which is built on mutual respect, Wave is treated more as a tool. I really like how their characterisation built up throughout the chapter. There’s already the sense that they’re sick of Markus’ BS (and wow, Markus has no qualms putting a living drone in harm's way to get a nicer view of the Volcorona), but they either hide it because they have to be a loyal camera bot, or they’ve just had to do it as a part of the mask they’ve built up.
I mean it's fine, right? The rotom itself doesn't risk permanent damage, since it can unpossess the drone if it's ever in any real danger :') Alola casually mentioning that we just shoved a bunch of sentient ghosts into our smartphone/pokedex combos really made me raise my eyebrows at the whole "friends vs tool" line that you poke at here, yup.

Once they get hacked, how much of their decision to linger on the brutal scene is influenced by Team Plasma, and how much of it is their own? Do they have the same rights as other Pokemon in N’s plan if they’re closer to having artificial intelligence rather than human/animal intelligence? The restrained emotions in the narration make the moments where Wave expresses their own opinions stand out even more. It also makes me wonder what a Rotom would do once they have the freedom to live separately from humans.
Oh, apologies if this was unclear--they're never hacked by Plasma. Ghetsis threatens to harm Markus if he stops the broadcast, so Markus doesn't stop the broadcast. Later, when Wave isn't getting the footage Markus wants, Markus zaps Wave, but said zap doesn't strip free will so much as just jolt him--I sort of got stuck on the concept of how you'd try to discipline a ghost drone and landed on EMP, but it's no more hacking than slapping someone in the face would be considered mind control.

And onto Ghetsis. While there’s a lot of exposition in his dialogue about how Alder’s rule as Champion has stamped out Pokemon rights such as conservation efforts and the licensing system, it feels natural in the context of his speech. Of course, none of this justifies Ghetsis’ actions at all, but he wouldn’t be such an intimidating presence here if he didn’t have a point.
I'm glad you picked up on this! Ghetsis treads a very muddy line of "has a point" and "but you still shouldn't try to burn children alive". Sometimes people assume I'm trying to hardline him as 100% right or 100% wrong, but I'm really not lol.

Oh, and last thing about this chapter, hmm, a Volcorona named Ghibli. Come to think of it, I can see shades of Ghibli’s films in your influences, particularly Princess Mononoke.
Ha, very true on the Ghibli inspiration (Castle in the Sky is admittedly my favorite for nostalgia reasons, although I think you're right that Mononoke is way closer to my aesthetic), although in this case it's actually because Alder's nicknamed his team team (Saffir, Ghibli) after different kinds of winds. I thought it'd fit nicely in with Unovan towns being named after clouds and Alder's beliefs in general being simultaneously blistering and difficult to pin down.

Well, this was, er… intense, but in a much different way from the previous chapter. While the previous one was a lot more blunt about its messages and more outwardly dark, coupled with the violence, this one is a lot more introspective and manages to be even more sinister in a more subtle way. I felt such mixed emotions throughout it, which is a good thing, since this fic so far has been about exploring the unintentional horror of Pokemon’s premise and making you feel uncomfortable. But as usual, I’ll take a deeper look into it by focusing on the characters.
<3
seriously, this is really great to hear. I know there's a lot of tone shifts in the early arcs and I'm glad that it seems like the emotional weights landed where I wanted/needed them to here.

He’s the kind of trainer that makes people tweet #GhetsisDidNothingWrong. Jokes aside, I really hated his guts, in a good way, since it highlights one of the central themes of the story: ignorance. Just the way he calls the wholesome intelligent ronk an ‘it’, how he ignores Carnel’s attempt to communicate and how everything we’ve seen of the story so far casts his drive to become the strongest trainer in a more cynical light. He’s not an unlikable or malicious character; he’s just so far removed from understanding any of his Pokemon that he doesn’t even realise the damage he’s causing them.

I was half-expecting the chapter to have a mini-arc where Carnel learns that Cheren really does care about them after all and they learn to play nice with their new owner. But things aren’t that black and white (ba-dum-tsss) in Envy of Eden.
ba-dum-tsss indeed lol.

Cheren's interesting to me because he's not, in my opinion, all that far removed from a lot of trainers, both in fic and canon. You're absolutely correct that one of the central themes of this story is ignorance--pretty much all of the conflicts here are caused because one or more parties are unable to wrap their heads around someone else's situation. To me ignorance is a much more insidious way to build up an antagonist than to make them outright evil/malicious, and the older I get the more I realize that this is more often the case. You don't have to actively seek to harm someone to become an antagonist in their lives; all you have to do is close your eyes when they need you to see. Ignorance and ignore share the same root.

(and besides. if you were in Carnel's shoes, how long would it take for you to play nice with your new owner?)

I’d go as far as to say this is the darkest thing I’ve read in any Pokemon fic (again, without being edgy), where it goes to such an existentially petrifying place that I don’t think I’ll be able to think of Pokemon the same way, even with all of the gripes I had towards the series before reading this. This is a bold statement, but I’m not exaggerating either; the concept of a higher being (not necessarily higher intelligence, but more evolved or of a higher status) ignoring your struggles and making everything you’ve done up to that point meaningless is horrifying to me. And the way it ended on such a defeatist note got under my skin, again, in a good way.
oof wow! This is really high praise, and I'm definitely glad that it made you think (and even change your mind on some things!! that's always the dream but it's really awesome to see it come through). I struggle with words here but I'm glad that it's making you revisit some of those thoughts.

Both sides have a point. While the trainers and the gatekeepers of the league are complacent about the status quo of the trainer society and enable the awful reality the Pokemon have to live through, they aren’t just total bastards that disregard the wellbeing of their team. Team Plasma is extreme to the point that they are just straight up villains here, but the points raised by N and Ghetsis also have a lot of truth to them to the point that a lot of the Pokemon, even when they disagree with them, side with them still.
One of the fun things about reverse chronology is putting everyone at their extremes--this is as far polarized as both sides get. Ghetsis tries to immolate a child, because he thinks it'll get him what he wants. Cheren takes possession of several people and completely disregards any notion they have for their own wants/needs/self-realization, because he thinks it'll get him what he wants. As we go further back the crimes get less and less extreme, since in many ways we build up to atrocities by boiling the frog, so to speak. But at the same time, even at the end--does one side's existence/bad actions justify backing the other?

Hell, the Pokemon seem more open to double-sided conflicts than their own trainers; if N ever gets his wish, these characters should form their own government.
might I interest you in ... ?

Truthfully, it’s hard for me to engage with Pokemon fics as I once did before. Over time, the series settled more and more into its comfort zone, and it just felt like a waste of energy caring for something like Pokemon when I’m no longer the target audience for it. So reading Envy of Eden, which is a thorough deconstruction of the whole franchise, has been a cathartic swan song for my experiences in the Pokemon fandom, that possibly stands well on its own as just a damn good story. I probably won’t be reading any further, but best of luck to the rest of this fic. This deserves all the good buzz it gets and then some.
Again, hard to find words here, but this means a lot to me and I'm glad that you had such a good time with this. The music recs slapped too. <3

Alright here per review tag, handling chapters one and two. I'm sorry I didn't see any review preferences so I'm just jumping in and did a line-by-line reaction review. Hopefully, you prefer this style.
Hiya K_S, nice to meet you in the wild! I have review preferences tagged in the index post (it's easily buried), and for this fic it's basically "hit me with anything I'm always happy to read it", so happy accidents there.

So the world ends in an earthquake? And curious how architecture can be a causality, it speaks of a gentle narrator at heart. Or one with odd priorities.
It's not quite an earthquake--canonically N says that his goal is to create two separate worlds, one for humans and one for pokemon. Reshiram is making that desire into reality, so the "fracture" in this case is more of a reality-altering schism.

Now I don't remember black and white very well but I do remember their scientist and his kinklang, I'm wondering if the scattered and dead 'mon isn't his team. Though curious how the narrator can perceive them "in slow motion" to gentle the sight of their death in his mind.... Is the world actually slowed, the story's viewpoint standing in a fraction of a moment watching things fall apart, or is this all some sort of delusion? The attention to detail seems to affirm it's a supernatural event thus far...
Re: time--it's more about the former, with things being perceived in slow motion, but not happening in slow motion.

The klinklang is N's here (although the scientist, Colress, also has one! but he does not appear).

Now someone can mean something, kindness and whatnot, but be cruel while following up on that (tough love and cruel to be kind leap to mind). So N's statement seems a pseudo comfort at best and is ringing alarm bells left, right, and center...
N really doesn't want to fight here, but (as the rest of the chapter shows), he ultimately will. But yeah, the alarm bells are a fair reaction to have since he's about to end the world.

"When he hears your words, he flinches, almost as if you’d attacked him instead."

The fact that N flinches when he is put to a very basic question makes me think he's more torn up about his end game than he's putting on. Also would great emotional harm that he's inflicting, by forcing a separation, bypass the "to stop all harm" ambition that N's using as the crux of his... wish... with Zer's power?
N's character seems pretty entwined with doubt--in the games he definitely seems paralyzed by the weight of the choice he has to make, if he should be the one who should be doing all of this Plasma stuff, if he's right to oppose you, etc. The climax literally has the dragons running on the strength of their hero's convictions; canonically, N doubts himself and fails to stop the protagonist. And yeah! He's definitely unsure if he's picking the right answer here. He's convincing Hilda that he's ready just as much as he's convincing himself.

I will give N (and of course you, the writer props) that's a very smoothed-out motive rant. You can feel N's sanity and ideals smack into a disaster dominos as this scene unfolds...

Overall this piece has been a treat, thanks for sharing with us.
Thanks for your kind words, and thanks for stopping by!

HERE FOR CATNIP. CHAPTER 2.

That. Was a time. A very good time and a very terrible time all at once.
Hi Umbra, really appreciate you stopping by! I think you nailed the content/tone I was aiming for with this chapter, which was really great to see.

First I love that the perspective of this chapter is from a good ol little SwSh-style camera Rotom, who is trying his hardest but sees enough fucked up shit to go "YOU KNOW WHAT MABYE THAT GHETSIS FUCKER HAS A POINT"

Speaking of that fucker, I ALSO love that there's this whole delicious fakeout about it looking like N is fighting Alder and then PSYCHE It's Ghetsis. It's a well-written Ghetsis - clearly, obviously, a piece of shit, but a clever one who knows how to get his way and may just believe more genuinely in The Cause than canon?
This is such an accurate and succinct summary of chapter 2 omg. I love it! I'm glad that I was able to make those points clear to you lol--Ghetsis has enough good points that people will back him, but also he's a massive piece of shit.

There is a lot of good action here. Though it is. Uh. Very morbid. I, a Volcarona fan, had an especially miserable time.
deep apologies if anything made you uncomfortable--if you have any recommendations for updating the tags I can definitely do so!

But. There is a very glaring ommission here. No Ns. Disgusting. Disgraceful. Abominable. You write an N fic and forget to include N in the second chapter? How could you. How could you say no to this face?
I must admit, for a fic that advertises itself as being "a story about things that start with N", things rapidly get out of hand and the things that start with N rarely end with them ...

Thank you for stopping by! Always fun to see you around. :quag:
 

bluesidra

Mood
Pronouns
she/her
Hello! Here for the catnip.

Oh my, this is gorgeous! And terrifying, for sure. Gen5 is my favourite game story-wise and has N, who is still some sort of enigma to me. Right from the beginning I can tell that your version of N is way more mature than the clueless idiot of my memory, but I will gladly throw this version out for yours.

Also, big Kudos how you’ve managed to get such complex thought-processes out of something so benign as pokemon. I mean, I like to immerse myself as well, but darn, that is on another level.

So far I’ve read through up to “notorious”, and I’m not entirely sure how to give you feedback. I’ll try it chapter by chapter, let’s see how that goes.

End is a very short chapter that only lasts for a few seconds in story. It’s a slow motion view of the final battle between N and Hilda, and N questioning if what he is about to do is the right thing. In the end, his decision stands, but the outcome is still obscure.

It does a great job setting the mood for the story. From the very beginning, the teeth are bared. There are pokemon who are probably dead and there’s one man in the middle of all of this. It’s short, it’s sweet, it hooks you in and you are both dying to know how it got to this and what will happen next.
Nominal shows the interaction between N and Hilda before their showdown in end, from the perspective of Hilda’s Serperior.

I was on Serperior’s side when she basically said “Don’t use those big ass words around here, Aristoteles”. Because I couldn’t follow what N said most of the times. At least not when he was responding to himself. When he was engaging with Hilda – and to some extent with Serperior, it was easier to follow, because I understood the jumping off point.

What I did get however was the impression that N was stalling. He wanted to be convinced otherwise, yet at the same time dismissed every opportunity to rethink his stance. He said that he was a neutral party, only observing and judging, but I did get the impression, that he is way more convinced of his ideas than he admits to himself. Every time Serperior challenges him or his view, he almost snaps back (which is, by N’s standards, still very calm). That makes him look vulnerable in that regard, as if questioning his believes would actually hurt him. Which is totally understandable – but that also means that he is lying to himself.

Hilda is desperate, afraid and determined. I don’t know her enough yet to tell much about her, but her state of mind is reflected excellently through Serperior’s good intuition for her trainer. I especially like how you described her as “knowing how to talk, not to listen” and N as “knowing how to listen, but not to speak”. I like that image. It places both sides of the battle with equally good and bad strengths and flaws, without favouring any one.
Oh boy! OH BOY! That chapter was so intense! Oh my. I don’t even know where to start!

This battle was insane. It had just the right amount of violence for me to feel the impact and the pain but without being appalled by the gore. Also, the krookodile bursting out of the ground? My personal highlight! Super cinematic and it showed that the E4 were not just sitting on the sidelines but actual forces to be reckoned with.

Now, on to the content of the chapter: We see the events through the lens of a drone-Rotom, which helps to filter the shock out by a lot. I think if I didn’t have that emotional buffer between me and that fight, it would have been too much. Contrary to Serperior in the previous scene, this Rotom toys around with the ideas that Ghetsis presents, but in the end, sides with neither side. Only acknowledging the injustice that Hydreigon had to die to prove any point at all. Which was a nice and much needed nuance. If Rotom would have ran off to join team plasma now, I wouldn’t have been half as satisfied with that chapter.

Ghetsis uses his fight against the champion to showcase his ideals to all of Unova, and his methods are less than savoury. Every time he gives one of his speeches, it does make sense. We do put pokemon through this ordeal but when a human life is on the line, suddenly it isn’t fun any more etc…
But after a bit of distance from reading it, I have the feeling that, for all his conviction, there is a gigantic hole in his points: He was the one who brought this up. This entire ordeal and the escalation was his doing. So I don’t even know what he’s complaining about now.
It’s like if I shot the other boxer in the ring dead and then held a big speech why boxing is a cruel sport that should be banned. He clearly broke the rules and limitations of the sport and that made it a crime. He was the one who brought the excessive violence to the battlefield.
And yes, no one had asked the pokemon beforehand if they wanted to fight. But if they didn’t want to, they’d probably show. Hell, he didn’t ask his pokemon either.

Alder and Marcus are the two guys I have the most problems with in that scene. Alder is pretty passive. I know he doesn’t do much in the games either and I don’t remember if his actions in the palace could be interpreted the way you did. But he did strike me as a wise and balanced man, even if he wasn’t without his flaws and past screw-ups. So I was a bit confused how he basically fell into paralysis when his words couldn't reach Ghetsis. I would have at least expected him to give him what he wanted and stop endangering lives. His inaction did help some of Ghetsis arguments, but I felt it was a bit unjust to the character – I might be remembering incorrectly though.

Marcus is Rotom’s trainer and the commentator. Nothing wrong about him, there was just this one line that implied that he was physically abusing Rotom. I liked their dynamic in the beginning, with Rotom being a bit shy but wanting to please Marcus and Marcus being 100% focused on his work. There is some sweet and wholesome relationship fluff to be had and I was happy. I can understand that such a traumatic event and the different coping strategies can drive a wedge between two friends. But from that line with the implied abuse forward, all the tragedy of the enstragement was gone.

Things I liked in general:

The backwards narration is surprisingly powerful. It was a really good and weightful end to the intro chapter and does a great job unravelling what is hinted at there.

The viewpoint of pokemon fits very good with N’s theme and acts as a very effective framing device. I like how the pokemon’s thought patterns/perceptions are distinctly different from human ones – like Serperior being somewhat overwhelmed with a pretty simple scenario or Rotom listening to all radio frequencies 24/7. The focus of the narration is still on the humans – which is kinda ironic given the content of the story – but necessary from a narrative perspective. They are the reoccurring cast that we explore, not their teams.

Style:

Your style is a few grades above mine and what I’m used to, and I have to admit that I couldn't follow “nominal” as much as I wanted to. It got better in “notorious”, because there was a lot of battling going on, which is easier to parse than abstract things like “truth” and “ideals”.


Overall, it is a great great read. I am hooked and if I didn’t have to go to bed now and had a busy day tomorrow, I think I would have binged your fic instead of writing this review. Maybe I get something in after work tomorrow and can even put my thoughts to paper. In that case, I might edit this or drop another comment. But be assured that I will stick around!
 

bluesidra

Mood
Pronouns
she/her
Hello! Back for the catnip

After my initial inferiority complex when I converted EoE into epub last time, I wanted to give me a bit of distance, but the dice have decided otherwise. Anyway, I'm glad to be back.

I'll see how far I can go over this weekend and add my thoughts along the line

This chapter follows a freshly caught Boldure that has some serious language barriers with his teammates. They don't want to fight and rather go back home, but their trainer, Cheren, does not take the time to understand.

Awww... I'm so torn on what to feel about this. Except for love for Boldure. They are so lovely and patient and kind. I love how you took the line "rocks live too long to be angry" and ran with it.

The last part, where Tourmaline talks about hiding your emotions away is heart-wrenching, but also preeetty unhealthy. Her approach is to not try to communicate with Cheren at all, which won't solve their problem. Instead, if they keep following his orders, he will "read" them as willing to be by his side, and he can't really be blamed for it. Because, as Tourmaline said and the story shows, Cheren is not a bad guy, just not a perfect one either.
I might sound really bad right now, when I'm arguing for suppressed groups to "just talk a bit louder", but on the other hand, Tourmaline feels like she is whispering in the presence of a near-deaf person and then complaining why they aren't listening.

Then there's the issue of how Tourmaline's speech, while very engaging, misrepresents reality. I don't want to take any of her personal experiences and feelings away, but she makes it out as if every pokemon is forced into battle. But doing so, she clearly disregards Cheren's other team-members and Hilda's team. And her arguments for why the Pansage, Dwebble and Lilligant are "forced" into their life is not backed by any evidence. Never once did she ask those pokemon about their opinion. In the end, she assumed just as much about them as Cheren did when he caught Boldure.
Because when I see a Lilligant with an impressive flower, I think about a healthy, happy pokemon and a trainer who dearly cares about it. A Pansage might produce bitter leaves when it focuses on battling because it wants to become stronger. And the Dwebble might have this extraordinarily beautiful rock because its trainer gave it to it as a gift.

Also, on a side note: I guess Boldure's former trainer was N. I wonder how their relationship was like. Because, even though Boldure speaks fondly of him, N must have gotten Boldure out of their status quo. And Boldure does not like this when Cheren does it. So what made N so compelling for Boldure, that they would willingly leave their cave for a while? And how did N's eventual departure impact Boldure? Were they happy he left? Did they feel abandoned? Was it like a business-deal that had been fulfilled? I mean, I'm happy that Boldure seemed to have only made good memories at N's side, but it also kinda doesn't add up...

Aside from that, I'm once again smitten by how great you can depict pokemon as their own species. Boldure feels first and foremost like a rock-type. I like the earth metaphors and how you described Boldure's vision. Only one little nitpick: In the beginning, Boldure's vision gets foggy after about 30 centimeters. But during the battle and especially later in the pokemon center, they seem to have good vision. They can easily stare at and make Lilligant feel uncomfortable without any major drawbacks.
In this chapter, we follow Amara, Thundersinger of the Plains (a wonderful name) and her worries while Hilda and her confront N.

I am mostly confused, because I don't get what Amara's problem is, frankly.
One point of content for her seems to be, that Hilda makes her fight, even though she doesn't want to. But a few moments later, she says how she is proud that she gets to fight and become stronger, so she can protect her herd.
Then the whole thing about humans not being kafara. The entire chapter is about how Hilda endangers them and her team because of some greater good. That is the role of kafara, as Amara has defined it. The one who sacrifices itself for the herd. In the end, when Hilda shows weakness in front of Amara, she again does not acknowledge that as a sign of a kafara, even though she knows that for humans, strength is all.

I'll go over the chapter again to find the lines that sounded the most infuriating to me, but bottom-line: Amara comes across as very, very selfish for a pokemon that laments on and on about how the herd is more important than the individual.
She fails to see Hilda's struggle because she is too wrapped up in her (very weakly based) doubts. And Hilda does clearly struggle, she just doesn't charge across fields engulfed in thunder. But Amara points it out herself (how Hilda is clearly not in a good spot mentally when at the campfire, how everything puts her under an immense amount of pressure).
And while she does that, she expects something in return for her struggle? Like their relationship is a one-way lane where only Amara gets to suffer and get hurt. Again ignoring how Hilda provides for them and gives them the safety the plains don't offer.
It all feels, like Amara, who is so centered on the concept of a herd, can not wrap her head around working side by side with someone for their sake. Vaszelva made such a good point: "Hilda is our partner and that's why I fight for her." That right there should be enough. And after this point, Amara loses me, sadly.

If I take a huge step back, ignore all the messages this fic has sent me so far, and go back to purely analysing the character of Amara, I see a complete absence of empathy, which is concerning. Amara can not feel for others or herself, and is mostly confused. (She can't feel for Hilda, she doesn't understand Vaszelva and not even the death of her mother sparks any emotion in her.) Her confusion makes her volatile and dangerous, however. Because of it, she is easily persuaded by outside "snake-tongued" N, making her a wild card for her team. In the end, she is the one who can't be trusted, just like Reylin.
She also circles everything back to herself and how things relate to her. That and her lack of empathy for others strikes me as a narcissistic personalitly overall. All of it makes for a really atypical Zebstrika who might have been shunned by her herd as well.
If this was a character-driven story centered on Amara, I would be thrilled to know where that goes. Sadly, I know how Amara ends and that there is no further mention of her.

Then I have an issue with N, or rather his influence on Amara. From what we've seen in this chapter, there is no single reason to even stick to him. He has no concrete plan how to achieve his ideal world, no proof of concept, his getaway is a lie and the dragon has not deemed him worthy. I know that N's arguemnts are better than this, but judging from this chapter alone, Amara went into this whole 48minute debate with herself after N said "Hey, imagine a world where you wouldn't have to fight for Hilda." And that without providing a picture of how this world would actually look like. Would Amara be back in the plains? Who would her herd be? Would they take her back? I get that believing him is easier than to question yourself, but then why not blindly believe Hilda?

But after all is said and done, I have to say I like the motive of song here. It felt really melodious, almost like a singsong when Vaszelva and Amara were talking around the campfire.

Hilda’s role is to stand on the sidelines, protected and safe. Your role is to enter the fray. This is what it means to be kafara.
But doesn't Hilda enter the fray for her herd (other humans and their world) as well at the moment? At the moment, she's alone at the frontlines and just has you as backup

But clouds never descend to engulf the mortals. Reshiram would not turn a human to mulch. Reshiram would never harm a human.
What makes her think that? Has she never seen a human harmed by nature? Or struck down by something bigger than them?

this isn’t how things have to be.
If that is all he has to offer, it is very poorly thought out.

It’s easier to pretend that N is speaking for you.
I mean, yeah, he offers a sweet alternative without the nitty-gritty details of how to make it work. It's always easier to mock the established than to try to build something yourself. All in all, that makes N look like an idiot at best and like a terrorist at worst.

But in the herds, you must always question.
That is the exact opposite of how I experienced large groups of individuals, but ok.

But like Vaselva and Reylin, he never wrestled with these questions as you did, and you know better than to ask.
Again, another assumption about the perspective of others.

But you doubt her, this human child, time and time again. How could you not? She who strives to be a hero, even though it would destroy her and you alike. She hurts you, she makes you get hurt. But that’s what heroes are for, surely. Being brave means you have to suffer first. When the first zebstrika received his spark and his color, the power was too much. It coursed through his veins and nearly tore him apart. The fracture lines are woven into all of your skins now. Pain is inextricable from sacrifice.
Amara has this huge issue about how sacrificing is important and noble, and yet she does not want to sacrifice herself. That dilemma is completely ok for a character to face and I get that struggle, I really do. But all the other chapters pointed an inequality out, even if they were colored or clouded by the narrator's view of things. This chapter here strikes me more of an Amara-issue than a larger issue.
Maybe that's my gripe with this entry - that it's so out of place from the ones I've read before.
 
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slamdunkrai

ask me about the Lunar Duo
Pronouns
they/them
ah, geez

So, I've read all the way up to the end of nuestro here, and I've gotta say that I'm really struck by this story's opening few chapters. The form of it is obviously a little bit arresting -- we're presented with little vignettes that working backwards, of course, an d we're going from viewpoint to viewpoint in second person. I also note that our perspectives have, so far, been Pokémon pretty much exclusively; I'm used to seeing exactly none of this, but thinking about it, it works devastatingly well already. I mean, not to bat for renowned abuser and violent hypocrite Ghetsis here, but there's something about seeing that battle with Alder go down while he makes his point about how Pokémon lack autonomy and are thrown under the wheels of a violent system with no means of fighting for themselves that really gave me pause being in the shoes of a Rotom camera drone. (Just as equally, it gave me pause to imagine this while the man speaking is ordering his own Hydreigon to utterly mangle his opponent's Pokémon, but y'know, such is Ghetsis.)

I think the way this format mingles with the story also sticks out to me when we're going from this to, say, Tourmaline describing Cheren as a "necessary evil" but reasoning that things could be far worse. It's always a delight to see a non-PMD story that puts such focus on its Pokémon as characters really make them successful, believable characters to this extent, of course, but presented with that little tidbit... inside a chapter where we see the phrase "if he's kept you around this long, you're probably strong in the ways he wants", inside a story that really does not shy away from exploring the psyche of the Harmonia family -- I dunno, it's really struck a chord with me in ways I've not often previously experienced with this kind of story. It's really damn effective. This is obvious from the get-go where we see the outcome of all this, but it's remarkable how much the sense that this is not a perfect world for everyone and nor is that world so easily attainable. It's an uneasy conflict, and I mean, I've really been taken in by it.

