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Old January 10th, 2017 (8:54 AM). Edited January 24th, 2018 by Eliza Prescott.
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Eliza Prescott Eliza Prescott is offline
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    Join Date: Nov 2016
    Location: Upstate New York
    Gender: Female
    Posts: 36

    Welcome to the Land of the Roses! This story is set in the fictional region of Lanark, a land inspired primarily by Wales, Ireland and Scotland. It follows the adventures of a young field researcher, a coordinator, and their assorted friends as they journey across the land in search of answers and for personal discovery. The story blends a modern, technologically-advanced society with elements of both traditional and high fantasy, combining the two into (hopefully) a fairly unique world. Despite the advances of humanity, the natural world remains a beautiful and mysterious place, ripe for exploration and adventure.

    Land of the Roses could probably be described as 'not your average' fanfic. It focuses entirely on original characters in an original region, features original Pokémon (fakémon), and tends to throw the rulebook established by the games and anime out the window. References to canon characters, locations and concepts will appear from time to time, but there will be relatively few. If you're looking for a more familiar setting which follows established rules and precedents, it may be worth looking elsewhere, but you're still welcome to have a gander!

    First and foremost: This story is about the human characters and focuses on issues one might not find often in other fanfics. As the story progresses, things might get a little heavy. Reader discretion is advised. It is more of a drama set within the Pokémon world rather than a standard Pokémon story.

    NOTE: chapters have been lightly modified to cut back on the harder swearing. This story is written by an adult, primarily for a more mature audience, but I've done my best to tone things down as per the rules of this community.

    As a general warning, the following concepts will crop up at some point:
    [ graphic violence ] [ sexually suggestive content (no lurid detail, don't worry) ] [ animal cruelty ] [ romance subplots ]

    Table of Contents
    Season 1: Land of the Roses
    • Chapter 1 - Dr. Reiland
      The professional career of an aspiring researcher begins.
    • Chapter 2 - Where It Begins
      An aspiring researcher is introduced to the mundane reality of science.
    • Chapter 3 - Remember, A Rose Has Thorns
      Even the most peaceful looking countryside has its hidden dangers, and Lanark is no exception.
    • Chapter 4 - A Grim Task
      Having arrived in Nettlefield, Andrea and Patrick begin their investigation into the mysterious deaths that are sweeping through a Miltank herd.
    • Chapter 5 - An Invasive Threat
      With a possible cause for the problem plaguing the Miltank herd in their sights, Andrea and Patrick explore the swamps north of Nettlefield in an attempt to find the culprit.

    Interlude
    • Interlude 1 - A Job Well Done
      With her first project completed successfully, what awaits Andrea next?

    The Majesty of Aughrim
    • Chapter 6 - The Rails
      Andrea had hoped to spend her time on the train to Aughrim in peace and quiet, but things don't always go according to plan.
    • Chapter 7 - Station Search
      Andrea has arrived in Aughrim and is ready to get work... bur first, she has to find her business partner among the crowds of busy travellers.
    • Chapter 8 - a 'Cèilidh Gailearaidh
      In need of a distraction from her problems, Andrea takes the time to visit the city's cultural district.
    • Chapter 9 - The Eight
      The eight competitors of the Majesty of Aughrim coordination contest are introduced.
    • Chapter 10 - Wintersong
      The first matchup of the night commences with a very frosty theme shared between the two competitors: Senna vs. Kimberly!
    • Chapter 11 - A Charitable Duel
      Both came to the Majesty of Aughrim coordination contest to make a positive change in the lives of those less fortunate, and now it's time to see who can make that a reality: Kimberly vs. Hoster!

    Interlude
    • Interlude 2 - Moving On
      After a disappointing night for the both of them, Andrea and Kimberly meet one last time to discuss what the future holds for both of them.

    The Beauty of Nature
    • Chapter 12 - Sacred Garden
      A visit to a garden usually helps to clear the mind and distract from the problems of the day, and Kimberly aims to do just that.
    • Chapter 13 - Obstacles
      Before resuming their journey to Doranshire, Andrea decides to investigate the Oak of Ages, a tree that was ancient when mankind was young.
    • Chapter 14 - The Spritewood
      The road to Doranshire takes Andrea and Kimberly through the Spritewood, a colorful forest steeped in mystery.
    • Chapter 15 - Darkest Night
      While camping in the Spritewood, Andrea and Kimberly are subjected to a strange sight that neither can explain.
    • Chapter 16 - Fact and Fiction
      What happened the previous night is an unbelievable story, but there are some who aren't ready to outright dismiss it as fiction.

    Doranshire
    • Chapter 17 - A Quiet Village
      After a lengthy hike through a peculiar forest, Andrea and Kimberly finally arrive in the village of Doranshire.
    • Chapter 18 - Sickbay
      While her injuries aren't as severe as she initially thought, Andrea must take some time to rest and recover.
    • Chapter 19 - A Day To Myself
      With Andrea recovering in the Pokécenter, Kimberly is free to spend the day however she wishes. Despite the trouble in the forest two nights prior, she decides to spend the day hunting for an Eevee.
    • Chapter 20 - She's Got The Look
      To start off her investigation, Andrea visits an elderly woman who claims to have seen demons breaking into her house. Unfortunately, speaking to her is more difficult than imagined.
    • Chapter 21 - Loch Fiodhbòcan
      With her skepticism of the rumors surrounding the village growing, Andrea decides to visit the local water reservoir in search of a more logical explanation for everything. But she's not the only one left in search of answers.
    • Chapter 22 - Heart to Heart
      Andrea's meeting with a longtime friend brings about old demons, the realization that she still hasn't properly faced them and the fact that they are still lurking deep within her.
    • Chapter 23 - Unusual Findings
      While Andrea has been working in Doranshire, her colleagues at the Reiland Institute have been analyzing her findings.
    • Chapter 24 - Dance of the Orbs
      With nasty weather rescheduling her planned visit to a local elementary school, Andrea finds something new to study in the meantime.
    • Chapter 25 - Candlefire
      While studying the mysterious orbs, Andrea and Kimberly establish a camp for an extended stay into the night. They soon learn that this might not be the wisest decision.
    • Chapter 26 - Doubt and Fear
      There are two things that stand in the way of progress: doubt in oneself and the fear of the unknown.

    Season 1 Wrap-Up
    • S1 Wrap-Up #1 - The Stolen Tome
      Knowledge is power.
    • S1 Wrap-Up #2 - Spare Parts
      Dr. Venger's followup report on the Skeleton of the Spritewood.
    • S1 Wrap-Up #3 - The Spread
      A Ministry of Wildlife expedition to the Nettlemarsh has gathered information about the Blastcap infestation.
    • Season 1 Recap
      A detailed breakdown of the story thus far. Useful if you'd like to get into the story with the start of Season 2.
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      #2    
    Old January 10th, 2017 (8:55 AM). Edited March 1st, 2017 by Eliza Prescott.
    Eliza Prescott's Avatar
    Eliza Prescott Eliza Prescott is offline
    Misfit Angel
       
      Join Date: Nov 2016
      Location: Upstate New York
      Gender: Female
      Posts: 36
      Land of the Roses
      Chapter 1: Dr. Reiland

      Originally published on November 30th, 2016


      May 12th, a spring afternoon like any other in the land of the roses. Cloudy. Rainy. Cold and miserable, with a slight touch of gloom. A blanket of rolling, grey clouds covered the entire country that day. A sharp wind blew through the grass-choked stone valleys, bringing with it the lingering bitterness of a winter that refused to go away.

      Despite the dreary weather, life went on as usual. The echo of a train horn blared across the peaceful, untouched countryside. High up in the stony foothills of east Lanark, the source of the horn blast slowly made its way across the narrow cliff side, carefully navigating the winding rails, stone-cut tunnels and rickety, rusted bridges ahead of it.

      Aboard the train sat a young woman, completely disconnected from the world around her. Her attention was sunk in her smart phone; between the power metal that blared through her headphones and the game of Tetris that she was wrapped up in, the outside world was little more than an afterthought to her. She tried desperately to keep up with the pace of the colored blocks that raced across the screen, but it eventually proved to be too much and the game ended.

      "Come on!" she grumbled to herself. "Almost made it to level 30 again..." She was tempted to start another game, but instead decided to gaze out the window at the passing countryside, an opportunity she rarely had. In the foggy, rain swept distance, the northern mountains loomed above the landscape like eternal sentries. The valley below was bathed in a rich, verdant green as the foliage finally began its yearly, spring-time return. "The view would be perfect," she thought, "if it weren't for this damned rain."

      The peaceful atmosphere was spoiled by her phone ringing loudly and unexpectedly. The screen lit up: 'Incoming call from Dad'. She adjusted her position on her seat as she slid her finger across the unlock bar on the bottom of the screen, then pressed the button to answer the call. The screen quickly faded, then displayed a video of a man seated in a leather armchair in a dimly-lit room.

      The man's face lit up with excitement. "'eeeeeey! There's my girl!"

      "Hi," she quietly responded.

      "Just thought I'd call to check in on you. Today's the big day, right?"

      She nodded.

      "How's the train ride? Smooth?" her father asked.

      "A few minutes behind schedule, but the trains always are," she answered. "I think I should be arriving in Loch Alstan soon."

      "Just in time for your interview!"

      "Don't remind me," she commented.

      Her father's joyous demeanor was dented by her words. "Oh? You're not nervous, are you?"

      "That's putting it mildly. The last four years of my life are going to be judged, and hard. Something from my past is going to slip through the cracks and sink this opportunity for me, I know it."

      He dismissed her concerns with a shake of his head. "Unless there's something you got involved in that you shouldn't have, you'll be fine. You're too hard on yourself, you know that?"

      She sighed. "Maybe. It's hard not to be, sometimes..."

      Her father leaned in closer to his webcam as he folded his hands on his desk. She knew this body language well, and could almost predict what he was about to say, word for word: "Remember, Dr. Reiland invited you to visit her research center instead of outright dismissing you. That alone says something. You really think she'd drag you across the country just to tell you you're not good enough?"

      "That would be pretty cruel of her..."

      "I don't know Dr. Reiland personally, but I do know that she is a well respected, professional woman. She wouldn't do that to you." he said. "I can understand if you're nervous. I was when I graduated from the academy. Felt like the world was about to come crashing down on me, but you know what? It didn't. You'll be fine."

      "I know..."

      "You're a very capable young woman--"

      "Ugh, stop it," she said with a smile. "You're going to make me throw up."

      "You are, though! Ten golden roses says that she'll hire you today."

      The young woman jolted forward a bit as the train slammed on its brakes, signifying that it was arriving at its destination. The speaker system on the train blared with a catchy jingle before the conductor began to speak.

      "Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for riding with Silverline today! In a few short minutes, we'll be arriving at Alstan Central Station. At this time, we ask that you retrieve any personal--"

      "The train's arriving... I'm going to make sure I have everything in order, okay?" the young woman said.

      "Sure thing. Call me if you have any trouble."

      "I will."

      "Keep your chin up, eh? You've got this."

      "I hope so... Good bye!"

      "See ya, sweetie!"

      The screen faded to black and the young woman put her phone back into her purse. While she did so, she made sure that she had everything she brought with her for her stay in the town: identification, some spending money, a backpack stuffed with unhealthy snacks, a spare change of clothes and paperwork related to her upcoming job interview.

      It dawned on her that this was finally happening. After four years of hard, grueling work and study, she finally had her shot at the career she always dreamed of, and it was so close she could almost feel it. What she felt wasn't excitement or joy, however, but uncertainty and anxiety. To think that a simple rural girl could end up working at one of the most prestigious research centers in the country seemed too good to be true.

      The train came to a complete stop and the doors began to slide open. The young woman stepped out onto the rain-soaked platform and the biting cold winds instantly snapped her back into reality. She quickly approached a map of the town that was posted on the terminal wall and began to study it. Much to her dismay, the map was anything but helpful; while it displayed a few of the town's sights, Dr. Reiland's Institute for Research wasn't labeled.

      "Already, the world conspires against me..." she lamented.

      She retreated to the warmth of the terminal building and tried to find another map in the hopes that it might be labeled properly, but she had no luck. She approached numerous strangers about where to go, but their either didn't know, or flat out ignored her presence. Instead of trying to ask more people, she approached the ticket salesman for help.

      "Good day, welcome to Silverline! Buying a ticket?" the salesman asked.

      She shook her head. "No. I just got here, you see, and I have no idea where I'm going. Would you happen to know where Dr. Reiland's Institute for Research is?"

      "Yes, it's hard to miss. When you step outside, you'll see a giant windmill in the distance. Just walk towards it, you'll find what you're looking for."

      "Thank you."

      "Enjoy your visit! Stay warm out there!"

      - - - - -

      It was a long and brutal slog through the rainy streets of Loch Alstan. The howling wind and the chilling rain were relentless, but they only motivated her to carry on as quickly as she could. With the giant windmill looming out of the fog above her, she knew that she was close. "Just a couple more blocks..." she muttered to herself as she shivered uncontrollably.

      At last, she had arrived. The large brick complex before her was far less glamorous than she imagined it would be; it was just a giant square building that was separated into six floors. There were absolutely no unique features about it other than the fact that it was so boring, a clear contrast to the rest of the town's Edwardian-styled architecture.

      "Here it is..." she muttered. She took a deep breath to reassure herself, then pushed the door open and stepped inside.

      The lobby was unlike anything she expected. The first thing that caught her attention was the large fountain in the center, which featured four seahorse-like creatures sending jets of water into the air. As she wandered over to it, she noticed that nearly the entire floor of the fountain was littered with coins. Accompanying the entrancing flow of the water was the alluring sound of smooth jazz that played throughout the lobby. Both served to calm her nerves a bit.

      She timidly approached the service desk and was greeted warmly by the receptionist.

      "Hello! Welcome to Dr. Reiland's Institute for Research! How may I help you today?" the receptionist asked in an almost pre-programmed manner.

      "Umm... I'm here for a meeting with Dr. Reiland," she answered.

      "Name, please?"

      "Andrea Dennison."

      "I'll need to see some form of ID."

      Andrea dropped her purse on the desk and dug through it. She retrieved a student ID card from the University of Aughrim and handed it to the receptionist.

      "A moment, please," the receptionist said as she started to furiously tap away at her keyboard. "Dr. Reiland doesn't meet with many people these days. You're quite lucky."

      "As if I needed to feel any more nervous..."

      The receptionist continued to tap away. After a moment, she continued, "Here you are! Andrea Dennison, meeting scheduled for May 12th, 2:30 PM. Right on time!" She picked up the phone beside her and spoke into it. "Dr. Reiland's guest is here. Want to come and escort her?"

      "Escort?" Andrea asked.

      "We take security here very seriously," the receptionist said as she handed the ID card back. "We're not as big as Silph Co., but Dr. Reiland refuses to chance it after what happened to them all those years ago."

      "Good point."

      A few minutes passed by as Andrea patiently awaited her escort, until finally a door deeper into the facility opened. A young man with strikingly bright red, wavy hair entered the lobby and waved towards the receptionist. "Is this our guest?" he asked.

      The receptionist nodded silently as she tapped away at her keyboard.

      The man extended his hand forward as a sign of good will. "Andrea, right?"

      "Yes."

      "Welcome to our research institute. My name is Patrick Adelaide, I'm one of Dr. Reiland's senior staff members. If you're ready to see her, follow me."

      Patrick led her through the secured door and into a hallway that seemed to stretch into eternity. Lining the sides of the hallway were doorways into small rooms, each filled with racks of Pokéballs, bulletin boards blanketed with papers, baskets of berries, bottles of medicine and scientists hard at work. Other rooms were locked down tightly, sealed behind reinforced doors and biometric scanners. The level of security almost seemed excessive and Andrea could only imagine what was behind them.

      He broke the silence with some small talk as they climbed the stairs towards the second floor. "Those clothes of yours..." he said as he shook his head.

      She looked down at her clothing and concern began to wash over her. Her attire was simple, yet kept to a strikingly dark theme; a black minidress with long, lacy sleeves, paired with black and grey striped stockings, all rounded off with thick, shin high leather boots. Strange, by the average person's standards, but by no means outlandish. The fact that some of his first words were about her clothing put her on the defensive. "What's that supposed to mean?"

      "Most people don't dress like they're going to a midnight rave when they have a job interview."

      "T-this is the best I had!" she stammered. "I'm fresh out of university, I can barely afford the clothes I'm wearing, let alone get something fancy. And the--"

      "Relaaaaax, it's not me you have to impress! Besides, you honestly don't look that bad, just... a little strange." He let out a polite chuckle. "Anyways, I've heard a bit about you from Dr. Reiland."

      "Oh, have you?" she asked. To her, the fact that Dr. Reiland had been talking about her meant that she had already made an impact. The question begged, however; was it praise, or disapproval? "What did she say?"

      "I heard that you have a bachelor's degree," he said.

      "I do, in biology."

      "And yet you're only twenty years old?"

      She nodded.

      "Impressive. You must have quite the powerhouse in that ol' noggin of yours."

      "That's debatable," she said. She was curious to know more about what Dr. Reiland had been saying, but it would have to wait.

      The two stopped in front of Room 237-B. A plaque adorned with golden letters spelled out the name: Dr. Rebecca Reiland, Ph.D. The door was closed, locked and protected by a keycard scanner, something Andrea thought of as strange at first, but then remembered what the receptionist said about security. Patrick knocked on the door, and after a brief moment of waiting, the door opened.

      The two were greeted by an older woman with greying hair and a warm smile. The woman immediately recognized Andrea and welcomed her. "Ah! Andrea Dennison, we meet at last!" she said. She rested her left hand on a cane as she extended her right hand outward.

      "The pleasure is mine," Andrea answered as they shook hands.

      She took a moment to critically analyze Andrea's rebellious looking appearance. The faint look of worry drifted across her face. "You look... different than I expected."

      Andrea looked down at her clothing and started to worry again. "I-I assure you--"

      "But, as they say, you shouldn't judge a book by its cover," Dr. Reiland motioned into her office. "Please, come. You as well, Patrick."

      The office was a cozy mess. Almost every available square inch had been filled; nearly a thousand books about hundreds of subjects lined the bookcases and shelves. Honors, awards and newspaper articles gobbled up what little space remained on the walls. An unorganized bulletin board, covered in old papers dating back as far as twenty years, hung behind the ornate oaken desk that sat at the center of the room. The desk itself was covered in a wide array of loose papers, handheld equipment, framed photographs and a dozen bottles of medicine.

      "Do not mind the mess," Dr. Reiland suggested as she walked over to her desk. "It does become difficult to tidy up around here sometimes."

      "I have offered to help, doctor," Patrick commented.

      "I can take care of it myself, I just need a little free time," she said as she sat at her desk. "Please, have a seat."

      The two did as they were asked.

      Dr. Reiland began to dig through the papers that adorned her desk, categorizing them neatly and quickly as she did so. "I have your application somewhere around here, Ms. Dennison... Ah! Here it is." she said. "Before we begin, I would like to thank you for coming on such short notice. I understand that the train ride from Aughrim is a long and exhaustive one."

      "Nearly seven hours, ma'am," Andrea answered.

      "The fact that you made the journey in the first place shows your dedication. I don't think many people who would travel across an entire country on the vague hope of a job offer."

      Andrea laughed nervously.

      Dr. Reiland lifted a pair of reading glasses to her eyes. "Very well, let's begin... I've looked over your application many times, Ms. Dennison, and it's quite impressive for someone your age. A bachelor's degree in biology from the University of Aughrim, a published thesis on the effects of pollution on marine and shore life, two years of course credit in mechanical engineering, a 3.7 grade point average, top marks in high school, four years as a part time waitress... I will get right to the point, I don't receive many applications from people of your caliber."

      "All good words so far..." Andrea thought to herself.

      "Yet, personal accomplishments are not the only metric by which man is measured. Drive, personality and the ability to work with others are all equally as important."

      "She's got a degree, doctor," Patrick chimed in. "I think she's got the drive."

      "Perhaps she can answer that herself? Andrea, why did you apply to my research center?"

      Andrea thought about and chose her words carefully. "I've learned a lot during my studies. I could always learn more, but I feel like I need a change of pace for awhile. I was thinking of putting my knowledge to practical use, perhaps solve some problems instead of just read about them. Your research center here would give me the ability to work with others towards that common goal."

      Dr. Reiland and Patrick looked at each other briefly before nodding.

      "Fantastic answer, Ms. Dennison," she said. "Next, I want to ask you about... well, you! Things such as personality do not come across in a job application, and I need to get to know you a little better before we start talking about a position for you." She leaned over her desk and studied Andrea closely. "I know I said that I shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but... your clothing worries me, admittedly."

      "Why does everyone have a problem with the way I dress?!" she shouted in her thoughts. "It's just a style I like, nothing more."

      "So you won't be spending every waking moment realizing that your life is an endless torrent of agony?" Patrick asked.

      "No. Life is to be enjoyed, rain or shine."

      Dr. Reiland and Patrick met eyes once again, only this time neither of them nodded.

      Dr. Reiland began to flip through Andrea's application. "Have you done any volunteer or charity work? I noticed a distinct lack of it on your application..."

      The tone with which Dr. Reiland spoke made Andrea nervous. "Umm... I didn't have the time. Between the demanding hours of my studies, my job as a waitress and what little social life I had, I could never find an opportunity to make an impact like that."

      "Hmm..."

      "Surely you remember your own years at university, doctor," Patrick added. "Did you find yourself with much free time?"

      "Whose side are you on?" she smiled. "But you're right. Pursuing a degree is time consuming work and offers little room for distraction."

      Andrea breathed a sigh of relief upon hearing the words. For a moment, she thought her future was ready to slip through her fingers.

      Dr. Reiland continued the questions. "How do you deal with others around you, Ms. Dennison?"

      "If someone needs help, I'm happy to lend a hand. If I need help, I'm gracious enough to accept it. Part of progress is learning to work with others to achieve something greater than ourselves." she said. "However, for smaller projects, I find that I work best alone in most circumstances. It's much easier for me to focus."

      Dr. Reiland leaned back in her chair and absorbed Andrea's words. "I like what you have to say, Ms. Dennison. Confident, yet willing to compromise. I can feel the honesty in your words." She looked towards Patrick for his opinion. "What do you think, Patrick?"

      "I see little wrong with her," he said. "I think she could go far in a place like this, while remaining a valuable asset to us."

      "I'm thinking the same," she nodded. She grabbed her cane and pushed herself to her feet, and extended her hand across the desk. "Very well, Ms. Dennison. I look forward to working with you, welcome aboard!"

      Andrea quickly and excitedly rose to her feet and nearly yanked Dr. Reiland's arm off as they shook hands. "Thank you, thank you, thank you for this opportunity! You won't regret it, I swear on my life!"

      "Good! You start tomorrow, if there's no problem with that!"

      "No, no! Not at all!" The thought hadn't even registered in Andrea's mind that she had no connection to the area; no friends, no family, not even a place to live. She didn't stop to think about the circumstances that had brought her to this moment, and how utterly unprepared she truly was for a successful outcome. All she could think of was getting started. "What's my first project?" she asked.

      "That's a good question," Dr. Reiland commented, then turned to Patrick for ideas. "Perhaps Patrick here could be a dear and find you something to do in the morning while we look for a longtime position for you to fill."

      "I've got some ideas," Patrick said. "Will that be all, doctor?"

      Dr. Reiland nodded. "For now, yes."

      "Very well! Follow me, Andrea, I'll give you a little tour of the facility, then fill you in on your first project."
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        #3    
      Old January 10th, 2017 (8:56 AM). Edited March 1st, 2017 by Eliza Prescott.
      Eliza Prescott's Avatar
      Eliza Prescott Eliza Prescott is offline
      Misfit Angel
         
        Join Date: Nov 2016
        Location: Upstate New York
        Gender: Female
        Posts: 36
        Land of the Roses
        Chapter 2: Where It Begins

        Originally published on November 30th, 2016


        "You're going to like it here," Patrick said. "We have a very laid back atmosphere. Everyone's friendly, nobody feels like they have to one-up anyone else... When I first started here, it was like a dream."

        "Is it still a dream?" Andrea asked.

        "You bet."

        He led her down the hallway that stretched into eternity. As they passed by each room, he took a moment to inform her of what kind of work was done within. Room 232 was dedicated to the research of shallow, salt marsh environments. Across the hall in room 231, researchers focused on rocky tide pool environments, and even further down the hall, room 227 focused on simulating the environment found in a lowland, freshwater swamp. Overwhelming heat drifted off of the door to room 213, which was dedicated to the research of desert flora and fauna.

        "We could spend all day going up and down these hallways, so I'll just sum this up as our environmental research wing. Based on your studies and your thesis, this might be where you spend a majority of your time."

        "This isn't all you focus on, right?" she asked.

        "Correct," he said. He pointed down the hallway behind him. "The west wing is where our staff works on its medical research. Biochemistry is over that way, too. In the northern wing, we have a radiology department, genetic research, a hatchery for our various research subjects--" He paused to study Andrea, only to find her lost in wonder. "Bored yet?"

        "Hunh? No, no! Not at all! This place is fascinating!" she said.

        He nodded happily as he heard it. "Good. Most people would probably feel like they're dying of the plague in a place like this."

        They continued down the hall towards the east wing, passing by more rooms along the way. An arboretum for the study of jungle plantlife, a dimly lit room for studying cave moss, even a pressure chamber for studying the potential of life in the vacuum of outer space. Andrea had heard about the environmental research that took place here, but never dreamed that it'd be as diverse as it was.

        As they moved along, Patrick couldn't help but ask, "Do you have any experience with training Pokémon?"

        She shook her head. "No. It hasn't interested me all that much."

        "No?" he asked, clearly surprised.

        "Is that a bad thing?"

        "Maybe it's not. Many among our staff, myself included, are hobbyist trainers in our spare time. It makes our jobs as researchers, especially in this department, so much easier. When we're working with subjects that trust us and understand our goals, they're less likely to fight the process."

        Worry crept over her. She recalled the struggles of being taken seriously by her professors and fellow students during her time at university. "Will the same thing happen here?" she thought. "That won't be a requirement, will it?" she asked.

        "No. If you're not into it, you're not into it, it's that simple." he answered. "Speaking of requirements, there's some stuff that we need to take care of before you get started. Follow me."

        - - - - -

        "Ooooh, this is so exciting!" Andrea's thoughts screamed. "I can't believe this is happening!"

        Patrick looked back and noticed the look of bliss on her face. "You're kinda strange."

        "Excuse me?"

        "In a good way, I mean. You're the first new hire that I've met with a smile that wide on their face," he commented. "Most people around here look pretty grim or overwhelmed when they walk these halls."

        "I try my hardest not to look grim, especially when I'm in a good mood," she said.

        "Based on how you dress, I thought grim would be the look you'd go for," The sunshine on her face faded, and the sharp glare he received from her garnered a laugh. "That's more like it! I think you and I are going to get along well."

        The two entered a cramped storage room that was filled to capacity with overburdened metal shelves, cardboard boxes, plastic bins and glass containers. Patrick encouraged Andrea to stay behind as he squeezed his way through the tightly packed corridor towards the back of the room. Loud banging, the sound of boxes falling and a few angry obscenities were muttered before he returned with a small wooden box in his hands. "We really need another storage room for our equipment..." he muttered.

        He opened the wooden box and grabbed a small, pink device from within. Measuring approximately 4.5 inches by 2.5 inches, the device featured a large touch-sensitive screen, a standard cable input port and a headphone jack, as well as a wrist strap. He handed the device to Andrea. "Here you are, standard issue to each member of our research staff."

        Andrea grabbed the device and studied it closely. She turned it on and was greeted with a welcome message, which quickly faded to an app selection screen that featured numerous useful programs, including the likes of a map, e-mail, weather forecasts and even a digital radio. She found herself overwhelmed by the potential capabilities of the device and asked, "What is it?"

        Patrick was shocked. "You haven't seen one of those before? What the bloody hell are they doin' over there in Aughrim?" he scoffed. "Well... It's a researcher kit, manufactured by the Catrianna Corporation of Storm Island. Most people call them R-Kits for short."

        "Oh, an R-Kit! I read about these, but never got a chance to use one. I think Professor Burke at the university had one... I didn't have any classes with him, so I never got to see it." she mused as she wrapped it around her left wrist.

        Patrick reached into his pocket and grabbed a red and white spherical object, then offered it to Andrea. "Here's your first test. If you can properly scan this Pokéball, you pass."

        She grabbed the Pokéball and started to tap away at the apps on the screen of her R-Kit. "And if I can't?"

        "Then you're in for a few rough first days as you learn how to use it."

        She clicked through the apps until she found one named Accu-Scan, which seemed like the right first step to take. However, the next step was a mystery to her, as she was greeted with several dozen options, configurations and methods of scanning just about anything imaginable: air quality, magnetic fields, physical data, even color data. She took her sweet time to sift through the useless junk until she found what she was looking for. She activated the Pokéball analysis mode and pressed the scan button.

        Without delay, a holographic blue beam of light shot out of the R-Kit and began to scan the Pokéball back and forth. After a few short seconds, a drab-sounding, robotic voice came from the R-Kit. "Name: Fang! Species: Flareon! Registered trainer: Patrick Adelaide, ID LA-24522! Gender: Male! Height: 2'7''! Weight--"

        "Not bad. One of our recent hires couldn't figure that thing out." he said as he held his hand out, expecting his Flareon returned to him. "I don't see why, R-Kits aren't all that difficult to use."

        Andrea handed the Pokéball back and began to explore the other apps available to her. "I can see why people might be flustered when they first use one, there's a lot of stuff on here!"

        "Just like the apps on a phone, most of it's garbage. The Catrianna Corporation is marketing those to scientists and engineers, why does it have an entire section on coordination strategies?"

        "Maybe they're looking to expand their market soon?" she asked.

        "Hmm, whatever the case..." He placed the wooden box back onto a shelf and closed the door to the storage room, then pointed down the hallway. "Just at the end of this hallway is what'll be your favorite room here once you get settled. Let's have a look."

        Patrick pushed open the double doors and the two entered perhaps the largest room in the entire facility, the employee lounge. The entire room was brightly lit by the massive array of windows that flanked the northern and southern sides of the room, windows that offered a glimpse of Loch Alstan's skyline, and the murky lake the town was named after.

        Throughout the room were comfy looking couches and chairs, circled around tables and television sets. Large art installations that depicted famous Pokémon such as Venusaur, Charizard and Blastoise were suspended from the rafters above them. Bookshelves were stuffed to the brim with all sorts of scientific publications. A solitary snooker table, host to a game that was already in progress, sat in the middle of the room.

        At the far end of the room was an extensive cafeteria. About a dozen tables, all filled to capacity by chatting scientists and researchers, stood before the impressive array of on-site restaurants: the Mountain Rain Coffee Shop, Jackpot's Potato Shack, Shinikara Noodle, Gyroskope, Halfhill Market and the Crimson Crawdaunt.

        "Oh boy, you have a Crimson Crawdaunt here?" Andrea asked. "I used to be a waitress at the one in Aughrim..."

        Patrick nodded. "We do, and a lot of other options as you can see. Even international stuff. Dr. Reiland really spoils us." He motioned for her to follow and began to lead her along a long row of lockers that lined the wall beside them. "Let's get you a locker of your own. That way you don't have to lug that big ol' backpack with you everywhere you go."

        It wasn't long before they found an unclaimed locker, #47. She waited patiently beside it as Patrick ran off to retrieve the key, and she took the time to study her fellow coworkers situated about the lounge. The atmosphere was warm and genial, as people of all ethnicities mingled together over a cup of coffee to discuss what they were working on, or share a laugh about stories of their personal lives.

        As she waited, a young woman approached locker #45. As she unlocked it, she noticed Andrea waiting patiently and said, "Haven't seen you around here before. You new?"

        Andrea nodded politely.

        The young woman offered her hand out. "Welcome aboard. The name's Emily."

        "Andrea," she said as she shook Emily's hand.

        "So, which department are you with?" Emily asked as she opened her locker and dug around in it.

        She shrugged. "I'm not sure yet, but it looks like I'll be in environmental research."

        "I've always been curious about what happens over that way... I'm over in medical all the time, I hardly ever get to visit."

        "Medical? Are you a doctor?"

        "Not yet. Just a couple more months of hands on work and I will be, though!"

        Patrick returned with the key to locker #47 and handed it to Andrea. He nodded respectfully towards Emily. "Look who it is! And you're not covered with blood this time!"

        "Careful, I might get yours on me," she joked. "It was nice meeting you, Andrea, but I've gotta run." As she walked away, she called out, "Treat her better than the last one, Pat!"

        Andrea turned to him with a look of confusion on her face. "What's that supposed to mean?"

        "Don't worry about it, Emmy and I go way back. We're always bustin' each other's balls." he said. "So... you hungry or anything?"

        She shook her head as she inspected her brand new locker.

        "I'm gonna grab some coffee. Why don't you have a seat and I'll be with you in a minute."

        Andrea found a comfortable, empty couch to sit on and tried to take a moment to let the situation sink in. She struggled to focus her thoughts, but they buzzed about in her mind in a haphazard fashion. All she could think about was getting started, and she wondered what she'd be working on first.

        A few minutes later, Patrick returned with two cups of steaming hot coffee and sat down next to her.

        "Coffee?" he asked as he offered her a cup.

        She politely declined. "No thanks."

        "Even after walking through that ice cold rain out there?" He gently shook the cup again, filling the area with the aroma of freshly brewed coffee. "C'mon, I went through the trouble to get it for ya."

        She sighed as she accepted the coffee, even though she didn't like it. "I could use some warming up, I guess." Just a single, bitter sip was enough to send a shiver radiating throughout her entire body, something that Patrick found amusing.

        "I think that's about it. Gave you a tour of the wing you'll be spending most of your time in... assigned you your locker and your R-Kit..." he said, trailing off. With the introduction over, he realized that he had very little else to talk about, and silence crept over the two as they awkwardly sipped at their coffee.

        Not even a minute passed before Andrea was fed up with the silence. "So..." she started. "What do you think my first project will be?"

        He took a moment to think. "That depends. Usually we have our new employees bounce between other peoples' projects, to see what they're best suited for. I'm thinking the same is going to apply in your case."

        "Let me know what you need help with. That's why I'm here."

        "You said something about wanting to solve problems. As luck would have it, one of the local farms has come to us with a problem that needs taken care of. Sooner rather than later, ideally." he said.

        Her face lit up. "What are we dealing with?"

        "You familiar with the Gates Dairy Farm? One of the largest dairy farms in the country, based in Nettlefield. It's not that far from here. Over the past few weeks, they've had nearly thirty of their Miltanks die of unknown causes, including their prize winner, Bessica. They're clueless, and they're worried that there's some sort of outbreak going through the herd. They want us to find the source of the problem."

        Andrea took a moment to think of some obvious problems that could be affecting the farm. "Maybe the grain they're feeding the Miltanks is tainted somehow? Or maybe a virus?" she pondered. "We'd have to get a closer look, of course."

        He nodded. "We would. I was going to head over there myself to see if I could figure it out. It'd be a good first project for you, I think. Not too demanding, not too frazzling, and it'll get you out into the field."

        Her eyes glinted at the thought. "Sure! It'd be nice to get back to my rural roots for a change, I've been stuck in the big city for too long."

        "Oh yeah? I think you'll like Nettlefield then, corn fields as far as the eye can see. A bit too boring for me, that's why I live here." He downed a big gulp of coffee before continuing. "I actually wanted to make the trip to the place right now, but since you're starting tomorrow--"

        "How long do you think it should take to get there?" she asked.

        "Before sunset most likely. It's not that far away."

        "Let's get started, then!"

        He tilted his head, confused by her enthusiasm. "You sure about that?"

        She looked down at the table and sheepishly said, "I don't exactly have a roof over my head tonight..."

        Patrick stared at her blankly for a second. "You're kidding, right?"

        She shook her head. "I thought I'd be on my way back to Aughrim by now! I didn't think I'd get this job, if I'm honest..."

        "You don't have a lot of faith in yourself, do you?" He took a minute to finish the last of his coffee, then continued. "Whatever the case, let's get started."
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          #4    
        Old January 11th, 2017 (11:57 AM). Edited March 1st, 2017 by Eliza Prescott.
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        Eliza Prescott Eliza Prescott is offline
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          Join Date: Nov 2016
          Location: Upstate New York
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          Land of the Roses
          Chapter 3: Remember, A Rose Has Thorns

          Originally published on December 4th, 2016


          Barely half an hour had passed since they left the warmth of the research center, and the cold had already begun to get the better of Andrea, but she refused to give up. She had been raised to give everything she had when it came to first impressions, and quitting so soon into her first real task would have reflected poorly on her work ethic. However, her burning desire to prove herself was only in her mind; she shivered uncontrollably as she huddled her arms together in an attempt to keep warm, but it did very little against the biting wind and the icy cold rain.

          "Perhaps you should have brought a jacket?" Patrick asked. "Those clothes you're wearing look pretty thin. I mean, I can see your skin through your sleeves."

          "It's May!" she shouted. "It's not supposed to be this cold!"

          "Usually is, at least in our neck of the woods," he shrugged. "Cold mountain air always comes over the loch this time of the year."

          She huddled her arms together as she groaned, "It was sunny and warm when I left Aughrim this morning..."

          "Speaking of that, I'm curious... How often have you left that city? You ever get a chance to travel the roads?" he asked.

          "No... My only real experience with the wilderness was when I visited a couple of beaches up in the northern reaches of Glastonfell for my studies."

          "Really," he stated, clearly surprised. "Didn't you say you lived in a rural area before you attended university?"

          She nodded. "I did, I grew up in Goldwheat."

          "And you never tried to explore the countryside?"

          "Of course not! I listened to my parents when they told me not to, and I'm glad I did. One of the village boys was put in a wheelchair by a feral Pokémon. The doctor said that he was lucky to survive."

          "God damn..." he said. "Well, I was going to warn you about the dangers of travelling the countryside, but it sounds like you already know about them."

          She nodded quietly.

          "Don't worry, I'll keep us safe," he assured her. "I may not be the most capable trainer in the world, but I've got a powerful Pokémon at my command. He can usually handle himself, but let's hope that I don't have to use him."

          As they rounded the bend in the road ahead of them, the skyline of Loch Alstan disappeared behind the trees. They had officially entered the wilds of Lanark. Despite the advancements of society and the rapid development of the country's urban centers, the wilderness felt as if it were untouched by human hands for thousands of years; aside from the winding cobblestone road that snaked its way through the foothills, nature was at its most pristine, unhindered state. Eventually, even the road ended at a sea of tall grass that fluttered about in the cold wind.

          Patrick led her over to the tall and ragged grass. "Now comes the most annoying part of travelling on foot." he said as he looked up and down the wall of grass in front of him. His search for a way around the grass was met with failure, which prompted him to dive right in. "I hope that clothing of yours isn't too delicate, this grass can be a little sharp sometimes."

          Andrea studied the grass with a grimace on her face. The grass reached up to her chest and was so thick that she couldn't see the ground underneath it. "You're kidding, right? The roads up in Glastonfell were never this bad."

          "If you think this is bad, you should see the 'road' on the other side of Nettlefield."

          She muttered quietly to herself as she took her first steps into the grass. "I hope there aren't any of those big bugs in here..."

          It wasn't as bad as she first imagined. While she could feel the grass snagging against the delicate fabric of her stockings, it wasn't as sharp as Patrick warned. Even more, the grass wasn't as wet or cold as she expected, despite the gloomy weather. Most importantly, there wasn't a giant bug in sight, but that meant little considering she couldn't see through the thick blanket of tangled grass around her. Before they knew it, they had emerged on the other side of the grass.

          "That was surprisingly uneventful," he commented.

          "What's that supposed to mean?"

          "You of all people should know that tall grass like this is the best spot for feral Pokémon as they either await their prey, or hide from their predators."

          "I do know that!" she protested. "I also know that it's pretty damn cold out here. Combined with the rain, not many Pokémon will be out in the open if they can help it."

          "A fair point..." he admitted. "You can never be too careful, though."

          "I understand. I hear about it all the--"

          Their conversation ended abruptly with a high pitched, bellowing sound that carried across the countryside. It didn't take long for either of the two to pinpoint the source of the noise: atop a rocky outcropping sat a stubby, black and grey elephant-like creature. Most of its body was a uniform, scaly grey, but a thick, black set of armored plates ran from the tip of its extensive trunk, across its back and ended at its short tail. Deadly looking curved tusks jutted from its mouth and a clear look of anger shined in its eyes.

          Patrick held his arm out to slow Andrea down. "A Donphan..." he said. "Careful."

          "What should we do?"

          "Move slowly and maintain eye contact. Let it know that we know that it's there."

          "You sure that'll work?"

          "It usually does. They're creatures of opportunity, they only strike when they know they have the upper hand."

          In this instance, it didn't work. The Donphan pounded its padded foot into the ground and bellowed loudly, a universally understood signal that it was agitated and ready to attack. The attack was swift; it hopped into the air and curled up, protecting itself with its dense armor plating, then began to roll down the hill towards them.

          "Look out!" Patrick shouted as he pulled Andrea out of harm's way.

          The two tumbled to the ground as they narrowly avoided being bulldozed, while the Donphan roared past and slammed into a massive oak tree just off of the path. The trunk of the tree shattered from the force of the impact, sending the rest of it toppling with a booming thud.

          Patrick responded quickly by helping Andrea to her feet. "Find somewhere to hide!" he shouted as he reached into his pocket. He pulled out his trusted Pokéball and tossed it into the air.

          The Pokéball exploded with a burst of hissing flames and a slender, orange canine-like creature appeared in its place. Luxuriously bushy white fur formed a mane around the creature's neck and rested atop its head, and more covered its long tail. The Flareon dropped to the ground and readied itself for battle as it locked onto the Donphan.

          "Fang, we need to overwhelm that thing quickly, before someone gets hurt!" Patrick ordered.

          Fang immediately leapt to action and rushed over towards the fallen tree. He cautiously searched the area in an attempt to find the Donphan, but found it difficult to see through the fallen leaves and branches. His continued search yielded nothing; no movement, no sound, nothing out of place. It was almost as if the Donphan had simply vanished.

          Patrick cautiously approached the downed tree, but remembered to keep his distance. "Find anything?"

          Fang let out a deep growl as he paced around the tree.

          "Maybe we should take the opportunity to leave?" Andrea suggested as she peered out from behind a large boulder.

          Before they could react, the shrill cry of the Donphan echoed out again and the tree rustled with activity. It rolled out of the leaves and straight for Fang, hoping to catch him off guard. Fang, quick on his feet, managed to dodge the attack. He took in a deep breath and tracked the Donphan's movements, then let out a stream of flickering flames in its direction. The flames bounced off of and had little effect on the Donphan, who continued to roll about, tucked away in its protective armored shell.

          "Keep it up, Fang!" Patrick ordered.

          Fang continued his relentless gout of fire breath, but it seemed pointless. All he did was tire himself out while the Donphan shrugged off each attack. Instead, the Donphan was only getting started, with the speed and accuracy of its rolling attacks increasing with each miss. Even worse, the Donphan was becoming more and more unpredictable, bouncing between aiming for Fang and Patrick at random.

          Patrick narrowly scrambled out of the way of the Donphan as it rolled straight at him, then picked himself up off of the ground. "Bloody hell..." he muttered. "Umm..."

          "You need to find a way to get through that armor!" Andrea suggested.

          "And how in the bloody hell are we going to do that?!" he shouted. "The bugger just keeps rolling!"

          She took a moment to study her surroundings as she formulated a plan. She wanted to find a way to stop the Donphan from rolling around in its protective shell, and figured a good way to do so would be to knock it off its feet somehow. The tree that it had knocked over at the beginning of the fight gave her an idea; if it were to smash into something hard enough, perhaps enough time could be bought to seize the upper hand. The fallen boulder that she took cover behind seemed like it would do the trick. She left her hiding spot and rushed over towards Patrick, then pointed it out. "See that boulder? Perhaps if that thing smashes into it, it'll come out of its shell and your Flareon can actually do something useful."

          He was skeptical of the plan. "You sure about that?"

          "Yes! Do it!"

          "You heard her, Fang!" Patrick called out. "In front of that rock, now!"

          Fang followed the order without a second thought and positioned himself in front of the boulder. He kept a close eye on the rampaging Donphan, ready to move at a moment's notice. Exactly as planned, the Donphan began to circle around and aim for him, and with a swift leap to the side, he lured the Donphan right into the trap. A large crack formed down the center of the boulder as the Donphan smashed directly into it. Andrea's plan proved effective; the Donphan uncurled and wobbled about, dazed by the impact.

          "Now, Fang!" Patrick ordered.

          Fang let loose a stream of white hot fire in the Donphan's direction and was absolutely merciless with his attack. As the flames burned into the exposed underside of the Donphan, its hostile nature shifted towards terror, and it spared no energy in an attempt to escape. Fang pursued relentlessly, maintaining both his laser-like focus and his burning breath of flames on the escaping Donphan.

          "Stop, that's enough!" He raised his hand and the fire subsided, then took a moment to catch his breath. "That... that could have gone really, really badly. Those things are vicious when they're pissed!"

          "I'm just glad it's gone..." Andrea said as she searched her surroundings for more trouble. "Let's keep moving, I don't want to see that thing again."

          Patrick nodded. "Yeah, come on." He motioned forward and called out, "Fang, lead the way. Keep us safe, ya hear?"

          It was much more cautious journey for the two after that. Chatter was kept to a minimum. Every small movement in the roadside bushes or in the trees was scrutinized. They kept within an arm's reach of Fang, who led the two forward quickly. Neither of them hoped for it, but both Patrick and Andrea were ready for the Donphan to return, only this time with friends. As the landscape changed from rocky hills to open field, however, the possibility of that began to diminish, and the aura of worry dissipated as they continued on towards Nettlefield.

          "Not bad back there, by the way," Patrick commented.

          "Hunh?" Andrea asked.

          "That strategy of yours... I didn't even think of something like that."

          "Oh! Uhh... Why, was that good?"

          He couldn't tell if she was downplaying the praise or truly clueless. "Hell yeah, that was incredible! I know you aren't a trainer, but you ever spectate any of the top tier competitive stuff? You know, like the Rose Conference finals or anything like that?"

          She shook her head. "I'd catch a match every now and then when there was nothing else on TV, but I never paid much attention to it."

