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Old April 5th, 2016 (4:28 PM). Edited February 20th, 2017 by diamondpearl876.
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diamondpearl876 diamondpearl876 is offline
you can breathe now. x
     
    Join Date: Jun 2007
    Location: Illinois, USA.
    Age: 24
    Nature: Careful
    Posts: 1,568
    Back in late 2015, I promised I would attempt to rewrite this story. I've spent plenty of time re-reading old reviews, re-reading the original chapters, and re-planning certain aspects of the story. A lot is going to be changed... but a lot is going to remain the same. A lot of new things will be added, too. I admit I initially went into this story having no idea what I would do with it. I didn't even know if this was a story I wanted to write for the longest time, but now I know that this is definitely something I want to see through to the end. I can't say I have this story pinned down from beginning to end—because what fun is it if there's no surprises along the way—but I hope what I have to offer now is much more pleasing and fulfilling to read. Any and all comments are appreciated. Further edits will be based off of readers' comments.

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

    Nominations
    Kephi for best non-human supporting character (serebii)
    Best journey fic (bulbagarden)
    Virokoe for best pokémon character (bulbagarden)

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



    LOVE AND OTHER NIGHTMARES


    prologue
    the reawakening

    *

    Humans are illogical, my friend. They ask us gods to provide more than what Arceus has already offered Himself. When their requests go on unheeded, humans begin to question whether or not we're really out there, protecting them and leading them in a positive direction. Has Arceus not graced them with enough good fortune? Is it reasonable for us to entrust the future of His world to those who can't even recognize its worth?

    Some gods surrender to pity and send small gifts, signs meant to inspire hope and maintain the motivation needed to help civilization progress. We could offer greater things, but interfering is a most deplorable idea. Arceus knows which god gave in first and set that whole mess in motion. Humans don't know what to believe when faced with vague signs of our existence. Until we prove ourselves to be undeniably real, nothing we send humans will be considered conclusive.

    Humans, in an attempt to draw us out into the open, treat prayers and rituals like a puzzle. Every time they suppress an awful temptation, or every time they act according to what is right, one piece of the puzzle is expected to fall into place. Behave long enough and the final picture should reveal all of our secrets.

    Others turn to sin. Prophecies foretell how a god must put a stop to evil before it reigns, after all. An accumulation of minor misdeeds might convince us to step in, or perhaps we'll appear quicker if the crime warrants an especially grandiose punishment. Arceus wishes for us to abide by His fundamental rules. So we wait on the sidelines, wanting to believe that humans will eventually find their way. The sinners sin until guilt or apathy consumes them. Some tell themselves, “I’ll do this one more time, and I promise to stop after that.” They don't stop. They’ve become too accustomed to sinning and don't know how to stop.

    Arceus wanted humans to trust each other and work to create for themselves the answers they seek. Humans instead settle with their feelings of incompleteness. They hold on to their own personal truth, all the while imagining an ideal life that, in reality, isn't so far out of reach.

    ...I'm sorry to say that it's been like this since the very beginning, my friend. I was born long after you, and I have only resided in Unova, one of the more recently discovered regions of the world. But I can't think of a plausible explanation for how an entire group of living creatures could bring about so much suffering for themselves without it simply being in their nature.


    *

    Arceus began not as the Supreme God, but as the one true God. The one true God is believed to have been omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent, if only because there was little to learn and no rivalry in a universe consisting solely of His being. Some worshippers today champion the idea that the one true God possessed certain attributes that no other living creature could hope to have. But Arceus judged His own divine powers to be Hardships. He thought His existence meaningless unless others bore portions of His divine powers and gave them purpose.

    Arceus could not give purpose to His divinity alone, so He used His divine power of omnipotence to first create the earth. Standing upon His newfound piece of the universe, beholding the elements, He reveled in His ability to remember. Though all that could be remembered was a grim expanse of nothingness, the feeling of progressing from a barren place to a wondrous one was empowering. But His work was not finished. The Hardship of omnipresence would remain as long as the earth exclusively contained His creations, which were made in His image.

    Arceus designed humans next, also in His image, but with the intention of them creating that which He could not call His own. With His ambition, humans constructed concepts such as civilization and philosophy, which provided a sense of stability in their lives. With His intelligence, humans debated and attempted to define morality.

    Once the first humans taught their first offspring the basic skills and knowledge necessary to interact with the world, He decided it was time to remove some of His influence. He initiated the cycle of life and death. With His consent, humans continued to be fruitful and multiplied, giving rise to several new generations, each one less and less directly influenced by His hand.

    The less influence He had, however, the more humans struggled to focus on the present rather than the past or future. They had a deep fear of the unknown and a deep desire to control what they could not. What could He do? The Hardships no longer overwhelmed Him, but He had meant to share the Hardships with humans, not to pass His suffering onto them.

