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Pokémon The Legendarian Chronicles

qva

Pokémon Trainer
Location
florida
Pronouns
she/her
well, i finally caught up with LC! i've been working through this for a couple weeks now so i'm really glad to finally be up-to-date :D i read too much at once to offer any specific feedback at this point, really, but i plan on reviewing chapters as they come out from now on.

overall, this fic was pretty good from the start. your writing is really easy to follow, and your pacing is pretty nice so i never felt bored. the plot was nice too, and the boat arc really did feel quite well-researched, which is always nice. still, although it was nice to read and i enjoyed it all the way through, the fic didn't really do anything for me on a personal level barring some choice moments...

until the last couple chapters. wow! things started really picking up for me after jade took the stone from the ruins. despite being a pokémon fanfiction writer myself, i'm not actually all that engaged by pokémon battles, but the ALR arc was super good! like, better than scenes of similar scale and nature in most books i've read. even though the scene was really Big and chaotic, you didn't waste time on unnecessary description, and i was never really confused about what was going on. that's really impressive to me!

similarly, legendaries are a bit of a tricky area for me because i'm put off by the way a lot of writers go about divinity or god-like figures, and it's sort of turned me off about other fics. i knew going in that it might be a problem here— the damn thing's titled The Legendarian Chronicles, after all— but i figured i'd play it by ear. as it happens, i actually love the way you write the legendaries! they very much feel like characters with their own motivations and feelings and not, like, arbitrary all-powerful laser cannons or whatever. i'm really excited to see more of that. you write pokémon as characters rather than tools very well in general, but this particular aspect stood out to me a lot.

the last two chapters though, 21-22, oh man. i'll come right out and say that the exploration of suffering is one of my favorite parts about fiction, and you really knocked it out of the park. i'm not sure how to express just what i liked about the torture bits, but they really clicked with me. torture bits often do, when they're written well, hahaha. and yours really were!

anyway, rambling aside, this is a super solid fic already and it looks like it's on a rapid upward trajectory from here. can't wait to read more.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partner
charizard
Opening with Firestorm being shot down. What a shame, though hey, at least he’s getting a lot stronger. It’s interesting to see Swift being the most level-headed one of the bunch. Considering what I know about him, with how he’s generally the most academic and upstanding in terms of doing more human things—I’m not surprised at all he left to get groceries and so on—but it was an interesting, calm chapter after everything else. I actually appreciate that we didn’t go off and see more training and battle montages after everything that had happened.

Though I do have to comment on how long the beginning few scenes dragged on for. I get that it was depression and the trauma, but it really dragged on for a while with the repetitive prose and scene beats. But after Chibi showed up, the pace started getting less droning, and I liked where that went. Razors has always been an interesting character.

I’m getting some bad vibes from Razors, though. Showing a lot of bad psyche signs.

But the fight was nice, and it was more or less the equivalent of two depressed people climbing out together, as far as I can tell. And unlike the other fights that I’ve seen happen, this is one of the fights that I wouldn’t have asked to be shortened or cut in any way—it showed Razors in a sparring match, how he actually fought. It was a way to show his character, and for that, kudos.

Despite how much the first half dragged, I feel like Razors suddenly thanking Judy, and later on, Judy confessing to Stalker how she was really feeling, came too quickly. I can’t really place precisely why, but if I had to take a guess, it was because there were too few words between the exchange right before and the words right after. The narrative pause, so to speak—since we don’t really have a video or cinematics to indicate silence, or the wind blowing, or things like that to indicate a tense moment, we need extra padding in the form of sentences to give that “pause” you’d see in cinema instead. And I felt that it was lacking for those moments.

Overall, though, I’m always appreciative of these breather chapters. As usual I’m not really going to acknowledge ominous author’s notes. Just gonna wait for the actual next chapter.
 

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
Partner
pikachu-chibi
well, i finally caught up with LC! i've been working through this for a couple weeks now so i'm really glad to finally be up-to-date :D
aaah, thanks! ^^ Your comments on Discord have been a ton of fun to read.

until the last couple chapters. wow! things started really picking up for me after jade took the stone from the ruins. despite being a pokémon fanfiction writer myself, i'm not actually all that engaged by pokémon battles, but the ALR arc was super good! like, better than scenes of similar scale and nature in most books i've read. even though the scene was really Big and chaotic, you didn't waste time on unnecessary description, and i was never really confused about what was going on. that's really impressive to me!
I had a ton of fun writing the action in that arc, and I'm glad it came through strongly for you! (I think I wrote most of chapter 19 in the flow state lol.)

similarly, legendaries are a bit of a tricky area for me because i'm put off by the way a lot of writers go about divinity or god-like figures, and it's sort of turned me off about other fics. i knew going in that it might be a problem here— the damn thing's titled The Legendarian Chronicles, after all— but i figured i'd play it by ear. as it happens, i actually love the way you write the legendaries! they very much feel like characters with their own motivations and feelings and not, like, arbitrary all-powerful laser cannons or whatever.
Making the Legendaries feel like Actual Real Flawed People is a big goal of this fic, so I'm really glad that they're already coming across as characters!

the last two chapters though, 21-22, oh man. i'll come right out and say that the exploration of suffering is one of my favorite parts about fiction, and you really knocked it out of the park. i'm not sure how to express just what i liked about the torture bits, but they really clicked with me. torture bits often do, when they're written well, hahaha. and yours really were!
ahahahah oh boy, you're gonna like the next few chapters.

anyway, rambling aside, this is a super solid fic already and it looks like it's on a rapid upward trajectory from here. can't wait to read more.
Glad to have you on board! :D
Opening with Firestorm being shot down. What a shame, though hey, at least he’s getting a lot stronger. It’s interesting to see Swift being the most level-headed one of the bunch. Considering what I know about him, with how he’s generally the most academic and upstanding in terms of doing more human things—I’m not surprised at all he left to get groceries and so on—but it was an interesting, calm chapter after everything else. I actually appreciate that we didn’t go off and see more training and battle montages after everything that had happened.
Yeah, this chapter was new to Revision 12, as this arc desperately needed some slow time to process everything that happened last chapter. It's one of my favorite additions for that reason.

Though I do have to comment on how long the beginning few scenes dragged on for. I get that it was depression and the trauma, but it really dragged on for a while with the repetitive prose and scene beats.
That's fair. I did have quite a few character arcs I needed to progress in this chapter, so I kind of made those opening scenes play double duty.

But the fight was nice, and it was more or less the equivalent of two depressed people climbing out together, as far as I can tell. And unlike the other fights that I’ve seen happen, this is one of the fights that I wouldn’t have asked to be shortened or cut in any way—it showed Razors in a sparring match, how he actually fought. It was a way to show his character, and for that, kudos.
heckin yeah I wrote a fight that you didn't want me to cut, I'll take that as a victory. xD

The narrative pause, so to speak—since we don’t really have a video or cinematics to indicate silence, or the wind blowing, or things like that to indicate a tense moment, we need extra padding in the form of sentences to give that “pause” you’d see in cinema instead. And I felt that it was lacking for those moments.
Ah, my transitions do tend to be a bit abrupt sometimes, I'll keep that in mind next time I come back to this chapter.

Thanks tons for the reviews! Next up, Chapter 22.
 
Chapter 22: Desperate Hour

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
Partner
pikachu-chibi
This chapter contains an elevated level of graphic violence compared to the average chapter, as well as one or more of the triggering themes listed in the thread's opening post.



~CHAPTER 22: DESPERATE HOUR~


A distant rumble reverberated throughout the air, dragging me out of a deep sleep. What was that? Don’t tell me someone was battling at this hour? I sat up, blinking slowly in the darkness. My eyes caught the faint hint of movement—Swift or Firestorm waking up and looking around, most likely.

“Did you guys… hear that?” I asked.

Then the alarm sounded. An earsplitting siren, assaulting my senses out of nowhere. What the hell? Why was the fire alarm going off? I threw my hands over my ears, desperately trying to block out the awful noise, but there was no stopping it. A bright red light flashed in the corner of the room, highlighting both Firestorm and Swift as they glanced around apprehensively. Firestorm was saying something, but it was impossible to tell what with all the noise.

What on earth was going on?

I stumbled my way out of bed and rushed to the door as quickly as I could, throwing it open. A half dozen kids had already emerged from their rooms and were running down the hallway, a few of them still in pajamas. My dazed brain was still trying to process what the heck was going on when my nose caught the scent of… smoke? There was actually smoke in the air. This wasn’t a drill, this was a legit emergency, holy crap. It took several seconds for the reality of that to properly sink in. And when it did, everything went into overdrive at once as I bolted back inside.

“We’re evacuating!” I announced, grabbing my bag and shoving things into it randomly.

“*What?!*”

But I just grabbed their Pokéballs and recalled the two without saying anything else. It’d be faster getting out if it was just me. And… they’d be safer in their balls. I threw on my shoes and rushed out the door, pulling my arms through the sleeves of my jacket as I fled down the stairs, jumping two or three steps at a time.

Damn, there was a lot more smoke down here. I pulled my shirt over my mouth as I pressed on, following the arcing hallway to the stadium lobby. Was this where the fire was? I didn’t want to run straight into it, but at the same time, this was the fastest way out of the building. I rounded the corner into the lobby and completely ground to a halt, gaping in disbelief.

The entire front entrance had been demolished, chunks of concrete and glass scattered throughout the lobby. I strained my eyes to try catching a glimpse of what had caused this, but with half the lights blown out and all the dust in the air, it was impossible to tell. A couple of kids bumped into me as they bolted past and disappeared into the dust cloud that had once been the entrance.

And then my blood ran cold as gunshots tore the air.

What? We were under attack?! I dropped to the floor and ducked behind the wall, my heart pounding furiously in my chest as my mind raced. Deep breaths… I had to calm myself and figure out something to do. There had to be some way out of here… deep breaths.

A sudden thud to my left. I whirled around to see what it was and—oh god, what. Reed had crumpled to the ground in an awkward heap, his eyes wide and staring and a bullet hole in his head. I blinked stupidly at the sight, unable to process it until the blood started to pool on the ground around him.

What. This couldn’t happen. In all the times… There was always danger, but… no one had ever… How many kids had just run outside? They didn’t have Pokémon out, they couldn’t use Protect, oh god.

Another group was approaching the lobby from the opposite hallway. I couldn’t see them clearly, just their silhouettes through the dust cloud.

“Don’t go outside! There’s Rockets out there!” a voice called out behind me.

“What do we do?!” one of the kids across the lobby yelled. A girl’s voice… Kris? Oh god, her teammate was dead next to me and she couldn’t see him, oh god.

“I don’t know, just don’t go that way!”

I turned around to see a half dozen or so rebels gathering in the hallway behind me, almost all of them from different mission groups, which meant they were missing teammates. I recognized Liam and Zoe, although their third teammate, Alec, was nowhere to be seen.

Where were Ray, Mai, and Sasha? They’d be able to figure out a plan. Where was Stalker? He’d be able to fight the Rockets off. Where were Rudy and Darren, oh god, why hadn’t I wondered that yet, where were they?

I forced several deep breaths to steady myself. Had to focus. Couldn’t lose myself now. I’d done this before. I’d been in the line of fire before. I could handle this. This wasn’t like being trapped in the detention cell. I had options. I had Pokémon. I couldn’t lose myself.

My eyes snapped open, and I whipped out a Pokéball to release Chibi. As soon as the Pikachu materialized, he glanced around in alarm, folding his ears back from the noise. “*Shit, what’s going on?*”

“We’re under attack,” I said. “The Rockets have us cornered—our main exit is a death trap.”

“What about the fire escape?” Zoe piped up.

“They’ll definitely have agents back there too,” Liam replied.

Chibi glanced between me and the other rebels, then closed his eyes in concentration, flattening his ears with his paws. After a few agonizingly long seconds, he said, “*Our best bet is busting through a side wall. They won’t be expecting that; it might buy us some time.*”

Zoe nodded before putting her hands on the sides of her mouth and calling out, “Tell everyone you meet to avoid the exits and break through a side wall. We’ll meet up in the forest outside!”

“Okay!” one of the rebels on the other side yelled back.

“*Alright, let’s go!*” Chibi barked, taking off down the hallway.

I jumped to my feet and raced after him, followed by the rest of the rebels in our group. All the while the blaring alarm and flashing lights served as a constant reminder of just how wrong all of this was. How many rebels had run out the front entrance and been gunned down? I didn’t even know if Rudy or Darren was among them, and the only thing I could do was push on with the others and desperately hope that we’d be able to find a way out.

The smoke was thicker in this direction. The fire had to be at the back of the building, which meant they’d definitely been trying to drive all the rebels in the direction of the main entrance. I held my shirt over my mouth and squinted as the smoke stung my eyes and it got harder to breathe. We’d be out of here soon. I just had to keep telling myself that.

“*Right here!*” Chibi shouted, waving at a portion of wall far ahead of us. Strings of electricity leaped off his fur as he gathered energy. Then, with a flash of light and a crash that was somehow even louder than the alarm, he fired a lightning bolt clear through the wall, shattering it into chunks of concrete and drywall.

“We’ve gotta make a break for it. Don’t stop to use Protect—our best chance is to keep moving,” Liam said.

“*I’ll attack all the Rockets I can,*” Chibi added. “*Anyone with priority attackers should send them with me, they’ll be too fast to get shot.*” Not a second after he’d said it, a half dozen flashes of light appeared all around us as the rebels released Pokémon to join him.

“*Now go!*”

With every inch of me screaming not to, I followed the others through the gaping hole in the wall and out into the cold nighttime air. I coughed hard, forcing deeper breaths now that we’d left the smoke and pouring all my focus and effort into running as fast as possible. Chibi’s makeshift exit had put us facing the outdoor training grounds, with scattered bits of forest in the distance across the battlefields. Completely open and exposed—no cover until we made it to the trees.

I flinched as gunshots rang out, clenching my teeth and forcing my legs to run faster. On either side of me, Pokémon darted around, so fast they were a blur as they struck down targets that were nearly invisible in the pitch-black night. Just had to keep running and let them handle it. Just had to keep running. We’d made it out of the stadium, we were going to be alright, just had to make it across the battlefield and—

A high-pitched screech tore the air. I whirled around just in time to catch a blinding flash and somehow my legs skidded to a stop right before a Hyper Beam struck the ground dead ahead of me. The shockwave knocked me off my feet, sending a jolt of pain running up my spine when I landed flat on my back. Dazed, winded, and ears ringing, I slowly picked myself up from the ground only to stare openmouthed at the smoking crater just five feet in front of me as clumps of dirt and grass rained down from the impact.

Holy crap that was too close. Damn it—humans were easy enough to knock down with a Quick Attack or two, but Pokémon? With all the bullets flying around, it hadn’t occurred to me that the Rockets’ Pokémon were more dangerous in this situation. Chibi was the only one that could knock them out fast enough.

“Over here!” a voice called out. I snapped my head in its direction and caught sight of a human silhouette waving to us from within the trees. Every few seconds, the shimmering flash of a Protect barrier gave enough light to reveal several other kids standing in the area, and an assortment of Pokémon clustered around them defensively.

We weren’t the only group to make it out. There were others!

“Jade!” Rudy’s voice. Rudy was alive. Holy crap, thank god.

I jumped to my feet and sprinted over as fast as my legs would carry me before ducking around one of the Protect users and slipping inside the circle. I was immediately met with paws on my shoulder and dog breath in my face as Ebony reared up on her hind legs to greet me.

“You’re okay!” I exclaimed breathlessly, avoiding the Houndoom’s tongue and flashing Rudy a relieved smile.

“Heck yeah, I’m not going down that easily,” he said, forcing a grin.

My face fell. Had… had he not heard what had happened to the rebels that ran outside the front entrance? Should I tell him?

Ebony hopped down from my shoulder and happily barked out a small wisp of flame before joining the rest of the Pokémon defending our group. She took position alongside Wartortle, who had just finished surrounding himself with Protect and was now panting from exhaustion, glancing back at Rudy with an anxious look on his face.

I scanned the rest of the group, an uneasy feeling creeping over me. “Where’s Darren?”

Rudy’s face fell. “Haven’t seen him yet. I thought he’d be with you.”

Crap. We couldn’t just leave without Darren. Not to mention all the other rebels that might still be trapped inside the stadium.

I flinched from the ping of bullets against Protect and instinctively ducked down to put more of myself safely within the circle of rebels as the Pokémon all around us alternated between shielding the group and attacking the enemy. By the light of Ebony’s flames, I caught a glimpse of several squads of Rockets, nearly invisible amongst the trees. Even harder to spot was the shadowy mist that formed behind two of the squads right before two large somethings appeared from the darkness and knocked them to the ground. I barely caught a glimpse of the culprits—a flash of green and red wings here, a white, four-legged blur there—before they vanished into the shadows once more.

By this point, another group of kids had escaped through the hole in the stadium and was now racing toward us. Chibi bolted all around them, unleashing wicked thunderbolts at the Rockets’ forces while the rebels’ Pokémon kept them distracted with blindingly fast maneuvers. The moment the kids reached the treeline and ducked inside the Pokémon circle with the rest of us, a wave of frantic shouting ensued.

“What are we gonna do?!”

“My friends are still trapped inside!”

“What was wrong with the main entrance? My teammates ran through there!”

“Listen to me, everyone! If you can fly or teleport out of here, then do it!” a voice called out, grabbing everyone’s attention instantly. I whirled around to see that Ray’s team had suddenly appeared right outside our defensive lineup. So they had made it out. But that left one huge question—where was Stalker?

“Where should we go?”

“Somewhere safe, like a Pokémon Center,” Ray said, and in that moment, for the first time, he looked just as lost and scared as the rest of us. “Anyone who’s still missing teammates, stay here and keep our defenses up.”

“I’ll teleport back inside and see if I can find any stragglers,” Sasha added, motioning to her Alakazam before the two of them disappeared.

Darren had a teleporter. He couldn’t possibly be trapped inside. Right?

An unearthly screech filled the air, freezing everyone in an instant. A scarily bright orange glow lit the night sky, and then the brilliant form of a blazing phoenix soared into view overhead. My stomach tied itself into knots just looking at it. Moltres. They’d brought Moltres with them? We couldn’t fight Moltres!

With another terrifying screech, the firebird craned its neck back before unleashing a massive fireball right at Midnight Stadium, engulfing the entire rear wall. In the light of the flames, I saw several flying Pokémon fleeing the building through open windows, carrying riders on their backs. Time slowed as Moltres snapped its attention to them. It drew itself back, inhaling deeply—no, no, no, this couldn’t be happening—and shot out a vicious stream of fire, completely incinerating two of the fleeing Pokémon and their riders.

I gaped in horror, jaw hanging open. What were we supposed to do if a Legendary Pokémon was targeting us? We’d never faced anything like this! How could we possibly make it out of here?

A pulsating burst of violet dragonfire shot out of nowhere, striking the phoenix right in the heart. Moltres reeled backward, more stunned than hurt, whirling its head around wildly to locate its attacker. And then a thunderous roar echoed across the island, and an orange dragon soared into view from the forests to the east. On its back was a trainer wearing a long, black, hooded cloak that concealed nearly all of their body from view. But there was no mistaking who it was. The firebird fixed its blank, emotionless eyes on the newcomers, watching them closely. Charizard flared her wings outward to slow her flight, staring down the Legendary in return.

And then it hit me—Stalker was challenging it. The Legendary Bird of Fire was here, and he was going to fight it. What the hell was he thinking?

Without warning, Moltres shot out a blazing Flamethrower at the opposing fire-type, who nimbly ducked out the way and launched into a high-speed loop around the firebird. I’d seen Charizard fly—she was fast, but I’d never seen her fly this fast. The dragon was practically a blur, streaking around, spitting more violet flares at her opponent, but the Legendary wasn’t remotely fazed by any of it. I held my breath as Charizard only barely managed to swerve away from another burst of flames. Her flight path zigged and zagged through the sky, almost like Stalker was trying to force Moltres to pay attention to them.

But… why? They couldn’t possibly hope to put a scratch on the Legendary. And if they got hit by even a single one of its attacks, they’d be done for.

Except if Moltres was focusing on him, that meant it wasn’t focusing on us. That’s what he was banking on! The light of the flames now consuming the stadium clearly illuminated the silhouettes of several flying Pokémon taking to the air.

I obviously wasn’t the only person to notice this, because Ray spoke up saying, “If you’re gonna fly away from here, now’s the time to do it. Send your Pokémon back once you reach a safe distance away—we’ll need all the help we can get.”

I caught the sound of wings buzzing behind me and turned to see Aros flying over to join us, closely followed by Stygian.

“*Take it I’ll need to fly some of you out of here?*” the Flygon asked. The same Flygon that had once made such a fuss over letting me on his back.

“I’m… honestly surprised to see you volunteering like this,” I blurted out without thinking.

Aros scowled. “*This place is our home too. And it’s under attack. Why wouldn’t we be involved?*”

This place was their home. I’d always thought the experiments merely tolerated us, but they actually liked it here, didn’t they?

A yellow blur slowed to a stop in front of me, revealing itself to be Chibi, panting and out of breath from dashing around and knocking out so many of the Rockets’ Pokémon. Sparks leaped off his fur at random—so he was already nearly drained? The Pikachu shook his head to get his bearings, then stood up and glanced between the two clones, his face falling. “*Where’s Razors?*” he demanded.

Aros frowned. “*Haven’t seen him.*”

“*What?*” The hybrid’s eyes went wide, and he glanced around frantically. “*No way… I have to find him!*” he yelled, racing off.

“Wait, come back!” I cried, but the hybrid didn’t stop. Damn it, why’d he have to do this now? There was no telling what’d happen if I lost sight of him—especially with him being so low on power already.

“Find Darren and I’ll meet up with you two later!” I yelled to Rudy before sprinting after Chibi. I heard paws strike the ground behind me, then saw Stygian in my peripheral vision, running at my side. She was coming with me? Whatever, I wasn’t about to question that now.

“*Wait, what should I do?!*” Aros called after us.

“Just help evacuate everyone! We’ll meet up with you later!” I called out over my shoulder.

The roar of flames filled the air as we sprinted along the treeline. I scanned the training grounds and the forests to our left—it wasn’t nearly as hard to see anymore with the all the firelight—but he’d run off so fast that I’d already lost him. Had to keep my eyes out for lightning. That would be my best indicator. Unless he ran out, which was a very real possibility. Damn it, where’d he run off to?!

Stygian and I were nearing the front of the stadium now. I slowed down, creeping close to the trees to avoid catching the attention of the Rocket squads that still remained in the area. I didn’t like being here, but this was the most likely spot for Chibi to have run. Still, there was no sign of lightning, and these Rockets likely wouldn’t be standing if he’d been through here.

Overhead, the battle between Stalker and Moltres continued, although it wasn’t so much a battle as a game of cat and mouse, with his Charizard ducking and weaving around nonstop torrents of flame. The firebird wasn’t the only enemy after him now. Dozens of mounted Rockets had taken to the air, sticking close to the Legendary and launching their own attacks at him. I watched with bated breath as Charizard only barely managed to avoid getting zapped by a lightning bolt, right before a jet of water clipped her wing.

My jaw hung open as the dragon spiraled downward uncontrollably, struggling to regain control of her flight. At the last second, the fire-type straightened her wings, and the two of them pulled out of the dive right above the ground, shooting out in a straight line right past me, closely followed by a squad of combat unit executives. This was bad. Avoiding Moltres was one thing, but that was just one thing to avoid, not a dozen executives.

Charizard put on a burst of speed, shooting off into the night sky. But she didn’t turn around. Her orange tail flame grew smaller and smaller as she put more distance between herself and the island. Moltres let out a cry and tore after the dragon, followed by all the mounted Rockets.

My heart sank through the ground. No way. Stalker was leaving us?

No—he was leading the Rockets away. He’d only confronted Moltres because that was the most conspicuous thing possible, and the perfect way to get everyone’s attention. Of course the Rockets were mostly after him. The rest of us were just an added bonus—that’s all we’d ever been.

And then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw her. There, sitting atop her Arcanine, silhouetted by the flames engulfing the stadium, was the head of the combat unit. My legs froze up instantly and my whole body went numb. No. Not her. Anyone but her. Not right now. Not like this.

Almost like she’d felt me staring at her, Astrid turned and laid eyes on me, and my stomach curled in on itself. Oh god no, why did she have to notice me, why.

For several seconds, neither of us moved. She just stared at me. Something in her face looked downright exhausted. “I am really tired of you, you know that?” Astrid said. And then she hopped off her Arcanine and started walking towards me.

I was paralyzed, terror shooting through my veins like ice. I couldn’t breathe. I was back in the detention cell with her standing over me like I was nothing, drowning in an endless torrent of agony with no end in sight. Couldn’t move. Couldn’t fight back. Couldn’t do anything.

“Stay away from me!!” I screamed.

And for just a second she actually paused, staring at me wide-eyed with an expression I couldn’t place. It was only for an instant—then her gaze hardened and she advanced toward us once more.

“*We need to move!*” Stygian hissed, shoving against me.

Her words barely registered. My brain was caught in a loop, replaying everything that had happened that night, over and over. She was in front of me, but also somehow standing over me, staring down at me. The heat of the flames melted into an endless barrage of lightning. Not again. I couldn’t handle that. Couldn’t handle being trapped, useless, unable to move, unable to fight back, unable to—

“*Come. On!!*” Stygian growled, throwing her body against my knees so that I toppled over onto her back. I barely had a chance to process what was going on and throw my hands out to catch hold of white fur before the Absol was sprinting away at high speed, half-dragging me behind her. My heart was pounding so fast it hurt, my breathing shallow and irregular, and the only thing I could think about was keeping hold of Stygian’s mane as she bolted in the opposite direction. Each footfall thundered through my whole body and my feet dragged against the dirt and I had no idea how far Stygian had run, but none of that mattered so long as she took us anywhere but there.

Eventually the dark-type slowed to a stop. I relaxed my grip and let myself slide off her back, only barely managing to catch myself from faceplanting into the dirt.

“*Ugh. I’m not doing that again. That was hard,*” Stygian muttered in between heavy panting.

“Is she gone?” I said breathlessly, picking myself up from the ground.

The Absol rounded on me with an unimpressed scowl. “*What was that? She didn’t even attack us and we had a clear escape route. Why did you stop?*”

Why did I stop. Why did I shut down. Why was just the sight of her enough to send me reeling back to that night? What was wrong with me?

“*Focus,*” Stygian growled, staring me dead in the eyes with her face just inches from mine. I swallowed hard and forced myself to stare back at her ruby-red irises, focusing on nothing else. Not Astrid, not the other Rockets, nothing. I wasn’t in the detention cell, I was here. I was nowhere else but here.

Footsteps crunched the leaves behind us. I bristled, throwing a glance over my shoulder. Was it her?! No, it was a squad of Rockets half-hidden amongst the trees. Wait—that was actually worse.

