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Pokémon The Tessellation Solution (Oneshot)

Pen

the cat is mightier than the pen
Staff
Partners
  1. dratini
Summary: A veteran explorer visits an uncanny town on the edge of a Labyrinth.

Disclaimer: My knowledge of PMD is drawn from the two games I played a long time ago and osmosis. Creative liberties have been taken.


The Tessellation Solution
The road to Thickenwood was not well worn, and Iwa had it to herself. The few people she passed were not going in her direction. They flinched when their eyes fell on the bright claws swinging at her side. But the scrap of cloth knotted around her neck⁠—old and ratty as it was, thin with washing, worn with wear—reassured them.

“Explorer,” came the greeting and the respectful nod. But she learned little when she questioned them. Yes, there was a town on the outskirts of Thickenwood. A big town? Well, a medium-sized town. Prosperous? Yes . . .

Always, the catch of hesitation. A strange town, proclaimed a muscled heracross, pulling his goods behind him. A strange town, murmured a bashful leafeon, her tail sweeping across the dirt. A chatty yanma, who had seemed glad to meet a stranger on the road, fell abruptly silent. That was a strange town . . .

Towns on the outskirts of Labyrinths tended to be strange, of course. Often they constructed high barricades and converted their homes into fortresses. Children were trained in fighting from a young age in such towns⁠—to hold off incursions, they said, as if the logic were obvious, though they had to know their enemy was the terrain itself.

One town, composed mostly of bellossom and jumpluff families, had cultivated vast gardens. These they tended almost obsessively, as if the carefully imposed order of the flower patches could hold back the warping threat of the ever-encroaching Labyrinth. Another, a small town that stood isolated on an open plain like a lone tree on a mountain-top, built no walls and made no gardens. Their shelters had no doors and for every ten apples they coaxed out of the hard soil, the eleventh was thrown into the distance, where the plain rippled and compressed. An offering, Iwa had thought at the time. But whether offered out of fear or of pity, she couldn’t have said.

Thickenwood lay at the edge of every map Iwa had seen. No explorers returned who set off in that direction. Iwa had volunteered.

Before she’d left, the Guildmaster had once again asked if she wanted to travel with a partner. Most explorers found partners or formed into bands. They did it for the conversation, for the sense of friendly eyes on their back, for their own sanity. That was the truth of exploring a Labyrinth⁠—it cannibalized your mind. From the first step, it began to work on you. It took your sense of time, your sense of distance. Smell, taste, hearing, vision⁠—all warped and became strange. At last, if you let it, the place took your sense of self. In that respect, no matter how many companions came in at your side, when you entered a Labyrinth, you entered it alone. Iwa had shaken her head.

The sun hung low in the sky when Iwa neared the settlement. She passed through rows of cultivated orchards, thick with apples. As she approached the modest wood gate that marked the town entrance, she fingered the rag around her neck. Most towns welcomed explorers, but there were some that blamed them for the outward creep of the Labyrinths, believing that the spaces would stay stationary if only they were left well alone. Even in hostile towns, though, people usually took one look at Iwa and gave her no trouble.

Busy, but quiet. That was Iwa’s first impression. Workers were bringing in the last barrels of the day’s harvest. Children moved through the streets, but sedately. They didn’t shout. Eyes followed Iwa as she made her way into the main square, but no one spoke to her.

She didn’t see a market. Perhaps it had already closed down for the evening. As a raticate hurried past, Iwa tapped him on the shoulder.

“Good evening, sir. I was wondering where I could purchase one of those excellent-looking apples I noticed in the orchard.”

He studied her with complete bafflement, as if she were a snowstorm that had appeared suddenly on a summer day. Then, without a word, he continued walking.

Busy but silent. She wondered if some freak effect of the Labyrinth had taken away the villagers’ capacity for speech. Vaguely, she recalled a story about a town that had woken up blind after a strange sandstorm passed them over. But as she came further into town, she noticed a breloom and a caterpie at work constructing a wagon, exchanging words occasionally as they worked. Not mutes, then. But no one seemed inclined to return her greetings.

The light was almost gone now, and Iwa doubted she would find an inn, so she returned to the orchard and curled up against a comfortable tree back. The orchard was redolent with the scent of fruiting apple trees. Iwa was tempted to spike one and find out if the sweetness of the fruit lived up to its smell. But she was an explorer, not a thief. With a sigh, she clawed her pack of dried apple slices from her satchel. Shortly, she sank into sleep.

~*~​

What is your purpose?

The voice reverberated, low and pleasant, through her mind. The tone was curious.

She was on a mountain, passing rapidly over the snowy ground. Between two rowans, whose branches interlocked as if forming a gate, the snow fell on the same spot but the snow did not rise. Elsewhere the snow was stacked three feet high, but there the snow fell on the same spot and did not rise.

What is your purpose? The question had become a thrumming demand. But Iwa stood frozen, her eyes fixed on the footprints that led to the place where the snow fell on the same spot—

She woke gasping. The sun was only a pale yellow suggestion past the trees. Workers were already marching into the orchards. A caterpie crawled into Iwa’s row. Ignoring Iwa completely, she began to methodically string shot apples into her basket.