    To lead humans in the right direction, Arceus created a variety of new creatures, this time granting each species a small fraction of His elemental and supernatural powers. These creatures were similar to humans in that they possessed potential at birth and would learn to strengthen and make use of their abilities. Unlike humans, however, each creature's potential depended on a different source. Some would rely on ice. Some would rely on fire or electricity, or other divine energies, providing the basis for competition. Some were even gifted with two types of divine energies, allowing Arceus to see which of His powers could interact effectively to benefit the world's progress.

    Humans referred to these creatures as pokémon, originally hunting them for food or forcing them to do labor. It did not take long before humans began witnessing other essential aspects of His design, the most important being that most pokémon were, in fact, capable of evolving.

    Pokémon evolution involved stages that were destined to develop the same way for every individual of the same species. The lower stages were weak and served as a necessary preventative measure against ignorant pokémon unintentionally—or intentionally—misusing their divine energies. When a pokémon reached a higher stage, Arceus blessed them with a greater capacity for sapience and sentience, for strength and ability. A pokémon with two evolutionary stages could aim no higher than that, however—and neither could their offspring or any generation after. Arceus determined, too, specifications for when and how evolution would occur, as well as what physical appearances they acquired, only endorsing minute differences between individuals of the same species.

    Arceus restricted His design and made it predictable so as to ensure that any pokémon could attain their highest, most complete form if they willed themselves to make it happen before their death. He hoped that distinct, tangible evidence of progress was enough to motivate pokémon to advance themselves further, simultaneously proving to both Him and humans that the effort was worthwhile. Everything about humans fluctuated as time went on, but it took thousands of years for any obvious adjustment in behavior or appearance to occur. He had created death and thus rendered it impossible for humans to see how future generations developed, or how their ancestors had lived differently. The long, drawn out process of it all made it difficult for the humans to judge their history from an objective standpoint.

    As He had intended, pokémon made humans feel safe and gave them the courage to explore the world they had grown to fear. This bit of progress prompted Arceus to design the legendaries, pokémon with a higher prestige that would bear the heavier burdens imposed by His omnipotence. At first the legendaries roamed the earth, permitting humans and pokémon to learn of their existence and expand the concept they called religion. On Earth the legendaries themselves questioned, then grasped the influence of their burdens and divine energies, a vital task they had to undertake if they wished to live in His presence. He had entrusted them with the largest portion of His divinity at birth, after all. Evolution, reproduction and progress were concepts they needn't concern themselves with. Instead they worked to keep the world from descending into chaos. They stood alongside Arceus and assisted Him when He suspected there might be a flaw in His design.

    Humans and pokémon, now living together harmoniously, began to progress at an accelerated pace. These creatures, created in His image, were finally experiencing life as He had intended. Arceus, absolved from all three Hardships, saw no need to interfere further. There were times when His legendaries brought about unrest across the world due to arguments that could not be agreed upon, but He trusted them to resolve the matter themselves, and so they did.

    When Unova was discovered, however, legendaries had long since ceased roaming the Earth to join Him at His side.

    Arceus had expected humans to have discovered all that He created long ago. That plan had gone awry, but He could take advantage of how humans and pokémon were traveling together and realizing more land existed. Unova could be one more opportunity to watch the true influence of His divinity unfold.

    Humans and pokémon began fighting each other to control the more valuable territories in Unova. This was not surprising. Wars had been a thing in the past. No, what surprised Arceus was the boldness of two particular humans, their courage to not only seek Him out, but also to expect that He provide them with a solution to end the war.

    Arceus listened to the request of the two humans, a pair of twin brothers with entirely different perspectives on life. Oh, how He wanted to interfere... He justified this desire by telling Himself that the creation of pokémon remedied some problems. Why not create another remedy?

    So He designed a new pokémon that possessed the divine energy of a dragon, a rare type of energy He had come to appreciate more than the others. Dragon-types often made use of other divine energies and only formed bonds with humans deemed worthy of offering their strength to. The dragon was sent off to be born and nurtured by the twin brothers, at which point he would decide if their request was to be taken seriously.

    After a short time spent with the twin brothers, the dragon recognized their potential. He also realized why they had been searching for Arceus so vehemently. One brother had trouble accepting reality for what it was, and wished to hear the truth from a reliable, trustworthy source. The other brother believed that truth was subjective. He aspired to determine which truths were more ideal to believe in than others. They wanted—needed—Arceus to guide them if they had any hope of stopping the war in Unova, and preventing future wars from starting.

    The dragon pondered their request. His own powers of fire, ice and electricity were useless here. But he had the spirit of a dragon-type and could not leave the twin brothers to fend for themselves. They could accomplish something special, he thought, given the proper opportunity. They could be Unova's heroes. So he agreed to speak with Arceus about their plight. In the presence of Arceus, he explained the situation and asked if mercy could be shown to those that did not have the means to control a grand dilemma such as war. There were only two of them, and, worse yet, they were only human.

    Only human...

