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TEEN: Black Heart, Bright Soul

Princess of Dorkness
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A story written by Misfit Angel, with input from stormislandgal89, and beta reading/occasional edits by Paige Arcana

Welcome to Black Heart, Bright Soul! This is a story that has been in the works in some form or another for over ten years -- taking bits and pieces from various projects I've had over the years, such as Storm Island and both incarnations of Land of the Roses. I'm hoping this is the last time I have to restart this story, but... well, it's a tradition at this point! :p

Black Heart, Bright Soul is set in the fictional Kingdom of Lanark, a land inspired primarily by Scottish, Irish, Welsh and to a lesser extent English culture and geography. I've spent nearly three years building the Kingdom of Lanark as a unique and varied setting with a deep national history, wide range of cultures and a touch of real world hopelessness. The story blends a modern, technologically-advanced society with elements of both traditional and high fantasy, combining the two into (hopefully) a fairly unique world.

The story focuses on two protagonists, Andrea Dennison and Kimberly Fairbrooke. Andrea is an aspiring biological researcher who is eager to reap the results of her hard work and get her dream career off of the ground. Kimberly is a young and wealthy socialite who is searching for her purpose in life, and thinks she might have found it in the field of Pokémon Coordination. As the two work together in the interests of personal discovery, they're supported by a wide cast of characters with their own dreams and ambitions; a clashing mix of personalities sets the stage for love, anguish, anger and most importantly, fun!

An important note about this story is that, while it's set in the Pokémon universe, the focus is on its human cast first and foremost. Friendships and romance will be a key plot point of this story, but I'm hesitant to class it as a shipping story as it'll be more than just that. I'm attempting to make it more Pokémon-centric compared with previous iterations of the story, but I'm still trying to find my footing with that.

- Content warnings -
The following will crop up at some point. Individual chapters in which they apply will be marked.
[ very strong language ] :: [ graphic violence ]
[ references to drug and alcohol abuse ] :: [ references to anorexia and other body image issues ]
[ minor, mild, moderate and major sexually suggestive content and innuendos ] :: [ depictions of workplace sexual harassment ] :: [ references to nudity ]

- Content tags -
What will you find within Black Heart, Bright Soul? This list is not complete, and there is more to come!
[ original characters ] :: [ original region ] :: [ "fakemon" ]
[ primary focus on interpersonal drama ] [ secondary focus on shipping ] [ tertiary focus on pokemon training and coordination ]

Table of Contents
Part I: The Shadow

  • Prologue I - The Wilted Flower
    A young biology enthusiast has been contacted by a staff member of a prestigious scientific research center and given an opportunity to prove her worth. She's not certain she has what it takes, however.
  • Chapter 1 - First Impressions
    Andrea arrives at the Reiland Institute to meet her potential future boss and discuss the contract work she'll be helping with.
  • Chapter 2 - Remember, A Rose Has Thorns
    It's a long walk through the beautiful highlands of Alstan County towards the village of Rosewater Falls, but even the most peaceful-looking countryside has its hidden dangers.
  • Chapter 3 - The Third Wheel
    Having arrived in Rosewater Falls just after sunset, Andrea is faced with the reality that she'll have to share a room with a couple she doesn't know.
  • Chapter 4 - Wings in the Wild
  • Chapter 5 - The Winds of Winter
  • Interlude I - wiltedlilacx

Part II: The Shining Star
  • Prologue II - The Idol
 
Last edited:
Prologue I: The Wilted Flower
Princess of Dorkness
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- Content warnings -
[ mild sexually suggestive content and innuendos ]

- Content notes -
The contents of this chapter are largely similar to that of Prologue: The Wilted Flower of Land of the Roses 2.0, with a few minor changes and additions.


"Always keep an eye out for those who don't believe in themselves. Encourage them, nurture them; they usually turn out to be among our greatest minds."
~ Rose League Champion Robin Spencer (December 7th, 1992)


May 12th
Aughrim, Kingdom of Lanark


"You'll never get another opportunity like this..." a young woman told herself as she sat at the vanity in her bedroom. She pushed her long blonde hair out of her eyes, took a deep breath, and tried to maintain eye contact with her reflection, but she found it difficult. The person staring back at her seemed so different compared to who she was just a month previously -- bright eyed and ready for the stellar opportunity ahead of her, rather than depressed, defeated and ready for it all to just end. "You have to do this..."

On the edge of the vanity was her laptop, and an e-mail that she had received over a week ago was on the screen:

Subject: Greetings, Ms. Dennison! Information about your application to the Reiland Institute
Date: April 29th, 12:17 PM
From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]

Hello, Andrea! Thank you for sending in an employment application to the Reiland Institute! I am Patrick Adelaide, Chief of Staff of the Reiland Institute's Biological Sciences and Research Department. It's a long title, so you can just call me Patrick!

Dr. Reiland and myself have gone over your application in great detail. She is impressed by your accomplishments and achievements at such a young age, but has some concerns about how well you'd fit in at the Institute. She has asked me for input regarding your application, and we've come to an agreement regarding your interest in working here: we want to see your work ethic up close, and are inviting you to participate in some of the Institute's contract work, supervised by myself (and fully paid, we don't do the unpaid intern thing!), before we make a final decision regarding your application.

When you get this message, please call me and we'll discuss some of the finer details regarding both your application and the work we'll have you handling. My office number is 44-1-772-9128. If you can't reach me there, my personal number is 44-2-654-1173. I want to stress early that we'll be covering your travel and living expenses for this trial assignment, since we understand that you're currently living in Aughrim, and this work may take a few days to complete.

Looking forward to hearing from you, and congratulations for making it past the first hurdle of the employment process! Most applicants don't get this far, so don't procrastinate with getting in touch!

Patrick Adelaide
Reiland Institute Chief of Staff​

She had read that e-mail nearly a dozen times since receiving it, and even spoken with the person who had sent it, but she still couldn't believe it; ever since she was a little girl, from the moment she performed her first chemical reaction in her parents' tool shed, she'd dreamed of one day working in one of the major sciences -- pushing the bounds of current knowledge and discovering new things. Her interest in chemistry had waned during her childhood and given way towards her interest in Pokémon-related biology, but the dream remained the same. After fourteen long years of intense work, countless hours spent studying and endless determination, that dream was finally within her grasp.

So close... and so easy to fall short on, a deeply troubling concern that she couldn't shake.

"It's only the most prestigious research center in the kingdom, and you were only expelled from university... Not to mention all the other shit that's gone wrong since the start of the year..."

Light, tingly pain radiated outward from her hands as her black fingernails dug into the hard oaken surface of the vanity. Her eyes drifted upward and met those of her reflection once again.

"But you can do this, Andrea! You have to do this... Otherwise it's back to square one, and you can't afford to start back there again..."

As she stared at herself in the mirror, she debated about how to present herself. Her options were limited by what she had, limitations which were created by her limited wealth -- which in turn was created by her limited work experience. She looked down at the basket of clothes beside the vanity, and most of what was in it was black; a little bit of red here, some lavender there, and a splash of grey in between, but still mostly black. Buried at the bottom of the basket was the only piece that wasn't: the spring green off-the-shoulder skater dress that she wore to her high school prom. It was hardly appropriate for first impressions at her dream job, and even then likely didn't fit her anymore.

"Guess I'll be wearing black for this..." she commented as she lifted her mascara brush and began to work on her eyelashes. "Not that I'm complaining..."

As she put the finishing touches on her mascara, there was a knock at the door, and a voice came from the other side. "Andi? Can I come in?"

She lowered her mascara brush and smiled. "Of course!"

The door swung open and a pudgy young man with shaggy, shoulder-length brown hair stepped in. He averted his eyes as soon as he saw how little she was wearing. "Oh! Wow! Thought you'd be more dressed than that by now."

She giggled. "I'm still trying to decide on what I should wear..." she answered as she carefully drew a wing shape of smokey charcoal eyeshadow over her left eye. "Pretty sure it'll be my Misfit Angel Enchantress dress."

The man's face contorted with skepticism. "You sure that's wise? You realize you're going to be spending a couple days with these folks, right? Not going to a rave down at The Lair?"

She sighed. "You're right, but what other option do I have? Besides, that's who I am," she returned, starting the winged eyeshadow over her right eye. That smile returned to her face. "And besides, who do I have to thank for that lesson, eh ol' buddy ol' pal? 'Be true to who you are'?"

He laughed. "Okay, you've got a point there. Still, you've known about this opportunity for a couple weeks, you didn't think to pick up anything more... professional looking? It could still be black, just not as... you know, slutty."

"Have you forgotten that we're going some nights without dinner just to make our rent payments? I can't afford to buy a new dress, even from a charity shop."

"Hey, I could have set aside a few silver roses for --"

"Webster! Just drop it," she barked with a tinge of annoyance in her voice. "You know how much being jobless for the past five months has torn me apart, and you know how much I don't like being reminded of that. Besides, I like dressing that way."

"Right, sorry."

She shook her head. "Forgiven. It's impossible to be mad at you." She finalized her eyeshadow and turned to look at him. "So... How do they look? Even enough? A little too heavy on the right, maybe? I always make that mistake..."

"Looks pretty even to me."

"That's a surprise." She put down her eyeshadow brush and held her hand aloft in front of her. "My hands are trembling..."

"Nervous?"

"Nervous..." she said with a half-hearted laugh. "You don't even need to ask that. Hell yes I am! The last four years of my life have led to this -- no, all fourteen years I spent in school have. Those years are going to be judged, and hard. Something from my past is going to slip through and sink this chance, I just know it. If it's not the obvious fact that I was expelled during my PhD program because I couldn't handle the pressure, it's going to be something else... Like how I got fired from my old job because I couldn't get out of bed for a month."

He approached the bed and sat down on it. "Andi, you've gotta remember that nobody is perfect. Everyone has a skeleton in their closet that they'd rather not talk about -- even this lady that you're looking to be hired by, as well respected as she is. Yeah, you've made some... poor choices in the past, but who hasn't? I have, your father has, Toby has... You're too hard on yourself."

"Damn right Toby made a poor choice, fuckin' asshole..." she barked, then sighed. "Maybe you're right, though. But it's hard not to be hard on myself, considering everything that happened because of my stupid decisions..."

"What's really important, at least to you and me, is the remarkable progress you've made in putting yourself back together over the past couple of months. You need to keep focusing on that, or all of that progress might be lost."

Her eyes drifted to the floor. "I know, I know..."

"Look at it this way. You told me that the Reiland Institute doesn't hire people very often, right?"

"That's what the biology department's Chief of Staff told me, but he might just be trying to be a hype man."

"And they invited you to visit their research center and help them with some of their work. That alone says something -- to me, at least. Do you really think they'd drag you across the country to tell you right out of the gate that you're not good enough?"

She shook her head at the thought. "I'd be furious if they did."

He smiled, reached out to grab her hand, and clasped it tightly between his own. "I understand that you're nervous, but you can't let that define who you are to these people. You're an intelligent woman with incredible potential." As he held onto her, he felt the trembling in her hand diminish.

"Save it, I've heard that from you a dozen times this year! But today... I'll believe it."

"Good, because it's true."

She nodded her head slightly and slid her hand out of his grip, then turned around and grabbed her black lipstick. "Words like that make me think... I don't think I've ever properly thanked you for everything you've done for me since I lost everything."

"You have, you just don't realize it."

"Oh yeah?" she asked, pausing her lipstick application for a brief moment.

"Uh huh. The best way to thank someone for helping you isn't through words, or gifts, or anything like that. You're doing it right now -- you're getting out of bed, pushing yourself out that door and trying to make something of yourself. You're not getting comfortable at rock bottom. It makes all of the effort I put in to helping you get back on your feet feel like it's been worth it."

She smacked her thin, darkened lips together as she examined herself in the mirror. Satisfied with her makeup, she leaned over and dug around in the basket of clothes beside her. "I hadn't thought about it that way. Still... I owe you something for all of the trouble. If I land this -- no, once I land this job, you're going to get that gift."

He laughed nervously. "Is it odd that I dread to think what you mean by that?"

"You're always suspicious of my good will, so no, it's not odd," she said, pulling her Enchantress dress out of the basket. As she looked it over, she noticed it was wrinkled to near ruin. "Fuck sake. How'd this wrinkle so badly?"

"Probably because you don't fold your clothes, you just throw them in the basket."

She laughed and shook her head. "Got a master's degree in biology, but I'm still clueless about everyday life."

"I know. They don't teach you the basics in school anymore, do they? You might want to learn that stuff quick, though. You could be out on your own shortly."

"Oh gods, don't say that! I'm not ready for that yet!"

She tossed the ruined dress onto her bed and grumbled, then dug through the rest of her clothes. Her flirty and revealing two piece Seductress set, with its long and flowing satin layers, were relatively wrinkle free, but clearly out of the question when it came to presenting herself as a professional. Likewise, her Blood Baroness dress was in good shape, but dressing like a vampire would be far too eccentric for first impressions at a serious research institute. She'd begun to see her roommate's point about buying a new dress for the interview, but it was too late to fix that. Even worse, she didn't have the money for it; she'd spent most of her meager earnings over the past year on those very designer dresses that were the current source of her wardrobe troubles.