Not 100% related but still worthy of note here, and something else that I've really enjoyed -- which I am not the first to comment on: I notice that N and Hilda's Pokémon are on speaking terms, which is both an endearing take on this particular dynamic and leads to some more excellent dialogue. I don't really have all that much to say beyond this, which is fine. I just think he's neat.

All in all, really wonderful opening few chapters that I couldn't really identify any really glaring flaws in; I'll be sure to stick with this story, and check in from time to time as I progress it a little bit. I'm affected by it in ways that I'm not often affected, and I think you've done a superb job in writing it so well. :>
 

kintsugi

golden scars
Location
waiting for the fog to roll out
Pronouns
she/her
Partners
  1. silvally-grass
  2. lapras
  3. golurk
  4. custom/booper-kintsugi
Review responses! Sorry for the delay. I've been quite occupied. <3

Hello! Here for the catnip.
After my initial inferiority complex when I converted EoE into epub last time, I wanted to give me a bit of distance, but the dice have decided otherwise. Anyway, I'm glad to be back.
Hiya! I do want to say I'm super flattered that you like my writing this much, but I also hope it isn't causing you too much stress--there's really nothing to feel inferior about, and from the sounds of it there's things you would choose to do differently than me, which I think is great! Thank you so much for writing out all your thoughts here. As someone who learned a lot of writing from watching fanfic, I deeply emphasize with the struggle of trying to put out words for people whose writing you respect (and normally I just! don't review! lol), so! Hi, and thanks!

What I did get however was the impression that N was stalling. He wanted to be convinced otherwise, yet at the same time dismissed every opportunity to rethink his stance. He said that he was a neutral party, only observing and judging, but I did get the impression, that he is way more convinced of his ideas than he admits to himself. Every time Serperior challenges him or his view, he almost snaps back (which is, by N’s standards, still very calm). That makes him look vulnerable in that regard, as if questioning his believes would actually hurt him. Which is totally understandable – but that also means that he is lying to himself.
Canon-N strikes me as someone who's consumed by doubt, and yeah, stalling a bit! There's a whole bunch of times he can just choose to end the plot but he waits for the player to show up and stop him, almost as if he wants to be wrong and is just waiting for a convincing argument.

Although, I'm curious about your assertion re: "questioning his beliefs would actually hurt him"--since the choice to start this dialogue, and ask these questions (rather than just summoning Reshiram) is entirely his own here.

Ghetsis uses his fight against the champion to showcase his ideals to all of Unova, and his methods are less than savoury. Every time he gives one of his speeches, it does make sense. We do put pokemon through this ordeal but when a human life is on the line, suddenly it isn’t fun any more etc…
But after a bit of distance from reading it, I have the feeling that, for all his conviction, there is a gigantic hole in his points: He was the one who brought this up. This entire ordeal and the escalation was his doing. So I don’t even know what he’s complaining about now.
It’s like if I shot the other boxer in the ring dead and then held a big speech why boxing is a cruel sport that should be banned. He clearly broke the rules and limitations of the sport and that made it a crime. He was the one who brought the excessive violence to the battlefield.
And yes, no one had asked the pokemon beforehand if they wanted to fight. But if they didn’t want to, they’d probably show. Hell, he didn’t ask his pokemon either.
It's definitely not a fair setup! That's sort of the Point. But it's the "if they didn't want to, they'd probably show" that Ghetsis is picking at, and kind of what this fic picks at in general. Does Carnel show Cheren he doesn't want to fight? Does Tourmaline show that she doesn't want to be owned? Does Amara show that she doesn't want to die? Does the volcarona show that he doesn't want to have his wings ripped off? It's that "probably" that fits volumes.

Alder and Marcus are the two guys I have the most problems with in that scene. Alder is pretty passive. I know he doesn’t do much in the games either and I don’t remember if his actions in the palace could be interpreted the way you did. But he did strike me as a wise and balanced man, even if he wasn’t without his flaws and past screw-ups. So I was a bit confused how he basically fell into paralysis when his words couldn't reach Ghetsis. I would have at least expected him to give him what he wanted and stop endangering lives. His inaction did help some of Ghetsis arguments, but I felt it was a bit unjust to the character – I might be remembering incorrectly though.
In the games Alder's pretty passive, and hopes that the player can do things in his stead--which is, arguably, because if the champion solved the problems then the player wouldn't really be able to do anything.

Marcus is Rotom’s trainer and the commentator. Nothing wrong about him, there was just this one line that implied that he was physically abusing Rotom. I liked their dynamic in the beginning, with Rotom being a bit shy but wanting to please Marcus and Marcus being 100% focused on his work. There is some sweet and wholesome relationship fluff to be had and I was happy. I can understand that such a traumatic event and the different coping strategies can drive a wedge between two friends. But from that line with the implied abuse forward, all the tragedy of the enstragement was gone.
I didn't actually want this to be super fluffy--like you say, Rotom's entirely focused on pleasing Marcus, and Marcus doesn't even notice. There's a recurring theme in this chapter of people expecting (or forcing?) other people to fly into the line of fire on their behalf (Alder to his volcarona, Marcus to Wave the rotom, Ghetsis to Hilda), and some of them are definitely more wrong than others, but all of them are pretty wrong.

The last part, where Tourmaline talks about hiding your emotions away is heart-wrenching, but also preeetty unhealthy. Her approach is to not try to communicate with Cheren at all, which won't solve their problem. Instead, if they keep following his orders, he will "read" them as willing to be by his side, and he can't really be blamed for it. Because, as Tourmaline said and the story shows, Cheren is not a bad guy, just not a perfect one either.
I might sound really bad right now, when I'm arguing for suppressed groups to "just talk a bit louder", but on the other hand, Tourmaline feels like she is whispering in the presence of a near-deaf person and then complaining why they aren't listening.
I really do value your thoughts here--they ended up inspiring how I wanted to bring the final chapter together, for what it's worth. But I do disagree with this idea that Tourmaline's the one not accommodating Cheren here--that his deafness somehow supersedes her muteness, when in reality it's his deafness that allows him to pretend that she's mute, and as such ignore what she's saying.

It's difficult, right? I think we want to come at this from the assumption that the trainers are correct, so we want to justify that the pokemon are wrong if they think the trainers aren't correct. Is it their job to tell us that they're hurting, that remind us that we aren't doing our jobs--or is it our job to do our jobs?

Then there's the issue of how Tourmaline's speech, while very engaging, misrepresents reality. I don't want to take any of her personal experiences and feelings away, but she makes it out as if every pokemon is forced into battle. But doing so, she clearly disregards Cheren's other team-members and Hilda's team. And her arguments for why the Pansage, Dwebble and Lilligant are "forced" into their life is not backed by any evidence. Never once did she ask those pokemon about their opinion. In the end, she assumed just as much about them as Cheren did when he caught Boldure.
Because when I see a Lilligant with an impressive flower, I think about a healthy, happy pokemon and a trainer who dearly cares about it. A Pansage might produce bitter leaves when it focuses on battling because it wants to become stronger. And the Dwebble might have this extraordinarily beautiful rock because its trainer gave it to it as a gift.
I like your interpretations here of what a lilligant or a dwebble could be--but that's sort of Tourmaline's point, isn't it? That if we don't ask, we see what we want to see. You want to see light; she wants to see darkness. But what we want to see doesn't really matter in the face of what is.

Also, on a side note: I guess Boldure's former trainer was N. I wonder how their relationship was like. Because, even though Boldure speaks fondly of him, N must have gotten Boldure out of their status quo. And Boldure does not like this when Cheren does it. So what made N so compelling for Boldure, that they would willingly leave their cave for a while? And how did N's eventual departure impact Boldure? Were they happy he left? Did they feel abandoned? Was it like a business-deal that had been fulfilled? I mean, I'm happy that Boldure seemed to have only made good memories at N's side, but it also kinda doesn't add up...
N's a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy--his pokemon only have good memories of him because he can listen to them, and as such doesn't try to keep pokemon that don't want to be with him.

I'll go over the chapter again to find the lines that sounded the most infuriating to me, but bottom-line: Amara comes across as very, very selfish for a pokemon that laments on and on about how the herd is more important than the individual.
She fails to see Hilda's struggle because she is too wrapped up in her (very weakly based) doubts. And Hilda does clearly struggle, she just doesn't charge across fields engulfed in thunder. But Amara points it out herself (how Hilda is clearly not in a good spot mentally when at the campfire, how everything puts her under an immense amount of pressure).
And while she does that, she expects something in return for her struggle? Like their relationship is a one-way lane where only Amara gets to suffer and get hurt. Again ignoring how Hilda provides for them and gives them the safety the plains don't offer.
I think this one might be one where we disagree, honestly, and that's okay! But my intent in structuring the story this way, showing Amara's death before her motivation, is more or less for the same reasons you don't like this chapter. When we first see her, Amara is a prey animal who tries to 1v1 a dragon. While she has three broken legs. Because she wants to protect Hilda. Honestly I think that's one of the bravest things anyone in this fic does, specifically because Amara knows she can't win that fight, and doesn't even want to fight this fight for herself, and tries to anyway.

I think part of it comes down to types of heroism. There are people who don't hesitate before running into danger, and people who do hesitate before running in as well. But are the ones who realize the danger and feel the fear, and overcome it anyway, less brave than the ones who don't seem to feel the fear at all?

It all feels, like Amara, who is so centered on the concept of a herd, can not wrap her head around working side by side with someone for their sake. Vaszelva made such a good point: "Hilda is our partner and that's why I fight for her." That right there should be enough. And after this point, Amara loses me, sadly.
I'm curious! If someone told me "you're my partner and you should fight for me", I don't think I'd be convinced. I'd certainly be flattered (and a little confused) if that was all I had to do to earn someone's (literal) to-the-death loyalty, but would that argument convince you to be willing to die for someone else? To hurt for them? To be owned by them?

If I take a huge step back, ignore all the messages this fic has sent me so far, and go back to purely analysing the character of Amara, I see a complete absence of empathy, which is concerning. Amara can not feel for others or herself, and is mostly confused. (She can't feel for Hilda, she doesn't understand Vaszelva and not even the death of her mother sparks any emotion in her.) Her confusion makes her volatile and dangerous, however. Because of it, she is easily persuaded by outside "snake-tongued" N, making her a wild card for her team. In the end, she is the one who can't be trusted, just like Reylin.
I'm sorry if this sounds rude, but I'm not sure why you'd "ignore all the messages this fic has sent so far"--I did spent a fair amount of time trying to send those messages, so I'm not sure why you'd strip my writing of that context. I might be misunderstanding this part, so if that doesn't sound like a charitable interpretation of your words here, please feel free to correct that!

same tbh

I really mean this, haha--this review made me grin for like a solid day. I make a lot of really wild style choices in this fic that are pretty outlandish even for my normal decision-making process, and they don't always land with everyone, but I made those choices for a reason. So, for lack of better words, to see you work through the process of "telling this story [backwards/in vignettes/from xenofic pokemon POV] is an odd choice" to "but I think I see why you made this choice" is a really, really wonderful experience as a writer who made those choices without fully knowing how they'd land. It's truly delightful.

Not 100% related but still worthy of note here, and something else that I've really enjoyed -- which I am not the first to comment on: I notice that N and Hilda's Pokémon are on speaking terms, which is both an endearing take on this particular dynamic and leads to some more excellent dialogue. I don't really have all that much to say beyond this, which is fine. I just think he's neat.
I really love this detail in the games and wish we got to see it more--N just straight up talking to your pokemon first and then remembering that you're in the room, lol. It speaks volumes of who he wants to hear from more.

All in all, really wonderful opening few chapters that I couldn't really identify any really glaring flaws in; I'll be sure to stick with this story, and check in from time to time as I progress it a little bit. I'm affected by it in ways that I'm not often affected, and I think you've done a superb job in writing it so well. :>
:'''''''''''')))))

I've been a bit less active than normal as of late but I really hope to return the favor soon.
 

kintsugi

golden scars
Location
waiting for the fog to roll out
Pronouns
she/her
Partners
  1. silvally-grass
  2. lapras
  3. golurk
  4. custom/booper-kintsugi
oh hey it's sunday somewhere

some housekeeping updates: I've added/edited some bits of necktie and nocturne. I do lots of stealth edits and assume they never get reread. Honestly, like most of those edits, these are quite short and I'd pretend like they aren't important to anything upcoming (and they aren't important to this chapter), and hey, they're kind of cool on their own. but I mean, then I wouldn't be calling them out, so.
necktie said:
But when you think it all through, it isn’t the vocabulary that she lost in Unova, or her hand-voices, or even her name. There’s a concept that your people learned from hers, or perhaps the other way around—that of four we’s. The language that she speaks now has forgotten it, and when they hear it in the dialect of dragons they do not understand it. There is the we that means you and us without them, and there is the we that means us and them without you. The third we is the one Unovans pretend to use—you and us and them—when in reality you think they simply mean we without you and them.

For you and Iris, it is always you and I. It can be with them, or without. You do not care. 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.

nocturne said:
Have you ever heard the nocturne lament Spoken?}

{Spoken?} His voice lilts on your pronunciation. Not a true native speaker, then.

{Not spoken, but Spoken,} you confirm, and this time he seems to understand the emphasis. {We can retell her words without feeling them, as we can with any words. As I did in my story just now—I spoke. But.} You draw yourself up to your full height, wings outstretched, voice unyielding. {If we understand it. If we mean it. For a brief moment she lives again. She Speaks, and through her, so do we.}

Across the sands, you have seen and heard so much. Yet each time you see Stormdancer’s words given life again, you find it beautiful, and terrifying. Sometimes she is invoked in these words, secreted down across the generations, across the world. Sometimes she only lives on in a gesture, in a cry, a gaze. Yet the intent is unmistakable.

and now for something completely different:
 
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xvii. narcissus New

kintsugi

golden scars
Location
waiting for the fog to roll out
Pronouns
she/her
Partners
  1. silvally-grass
  2. lapras
  3. golurk
  4. custom/booper-kintsugi
cw: mentions of blood/bleeding, death/murder

xvii. narcissus

※​

They don’t bind you, and you’re grateful for the dignity that affords you. Besides, you were born on the plains, and you know that even if you wanted to run, there’s nowhere for you to go.

At the front of the procession, the sanhim walks with a ramrod-straight back, the fringes of his cloak trailing in the dry grass. Behind him is Nali, on his heels like a verdant shadow, and behind her is you. They don’t look back for you.

If you wanted to slip away, you could. Without Nali you would stray from the path and quickly fall to the sun, no doubt. Without the sanhim, you would surely be able to live, but the shame would fester at your insides until the day you died.

The sun was just peeking over the horizon when you started, and as the grasslands turn to sand beneath your feet, the shadows grow long and the winds slow. Despite your apprehension, you can’t help but see these lands as beautiful. You and yours are of the Southern Stones, where the craggy rocks jut across the ground and cut harsh outlines against the sky. There is a delicate balance between the water and the earth; the land is just damp enough for growth if tended carefully. Here, the ground forms dunes undulating across the horizon, looming ever-larger as they snake into the distance. The land that hides your judgment feels softer somehow, even as shame curdles in your chest.

Nali croons something to the sanhim, pointing with one spike-studded arm towards the horizon. The sanhim nods and adjusts course in response to the maractus’ advice, and the two of them plod on in shared silence. You trail behind them, hunched against the bright sun. The sanhim’s ceremonial cloak is a deep red; as the stones become less and less frequent and the oranges of the desert are all the remain, he almost shines like a gem. Your gaze traces downward, to where his staff makes circular imprints, in even sync with his footprints, and then further down the line to Nali. The maractus bobs evenly, the swings of her arms almost exaggerated, placing one stubby foot in the direct center of the sanhim’s sandalprint each time.

Nali you have known your entire life. She’s young for a maractus, only fifty and barely up to your waist. You’ve been told stories of how she taught you how to walk—the bright pinks of her flowers were too tempting, and she would proudly take one step backwards and another until you finally crawled after her.

She watched you when you were young. You swallow past the uncomfortably tight knot in your throat. She didn’t have to come here today. The sanhim knows the way, even if Nali knows the shortcuts. And between you and the sanhim, you could’ve carried enough water for the both of you. But she came for you, you suspect, and that much gives you the strength to keep walking after her.

The dunes grow taller and closer; they cast long shadows and tower over you by the time you finally reach your destination. Lost in a walking trance, you don’t notice when Nali chirps something, and you crash into the sanhim’s extended arm. And then you look up. What you thought was a great dune shifts and sways, and then sand begins to cascade down its base as the peak stirs. Red shards flash silver in the sunset as the earth stirs to life, and with a lazy tailflick the biggest krookodile you’ve seen in your entire life emerges, the gap between her yawning jaws as large as you are tall.

“Samira,” the sanhim says solemnly, while Nali bows low next to him. “We have brought Baku of the Southern Stones for your judgment.”

The sands around Samira’s legs shiver as well, and another krookodile emerges, staring haughtily down at you. This one is closer to regular size, its wedged head as large as your torso and its body twice your height, but your heart still catches in your throat—when you cast your gaze around the dunes, you see dozens of pairs of beady black peeking back from the sand. There is a low, vibrating hiss. You can’t tell from where.

“His tongue is heavy and his ears are young,” the sanhim explains in response. “As such I must use the dancer’s tongue for him to understand in full, and he must do the same to be heard. Forgive us the disrespect. Were it anything but asking your judgment, we would make do without it, but I fear he will only feel like justice is dealt if his words are also heard.” He waits for a moment. Another hiss, this one higher-pitched; the sanhim’s head tilts to the krookodile on the left. “Yes. That is likely part of why this happened. I cannot disagree.”

Samira does not look at you. Slowly, impassively, she turns her head to the krookodile that emerged beside her and growls something in a low, vibrating note. The smaller krookodile’s claws twitch in a short, gesticulated response, and then Samira turns to the sanhim and hisses. Nali chimes in then, and you watch mutely as the maractus waves her arms and chirrups in turn.

Finally, the sanhim turns to you. “She wants to hear your words, Baku,” he says. His face is unreadable. “She wants to hear why you did such a thing.”

With trembling legs, you walk forward until you’re standing before Samira. Each of her inhalations is large enough to blow your hair forward; each exhale cloaks you in a warm, moist breeze. You manage a shaky bow.

What you want to say is, I’m sorry. What comes out instead is: “Greetings, oh great one, Samira of the Sands.” When you pull up the respectful greeting that the sanhim passed to you, your voice finally quavers.

Samira blinks back, unimpressed.

Why you did such a thing.

It isn’t an answer that you’d like to admit.

On the winter solstice of each year, the peoples of the desert gather in your home in the south, in the oasis. From the northern foothills marches the darumaka troop; from the eastern plains comes the sonder of maractus. The krookodile must come from the western dunes, although the way they rise and vanish into the earth makes their movements impossible for you to track. The solstice is a time for coming together and growing apart: two of the desert peoples bring the relics of the Dragonmother, which they have safeguarded throughout the year; when the night is over, the relics are passed to their neighboring peoples, to be guarded for the next year. The same, too, is done with the desert’s children—those who wish to take a companion and stay in the oasis of the Southern Stones are invited to do so.

This was your tenth solstice. You were old enough. So when the sun touched the edge of the sky and it came time for the children to gather, you stepped forward alongside the other children of your clan with pounding ears, trembling hands clutched around a berry. You waited as two darumaka toddled past, their footprints briefly glowing orange in the sunset sands, and your excitement slowly faded to dread as they paired off. Mila beamed, bending down and offering her berry to a sputtering darumaka; when the two young maractus filed past solemnly, they went to Aruno and Harana while you stood still like a statue, your unclaimed berry suddenly like a stone that threatened to pull you under. Then came the sandile—just the one this year—and you were the last child. The other five were already sharing their meal together; there was just you left; there was no one else for it to choose. It slipped close to you, its short legs wobbling as if overcompensating for the firmness of the ground, and you saw its nostrils flare as it inhaled the scent around your hands. The sandile leaned in, dark eyes gleaming—

—And then it turned away.

You took half a step after it, but the sanhim’s hand was on your shoulder, firm. “This was her choice,” he said, a pang of regret in his words. Was that pity? “You must respect that, Baku.”

The rest of the celebration felt grim. You watched the familiar sight as an outsider while everyone chattered and danced and ate. Utamo, the weaving elder of your village, cracked his stern lips into a smile as one wizened hand roved over the silvered hide of a darmanitan, marveling at the new rivers that time had carved in both of their skins. Nali grabbed Harana and her newfound maractus by the hands and introduced her to the other maractus, and four of them marveled at the stack of fruits laid out on the festival table. Livari, toddler on her hip and Mila at her side, translated the desert tongue for her daughter from the darumaka who had chosen her.

And all the while you festered, silent, while one thought crystallized: that sandile hadn’t known what it was doing. That was the only reason it hadn’t chosen you. And it had been close—it’d leaned in, after all. As the night wore on, the pit in your stomach only grew. Could you be lonely like this for an entire year? When the sun rose, your clan would return to the south, with five new children. Five, not six. Everyone was already whispering, surely, about foolish Baku who couldn’t even get a pokémon if he was the last boy in the plains.

No. It had been so close. It hadn’t known any better. If you just could make it see—

When you snuck up behind it, tried to carry it off in your hands, it had only struggled for a moment before screaming. The high-keening sound turned every torch towards you, and then a krookodile erupted from the sands, beads of saliva dripping from its maw while you stood, dumbfounded, the evidence of your transgression still squirming in your hands.

Your arms fall slack to your sides now as you look up at Samira. You had miles and miles of desert to plan your defense and this is all you can think about. “I don’t have a defense,” you say quietly. “I wanted her to have picked me, but she didn’t. I was wrong.” The words come more easily than you’d expected, once you understand what actually must be said. It had all happened so quickly: the sanhim had declared that because your crime was against the krookodile, they would be your judge instead of him. The other humans you could convince, maybe, but not this ancient creature who stands before you, already older than you’ll ever be. Your only defense is the truth, and for you it is paper-thin.

Samira shutters one red eyelid solemnly, and then the other, and then turns her head back towards the krookodile at her side—that one must be the mother, you realize belatedly. At one point, Nali puffs up her chest and chimes in; both of the krookodile turn to look at the maractus with ponderous eyes. They converse too quickly for you to understand, and finally, Samira straightens and hisses back at the sanhim.

The sanhim’s shoulders seem more slouched than usual. You imagine for a moment that it’s from the solstice ceremony, when the leader of the darumaka pressed the Dragonmother’s white relic into his hands. Surely the stone was so heavy that it began to press him into the earth. All that’s left is for you to wait with baited breath before the sanhim passes back the translation. When he does, it is like his face is carved from stone. “They have heard your plea. To lay a hand on another is a great offense amongst the krookodile, but Samira recognizes that it may not be the same for us in the south.”

Your ears burn with shame: that is a kindness she assumes of you. If you had touched Harana like that, or tried to steal Mila—

“That much is understood when considering what must be done next.” The sanhim swallows, and even through his stern mask you can see the beginnings of anguish. “To Samira and her kind, it is clear that we of the Southern Stones have failed in raising you to respect the peoples of this land. So she proposes this: they will raise you instead, and teach what we could not.”

The weight of his words crash in on you all at once, and your composure drops immediately. They will take you? But you need your home, and your friends, and—“Father, please,” you croak.

The sanhim’s face wrinkles, but he does not falter. “You will be permitted to visit on the solstice, and at that time your judgment will be reassessed, but your lesson must be learned.” He swallows once again. “She will return for you at sunrise. So shall it be.”

All eyes turn to you. Your eyelids suddenly sting when you blink, and the dunes blur.

“So shall it be,” the sanhim repeats expectantly.

You shouldn’t have done it. That much is clear. You want to scream and beg for your innocence, to explain to Samira that the people of the Southern Stones were not to blame. Your father, the sanhim, please, spare him the humiliation of having to return home to the people he leads empty-handed, because his own son could not follow in his footsteps.

“So shall it be,” you echo instead.

※​

You would later realize that Samira offered you a kindness—krookodile prefer to travel at night, when the baking sun could not pierce their scales and warm their blood. But they waited to set out until sunrise. Perhaps the kindness was for the sanhim instead, but all you know in the moment is that the two of you can spend one last night beneath the stars.

Nali has wandered off into the moonlight; you can only barely see her hazy outline, silvery and lilting against the dunes. So that just leaves you and the sanhim.

Here, in the firelight, with his cloak draped across both your shoulders, he’s just your father again. He twists his fingers around one another like he’s trying to tie a knot with his knuckles, and he stares into the fire even as you tend it with a small stick.

“I didn’t mean it,” you say at last. Your voice cracks. He has to know this, if nothing else. You can’t imagine what he thinks of you now, and you don’t want to, but you need him to understand: you know you shouldn’t have done it. You know you did something monstrous. You can be better. You will be better. It wasn’t his fault.

“I know, little flurry,” he says, and he pulls you a little closer. “I know.”

The fire pops and shifts. You don’t have anything else to say. Everyone knows you didn’t mean it, and yet here you are.

A weak smile cracks his lips and he says, “This is a lesson. Not a punishment.”

You stare glumly at your knees. Even with the fire to your front and his warmth to your sides, you still feel cold.

His group tightens encouragingly on his shoulder when he continues: “Samira is an old friend. I have known her since I was younger than you are now. She once took Livari as her companion, and journeyed across the sands into our stones each week to see her and seek her company. Did you know that? Mila’s mother?”

He’s prodding you to answer, but you can’t make the words come.

Not to be discouraged, he continues: “She will be kind to you, little flurry. She will make sure you do not melt. And she taught me so many things. Imagine all the sights you’ll see with the krookodile, Baku. When we meet again you’ll have so much to tell me! The dunes are a beautiful place, and you’ll have so many adventures.”

“I don’t want adventures.” You sniffle. “I want you.”

His smile fades, and he grows silent. Then, wordlessly, he pulls you into his arms and holds you close to his chest. His chin presses your curls down tight to your head, and you grab his forearms, clutching them fiercely against you. You bury your face in the insides of his wrists, inhaling his scent with shaky gasps, and bite back tears.

“Oh, little flurry,” he whispers huskily into the crown of your head. When he swallows, you can feel his throat contract. “Do you know when I first fell in love with your mother?”

Wordlessly, you shake your head.