    These twin brothers were not doing what He intended humans to do: to live, to experience all that they could and establish a sense of fulfillment for themselves. But humans had a habit of avoiding these things. They did not want to confront the unfamiliar, the unknown, even if that meant living with pain, suffering, terrible memories... Why hold on to that?

    Arceus began to see that what humans were really afraid of was not the unknown, but the idea that, should they pursue a goal, it would never come to fruition. That their lives were already the best they were ever going to be. The hope of one day reaching their goal inspired them to keep moving forward, but fear of failure often held them back.

    It was a terrible balance, one Arceus could sympathize with. After all, the earth's very existence was the result of His own hostility toward the nothingness that He once inhabited. In the bitterest of ironies, He had been working to remove His influence from the beginning, only for the rationale behind that course of action to still linger on.

    Truth...

    The twin brothers searched for Him because they were afraid there was no answer to the questions they asked. To them, there was no logical reason to exert so much time and energy only to confirm that failure was inevitable. If they were met with silence at the end of their journey, they could put the blame on Him and convinced themselves that at least they had tried. Instead Arceus noticed them, and graced them with the dragon. The dragon sympathized with them, chose to speak with Him in their stead.

    I have to show them that there is an answer.

    He trusted the dragon. He trusted His own design.

    He gifted the twin brothers with a single, absolute truth. He trusted that the two of them could work together and use this truth to bring about the peace they sought.

    You are not only human.

    I am part of you.

    Please do not let this gift go to waste.


    *

    ...Arceus is the Supreme God, and I am merely a shard of ice.

    Somehow, I am still here.

    My friend, I am still
    here. Listen to me. I am not the dragon that humans speak of in the stories they regard as legends. Too much time has passed for any human to have lived in the presence of my original form, but I know it existed. If it didn't, I wouldn't be here, asking you for help with this predicament of mine. I cannot recall what Dragonspiral Tower looked like, nor the heroes and their faces... The holes in my memory, my friend, are part of what is hindering me.

    I keep spouting facts that you are already familiar with. Perhaps you remember the dragon more clearly than me? ...I'm sorry. I always mean to say my original form. I'm quick to assert the truth about humans and other gods, but I avoid the truth about myself. And as you've said before, that foolish frame of mind has gotten me nowhere.

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

    You've presented a valid argument to me before. Per your request, I attempted to imagine the moment—and the years after—in which a peaceful rapport among both gods and humans has been attained. I believe that the initial sense of accomplishment would be overwhelmingly invigorating. I would make every effort to prevent the peace from fading. Whether or not I'd succeed is irrelevant. Neither outcome is favorable in the long run, and therein lies the conundrum you base your argument off of. Insisting that change is necessary, then disallowing it from occurring again makes little sense. Humans, if they grow accustomed to peace, may fail to appreciate the luxuries they possess because they will no longer understand suffering and conflict. And when humans think themselves invincible, mistakes are easily made. Mistakes like war... and my banishment. So what would be the point, you ask, in fixing a problem only to recreate it once more later on?

    I admit I have no answer for you yet. I wish I could argue that peace would last throughout my lifetime and therefore the future is of no concern to me, but I am not mortal. I am still trying to decide whether death would not be a preferable option. Regardless, I would live to see that horrible cycle repeat, and therefore it is useless to control human behavior for my own benefit.

    Besides, you've said, haven't I condemned the humans for wanting full control of their fates as well?

    Yes. Yes, I have.

    Like memory, I suppose, one's morality is often full of holes. I
    have managed to retain a particular memory belonging to my original form, at least. Though how do I explain it...? When my original form split into three separate beings, I inherited his powers of ice. My body is capable of holding immense amounts of freezing energy which strengthens when I grow especially discouraged or angry, usually about my banishment. I've always wanted to let go of that energy... Feeling such rage accumulate within me is terrifying... However, the one time I gave in to that temptation, disaster ensued. Now I refuse to even consider the notion. Letting go is dangerous. I rationalize keeping the energy inside me by remembering the powers of ice combined with fire and lightning. My memory tells me that the elements once balanced each other out, that the burden of carrying them was more bearable. Knowing this provides some comfort—until I'm reminded that gods should be more certain, more capable of producing desired results.

    To combine the powers of fire, ice and lightning once again would reverse Arceus's divine intervention. My friend, I understand your ability to travel to the past when your presence is needed... You depend on others, too, do you not? Without Dialga, time would not exist as a definable concept. Without Arceus, there would be no living creatures to utilize the flow of time. Without the dragon, the world's history would have taken an entirely different path.

    ...This search for truth and ideals should be unnecessary. Strictly speaking, it still
    is unnecessary. Why bother, then? Why am I asking you to do what I want you to?

    I feel compelled to at least try. If humans can capture and banish me, they can save me, too. And if they can save a god, they can save themselves.


    With the way you're looking at me, my friend, I can safely say that you're about to tell me that I have no right to feel angry. It is simply because I am a god, I assume. That fact seems to automatically make suffering seem unwarranted.

