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Old April 5th, 2016 (4:28 PM). Edited August 29th, 2018 by diamondpearl876.
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diamondpearl876 diamondpearl876 is offline
you can breathe now. x
    Join Date: Jun 2007
    Location: Illinois, USA.
    Age: 25
    Nature: Careful
    Posts: 1,567
    Back in late 2015, I promised I would attempt to rewrite this story. I've spent plenty of time re-reading old reviews, re-reading the original chapters, and re-planning certain aspects of the story. A lot is going to be changed... but a lot is going to remain the same. A lot of new things will be added, too. I admit I initially went into this story having no idea what I would do with it. I didn't even know if this was a story I wanted to write for the longest time, but now I know that this is definitely something I want to see through to the end. I can't say I have this story pinned down from beginning to end—because what fun is it if there's no surprises along the way—but I hope what I have to offer now is much more pleasing and fulfilling to read. Any and all comments are appreciated. Further edits will be based off of readers' comments.

    Limited time, limited abilities. The legendary Kyurem says she can be cured in exchange for saving those who need saving.

    Rating: TEEN for frequent profanity, references to self-harm, references to parental abuse (neglect and emotional abuse in particular).

    Kephi for best non-human supporting character (serebii)
    Best journey fic (bulbagarden)
    Virokoe for best pokémon character (bulbagarden)
    Annie for best protagonist (bulbagarden)
    Gregory for best human supporting character (serebii)
    Annie for best human main character (serebii)

    Best new pokémon-chaptered fic (serebii)
    Best trainer fic x2 (serebii)
    Annie for best human main character (serebii)
    Kephi for best non-human main character (serebii)


    prologue – the reawakening

    part one | sinnoh

    chapter 1 - like real people do
    chapter 2 - spare the guilt
    chapter 3 - playing nice
    chapter 4 - at first sight


    the reawakening


    Humans are illogical, my friend. They ask us gods to provide more guidance than what Arceus has already offered Himself. Arceus wants humans to trust each other and work to create for themselves the answers they seek. Instead, humans hold on to their own personal truth, all the while imagining an ideal life that, in reality, isn't so far out of reach.

    I'm sorry to say that it's been like this since the very beginning, my friend. And I can't think of a plausible explanation for how an entire group of living creatures could bring about so much suffering for themselves without it simply being in their nature.

    I should take caution in what I say, I know. Arceus is the Supreme God, and I am merely a shard of ice. It stands to reason that His priorities lie elsewhere, and it’s undeniable, the proof I possess to support this claim of mine.

    My friend, listen to me. The proof sits before your very eyes. Somehow, I still exist. I am still here. Too much time has passed for any human to have lived in the presence of my original form, but you may recall it. Alas, the holes in my own memory are part of what hinders me, and so, I have come to you for assistance.

    I need you because I seek change, my friend—not only for me, but also for the world as a whole. And you, more so than the other gods, are aware of how change can bring about peace. How change can make you feel complete when you finally possess what you've spent your whole life looking for.

    I understand your ability to travel to the past when your presence is needed... You depend on others as much as I do, do you not? Without Dialga, time would not exist as a definable concept. Without Arceus, there would be no living creatures to utilize the flow of time.

    Similarly, without my original form splitting into three beings, the world's history would have taken an entirely different path.

    The search for Reshiram’s truth and Zekrom’s ideals should be unnecessary. Strictly speaking, it still is unnecessary, and restoring my original form is impossible. Why bother, then? Why am I asking you to do what I want you to?

    I feel compelled to at least try. I was born in the midst of chaos. My punishment is that I cannot become complete. I did not ask for chaos... nor did I contribute to its creation... but still I cannot become complete like Arceus’s absolute truth promises. I am simply leftovers. Leftovers from the original form. I look the part. I've heard the researchers whisper about how my features are asymmetrical, the ice hardened on my body is cracked, and how they thought I'd be larger, more intimidating in size.

    If humans can capture and banish me, they can save me, too. And if they can save a god, they can save themselves.

    Despite my constant raving about Arceus, however, His gift of ice grounds me to the present moment, so much so that sometimes I can't help but marvel at the Hardship I was trusted with.

    So I’m torn, my friend. Is there something I'm not seeing? Is there something you're just... not telling me? As it stands, I would gift Him with sadness in return. The sadness of knowing that I lay alone, within the Giant Chasm, for ages. The sadness of knowing that I was put there unwillingly and then He did nothing about it. The sadness of knowing that His sadness could have been prevented.

    My patience is wearing thin, my friend. You know that I have given humans a chance. I've found humans that have the potential to be heroes just as Reshiram and Zekrom have had, humans which made me feel confident that I can leave the confines of the Giant Chasm someday.

    These potential heroes, they looked so broken when I first met them. Their faces sullen and bodies sluggish, I could tell they needed something—anything—to mend their wounds. I made promises to them. I would provide for them whatever they wished if it meant they’d work to prove or disprove Arceus’s absolute truth.

    You look at me strangely for that, my friend. I am a god, but I do not work with miracles. I hope you understand. I am going to need your help for my next potential hero, after all.

    ...I suppose that does suggest that all the others in the past have failed. This is true. Humans as a whole still wish me gone. I, too, have learned to want to disappear... To die would mean to disappear... But since I cannot die, I’ve created my own natural disaster: a temperature of absolute zero, which I can sustain as long as I wish and lock myself away indefinitely if I so choose. I have not found the courage to do such a thing permanently yet, but I am satisfied for the time being, knowing the option is there.

    I cannot give up hope now, especially since I have only barely begun to expand my search outside of Unova.

    I have found a girl in the Sinnoh region. It seemed to be the next best place to go to, for my home of Unova has failed me time and time again. The girl currently lives near Sandgem Town's oceans. She lies not on the beach, enjoying her youth as she should, but instead in a hospital bed, comatose and on the brink of death. From what I hear, the doctors know no symptoms, no outward signs that foreshadowed the stroke which she may or may not recover from.

    Well, I can ensure a safe and speedy recovery. The divine energy of ice, however illogical it might sound to you, is sufficient enough for that. In dealing with the underlying problem, however, I am severely limited. Arceus will have to cure that ailment, should she prove herself worthy. She may fail, but she will try. ...How do I know that, you ask? She won't refuse, my friend. She won't because she can't. She is guaranteed a short life otherwise.

    So she will journey across Sinnoh. She is twenty-two years of age, and has no pokémon of her own. Her parents, when speaking with the doctors, revealed she has never shown interest in the creatures before, nor the idea of traveling. She was studying to become a therapist in college. Her goal, then, will be to create a team of pokémon that are damaged and in dire need of her services. There are plenty of those to be found, believe me. She will become overwhelmed if she realizes that fact, and so, I will encourage her to seek only foreign pokémon—which are difficult to come by in any region. I am sure they exist. I do not care who they are, or what burdens they bear. I only care about the outcome of that journey, whatever it may be.

    You ask again, my friend, what I am asking you to do. The answer is simple. The underlying cause for this girl's stroke is not only physical, but also mental in nature. There are memories that she has repressed, memories that led to her developing the condition that is currently threatening her life. I myself do not know what these memories are, nor do I have the power to see them.

    You, my friend, have that power. I am asking you to show me these memories. Help me understand these memories. And, most importantly, I need you to help the girl herself remember. ...A complete life will be impossible without her remembering. Arceus will play a major part in the cure by Himself, but He cannot change the past. He trusted you with that Hardship long ago.

    If this all fails...

    You bring that up again? I cannot stand thinking of it. I suppose I should put to use my control of an absolute zero temperature, in that case. I cannot die, but I do not need to exist. I bear the Hardship of incompleteness. The world is not complete if I am not here. Such a shame it would be if I disappeared.

    My friend, I'm sorry that I've doted on this time and time again. I'm frustrated, though. Arceus is the Supreme God. I... am Kyurem. A mere shard of ice. Still I wish humans would quit taking my life from me. I wish I didn't still sympathize with them as well as I do. I wish I could be something other than a god, something that cannot hear prayers or confessions about regret.

    ...You say you'll help, my friend? How good to hear. This girl will wake from her coma soon, knowing full well what needs to be done. Absolute zero versus the absolute truth... Which will save me? That answer, it's all I want to know, my friend. And it's all I live for.
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    Old June 18th, 2016 (8:40 PM). Edited March 5th, 2017 by diamondpearl876.
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    diamondpearl876 diamondpearl876 is offline
    you can breathe now. x
      Join Date: Jun 2007
      Location: Illinois, USA.
      Age: 25
      Nature: Careful
      Posts: 1,567


      // PART ONE. SINNOH \\

      Find what you love and let it kill you. — Charles Bukowski

      chapter 1
      like real people do


      I've never really felt this kind of cold before.

      This coldness... isn't normal. It's piercing and exhausting and terrible, but I’m not shivering. I'm not rubbing my hands together or running to get warm like I should be. I'm not sure what I'm doing at all, because I can't even see my body in front of me and the darkness is suffocating. Warmth, then, becomes an afterthought.

      Maybe this is a dream. Maybe I'll wake up and I'll never feel this kind of cold again.

      I should wake up, if I can. Again and again, I try to cry out or scream, but it's useless. What I hear instead sounds inhuman. The cold settles on my skin, creating a stinging sensation in my hands as if I've just crushed a throat or smashed some glass. I think my heart should be beating faster than it is, and in fact I don't feel a heartbeat at all. Maybe there’s a hollow spot in my chest where one might fit perfectly, if only...

      There’s a voice. There’s a voice, just one, cutting in and out like radio static. It’s hard to focus as the voice speaks vehemently about a past that would be best left to the imagination. I hear bits and pieces about my own life, my hometown and my studies. Part of me wonders if I’ve met whoever’s talking, once upon a time. The other part of me doesn’t care.

      My body betrays itself constantly like this. Things it should feel and remember, it doesn’t. Everything always turns out to be piercing and exhausting and terrible.

      I struggle to breathe because I don’t want to listen to the voice anymore. Can anyone see me? Is anyone else listening? I don't know. I just want to breathe. The cold, coming from all directions, the darkness and the gasping...

      The voice grows louder, more bitter and sad. A foreign-sounding name is mentioned. Kee-yur-emm. Kyurem? Unova’s god of ice? I guess somebody’s watching after all. The cold makes sense now, but the thought fails to comfort me.

      There's a light. I can see the cold in the light, moving like smoke. It's cold and then it's actually warm. I want to keep warm but the cold comes back with a large, hazy face staring straight at me in the distance. The face reminds me of a kid I knew once. Some night two years ago, maybe five or ten, a lot of things went wrong on Sandgem Town's deserted beach. I stood with the kid afterward, both of us shaken up and confused. We watched the black, quiet surf carry the sand, white as sugar, as it washed over our feet and rooted us in place. After that night, I wondered if the light in that kid’s eyes would stay gone forever.

      It’s strange that I want nothing more right now than to thank the kid and see how they’re doing. I think I get it now, though. The cold’s meant to drive away the numbness I'm accustomed to. If I wake up, will the numbness disappear forever?

      Kyurem… Kyurem wants me to wake up. He wants me to see reality for what it truly is for some reason. That’s what he says, and what a god wants, he gets. But for a god, his logic is haphazard and hard to understand. It doesn't matter either way. I don't trust gods. I don't trust anything.

      The light shines even brighter, telling me that living isn’t a choice.

      Simultaneously, breathing feels more natural, and the view becomes clearer. The kid’s gone, and two people looking down on me now are more like a watercolor painting than anything. My parents? No, not likely. I'd hear them speak a prayer to Arceus at a time like this, and the only word I understand of what’s being said now is blood. The voice doesn’t belong to Kyurem, and whether Kyurem’s done with me for now or for good, I don’t know.

      I used to make jokes about Arceus and all his holy lackeys up there, before... this. I used to be more carefree. This will be the last joke: I think He's been forgetting about me since the day I was born.

      New voices, obviously a doctor’s and a nurse’s this time. I don't want to hear what they have to say, but it’s time to stop fighting and just wake up.

      I flex my fingers, twisting the cool, smooth sheets below me. I reach out and my hand falls on my stomach, which is probably overrun with all kinds of medicine I don't know about if I’m in a hospital. I reach out again, keeping my hand suspended. I find nothing. What am I even looking for?

      A hand, and a voice. Another voice, my sister's. Her tone, sudden and frantic, becomes louder. Louder. If only I could make out the actual words. I can see her pale skin, her wavy blonde hair, so she's close. She's here for me, here to save me from the cold and the doctors. She's here to take me home, but a moment later she's pushed away. She cries and leaves the room and it hits me that whatever's happening, it's real.

      I have to go with her. I have to test my senses, figure out how to make them all cooperate at once, and present myself like a normal, healthy person. But the more I explore what my body can and can’t do, the less confident I feel. Everything feels wrong and numb. Leftovers from Kyurem's cold, or something like that.

      My sister's back. She's back! She's wearing a gown now, and I can understand what she's saying. She's repeating my name... over and over, between sobs.


      I trust she'll help me get out of here soon enough. I trust her not because I want to... but because I have to. Living isn’t a choice, but maybe I'll be surprised by what it brings me.


      I'm in a hospital and there's a ton of machines and wires. All of them with a different purpose, all of them working together toward the same goal. Wouldn’t it be something if Kyurem’s working toward the same goal as me? Wouldn’t it be something… if neither of us had to feel that kind of cold ever again?



