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Old May 27th, 2015 (10:39 PM). Edited February 18th, 2019 by diamondpearl876.
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diamondpearl876 diamondpearl876 is offline
you can breathe now. x
     
    Join Date: Jun 2007
    Location: Illinois, USA.
    Age: 26
    Nature: Careful
    Posts: 1,571
    Thanks to a little writing challenge my friend presented to me, I was able to find the motivation to restart this fic.

    Flying in the Dark is an epistolary slice-of-life fic starring a young, naive trainer named Haley Zamor and a man named Markus Samaras, who is in prison for drug addiction. While a story told in letters has many limitations, I hope that the revisions I have made will have added to each character's voice (particularly Haley's) as well as the worldbuilding aspect that the original version was lacking.

    Any and all comments are appreciated. Further edits will be made based off of reader comments.

    Rated PG-13 for swearing and mature themes.

    Nominations
    Best new pokémon-chaptered fic (serebii)
    Best pokémon chaptered-fic (serebii)
    Most original overall (serebii)
    Best writing style x3 (serebii)
    Most memorable quote (serebii)
    Best trainer fic x2 (serebii)
    Kenneth for best supporting character (bulbagarden)
    Haley/Markus for best character dynamic x2 (serebii)

    Awards
    Best character development (serebii)
    Haley/Markus for best non-romantic relationship/interaction (serebii)
    Markus for best protagonist (bulbagarden)
    Markus for best character (bulbagarden)
    Best alternate fic (bulbagarden)


    FLYING IN THE DARK

    [letters one and two]

    *


    April 21

    Dear Markus Samaras,

    I know I’ll be lucky if you even open this, but please don't throw away my letter yet! My family's been telling me that writing to you is a stupid idea, but I don't think so. They say I should want nothing to do with a prisoner, and that people “like you” (their words, not mine) don't want an outsider's pity. But I'm not here to give you pity! I'll explain why I'm writing to you later. I need to get your attention as soon as possible.

    Anyway, I'm sorry if that wasn't the best way to start a letter. I just don't like to sugarcoat things. I want to be a realistic, honest person, so let me tell you about myself. I just had my golden birthday. I'm 18 now! ...Which would be exciting, except lately I've been thinking about my life and wondering if I'm where I should be. Anistar City hasn't done much for me, mostly because I've been homeschooled since I was a kid. And Anistar City is known for having the best schools in Kalos... Ironic, isn't it? I'm a sheltered girl who's been waiting for something to happen. If anything interesting or exciting has happened, I must have missed it.

    I've realized that it's up to me to make something happen. Yesterday I told my parents that I wasn't attending university this year. Instead I'm gonna explore Kalos with my pokémon, since pokémon have always been there for me and understood me. Not that I don't like people or anything. It's quite the opposite. My brother asked me about being all-knowing once, but I know that's impossible. ...I crossed that out because I didn't mean to talk about my brother so soon. Sorry about that. What I want is similar to omnipotence, though. By the end of my journey I'll be that person who's heard all kinds of stories... including yours, if you'll write back to me. Obviously you don't have to tell me everything right away. I'm really hoping we can do this in the long run.

    Am I saying a lot all at once? That's just how I am. If it makes you feel better, I could be a bit more simple. Hmm... My father is my teacher and a stay-at-home dad. My mother works as an nurse at our local Pokémon Center. Both of them are against what I want to do. Traveling is dangerous, I'll give them that, but why can't I take what I've learned in school and apply it to the real world? Isn't that why we learn in the first place?

    Well, I've always been different from the rest of my family. I get along with my grandmother, but that's it. I used to run to her house in the middle of the night twice a week or more. She would force herself to stay awake and we would bake oatmeal cookies, watch horror movies or listen to music soft enough for only us to hear. Anything to take my mind off of what I was running away from. Thankfully she's kept this a secret from my parents.

    What's even better is that she's tried to help me be less lonely. She works for Anistar's school system too, but instead of focusing on history or literature, she raises baby pokémon to be tame for younger trainers like me. I wasn't surprised when she gave me a pidgey on my 13th birthday. She loves holidays and special occasions, so she found it appropriate to celebrate my becoming a teenager. After some convincing, my parents let me keep the pidgey.

    That pidgey is now a pidgeotto. I call him Seybs, which is a shortened version of my grandmother's surname. My parents thought this was weird, but I'm sure other trainers nickname their pokémon after humans. I did it in honor of my grandmother, so why are they complaining? I know she's not 100% supportive of me either... She's giving me a chance, though. That's what counts.

    When she heard the news, she went so far as to buy me another pokémon. Ribbons, my natu, was born in Johto with the help of a professional breeder. The red spike on the back of his head reminded me of a ribbon, hence his name. He's protective and alert, unlike Seybs... Sorry, Seybs, but you're a lazy battler and would rather sleep on my shoulder any day. I've only had Ribbons for a week and I already know he'll be a great addition to the team.

    Okay... I guess I should tell you why I'm writing to you at this point. Basically I want to see sights I've never seen before—festivals with bright lights and firework shows, crossroads with high plains on one side and rocky mountains on the other, pokémon overcoming type disadvantages… I don't think those memories should be left to the eye alone. The view becomes especially spectacular when you can describe it to someone else and make them feel the same as you did when you first saw it. That's the kind of connection I want with someone.

    But why you, of all people? Well, my brother, Joey, is a year younger than me and he's been in a whole lot more trouble than I have. He thinks writing to you is risky too, but that's besides the point. He's handled drugs and sold them for money, and says he knows you because of that. He says you probably got caught and sent to jail for rehabilitation. I don't want to make assumptions... but if it's true, I don't mind. I feel safe enough. I chose you because I had to choose someone, and someone my brother knows is the best it's gonna get. I feel that you might appreciate my company and descriptions of the outside world more than other people might.

    Take Anistar City, for example. The starry timekeeping city... Seat of the Kalos League... Home of the famous sundial... Anistar City is where I live, so it should be easy to describe. Guess not. What I said is true enough, but let's try again. Before I forget, though... Sorry if you know about the city already!

    We do have the sundial on the northwest edge of town. Two simple beam bridges, said to signify unity between Kalos and other regions, lead to a cul-de-sac lined with shrubbery and stones with ancient engravings on them. The river coming from the nearby mountain flows in between the bridges, and people throw amulet coins into the water after making a secret wish. The area is kept clean in case Diancie, the legendary jewel pokémon, comes to bless us with its presence.

    Every evening the sun falls into a perfect position, and light peaks through the sundial's center, causing it to spin. The wind it creates stirs up the snow from Mamoswine Road and by the time night comes, it looks like it's snowing all over, even if it's not winter. Evening is also when the most tourists gather and train pokémon that can mega evolve, as the golden rock in the cul-de-sac's center is said to be cut from Diancie's body itself and will grant great power to those with potential.

    I don't think Diancie will ever visit, though. The way it releases carbon from its body to make diamonds would be bad for Anistar City, which has already been polluted for several centuries thanks to the old coal mines. Our natural ventilation system is even worse because we're located within the Vallée Étroite Way and surrounded by mountains. The sundial's winds can only do so much. Recently we've been trying to cut down on heavy industry and have gotten rid of our ports.

    Since then the city has been trying to save face by building landmarks that honor our role in the Kalos League as well as our history with the war from 3,000 years ago. The League Council is the most famous example, as it's where the gym leaders meet once a month to discuss the state of the region. There are all sorts of arches and fortifications left over from when Anistar City began as a military outpost, and you can see artifacts and stained glass in just about every museum. Oh, and all of our houses are black and white, framed with timbers. We don't have yards. Outside our windows, we see castrum-patterned pavement, medieval-themed streets and, if you're in a notable district, Gothic Cathedrals.

    We also have parks with swing sets and small zoos, which doesn't sound as cool, but it encourages kids to become trainers when they're older. Training is a common full-time job, and if we're taught anything about the Kalos League, it's that the gym leaders keep the region safe. So my journey shouldn't be all that worrisome. I couldn't tell you why my parents are the only ones that don't support pokémon training...

    ...I should probably stop here, on the off-chance that you didn't open this letter at all.

    I don’t know anything about you, but I would like to. Write back to me?

    Sincerely,
    Haley Zamor




    May 10

    To Haley,

    You can call me Mark. Markus makes me sound like I’m old. I am already in my thirties and am having trouble moving and moving on, if you know what I mean.

    I am indeed a former drug addict, and there is a part of me that still craves the stuff once in a great while. You say you want to know about me, so I start with that, which you addressed in your letter. I don't believe in sugarcoating either, and as you may learn, I am very blunt. I don't leave room for questions or daydreaming, but I have been known to stray far from any given topic. If anything, I will be an enigma of sorts, a puzzle you'll have to figure out since I can't quite do it myself. Are you still interested in talking to me?

    I’ve been thinking a lot about what I could say to you. There is not much to say. I too see the same sights every day. I hear inmates yelling obscenities and I see cold, gray bars. I see blurry, orange jumpsuits or the unforgettable shade of blue of a cop's uniform when they swing by each hour. All I’ve been doing is lying on a thin, uncomfortable cot and looking at the ceiling. Above me is a vast sky, but I can’t see it, and, even if I could look through walls, first I’d see my neighbors, more ingrates that society deems unworthy of life itself! But you are different. For some ungodly reason you want to talk to me… I do not recall your brother, I must say… Nonetheless, you are sweet for wanting to help a lonely man such as myself, and even if you change your mind, I will not forget you.

    The one trait I possess that makes me stand out is that I can tell you stories like no other. Though it's been many years, I once traveled around Kalos. I've been in the big cities (Lumiose) and the small towns (Santalune). I’ve had several jobs and met many people. Maybe we can help each other out. I must admit, however, that I tend to exaggerate certain details. My own parents exaggerated the most insignificant incidences. If a glass of milk was spilled, then the whole house was drowning. Do you get what I mean?

    Let me tell you the story of my birth, and maybe then you'll know where I went wrong.

    My mother was pregnant with quadruplets. She experienced a premonition that told her not all of us would live. Sure, we would all be born, and so we were, but my three brothers did not last long. She was a woman who could spit out fire in her sleep, after all... The fire struck all of us after one week of her trying to suppress her powers, and I was the one who survived the wounds. What really happened, I cannot tell you, but here I am, with no kinship to hold or scars to prove there were others like me. Again, are you interested in talking to me? ...You can still leave.

    Regardless, I will not be like other adults and tell you what you are doing is silly and wrong. I have no place in telling you anything regarding morals. From your words about Anistar City and your sheltered upbringing, I understand that you know only the bare minimum about what a culture might entail. I understand that you want to know more. Why do people act the way they do? What do they believe in? Those kinds of questions seem to be the ones you are asking. It may not be so obvious, but culture cannot simply be described by the language you speak or the kinds of food you eat every day.

    Cultures are all integrated. Each culture bounces ideas off of another, and then the cultures alter themselves according to what they've learned. I will not give specific examples. I will leave it to you to experience the many cultures here in the Kalos region.

    Cultures change constantly, as they are fluid and negotiable. What Lumiose City was like for me could be different from the Lumiose City you will see on your journey. Do not fret about this and think you are being cheated. It just means that you are seeing a different, perhaps improved version of the city, and you should be grateful.

    What else can I say? Cultures are strengthened by their values. Each individual you meet may act in a specific way—either because of their culture, or the way they were raised, or a combination of both.

    Oh, and absolutely, cultures are unique to us human beings. Pokémon do not experience cultures the way we do. They experience communities, yes, but nothing as expansive or as wild as a culture. Perhaps, however, you can teach them what it is like to be you. Assuming you can’t talk to your pokémon yet, they will appreciate it on those days where they cannot communicate with you through gestures alone.

    It’s almost just as important to know what cultures are not. A person’s culture is not the sole explanation for anything a person does. Culture is not the result of a complete consensus, as you will definitely meet rebels and outcasts. Culture is not the same thing as civilization or society, nor is it the same as being refined or sophisticated, as some may think themselves to be. Do not fall into these traps. One culture does not define us all, and one culture cannot make another look inferior or superior. This is the best advice I can give you.

    …You must forgive me for taking so long to write to you. I would give an excuse but there is none.

    Sincerely,
    Mark
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    Old June 4th, 2015 (10:10 AM).
    Delirious Absol's Avatar
    Delirious Absol Delirious Absol is offline
    Call me Del
       
      Join Date: May 2015
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      I'll admit I really enjoyed reading this. There isn't much I find wrong with it except one sentence that read a bit awkwardly to me:

      "I should probably stop here, on the off-chance that you didn't make it open this letter at all."

      It is probably just an oversight, but the 'didn't make it open' doesn't make sense to me. I'd reword that to '~you didn't open this letter at all' instead.

      That's my only complaint!

      I really liked how the two letters sounded like they were written by two different people. I can't put my finger on what it was, but it worked. Their personalities come across without having to write individual interactions between the two, and I like that.

      Keep up the good work =) if there is more to follow, I'll read it.
      __________________
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      A Fanfiction Author Who Dares to be Different
      A glimmer of hope in a war-torn world - The End
      Cyberpunk fantasy meets Pokemon Mystery Dungeon - Glitched
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      Old June 9th, 2015 (5:43 PM).
      diamondpearl876's Avatar
      diamondpearl876 diamondpearl876 is offline
      you can breathe now. x
         
        Join Date: Jun 2007
        Location: Illinois, USA.
        Age: 26
        Nature: Careful
        Posts: 1,571
        Thanks for the review again! I already responded via VM, so :)


        FLYING IN THE DARK

        [letters three and four]

        *


        May 13

        Markus... Mark... Markus...

        Hmm. I don't think your name makes you sound old, so I'm going to call you that. I think it makes you sound kind of wise, actually. I need someone wise in my life.

        I'm still interested in talking to you, of course! Just because you're not confident in yourself doesn't mean you'll scare me away. If anything, going off-topic means you're interested in a subject. Nothing to be sorry about. You might forget to say some important things... and your bluntness could clash with mine... and I don't understand the story of when you were born... Well, we'll see what happens. Even if you don't get to say everything you want to, I'll just form my opinion of you based off of what you do tell me. From what you've said so far, I get the feeling that I can learn a lot from you. ...I guess I meant what I crossed out earlier. I really need someone wise in my life.

        I can't tell you how excited I am! It's not exactly the same as having a traveling partner, but it's close enough. My brother's been begging me to find a friend before leaving Anistar. You don't remember my brother, though... He has a pretty good memory. He was able to remember you by name, after all! Anyway, Joey hasn't had a breakthrough with the whole pokémon journey idea yet. Training seems more like a rebellion in our household, so I don't blame him.

        My grandmother used to tell me about how my parents seemed so excited to have kids... I believe it because I've seen my baby calendar. My mother wrote all about her pregnancy, while my father wrote about every meal I had, my first word (which was no) and everything else! They did the same for Joey. But things changed and that excitement went away.

        My father practiced audiology at our local elementary school. He couldn't afford any more schooling for himself, so this was the next best option. My mother worked as an assistant nurse there while she studied. I don't know much about how they met, so I'm gonna skip that part. All I know is that they were young and eager to get on with their lives, and so they moved in together. Then my mother became pregnant with me—right before earning her credentials.

        They had to make a decision. Going on maternity leave so soon after starting her career wasn't a risk she wanted to take, and even if it was, my father's job wasn't enough to support all of us. So my father made a sacrifice. He offered to give up his job and take care of me full-time, or at least until the situation calmed down. The situation never calmed down, not for them. When Joey was 4 and I was 5, my father looked for a new job in the schools, but he had been out of work for so long that he wasn't even called for an interview. He came to resent the public school system after all he had done for it and he decided to homeschool us. My mother kept working.

        Over time my father became more bitter about not being able to pursue his own dreams. It had been a financial problem before, but now she was in the way. My mother's long work hours and unpredictable shift schedule, along with me and my brother's tantrums, drained him. He wasn't satisfied, but couldn't catch a break in life; she was satisfied, but wasn't willing to give up that happiness for anyone else. Daytime fights happened daily. Those fights were stupid: “You killed all the houseplants while I've been working!” “That goddamn clock with the swinging litleo tail has got to go.” “Why are you takin' Xanax and then sleeping 12 hours every night?!” ← That last one influenced Joey a lot.

        My father's Xanax bottle disappeared was stolen and he couldn't get a refill for another month. Late night fights became a thing. They were loud and vulgar, and there was talk of separation. “Who would take the kids? You work all the time and I have no money.” “I'll keep the mementos from our trip to Johto.” “**** you. I'm being serious here!”

        The divorce obviously isn't official yet. I'm not sticking around to watch for however many more years it takes for them to realize they shouldn't have rushed their relationship. I've done enough of trying to help them, and I'm rewarding myself with this journey. They tell me that it's dangerous, but they're just afraid I'll be more successful than them. I get to live my dreams while my father sits at home. I get to live my dreams and accomplish more than my mother.

        ...I think my father being an audiologist would have been ironic, since he never hears a word I say. Why my mother takes care of strangers instead of her children is a mystery. The two of them fight day and night, over the phone and face-to-face... My brother hides and I have to

        Never mind. Let's just say that being home all the time isn't any fun.

        I just laughed a bit. Can you believe that? Words can only do so much, but here I am, wanting to give you—with words and nothing else—a different perspective on life. I should've gotten the hint when you told me I couldn't learn about a culture without experiencing it for myself... Your first letter was a bit short, probably because we just met. Try not to be shy in the future, though! Your experiences will help with my experiences... or something like that. If I'm not making sense, it's because I haven't been able to sleep. I want to get going right away! I haven't decided when I'm leaving yet, but I've figured out my plan of action, at least.

        First I should try to describe Anistar's culture. Maybe I'll get homesick and change my mind. Doubt it. Should I start with its history? You could skip my “lesson” if you know it, but what happened a long time ago meshes with what Anistar is like today.

        The books say traces of life date back to 600,000 years ago. I don't know about that, but let's roll with it. An ancient version of Kalos became the home for two legendary pokémon: Xerneas and Yveltal. Xerneas wanted eternal life for all while Yveltal insisted on mortality. Xerneas and Yveltal fought for several decades to decide the fate of every living being on the planet. Yveltal won and created the concept of death, simultaneously putting Xerneas to sleep for over 1,000 years. There were those who couldn't forget what the fairy-type legendary believed in, though, and they worked to wake it from its slumber.

        War was declared between Xerneas and Yveltal worshipers. As time went on, the king couldn't resolve the conflict. The gym leaders called him a failure for being unable to bring peace to Kalos. They tried to dethrone him, and the war became less about religion and more about political power. The king's factions and the league's factions fought against each other, the main question now being whether or not the gym leaders should have power as opposed to a single authoritative figure. The outcome seemed pointless after entire cities were destroyed.

        Diseases and famine spread, and the tension grew stronger. Anistar, being an empty, unpopulated land, became a military outpost for the gym leaders. Even though military outposts are supposed to be prepared for surprise attacks and invasions, Anistar's land was burned to the ground and rebuilt 8 times throughout the war. The Kalos League likes to brag about how there are 8 gym leaders because of Anistar's persistence to flourish. This is also why the monthly council meetings are held in Anistar City!

        Like I said, hundreds of thousands of people died in the war. Generals on both sides grew tired and desperate. To get more ammunition, wild and trained pokémon were forced to fight alongside the soldiers. Most of them tried to run away or break their pokéballs. The king, in a moment of desperation, did something he'd come to regret. He sent his own team of pokémon to fight at the front lines, so that other pokémon might have a chance at freedom and safety. Unfortunately, one of his pokémon, Floette, died in the middle of a crazy battle, which made the king himself go crazy.

        The king's known as AZ these days. I don't know if AZ worshiped Xerneas or Yveltal. Maybe both, since he wanted to reach a balance that would let him and Floette live together, then die together. When that didn't happen, he resigned and disappeared to create the ultimate weapon. This “ultimate weapon” is said to collect life energy that can revive the dead and grant eternal life, and it's said that the king is still living today with Floette. I think Floette was bitter about being revived or something. I forget that part of the story.

        With the king gone, the gym leaders were able to win easily. The Kalos League was established and the champion made a public speech on Anistar's land, announcing that every city would be governed with care and that Kalos was a region that should work to build good character, not despair.

        The king's followers were pretty mad. Mad enough to make fire-type pokémon burn the gym leaders alive, anyway. If the gym leader was too strong, they damaged property and publicly humiliated the townspeople. Another war might have broken out if the champion had forbid the king's followers to live in the region anymore. Instead the Kalos League agreed to let some places (like Geosenge and Camphrier) have their freedom, on the condition that a nearby gym leader could interfere if needed.

        So that's why Anistar's considered a historical landmark. The Kalos League worked to help the city progress, and it's no surprise that they tried to commemorate their win by keeping the historical feel we started with. It's said that the legendary Diancie showed up to build the city out of unbreakable diamonds, but after the sundial was built, the gem-loving sableye from Terminus Cave appeared and stole Diancie away. No one's seen the legendary since, which is probably for the best, given the pollution dilemma I talked about in my last letter. For some silly reason, we preserve Diancie's keepsake anyway.

        Oh, right... Anistar's culture. I think it could be summed up this way: everyone still tries to plant flowers and gardens each spring, even if we know they won't grow. I'm not into flowers and gardens, but the pollution's caused problems for me in the past.

        ...I haven't really told anyone this before, but I think you'll understand.

        When I was a middle school student, my father would take me and Joey on “field trips” to the sundial. One day I lost sight of them. I was on one of the bridges, distracted by a young boy leaning over the ledge. I stopped to watch him because he was making a wish, but he wasn't trying to throw a coin into the water. He placed it carefully so that the coin floated on the surface. I'd never seen anyone do that before! I stood there as he ran away and to his mother with a wide smile on his face.

        Then I did something really stupid. I went to the ledge and leaned over like the boy had done. I grabbed the coin. It was mine now... but I must have been too excited and moved too fast, because next thing I knew, I was hanging over the edge. When I was about to call for help, I was pulled back by a strong man in a uniform I'd seen only on TV. He set me down, and I was about to use the manners I'd learned to thank him until he scolded me.

        “How old are ya, miss?” he said. “Shouldn't be trespassing upon Diancie's sacred grounds.”

        “Uh,” I said, caught off guard. “I'm 12.”

        “A bit older and I'd be able to arrest you on the spot, ya know that?”

        “N-No, I didn't know...”

        “Prison's a bad place. Stay away from here, got it? You'll dirty up the city.”

        I was about to make a comment about how the city was already dirty, but I changed my mind. I ran away to find Joey and my father. My father didn't notice how frantic I was, and Joey knew better than to ask. He was a good brother, keeping Dad occupied while I got into trouble. It's upsetting, knowing I couldn't be there for him when it mattered. A few minutes later and I noticed that I had been holding onto the coin so tight, it made marks on my skin.

        The coin is my lucky charm. It's worth one pokédollar and has a picture of a clefairy on one side, a dratini on the other. I did some research not too long ago and found out that it's made of aluminum, which is why it can float if you're careful. I sort of feel bad for the boy, but he should've known better. He didn't know that if you have a wish, you have to wish hard and work for it. It won't come true if you don't.

        I've never told anyone this story because I've been afraid to find out what would have happened to me if I had gotten into real trouble. ...So I wrote to you. You're sheltered like me and, believe it or not, you live a life that could have been my own, had I not been scared out of my wits. I hope that doesn't bother you, but I'll try to understand if it does.

        I'm taking the coin with me on my journey. I don't plan on going back home, so I might as well take everything I can! We could try to make a game out of it too. Just pretend I'm throwing the coin toward the sky as you read this and call it in the air! Heads or tails? Fairies or dragons? If you win, I'll go to a city you want me to explore the most, and if I win, I go wherever I want—

        Oops. I told you earlier that I have a plan already.

        I plan on leaving Anistar City as soon as possible, but I'm slowly easing my parents into it. I can't make things worse for Joey, after all. So I'm gonna travel south toward Terminus Cave, where I'll catch a flying-type pokémon called noibat. Then I'll challenge Olympia. She's 7th in the traditional gym circuit, which means she'll be super tough. Seybs has experience and Ribbons has ghost-type moves to use against her psychic pokémon, but I don't think it'll be enough. A noibat's bite attack will help, assuming that it'll be strong when I catch it.

        After that I'll head west to Dendemille Town, and then even further west to Lumiose City. It wouldn't be a real journey without visiting the largest city in the world, would it? And I'll branch out in all directions to visit Santalune, Laverre and a few other places. Maybe I'll branch out more... Should I visit anywhere else? I'll think about it too. I do know that I want to love all the cities so much that it'll be hard to choose where I want to live once I'm done traveling, so choose only the best cities for me!

        If I want to settle down after traveling, though, I'll need a lot of money... I'm gonna make Seybs and Ribbons battle every day so they can get stronger and win us the money we'll need. Oh, and if you haven't noticed, I'm gonna be a flying-type trainer. If my grandma hadn't given me Seybs and Ribbons, I wouldn't be going anywhere. There's something interesting about birds, too, that makes me want to keep them. The way they travel in flocks shows a kind of teamwork and dependency I could only hope to have with someone else. Their singing voices are beautiful, and to be able to fly anywhere in the world... It's all fascinating. Honestly, I could go on and on!

        The downfall to having bird pokémon is that... Well, the world isn't nice to them. I've never seen thieves or hunters, but I know they're out there. The question is: do I let my pokémon fly free or make they stay near me, where they can be safe? Cities don't consider flying-types either. Birds don't have depth perception and they perceive colors differently than we do... yet we just let them crash into reflective windows and move on with our lives. We could build skyscrapers and stations and homes with different materials, but... we don't. And I couldn't tell you why.

        So if traveling routes and cities can both be dangerous, where will my pokémon fly? Where will they be happiest? I could return them to their pokéballs, but what happens to me if danger shows up and I can't release them in time?

        I don't want to talk about that anymore.

        Speaking of pokéballs, though... Have you ever wondered just how many pokéballs are used in a single day? Trained pokémon have to be sent out several times a day—to eat, battle, bathe, play and all that good stuff. Then they have to be recalled when its time to sleep. And all the pokéballs that are used to catch pokémon... I mean, they break easy, and to catch all 719 pokémon recorded in the pokédex... Well, I'll let you imagine the rest!

        I think of strange things to talk about sometimes. People call me naive and young. I call myself curious. That's why I have to ask you a few questions before I send this letter. Were you ever a pokémon trainer? If so... what happened that made you stop? Where are your pokémon now? And do you think you were destined to be a trainer... or something else?

        I don't think anyone who isn't destined to be a trainer should go on a journey. If their gut tells them to be something else—an architect or a gardener or a priest—then I think they should do that. Traveling is fine, but to do nothing else seems like a giant waste of potential. A trainer should be flexible, smart, dedicated and strong. I like to think I'm all of those things, but what if I'm wrong? What if I should be a nurse like my mother, or a teacher like my dad?

        Just look at the statistics! 90% of new trainers never get more than 5 badges. 80% of Kalos League competitors never get to fight the champion. Seems like no one's meant to be a trainer these days. But I don't think I'll collect all the badges anyway. I'll raise my pokémon to give them a good life. I'll take them to only the best places so that we can find the best home.

        Which reminds me... Don't forget to call it in the air! Heads or tails? Fairies or dragons? Life's no fun without taking risks, don't you think?

        ~ Haley




        May 17

        To Haley,

        If you wish to talk to me, then there’s nothing I will do to try to convince you otherwise, and I will stick to my word when I say I will write you back. In response to your heads or tails question, I can't choose at this very moment. I am determined to say that it does not matter where you go, but instead you should try to make the best of wherever you go. I only ask that you not romanticize places due to your want of exuberance and novelties, and that you should not think too little of why you are writing to me in the first place. I don't mean to warn you about dangerous people, as you've heard it all before. Remember that I know what the world is really like and the idea of forcing me to have a “new perspective” is futile.

        I have been to Anistar City, a long time ago. You might have been just about a year old, in fact. Back then the city was full of life with the ports and manufacturing companies still standing. The pollution was worse than it is now, however, and it was hard to breathe. I did not stay long, and I daresay that it was no place for a child to be brought up. It seems to have worked out, as destiny would have it. Perhaps I was even one of those people you saw and stared at as a baby, wondering who I was—or who anyone was, especially yourself. Who knew that our lives could change to such a degree? It seems odd to think about, and I try not to dwell on it too much.

        Your plan is sound. It seems you are making an attempt to stay close to home rather than traveling to the far ends of the region. You may, however, change your mind about visiting Laverre. If you weren't aware, Brun Way Correctional Center is located on the outskirts of Laverre (which adds to society's stigma that says prisoners should be put to the wayside, but I digress). I don't think I would be able to keep that a secret from you for a variety of reasons, not least because I would feel guilty for it. Whether or not you would really want to be in the vicinity of the most horrible men in Kalos, it is too early to tell. I hope you will not be rash about the decision. I am almost inclined to make you stay away, as part of the reason I am writing to you is to feel a part of your sheltered life, the one I will never have or know. To have you see me, then turn away would break my heart. I don't think I could write to you then, as there is not a successful way to disguise a breaking heart.

        Let's move on. “Curious” and “naive” are not things people call themselves, as they're too busy being those things to realize what they are. You hint at being a heretic by the age of twelve, for example, but you don't explicitly say you are a heretic. Should you say that you are a heretic to most people, though... Most likely they will not understand you. It is only those who know, deep in their unconscious, that that is what they are too, who will seek out your demise as a supposed heretic. That being said, it is impossible to think about strange things too much. Those strange things exist to be thought about, and by denying their existence you are doing yourself a disservice.