    ...You'd argue otherwise? That what I feel is not what Arceus would want? And that being a god can create more suffering? What I feel matters, you say, but you don't turn to sympathy if you can help it. All of history's mistakes are known to you, and you understand the consequences so thoroughly that you cannot think about an individual's suffering too much. You say that once you remember the world as a whole, and how suffering is a fundamental part of existence, you can't stand it. You say you can't face Arceus, knowing your Hardships saddens you to the point of barely being able to function.

    Well, my friend, I thank you for that confession. It sounded very... human. I would never have guessed what your Hardship means to you. I suppose I forget occasionally that suffering is invisible, that it is difficult to perceive simply by studying appearances and surroundings. I can't even begin to explain how emotions, harrowing as they are, can be concealed and hidden within one's subconscious so easily. Yet a single, harmless instance can cause it all to come flooding back to you... Constant reminders are everywhere... When I gaze upon a human's campfire or see lightning flashing in the distance, I shiver.

    I wonder if I betray Arceus in that way. I exist as a god because He made it so, and yet I belittle myself. That doesn't make sense, does it? Knowing that He gifted me portions of His very soul, what I really must think is that He Himself is not worthy or special. If He were to realize that, what would happen?

    I know I'd retaliate against someone if I'd gifted them my element of ice and they were ungrateful. Offering the most valuable asset I have, one taken straight from my body itself, only to have it tossed aside or abused in some way... How could I justify not retaliating against someone capable of being that inconsiderate?

    I guess that means that, despite my constant raving about Arceus's plan, His gift fascinates me at times. Incomplete or not, the element of ice is what I can call my own. I can shape it at will, mold an image inside my head into something tangible... I can form large masses of ice, and the accompanying coldness is severe enough to threaten the life of any susceptible creature...

    Ice grounds me to the present moment. Sometimes I can't help but believe in myself and my abilities. Sometimes I can't help but marvel at the Hardship I was trusted with.

    My friend, I'm torn. Is there something I'm not seeing? Is there something you're just... not telling me? Did Arceus figure out how unappreciative I was a long time ago, and that's how my banishment came about?

    Retaliation... If I could retaliate, I would gift Him with sadness. The sadness of knowing that I lay alone, within the Giant Chasm, for ages. The sadness of knowing that I was put there unwillingly and then He did nothing about it. The sadness of knowing that His sadness could have been prevented.[/i]

    *

    A single, absolute truth...

    “A complete life is possible,” Arceus had told the twin brothers. “A life full of integrity, wholeness, and happiness... is possible. For each human, and for every pokémon.”

    The twin brothers hadn't expected to be acknowledged by Arceus, but the truth couldn't be denied. They couldn't see Him or feel His presence, but they heard His voice, strong and confident. They also trusted the dragon when he returned to them and told them Arceus had indeed heeded their request.

    They marveled at the sense of contentment they felt even as they confronted all the wreckage the war in Unova left behind. The dragon's words provided a glimmer of hope in a situation where there ought to have been none. The truth could not be applied in a practical sense, but it gave them reason to act. The twin brothers went on to stop the war by forming a peace treaty between all the regions fighting for Unova's land and resources. They became known as Unova's heroes thanks to their persistence and ability to spread hope throughout the regions.

    With their original goal reached, the twin heroes wondered what the future had in store for them. Before their journey to find Arceus, they had been soldiers in Sinnoh's army. They had obeyed orders blindly and killed relentlessly. That kind of profession would break anyone, but now the twin heroes had a chance to redeem themselves. When they envisioned their future, however, they felt conflicted. Doubtful. Other truths threatened to get in the way of what they wanted.

    “Pain, sorrow, death... All are inevitable,” one brother said.

    “It would be ideal if they were avoidable, I agree,” the other brother said.

    “You misunderstand me.” The first brother shook his head. “A complete life is possible, Arceus claims. What if that perfect life lasts but a second? What comes after? Will that one second even be worth it?”

    “I suppose you would have to do everything in your power to maintain that perfect life.”

    The twin heroes continued to discuss their concerns in-depth, and ultimately came across the same train of thought that caused them to seek out Arceus in the first place. One brother argued that ideals were better to stand by, for if you had the authority to do so, you could control what was true and what was not true. The other brother knew that other truths were out there, truths that could guide him toward living honestly yet contentedly.

    When the twin heroes came to an impasse, they resorted to asking the dragon once more for assistance. They didn't know where else to turn. There was one thing they could both agree on: the dragon had helped them before and could help them again.