      In my less disoriented state, I feel even colder and the light makes it harder to keep my eyes open. Flashes of color dance around the hospital room while my eyes continue to adjust. Again I hear my sister’s voice, and the colors scatter when I turn my head toward her. She’s fixing the sleeve of her gown with one hand because it’s a bit too long for her arm, and she pushes away a table tray with several plates of untouched food on top it so she can get closer to me. Her hand trembling, she reaches out to me just like I reached for her.

      I say her name. Renee… And I want to ask her why she didn’t take the food sitting there, but I already know she was too worried to eat and anyway, my voice sounds awfully raspy. So I just hold her hand and we sit there listening to the rhythmic beeping of the machines monitoring my vitals through the wires. I can’t help but notice that her grip feels weak, like she has no energy left to spare. Her expression is emotionless, her eyes exhausted.

      For a moment I wish she were still screaming at the doctors, scrambling to my bedside as if nothing else mattered. It's wrong and I know it. I open my mouth to apologize, but my voice rebels against me once more. That’s fine with me. I don’t even know what I want to say exactly, or I do know, but no doubt my voice would run out of strength before I got to the point.

      “Where am I?” I manage, eventually.

      Renee’s gaze shifts back and forth with a pained look on her face. Well, it’s not like I’ve traveled far from Sandgem in years, so where else would I be? I shouldn’t let her answer needlessly because of how tired she is.

      “Sandgem Medical Center,” Renee tells me anyway.

      “Oh,” I say stupidly, adding this conversation to the list of things I feel guilty for. “Right… Makes sense.”

      “Come on, Annie. You don't have to talk right now...” Renee trails off to allow a broad-shouldered doctor with a drooping mustache to step forward and introduce himself. I forget his name immediately in favor of the glass of water he puts into my hand, trying not to dwell on how his fingers overlap mine as I gulp it down. At least this way, I’m able to savor the taste and not embarrass myself by spilling everywhere like a kid.

      “You had a stroke, Miss Willems,” he says to me. His tone is as unreadable as his face, what with the surgical mask covering his mouth. “Your blood couldn't get to where it was supposed to go because your blood vessels were blocked. You fell into a coma and when you were safe and stable, we administered a treatment known as therapeutic hypothermia to prevent the stroke from damaging your brain any further.”

      My jaw tightens, and I grit my teeth. Hypothermia? Does that mean my subconscious had the god of ice pop up in my dreams randomly? I’d suspected that originally, but Kyurem’s story contained too many specific, historical details that I can’t recall having ever learned. Not to mention he’d gone on a tangent about some plans he had for me in exchange for a cure, which… would be foolish of me to ignore.

      But... the cold prevented further damage to my brain? What's that supposed to mean?

      The doctor goes on and says, “Your body's temperature is back to normal now, and has been for a couple days. We won't know how successful the treatment was, or what effects the stroke will have on you in the future, until we have you assessed by our specialists.”

      I'm almost too afraid to ask more about what’s going to happen. I’ve spent the last several years looking for answers to questions about how bizarre and out of place I feel by just… existing. Kyurem’s promise of a cure doesn’t provide me with any concrete answers, no, but at least the offer suggests that there’s hope.

      “So...” I start, “we'll see what I can do. And what I can't do. Then we'll figure out how to adjust things accordingly.”

      “Yes. The rehabilitation process, your discharge date, and anything else you might require will be determined afterward.”

      I glance at Renee, curious to see her reaction to all this. She nods to me and smiles softly. The realist in her appreciates the doctor’s honesty, whereas his rehearsed speech has me skeptical about how good he really is at his job.

      His mere presence is rather discouraging, really, especially since his lack of interest in explaining anything further is obvious. He stares at me expectantly, probably waiting for a barrage of questions. If I want to hear more information, which I don’t, I guess I’ll have to ask. Luckily, the doctor’s patience wears thin quick, and he allows me time alone with my sister after another robotic speech about how to call the nurses if I need them for any reason.

      Now, if I could just find a reasonable way to request that Renee leave the room, too, without sounding heartless—or worse, ungrateful—then I could attempt to process everything going on. There’s a sinking feeling in my stomach, because having a discussion with my innocent, wide-eyed sister about communicating with a higher power wouldn’t end well. I’d been persistent about rejecting my religious upbringing, after all. So I have no doubt that she’d focus on that, when for me, it’s irrelevant.

      I simply ask her where our parents are.

      Renee takes a step back and peers out the window with a frown, which says it all. “They’ve been here to visit,” she claims. “They just... Well, it's been hard on them, Annie.”

      “I'm sure. Oh, well,” I say, like it’s not actually a big deal. “Waiting by your daughter’s bedside every waking moment for a miracle to happen is a nice idea, but not a realistic one.”

      “Yeah…” Renee says reluctantly. “I came right after school let out, and it just happened to be the perfect timing!” She smiles, but it fades quickly as she adds, “I’ll stay with you until Mom and Dad show up, okay?”

      The stroke spared my ability to speak but I don’t reply. I’m afraid I might blurt out Kyurem’s name just to get it off my chest. Why hasn’t she noticed that I’m hiding something?

      I lay there with my sister holding my hand again, stroking it lightly and saying she’s glad I’m back. She promises it’ll all be over soon. I just have to listen to what the doctors want me to do so I can go home, but first, I want to lay here and be good-for-nothing a little while longer. So that's exactly what I do.


      Two hours later and my parents haven’t shown up yet. The sun could shrink below the horizon anytime now, and the afternoon shift’s working on passing the torch to a new set of doctors and nurses who possess enough energy to lecture me.

      “Strokes aren't common in people your age, Miss Willems.”

      This particular doctor calls himself an occupational therapist. I must’ve appeared unimpressed, because after introducing himself, he became determined to put on a show to prove to me that his title is no joke. To not overwork my muscles but to help rebuild their strength, he encouraged me to switch positions in bed every so often. He instructed me to stay relaxed lest my muscles tense up and make moving feel even more uncomfortable.

      Once practical stuff was out of the way, he began his lecture, his real reason for visiting.

      “I know. Sucks, but what can I do?” I say, shrugging and refusing to look him in the eye. “I'm twenty-two and my biggest problem should be about whether I'll sleep through my alarm for class tomorrow.”

      “Was that your biggest problem before?” he asks. He smiles genuinely, sadly, pulling over a cushioned chair from nearby. He places it the wrong way, his elbows resting on the backrest. “We found out about your smoking habit through blood tests, saliva tests...”

      He stops. I tell him I don’t deny it—arguing would be useless—but I certainly don’t bother hiding the bitterness in my voice.

      “Miss Willems, the last thing I want to do is add to your stress. However, I do wish for you to know that quitting is highly advised. My job is to incorporate healthier, more fulfilling ways to spend your time.”

      His tone resembles that of a therapist’s, compassionate with a subtle undertone of pity. With his lopsided smile, I get the impression that he knows more than he lets on. I swallow and clear my throat. This guy’s wrong about whatever he thinks he knows. Probably. I suppose my files might contain information I haven’t been told about the stroke yet...

      The better question is, why am I allowing this man to make me so nervous? On a crowded street nothing about him would stand out. Plain black suit, white undershirt that’s perfectly cuffed at the sleeves, straight blue tie. Neat goatee, wire-rimmed glasses, the works. Nothing out of place, nothing intimidating or cunning. I want to tell him he’d fit in better at an office job, where he could be boring in all the right ways.

      Still. I run my tongue along the insides of my cheeks, my mouth too dry to speak fluently like a normal person.

      The occupational therapist sighs. “I trained the ice-type that administered the therapeutic hypothermia,” he goes on. “She’s been on my team for years, and recently became certified by the league here in Sinnoh to work in the medical setting with me. Her part in all this is finished. I need your cooperation for the next step, Miss Willems.”

      “But I don’t know you.”

      The words come out before I can reason with myself to keep quiet. Instead of declaring how offensive my remark was, he recites his name: Gregory Holster.

      “Again, I don’t want to stress you out more,” he assures me. “We’ll get started with assessments first thing tomorrow. Rest well, all right?”

      He turns to disappear into the busy hallway. Something about him strikes me as odd, but dwelling on it implies that I care. I can’t deny that it’d be nice if I thought someone cared, but I’ve learned from past mistakes. Being the one who cares first puts you at a huge disadvantage.

      “Uh, Dr. Holster?”

      “Yes?” he says, turning back toward me.

      “What kind of pokémon is she? I mean, I know you said she’s an ice-type, but…”

      Gregory laughs heartily. “Froslass,” he answers. “I went to find her the moment I found out you’d woken up, and she wishes you a speedy recovery.”

      Froslass… The species is native to Sinnoh, but I haven’t the slightest clue what they look like. As an ice-type, though, she definitely has to know about Kyurem. And as a pokémon, she could describe what Kyurem meant about the journey he wants me to undertake. The idea of it makes me shudder.

      “Where is she now?”

      “Resting… as you should be.”

      “Oh,” I say, wincing. “Is she, uh, okay?”

      Gregory hesitates before answering. “Yes. The therapy… The therapy just requires over twenty-four straight hours of her tuning in to and controlling her ice-type abilities. It’s draining, but not in a damaging way.”

      “No one took over for her after a while?”

      “Couldn’t chance it,” he says, shaking his head. “Every second matters in a procedure like that.”

      Well. I can understand that. I nod my head and let him leave this time.


      Tomorrow rolls around before I know it, and as Gregory promised, the onslaught of assessments begins. I have to give the doctors credit, really, for ensuring that I understand the instructions rather than just watching me fail spectacularly. Each one varies in terms of complexity and how much time they take, and I’m far too busy fretting about the possible results and my parents’ still being MIA to properly pay attention.

      The imaging tests force me to stay focused, though, because otherwise they’ll have to be redone. A pounding headache creeps in while the machines snap their x-ray pictures, but at least no one rushes to me saying there’s leftover internal bleeding or lesions in my brain post-stroke.

      Next, I try my best with the language and motor movement tests despite my tiredness lest it’s declared that I need treatment when I don’t. I’m relieved when the speech therapist ends the assessment early after I make up a wild but coherent story based on a simple, colorless photograph she shows me.

      As for the physical therapist and psychologist… Well, their expressions never falter, which screams bad news to me. I leave with a sore body and a craving for sleep.

      Positive thinking usually winds up being a waste of time for me, but I try to imagine that the assessments gauge just how well Kyurem followed through with his promise to heal me. The assessments also gauge for me whether or not Kyurem even exists. He needs someone functional to journey through Sinnoh, after all, not someone limited, and rehabilitation would be a huge setback.

      Positive thinking doesn’t cross my mind as an option anymore once a nurse comes to let me know I have visitors: my oh so loving, faithful parents.

      My mother stands at the receptionist desk, holding a pen in one shaking hand and holding her wrist with the other. She signs her name, takes a step back and breathes deeply, already on the verge of a breakdown. My father, unlike her, moves gracefully and with purpose. Anyone just meeting him could easily mistake him for a doctor, not a visitor, if he weren’t wearing casual clothes.

      I dawdle from the hallway to my assigned room and plop down on the edge of the bed. Massaging my arms and legs relaxes me as I wait. Looking up, I notice myself in the tall mirror hanging from the bathroom door. A smudge blocks the spot in the mirror where I should see my face, and for a moment I feel more ghost than human. I doubt I’d have any chance to pass for normal if the psychologist assessed me now.

      The first thing I want to tell them is how kind it is for them to drop by and say hello to their daughter a full twenty-four hours after she woke from a coma. The words stick in my throat and I smile at them instead, and silently, I yell at myself for hiding for my disappointment in them.

      My father, stoic as he is, smiles back. He rubs the back of his neck and has to fix his tie when his hand accidentally brushes it out of place. His vulnerability surprises me, but I can’t let my guard down. I’ve kept a mask on for a very long time and I’d like to keep it that way, although my mother’s sobs radiating throughout the room and out into the hall, attracting the odd stare from passers-by, obligates me to console her somehow.

      I look in her general direction and say, “Arceus was wonderful to me, wasn’t He?” And then smiling for them becomes no trouble at all. Having your child admit they’re no longer skeptical of Arceus’s divinity is what all religious parents with agnostic children pray for.

      My mother pulls herself together enough so that she can talk. “Yes, He has. I spoke with the pokémon that did the ice therapy. With her species being part ghost-type, who knows how long Arceus will want her on the earth, accomplishing great things like she did with you…”

      “Wait, froslass are really part ghost-types?” My jaw tightens to keep myself from blurting out anything else I might regret. Honestly, though, who thought it was okay to let ghost-types roam hospitals, where death is too commonplace as it is?

      I mention some offhand comment about how Arceus must have plans for me, too, and I guess my mother takes that as permission to drop the froslass subject. “Of course He does,” she says. “Naturally, you’re a bit behind with classes, but with His help, you’ll be out of here soon. You’ll catch up and be another step closer to graduation.”

      …Right. It’s just about springtime, and classes will end for the year in early May. I have to approach this delicately and act like the goofy, levelheaded, determined daughter my parents think they know, which is the front I put up the most. To lie well, you just have to lie often, and then the guilt becomes nonexistent.

      “You know, I’ve thought about it real hard,” I say, twirling my hair with my index finger. “I’m going to withdraw from this semester’s classes.”

      My father crosses his arms and stands next to my mother, their shoulders barely touching. “Why is that?” he asks sternly.

      “It’s as good a time as any, isn’t it? I’m behind, like Mom said, and I’ll have a valid explanation if I’m ever asked about the withdrawal grade.”