"What do you think..." she asked, grabbing the last of her dresses, the Spider. "If I roll up the mesh sleeves and cover the fishnets with my stockings... it... it kinda looks normal enough? Question mark?" Her voice started to crack as she thought more and more about it.

"Umm." He reached his hand outward and poked his finger through the tangled mess of web-like threads that made up the chest of the dress. "Don't you think you'll be showing off a little too much with this thing?"

"Ehhh..." she mumbled before sighing. "The girl who designed this fashion line really wasn't thinking about practicality, and I don't have anything else to wear under it..."

"No she wasn't... Well, that aside, I think that's your best bet out of everything you've got," he said with a shrug. "But don't rely on my advice. You've always got some smart ass comment about my t-shirt and track pants look."

"Don't get mad, I just think it's a boring look." As she slipped on the dress and made the adjustments needed, she asked, "I guess it's kinda fitting I'm going with this one... I'm probably going to need a Pokémon for this contract work they want me to do. Can I borrow Mary for the next few days?"

Webster's brow contorted as he thought about it. "I dunno. I know you like her, but she's a little temperamental around you. Besides, Marrowmites don't make the best battle companions, especially when they're young." He reached into the pocket of his track pants and pulled out a shiny spherical object, its red top half glinting in the morning sunlight. "Tell you what, though. Take Widow instead. She's a little more receptive to commands... Think you'll be okay with her?"

"Yeah. I'm not a total noob about it. I've handled Pokémon during my university studies."

"Handling them for research is a little bit different than commanding them in a battle situation, I'd think."

"Guess I'll find that out soon enough," she said, grabbing the Pokéball and placing it onto the vanity. "I should know the basics by now. Lord knows I've watched enough of those tournaments on TV when I should have been studying."

"Hopefully! Don't get her squished."

"I think an Ariados is a little too big to get squished... unless I run into a Snorlax out there!" she said with a laugh. "Where's all that faith in me gone?"

"Heh." He lowered his vision to the floor and nervously scratched at his neck as the room fell silent. "So, umm... Before you head to Camden Station and catch the train, do you want to get breakfast together, maybe?"

"Us? Together? Who are you, and what have you done with the real Webster?" she joked. "We haven't done anything together in nearly a month. Why the change of heart?"

"I figure it's a special day, and I get the feeling that you're not happy always being alone down at the diner."

"Finally you see that..." She grabbed her phone off of the vanity and turned it on to check the time. "Damn it... I'd love to, but I really gotta get going soon or I will miss that train and then, well... I'm fucked if I miss that train."

He lowered his head and spoke softly. "Morning's passed by that quickly, has it..."

She could sense his unhappiness, something he rarely displayed, and wrapped her arm around his shoulders for a hug. "Hey! Rain check! Let's go out for dinner when I get back in a few days!"

"Sounds good. Let me know when you're on your way back. I'll take a break from the games with the lads... Might do my blood pressure some good!"

"Ha, maybe!" she laughed, letting him go.

"Anyways, I'll get outta your hair and let you finish preparing. We'll talk later, okay?"

"Okay."

"Good luck out there, and remember: you've got this."

"Thank you."

As he left the room, she made her final preparations for her journey; she slipped her charcoal and steel-grey stockings up to her plump thighs, then slid her heavily-buckled designer knee boots over them. She dug through her collection of tacky jewelry and settled on a thematically accurate spider ring for her left ring finger and a not-as-accurate Gogoat skull for her right hand. A simple stainless steel stud went into her eyebrow piercing next, and web-like earrings soon dangled from both ears.

"Last but especially not least..." she murmured as she grabbed the silver chain that was neatly coiled up on the nightstand beside her bed. The glinting metal sparkled lightly with blue and purple as she positioned it around her neck, and she felt a comforting sense of warmth and safety wash over her as the tear-shaped crimson gemstone at the end of it rested above her heart. "Luck... You've done the trick before, and luck is certainly what I need today."

She slid Widow's Pokéball down her right stocking, grabbed her phone off of the nightstand and kept it safely inside her left stocking, then reached for her purse and slung it over her right shoulder. Finally, she reached for her demon-themed backpack and slipped it over her arms. With one final glance across the room to make sure she wasn't forgetting anything important, she headed for the door and flicked the light switch.

She took a deep breath. "Here goes..."
 
Chapter 1: First Impressions
Princess of Dorkness
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- Content warnings -
[ none! ]

- Content notes -
The contents of this chapter are moderately similar, condensed versions of Chapter 1: The Institute and Chapter 3: The Choice of Land of the Roses 2.0, with quite a few changes and a few conversations/scenes removed.


"We are the thinkers and inventors. We strive. We dream. We aspire always towards something greater than ourselves. In the end, we achieve our dreams of a better tomorrow."
~ Giordano D'Venii (May 1507, translated)


May 12th
Loch Alstan, Kingdom of Lanark


As the train came to a complete stop and the doors opened, Andrea took a deep breath and stepped out onto the rain-soaked platform. The bitter highland winds instantly snatched her away from her thoughts about her upcoming appointment at the Reiland Institute, and she gasped in shock as her arms instinctively huddled together for warmth; sadly, no amount of rubbing her arms up and down would do the trick. "Holy shit it's cold! Fucking knew I forgot something, my coat!"

She quickly found a map of Loch Alstan that was posted on the terminal wall, but it appeared to be useless to her. Rather than detail the city, it covered every community along the southern lakefront and surrounding countryside, from Nettlefield in the western marshes, to Rosewater Falls in the eastern riverlands and Cobblestone Creek in the southern steppes. Her heart dropped as she focused on the mess of lines, triangles, stars and circles that made up Loch Alstan; the only landmarks on the map were parks, monuments and other tourist attractions. Her destination, the Reiland Institute, wasn't marked at all.

"Ugh... T-This is off-ff to a good s-start..." she lamented, shivering uncontrollably. "Uhh... r-right, it's on Windyreed Avenue, right?" she tried to recall. "Sh-shouldn't be that hard to f-find... Just gotta f-figure out how to get there..."

She quickly retreated to the terminal building. Much to her relief, the inside of the train station was welcomingly warm, so much so that she was tempted to spend the rest of the day there. As tempting as the warmth was, skipping her appointment was out of the question, so she reached into her thigh-high stocking and pulled her phone out to look at a more detailed map. She sighed heavily as she studied it; the Reiland Institute was indeed on Windyreed Avenue, just a few blocks away from the lake the town was named after, but the train station was in the southern foothills of the town. The quickest way between the two locations appeared to be the city's Metro Underground, which had a national reputation for being beyond filthy, filled with sketchy characters and rarely on schedule.

With her appointment hanging over her at just an hour away, she pushed herself back out into the cold to get started on her journey. Not only was it cold, but it was foggy as well; her visibility was reduced to perhaps only 50 meters, obscuring her view of the city. The cemented cobblestones beneath her feet were slick with rain and filthy with mud, cigarette butts and discarded gum, and as she made her way towards the closest main road, she spotted stylized graffiti on nearly every building. In the distance, the wailing of several police sirens drowned out the sound of the wind around her.

"Oh! This city is lovely!" she sarcastically remarked to herself. "Cold, filthy, and high in crime, too? What's next? People doing drugs in broad daylight?"

Much to her relief, the entrance to the Metro Underground's subway tunnels were only a short walk from the train station, and she could feel a warm breeze blowing up the stairs as she headed down.


The Reiland Institute was a lot less glamorous than she'd led herself to believe. In clear contrast with her expectations of a modern architectural masterpiece and the rest of the city's charming Edwardian appearance, the limestone structure was incredibly rudimentary in design. Monolithic, sharply defined amidst the fog, and separated into six distinct floors, there were absolutely no unique features about the building other than it was dreadfully boring to look at. It lacked the artistic columns, fantastic grotesques perched upon the roof and impressive window arches that she had seen on other large buildings throughout the city.

"Looks like a mental asylum..." she mused as she stopped short of the main entrance. Featuring the unmistakable symbol of radioactivity, a bright yellow plaque beside the door indicated that the facility could operate as a nuclear fallout shelter. "Huh. Guess that explains why this place is so boring looking... Must have been built at the height of the Cold War..."

She took a moment to compose her nerves. She wasn't sure why she was so nervous; after all, she'd already cleared the first hurdle of the employment process by having a brief chat with Patrick, and being invited for the chance to prove herself -- an opportunity most people rarely had, it seemed. However, it was her first time meeting her potential employers in person, and first impressions -- whether they were a showcase of her knowledge, social skills, appearance, or the way she applied herself to new situations -- hung heavily on her mind. With a deep breath, she reassured herself that all she could do was work hard to cover any potential shortfalls she had, and with that, she opened the door.

The lobby was far more warm and interesting than the exterior was. The first thing that caught her attention was the large fountain in the center of the lobby, which featured sculptures of four seahorse-like creatures -- which she instantly and subconsciously identified as not just Kingdra, but the endangered and exotic Cape Coral subspecies -- sending jets of misty water into the air. As she wandered up to it for a closer look, she noted that large portions of the fountain's interior were littered with bronze, silver and even the odd golden coin. Accompanying the entrancing flow of the water was the alluring sound of smooth jazz that played throughout the lobby. Both served to calm her nerves further as she reached for her purse.

"Hey, Luck?" she murmured as she pulled a bronze coin out. "You and I have had a very lengthy and glorious relationship, but it seems you've been gone the past few months of my life. I don't know what I did to offend you, but I'd appreciate it if you returned and backed me up just this once. I really need it."

With a flick of her thumb, the coin rocketed into the air. The milled edge of the coin caught the lobby's lighting, glittering brightly as it fell down into the fountain with an unceremonious splash. She watched as the coin slowly fluttered down to the bottom of the polished stone basin; the profile of the recently deceased Queen Telandra rested downward.

She sighed. "Face down. Of course. Welp! Time to crash and burn!"

"Hello!" the receptionist greeted with a bright smile on his face as she approached. "Welcome to the Reiland Institute! How may I help you today?" His manner of speaking was almost robotic, as if he had said the phrase hundreds if not thousands of times before.

"I'm, uhh... I'm here to meet with Patrick Adelaide?" she answered.

The receptionist's face lit up. "Ah! Yes! I heard you'd be coming along! What's your name?"

"Andrea Dennison."

"I'll need to see some ID."

She dropped her purse onto the desk and dug through it. Her old student ID card from her days at the University of Aughrim slipped out and she handed it over.

The receptionist took the card and studied it. "Hmm. This all you have? Looks like it's long expired."

Her heart dropped; it was the only form of identification she had. "I, uhh... Yeah. The admissions board told me I was going to get a new one for this year, but I ended up dropping out of university before I got it. That's all I ever really had... I'm not a Pokémon trainer, I've never gotten around to registering to vote in the elections, and... Yeah..."

"Mmm. Understandable, I guess." He looked up from the card and studied Andrea's features closely, comparing them to the photo on the card; except for the length of her hair and her weight, every detail in the photo was a perfect match, most notably her eyebrow piercing and her heavy dark makeup. "Well... Expired or not, you do look like who you say you are, and Patrick did inform me you were coming. Good enough for me." He started to furiously hammer away at his keyboard with blazing speed. "I understand you're here to help him out with some contract work? You're quite lucky, they don't really bring in non-trainers for contract work."

She let out an awkward laugh. "Thanks. As if I needed to feel any more nervous."

"Oh, sorry." The receptionist continued to tap away. After a moment, he continued, "Right, here you are! Andrea Dennison, scheduled for a meeting with Patrick at 3:45 PM. Someone's early!" He picked up the phone beside him and input a few numbers. "Hey Patrick. Yeah. Yeah. Your guest is a little early. Want to come down and meet her?" A pause. "Right, yeah! I'll let her know." He hung the phone up, grabbed a lanyard with 'VIP' written on it in gold lettering and handed it across the desk. "Okay, Patrick told me he's gonna come down and meet with you shortly. How about you have a seat until then?"

She slipped the lanyard over her head, adjusted her hair and took a seat in one of the chairs that was scattered throughout the lobby. A sigh followed. "That's another hurdle down... I didn't even think about my expired ID possibly barring me from entry... What else haven't I thought about?"

A few minutes went by before a door behind the receptionist swung open. A man with a burnt orange mop of wavy hair entered the lobby and looked around. His eyes met Andrea's and he approached her, then extended his hand forward. "Andrea Dennison, I presume?"

She stood up and shook his hand. "That's me."

"Yep! That's the voice I remember! Glad to finally meet ya. I'm Patrick Adelaide, Chief of Staff of the biology department, but I figure you've already put two and two together."

She nodded. "My potential future boss."

"Correct. Well, more like potential mid-level supervisor than boss. If you're hired, Dr. Reiland herself will be your boss, but that's just semantics." He rolled up his sleeve and checked the time on his watch. "Hmm. It's a little late, but. Have you had lunch yet?"