“*Oh shit,*” Stygian muttered, her fur standing on end. The Absol jumped in front of me and covered herself in the white light of Protect.

Nowhere to run. Too many for Stygian to fight on her own. The moment her Protect faltered, we’d be sitting ducks.

The buzzing of insect wings was the only warning. A green blur shot out of nowhere, striking all four Rockets with such speed and precision that by the time I had finished blinking, all of them had staggered backward, unconscious before they even hit the ground.

“What the hell,” I said, too stunned to think.

The green blur stopped abruptly in front of us, revealing itself to be a tall, armored mantis. I blinked several times, trying to process what I was seeing. It was Razors.

“You saved us?” I said, still reeling from what had just happened.

“*Sure took your time. The rest of us have been fighting since the attack began,*” Stygian said flatly.

The Scyther looked down and said nothing.

“*Razors!*” a voice cried. I whirled around to see Chibi bolting towards us from deeper in the forest. Oh sure, now he showed up. We wouldn’t have been in this situation if not for him running off like that.

“*You’re here!*” the Pikachu exclaimed one he’d reached us.

“*I’m here,*” Razors said. “*And I’m not running away. Not until everyone is safe.*” He gave the Pikachu a pointed look.

Chibi stared at him in disbelief. But then his eyes lit up and his mouth hung open ever so slightly in a relieved smile.

“Can we get back to the others now, please?” I snapped. Yes, I was glad to see that Razors was alright, but none of this would have been necessary if Chibi hadn’t run off in the first place.

I just barely had the chance to register a faint rumble under my feet right before pointed stones erupted from the ground all around us, uprooting trees and scattering chunks of dirt through the air. I recoiled backward, throwing a frantic glance in every direction as the stones rose higher and higher out of the earth, surrounding us on three sides.

“What now?!” I yelled. Just when I thought the worst was behind us—suddenly this?! What even was this? Rock Tomb? Stone Edge?

“Well, look at what we have here. I never imagined I’d be lucky enough to find three of our experiments all in one spot.”

What? I knew that voice from somewhere… but where? Razors had gone rigid, eyes wide and unblinking. I followed his gaze in the opposite direction to see a burly, dark-haired combat unit officer standing alongside a Rhydon and a Raticate at the entrance to the stone circle.

I stared, feeling a chill run down my spine. I recognized him. The lead experiment handler. Razors’s old trainer—Tyson. What the hell was he doing here? Sure, he was on the combat unit, but… why here? Why now?! We hadn’t run into him in months! Unless… unless he knew that a raid on the rebel base would give him an opportunity to recapture the experiments?

As if he’d noticed my staring, Tyson narrowed his eyes at me and said, “Yeah, don’t think I’ve forgotten about that shit you and your friends pulled last time we met. But I’m not here for you.” He held up a small, black computerized device.

“*No!!*” Chibi cried, unleashing a vicious torrent of lightning. The electricity swerved to the right, missing Tyson completely and zeroing in on the Rhydon’s nose horn. The Pikachu took a step back, momentarily dumbstruck, but then let out another cry and rushed straight at Tyson. Rhydon stepped forward to block him, moving way faster than it should have and taking the brunt of a Quick Attack like it was nothing. Seeing this, Stygian leveled her blade at the experiment handler and dashed forward, but before she’d cleared half the distance, the Raticate—a hybrid?—tackled her away from its trainer.

Chibi let out a pained cry, snapping my attention back to him in time to see that the Rhydon had grabbed hold of him with its giant foreclaws, squeezing him tightly while he swung his tail like a glowing blade. With an unimpressed grunt, the rock-type smashed him into the dirt. Once, twice, three times—it kept going. I stared helplessly. It hurt just to watch—each blow felt like a shockwave through my heart. After what felt like ages of that, the Rhydon finally stopped swinging Chibi around and pinned him under its fist, where the Pikachu continued to struggle against its hold.

“I don’t have any patience for you today, number nine. You used that up a long time ago.” Tyson leered at Razors. “On the other hand, you’re the real prize here.”

Razors was trembling all over, eyes screwed shut, shaking his head repeatedly as he dug his scythes into the dirt.

“*Let him go! I’ll kill you!!*” Chibi snarled, clawing at the dirt and swinging his Iron Tail wildly, to no avail. Each swing had less force than the previous one as he succumbed to the pain and exhaustion.

Had to do something. I could have my Pokémon attack him? Steal the device controlling Razors? Something?!

“Might want to think twice about bringing out any more Pokémon,” Tyson said, pointing his handgun at me before I even managed to reach my belt. I froze, swallowing hard. Protect wouldn’t do me any good if I couldn’t even let them out without getting shot.

“So here’s what we’re gonna do,” he said to Razors. “You’re gonna listen to me like you’re supposed to, you’re gonna slice the rest of them to ribbons, including that damned rat, and then I am going to feel infinitely better about things.”

Come on, think! I had to do something. Couldn’t let out Firestorm or Swift without getting them shot. Couldn’t recall Razors without his Pokéball. What to do. What to do?! Recall Chibi and make a break for it (and somehow not get shot in the process)? And leave Razors behind? No way—Chibi would never allow that. He’d just break out of his Pokéball and go back for him. But if he refused to fight Razors, and Tyson got full control of him, then…?

There had to be something! Come on, think!

Razors’s frantic struggling gradually faded. The Scyther’s eyes glazed over, dull and mindless as his movements slowed to a stop. He then turned to face the experiment handler, calmly awaiting orders.

A satisfied sneer spread across Tyson’s face. “Good. Now kill the rat first. That little shit’s given me enough headaches to last a lifetime.”

Rhydon stepped backward, leaving the bruised, battered, and drained Pikachu lying in a crumpled heap on the ground.

“Chibi!” I shouted.

Razors bolted forward like lightning, blades outstretched. Time slowed to a crawl. I saw Chibi lift his head to stare brokenly at his friend, all fight gone from his eyes. Saw the exact moment he accepted that Razors was going to kill him.

And then the Scyther froze with his blade mere inches from Chibi’s face. He blinked, his eyes flickering between mindless and frantic. Numb and in pain. Dead and alive. Every part of his body trembled.

“What are you doing?!” Tyson roared.

Razors locked eyes with Chibi. With a gargantuan effort, he wrenched his face into a forced smile.

“*I’m sorry.*”

In one swift motion, he raised an arm and drew a scythe across his own throat. Dark blood sprayed as his body jerked suddenly, then his legs gave out and his body fell to the ground with a dull thud.

“No!!” Tyson shouted, his face instantly going white.

It felt like all the air had been sucked from my lungs. No way. No way. That had not just happened. No way. I stared stupidly at the sight, unable to process it. In an instant, he was gone. Just like that?

Chibi’s mouth hung open, eyes wide with horror and Razors’s blood splattered across his face. For several seconds, he didn’t move—just stared unblinking at the Scyther’s dying body, making an awful sort of choking noise. Slowly, shakily, he turned his gaze upward to focus on Tyson.

“*I’ll fucking kill you!!*”

The Pikachu shot forward, all exhaustion instantly turned into unbridled fury. Rhydon’s eyes went wide, and it held its arms out to shield its trainer from the electric-type, but Chibi already had an Iron Tail ready and sent the armored beast reeling backward with a strike right between the eyes. It crashed onto its back, dazed and clutching its face in pain. And then Chibi turned his attention to Tyson, who blanched and recalled the rock-type before taking off running. He barely made it ten yards before the Pikachu caught him with a metallic blow to the leg, instantly snapping it sideways at a grotesque angle.

Tyson screamed. Chibi hadn’t stopped screaming since it happened. And he continued screaming the entire time he stabbed the Rocket over and over with his tail as the blood stained his fur and his voice grew hoarse and his movements slowed until his eyes rolled back and he finally succumbed to exhaustion and collapsed.

It was like time had stopped. I stood frozen on the spot, staring blankly with my mouth open, the past few minutes a blur. I had to have imagined it. I had to. I blinked repeatedly, each time willing my surroundings to change. But the scene lay in front of me, the same as it had before.

At some point Stygian trotted over to my side, though I wasn’t sure when. My attention snapped over to her, and for a sickening moment, my breath caught in my chest—the Absol was dripping with blood. But then some part of my brain managed to notice how the blood mostly ran down her right side. The side with the blade. The blade itself was covered—it wasn’t her blood. My eyes slid behind her, where the experimental Raticate lay motionless aside from its matted fur rising and falling with each shuddering breath.

I flinched. Whatever, couldn’t think about that now, had to focus on—I glanced back at where Chibi had fallen, but ended up catching another glimpse of Razors lying face-down in a pool of dark blood, and for a moment it was like that image was burned into my eyes and it was the only thing I was ever going to see again. Fighting back daggers of nausea tearing at my insides, I forced myself to look at anything else as I held out Chibi’s Pokéball and recalled him.

“*You have him. There’s no reason to linger here,*” Stygian said. Her words held a strange heaviness, and she didn’t look me in the eye.

I exhaled slowly. She was right. And yet, for some reason it felt like I’d never be able to move from this spot. Because Razors was here, and we weren’t leaving without him, but he was never moving again, so neither could I, and it didn’t make any sense, but that was the loop my brain was stuck in.

I felt a nudge at my side, and my legs started walking of their own accord. I reached out an arm to steady myself and loosely grabbed a handful of fur. The Absol squinted at my hand, but didn’t say anything.

The roar of the raging fire and the call of emergency sirens filled the air as we wandered in the direction that I’d last seen the rebels make their defense. Neither any Rockets nor rebels remained. I could only hope that meant the latter had escaped, and that the few Rockets that hadn’t pursued Stalker had withdrawn after their targets had fled. But I knew better than to hope for the best. Not after everything that had happened so far.

And then Darren appeared in front of us in a burst of shimmering light. His expression was frazzled and anxious, but he was unharmed.

“You’re okay?” I asked, taking a step backwards. But then I realized who wasn’t with him. “Wait, where’s Rudy?”

“He’s alive, now come on,” Darren said, outstretching a hand. I stared at it blankly until I realized that his other hand was holding his Kadabra’s.

“Wait—Stygian can’t be teleported and I don’t have her Pokéball.”

He frowned. “Where is it?”

I threw a useless glance back in the direction of the stadium. If it was still in Stalker’s office, then it was long since melted. But wait! Could I put her in a new one?

“Tell me you have an empty Pokéball,” I pleaded.

Darren nodded before quickly retrieving one from his backpack and handing it to me. I tapped it to Stygian’s shoulder, and her form dissolved into it. Then Darren grabbed my hand and our surroundings melted into distorted light before re-forming into somewhere completely different. We were standing in the middle of the street in a small town. The polished red roof of a Pokémon Center stood out against a scattering of old wooden buildings, and the oppressive heat of the stadium fire had become a cool, salty breeze.

“This isn’t… where are we?” I asked.

“Lavender Town Pokémon Center,” Darren replied. “Sasha wasn’t sure the Midnight one would be safe.” I wasn’t sure here was that much safer. But right now, anywhere was better than the stadium.

Cop cars and ambulances practically lined the street. A large crowd had gathered in front of the Pokécenter—rebels, Pokémon, police, nurses, bystanders. A handful of medical Blissey could be seen bobbing in and out of the crowd, gathering Pokéballs from some of the rebels. Panicked and crying kids were led inside the center by police Growlithe.

This was all too much. I closed my eyes, trying to block out the details while my brain struggled to process everything. A sickly nausea had wormed its way through my insides and didn’t feel like leaving. I suddenly wanted to be anywhere else.

“I think Ray’s group told them we evacuated from the fire on Midnight Island,” Darren said quietly. “He didn’t mention anything about us being targeted by Team Rocket.”

I honestly couldn’t tell if I agreed with that decision. My brain felt like it had slowed to a crawl, and each thought was like trudging through a mile of mud.

The sound of buzzing wings approached, and for a single, heart-stopping second, my brain latched onto the hope that Razors had come back. But no. That fantasy was dashed the moment I opened my eyes to see that Aros had landed in front of me.

“*Where’s Stygian?*” the Flygon asked.

Rather than answer, I just pulled out the dark-type’s new Pokéball and let her out. I then wandered toward the Pokécenter, suddenly desperate to get away from the crowd. I couldn’t stand being out here and seeing any of this. I didn’t want to acknowledge any of it. This was all wrong.

Inside the center was worse. Rebels—kids I’d lived with and battled with for four months—occupied all the couches in the small lobby. Crying, consoling each other, hugging their Pokémon tightly. I saw Zoe comforting Liam along with his Bayleef as he doubled over, sobbing. Kris, hugging her Furret, neither of her partners anywhere to be seen. I’d seen one of them die, right in front of me.

There’d been about fifteen kids outside, and another ten or so in here, which meant… My breath seized in my chest—almost two dozen rebels were unaccounted for. Some of them had fled elsewhere, they must have. But… there was no avoiding the sickening truth that most of them had died on Midnight Island. And that wasn’t even counting how many of the survivors had lost Pokémon.

And then, for some reason, I properly realized that both of my partners were still alive.

“You said Rudy made it out?” I asked, turning to face Darren.

“Yeah,” he replied. But there was a slight edge to his voice. Something was wrong. Something other than the attack itself.

“…Where is he?” I asked warily.

Darren’s face fell, and his eyes shifted a bit. But then he pointed at the far end of the lobby. There, seated on a couch, was Rudy, face buried in his hands, shoulders trembling. My stomach curled inward on itself. He was safe at least, but something was definitely wrong. I walked over, my steps slow and cautious. Ebony was lying next to him, resting her head on his leg. The Houndoom glanced up at me with a worried look as I neared.

“Hey. You… you alright?” It was a stupid question. None of us were alright. Not after what had just happened.

“Wartortle’s dead,” Rudy croaked.

It was like the air had been sucked from the room. I must have misheard him. I must have.

“What?” was all I could say.

He took several slow, shaking breaths. “The Rockets were all surrounding us. He’d already used Protect a bunch, but… I didn’t recall him. I thought he could handle it, I didn’t think that… that…”

I sat down on the far end of the couch, staring at the floor in shock. And yet… an insidious voice in the back of my head kept telling me this wasn’t shocking at all.

“I didn’t want him to get hurt, I swear. I just… I wasn’t thinking… I didn’t realize…”

He hadn’t realized. I hadn’t realized. Hadn’t realized that it had been like this the entire time. How many times had I noticed him being careless with Wartortle and just brushed it off? I figured it would all work out in the end, because… well, because why wouldn’t it? Things had always worked out for him before.

I didn’t think anything of it, so I never said anything, and now Wartortle was dead.

The urge to comfort Rudy flared up inside me, but what was there to say? Reassure him that it wasn’t his fault? In other words, lie to his face? Pretend like it wasn’t both inevitable from the way things had been going and also completely avoidable if anyone, including me, had ever stopped to say, “hey, maybe you should appreciate your starter more?” No, I’d rolled my eyes and thought, “ha ha, typical Rudy,” and then ignored it.

Countless opportunities, all wasted. The image of Razors lying in a pool of blood flashed through my mind, distorting into Wartortle.

I couldn’t handle this right now. I didn’t know how to be there for him when I felt ready to collapse at any moment, and if that made me a bad friend, then I almost didn’t even care because I’d already screwed up so many times that this paled in comparison.

“Take care of him, will you?” I said to Ebony, giving her a few half-hearted neck rubs. The firedog glanced in my direction and gave a light whimper. Of course this was hitting her hard—she’d lost a teammate. And on top of that… she was still just a pup, wasn’t she? Even as a Houndoom?

I stood up from the couch and shuffled away. But since I didn’t know where to go, I wound up wandering aimlessly around the lobby, lost in a daze. The scattered voices and crying all around me had blended into a distorted haze of sound that my brain didn’t feel like sorting through. What was I supposed to do now? What were any of us supposed to do now?

It wasn’t until my ears caught a familiar voice in Pokéspeech that I felt myself snap back into reality and turn in the direction of the noise to see Aros and Stygian at the front entrance with a rather confused nurse.

“These two say you’re their trainer?” she asked.

“*I just said we don’t have a trainer, but we’re with her,*” Aros said exasperatedly.

I stared blankly for a few seconds before saying, “Yeah, they’re with me. I guess.” My face probably looked like I was willing to kill someone for a bit of rest. I vaguely wanted to rearrange it into something less hostile, but the message got lost halfway, so I wound up just staring at the floor.

The nurse gave me a sympathetic smile. “You’re welcome to head on back to the trainer’s dorm if you like,” she said gently.

I blinked. “Right. Uh, come with me I guess,” I said, motioning to the two clones.

My legs were on autopilot, shuffling against the carpet as I wandered down the hall, rounding the first corner I came to. I was met with a wide dormitory about the same size as the lobby and filled with a dozen or so bunks. A few kids were back here already. Three. That still left around twenty unaccounted for. I hated knowing that.

I stumbled over to the closest bed and plopped down onto it heavily, sliding my backpack off my shoulders and letting it fall to the floor. Aros and Stygian sat down in front of me, glancing around uncertainly.

“*So… uh… do we need to go inside a Pokéball to stay indoors?*” Aros asked in what sounded like genuine confusion.

“I’d feel safer if you didn’t,” I said immediately. I had no idea what the odds were that we’d be attacked here, but I didn’t want to be without the experiments. Not now.

A sudden vibration from my pocket gave me pause. It took several seconds for me to realize that I hadn’t imagined it—my R-com had just received a text message. Slowly, I reached into my pocket and pulled out the device. I pressed the button on its front to light up the screen.

It was a text message from Stalker.

By the time you all read this, I hopefully will have been able to draw the Rockets away from you. Otherwise, you won’t be reading this.

The biggest danger to any of you right now is being connected to me. For that reason, I will not attempt to approach any of you. It’s safer if they think I’ve abandoned the rebels. Stay in public, and stay together. Don’t give them the opportunity to isolate you or single you out.

The Rebellion is over. But your real names and identities should still be safe—I’ve made sure of that. It’s up to you what you want to do from now on. If I never see you again, thank you for being a part of the fight. Whether it seems like it or not, you made a difference. If you want to continue the fight, come to Johto. I lead the Johto Resistance there. I can offer its protection. You’ve all proven yourselves worthwhile allies. I’d be honored to have you on my side again.


Our identities were safe, he’d said. Not mine. Mine was compromised ever since the day Astrid pieced together who I was. With the Rebellion finished, would I ever be safe anywhere again?

The adrenaline was wearing off, leaving a tidal wave of smothering exhaustion in its wake. I was only dimly aware that I’d unclipped Swift and Firestorm’s Pokéballs and opened them. Both of my Pokémon appeared alongside the bed and glanced around in confusion. Somewhere amidst the torrent of questions from Firestorm, I managed to mumble, “Ask them,” gesturing vaguely in the experiments’ direction. After that, I fell back onto the bed and didn’t get up.






~End Chapter 22~
The following post contains an extra that goes along with this chapter. In addition, I did write up an author's commentary post when I published this chapter on Serebii, explaining the reasoning for some of the decisions made in this chapter. After the positive response this chapter got over there, I don't think I'll bother with posting it here. But if anyone wants to see it, you can find it [here].
 
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Ch 22 Extra: “I’m Sorry”

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
Partner
pikachu-chibi
~Chapter 22 Extra: “I’m Sorry”~













 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partner
charizard
Reed had crumpled to the ground in an awkward heap, his eyes wide and staring and a bullet hole in his head.
Oh, okay! So that's what we're doing tonight.

--

All things considered, this chapter was definitely a sudden change of pace. I think one thing that's kind of interesting about it is, from a narrative perspective and from a blind reader's perspective, this theoretically could have happened after any mission after or during this one, depending on how many missions you would've wanted to happen before this attack took place. I have some commentary on this at the end regarding your afterword on serebii, but more on that later. For now, I want to comment on the general mechanics and beats of the story.

The main action was frantic and confusing, but not necessarily in a bad way. Limiting it to Jade helped to go over the main parts, and the aftermath near the end helped to "catch up" to the action points that we missed. This chapter could have been twice as long if it was in third person and followed the key characters, to being able to "cheat" through a big scene in this way--which, I'll admit, you sometimes use as a crutch to get through it faster--played to your advantage here.

This is definitely a bit of a turning point, but also more a way forward. At first I thought that this story was going to find itself going in a totally different direction up until Stalker's text message, suggesting we'll just be moving to another region. It's mildly disappointing, if that's the case, but I wouldn't say completely. I'm still interested in that aspect of the plot.

I'll save the afterword for after these quotes...

Oh god, her teammate was dead next to me and she couldn’t see him, oh god.
I liked these little bits of fully conversational / internal narrative that blends with actual thoughts. However, I think the future instances of it in this chapter were... a bit excessive this time around.

I flinched from the ping of bullets against Protect
Y'know, this is actually something I think about sometimes. Typically sounds come from both objects reverberating from being struck. What does something like Protect, which I imagine is forcefield-based, make for a sound? Is it ethereal? Metallic?

My jaw hung open as the dragon spiraled downward uncontrollably
I'm noticing a lot of "[my action] as [actually important action]" clauses in this chapter.

With a gargantuan effort, he wrenched his face into a forced smile.

“I’m sorry.”
As much as I'm disappointed in the big picture of this moment, I'm very impressed at how this scene in and of itself was handled--Razors was, in a sense, able to die as himself and with at least one aspect of it on his own terms. I don't really have much else to say on that, just that I think this scene was handled well for what you were going for.

If you want to continue the fight, come to Johto. I lead the Johto Resistance there. I can offer its protection. You’ve all proven yourselves worthwhile allies. I’d be honored to have you on my side again.
Hm, now that I've already commented on it above, this quote seems redundant for me to take. Still, wondering of Jade takes it up or not.

--

Hokay! Now, I also took the liberty of reading the afterword on serebii, because you felt it was important enough to link back to it. I agree with a lot of what you're going for. You had a bigger story to tell and the Rebellion was more or less meant to be a prologue. I do have to raise my eyebrows on why you're more or less shrugging off why Team Rocket goes to such extreme measures when you yourself acknowledge it's excessive from the top-down, but I can chalk that up to how a criminal organization based around magical creatures can run at times, or something along those lines.

I think I'm more interested in your approach to handling conflict, since you've given us a pretty rare insight into your creative thought process in how you handle story beats in the broad strokes and the smaller details. So, your approach to Wartortle's death was to give Rudy a reason to deconstruct his reckless behavior. You thought that killing Wartortle would give what you wanted "and more," in terms of having him change and learn, but... I do wonder if that's really the case.

One thing that I've noticed is that human-pokemon interactions can sometimes be a bit on the stilted side sometimes, perhaps in part because there's not a lot of it. I'm generally more interested in how the pokemon interact with each other and how they feel about themselves than how they interact with their trainers. The rare exception to this is Swift and Jade. Everyone else, sometimes I get this odd... indifference from the Pokemon when they interact with their trainers--and not just from the hybrids.

I'm rambling a bit, but this ties into my point, and this will lead to Razors next: I think if Wartortle had lived, you could have capitalized on Wartortle mouthing off, rebelling, or otherwise openly questioning Rudy's actions as his trainer from then on, giving a much more direct and lasting conduit to Rudy developing than just the single event of Wartortle's death.

I know I'm a bit biased here. I have a strong focus in general on the theme of how to handle something when you can't just kill off the "problem character." Because--and I'm sure you'll agree, based on your afterword--killing a character is the easy way out. The hard way, which has much more payoff if you can execute it, is having them follow through with those problems and see where that arc actually takes them. And that leads me to...

Razors. As much as I liked the scene of how he went out, reading your afterword gives me a bit of a bitter aftertaste on how disappointing it is you decided to go in this direction. Once again--what to do about characters when you can't get rid of them, and what that means for those involved. Chibi and Razors, once old friends, now completely estranged due to time and experiences, struggling to rekindle and reconcile.

Whether they succeed or not, there is so much potential in that kind of character interaction and storyline, and rather than see it as an opportunity, you saw it as a problem. I suppose the best of two worlds would have been if Razors tried to kill himself, but Chibi loses it, does his thing, and then Razors barely survives (either from being a Pokemon or from being presumably cold blooded--they tend to last longer without most of their blood) and the aftermath of that can lead to a lot of conversations.

Still, that aside, reading your thought process--that they no longer have anything in common, wildly conflicting life philosophies, having to work together on the same team, having once been friends? And you saw that as something you wanted to avoid by killing it off? The real death here is the lost potential in the narrative--not the loss Razors.

Sorry if this wasn't quite what you were hoping to hear. I do like the scene's execution, like I said. But learning about the reasoning behind your direction is definitely something that has me scratching my head. At the very least, I still want to see where this goes and--as you mentioned in the afterword--how the Legendary War ties into it all.
 

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
Partner
pikachu-chibi
Oh, okay! So that's what we're doing tonight.
Not gonna lie, this reaction is pretty amazing.
This is definitely a bit of a turning point, but also more a way forward. At first I thought that this story was going to find itself going in a totally different direction up until Stalker's text message, suggesting we'll just be moving to another region. It's mildly disappointing, if that's the case, but I wouldn't say completely. I'm still interested in that aspect of the plot.
Mild spoiler but... yeah, the story's gonna be going in a totally different direction from here.
I do have to raise my eyebrows on why you're more or less shrugging off why Team Rocket goes to such extreme measures when you yourself acknowledge it's excessive from the top-down, but I can chalk that up to how a criminal organization based around magical creatures can run at times, or something along those lines.
Ah, if you want to know why that is, well... it's because this fic has gotten bogged down in so many multi-year hiatuses, and my odds of finishing the thing are already so low as it is, that I have a very "just keep swimming" approach when I run into issues that I just can't fathom how to fix without fundamentally restructuring the entire story.
I think I'm more interested in your approach to handling conflict, since you've given us a pretty rare insight into your creative thought process in how you handle story beats in the broad strokes and the smaller details. So, your approach to Wartortle's death was to give Rudy a reason to deconstruct his reckless behavior. You thought that killing Wartortle would give what you wanted "and more," in terms of having him change and learn, but... I do wonder if that's really the case.
Quoting this bit but replying to the whole thing. Forgive the wall of text incoming, but you hit a lot of really interesting stuff!

Let's start with the "and more" part. In this case, that was referring to the emotional impact on the characters. One of my absolute favorite things in fiction is developing how characters react to pain and loss (which I'm sure has been obvious) and that's one thing that you fundamentally can't get from backing out or shying away from loss. The lessons I wanted to develop were ones that required sacrifice in order to have any meaning at all. To me, killing a character hardly removes them from the plot neatly and easily, because then you have deal with developing everyone else in the aftermath. So I'm a bit puzzled that it seems like I chose this to avoid writing an interesting character arc, when all these things happened specifically to facilitate character arcs.