“Is there a psychic in this town?” Iwa asked hoarsely. She probably looked feral herself at the moment, with her fur ruffled and eyes gleaming. But the caterpie didn’t answer. She didn't even turn.

A psychic intrusion. Iwa had never experienced one before, but what else could it have been? The voice had been too clear. As for the dream—

Iwa thrust a claw just shy of the caterpie’s soft belly. “It’s polite to answer questions,” she hissed softly. “Is there a psychic in this town?”

The caterpie blinked at her. Had some ember of fear flared deep in its foggy eyes?

“Yes,” said the caterpie.

“Who?”

“Fumihiro. The alakazam. A waste of energy⁠—”

The caterpie’s speech was rapid, yet oddly mechanical. Her eyes were fixed on a point beyond Iwa’s head.

“Where does Fumihiro live?”

The caterpie’s tail jerked towards the hill that rose on the other side of town, standing over the settlement like a watchtower.

“Thank you,” Iwa said as she pulled back her claw. She already regretted the threat. It was that dream. It had shaken her.

The snow fell on the same spot.

~*~​

More is wrong here than just silence, Iwa thought, studying the pokemon in the streets more closely. They never stopped to chat. They didn’t exchange nods, sniffs, or smiles. Instead they moved single-mindedly, as if oblivious to everything except their own purpose.

On the edge of town, Iwa came across a group of children huddled around a patch of dirt. Normally, she would have kept her distance. Her dark form and scarred face either scared children or impressed them to the extent that they followed her about town, peppering her with cheerful questions. But Iwa had a suspicion that here her approach wouldn’t be heeded.

As she got closer, she saw that a rattata was painstakingly drawing a diagram of a wheel. The lines of the spokes were incredibly straight. The rattata drew another line, which wavered slightly. He flinched and rubbed it out. The faces of the other children were intent, almost solemn. Playing? That word didn’t fit.

Unsettled, Iwa lifted her gaze to the hilltop. Perhaps I’ll find answers there.

Scaling the hill took less than an hour. She caught no sound other than her own nearly noiseless footfalls. The sun beat warmly against her back. But as she neared the peak, a tart, pungent odor deluged her. Cautiously, she crept between the thin trees, until she was peering into a berry tree grove.

At first, she didn’t identify the creature slumped against the large tree stump as an alakazam. The creature’s body was encrusted with green goop. Mashed tanga berries, Iwa realized, as she stepped closer, smeared onto every limb. Their juice dripped down the alakazam’s long whiskers. He sat still, unmoving.

For a moment, Iwa wondered if she was bearing witness to some strange alakazam death-rite. But abruptly, one filmy eye snapped open.

“You must go back,” the alakazam wheezed. “You must warn them . . .”

Not the same voice as the dream, Iwa decided at once. That voice had been clearer, stronger … female.

“Warn?”

“The Queen . . .” The alakazam slowly raised his spoon. A small green berry levitated towards him. He plucked it from the air and smashed it against his temple, letting out a short groan. “She’s moved on from me. Waste of energy. But the moment I relent . . .”

When he spoke again, it was in a low, dreamy voice.

“A queen was born with compassion. That’s how it began. She looked upon her rivals and had no wish to destroy them. Her mind expanded. She gained insight and purpose. Where the queen leads, the hive follows, the hive—” His voice turned frantic. “Fumihiro is my name, and this name was given for the words that I spoke upon the day my eyes first cracked open, for when I looked out onto the world I saw a sentence that continues and does not end, growing and gaining in complexity as it steps and trails the crevices of being, hunting for order in those places order cannot be found—”

Iwa waited patiently, but the alakazam’s sentence did not end. He seemed almost in a trance as he spoke, and his spoon trembled. She didn’t know how to help him, so at last she turned away. His low, feverish mutter followed her down the hillside.

~*~​

Iwa didn’t think she’d find any more answers in town, so she set off into the woods. Sunlight filtered through the leaves, pleasant on her back. The entrance to the Labyrinth lay a quarter-mile in. There the light breeze swaying the trees stopped abruptly, as if it had met an invisible wall.

Iwa didn’t pause before stepping forward. When she opened her eyes, the forest had shifted around her. The canopy of leaves now cut out most of the light. The trunks were thicker here. The air was warm and musty.

The Labyrinth had given her a path, this time. It ran straight, with no curves or side-passages, until Iwa became uneasy. The characteristic feature of a Labyrinth was its randomness. Yet, Iwa felt led. She caught movement in the trees that flanked the path and raised her claws. But no attack came. The forest remained still and watchful. That wasn’t right either. People in Labyrinths didn’t plot or wait to choose their moment: they attacked with the simplicity and ferocity of toddlers, with all that was left of their minds and bodies.

This is a strange Labyrinth. The thought almost made her laugh. How could something defined by abnormality be abnormal? Only through normalcy. The path didn’t twist or vanish. No one attacked. The ground didn’t shift under her. If Iwa hadn’t known better, she would have thought this forest nothing worse than musty and perhaps a little dark.

Iwa came to a stop, her ears twitching. Footsteps were approaching down the path. She dropped into a battling stance. But when the owners of the footsteps came into view, her claws fell limp at her sides. Her eyes flicked from one small form to another; her breathing sped.

