TEEN: Seiren

Chapter 8

canisaries

break necks, i'm the chiropractor
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what's up gamers this time things happen in this fic crazy i know right

rated... teen? i'm not sure if some things would warrant a mature rating, but i don't think mature when i think this chapter, so i guess rated teen for now. there's a lot of language and mentions of violence.

anyway let's go and yes that is a prism reference in the title

---

CHAPTER 8
Pallet Patrol


---
At last, the limousine arrives. The luxurious black vehicle draws bewildered looks from the people passing through Pallet Town Square. Why would anyone important come here?

I put away the book whose back cover I was pretending to read and exit through the glass door. The air changes from warm and paper-scented to cold and damp. I grab my arms and shudder even if I know I dressed properly for the weather.

But it was time for me to get out of that bookstore, anyway. My feigned browsing of the books there fooled most, but one weak-chinned employee caught on to my act. He didn’t throw me out just yet, but I think he only left to get himself some backup. Gods know a lanky nerd like him would need it.

I begin walking towards the limo, and after a while, one of the vehicle’s doors opens. A floating winter coat bounces out. It slides through the air to me while the limo drives off in the background.

“Hi!” it chirps.

As I smile and wave back, it reaches me, bringing a tingling to my left wrist. The real life form inside the coat shines through between the lowered hood and the zipper - an inkay with a star marking on its mantle. The star glows faintly yellow.

“Enjoy your trip?” I ask Shirlee before she gets to opening her yap again.

“Yeah, this place looks so different from the big cities… even Undella. Is this really the town square?”

“Yeah, this is… this.”

The inkay spins in the air, taking in the stony, quiet opening. “Wow, it’s so small and it looks like, so old, too...” Words one usually doesn’t hear in an admiring tone.

“I’m not really sure why you want a tour of this place, there’s not really anything impressive in this town...” I say, still holding on to the hope of this boring, cold wanderfest being cancelled.

“Because it’s your town, silly,” she laughs and playfully bumps her forehead onto my chest. Ow, there was a button there… “Of course I wanna know what kinda place raised a sweetie like you!”

That would probably be my basement... “Alright, then,” I sigh. “We should start moving, it's just gonna get colder if we don't.”

“Where are we going first?” asks Shirlee, swaying with excitement.

“I’ll tell you when we're there. Come on.”

---

Two days after the night at her hotel, Shirlee told me she could meet me again the next day and that this time she wanted to see my hometown. I started preparing almost immediately. I knew I’d have to give her a full blown tour of Pallet to make it seem like I was a ordinary local of the place. While I am a local, I’m far from ordinary and barely ever venture into town without good reason. Even then, I just use the same couple of straightforward routes I know and love to quickly get in and swiftly get out.

This is why I had to turn to Abe. When I asked him if he could show me some maps of his, he fell quiet and stared at me like I was a smokin’ hot girl suggesting we make out. Extremely willing, but extremely suspicious.

Nevertheless, he busted out his Pallet maps and told me all about the most prominent buildings when asked. Of course I only remembered a few parts of what he said, but I figured it’d be good enough. I wouldn't seem normal if I knew too much, either.

Abe was clearly overjoyed during the entire conversation, even if I wasn't any warmer than I usually am, which is not at all. He probably saw the thing as an actual brotherly bonding experience. Gonna suck for him when he realizes I only consulted him out of convenience. If he ever does.

I keep my hands in my pockets to minimize heat loss in the miserable weather as I lead Shirlee through the planned path. For each place of interest, I share the few facts I remember about it, let the inkay ogle it for a while longer and then move on to the next one. It's rather boring, but at least when I’m talking, she isn't.

“We have a bunch more shops around here,” I narrate as the numerous neon titles and signs with percentages roll into view. “The school kids like to come here on breaks to buy snacks and such as it's cheap and close.”

The mention of edible things make my organs groan. I turn to Shirlee. “Hey, you hungry? There are some restaurants here too. They're not that fancy, though, so…”

“Oh, psh, it's fine! I don't need any kind of fancy treatment. Just take me someplace tasty and filling.”

“Seafood?”

“Hrmm, we ate seafood last time…”

“Well, pizza then?”

“No, that's too greasy…”

I silence a sigh. “Subs?”

“Oh, subs sound good. Let's go there!”

“Alright, follow me.” I turn and begin to walk.

“Wait!” someone yells. A young girl?