          "Ah, a shame. You seem like you'd be good at it. Looks like you already know a thing or two."

          She stopped in her tracks and their eyes met. "If your intent is to get me to embrace the idea of becoming a trainer, you can stop right now. It doesn't interest me, it's that simple. Besides... it's too much responsibility."

          "Oh, no! Nothin' meant by it, lassie!" he said. "Just making some observations, that's our job after all!"

          A smile crept across her face as she giggled. "Let's just keep moving."

          - - - - -

          It was nearly sunset by the time that Andrea and Patrick had reached the outskirts of Nettlefield. As they pressed onward, darkness threatened to envelope them before they even reached the center of the village. They knew they wouldn't be able to get started on the task at hand, so the subject of lodging came up between them; much to Andrea's relief, Patrick informed her that they already had a room reserved for them at the Roost, Nettlefield's only motel. Even better, she wouldn't have to pay a cent, as Dr. Reiland's staff had already covered the cost beforehand.

          "Standard procedure for all official business, you'll be happy to hear." he explained.

          Her joy quickly faded when they arrived at the Roost. The place had certainly seen better days. Half of the neon sign that announced its presence to the world was broken off and missing, with the remaining half barely functional. The once pristine white paint that adorned the sides of the building was worn and peeling off. The windows were filthy and looked as if they hadn't been washed in nearly a year, and thick weeds sprouted from the foundation of the building. At the very least, the staff who managed the motel were friendly and accommodating as they pointed them to their room.

          As they entered, the first thing that hit them was the overpowering stench of mildew that wafted towards the door. Andrea covered her nose with her hand. "Eww, gross!" she shouted. "It smells like a gym locker in here!"

          Patrick was unphased by it. "Yeah... it's pretty bad... But I've been in worse." he said as he ventured further into the room. "You'll get used to it before the night's over."

          She studied the wall beside her and noticed the dark splotches that were spreading up the water-damaged wall. "I don't think so."

          "Trust me, you will," he said as he dropped his backpack onto a table. "I'd hate to say it, but we could be here awhile. We could get lucky and figure out the problem within a few hours, but it's more likely that we'll be stuck here for a few days while we work out what's happening at that farm."

          "There's mold growing on the walls!" she protested.

          "Yeah, I can see it. If you want to camp outside, be my guest, but at least it's warm in here." he said. He realized his words meant very little as he watched her timidly inspect the room, so he tried to reassure her. "This is part of the job, Andrea. You're not at your university anymore. When you're out in the field doing real work, there is no sterilized lab, no properly maintained dorm room to return to at night. This is the real world, and unfortunately it's not all that great sometimes, so you have to make do with what you've got."

          She sighed as she tried to put the room out of her mind. "I guess... I still have a lot to learn, don't I..."

          He wandered over to the couch in the corner of the room and gave it a swift kick. The cushions lurched upward and then outward, exposing a mattress that sprawled across the floor. "If it makes you feel any better, you've got the bed tonight. This'll do for me."

          "I still don't see why we couldn't get separate rooms," she commented as she sat down on the bed. Much to her surprise, it was nice and soft, perhaps the only appealing thing about the room.

          He crashed onto the couch and tried to get comfortable. "Dr. Reiland runs a tight ship, and one of the corners she cuts in order to keep all of our projects funded is stuff like this."

          "That's not the most reassuring thing to hear..." she muttered. "But I guess I won't be on the road much..."

          "Hopefully not. It's true, we do a lot of field work, but most of our employees spend a majority of their time at the lab."

          "Most?" she asked.

          "That's why I said that you should get used to it. You never know when you'll be out of town." he said. "Well, I'm hoping to get an early start tomorrow, so I'm gonna get some shut eye. You'd be wise to do the same."
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            #5    
          Old January 12th, 2017 (9:47 AM). Edited March 1st, 2017 by Eliza Prescott.
          Eliza Prescott's Avatar
          Eliza Prescott Eliza Prescott is offline
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            Join Date: Nov 2016
            Location: Upstate New York
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            Author's note: I feel compelled to issue a warning about this chapter, due to how uncomfortable it made me to write it. If you're squeamish about the idea of characters performing a post mortem analysis of a deceased Pokémon, feel free to gloss over the middle section of the chapter. You'll know when you find it.

            Land of the Roses
            Chapter 4: A Grim Task

            Originally published on December 9th, 2016


            "Cuckawwwww! Cuckawwwww!"

            The crowing of a rooster, a sound that Andrea hadn't heard in nearly five years. For the first sixteen years of her life, it signaled the start of a new day, and just like the old days, it served the same purpose once more. Despite the terrible condition of the room, she felt well rested as she rolled out of bed. She wandered over to the window and peaked through the tattered blinds; the golden glow of the rising sun bathed the area with welcoming warmth, and not a cloud was visible in the sky.

            Patrick, on the other hand, looked as if he hadn't slept a wink the entire night. His bright red hair was an utter mess and dark bags rested under his eyes. He placed his hand on his forehead in a failed attempt at relieving his suffering, and a stream of obscenities flowed through his mind like a river. "This bloody god damn room. There should be laws against this." he thought.

            "You look terrible..." she commented.

            "Nothing's changed, then," he said in attempt to inject some humor into his suffering. He groaned heavily as he sat up. "How'd you sleep?"

            "Well enough, I think."

            "No, how?" he asked, then remembered the speech he gave the previous night about making do with what he had. He stumbled to his feet and tried to put on a stoic face. "Ready to get started?"

            She crossed her arms as she gave him a glaring look. "Are you?"

            "I'll just be a little tired, that's all," he said. "Maybe breakfast and some fresh air will wake me up."

            - - - - -

            Breakfast passed by quickly and uneventfully. Both ordered the same thing: cinnamon-seasoned toast drenched in butter alongside a generous helping of sugary apple chutney, further complimented with scrambled eggs and two strips of bacon. Andrea ate like a queen, as her usual meals over the past four years, be they breakfast, lunch or dinner, were rarely anything other than the blandest and most tasteless ramen imaginable. Such was the price of progress, she always told herself, and that she should be happy she had even that. Patrick, on the other hand, was less enthusiastic about it and couldn't even finish his meal.

            With breakfast out of the way, the two started their day with the short walk across town towards the Gates Dairy Farm. The dairy farm was larger than either had expected. Both knew that it was one of the largest in the country, but they were surprised to see how just expansive it was. An impressive array of pipes, wires, machinery and storage tanks, a small factory in its own right, were the hallmark at the center of the property. As they approached, they passed by the Miltank pasture. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary; the 250-member herd grazed peacefully on the muddy grass, blissfully unaware of the fate that potentially awaited them.

            "Look at 'em all..." Patrick commented.

            One of the creatures approached the fence as they passed by and mooed loudly to grab their attention. The Miltank was covered from head to toe in filthy and gnarled pink fur, with dozens of black spots, speckles and stripes adorning its massive, rotund body. Two blunted horns sat atop its black head, and its deep blue eyes sparkled in the sunlight as it awaited their attention.

            Andrea couldn't contain herself as she passed by. "Awww! Aren't you just adorable!?" she squealed as she offered her hand out. "Look at how pretty you are!" She quickly devolved into gibberish as she patted and rubbed the overjoyed Miltank all over.

            Patrick looked as if he was dying of the plague as he watched the two. "Dr. Reiland was right... you shouldn't judge a book by its cover..."

            She turned around and stared a hole into him. "What was that?"

            "Nothing, nevermind," he said.

            The sound of hooves racing across the dirt crept up behind them. As they turned around, a large, white equine creature was blazing towards them with blurring speed. A thick mane of gorgeous, fiery red hair ran down its neck, across its back and down its tail. Atop the creature was a rugged looking man, adorned from top to bottom with tattered and patched denim clothing, complete with a bright white felt cowboy hat.

            "Easy, easy!" the man shouted as he pulled back on the horse's reins. The creature came to an abrupt stop and circled around as the man studied the two with a critical and sharp glare. "May I help you?"

            "We're looking for the owner of the farm," Patrick said.

            "That'd be me," he said with a polite nod and an offer of his hand. A thick, rural drawl hung over his words, yet there was the unmistakable charm of a country gentleman surrounding him. "Dennis Gates, I run this place. Pleasure to make your acquaintance."

            Patrick shook his hand and immediately felt the crushing grip of a vice. "I'm Patrick Adelaide," he said before he motioned towards Andrea. "And this is my assistant, Andrea Dennison."

            "Hi," she quietly chirped as she shook his hand.

            "Dr. Reiland sent us to investigate the problem with your herd."

            "Oh, good! You're here earlier than I expected!" Mr. Gates said with excitement. His demeanor shifted rapidly, marked with a sigh. "Poor girls... I just don't know what's been going on with them."

            Patrick nodded. "That's what we're here for. I have to warn you, it could take some time for us to figure this out, but we will. We have a few early ideas... My assistant is thinking it might be a problem with the cattle feed?"

            "The feed, you say?" Mr. Gates scratched his chin in thought, then shook his head. "I don't know 'bout that. Problem's only come up in the past two weeks, and we've had that feed since the harvest last year."

            "It wouldn't hurt to look, would it?" she quietly asked.

            "'spose not. I'll take you to the main storage silo. Something could'a happened to it a couple weeks ago." He dismounted from his steed and patted her on the side. "You head back to the stable, ya hear? I'm going to show our guests around." The Ponyta neighed loudly and began to trot away as Mr. Gates led Andrea and Patrick deeper into the farm.

            "What do you use to feed them?" Patrick asked.

            "Oh, you know, all sorts of stuff. Wheat chaff, grass clippings, soy beans, corn... I see 'em pickin' at the nettles on the stone walls on the edge of the pasture all the time, too."

            "Nettles? How long has that been going on?"

            "Since I was your age, son."

            "I doubt they're the problem, then."

            Mr. Gates shrugged. "I'm not convinced it's a problem with their diet. If it were, I'd probably have lost a lot more of them by now."

            - - - - -

            It was a quick journey to the grain silo that sat at the heart of the Miltank pasture. Along the way, they questioned Mr. Gates about the day to day happenings on the farm. He hadn't seen anything out of the ordinary in the weeks leading up to the first Miltank's death two weeks ago, or anything since. When asked about the other Pokémon kept on the farm, Mr. Gates informed them that the problem had only been plaguing the Miltank herd. What they learned wasn't useful for figuring out what was happening, but it did help them to narrow down a few early theories.

            Mr. Gates unlocked the maintenance hatch on the silo and swung it open. The musky smell of damp, old wheat billowed out into the field. "I don't know what you're gonna look for, but have at it." he said.

            Patrick patted Andrea's shoulder. "I'm gonna let you handle this one, Andrea."

            Anxiety bubbled to the surface as she looked at him imploringly. "M-me? All alone?"

            "Yeah. I want to see if you can figure this out. If you start feeling like you're in over your head, let me know. I'll give you a hand."

            "I think you're making a mistake, but I'll try," she said as she grabbed two big handfuls of the cattle feed and dropped it onto the table beside her. "Let's see..." she muttered to herself as she brought up the Accu-Scan app on her R-Kit. She clicked through the various options until she found a physical data scan and began the process. Just as before, a holographic beam shot out of the top of the R-Kit and began to scan the grain in a rapid orderly fashion.

            "Working..." the R-Kit said in a robotic voice. "Compound mixture detected. Displaying detected components: 67% wheat, 17% corn, 10% grass, 6% soy protein. Further details can be found below." An impressive array of information about the cattle feed appeared on the screen, though a majority of it was useless to her investigation. She scrolled through the mountains of data looking for anything that, to her, looked out of the ordinary. Eventually she came to something that seemed useful:

            MICROBES PRESENT: N/A
            MICROBE WARNINGS: N/A
            FUNGI PRESENT: Trace amounts detected, thorough lab analysis required.
            FUNGI WARNINGS: N/A
            TOXINS PRESENT: N/A
            TOXIN WARNINGS: N/A
            CHEMICALS PRESENT: Somatotropin
            CHEMICAL WARNINGS: Somatotropin


            "Somatotropin?" she asked. "That sounds familiar, but I can't quite remember..."

            "Growth hormone. Ya know, put a little extra milk in the udder." Mr. Gates answered. "There's a lot of them... hippie types... they say it's bad for the cows, but it's perfectly harmless, far as I know."

            She continued to scroll through the data, but nothing stood out. "Maybe I was wrong... Any ideas, Patrick?"

            "Can we take a look at one of the recently deceased Miltanks, Mr. Gates? We might find something useful."

            "Sure can! We've had most of them hauled away, but we had another pass overnight... Come along, she's in the barn. I'll take you to her."

            Andrea turned to Patrick and objected quietly. "You're not serious, are you?"

            "You did ask for ideas, right?"

            She quietly shook her head, then sighed.

            "Don't blame ya if you're a little squeamish 'bout it, missy. If it's any consolation, you'll have the freshest one to work with."

            - - - - -

            "Here she is, the most recent one," Mr. Gates said as he knelt down beside a deceased Miltank that was slumped over a pile of hay. Despite his assurances of it having recently passed, a horde of buzzing insects were already at work, and the stench of decay hung heavily in the air. "She looked healthy last night... Then when one of my ranchers came in this morning? She was gone."

            Patrick shook his head as he looked at the deceased Miltank. "Hopefully she didn't suffer much. Let's get started." he said.

            Mr. Gates tipped his hat. "You need a hand with anything, you give me a shout. I've got some Mareep to check in on."

            "Thank you, Mr. Gates," he said with a polite nod. He knelt down beside the Miltank and began to give it a closer inspection, then looked up towards Andrea, who had kept a sizeable distance. "I'm going to need a hand with this."

            "I... I don't know about this..." she started. "This is..."

            "It's gross, I know," he answered back. "I can think of ten thousand things I'd rather be doing right now, but... are you going to help or not?"

            She sighed, took a deep breath, blocked her nasal passages, then timidly approached the Miltank. Her preparation was almost useless, as the smell still forced its way into her nostrils. She dropped to her knees and slowly rolled up her sleeves, trying to put off what she was about to do for as long as possible. "W-what should I... I never..." she sheepishly bleated.

            "I guess this is more medical than biology, huh..." he said. Truth be told, he didn't know what to do either. "Let's just give 'er the once over, see if something looks suspicious." He pointed towards the Miltank's head. "Try to lift her head up."

            She thought carefully about how to proceed with his request. Worried about irking an increasingly impatient Patrick, she bit her lip and dug her left arm between the Miltank's head and the hay that it was resting on. The creature's head was massive and surprisingly heavy, forcing her to lift with her right arm as well. She tried her hardest to ignore everything around her and gazed up towards the rafters of the barn. Patrick slid his finger into the Miltank's mouth and lifted its upper lip. A blast of noxious air escaped the creature's mouth and was nearly enough to make her sick.

            "Nothing seems out of the ordinary..." he commented as he inspected the creature's mouth. 32 well-worn molars, divided into sets of eight, rested within healthy looking gums. "Alright, you can put her down now."

            She weezed heavily in an attempt to catch her breath as she let the creature's head go.

            He let out a chuckle. "This is the side of science they don't tell you about in school."

            "I really wish they did," she said. "If I knew that I'd be doing this one day, I'd have focused on that softball career instead."

            He peeled back the Miltank's flap-like ear and began to study it for any potential irregularities. "Softball, huh?" he asked. "Were you any good at it?"

            She shrugged. "It got me a scholarship, at least. They took it away after the first year, though... I never did join the team. I focused on my degree instead."

            "I think you made the right choice. Softball isn't that big in this country... Besides, a career like this could be lifelong. People who get into sports are lost when they have to retire."

            The small talk helped to ease Andrea's nerves. She still found the work she was doing to be utterly detestable, but she also found it easier to cut through her apprehension. "Find anything?"

            He shook his head as he dropped the ear. "Nothing."

            "What next?" she asked, in the hopes that they were done.

            He grabbed a large tuft of the Miltank's fur and began to dig his fingers through it. "We're going to have to start digging deeper."

            "Let's just get this over with, then..." she mumbled as she did the same.

            "That's the spirit!"

            Minute after agonizing minute passed by as they dug through the Miltank's pink fur. Each tug of the fur release more and more of the horrid smell, and for nothing; they weren't even sure of what they were looking for, but whatever it was, they weren't finding it. Patrick mused at the idea of returning to Loch Alstan and dragging the medical assistant they had met at the research center along for the job, but only as a last resort if they couldn't find anything themselves.

            Just as they were about ready to give up, Andrea found a particularly unsightly white blister hidden beneath the Miltank's matted fur. A thick, syrupy substance that was lavender in color oozed from it. "Ewww... what is that?"

            Patrick perked up. "What is what?"

            She pointed out the blister. "This thing... Let me look for more of these."

            "I think you might have found what we're looking for."

            It didn't take long before she found similar blisters all across the Miltank's body, hidden from sight just below its fur. They all looked identical to the first.

            "Now to figure out what the hell this is..."

            The blisters looked vaguely familiar to her. "Where have I seen this before..." she murmured. "I remember... reading about something... second year's ecology unit..."

            "What is it?"

            She raised her R-Kit and began to flip through the apps. "During my second year of university, we focused a lot on the delicate balance of ecosystems across the world. I remember reading about something... I can't remember its name!" she shouted. "It was some sort of fungal infection brought on by contact with toxic spores, I remember that much."

            He shrugged, unsure of what she was talking about.

            "This thing is able to categorize Pokémon species by subtype, right?" she asked as tapped away at her R-Kit.

            "It can," he said with a smile. "Sounds like you're onto something."

            "I'm probably completely wrong," she said. A lengthy list of thousands of Pokémon appeared on the screen, far too many for her to sort through in an efficient manner. She filtered the list selectively based on what she remembered: a fungal Pokémon that thrived in a forest habitat. To her relief, the new list was only twenty-three entries long. She began to whisper to herself as she scrolled through the list. "No... no... that's not it either... is that... no... Ah! I think this is what I'm remembering! Blastcap!"

            "Never heard of it."

            "Blastcap, the Toxplosion Pokémon!" the R-Kit's voice began to drone. "Blastcap is a colony Pokémon composed of many parts. Unlike other colony Pokémon such as Dugtrio or Exeggcute which operate in hivemind-like groups, all of the thought processes and decision making happen in the largest mushroom, while the rest focus on nutrient gathering, defense and exploration. When a Blastcap reaches the end of its adult life, it erupts with a cloud of spores that spread through the area and settle on dead or dying trees. These spores then spread their roots and a new colony forms."

            "It's a prime example of why a species shouldn't be introduced to a new environment," she said. She began to read from the information that her R-Kit displayed about the creature:

            Blastcap is a species that is native to the jungles of the Mangada region's Andalla Basin, though it has a worldwide range today. In many areas, it is seen as an aggressive invasive species, due to a lack of natural predators and its reproductive methods. While there is no solid consensus as to how Blastcap was introduced to other areas, many biologists point towards the sharp rise in international trade that the Mangada region initiated in the 1940s as a likely cause, a sentiment backed up by numerous historians.

            . . .

            The first reports of Blastcaps within Lanark were made in 1957, when several colonies were discovered in the forests north of Steelport. By 1963, the Blastcap infestation had reached peak levels as it made its way north into the heartland. In the following year, several thousand acres of farmland were overrun by Blastcap colonies, being the main contributing factor to the Goldwheat Famine, which claimed the lives of about 20,000 people and Pokémon. Blastcap's presence was officially declared a national emergency, and an extensive campaign spearheaded by the newly founded Ministry of Wildlife aimed to contain the Blastcap population. On January 1st, 1967, the Ministry declared its campaign a success, with the last reported sighting of a Blastcap in the autumn of 1966.


            "And what does any of that have to do with this Miltank?" he asked.

            She continued to read from the R-Kit:

            While interactions between Blastcaps and other species of Pokémon are poorly documented, recent evidence suggests that the spores it releases during its reproductive cycle are highly toxic to certain other species that are not found within its native range. in 1992, researchers in Kalos linked Blastcap spores to an outbreak at a Pokémon daycare facility that killed eight and left dozens crippled and chronically ill. The outbreak, termed 'White Pox' due to the appearance of numerous white pustules on the afflicted, was limited to Stantlers, Swinubs, Linoones, Zangooses, Tauri and the lone Slakoth at the facility, none of which share a natural range with Blastcaps.

            However, other Pokémon at the facility that shared historic ranges with the Blastcap were completely unaffected. Theories about evolutionary acquired defenses to the toxic effects of the spores have been put forward by various researchers and ecologists, but there is no concrete evidence to back these theories at this time.


            "But that doesn't make sense," he suggested. "Why would something like that be happening when Blastcap hasn't been seen in this country in decades?"

            "Do you have any idea how difficult it is to completely eradicate an invasive species?" she asked. "The Ministry may have said their program was a success, but there's no way to be certain that they completely wiped it out, especially in a country this large." She adjusted the settings on her R-Kit and began to scan one of the blisters with it. "Perhaps I can prove my theory..."

            "If you're right about this, we have a bigger problem than a few dead cows."

            It took a moment for the R-Kit to complete its analysis. "Significant concentrations of fungal spores of unknown origin detected. A more detailed lab analysis will be required to determine a source." it droned.

            "Is there any way we can figure this out without going back to the lab?" she asked. "Can this thing scan more effectively?"

            "Unfortunately not, this isn't some science fiction television program," he said. He scratched his chin in thought as he thought about what to do next. "What kind of environment does this thing live in? Maybe we can look for it before we think about heading back to Loch Alstan."

            "It says here that they're found in forests and swamps for the most part."

            "A swamp, huh? There's one north of town. Want to check it out?"

            She shook her head. "I don't think I'm dressed for a hike through a swamp."

            "If you want to stay here and hang out with the dead cow, that's cool."

            "No!" she protested. "A swamp sounds fine when you put it that way..."

            - - - - -

            Author's commentary: This chapter... ho boy, it was a struggle to write. Not a difficult struggle, but an uncomfortable struggle. Never did I think I'd write about a post mortem, and never did I think that the mental images associated with it would be so horrifying and so physical, despite the fact that it's just words on a screen. Hats off to coroners and autopsy technicians, I could never do such work. Here's to the next chapter being a little less gruesome.

            And they say that writers don't suffer for their art like painters and sculptors do...
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              #6    
            Old January 13th, 2017 (8:18 AM). Edited March 1st, 2017 by Eliza Prescott.
            Eliza Prescott's Avatar
            Eliza Prescott Eliza Prescott is offline
            Misfit Angel
               
              Join Date: Nov 2016
              Location: Upstate New York
              Gender: Female
              Posts: 36
              Land of the Roses
              Chapter 5: An Invasive Threat

              Originally published on December 11th, 2016


              "Are you sure we won't get lost?" Andrea asked.

              Patrick wanted to reassure her, but he honestly wasn't sure. They had been walking through the murky swamp north of Nettlefield for nearly an hour. They initially followed a well-marked trail into the reed-choked thicket, but that had ended long ago. They were in the center of uncharted wilderness, surrounded on all sides by cloudy water, muddy islands and densely packed rows of tall, featureless trees. Between the low hanging branches, the tangled grasses and the snagging brambles, fighting through the vegetation was a constant and carefully fought battle.

              "What exactly do these Blastcap things look like?" Patrick asked.

              She revisited the Blastcap article and studied the photographs that accompanied it. "There's two parts of it. The central colony is a dense cluster of red, orange or yellow and white speckled mushrooms... And then there's the outlying parts of the colony, which looks similar to lichen, mostly rusty brown or orange in color." she said. "You haven't seen any of that, have you?"

              He shook his head. "Not a damn thing. This whole swamp is completely devoid of life, it feels like."

              "At least I've been hearing a few birds. Keep in mind, it's still a little cold out here."

              "Ehh... maybe. I just don't like it being this silent. I've seen enough horror movies to--"

              "Don't even!" she chastised aggressively. "Let's just focus on what we came here for, okay?"

              "My apologies," he said.

              As they continued along, Andrea began to realize just how little of a plan they had, and it made her very uncomfortable. "Do you know what we're going to do if we find this Blastcap that's been causing all this trouble?"

              "Not a clue."

              She stopped in her tracks and was ready to scream. "Are you kidding me?!" she roared. "You lectured me about the dangers of entering the wilderness unprepared, and now you're saying you don't have a plan?"

              "We're prepared. We've got food, water, first aid supplies, a Pokémon to protect us, and eight hours of sunlight." he said in an effort to ease her nerves. "Besides, it's a mushroom we're dealing with. How bad could it be?"

              "It would be a good idea to--" she rapidly shot off before she stopped herself. "Sorry. I can get a little impatient sometimes. I've dealt with a lot of idiots in the past--"

              "Are you saying I'm an idiot, then?"

              "No! No, it's nothing like that. I just... I'm a little worried. Swamps scare the hell out of me, so much can go wrong in them if you're not careful."

              He wrapped his arm around her and brought her in closer for a light hug. "I've got your back, nothing is going to happen to you while I'm by your side. You can count on that."

              She forced his way out of his grip. She had a hard time believing him, but decided to accept his words regardless.

              "We're just here to find the source of the problem, and if we can, deal with it as well. If we can't, we'll find someone who can. Does that sound like a plan?"

              "I guess..."

              "Good! Let's carry on, then!"

              Eventually they found something that was very out of place within a swamp. Thick, orange sludge had coagulated on top of the water, with more dripping down from the trees. Andrea wandered over to one of the trees to get a closer look; the faint sound of hissing and intermittent bubbling came from the branches. In the distance, a branch crumbled and fell to the water below, landing with an audible splat as it collided with the sludge. She instinctively backed away from the tree and put as much distance as she could between it and her. It wasn't just that single tree that was covered in goo, either; a large chunk of the surrounding swampland was bathed in various shades of orange and brown.

              "This looks... bad..." Patrick gawked.

              "I think that's the understatement of the century..." she added as she raised her R-Kit. Scans of the sludge that rested atop the water indicated that it had a relatively neutral pH balance of 6.7, something that she found odd. It looked as if the goo was eating away at the tree as if it were some sort of powerful acid, yet it wasn't. "What in the world is this stuff?"

              "I'm going to take some back to the lab, get a closer look at it." Patrick reached into his backpack and dumped what little was left of his water bottle, then carefully scooped some of the goo into it. "Before we do that, let's try to find where this stuff is coming from. That Blastcap can't be far."

              "Are... are you sure we're prepared for this?" she asked. "This seems a little out of our league."

              "We'll be fine. Come along."

              More time passed. They intended to circle the affected swampland, but they quickly realized the scope of what they were dealing with. In the half hour that they had been walking in nearly a straight line, there weren't any signs of the environment around them changing for the better. The two bickered for a moment about what to do; Andrea urged caution and wanted to return to town to formulate a proper plan for what to do, while Patrick insisted that they scout the environment out and study it closely to help them better plan the best course of action.

              Having reached an impasse, Patrick decided to take matters into his own hands and took a few brave steps into the sludgy water. The filthy water soaked into his boots and was oddly warm to the touch. He motioned for Andrea to follow, which she did after much hesitation.

              "This is so gross..." she started. "You owe me new shoes after this. And some new stockings, too. These will never come clean..."

              He bellowed with laughter. "Everything's gross to you, isn't it? Bugs, dead cows, murky water. Which has been the worst so far?"

              "Definitely the cow..."

              He took a moment to let his surroundings sink in. "I don't get it... How can a Pokémon be this destructive? It doesn't seem possible. It doesn't seem natural."

              "I couldn't say," she said. She grabbed her phone and began to snap pictures of the swamp with it. From the decaying trees to the bubbling orange sludge, she began to reconsider her initial theory about what had been plaguing the Miltank herd. "I might be wrong about this, you know. I'm pretty sure we found what we're looking for, but this seems like something far worse than a simple mushroom infestation."

              "Speaking of, we haven't even seen any of the bloody things yet!" he commented.

              They continued their trek through the swampland, but very little changed as they ventured deeper in. The overwhelming shades of bright orange began to give both of them headaches, and the rank air did little to alleviate their suffering. Frustration began to set in as they slogged onward through the muck, all for naught; no mushrooms or lichen were found, their feet were growing sore, and a cold afternoon wind had begun to blow between the trees.

              Patrick rolled up the sleeve of his jacket and revealed a blue R-Kit unit on his wrist. He tapped at the screen and set an alarm with it. "Fifteen more minutes, and then we turn around. That sound fine?"

              "Hold on a second... Do you see that log over there?" She pointed towards a fallen log that was submerged in the water in a clearing beside them. The log was spinning gently in place.

              "What about it?"

              "Wait for it..." she said as she watched the log. As the log spun some more, a glob of moss-covered material clung to the side of it. Upon closer examination, the moss appeared to be choking a cluster of mushrooms. At last, they had found what they were looking for!

              "Well bugger me, we found it," he said with a laugh. "Let's get a closer look at it."

              As they carefully approached the cluster of mushrooms that rested on the log, eyes resting atop the largest cap opened! They kept their distance, as they were unsure of how the creature would react. At the very least, it would have difficulty reaching them if it tried to defend itself somehow. The water around them rippled with movement before the sunken log began to slowly rise out of the murky water. A vaguely humanoid looking figure began to take shape as the creature stood taller and taller; moss covered wood formed the core of its body, with root-like tendrils making up its arms and legs. Small red and orange mushrooms sprouted almost evenly across the wooden figure.

              She jumped in fright and hid behind Patrick as the creature rose from the water. "What the hell is that thing?!"

              "A big problem," he said as he shielded Andrea.

              She began to scan the creature with her R-Kit. She wasn't sure what it was; the large mushroom at the top certainly looked like the various pictures of a Blastcap that she'd seen earlier in the day, but its ability to actually move about wasn't mentioned anywhere in the article about it. "Since when are those things mobile?"

              "Unknown species detected. Caution is advised while in its presence." the R-Kit said in a robotic voice.

              "Unknown species?" Patrick asked. "This thing isn't a Blastcap?"

              The ground shook and the water churned as the swamp creature lumbered forward with uneven and wobbly steps. As it continued forward, green light began to glow within the twisted tendrils at the end of its extended arm, and a giant root-like spike shot upward out of the water just a few feet in front of them.

              "Stay back!" He ordered as he reached into his pocket and grabbed his Flareon's Pokéball. With a forceful toss into the air, the ball exploded into a cloud of flickering flames and Fang appeared. Fang dropped into the knee-high water with an audible splash. "It's cleanup time, Fang! Focus your fire on the largest mushroom at the top!"

              Fang found it difficult to carry out the order due to the water around him. Despite it only being knee-high for Andrea and Patrick, it reached up to his mane and he had difficulty keeping his head above the water. Tried as he might, he could do little more than flounder hopelessly. The creature simply ignored Fang and continued to lumber towards Andrea and Patrick.

              "This isn't going to work..." he said. He turned to Andrea and pointed out one of the largest trees that jutted from the water. "Take cover behind that tree. Fang! We need to lure this thing to some high ground."

              The two went in different directions; Andrea rushed towards the tree and put it between herself and the creature, while Patrick slogged through the water in an attempt to reach some dry land. The creature slowly followed him, once again raising its arm towards the sky. It teetered backwards, then threw its full weight forward, nearly stumbling in the process. A long and flexible vine shot out of the creature's arm and wrapped around Patrick's waist, and he didn't get much further before the vine had reached its limit. With a forceful tug, the creature knocked him off of his feet.

              Andrea watched in horror as her partner was dragged through the muddy water. She thought as quickly as she could of a possible way to to intervene and looked around her, but all she could find were a few waterlogged pieces of wood. She grabbed the chunks of wood and began to throw them in the direction of the creature in an attempt to distract it. Most of them fell short, but the ones that struck the beast only bounced off to no effect.

              "I don't think that's going to work!" he shouted as the creature slowly reeled him in. In a last ditch effort, he grabbed ahold of the vine and sank his teeth into it. He snarled as he tried his best to shred it, but it did very little against the hardened surface of the vine. "Could really use a hand right about now, Fang!"

              Andrea refused to sit by and watch what was unfolding. With Fang hopelessly outmatched by the environment, she reasoned that it fell to her to save the day. She took a moment to calm her nerves and steady her thoughts, then charged towards Patrick's location. She dashed through the water as fast as she could, almost appearing to run on top of it at times.

              "What are you doing, get outta here! Save yourself!" he gestured wildly as he fought against the vine some more.

              "I'm not leaving without you!" she shouted as she put her hands to work. The vine was wrapped around Patrick's waist numerous times, but no knot held it in place. She struggled against the crushing grip of the vine, and little by little, she made progress in unwrapping it from around him. Second by second passed as the creature drew closer, until she eventually freed him from its grasp. Arm in arm, the two scrambled for safety. "We can't take this thing on! We need to leave!"

              He growled as he eyed the creature, still pursuing them. He reached for his Pokéball and gripped it tightly. "I've got one last idea..."

              "No! No more ideas, we're leaving!" she said as she nearly yanked his arm off.

              He spotted Fang desperately struggling against the water and aimed his Pokéball carefully. A red beam of light shot out of the center button and ended on Fang's head. Fang's motion stopped on a dime and his body began to fade with a red glow, then deform into an amorphous blob of energy as he was recalled back into the Pokéball. With his Flareon safely returned, he waited a few precious seconds, then dropped the Pokéball to the ground. The ball exploded and released Fang once more.

              Fang rushed towards the edge of the water and zeroed in on the central mushroom that rested atop the wooden creature. Flames began to flicker across his fur as he readied himself for an attack by taking in a deep breath.

              "Give it all you've got!" he ordered.

              The surrounding area heated up rapidly to sweltering temperatures as a torrent of blazing fire erupted from Fang's mouth. Andrea's vision faded to white as a wide arc of burning flames swept across the swamp and before long, the hissing sound of boiling water began to overwhelm their sense of hearing. The attack was over in a few short seconds, and their senses had returned a short time after that. All that remained of the creature was a charred lump of wood. The trees in the surrounding area had been blackened by the attack, but none appeared to have caught fire. Fang had fallen over and struggled to return to his feet, completely exhausted from the powerful attack.

              Patrick tumbled to the muddy ground as he caught his breath. "Bloody hell... that... was too close." He looked towards Andrea and motioned for her to approach. She knelt down and tried to look him over for any injuries, but he wouldn't allow it. Instead, he grappled her with a forceful hug. "Thanks for not leaving me... That took a lot of guts, what you did... You okay?"

              "How do people deal with this? It's insane!" she asked.

              "It's wild, isn't it?" he asked as he flopped over. "This is an exception to the rule... I've been doing this for nine long years, and this is the first time I've ever run into real trouble like that."

              Her attention drifted to Fang, who was wheezing loudly, heavily and rapidly. She crawled over to him and gave him a quick inspection, but she couldn't find any obvious cuts or scrapes on him. "Is he going to be okay?"

              Patrick pulled himself up to his feet and grabbed his Pokéball. "He'll be fine, he just needs some time to recharge." As he recalled his Flareon, he asked, "What do you think? Did we take care of the problem?"

              "I sincerely hope so."

              He wandered up to the charred remains of the creature that had attacked them and knelt down for a closer look. As he ran his finger across the scorched wood, he noticed that a large chunk of it had been turned to ash. "Well, this one certainly won't be a problem. There's not much left."

              "Pardon me for asking a stupid question, but..."

              "There are no stupid questions."

              "Did you really have to... you know... kill it? I mean... yeah, i-it was attacking--" she stumbled. "It was still a living, intelligent creature. It didn't deserve that."

              He stood up and kicked at the ground. "It's a fuzzy line, sometimes, and you have to be willing to cross it if the situation demands it." he said. "You saw what that thing was capable of, and what it's been doing to those poor Miltanks. If we left it here, there's no telling what damage it could have caused."

              She sighed and shook her head, then took a few steps out into the still-warm water. "What do we do now? It looks like half of this swamp is infected, and there could be more of those things out there."

              "I'm going to listen to your advice for once. We'll let someone more qualified handle this. We did what we could, but this is beyond our capabilities." He patted her on the back, then began the journey back to Nettlefield. "Come on, let's go home. Dr. Reiland will be interested to hear about what we found."
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              Old January 14th, 2017 (1:40 PM). Edited March 1st, 2017 by Eliza Prescott.
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              Eliza Prescott Eliza Prescott is offline
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                Land of the Roses
                Interlude: A Job Well Done

                Originally published on December 19th, 2016


                It was a bright and early morning in Loch Alstan, and a busy one, too. Nearly a hundred staff members were gathered in the employee lounge of the Reiland Institute for Research, chatting away as they got ready for another day of work and study. Andrea was present as well, seated alone at one of the tables; to the left of her was a half empty mug of mint tea, and to the right was an empty plate, speckled with biscuit crumbs. In front of her was the local newspaper, the Daily Loch, opened to the housing section. Row upon row of houses, apartments and other rental properties were on display, with giant red X's crossed through most of the cheaper offers.

                "How am I going to afford any of this and pay off my student debts..." she muttered to herself. As she continued to search for living arrangements, a coffee cup appeared on the end of the table. She looked up to see who had placed it there.

                Patrick yawned heavily. "Morn'," he said. "Sleep well?"

                She shook her head. "I don't think I'll ever get used to motels... I need to find a proper place to live."

                He laughed. "I still can't believe you came here without a plan."

                "Yeah, yeah, very funny..." she said as she crossed out another candidate. "This is depressing."

                "You'll find something. Check the south side of town, lots of cheap stuff down there. Lots of riff-raff down there, too, but at least you'll have a roof over your head."

                Two more giant red X's appeared on the page. As she looked back at it, nearly the entire page was awash with red ink, and it was enough to frustrate her deeply. "I need a break from this..." she grumbled with a sigh. "What am I doing today? Will I be put on another project, or do we still have unfinished business regarding what we found in Nettlefield?"

                "I was about to talk to Dr. Reiland about it. You should come with, I'm sure she'll want to hear about your first day on the job."

                - - - - -

                Dr. Reiland was seated in her office, struggling valiantly with a small orange bottle of medication. With every failed attempt, she shook her frail-looking hand and breathed in and out to dull the pain of her crippling arthritis. "The nerve of these pharma companies..." she growled. Another attempt was interrupted by a knock at the door. "Yes? Who is it?"

                A muffled voice came from the other side of the door. "Good morning, doctor! It's Patrick!"

                "Ah, just a moment," she called out. She dropped the bottle of medication onto the table, then reached for her cane. With a brief countdown, she wobbled to her feet and approached the door, then began to disable the locks that sealed her away from the outside world. She opened the door and greeted her guests with a warm smile. "Ah! If it isn't Patrick and Ms. Dennison!" she said as she returned to her desk. "You've returned sooner than I expected. Was there trouble?" She motioned for the two to have a seat.

                "No trouble, ma'am," he said. "We're actually done."

                "Done? Already?" she asked. There was a distinct tone of disbelief behind her words.

                "Yes ma'am! You can thank our newest hire for that." He patted Andrea on the shoulder rather roughly, if not enthusiastically.

                Dr. Reiland glanced at her with a quick and studious look before returning her attention to Patrick. "I'm interested to hear what you mean by that... and what you've found, of course."

                "We're pretty certain that we locked down the cause of the illness that's swept across the Miltank herd at the Gates Dairy Farm. We've ruled out that it's a problem with the feed, and the illness isn't contagious as far as we know."

                "Then what is it? How is it spreading?"

                "Are you familiar with Blastcap?" Andrea asked.

                "Blastcap... Blastcap..." Dr. Reiland muttered to herself as she searched the depths of her memory. "I've heard of it, but I'm not very familiar with it."

                "It's a fungal species of Pokémon, it reproduces with clouds of spores... unfortunately, those spores are quite toxic, and they seem to be the root of the problem at the farm." Patrick added. "It's native to the Mangada region, but it's been introduced to ecosystems across the world, including here in Lanark... we might have a big infestation around Nettlefield."

                "How big?" she asked.

                "You took pictures, didn't you, Andrea? Show her."

                Andrea retrieved her phone from her purse, navigated to the photos she took the previous day, then handed it to Dr. Reiland.

                "I'd say we walked at least an hour and we didn't even find the end of it! It must have been spreading out there for years."

                Dr. Reiland's eyes widened quite rapidly as she flipped through the pictures. "Oh... oh dear, that's... that's quite something..." she said. "This is... problematic, to say the least."

                Patrick nodded. "It is. I'm going to get in touch with the Ministry of Wildlife to see what they can do about it. They've dealt with this kind of problem before, back in the 1960s, surely they can deal with it again."

                Dr. Reiland handed the phone back. "How many of these Blastcaps did you find?"

                Andrea and Patrick glanced at each other in silence for a brief moment before she answered. "None, actually."

                She tilted her head to the side. "None? I'm afraid I don't follow."

                "We found one Pokémon out there, but the R-Kit couldn't properly identify it." Her voice began to crack as she continued, as if she weren't confident in her words. "It said that it was an unknown species?"

                Dr. Reiland lit up. "Unknown species, you say?" she asked. "Did you capture it, by chance? This could be big!"

                Once again, the two glanced at each other until Patrick spoke up. "Unfortunately I had to, umm... destroy it..." he said in a sheepish manner. "It posed a considerable threat not just to us, but to the village as well. Very violent little bugger. Well, big bugger. Much taller than me."

                Dr. Reiland leaned back in her chair, deep in contemplation. "Ah... I see... I don't suppose I can blame you for what happened, but we may have lost a rare chance to document a new species... I may need to start contracting professional trainers to assist in matters such as these, perhaps it would have ended a bit less tragically."

                "Believe me, I wanted to capture it, but the risk was simply too great. I probably owe Andrea my life if she hadn't stepped in to help me out. That thing snared me with a vine and started to reel me in like a fish, her quick thinking was the only thing that saw me untangled."

                "Is that so? I want you to make a note of that in your report to the Ministry. We don't want anyone getting injured or killed while they investigate and deal with this problem."

                "Yes ma'am."

                "Also, I want a detailed report of just what this creature was. There will be some gaps that we can fill in later, but this could be groundbreaking. It's not often that we get to announce a new species of Pokémon!"

                He nodded. "I was going to going to write that up later today. I have some physical samples I brought back to analyze, I'll include my findings in the report as well."

                "Is there anything else noteworthy about the creature you've found, or the problem with the Miltank herd?"

                He shook his head. "Nothing notable. What do you think, Andrea?"

                "I think you summed it up pretty well," Andrea answered.

                "Very well, get started on this as soon as you can. I look forward to reading your report and getting in touch with Ministry officials."

                He leaned over towards Andrea and spoke softly. "Mind emailing those pictures to me? I don't think the Ministry will take this seriously without some sort of evidence. Pretty unbelievable circumstances, if you were to ask me."

                "Sure thing."

                "Send them over to [email protected], I'll get the report taken care of later today."

                As Andrea began to tap away at her phone, Dr. Reiland asked, "How would you rate Ms. Dennison's performance, Patrick?"

                "I think she did very well! Nine out of ten, easily." he said. "A bit hesitant to do some of the things that needed to be done, but when she got around to doing it, she did a good job."

                "Hesitant?" Andrea and Dr. Reiland asked in unison.

                He leaned towards Andrea and spoke softly once again. "Ya know, the whole dead cow business." His attention returned to Dr. Reiland. "I don't blame her, it was pretty grim for her first job. Were I in her shoes, I'd have probably felt the same."

                "Understandable," Dr. Reiland offered.

                "I also let her do most of the analysis, to see if she was up to the task. She already seems well acquainted with the R-Kit and knows how to use it effectively."

                "That was quick," she said.

                "And her intuition saved us a lot of time. It didn't take her long to figure out what we were looking at. It just... sorta clicked in her head that maybe we should look at the Blastcap as a potential cause of the problem. She learned a lot during her studies, and I'd wager that a lot of it stuck with her even if she's forgotten the finer details. Something like that could be invaluable."

                "So you would say that hiring her was a good decision?"

                "It's still early, but... hell yeah. I think we struck gold."

                The positive remarks were a load off of Andrea's shoulders. She knew that she did well in Nettlefield, but the haunting specter of doubt lingered above her regardless. A smile crept across her face as Patrick continued to praise her efforts, her knowledge and her work. Breaking away from the tradition of years past, she slowly began to feel confidence in what she was doing.

                "If that's all, doctor, I'd like to get started on this analysis."

                "That will be all."

                He nodded politely as he stood up. "Nice working with you, Andrea. I think you'll do fine here."

                "Thank you!" she said.

                Before the two of them could even get halfway to the door, Dr. Reiland spoke up. "Ms. Dennison, would you mind staying for a moment? I'd like to speak with you."

                Patrick nodded towards Andrea. "I'll catch you later."

                Andrea cautiously returned to her seat and began to think about what the doctor might want. Once again, doubt began to flood over her, so she put it all out of mind and masked her thoughts with a warm and patient smile.

                Without a word, Dr. Reiland began her struggle with the bottle of medication again. It took a few awkward moments of silence before she offered it across the desk. "Would you be a dear, please?"

                Andrea grabbed the bottle, opened it with relative ease, then handed it back to Dr. Reiland.

                "Damned arthritis medication. What sense does it make to put it in such an impossible to open bottle?" she said as she poured two round pills onto a small tray. Afterward, she grabbed five other bottles of medicine and placed them at the edge of her desk. "While I have you here, perhaps you could open those as well."

                Andrea happily obliged and began to work on the first bottle. Curiosity about the large amount of medicine that Dr. Reiland appeared to use on a daily basis started to get the better of her. The question begged to be asked; what was it for? However, she insisted on being respectful. "I'll assume you didn't ask me to stick around just to open your medication."

                "You would be correct," she replied before she swallowed the two pills. "Patrick's review of your work yesterday was... glowing! And I must say, I'm impressed... if what he says is true."

                The caveat that Dr. Reiland added at the end worried her greatly. "Excuse me?"

                She leaned back in her chair and studied Andrea's reaction. "Don't take this the wrong way, Ms. Dennison... While Patrick is one of my most trusted staff members, he has a nasty habit of embellishing the truth a bit when it comes to our female employees. It's usually harmless, but it can be quite worrying at times."

                "I... umm... Everything he said was honest, ma'am."

                "I noticed that the second room my secretary rented at the motel in Nettlefield was cancelled. He didn't act inappropriately, did he?"

                The question seemed out of left field to her. "What? No! He was a perfect gentleman!"