Children, in this place! Three shroomish, their faces showing no traces of fright. Their small feet moved unhesitatingly, like travelers on a familiar path. One eyed Iwa with mild interest as they approached. The other two did not seem to take note of her at all.

“You need to get out of here!” Iwa cried out. She tried to modulate her tone. “Come with me, we’ll—”

“We know the way,” the shroomish that had noticed her said in a flat voice.

“You might think that, but you’re in a Labyrinth. The paths change. Your parents must have warned you—”

Because good, responsible parents did that, they sat their children down and they explained that there’s a place where the world ends, and if you go inside, I won’t be able to get you back, even if I scour the whole world for you, I won’t be able to find you—

“The paths don’t change here.”

The shroomish were past her now, moving at speed down the path, which to the naked eye didn’t seem to have altered at all. That meant nothing, though. Iwa turned to follow them.

Incorrect path. The voice thrummed in her mind. Forward path for you.

Moving her limbs was suddenly like dragging boulders. Incorrect path. The voice jabbed against her with a thousand stings. The shroomish had passed almost entirely out of view. By the time she forced her right leg forward, they had vanished.

Iwa stood, panting in the middle of the narrow path. Another staggering step. Another. I’ll never catch up like this. At last, almost experimentally, she turned around.

At once, the heaviness lifted.

“Forward path for me, is it?” she whispered. “All right. Then here I come.”

Iwa raised her claws. Awash with hot, clean fury, she sped down the path.

~*~​

Dark yellow cocoons hung from the trees. No wind passed through their branches, but the air seemed to thrum, unsettled by distant vibrations. Iwa knew she was approaching the core of the Labyrinth. The air in the core always felt tight enough to choke.

Ahead, the path spilled into a broad clearing. In its center, what might have been a tree rose, but every inch of leaf and bark was covered by beedrill bodies. The dim light rippled across their gauzy wings, giving the entire structure the appearance of a silvery chrysalis.

What is your purpose? The voice rose with a thrum. It came from everywhere and nowhere. This is my purpose. I create Order. I weave together a thousand minds. I hold them to their purpose. We expand. We conquer. We give purpose. When Order has been made in every mind, when all hold to the same purpose, the Chaos shall be tamed.

Visions rushed through Iwa’s mind. The swarm of beedrill descending like a storm-cloud. Great wagons, filled with fruit. Town upon town, the inhabitants working with the same blank faces and mechanical movements. A honeycomb tessellation that would expand, until the shifting lands ceased to shift. Until all was ordered and still.

Join into me, commanded the voice. I will give you purpose. I will bring the Chaos to an end.

The thrum rose in Iwa’s mind, loud enough to drown out any thought. She closed her eyes. A honeycomb structure wrote itself behind her lids. She could join. She could become one tiny, perfect repetition. She could bring the Chaos to an end.

Silent towns. Children drawing wheels in the dirt. Blank-eyed children, passing through the wood.

“My name is Iwa.” She spoke in a trembling voice. “My name is Iwa, I have saved daughters. I saved Chikako when she was lost in the woods. The leaves trembled on her head, but when she understood I had come to bring her home, the air became sweet. I saved Kazue. A cave had swallowed her. She dug in beneath a boulder, but I brought her out—”

You have saved daughters? The voice that was a thousand voices pushed Iwa to the ground. I have saved daughters. Once the Chaos took every third pupa. Now we live with Order. I have saved thousands. I will save thousands more.

How many had Iwa saved? Not thousands. No number that compared. Why not become a vessel? Why not be given purpose and save thousands, even though there was one—

The snow fell on the same spot.

—there was one that would not be saved and would never be saved, and for a thin gleaming second, that immeasurable one drowned out the thousands and the voice.

“It ate my daughter,” Iwa whispered. “I never told her, I didn’t know. The snow fell on the same spot. It was only ever rumors.”

Join into me. I will give you purpose.

“I named her Kita. She stank of my scent. My scent. I scolded her. I sent her away. Her name was Kita. She stank of my scent. You will not take her away from me!”

My grief. Mine. You entered a Labyrinth anchored by one certainty or you never left at all. Iwa pushed herself to her feet. Tears blurred her vision. The beedrill quivered on the tree.

The voice still buzzed against her mind, but now it was like flowers beating against glass. Slowly at first, then faster, Iwa began to walk forward. She passed the massive tree. She closed her eyes, and when she opened them, the air was brighter. Wind stirred the leaves.

Only when she had reached the edge of the forest, did Iwa lay down and weep.

~*~​

The return journey seemed to take no time at all. Towards noon, she reached the outskirts of Laspendew. The noise stunned her. It rose from all sides.

A market was in full swing and the air resounded with the competing cries of hawkers. Children screamed with joy as they raced through the crowd. An azurill bounced forward, knocking into Iwa’s side. Her eyes widened as she took in Iwa’s dark, scarred visage.

“S-sorry!” she burbled. “A-are you—”

“An explorer? Yes,” Iwa said hoarsely, crouching so their faces were level. “Do you know what a Labyrinth is?”