"Not really... Just some dry biscuits on the train."

"Good! I'll brief you on what we'll be doing in the cafeteria. You'll like it, it's fully stocked and professionally catered."

She shook her head and waggled her hand defensively. "No thanks."

"You sure? I highly recommend it. With the tram service still down, it's a long walk to Rosewater Falls. We might not get there until sunset, and you're going to need your energy."

"Well, it's just that money is pretty tight, and catered --"

He crossed his arms and nodded. "Remember what I told ya when we talked on the phone? We'll take care of you while you're our guest. The meal is on the house."

"Thank you." She reached for her midsection and felt the slightest of hunger pangs.

"Even if you don't grab a bite, I'd like to take you over anyways. We'll have another staff member joining us for our trip to Rosewater, but their shift isn't ending for another half an hour, so we'll be waiting a bit. May as well sit down and have a chat! It's this way, follow me."

He led her back through the door he entered through and into a hallway that seemed to stretch into eternity on both sides. Painted on the wall was a large artistic map that indicated the general layout of the facility, a building that was divided into three sections.

The western half of the building itself was divided into two distinct sections: West Wing South hosted the medical and biochemistry labs, while West Wing North was dedicated to the radiology and genetic research labs, as well as the Pokémon hatchery. The tip of the building was where the shipping and receiving department could be found.

The opposite side of the building was similarly divided. East Wing North was a hub for applied physics, general chemistry and a small manufacturing workshop. Her potential future home was East Wing South, the extensive biological research department. On the map, she spotted several rooms that were labeled with words like 'jungle' and 'volcanic,' piquing her curiosity.

Separate from the main building was the poorly labeled Central Annex. From what she could tell, the only features there were the senior staff offices, HR department offices, a conference room and other staff accommodations.

"The cafeteria is up this way, up a couple floors," he said, leading her past the map. She followed at a moderate distance -- mostly because she wasn't able to match his exceedingly swift walking pace -- and in complete silence as they continued down the hallway towards a stairwell. As they reached the top of the first flight of stairs, he decided to break the silence. "Interesting outfit you've got there. Totally unexpected."

"Umm. Thanks." The fact that his icebreaker was about her clothing raised a red flag in her mind. "What'd you expect?"

"Nothing specific. It's just with that sugary voice I heard on the phone and your age, I was expecting... I dunno, a casual hoodie and jeans? Not someone who looks like she's ready for rave night."

"Heh. Been a long time since I've been to a rave."

"And it's been awhile since I've seen a goth girl. You pull it off well!"

"Good... At least he's not going to be a judgmental prick about it..."

When they reached the third floor, Patrick pushed open another door and the two found themselves atop a balcony, out into the cold again. A damp walkway populated by tables and chairs stretched between the main building of the Reiland Institute and the Central Annex. Despite the gloomy weather, several institute staff members were loitering nearby, casually chatting about their ongoing work.

"Oh good! The rain stopped!" he happily said, taking in a deep breath of the fresh, cold air. "...or the snow stopped? It was pretty chilly this morning."

"The rumors of the cold highland air are true..." The exposed skin on her thighs felt the cold first and she started to shiver. "Snow? In May?"

"Welcome to Loch Alstan!"

"This is normal?!"

"Yeah, winter typically lingers into mid-May around here. Hell, some years? Summer never truly arrives. It's the cold mountain air that blows in over the loch from the Kingdom of Glastonfell."

Her hands magnetically latched onto her arms for warmth. "Haven't seen snow in years... Forgot what it's like to live somewhere that's this cold..." she thought.

"I'm curious... You don't have a jacket?"

She sheepishly squealed. "Uhh... I did an idiotic thing and didn't check what the weather here would be like. It was, like, 20°C when I left my apartment in Aughrim."

"Oof... We'll have to find you something, you've got a long and cold walk ahead of you."

He pushed open the double doors on the other end of the walkway and the two entered one of the largest rooms in the Reiland Institute, the employee lounge. The entire room was brightly lit by a massive array of windows that flanked the northwestern and northeastern sides of the room, windows that offered a glimpse of the mirror-like lake which the town of Loch Alstan was named after. Unfortunately, the grim weather obscured an otherwise lovely view that day.

Like most of the building it seemed, the lounge was split into two halves. The first half was the lounge area, itself split into two floors and separated from the cafeteria by another balcony. The area they were in was filled with comfy-looking couches and chairs that circled around tables and television sets. Bookshelves throughout the room were stuffed to the breaking point with all sorts of scientific publications, reference manuals and assorted research materials. A solitary snooker table, host to a game that was already in progress, sat in the middle of the room. An old fashioned jukebox, which Patrick took the time to point out that he had found, restored by himself and donated to the institute, stood in the corner, playing some less-than-current alternative rock music.

In the cafeteria section, about a dozen tables were all filled to capacity by chatting researchers, engineers and medical professionals. An impressive array of professional catering lined the walls, and Andrea was already familiar with all of the companies present: the Mountain Rain Brewing Company, a coffee company which specialized in exotic brews from Atalacia's northwestern mountains; Jackpot's Potato Shack, which boasted over a hundred menu options for the lifeblood of the kingdom's heartland, the russet potato; Shinikara Noodle, an establishment which brought the far east cuisine of Yazhen to Lanark; Gyroskope, with its focus on various specialties from all corners of the Central Sea; lastly was the Crimson Crawdaunt, the Commonwealth's largest and most popular sea food chain.

"Oh boy, you have a Crimson Crawdaunt here?" Andrea asked. "I applied for a waitress position at one of them in Aughrim last month. Got turned down though, even though I already have waitress experience."

"Rough, and they have a reputation for hiring just about anybody..." Patrick replied. He saw the look on her face and immediately tried to dig himself out of the hole he could sense himself slipping into. "That would have been a terrible waste of your achievements anyways, based on what I saw in your application."

"I guess. But I have to pay the bills somehow."

"Of course." He rolled up his sleeve again to look at his watch. He pulled a chair from under the table next to him, then loudly slammed his palm up and down on the table. "Have a seat! I'm gonna grab some coffee. You want me to get anything for you?"

"Umm... If they've got the big potato waffles at that Jackpot... That'd be pretty nice. And make it a double? I didn't have breakfast."

He nodded. "I'll see! Be right back!"

She took her seat at the table and waited patiently for Patrick to return. As she did so, she took the time to study the researchers situated about the lounge. The atmosphere was no doubt warm and genial, but it also intimidated her; she never viewed herself as a social butterfly, and the boundless energy and limitless intelligence in the room was already draining.

Still, hearing bits and pieces of conversation related to the researchers' personal lives or their latest projects reminded her of her university days. With the exception of Webster, it had been months since she'd spoken to any of her own friends, and she quickly realized how much she missed hearing about the boring and drab details of their lives, or sharing stories about her own experiences.

"I made a terrible mistake by withdrawing from everyone... probably made my recovery longer than it had to be... but it felt like the right move at the time..."

A few minutes later, Patrick returned with a fragile Jenga-like tower of food and drinks; at the bottom was a tray that had Andrea's plate-sized potato waffles, flanked by two tall cups of coffee. The second tray, balanced atop the cups of coffee, was covered in spicy noodles mixed with pork and drowned in sour sauce -- also flanked by two more cups of coffee. The final tray at the top had two massive wedges of pizza and a pyramid-like stack of mozzarella sticks.

"Wow," she bluntly bleated as he carefully rested the bottom tray on the table.

"Getting these back up the stairs without dropping anything was more difficult than I thought it would be," he said as he separated out the trays and slid Andrea's across the table towards her.

"If I knew you were going to get that much, I'd have come along to help!"

"I didn't think I would, but then our third wheel texted me and said to get them some pizza for the road. Figured at that point I may as well get something for myself, too!" He slid the tray with the pizza on it over to an empty spot on the table, then stirred his porky rice around with a bamboo fork. "Anyways, it'll be a bit before we leave, so... How about we talk about things? This isn't really an interview, so don't stress out too much about your answers. I just want to get to know you a little bit."

"Okay. Umm. Fair word of warning, I'm not really a talker, so... Yeah..."

He smiled. "I gathered that on the way here. Still! I'm known for coaxing discussions out of even the most stubborn antisocial folks. It'll be fun to put those skills to the test again. So! I'm sure you've gotten this question before but you're only... 20, was it?"

"Yes."

"That's pretty young to have a university degree! That caught the eyes of both myself and Dr. Reiland. I'm curious, what's up with that? Did you get an early start on school or something?"

She took a cautious bite of her potato waffle before shaking her head. "Not really, I just got bumped up a few times. When I started year five, I was pretty far ahead of the other students, so they bumped me up to year six. I guess the same happened with year ten, because they pushed me up to eleven. So I was finished with high school two years early, and then I was approached by the University of Aughrim about a scholarship."

"Nice! What was the scholarship for? Were you exceptional at something like math or music?"

Another bite, another head shake. "No. It was stupid, they offered me a softball scholarship of all things."

He tilted his head slightly to the left and raised his eyebrow. "Softball? You mean like, baseball?"

"Yeah, pretty much. Only the pitches are easier to hit. Apparently I displayed 'exceptional skill' on my high school team, which probably wasn't hard to do, since I'm basically the only one in the country that'd ever played it before."

"Huh. Yeah, I didn't know it was a thing in this country."

She shrugged. "It's really not, but people are trying to make it a thing. It's really popular where I was born, though."

He tilted his head. "I was curious about your accent. I've been all over the country and to Glastonfell and Constantia, and I don't think I've ever heard anything like it before."

"You must have! Storm Island? I always figured I'd lost most of my accent by now.... I came to Lanark when I was pretty young."

"Wow! You're a long way from home!"

"Tell me about it... Wish I could go back, the weather is much better than what you have here."

"So, a scholarship for a sport that isn't even popular in this country. That's kinda cruel, because... women's sports aren't exactly... Well, you know."

She smiled. "Right? I saw that a career in a sport that nobody played, in a league that nobody cares about wasn't going to get me anywhere, so I didn't really try. They took my scholarship away, of course... Dad wasn't happy about that, heh." She motioned around the room. "Besides, I was more interested in... this. Being some sort of researcher has been my dream since I was a little girl."

"Well! You're getting pretty close to that dream!"

"Mmm." She raised the cup of coffee to her mouth, and just a single, bitter sip was enough to send a shiver radiating throughout her entire body, something that Patrick found amusing. "Blech. I should have said I don't like coffee."

"I can get you something else if you want."

She shook her head. She didn't like it, but it was already in front of her, and she felt bad enough about being looked after. "Softball wasn't a total waste of my time, though. I did pick up some pretty sweet curveball skills through it. I saved my peers a lot of trouble during my studies."

"Hey, yeah! I was thinking about that. That's a pretty decent skill to have as a Pokémon researcher. Lot of our staff... kinda can't aim a Pokéball throw to save their lives."

"That's one plus for me..." she thought.

"So, about that -- and about your clothes, I guess!" he started, his eyes drifting towards the obvious web-like design that poorly attempted to cover her exposed cleavage. "The dress, the earrings, that flashy ring on your finger... I take it you're into spider Pokémon."

"Not especially, but they're kinda cool and spooky?" She shrugged. "If you're looking for someone who's genuinely into spiders, you'll have to talk to my roommate, Webster. That guy keeps them as pets. He's got an Ariados, a Marrowmite and a Bonelurk, and used to have a Joltik."

"Pets!? Oof, I don't know if I could do that myself. Having those things climbing all over the walls, especially late at night... That would give me some serious shivers."

She smiled. "Yeah. It was pretty unsettling when I first moved in with him. But I got used to it pretty quickly." Her hand disappeared under the edge of the table and scrounged around, earning a confused look from him. She reached into her right stocking and pulled out Widow's Pokéball, placing it on the table. "I brought one of them along -- his Ariados -- just in case I needed it. I hope you're not arachnophobic."

"That's fine by me. I'm pretty sure our third wheel isn't either, but we'll have to ask before you bring it out." he grabbed the Pokéball and ran it through his fingers. "So, this one's not yours. Got any of your own?"

She shook her head. "No. I can't really afford to keep any. My roommate can't either, but... He doesn't want to hear that, heh."

"Then I take it you don't have much actual experience with Pokémon?"

"No, I've got quite a bit, actually! I've handled plenty during my time at university... But training and raising them? Not so much, unless my dad's service Growlithe counts?"

He nodded. "It may come as a surprise, but a lot of our staff are in that same boat. I'd say maybe just shy of a quarter of them are actual owners."

"Well that's good... I was worried that'd be held against me," she thought. "That is a little surprising, actually. I figured most people who work professionally with Pokémon, you know, owned or trained them."

"I thought the same when I first started my career, too. 'Course, it helps a lot when you can rely on your own Pokémon that you've spent a lot of time bonding with. I'm sure you're aware... well, lab rats aren't all that reliable. They're even dangerous sometimes."