“We were so young, barely your age. On the winter solstice, during the night, it snowed. It was a truly beautiful sight to wake up to in the pink sunrise that followed. Everything was so soft, and the air was so still.” Dimly, you’re aware of how he’s gently rocking you back and forth, marking the rhythm of his words between you. “I found her in the dawn with her hands cupped around the Dragonmother’s black heart, the stone covered in snow, her body angled so her shadow could hide it away from the sun. She turned to show it to me, and when she did she was so gentle that not one flake melted, or even moved. I remember the way her voice lilted when she said that the snowfall made her think the white and black could be reunited, if only for a moment.” Even though you can’t see his face, you can hear his smile. “I was foolish even then, Baku, though as a boy I thought I was wise. I smugly asked her if she knew that the snow would melt no matter where she put it, that this stone would always be black. Instead of scorning me where I stood, she told me the story of The Sister Who Chased the Sun. Do you remember that one?”

You remember it. You even remember when your mother told it to you herself. And you shouldn’t be wasting time on stories now, not when the time you have left is so strictly measured. But an aching part of you wants to hear the familiarity of the words, to curl up and close your eyes and lose yourself like Sunchaser almost did. So instead you ask, “Could you tell it again?”

If he’s surprised by your answer, he doesn’t show it. Instead, he smiles, and begins speaking with the same ceremonial cadence with which he spins the solstice retellings. This time, the story’s just for you:

Before Tornadus blew away the clouds that hid the stars, before any other living creatures, before even memory, Sunchaser opened her eyes for the first time without her sister. She shivered; there was an emptiness in her side and a coldness in her palm. For as long as she could remember, she had held her twin sister by her side. Although the two of them had known nothing save for one another in the darkness before the world, she had been content, for there was nothing else she had known.

But this time, she opened her eyes and saw a brilliant light in the sky. For a moment, she hesitated. If she chased this light and her sister returned while she was gone, would her sister then wander off to look for her? Was it not more pressing to find her only companion? But the light was so unlike anything that she had ever seen, and even as she took a step into the darkness to see where her sister had gone, she could now see her shadow cast ahead of her, framed by that light.

Perhaps, she reasoned, her sister would also seek out the light. And then the two of them would be together once more.

So she braced herself, and for the first time, she began to walk with direction. Before long, she reached a vast expanse of dark water, one that even the brilliant light above could not penetrate. Seeing this, she hesitated. Her sister had always been the bold one, prone to ponder about what great things were beyond the darkness they had known, and although Sunchaser was the older one, she had always been a little afraid to venture out of her sister’s shadow. But she could not hesitate now. Kneeling down, she dipped her head to the surface of the water, and she closed her eyes, and she whispered, ‘Please hear me, oh great waters. I need to reach the light beyond you and use it to find my sister. Could you lend me your aid?’

The water stilled at her words, and then with a burbling hiss of sea foam, parted to form a path for her. Thus Sunchaser and the water bounded the first sea.

She walked further, and soon realized that though she was closer to the light, she now needed to go in a direction she could not walk: up. She tried to leap for it, but the light was far beyond her reach, no matter how hard she tried. Kneeling down, she scooped up a bit of earth from the ground beneath her, and she held it in her palm, and she whispered, ‘Please hear me, oh great earth. I need to reach the light above you and use it to find my sister. Could you lend me your aid?’

The earth rumbled at her words, and then with a mighty roar of stone, rose up to form a path for her. Thus Sunchaser and the earth formed the first mountain.

So she climbed, with the earth gathering itself up beneath her feet, until even the earth itself reached a point where it could no longer extend any further. But when she looked up, the light was higher still, and she knew she could ask the earth to tax itself no more. Kneeling down, she raised her head to the sky, and she exhaled, and she whispered, ‘Please hear me, oh great sky. I need to reach the light in you and use it to find my sister. Could you lend me your aid?’

The sky sang at her words, and then with an echoing gust, spiraled around her and lifted her upward. Thus Sunchaser and the sky guided the first wind.

So she flew, and at long last, she grew close enough to the light that she had to thrust an arm up to shield herself. As she grew closer, though, she lowered her arm—the sound of her sister’s voice was unmistakable.

‘Sister?’ asked Sunchaser. ‘What are you doing up here?’

‘I realized,’ replied Sun simply, ‘why we were made.’ And for a moment her sister’s brilliant light faded, and her form was revealed a little. She smiled sadly back at her sister. ‘You were made to do great things, and I, to illuminate you.’

This did not make much sense to Sunchaser. ‘Can I stay with you?’ she asked.

‘I …’ Sun began, and then faltered, just as the winds beneath Sunchaser’s feet began to do the same. ‘Sister!’ she cried. ‘You’re falling!’

And like that, Sunchaser plunged.

With a cry of alarm, Sun spread her radiant white wings and flew to catch her sister. But Sun was a being of the sky now, and even with her feathered wings, she could not outpace gravity calling her sister home.

Sunchaser opened her eyes the next day without her sister. With tightened resolve, she hastened through her steps, calling on water, earth, and sky to help her.

‘Look at all the good you have done,’ Sun said, when her sister returned this time, smiling at the beautiful world that was beginning to form below them. ‘All of that without me.’

‘Good that I could not see without your light,’ Sunchaser replied petulantly. ‘We should be together. That is how we were always meant to be.’

‘But if we are always together, how could you do so much? How could my light guide you?’

The winds faltered, and Sunchaser plunged.

And she landed, and opened her eyes to find her sister gone, even though there was a fleeting, familiar warmth around her shoulders. So she steeled herself to do it again.

“The two sisters rejoin each sunset and part each sunrise. At night, Sunchaser greedily holds fast to her sister; during the day, she crosses earth and heaven to find her once more. Their cyclic dance gives us everything we know. In that moment where the sun embraces the horizon, the world is full of their color, their beauty, their joy. But it is not like that forever. That was when I understood why your mother cradled the snow.”

You choke back a sob.

“Little flurry, we cannot control the things we love,” he whispers into your scalp. “Sometimes, we must let them go.”

In response, you clutch him tighter.

At some point, you fall asleep in his arms.

※​

When you awake, your father is breaking down the remains of your camp, scattering the burnt scrub brushes into the dunes, folding his cloak back up around his shoulders. He stoops carefully, slowly, but eventually his work is done. Wearily, he picks up his staff, and he is the sanhim again. “It’s time.”

What you want is to run away. Not even to save yourself; just anything to save your father the shame of having to accept this judgment you have brought upon yourself, upon him. You knew long ago that you would have big shoes to fill, but now with this stain you know you’ll never fill them. But that should be your shame to bear, not his.

What you want to do is tell him all the things you wish a son could say. You want to reassure him that this isn’t his fault, that you’ll learn his lessons well, that one day he’ll be proud of you again. There’s a hollowness in your heart, but it can’t stop you from seeing the way the shame you created craters his shoulders.

What you do instead is echo, “It’s time.”

Your face is like a mask. The rest of the morning blurs. Samira emerges from the sands. She exchanges quiet words with the sanhim. Nali throws her arms around your leg, her spines carefully withdrawn. You do not cry when the sanhim bids you farewell; all your tears came the night before.

The sanhim shakes his cloak out and wraps it around your shoulders. Your heart catches. This is a gift you are not meant to receive until you are a man. You look up, mouth cracked open in protest, before he says, “This cloak is not what makes me sanhim to our people, Baku; nor will it make you a leader to theirs. But what it will do is keep you warm, little flurry, and it will keep us with you.” He finishes arranging the cloak around you and takes a step back. “May the sands be kind.”

Samira circles in front of you, the fins on her back rippling in the sunrise. You look to the sanhim before you can stop yourself, and he jerks his chin forward in response.

You shouldn’t have asked him. Soon you won’t have him to fall back on. Carefully, you swing one leg over the krookodile’s waiting back—the gap between her fins is large enough for you to lay down in, so you kneel unsteadily on the slow-heaving scales. It’s cooler than you expected, rows and rows of rippling muscle, and then she plunges forward, halfway submerged in the sands. Her tail swishes out a low, sweeping rhythm.

You keep your back straight and your eyes straight ahead.

※​

The krookodile live further in the dunes than you’d ever thought. Samira and her kind must have traveled much further than you and the sanhim, you realize. She rips through the desert, her tail leaving a great serpentine trail that slowly collapses in on itself as the sand rushes to take its place. In the morning, a low, crooning sound leaks from her lips; by noon, she falls silent and puts herself headlong into the travel.

Eventually, you grow bored, and you lay yourself along Samira’s back. The sun beats down. By midatfternoon, Samira’s back is a rippling mass of heat. Although it’s stifling, you end up wrapping yourself in your father’s cloak to hide yourself from the scorching rays. The sky blurs by in a blue arc above. You trace over the dark embroidery in the cloak and vaguely wonder if it was red because of the krookodile, or if the krookodile trust the sanhim for wearing their colors.

Samira finally slows by nightfall. When you peek out above her fins you don’t recognize the landscape. The dunes faded into an indescribable mess a long time ago. She rumbles something, and belatedly you wonder if she’s been trying to speak to you this whole time.

Then, before you can do anything else, she plunges deep into the earth. You almost gasp—but then sand rushes around you, threatening to flood your lungs, and it’s the best you can do to hold your breath and wrap your arms around Samira’s fins. You hold your cloak as tightly as you can as the desert turns to darkness and a deluge of sand swallows you whole.

You clutch. That’s all you can do. Samira shakes beneath you, sand rolling down her sides, but no matter how many times you blink your eyes you can’t see. There’s only scent and sound and feel. She’s moving again. The air here feels more damp somehow; faintly, over the sound of sand shedding from her tail, you can almost hear a trickle of water. But you can’t see. Your hands reach instinctively for a torch, but there’s nothing. Samira presses on beneath you, unfazed, and when she pulls herself to a halt her breaths echo in the darkness. She hisses something.

The darkness hisses back. It must be an echo. Samira settles into place, and then grows still.

You wait, feeling around on Samira’s back, but in the darkness she’s gone completely still. Minutes pass, perhaps hours. You can’t see your own hand in front of your face, and eventually you realize she must be letting you rest. But the weight of the day presses down on you like a stone; there’s nothing here but blackness and if you think about it too much it’ll rise and choke you, tendrils of worry and shame around your throat—

The air is cold. Your father was right: the cloak will keep you warm. You clutch it close to you and fall into uneasy slumber.

※​

You awaken in the darkness. Samira is moving beneath you—not traveling, you decide; it’s not fast enough for that—and hissing fills your ears. Is it hers? Down here, without your eyes, it’s too hard to tell.

Will she surface again? You wait for the deluge of sand, a warning, anything, but Samira ripples forward. They must have tunnels, you decide, and they must be enormous. You try to imagine how big they are based on the echoes.

With your ears strained, you finally hear it—the hissing isn’t symmetric. Samira hisses something; the darkness hisses something back. It is different.

Your eyes widen uselessly with the realization. This must be where all of the krookodile stay, you realize quietly. A conversation is chattering around you, and yet you have no idea what’s being spoken, what’s being decided. How many of them are even here? Eventually, Samira stills. Their words pepper the air around you, but what is there for you to say here?

“Hello?” you ask tentatively.

For a moment, the darkness hushes, and then the noise doubles.

Your heart thuds in your chest, and you clutch the cloak closer to yourself. They mean no harm, and yet. To hear a voice in the darkness with no body to place to it sets off a fear in you, one primal and ancient, one that you cannot control. If you could just understand what was being said here ...

“My name is Baku,” you say, finally, when you realize there’s no understanding what they’re trying to say.

What comes next is louder than a hiss; Samira’s scales rumble beneath you and the bass vibration rattles up your bones.

Your stomach rumbles in response. “I’m hungry,” you say, trying your best not to sound plaintive. How long has it been since the campfire with your father? You don’t even remember, but the pangs in your chest suggest that you’ve simply forgotten about eating until now.

There is a lurching stab of movement as Samira slithers forward with you on top of her, and then a wet, slapping sound against her scales a few feet away from where you’re sitting.

“Was that … was that for me?”

Another rumble. This one trails off into a hiss.

“Could you hiss twice if you’re talking to me?”

Silence.

Your fingers clench involuntarily around her fin. “Samira?”

She hisses twice.

“Should I wait here?”

Silence.

You crawl forward on your hands and knees towards where you heard the sound. Blindly, you feel your way around on her back, biting back a scream as your palms collide with something soft and slimy. Curiously, you grab onto it; it doesn’t resist, and you pull it closer.

“Is this for me?”

No response. It isn’t fair. You were supposed to learn the desert tongue in your own time, with your own people. The sandile who’d rejected you was supposed to teach you patiently, your father by your side to translate. Not this.

Hesitantly, you pull the thing close to your nostrils and inhale. It doesn’t smell like anything you could recognize.

“Samira?”

She doesn’t do anything else. You exhale slowly. In the dark and silence, you can feel your heartbeat throbbing in your ears. Even without words, you know what she’s trying to say. Your father apologized for using the human tongue with her in front of you. It was a disrespect.

You exhale shakily. This is a lesson, you remind yourself. Not a punishment.

There’s nothing to lose, you suppose. Either she tried to feed you something inedible or you went to bed hungry. It isn’t reassuring logic, but it’s all you can think about as you close your eyes—stupid, despite the darkness, but you can’t help yourself—and bite.

Tiny stabs between your teeth, your gums. The taste of minerals on your tongue, quickly giving way to something softer and flaky. You chew, try to swallow, but it feels like your mouth is full of pebbles. On reflex you spit it out, and with it the coppery taste of blood—your own. It cut you.

Not badly, you reassure yourself before you can cry, using your spare hand to clutch your father’s cloak closer to you. You aren’t hurt. The taste is familiar, despite the pain, and it takes a few more shuddering breaths for you to place it. At the solstice. This is special food, ceremony food—and that’s when you realize belatedly that perhaps it was only special in the southern stones. But before, someone must have taken the scales off of the fish for you.

Laying out stones in the desert to bake breads and dry fruits. Carefully harvesting from the cactus fields with Nali by your side to delicately unpick the spines from your hands when you were too eager. These are not things they would do in the dunes, you realize, thinking of Samira’s gargantuan frame and maw.

What you want to do is cry. But hunger calls louder, so silently you spit out more scales and begin carefully picking out bits of the flesh beneath the skin, where it’s softer. It’s hard to find the bones in the dark, but at the same time you know Samira would not be able to help you if you missed one. With no vision and nothing else to do, you’re able to drown yourself in the task, and your thoughts circle in a vortex as you pick the carcass clean.

Your father told you a story once, of a beautiful pokémon with a voice so compelling that anyone who listened would believe her. She sang so beautifully, he explained, that everyone would immediately understand what she meant, and why she meant it. And eventually, through her generosity, the dancer’s tongue was passed on to you.

Can you make yourself believe that this is a lesson? Can you believe away the punishment that it seems to be? Despite the darkness you clench your eyes shut. When you open them you will have learned, you tell yourself. You have the dancer’s tongue. With her voice, you can make your hopes reality.

You open your eyes to darkness, and a silence you do not break.

※​

Samira resurfaces at night.

She’d shifted beneath you, stirring you from your slumber, and that was the only warning you got before she plunged bodily into the sands. You almost were washed off—you reached blindly for her tail, screaming, before you felt it smack you in the face and you managed to wrap your hands around it on reflex.

The world around you burns your eyes. The moonlight is silver and it hurts. How long were you underground, without seeing?

Krookodile do not mind the dark. That much you’ve learned. Most hatchlings do not see the light of day; they live safely underground in their broods until their scales harden. They speak in a higher register than the krookodile, or the krookorok. That much you have learned as well. The knowledge is hard-earned, from endless hours spent in the dark, straining, categorizing, trying to understand.

Now the silhouette of the mountains, with the silvery glow of the moon, cuts across your vision like a spear. You don’t bother saying anything—Samira will not answer you if you speak, and you don’t know what else you’d tell her anyway. Surely she must know that you are not like the rest of the brood; that your eyes were not made to piece the subterranean darkness and that when you live among them you live blind. This was part of her lesson for you, not her punishment.

You blink rapidly to help adjust. On reflex, before you can stop yourself, you try to see if you can recognize the mountainshapes here, if you feel any closer to home now that you’re above ground. You don’t, try though you might to find a familiar piece of horizon. You clutch your father’s cloak to you.

Samira begins to move, slowly, methodically. You can tell in the way that she travels that this time she’s doing it differently, although you can’t tell why or for what purpose—but before, she seemed to surge through the sands; now, she moves almost lazily. You’re reminded of how you used to lounge in the brook in the summertime. In time, the movement in your peripherals becomes distracting: down, in the underground caverns that the krookodile called home, the world was quiet and still. There were occasional hisses, tiny shifts in movement. Sometimes Samira would shake until you slowly climbed off of her, and then you would sit huddled in the darkness until the rasping of her scales against the cool sandstone announced her return.

An unfamiliar sound assaults your ears—it’s like the creek, but louder, and then all at once the dunes give way to a massive deluge of water that winds through them, white-crested rapids gleaming in the starlight. You inhale sharply. The brook in the southern stones flooded sometimes in the summer, but never like this; the water seems to stretch on with no end, ripping mightily in the center and then lapping along the banks.

You have one moment more to appreciate the sight, and then Samira leaps into the water.

There’s no time to scream. It’s nothing like diving into sand, not for you. The water slams into your chest and flings you off of her immediately, and then you’re floating, free, sinking, tumbling—

Beneath the surface the water churns. Your father’s cloak fills immediately and wraps around your limbs like rope, and no matter how much you flail you can’t propel yourself upward again. Panic seizes you when you look down and can’t even see the bottom. The brook at home went up to your knees and your father was careful to keep everyone clear if it ever flooded. You’ve never been submerged like this before, and the sensation of weightlessness combines with the massive, crushing force of the waves around you.

Your lungs burn. You inhale; water floods your nostrils; you cough on reflex and water fills your throat. Overhead you can just make out the glimmering of the moon, suddenly obscured by a four-limbed shadow descending upon you. You flail desperately for her, the last bubbles trailing from your lips, but the eddy currents that she creates send you spiraling out of her grasp. Samira lunges for you but her swing goes awry; her claws rake a gash in your arm. Blearily, your throbbing vision focuses on a thin ribbon of blood trailing towards a surface you can’t reach, and then Samira’s tail collides with your ribs with bone-crushing force, flinging you upward.

The surface of the water breaks against you, and you barely manage to inhale a greedy, damp breath, desperately churning your legs to keep yourself from being forced under again. But you can’t; your strength left you long ago. You barely register the feeling of slick scales beneath you, and by then Samira is gently depositing you onto a reedy shore with her tail.

You lay on your side for a moment, curled up as small as you can before a spasming cough unfolds you. One enormous, black eye watches you with a look that you can parse as concern. A hiss cuts across your labored, damp breaths, and you startle when you realize: the sound is familiar. You’ve heard this word from Nali before.

{Alright?} she’s asking you, fixing you with a burning gaze.

You splutter for a moment, shaking the water from your hair.

{Alright?} she presses, and the rest of her words are unfamiliar to you. You see the hesitation burning at her; her muscles are tensed but her eyes are fixed on the bloody water that’s dripping down your arm.

You cannot answer in the dancer’s tongue if you want her to listen. That fact cuts through even your panic and your pain. But you don’t know what other words you can say.

{Alright,} you respond weakly.

The trip back is colder and far less wondrous. You arm throbs. The cool night air is only made worse by the dampness of your father’s cloak around you, but you hold fast to it, petrified by the thought of it floating away in the breeze.

※​

You’re lying soggily on her back, eyes closed, sleep eluding you, when suddenly the thought strikes you and you sit upright. There’s nothing to see down here, where the krookodile gather to sleep during the day. But there’s something to hear.

You listen.

There’s a pattern in the hissing around you, if only you could figure it out. You strain to replicate that brief moment of clarity, back when you’d finally understood for a fleeting moment what Samira was trying to say, but you this time it doesn’t come. The sounds of their language washes over your ears, and eventually exhaustion overtakes you and you drift asleep.

At sunset, Samira stirs you awake with a familiar hissing sound. You’ve heard this one before; she always seems to ask it before she moves you. Curiously, you echo it back.

She freezes beneath you, and then after a pause she repeats it. There’s something different here, something you can’t quite place or replicate—it echoes in a more sibilant way and the pauses feel less protracted.

“Ready,” you croak. Your vocal chords twinge with disuse. “That’s what you were trying to ask me, right?”

This time you understand the difference in her response. {Ready?}

{Ready.}

※​

The nights begin to blur together interminably. Halfway through the summer, when the days grow long—you and Samira must spend most of your time under the sands—you find yourself longing for the sensation of harsh warmth on your skin, the tingling feeling of imminent sunburn, soft light against your closed eyelids. You miss the others, of course, and above all your father, but you’d learned to miss them in the quiet nights you’d spent alone. You’d expected that feeling of loss, and learned to codify it, and treasured their faces carefully so that you could still hold them tight even when you went far. But you’d forgotten to hold fast to the simpler aspects of your old life, and now you can only catch the sun on the edge of each night, a red orb peering over the horizon while Samira runs further away.

You spend many starlit nights with Samira. She’s quite talkative for a krookodile of her age, you learn. After a few centuries, many of them simply burrow their way underground, far enough away from the young ones who still disturb the earth. And Samira certainly loves to answer your questions, so long as you ask them in the desert tongue.

{Do you have many …} you trail off. “Children?” you ask. “Hatchlings?”

{We call our young hatchlings,} she says in response, carefully churning through a dune before plunging the two of you down. Tonight there is a soft, warm breeze. {And yes. I have many. All of them are older than you.} She pauses to consider. {Most of them are older than your father.}

You struggle to think of the right phrasing. {Is that uncommon?}

{Perhaps. Krookodile have children when the desert can bear it. We live long. It would not do if there were too many of us.}

You think that through while she swims through the sands. {What is that word you call me? What is its … meaning?}

A low rumble shakes her, one that you’ve come to associate with amusement. {I forget how quickly hatchlings become distracted. Always something new for you. Very well. Your name is hard to pronounce without the dancer’s tongue. And because of who we are—we take great care to ensure that there is never more or less of our number each year—our names are passed down. When we lose one of our own, the new hatchling takes that name. Thus we remember our burden, and what our burden is to the desert.}

You understand where Samira’s going with this. {But whose name would I take?}

{There was not one for you.} She chuffs the sound that you think is your name again. {So I made one. You are so named because you have no fangs.}

You wait expectantly.

{Never in my life have I had to name something. This is new to me. I consulted the other krookodile and they felt the same.}

“Nofangs?”

{Precisely.}

※​

The nights and days pass faster after that.

Your father was right: there are many beautiful things to witness out in the dunes at night, sights you’ve never dreamed of. With Samira you watch the glowing red lines of darmanitan troop steadily cross the northern plains, little more than motes of glowing light from a distance. You see waves crashing into the shore, safely tucked to one side as she gathers an enormous treasure trove of fish in her jaws. She takes you to enormous spires of sandstone, weathered into layers and with as many colors as the cloaks you used to help weave, towering even taller than you and her stacked together. She introduces you to the vulture queen, a young but proud mandibuzz who pecks curiously at your skull before a warning hiss sends her scooting back.

Precisely once, you ask about the sandile you tried to steal. Her name is Zaathi. It is not her job to teach you forgiveness. If she ever wants to see you again, she will make it known. Samira tells you these three facts in a single breath that has no room for argument.

In the nights you travel with Samira and see great things. Most of the time she swims through the desert, her tail churning through dried earth. You wish you could ask her purpose but you don’t have the words.

During the days you rest with them underground. Samira holds council. As you learn more and more words you realize how important she is to them—she is a sanhim of sorts, although you struggle to follow the conversations. You cling to her scales in the darkness and try to guess at what they’re saying, gradually piece together a slapshod vocabulary made up of things you’ve heard them say. At first it’s slow. The words you gather and hoard greedily—greetings, ways to count fish, descriptions of traverses across the desert—but no matter how hare you try, you cannot form the question you want to ask.

Am I learning what you want?

※​

The solstice arrives before you know it. Your father is there, welcoming the clans as they arrive one by one at the oasis. You see him stiffen when the krookodile arrive, but you’re already leaping off of Samira’s back, the ground weirdly firm beneath your feet as you pelt towards him and bury him in an embrace.

“Baku!” He picks you up and swings you onto his hip, almost staggering under your weight. {Were the sands kind?} His smile is so wide it threatens to cleave his face in two.

{The sands were kind,} you reply proudly, your heart almost bursting.

His eyes twinkle, and the pride in his voice when he responds in the desert tongue makes you feel like you could run a thousand miles. {You must tell us all that you have learned,} he says, setting you back down onto the ground. {And look how much you’ve grown!} He puts you down and places his hands on your shoulders, and for a moment you can’t help but revel in the feeling of soft, unscaled skin. How long has it been? You hold him close, suddenly aware that over the year your hands have turned leathery, chafed to callouses from the scales, and yet even in the moonlight you can see how much paler you are than him, sun-starved as you are.

“I missed you,” you whisper into his chest.

For a moment something in his face crumbles, but he turns triumphantly. “Come, Baku. Tonight we sing for you.”

And they do sing. The Dragonmother’s relics are passed from the humans to the darumaka, and from the maractus to the krookodile. Your father presses a plate full of food into your hands and triumphantly steers you to the fire. You can’t help but notice that Haruna’s grown taller in the past year; she’s unfolded like a sapling and stands a full four inches over you. Her maractus, a new flower bloomed on his forehead, introduces himself as Aji. Mila wears a cloak you’ve never seen before; her darumaka peers out anxiously from its folds. You watch, mostly, while they chatter. Has it really been a year since you heard the human tongue?

Mila is halfway through explaining a joke—for your benefit, you suspect; those of the southern stones already know—when the sensation hits you all at once: they’ve moved on. They missed you, but they’ve moved on. An entire year passed while you lived under the sands. Suddenly the food tastes like dust in your mouth. The evening begins to blur and pass you by.

Later you drift. Your father is speaking to Samira in a hushed voice. Both of them look up when you draw close. At ten feet away you can see the arched trepidation ingrained in Samira’s spine, even if in the soft moonlight you can’t make out the expression on your father’s face.

“Please,” you begin, although you aren’t even sure what you’d ask for. The second judgment crept up on you throughout the night, and yet you know—the stones Samira and the sanhim needed to decide here were cast long before this moment. But you can’t help but be a tiny bit desperate. You think about how Mila spoke in stuttering, halting words to her darumaka, how much smoother your own response was in kind. {I’ve learned. I’ve grown}

“You have learned much,” he says at last. “And yet you have much to learn still. Samira will teach you for another year. So shall it be.”