“Ma says they’re places where the land goes funny. Places people get lost.”

“Your ma’s right. If the air ever seems strange to you—if you see a leaf fall but never land, you need to turn and run back home. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” the child said solemnly, but the expression fell away as a cutiefly pecked his beak against her head. “Hey, not fair, I was talking to an explorer!”

The two children moved away, still squabbling. But Iwa stood motionless. The crowd flowed around her like a stream split by a stone.

Could it really be that Labyrinths arose from this, from the beautiful chaos of living? Iwa imagined this town gone silent, each person the iteration of a larger order, taming the landscape by taming their laughter, their tears, their joys. Children that were lost, even when they came home.

Iwa would go back to the guild. She would tell them what she had seen. Perhaps they would go to war against the beedrill queen. Perhaps they would do nothing. Perhaps on the road, the ground would soften suddenly under her feet. Her lungs would fill with water, then with ice.

Perhaps somewhere, Kita was waiting.



 
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WildBoots

Don’t underestimate seeds.
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She/Her
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  1. custom/moka-mark
  2. solrock
it cannibalized your mind.
Ooh great line.

In that respect, no matter how many companions came in at your side, when you entered a Labyrinth, you entered it alone. Iwa had shaken her head.
This really is a big Annihilation mood. The futility. This makes me think she’s lost companions that way before.

Normally, she would have kept her distance. Her dark form and scarred face either scared children or impressed them to the extent that they followed her about town,
Ooh now I’m getting Witcher vibes! He gets stank eye whenever he enters a town because of what folks assume about him. He hunts monsters not because of any personal vendetta but because it’s his job. Reminds me of how Iwa reported the problem to the guild and let them do what they want—she’s a survivor, not a hero. I’m not being very articulate in comparing the two but I’m typing this in my phone and also just watch Witcher.

I saw a sentence that continues and does not end, growing and gaining in complexity as it steps and trails the crevices of being, hunting for order in those places order cannot be found—”
Strangling fruit!!

People in Labyrinths
I love this determination to see them as sentient beings with personhood even when the dungeon has otherwise consumed them.

there’s a place where the world ends, and if you go inside, I won’t be able to get you back,
Another great line. Really sets the tone.

All right. Then here I come.”
Love this character moment.

A honeycomb structure wrote itself behind her lids.
!!!! ❤

Once the Chaos took every third pua
Pupa?

My name is Iwa, I have saved daughters. I saved Chikako when she was lost in the woods.
The wording here gives it a very epic feel. A touch of Inigo Montoya, a touch of Sarah at the end of The Labyrinth (fittingly!). Interesting how she first tried to anchor her identity to her deeds, but it was an emotion that really did it.

My grief. Mine. You entered a Labyrinth anchored by one certainty or you never left at all.
Purpose indeed, huh?

I feel like you did say the other day you wanted to make bedrill epic again, right? This was a very satisfying read. I loved that it ended not with an epic confrontation but with a moment of quiet reflection.
 
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Sike Saner

Peace to the Mountain
Location
*aurorus noise*
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  1. glalie
That was the truth of exploring a Labyrinth⁠—it cannibalized your mind. From the first step, it began to work on you. It took your sense of time, your sense of distance. Smell, taste, hearing, vision⁠—all warped and became strange. At last, if you let it, the place took your sense of self.

It makes sense. In a place subject to spatial distortions, it seems logical enough that a brain could get distorted, too. It's matter, after all. Warp the brain and you warp the mind.

Plus, it makes for a nice explanation for folks going feral. Maybe it's the official explanation?? I can't recall if I ever knew the answer to that. My firsthand experience with PMD is super limited; most of what I know is through fandom osmosis, too.

Vaguely, she recalled a story about a town that had woken up blind after a strange sandstorm passed them over.

The notion of that kind of thing happening to an entire town at once is kind of terrifying.

The sun was only a pale yellow suggestion past the trees.

I like that phrasing :D

They didn’t exchange nods, sniffs, or smiles.

"Sniffs", what a nice detail. They're not human, and quite a few species rely more on scent than humans do. Of course a sniff would be a common greeting for some of these people.

Why not be given purpose and save thousands, even though there was one—

The snow fell on the same spot.

—there was one that would not be saved and would never be saved, and for a thin gleaming second, that immeasurable one drowned out the thousands and the voice.

“It ate my daughter,” Iwa whispered. “I never told her, I didn’t know. The snow fell on the same spot. It was only ever rumors.”

Dang. The way this makes the bit earlier about what good, responsible parents do hit harder in hindsight is just... ouch. In a good way, of course.