      “Your mother also said you could catch up, and she’s not wrong.”

      “Well, yeah, but I don’t want to stress myself out more than I have to,” I say. I’ll have to thank Gregory for that excuse later. “I have to get better, and I’ll go back when I don’t have to worry about my health as much. I mean, the stroke… could happen again. I want to make sure it doesn’t.”

      Wrong thing to bring up, I know. My mother’s face scrunches and Dad removes his glasses. He can’t see me without them. At least I didn’t admit that I didn’t think this through at all, and that my goal is to actually find out if Kyurem’s plans for me are real are not.

      “Hey, now. I’m making sure it doesn’t happen again,” I say, struggling to keep my voice even.

      “Renee says you’ll quit smoking, though?” my dad asks, still awkwardly adjusting his glasses.

      “Yeah, I’ll work on it,” I say. I probably won’t, to be frank, but being honest like real people do would only upset them more. “You guys can keep an eye on me anyway. I assume I’ll be stuck in the house for a while.”

      “Honey, maybe… Wouldn’t staying here benefit you more?” my mother says, stuttering between words. “The doctors here would be able to measure your progress better than us, and can stop any problems from getting worse.”

      My mother fails at being subtle. What I really hear is that my mother is tired of my unpredictable behavior at home. She would never tell me that outright, but once, I overheard her discussing it with my dad in the middle of the night. If I fall apart mentally in the hospital, then she can count on the doctors to deal with it.

      Neither the house nor the hospital sound appealing in the long-term, let alone the short-term. I’ll have to choose one or the other regardless, because I saw it in the mirror and I can feel it now. In the mirror hanging on the bathroom door, I’ve watched myself move my arms or legs while talking to my parents. And every time I’ve moved, a strange dull sensation ran through my body. Sometimes it felt like a burn. Sometimes it felt like bugs were crawling on my skin, or it was a simple ache, like a pulled muscle.

      Whatever’s going on, I can’t let it get worse. Worst case scenario, I have another stroke and die earlier than expected. Best case? I… don’t know. Usually I’m more optimistic, but not today.

      Intrusive, illogical thoughts invade my head again. My memory and my attention span and my morals have all been thrown out the window, more so than before the stroke. I can’t let these problems get worse, either. I don’t blame my mother for not wanting to deal with that. It hurts regardless. Is that why they waited to visit me?

      I tell my parents I need more time to think now that we’ve talked. They understand, or seem to. Mostly they seem relieved to have an excuse to go, ‘cause they’re out the door in under a minute. I don’t know what’s going through their heads. I know nothing, and I feel like I’m nothing. Maybe I am nothing. I just want to know what’s happening, and what’s going to happen from here on out. I want to be… anything.

      Anything at all.
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      Old July 23rd, 2016 (5:09 PM).
      Negrek's Avatar
      Negrek Negrek is offline
      Am I more than you bargained for yet?
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        A lot more sensory detail in this chapter than there was in the old version! The emphasis on cold and Arceus, in various forms, also ties it in well with the previous chapter. At the beginning, though, there were points where I wasn't entirely sure whether the POV character was Annie or Kyurem. I think that might be intentional? The part where Annie's talking about standing with a girl on a beach, for example, seems like it could easily be Kyurem talking about her... or it could be Annie having some memory of a sad time at the beach, possibly with Renee. And then there's also stuff like this:

        But for right now, the cold settles on my skin, creating a stinging sensation in my hands as if I've just crushed a throat or smashed some glass.
        To me, that definitely sounds more like an analogy Kyurem would make, rather than Annie. At least, I'm assuming she's never crushed anybody's throat? (I wouldn't think Kyurem has, either, but he's certainly killed people.) To me this just seemed like an odd thing for Annie to be thinking, unless there's something else going on with her that I don't know about (in which case holy muk, Annie).

        That, along with the repeated mentions of Arceus and his intentions, which sound a lot like what Kyurem was struggling with in the first chapter, make it seem like there's at least some of his influence over Annie's thoughts, even if it's actually from her POV. If that's what you were going for it's pretty cool and I think makes an effective transition from the previous chapter to this one. If not, you might want to be a bit more careful with your choice of imagery, since as is it sometimes strikes me as being too grim or Arceus-centric for Annie as I understand her.

        I really like the idea of induced hypothermia being the source of the coldness Annie was experiencing; can't remember whether she got the same treatment in the last version, but in any case I think it works really well here. It also provides a possible mundane explanation for Annie's Kyurem experience, and I'm kind of surprised she isn't more skeptical of the whole thing, given that. I mean, there's even a line where she basically acknowledges that she might just have been feeling the cold from the treatment, and she knows she's been on all kinds of drugs and had a stroke to boot... the fact that she's still so determined to go off on this quest or otherwise she's gonna die is a little odd. To me it would make more sense if there was a clear ulterior motive that would make her want to leave (e.g. she wants to get away from her parents--you've kind of played up their shaky relationship here, but that doesn't appear to factor into her reasoning) or if she was skeptical at first, but then something happened (like an encounter with a foreign pokemon that seemed eerily like something Kyurem had alluded to) that made her start to wonder if the whole thing was real after all. If anything, I'd say in this version Annie's journey seems a bit more implausible than in the last.

        A couple brief sentence-level comments:

        A lot of the time she's persistent and thoughtless and has trouble keeping her emotions in check when they get overwhelming... Right now, I can tell that she wants to give up.
        one of these things is not like the other

        He honestly has the appearance makes him seem like the most boring person in the world—
        Something went wrong at the beginning of this sentence.

        I don’t want to stay in the hospital, and staying home would be awful, too. But I can leave the latter as soon as I’m ready. I know I’ll be home for a while, because now I can feel it. And I can see it. In the mirror by my bedside, I’ve watched myself move my arms or legs while talking to my parents. And every time I’ve moved, I’ve felt a strange dull sensation. Sometimes it feels like it burns. Sometimes it feels like bugs are crawling on my skin, or it’s a simple ache, like I pulled a muscle. Whatever it means, I can’t let it get worse. Worst case scenario, I have another stroke and die earlier than expected. Best case? I… don’t know. Usually I’m more optimistic, but not today.
        Hmm, wonder if that's a real syndrome you're alluding to here.

        Only other nitpick is that it strikes me as odd that Gregory would see her before the physical therapist, speech pathologist, etc. As an occupational therapist, it seems like his role is one that would come into play only after there was a better sense of to what extent Annie was going to recover from the stroke and what her needs might be. I thought it was clever that you tied him into the hypothermia treatment, though, through the use of his froslass; nothing wrong with the scene itself, except that to me it would make more sense coming a little later than it did, after the bit about the other tests Annie had to go through.

        All in all, it looks like you've thought a bit about what themes you want to be tackling with this fanfic and have really worked to bring them out more strongly in this version. There's a lot more focus on Arceus' will, which was mentioned a little but glossed over last time, as well as Annie's dissatisfaction with herself and her relationship with her family. In general, it seems like you have a clearer idea of where you want to take things and what to do with the characters, Gregory in particular. It'll be interesting to see where you take things in this new version. Sorry for the late review, and hope your writing's going well!

        In which an undead trainer, a bloodthirsty super-clone, and an irascible ex-Rocket grunt set out to rescue an imprisoned Mew--if they don't end up murdering each other first.

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        Old July 23rd, 2016 (6:45 PM).
        diamondpearl876's Avatar
        diamondpearl876 diamondpearl876 is offline
        you can breathe now. x
          Join Date: Jun 2007
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          A lot more sensory detail in this chapter than there was in the old version! The emphasis on cold and Arceus, in various forms, also ties it in well with the previous chapter. At the beginning, though, there were points where I wasn't entirely sure whether the POV character was Annie or Kyurem. I think that might be intentional? The part where Annie's talking about standing with a girl on a beach, for example, seems like it could easily be Kyurem talking about her... or it could be Annie having some memory of a sad time at the beach, possibly with Renee. And then there's also stuff like this:
          It’s all meant to be from Annie’s POV. I can see how it’d get confusing, though, with all the references to coldness and the fact that Annie’s narration style changed a bit from the old version.

          To me, that definitely sounds more like an analogy Kyurem would make, rather than Annie. At least, I'm assuming she's never crushed anybody's throat? (I wouldn't think Kyurem has, either, but he's certainly killed people.) To me this just seemed like an odd thing for Annie to be thinking, unless there's something else going on with her that I don't know about (in which case holy ****, Annie).

          That, along with the repeated mentions of Arceus and his intentions, which sound a lot like what Kyurem was struggling with in the first chapter, make it seem like there's at least some of his influence over Annie's thoughts, even if it's actually from her POV. If that's what you were going for it's pretty cool and I think makes an effective transition from the previous chapter to this one. If not, you might want to be a bit more careful with your choice of imagery, since as is it sometimes strikes me as being too grim or Arceus-centric for Annie as I understand her.
          That last comment there made me laugh, I’m sorry. XD Though you’re not entirely off track. There’s something going on, just. Uh. Don’t run away and you’ll find out! There have been some references to her not being able to recognize what’s real versus what’s not, and that plays into stranger details like the crushed throat one (and some of the more grim thoughts she’ll have in future chapters as well). If that doesn’t correlate very well or if those references aren’t coming through, let me know.

          I really like the idea of induced hypothermia being the source of the coldness Annie was experiencing; can't remember whether she got the same treatment in the last version, but in any case I think it works really well here. It also provides a possible mundane explanation for Annie's Kyurem experience, and I'm kind of surprised she isn't more skeptical of the whole thing, given that. I mean, there's even a line where she basically acknowledges that she might just have been feeling the cold from the treatment, and she knows she's been on all kinds of drugs and had a stroke to boot... the fact that she's still so determined to go off on this quest or otherwise she's gonna die is a little odd. To me it would make more sense if there was a clear ulterior motive that would make her want to leave (e.g. she wants to get away from her parents--you've kind of played up their shaky relationship here, but that doesn't appear to factor into her reasoning) or if she was skeptical at first, but then something happened (like an encounter with a foreign pokemon that seemed eerily like something Kyurem had alluded to) that made her start to wonder if the whole thing was real after all. If anything, I'd say in this version Annie's journey seems a bit more implausible than in the last.
          She didn’t get that in the last version, nope. I’m glad you think it works. And I planned to express more of her dedication to the journey in the next chapter, though this is chapter 1 and that kind of implausibility can put readers off, I’m sure… I’ll see what I can work into this.

          one of these things is not like the other

          Something went wrong at the beginning of this sentence.
          super awkwardddd

          Hmm, wonder if that's a real syndrome you're alluding to here.
          It is real indeed. To be expanded on in next chapter as well.

          Only other nitpick is that it strikes me as odd that Gregory would see her before the physical therapist, speech pathologist, etc. As an occupational therapist, it seems like his role is one that would come into play only after there was a better sense of to what extent Annie was going to recover from the stroke and what her needs might be. I thought it was clever that you tied him into the hypothermia treatment, though, through the use of his froslass; nothing wrong with the scene itself, except that to me it would make more sense coming a little later than it did, after the bit about the other tests Annie had to go through.
          That makes sense. I’d have to do a bit of rearranging to make the end of the chapter flow better, but it would probably work if I switched some things around. ^^

          All in all, it looks like you've thought a bit about what themes you want to be tackling with this fanfic and have really worked to bring them out more strongly in this version. There's a lot more focus on Arceus' will, which was mentioned a little but glossed over last time, as well as Annie's dissatisfaction with herself and her relationship with her family. In general, it seems like you have a clearer idea of where you want to take things and what to do with the characters, Gregory in particular. It'll be interesting to see where you take things in this new version. Sorry for the late review, and hope your writing's going well!
          No worries. Good to hear from you! Writing’s going well indeed, hope the same for you! Salvage is on my list of fics to catch up on, so expect a review yourself soon.
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          Old December 8th, 2016 (9:17 AM). Edited March 11th, 2017 by diamondpearl876.
          diamondpearl876's Avatar
          diamondpearl876 diamondpearl876 is offline
          you can breathe now. x
            Join Date: Jun 2007
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            chapter 2
            spare the guilt


            The doctor brave enough to explain the assessment results to me calls the weird sensations in my arms and legs a result of something called left-sided hemiparesis. He pauses afterward, to monitor my initial reaction before getting into all the nitty-gritty details. The only thing that occurs to me is that the diagnosis makes for a pretty good tongue twister, and I’d rather not have us stare at each other awkwardly, so I make a half-hearted attempt to say it quickly a couple times in a row. The doctor raises his eyebrow when I mess up, unamused.

            “Do you feel any numbness right now?” he asks, voice low and firm. His eyes fall to the clipboard at his side.

            I shake my head. Flipping through my patient forms, he mumbles something about how my speech and language assessments had turned up normal. He hurriedly scribbles down a note when he finally finds the page he’s looking for.

            “Seriously, it’s fine!” I say. He stops writing and stands there eerily still. “It’s just—not as tough a name as some other problems, so I wanted to see if I could say it. Silly, I know, but… Well, I’m rambling. Sorry.”

            The doctor waves away my apology. “I just want to make sure that the information written down is correct,” he says, tapping the clipboard with his shiny pen. “Differentiating signs of an oncoming stroke and post-stroke symptoms is essential.”

            “Makes sense,” I mumble as a response.

            “No need to worry, Miss Willems. You’re in a safe place.” He waves at me again, this time with the clipboard itself. “Now, to discuss the matter further… Stop me if you have any questions, okay?”