Rapid steps descend upon the gravel of the street. Four tiny legs gallop as fast as they can, a bushy tail wiggling behind and two long ears swaying in front. That’s a sentret. It has a little saddlebags on its sides and a scarf around its neck. Well… if you can call what sentret have a neck.

It stops before Shirlee, catching its breath. “E-excuse me, lady,” it pants, “but are you Shirlee?”

Shirlee swiftly floats down to the little mon’s level, tentacles raised. “Uhh, keep it down, but...” She smiles warmly. “Yeah.”

“Oh my Gods!” the sentret whispers. “This is great! I’m such a big fan! And, and my sister is too! Oh, I’m so honored to meet you, and, like, I hope I’m no trouble --”

“Don’t worry, you’re not,” Shirlee assures, whispering herself. “As long as you don’t call the paparazzi.”

“Oh, no, I wouldn’t, ever! Those are awful!”

“Aw, thanks. Say, would you like a picture with me?”

“R-really? I-I mean yeah!”

The sentret digs a phone out of its saddlebag and shuffles next to Shirlee. “Uhh...” The mon tries holding the phone out in front of the two, but its arms prove too stubby.

Shirlee notices the girl’s predicament and jumps to her aid. “Hey, Red, can you take a pic of us?”

Well, I have to, don’t I. “Oh, yeah, sure...”

I take the phone the sentret offers to me and snap a photo I hope is decent enough. Man, it’s a good thing I practiced this a while ago. I give the phone back.

“Thanks, this is awesome!” the sentret beams. “You’re gonna make my sister so happy, too! A-and she really needs that, she’s been so nervous lately because she’s gonna evolve soon...”

Shirlee’s smile changes. I know what that is. That’s a fake smile.

Just a second later, however, it regains its authenticity. “Honey, I wish your sister the best of luck, and you too.”

“Thank you so much, you’re amazing! I-I’ll get out of your hair... mantle now.” The sentret returns its phone to its bag and begins hopping away. “B-bye!” it still says from afar, waving its tail.

“Bye!” answers Shirlee, waving back. “Aww, such a sweet kid...” She turns to me. ”Ah, sorry about that. Let’s go get those subs now.”

“Ah, yeah. Let’s.”

---

Shirlee keeps her gaze on the table as she downs the last bite of her sandwich. With the end of her telekinesis, the buzz in my wrist sizzles out.

She’s been like a deflated balloon ever since that encounter with the fan. Whatever’s got her down must be the key to destroying her… I have to get her to tell me what it is.

I lower my mostly-eaten sub on the tray. Shirlee had ordered only a half-length for herself, but I was hungry enough for a full one and figured this was an acceptable reason not to mimic her actions so closely.

“Shirlee, can I ask you something?”

“Hm?” Her eyes meet mine, but return to the table in a second. “Sure, what is it?”

“Are you feeling alright? You’ve seemed different ever since that sentret left.”

“Ah… have I? Sorry…”

“Does it have something to do with what she said about her sister evolving?”

Shirlee falls silent. Then, she sighs.

“It’s… it’s dumb,” she mumbles.

I lean forward. “You can tell me. I won’t judge.”

“Eh...”

“If it’s bothering you, I wanna know what it is. Please.”

She stays quiet and still for another while. I wait patiently, knowing it'll pay off any moment now.

“I’m getting everstone surgery soon,” she finally spits out. “And I’m nervous about it.”

Everstone…? So inkay evolve?

True, I never asked or found out otherwise… but somehow she came across as a single-stage to me. I guess evolution doesn't naturally cross humans’ mind that much, anyway.

So… why doesn't she want to evolve, then? Is it bad somehow? Is there something wrong with her next stage?

“Oh, getting nervous is perfectly natural!” I comfort her, keeping my voice down as she probably wants this to stay secret. “But… why don't you want to evolve?”

“Wh… are you kidding?” She frowns. “Do you not know what malamar are like?”

Shit, I probably should know, since I claim to be such a big fan. But I don't know. So what do I say…

Agh, I’ve hesitated too long. I need to go with the truth. “No… sorry, I don't.”

“Well, that explains it,” she sighs, looking back down. Her face wrinkles in disgust. “Malamar are these… tubby, ugly, slimy, evil-looking garbage bags of… grossness. Nothing like inkay - inkay are small and cute and have happy colors and beautiful voices.” The sleeves of her coat wrap around her. “Only inkay have any kind of chance at being liked by the public.”