You want to be angry at both of them. At Samira, for keeping you even though you’ve struggled so hard. At your father, for not protesting. It stings. They’re acting out of love, you remind yourself, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less. It isn’t fair. If you’d known that this would be your fate, you would’ve never done it. But that isn’t the lesson they want you to learn, you know.

You want one of them to protest. You want to protest. But—

{So shall it be,} you echo.

The desert tongue is heavy on your lips.

When you return to the circle of human children for your farewells, you’re sure that you look like a stranger to them. Even in the moonlight you can see how you’re so much paler than the rest. You get a change of clothes, but your father’s cloak is tattered, cut nearly to ribbons from the constant beating it’s received in the past two years. It’s tattered. You let that happen. It’s tattered and it’s irreplaceable.

Truthfully you hadn’t even thought of your cloak until you catch Livari’s eyes lingering on it. She looks away guiltily before you can say anything, and she hurriedly brushes hair over her face so you can’t see her expression, but not before you see her upturned brow, her parted lips with the words dead upon them. Livari had been kind to you, and promised one day to teach you how to tend to the field of wheat that she raised. It would be your duty as the sanhim to know these things, she’d explained proudly, but she shook her head and smiled as Mila pulled you away to play Stacking Stones. One day.

Self-consciously, you pull your cloak more tightly around your shoulders, painfully aware of how threadbare it has become. This cloak is supposed to last until you are a man, old enough to make a cloak to guard a child of your own. Your father began spinning the threads as soon as your mother realized you were growing inside of her; together, they dyed the flaxen strands to match the winter sunrise. Standing in the shadow of your home, for a moment you’re struck with a memory you never had—the sensation of the two of them tracing their fingers over the freshly-woven fabric, discussing in soft voices the patterning of the golden grass stitched into the border, their hands drifting to the swell of your mother’s belly as they imagined the world they’d show their son.

Was that world full of plunging into dunes, of raging rivers, of krookodile scales? Had they woven with extra care, to ensure it could withstand the chafing of Samira’s back? Or had they expected you to hold tight to them, to stay protected in their visage in a world they’d always known?

It’s almost a relief when you clamber onto Samira’s back at the end of the night.

On the way back, you almost wish Livari had looked scornful or judgmental when her eyes lingered on your cloak. Instead, she’d just looked sad, the corners of her eyes tinged with the shame you’d forgotten to feel until this moment.

※​

{Nofangs,} she calls, days later. It must be time to hunt. You still don’t hunt, of course, and she still deposits you by the river’s edge, but she brings you with her everywhere. There’s nothing else you’d do on your own, of course. Back in the southern stones, children your age would be spending their days—

You fumble your way through the darkness and reach out for her. {Samira?}

{Over here.} This time, she’s careful to protract her words so that they echo lowly in the tunnel, and you pick your way over, pulling up short just before your outstretched hand collides with her scales. You clamber on. {Are you ready?}

An old instinct tells you to nod. Instead, in the darkness that your eyes cannot penetrate, you hiss back, {I’m ready,} and tighten your grip on her fins.

You’re used to the sounds of surfacing at this point. The sand ripples off of her scales in a familiar way; you’ve started to learn that the flows thin out when she’s getting closer to the top, that the accompanying cascade of sand becomes reedy. But this time, she doesn’t immediately chart a path for the river. Instead, the two of you speed even further eastward, where a half moon rises. You stand up on shaking legs, careful to keep your toes curled for balance—several times you’ve been unable to sense Samira’s sharp turns and ended up flung headlong into the sand—and inhale the clear air, the cloak flapping around your shoulders. The stones turned to sand the further east you went, but you can tell even here that the dunes have somehow become even sandier. Whatever scant brush and plants littered the dunes near Samira’s nest give way to enormous, undulating waves of sand, frozen in motion until Samira cuts through them like a knife.

But this time when you surface near the darmanitan’s lands, there is a horrible stench, like rotting fish, but with a sharper tang of iron. When you get closer you see that the lumps you thought were stones aren’t stones at all, but instead—

In the pale moonlight you survey the valley, which has grown quiet and still. You clutch the cloak tightly to you. {What happened here?}

{Geret used to lead the darmanitan from this valley,} Samira says. Her tail lashes the sand beneath you into a riptide, but it does not cover up the footprints that you can see, the scuffles marking the dust along with the char. There’s a strip of sand that was heated so brilliantly that it turned to glass. But there are no darmanitan to be seen.

Your heart sinks when you see sandalprints in the ground. The people of the Southern Stones were here. But why? {Samira … ?}

Her voice is unyielding. {I promised to teach you, and so I will not shield you. What do you see here, Nofangs?}

There would be no reason for your people to stray this far west. More than that, there would simply be no way; to cross the mountain range would take them days that they did not have. And yet. {The people of the Southern Stones were here too.}

{I fear I have done something terrible, Nofangs,} she says in response, which doesn’t feel like an answer at first.

You try to think of your father’s hands wielding his weaving shears as a weapon. You cannot. Even when he held his staff, it was with a weary sort of resignation. {Why would he have come here, and called for this?}

Samira doesn’t respond with words. But she shudders beneath you, and you don’t need to see her eyes to know she weeps.

Your hands are shaking as you clutch her fins. You need to do something. Anything.

The hunched corpse of a darmanitan catches your eye. The scars on his hide shimmer in the moonlight; for a moment, you’re in a solstice long ago, watching Utamo trace silvery rivers. You realize what’s similar about all of the other bodies here. {Where are the children?} you ask slowly, half-hoping you’ll know her response. They spared the young, and let them flee—

Samira pulls herself out of the sand and carefully walks along the dusty ground, bringing you close enough to see—you realize she must’ve been able to sense the disturbance in the earth from far away, even if your eyes could not pick it out in the moonlight. But as you get closer and closer, you can see a mash of tracks running south, familiar oval imprints of sandals mixed with tiny, three-toed footprints. The trail leads south, winding away over the hills. {It happened again. At the solstice, one of the darumaka who joined your people last year wanted to return to his home. The girl he joined did not wish to let him leave, and tried to compel him there first by words, then by force. Geret was furious when he heard, and sought to follow the lead I had set—he asked the Southern Stones for permission to raise the human and the darumaka alike. The krookodile concurred, and we assumed with our word that it would be done.}

You swallow past the lump that’s formed in your throat. {But the Southern Stones disagreed this time.}

{Instead they took the ones who were young enough to learn.} Samira’s voice is stiff. {Do you see what I have done now, Nofangs?}

{I do not,} you say truthfully. {How could you say this is your fault?}

Samira suddenly tenses beneath you—a low, wordless hiss rips from her throat, almost unbidden. Without another word, she flings herself headlong into the sand, faster and faster until you’re afraid you’ll fall off and the ruined valley shrinks to a speck behind you. She’d never raced like this before. {Samira?} you call hesitantly, but the rippling wind around you swallows your words.

You mark out your breaths, and by your count an hour has passed when you pass first one rock, and then another. Further west you’d think nothing of it, but here, where the horizon is washed smooth in sand, the smallest imperfection juts out and draws even your atrophied eyes. The shadows they cast are odd as well: perfect, angular, and completely unlike the wind-smoothed stones you’re accustomed to.

{Have we been here before?} you ask. You would’ve recognized the landscape, but you can’t be certain if Samira took you here underground before.

{No.} Her response is immediate. {This place is.} What she says next is a word you do not understand.

{Is what?}

She swims through the sand for a hundred feet while she thinks. {Abandoned. Bad. Shameful. Evil. All of these things. More than just these things.}

“Cursed?” you ask hesitantly. The dancer’s tongue feels strange to you now.

{No. Cursed—} as soon as she says it, you seize the new vocabulary {—implies it was beyond our control.} She contemplates; the rumbles shake her entire body and through your bones. {This was done for a reason.}

Months ago, when Samira showed you the canyon of the mandibuzz, you’d shivered. They lived in pockets of sandstone, their caves lined with sun-bleached stones that you later realized were too oblong to be bones. Samira paid it no mind, but you remembered the careful ceremony your father had conducted, how he’d solemnly borne thing that was no longer your mother into the center of the village, how all who knew her took up a torch and offered her to the winds. Her bones he wrapped away in her cloak and buried, carefully. To see so many there, so naked and forgotten, casually picked over and riddled with holes—that is the feeling Samira means.

“Desecrated?” you try.

{Desecrated.} She rolls the word around a few more times. {Yes. These two are words that match.}

Usually this game is more fun, a dance that welcomes both of you to shared understanding. But you feel a chill as she sweeps you closer and closer through the rubble.

{We see this place once as hatchlings, and then we do not return except when we have hatchlings of our own, so they may see it for their first time, and our last.} Her voice is stony. {You are older than a hatchling, but you are mine, Nofangs. So it is time that you see.} She pauses, her eyes fixed straight ahead to a singular mountain in the distance. {Perhaps in time you will show this place to your own hatchlings.}

As you get closer, you realize it isn’t a mountain at all. It’s too round, too straight. Some of it has crumbled to the ground, but what remains stands almost perfectly vertical, stones cut in a way that is too perfect to have occurred by chance. The rubble you passed on the way in must’ve been flung far from this one, by some force you cannot comprehend.

{Your people were not the first humans on the plains, Nofangs. Before, there were people who built ŵ̸̡̖̦̜̙̜̪̭͉̅̌̈́̀̃̐̕͝ä̵͔̹̗̟͔̤͓̝̮̞́͝l̸̢̡̨̧̫̭̘͉̻͍̟̑̈́͛̑͝ͅl̵̨̹̗̭͓̬̟̖͍̠̐̎ͅş̶͇͉̤̪̠̤̰̝̍̈͑̅̆̽.} She pulls you closer to the thing and hisses a word that you do not understand.

{Built what?}

{People who built w̸̟̲̆̐̔ă̴͚l̸̥͂̆̔ĺ̷͇̟̟s̷̥̈́̂}.She hisses it again and it remains incomprehensible. {You see it here. I will not describe it. Name it, if you know it.} When you do not offer a word in response, she says in a stormy voice, {If it is never again spoken in the dancer’s tongue, I will not mourn the loss of knowledge.}

Her anger is like the river, thunderous and inevitable, and hearing so much rage in her kills the words in your throat. This much you have learned: Samira loves teaching. To see her savage joy at condemning knowledge to oblivion fills you with the same strange revulsion that the mandibuzz canyon did. The stones and their unnatural shapes made you uneasy, but this … this makes you shrivel closer to her.

Samira continues quietly, {There were once those who learned the secrets of shaping stones and brought that knowledge here. With their hands they built great and wondrous things. At first the krookodile watched without fear. We peoples of the desert must protect one another. The sands are an enemy so great that we cannot afford to fight amongst ourselves as well. All the earth’s children share one body, after all. When we tried to speak to the humans, they feared us. But who could blame them? The maractus offered water and fruit. The darmanitan offered fire and warmth. But we, the krookodile—} Samira hisses uneasily, a rippling mass of muscle beneath you, and for a moment you remember how it felt the first time you saw her erupt from the sands. {Yes. You know the feeling, Nofangs. That much your kind has never forgotten.}

A year ago you would’ve nodded. But underground, the krookodile have no use for words that must be seen. So instead you hiss, {I do} and add the sibilant hiss that you know signals regret.

{I wish we’d spoken to them, so we knew why. But one day we found that the humans here had built—} She utters that word again, and this time she pulls up short. {Do you see it here, Nofangs?}

It towers above you, impossibly smooth and reaching around the horizon. It is like a canyon that only goes one way, half a mountain face, a thing that only goes up and out. You look at it in slack confusion and realize that, while she was talking, this thing she’s taken you to witness has grown until it eclipses even the sky. {This is to keep people out,} you say quietly.

{They shaped the stone into other things as well.} Samira motions, and you clamber up to the top of her head so she can rear up and you can see higher. But even when she’s fully unfolded, you aren’t even halfway to seeing what’s on the other side of the structure. {But these were their ugliest creation. Behind here was an oasis that the peoples of the desert used to share, before these humans decided it should be guarded.}

You look around. The parts of these that survived are tall, yes, and they encompass much. Nali and the maractus would be unable to climb such an immense structure. The darmanitan, even with their strength, would be unable to crush through it. But— {This could not stop you, if you did not wish it,} you say quietly to the krookodile beneath you. {Not for a heartbeat.}

{The humans here lived in fear of what we would do,} Samira says. It’s full of regret, but it isn’t an answer. {That fear drove them to do horrible things. They horded and they stole. So we echoed them, and became the thing that they feared. When we were done, we took the oasis with us. My ancestors swam back and forth across the plains until we carved out a path for a river that was too large for anyone to horde.}

You realize now why Samira was particular about which word she used here. You realize why it would be so important for the hatchlings to see. {The krookodile desecrated this place.}

{We did.} She casts a weary eye across the ruins around you. {We have fought all peoples of the desert before, until it was recognized that we were so powerful that our peace must be upheld. But never like this. On that day we sought more than just submission, and our wish was granted. It was a horrible thing, but we agreed it had to be done.

Her voice deepens. {Our Great Mother, who gave us our shape and formed us from clay, tasked us with protecting the desert while She rested. Some of our kind think differently, but I believe on that day, though She slumbered, the Great Mother wept when She heard what we had done, what we had forgotten. So now that it is my time to be Mother to our people, I remember this place always. When you first joined us, I heard you asking many times why we travel the way that we do, why we pick the routes we choose. I knew no other way to explain our purpose than to show you what we show our hatchlings.} She rumbles lowly. {Forgive me, Nofangs. At the time I did not think I could speak in a way you would understand. With our strength and our bodies we carve rivers, break stones, crush earth so that others can tend it and make it grow. We enforce the solstice peace, and pass the Great Mother between Her children so that we all remember what divided Her. There will only ever be as many of us as the desert can bear. This is our punishment. One day, the Great Mother will be proud once more of what we have done and She will reawaken, instead of hiding away from us and our shame.}

You don’t say it, but you realize it then: when you reached for that sandile, on that night that felt so many lifetimes ago, Samira probably saw more humans than just you reaching for something to have.

{This was a lesson, not a punishment.} Your voice rasps with the same cadence of a statement, but in your heart it feels more like a question.

{Perhaps.} She sounds unconvinced. {Now each solstice we send our children to guard you. Now your people have no word for what they once built. But I fear, Nofangs, that despite everything we did in the aftermath to help them, they never truly forgot what we could be. And I fear above all that they were correct to remember. We have grown complacent in the dunes, and believed that our power would be enough to keep the desert balanced the way we saw fit.}

Perhaps you shaped the not-question the wrong way. Samira has learned much from you, and you from her—perhaps a lesson for some can be a punishment for others. Perhaps one forms the other. None of this makes sense. You want to say that but you’re transfixed by the sight before you. But you can’t look, either, can’t focus on the way that the moonlight has turned everything to a pale greyscale. {My father is different from the humans who lived here, though. He shouldn’t … wouldn’t have allowed us to do this again.}

{Your father has not been sanhim since the day I passed judgment on you.} Her voice is like stone. {In taking you, in codifying your guilt, I took your birthright, and with it his lineage. That is the price he and I decided on that day, Nofangs. That is the judgment I chose to pass.}

The cloak is suddenly heavy on your shoulders, so heavy that you fear it’ll rip you and Samira both into the sandy abyss. {He never told me that.}

{Do you see now why I fear I have done something terrible?} She slowly crouches back down to all fours; the stone structure towers even higher above you now. {And yet when I asked for you I could not have known, right?}

{And yet you could not have known,} you echo back. But you sense you mean it even if she does not. Your heart feels like it has sunk to the bottom of your torso. {Please. We must go talk to the southern stones. Even if they won’t listen to me, they’ll have to listen to you.} You think of Mila, and Haruna, and your father, of their gentle smiles. You can’t imagine them with stern faces and hands clenched around the haft of a spear, turning the darmanitan to corpses, leading the young ones away.

{I raised Livari once. In her year our sandile did not want to live among the Southern Stones, and she respected that choice, so I offered to live alongside her for some time. I always feared she would see me as a replacement, and herself as unworthy, though I learned to see her as a sister,} she says quietly. {I spoke with her on the solstice, asked her to justify her daughter’s decision to spirit away her darumaka. I do not recognize Livari now.}

{There are reasonable people among them! They’ll take your side.}

{Nofangs,} she says quietly, turning away from the stones even as you’re transfixed by the sight. The image burns its way through your bleary eyes and into your mind, interposed with the scattered ruins of Geret’s home. {If anyone witnessing this thinks there are two sides to choose from, then the sands will be plunged into war. And then we have all lost.}

※​

Samira is reluctant to approach the Southern Stones, so you walk there alone. The ground here, she explains, is already carefully softened. If she tried to swim through it she might destroy the place. That is what she tells you. The journey back on foot feels shorter than the journey out did. Perhaps you’ve grown.

On the way back you see small green stones clustered in the sands; when you grow close, they glow. {Greetings, traveler. We serve. What business do you have with the Southern Stones?} one asks.

You stop respectfully. {I am here to speak with the sanhim.}

No response.

You clear your throat. “I am here to speak with the sanhim.”

This time, all of their eyes glow in unison. They are silent for a moment, and you suspect that there is a conversation beyond your understanding even here. {You may pass,} says one of them. {Welcome home.}

You pass, but once you do you can’t help but see the oversized hands, the enormous eyebrows. The image of Utamo tracing his fingertips across a darmanitan’s hands fills you with an aching familiarity, and when you look back you know without knowing what happened to the darumaka your people stole, the horrible stonecrafting magic Samira spoke of. Did she know it could be used like this?

The question takes a long moment to form, and when it does, your ears burn with shame: “Are you … are you happy here?”

{We serve.}

“But is this what you wanted?”

{We serve.}

“I—”

{You are wanted in the Southern Stones,} one of them repeats, a sense of urgency slipping into its voice. {And we are wanted here. So shall we both serve. May the sands be kind.}

Numbly, you echo back, {May the sands be kind.}

The rest of the trip feels much longer while you try to remember what forces could compel a darumaka to serve anyone.

Your people greet you warmly when you arrive. Livari draws you into a hug; you sense curious eyes peering out from the tents around you. By now you must be thoroughly foreign to them, and yet not wholly different enough to be one of the krookodile.

Perhaps Livari knew you were coming, because she’s barely finished embracing you before she begins speaking.

“After the last solstice, after everyone else left, the darmanitan returned to us during the day and demanded Mila, citing the same justice the krookodile used to demand you. Can’t you see, Baku?” Livari’s smiling pleadingly but you know she can’t actually mean it, not with the tears in the corners of her eyes. “They were going to take us all away, one by one, if we didn’t do something.”

{They—} you begin, and then hastily switch: “They were just teaching me, Livari. I … I wanted this.”

“Did you? The whole time? You wanted to be their diplomat?” she asks coldly. When you don’t respond, she continues, “Your father always spoke so highly of the lessons you would learn. But when you finally came back and you seemed smaller, paler, sadder.”

She asks a question you’ve never been able to answer, even to yourself on those quiet nights spent alone in the dark. How could you answer it here? There were times you wished things were different, but weren’t those times an experience everyone shared? Instead you search her face for any sign of deception, of doubt. You find nothing. “Where’s Awaze? And Nali?” you ask. At her side her hand extends from beneath her cloak to grip the staff that marks her as the new sanhim, but the maractus who chose her is nowhere in sight.

Livari points her chin up defiantly. “The maractus all but left us once they saw the extent to which we were willing to defend ourselves. We will defend them as well if it comes to it, but for now they are no allies to us.” Her voice softens. “I defended you, Baku. I told your father he was a fool to offer you up to their whims. I would do the same for any of our own, and instead they came for my Mila. I saw what they did to you. I saw what losing you did to your father. When the time came for him to pass—” She wraps her hands around yours, and suddenly you grow cold when you realize what she’s saying. “—for him it was fast. I was there. But I wish you were, too. I knew you wouldn’t have wanted him to be alone. But we had no way of finding you.”

Grief washes over you like a wave, and you’re suddenly drowning again. You want to reach for Samira’s back but there’s nothing, and there’s no one, and then you’re standing stiffly while she has her hands wrapped around your quavering shoulders.

This is a lesson—

There is nothing to be learned here. That anger sparks you upright. This is senseless, and you could spend the rest of your life trying to understand it. There will be time to mourn later. “Livari. If you fight the krookodile, you’ll lose.”

“But if they fight us, doesn’t that mean we were right to defend ourselves to begin with?” she asks stiffly.

You’re reminded of dropping a stone down a cavern, of the way the sound reverberates louder and louder. First one child is taken, then many, then slaughter, then war. But what makes the sound fade away, and what makes it grow instead? And how can you make them understand? “What you did to the darmanitan wasn’t defense,” you say at last. That much you can be sure of.

“Perhaps your family was prepared to lose one of its own to earn their trust, but mine was not,” she says in a harsh voice, fire reflecting in her eyes. But then she softens again, and she looks so much like the woman who used to skip stones with you and Mila in the creek. Her smile grows even more watery. Her knuckles whiten on her staff. “It’s okay, Baku. You can come back now. We’ve made—we’re strong enough to make sure they can’t take you. They’ll think twice now that they know what we can do.”

“They won’t think twice. And I don’t want to come back.” The surety of your response shocks both of you, but it surprises you more than it surprises her. As soon as the words leave your lips, though, they feel true—this isn’t your home. These people aren’t your family. And they haven’t been for a while. “But I don’t want us to fight.”

“Wanting something isn’t the same as having it, Baku,” she says softly, and you wish she knew how right she really was.

※​

You rejoin Samira before sunrise. She dives you deep into the earth to wait out the day. You hug your father’s cloak to yourself and wonder what you could’ve become. If they hadn’t taken you. If you hadn’t taken her. Would they have gone to war if you’d learned faster? If you’d answered Samira’s questions in one year instead of two? Would Livari have listened if you’d spoken better?

Samira doesn’t even ask what happened when you walk back to her. She can tell just by looking at you, you tell yourself.

But that thought clears away as the dirt runs through your hair, and you know: she hadn’t expected anything different to begin with. That was the difference.

{They will come for us if we don’t do this, Nofangs,} she says quietly. This isn’t a cavern you’re used to; it was hurriedly made. So her voice echoes in strange ways that make the intent harder to understand. {Perhaps not tomorrow. Perhaps not the day after. But someday soon. I want to make this clear to you: we will desecrate once more, before the peoples of the Southern Stones are allowed to hurt anyone else. This year it is the krookodile’s turn to carry the Great Mother’s dark heart, so I feel Her burden even more. But I know your loyalties are torn. I do not ask you to understand what we must do, just that you do not try to stop us. I do not want you caught in this conflict. I … feel I have already forced you too far too many times before.}

{What would you have me do instead?} Your heart twists when you think of it again—the soft lilt in Livari’s voice when she explained that your father had died waiting for you. There’s a yawning cavern in your chest that hasn’t even begun to heal. You can’t—you can’t do that again, stumble upon Samira lying still and overturned—

{I could take you far from here. I could leave you here when the night falls. The maractus could look after you, or even the mandibuzz; I fear this conflict will spread and you’d be safer if—}

{I don’t want to be safe. I want to be with you.}

In all the time you’ve spent together you’ve never cut her off, but at the same time, you’ve never had reason to.

Back when your father had held you tight, on that last true night you’d both had together, you hadn’t realized what would happen to you. You’re quite sure of it now. When you try to think of that child’s face, it doesn’t match who you are now—it isn’t the bags around the eyes or the pale skin or the calloused feet. Beneath the desert sands, across the lonely nights, the boy who had tried to steal a sandile and lived in fear of the punishment he was about to receive had turned into someone new. Someone who understood now what would be coming, what it would mean to stay.

{Can I tell you a story?} you ask, and you aren’t quite able to name the feeling that pounds against your ribcage when she agrees, the way your voice hitches as you clumsily translate your father’s version of The Sister Who Chased the Sun.

When you’re finished, she hums carefully. {We also speak of a sister like your Sunseeker. In ours, she asks a stone to carry her through the sky, although it her fate never to find that which she seeks. Sometimes she loses faith and goes dark, and sometimes she is almost as bright as her twin.}

{The moon?} you ask.

{Perhaps.} Samira laughs quietly to herself. {Although I always thought of the two of them as the Great Mother’s hearts, chasing one another through the peoples and across the sands.}

Before you have time to ponder that much longer, Samira adds, {We have a similar story to your Sunseeker, although it ends differently. Would you like to hear it?}

This time, in the quiet of a cavern miles underground, there’s no one else to hear. You can’t help but wonder if things would be different if this had been one of stories retold at the solstice. But this time, again, the story’s just for you:

It starts the same, although the names are different. The timid older sister chases the brave younger one into a newborn world.

But in the moment that she asks the sky for help, the sky is too eager. The winds blow too strong, and threaten to rip the air from her lungs; but instead, they create a raging, deafening tempest. Where the brave younger sister had gone first, and was able to gather her dress around herself to shield her head from the winds, the older sister hesitated.

With a cry, Stormdancer turned back for her sister, but it was too late: the harsh winds had already deafened Human.

{One day you will tell the stories of what happens here,} Samira says solemnly after a long silence. {That was the hope that your father and I shared when I took you, although we never thought it would be like this. And sometime after that time, your people will be more powerful than mine. When that time comes, and your people are fully grown, I hope you are kind to us. But if your children’s children are as cruel to us as we were to you, so shall it be.}

So shall it be.

The traditional response is almost out of your mouth before you stop yourself. It shouldn’t be that way. It wouldn’t be fair. This can’t be the only option. But these are the only pieces you were given.

You curl up on her back instead, and lie awake even as she eases into fitful slumber.

※​

The rest of it unravels so quickly.

The adult krookodile have many words for war. You do not know these words, nor did you realize how many you didn’t know, until this moment, when their low calls rumble through the earth to announce their arrival and all you hear is the groaning of the ground beneath you before Samira propels herself forward. Her claws rake an opening in the ground for sunlight to stream through, and then you’re in the center of your village—the village.

You watch as another krookodile emerges twenty feet to your left and plunges itself straight through a tent before you realize that your bravery last night wasn’t bravery at all, but foolishness. You shouldn’t be here. You can’t watch this. You close your eyes and sink onto Samira’s back, but you can’t make yourself not hear. Someone screams wordlessly. It sounds like Mila. You’ve heard the sounds that follow next: once, Samira encountered an enormous pillar of stone that blocked the path of a river the krookodile wanted to make. She called her fellows and together they swam in the earth beneath it until it turned to sand, and the stone sank under its own weight.

