you can breathe now. x

Age 26
Illinois, USA.
Seen October 30th, 2019
Posted October 30th, 2019
1,582 posts
12.5 Years
All right, so. I've been working on this letter since May. Even after cutting out an entire scene, it's amounted to about 6,000 words... without Markus's reply letter as well. Haley likes to talk. So, we're just going to have a Haley letter for now. Should the letters continue to be this long, I'll release one at a time consistently.


[letter nine]


June 25

Oh, no, Markus...

Where do I start with this letter? As usual, you leave me wondering about a lot of things I'd never have thought of on my own! My pokémon have been looking at me real confused-like, and Kenneth asks about your letters all the time. He's too observant, always pointing out when I'm distracted, when I forget to eat, and whatever else. He's convinced you might be influencing me so I'll hightail it back home, too afraid to confront the real world again. ...So, yeah, that means I told him about you. But I'm just taking his opinion at face value, since he doesn't know your story.

I mean, I think I know enough about manipulative people to trust that you aren't one of them. For example, street vendors roaming around Anistar's Bottomford Bridge would ask trainers passing by to show their badges and pokéballs, claiming that they knew cool tips and tricks to keep them clean and intact. Then the liars would run off with the stuff! I mean, police are there to deal with this sort of thing, and pokédex data can prove that a trainer earned their badges, but still... If that's not an act of deception, I don't know what is.

Oh, right. Pokéballs. What kind did Enmity have? Let me know and I'll ask Kenneth for more information about it. He says the type of ball makes a huge difference. If it's a friend ball, the pokémon goes to help people in rehabilitation centers, or a water-type in a lure ball might travel with sailors until the prisoner's sentence is carried out. ...Sorry, I wish I knew more about this kind of thing myself.

Anyway, I've been meaning to bring up something you mentioned in your last letter, so now's as good a time as any:

...What can I say? I've left so many friends behind. I can't forget that. You know I can't forget that.

What I did was cut out the last part of your letter and tape it onto mine. Then I scribbled out the words to the point where you'll have to strain your eyes to read them. Don't try to do that! I'm not so silly as to request the impossible from you, though. Instead I give you permission to move on and forgive yourself! Remember what I said about writing down facts from your life, then having them leave your mind forever. Seriously, how's that for an illusion? The mind forgets, but the body remembers... or whatever that saying is.

I can't help but wonder if the saying rings true for psychic-types. A psychic-type's brain is way more advanced than a human's, and I'd find it hard to believe if someone told me they weren't capable of recalling memories pretty easy. When I think about that, though, I remember how I mistreated Ribbons by sending him so far away when he's still so little... What if he has nightmares, or what if he refuses to protect me because he doesn't respect me? I read that part of your letter and Kenneth asked me if I was all right. I told him yes! But he took my hand—gently, I promise—and showed me just how bad it was shaking.

I looked Ribbons over to make sure he wasn't sick like you said I should, and I didn't see anything, but Kenneth suggested we take him to the Pokémon Center anyway if it'd make me feel better. He explained to the Nurse Joy on duty what happened. She smiled sadly, feeling sorry more for me than Ribbons, I think. After a while of walking up and down the hallways, she brought him back to me. But he was in his pokéball, not out and flying to my shoulder so he could snuggle into the crook of my neck. I was more concerned than ever.

“Your natu is very active,” Nurse Joy told me, smiling again, friendly this time, “but it'd be best to let him rest more often than not over the next few weeks.”

Then she put his pokéball in my hand and demonstrated how I could gauge his health without releasing him. If the pokéball turned cold and darker in color, I should get another check-up done. And if it stayed warm and colored normally, I'd have nothing to worry about. ...Oh, the things you learn that you wish you had known sooner, right? I calmed down after that.

I gotta tell you, though, that Ribbons is nothing like the hypno or claydol you met! I mean, when he fluffs his feathers his eyes squint so much you get shaky, like he's staring into your soul... Oh, and I guess he kinda confronts inanimate objects and attacks them if his telekinetic powers aren't working. And it's true that trained xatu can peer into the past and the future, which I suppose is disastrous in the wrong hands... But I swear, Ribbons is a good pokémon! I'll take care of him and make sure he doesn't cause trouble for anybody. Just give him a chance, okay? My grandmother wouldn't have given him to me if he was cruel.