            “Yeah, sure.”

            “The areas in the right hemisphere of your brain that control motor movement were damaged. What you’re experiencing as a result are random, transient bouts of weakness on the left side of your body.”

            The doctor stops himself, presumably to let the facts sink in. I bite my lip as I remember a neurology class I had to take for my psychology major last year. The subject was complicated and confused me more often than not, but hey, the basics stuck with me.

            “So you’re saying I’m going to feel bad once in a while, but I’m not a cripple. I’ll just lie down in the middle of the road and take a nap if my legs give out, I guess.” I wave away the serious look that forms on his face. “And I’m not even left-handed, see?”

            He sighs deeply, and I wonder how many difficult patients he dealt with before me. “Tasks like carrying a heavy object with both hands may be a struggle. Through rehabilitation, we want you to ensure that you won’t have to think twice about doing normal, everyday activities,” he says.

            “…It’d be nice not to put everything on hold when my body acts up, yeah.” And by that, I mean it’d be nice not to have to postpone my search for Kyurem any longer than necessary. “All right. Um, anything else I should know?”

            “Left-sided hemiparesis can cause visual spatial impairments, but the tests we ran indicate this isn’t a concern for you. Do let us know if that changes,” he says. “You might also experience symptoms that are more mental in nature, such as lack of insight, impulsivity and poor concentration. These symptoms are difficult to accurately assess in a short period of time. We’ll discuss some self-care techniques you can use if needed, and we’ll inform your parents if they should watch for anything in particular once you’re discharged, since these kinds of symptoms can also be difficult to identify on your own.”

            “My parents? Oh…” The possibility of involving them alarms me, but surely the doctor already has it written down somewhere in my files. I heard it myself, my parents warning the nurses outside my room before they left—albeit reluctantly—about my past history of unexplainable outbursts.

            “Our records show that you still live with them, correct?”

            I nod dumbly, hoping that that changes soon. A little rehab couldn’t hurt, I’ll give the doctor that much. But prolonging the healing process seems risky when I take Kyurem into account. How can I simply continue on with my life when there’s even a small possibility that he exists and will help me? I don’t trust gods, but Kyurem hardly considers himself a god. That has to count for something, right? Maybe I could learn to trust him.

            “They’re around you the most” – that’s how the doctor justifies my parents being part of my support system, his eyes brightening now that the hard part of the conversation is over. “With a mild case like yours, you could even perform the rehab from the comfort of your home, if you’d like…”

            My hands clench at my sides, and the room suddenly feels too small. I guess I can add the doctor to the long, long list of people blind to my parents’ indifference toward me. I’m twenty years old and they still can’t explain why I’ve basically lost my mind a handful of times. I suppose most people would assume it’s a simple matter of not having found the right kind of doctor or medication. No one considers the truth.

            I pushed aside the thought till now, but if my parents can’t be bothered to deal with their daughter, why would Kyurem care? Studying psychology hasn’t enlightened me as to what could possibly be wrong with me, so doesn’t it make sense to drop out and find Kyurem if he can help? If I was supposed to die but in the end I lived, doesn’t that mean what I heard and saw from Kyurem could’ve been real?

            I pay no mind as the doctor continues his long-winded speech. His mouth moves while my ears refuse to listen. Literally everything else in the hospital appeals to me, the quietness and the organization. I’m not used to either of those things.

            I can just help myself, I guess. I’ll be okay. I have to be okay so I can get out of the hospital and find Kyurem if I can. The cold and the numbness could’ve occurred as a side effect during the hypothermia therapy, but I haven’t heard from anyone else but Kyurem that they really care and that they want me happy, want me alive.

            My parents, Renee, the doctors—they don’t have to burden themselves with helping me. It’s fine. I’ll help myself. If I fail, no one but me will have to take the blame. How convenient for everyone else. And how thoughtful of me to spare them all the guilt.


            My discharge date, of course, doesn’t seem to be anytime soon. And as it turns out, rehabilitation here at the hospital costs more money than my parents will spare, so I acquiesce and sign the papers for Gregory to conduct the sessions at home. Mom says that Gregory will visit the house and make some changes before I’m discharged. Then, when I’m finally home, the house will already be Annie-proof. I can barely contain my excitement.

            In the meantime, I practice my daily exercises in hopes of lessening the amount of work my muscles will need down the road. The nurses acknowledge my efforts and grant me some of my independence back.

            Strolling through the halls alone for the first time, the nurses still scrutinize me as they make their rounds in case they need to rescue me from another unforeseen disaster. I like to imagine I’m not actually here as a patient. In my mind I’m a robber, here to sift through all the stations and storage rooms for a list of cures that haven’t been released to the public—you know, because they’re reserved for people who matter.

            The nurses leave some doors leading in other patient rooms open, and, curious, I take to overhearing conversations between family members. One patient consoles her fiancé with stifled sobs, the brother of another patient relates a story about a friend who had a nasty case of diabetes, too. To add to my robber fantasy, I picture the police handcuffing me and ruining my plans to find the list of secret cures.

            The search for Kyurem sounds equally impossible, plain and simple. One thing I want and could find, however, is a cigarette. Or two, or three. Not a single visitor on the floor excuses themselves for a smoke specifically, but most leave for work or a quick trip down to the hospital’s cafeteria, where the food tastes mediocre at best. If I hurry, I can catch up and note which visitors smoke and which don’t.

            The button for the main floor in elevator behaves just half the time, so I opt for the stairs. Each step marks the start of a new adventure with my temporary lack of dexterity. Fifteen minutes later, I’m outside and I come to my senses. Stealing a cigarette would get me booted, most likely. So I settle for patrolling the smoking only sidewalk and breathing in the pungent smell wafting by.

            After a week of experimenting with secondhand smoke, I run into my mother on the elevator. I just finished my walk down the sidewalk, too, dwelling on Kyurem’s definition of “journey” along the way. Handling pokémon isn’t my forte, that’s for sure, though I won’t deny that the creatures can be useful to have around.

            For example, if I owned a chimchar, it could act as a makeshift cigarette lighter. And if I owned the bigger, evolved form of chimchar, I could use its size as an excuse to not ride the elevator with my mother because there wouldn’t be room for all of us to stand together.

            In reality, I don’t have a legitimate reason to push her away. I curse the main floor button for not breaking as usual. I join her, saying nothing. She, with her mouth agape, somehow seems surprised to see me here.

            “Uh, hello?” I say to her, drawing out the words. “Were you looking for me?”

            She regains her composure and wrinkles her nose. “Annie, you weren’t smoking out there, right?” she asks.

            I shake my head, secretly proud of myself for not having to lie. “The hospital needs to move the smoking area a little further away from the entrance,” I say, shrugging.

            “Or the nurses shouldn’t let patients off their respective units without supervision.”

            “Patients—that’s the key word there. We’re not prisoners, Mom.” I press the second floor button, eager to find out whether she’ll leave as planned or follow me. Unfortunately, she chooses to do the latter.

            “They should at least have a log for you to sign in and out. Would’ve saved me all that time.”

            “Oh, so you were looking for me,” I say, more as a statement than a question.

            We reach the door to my room. Like an overprotective parent, she watches as I walk in, maybe waiting to see if I pull a pack of cigarettes out of my gown. She must feel so disappointed when I don’t.

            Making her way over to the magazine rack right inside the door, she fumbles through a dog-eared magazine featuring an Alolan rockruff on the cover as she says, “Well, I wanted to talk to the doctors. I couldn’t find you on the way out, and I’m supposed to meet your dad for dinner soon, so…”

            Conversations like these tend to run in circles, so I don’t bother to continue it. “Did you talk to them about anything, uh, interesting?”

            “Your discharge date,” she says, fixing the creases in the rockruff magazine before sticking it back on the rack.

            “Oh.” Silence. “And they said…?” I add, gesturing for her to get to the point already.

            She shrugs. “No concrete date yet.”

            Her nonchalance tempts me to make a quip about how, naturally, I’m entitled to know the discharge date before her when the they decide on one.

            “Well, Mom—“

            “I plan to push the issue,” she adds. Her words blend together with how fast she interrupts me. “I have an appointment with Rowan next Thursday, and I want you to come with me.”

            The image of Professor Rowan, an old, busy family friend we rarely see these days, trying to tame a thrashing chimchar pops into my head. If I become a trainer, he could gift me one for real.

            But I know my mother has something different in mind. Sinnoh’s famous professor met her long before she even met my dad. He introduced her to a shelter in Twinleaf that cares for abandoned pokémon, and once she learned what happened to pokémon that no one wanted to adopt, her bizarre obsession with adopt them all herself began.

            “Renee and Dad will be there, too. I caught Rowan up to speed on your situation, and he said a couple pokémon on the list might be helpful to have around the house.”

            Any hope I had of her visit being more about me and less about her vanishes. “Oh, okay,” I say, because anything else I’d say could cause a scene.

            I mean, Professor Rowan’s great and all, but I’ve never held a one-on-one conversation with him myself. So why does he know about my near death experience? Not to mention my interest in pokémon waned years ago. It pains me to think that my mother would let herself forget what happened with the very first pokémon she adopted.

            “Great,” my mother says. She breathes a sigh of relief, like she expected me to throw a fit. “Dr. Holster’s froslass performed a miracle. I just thought… Well, there’s bound to be other pokémon out there that could do the same.”

            “That makes sense, I guess, but—“

            “And we could save pokémon from certain death in the process,” she finishes, smiling for emphasis.

            Now it’s my turn to sigh. “That sounds nice. Really. I wish we could do that. Gregory’s froslass was specifically trained to do what she did, though.”


            “Erm. Sorry, I meant Dr. Holster.”

            “Trained pokémon reside at the shelter, too, and Rowan will have one of those dex devices with him. It’s always got all kinds of information, so we should be able to determine right then and there who’ll be useful to you.”

            My mother tends to take in the pokémon left behind by trainers, because the domesticated pets are usually adopted in no time flat. I think I understand her reasoning, but the pokémon never warm up to her or feel compelled to stay.

            Arguing about it more seems like a waste. I curse under my breath. Why did she have to be so stubborn?

            “Fine,” I say, scowling. “I’ll call you when I know the date for sure. I can’t guarantee it’ll be by next week, but, you know, I’m trying.”

            “Keep trying, all right?” my mother says. She checks her watch, taps it with her finger and checks it again. “I’ve gotta head over to the Bluefell Promenade now before I’m late. Dad will be happy to hear that you’re doing well.”

            I wave goodbye to her with my good arm. The door creaks shut behind her. A few minutes pass and it’s safe to say she’s really gone. I flop down on my bed carelessly, reveling in the fact that my body doesn’t protest. The sluggishness from all the drugs pumped into my blood lately seems to be gone, too. I have energy again, and with that energy, I’m just craving a cigarette. Especially after seeing my mother.

            Well, that’s not exactly right. I don’t crave the cigarettes themselves, per se, just the idea of using them because they can hurt me. That’s me blatantly asking to be hurt, at least. My hurt then becomes something I can control. And right now, control is something I desperately crave.


            A stupid, illogical part of me almost wishes that the stroke had affected the other side of my brain. I’d be incapable of talking to people and maybe understanding them, too, but I can’t see the downside to that. Really, I’d just have the perfect excuse to act standoffish in front of others.

            Of course, I can talk to people, and I can understand them, but I’ve never been comfortable with even the most basic forms of socializing. So when Gregory visits me again and announces that he has a better idea of how to work with me now that the assessments are done, I instinctively put up my guard.

            He promises to keep me updated on the rehabilitation programs he’s outlining. Oh, and he says he hopes I’m ready to do whatever it takes to get my life back on track. I laugh at the irony.

            “What’s so funny?” he asks, half-smiling. He pities me, which only adds to the joke. I’m gonna ditch my hometown in pursuit of a legendary pokémon on the off chance it exists and will reward me for the journey by making all my problems disappear, that’s what’s funny.

            “Nothing,” I lie. “You seem nice, don’t get me wrong, okay? And the food tastes kind of good here, surprisingly, but skipping rehab or speeding through it sounds a whole lot more appealing than working my butt off until I’m given special permission to live my life again.”

            Gregory steps farther into my room, thinks twice and turns to close the door before he makes himself comfortable in a chair by the window. “We can’t force you to do anything, Miss Willems,” he says, sighing. “We advise rehab because it’s needed. But if you decide it’s not for you, we’d hand you a list of resources to utilize in case you ever changed your mind.”

            I avoid making eye contact. The smell of sweat mixed with ammonia distracts me. “Yeah, just so I don’t sue you guys for negligence or abandonment. Or whatever the term is,” I say.

            I expect him to lecture me next, but I don’t care. I don’t like how he’s here. He could’ve simply made his announcement and moved on to another patient, but he had to be persistent about pretending to care instead.

            “That’s true,” is all he says. “There’s a lot of flexibility with occupational therapists, though.”

            “What, like, you can hold my hand all day, every day? Work my shifts with me, go to school with me, and—”

            I stop when Gregory laughs. Goddamn him, that wasn’t funny, was it? I guess he has to steel himself from the inevitable doom and gloom of his job somehow.

            “Not quite.” He stifles another laugh. How nice of him to grace me with such an eloquent reply. “This means you had a job before…?”

            I pause, unable to register his question for a moment. “Yeah, at Esker’s Bar,” I say, “but I’m sure I was removed from the payroll by now.”

            “And why do you think that?”