        ...Your curious, naive self wants to know if I have pokémon, I see. The short answer is that yes, I do and no, I don't. My life revolved around pokémon at some point. I started using drugs because of what training did to me. It became inevitable that the two should go hand in hand. I wasn't interested in the pokémon themselves, though. I used them as a ploy to gain they money I needed to sustain my drug addiction. I can explain.

        I'm sure you've heard of Professor Sycamore. If you haven't, don't bother starting your journey just yet. If you have, that means you know about the three mainstream starters. “Which one should I choose?” Such is the biggest concern of a nine-year-old on the eve of his birthday. All three were innocent and had potential, so much so that my brain couldn't comprehend only having to pick one. ...Oh, how my heart maintained a most fascinating glow that night. The glow lit up the whole sky, but you weren't alive to see it. It was a phenomenon as great and rare as the Millennium Comet that summons Jirachi every 1,000 years.

        I'll pause here to point this out: my parents, unlike yours, didn't mind if I went on a journey at a young age. They told me stories and tall tales, as if to encourage me. I would tell you these stories, but I'm afraid the finer details have lapsed into the deeper, forgettable crevices of my mind. That sounds poetic, but prosaically, I can only say that I felt superior to my parents as I took advantage of their carelessness.

        When I walked into Professor Sycamore's lab, I hadn't yet made my decision. I asked him, “Can't I just have them all?” How lucky for me, after all, to be the one child in Lumiose City with a birthday on July 10, during the summer when school wasn't in session. Of course Professor Sycamore said no. He might have expected me to whine, but I asked him how much time I had until the next trainer's birthday. I had one week.

        In the end I took all three starters with me. ...Did I steal them? Did I bribe or threaten Professor Sycamore? I'd like to tell you, but the difference between dreams and reality isn't always obvious for me. Sometimes I feel a little out of it and memories blur together. When that happens I can tell you my personal truth, but it's not the same as telling the truth. I may simply be assuming I went down the traditional trainer route rather than receiving a pidgey from my grandmother. The police didn't come after me, which makes me think Professor Sycamore was afraid to report me. It is of no concern to me now.

        Have I gotten off track here? I must tell you that those three starters... Well, how happy they were not to be separated! They grew up together, learned together and trained together. But while they were close to each other, they were wary of me. I was their trainer for six years and I never learned to understand their language. I was quiet and they would not talk to me unless I spoke to them first.

        There's been research done about this. A pokémon feels like an alien in the presence of his trainer when his trainer doesn't manage the team well enough. Fennekin was a nervous wreck, but what did I know of psychology at that age? Froakie was strong and fought the most, but I never had money to buy supplies. Chespin was the most peculiar of all (and I will get into that soon). Research tells me that they adapted to my solitude and survived without the help of anyone but each other. Relationships with others are the key to a healthy lifestyle, and to travel with a neglectful trainer after being in the care of a loving professor was detrimental. As a result their physical, mental and social development must have suffered, and perhaps this is why they died prematurely.

        Hmm. Do you believe in demonology? Demonology says everything that happens in life is controlled by a spirit. If we accept this definition, then it follows that a man who commits a crime is unable to restrain himself, and therefore he can plead insanity as a defense. ...I'd like to believe in this concept. I'd like to believe that my parents didn't care not by their own free will, but because an invincible force was preventing them from doing so. I'd like to believe I was a bad trainer because I wasn't meant to be a trainer (which you asked about). I'd like to believe that my starters' deaths weren't my fault.

        I had been hiding in Santalune Forest for about two months. I hadn't released my pokémon, nor had I seen any trainers—not until that fateful day in which I threw a cold pokéball out on the battlefield. I shuddered when I realized Froakie wasn't moving. Decayed and immediately attracting the local bug-types, I wondered when this had happened, and how. The same was true of Chespin and Fennekin. The other trainer rode away on his gogoat as fast as he could. I collapsed, unable to process the situation, but soon I had to bury them and pay my respects.

        Chespin's death hurt me the most. The grass-type had a tendency to ram into anything he was angry at. Sometimes he bashed his head against trees, sometimes against buildings. Sometimes he spilled his food just to have an excuse to trample on it. Sometimes he targeted me and struck my knee, causing it to dislocate. I was never prepared for it, but it wasn't a hospital matter, as it popped out of place for a moment before sliding back into place. At any rate, Chespin seemed to want to teach me an important lesson. I couldn't figure it out. I sent him out to battle often so that he could perform his antics in a more productive setting.

        Once he climbed a tree and jumped off, hitting me on the side of the head. I was so disoriented that when I looked at Chespin, it seemed that he had grown to human size and now had a human voice. He told me he hated me and that he'd met me in all his previous lives. He tried very hard to ruin me in each and every life. When I came to, he was a normal creature with a joyful grin on his face.

        After they died, I retired from training. I traveled to Laverre, which is a safe haven for people who have nowhere else to go. I refused to go back to my parents, so I made the streets my home and dug in the garbage for food. Prostitutes and policemen approached me daily, but the former learned that I was broke and the latter couldn't do any more damage to me than I had done to myself.

        What did interest me was the move tutor. Trainers went to him so that their starters could learn powerful attacks. I wandered past his house a few times, debating whether or not to knock and introduce myself. It took almost a year of gathering the courage and energy to not only say hello, but also to explain why I no longer had Fennekin, Froakie or Chespin by my side.

        When I told the move tutor my story, he wasn't surprised. He told me that he couldn't have taught my starters the aforementioned attacks because they weren't content being in my care. Those pokémon usually become destructive and rebellious, and their lifespan expectancy drops if the problems don't improve.

        But even when he teaches pokémon who are content with their trainers, consistent use of the attack puts strain on their bodies and their life expectancy drops anyway. He hadn't found a way to deal with the stress that came with his profession. After a few months of visiting him and discussing life in general, he told me about his recreational drug use. And soon...

        Well, drugs make pain disappear and take you into another world. How could I say no?

        How the move tutor didn't become an addict, I don't know. What I know is that I did, and it wasn't pleasant. Addiction is why the inner workings of my mind are distorted. I exaggerate facts to convince myself that I experienced something real. Obsessions, cravings, the never ending search... It's nothing to joke about.

        I couldn't face the move tutor anymore. I had disappointed him not once, but twice. I told him this and he wished me good luck, offering me enough money to travel and take care of myself. I fled to Lumiose and came to the unfortunate realization that I would need more money if I wanted to continue scoring drugs.

        This is when I returned to pokémon training. I refused to battle, so I had to resort to unconventional means. With the small amount of money I had leftover, I bought a zorua egg from a professional Unovan breeder. The species intrigued me because of its stereotypical personality, as well as how its evolution sells for several million pokédollars on the black market. I named him Enmity and I expected him to live up to that name. Oh, the mischief we could get into! Oh, the money we could earn with all the tricks up his sleeve!

        But Enmity wasn't like normal zorua. He wasn't hostile toward humans, he didn't cause any trouble and he wasn't reckless. He was shy and often hid behind my legs when anyone walked by. ...And you must understand another thing: Enmity was a mute. I don't know what his voice sounds like, nor even what it sounds like to hear him grunt.

        I wanted to release him, but it would have been a waste of the move tutor's money. I kept this in mind and it became easy to form a bond with him that I didn't have with my starters. So I taught him tricks—real tricks, ones you'd see in a circus. I used his dark-type attacks to create illusions. He made his body look like a human's, or he looked like an inanimate object. With the ladies he used fake tears to earn their admiration. We dressed him up in clothes that would attract an audience and when we had some money I bought a stage near the park on the northern end of Lumiose.

        It was because of him that I wanted to stop drugs in the first place. Enmity didn't talk me down from drugs. He helped me through it, and he didn't have to say a word. ...It's a shame that prison was what made that final decision for me. I wish I knew where he was now. He was with me when I was arrested and I haven't seen him since.

        I’ve seen the sun four times since I’ve started writing this letter. I think that makes it Thursday. That’s a long time to be writing, but I had to think long and hard about what happened. I could write one letter per day, one for each lost piece of my humanity, but then you would probably start to think I forgot about you.

        Sincerely,
        Mark
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        Old June 21st, 2015 (3:13 PM).
        diamondpearl876's Avatar
        diamondpearl876 diamondpearl876 is offline
        you can breathe now. x
           
          Join Date: Jun 2007
          Location: Illinois, USA.
          Age: 26
          Nature: Careful
          Posts: 1,571

          FLYING IN THE DARK

          [letters five and six]

          *


          May 20

          Markus...

          Your last letter was heartbreaking and not what I was expecting at all. I mean, I started my journey, so I can't look back now... But if I had gotten your letter before leaving, I'm not sure I could have made that first step past Anistar's gate. I just can't believe your pokémon are gone already. Didn't you try to figure out what happened to them? Isn't there someone you can ask about Enmity? Doesn't the move tutor know where you are? He could've bailed you out with all that money he has!

          Don't get me wrong, though. I am so glad you'll keep writing to me! You've had a rough time and maybe I should find it amazing that you were able to survive on your own in a world where pokémon are stronger than humans, especially when wild. I wouldn't be able to make it without Seybs and Ribbons. I think that's the difference between us. I was raised to be too dependent on my parents and now I'm afraid to be alone. You're not afraid of anything and I need someone to show me that's actually possible. I'm not sure what makes these letters so special... but please don't give up on sending them to me. I'm counting on you.

          I'm gonna ask for a second favor too. I don't want to sound like a stalker, but I already knew about the prison in Laverre. I found your contact information on their website. Anyway, please don't try to keep me away from Laverre! Like you said, that's where people go when they're lost. Well, I'm lost. I want to fix myself, but I can't fix myself if I don't know what's missing from my life. I won't decide right now, though, if that's what you want.

          Oh, and I was wondering... I don't know when you're getting out of jail. I don't know if it's soon or in a few years. I don't know anything about life in jail, even though I could've ended up there myself! But when you get out, first you should find Enmity, and then you should visit Anistar. I promise you'll have a better time than you did before.

          So... I started my journey, right? Part of me wishes I could meet Professor Sycamore so I could get one of the Kalos starters. Or maybe I'd get all three somehow. I would've taken care of them for you and made you feel a little better about their passing. Yeah... I'm sorry I can't do that for you.

          For what it's worth, I don't think you're a bad person. If demonology is something you want to believe in, I'm not gonna stop you. I just keep hoping you'll reunite with Enmity someday. I'm sure he's lost without you. ...I'm actually a bit surprised that the prison doesn't hold and/or raise your pokémon for you. Did he run away or something? I'd appreciate it if you could tell me.

          Okay, yeah. I went to Terminus Cave a few days ago. I sneaked into my dad's bedroom before I left (my parents have separate rooms) and took out an old textbook about pokémon behavior. I read up on noibat and how they like to swoop down and steal food from people passing by. I wasn't going to let one scare me like that!

          I made my way to the edge of Anistar, memorizing the same sights I'd seen for 18 years. I hate to admit it, but I might miss the place. Seybs and Ribbons, on the other hand, flew without a care in the world. They flew past the gate, into the Vallée Étroite Way, and past a long, narrow hill down to what seemed like a dead end. I tried to catch up with them as quick as I could and nearly lost my balance. Our view after that was blocked by patches of tall grass. I knew that was where wild pokémon hid, and I didn't want to disturb them. I had no choice if I wanted to find a noibat, so we trudged on through and came to a rickety bridge that crossed over a deep river surrounded by spires of rock. The water seemed to be a bright blue that day, as if the river was as optimistic as me!

          Seybs, of course, chose that moment to not be lazy and flew across the bridge, landing on the roof of an abandoned house while I stood at the edge of the bridge, afraid of falling through the planks. I scolded him for flying away like that. He pouted and flew back to my shoulder. Ribbons was nice and hopped in front of me, as if testing the bridge's strength. I told him that I weighed much more than him, but he cocked his head in confusion and continued. When I crossed I let out a sigh of relief and looked at the house, which told me that Terminus Cave was nearby. The house once offered a place for coal miners to rest, but now all that's left of that profession is the trolley and scattered remains of the railroad. Just a little further and I'd be in real adventure territory...

          But things never go as planned, do they? In the end I met the noibat outside of Terminus Cave, and oh boy, was it ever bossy. And very, very destructive.

          A group of graveler and lairon surrounded the noibat. They roared and braced themselves from the noibat's gust attack, which stirred up dirt from the ground. The noibat squeaked, trying to project its voice to be powerful too. It seemed to be demanding something, but I didn't know what. I got my answer when one of the lairon gave in and rammed the nearest tree, which caused a few apples to fall from the branches and onto its head. The noibat dove in, but could only hold one of the apples with its tiny paws. The tension between the pokémon disappeared as the noibat headed back toward Terminus Cave, satisfied.

          What made the noibat confront those rock-types, I don't know. Noibat are supposed to use their good vision and sense of smell to stay away from danger, but they're also part dragon. Dragon-types seem to always fight against other pokémon they can't win against. That kind of determination and persistence is exactly what I need for my journey! So after watching in awe as the pokémon went their separate ways, I chased after the noibat. Ribbons blocked the noibat's path by flying ahead and guarding the cave's entrance. Maybe it was harsh to not let the noibat go back home if that's what it wanted, but who knew how long it would take to find another one inside the dark cave?

          I ordered Ribbons to use confusion. His eyes glowed an intense shade of blue, and he transmitted that psychical energy to the noibat, whose body also began to glow. The noibat, shocked and in a small amount of pain, dropped its apple and held its head.

          “Ribbons, tone it down a little bit...” I said, knowing my pokéball would most likely break if I tried to catch a fainted noibat. If I remember right, the world inside a pokéball is perceived differently by each pokémon, and that world is created based off of the pokémon's favorite memory, so that the positive emotions of a pokémon help it maintain the will to live if severely injured. If a pokémon is fainted when caught, though... The world is created with unconscious memories instead, which are usually horrible to remember and keep the pokémon from ever wanting to be recalled. Gym leaders and researchers are studying to see if that situation affects emotional development as well, but I'm not sure how much progress they've made on that yet.

          Anyway. I got sidetracked again. Ribbons listened and the noibat flapped its wings hard so that it could escape. I wasn't going to let that happen, so Seybs chased after it. Oh, shoot. Is it illegal to fight with two pokémon at once? Seybs was slow and I thought we were going to lose the noibat until I saw that it was running straight for Anistar's gate. It probably thought it was clever, taking us through a maze, but little did it know that I knew Anistar like the back of my hand!

          The noibat traipsed between buildings, but the unfamiliar territory forced it to slow down and decide where to go next. To my surprise, it stopped entirely to sniff the air. I thought it might agree to come with us, but that was silly of me. Soon the noibat was off again, and it hovered outside the pokémart. First it was obsessed with apples, and now the pokémart...

          Then it hit me. Noibat are known as fruit bats. Over the years their sharp teeth have adapted to live on trainer routes by consuming berries and apples. The noibat must have smelled the fruit stand inside the pokémart and went there, and it explained why it was outside of Terminus Cave, harassing the other pokémon about their food supply.

          I was more than happy to buy the noibat some fruit, but it proved to be a very big mistake. I told Seybs and Ribbons to back off, and then we walked slowly toward the automatic door so that it could open and let the noibat inside. As soon as the door opened, though, it bolted and attacked the fruit stand. The customers yelled, deserted their carts and fled the store, while the cashier took a broom and tried to swipe the noibat away.

          “No! Don't hurt my noibat like that!”

          Your noibat, kid? Get that damn thing back in its pokéball!” the cashier cried, but he didn't stop swinging the broom.

          I fumbled with the pokéball in my hands. How was I supposed to throw it at the noibat if it kept moving around so fast? Seybs dove in and pecked at the noibat but was struck by the broom a few times himself. His focus turned toward the cashier. The noibat took that opportunity to sink its teeth into an orange, suck away the nectar and then flee (but not before grabbing another orange for later). It was now or never. While the noibat was weighed down by the fruit, I chucked the pokéball in its general direction. Somehow my aim was fantastic! The pokéball opened and the noibat transformed into a red light before disappearing inside. The ball swayed back and forth for a few seconds, and then a pinging sound told me I had caught the noibat.

          I couldn't celebrate, because the cashier decided to be a jerk. I hadn't seen the sign that said pokémon weren't allowed! It wasn't really my noibat! But he pushed me out of the store and told me I wasn't allowed to shop there ever again. Well, that's just fine. I'm not planning on coming back anyway, right?

          Fast forward a bit. I was back at home, in the comfort of my room. This was the last night I'd sleep in my own bed. Tomorrow I would battle Olympia and be on my way. Excited, I wanted to leave then, but first I had to introduce myself to the noibat.

          “I'm gonna call you Kai,” I said. The noibat cocked its head to the side. “Not impressed, I see...”

          I brought Kai to my grandmother the next morning and she said that Kai is a boy. Kai means “lovable” in another language I knew when I was younger, and apparently the way I pronounce it makes it sound feminine. I would have changed the name, but he already seemed used to it and I didn't want to ruin that little bit of trust we had. That trust may or may not have been due to all the fruit I left for him to eat overnight.

          I decided to do a bit of training before challenging Olympia. I wanted to make sure Kai knew shadow claw and, well, he didn't know it. I gave Joey enough money to buy the shadow claw TM from the pokémart I was banned from. It cost a lot, but I had enough in my savings account to last a while.

          TMs are weird, I'll tell you that. From what I know, TMs alter multiple brain processes, including motor memory skills and the cognitive ability to understand the move when I command it. But all Kai had to do to learn shadow claw was press his face against the device for a few moments before he jumped back. He had a wild expression, as if he had just witnessed a life-changing revelation. I wonder what he was thinking? Wow, I'm really strong now! I can take on anything! Or maybe he just wanted fruit.

          Then we did some basic training. Kai clawed some trees, and his reward, of course, was fruit. When he got the hang of it, he focused on speed and accuracy. “Get 'em where it hurts,” I told him, and I think he grinned at me. That's the only way to win a battle, and he knows it! You can't win by being nice. I learned the hard way with Seybs, but I'll get into that in another letter. In short, training isn't my strong suit. Just another thing to work on, I guess.

          So we battled Olympia later that day. Olympia's a psychic-type trainer, and her gym layout is... unique. I've been in there before, just for a tour. I was there again, ready to leave Anistar with a bang. It's strange because her pokémon use their psychic powers constantly to make the gym look like outer space. I mean, doesn't that make her pokémon too tired to fight? Or are they that strong?

          But I think you'd like the view, honestly. It's a small building when you look on the outside, but inside you're surrounded by an endless blanket of stars, which are set in the same patterns you'd be able to see at night. Time seems to come to a standstill when you're there, even though everything around you must have taken billions of years to form. The different winds, coming from all directions, are the only things that tell you that time is moving. You mentioned feeling “out of it” sometimes, and I don't know what you mean. But I think I get it when I'm in Olympia's gym.

          The gym's vastness got to me, and I almost cried. I was supposedly in space, but gravity was still there, and somehow I feel this ruined a childhood dream of mine. Not only that, but I walked for what seemed like miles and miles. My plans for setting out that day were crushed. I went this way and that, forward and backward, coming full circle once in a while. I only knew I was going the right way when I ran into Olympia's gym trainers. I wanted to keep Kai at full strength, so I used Ribbons when I fought them. I couldn't help but focus on how Ribbons interacted with another psychic-type. For some reason I think I'm gonna be in trouble sometime in the future, and Ribbons will be the one to save us, if only because of his powers.

          Olympia's gym trainers complimented my pokémon. I wonder if they were just being nice, since they've heard stories about me from my parents and other townspeople. Gossip spreads fast in Anistar. I didn't want to hear anything bad about being homeschooled or anything like that. I thanked them and moved on. I was in a hurry, and that was my excuse.

          I reached Olympia several hours later. She greeted me with her silly robotic/poetic voice. Oh, this is a good time to mention that I'm bringing a voice recorder with me on my journey, so that I'm able to write down awesome conversations I have with people. Does that sound creepy? I hope not. I didn't get to record the battle, but I can remember it pretty well.

          Olympia sent out her female meowstic. I know it was female because my neighbors always marvel about Olympia's meowstic pair. They're surprised that the same species of pokémon can look so different, and they bet even Professor Sycamore can't explain that phenomenon. I keep my mouth shut because it's not that big of a discovery. I mean, no human looks exactly the same, so...

          But this is why I like Olympia. She understands the world and acts accordingly. The way she commanded her pokémon was great! Instead of yelling out an attack, she used a calm voice that was barely audible. The meowstic was eager to listen. She attacked Kai with a dark purple ray of light—a psybeam attack. Kai flew into the air to avoid it, and I told him to do what we practiced, somehow hoping that would keep Olympia guessing what we'd do next. Kai was flawless and perfect as he took his claws and collided with Meowstic's psybeam, creating a burst of black clouds. Meowstic staggered backward, a bit of blood dripping down her cheek. Kai huffed with pride.

          I started to wonder if I had made a mistake... I had shown off our trump card at the beginning of the battle, after all. It could have doomed us later on, but Olympia was kind enough to agree to a one-on-one battle, and so time was “precious” (her words, not mine). “I know that your pokémon's health is essential to you, the trainer,” she had told me, and she had pulled out a single pokéball with such grade it made me think she had chosen to use Meowstic days before I had arrived.

          I was nothing like Olympia. “Kai, use supersonic!” I cried, with enough vigor to have Kai obey me though I hadn't known him long at all. He wasn't eager to listen, but his earlier success encouraged him to help me win this battle. Did I just give away the ending? Where's an eraser when you need one?

          Okay, yeah, we won... but it wasn't easy. What happened next was this: Kai let out a scary cry that spread throughout the whole gym. Meowstic tightened her closed ears, and when this didn't drown out the noise, she resorted to floating upward and out of our sight. Even this backfired, as she came crashing down about a minute later. I thought she'd fall through the floor and never come back... as the floor was transparent and below all you saw was stars. Anyway, Meowstic spun in circles, but Olympia wasn't worried. I hadn't expected Meowstic, a psychic-type, to be confused by a normal-type attack.

          I made my move as soon as I could. I told Kai to use shadow claw again while he had the chance. He sped forward, claws spread out as Meowstic automatically went into defense mode. A light blue barrier assembled itself in front of her, protecting her from harm. Kai slammed into it, unable to see it from such a close angle. He wailed and flew back to his side of the battlefield.

          Meowstic was still confused, and I think her survival instincts kicked in despite that. I asked Kai, in a more friendly tone, to use shadow claw one more time. “This time, it has to hit,” I said. I swear I saw him nod to me, but it may have been wishful thinking. Either way, he was in the middle of his strike when Meowstic's reflect attack reappeared. Kai didn't attempt to stop. He trudged on through. When he was close to the barrier, a ripple was made, and then another ripple, until the barrier was wrecked and Meowstic was struck with more black clouds.

          Meowstic fainted shortly after that. Had Olympia treated me like a new trainer, even though she was the 7th gym leader in the circuit? Did it have anything to do with me living in Anistar? I chalked it up to the idea that using reflect requires an awful lot of energy, and that being confused eventually took its toll. Olympia recalled Meowstic back to her pokéball and walked over to me with a smile on her face.

          “Your pokémon’s ability. Did you know it existed?” she asked me.

          “Kai’s ability? No…”

          “Noibat have an ability called infiltrator. It helps with barrier attacks.”

          “Does it?” I said, too stunned to say anything else. So Kai was the perfect choice after all! He flew over to me and hovered in the air. He wasn’t comfortable perching on my shoulder or head, and he didn’t nuzzle up to me like my other pokémon do. Still, a victory is a victory, and he deserved all the credit. We won our first gym battle, and in only one try, just as I had planned! There was more than one reason to celebrate.

          Olympia pulled me out of my ecstatic thoughts. “You did not know. If one wants to travel on a journey, then one must know certain things about the world. I would like to educate you. Will you let me?”

          “Uh. I’m not interested in schooling anymore—”

          “Not that kind of education. I want to teach you something else. Will you let me?”

          “...When would you need me?”

          “Come by tomorrow night to the gym. You will perform a task for me, and then you will be free to leave on your journey.”

          I agreed because I look up to her as a leader, a sort of icon that I had grown up with. I don't know what she has planned for me! Do you? ...Probably not, but it's worth a shot.

          ~ Haley




          May 29

          To Haley,

          I cannot imagine what Olympia would want from you. I can, at least, apologize for my misbehavior. I am not a friend that knows when to be quiet. That role belongs to the sky, or more specifically, the nighttime sky, which leaves you alone long enough for you to daydream about the unknown. Olympia's gym seems to recreate that atmosphere for you. It's sad to say that I experience that vastness each day, as well as the sense of detachment it brings. That kind of haziness may not be temporary. If you must know about prison—a life you shouldn't be preoccupied with—then you might want to remember that feeling.

          I can, too, answer your other questions. Indeed I miss my starters and Enmity, but I can barely describe what I saw when I learned of their deaths, let alone the emotional state I've been in since. It was daytime, though. I know this much. The world spins a little faster then, and I tend to lose myself in the highlights of the sun's rays. That afternoon, chilly and with clouds spotting the sky, I was meant to judge Chespin's performance with a critical eye during a battle. Instead I released him, saw his body and the other bodies, and my face fell, suddenly submissive to gravity along with the rest of me.

          In my mind I must have been on vacation, in a faraway town in a faraway region, one rich with resources and a history void of war. I must have been consumed by a new, unfamiliar but welcomed view, one with wild, white clouds dotting the sky, and trees standing on hills, tilted slightly to the right with full, flourishing branches. When I try to envision this again, I think of blood, though I'm unsure whether my starters bled at all. If they did, would I have noticed? And if I had noticed, would I have held them close? ...No. I'd have been afraid of their pain latching onto me. Most likely I was under the influence, to the point where I could feel the drug piercing through my system as I walked.

          You say you want to know about Enmity. There should be more to say, as he was my lifeline for a few years, but when you're high, moments blend together. All is lost to you when you recover. This means I cannot recall where Enmity was, or what he was doing... If I cannot tell you about the past, I cannot tell you about the present. There is more of a difference between us than you think. All you've ever wanted is a chance to prove yourself, and now it's here. I've had so many chances but I've always turned the other way to go down a different path. Because of that, I lost Enmity, the last promising thing left in my life.

          I apologize for any confusion that comes from the lack of information. I have many regrets, but the one wish that might come true involves Enmity's evolution. I wished for him to become a zoroark, so that he may perform more tricks aside from his usual flips and pranks. Zoroark are known for their ability to imitate human speech, to steal anyone's identity and other such miracles. If I could find him, it may still happen.

          Now I have a question for you. Which of your pokémon sends me these letters? From my window I do not get a glimpse of the flying-types that bring the mail each morning. It may be for the best, since I've been defined as a threat to society. Still it brings me great peace of mind when I receive a letter from you, and I am asking because, should I ever see a flying-type approaching, I would like to know if it belongs to you.

          I am feeling particularly down today. I cannot explain why, not entirely, though I may say that the prisoners here are reminding me of the outside world's extravagances by sharing their life stories. I understand this is why you put certain facts and topics into your letters—to make me feel better, that is—but I find myself wishing and daydreaming more after I set them down. It's not your fault, and by no means should this discourage you. I am only saying how I feel.

          I believe I owe you an explanation about prison culture, as it intrigues you and you have offered to me more than I can say. To give you the most appropriate and accurate representation of what it's like here, I will use prison slang as it is used by my cellmates everyday, and I will explain those terms the best I can.

          There are various types of people that are forced to cram their plethora of dreams into one tiny cell. There are the “rats” of the place, which are those people who tell the officers when someone commits yet another crime such as dealing drugs or possessing harmful items (including coins, which may be sharpened against the stone walls). The “gorillas” tend to beat up the rats. They are the bullies you would have seen had you been in a public school, except the bullies here are older, more muscular and mean-spirited. The “wolves” and “hags” associate themselves with homosexual relations, and they prey on “punks” (the subservient men). The “toughs” cause fights for no reason other than to ensure that they're left to their own devices, which, if you're not involved in the situation, certainly makes fucking up look cool. The “ball-busters” give the passers-by a difficult time, and the “hipsters” are all bark and no bite. The “merchants” smuggle drugs, deriving satisfaction from the fact that people are prospering (or suffering) from their trades.

          I'd like to say I am a “real man,” that is, a man who is neither submissive nor aggressive while he serves his sentence with integrity. Does this sound conceited on my part? My cellmate, a man we call Bouncer (which means, to him, move along and get lost) seems to agree with me. But never mind that. Bouncer is one of the toughs, and has the reputation and body to prove it. He's had his sentence lengthened after assaulting the same police officer who had no choice but to send him to solitary confinement at least five times before. He stands a foot taller than me, is broad-chested and has a strange, moon-shaped scar above his upper lip. He speaks with an accent none of us have been able to recognize thus far, and while the rest of us make guesses, Bouncer learns more slang and makes life sound like a game.

          The inmate across from us is named Eyeball. He has an angular face, a narrow nose and a small build, small enough to crumple in the corner of his cell and not be noticed—which has happened before, as he has the personality to match. He doesn't say much. He simply gives long, disparaging looks to officers and to anyone who tries to get his attention. On special occasions we're deemed worthy of a moment of his time, but even then the best we've gotten is an explanation for why he refuses to socialize often, said with a scowl and a twitch of his dark eyes: “Ya can pretend yer in the real world however much ya want, but ya still gonna feel what's missin' here.”