Ribbons isn't cruel, but Dendemille sure is. One step into that town and I knew my team would have a rough time of it. I saw the naked winter trees lining the entrance on Wyvernmere Avenue, and the desolate streets beyond that, and I knew that we needed to buy a hotel room with a fireplace or make our visit quick. Searching for the hotel itself was no easy feat, either. No one wanted to be out in the cold, so we couldn't ask for directions! Knocking on doors didn't seem like an option, since all the houses had closed shutters, and the lights were off. Not a single resident had a balcony, or a fenced backyard, or anything that might suggest that they ever went outside. But shouldn't they be used to the cold? I'm getting worked up over this...

Back to my main point. My pokémon aren't familiar with fast-changing weather patterns like that. Well... Ribbons, snug in his pokéball, fared a little better in Dendemille. The climate in Johto is much different, or so my grandmother's told me. But Seybs has only traveled in the fall, and Kai, I assume, stayed in one place his whole life. My goal became to train them in the winter wonderland that was Dendemille. That way, I can travel without worrying about them too much.

So after we checked in with the Lock Haven Hotel's receptionist—who was sleeping at the desk and glaring at us angrily because we woke her up—we traipsed through Dendemille's winding grey brick terrace. A giant windmill towered over us and spun slow, seemingly turning faster the higher we went. Snowflakes drifted down from Frost Cavern in the north and onto the bare gardens and uneven soil patches behind the ground-level houses. I have no idea how the farmers grow anything at all, but I guess they'd know better than I would.

We came across a bridge connecting the town to Frost Cavern... which, I assume, wasn't built when you visited, since you only mentioned the Halfpoint River. Anyway. With all its steel and cables, the bridge seemed safe enough, like it was built by the most skilled engineers, though the deserted atmosphere of the place in general might lead you to believe otherwise. I had a feeling that if Dendemille collapsed due to an earthquake or some other strong pokémon attack, the bridge would be spared and become the town's only namesake.

I tried to go on ahead, putting my hands to my mouth and breathing on them to keep warm. (The Beartic Cave clothing store in Anistar advertised wrongly when their commercials said that, even if they were thin, these gloves would make winter bearable for the rest of my life.) Kenneth stopped me before I got too far across the bridge, and at first I couldn't figure out why. Actually, I didn't figure it out until he just told me flat out, but yeah. He gestured for me to shush and to stay shushed the whole way ahead. We only heard clumsy flapping noises from two of my cold, tired flying-types.

Once we got to the other side, I was excited by the view of Frost Cavern. Kenneth certainly wasn't. He put a hand on my shoulder and turned me around, then asked me in a half-joking tone about whether or not I really live in Kalos. I told him I didn't know what he meant.

“That bridge is more famous than the actual cave up there. I'm from Hoenn and even I know that, for crying out loud.”

I looked back at the bridge, unimpressed. It was only covered in snow and foot tracks. “What's so special about it?” I asked.

He sighed and explained. “Many people and pokémon have died trying to pass through Mamoswine Road and Brun Way. Sickness takes hold, accidents happen, or they freeze, or... Well, you get the point. The townspeople first realized this was an issue when a body was discovered floating down there”—he pointed toward Halfpoint River, I shivered—“and then they built this bridge to honor the dead. It's been a tradition, albeit an unspoken one, to cross the bridge in silence.”

“I'm sorry. I didn't know.” I really didn't.

“Pokémon training isn't all fun and games.”

“Yes, I know.” Though I'm not sure if I know. I learned about world geography, but my father was my teacher and not once had he mentioned Dendemille's bridge of silence, or anything like it. I learned simple facts, town and city names, statistics about the industry... all of which meant little when compared to this. What else did he keep from me?

I didn't have time to think about it. It was cold, very cold, Markus! I hugged myself and peered downward. Kenneth's eyes softened. We had to keep moving or we'd have been stuck there all night, and the money we spent on the Lock Haven Hotel would have gone to waste. Or worse, we might have frozen to death. Kenneth was determined not to make the first move, though. We kept looking back and forth at each other, him turning in circles and me taking half a step forward as if to head toward the cave. Eventually he laughed and said that neither of us seemed to want to call the other's bluff, and I figured all was well between us again.