I might have portrayed my motivations poorly in that writeup, because it's not as though I outlined Chibi's arc and went "oh, there's interesting things here, and I don't want to write them." But rather "there's interesting things here, but not anywhere near as interesting (to me) as these things over here." In both cases, I weighed the two options and went with the one that had the most interesting long-term fallout in the narrative. I've cancelled an upcoming character death in Book 2 because I realized that the potential impact on the survivors was not sufficiently interesting to justify it (and it was also redundant with an overlapping arc, and a whole host of other reasons.)

It's a bit like if FMA had decided to pursue a subplot about de-fusing Nina and Alexander, instead of killing them. That certainly could have been a very interesting subplot with a ton of worldbuilding potential, awkward character interactions, ect. I can't even say that I wouldn't have wanted to see that! But... in lieu of that, the series opted to go for setting the tone for the kind of story that it wanted to be, establishing the brothers' feeling of powerlessness and the realization that there were some things that they could not fix, no matter how hard they tried or how much power they gained. Was something lost by going with that? Sure, an entire subplot was closed off forever. But it's not as though nothing was gained.

Now, is all that to say that I don't have any regrets with Chibi and Razors? Oh hell no, as a lot of Serebii readers were quick to point out, I definitely need an extra chapter or two in the middle of book 1 to further develop those two, (in addition to needing to show more of their backstory.) But in book 2 now, I'm still writing the fallout from this chapter and the impact it has on Chibi's character arc in chapter 51 and Rudy's arc in Chapter 59. The ripples from this chapter on the narrative are going last a very long time, and make things much, much more difficult on the characters. I chose it because it was the harder path.

(Also without meaning to, you accidentally hit on what the theme of the next arc is going to be, though I can't quote where because spoilers.)

Well, that was a lot! Hope some of that made sense. Thanks for leaving such in-depth thoughts! It's really interesting to be able to discuss things like this.
 
Chapter 23: Betrayal

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
Partner
pikachu-chibi
So I've often said that this fic has been around for a very, very long time, and this chapter introduces the one subplot in the fic that dates back to the original draft. As a result, it has quite a bit of sentimental value. I've really been looking forward to this one. Hope you enjoy~



~Chapter 23: Betrayal~


Sunlight filtered in through a crack in the curtains, falling across my face and slowly dragging me out of a heavy sleep. I blinked several times, putting a hand over my face to keep the sunbeam from stinging my eyes. It felt like I’d been hit by a truck. I honestly wasn’t sure whether I’d slept for five minutes or five days. Hazy memories started bubbling to the surface of my mind, one after another. The stadium engulfed in flames. Gunshots. Moltres. Running for our lives. Razors…

I shivered. That was… one hell of a nightmare.

I sat up and squinted at my surroundings as my eyes adjusted to the light. And then a chill fell over me. This wasn’t my room. I was in a small, cabin-style dormitory filled with beds, half of which were occupied by other members of the Rebellion.

So then… all of that from last night… that all really happened?

I collapsed back against the pillows like a heavy weight had just been dropped on me. All of that had really happened. The Rebellion was over. Nearly half the team was gone. Razors was gone. Stalker had disappeared.

But those of us who had escaped… we were still alive. I was so sure we’d be targeted here, I just hadn’t had the energy to deal with it last night.

Both Swift and Firestorm were already awake, the former gazing out the window and the latter idly playing with his tail flame. Aros and Stygian were curled up on the carpet near the doorway in a way that had probably made it difficult for anyone else to enter the room. The Absol’s coat was spotless, and it was impossible to tell that she’d been ashy and bloodstained the previous night. She must’ve spent most of the night cleaning herself.

Swift took that opportunity to push off from the windowsill and glide over to the bed, landing alongside me.

“*Morning,*” he chirped.

“Morning,” I replied automatically, glancing around the room once more. I had apparently set my Pokéballs on one of the tables by the doorway, judging by the fact that there were three of them sitting on the polished wooden surface next to a black hybrid ball. The latter of which was currently open.

“Where’s Chibi?” I asked warily.

At my words, Stygian partially opened a single eye to stare at me before yawning widely and sitting up. “*He broke out halfway through the night and ran off,*” the Absol said, rubbing a paw against her face.

Honestly, I couldn’t even blame him. Not after the way I’d spent an entire week holed up in my room. I only hoped he wouldn’t get spotted by the wrong people. He was usually pretty careful, but… in his current state…

“*I can’t pretend to know how he’s feeling,*” Aros said, sitting up suddenly with an alertness that made me doubt he’d really been asleep. “*The hybrids were always a lot closer with each other than the rest of us. We just gotta give him space.*”

Give him space… All right. I could do that.

A crushing emptiness had settled into the pit of my stomach. I couldn’t stop seeing it happen, over and over in my mind. Couldn’t stop seeing the look on Chibi’s face when it had happened. It felt like my heart was going to collapse inward on itself.

“I should have done something.”

The experiments tilted their heads in confusion, but Swift seemed to know what I was talking about. He stepped closer to me and gently asked, “*What should you have done?*”

“I don’t know. Something. Razors is dead and I watched it happen and I couldn’t do anything, but I should have figured something out,” I said, burying my face in my hands.

“*Please don’t blame yourself,*” the Pidgeotto said quietly. “*Not after everything you’ve been through.*”

I didn’t have anything to say to that. Not while my gut felt like it’d been punched and my hands were already soaked with tears.

“*Why didn’t you send us out?*” Firestorm murmured. Not this again.

“It wasn’t safe,” I muttered, wiping my eyes. That horrible feeling of paralysis flashed through my memory. Wanting to send someone out and fight back, but knowing I’d just be getting them killed.

“*But… I could have helped—*”

“You would have been shot,” I replied in what was probably a harsher tone than necessary, but I wasn’t in the best mindset to be tactful. The Charmeleon froze like he’d been slapped, then looked away and said nothing.

I put a hand to my forehead. “Sorry, sorry, it’s just… I don’t think I could handle losing any of you. Rudy’s going through that right now, and—”

“*Wait, what?*” Firestorm said, looking up suddenly.

“Wartortle,” I replied. The name said it all.

The Charmeleon blinked at me in confusion like I’d just told him the moon was square. “*Was he just… not strong enough…?*”

“Yeah, well maybe it wasn’t his fault he never got any training because no one ever thought he was worth anything, alright?” I snapped, slamming a fist against my knee. Rudy hadn’t thought so, and I hadn’t cared, and now he was dead, and no one could fix that, and I was completely not in the mood to deal with Firestorm’s stupid strength obsession. Even though I was his trainer, it was my job to deal with it, but dammit, not now. Later. I’d deal with it later. I had more pressing concerns. Like figuring out what to do with myself from now on.

I took a deep breath to steady myself and looked over each of my Pokémon, but then my eyes fell on the two clones. Figuring out what I was gonna do was one thing, but what about them?

“I… I’m not sure what you two want to do now,” I said awkwardly. “The Rebellion is over. That kind of rules out staying on Midnight Island.”

Aros folded his arms, throwing a sideways glance out the window. “*Might’ve crossed my mind, yeah,*” he said. Stygian had suddenly become very interested in licking her already spotless claws.

“I don’t know if there’s anywhere you’ve wanted to go? Both of your species aren’t even from this region, so…”

The Flygon tossed his head indignantly. “*You don’t expect us to make a living in the wild, do you? You know there’s nothing wild about us.*”

“*I was raised by humans, and I lived in the wild just fine,*” Firestorm pointed out.

“*Yeah, well you weren’t made by humans, were you?*” the dragon retorted, pointing a claw at the Charmeleon.

I really didn’t see how that was relevant to anything. “Look, I don’t care if you’re clones, alright? Where do you want to live? We can’t just leave you at the Pokémon Center.”

Aros peered at me through his red eye lenses, his expression hard to place. Finally, he said, “*Well then, given our choices, I think we could make do with having a trainer for now.*”

A heavy pause followed. I blinked at him, mouth agape, while my brain processed the implications of what he’d just said.

“Wait, what?

The Flygon folded his arms. “*There’s no place for us in the wild, and I still have business with the Rockets. Sticking with you right now is easiest.*” So I was just a means to an end, then.

My eyes traced the floor back and forth as I struggled to think of a response. “I… guess that makes sense?” Aros nodded in a self-satisfied way, like he’d sure showed me. “But seriously, you’re both on board with this?” I asked, throwing a bewildered look at Stygian, who’d been silent the whole time.

The Absol cracked one eye open, glancing at me out of its corner. “*As far as humans go, you’re not absolutely terrible,*” she offered.

I smiled weakly. “Thanks.” That might have been the nicest thing she’d ever said to me.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I couldn’t just spend all day in the trainer’s dorm. Eventually, I had to make my way outside. I recalled all my Pokémon except for Aros, who didn’t have a Pokéball (I would need to get one for him at some point) before wandering toward the hallway to the lobby. On the way, I happened to pass by a floor-length mirror and caught a glimpse of my reflection out of the corner of my eye, which made me stop.

I looked like a mess. Still dressed in the same clothes I’d been sleeping in before the attack—an oversized t-shirt and drawstring pants that were now thoroughly torn on the legs—crumpled under a dirt and ash-covered jacket. A tangled pile of too-long blonde hair hung around my face (why hadn’t I noticed that it needed cutting until now?), and my eyes held a strange heaviness that I hadn’t seen before.

I didn’t look fourteen anymore. And not just because I was turning fifteen in two weeks. There was something else. It felt like I’d lived four years in the past four months, and that fact was plastered all over my face, even though I couldn’t really describe why.

With a long, slow exhale, I forced myself away from the mirror. No sense dwelling on pointless things like that.

The Pokécenter lobby wasn’t quite as packed as it had been last night, though there were still plenty of rebels and Pokémon and cops around. The overwhelming haze of grief and horror from the previous night had mellowed out into a lingering aura of calm, cold despair that hung in the air like a wet blanket. Some of the kids were talking with the police. Others were talking quietly amongst themselves in hushed, scared voices, glancing around frequently. Others sat alone, staring out the window in silence. I noticed Darren in the third category. Well, not quite alone; his Sneasel was next to him, making a game of jumping on and off the couch repeatedly.

Darren glanced up at me as I approached. “How’d you sleep?” he asked.

“I feel like I woke up from a coma and all of this is fake,” I said, unceremoniously flopping onto the couch with my arms hanging over the back.

“Ah… you too?” he replied.

I exhaled through the nose in a rough approximation of a laugh before leaning my head back against the couch cushion and rubbing my temples. Sneasel began idly clawing at the edge of my jacket. I didn’t remotely care enough to tell her to stop.

“Where’s Rudy?” I asked.

Darren nodded over his shoulder in the direction of the hallway I’d come from. “He requested a private room. Hasn’t come out yet.” He paused for a few seconds, then added, “I tried knocking but he didn’t answer.”

I gave a hollow laugh. “Can’t really blame him.” Not after what I did last week.

“He wouldn’t talk to me last night either. I don’t think he likes me much. I mean, that doesn’t bother me, it’s just…” His voice trailed off.

I furrowed my brow, like I was focusing on some hard to make out detail on the ceiling. A couple times I opened my mouth like I was going to say something, but no words came.

“I mean, it’s cool. You two were friends before all this. I get it,” Darren went on, with a tone that sounded like he was talking to no one in particular. Sneasel abandoned my jacket to jump in his lap, and he stroked her ear feathers absently.

“Are all your Pokémon alright?” I blurted out suddenly.

Darren blinked. “They’re fine. Kadabra saved our butts on more than one occasion.”

“Oh. That’s good.”

An awkward silence followed as I struggled to find something, anything to say. Anything we could have normally talked about felt pointless and inane right now, though.

After what felt like ages, Darren broke the silence. “I know it probably seems like I’m taking all this pretty well. Guess I’m not that great at expressing this kind of thing, huh?”

I glanced at him out of the corner of my eye without moving my head. He was staring out the window with an expression that was hard to place.

“It’s a lot to take in,” I finally said.

“Part of me’s grateful that my team and I got out of it as well as we did. I know that sounds terrible, but… I can’t help thinking it, y’know?” He paused, frowning. “Hang on, you didn’t lose any Pokémon, right?”

My Pokémon… Razors wasn’t my Pokémon.

“No,” I said, my voice hollow.

Darren let out a breath. “Okay. Just checking. Didn’t wanna say anything like that if you were in the same boat as Rudy.”

And then, in that moment, for whatever reason, I was hit with the crushing realization that everything I’d based my life around had completely and totally fallen apart, and I had no idea what I was supposed to do from now on.

“What are you gonna do now?” I asked, suddenly turning to face him. “I guess… what were you gonna do before the Rebellion? Rudy was always out for the whole ‘win the League, be a competitive battler’ deal, but I don’t think I’ve ever asked you.”

Darren crossed his arms behind his head with a thoughtful look. “I just wanted to get out of Celadon. See the rest of Kanto, maybe travel to other regions. I was tired of living in a town run by Rockets. Probably sounds silly that I joined an anti-Rocket team after wanting to get away from them, but”—the corners of his mouth curled up—“Stalker was pretty persuasive when I met him.”

“You can say that again,” I said with a dry laugh.

“What about you? You’ve never struck me as the competitive battling type.”

I chuckled under my breath. “Definitely not.” Why had I wanted to become a trainer? I could only think of the reasons why I’d decided to become a rebel. But before that… before Team Rocket, before Entei… what were my goals then?

“I only wanted to go on a journey because everyone else was,” I said slowly as the memories came drifting back. “I hated being left behind. All my closest friends were older than me, except for Rudy. So they all left years ago.”

That was it, wasn’t it? That’s all I’d really wanted back then. To meet up with Ajia and Starr and travel around with them. The idea was almost laughable now. Like something out of a fantasy.

I took a deep breath, trying to clear my thoughts. The question of what to do next resurfaced in my mind, and I was again reminded that I had no idea what to do with myself.

“Did you read Stalker’s text?” I asked.

Darren nodded.

“Are you gonna join him?”

He paused to consider the question. “Nah. I think, after all this… I’d kind of like to actually go on that journey. It’s not as exciting as fighting Rockets, but I’ve kind of had enough excitement for a while, y’know?” He made eye contact with me. “What about you?”

After what happened last night? Half my brain was screaming to get out of the fight against Team Rocket and never look back. But what else was I supposed to do? What other options did I have at this point?

I could go home. Leave it all behind. Pretend I’d never met Stalker or joined his team. Pretend I didn’t know that Team Rocket was brainwashing Legendaries in preparation for a regional takeover. But would it really be safe to stay anywhere for extended periods of time from now on? Especially back in Viridian, the heart of the organization? No, no it wouldn’t. If anything, I’d just be a danger to everyone around me.

I couldn’t go home. I couldn’t stay in one spot. I had to keep moving. And I owed it to my Pokémon to continue training—especially the experiments. But where would I go? I couldn’t just wander without any sort of destination. Sure, trainers did that all the time, but I wasn’t a real trainer. I didn’t have much money either.

“I’m… not sure. I haven’t decided yet,” I said, more to myself than to him.

As if he knew what I was thinking, Darren said, “Well, regardless of what you choose, you’re still missing a license, aren’t you? You should probably fix that before anything else.”

If I’d been capable of it, I’d have laughed out loud. “I failed the exam.”

Darren smirked. “You don’t think you’d fail it now, do you?”

I was all set with my usual retort that I’d failed it twice and was never going to get any better… and then I realized how colossally stupid that sounded. I had been training Pokémon for four months under the guidance of an actual master trainer. I barely knew anything about Pokémon when I started, and now?

“I… I guess I wouldn’t,” I said slowly as the implications of that sunk into my head. I could become a trainer. A real trainer. I could actually earn money by doing officially sanctioned battles. I could travel around and stay at any Pokécenter I wanted and not have to worry about getting sent home and having my Pokémon taken. I could head to Johto where the Kanto Rockets were less likely to find me. I could meet up with the Johto Resistance and get their protection.

This fixed everything.

“I’m going to be a real trainer,” I said suddenly, sitting bolt-upright with my eyes wide. “Where’s the closest League office? Probably not here—Saffron, maybe?”

Darren stared at me incredulously. “I honestly wasn’t expecting that kinda one-eighty.”

“Yeah, well, I needed something like this. Makes everything feel less hopeless,” I said, letting out a breath before standing to my feet in a surprisingly smooth motion. Then a thought hit me and I said, “Hey, can I steal another Pokéball off of you?”

“Another one?” Darren asked, raising an eyebrow.

I put a hand to my forehead. “Yeah, uh… the experiments are gonna stick with me.”

“Ha. Called it,” he said, looking rather pleased with himself as he fished through his bag. Sneasel reached in with her claws to ‘help,’ but Darren pulled the bag away from the dark-type before she could tear more holes in it and then retrieved a red and white sphere from inside.

“You owe me,” he said, giving me a wry grin as he handed it over.

“I’ll pay you back after I get my license.”

“Deal.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Much as I would have liked to, I couldn’t go get my license right away. That would have involved taking a trip to Saffron, where the closest League office was located. And while I could probably have made it there and back in the same day, I didn’t exactly want to leave Lavender without Chibi, even if it was only for an afternoon. Plus, it was probably best if Darren and I waited for Rudy to come around before making too many plans.

That said, it seemed risky for any of us to stick around the Pokécenter for too long. Stalker might’ve drawn the Rockets off last night, but any center near Midnight Island was an obvious target if the Rockets decided it was better to finish off the rest of us. Hell, the only reason they hadn’t already was probably because of all the cops around. Not that I felt too great about the cops either. I didn’t really want to risk getting questioned about the Rebellion and revealing that I was an illegal trainer with connections to Rockets. Not to mention the fact that three of my Pokémon were genetic experiments. I could end up losing them.

So I returned to the trainer’s dorm, introduced Aros to his new Pokéball, and took stock of everything I owned in preparation for leaving town, whenever that would be. Turns out, I didn’t have much. I’d pretty much only grabbed my bag and my Pokéballs when I’d fled the stadium. That left me with nothing more than a single spare T-shirt and a Rocket uniform. Well… that and the strange metallic orb I’d found in the ruins. I couldn’t even remember putting it in the bag to begin with, but apparently it had wound up there at some point.

I also still had my R-com. I’d reread Stalker’s final message to the Rebellion about a dozen times. I’d even sent him a response asking where he was in Johto. But I hadn’t received a reply yet. Which was fine—I still hadn’t decided if I was even going to join the Johto Resistance. And there would be plenty of time to decide after I became a Pokémon trainer.

I showered and changed into my spare t-shirt and black Rocket pants. I looked like a dork, but it was better than what I was wearing before. There’d be time to grab a cheap outfit or two from a thrift shop or something. I was sitting on the bed, toweling off my wet hair when a flicker of yellow in my peripheral vision caught my eye.

My heart skipped a beat. It was Chibi.

The Pikachu was seated on the windowsill, looking every bit as disheveled as last night, with fur and feathers sticking out at awkward angles and most of his body covered in scrapes and bruises. His face still bore the bloodstains of when it happened, only now the marks were smudged and matted where the fur had been soaked with tears.

I swallowed hard and said, “You’re back.”

He gazed up at me distantly, eyes bloodshot and half-lidded. I had to force my expression to remain neutral when the sight of him felt like being stabbed in the heart.

“I… I was worried about you,” I said quietly, unsure of whether or not I should have said so.

The hybrid glanced away, staring at the floor with no change in expression.

My voice shook as I went on, “I know you probably want to be alone right now, but… I just… want to make sure you know I’m here for you? If you want me to be.”

Without saying a word, he hopped down from the window and crossed the dormitory on all fours. I held my breath as he walked past me, but he didn’t even glance in my direction. He just hopped up onto the wooden table by the door and tapped the button on his Pokéball, dissolving himself into it.

I let out a deep breath. Yeah, that’d gone about as well as I’d expected. Aros had said to give the hybrid some space… well that’s what was going to happen, whether I liked it or not. I couldn’t even begin to imagine how much he was suffering. At least now that he was back in his Pokéball, I could have one of the center’s staff heal him. The crushing realization hit me that I honestly didn’t even know how badly he was injured. He could have had broken ribs for all I knew. He wouldn’t have let it show, either way.

A faint, lightheaded feeling had suddenly overtaken me. Like I’d been running on overdrive ever since last night but somehow hadn’t noticed until the stress of seeing Chibi again. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that my appetite had suddenly decided to appear out of nowhere, making me painfully aware of just how ravenous I was.

I guess that answered the question of where I was headed first.

Lavender Town only had one trainer’s cafe, and it was tiny. Given Aros and Stygian’s size, we had to eat at one of the outdoor tables, which was less than ideal given the cold wind blowing in from the sea. Everyone argued over who got to sit next to Firestorm, we talked about our upcoming trip to Johto, and for a little while it actually felt like things were normal.

I kept Chibi inside his ball. I wasn’t ready to talk to him yet, and he almost definitely wouldn’t want to come out anyway.

After eating, the walk back from the cafe was considerably less miserable than the walk to it had been. That kind of bothered me. I wasn’t allowed to be feeling kind of alright. Not after what had happened last night. Not after what Rudy was going through. Not after what Chibi was going through. There was no such thing as normal anymore, but it was like all the pain and despair had just melted into background noise that I could barely sense anymore. It was just the way things were. This was life now.

I was lost in thought as I walked down the streets of Lavender Town, not paying attention to anything in particular. Which meant I was completely unprepared for the hand that reached out of nowhere, grabbed hold of my shirt, and dragged me into the nearby alley.

“What the hell?!” I cried, whirling around to face my attacker and—I froze up instantly. It was Astrid. Again. Why was it always her?! What was she doing here?! While I was frozen, she pushed me up against the wall of the nearest building, pinning me completely. Every inch of me wanted to scream, but my voice caught in my throat. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t fight back, I couldn’t do anything. Why not?!

“Quit shaking. I’m not here to kill you,” she muttered.

She wasn’t? But then… that could only mean… My insides melted away just thinking about her Raichu. Not that. Not again.

“Where is your leader?” Astrid demanded.

“H—he’s in Johto!”

Where in Johto?!”

“I don’t know, I swear I don’t know, he didn’t tell us anything, I’m not lying I swear!” I said all in one breath.

Her eyes bored into mine, looking almost… desperate? Now that I was paying attention, I could see the exhaustion covering her face and the dark circles under her eyes. Seconds passed with neither of us making a move. My heart thundered in my chest and sweat dripped down my face and every inch of me hoped and prayed that she’d somehow, miraculously be satisfied with my answer.

After what felt like an eternity, Astrid released her hold on my collar, pushing me away. “Lucky for you I can tell you’re not lying,” she said with a scowl. “If your leader’s really abandoned you, then you’re useless to me now. Your team’s finished. You’re powerless. You’re no threat to Team Rocket on your own. So I suggest you take advantage of my generosity and get the hell out of here.”

I stared at her stupidly, unable to process what had just happened. “What? You’re letting me go?”

She didn’t say anything. She just turned and strode off down the alley with the same intensity she’d approached me with.

What? Why was she doing this? And worse, why did I feel like I should know why?

“W-what kind of game are you trying to pull?” I called after her, my voice shaking. This had to be some kind of trick. It had to be. “Even if I’m not a threat, there’s no way you’d ever just let me go.”

Astrid froze mid-step. With her back to me, she said, “You’re not worth the time it’d take to kill you. It’d be a wasted effort.”

I stared incredulously. “That doesn’t… I know what you’re like. You’ve always enjoyed making me suffer.”

She whirled around, her face lit with fury. “You don’t know a damn thing about me,” she spat, sounding almost offended by my words. She then turned to leave once more.

Nothing about this made any sense. Astrid had always targeted me, right from the start. I’d always thought she had a grudge against me ever since the plane incident—which had only gotten worse with each time I escaped. But the kind of grudge that would lead her to target me without killing me? Because if she was really as dangerous as she acted, then there was no way I should have lived through all my encounters with her.

Unless it really was all an act. Which would make this just another link in a long chain of slip-ups and character breaks that I’d never pieced together before. The exaggerated threats that somehow never led anywhere. The total lack of enjoyment during the interrogation. The pain in her eyes during the raid last night. Too many unexplainable things.

Without thinking, I blurted out, “You—you actually don’t want me dead.”

Astrid spun to face me again, eyes narrowed. “Figured out that much, have you?”

My pulse quickened. I was actually right?

“I just don’t know why,” I went on slowly.

She squinted at me like I’d just said the dumbest thing she’d ever heard. “God, I’m lucky you’re such an idiot.”

A horribly unnerving feeling swept over me. After all the times she’d given me the usual death glare or arrogant smirk, seeing this kind of expression from her felt really weird. There was almost something… familiar about it. The image felt ancient in memory, much older than any of my run-ins with Team Rocket. I was suddenly years younger, with her making that exact face and telling me how stupid I was being. How did I have this memory of her looking at me like that from way before I’d even met her?

Because I’d seen that face before, five years ago.

It hit me like a ton of bricks to the face. Five years. Five years—had it really been that long? Long enough that I’d forgotten what she looked like. How was I even capable of forgetting something like that? But there was no other explanation. It had to be her. That would make her seventeen now? Old enough to be an executive. How did I go this long without realizing?

My mind was racing. Too many thoughts to process all at one—it felt like my head was going to burst. It all made sense now. Everything fit.

Astrid was still looking at me like I was a moron. “Are you even listening to me? What else do I have to do to make you go away??”

“Oh god, it really is you, Starr.”

Astrid froze, like the words were a slap to the face. She stared at me in horror, swearing under her breath.

Five years ago, my best friend had suddenly moved away from Viridian with no explanation whatsoever. Now, she was back in my life again, in the form of the person who’d been haunting my nightmares.

Her expression hardened. “So… what are you going to do now, Jade?”

She wasn’t denying it? Some part of me had still hoped, desperately, irrationally, that I was wrong. But I wasn’t. All this time my worst enemy was actually my childhood best friend. The same person I’d been devastated to lose years ago was the one who’d stalked, terrorized, and outright tortured me now. I stared at her, feeling a horrible chill run down my spine. This couldn’t be real. It had to be some sick joke.

Starr frowned. “You look upset. How do you think I felt when I found out you were involved with that damn rebel team? It was bad enough that Ajia’s involved in rebel matters, but now you too? Do you think I wanted this?”

“I just… I don’t understand… how did you turn into this? What happened after you left?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know,” she said darkly. “My past is my business, and you’d do well to stay out of it.”

I bristled. “Am I just supposed to forget that my old best friend is part of an organization that wants me dead?”

Yes, you are. Damn it Jade, I knew you’d react like this. The fact that we were friends five years ago shouldn’t matter anymore. Things are different now.”

“‘Things are different now’?!” I shouted, my blood starting to boil. “Does that make it okay to be a Rocket? Is that your excuse for everything you’ve done?” I was seething, fists clenched, heart pounding.

“Jade, my situation is a lot more complicated than you’re making it out to be—”

“I don’t care! How could you do all of those things to me?!”