                She readjusted her posture and accepted the opened bottle from Andrea, then handed over another. She could tell that Andrea felt nervous about the questions and decided to ease up, as she seemed genuine enough to be trusted. "I shouldn't worry you with these kinds of questions. They are best asked of him, I apologize... In any event, I had a job lined up for one of my other employees, but his work ethic has been shaky at best. He's a smart one, but he's also lazy and tends to cut corners if he thinks that no one is watching. This might not be something that we can cut corners on."

                Andrea placed another opened bottle onto the desk and got to work on yet another. "What do you have in mind?"

                "Are you familiar with the village of Doranshire?" she asked.

                Andrea tried to think. She knew that it was the closest village to the town where she grew up, but that alone summed up her knowledge about it. "I know of it, but don't ask me any trivia about it."

                "It's been in the news recently. Over the past couple of weeks, there have been some strange incidents reported... flickering lights in the woods, odd and 'unexplainable' sounds late at night, that kind of stuff. It's been causing quite a stir with the locals, and the village council is starting to demand answers."

                "Bumps in the night?"

                "Among other things. I know this isn't your area of expertise, being a biologist and all... but I need someone reliable. Someone who can find answers. From what Patrick has told me about you, you fit that description well."

                "You want me to go chase a ghost?"

                She downed the pills, then handed another bottle to Andrea. "Heh. It does sound a bit outlandish, doesn't it?" she asked. "But we are women of science. We know there are no such things as ghosts, not in the traditional sense. There is always a logical and physical explanation for everything, a few bumps in the night should be no different."

                Andrea objected to the idea. "If I'm honest, doctor, this sounds like a waste of time."

                "It may very well be. But it is our duty as scientists to uncover the truth and to help those in need where we can. There may be something more serious at play here than just a few ghost stories."

                Andrea thought for a moment about how silly it all sounded, but she realized that she wasn't in a position to argue the matter. The more she thought about it, the more she realized that complaining about the work she was receiving, on her second day no less, would almost certainly be career suicide. She gave in with a sigh, but tried to mask it with a smile. "If you think that this is worth the time, and that I'm the right person for this job, then I'll do it."

                "Good to hear! I can understand if you're hesitant to take on this kind of work, but it warms my heart to see you consider it."

                "Doranshire's a long way away, though..." Andrea noted.

                "It is!" Dr. Reiland began to type away at her keyboard. "It's much too far to walk, so you'll be taking the train! Unfortunately, there isn't a direct line to Doranshire, so there will still be some light footwork for you."

                "Where's the nearest station?"

                "Aughrim."

                "I wouldn't call Aughrim to Doranshire 'light' footwork..." she said. She began to think about what would be involved with reaching the village of Doranshire from Aughrim; a couple of days of travelling the roads, at least, and that would be if nothing happened on the way. "Hold on. Patrick's going to be analyzing the samples we brought back from Nettlefield. You don't expect me to do this alone, do you? Things got pretty ugly on the road, I was lucky that he was there to protect me!"

                "There is no need to worry, you won't be doing this one alone. I have an associate who is also interested in the happenings in Doranshire, and he'll be sending one of his contractors to investigate as well." She turned the screen on her computer around to let Andrea see; the photo of a young woman with long, chestnut brown hair and strikingly blue eyes was on the screen. The woman's face was grim and emotionless, almost as if the photo was a police mug shot. "The lady in question is a master Pokémon trainer. There will be no trouble on the road, I assure you. You'll be meeting her in Aughrim."

                "What's her name?"

                "Tamara Dahl. Are you familiar with her, by chance?"

                Andrea shook her head.

                "She's a two time champion of the Indigo League, champion of the Asperia League, master of the Silver Conference, and has earned 44 gym badges from across the world."

                The woman's achievements were impressive, even to someone as ignorant about Pokémon training as Andrea. "You weren't kidding when you said a master trainer..."

                Dr. Reiland let out a bemused chuckle.

                "So... what will I be looking for in Doranshire, exactly?"

                She downed the last of her pills and gathered up the bottles in a neat and orderly manner. "That's up to you, there could be any number of causes. However, I would suggest getting a closer look at the local reservoir."

                "Think something's in the water?"

                "It's possible. If the water is contaminated, lives could be at stake and an evacuation would be logical. Of course, it could be something else entirely! Use your brain, you'll figure it out." she said with a smile.

                Andrea shook her head as she thought over what was asked of her. "Will that be all?"

                "Yes. Stay safe out there!"
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                Old January 14th, 2017 (3:42 PM).
                engineer engineer is offline
                 
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                Hello! I read chapters 1 and 2 so far and I'll keep reading because I'm loving it! You have a very good grasp of language and pacing, and I'd say you succeed well in making things very realistic while incorporating pokemon. You give the characters personalities - although Andrea is a bit bland and mysterious so far but perhaps that is on purpose.

                Nothing big to remark on, only spotted a tiny error where you said she got locker #47 but Patrick returned with keys to #27.

                Be back soon!
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                Old January 15th, 2017 (8:00 AM).
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                Aisu Aisu is offline
                   
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                  As adventure said, the writing here is very well done, and I really like this as a more adult Pokemon fan fiction. It has this really analytic tone that I enjoy and fits well with the protagonist being a researcher. I can also tell that a lot of work has gone into the setting which made for a very interesting world.
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                    #10    
                  Old January 15th, 2017 (2:48 PM). Edited March 1st, 2017 by Eliza Prescott.
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                  Eliza Prescott Eliza Prescott is offline
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                    First off, thanks for the feedback! I've responded within the spoiler box. After that, the next chapter:
                    Spoiler:
                    Quote:
                    Originally Posted by adventure View Post
                    You give the characters personalities - although Andrea is a bit bland and mysterious so far but perhaps that is on purpose.
                    I get this a lot in the early chapters of a story, and I'm not sure why I haven't learned my lesson about it by now :P Andrea's personality should come through a bit more in the upcoming chapters. Notable examples of how she reacts to certain situations show up in chapter 4 and 5, and minor ones show up in chapter 6 and 7, character quirks that I hope will establish who she is going forward.

                    Nothing big to remark on, only spotted a tiny error where you said she got locker #47 but Patrick returned with keys to #27.[/QUOTE]
                    Ah, noted and fixed! Thank you.

                    Quote:
                    Originally Posted by Aisu View Post
                    As adventure said, the writing here is very well done, and I really like this as a more adult Pokemon fan fiction. It has this really analytic tone that I enjoy and fits well with the protagonist being a researcher.
                    I hope I didn't over-egg it on the analytical nature. A previous story I worked on got so bogged down by nerdspeak that I don't think anyone enjoyed it... Hopefully I've figured out how to avoid such pitfalls here!

                    Quote:
                    I can also tell that a lot of work has gone into the setting which made for a very interesting world.
                    An extensive amount of work, yes. I like to think of world building as my specialty and I've brainstormed three regions before tackling this story, so I have a lot to build off of. The world is the cornerstone of any good story, I can't afford to leave it behind.


                    Land of the Roses
                    Chapter 6: The Rails

                    Originally published on December 30th, 2016


                    The sound of a train horn echoed across the skyline of the town as a Silverline train began its departure from Alstan Central Station. Inside, Andrea was fighting to maintain her balance as the carriages jolted to life and began to move; she had just barely made it onto the train before it departed, and she was the only passenger still on her feet. As she stumbled her way to the back of the carriage, she noticed that there were very few passengers aboard; an elderly couple, a man in a snappy suit and a man her age in a salmon pink polo shirt and brown cargo shorts. Of the 48 seats available, only four were taken. Thoughts began to swirl in her mind.

                    "Will they actually notice... the guy already checked my ticket..." she mumbled to herself, debating whether or not to try sneaking into the first class carriage. She realized that it wasn't, but tried to justify the fact that it was owed to her after previous bad experiences while riding the train. She cautiously looked around to see if any railroad employees were watching, then threw her backpack onto the soft, cushioned seat when the coast was clear. "What's the worst they can do? Throw me in economy where I belong?"

                    The comm system resonated with a pleasant tone and a gravelly voice followed soon after. "Welcome aboard, this is the conductor speaking! This train is currently departing from Loch Alstan and will arrive in Redfern Crossing in approximately two hours. Passengers who are en route to Silvergarden or are crossing the border into Glastonfell will be switching trains upon arrival. Passengers en route to Silverstream, Aughrim and Tradewind will remain on this train for the remainder of their journey. If there are any questions, you may speak with me on carriage #2. Thank you for riding with Silverline today, and have a pleasant journey!"

                    She had a look through the window as the train began to pick up speed. The view today was much nicer than it was when she had first arrived in Loch Alstan. Not a cloud was in sight, allowing the sun to pour down onto the fertile valley below. The majestic lavender mountains of the north that separated Lanark from Glastonfell continued their eternal watch of the forests and fields around them. She knew that they were just mountains made of stone at the end of the day, but she felt a deep appreciation for the beauty of nature that they represented, beauty she rarely had an opportunity to revel in.

                    It didn't take long before her view was interrupted by a sweet sounding voice behind her. "Would you care for some tea, dear?"

                    She looked up to see one of the railway employees standing beside her with a tea cart in tow. She tried to mask her nervousness with a smile, further drowning it with politeness. "Yes, that would be lovely. Thank you!" She watched as the hostess poured the freshly brewed tea into a porcelain mug, blissfully unaware that she was seated in the wrong section.

                    "Would you like some sugar, milk or cream with that?"

                    "No thanks."

                    The hostess nodded, balanced the mug on a saucer and handed it to Andrea. "Enjoy! Let me know if there's anything else I can do for you."

                    "That's it for now, thank you," she said. A smile crept across her face as the hostess moved onto the next passenger. "I might actually get away with this..."

                    It was a long ride ahead of her, so she decided to do a little investigation into what was being reported in Doranshire. With her R-Kit at the ready, she began to sift through the headlines of Lanark's regional newspapers, looking for any articles about Doranshire. Dozens of articles from the past month popped up, including topics such as a charity bake sale, the death of a movie actress who was born in the area, a house fire that left two families homeless and the results of a local referendum. Just as Dr. Reiland had noted, dozens more that covered strange sightings within and around the village were available as well.

                    One article detailed the 'crazed ravings' of an elderly woman who swore that demons were trying to enter her house, but when police arrived to investigate, no substantial evidence to prove the woman's claims was found. Another article focused on reports made by several people of a ghostly apparition that walked up and down Mill Street, but key differences in witness testimonies led investigators to believe it was most likely a hoax. Another article mentioned that the walls of the first grade classroom at the local elementary school oozed with blood, but this was later attributed to water leaking from rusty pipes.

                    Other articles discussed strange noises heard throughout the village late at night, floating orbs of light that zigzagged through the nearby forest and small dolls made of woven reeds and burlap being discovered about town, mutilated beyond recognition. One common theme that bonded all of these articles was that they were all dismissed as harmless pranks that were leading to mass hysteria, with calls for the public to remain calm becoming increasingly common in recent days.

                    The more she read the articles, the more she began to feel like she was in over her head; she had spent the past four years studying to become a biologist, not an expert in the paranormal. "What would I know about any of this?" she wondered. "I really hope that lady I'm meeting knows what to do..."

                    Even though she had been told that she wasn't going to tackle this task alone, she was nervous. To think that Tamara Dahl, one of the world's most respected and skilled competitive trainers would be working alongside her filled her with near-crippling anxiety. She felt that she wasn't worthy enough to be in the presence of such a legend, and the feeling that just about any lowborne thing she did would annoy Ms. Dahl lingered over her like a thick fog. "Hopefully she'll be patient..." she thought to herself. "But something tells me she won't. Not with how successful she must be."

                    Curious, she began to look up information about her upcoming partner. Dr. Reiland must have been looking to save time when listing out Ms. Dahl's accomplishments earlier in the day, as they were more extensive than she imagined. Not only had she earned the position of champion of two leagues and dominated most of the tournaments she participated in, she also participated in nearly a dozen Grand Festivals, winning the top position in three of them. Even more, she was instrumental in helping to dismantle an international Pokémon trafficking ring run by the feared criminal syndicate, Team Rocket.

                    Something that caught Andrea's attention more than anything else was that she was widely regarded as one of the world's most knowledgeable experts in paranormal Pokémon. In her fourteen year career as a competitive trainer, the paranormal was what she lived and breathed; she put together a nearly unstoppable team and developed unparalleled strategies that have been the subject of intense debate and study. If a woman of her caliber was interested in investigating the happenings in Doranshire, she thought, perhaps there was more going on in Doranshire than just a few mean pranks. The thought worried her.

                    Andrea checked the time on her R-Kit. Only 25 minutes had passed since the train had departed from Alstan Central Station, and nearly seven hours remained on her journey to Aughrim, so she decided to pass the time with a little sleep. It didn't take long for her to find a comfortable position and drift off.

                    - - - - -

                    Nearly six hours had passed since Andrea drifted off to sleep. She slept peacefully and deeply, more than making up for the terrible night she went through, but that peace was soon interrupted by the screeching of the train's brakes. She lurched forward in a panic, almost convinced that the train had just derailed, but a look through the window soothed her worst fears. "Ugh... my head..." she mumbled to herself as she stretched.

                    As she took a drink from her now lukewarm tea, she noticed a feline creature walking down the center aisle in her direction. The creature was small in height, reaching up to her shins at most, and was covered with a thick, glossy coat of black and brown fur which extended downwards towards the ground. Dainty little feet poked out from beneath its fur and carried it forward with an elegant stride. Even fluffier fur sprouted from its long tail, bobbing and waving with every movement it made.

                    The creature looked familiar to her, but she wasn't certain about it and raised her R-Kit to scan it. "Skitty, the kitten Pokémon!" it droned. "Skitty is among the first Pokémon to be domesticated by humans in ancient times, often serving as garden protectors or as caretaker assistants of the sick and elderly. Now, they are a popular choice as house pets due to their aggressively cuddly and loyal behavior, and are a good choice for novice Pokémon trainers, due to the ease of raising one once trust is established."

                    The Skitty approached, then stopped in its tracks and stared at her.

                    "Umm. Hello?" she offered.

                    The Skitty responded with more silent staring before inviting itself up onto the table in front of her. It was instantly drawn to the strong scent wafting from the tea and rushed over to investigate.

                    She cautiously extended her hand towards the Skitty and began to pet its luxuriously soft fur. "Aren't you pretty?" she asked. The Skitty began to purr softly as it rubbed all over her hand. "And friendly!" She reached for her purse and began to dig through it for her phone, intent on taking a picture. Before she could, however, the Skitty had bolted and started running down the aisle again.

                    A young woman soon followed after. "Telandra, sweetie! Come back!"

                    Andrea watched the scene unfold with amusement. The young woman chased after the Skitty as it employed impressive gymnastics to escape her grasp time and time again. Slow approaches, quick grabs, diversion tactics, none of them worked. There was a hint of mischief on the Skitty's face as it avoided the woman, and while Andrea couldn't be certain, she thought she saw a smile briefly shine on the woman's face. One final attempt to grab the Skitty was met with failure and sent it returning in Andrea's direction. She figured it would be a waste of time, but positioned herself in the path of the approaching Skitty, and with some quick timing, was able to snatch it before it could get any further.

                    As the young woman approached, she offered the black and brown Skitty outward. "I believe this is your cat."

                    "Thank you," the woman said as she grabbed ahold of the Skitty and began to rock it back and forth in her arms. "She can be quite the handful sometimes. She must have wandered off while my attention was elsewhere."

                    "She seemed pretty anxious to get away from you," she couldn't help but note.

                    "She entered my care only recently. Obedience can be a bit of an issue at times... But she's generally well behaved! My apologies for bothering you."

                    "No need to apologize..." she said as she extended her hand outward towards the Skitty. "May I?"

                    The woman nodded.

                    She ran her fingers through the Skitty's soft, cloud-like fur again. "She's very beautiful."

                    "Thank you! I put a lot of effort into making sure that she is."

                    "What breed is she? I've never seen one that looks like this before."

                    The woman invited herself to the seat across from Andrea and placed the Skitty on the table between them. "Asperian Forest. She's a pure breed."

                    "Huh..." she pondered as she glanced over the Skitty's features. "What's her name?"

                    "Her name is Telandra."

                    "Telandra? Where do I know that name..."

                    "She's named after our queen, may she rest in peace."

                    "Yeah, that's it! That's, uh... kind of a silly name for a cat, don't you think?"

                    "Is not!" the woman protested. "It describes her perfectly! Look at how regal she looks!" She raised a finger towards the sky and continued, "Telandra, show me some pride!"

                    The Skitty closed her eyes, and with a twirl, she straightened her posture and raised her head upward. Her eyes opened a small amount, and the look of haughty mischief returned to her face. She approached Andrea and began to strut about in a bid for attention. Andrea gave the Skitty what she wanted and in return, she melted into a loud, purring puddle of happiness in front of her.

                    As the young woman watched over her Skitty, she studied Andrea closely. "I must say, that clothing you're wearing--"

                    The joy faded as a vague sense of anger began to creep over Andrea upon hearing the words. "Ugh, again! Why does everyone hate the way I dress?" she asked as she shook her hands with frustration. "It's not like I'm constantly nothing but doom and--" She took the opportunity to stop herself in her tracks. She knew that it wasn't right to rant at a stranger about how often people commented on her appearance, and even more, she started to feel bad about the look of shock on the woman's face. "Sorry, I get a lot of mean remarks about I look... it gets on my nerves sometimes."

                    "Oh! No! I didn't intend to be mean!" the woman replied. She pointed across the table. "Misfit Angel, correct?"

                    She looked down at her black dress, then back at the woman and raised her eyebrow. "Yes... Why?"

                    "My childhood friend happens to be the creator of the Misfit Angel clothing line. I helped to design that dress last year!"

                    "Really? You're friends with Nicole Spencer? What's she like?" Giddiness began to wash over Andrea, and she continued without allowing the woman to respond. "Oh man, that's so cool! She's so inspiring! I haven't met her so this will probably sound weird or creepy or something, but she really helped me break out of my shell a few years ago! Oh, I am such a big fan of her work!"

                    "I can tell!" The woman said with a giggle. "She's... problematic at times, but her heart is in the right place."

                    "Problematic?"

                    "Her and I disagree on a lot... mostly methods of how to approach problems, mind. In the end, I can't fault her. She's a good person deep down." she answered. "I hope I haven't shattered any illusions for you."

                    Andrea shrugged at the comment.

                    The young woman offered her hand across the table. "My name is Kimberly, by the way."

                    "Andrea," she said, returning the gesture.

                    "Pleasure to make your acquaintance, Andrea!" Kimberly said with a warm smile. "Where are you headed, friend?"

                    "Aughrim."

                    Enthusiasm swept over Kimberly. "That's my destination as well! What brings you there?"

                    She grabbed her tea and began to sip from it. "Work. I have some business to attend to in Doranshire, Aughrim is the closest place. What about you?"

                    "I'm getting started as a coordinator... I'll be participating in my first national competition."

                    "Coordinator?"

                    "You haven't heard of it?"

                    She shook her head in silence.

                    "Oh, uh... sugar! How do I explain it..." Kimberly muttered to herself. "It's a sort of stage performance that coordinators such as I engage in with our Pokémon. We compete against others in a variety of different styles, but the most popular one, and the style that I hope to get into, involves flashiness, showmanship, and stunning visuals."

                    The concept seemed vaguely familiar to Andrea, but she couldn't quite put her finger on it. She'd halfheartedly watched many Pokémon competitions over the years, but couldn't remember if any of them were coordination contests. "I don't think I've ever seen that kind of stuff before..."

                    Kimberly nodded. "I guess I shouldn't be surprised that you haven't heard of it. It's not as popular as competitive battling. Most people aren't aware that it's even a thing. Personally, I blame the fact that its seen as a woman's sport for its lack of popularity..."

                    "So... it's a light show, huh? Sounds interesting enough."

                    "It's much more than a light show, there's music and dance as well. You should come see my performance tonight if you have the time! I'm sure you'd love it if you tried it, and you'll get to see what it's all about." She unzipped her purse and began to rifle through its contents. "I have some guest tickets available, but nobody to give them to. Would you be interested?"

                    She sheepishly looked at the time on her R-Kit. She was already certain that she couldn't take the time to see the performance, but asked anyway. "What time?"

                    "The show starts at 8 PM."

                    "I don't think I'd be able to make it. I'm meeting a business associate when I arrive in Aughrim, and she'll probably want to get to work right away."

                    "Aww... That's a shame, but I understand." Kimberly looked down at the R-Kit on Andrea's wrist. "Strange looking watch you have there... what time is it?"

                    "5:33 PM," she answered.

                    "Oh! Time certainly flies, we should be arriving in Aughrim soon! It was a pleasure to meet you, Andrea, but I should make a few last minute preparations for my routine tonight!" Kimberly tapped on the table to wake up her napping Skitty, then extended her arms outward. The Skitty jumped up into her arms and perched on her shoulder like a parrot. "That means you, Telandra! I have to make sure your fur is absolutely perfect!"

                    Telandra meowed with joy.

                    She reached into her purse, grabbed a small plastic card and offered it to Andrea. "I know you said you'll probably be busy, but if you do find some free time tonight... here's a VIP ticket to the show."

                    Andrea grabbed it. "Sure, why not? I'll see if I can convince my partner to take some time off tonight."

                    She dug through her purse again and grabbed another card. "Here, one for your partner, too. That might make it easier to convince her."

                    Andrea let out a laugh. "You really want people to come tonight, don't you?"

                    "It wouldn't hurt to have a couple of fans cheering me on!" she said with a nod. "If we don't see each other tonight... best of luck with your business in Doranshire. I've heard about strange things happening in that village... Stay safe."

                    "Thank you," Andrea said. She placed the two tickets down onto the table and began to read from them.

                    Witness the performance of a lifetime, the biannual event that has taken Aughrim by storm for twelve straight years! This ticket admits one visitor to the Majesty of Aughrim coordination contest, scheduled for the 14th of May and held at the Cèilidh Gailearaidh on West Armory Street. Prepare to have your breath taken away as eight coordinators compete against each other for glory and the chance to be crowned the Lad or Lass of Aughrim!
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                      #11    
                    Old January 16th, 2017 (4:42 PM). Edited March 1st, 2017 by Eliza Prescott.
                    Eliza Prescott's Avatar
                    Eliza Prescott Eliza Prescott is offline
                    Misfit Angel
                       
                      Join Date: Nov 2016
                      Location: Upstate New York
                      Gender: Female
                      Posts: 36
                      Author's note: From here on out, chapters will take a bit of time to come out. I had the previous seven already published elsewhere which allowed me to rapidly fire them out for you guys. Hope you don't mind.

                      Land of the Roses
                      Chapter 7: Station Search

                      Originally published on January 12th, 2016


                      A soft jingle began to ring through the train's comm system. "Thank you for riding with Silverline today! We have just arrived in Aughrim, two minutes ahead of schedule! The time now is 6:03 PM, and the weather outside is a cool and refreshing 16°C. If you are--"

                      Andrea was too preoccupied with another game of Tetris to hear the announcement. She worked at a feverish pace to move the colored blocks around the screen in a desperate attempt to continue, but things began to look grim. Red, yellow, green, blue, purple and white tiles piled up too fast for her to deal with, but a lucky string of well-timed and well-placed tetrads brought her back from the brink of failure.

                      Level 29!!! appeared on the screen as her score passed the 290 line mark.

                      "Yes... Yes!" she aggressively cheered to herself as she continued to focus on the falling blocks. "I just might do this!"

                      Despite her joy, she continued onward with unparalleled concentration. The colors flashed before her eyes as she moved each incoming tetrad into position, or at least attempted to. Red... red... green... blue... row complete! Red... purple... row complete! Yellow... yellow... yellow...

                      "Come on... give me something else!" her thoughts begged.

                      A white line appeared on the screen next, a very welcome sight. She positioned it properly and cleared four rows at once, giving her some much needed breathing room. The piling up of mismatched tiles resumed; red... purple... blue... purple... row complete! Yellow... red...

                      "Excuse me, Andrea?" a voice called from beside her.

                      She snapped back into reality as she looked around her. "Huh?" The game continued without her, and while she was lucky to clear another row without moving any of the tetrads, they quickly piled up and reached the top of the board. "Oh! Kimberly! Sorry, I was a little, uh..." she said as her attention returned to her phone. "Oh... I lost... great."

                      "You seem very distracted!" Kimberly said with a giggle. "The train has been stopped for several minutes now! Wasn't Aughrim your destination?"

                      She tossed her phone back into her purse and looked around to see the other passengers gathered at the doors. "Oh! Yes! I probably would have missed my stop if it weren't for you, thank you." She gathered up her belongings, slung them over her shoulders, stood up and let out a long and relaxing stretch. As she looked around, she noticed that Kimberly's Skitty was missing. "Where's your Skitty?"

                      Kimberly tapped on the pink Pokéball that dangled from the ribbon that ran along her dress' waistline. The Pokéball was adorned with fuzzy, faux-fur ears and the central button resembled a feline's nose, a design that Andrea was unfamiliar with. "She's safely back in her Pokéball. I don't like to have her out while in a big city like this. Much too risky."

                      "Good call, but I'd put those Pokéballs somewhere more secure if I were you. This station can be a little dangerous, especially during the evening rush hour."

                      "Dangerous?" Kimberly asked. Without waiting for an answer, she decided to follow the advice; she detached the pink Pokéball from her ribbon, did the same with a gem-studded purple one, then placed them into her purse.

                      The two began to walk towards the door together. "It hasn't happened to me, but I've seen it. Lots of thieves and scammers around here. They'll rob you blind before you even hit the floor. Hell, they could probably take that fancy dress of yours off and disappear into the crowd before you even realize it happened."

                      "Oh... Oh dear..." Kimberly said, her voice wavering. "Maybe it would be wise if we stuck together?"

                      She shrugged at the suggestion. "If you have the time. It could take me awhile to find this lady I'm supposed to meet, this is the biggest train station in the country and I don't know exactly where I'm supposed to meet her."

                      "I have some time to spare, I think."

                      The door whooshed open and the two were immediately assaulted with the roaring ruckus of the evening crowd. A sea of densely packed people covered large sections of the platform, making it difficult not just to exit the train, but to move deeper into the station as well. Despite the fact that she barely knew her, Andrea could tell that Kimberly had never visited Aughrim before and felt it was her duty to guide her safely through the station; she wrapped her arm around Kimberly's shoulder and pulled her in close, then led the way as they fought through the horde of busy travellers.

                      "This is intolerable!" Kimberly protested as she was jostled left and right by the crowd. "How are you so calm right now?"

                      "This is actually kind of light compared to the last time I was here," she replied. "You don't do much traveling, do you?"

                      "I've traveled a lot, actually... But I usually fly on a private jet if it makes sense to."

                      It took a moment for the comment to register in Andrea's mind. "...private jet?"

                      "Yes. My father..." Kimberly started, then held her tongue. She eyed the people around her with suspicion before continuing with a lowered voice. "My father is a wealthy businessman. I usually have access to his private jet, since he doesn't use it much anymore."

                      "Why not just fly into the city then?" she asked.

                      "There was no airport where I spent the last few months of my life. Besides, it's nice to see the countryside from the ground every now and then, isn't it?"

                      "Can't argue with that."

                      It took some time, but they finally managed to make their way into the main hall of the train station. The crowds were slightly thinner than on the platform, but not by much. Andrea began to realize the difficulties of finding her partner among the masses; she knew vaguely what Tamara looked like, but there were thousands of faces to scan and study, and potentially dozens of people to talk to before she found the right person. She lamented the fact that there wasn't a more solid plan when it came to meeting her. 'Just go and you'll find her, have fun!' seemed like a terrible waste of time, but she was stuck with it.

                      Kimberly suggested they reach a higher vantage point and they ventured to the second story balcony. It certainly helped her to investigate the crowd more quickly, but the finer details of the people they were looking at were lost on both of them. Kimberly dropped her backpack to the floor and began to dig through it. She retrieved a small pair of binoculars and handed them over to Andrea.

                      "Yeah... I won't look suspicious at all..." she said before raising the binoculars to her eyes. Every now and then, she'd lower them, focus on another group of people, then raise them again for a closer inspection. She was making very little progress in finding Tamara in the crowds, and it was starting to frustrate her. A few more minutes of searching was fruitless. "I sure am glad I know what I'm looking for!" she began to rant, the sarcasm in her voice clearly obvious.

                      "Who are you looking for, exactly?" Kimberly asked.

                      "A girl named Tamara Dahl."

                      "Oh, I've heard of her! The world famous Pokémon trainer!" Kimberly said. "You're going to be working with her?"

                      She lowered the binoculars one last time and handed them back, then pulled her phone out of her purse. She began to dial Dr. Reiland's phone number. "That was the plan..."

                      "That's quite an honor!"

                      The phone rang five times before it was finally picked up. "Hello?"

                      "Yes, Dr. Reiland? It's Ms. Dennison, your new employee!"

                      "Ah! Yes, Ms. Dennison! You should be in Aughrim by now, correct?"

                      She nodded. "I am."

                      "Good! How was the train ride?"

                      She peered over at Kimberly, then shrugged. "I don't know, actually, I slept through most of it."

                      "Heh, sleeping on the job, huh?" She let out a long sigh. "I envy you... Have you met with your partner yet?"

                      "That's what I called about... I've been looking for over half an hour now, I can't find her anywhere."

                      "Is that so? Have you tried the main lobby, under the clock?"

                      "That was the first place I looked. Not there."

                      "Huh... that's where I was told she would be..."

                      The fact that Dr. Reiland apparently knew where Tamara was supposed to be waiting made it difficult for Andrea to contain her frustration, but she did her best. "It would have been nice to know that. It feels like I came here without a plan."

                      There was a momentary pause. "...did I not tell you that? My sincerest apologies, the medication can... you know."

                      "Whatever the case, I can't find her. I don't know where she could be. I've looked almost everywhere."

                      "Almost everywhere?"

                      "I'm not going into the men's restroom to look for her."

                      Dr. Reiland let out a hearty laugh, but she quickly shifted to a more somber tone. "That's... worrying. From what I know of her, she's always punctual. Can you give me a moment?" There was a long pause as she went silent, and the sound of her struggling to lift something came across the line. A few moments later, she continued, "I want you to call this number, it's Ms. Dahl's personal line. 1-105-6734. Please, don't share that number, she has gone to great lengths to keep it hidden from the public."

                      "1... 105..." she mumbled quietly, relegating the number to her short term memory. "Got it."

                      "I'm going to get in touch with her employer, see if he knows anything. That will take some time, though... You caught me on my way home. If you find her before I call you again, let me know."

                      "Thank you, will do."

                      "You'll hear from me soon." The phone clicked, then went silent.

                      She let out a sigh and began to dial the number that Dr. Reiland gave her.

                      "Anything?" Kimberly asked.

                      She shook her head. "Nothing. I'm going to call this lady's personal number, see if I can get through."

                      The phone rang... and rang... and rang, until eventually an automated message began to play, "Greetings, you've reached Tamara! I can't answer the phone right now, leave me a message and I'll get back to you." A loud beep followed shortly after.

                      She began to mutter obscenities under her breath before finally composing her message. "Uhh, hello! This is Andrea Dennison, Dr. Reiland's assistant. I'm supposed to accompany you to Doranshire for some research about the strange happenings going on there. I'm here at Camden Station but I can't find you anywhere, there's far too many people in the way. Get in touch with me so we can figure out where we're meeting, my number is 1-210-7240. See ya soon!" She hung her phone up and sighed loudly.

                      "Is everything okay?" Kimberly asked.

                      She shook her head. "It's only been a few days, but this job has been very stressful so far... First that cow, then the mushrooms, and now--" She stopped her unintelligible muttering when she saw the strange look on Kimberly's face. "I'm sure she's just running late, she must be a very busy person."

                      "Speaking of running late, I should probably get going... These coordination contests take some time to prepare for... Will you be alright here by yourself?" Kimberly asked.

                      She made a dismissive gesture as she nodded. "Yeah, I'll be fine. Good luck with your contest."

                      "And to you as well, friend. It was nice meeting you!"

                      She watched as Kimberly cautiously approached the crowd and then disappeared into it. "10 golden roses says she's eaten alive by this city..." she mused to herself.

                      She decided to sweep the station more thoroughly again for any signs of Tamara, despite the nagging thoughts that it would be pointless; if she hadn't picked up her phone, she reasoned, then she likely wasn't anywhere in the station. Or, who knew, maybe she was at the station, but the staggering amount of noise from the crowds made it impossible for her to hear her phone. Whatever the case, she just wanted to kill some time before Dr. Reiland contacted her again, and she could think of little else to do.

                      Her search led her across the main lobby and nearly every person she came across was meticulously studied. No luck. She moved onto the relaxation lounge next. The dim lights in the area were anything but helpful when it came to inspecting the people around her and even led to some awkward confusion when she thought she finally found Tamara, only to realize that the person in question was merely a man with long, black hair. Fed up with her search, she decided to move onto the next part of the station, the commerce center.

                      There were lots of alluring distractions in the commerce center; sports games on the television at the bar, the scent of freshly prepared food, a public Dance-Dance-Arcade! match between two seasoned veterans, a variety book store and a jewelry kiosk all fought for her attention. Her love of rave music made it difficult to slip by the Dance-Dance-Arcade! display unhindered, as did her rumbling stomach as she passed through the food court. All the while, she kept a watchful eye on the people around her... all for nothing. The more she thought about it, the more she felt that she wouldn't find Tamara.

                      She decided instead to pass the time by browsing the merchandise around her. A look through the book store offered little in the way of entertainment, as only two subjects were covered: romance and politics, neither of which she had any interest in. She was drawn back towards the Dance-Dance-Arcade! display next and blended in with the cheering spectators who were watching a heated competition between two young men.

                      "Yeah! Ya got 'em, ya got 'em!" one of the spectators shouted as the match progressed.

                      The screen was crammed to capacity with flashing arrows that passed by at lightning speed, each corresponding to a specific dance move. Both were able to keep up with the ludicrous pace and remained evenly matched for several minutes, but eventually one of them missed a step and threw off their whole rhythm. The crowd erupted with boisterous booing and cheering as the young man stormed off in defeat.

                      "Me next, this guy's goin' down!" another spectator demanded before shoving his way forward, almost knocking Andrea over in the process.

                      As the two argued on the next song and the difficulty they'd compete at, Andrea felt a deep rumbling against her leg. She pulled her phone out and looked at the screen, and her heart dropped a bit. 'Incoming call from Dr. Rebecca Reiland'. She stepped away from the hollering crowd and answered. "Hello?"

                      "Hello, Ms. Dennison, it's Dr. Reiland again. Have you heard from Ms. Dahl yet?"

                      "I haven't. I don't think she's here. I called her phone and reached her voice mail, but she hasn't gotten back to me yet."

                      "I see... I was just in touch with her employer, Dr. Belmonte. He hasn't heard from her, either. The airline company she booked her flight into Aughrim with said that she was aboard the plane when it took off, but she never checked into the hotel she's staying at."

                      "Where the hell is she, then?"

                      "She's definitely in the country, but beyond that... I don't know. I'm starting to grow a little worried."

                      "You don't think..." she started.

                      Her mind immediately drifted to the recent news reports related to missing people, kidnappings and murders across the country. Growing up, Andrea always thought of Lanark as a safe country, and it truthfully was; disappearances were a rarity during her youth, and violent kidnappings even more so. She remembered reading a recent article that stated in April alone, there were nearly 400 reported cases of missing persons, ten times the yearly average. Fears that a trafficking ring had been established in the country continued to dominate the headlines and discussions on evening news programs, and Andrea had begun to wonder if Tamara had suffered a similar fate.

                      "Is it possible that she ran into trouble somewhere in the city?" she asked.

                      "As much as I don't want to... I'm starting to think that."

                      "So... what do... how..." she stumbled. "What should I do?"

                      "I'm not sure there's much you can do at the moment. Check into a hotel, we'll figure out what you're doing in the morning. It's much too dangerous for you to travel the roads at night, especially alone. In the meantime, I'll keep in touch with Ms. Dahl's employer and sort out a missing person report."

                      "Understood."

                      "Stay safe, Ms. Dennison."

                      "I'll try."
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                        #12    
                      Old January 20th, 2017 (1:50 PM). Edited March 1st, 2017 by Eliza Prescott.
                      Eliza Prescott's Avatar
                      Eliza Prescott Eliza Prescott is offline
                      Misfit Angel
                         
                        Join Date: Nov 2016
                        Location: Upstate New York
                        Gender: Female
                        Posts: 36
                        Land of the Roses
                        Chapter 8: a 'Cèilidh Gailearaidh

                        Written with minor assistance from a dear friend, Caitlin Wintersbite


                        "She has to be fine... There's no way someone like her could just... just become a victim," Andrea told herself quietly. "Surely a master Pokémon trainer like her could defend herself from anyone." The thoughts about her business partner's whereabouts were beginning to flood through her mind. As much as she tried to reason otherwise, she couldn't help but feel that something sinister had happened. "What if she was targ--"

                        Her thoughts were interrupted as she was knocked to the floor. A large man towered over her with a look of bitter angriness on his face. He was dressed quite sharply, sporting a brown tweed suit that unfortunately had a large cup of coffee spilled all over it. "Hey, what the hell, lady?! Watch where you're walkin'!" he roared as he wiped at the coffee with his hand.

                        "I-I-I'm sorry, I was... I was--"

                        Before offering to help her up or even allowing her to explain herself, the man stomped off. Just as well, she knew he wouldn't be interested in any excuses she offered.

                        She picked herself up off of the floor and looked around. Nobody had stopped to offer to help her, or even to see what had happened. That brief encounter, the careless people around her, the situation regarding Tamara, it was all beginning to take its toll on her. "I need to get out of here before I run into anyone else..." she muttered. She took one last look at the lobby behind her before stepping out into the chilly evening air. The atmosphere around her began to put her mind at ease; she was back in Aughrim, the city which she had called home for four years.

                        As she navigated the promenade, the gentle tones of a tenor saxophone began to fill the crisp air around her. She'd heard this enchanting sound nearly every time she visited the train station and once again, it lured her in. A man with a bowler hat and a fancy waxed mustache stood in the center of a crowd of spectators, playing his own rendition of a popular tune from the 1980s. The case in which he carried his saxophone was drowning under a pile of bronze and silver coins, with more being added by passersby.

                        The music calmed her nerves as it continued. She generally wasn't a fan of upbeat ballad music and in fact usually abhorred it, but she felt drawn in by it. The soothing notes of the music began to melt her anxiety away, and thoughts about Tamara's wellbeing started to slip into the back of her mind. She even found herself singing along to the lyrics once she found her stride:

                        ♫ Worlds apart, days and nights gone by,
                        Not seeing you is bringing me nothing but pain.
                        I wish it weren't so, but I won't lie,
                        It's enough to drive me insane.
                        I don't get to see you, feels like ever.
                        How long will this go on? Forever? ♫

                        ♫ Where ever you are,
                        I don't care what you do.
                        Just come to me, I'm waiting for you.
                        Whatever it takes!
                        Every day my heart breaks,
                        Still here, waiting for you. ♫

                        ♫ I took for granted our time together,
                        I really thought it would last forever.
                        Now that you're gone, all that's left is tears.
                        Never seeing you again? One of my greatest fears.
                        I've fallen in love, I must admit,
                        And it's tearing me apart, bit by bit. ♫

                        ♫ Where ever you are,
                        I don't care what you do.
                        Just come to me, I'm waiting for you.
                        Whatever it takes!
                        Every day my heart breaks,
                        Still here, waiting for you. ♫

                        ♫ I wonder, can I survive without this romance?
                        Maybe I should get finally just say, 'I love you'.
                        And if you say no, well, I did all I could do...
                        I don't care what happens, I'll take that chance.
                        I don't know when that will happen,
                        Maybe today, but longer, I imagine. ♫

                        ♫ Where ever you are,
                        I don't care what you do.
                        Just come to me, I'm waiting for you.
                        Whatever it takes.
                        Every day my heart breaks,
                        Still here, waiting for you. ♫

                        ♫ Waiting... Waiting here, for you... ♫


                        Eventually, the music ended and the saxophone player began to pack up his belongings. As the crowd began to disperse, she lingered in silent contemplation. She realized that the lyrics didn't apply to her situation at the moment, but they brought about feelings of hope nevertheless. She dug through her purse and grabbed a few silver coins, then approached the man and offered them to him.

                        The man studied her for a brief second, then accepted the coins graciously. "Thank you, ma'am, that's one of the most generous gifts I've gotten all week."

                        "No, thank you," she insisted. "Your music helped to clear my mind."

                        "Jus' how I do," he said before he left.

                        She kicked at the ground as she thought about what to do. Finding a place to stay for the night seemed like a good idea, but the evening was still young. She didn't want to be trapped in a hotel room all night, waiting for phone calls while she could be doing something more interesting with her time. The thought about reconnecting with some of her old university friends crossed her mind, but she remembered that most of them had moved out of the city by now. Then she remembered the VIP ticket that she was given, and buried her hand into her purse in search of it. With it in hand, she began to read from it:

                        Witness the performance of a lifetime, the biannual event that has taken Aughrim by storm for twelve straight years! This ticket admits one visitor to the Majesty of Aughrim coordination contest, scheduled for the 14th of May and held at the Cèilidh Gailearaidh on West Armory Street. Prepare to have your breath taken away as eight coordinators compete against each other for glory and the chance to be crowned the Lad or Lass of Aughrim!

                        "West Armory, huh? Well? Now that I have nothing better to do..."

                        - - - - -

                        It was a quick and rather uneventful walk to the city's Old Towne district. Despite spending several years of her life in the city, Andrea had never taken the time to visit Old Towne. She felt overwhelmed as she attempted to navigate the winding alleyways that made up the core of the city, a fact made worse by the dim lighting the old street lamps offered. As a precaution, nearly everyone she came into close contact with was watched like a hawk, and anyone who looked even the least bit suspicious, angry or drunk was given a wide berth.

                        To avoid the thoughts about Tamara clouding her mind again, she tried to imagine the coordination contest she was about to attend. She knew very little about them, and Kimberly's description did little to paint any particular images in her imagination. 'It involves flashiness, showmanship and stunning visuals' she recalled, but what did that even mean? "What should I expect to see? Fire juggling? Ice carving? Acrobatics? Horticulture displays?"

                        At last, she had arrived at the Cèilidh Gailearaidh, a large and imposing stone building that could grab the attention of even a blind man. Four brick spires towered into the sky, each tipped with crenellations and decorated with grisly-looking gargoyles from ages past. Enormous stained glass windows that depicted important events in Lanark's history lined the roughly chiseled walls. She'd never seen it in person before, and now she was kicking herself for never taking the time to.

                        One look at the entrance to the old building was all she needed to begin reconsidering how she would spend the rest of her night. "You've gotta be kidding me..."

                        A seemingly endless sea of people were gathered in front of the entrance. At first, it looked like there was little order to the crowd, but closer inspection revealed a long, snaking line penned in with red velvet ropes. She tried to count the number of people waiting, only to lose count somewhere around 65.

                        "Am I really going to wait in the cold..." she asked herself before she noticed a much smaller line near another entrance that was opposite from the crowded one. A large banner with the words 'VIP TICKET HOLDERS ENTER HERE' emblazoned on it was a warm welcome.

                        "Hello! Welcome to the Cèilidh Gailearaidh!" an attendant said as she approached. "Please have your VIP ticket ready!"

                        She dug through her purse and grabbed one of the tickets that Kimberly gave her, then handed it over.

                        The attendant grabbed the ticket and held it up to a scanner. "Let's see... Yep, this is right! Welcome to the show!" He grabbed a small pamphlet and a lanyard that was decorated with silver roses and handed them to her. "Here is your VIP access pass and a schedule for tonight's show. Enjoy!"

                        She slipped the lanyard around her neck and entered the building. She was greeted by a stately dressed young man who offered to escort her to the VIP section, an offer that she accepted. As they passed by the main entrance to the concert hall, she could see that the seating area was nearly filled to capacity in preparation for the show; there simply weren't enough seats left for the people waiting outside. If that was the case, she reasoned, then the night would at least be memorable.

                        The young man who was escorting her was awkwardly silent and rebuffed every effort she made at speaking with him, so instead, she studied her surroundings. The marbled halls were home to numerous paintings and works of art, from renaissance masterpieces to modern trash. Displays of medieval arms and armor decorated the empty spaces between the paintings. Important documents and books from the city's history were housed in glass containers. A lot of history called that hallway home, history that Andrea was interested in learning about, but now wasn't the time.

                        The two stopped at an unmarked doorway and the man knocked on the door.

                        "Yes? You can come in." a voice called from the other side.

                        The man opened the door and motioned for her to enter. She stepped inside and immediately recognized it as a green room, much to her surprise. "Umm, I'm not not here to compete tonight, sir, I'm looking--"

                        Kimberly was seated at the vanity on the far side of the room, applying some last minute touch ups to her appearance. A warm smile appeared on her face as she noticed Andrea in the mirror. "Andrea, you came!"

                        "I... I guess I did?" she replied. The confusion in her voice was obvious; she expected to be seated by now, not visiting one of the contestants. "I don't know why that guy brought me here, but here I am."

                        "One of the perks of being a VIP ticket holder, friend. You get to visit the contestant who gave it to you before and after the show!" she said, adjusting the last of her eyeshadow. She took a moment to look at her work and found it to be unsatisfactory. "Ugh! I'm so bad at this!"

                        "Bad at what?"

                        "Makeup application! I don't know how to do it properly..."

                        She approached from behind to get a closer look in the mirror. "I think you did alright." Her compliment was met with silent skepticism, almost as if Kimberly was waiting to be told otherwise. "I guess it's a little sloppy near the corner of your right eye. Shouldn't be hard to fix."

                        Kimberly took another close look at herself in the mirror, but she could see more than just a sloppy application. She reached for a white cloth that was stained with nearly a dozen black smudges and began to rub away at her makeup. "Would it be correct of me to assume that your business partner never arrived?"

                        She sat down on a chair in the corner of the room. "Yeah, no sign of her. My boss can't find her, her boss can't find her, her airline can't find her, the hotel she's supposed to stay at can't find her... The most we know is that she's here in Lanark somewhere. Beyond that?" She shook her head silently as she shrugged.

                        "That's worrying, to say the least." Kimberly placed the cloth back onto the table and grabbed the makeup brush again. "This may be a strange question, but... Could you help me with this?"