As we stepped inside the large, gaping mouth of Mt. Moretet, I saw how Frost Cavern lived up to its name, what with the icicles stuck to the steep ceiling and the melted water dripping and leaving wet marks on the snow. Kenneth rushed me ahead now, warning me how some of the icicles might be loose and how they could fall on us if we weren't careful. He didn't account for the loose pebbles scattered across the stone floor, though, and he almost made me trip over myself. He mumbled an apology.

When we were in safer territory, he pulled out a plain pokéball with a strange engravement above the button. I couldn't make out what the symbol was right at that moment, and I couldn't think of any reason for him to want to bring out a pokémon other than to hurt me where no one could see. I didn't—don't—know much about him, and his entire team was still a mystery. My body tensed as he released a fat yellow pokémon with dull, deep-set eyes and a green hump on its back. A flurry of fake, hazy blue flames emerged as well, then quickly dissipated. I was torn between fleeing for my life in response to the makeshift fire or standing my ground, because this particular species of pokémon had to be harmless.

The creature yawned, as if it, too, thought of itself as boring. “This,” Kenneth announced idly, petting it on the head, “is Donmel.”

I blurted this out without meaning to: “And?”

“Otherwise known as a numel in Kalosian.”


“He's a fire-type, Haley.”


Donmel didn't look like a fire-type. Flames weren't gushing from its mouth. There was no smoke, either. I moved closer and—nope, no heat radiating from his body! At least the blue flame spectacle made some sense now. I just always thought fire-types were fierce, like Joey's talonflame. (Your fennekin probably wasn't too hostile, though, was she? I imagine she would've fought with Chespin about being the leader if she was, but you've never mentioned that.)

Kenneth took a few steps forward and bent down to pick up Donmel's pokéball. Then he held it out to me, pointing toward its top, where a single blue flame was etched. “Not as hot to the touch as you might think,” he said, smirking. I gave him a blank stare. “...You must not know about pokéball seals. Am I right?”

I continued to stare at him, one eyebrow raised in confusion. Donmel's round ears perked up at the sound of his name.

“Why not orange flames? Red? Yellow? You know, typical colors,” I said, trying to keep my voice strong. I wouldn't dare admit that no, I didn't know about pokéball seals.

“As you can see,” Kenneth said, smirking more than ever, “Donmel's a bit slow and lazy... which, I'm sure you know, isn't very practical when you're trying to travel.” I glanced at Seybs and nodded. Kenneth went on, “Sure, he could stay in his pokéball, but that's not ideal, either. That's where this seal comes in. Seals were designed to work hand in hand with a pokéball's mechanics, so that a pokémon can absorb a seal's energy when inside the pokéball, and maintain that energy for use when outside the pokéball. I chose blue flames because... Well, the blue flame seal utilizes the basics of physics. On the electromagnetic spectrum, visible blue light has shorter wavelengths than red, and thus the amount of available energy is higher.”

He talked like he was confident, but his gaze shifted restlessly at the same time. His smirk faded by the end of his spiel, too. “Does the seal not work or what?” I asked, thinking I would have met Donmel much sooner if Kenneth felt as proud as he sounded.

“No, it works. Donmel has more energy than he did when I first got him, believe me. And I don't have to feed him as much to make up for his lethargy.”

I waited to see if he had anything else to add. He shrugged and said with a tone of finality, “I told you, the seal works. Sometimes it works too well, even. Blue flames are hotter than normal flames. Fire-types like that stuff...” he said, trailing off while balancing the ball on his fingertips, “but it can be dangerous.”

Markus, it wasn't my naivety that was annoying him for once! I was being too persistent when he didn't want to tell me something for one reason or another. It was my turn to smirk at him, to hopefully make him feel more comfortable. “You couldn't have brought him just a little earlier?” I said, motioning to our wintry surroundings. The snow was so white it burned my eyes, and I'm sure there was so much of it that every nook and cranny in Frost Cavern was filled completely. It would have been nice for the little guy to use some of that energy to melt even some of the misery away.

Kenneth waved his free hand at me. “Let's just start our training,” he said. “Things'll heat up before you know it.”