“Damn it Jade, do you have any idea how hard I’ve worked to keep you alive the past few months?!” she shouted. “I knew who you were from the start, and I had to keep every other Rocket from figuring that out! Every damn time you snuck into the base or sabotaged our missions, I had to make sure I found you before anyone else, otherwise you’d have been shot and killed in a second.

“As for that night in the detention cell…” she went on, her voice breaking. “Did it never occur to you that I tortured you because that was the only alternative to killing you that wouldn’t look totally suspicious? Do you think I enjoyed that? I had to make damn sure that I was convincing. And guess what—if I lost my position, I wouldn’t have been able to keep my subordinates from killing you the second I was done interrogating you. You know they all wanted you dead! And if it weren’t for me, you would have been.”

I stared at her, lost for words. “I don’t… I didn’t think—”

“Tch. That much is obvious. Now, look. We are going to forget that any of this ever happened. I don’t even care if you keep doing your rebel crap, just do it somewhere far away from me, got it?”

“Well you’re quite the loyal Rocket,” I muttered as she was about to walk off.

Starr spun around furiously. “Yes. I am a loyal Rocket. And you’d do well to remember that. So stop trying to question my loyalties, got it?! We’re done here!!”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Astrid was Starr.

That single, unavoidable fact burned in my thoughts for the rest of the day as I wandered aimlessly down the docks south of town, staring blankly out to sea, occasionally catching glimpses of Midnight Island through the fog.

My old best friend had tortured me. That thought wouldn’t stop echoing in my mind either. Even though we weren’t friends anymore and hadn’t been for years. She should’ve been no different than any other Rocket who’d tried to kill me.

Except she was different. We had been friends. Didn’t that mean anything to her? What had caused her to change so much? What had happened in the last five years? Why did she even join Team Rocket to begin with?

I shook my head. Would knowing really change anything? This was the new Starr. So what if we’d been friends as kids? Those kids were long gone—both of us were different people now. There was no reason for me to care about any of it. I was going to Johto in a few days, and I’d never see her again. An old friend I’d lost contact with years ago suddenly reappearing as a terrible person was really not my problem.

It wasn’t my problem. I didn’t care.



Yeah. Right.

It was so, so stupid, but I had to know, or else it was going to eat away at me forever. I had to talk to her again… get some answers. But the idea was… not exactly a comforting one. Try to talk to the person who’d imprisoned and tortured me? She’d spared my life this time. And apparently several other times. But there was no way I could trust that would always be the case. Her loyalties lay with Team Rocket now. I never wanted to be at her mercy again.

I was going to need backup. Someone who’d be able to defeat her if it came to a fight. Someone more logical than me, who could talk to her without losing their cool. Preferably someone who knew her and had a reason to care about the situation.

My eyes widened. I actually knew someone who fit that description perfectly.






~End Chapter 23~
Astrid is, and has always been, Starr. As unlikely as it may seem, every single terrible thing Astrid ever did was written through this lens, and I hope that a lot of her weird behavior makes sense now. The encounter in Chapter 15 is probably the only one that didn’t have a lot of foreshadowing in it, because there wasn’t a lot at stake, so she was able to really ham it up. With each subsequent encounter, however, the façade started to slip—rereading some of those scenes with this in mind should cause them to take on a whole new meaning.

The following post contains an alternate take on Chapter 20 from Astrid's point of view.
 
Last edited:
Ch 23 Extra: Heartless

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
Partner
pikachu-chibi
~Chapter 23 Extra: Heartless~

(Chronologically, this extra takes place right after the interrogation in Chapter 20. Do not read this extra until you have read Chapter 23.)
The ideal Rocket is heartless.

That’s what Astrid told herself as she made the long walk back from the detention cell to her personal quarters. Scattered grunts passed by her in the hallway. She ignored them. They wouldn’t speak to her unless spoken to. It was amazing how much control she had over their lives.

And yet she couldn’t control the one damn thing that mattered.

She couldn’t think about that now, though. Not where others could see her. Not where weakness wasn’t tolerated, and was something to be snuffed out, or at the very least buried so deep that no one could ever see it. No one. Not the rebel. Not the other executives who’d been watching her interrogation. Not the boss.

The ideal Rocket does not show weakness.

To those under her, she was the image of perfection. She never hesitated. Never failed. Never showed weakness. Just pure, ruthless precision. They didn’t know any better. They couldn’t see the scars she bore from past failure.

She arrived at her room. The door shut behind her, and she turned the lock with a faint click. Her boots hit the wall with a dull thud when she kicked them off. They were heavy boots. They gave her a commanding presence. It was always good for others to fear you before they’d even seen you. She’d always enjoyed that. Not right now, though. She didn’t feel intimidating right now. She felt small and helpless.

A flash of light and her Raichu appeared from his Pokéball on the bed next to her. She wasn’t sure why she’d let him out, she just knew she didn’t want to be alone right now.

Raichu glanced around, a bit surprised to see that they were back in their room. But then the mouse struck a pose, feeling rather pleased with himself. He’d done a good job, hadn’t he? That rebel was so scared! He was good at acting scary, right? His trainer didn’t respond. She just sat there, staring at the floor, shoulders trembling.

Something was wrong. Normally his trainer always praised him for a job well done. Was this because he hadn’t gotten the rebel to confess? They were going back in an hour, right? He’d definitely succeed then.

The electric mouse hopped closer to his trainer, nose twitching. She didn’t… seem upset with him. What was the problem, then?

“I don’t know what to do,” Astrid whispered.

Raichu cocked his head. “Raiichu’raai?”

Astrid glanced down at her Pokémon. His normally cheerful demeanor had given way to concern. She couldn’t look at him without seeing the fact that she’d used him to do those things.

The ideal Rocket follows orders.

She’d trained him well. His control over his lightning was unreal. He could always dish out the exact amount to cause the most pain without causing lasting damage or letting the target fall unconscious. And he had no reason to think there was anything different about this situation. It was just a game to him. Just another routine torturing of someone who was just an enemy, and whose feelings didn’t really matter.

“I’m not mad at you. You followed orders well.” Raichu perked up at bit at her words, and she gave him a reassuring pat.

I followed orders well,” she added with a bitter laugh.

That’s what all this was, right? Following orders. She was good at following orders. She was so good at it that in time she’d become the one giving the orders. But they’d never truly ceased. They just came from higher up now. From the administrators. From the boss.

If it was just following orders, then why did it hurt so much?

It used to hurt a lot more often. But that was because she was weak then. Inexperienced. Blind to the reality of the world. You couldn’t get through life without hurting others. Anyone who thought otherwise was a fool.

She’d volunteered to go down there, though. She didn’t have to be involved. It was a bit strange for a department head not to delegate something like that. The others were perfectly willing to do it. But if she’d let them, there was no telling what they’d do to the rebel.

So in some way… it must have mattered to her.

What the hell was Jade thinking, becoming a rebel? Why did Astrid have to go through this again? Wasn’t it bad enough that she’d already gone through this last year, with Ajia?

No… that was wrong… she hadn’t gone through this with Ajia. It had never gotten this bad. How had things gotten this bad? She’d thought she’d been able to put a stop to it in the Celadon base. Putting on a show of it. Something that would look good for the others while also scaring the shit out of Jade. And yet she just kept coming back. Why?

It was Jade’s own damn fault if she was so determined to keep getting herself into trouble. If she was too stupid to avoid getting herself killed, then that was her problem. Astrid had already saved her life twice now. Twice, she’d risked everything, and for what? Some stupid, meaningless connection that should have died years ago.

It didn’t mean anything, not anymore. The pain of some no-good rebel meant nothing to her. Neither did the sight of that rebel unconscious and bleeding in the forest…or the sight of her lying on the cell floor, writhing in agony.

Because that’s what she was good at. Causing pain.

Astrid clenched her teeth. The memories twisted into her like a knife no matter how much she told herself they didn’t matter. The screams echoed in her ears no matter how hard she willed them not to.

It was Jade’s fault. It couldn’t have been helped.

At some point she lost the will to keep sitting up and had collapsed sideways onto the bed. Raichu nuzzled her arm fervently, his cries tinged with alarm. She reached out and hugged the electric-type tightly as her tears soaked the pillow.

The ideal Rocket is heartless.

She was the ideal Rocket… wasn’t she?

Then why did it hurt so much?
 

qva

Pokémon Trainer
Location
florida
Pronouns
she/her
boy, this sure is a chapter. whew. i had some things to say about it in chat, but there's a lot going on in this one, so i'd like to go on about it a bit more here.

A sudden thud to my left. I whirled around to see what it was and—oh god, what. Reed had crumpled to the ground in an awkward heap, his eyes wide and staring and a bullet hole in his head. I blinked stupidly at the sight, unable to process it until the blood started to pool on the ground around him.
i think the stream-of-consciousness type thing you've got going on in this chapter is really good for underscoring the sense of urgency and panic. jade is sort of just observing stuff as it happens and isn't even getting enough time to fully process them until she sees something else upsetting, and then oh no it all just starts piling up and her mind is running a million miles an hour. it really helped me get into jade's headspace. that said, a lot of the time you're cutting stuff off or padding it with "oh god"— this happens i think five or six times within a handful of paragraphs, to the point that it was kind of distracting.

this chapter opens pretty strongly overall, i think. jade's thrown right into it and it's all systems go from the first sentence. from that point forward it's panic, panic, panic, what the hell is going on, oh my god that guy's dead. you do a very good job of making it feel overwhelming without actually overwhelming the reader with information. phrases like "a few agonizingly long seconds" really bring out just how quickly everything is elapsing.
Time slowed as Moltres snapped its attention to them. It drew itself back, inhaling deeply—no, no, no, this couldn’t be happening—and shot out a vicious stream of fire, completely incinerating two of the fleeing Pokémon and their riders.
this is such an awesome bit. i mean, it’s disturbing, but man the legendaries really don’t fuck around, do they? this was my first genuine “holy shit” moment in the fic. you see the legendaries fighting with each other before this, but not just opening fire full tilt on a bunch of kids. super haunting. with that being said...

I gaped in horror, jaw hanging open. What were we supposed to do if a Legendary Pokémon was targeting us? We’d never faced anything like this! How could we possibly make it out of here?
i feel like this bit immediately following it almost tarnishes what a chilling moment that is. this is probably the most gruesome bit of the fic so far in my opinion, but jade’s reaction to it is kind of mundane. i think you can definitely afford to go on a bit here— she’s just seen a mind-controlled legendary burn a bunch of kids alive! doesn’t she feel sick? i feel like this could elicit a very strong, physical reaction. the panicking that occurs in the lines afterwards feels a bit on the nose to me.
“*What?*” The hybrid’s eyes went wide, and he glanced around frantically. “*No way… I have to find him!*” he yelled, racing off.

“Wait, come back!” I cried, but the hybrid didn’t stop.
minor thing, but it feels a bit weird that you call him “the hybrid” back to back like this.

Her words barely registered. My brain was caught in a loop, replaying everything that had happened that night, over and over. She was in front of me, but also somehow standing over me, staring down at me. The heat of the flames melted into an endless barrage of lightning. Not again. I couldn’t handle that. Couldn’t handle being trapped, useless, unable to move, unable to fight back, unable to—

...

Why did I stop. Why did I shut down. Why was just the sight of her enough to send me reeling back to that night? What was wrong with me?

“*Focus,*” Stygian growled, staring me dead in the eyes with her face just inches from mine. I swallowed hard and forced myself to stare back at her ruby-red irises, focusing on nothing else. Not Astrid, not the other Rockets, nothing. I wasn’t in the detention cell, I was here. I was nowhere else but here.

Footsteps crunched the leaves behind us. I bristled, throwing a glance over my shoulder. Was it her?! No, it was a squad of Rockets half-hidden amongst the trees. Wait—that was actually worse.
you advertise this fic as being about kids with ptsd and this part really beautifully delivers. this reaction feels so real, and her fear is almost contagious. in the midst of this utterly chaotic, intensely violent scene, you see this single woman and nothing is even close to as scary as that. and it doesn’t seem unreasonable. as the reader, i get it. in the scene with the rockets in the forest, you bring up this juxtaposition of threats again, the disproportionate fear of astrid over a whole GANG of rockets. it really resonated with me. super good writing there.

I stared, feeling a chill run down my spine. I recognized him. The lead experiment handler. Razors’s old trainer—Tyson. What the hell was he doing here? Sure, he was on the combat unit, but… why here? Why now?! We hadn’t run into him in months! Unless… unless he knew that a raid on the rebel base would give him an opportunity to recapture the experiments?
uh oh, not tyson! i’ll admit that his turn did not adequately prepare me for what came next. i don’t mean that as a criticism, but tyson was just this sorta goofy dude who got his ass beat by a bunch of preteens before, so he seems almost out of place as a borderline cartoonish thug in this extremely dark scene. there’s no way i could’ve anticipated the direction he drives the narrative here.

“*I’ll fucking kill you!!*”

The Pikachu shot forward, all exhaustion instantly turned into unbridled fury. Rhydon’s eyes went wide, and it held its arms out to shield its trainer from the electric-type, but Chibi already had an Iron Tail ready and sent the armored beast reeling backward with a strike right between the eyes. It crashed onto its back, dazed and clutching its face in pain. And then Chibi turned his attention to Tyson, who blanched and recalled the rock-type before taking off running. He barely made it ten yards before the Pikachu caught him with a metallic blow to the leg, instantly snapping it sideways at a grotesque angle.

...

Tyson screamed. Chibi hadn’t stopped screaming since it happened. And he continued screaming the entire time he stabbed the Rocket over and over with his tail as the blood stained his fur and his voice grew hoarse and his movements slowed until his eyes rolled back and he finally succumbed to exhaustion and collapsed.
some more phenomenal writing. i’ll get into the razors death later, but this i really liked this part even in isolation. we talked a bit about a character’s Darkest Hours in the chat a few days ago, and i thought of this part. but chibi’s true Darkest Hour— razors’ self-sacrifice— is not what gave me chills here. it’s the pure, murderous, unadulterated rage that follows. every negative emotion running at full speed and culminating in tyson’s violent overkill. there’s so much buildup to this moment, and the payoff is powerful.

“Hey. You… you alright?” It was a stupid question. None of us were alright. Not after what had just happened.

“Wartortle’s dead,” Rudy croaked.
i’ll talk more about this later, but this was a huge gut punch. this scene felt like the falling action of the chapter, so this caught me completely off guard. like it or hate it, it sure is A Lot.

Our identities were safe, he’d said. Not mine. Mine was compromised ever since the day Astrid pieced together who I was. With the Rebellion finished, would I ever be safe anywhere again?
well, i guess that marks a huge shift in the fic then, huh? i’m very curious to see where this goes next. jade hasn’t seen her parents in ages, and in the meantime she’s become a fairly capable pokémon trainer, recruited a half legendary hybrid, and undergone more trauma than her working class parents could ever dare to imagine. i’m excited to see where these next few chapters of jade getting her bearings after this whole mess go, although maybe my predictions are way off base here.

anyway, the meat of the chapter: razors and wartortle.

i‘ll start with razors. his death was a very anime moment, so emotional and so vivid. as i’ve already said, the complete and total bonkers chibi flip out it prompts is excellent. and i think the timing was okay. there are really two routes razors could have gone. we knew already that he’d lost his edge and had experienced some suicidal ideation already. this was a rift between him and chibi. they could’ve made amends and poured some life back into razor, maybe put him back into fighting shape and put the fire back in his eyes. or, alternatively, he could have died. probably as a sacrifice to protect someone else. that kind of death is probably exactly the one razors craved— giving some lasting value to his life before finally, blissfully ending it. given that you didn’t have him in your plans as a major character going forward, i don’t think the former route could have done him justice. so this one feels better, maybe even profound, to me.

one thing i will say, though, is that while his arc does feel complete, it doesn’t feel full. it would have been nice to have a bit more interaction between him and chibi before this, both because it would really maximize razors’ narrative contribution, and also because it would make his eventual death that much more potent. in general, i think we could’ve benefited from a slightly longer break before the dramatic events of this chapter, and more razors/chibi scenes would fit in there perfectly. you mention that you’re thinking of delaying this chapter a bit in your next revision, and i think that’s an excellent idea.

as for wartortle: hm. i definitely felt things about this. in hindsight, rudy’s neglect of wartortle felt kind of kind telegraphing for his eventual death, but even though i did find myself speculating as to where the neglect might lead, i never really considered that this could be an option. it didn’t enter my mind until, bam, he’s dead. ouch. jade’s thoughts on the matter pretty much mirror my own. is definitely a “jesus christ, this sucks hard” moment, and while rudy was already an ass for how he treated wartortle, this makes it feel so much worse.

i kind of disagree with namo’s take here. i don’t think that wartortle mouthing off would have much if any effect on rudy. i mean, he ALREADY thinks wartortle is weak and doesn’t really give a shit about him. i don’t think rudy would have taken wartortle’s complaints seriously. he really was genuinely just a shithead about this whole thing, and wartortle’s death is exactly the kick to the face that he needed to wake up. maybe it you could make the argument that it would’ve been good to keep wartortle around for wartortle’s own sake, but he was never really a strong character of his own, and i don’t think any amount of interaction between him and his trainer could come close to matching the aggressive wake up call that his death produces.

in general, i don’t really think the fact that characters can yield a greater volume of interactions alive than dead is a very good argument against killing them. a death is pretty much never going to be timely, and it’s always going to cut some potentially interesting threads short, but that’s the nature of death, and i do think it has a place. both wartortle’s and razors’ deaths impact the characters in a big way— bigger, i’d argue, than the incremental impact they would offer by sticking around as minor characters. this is a turning point for the plot, and some characters need to go. others need to change. i think the deaths in this chapter do an excellent job at achieving both of those goals and making me feel a whole lot in the process.

i wrote this all in one go and need to hit the hay now, so pardon any spelling or formatting issues. this was a doozy of a chapter to say the least, and i’m excited to see where the story takes me from here.
 

qva

Pokémon Trainer
Location
florida
Pronouns
she/her
it took too long for me to post my chapter 22 review, so forgive the back-to-back posting here.

but woof, chapter 22 was heavy and 23 didn't really let up. astrid's identity reveal completely blindsided me, and i'm kicking myself for coming so, so close to getting the point. i've pretty much been taking this story at face value without speculating too hard, which has made the reveals that much more surprising, and it's been a pretty fun ride. i love that this reveal has survived for so long— i looked at the chapter extra outlining all the previous forms of this scene on serebii, and it was really cute (and inspirational!) to see how far it's come.

anyway! onto the chapter:
I shivered. That was… one hell of a nightmare.

I sat up and squinted at my surroundings as my eyes adjusted to the light. And then a chill fell over me. This wasn’t my room. I was in a small, cabin-style dormitory filled with beds, half of which were occupied by other members of the Rebellion.

So then… all of that from last night… that all really happened?
to be honest, i'm not huge on these kinds of scenes. might just be a personal preference thing, but most of the time when i read a character talking about how something i know to be true was a dream, i kind of just skim the rest until they figure out that it was real. i'm not really sure what these bits offer that "it barely felt real" or something wouldn't.
“*Please don’t blame yourself,*” the Pidgeotto said quietly. “*Not after everything you’ve been through.*”

I didn’t have anything to say to that. Not while my gut felt like it’d been punched and my hands were already soaked with tears.
oh man. i think you do a pretty good job of making jade's pokémon feel like characters of their own, but swift has such a specific, realistic personality. he's distant and brooding and soft-spoken, concerned about jade but almost patronizing. he definitely feels more mature than her in some ways, almost a maternal character. the way his pity makes jade squirm... you love to see it folks.
The Charmeleon blinked at me in confusion like I’d just told him the moon was square. “*Was he just… not strong enough…?*”

“Yeah, well maybe it wasn’t his fault he never got any training because no one ever thought he was worth anything, alright?” I snapped, slamming a fist against my knee. Rudy hadn’t thought so, and I hadn’t cared, and now he was dead, and no one could fix that, and I was completely not in the mood to deal with Firestorm’s stupid strength obsession. Even though I was his trainer, it was my job to deal with it, but dammit, not now. Later. I’d deal with it later. I had more pressing concerns. Like figuring out what to do with myself from now on.
this is a really good bit of characterization as well. we know already that firestorm is overly fixated on strength. we've seen it manifest in his obsession with charizard, his compulsive self-training during jade's recovery, etc. but for the most part, it seems kind of like the lens through which he views himself, and this is the first scene where i really get a feel for the way it colors his worldview, too.

firestorm and wartortle are similar in a lot of ways— middle stages of a kanto starter, acquired at roughly the same time. the most significant difference is their trainers, and yet despite that firestorm doesn't really seem shaken up by wartortle's death, more concerned about whether it was caused by a misalignment with his nebulous concept of power. he flies right over the nuance of the situation, fixating on that quality. i think firestorm has been kind of out of the spotlight for a bit, but this little interaction shows us a lot about the way his mind works.
Aros peered at me through his red eye lenses, his expression hard to place. Finally, he said, “*Well then, given our choices, I think we could make do with having a trainer for now.*”
haha, i totally saw this coming from the moment they appeared. i'm more than fine with it though.
A heavy pause followed. I blinked at him, mouth agape, while my brain processed the implications of what he’d just said.
minor thing here but your characters do a lot of mouth-hanging. it never really feels out of place, necessarily, but it occurs frequently enough that it jumps out at me every time.
“I… I guess I wouldn’t,” I said slowly as the implications of that sunk into my head. I could become a trainer. A real trainer. I could actually earn money by doing officially sanctioned battles. I could travel around and stay at any Pokécenter I wanted and not have to worry about getting sent home and having my Pokémon taken. I could head to Johto where the Kanto Rockets were less likely to find me. I could meet up with the Johto Resistance and get their protection.

This fixed everything.

“I’m going to be a real trainer,” I said suddenly, sitting bolt-upright with my eyes wide. “Where’s the closest League office? Probably not here—Saffron, maybe?”
something tells me this isn't going to turn into a generic trainerfic from here. :p still, i imagine this is pretty handy for you as a writer. not sure how it'll steer the plot in a broader sense, but not having to worry about how jade cheeses her way through not being able to do normal trainer stuff (like sleeping in a tent, etc.) seems pretty nice.
The hybrid glanced away, staring at the floor with no change in expression.

My voice shook as I went on, “I know you probably want to be alone right now, but… I just… want to make sure you know I’m here for you? If you want me to be.”

Without saying a word, he hopped down from the window and crossed the dormitory on all fours. I held my breath as he walked past me, but he didn’t even glance in my direction. He just hopped up onto the wooden table by the door and tapped the button on his Pokéball, dissolving himself into it.
i was honestly expecting him to go berserk, but this makes more sense. i'm actually kind of wondering whether chibi's pain goes away when he's in the ball? he's mentioned before that he's in pain basically all the time as a result of his biology, but he doesn't have a physical form when he's in his ball, so maybe it's a bit of respite for him. if that's the case, though, i'm surprised he stays out of his ball as much as he does...
After eating, the walk back from the cafe was considerably less miserable than the walk to it had been. That kind of bothered me. I wasn’t allowed to be feeling kind of alright. Not after what had happened last night. Not after what Rudy was going through. Not after what Chibi was going through. There was no such thing as normal anymore, but it was like all the pain and despair had just melted into background noise that I could barely sense anymore. It was just the way things were. This was life now.
this is a very relatable emotion, feeling okay in spite of shitty stuff that's going on and then getting mad at yourself for feeling okay. i don't see that come up in writing very often, so i enjoyed reading it here. it feels very jade, too— she seems to spend a lot of time policing her own emotions.
Because I’d seen that face before, five years ago.

It hit me like a ton of bricks to the face.
me too, jade. me too.
It wasn’t my problem. I didn’t care.



Yeah. Right.
haha, emotion-policing abound! jade has such a particular way of dealing with internal conflict, and you make really good use of your conversational, stream-of-consciousness style to convey the way she perceives the world and the things that happen to her.

this chapter was another kicker overall. things have been moving very quickly for the past couple chapters, so much so that chapters 22-23 feel about twice as long as they are, so i'm guessing the following chapters have a bit less in the way of high action and major reveals. i reckon we'll see ajia next, which will be nice. now that the rebellion is disbanded and a bunch of people got fucking incinerated, it'll be good to get some more characters established.

as a closing note, i've mentioned before that i decided to pick up LC due to a combination of the excellent art (in particular the art for this chapter!) and starr's portrayal in the forum mafia we did some weeks ago. despite interacting with starr in that thread, i somehow didn't foresee her being the same as astrid at all, and i'm pretty surprised i didn't conceive the idea that they might be the same person literally at all. but getting caught off guard makes it that much more engaging, eh? can't wait for the next chapter, keep it up!
 

Virgil134

PMD Writer
Partner
weavile
Chapter 7

“It’s just…”—the more I thought about it, the more stupid I felt—“this is something I have to do. I don’t want to drag them into it pointlessly.”

“*But if you fail, they’ll die anyway, so it doesn’t make any difference.*”
It’s sweet to see Jade caring for her team like this, even if Chibi makes a pretty good point. You can’t keep your Pokémon out of harm’s way if they get blown up by a bomb.

The engine room was huge. I mean, I was expecting big, but this was just crazy. A system of metal platforms spanned the area, with massive generators on level with me, and from what I could tell, countless tanks and pumps covering the platform below us. I couldn’t even tell what was overhead, but I couldn’t make out the ceiling—the room just seemed to keep going. The noise from the engines overwhelmed any other possible sound, and the air was hot and sticky and uncomfortably thick.
I can tell you did a good amount of research into ships for this arc, so props to that. I know you said in the notes that the chapter was way different in that regard years ago, so I’d say these revisions definitely paid off!

I wanted to say something to the degree of, “Is he alive…?” but couldn’t manage the words.
You and me both Jade. You never know with these Rockets after all. They’re ruthless.

“Can you hear what they’re saying?” I asked.

He scoffed. “*Just because I have better hearing than humans doesn’t change how loud it is in here.*”
Heh, I like little bits of snark like this. Though it’s good to put down limits like that to what Pokémon can do.

But before any of the Rockets got a chance to grab a Pokéball, a yellow blur shot out of nowhere, right into the heart of their lineup. The Manectric snarled and put up a shimmering electrical barrier, but the Pikachu wasn’t aiming to shoot any lightning at them. At the last second, he leapt upward, swung his bolt tail, and smacked the control device from the hand holding it. The device hit the ground with a clatter right as several flashes of light burst out of Pokéballs, but Chibi darted forward and grabbed it in his mouth, tossing it away from the group.
I’ll say that grunt who held the detonator was pretty careless to let something so important get swatted away like that, though I guess he wasn’t expecting for Chibi to target his hand.

It wasn’t long before lungs burned and legs went numb from exhaustion
I think there should be a “my” between “before” and “lungs”.