                        "Help?"

                        Kimberly offered the brush to her. "Don't take this as an insult as I don't mean it like that, but you seem like you're much better at this makeup thing than I am."

                        She took a moment to think it over before asking, "That won't break any competition rules, will it?"

                        "No. As I was arriving, I noticed that two of the other contestants had their own assistants. It's a common practice in these competitions."

                        She sheepishly accepted the brush and wondered where to begin. She considered herself a veteran of eyeshadow application and had spent years perfecting her own look, but all of that knowledge and confidence went out the window now that she was working on someone else. "I'm going to screw this up, and then it'll be on me..." she thought to herself. "I'll try something subdued. I really only know how to do the prince of darkness look, but I doubt you want that. I don't think it'd fit the look you're going for."

                        "And what look would that be?"

                        She took a step back and studied Kimberly's appearance more closely. She was wearing a simple mint green pinstripe sun dress, embroidered with a dozen roses down the right side. Her outfit was anything but complex and gave off an 'I'm fun, yet classy' vibe. Her golden brown hair, on the other hand, was a complex mess of braids, twists and ribbons, yet it carried a touch of sophistication with it. She didn't know what to make of it. "You know, I'm not sure."

                        Kimberly closed her eyes and put her faith in Andrea as she began to apply some eyeshadow. "Neither am I, which has me slightly worried... I got a sneak peak at one of the other contestants, she was in the most gorgeous red dress I had ever seen! What I'm wearing simply can not compete."

                        "What you're wearing can't be all that important, right? Aren't these shows all about the Pokémon and the tricks they do?"

                        Kimberly tried to remain still as she laughed. "Oh bless your little cotton socks! You really do know so little about coordination... You'll soon see what it's all about!" A few minutes passed without a response from Andrea, so she asked, "What will you do if you never meet with your business partner?"

                        She took a step back and studied her work. She found it satisfactory enough, but wasn't sure if it matched the look that Kimberly sported. "I honestly don't know. I'll probably head back to Loch Alstan, I can't travel the roads alone, it's way too dangerous."

                        "Yes, the roads are quite nasty for the unprepared..."

                        "You can say that again. I learned that first hand before I came here."

                        The door opened and an attendant's head popped in. "Ten minutes until the show begins, ladies." he said before closing the door again.

                        "Hasn't that guy ever heard of knocking? You're lucky you were dressed!" Andrea joked.

                        Kimberly stood up and made some last minute adjustments to her hair in the mirror. She noticed that her hand was shaking lightly and tried her best to calm herself. "Oh dear... Nervousness is setting in... This is my first big competition."

                        "Heh. Just have a little faith, you'll do fine." she said.

                        With a few deep breaths and a few repetitions of "Confidence is key..." she nodded. "Even if I don't do well tonight, I'll have learned some valuable lessons for next time."

                        "If you don't mind, I'll get out of your hair. I have to find my seat, still..."

                        "By all means. Thank you for stopping by, friend!" Before Andrea could get far, she approached the door and called out into the hallway, "Oh! One last thing! I'll be returning to this room after my performances. Would you care to join me?"

                        Andrea stopped in her tracks and paused for a brief moment. "Sure, why not? See you soon."
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                          #13    
                        Old January 22nd, 2017 (11:55 AM). Edited March 1st, 2017 by Eliza Prescott.
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                        Eliza Prescott Eliza Prescott is offline
                        Misfit Angel
                           
                          Join Date: Nov 2016
                          Location: Upstate New York
                          Gender: Female
                          Posts: 36
                          Author's note: This one's a bit fillery, I guess. Little did I know that allowing eight characters to briefly introduce themselves before a coordination contest would turn into one of the lengthiest chapters yet. I feel it was worth it, though, as only one of these characters will never be seen again.

                          Land of the Roses
                          Chapter 9: The Eight



                          The stage went dark. A live orchestra began to play a rendition of the Brandenburg Concerto No. 3. As the dulcet tones of the music filled the auditorium hall, a young woman in a crisp white suit began to approach the center of the stage, still cloaked in darkness. When she reached the center, spotlights turned on and focused on her position. The orchestra continued, but began to soften in preparation for her speech.

                          "Thank you all for coming tonight, and welcome to the 25th Majesty of Aughrim coordination contest, hosted here at the Cèilidh Gailearaidh! My name is Emma Welton and I'll be your host for the evening, as well as a member of tonight's judging panel." She made a motion towards a table that sat in front of the crowd, beckoning the two who were seated to come on stage. "Please, give my colleagues a warm welcome!"

                          The crowd cheered as a regally-dressed elderly woman and an equally sharply dressed young man climbed the steps to the stage.

                          The man bowed before the crowd. "Saluti! It is an honor to be here in Lanark." he said in a thick, nearly unintelligible accent. "I am Leonardo Bertucci, purveyor of fine arts, fine wines and fine women!" he said with a laugh. "I have been judging these contests for nearly ten years now, and every one of them is a treat filled with new experiences. This is a fantastic opportunity, not just for me, but for you as well! Tonight, we will be captivated by some fresh talent and witness the birth of many promising careers!"

                          The crowd could barely understand him, but cheered anyways.

                          The elderly woman stepped forward and waved to the crowd with a warm smile. "Hello! Big crowd tonight! We barely had a dozen guests when I used to participate in these events, all those years ago..." she said. "I suppose you're wondering who I am! My name is Rosemary White, and I've been a coordinator for nearly fifty years now... Even won myself a few Ribbon Cups in my day. 22 of them, in fact!"

                          The crowd erupted with delight.

                          She let out a bemused chuckle and motioned for the crowd to be quiet. "Thank you, thank you. You humble me! As one of the early pioneers of coordination, I am very passionate about this sport, and it warms my heart to see that are you as well. But! The thing that warms my heart the most are our eight contestants that will be performing tonight. To see the traditions of old carried on by our newest generation is all I could ever ask for!"

                          "Well said, Mrs. White! Now, with us out of the way, let's welcome the true stars of the night, our contestants!"

                          A roaring cacophony echoed through the concert hall as the crowd eagerly awaited the beginning of the show.

                          "Our first contestant is from the city of Steelport, Simone Reed!" A young woman with fiery red hair and a matching red ballgown approached from the left side of the stage. As she did so, Emma continued, "Mrs. Reed has a distinguished eight year career as a Royal Navy subcommander. She's served as a coast guard reserve for the first four years of her career, which was followed by two tours of duty as an ordinance officer aboard the HMS Purity during its lengthy patrol of the Ranaa Gulf. Let's give a hand for this brave woman!"

                          "Thank you," Simone said in a reserved manner.

                          "Let me start by thanking you for your service. I can only begin to imagine how terrifying it must have been to serve in an active combat zone."

                          "Terrifying is putting it lightly. I'll never forget the night the hull of our ship was breached by an explosion and we were forced into a hostile port for emergency repairs. It's not easy to pick up a rifle and protect your fellow engineers when you've been promised a relatively relaxed patrol assignment..." She took a moment to study the crowd before her, then took a deep breath. "Gods, it's good to be home, and I'm happy that chapter of my life is finally finished."

                          As Simone stepped off towards the back of the stage, Emma continued with her introductions. "Our next contestant also has a military past. From the frosty steppes of Kanetsk, please welcome Senna Kros... Kr... Krostovj? Yes, Krostovj!" She looked down towards a card she held in her hand. "She is a retired colonel from the Peoples' Liberation Army of the Great Republic of Kanetsk, 32nd division of the General Infantry. I hope I've said all of that correctly."

                          A spotlight focused on the right side of the stage and the crowd began to cheer, but nobody emerged from behind the curtains. Emma quickly studied the card in her hands once again, then made a beckoning gesture towards the side of the stage. After a few brief moments of confusion, a woman in a striking black jacket and matching knee-length skirt approached the center of the stage. Her outfit was easily identified by just about anyone as the formal uniform of the Kanetsk armed forces. Long, crimped blonde hair flowed out from under the peaked hat that sat atop her head. There was a rigid efficiency in her movement and her posture was stiff as a board.

                          "There she is!" Emma said.

                          Senna offered the crowd a sharp salute. "Sorry. Understanding of your language is... uhh..." she said, stopping for a moment to think. "Is not very well."

                          "Are you enjoying this country so far?" Emma asked.

                          "Da," she said with a nod. "Lanark very hospitable. Very generous. Much nicer than motherland. Much warmer, too!"

                          "I'm glad to hear it!" Emma said. "Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?"

                          "I am accomplished trainer of Pokémon. I have earned eight... badges, is word? And I have competed in Kanetsk League challenge and earned championship. There not much left to learn, so I have moved onto new branch of Pokémon ownership. Like in League challenge, I will bring glory to Kanetsk!"

                          "Well! This should be interesting to see! Thank you!" She made a motioning gesture towards the back of the stage. "Onto our next contestant! He has come to us all the way from Kalos! Unlike the rest of the competitors here, this is not his first official coordination contest; he has competed across his home country and earned two ribbons during his travels. Please, give a warm Lanark welcome to Jean-Luc De la Rivière!"

                          A man in a sharp-looking burgundy tuxedo emerged from behind the curtains on the left side of the stage. There was a jolly spring in his step as he waved towards the cheering crowd. He stopped in the center of the stage and doffed his towering burgundy top hat. "Bonjour!" he said in his native tongue, tinged with a heavy Kalosian accent. "Thank you for the warm welcome to your country! I look forward to achieving many great things with your support!"

                          "This isn't your first contest, as I've noted, yet you're still here in the beginner's circle. That was your choice, and you are allowed to make it, but... I'm curious... Why? Why not move onto the next tier?"

                          "I do not feel that I'm ready for the next step of the journey," he said. "I'm sure you're familiar with the corruption scandals that plague the Kalosian Coordinator's Guild. Many top coordinators of the beginner's circle were disqualified following the investigations, and since I was one of the few not linked to the scandal, I was given the ribbons as an honorary gesture. I didn't earn them, and that's a terrible way to start my career. I am here to prove my worth and earn them fairly."

                          "That's understandable. Let's just hope that your prior experience offers a fair competition for the rest of the contestants!" she said.

                          "Let us hope. I'm not here to crush dreams unfairly." After a courteous bow, Jean-Luc joined Simone and Senna at the back of the stage.

                          "Next on the list is a wealthy heiress right here from our home country of Lanark! Her father is a world class chef and the owner of the Gilded Rose, one of the country's most highly rated restaurants! Her mother coordinates the relief efforts and charity work of the Valence Foundation, with their most recent work focusing on those displaced by the devastating Cold Harbor earthquake in Glastonfell this past December. Please, give a round of applause for our next contestant, Kimberly Fairbrooke!"

                          Kimberly emerged from the right side of the stage. As she approached the center of the stage, she blew a kiss towards the crowd, causing an upsurge in cheering.

                          "I've heard of you, Kimberly, but I don't know anything about you," Emma commented. "Your parents are very famous, and rightfully so, but you've slipped under the radar somehow. Tell us a little bit about yourself!"

                          "I'm not sure what there is to say, really. I'm just a privileged young woman looking to make her mark on the world. I haven't figured out what that mark may be... Coordination is my next attempt to find my purpose in life."

                          "Why not follow in your parents' footsteps?"

                          "First, I'm a terrible cook. It's likely that I could burn water if I put my mind to it."

                          The crowd livened up with laughter.

                          "Second... while charity work with my mother is certainly rewarding, it's not for me. She spends a lot of time in some of the worst places in the world. If the circumstances aren't heartbreaking, they're terrifying and fraught with danger. I can't do it. However, if I do succeed at this as a career, any proceeds I earn will go to my mother's organization."

                          "Understandable, and you'll still be doing good work if you succeed. Thank you for coming tonight!" With a wave of her arm, she dismissed Kimberly towards the back of the stage with the other competitors. "Now, our next contestant left a lot of information on her application blank, so she's just as much a mystery to us as she will be to you folks in the audience. Please, welcome Chrysanthemum!"

                          The spotlights focused on the left curtains and a young woman with a black trenchcoat, black boots, black visor sunglasses and icy blue hair walked on stage. Glowing neon lines that matched her hair color ran along the contours of her clothing and boots. Unlike the other contestants, her interaction with the crowd was minimal, which may have been responsible for the mixed reaction she received.

                          "Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, Chrysanthemum? We're all a little in the dark here, and I'm sure the audience would like to get to know you." Emma commented.

                          Chrysanthemum stood in the center of the stage like a statue, completely silent. She didn't even turn to acknowledge Emma's presence.

                          "I guess the silent treatment is part of some sort of gimmick?"

                          After another brief moment of silence and further murmuring from the crowd, she broke character and turned her head towards Emma. She lifted her black visor to show off a pair of amber eyes. "Yes." Just as quickly as she broke character, she returned to her statuesque pose quickly afterward.

                          "Gotcha! It's not often we have... 'characters' such as yours show up at these events, but it's still lovely to have you!"

                          With a smirk and a shrug, Chrysanthemum took her place at the back of the stage with the other contestants.

                          "Next up, we have Chelsea Griffith!" She looked down at the card in her hand and paused for a moment. "She's a... uhh... a professional dancer, and... umm... and she's a common sight around one of Aughrim's popular night clubs! Let's hear it for Chelsea!"

                          There was a mixed reaction from the crowd as a scantily clad, poorly dressed young woman walked out onto the stage from the right side. Most seemed perplexed by her presence and her abnormally 'normal' appearance, a sharp contrast to the other contestants who wore suits, dresses or formal uniforms. Still she had a rather vocal following within the crowd; they were few in number, but they chanted her name loudly, made obscene gestures and professed their love for her.

                          "C'mon lady, you don't gotta say it like that. Introduce me properly!" Chelsea demanded.

                          She was caught off guard by Chelsea's brusque mannerisms and retreated to the card in her hand for safety. "Oh, uh..." She adjusted her posture, put a smile on her face, took a deep breath and motioned towards the angry young woman. "This is Chelsea Griffith, but she's more commonly known by her stage name, Twinkle. She's the star dancer at the... oh lord... Tit for Tat Gentleman's Club. She usually works between the hours..." she paused, then stood her ground. "Look, I'm not going to advertise for a stripper. Not on national television."

                          "Whatever, ya stuck up slag," Chelsea chided before taking her place at the back of the stage.

                          She clasped her hands together, happy for the encounter to be over. "Right! Moving on! Next, we have an actress joining us tonight! Many may know her for her breakout performance as Ophelia in the Grapewood Theatre rendition of the classical play, Hamlet! This is the first coordination contest of her budding career as a cultural superstar, so let's give a round of applause for Samantha Ashwoode!"

                          Another young woman entered from stage left to a storm of applause and raucous cheering. Her outfit was easily the most opulent among the other contestants; a white silk dress flowed elegantly around her and the ornate gold detailing on it caught the light perfectly. Around her wrists were glittering golden bangles, decorated with rubies and ornate celtic knots. A crown of bright red orchids rested atop her long, braided red hair.

                          "I recognize that outfit," Emma said. "That's Ophelia's wardrobe from the play, isn't it?"

                          Samantha nodded. "Almost. It's a replica some friends and I put together in our spare time. It's not quite perfect, but it's close enough."

                          "I wouldn't have known otherwise! Well! Tell us a little about yourself!"

                          "I've wanted to be an actress all my life... I grew up in a little town just outside of Aughrim, my parents owned a tavern there. I was usually entertaining the guests with my stupid stories or my singing... my mom told me I had a real talent for it, so she put me through the Lanark Center of the Arts' rising star program. Fast forward a couple years and I'm headlining one of the most popular plays in all of theatrical arts."

                          "Are you looking to expand your horizons here?"

                          She shook her head. "Nah, this is just a hobby. I don't know if I'll take it seriously. My real place is on the stage at the Grapewood Theatre." Without a prompt, she joined the other six contestants at the back of the stage.

                          "And with that, we come to our last contestant. War in his homeland has brought him and thousands like him to our shores as refugees. He has come to this land seeking peace, prosperity, and the chance to rebuild what once was. I present to you the founder of the Durandas Relief Fund, Hoster Burnett!"

                          A man in a simple outfit, blue jeans and a tucked in white button shirt, approached the stage from the right. He waved to the cheering crowd and bowed gracefully when he reached the center.

                          "So tell us a little bit about yourself, Mr. Burnett."

                          "Thank you. My name is Hoster Burnett, and as you've just heard, I run the Durandas Relief Fund. We are dedicated to retaking and rebuilding my homeland, to ensure that war is a quaint foot note in history and not our eternal future. My group has unfortunately struggled to gain recognition or support from the international community... Like my fellow contestant, Ms. Fairbrooke, any proceeds I earn from these competitions will go directly towards helping my people to reclaim our homeland and rebuild what once was. That is all I want from this venture, fame and glory are unimportant. Thank you for your time, and thank you, people of Lanark, for showing me that there is still some good left in this world."

                          "You'll be glad to know, Mr. Burnett, that this competition is being televised across the country. Perhaps someone watching out there will be moved by your story and agree to help?"

                          "I would be most gracious."

                          "At last, all of our contestants have been introduced and allowed an opportunity to speak about themselves, so now let's move onto the action!" Emma announced.

                          The crowd went wild.

                          Leonardo stepped forward and began to lay out the rules. "This competition will be divided into two brackets of four competitors each and it will follow single-elimination rules. Each contestant has agreed to a static team of three that they're working with. If a contestant calls on a Pokémon that is not on this team, they will be immediately disqualified."

                          Rosemary continued the explanation. "Scoring will be on a scale of one to ten and based on execution, 'wow' factor and originality. Each of a contestant's three Pokémon will show off their best moves. They may do this on their own, with the assistance of their coordinator or with the assistance of props. After each performance, we will give our scores before the opponent's turn begins."

                          Emma nodded, then added her own caveat, "There will be some minor alterations to the rules, since not all of our contestants have three Pokémon to work with. Those below the limit of three must still perform three times to qualify for the next round."

                          "Yes, that is correct,"

                          "Now, let's move onto the brackets. In our first bracket, we'll have Ms. Krostovj paired up against Ms. Fairbrooke, and Ms. Griffith paired up against Mr. Burnett. Our second bracket will see Mrs. Reed pitted against Mr. De la Rivière, followed up by Chrysanthemum and Ms. Ashwoode. We'll be right back with the first match after this quick commercial break!"
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                            #14    
                          Old January 24th, 2017 (6:52 PM). Edited March 1st, 2017 by Eliza Prescott.
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                          Eliza Prescott Eliza Prescott is offline
                          Misfit Angel
                             
                            Join Date: Nov 2016
                            Location: Upstate New York
                            Gender: Female
                            Posts: 36
                            Author's note: All commentary by the judges is written in italics. The intended effect is that they are commenting to a television audience and the reader is a viewer at home, and anything they say can not be heard by the contestants. If it's too difficult or jarring to read, let me know.

                            Land of the Roses
                            Chapter 10: Wintersong



                            "Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen, to the 25th Majesty of Aughrim coordination contest! Our contestants have been introduced and the rules explained, so let's dive right into the action! Our first match up is between Senna Krostovj and Kimberly Fairbrooke. The match is set to begin, so let's see what happens!"

                            The lights faded, leaving only two spotlights; one focused on Kimberly, who waited at the left side of the stage, while the other focused on Senna, who stood like a statue at the right. The orchestra began to play some soft music as they approached one another and met in the middle. They greeted each other with a hand shake.

                            "Udachi," Senna said in her native language. "It means good luck. I will not relent."

                            "Good luck to you as well, friend," Kimberly responded. "The stage is yours, you're performing first."

                            "Da." As Kimberly walked away, Senna reached into the vest pocket of her uniform. She pulled out a small, black, cube-shaped object that was covered in pulsating red lights and lines, then dropped it to the floor. The tiny object flared open into a dozen subsections and a pale red light began to shine above them. The vague shape of a crystalline creature appeared, glinting with a shower of static-like red sparks.

                            "A fantastic and... positively strange entrance! I've never seen something like that." Emma commented.

                            "A common sight in her homeland, Emma," Rosemary added. "Not many people in Kanetsk use Pokéballs. Instead, they favor the Capture Cluster. Quite an interesting little piece of technology they've developed, and a relic of a different time."

                            As the red sparks faded, the Pokémon inside began to take shape. The creature had the vague shape of a flower, but was composed entirely of shimmering ice shards. A rounded crown of red and pink shards gently floated above a central pillar of green-tinged shards. A thin fog swirled around the base of the creature, and as it moved around, the shards that made up the stem rumbled about like stones caught in the current of a mighty river.

                            "For her first Pokémon, Senna has chosen the mysterious creature known as Snowbelle, which is also a common sight in her homeland. Let's see what she does with it."

                            Senna pointed to the center of the stage and the Snowbelle began to rumble over. As it did so, she issued a lengthy command in her native language. Several of the ice shards that made up the creature split away from it and began to swirl through the air until they eventually came to rest a few feet above the stage.

                            "Nachat," she said.

                            A bitter cold wind blew through the auditorium as the largest shard began to vibrate aggressively, and with it came a deep, resonating tone. The next largest shard started to vibrate as the previous one stopped, and the process repeated until the tiniest one let out a high pitched squeal. After a few seconds of silence, the shards began to resonate together in a manner that resembled music.

                            "This is interesting! It appears she's using her Pokémon to play a song! Is that her country's national anthem I hear?"

                            "It's a little sloppy, but yes."

                            Snowflakes began to form in the frigid air as the music continued. Senna started a march across the stage with a rigid gait, and when she reached the edge of the stage, she stamped down hard and offered a salute to the crowd. As she did so, the music hit a crescendo and the snowflakes fluttering through the air whipped about in a flurry. She began her march back across the stage, and once again the music grew louder and the wind grew colder when she stopped to offer another salute.

                            "A very patriotic performance! You don't see much like this these days!"

                            The crowd was hardly amused and remained silent for much of the performance.

                            "I don't think the crowd is buying it, Leonardo," Emma commented. "Not surprising, considering the current geopolitical climate. Not many people have a high opinion of her homeland these days."

                            "A shame, really. I think it's well executed for what it is."

                            As the music ended, silence filled the auditorium. There was very little applause among the crowd; instead, they murmured amongst themselves in wonder as Senna and her Snowbelle stepped off to the side of the stage. The judges held up score cards: Emma gave the display a score of six, Leonardo rated it an eight and Rosemary offered a neutral score of five.

                            "And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen, our first performance of the night! Senna and her Snowbelle wowed us with a bizarre yet accurate musical rendition of her national anthem! Let's watch and see how her opponent, Kimberly, counters that display."

                            A spotlight focused on Kimberly and she took a deep breath to ready herself for her first ever coordination performance. She reached down towards the red ribbon that dangled from her waistline and grabbed a gem studded purple Pokéball, then held it skyward.

                            "Is that a Master Ball I see? I thought she was only a hobbyist."

                            She tossed the Master Ball into the air and it exploded with a radial burst of giant bubbles. A large blue turtle-like creature appeared above the stage and crashed down onto it with an audible thud. Large steel cannons jutted from the top of the creature's shell, just above its broad and muscled shoulders.

                            "And it's a Blastoise! I think this is the first time I've seen one of them compete in a coordination contest, and I've been covering these events for years!" Emma commented.

                            "Yes, it's not a popular choice," Rosemary added. "I remember seeing just two in all of the years I spent as a coordinator myself. I must admit, I don't see why Blastoise is not a more common sight, it's a very versatile species."

                            "Perhaps it is the imposing and powerful appearance it commands," Leonardo offered. "In any event, let's see what tricks it has hidden away in that shell."

                            Kimberly timidly approached the Blastoise and rested her hand on his shell. "Juliano, I'm in the mood for bubbles. Are you?"

                            Juliano dropped to one knee and the cannons sprouting from within his shell began to calibrate themselves to a new position. A thin, glossy film formed at the end of the left cannon, and before long, a large bubble had drifted out of it. The bubble gently floated upward and as it did so, slowly started to take the shape of a fish. Afterwards, another bubble formed on his right cannon, and when it lifted into the air, it took the shape of a bird.

                            "Interesting approach with the Blastoise. A classic!"

                            More shapes began to form. A star. A Pokéball. An apple. A heart. Some more complicated shapes took shape next, including the likes of a ring, an open clam shell, a rounded pyramid and a sailboat. The crowd was eating it up!

                            "One more bubble. Just like we practiced." she said. She stood in the center of the stage as Juliano exerted a lot of energy into the largest bubble of the batch. The bubble was round in shape and lacked any special features, prompting the crowd to wonder what was so special about it. The bubble gently floated above Kimberly, then began to descend over her. She tried her hardest to stand motionless like a statue as the bubble dipped over her head and slowly enveloped her. Before long, her entire body was within the bubble. She ended the performance by spreading her arms out wide before the bubble finally popped into a refreshing mist.

                            "Now that's a new take an old routine! I've never actually seen anyone successfully manage to wrap a bubble around themselves before!" Emma commented as she raised a card with the number seven on it.

                            "Indeed, quite impressive!" Rosemary said while adding her own score of seven.

                            Leonardo refrained from commentary, but offered yet another score of seven.

                            "With the first two performances out of the way, our contestants move onto their second Pokémon! Senna is up next, let's watch."

                            Senna stepped forward once again and grabbed another of her Capture Clusters from her pocket. The cluster was dropped to the ground and it popped into a dozen pieces, and with a shining red light, the outline of another turtle-like creature appeared. The bluish-green creature sported a jet black shell that was covered in algae, barnacles, numerous scratches and pockmarks. It slowly pulled itself towards the center of the stage with its leathery flippers.

                            "Is that a Tirtouga? Now this is unexpected!" Rosemary commented.

                            "I thought they were extinct..." Emma added.

                            "As far as I know, they're supposed to be. This should be interesting."

                            "She take plan routine..." Senna said with a tone of annoyance in her voice. "No matter, Rakushka. We improvise." She took a step back and issued another lengthy command in her native language.

                            Rakushka perked up and pushed himself as high as his front flippers could take his, then began to spit streams of water high into the air. Before the water landed on the floor, he homed in on each and shot a concentrated beams of frigid air at each; a few missed, but those that made contact froze the water instantly. The chunks of ice rained down onto the stage and smashed on impact, each dispersing with a puff of bitter fog.

                            "This is shaping up to be an icy performance!"

                            "I don't like it, it's getting a little cold in here."

                            The crowd reacted favorably to the display, although the energy dispersed pretty quickly when Senna offered yet another of her country's traditional salutes.

                            "Ouch. She isn't playing off of the crowd very well, is she?" Leonardo commented. He raised a card with the number seven on it. "What did you think, ladies?"

                            Rosemary offered a scathing score of four. "She said she wanted to improvise that one, and you could tell she did just that. It was nothing special, and her Tirtouga's accuracy was subpar."

                            "I..." Emma started before holding her tongue. She raised a card with a score of five on it. "I don't think it was that bad for something improvised on the fly. But I think we can all agree that we'd have much rather preferred she stuck to her original plan, regardless of the other contestant's performance."

                            With the stage cleared, Kimberly approached the center once again. In her hand was her Skitty's custom made fuzzy Feline Ball, which she gently tossed down to the floor. The ball exploded with a bright flash of white light and a shower of cartoonish rainbow stars. Telandra appeared on the stage and looked at her surroundings, but her attention was immediately captured by the fluffy tuft of fur at the end of her tail.

                            She turned around to get a closer look, but was surprised to see it elude her. Intent on catching her own tail, she bounced around in circles in a playful manner, chasing and chasing endlessly. She dove, she tackled, she rolled and she swung her paws, but her efforts were fruitless. Her adorable display drew out an overwhelmingly positive reaction from the crowd and judges alike.

                            "Look at that adorable Skitty! And look at how... purrfect it looks! This contestant has clearly put in a lot of effort towards grooming her Skitty's luxuriously soft fur!"

                            She knelt down and called out to Telandra. On the verge of finally capturing her elusive tail, she heard her name called out and trotted over to Kimberly then began to aggressively rub up against her master's ankle.

                            "This is our first performance, Telandra, so it's important that we do well. Let's do the ring routine, just like we practiced."

                            Telandra returned to the center of the stage, then began to pace around in small, tight circles. Her tail twitched and glowed with an icy white light and the air around her cooled rapidly. A thick haze surrounded the Skitty and started to coalesce into individual shards of ice. The shards hung in the air like fluffy dandelion seeds, and with a deep growl, they took the shape of a ring.

                            "More ice? There's a definite theme here tonight, folks!"

                            Kimberly nodded. "Very good, Telandra. Now, time for some tricks! Start off simple."

                            Telandra shuffled off to the right side of the stage and turned around. With a running start, she jumped high into the air and tumbled through the center of the ring. She landed gracefully on her feet and twirled in place before turning around to line up another jump. With a deft leap into the air, she somersaulted through the hoop. Another jump was followed by a back flip, while yet another involved a barrel roll.

                            "And now for the finale! You can do it, Telandra!"

                            Electrical sparks flashed through her fur as Telandra took one last running start. She jumped with all of her might, and when she reached the center of the ring, she discharged a massive bolt of electricity outward. A concussive blast blew throughout the auditorium and the ice crystals that once made up the hoop lay shattered on the floor.

                            "Classic, but impressive! It takes a lot of guts to perform something so simple in a contest like this, but it also takes a lot of skill to pull it off so flawlessly!" Emma said. She gave the performance a score of nine!

                            Rosemary held up a card with an eight on it. "Brings me back to my youth, when these kinds of tricks were the standard. I wouldn't say it was flawless, but it was certainly very well done."

                            "It was well done, admittedly, but it was just an old circus trick," Leonardo added, with his own score of five. "Let's see what Senna has in store for us for her final performance of the match."

                            Senna stepped forward one last time with another Capture Cluster in her hands. With a drop to the floor and an audible pop, the outline of a large aquatic creature that resembled a plesiosaur appeared on the stage. The creature's scaly skin was mostly black, but it also featured a white underside that ran from the tip of its jaw down towards its belly, and more white spots around its eyes. On its back sat a wickedly sharp spiked shell, encrusted in a thick sheet of ice.

                            "Now that's an interesting Lapras. I've never seen one like it before!"

                            "This majestic sea creature is out of its depth... pardon the pun. How will it perform on dry land? Let's watch."

                            Senna placed her arm on the Lapras' neck as she listened closely to her softly-spoken command. With an understanding between the two, the Lapras flopped her way towards the center of the stage at a snail's pace. When she finally reached the center, she closed her eyes and opened her mouth. A gently flashing pink light began to form in the back of her mouth and slowly grew in brightness. She let out a calming hum as the light surged out of her mouth in a wide arc.

                            It was a slow process, but the light took on a physical presence in the shape of the aurora borealis, gently wafting from side to side in a ribbon-like manner as it pulsed through numerous colors of the rainbow. Glittering stars of all colors formed within the ribbon of light, following the ebb and flow of the movement at times and being absorbed back inside at other times. The crowd watched with amazement.

                            "So colorful..."

                            With the light show over, Senna approached her Lapras and took a bow before the cheering crowd. She instinctively raised her hand for a salute, but stopped herself halfway. Instead, she rolled the sleeve of her uniform jacket up to reveal an odd device on her wrist that shared a similar color scheme to her Capture Clusters, then placed one of them into a slot found on it. With a press of a button on the device, a red beam of energy shot out towards the Lapras and it disappeared with a puff of digital smoke.

                            "How do we feel about this one, ladies?" Leonardo asked, scoring the performance with a nine.

                            Emma held up a card with an eight on it. "Very pretty. I was originally going to give this performance a seven, but she stuck to a consistent theme, so I'll throw in a bonus point."

                            "I could list a number of problems with that performance, from the time it took to the mismatch of colors. Green does not flow well into pink, I'm afraid." Despite the problems she had with it, Rosemary scored it with a six.

                            With Senna off of the stage, Kimberly patted her Blastoise on the back and they both walked to the center of the stage. She calmly reminded herself that this was the final performance of the first round and her last chance to earn a decisive victory. She was nervous about what her and Juliano were about to do, however.

                            "And here is Kimberly's final performance of the match, accompanied yet again by her Blastoise. She's one of the two contestants tonight who does not have three Pokémon of her own, so let's see if she can pull anything interesting out of her sleeve."

                            "This is it, Juliano. Let's win this. How about we show them your impressive strength?"

                            Juliano nodded as she motioned for him to lower his arms. He cupped his stubby, clawed hands together and allowed her to step into them. With her footing secure, he effortlessly lifted her into the air above his head.

                            "Now for a flip!" she called out.

                            Expecting to see Kimberly do the flip herself, everyone in the auditorium was surprised to see something different; with a hefty toss, Kimberly went soaring into the air and Juliano himself performed not just one, but a double back flip. With an earthshaking thud, he landed on his feet perfectly and held his arms outward. He looked up for a brief moment to find his master and caught her before she fell to the floor. He let her down and joined her in extending their arms outward as the crowd began to cheer.

                            "Did I just see that?" Emma asked. "Blastoise is one of the least dexterous Pokémon, I never imagined I'd see one flawlessly perform a double back flip like that. You can tell that a lot of time was spent practicing this simple routine." She gave the performance a score of eight.

                            "I'm really appreciating this down to earth style of hers," Rosemary said. "Sometimes simplicity is all that is needed in situations like these, especially if they're jazzed up as we saw with Juliano's back flips." She ended her analysis with a score of nine!

                            Leonardo, on the other hand, wasn't as impressed. "Simple is a good way to describe it, yes. I'm afraid that simple doesn't work these days, Rosemary. We haven't been in the 1900s for a very long time." he said. He half-heartedly raised a card with the number four on it.

                            "To each their own," Rosemary responded. "Well, with their performances complete, let's join the contestants on the stage, shall we?"

                            The three judges, the two contestants and their Pokémon all converged at the center of the stage, taking the time to wait for the sluggish Tirtouga to flop over to them.

                            Emma stepped forward. "There you have it, folks, the first match up of the night! Let's hear it for our two contestants, Kimberly Fairbrooke and Senna Krostovj!"

                            The crowd began cheering, with large sections of the audience offering a standing ovation to the two competitors.

                            "Those who are joining us on our televised broadcast already know the scores we've been giving out, but let's recap for those of us here at the Cèilidh Gailearaidh. Can we have the screen display the scores, please?" A massive screen at the back of the stage turned on and showed the portraits of both Kimberly and Senna on opposite sides. "We'll start with the scores in the order of the performances."

                            Rosemary stepped forward and began with the scoring. "Ms. Krostovj, for your Snowbelle's performance, your scores were 6, 8 and 5. All together, they average out to 6.3." She turned to Kimberly next. "And you, Ms. Fairbrooke, the scoring for your Blastoise's performance was a solid 7 across the board."

                            Kimberly simply nodded at the numbers, while Senna crossed her arms and shifted her weight back onto her left leg, as if the judgement had annoyed her.

                            Leonardo offered some analysis next. "For the second part of this round, Senna, your Tortouga scored 5, 4 and 7, which averages to 5.3"

                            Senna looked off to the side in annoyance, but she held her tongue.

                            "And you, Kimberly, Your Skitty's scores were 9, 8 and 5, an average of 7.3."

                            A smile appeared on her face, but she tried to subdue it as much as she could for fear of being rude to her competitor. Instead, she simply nodded once again. "Understood."

                            Emma stepped up for the last of the scores. "Your final score, Senna, following your Lapras' performance, was a 6.3, the average of 7, 7 and 8. You really shined with that final performance." She motioned towards Kimberly. "Kimberly, your Blastoise earned a score of 7.6, averaging individual scores of 8, 6 and 9."

                            Rosemary offered some final commentary. "We determine the winner by averaging the scores of the three rounds together. When all is said and done, Senna's average was a 6.3. A solid performance, but it was dragged down by the improvised display your Tirtouga gave us."

                            "Perhaps Rakushka and I should have stuck to plan," Senna responded. She had already done the math in her head and knew what was coming next.

                            "Kimberly's final score was 7.3, which makes her the winner of this round! Congratulations, Kimberly, you're moving on!"

                            Kimberly tried to contain her excitement as best as she could, adhering to the tenets of sportsmanship. "Thank you! Thank you... I... I don't know what to say!"

                            "You don't need to say anything, if you don't want to."

                            She turned to Senna and offered to shake her hand. "It was fun competing against you! I was worried for a bit that I might lose, you're really good at this!"

                            Senna shook her hand, as well as her head. "Not good enough. But this is learning process. I will be ready next time. I wish you best of luck."

                            "That's it for our first match! Up next, we have Hoster Burnett and Chelsea Griffith competing against each other, so stay tuned! We'll be right back after a word from our sponsors!"

                            - - - - -

                            Kimberly was seated in her wardrobe room, watching the beginning of the next match up of the night, Hoster vs. Chelsea. She clutched a sleeping and purring Telandra in her arms as an effort to keep herself calm; she was visibly shaking, both from the excitement of moving onto the next round and the nervousness of knowing she'd have to step out onto the stage again. "We did well, Tela..." she said. "I can only hope that the next round goes as smoothly."

                            There was a knock at the door.

                            "You may enter!" she said.

                            The door swung open and Andrea stepped in. She extended her arms out in excitement. "Hey! Congratulations for making it to the second round!"

                            "Thank you, friend!" she said. "Thank you for stopping by again... This would be a boring hour and a half without someone to chat with."

                            Andrea pulled up a chair next to her and sat down. As she began to pet the resting Telandra, she asked, "Hour and a half?"

                            "The second round doesn't begin until after 10 PM," she started.

                            Her attention was quickly grabbed by what appeared on the TV screen; Chelsea was just beginning her performance, accompanied by a Machoke seated on a chair in the center of the stage. As the camera focused on the Machoke, Chelsea entered from the left side of the screen and began to sensually rub her Machoke's shoulders. Within seconds, she was grinding up against him and rubbing all over his lap. Before long, the broadcast cut towards a view of the judges, and all three of them had looks of horror on their faces. A few seconds later, the screen went blank and 'WE'LL BE RIGHT BACK!' appeared on the screen.

                            She quivered at the sight. "By the gods, what is that lady doing?! Is this contest a joke to her?!"

                            Kimberly's horror was contrasted with Andrea's amusement. "Ha! That's one way to advertise what you do for a living!"

                            "That's not funny! Coordinators have been struggling for decades to achieve mainstream recognition, and she may have just undone so much of the progress our predecessors made..."

                            Andrea could feel that her choice of words was genuinely hurtful and offered her sincere apologies. "I'm sorry, I really shouldn't laugh... This is obviously important to you, otherwise you wouldn't be doing it. And you're doing a good job at it, too!"

                            "Really?"

                            "Well... I think, at least. I don't know anything about these contests but the crowd loved you!"

                            "What do you think? Are you enjoying it?"

                            "Yeah, I am! I was skeptical, but I'm glad I came tonight... it's been a nice escape from what's been going on."

                            She motioned towards the TV, which was still displaying an intermission. "Hopefully we can continue to enjoy the show... when it returns."
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                              #15    
                            Old January 25th, 2017 (1:56 PM). Edited March 1st, 2017 by Eliza Prescott.
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                            Eliza Prescott Eliza Prescott is offline
                            Misfit Angel
                               
                              Join Date: Nov 2016
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                              Land of the Roses
                              Chapter 11: A Charitable Duel



                              "Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen, to the 25th Majesty of Aughrim coordination contest! If you are just joining us, we've moved onto the second round of competitions! The first round was certainly something, full of breath taking performances... in one way or another!" Emma announced.

                              "Yes, I'm still trying to scrub my mind of the filth that I saw during the match between Mr. Burnett and Ms. Griffith." Rosemary commented.

                              "Yes, for those of you joining us via our televised broadcast, Chelsea broke the rules of the contest and was disqualified for her appalling display. We apologize to those who were subjected to that!" Emma explained.

                              "Indeed. As a result, Mr. Burnett has been pushed into the second round. Joining him in the second round is Kimberly Fairbrooke, his upcoming opponent. On the other end of the bracket, we have Samantha Ashwoode and Jean-Luc De la Rivière, both of whom have passed into the second round with decisive victories." Rosemary said.

                              Emma nodded. "Quite a stunning performance out of Jean-Luc, right? I'd argue that he was the star of each of his performances, more so than his Pokémon! I've never seen the human body bend and move like that!"

                              "Not surprising, considering his history as a circus performer. While Mr. De la Rivière broke from coordinator tradition by being the main attraction of his routine tonight, he hasn't broken any rules. Let's see if his strategy continues to pay off here in the second round."

                              "I quite liked Samantha's performance myself," Leonardo said. "While the rest of our contestants seemed more comfortable sticking to distinct themes, Samantha was much more varied in her approach. I'll be looking forward to seeing more from her."

                              "It's shaping up to be a great night here at the Cèilidh Gailearaidh! The next match between Kimberly Fairbrooke and Hoster Burnett is set to begin, let's watch."

                              The two competitors were stood in the center of the stage. After a quick wave from the both of them to the cheering crowd, Kimberly offered her hand towards Hoster for a friendly shake. "Good luck, Mr. Burnett."

                              Rather than shake her hand, he grabbed it and raised it, planting a kiss on the back of it.

                              The surprising gesture caught her off guard and her cheeks glowed red with nervousness. "Oh my! Such a gentleman!"

                              He smiled. "Best of luck to you as well, Kimberly."

                              The two went their separate ways, with Kimberly returning to the left side of the stage and Hoster adjourning to the right. The crowd started to cheer once more as a spotlight focused on Kimberly.

                              "Oh! I'm up first this time?" she asked herself. With her Master Ball in hand, she took a few steps onto the stage and tossed it forward. A shower of sparkling bubbles preceded the appearance of Juliano the Blastoise, who dropped down onto the stage next to her.

                              "Here's Kimberly's Blastoise once again, let's see what she does with him."

                              She rested her hand on his shell and spoke softly, "The crowd loved our acrobatics routine, should we give them more?"

                              After a second of thought, Juliano nodded.

                              "Very well!" she said with joy. "Get the crowd started with our fourth set, I'll join you momentarily."

                              Juliano dropped to all fours and readied himself for a running start. With an impressive burst of speed, he blitzed across the stage and leapt into the air, followed up by an impressive array of acrobatic feats; he tumbled to the ground with a somersault, smoothly transitioned into a cartwheel, then proceeded with a springing front flip which he landed perfectly.

                              "Holy... That's quite an entrance! I had no idea that a Blastoise was capable of such moves!"

                              With Juliano in position, Kimberly undid the ribbon in the center of her dress and allowed the bottom to flow freely and loosely. She took her own running start and performed a similar acrobatic routine filled with cartwheels, flips, twirls and spins, almost as if she were a professional at it. Her final jump ended with her landing in the outstretched arms of her Blastoise. The crowd cheered!

                              "Good execution, but it's more of the same... I do hope that Ms. Fairbrooke realizes that coordination is more about variety than being a one trick pony." Rosemary commented. A card with the number five on it was held above her head.

                              "Agreed, what a waste of my time," Leonardo added, scoring the performance with a lowly two.

                              Emma gave the performance a six. "Easy there, Leo. Remember, this is the beginner's league. Our contestants might not be the most comfortable with a wide array of routines yet."

                              "Surely she has more than three tricks up her sleeve. Why else would she be here?" he asked.

                              As Kimberly and Juliano returned to their side of the stage, she caught a glimpse of the judges' scores in the corner of her eye. "That... that's a worrying score..." she muttered to herself.

                              "Up next is Hoster's first performance of the night. For this demonstration, Hoster has requested the use of props, and here you can see the stage crew setting them up."

                              A team of men and women in black clothing descended on the stage. Split into teams of two, the twelve member crew carried with them bales of hay decorated with archery targets. When the six targets were in place across various points of the stage, they returned backstage and appeared with even more targets. By the time they were finished, a total of eighteen targets sat on the floor or hung from cables above the stage.

                              Hoster readjusted his belt as he approached from his side of the stage. He pulled a standard red and white Pokéball from his pocket, tossed it toward the center and watched as it exploded with a cloud of windswept sand. A short tan and brown creature no taller than his hips appeared. Large black eyes bugged out of its tiny head and dozens upon dozens of long, pointed quills jutted out of its back. Two wickedly curved talons hung from the end of each of its arms, while equally long but broader and flatter claws sprouted from the end of its feet.

                              "A Sandslash? Archery targets? We're in for a show, ladies and gentlemen!"

                              "Show them your battle capabilities, Sandslash!" Hoster ordered. "Spike Cannon!"

                              It was a simple command, but one that the Sandslash carried out with ruthless efficiency; with a twirl, he let loose a barrage of eighteen spiked quills, each cutting through the air faster than a speeding bullet. Each of the quills impacted the center of a target with unerring accuracy, much to the delight of the crowd.

                              "Mother of--"

                              Before the judge could finish with their commentary, he spun around rapidly once again and unleashed another salvo of quills. Just as before, all eighteen flew through the air with nearly perfect accuracy, with a large amount of the previously shot quills being split down the center by the new arrivals. The crowd began to roar! He let loose another barrage, but the accuracy wasn't nearly as perfect this time; it may have been the noise of the crowd, the fact that he was getting dizzy or some other factor, but only fifteen of the quills hit a target this time, with just four landing in the center yet again.

                              "That's some incredibly accurate shooting! And the speed... It's downright terrifying! I would not want to get on Hoster's bad side..." Emma commented. She gave the performance a high mark of eight.

                              "Indeed, very, very impressive. Worryingly impressive." Leonardo added. He raised the night's first score of ten above his head.

                              "I don't think this country has seen accuracy like that since the longbow fell out of favor nearly a century and a half ago," Rosemary added with a score of nine.

                              As the stage crew began to haul the pierced targets away, Kimberly and Juliano discussed their next routine. "We should figure something else out... I'm not sure if another bubble display will suffice. Would you agree?"

                              Juliano nodded.

                              "What to do, then..." she wondered. "There are a few other things we've been working on... would you feel comfortable with the Frost Shell display?"

                              He shook his head.

                              "Hmm, yes, that is a bit complicated... We can't do the rock breaking routine, as we haven't arranged for it ahead of time..." She groaned with worry as she struggled to come up with a display they'd both be confident in. "How about some simple mimicry?"

                              Juliano's head tilted to the side as his eyes wandered in thought. He nodded.

                              "Great! Let's do this, then!"

                              As the two approached the center of the stage together, Emma commented, "Looks like Kimberly is calling on her Blastoise again. I wonder what's in store for us this time?"