"Yeah..." She leaned over the table and pushed her hair out of the way, pointing to a mark just below her hairline above her eyebrow piercing. "See that scar? I got bonked on the head by a baby Cubone about three years ago. They said I needed, like, seventeen stitches?"

"Ouch! Okay, so you are aware of the danger, then."

"Yep..."

"I'm curious! If you could have any --" he started, before his attention drifted towards the door behind her. "Oh, hold on! There she is!" He waved towards the door as if he were beckoning someone over.

That someone was a young woman with an intricate braid of strawberry blonde hair that wrapped around her head like a crown of flowers, approaching the table with a smile on her face. Green tribal henna tattoos extended from her hairline down to her neck on the left side of her face.

"Phew, Dr. Venger almost didn't let me go. So much shit to catch up on... New intern's useless as fuck. Spends all day talking." The woman dropped her backpack on the table with a loud thud.

"Oh! You saved me a trip to the supply room?" he asked.

The woman nodded. "Think I got everything... I expect compensation, it was so difficult!" She glanced in Andrea's direction. "Woah! Spider queen! Amazing threads!"

She lowered her cup of coffee. "Oh. Thanks."

"Emily, this is our help for the next couple of days. Dr. Reiland is thinking of hiring her, but wants me to see how she works out. Andrea Dennison is her name."

Excitement washed over Emily's face. "Ah, so you're the one I've heard about! Pleasure to meet you, Andrea."

"Andrea, this is Emily Winehaus, one of our medical staff. She'll be joining us for our trip to Rosewater. Or rather, we'll be joining her!"

Emily grabbed the chair from the side of the table and pushed it in Patrick's direction, taking a seat uncomfortably close to him, then slid the undisturbed tray of pizza towards herself. "Have you told her what we're doing out there?"

"I was getting to that! I figured I'd wait until you arrived so you could correct all my mistakes," he said.

Emily snickered, then reached into the backpack and pulled out a folder full of papers, documents and miscellaneous notes. She grabbed one and handed it over to Andrea. "It's pretty simple stuff. With spring finally arriving in the highlands, migratory birds are starting their seasonal travels around this part of the kingdom. We'll be heading to the Heron Hook wetlands just outside of Rosewater Falls and partnering up with the Wild Wings Waterfowl Refuge for their tag and release program. You two will be identifying the birds that are out there, while I'll be investigating the propagation of pathogens and diseases to see if there's anything alarming out there. Supposedly they've already identified a few cases of Asperian influenza out there."

Patrick's eyebrow shot up. "Have they? I'd only heard about the one case -- and that turned out to be a false positive, didn't it?"

"That one did, but there's definitely a few confirmed, now."

"Asperian flu? Should I be worried?" Andrea asked as she studied the paper in front of her.

Emily dismissed her concerns with a wave of her hand. "Nah. Unless you get into a bloody brawl with an infected bird out there, you should be good. Besides, there's no indication that this particular strain has jumped the species barrier."

"Lucky me could end up being patient zero..." She shrugged. "Sounds... simple enough, kinda? I'm not really a bird nerd, so I don't know how useful I'll be."

Patrick nodded. "Yeah... It's not the best test of your skills, but it's something. We've actually been having a downtrend in contract work, so... This is what we've got this week. Better than what we had when I first contacted you, which involved digging for worms out in the Bramblemurk. Emi here had fun on that one."

"Ugh, god!" Emily energetically interjected. "Don't remind me! I'm never doing that again! I'm still trying to get the dirt stains out of my jeans..."

Andrea tried to contain a giggle. "Cataloguing birds or digging for worms, I'll be happy to help how I can."

"Trust me, girl, you do not want to be digging around out there. The Bramblemurk is a peat bog. It smells so bad!"

"I thought it smelled fine. A little strong, but fine," Patrick said.

"Yeah, well, you're a weirdo."

He snickered. "Do you know anything about avian migration patterns, Andrea?"

"Not a lot... The biggest thing that comes to mind is that Talonflame migrates up from Kalos during the summers and causes all sorts of problems and wildfires in the Heartlands and along the Cladachfadh. I also did some bird watching north of the Arctic Circle last summer and took some notes, but I don't know any migration patterns for what I saw up there."

He nodded. "Arctic birds, eh? Maybe you'll see a few familiar species while we're out there, then."

"I am pretty curious to see what's out there! I guess if my knowledge falls short, I can at least try to capture things for you guys. I assume that'll be part of the tag and release program?"

"Yep. Time to put those old softball skills of yours to the test."

"Softball?" Emily asked. "You mean like, baseball?"

Patrick laughed, then tapped the palm of his hand on Emily's backpack. "Got all of the supplies we need, Emi?"

"Think so, but I might have forgotten a thing or two. Let's stop by the stockroom before we leave, just in case?"

"Would you happen to have a spare coat in that stockroom?" Andrea chimed in.

Patrick's face lit up. "Oh, yeah. She didn't account for the cold weather, so she left her jacket at home. We've gotta figure something out for her."

Emily playfully smacked Patrick's shoulder with the back of her hand. "Hey, I've got an idea. Why don't we stop by my apartment before we leave, I've still got that extra jacket you got me for my birthday a couple years ago. She can borrow it."

"Good idea. Ready to get started?"

Both girls nodded.
 
Last edited:
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All right! Not really in the state of mind to be reading right now, but screw it! Let's go! Also sorry if the comments are a bit scattershot and goofy, was reading on phone and didn't want to keep switching back and forth between my notepad app and the browser.

P
- Yo is that a master ball in Kim's hand in the art? Purple ball.
- Dat pentagram tho
- Chief of Staff isn't really a long title. I assume he is trying to be funny.
- He seems more casual than professional.
- I get the mental image of her either blowing up the tool shed, or just using baking soda and vinegar.
- Expelled, huh? Wonder what she did
- Black fingernails? Girl you need to scrub. Chemists gotta stay sanitized.
- Well black is a common business color
- Shoutouts to...you?
- A bit odd to call him a pudgy young man, and then just a man. Those two give very different impressions of age
- I AM ANDREA DENNISON. A GOTHIC SPIDER VAMPIRE GIRL WITH AN INTEREST IN CHEMISTRY. THIS IS WHO I AM!
- Oh because she couldn't handle the pressure? That seems...really excessive. This kingdom's universities are screwed up.
- For someone who's into chemistry she seems to have an even bigger interest in fashion. Every outfit has a name
- Marrowmite, eh? Sounds like a skeletal bug.
- Oo Ariados. Don't often see those in fics.
- For some reason at the end I started hearing Webster's voice as a stereotypically flamboyant one, even tho that doesn't really fit. Probably more logically, someone slightly dopey.
- And off she goes.

C1
- Heh, welp. How in the world do you forget your coat of all things though?
- The cold stammering seems a bit random in regards to which words are stammered.
- Noticed a couple close repeated words in this spot, like cold and tempt.
- The Cold War mentioned, huh? Neat. BUT WHOSE SIDE WERE THEY ON?
- At first I thought she was talking to a lucky coin. Given the capifalization, thought it was a coin named Luck.
- In this chapter she dropped out of uni. In the previous she was expelled. Which is it? Or third option, she's just lying to the receptionist.
- Oh no middle management
- So there's that convo I was expecting off of trainers of fanfiction
- Well that explains the lack of jacket. Wildly fluctuating temperatures can't be accounted for.
- Her recovery hm? Interesting bit.
- They have Jenga here? :eek:
- Shoutouts to Storm Island! Still have some of that saved from reading it offline, strangely.
- Poke Ball aiming skills coming up is pretty rare in a fic.
- Ah, so they're skeletal spiders from the sounds of it. Used to have a Joltik though? Another thread I suppose.
- Going with the PUNY HUMANS approach to Pokemon I see.
- Oof, researching birds, and she has a bug.
- Birds going north for the summer?
- Thought that was going to be Kim at first, but guess she comes later.

Starting off and heading along! Good start to the fic. I admit, a lot of the details about things I glossed over due to said state of mind (and state of eyes) and will probably have to refresh myself on later. But it was a beginning all right. Or something like that. Did a good job of introducing us to Andrea, while raising enough questions for later. Looking forward to what's next.
 
Princess of Dorkness
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- Yo is that a master ball in Kim's hand in the art? Purple ball.
Yes, yes it is.

- Dat pentagram tho
More work went into it than I'd like to admit, I'm glad someone likes it!

- Chief of Staff isn't really a long title. I assume he is trying to be funny.
- He seems more casual than professional.
"Unprofessional clown" seems to sum up more people than you'd expect in so-called professional work environments, I've learned.

- I get the mental image of her either blowing up the tool shed, or just using baking soda and vinegar.
Let's just say that her parents were not happy.

- Black fingernails? Girl you need to scrub. Chemists gotta stay sanitized.
Let me introduce you to the modern wonder that is nail polish :p

- Well black is a common business color
While true, I think that's mostly on suits/men's business fashion. I don't often see women in politics/media/business wearing black unless they're making a statement of some sort.

- Shoutouts to...you?
It's weird, I came up with the fashion line years before I adopted it as my username. Now whenever I use it, I look like I'm patting myself on the back >_>

- A bit odd to call him a pudgy young man, and then just a man. Those two give very different impressions of age
I could add an age descriptor there, but I figure people get the picture already.

- I AM ANDREA DENNISON. A GOTHIC SPIDER VAMPIRE GIRL WITH AN INTEREST IN CHEMISTRY. THIS IS WHO I AM!
Loud and proud, baby

- Oh because she couldn't handle the pressure? That seems...really excessive. This kingdom's universities are screwed up.
Well, when you disappear for a month, get bad grades upon your return and in general seem to not be performing well anymore, maybe it's a mercy to tell someone to give up. Save them some money.

- For someone who's into chemistry she seems to have an even bigger interest in fashion. Every outfit has a name
Welcome to the world of fashion. In my own favorite IRL brands, even solid color T-shirts with no graphics on them have names these days.

- Marrowmite, eh? Sounds like a skeletal bug.
Ding ding!

- Oo Ariados. Don't often see those in fics.
Yep! Excited to work with her, though she won't be around long since she's just borrowed.

- For some reason at the end I started hearing Webster's voice as a stereotypically flamboyant one, even tho that doesn't really fit. Probably more logically, someone slightly dopey.
I haven't really thought of his voice, but yeah, dopey sounds like it'd be a good fit.

- Heh, welp. How in the world do you forget your coat of all things though?
"I might be intelligent, but I'm certainly not wise." ~ Andrea Dennison, from a different story

- The cold stammering seems a bit random in regards to which words are stammered.
Hmm, not sure how to go about this. I wanted to emphasize she was freezing and not just "I'm st-tut-tering on t-ts" cold.

- Noticed a couple close repeated words in this spot, like cold and tempt.
Ehh, I'm not too bothered. For how often I used it, there's only so many ways I can replace cold without it being obvious I've pulled out a thesaurus.

- The Cold War mentioned, huh? Neat. BUT WHOSE SIDE WERE THEY ON?
The good guys, of course :V

- At first I thought she was talking to a lucky coin. Given the capifalization, thought it was a coin named Luck.
Hmm. I was aiming more for Lady Luck, but perhaps this is something I can change.

- In this chapter she dropped out of uni. In the previous she was expelled. Which is it? Or third option, she's just lying to the receptionist.
Third, yes.

- Her recovery hm? Interesting bit.
So excited to dive back into that, and hoprefully get somewhere with it this time.

- They have Jenga here? :eek:
Jenga is eternal. Jenga is immortal. Jenga is inescapable.

- Ah, so they're skeletal spiders from the sounds of it. Used to have a Joltik though? Another thread I suppose.
A spider thread you might say (☞゚∀゚)☞

- Going with the PUNY HUMANS approach to Pokemon I see.
Yes, and it's something I hope I stick with. Nobody's going to take a flamethrower or a thunderbolt to the face and be fine a minute later.

- Oof, researching birds, and she has a bug.
oshit I didn't think of this

- Birds going north for the summer?
Is that not what they normally do? In the dark and evil depths of upstate New York, I see geese flying south for the winter, and back up into Canada for the summer. That's all I've ever really thought about it, and I admit I didn't really do my research on this.

Starting off and heading along! Good start to the fic. I admit, a lot of the details about things I glossed over due to said state of mind (and state of eyes) and will probably have to refresh myself on later. But it was a beginning all right. Or something like that. Did a good job of introducing us to Andrea, while raising enough questions for later. Looking forward to what's next.
(y)
 
Chapter 2: Remember, A Rose Has Thorns
Princess of Dorkness
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- Content warnings -
[ minor sexually suggestive content and innuendos ]

- Content notes -
The contents of this chapter are moderately similar to Chapter 4: Remember, A Rose Has Thorns of Land of the Roses 2.0. The largest notable change is the addition of Andrea's Ariados into the mix.