    But this time, the dragon refused. Deserting one concept in favor of another was absurd. From Arceus the dragon had learned that both truth and ideals could be cherished, if the right balance was achieved between the two. The dragon, wanting to prove that the two concepts could coexist, decided to split into two separate beings. Zekrom embodied the concept of ideals; Reshiram, the concept of truth. The former was gifted with the dragon's powers of electricity; the latter, with the dragon's powers of fire. A third being named Kyurem was created simultaneously, though the dragon had originally anticipated splitting into two forms. Kyurem was a hasty addition made by the dragon when he realized that he did not want Zekrom or Reshiram to bear his own confusion and uncertainty toward the twin heroes' argument. Kyurem would harbor those negative emotions for them. The dragon hoped that Arceus would forgive his unfaithfulness and see His plan for the twin heroes through to the end.

    However, the twin heroes could not come to an acceptable compromise. They took the dragon's separation as another sign from Arceus, as if He personally wanted them to settle the debate between truth and ideals once and for all. Unova quickly found itself back on the verge of war, and Zekrom and Reshiram ceased trying to rationalize with the twin heroes. Their original form had been gifted with divine powers, extensive knowledge and exceptional strength. Their original form had essentially been a legendary that was able to walk upon the earth freely, but unlike other gods, they were given permission to interact with humans on a personal level. All of this had brought only a fleeting period of peace, and so the two of them worked only to conquer the other, believing that if Arceus would intervene if the situation did not improve.

    After a while, Arceus was still nowhere to be seen. Unova was in danger of devolving into civil war. But even amidst their anger, the twin heroes could remember that they were recreating what they once tried so hard to stop. There was a third option they had not considered: Kyurem. The twin heroes agreed to consult Kyurem, to see whether the forgotten being could shed any light on the matter at hand.

    Together, the twin heroes discovered that Kyurem's views were outlandish and unjustified. When he spoke of his beliefs, it sounded more like a bitter criticism of Arceus's plan than a competent, articulate explanation for why he believed what he did. He did not think the world a safe and secure place, and thus found it difficult to acknowledge any of the world's truths. Without truths, there was no foundation for ideals to be imagined. Arceus had given him the gift of existence. Why wasn't he just grateful for that? It meant that a complete life for him was still possible. But the creature was clearly ridden with feelings of turmoil, similar to what they had felt before Arceus had graced them with His presence.

    The twin heroes were ashamed at how much they could relate to Kyurem. Not wanting to suffer that same despair all over again, they set aside their differences. The two of them would lead the lives they wanted to, and they agreed to encourage rather than pressure each other into changing their differing ideologies. They also agreed never again to exploit Zekrom and Reshiram's powers as they had. Believing they were greatly indebted to the dragons, they asked what could be done to atone for their foolishness. The dragons, remembering now more than ever the absolute truth Arceus had spoken, wished to restore their original form.

    Even with Unova's resources and the help of scholars in other regions, determining the best method to artificially fuse pokémon with a similar genetic makeup was time consuming. But it was doable. Initially the twin heroes did not mention Kyurem, as they were under the impression that his presence would bring bad luck to the original form once it was restored.

    The twin heroes did not know what to do with a sinful god like Kyurem. Arceus had gifted the original dragon with everything that a real god possessed, except a burden brought on by the Hardships. The burden of truth, the burden of ideals, and the burden of incompleteness were distributed when the original dragon split into three forms. The last burden, the one Kyurem bore, contradicted the absolute truth they knew and trusted in. Kyurem's divinity was shameful. Unacceptable. They chose to banish the creature to the Giant Chasm, a deserted area that had failed to grow crops successfully in the past. It was said that a natural disaster would always strike the chasm shortly after the crops ripened and were ready to be harvested.

    Kyurem thought the Giant Chasm to be a fitting home for him, in that case. If he came close to reaching that sense of completeness he lacked due to his Hardship, would he, too, be struck with disaster? If so, why bother? Much like the twin heroes had, Kyurem thought little of his existence, but for a different reason. Even as a god, he did not trust the absolute truth that promised him a complete life. His Hardship clouded his thinking, made him question things no one else did. Overcome with solitude, Kyurem searched relentlessly for a reason to believe in the possibility of a complete life, all the while imagining what an ideal life might entail.

    Years passed, and the original dragon still had not been restored. Scholars claimed to have figured out how to fuse Zekrom and Reshiram, only to watch the transformation fall apart halfway through. The twin heroes wondered if they had no choice but to include Kyurem in the transformation. Zekrom and Reshiram, who had remained silent, interested to see what the humans could conclude, expressed their thoughts on the matter. Zekrom stated that, yes, it would be ideal if their original form could rid itself of such negativity and confusion. But then Reshiram argued that Kyurem's negativity and confusion was needed to determine what was true and what was ideal.

    The twin heroes, once again overcome with shame, ventured to the Giant Chasm to retrieve Kyurem. The chasm had an eerie feel to it that made them shiver. Each area they explored looked as if no creature had walked on it in all the years they had left Kyurem alone. There were pieces of ice stuck to plants and massive rock formations, despite the warmer weather that persisted in this part of the region. These were effects brought on from Kyurem's training with the element of ice, which he had mastered when he was able to lower the temperature in the chasm to that of absolute zero.