I threw open the door to the engine room and sprinted back down the corridor that led there. It was like a wave of cool water washed over me, leaving the hot and stifling environment of the engine room, but my lungs still felt like they were on fire. Couldn’t pay attention to it though, had to keep going. My footsteps echoed off the walls as I flew up the staircases one after the other, finally reaching the closest deck with no walls surrounding the outermost edge. I was met with a gust of wind in the face and what felt like the early onset of a rainstorm. I stumbled over to the edge railing and began the long process of emptying my pockets, made longer by the way my hands just couldn’t seem to stop shaking. After what felt like ages, I had finally thrown the last fistful of bombs into the sea, where they sank to the ocean floor.
Even if she ain’t strong enough yet to take the Rockets head on, she’s doing her part at helping stopping them quite well!

I backed away slowly, feeling a prickle of apprehension crawl up my neck. He couldn’t be…

The man’s walk quickened. You had to be kidding me. Come on! There was no way the entire crew was Rockets! Heck, I wouldn’t even assume a tenth of them were. Why did I keep meeting all the fake ones?!
I mean you were just kinda tempting fate there, Jade :P

“*Pokémon are… they’re supposed to project their trainer,*”
I think you misspelled “protect” there.

From behind me, the Pidgey’s tiny, feathery form fluttered into view, flapping his wings quicker than seemed possible. In an instant, it was like all the air in the hallway had rushed forward, throwing my hair into my face and nearly knocking me off balance. I brushed a few strands out of my eyes just in time to see the Rocket struggling against a whirlwind before it swept him off his feet and sent him crashing into the wall. The wind ceased, and he slumped to the ground, looking dazed.
I feel like this went a bit too easy. I mean this is a Pidgey with limited battle experience taking out a Rocket operative with a single attack who didn’t put up any sort of resistance.

“Chibi! Are you there?!” I shouted, hoping my voice wouldn’t grab any unwanted attention.

Suddenly, I tensed up. Footsteps. Lots of them. Heading this way.
Dammit Jade, what did I say earlier about tempting fate?!

Shaking slightly, I turned to look behind me. I was met with a view of the dozen or so Rockets that had infiltrated the ship, half of them in crew uniforms and the other half dressed in what was probably a standard black mission outfit. In front of them stood the Manectric from earlier, now joined by a Ninetales. And then a crushing pain spread through me when I saw what one of the Rockets held under her arm: the burned and beaten form of a spiky-furred Pikachu.
Whelp, you fought well Chibi.

I stared at the ongoing battle, a wave of dread slowly spreading through me. The sheer difference in skill—both between the Ninetales and my Pokémon, and between the Rocket and me—was starting to sink in. I pulled out Swift’s Pokéball and recalled him before yelling, “Firestorm, we have to get out of here!”
I feel like this might be fun to look back at later when she’s a much better trainer and does fight well alongside her Pokémon.

“He’s… evolved into a Charmeleon,” I whispered in awe. I’d never actually seen a Pokémon evolution happen in person. Part of me couldn’t believe that lanky red fire lizard was really him, even though I’d seen it happen, right in front of me. Firestorm glanced back at me, his eyes smaller and more angular now. His expression held a strange ferocity.

Ninetales blinked in stunned shock for a few seconds. But the surprise quickly wore off, and the fire fox crouched defensively and snarled.

The lead Rocket eyed the Charmeleon with a sigh, shaking his head. “Just don’t know when to give up, do you? How are you supposed to attack us with nothing but a fire-type, even if it’s evolved now? I doubt you’ve taught it how to do anything beyond biting and scratching, and Ninetales can absorb all of its fire attacks.”
Oh nice, Firestorm has evolved! That’s definitely gonna come in handy when battling Team Rocket, even if doesn’t help them too much right because of Ninetales’ ability. That’s a smart way to handle him evolving actually, since it doesn’t turn the tide of battle this way like you often see in the anime when someone’s Pokémon evolves.

The man laughed. “At least they would have if we hadn’t reapplied explosives to the engine room after you so thoughtlessly ruined all our hard work down there.”
Thought for sure he was bluffing here, but given how the rest of the chapter goes, I’m guessing that ain’t true.

Without hesitation, I turned back for him, but he yelled, “*Get out of here! They need me brought back alive, but they’ll kill you in a second if you wait around!!*”
D’aww, he does care.

“No… you’ve gotta be kidding me…” I mumbled weakly. “I spent all that time… this can’t be happening.”

Automatic timed detonation activated.
Clever failsafe. I like how the Rockets always have neat little backup plans like that.

Alright, that was a good chapter! Had fun reading it. Given how inexperienced Jade is and who she’s up against, I’d say she’s doing great. Especially since she doesn’t have allies like last time. I know you said next two chapters are bad, but I think the SS. Anne arc is going pretty good so far, so we’ll see~
 

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
Partner
pikachu-chibi
that said, a lot of the time you're cutting stuff off or padding it with "oh god"— this happens i think five or six times within a handful of paragraphs, to the point that it was kind of distracting.
Noted! I'll try to trim out a few of them (Repetition is my big pain point because I write all my scenes out of order.)
i feel like this bit immediately following it almost tarnishes what a chilling moment that is. this is probably the most gruesome bit of the fic so far in my opinion, but jade’s reaction to it is kind of mundane. i think you can definitely afford to go on a bit here— she’s just seen a mind-controlled legendary burn a bunch of kids alive! doesn’t she feel sick? i feel like this could elicit a very strong, physical reaction. the panicking that occurs in the lines afterwards feels a bit on the nose to me.
Ooh, I hadn't thought of this, yeah, I definitely want to spice up that bit.
you advertise this fic as being about kids with ptsd and this part really beautifully delivers. this reaction feels so real, and her fear is almost contagious. in the midst of this utterly chaotic, intensely violent scene, you see this single woman and nothing is even close to as scary as that. and it doesn’t seem unreasonable. as the reader, i get it. in the scene with the rockets in the forest, you bring up this juxtaposition of threats again, the disproportionate fear of astrid over a whole GANG of rockets. it really resonated with me. super good writing there.
That bit with Jade being triggered by seeing Astrid is one of my favorite passages in the entirety of Book1 (especially combined with Astrid freezing in horror immediately afterward, which I've rambled at length about on tumblr).
some more phenomenal writing. i’ll get into the razors death later, but this i really liked this part even in isolation. we talked a bit about a character’s Darkest Hours in the chat a few days ago, and i thought of this part. but chibi’s true Darkest Hour— razors’ self-sacrifice— is not what gave me chills here. it’s the pure, murderous, unadulterated rage that follows. every negative emotion running at full speed and culminating in tyson’s violent overkill. there’s so much buildup to this moment, and the payoff is powerful.
Chibi's meltdown there was incredibly difficult to write, especially compared to the actual moment of Razors' death (which was really easy, because I have a thing for characters dying with a smile.) So it makes me really happy to learn that it left such an impact!
one thing i will say, though, is that while his arc does feel complete, it doesn’t feel full. it would have been nice to have a bit more interaction between him and chibi before this, both because it would really maximize razors’ narrative contribution, and also because it would make his eventual death that much more potent. in general, i think we could’ve benefited from a slightly longer break before the dramatic events of this chapter, and more razors/chibi scenes would fit in there perfectly. you mention that you’re thinking of delaying this chapter a bit in your next revision, and i think that’s an excellent idea.
This is almost precisely what Dragonfree said in her review, haha. And yeah, I really want to write those extras now (one of Chibi and Razors on the island, and one of them in the past.)
i think the deaths in this chapter do an excellent job at achieving both of those goals and making me feel a whole lot in the process.
:D :D :D That was the intent!
but woof, chapter 22 was heavy and 23 didn't really let up. astrid's identity reveal completely blindsided me, and i'm kicking myself for coming so, so close to getting the point.
not gonna lie, when you made that joke, half of me was like "it's okay, it's a joke, no one is gonna figure anything out from that" and the other half was like *internal screaming.* xDD
i love that this reveal has survived for so long— i looked at the chapter extra outlining all the previous forms of this scene on serebii, and it was really cute (and inspirational!) to see how far it's come.
Aaaa, I wasn't expecting anyone to check out the retrospective! xD Yeh, I've got quite a bit of nostalgia for this reveal--I'm glad you had fun looking at the old versions of it!
oh man. i think you do a pretty good job of making jade's pokémon feel like characters of their own, but swift has such a specific, realistic personality. he's distant and brooding and soft-spoken, concerned about jade but almost patronizing. he definitely feels more mature than her in some ways, almost a maternal character. the way his pity makes jade squirm... you love to see it folks.
Swift was actually one of the least developed characters in the previous rewrite, and I love that I've gotten the chance to make him so much more fleshed out that he's become a fan favorite (it all started when I realized that he was cinnamon roll birb.) And yes, he is definitely the Mom Friend.
firestorm and wartortle are similar in a lot of ways— middle stages of a kanto starter, acquired at roughly the same time. the most significant difference is their trainers, and yet despite that firestorm doesn't really seem shaken up by wartortle's death, more concerned about whether it was caused by a misalignment with his nebulous concept of power. he flies right over the nuance of the situation, fixating on that quality. i think firestorm has been kind of out of the spotlight for a bit, but this little interaction shows us a lot about the way his mind works.
Yep! And Firestorm indeed has a bit of an unhealthy worldview. It's gonna take something big to make him realize that.
i was honestly expecting him to go berserk, but this makes more sense. i'm actually kind of wondering whether chibi's pain goes away when he's in the ball? he's mentioned before that he's in pain basically all the time as a result of his biology, but he doesn't have a physical form when he's in his ball, so maybe it's a bit of respite for him. if that's the case, though, i'm surprised he stays out of his ball as much as he does...
Being inside the ball does indeed give him a break from the pain, as does discharging power. This is actually the reason why he (usually) sleeps inside the ball, and wasn't out at the start of 22. In this bit we see of him in 23, he's completely drained of power.
haha, emotion-policing abound! jade has such a particular way of dealing with internal conflict, and you make really good use of your conversational, stream-of-consciousness style to convey the way she perceives the world and the things that happen to her.
Yeeeep. I'm really glad you keyed in on that aspect of her emotional response!
as a closing note, i've mentioned before that i decided to pick up LC due to a combination of the excellent art (in particular the art for this chapter!) and starr's portrayal in the forum mafia we did some weeks ago. despite interacting with starr in that thread, i somehow didn't foresee her being the same as astrid at all, and i'm pretty surprised i didn't conceive the idea that they might be the same person literally at all. but getting caught off guard makes it that much more engaging, eh? can't wait for the next chapter, keep it up!
I was 100% dead convinced that the Astrid thing was going to fool absolutely no one after that mafia thread, so I'm absolutely thrilled. ^^
I'm sure it's no surprise that she's one of my favorite characters, and I hope you enjoy seeing more of her in the future (there's gonna be a lot of her, lol.)
I can tell you did a good amount of research into ships for this arc, so props to that. I know you said in the notes that the chapter was way different in that regard years ago, so I’d say these revisions definitely paid off!
Thanks! It took a long time, but I'm really happy with how much more fleshed-out the description became as a result. ^^
Even if she ain’t strong enough yet to take the Rockets head on, she’s doing her part at helping stopping them quite well!
Giving Jade the chance to take charge and be a more dynamic character, even if she's still not very strong, was one of my main goals in this one! ^^
I think you misspelled “protect” there.
ACK. That's one that was called out aaaaaages ago, and it's actually gone from my Word document. How on earth is it still here?! Dx Fixing now.
I feel like this went a bit too easy. I mean this is a Pidgey with limited battle experience taking out a Rocket operative with a single attack who didn’t put up any sort of resistance.
Hmm, good point, though it mostly just left the guy stunned for a little bit--just long enough for Jade to high tail it out of there.
I feel like this might be fun to look back at later when she’s a much better trainer and does fight well alongside her Pokémon.
Yep! She'll have come a long way by the end of Book 1!
Oh nice, Firestorm has evolved! That’s definitely gonna come in handy when battling Team Rocket, even if doesn’t help them too much right because of Ninetales’ ability. That’s a smart way to handle him evolving actually, since it doesn’t turn the tide of battle this way like you often see in the anime when someone’s Pokémon evolves.
I'm a big fan of subverting evolution moments from the usual triumphant victory into something more... negative. But still, it's a big step forward for him in general!
Alright, that was a good chapter! Had fun reading it. Given how inexperienced Jade is and who she’s up against, I’d say she’s doing great. Especially since she doesn’t have allies like last time. I know you said next two chapters are bad, but I think the SS. Anne arc is going pretty good so far, so we’ll see~
This is probably one of my favorite of the early chapters, so I'm glad you enjoyed it! The next arc is a bit rough, but I can say that it's come a long way with all the edits. Thanks for reading!
Thanks tons for the reviews, both of you! ^^
 
Chapter 24: Old Friends and New Enemies

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
Partner
pikachu-chibi
Just a heads up: this chapter is reaaaally long. I'd probably split it in two if it wouldn't screw up my chapter numbering. So be sure to settle in, cause there's a heck of a lot of ground to cover here~



~Chapter 24: Old Friends and New Enemies~


My heart wouldn’t stop pounding as I sat down at the Pokécenter video phone and opened my wallet to retrieve the small, wrinkled, water-stained piece of paper that Ajia had written her Pokégear number onto so long ago. I took a few deep breaths to steady myself, then placed a few coins into the console before punching in her number. There was no need to be nervous. I was just calling an old friend. No need to be nervous. Not like I was calling to tell her that a mutual friend was part of Team Rocket’s upper ranks. My feet tapped the floor without me telling them to. I tried to make them stop, but that just made them tap faster. Then Ajia’s face appeared on the screen and my heart jumped into my throat. No going back now.

Her eyes lit up the moment she saw me. “Jade? Hey, how’ve you been? You shoulda called sooner, it’s been ages!”

I forced a smile, though it was only slightly forced—there was something undeniably uplifting about seeing her again after all this time. Something that cut through all the nerves and reminded me why she was the one I was reaching out to right now.

“It’s good to see you,” I said, and I meant it.

“So what’s up?” she asked.

I swallowed hard. There really was no way to open this conversation that wasn’t totally awkward. Why bother trying to find one.

“It’s our old friend Starr,” I said slowly, fighting every word. “I found out that she’s a Rocket executive.”

Ajia’s face fell. “Oh. You… you know about that now?”

My heart crumpled inward on itself. “You knew?”

She paused, eyes glancing away ever so slightly. “It would’ve been better if I’d never found out, honestly.”

Ajia knew. This was yet another thing that Ajia knew. Yet another thing that exposed her history fighting Team Rocket… one that I hadn’t even known about until five months ago. Another reminder that my friends were entangled in a vast conspiracy, and that I’d only started to scratch the surface.

“So that day, at the plane crash… you knew that was her?”

Ajia nodded. “And I’m sure she knew who she was fighting then, too.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked, hurt leaking into my voice despite all efforts to keep it out.

She paused, frowning. “I… it had been so many years since we’d seen her. I didn’t think it would do any good to bring up that kind of drama out of nowhere. Things didn’t go so well when I found out.”

I bit my lip and glanced away. “Ugh, I didn’t realize. I wanted to talk to her again… try to get some answers, you know? But… if that’s a bad idea—”

“Well hang on, I never said that,” Ajia cut in, smiling faintly. “Things didn’t go so well the last time I talked to her. But that was just me. She’ll have a lot harder time refusing both of us.” She winked.

I stared at her. Somewhere, deep within all the hurt and confusion and shock that this day had held, it was like the tiniest flame of hope had just been lit inside of me, its warmth gradually radiating outward. Ajia was willing to help. I hadn’t even had to ask.

“Where are you?” she asked.

“I…”—I shook my head to get my bearings—“I’m at the Pokémon center in Lavender Town.” A pause, and I added, “Do you know where that is?”

“I’ve got a Pokégear. I can find it.”

Right. Obviously. “I guess I’ll see you here then?”

“Yup, see you!” She waved once more before hanging up.

I collapsed against the seat cushion, letting out a massive sigh of relief—one that it felt like I’d been holding for hours. I had Ajia on my side in this. I wasn’t alone. Someone else knew what it felt like to discover that their friend was on Team Rocket, and that someone was also an expert trainer who had fought Team Rocket before. That alone was enough to remove a huge weight from my shoulders.

Ajia arrived far more quickly than she had any right to. Sure, her Aerodactyl was fast, but it felt like I’d only been waiting a couple of minutes before I glanced up to see a petite teenaged girl walking in through the front doors to the center with a Pichu perched on her shoulder and an Espeon trotting at her heels. The bright energy in her dark eyes stood out in contrast to the grim atmosphere that hung over everyone I’d seen in the past twelve hours, and I couldn’t help suddenly feeling self-conscious about how exhausted and worn-out I probably looked. Last time she’d seen me, I’d been trying to convince her that I really did want to fight Team Rocket. A fresh wave of embarrassment hit me from how bad an idea that had turned out to be.

I stood up from the couch a little too late and wasn’t ready when Ajia threw out her arms and pulled me into a hug, saying, “It’s good to see you!”

Words failed me, like I’d momentarily forgotten what to do when confronted with such good cheer. In the end I settled on, “Thanks for helping me out,” with what hopefully wasn’t too defeated a tone.

She elbowed me lightly as we separated. “Hey, what are friends for?” But then she cocked her head, gazing at me like she was trying to figure something out. “Are… are you doing alright?”

I closed my eyes, smiling weakly. So it was that obvious, huh? “I’ve been better,” I said, grabbing my bag and slinging it over my shoulder. “Come on, let’s walk outside while we talk.”

A cool sea breeze swept through our hair as we stepped outside the Pokécenter. Espeon dashed ahead of us, zigzagging across the path that led to the boardwalk. Ajia held her arms out to the side while we walked, allowing Pichu to scamper from one end to the other.

“So, you start,” Ajia said. “What have you been up to?”

I gave a dry laugh. No way, I definitely wasn’t going to open with that. “I’d reeeally prefer for you to answer that first.”

She blinked a bit in surprise, but then folded her arms behind her head, which prompted Pichu to jump down and cling to her jacket front. “Ah, you know me, I’ve been traveling. A few odd jobs here, a local tournament there. Spent some time in the Sevii Islands recently, that was fun. It’s still warm there this time of year. And they’ve got tons of novelty tourneys and unofficial gyms—I got to take Lapras through a surf race where the competitors use water attacks to knock trainers off their Pokémon.”

I opened my mouth to speak, but then stopped myself. ‘You know me,’ she had said. But I honestly wouldn’t have been able to guess half of that stuff. Her combat skill went without saying, so I probably could have assumed something related to competitive battling, but other than that… it was like I didn’t know anything about her anymore.

“They’ve got a bunch of cool ruins down there too,” she went on. “Lots of rare Pokémon. Took Ninetales to the fire festival they held on the solstice at Mt. Ember. It’s really popular with the legend-spotting community—they say Moltres has shown up a few times in the past to give its blessing. Didn’t get to see it this year, though.”

I could hardly blame Moltres. The solstice was not long after Entei’s capture—of course it wouldn’t have wanted to go anywhere near humans. Not that it mattered either way, because the firebird had been caught two weeks ago and would never show up at the fire festival there, or anywhere else ever again.

Pichu jumped down from Ajia’s jacket and dashed up one of the wooden posts lining the boardwalk. The electric-type then hopped from one post to the next while Espeon jumped up and tried to catch her in midair.

“Any League stuff?” I asked, looking for any excuse to keep Ajia talking so it wouldn’t have to be my turn.

“Nah, I haven’t done official competitive since the Rocket stuff last year. I try to stay off TV, y’know? Don’t wanna advertise where they need to send a hit squad,” she said with a chuckle. I had a hard time finding humor in that. Then again, she could have been laughing at the fact that Espeon had caught Pichu mid-leap with its telekinesis, and the mouse was now flailing indignantly against the psychic-type’s hold.

“I mean, they’ve got agents scattered across the islands, but nothing large-scale. I took down a smuggling ring while I was there, but they never found out it was me, so…”

Why the hell hadn’t I been traveling with Ajia all this time? Even leaving out the fact that she had the unexplainable ability to fight Team Rocket and actually win, I could have been spending all this time having fun with one of the people I’d most wanted to meet up with when I became a trainer. And I’d had the opportunity after the plane incident, too! Sure, I had been opposed to leaving home without a license, and she’d been opposed to getting me mixed up in Rocket drama. But then I’d gone and done both of those things anyway. Was it just because the Rebellion had seemed important enough to leave home without permission and without a license?

“So… hang on… is that why it’s been ages since you last visited Viridian? Staying off the team’s radar?” I finally asked.

Ajia clicked her tongue in thought. “Part of it. My dad’s work transferred him to Indigo, so there’s also that.” She smiled faintly and gave me an encouraging nudge. “Alright, your turn. What’s it like being on that rebel team?”

My stomach tied itself into a knot. I’d known she was going to ask at some point, but that hadn’t made it any easier to come up with a suitable response.

“Don’t ask how I know this, but it sounds like you guys have really been making a difference,” she added once my pause had lasted more than a few seconds. “I mean… saving Raikou and Zapdos? Not to mention Mew! How many people can say they’ve even seen Mew, let alone saved her?” Her words held a cheerful air, but at the same time there was something… measured about them. She’d seen how worn and ragged I looked. She knew something was up. But she didn’t know what, so she’d focused on lifting the mood before it had the chance to drop.

I swallowed a lump, clutching the wound on my left arm, hidden from view under my jacket sleeve. Nope, I wasn’t ready to explain any more than the bare minimum.

“The rebel team was disbanded not long ago. It was getting too dangerous to continue, so we had to split up.” The sooner I could transition this into talking about Starr, the sooner I could stop thinking about the Rebellion’s fate. “That’s why I’m here, and that’s how Starr found me. You said we were gonna talk to her, right?”

Ajia blinked, obviously caught off-guard by the sudden subject change. “Oh, of course! Want to head to Viridian now?”

Now it was my turn to pause in confusion. “Viridian? I’ve only ever run into her in Celadon.”

“Yeah, it’s not uncommon for combat unit execs to bounce around depending on where they’re needed and what their mission schedule is like,” Ajia explained. “But as far as I know, Starr primarily leads the Viridian combat unit.”

The irony of it—I’d been so disappointed when Starr never returned to Viridian. Turns out she had. Just not the way I’d been expecting or hoping.

Ajia pivoted on her heels and put her hands over her mouth, calling out, “Alright, time to go, you two!”

As some point we had passed her Pokémon, both of whom were now perched atop opposing posts, shooting small, star-shaped bits of energy to knock each other off. Upon hearing Ajia’s call, however, they bolted over to us, neck-and-neck until Ajia held up a Pokéball and the yellow mouse instantly skidded to a halt.

“*Whaaat,*” Pichu said, fixing her trainer with an incredulous frown.

Ajia put her other hand on her hip. “Come on, we’re heading to the Viridian base. Everyone knows you there, I can’t have you out.”

“*I can hide in your bag,*” the electric-type pleaded.

Ajia cracked a smile. “Only if you stay in there,” she said, sliding her backpack from her shoulders. “We don’t need a repeat of the Cerulean incident.”

“*That was one time,*” Pichu mumbled, leaping into the bag the moment her trainer unzipped it.

Ajia shouldered her backpack before turning to face me and saying, “Need to run back and grab anything before we go? Oh, and is this your first time teleporting?”

“No to both of those,” I said, tugging at my own backpack strap for emphasis. But then my brain caught up with her second statement and I added, “Wait, we’re teleporting?”

She gestured to the psychic fox sitting at her heels, who was now fixing me with a curious stare. Well that explained how she’d gotten here so quickly. Ajia put a hand to my shoulder before reaching out her other hand to grab Espeon’s forked tail. Then the foggy surrounding of Lavender town melted into shimmering light.

Espeon took us straight to Viridian in a single jump, which was crazy far—farther than I’d seen any Pokémon do at once. We entered the base through the northwest entrance, located in a discreet warehouse on the edge of town. It was one of the less commonly used entrances, from what Darren and I had seen during the time we’d spent scoping out the base. Probably because it led directly to the storage division. Of course, that just made it easier to track down replacement boots and gloves for my uniform. Ajia already had a Rocket uniform, and a working Rocket ID for that matter. When I asked her how, she just said, “It’s a long story.”

“Well, when this is all done, I’d like to finally hear it,” I replied.

Ajia kept her hat pulled low over her face as she led us into the commons. Viridian HQ didn’t harbor nearly as many bad memories for me as Celadon, but I couldn’t help feeling the grip of anxiety just from being inside a base again. I had told myself I was done. That I was going to Johto to turn a new leaf. And now this.

We made our way toward the private rooms, which were generally reserved for executives, admins, or other important agents who were stationed at the base long-term. Apparently Ajia knew which room to check first, because she walked with a sense of purpose, like someone who didn’t have any doubts as to her destination. She stopped in front of room 160, checked her R-com once (she had an R-com too?), and then knocked three times. My chest tightened—this was it.

Several seconds passed. Then, a muffled voice from the other side of the door: “Oh, for the love of—”

I could hear the clattering of locks being undone before the door swung open to reveal an extremely unimpressed Starr. She was dressed more casually than the full executive getup I’d always seen her in—just a black tank top and gray capris—and was currently fixing me with a particularly disapproving scowl.

“What are you doing here? And what’d you bring her for?” she demanded pointing at Ajia.

“It’s great to see you too,” Ajia said brightly.

Starr put a hand to her forehead, dragging it down her face and pulling at her eyelids exasperatedly. She then leaned out the doorway and shot a couple of furtive glances down the hallway before stepping aside and roughly gesturing inside her room.

While I didn’t fancy being overheard any more than she did, the idea of setting foot in her quarters was… hardly appealing. Then again, it wasn’t as if I was alone—I did have Ajia with me. That made it better, right? My footsteps dragged against the carpet as I walked through the doorway into a narrow entry hall. Once the two of us were inside, Starr slammed the door shut, locked it, and rounded on us.

“You’ve got five seconds to explain what the hell you’re doing here.”

“We’re just here to talk,” Ajia said, holding up her hands defensively.

“I don’t want to talk with the likes of you guys,” Starr spat, putting her hands on her hips. “You’re just a bunch of no-good rebels trying to ruin my position on Team Rocket. Do you think I’ve forgotten the revolt? How many Rockets were totally screwed over because of you?”

Ajia frowned. “Screwed over? Really? That’s a bit harsh. Also, I think you’re giving me too much credit for everything that happened back then.”

What was this revolt they were talking about? I’d lost count of how many times I’d heard people mention it, but no one ever felt like explaining what it was.

Starr glared at Ajia silently for several seconds. Then she caught sight of my confusion before giving Ajia an odd look like she was trying to figure something out. Finally, a slow, satisfied grin made its way across her face, and she quietly said, “You mean Jade doesn’t…?” Starr decided against finishing the sentence, however, and instead threw a few unsettling glances my way, like she knew something I didn’t.