"There isn't a land in the world more beautiful than ours, child. But every rose has its thorns, and this one grows pricklier by the day..."
~ Stephanie Greybell III, Queen of the Grand Empire of Lanark (July 31st, 1920)


Barely fifteen minutes had passed since they left the alluring warmth of the research center, and the chilling cold had already begun to get the better of Andrea. Though she'd been promised a spare jacket, thoughts clawed in the darkened depths of her mind: "Just call it quits and go home already". But she refused to give up; she'd been raised to give everything she had when it came to showing off her capabilities, and quitting so soon -- regardless of a lack of a jacket -- would have reflected poorly on her. However, her burning desire to prove herself was only in her head and did nothing to warm her. She shivered uncontrollably as she huddled her arms together.

"We'll be there soon, don't worry," Emily commented. "That dress is pretty snazzy, but I'd hate to wear it in this weather. It looks so thin! Not to mention that spider web over your chest."

"Yeah, not my b-best idea," she replied.

Apart from those five words, she was more or less silent for much of the journey to Emily's apartment in the city's marina district. Just as she did when she first met Patrick, she kept a small distance from the pair. She felt out of place; listening to them chat back and forth gave her the sense that the two were old friends, and probably even more. The giggling, the playful physical contact, the candid details in their conversations -- as if a stranger weren't even there, listening to them -- confirmed the idea in her head: Patrick and Emily were dating, a thought which made her quite uncomfortable. The worst thing was that she was stuck between them for at least a couple days, and possibly longer.

"Ha. Can't even land a date yourself anymore... and somehow you end up as a third wheel? Your life is a mess, girl," she told herself.

"So what about you, Andrea?" Emily asked, slowing down to walk beside her. "You're awfully quiet back here. Any interesting stories to tell?"

She looked up from the stones of the walkway. "Oh. Uh... No, n-not really."

"Really? Nothing at all?"

"Nothing i-interesting. Most of m-my time was spent s-studying or working. Nothing I say would b-be interesting to anybody. Or at l-least not-t people l-like us."

Patrick laughed. "You're among your own kind here, of course university stories would be interesting!"

"Good point, b-but... I can't really f-f-focus. So c-cold..."

As they strolled through the town of Loch Alstan, the weather slowly improved. The fog lifted rapidly, allowing the bright afternoon sunlight to flood in and warm the area considerably -- not enough to comfort Andrea, but enough to keep her from shivering uncontrollably. She thought about how poorly her first impressions were going: she'd already shown how easily she made simple mistakes by not dressing for warmth. She worried problems with her teamwork skills were already showing themselves, with how she kept a distance from everyone and how she didn't think to help Patrick set down their food and drinks safely back in the cafeteria. She'd also told herself to be more outgoing and social, but she was already blowing that. She didn't want to change her personality, but she realized that Patrick was watching her closely, and vowed to be more chatty when she could. Her first opportunity presented itself when they finally arrived at Emily's apartment; Emily broke from the group with a promise to return shortly, leaving her and Patrick behind.

"Hey, I'm sorry... if I'm being... you know, r-rude."

Patrick raised his eyebrow and tilted his head. "It seems you and I have different definitions of rude."

"Maybe we d-do. I always knew that I picked up s-some bad habits since I started m-my university studies... This must b-be another one of them."

"What do you mean by that?"

She leaned up against the rough brick surface of the building. "A couple years ag-go, a childhood friend and I grew closer. That must have ch-changed his expectations of me, because b-being my usual quiet self was n-no longer sufficient. He gave me such a hard t-time about it that I've been second g-guessing myself every time I try to t-talk to anyone..."

"Sorry if I'm being judgmental of someone you care about, but that guy sounds like an asshole to me."

She exhaled sharply out of her nose with the slightest of smirks. "No, no. He deserves th-that judgment... Asshole is too t-tame a word to describe him, honestly." She kicked at the ground in frustration over her bad memories. "I guess I haven't b-been the s-s-same since. I love being q-quiet, but it feels like I'll get nowhere in life if I stay th-that way. It tears me apart s-sometimes."

"Some people are just closed books, there's nothing wrong with that! I'd like to pry you open and really get to know you, but... Don't worry about it today. If you're not comfortable talking, that's cool. Hopefully tomorrow is a little better. Or the next day. Or maybe never, who knows?"

"We'll see... I th-think it'd be a l-little unfair to describe myself-f as comp-p-pletely asocial..." She looked up at him and offered the faintest laugh as she thought, "Wow, what a choice of words... Pry me open? Yeah, I bet you'd like that..."

The door beside her opened and out came Emily. In her hands was a neatly folded tartan jacket, primarily red in color, accented with deep green stripes and dashed with glittery silver threads. Rough wool lined the collar and the inside of the jacket to keep the wearer toasty and warm even on the coldest highlands day.

"It's definitely not your style, but it'll keep you warm!" Emily said as she offered the jacket over. "You're on your own for your legs though, but those stockings do look pretty cozy..."

She grabbed the jacket and rushed it on. It was indeed warm, and she couldn't thank her new acquaintance enough. "It's a little tight, but... thank you. I'm not used to people doing me favors. Most city folk over in Aughrim are assholes."

Emily nodded and smiled. "Hey, if you get the position, you can look forward to more of it from me!" She reached into her own jacket and pulled out her phone. "Right, anything else we should do quickly before we skip town? At this rate, we're probably going to be fighting against sunset before we get to Rosewater, and that'll be bad news for our underdressed friend."

"I'm ready," Andrea said.

"Me too," Patrick added.


May 12th
South Alstan Moor, Kingdom of Lanark


"Ahhh! It's nice to get out and stretch my legs for once!" Emily said, twirling down the cobblestone path. "I kinda regret going into medical, I'm stuck at a desk all day! But I'm so deeply in debt that I have to stick with it..."

"And what would you be doing if you weren't studying medicine?" Patrick asked.

"I don't know. Park ranger? Education? Dance instructor?"

He bellowed with laughter. "You? C'mon, I've seen you dance!"

"Of course I can't dance! I spent the last seven and a half years studying! But if I were actually trying to become a dance instructor..." Emily spun on the spot to look at Andrea, maintaining her walking pace as she moved backward. "How about you, Andrea? Can you dance?"

"According to her application, she worked at a place called The Lair," he interjected. "I'm betting she definitely can."

Andrea laughed nervously. "Let's not."

"The Lair?" Emily asked.

"Let's not," she repeated sternly, weighing her words down with a hint of aggravation in her voice. "I liked working there, but I'm not about to talk about it. If I'm going to get a career in the sciences started, I want to be taken seriously. I don't think I ever will if you start telling everyone I worked at a place like that."

Patrick sheepishly tugged on the collar of his jacket. "Ah, sorry for striking a nerve. I figured since you put it on your application, you were fine with talking about it."

"I kinda regret it, but my roommate insisted I put it down. Any experience is good experience, or something like that," she responded. "Short explanation, it's a themed restaurant. Long explanation? Maybe someday. To answer your question, though, yes, I can... thrash about on a rave floor. Knock people the fuck out in mosh pits. That stuff counts as dancing, right?"

"That counts as far as I'm concerned!" Emily answered.

As they rounded a bend on Shady Oak Lane, the cobblestone pathway thinned and eventually faded into muddy gravel. With the skyline of Loch Alstan disappearing behind the trees, they had officially entered the wilds of Lanark. Despite the advancements in technology and human society, and the rapid sprawling development of the country's urban centers since the dawn of the industrial revolution, the wilderness here looked as if it hadn't been touched by human hands for centuries. Aside from the winding and partially overgrown path that snaked its way through the hills and an old railway bridge visible far away in the cliffs, nature was at its most pristine, unhindered state. To the southeast, they could see the Talthsar Mountains, still capped with the winter's snow; down an embankment to the north were the placid waters of Loch Alstan.

"You're in for a hell of a show, Andrea. This is one of the best areas in the kingdom for countryside views: untouched wilderness as far as the eye can see."

"Umm..." she said, running her finger along the ramshackle, decaying fence beside her. "You sure about that?"

He conceded to her point with a nod. "Okay, mostly untouched. Most of the Northcountry is like this and hasn't seen development since the mid-20th century, outside of agricultural pop ups. Bet you don't get vistas like this over in Aughrim!" he proudly proclaimed.

"No, we don't... I could get used to this," she said as she studied the graceful shape of the mountains.

"Before we go any further..." Patrick said, reaching into his pocket. His hand returned, fingers wrapped around a standard red and white Pokéball. With a gentle toss forward, the ball burst open with a shower of leaves that smoldered away into ash, revealing a rabbit-like creature that measured up to just below her knees.

The creature was covered primarily in short, orange fur, with accents of yellow along its underside and long stripes of red along its back. A pair of large and rigid leaf-like ears grew from a single point on its forehead, and similar, smaller grassy appendages grew from its cheeks. Its tail resembled a snipped stem, and a thin stream of smoke billowed from the tip.

She gasped at the sight of the creature. "A Hopañero? It's so cute!"

"He's more than cute. This little guy's gotten me out of a fair share of bad situations."

"And into half of them..." Emily quietly commented.

"Hey, you don't need to worry! I'll keep us safe, you have my word," he assured the girls. "I may not be the most capable trainer in the world, but ol' Pepper here can usually take care of himself."

"Usually?" Andrea asked.

"Against the wild stuff, yeah. Against a dedicated and skilled trainer? Well, I've gotten lucky before..."

"Think we'll run into a trainer out here?"

He looked to the cloudy sky and took a deep breath of the chilly air. "Probably. But if we do, I can always just tell 'em to piss off. Trainers' code is to leave people alone if they decline a battle invitation, and most people stick to that."

Eventually, the road they were following came to an abrupt end, capped off at a sea of tall grass that fluttered in the chilly wind.

"Now comes the part that separates the boys from the men, the true test for those who travel the roads of the Northcountry," he said as he looked up and down the long wall of grass in front of him. His search for a way around the grass was met with failure.

"Well come on then, you big puss-puss!" Emily ordered as she fearlessly stepped into the grass.

"I was just looking for the trail... It seems to have faded over the winter," he said softly. He turned around and called out to Andrea, who had cautiously stopped at the edge of the grass. "Hey! I hope that dress of yours isn't too delicate! The grass around here can get a little sharp sometimes!"

Andrea studied the grass with a grimace on her face. The softly serrated grass reached up to her chest and was so overgrown that she couldn't see the ground underneath it. "You sure we're going the right way? The trails up by Glastonfell's northern shores were never this bad!"

"You think this is bad? You should see the road on the far end of Nettlefield, at the edge of the Bramblemurk!"

"I don't think you could even call that a road. It felt like we were walking into uncharted wilderness most of the time," Emily chimed in.

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

Patrick couldn't help but laugh. "Says the lady who lives in a house full of giant spiders!"

"Spiders aren't bugs, they're arachnids."

It wasn't as bad as she first imagined; while she could feel the serrated edges of the grass scratching against the delicate fabric of her stockings, it wasn't as sharp as Patrick had warned. Even more, the grass wasn't as cold to the touch as she expected, nor wet, despite the gloomy weather. More importantly, there wasn't a giant wiggling bug in sight, but that meant little considering she couldn't see more than a few inches ahead of her at any given moment; they could have been hiding, ready to leap out at her.

Before she knew it, however, she'd emerged from the other side of the patch of grass without incident. "What have I gotten myself into... Patrick mentioned the tram service being down?" she thought. "When you said the tram service was down and that we'd be walking, you didn't really explain what you meant by that. What happened?"

"Landslide. Took out the tracks about halfway between Loch Alstan and Rosewater a couple weeks ago," he answered.

"It's taking them this long to unbury the tracks?"

"Oh, no! The tracks aren't buried. They're gone! The land gave way and carried them down into the loch."

"Oh. Okay. That makes sense."

"And to save you the trouble of asking, Dr. Reiland already looked into catching a ride on the ferry service. It wasn't happening. A lot of people in Rosewater Falls commute to Loch Alstan for work, and now they're taking the ferries back and forth... getting just one ticket to ride the ferry service is tricky -- and expensive now. Three is impossible. So, walking is our only option."

"It's a little colder than I'd like, but I have nothing to complain about. It's nice getting some exercise for a change."


A couple of hours had passed and the terrain around them shifted. They no longer found themselves in the sparsely wooded aspen meadows that bordered the town of Loch Alstan; the road they followed had taken them up into the stoney hills until they eventually reached a grassy plateau. Cliffs flanked them on both sides: to the south, moderately tall hexagonal columns of blackened stone shaded them from the sun, while the north was a sheer drop into an overgrown ravine. From their vantage point, they could still see the placid waves of Loch Alstan, and with the thinning fog, they could faintly see the distant shores on the other side -- the neighboring Kingdom of Glastonfell. Even further beyond were the sentry-like Dornoch Mountains, the supposed source of the cold air that had caught Andrea off guard.

Conversation between Patrick and Emily had continued at a steady pace; as usual, Andrea was quiet and lingered behind, something that the two were clearly disheartened by. Patrick's attempts at prodding her for info about her social life while at university failed, so he decided to talk about his own. His attempt at breaking the ice involved anecdotes about his own rebellious phase.

"You?" Andrea questioned. "But you seem so sewn up and straight!"