    Having experienced the temperature of absolute zero himself during his training, Kyurem knew that those frozen with motion saw a gleam of light. He also knew that when humans discussed death, they spoke eagerly of seeing light and having a profound revelation they did not experience in life. But there was no revelation presented to the heroes, nor would there ever be. There would only ever be the light as they lingered in the nothingness.

    Once the twin heroes reached the chasm's center, they stepped inside. All motion instantly stopped. The Giant Chasm's center was a barren, enclosed spot, void of any signs of life. It was where Kyurem mastered the divine energy of ice. It was where he successfully killed the twin brothers, who were not heroes to him but crooks who had intentionally denied him the completeness he wanted to believe in.

    Kyurem remained in the Giant Chasm afterward, looking on as other humans stepped into its center and met with the same dreadful fate. He could not decipher whether they came for him or for the twin heroes, nor could he find it in him to care. It was interesting to him, at least, when the humans began to show up, say a long prayer, and then leave without stepping into the center. If they had such faith that Arceus would keep them safe, why did they not step into the chasm's center? Kyurem moved closer to the chasm's edge, hidden from view, and listened carefully to the prayers. He learned that the humans came to beg for the twin heroes to return, for their wives had now given birth to their sons and they needed their fathers.

    When the sons reached an age where they could comprehend the weight of all their fathers had accomplished—and failed—they too began to pray at the Giant Chasm. Their prayers were not desperate, but rather bitter and begrudging. They clearly blamed Kyurem for their sorrow and demanded that something be done about it. Once, they spoke directly to Kyurem instead of praying. They told him that Arceus had gifted them with the same truth their fathers knew, but that they could not accept it as a universal truth, given that it was not a truth everyone knew. A complete life, they claimed, was possible—but not for everyone, and especially not for sinful creatures like Kyurem. Zekrom and Reshiram, they claimed, could balance truth and ideals on their own. Their original form could—would—be restored without him. The sons swore to it, their voices so passionate that Kyurem almost believed them.

    Zekrom and Reshiram, having accompanied the sons, thought their tirade to be wild and irrational. When the two dragons attempted to calm the sons and explain how Kyurem was not the one at fault, the sons immediately threatened harm to Kyurem. The sons said that if they refused to help exact revenge upon Kyurem, they could expect to be banished to the Giant Chasm with him.

    Not wanting to be controlled in such a way, and angry themselves about the potential they saw in the twin heroes being wasted, the two legendaries chose their own path. They unleashed their powers of fire and electricity, destroying Unova where the sons had the greatest influence and the largest followings. Restoring their original form was a low priority now. Instead they retreated to the Relic Castle, one of the structures the twin heroes had helped to build long ago. Zekrom and Reshiram transformed their current forms into the dark and light stones respectively, intending to only reveal themselves again once new heroes with potential appeared. A complete life for them was still possible, they knew. They would just have to wait for that life a little while longer.

    The two legendaries did not know if Arceus approved of their actions. They had destroyed some of what He had created in order to prevent another war, which would have been inevitable if they had stayed silent or simply disappeared. The sons' anger toward Kyurem was blinding them far too much. This way, Unova could at least continue to flourish in the way that Arceus's plan intended it to.

    *

    My original form cannot be restored. Several generations of Unovan researchers have studied the dark and light stones... yet they are still not reunited. Not even a true hero has released Zekrom or Reshiram from their prison, though many have tried.

    I can't help but wonder if this is once again the work of Arceus's divine intervention. Has He sealed Zekrom and Reshiram's fate, and nothing anyone does will return to them their freedom? Does He not wish for our original form to be restored, and if so, how far would He go to prevent it from happening? Denying us the chance to become complete is to deem His absolute truth a lie. To let us become one, however, means that we would bear more than one Hardship for all of eternity. Arceus has always been adamant about not putting that kind of pressure on His gods before.

    I myself have been curious to discover Arceus's intentions for us, and for me. I have allowed any Unovan researcher who traveled to the Giant Chasm to enter its center. I have provided them with all they've asked for, even shards of ice created by my own claw, just to see the outcome of their experiments. A handful of researchers have come back to reveal what progress they've made. It seems that, if I so chose, I could fuse with Zekrom or Reshiram... but not both. I could bear truths, or I could bear ideals. I cannot bear both. I cannot be complete. Suffice to say, I have not bothered with the process they eagerly call absofusion. The clarity absofusion would bring would be overshadowed by Arceus's absolute truth and its lingering confusion. A complete life is not possible. ...Is it?

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

    I have tried to make up for my inferiority by creating, as Arceus does. In the Giant Chasm, the only resource available to me is the divine energy of ice. I've practiced so I can now change every attribute of a piece of ice at will... I've had plenty of time to dedicate to the task, and I am well versed in the art of self-discipline. Eventually, though, I could not progress anymore. I would stare at the creations formed from my own body and feel nothing. I would be met with utter silence. Ice no longer spoke to me, no longer gave me hope. I thought of the Giant Chasm, its vast emptiness, its dreariness... It was all because of those recurring disasters. Had they not caused such terror, the Giant Chasm might have been the most prosperous pieces of land in Unova.