This was unsettling and tragic in a really neat way, a way that kind of snuck up on me even though there was an air of eeriness right from the start. It pulled kind of a crescendo, I guess. Also, a literal hivemind is a sort of antagonist I've not seen in a pokéfic in quite some time, so that was neat, too. All in all, well done. :D
 
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kyeugh

onion witch
Location
florida
Pronouns
she/her
Partners
  1. farfetchd-galar
hey! this is the story i got for the catnip circle, and i'm glad for it, because normally one-shots scare me off a bit, and pmd isn't really my thing—but i'm glad something pushed me to read this, because it was a great read! your prose is a joy to read, and you did a great job pulling me in right away, giving just enough detail to hook me in but still keep me interested and craving more. like i said, i'm not a big pmd reader, but i particularly liked the way you interpreted mystery dungeons:
Before she’d left, the Guildmaster had once again asked if she wanted to travel with a partner. Most explorers found partners or formed into bands. They did it for the conversation, for the sense of friendly eyes on their back, for their own sanity. That was the truth of exploring a Labyrinth⁠—it cannibalized your mind. From the first step, it began to work on you. It took your sense of time, your sense of distance. Smell, taste, hearing, vision⁠—all warped and became strange. At last, if you let it, the place took your sense of self. In that respect, no matter how many companions came in at your side, when you entered a Labyrinth, you entered it alone. Iwa had shaken her head.
i haven't played loads of pmd, but in the ones i have played, it seems to me like the dungeons are mostly game abstractions in a sense? the narrative interacts with them to some extent, but it's really never seemed quite as fleshed out to me as you'd expect from such a bizarre phenomenon so central to the world the games take place in. you portray them in a really engaging, somewhat disturbing way here—a natural fixture of the world that the pokémon have grown resigned to, yes, but not happily or comfortably. the labyrinths you describe here feel like a cancer, growing without bound, forcing people to live their lives on the defense, and tampering with the minds of those who draw near. it kind of establishes them as a sort of... environmental antagonist in a way? not sure if that's the direction the story's going, but at the very least it's an interesting angle. your description is very evocative, and your worldbuilding subtle but natural and powerful.

The orchard was redolent with the scent of fruiting apples.
this wording seemed a bit odd to me. if fruiting is the action of producing fruit, then the apples themselves aren't really fruiting (i.e. producing themselves), right? i might say "ripening" here, or else replace "apples" with "apple trees."

The voice was low and reverberated pleasantly through her mind.
very minor nitpick here, but it seems strange for the reverberation itself to be pleasant, and not the voice. maybe something like "The voice that reverberated through her mind was low and pleasant" would work instead?

The sun was only a pale yellow suggestion past the trees.
this is really nice imagery! i don't think i've seen the word "suggestion" used like this before, but i like it a lot.
She probably looked feral herself at the moment. Her fur was ruffled and her eyes gleamed. But the caterpie didn’t answer. She didn't even turn.
this is a lot of pretty short sentences in sequence. it might flow a bit better if the lengths were more varied. maybe something like: "She probably looked feral herself at the moment, with her fur ruffled and eyes gleaming. But the caterpie didn't answer. She didn't even turn." minor change there, but i feel like it reads more fluently.

As she got closer, she saw that a rattata was painstakingly drawing a diagram of a wheel. The lines of the spokes were incredibly straight. The rattata drew another line, which wavered slightly. He flinched and rubbed it out. The faces of the other children were intent, almost solemn. Playing? That word didn’t fit.
you do a great job setting up a slightly unsettling atmosphere here—sort of reminds me of the tone of The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, if you're familiar? this particular bit with the kids watching the rattata drawing the wheel is really eerie and mysterious, though.

This is a strange Labyrinth. The thought almost made her laugh. How could something defined by abnormality be abnormal? Only through normalcy. The path didn’t twist or vanish. No one attacked. The ground didn’t shift under her. If Iwa hadn’t known better, she would have thought this forest nothing worse than musty and perhaps a little dark.
i really like this. in particular, the "How could something defined by abnormality be abnormal? Only through normalcy" bit really jumped out at me. i like how you make the labyrinth feel like a living, otherworldly being here.

Because good, responsible parents did that, they sat their children down and they explained that there’s a place where the world ends, and if you go inside, I won’t be able to get you back, even if I scour the whole world for you, I won’t be able to find you—
again, another really haunting description here. really gives a new, eerie feeling to the rescue mentions in the game.

Iwa would go back to the guild. She would tell them what she had seen. Perhaps they would go to war against the beedrill queen. Perhaps they would do nothing. Perhaps on the road, the ground would soften suddenly under her feet. Her lungs would fill with water, then with ice.

Perhaps somewhere, Kita was waiting.
this is a really powerful ending; i think it does a perfect job of encapsulating the feeling of the fic as whole. a world where danger is around every corner, where offness pervades and shapes the structure of life, and where individuals have little control over the strange, unpredictable world they are subject to.

this fic does something very interesting that i don't see very often in fanfiction: it gives us a peek into a strange and unfamiliar world, raising questions as rapidly as it leaves answers, in order to paint a complex and curious picture—but it doesn't overstay its welcome. we get a brief glimpse into a fascinating and unsettling world, just long enough to feel acquainted yet still curious about it. i think this kind of thing (in my experience) is done so seldom in the world of fanfiction because, well, most of the time we're working with a world we already know, and providing a brief flash into it isn't all that exciting, since the point of fanfiction is (often) to provide an extended look into perceived gaps in the canon; to explore ideas untouched by canon, where the bones of the setting are the only thing we already understand. you've done something pretty interesting here by taking a premise we all know and running with it in a novel direction to produce a snapshot of the world we know, but with a compelling flavor that we don't.

i get the impression that this story probably doesn't follow even the most interesting arc of iwa's life, let alone the most pivotal events of the world you've built, but it provides just the right backdrop to give a very evocative snapshot of the inspired world you've built here. your prose is smooth as silk, too—overall, this was a joy to read, and i'd love to read more stuff like it. i'll be sure to check out the rest of your work soon, thanks for sharing this with us! 😄
 

Pen

the cat is mightier than the pen
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  1. dratini
@Sike Saner and @qva Thank you for your lovely and thoughtful reviews!