                              "If we get more bubbles, I'm going--"

                              "Quiet, Leo, they're about to begin!"

                              The two stood in the center of the stage and faced each other. She raised her left hand, a gesture that he mirrored without delay. She lowered her hand and stomped her right leg, which he echoed flawlessly. A clap was met with a clap, twirls were met with twirls and arms outstretched were met with arms outstretched, the two performing within an instant of each other.

                              "Ah, mimicry! This is a very tough routine to master, and it's off to a good start." Rosemary commented.

                              The two turned away from each other. Once again, she raised her left hand, a motion met without delay or variance. However, while she raised her left hand next, he responded by waving his hands side to side. Another mismatched move followed; Kimberly stomped with her right leg, while Juliano stomped with his left. The timing between their gestures was slowly growing.

                              "Oh dear, this is falling apart..."

                              The two twirled in unison. She followed up with a second twirl, but he jumped and clapped instead.

                              "Juliano!" she whispered loudly. "I think we should cut this short, we're not doing this right. In three seconds, let's turn to the crowd and finish, just like we practiced."

                              After their three seconds were up, they both turned to the crowd and blew a kiss. There was a mixed reaction from the crowd, with only small pockets of it clapping while the rest sat in silence or spoke softly amongst themselves.

                              "That was... it was okay, but more work definitely needs to be done to smooth out their interactions and their timing, especially once they turn away from each other." Rosemary said. She gave the performance a score of six. "However, you can tell that these two have very strong chemistry with each other if you look at how they started that performance."

                              "I don't know if it's ignorance on my part on how difficult mimicry can be, but I must admit, I expected better execution," Emma said. She held a card with the number five on it above her head.

                              Leonardo held a score of three up. "At least she was original this time, even if it was poorly done."

                              With the stage clear, Hoster started his journey to the center with another Pokéball in his hands. With a toss, the Pokéball exploded with a bright flash of light, and once again, a swirling cloud of sand accompanied the appearance of a long, serpentine beast. The creature's body was tan in color and stretched to a length of nearly seven feet. The underbelly of the snake was bright white in color and was segmented by thin brown stripes every few inches. Near its head was a diamond-shaped hood, inside of which were tribal markings that resembled a skull.

                              "That's a beautiful Arbok, I've never seen one like it before."

                              With a simple gesture of his arm, Hoster's Arbok started its display. The tip of its rattling tail emitted a soft, icy white glow as a thick haze of obscuring fog formed around it. The crowd began to wonder whether anything would happen at all as the Arbok disappeared within the cloud, stood completely still in statuesque silence.

                              Then, a bright orange light and the hissing of flames flashed through the fog. Shortly after, the buzzing of high electricity filled the auditorium as a bright yellow light followed. A bright white light was next, and the front row of the crowd was overcome by a blast of frigid wind. The cloud quickly faded and the Arbok reappeared in the same statue-like pose.

                              "Ooof! Chilly!" Emma commented. She gave the performance a score of seven.

                              "Excellent," was the only thing Leonardo said, giving a similar score of seven.

                              Rosemary nodded and held up a card with the number eight on it. "Hoster is very comfortable with mixing his moves up into unique displays. He's doing very well tonight."

                              The Arbok bowed its hooded head before slithering off towards Hoster's side, leaving the stage clear for Kimberly's final performance of the round.

                              Behind the curtains, Kimberly knelt down beside Telandra. "This doesn't look good, Tela... But it's possible we can still win if we perform strongly and our opponent drops the ball. We can't give up yet."

                              "Murrrr?" Telandra purred.

                              "The illusion technique that aunt Nicole taught you about, back when you were just a kitten... Do you think you can do that?"

                              Telandra forcefully nodded, then took her position in the center of the stage; a soft wind blew around her as she sat down and closed her eyes. Her silky fur was pushed to and fro by the wind as a pallid white glow began to form around her.

                              Emma leaned forward on the judging table. "Now what do we have here..."

                              The light eventually became bright enough to completely shroud her from view and after a few seconds, two bright white blurs of light shot outward. The light of these blurs quickly faded into nothingness, and before long, the light around Telandra faded as well. Instead of standing tall, she had collapsed to the floor, struggling to catch her breath.

                              Kimberly gasped in fright. "Telandra!" she called out as she rushed out onto the stage. She scooped the Skitty up into her arms and rocked her back and forth in a gentle manner. "Telandra? Are you okay?"

                              Telandra meowed weakly.

                              "I shouldn't have, I..." She stood back up and looked at the crowd for a brief moment before silently walking off towards her side of the stage.

                              "That's not good..." Emma commented. "Perhaps what they were going to do was simply too much for the Skitty to handle."

                              "Unfortunately, it looks as if this performance is over before it began. According to the rules, Ms. Fairbrooke receives no points. Considering the scores from her Blastoise's other performances, this round has easily been decided."

                              "That doesn't mean we're going to deprive you of Hoster's final performance, though! Let's watch."

                              A Pokéball soared onto the stage from behind the curtains and popped open with a burst of flames when it hit the floor. A small and fuzzy bat-like creature with bright orange fur flew out of the flames, leaving behind a trail of ethereal embers with each flap of its relatively large wings. Thin, floppy ears, much like those of a rabbit's, bounced around at every change in direction it made.

                              "Hmm... never seen that one before. Hoster's registration lists this as a Vampyre. Must be native to his homeland."

                              "Vampyre, write us a message to show our appreciation for those who've come to see us tonight."

                              The Vampyre swooped to the left side of the stage, then zoomed across towards the right with an incredible burst of speed. A long, flickering trail of flames lingered in its wake. It circled around for another pass, leaving a much shorter line behind, and with a twirl, it added a vertical line of flames just below it.

                              "T..." Emma started. "H... A... N... Thank... Thank what? I like where this is going!" The first few letters the Vampyre had written faded by the time it started on the next one. "Y... O... U... And an exclamation point to round it off! Isn't that adorable?"

                              "It is!" Rosemary added, with a score of nine. "I've seen this trick many times before over the years, and contestants usually use it to taunt their opponents. I'm glad that Mr. Burnett has taken the high road on this one."

                              "Fantastic display!" Leonardo added. He held up a card with the number nine on it as well. "The thing that impresses me the most is how long the letters lingered in the air. I've tried this myself many times and I could never quite master it... Not to say that Hoster has, of course."

                              "Agreed," Emma responded, giving the performance a score of eight. "That's it, the last performance of this match up! Let's get up on stage with our contestants and break down the final scores."

                              The three judges left the comfort of their table and approached the center of the stage. Hoster walked forward, flanked on both sides by his Sandslash and his Arbok, while his Vampyre was perched on his shoulder like a parrot. Kimberly was slower in her approach, taking care not to jostle the exhausted Skitty in her arms.

                              "And there it is, ladies and gentleman, the conclusion of the match between Kimberly Fairbrooke and Hoster Burnett!" Emma announced. She walked up to Kimberly and said, "Before I lay out the scores, I want to check in on Kimberly's Skitty. She took quite a tumble at the end there. How is she?"

                              Kimberly looked down at Telandra with a loving smile on her face. "I shouldn't have pushed her to try that... The trick she tried to perform always took so much out of her when we practiced it, and that was after a long night's rest. To throw in another demanding routine before that..." she said as she shook her head. "Serenity willing, she just needs some rest."

                              Emma gently rubbed Telandra's head. "Get well soon, you cutie!" She joined the other two judges once again and motioned towards the screen at the back. "Now, onto the scores!"

                              The screen at the back of the stage turned on; on the left hand side was Kimberly's portrait, followed by Hoster's on the right. Scores for the first pairing were already displayed and between the two, there was a clearly defined winner.

                              Emma began to break down the numbers that appeared on the screen. "The first match was quite rough on you Kimberly, even if your performance was superbly executed. You were scored a 6, a 2 and a 5, which averages out to a 4.3." She turned to Hoster and explained his scores next. "For you, Hoster, 8, 9 and the night's first 10, which averages to 9. You and your Sandslash have certainly earned it, well done!"

                              Hoster nodded with a smile on his face.

                              Rosemary stepped up next as the scores for the second match were displayed. "The second match was between Ms. Fairbrooke's Blastoise and Mr. Burnett's Arbok. Once again, Ms. Fairbrooke struggled to earn high marks and achieved scores of 6, 3 and 5, averaging to 4.6. Meanwhile, Mr. Burnett's Arbok gave us a strong performance and earned 7, 7 and 8, for a combined average of 7.3."

                              The final numbers appeared on the screen; Kimberly felt a weight drop through her body as she saw the large zero on the screen, even if it were justified. She started to feel a little bit dizzy.

                              "Lastly, the final match," Leonardo started. "With the failure to put on a third performance, Kimberly was given zeroes across the board, and because of it, her final score averaged out to just 2.9, a record low in the Majesty of Aughrim's twelve year history. I'm not sure she had any business being here tonight."

                              Kimberly's throat began to close up as the words cut through her deeply. "How dare he?!" she thought. She began to quiver, and before her emotions could get the better of her, she stormed off of the stage towards the left curtains.

                              Juliano took a menacing step towards Leonardo and glared a hole into him before rushing off to join her.

                              "Leo! What's the matter with you!? It must feel bad enough, you don't have to ridicule her!"

                              "How else will she improve?" he asked. "Hoster, on the other hand, had strong scores in the final match. His Vampyre performed admirably and earned scores of 9, 8 and 9. His final score for the entire round is 8.3, and he moves on with a decisive victory! Let's hear it for him!"

                              As the crowd cheered, Hoster watched Kimberly push her way through the stage crew and leave the auditorium in a hurry. He shook his head and waited for the crowd to die down a bit before saying, "I don't think that was called for, Mr. Bertucci. Not only have you made my own victory feel hollow, you may have just crushed that girl's dreams. I hope you're happy." He too walked off the stage, leaving the three judges alone.

                              Emma tried her best to maintain the cheerful attitude she'd presented all night. "Uhh... Right! We're going to have a quick commercial break, followed by the anticipated match between Jean-Luc De la Rivière and Samantha Ashwoode. See you on the other side!

                              - - - - -

                              Andrea took a deep breath and held it in for a few seconds before letting it go. "Welp... here goes..." she said as she knocked on the door. There was no response. "Are you in there, Kim?"

                              After a few more seconds of silence, a sad sounding voice came from within. "Come in."

                              Andrea opened the door and stepped into the room. The first thing she noticed was the pastel green dress that Kimberly had worn was carelessly tossed to the floor and she was back in the clothing she wore earlier in the day. The TV that usually showed a live feed of the contest had been turned off. "I'm not sure how to... how to approach this, but, umm..."

                              Kimberly sighed and turned to face her. Several dark streaks of what was once her delicately applied eyeshadow ran down her cheeks. "You don't have to say anything..."

                              "I don't?" she asked.

                              "It's obvious, isn't it?" she said as she turned around again. She began to gather up her makeup supplies. "I'm terrible at this! I... I thought... that perhaps I had found something I could be good at. I was wrong."

                              "No, come on, don't say that," she replied in a genuine attempt to console Kimberly. "You did great, the crowd loved you!"

                              "But..."

                              "You got a few low scores, yes, but so what? This is--"

                              "A few? You heard that man, I smashed the record! I'll be remembered for years as a joke!" she shouted. "...sorry, I shouldn't have yelled at you. I'm just... This was a dream that I was looking forward to, and that man..."

                              "Screw that guy, he doesn't matter. I don't think his head could be buried any further up his own ass. You heard how he was treating the other contestants and comparing himself to them, he didn't just single you out." she reminded her. "If it means anything at all, I think you did a good job. I enjoyed your performances, regardless of whether they worked or not."

                              Kimberly shrugged off her words and shook her head. "I thought I was ready, but I clearly wasn't."

                              "Maybe you weren't, but... don't you also show a bit of promise?" she asked. "That Kanestka girl, what was her name... Senna! You wiped the floor with her."

                              "I don't think that's accurate... What are you trying to say?"

                              "When she was introducing herself, she said she was a league champion in her homeland, right?"

                              Kimberly nodded.

                              "That would mean she has a lot of experience, right?"

                              She nodded again.

                              "I don't know a lot about being a Pokémon trainer or being a coordinator or any of that stuff, but you still beat her. That has to mean something."

                              With another sigh, Kimberly closed her makeup kit and returned it to her backpack. All she had the strength to offer in response was a half-hearted "Perhaps."

                              "You've stumbled once. Don't let this be the only time."

                              "I'm sorry, friend, I really wish I were in better spirits... Perhaps I'd be more enthused by what you're saying, but..." Kimberly groaned as she packed up the rest of her belongings. "Did you want to watch the rest of the contest?"

                              She rolled up her sleeve and checked the time on her R-Kit: 10:50 PM. "I might like to, but I'd like to get to bed before midnight, too... I still have to find a hotel to stay at as well, that could take some time..."

                              "Yes... going to bed sounds pretty good right about now..."

                              She placed her hand on Kimberly's shoulder. "You'll get through this."

                              "I suppose you're right..."

                              She offered her hand forward. "Anyways, it was nice meeting you! Best of luck in the future! You can do it."

                              "Good luck to you, too. I hope you find your business partner."

                              She nodded. "Good night."
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                                #16    
                              Old February 4th, 2017 (6:22 PM). Edited March 1st, 2017 by Eliza Prescott.
                              Eliza Prescott's Avatar
                              Eliza Prescott Eliza Prescott is offline
                              Misfit Angel
                                 
                                Join Date: Nov 2016
                                Location: Upstate New York
                                Gender: Female
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                                Land of the Roses
                                Interlude 2: Moving On



                                "Uuuuuuuugh~" Andrea let out a long and contented groan as she stretched and opened her eyes. "My god... it's been so long since I slept on a nice bed..." she thought to herself.

                                She pushed the covers off of her and rolled out of bed. Immediately drawn to the light bleeding through the curtains, she unraveled them to a wonderful view of the morning ocean. The majesty was spoiled a bit; a single puffy cloud acted as a blemish upon an otherwise picture perfect, clear blue sky. An airplane drifted just a few hundred feet above the ocean, making its final adjustments as it approached the airport on the northern edge of the city. It all combined to form a relaxing atmosphere and it put her at ease.

                                She wandered back to her bed and unlatched her empty water bottle from her backpack, then retreated to the bathroom to fill it up at the sink. With her bottle filled, she returned to the bed and turned the TV on. As she dug through her backpack to retrieve a small bag of trail mix, a twenty four hour news broadcast appeared on the TV. The soothing atmosphere of the morning was shattered almost instantly; the main headline emblazoned across the bottom of the screen grabbed her attention: 'ACCOMPLISHED POKÉMON CHAMPION MISSING: FOUL PLAY SUSPECTED'. She grabbed the remote again and turned the volume up.

                                "...many details yet, but local police have not ruled out the possibility of foul play," a reporter said.

                                "Have they given any details as to why this may be treated as a kidnapping?" the news anchor asked.

                                "The police have told me that several of Ms. Dahl's personal effects were discovered abandoned at a convenience store just a few blocks from the Colwyn International Airport, including the likes of her purse, her identification, her collection of Pokéballs and a large amount of silver and bronze coins. The fact that nothing appears to be missing is leading investigators to believe this was a kidnapping rather than a robbery gone bad."

                                As the anchor and the reporter continued their commentary, the weight of what was happening begun to sink in. "Oh... that's not good..." she muttered.

                                "And what about the rumors going around that Team Rocket may be involved in her disappearance?" the anchor asked. "Our viewers may remember that, last year, her heroic actions put an end to one of the largest trafficking rings in history, a ring that was spearheaded by Team Rocket. Is it possible that this is a form of payback?"

                                "There's no evidence of that so far. The fact that her Pokémon were left behind, Pokémon that she used to dismantle the trafficking ring, has led the police commissioner to surmise that they may not even be involved, but it's still too early to have any hard facts."

                                Andrea leaned back onto the bed in disbelief. "This is really happening, isn't it..." Thoughts rushed like a river in her mind; if it were foul play, who would want to harm her? She'd made a number of enemies over the years, from rivals to criminal organizations, but who would really go out of their way to harm her? Worse yet, why now? She felt bad for thinking it, but she vocalized it anyway, "At least I wasn't with her, I guess..."

                                The more she thought, the more she reasoned that it'd be wise to get in touch with Dr. Reiland. She pulled her phone out of her purse and turned it on; there was a single unread text message waiting for her.

                                'Fr: Rebecca Reiland, 6:26 AM
                                'Police commissioner got back to me about Ms. Dahl, it doesn't look good. He said more details are coming soon. Message me back when you get the chance.'


                                She began to type out her response:

                                'yeah just saw the news. terrible! what should i do?'

                                She hit send, set the phone down, sighed, then buried her face in her hands and rubbed away. "I was actually looking forward to this assignment... now I can't do it..."

                                Several moments passed by in relative silence as she thought about the situation some more. She was snapped back into reality when her phone started to ring. The noise was incredible and felt like the loudest thing she'd ever heard. She looked down at her phone as the screen lit up: 'Incoming call from Kimberly Fairbrooke'.

                                "Wait... What? How the hell did she get my number..." she asked. The thought of ignoring the call crossed her mind, but curiosity about how her new friend was feeling got the better of her. Moreover, she needed a distraction. She pressed the answer button. "Hello?"

                                "Good morning, Andrea!" Kimberly's voice responded. "How are you?"

                                "I'm okay... how about you? Feeling any better?"

                                "A little... I took quite a tumble last night, it'll take some time before I'm on my feet again."

                                "You were really sure of yourself, weren't you?"

                                "Like you wouldn't believe..." she said, starting to trail off. "I was curious if you'd be interested in joining me for breakfast? I'm leaving the city today, this might be our last opportunity to see each other..."

                                "Umm..." she started. Something about the words that Kimberly chose made the question feel incredibly awkward to her and almost prompted her to say no. But the tone with which she spoke also sounded to her like a plea for the comforting presence of a friend. "Sure, why not? Did you have anywhere specific in mind?"

                                "Oh! I half expected you to say no... Umm... You said you've lived in this city, perhaps you have a recommendation?"

                                "Anywhere but the Crimson Crawdaunt is fine by me. Got some bad blood there with one of the other waitresses." she started with a laugh. "Are you a big fan of noodles? Rice? We could visit The Golden Lantern."

                                There was an audible gasp from Kimberly's side of the line. "The Golden Lantern? I like the sound of that name, let's check it out!"

                                "Heh, you make it too easy. I have a friend who lives here and he always wanted to go out to restaurants, but it takes him so long to figure out where to go that we never actually go!" she laughed. "It's on Zhuan Street, near the north end of Little Shinikara."

                                "Zhuan... Little Shinikara... Understood, I'll see you there!"

                                She hung up and tossed her phone onto the bed with a sigh again. "She must have a very good memory if she figured out my number..."

                                - - - - -

                                "Welcome to the Golden Lantern! Table for one?" A sharply dressed young lady of Shinikari descent asked.

                                "I'm meeting someone, actually. Is someone named Kimberly here yet?" Andrea replied.

                                The hostess looked at the registry on the podium in front of her. "We have a Kimberly Fairbrooke and a Kimberly Kensington. Which are you looking for?"

                                "Fairbrooke."

                                With a courteous nod, the hostess beckoned for Andrea to follow. "Very well. Follow me."

                                Kimberly was seated at a table far in the back of the restaurant. In front of her was a notebook, covered from top to bottom in words, doodles and thoughts. From her vantage point, Andrea couldn't decipher the exact meaning of the ink on the page, but the drawings painted the picture of a coordinator hard at work, designing a new routine.

                                What caught Andrea's attention the most, however, was how stunning Kimberly looked compared to the previous night. While she herself had just rolled out of bed and walked to the restaurant with little preparation, Kimberly was the opposite; her hair was neatly combed in some places and tightly braided in others, her eyelashes were well manicured, her eyeliner was broad and masterfully applied and her lips were covered in a thin layer of red gloss. She looked as if she had just returned from a professional makeup artist.

                                Kimberly broke her attention away from her notebook and looked up. A warm smile appeared on her face. "Andrea! So good to see you!" she said. "It means so much that you came."

                                Andrea pulled out the chair across the table. "Does it? Or are you just being polite?" she asked.

                                "Why not both?" she asked.

                                The hostess dropped two menus onto the table and pulled out a small notepad. "Would you like to order now, or do you need a moment?"

                                "I'll look over the menu first, thank you," Kimberly said.

                                "Very well, can I start you off with some drinks?"

                                "I'll have some pink lotus tea," Andrea answered.

                                "And a glass of water for me, please," Kimberly added.

                                "Pink lotus tea and water..." the hostess said as she wrote down the requests. "I'll be right back with them."

                                As Kimberly began to browse the menu, Andrea felt almost captivated by her appearance. She cautiously approached the subject. "Couldn't help but notice, but... I thought you said you were bad at this makeup business." she said.

                                "Hmm?"

                                "Don't take this the wrong way, but you look incredible! It's barely 8 AM and you look like you've had a full crew of professionals working on you for hours."

                                Kimberly looked up for a brief moment, offered a smile, then returned to the menu. "Oh! Thank you... Maybe I am better at it than I thought. When I'm nervous, I lose faith in myself, I suppose. Last night was... well, it was a nerve wracking disaster."

                                "Why doll yourself up so much?" she curiously asked. "It's not like you have any important meetings to attend or anyone to impress."

                                "To hide my imperfections, of which there are many. I'm pretty sure I didn't do myself any favors by going out on stage looking as badly as I did."

                                "Ah," she awkwardly offered. She wanted to disagree with the statement, but didn't feel like getting into an argument so early in the day over something that amounted to nothing. However, she had many thoughts about what her friend just said. "So she's one of those types, huh? Already better looking than most of us combined, yet it's still not enough for her..."

                                Much to Andrea's relief, the hostess returned with a tall glass of water in one hand and a mug of tea in the other and placed them on the table, then pulled her notepad out again. "Ready to order yet?"

                                "Could I get the bacon salad wrap with brown rice?" she asked.

                                "Very well," the hostess said as she wrote down the order in her notepad. She looked at Kimberly next. "And for you?"

                                Kimberly folded her hands on the table and said, "I would like the veggie dumplings over white rice with some mango sauce on the side, please."

                                "I'll be right back with your orders, ladies!" the hostess said before returning to the kitchen.

                                Kimberly began to write some more words in her notebook. "So... Has your partner arrived yet?"

                                She shook her head and buried her gaze in her tea. After a brief moment of silence, all she could say was, "No."

                                Kimberly was concerned about the melancholy tone with which she spoke. "Is there trouble?"

                                "I'm hoping it's nothing, but... They found her belongings abandoned in a convenience store on the north end of the city, just outside of the airport. Money, Pokéballs, ID... It's like she just disappeared."

                                "Oh dear! Do they have any clues as to where she may have gone, or if anyone was responsible?"

                                She shrugged. "I don't know. They said it looks like another kidnapping, but they don't have any idea of who did it."

                                "That's terrible! I hope she's safe."

                                "Yeah... Hard to believe, isn't it? You'd think a three-time league champion would command some powerful Pokémon, right? And she couldn't defend herself? That's a scary thought."

                                "Maybe they caught her unawares? She might not have had the opportunity to call on a protector."

                                "Surely she put up a struggle, then? Wouldn't the store employees have noticed something? Something's definitely fishy."

                                Kimberly shrugged "I suppose the only thing you can do is wait until more details are released."

                                "Well, in any event, she's missing, and I'm stuck here waiting to hear from my boss about what to do. Hooray..." She took a big gulp from her tea and was ready to move onto a lighter subject. "What's in store for you, now? Are you still going to try this coordination stuff?"

                                "I'm not sure... I have to think it over for a bit. There's a small competition happening in Rustlode Bluffs that I was thinking of attending. If I don't do well at that, perhaps it's time to find something else to do with my life... yet again." she said, then let out a light chuckle. "Heh... Never thought I'd be back there..."

                                She tilted her head inquisitively. "You got some history with that city?"

                                "Not the city itself, but the minor competitions. I took part in one just before I joined my mother for her work in Glastonfell and I crushed my competition, but that was five months ago. Perhaps I've gotten rusty in that time."

                                She snickered.

                                Kimberly was mystified. "What? Did I say something funny?"

                                "You've gotten rusty, so you're visiting Rustlode Bluffs?"

                                "Oh!" Kimberly said before bursting into a fit of laughter. "Oh dear... that was dreadful!"

                                "Sorry, continue."

                                "Umm... yes, that's my plan. I'm not sure what else there is to say."

                                Andrea brought the map function up on her R-Kit. "Where is Rustlode, anyways? I know it's on the southern coast..." After finding the location of Rustlode Bluffs on the map, she asked it to plot a route for her. To her surprise, the map plotted a route directly through Doranshire.


                                "Oh, are you passing through Doranshire, then?" she asked.

                                Kimberly paused for a moment to think. "I hadn't planned on it. I was going to follow the coast and pass through Tradewind. Why, is it a quicker route?"

                                "According to this it is."

                                "Are you saying you'd like us to travel together?" A smile appeared on her face.

                                "If you wouldn't mind detouring," she shrugged. "Besides, maybe it's not a bad idea to stick together, what with the nationwide murder rate skyrocketing in recent months."

                                Kimberly's eyes widened. "Excuse me?"

                                "You don't watch the news much, do you?"

                                Kimberly shook her head. "The news is depressing. It's a constant cycle of fear mongering and rabble rousing designed to pit us against each other. Besides, I haven't had much of an opportunity to, I've been busy working alongside my mother."

                                "Oh right, you've been out of the country... We've had a sharp increase in violent crime since the year began, a large majority of it targeted at young women like us. Murders, kidnappings, robbery, you name it."

                                "Oh... Umm..." Kimberly mumbled, her voice wavering.

                                "We don't have to travel together, but it wouldn't be wise to travel--" Her words were interrupted by the shrill tones of her phone ringing. A look at the screen showed an incoming call from Dr. Reiland. "Hold that thought, it's my boss." She accepted the call and placed her phone to her ear. "Hello, doctor!"

                                "Good morning, Ms. Dennison," Dr. Reiland's voice replied.

                                "Have you heard anything new from the police commissioner yet?"

                                "No, not yet. We're both in the dark here..." Dr. Reiland said. A long pause followed. "Here's what I want you to do. I want you to stay in Aughrim for a few days, until we know what's going on. Obviously something's not right, but I fear its worse than anyone realizes at the moment. The circumstances of her disappearance are... they're just too bizarre. Don't worry about finding a place to stay, I'll get your hotels sorted out, unless you can find a friend to live with for awhile."

                                As a new hire, she was cautious about suggesting it, but figured it wouldn't hurt to ask. "What if I found a friend to travel with, instead?"

                                "What are you suggesting?"

                                "What I mean is... what if I found someone else to take me to Doranshire? I don't mind getting started without Tamara."

                                "I appreciate your enthusiasm, dear, but you weren't intended to be the expert in this matter, Ms. Dahl was. You were to assist her, as she is the one with experience in these circumstances."

                                She ignored the voice in her head that urged caution and continued to push the subject. "You said it yourself, this isn't something that can wait for too long. Lives could be at stake here if there's actually something wrong in that town."

                                "I suppose that is true..."

                                "And even if I don't know a thing about this paranormal stuff, what if it is something as simple as a gas leak or something in the water, like you suggested? Problem solved, with or without Tamara."

                                "But if it isn't that, you've wasted your time, then."

                                "I'd rather be wasting my time there than here," she answered back. "But if you want me to stay here, I will."

                                There was another long pause and the sound of papers being shuffled in the background. "You might have a point, actually. There's definitely something wrong in that village, and it might be something that you could handle yourself. You did well enough in Nettlefield, perhaps you can surprise me again?"

                                "Thank you! I'll get to work as soon as I can!"

                                "Hold on, not so fast. I'll only give you the go ahead if you can find someone trustworthy. And I want you to clear them with me before you go anywhere."

                                "I'm actually sitting right next to her..." she said before locking eyes with Kimberly. "If she wants to, at least."

                                Kimberly did little more than offer a nod.

                                "Oh, really? Tell me a little bit about her."

                                She paused at the realization that she didn't know much about Kimberly other than she was an aspiring coordinator who'd just recently returned from a trip abroad. Trustworthiness hadn't even crossed her mind, but she seemed harmless and innocent enough. "Maybe she can tell you a bit better. Want to talk to her?"

                                "Yes, put her on the line."

                                She handed the phone across the table. "Here, my boss wants to talk with you. Her name is Dr. Reiland."

                                "Oh, Dr. Reiland! I've met her before!" Kimberly said, her face lighting up. She grabbed the phone. "Hello, Dr. Reiland?"

                                "Who am I speaking with?"

                                "Kimberly Fairbrooke."

                                There was a short pause in the conversation. "That name is familiar..."

                                "I can understand if you don't remember, but you and I met almost two years ago. I received a Squirtle, from your institution's Gifts for Girls program."

                                "Hmm. I don't quite remember that... Heh, my memory isn't what it used to be. Anyways! My employee said she's interested in travelling with you. Are you okay with that?"

                                "I am. It sounds like it could be fun!"

                                Dr. Reiland let out a chuckle. "I don't know about fun. Ms. Dennison will be doing a lot of sample gathering and in-depth analysis of her findings... She could be there for some time, are you okay with staying for... say... four or five days?"

                                Kimberly paused to think. "That might be cutting it a little close with the schedule I'd like to keep... I have prior obligations I need to attend to in Rustlode Bluffs."

                                "I suppose you don't have to stay with her for the entire time... She doesn't have any Pokémon of her own, so I don't want her travelling the roads alone. But if you can get here there, you can be on your way and I'll send another one of my employees to pick her up when she's finished."

                                "Whatever happens in the end, I'd be happy to help!"

                                "Do you have much experience with travelling yourself?"

                                "I do! I spent a little over a year with a friend of mine while she pursued a career as a competitive Pokémon trainer."

                                "And are you familiar with the area?"

                                "Yes ma'am! My friend and I passed through Doranshire at the tail end of our time together. I think I remember the town enough to show her around."

                                "And your Pokémon? You said you received a Squirtle from me. I'll assume you've picked up more since then?"

                                "My Squirtle is a Blastoise now, and I also have a Skitty with me as well," Kimberly answered. "While it's true that my Skitty isn't the most proficient fighter, my Blastoise will have no trouble defending us from whatever trouble we may run into on the road."

                                "Well then, you sound like a good candidate for getting Ms. Dennison started. I'm not sure I'll be able to pay you for your time, but--"

                                She made a negative hand gesture as she shook her head. "Don't worry about payment, Dr. Reiland! I would be doing this because I want to, not for the money."

                                "Are you sure?"

                                She nodded. "Positive, ma'am."

                                "Very well, then. Thank you. Could I speak with Andrea again?"

                                She handed the phone back to Andrea.

                                "So what do you think, doctor?" Andrea asked.

                                "She's very polite and from the sound of it, very experienced with both travel and the areas you'll be visiting."

                                "Are we good to go, then?"

                                There was another short pause. "Do you trust her? This may just be a bit of paranoia, considering the circumstances regarding Ms. Dahl's disappearance, but... She seems a little too good to be true."

                                Andrea looked up at Kimberly and received a warm, friendly smile from her. "I... I do. Yes."

                                "I'll take your word for it, then. You two can get started whenever you're ready. Do keep in mind that if Ms. Dahl does resurface, she'll be taking the reigns from you, understood?"

                                "Understood, and thank you, doctor. You'll be proud of my work, I promise!"

                                "We'll see. Talk to you soon."

                                "Good bye!" She ended the call and put her phone back into her purse, then slung it over her shoulder and stood up. "We're good to go!"

                                "Wondrous! But perhaps we should wait for our breakfast to arrive before we leave?"

                                She stopped in her tracks and turned around, then sat back down. "That's probably a good idea."
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                                  #17    
                                Old February 24th, 2017 (2:22 PM). Edited March 1st, 2017 by Eliza Prescott.
                                Eliza Prescott's Avatar
                                Eliza Prescott Eliza Prescott is offline
                                Misfit Angel
                                   
                                  Join Date: Nov 2016
                                  Location: Upstate New York
                                  Gender: Female
                                  Posts: 36
                                  Author's note: During this chapter, the subject of excessive swearing comes up. In accordance with the rules of this site, I've toned it down, so this exchange might not make the most sense. The original chapters, before editing, are much filthier in that regard.

                                  Land of the Roses
                                  Chapter 12: Sacred Garden



                                  Far in the distance, cloaked in the blue haze of the distant sky, stood perhaps Lanark's most well known and recognizable natural landmark: the Oak of Ages. The massive tree, thought to tower over 600 meters in height, was a curiosity to the people of Lanark; while most oak trees throughout the country stand tall for just under two hundred years, the Oak of Ages has been known to exist for at least a thousand years. It may be even older, in fact, as cave paintings dated to 6000 BC detail the tree, and it may yet be even more ancient. Whatever the case, it is a remarkable sight to behold and an easy landmark to spot from just about anywhere in the West Country.

                                  "Are you familiar with that tree in the distance, Andrea?" Kimberly asked.

                                  "I am. It's the Oak of Ages, the tallest tree in the world. When I was studying at the university, I could see it from my bedroom window on a really clear day."

                                  "Oooh! You were quite lucky!" Kimberly said with excitement. "Have you ever visited it?"

                                  She shook her head. "No, I never got the opportunity to. Always busy with my studies and my work... Have you?"

                                  "I have! About nine months ago, in fact. It's so... breathtaking! To imagine something so large, so ancient... You'll be happy to know that we'll be passing by it on our way to Doranshire!"

                                  "Will we? I should see if we can get up close and have a look at it. Maybe I can find something for Dr. Reiland to take a look at back at the lab."

                                  "That may be difficult... There's a conservation group which owns the land it sits on, and I don't believe that they allow visitors to approach it. When I last visited, my friend Nicole and I were passing through the area on our way to Aughrim and we were denied entrance. In fact, I remember them treating her very poorly, as if she'd done something to offend them. She'd never visited before!"

                                  "Really?"

                                  "I know, isn't that strange?" Kimberly wondered. "Perhaps things have changed in the past year. When we get there, we'll have to see if they'll allow us to visit."

                                  "Yeah, you bet."

                                  Andrea took the time to study her surroundings a bit more. Apart from the previous few days, it was the first time she had left the metal and concrete confines of Aughrim in over a year. It was much nicer than the muddy and rocky wilderness outside of Loch Alstan; rows of oak and fir trees stood tall, guarding the land behind them from the crisp ocean breeze that blew in off of the bay. Flowers of varying shades of red, pink, white and lavender sprouted from the land around them, and the heady aroma of honey was carried on the wind around them.

                                  "The countryside sure is beautiful, isn't it? Hard to believe I've never been out here..."

                                  "Never?" Kimberly asked.

                                  "Never. If I wasn't too busy, I was too scared. I'm sure you've heard the stories."

                                  "I have, but I don't believe them to be true. I've travelled these roads a lot, and I have not run into trouble as much as the media likes to claim."

                                  "Hmm," she mumbled. All throughout her childhood and into her teen years, she'd heard horror stories of people being mauled, paralyzed or killed by feral Pokémon, at least once a month, sometimes more. For those stories to be so quickly dismissed seemed silly, yet Kimberly did have quite a bit of first hand experience that shouldn't be dismissed either. She wasn't sure what to believe. "So, you travel a lot, do you? Where exactly have you been?"

                                  "All over! I spent a few years in Kalos, as a child... My junior year of high school was spent abroad in Romatti as part of a student exchange program, as well. And then there was the time I vacationed in Kanto for a few weeks..."

                                  Andrea's eyes began to widen as she listed off more locations: an ill-fated meeting with the representative of a charity organization in Kensacola, a brief visit to the country of Cordona with her father and her attendance of a wedding in the Isles of Alola, to name a few.

                                  "...and most recently," she continued, "I spent a few months in the northern reaches of Glastonfell. It gets quite cold up there during the winter, dreadfully cold! I don't know how they do it, especially when they're wearing those tartan kilts!"

                                  "I... kinda meant specifically here, in Lanark," Andrea laughed.

                                  "Oh! I've been to most places. The only place I don't recall ever visiting is a little town called Goldwheat Meadows. I wanted to, but Nicole saw no need to, so we went around it."

                                  Andrea chuckled. "That's where I grew up. You didn't miss much."

                                  She tilted her head and raised an eyebrow at her friend's words. "Really? You don't have a very strong accent for someone who grew up in Goldwheat."

                                  "Blame my parents, they never had much of an accent either. Those two are practically the only people I ever spoke with as I was growing up."

                                  She paused for a moment before she cautiously edged around the self-disparaging remark. "I'm sure there's something interesting about Goldwheat that would be worth visiting for!"

                                  "There are only two things that Goldwheat is famous for: the famine that killed over 20,000 people and that incompetent idiot who made it worse by refusing to help the poor. I don't remember his name and I don't care to."

                                  "That's an awfully dour outlook on the town you grew up in!"

                                  "It's also true. If you ever do visit, you'll see what I mean. The town never recovered... Entire suburbs were abandoned after the famine and most of it's a ghost town... Wonder why my parents chose to settle down in that rat den..."

                                  Her interest in the town that Andrea grew up in was piqued and she wanted to know more, but she found her friend's language crude and distasteful. She could sense annoyance in Andrea's voice about the town, so she shifted subjects. "If I may ask... do you always swear this much?"

                                  "Huh?"

                                  "You've been swearing an awful lot since we've met. More than I'm used to. Is that normal, or are you annoyed about something, or..?"

                                  "What's the matter, does it bug you? I can try to tone it down, if you want."

                                  "Thank you."

                                  "Personal objections about it?" Andrea curiously asked.

                                  "In a way. When I was on the road with Nicole, she swore like a sailor. Worse than you, even! I tried to get used to it, but it was always so excessive... Day in, day out... Every sentence, an F here, an S there... I found that I started to pick up on that filthy habit myself, and it's unbecoming of a young lady such as myself."

                                  Andrea let out a subdued laugh. "So she's one of them 'holier than thou' types... This should be an interesting few days..." she thought.

                                  "Is there something funny about that?"

                                  "No, no! Just... I'll give it a rest." Andrea answered. "So, you said you've been on this road before. Anything here I should know about? Landmarks, rest stops, any of that?"

                                  She took a look at her surroundings. "I can't recall if we've passed it already, but there's a hidden garden somewhere around here that I've been itching to visit."

                                  "Hidden garden?" Andrea checked the time on her R-Kit. "How long would this visit take? I don't remember much from my days in the Scouts... I'd probably freeze to death by morning, so I'd like to get to the next town by nightfall."

                                  "Not long. An hour, perhaps?"

                                  "Mmm, that might be cutting it a little close, but... Let me know when we get close to this place."

                                  "I shall."

                                  - - - - -

                                  Kimberly emerged from a thick row of shrubs and looked behind her. She let out a smile and motioned towards herself. "Come along now! It should be just through this thicket."

                                  Andrea struggled against the snagging branches of the shrubs until she eventually stumbled through them. "What should be? You're not giving me an awful lot of information."

                                  Kimberly scouted ahead through the thick grass, waist high grass. "It's a surprise! I'm sure you'll like it."

                                  Her patience was beginning to thin. They had spent the last twenty minutes venturing into unmarked wilderness, and for what? A garden? She wondered what kind of garden would even be out this far. "You're testing my patience. Shouldn't we be following some sort of trail?"

                                  Kimberly pointed towards a tree beside them; several feet up was a green square hastily painted onto its bark. "We are following a trail, but it's one that requires a keen eye."

                                  She shook her head in disbelief as she continued to follow Kimberly through the thick forest. "Can you at least tell me where we're going?"

                                  There was a brief moment of silence before Kimberly answered. "Have you ever heard of the Peace Gardens?"

                                  "I haven't."

                                  "How do I word this and make it understandable..." Kimberly muttered to herself. "They're places that hold special meaning to certain people. Visiting these gardens allows us to get in touch with our inner selves."

                                  A light bulb flashed in her head. "Oh! You're one of those religious types, aren't you?"

                                  "I am."

                                  "Interesting... Strange, but interesting."

                                  "Strange?"

                                  "I haven't really met many religious people. These days, most people don't bother with such antiquated thoughts."

                                  "I would argue that they're not antiquated ideals, and in fact, they are just as relevant as they ever have been."

                                  "I don't know about--"

                                  Kimberly stopped in her tracks and turned around with a stern look on her face. "I can appreciate if faith is not your cup of tea, but please, don't start belittling my beliefs if you know nothing about them. I will not tolerate that."

                                  She was surprised by the sharp criticism. "Fair enough."

                                  Before long, they had arrived at a small nook in the wilderness that seemed to be perfectly manicured by human hands, yet looked completely natural at the same time. Thick, moss covered willow trees shielded much of the area from direct sunlight. Water cascaded over a nearby cliff, providing an ample supply of fresh water to the largest feature of the area, the pristine, lily-covered pond. A small stone pillar stood in front of the pond.

                                  Andrea was immediately drawn to the stone pedestal and studied it closely. It appeared to be covered from top to bottom in mysterious glyphs that she had never seen before:


                                  "What does this say?" she asked.

                                  Kimberly joined her at the pedestal and briefly studied the writing on it. "I couldn't tell you. It's not a language I'm familiar with."

                                  "Huh..." she wondered as she studied the writing some more. She could see an obvious pattern in the glyphs, but the meaning was totally lost on her. She pulled her phone out and began to take pictures of the pillar from all sides. "Surely someone back at the lab might have an idea of what this is..."

                                  As she did so, Kimberly wandered a few steps closer to the shore of the pond and dropped her backpack to the ground. She grabbed a small, square blanket from within and spread it on the ground in front of the pond.

                                  "What are you doing?" Andrea asked.

                                  Kimberly sat down on the blanket, crossed her legs and rested her hands in her lap. "I thought I'd take the time to reflect a bit."

                                  There was a clear look of confusion on Andrea's face. "Reflect?"

                                  "Meditation."

                                  "Meditation..." She let out an annoyed chuckle. "Gee, thanks for telling me that this was the reason we came here."

                                  "Would you care to join me?"

                                  She shook her head. "No. I don't meditate. Besides, do we really have time for this?"

                                  "Of course we do! This doesn't take long."

                                  "Couldn't you have meditated this morning? Before we met for breakfast? Or maybe when we got to the next town?"

                                  Kimberly kept her eyes closed as she responded. "Doing so would have been a misuse of my time. I intended on visiting this place with or without you."

                                  "That doesn't answer my question."

                                  Kimberly opened her eyes. "Meditation is important to me. It helps me to find happiness and clarity of purpose, my inner peace. Doing so in a hotel room would not have been as effective as doing it here, surrounded by the beauty of nature." She closed her eyes again and resumed her meditation.

                                  "Not as effective?"

                                  "I'll be happy to explain later, but please, allow me to begin. We'll be on our way quicker if you do."

                                  She wanted to interrupt Kimberly's meditation with some further confrontational questioning, but realized there was little advantage in doing so; she was relying on this woman to get to Doranshire, and angering her could potentially jeopardize that plan. Instead, she stomped off to another section of the garden. "Hmmph... Stuffy religious types. It's always about them, isn't it..." she muttered to herself. She turned around to look at Kimberly one more time, then wandered further into the garden.

                                  "She should have told me she was going to waste my time," she muttered to herself. "I might have been okay with it. But no, she had to keep it to herself until I couldn't say no."

                                  Regardless of her feelings at the moment, she couldn't help but appreciate the peaceful atmosphere of the garden around her. The birds singing their songs in harmony, the sound of rushing water cascading over smooth rocks, the gentle breeze caressing the leaves, it all combined to sooth her spirit. Perhaps Kimberly was right, and that there was something to this place, but she didn't want to admit it. She wanted to continue to be angry over the bait and switch tactic her friend employed.

                                  The calming atmosphere distracted her from her chief concern: staying safe in the wilderness. She found herself drawn further and further away from Kimberly, further from security. Before she knew it, she has passed many alluring landmarks, each leaving her wanting more; a ring of bright purple mushrooms nestled around a fallen log, a massive tree stump nearly five feet in diameter, a narrow gorge with a babbling brook at the bottom of it. She crossed over the gorge with the aid of a log that spanned the length of it and continued further into the unknown.

                                  The noise of fluttering wings grabbed her attention and snapped her back into reality. Just above her was the largest bird she had ever seen, definitely larger than herself. Draped in golden feathers, the bird hovered gently towards the ground and landed in front of her. Its head turned a perfect 180 degrees, allowing its deep amber eyes to study her inquisitively. Horns similar in shape to a trident jutted from the creature's head.

                                  "Ahh!" she shouted in fright as she stumbled backwards. After putting a sizable distance between herself and the massive bird, she quickly picked herself up off of her feet and got ready to run.

                                  The bird did little but stare at her.

                                  She cautiously raised her R-Kit and began to scan the creature before her. "Please don't attack me while I'm distracted..."

                                  "Noctowl, the Great Owl Pokémon!" the R-Kit began to drone as she kept her attention locked on the bird. "Among all of the birds of the Pokémon kingdom, Noctowl is generally regarded as one of the most intelligent. It appears to have complex problem solving thought processes typically unseen in most other species, displaying the ability to open doors, disassemble basic mechanical devices and navigate mazes with little backtracking."

                                  The Noctowl extended its wings and flapped them before returning to its regal pose. Andrea instinctively took a step back, but lowered her guard a bit once it showed no intent to attack her.

                                  "Noctowl is culturally important in Lanark," the R-Kit continued. "From ancient times to renaissance times, it was regarded as the guardian spirit of intelligence. Partially translated ancient texts spoke of it being a key of some sort, while more modern accounts described it as a moral and spiritual guide for royalty and those of noble blood."

                                  "I don't understand what any of that means..." she muttered as she kept her eyes on the Noctowl. "You're not going to hurt me, are you?"

                                  Once again, the owl was silent. All it did was stare.

                                  "Maybe I should get back to Kimberly..." she thought. She took a few cautionary steps backwards before turning around, still keeping her vision locked on the Noctowl. In the brief second she took to watch her footing, the Noctowl had disappeared in complete silence. "Ooookay, I don't like where this is going."

                                  Her journey back to the pond was the same as before: quiet and lonely. Over the log, above the gorge, around the tree stump, beside the mushroom circle. As she passed along, she looked up towards the sky and there it was; the Noctowl had followed her in absolute silence. Perched in a tree, it continued to stare at her.