"You'd better believe it! I was a wild kid when I was your age," he answered with a smile. "Long hair, leather jackets, death metal concerts and more time spent raving than studying. Drugs, alcohol, women, fights..."

She laughed. "Okay, now it's starting to sound a little embellished."

"Most of that is true," Emily added. "It was a lot of work setting this guy straight when I met him."

"I've come a long way, haven't I?"

"Mhmm! I'm proud!"

"Yeah, that answers that. Definitely a couple..." Andrea thought.

"Ehh. I needed to get serious if I was ever going to climb out of that hole." He turned to look back at Andrea. "Not that you have to look like a boring old dude like me to be taken seriously, I should clarify."

Details about his past had grappled with her curiosity, and had finally drawn her out of her social anxiety. "Do you still listen to any of that stuff? Go to raves?"

He shook his head. "Nah, no more raves for me. I'm ancient by the rave scene standards -- not 'cool enough' anymore, and I get cranky if I'm out past my bedtime. I do still listen sometimes, though."

"Aww, that's a shame... If I do get this job, it would have been nice to find someone who knows all the good spots in town. Maybe even a rave buddy."

"Heh, I could dust off the ol' Disco Inferno jacket, see if I've still got what it takes... But, there's a guy down in our biochemistry department, huuuuuuge cyberpunk nerd. I could introduce you somet --"

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

Patrick held his arms out to slow the two girls down. "Donphan... Careful, those things are downright nasty. But it's alone -- it's more scared of us than we are of it."

"Uhh..." Emily murmured. "Does the Donphan know this?"

"Shh!" Andrea ordered, then whispered. "I've read about these things... We have to move slowly and maintain eye contact, right? Show it we're not a threat?"

"Yeah... We have to let it know that we know that it's there," he added. "They're creatures of opportunity. They only strike when they know they have the upper hand."

"What if that doesn't work? We're probably in its territory, and we should have a plan --"

In that instance, the tried and true method of maintaining eye contact didn't work. The Donphan pounded its padded foot into the ground like a bovine bull and roared loudly, a universally understood signal among Donphan experts that it was enraged and unwilling to back down. The attack was swift! It hopped into the air and curled up to protect itself with its dense armor plating, then closed the distance between it and the group surprisingly quickly.

"Look out!" Patrick shouted as he pulled Andrea off of the path, taking care to place himself in between her and the Donphan just in case.

Emily tumbled to the ground as she narrowly avoided being steamrolled; the Donphan roared past her and slammed into a massive 25 meter tall fir tree at the side of the path. The trunk of the tree shattered from the force of the impact, sending wooden shrapnel raining down over a wide area, and the rest of it toppling down with a rattling thud. As she picked herself up off of the ground and dusted herself off, she worriedly called out, "Umm! You sure Pepper can handle something like this?"

"Find somewhere to hide, you two!" Patrick ordered. "Pepper! Park yourself between us and that tree! We need to overwhelm this thing quickly, before someone gets hurt!"

Pepper hesitated for a moment before rushing off towards the fallen tree. After a few moments of silence, he cautiously hopped up to the branches of the fallen tree and searched the area in an attempt to locate the Donphan, but it was difficult; the mess of battered branches and thick needles obscured his vision. The search yielded nothing; no movement, no sound, nothing out of place -- almost as if the Donphan had simply vanished.

"Hope that thing didn't get crushed to death by the tree..." Patrick said before taking a few cautious steps towards the fallen fir. "Find anything, Pepper?"

Pepper let out a deep growl as he continued to investigate the area.

Andrea poked her head out from behind a large boulder that rested at the opposite side of the road. "We should take this opportunity to leave!"

Before they could react, the shrill cry of the Donphan echoed out again and the tree rustled with movement. The Donphan burst out of the shroud of needles and rolled straight for Pepper in an attempt to catch him off guard. Pepper was quick on his paws, however, and managed to avoid the attack.

The smoke billowing from Pepper's tail grew thicker as he took in a deep breath; tracking the movements of the rampaging Donphan carefully, he let loose a spray of flickering flames, taking care not to catch his master, his two friends or the grass in the flaming arc. The Donphan proved to be too fast, however, leaving a trail of burning dust behind it as it continued to roll about.

"Adjust your aim a little, Pepper!" Patrick ordered.

Pepper kept up his relentless barrage of fire breath, but he just couldn't connect his attack. All he was doing was tiring himself out while the Donphan continued its deft dance of avoidance. Meanwhile, it was only just getting started; its attacks grew in accuracy and increased in speed with each miss.

Patrick narrowly scrambled out of the way of the Donphan as it rolled straight at him, then picked himself up off the ground. "Bloody hell... Uhh... This could be bad..."

Andrea had been analyzing Patrick's strategy from her safe spot and could plainly see that it wasn't working. "He needs to find a way to slow that thing down somehow..." She turned to Emily. "Do you know if Patrick is actually any good at this Pokémon battling thing? I kinda didn't buy his bragging earlier."

Emily bit her lower lip. "Not really... He can hold his own, but he's not as good as he thinks he is... I'm a little worried about this."

"Great..." she muttered. "I don't know much myself, but it looks like I'm gonna have to back him up somehow."

She took a moment to study the battlefield as she formulated a plan. Speed seemed to be the key issue at hand, and luckily she had a Pokémon of her own that could help with that. She reached into her stocking and grabbed Widow's Pokéball, then tossed it forward. The ball exploded with a loud hissing sound that briefly caught the attention of everyone present, and a large arachnid creature dropped to the ground with a hearty thud.

The stout brown arachnid stood firm on her eight legs, and the thick coating of hair on her bristled with anticipation for the upcoming battle. The two appendages that typically rested on the back of most other Ariados subspecies instead sprouted from her head, just above the solitary horn, and twitched in regular intervals.

She stood up and called out loudly, "Patrick! We gotta slow that thing down somehow!"

"And how in the bloody hell are we supposed to do that?! The bugger just keeps rolling!"

She took cover behind the boulder again and addressed the Ariados. "Listen closely, Widow. Get out there and help Pepper out... We need to slow that Donphan down, think your webs can do the trick?"

Widow zoned in on the rampaging Donphan and skittered forward onto the battlefield. She spun in place and aimed her spinnerets carefully; with her legs firmly spread apart, she shot out a sticky strand of silk in the direction of the Donphan, snagging onto its armor plates as it rolled by. The slack in the stand quickly reached its limit, sending Widow tumbling into the dirt. She quickly regained her footing, only to be forcibly dragged along until the strand snapped.

"Should have figured..." Andrea muttered.

"Keep trying," Emily recommended. "Cover that thing in enough webs and it'll be stuck to the ground, right?"

She studied the battlefield some more. "I doubt it... Maybe if it were standing still, but I think the Donphan is just too heavy and fast for this to work." She looked towards the broken fir and formulated her next idea: if the Donphan were to smash into something hard enough, perhaps that could buy Pepper enough time to seize the upper hand. She looked around for something that might work, only to realize they were hiding behind the perfect obstacle. She grabbed Emily by the wrist and tugged. "Maybe we don't need to slow it down. Maybe we can use its speed against it. Follow me."

Patrick spotted the two emerge from their hiding spot. "What are you two doing!? Get back!"

Andrea pointed to the boulder. "Patrick, listen to me, I've got an idea. You see that boulder we were hiding behind? If that Donphan smashes into it, it'll probably stun it, knock it out of its shell and then your Hopañero can actually do something useful."

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

"I tried, but I don't think Widow's going to be much use in this situation. We've gotta try before Pepper runs out of energy, and then we're screwed."

"Right, you heard the lady, Pepper!" he called out. "Park yourself in front of that rock, now!"

"Get ready, Widow!" she added. "As soon as that thing stops moving, cover it in webs!"

Pepper broke his attention away from the rampaging Donphan for a brief moment, positioning itself between it and the boulder. He kept a close eye on the Donphan, adjusting his positioning as needed, ready to leap out of the way at a moment's notice. Exactly as planned, the Donphan began to circle around and aimed directly for him; with a swift leap into the air, Pepper had lured the Donphan right into the trap! A large crack formed down the center of the boulder as the Donphan smashed directly into it -- dazed by the hard impact.

"Hell yeah!" Patrick exclaimed. "Light 'em up, Pepper! Everything you've got!"

Before Widow could spring to action and lock the dazed Donphan down, Pepper charged forward. The smoke that billowed from his stubby tail erupted into flames as a large stream of white hot fire breath blew in the Donphan's direction, and he was absolutely relentless with his attack. With the flames burning into its exposed underside, the Donphan's hostile nature shifted towards terror, and it spent every bit of energy it had on trying to make an escape. Pepper pursued the stumbling and injured Donphan into the grass, stopping every few moments to hop up above and direct a short burst of flame in its direction.

"That's enough, get him to stop!" Andrea called out. "We don't need to start a wildfire out here!"

"Pepper, head on back!" Patrick ordered. He took a moment to catch his breath and dust himself off, keeping his eye on the Donphan as it scurried up the rocky cliffs. "Ho ho ho ho!" he laughed, as if he could barely contain his excitement -- or perhaps sanity. "That could have gone really, really badly... Those things are killing machines when they're pissed."

"Yeah..." Emily added. "I'd rather not have to deal with a medical emergency this far outside of town. I've only got first aid supplies!"

"We need to keep moving. All that noise probably attracted the herd," Andrea suggested.

Patrick nodded. "She's right about that. Come on, Pepper, lead the way and keep us safe. Let's keep up a light jog for about ten minutes, get us out of their territory quicker."

It was a much more cautious journey for the group after that. Chatter was kept to a minimum. Every small movement on the side of the road or in the trees and bushes was heavily scrutinized. Andrea kept close to Patrick and Emily, and they all stayed within an arm's reach of Pepper, who led the way forward. Widow kept a sizable distance behind, ready to strike if the Donphan or its friends returned.

Neither of them hoped for it, but both Patrick and Andrea were ready for the Donphan to return, only this time with friends; it was behavior that both of them had learned about during their studies, behavior that most trainers were dangerously unaware of. As the landscape changed from rocky hills back to sparsely populated woodland, however, the possibility of that began to diminish, and the aura of worry dissipated as they continued on towards Rosewater Falls.

Emily unexpectedly patted Andrea on the shoulder and gripped her in a friendly manner. "Good work back there. You saved our arses for sure."

"Huh?" she asked.

"Emi's right. That strategy of yours... I didn't even see it," Patrick added.

"Oh, uhh..." she nervously laughed. "Really, Pepper did all the work. Me and Widow bumbled around."

"Pepper saved the day with your guidance and your strategy. Seriously, good work."

She couldn't help but feel the praise was unwarranted. "Was it really all that special?"

Patrick and Emily looked at each other briefly; they couldn't tell if she was simply downplaying the praise as they might expect of her, or truly clueless about how good her strategy was.

"Are you kidding? That was incredible! You said you're not a trainer, even on a hobby level, but... You ever spectate any of that top tier competitive stuff?"

"A little bit of it. There's a girl I follow on Instaglam who records her matches and uploads them, which I might have learned a thing or two from. But no, I don't think I'm all that good when it comes to actually battling myself."

"Ah, a shame. You seem like you'd be good at it. Looks like you already know how to identify problems on a battlefield and think outside of the box."

She stopped in her tracks and their eyes met when the two turned around to look at her. "If your intent is to get me to embrace the idea of becoming a Pokémon trainer, you can stop right now. I'm working on becoming a scientist first and foremost."

"Oh, no! Nothin' meant by it!" he reassured her. "Just... you could go far as like... a hired travel guide, or something similar. Provide security for travellers and hikers."

"Maybe..." she quietly said, following them again. "I guess if this doesn't work out, that's something I could look at. I'd rather not go back to waitress work, if I'm honest." Her attention was grabbed by the loud, shrieking call that came from a large bird that circled above them like a vulture. "Uhh, we should be in town soon, right? This bird is making me nervous... Is that a Fearow? A Vultear?" She squinted her eyes in hopes of getting a better look, but it didn't help. "I can't quite tell."

Patrick looked up and spotted the large bird. "Pretty sure that's a Fearow, based on the neck length. Vultears have shorter beaks, as well."

"Ah, heh..."

"Don't worry, though, it won't bother us. Know why?"

"Uhh... They're carrion feeders, aren't they?"

"They are. It's a little alarming that one is circling us, though... Let's keep moving."
 
Chapter 3: The Third Wheel
Princess of Dorkness
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- Content warnings -
[ moderate sexually suggestive content and innuendos ]

- Content notes -
The contents of this chapter are largely identical to Chapter 5: The Third Wheel of Land of the Roses 2.0. The setting has changed and a few things have been taken out, as they revealed too much too early, and didn't fit in with the focus character/point of view format I'm writing with.