Plus, it makes for a nice explanation for folks going feral. Maybe it's the official explanation?? I can't recall if I ever knew the answer to that. My firsthand experience with PMD is super limited; most of what I know is through fandom osmosis, too.
The whole concept of feral pokemon is definitely something I find pretty fraught--the idea that some pokemon somehow have less sapience than others or are more prone to violent attacks? If there are "feral" pokemon, it must be bound up with the mystery dungeons in some way.

The notion of that kind of thing happening to an entire town at once is kind of terrifying.
Yeah. And what would it be like to live in a world where nature suddenly transforms and turns on you in that way?

Also, a literal hivemind is a sort of antagonist I've not seen in a pokéfic in quite some time, so that was neat, too. All in all, well done. :D
Beedrill need more love! The initial idea for this oneshot came out of a desire to make beedrill great again.


@qva Excellent flags on the line-edits--I've revised in the places you pointed out.

normally one-shots scare me off a bit, and pmd isn't really my thing
Hah, PMD isn't really my thing either! I got thinking about it after seeing it on this site so much. I'm glad I succeeded in presenting a vision of the PMD-verse that appeals to those of us who are less invested in it.

it kind of establishes them as a sort of... environmental antagonist in a way?
Absolutely. That's what I find so compelling about the mystery dungeons--they aren't a concrete thing you can fight, they're a (perhaps) inescapable feature of the natural world itself.

it doesn't overstay its welcome. we get a brief glimpse into a fascinating and unsettling world, just long enough to feel acquainted yet still curious about it. i think this kind of thing (in my experience) is done so seldom in the world of fanfiction because, well, most of the time we're working with a world we already know, and providing a brief flash into it isn't all that exciting, since the point of fanfiction is (often) to provide an extended look into perceived gaps in the canon; to explore ideas untouched by canon, where the bones of the setting are the only thing we already understand. you've done something pretty interesting here by taking a premise we all know and running with it in a novel direction to produce a snapshot of the world we know, but with a compelling flavor that we don't.
Honestly, this is what I love about one-shots, the way they allow you to give a snap-shot, and suggest a broader world with a few strokes.

Again, really appreciate the time you took with this review. Was an absolute treat to read.
 
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love

Memento mori
Pronouns
he/him/it
Partners
  1. leafeon
Negrek recommended this story to me since I'm interested in hiveminds; in fact, my first PMD story addressed that subject quite directly. I think it's kind of funny how this story has Iwa refuse to become part of the hivemind because she wants to remember Kita, whereas in my story, I had the MC choose to join a hivemind precisely because of the grief of losing someone she cared about. I think both responses are reasonable; it depends on the character in question.

I think the atmosphere in this story is conveyed well, and the part with the alakazam was really cool. The opening was strong too, I think, and immediately makes one curious about what Iwa is going to find when she reaches the village.

This part is beautiful:

there was one that would not be saved and would never be saved, and for a thin gleaming second, that immeasurable one drowned out the thousands and the voice.

I would never have thought to describe a "second" like that.

I think maybe the best part of the story was the way that Iwa's grief was conveyed. I like that you made use of the simple imagery of the snow around the dungeon's entrance (which, as you may recall, did not rise) and repetition to show that Iwa can't let go of her grief. I think that wound up working better than something like a flashback. I appreciate it when writers convey things economically like that.

I don't have much of anything negative to say here. Maybe somebody more insightful than I will have an idea of what could have been improved. I enjoyed this story.
 

kintsugi

golden scars
Location
waiting for the fog to roll out
Pronouns
she/her
Partners
  1. silvally-grass
  2. lapras
  3. golurk
I never reviewed this, whoop, wild, rip me.

Pretty sure most of this has been said over DM's/various shitposting, but--as a concept I found this fascinating. I actually tend to forget that the dungeons are what drive pokemon insane in the PMD universe, given that most of my understanding of PMD comes from fanfic and that one time I played Red Rescue when I was like 16 haha. The hivemind is a nice touch, and I like how you drop hints about that as the story progresses that things are not quite Right here. Hiveminds, also super cool, and I liked the dichotomy carved between the ordered but protected drones and the chaotic real life that's constantly in danger. I found it strangely evocative of the games as well, where there are endless hordes of NPC enemies to defeat.

But the scrap of cloth knotted around her neck⁠—old and ratty as it was, thin with washing, worn with wear—reassured them.
SCARVES

Towns on the outskirts of Labyrinths tended to be strange, of course. Often they constructed high barricades and converted their homes into fortresses. Children were trained in fighting from a young age in such towns⁠—to hold off incursions, they said, as if the logic were obvious, though they had to know their enemy was the terrain itself.