          His words ring a sort of truth not many of us can admit to each other or ourselves. That's the common bond we share: we miss the outside world. We are kept away from liberty, everyday goods and services, autonomy, relationships... and there is such as a thing as too much security. Everything is provided for us, which sounds fine, but this takes away things people like you take for granted—a simple trip to the grocery store, for instance. Someone is always watching you, sometimes out of curiosity, sometimes to spite you. We have little to no friends or family. Some of us had friends and family at some point, but inevitably they grew bored or frustrated, and decided to not come back.

          So all we have is each other and a degrading, monotonous routine we follow. It is not enough.

          5AM. The sun rises. The guards come around, bringing black coffee with a friendly enough smile. The coffee is hot, but there's no sugar, no cream, nothing to soften the taste of hell. Most sleep through the morning, as any request for a substitute drink cannot be considered.

          6AM. Now the guards bring breakfast—toast and butter, spicy sausages, diced potatoes and a carton of orange juice—placed in a small styrofoam box that radiates mild heat from the bottom. You eat all foods with your fingers; no forks or knives are available to you. Sleep through breakfast and you're out of luck until lunchtime.

          6:30AM. Throw your styrofoam box away when the guards come around with garbage bags, though undoubtedly it's filled with leftovers you can't manage to stomach. If you don't comply, the guards will try to convince you that it's for the best, otherwise your trash will rot and your cell will smell horribly.

          7AM. You take turns using the shower with everyone else. Though there are approximately thirty men on any given floor, there is only one shower room, and one toilet. There's no shower curtain and the toilet sits in the corner, also out in the open for everyone to notice and awkwardly avoid eye contact with you. Good hygiene is not an option. You have no choice but to keep yourself clean due to everyone being in such close proximity, and if you refuse, other prisoners will gang up on you. There are a couple reasons for this: one, if someone is affected by a cold, within days everyone will have it; and two, it is impossible for the guards to keep the showers sanitary at all times, so to keep yourself free of infection is to keep everyone else safe from infection as well. Soap, shampoo and other necessities are provided by the commissary, but most of us have had sandals brought from the outside to prevent said infections when inside the shower.

          8AM. This is the time of day where there is nothing to do but wait, when that's already all you've been doing for years. You have to remember to be persistent. “Gets ya through,” Eyeball might tell you, and he's right. Persistence is the one attribute you should have that will get you through the rest of your sentence. Persistence helps you keep your emotions and thoughts on an even keel, and to not overreact to any particular situation that might otherwise drive you crazy. Persistence creates and enables a strong mind and a steady spirit.

          9AM. Now there's a distraction to break the monotonous uncertainty plaguing your thoughts. Now is when the guards line up the prisoners and do a head count to ensure everyone is present. This is also when you get to see inmates you don't normally see at any other time. The sick inmates will have poor posture, and you briefly measure the status of your own health before retreating and shrinking back into your cell, your own little corner of the universe which, you remember, you can call your own, if nothing else.

          10AM. The sun beats down and shines through the barred windows like an angelic presence might, and it's getting hotter. You're sweating and paranoia sets in. If you're anything like me, you're thinking about ways to access hardcore drugs or prescription medications that might knock you out for a good part of the day. Faking a cold or food poisoning might be an option, if only the prison allowed you that luxury. As it stands, the guards are adept to identifying all forms of illness, especially ones far less imposing than the ill mindset that caused us to become criminals in the first place.

          11AM. Once a week you're given a laundry bag, one set of pants and one shirt, and one set of underwear you have no choice but to wear on a consistent basis. One size fits all. But by now you'll at least be showered, dressed and looking semi-presentable, enough to transfer over to laundry duty. Work details are limited jobs reserved for prisoners who exhibit the best behavior. For this you'll only receive about five dollars an hour, but something about that handful of cash makes you feel like a part of society again. That handful of cash, at least, funds items sent by the commissary. While on duty you'll often be appalled by what you find. I will spare you the details.

          12-12:30PM. You have a lunch break at work, served the same way as breakfast. The prisoners become most talkative during this time. Bouncer discusses with me how the prisoners down the hall have been planning a breakout for years, though they are incompetent and haven't come close to coming up with a coherent, logical plan. Once they were going to tunnel their way through a wall in the laundry room, and they were ecstatic and prepared, until Bouncer pointed out that their tunnel would lead them straight to the guard's break room. Their stupidity astounds me, and I would be lying if I said I haven't participated in petty actions such as leaving their socks damp or dyeing them pink, then calling it an accident. It's hypocritical, considering my negative opinion regarding their behavior, but there it is.

          3PM. You return to your cell. You inspect your surroundings quickly, only to realize that the cell sergeants have gone through your belongings searching for drugs. Then it's time for another head count. When your name is called you step forward and hear murmurs, and you wonder if the prisoner speaking is talking about you or something private. The former is likely, as there are listening devices embedded into the ceiling of each cell. Conversations are recorded every hour of every day. Not a single prisoner reveals details about their court cases, or at least nothing incriminating, lest they want the prosecutor to receive a copy of the transcript to use as ammunition. Occasionally a guard will inspect the tape, and while it's not very often that this happens, it is best to remain safe. And, if you were wondering, those planning a breakout communicate during work (whether it be laundry duty, cooking duty, or out in the courtyard keeping the grounds clean and the grass trimmed), the only time of day in which you are allowed true freedom of speech.

          4-6PM. Some prisoners head to narcotics anonymous, anger management sessions, or counseling sessions. I choose not to disclose the experiences I have during my own counseling sessions. Outside of these rehabilitation programs, there are some ways to entertain yourself, but not many. An old-fashioned television with one news station sits in the corner of the hallway, inside an iron box, and through the thick plastic you can watch melancholy images unfold. If you don't want to watch, the reporter's voice echoes throughout the cells. It is difficult to drown out constant reminders of crime. Or you may choose to be active and exercise out in the courtyard, which most choose to do either to avoid muscular dystrophy and other health problems, or to get a breath of fresh air. Other than this, we have nothing but time, and so we become creative with ways to keep ourselves busy. Bouncer once made a checker board out of paper I gave him from my notebook, the same one I write to you in. Some of the men exercise, some create their own games, and some read. I myself would read, but most of the books I might be interested in are not on the approved reading list. On a particularly exciting day, in comes a new inmate, and the prisoners spend their time teaching him the ropes, which involves spewing harsh insults, asking personal questions, and making up strict rules.

          6PM. Dinner comes, served the same way as breakfast and lunch. The day is winding down.

          7PM. Head count. The sun starts to set and your thoughts drift further than normal.

          8PM. Bedtime. Bunk beds are welded together, not with nails or bolts, but with sheet metal. Bouncer prefers to sleep on the top bunk, so I let him. It's easier for me to fall asleep on the bottom bunk, anyway. The lights are left on at all hours of the day so that the guards are able to keep a watchful eye on us, and so the light is blocked by Bouncer's mattress above me. Eyeball, on the other side of the hall, takes his mattress and puts it on the floor. To make a pillow he gathers his belongings and stuffs it under one end of the mat. Despite his efforts he grows restless and makes annoying, non-rhythmic tapping noises that keep the rest of us awake longer than we want to be.

          I suppose it would be nice to have a cool, agreeable evening during which nothing goes wrong and all is forgotten… but it's not necessary. I don't deserve those rare nights when they do come to me. When my thoughts go astray during that blissful phase between wakefulness and sleep, I remember something my father told me, something about being a man one day and how that means doing terrible things. Perhaps he knew I would end up this way long ago.

          8PM-5AM. You sleep. The night makes us who we are, and when the morning comes, you know the truth, which is that that sun will forever keep rising. I have to believe that's true.

          I suppose that is all there it to say for now. Have I disturbed you? Please let me know. It is acceptable to acknowledge any awfulness you find in me.

          Sincerely,
          Mark
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            #5   Link to this post, but load the entire thread.  
          Old July 25th, 2015 (6:58 PM). Edited November 8th, 2015 by diamondpearl876.
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          diamondpearl876 diamondpearl876 is offline
          you can breathe now. x
             
            Join Date: Jun 2007
            Location: Illinois, USA.
            Age: 26
            Nature: Careful
            Posts: 1,571

            FLYING IN THE DARK

            [letters seven and eight]

            *


            June 10

            Dear Markus,

            I got your letter a few days ago, but I've been putting off writing back to you. I just don't know what to say! Between the little lesson Olympia tried to teach me and your honesty, I'm not sure what to believe. I do know now that writing these letters is an outlet for you. For me, it's a way to forget. There must be some kind of theory out there, anyway, that says if you write something down and then stop thinking about it, it'll leave your mind forever. And then there will always be some official documentation ready in case you want to remember or prove the memory happened in the first place. My documentation would be in one big notebook with crisp white pages, some torn, some with folded corners, and most written with invisible ink and scrawly cursive...

            Not that I don't appreciate you telling me what prison is like! I mean, I asked for the explanation, didn't I? And like I said, it was an outlet for you. I wasn't prepared is all. I'm like a walking contradiction, I guess. I want to hear about your life and then when you tell me things, I'm reminded that I'm nothing special, and it's hard. I wonder why you're telling me of all people. You have your cellmates, and the guards, and... Well, let's just say it's going to take a lot more than one teenager's wanderlust and determination to make a difference in such a crazy world.

            ...Okay, I'm ready to write about something that's not annoying, and worth sending. First I want you to know I'm worried about Enmity too and I hope you're able to find out what happened to him someday. That's not something I'll forget about. Also, I don't think anything about you is awful, except maybe the way you think you're awful.

            Oh, and Ribbons has been sending these letters so far. He can find his way around without a problem and I know he'll come back. It's strange when he's gone, though... Kai and Seybs are strong, but I don't feel as safe. So I might make Kai do it. Seybs could do it, but he doesn't care for all the stimulation. As a challenge I sent him to Laverre one summer with Joey and his talonflame, and trying to keep up with such a speedy pokémon was hard for him. Joey told me that Seybs had to find ways to stop his talonflame to say they were going the wrong way, and each time Seybs complained for a while, probably just to get a half hour's worth of rest. Seybs is observant, and he's loyal enough to get the job done. I'll give him that much credit! But he's lazy, slow, and will take any opportunity to show you how bitter he is.

            As for Kai... Well, he needs to burn off some of that energy he always has, and this seems like the perfect way to do it. Then again, he'd be the type to make a pit stop every twenty minutes just to eat some fruit... which, by the way, he won't share with his teammates. How am I supposed to make everyone get along when he's acting like that?

            Seriously, though, sending Kai back and forth with the letters would be so easy. Ribbons always comes back with store-bought food for the team, so I know the prison feeds them. Do you know if they give out fruit, though? I guess I could promise Kai a feast or something when he's back, and then he'd be set.

            Anyway, trainers do stuff like this all the time to stay in touch with their families and friends all over Kalos, since cell phone service is pretty awful. The only problem is... Well, when a flying-type's flying alone, trainers see them and think they're wild. Even worse, predators think they're prey. At least pokéballs are useless, but my pokémon aren't safe from guns or electric-types or anything like that.

            Whenever I think of an accident happening, I think of the war 3,000 years ago. Flying-types during the war were used to deliver emergency medication between Pokémon Centers, which was really important when one town had less resources than another. Sending these letters to you is almost the same as sending medicine to a friend in need, and I have to remember that doing the right thing sometimes means taking risks and possibly making sacrifices. Strange rationalization, but there it is!

            So far I've told Ribbons to stay away from areas where hunting is allowed—near the Lost Hotel and the route north of Lumiose, I think are the only ones on the way to Laverre—but that doesn't mean he's gonna make it alright...

            Thinking about this is making me a bit depressed, so... Let's move on? Now is as good a time as any to tell you what Olympia's “lesson” was. I didn't like the way she went about it, but I guess taking care of trainers is what gym leaders are supposed to do.

            So she asked me to come to her house and babysit her solosis. I didn't know she had a solosis at all, and that should've tipped me off right away. I believed her when she said she usually took him everywhere, but tonight was an exception since she had an important dinner date with a member of the Elite Four. She told me I'd be paid and everything, so I was happy to do it.

            “When I am back, I will show you what I want to show you,” she said calmly.

            The babysitting job went pretty well. The solosis was super energetic. He bounced around non-stop and it was a game to see which one of my pokémon could catch him in the air first. Seybs won a lot more than Kai or Ribbons, since he had the biggest talons and was actually able to carry the solosis on his back.

            Ribbons also let the solosis practice his psychic powers. The solosis lifted some small decorations, like pictures hanging on the wall and a vase, and he was able to put them down without breaking them. After that, Ribbons gave the solosis some advice. I really, really wish I could have understood that conversation! There was so much smiling and giggling going on, I felt a little left out.

            Soon enough Olympia was home and she motioned for me to follow her. I told my pokémon to stay put, but they seemed startled, and suddenly I noticed that the solosis was gone and had seemed to vanish into thin air.

            I asked Olympia where the solosis went as she led me to the kitchen. It was a large kitchen, even though she lived alone. All the cutlery and the appliances were floating in midair, and the black curtains covering the door to the yard were swaying without the help of any winds. I opened my mouth to speak, but everything was so odd that I forgot about the solosis for a moment.

            Olympia pointed to the room we had just come from and told me that the solosis wasn't real. The solosis was simply an illusion she had created for me. I didn't know what to say... Why hadn't Ribbons noticed? I mean, Olympia's powers were far greater than Ribbons's, but still. What was the point of me “babysitting” then?

            Of course, she seemed to read my mind. “You will meet many illusions on your journey, ones made psychically or otherwise,” she said. “You must be prepared for any tragedy that awaits you.”

            I followed her gaze and looked at my pokémon in the other room. They were searching for the solosis, and before they could find out the truth, I ran in and told them it was time to go. I'm not sure if the truth would have bothered them, but I knew I didn't like it, so I practically shoved them into their pokéballs. I stood there, wondering if this was the Olympia I had heard so many stories about from my parents and the townspeople. I didn't think it was.

            “Do not equate death with stopping. Do not equate existence with living,” Olympia said seriously.

            Those words rang in my head, but I had no idea what they meant then, and I have no idea now. She held out a small amount of pokédollars, and I thanked her, then left. I knew I wouldn't be able to sleep so I woke up my family one last time, said goodbye, then left again.

            Before that I'd never fought a gym leader, or even met one in person. If I did the gym circuit, and if during each battle I was judged by a gym leader... Well, I don't want any part in it, honestly. So I probably won't fight many of them, unless something changes my mind. And before you ask, I won't be telling my pokémon what happened. Now that I've written it down, I'll forget it anyway, right?

            Moving on... Again...

            We're in Dendemille Town now. Altogether it was a 5 day journey, and we've been here for what seems like forever already, since the cold weather's mostly been making us feel bored and miserable. Luckily I remembered to pack my winter coat and warm clothes, otherwise I would have had to backtrack all the way to Anistar just to get some!

            We traveled through Route 17 (or Mamoswine Road). When we first showed up, there was a mamoswine sitting patiently by the gate entrance, as if it had been waiting a long time to see me. It nodded to me, lowered itself and turned to its side so that I could climb on. It was strange, riding on a wild pokémon, but during the summer all the townspeople in Anistar would talk about going this way to take a mini-vacation to the wintry areas of Kalos. Because of that I figured that the mamoswine was trustworthy.

            The mamoswine was only able to take a step before we heard a boy calling out from behind us. The mamoswine stopped and stared straight ahead, like it was used to this kind of thing. I'm not sure if there's a set schedule for the rides, so I didn't blame the boy for not wanting to wait. He was out of breath by the time he caught up, and he looked me in the eye and asked if he could ride. Confused, I told him of course he could, what kind of silly question was that? Then he pointed to my pokémon. There wasn't any room for him to sit if my pokémon were there. I returned them... reluctantly... but keeping flying-types out of the freezing weather is for the best. Their safety is more important than mine, after all.

            When the boy hopped on the mamoswine's back, he tried to be nice about it, but the mamoswine grunted slightly. I tried to be polite to him, since I didn't want the ride to seem long and awkward. I asked him his name, and he told me. Kenneth Chitenay... A Kalosian name, but he has an accent I couldn't place at the time. I looked him over. He's a bit on the short side, with neat, curly black hair and hazel eyes. He wore a white neck scarf, which, to my surprise, he didn't use to cover his face. I assumed it was just there for show. He wore a long, red and expensive-looking trench coat, with dark pants and boots to match. I could smell some light cologne on him. The scent reminded me of grapefruit. None of this hinted as to where he might actually be from, but I got the impression that he cared about his appearance a lot.

            “You're not from Anistar, are you?” I asked him. I felt like I already knew the answer, since I hadn't seen him around before, ever. If I had, I think I'd remember someone like him.

            Kenneth shook his head, then motioned for me to look ahead. My legs were dangling over the mamoswine's body and, if I didn't move them, they'd bump into a wild bergmite sleeping on top of a tall mound of snow. Either the mamoswine didn't see the bergmite, or it didn't dare to stray from the path even for a moment. I kept my legs up as we left the peaceful bergmite behind and passed through more mounds of snow at least three times my height.

            I asked him where he came from, then, if not Anistar.

            “I'm from Hoenn,” he said, frowning. “Rustburo, to be exact.”

            I waited for him to go on, to explain why he didn't seem too happy about it. Do you think he expected me to figure it out myself? After a few moments of silence I said, “I'm not too familiar with Hoenn, sorry. But it makes sense now.”

            He raised an eyebrow. “What does?”

            He pronounces some words wrong. Like, really wrong. He puts a lot of emphasis on parts of words, too, and his voice is full of... life, I guess? It's not monotonous like I'm used to hearing, anyway. Of course, I didn't tell him all that outright. I told him he had an accent and that was it.

            “Makes sense indeed.”

            He peered over to the mountains that towered over us. The view made me think we were at the bottom of a canyon and that we'd never get out. All around us were thick blankets of snow that drifted when the wind picked up. I shivered and pulled my coat tighter against my body. I changed the subject. “So what are you doing in Kalos?” I asked.

            “Well, I worked for Devon Corporation for a while. Then my mom retired and wanted to move to Aquacorde, so she did. I didn't want her to go alone, so I came with and decided to try to the whole traveling thing. Though I'm heading to Lumiose now, just to see what the job market's like.”

            “What about your dad?” The question came out before I could think it through. I hadn't expected him to spill so much information about himself at once, and so I assumed he'd just be willing to tell me more, no matter what it was.

            “Don't know about him. Can't say I care, either.”

            I apologized to him and looked away, too ashamed to make eye contact. I wasn't sure what I'd have done without my dad, even if living at home was overwhelming sometimes.

            Then a thought hit me. “You said Devon Corporaton, right?”

            He nodded.

            “Did you know the famous Steven Stone?”

            “Of course,” Kenneth said, waving a hand as if it was no big deal. “His father hired me, and once in a while I got a glimpse of him walking around the office building I worked at.”

            “My mother works in a hospital. When she's not with the patients, she buys medicine from the Devon Corporation. She said that he was a great guy who traveled through Hoenn, digging through the earth to find minerals and herbs that would help people and pokémon get better.” I never did understand, Markus, why I wasn't allowed to journey when she fawned over a famous traveler, but anyway...

            Kenneth grinned. “He's a respectable man. One of the few that doesn't take Hoenn for granted.”

            I asked him what he meant.

            “Hoenn is unique to the rest of the world due to it's tropical climate. Instead of thinking he's always on some grand vacation, he finds beauty in the seemingly mundane. Hence his rock collection and fascination with steel-types.” He paused. “Not to mention he's the region's champion, yet he doesn't let the power go to his head. He helps others, as you noted, and goes where he's needed.”

            Suddenly the mamoswine mounted itself up high and lurched forward with one sharp motion, causing me to start sliding off of its back. If Kenneth weren't there, I might have fallen right into the snow. Or I would have been paying attention to where we were going. It would have been nice if the mamoswine had given us a warning, don't you think?

            I asked Kenneth the same thing.

            “Agreed,” he mumbled, dusting himself off as if a bunch of snow had gotten on his clothes. “Anyway, are you okay?”

            I said yes and mentioned how I wish my pokémon could be out with me, but they're flying-types.

            “One Kantoan species, one Johtoan species... Nothing from Hoenn?” he said, pointing to the pokéballs on my belt. I wondered aloud about how he knew that stuff and he answered, “If you look hard enough, you'll see that the top of each pokéball is translucent, more or less. I've tinkered with and made enough pokéballs in my lifetime to know.”

            And it was true! I held Kai's pokéball in my hands and was able to see him nestled inside, curled in a tiny ball, like he was sleeping and dreaming about something nice. I smiled at Kenneth and said, “Did you make those special apricorn balls and everything?”

            “Yes. Even the master balls.” What was so special about those? I didn't know, and he blinked, then laughed at me. “A master ball can catch any pokémon without fail, even legendaries.” The image of me catching something as amazing as Diancie ran through my head as he continued, “They're usually only given out to champions or winners of tournaments.”

            “Usually?”

            Frowning, he said, “Groups like Team Rocket and such have stolen and replicated them before.”

            I didn't know what this Team Rocket was, either, and rather than making myself seem stupid, I told him that no, I didn't have any pokémon from Hoenn.

            “My mother has a volbeat she's been trying to find a home for,” he said. “If you're wanting to make your team more diverse.”

            And again, I didn't know what a volbeat was.

            “The firefly pokémon.”

            “You mean lightning bug?”

            “Maybe in Kalos, that's what you say. In Hoenn we'd call it a firefly.”

            Uh huh... So, I'm not getting a volbeat because it's not a flying-type. I learned very quickly that Kenneth is the argumentative type, and even though the whole conversation was recorded, I only told you what I did so I didn't make him look bad. He's smart and nice... most of the time... but he acts smug when you don't go along with what he wants, or if you don't know what he's talking about.

            I did mention that I was heading to Lumiose too, so we're considering traveling together. I can show him around Kalos that way, and he offered to help train my pokémon, since he's more experienced than me. What do you think? I mean, he seems reliable, doesn't he? Or do you need to know more about him first?

            Hmm... Well, during the rest of the trip, he told me all about Hoenn's culture and its people. I'd go over what he said, but this letter is already getting long as it is! Sometimes I write and write and I get lost in it, especially when the weather is so dull. With the snow and the townspeople shut in, it seems that all Dendemille has is dull days, but me and Kenneth found a few things to do. I'll tell you about our visit to Frost Cavern and whatnot next time, okay?

            Until then!

            ~ Haley




            June 16

            To Haley,

            You may put in your letters as much information as you'd like, and you may take as much time as you need to do so. I will be here, sitting in this cell, regardless of what you decide to tell me or not tell me. Just as I have not somehow disturbed you with my prolific stories and inane ramblings, do not think that if you wait too long to reply, I will believe that you have forgotten about me. I have been hoping that your visit to Dendemille has turned out to be more fruitful and fair to you compared to your experiences in Anistar.

            I must advise you to, at the very least, be careful around this Kenneth Chitenay. What worries me is the intentional withholding of the later conversations between you two, but as you trust me, I suppose I must trust that you left those parts alone for no other reason than the ones you stated. Barring that, I'd say, albeit with hesitation, that he presents himself decently. Knowing he had a part in a renowned corporation dedicated to pokémon training seems promising, but the paranoia that I feel on a consistent basis warns me and compels me to consider any hidden motives.

            Now that that is out of the way, I cannot say much about what Olympia demonstrated for you. Perhaps she has given you more to think about than you originally planned for. I wonder how this will affect you in the long-term, if it will at all... Illusions are omnipresent for some, whether they ask for them or not...

            Sick, slow, slick and clean. That's the gist of how they work. The pit of your stomach feels awful at first, and your thoughts come to a near halt. Then your mind begins to process information at a faster pace; your thoughts suddenly turn profound and assertive, above all else. Slick and clean means you are beginning to understand—subtly, no less—what you should have understood at the start, though your emotions had gotten in the way of your practicality. Then the illusion disappears and you are either left with a sense of clarity or hazy memories that your subconscious locks away for future use.

            ...Illusions, as you might have guessed, are something of a specialty of mine. Either you will dismiss illusions as they come or you might ponder what they mean. Re-reading your ideas regarding forgetfulness, I assume you will find a way to mix the two options. Or perhaps you will ignore all I have just said and find your own path.

            But Olympia's words... Do not equate death with stopping; do not equate existence with living... There rings a certain amount of truth to them, a sense of caution worth listening to. And that is all I have to say on the matter.

            Ribbons has been sending these letters? I see... I was under the impression that natu cannot fly well because their wings are not fully grown... You must forgive me, but at the moment I am finding it hard to imagine a small, unevolved pokémon traveling such long distances. I am picturing Ribbons taking off and rising in the crisp morning air, then, after flying about forty, fifty feet, he tumbles slowly, and he is forced to land on the nearest branch or roof. After several days of this, I would safely assume that the time in between flying spurts increases. That doesn't even account for time spent sleeping or searching for food. If I were you, I would watch out for excessive panting, squinted eyes, and other signs of overexertion or sickness. If any of these signs are present, then you should end his adventures to Laverre before worse symptoms befall him. Send someone else in his place, as you have been contemplating. I would suggest Seybs. Kai might struggle just as well.

            I do, however, vaguely remember you telling me of Ribbons's origins. Your grandmother—I believe she is the one who gave you Ribbons—retrieved him from a professional breeder, correct? If so, I might vouch for his skills based on this fact alone. The most exceptional breeders adopt special routines and tools necessary to maximize a pokémon's strength before it is born and while it is still growing. I would assume, too, that Ribbons is a bit older than you might expect. ...I daresay he may evolve relatively soon, should you train him properly and continue the gym circuit. But you have already deemed the gym circuit unworthy of your efforts, and so I will not argue with that.

            At any rate, your grandmother offered only the best to you, and I commend Ribbons for doing the same given the restrictions he faced. If I may say so, on the assumption that saying so will make you feel better about the matter, it should be noted that laws were passed years ago for trainers who wished to communicate on the road. Hunting along the outskirts of Laverre and the northern ends of Lumiose may be allowed, but aiming to kill a trainer's pokémon for sport is a serious offense. To separate the wild birds of prey and trained flying-types, trainers are advised to have their pokémon wear bells or whistles. Predators, then, can identify targets easier, and at the same time, birds of prey might be persuaded to leave Seybs—or Kai—alone.

            And as a final note, do not worry about sending these letters if you are worried for the safety of your pokémon. 3,000 years ago, flying-types transported medication on an emergency basis, yes, but they certainly did not extend that service to prisoners like me. It was, rather, the worthy members of society that received such attention, and I feel that that was the correct decision. Sacrifices, even now, are very unnecessary. You may deem me cynical, considering how I simply let the world conspire against me. So be it.

            I must admit that I was bothered when I heard about Ribbons traveling to Laverre, and not solely because the aforementioned rationale. I do no meet the pokémon who send your letters, as you know, but I have a personal vendetta against Ribbons... Actually, it is not Ribbons I have issues concerning, but psychic-types in general.

            Let me explain.

            In your last letter it was implied that you and Kenneth visited Frost Cavern at least once. I do anticipate the retelling of your venture to the most nebulous area of Dendemille. I would be worried, but it seems the two of you made it through safely, nor do you seem to harbor a grudge for the place, as I do.

            As you might know, inside Frost Cavern lies drifting snow and deep fog, both of which grab at your soul and nip at it with fierce persistence so that you experience absurd, yet breathtaking illusions. When I still had my starters, I had come to Dendemille to experience the sharp change of season. To the west, Brun Way always has the appearance of fall. The view consists mostly of scattered leaves, crunchy, dainty and tinged with reds and golds, as if the route could be set ablaze at a moment's notice. To the east, Mamoswine Road is where all becomes downright cold and dreadful. All is bereft of life on that formidable mountain.

            Dendemille is a curious mixture of the two, which, I suppose, seems appropriate when you know the town's origins. The town was created to unite the two adjacent routes. For a while, pokémon from the surrounding communities were able to live alongside humans. Then Frost Cavern was discovered, at which point Dendemille became known for puppetry and other performances involving deception by psychic-types. Psychologists and philosophers interested in existentialism are drawn to the place, while residents catch or import pokémon from outside the area, as the local species have a reputation for being untrustworthy.

            I leave to you the more precise descriptors of Dendemille and its history. That is your passion, which you should seek to evaluate with a clear head and unbiased mindset so that you do not fall prey to any illusions as I have. Olympia failed to mention this in her lesson.

            I, of course, did not believe any blasphemy about the power of Frost Cavern. The way I saw it, nothing could overpower the high brought on by my choice of drug, that sublime spell I succumbed to each and every day. But what Frost Cavern had to offer was a hypnotic, wintry atmosphere that stole from me my senses. I do not remember walking along the edges of Halfpoint River to the cave's entrance, for my toes were too numb and my vision too blurry to perceive my surroundings.

            When I arrived at my destination, a hypno was waiting for me. A sudden, overwhelming shift in my attitude toward drugs took over. With my whole being I now believed that if I continued to go under the influence—which I would—an overdose was inevitable. The paranoia was remarkable. It felt real, even though the thoughts were beyond my comprehension, beyond rationalization. If it weren't in my nature to be as disconnected from reality as I am, I might have noticed something was wrong. Or perhaps the illusion was that strong after all. The hypno motioned for me to follow, and I, strung out and feeling brave, obeyed.