She stares into my eyes. “I’m around the age where wild inkay evolve. Or the civilized ones that aren't careful. I’ve felt the symptoms that usually come. I want to eat more, I feel kinda moody, and most importantly, I’ve had odd urges to sleep upside down. Sometimes I wake up that way despite the tricks I try to keep it from happening, and I freak out and have to find a mirror. Every time so far I’ve been relieved to still be the mon I fell asleep as in the aquarium, but I can't count on that always happening. That's why I need the everstone. So that I can stop worrying.”

Huh.

I guess she does have more to her life than just her fame and riches.

Anyway, time to ruin it all.

“So you inkay evolve into this… malamar by… sleeping upside down?”

“Well, not just sleeping. It can also happen during stress or other strong emotion, as long as you're upside down. That's why I dropped all cartwheels and flips from my choreography.”

I see. I see. All very interesting information. Very interesting indeed…

“Yeah, so, when I get that everstone, I can sleep in peace,” she continues, a faint smile on her beak. “It's just that I’m nervous about the surgery itself. Anders and everyone else keeps telling me it's super safe, but, like… it's still cutting me open and shoving some gravel in. While I’m only one anaesthetic failure away from feeling it all. It's so scary. But I have to do it. It's gonna make my life so much easier.”

Silence returns. Well, as silent as it is in a sub shop with people chatting and ordering, machines chinging and beeping, a host on the radio announcing which song will be next and a bright lamp buzzing above.

I wonder how I should approach this. I need to comfort her, sure, but what would be the best way? I don’t know what to say except generic, elementary shit… damn, I guess this is a downside of avoiding deeper relationships for so long.

Or… I do have one deep relationship. What if I pretended she was… my lord?

I study the dejected inkay. Her big eyes and blue body are somewhat similar to His. Okay. So, underneath that coat is my lord, and He’s going to a necessary surgery. Also, He’s momentarily a female inkay and named Shirlee. Right. Here we go.

I raise my hands and lower them palms up on the table. Shirlee gives me an odd look.

“Shirlee, hold my hands,” I say calmly.

She eyes my palms, then hesitantly places the clubs of her sleeved tentacles on it. The touch is wet and cold - something that would discomfort the average human, but to me, it's an even stronger link to the one I devote my life to. Briefly, I miss Him, but I brush those thoughts away and concentrate back on the matter at hand.

“I know it's scary,” I start. My voice feels so oddly… true.

“It's not easy to just… release control of your body and have someone you don't know do complicated things to it while you’re not there to watch them. I understand that, it's a natural fear.

But these doctors have done surgery after another. They know what to do. They know some patients are scared, too, and they're used to that. They're being paid by you and they're there to serve you and keep you healthy. If they didn't want to do that, they wouldn't have become doctors. And if they don't do that, you can sue their ass.”

Shirlee shows a shy smile.

“Anyway… what I’m saying is that you're gonna be fine. It's gonna go over well, and you're not gonna have to worry about evolving ever again. And I’m gonna be there by your side as much as the doctors allow it. I’ll be there at… hold on, when was this surgery?”

“4 pm, Monday.”

Monday? Oh fuck, ahh, ah shit, I’m gonna have to be fast. Well, I’ll get back to that in a while.

“I’m gonna be there on Monday 4 pm and I’m gonna ease your worries the best I can. That's a promise.”

Her smile evolves to a full one. “Thanks, Red.”

I nod and let go of her tentacles. The illusion fades - she’s no longer my lord in another skin. I just barely salvage my smile before it can slip off my face.

---

After I finished my sub, we picked up where we left off in our tour. For every sight to see, I shared some facts like before, but all the downtime I now used to craft and develop the plan to strike her down once and for all.

We leave yet another spot of interest, and… ugh, arrive at one I actually do have personal experience with. Its front-extending wings are like arms welcoming its lost child back. Its single clock-eye in the middle judges me, scolds me for not attending lessons in time, even if I haven't studied here for two years and no classes are held at this hour.

The high school.

Do I really have to come here already? Is there nothing else to talk about on the way? I glance around, but there are only apartments. They’re not even visually interesting, just chunks of white bricks and windows.

“Oh, is this your school?” asks Shirlee. Well, that eliminates any chance of a stall.

I inject some artificial cheer straight into my veins and turn to her. “Yep!” Oh, not that cheery, tone it down a notch. “This is Pallet Town High School for Humans.” Didn't always have that last bit. “The school I w- go to.”