                                  "Go away..." she whispered to herself.

                                  At last, she had made it back to the pond. Kimberly appeared to have completed her meditation and was in the process of folding up her blanket.

                                  "Ooof... Am I glad to see you!" she called out.

                                  "Really? You seemed quite annoyed when we last spoke... I should apol--"

                                  Andrea bulldozed the apology with a warning. "There's a giant bird out there and I'm pretty sure it's stalking me! We should get out of here."

                                  Kimberly reached down for the Master Ball that dangled from the belt of her dress and looked through the tree tops around her. "Giant bird?"

                                  "A Noctowl, I don't know if you're familiar with that one."

                                  Kimberly's cautious demeanor melted. "Ah! Yes, I am! I've seen a few during my travels. They're fairly peaceful creatures."

                                  "I don't know... I don't feel safe around here, that thing was freakishly huge... Can we leave now?"

                                  "Yes. Let's be on our way."
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                                    #18    
                                  Old March 25th, 2017 (9:57 AM).
                                  Eliza Prescott's Avatar
                                  Eliza Prescott Eliza Prescott is offline
                                  Misfit Angel
                                     
                                    Join Date: Nov 2016
                                    Location: Upstate New York
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                                    Posts: 36
                                    Land of the Roses
                                    Chapter 13: Obstacles



                                    It was another early May morning. The sun was rising in the eastern sky, casting a bright, golden light on the countryside around the village known as Oak of Ages. The village itself, however, was still bathed in darkness; the massive 600 meter tall tree that the village was named for completely eclipsed the area for nearly a quarter of the day, with only small speckles of light poking through the densely packed branches. It was a strange sight to see a bright blue sky, yet be shrouded deep in shadow.

                                    Behind a little brick house and at the edge of a rocky cliff that overlooked the ocean, Kimberly sat in silence. Her legs were crossed, her hands were rested in her lap and her eyes were closed as she listened to the gentle noise of the foamy ocean waves. She was deeply lost in her meditation. Her mind was an empty slate, her heart rate was lowered and her breathing slow, even and deep. Very little could break her from her trance, not even her hair blowing across her face.

                                    "...need..."

                                    Kimberly opened her eyes and looked around. The area around her was completely empty; no people, no Pokémon, even the wind had died down. "Hello?" she called out.

                                    No response.

                                    She looked down towards her phone and saw that she had spent the past hour overlooking the sea. "Maybe that's enough meditation for one day..."

                                    - - - - -

                                    Inside of a small motel room that could only be described as cozy, Andrea was seated on the bed with her phone in her hands. Her eyes were affixed to the phone as she silently read from a digital novel. Eventually, signs of life appeared on her face: a smile, followed by a laugh. She shook her head lightly. "Don't, Trip... Getting involved is gonna bite you in the ass." she whispered as she continued to read. "She warned you several times about interfering..."

                                    There was a knock at the door.

                                    She grumbled and turned her phone off, then tossed it aside. "Better not be that noisy jerk from last night..." she muttered as she wandered to the door. She stopped beside the door and called out, "Who is it?"

                                    "It's Kimberly!"

                                    She began to undo the intricate system of chains and locks that protected the room from the outside world, then opened the door. "Morn'." she said.

                                    Kimberly bowed her head silently, then stepped inside of the small room and looked around. Coming from a wealthy family, the room was barely a room to her; it was dimly lit by a single light bulb and the stale air within was choked with the aroma of heavy cigarette use. "You slept in this? It smells like a run down bar in here!" she asked.

                                    "Unfortunately, I have to live on a budget. Besides, I've slept in worse." she said as she returned to the bed to gather up her belongings. "How about you? What was yours like?"

                                    "It was a lovely bed and breakfast run by an adorable elderly couple!"

                                    "Bet it was expensive..." she quietly muttered under her breath.

                                    "When you and I arrive in Doranshire, I'll pay for your room and board. No one should have to suffer circumstances such as..." she trailed off as she inspected the room one more time. "...such as these."

                                    She stopped what she was doing and looked up at Kimberly. "You sure about that?"

                                    "Of course!" Kimberly said with an enthusiastic nod. "A drop in the bucket for me, no need to worry."

                                    "I'll try to be a cheap date for ya, then." she joked.

                                    Kimberly giggled. "So... are you ready to get started?"

                                    She swung her backpack around her arms and grabbed her purse. "Are you? Don't have to meditate or anything like that?"

                                    "That is already taken care of. You seemed quite annoyed with it the previous day, so I figured I would get it out of the way rather than make you wait yet again."

                                    "Is that an every day thing? The meditation?"

                                    "Most days, yes."

                                    "Hmm. I suppose it isn't my place to judge." she said. "Yeah, I'm ready to go."

                                    - - - - -

                                    The Oak of Ages

                                    Despite records of the giant oak stretching from the neolithic era all the way to today, the Oak of Ages remains a complete mystery to the average men and women of the modern age. How old is it? What species is it? Why is it so large? All of these questions and more have been put forward by scholars, scientists and even kids like you, but the answers still elude us.


                                    Andrea looked towards Kimberly with a raised eyebrow. "Kids like us?"

                                    "You must remember that this town was a large destination for tourism until a few years ago. Children from across the country would often take field trips to see the Oak."

                                    "Why'd that stop?"

                                    Kimberly shrugged. "Another item on our list of things to ponder. Perhaps the rumors that the tree is dying are true? They may be trying to keep people away to hide that fact."

                                    "Maybe we can find out."

                                    The two continued reading from the plaque in front of them:

                                    A Place of Peace

                                    Despite the mysteries of its origin and continued presence, thousands of years of records have shown us that the Oak of Ages has been a cultural icon since antiquity. Archaeological evidence from across Lanark indicates that the ancient tribes often fought bloody and violent wars against each other, but there is no evidence of fighting in the lands surrounding the tree. Rather, some of the earliest written records indicate that the tree was a sanctuary, often visited by rival warrior kings to discuss terms of peace. In fact, it was here that the ancient tribes eventually banded together to form the first alliances that would later lead to the founding of the Kingdom of Lanark.

                                    Throughout Lanark's troubled and messy history, the Oak of Ages has been a constant beacon of peace. Many violent conflicts throughout history were resolved in the shadow of the Oak. Notable declarations of peace that were signed at this location include:
                                    • Solas an Lae, signed somewhere between 897 and 901, formally ended a civil war fought between rival clans for dominance of the heartland. It is here that the Greybell Clan established their millennia-long dynasty that remains in power to this day.
                                    • Pax Rosa, signed in 1472, ended the third and final attempted conquest of Lanark by the Romatti Empire.
                                    • The Eiffel Accords, signed in 1591, ended the seven year war fought between Lanark and Kalos, resulting in the acquisition of all Kalosian overseas colonies.
                                    • Treaty of the Clans, signed in 1683, granted independence to Storm Island, a former colony of the crown, after three costly years of naval confrontations.
                                    • Highlands Independence Agreement, signed on the 1st of August 1933, formally granted independence to the Kingdom of Glastonfell after two decades of negotiations. The decision to grant independence during the Great War was quite controversial and resulted in a physical confrontation between three lords, the only recorded instance of violence at the Oak of Ages since records began.
                                    • The Great Accord, signed on the 2nd of September, 1945, ended the 25 year conflict known as the Great War. Dignitaries from nearly sixty nations came together to bring an end to the deadliest conflict in human history.
                                    • Colonial Release Act, signed into law on the 1st of July, 1977, formally granted independence to all overseas territory owned and protected by the crown.


                                    "Hmm. A lot of history took place here. I never knew." Andrea commented.

                                    "Really? What did they teach you in school?"

                                    She began to fidget. "Well... I'm sure they taught us about history, but I barely paid attention to any of it." She motioned towards a shaded pathway that led towards the great oak. "Let's see if we can get up close. Something tells me we won't be able to, though."

                                    Kimberly took the lead as they wandered down the path. "I fear you're correct. I have noticed that this town is rather lifeless."

                                    "Exactly. If people could visit the tree, this place wouldn't be such a ghost town, would it?"

                                    What little light that bled through the branches of the Oak of Ages quickly disappeared as they navigated the winding trails that led to it. Before long, they were shrouded in complete darkness with nothing to guide them; there were several lamps along the pathway, but they no longer worked.

                                    "Didn't expect it to be this dark..." Andrea commented as she reached into her purse.

                                    "We're not going to get lost, are we?" Kimberly asked.

                                    With her phone in her hand, she enabled the spotlight on it and pointed it at the ground. "I think we'll be okay." She felt Kimberly latch onto her arm like a magnet, giving her a slight shock. "What is it? Is everything okay?" she asked as she shined the light around.

                                    "I just don't want to get lost, that's all."

                                    "Right. Let's go."

                                    The path towards the Oak of Ages involved several uphill hairpin turns with little to protect them from tumbling down to the bottom. They wondered why the terrain was so treacherous for such a famous landmark until they eventually realized why: the 'path' they had taken led directly to a chain link fence topped with wicked barbed wires at the top.

                                    "Stop where you are!" a masculine voice called out from the other side of the fence. A bright, blinding light soon followed and it slowly started to approach the two. "Turn to face the light." the voice ordered.

                                    The two looked at each other for a brief moment before turning towards the fence.

                                    The light lowered, revealing a man dressed in dark green camouflaged clothing. "Huh..." he said as he studied the two closely. "Sorry, ladies, you'll have to move along. No visitors are allowed near the Oak."

                                    "Still?" Kimberly asked.

                                    "Until further notice. Move along."

                                    Kimberly nodded. "Sorry to trouble you, sir."

                                    Before Kimberly could drag her away, Andrea stood up to the man. "And why the hell can't we visit? The public was never given a reason." she questioned. "You do realize how important this tree is to the people of this country, right? Why isn't anyone allowed to see it?"

                                    The man raised his head to the sky. "Look up. You can see this tree, as you so carelessly call it, whenever you want. That doesn't mean you're allowed to come any closer. Move along."

                                    She remained steadfast in her desire to approach the tree. "I'm a researcher with the Reiland Institute. I'm just trying to get a few samples to look at, that's all."

                                    The man gazed at her with a critical eye. "You? A researcher? You look more like a witch! I can not allow you to come any closer. Move. Along!"

                                    "What is that supposed to mean?! Are you--"

                                    Kimberly gently tugged on Andrea's arm and pulled her away from the fence. "Andrea, friend... there's no use in arguing with him. Take a moment to relax, please." She returned to the fence and spoke softly. "I apologize on her behalf. It's been a stressful few days for her."

                                    "That's not my concern. My concern is the Oak and its protection."

                                    "And that's good! The Oak needs to be protected from those who would do it harm." She motioned back towards Andrea. "But look at her. Does she really look like someone who could harm it?"

                                    "She does."

                                    The man's unexpected answer caught her off guard. "Umm... well. I assure you, she is a kind and caring individual. Perhaps I could speak to whoever is in charge here?"

                                    The guard glared at her for a moment, then reached into his pocket and pulled out a small radio communicator. "Malek, would you mind coming to the southern checkpoint? We have some very stubborn guests."

                                    "Is there trouble? I'll be there in a minute." the radio buzzed.

                                    The guard returned the radio to his pocket and stared at Andrea, then pointed towards the left. "A couple hundred meters that way is a checkpoint. Follow me."

                                    Kimberly walked back towards Andrea and tugged on her arm again. "Did you hear that? The one in charge will meet with us if we follow that man."

                                    Andrea had been silently fuming and wasn't interested in any of the words her friend was saying. "What is with people? Why does everyone hate the way I look?"

                                    "It's not just you. Nicole was treated poorly when I travelled with her, as well."

                                    "Let me guess, she dressed like me?"

                                    "You are wearing her fashion line."

                                    "Ha. Right..."

                                    The two followed the guard closely as he lit the way with his lantern. They tried to ask him a few questions related to the tree, but he either deflected them or ignored them. They both got the feeling that he didn't know much and that he was just a grunt of some sort, hired to provide security for something he knew nothing about. Regardless, his enthusiasm for protecting the Oak was extremely apparent; he kept a very close eye on them, especially Andrea, while he escorted them. Eventually, they reached a gap in the fence that was surrounded by a heavily fortified checkpoint.

                                    One of the men at the checkpoint stepped forward. "Are these our guests?"

                                    "They are, Malek," the guard answered.

                                    Malek walked a circle around them as he looked at them with a critical eye. "Why have you come?"

                                    Andrea was hesitant to answer, but eventually did. "I wanted to collect some samples of the tree for my boss to have a look at. I work with Dr. Reiland, are you familiar with her?"

                                    "I'll ask again. Why are you here?"

                                    Kimberly explained further, "We heard that the Oak may be dying. Perhaps there is something that Dr. Reiland could do to help?"

                                    Malek looked down at the ground. "A very persistent rumor put forth by the scum of society..." He appeared to be quite pensive, deeply thinking about the situation presented before him. After a few moments, he pulled out a large touch screen device, tapped on it a few times, then nodded towards Andrea. "State your name."

                                    "Andrea Dennison. I'm with the Reiland Institute."

                                    "To answer your earlier question, yes. I am familiar with Dr. Reiland." Malek commented as he continued to enter information into his tablet. After a few moments of silence, he said, "Here you are. Andrea Dennison, a recently hired analyst with the Reiland Institute. Twenty years old, 5'3" tall, 147 lbs..." he paused as he looked deep into her eyes and nodded. "Blue eyes. Naturally brown hair, but often dyed blonde. You were born in the city of Azure Ridge on Storm Island to Marvin Dennison and Meredith Kalinzki--"

                                    "Okay, okay, I get it! You somehow have a creepy amount of information about me."

                                    "It's intended to be thorough, not creepy," Malek replied as he continued to study both her and the information on his tablet. "Security is very important here at the Oak."

                                    She tried to sneak a peak at the tablet in Malek's hand, but he wouldn't allow it. "How are you able to access the Reiland Institute's staff list? As far as I know, that's not public information."

                                    He paused for a moment to look at her, then focused on his search again. "I wouldn't worry about that if I were you." Several minutes passed by as he tapped away at the screen, read from the information on it or eyed her with scrutiny. Every now and then, he would trade glances with the guard. Eventually, he broke the silence and spoke once again: "Now, there are a host of other reasons for why I can't let you or your friend here come any closer, but I'll go with one you understand: You've only been at your job for four days and you weren't even sent to investigate the Oak. Honesty may have helped your case, but you didn't have one from the start."

                                    "Excuse me?"

                                    "Andrea Dennison, new hire," he said, reading from the tablet. "Currently assigned to task #727: Sightings in Doranshire. While she did well on her first assignment, her partner raised some concerns in private and suggested she be assigned to the Doranshire investigation as another test of her acumen."

                                    "How..." she muttered. "I am being honest, I'm here to study the tree!"

                                    "Don't lie to me. You, along with your friend, are not welcome to visit. Move along."

                                    She was becoming visibly shaky with frustration to the point that Kimberly tried to pull her away yet again, but she held her ground. Eventually, though, she decided that it was best to leave rather than further escalate things.

                                    As Andrea and Kimberly disappeared into the darkness, the guard crossed his arms. "I knew she didn't look trustworthy. Perhaps she should have tried being less obvious."

                                    Malek shook his head. "I don't think she's one of them... She may dress a little suspiciously, but..."

                                    "How can you be so certain?"

                                    "Nothing in the information I looked up on her mentioned anything about it," he answered. "Still, I won't allow a liar near the Oak. Too much is at stake."

                                    - - - - -

                                    "Why are you so upset? Neither of us expected to get in." Kimberly asked.

                                    Andrea wrestled out of her friend's vice-like grip now that they were shrouded in warm sunlight. "A lot of reasons... Did you hear what that guy said when he was reading information about me?" she asked. "He said 'her partner raised some concerns in private'. Patrick and I are going to have a very spirited discussion when I next see him."

                                    "What kind of concerns could he have possibly raised?"

                                    "I don't know. Maybe I was a little too hesitant to touch a dead Pokémon? Or I was ready to give up when we were searching a nearby swamp for clues?" She shook her head as she pondered the possibilities, then sighed. "Guess it's time to get started on what I'm supposed to be doing. Do you need to do anything before we leave?"

                                    "I'm set," Kimberly said.

                                    "To Doranshire, then."
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                                      #19    
                                    Old April 10th, 2017 (2:23 AM).
                                    Eliza Prescott's Avatar
                                    Eliza Prescott Eliza Prescott is offline
                                    Misfit Angel
                                       
                                      Join Date: Nov 2016
                                      Location: Upstate New York
                                      Gender: Female
                                      Posts: 36
                                      Land of the Roses
                                      Chapter 14: The Spritewood



                                      The two took one last look at the Oak of Ages, the towering and mysterious guardian of the Westcountry. They lamented that they weren't able to get a closer look at it, but both realized that it was time to move on; for Andrea, there were pressing matters to attend to in Doranshire, while Kimberly was interested in keeping her scheduled appointments in the town of Rustlode Bluffs.

                                      Ahead of them was an ornately carved bridge that almost seemed suspiciously out of place. In the middle of nowhere, nearly an hour's walk from the village behind them, sat the most beautifully crafted bridge that Andrea had ever seen; the support pillars were delicately engraved with intricate celtic knot designs while the planks that made up the walkway appeared to be fashioned out of twisted roots.

                                      "Never thought I'd say it, but I want to hear the story behind this bridge," Andrea commented.

                                      "I'm not sure there is one," Kimberly replied. "If there is, I've never heard it."

                                      Across the river was a peculiar looking forest; despite it being mid-Spring, the leaves of the trees were a golden auburn, splashed with hues of pink, purple and red. The bark of the trees was white and silver in color, notched with black spots, stripes and scars. Every now and then, a glowing light would flash somewhere among the tree trunks, then fade quickly. On the other side of the bridge was a sign:

                                      Now entering the Spritewood

                                      Yonder this point lie the Spritewood,
                                      Home to the spirits of good!
                                      Bring peace and harmony with you,
                                      Or fortune will bid you adieu!


                                      The sign certainly caught Andrea's attention. "Nevermind the bridge, I want to hear the story behind this forest!"

                                      "I don't know how much of it is true, but when I was a young girl, I'd often read stories about this forest. Legend tells of the fairies..." Kimberly began.

                                      "What, like Clefairy and Jigglypuff?"

                                      "No, actually! Little magical people with wings supposedly lived in this area long ago, but they're gone now."

                                      Andrea rolled her eyes at the suggestion. "Don't tell me you actually believe that sh... that stuff."

                                      "It is difficult to believe, I must admit... I've been to this forest many times and I've yet to actually see a fairy, but why would such stories be made up?"

                                      "To scare the nearby children, probably."

                                      "But fairies aren't scary!" Kimberly stated matter-of-factly.

                                      "Fairies also aren't real," she retorted.

                                      Kimberly tried to explain the 'facts' about fairies, but Andrea wasn't interested, instead reaching into her purse to grab her phone. Realizing that she wasn't being paid any attention, Kimberly gave up. "Stick to your stuffy science, then..." she muttered quietly.

                                      She ignored the snide comment and noticed that she had an unread message awaiting her:

                                      Fr: Patrick Adelaide, 9:07 AM
                                      'Just had a look at the photos you sent me. Interesting! Don't recognize those pictograms at all. I've forwarded your findings to someone who might know more. You're very proactive, keep up the good work!'
                                      On the one hand, she was happy to see a bit of praise coming her way, but on the other, she was annoyed with him based on what the guard at the Oak had said about her. She tried to word her response in a non-combative way:

                                      Fr: Andrea Dennison, 1:12 PM
                                      'good to hear! btw we need to talk when i get back.'
                                      A few minutes later, a reply came back:

                                      Fr: Patrick Adelaide, 1:16 PM
                                      'Oh? About what?'
                                      Fr: Andrea Dennison, 1:17 PM
                                      'i think you know'
                                      Fr: Patrick Adelaide, 1:17 PM
                                      'I don't think I do. If you're suggesting what I think you're suggesting it might be wise to remain professional for the time being.'
                                      She grumbled as she read the last message and put her phone away. She couldn't tell if he was joking, deflecting or just plain ignorant of what she might be talking about, but she wasn't going to fall into what she assumed was a trap of some sort. It only made her more and more angry as she thought about it. She played each possible outcome through her head over and over again, becoming more and more wound up as she did so.

                                      Kimberly could see her friend coming to a boil and was curious why. "What's the matter, friend?"

                                      She snapped back into reality. "Huh? Oh, just my co-worker. I told him I want to talk in person and now he thinks I'm coming onto him."

                                      "You're not, are you?"

                                      "No!" she protested loudly, prompting a giggle from Kimberly. "Can we not talk about this?"

                                      "We could talk about fairies again," Kimberly jokingly suggested, but it only resulted in a frustrated groan. "Do you happen to have a Pokédex? Something in this forest may interest you. It certainly interests me."

                                      "If it's fairies--"

                                      "It's not fairies, I assure you!"

                                      Andrea raised her hand to head level and showed off her R-Kit. "This thing is similar to a Pokédex, actually, but it's much better. Dr. Reiland said that this thing is likely to replace those old things in the near future."

                                      Kimberly marvelled at the R-Kit. "That? All this time, I thought it was a fancy watch."

                                      "That's what I usually use it as..."

                                      "Can you do a search for a Pokémon by the name of Eevee?"

                                      She nodded. She tapped on the screen of her R-Kit, but it wasn't responding. Instead, the screen was a garbled mess of static and junk information that made practically no sense. "Uhh... I don't think I can. This thing is on the fritz." she said as she continued to try to navigate through its options. Even a customary violent shaking did little to solve her problem.

                                      "How reliable," Kimberly commented.

                                      "It usually is! Maybe I need to reset it somehow..." she said as she unstrapped it from her wrist. She began to examine it all over, looking for some sort of reset or power button, but couldn't find one.

                                      "In any case, do you happen to know that this is one of Eevee's few natural habitats? When I was last here with Nicole, I had the fortune of finding one! I tried to capture it, but I... was less than successful."

                                      Frustrated with the apparent lack of a reset button on her R-Kit, Andrea strapped it back onto her wrist. "Maybe we'll find one and you can have another shot at it."

                                      Excitement welled within Kimberly. "Yes! That's my hope! However, they're quite elusive creatures... we may not be lucky enough to find one."

                                      "That is a good point..." she sighed. "I remember when I was studying the concepts behind conservation efforts, Eevee came up as an example of something that's considered 'threatened' in the wild, but thriving in captivity."

                                      "In captivity, yes. It has crossed my mind to just buy one... But they're quite expensive, even for me."

                                      "How expensive, exactly?"

                                      Kimberly dug through the depths of her memory to come up with a number. "It's been about nine months since I last checked, but I recall the price being somewhere around 740 golden roses."

                                      She blinked at the thought. "S-seven hundred... Is that a serious number?"

                                      Kimberly nodded.

                                      "That sums up my student loan debt and then some, and I was told I wasn't going to pay that off for at least 30 years... How can people justify spending that much money on a Pokémon?!"

                                      "Even I agree..."

                                      "I guess that's why you hope to just catch one."

                                      Kimberly nodded. "My only worry is finding one..."

                                      She paused to think about the situation. "Perhaps when we get to Doranshire, you can come back and look for one? I probably won't need you by my side once I'm in town."

                                      "Me? Alone?" Kimberly asked, then shook her head. "That won't work. I... It just wouldn't work."

                                      Kimberly's vagueness perplexed her, but she didn't want to push the subject; the tone with which she spoke and her choice of words told Andrea that she was embarrassed about something, possibly a fear of being alone. "There might be someone in town who can help you. I'd do it myself, but... I've got work to do, unfortunately."

                                      "If we don't find one by the time we reach town, there is always another time. I'm still young!"

                                      Before long, they found themselves shrouded entirely in the forest, far from the coastline that they had followed since they left Aughrim. Sunlight bled through the golden and pastel-colored canopy, bathing the area in a warm glow, but a deceptive one; a crisp, chilling wind blew through the forest which caught the two off guard. Both had dressed lightly on the expectation that it would be warm. They both wondered why, as the morning weather forecast had called for temperatures to linger around 21°C. Andrea instinctively looked to her R-Kit for an explanation, only to be disappointed when she remembered that it wasn't working.

                                      The two began to brainstorm some reasons for the sudden change in temperature. Kimberly jokingly suggested it was the work of the fairies that supposedly lived in the forest, bringing the area to a temperature of their liking. Andrea would have none of it and listed several reasonable explanations: Perhaps a certain species of Pokémon that is closely associated with the cold had been through the area recently. Maybe chilly air from the eastern mountains was being pushed downward and out to sea, blasting them with a frigid chill. Or, the most likely situation, the weatherman was simply wrong with his forecast. The two debated so energetically that they almost started to shout at each other and decided that it was best to remain quiet for awhile.

                                      All along their journey, they kept their eyes peeled for an Eevee, but they found other things of interest instead. The flickering orbs of light that they had seen before they entered the forest were becoming a common sight. Andrea gingerly approached one to get a closer look at it. It didn't react to her presence in any way and instead continued to gently circle around one of the trees. Once again, disappointment filled Andrea as she raised her R-Kit to scan the anomaly, only to find that it still wasn't working. To stop herself from trying again, she unstrapped it from her wrist and placed it in her purse.

                                      "You've been here before. Any idea what it is?"

                                      Kimberly shook her head. "I haven't the foggiest idea. I've heard from an elderly woman in Doranshire that these are the spirits of the town's ancestors, but I'm not sure I'm ready to believe that."

                                      "So it's not one of your fairies?"

                                      "I understand if you don't appreciate the majesty of the unknown," Kimberly said with frustration. "But you don't have to be so difficult about it."

                                      Andrea could tell that her new friend was growing impatient with her. "I didn't mean anything by it, I'm sorry." She looked back up at the orb of light as it gently danced around the tree above her; after a few moments, the orb flashed with a bright light and evaporated into nothingness, leaving nothing but a faint shower of blue sparkles. "Maybe we can come back out here sometime. When my R-Kit is fixed, I'm definitely getting a closer look at these things, because I want to know what they are."

                                      "Are you thinking it may be related to your work in Doranshire?"

                                      She shrugged. "Who's to say? Dr. Reiland told me about people seeing lights in the forest. I see lights in the forest right now."

                                      "Sounds like you've found your first lead!"

                                      "Whatever the case, we should focus on getting to town. I'll feel much better knowing I have someplace safe to work from."

                                      - - - - -

                                      Right foot. Left foot. Right foot. Left foot.

                                      That had been the march for nearly six uninterrupted hours, and yet the two were still deep within the Spritewood with no sign that they might be close to reaching the town of Doranshire. Exhaustion was beginning to take root within Andrea's sore legs and she pleaded for a bit of rest. She found a nice, large rock to take a break on and breathed a sigh of relief when she got some much needed time off her feet.

                                      Kimberly pointed out the low-hanging sun that hid among the trees behind them. "Your fancy watch... It's capable of navigation, correct?"

                                      She shook her head and unzipped her purse. As she dug through it, she said, "I just checked a few minutes ago. Still not working." With her phone in hand, she tried to see if that would work at all. Much to her surprise and joy, it did. "I've got a map on my phone, at least."

                                      "Can it tell us how far away we are from Doranshire? We're going to run out of sunlight before we reach the village."

                                      Andrea turned around and located the sun amongst the trees. "Ooooh..." she muttered softly. "Give me a second." She opened the map on her phone and plotted a course from their current location to their destination. After a few seconds of the app analyzing the most efficient trails to take, her heart dropped. They had only made it about half way.

                                      "How far?" Kimberly asked.

                                      "Uhh... Ten hours?" she sheepishly said, with a tone of panic in her voice. "This isn't good... I don't know the first thing about wilderness survival besides the basics."

                                      "I did figure that, based on how lightly you've been travelling..." Kimberly commented.

                                      "Why didn't you tell me this was going to take more than a day?!" she shouted.

                                      "I did try to, but you--"

                                      "What are we going to do?!" she asked. "I can't start a fire, or-or-or create a shelter! I don't know how to--" A faint Pokémon call echoed through the forest, causing her to spin around rapidly. "What was that?!"

                                      Kimberly approached gingerly and grabbed ahold of her to calm her down. "Try to relax. I know enough to get us through the night, but I'll need your help."

                                      Her eyes met with Kimberly's and she began to feel at ease. She never imagined that such a posh, spoiled and possibly sheltered girl could know anything about surviving in the wilderness, but the more she thought about it, the more reasonable it seemed. She often talked about her travels with her friend; while it was likely that her friend did all of the hard work, surely she must have learned a thing or two from watching. She took a deep breath and nodded.

                                      "Thank you. Let's start by finding a place to set up camp. Quickly now, we don't have much time."

                                      The two started their search by wandering off of the established trail. Kimberly explained the perfect spot to look for: flat, near a shady tree, and if possible, in an area without a lot of underbrush. It didn't take them long to find such a spot and the two made some initial preparations for their campsite by flattening the grass around them and setting up a small circle of stones.

                                      Next came the problem of the campfire. Unfortunately for them, it was unseasonably chilly in the area, but on the bright side, it hadn't rained in recent days. Kimberly told Andrea to look for a few pieces of dry, fallen wood, ranging in size from small to large. "Don't stray too far, we don't know what's out there. I want to be able to see you at all times."

                                      While her friend made some further adjustments to the campsite, Andrea started her search. There were lots of broken branches littered across the forest floor, and the possible reason for there being so many both intrigued and haunted her. It was most likely a wind storm that had knocked these branches to the floor, but the possibility of a large species of Pokémon being in the area crossed her mind. As she continued her gathering, she tried to put the thoughts out of mind, as they would only serve to distract her. After a circular sweep around the campsite, she returned with what she could find.

                                      "That should do," Kimberly said. "Do you know how to actually start a fire?"

                                      "Please tell me you do..."

                                      With a smile, Kimberly nodded and reached down towards the ribbon that dangled from her hips. She grabbed Telandra's decorative Feline Ball and dropped it to the floor. With a bright flash of light, Telandra appeared in a puff of cartoon-like stars.

                                      Andrea was confused. "How is a Skitty going to get a fire started for us?"

                                      Kimberly knelt down beside Telandra and pointed at the pile of sticks. "We need fire, Telandra. Can you help us?" She stood back up and placed her arm in front of Andrea, guiding her backwards a few steps.

                                      Telandra arched her back and growled. Sparks started to dance all throughout her bristling fur and with a bright flash of light, a bolt of lightning arced between her and the pile of sticks. Smoke billowed from the sticks and a glowing, orange ember flickered at the bottom.

                                      Andrea shook her head in disbelief and blinked a few times. "That's... rather fortunate for us, I suppose..." she started. "But you're going to have to tell me one of these days how Telandra can do something like that."

                                      Kimberly dropped her backpack to the ground and took a seat beside the growing fire. Telandra instantly claimed her lap and curled up on it. "What do you mean?"

                                      Andrea took a seat near the fire as well. "When I was working on my degree, we covered the capabilities of different Pokémon in very deep detail. Skitty is an example of a Pokémon that doesn't... It can't..." She began to stumble with her words as she tried to explain it. "Take Charmander for example. Everyone knows that it breathes fire. What is Skitty known for? Clawing and biting people. What I want to know is... how is yours able to control forces such as ice and lightning?"

                                      Kimberly tried to think of an explanation, but couldn't. "You're the one with a scientific background. If anyone should know, it should be you."

                                      "Unfortunately, it's beyond me," she said. "I've heard of Pokémon displaying remarkable abilities that they shouldn't have, but there has never been any actual scientific research on the subject."

                                      "No research? Why not?"

                                      "There hasn't been an opportunity. In the past hundred years, there were only two or three recorded instances of this that I've read about, and none of them could be verified. Your Skitty is the first--"

                                      Kimberly raised her finger to stop her friend. "If you're suggesting you'd like to take my Telandra back to your lab and experiment on her, you can forget it. I swore to protect her, just as she protects me."

                                      "No! That's not what I was suggesting! That would only take a few days to do, most likely, but I don't want to take her from you." she explained. "It's just... maybe I'll keep my mouth shut, it seems I've been making you angry all day."

                                      "I know you don't mean anything bad by it all, but perhaps we can save this discussion for later," Kimberly said with a yawn. "I am growing a wee bit tired and it would be wise to get an early start tomorrow. I think it's time for bed."

                                      She nodded. "Good idea."
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                                        #20    
                                      Old April 16th, 2017 (6:20 PM).
                                      Eliza Prescott's Avatar
                                      Eliza Prescott Eliza Prescott is offline
                                      Misfit Angel
                                         
                                        Join Date: Nov 2016
                                        Location: Upstate New York
                                        Gender: Female
                                        Posts: 36
                                        Land of the Roses
                                        Chapter 15: Darkest Night



                                        The crackling sound of a dying campfire was all that could be heard in the silence of the darkened forest. Flickering flames swept up towards the sky and sparks showered down to the ground with every pop of the wood. The light had attracted the attention of just about every insect in the entire forest, Andrea had thought, who swatted away at the growing cloud of gnats and flies. She lamented the fact that she hadn't brought a can of bug spray with her. Moreover, she chastised herself for being wholly unprepared for a night in the wild.

                                        She refused to be distracted, however; she was nearing the end of another chapter of her digital novel. As she 'turned' the page on her phone, a tear began to form in the corner of her eye. She shook her head as she continued to read, finally coming to the conclusion. "You should have never gotten in the way, Trip... And now she's gone."

                                        With the chapter of her novel complete, Andrea stretched, yawned and checked the time: 11:23 PM. She crawled over to her backpack and purse, taking care not to make too much noise, and put her phone away. She grabbed the backpack and brought it back to where she was and placed it down with the intention of using it as a pillow. Unfortunately, it was very uncomfortable and she had difficulty falling asleep.

                                        Several minutes passed by in relative silence until a faint sound came from somewhere in the forest: the slow and repetitive sound of old, crunchy leaves and snapping branches. A deep guttural moaning soon followed. Andrea opened her eyes and cautiously looked around, but she couldn't see anything through the darkness. She figured that it was just exhaustion playing tricks on her mind and she closed her eyes once more.

                                        SNAP! It happened again. As before, deep moaning accompanied the sound of the branch snapping.

                                        This time, Andrea sat up to look around, but it did little to help the fact that the forest was too dark to see anything. "H-hello?" she sheepishly called out.

                                        No response. Just a dark, empty and silent forest, nothing more.

                                        She reached for her purse and opened it, then grabbed her R-Kit from within. She turned the screen on in the hopes that it might have fixed itself by now, but unfortunately it was just as broken as ever, if not more so. Rather than a static and garbled mess of pixels, the screen rapidly flashed with all sorts of seemingly random and obviously incorrect information.

                                        "Rrrrrruuuuuuuuuuuuurrrrgggghhhlhh"

                                        She was thoroughly freaked out by now and crawled over to Kimberly's side of the camp as fast as she could. She grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her. "Kim? Kim, wake up!"

                                        Kimberly stirred in her sleep and opened her eyes. "Huh? Nicole?" she asked. She tilted her head to the side and thought for a second. "Wait, you're not Nicole... What is it?"

                                        "There's something out in the forest and I don't know what it is!" she said as she looked around like a paranoid schizophrenic.

                                        Kimberly sat up. "What are you talking about?" The tone of her voice suggested annoyance, as if she didn't believe whatever crazy thing her friend was talking about.

                                        "Listen carefully!"

                                        Several moments passed in silence, but eventually, another branch snapped and echoed against the trees.

                                        "What the hell is that?"

                                        Kimberly dismissed her thoughts readily, based on nearly a year of practical prior experience. "It's probably just some wildlife, go back to bed." She laid back down and found a comfortable position once again. "It won't approach the fire, you have nothing to worry about."

                                        Andrea crawled back to her side of the camp and began to dig through her purse for her phone. "...nothing to worry about..." she muttered quietly. "...gonna get us killed..." As she did so, another deep, rumbling groan rang out from the darkness.

                                        This time, Kimberly heard it and she immediately sat up. "That's... that's not the wildlife." she coldly said. She reached down for the Master Ball that dangled from her hip and gripped it tightly.

                                        "Then what is it?"

                                        Kimberly shook her head. "I don't know, but I don't like it." She tossed the Master Ball to the other end of the camp, causing it to explode with a burst of bubbles that glistened in the firelight. Juliano appeared and sat next to the fire.

                                        As terrifying as the unknown sound was, it captivated Andrea's curiosity. She wanted to know what the sound was, what was making it, and whether it may be a threat or not. After all, it was possible that they were worried about nothing. "Think we should check it out?"

                                        "Absolutely not," Kimberly adamantly said. "We should stay by the fire. It's safer here and we can see what we're doing."

                                        "That's probably a good idea..." she concluded. "Are you certain you don't know what it is?"

                                        "Yes. I've never heard a sound like that in my life."

                                        "Great..." She shook her head as she thought of what to do. She thought that Dr. Reiland might have some valuable advice, but plans to call her were immediately dashed since it was quite late at night. She defaulted to Patrick as her next choice. As she dialed his number, more branches snapped in the distance, followed by another deep and drone-like groan. Her pace quickened and she waited impatiently for an answer.

                                        The phone rang five times before he finally answered. "Hello?"

                                        "Hey, Patrick?" she asked.

                                        "That's me. Who is this?"

                                        "It's Andrea, your new employee."

                                        "Oh! Right, yeah. Still getting used to your voice." he said. "Why are you calling this late? Does this have something to do with... well..."

                                        "Now is not the time!" she snapped. "I need some help."

                                        "Sure, what can I do for you?"

                                        "I'm camped out in the middle of a forest called the Spritewood... I need some information about it." she said.

                                        "You do remember that you can find information pretty easily with your R-Kit, right?" he asked. "I'm sure whatever you need can be found with it."

                                        "It's not working! The screen is just static and none of the buttons are doing anything!" Another branch snapped in the distance, this time much louder than before. A gurgling moan followed soon after. "Just help me, please. I need to know if there have been any strange sightings in the forest."

                                        "Huh... yeah, give me a minute," he said. There was a long pause in the conversation. "Strange how? I need to know what to look for, first."

                                        She watched as Juliano approached the edge of the camp, inching closer to where the sounds had been originating from. "There's something out there and it doesn't sound friendly. It's making the creepiest moaning noises and it sounds like it's getting closer. This girl I'm with is convinced it's not the local wildlife."

                                        "Let's see... strange sightings... Spritewood..." Another long pause. "I'm not finding anything, other than the presence of orbs of light often seen during the day. You seen any of those? Might be worth looking at! As far as wildlife is concerned, it's mostly birds... You know, Pidgeys, Hoot-Hoots, Taillows. Mammals include Stantlers, Eevees, Sentrets, Cubones, even a feral Ponyta has been seen in the area every now and then. There's not much else out there."

                                        "And none of those make moaning sounds like what I'm hearing..." she mumbled.

                                        "That girl you're with, she's a Pokémon trainer, right?"

                                        "She is."

                                        "What's she got with her?"

                                        "A Blastoise."

                                        "Pffft! You'll be fine, then! Call me when you get to town and I'll walk you through the steps involved in resetting your R-Kit."

                                        "Can't we do it now?" she asked. Another chilling moan echoed through the forest. "I'd really like to know what I'm up against."

                                        "I'd like to help, but it's a lengthy process and you don't have the tools on hand," he said. He could almost sense that his words did little to comfort her, so he added, "If you happen to find whatever is making your mystery noise, document it the old fashioned way. You're perfectly capable of doing that."

                                        She sighed.

                                        "Anything else I can help with?"

                                        "No, that's all."

                                        "Stay safe out there. Get in touch soon." The phone clicked and the call ended.

                                        She lowered her phone into her lap. "Well! He was no help." She stood up and gingerly approached the edge of the camp, then strained to see through the darkness around her, but the lack of ambient light made it impossible to see anything. She debated it for a moment before throwing caution to the wind. "Hello?" she called out. "If anyone is out there, please say something!"

                                        The gurgling moan returned, this time ending with a gravelly howl.

                                        "What are you doing?!" Kimberly whispered loudly.

                                        "If this is some sort of a prank, ha ha! Very funny! You got us!" she shouted.

                                        For a few seconds, the forest was silent, silence that was broken with a very loud clicking noise. Before she knew it, Andrea's left leg had buckled under her, sending her tumbling to the forest floor. Sharp pain shot through her lower body in radiating waves, centered around her inner thigh. Her painful shout prompted quick action from Kimberly, who rushed over to help her back onto her feet.

                                        "What the hell was that?!" she grumbled.

                                        Another loud click echoed through the forest and the sound of a fast moving projectile whizzed past their heads.

                                        She instinctively pointed out a large tree just a few feet away. "Quick, behind that tree! Go!"

                                        The two took cover behind the tree and hunkered down. Kimberly made some hand gestures towards Juliano and he charged towards the tree as fast as he could. He stood firm next to the tree, turning his hardened shell towards the source of the clicking noise. Meanwhile, Andrea struggled against the darkness to see just what had happened. She ran her hand up her leg and felt a deep cut halfway up her thigh. When she pulled her hand back, she found that it was covered in blood.

                                        "Fffffff...fudge!" she struggled to squeeze out as she inspected her wound. "What do we do?!"

                                        Kimberly took a brief moment to formulate a plan. "We have to stand our ground against whatever is out there. You're in no condition to go anywhere."

                                        She compressed her wound as best as she could, shaking from the pain. "You sure you and your Blastoise can--"

                                        "Hush with those thoughts, friend," Kimberly said. She noticed Andrea's heavy shaking and grabbed her by the shoulder. "Come now! Deep, steady breathing! That'll help with the pain."

                                        Kimberly stood up and gingerly approached her Blastoise. Their eyes met and they both nodded at each other. He matched her movements almost perfectly, keeping her shielded from any potential attack as she made her way towards her backpack on the other end of the camp. She reached down and dug through the largest section of the backpack until she found what she was looking for: a box of first aid supplies. She was certain it wouldn't be enough to fix her friend up, but it would have to do.

                                        As the two made their way back towards Andrea, the clicking noise returned, this time in a burst of three. The sound of three projectiles bouncing off of Juliano's shell were very crisp and clear against the relative silence of the forest. He turned around and growled in the general direction that the projectiles came from, still making sure to shield his master from further attack.

                                        "Stay focused, Juliano, don't leave our side!" she ordered as she knelt down and opened the first aid kit.

                                        He obeyed the order and took his position next to the tree, turning his shell back towards the source of the projectiles.

                                        She returned her attention to Andrea and rolled up the hem of her dress to get a closer look at the wound. Whatever had hit her sailed straight through and left a precise, almost surgical cut about half an inch deep into her skin. "Get ready, I'm about to apply some disinfectant." she said as she poured a bottle of clear liquid onto a small piece of cloth.

                                        As soon as the cloth made contact with her skin, Andrea jumped in pain. She tried as hard as she could to contain it, but a stream of vulgar obscenities and insults directed at Kimberly escaped from her mouth. Despite the outburst, she was grateful for the assistance. A thick layering of gauze was wrapped around her leg several times; a sloppy job, but Kimberly was far from an expert in first aid.

                                        She shook her head. "I did the best that I could, friend. We need to get you to a real doctor tomorrow."

                                        Andrea wasn't interested in the platitudes; instead, a peculiar sound held her attention, the sound of nearby footfalls. "You hear that?" she asked as she struggled her way over towards Juliano's side. What she saw sent chills down her spine. "Uhhh! What is THAT?!"

                                        A humanoid figure, roughly four feet tall, lumbered out of the shadows, dimly lit by the light of the campfire. The fragile-looking figure appeared to be constructed entirely out of old, mismatched bones. Where its arms should have been were two wickedly curved blades, fashioned out of sharpened bits of bone, all held together by a twisting network of glowing purple tendrils. Bits of dead flesh hung from the joints in the creature's frame, and the stench of decay that lingered in its wake was ferocious and overpowering.

                                        Kimberly shrieked in horror as her eyes met the gruesome creature's figure and toppled over like a tree in the wind, fainting before she even hit the forest floor.

                                        The creature's jaw opened and it let out a shrill screeching sound, then leapt through the air with surprising agility. Juliano responded with his own uncharacteristic speed, placing himself between the bone creature and its target, his incapacitated master. The aberration landed on his back and raised its scythe-like arms, then let loose a barrage of quick and wild strikes. Luckily, the creature attempted to strike at his hardened shell and did very little besides leave a few cosmetic scratches behind.

                                        Andrea crawled over towards Kimberly and tried to lift her up. "C'mon, c'mon, c'moooon, we have to go!" Andrea pleaded as she struggled. However, the pain from her leg wound made it much too agonizing and difficult to drag her friend away.

                                        Juliano tried as hard as he could to reach the creature, but his stubby arms wouldn't reach above his head. Instead, he went with the next best plan: he turned his back to the tree and rushed backwards as fast as he could. The creature smashed apart from the impact and shattered pieces of bone rained down over a wide area. The faint purple light that glimmered on the tendrils that held the creature together flashed brightly before fading altogether. With the threat taken care of, he hurried to his master's side to check on her.

                                        "It's okay, I think she just fainted. I can't find any injuries." Andrea said, trying to comfort the Blastoise. She looked back at the tree, still splattered with a bit of decaying flesh that had a bone chunk embedded in it. "What the hell was that thing? I've never seen anything like it, never heard of anything like it!"

                                        Juliano could do little more than shrug. He, too, had never experienced anything similar.

                                        "Think there's more of those things out there?"

                                        Again, all he did was shrug. He reached under Kimberly's back and legs and picked her up, then brought her back towards the campsite.

                                        Andrea followed, stumbling on her injured leg. She found another tree to rest against and let out a deep breath as she fell to the ground. Thoughts began to race through her mind: What was that creature? Where did it come from? In all her years of studying biology, nothing like it was ever touched upon by any of her professors, her books or her independent reading. The closest thing that came to mind was a peculiar and little-known species by the name of Duskull, but that clearly wasn't a Duskull. She began to make early conclusions and mental notes based on what little she had seen of the creature when she remembered what Patrick had said:

                                        Document it the old fashioned way. You're perfectly capable of doing that.

                                        She struggled her way to her feet and cautiously approached the splattered remains, still dangling from the tree. There was little information to be taken from the mess that Juliano left behind; to her, it was just a piece of decaying flesh with a jagged shard of broken bone wedged in it. Still, the peculiar tendrils that once glowed with a purple light stuck out. As little as she wanted to, she took a picture of the horrifying sight. She had a little exploration around the camp, identifying several more bone fragments that came from the creature. They all had lingering remnants of the tendril system still attached to them, further evidence of this creature's unbelievable existence.