            The hypno's psychic hold drew me closer and closer to the heart of the cave. On the way there, he explained to me using telepathy other aspects of my fate as a drug addict. His words had a sort of transient beauty about them as they invaded my mind, but I couldn't confidently say that I agreed with them. There was a certain detachment in his eyes, and his features were set off-kilter as he told me that my long-term plans—as if I had had any to begin with—were now out of reach. Short-term goals were possible, but also difficult to attain. Friends and family would desert me, I'd be unable to maintain a permanent home, and I'd soon be an unwelcome member of society. There was no doubt about any of this.

            New emotions stirred within me as I listened to the hypno's spiel. My passion for life became exceptional, and I was determined to change myself, to redeem myself in the eyes of everyone who had come to know me. I would swear off of drugs and remember what it was like to hear my parents say I could be anything I wanted to be, as long as I avoided trouble...

            That passion dissipated as quickly as it came. The hypno had a hold on me now, not my parents. To console me, the hypno offered to teleport me anyplace I'd like to go with the limited time I had left.

            His kindness did not serve to soften the desolation that followed.

            The full realization hit me. I would not be able to fulfill my dreams, small or big. Though exhausted, I became fully alert. I was witnessing a profound understanding of weariness... and when despair takes over, you have nowhere else to go. You are ready to go anywhere. The rest of my life dissolved into oblivion, and I wished to die.

            The hypno nodded and said that if I really wanted to die, he could make it happen—sooner rather than later.

            In the deepest corner of Frost Cavern, a claydol awaited us. The pokémon, which was essentially a doll made of clay, symbolized Dendemille's love for puppetry. I knew it was a psychic-type, but the fact that it was also part ground-type living in a cave filled with ice did not strike me as odd at the time.

            The hypno communicated to the claydol my despair using a regular human's speech. The round protrusion on the claydol's head detached from the rest of its body and spun in circles. “Death is the best possible outcome. It's the only darkness you can't come back from,” the two of them said to me, also in a human's voice, though it sounded like multiple other voices were speaking to me at once.

            I imagined the claydol using its rainbow-colored psybeam attack to pierce me through the heart, and the hypno standing by, watching intently. And then the claydol would use my body to turn me into a clay doll myself...

            Life never felt more somber, then.

            I didn't think anyone could—or would—save me, and even if they tried, they'd use the chance to run away and leave me in the dust. But Chespin, Fennekin and Froakie abruptly popped out of their pokéballs and each let out a worried, yet resolute cry. I was shocked, and had not a clue as to where they had come from. Under the hypno's spell, initially I didn't even recognize them as mine.

            I found my own voice or, at least, I think I did. The corners of my vision were starting to fade, but I could still remember that Fennekin was a fire-type and could melt this whole area if need be. “There's nothing you can do to stop Fennekin once I give the command,” I tried to say to the hypno.

            The hypno stopped, contemplating what to do about this unforeseen circumstance. The psychic-type undoubtedly knew about my starters, but wild pokémon who have never been captured or confined in a pokéball, of course, don't know about the concept of potential energy. It is safe to assume that all three of my pokémon had been watching and listening carefully from inside their pokéballs. Once they heard the hypno's threat, they created a burst of energy within the sphere's force field, which enabled them to escape without my releasing them.

            Slowly I was able to control myself again. After what seemed like an eternity, the hypno mumbled to itself, relenting and admitting defeat by teleporting all of us toward the entrance of Frost Cavern. I vowed never to come back, and to this day I haven't set foot in that wretched place, despite its allure.

            What can I say? I didn't know my pokémon cared about me until that incident occurred. Outside the cavern, Chespin rammed into my legs, presumably either to shake off the rest of my confusion or to scold me, though he only added to the disorientation. Later on I'd learn from the move tutor that the chespin line does this both as a sign of anger and devotion, and also to strengthen their lower bodies as they prepare for evolution. Chespin was a leader and had the traits to show it. He represented the group while Fennekin and Froakie stood by, the former licking her paws idly and the latter blowing bubbles from his mouth as a sign of contentment.

            Perhaps they, too, were deluded in their attachment to me, but that is not for me to decide. When caught in a pokéball, a pokémon feels a certain bond with their trainer, which is strengthened by the type of ball used. You can ask your friend Kenneth Chitenay about that, if you would like. If he is of any worth at all, he will understand the importance of the work he does.

            One last mention of my pokémon before I end this letter: the prison guards should have Enmity's pokéball hidden somewhere, but I doubt they would give it back, not even after I'm a free man. I don't suppose Kenneth Chitenay would know anything about that as well, but I fear that last piece of Enmity is gone.

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

            Sincerely,
            Mark
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            Old November 8th, 2015 (10:40 AM).
            diamondpearl876's Avatar
            diamondpearl876 diamondpearl876 is offline
            you can breathe now. x
               
              Join Date: Jun 2007
              Location: Illinois, USA.
              Age: 26
              Nature: Careful
              Posts: 1,571
              All right, so. I've been working on this letter since May. Even after cutting out an entire scene, it's amounted to about 6,000 words... without Markus's reply letter as well. Haley likes to talk. So, we're just going to have a Haley letter for now. Should the letters continue to be this long, I'll release one at a time consistently.


              FLYING IN THE DARK

              [letter nine]

              *


              June 25

              Oh, no, Markus...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

              “Otherwise known as a numel in Kalosian.”

              “...Okay?”

              “He's a fire-type, Haley.”

              “Oh.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

              “Different how?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

              I nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

              - Haley
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              Old November 8th, 2015 (7:36 PM).
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              SeleneHime SeleneHime is offline
              The pen may be mightier than the sword, but I'll take both just to be sure.
                 
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                This is quite a story you have here, Diamond. I haven't read all that many in letter format, but I've enjoyed how you've presented it - especially with the lingering thoughts, mixed presentations, and revised opinions even within the space of a single missive. Markus' initial leeriness of Kenneth was also a nice touch, that he'd already grown to care about his correspondence.

                All in all, it was definitely worth an hour or so of my time to catch up on your posts. I'm looking forward to the next one. ^^
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                Old November 13th, 2015 (3:56 PM).
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                diamondpearl876 diamondpearl876 is offline
                you can breathe now. x
                   
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                  Quote:
                  Originally Posted by SeleneHime View Post
                  This is quite a story you have here, Diamond. I haven't read all that many in letter format, but I've enjoyed how you've presented it - especially with the lingering thoughts, mixed presentations, and revised opinions even within the space of a single missive. Markus' initial leeriness of Kenneth was also a nice touch, that he'd already grown to care about his correspondence.

                  All in all, it was definitely worth an hour or so of my time to catch up on your posts. I'm looking forward to the next one. ^^
                  Hey! Thanks for reading and commenting, it means a lot. Epistolary stories have so much potential, I couldn't not write one.
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                  Old November 13th, 2015 (7:34 PM).
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                  SeleneHime SeleneHime is offline
                  The pen may be mightier than the sword, but I'll take both just to be sure.
                     
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                    I was kind of surprised that you've gotten so little feedback, honestly. ^_^
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                    Old November 13th, 2015 (10:41 PM).
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                    diamondpearl876 diamondpearl876 is offline
                    you can breathe now. x
                       
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                      Originally Posted by SeleneHime View Post
                      I was kind of surprised that you've gotten so little feedback, honestly. ^_^
                      I've not been active on PC for several years. Don't think people want to read fics by a random person, heh.
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                      Old November 14th, 2015 (5:20 AM).
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                      SeleneHime SeleneHime is offline
                      The pen may be mightier than the sword, but I'll take both just to be sure.
                         
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                        Quote:
                        Originally Posted by diamondpearl876 View Post
                        I've not been active on PC for several years. Don't think people want to read fics by a random person, heh.
                        Well, we're in the same boat on that one. This fic was only posted in May, though, so it hasn't been inactive for too terribly long, and life does happen. I'm sure the quality will draw in more readers.
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                        Old November 25th, 2015 (9:43 AM).
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                        txteclipse txteclipse is offline
                        Peace & Goodwill
                         
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                        Okay! I am caught up! Still really enjoying this so far. The use of illusion as a motif is intriguing. I'm interested in how that will unfold.

                        One issue I've noticed is that the narration can come across as a bit contrived in Haley's letters. It feels like you're trying to use first-person narrative when this isn't precisely a narrative, if that makes sense? Especially with the last letter; it reads more like a novel. The description is too detailed and the remembrance of dialog too precise. I know she's carrying around a voice recorder, and the amount of detail you're trying to include requires you to take some liberties, but it seems like you're fighting the medium.

                        The pacing also slowed way down during the training scene in the last letter. It felt like a technical blow-by-blow hiding under prose instead of an actual conversation. Things picked up afterward when Haley was recounting the bit about Donmel, but I'm going to be honest with you and say that I skipped the training scene initially. I went back and read it today, but yeah.

                        In spite of those things, generally speaking this is quite good. You just shouldn't take six months for the next one. :P
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                        Old November 25th, 2015 (11:39 AM).
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                        diamondpearl876 diamondpearl876 is offline
                        you can breathe now. x
                           
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                          Hi! I appreciate that you took the time to not only catch up, but to comment. I'll keep in mind what you said about Haley's letters... Her letters are pretty hard for me to write, not gonna lie. Not yet 100% comfortable with the new ways she's presented herself to me compared to the original version of this fic. And it never even occurred to me I was writing this like I was writing a novel, not an epistolary fic. Good thing to know, though. Thanks again!
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                          Old June 27th, 2016 (4:15 PM).
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                          diamondpearl876 diamondpearl876 is offline
                          you can breathe now. x
                             
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                            Welp... you told me not to take 6 months to write the next one. I took almost 8. Hooray! This is what I get for balancing too many stories at once.


                            FLYING IN THE DARK

                            [letter ten]

                            *


                            July 10

                            To Haley,

                            When the guard handed me your most recent letter, I noticed immediately how unusually thick the envelope was. I would be lying if I said I weren’t eager to find out whether some great discovery or revelation had come to you early on in your journey. I could not imagine you devoting so much time writing to me for any other reason.

                            It wasn't possible to give your words my undivided attention immediately, however. Imagine showing too much enthusiasm when you're among a large crowd that has little to do except remind you of life's more prominent miseries. I can forgo the details and simply say that your initial enthusiasm fades and is replaced by disappointment. If you're especially vulnerable, hopelessness finds its way to you as well. So I waited until the guard had gone, and because I couldn't avoid the prisoners’ prying eyes just yet I waited longer, past lunch, past dinner, and finally, past nightfall. Lying on the bunk bed's top cot, I used the light of the moon spilling in through the barred window to read.

                            You had promised to tell me about your visit to Frost Cavern... and so you did. I had expected anecdotes about your training, with a few unrelated but engaging tangents sprinkled throughout. But there were no tangents, only carefully constructed thoughts that led to the solid conclusions you came to about Kenneth Chitenay.

                            Kenneth Chitenay, it seems, has trusted people who were not worthy of his trust. Now he is certain that anyone is guaranteed to let him down, causing him to withdraw from others. Him being outspoken does not appear to be a facade, but I suspect that he still asserts himself with some reserve. Once you completely cease taking what he says at face value, he may grow scared and attempt to flee.

                            I know, Haley, that you believe he wanted me to know this truth about him. Let me cease taking what he says at face value and clarify that resolute statement of his: it is not my awareness that matters, for I am a harmless man locked away in a cell. You, on the other hand, are putting him in a very vulnerable situation with your presence alone. You have the power to notice when his physical demeanor contradicts his words, and you have the power to question him about such inconsistencies. In fact, you seem to have already observed such behavior. He has handled your latest predicaments with a surprisingly gentle touch, has he not? It was his harsh, bitter lectures toward you about your lack of cultural knowledge that convinced you he would act in a different manner. Whether you confront him and demand he be genuine is your choice. I daresay you have not been acquainted with him long enough for that conversation to end satisfactorily, but you might rightfully argue that your forwardness with me has brought about no ill consequences as of yet.

                            Yes, I suppose that means that I hold no grudge against you for returning to me and crossing out the emotional remark I made after ruminating on the disorientation I felt inside Frost Cavern. When I re-read my own words, however, it occurred to me that I had written them less than a month ago. The memory of doing so is vague, and when I attempt to visualize that day's events, I start to consider the notion that what happened to me, actually happened to someone else. The images blur together and no amount of focus makes them clearer. Because I acquired my literacy skills at a young age, the sensation of holding a pen and participating in the process of putting thoughts down on paper should be familiar. I seem to have forgotten how to hold on to the familiar. And can you blame me?

                            So you tell this Kenneth Chitenay that he has every right to be as cautious as he is. You tell this Kenneth Chitenay that his warnings to you are not baseless. Arceus knows I have nothing to lose and nothing to prove, which is a strange combination that can yield unpredictable results. Think rationally, think slowly... and you will come to your own solid conclusions about me.

                            After that... Well, I suppose these letters would become a test of sorts. One of loyalty. (Yes, this is me assuming you will realize the worst possible conclusion.) Will you continue to trust me for no reason other than not knowing what else to do? Or will you be like Kenneth Chitenay, and approach things more skeptically? Perhaps I should take back my own skepticism regarding him. You could learn much from a man who chooses to be distant when for some, solitude is inescapable.

                            I wonder, Haley. What do you think is Ribbons's view on the matter? You have expressed numerous times thus far about how he will carry your team in the face of danger, if only because of his psychic abilities. Danger itself is the test, and how Ribbons reacts when it arrives is a test of loyalty as well. It may be as you claim, that he is not like the hypno and claydol I had the misfortune of dealing with. While I maintain my suspicions toward psychic-types in general, I am in no position to argue against Ribbon specifically. But like everyone else, Ribbons has the capacity to change drastically, whether it's for better or for worse.

                            So, what do you think? What drives pokémon to remain loyal to their trainers? How do pokémon determine which trainers deserve the assurance of protection that you yourself seek? Pokémon are so much more gifted than humans... How the idea of keeping pokémon captive came to be is a mystery, I must say. Should you ever break the language barrier between you and your team, you will realize that they are just like us, only with different body forms that allow them to make use of the elemental/supernatural powers they possess.

                            You might disagree with me when you look at... Kai, for instance. All living creatures consume food to survive, but you describe Kai to have an obsessive love of fruit. It's all he seems to care about. But what would he say to you about it, if he could? What does he already say to you, only to watch you wave him off with a hand because what you hear is mere gibberish? He might one day recite to you the history of his species and why it is they thrive best with fruit. He might even share memories with you, happy ones depicting special traditions upheld in Terminus Cave, or sad ones about how fruit was scarce for a while and his family was scared for the future. Until you know, his strange behavior will seem nothing but quirky to you.

                            If history hadn't taken the course it did... Why, it's not too hard to believe that pokémon could have been the ones to hold humans captive instead. That notion scares some trainers, and rightly so. I have known many that, upon encountering the truth, offered their pokémon not only an apology, but the chance to be released back into the wild, free to live the kind of life they wanted before circumstances swept them in the opposite direction. It sounds heartbreaking, but part of the truth is knowing that the pokémon is more than capable of taking care of themselves, no matter how accustomed they grew to being dependent. There is some solace in that. This is all irrelevant when the statistics claim that a captive pokémon nearly always decides to stay. Statistics don’t numerate how long the pokémon takes to decide, but I would bet all I have and say the decision is made rather hastily.

                            Call me a pessimist if you must, but the bond between humans and pokémon is not as pure and unbreakable as the League would have you believe. Since the League was created, researchers and professors have been looking for ways to prevent pokémon from overturning the current hierarchy society relies on.

                            As an example: while trainers believe that berries are grown and genetically modified for the sole purpose of boosting a pokémon's energy, most of the research, in actuality, is devoted to reducing behaviors such as aggression and disobedience. Medicines—all of them, ranging from the low-grade potions to the potent elixirs—have ingredients that act the same way as a psychotropic drug might on a human. In other words, a pokémon's mind is quite clouded by all the substances we cram into their bodies after a battle. We all justify it by claiming we're healing them from the wounds they've sustained in battle, but we are only harming them further. We participate in battles at every given opportunity, and we justify that by claiming our pokémon will be stronger for it. But that is only true in the physical sense. A pokémon's mental clarity is forgotten for the sake of the sport. That is not a bond I’d wish to partake in, myself.

                            Simply put, captive pokémon are deceived in countless ways. The premise upon which the League was built is deceiving enough. The League promotes the idea that a pokémon’s power comes solely from the trainer. The trainer fights for and earns the badges; the trainer enters the competitions and claims the prizes. The trainer is the focus, no matter the context.

                            Again, I’ll mention releasing pokémon back into the wild. Did you know the League has no set procedure to follow in that situation? There’s a clear-cut explanation for that: they don’t need one. With every badge and competition won, a trainer is granted the opportunity to buy better, stronger items that diminishes a pokémon’s capacity to care, let alone retaliate. There’s trading systems, computer storage systems, and laboratories to utilize if needed. But once in captivity, it’s too difficult to turn away. It’s not difficult to understand why, when you know the facts.

                            All of this is why I don’t regret taking Professor Sycamore’s three starters. Or stealing them, or threatening him for them. Whatever I did, I’ve justified it by believing that they were better off with me than they would have been with anyone else. Obviously, this was not the case. Humans involving themselves with drugs, medication, any self-harm method… is just as daunting a concept.

                            …I have written about this topic far more than I intended to. I derailed completely and took the focus away from Ribbons. I don’t suppose you’ll forgive me? Often that’s a strategy implemented in battle when the opponent is psychic-type, anyway. If you haven’t attempted this strategy yourself, I highly recommend it.

                            On the matter of sending these letters, you might also consider chain teleportation. He can use his teleport attack several times in a row to travel small distances. This is me assuming he still knows the attack from when he was a hatchling, of course. If his breeder was unskilled at honing psychic-type abilities, then he may need a refresher or two. And as a side note, I wouldn’t discourage flying entirely. He will have to discover his limits and balance the two methods so that he does not wear himself out physically, or mentally.

                            I may have mentioned this before, but do let me know if Ribbons is sent my way again. I would like to watch for him. He will not know I am awaiting his arrival, so it is a selfish thing to ask… though if one day I am able to speak to him, perhaps he can teach me how to master balancing the mind and the body. Perhaps my bitterness toward psychics will fade by then, or because of him. At the very least, watching would give me something purposeful to do. And I do miss witnessing sunrises and sunsets, dawn and dusk.

                            I guess I speak as if I haven’t cared to notice the time of day in a long while. Not true. In fact, I have been more attentive as of late. An interesting program for prisoners is being funded by Laverre’s gym leader, starting as soon as possible. I should explain it before I forget. I do think you will find it interesting, if only because I am suspicious as to what will come of it.

                            I think I should outline the situation’s background. It will be for your benefit only. I have my own opinion on this already, after all. Telling you the situation’s origins perhaps will help you understand my suspicion. Or… knowing you, you will adopt a perspective I had never even thought to consider. No doubt I will hear about it if that is the case.

                            To start with, you have to know about the nature trail that lies just south of Laverre. Laverre is currently responsible for taking care of the area, but this responsibility was only recently assigned by the League. When you hear of a nature trail, you might think of taking a peaceful stroll in which you can admire all the prospering plants while experiencing the wind, the sun, the sounds of birds and bugs chirping. For Laverre, the nature trail was, in actuality, more of a hunting ground. There was a weapons shop somewhere along the trail, closer to Lumiose. It was not uncommon to hear of trainers or residents from either city applying for a hunter’s license.

                            Business was slow for the shop last winter. Laverre and Lumiose are not used to seeing extreme changes in temperature like Dendemille, so when the cold set in unexpectedly and brutally, everyone became preoccupied with figuring out how to survive the next few months. The nature trail was an afterthought, along with the weapons shop owner. No one thought to check on him.

                            Once winter gave way to warmer temperatures, hunters began showing up at the shop again to buy equipment, but the owner could not be found. He was eventually discovered by a concerned customer in the shop’s basement, huddled in the corner with a crazed expression on his face. He told the customer to flee for their life, or else they’d see the horde of faceless men like he had and wish they’d never been born.

                            Later, investigators would reveal that the “horde of faceless men” was a fake image created by a group of haunter that frequently roamed the trail at night. Surely the shop owner knew of the haunter population, but I suppose he had prepared inadequately for winter and paid the consequences. The lack of food and appropriate shelter had taken a toll on his well-being—especially his ability to think clearly. Even when he was no longer malnourished or a victim to the winter’s cold, however, the shop owner felt distressed beyond belief. Reluctantly he began working again, but intense paranoia gripped him at all hours of the day. Only when Laverre’s renowned gym leader approached him to discuss his trauma did he begin to feel more at ease.

                            Our gym leader, Valerie, has been trying for years to bring the nature trail under local jurisdiction so she can eliminate hunting as a sport there. With Lumiose being a popular tourist area on the other side of the trail, the League has chosen to decline her request each time. But because of the shop owner incident along with other concerns I don’t know the full details of, the government’s security agents investigated and decided that it would be in the League’s best interest to grant Valerie her request. The League, I’m sure, acquiesced to avoid worse repercussions.

                            Now, let’s see…I know I spoke ill of the League earlier in this letter. And I believe I told you once that Laverre was an ideal location for me to stay in when I was unsure of where else to turn. It is actually this nature trail I was referring to. Do not jump to conclusions yet. I am not trying to dishearten you about being a trainer or dwelling in self-deprecation here. Think rationally and slowly, as I wrote earlier too.

                            I had no money in Laverre, and I’ve never been interested in hunting. Seeing the wild pokémon roam about with their bodies always tense even in the absence of gunshots seemed like torture. Why would I go there? After the meetings with the city’s move tutor that escalated into late night talks about recreational drug use, I couldn’t resist going. Under the influence I could walk the trail feeling safe despite all the obvious tension surrounding me. I could see my three starters mingling freely with the other pokémon, living the lives I should have given them from the beginning. It was… nice. It was very, very nice. When the weight of my pain started suffocating me and I left to start over with Enmity in Lumiose, I vowed not to come back unless I could turn the hallucinations into a reality.

                            Funny, how I ended up all the way back here regardless, and under the most unfortunate of circumstances.

                            If you did not know yet, our gym leader is a fairy-type specialist. Fairies are notorious for their superior defensive and offensive build compared to other types of pokémon, and there’s been folklore depicting them as rather deceptive creatures prone to bearing grudges. But a fairy also has abilities allowing them to alter others’ emotions, thinking patterns and the like.

                            You can probably see where I’m going with this now.

                            Valerie wishes to bring fairy-types into the prison as a form of rehabilitation. Here in the cells, there’s not much kindness, and very few of us know how to calm ourselves when emotions run high, a problem that has led to many fights and relapses. It is not uncommon to see prisoners released, and then convicted again awhile later because we are not prepared to deal with the outside world, nor do we have any motivation to try. The negativity inside the cells cannot be shaken off so easily without help. And it is not often we receive help, or know of anywhere we can find it.

                            One more thing, as I’m not sure I’ve connected all these ideas as coherently as I should have from the beginning. Several fairy-types live on the nature trail, or a bit off the trail, closer to the swamps that few visit unless trying to capture a specific species. I wish I could recall which species I saw, as that would give me a better idea of what to expect. Spritzee and aromatisse would be particularly useful for preventing negative mental states from overwhelming us with their aroma veil ability, while the togepi line is said to spread joy to others with its presence alone. Wouldn’t it be nice if the two could replace these intrusive thoughts of mine with pleasant ones? Memories wouldn’t seem so terrifying, then.

                            Of course, there’s always the possibility of the fairy-types refusing to cooperate, given the hunting dilemma they’ve had to live with up until now. I can’t know for sure what will happen, but with Valerie’s specialty, rehabilitation appears to at least be a possibility. Last I heard, she succeeded in helping the weapons shop owner recover from his trauma, and now he is pursuing another line of work.

                            I will keep you up to date with how the project proceeds, provided that you have no objections to me doing so.

                            Part of me knows you will not object. Part of me knows this letter should stop here or I risk never sending it at all. I have made myself far too anxious by telling you more than what was necessary about quite a lot of topics, which isn’t unusual, but this time I find my writing excessively… excessive, for lack of a better word. I am not sad or hopeful or angry or anything, yet something is holding me back from setting the pen down.

                            I suppose there is simple question of yours I left unanswered: what kind of pokéball did Enmity have? But there is not a simple answer to that. Delaying the answer already brings up another question: why do I always delay talking about him? You spent but a small paragraph wondering, and I have spent pages and pages trying to forget that you were wondering.

                            Enmity’s was just a plain pokéball. When I bought his egg from a Unovan breeder, I was also given a pokéball and told step-by-step how to catch a newly hatched pokémon safely. Normally when you own an egg and know what species you are hatching—or at least its type—the kind of pokéball doesn’t matter. I used the plain one anyway because the egg was a hefty price to begin with, and anything leftover was dedicated to food or drugs.

                            So there is nothing for Kenneth Chitenay to analyze. He can tell you all about how breeders usually capture their hatchlings when they’re unconscious, since taking care of the hatchling’s basic needs comes first and the baby has no memories that will affect their perceived world in the pokéball anyway. But in the end, there’s no clue that will hint at where Enmity and his pokéball might be. And that’s fine for now. I am sure he is safe, wherever he is.

                            It would be natural for you to assume I delayed this answer because I wanted to avoid the truth, that discovering Enmity’s location is more likely than not a lost cause at this point. Well, I’ll say this: Enmity was mute. You know that much. Even if he wasn’t, I never did learn how to interact with pokémon speech. With him being my sole partner, and with me being who I am, I very easily became accustomed to silence. With drugs especially, your mind races and exaggerates the smallest of details and all you want is silence.

                            I do not want to be accustomed to silence, Haley. It seems you do not want me to be, either.

                            I will try to be as clear and concise as I can. But I want to talk, so if I deviate from the main topic again, I’m sure you’ll forgive me.

                            It's disconcerting, to say the least, having not just one, but two innocent people now becoming entangled in the convoluted wreck that is my life. Perhaps the most unnerving fact is that I did not put forth any amount of effort to make this happen. Kenneth Chitenay continually asks about me for reasons I cannot fathom, and you sought me out on your own time—for reasons I believe I am beginning to understand. I've considered concepts such as fate and destiny, but using them as an explanation for your presence in my life seems unfair, if only because it took you eighteen years to decide the kind of connections you want with others and to develop the confidence needed to write me at all. Yet when I dwell on the way society in general treats prisoners, I am thoroughly convinced that solitude for me would be justified and having mostly avoided it thus far must mean something.

                            The truth is beyond my reach. I am not sure I want to know the truth, assuming that discovering it is a possibility. Even with your very first letter, and especially with each one thereafter, you've been particularly intent on helping me envision the outside world as I used to know it, simultaneously presenting to me the opportunity to form new opinions and perspectives. I give you credit for trying, and succeeding, but when I say I am beginning to understand your motives, I believe that your goal has changed slightly in that now, you also wish to assist me with learning about myself. Or, at the very least, you aim to have me forgive my own faults and build some semblance of self-esteem.

                            But I must admit that I am not quite as eager to welcome new found information pertaining to the topic of myself. My own personal truth is this: I would be regarded best as a concept... which, if I may be so brash, is not too far from what I actually am. You see me as mere words on a page, crafted from the mind of a man you trust to not only be honest and receptive to what you have to say, but also real. Philosophy is certainly not my forte, so I will not argue about the logistics of reality. But your expectations for this written exchange require me to remind you of your limitations.

                            You may recall an important observation I briefly explained to you not long ago, that it is the night hours you spend awake which shape you into the person you will be for the rest of your life. When morning comes, you inevitably realize how the sun will rise each morning for eternity... with or without you. While I cannot relay this message to you the exact same way as before—you have the letter in your possession, if I remember right, and you are free to take a glance at it if that is true—I can tell you that I will always, in some way, encompass the desperation of the man that wrote those words to you. You cannot force the sun to rise and illuminate the darkness engrained in someone else.

                            …As a side note, I do not mind if you use me as the main topic of conversation with Kenneth Chitenay. You are not the only one who speaks of other people’s suffering to pass the time. It is just one subtle way in which humans tend to relieve themselves of their own burdens, and if I can help you in that small way I will do that.

                            I will stop now, truly. I don’t know if my words have sounded rude. What I am trying to say is that you are trying very hard to help me, and though you can’t cure me and it’s only been a mere three months since we started communicating, you are succeeding. There is no accurate, satisfactory way to prove that to you. This letter will have to be enough somehow.

                            Sincerely,
                            Mark
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                            Old October 21st, 2016 (8:33 PM).
                            diamondpearl876's Avatar
                            diamondpearl876 diamondpearl876 is offline
                            you can breathe now. x
                               
                              Join Date: Jun 2007
                              Location: Illinois, USA.
                              Age: 26
                              Nature: Careful
                              Posts: 1,571

                              FLYING IN THE DARK

                              [letter eleven]

                              *


                              July 20

                              I hope you don’t mind if I just skip the traditional letter format this time. Opening with ‘dear Markus’ sounds way too formal anyway, or it makes it sound like we started talking not too long ago—which is… true, actually, like you said. I dug through my backpack for a while to find your older letters, because I wanted to see what phrase you were talking about again—you know, the one about how the sun rises each day. I ended up piecing them all together in order, partly to reorganize my stuff and partly out of curiosity, and then I saw that you were right! It’s only been 3 months since I reached out to you! That means it’s been 3 months since I started my journey, too. Wow, can you believe

                              Yeah, I scribbled that out. I didn’t put anything bad, but I was going on a tangent about myself and I don’t want to make things about myself right now. I think that’s something I do… a lot. In fact, I just did it again. Sorry.