            Looking at him, I hate how his face hardens into a frown. He honestly wants to hear my answer. “I’m the… or I was the… You know, the bartending job requires me to hold glass and steadily pour strong drinks to people who could get violent on me in return if I’m not careful.”

            “So you’d have to use your hands a lot.”

            “And carry a weapon. Knowing me, I’d end up hurting myself in a fight with one somehow, even without the hemiparesis interfering.”

            Gregory rubs his hands through his greying hair, contemplating before saying, “A bar's not the most ideal place for trial and error, frankly.”

            That’s an understatement if I ever heard one. “I mean, how often would you really be around?” I ask him, tired of dancing around the point. Unsurprisingly, Gregory just can’t fathom how I find the cobwebs growing on the ceiling where the walls meet and the dead flies littered on the windowsill more inviting than my own home.

            “Three times a week, minimum, to assure a full recovery.”

            Now it’s Kyurem’s word versus Gregory’s, apparently. They both aim to heal me. It’s sad, how all I can think of is how there must be a catch to this phenomenon.

            “I’ll give it a shot,” I say, sternly as I can. “I don’t like it, but I will.”

            “That’s all I could ask you for right now, Miss Willems.”

            This man is relentless. I want to cry. He must have this conversation with patients pretty often.

            I nod and try to derail the conversation. I ask him what occupational therapy is really supposed to entail, and he just says he has to know a lot about everything. He’s not an expert on most things, he admits, but that doesn’t hinder him. He swears I have nothing to worry about, he’s helped so many people in so many different settings, but that’s how you learn to lie well—the more you know, the easier it is to do, and then you just lie a lot and about everything, to the point where you don’t even realize you’re doing it anymore.

            In the end, I ask him, too, not to call my parent’s house my home. It feels like exactly the opposite.

            “Fair enough,” Gregory whispers, like he already knew. “Miss Willems, do you mind if I call you Annie?”

            “What? Oh, yeah, whatever. I don’t care.” I really don’t, even though I guess my name means something prophetic about gods and how graceful they can be. “And, uh, I can call you Gregory?”

            It hits me, then, that I’ve been referring to the OT by his first name this entire time, anyway. Thinking of him as just another doctor doesn’t sit well with me for some reason.

            Well, I just made an agreement with this man who should be my doctor but instead my subconscious has been trying to make me consider him as a friend. Arceus help us both.
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            Old May 21st, 2017 (9:16 PM).
            diamondpearl876's Avatar
            diamondpearl876 diamondpearl876 is offline
            you can breathe now. x
              Join Date: Jun 2007
              Location: Illinois, USA.
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              chapter 3
              playing nice


              Before the stroke, I marched to classes through the snow, holding my jacket over my face to block the terrible breeze always blowing in from the beach south of Sandgem. A warm front slowly took over while I was a patient and spent time outside, snooping around the smoking area. And now, the local jumpluff are drifting along the wind currents, clumps of their spores floating to the ground. Once spring officially rolls around and the vegetation starts to grow back, everyone in Sandgem will hoard a bunch of the spores and use them to cultivate their own fern plants.

              Stepping through the revolving doors of the hospital’s entrance for the final time immediately revives some of the motivation I’d lost. I could be one of those people who carries wicker baskets full of gardening tools and competes over the best crops of the year. Not that I want to, but at least the option exists.

              At home, the tension between me and my parents looms stronger than ever. Renee encourages me to get out of the house as often as I can. That was my goal from the start, except Renee goes overboard by offering to skip school and join me. “Whatever you want to do,” she says, her face etched with worry, “we’ll do it, okay?” I manage to convince her that I’ll be fine as long as I stay where people can see me, in case my hemiparesis acts up. It just wouldn’t do me any good to have her hanging around while I plan my trip away from Sandgem.

              Renee really isn’t my biggest problem, though. I have no specific destination in mind, which makes this whole journey thing super difficult to map out. Scrutinizing every little thing Kyurem told me doesn’t help, and besides, I know how memories tend to fill in all the empty gaps with false information in an attempt to make everything fit like a puzzle.

              Every morning, I retreat to the library and stay huddled there throughout the afternoon. I study less about the traveling aspect of my upcoming quest and more on the differences between Sinnoh and Unova due to Kyurem’s… history with the region. Kyurem mentioned foreign pokémon teaming up with me, and if possible, I want to narrow down the number of species I could run into.

              For a few weeks, I pull a massive book off the nonfiction shelf full of pokédex entries, both old and new ones compiled by professors, gym leaders, scientists, and other famous trainers. Unova’s section spoils my mood with all the primordial, mythological entries filled out without any practical facts to go along with them. Even the more useful entries assume that pokémon of the same species have no individuality, like trainers could handle them all the same way.

              I can’t complain about the lore when I finally come across Kyurem’s entry, of course. I knew very little about the ice behemoth until my stroke, but everything recorded under his basic information mimics what he told me in my comatose state. My subconscious didn’t learn about Kyurem and pass the information on to me in my sleep. So that means this isn’t just all in my head, right?

              I can’t help but want to search for a connection between Kyurem and Sinnoh, because really, why would a Unovan god look here for refuge instead of another region like Kanto or Alola? But I fail to find any clues in Sinnoh’s pokédex or in a bunch of other books I sift through. At this rate, I’ll have to meet another trainer chosen by Kyurem on the road to get any concrete proof that he exists, or meet the ice god face-to-face.

              Yeah, as if.

              My parents ask me to come home to join them for dinner every night by six o’clock, which has been the strictly enforced time to sit together and eat ever since I was a little girl. I’d like to think that there are more important things in life to be conscientious about, so I take the long way home. Besides, I couldn’t care less about saving face with them anymore.

              Ambling through the streets of Sandgem each night, it’s hard to ignore all my surroundings when I might not see my hometown again for a while, if ever. Not for the first time, I question if my decision will be worth it in the end. Really, the easiest thing to do would be to make the best of the time I have left to live in Sandgem.

              Each night, the same family of five hangs around the edge of the beach with their pet staravia to fly kites until well past dark. Our local ice cream stand set up on the sand usually sticks around until way past sunset to make a few extra bucks from the passers-by now that it’s warm again. A few blocks down from the beach is Vernon Avenue, the busiest street in Sandgem. I watch as people run their last errands of the day and scramble home to whoever’s waiting for them. The smaller retail stores lock their doors, and groups of teenagers wander about aimlessly or meet up at the ice skating rink, which doubles as an arcade.

              I don’t strike up conversation with anyone unless I bump shoulders and mumble a half-hearted apology for not paying attention. When the street gives way to a long and narrow gravel path, I’ve reached the end of Vernon Avenue and home is just around the corner. My pace slows and I struggle to find an excuse to turn back, but there’s nothing—no school, no friends, no money to waste.

              Some nights, I turn around anyway and trudge on with my head hung low and no destination in mind. The asphalt below my feet is full of mediocre chalk drawings obviously made by some kids, and the lights from the 24-hour drugstores spilling out onto the street taunt me.

              Some nights, I find myself in the drugstore and buy a couple essentials for my journey. I still haven’t done any research on traveling. I don’t know what the seasoned trainers recommend for rookies, and I don’t know how I’ll earn money to use on the road. But I can’t go wrong with the basics—toiletries, a map of Unova, sunscreen, bug repellant, shoes especially made for hiking, a cooler with wheels to store food longer than normal, and a large, durable backpack that I can reasonably carry on my shoulders.

              Of course, I can’t go wrong with things I know I should buy based off of past experience, either—a paring knife to cut food, a box of matches, eye drops, pain relievers, and other first-aid stuff you forget about until you need them.

              I hide everything I buy in a tall patch of grass on the side of our house, and once everyone’s gone to sleep, I stash it all under my bed. Every night, I update my list of berries and foods that won’t spoil too quickly so I remember to pick them up on the way out of Sandgem, or in the next town if I can manage it.

              Every night, I check to make sure no one’s messed with my stuff, because I can’t afford to have Renee or my parents get suspicious. The three of them would do everything in their power to stop me, and I wouldn’t blame them for trying. Logically, I know my decision to leave Sandgem isn’t a sensible one, not even because of the whole Kyurem fiasco, but because of my past attempts at becoming a trainer ending up in failure… on the first route.

              Kyurem really couldn’t have picked a worse person to send out into the world, but, you know, I have to try. I won’t forgive myself if I let the chance to have Kyurem heal me simply slip away.


              I expected Gregory to transform my parent’s house into something like an indoor gym with rehabilitation equipment, but thankfully, he didn’t set up that much. He positioned each piece of equipment in low-key, out of the way places, and nothing’s too big or too heavy for me to move even when the hemiparesis strikes.

              Most days, I can scrape by without bumping into a reminder of how weak my body’s gotten. I wonder whether my recovery’s progressing faster than expected or if I’m been turning a blind eye to my health on purpose. I want to ask Gregory at the start of one of our sessions so he’ll force me to take my life seriously, but I chicken out and make a joke about pokémon journeys, of all things.

              “I feel pretty all right, you know?” I say, standing in front of a full body mirror, eyes closed. “I feel as strong as a… as a dragonite. Yeah, I could totally fly around the world as a dragonite right now, maybe even beat the current record.”

              I can’t see the OT, but he’s probably rubbing his goatee, contemplating what he thinks is a witty answer while I picture myself spinning my arms in circles over and over. Apparently, I can trick my brain into sending signals to both sides of my body just by imagining beforehand the movements I’m about to do.

              Gregory, naïve or maybe just stupid, instigates an actual conversation. “The world record now is, what, sixteen hours? That’d be tough,” he says. Suddenly a beeping noise starts up, and he places his hands firmly on my shoulders after he resets the timer. “Here, let’s switch again.”

              I open my eyes and he redirects me so that all I can see in the mirror is my right hand, which I have to keep stretched out in front of me for the next several minutes. The goal here is to pretend that the hand in the mirror is actually my left hand, and as I move, my brain once again is tricked into thinking both sides of my body are in sync.

              “Okay, but sixteen hours is nothing compared to how long trainers roam around a single region collecting those badges,” I say to him, trying not to focus on how ridiculous this exercise would look to anyone passing by. The mirror’s propped up in a corner of the upstairs hallway, where no one goes unless they’re headed to the attic, but still. I guess Gregory must have sensed how worried I was when I agreed to work with him.

              My hand twitches at the thought, and he taps his wristwatch, prompting me to continue until the timer pings again.

              “Remember,” he adds, “you’re going to get tired quickly during these exercises for a while, and that’s fine.”

              “Maybe I’m not ready to tackle that world record yet after all,” I mumble half-heartedly, not bothering to point out that he misunderstood his observation.

              “You’re certainly not exerting as much energy as a dragonite circling the globe. However, you trigger the same parts of your brain whether you’re performing an action or simply visualizing an action.”

              If I’d stayed enrolled in college, I might have learned about this motor imagery therapy in a neurology class and then forgotten the details after the exam like a typical student. Instead I learned the hard way, the hands on way, and I’m obligated to repeat the workout three times a week with Gregory.

              Time passes. When the timer rings, Gregory nods to me. I know the drill. He knows I know the drill, and he knows I’m more functional than not. I trust his judgment somehow, so I stick with my line of questioning and dare to ask, “Do people like me get to, you know, actually travel?”

              Gregory raises an eyebrow. He doesn’t remind me that I should close my eyes, he just says, “I don’t see why not,” and pauses the clock.

              His simple answer is all I need, really.

              What Gregory doesn’t know is how easily influenced I am. He requested that I do these exercises outside of our sessions, in different spots in the house or anywhere I can find a mirror, so the therapy method eventually becomes second nature. But without Gregory around to monitor my progress, I’m afraid I’ll mess up and trick my brain the wrong way.

              It’s an irrational thought, for sure. My brain specializes in senseless reasoning, and you know what? It got to be that way without my permission. I can’t trust myself, and out of the pool of people helping me out right now, Gregory seems the most reliable.

              I close my eyes and imagine my body moving the way it should. “Well, you did say your job’s flexible. What if I was traveling, like, as a tourist or a trainer?”

              Again he says those simple, powerful words: “I don’t see why not.”

              “And is that allowed for me?”

              Gregory nods.

              “Seriously?” I shake my head and blurt out, “No, no more questions. This is great. Perfect. Let’s do it.”

              Gregory doesn’t complain or try to convince me that I’m crazy. For the rest of the session, I imagine myself walking in faraway cities like Celestic and Pastoria, rolling a pokéball around in my left hand, ready to throw it at the first sign of danger.


              Somehow, the paradox in all this doesn’t hit me straightaway. I haven’t invented an excuse to tell my family when I leave yet, and Gregory’s liable to announce my plans to them before I’m ready for them to know. When he shows up for our next session, I sprint to meet him at the front door and swear him to secrecy.

              “I don’t know if mandatory reporters are required to tell parents about this kind of thing, but…” I trail off, trying to catch my breath so I stop stuttering between words. I feel winded and shaky, like I just finished running a marathon.

              Gregory stares at me with a perplexed look on his face before answering, “How old are you again?”


              “That was a rhetorical question,” he says, chuckling softly. “You’re old enough to make your own decisions.”

              And with that, the focus of my rehabilitation shifts more toward coping with the hemiparesis as a vagabond. He starts small, with the equipment I’m already familiar with. He gives me a sturdy compact mirror to practice the motor imagery exercises anywhere I go, and he sits with me at a couple restaurants and even at the beach on Vernon, to confirm I’m not too self-conscious to do them in public.