When you crack your eyes open, the village isn’t fully sunk; it was never heavy enough for that; there’s uneven gouges in the earth that have cut the land into stairs, huge slats of earth that almost look like w̵̢͝a̷̢̅l̴̠̉̎l̵͐̓ͅs̷̞̋́,.

“Sigilyph warriors, to me!” someone is shouting, and then Livari is overhead, flying like the mandibuzz. You catch a glimpse of widespread wings, painted more colors than you’ve ever seen at once, and then there’s a harsh crack as the earth beneath Samira’s feet shatters and a blast of wind sends you tumbling backwards. As you crash down her spine your world is a multicolored blur; when you finally catch yourself on a fin you see that the sky is blotted out by rainbow wings.

Samira hisses and lurches beneath you, swiping out with one claw at the nearest one and slamming it into the ground. It shatters upon impact, shards of clay scattering. More stone magic? But you don’t have time to figure it out, because their eyes glow in unison and then Samira is coiling up and plunging underground and it takes all your focus just to hold on.

She reemerges outside of the line of sigilyph, and you have just enough time to see a human clutched behind each of them, their eyes glowing blue as well, before Samira lunges forward and grabs the nearest one in her jaws. Two more lash out with their wings and Samira’s too slow to move out of the way of the cutting blades of wind that follow; enormous gouges open up on her right flank and red scales and blood fly into the air. {Livari!} she snarls.

“The desert is not yours,” Livari says, turning. But she doesn’t command the sigilyph to finish the two of you off. The sanhim’s cloak flaps around her shoulders. “It may have been once, but it cannot be forever. You cannot shape us as you see fit.”

{You cannot do the same to others.} Samira’s jaws snap at a sigilyph that strays too close, but she flings it away from herself rather than shattering it and its rider on the ground.

“Because you did it first? Look around you, Samira of the Sands. Tell me your justice is fair. Tell me we would do any worse if we ruled in your stead.”

You don’t feel Samira move beneath you. But you look around, and you see the village—your village—and you can’t look away. The crop fields are torn asunder, enormous trenches carefully dug through to ensure that there will be nothing left by harvest. Stones litter the ground where the tents once stood. Someone has plowed through the brook and spilled it across the plains; its contents burble a miserable, pale red. When you saw the darmanitan ruins you didn’t realize how much they’d look like your own.

{Please,} you begin. You aren’t even sure who you’re talking to. {I’ll go back. I’ll stay. Just stop.}

“This is beyond you, Baku,” Livari says. Her hand is outstretched, and at first you think she’s reaching for you. But then your heart sinks: she’s holding the white half of the Dragonmother’s heart.

It had gone to the darmanitan this year, you remember distantly. They must’ve …

{We committed atrocities.} Samira shifts back when she sees what’s in Livari’s hand, but she doesn’t falter. {We have never tried to deny it. But it was in the name of a better future for all of our children, and so I believe in fighting again.}

“There will always be people like you,” says Livari in response, “and people like us to rise to fight you.”

In the next instant, the Dragonmother’s dark heart awakens. Samira roars alongside another. Blackness darker than any night you spent beneath the sands eclipses your vision. The scent of ozone chokes your nostrils, hot and thick like the heaviest summer storm. Wings unfold and blue lightning fills the air.

Your father’s words ring hollowly through your ears as the remains of your village are dispersed into sparks and scraps of shimmering red fabric—

little flurry, we cannot control the things we love. sometimes—

It’s too much. You lose your grasp on Samira and go tumbling back.

The last thing you remember is seeing an enormous pillar of fire erupt from the stone in Livari’s hands.

※​

(echo)

※​

You wake up expecting to hurt, but—instead, you feel light. The moonlight is gentle on your eyes. Greens and blues have given way to rolling dunes and crumbling stone, tinged silver from the stars above. You blink. A soft wind blows. When you look down, sand stirs around where your feet should be.

Sand? There shouldn’t be sand here. But before you can justify why, panic seizes you. Someone’s cries of pain echo in the back of your mind, but here there’s nothing but the wind. You spin around.

The face of a child hovers before you. It is gold; the moon casts brilliantly on the curve of his cheekbones, the stony silence between his lips. And behind his eyes—something dark and twisted grasps at the fringes of his face, fiercely.

You know that’s wrong, somehow, but you can’t quite remember why. How long has it been since you’ve been this close to face like this? You try to look at yourself, but when you try to look for your body, your hands—there’s nothing to see. That, at least, feels familiar somehow. {Where are we?}

Arwi, he responds. The mask’s mouth does not move when he speaks.

{Arwi?} It doesn’t sound familiar, but nothing here does. Even so, you back away from your newfound companion. For some reason his responses make you angrier than you’d expect, but there isn’t time for anger. He must know something that you do not, for him to stand here, to greet you. {Can you help me? I woke up here, but I don’t know what’s going on.}

Going on, he says.

{What are you doing?}

Doing.

Something deep inside of you twists. When you flinch back, there’s a reflection along the glinting metal of his face that flinches back as well. Horrified, you drift closer to him, to the domed surface that makes his forehead, and you see yourself properly for the first time. A golden mask peers back at you, frightened red eyes, the same wispy specter clutching in a way that’s simultaneously furious and delicate.

{Who are you?} you ask. The words are heavy on your lips, somehow.

You, he responds.

{Can you say words of your own?} You try to quell the revulsion that you feel, even though know it fully consumes you, looking at this strange shadow in the moonlight, one that mirrors you in every way. He’s like you, but it’s so unlike you—pity and disgust pull at you in equal parts.

Own, comes the response, and although it comes as a strangled, hissing whisper, you can almost hear the longing.

Just as he produces the image of you across his face, he creates the reflection of your words with his voice. Someone had echoed a judgment like that once, right? And you’d wanted nothing more than for him to say no, I do not accept this; I will not accept this—but he’d nodded, and echoed, so shall it be. So much of your life had been dictated for you in that one moment, most of it good, some of it bad, all of it lost, all of it because you’d chosen to echo what was given to you. You ... you cannot stay here and make that mistake again. {I’m going to go find help.}

Help, he says, and this time you can’t mistake the plea tangled in the whisper.

But if you knew how to help, if you knew why any of you were here … well, you wouldn’t be here in the first place, would you? What are you supposed to do? But he’s looking at you, face carved in an open-mouthed expression that you can’t help but see as imploring.

{I’m going to go find help, okay?}

The shadow behind it twists. But on cue, like you knew it would, it echoes, Okay.

You press on. Something used to live here, or someone. As you keep going deeper you’re more certain that it was multiple someones. There’s bits of tattered cloth attached to sticks of wood, shards of shattered pottery sticking out of the sand. For some reason you’re disappointed that there isn’t more to find.

You see the next one huddled beneath a scrap of red and purple fabric, wearing it almost like a cloak.

{Hello?} you ask, but by the time it chokes back a Hello? in response, you’re already hurrying on your way through this strange, deserted place.

By the time the sun begins to rise and instinct tells you to take cover from the light, you’ve found the sun-bleached spine of a krookodile stretching out of the sands, thousands of years of erosion having claimed the rest of her, and you know all that you need to know. The word desecrated hisses in the back of your mind.

There aren’t many visitors to these ruins, and you can’t bring yourself to stray too far from them, but across the years you gradually learn the three new facts that form your fate:

First: you are a lingerer between worlds, damned like the other ghosts to wander until your soul finally degrades enough for the rest of you to slip away.

Second: ghosts carry parcels of what they had in their previous life—their memories, their language. These parcels shape what ghost they become. Other ghosts, in their previous lives, knew more than just the dancer’s tongue. Other ghosts do not become yamask.

Third: no one else knows why yamask echo instead of speaking; or perhaps, if they know, they do not care.



p | n
 
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WildBoots

Don’t underestimate seeds.
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. custom/moka-mark
  2. solrock
General thoughts:

Fuck.

That's it. No further comment at this time.


...


JK. But I did read this and immediately just ... lie down and take a nap, lol. 🏳️

This definitely is a long one, but it flows smoothly from end to end and demands to be read through. It's certainly relevant to the rest of the story we've seen up to this point, but it could also easily stand alone as a one-shot. (Okay, maybe the Stormdancer stuff would be confusing. But it otherwise feels very complete and satisfying.) I did think that the jump from Nepeta to here was pretty big, bigger probably than it would've been from siglyph chapter. BUT, I'm really happy Lizard Mom was here, and this was such a fun surprise to stumble into blindly.

A lot of my thoughts are buried in the line reactions, but a few things that stood out enough to me to make sure I hit it here:
1) This super duper gave me Princess Mononoke vibes, especially Moro the wolf mother (who was always my absolute favorite).
2) Interesting how the tattering of his father's robe goes hand-in-hand not with the loss of his humanity exactly (because in many way it's the human tribe who loses that) but with the loss of a human's expectations for what a good life looks like.
3) The absence of follow-up on the sandile who rejected him stood out to me. No attempt to find her and apologize, not much further reflection on her growing up while he was growing up. Especially since his tribe moved on without him, getting taller and changing their beliefs, while he was with her people, getting taller and adopting her beliefs.
4) I wasn't entirely sure why (echo of Baku) does seem to still be able to speak as a Yamask.
5) Is little flurry a nod to Baku attempting and failing to bridge these two sides? Icy dragonshellmom snapping in two again. I also wondered how far down the Southern Shore was supposed to be. Modern day Castelia? OR, the crookodile parts of the desert stretched into what's now Nimbasa? I guess the desert could have snow flurries too—mine did, after all, though I'm picturing this less like the deserts of the US Southwest and more like the Sahara.
6) The final passage felt a liiiiiiitle fast. I wanted a smidge more time with the ruins and the yamask.

Gud fic plz update more when

Besides, you were born on the plains, and you know—even if you wanted to run, there’s nowhere for you to go.
Colon?

They don’t bind you, and you’re grateful for the dignity that affords you. Besides, you were born on the plains, and you know—even if you wanted to run, there’s nowhere for you to go. At the front of the procession, the sanhim walks with a ramrod-straight back, the fringes of his cloak trailing in the dry grass. Behind him is Nali, on his heels like a verdant shadow, and behind her is you. They don’t look back for you. If you wanted to slip away, you could. Without Nali you would stray from the path and quickly fall to the sun, no doubt. Without the sanhim, you would surely be able to live, but the shame would fester at your insides until the day you died.

I sort of wanted this to be broken into several smaller paragraphs to help me digest the strangeness:
They don’t bind you, and you’re grateful for the dignity that affords you. Besides, you were born on the plains, and you know—even if you wanted to run, there’s nowhere for you to go.

At the front of the procession, the sanhim walks with a ramrod-straight back, the fringes of his cloak trailing in the dry grass. Behind him is Nali, on his heels like a verdant shadow, and behind her is you. They don’t look back for you.

If you wanted to slip away, you could. Without Nali you would stray from the path and quickly fall to the sun, no doubt. Without the sanhim, you would surely be able to live, but the shame would fester at your insides until the day you died.

That said, I like this opening. We're VERY internal here (though I appreciate the dry grass dragging to ground us in space), which makes a lot of sense. This chapter, and especially this moment, is about Baku understanding and failing to understand, so we definitely need to know what his fear and shame feel like. The disorientation also makes a kind of sense here: it's like he's coming unmoored from his sense of self. It also adds to this sense of another time, the way it makes these humans hard to recognize at first: they aren't quite us, and this history has been totally lost in the wake of all the current conflicts. It IS alien.

The land that holds your judgment
I like the personification of land (alluding to the krookodile, to the laws of nature, to Samira's assertion that all of life is of one body), but "holds" doesn't quite feel right to me.

the uncomfortably-tight knot in your throat.
No hyphen, I don't think.

The sands around Samira’s legs shiver as well, and another krookodile emerges headfirst, staring haughtily down at you. This one is closer to regular size, its wedged head as large as your torso and its body twice your height, but your heart still catches in your throat—when you cast your gaze around the dunes, you see dozens of pairs of beady black peeking back from the sand. There is a low, vibrating hiss. You can’t tell from where.
Powerful moment! I think emerging headfirst is redundant—that's what I picture by default—but otherwise I love the details here. They stack until we have this breathless vision of an incomprehensibly big creature and her brood.

but I fear he will only feel like justice is dealt if his words are also heard.”
Usually a good start! And this is a form of restorative justice that only works because Baku knows he's done wrong, and that it's shamed not only himself but others around him.

Each of her inhalations is large enough to blow your hair forward; each exhale cloaks you in a warm, moist breeze. You manage a shaky bow.
*Blow your hair back?

Powerful image, though!

the sonder of maractus.
Sonder!

You watched the familiar sight as an outsider, as everyone chattered and danced and ate.
The double as is a little funny, but oof at the sentiment.

Nali grabbed Harana and her newfound maractus by the hands
This tripped me up on the first pass, though I guess it shouldn't have. It made me question for a second whether I was wrong for thinking that Nali was the maractus or where the extra maractus had come from, I think because I somehow hadn't completely pieced together that Dad was Nali's [trainer], or maybe because I don't have a mental image for Harana. I think it's mostly a me thing, but this was a lot of names to digest in a moment where I didn't completely understand how everyone connected together yet.

chattered with the darumaka that had befriended her daughter in the desert tongue
*chattered in the desert tongue with the darumaka that had ...

When the sun rose, your clan would return to the south, with five new children.
It speaks volumes that these little prevos are recognized as children by the humans. New children, even: not servants but adopted family members.

“I wanted her to have picked me, but she didn’t. I was wrong.”
Woof. This so painfully echoes moments in our world where boys try to forcefully overtake girls who didn't choose them, except this kid has much more self-awareness and regret than those boys and men usually do.

the sanhim had declared that because your crime was against the krookodile, they would be your judge instead of him.
Oof

already older than you’ll ever be.
A lot to wrap your head around. She's like a tree.

“They have heard your plea. To lay a hand on another is a great offense amongst the krookodile, but Samira recognizes that it may not be the same for us in the south.”

Your ears burn with shame: that is a kindness she assumes of you. If you had touched Harana like that, or tried to steal Mila—
Oof, oof, oof, oof, oof.

“To Samira and her kind, it is clear that we of the Southern Stones have failed in raising you to respect the peoples of this land. So she proposes this: they will raise you instead, and teach what we could not.”
That's a pretty gentle resolution to his asshole move! I can appreciate how it wouldn't feel that way from his perspective, though—he has to forcibly remind himself it's not supposed to be a punishment—and it doesn't feel unearned. Just ... wow. Can you imagine if we kept drawing that parallel to restorative justice in sexual assault cases all the way through this moment? This would be wild as a solution to that crime. The krookodile are doing a lot here.

But an aching part of you wants to hear the familiarity of the words, to curl up and close your eyes and lose yourself like Sunchaser almost did. Yet you can’t lie to your father, so instead you ask, “Could you tell it again?”
I hiccuped over this, not quite sure where the lie would've been. Saying he didn't remember? It feels like he asks this question not instead of lying but instead of curling up and losing himself ... which he could still do listening to the story anyway.

she could now see her shadow cast ahead of her, framed by that light.
Shouldn't her shadow be behind her if she's facing the light?

‘Please hear me, oh great waters. I need to reach the light beyond you and use it to find my sister. Could you lend me your aid?’

The water stilled at her words, and then with a burbling hiss of sea foam, parted to form a path for her. Thus Sunchaser and the water bounded the first sea.
!
I liked the way this echos the partnerships between the people of the Southern Shore and the three pokemon tribes. Not a demand or a compulsion but a favor. In our myths, the waters would be literal and magical. Here, it feels like it's both that and slantwise references to pokemon. Interesting to reimagine Zek as a proto-trainer. (Of course it's the humans who frame the story this way.)

‘Good that I could not see without your light,’ Sunchaser replied petulantly.
But isn't she illuminating her?

“Little flurry, we cannot control the things we love,” he whispers into your scalp. “Sometimes, we must let them go.”

In response, you clutch him tighter.
Oof.

Wearily, he picks up his staff, and he is the sanhim again.
I liked this moment. It echoes other places in this chapter where characters set aside their personal bonds to play their role instead.

Nali throws her arms around your leg, her spines carefully withdrawn.
So sweet.

“This cloak is not what makes me sanhim to our people, Baku; nor will it make you a leader to theirs. But what it will do is keep you warm, little flurry, and it will keep us with you.”
❤️

She rumbles something, and belatedly you wonder if she’s been trying to speak to you this whole time.
🙃

there’s nothing here but blackness and if you think about it too much it’ll rise and choke you, tendrils of worry and shame around your throat—
So visceral.

with no body to place to it
This might be fine, but it struck my ear funny for some reason.

but the pangs in your chest suggest that you’ve simply forgotten about eating until now.
*stomach?

The sandile who rejected you was supposed to teach you patiently, your father by your side to translate. Not this.
*who'd/ who had?

It also occurs to me as sort of odd that Baku never attempts to talk to her, whether to apologize or to yell at her in a moment of weakness. It seems like he should either be barred from contacting her, offered a chance to apologize, or simply unable to recognize her, but either way he should wonder about her more. (Haha, yes, your chapter still isn't long enough. More, please.)

Either she tried to feed you something inedible or you went to bed hungry.
Seems like it should be something more like "either you tried to eat what she fed you or you went to bed hungry."

Laying out stones in the desert to bake breads and dry fruits. Carefully harvesting from the cactus fields with Nali by your side to delicately unpick the spines from your hands when you were too eager. These are not things they would do in the dunes, you realize, thinking of Samira’s gargantuan frame and maw.
Love the pairing of such tenderness against Samira's bluntness.

but at the same time you know Samira would not be able to help you if you missed one. With no vision and nothing else to do, you’re able to drown yourself in the task, and your thoughts circle in a vortex as you pick the carcass clean.
We talked a little about "lol, my new pet human can probably eat this raw fish, right? lol bye", which definitely IS here ... but I also saw a kind of love in this: she's treating him like a sandile. That obviously might not be a wholly appropriate way to care for a human, but the humans in this story pretty much never make the mistake of assuming pokemon are like themselves.
🙃
(Except for Rhea and Tourmaline! And N, of course.) There are certain kind of delicate care Samira can't provide, but she's also granting Baku the faith that he'll figure it out and be as tough as he needs to be.

I also love that ending clause. Really underlines both the anxiety and the way he has to distance himself from his body to be able to choke this thing down.

The knowledge is hard-earned, from endless hours spent in the dark, observing, categorizing, trying to understand.
Observing feels like maybe not the right word.

that your eyes were not made to piece the subterranean darkness and that when you live among them you live blind.
So, funny enough, I misread the first line as "they don't blind you" except oops they kinda do after all.

petrified by the thought of it washing away in the breeze.
Neither "washing away" nor "breeze" feels quite right. Like, we're not in the water anymore, so it can't wash away. And it's heavy with water, so a breeze wouldn't do it. Certainly, still reeling over what was almost lost though, yes.

You’ve heard this one before; she always seems to ask it before she moves you. Curiously, you echo it back.

She freezes beneath you, and then after a pause she repeats it. There’s something different here, something you can’t quite place or replicate—it echoes in a more sibilant way and the pauses feel less protracted.
My heart.

And because of who we are—we take great care to ensure that there is never more or less of our number each year—our names are passed down. When we lose one of our own, the new hatchling takes that name. Thus we remember our burden, and what our burden is to the desert.}
!
This reminds me of Midsommar, of all things.

Also, WOW, the idea that they see themselves as a burden upon the desert speaks volumes. Like, how responsible? But also wow ouch. Because that is a mood and a hellova parallel to where humans stand in the present.

{Never in my life have I had to name something. This is new to me. I consulted the other krookodile and they felt the same.}

“Nofangs?”
LOLOLOL

I didn't have any ideas, so I just named you Leafy.

You see waves crashing into the shore, safely tucked to one side as she gathers an enormous treasure trove of fish in her jaws.
! Oh, I see, we've traveled off the canon map, into one of those places barred by rocks but still tantalizingly partially visible.

towering even taller than she and you stacked together.
"You and her" sounds more natural to me. Definitely has to be her because without you it would be "taller than her."

She introduces you to the vulture queen, a young but proud mandibuzz who pecks curiously at your skull before a warning hiss sends her scooting back.
Persephone's here! Haha.

I liked the inclusion of some other species that don't directly partner with humans. The world is bigger and more complicated than that.

You can’t help but notice that Haruna’s grown taller in the past year; she’s unfolded like a sapling and stands a full four inches over you. Her maractus, a new flower bloomed on his forehead, introduces himself as Aji. Haruna wears a cloak you’ve never seen before; her darumaka peers out anxiously from its folds. You watch, mostly, while they chatter. Has it really been a year since you heard the human tongue?
Oof, the way seeing someone suddenly change physically in the time you've been gone amplifies the distance and time between. Ouch.

Also, interesting that they can have more than one partner! I guess it makes sense, because they don't own them (yet, oops) but are adding them to their family. Families come in many sizes, after all. It just hadn't occurred to me until this moment in the chapter.

At ten feet away you can see the arched trepidation ingrained in Samira’s spine, even if in the soft moonlight you can’t make out the expression on your father’s face.
OOF. Like, yes, she's much larger, so it makes sense that her reaction is more visible at a distance. But also, ouch, what an effective parallel to the shift in Baku's loyalties.

Self-consciously, you pull your cloak more tightly around your shoulders, painfully aware of how threadbare it has become. This cloak is supposed to last until you are a man, old enough to make a cloak to guard a child of your own. Your father began spinning the threads as soon as your mother realized you were growing inside of her; together, they dyed the flaxen strands to match the winter sunrise. Standing in the shadow of your home, for a moment you’re struck with a memory you never had—the sensation of the two of them tracing their fingers over the freshly-woven fabric, discussing in soft voices the patterning of the golden grass stitched into the border, their hands drifting to the swell of your mother’s belly as they imagined the world they’d show their son.
This was powerful. Truly, he can never go home again, because the path he expected to walk is already no longer available to him. Yet this still isn't a sign of him losing his humanity, per se, even though it's already a foregone conclusion that he'll switch sides. Arguably, it's the humans who lose their humanity.

The girl he joined did not wish to let him leave, and tried to compel him there first by words, then by force.
Fuck. Someone didn't listen to the Sunchaser story very well.

They lived in pockets of sandstone, their corpses lined with sun-bleached stones that you later realized were too oblong to be bones. Samira paid it no mind, but you remembered the careful ceremony your father had conducted, how he’d solemnly borne thing that was no longer your mother into the center of the village, how all who knew her took up a torch and offered her to the winds. Her bones he wrapped away in her cloak and buried, carefully. To see so many there, so naked and forgotten, casually picked over and riddled with holes—that is the feeling Samira means.
I'm still confused by corpses in that first sentence. I get the sky burial that follows (so cool! "No research" my ass, BTW) and that they leave behind picked-clean bones that the human bury. But I'm not sure about this first mentioning of corpses. These can't be the corpses of mandibuzz, can they? Do they not eat their own? Or are these krookodiles?

{We see this place once as hatchlings, and then we do not return except when we have hatchlings of our own, so they may see it for their last time.}
For their first time, isn't it?

you are mine, Nofangs.
<3 I'll eat you up I love you so.

I love this because it's so different from the claim of ownership the humans in the modern era are making. She does let him go in the end, tries to send him away somewhere safe, lets him choose to come with her into the final battle. He's hers not because she controls him completely but because they love each other.

We peoples of the desert must protect one another. The sands are an enemy so great that we cannot afford to fight amongst ourselves as well. All the earth’s children share one body, after all.
<3 </3

But underground, the krookodile have no use for words that must be seen.
Ooh, nice.

This is our punishment. One day, the Great Mother will be proud once more of what we have done and She will reawaken, instead of hiding away from us and our shame.}
Oof.

{Now each solstice we send our children to guard you.
!!

{In taking you, in codifying your guilt, I took your birthright, and with it his lineage. That is the price he and I decided on that day, Nofangs. That is the judgment I chose to pass.}
Damn.

{If anyone witnessing this thinks there are two sides to choose from, then the sands will be plunged into war. And then we have all lost.}
👋🎤

{Greetings, traveler. We serve.
Ouch.

when you look back you know without knowing what happened to the darumaka your people stole, the horrible stonecrafting magic Samira spoke of. Did she know it could be used like this?
Okay, so THIS is where the zen darumaka came from? Interesting indeed.

When the time came for him to pass—” She wraps her hands around yours, and suddenly you grow cold when you realize what she’s saying. “—for him it was fast. I was there. But I wish you were, too. I knew you wouldn’t have wanted him to be alone. But we had no way of finding you.”
:CCCCCCC

This is a lesson—

There is nothing to be learned here. That anger sparks you upright. This is senseless, and you could spend the rest of your life trying to understand it.
What a mood. This moment rang true for me.

“But if they fight us, doesn’t that mean we were right to defend ourselves to begin with?” she asks stiffly.
🙃 Oh no. Nice self-fulfilling prophecy there. Very Cold War of you.

You hug your father’s cloak to yourself and wonder what you could’ve become. If they hadn’t taken you. If you hadn’t taken her.
Yeah, the people of the southern shore moved on without him in more ways than one. This almost made me wish we knew what bad jokes and other shit their culture casually carries that allowed Baku think for an instant that it would be okay to snatch a sandile ... but we don't really need it for the chapter to work, I don't think.

Would they have gone to war if you’d learned faster? If you’d answered Samira’s questions in one year instead of two? Would Livari have listened if you’d spoken better?
Ah, he's blaming himself much in the way Samira did.

{I could take you far from here. I could leave you here when the night falls. The maractus could look after you, or even the mandibuzz; I fear this conflict will spread and you’d be safer further—}
This is petty, but I think it's farther. My understanding is that farther = physical distance and further = philosophical distance (further from the truth), though I definitely use them interchangeably in speech.

When you’re finished, she hums carefully. {We also speak of a sister like your Sunseeker. In ours, she asks a stone to carry her through the sky, although it is her fate never to find that which she seeks. Sometimes she loses faith and goes dark, and sometimes she is almost as bright as her twin.}
Ahaha making Zek and Resh somewhat interchangeable.

{Perhaps.} Samira laughs quietly to herself. {Although I always thought of the two of them as the Great Mother’s hearts, chasing one another through the peoples and across the sands.}
!!