                              The point is, I don’t think we were ever super distant with each other anything. That’s really amazing, you know that? And now it feels to me like we’ve been friends for years. You’ve been more reluctant than me, no doubt, but I’ve tried to encourage you not to be. You were trying really hard to be more open in your last letter, I think. That’s amazing too, but…

                              Well, don’t get me wrong. I’ll try to explain, okay? I’m still confused myself, so try to bear with me if you can! When I read through everything you’d written to me so far, I saw that you’d said you don’t like being called Markus. That was the very first thing you wrote and I waved you off like it was no big deal. How can I expect you to open up to me if it seems like I’m not paying attention or that I don’t care? Maybe that sounds silly… but the little details can be pretty important sometimes, too.

                              And maybe I’m overthinking this. Tell me if I am, all right? I just felt kind of guilty when you wrote how you rambled on because you didn’t want to tell me something about Enmity. If I’d been paying attention, I would’ve noticed that answering questions about Enmity was difficult for you from the start. Or, well, I noticed, but I wasn’t respectful about it. I shouldn’t have brought Kenneth into the equation without asking beforehand, either.

                              I’ve been trying to figure out what I can do better. There’s only so much I can do through letters, after all. It’s hard when you’re not here with me. I’m sorry if this comes out wrong, but it’s easier to brush aside what you can’t physically see. I think that goes for everybody, to be honest.

                              Maybe you can understand that, though? It was interesting, to say the least, seeing all over again how you write differently about your surroundings versus how you write about your feelings. I mean, I told you about my run-in with the police and how it still bothers me today, but you explained the jail’s daily schedule to me without much problem. The place doesn’t seem to affect you like I’d expect it to. Not that I want it to bother you and make you suffer more, of course…

                              So something tells me I should change the subject before I go on to say something beyond stupid. I’m having trouble with words myself, I guess, but I don’t want to put off writing to you—not after your last letter! Markus, you’ve told me your memory is pretty awful, and I believe you, but consider this for a moment: you recited the phrase about the sun rising in two separate letters almost word for word. That must mean it’s important to you, right? It could be especially important, since the sun isn’t something you can probably see from your

                              I’m going to have to cross out this whole letter, aren’t I?

                              Okay. Um. What I was getting at is this: you remembered one sentence you wrote to me several weeks ago practically verbatim, but you don’t remember other things very well, like your starters. I can’t help but wonder if you remember what’s important or what’s unimportant instead. There’s a reason for everything you do and don’t say/remember, and I… don’t know those reasons. I just know there’s not much point in telling you every detail about stuff outside Laverre anymore, if it doesn’t mean anything to you. Part of me must have realized that sooner, because yeah, like you said, I’ve been leaning toward helping you boost your self-esteem and whatnot.

                              You made it clear about how you’re not interested in that, though, and I should respect that. What am I supposed to write about, then? You say I’m succeeding, but… how?

                              I’m going to ask just one favor, if you don’t mind. I hope you don’t mind. I realized something else when re-reading your letters, and maybe it has something to do with why writing your last letter stressed you out so badly. Maybe not. Anyway, will you just think about what it might be when you’re reading the rest of this? Was Enmity really the issue or was it something else?

                              Well, onto some lighter topics now! I’ll try to keep this letter short and sweet if I can. You know I’m not too good at that, but yeah. A lot of things happened ever since my journey really got started, so I’ve had more to write about. Besides, it’s helpful to stop running around once in a while and have some downtime. That’s what you told me to do, right? Think slowly and rationally. So I’ll do just that. Ribbons has needed the extra rest lately, after all, and Seybs loves being able to preen or nap without getting interrupted. As for Kai… I give him a piece of fruit, then he’s content.

                              Oh, right. You mentioned a lot of tough facts about the League I haven’t really taken too seriously, to be honest. Don’t worry about Kai, though. The fruit I keep with us is from the store. I stock up on our favorite apples and pears if the town I’m in has some fresh ones on the shelves before I leave. Sometimes Kai will pick berries off a tree, but I always make sure they’re wild and not from someone’s farm or garden. He hisses at me whenever I try to explain why he can’t swipe every berry in sight, but what can I do? I don’t want him to get into trouble for trespassing… and now, I don’t want him consuming any berries that might hurt him in the ways you described. Though him becoming less sassy wouldn’t be the worst thing…

                              Hmm. I kind of feel like treating Kai tonight now. Me and Kenneth can go collect some wild berries and make a giant fruit salad to split between all of us. Tamato berries would be nice to eat, I think, since they taste best in the colder weather, and of course we’ll get chesto berries, too. They’re Kai’s favorite. If he tries to talk to me, I won’t understand what he’s saying exactly, no... but for now, he’ll reveal how he’s feeling through his body language. It’s similar to our letter exchange, really—we don’t have to be face-to-face to get the gist of the conversation. The more we interact, the easier it’ll be to understand the bigger picture.

                              I worry sometimes about pokémon speech, though. Seybs has been my partner for years now and I still only pick up a word here and there, which is better than nothing, I guess. I just thought we’d be having full conversations by this point. I hope that won’t be the case for Ribbons and Kai. It’s just… It’s sad that I can’t even tell you if Seybs misses Anistar because he’s so hard to read. Him being so introverted isn’t usually a problem, but what if he loved Anistar and didn’t want to leave at all? He didn’t make a fuss about traveling, and he seems pretty laid back no matter what he’s doing, but I can’t know for sure unless he tells me. And if he does tell me, I might miss what he’s saying anyway. I try to listen when he actually does talk, and I’m trying my best to keep him happy, and—

                              —and that’s… all I can really do, I think. I’ve gotta show him and the rest of my team that I deserve their trust. Promises about how I’ll be there for them forever, no matter what, aren’t acceptable. Not because I wouldn’t mean it, but because what if I suddenly have no money to buy groceries or a hotel for us to sleep in when it’s going to storm all night? I guess not being able to support my pokémon would mean my parents were right in saying maybe I shouldn’t have gone off to be a trainer in the first place. I’m lucky I’ve gotten this far, and I’ve only gotten this far because I’ve made my pokémon battle other trainers passing by.

                              And that’s not even entirely fair. I don’t want to do the gym circuit! Me fighting Olympia was just a way for me to gauge how much experience Kai had while saying goodbye to Anistar. There’s no real reason to make my pokémon exhaust themselves day in and day out when all I want to do is see what the other cities in Kalos are like. Because for me, Anistar wasn’t home, and now that I’m practically an adult I’ve gotta figure out where I want to live and what I want to do for the next several decades of my life.

                              Kenneth’s told me that the more badges you have, the more impressive your resume looks for League-related job, apparently, and the League always has opportunities open for traveling trainers. So I guess there’d be some perks to battling, huh? But… why should I work for them if they’re deceiving trainers about anything they possibly can? And what does it say about Kenneth if he works for the Devon Corporation?

                              Well, look at that. I’m wandering off on another topic now myself. Some of your habits are rubbing off on me! Or maybe it’d be more accurate to say that your last letter really got me into thinking what it’s like to be in your shoes?

                              My point is that Anistar wasn’t home for me. I doubt it’s home for Kai or Ribbons, since they’ve made it pretty clear that they’re happy to stick it out with me. No worries there. There’s just Seybs. So… if Seybs thought Anistar was home and wants to go back someday, I’ll have to be ready to say goodbye to him then, too. Just the idea of it makes me want to

                              Okay, I don’t have to get that emotional over something that might never happen anyway. I’m at least smart enough to know the bonds between pokémon and trainer are pretty fragile. It’s nice to think the opposite, though, isn’t it? But whenever I look at Kenneth and Donmel now, I just can’t feel the same about it. Something between them broke and it wasn’t because of anything either of them had done. Their past history just happened to form between them a shaky bond that Kenneth feels obligated to protect for whatever reason.

                              Just the other day, it was so cold and the heat broke in the hotel we’ve been staying in. I suggested that Donmel could keep us warm, because that made sense, right? Kenneth just kind of stared at Donmel’s pokéball for a minute, then released the numel without properly greeting him. That blue flame seal did its thing and made Kenneth change his mind, I think. He never did end up asking Donmel for help. We spent a couple hours roaming around town trying to find a decent space heater to buy instead.

                              Um. You said that Ribbons might change someday, right? Doesn’t the same go for Kenneth? And for me and you, too, Markus… Kenneth could make amends with Donmel someday. Seybs could grow out of his shell. I could go to Anistar and feel comfortable there, and you could be… what and where you want to be. And Ribbons could become a monster, yeah, but couldn’t he also evolve into a xatu and not take advantage of his psychic powers?

                              Anything can happen. My parents could get along or finally get the divorce they’ve mentioned when they thought I wasn’t listening. Joey could start actually doing drugs instead of just selling them, or he could leave the business altogether! And there’s my grandmother, of course. Hmm… I can’t say I’ve seen a bad side of her, really, but now that I think about it, she does work for the League, raising baby pokémon to be tame enough for new trainers. I must’ve told you that already when I first talked about Seybs and Ribbons, since I like to brag about how amazing she’s been to me whenever I get the chance to.

                              You know… Actually, no, I

                              I’m not sure I should

                              Why did I just


                              Okay, forget it. I thought of something terrible and I can’t get it out of my head now, so I have to bring it up or I’ll go crazy. What if Seybs is the way he is because of some of that GMO stuff you mentioned? If the League tries to mess with a pokémon’s behavior and personality on purpose, wouldn’t starters be the main target so that new trainers are less likely to give up early on in their journey?

                              I have a question for you specifically, and you can ignore it if you want, but I’d appreciate it so much if you could answer… If you don’t know the answer, though, don’t sweat it! I’m just assuming here that you met different breeders when you were looking for a new pokémon. Did the breeder who raised Enmity’s egg give you information about what to do when he was born? Were there certain steps you took when deciding which breeder to buy from?

                              That’s two questions. Oops. I’ve definitely overdone it with the questions in this letter, so I won’t bug you with anything else, okay? It’s just that you seem to be a bit knowledgeable about the breeding industry, and you could give me some insight about drugs and how they mess with brain chemistry. I wish you didn’t know about the drug stuff, but…

                              Maybe I should send a letter to my grandmother herself. Even Joey might be able to point out a useful thing or two, since he’s met Seybs in person before. Eh… Whatever. I trust you to reply the fastest and I already know you put a lot of effort into your replies. Besides, I haven’t spoken to anyone in Anistar since I left, and I never know for sure where my grandmother’s gone for her job. Last I heard she was off to Ambrette Town for a summer class about breeding fossil species.

                              So, yeah. I’m gonna try not to worry about it while I wait for you to write back. I know there’s no way for you figure this out, but I just took a break from writing this letter to go be with my pokémon, mostly Seybs. Sadly, him and Kai and Ribbons have been stuck in their pokéballs, only because it’s been cold and the sight of them all fluffed up and listless makes me feel guilty. Kenneth still won’t ask Donmel to heat up our hotel room, which sucks… He did at least keep us company, and he’s totally on board with the berry-picking plan. Now our goal is to collect berries while traveling closer to Lumiose, where the cold fronts coming from Frost Cavern don’t quite reach. And then we can prepare the biggest feast ever once we can stop at their department store for more food.

                              I did stop for a second at some point and wonder where we would get the money to buy so much for one meal. But Kenneth said it won’t be a problem, emphasizing how the League’s to thank for that.

                              …You know, when I met Kenneth, he didn’t have the look of a traveling trainer, because his clothes were spotless and fashionable. He’s always checking the mirror and making sure he’s presentable, like a super famous person from Hoenn like Steven Stone might show up randomly. Seems silly, right? Well, get this: he says he gets a paycheck just wearing brand name clothing for the Devon Corporation! And he said he’ll help me gather some other things I can flip for money down the road!

                              My pokémon must’ve noticed my swift change in mood when Kenneth mentioned helping me, ‘cause they seem to have gotten a boost of energy despite the cold. Kai probably perked up at the thought of berries, and Ribbons won’t stop flying in circles. Seybs isn’t too active, unsurprisingly, but he’s alert and turning his head to stare at all of us like we’re nuts. And maybe we are. I just feel lucky right now, having someone friendly like Kenneth around, I really do.

                              Do you remember I told you about my lucky coin? I’ve been holding on real tight to it the last few days, ever since I received your last letter and started writing this one. I guess now’s as good a time as any to let you know what else I noticed, AKA what I asked you to think about a few pages back. I can’t believe I wasn’t more attentive to it, but, well, things have a way of working out without you having to do much about it. Like you said, both me and Kenneth are part of your lives—in a strange sort of way, sure. Still! We’re here, and it’s unsettling for you sometimes. I get that. And maybe you’re right. Maybe I’ll scare Kenneth and we’ll travel separately again. Maybe he’ll stop asking about you. Right now, though, he talks an awful lot about you to think you’re just a harmless man in a cell—your words, not mine! Maybe you remind him of his dad and it keeps him motivated while he searches for him. I don’t know.

                              Maybe… Maybe there’s a reason pokémon and humans need to spend a ton of time together before really hearing each other, before understanding what’s being said. It’s a long road and anything can happen in that time, but it’s gotta be worth it in the end.

                              Some people, though, don’t wanna travel down that long road. Or it’s not that they don’t want to… but they feel like it might not actually be worth it, you know? I think this is just what people that click right away do: they open up to each other really quick because they finally found someone who will listen to what they have to say and they don’t stop talking because who knows if the other person will stay long enough to hear everything they need to get off their chest.

                              I got off track (again). Surprise, surprise.

                              The day you last wrote me was your birthday, Mark. July 10. You told me that, remember? You told me when you got your three starters, you were happy about it still being early in the summer because you could be with them and not have to deal with school, too. Adults usually insist birthdays don’t matter at a certain point anymore, but… I think they’re pretty important. They make you think back to everything that’s happened in the past, and I know that’s hard for you. I mean, just look at what I decided to do on my golden birthday. I don’t want the rest of my life to look anything like the last few years have, and now I’m traipsing through Kalos, one city at a time.

                              Okay… I actually have one last question for you—but only because you didn’t answer me the first time I asked you forever ago! I want you to call it in the air—heads or tails? You were completely spot on when you said I should make the best of wherever I go, and that it doesn’t matter where. Dendemille’s taught me as much. Just call it, because I’m gonna flip the coin and send it to you as a gift with my next letter. The side it landed on will still be facing up, of course.

                              Anyway, he coin’s been lucky for me, but I want to share some of that luck with you now. Keep an eye out for Ribbons after you write me back, because he’s almost healed and he’s ready to practice that chain teleportation technique so that he doesn’t wear himself out flying so much again.

                              Till next time,
                              Haley
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                              Old August 28th, 2017 (1:40 PM). Edited August 28th, 2017 by diamondpearl876.
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                              diamondpearl876 diamondpearl876 is offline
                              you can breathe now. x
                                 
                                Join Date: Jun 2007
                                Location: Illinois, USA.
                                Age: 26
                                Nature: Careful
                                Posts: 1,571
                                that feeling when your last two updates for this fic have been within a month of moving :') i guess i just gotta move every month or so to keep up a good schedule, huh? okay, i did spend a whole two months writing a spin off with massive spoilers i can't release until the fic's over, but...


                                FLYING IN THE DARK

                                [letter twelve]

                                *


                                July 29

                                So you’ve declared that we dispense with the proper letter etiquette in its entirety, is that right? Now, I’d consider myself a fool if I were to object to your amicable suggestion, but I would, at least, like the air cleared regarding this matter so that the two of us might avoid future misunderstandings. I find that the main drawback of our writing exchange is the lengthy, agonizing wait for your reply should I have reason to believe I’ve upset you. It feels like another form of punishment when I can only offer any sort of consolation from a distance.

                                This may come as a surprise to you, but it had not occurred to me before that dwelling on my thoughts as opposed to simply conveying them has been a source of distress for us. It has always been the case for me that my mind reacts far too fast for my body to keep up. Naturally, then, writing each and every word that passes through my head becomes an impossible task. On the other hand, choosing from the endless list of things I could say to you… Haley, it becomes overwhelming, and all the dredged up memories and emotions that follow easily equates the writing process with declaring war on myself if I don’t tread carefully.

                                Perhaps you speak the truth when you say the date lingered in the back of my mind when I put pen to paper for my last letter. Who can say for sure? My memories of July 10 already dissipated and merged with all the others I’ve gathered during my 34 years on this earth. If I now try to summon them to the surface, to the level of conscious thought, I’ll be reminded of a past that feels not like my own, as per usual. My brain essentially works as an infallible machine: I input some information and a series of vague images, reassembling the remaining puzzle pieces. Then, my brain spits the completed puzzle back at me, but in the form of a movie, as if I created the moment rather than lived in it.

                                As a general rule, people consider their birthday a day to reflect on the past and future. Whereas most people wait around for the remedy to the disappointing realization that life doesn’t happen as planned, you, Haley, analyzed the structure of your life, deigned it unlivable, and assumed control of what came next. Change was guaranteed to you because you took matters into your own hands. The world appears slightly less mysterious to me when I realize how anyone is capable of maintaining enough ambition needed to pursue a path similar to your own.

                                You may notice how I didn’t mention the future when referring to myself. I trust you understand why. Given my… unique situation, I suppose I can’t berate myself for not utilizing alternatives to my self-destructive behaviors, but sitting in prison fails as a valid excuse when I rightfully belong here. At any rate, I wouldn’t concern yourself with how scarce or full my letters are. To reiterate an agreement we did manage to reach, this particular form of communication limits our usefulness to each other.

                                At this point today, I have been awake for less than two hours. I thought it appropriate to dedicate my allotted free time this morning to articulate all of these challenging facts to you, hoping that last night’s sleep would offer clarity and smoothly guide me through the transcribing process. (On the topic of recognizing what the future may hold and acting accordingly, this is what I can manage more often than not.) Alas, the steps required to retrieve and consume a mere bowl of cereal at breakfast absorbed more of my energy than I care to admit. And so, to ensure that I can complete the tasks demanded of me in the afternoon, I shall have to set the pen down temporarily.

                                July 30

                                Yet another morning has arrived when it seems to me that no time has passed at all. An immense wave of solemnity washes over me as I write this to you, like it always does each time I stop and realize how severed my connection to the rest of the world is.

                                I am aware of how I could have continued this letter without a single mention of the exhaustion that took hold of me yesterday. It’s my wish to instead inform you of how much time has passed, and how I spent the afternoon hours mulling over possible ways to perfectly convey to you a sight which captured my interest. Namely, how the sunlight filtered in through the bars of my cell throughout the morning and into the late afternoon. But I’ve regrettably convinced myself that no existing term or phrase within the Kalosian language can compare. I know that the view of the sun is foreign to nobody, but when only the night ever comforts me with its cloak of darkness permitting the world to fade away, I thought I’d attempt to preserve this rare daytime repose—even for just a short while.

                                I should address a concern of yours before I procrastinate by discussing several unrelated subjects for the second letter in a row. Your question: heads or tails? My answer: heads, I suppose, since dragons represent the tails side of the coin and I’ve not interacted with any species of that type. Fairies relate to the rehabilitation aspect of my life, at least. I’m still skeptical of the whole concept, but by all means, go ahead and humor me with a flip of the coin to see if I’ll get lucky.

                                You might just want to reconsider, Haley, physically sending the coin my way. I wouldn’t argue against you updating me on the coin flip outcome in your next letter through words instead. While I greatly appreciate your thoughtfulness in wanting to provide me with something tangible, something which could combat how illusory my world tends to be, my concern lies with the prison itself.

                                I’d like to preface this next point with a disclaimer: in no way has the prison’s protocol for mail dictated what I have and haven’t written to you. I discussed before the logic behind what prevents me from elaborating on certain things.

                                And now, my warning: prison workers assigned to the mailroom sift through all envelopes, both incoming and outgoing, in search of potentially dangerous information they must report to the warden. Most likely, these employees find their job far too tedious to take seriously. Committing to scrutinizing each and every letter on the off chance one contains a hidden code must sound dreadfully unappealing, and so, I trust that partway through they resort to skimming. This estimation, of course, doesn’t account for gossip and other nonsense which humans indulge in whenever possible.

                                So even if they choose not to pry deeply into our particular correspondence, no doubt the presence of your coin will be obvious after they do a quick frisk of the envelope, whether it’s still sealed or not. I have no doubt, too, that they’ll deem the coin harmless. But there is no guarantee that they’ll allow me to add the coin to my small pile of personal belongings for safekeeping. The guidelines for gifting inmates with currency, even an amount of insignificant value, are largely unknown to me.

                                Simply put, Haley, I would just hate to see you part with such a cherished item for my sake—only to have it intercepted and seized by the prison workers. Perhaps you can revisit the idea when the days comes that I’m able to break the seal of your letters myself rather than have them handed to me ripped, void of any semblance of privacy? Hmm… They may return the envelope to you without notifying me of its arrival, perhaps… Overall, however, your kindness could cause you more trouble than expected.

                                Presumably, these mailing guidelines eluded you when you looked into the matter of exchanging letters with an inmate. Or if you’d learned these guidelines but had forgotten them, I hope that what I outlined above helps you decide whether it’s worth it to gamble. You might already be aware of these facts and are willing to take the gamble, in which case my rambling’s been for naught. …Yes, that’d make sense, I suppose. Heads or tails, is a game of chance by itself, after all, one with its own stakes involved for you.

                                So, about that fairy invasion program I spoke of in my last letter… Not long ago, the program’s director asked that a book outlining the effects of rehabilitation be distributed among the prisoners. Written by a Sinnohan researcher who focuses his work around industrial areas like Oreburgh, the book’s style is dense, akin to what you’d read in a social work college course. It mostly follows a case study done on one trainer’s torkoal. The fire-type had contracted a disease which destroyed its ability to battle effectively. The trainer, torn on what to do, consulted a specialist who recommended the torkoal be sent to the region’s main coalmine. There, it could help burn coal and earn back a sense of purpose which would, in turn, restore the quality of life it had lost due to the disease.

                                Given this rehabilitation method was a potential hazard for the environment, I can’t fully approve of it. The reasoning behind it makes enough sense, however. Motivation is a powerful factor, and if the pros outweigh the cons, then so be it. Take what you can get and run away without looking back. Or that’s the motto of my cellmate, at any rate.

                                Lately I’ve refrained from mentioning my cellmate and other prisoners, for they are of little significance to me, if I’m honest. Their voices resemble white noise to me, and they learned quickly that pestering me accomplishes nothing unless their goal is to get the cold shoulder treatment. Regardless, I’ve caught my gaze moving in their direction more often than usual since the warden announced the program. Gauging their reactions, the general consensus seems to be one of complete apathy, though I saw a few displays of fleeting hopefulness.

                                Bouncer (my cellmate, if you remember, which I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t) is the only one on our unit I’ve seen that’s still trying to shoo away his bitter feelings in favor of the possibility that the program can indeed provide some relief for his miserable self. His jokes and insults have come to a halt. It seems like he’s not anywhere in the vicinity when in reality he’s just quiet. I often see him bent down, staring at the cemented floor, and contemplating, as if life is no longer a game to him. Even Eyeball, the prisoner in the cell across from ours who is normally the one to indulge in such behaviors, looks at him with a twinge of pity etched in his face.

                                When I first was assigned as Bouncer’s cellmate, he accosted me over which part of the bunk bed he wanted to claim, of all things. I merely nodded, murmuring that he could do as he pleased, though I had more trouble forming words at the time compared to now. His argument, expressed more as a threat, was that he’d always be able to hear or see by the moonlight whether I was about to sneak up and harm him.

                                The inability to glimpse the moon while lying and winding down from a long day is a downside to allowing Bouncer to decide for me. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not important. There are nights where I experience a lucid dream in which I’m paralyzed, face up on the bottom bunk, left to stare at Bouncer’s hand, bleeding and sprawled over the side. Every time, exactly four drops of blood fall and roll down my cheeks like tears before I’m freed. My imagination upon awakening brings me to a place where I was the one who inflicted Bouncer’s wound, and that the dream was anything but a delusion. The comfort that the sight of the moon brings hardly compensates after a terror like that grips me.

                                If I had the guts, I’d ask Bouncer, “When it comes to the healing process, what if the pros outweigh the cons?” A person of sound mind would shake their head and prod into the logistics of that question. It’s a difficult concept to grasp, how these programs are made for people who are comfortable in their sadness, even if they do say they wish for it to disappear. So which would I rather have, the chance to dive into the unknown or the fake safety of familiarity I constantly withdraw myself into?

                                Bouncer, surprisingly, might muster the courage necessary to let rehabilitation overshadow his inner demons. I myself could not choose, if you were to seriously demand an answer from me. …I do not want to choose, though I am afraid I already have. I feel that I am taking advantage of an eighteen year old girl (yes, you, of course you) just by talking to her; I feel as if I were to meet you face-to-face, I could simply breathe in your direction and unwittingly poison you in the process.

                                You are brave for following through on your ambition to travel, Haley. I could not do it to the extent that you are, for I fear crossroads, both literal ones and figurative ones, and I cannot stand most of the people I would see—man, woman, child, tall, small, big, they’d all look and sound the same to me. Hence why I cannot choose; I’m simply not in a position to do so.

                                You expressed a faint, newfound inclination to stop writing about your journey. That idea is based off of yet another misunderstanding, Haley. The less I hear about the outside world, the easier it would be to ignore it, according to your logic. And I wholeheartedly agree with that rationale. Whether I withdraw into myself regardless is another question entirely, but not one to concern yourself with as you take time out of your travels to write to me. There are more pressing matters for your thoughts to attend to, such as how to react to the veiled information you’ve uncovered about the League.

                                No doubt there are ways to support the pokémon training hobby while simultaneously discouraging the League’s deceptive behaviors. Adopting from a licensed breeder, regional or otherwise, is not the way to go about it. (You can relay this fact to Mr. Kenneth Chitenay that this is exactly what I did if you so wish, though do expect an insult or two sent my way in response.) Who knows what kind of trainer Enmity could’ve been raised with if I, and thousands of other trainers, hadn’t entertained the League’s breeding industry?

                                What’s done is done. What’s done has allowed breeders to take advantage of innocent children and ignorant adults alike, but still, it’s done. Perhaps your grandmother has at some point endorsed the League’s harmful protocol for breeding. Perhaps she hasn’t. Perhaps she takes a more unconventional method and sidesteps the rules without breaching her contract, or plans to present an argument to those of a higher rank than her. I, of course, lack the resources to say one way or the other with any certainty.

                                I wish her—or anyone in that position—the best of luck should they try to convince the League to alter their current guidelines and rules for licensed trainers. Most of what the protocols the League follows has a root in legends created over a millennia ago. Petaya berries, for example, only bloom at night, and stories have claimed how their growth is thanks to all the energy absorbed and accumulated from pokémon sleeping in the surrounding area of the plants. Some of the first trainers based their team’s diet around the belief that a pokémon’s power could be boosted for battle if they consumed enough of this energy. And beliefs, because they are so deeply ingrained within a person’s core, are strong enough to influence concepts that should purely rely on logic and reason.

                                The thought of GMO berries makes much more sense if you consider legends like that as well. What better way to prevent weakening the false belief of boosted power than making the boost in power a reality—even at the expense of hurting a pokémon in the long term?

                                Again, there are ways to avoid the League’s pitfalls. Organic yache berries are too cold for my taste, but they naturally help pokémon build up a resistance to the detrimental effects of ice-type attacks—a perfect side dish for your birds, if I do say so myself. And while Kenneth Chitenay is indeed associated with the Devon Corporation, you, too, could wear brand name clothing from other companies detached from the League. Collect broken pokéballs left behind by trainers that failed to capture a ‘mon, fix them, and reuse them to save you from buying for retail price. Alternatively, sell them at your own price. Write something that isn’t a letter and publish it, though I suggest a bit of research alongside this option. Map out the region and a proposed gym circuit, if cartography is one of your interests, and sell to passersby.

                                …If it wasn’t obvious by my ability to spew nonstop facts about the breeding industry, I worked as a breeder’s assistant, once upon a time. My addiction ruined the chance I had to continue on for an actual career, and in hindsight, that was a positive outcome. When I looked for a breeder outside of Kalos for a zorua, I chose to forgo the research process and simply hoped that Unova encompassed better morals to pass on to trainers and prospective employees. That hope meant nothing, just as it means nothing for most of the prisoners here in any situation.

                                When I asked Enmity’s Unovan breeder the steps to take once he hatched, the instructions given to me were mortifying. Don’t create a reliable, long lasting heat source for him despite newborns being unable to regulate their own body temperature? Don’t offer a plush as a surrogate mother? Don’t worry about the rest of your team teaching the newborn how to hunt? The list could go on, but already my lips are trembling and my fists clenching. I’d engaged in all of these directions as a breeder’s assistant, and reality told me that doing the opposite of each of these things is most ideal.

                                We’ve discussed this before, I believe, or correct me if I’m wrong. Not that my foggy memory is the focus of this particular conversation, but see, a breeder’s primary goal should always be to reserve a pokémon’s animalistic traits, even if the intent is to rear them for trainers. This goes for any species, really, on the off chance that the pokémon either ends up in the wild rather than with a trainer or is released later on in its life.