“It's big,” remarks Shirlee. “How many students go here?”

“Something like 600, don't know the exact amount.”

“Huh… can you show me around?”

“Well, uhh…” I kick the snow lightly. “There's not much to see from outside, and they don’t like it too much when you lurk around after hours…”

“Oh, I see… well, it was cool to see, at least. What's your school day normally like?”

Looks like I’m just going to have to take this trip down Memory Lane. And by trip I mean actual tripping, because this is going to be about as fun as concrete smashing me in the face.

“Well, I… usually arrive at the school about fifteen minutes before class starts to make sure I’m on time.” Fifteen minutes late on a good day. “I hang out with my friends before the teacher comes in.” I pass the smokers outside, holding my breath to keep the fumes from attacking my lungs. If some new kid riffs on me for it, I grab him by his filthy collar, throw him on the ground and tell him not to do that again if he likes his fingers. Maybe spit on him, depends on how I feel that day. “Class starts, and I try my best to keep up and take notes. Eventually the lesson ends, and another begins…”

I don't know what the hell she's expecting to hear, really. School isn't exactly riveting for the average student.

“Is the food at lunch good?” Shirlee asks, her interest not crumbling by even a bit.

Guess I’ll just lie about the food too, it's not like she's going to investigate. And with no will to look into things, there's nothing else that could tell her I’m lying my ass o-

“Red?”

Did someone call my name just now?

...No, I must have misheard. Anyway, on with the lies. “Oh, the food’s fantastic. It's like it was home-cooked. Best part of any student’s day, I guarantee --"

“Red!” the same voice yells.

“Hey, Red, I think that guy wants you,” says Shirlee right after, looking behind us. “Is he one of your schoolmates?”

A spear of dread pierces my heart. With stiff limbs, I turn around. This… this can’t be good.

A lanky boy around my age and a bronze ninetales approach us. The boy has shaggy black hair with a large, bleached quiff. And his face… well.

His face is a face I have seen many a time marred by bruises made by my own fists. A face I have seen cry and beg me to stop and whimperingly accept its fate when I tell it that a deal's a deal and the terms were clear. And it's a face that's looking mighty pissed right about now.

Oh Gods. Is there any way to save this? Any way to avoid this? Wait! Maybe if I --

“Shirlee!” I whisper, tugging at her sleeve. “We need to go! This guy’s dangerous!”

“O-oh I’m dangerous? I’m dangerous now?” Tamaki yells, skittering closer. Shit, he heard me.

“Red, who is this?” asks Shirlee, unnerved and to my horror, making no motions to leave.

“I’ll tell you who I am,” Tamaki weighs in before I have the chance to think of a good lie. “I’m the guy who was the designated punching bag of this fucking psycho over here!”

I stare Tamaki directly in the eye in the most threatening way I can - maybe he still has some fear left in him. “Tamaki, please...” I say through my teeth.

“That won’t work anymore,” growls the ninetales, whipping its tails. “He’s had two years. He’s evolved, just like me.”

That must be Renny, then. Tamaki mentioned him sometimes, a vulpix friend. Fuck, another voice to the choir. I need to get Shirlee out of here and think of something to tell her.

I grab her tentacle again. “Shirlee, we really should g-”

She yanks it away from my grasp. She looks scared. Oh fuck. Now I’m equally horrified.

“So what have you been doing since you left the school, huh?” Tamaki demands, arms raised. “How many felonies have you committed, you lunatic?”

Well… at least six, probably more, I’ll have to check what counts as a felony…

You should make three more right now.

No! No, stay away! You're gonna make everything even worse!

There's no one around and you already know how to make bodies disappear…

I feel denim against my fingertips. They're reaching for the knife that isn't there. I curl them in a fist.

You don't need a knife…

Yes I do! I mean I would! But I’m not going to kill anyone, no matter how… no matter how cornered I feel!

“Really? Not even gonna answer?” Tamaki spits. “I would've thought you had a lie for everything.”

Look at his whiny fucking face. Kill him! Kill that little runt who's trying to talk back to a king like you! Wrap your hands around his throat and strangle him! Let's see him try to talk back then!

The world is trembling. No, I am. Oh Gods. This is a nightmare. Everything… everything is going wrong. This can't be real, this has to be a dream --

“You! Lady!” What’s happening now? Tamaki’s turned to Shirlee? No, stop. Fucking stop! “Get the fuck away from this guy and never look back! He's not safe to be around!”