We came up with a few training strategies that focused on our individual weaknesses and strengths. We also tried to plan out activities that used all of our pokémon (while keeping Ribbons's involvement limited). Originally I was hesitant to face Kenneth's team. What if his team could overpower mine, no problem? But if we were going to be traveling partners, I needed to know what I was dealing with. I asked him to introduce them to me, and he obliged without any hesitation whatsoever.

I was surprised when Kenneth's starter was a species I recognized. The sableye's strange, diamond-shaped eyes transfixed on me with an intensity that made me shudder. It fiddled with the red jewel on its chest possessively. Because of these strange details I barely noticed the cloud of black smoke that floated upward and vanished in response to the sableye's pokéball seal. The whole scene reminded me of Anistar's folklore about Diancie being mistaken for a gem and locked away in Terminus Cave by a horde of sableye. I made a joke about it, but I think Kenneth took me seriously because he gave me a list of all the reasons it was impossible for his particular sableye to have visited Terminus Cave and its surrounding areas. By the end of his argument I had spaced out and missed Kenneth explaining how sableye in Hoenn are called something different. (The species name in Hoennese, I was told again later, is Yamirami.)

Kai, who had already been out and about for a while, seemed attentive to our conversation. He stood by my side and eyed Kenneth's sableye with wonder. Since Terminus Cave was mentioned a few times, I thought Kai was acknowledging the home he had before I caught him. I worried about him feeling homesick, but if he felt homesick, he didn't show it at all. He grew disinterested and knocked Ribbons off of my shoulder with a tackle, then rubbed his clawed fingers together. That's become his new way of signaling that he wants fruit.

I rummaged through my drawstring backpack, taking out piece after piece of fruit. Whether it was an apple, or a banana, or a peach, Kai devoured it with a blissful grin on his face. After Kai's fifth serving, Kenneth shook his head and revealed another pokéball from his trench coat pocket, which he placed directly next to Kai before whispering to it, pressing the button and unveiling its contents. Kenneth's shroomish, which has the unfortunate Hoennese name of Kinococo, popped out along with a volley of glowing projectiles. One of them struck Kai's chest, causing him to drop his half-eaten banana. I expected him to fret over the incident. But he acted like the banana didn't exist anymore!

I asked Kenneth what he had done, but he just claimed that it was Kinococo's secret power attack. After some prodding, Kenneth described what happened. He had utilized Kinococo's pokéball seal by requesting that she use her secret power attack before being released, a feat only made possible by the fact that pokémon can hear what's going on in the outside world when recalled. The pokéball seal absorbed the secret power and laced the attack with powders and a force that, when released, provided Kai with the extra boost of energy he was trying to gather by eating a crazy amount of calories.

Kenneth's last pokémon, a corphish—Heigani, I think?—could purify water with its pokéball seal. Not too useful for training, sorry to say.

Now that that not-so-short prelude is out of the way, I can try to describe the methods we used during the actual training part of the trip.

We started with an agility competition: Yamirami's shadow sneak attack versus Ribbons's teleporting abilities. You can call me stupid if you want, but I decided that Ribbons should train first because all of our healing supplies could go to him if things made a turn for the worse. That, and I really, really want him to be able to send you these letters again someday. The secluded area we were in offered plenty of room needed for them to gather momentum and maintain speed. The goal, of course, was to move from one of the cave's walls to the other as fast as possible.

Yamirami went up to the wall that would be the race's starting point. His body unfurled and shook as if in pain, and then his skin stretched so much I thought it might tear open. The process reduced the sableye to nothing but a dark puddle in the snow. The new, ominous figure danced around like a real shadow. I wondered if the pokémon ever felt smug about being able to create shadows where they shouldn't exist.

Ribbons wasn't amused by the performance. He obviously sensed the handicap he'd have against the ghost-type in a battle, and he did a silly dance of his own. He hopped around in circles, seemingly torn between wanting to escape the danger and staying still so that he wouldn't run out of stamina. In the end the type disadvantage was a great motivator for the competition.