                                        Eventually, the pain from walking around grew to be too much and she returned to her spot beside the fire. Kimberly was still unconscious, Juliano maintaining a patient vigil over her. She rested her head on her backpack and closed her eyes, ready to finally get to sleep. She did what she could to empty her mind of her thoughts; between the exhaustion and the excitement, they had started to make very little logical sense, and she knew it was a waste of time to think about it any further.

                                        It took some time, but she finally fell asleep.
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                                          #21    
                                        Old May 6th, 2017 (3:59 PM).
                                        Eliza Prescott's Avatar
                                        Eliza Prescott Eliza Prescott is offline
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                                          Join Date: Nov 2016
                                          Location: Upstate New York
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                                          Posts: 36
                                          Land of the Roses
                                          Chapter 16: Fact and Fiction



                                          Thmp. Thmp. Thmp.

                                          Juliano's slow, rhythmic heartbeat was all that Kimberly could hear as she rested her head against his chest. The sound had been constant for nearly six hours. Such a repetitive sound would drive most people mad, but it was the only thing keeping her sane. It distracted her from her thoughts, from the horrible sights and sounds of the previous night. Every time she closed her eyes, even briefly, she saw it: the eldritch, unexplainable creature, shambling out of the darkness and fixing its piercing, hollow eyes on her.

                                          Thmp. Thmp. Thmp.

                                          She had been trying for hours to find a way to calm herself down. Her usual method of dealing with traumatic events was to meditate, but her mind was too foggy and too fatigued. She tried to steady her erratic breathing, but it was much too difficult with what she had seen. The only thing that brought her peace were the dancing flames in the dying campfire and Juliano's steady heartbeat.

                                          Thmp. Thmp. Thmp.

                                          There was movement from the other side of the camp: Andrea silently stirred in her sleep. With a stretch, a yawn and a groan, she struggled to push herself up off of the ground. She shielded her eyes from the light of the rising sun as she looked around. The first thing she did was rummage through her purse for her phone and check the time: 7:17 AM.

                                          "Morning," Kimberly said.

                                          Andrea looked across the camp. "How are you feeling? You don't look so great."

                                          She lifted her head off of Juliano's chest. "You just answered your own question." she quietly said.

                                          Andrea nodded. "How'd you sleep?"

                                          She rested her head back on Juliano and searched for his heartbeat. "I didn't. I couldn't."

                                          "Yeah, I didn't sleep very well, either..." Andrea said as she leaned up against a nearby tree.

                                          "How is your leg?" she asked.

                                          Andrea rolled the hem of her dress upward and studied the bandage that was wrapped around her leg. It was now a deep burgundy in color and stiff as a board, but at least it was dry. She stood up and put her weight on the leg; it was nearly enough to send her crashing to the ground in agony, but she held the pain inside. "I'm fine to walk, that's what matters." she strained.

                                          "No, you're clearly not."

                                          "You're right, I'm not... but I'm not staying here, I'm not waiting for a rescue. There could be more of those... things out there."

                                          "Juliano can carry you, if you need."

                                          Andrea ignored the offer and reached into her backpack. She grabbed a small notebook and a pen, then began the agonizing journey across the camp towards the remains of the strange creature from the previous night. With some sunlight, she could get a better look at it, but just the sight of it sent chills down her spine. "What are you..." she whispered to herself as she covered her nose. She knelt down so that she could closely inspect it.

                                          "Do you have any idea of what it is?" Kimberly called out.

                                          She poked at the remains of the creature with her pen, pushing the bones about. "No. Never seen anything like it, or even heard of anything like it." she answered. She took down some basic notes about the creature, or at least what little was left of it: size, body structure and the way it moved the previous night. "My best educated guess?" she started, then paused to think. She shook her head. "Nevermind. I've got nothing."

                                          Kimberly tapped on Juliano's chest and looked up at him. "Come, Juliano, let's get up."

                                          Juliano helped his fragile and shaky master to her feet, taking special care to make sure that she was capable of walking on her own. He knew that she was exhausted not just from the previous night, but from the full day of hiking beforehand. He offered his arms out to carry her, but she shook her head and declined. Instead, all she did was kick some dirt onto the dying embers of the campfire.

                                          "Are you ready to leave?" she called out.

                                          "Not yet, I need to document this thing," she answered as she wrote down some more information.

                                          "Document?"

                                          She began a very rough and poorly done drawing of the creature's 'head'. "My colleagues are going to want to hear about it. They probably won't believe me... hell, I don't believe it, and I saw it! But if someone back at the lab wants to investigate further, it won't hurt to give them as much information as I can."

                                          "It won't take long, will it? This place is making me feel uneasy..."

                                          "Give me ten more minutes, maybe?" she asked, making a rough estimate based purely on nothing.

                                          "Do hurry, friend..." Kimberly said before putting as much distance as she could between herself and the battered remains of the creature.

                                          Several moments passed by as she tried to draw the creature from memory. It was clear that she wasn't an artist by any stretch of the definition; what appeared in her notebook looked very little like the creature as it truly was. The proportions were wrong, the overall body shape was misaligned, and her skills didn't allow for any finer details. She grew frustrated with what she saw and flipped her notebook closed.

                                          "Now... to find someone who will believe me."

                                          - - - - -

                                          Fr: Patrick Adelaide, May 17th, 9:06 AM
                                          'Good god, what the hell are these pictures you sent me? Looks like a mangled corpse!'

                                          Fr: Andrea Dennison, May 17th, 9:07 AM
                                          'no idea. never heard of or seen anything like it, was hoping you might know'

                                          Fr: Patrick Adelaide, May 17th, 9:07 AM
                                          'I couldn't say. I don't recognize that bone structure. Why are you sending me pictures of a long dead Pokémon anyways?'

                                          Fr: Andrea Dennison, May 17th, 9:09 AM
                                          'because that thing attacked us last night and i want to know what it is!'

                                          Fr: Patrick Adelaide, May 17th, 9:12 AM
                                          'Attacked you? What the hell are you talking about?'

                                          Fr: Patrick Adelaide, May 17th, 9:12 AM
                                          'You're not seriously suggesting the walking dead attacked you, are you?'

                                          Fr: Andrea Dennison, May 17th, 9:13 AM
                                          'im having trouble believing it too'

                                          Fr: Patrick Adelaide, May 17th, 9:14 AM
                                          'It's probably because you're making it up. There's never been any credible documentation of the dead coming back to life, and there never will be.'

                                          Fr: Andrea Dennison, May 17th, 9:15 AM
                                          'so youre saying you dont believe me?'

                                          Fr: Patrick Adelaide, May 17th, 9:17 AM
                                          'Look, I get it. You're new, you're nervous, you want to prove yourself by discovering something interesting. That's cool. But... come on, you have to admit, it's a hard thing to believe.'

                                          Fr: Patrick Adelaide, May 17th, 9:17 AM
                                          'Until I physically see this thing walking around, I don't buy your story.'

                                          She grumbled as she read the message, but she honestly wasn't surprised by his reaction. She had hoped that as a man of science, he would keep an open mind, but he was right: a walking corpse was definitely difficult to believe. However, rather than continue trying to convince him, she turned to someone else:

                                          Fr: Andrea Dennison, May 17th, 9:19 AM
                                          'morning, dr reiland! have you had a chance to look over what I sent you?'

                                          A few minutes went by as she patiently awaited a response from her boss. Much to her shock, the shrill tone of her phone ringing pierced through the quiet forest; the caller ID indicated that it was Dr. Reiland.

                                          "Morning," she answered.

                                          "Morning. I hope that it's not a bad time to talk. These arthritic fingers of mine... they don't get along with text messages."

                                          "Oh, no! It's not a problem at all! I'm actually happy to talk... my friend here isn't very sociable this morning."

                                          "Hmm. To answer your earlier question, yes, I did get a look at the photos you sent me. I'm not quite sure what to make of it, so perhaps you could run me through what you found?"

                                          "This is going to sound really hard to believe, but..."

                                          "Ooooh, I love conversations that begin this way!"

                                          The apparent enthusiasm of her boss put her at ease. "Umm, well. I'm not sure that makes it any easier to explain what happened." she started. "Are you aware of any strange circumstances in the Spritewood, by any chance?"

                                          "That's what you're investigating, isn't it? Doranshire is in the heart of the Spritewood." Dr. Reiland answered. "I have heard of strange things over the years, yes. Livestock from local farms going missing, trees suffering from unexplained blights, and of course the recent reports of strange happenings in town. What does this have to do with that... unsightly corpse you sent photos of?"

                                          "First, do you have any idea of what it was?" she asked.

                                          "No. I don't recognize the anatomical structure at all, and the placement of specific bones is certainly... unnatural, to say the least."

                                          "I thought that myself... that's not the bizarre part, though."

                                          "Oh?"

                                          For a brief moment, she was hesitant to explain further, but realized that she had already cornered herself into doing so. "That creature... it attacked us."

                                          "Attacked you?" Dr. Reiland asked. There was a short pause, as if she were studying the photos more closely. "That thing?"

                                          She chuckled nervously. "You don't believe me, do you..."

                                          Dr. Reiland let out a long and thoughtful breath. "Pardon me if I'm a little skeptical... There have been stories over the years..." she started. "Mostly superstitious folk tales from other parts of the world, mind you."

                                          "So... you don't believe me."

                                          "I wouldn't go that far. Do you remember in the early years of your studies, you touched on taxonomy? Specifically the kingdom structure?"

                                          She nodded. "Yes. Bacteria, protista, fungi, plantae and animalia."

                                          "I noticed that you left out spiritae."

                                          "Well, the debate still continues on that one..."

                                          "It does. Did any of your professors discuss it?"

                                          "Professor Burke, and he was very brief about it."

                                          "Not much is known about these mysterious creatures, other than they don't quite fit the description of animals and plants. They're so rare and difficult to study! In fact, a specific species comes to mind, Duskull. We don't know what exactly a Duskull is since one has never been studied closely before. This has led to the theory that it is some sort of... well, a ghost! The reanimated remains of a deceased creature. Now, it's very likely that this theory is erroneous, but there's also the slim chance that it's not."

                                          "That sounds insane, but it also sounds like the creature I encountered last night," she said. "I wish I had an explanation."

                                          "Searching for an explanation is why we do what we do. The world is a large and mysterious place, Ms. Dennison, and there is still very, very much to learn about it. We in the scientific community discover new things every week, sometimes every day. In fact, just last week, you and Patrick may have discovered a previously undocumented species of Pokémon. Of course, we might never know if you did, since you two... nevermind that!"

                                          "Sorry about that. That was mostly Patrick's decision."

                                          "Back to the matter at hand, what do you mean when you say this creature attacked you? How so?"

                                          "Honestly, it was kind of a blur," she explained. "It was over so quick, and I was cowering behind a tree the whole time. Kimberly here didn't see anything, either. All I know is that it has some sort of ranged attack, because it hit me before I could even see it."

                                          There was an audible gasp on the other end of the line. "Hit you? Are you okay?"

                                          "It's nothing," she said as she rubbed her hand over the wound on her leg. "Just a minor cut on my leg. I'll visit a doctor when I get to town."

                                          "If you say so. I would say you're quite fortunate that this thing didn't get in close. Those... 'arms'... They look... Well, I'll assume you're familiar with the Scyther species and its famously sharp bladed arms."

                                          "Yeah..."

                                          "Anything else about how this creature behaved that you can shed some light on?"

                                          She shook her head. "I didn't see much. As I said, I was hiding the entire time."

                                          "If what you say about this creature is true, I don't blame you! I'd have probably run from it, myself... Well, if I was capable of running, that is! What about the noises it made, how it moved? Anything out of the ordinary will be helpful."

                                          "I have some notes that I took down, I'll get them to you as soon as I can. In fact, hold on." She lowered her phone and called out to Kimberly, "Hey, is it okay if we stop for a sec?"

                                          Kimberly turned around. "Is something wrong?"

                                          "No, I just need to get something from my backpack."

                                          Kimberly nodded. "Let her down softly, Juliano."

                                          Despite the assurances to Dr. Reiland that the wound on her leg was 'nothing', the reality was different; Juliano had been carrying her for nearly two hours, as the pain was simply too much to fight through. She received a fresh reminder of that pain as she was let down to the ground, and she took care to mute her groans of agony.

                                          She dropped her backpack to the ground, opened it and grabbed her notebook. She flipped to the page that detailed her encounter with the strange creature and activated the camera feature on her phone. "I can't promise it'll be any good, but I'll send you a photo of my notes for now. Hopefully you can read my awful writing."

                                          Dr. Reiland let out a chuckle.

                                          With the page in focus, she snapped the photo and immediately sent it to the doctor. "There, it should be in your e-mail. Give it a look when you have the time." She put her notebook back into her backpack and picked it up, then motioned upwards towards Juliano. "I'm ready." she whispered. Juliano picked her up effortlessly and the group resumed their travels.

                                          Dr. Reiland was silent for a moment before she finally said, "Mmm! A full page of notes!"

                                          "I wrote down everything I could recall. Some of it might be a bit speculative, I admit..."

                                          "I knew that assigning you to Doranshire would be a good idea," the doctor said. "Your story, while fascinating and unbelievable, intrigues me. I'll see if I can find any other information others may have on it."

                                          "You're serious?" she asked. "I sent these findings to Patrick, too, and he immediately dismissed me as a crackpot."

                                          "I don't blame him. He's very grounded in reality, and stubborn as a mule to boot. Years of experience, experience he doesn't quite have yet, have taught me to be open minded, even with the unbelievable. That's what science is, after all: finding ways to prove or disprove that which we can not believe." Doctor Reiland explained. "Anyways! If there's nothing else, I'll get started on this."

                                          "There is something else, actually. I... have a physical sample, as well."

                                          "A physical sample, you say?"

                                          "I grabbed a bone fragment off of the creature."

                                          "Eww!" the doctor shouted. "I mean, that's good, but... eww!"

                                          Andrea laughed.

                                          "I imagine you don't want to be carrying that thing around for too long. As soon as you reach Doranshire, visit the Pokécenter. I'll take it off your hands and send it to the medical lab for analysis."

                                          "Understood."

                                          "Good luck out there, Ms. Dennison, and be careful. There may actually be something to these wild stories coming out of Doranshire. It would certainly explain my colleague's interest..."

                                          The warning encouraged her to ask, "Are you sure I'm up for it, then?"

                                          "While the absence of Ms. Dahl will certainly hinder you, I believe in you. That's why I assigned you to this task."

                                          While the words were nice to hear, she didn't believe them. She recalled what was said about her the previous day at the Oak of Ages, about how her assignment to Doranshire was just another test of her abilities. To her, it was pointless to test abilities that were already supposedly believed in.

                                          "Anywho, let me know when you reach Doranshire! I'll speak to you later."

                                          "Will do. Talk to you later." she said as she hung up. "Well, at least someone believes this crazy story of ours."

                                          Kimberly let out a long sigh. "That does not make me feel better about it."

                                          "I didn't think it would," she replied. "I'm sorry for putting you through this. I shouldn't have pressured you--"

                                          "You didn't pressure me, I wanted to come along. Besides, it's a good thing that I did. What if Juliano wasn't here to protect you?"

                                          She looked up and studied Juliano as he continued to carry her through the forest. She realized that Kimberly was right; Juliano was the only reason that she was still alive.

                                          "I'd feel much, much worse than I do right now if I found out that you never made it to Doranshire."

                                          "I suppose I should thank you, then."

                                          Kimberly stopped in her tracks and took a deep breath to calm herself. "Perhaps we can discuss this later? I don't feel like talking right now."
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                                            #22    
                                          Old May 27th, 2017 (5:01 AM). Edited June 3rd, 2017 by Eliza Prescott.
                                          Eliza Prescott's Avatar
                                          Eliza Prescott Eliza Prescott is offline
                                          Misfit Angel
                                             
                                            Join Date: Nov 2016
                                            Location: Upstate New York
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                                            Posts: 36
                                            Land of the Roses
                                            Chapter 17: A Quiet Village



                                            "Thank the goddess..."

                                            Kimberly, with Juliano and Andrea lagging shortly behind, passed by a sign that welcomed them to the village of Doranshire, population 276. They had finally made it, and just in time; the retreating light from the setting sun had caused the automated lighting along the road to flicker on, a welcoming sight in the growing darkness. Before long, the scant glow of the outdated street lamps had given way to the bright lights of the village's heart, Lord's Square. For the first time in nearly twenty four hours, they felt at peace.

                                            At a glance, Doranshire seemed just like any other small town; brick and mortar buildings, clean streets, chatty locals and the sweet scent of handmade success. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. No strange sights, no strange sounds, nothing to indicate that any of the bizarre reports over the past few weeks were true. If anything, the only strange sight in the town was the injured young woman being carried by a Blastoise.

                                            Brief discussions with the locals revealed two things: Doranshire lacked both a proper hotel and a proper doctor, the two things the girls needed the most at the moment.

                                            Andrea was stumped. "So what do we do know?"

                                            "The last time I was here, a lovely elderly couple ran a bed and breakfast. I wonder if they're still around?" Kimberly suggested.

                                            "Do you remember where they were?"

                                            "I do. Come, Juliano, let's take her there."

                                            - - - - -

                                            The television in the lounge was tuned to one of the country's many 24 hour news networks, the Crown News Network specifically. The major headline of the night focused on the disappearance of Tamara Dahl, Andrea's intended travel partner; furious debate erupted between a panel of 'experts' as they wildly speculated about what had happened to her, and what her disappearance might mean for the once safe atmosphere the Kingdom of Lanark had been known for. The host had difficulty controlling the discussion and requested a commercial break.

                                            "It's all panel shows, now..." an elderly man said as he shook his head. "What happened to the simple days when a single anchor reported on the news? No opinions, no speculation... just... news."

                                            "What happened to the simple days when you didn't watch this crap?" an equally elderly lady quipped as she focused on a crossword puzzle in front of her.

                                            He chuckled. "That's a very good question." As he raised the remote to turn the TV off, the soothing chime of the doorbell bounced throughout the tiny house. "I'll get it."

                                            The elderly man grabbed a cane from beside his chair and pushed his way to his feet. He slowly made his way from the cozy and cramped lounge, down the narrow hallway and through the heavenly-smelling kitchen to the door. He opened the door and was greeted by the sight of two young women who had just turned around to leave. "Ah!" he called out, hoping to grab their attention again. "Good evening! Is there something I can help you with?"

                                            Kimberly turned around. "Yes, Mr... Holdt, was it?"

                                            His face lit up. "Ah! You know my name!"

                                            "Yes! I visited this town sometime last year and stayed with you. Do you and your wife still operate your bed and breakfast?"

                                            "Till the day I die," he said. He opened the door further and motioned for the two to enter. "Nadine, my dear! We have guests!" He wandered over to the stove and took the top off of the still-warm pot of vegetable stew, then reached for two bowls. "Tell me, what is your name, young one?"

                                            "Kimberly Fairbrooke," she said. She pointed to Andrea. "And this is my friend, Andrea Dennison."

                                            "I have many guests, so unfortunately I don't quite remember you. I'm honored that you remembered little ol' me, however!" He put the two bowls of vegetable stew on the table and offered the girls a seat. "If you're looking for lodgings, you'll have to share a room. My son is currently renovating one of our two guest rooms and it's not quite ready for use."

                                            She turned to Andrea. "Sharing a room, huh? That won't be a problem, will it?"

                                            "I don't see why it would be."

                                            The three took their seats at the table and began to negotiate payment. Mrs. Holdt made a brief appearance, as if to check to see that her husband was actually talking about business, then disappeared into the lounge again when a few coins slid across the table.

                                            "So, what brings you two to town? Just passing through, or do you have business here?"

                                            "I'm passing through, yes," Kimberly answered.

                                            "Work," Andrea added.

                                            Mr. Holdt's left eyebrow shot up and nearly popped off his head. "Oh really? What are you doing, if you don't mind my asking? It's been awhile since an outsider came to town simply to work."

                                            Andrea looked over at Kimberly, then back down at her vegetable stew. "I'm here to investigate some of the strange things that have been reported in town."

                                            "An outside investigator... ah, yes... It's good that you're here. The village council isn't taking what's happening as seriously as they should."

                                            She shrugged. "It seems that you do... What do you know about these reports?"

                                            "There's a lot to talk about. Anything specific you're interested in?"

                                            She reached into her backpack and grabbed a notebook and a pen. She had compiled a list of subjects she'd read about and started from the top. "I read an article about an elderly lady who claimed that a demon was trying to enter her house. Sound familiar?"

                                            "Yes, actually. That would be Mrs. Miggins." he said before making a spiral motion with his fingers at the side of his head. "That lady... she's certified nuts, if you ask me. She's been making claims like that for nearly twenty years, after her husband passed. Most people have learned to tune her out."

                                            She began to jot down some basic notes. "Where does she live? Even if she is crazy, it might be worth my time to talk to her."

                                            "I would not waste your time with her. But if you insist, you'll find her house on Whetstone Lane. You'll know which one it is when you find it. It's choked by vines, the stone walls are crumbling and there's a giant willow tree looming over it."

                                            "Whetstone... Willow tree..." she muttered as she continued her notes. "Got it, thank you."

                                            "You take care around her, you hear? She's been... known to lash out at people, even get physical from time to time. She's a frail, old flower, so you could probably handle her with ease, but..."

                                            She nonchalantly dismissed the warning. "I'll keep that in mind."

                                            "I'm serious, lassie."

                                            She looked over at Kimberly for a brief moment, then returned to the next item on her list. "I also read something about a ghost walking up and down Mill Street?"

                                            "I've heard of it, but I haven't seen it myself," he said. "Supposedly it's the spirit of the old mill owner, people say he's wearing a tuxedo and has a stovepipe hat."

                                            "Anything else?"

                                            He silently shook his head.

                                            She took down some more notes and nodded. "I already know to look at the school..." she muttered. "Oh yeah, how about those lights in the forest west of here? Do you have any idea of what those are?"

                                            "No idea. Whatever they are, they come and go peacefully, and they're rarely seen in town." He leaned back in his chair and looked toward the ceiling, as if he was searching the depths of his memory. "We had a talented young man with a mind for science who lived in this town a few years back, those orbs were his passion. His life, even. He spent days, sometimes weeks camped out in the forest, trying to figure out what they were. Don't think he ever figured it out."

                                            "Had? Is he not here anymore?"

                                            He shook his head. "He packed up and left about three years ago. Said something about heading home and joining his brothers and sisters. Far as I knew, he didn't have any family, but..." he shrugged. "Maybe he did. I didn't know him closely."

                                            "What was his name? I'll see if I can track him down."

                                            "I don't think he's even alive anymore, honestly. When he left, he said he was heading for Verdant Vale. That was just a couple months before... well... you know."

                                            "Oh, I see..." she said as a somber tone enveloped the room. She paused for a moment before continuing, "I'll take his name anyways, just in case. He might not have been there at the time."

                                            "William Selkirk. If he is still alive, you'll have trouble finding him. That boy was from up north. Common family name."

                                            She grumbled quietly as she took note of the name. "Figures."

                                            "Anything else you want to ask about?"

                                            "I also read something about burlap dolls?"

                                            Mr. Holdt dismissed the idea readily. "Oh, that's just the kids. Every year in the spring, Mrs. Pashka, the second grade teacher, has her students make them and decorate the town with them. They're some sort of cultural icon from her homeland."

                                            She nodded. "Doesn't sound all that strange then. But the news article I read mentioned that the dolls are usually mutilated."

                                            "Again, probably the kids. They aren't taught manners these days."

                                            She laughed. "That's definitely true." She was hesitant to ask about it, but pushed herself to. "Have you seen any strange creatures in the forest?"

                                            Mr. Holdt shook his head. "I haven't left the village in nearly a decade. There's nothing for me out in that forest, I'm afraid there's nothing I can say about it."

                                            "Fair enough..."

                                            A knocking sound rang out from behind them; Mr. Holdt's wife was stood in the doorway leading into the lounge. "I don't mean to interrupt, Len, but it's nearly midnight. Don't forget, you have a gathering to attend in the morning!"

                                            He grumbled and shook his fist playfully. "Thank you, dear! She's right, I do need to get to bed. I do hope you got the information you were looking for, Ms. Dennison."

                                            "You've been very helpful, thank you."

                                            "Good. Now, let's show you two to your room!"

                                            All four headed up the stairs. Mrs. Holdt broke away from the group and entered the master bedroom, while Mr. Holdt led the two down the hallway towards the room they'd be staying in for the night. As he opened the door, they got a feeling for just how small the room was; the room was barely wide enough for two people standing shoulder to shoulder, a fact amplified by the furniture that was pushed against the walls. The room was equipped with everything they would need: a table to work from, a vanity, a pair of padded wooden chairs and a window view of the village below.

                                            However, one thing stood out: there didn't appear to be a bed anywhere in the room, let alone two of them. Andrea was dismayed by what she saw, but her worries faded somewhat as Kimberly approached the back wall; with a tug of the curtain that hung from the wall, she revealed a small bed, set in its own cozy little alcove.

                                            "Just as comfortable as I remember it!" Kimberly said with a smile on her face.

                                            "If you two need anything, let me know," Mr. Holdt said. "Good night."

                                            "Rest well, and have fun at your gathering in the morning!" she called out as Mr. Holdt left. She sat down on the bed and took her heeled sandals off, then leaned backwards and let out a long groan of relief. The soft and welcoming allure of the bed, coupled with the fact that she had just completed a fourteen hour hike, nearly put her to sleep right then and there.

                                            Andrea, on the other hand, approached the table and took a seat, groaning in pain as she did so. As much as she tried to hide it, the wound on her leg worried her; it had been a roller coaster of pain ever since she'd gotten it, and at that point it had just crested a large hill. She tried to make the pain go away by rubbing at it briefly, but it didn't work, and she began to accept that the pain would be a constant throughout the night, a constant she'd have to live with. She motioned towards the bed. "You mind handing me one of those pillows?"

                                            Kimberly grabbed the largest pillow, then handed it over. She watched the entire scene unfold as Andrea first struggled to put the pillow between her and the chair, then close her eyes and fidget endlessly as she searched for a comfortable position. "You're not going to sleep like that, are you?"

                                            Andrea opened her eyes and looked up. "I'm going to try."

                                            She patted the spot on the bed next to her. "There is a bed, you know."

                                            Andrea dismissed the notion and closed her eyes again. "You already claimed it, you can have it."

                                            "I don't remember claiming anything, and I don't mind sharing."

                                            "Share? Look at how tiny that thing is!" Andrea answered. "Besides, it'd be a little weird, I guess."

                                            "Weird? Why would it be weird?" she asked with genuine curiosity. "Besides, if anyone needs a bed tonight, it's you. I'm not letting a friend suffer while I benefit. I wouldn't even let a stranger suffer."

                                            Andrea opened her eyes and glared at Kimberly, studying her. She thought it was out of the ordinary for a person she had only just met to be so open and so friendly with a stranger and wondered if she might have some sort of ulterior motive. Dr. Reiland's warning of finding someone trustworthy to travel with whispered in the back of her mind; she studied her body language and her facial expressions, but she couldn't find anything untrustworthy about her, just strange. Nothing sinister, no ulterior motives, just someone who cared perhaps a little too much. "If you insist."

                                            "It's no trouble!"

                                            With great pain, she stood back up and silently sauntered across the room towards the bed. She didn't know why, but the whole situation felt incredibly awkward to her, to the point that she wanted to excuse herself from the room. But at the same time, she was tired and just wanted to get some sleep. She sat down on the bed, paused for a moment to appreciate the cloud-like softness, then began the laborious process of unbuckling the dozen or so belts that strapped her boots to her feet. "No funny business, you hear?"

                                            "Funny business?" Kimberly asked, curious of what her friend meant. A few seconds later, it dawned on her. "Oh! No! Don't worry, it's nothing like that. I just want you to wake up well rested. From the sound of things, you have a big day tomorrow."

                                            With her boots removed, she leaned back onto the bed and rested her head on one of the pillows, then began her search for a comfortable position, preferably one that faced away from her friend. "I don't know if I'll be doing anything tomorrow besides getting this cut looked at, honestly. If I even can. How does a town like this not have a practicing doctor? What happens if people get sick, do they just ride it out or die?"

                                            Kimberly giggled. "No, silly! I'll take you to the Pokécenter in the morning, they'll take care of you."

                                            She turned to look at Kimberly, a look of bemusement on her face. "Pokécenter? Look, I'm not--"

                                            "It's not as odd as it sounds! While it's true that they specialize in caring for Pokémon, the nurses who work at the Pokécenters across the country are also trained to handle human patients as well. If the injuries aren't too severe, that is."

                                            She turned away once again and sighed. "That does make sense... And I guess I have to go there to deliver something to Dr. Reiland, anyways."

                                            There was a long pause before Kimberly asked, "I suppose I see now why you were so interested in documenting that creature this morning."

                                            "Hmm?"

                                            "It never crossed my mind to think of why you were coming to this village, but now I know. I had assumed your business here was something... normal!"

                                            "I probably should have told you, shouldn't I... Sorry."

                                            "On the contrary, I should have asked. I blindly agreed to whatever it was you were doing, that was very careless of me." She waited patiently for a response, but one never came. "If you don't mind, I'd like to help you with your work tomorrow."

                                            "What is with this girl? Why does she insist on being a part of everything I do?" Andrea thought.

                                            "Andrea?"

                                            "Huh? Oh, uh... I dunno. An extra pair of hands would be useful, but... Look, before we get ahead of ourselves, let's get to bed, okay? I'm exhausted, and I'm sure you are, too."
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                                              #23    
                                            Old June 3rd, 2017 (7:21 AM). Edited June 23rd, 2017 by Eliza Prescott.
                                            Eliza Prescott's Avatar
                                            Eliza Prescott Eliza Prescott is offline
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                                              Join Date: Nov 2016
                                              Location: Upstate New York
                                              Gender: Female
                                              Posts: 36
                                              Author's note: From this point forward, chapters will be a bit longer than usual. I wasn't satisfied with their length compared to the chapters I've written for other projects. Hopefully it's not an inconvenience.

                                              Land of the Roses
                                              Chapter 18: Sickbay



                                              Inside the Doranshire Pokécenter sat the only staff member on duty, a young nurse with ornately curled and vibrant, shoulder-length red hair. She was lost in the moment; most of her attention was focused on filing her nails while the radio blasted the most popular song to hit the airwaves in recent weeks, Fire:

                                              ♫ Turn the radio up.
                                              Turn the lights down.
                                              Curtains drawn, the game is on!
                                              'Cause she's on fire! (Fire!)
                                              Yeah she's on fire! (Fire!) ♫

                                              ♫ Back in action, without distraction!
                                              She gonna-- ♫


                                              The sound of the front door opening ended the fun and prompted her to shut the radio off. She cleared her throat nervously. "Welcome to our Pokécenter! Is there something I can help with?" She watched as Kimberly struggled to help Andrea over towards the desk. The scene was alarming and she instinctively pointed towards the chairs in the waiting area and rushed over. "Oh dear, what happened?!"

                                              "A mishap on the road a couple days ago," Andrea answered, masking her pain as best she could. "I got hit in the leg by something."

                                              "Lemme see," the nurse ordered as she rolled up the hem of Andrea's dress. She peeled back the bandage and got a closer look at the wound. "Oooh... you said this happened two days ago?"

                                              "Yes."

                                              The nurse stood up and rushed over to the front desk, then grabbed a medical kit off of it. "And you're only just now seeking medical attention?" she asked as she brought the medical kit back.

                                              "We didn't get into town until late last night, it was almost midnight. Why? It's not bad, is it?"

                                              The nurse poked and prodded at the wound, causing Andrea to fidget with pain and jump in surprise. "It's not as bad as it could be. Whoever administered first aid did a darn good job."

                                              Kimberly nodded and absorbed the praise. "That would be me, ma'am."

                                              The nurse continued to inspect the wound. "Now, what exactly hit you?"

                                              She decided to be brief. "I don't know, it was too dark to see what was attacking us. I got hit with some sort of projectile and that was it. It took off on us without further incident." She looked up at Kimberly and nodded. "Right?"

                                              "Uhh, yes. Right." Kimberly answered back.

                                              The nurse shook her head and sighed. "Looks like whatever it was went clean through... But I can't tell for certain." She hopped to her feet and once again rushed over to the front desk. After disappearing into a room behind the reception area, she returned with a wheelchair. "I want to get you into the imaging chamber right away so that we can see exactly what's going on."

                                              "I-imaging chamber?" she sheepishly asked as the nurse encouraged her to move to the chair.

                                              "It's not as scary as it sounds, I assure you."

                                              She let out a deep breath of frustration, then took her spot in the wheelchair. "I hope this doesn't take long. I have a busy day ahead of me."

                                              "I hope not, as well, even if it's given me something to do for the first time in weeks," the nurse replied. With Kimberly close behind, the nurse wheeled Andrea towards a back room, all the while pressing her for more details. She grew frustrated at the limited information she was given, but it wasn't the first time that she had little to work with. If anything, it made the work ahead of her more challenging and, by extension, more interesting.

                                              Before opening the door, she turned to Kimberly. "I'll have to ask you to stay here, ma'am. Patient confidentiality. Unless you two are... ya know."

                                              "Oh! No, we're not. Let me know if you need anything."

                                              The wheelchair crashed through the door and into a small room that was stacked from floor to ceiling with all sorts of delicate looking technology. Despite having never heard of one until just a few moments ago, Andrea immediately recognized the imaging chamber as the large monolith of a machine that was built into the back wall. The chamber featured numerous buttons, sliders, switches and knobs, each accompanied by a display monitor. The door split apart and slid open as they approached and a large padded surface extended outwards.

                                              Andrea bit her lip nervously as she inspected the machine's immensely complicated insides. "This isn't going to hurt, is it?"

                                              "You might feel a slight tingle, maybe some pins and needles, but it won't hurt."

                                              "How about my bank account, will it hurt that?"

                                              The nurse chuckled as she helped Andrea out of the chair and onto the padded surface. "You've been living under a rock, haven't you? Most forms of healthcare have been free for several years now."

                                              It was news to Andrea. "Have they? So I could have been visiting a doctor all this time? That might have saved me a lot of trouble last year..."

                                              "Oh dear... lay back," she said as she pushed Andrea gently. She retreated to the other side of the room and offered some general advice. "Try to stay still. The scan shouldn't take longer than five minutes, and it'll help me to determine if whatever hit you is still inside anywhere, as well as any other health risks such as toxins, infections, all that boring medical stuff."

                                              With the press of a button, the padded surface retracted into the cramped interior of the machine and a series of lights blared in Andrea's face. Once more, she grew nervous as various pieces of hardware moved all around her and a dull, low humming sound radiated around her. The tingling sensation that she was warned about grew with intensity over time, but before she knew it, the machine had shut down and the padded surface was wheeled back out.

                                              "That wasn't so bad, was it?" the nurse asked. She took a moment to inspect the data that was appearing on the screen. Next to a detailed image of Andrea's leg was a long list of impossibly obtuse medical information that she blazed through quickly. "Good. No foreign objects near the wound... No toxins, no poisons... Bacteria levels are slightly higher than normal, but that's nothing to worry about... You're going to be fine!"

                                              Andrea sat up and tried to make heads or tails of the information that was present on the screen, but most of it was lost on her. "That's good to hear. I was kind of worried, considering how painful it's been."

                                              "I wouldn't say that wound is nothing, it's nearly an inch deep. It'll be sore for quite awhile once we get you fixed up."

                                              "How long will that take?"

                                              "I don't know. It's been awhile since I've used a needle. Let's get started."

                                              - - - - -

                                              Andrea gently rubbed at the sutured wound on her leg before quickly retracting her hand. "Oh right, I'm not supposed to touch it..." she thought to herself. She attempted to distract herself with her work; in front of her was a stack of old newspapers, dating back several weeks. She hunted through them for any new information that might be relevant to her work.

                                              Pen met paper as she started a list of people to speak with, numbers to call and locations to visit. With a little help from the map on her phone, she realized just how much work was ahead of her; for every street in the village, at least two reports of strange activities had been made, with a majority of them appearing in the northeastern district.

                                              The silent atmosphere of the room was shattered as Andrea's phone began to ring. She reached over and looked at the name of the incoming call: Eliza McKenna, a longtime friend she had known since childhood. The call came as a surprise, as the two hadn't spoken in months and their last interaction ended on bad terms.

                                              She cautiously accepted the call. "Uhh... hi." she sheepishly answered.

                                              "Oh! You actually answered this time." Eliza said. "I didn't expect this, now I need to think of something to talk about!"

                                              She chuckled. "If you want, I could hang up and ignore you for a few more months."

                                              "But you haven't yet. Does that mean you're starting to feel better?"

                                              She put her pen down and reclined backwards on the bed. "I'm not sure that I ever will. but I had to get back on the horse at some point."

                                              "If you really wanted to get back on the horse, you'd go back to university and earn that doctorate. You've worked too hard to just stop where you did. But... I guess getting a job with one of the most prestigious research centers in the country is the next best thing."

                                              She shrugged at the idea. "I'll go back eventually. I just needed some time away from all that stress... Little did I know I'd be getting even more of it out here in the real world."

                                              "Heh. You still have a lot to learn."

                                              "You're probably right... So what's new with you? It's been awhile since we last spoke."

                                              "Nothing too interesting... just helping your father to put a few bad guys behind bars. We've had a string of burglaries in Goldwheat recently, as I'm sure you've heard. You remember Reggie, that kid we used to hang out with all the time, right? He was the one doing it."

                                              "Reggie, a thief?" she asked, then tilted her head to think. "Can't say I'm surprised. There was always something wrong with that guy."

                                              "Yeah, he didn't have his head screwed on straight. No skills, few friends, no opportunities, it's only natural he'd turn to crime... Anyways, I called to let you know that I've been given a new assignment. I imagine you're familiar with the name Tamara Dahl, right?"

                                              "Why do I have the feeling that you already know the answer to that question?"

                                              "Because I do! When the commissioner was looking the case over, one of the details that came up was that you were going to accompany her to a little village named Doranshire. He wanted to put your dad on the case but he's tied up with something else, so... I guess I got it."

                                              "Oooo...kay? Why is it so important that someone I know handle Tamara's disappearance? I've never met her, I don't know anything about her!"

                                              "Trust me, everyone at county HQ had the same question, myself included. Still, I'm going to give this one a shot... Commissioner Shelby said he's been looking at giving me a promotion, maybe this case is my test."

                                              "Well, good luck then."

                                              "I think I'll need it. I've had a look through the details we already know, I don't even know where to begin other than that convenience store in Aughrim. Hey, speaking of, have you actually left for Doranshire yet?"

                                              "I have, I'm here right now. Her and I were supposed to be investigating something together, I got started on our work without her... Dr. Reiland, my boss, thought that maybe it couldn't wait."

                                              "Cool. My partner and I will be passing through on our way to the city, want to meet up while I'm there?"

                                              "Sure, but... why not just take the train straight to Aughrim?"

                                              "Maybe we'll find something relevant to the case there in Doranshire. I don't want to overlook anything."

                                              "Fair enough. I might be busy but sure, we can meet. Let me know when you get here."

                                              "Will do. It'll be good to see you again."

                                              "Yeah. It's been too long."

                                              "Right, I need to start packing up my stuff for the road. I should have left an hour ago... Talk to you later."

                                              "Mhmm! See ya!" She hung up and placed her phone on the bed beside her, then picked up her pen again. "She's never been one to hold a grudge, at least... I should still apologize when she gets here."

                                              She navigated to the map on her phone once again and started to plot out the route she'd take while following up on her leads. The plan was simple; she wanted to speak with the residents in the northern district about what they've been seeing, then visit the local elementary school to follow up on the 'bleeding walls' that she had read about. Finally, she'd round it off by visiting the local reservoir to check on the water supply. If anything else came up during her stay in the village, she thought, she could stay a bit longer to further investigate.

                                              A knock at the door interrupted her planning, and with a sigh, she put her pen back down. "Come in!" she called out.

                                              The door opened and Kimberly stepped inside. A look of worry instantly overtook her face as she saw Andrea sitting on the bed. "Oh no! How bad is it?"

                                              "All I needed were some stitches. Nothing more."

                                              Kimberly breathed a sigh of relief. "Is that it? I must admit, I was worried when she wanted to rush you off to that... what was it called? Imaging chamber?"

                                              "It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. It was over before I realized it. It definitely reminded me that I'm claustrophobic, though."

                                              "I would probably die in that machine, then. I hate confined spaces!"

                                              She chuckled. "Anyways... You might want to find something to do for the rest of the day."

                                              Kimberly tilted her head to the side in an inquisitive manner. "Oh?"

                                              "The nurse wants me to stay off of my feet for awhile, until tomorrow morning at least. It's going to be a boring day if you stay with me."

                                              "I'm afraid it'll be a boring day regardless. There's not much to do in this village."

                                              "Why not something outside of the village, then? You said it yourself, you wanted to return to the forest and search for an Eevee, so there's an idea."

                                              "That was before we were attacked by that... whatever that thing was. Who knows what else is out there."

                                              "If you don't want to, that's up to you. But do you really want to sit here in a Pokécenter all day?"

                                              "I don't, if I may be honest. Maybe I will have a look through the forest, as long as I don't stray too far." Kimberly lowered her head in thought. "And with Juliano to protect me... I probably would not run into much trouble. And it might be nice to get in touch with nature again."

                                              "Sounds like you've made a decision, then!" she said, returning her attention to the newspaper articles in front of her. She dismissed her friend with a hand wave. "Okay! Have fun!"

                                              "It seems like you're trying to get rid of me!" Kimberly said with a laugh. "I understand, I can be a little overbearing sometimes. I'll give you some time to yourself. See you in a few hours!"

                                              As her friend left, she grabbed her pen and began to further detail her plans. She focused on her visit to the local elementary school specifically. Her chief concern was how to visit without being a distraction towards the students. She also wanted to know who to contact in order to arrange the visit in the first place. She grabbed her phone and began to look up some information about the school, only to be interrupted by the shrieking noise of her ring tone.

                                              "Oh my god!" she shouted, angry about yet another interruption. "Am I ever going to get time to focus on this?!" The caller ID revealed that it was Dr. Reiland calling this time and her rage quickly subsided. She answered, "Hello, doctor!"

                                              "Good morning, Ms. Dennison! How are you today?"

                                              "Could be better, I'm at the Pokécenter with some stitches in my leg."

                                              "Oh? How bad is it?"

                                              "It'll keep me off of my feet until tomorrow, at least. I won't be able to get started today."

                                              "That's fine! Take the time you need to recover." Dr. Reiland answered with a reassuring tone of voice. "Anyways, I have some information for you!"

                                              "Oh yeah? What about?"

                                              "Your mysterious creature. I did some digging, but I haven't come up with much. I shared your findings with Ms. Dahl's employer, a man named Dr. Belmonte. He's one of the world's leading experts on paranormal activity, if not the leading expert. He didn't seem surprised at your findings, but he seemed surprised at that creature's presence here in Lanark."

                                              "So he's familiar with it? Does he know what it is?"

                                              "He doesn't, unfortunately. However, he did tell me that there have been sightings of similar creatures elsewhere. Are you familiar with the legends of the tombwalkers in the ancient pyramids of Kardak?"

                                              "I'm familiar, but I never believed that they were true."

                                              "I don't, either. But the physical description of the supposed tombwalkers does seem to match what you encountered. Four feet tall, humanoid body shape, mismatched bones all held together by burial wrappings..."

                                              "What are you suggesting? That one of the mummies brought back to the Aughrim Archaeological Museum somehow escaped and was wandering through the Spritewood?"

                                              Dr. Reiland let out a hearty laugh. "No, nothing that silly. Just citing some similarities that Dr. Belmonte and I found throughout history. The next record we found dates back to the 14th century. There were sightings of three similar creatures near the Zasagt mountain range over in the Ahnkol Empire, but details were minimal. Apparently all official records of the creature were destroyed during the Great Burning at the end of the fifth dynasty, and all we have to go by is a story passed down through the generations."

                                              "Zasagt? Like, the Temple of Zasagt? I heard something about that, actually. Ming the Merciless was a monk who lived in the area and he was renowned for his cruelty. There were a range of rumors about him; some said he was a cannibal, others said he was a vampire, and others said that he was a practitioner of blood sacrifice. I don't know whether any of them were believable, but his reputation was widespread throughout the empire."

                                              "Ah, a student of history, are we?"

                                              "Uhh... no, not really," she chuckled. "I mostly heard about it while, uhh, researching goth culture."

                                              "Oh. Well, there's always something to learn in the strangest of places! Anyways, that's not the last recorded sighting of such a creature. The only other record Dr. Belmonte and I could find came from his own personal studies."

                                              "So he's seen this creature, then?"

                                              "Not personally, but he's spoken with people who have. Two very reputable people, as Dr. Belmonte described them, explained that they found a creature similar to yours in a forest on Storm Island just a few months ago. They said that the creature wandered aimlessly, but became incredibly violent when it was aware of their presence."

                                              She paused to think. "I think that describes how the one I found acted. I might have accidentally brought attention to myself, and that's when it attacked."

                                              "Hmm. I truly wonder if the creature you found is in any way related to that one, or the reports throughout history. If it is, it's got an impressive range! Three continents and an island surrounded by hundreds of miles of ocean on all sides? There's definitely something unnatural about that."

                                              "It's a walking bone monster, of course it's unnatural!"

                                              "Point taken, but I'm speaking as if it weren't unnatural. There are only a few species of Pokémon -- if this thing is indeed a Pokémon -- that are naturally found worldwide, and they're all birds of some sort. Something like this... I suppose someone could have transported it, yet at the same time, why would it appear in two areas thousands of miles apart?"

                                              "What are you suggesting?"

                                              "I don't know what I'm suggesting, I'll have to dig deeper. I have a feeling that Dr. Belmonte and I are going to be working alongside each other quite a bit in the future. Oh! Speaking of bone, I imagine you'd like that unsightly physical sample you took a few days ago taken off of your hands. Let's do that now."

                                              "It might have to wait, the post office is on the other side of the village and I don't want to--"

                                              "Bah, post office? You're in a Pokécenter, Ms. Dennison! Have a little explore, see if you can find the communications hub. They're usually to the right side of the main entrance."