The traditional response is almost out of your mouth before you stop yourself. It shouldn’t be that way. It wouldn’t be fair. This can’t be the only option. But these are the only pieces you were given.
Man, no one in this story can quite escape false binaries, even when they recognize them. He is just a kid, after all. :c

before you realize that your bravery last night wasn’t bravery at all, but foolishness.
Oops.

“Sigilyph warriors, to me!” someone is shouting, and then Livari is overhead, flying like the mandibuzz. You catch a glimpse of widespread wings, painted more colors than you’ve ever seen at once, and then there’s a harsh crack as the earth beneath Samira’s feet shatters and a blast of wind sends you tumbling backwards. As you crash down her spine your world is a multicolored blur; when you finally catch yourself on a fin you see that the sky is blotted out by rainbow wings.

Samira hisses and lurches beneath you, swiping out with one claw at the nearest one and slamming it into the ground. It shatters upon impact, shards of clay scattering. More stone magic? But you don’t have time to figure it out, because their eyes glow in unison and then Samira is coiling up and plunging underground and it takes all your focus just to hold on.
Ahh this makes a lot of sense as an origin story for siglyph. They're a good countermeasure to ground-type attacks and, being manmade, perhaps they have more ... inherent loyalty. 🙃

“The desert is not yours,” Livari says, turning.
Unova isn't yours! :o

But then your heart sinks: she’s holding the white half of the Dragonmother’s heart.

It had gone to the darmanitan this year, you remember distantly. They must’ve …
A-yup. That checks out.

In the next instant, the Dragonmother’s dark heart awakens.
!!!!!

{Where are we?}

Arwi, he responds. The mask’s mouth does not move when he speaks.
:c

clutching in a way that’s simultaneously furious and delicate.
❤️

By the time the sun begins to rise and instinct tells you to take cover from the light, you’ve found the sun-bleached spine of a krookodile stretching out of the sands, thousands of years of erosion having claimed the rest of her, and you know all that you need to know. The word desecrated hisses in the back of your mind.
Mommmmm :c

Other ghosts do not become yamask.

Third: no one else knows why yamask echo instead of speaking; or perhaps, if they know, they do not care.
Wait, Baku doesn't seem to be echoing here but forming sentences. Is the idea that he could speak both languages but the ghosts of the other humans could only speak their own language?
 

bluesidra

Mood
Pronouns
she/her
Hello! Thank you for the response! Whew, that’s a lot to dig through. Let me see.

Although, I'm curious about your assertion re: "questioning his beliefs would actually hurt him"--since the choice to start this dialogue, and ask these questions (rather than just summoning Reshiram) is entirely his own here.
The choice is his, but we don’t always make clever choices, do we? I mean, his snapping makes him look defensive. It’s almost like he wants to hear criticism, so he can rebuke it, and thus showing himself that he was right all along. But since he doesn’t fully engage with the criticism, but deflect it rather quickly, it comes across like the aim was never to improve his worldview, but to justify it.

Now I’m not saying that he 100% does this in text. But what I described above was the mechanics that I kinda assumed that he was working under.


But it's the "if they didn't want to, they'd probably show" that Ghetsis is picking at, and kind of what this fic picks at in general.
I get that in general, and there is a lot of nuance around that, especially in the examples you listed. But I feel like Ghetsis in particular shoots his message in the knee with his approach. Like, that’s not a criticism of you, the author, but of the character and his brain-ways. If he didn’t put on such a grueling show, his entire argument falls apart quickly.


In the games Alder's pretty passive, and hopes that the player can do things in his stead--which is, arguably, because if the champion solved the problems then the player wouldn't really be able to do anything.
The flaw of all pokemon games…
There's a recurring theme in this chapter of people expecting (or forcing?) other people to fly into the line of fire on their behalf
Eeey, another thing I didn’t catch

I really do value your thoughts here--they ended up inspiring how I wanted to bring the final chapter together, for what it's worth. But I do disagree with this idea that Tourmaline's the one not accommodating Cheren here--that his deafness somehow supersedes her muteness, when in reality it's his deafness that allows him to pretend that she's mute, and as such ignore what she's saying.

It's difficult, right? I think we want to come at this from the assumption that the trainers are correct, so we want to justify that the pokemon are wrong if they think the trainers aren't correct. Is it their job to tell us that they're hurting, that remind us that we aren't doing our jobs--or is it our job to do our jobs?
That are two difficult paragraphs to parse, let me try… … ...

Ok, I think a lot boils down to how our (yours and mine) baseline for human behaviour is. You seem to think that Cheren actively leans into his
deafness’ to not have to think too hard about his pokemons wellbeing. While I assume Cheren is legitimately deaf, because as soon as he got even the hint of something not being ok, he’d immediately act to correct it.
(And yeah, the modern art thingy Boldure did when it wanted to show that it wanted to go back to its cave was pretty clear, if one would take a minute or two to look at it. But Cheren didn’t, so I don’t want to take all the guilt off of him.)

Bottom-line: I don’t even want to assume that trainers are correct, but I assume that the average trainer does everything in their power to accomodate for their pokemon, and that’s as much as they can do within the limits of their senses.


I like your interpretations here of what a lilligant or a dwebble could be--but that's sort of Tourmaline's point, isn't it? That if we don't ask, we see what we want to see. You want to see light; she wants to see darkness. But what we want to see doesn't really matter in the face of what is.
Wait, I don’t think that was Tourmaline’s point at all. I recall her more like “look at all those pokemon, pretending to be alright when they probably aren’t.” So my counter was “look at all those pokemon, being alright because they have a healthy relationship to their trainer.” Neither one of those statements is proven, and that’s where Tourmaline’s argument falls flat imo. (Like, again, not your argument as the author, but Tourmaline as a character)


I think this one might be one where we disagree, honestly, and that's okay! But my intent in structuring the story this way, showing Amara's death before her motivation, is more or less for the same reasons you don't like this chapter. When we first see her, Amara is a prey animal who tries to 1v1 a dragon. While she has three broken legs. Because she wants to protect Hilda. Honestly I think that's one of the bravest things anyone in this fic does, specifically because Amara knows she can't win that fight, and doesn't even want to fight this fight for herself, and tries to anyway.

I think part of it comes down to types of heroism. There are people who don't hesitate before running into danger, and people who do hesitate before running in as well. But are the ones who realize the danger and feel the fear, and overcome it anyway, less brave than the ones who don't seem to feel the fear at all?
To be honest, I don’t remember Amara’s fight too well. It was kinda in the background and I focused more on Vaszelva than on the way Amara fought. In retrospect I couldn’t tell if she was being afraid, heroic, reckless… any of that.

I really love those ‘ways of heroism’ you described there btw.


I'm curious! If someone told me "you're my partner and you should fight for me", I don't think I'd be convinced. I'd certainly be flattered (and a little confused) if that was all I had to do to earn someone's (literal) to-the-death loyalty, but would that argument convince you to be willing to die for someone else? To hurt for them? To be owned by them?
I think it depends on the scope, but yes. The keyword is “earn”. If I’m in a life-and-death situation with someone I love and care about, I’d fight to the death for them because I know they are doing the same for me. And I kinda assumed Amara and Hilda had that bond at this stage of the story.

Like, I don’t expect my newly caught Wurmple to put its life on the line for me, not at all. But a friend of many months, if not years? Especially if heroic death is one of the best things to do in the culture I come from. Would do without hesitation.

Especially because the odds are kinda even. Hilda is way more fragile, and she is in physical danger every time she walks up to N or Ghetsis.


I'm sorry if this sounds rude, but I'm not sure why you'd "ignore all the messages this fic has sent so far"--I did spent a fair amount of time trying to send those messages, so I'm not sure why you'd strip my writing of that context. I might be misunderstanding this part, so if that doesn't sound like a charitable interpretation of your words here, please feel free to correct that!
I totally didn’t mean it like that. Sorry if that upset you.

It was more like an attempt for me to make sense of Amara’s character. Like, I know that you are sending a message with this fic and the main focus is this message, and not the characters and the 800th layer to their personality. So when I’m analysing, I should mainly focus on the message and not read things into a character, because that’s probably not intended to be there.

But if I ignore the main focus of your fic for a moment and deliberately analyse something I shouldn’t, this would be the conclusion about Amara’s character that I’d come to. Like, I didn’t understand what Amara’s problem was, and so I tried taking a step back from the problem and look at her behaviour. Maybe there’s the reason that my logic doesn’t apply to her. Something like that.

Hm, idk if that explains it sufficiently. But it’s got nothing to do with you or your fic, and more with me trying to make sense of what I perceived.


I might be a bit too optimistic for this world, but I also kinda want to assume the best in people before I'm taught otherwise. Else I couldn't approach them on a respectful level. You seem to have a more nuanced approach. That was at least the hiccup in two instances.
Still, thanks a lot for your in-depth reply. Looking forward to see more of those thoughts!
 

kintsugi

golden scars
Location
waiting for the fog to roll out
Pronouns
she/her
Partners
  1. silvally-grass
  2. lapras
  3. golurk
  4. custom/booper-kintsugi
some responses?? in this economy? we finish STRONG on the review replies I swear

General thoughts:

Fuck.

That's it. No further comment at this time.
I really love this review--I'm fascinated that we had such different takeaways on it and yet you still ended up enjoying the chapter, perhaps even moreso and for entirely different reasons than I did, haha. It's truly a testament to how much I'm still figuring out a lot as a writer that this somehow landed the way that it did lol.

It's certainly relevant to the rest of the story we've seen up to this point, but it could also easily stand alone as a one-shot. (Okay, maybe the Stormdancer stuff would be confusing. But it otherwise feels very complete and satisfying.) I did think that the jump from Nepeta to here was pretty big, bigger probably than it would've been from siglyph chapter. BUT, I'm really happy Lizard Mom was here, and this was such a fun surprise to stumble into blindly.
mentioned in Discord, but yeah, I thought this was kind of a hilarious segment to plan out because it's like, alright, everyone wants to understand things about Hilda and N! So many questions about the humans that still need to be answered! What color are their orbs? What happened in their childhoods that make their actions sympathetic and justify the situations they orchestrated? Did they eat pancakes or waffles?

But this is a story about things that start with N, not a story about N. This shit's way past him now.

except for the scene that features this yamask eventually becoming ghetsis's cofagrigus and then teaching N how to speak the desert tongue, which is inexplicably mentioned as his native tongue in chapter 14, while a younger zahhak watches angrily and is very tsundere about the whole thing

3) The absence of follow-up on the sandile who rejected him stood out to me. No attempt to find her and apologize, not much further reflection on her growing up while he was growing up. Especially since his tribe moved on without him, getting taller and changing their beliefs, while he was with her people, getting taller and adopting her beliefs.
This one I definitely agree with--in my head one of the many things that Samira hissed at Baku was a general "it's not her job to teach you how to be a better person and you should never expect her to do that or even forgive you," but I realize that I shouldn't have that relegated to sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss sssss
4) I wasn't entirely sure why (echo of Baku) does seem to still be able to speak as a Yamask.
This one is! oops! Explained in Discord but basically I wanted ghosts to be able to speak the language of whatever they spoke before they died--so a dead pokemon who becomes a ghost would speak the forest tongue/the desert tongue/whatever. Humans die and only speak the dancer's tongue, but specifically once they become pokemon ... they can no longer speak the dancer's tongue, and as such are unable to speak at all. awkward gg.

seriously though I don't get why this game insists that you should be able to own actual dead human children
5) Is little flurry a nod to Baku attempting and failing to bridge these two sides? Icy dragonshellmom snapping in two again. I also wondered how far down the Southern Shore was supposed to be. Modern day Castelia? OR, the crookodile parts of the desert stretched into what's now Nimbasa? I guess the desert could have snow flurries too—mine did, after all, though I'm picturing this less like the deserts of the US Southwest and more like the Sahara.
Oh, I actually pictured the (area north of Castelia that's currently known as the Desert Resort for??? reasons? and contains Relic Castle, etc) as this general area. There were some arid parts but in general the krookodile kept it flourishing, kind of similar in climate to California/Death Valley, where the land really does go from dunes to snowcapped mountains to grass plains in under a hundred miles? Maybe a bit of an exaggeration but the giant earth crocodiles are able to support the water demands in such a small area. Until the big ones are all killed in a freaky freaky war and are consistently killed before they can reach a large enough size to continue preventing the area from becoming a desert wasteland.

made the line edits; bless you for keeping up with my bleary 1 am prose

That's a pretty gentle resolution to his asshole move! I can appreciate how it wouldn't feel that way from his perspective, though—he has to forcibly remind himself it's not supposed to be a punishment—and it doesn't feel unearned. Just ... wow. Can you imagine if we kept drawing that parallel to restorative justice in sexual assault cases all the way through this moment? This would be wild as a solution to that crime. The krookodile are doing a lot here.
this is honestly the most "deserved", for lack of a better word, way I could think of to justify someone deciding to forcibly take ownership of someone else, and tbh there's still a lot of lives ruined and a lot that's riding on "just trust that the people looking after you are going to make the right decisions". it's kind of telling that I basically modelled prison but with crocodiles ...

We talked a little about "lol, my new pet human can probably eat this raw fish, right? lol bye", which definitely IS here ... but I also saw a kind of love in this: she's treating him like a sandile. That obviously might not be a wholly appropriate way to care for a human, but the humans in this story pretty much never make the mistake of assuming pokemon are like themselves. (Except for Rhea and Tourmaline! And N, of course.) There are certain kind of delicate care Samira can't provide, but she's also granting Baku the faith that he'll figure it out and be as tough as he needs to be.
haha I never considered this moment as tender, but I suppose against the backdrop of the Cherens of the world, this isn't the worst ...

I think a lot of the trainers in this fic are specifically wrong because they unilaterally fail to accommodate human/pokemon differences, though.

! Oh, I see, we've traveled off the canon map, into one of those places barred by rocks but still tantalizingly partially visible.
nope! these are probably basculin!

honestly non-sentient/non-pokemon fish probably also exist in this world and it could be them as well. but if they were basculin they can't talk in a language we understand and they can't fasten scarves without fingers, so it's fine.

Also, interesting that they can have more than one partner! I guess it makes sense, because they don't own them (yet, oops) but are adding them to their family. Families come in many sizes, after all. It just hadn't occurred to me until this moment in the chapter.
this was straight-up a typo. I do appreciate you assuming the best of me, though.

I'm still confused by corpses in that first sentence. I get the sky burial that follows (so cool! "No research" my ass, BTW) and that they leave behind picked-clean bones that the human bury. But I'm not sure about this first mentioning of corpses. These can't be the corpses of mandibuzz, can they? Do they not eat their own? Or are these krookodiles?
I meant to type "caves" and instead I typed "corpses". My brain is quite large.

I love this because it's so different from the claim of ownership the humans in the modern era are making. She does let him go in the end, tries to send him away somewhere safe, lets him choose to come with her into the final battle. He's hers not because she controls him completely but because they love each other.
or because she ended up raising him away from his family for long enough that he lost all ties to them and more or less lost the ability to relate to them, bit of column A, bit of column B

This is petty, but I think it's farther. My understanding is that farther = physical distance and further = philosophical distance (further from the truth), though I definitely use them interchangeably in speech.
this is probably true! but as is tradition with lay/lie I just removed it entirely rather than try to figure out which one it's supposed to be.

Hello! Thank you for the response! Whew, that’s a lot to dig through. Let me see.
Hi again! Appreciate you stopping by a second time!

The choice is his, but we don’t always make clever choices, do we? I mean, his snapping makes him look defensive. It’s almost like he wants to hear criticism, so he can rebuke it, and thus showing himself that he was right all along. But since he doesn’t fully engage with the criticism, but deflect it rather quickly, it comes across like the aim was never to improve his worldview, but to justify it.

Now I’m not saying that he 100% does this in text. But what I described above was the mechanics that I kinda assumed that he was working under.
I guess the part that would benefit me most as an author would be to know where he does this in the text--100% or otherwise!--that leads you to this conclusion. I hadn't quite intended for his dialogue to come across that way, so if there are sections that made you feel that way I'd be interested in knowing what they are so I can take a look at revising.

I get that in general, and there is a lot of nuance around that, especially in the examples you listed. But I feel like Ghetsis in particular shoots his message in the knee with his approach. Like, that’s not a criticism of you, the author, but of the character and his brain-ways. If he didn’t put on such a grueling show, his entire argument falls apart quickly.
I'm not sure if this will change your opinion, but during that battle specifically Ghetsis mentions several injuries that happened during previous championship matches that were more or less considered okay by everyone's standards--an unfezant gets third degree burns, for example. The point he's trying to get at is that trying to quantify an "acceptable" amount of pain, especially when it's "pain that is not and will never be felt by me", is kind of a bonkers concept and it's inherently difficult to say what should be "acceptable" for everyone.

In a world with instantaneous healing, is it really so bad to get your limbs ripped off if they can be attached on later? Are third degree burns bad really so bad? Broken limbs? Bruises? Papercuts? I think everyone's got a different level of what they're willing to tolerate for a given payoff, but that's far from universal.

One of Amara's major quibbles with Hilda is because Amara's leg gets broken during a gym fight--but it's healed now, and you mentioned not really seeing what Amara's problem is with Hilda's methods, so presumably you'd put "broken limbs" as "acceptable". But I definitely wouldn't! Which is more or less Ghetsis' point when he, correctly or not, dramatically or not, chooses to go all the way to the extreme end here--maybe the line for "acceptable violence inflicted on pokemon" shouldn't exist at all.

Ok, I think a lot boils down to how our (yours and mine) baseline for human behaviour is. You seem to think that Cheren actively leans into his
deafness’ to not have to think too hard about his pokemons wellbeing. While I assume Cheren is legitimately deaf, because as soon as he got even the hint of something not being ok, he’d immediately act to correct it.
I think these are fair assumptions to make of Cheren-from-the-games-Cheren, or Cheren-from-the-anime-Cheren, but I guess my struggle here becomes:
(And yeah, the modern art thingy Boldure did when it wanted to show that it wanted to go back to its cave was pretty clear, if one would take a minute or two to look at it. But Cheren didn’t, so I don’t want to take all the guilt off of him.)
--since this Cheren-in-this-story-Cheren does get lots of hints that something's not okay and doesn't immediately act to correct it, which is something you acknowledge! So like, even if you don't take all the guilt off of him--is he still responsible for rectifying this mistake? Should he still be entitled to owning pokemon who don't want to be owned?

Bottom-line: I don’t even want to assume that trainers are correct, but I assume that the average trainer does everything in their power to accomodate for their pokemon, and that’s as much as they can do within the limits of their senses.
I guess the roadblock I get stuck on, then, is that choosing to own pokemon despite being "at the limits of their senses" (which in Cheren's case includes "being completely unable to discern if my pokemon event want to be here") becomes an irresponsible and cruel choice. If you can't look after someone correctly because you're incapable of doing so, then I think a fair answer is to not become the sole person responsible for their well-being.

It's not really like there's a binary, right? Tourmaline was happy in a situation that didn't involve Cheren. Carnel was happy in a situation that didn't involve Cheren. Cheren, who is incapable of understanding when Tourmaline and Carnel are expressing unhappiness, takes it upon himself to remove them from these situations and assumes massive amounts of control over their lives--they literally cannot go outside unless he permits it. That's a choice Cheren makes, that he doesn't have to make, and him being "deaf" doesn't mean that it's Tourmaline's fault that he's chosen this life for them.

Wait, I don’t think that was Tourmaline’s point at all. I recall her more like “look at all those pokemon, pretending to be alright when they probably aren’t.” So my counter was “look at all those pokemon, being alright because they have a healthy relationship to their trainer.” Neither one of those statements is proven, and that’s where Tourmaline’s argument falls flat imo. (Like, again, not your argument as the author, but Tourmaline as a character)
debating "the point" is kind of hard, but I think these lines from her form a pretty apt response:
Tourmaline said:
With those same eyes, they will look at a scolipede’s venom, or at my claws, and tell themselves—yes, this means they must want to fight. A trainer will clap for us, cheer us on, laugh with us. They will tell us that we are amazing and powerful as we fight to keep ourselves and those we cherish safe. They will take our victories and give you their weakness. But they will do everything except listen, Carnel.
Tourmaline and Carnel said:
{I would think … } The answer comes easily. {Because he didn’t want to leave it.}

Tourmaline nods to herself and then sits back down by your side. She looks over one shoulder to stare at you, unblinking. {This is what you think. This is what I think as well. But we are colored by our expectations of others.}

{Like a gemstone is colored by the light it sees,} you agree.
Tourmaline explicitly agrees that she and Carnel have biased perspectives, just like the humans do. But that's more or less the point--we're outsiders, like Cheren, and we're choosing to draw conclusions because we can't ask. There are also several pokemon in this scene who explicitly say they aren't alright and don't have a healthy relationship with their trainer, so I guess I don't entirely understand why their statements don't get to count here.

To be honest, I don’t remember Amara’s fight too well. It was kinda in the background and I focused more on Vaszelva than on the way Amara fought. In retrospect I couldn’t tell if she was being afraid, heroic, reckless… any of that.
That's okay! That's kind of the point. Wave doesn't focus on it either. And that's sort of the bitter irony of Amara, I guess.

I think it depends on the scope, but yes. The keyword is “earn”. If I’m in a life-and-death situation with someone I love and care about, I’d fight to the death for them because I know they are doing the same for me. And I kinda assumed Amara and Hilda had that bond at this stage of the story.
I think ["I kinda assumed Amara and Hilda had that bond"] is a big assumption but I'd love if you could point me to the lines in the text that got you to that conclusion--would definitely like to reexamine what I'm implying if that's the case.

I also really like to unpack that assumption in general--love and courage to me are more powerful when they aren't assumed to be the norm. Apologies if this is a deep lore dive or anything but I was recently discussing LotR musical composition with a friend so this scene is fresh on my mind, but also I feel like it's just an impactful scene in general: the scene in Fellowship of the Ring where Frodo chooses to take the Ring to Mordor.

Part of what makes this scene, and the conceit of the movie, work so well, is how it's structured--these are the most powerful people in the kingdom and they're all scared shitless of taking the Ring. There's a large discussion that quickly devolves into a fight. We get a wide shot of their reflections in the Ring and realize this has probably happened before--people falling into discord and squabbling in the face of evil rather than uniting, because the Ring corrupts. It devolves naturally.

And then! Frodo gets up. He's hesitant at first. The music is still overshadowed by discussion. Most people don't hear him. But Gandalf does, and when he realizes what's happening, his face breaks. Gandals is a near-immortal wizard from a guardian race of spirits called the Maiar from two or three Ages back who were responsible for shaping the world, and his face breaks when he realizes what's happening. And when everyone else realizes, they fall silent as well. The music finally swells, and we have a moment to realize how close to dissolution this entire plan almost was, except for one person standing up when no one else could.

Contrast to the version where it's Assumed that a brave hero will take the Ring, Frodo gets up and does it, and then they all fuck off to Mordor on eagles--it's a lot less impactful because it doesn't feel like it was ever in question, like it was ever in doubt.

Pokemon as a franchise fascinates me because the games pretty much Assume that things are always going to go this one way--of course pokemon are going to be unquestionably loyal to you! If they aren't, it's just a phase and they'll work through it. There's never any doubt. There's never any pokemon who don't end up doing this. All pokemon do it and they do it always; those are the rules.

Contrast with pretty much every other franchise--heroism isn't the norm for any specific species or group of people. Not all the elves in Rivendell take the Ring to Mordor, or even join the army to fight Sauron. Not all the students in Hogwarts join Dumbledore's Army; a lot of them don't even stay for the Battle of Hogwarts. What makes heroes special (or what makes protagonists heroic, idk) is when they choose to be brave specifically when others aren't--when no one's Assuming that they have to be brave, and they still choose to do brave things anyway.

So to tie back to Amara: to me it's less powerful when it's just assumed that pokemon will inherently love and die for their trainers after X months. Like you say, the keyword is "earned"--but is it really earned if it's something that's just Assumed to happen eventually?

Like, I don’t expect my newly caught Wurmple to put its life on the line for me, not at all. But a friend of many months, if not years? Especially if heroic death is one of the best things to do in the culture I come from. Would do without hesitation.
I also think it's telling that we pivot back so easily from "would you want to die for someone" back to this hypothetical Wurmple! Particularly fascinating in light of a story that asks you to step into the shoes of a pokemon--but again, the question isn't if Wurmple should put its life on the line for you; it's if you would put your life on the line for Wurmple. Specifically if you didn't actually like Wurmple that much? Wurmple decided you were friends but maybe you didn't feel the same way? Your culture values being kind to others, so surely being Wurmple's servant to the end of your life is what you meant by that, right?

I totally didn’t mean it like that. Sorry if that upset you.
Not upset! Just trying to understand. It's a good learning experience for me and I appreciate your responses here, so I want to do them justice.

It was more like an attempt for me to make sense of Amara’s character. Like, I know that you are sending a message with this fic and the main focus is this message, and not the characters and the 800th layer to their personality. So when I’m analysing, I should mainly focus on the message and not read things into a character, because that’s probably not intended to be there.

But if I ignore the main focus of your fic for a moment and deliberately analyse something I shouldn’t, this would be the conclusion about Amara’s character that I’d come to. Like, I didn’t understand what Amara’s problem was, and so I tried taking a step back from the problem and look at her behaviour. Maybe there’s the reason that my logic doesn’t apply to her. Something like that.

Hm, idk if that explains it sufficiently. But it’s got nothing to do with you or your fic, and more with me trying to make sense of what I perceived.
I don't quite understand this one yet. I'm really sorry! Amara's character is definitely integrated into the plot, 800 layers or no. In general I struggle with separating plot and characters, since characters form the plot and plot tends to shape the characters--so I guess where I struggle is trying to figure out what's left to analyze when you step back from the plot? What parts of Amara are you analyzing without also analyzing the events that happened to her?

I might be a bit too optimistic for this world, but I also kinda want to assume the best in people before I'm taught otherwise. Else I couldn't approach them on a respectful level. You seem to have a more nuanced approach. That was at least the hiccup in two instances.
Still, thanks a lot for your in-depth reply. Looking forward to see more of those thoughts!
I think that's fair! I try to be optimistic as well, and sometimes I think I'm also too optimistic, but perhaps we're both wrong.

A parting question, though, if you're able to answer? If you want to assume the best in people before you're taught otherwise--what would a trainer need to do before you're "taught" that they shouldn't be allowed to own a pokemon?
 

kintsugi

golden scars
Location
waiting for the fog to roll out
Pronouns
she/her
Partners
  1. silvally-grass
  2. lapras
  3. golurk
  4. custom/booper-kintsugi
So as I find myself wrapping up this fic, I also get to take a little step back and be in awe over how social this entire process ended up being--not even because I was particularly unsocial in fic before, but because I got to meet some people I probably wouldn't have met otherwise.