Kenneth had more experience than I did as a trainer, so I thought Yamirami would win every round. It turned out that the sableye was sluggish, almost as much as Donmel. Apparently Kenneth had chosen Yamirami for this challenge because ghost-types prefer status effects and mind games rather than actual movement, which has proven to be their downfall on more than one occasion. I can accept that explanation, as long as Kenneth wasn't lying and purposefully creating a scenario in which I'd have no chance of losing. The task might have been easy for Yamirami if all he had to do was move forward and not stop to think or overcome any obstacles. But it just so happened that part of the challenge was to go around the piles of snow blocking their path to victory, and while Ribbons was able avoid collisions by beating his wings hard enough to soar higher, Yamirami had an awful time trying to navigate. It was almost as if those mind games were coming back to haunt him. He simply couldn't decide which direction to take, and once he devised a feasible tactic, his movements were slow and eloquent, as if he had an immense fear of screwing up again and falling further behind.

Four rounds in and Kenneth was ready to call it quits. Though visibly frustrated, he could tell that the strange training method along with a strange environment was taking its toll on his pokémon. Ribbons chirped triumphantly (which I'm not sure I heard right since he was so tired and quiet, but I like to think my natu would celebrate his achievements and wonder how he might manage at full strength) and perched on my shoulder. He swatted his pokéball away when I tried to recall him, so I said he could stay out for one more competition and then he had to rest. He responded by digging his claws into my coat and yawning.

Seybs and Kinococo were up next. What I came up with was inspired more by a pidgeot, Seybs's final evolution, and how they were the main mail carriers years ago. (We talked about that not too long ago, if you remember.) In short, Kinococo jumped on Seybs's back, and it was Seybs's job to stay in the air for as long as possible with the extra weight burdening him. And to withstand Seybs's agility, it was Kinococo's job to practice balancing and not falling off. As it turned out, though, Kinococo weighs a ton less than Seybs, and so she ended up plummeting into the snow immediately after Seybs took flight.

Kenneth suggested that she use her growth attack so she would simultaneously grow larger in size and become heavier. I was hesitant to implement his idea at first. Originally, Markus, he thought it would be okay to have Kinococo use status effect after status effect on Seybs. I could tell he had good intentions—since it's probably likely that Seybs will encounter all of them at some point in his life—but that would have killed our number of healing supplies and Seybs's fighting spirit, I guarantee it. But in the end I gave Kenneth the go ahead since Kinococo normally is half Seybs's height and, overall, the idea was a lot less cruel.

As usual, Seybs surprised me with his abilities. I always think that, if he would just put some real effort into everything he does, then... Well, at the risk of sounding arrogant as his trainer, he would be the best at everything he does. At the beginning he flew rather casually, using as little exertion as possible. Even Kinococo seemed bored, and, without warning, used her growth attack at least three times in a row. (That was Kenneth's estimate, by the way.) The sudden change forced Seybs to try, but he adapted quickly. He could fly high, close to the ceiling, and he could fly low, near the snow. He could bolt forward with minimal effort; he could come to a halt if he was about to crash into a cavern wall; he could turn at odd angles and it would still look like the most uncomplicated thing in the world. He did each of these things several times. Each time caught Kinococo off guard and, if you were to examine the scene, you would see ditches of varying sizes in the snow, all of which mimicked the nuances of her mushroom-shaped body.

At this point I assumed Kenneth would be screaming and pulling his hair out out of anger, but he did no such thing. He squatted down and watched the spectacle unfold, scratching his chin as he considered other options that might help his pokémon succeed. He didn't come up with anything, I guess, because he didn't shout out a command until he said that we should stop, and he even said that calmly.

I didn't expect his team to be weaker compared to mine, Markus. I told Kenneth this, which I shouldn't have told him, even if I did use more polite wording and an apologetic tone. I felt triumphant, much like Ribbons had, and I wanted to show it, but around Kenneth you get the feeling that you're not supposed to get too excited or else you appear selfish.

“I wouldn't underestimate my team like that,” he said, shaking his head. “We're very different trainers, and categorizing our teams or limiting our knowledge of their capabilities based on one training session is useless.”

“Different how?”

“We come from entirely different backgrounds, and have distinctly unique personalities. Not to mention that our pokémon are from different regions. All that and more effects the battling styles and strategies we use.”

I shrugged, unsure of what to say. I was curious to see if we could ever find a common ground between us. (Of course, it didn't take long for that to happen. I'll get to it later. The conversation we had, when I think about it, makes me sad and if I think about it now, I'll put the pen down and never get around to writing the rest of this letter.)