Tears have formed in the inkay’s eyes. She looks at me, cowers away like a bellsprout from a fire and begins to slide away.

“Shirlee, no!” I shout, dashing for her, but she speeds up. I have to run full speed after her.

Cobblestone rushes past below me, shadows from the streetlights emerge and withdraw. The coat I chase eludes me like a ghost, never getting closer.

“Shirlee, please, let me explain!” I scream. Despair is in that voice, real despair. The fear of losing Him. Again.

Shirlee flips around and slows her pace. For a split second I gain some hope, but it’s all gone as I see exactly how pissed she looks.

“Explain what?” she shouts, tears of anger in her eyes. “It’s pretty Gods-damn clear what’s happened here. You lied to me. You lied to me about you going to school, and you certainly lied about what kind of person you really are!”

“But that...” Uh, what’s my excuse? “That was all in the past! I’m different now!”

“Are you? Because you didn’t say one word of apology to that guy! And he was pretty clearly upset over what you’d done!”

I… I should’ve said sorry? Would that have made it okay? Well, more okay?

“I’m leaving now,” she says. “Don’t follow me anymore.”

She regains her speed, and I need to accelerate again, too, but this running’s starting to get to me…

“Shirlee!” I shout with my last remaining breath, then stop to catch more. My lungs are rupturing. I can’t go on.

Shirlee, ignoring my call, only continues to shrink in my view until she turns a corner and disappears entirely.

My head droops. All I see is cobblestone and the legs and arms of a failure.

Is… is this it? Is this how my entire quest ends? Cut short by some whiny kid? He’s gonna be the reason He’ll be gone from me for… who knows how long? I’ll be alone and unhappy and I’ve already been like that, for so long… I… I can’t do it anymore. I can’t do that with no end in sight.

Tamaki… this is all Tamaki’s fault. He ruined everything. He came and destroyed what I had for no reason. I bought what I did to him. He agreed to the terms. No telling anyone. He took the money. It was his choice. I didn’t even do anything wrong or bad this time. Why am I being punished? What gives him the right? Nothing!

Or…

He just took the payment in advance.


For his last deal.

Because I’m going to fucking kill him.

---
 
Last edited:

AetherX

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Here from the Review League as requested. Thanks for your patience. So I know you only requested the most recent chapter, but I hate reviewing chapters in isolation, so I read the whole thing (which was honestly pretty easy since this story is well written and enjoyable). This review will ideally be vaguely about the fic as a whole but mostly focused on the most recent chapter. Hope that's cool. I don't think I ever read Agápe? So keep that in mind.

“Because it’s your town, silly,” she laughs and playfully bumps her forehead onto my chest.
SHE WANTS THE D

Okay real review I promise:

When I asked him if he could show me some maps of his, he fell quiet and stared at me like I was a smokin’ hot girl suggesting we made out.
Should be "make out." Tense switched to present. Good line btw.

“You! Lady!” What’s happening now? Tamaki’s turned to Shirlee? No, stop. Fucking stop! “Get the fuck away from this guy and never look back! He's not safe to be around!”
This is a sort of subjective "technical" thing, but I always prefer to treat internal monologue as if it were dialogue in terms of line spacing. As is you're switching between Tamaki talking, Red talking to himself, and then Tamaki talking again all in the same line. If you had a new line for each "speaker" then it would be more like this:

“You! Lady!”

What’s happening now? Tamaki’s turned to Shirlee? No, stop. Fucking stop!

“Get the fuck away from this guy and never look back! He's not safe to be around!”
Which I think is slightly easier to read, but honestly the way you had it has its benefits too (with Red's monologue acting as a pseudo dialogue tag).

“Shirlee, please, let me explain!” I scream. Despair is in that voice, real despair. The fear of losing Him. Again.
Referring to his own voice as "that voice" is a great way of showing how he's kind of split his real self from the front he's putting on for Shirlee. You're really good at writing this kind of stuff. Honestly your prose is excellent with lots of great metaphors and whatnot.

The whole thing about the deal Red and Tamaki made kind of confused me because the previous line mentioning it made me think Red was beating him up and taking his money (from chapter 6):

Except maybe Tamaki, who I guess was okay because he let me beat him up for money, but outside of that he was of no use to anyone.
Makes sense now in retrospect, so I'm not sure it's worth changing. Thought I'd mention it though.