              “People will stare,” he tells me. “But any downtime you get, you should work on keeping your muscles active to help stave off the numbness.”

              Gregory so kindly demonstrates other, less embarrassing exercises to do, like writing left-handed, ways to stretch my legs when I sit, and how to properly use stress balls and dumbbells for arm and wrist strength. Each session he brings with him too a handful of aids specifically designed for stroke victims. I expect the aids to be complicated and fancy, but instead they’re simple, and the concept behind some of them baffles me. Seriously, who knew the world needed specialized cheese graters and shoelaces?

              My homework, as Gregory calls it, involves learning which aids I might want to take with me on my journey. All the normal, everyday activities people can accomplish on their own—showering, dressing, walking, cooking—don’t feel so normal with the aids, even before the numbness sets in. More than once I find myself tripping over the shower chair in the bathroom, or cheating when no one’s around to see because I just don’t have the patience to put my sneakers on with a shoehorn.

              Gregory always asks how the experiments went before introducing me to the next batch of aids. I bluff my way through the conversation, only accepting the smallest, least invasive aids to add to my pile of traveling supplies. When the OT points out that I’ve tolerated the rehabilitation process a lot better than he assumed I would, I admit to him that it’s hard not to be a little optimistic. A huge amount of people cared enough to spend their time and effort eliminating all the obstacles they could think of for stroke victims like me, after all.

              “And there’s still people who care, Annie,” Gregory replies. His pace slows as we make our way down Vernon. He glances at a crowd gathering outside a perfume shop to get free samples from the owner’s aromatisse, his lips pursed slightly. “By the way, your mom wants me to tag along with you guys to Rowan’s lab, to get my opinion on which pokémon he should give you. Do you mind?”

              “Not really. I don’t think the choice is that big a deal, so…”

              “Well, the likelihood of finding a pokémon qualified for rehabilitation services there is almost nonexistent.” I roll my eyes, and before I can open my mouth, Gregory adds, “But we won’t know until we try, I guess.”

              That’s an accurate description of the reasoning behind which pokémon Mom chooses, at any rate. The appointment, no doubt, will end up as a waste of time. Things could be worse, I guess.

              We pass by a bench area where a few people are ignoring each other, sifting through the daily newspaper. An older, frail looking woman steals glances this way and that, probably waiting to meet someone. I wait until they’re out of earshot to talk again.

              “So, uh, Gregory,” I say, “would I be able to travel if I needed… I don’t know, more extreme rehab?”

              The OT shrugs. “You’d set a date to leave, and I’d make it work,” he says.

              I certainly don’t hesitate. “Huh. In that case, I’ll sign the papers in my name, and, just for you, I’ll write with my left hand. How ‘bout that? Anyway, my parents aren’t gonna be too happy, so the pokémon should be my official starter. After Rowan gives me his cliché training spiel, I want to leave as soon as possible.”

              My voice trails off. I watch Gregory for a reaction. Part of me anticipates a lecture that’ll talk some sense into me, and part of me wants to hide in embarrassment for rambling on like an idiot. This journey isn’t going to be some fun, soul-searching game like it is for most trainers.

              Gregory, poker-faced as ever, just shrugs again. “You got it,” he says.


              There’s some perks to knowing Rowan personally, I suppose. He purposely invited us over at a time when he’d be focusing on the pokémon up for adoption instead of his designated starters. That means his lab is free from ten year olds squealing and scrambling over each other to grab the first pokéball in sight, a problem which tends to degenerate into a horror story involving fistfights and police officers way too often.

              It’s pretty quiet except for the occasional clacking of computer keys and the whir of a fan hanging overhead. Rowan’s pinning a newspaper clipping on a cork board behind his desk when we arrive, and as Mom greets him on our behalf, he opens a set of shutters to reveal an assortment of pokémon roaming in the courtyard. Beyond that I can see the shelter he had built back when I was a toddler just learning to walk.

              Gregory shakes the professor’s hand and asks permission to enter the courtyard with me. Rowan opens the backdoor and steps aside, leaving the two of us alone to check out the available pokémon. Rubbing my left arm awkwardly, I let Gregory do that thing where he looks lost in thought as he strokes his goatee like he’s an actor in a cheesy drama movie. I’m no expert at this, after all, and as far as I can tell, none of the pokémon here are foreign.

              A few full minutes of silence pass until the OT finally points at a luxio finishing its afternoon snack at the feeding station. It sprints away, leftover bits of a raw blissey egg dripping from its mouth. The lion-esque pokémon stalls near a group of fire-types practicing their ember attacks with one of the lab assistants. He shouts something about how the electric-types will get their turn next before shooing the luxio away with the flick of his wrist.

              “Okay?” I say, drawing out the word to emphasize just how unimpressed I am.

              Gregory understands the hint. “Electrical stimulation can send signals to your brain and force your weakened muscles to move. It’s a relatively common method these days,” he says. “Your mom didn’t mention my recommendations, I take it.”

              It’s not even a question, the way he says it. I nod.

              “I planned on explaining them to you here, anyway,” he says. And it might just be my imagination, but I notice a twinge of pity in his voice. His tone changes and his expression turns thoughtful again as he says, “Actually, water- and fire-types aren’t good for therapy, per se, but for a new trainer…”

              “Yeah, fresh water and easy made fires sound, uh, nice.”

              “No worries either way. I’ll guide you through whatever’s needed before you go off on your own.”

              “Gee, thanks,” I mumble, bitter because the on my own part of that is worrisome. “What about ice-types? You know, like your froslass.”

              “They’re best suited for experienced trainers,” Gregory says. He shakes his head and motions to nowhere in particular. “Besides, there’s none here. Sandgem doesn’t have the right climate for them to live in.”

              “Oh,” I say lamely. I hate when he uses logic against me like that. “Well, water pokémon can learn ice moves, too. In case hypothermia needs to save my life again or something.”

              At this, Gregory’s blinks, looking dumbfounded. “You were at least told about the pokédex, right?”

              “Very briefly, yeah.”

              Frustrated, the OT inhales and lets out a deep, slow exhale. “That’s…” he starts, but thinks better of it. “Even before you let me in on the trainer idea, I’d discussed with your mother about you owning a pokédex. With it, you’ll be able to call me or any one of my pokémon in an emergency. All of my outpatient clients get one until services aren’t needed anymore.”

              It occurs to me, then, that I never did thank the froslass for helping me out. I mean, she was just doing her job and all, but, well, it seems like the polite thing to do. Especially if I might end up needing her again in the future.

              I mimic Gregory’s exasperated exhale. “Okay, good to know. Can we move on now? No more surprises, please.”

              “If I’m being honest, there’s one more surprise, but a good one. Promise.”

              “…Better be.” Because my ability to play nice is already wearing thin, and I don’t want to blow the opportunity to get my starter and skip town.

              “Anyway, if you don’t have any requirements for your starter in mind…” Gregory trails off, scanning the courtyard again. Shielding his eyes from the sun with his hand, his gaze stops at a lone bug napping in the grass. “I wasn’t sure if Rowan still had the little guy, but look at that. Come with me, Annie.”

              Up close, I can see why Gregory had trouble spotting the bug-type. With the hump on its back, it has the appearance of a discolored boulder, but as luck would have it, the pokémon’s foreign. Even better, it’s a venipede, which are native to Unova.

              Some Unovan species and even a couple from Hoenn are hiding on the other side of the courtyard, too: a ferrothorn swinging from tree to tree, a fraxure sharpening its tusks on a pile of river rocks, and a lotad floating lazily in a fountain. I can’t even imagine the amount of research and money Rowan puts into taking care of such a diverse group of pokémon.

              In fact, Gregory informs that there’s one, maybe two… no, three important things to know about the venipede, should I actually adopt it as my starter.

              One, venipede are half poison-type. Gregory discloses this first, because poison is nothing to mess with and a poison sting gone awry can lead to another hospital stay. Gregory swears he’ll understand if I look elsewhere just for that. I can’t tell him, of course, that if Kyurem’s really on my side, he isn’t going to let me die to poison.

              Two, the venipede’s previous trainer apparently turned him into a monster in every sense of the word. Most trainers want a cuddly, friendly pokémon that’ll obey all their commands without question, and the venipede certainly doesn’t fit the bill. Honestly? That sounds like we’re two peas in a pod, so whatever.

              Three, the venipede suffered an incident that weakened part of his body, much like me. Gregory reveals this to be the main reason he wants me to consider the venipede: I wouldn’t be alone in my rehabilitation.

              “So he’s not getting any help with Rowan?” I ask.

              “Not yet. He’s only been here a short time. If he joins your team, I’ll provide services to both of you. Your family’s insurance would cover that.”

              Okay, my mother’s crazy obsession with adopting doesn’t sound too bad now. And speaking of her… “Does my mom know? You said you wouldn’t tell,” I ask, feeling rather childish for whining.

              “And I didn’t. That’s for you to do when you want. Right now, Rowan’s giving your mom the details about how to file the pokédex with your insurance. He’ll give her details about the venipede, too, if you take him.”

              I look away, opting to stare at the venipede instead. Its—or his, I guess—antennae twitch as Gregory keeps talking and I wonder if he’s only pretending to sleep. The venipede’s body rises and falls calmly with every breath, so maybe not. His thorax, magenta in color, and the green and black bands covering his abdomen are well groomed. Really, the venipede doesn’t have the appearance of someone who needs rehabilitation. But I know better than anyone how dangerous assumptions like that can hurt.

              I know for sure that Mom would disapprove of the venipede. Let a poison-type in the house when it doesn’t do anything for my rehabilitation besides provide emotional support? Yeah, right. Not that I’m staying, but… Okay, the venipede does have battle experience and my mom prefers that. So that could be my argument.

              …I don’t like to argue with her. I usually let her have her way, but there’s something to be said about Gregory noticing and going out of his way to make sure I keep my mental health intact. I don’t want to shut him down for my mother’s sake.

              I told myself I trusted Gregory, and Kyurem wants me to travel with foreign pokémon that need help, right? Well, here’s my chance to do something good for myself. Here’s a foreign pokémon that needs help.

              I can’t bring myself to say no, so I don’t.
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              Old May 22nd, 2017 (10:31 PM).
              Bay's Avatar
              Bay Bay is offline
              Darkinium Z
              Join Date: May 2006
              Location: Dani California
              Gender: Female
              Nature: Sassy
              Posts: 5,429
              Hey, so I talked to you a bit on my thoughts on the prologue and the first two chapters a while back, so I apologize if some stuff I said are repeats. Let's go!

              On the prologue, I do agree with Cutlerine with their comment from Serebii the prologue was overwhelming due to the length and how a lot of it we already know from Black/White's lore. It's interesting though how you have Arceus mixed in B/W's lore there and your take on Kyruem. The last few paragraphs where Kyruems mentions Annie will meet Pokemon who needs help (the same way how she's trying to get her life back together after her storke) also pulled me in premise wise.

              I haven't read the first version of this story, but I think you balanced Annie's sarcasm, irony, and the other tones Cutlerine mentioned fine. I remember talking to you about how I thought it's off to a slow start, but after mulling over that I can see perhaps this is the best way to go considering it'll take time for Annie to adjust the daily tasks, let alone going on a long Pokemon journey.

              The beginning chapters has some big focus on her interactions with Gregory, which is cool to see since Gregory seems to be chill but firm. His idea of Venipede traveling with Annie for emotional support I think is cute. Should be interesting how their relationship, in a professional way I mean lol, will develop once Annie does go to her journey.

              Overall, neat premise so far as I mentioned and looking forward to more!

              "Meowth are all right. They don't care who you are or anything."
              Foul Play [Chapter Six up!]
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              Old April 7th, 2018 (9:40 AM).
              diamondpearl876's Avatar
              diamondpearl876 diamondpearl876 is offline
              you can breathe now. x
                Join Date: Jun 2007
                Location: Illinois, USA.
                Age: 25
                Nature: Careful
                Posts: 1,567


                chapter 4
                at first sight


                As usual, I jump the gun. I name the venipede Kephi, inspired by a word belonging to an outdated language that my history of psychology class discussed earlier this year. No precise translation of the word exists, but in short, it means happy—the kind of happy that has people acting so delirious you’d think a drowzee put them under a trance.

                I thought, you know, maybe it’d be smart to start off on an upbeat note with the venipede. But when I relay all this information to him, his first response is, “What the fuck? Sounds super girly. You got any food around here, at least?”

                “Okay…” I say, taken aback for more reasons than I can count. “Do you, uh, like spaghetti? I know how to make that, and actually, Kephi rhymes with spaghetti. If you’re ever in the middle of an existential crisis, just remember that important fact.”

                He glowers at me, a similar expression of curiosity plastered on his face. “Whatever,” he replies, then slinks off to the kitchen by himself.

                To reach the kitchen from my bedroom, you have to go down the hallway to your left. If you pass the wall that looks empty save for a collection of pin holes we were supposed to use to hang new family photos forever ago, you’ll reach the kitchen. I’ve relayed these directions to Kephi several times—who knew a bug could eat so much—but it seems he’s keen on tuning me out already. I see him backtrack past my door a lot. If I dare acknowledge his presence, he hisses and leaves a trail of slime behind him to spite me.

                Needless to say, Kephi the venipede doesn’t live up to his name. He’s downright grumpy. With the hump on his back and the narrow slits of his eyes, he reminds me of old men who make a point of displaying how bitter life is any chance they get.