Let's keep this last training bit short and sweet, shall we? Because, well, the last competition was short and sweet. Kenneth gained the upper hand in this one, but if you ask me, Kai held his own. The goal was for Kai to perfect his shadow claw attack by finding a huge chunk of ice and slashing relentlessly at it until it became a pile of rubble that blended in with the rest of the snow. Heigani, Kenneth's corphish, was instructed to use his bubblebeam attack instead. The water's temperature was altered enough to melt the ice rather than have him cut away at it with his pincers. Was that meant to be a shortcut of some kind? Kenneth sure enjoys concocting the weirdest techniques.

So I watched as Kai chose the target he wanted to practice on. Heigani followed, and the two obliterated their respective pieces of ice in ten seconds flat. Kai moved to the next best location, scuttling over the sharper icicles he had carved and let drop to the cavern floor. Heigani moved on as well, but never strayed too far from his opponent. (I assume he did this to measure Kai's potential?)

It took a while for the realization to hit. Heigani was conveniently placing himself near Kai, and the bubblebeam's higher temperature was radiating an intense amount of heat. The steam produced on impact wafted over to Kai's ice, which made it easier to crack and collapse.

I wouldn't make something like this up, I swear! But why Heigani did this, I don't know! Kenneth wouldn't order him to do that. Would he? I just know that, without Heigani's help, Kai would have been a tad bit slower and would have lost most rounds, if not all of them. Though... I may or may be debating whether that seal ball effect was preventing him from trying his best. Kai's main motivator is knowing he'll be given a piece of fruit when he's finished carrying out an attack—but he wasn't hungry! I'm sorry to say, Markus, that Kai didn't care about anything but the mere fact that the competition temporarily kept him from being bored.

You'd think there would've been one more competition, given that Kenneth had another contender. Unfortunately, I was out of usable pokémon. With Heigani's tactic involving high temperatures, though, I was reminded of Donmel the fire-type, who had been sitting on the sidelines the entire time. He offered Kenneth moral support and nothing else. Kenneth seemed to view Donmel in a different light altogether, a sad, unnerving notion I didn't know how to bring up in a conversation.

But I can't dwell on Kenneth's problems, Markus, just as I make every effort to not dwell on yours. I guess the important thing is that I succeeded in testing my team's skills in a town that is, as you know, wintry, but not the most dangerous wintry place in the region. Now I'm confident we'll be all right in Snowbelle City, should we ever travel south, and during the regular winter months. I mean, sure, birds wear down coats and produce oils in their glands to make their feathers waterproof... And they shiver sometimes to circulate heat in their bodies. All that's fine and dandy for a pet, or for a wild flying-type. You just never know how much exertion you'll be using when traveling and battling.

So, uh. This might be hard to believe, but I've only described a day's worth of events. And really, it had just begun to turn dark once we finished training. We knew it was time to leave when even the cave entrance wasn't providing us with much light anymore. Kenneth asked to stay another five or ten minutes, but I had no interest in wandering and accidentally getting lost. (Kenneth claims that your previous letter may have had something to do with that, Markus.)

Walking back, I realized the hard way that starting a conversation with Kenneth is ridiculously difficult. Choosing a topic is impossible when you barely know someone, and, on top of that, I had to worry about making a fool of myself in front of him (again). With our pokémon in their balls, too, there wasn't a single distraction to break the silence. Eventually I asked him why he didn't have a traditional Hoenn starter. Ghost-types aren't the most popular species, after all. Not even for experienced trainers!

Kenneth ignored me, head held low as we crossed the bridge once more. Desperate, I looked around, searching for any source of inspiration that might make the atmosphere less awkward. Snow, a slow-moving river, steel cables, trees with bare branches... Nope, nothing was coming to me.

The last thing Kenneth had commented on with any emotion was your letters, so I'm sorry, Markus, but I kind of used you as bait. Maybe I thought this would be the ideal way to get him to sympathize with you, too, but if you were to ask me to be honest about it I would clam up and change the subject. I told him about your starters, all three of them. ...I'm hoping you don't mind. Kenneth, being the respectful guy he is, waited till we stepped off the bridge to reply. He didn't say anything mean, per se, but he was surprised that you had three, and then by the fact that they're, you know... gone.

He made eye contact with me as I explained everything to him (sparing the more gruesome details, I promise), and I thought he would lecture me on how I was overstepping my boundaries. Instead he shrugged and said, “You should tell this Markus Samaras friend of yours that I know such personal information about him.”