“What? I don’t what?” I asked, scowling at her.

Ajia, on the other hand, seemed to understand what Starr was insinuating, even though I had no idea. She gave her a sort of annoyed stare for a few seconds, but then casually said, “I think we’re getting off-topic. So, do you mind telling us why you’re so loyal to Team Rocket, or do we have to be here all day?”

Starr tilted her head. “What? That’s a stupid question. Why are you loyal to your rebel cause?”

“Simple. I’m against Team Rocket’s goals. I want to prevent them from going through with their plan to use the Legendaries to increase their power and influence. And I don’t want to see any more lives ruined by Team Rocket.” Ajia smiled and said, “Now it’s your turn. Go on, don’t be shy.”

Starr clenched her teeth, looking apprehensive. Her hand hovered over her pocket, where the outline of an R-com was visible through the fabric. I shot a nervous glance at Ajia, but she had a rather amused expression. “Going to turn us in? I’m surprised at you, Starr—I’d think an executive like you would know what would happen if two wanted enemies of Team Rocket were captured. But nah, I guess it’s totally cool if they kill us—no big deal, right?”

Starr continued to scowl at her. “That’s my biggest problem. It would be a lot easier if I could just pretend I hadn’t known you two before I joined Team Rocket.”

Ajia put a hand to her forehead. “Right… So, the only reason you care if the other higher-ups kill us is because we used to be friends. That’s comforting.”

Starr scoffed. “I’m head of the combat unit, what do you expect? Any threat to Team Rocket is the enemy, and I’ve gone through this debate in my head enough times. The past few years I’ve learned to ignore any sympathy, although Jade pretty much owes her life to it.” I glanced away, too embarrassed to look her in the eye.

“The point is… it’s my business why I’m a Rocket,” Starr continued. “Why the hell do you two even care anyway? Why does it matter?”

“Because…” Ajia began, choosing her words carefully, “you can’t be loyal to Team Rocket and help its enemies at the same time. Trust me, it doesn’t work. Sooner or later, you’ll be found out, and you’re gonna have to choose.”

Starr folded her arms. “I’m not a double agent like your allies. Stop making it sound like I’d help rebels.”

“I guess all the times you made sure I wasn’t killed don’t count, then?” I said dryly. “How many times was it?”

Starr’s mouth hung open, like my words were a slap to the face. “Not wanting you dead doesn’t count, alright! I’d never help the rebel cause or anything! And I wouldn’t have any problems if you two didn’t keep showing up in my life trying to test my loyalties.”

“So, what you’re saying is that you’re 100% satisfied with being a Rocket,” Ajia said. “It’s never made you feel uncomfortable at all. You’ve never once regret something you’ve had to do for the team. Ten out of ten, would join Team Rocket again.”

Starr gave her a horrified look, like she couldn’t believe what she’d just heard. “What the hell are you trying to say?”

“What I’m saying is—can you really blame me for trying to help the Rockets I met who wanted a way out but didn’t know what to do?”

“I’m not like all of them, alright! You really think someone in my position can just leave?!” Wait—her argument wasn’t that she didn’t want to leave, but that she couldn’t? That was totally different than what she’d implied earlier.

“There have been Rockets higher ranked than you who managed to—”

I can’t do what the commander did!! I won’t!! That was your fault anyway! He actually agreed with all your rebel bullshit. That’s not who I am!”

“Then who are you, Starr? Is serving Team Rocket all that you have?”

Yes!!!” she shouted, her eyes wide with desperation. “I threw away everything from my old life when I joined Team Rocket! Even my name… And I thought that included my friends. But I’ll never be entirely free, will I?” she asked, glaring at us.

I flinched and looked away. She… kind of had a point, much as I hated to admit it. If Starr really wanted nothing to do with us anymore, then what was the point of trying to force her to? It wouldn’t help her. It definitely wouldn’t help me get over what she’d done. Why were we doing this?

“For how loyal you are to the team, I assume they must be loyal to you as well, then?” Ajia asked, her tone casual. “The boss really wouldn’t mind if he knew what you’d done?”

Starr’s eyes widened with shock before immediately narrowing into the fiercest rage I’d ever seen from her. “Get out. NOW.”

I was about to protest, or at the very least try to calm her down, but then Ajia raised both arms and said, “Fine. That’s all I needed to know. It was great talking with you, let’s do it again soon.”

I shot an incredulous glance at Ajia, who gave me a meaningful look but didn’t say anything. Starr took several heavy steps over to the door and threw it open, pointing out. I did my best to avoid eye contact, but still caught sight of the glare she fixed on us the entire time we walked out. The instant I had cleared the doorway, I felt the door slam shut right behind me.

“We’re leaving just like that?” I asked, staring at Ajia in confusion.

A long pause followed. “I wasn’t lying when I said I’d found out everything I needed to know,” she said quietly. “Let’s go to the Pokémon Center for now. I’m starting to get an idea of how we can settle this.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“I think we can actually get Starr to quit Team Rocket.”

The announcement came out of nowhere. Ajia had been mostly silent as we’d walked to the north Viridian Pokécenter, where she’d reserved a double bunk room for us. Having the silence broken with such a bold claim was definitely not what I’d been expecting.

“Seriously?”

Ajia nodded, sitting up straight in her chair. “She’s trapped. She’ll never admit it, but it’s obvious there are a ton of things she hates about being a Rocket. She’s just had to ignore all of them in order to stay alive. It really is the same as the other ex-Rockets I’ve known. But even if we were to convince her of that, there’s no way she’d ever follow that path. I gave up trying to convince her to quit when I first found out. But with you being involved, things are different. The things she’s had to do to save you have made her question the things she’d always believed to be true.”

The idea that she wasn’t too far gone… that the person we used to know might still be in there, deep down. It was obviously appealing. But… it didn’t change the things she’d done. Nothing could change that. Trying to be friends with her again was almost more uncomfortable of a thought than just the fact that we were enemies now.

“Are you… sure about this?” I asked slowly.

Ajia nodded again. “But I don’t think we should push her to make a decision. What we should do, is show her what Team Rocket would do if they found out what she’s done.”

I grimaced. “I’m pretty sure she knows. That’s why she doesn’t want to oppose them.”

“Exactly,” Ajia said, eyes shining. “She refuses to betray them, but what if they betray her first? What if we show her that they don’t deserve her loyalty? All we’d have to do is trick her into revealing the fact that she’s helped us.”

I paused. That… did make a bit of sense. I wasn’t sure how we were supposed to do that exactly, seeing as she’d been willing to go so far as to torture me without breaking character. But Ajia didn’t know that. Ajia didn’t know half the stuff Starr had done. And I didn’t exactly feel like going into detail on most of it.

“By the way… how did you find out Starr was on Team Rocket?” Ajia asked.

Friggin’ hell. There was just no getting around it, was there?

I exhaled slowly. “She was on the mission to end the Rebellion. Her subordinates killed half the team. The rest of us only escaped because our leader drew them off. I ran into her the following day in Lavender Town, where she was stalking me.”

A sickly, hollow feeling filled my chest, intensifying with each word. Ajia had gone quiet, listening carefully with worried eyes and tight lips. She brought her hands to her mouth and leaned forward with her elbows on her knees.

“…Seriously?” she just said.

Aside from that one word, the silence in the room was so thick it threatened to crush us. Even Pichu had ceased rummaging through Ajia’s bag and peeked out, glancing between the two of us with drooping ears.

“Looking back, I’m pretty sure she was only there to make sure she found me before the others.” That didn’t make it okay, but it was… something. My hands started trembling, and I clenched them shut to make them stop. “Our next mission was going to be freeing Mewtwo. Now we’ll never get to.” Why was I saying any of this. I’d already answered her question—none of this needed to be said.

“Yeah, I’ve heard of Mewtwo,” Ajia said gravely. “Team Rocket’s ultimate weapon.”

“I… kind of made a promise to him—that I’d figure out a way to free him someday. I know it was naïve and stupid, but I meant it at the time.”

At those words, a sly grin made its way across Ajia’s face, and I could practically see the gears turning in her head. “…Don’t count that idea out just yet.”

I furrowed my brow, staring at her in blank confusion. She couldn’t be serious, could she?

“Alright, I’ll bite. What are you planning now?” I said, bemused.

“Nothing too concrete yet…” Her voice trailed off as she whirled around in the desk chair and grabbed her bag from the floor, prompting Pichu to jump to her shoulder. “I’m gonna talk with some friends, see what I can dig up,” she said, retrieving a tablet from her bag and tapping away at it.

I still wasn’t entirely sure what had just happened. Just when I’d thought things were at their most hopeless, Ajia had suddenly gotten some sort of epiphany that could potentially solve everything? I sat there for a good five minutes before realizing that she was probably gonna be at that for a while. No sense just sitting here waiting.

“Alright, while you’re working on that, I’m gonna go… get some new clothes… or something.” I stood up, grabbed the room’s card key and stepped outside, leaving Ajia and Pichu muttering excitedly to each other.

Wandering down the streets of Viridian after all this time was surreal. Granted, it wasn’t like we were staying in an area I was totally familiar with. I was never supposed to wander around north Viridian, and it wasn’t too hard to see why—the streets and buildings were undoubtedly grimier and more worn-down, both from age and vandalism. The area carried a shifty feel, like it was the sort of place that would have made me feel uncomfortable five months ago. But in spite of that, it still held a tangible air of familiarity. The same sky. The same cool breezes carried down from the highlands to the west. The same shadows cast by the sun slipping behind Mt. Silver.

I could have stopped at home if I wanted to. Even if I’d already decided I couldn’t stay there, and had to keep moving—just to visit… But I couldn’t risk giving away how badly things had gone. And I still hadn’t held up my end of the bargain and gotten a license yet. No matter what, I had to do that first.

I managed to track down a thrift shop and get a pair of jeans and a spare t-shirt for less than 1000 pyen. Even that was pushing it on what I could afford, but with most of my clothes burned up in Midnight Stadium, I didn’t have much of a choice.

Night had fallen by the time I returned to the Pokécenter. I tapped the card key to our door’s scanner and entered the room to see Ajia and Pichu in exactly the same spot I’d last seen them. I’d have guessed that neither of them had moved while I was gone, although a few half-eaten boxes of Hoennese take-out scattered around the room implied otherwise.

“Hey Jade, grab some food if you want, we’re just about done here,” Ajia said without looking up from her tablet.

I dropped my shopping bag to the ground and settled back against one of the beds with a box of noodles. I didn’t have to wait long. No more than five minutes later, Ajia rotated in her chair, facing me with a wide grin.

“Alright. I think we’ve got it,” she said dramatically.

Pichu jumped onto her trainer’s head and spread her paws to the side for emphasis. I sat up straight, setting down the noodles and focusing all my attention on them. Time to finally learn what this was all about.

“Figuring out the part with Starr—that’s easy,” she said, waving a hand to the side. “The hard part is how we set up the trap in our favor, and how to make sure that we’re all able to escape afterward.”

I nodded. “Right.”

“That’s where Mewtwo comes in.”

I put a hand to my face, still feeling embarrassed about bringing that up. I knew it was an unrealistic goal.

“I found out something interesting,” Ajia went on. “Moltres and Articuno are typically managed by a pair of Legendary handlers who are also top combat unit executives. But ever since the last Legendary mission, Mewtwo has belonged to the boss himself. He actually keeps its Pokéball on his person at all times.”

I blinked. “Whoa. Really?”

“The other important thing I found out is how the Legendary control technology works,” Ajia said, grinning slyly. I raised both eyebrows, intrigued. How on earth had she gotten her hands on that info?

“It’s different from what Team Rocket has done with their experiments in the past,” she explained. “The others just had a chip implanted into them which communicated with a device that the experiment handlers kept on them at all times. But the Legendaries’ energy signatures were way too strong for that. Once they figured out how to make a chip that wouldn’t be overloaded, it had to be shielded so much that it could barely communicate with any external devices. They managed to pull it off with some big and powerful machinery, but it wasn’t a long-term solution. Without a perfect resonance with the Legendary’s energy signature, they’d adapt to the signal and become resistant over time.”

Right… that made sense, from what I had seen at the birds mission. But what about the attack on Midnight Island? The Rockets wouldn’t have been able to transport that kind of machinery to the island, would they?

“Wanna know the secret? They modified their Pokéballs to contain the same hardware as the devices that the experiment handlers kept. It’s perfect—the link between a Pokémon and its Pokéball is the only way to get a signal that will perfectly match.”

I raised an eyebrow. “How does that help us?”

“It means that destroying a Legendary’s Pokéball will not only free it from capture… it’ll free its mind, too.”

I gaped at her. No way. That’s all we had to do? Granted, once I’d taken more than a second to think about it, that didn’t seem quite so easy. After all, the boss had personal ownership of Mewtwo. He’d hardly allow us to walk up and take the clone’s Pokéball.

I took a deep breath. “Okay… so we need to get the boss involved in this… that’s the only way we’re getting access to Mewtwo.”

“Right. So combine this with the other idea—we get Starr to reveal that she helped rebels. Now imagine she does it in front of the boss.”

My jaw dropped.

“There’s no way he’d be able to overlook that level of treachery from a head executive, let alone her. Then, in the midst of all the Rocket drama, we steal Mewtwo’s Master Ball, destroy it, and escape with Starr while Mewtwo wreaks havoc.” A wild grin had spread across her face, and her eyes were lit with a level of excitement I’d never seen from her—and that was saying something. In a weird way, her absolute confidence that we could pull this off was almost intimidating.

“So here’s the plan…”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

My heart pounded as we descended the elevator into the Viridian HQ once more. We’d gone over the plan a dozen times. I’d had all last night and all morning to psyche myself up for what we were about to do. Ajia was 100% confident, and her confidence was downright infectious. But even with all that, I was still an anxious ball of nerves, and nothing could change that.

We emerged from the elevator and set off. Our first goal: wrecking the anti-teleport field surrounding the base. That would be our ticket out of here when our mission was done, plus it was the only way for us to bail early if things got too dicey. To do that, however, we had to get into the primary control room. In other words, the most important room in the entire base, save for maybe the boss’s personal office. This was so far beyond anything I’d done on the Rebellion, and considering the mess I’d caused when I freed Chibi, that was saying something.

Ajia led the way through the commons, down a hallway adjacent to the office division, one that I had never properly explored. I kept my hand on my Pokéball belt the entire time, half expecting every Rocket we walked past to suddenly lunge at us. It felt so incredibly obvious that we were up to no good, and part of me was amazed that half the base hadn’t already felt an aura of intended sabotage from us. But we looked just like any other Rockets, and we had working IDs to match. Nothing would give us away until we did anything.

“This is it,” Ajia whispered, and my heart jumped into my throat. Already? It felt like we’d just left the Pokécenter, and now we were already here?

The two of us stood in front of a large black door with thick metal hinges and a computerized lock. No way to get through something like this without admin rights, which neither of us currently had. We’d have to break in. From this moment on, the base would be on high alert. With a smooth, subtle motion, Ajia retrieved a Pokéball and opened it. The light took the shape of her Umbreon, whose eyes flashed red the moment he appeared.

“Your turn,” she said.

Right—I was the one in charge of getting us through the door. I was the one who had to kick all of this off. One last mission. One last blow against the Kanto force before escaping to Johto. After this, I’d be free.

I released Stygian. The dark-type appeared in a flash of light, glancing around wordlessly and then nodding.

No turning back now.

The Absol drew herself back, the blade on her head glowing before she swung it into the lock with a heavy metallic crunch. Once, twice, three times the blade gouged through computer chips and mechanical parts until finally the latch clattered to the ground. The base alarm instantly started blaring. We’d known that was going to happen—I ignored it and threw open the door, and our group rushed into the control room all at once. We found ourselves inside a massive black-walled space—part server room, with massive computer towers covered in flickering lights and a jungle of cables—and part security station, with an entire wall of monitors displaying video feed of every division in the base. But none of that was important. What was important was the squad of guards at the control panel who had just rotated in their seats to face us, gaping in disbelief.

Ajia didn’t even have to say anything. She just swung her bag down from her shoulder and out leaped Pichu. Time slowed. The Rockets drew their firearms and Stygian dutifully raised a Protect in front of us. And then Pichu shot forward as nothing more than an electric blur, zipping from one Rocket to the next faster than my eye could follow. Flashes of sparks and strings of electricity shot out from each impact, one after the other, followed by garbled cries and bodies slumping to the floor.

Pichu slowed to a stop in an instant, twitching her oversized ears. The mouse then jerked her attention to the right and shot off once more, into the server maze. I caught several more flashes of light before the electric-type rushed back to us.

“*That’s all of them in here. More are coming down the hall, though.*”

I couldn’t help staring. I’d seen feats of raw electric power from Chibi, but never anything even remotely close to the speed and precision that Pichu had just displayed. Couldn’t focus on that, though—we didn’t have much time before this room would be swarming with more Rockets than we could ever handle.

“The field generator should be this way,” Ajia said, walking off towards some of the larger machinery and gesturing for me to follow her. She stopped in front of a large device—at least eight feet tall and topped with a glossy black dome surrounded by antennae—before pacing back and forth in front of it, looking it up and down. “I’m pretty sure this is it,” she said, folding her arms.

I raised an eyebrow. “Pretty sure?”

She flashed a grin at me and shrugged. “Well, we won’t know for sure until we take it out, will we?”

Fair enough. In any case, while Pichu could’ve just zapped it, we were better off not doing anything that might cause an explosion with us in the room. Which meant Stygian was up again. The dark-type stepped forward, claws clacking against the floor tiles, and lit her blade once more. She then lunged forward, slicing clean through the wires and cables trailing out of the machine with repeated swings until none were left unsevered.

Ajia paused with a look on her face like she was straining to hear something. Then her eyes lit up, and her face split into an excited grin. “Alright, we did it! The field is down.”

“What, really?” I asked, raising an eyebrow. I couldn’t hear anything over the sound of the full-blast fans on the server towers.

“Yep. Time for phase two.” Ajia shot a quick glance at her Umbreon, and he nodded, eyes flickering red for a second. She then pulled out a Pokéball, and in a shimmering flash, her Espeon appeared in front of her.

Now for the part I was least enthusiastic about. Throwing ourselves headlong into danger was one thing, but relying on the experiments to cause a commotion to draw the team away from us was an entirely different thing. I exhaled deeply, then grabbed Aros’s Pokéball to release the bug-dragon alongside Stygian.

“So you guys know what you’re doing, right?” I asked.

“*Leading with Double Team and then alternating between Faint Attack and Protect,*” Aros replied in a bored tone.

Double Team alone would make them a nightmare to hit, but with the addition of the other two moves, it’d be almost impossible for the Rockets to get them. Probably.

“*You still haven’t explained how this diversion is going to help you free Mewtwo,*” Stygian said bluntly.

I hadn’t told them about the Starr portion of the mission. I’d decided it would be better to open that can of worms after we escaped. If I told them now, the response would definitely be a universal ‘are you insane?’ and it would be easier to refute that after Starr was off Team Rocket.

“It’s complicated,” I said. “Just promise me you’ll watch out for each other.”

The Absol rolled her eyes. “*No need to be so sappy.*”

I kneeled beside Espeon and clipped both clones’ Pokéballs to the makeshift collar around the fox’s neck. When things went bad, which they definitely would, the plan was for Espeon to recall them and teleport back to Ajia. That at least made me feel a little bit better.

Ajia reached into her bag and started pulling out multicolored bottles, handing them to me one after another. Temporary battle enhancements—X Attack, X Speed, and the like. Apparently Ajia had grabbed them from a Rocket storehouse a few months ago. We unscrewed the lids and started holding out pills for the two clones. Taking battle enhancements was hardly a new experience for them—they gulped the pills down without even flinching.

Out of nowhere, Pichu cried, “*They’re almost here!*”

I jolted. “Alright, go now!” I yelled, pointing out the door.

None of them needed telling twice. Aros bolted forward, tearing a good-sized chunk out of the doorway with his claws as he did. Stygian rushed after him, her form already blurring into multiple copies of herself with a Double Team. Espeon wasn’t far behind them. Almost immediately, I heard shouting and firing and attacks crashing against walls and all the chaos one would expect to hear from rogue experiments loose inside a major base.

Ajia stuffed the bottles back into her bag and then held it open for Pichu to jump back inside before pivoting on her heels and motioning to me. “Come on, the experiments won’t be able to distract them forever.” But there was still one Pokémon unaccounted for.

“Wait, what about Umbreon?” I asked, glancing at the dark fox.

“I like to keep him out during missions. For luck,” she said, winking.

I stared. Wouldn’t he be kind of noticeable? Maybe we wouldn’t be the only Rockets with Pokémon out now that the base was on high alert? But still?

Ajia was already heading for the door. Alright then, she’d gotten us this far—I just had to trust her.

Outside the control room, the clones had already torn a hole clear through the wall and detoured into a different hallway. That way the path we’d taken to get to the control room wouldn’t turn into a firing zone. Combat unit agents raced past us, and my stomach twisted into knots. But they completely ignored us. Didn’t even glance our way. Sure, we were in uniform, and the experiments were a little bit more conspicuous, but I’d been expecting at least a few Rockets to notice us or call us out as rebels or attack us or something.

We raced down the hallway back toward the commons, which were now frighteningly empty compared to five minutes ago. Guards remained at their posts, but everyone on the combat unit had taken off to corner the experiments. I couldn’t help feeling like all eyes were on us as we crossed the area, making our way toward the entrance to the transport hangar. But no one confronted us. No one said anything. I shouldn’t have been bothered by the fact that things were going better than expected, but I was. Why were things going so well? What was going on?

Before I knew it, we’d already made it to our destination—we were now standing in the middle of a vast concrete space half-filled with trucks and jeeps. I paused to catch my breath, keeping my eyes glued to the entrance, still half-expecting a squad to burst in and demand to know why we weren’t with the others.

In any case, I knew what my next task was. It hadn’t exactly been hard to locate Starr, or rather Astrid, in the Team Rocket agent directory on my R-com. I brought up her number in my contact list and then, feeling like an idiot, snapped a photo of myself and Ajia standing in the transport hangar. If that didn’t get her to separate from the other Rockets and come running straight to us, nothing would.

“I just messaged the boss,” Ajia said. “I wrote, ‘In five minutes, there will be an incident in the transport division that you’ll want to see. Your head executive is going to betray you.’”

It was almost funny how matter-of-fact that was. She’d just text messaged the leader of Team Rocket. That was a thing you could do.

“Course, that means I won’t be able to use this Rocket ID ever again when this is done, but…”—she smiled distantly—“well, it’s worth it.”

My R-com vibrated suddenly. Well, that sure hadn’t taken long. I tapped the screen and was met with a text reading, “Wtf are you two doing there?!”

“You’ll have to come here to find out,” I typed back. Almost immediately, I received a reply consisting of a near-keyboard mash of incoherent swearing.

I winced and pocketed the device again. “I think I got her attention.”

Now all we had to do was wait for the real mission to begin. Everything else was just setup. This was what it was really about. Confronting Starr. Confronting the boss. Saving Mewtwo. My heart pounded uncomfortably in my chest. Seconds dragged by like minutes. I couldn’t stop glancing at my watch, expecting more time to have passed.

And then Starr appeared at the entrance to the hanger. She froze the instant she saw us, staring with a mixture of rage and disbelief.

“Hey, you made it!” Ajia called out, waving to her. “Come on over, we’ve got a lot to talk about.”

Starr shook her head to regain herself before charging towards us, fists clenched. “Stop acting like you know me! Someone will hear!” she hissed.

“No one’s here, that’s why we sent the rest of the team on a wild experiment chase,” Ajia said, waving a hand dismissively.

“There are still cameras!” she shrieked. “Get out of here now or we’re all dead!”

Ajia folded her arms. “Nah, I think we’re gonna stay right here.”

Starr’s face lit up with fury, and before I knew what was happening, she had whipped out a Pokéball to release her Raichu. I froze. Not the Raichu. She wasn’t seriously going to—? Sparks leaped off its cheeks and I screwed my eyes shut, desperately trying to brace myself for it even as panic shot through my veins. But then I heard paws strike the ground near me and the crash of lightning against lightning. Seconds passed. The pain didn’t come. Slowly, I opened my eyes a crack, then widened them fully when I saw Pichu standing firm with her back to us, cheeks sparking.

“Was that really necessary?” Ajia asked, her voice uncharacteristically harsh.

“Yes, it was,” Starr answered coldly, tilting her head down so that the brim of her hat covered her face. “Now I’m only gonna ask this once. Why are you here?”

“To prove that you can’t play both sides forever,” Ajia said simply.

Starr took a step backward, eyes widening. “…What?”

“You can’t be loyal to Team Rocket and help its enemies at the same time. So if you’re gonna have to choose eventually, why not leave before they find out?”

Starr glowered at us. “I wouldn’t have to choose if you two didn’t keep pulling this rebel crap.”

“Do you expect us to just ignore all the things that you’ve done?” I asked, clenching my fists.

“Do you have any idea how much easier it would’ve been to just tell myself I didn’t know either of you?!” she shouted, her eyes now wide and frantic.

I folded my arms. “You wouldn’t have to do that if you weren’t working for a group that wants to murder us.”

“Stop acting like it’s that simple! Team Rocket is all I have!”

“It wouldn’t have to be,” Ajia said exasperatedly. “You’ve already proven that you haven’t completely changed. So come with us, before they find out you’ve helped us in the past.”

Starr took another step backward. And for the first time throughout all of this, a shadow of doubt had fallen across her face. She clenched her teeth, glancing back and forth uncertainly.

“No…” she said slowly and shakily. “I can’t and I won’t!” Her Raichu nodded fervently and shot out a wave of sparks.

And then a voice rang out over the PA speakers. A deep, commanding voice tinged with cold amusement: “Well this certainly is an interesting turn of events, isn’t it?”

Starr froze in horror and swore repeatedly under her breath. Ajia made eye contact with me, and the tiniest trace of a grin crossed her face. One more thing had gone right. The boss had seen and heard everything.

“Two rebels and a double agent, very interesting indeed. But with such a unique situation as this, I think I know the perfect solution. All combat unit agents will proceed to the transport hangar. Leave the experiments—they were only a diversion.” And with that, the speakers fell silent.

Starr immediately rounded on us with a horrified expression. “You told the boss?!

I flinched. “We… might have done that, yeah.”

“Why?!”

“When I asked if the boss wouldn’t mind if he knew what you’d done,” Ajia said carefully, “I’m guessing the answer is no?”

Starr opened her mouth like she was about to speak, but then suddenly froze with her mouth hanging open. For several seconds, she didn’t say anything; she just stared at us, gears turning in her head. “You were trying to turn them against me,” she said quietly. “That’s the only reason you’re here.”