                Kephi also has a habit of tensing up whenever he catches me glancing his way, like he thinks I’m studying him. And okay, maybe I am, but that’s only because Gregory mentioned rehab for both of us. Unfortunately, the OT said he won’t start us on any kind of routine until I’m on the road. I asked him if my parents refused to let him do home sessions with a poison-type parading around, but he promised that isn’t the case. There’s just not much point in forming a plan that he’ll have to change in a week’s time, so I’ll have to be patient about everything— including hearing the details of Kephi’s diagnosis.

                I want to gauge the depth of Kephi’s problems for myself, but I gave Gregory permission to take him out of the house every day during my last week at home. He offers me vague updates: Kephi’s diagnosis is confirmed, he talks rehab procedures with doctors specialized in evaluating pokémon, and so on. I have no choice but to focus on getting ready to leave Sandgem. It’s better than fretting endlessly about a creature that’d mean nothing to me under different circumstances.

                So in the meantime I work on the same old hemiparesis stuff and sit through my parent’s logistical lectures about money and safety. Dad lays out all the reasons they won’t contribute to my journey funds, emphasizing the recent accumulation of hospital bills. Mom goes over the technicalities of our insurance, and, ironically, advises me of places and people I should go to if I ever need help.

                It’s hard not to notice how careful and meticulous their movements are around me. They must have X-ray vision, because they act like a bomb’s ticking inside me and it’ll detonate at any moment. This isn’t exactly new to me, but it stings more than usual somehow. There are no tears, no speeches about why becoming a trainer is a bad idea, no insults about my poison-type starter. There’s nothing. What if that means they’re relieved?

                Their indifference only strengthens my resolve to find Kyurem. I’m not sure why a legendary would care about a human more than her own parents, but stranger things have been known to happen. Probably.

                To accomplish what Kyurem woke me up to do, my pokémon have to care about me, too. The thought of making that a reality sounds like a bigger hurdle than it should. If that stupid Battle Nexus station my mom always listens to is anything to go by, most trainers bond with their starters effortlessly. The radio hosts interview a lot of pokémon enthusiasts, and the consensus is that you have to learn everything you can about your team to have a chance at the gym circuit. If only battles and badges were my main concerns, instead of this whole life and death situation…

                When I leaf through my traveling checklist one last time, I promise myself I’ll at least say goodbye to Renee. I owe my sister that much. To her credit, she did care about me, and maybe she still does. It’s hard to say. I’ve kept my distance from her so much that every time I stumble into her in the house now, she tilts her head and opens her mouth to speak, but then she walks right past me like I’m a ghost. Knowing her, she thinks she’s the nuisance child in our parents’ eyes, not me. Her type of logic would surmise that she’s doing me a favor by deflecting all conversation.

                I throw my checklist down on my bed, where it lands upside down. I open the door to my bedroom with my shoulders because the humidity tends to swell up the hinges and makes it harder to budge. A twinge of pain travels up my arm as a result, and I readjust my backpack so that it sits comfortably on my back despite all the junk I crammed in there.

                Right. I’m off to a good start.

                I sigh. I should’ve packed smart. Instead, I’m bringing some mementos due to the low probability of me ever coming back rather than for sentimentality. There’s the cigarette lighter Dad lent me a while ago and forgot about and a short-lived diary I kept in the middle of my worst outburst.

                I spot Renee across the hall as the pain in my arm subsides, but she must’ve spotted me first. She slips into her own bedroom and closes the door, something she rarely does. It’s just not in her nature to be secretive and to push people away. I’m the exception now, and if I disappear without a word again, I know she’ll dwell on it forever.

                From my backpack’s side pocket, I take out Kephi’s pokéball and roll it between my fingers. Unsurprisingly, the venipede refused to let me recall him at first. I think he only did it to escape the smell of sitrus berries, which he’s been griping about. Each spring, Mom places baskets of them around the house to repel insects. She didn’t remember—didn’t bother—to take Kephi’s bug-typing into account.

                …The way my thoughts drift away from Renee so quickly like this is the reason it hurts to see her. I force myself, one step at a time, to her bedroom. I force myself to knock on her door. I contemplate darting away and performing that disappearing act after all, hoping Renee will magically understand how I’ll at least keep her in my thoughts.

                I’ll keep her in my thoughts anyway. I doubt I’ll call or visit ever, so it’s the least I can do.

                It’s the best I can do.

                Renee’s voice, quiet and pained, invites me inside after my third time knocking. Her gaze lingers on Kephi’s pokéball, then my backpack. “You’re leaving already?” she asks, forcing a half-smile.

                I lean against the doorframe when my left side starts to ache a little. “Yeah,” I say. “Gotta go before it’s dark, you know.”

                “It’s nine in the morning, Annie.”

                “…Gotta get to Jubilife before dark.” Never mind that reaching the so-called City of Joy requires a four day trek on foot, minimum.

                “Oh. Well, that makes sense if…” Renee’s voice trails off, and I look at her, waiting for her to finish her sentence. She doesn’t. Her eyes, a dark shade of green just like mine, glaze over and threaten to spill actual tears.

                “Okay, you caught me. I have to meet up with Gregory to pick up my pokédex,” I say, throwing my arms up for a dramatic effect. That’s not a lie, at least, although another reason I’m headed out now is because my parents left for work a short while ago. They won’t be able to stop me—if they even want to, that is.

                Renee, sitting at the edge of her bed with her feet dangling, picks at a loose thread on the comforter as a distraction. Her fingers drag over to the wall, where she unplugs a cord charger and replaces it with an outlet cover designed to prevent electric-types from sneaking in through the electrical system.

                Sighing, she says, “Remember when Mom’s old galvantula brought a den of joltik in the house and killed our power for a week?”

                “Yeah,” I say. “I remember.”

                When it seemed like even the local electric company couldn’t fix the problem, the family evacuated to a hotel at the Verity Lakefront. But while we were stuck in the dark, Renee and I pretended we lived in a mystical castle that in reality was just a pillow fort that spanned the entire living room. My twelve-year-old self invented awful ghost stories, and an even younger Renee clung to me, whimpering in fear and refusing to leave the comfort of our fort without me to protect her.

                I cross my legs together, uncross them again as I force myself to look at my sister. Her flustered expression still reminds me of a child, and after a long silence, I mention a half-hearted comment about how Mom refused to re-home the galvantula once the power was restored.

                “Dad suggested it,” Renee replies, shrugging. “But, well, you know him. He won’t argue with Mom about anything ever.”

                “No kidding.” I don’t mention how I adopted my smoking habit not long after the galvantula incident, because I saw him deal with the stressful situations brought on by Mom’s stubbornness that way. “Hey, if I catch one of those freaky spiders I’ll send it back home to you guys. For nostalgia’s sake and all that.”

                That actually gets a chuckle out of her, a feat she stifles by covering her mouth with her hand. “Good luck with that. And good luck with… everything else.”

                “Thanks,” I reply, my voice barely audible. “I’ll warn you in advance when that spider’s on its way.”

                She nods, I close the door on my way out, and that’s it. My goodbye, although having devolved into jokes about electric spiders, is done and over with. I walk slowly from the house in case Renee decides there’s something more she wants to say. If we weren’t tied down by genetics and feuds that she couldn’t bring herself to take sides in, we could’ve been closer. I’d tell her that, but I’m not even the slightest bit brave, and anyway, that’d only make things harder. My hands are already so damn full.


                As I walk down the deserted construction area that is Weritz Street, I think up yet another regret to add to my ever growing list. The arguments I’d come up with to convince my mother that Kephi is, in fact, a wonderful choice for a starter have gone down the drain since she allowed me to leave for Jubilife without one of her more condescending lectures. I should’ve made a scene when I still had the chance.

                But seriously, who could ever resist a hunchbacked bug-type as a starter if it has battle experience and an endless supply of poison at its disposal? Considering that I’m a young sickly woman who waited too long to join the journey hype and I have little hands on knowledge of surviving out in the wilderness, a trained pokémon is a vital tool for my success. Also, isn’t she the one who always vouched for adopting abandoned pokémon?

                How badly I wanted—want—to tell her to just shove it.

                I take a deep breath. It’s a nice spring day, and I’m lucky to have the strength necessary to do what I’m doing. No need to ruin it all with a massive dose of negativity.

                I’m already close to Sandgem’s northern exit, at least. From the corner of my eye, I see a mothim glide on a gust of wind directly above me. It swerves at the last possible second before catching the tip of its wing on a bulldozer crane. A string of caution tape flaps loudly, but the mothim ignores its warning and lands on a no trespassing sign. Supposedly, a community of townhouses and condos is in the works, though I have trouble imagining anyone wanting to live in a place where people tend to slip into a state of obliviousness or just plain indifference about everything.

                Gregory surprises me by not fitting into that mold, as usual, by making his way to me the moment he spots me from afar. There’s a spring in his step and a smile on his face that I know to mean he’s got a ton of stuff to ramble on to me about. Except then his eagerness fades the moment he’s able to get a good look at my face.

                “You know, most new trainers are raring to go their first day out in the wild,” he says, tilting his head.

                “It’s not official until you hand me the dex and it lists off all of my personal information in a robot voice,” I reply, shrugging.

                Gregory grins and nods, then digs into his back pocket and pulls out a sleek, red device I’ve seen advertised on every billboard in Sandgem. When I take the pokédex from him, it’s heavier than I expected it to be. I go to undo the latch on the side to power it on and explore all the features, but he shakes his head and says, “There’ll be plenty of time to read up on things on your way to Jubilife.”

                “What, you planning on ditching me so soon you can’t show me how to work this thing?”

                “Kind of,” he says. He clears his throat. “Right now, what’s most important is that you know this”—he points to an indentation on the pokédex with a round blue button embedded—“is the emergency button. Use it anytime if you need me.”

                Without thinking about it, I reach forward and grasp onto his arm. He can’t seriously want to call it a day with just that piece of information, can he? What about all the answers he promised me?

                The man just smiles. I scowl at him and let go of him in favor of clenching my fists. No doubt he’d question my sanity if I squeezed too hard like I wanted to break his arm or something. Even if he didn’t, his tolerance for my bullshit must have a limit. Best not to waste it.

                “Grip and release. You’ve been practicing, I can tell,” he says. On command, my hands unfurl and furl again easily. A compliment like that isn’t enough to placate me, though.

                “That’s not what I care about right now. Can you tell me one thing before you go?”

                “Well, I’ll meet you in Jubilife, of course. Until then—”

                “I’m sure I can manage,” I interrupt, rolling my eyes. “What about Kephi? What’s wrong with him?”

                There’s a long silence, broken only by the sound of footsteps from passersby and the pervasive buzzing of a cell phone.

                Gregory sighs. “I can give you the technical rundown, but as to what caused the issues, I don’t know.”

                “That’s… That’s fine.”

                It actually isn’t fine, but whatever. I’m sure I can get Kephi to spill his guts some other time. I let him out of his pokéball so I can see for myself what Gregory’s about to explain to me, and after the amorphous flash of red fades and his body’s materialized, his antennae twitch violently. The bug-type stretches them as far as he can, like he’s reaching for something he can’t find. He settles on gliding them along the pavement and hissing at it.

                “See what happened there?” Gregory asks, pointing in Kephi’s general direction.

                “Uh, I think he was just trying to figure out his surroundings. This is probably all new to him.”

                The OT shakes his head. “His antennae, they’re not in sync when they move. He’s angry about it,” he says.

                I glance at my starter again and notice Gregory’s right. One antenna’s stiff, and the other bounces up and down violently as Kephi grimaces. None of the passersby seem to notice the pokémon in pain, so either the critter’s good at hiding things or his problems aren’t as serious as I thought.

                “Have you ever heard of apraxia, Annie? Or hypoxia?”

                “A-prax-ee-uh and…” I trail off, remembering my blunder at the hospital that alerted the doctors to my own condition in the first place. I’d rather not add anything else to my plate, thank you very much.

                “I’ll take that as a no,” Gregory says. He goes to scoop Kephi up in his arms, and though the bug-type flinches, he doesn’t resist the gesture. He even allows the OT to trace his fingers along the hump on his back. “Our assessments showed that there’s a lack of adequate oxygen in this little guy’s body: hypoxia. It’s not debilitating, but you can see parts of his face and abdomen are shriveled and discolored.”

                Gregory motions for me to lean my head in and look, but I opt out, ashamed I hadn’t noticed earlier. It’s not like I’d ever seen a venipede in the flesh before and none of them have the exact same appearance, but still.

                Gregory pulls Kephi in close again and continues, “Apraxia’s associated with damage to regions of the brain that regulate motor skills. So is hypoxia, to a certain degree. That means he’ll have trouble moving around on a daily basis and carrying out commands in battle. You guys can train and he’ll know how an attack is supposed to be executed, but his brain won’t always be able to process how to turn the concept into a reality.”

                “But Kephi had a trainer before!” Stunned, the OT blinks at me. “I-I mean, I thought it’d be cool and all to have a strong starter like this.”

                “Like I said, Annie, I don’t know the origins of these conditions. He could’ve been born with them, or perhaps there was an accident. Either way, it’s safe to assume his disability was too much for his old trainer to handle.”

                Oh, right. The shelter. There’s plenty of reasons a trainer would abandon their pokémon, but it makes sense that sick or weaker ones would be left where they could be taken care of while others could probably manage surviving in the wild.

                I sigh. Good thing I didn’t babble on like an idiot about having a strong starter to Mom after all.