What I do want to mention is that you've improved massively. I think this is the first review I've done for you since the first few chapters of Hunter, Haunted and the difference is night and day. Much cleaner prose, really good job subtly implying character depth, all that jazz. What stands out most is a slight shift in tone. I'm not sure how much of that is on purpose or if the tone will shift darker in upcoming chapters, but it made a noticeable difference in my enjoyment. This fic seems to be embracing how a lot of aspects of your world are just a little silly (Nidoking in leather jackets, Omanyte watching YouTube, etc). I hope I'm not being rude, I do think it's a good thing. This fic is slightly more... comedic? Still has the dark undertones that come with a sociopathic protagonist, but it's a little easier to get engaged.

Like Fonz, for example. It's funny and heartwarming to have this kind of wholesome dad character in a story that's ultimately about a violent murderer. Him wearing the shirt for Helix was adorable. Speaking of which, what kind of symbol of diversity is Shirlee in regards to non-humanoid Pokemon if she doesn't even sell non-humanoid merch? fuckin' cardboard pop stars co-opting social justice for fame grumble grumble...

From a somewhat meta perspective, I think this fic suffers just a tad when viewed in isolation. I know, in fanfic nothing is ever viewed in isolation, but I'm going to prattle on about this anyway because that's just how I do reviews :p What I'm talking about is primarily the relationship between Red and Helix. It's sort of the... emotional crux of the story? It's what drives Red to embark on this whole manipulative quest in the first place. And the fact that he loves Helix enough that he specifically doesn't go with his usual method of slice and dice says a lot. Knowing TPP lore and specifically reading your other stories sets a lot of the backdrop already, but when you look at the fic on its own, it comes across as just barely not enough. The prologue is excellent and absolutely necessary for the story. Dragging that relationship out any longer could very well have messed up the pacing, so I'm actually not sure what I'm getting at here. I guess it just comes across that Helix doesn't really give a shit about Red, like, at all. I know that's the whole point because he's distracted by Shirlee, but it still feels a little odd. Maybe a little more early dwelling on how shut out Red feels. Re-skimming, you do have some of that, so maybe I'm talking out of my ass. Just felt a little dry given that it's the prime motivating factor. Adding more could mess with the pacing, so I'll leave that up to you. The curse of writing prequels/sequels/a shared universe. You can never escape it.

It's kinda tricky to give feedback on chapters like this, right before a big turning point. It would be easy to criticize pacing or tone, but what happens next is really going to be what justifies everything. For example, it's refreshing to read about Red using cunning to get his way rather than violence. Adds a lot of depth to his character. Straight up killing Tamaki would be kind of disappointing after all that effort, but depending on how you did it (or if he doesn't end up killing Tamaki) it could all work out anyway.

Anyway, good shit. Let me know if you have any questions!
 

canisaries

break necks, i'm the chiropractor
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So I know you only requested the most recent chapter, but I hate reviewing chapters in isolation, so I read the whole thing (which was honestly pretty easy since this story is well written and enjoyable). This review will ideally be vaguely about the fic as a whole but mostly focused on the most recent chapter. Hope that's cool.
It is more than cool, it is frigid, it is zero Kelvin. Absolute legend. Thank you so much uwu

I don't think I ever read Agápe?
good

No, really. Agápe has its middle be completely different from this story - Shirlee doesn't even meet Red until the climax, where he's anything but friendly. Red's techphobia isn't explored at all and the plot is really stilted. How Seiren will end will tie way better into the oneshots between it and HH, too, which is important for kickstarting Red's personal arc with Helix in HH. Anyway, moving on...

Should be "make out." Tense switched to present. Good line btw.
Fixed, and thanks! I had fun with that.

What I do want to mention is that you've improved massively. I think this is the first review I've done for you since the first few chapters of Hunter, Haunted and the difference is night and day. Much cleaner prose, really good job subtly implying character depth, all that jazz.
Good to hear! I'm planning revisions to HH, so I'll keep this in mind when I revisit it. I didn't think the difference would be that big, though - especially as the difference between Agápe and HH was already so huge.

This fic seems to be embracing how a lot of aspects of your world are just a little silly (Nidoking in leather jackets, Omanyte watching YouTube, etc). I hope I'm not being rude, I do think it's a good thing. This fic is slightly more... comedic? Still has the dark undertones that come with a sociopathic protagonist, but it's a little easier to get engaged.
Yeah, Seiren has kind of a ridiculous premise to begin with, so I couldn't just go in it with a straight face. I had to play with the world in order to make the whole letter thing seem more plausible and so that I don't have to explain everything in a 100% believable way. I'm also just more comfortable writing with a lighter, more casual tone.