    Humans knew this, but still they left the Giant Chasm to rot. They didn't approve of my existence, either, and so they left me there to rot. They wanted me to disappear. I, too, wanted to disappear... To die would mean to disappear... But since I cannot die, I created my own natural disaster. A temperature of absolute zero, which I can sustain and lock myself away indefinitely if I choose. I have not found the courage to do so permanently yet, but I am satisfied for the time being, knowing the option is there.

    My patience is wearing thin, my friend. You know that I have given humans a chance. Though I've not strayed far from the Giant Chasm, you know I've attempted to find my own hero for years in Lacunosa Town. The legends there are laughable. Humans claim that a dangerous creature lurks in the city at night and abducts those who dare walk about in the dark. Supposedly that creature resides on the outskirts of town, and was brought to Earth in a meteor crash long ago—an absurd idea that caught on when one human dreamed of the astronomical phenomenon and was seized by me the following night. That human was of no use to me, so I released him back to his home. Despite what the stories say, I have not killed a single resident of Lacunosa Town. I have not consumed them, or frozen them, or anything else. I have only taken them in, gauged their potential, and decided from there what should be done.

    Usually, the humans are sent back to their homes, like that man was. They're free to speak of what they saw of me that night; I do not tamper with their memories. I trust humans enough—that is to say, not very much—to embellish their tales so wildly that they end up skewing their own memories. There is proof of this. Though I was undoubtedly harmless, the townspeople grew to fear me immensely and thus dedicated years to building a giant wall around the perimeter to keep me out. No residents are ever found roaming the streets after the sun sets anymore.

    That is fine. I've found potential heroes that make me feel confident that I can leave the confines of the Giant Chasm. These potential heroes, they looked so broken when I first met them. Their faces sullen and bodies sluggish, I could tell they needed something—anything—to mend their wounds. I made promises to them. I would provide for them whatever they wished, or fix issues out of their control, if they journeyed away from their cozy home in Lacunosa Town in an attempt to prove or disprove Arceus's absolute truth. To journey means to contribute to progress, which assists Arceus in His goal as well. That part is essential, considering the promises I make often require Arceus's divine intervention to be fulfilled.

    You look at me strangely for that, my friend. I am a god, but I do not work with miracles. I hope you understand. I am going to need your help for my next potential hero. ...I suppose that does suggest that all the others in the past have failed. This is true, but I cannot give up hope now, especially since I have only barely begun to expand my search outside of Unova.

    I have found a girl in the Sinnoh region. It seemed to be the next best place to go to, for it was where the twin heroes resided before Unova was discovered. Right now, the girl lives near Sandgem Town's oceans. She lies not on the beach, enjoying her youth as she should, but instead in a hospital bed, comatose and on the brink of death. From what I hear, the doctors know no symptoms, no outward signs that foreshadowed the stroke that she may or may not recover from.

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

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

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

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

    If this all fails...

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

    My friend, I'm sorry that I've doted on this time and time again. I'm frustrated, though. I wish humans would quit taking my life from me. I wish I didn't still sympathize with them as well as I do. I wish I could be something other than a god, something that cannot hear prayers or confessions about regret.

    I do wonder, though, how many years humans made mistakes before finally settling on a word to describe that feeling of utter despair. How many years did the universe exist before I was born and made an outcast? As a god, I believe that the regret some humans feel about my banishment is real. I only wish that regret made a difference.

    Arceus is the Supreme God. I... am Kyurem. The statement says very little by itself, since it holds a different meaning for each human. Show me any human, though, and more often than not, you'll see the truth. The truth is that humans tend to cling to familiarity. They tend to avoid change, and completeness. They might banish me again, if given the opportunity.

    ...You say you'll help, my friend? How good to hear. This girl will wake from her coma soon, knowing full well what needs to be done. Absolute zero versus the absolute truth... Which will save me? That answer, it's all I want to know, my friend. And it's all I live for.
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      #2    
    Old June 18th, 2016 (8:40 PM). Edited March 5th, 2017 by diamondpearl876.
    diamondpearl876's Avatar
    diamondpearl876 diamondpearl876 is offline
    you can breathe now. x
       
      Join Date: Jun 2007
      Location: Illinois, USA.
      Age: 24
      Nature: Careful
      Posts: 1,568

      LOVE AND OTHER NIGHTMARES


      // PART ONE. SINNOH \\

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

      chapter 1
      like real people do

      *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Annie!

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

      Annie...!

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

      Annie...

      *

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

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

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

      “Where am I?” I manage, eventually.

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

      “Sandgem Medical Center,” Renee tells me anyway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      I simply ask her where our parents are.