                                              "I hope the nurse doesn't get mad at me..." she said as she pushed herself off of the bed. She wandered over to her backpack and opened up one of the smaller pockets on it, then retrieved the bone fragment from it. "So... how is this communications hub supposed to help me?"

                                              "You'll see!"

                                              She cautiously approached the doorway and peered out into the main lobby before she realized that caution wasn't needed. The nurse gave her little more than a stern look as she walked across the lobby, but allowed her to do so without comment.

                                              The communications hub was a large room that was lined from wall to wall with a dozen work stations. Each contained a complicated array of delicate computer equipment, a large plasma screen and a table chock full of buttons and slots for connecting things such as phones, cameras and other devices.

                                              She sat down at one of the work stations and asked, "How does this work? Looks awfully complicated."

                                              "There should be a slot in the table marked with a phone icon. Plug yours in and we can get started."

                                              She did as she was told; with the phone plugged in, the screen turned on and it displayed a live video feed of Dr. Reiland in her cramped, cozy office.

                                              With a wave, the doctor said, "Neat, isn't it? I'm surprised you haven't had much experience with the communications hubs in Pokécenters, considering your studies."

                                              "I never had a need to visit a Pokécenter before. I didn't have much contact with Pokémon unless I was doing some sort of group project. And even then, I usually relied on my partners to do that for me."

                                              "Now why is that, I wonder?"

                                              "Long story."

                                              "Fair enough. I guess that means you don't know how to work the digital transporter, then."

                                              "The digital what now?"

                                              Dr. Reiland chuckled. "See those five spherical slots in the table to your right?"

                                              "I do."

                                              "Keep an eye on them," Dr. Reiland said as she wheeled off-screen.

                                              Andrea waited patiently for something to happen. The light at the bottom of one of the slots turned on and a gentle humming noise could be heard. A shower of glittering, blue sparks in the vague shape of a spherical object began to effervesce within the indentation in the table; before long, a red and white Pokéball had materialized in front of her eyes! She was shocked by what she saw, but likened it to something she had read about in her science fiction novels. "Woah, what the hell is this? Replicator technology?"

                                              "More or less, but not quite. I could give you a whole lesson on how this technology works and why it's not quite your 'replicator', but I'm afraid I don't have the time today. Now, take that Pokéball I sent to you and place the bone fragment inside. Hopefully it fits, otherwise this plan isn't going to work."

                                              She grabbed the Pokéball and studied it closely. She assumed that tapping the central button would open it, but it refused. "Uhh... how do I..." she started, embarrassed at the fact that she didn't know how to use a Pokéball.

                                              "Tap the button three times and hold. Most trainers don't need to get to the insides of a Pokéball, so that feature was added to make sure they're not opened accidentally. There's a lot of fragile circuitry on the inside."

                                              With the Pokéball opened, she grabbed the bone fragment and placed it inside. It just barely fit and some force had to be applied to make sure the top was secured properly. "It's in there. Do I put this back in the slot?"

                                              "Yes ma'am."

                                              She put the Pokéball back into the hollow opening and pressed a button beside it. Once again, the Pokéball was covered in a burst of sparkles, this time red in color, before it disappeared from existence.

                                              Dr. Reiland picked the Pokéball up on her end and held it up to the screen. She mirrored the process of opening it, showing that the bone fragment had survived the magical journey. "Here it is! I'll send this down to the medical lab for analysis, see what kind of data we can get on it. Hopefully it provides some sort of clue as to what that creature was."

                                              "I honestly hope it's a new species of Pokémon. Just think of the headlines! 'Junior Scientist Discovers Two New Pokémon In First Week Of Job'!"

                                              Dr. Reiland laughed heartily. "Careful now, don't be so certain of yourself. It's entirely possible that it's somehow related to a known species. Remember, there are close to 7800 documented species across the world, with over 400 here in Lanark alone. That's a very large umbrella to escape from."

                                              "Yeah, it's probably best not to get my head in the clouds so soon... you're more than likely right," she answered back. With the physical sample delivered, she asked, "Is there anything else you need from me at the moment? Anything I need from you?"

                                              "While I have you here..." she said, grabbing another Pokéball off of a desk behind her. With another press of a button on the machine beside her desk, the Pokéball was transferred across the country instantaneously. "Patrick told me that you said your R-Kit is malfunctioning. You'll probably have a tough time out there without it, so I'd like to see about getting it repaired. Mind sending it over?"

                                              "Sure, it isn't doing me any good as it is," she said. She reached into her purse and grabbed it, but before she sent it over, she turned it on to check one last time if it was still going haywire, and indeed it was. "I don't know what happened to it. It was working fine when I was at the Oak of Ages."

                                              "What do you last remember using it for?"

                                              She popped the R-Kit into the Pokéball and sent it back. "The last thing I can remember using it for... uhhh... I think I used it to scan a Noctowl that had approached me on the road."

                                              "Hmm. Curious." She picked the R-Kit up on her end and began to fiddle with the buttons on it. Her eyebrows danced with wonder and confusion as she tried to figure out what was wrong with it. "Wow. I've never seen one bug out this badly before!"

                                              "Do you know what's wrong with it?"

                                              "I'm afraid not, and fixing it is a little out of my league. I'll send it down to Vince in the maintenance department. If anyone can sort it out, it's him."

                                              "When can I expect it back?"

                                              "Tomorrow at the earliest, if there's nothing seriously wrong with it. If there is, it could be awhile before we can get a replacement, and if that's the case... I'm afraid you might have wasted your time going all the way out there." She noticed the downtrodden look on Andrea's face and tried to brighten the mood. "But let's not get ahead of ourselves, yet! It could just be as simple as purging its memory and restoring from a backup. We'll see."

                                              "I hope it's not too bad. Other than talking to people and taking note of what they'll say, I don't know what I'll do without it."

                                              "I'll let you know tomorrow morning. In any event, I'll let you get back to recovering. Be on your feet soon!"

                                              "Thank you, doctor."
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                                                #24    
                                              Old June 23rd, 2017 (11:26 AM).
                                              Eliza Prescott's Avatar
                                              Eliza Prescott Eliza Prescott is offline
                                              Misfit Angel
                                                 
                                                Join Date: Nov 2016
                                                Location: Upstate New York
                                                Gender: Female
                                                Posts: 36
                                                Land of the Roses
                                                Chapter 19: A Day To Myself



                                                "So... a day to myself... I haven't had one of these in a long time," Kimberly mused to herself. "Do I even remember how to do things by myself?"

                                                The door of the Pokécenter whooshed closed behind her and she felt a sense of severity come over her. She had merely pondered at the possibility of seriously hunting for an Eevee, but she didn't realize that she would actually do so. As excited as she was, she was a little bit apprehensive about it all. She knew that she wasn't experienced as a trainer; on the off chance that she did find an Eevee, capturing it by herself would be a whole different issue. On top of that, lingering worries about her safety clawed at her from the back of her mind.

                                                "Why am I doing this?" she wondered. "This forest... As beautiful as it might be, that experience a few nights ago... Is it truly safe to wander the roads?"

                                                She buried her doubts with memories from her previous visit to the forest nearly a year ago; She recalled the time that she and her previous travel partner, Nicole, sung old sea shanties from Visalia in the glimmering light of a campfire. Memories of her friend's excessive swearing after tumbling into a muddy riverbank were fresh enough to feel like they had happened the previous week. Lastly, she recalled the encounter she had with an Eevee, the very Pokémon that she was hoping to see yet again, and the frantic attempts she and Nicole made to capture it before the elusive creature escaped. To her, these memories were what truly defined the Spritewood for her, not some creepy monster.

                                                As she walked down the street, she noticed that she was the center of one particular man's attention. He stared at her intensely as she walked towards him, brow furled. In response, she did little more than greet the man with a warm smile and a nod of the head.

                                                "Wha're you so happy for? Nothin' 'round here to be happy about in this miserable place." he barked as she walked past.

                                                The man's brusque and bizarre nature caught her off guard. She turned around and offered, "It's a beautiful day, is it not?"

                                                The man looked skyward and shook his head. "It's cloudy, threa'nin' with rain. You call that beau'iful?"

                                                "Sorry I suggested it," she answered back. Without a further word, she turned around and continued on her way. "That was strange... most country folk are the friendly sort, in my experience..."

                                                Her assumptions appeared to be incorrect when it came to the village of Doranshire. Along the way she met a ruthless pair of children who followed her for some time, weaponizing her short stature against her. When they had finally left her in peace, a middle-aged woman chastised her from a cluttered porch step, commenting on her 'ridiculously tacky' dress. A young man about the same age as her, who appeared to be in a distracted hurry, nearly knocked her over and didn't look back, instead offering a rude rebuke as he ran by.

                                                She wondered why the folk of Doranshire seemed so irritable. She remembered her previous visit to the village very well, specifically for how friendly and hospitable the people were. What had changed in the past eight months, she wondered? She was very out of the loop when it came to the current events of the kingdom, especially regarding the lesser-known villages, and she felt bad about it. Perhaps they had legitimate grievances, she thought, but at the same time, nothing excused such bitter rudeness. She tried to put it out of mind as she continued on her way; the further from the village center she got, the better she felt.

                                                As she rounded a corner, she noticed a little black figure in the corner of her eye. She couldn't immediately identify it, so she stopped in her tracks to get a closer look. Closer inspection revealed it was a Skitty, not unlike her own Telandra, digging through a discarded plastic box. However, this one was covered from head to tail with a thick coat of short, silky, coal-black fur. Its orange eyes peered up at her as it turned to investigate her presence.

                                                She gasped. "Aren't you beautiful?"

                                                The Skitty dropped the fish bones it carried in its mouth and scurried across the street with lightning speed. As she marveled at the Skitty, it dawned on her what had just happened: a black cat had crossed her path, an omen of bad luck.

                                                "Oh flip..." she muttered. "As if I needed bad luck today..."

                                                That simple event caused her to reconsider the day's plans. She was venturing out into the wilderness on her own for the first time in her life, in an area that she was unfamiliar with. That alone would be enough to sway her cautious side, but several other factors were at play as well. Between the strange creature that had attacked her two nights ago, her uncertainty with being alone, the bad mood the villagers had put her in, the reports she'd heard about that had been plaguing the village and now the black Skitty crossing her path, she told herself, "It's not worth it..."

                                                Yet at the same time, she felt like she had to prove herself. During her youth, her parents always looked after her when they could. When they couldn't, their vast wealth bought an army of servants and attendants to fill the void. Everything was done for her so that she never had to lift a finger; homework, tidying up, tending to the gardens, all done for her. She had never been given the opportunity to do things on her own, an opportunity which she always felt she deserved. Now could be a good time to seize that opportunity, she thought, even if there was some risk involved.

                                                With some hesitation and a quick, deep breath for reassurance, she continued along the road that led to the forest. Within the span of just a few dozen feet, she found herself surrounded by a thicket of white birch trees. The welcoming sight of the peaceful village disappeared among the trunks, as well as any confidence she had gathered.

                                                She reached down for the ribbon wrapped around her hips and grabbed her gem studded Master Ball. With a toss into the air, the Master Ball burst into a cascade of bubbles. Juliano's presence brought her comfort, leading her to conclude that the day ahead was going to be a rapidly-changing roller coaster of relief and anxiety.

                                                "What do you think, Juliano? Do you think this is a bad idea?" she asked.

                                                Juliano examined his new surroundings closely. With an audible grunt, he shook his head. He felt that whatever doubts she had, they were unfounded.

                                                "It's just like me. To worry too much, I mean. Nicole always used to point that out."

                                                He nodded.

                                                With her search of the forest afoot, she quickly realized something: she knew absolutely nothing about tracking an Eevee. From her travels in the previous year, she understood the importance of knowing how to properly track a specific species when trying to capture it. She remembered the lengths Nicole went to in order to capture her most prized Pokémon, Hydreigon: they had to find the right habitat, search during the proper weather conditions, wait for the right time of day, and on top of all of that, hope that the nearby roads were sparsely populated by other travellers. The two spent nearly two weeks in the eastern highlands until the conditions were just right for an encounter, the ultimate test of a dedicated Pokémon trainer. Or, in her eyes, the ultimate test of a young coordinator's patience and a complete waste of time.

                                                She wasn't sure what conditions would need to be met to find an Eevee, but she did know that encountering one in the wild was mostly just plain, dumb luck. Eevees were elusive and shy creatures, often running at the first sign of trouble and using their small stature and nimble nature to their advantage. The forest was thick with shrubs, bushes and waist-high grass, giving an Eevee the perfect conditions to hide from a trainer, especially an inexperienced one.

                                                "The more I think about it, the more I realize that this is a waste of our time," she lamented.

                                                Juliano gently rested his massive, clawed hand on her shoulder and gave her a tiny push, as if to urge her forward.

                                                "You're right. We could be working on a new routine... but I shouldn't give up an opportunity like this simply because I'm scared and uncertain of myself."

                                                To ease her fears, she surrounded herself in the mysterious beauty of the forest around her. She took the time to really notice the details; nearly a quarter of the larger trees were choked with thorny vines, themselves covered in delicate red and gold flowers. More flowers, no larger than a fingernail, carpeted the forest floor on either side of the path. The sweet scent of lilac and gooseberries wafted around her with every breeze, and the sound of buzzing insects quietly echoed from the leaves above. She wondered how she missed such details over the previous two days.

                                                As she immersed herself in her surroundings, she found a promising clue; a tuft of matted white fur flittered in the wind, stuck to the trunk of one of the trees. While most Eevees were commonly brown in color, she knew from previous experience that they can also have a wide range of fur colorations, including white. However, she wasn't certain if the fur was indeed from an Eevee. She realized it could have been left by something else, possibly the much sought after Ashenfur Stantler. She grabbed the fur and handed it to Juliano. "What do you think? Has an Eevee been through here recently?"

                                                Juliano took one look at the fur and threw it aside. With a bellowing noise, he shook his head.

                                                "Are you certain?"

                                                Once again, he shook his head.

                                                "If only Nicole had taught me a little bit more about tracking Pokémon... Or maybe I should have taught myself." she said, crestfallen.

                                                Despite her plans of not straying far from the village, she found herself drawn deeper into the forest. The forest seemed peaceful that day, as if the concept of danger were merely a myth. Most alluring was the sound of a nearby stream, hidden somewhere just off the trail. Against her better judgement, she waded through the waist-high grass toward the enchanting sound. Her journey took her down a small, slippery stone embankment, almost sending her tumbling down into a patch of cattail reeds, but Juliano was able to catch her in time.

                                                She knelt down beside the water and studied it as it went by. The water was crystal clear and cool to the touch, and every so often, a fallen flower petal would sail by. "I almost regret doing my daily meditation earlier... This spot would be perfect..."

                                                As she admired the rushing water in front of her, she noticed soft indentations in the mucky clay beside the stream. At first, she was ready to dismiss them, but a closer look revealed that they were mammalian footprints. The pad in the center was about an inch in diameter, and three smaller toes radiated outward from it. What exactly the footprints were made by eluded her knowledge.

                                                "I can't tell what these footprints are... I wish that I didn't leave my Pokédex back at home. This would be so much easier if I had it!"

                                                Juliano put his massive hand to the ground, covering one of the tracks. He lifted it back up and took note of the size difference, then motioned for Kimberly to follow.

                                                "Do you know what made these tracks?"

                                                Without looking back at his master, he shook his head.

                                                "But you think it's worth investigating."

                                                He nodded.

                                                "Very well. Lead the way."

                                                The trail of tracks led for quite some distance along the bank of the stream until it eventually stopped cold with little indication of where the creature that made them could have gone. Just as she was about to turn around, Juliano tapped on her shoulder and pointed across the stream. It took her a moment, but she finally spotted what he pointed out: more white fur stuck to the base of a tree. She thought about crossing the stream, but stopped at the edge; it was too deep, too wide and appeared to have a fairly strong current. Juliano, on the other hand, took the initiative and rushed into the water.

                                                "Hold on a moment!" she called out. "Would you be a dear? Wouldn't want to get this 'tacky' dress wet..."

                                                Juliano returned to the bank of the stream and extended his arms outward. She wrapped her arms around his neck and lifted herself up into his hands. With astonishing grace, he swirled her around his cannons and placed her on the top of his shell. She grabbed each cannon for support and tapped on his shell with the heel of her shoe. "Ready."

                                                He waded into the stream, nearly sinking entirely at its deepest. She held on tightly as he battled against the deceptively strong current, but he managed to get her across without a drop of water on her. She hopped off of his shell and studied her surroundings carefully; just a few feet from the white fur were more tracks in the soft clay, continuing in the same direction as before. She motioned for Juliano to take the lead once more.

                                                The sound of movement in the forest caught their attention and they took cover behind a pair of trees to investigate. Worry began to creep over both of them, as it was a sound similar to the one that preceded the monster attack two nights ago; rustling leaves, snapping twigs and an odd humming sound. Much to their relief, however, it was merely a small group of Stantlers. Covered from head to hoof in drab, brown hair, she realized that these Stantlers weren't the ones that had been leaving the white fur throughout the forest.

                                                "Wait here," Kimberly whispered before stepping away from her tree. She cautiously approached the herd of peacefully grazing Stantlers and stopped when she was about twenty paces away from them. With her hand outstretched, she called out softly, "Come here, I won't hurt you!"

                                                The eldest Stantler raised its head and looked at her briefly before it returned to its grazing.

                                                "No? None of you?"

                                                One of the younger Stantlers started to approach, but stopped in its tracks. As if they were part of a hive mind, all five of the Stantlers raised their heads at the same time and fixed their attention on a specific bush behind them, a bush that wiggled with movement. They quickly scattered in all directions as the bush began to shake more violently. Juliano rushed to his master's side as a precaution.

                                                Before long, a small, four-legged creature emerged from the bush, covered head to toe in soft, white fur. Two long and floppy ears sprouted from its head, but the left one had a peculiar bite mark taken out of it. Three thick stripes of black fur ran along its back, coming to a point at the base of its puffy, cloud-like tail. Kimberly immediately recognized the creature: Eevee. Despite the run in with the black Skitty earlier, it would appear that luck was on her side after all.

                                                The fur patterns and, more specifically, the bite mmark on its left ear, stood out to her. "Is that..." she quietly whispered to herself. "It is! Juliano! This is the very same Eevee we encountered last year!"

                                                He huffed at the thought.

                                                "Look at the ear... Do you remember when Nicole called on her Herdier to battle it?"

                                                He placed his hand to his chin, but couldn't recall anything specific about their previous encounter with an Eevee.

                                                "We can't let it get away this time. Imagine the look on her face when I bring it back to Visalia..." She reached into her purse and grabbed a white Pokéball that was decorated with blue stars and red stripes. "I need you to distract it. Perhaps trap it with an ice patch so that it can't escape?"

                                                Juliano slowly and quietly stepped towards the Eevee, which was captivated by a dangling bundle of berries on the bush that it had emerged from. The cannons within his shell slowly moved up and down in a spinning motion as they calibrated themselves for an attack. A thin, wispy fog formed at the tip of each of them before a chilling blast of air erupted from them. Thick frost formed on the ground around the Eevee as well as the bush that it was studying, grabbing its attention.

                                                The Eevee's attention quickly snapped away from the ice forming at its feet and towards him as it turned around. With exposed, tiny fangs, the Eevee let out an intimidating growl that he easily disregarded. When the growl didn't work, it attempted to kick up a cloud of obscuring dust with its large, fluffy tail, but the thin coating of ice on the ground prevented it from doing so. Already out of options, the Eevee attempted to scurry away, but it lost its footing on the ice and slipped around.

                                                "Good, good. Now, what next..." Kimberly murmured to herself. "Now that it's trapped, we need to weaken it, correct?"

                                                He nodded.

                                                "Knock it off its feet, give it everything you have!"

                                                As the Eevee fumbled around on the slippery ice, Juliano's cannons recalibrated themselves for a different attack. He lowered to all fours and took aim at the Eevee, and with a monstrous bellowing roar, a torrent of pressurized water surged from his cannons. The attack was effective at knocking the Eevee off of its feet, but it also washed away the ice trap that he had created.

                                                Kimberly tensed up from seeing the mistake. "Uh oh... I need more ice, Juliano!"

                                                In the time it took for Juliano to ready his cannons for another icy assault, the Eevee regained its footing. Now that it wasn't surrounded by a patch of ice, it reapplied its earlier strategy and scattered the loose dirt around it with a whirling swipe of its tail. It attempted to escape using the cloud of dust as cover, but Juliano was ready for it just in time; a well aimed volley of ice swept under the fleeing Eevee's feet, yet again sending it tumbling to the ground.

                                                "Now, uhh... before it gets up again... no, no... that'll take too much time..." she muttered quietly as she thought of her next move. As she debated with herself, she saw the Eevee rise to its feet, only for it to stumble yet again. "Can you lock it down with more ice? Another water attack will take too much time."

                                                Chunks of fog-shrouded ice rained down around the Eevee as it struggled to maintain its footing. It was clearly spooked by the relentless force being directed at it, a fact clearly displayed by the desperation in its movements as it tried to escape. The constant flailing was the opposite of what Kimberly wanted; a small target was hard enough to hit, but one that was bouncing around would only be more difficult.

                                                "This is such a mess... I'm glad that nobody is around to see this..." she lamented. She gripped the Pokéball tightly between her hands and raised it up to her chest. After a brief second of visualizing her target, she charged up a shot and let loose. The ball soared through the air in the direction of the Eevee... but missed its mark by a wide margin, instead skipping off of Juliano's head like a rock on a pond. She raised her hands to her face and gasped in shock. "Oh! I'm so sorry, Juliano!"

                                                Juliano shrugged it off as if it didn't happen and maintained his icy bombardment.

                                                She immediately reached into her purse for another Pokéball to have another try, but by the time she had grabbed one, the Eevee was back on its feet. It wasted no time in making its escape and scurried across the patch of ice with determination, then flopped into the safety of the underbrush. She rushed forward and frantically scanned for any signs of movement, but there were none. "Where did it go?!"

                                                Juliano blitzed across the clearing towards the bushes, nearly losing his footing on the patch of ice in the process. He rummaged through the bushes that the Eevee disappeared into, but found no signs of it. He turned around with a look of disappointment on his face; the Eevee had escaped.

                                                "I can not apologize enough, Juliano..." she whimpered. "I need to work on my aiming somehow, this happens far too often."

                                                He rubbed the top of his head gently, as if to gesture that he agreed.

                                                She sighed and retrieved the missed Pokéball, then shook her head. "I don't think we're going to find it now that we've frightened it... Should we head back to town and see how Andrea is doing?"

                                                After a few seconds of searching some more, he nodded.

                                                As they made their way back to the main trail, she studied the Pokéball in her hand. A reflection of her face glistened on it, a face filled with disappointment. Seeing herself in it only deepened the fresh wound of failure, prompting her to place it back in her purse. "How do professional trainers do it?" she wondered aloud.

                                                He peered over at her with a look of confusion on his face.

                                                "Aiming a Pokéball, I mean. I just don't understand it. Is there something wrong with how I stand? The way I grip the ball? Do I need to focus on something other than my intended target? I have so many questions..."

                                                He shrugged; he was even more clueless about it than her.

                                                "One would think with how often I've been throwing those blasted things over the past year, I might hit something at least once..."

                                                He cleared his throat, then tapped on the top of his head again.

                                                She laughed. "Besides you, of course! I seem to that skill locked down..."

                                                He rested his massive hand on her back in an effort to soothe her.

                                                "Whatever the case, I simply can not continue as a coordinator if I can't catch new Pokémon to work with. Once we return to Visalia, I'll see if Nicole has the time to help me figure it out."
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                                                  #25    
                                                Old June 23rd, 2017 (11:27 AM).
                                                Eliza Prescott's Avatar
                                                Eliza Prescott Eliza Prescott is offline
                                                Misfit Angel
                                                   
                                                  Join Date: Nov 2016
                                                  Location: Upstate New York
                                                  Gender: Female
                                                  Posts: 36
                                                  Author's note: To those of you with no interest in fashion, I sincerely apologize for this chapter.

                                                  Land of the Roses
                                                  Chapter 20: She's Got The Look



                                                  "Well, here we are..." Andrea said. "Whetstone Lane, under the willow tree."

                                                  The two were looking at a crumbled ruin of a house; while the largest part of it was still standing, it looked as if it would collapse with the slightest breeze. A smaller section of the house had already fallen to the ravages of time and nothing but a pile of broken timber, rubble and flecks of green painted stone remained. Nearly every window on the house was shattered or cracked. Vines from the unkempt thicket of tall grass surrounding the house had overtaken half of it. Even under the shade of such a large and monolithic tree, not a single light was on inside the home.

                                                  "Mr. Holdt was right, this place is a wreck."

                                                  Kimberly tilted her head with disbelief. "Someone lives inside of that disaster?"

                                                  "According to Mr. Holdt, that crazy old lady lives here. Unfortunately, I have to talk to her."

                                                  "How? How can people live like this? This house looks like it'll fall over any moment now."

                                                  "You should see some of the old ruined houses in my hometown... Though I guess nobody is living in those."

                                                  The two approached the front door, trying to maintain their footing on the crooked, root infested cobblestone path. The closer they got, the worse the house looked to them and the more uneasy they felt. Something about that house wasn't right, and they could feel it; by extension, something wasn't right with whatever poor soul lived inside. It became too much for Kimberly and she stopped in her tracks to linger behind.

                                                  The floorboards of the decaying porch creaked under Andrea's weight as she stepped forward to knock on the door. The sound of soothing piano music snuck through the shattered windows, accompanied by the singing of a woman. She grabbed the knocker on the door to use it, but found that it had rusted solid and wouldn't budge, so she used her hand. "Hello? Mrs. Miggins?" she called out.

                                                  "Who's'at?!" a shrill voice called from within.

                                                  "Sorry to bother you, ma'am! Do you have a moment? I'm here to ask a few questions."

                                                  "You the chimneysweep?" the voice shouted.

                                                  "What? No, I'm here to ask about an event that took place here a few weeks ago. Something about an attempted break-in."

                                                  The piano music stopped and heavy footsteps along a bare, wooden floor could be heard inside the house. A peculiar scratching sound came from the other side of the door, accompanied by the jingling of chains, a sound Andrea quickly identified as a large collection of locking mechanisms on the door. The door swung open and an elderly woman with the face of a raisin glared at her from the darkened interior.

                                                  "I take it all those locks are a response to the attempted break-in."

                                                  The old woman did little more than grumble.

                                                  She pointed to the broken window beside her. "Maybe it's not my business to pry, but... Those locks aren't going to do anything about this broken window. Someone could slip in pretty easily, maybe you should get--"

                                                  "Be quiet!" the old woman barked impatiently. "What's with that black lipstick? That... that..." she started, then lowered her head to think for a moment. After the gears had finally twisted in her head, she studied Andrea's clothing more closely. "Wait... that... Oh! Oh gods! Back to finish the deed?!" The woman slammed the door hard enough to buckle the frame, then barricaded herself behind the intricate set of locks. "By the gods! Get away! Witch! Witch! You're not welcome here!"

                                                  Andrea could do little more than stare at the door in shock at the woman's reaction. "...W-what?" she whimpered quietly. She knocked on the door once again, speaking louder this time, "What do you mean?"

                                                  "I knew those crazy witches were out to get me, Mr. Buttercup!" the woman's voice shouted. It sounded as if the old woman were rapidly rushing though different rooms of the house.

                                                  "What are you talking about?" she called out one final time.

                                                  The old woman had stopped speaking in coherent sentences; her words had devolved into inarticulate ravings and bridgeless non sequiturs.

                                                  She took a few steps back, paused for a moment to think about what to do, then turned around and shook her head. "Wow. Mr. Holdt wasn't lying, she is totally crazy..."

                                                  A terrible cacophony erupted from the house behind her; the sound of heavy furniture scraping across the floor, things crashing to the floor, shattering porcelain and the woman's continued yelling, seasoned with the name 'Mr. Buttercup', blasted through the windows with ease, loud enough to be heard from the street.

                                                  Kimberly raised her hands in confusion as Andrea approached. "What happened? She doesn't sound happy."

                                                  "Couldn't tell ya."

                                                  "Did she say anything?"

                                                  "Not really. I tried asking her about the break-in that happened here a few weeks ago, but she interrupted me before I could. She pointed out my lipstick, of all things, then started eyeing me up and down like some sort of pervert. After that, she started screaming about witches and Mr. Buttercup, whoever that is."

                                                  "Did she? Curious..." Kimberly put her hand to her chin in thought, then took a few cursory glances at her friend's attire. Starting with a nod, she remarked, "Don't take this the wrong way, but... you probably do look quite... scary? Intimidating? At least to an older person."

                                                  She looked down at her clothes, then back up at Kimberly. "What are you suggesting?"

                                                  "You might have better luck if you dressed a bit more... bubbly!"

                                                  "Bubbly?"

                                                  "You know! Bright colors! Thin, airy fabrics! A little bit of skin shown off!"

                                                  She shot the suggestion down immediately. "I don't do bright colors. I don't show off skin." She rolled up the sleeve of her dress and displayed her sickly, pallid-looking skin. It glowed in the sunlight and was nearly as bright as freshly fallen snow. "You think anyone wants to see that? Besides, I didn't bring a spare set of clothes with me."

                                                  "Perhaps we could go shopping then!"

                                                  "Shopping. You want to go... shopping?"

                                                  "Well... After we were done here, I did plan on picking up some supplies for the road to Rustlode Bluffs... It wouldn't hurt to look around, would it?"

                                                  "Even if I wanted to, I wouldn't be able to afford anything. My bank account is stretched pretty thin."

                                                  "I can pay for it, I don't mind."

                                                  "Is this some sort of roundabout way of saying you don't like the way--"

                                                  Kimberly could sense the next few words coming from a mile away and rested her finger on Andrea's lips to stop her. "Of course not. I helped to design that dress, remember, and I think it looks fantastic on you. All I'm saying is that if you want to get some information from this woman, it's worth a try."

                                                  "Is it? I don't think so. A woman this crazy probably isn't going to have anything useful to say." she said. She waited for an answer but didn't get one. Instead, she received a devious look from Kimberly. "You're not going to take no for an answer, are you?"

                                                  "As I said, we'll be in the shop anyways."

                                                  She grumbled in defeat. "Fiiiine. But it's your money to waste. She's going to recognize me the moment we get back no matter what tacky clothing you put me in."

                                                  With a giggle, she wrapped her arm around Andrea's shoulders and led her back towards the center of the village.

                                                  - - - - -

                                                  "Can't believe how much of a hard-ass she's being about this..." Andrea grumbled to herself as she halfheartedly browsed through a rack of clothing. "She just has to have everything her way, doesn't she? Guess that's to be expected from a rich, spoiled brat..." Every now and then she would pry apart two articles of clothing on the rack to make it seem like she was looking at something, but the truth of the matter was that she just didn't care. The twenty second loop of new age disco music that blared from the shop's speaker system did little to help hold her interest.

                                                  Kimberly returned from the next aisle over with a pastel pink off-the-shoulder layered tanktop that was splashed at random with darker circles and stripes. "Well? What do you think?"

                                                  Her eyes nearly popped out of her head at the thought of seeing herself in it. "Absolutely not." she adamantly stated.

                                                  Kimberly took another look at it. "Why not? It's adorable! It's chic! It personifies the upcoming summer season perfectly!"

                                                  "Way too much pink."

                                                  "Is there something wrong with that?"

                                                  "I don't like it as a color. It doesn't fit me at all."

                                                  "What about that... what was it? That R-Kit? That thing was pink."

                                                  She shook her head. "What wasn't my choice. My co-worker forced it on me without asking."

                                                  Kimberly returned to her original aisle and placed the rejected top back onto the rack. "Whether it was your choice or not, I think it looked quite fetching on you, in my opinion. It contrasted quite nicely with your black attire, but... very well, you're the boss! I can tell you're very passionate about color coordination!"

                                                  "I'm passionate about black, nothing else," she sternly answered. She worried about the tone in which she answered and tried to be a little more diplomatic. "Let's see what else they have. Something different, though. That thing showed off way too much. Did you see the neckline on it, I may as well just run around completely topless!"

                                                  Kimberly giggled at the thought. "It was worth a try. I'll find something a little more modest."

                                                  The search continued, at least for one of them; Andrea continued her vague, uninterested poking about, while Kimberly was absolutely intent on finding something they could both agree on. Her eyes darted up and down the rack as she took style, fabric, color and other design features into consideration. She knew that Andrea would be picky about anything she suggested, so whatever she chose had to be perfect. Dark colors would work for Andrea, but potentially not for Mrs. Miggins, so she settled on something bright and neutral: a simple white polo shirt, decorated with lavender diamonds along the shoulders and lines along the chest.

                                                  "How about this?" she called out as she held up the shirt.

                                                  Andrea was surprised; Something had actually caught her attention. She joined Kimberly's aisle to get a closer look at it. "Huh... not bad. The sleeves are a little shorter than I'd like... but I probably won't be wearing this thing for long."

                                                  "So you like it?"

                                                  "Well..." she said, running her eyes up and down both sides of the aisle. "It's the least square thing here, let me put it that way."

                                                  "Now to find a matching bottom!"

                                                  She groaned. "Right. The search begins again..."

                                                  The two moved a few aisles over, this time browsing together. "Pick your poison. Skirt or trousers?"

                                                  "I'll go with a skirt, I guess. I haven't worn pants in forever."

                                                  Kimberly placed her hand to her mouth in a playful manner. "Oh my! That's a bit of a personal thing to reveal!"

                                                  She laughed. "Shut up! Despite the fact that I've lived in this country for most of my life, I'm a dirty foreigner through and through. I say pants!"

                                                  The two walked down the skirt aisle and were bombarded with all sorts of colors and designs; Andrea found most of them to be gaudy eyesores, but Kimberly had already been lost in bliss as she looked around. Andrea constantly tugged her away from the rack whenever she strayed too far behind.

                                                  "Maybe this will be a bit quicker if you tell me if you have a specific style or color in mind."

                                                  She shrugged. "Something knee length or longer, and probably tan in color. Tan goes with white, right?"

                                                  "See, you are a fashionista deep down!"

                                                  "Pfft." It didn't take long for Andrea to find what she was looking for, or at least something close. They found the color that they were looking for, but the length was just a smidgen too short. "Screw it, this'll do. I won't be wearing it for long, anyways."

                                                  "Language!"

                                                  She sighed. "Right. You don't like it when I swear."

                                                  "Now..." she said as she looked down at Andrea's bulky leather boots. "Onto some shoes."

                                                  "The boots are non-negotiable," she demanded. "That old lady isn't going to look at my shoews, and I'd rather not lug an extra pair around with me everywhere I go."

                                                  "Fair enough, I suppose." As they emerged from the aisle, Kimberly pulled her aside towards the opposite side of the store. "Let's go get those travel supplies I mentioned."

                                                  "Finally..."

                                                  The two wandered all the way to the far side of the store and found themselves surrounded by all sorts of outdoor and camping supplies. Tents, bedrolls, Wellington boots, various Pokémon callers, backpacks, hiking gear and bags of trail mix took up much of the space, but Kimberly's interest was elsewhere; within the span of a few minutes, she picked out a HyperLiteEX lamp, an old fashioned tinder kit for starting campfires, a collapsible pair of binoculars, a new first aid kit and a field manual for treating a wide spectrum of outdoor injuries. She explained her rather expensive choices as simply erring on the side of caution.

                                                  As they waited for their items to be processed by the clerk, Kimberly said, "Don't get mad, but there's something else we have to do before we return to Mrs. Miggins."

                                                  "Oh god, now what?"

                                                  "Just a few finishing touches I'd like to make, nothing major! Mrs. Miggins won't recognize you at all when I'm done."

                                                  "I dread to ask what that means."

                                                  "You'll like it, I'm sure of it."

                                                  - - - - -

                                                  "I look ridiculous."

                                                  Andrea was seated at the vanity in their home away from home, the Holdt residence, staring at herself in the mirror. The past twenty minutes had been spent removing her usual gothic makeup, only to be replaced with something else; coral lipstick, red winged eye shadow, and the slightest tint of rosy blush on her cheeks. The look was alien to her. It was too normal, she thought; too unlike her.

                                                  Kimberly took a step back and looked at her friend with a critical eye. "Something is still missing, yes... Do you mind if I did something with your hair?"

                                                  "You're clearly not going to take no for an answer, so go ahead."

                                                  "Heh. I just want this to work. This lady is going to think you're an entirely new person."

                                                  Andrea leaned her head back and allowed Kimberly to work her magic. "Why do you care so much about my work, by the way?"

                                                  "I would be terribly bored if I didn't involve myself. In case you haven't noticed, there is absolutely nothing to do in this village."

                                                  "Fair point, but you don't have to stay, you know. You could be well on your way to Rustlode by now."

                                                  "Truth be told, I'm a little afraid of travelling alone after what we went through."

                                                  "You took off into the forest by yourself yesterday. I don't know what happened out there, but you survived."

                                                  "I did, but it was nerve wracking. I don't know that I'd do it again."

                                                  "You'll have to find someone else when I'm done here, then, because I doubt Dr. Reiland will send me to Rustlode after this."

                                                  The thought had crossed her mind, yet she hadn't planned on it. She wasn't certain of what to do; she didn't want to retrace her steps through the Spritewood and return to the safety of Aughrim. She could search the village for someone who'd be willing to accompany her. She also had a few friends she could call who would be willing to escort her to Rustlode Bluffs. Both of the latter options could leave her stranded for at least a week, and all of those options meant tearing up her planned schedule, completely invalidating the need to visit the Rustlode Bluffs in the first place.

                                                  "What are you doing, by the way? Feels like you're ripping my hair out."

                                                  "Oh! Sorry. It's just... I used to practice my braiding on Nicole all the time, she never complained."

                                                  "Maybe your friend enjoys pain. I don't."

                                                  "I'll be a bit more gentle. Anyways, I figured a fancy Kalosian braid might set you even further apart from your standard appearance."

                                                  "Fancy." Andrea huffed. "I can't believe I'm letting you do this to me."

                                                  "I know, I know! You don't do fancy! Now stop your whining and let me do my work!" she playfully responded. "You're going to look gorgeous."

                                                  "I don't have to look gorgeous to talk to a crazy old lady."

                                                  She paused to think. "A fair point, but I'm almost done. Hold still!" She unclipped the silver flower brooch that rested in her own hair and gently tucked it between the braids atop Andrea's head. She swiveled the chair around, took a step back and examined her work. "Yes... Yes! This will do!"

                                                  Andrea gently ran her fingers across the thick braid that snaked its way across her head as she studied herself in the mirror. "Much as I hate to admit it... you're going to have to teach me how to do this someday, I usually never do anything special with my hair..."

                                                  "Nothing special? I can tell that you bleach it."

                                                  Andrea turned around again and looked up at her with a raised eyebrow. "Can you?"

                                                  "Your roots are starting to show."

                                                  "It has been a few weeks, hasn't it..." She stood up and gave herself one last look in the mirror. "Who is that staring back at me?"

                                                  "Someone who will have better luck than you did in regards to Mrs. Miggins."

                                                  "I don't suppose I need a new name, too? Hmm, how about... Nicole?"

                                                  "No, of course not!" she giggled as she gently tugged on Andrea's arm. "Lets see if this works."

                                                  - - - - -

                                                  Andrea stared up at the imposing house as she fidgeted with the buttons on her polo shirt. She was cautious about approaching again, but realized that she had already come so far. What would another attempt to speak with Mrs. Miggins really hurt?

                                                  "I want you to come with me this time. I'm not sure I have it in me to speak with her alone."

                                                  "Okay, I will."

                                                  She gently scratched at the braid atop her head as the two approached the ruined house, wondering if the disguise would in fact work. Just as before, soothing piano music could be heard through the broken windows, as well as the youthful voice of an opera singer. When she reached the front door, she took a deep breath, then knocked on it. The soothing piano music stopped and a shrill voice called out from within, "Hello? You the chimneysweep?"

                                                  She rested her face in the palm of her hand and shook her head. "No! There are no chimneysweeps, your house doesn't even have a chimney!"

                                                  "Then who are you?"

                                                  "I'm here to ask about a break-in two weeks ago. I read about it in the paper and I'm trying to get to the bottom of it."

                                                  "About time someone came to listen to this poor old lady! Nobody takes me seriously!"

                                                  The two stared at each other in bewilderment as the locking mechanisms on the door screeched open one by one. Facial expressions alone were enough to convey what they both thought about this woman; between her bizarre fascination with chimneysweeps to already forgetting that someone had just come to discuss the same matter with her, it was agreed between the both of them: she was certifiably insane.

                                                  "Hope this is worth it..." she grumbled.

                                                  The door creaked open and Mrs. Miggins' leather face appeared from the darkness. "What do you want?" she barked.

                                                  "The break-in. I want to ask about it."

                                                  "Ah, yes, yes. Come inside, dear." She disappeared back into the darkness and the door creaked open a little more.

                                                  She looked at Kimberly with a look of surprise on her face. "Well, it's progress at least."

                                                  The two ventured into the house cautiously. The inside was a complete and utter disaster, appearing as if a tornado had blown through it. Shattered porcelain shards littered the floor, broken furniture was strewn about haphazardly and the inside walls were pocked with massive holes and long cracks. A thick layer of dust covered most of everything except for a ragged old chair; even the floor was covered in dust, with a very clear path that Mrs. Miggins appeared to stick to on a daily basis. A horde of small insects was evenly scattered throughout the room.

                                                  "Holy..." the two muttered in unison.

                                                  "Whassat?" Mrs. Miggins asked.

                                                  "Nothing! Umm, when you were talking to the police, you said that some demons had tried to break in to your house. Can you show us specifically where?"

                                                  "Yes, yes, follow me. Watch out for Mr. Buttercup, though, he has a habit of tripping people!"

                                                  The two followed Mrs. Miggins into the kitchen area, a room that was an even worse disaster than the lounge. They kept their attention as far away from the foul smelling sink as possible, instead focusing on just about anything else in the room.

                                                  She led the two to a door on the far side of the kitchen. "Here."

                                                  Andrea inspected the door closely. The door was well worn with age and neglect and the white paint that once covered it had long fallen off. She took note of the locks on the door; all but one of them looked brand new, but poorly installed as if Mrs. Miggins had done so herself somehow. At a glance, nothing seemed out of the ordinary with the door. "Do you mind if I had a look at the other side?"

                                                  Without a word, Mrs. Miggins began the tedious process of jiggling open the locks one by one. When they were all finally undone, she opened the door. The door opened into the back yard, an untamed jungle of tall, thick weeds.

                                                  Andrea took a step forward and studied the other side of the door closely. Her attention shifted from the frame to the handle to the cracked glass in the window, but nothing in particular stuck out to her as an indication that anyone or anything had tried to break in recently. "What am I looking at?"

                                                  "The door."

                                                  "Mrs. Miggins, please, I need to know what to look for. You said these... demons... they tried breaking in through this door, but I don't see any evidence of that."

                                                  "Are you blind, girl?" she said as she pointed to a nondescript section of the door.

                                                  "I must be. I don't see any damage to the door, any marks... You said they were demons, did these demons have big claws?"

                                                  Mrs. Miggins' eyes widened. "No. Human, like us, that's what they looked like. But they had pale grey skin, and, and, and, glowing red eyes! They wore black robes, pointy hats! Big, red fangs, too!"

                                                  "Uh huh... You sure it wasn't just a prank by some of the village kids?"

                                                  "No. Demons. No doubt about it. Sent by the witches, I'm sure of it."

                                                  "Witches?"

                                                  "Yes! Women as old as time itself! But they look..." Mrs. Miggins paused and tilted her head, then leaned in uncomfortably close. As quickly as she leaned in, she had retreated back to her normal distance. "Look just like you. Young, beautiful. But hearts full of evil. Minds full of malice."

                                                  "Where can I find these witches?"

                                                  "NO!" Mrs. Miggins roared. "DON'T! They're dangerous! They're evil! They'll kill you and feast on your flesh! The demons will rape your skulls!" Her breathing became erratic as she looked around in a panic. "They're coming back, I know it!"

                                                  She looked at Kimberly and motioned for her to step back. She leaned in closer and spoke quietly. "I think she's about to lose it. Step outside, just in case."

                                                  "You sure?"

                                                  "I can handle myself if she does, but I don't want you getting hurt." She reached out for Mrs. Miggins in an attempt to sooth her. "Settle down, Mrs. Miggins. There are no--"

                                                  Mrs. Miggins swatted her hand away. "Get your hands off of me! I'll get my husband! He'll crumple you like paper!"

                                                  She held her hands up cautiously. "Okay, fine! I won't touch you. I have one more question and then I'll leave you alone."

                                                  Mrs. Miggins grumbled and motioned for her to ask it.

                                                  She debated between asking the question or just leaving it, but figured it would help her form a final opinion about the crazy old woman. "When was the last time that you were visited by one of these witches? Earlier today, maybe?"

                                                  "A witch, earlier today?" Mrs. Miggins shook her head and let out a hearty laugh. "Oh, no! I would remember such a thing!"

                                                  "That's all I needed to hear, thank you for your time."

                                                  Mrs. Miggins reached up with her bony hand and clamped down onto Andrea's arm with surprising force. "Please! Avoid the witches, but find the demons! Track them down, end my torment! They'll come back soon, I know it!"

                                                  "I'll do what I can."

                                                  "Thank you. It's good to see that the young still care for their elders." Without further discussion, she quickly shooed her out of the house, slammed the door and began to redo the locks. Shortly after, the calming piano music returned.

                                                  Kimberly approached with a look of worry on her face. "So... did you get anything useful out of that... odd display?"

                                                  "The only important thing I learned is that, yes, Mr. Holdt was right about her. She's lost her marbles. She doesn't even remember me showing up less than an hour earlier, even though it sent her into a blind panic."

                                                  "Pardon the joke, but I'd say I did a good job of making you over, then."

                                                  "Heh," she chuckled, then sighed. "What a waste... I don't think I'll bother taking any of her ravings into account, they won't be of any use to Dr. Reiland."

                                                  "Are you certain?"

                                                  "Take a step back and look at it as if you were in the doctor's shoes. Would you take any of that seriously?"

                                                  "I suppose not."
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