Thanks for reading!
 

unrepentantAuthor

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I finally finished chapter four the other night, and while I expect I'll blaze through the rest of the chapters I need to catch up on while taking the bus to and from work this week, I wanted to drop a review for Trying Again now to tide you over.

The main events of consequence this chapter were the results of Red's 'advice' and the setup for Red's next encounter. I was expecting Shirlee's video to be about as standard as it turned out to be, and not the wrathful tirade Red erroneously expected, and you've done a decent job of contrasting hopes and reality peppered with bile, so that we might be amused by Red's nonsense. I like that he's even directly critical of Helix at this point, so consumed as he is by vitriol. Good idea to build up to it with the 'Chatter' message, too. Having said that, I think it sort of peters out, with the reader being taken away from the video long before it actually ends. I might've liked Shirlee to end on some very positive note, on which Red could gag.

As for the setup for Red's next encounter, I'm prompted to mention again that I believe you could do with abstracting less significant events a little more. I mention this because of the segment where Red leaves the knife at home —

I briefly return to the house, Fonz’s eyes tacked on me the moment I step into his view.

“Guy didn’t like the knife,” I explain, detaching my scabbard and leaving it on the kitchen table. “Don’t play with it while I’m away.”

Before the nidoking can properly respond, I’m already back outside.
That's 52 words right there, and it doesn't really do anything more for the story than could be done in nine words:

unrepentantAuthor said:
I briefly returned home to drop off the knife.
I advocate trimming content down in this fashion wherever justifiable. It's good for flow, it's good for conservation of readers' attention, it's good pretty much as long as you aren't losing anything that's actually necessary or at least significant to character. In this case, Red's love of his knife is already a known factor, and it comes up again almost immediately besides as he reaches for it where it isn't.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to seeing Red's machinations escalate, particularly if he gets himself into more and more bizarre situations. He's a fool for not thinking that he might soon be trying to explain to Fonz and Helix why Shirlee has turned up at their house or he was seen on social media with her or whatever such thing! I will very much enjoy it if something like this comes to pass and he realises to his own shame and anger that he's only increased the intensity of Helix' obsession with Shirlee~

Some misc notes:

I continue to enjoy the little pokémon elements like MewTube, even though it's essentially an aesthetic affectation for the most part. My favourite such instances are the ones which require nonhuman elements, like Fonz wearing Helix's shirt for him.

I see Red has an actual anatomy text. No wonder he uses such precise and specific terminology, but wow, his fascination with meat and gristle borders on fetishistic.

"Shirtlee." That's hilarious.

I hope to leave my next review after a much shorter wait than last time! Thanks for your patience, Canis.
 

unrepentantAuthor

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Alright, so I know I said I'd read the rest before reviewing but it's just not in my nature not to review after reading a chapter. That, and I'm worried I'll forget the things I would have said if I don't write them down immediately, and if I write them, I may as well post them.

So, chapter five! The bloodlust and prawns chapter.

This one was funny.

If you're going for dark comedy, then chapter five probably landed as many amusing moments as the previous chapters put together. They could use some polish still, but Red's snark was genuinely entertaining this time around. In particular, the reveal of his loss of coat, the "please. I hate you so much I refuse to think of you as a cephalopod" nonsense, and his sheer rapture just from seeing a beartic up close.

There's more prose here that I think could be trimmed down, but I noticed some decent abstraction this time, so that's a good development.

I was surprised to learn that Red is eighteen this chapter. Isn't he like... the head of a household? Was he ten during TPP in your canon? How has he spent the intervening eight years, anyway?

The moment where he's gifted the phone could have had more to it. It felt a little abrupt.

Red talks more about pokémon being inferior to humans, the creators of the first kingdom. It's interesting to see this 'worldbuilding but it doesn't quite mesh with his reverence of Helix and his intense admiration of Arktos' teeth. I guess I'd like to learn more about this, even if it's honestly super weird and gels poorly with my own conception of pokémon. Also, Red's philosophy turns up a bit as he rambles about strength. He really is a complete disaster, isn't he? Yikes.

I'll get to chapter six before too long, see you then!
 

canisaries

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If you're going for dark comedy, then chapter five probably landed as many amusing moments as the previous chapters put together. They could use some polish still, but Red's snark was genuinely entertaining this time around. In particular, the reveal of his loss of coat, the "please. I hate you so much I refuse to think of you as a cephalopod" nonsense, and his sheer rapture just from seeing a beartic up close.
Red did have a lot more to play off this time, so I'm not surprised. Glad you enjoyed!