                                It’s specifically important for zorua and other fox-like equivalents—fennekin and vulpix, Kantoan or Alolan—to retain their instinctual fear of humans. Mind you, that has nothing at all to do with inducing fear into a pokémon to ensure they obey you in or outside of a battle. Excuse me for the blatant stereotyping, but a feral dark-type feeling safe enough to roam around a crowded city would cause more ruckus than bargained for. The same goes for fire-types, though those critters tend scare easier.

                                Disclaimer: I tried my best with Enmity. Although I knew the reasons why some options were favorable compared to others, I wasn’t the slightest bit trained. Mistakes must have been made. His diet as a newborn could’ve been tweaked, or maybe he wasn’t kept warm enough. My three starters weren’t around to help him learn to hunt, and I didn’t trust a wild pokémon to do the job, so I improvised. Had I done anything differently, could I have averted his muteness?

                                …I have many years to dwell on the consequences of what I did or didn’t do for Enmity. You’ve hinted at my being released in the near future, but that anticipation is reserved for those awaiting trial, those who have a chance of being announced not guilty. I put myself in this hole for a good while, Haley. Someday, though. Someday. I don’t know what will happen on that someday, but it’s nice to know it exists if I can manage to hold on long enough.

                                The heads side of your coin features a clefairy, right? Tails is dragons? I could dig through the first half of my letter, but my energy is quickly diminishing as the day ends and the mail carriers will be dropping by early in the morning. I should try to sleep. Flip heads, flip fairies and I’ll do the best I can to move on from… everything. Flip tails or, well, never mind that. Just flip heads for my sake, or say you did. An immeasurable amount of fairy dust will have to be sprinkled over me to make up for the courage I lack, but we’ll make do.

                                Sincerely,
                                Markus (yes, Markus, for you)
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                                Old September 22nd, 2018 (10:51 PM). Edited January 24th, 2019 by diamondpearl876.
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                                diamondpearl876 diamondpearl876 is offline
                                you can breathe now. x
                                   
                                  Join Date: Jun 2007
                                  Location: Illinois, USA.
                                  Age: 26
                                  Nature: Careful
                                  Posts: 1,571
                                  FLYING IN THE DARK

                                  [letter thirteen]

                                  *

                                  August 5

                                  Hey, Mark,

                                  Uh. I wrote the above without thinking. Does it sound too casual? I can imagine me saying that in a voice like… hey, Mark, we need to talk, all serious like. Don’t worry! That’s not actually the case—not in the urgent sense, anyway. I need to talk to you in the sense that I don’t want you to go, don’t want you to disappear on me. That’s what I did to my family, and that’s what you did to your pokémon, but it doesn’t mean we need to keep up tradition and do it to each other.

                                  I’m doing a lot of things without thinking. And by that I mean you can have my lucky aluminum coin anyway. I wasted a lot of your time, and I’m sorry for that. That spiel of yours about how coins aren’t allowed in prison? Well, it seemed awfully familiar, so I pulled your old letters from the depths of my backpack. Again. And as expected, you mentioned to me back in May that coins are taken away from you guys, because anyone can sharpen them on the walls and hammer out an escape tool.

                                  If my coin gets “lost” in the mail system with this letter, it’s fine. Seriously. I’ll take the risk of you reading this, and I’ll take the risk of you not reading it. Plus the risk of my coin not finding its way back to me as a return to sender thing. I’ll write you another letter, one you’ll receive for sure, okay, Mark? Because what I won’t risk is having you worry. I’ll simply wait a few days until I’m in a better mood. I hope that doesn’t come off two-faced. We all have our bad times. Our bad days. I seem to be having more of them lately, like I did when I lived at home, but the phase should pass and I’ll get over it. That’s what my mom always insisted on for any emotion she didn’t approve of. Typical teenage angst and pride and ego, et cetera.

                                  I had a dream last night. I’d call it a nightmare, but it was borderline, if you only count nightmares as having dead bodies, gore, blood, apocalyptic shenanigans… First of all, have I ever told you it’s a murkrow, of all things, that delivers your letters to me? Half dark-type! Seems uncalled for, if you ask me, like the wardens in Laverre are taunting me. I had enough of that nonsense with my family and Olympia, you know? So I’m not bothered. You know I have a soft spot for flying-types, and he’s a real cutie. There’s a scar on the tip of his beak I see when I pluck the envelope from his mouth—he enjoys a quick tug of war game before cawing in defeat and returning home—so I know it’s him each time.

                                  What’s he got to do with anything, you ask? You won’t ask if you don’t get this. Come on, Haley. Use your brain for once. He was in my dream… and it was pitch black… but I could see everything. Every nook and cranny in the bald cypress trees dominating Lumiose’s Route 14, every ripple in swamp water even more dully colored than a tirtouga’s shell… Dream me must’ve stolen the dream murkrow’s night vision, I guess. The dream murkrow was out and about, scouting out the recipients of your letter (me and Kenneth, of course) like he was specially trained for. Except he was flying in the dark, so he had no way of realizing he wasn’t anywhere close to us. He got caught in an ariados’s web and untangled himself, but had to drop your letter in the process. Up until then, he had a glint in his eye, and it went away once he landed on the forest floor and searched frantically for what he’d lost. The light of the moon didn’t reach him in the air, let alone on the ground. Not helpful at all. Grudgingly, the dream murkrow let out a sad sigh and turned to fly again, probably back to you guys at Brun Way, but he shook his head, unsure of which direction to head in then, either.

                                  But he tried. And who’d he run into along the way? Ribbons! …Why my natu wasn’t with me, I don’t know. Dream me might’ve written her own letter and stuck a taboo gift inside. And Ribbons, he had a human voice, squeaky but clear. He told the dream murkrow that he didn’t want me to be found. That in the future, the dream murkrow should stay away. That I was being put in danger because of who the dream murkrow was sending letters for, and that’d be you, Mark. You.

                                  To make matters worse, the dream murkrow flew back toward Laverre, and I could follow him but not talk to him or make him pay attention to me. He squawked at the guards when he arrived, relaying Ribbons’s message, and then, Bouncer and Eyeball showed up. (I think they did, anyway. The men called themselves your roommates inmates.) And even they asked to switch cells.

                                  You… asked me if I knew what Kai and them would say to me if they could communicate with me normally like most pokémon can with seasoned trainers. This is the last thing I would’ve expected. I mean, it wasn’t real… or maybe it’s not real just because I don’t understand my pokémon yet?

                                  Still. As you know, this is an argument I’ve heard time and time again, from a bunch of sources apparently claiming to know me better than I know myself. And to them I just wanna say, look where I am now! Out in Lumiose, the driving force of Kalos, with all its bustling crowds and traffic humming beside you as tourists and residents alike parade up and down the city’s various boulevards. Kids drawing with chalk on the sidewalks, old people plopped down on park benches and chucking sunflower seeds at the local fletchinder, stray glameow sidling against buildings to find a hole or alley to crouch into…

                                  Well, I’d go on a lot more, but what my mind keeps wandering back to is Professor Sycamore’s lab. I passed by it. Did a double take and everything because the story of your starters hit me all over again! Closed off by a tall, casual metal fence, I couldn’t see any fennekin or froakie or chespin, just some potted berry bushes with burn marks on the rim. One of the pots was even overflowing with water.

                                  So I think it’s safe to say Professor Sycamore’s raising a batch of starters right now. I couldn’t help but stare and imagine myself working up the courage to ask Professor Sycamore about you. Or stealing the starters for myself, like you did. No doubt I could comfort them, give them a good life, and… Okay, there’s some doubt there, so I won’t finish my thought. Anyway, in the end, Kenneth had to grab me by the arm and lead me down the street, lecturing me about how people don’t take too kindly to a random girl getting in their way.

                                  Now we’ve rented out our room in the local Pokémon Center and unpacked our things, knowing we’ll throw it all back into our backpacks a couple mornings from now. Once he’s done in the shower, we’re gonna give the Restaurant Le Nah a try. I hear half the building’s a battlefield, with a strong glass wall separating the dining area but still allowing people to peer in. It sounds like a theater, doesn’t it? Trainers challenge each other there all the time, and loser owes them dinner, probably.

                                  I might try my hand at a battle and head to Prism Tower afterward, just because I don’t want Olympia’s badge to be the only one registered in my name. And defeating Kalos’s electric-type master could be enough to restore the confidence that’s slipped away without me noticing. I’ll let you know what’s up either way.

                                  Just in case the coin falls out of the envelope or it doesn’t click right away, I flipped for real. The coin landed on heads! Fairies win! You made a promise to keep trying if I did that, and I’m not lying just to see it happen. There’s enough “this or that” confusion in this letter, and to even the playing field, I’ll promise to be more hopeful in my next letter about it.

                                  Talk to you again soon,

                                  Haley
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                                    #18   Link to this post, but load the entire thread.  
                                  Old January 24th, 2019 (9:24 PM). Edited January 24th, 2019 by diamondpearl876.
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                                  diamondpearl876 diamondpearl876 is offline
                                  you can breathe now. x
                                     
                                    Join Date: Jun 2007
                                    Location: Illinois, USA.
                                    Age: 26
                                    Nature: Careful
                                    Posts: 1,571
                                    FLYING IN THE DARK

                                    [letter fifteen]

                                    *

                                    August 11

                                    Forgive me, Haley, but before I venture into the crux of this letter… I’m curious as to your opinion on the sight I described? The sight regarding sunset outside of my cell window? I ask additionally that my request is not thought to be overwrought with hidden pleas. By no means does each minute detail need a response, but of this, might an exception be made? I am enduringly open to feedback, if you believe we can elevate our friendship somehow, or if I can attempt to expand upon the content of my letters as an act of gratitude for your showing me your world. Simply put, my first attempt at reporting my own present to you… Well, I’m not sure how I fared.

                                    I do suppose that’s not all. Did you mention Enmity in the letter to your grandmother, by any chances? If so, what of his upbringing, if anything? The information I related to you was scarce, at best, what with the strain in my hands tightening as a result of summoning memories of him. It felt like even an insignificant fountain pen wanted to jump away from me. Perhaps, though, your grandmother could disclose some knowledge as to why he became mute. And why my efforts to extract just one articulated sound out of him failed staggeringly.

                                    Right, one last thing. I apologize sincerely for being such a bother, Haley, but should I or should I not expect your lucky coin to arrive? It is not like to you to forgo explanations when our letters speak of calls to action. I am not entitled to an explanation, per se, and I’ve discussed myself the various reasons why keeping your coin would be an understandable choice—a smart one, even—but you are undeserving of mere assumptions made on your behalf.

                                    There is the matter of me overthinking, of course. My ambivalent mindscape—which continues to shape itself into a new prison cell, one more akin to solitary confinement with the ghost of yourself as an unwanted cellmate—wishes to adopt your optimistic reasoning for its own. The consequences of your coin remaining unsent, or suspended within the grasp of the justice system, may mean that I am missing words from you, a postcard, a picture, something, any of which would admittedly send me into an unreasonable fit of guilt.

                                    Logically, fairies won the coin toss whether or not I can gaze upon the victor side’s embossed clefairy, yes? And as we agreed together, I must persevere despite the multiple faces of adversity looking down on me. Therefore, I must hold up my end of the bargain. I consider this rational line of thought a first step. In reality it may be my second, or third, or fourth, but I fear I have been too preoccupied with self-pity to notice. I will not make such a destructive mistake again.

                                    I concluded one reason as to why you might refrain from mentioning the coin again, and other aspects of your journey. Sometimes, words simply crumble under the weight of their speaker’s expectations. Translating cherished memories and images into words risks tearing straight through the initial spell they bore into you. Selfishness is entirely warranted in that case.

                                    What I’m trying to get at also is the forthcoming narrative about your family life. For a man whose face you have not seen or voice you have not heard, it is a tall order to expect the more gritty details of what is a very private matter for most. Still, my ears are always open, or, more accurately, my eyes are always glued to your handwriting, your gushing verbiage and encompassing anger, shame, sadness, glee, any and all of it. The daily distractions of prison life hover around me as mere white noise. Here, you must choose what matters. And I chose a long time ago.

                                    Now, for an interesting predicament of my own, I have a new cellmate of sorts—but not of the inmate kind, or even the human kind. Valerie, with the Brun Way Correctional Center’s blessing, assigned Rowe the granbull to as a… service pokémon, I guess is the appropriate title. It’s unclear to me how a mutt was approved for such a monumental task. He dons a mean face and two protruding, knifelike teeth, combined with what looks to be a tattooed collar on his neck but, I’m told, is a natural part of his skin. Even as a former breeder, the evolutionary purpose for this escapes me. Five seconds of guesswork led me to ponder this mock collar as an allusion to being a trained pokémon. I shook my head at the notion.

                                    Valerie, who had made an appearance herself to introduce us, frowned with an intensity unbecoming of a fairytale devotee. She squeezed Rowe’s plain pokéball in her hand, her slim fingers streaking the metal. I stood up from my bunk. Rowe’s ears balked at the sound of the mattress grating, and as if the granbull reminded her of the protocol, Valerie then announced an imminent cell search.

                                    “To ensure there’s no dangerous objects with which you can break Rowe’s pokéball,” she said, “or strike him physically.”

                                    The guards check our cells daily. I could use my fists and my legs, conditioned to avoid atrophy through the daily drills required of all prisoners. Surely she knew this? From his corner, Bouncer sneered audibly, indicating that he had similar thoughts, perhaps with a bit more obscenity to them.

                                    Only after the cell search did Valerie interview me personally, implying that her job description involves being suspicious of the same people she claims should trust her. A sour taste coagulated in my mouth as she requested intimate details of my past for her notes, what I hope to achieve in life once my sentence is over, and irrelevant questions which allowed her to observe my demeanor. She might as well have shown me Rorschach blobs drawn from octillery ink, what with how ambiguous and open ended her questions were. If she ascertained that I lied to her, or withheld information from her, she didn’t let on. Her jet black eyes pierced right through me, reminding me of the legendary Deoxys—Kenneth might welcome this analogy, by the by—especially when she shifted and the sleeves of her pixie getup wiggled as if she possessed more than two arms. I’m shivering now after having written that…

                                    As a foreigner, I don’t suppose Kenneth is the type to consider old superstitions? I admit to not asking, despite the opportunity to do so during our interview, but Valerie strikes me as faithful to the modern view of fairy-type lore constructed by the Kaloseux. Either way, fairy-type lore overlaps and contradicts itself an incredible amount to the point where, like a religion, the basis for two people’s faith might never match exactly. Pit Kenneth and Valerie together, both of them experienced chiefly with culled words, and I daresay the ensuing debate would involve contradictions at every turnabout. Yet each contradictory fact would be supported, anecdotally or empirically or otherwise, leaving the debaters to start questioning a part of their worldview anew.

                                    Indeed, I’ve been doing my homework—on fairy-types, I mean. Isn’t it puzzling, how the League hesitated to classify fairies in their own unique category type as long as they did? What’s worse is the lack of research available for the majority of fairy species, not for a lack of interested professors, but rather because of the League refusing to fund experiments and discouraging the academic field from taking initiatives on the issue themselves. Normal-types no longer designated as such reference the core ancestral belief that fairies are humans capable of shapeshifting. All evidence to the contrary floated in the ether, adamantly ignored by society’s pervasive zeitgeist.

                                    For example, did multiple shapeshifting humans conspire to take on the appearance of a granbull to lead real humans to the false conclusion that they are justifiable as a species? Theorists swept this issue under the rug, blinded. As long as reality countered their personal philosophy, never mind the fact that not a single fairy-type species was discovered in isolation, only in groups.

                                    There existed, too, the issue of the fairies’ role in death. The first fairy detected was a togepi, burrowed in the legendary Ho-Oh’s nest and close to hatching. Residents of Johto, and Ecruteak City in particular, built the nest for when Ho-Oh finished its journey in the skies and returned home. Because several thousand years had passed without a sighting of Ho-Oh, however, and because of Ho-Oh’s fabled ability to revive the dead, it is unsurprising that one Johtonian grew desperate in their faith. The togepi’s finder found it fruitful to try to eliminate the togepi before it hatched in the hopes that Ho-Oh would rush to its rescue. Then, as the legends claim, residents recently felled by an unknown disease—transmitted through migrating gligars’ ejected poison seeping into the city’s water source—could maybe live again.

                                    Alas, the togepi’s finder could not prevent its birth—at least, not entirely. The togepi took its first breath halfway out of the egg and could not break free any further. Deemed an undead demon whose presence implied faithless trickery, the togepi earned more scorn with its cheerful demeanor and healing abilities. Johtonians refused to elevate its status to that of a pokémon. A man, his name lost to the ages and called Mr. Pokémon today, vouched for acknowledging the togepi species, at which point the fairy-type, overcome with love and affection, evolved to take flight in the skies alongside Ho-Oh.

                                    Others who acknowledged the togepi, and new fairy-types identified afterward, pondered their connection with legendary pokémon. Whether they accepted the shapeshifting human or ability to defy death theory, only legendary pokémon could account for such phenomena. Scripture centered around Dialga and Celebi told of how they required the help of fairy-types to manage the flow of time so that their massive powers didn’t intersect. The gloomier view of fairies did not dissipate, however; folklore set in the Distortion World featured Giratina with fairy-type cronies.

                                    Once fairies were cast from the legendaries’ godly world because fairy-type legendaries sufficed alone, their memories were erased. Thus, neither the existence of legendaries, nor their role in the wonders of the world could be confirmed by communicating with fairies. What cemented the fairy-type’s classification as pokémon was the collective belief of the Kaloseux that humanity would disgrace itself if it continued to show disdain for creatures that contributed to the world’s balance alongside the legendaries. After all, Xerneas and Yveltal had taught them that all things were united through their capacity to both live and die; what existed at any given moment, existed for a reason, and had to be subsequently endured.

                                    According to more cynical skeptics, the legendaries smote fairies, rather than handed them off to paltry humans to be useful elsewhere. In that case, the legendaries might have praised us slighting the fairies further, thankful that we realized the importance of their divine decisions. A book published long ago—lost in the rubble of Geosenge after a forest of trevenant declared the town their home—proposed that Arceus locked away fairies in one of its plates in anticipation of them abusing their powers to revolt against humans out of anger. But humans did not have the power to tame pokémon just yet. They could do little but compile charms that would protect them against death.

                                    You relayed Kaloseux war history to me early on in our letter exchange, Haley. I suppose it’s relevant here. Xerneas, with his fairy typing and legendary status, possessed the power to sway society’s groupthink in a positive direction. A widely accepted reason for its slumber in the aftermath involves its overuse of fairy-type energy to distribute it evenly among all of its children so that they could lead meaningful, contributory lives. Yveltal performed its duties as the god of death and gladly suffered the brunt of any true evilness rooted in the fairies’ hearts. Then the king’s floette perished in battle, and fury erupted throughout Kalos once more.

                                    I… digress. The fairies’ curative abilities, whether innate or borne of Xerneas’s sacrifice or something else entirely, ushered in the situation I find myself in now. In the middle of one of Valerie’s educational lectures, I learned that fairies naturally speed up the evolution process for other pokémon. The scientific background surrounding this claim is unclear to me, but an image of Enmity flashed in my mind. He didn’t quite tower over me yet, but he was stronger, more cunning, and suddenly he showed off a toothy grin instead of his usual stony stare. Valerie nodded to me. An atypical surge of rage pushed up past my throat, congesting me with the irrational betrayal of her pretending to understand an intimate facet of my life.

                                    When calmness rendered me logical once more, a theory occurred to me. Emotions like anger, should one ruminate and roll around in it, dirtying themselves with the pang of perpetual victimhood… Well, in layman’s terms, if such antagonism curbs a human’s growth, I fail to see why that couldn’t be the case for pokémon, too.

                                    Now I struggle to see Rowe, and the other fairies parading around the ward, as more than just another trickster. That their full history remains unresolved, much like Enmity’s, emphasizes how if the world cannot have answers then neither can I. That the world turns its head away with outright indifference snatches from me any reassurance in the prospect of locating Enmity someday. The connection is hard to grasp, let alone bear.

                                    And yet. I haven’t interacted with Rowe much. Isn’t it only fair to give him a chance, as I did with you?

                                    Admittedly, I fear it will be a burden. Based off of the data in Valerie’s report, she plans to teach him specific attacks that will assist in shaping my rehabilitation. There’s a silver lining here, in that she does not lump all of us prisoners together, jeering at the insufficient use of the death penalty. She views us as unique people with remarkably different histories, desires and beliefs. Nevertheless, her scrutiny left me on edge. I envisioned you staring at me in earnest, listening to me the same way you always do—with tenderness, and without a hidden agenda.

                                    The League’s designated attack names, as it turns out, are as misleading as I suspect Valerie is. Despite sponsoring a primarily youthful sport, attack names come across as threatening. What I have revealed to you about genetically modified berries and crafted elixirs, all of that came later, several millennia after we claimed pokémon as our captive partners. It astonishes me how well the League’s subtle precedent for prioritizing strength over companionship has withstood the test of time.

                                    “Play rough” utilizes fairy-type energy, and context means everything. In battle, said energy condenses itself and is best wielded offensively. The lack of an arena causes the pokémon to turn defensive instinctively, primed by fighting more than interacting with its trainer in a lighthearted manner. But Valerie concluded—wrongly, mind—that I would acquiesce to engaging in brief sparring sessions with Rowe. Because I trained pokémon in the past, she reasoned, I inevitably immersed myself in hands on coaching. While the majority of trainers resort to such a tactic to gain perspective on the sport they’ve dedicated a good portion of their lives to, or to force their pokémon to control the intensity of their attacks, I did not.

                                    Chespin, as you might remember, often challenged me of his own accord, to the point where I had no interest in initiating combat myself. Besides, common sense asserts that dislocated joints and bruises which inhibit my movement are impractical aspects of a journey… unless you prepare in anticipation of injuries for yourself alongside your pokémon. But most youth don’t.

                                    This is not to mention the plethora of mental pain I obsessed over. To risk adding physical pain to the pile was unfathomable.

                                    I didn’t correct Valerie’s assumption. I didn’t want to explain my aversion to even the most innocent of interactions with pokémon, or my accumulation of hapless experiences on the road. Other attacks—a new may be required here so as to not insinuate the rehabilitation program’s intentions—seem fitting and appropriate, if only in limited instances. What the League deems as a “headbutt” is, for Valerie’s purposes, meant for deep pressure therapy. A technique devised for inmates prone to anxiety, pressure applied to certain body parts relieves muscle tension and enough calmness for the inmate to hopefully formulate solutions to problems.

                                    “Frustration” and “return” exist in the context of rehabilitation to build empathy and rapport. The former teaches Rowe body language to express if I relate to him negative feelings. Conversely, the latter teaches Rowe to mirror my positive feelings. It is hard not to chuckle when you imagine me as a granbull, isn’t it? If anything, I exhibit more foxlike mannerisms than doglike ones.

                                    Alas, is this recount of attacks you’re already familiar with on some level boring you? I’ll wrap this up. “Outrage” and “payback”—attacks which a trained granbull is likely to know, Valerie explained with that alien voice of hers—will be untaught. It is best to reserve his memory capacity for other, rehabilitation-focused concepts, according to her.

                                    Those, however, are powerhouse attacks, with no defensive components to them. Rowe’s attack known as “roar” is not so useful offensively, only defensively in the case of calling out for help if anyone is in danger. Similarly, all rehabilitation pokémon learn “protect” as another security blanket for emergencies. I’ll forgo another rant on the perceived risks of being in the presence of criminals, most of which are not violent or no longer have the means to engage in brash behavior. I’d considered, perhaps, that Rowe will accompany me post-rehabilitation, but that demands too far a look into the future I am not ready for.

                                    If your lucky coin were in my possession after all, Haley, it occurs to me that Valerie could have mistaken it for a fairy warding charm. Of course, I would’ve hidden it the moment I retrieved it for safekeeping—thievery is commonplace here, not violence—but with my small cell, Valerie would have inevitably come across it… and confiscated it. Whistles now replace Brun Way’s dinner and role call bells for the sake of avoiding a fairy’s wrath. Part of role call itself, too, is embarrassing due to the same logic. Valerie instructed the guards to ensure no inmate’s clothes are inside out. I could go on. Bread and better—these staples are forbidden for their lurid association with fay superstition, so there goes my number one breakfast choice. All of this, Valerie pressed, needed to start the day a rehabilitation fairy step foot into the prison. And so it did.

                                    Is this the power of a gym leader? What an inane question. It has to be, or her decree would not stand. Mix her status with the incessant mysteries surrounding pokémon, and no one wants to risk the repercussions of confrontation. Like as not, too, the warden is a close acquaintance of Valerie’s, or at least someone adequately studious so as to realize the benefits fairies can contribute to in this place. I do not see her regularly, and so, I am not the best judge of her character.

                                    In general, I know I still am not giving the rehabilitation program’s vision a fair shake. My gripes concerning society’s willful blindness toward us is blatantly repudiated with the implementation of Valerie’s services, are they not? This fact is moot to me. Stigma runs rampant anyway, and the League is not a formal body of government which possesses the agency to sway a thoroughly rooted public opinion. The Kalos republic does have the influence, the authority, the power to create and carry out productive projects, while simultaneously sending a message to the region at large. Yet it chooses to turn a blind eye just as well.

                                    Honestly, I am equally unimpressed with the lack of imagination with respect to Valerie’s tactics. In the midst of one particular visit, she gathered us inmates in the common area, where Eyeball insists on watching judo matches between gallade every Thursday evening. A sylveon trailed beside her, its ribbons coruscating in spite of the dim lighting. Instead of speaking, Valerie motioned for her sylveon to display what they likely rehearsed beforehand. So, the sylveon formed a clouded sphere of energy from its mouth, causing a fair amount of the inmates to assume a protective stance—as if they could fend off a pokémon with their bare hands.

                                    The shadow ball, Valerie said, represented the darkness in all of us, the same darkness she hopes to overcome with us. On cue, the sylveon emitted its natural fairy-type energy, overbearing the previous attack with crackling flashes of dramatic light. If all goes well, that light will reside within us by the program’s conclusion, figuratively speaking.

                                    When Valerie opened up the floor for questions, I wanted to inquire about move tutors, because she undoubtedly has connections with an army of League workers. So, how are they selected? How motivated are they to spend time on a prisoner’s future welfare? Have you, by chance, come across a middle-aged move tutor specialized in starter techniques, whose name and current whereabouts I don’t know but I know he did have quite the curly mustache?

                                    For a moment, I imagined him here, that lofty voice of his spouting a grand vision of the future when in the shadows, he is free to distribute drugs to men as vulnerable as I was. And, for a moment, I imagined sliding backward, any semblance of progress I might’ve made so far receding to locate a more worthy vessel.

                                    I promise I shook away the doubts, Haley. Not fast enough, but eventually, I reclaimed what is mine. And naturally, I’ll let you know how things play out when I meet Rowe. Our initial greeting indicates he will adjust to a new setting, then struggle to stave off boredom. Anxiety attacks are not an issue with me, and I make every effort to outwardly suppress my gloomy disposition. On the rare occasion my shoulders are slumped noticeably low, Bouncer and Eyeball glancing at me serves as nothing but an annoyance.

                                    Even worse is when they call attention to my misery but decline to offer consolation beyond that. Now they know, now they’ve exposed me, and now they can hold my weakness hostage and use it against me later. A second option is to empathize, although in a prison, rife with inescapable suffering, it behooves us to deflect anyone else’s lest it crushes us.

                                    Eyeball’s been sleeping less since Valerie first stepped foot in his cell. I don’t know his story still—his cell interview consisted of hushed, inaudible whispers—but something tells me he can’t live a moment without it haunting him. He groans throughout the night, scratching at the prison walls, then the floors and the bars when he gives up on the comfort his cot should offer him. His eyebrows, once alert and sharp and skeptical of the world, have lost their edge; half his time is spent with eyes closed, to bask in blissful blackness. His service pokémon, a jigglypuff, will sing lullabies to him and hopefully restore some peace to him.

                                    If he weren’t my cellmate, Bouncer’s rehabilitation situation would have me laughing myself to tears. He’s in here for gang activity, if I’ve not mentioned it before. Trampling across Camphrier with full graffiti cans at their fingertips, they showed no respect for the town’s high rock walls or ancient, timber frame buildings. His gang attempted to recruit vulnerable, poor kids at every opportunity, even going so far as to show up at their schools to taunt and threaten them with bodily harm. Bouncer claims that a few members were exceedingly serious and followed kids into foreign regions once their pokémon journey began if they refused to join the gang.

                                    Rowe would be perfect for Bouncer, what with that gruesome expression eternally plastered on his face. Alas, Valerie instead assigned him a swirlix, a fluffy cotton ball with its dopey tongue always sticking out. I hope for its sake that it masters Protect sooner rather than later, just in case, given Bouncer’s escalating impatience about this whole rehabilitation ordeal. A soft body like that could withstand a punch, no doubt. It’s just that to be dropped in the middle of an environment as miserable as this makes it easy to absorb more misery, as I said.

                                    …But then, don’t I revel in society’s fear of us with this sort of logic?

                                    No, the real question is, would you have written to me if I’d turned out to be a murderer? An abuser? …Anything or anyone I’ve said I am when it’s not the truth?

                                    I’m sorry to end this letter right where it started, but it’s an honest question, Haley. If you didn’t know, but found out later down the road, around now, would you cease our correspondence? I… suppose it’s a tall order, asking you for an honest answer. But I’d take one, and I promise I’ll react in kind. That is to say, I won’t overreact, as I am so wont to do.