"Young couples these days are the worst. They're so obsessed with showing off how much they 'love' each other to realize that they actually don't. That's exactly why we've made our reality show about them! It's ratings gold!"
~ Ryan Starr, Executive Producer of True Love In Paradise


May 12th
Rosewater Falls, Kingdom of Lanark


The sun had just retreated under the horizon by the time that the group had reached the outskirts of Rosewater Falls. Just as the darkness threatened to envelope them, they found themselves awash in the golden light of the village's antique street lamps. Though it was cold and windy, something felt cozy about the village -- a village of small homes, expertly manicured yards and gardens, and quiet, meandering streets. Andrea found herself reminded of the quaint and warm atmosphere that surrounded the winter holidays, days when most people get a few weeks off from work or school to return home and visit friends and family, celebrate with each other and ring in what they hoped would be a better and more prosperous year.

"Holidays I missed last year..." she thought with a heavy, audible sigh.

"Tired?" Patrick asked.

She perked up upon hearing his voice for the first time in nearly twenty minutes. "Oh. Umm. Yeah, but I'm mostly just relieved that we're finally in town."

He nodded and groaned. "Quite a walk! It's been a long time since I've gone this far on my own two legs."

"So where are we staying?" she asked.

"The best I could find for us is a place called the Blushing Blossom," Emily said. "Unfortunately, we've rolled into town during the middle of its Petalfall Festival, so... Well, I hope we didn't get a run down place, but I can't promise anything."

"What about a PokéCenter? Don't they have cheap hostels on the second floor?" she asked, recalling numerous stories from friends, acquaintances and idols.

"They do, but they're only for registered trainers in the Rose League. Doesn't matter, anyways. The room is already paid for."

"Room, singular?" she asked. "Not rooms, plural?"

Patrick and Emily glanced at each other. "Oh yeah... Well, when Emi originally set this all up a few weeks ago, we didn't think we'd have someone tagging along. The Institute's budget for field work isn't what it used to be, so... Unless I can twist Maylene's arm about upping the budget on this one, you're going to have to share with us."

"She's already gone home, anyways," Emily commented. "If she even bothered to come in today. I swear, accounting is the flakiest and most unreliable department we have..."

"Ha! No arguments from me. Bunch o' bums!"

"Oh..." she mumbled. "Oh god. Share a room? I don't know about that..." Her thoughts were accompanied by another hearty sigh, but she did her best to contain it. "But what other option do I have? Paying for my own room means dipping into my emergency savings..."

Much to her relief, the Blushing Blossom Inn was a quaint and comfortable-looking place, and stuck out like a sore thumb among the other buildings -- mostly of brick and stone -- in town. Paper lanterns and golden fairy lights hung from the edges of the curved tiled roof, gently illuminating the exotic murals painted across wooden walls. The building itself was nestled within an intricately-designed and carefully manicured garden, itself hidden behind a chest-high wall. Four cherry trees in full bloom stood tall at the corners of the property, which was just a stone's throw away from the river that snaked its way through the center of the village.

"I think we struck gold, it's adorable!" Emily triumphantly said.

"Wow, it's beautiful," Andrea added.

"Looks like it's been plucked straight out of medieval Tohjo. It's got normal rooms, right? No shared spaces? No weird movable walls?" Patrick pondered. "Tables and chairs, hopefully?"

"Should do," Emily answered.

After a brief chat with the elderly receptionist, the three arrived at their room. Much to their dismay, the room took the definition of claustrophobic and redefined it: the only noteworthy furniture in the room was a small plush couch that could barely seat two, a matching stool and a small desk that hosted a greeting card written by the hotel staff. A clock hung above the couch, and a painting of a cherry orchard hung above the desk. An exotic potted plant that appeared to be outgrowing the room was shoved into a corner next to the door. Another door at the far end of the room was ajar, and a shower curtain could be seen reflecting off of the mirror inside.

"Uhh... This room is looking a little small..." Andrea said as she looked the room over. "Are you sure this is right? There aren't any beds in here!"

"Yeeeah..." Patrick said in agreement as he peeked over her shoulder. "I understand that hotel rooms are at a premium during festivals, but... This is the best we could get?"

Emily shook her head. "This isn't right. For how much we paid for this, this better not be all we're getting, or I'm going straight to the manager and demanding our money back. Loudly."

She tapped on Emily's shoulder. "Let me in?" she asked, prompting an intricate puzzle-like dance that involved the three entering and leaving the small room one at a time. Finally in the room properly, she examined it closer; aside from the clock and the painting, the walls were remarkably bare, and an inspection of the tiny bathroom didn't reveal a hidden passage to another room, as she had hoped. "Great..." she lamented as she sat down on the couch.

Emily sighed loudly. "Yeah, this is bullshit. You two sit tight, I'm going to go talk to that receptionist." Her annoyance was readily apparent in how loudly she stomped away.

A few minutes of awkward silence went by as Patrick took a seat on the couch next to Andrea. Due to its size, there was little room to spare and plenty of friction among their hips as he sat down. He quietly brought his phone out and started to look through other local hotel listings.

Her internal voice groaned as he made himself comfortable beside her. "Come on, dude... You know there's not enough room for both of us..." She fidgeted uncomfortably as she tried to put some distance -- even it it would be less than a centimeter -- between herself and him.

He lowered his phone and looked around the room quizzically. "No bed? There's gotta be more to this place..." Patrick wondered aloud.

"Yeah! What kind of hotel doesn't have beds?"

"Well, you know how it is over in Tohjo. So many people, so little space. Bars that are smaller than an alleyway, apartments that are little more than glorified prison cells, entire corporations crammed into buildings the size of a convenience store. Maybe this is what they have over there, and they brought it with them?"

She leaned back on the couch and had a satisfying stretch. "Hopefully this was a mistake and they have a bigger room, cause this isn't going to --" She stopped herself when her hand brushed up against the decorated wall beside her and felt it jiggle. "-- work?" She pressed her palm against the wall and jiggled her arm back and forth. "Wait a minute... Didn't you say movable walls earlier?" She dragged her palm against the wall and noted a bit of movement, prompting her to stand up and give the wall a more forceful push.

The wall slid along a rail and disappeared into a crevice between the bathroom and a much larger room. The larger room was much more becoming of a comfortable hotel, featuring a queen size bed, a table encircled by four chairs, a stool next to a bookshelf and a woven reed bench in the far corner. There appeared to have been a television in the room at one point in the past, as a shelf with wire connections coiled up on top of it stood on the floor across from the bed.

Patrick cheered. "Now this is more like it! I was worried we were going to be stuck in this tiny room!"

Before they could make themselves comfortable, the door at the entrance opened and Emily stepped in. "Guys, it's -- Oh. Looks like you figured it out."

"Put three geniuses in a room and eventually someone figures it out," Patrick said.

"Yeah, geniuses," Emily half-heartedly said as she picked up the greeting card on the small desk. "We probably should have read this when we got in... Or tried poking the one obviously different wall in the room. I don't think we're geniuses." She twirled about in the much larger space, letting her arms fly free and wide. "You should have seen the look on that poor receptionist's face. She thought I was about to beat her down!"

"You didn't? I'm surprised!" he joked.

As the other two were talking, the details of the room had sunken into Andrea, and she noticed the one big detail that stuck out: there was only one bed and three people, a fact that brought her discomfort of being stuck in the middle of a flirty couple back to the front of her mind. At the very least, the woven reed bench in the corner of the room looked like it could be slept on, but it didn't bring her any peace of mind.

"First I've gotta share a room with a couple, now this? What happens if they... Well... Gods, I hope not."

She wandered over to the bench and collapsed onto it. Finally getting off of her feet after several hours of hiking through the highland wilderness brought an immense sense of relief, relief that clashed with her anxieties. She unlatched the dozen-or-so buckles on her boots and slid them off, letting out a heavy sigh of relief as she threw her legs over the armrest on the other end of the bench. The room lacked a TV, so she reached into her stocking and grabbed her phone, hoping to pass the time before she fell asleep.

"Before you get too comfortable," Patrick started, followed by a slight pause. "I need you to hop in the shower."

Her stomach knotted. It was such a bizarre request -- no, an order -- to come from him. She couldn't think of a legitimate reason for why he'd ask her to; all that came to mind were salacious thoughts, such as him trying to sneak a peek at her while she was getting undressed, or catch her in some sort of compromising situation. He'd only just met her, how dare he? And in front of his girlfriend?

The mere thought of it made her dizzy. "Uhh... Whaaaa? Why?"

"Unlike us, you're not exactly dressed for a hike in the wilds, you know. It might be a good idea to scrub down, make sure you don't have any little bugs on you."

"Oh! Uhh, yeah," she nervously laughed, relieved to hear that it was a reasonable suggestion. "I guess that makes sense."

"You said you don't like big ones, but it's the small ones you should really worry about."

"Right..." She reached for her backpack, unzipped the main compartment and plunged her hand into it. Her empty hand very quickly came back out, slamming into her forehead. "Of course... I stressed out so much about what I was going to wear that I forgot to bring a spare change of clothes... I am such a fucking idiot sometimes..."


"Hhhhnnnggh... Warmth..." Andrea groaned as a deluge of warm water splashed against her shoulders. "Miss the mild temperatures of Aughrim already..."

She'd been encouraged to spend her time in the shower checking for ticks and other dangerous small insects, but she'd already pushed that out of mind for something that felt more immediately troubling. She couldn't shake the feeling that there was something strange about Patrick -- and by extension Emily -- and the way they were treating her. Generosity towards strangers only goes so far, she thought, and those two seemed to have crossed the line. Both of them, Patrick especially, treated her like an old friend, and she'd begun to wonder why.

"I really hope I'm misjudging him, and that Patrick isn't flirting with me... in front of his girlfriend, of all people! Or... What if she's into that..."

While she was uncomfortable with the circumstances, she did enjoy the positive attention on a certain level. It'd been several months since someone other than her roommate had treated her in a positive manner. If she did get the job in the end, she genuinely did look forward to Patrick's friendship, but only on a professional level. But on the other side of that coin, she was unsure if she even wanted to work for the Reiland Institute if she'd have to deal with him in that manner. Lifelong dream or not, she wanted to be able to focus on her work uninterrupted, and she couldn't imagine being able to do so if he were always within an arm's reach, trying to be friendly, or accommodating, or anything else.

She tried to think of the things that could go wrong if she didn't put some distance between him and herself if she did get the job. His overbearing nature could become annoying or potentially even demoralizing. Others could see him taking a shine to her and rush to conclusions, and she wouldn't be taken seriously as a result. She could be given preferential treatment, leading to drama -- a fact she had already experienced in her personal life at university. Even worse than all of that, she could get fired and be left with a big black mark on her record if the situation persisted long enough to catch the attention of Dr. Reiland herself, or if she stepped on his toes while trying to push him away.

"The fuck... Why am I worrying about this shit before I even get the job? I gotta put my foot down right now, tell those two to stop treating me like some old friend."

Another nagging doubt in her mind made her even more uneasy: she honestly couldn't tell if their behavior was actually problematic, or if they were acting like normal, sociable, well-adjusted human beings. The past two years, and especially the past six months, had been unbelievably rough for her when it came to her social life, and she wasn't certain what to make of the situation. Maybe the two were just being friendly and inclusive, and she was too tightly wound up to understand that. Maybe there were facets of socialization that she had simply forgotten during her extended periods of solitary study and miserable isolation.

"Not that I ever really knew how to socialize... I wish I was more of a butterfly before I got to university, instead of being that quiet and weird kid... Maybe it's me who should try being more friendly?"

Before her philosophy session had finished, she realized the water had started to run cold in spite of the heat being on full blast; she'd been in the shower for longer than she thought. She shut the water off and quickly reached for the towel, and in a short time, she was fully dressed again with the exception of her stockings. She cautiously approached the door and slowly pushed it open to announce her presence to the two outside. As she stepped out, she saw them both sat at the table, each with a floppy slice of pizza in their hands.

"Hungry?" Emily asked, showcasing her massive wedge of pizza. "I figured it's a bit late for us to go out to a restaurant, so I ordered in a pizza."

"We weren't sure about your personal ethics for meat, so we settled on something simple just in case," Patrick added.

She approached the table and grabbed one of the slices before giving it a cautionary glance. "I've got no objections to meat myself, but thank you. That's very thoughtful." With her dinner in hand, she scurried back to the bench and took a bite out of it.

"You know, you can sit over here with us. We don't bite," Patrick said. "We're not vampires."

"I don't think it would bother her even if we were," Emily quipped.

"I'm fine here," she answered before taking another bite of her pizza with one hand, and scrolling down a web page on her phone with her other.

The two watched her for a brief moment, then spoke quietly amongst themselves. The sudden hushed nature of their conversation caught her attention, and she tried to glance over without selling the fact that she was trying to listen.

Before long, Emily placed her slice of pizza onto the lid of the box and approached Andrea in a timid manner, before taking a seat on the floor next to the bench. "Hey. I have a question, if you don't mind?"

Andrea looked up from her phone. "What is it?" Almost as quickly as she left it, she returned to the comfort of her phone.

"You've been distant practically all day. Maybe that's just who you are -- I frankly don't know yet. If it is, that's cool! You be you! But I'm still curious about something. Are Patrick and I making you uncomfortable in any way?"