Ajia smiled weakly. “Aw man… I didn’t think you’d figure it out so soon.”

Starr gaped at the both of us, shaking her head in total disbelief. “I can’t. Believe. I actually cared about you two!” she yelled, pointing forward and signaling for her Raichu to attack. The orange mouse gave an impatient cry and jumped in front of her, yellow cheek pouches already sparking. Without wasting a second, Pichu dashed forward, readying a Thunderbolt of her own and launching it at the same instant Raichu did. The two bolts collided in midair, shooting out waves of sparks and strings of lightning in all directions.

“You want to keep testing my loyalty?!” Starr yelled. “Fine! Then be ready for me to prove you wrong!”






~End Chapter 24~
Bonus scene in the following post!
 
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Ch 24 Extra: Chatlog

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
Partner
pikachu-chibi
Code:
>>Chatlog between K0508151 'Tetra' and J0208243 'Sakari' on 10/30/2998

>Tetra: Hey I'm calling in a favor.
>Sakari: Tetra?
>Sakari: still using that old codename?
>Sakari: whatcha need
>Tetra: Can you keep a secret from Sebastian?
>Sakari: depends on the secret
>Tetra: The kind of thing he'll be happy to find out about when it's done.
>Sakari: you're gonna need to be a little more specific
>Tetra: I want to free Mewtwo.
>Sakari: holy shit what
>Tetra: Can you help me?
>Sakari: wait seriously?
>Sakari: what makes you think you can pull that off when we haven't been able to?
>Tetra: Long story, I've got a way to get in a personal confrontation with the boss.
>Sakari: ???
>Tetra: I need to know how the Legendary control works.
>Sakari: see that's kind of a trade secret
>Tetra: You know I could figure it out sooner or later.
>Tetra: Sooner just means I'll use it against Giovanni and not you guys.
>Sakari: ha, try using it against us, you'll find it won't work
>Tetra: ?
>Tetra: I'm not even gonna ask
>Tetra: So can you help me or not
>Sakari: ...
>Sakari: ok fine
>Sakari: gimme a sec
>Sakari: alright, I'm sending some files over
>Sakari: all the IP's been wiped but what's left might be useful

>>Sending 12140112.zip
>>File sent

>Tetra: This is perfect.
>Tetra: Remember, this stays between us.
>Sakari: whatever
>Sakari: you pull this off I don't even think he'll care where you figured out how to do it
>Sakari: but seriously how are you gonna pull this off
>Tetra: It involves Z
>Sakari: Z?
>Sakari: no one knows about him still?
>Tetra: And I plan to keep it that way.
>Sakari: cool cool
>Sakari: but, uh, one last thing
>Sakari: why's this all coming out of nowhere
>Sakari: what's this really about
>Tetra: Starr
>Sakari: ...
>Sakari: oh this is gonna be GOOD isn't it?
>Sakari: can't wait to see the footage
>>Sakari is offline

>>delete chatlog? Y/N
>>Y
>>admin credentials required:
>>********
>>chatlog deleted
Lexx reclined in his office chair, arms crossed behind his head and a wide grin plastered over his face. Ajia never ceased to amaze. He did have half a mind to tell Sebastian what her plans were, just because it would be entertaining if nothing else. But there was no need to go back on his word—he did value her trust, after all.

Besides… if all went well, they’d both be seeing the footage rolling in from Viridian tomorrow…
 
Last edited:

qva

Pokémon Trainer
Location
florida
Pronouns
she/her
super long chapter means a super long review, i guess. sorry about that. i'm going to put the bulk of my thoughts on the chapter in a spoiler so i don't hog an ungodly amount of screen space:
Ajia’s face fell. “Oh. You… you know about that now?”

My heart crumpled inward on itself. “You knew?”
hahaha, yikes. get cued in jade, jeez.
“I’ve got a Pokégear. I can find it.”

Right. Obviously.
i feel like this is an interaction i have constantly. my uncle will be giving me directions to xyz address for like ten years and i'm just like... i have a phone...
“So, you start,” Ajia said. “What have you been up to?”

I gave a dry laugh. No way, I definitely wasn’t going to open with that. “I’d reeeally prefer for you to answer that first.”
millennial/gen z mood right there
“They’ve got a bunch of cool ruins down there too,” she went on. “Lots of rare Pokémon. Took Ninetales to the fire festival they held on the solstice at Mt. Ember. It’s really popular with the legend-spotting community—they say Moltres has shown up a few times in the past to give its blessing. Didn’t get to see it this year, though.”
haha, i love the idea of a legend-spotting community. i guess things like teleporting and flying pokémon being common property, getting around the world is pretty easy, huh? this seems like a pretty natural extension of things like bird-watching in our world. cool little detail.
“Don’t ask how I know this, but it sounds like you guys have really been making a difference,” she added once my pause had lasted more than a few seconds.
how does she know that...?
She gestured to the psychic fox sitting at her heels, who was now fixing me with a curious stare.
huh, i've never thought of espeon as a fox. interesting how people interpret pokémon differently.
When I asked her how, she just said, “It’s a long story.”

“Well, when this is all done, I’d like to finally hear it,” I replied.
me too, jade.
Several seconds passed. Then, a muffled voice from the other side of the door: “Oh, for the love of—”
hahaha, i actually kind of feel for starr here. like, it's not as though she's been sending mixed signals here. she's literally tortured the shit out of jade for christ's sake. what does she have to do to get them to fuck off?
Starr glared at Ajia silently for several seconds. Then she caught sight of my confusion before giving Ajia an odd look like she was trying to figure something out. Finally, a slow, satisfied grin made its way across her face, and she quietly said, “You mean Jade doesn’t…?” Starr decided against finishing the sentence, however, and instead threw a few unsettling glances my way, like she knew something I didn’t.
ope. ajia was totally the rocket exec that incited the revolt, wasn't she. that would definitely explain her possession of a uniform/knowledge of starr's whereabouts/understanding of what the rebellion has been up to, etc. pretty surprising that jade isn't suspecting the same, actually.
“I guess all the times you made sure I wasn’t killed don’t count, then?” I said dryly. “How many times was it?”
wow. jade must be really secure in the fact that starr doesn't want to kill her. i absolutely would not be taunting someone who could do, and had done, the things starr had.
“I think we can actually get Starr to quit Team Rocket.”
🤔 isn't that what they just tried and failed to do?
“Exactly,” Ajia said, eyes shining. “She refuses to betray them, but what if they betray her first? What if we show her that they don’t deserve her loyalty? All we’d have to do is trick her into revealing the fact that she’s helped us.”
uhhhhhh. i'm not sure the ends justify the means here. like, i get that getting starr out of rocket is something they want to do, but only because she's their friend, right? like, they're not making moves to get every individual exec to quit the team. something tells me orchestrating a massively embarrassing event that could put her life on the line, by directly manipulating starr no less, is not exactly the most direct route to reviving their friendship with her. i'm surprised jade seems on board with this, but i guess we'll see how it goes.
I’d have guessed that neither of them had moved while I was gone, although a few half-eaten boxes of Hoennese take-out scattered around the room implied otherwise.
omg, i love the idea of hoennese take-out. the -ese suffix makes me think of chinese takeout, but to me kanto and johto have always felt more far eastern than the other gens... maybe hoennese is more like indian food? or maybe in this world, kanto/johto are more analogous to the west?
My heart pounded as we descended the elevator into the Viridian HQ once more. We’d gone over the plan a dozen times.
oh, we are actually doing this right now this very minute, huh. no wonder this chapter is so long.
Right—I was the one in charge of getting us through the door. I was the one who had to kick all of this off. One last mission. One last blow against the Kanto force before escaping to Johto. After this, I’d be free.
there are a lot of chapters left in this fic, jade. i don't think you're going to be free just yet. :'D
The Rockets drew their firearms and Stygian dutifully raised a Protect in front of us.
"pokémon battles are dumb, why doesn't team rocket just shoot you lole" is a pretty common joke in the fandom, but also sort of a compelling question. your use of protect actually answers it pretty well, i think. you've established a good balance between team rocket being a serious operation that's not afraid to use lethal force with the need to keep pokémon relevant in your fic. nice solution.
I couldn’t help staring. I’d seen feats of raw electric power from Chibi, but never anything even remotely close to the speed and precision that Pichu had just displayed.
i can't believe this was actually a smash ultimate fic all along!
Why were things going so well? What was going on?
hmmmm. jade has made a couple comments about how convenient everything has been in pretty rapid succession, so i'm beginning to suspect it's a set-up. seeing as it actually ends up being a coincidence by the looks of things, i'd probably take a few of the lines about how no one's noticing them out— it sort of builds up an expectation that never ends up being realized, at least for me.
“I just messaged the boss,” Ajia said. “I wrote, ‘In five minutes, there will be an incident in the transport division that you’ll want to see. Your head executive is going to betray you.’”

It was almost funny how matter-of-fact that was. She’d just text messaged the leader of Team Rocket. That was a thing you could do.
hahaha. this makes me think of this very important tweet. the internet is truly a wonderful democratic force.
Starr’s face lit up with fury, and before I knew what was happening, she had whipped out a Pokéball to release her Raichu. I froze. Not the Raichu. She wasn’t seriously going to—? Sparks leaped off its cheeks and I screwed my eyes shut, desperately trying to brace myself for it even as panic shot through my veins. But then I heard paws strike the ground near me and the crash of lightning against lightning. Seconds passed. The pain didn’t come. Slowly, I opened my eyes a crack, then widened them fully when I saw Pichu standing firm with her back to us, cheeks sparking.
interesting that she still reacts this way to raichu, but no longer has that same visceral reaction to starr. i wonder if she'll eventually come around to raichu, too...? they're both on the fic cover, anyway, so i assume they end up friends eventually. :p
Starr opened her mouth like she was about to speak, but then suddenly froze with her mouth hanging open. For several seconds, she didn’t say anything; she just stared at us, gears turning in her head. “You were trying to turn them against me,” she said quietly. “That’s the only reason you’re here.”

Ajia smiled weakly. “Aw man… I didn’t think you’d figure it out so soon.”

Starr gaped at the both of us, shaking her head in total disbelief. “I can’t. Believe. I actually cared about you two!” she yelled, pointing forward and signaling for her Raichu to attack. The orange mouse gave an impatient cry and jumped in front of her, yellow cheek pouches already sparking. Without wasting a second, Pichu dashed forward, readying a Thunderbolt of her own and launching it at the same instant Raichu did. The two bolts collided in midair, shooting out waves of sparks and strings of lightning in all directions.

“You want to keep testing my loyalty?!” Starr yelled. “Fine! Then be ready for me to prove you wrong!”
well, i can't say i'm surprised by this. to be honest, i'm not really sure what they were thinking with this plan. i mean, it might succeed at getting starr to quit rocket, maybe, but even if it did... what were they thinking would happen after that? i can't see a way in which this plan could have ended in a way any better than starr getting cast out of team rocket, causing her to resent jade and ajia even more deeply, and then becoming a target of a colossal gangster organization for the rest of her life. i have a feeling that's not quite how it unfolds, but at the same time i don't really understand what jade and ajia's thought process in actually going through with this was... like, i'm not sure what they were really expecting the outcome of this very manipulative plan to be.

anyway, this is an interesting turn of events at any rate, and i'm curious to see where it goes next. seems like tension is really mounting, and i reckon this starr subplot is going to come to a head in the next chapter. i'm not really sure what to expect the outcome to be, so i'll be interested to see how the fight plays out. one thing i noticed is that it doesn't seem like there's going to be an actual confrontation with the boss unless something changes, so, uh, that sucks. on the other hand, this will push starr to make a choice, in a way that jade and ajia maybe didn't intend— if she actually does fight against jade and ajia, they will probably legitimately die, unless they teleport away. wonder how it'll go!

overall i don't think this chapter is monstrously long— if anything, i expected the latter portion to be a bit longer. it does move pretty quickly and pack a lot in, though, so i'd say it's a decent length in the end. sorry i don't have more to say about this chapter aside from my little comments on specific lines— it feels like a pretty straightforward one, and it read really easily! nothing really pinged me in a negative way about it; it felt very polished and brisk. excited to see where it goes next time!
 

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
Partner
pikachu-chibi
haha, i love the idea of a legend-spotting community. i guess things like teleporting and flying pokémon being common property, getting around the world is pretty easy, huh? this seems like a pretty natural extension of things like bird-watching in our world. cool little detail.
That was one of those last-minute additions that I'm really glad I threw in, as it just makes sense that there'd be something like that, in this world where the Legendaries definitely exist and can be seen from time to time.
how does she know that...?
:)
wow. jade must be really secure in the fact that starr doesn't want to kill her. i absolutely would not be taunting someone who could do, and had done, the things starr had.
Jade is very much emboldened by having Ajia there, haha. (Although that said, the tone on this line of hers feels kind of off now, so I'll probably tweak that.)
uhhhhhh. i'm not sure the ends justify the means here. like, i get that getting starr out of rocket is something they want to do, but only because she's their friend, right? like, they're not making moves to get every individual exec to quit the team. something tells me orchestrating a massively embarrassing event that could put her life on the line, by directly manipulating starr no less, is not exactly the most direct route to reviving their friendship with her. i'm surprised jade seems on board with this, but i guess we'll see how it goes.
Jade miiiiight have a bit of a hero-worship problem. xD She's convinced that since Ajia is smarter and more experienced than her, that she must have everything figured out and that everything will work out fine. (Also yesss, Ajia absolutely has a problem with the ends justifying the means.)
oh, we are actually doing this right now this very minute, huh. no wonder this chapter is so long.
Haha yup. (This prooobbably would have been the ideal spot to split the chapter, had I not been stubbornly opposed to doing so.)
there are a lot of chapters left in this fic, jade. i don't think you're going to be free just yet. :'D
She can dream. :'D
hmmmm. jade has made a couple comments about how convenient everything has been in pretty rapid succession, so i'm beginning to suspect it's a set-up. seeing as it actually ends up being a coincidence by the looks of things, i'd probably take a few of the lines about how no one's noticing them out— it sort of builds up an expectation that never ends up being realized, at least for me.
Don't worry, the reason will come up soon enough.
interesting that she still reacts this way to raichu, but no longer has that same visceral reaction to starr. i wonder if she'll eventually come around to raichu, too...? they're both on the fic cover, anyway, so i assume they end up friends eventually. :p
Basically, Jade has kind of mentally separated Astrid and Starr in order to be remotely functional throughout all this. Those instincts are still there, they're just more subconscious than conscious (and will persist for a very long time--I'm still writing them even now!) Raichu on the other hand... I had some fun with that in Chapter 26. >:3
well, i can't say i'm surprised by this. to be honest, i'm not really sure what they were thinking with this plan. i mean, it might succeed at getting starr to quit rocket, maybe, but even if it did... what were they thinking would happen after that? i can't see a way in which this plan could have ended in a way any better than starr getting cast out of team rocket, causing her to resent jade and ajia even more deeply, and then becoming a target of a colossal gangster organization for the rest of her life. i have a feeling that's not quite how it unfolds, but at the same time i don't really understand what jade and ajia's thought process in actually going through with this was... like, i'm not sure what they were really expecting the outcome of this very manipulative plan to be.
I know I already said this on Discord, but I love that you had pretty much the same reaction as Negrek did here. I'll quote a bit of what I said to her: "Ajia is 100% the type of character who will look at a situation and go “hey, I know how to fix this in a way that will improve everyone’s lives and make them happier” and will then cheerfully go ahead and do it without stopping to ask anyone’s permission. On the one hand, this makes her frighteningly quick and effective at solving problems. On the other hand… you’re gonna be in for a trip whether you like it or not. xD She genuinely means well, but tends to only look at the big picture, and overlooks the details. As opposed to Jade, who fixates on the small details and never looks at the big picture."

also Persephone is going to make me regret bringing "OH AJIA NO" here lmao
overall i don't think this chapter is monstrously long— if anything, i expected the latter portion to be a bit longer. it does move pretty quickly and pack a lot in, though, so i'd say it's a decent length in the end.
Yeah, while it might not be the longest chapter, I just put that note there since it feels like two separate chapters duct-taped together. xD But anyways, thanks tons for your comments, they were a ton of fun to read~
 
Chapter 25: The Heart of a Rocket

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
Partner
pikachu-chibi
While this whole arc dates back to the original, this chapter is probably the one that has changed the least over the years. It's also one of my favorites in Book 1. Enjoy~



~Chapter 25: The Heart of a Rocket~


Bolts of lightning tore the air inside the transport hangar, smothering all other sounds in a barrage of thunder. Pichu countered the first couple of strikes with bolts of her own—much smaller but perfectly timed to deflect the stronger attacks. Stray lightning flew wildly, colliding with walls, lancing along the ground, and narrowly missing the vehicles parked in the far end of the hangar. But it quickly became obvious that Raichu wasn’t going to let up, and the smaller mouse would run out of electricity first.

“Agility!” Ajia called out. Pichu dropped to all fours and dashed around in a zigzag pattern, accelerating to the point that her movements were hard to follow. Raichu charged up another Thunderbolt and fired it straight at her, but by that point she was moving so fast that his attack completely missed its mark.

“Why are you so committed to them? After everything they’ve put you through?” Ajia asked, her voice calm and matter-of-fact, like she was just having an interesting discussion with Starr and not whatever the hell this was.

Starr clenched her teeth. “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” she growled. “Raichu, Quick Atta—”

“Encore!”

Before Raichu could even process the command, Pichu seamlessly switched from running to clapping her paws together, unleashing a shower of white sparks over Raichu. The moment the sparks touched his fur, strings of electricity jumped from his cheeks, and he was forced to charge up another lightning bolt.

“You’re only doing this because you’re afraid of them,” Ajia went on.

“Shut up! Shut! Up!” Starr screamed, clapping her hands over her ears.

Raichu was already panting from the effort of all the wasted Thunderbolts. Ajia took advantage of his momentary exhaustion and ordered a quick Nasty Plot. At her words, Pichu froze, deep in concentration. The mouse’s face split into a twisted grin as a dark glow started to spread across her body. And then one of Raichu’s bolts finally found its mark—I flinched as the burst of lightning knocked Pichu’s tiny frame rolling along the concrete like a ragdoll. But the mouse regained herself within seconds—far faster than I would’ve thought possible—and retaliated with a burst of star-shaped energy discs. Raichu lunged out of the way in time, but it didn’t make any difference—the stars just looped around and struck him in the back of the head. He pivoted around, readying another Thunderbolt, only to catch another Swift to the face. Starr ground her teeth out of frustration, looking ready to punch Ajia for that move. But then a manic grin spread across her face when the white sparks clinging to her Pokémon’s body finally faded.

“Now! Quick Attack!” she called out.

A shimmering flash caught my attention out of the corner of my eye. I glanced over and—Espeon was back! Before I knew what was happening, I had already dashed over, practically sliding to a stop in front of her.

“Are the others alright?”

The psychic fox nodded, lifting her chin to show off the two Pokéballs clipped to her collar—Aros and Stygian, both safely recalled. I let out a huge sigh of relief and unclipped them both, replacing them on my own belt. At least that was one less thing to worry about.

Meanwhile, Raichu was refusing to let Pichu gain any ground in the match. He dashed after her, matching her move-for-move, making it harder and harder for her to avoid him. But then she started firing more swift stars behind her as she ran, hitting him dead on now that he was so close.

“Raichu, use…”—the larger mouse staggered back, pelted by stars—“Use…”—he started charging up another Thunderbolt, but lost concentration halfway through as more stars struck him right in the face—“Come on, we can’t lose to her! Use Mega Kick!!”

Raichu was in bad shape. He’d wasted most of his electricity on pointless Thunderbolts. His trainer was beyond flustered and not at all prepared to deal with Ajia’s tactics. His moves were stronger, but that didn’t mean much if he kept getting bombarded with small hits and never got a chance to focus. Ajia was winning.

Raichu shot forward with the speed boost of a Quick Attack, pulling out of it at the last second and catching Pichu in the side with a powerful kick. Without warning, a flood of electricity surged into him the moment he made contact. Raichu cried out in pain and alarm, staggering backward under the force of the lightning. And then Pichu jumped up and headbutted him in the face, knocking him to the ground with a thud. The larger mouse lay there twitching wildly for several seconds, struggling to lift his body from the concrete. Finally, his limbs gave out, and he collapsed.

Pichu had defeated Raichu. A fellow electric-type far bigger, far stronger than her, and she’d managed to win. I never would have believed it if I hadn’t seen it happen firsthand. The tiny mouse stood there on all fours, trembling slightly, but then turning and flashing a grin back at Ajia and me. Her trainer smiled back and opened her bag, and the little electric-type dashed over and jumped back into it.

Starr stood rooted to the spot, jaw locked, fists shaking, face red with rage. “Raichu’s not my only Pokémon,” she growled, recalling the orange mouse and reaching for her belt. But before she got the chance to open another Pokéball, someone began clapping slowly.

“As much fun as it is to watch you two battle, perhaps we should get to business.”

Everyone froze. That was him, wasn’t it? Slowly, we all turned to face the entrance to the transport hangar, where the leader of Team Rocket now stood, flanked by executives. He was a tall, broad-shouldered man, dressed in a crisp black suit bearing the Rocket insignia. Every inch of him oozed professionalism, from his slicked-back hair to his dark, piercing eyes and sharp features. I’d seen him before—as my hometown’s representative, his battles were frequently shown on TV. But that didn’t compare to seeing him in real life. TV couldn’t capture the overwhelming aura of authority that he gave off. I couldn’t help feeling small and insignificant just standing in the same room as him. This was a gym leader, and strong enough to command the respect of everyone on Team Rocket.

But none of that was important. Right now, the only thing that mattered was the fact that he had ownership of Mewtwo. This was the moment of truth.

Espeon’s eyes flashed blue, and a psychic aura surrounded Giovanni. The executives surrounding him recoiled backward in shock right before a minimized Master Ball flew out of his pocket. It shot toward us, pulled by Espeon’s telekinesis—our plan had actually worked?!

And then the ball froze in midair. Espeon stared at it, confused. The fox squinted in concentration, jerking her head as though trying to force the ball closer to us. But it didn’t move. It was like her psychic abilities had just stopped working.

Oh no. No, no no no no. Her powers hadn’t stopped working. They’d been negated.

The Master Ball slowly drifted back toward Giovanni, who grabbed it and replaced it in his pocket. A subtle yet condescending sneer crossed his face. “Really now, I’m a bit disappointed. You honestly believed I would walk right in here and allow you to snatch something so valuable and use it against me? I was expecting something a bit more creative.”

Out of the shadows behind Giovanni emerged a tall, humanoid shape. Pointed ears, a catlike face, a long purple tail—Mewtwo now stood alongside the head of Team Rocket, his eyes radiating an eerie cobalt aura.

We’d been played. I threw a panicked glance at Ajia, whose eyes had gone wide. She made eye contact with me, then tilted her head toward her Espeon.

Wait… her Espeon. That’s right! We could still teleport out of here! There was still a chance for us to escape! The violet fox suddenly bolted towards us. She’d reach Ajia first—I just had to grab Ajia’s hand and then reach out to Starr and—

My body froze, like an invisible force was gripping me from all over. An unrelenting, smothering, all-powerful force—one that pressed down from all sides, threatening to crush me with its sheer presence. I couldn’t move. No amount of effort made any difference.

“You’re not going anywhere. I want to have a discussion with you three,” Giovanni said calmly, gesturing to Mewtwo with all the nonchalance of someone giving orders to a family pet.

The psychic hold on us relaxed, and I doubled over, coughing hard. Even if we could move again, the point had been made very clear. Mewtwo could stop us no matter what we tried. We were trapped. Trapped with Starr and the boss and the combat unit and Mewtwo. With just one move, the boss had completely dismantled our plan.

More Rockets kept funneling into the transport hangar behind Giovanni, laughing once they saw us trapped here like this. As if we needed an audience. As if it wasn’t bad enough that Mewtwo had us completely pinned, no, we needed half the combat unit here as well.

I glanced at Ajia again as a wave of cold dread washed over me. But she smiled weakly and mouthed the words, “It’s going to be okay.” I didn’t believe her. This was so many levels of not okay, and I got that it was kind of her thing to be reassuring in these kinds of situations, but what were we supposed to do now?

Giovanni surveyed us carefully for some time, no doubt mulling over what to do with us. Finally, his cold, disapproving gaze settled onto Starr.

“Astrid, get over here.”

It took her several seconds to acknowledge the fact that he’d said anything. With slow, shaking steps, she approached the leader of Team Rocket, avoiding eye contact the whole time. Several times she opened her mouth to speak but couldn’t find the words. Finally, she managed, “I… this isn’t… I would never betray Team Rocket, you know that.”

“This isn’t a question of your loyalties to this team. It’s whether or not they exceed your loyalties to its enemies,” Giovanni said slowly, his tone unreadable.

“I am not a double agent!” Starr practically screamed. “I would never do anything against this team—haven’t I shown that?! Just because I don’t want them dead doesn’t mean I’m on their side!”

Giovanni wasn’t listening, however, and had focused his attention back onto Ajia and me. “You’ve certainly done a good job of ruining my head combat executive, although I wouldn’t expect anything less. I finally have the honor of meeting one of the most notorious criminals in Team Rocket history. Haven’t had your fill of luring high-ranking members towards treason, have you? You certainly caused quite a mess last time.”

Ajia… was one of the most well-known enemies of Team Rocket? With a history of luring Rockets into betraying the team? That couldn’t possibly be true, could it? But… it was what we were doing right now. Starr had accused her of ruining Rockets’ lives. That was… also what we were doing right now.

Giovanni fixed his gaze on me, and I couldn’t help flinching. “And… who is this one?” he asked his subordinates with an amused tone.

The executive nearest him whipped out a tablet and tapped the screen a few times before answering, “Jade Arens—a member of the rebel team. Crashed a transport jet; stole experiments eight, nine, twenty-four, and twenty-five; was captured during operation L005 and broke out of Celadon detention block.”

The boss’s lips curled into a smirk. “So you’re the rebel that keeps mysteriously escaping unscathed. I’d have chalked it up to dumb luck, but it appears you’ve had help on the inside after all.”

Starr’s face lit up with panic. “I never let her escape! I don’t know how she broke out of Celadon! That wasn’t me!”

“Even if it wasn’t, it’s clear that you need to sort out your priorities. But never let it be said that I’m not fair.” His face split into a cruel grin. “If I can’t be confident in your loyalties, then you deserve the chance to prove them to me, wouldn’t you say?”

“I… I don’t…”

He turned to face her, his expression cold and unflinching. “I’m giving you one last chance, Astrid. Here we have two rebels against our cause—a common situation. I believe you know the protocol.”

Starr glanced around anxiously, fidgeting with her gloves. “But… they knocked out Raichu…”

“No, no, not your favorite Pokémon,” Giovanni said, his voice dripping with false amusement. “Punishment from your Raichu just isn’t… isn’t effective enough. No, I was thinking more along the lines of your first Pokémon.”