                                    Let me know. No answer would suffice, too, or rather, no answer would say it all, and yet… please, let me know.

                                    Sincerely, and desperately,
                                    Mark
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                                    Old February 18th, 2019 (10:31 PM).
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                                    diamondpearl876 diamondpearl876 is offline
                                    you can breathe now. x
                                       
                                      Join Date: Jun 2007
                                      Location: Illinois, USA.
                                      Age: 26
                                      Nature: Careful
                                      Posts: 1,571
                                      FLYING IN THE DARK

                                      [letter sixteen]

                                      *

                                      August 15

                                      Uh, Mark? Are you sure you’re feeling all right over there? I was gonna comment not on how I feel pressured to respond to every detail of your letter but how it’s hard to remember everything that warrants a response… until I realized, well, everything does! Everything you say matters, you know, even if you don’t believe it yourself. Sounds cliché, you say? Good! A motto like that, when it’s been around forever, speaks to how true it is, because if it’s not true, a lot of the world must be full of terrible liars.

                                      With my own faulty memory, it’s hard to picture your sunset in my head anymore. I couldn’t bring myself to pull out your last letter and reread it. I’ve done just that a few times now, I’ve reached some crazy conclusions about

                                      Well, see, I don’t want to dredge up those issues, or those spats, whatever you want to call them. That’s not what we need or want. Probably. Who am I to say? You know, the gossips back in Anistar always brought up the kids that seemed to attract drama everywhere they went and bothered everyone they made eye contact with. If I’d gone to public school, no doubt they’d have shaken their heads at me, too!

                                      But yeah, I feel like one of those kids right now. There’s so many cops in Lumiose strolling down one street after another, glaring daggers at people who aren’t suspicious at all! A cop with a quick ball at the ready looked at me from the other side of a gogoat crossing. I flinched; his gaze hardened. But he didn’t give Kenneth a moment of his time, just me. Did he know about my confrontation with the police in Anistar all those years ago? Is it legal to stick an incident like that on a kid’s record? Okay, I doubt that’s the case. Hmm… Maybe it’s a common trait of criminals, them starting out with petty dramas, then graduating to bigger and better ones…

                                      So, from what I do remember, your sunset was pretty. It made me realize that I’m not quite the greatest at visualizing in my head sights I haven’t seen, but you made it easier than normal. I think it’d be a good exercise for both of us if you wrote more descriptions like that.

                                      I guess I shouldn’t have brought up not talking about my journey anymore, huh? In hindsight, that was hypocritical of me, like we just reversed roles instead of reciprocating as friends should. Words really fail us sometimes, don’t they? Sometimes words aren’t even close to being enough. It both scares me and fascinates me to know there are times that my friends and family wanted to tell me something important, didn’t know how, and kept it to themselves. Sometimes that means stomaching a burden. Alone. It means keeping a secret that wasn’t ever meant to be hush-hush!

                                      Maybe I’ll send you pictures of my goofball birds or of whatever city I’m in at the time, if I see a sight worth conveying. Sometimes we’re forced to be alone because sometimes it’s good for us. Still, I think it’s worth fighting back where we can.

                                      I could even dig up my old photographs and send you pictures of Anistar’s sundial. Or other places Dad took us to for field trips, like the Manger Café with kids’ coloring pages plastered all over the walls, basically in place of the walls, where me and Joey put together a bunch of shapes to design our own pokémon species.

                                      Dad convinced Mom to let us work in her office—for us to gain life experience, apparently, or so he said when really he wanted a vacation day. Mom surprisingly let us visit again after Joey spilled apple juice all over her favorite swivel chair. It was the only chair that she could get to sit at the right height, she said, and luckily for Joey, her happiny sidekick assigned to her by the hospital director poured the yolk from one of her eggs to remove the stain. The happiny was like… a nurse in training, I guess, until Mom helped it evolve into a chansey, then a blissey. Then Mom said we had to listen to the blissey because she was bigger than us and definitely qualified to be the pokémon equivalent of a boss. I warned Joey not to, but he hid important documents from Mom’s file system to test her theory. She grounded him for two months when the blissey tattled, of course.

                                      Family… Right, family, I’m talking about them but not in the way I promised you I would. Not everything about Anistar was bad, though I hate admitting that because what if that means the reasons I stormed off on a journey aren’t good enough? What if I’m just ungrateful? My grandmother, she understands. I don’t doubt she loves me; I doubt the ethics of her job now, thanks to you enlightening me about the League and its shady affairs. If that reads as snippy, uh, sorry? Mostly I’m unsure of how to handle two important people in my life being as intertwined with the League as they are. It’s not like it’s my place to steer them down a morally acceptable career path, and I mean, what are the chances my purchases at each Pokémon Center hasn’t gone straight to their funding pool? We’re all guilty, even you. And yet only one of us is behind bars. Next time a policeman approaches me, I should hold out my hands for them to cuff me, no questions asked.

                                      So, I did bring up Enmity to my grandmother, yeah. Seems I forgot to mention that, too. The topic of Enmity allowed me to explain your past work as a breeder, which in turn allowed me to show you off and double the chances of her offering you a job at her side someday. Mark, she didn’t offer you a job, but that doesn’t mean she never will, and she kind of skirted past your issues in favor of voicing her knowledge about the zorua line.

                                      She knows my tastes pretty well, ‘cause she told me a story featuring both a zorua and a flying-type, murkrow! Murkrow are small birds with witch-like hats, sleek black feathers, a sharp beak reminiscent of a hook, and a love for shiny objects it can store and collect obsessively as if they were preparing for the winter… I know a lot about them myself because it’s a murkrow that scouts me out and drops your letters from its talons to my hands. Oh, uh, I may or may not have brought this up before.

                                      What’s a murkrow got to do with anything else, you ask? My grandmother teamed up with a couple of Johtonian professors to do a case study on a zorua named Sharo from the time he was born until he was the human equivalent of middle-aged. Zorua are rare in the wild, as you know, so they specifically observed Sharo’s behavior in the wild to see if he’d resort to physical altercations or stick to the mind tricks his species is known for. They wanted to know if breeders played a hand in their deceitful nature or if, as dark-types, it’s just an innate trait. I guess I’d call their hypothesis a challenge against the infamous nature versus nurture debate?

                                      My grandmother and her team observed Sharo in Johto, to “control for environmental factors”... as if something about Sinnoh as a region could cause a dark-type to act so dubiously. Well, they’re experts and I’m not, so I’m not in a position to criticize them. My new found disgust of the League is showing too much, isn’t it? Anyway, Sharo lived in Ilex Forest, where at night murkrow would search in fishponds for food. When they managed to snatch a meal, they’d land on the fir tree branches settled really close to the ground.

                                      Sharo ate fish, too, but avoided submerging himself in water. Instead, he watched the murkrow nightly to absorb and reflect on their habits. My grandmother couldn’t guess as to what his thought process was, obviously, but after a few weeks of borderline stalking the murkrow, she noticed that Sharo would attempt to steal the fish from the murkrow right after their first bite. She and her team took this to mean that Sharo, the daring predator that he was, had the best chance of succeeding because the murkrow were letting their guards down. And Sharo was able to succeed after spending the time to watch and discern what exactly he should do in a given situation.

                                      When the murkrow learned that low branches were no longer guaranteed safe during their fishing expeditions, they resolved to eat their meals while perched on the higher branches. Still Sharo didn’t use physical attacks on the murkrow. The zorua straight up flattered them, calling the murkrows pretty birds, complimenting their collection of shiny objects, asserting that he, as a lowly zorua, would never be as good at catching fish as they would. Then he’d claim he was too hungry to even try hunting and sulk off. Then the murkrow gave Sharo a fish out of pity! This tactic prevailed more than three quarters of the time, my grandmother said.

                                      Her study sounded fascinating to me. The details I just recited to you were from my memory, that’s how much they stuck with me. I might hunt down the journal her team published it in. The idea reminds me of the conversation we had about trainers releasing pokémon back into the wild, and the pokémon needing to adapt to survival despite being domesticated—even if they traveled. I wonder, how would Enmity himself have fared? Or, no, a more sensitive question, I think, if there’s one to be asked here at all, is how he’s faring as I write this. If what my grandmother found is anything to go by, he’s finding his way just fine. She told me as much, a comment in her letter which I understood to be directed at you rather than me.

                                      I was overall happy with her letter until she called zorua… selfish creatures. That hit me in the gut, Mark, because I was selfish when I left Anistar, right? Right. No one can convince me otherwise, so don’t even try.

                                      My parents’ favorite word to describe me was that, too. Selfish, I mean. And I don’t mean they implied it, like the other townspeople, or Joey, or my friends, or even Olympia, if that’s what she indeed was trying to teach me. Patterns usually have a lot of merit to them, so I’m struggling to believe otherwise. My parents, on the other hand… They blatantly said the word “selfish,” a lot. There’s no room for doubt on that point.

                                      It’s not like I left with the sole goal of hurting them all. In fact, that’s the opposite of what I wanted to do! And just for that I’d felt sad in their presence for years beforehand. I’d felt sad and unseen unless I had something more to offer, unless I could be good enough to pull the family back together and sew the gaps between us permanently.

                                      I couldn’t even sew them for a single minute! All I had to do was ask Joey on his birthday for the last piece of boudin sausage—his favorite food he’d ask Dad to cook—and the seams would unravel all over again, that’s how obnoxious things were after a while. My Dad oozed with rage particularly when I commented aloud about why home-schooling was an option for kids and why we couldn’t go to a public school to meet friends our age? To him, I obviously was ungrateful for all he’d done for us, all he’d continue to do for us, and all he’d sacrificed on behalf of his children—all just to be forced to follow the legal curriculum full of useless subjects we didn’t care for.

                                      Then Mom complained nonstop the winter of my sophomore year (re: “sophomore year”) because my grandmother invited me to her cabin in Dendemille for the entire break. I’m not sure where it’s located, or how I’d unlock the doors to get inside, or else me and Kenneth could’ve stayed there. Free, old-fashioned lodging where you can walk barefoot with beartic skin rugs under your feet and sit by the fireplace, hands wrapped around a mug of hot chocolate and just talking about whatever with your company as a male deerling’s tusks hangs up like a plaque on the wall… Well, it beats frantically searching for someplace with an open room any day.

                                      My grandmother had so many fun activities planned back then, too! She bought me a pair of skis—the resort’s are sub par, according to reviews—and a couple pails to collect chesto berries with. She whipped up her own candy recipe using them, and she was ready to teach me the recipe until Mom said no, I wasn’t ready to venture into a town known to have strange weather patterns.

                                      But it didn’t matter where in the world I’d go. She’d have an excuse on hand for any proposed trip that’d last longer than a day, as if she felt uncomfortable coming home from work without being able to confirm we were all there, safe from the dangers she witnesses daily. Sorry, Mom, but that’s hypocritical when you sometimes don’t come home for days or don’t tell us beforehand if you’re going to be home to, you know, eat dinner with us or whatever. We can’t be locked in the house 24/7 to put you at ease forever.

                                      Okay, this is a letter to you, Mark, not my mom, and I appreciate you reminding me that the option to bail out of exposing more about my family. But. It’s okay. Kenneth was a life saver here! I wrote a list of memories and facts about my family I might want to mention to you, then I did something I never saw myself doing until I was already in the middle of doing it: I read the entire list to Kenneth… out loud! And his eyes, one dilated and one, uh, not, goggled right into my own, unwavering. In any other situation, I’d be a tad creeped out, but by the end of the list, he just nodded and hugged me. He said he didn’t know what to say, and I told him that listening was more than enough, because if people ever have something to say right away, chances are that they weren’t listening but instead were tossing responses in their head to avoid the weight of someone else’s pain lingering in the inevitable awkwardness of silence.

                                      So, I’ll relay to you part of the list I read to Kenneth. There’s not much reason to expand on every single bullet point; not all of the pains on there are equal. And it’s not like the contents of those bullet points is, well, the whole point. You, Kenneth, Seybs, Ribbons, Kai, my grandmother… You all hold an exclusive spot in my heart, and my pains do, too, whether I like it or not. But it’s best if these spots aren’t exclusive for my entire life, you know? Forget permanent reservations. Being friends means running the risk of letting any or all of those spots melt into each other, usually as they trickle drip by drip, and that’s how you help both yourself and your friend feel complete.

                                      To start with, my parents sleep in separate bedrooms. Immediately you’ll notice a trend here. We don’t want to be near each other, none of us. That extra bedroom could’ve been an office for Dad to do work he enjoyed instead of just home schooling us, a playroom when me and Joey were younger, or a greenhouse-esque kind of room for my mom, who loves plants but can’t seem to keep them alive because she’s never home and Dad didn’t approve of being responsible for them in her stead. Once, seemingly to spite him, Mom brought home a bonsly, fresh out of its infant stage, six months old or maybe seven.

                                      But most days my dad didn’t so much as glance at it. Mom begged him to give the bonsly sips of water every hour, that was all, and he agreed. For a week. Then he ignored the bonsly again, and because I felt sorry that it got caught up in the middle of a petty war, I volunteered for the responsibility until Mom opted to rehome it.

                                      I’d blame them both for not acting their age if I actually knew enough about them to know if that blame would be justified. The best I know is that they both thought they wanted something—multiple somethings, even—and then realized they’d been lying to themselves. I can understand that much. Dad studied to earn his audiology degree yet struggles to listen to anybody. Mom wanted a place to call home but home for her is a different address than the one her mail goes to. They didn’t want each other after all, nor me, nor Joey. Unfortunately for them, choosing us couldn’t be reversed. No doubt that pretending has hurt them, never mind me and Joey for a second. And no doubt that, when both options lead to pain, pretending is easier than leaving your family in the dust to start fresh.

                                      So, you’d think me and Joey would’ve banded together in the face of adversity, right? He loves battling, I love pokémon, and we were both born to bitter parents who haven’t done much to teach us that the world is safe or that it expands much beyond Anistar. Nothing between us ever clicked. Whenever I opened my mouth, he rolled his eyes at me! In the afternoons I’d follow him out to the inverse training house on Route 18, close to where I caught Kai, and there he’d train with his talonflame… which back then was a wee fletchling. Joey enjoyed coordinating onomatopoeia sounds like WHAP and POW as he shouted attack names for his fletchling, which seemed super silly to me at the time because outward expressions of joy were so out of character for my usually serious, detached brother. I let out a too loud giggle once, and he held a fist to my face and demanded I never follow him again.

                                      If I could prove to him that I was more than just his annoying big sister, that he could count on me to be useful, or fun, or cool, or anything that I honestly wasn’t in his eyes, then he’d accept me. We’d be okay, and not totally alone in shrinking away from Anistar, and Kalos, and the rest of the world.

                                      I suggested that he entirely replace the League’s predetermined attack names with his sound effects. That way, he’d confuse his opponents! By the time the other trainer figured out his command patterns, the battle would already be over. And what did Joey do? He told me to shut up because he needed to concentrate.

                                      …Okay, that sounds 100 percent bad, but a month later, with Seybs on my shoulder and as still as a marble statue, I climbed a tree that’d let me glimpse the inside of the inverse training house. The window, wide open, let me hear that Joey had adopted my suggestion after all! His fletchling faced down a blitzle, the latter stomping its hooves against the concrete floor in frustration. The electric-type couldn’t land a single strike, although I wondered why it didn’t try to use thunder to its advantage. Fletchling was at a clear disadvantage, wasn’t he? Nope. That’s the secret of the inverse training house—a surrounding force field, held by a psychic-type, essentially turns all type effects upside down. Once I learned that, I understood why it appealed to Joey, and why his actions never coincided with his words. There was nothing I could do but accept that he didn’t love me the way I wanted to be loved, but at least he did. Love me, I mean.

                                      This seems unrelated, but bear with me: haven’t you been suspicious of how Seybs evolved into a pidgeotto? You know, because of how indifferent he is to battling? At some point he had to train and grow enough that his body took on a brand new form. It happened when Joey’s one and only friend, Shawn, spent a summer vacation in Kanto with his parents. Joey then chose Seybs to be his fletchinder’s temporary sparring partner.

                                      Seybs… was outclassed. Seriously! I hate to admit it, but he embarrassed me, his owner, someone whose disinterest in battles couldn’t be outclassed. How had he not picked up some skill from watching Joey all those times? Learning vicariously—that’s a tried and true thing, you know. I think. The League’s probably right on that, at least.

                                      Seybs did a typical Seybs thing and exploited every defensive maneuver the battlefield—a forest clearing with black pine trees chopped clean in half, toppled over and smothering the bushes protecting its roots—allowed him. He flew in unpredictable zigzag patterns, ducked in between tree branches, high and low, whatever he could find, and he landed on the forest floor to retreat into the undergrowth until a pine needle poked his feathers too hard for his liking.

                                      When his fletchinder collapsed from exhaustion, Joey ran up to me with the nastiest grimace on his face—the “get out of my way or I’ll strike you” kind—and Seybs was tired too, albeit for different reasons, and yet he wasn’t gonna stand by and watch my brother start a nonsensical battle of his own with me. He pecked at Joey’s face, then Joey swatted his hands at Seybs, so Seybs pecked at Joey’s hands instead. Then Joey did something I still haven’t forgiven him for: he punched Seybs. Horrified and powerless, I turned away, and after a flash enveloped the clearing for a solid minute, in Seybs’s place stood a majestic pidgeotto with feathers so clean it was like he’d just preened or hadn’t dirtied himself flying during the battle. His first action as a pidgeotto was to blow a whirlwind in Joey’s direction.

                                      Needless to say, Joey conceded as he lay sprawling on the grass, and that event’s not come up in conversation since.

                                      If only it were so easy. It’s not just a matter of me forgiving Joey. Seybs also could hold a grudge against me for putting him in that situation in the first place, knowing his personality, and for letting Joey get away with punching him. I didn’t tattle to my grandmother, and especially not my parents. And if I ask Seybs about it, I can see myself unconsciously misreading his body language, his answer.

                                      I dared to confide in my grandmother about all these things and more, once upon a time, though she always resorted to a positive spin our sad family dynamic. No family is functional, she said, her heart in the right place, and her loyalties in the right place because she’d be no better than them if she scolded her own son and his life choices right in his daughter’s face.

                                      She didn’t wait for me to answer. She said that when parents decide to have a kid, they understand their kid will hurt sometimes and that others will hurt them. It sucks to think about, but pain to a certain degree is inevitable. Pain beyond that is the result of numerous factors, the accumulation of which usually spins out of control. Parents use that knowledge to better themselves… and it was at this point in her lecture my eyes bulged, my lips pressed together lest I accidentally screamed at her. To me, that logic embodied a guise my parents used, on purpose or not, to not take responsibility for their own part in mine and Joey’s pain.

                                      My parents often claimed they’d love me no matter what happened in our shared lifetimes, which made my stomach churn because that statement was a lie and just another guise, like then we owed them forgiveness, and gratefulness, and live, despite Joey turning to drugs because he trusted them more than a live person, despite me running to strangers for an unreliable semblance of stability.

                                      To sum everything up, the very concept of family feels like a giant guilt trip to me. And I’ve decided now: I can forgive Joey because his violence toward me and Seybs was a projection of his anger at our parents. Because he was angry at me by association, rather than anything I’d done or said to him myself.

                                      And I’ve decided that I’m going to face the Lumiose City gym after all. I want to understand what Joey sees in battling, and the Olympia battle, looking back on it, was a biased sham. There’s a million other, more fun activities in Lumiose I could indulge in… but there’s no use ruminating on a part of my past when I can take action. When Joey’s older, I hope he finds the strength to take control of his own happiness like this, too.

                                      Until then, I guess you get to read rants like these, although I didn’t come across quite as flustered in this letter compared to my list experience with Kenneth. I didn’t even cover the overflowing complexity of that list; I lost the need to about halfway through. The walls in our house were so thin, and I was tired of whispering and hiding and muffling my crying so often. I’ve wanted to scream for as long as I can remember, and now that I’ve been given the chance, it’s like I wound you up in anticipation of a tragic play only for the catastrophes I’ve alluded to over and over to subtly die out and ruin the climax.

                                      Thank you for the chance to talk about it, Mark, and your patience with it. I guess screaming, reaching for an audience wasn’t what I needed all this time, just a guarantee of a single person on the other end willing to listen.

                                      Thanks again,
                                      Haley
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                                      diamondpearl876 diamondpearl876 is offline
                                      you can breathe now. x
                                         
                                        Join Date: Jun 2007
                                        Location: Illinois, USA.
                                        Age: 26
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                                        Posts: 1,571
                                        FLYING IN THE DARK

                                        [letter seventeen]

                                        *

                                        August 20

                                        Again, I have no qualms with you forgoing parts of my letter in your own. A handful of topics I consider a priority, however, including that disclosed sunrise. My mind attaches itself to the moon, as a rule, to nighttime and darkness and the unknown, which is eschewed by the concept of artificial lighting that humanity created. In other words, my mind attaches itself to its own thoughts when the material world cannot serve as a distraction unless I allow it to. Sight, humanity’s preferred sense alongside hearing, is prominent precisely because it illuminates the material world and produces a comfortable retreat from our personal haunts. So, my sunrise was an exercise in finding a balance among the dichotomy.

                                        I’d like to open this letter with another sight... not one from the present, nor the recent past… but rather, one from the distant past. Recall the ridiculous claim I projected onto you about my mother bearing me in a seat of quadruplets. By ridiculous, I don’t refer to the content of my claim, per se, only the speed at which I divulged such information to you, with terribly personal details expressed with terrible wording to boot. To rectify that inane mistake of mine now is my intention here.

                                        Quadruplets: four living, breathing children with barely enough mental faculties to realize they possess thumbs, yet conspired to enter the world almost simultaneously. For my group, I was the lone survivor. Why? Certainly I did not conspire for that level of tragedy. To intentionally deprive the world of a soul, living or dead, is a crime deserving of the highest punishment. Who knows what kinds of people would my siblings have grown into during their lifetimes, had they been given the chance? A life lived even halfway, disrupted by a sudden disease, or an accident, cannot declare that it accomplished nothing of significance. Anything better would have sufficed, anything besides exposure to the true miracle of a heartbeat, then rendering it still before its owner could appreciate the ramifications of living.

                                        My parents, they brought me to a magic show once, except I could not focus my attention on the illusionist’s top hat on stage as he claimed it to be the home of one hundred taillow. While the crowd roared at the promise of seeing foreign birds—perhaps Kenneth would buy a ticket or two to his shows?—my siblings occupied my headspace, swimming free in my brain matter as they did in my mother’s womb after my mother whispered to my father rather theatrically that the children three seats away from us needed discipline. Their mother wore a rhinestone necklace, her infant strapped in a carrier fastened around her chest capable of reaching, grabbing, and tugging it while her five-year-old threw his popcorn into the air. The kid was particularly proud when a piece bounced off of another spectator’s face; her laugh was obnoxious to the point where it drowned out the illusionist’s announcements.

                                        But, as if two children weren’t enough to handle, another little girl sat on the opposite side of her mother, arms crossed as if she’d been scolded not long ago. When a fourth and final child returned from the bathroom with his father, I felt an acute yearning for my siblings that, in hindsight, I’d always felt, just under the surface of my skin.

                                        A fair amount of people I confessed this experience to in the past, doubted me. To miss what you never knew appears to be the same as setting yourself up for a letdown, to imagine them walking alongside you with their own identity the same as harvesting your own misery. One could, I suppose, assert the same about the dead. Grief involving escape after escape into memories, and fantasy, but with more information about the late individual at your disposal… Is that healing, or is that perpetuating a spiral that initially began our of your control?

                                        I was of a high school age at that time. A teenage boy shouldn’t have been expressing his concerns outwardly, according to society. But insistence of that caliber stems from viewing empathy as a curse, and selfishness. Silencing populations susceptible to suffering is a way of saying, “I do not want to be responsible for seeing for myself how deep your pain runs, nor do I want the burden of trying to help you, and I don’t want to these truths.” So they answer with a lie, that all emotion can and should be suppressed or confronted alone. I kept quiet, because I had not the energy to replace myths with facts, as most people in my position don’t. I’m unsure if my parents were aware that I remembered my siblings at all; that’s how defunct our household was.

                                        Once the illusionist’s show came to an end, I ducked away from the auditorium, away from my parents. My parents had discovered a new target for their gossip and didn’t notice my departure. So be it, if they needed to engage in arrogant behavior to boost the low self-esteem my failures afflicted them with.

                                        There was no choice but for me to prove to them that living a lie was futile. I had to become worse than a failure and give myself no room for self-deceit; no pretense of goodness in me could prevail. In reality, I was only a dejected son with no friends to his name, no interests or hobbies of value, and no traits to brag about to passers-by on the streets. But I was thoroughly convinced that my role as a son was all or nothing.

                                        At the far end of the theatre’s side wing, I shoved the restroom doors open with my shoulder and darted inside. I launched myself at the sink, indifferent as to whether or not I rammed my head through the leather captain’s mirror. Its sole purpose seemed to be to taunt me with my own reflection. I kept my head low in shame as I turned the faucet on. The cold water surged past my fingertips, slowly transforming until I could splash my face and scald it. When I dared to look up again, my face was flushed. But I’d hardly made a dent in portraying the embarrassment gurgling inside of me.

                                        From my peripheral vision, a bad man I hadn’t noticed before dried his hands with a towel dispenser. He’d forgotten this menial task in favor of staring at me, it seemed. His eyebrows rose so high in response to my frenzy that at once I envisioned them detached from his body and flying over his head.

                                        Droplets drip drip dripped from my fingertips. He continued to stare, as if he’d caught me washing away blood. I stared back.

                                        Eventually, he asked if I was okay, and I said I didn’t know, was I? It didn’t look like it, the man said. All right, he’d caught me after all. My mind was bleeding intrusive thoughts and he’d caught me. So damaged did I look to this man that he spewed forth the bold allegation of me needing something to take off the edge. Like I’d just witnessed a ghastly trauma that required a remedy as soon as possible. How could I explain a sixteen-year-old trauma to him, the experiences of which culminated to form each and every existential piece of me? How could I explain that nothing of me wasn’t consumed by the committed crime of simply being alive?

                                        Let me repeat this, Haley: I never met my siblings. My lack of memories has no bearing on the brain fog which permeates my mind on a consistent basis so much as the fact that there are no memories to recall in which they laughed, play wrestled with me, tattled on me… I had no right to be as upset as I was. But on that day during my second year of high school, the time in my life where my body had, without my permission, signed a contract with puberty, I could not conjure up a reason as to why I should have survived and been given the opportunity of seeing a magic show with my parents.

                                        The ironic thing is, I used my survivor’s guilt as an excuse to say yes to the man’s cocaine. One white line was enough. One second is all it takes for anything to change. I returned to my parents afterward, a slip of paper with an address on it. Just in case that one white line wasn’t enough after all, the man said.

                                        My parents refrained from commenting on my disappearing act. In the car, I remembered too much. I remembered a fabricated reality, so vivid indeed that “reality” is the only apt word for it. My body reeked of overstimulation as my siblings’ individual essences seeped into my organs, like the divine energies said to be bestowed on pokémon by Arceus. Fire, water, grass, all the elements, each of them multiplying the intensity of my senses as if I could experience them, truly, through the eyes of four people simultaneously. Their deaths engulfed me and flooded into me because where else would they go? You may be aware of the strong genetic ties between twins. Although less research focused on quadruplets has been conducted, I assume the tie is only made stronger for them.

                                        The man had, in hindsight, presented four white lines to me—one for each of us, though he couldn’t have known the facts of my birth. Snorting the powder that I did enhanced my life in an indescribable way, albeit temporarily, that once the effects began to fade, it felt as if the inherent foulness of life was fading as well. I didn’t want that foulness back. Still, I was too young to decide for myself whether drugs were a path I wanted to follow; my classroom teachers presented their evidence, and I obeyed their vehement warnings. As such, my addiction did not fester until I honed my personal dissent alongside Laverre’s move tutor.

                                        Being a teenager yourself, you might point out that the opposite mindset is normal of high school students, what with their—supposedly inevitable—rebellious phases. And, being an adult myself, I would point out my lack of unsolicited advice, constructing an argument against you following in my footsteps. This is a core value of mine which I’ve violated before, a feat I convinced myself was done on your behalf. Only a man who is willingly blind, panicked by the idea of knowing himself, is capable of falling for self-deceit at the expense of anyone else.

                                        The same logic especially applies to druggies. They understand the consequences of addiction, and the severity of its halfway status between a physical and mental illness. Yet dealers like the man in the theatre’s bathroom offer you more anyway, and yet addicts who have lost more than they can bear say yes time and time again.

                                        Well, I’d lost more than I could bear. In the car, my parents discussed preparing quiche for dinner, ever oblivious to my plight and what they, too, had lost. Immediately I opened my mouth to say the money spent on quiche ingredients would be wasted, the bathroom man’s offer more enticing as a delicacy. Dealers deal out of malice, greed, and/or the firm belief that suffering should consume the earth. He knew, and I knew, that if I returned, I should have an adequate amount of dough bulging from my wallet. It would not be a deal not for drugs but for milking every remaining ounce of dignity I owned, and every remaining pokédollar. Because he had a business to run—not the respectable kind registered with the Kaloseux government but the kind behind closed doors, where the customers are shedinja in disguise.