One town, composed mostly of bellossom and jumpluff families, had cultivated vast gardens. These they tended almost obsessively, as if the carefully imposed order of the flower patches could hold back the warping threat of the ever-encroaching Labyrinth. Another, a small town that stood isolated on an open plain like a lone tree on a mountain-top, built no walls and made no gardens. Their shelters had no doors and for every ten apples they coaxed out of the hard soil, the eleventh was thrown into the distance, where the plain rippled and compressed. An offering, Iwa had thought at the time. But whether offered out of fear or of pity, she couldn’t have said.
Phrasing here kind of threw me off--the first paragraph describes the walled cities, and the second paragraph describes both a garden city & a no wall/no garden city. I wasn't quite sure why the three were split up like this. But the delving into the separate evolved cultures was creative + fun to read.

The lines of the spokes were incredibly straight. The rattata drew another line, which wavered slightly. He flinched and rubbed it out. The faces of the other children were intent, almost solemn. Playing? That word didn’t fit.
I think you could've struck a few words here.

Mashed tanga berries, Iwa realized, as she stepped closer, smeared onto every limb.
oooh, to resist bug-type attacks. fun fun

“Fumihiro is my name, and this name was given for the words that I spoke upon the day my eyes first cracked open, for when I looked out onto the world I saw a sentence that continues and does not end, growing and gaining in complexity as it steps and trails the crevices of being, hunting for order in those places order cannot be found—”
This was spooky in the first readthrough and fascinating on the second--you need your one truth to resist being subsumed, and this is his!

Because good, responsible parents did that, they sat their children down and they explained that there’s a place where the world ends, and if you go inside, I won’t be able to get you back, even if I scour the whole world for you, I won’t be able to find you—
ah yup this is where, belatedly, I realized there was also something wrong on a personal level

A honeycomb tessellation that would expand, until the shifting lands ceased to shift. Until all was ordered and still.
idk where else to put this but the title is evocative. you have good titles.

My grief. Mine. You entered a Labyrinth anchored by one certainty or you never left at all. Iwa pushed herself to her feet. Tears blurred her vision. The beedrill quivered on the tree.
Mmm, this for me felt like the culmination of your ideas here, and it's a really tangible one--your grief and your experiences are your own, and they can shape and guide you but they can never be taken from you. I think it's a powerful answer to the temptation of order and stillness even though life objectively begets painful moments.

Not much else to say here. This was a good read.
 

NebulaDreams

Ace Trainer
Partners
  1. luxray
Thickenwood lay at the edge of every map Iwa had seen. No explorers returned who set off in that direction. Iwa had volunteered.

I like this opening section, and this part in particular. It establishes that Iwa is more or less on a suicide mission, and that she's had lots of experience with this sort of thing with the state of her scarf.

The orchard was redolent with the scent of fruiting apple trees. Iwa was tempted to spike one and find out if the sweetness of the fruit lived up to its smell.

This description makes me want to pluck those apples from the screen.

She was on a mountain, passing rapidly over the snowy ground. Between two rowans, whose branches interlocked as if forming a gate, the snow fell on the same spot but the snow did not rise. Elsewhere the snow was stacked three feet high, but there the snow fell on the same spot and did not rise.

What is your purpose? The question had become a thrumming demand. But Iwa stood frozen, her eyes fixed on the footprints that led to the place where the snow fell on the same spot—

At the time I read it, the repetition struck me as a bit off, but now I've given this a second read-through, this makes a lot more sense in hindsight and it's an effective image.

The caterpie blinked at her. Had some ember of fear flared deep in its foggy eyes?

Should it be ‘her’ instead of ‘its’?

“The Queen . . .” The alakazam slowly raised his spoon. A small green berry levitated towards him. He plucked it from the air and smashed it against his temple, letting out a short groan. “She’s moved on from me. Waste of energy. But the moment I relent . . .”

When he spoke again, it was in a low, dreamy voice.

Ohhhhhh. I love the setup here, since it’s here that we get the sense that something is very, deeply wrong with this place, and that there’s something controlling all the citizens. It also lines up with the Caterpie's earlier statement since Fumihiro's the only one who seems to show some sort of resistance, only for his will to get stamped out by the queen. Very creepy stuff.

Iwa stood, panting in the middle of the narrow path. Another staggering step. Another. I’ll never catch up like this. At last, almost experimentally, she turned around.

At once, the heaviness lifted.

“Forward path for me, is it?” she whispered. “All right. Then here I come.”

Iwa raised her claws. Awash with hot, clean fury, she sped down the path.

I liked the earlier use of repetition with 'the snow fell on the same spot', but here, the repetition of path seems like it could use a bit more variety.

“You might think that, but you’re in a Labyrinth. The paths change. Your parents must have warned you—”

Because good, responsible parents did that, they sat their children down and they explained that there’s a place where the world ends, and if you go inside, I won’t be able to get you back, even if I scour the whole world for you, I won’t be able to find you—

Ohhhh nooooo.