Her focus drifted from her phone towards a distant spot in front of her, but she didn't turn to address Emily. She paused for a moment to think it over; she wrestled with the idea of whether she should tell the truth and risk offending the two, or keep it bottled inside and hope her discomfort would go away on its own. She told herself to be truthful about the matter, as being honest was a skill she'd need to cultivate if she hoped to work with them -- and the rest of the Reiland Institute staff -- in the long term.

However, different words passed through her lips. "Don't worry about it. My social interaction skills are just a little rusty... I don't want to get in between you two, anyways."

Emily cocked her head to the side. "Get in between us? What do you mean?"

"I dunno, I'm just kinda here. You two rented the same hotel room together, and, uhh... I don't want to get in the way if you... ya know."

The confusion on Emily's face was replaced by a sly smile. "Oh! Oh, ha, wow. You don't think we're a couple, do you?"

"You're not?"

Emily nodded. "I guess the deep friendship we have might look a lot like a relationship to outsiders, but no, we're just friends."

"And we're happy that way," Patrick chirped from the other side of the room.

"That makes me feel a little bit better," she said aloud, then whispered further, "While we're on the subject of questions, I have one too... Do you get the feeling that... maybe Patrick is flirting with me?"

Emily adopted a deeply thoughtful facial expression. "I... I don't know, actually. He's... He's kinda... Well! He's friendly with most girls he meets. Sometimes it's hard to tell if he's just being friendly, or actually taking it further..."

"I see... Guess I'll have to keep an eye on him, then."

"Might not be a bad idea, but... I don't think he is. That'd be really unprofessional of him, and I don't know him to be like that."

"That's what I was thinking... So surely not?"

"I can talk to him if you want, let him know he should let up if it's just him that's making you uncomfortable."

"No, no no no!" she said energetically and louder than she expected, then returned to her hushed whispers. "I don't want to rock the boat and upset him... my future is on the line here."

"What are you two ladies plotting about over there?" Patrick asked. "Should I be worried?"

"Nothing!" Emily chirped. "Just discussing some early ideas about what we're gonna do tomorrow."

"Ah, ok, I won't interrupt then. Just try to keep it down a bit," he said, and groaned as he stretched. "I'm going to bed. I suggest you girls do the same soon, we've got a long day ahead of us."

"Alright, I'll join ya in a minute then," Emily replied, before turning her head towards Andrea. "Unless you want the bed tonight? Looks more comfortable than what you're sitting on. Physically, at least."

She took a look over at the double-sized bed as Patrick sat down on it. "Uhh, yeah... That's not happening. Sharing a room with my would-be boss is already weird enough."

"Understandable."


Fr: Andrea Dennison, 10:32 PM
'hey'
'kinda wishing i could come home lol'

Fr: 'Webster', 10:33 PM
'Hey! Made it there safely?'

Fr: Andrea Dennison, 10:33 PM
'yeah'
'little trouble on the road with a donphan i guess'
'but thats to be expected in the wild'

Fr: 'Webster', 10:34 PM
'Glad you made it safely!'
'It's kinda weird not hearing your music this time of night.'

Fr: Andrea Dennison, 10:35 PM
'aww miss me already huh <3'
'well i just wanted to let you know that i made it to rosewater safely'
'seems like these guys want an early start so i should probably try to sleep'
'i know i know its six hours too early for that lol but im actually tired'
'such a long and draining walk'
'gnight'

Fr: 'Webster', 10:37 PM
'Good night. See ya in a few days I guess!'


May 13th
Rosewater Falls, Kingdom of Lanark


"Cuckawwwww! Cuckawwwww!"

It was the sound of a Coocluck rooster, a sound that Andrea hadn't heard in nearly five years; for as long as she could remember, that sound was what signaled the start of her days, and just like the olden days of her countryside upbringing, it served that purpose once more. Despite the discomfort of sleeping on the bench and the extreme swing in her sleep pattern, she felt reasonably well rested. She rolled off of the bench with a hearty thud, stood up and quietly made her way across the room toward the window. As she drew back the curtains ever so slightly, the golden light of the rising sun bled in, turning her ghostly pale skin into a beacon that lit the darkened room.

The change in light levels roused one of the two in the bed from their sleep. Motion under the covers preceded Emily poking her head out and glancing around in a daze. "Mmm?" she groggily mumbled as her eyes opened. "...time is it..."

"Oh, sorry if I woke you," Andrea said with a soft whisper, closing the curtain and blackening the room again. "Sunrise. A Coocluck woke me up."

"Mmm..."

"Guess that's an earlier start than you anticipated?"

"Mmm..."

She chuckled at Emily's lack of straightforward answers, then made that same quiet journey back across the room and returned to the bench. She grabbed her phone to check the time, and her groggy eyes widened upon seeing it: 5:11 AM. "Five in the morning? Are you fucking kidding me? That's usually when I go to bed..." She stretched and could feel that it was likely to be an unpleasant day; her legs were still sore from the extended walk from Loch Alstan, and now her back was acting up from sleeping on the bench. "Well... Now what? I have no idea when these two are gonna get out of bed... and I'm gonna need -- dare I say it -- some coffee before long..."

About an hour passed before there was any substantial movement in the bed. Emily was the first to get up, and she'd clearly gotten a decent night of sleep; she was cheerful, she was energetic and she was excited to get their day started. Patrick was similar when he finally got out of bed about twenty minutes after that, though much more sluggish with his start. A short conversation about how their day would pan out happened; Emily included Andrea's opinions as if they actually mattered -- something she felt was strange, but happy about regardless -- but the discussion was cut short by a horrible growling sound.

Patrick rubbed his belly. "Oh! How about we continue this discussion over breakfast, ladies?"


"You look like you really enjoyed that," Emily commented. She pushed her half finished breakfast across the table until it clinked against Andrea's empty bowl. "I've never seen anyone clean a bowl that quickly. I could have sworn I saw sparks flying off of it!"

"I did! Outside of special occasions or sneaking a meal out of The Lair, I can't remember the last time I ate something that wasn't cheap and didn't taste like cardboard," she answered with a sigh. "I've never really had any money, but I always told myself that a bad diet was the price of progress in order to make myself feel better. Always told myself that I should be happy I even had that, and that I didn't go to bed hungry most nights."

"Yet you show up to a wilderness hike in what looks like a designer dress, sporting the most blinging necklace I've ever seen," Patrick commented.

"Okay, younger me wasn't the best with her money! I'd like to think I'm better about that now..." She looked down at the silver necklace that rested on her shoulders and grasped the red gemstone between her fingers. "The necklace wasn't my idea, anyways. It was a gift."

"Well, at least you're a cheap date. I like that," he quipped as he examined the bill, earning a sharp glare from Emily.

"How much was it again?" she asked, her hand already buried in her purse in a search for a handful of coins.

He shook his head. "You'd like to think you're better with your money, but I don't think you are. You said money is tight, and you're our guest. Remember, we're taking care of you until you're back home."

"Are you sure?" she asked. "I should have enough to pay for my own meals and still get home..."

Patrick looked over towards Emily and stifled a laugh. "The fact that she said 'should' tells me she's not actually sure herself." He turned back to Andrea. "I'm paying, and that's the end of that."

It was the age old 'no, I'm paying!' game she'd heard so much about. She was thrilled she'd finally gotten to experience it herself, as it signified that she was moving into the adult world, but she knew she wasn't going to win. Even more, he was right: money was indeed tight and she didn't need to be looking for excuses to spend what little she had left -- she realized she might need it in the near future.

"Very well, suit yourself. And, thank you."

"Any time," he answered habitually, then caught himself. "Well, not any time. You know what I mean."

She giggled.

As he counted up his coins, he said, "Speaking of clothes, I'm curious of what else you have."

Andrea felt her heart rate begin to spike before Emily blurted, "Uhh? Is that really important, Patrick?"

"Well..." he started, trying his best to contain a smile. "The Reiland Institute doesn't have a uniform, but it does have a dress code. It's not strict, but... Let me just say, that dress you're wearing is very much on the border of the dress code, and I'm not sure Dr. Reiland would have a favorable opinion of it. Do you have anything a little more modest?"

"I do. But, uhh... Heh, stupid me didn't put them away properly and they were covered in wrinkles, so that's why I picked this one. If it's a little too showy, I'll keep that in mind if I get hired."

He nodded, then pounded his palm on the table as he stood up. "I'm gonna go pay our bill." With that, he disappeared into the restaurant.

Yet again, she found herself panicking over something he said that ultimately turned out to be reasonable -- once he had the opportunity to clarify himself. She wondered if there was some sort of ulterior motive behind structuring his questions and recommendations in that manner, or if he was just a goofy guy who stumbled over his words a little too easily. She also felt a bit prickly about fibbing so quickly and so easily in regards to his question; her wardrobe was very limited, and not much more modest than what she was currently wearing. She grew nervous about the possibility of being hired and having nothing better to wear on her first day, but tried to push it from her mind -- she had to cross that bridge, first.

"Emily, can I ask something?"

"What's up?"

"Does Patrick always ask his questions so weirdly like that? Like, make a suggestive inquiry at first, and then explain himself a moment later?"

Emily tilted her head in thought. "Every now and then, I guess? But it's been awhile since I've paid him enough attention to notice it. He's... just a little weird sometimes. He doesn't have the greatest social skills or awareness, but they've definitely improved since he was promoted to his chief of staff position."

"Maybe I'm overthinking things... My own social skills aren't the greatest, either. And I guess I expected things to be super formal and professional, rather than friendly and casual."

"People being professional, at a professional workplace? Welcome to the office workforce." Emily chuckled. "Even at the top, people are way too casual. I can tell it's bothering you, though. Are you sure you don't want me to set him straight for you?"

She grimaced and shook her head. "I am. I don't want to make a bad first impression like that. It's not going to look very good if I start being a killjoy... I get enough of that just because of the goth persona."

Emily nodded. "I understand that, but you don't have to be the killjoy in this situation. I'd be the one saying something, and I can be neutral about it."

"I'll see how the rest of the day goes first. If we're still here tomorrow and he's still being overbearing... maybe we can talk to him about it."

"Just remember: even as an outsider -- hell, as a woman -- you're well within your rights to demand he be more professional. But it's your call. I'll keep my lips sealed if you think it's for the best."

She smiled; it was an immense comfort to know that she could rely on Emily in the coming days. "Thank you. I'll let you know if I need a little help."
 
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- Why did she not just accept the spare jacket
- Well these two don't worry about PDA
- So first she is more or less silent save five words, then she's getting talked to which is making more than five.
- How do you decide where she stammers?
- It is comedic, but it kinda ruins the scene where she is expositing backstory with silliness.
- And then he went to pry her open with a crowbar and nobody laughed ever again.
- Just like that the shivering and stammering goes away.
- Debt, how the rich stay the richest.
- Sounds like she can dance if she wants to. And she left her friends behind.
- Ooo neat grass/fire concept. Only other one I've really seen are an Oddish line variant that take volcano elements
- Heh, opposite trainer code of canon.
- Welp. Shoutouts to tall grass.
- Really really tall grass.
- Nice place to put the tracks.
- Price gouging,
- Insert joke about fixing him here.
- Disco inferno? Okay this guy is old. Or at least the story is in the 80s or 90s.
- Sometimes you do maintain eye contact and sometimes you don't but here it don't matter
- WHY WOULD YOU NOT USE GRASS MOVES IDIOT
- Couldn't let go?
- Webs and fire. Hmmmm...
- Nice battle.
- The classic change one letter. InstaGlam sounds like a very fabulous variation.
- And random bird I am sure will not be relevant at all.

- Was the dark like going to eat them? In grim bleak worlds as this that lean into Pokémon being too deadly dangerous can't tell.
- Thank you for not forcing it as the Blushing Bellossom
- Maylene huh? Intentional?
- Would it technically be medieval times in Japan? More a Europe thing. Unless Patrick is an idiot on purpose.
- This place seems a scam. Or they blew the budget on aesthetics. Aside reading and writing review on tablet. It knows Pokémon with the accent, but not aesthetics. Suggests anesthetics instead. Luckily on this program a quick tap fixes and overenthusiatic autocorrect; only keep it on here as it helps when writing on it.
- Suddenly reminded of that Futurama gag with Bender's apartment
- Did she forget about the couch in the entry room?
- That is a random request indeed...
- Awkward compromising situation.
- Is it paranoia? Oh probably. But is it correct?
- Ack, floppy pizza. It goes everywhere. And no plates?
- Hm. Can't help but wonder if Andrea was badly burned in the past.
- And here I thought after that the guy would be stuck on the bench. Guess the couch doesn't exist anymore.
- Like the contrasts in punctuation in the texts
- How loud is that bird
- Hm. Patrick acting a bit sus. Too many of those comments.
- Professionals being unprofessional? Sounds like an anime.

Well I do that and come back to a crashed computer. Lovely. That and spending 30 minutes backing up just in case after that made me forget most of the comments I wanted to make in the process. Fic continues to progress along, though! Keep it up.
 
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