                                        We passed a golf course, its grasses greener than an adult oddish’s leaves. A fog churned slow about us, blotching out the nuances of our surroundings along with the evening chill. The world continued to fall away from me until the car vaulted over the driveway curb and we arrived at the place my parents deemed home.

                                        I’d considered it, on the drive home. How my mother, a humanitarians worker in the field of epidemiology, would understand a craving that scratched at my insides. There was no chance she’d say no to me if I asked for two weeks’ worth of allowance early. Combined with my earnings from a part-time job as a receptionist at the local wildlife center, I could return to the bathroom man and undergo the initiation required to officially refer to him as my dealer. It hurt me somewhere to acquiesce and take full advantage of her empathy, but like your mother, Haley, her warmth was scarcely reserved for me. Only strangers and acquaintances, and friends on occasion, seemed to deserve her unconditional compassion.

                                        So, I took the plunge. And she asked me straightaway, what did I need the money for, her eyebrows raised not with skepticism but more with… surprise. I hardly asked my parents for anything. Clothes and shelter and the like were easy work for my parents, and a given for any child, while learning emotional intelligence was an unspoken responsibility of mine.

                                        A smile tugged at her lips as I stood there, dumbfounded and unable to follow through yet with what I’d set out to do. I shifted, putting more weight on my right knee and tearing further the loose threads in the wool carpet with the heel of my shoe. Motioning for me to enter the living room with her, my mother seated herself in one of the two chairs adjacent to the couch. Their wingback style, and the way they tilted more toward each other than the centerpiece television, reminded me of a therapist’s office. The room smelt vaguely of soot from my father’s ashtray nearby. My fight or flight response kicked in, urgent as a fire alarm.

                                        I sputtered out jumbled words expressing that I had a craving for La Fable, a café popular in Lumiose for its late night hours and perfect outdoor view of the moon. Once a month, local trainers brought their clefairy and clefable to entertain the guests with tribal dances and background humming. For good measure, I added how I would ask a friend if they wanted to join me. Her eyes lit up, unaware of the fact that my social choices were limited to the nightmarish influences parents warn their kids about.

                                        My chest locked up at the sight of my mother enamored by the falsest of hopes. The next few moments passed as a blur. Soon my mother stood crouched at my side, one hand on my knee because I had unwittingly fallen to my knees.

                                        She asked if I was okay, the tenderness in her voice gone, when in a situation like this is when I needed the softness of a heart the most. Surely this sounds familiar, Haley? My mother, perhaps, thought of my weakness as an unwanted intrusion because she dealt with pain enough at work. If the misery followed in her shadow after hours, then home and work must have become inseparable to her.

                                        I had a knack for maintaining my composure, usually. Cocaine’s downward spiral cracked that barrier, and my mother realizing the source of the manic look in my eyes shattered it.

                                        My goal of retrieving money discarded, I said she was right, that I should’ve eaten lunch before the magic show. Now I felt dizzy because the rebellious side of me thought he was cool.

                                        My mother asked again, “What do you need the money for?” Her words this time rang fierce, and damning. She squeezed my shoulder and I knew I couldn’t run anymore. As if I’d flitted far to begin with.

                                        But so frozen was I that she asked three more times before I screamed NEVER MIND and found solitude in the bathroom, where I puked my guts out. Not even my organs could stand me anymore; they’d served me well enough and deserved a freedom I could not offer without the so-called crime of suicide.

                                        The greatest surprise that day was not how the illusionist locked himself in a box and commanded his scyther to x-scissor it a total of 50 times. (He came out unscathed, for the record.) No, the greatest surprise was calming my breathing so I could leave the bathroom, then finding my mother just outside with her back against the wall.

                                        I wished my siblings had survived without me instead, or that I could switch places with them. They were stillborn, Haley. I used hyperbole to disguise that and more. As for me… still born, stillborn. No difference, as far as I can see.

                                        But that’s how strong my mother’s benevolence toward me was. To this day I haven’t touched cocaine. My drugs of choice on the streets were

                                        Never mind. It’s… unbecoming of me to disclose details about my past cravings to someone like you. I substituted one drug category for another, that much should be obvious by now. Otherwise, just know that two living creatures, at two separate points in time, pulled me out of my flight on the wings of despair: my mother, whom I unforgivably betrayed by victimizing myself a second time, and Enmity. Enmity, he withstood my disappearing acts where I drifted in and out of reality. He shrugged them off as another part of our performance, just one specially designed for him. My mother, I can’t risk facing her for fear of relapsing—yes, behind bars, even.

                                        Which brings us back to the present. It’s funny, how I can blur the lines of a disappearing act without the influence of drugs. How could this happen? With that far back into my past rushing to me like flowing water, a specter must be lurking nearby, exploiting us prisoners when a wink of vulnerability shows itself. Perhaps the specter is a conglomeration of all our insecurities; the above memories do not feel as if they’re mine, at any rate, despite the details. No, it feels as if I am intensely empathizing with an isolated being that happens to be attached to me. My siblings and I, we could be taking turns sharing this body, too, I suppose…

                                        I can’t maintain this circular thought process. Please give me the opportunity to reread your letter and witness your pleasant, soothing handwriting once more…

                                        Ah. Well. You broke a barrier of your own, as my mother did with me, although you managed the strength of it alone, and gracefully. Your reactions to your family history are valid, if you don’t mind me stating so. Any doubts I begrudged against Seybs for his apparent lack of loyalty have been dispelled. I also found myself wanting to console Joey more so than I thought possible. That is the bond between recovering addicts, I suppose, one he may have felt when recounting to you his scarce but vivid recollections of me.

                                        But how strange it is, and how natural still, to know I could read between the lines, or analyze one’s silences, then get no closer to the truth of what you wanted or needed to say. That marvel popped into my head when reading your confessions. (Is that the right word to describe them? It is not my place to say, here.) I could have guessed the whole picture of your home life and been wrong because I projected my own biased experiences onto yours, or for another inane reason a psychologist would happily rave about. Pieces are missing even now, but they do not belong to me, or even to Kenneth, whom is at least lucky to have heard from your lips the distress that has plagued you for years.

                                        Thank Kenneth for me, would you? “Alone” was an inadequate choice of words; I foresee a rebuttal if I do not correct myself. Thank him for listening in a way, and for offering physical comfort which a con like me cannot extend. Were I not behind bars, I might be in his place, traveling by your side with no particular need to write. I might’ve helped you where he has and then some. Quite presumptuous of me, I know. Jealousy is atrociously ugly… if that’s what this is at all. I haven’t the fortitude to dig through my skull and pry an answer from it.

                                        Your parents and your grandmother, I feel less tender toward. Absolutely, the latter has done her fair share of helping you cope. It’s unfortunate that her ranking in the family places unspoken boundaries which she feels compelled to respect—even at your expense. From the way you speak of your father, he is unaware of the favor his mother continues to afford him, adding insult to injury. He reminds me of an audino who has the means to pay attention to wonders others would miss, yet chooses to join the masses in missing them. As for your mother? Frankly, she worries me because of her profession and her history of toying with another’s wellbeing. The breeding industry would exile her without hesitation, knowing full well how pokémon which resemble ordinary plant or animal life inadvertently trigger in non-trainers an egregious amount of carelessness.

                                        I would comment more if my hands weren’t shaking. My longhand’s not quite as readable this time around, and I apologize for any difficulty you experience in reading my words. Inform me of my blindness if this isn’t the case, but I cannot find an answer to the question I posed at the end of my last letter. Repeating it might send me over the edge, so I must refrain, and I must use my remaining willpower to ignore the guilt suddenly rioting in my head, claiming I only reciprocated on the family theme to vie for your attention. Single line questions may quickly be forgotten; an entire letter, however, cannot—unless it is not read from the start.

                                        I need to send these pages before I crumple them and throw them in the trash bin. Those pictures you mentioned sound nice, as do adjectives which bring the views before you to life, but what I need right now is your words.

                                        Mark
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                                        diamondpearl876 diamondpearl876 is offline
                                        you can breathe now. x
                                           
                                          Join Date: Jun 2007
                                          Location: Illinois, USA.
                                          Age: 26
                                          Nature: Careful
                                          Posts: 1,571
                                          FLYING IN THE DARK

                                          [letter eighteen]

                                          *

                                          August 26

                                          Well, first I just wanted to echo the good old “thanks for listening” song and dance. Thanks mostly for not judging me too hard. Admittedly I had to force myself not to skim your letter because for a while it was like maybe I didn’t write about my family after all, or you didn’t read. Pausing to close my eyes and keep them fixated in one place, I reminded myself that you reciprocating was an answer by itself, probably, and if not, silence is sometimes the best answer anyway. Interpreting silence is… hit and miss, in my experience. I only know for sure that nothing good’s come of assuming the worst, so! I’ve always seen the best in you, and why stop now?

                                          That goes for the murderer question, Mark, or the abuser question, or whatever high-profile-crime-you-think-you’re-most-capable-of question. To put it bluntly, I couldn’t believe sent me such a demanding question, but if I look closer, there’s a pattern of you trying to plant a seed of doubt in me. Maybe purposely, maybe not. If a prisoner wanted to lie about his sentence, addiction would be a convenient go-to, I guess. My silence should’ve made my argument clear enough, yet it appeared to make you feel invalidated instead. Interpretation, like I said. Nasty subjective stuff.

                                          But yeah, I know the guilt of what happened to your starters trails you like a shadow. A shadow you’ve befriended and held hands with, because who else in that prison is going to bother? I’m… disgusted at your perception of yourself, how it reflects a bone deep sadness lodged so deep it seems to need to be surgically removed. Oh, er, let me fix that. I’m not disgusted at you, just at the ways a human body enjoys deceiving itself. There’s no need to compete for my attention, Mark. There’s no one even to compete with; yourself doesn’t count.

                                          Honestly, the worst I’d expect from you—did expect from you, when I finally translated my family issues onto paper—is a lecture. You know, because you’re an adult, and the other adults in my life felt obligated to save me from the world they’ve even birthed their own kids into! Oh, you’ve given me some talks? rants? speeches? about culture and whatnot, sure. But not in a tone that implies you’d resent me if I didn’t follow your advice, or in a way that you don’t trust me to learn on my own along the way. That’s different! That’s a reciprocal exchange! …Is that the right term?

                                          Anyway. Don’t forget you chose fairies for the coin tossup, and you won! I, uh, couldn’t have predicted you’d score literal fairy-types. Funny how that works out, though. You promised to keep your chin up if you won, and with Rowe actually at your side to help, I’d say you have the means to try twice as hard.

                                          So I don’t know if it was a coincidence or not, but the night I read your letter I dreamed of chains. There was a silhouette of a mannequin, surrounded by blackness save for a red carpet below their feet with glittering gold trim. A chain was secured to their chest and back, evenly measured in either direction, lined up perfectly. (When I woke up, in my grogginess I tried to envision what procedure could ram a chain through a person’s bones, plus what tools could be so precise.) Occasionally a shadow pulled at the chains. The carpet below scrunched up until the abyss eventually devoured it, sharpedo-like teeth and all. Then there was nowhere else for the silhouette to go except where the chains wanted it to. The chest chain rocketed the silhouette into their future; the back chain hauled it into the past. That’s the symbolism my dream self thought of, anyway.

                                          Thankfully my dream self is nothing like my real self. She was an apathetic bystander watching from, uh, wherever, as if the silhouette were really a mere mannequin. But I spent that morning thinking of your three lost siblings, the image of you flashing through my mind in replacement of the silhouette in my dream. Yeah, that’s right—and I don’t know what you look like! And although I couldn’t make out the shadow tugging you this way and that, it had to be your siblings.

                                          It’s nice to know your mom did care, once. If she doesn’t now, I mean. Something tells me your parents care(d) in their own way, like mine, but they were blind to the way you wanted to be loved. And the impression I get is that they’re not around now because of that neglect. That you absolved yourself of the initiative needed to stay in touch with them. I could be off base, and I won’t pry. I just… Well, either way I get where you’re coming from is all.

                                          Once upon a time my parents did care, I think. Then they agreed on an unspoken pact to act like they didn’t care, a charade that persisted so long that their callousness became the truth. Proof of that is all over the house. The wall where my dad used to mark our heights as we got older was painted over with a sickly green, a shade or two lighter than the rest of the living room. The color reminds me of my mom’s plants on the brink of decay.

                                          By the way, my grandmother compared Seybs’s own aloofness to my family situation. Like, he lost his predatory and battling instincts because of being domesticated from birth. I don’t know why that disappoints me. Because Seybs is missing out on a sport most pokémon are eager to engage in? Or a more selfish reason—because I lost out on the chance to bond with Joey through battling? Regardless, I’m his parent, kind of, and I accept him anyway, and I do my best to give him a decent life.

                                          It’s just as well, honestly. Joey would’ve been the better trainer for Seybs if he set his heart on battling. I’ve battled Clemont at the Lumiose City gym now, and… I don’t think I understand Joey any more than I did before, but seeing through his eyes, metaphorically speaking, giving me something grand to talk about the next time I see him! Or write to him or phone him, which I should get around to doing. Soon.

                                          I’ll tell you first, of course! I’ve already got pen to paper with you in mind, so! I see no reason not to. Shuffling through the jam-packed streets to reach the center of the city, I stopped to notice a couple spectacles. Me and Kenneth have been here a while, but I’ve spent too much time with my head down low while he got bored of waiting for me to perk up and dropped by tourist areas without me. He could’ve just been giving me space, too, I guess, but even I was bored of my own misery. Anyway, so I wanted a turn to explore more of Lumiose, now that my head felt lighter.

                                          You grew up in Lumiose, so describing the city from top to bottom seems like overkill. Not to mention that I’d need to spend months booking tours and preparing for field trips, to see the full picture. About all these overpoweringly tall buildings, though—is the air of importance they give off justified? And then, the more ordinary scenery: ice cream vendors singing in the hopes of attracting customers, kids jumping hopscotch, a soccer team of toddlers in green uniforms practicing with a sandshrew… Who knows what the sandshrew’s role was—I’m just glad it probably isn’t getting hurt thanks to its tough skin—but I caught a glimpse of it rolling without a toddler’s feet making contact with it. I suppose that’s one way to teach kids the game and direct muscle memory.

                                          At some point, mine and Kenneth’s bags were overflowing with newspapers. Paperboys were stationed at each corner and insisted on handing us each a copy no matter how hard we shook our heads. It turned out all right in the end because my pokémon bonded over shredding the paper to bits. Ribbons was strangely meticulous, only chewing the parts without print on them, and Kai spit occasionally as if he despised the taste of his “snack”.

                                          Out of boredom, and as a distraction from my imminent gym challenge, I did check out the headlines to see what was going on elsewhere in the world. Yeah, I’m one of those people who ignore the actual articles. Guilty as charged. “Greninja and Staryu Shuriken Duo Wipe the Floor” inspired some hope in me. If water-types can beat Clemont, why not flying-types! A picture of the Prism Tower’s reception desk separated the article into two blocks, displaying a painting of the battle’s climax. You bet I scanned the place when I was there—no spoilers on the outcome! While I can’t say I’m thrilled about the gym circuit as a whole still, I’d love to impress my parents with a memorialized achievement like that.

                                          This headline reminded me of Olympia: “Local Meowstic Uses Psychic Powers to Rearrange Furniture in the Middle of the Night to Confuse Trainer in the Morning.” I cringed on instinct, but it amused me nonetheless. Is it petty of me to want Olympia’s meowstic to annoy her like that? (Rhetorical question—yes, yes it is.) Besides, we can assume that Olympia’s own psychic powers, if they’re real, make her immune to pranks. Just like the one she played on me. Darn.

                                          Kenneth overheard a rumor about how Olympia and Clemont often team up as part of the League’s innovation department. Olympia and/or her pokémon can scan blueprints and outlines of Clemont’s inventions, then construct an elaborate simulation to examine how the design would plan out. Doing this, she saves Kalos a ton of money and resources every year. It’d have been too easy to screw up the complicated latticework on the Prism Tower, so… Makes sense, but I haven’t been able to shake the feeling that Olympia’s been following me during my journey. Or not following me, just, I don’t know, knowing. And judging and gossiping to everyone in Anistar who will listen, which is everybody, because Arceus forbid people find things worth talking about.

                                          So, the rumor only multiplied my determination. I’d defeated half of the League duo, against the odds. Strutting up to the Prism Tower, though—don’t laugh at me—I forgot my resolve for a second in favor of the childish urge to touch its steel frame and see if it’d shock me. Kenneth rolled my eyes as my facial expression apparently did a 180. He knew what I didn’t, as usual. That is, he knew how the Prism Tower was tempered with ground-type energy, to protect it from damage. A gym leader can’t possibly battle so much the building would in danger! …That’s what I would have said if I didn’t know the true destructive power of pokémon that people whisper about.

                                          Clemont himself looked harmless. I don’t know his age exactly, but I’d pin him for a young adult, mid-20s at best. Yet he sports a blue jumpsuit like a public school janitor would. (Yeah, I didn’t attend public school, but I snuck into Anistar’s backdoors one rebellious Monday night. It was unlocked, as I expected, because I eavesdropped on a couple claiming that the best hiding spot for runaways was the school auditorium. The janitor scheduled for then apparently “lost” the keys on purpose, every shift of his. But when I showed up, no one was there and in my shame I never went again. On my way out I saw a janitor’s uniform lying haphazardly on the floor outside the storage room.)

                                          Clemont was tough! The statistics on his battles must be insane! But I got to see the kid in him. Once I caught the upper hand, his face turned stern, and he pouted with a stiff lip the rest of the time. His commands tumbled out of his mouth in sputters. Fiddling with Olympia’s badge dangling from my ears, I showed my insecurity in a subtler way. My rising confidence means, I think, that I can stop modeling and cleaning the famous proof of my victory. The last thing I want to do is advertise her gym, anyway. The less traffic the League circuit gets, and the less trainers exposed to her façade, the better. Kenneth agrees, knowing the power of exposure for brand names.

                                          I hope that last paragraph didn’t spoil the battle’s ending. If not, that last sentence definitely did. All right, I’ll spit it out. I won! Clemont made a big mistake, see, because he didn’t know I’m an expert on flying-types (or at least, I have more knowledge of them than the average person). He opened with his emolga in our two-on-two battle. As if a half-bird flaunting its advantage over my own would intimidate me.

                                          On impulse, my fingers clutched Seybs’s pokéball, what with him being my only teammate who’s faced Joey’s temper with me. I swear I could feel his pokéball shrink, too. Ribbons’s ball could inform me when he was sick or healthy, remember? So to me, Seybs was communicating to me by recoiling instinctively. Disobeying me outright wasn’t an option for him. My selfishness vanished, and I sent Ribbons to the battlefield instead.

                                          Hmm, I gave up the secret of us winning too easily. But winning Clemont’s gym badge wasn’t the main accomplishment of the battle! I can’t hold that excitement in, either. There’s not enough time in the day to ever share everything I want to with you, Mark. I’ll just have to focus on the best parts. Let’s see… Ribbons is almost as tall as me now! He won’t fit on my shoulder anymore. In fact, if he undergoes another growth spurt—not the evolution kind, but similar to a kid’s—he’ll loom over my shoulder. Honestly? I’m not sure I’ve processed his xatu self yet. That’s right! HE’S A XATU NOW! Is there anything else a natu can evolve into? That’s Professor Sycamore’s job to figure out. But yeah, I don’t know. I forced myself to focus on the battle itself as best I could, but I kept noticing how his body shape’s so different from before, he could be mistaken for a human participating in a costume contest.

                                          Compared to Ribbons, Clemont’s emolga zipped through the air, maneuvering within the battlefield’s boundary lines with a finesse a natu could only dream of. The emolga taunted him by poking the underside of his feathers. It could’ve sniped Ribbons’s ability to fly in a flash! So I chose Ribbons... why, exactly? For his psychic powers, of course, which emit energy that can spread as far as Ribbons wants. You could pick up the quietest of sound waves from the sidelines, that’s how much effort he put into catching the emolga. Still, the emolga seemed to see Ribbons’s psychic attacks floating about and tried to dodge them haphazardly. Or maybe that’s just how confused it was?

                                          Anyway, it took a whopping ten minutes for the emolga to shoot off an electric-type attack. Clemont looked on, silent. His pokémon must’ve grown tired of waiting and playing games. I can admire a creature that takes matters into its own hands, but, uh, the electricity hurt Ribbons. A lot. Scorched a fair bit of his left wing, even, and then flying was out of the question. Stuck on the ground—or, if you want to view it in an optimistic way, Ribbons was stuck several hundred feet up in the air—it was all he could do to hop on his tiny feet to fend off the emolga.

                                          I needed a new tactic. Something that wasn’t just psychic, psychic, psychic. Clemont and his emolga didn’t see the ominous wind coming. The gusts cast a great shadow on the battlefield from above while Clemont yelled about closing in on Ribbons for a quick attack—you know, to rub in how he didn’t need the typing advantage to win. Ribbons rivaled Seybs’s stoicism as he feigned a painful expression, just until the emolga plummeted to the ground from his ghostly downward winds. The eerie air spinning around the emolga, sapping its strength, seemed straight out of a horror movie.

                                          Ribbons huffed in triumph, which made the emolga seethe once the ominous wind finally dissipated. And that’s when it delivered the strongest thunderbolt attack it could muster before passing out. Ribbons, though? Ribbons refused to pass out, too, despite the direct hit. The electricity’s radiance lasted so long, I thought for a split second he had to be done for. In reality, his body expanded, and his wings spread further than my arms would outstretched, fingertip to fingertip. Fresh white feathers replaced his electric burns—he could fly again during the battle! And he can fly longer distances now, I bet, so I don’t have to worry about him anymore!

                                          Ribbons’s pride prevented him from calling the round a draw. I, as his trainer, chose to recall him for the next one anyway. Pokémon evolution’s a mystery to me, but it can’t be too farfetched to assume there’s a learning curve that comes with controlling a new form. Not to mention he’d be up against a healthy foe! His injuries were minor but enough for me to hesitate. With Clemont’s gym rules, I could send him out again later, and after I explained that to Ribbons, he quit sulking. I did him another favor by letting him stand by my side during Kai’s match, where he preened leftover pin feathers and explored the audience area by walking instead of his usual hopping.

                                          The battle referee requested for me to choose my next fighter before Clemont. Ribbons, Seybs, Kai… A pidgeotto, a natu-turned-xatu, and a noibat… That’s my team. That’s who I’ve got to work with, usually. Not so for battles. Kai was my next—and only—choice. And in hindsight, it would’ve been smarter to recall Ribbons after Clemont revealed his dedenne. Can you believe it? A double type disadvantage! I glanced at Seybs, saw his face scrunched up. He understood the consequences of our unspoken contract at that moment, I think.

                                          Right, so… Dragon/flying versus fairy/electric. Okay, Kai’s dragon genes cancel out any vulnerability to electricity, actually. I forget that a lot. Clemont, of course, had a plan in mind. Judging by my performance with Ribbons, I wasn’t the quickest at thinking on my feet and responding to battles of speed. And dedenne are small, agile creatures—like elmoga, just on their feet instead of with wings.

                                          Kai’s air cutter slowed the dedenne down, at least. Touching a ripple wouldn’t have hurt by much, but still, its own attacks would dwindle in power. Clemont smirked when I ordered Kai to use dragon pulse while the dedenne, as I’d hoped, missed the memo and froze in the middle of a parabolic charge out of confusion. That’s exactly when Kai made his move! He dove past the dedenne, brushing past its whispers to gauge whether the electric-typed had stored up energy in them. His paw twitching proved that we should be careful with a close range strategy.

                                          I gave the order for Kai to go with the tail instead, and he turned with a level of dexterity that made my chest balloon with the drive I carried with me as I stormed out of Anistar. I caught myself standing on my tippy toes, wanting to fly high with my pokémon when all I could do was cheer from the trainer’s box.

                                          From behind the dedenne, Kai fanned out his wings, reaching forward with his paws as far as he could. When the time came, he grabbed the dedenne’s tail and bit down on it with his fangs. The dedenne, already under duress from the spontaneity of its opponent, let out a yelp. The electricity in its cheek pouches bolted forward, colliding with the ground and achieving nothing but depleting its energy reserves. Kai got a chuckle out of me when he spit a piece of the dedenne’s tail fur out of his mouth.

                                          Surprisingly, Clemont called for another parabolic charge. The dedenne didn’t, well, charge this time around. An electrical dome surrounded the battlefield within seconds, and unless Kai lay low on the ground, a barrage of low level currents threatened to wear him down. His acrobatics move, aptly named by the League, served for him to sidestep several shots. I chewed my nails out of nervousness. The chances of Kai getting paralyzed were pretty high… We had to end it, and quick!

                                          But the dedenne caught him in a play rough attack, halting his flight, wrestling him. Completely in control, the dedenne hauled Kai to the edge of the dome, where its intensity was the most extreme. Kai pulled through because of the dedenne’s tail… again. Its wire-like thinness was foolproof for Kai’s teeny claws! I didn’t even order Kai around; all the credit goes to him, here. He waited for an opening, and then, clutching the dedenne’s tail, he threw it straight off of the battlefield. Now, out of bounds regulations aren’t that strict, or else fat and tall pokémon would rarely be practical choices. It’s based on timing, so I warned Kai about that, to be safe, to not have the victory snatched from him over small print. Still, he concocted his next strategy without me: bombarding the dedenne with air cutter after air cutter, thrusting the dedenne back as it tried to scramble back into the arena.

                                          Clemont said nothing, resigned. Either he didn’t think of a counterattack or he didn’t think that continuing the battle was worth it. At least his frustrated demeanor turned cool and sober, hinting to me that he deemed me worthy of a gym badge. And he crossed the battlefield and handed it to me without hesitation, unperturbed by the stray parabolic charges. Who knows, Mark? Maybe he was grateful I inspired an idea for him to invent or something. All I know is that the atmosphere was way different from when I first walked in and formally announced how I wanted to challenge him to a gym battle.

                                          Clemont hinted at another thing, too, that the “information in his system” about me impressed him. Being the fifth leader in the gym circuit, smack dab in the middle, he’s probably used to battling amateurs and professionals alike—just not newbies like me. He didn’t elaborate, but he had to mean the fact that I only had Olympia’s badge to my name.

                                          …When did he have time to learn that? The referee must have informed him. Whatever. Technically, I wasn’t supposed to be strong enough, or experienced enough, to defeat him. But it wasn’t about me. I simply kept an eye on things and had a wider view of the battlefield that Kai didn’t. Therefore, I could warn him and cover for his blind sides, and we could work together to overcome a foe we ultimately knew little about. Because I didn’t do my research before barging my way up the Prism Tower, didn’t go to the library and look up Clemont’s roster, then each of my potential opponent’s encyclopedia pages.

                                          My pokémon getting to exercise their wings was a bonus. I mostly wanted to see from Joey’s point of view, like I said. And I think I discovered what appeals to him about battling: the helping aspect. Too often we watch on as friends and family are struggling, and we feel useless. We don’t know what to do, or firmly believe that whatever we do, it won’t be nearly enough. Never mind the destructive habit of taking on the responsibility of other people’s burdens at the expense of yourself. During a battle, at least, there is something you can do. Always.

                                          I bet Joey felt useless in our family situation. I know I did. Our parents projected their mistakes and issues onto us, and though they never outright said anything was our fault, they implied it so hard that we wanted to compensate for the shortcomings we believed we had but really didn’t. I’ve wondered a lot, what is it that’s so wrong with me that things turned out the way they did? That I haven’t found an answer yet means it’s possible an answer doesn’t exist.

                                          Despite winning, despite my help, Kai seemed upset after we left the Prism Tower. I bent down to his level, at which point Kai pointed a wing at Ribbons. He was jealous that Ribbons had evolved and not him! I daresay Kai’s my star battler, and yeah, he has more experience than Ribbons because of that. How could I explain to him that dragons grow much, much slower? Psychic-types, they might grow too fast in comparison. Must be the insane combination of physical and mental strength, when dragons thrive on muscle alone.

                                          I wanted to cheer Kai up and reward Ribbons, so as a celebration I treated everyone to a restaurant we already knew we loved: the Restaurant Le Nah! It’s an ovation dinner theater sort of place, where you watch battles. There’s a movie screen at the far end of the wall for special events (AKA, real movies) and a glass screen between the seating area and the battlefield… to ensure no one’s steak is made extra well done thanks to a flamethrower shooting by. And that’d be the least of anyone’s worries!

                                          Anyway, me and Kenneth found seats near an open area for my pokémon to relax and eat. Seybs, of course, chose my shoulder, and Ribbons prepared to join him until he realized he’d crush me with his evolved size. Ribbons and Kai got to bond over witnessing a double battle for the first time. Gesturing with his claws, Kai helped Ribbons forget all about my shoulder, ousting an old comforting quirk with a new one. Ribbons murmured to Kai in response, unmoving for the most part. I imagined him as a storyteller, narrating what the once—or twice!—in a lifetime experience of evolution was like, so that Kai can look forward to it.

                                          In my hands I fiddled with my new badge, wondering where in Lumiose I could buy the materials to transform it into an earring like I did with Olympia’s. Clemont’s and Olympia’s badges… don’t match. Different shapes, different colors. I’m sure I’ll look goofy, especially to Kenneth, as conscious of appearances as he is. He shrunk back when he heard my plan to wear them both simultaneously, but it’s okay. I’m happy.

                                          ~ Haley
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