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

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

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

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

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

      *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      “But I don’t know you.”

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

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

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

      “Uh, Dr. Holster?”

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

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

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

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

      “Where is she now?”

      “Resting… as you should be.”

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

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

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

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

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

      *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Anything at all.
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        #3    
      Old July 23rd, 2016 (5:09 PM).
      Negrek's Avatar
      Negrek Negrek is offline
      Am I more than you bargained for yet?
         
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        A lot more sensory detail in this chapter than there was in the old version! The emphasis on cold and Arceus, in various forms, also ties it in well with the previous chapter. At the beginning, though, there were points where I wasn't entirely sure whether the POV character was Annie or Kyurem. I think that might be intentional? The part where Annie's talking about standing with a girl on a beach, for example, seems like it could easily be Kyurem talking about her... or it could be Annie having some memory of a sad time at the beach, possibly with Renee. And then there's also stuff like this:

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

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

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

        A couple brief sentence-level comments:

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

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

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

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

        All in all, it looks like you've thought a bit about what themes you want to be tackling with this fanfic and have really worked to bring them out more strongly in this version. There's a lot more focus on Arceus' will, which was mentioned a little but glossed over last time, as well as Annie's dissatisfaction with herself and her relationship with her family. In general, it seems like you have a clearer idea of where you want to take things and what to do with the characters, Gregory in particular. It'll be interesting to see where you take things in this new version. Sorry for the late review, and hope your writing's going well!
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          #4    
        Old July 23rd, 2016 (6:45 PM).
        diamondpearl876's Avatar
        diamondpearl876 diamondpearl876 is offline
        you can breathe now. x
           
          Join Date: Jun 2007
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          Posts: 1,568
          Quote:
          A lot more sensory detail in this chapter than there was in the old version! The emphasis on cold and Arceus, in various forms, also ties it in well with the previous chapter. At the beginning, though, there were points where I wasn't entirely sure whether the POV character was Annie or Kyurem. I think that might be intentional? The part where Annie's talking about standing with a girl on a beach, for example, seems like it could easily be Kyurem talking about her... or it could be Annie having some memory of a sad time at the beach, possibly with Renee. And then there's also stuff like this:
          It’s all meant to be from Annie’s POV. I can see how it’d get confusing, though, with all the references to coldness and the fact that Annie’s narration style changed a bit from the old version.

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

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

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

          Quote:
          one of these things is not like the other
          awkwardddd

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

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

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

          Quote:
          All in all, it looks like you've thought a bit about what themes you want to be tackling with this fanfic and have really worked to bring them out more strongly in this version. There's a lot more focus on Arceus' will, which was mentioned a little but glossed over last time, as well as Annie's dissatisfaction with herself and her relationship with her family. In general, it seems like you have a clearer idea of where you want to take things and what to do with the characters, Gregory in particular. It'll be interesting to see where you take things in this new version. Sorry for the late review, and hope your writing's going well!
          No worries. Good to hear from you! Writing’s going well indeed, hope the same for you! Salvage is on my list of fics to catch up on, so expect a review yourself soon.
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            #5    
          Old December 8th, 2016 (9:17 AM). Edited March 11th, 2017 by diamondpearl876.
          diamondpearl876's Avatar
          diamondpearl876 diamondpearl876 is offline
          you can breathe now. x
             
            Join Date: Jun 2007
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            LOVE AND OTHER NIGHTMARES


            chapter 2
            spare the guilt

            *

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

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

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

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

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

            “Makes sense,” I mumble as a response.

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

            “Yeah, sure.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            She shrugs. “No concrete date yet.”

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

            “Well, Mom—“

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            “That makes sense, I guess, but—“

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

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

            “Gregory?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            “And why do you think that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

            Well, I just made an agreement with this man who should be my doctor but instead my subconscious has been trying to make me consider him as a friend. Arceus help us both.
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              #6    
            Old May 21st, 2017 (9:16 PM).
            diamondpearl876's Avatar
            diamondpearl876 diamondpearl876 is offline
            you can breathe now. x
               
              Join Date: Jun 2007
              Location: Illinois, USA.
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              LOVE AND OTHER NIGHTMARES


              chapter 3
              playing nice

              *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

              Yeah, as if.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

              *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

              His simple answer is all I need, really.

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

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

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

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

              “And is that allowed for me?”

              Gregory nods.

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

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

              *

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

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

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

              “…Twenty-one?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

              *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

              “Very briefly, yeah.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

              I can’t bring myself to say no, so I don’t.
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                #7    
              Old May 22nd, 2017 (10:31 PM).
              Bay Alexison's Avatar
              Bay Alexison Bay Alexison is offline
              O, Dance of Devotion!
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              Join Date: May 2006
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              Hey, so I talked to you a bit on my thoughts on the prologue and the first two chapters a while back, so I apologize if some stuff I said are repeats. Let's go!

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

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

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

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