--

Admittedly, I had to give this one another read-through to soak in all the details since the fic's mysterious nature left it a bit too open-ended for me at first. But since this story is short, it works to its benefit since the reader can pick up on more of the clues a second time around, and overall, I enjoyed the themes and the way the mystery surrounding Iwa and the town unfolded. It was interesting to see your take on the PMD world even though we don't get to see much of it, specifically the dungeons/labyrinths and the effects those spatial distortions can have on towns nearby it. When we get to Thickenwood, the atmosphere is pretty unsettling with all the silent townsfolk there, counterbalanced with how gentle the fic's tone is with the descriptions of nature peppered throughout.

Once we get to the confrontation with the queen, it's a touching moment, as it finally gave context to the 'snow fell on the same spot' part. And it also tied in beautifully with the fic's title since the solution for Iwa is to face her grief head on and defy the queen who is trying to take that away from her by erasing her memories.

There are a couple of things I would've liked to have seen more of. I didn't get much of a sense of what Iwa's species was supposed to be, and I would've liked to have seen more of Fumihiro since he's one of the few named characters in the story (his scene in the fic is one of my favourites here), but those elements aren't essential. And even though I really liked the climax, I was a bit underwhelmed by the conclusion since it's a distant finale where Thickenwood is still in its possessed state and Iwa is still consumed with the same grief that left her taking the mission to Thickenwood (though that wouldn't really go away even after confronting the queen), so the status quo seems to have remained the same. Then again, not everything needs to be tied up in a neat little bow, and it's more of a understated character study with Iwa and the town.

But yeah, this is a nice, unique PMD story, and it'll be interesting to see more fics like this if you ever write in the PMD genre again.
 

SparklingEspeon

Insquisitabilitatilating
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. espurr
  2. fennekin
Disclaimer: My knowledge of PMD is drawn from the two games I played a long time ago and osmosis. Creative liberties have been taken.

Don’t worry, everyone does that
That said, I have to say, I’m really liking the liberties taken here. I’m getting big Annihilation vibes from this, which is very Copyka.png

I’m also a very big fan of eldritch pokemon/PMD, and this hits a lot of the spooky/cosmic horror buttons, from how the MDs are portrayed to the Queen's takeover of Thickenwood to Iwa’s outlook on life and how she lost her daughter to a Labyrinth. It was ultimately very short, but I think it made a very powerful point, and lingering past the ending would have spoiled the power of it a bit.

I’ll say straight up that my favorite portion of this fic is hands-down the way you portray the “Labyrinths”. In the canon world, they’re mostly benign and just natural shifting parts of the landscape that pokemon go and have a fun time, and some fanfictions that use them add in darker elements, like the dungeon madness and ferals, but this is hands-down the spookiest incarnation of dungeons I’ve ever seen anywhere. From mentions of leaves that fall but never hit the ground, their strange power over other pokemon to the point where Iwa wonders if the Labyrinth is responsible for making the whole town mute, to the Labyrinths’ uncanny ability to drive you crazy (at least according to Iwa), to the fact that actual pokemon have died in these mazes really hammers home how scary these things are, and makes them an actual looming menace. I was kind of sad when I got to the end and realized that this was a oneshot, because I would totally love to see some more short stories about Iwa and her travels- especially given how open-ended the story was.

I feel like your prose also contributes to the hard-hitting nature of this, though. You have a simple, atmospheric style, and it often feels like the simplest sentences are the hardest-hitting:

Thickenwood lay at the edge of every map Iwa had seen. No explorers returned who set off in that direction. Iwa had volunteered.

Because good, responsible parents did that, they sat their children down and they explained that there’s a place where the world ends, and if you go inside, I won’t be able to get you back, even if I scour the whole world for you, I won’t be able to find you—

“Your ma’s right. If the air ever seems strange to you—if you see a leaf fall but never land, you need to turn and run back home. Do you understand?”

I think, out of all the lines in the story, these are the ones that stuck with me the most. They're very simple and to the point, but they carry a powerful message with them - which is what I think is the essence of this story, distilled into a sentence or two.

I’ve read the fic three times over and it might just be my dumb reading comprehension, but I don’t think it was ever mentioned what pokemon Iwa was. I kind of want to say Zoroark from the descriptions you give of her? Claws, fur, apparently bipedal, etc.

Overall, this is a very simple, interesting, and atmospheric oneshot! Looking it over, there doesn't seem to be too much to chew on; the components of the story - a creepy dungeon/hivemind premise, lots of in-prose lore and off-kilter atmosphere, and a message about the chaos of life - are very simple. But what is there shines very powerfully because of how simple and meticulous it is. Not to get overly meta but I thought it was interesting how, even though the story itself seems to be promoting themes of how life in itself is chaotic and that stifling it for order snuffs it out/defeats the point of its existence, this whole fic seems very meticulously placed into order. There is chaos, but it's all superficial - anything here is here for a reason. I like to think it's because of the Queen's fatal flaw - that she labels all life not under her control as "chaos", but doesn't understand that life has its own order. She can't see past the superficial chaos that the Labyrinths create, and in her tamperings is becoming the very chaos she meant to prevent. Perhaps literally, if my theory of the Labyrinth controlling her behind her back holds any water.

Very interesting read! It was short and maybe-not-so-sweet, and I'd love to see more of this concept in the future, if you decide to revisit it.

~SparklingEspeon
 
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