Starr stared at him, eyes wide and pleading, but he didn’t say anything more. Finally, she closed her eyes and took a few deep breaths to steady herself before removing a Pokéball from her belt and opening it.

Her first Pokémon. Which one was her first?

The burst of energy took the shape of a huge reptile—tall, upright, and towering over her. White light became leathery blue scales and jagged crimson spikes. Piercing amber eyes leered at us like we were prey. Massive, toothy jaws opened and snapped shut.

A Feraligatr. The final evolution of Johto’s water-type starter.

My chest tightened. I’d actually forgotten how much she used to love water Pokémon. What else had I forgotten from all the time we’d spent together? Five years ago… I clenched my fists, fighting back a wave of nostalgia obscuring my thoughts. Not now, dammit. I couldn’t handle it.

“Much better,” Giovanni remarked. “Now…”—he leaned back against the wall, like a spectator watching a tournament—“you know what to do.”

Starr glanced from Giovanni, to Feraligatr, to us, and then back to Giovanni again, gaping in disbelief. “What? You can’t be serious.”

“Did I not sound serious?” he asked. “I assumed this was the perfect test. After all, you’ve given the order many times before, and I should think you’d be able to do it again. Unless there’s something different about these two rebels.” The last part was said in a more threatening tone.

“But… that’s not—I can’t just…” Starr’s eyes flew from side to side, desperately searching for an answer.

My stomach had dissolved away into nothingness. He seriously was trying to make her kill us. As if it wasn’t bad enough that we were going to die here, he was making Starr be the one to do it? And she’d done it before. How much of an idiot had I been to think maybe there was a chance she wasn’t too far gone?

We had to do something. But what? With Mewtwo there, what could we possibly do? Fight back? We couldn’t fight him. Not even Ajia could remotely hope do that. I made eye contact with Ajia, desperately hoping for… something, though I wasn’t sure what. But she just stared at the floor, tenser than I’d ever seen her.

“Are you under the impression that your actions here will decide their fate?” Giovanni asked, once the silence had gone on too long. “They are enemies of Team Rocket. It should be quite obvious what will happen to them either way. This decides your fate, not theirs.” My body went even more rigid at his words. No way. No way, this could not be happening. We had to do something.

Starr took a half step backwards, hands trembling, staring at him wide-eyed. “Anything but that. Please. Anything at all.”

“I have generously offered you the opportunity to prove your loyalty,” her leader snapped. “You will accept it, or you will be regarded as no different from the likes of them. This discussion is over.”

A deadly silence fell over the area. Feraligatr shifted uneasily and glanced at its trainer, obviously confused by her hesitation. Giovanni tapped his foot against the concrete. Starr glanced around frantically, from us, to the boss, to the combat unit, her expression one of petrified horror. My heart pounded so fast I thought it was going to explode and save her the trouble of having to decide whether or not to kill me. Because there was no reason for her not to. Giovanni had flat out said that we were going to die either way. Every time I blinked, my mind generated the image of her pointing forward, Feraligatr lunging, its claws and fangs tearing into us… There was no reason for her not to, and the anxiety of waiting for that single, inevitable moment was tearing me apart. I’d have given anything for it to end.

And then the words—two simple words—came and shattered my every expectation into a thousand pieces: “I can’t.”

“What?” Giovanni demanded.

“I said I can’t—you had to know I couldn’t!!” Starr exclaimed, tears streaming down her cheeks.

Starr had refused. She absolutely would not, could not kill us, even if refusing wouldn’t save us, and would only doom her. It didn’t make any sense. It didn’t even change anything. And yet, for some reason, I had never felt more relieved. It was so, so stupid. We weren’t saved. Nothing had changed! She’d only screwed herself over by refusing. But in that instant, it was like nothing else in the world mattered.

Giovanni stared at her, his expression flickering between outrage and shock. And in that moment, it honestly looked like he had no idea what to do. It was so weird seeing that level of hesitation from the leader of Team Rocket. The Rockets surrounding him started throwing sideways glances around and muttering amongst themselves, like they couldn’t believe it either.

“I will not lose another Rocket leader to rebel ideals,” Giovanni said slowly, his voice shaking with suppressed rage. He then glanced back and forth at the executives nearest him and said, “Raven, Ender—escort Astrid to a detention cell. The rest of you may dispose of the rebels in any manner you see fitting.”

Two executives broke from the lineup and advanced on Starr. She took several steps backward, shaking her head slowly, whispering, “No…” under her breath all the while. And then, without warning, all the fear and hesitation and pain on her face contorted into utmost fury.

“No!!” Starr yelled, bolting towards Ajia and me. She reached us within seconds, pivoting around to face the Rockets, her eyes lit with rage. “I’m not leaving them.”

This was it. She had really, truly chosen us over Team Rocket. I couldn’t believe it, even though I’d just watched it happen.

Giovanni stared at her incredulously. “You know what this means.”

I don’t care!!” she snarled, fixing the boss with a venomous glare. “I gave up everything for this team! But you’re always singling me out with this kind of bullshit! I’m done!!”

It took several seconds of stunned disbelief for her words to sink into everyone. Feraligatr stared at Starr like she’d gone insane, but then slowly lumbered over to stand alongside its trainer, facing down the Rockets with her. The pair of executives that was originally supposed to apprehend Starr shot a glance at their leader questioningly.

Giovanni’s cold gaze rested on Starr for the longest time. Finally, he closed his eyes and turned his back to her, saying, “Then you’re no different from them.”

And in that moment, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the faintest hint of a grin appear on Ajia’s face. Out of nowhere, an explosive pulse of dark energy shot towards Mewtwo, striking the clone right in the face. My jaw dropped through the floor—what the actual hell had just happened? Slowly, my eyes slid down to Ajia’s Umbreon, who was currently tensed up in an anxious fighting stance, eyes glowing red.

No one dared to move an inch. Mewtwo’s eyes were closed, his facial muscles clenched—the only sign he’d even felt the attack.

Giovanni stared at Ajia incredulously, then slowly broke into a deep, echoing laugh. “Are you planning on fighting Mewtwo?”

“Isn’t that what it looks like?” Ajia replied simply as both her Espeon and Umbreon leaped forward, putting themselves a good distance from us.

Ajia was going to fight Mewtwo. Ajia was going to fight Mewtwo what in the hell how?? She might have been the strongest trainer I’d ever seen (as strong as Stalker?) but fighting Mewtwo??!

Giovanni’s laughter died down to a quiet chuckle. “I could do with some entertainment after all of this.” His eyes slid to the psychic cat still standing at his side before he snapped his fingers and said, “Destroy them.”

Mewtwo’s eyes flickered blue, and the clone drifted forward, levitating a few inches from the concrete. He extended a bony arm, flexing his bulbous fingers outward and firing a burst of psychic energy at the pair of foxes, who scattered immediately. Espeon’s form blurred into a dozen illusory copies while Umbreon dissolved into a shadow tracing the ground. In response, Mewtwo gave a slow, sideways hand sweep, dispelling all of the copies instantly and knocking Espeon flying. Seconds later, Umbreon emerged from the shadows behind the clone, lunging for him and a striking with a dark aura. Slowly, the psychic cat turned his head to face his attacker, staring down at the fox like he was nothing. Umbreon flinched, eyes going wide with panic.

“Aura Sphere,” Giovanni said lazily.

Without hesitation, Mewtwo brought his palms together by his side, focusing energy into a pulsating blue orb between them. Umbreon jumped back in alarm, then melted into shadow once more, but the clone hurled the orb, and the orb pursued. It zeroed in on the shadow instantly, mere inches away from striking when it suddenly exploded in a blinding flash. I shielded my eyes from the glare, and when it waned, I saw Espeon standing firm in front of Umbreon, eyes squinting in pain, steam leaking off her body.

It took me several seconds to figure out what had happened. Espeon had teleported into the Aura Sphere’s path. She had taken the attack to protect Umbreon. But most importantly—she was still standing? I mean, sure the psychic fox had a natural resistance to fighting-type energy, but damn. Espeon took that moment to generate more afterimages of herself dashing around the hangar, and Mewtwo wasted no time picking off the copies with multicolored Psybeams shot from his fingertips.

This wasn’t a fight. This was a game. What did it matter if we had ten, or even twenty more Pokémon between us? I’d seen Mewtwo take on all three Legendary birds at once—each bird a match for twenty Pokémon on its own. But Ajia was completely absorbed in watching the events unfold, as though this were the most important battle of her life and not Espeon and Umbreon running around stalling for time while Giovanni and the other Rockets all laughed at the inane resistance. The fact that she was even willing to fight Mewtwo at all had initially staved off the cold dread of imminent death. But now the truth was starting to sink in—Ajia didn’t have a plan. Neither of her Pokémon could remotely hurt Mewtwo. And if we tried to teleport again, Mewtwo could stop us just as easily as he did last time.

And yet… in spite of everything… there was still a part of me that would not, could not accept that. I couldn’t just go down without a fight. If Ajia was willing to go down fighting, then so was I. And my Pokémon would definitely prefer that. Especially the experiments—I couldn’t just let them get recaptured without them even knowing about it.

So it was settled. I was going to fight.

“Not you too,” Starr muttered once I’d grabbed a Pokéball. “This is a waste of time. You can’t beat Mewtwo—no one can.”

“Then why did you side with us if you knew we were screwed?” I asked, giving her an incredulous stare.

Starr dropped her gaze to the ground, eyebrows furrowed like she was in pain just thinking about it. “I don’t know.” She screwed her eyes shut, muttering through clenched teeth, “I don’t know, I don’t know—”

And then, without looking back at us, Ajia randomly announced, “You were forced to join Team Rocket, weren’t you?”

Starr bristled. “What are you talking about?”

“You tried to figure out what was up with the sudden relocation to Johto, but you got in over your head and found out too much, didn’t you? You had no choice but to join at that point,” Ajia went on, not taking her eyes off the battle.

Starr glared at her for several seconds, then turned her gaze away sharply, refusing to make eye contact. “That’s not… It was my choice…” Her tone wasn’t very convincing.

Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that they both knew something I didn’t. “What does her moving away have to do with Team Rocket?”

Ajia shot a surprised glance in my direction. “Wait, what? I thought you knew—”

“I’m the boss’s daughter,” Starr answered before Ajia got a chance to say anything.

Oh. Oh. That did explain a lot, didn’t it?

“Do you still want to side with Team Rocket?” Ajia quietly asked. “They might have given up on you, but we haven’t.”

“It’s not like I have a choice at this point. But what does it matter, we’ll all be dead soon,” Starr muttered, staring brokenly at the floor.

Ajia put a hand to her forehand. “Starr, it’d be a big help if you stopped being such a pessimist while I’m trying to get us out of here.”

What. What was she talking about?

“Umbreon, it’s time!”

At once, the panic and fear crossing Umbreon’s face twisted into a wild grin, and his eyes flashed red. Then, without warning, a cloud of black fog billowed out from his body, quickly enveloping both him, Espeon, Mewtwo, and Giovanni in total darkness. What was Umbreon doing? What kind of move was this? And even if Mewtwo was weak to dark-type attacks, it was still Mewtwo.

“An amusing tactic, but ultimately pointless,” Giovanni said. Then, to Mewtwo, he added, “Dispel it.”

Mewtwo’s eyes flashed blue from within the haze, but nothing happened. And then out of nowhere, a brilliant white light pierced through the fog. Two different grunts of pain rang out, followed by the sound of something clattering to the ground. Then, without warning, the haze vanished into thin air.

And all I could do was stare in utter shock and confusion at the sight in front of me. Espeon and Umbreon, both panting and looking incredibly tense. Mewtwo, trembling and on his knees, one hand over his face. Giovanni slowly standing to his feet, his expression a mixture of outrage and shock. And at his feet, Mewtwo’s Master Ball—broken. Snapped clean in half, the insides blackened.

No way. How the hell had that happened? What had I missed? Had anyone else seen it? Something had managed to drop Mewtwo’s defenses long enough to break his Master Ball? Espeon? Umbreon? How?!

Giovanni’s face went white as he absorbed the details of what had just happened. An expression of utmost horror slowly crept across his features. “No… NO!! Somebody bring another Master Ball! Articuno, Moltres, assault rays, anything!!

At once, the hangar exploded into a frenzy. Half the Rockets immediately made a break for the exit, and the other half released an army of Pokémon. And at the center of it all Mewtwo rose stiffly, swaying a bit as he stood to his feet. His tail twitched. Fingers clenched and unclenched, like he was controlling them for the first time—and he was. Finally, his eyes snapped open, revealing a pair of brilliant purple irises. He turned his head from side to side, taking in his surroundings, and the numerous opponents taking shape all around him. And then the clone laid eyes on me, and I froze. Something flickered across his expression—recognition?—and he gave a slow, curt nod, followed by a sideways flick of the wrist that obviously meant for us to leave.

We’d actually done it. Mewtwo was free. We could escape. We were going to live.

My ears caught the nearby sound of a Pokémon being recalled, and I spun around to see that Umbreon was back in his ball and Ajia was now walking towards me with Espeon. She held out a hand, and I took it. Then I held out my other and said, “Come on Starr.”

Starr had gone rigid with shock. Her Feraligatr nudged her shoulder gently, its face alternating between concern for her and disdain for us.

The hangar shook with a massive impact. Mewtwo had just destroyed one of the assault rays by hurling it against the wall with a heavy metallic crunch. Countless Pokémon attacks flew towards him, but he deflected them with a barrier and sent a blast of psychic energy at his attackers, smashing them into the concrete.

“Starr, come on!”

Finally, after several seconds, Starr managed to move her arm enough to take a Pokéball from her belt and recall her starter into it. Immediately, I reached out and grabbed her other hand. And then the dark, concrete surrounding of the Rocket base melted into shimmering light. We reappeared in a small clearing ringed by sparse woods with an overcast sky hanging over us. Judging by the peak of Mt. Silver in the distance and the nearby sounds of city traffic, we had teleported to somewhere on the outskirts of Viridian.

We’d survived. I’d been so sure we going to die, and somehow, we had managed to escape. My body was still shaking with the remnants of fear and adrenaline as my brain struggled to grasp that single, unbelievable fact.

“Well… it might not have gone the way we planned, but Mewtwo is free,” Ajia announced, breaking the silence.

I snapped my attention to her. A single, burning question surfaced in my mind and threatened to consume all other thoughts until I got an answer: “What on earth did your Pokémon do back there?”

Ajia’s face fell immediately. Shadows of guilt and sympathy flickered through her eyes. “I’m sorry, Jade—I really am—but I can’t tell you that. In fact, I really, really wish it hadn’t come to that, but with Mewtwo screwing up our first plan, I didn’t have a choice.”

My throat clenched up. Ajia had a backup plan the entire time. That whole time I thought we were going to die, and she had a plan. I guess she had tried to tell me it was going to be alright, but… I hadn’t believed her. I really had no idea how to feel about all of it. We’d survived. Things had worked out in the end. So why didn’t I feel satisfied by any of it? All I could feel was a burning, useless frustration with nothing to point it toward.

“And you really can’t tell me?” I said incredulously.

She nodded. “I’m sorry.”

“Why not?”

She closed her eyes, shaking her head. “I’m sorry. I just can’t.”

I sighed. Just another thing to add to the list of secrets I didn’t know about Ajia. It was starting to feel like I barely knew her at all.

Starr was still standing motionless, staring at nothing with a look of total shock. Honestly, in spite of how angry I’d been at her earlier, I couldn’t help feeling sorry for her. It finally made sense. She’d been forced to join Team Rocket because her father was the boss. The sheer amount of pressure she’d been under, combined with zero tolerance for disloyalty. And then in an instant, her life had been turned completely upside down… because of us.

Starr blinked a few times, her eyes growing more focused. She weakly glanced around at her surroundings like she was seeing them for the first time. And then her eyes fell on Ajia and me, and her expression slowly hardened.

“You guys fucking ruined my life.”

Ajia rubbed the back of her head. “That’s a bit overdramatic.”

“This isn’t a joke! What the hell am I supposed to do now? Team Rocket was all I had. There’s nowhere for me to go now… Why couldn’t I have just done it? Why? Why, why, why??” Starr collapsed to her knees and buried her face in her hands, mumbling continuously.

I clenched my teeth and looked away. She didn’t actually wish that she’d been able to kill us. That much was obvious at this point. But there was no denying the fact that her life would have been much, much simpler if it hadn’t been for us.

Starr finally pulled her hands from her face and stared at the sky hopelessly. “It doesn’t matter what I say, the point is I couldn’t do it. I don’t know why. Maybe those memories meant more to me than I wanted them to.”

Again, her argument seemed to hinge on there being no real problem with murder so long as it wasn’t us. I was really getting sick of it, especially since there was no possible counterargument that would work on her.

“I still don’t understand,” she continued. “Why were you guys willing to risk your lives for something like that?”

“Maybe those memories meant more to us that we wanted them to,” I said quietly.

Starr laughed. “Well we’re a sentimental bunch of idiots, aren’t we? I thought I’d trained myself better than that.”

Ajia sighed and walked over to Starr, her steps slow and cautious. She crouched down next to her, putting a hand on her shoulder before speaking in an impossibly calm and measured tone. “I know this is a big shock. It always is. But if you’re worried about Team Rocket hunting you down after this, I’ve got a lot of experience at avoiding them. And I know some friends who can help with—”

“Just go away.”

Ajia paused, looking taken aback. She stood there, staring wordlessly for some time before standing up straight and turning away.

“If you say so,” she said quietly. She then made eye contact with me and forced a smile. “You’ll be okay, right?”

Honestly, at this point it was hard to imagine myself being fazed by anything. That was the only good thing about having endured everything up until now.

“I’ll be fine,” I said, and for once, I meant it.

Espeon, who had wandered off at some point, now came trotting back to her trainer’s side, casually flicking her tail from side to side. Ajia glanced at the psychic-type, then back at me.

“Get a Pokégear why dont’cha? We need to keep in touch.”

I snorted. “Maybe once I have the money. But I’ll call you when I get to Johto.”

“Sounds good,” she said, waving. “I’ll see you, Jade.”

I waved back, and the two of them blinked out of sight.

Now it was just me and Starr. Just like it had been when this all started yesterday morning. I shuffled my feet against the dirt, unsure of whether I should say anything. Of course she wouldn’t want to talk to me right now. I’d just helped ruin her life, after all.

“I’m sorry.”

“Why the hell are you apologizing?” she snapped. “Have you forgotten what I did to you?”

No, I hadn’t forgotten. I’d never be able to forget that. And that’s why I knew that none of this had come from any desire to put things right, or recover from what she’d done. It was solely because I’d been angry and had wanted answers. And only now that I’d gotten them was I able to see how badly things had gotten out of hand.

“What are you going to do now?” Starr asked, practically choking on the words.

For once I actually knew the answer to that question. Mewtwo was free. That was my last goal here in Kanto, which meant—

“I’m going to Johto. That’s where the rest of my team might be heading, and it’s the safest place from the Kanto force right now.” That last part was somewhat directed at her. There was no doubt the rest of the team would be after her. Maybe Stalker’s resistance could protect her too. I gave Starr a pointed look, hoping she’d get the hint. But she just continued to stare at the ground, arms clasped around herself, trembling slightly.

I swallowed. “I… do you want me to leave you alone too?” She didn’t answer. I stood there, awkwardly watching her, waiting for some kind of response. But none came.

“I’ll… leave you alone now,” I said quietly, turning to leave. I barely made it five steps before she called after me.

“Jade!”

I closed my eyes, exhaling slowly through my teeth. “What?” I asked, turning to face her.

She fidgeted a bit with her gloves, avoiding my gaze. “Things… can’t ever go back to the way they used to be.”

Well, that was a bit insulting. “I know that. I’m not that naïve. Even if they could… I’m not sure I’d want that anymore.”

“…Me neither,” she said, looking away.

A long pause followed. I wasn’t quite sure what she was getting at.

“But… if we could start everything over…” she began slowly, “I’d like that.”

I blinked. If I’d been expecting anything, it hadn’t been that.

She wasn’t able to look me in the eye. “I don’t have anyone else right now. I guess I didn’t really have anyone else on Team Rocket either. Sure, at my rank, I had countless admirers. Any time I needed someone to chat with, or fool around with, I didn’t have to look far. But… I didn’t have anyone I could trust.”

I didn’t know what to say.

Starr closed her eyes and clenched her fists. “I guess… after everything that’s happened… after everything I did… I don’t deserve to ask that from you.”

“Alright.”

Her eyes snapped open to stare at me in shock. “…What?”

“I said alright. I want to start over too.”

“You… you do?”

I took a deep breath. “Everything that’s happened between us has been so messed up. But neither of us wanted that—it was only because we were on opposing teams. I think we both need the chance to move on.” I was so, so tired of being haunted by that night. And this was probably the only way to heal from it.

I offered a hand to help her stand up. She hesitated, staring at it for a few seconds before slowly reaching out to take it. I pulled her to her feet. And then out of nowhere she threw her arms around me, pulling me into the tightest hug I’d ever felt. My body immediately tensed up, every instinct telling me to pull away. But then, after several seconds had passed, I found myself relaxing into the embrace. Slowly, I lifted my arms from where they’d been pressed to my sides, clasping my hands around her as she trembled all over, tears soaking my shoulder. Weakly at first, my hold gradually tightened until I felt some of the stress and hurt and anger finally starting to melt away.

I wasn’t sure how long we stood there like that. All I knew was that it was the first moment since this all started that I didn’t regret finding out who she was.

Starr sniffled a couple times, fighting to regain control of her breathing. And then she finally managed to speak, her voice barely audible.

“So, we’re going to Johto, then?”

I swallowed hard and nodded. “To Johto.”






~End Chapter 25~
 
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Persephone

Pokémon Trainer
Pronouns
her/hers
Wait so this fic is older than Jade now, huh? That's certainly something.

We discussed in the chat about how the Starr/Ajia subplots don't really work for me because neither had been in the story for more than a quick cameo or two. As the story itself notes Jade essentially forgot about them for large portions of the story. And I'm really struggling to be fine with Starr's redemption since the torture and its aftermath was probably the best crafted sequence in the story. Yet, Jade is endlessly forgiving. And Ajia was super confident that Astrid's feraligatr wouldn't just vore her there, huh? I get that unreasonable confidence is her main (and best) character trait but that seems like a bit of a risk. And both her and Jade have super basic teams.

Otherwise I'm just trying to think over the story as a whole at the end of the Kanto arc. I think that while the story is very good with action, it sort of drags a bit when it comes to its human characters. Jade, despite her big choices at the end of the arc depending on her history, has never seemed very rooted in it. She calls home once. There's a flashback in the first chapter and it's her initial (and very quickly forgotten) scene, but she may as well have been amnesiac for how much she seems to care about it for much of the story. I think having more nostalgia and a desire to return to long lost times would make her later choices flow from the character rather than the needs of the story and some vague sense of utility. Even beyond her rootlessness Jade can sometimes feel like she isn't really driven by much other than the plot. Stalker (and Ajia) comment on this in-universe but that doesn't really make it less true.

The supporting cast is hit or miss. I like Ajia and Starr (even if the latter needs to die), but Rudy and Darren always felt more like redshirts than serious characters to me. They never really influenced Jade's choices and mostly served to provide backup on missions and training scenes between them. To be honest I know very little about either of them in retrospect. I understand that characters aren't terribly important in an action story, but the shallowness of the human characters made me struggle to get through the story until about the point where Chibi rejoined. Then it definitely hits its stride. Until then it was well written but it couldn't pull me in very well.

The pokemon characters are pretty good as far as those things go. Pokespeech is useful for that, and Jade's inexplicable improvement adds more characters into the mix pretty quickly.

I do like this story, honest. It picked up a lot after the Celadon raid. But it has a bit of a rough start and if I didn't feel obligated to return the review I might not have reached the part where it got good.

I hope you find this helpful.
 

Chibi Pika

Stay positive
Staff
Location
somewhere in spacetime
Pronouns
they/them
Partner
pikachu-chibi
November is over! Finally, I'm free! Aaand, I should probably reply to this! I wanna start things off by saying that the various Discord comments while you were reading were absolute gold and made my day on more than one occasion.
We discussed in the chat about how the Starr/Ajia subplots don't really work for me because neither had been in the story for more than a quick cameo or two. As the story itself notes Jade essentially forgot about them for large portions of the story.
So, since you're the 8000th person to say this (that's not a jab, it really does show just how badly I needed to address this) I am finally, finally going to stop being lazy and come up with a way to show more of the trio's friendship from before the story. The main reason I never did before is because it always felt like I’d basically need an entire minific before the beginning of the story, and that it would throw off the pacing and confuse new readers when it suddenly turns into another fic in like, chapter 5 or whatever. But lately I've been thinking that I might not have to do that--I could easily intersperse the flashbacks between the present days scenes (tbh, Broken Things was what made me realize I could do this.)
And I'm really struggling to be fine with Starr's redemption since the torture and its aftermath was probably the best crafted sequence in the story. Yet, Jade is endlessly forgiving. And Ajia was super confident that Astrid's feraligatr wouldn't just vore her there, huh? I get that unreasonable confidence is her main (and best) character trait but that seems like a bit of a risk. And both her and Jade have super basic teams.
If it helps, her redemption is faaaaaar from over, and the three of them will be sorting out their baggage for a long time. (But regarding Ajia, mmm... while unreasonable confidence is her thing, in this instance it wasn't so unreasonable. For reasons.)
Otherwise I'm just trying to think over the story as a whole at the end of the Kanto arc. I think that while the story is very good with action, it sort of drags a bit when it comes to its human characters. Jade, despite her big choices at the end of the arc depending on her history, has never seemed very rooted in it.
I can totally understand this, because if there's one thing I struggle with above all else, it's developing my characters outside the plot. I like to think I'm pretty good at developing how characters react to the plot, but the key word there is "react", and outside of that, I tend to flounder. (The old version of LC once died for an entire year because I was petrified of writing Jade interacting with her parents. Yeah.) I am atrociously bad at coming up with home lives for my characters, and it's something I really want to work on.
The pokemon characters are pretty good as far as those things go. Pokespeech is useful for that, and Jade's inexplicable improvement adds more characters into the mix pretty quickly.
Huh, interesting! I'm both surprised and glad that the Pokemon characters worked better for you!
I do like this story, honest. It picked up a lot after the Celadon raid. But it has a bit of a rough start and if I didn't feel obligated to return the review I might not have reached the part where it got good.
Understandable, I've often said that the Celadon arc is where it gets good, so I can see why it might've been hard to reach that point without an exterior motive. In any case, thanks tons for the return review! I really wasn't expecting you to read all of it when I got into Broken Things, but I appreciate it a lot.
 
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