                An idea hits me then, because seriously, I associate Mom with wanting to bash my head into a wall more often than not, but she’s not the one with mystical powers claiming to save me from my misery. The half poison-type with near-crippling issues needs my attention, not her.

                “Why don’t you just ask Kephi yourself?”

                All I get in response is a raised eyebrow. “Unless you can decipher incessant clacking noises, I fail to see how that’ll help,” Gregory says.

                “Don’t be stupid,” I say before he even finishes speaking.

                His stare lingers. He doesn’t have the face of a man who’s joking, but of one who’s utterly confused and questioning his client’s intelligence. Kephi, of course, just snuggles into the OT’s arms and hisses at me, saying nothing.

                Now you don’t want to swear up a storm,” I mumble under my breath, glaring at the bug. I laugh to stave off the awkwardness of the situation and mention loudly—too loudly—how it’d be nice if language barriers between humans and pokémon were a myth.

                “Oh, it’s the case for some people, especially veteran trainers. Having so many pokémon clients over the years, I myself am more in tune with their body language, but not actual words yet.”


                “Over time, it’s likely to click.”

                I’ve heard there’s been an immense amount of research done on the topic. The odds are certainly in his favor, even if he’s no pokémon specialist. An image flashes through my head of Gregory hunched over a desk, sifting through hundreds of scattered papers outlined with all the latest information about the venipede line that eventually was solidified enough to be put in the pokédex. All because he couldn’t ask the damn brat what’s up.

                The effort he’s put into Kephi’s situation is comforting, if nothing else.

                “Any other immediate questions? Surely you’d like to get a head start as early as possible today.”

                “It’d be nice to, you know, hear about the actual rehab part of this,” I say skeptically, folding my arms.

                “I’m still working out the kinks. This is the last test.”

                “Last test?”

                With that conversation over for now—I’ll have to bombard the OT with Kephi-related questions again later, damn it—Gregory pulls out a plain red and white pokéball. It’s fitting for a rather plain looking man like him. I can’t help but wonder, though, what other surprises this man’s got in store for me.

                “Since it’s too dangerous to send you off alone with Kephi straightaway, I’ll let you borrow my snivy for the time being.”

                Gregory holds the button down on the pokéball, and from it emerges a green, bipedal lizard. The snivy has dull, reddish eyes and a contrasting yellow crest. His short tail kind of reminds me of a three-leaf clover.

                Once the grass-type fully materializes, Kephi hisses and retreats as far back into Gregory’s arms as he can, forcing the man to drop his pokéball so he can keep the venipede from jumping away. The snivy rubs his underbelly and flickers his blood red tongue like he’s ready to chow down on a meal he knows is gonna be tasty.

                “Aren’t you supposed to have the type advantage, dude? What have you got to be afraid of?” I ask Kephi, offering to take him from Gregory’s arms. Kephi reluctantly agrees and crawls up my arm, leaving a tiny trail of slime behind.

                “Nate here was my starter. He’s the most behaved out of all my pokémon, and he’s capable of holding his own in a fight. I trust you’ll be okay to get to Jubilife, but just in case…”

                I don’t bother giving him a chance to finish his sentence. “Yeah,” I say, “I know what you mean. Don’t worry about it.”

                “Anyway,” Gregory continues, “record your experiences—on the pokédex or on paper. Doesn’t matter. Think of it as a diary of sorts, where you write whatever’s relevant to your day.”

                “I’m not sure what’d count as relevant, but, uh, sure. I can do that.” And how is it supposed to help, exactly? My old diaries, they’re nonsense, stream of consciousness ideas that are hardly coherent when I look back at them.

                It’ll just be another thing to fake, I guess.

                “All right,” Gregory says, “here’s exactly what I’ll be looking for…”


                “God, it’s almost like he’s a fucking stalker or something.”

                “Excuse me?”

                I glare at my starter, surprised both by his shameless profanity and the bite in his voice after his previous show of silence. Kephi simply bursts out laughing, so loud that I’m sure the entire route’s inhabitants know we’re out and about now. Out of the corner of my eye I spot a burmy gathering fallen leaves for its cloak. The bagworm scurries off the moment it realizes it’s not alone, dropping a few petals along the way without bothering to retrieve them.

                “Were you paying any attention to what that old man said?” Kephi shakes his head. “He wants you to write down your every thought, your every move… It’s creepy. Ain’t no other word for it.”

                For whatever reason, he’s abandoned his cuddly ‘mon charade. I point this out to him, because why would he want to be all buddy buddy with a stalker, but he just harrumphs and works to put a fair amount of distance between us. He settles into a new cycle of scuttling far ahead of me, then slowing down to a snail’s pace until I catch up. Every time he sees me writing in my temporary diary, he snickers and mumbles comments I pretend not to hear.

                The little dude likes to act tough, but I notice the nuances of his movements a tad easier already. Gregory’s explanation was useful for something, after all.

                “A stalker indeed,” I finally agree after Kephi insults the OT for the fifth time in a row. Sighing, I jot down notes about Kephi’s slightly labored breath after the spurts of energy, the way his antennae drags dully along the forest floor as he pretends to be searching for something, the way his words slur if he tries to talk too loud…

                The list goes on and on. And, joke’s on him! He’s the one being stalked right now, not me.

                Except I’m not laughing, because I technically am supposed to be writing about myself. I should’ve just used the damn pokédex, but I made the effort to check how crumpled my diary was getting at the bottom of my backpack. Might as well use it and maybe see if Kephi wants to eat it. Or cover it with a giant ball of slime.

                That’s another thing he does: slime. He leaves it everywhere. The faster his body moves, the more there is.

                Personally, I hope Gregory gags when he reads about it. Serves him right for trying to handle a renegade client like me.

                So far, Gregory? I’m bored. Nate’s not talked since we parted ways, and what’s weirder, he’s not left my side since he got the order to keep me in line. In fact, his pace matches mine perfectly, even though I’m at least twice his size and the shape of his feet reminds me of thin and permanently curled pieces of paper. How does that anatomy make any sense for a creature that’s supposed to possess more abilities than any human in existence?

                Oh, and I’ve asked the little snake a million and one questions to get him to talk about himself, to talk about his trainer—you know, to see if I can understand more pokémon than just Kephi. It’d be a real anomaly, which everything else about me already is anyway, so why not this? Could be Kyurem’s doing, I guess. Or a byproduct of growing up with Mom’s pokémon that I’m just now picking up on, most realistically.

                Alas, Nate’s either a legit mute or a huge jerk with a talent for giving others the cold shoulder. Kephi seems on board with the latter explanation after having several of his duel challenges straight up ignored by the grass-type.

                “I’d love to wipe that smug look off his face,” he tells me at some point. “You’re the trainer! Can’t you do anything?”

                Explaining what resting bitch face syndrome is and how I need Nate in tiptop shape in case we get in trouble earns me a scowl and a threat about how I’ll be the one taking poison stings to the face soon if he doesn’t get the fight he’s itching for.

                So thanks for nothing there, too, Gregory. I’m finally out of Sandgem, but it’s already been my own cycle of one step forward, two steps backward—as I expected. It’s no wonder I wasn’t jumping off the walls excited about it.

                Further into Route 202, the forest grows denser and the cedar tree canopies bunch closer together, blocking the noon sun and keeping its warmth from seeping in. I wrap my arms around myself, shivering slightly and failing to find any comfort in the look of concern Nate flashes me. As usual, he says nothing.

                Kephi, meanwhile, stops near an old emergency phone booth a few yards ahead of us. He cranes his neck up curiously, but he’s too close to get a good read on it, so he tries to crawl back a bit. Wincing like it hurts, he resorts to ignoring the thing and moves on, and for the next hour, he leads us through a winding path reminiscent of a labyrinth without multiple, diverging pathways—only to bump into another, larger booth-like structure.

                “Okay, seriously?” he cries out, startling the teenage boy manning the booth into dropping his cell phone. “We better not have just gone in a circle, trainer girl! I ain’t sleeping in my ball tonight or on the forest floor with the wild luxray running around.”

                The boy forgoes retrieving his phone, instead greeting us from afar with a wave too forceful to feel inviting. I break into a jog to catch up with my starter, while Nate takes almost no time at all to do the same. Before Kephi can scamper ahead and leave us in the dust again, I scoop him up in my arms, careful to be gentle but firm like Gregory had. Still, the bug-type wriggles relentlessly to try to escape.

                “There, there,” I tell him. “Gotta keep you out of reach from the grand total of zero luxray we’ve seen so far.”

                Kephi hisses at me, but the boy flinches. How someone so timid got chosen to keep watch over… whatever this booth is, I don’t know. The enclosed building, built out of solid concrete, has enough room to fit a computer desk and a swivel chair. Tinted glass windows cover the majority of the wall space, which I assume are used to keep an eye on passers-by and approaching pokémon.

                Naturally, I assume the boy’s a ranger maintaining the forest. But then he reaches out his hand to me expectantly and I realize I’m only half-right.

                “Just two rubies,” he urges. “You’ve got that much, right?”

                “An optimistic one, aren’t you,” I mumble, accepting in my head that it’s not that much money, not really, and that the toll amount will probably only increase the deeper into the gym circuit routes I travel.

                “All your money goes to keep the routes clean and whatnot. Pokémon can be pretty destructive, so I’d say it’s worth it,” he insists.

                “Huh. The League’s afraid of the luxray around here, too? Good to know.”

                “That’s not—“

                The moment I dig into my pockets to fish out the coins, Kephi sees his chance and hops out of my arms. Unsurprisingly, a long string of spicy curse words escapes the venipede’s lips as he lands on the grass with a soft thud. When I move to fetch him, the boy has the nerve to hold out his arm. He doesn’t budge even after I hand over the rubies.

                “Pokédex, ma’am,” he says. “I’m sorry. League’s safety protocol in case you’re hurt, missing, whatever. The little guy’s still in sight, anyway.”

                It’d be tempting to fire a few insults of my own, if circumstances didn’t make it likely that I’ll have a real ranger sent to my rescue someday. That, and I guess I’m supposed to be something of a role model to Kephi as his trainer.

                A solid thirty seconds later and the boy’s registering my information in his system, I’m scooping up the venipede out of a patch of tall grass right before he’s straightened himself out to make a break for it. This time, he’s not got enough energy to resist me. His ragged breathing calms down to a reasonable pace while we wait. Next to us, Nate sighs heavily with an actual hint of exasperation.

                “That’s how it is, is it? The weed’s not even gotta talk to be fucking annoying,” Kephi says.

                The boy doesn’t so much as blink in response. I take that to mean Kephi’s speech sounds like garbled nonsense to him. A shadow jumping from branch to branch flits by, the rustling allowing a beam of sunlight to peek in and illuminate the grassy path we’d just treaded. When he hands me back my pokédex, I open my mouth to make another quip about luxray, but veto the idea.

                “Good luck on the rest of your way to Jubilife,” he says after a moment, his head cocked slightly.

                “Won’t need the luck, I hope,” I say. “But thanks.”

                He glances back at the tollbooth. “Right, well, my shift was ending soon, last I checked. I doubt you’ll make it even halfway this late in the day, and the first night out can be one hell of a culture shock.”

                “That’s exactly the vote of confidence I need.”

                I roll my eyes and start walking, twigs crunching underneath my feet. Thanking the boy again feels like the humane thing to do, but he’s already wandering back to perform his other tollbooth attendant duties. Still, I don’t wanna have to deal with the inevitable torrent of anger from Kephi, figuring out sleeping arrangements or whether we’ll need a fire if the temperature drops too low, or what we’ll do if we get lost and prolong the trip…

                Shifting the venipede to one arm, I unpocket my journal and open to a fresh page as a distraction. What’s there to say, I wonder? What I’ve penned so far is barebones, so I should jot down something! Anything that resembles the storm in my head is out of the question, though. No matter how much Gregory encourages me, he has no place glimpsing my innermost thoughts. I’d like to think I’ve come a long way from being the neurotic mess that scribbled in the first fifty something pages, that the difference would be like fire and ice, but a nagging feeling at the back of my mind renders my optimism pointless.

                The urge to feel even somewhat productive outweighs my self-loathing, so I flip back to the last page I’d written in voluntarily before I’d abandoned journaling. A paragraph sits at the top, the rest of the page empty save for a single line written separately: I believe we’ll be okay.

                We, as if I ever lumped myself in with my family, even Renee. We, as if there’s a side of me that wants to dig herself out of the hole she’s made and a side that’s too apathetic to make it happen.

                We… Does that count pokémon now? At first sight, we’ve got an aspiring silent ninja disguised as an overgrown reptile, a hunchback with a sour attitude and a body comprised of acid to match, and a girl who’s more likely than not in over her head.

                What a goddamn sorry sight.
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                Old April 13th, 2018 (10:26 PM).
                Bay's Avatar
                Bay Bay is offline
                Darkinium Z
                Join Date: May 2006
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                I admit to also wonder over Annie's apprently lack of reaction able to understand Kelphi, but from your response seems you'll bring that up later. I'm also curious if Annie understanding Pokemon is Kyurem's doing. I will say though Kelphi has such a spunky personality there haha. Nate seems to be harder to pinpoint, perhaps Annie will get to know him better next time.

                Interesting take on the toll booths/guards you come across in various main games there, and I think not giving away yet what caused Kelphi's condition gives this sense of mystery that will make me want to find out more about that. Good to see this fic being updated once more!

                "Meowth are all right. They don't care who you are or anything."
                Foul Play [Chapter Six up!]
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