This is a story about voice, and art, and doing brave things, and doing silly things. If I'm being fully honest, having a fanart gallery has always been a thing that I've been a little jealous of/a hidden secret goal of mine, and at some point in the past year I realized, holy shit, i'm finally here, and that was a wild experience in itself. True to form I immediately forgot to make an actual gallery for all of these because I am the worst and instead kept them in a private document so I could oggle at them in my own free time; if I've lost your link, please accept my apologies and also maybe let me know?

wow it's
a r t
(spoilers for the entire fic, probably)

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[by Chibi Pika FFN | DA | Twitter | Tumblr]
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[by Panoramic Vacuum / Wolflyn Tumblr | AO3 | FFN]
 
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xviii. enharmonic New

kintsugi

golden scars
Location
waiting for the fog to roll out
Pronouns
she/her
Partners
  1. silvally-grass
  2. lapras
  3. golurk
  4. custom/booper-kintsugi
xviii. enharmonic
(end)

※​

Telling the story forwards, the way everyone else says it should be told, makes it a sad one. You talk to a lot of people and everything gets worse. You walk across an entire continent only to end up right where you started, and the only option ahead of you is to separate humans from pokémon indiscriminately, because some wrongs cannot be righted, only undone.

It’s much easier to look at things this way instead. Turning things on their head is what Unova does best, after all. Now right is wrong, black is white. Put the effect before the cause and it’s immediately clear that there were a thousand times you could’ve been stopped, helped, before you had no other choice, if anyone had just listened. If you had just known how to ask them to understand.

It’s much easier not to look at any of that. It’s easier instead to let the beginning and the end intertwine. Zahhak told you a story like that once, about a human who met an adamantine dragon and was permitted to see through the web of time, to watch a war in reverse.

It’s reassuring to pretend you’re that human now, and to quietly undo your own tragedy. Told backwards, everyone gets a happy ending. Hilda solemnly walks away from a healing battlefield and returns all of her badges and pokémon, her scowl fading piece by piece as they leave her, until she’s grinning through tears as she claps for a mincinno. Tourmaline is taken from a trainer she hates, returned to two humans she loves, and sleepily rouses herself by the fire. Zahhak flings himself out, unharmed, from enormous pile of rubble; his scars fade; he smiles toothily. Human children all over the country enthusiastically direct pokémon to fling themselves away from one another. Hundreds of pokémon are pulled away from lives of violence and accompanied by their human friends into the wild to live quiet, peaceful lives among their kind.

And further back still. A clever human scientist unstifles a gasp of surprise after freeing a pokémon from the first pokéball, and deconstructs it with shaking hands so it will never imprison anyone against their will again. Sagaris rears up on her hind legs and swallows a torrent of dragonfire so that it doesn’t burn anyone; in turn, humans plug her gaping wounds with their weapons and remove them once her roars of pain turn triumphant. Stormdancer opens her eyes and inhales as blood bursts from a king’s hands back into her throat. Reshiram and Zekrom reconcile back into the Dragonmother, who draws all of her children close once more.

Every victory, every defeat, every pain—it all gets wound back until everyone is smaller and simpler and less violent, until no one can hurt anyone else ever again. There is nothing more beautiful and terrifying than their innocence.

Perhaps selfishly, you focus on a very small child with green hair who watches with wide eyes as screams to turn cheers, who lays down his burdensome mantle of being the hero and closes his eyes in a peaceful world.

※​

The moment before it all ends is serene. And then:

{Hero of Truth. Is this what you want?}

You can’t quite hide your surprise. Both at the words, and at their speaker.

“Zekrom?” you ask slowly.

{I have listened to you, and I have listened to the Hero of Ideals, and I have come to an understanding,} Zekrom rumbles.

You say nothing. Pure truth is a response.

A massive fracture crawls across the room, inevitably toward Reshiram; by the time they touch, you will have split two worlds that will never rejoin again.

{I sensed your presence when you passed by Relic Castle, many moons ago. I slumbered deep inside of the Dark Stone, and yet your conviction for a better world stirred me. But unformed hope for a brighter future is not an ideal; I did not and do not believe you have the capacity to struggle for a dream that you cannot see. And yet, even as we stand here at the end, I sense that you are not fully convinced in your truth, even as Reshiram stands behind you. So I ask you again: is this what you want?}

You aren’t sure if gods have a concept of rhetorical questions. So instead you look Zekrom in the eye before your better judgment holds you back, and in the depths of red you see unfathomable wisdom, pain, and hunger. A black eyelid shutters, granting you a brief moment of respite. “What do you want instead?” you manage.

{What I want no longer matters,} Zekrom says, wearily casting one arm across the cratered battlefield around you. {Hero of Truth, all that matters now is your heart, and if you still can believe enough to extend it.}

The words sit heavily in the room, which you find has grown unnaturally still. In this one, serene moment, everyone else but the dragon before you is frozen in place.

{You seek to reset us. I find that quite unideal, and instead I seek to compromise. I believe neither of us want this ending, although you think your hand is forced. Even I have no faith in wishing on the past. Do you understand what I am saying, Hero of Truth?}

At first you don’t even understand the question, the situation, any of it. What is Zekrom trying to tell you? That your choice here will be irreversible? You know that; you’ve known that all along. That some concepts are never meant to be merged as one; that your beliefs are as incompatible with the current world as fire and water? You’ve known that as well.

But Zekrom, who surely knows far more than you ever will, must know both these things and more. They wouldn’t ask you if there wasn’t a reason, something they need you to understand.

Why are you making me do this?”

Unbidden, the memory surfaces. Your father played chess with you when you were younger. You asked him in a very clear voice why he insisted on playing you, because that you thought it was silly and he was always going to win. And the rules were quite foolish. Some pieces could belong on some squares; everything had to be divisible. You’d asked him why black and white had to be cordoned off into their own boxes.

And Ghetsis had coldly answered all of your questions at once: “Because some people don’t have a choice.”

You hated that game, how every piece had only its one set of moves, how kings could go nowhere at all but were somehow the only piece that mattered. But you hated most of all how the board reset like nothing had ever happened, as if a dozen pieces hadn’t fallen for a polarized victory. At first you thought you disliked the game because you kept losing, but you once you tasted victory you hated winning even more, because it never felt like success, not when there was simply an endless string of games ahead.

The answer coalesces along with the image of tiny, trembling hands resetting the pieces across the board, prepared to start it all over. “You’re trying to tell me that I cannot fixate on the past. I cannot return things to the way they used to be and expect better results.”

Zekrom rumbles an agreement. {Reshiram and I are in eternal conflict over which force should be the driving factor in this world. I suspect we always will be. To explore and know the truth, you must look to the past and understand how previous actions have guided you to where you are today. To explore and know your ideals, you must look to the future and understand what steps you must take to walk the path to where you wish to be. But if you desire only to return to the past, if you seek to create a future that was simply what once was … you, like us, will be trapped in a cycle of conflict forever.}

It’s an ugly truth, and an even uglier one to hear from the Dragon of Ideals.

“I know. But Reshiram and I knew of no other way to help. This is all we can do.” You look away. It takes all of your self-control not to burst out then. You know that, and yet—there’s nothing else you can do. No other way to reverse this situation. Surely even Zekrom can understand that truth: if there was a better path, you would’ve taken it long ago. But it’s more than that. You remember the stories you were told growing up, about the black dragon who had strength beyond compare and yet whose greatest gift was to have faith in others despite everything. “Would you also stand there and let things continue as they are, knowing what you know now? Could you do nothing when there are people who cry out for you?”

Zekrom says quietly, {You remind me of my eldest daughter.}

On reflex, you can’t help but look back at them. “I’m sorry?”

{In times she was like you, with her green voice. In times she was like my Hero of Ideals, with her fighting spirit. But in her best times, she was both. That was who she was always meant to be.}

Your stomach clenches. Stormdancer. Does Zekrom know?

You see something in Zekrom’s eyes twist and seethe, and the truth strikes you with the same sort of certainty with which you’d say the sky is blue. Zekrom knows what happened to Stormdancer and her voice, and what happened in turn to the rest of the Dragonmother’s children.

“I’m sorry.”

Zekrom breaks your gaze. {You are not the one I have chosen, but I respect the goal that you seek. When I was reborn amidst a battlefield and the very first thing my Hero of Ideals did was command me to attack another one in suffering, one who would invoke my daughter’s words in the face of certain death, I understood: even her Ideal world would involve pain for the innocent. Perhaps not for everyone, perhaps only for a few, but pain enough that I hesitated then. Pain enough that I believe I could shelve my conflict now with you and my sibling to break us from this cycle. And, of course, even I understand the other simple truth—if I do not try to intercede here, you will act anyway. I cannot stop you.}

They’re … not wrong.

{This future you envision, where so many people struggled for so long, only for you and my sibling to rip their rewards from their hands—I cannot say it is an ideal one. I hope we both agree there.}

Zekrom waits for you to respond, so you have to try.

There had been a single moment, back when you were idly standing in the Icirrus pokécenter, the TV buzzing gently as background noise, when it had all finally come together for you, months too late. There was a crowd gathered round, watching intently, but you hadn’t noticed them at first. It was late at night and Spur was talking about an interesting thought experiment involving a traveling man and a map, and there was a weird feeling in your chest—Zekrom, you’d realize later. You must’ve sensed the dragon from halfway across Unova.

What made you look up was his voice, tinny but unmistakable. You pushed through the crowd to see him on the screen. Zahhak, beaten and bloody, glared up at this god and invoked those words, the full thing, the parts he hadn’t been able to truly say back in the castle, and it felt in that moment that his words were for simultaneously for you and for all of Unova: forgive me, dear sibling.

The last time you’d seen him, you’d split the oath between yourselves; he’d taken on the sacrifice and you’d taken on the regret, but in front of Zekrom he’d accepted them both, and when he was done, he passed them on, relinquishing the mantra of martyrs for another. Those words were never meant to be held for long.

Something inside of you had caught fire that night. There was once a childish, hopeful part of you that still hoped for a way that didn’t involve suffering, and that night it burst into a flame.

In those flames you could steel yourself to the harsh reality that you’d seen Zahhak accept. Changing the world would require a piece of yourself in return. Denying that fact only meant that someone else would suffer while you waited. Sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. In that one moment that drive had taken all of Zahhak, and a little bit of you as well. And from that one moment there was no more avoiding it; it was time to give the rest up to the flames.

There is no change without sacrifice. This is the conviction upon which you called to Reshiram. This is the fire that roared so loudly it stirred a god.

To look Zekrom in the eyes, and to say that you could still believe, that you could still look to an ideal that you had always sought but had been taken from you, time and time again? Can you agree?

No. You cannot. You tilt your head up. Bitterly, like every human in Unova before you, you choose silence.

{My sibling and I,} says Zekrom when you fail to answer, gesturing with an errant flick of an arm the size of your body towards Reshiram, {were once one being. You have surely heard the stories of how we were embroiled in aiding in a battle of brothers, much like the one you are in now.}

Your brow furrows, but you understand before you have to ask for clarification: the tongue of dragons has no word for civil war. It is a purely human construct, to pretend that wars could be civil. Zahhak once— “Yes. I know the legends. The conflict was so fierce that you and Reshiram were sundered.” You can’t bring yourself to look Zekrom in the eyes, but you hope the regret carries through in your voice at least. “Humans did that to you. I’m sorry.”

“N,” she says suddenly, voice shaky. “Do you … do you trust us?”

Behind the dragon, one hand outstretched, one tear tracking through the ash smudged across her cheeks—Hilda has been here this entire time. Watching, silent, listening.

Trust her?

It’s such an innocent, impossible question. How could she trust you? That night you did nothing but watch as Zahhak ripped Amara to shreds. She couldn’t have known that that was the last thing you’d wanted, that half of why you’d tried to hard at Dragonspiral Tower was because you knew what Ghetsis would do when you failed—but you couldn’t ask Hilda to separate you from them. Indirectly or not, you’d known that was the inevitable end to the path he’d set himself on. He was a dragon, after all. A dragon who thought that the only gift he had left was violence. You’d seen the hesitation on her face, even before you summoned Reshiram. For once, she hadn’t wanted to battle you. Was it because she knew it would come to this? Because she, like you, had come to doubt the drive that had gotten her here?

But doubt isn’t reconciliation. Regret isn’t redemption. How could she ask you to trust her? She couldn’t even understand half of this conversation; hers is a one-sided scream into the void that Zekrom somehow chose to answer. Hilda tried, and she tried very hard, but what does she know? What does anyone else know? How was it so easy for her to call to a dragon whose words she would never understand?

In the frozen moment that follows, you want to tell her so much. Of Stormdancer and the Dragonmother, of a chord the two of them had formed on a starry night in a time long-since dead, of the gift your ancestors stole to get you both here today. But your words die in your throat.

What would she say? What would she choose?

Did she know?

When you don’t respond, Hilda’s the one to break the silence. “You used the word sunder to describe Reshiram and Zekrom,” she says quietly, almost hesitantly. “Do you know where that word comes from?”

She’s repeating your words back to you. Draconic. There was fire in your voice when you told her the tragedy of Sagaris not ten minutes earlier, fire that you aren’t even sure came from you. But you can’t hear rage in her. You look hesitantly to Zekrom, who nods, so you shake your head slowly.

“My mother told me a story once.” You can see the tremors racking up her arms, but she keeps her voice steady. “Reshiram and Zekrom were once one being, and of great power. But with that strength came duty: our Great Mother was born with two hearts. Seeing the strength she was given, she tasked herself to safeguard this world. But while her role was very important, it was also very hard, and above all, it was very lonely. To walk without equal is a horrible thing, and even crueler when you walk above all others. No other creature could judge her for what she had done, could praise her success and condemn her failures, for there was none who dared. More than that—there was no one who could. And so the Great Mother sundered into the Twin Gods.”

You want to spit her retort back at her. You know how this story ends. One became two so that two could be like one. But just because it turned out one way hundreds of years ago doesn’t mean it’ll work out this way now.

“The word sunder for us is a special one,” Hilda recites in a voice that finally quavers, “that comes from our ancient word for alone. The translation is imperfect, but we picked it for a reason. There is a conjugation in our language the means you and I, without them. In the story I was told, the Great Mother uses you and I, without them until she splits. From that moment on, when she says “we” she says I and them, without you. But in that moment of splitting, when we conjugated sunder—when she speaks of herselves, she is you, and I, and them.” You watch her steel herself, but her hands aren’t clenched like they are during her battles. “I always thought the distinction was important. I’ve never tried to explain it before. But do you know why they chose to split in that moment, when before they had endured so much as one? To me it’s only obvious if you know why we chose sunder.”

You almost don’t want to answer her. You’ll just prove her right, after all, and you can’t doubt, not here, not when you’re so close. But you know how this story ends. You know what this ending calls you to do.

The words slip out despite yourself, and the dialect of dragons is heavy on your heart when you say, “So they would always have one who could stand beside them?”

“So they would always have one who could stand beside them,” she repeats solemnly, her smile watery.

Can you imagine it? Zekrom and Reshiram opening their newly-sundered eyes and beholding the other. How did it feel in that moment, doing the hardest thing a person could do? How did it feel to face yourself?

Something tells you it can’t have been entirely unlike what’s happening now.

Nothing would hide the truth that the harsh fire of Reshiram’s truth revealed. Nothing could quench those flames now that you’ve stoked them with yourself. But perhaps within them, you could reforge yourself instead. Hilda must have, somehow, if she could still stand here and believe after everything she’s lost. The invitation is clear, if you could only just take it. If you could just believe.

“Do you trust Zekrom?” she asks. She hesitates. “Even if … even if you don’t trust me?” She tilts her head up defiantly, the same rigid determination she’s worn into every battle glinting in her eyes. But there’s something else now, too. Desperation. “I don’t fully know what Zekrom’s planning, N. Or if it’ll even be what I want. But I know … I know Zekrom knows we can’t do it without you.”

So they would always have one who could stand beside them.

Maybe it didn’t just refer to Reshiram and Zekrom. Maybe there was a reason pokémon chose to partner with humans, no matter the myriad of ways that that partnership led to pain. Maybe they’d realized that the alternative was just failing alone.

It has to be a trick of the light. But for a moment, you don’t see Hilda standing by Zekrom. There’s another child there with wide, innocent eyes, another black dragon standing by a human, and—

Did Stormdancer trust Human? Did Human trust Stormdancer? Did she care? Did she know?

Did it matter?

The answer to all those questions, surely, was the same as the one you must give now.

And in that last, serene, fragile moment before it all ends, you decide.

You look at that child and exhale. “We can’t be you.” Blink. Hilda’s there again. For a brief moment you wonder if Reshiram saw the same trick of the light; if the power of Zekrom’s ideals showed them two dragons standing as one, the beauty of a future that could’ve been, that could still be. “But we can help you. And we can learn from you.”

And the fact that you still can means that there may still be a path forward after all.

Zekrom shifts their weight. Blue blood leaks from one eye. {So be it,} they growl. {You are true in saying that change requires sacrifice. But my Hero and I believe in the ideal that there will always be those strong enough to shoulder that sacrifice onto themselves, so that those who are unable to sacrifice will not have to. She and I could not stop you, but it was wrong of us to even try—all of us must work together once more if you and yours, and me and mine, are to get our wish.}

Zekrom looms above, and gestures to the white dragon behind you. Reshiram is still hesitating, still on the verge of fracture. Pure truth is a response, after all.

In a slow voice, Reshiram finally answers. {When Zekrom and I were one, we had an immutable gift. The strength to imagine any ideal and the power to make it true. All things considered, I think it is better that we split; to wield such power is a burden that even our shoulders could not handle. But for this moment, in this very last moment, I believe a temporary alliance could be brokered between us, and we could work together to protect the peoples of this world, as we once did so long ago.}

Suddenly, you know. You know without doubt what the Heroes of Ideals are asking you to do, what Truth’s response must be. Your heart is suddenly heavy, and full.

Ten thousand years ago, in this very spot, a legend says a human clutched a dragon’s body and cried into the night for help. But you can believe this: beneath a starry sky, despite everything before or since, the world changed.

Bowing low to the ancient dragon, you invoke the words that will once again change Unova forever:

“Forgive me, dear sibling. This is all I know how to give.”

As soon as the words leave your lips, the world begins to sing.

※​

o. new

※​

After the rift comes light.

The last notes of a long-forgotten song fade away.

And then:

“N!” Footsteps. “Are you okay?!”

“He will live, Hero of Ideals.”

There is a heavy, weighted silence.

“Zekrom?”

“Yes, Hero of Ideals.”

“What … what did you do?”

What follows is incomprehensible, a strangled hiss.

“N?”

“He says: ‘The dragons have given pokémon a Gift, Hilda.’”

“… Reshiram?”

“Reshiram and N reached an accord, just as you and I did, Hero of Ideals. I represent this land as it could be, a Unova that we can aspire for. My sibling stands for the Unova that is, the ugly realities that bind us. In our struggles we have forgotten how we were once one, how we once stood for a world that could be beautiful because of its flaws, not despite them.”

“We stood for the Unova that is becoming. My sibling is correct. We both forgot this. Even if we had the power to split these worlds, to return all of you to a universe in which pokémon live on their own and humans are kept far away to make their own disasters—we could not without first giving everyone a fair chance to make things right. Pokémon never had a chance to dictate the terms of their partnership. Humans never had to listen for an answer. That much we understand now. We could not ignore your plea, but nor could we ignore our own. And so it is quite simple. From N we took, and to pokémon everywhere we humbly returned—the gift that humans stole from the gods at the dawn of time. We gave Voice.”

A strain of music echoes in the distance.

Another incomprehensible hiss.

“He says: ‘No more can you speak and humans live in blissful ignorance in the gaps between your words. When they speak, you will hear.’”

“But what … what happened to him?”

“Reshiram and their champion were correct, Hero of Ideals. There is no change without sacrifice. But we were correct as well. There are heroes who can shoulder that burden onto themselves, so that the ones who sacrifice are the ones who can bear it. In giving his Voice fully to others, he has lost his own. That is how the world is, and how it has always been.” Pause. “One day we will create a world where it no longer has to be.”

“Is it permanent?”

“Yes. But all four of us knew that before we began.”

Another pause.

“I know.”

“He says this, Hilda: it isn’t your fault that pokémon were betrayed in such a way for you to have your gain, nor is it our place to mete judgment by ripping pokémon and humans apart. This world was made for you, and you did not make it, but for those of us who received so many gifts, the burden is on our shoulders to make it right. My hero sought to solve the equation that would change the world, but along the way we learned: that equation is an inequality. It cannot and will not be solved by our hand alone, nor will it be solved today. But we must try, and we must do so together. For that future … he says he is more than willing to join those who sacrificed their own gift.”

“And thanks to them our work can truly begin, Hero of Ideals.”

The sound of crumbling stone.

“To you, dear sibling, and to you, Hilda—and to all people—N and I warn this: with the gift of Voice, you and we have allowed humans to hear the words pokémon speak. We cannot make humans listen, nor can we force them to understand. This is merely one step down a long road. There will always be injustices that we will need to fight. We have given one half of a gift. You must teach the other. You must prove that humans meant what they said when they wished to partner peacefully with pokémon, and that it was only because you could not hear them before that you were deaf to their cries. You must welcome them now into a world where they are free to be people. If you plug your ears now, if you harden your hearts to their pain, if you insist that battling and violence are the only way you can understand them, then we will have no choice.”

Wingbeats. The sound of crumbling stone. A roar with no words.

“We say this: if we must roar again, he will not speak to humans, nor will I give his Voice to pokémon. We will bare our fangs, and we will call the storm.”

※​
 
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kintsugi

golden scars
Location
waiting for the fog to roll out
Pronouns
she/her
Partners
  1. silvally-grass
  2. lapras
  3. golurk
  4. custom/booper-kintsugi
I suppose I get a self-indulgent author’s note. As a treat, you know. For finishing things. Despite having two epilogues to drive the points home, by my standards this fic is pretty lacking in a closing chapter that blatantly explains exactly what I wanted to say, so this is more or less that. Skip at your own leisure; as far as I’m concerned, the story itself is done.

On the evening of April 1st of 2020 I sat in my first three weeks of quarantine and found myself writing yet another non-committal shitpost that was, as per usual, neither non-committal nor a shitpost at all. Shortly after that I found myself writing the bones of this author’s note.

I started and finished this story while a global pandemic took more than four million lives, while three separate continents burned, while two different cities I’d called home endured mass shootings within the span of a week, while people around the globe took to the streets to protest tyranny. Tear gas rolled through my summer. Insurrectionists stormed my country’s capital. I watched people I love lose, over and over again. Sometimes I lost with them. In a sense this story was about pokémon, but I’d be remiss to claim it was ever really about Pokémon.

And yet. Pokémon Black and White fascinates me because at the very beginning Team Plasma challenges the player in a quiet way. Before the world-ending dragons and the climactic speeches and the takeover of national symbols, you meet them in a windy town square and the question is much quieter: should we keep doing things the way we always have? Do things have to be this way? They don’t have an answer for you, but that doesn’t mean you can’t question them—and in that moment I think there are a lot of questions you could ask them, and yourself. What responsibility do you have to solve a problem you didn’t create? Are there some problems that shouldn’t be solved at all? Are you the hero you think you are? Could you be? And truly I think these are some of the hardest questions you can ask yourself, so to see them posed so casually in the beginning of the game was abjectly fascinating to me.

But Black and White is fiction, specifically for the largest videogame franchise in the world, with an established concept that would be destroyed if the answers to those questions required the world to change, so things have to resolve neatly. Questioning yourself, wavering, putting aside your pokémon so they can be people in their own right—these are things that would get in the way of the gameplay loop, of your nostalgia, of your heroism. So by the end you claim your power, and you call it strength. It is a discussion that starts at the end: the arguments it presents make sense only if you begin with the conclusion that nothing about pokémon training could be improved, that the absolute best world that the gods themselves could give you is the one that you already have. If nothing else, this year I proved for myself that beginning an argument at its conclusion is a choice that should not be made lightly.

Black and White sets up its own strawman dichotomy: either humans are pokémon are permanently separated or absolutely nothing changes. There isn’t a middle option. Part of why I started this story at the fake end is because of how ridiculous both ending options are when taken at face value. The “do nothing” option lets us get what we want, and the other one doesn’t—but I think the unfairness of both endings only strikes us once we see the one that isn’t fair to us burn down the two-party system kiddos. Black and White poses a sticky question: what should we do about the pokémon that don’t want to be owned by humans? And then, once removed from the gameplay loop and transferred into a literary format, the questions only get stickier: what kinds of people should be allowed to own their friends? What kinds of friends should be owned at all?

Black and White asks you to live in a world full of division, paradox, and contradiction—and to make nothing better out of it. It can’t be you that’s wrong, because then the player would feel bad; and it can’t be the world that’s wrong either, because then the franchise would look bad; so the conclusion is simply that you don’t need to change anything. Its heroism is couched in terms of truth and ideals, but to leave the players with the ability to project themselves on either game, it merges both concepts and abstains from making a conclusive decision about either of them.

Abstention is, of course, a decision in its own right. It just pretends not to be.

There was a lot of buildup to writing this fic. The general outline of it has sat in the back of my mind for years, when I first found myself in Hilda and N’s shoes, questioning if I was living in the world I was told about, if I was really the kind of person I wanted to be. But a lot of the specific shapes in this story came from fandom discourse. What struck me the most was the initial reception, where it turns out people thought I was just shitposting about caring about the issues that made their way into this fic; as if these tough questions about personhood and voice and heroism and morality were just tongue-in-cheek gotchas or sassy zingers to try to win a few points in an online debate, instead of topics that were becoming increasingly relevant to every facet of my life. As the year progressed I understood more why people would be upset that I was implying that a fictional universe could have fictional characters who were fictionally hurt by nonfictional people’s escapist fantasies. But, buried in this author’s note, I think it’s worth adding a line or two about how I was upset too, how I’ve ended up feeling like I made myself into N—how there was a double standard cast for me where every word I said in a discourse had to be perfect and inoffensive, how I had to accept that every word said to me was clearly being said with nothing but the best possible intent, how every question had to be taken in good faith and at face value and cradled with the softest gloves—while all the while it never really felt like those rules and civility were expected of the people arguing against me. And how, ultimately, for some people it was a lot easier to write me off as a fringe fanatic or shitposter zoroark who didn’t really believe what I was saying; how it was easier to assume that I’d come around eventually; how I was doing this because I wanted you, personally, to feel bad and ashamed and trick you into losing your pokémon headcanons so I could have them and gloat about how shitty you were for wanting them—never because I actually believed in something. I loved this fandom, and I think I still do, but a lot of the things said to and about me this year linger with me in ways that make it hard to want to stay if it means doing all the same things all over again.