“Well, he knows you're traveling with me, so he knows you exist, and I guess that's a good start...” Whatever else I rambled on about isn't important. I wasn't keen on including this conversation in my letter, not at all, and, if it were up to me, I would've forgotten it took place completely.

“Does he now?” Kenneth asked, eyebrow raised. “It's only fair, if you think about it.”

I told him it was fair because he analyzes you, even from afar, even without you asking to be the center of attention and the target of intense scrutiny. The actual wording I used was hardly what I'd call elegant, but so it goes.

“Am I like that?” he murmured softly, and then he turned quiet again, like he was reliving his childhood and trying to pinpoint the exact moment that determined he would be the way he is today. He surprised me when he said, “All right, then. Tell this Markus Samaras friend of yours that I'm not perfect, either. I told you Yamirami was my starter, right?”

I nodded.

“I lied about that. Donmel was my starter, not Yamirami.”

...Markus, this didn't make sense to me, and in some ways, it still doesn't, knowing the facts of Kenneth's life that I'll explain in a minute. It's always been commonplace for trainers to have strong bonds with their starters, and to... not favor them, or treat them special... What I'm trying to say is that trainers put their starters on a pedestal one step higher than other members of the team, but to me, it seemed that Donmel could disappear into thin air and Kenneth could replace him without a second thought.

It was my turn to be silent. I had to listen if I wanted to begin to understand where he was coming from.

Kenneth sighed. “Donmel was my starter,” he repeated. “He used to belong to my dad. My dad... had this silly dream as a kid. He wanted to study the stars, wanted to be an astronaut so he could travel to space and see the stars up close. I'm not aware of all the details, but before he completed his schooling he lost hope and suddenly considered the goal unrealistic. Then he dropped out and did what everyone does when they don't know what else to do in life: he became a pokémon trainer. He didn't forget about the stars, though. His team consisted of species that reminded him of them. Donmel, as a fire-type, was a fitting choice. He experimented with all the elements, but fire was his favorite. At the dinner table he'd boast about whatever crazy attack combinations Donmel had performed that day. They were more for show than for battling purposes, but me and my mom were never allowed a glimpse of his self-proclaimed brilliance. He would have been good at contests if he had gotten over his pride, though I think he was planning on entering one in the near future, because one day he brought me to the place he'd always train with Donmel and his other pokémon. I guess he finally woke up that morning and decided I was old enough to have a relationship with my father, I don't know. ...Haley, I told you about the seals earlier, didn't I? He introduced them to me, said he wanted to demonstrate how Donmel could breathe blue fire in a pattern that mimicked the hottest stars within the constellations. It was his biggest accomplishment as a trainer to date, he said. Donmel messed up, though. Or I walked too close. I can't say I remember for certain. But I got burned and had to be taken to the emergency room. After that, Dad disappeared. My mom gave Donmel to me years later, when I registered my license, as a consolation or a way to feel closer to my father.”

And Markus, what was I supposed to say to that? No thoughts were running through my mind. I was only feeling what emotions came to me: a twinge of loneliness intertwined with a sense of familiarity. My own father was a part of my life, more so than Kenneth's, but he was detached, and I'd argue that that's almost the same as being gone.

I wanted to ask why he'd use seals for his whole team if such bad memories were associated with them. I wanted to ask if releasing Donmel from his pokéball ever made him apprehensive, or angry. I wanted to ask what he'd do if he found his father. But I could only mumble that I was sorry.

“There's a lot that I don't know, but the scar is there,” Kenneth said, shrugging and, maybe unconsciously, holding his stomach. I couldn't see the burn mark, but I knew it was there. “I was near Anistar specifically to see if anyone knew about him visiting the sundial, given its connection to the most significant star out there. It seemed like somewhere he would go.”

He treated his story like it wasn't a big deal, Markus. Don't be fooled, though, okay? He told me when he met that he didn't care where his father was, but he just admitted otherwise. He didn't lie for the fun of it; he lied to protect himself. When you feel the need to conjure up a lie to to tell people you just met, you know something's seriously wrong. And I have no right asking you this, but please be kind in your response. He wanted you, a complete stranger, to know. So now you know.

- Haley