And I like to think a lot of it was different for me as the author, knowing/controlling the ending, versus all the people who just had what I was able to share at the time. Because this was never a fic about just guilt. The point was never just to make you feel bad. It was to make you feel like you could be Unova’s hero—even if that heroism meant sacrificing the privileges of a world made to make you comfortable. It was to make you feel that change can be painful even if it’s worth it, and worth it even if it’s painful. The working title as soon as I saved the first draft back in April 2020 was enharmonic, because it was always going to be about realizing these two things with different names aren’t so different after all, because it was always going to conclude with world coming back into tune with itself, because in my field we call fOrMuLas functions that are harmonic, potential (*). It began at end, but all along I knew it would end with new. I love achron and prologue/epilogue gimmicks an inordinate amount, but in this case it was to ask you to succeed where N and Hilda could not: knowing the ugly truth of what you’ve been told lies at the end of this road, can you still have the strength to believe in an ideal future? Knowing the ideal version of the world you want to be reality, can you still read on about the bitter truths of what happens to others despite that belief? I never really entertained the idea of just having it end in the sad beginning, for all of the reasons that everyone realizes in the final chapter; besides, if I wanted to have an endlessly looped story with a mostly bittersweet conclusion that doesn’t feel like a coherent answer for its own questions, that’s what the games are.

(*) and okay yes it was initially a shitpost on n harmonia that managed to find the right answer, thank you for asking

And in a way, sure, this was just my escapist fantasy—I didn’t escape to a world where abuse and cruelty and bad things simply don’t exist; I escaped to a world where, when it matters, despite everything, people choose change. In a year full of ugly things I wish now more than ever that we could just fix things in one grand statement, but I also know that that isn’t how things tend to go. Unova gets a small victory here. It’s big enough to matter, but by no means are things solved. Our world demonstrates time and time again that merely having a voice isn’t enough to protect you from bad things—but time and time again it’s voices that have shaped history. And the truth is that most of Unova won’t see this ending as a victory: more humans than just N lose out in the moment that they are no longer the only voices that can be heard. Things can’t stay the same, but they aren’t guaranteed to get better.

In fiction, heroism is triumphant. Plot is character is world is plot. For your characters to triumph, for the plot to end neatly, often the world has to be resolved as well. In some ways I think it has to be; that’s the kind of structure we consume and imitate. The story/world is sad when your characters are sad; it’s happy when they’re happy; it wins when they win. That’s the lens we see their world through. But as I tried to tie the loose ends of this story, I kept returning to a central knot: most of my heroes—my real life heroes, flesh and blood—weren’t often triumphant. They lived in a world that was bigger than their plot. They lost; they had their doubts; they tried anyway. Their strength was quiet instead of loud, tiny instead of large, inconsequential instead of conclusive. It was, even if it didn’t have to be, and for me to deny that would be to deny what they stood and fell for.

Which brings us to inspiration. The concept of the nocturne lament sits heavily with me and is arguably the central thread of this story because it is, as best as I can put it, what I feel when I think of heroism that doesn’t triumph. It’s choosing strength in the face of overwhelming power, but more than that—it’s the strength that comes only when denying power. For me it’s always been a sentiment that transcends any words or definition, the sinking awe I feel when I think about a man with his groceries standing before a line of tanks in 1989, or a girl with her hands clutched around a briefcase on her way to a Louisiana school in 1960, or a red-headed woman who taunted the Nazis executing her for sedition on a snowy evening in 1945. It’s people who have been brave before, but didn’t realize when they woke up that they were about to brave for millions of people they’d never even meet. I wonder the same thing N does: if, in that moment, they knew that they would be heroes. If they cared, if the hope of their actions being worth something offered them a tiny amount of solace and courage even as they stood alone, not knowing the extent to which that hope would come true. At some point heroism started breaking my heart, because an ideal world doesn’t need heroes, and the real world often doesn’t act like it wants them. Far better to enshrine the concept of a hero than to question why their sacrifice was necessary in the first place.

So in a year of contradiction, in the face of things that move me beyond words, in a world where acknowledging the truth feels like I’m succumbing to despair and believing in an ideal feels like closing my eyes to reality, I was drawn to Meloetta—the pokémon world’s personification of inspiration, who has two forms to encompass both action and words speaking in harmony. Can I acknowledge an ugly world, and use my strength to fight the brokenness I see? Can I believe in a brighter future, and use my voice to share it with others?

Can I do both? Can anyone?

I’m sure others are different. On most days recently, I feel more like the dancer—I can fight, and act, and brace myself for bitter truths; but I can’t convince myself I’m being heard or understood. I feel like there’s another forme within my grasp, but the song that stirs her is an ancient relic that I’ve forgotten. Can I be you one more time?

The hardest part for me has never been picking myself up to fight again; it’s been having hope in the good enduring beyond me rather than resigning myself to taking some of the bad down as I fall. And I don’t think there’s any shame in being the dancer either—our world needs both. But as a wannabe writer/dreamer I find myself wishing I could spend more time earnestly as the muse, able to have unwavering faith in an ideal world, able to bare my soul in my voice so that my song can change hearts and minds. More often than not I lack the courage, and in the struggle I fall short and I fall silent, because at the end of the day, having faith takes strength. And I’ve seen the muse before, and I’ve had faith, and I’ve had my throat metaphorically torn out—the hardest part is knowing that possibility, and believing again anyway. In this year full of ugly things, where I promised weekly updates and then simply didn’t, I think the aftermath of that struggle was clear enough. Every week there was something new to make me question if I could find the muse, if there was something worth believing in, if I had something worth sharing. If any of this could be worth anything to anyone, least of all me. In many ways this wasn’t even about pokémon any more, and it was certainly well past being about Pokémon.

Most of the time I can’t be both. I’m barely brave enough to be one. I live firmly in a mindset that doesn’t often let me coexist peacefully with the contradiction of embracing the world both for what it is and could be. But there are rare days when the stars align, the clouds hush, and for a brief moment I can have the courage to change myself, join others in dancing in the storm, and change the world.



-

My most sincere thanks to WildBoots and Pen, who stuck on this train for 17 months of oops-too-real, provided incredible beta work, and generated more engaged discussion about the implications of ferris wheels than I thought was possible. Without them this story would be far more messy, confusing, and typo-ridden than it is, and my life would contain roughly 40% fewer shitposts.

And of course, enormous thanks to anyone who’s read up to this author’s note. In a very unsubtle way this story is about inspiration and legacy, communication and conversation. It isn’t my way of fixing the world, or myself, or really anything consequential at all—but in a year spent quarantined and online, this story means a lot to me, and in no small way it’s trying to be from me and my muse to you and yours, so to find it read and heard means the world.
 
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bluesidra

Mood
Pronouns
she/her
Heya! Oh man, I didn’t realise you were about to wrap this up already! Congrats! That is one strange feeling… The fact that a fic can be finished :P
It’ll still take me forever to finish reading it, because I can only go one chapter at a time
Ok, now for your questions.

I guess the part that would benefit me most as an author would be to know where he does this in the text--100% or otherwise!--that leads you to this conclusion.
Ok, going back over the text to find instances of N deflecting. There are some, but they aren’t as strong as I remember them. Mostly because there are less exchanges than I remember. There are still some.
Mind you, I get it. My dialogues are corpses stitched together from bulletpoints I have to hit, and I’m happy if it sounds somewhat human after all. So some methods of “unjust” rhetoric might have slipped into my text when I didn’t intend it.
Also, mind you, I’ve never been to a debate club or anything. There might be several things I’ve labeled wrongly or that I picked up the wrong way.
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.”

N is calm when he responds, so calm it’s almost surreal, but beneath the stillness of his voice is a fire brighter than the sun. “Draconic?” Perhaps unintentionally, he imitates her inflection. “Do you know where that word comes from?” He waits. Hilda scowls. “Three hundred years ago humans discovered the land beyond Twist Mountain. At the time it was the nesting ground for wild haxorus, and was known to the native peoples as the Valley of the Dragons.”
N redirects the argument to a emotionally gripping, but in the end irrelevant tale. Instead of elaborating on what Hilda was going at (the pain of separation from a loved one), he whips out the Haxorus tale, which is cruel, and a nice parable, but in the end not impactful to the argument at hand other than giving the listener an emotional impact that favors N.
The Haxorus tale is nice worldbuilding, it serves to show that humans are cruel etc. I get that. But right now, there's Hilda confronting N, 300 years later. There is no Haxorus at the scene, Hilda is not the conqueror of Unova, and in 300 years, things might have changed. But he doesn't elaborate on that.
So other than divert attention from a question that he doesn't have an immediate answer to, it doesn't do much in making a logical point.

You twist uncomfortably in place. {I’m happy with her, N. Hilda is a good trainer. She made me who I am.}

“She made you who you are.” He repeats your words back slowly, chews on them like he’s trying to eat them. Almost sounds sad, if you could believe that a human like him would pity a creature like you. “But are you happier than you would’ve been if you’d just been free?”
He is asking an unanswerable question in order to shut up Vaszleva.
This question is so hypothetical, it would take me several days to even compute what that world may look like. Then I wouldn't have made my mind up about wehter I like it or not.
Also, emphasis on the may. N has so far never provided a clear model of how things would work in a world after his design. Only a vague "things are better there". So this question also doesn't take into consideration, that my "free" may be different from his.
And he is very well aware of what scope of a question he is asking. He doesn't know the answer to it either. So far, I've seen him falter at the nitty-gritty details more often than not (eg a few lines above iirc). So asking Vaszelva this question is a very unfair method of pivoting the argument in his favor.

{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.}

If he is, he certainly doesn’t show it. The second you mention his father, his face is a mask, carved like a cofagrigus, not a single expression showing through the gilding.

{But don’t you see? His methods were wrong. He tried to force people to change, and that made people reject him.}

“They rejected me as well, Vaselva. Ghetsis may have tried war, but I certainly tried peace. I’m beginning to think that it’s not our methods they disagree with, but our ideas—and they simply use one of us to excuse the fact that they cannot refute the other.”
This is actually an example of a very good exchange imo. Vaszelva unknowingly hits a weak spot in N and gives him time to process, instead of overloading him with another emotionally challenging questions. And N answers in a very human way, not in grand speeches but from personal experience.
Here, even though I disagree with how he acts, I still can't blame his reasoning for it.

So finally, he shakes his head slowly. “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. “This world forced you to be strong enough to fight others, but it didn’t teach you how to be strong enough to fight back. There is strength beyond pure power. That is the truth Reshiram and I will show the world, and we will change it.”
"Strong enough to fight other, but didn't teach you how to be strong enough to fight back" I mean, same shit applies for humans, but I think N has included them in his list of why it would be better if humans and pokemon were separated.
"There is strength beyond pure power" That sentence sure sounds cool, and at surface-level I want to agree with him and cheer him on. But then again, he follows it up with "Now watch me force this upon you by sheer strength of a legendary". Kind of a fallacy there.

Which is more or less Ghetsis' point when he, correctly or not, dramatically or not, chooses to go all the way to the extreme end here--maybe the line for "acceptable violence inflicted on pokemon" shouldn't exist at all.
Ok, I can accept that. (Not really, but as an argument)

If you can't look after someone correctly because you're incapable of doing so, then I think a fair answer is to not become the sole person responsible for their well-being.
I agree with that. You shouldn’t have pets unless you know how to care for them. BUT (and now watch me going off on a tangent)
That's a choice Cheren makes, that he doesn't have to make, and him being "deaf" doesn't mean that it's Tourmaline's fault that he's chosen this life for them.
It’s not Tourmaline’s fault, but it is her responsibility to deal with her situation, not anyone else’s.
Here comes the tangent: In my years I’ve encountered many people who are as “deaf” as Cheren is here. They might be incapable of reading the room, might not for the love of god engage with you on the same level, voluntarily or involuntarily miss the point of a conversation etc. I think you know what I’m talking about.
Now those people may do this willingly or not. Willingly because they know how to steer an argument so that they come out as the winner; or unwillingly because they have some issue that holds them back (for example autism).
Whether willingly or not, when in a conversation, you are dealing with them on the limits of their perception. In online spaces, you can simply walk away from a conversation like this. But what if you can’t, because those are your coworkers or your family.
It’s up to you to go to your limits of expression to make them understand your point. Because they can’t do anything more and no one else is going to step up for you. You want to bring your point across and it’s your responsibility to change those people’s minds. Sad as it is, but sometimes, you have to scream to be heard.
That’s the most offence I’m taking in Tourmaline’s approach. It is so goddamn passive. She expects that her passive-aggressiveness will be enough to change her circumstances, because the universal karma will eventually look out for her. And I get it. It’s unfair. She shouldn’t be in this position. But bitching and spreading unproductive negativity will not change it either.
Just stating that something is unjust and should therefore not exist is an easy statement. But it also spits in the face of the people struggling in this situation. (And here comes me getting all frustrated about any social justice debate I’ve ever had.) It always feels like stating the fact is enough, and now it is up to someone else to act on it. With no guidance whatsoever for it. You’ll say “It’s not Tourmaline’s responsibility to work out an environment that suits her, it’s Cheren’s because he is the one in power.” But Tourmaline’s the one who knows what she wants, not Cheren. Her leaning back and being “I’m unhappy, but I won’t try to communicate it to the human, but instead claim that everything is shitty and that’s it” won’t improve her situation at all.
Ok, this ends my tangent on why I value proactiveness, even if it is objectively unfair, over unproductive stating of facts :D

Re “They will take our victories and give you their weakness. But they will do everything except listen, Carnel.”
She kinda ignores that this is a two-way system. She does what she can do better than humans - fight. While the human does what they can do better - provide food, shelter and safety from the world around.
Tourmaline always acts like she wouldn’t have to fight if she was without a human. But then it would be for sheer survival.

This goes close to something that’s been bugging me about N’s perfect world, too. In his mind, humans and pokemon should be separated, because their differences make it impossible to communicate their needs properly.
But N is a human, and following his logic, he lives on the human side of his perfect world. So what now. He already saw that humans also don’t understand him. Well, he can jugg it up to him being special and awesome and a poor martyr and whatnot. But what about disabled people? What about people who can’t communicate their needs? Or what about naturally charismatic people who impose their will on others by sheer force of personality?
Where does he draw the line now? Will he come to the conclusion that humankind should be separated from itself? With pokemon, it’s easy. You go by how they look. Is it as easy with humans?
And what about pokemon who suffer the same? Or what about prey-species? They had a happy life in the niches they carved out for themselves in the suburbs of humans. Suddenly they get eaten left and right by predatory species. I think they won’t thank him.
I need to see a business plan, N!
Ok, so Amara and Hilda’s relationship. Going over it again, it’s clear that Amara isn’t all that happy, but there were some lines that stroke me as a sign of deep friendship.
It’s cold. The wind picks up, yanks the rainfly out of her hands. You flick your tail and walk closer to her so that your body can shield her from the wind. Your hooves sink three inches into the snow.
Amara shields her from the winds even though she sinks deeper into the snow, which she doesn't like. Hilda usually recalls Amara, because she gets startled by weather like this . They take care of each other's needs and know them without much of a second thought.

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'd feel very happy with a person who plans and plans and racks their brain to keep me safe. So I try to keep them safe in return. So far, for me, there's nothing unfair in this relationship.

While you wait there patiently, casting light around the grove of trees she’s trying to use as a windshield for tonight’s camp, you count up the times she’s let you out while she sets up camp. It’s a small number, one that’s quite close to the number of times the batteries in her headlamp have run out.
I mean, yeah, but Amara also stated that she is uncomfortable and visibly tiptoes around. If I were Hilda, I'd have also kept her in her pokeball, if my lights worked.

You were Hilda’s second. But you were the first one she chose. Of all the blitzle in the plains, she’d picked you.
That to me sounded like Amara was proud to be on Hilda's team.

So you should be grateful for what Hilda gives you. She makes you important. She gives you something to protect. She lets you fight for her but doesn’t require your life. Her battles give your pain meaning. The dark stone in her bag sings to you, in the tongue of the ancient song. It marks her as worthy. Hilda’s role is to stand on the sidelines, protected and safe. Your role is to enter the fray. This is what it means to be kafara.
I mean, I can identify with Vaszelva much more. Her approach to who to trust and who to fight is simple and is probably what resonates most with me because I have a similar view. But that right there for me personally would have been the last tipping part.
I don't get what else there is to question. (From a logical standpoint, Amara is of course allowed to be insecure and everything). But to me, that's everything I'd ever want. Someone to protect, who makes me feel important and who gives my life meaning. I don't see any reason to not go to the end with that person.
Heroism isn’t the norm in the pokemon franchise either. Most npcs are pretty passive, to the point of ignorance. I’ve had a conversation recently about how Volker’s antics with putting the whole of Sunnyshore on a weeklong blackout is just accepted with a “boys will be boys” kinda attitude, that is really concerning.
The only active npcs are the villains who want to change things and some assorted champs that fight back. Now, sadly, proactive villains and reactive heros are a staple in fiction. You rarely see someone setting out to make the world a better place. Simply doesn’t make as good as a narrative. So I get that choice from a storyteller perspective.
Heroism is only the default for the hero. And since the hero is always so narratively flat, it never feels right. (ooooooh do I have opinions on the undeserved hero-status of various player characters.) The only halfway good thing I can take away from the default-hero is to teach kids that doing the good thing should be your default. And because all expecpt Gen5’s villains are straight out evil or stupid, that is usually a solid message.

Re Assuming pokemon are always default loyal.
The franchise kinda works on the assumption that you love and care for your pokemon and that pokemon are also naturally affine to humans, and the other way around. Pokemon are kinda like dogs in that way - they are very reliant on humans, but could live in the wilderness if they should. That’s the baseline the pokemon logic works on. So I can forgive the games with that approach.
And especially the anime has instances of pokemon being treated wrong. They don’t look too happy and lash out against their captors (usually Team Rocket) in a very kids-friendly way.

Pokemon are a lot like pets. I love my cat. Pretty sure my cat loves me. So I treat her right and she treats me right. I give her food, she brings me mice. I lay in bed, she comes crawling in. She has shiny fur and purrs a lot.
If she was unhappy, I could tell. I can read cats well enough to know when a cat is purring over pain or out of happiness. She can tell when I’m unhappy and crying a lot and lays next to me because she knows I’m happy when she does.
I don’t like dead mice on my doorstep and she doesn’t like me picking her up and cuddling her extensively. But we both keep up with it, because we know that that’s each other’s way to communicate and we value being around each other more than that upsets us.
Like you say, the keyword is "earned"--but is it really earned if it's something that's just Assumed to happen eventually?
I wouldn’t devalue loyalty earned over time just because it’s the default. It can still be a strong bond, even if you didn’t have a dramatic scene to kickstart it.
I also think it's telling that we pivot back so easily from "would you want to die for someone" back to this hypothetical Wurmple! Particularly fascinating in light of a story that asks you to step into the shoes of a pokemon--but again, the question isn't if Wurmple should put its life on the line for you; it's if you would put your life on the line for Wurmple. Specifically if you didn't actually like Wurmple that much? Wurmple decided you were friends but maybe you didn't feel the same way? Your culture values being kind to others, so surely being Wurmple's servant to the end of your life is what you meant by that, right?
I don’t understand what’s telling about that statement, but I still stand by it.
Let’s assume I just caught that Wurmple, let it out of its ball and it gets snatched up by a starly. Well, shit happens. I would feel bad about it, but probably shrug it off after a few days. And I don’t feel bad about that seemingly heartless statement either. Because what happened? Wurmple slouched around in its forest, got caught and the next minute it was eaten by a Starly. It would probably been eaten by a Starly sooner or later anyways, my actions did not affect that outcome.
Situation two: My and Wurmple are best friends. She’s been with me for years and we do everything together. Now a Starly comes and snatches my Wurmple. I would personally choke the life out of that Starly. Because it attacked my friend.
What I’m saying: Just throwing a pokeball at a pokemon doesn’t mean we are friends. Both ways. It means we have to check out one another if we vibe with each other and maybe a friendship will grow.
Friendship also implies that Wurmple isn’t my servant, but someone I value a lot and want to give the best life to. So if I see that Wurmple is better off without me, I’d have to let her go, as hard as it might be. Same with my cat.

What parts of Amara are you analyzing without also analyzing the events that happened to her?
I’m analysing her behaviour without looking at the message you want to bring across, even though I know I’m reading too much into it.
I mean, I understand the point of the chapter better now that you explained that it was about choosing to be heroic. But I totally didn’t catch that it was about choosing heroism. To me it felt like Amara was perpetually questioning something I didn’t see the point in questioning.
And I’m pretty sure you didn’t intend for Amara to be borderline narcissistic. That way, her arguments make sense to me. But that is clearly not the message that I was intended to take away from that chapter. The message was “Isn’t it mean that this pony is caught up in something that might end its life?”

If you want to assume the best in people before you're taught otherwise--what would a trainer need to do before you're "taught" that they shouldn't be allowed to own a pokemon?
Having an unhappy pokemon. Like I said, I can tell when a cat is hurt. Same with dogs. They might be in a physically good condition and have wonderful hair, but there is something about a mistreated dog that you can just tell. Their posture isn’t immaculate, even though they aren’t limping. Their ears are slightly drooping. Their fur is ruffled and spiky, even though it shouldn’t be. They might be easily spooked and not find comfort in their owner.
If I see an unhappy (not unhappy to be in a particular situation, but in general) animal, I know that person shouldn’t have that pet. And then it’s my responsibility to ask what is going on. Of course, I can’t always act on that responsibility, and solving those situations is tricky.
But yeah, I’d assume a pokemon and their trainer are both giving their best to make each other happy until I see one party unhappy.

Oh boy, this got way longer than anticipated. If I could write my story with the same ease as I could write discord/TR messages, I'd be the new Stephen King already.
Hope you have fun with these answers, and congrats again on finishing EoE!
 

slamdunkrai

ask me about the Lunar Duo
Pronouns
they/them
Congrats on finishing this project, first things first! Embarking on something this ambitious, and something that's deliberately constructed so differently than usual, is something to be proud of as it is; seeing it through to the end is a tremendous feat. I'm super excited to see what else you've laid out over the course of the rest of the story, but for now -- happy for you, on seeing this through to the end! :>

Anyway, reporting back from just after nonconformist: aw heck

I think one of the reasons why this particular mode of storytelling (to be precise, the vignette aspect of it) is clicking so hard for me in this story is that you have an excellent eye for protagonists. Like, I'm such a sucker for the premise of "story heavily predisposed with the matter of pokémon having voices, cycling through an assortment of their POVs" as it is, but the variety here is truly fantastic, and you have an eye for what makes each one so compelling -- each one brings their own set of hang-ups to the table, and their perspectives are shaped by both the people they're pre-occupied with and the experiences they've had with them, from Zahhak and Amara -- two pokémon who are right there in the thick of the story -- to, like, a police herdier and a camera operating rotom (not in this run of chapters, but I'm bringing it up again because I loved that). And it ties REALLY neatly into the overall theme of the story, which is difficult to pull off but adds a lot of depth to this. (Just as much, it holds a magnifying glass up to a subject that, as you say, the canon sort of presents to you but then abstains from really elaborating on because that'd give the player a Moral Quandary(TM) to worry about. Seeing the approach of... y'know, actually going into all the implications here, makes all the differences between this fic and the original games stand out more. And that's great, frankly!)

I think I was most partial to narsil, which seemed to both encapsulate some of the big issues near the heart of the project -- giving autonomy to creatures denied it, the injustices and complications inherent to training, the realities of abuse versus the cartoonish and evil framework of it in the original setting -- while presenting perhaps the most... probably not the most fitting word but I'm gonna use it -- idealistic take on the setting that I've seen thus far. Like, yeah, when otherwise innocent people enter harmful situations, they'll become more prone to perpetuate that harm, but I like that there's a recognition of the inverse being true here as the chapter comes to an end, with Mina taking a genuine interest in helping out our bisharp. But there's a lot of moments from this bit of the story that really resonate with me too, and I think everything here is pretty fantastic. Zahhak's story and his close moment with N was wonderful; there's some vague form of mutual understanding there, just with layers upon layers of incompatible approaches and ideological quirks that neither party is willing to renege on, which I thought made that moment of kinship all the more poignant. Rhea talking about Tourmaline also got me pretty good! It takes real finesse to tie commentary on injustice into the lives of the people affected by it that well. I could go on, but you wrote the story, and I don't want to just recount its contents to you. Generally, I just want you to know that I was enthralled by this run of chapters. As much as I was when I read the first few, and was really getting to grips with the way the story functioned.

Which is great! I love this. It's great. I'm a wreck right now. This is a damn fine story, and I love what you've done with it; cannot wait to press forward. I love this approach to N. Shoutout to that funny little guy.

(Also, picking out typos and funny sentence structures isn't my strong suit -- I tend not to notice or remember a lot of the time, honestly -- but there was one that kinda jumped out at me near the start of nonconformist because I wasn't sure what it was supposed to be:)
but you can see the pinches in her forehead fNaling her darting eyes.
 

bluesidra

Mood
Pronouns
she/her
Ok, so not really anything substantial, but oh heck!!!

I just updated the epub and in the process skimmed over the your self-indulgent authors note!

I'm now super emotional by only reading the author's note! Man, I really want to finish this fic, but it is so beautiful!!! Which means I have the urge to put it off and life in the blissful feeling that there is still some beautify out there that I haven't yet discovered...
Also, I am definitely too stupid for this lol. Or too uninterested in what's going on in the world around me. But let's ignore that for a moment...

If I ever finish it, be sure that I'll draw some fanart that you can add to the gallery. Or to your funeral, because that adds up with my reading speed :P

Congrats so much on finishing this masterpiece! It is great, surely among my top 5 best pieces of literature I've ever read. I don't know what you're studying, but I hope you can get that thing graded and take something else than my infinite gratitude and online brownie-points away from it.

Congrats soooooo much, you are a great author!!! Thank you for writing this
 
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