There's more prose here that I think could be trimmed down, but I noticed some decent abstraction this time, so that's a good development.
I'm beginning to feel cheated by one of my readers who'd told me before I didn't describe enough actions. >:I

I was surprised to learn that Red is eighteen this chapter. Isn't he like... the head of a household? Was he ten during TPP in your canon? How has he spent the intervening eight years, anyway?
Yeah, Red's living setup is a strange one, and I typically avoid bringing it up in-story in fear of raising just more questions and having to pause the story to explain those, too. What's happening is that Red's house is actually owned by his (and Abe's, allegedly) mother, who in turn lives at her friend's place due to her tense relationship with her son(s). Ever since Red dropped out of high school, he's been living the NEET life, though he doesn't see himself that way as he takes care of Helix. Abe is still going to high school as he has actual plans for his future. Non-apocalyptic ones. Fonz does short term manual labor every now and then for extra income. Certain zapdos friends ease the electricity bill with their contributions.

It sounds weird and it is, but it's like that due to TPP factors. Just like most other weird nonsensical stuff I desperately try to make sense of.

The moment where he's gifted the phone could have had more to it. It felt a little abrupt.
The phone is returned to in the next chapter once they get back to the hotel. Wondering if I should possibly wait until then for Shirlee to give it.

Red talks more about pokémon being inferior to humans, the creators of the first kingdom. It's interesting to see this 'worldbuilding but it doesn't quite mesh with his reverence of Helix and his intense admiration of Arktos' teeth. I guess I'd like to learn more about this, even if it's honestly super weird and gels poorly with my own conception of pokémon. Also, Red's philosophy turns up a bit as he rambles about strength. He really is a complete disaster, isn't he? Yikes.
I think there's more on this too in the following chapter. Stay tuned.

Thanks for the review!
 
Chapter 9

canisaries

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okay well this took more than just 10 days which it usually does to get a chapter done but i blame uni

rated teen for violence and language aight let's go

---

CHAPTER 9
Learning to Crawl


---
I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna do it. I’ll kill him. I’ll kill the ninetales. No one is around. They weren't planning on meeting me. No evidence. They’ll simply vanish.

Gods, I’m actually getting excited… my blood is swirling in my ears, my hands are quaking with anticipation. Every step on the cobblestone echoes for miles. The darkness makes way for me. The stars above spectate from afar. They know who I am.

Is that them? That’s them. That’s Tamaki, that’s Renny. Their backs are to me. They haven’t heard me yet. I’m going for Tamaki’s neck. He’s the one I want dead. The ninetales is just a witness I’ll need to eradicate. No! What am I saying? I must kill the ninetales first. Tamaki won't do shit to me, he's just a human and a pathetic one at that. The ninetales, though, has teeth and fire. I’ll jump at its neck, restraining both of those. Its fur might get hot, but I have my coat for insulation. I doubt the mutt can generate too much heat while choking, anyway.

I’m getting closer. Five meters, four, three, two, they turn around, pounce!

“What the fuck?” Tamaki shouts. I’m squeezing your worthless friend's throat with both arms, that's what. It's twisting and gargling as the oxygen in its lungs depletes and precious blood flow to its brain is snuffed out. I hate how its fluff is cushioning the hold, though… but not enough. I’m too strong and it’s too weak. I would've expected it to put up more of a fight, but I guess its vulpine leanness is working in my favor…

“Get off him, you fuckin’ psycho!”

Hands touch my sides and attempt to pry me off. As if they could. You're up against years of exercise, runt. Yea, you take those off. Accept you have no cha- “Fuck!”

I let go to yank away the fingers crawling on my eyes, falling down on my back in the process.

“Dick move, Tamaki!” I snap, rubbing my poor eyes. Didn't take him for a dirty fighter…

“What the hell is wrong with you?” Tamaki yells. I can hear the ninetales gasping for air in the background. “Why would you do that to Renny? He’s never done anything to you!”

Ah fuck. What do I say now? Nothing? Maybe I could at least make myself seem a little less homicidal. Or vulpicidal. Whatever.

“Wanted him to... pass out so he couldn't stop me from kicking your ass next,” I reply, sitting up. My ass is getting wet from this snow. Eh.

“Why? Because I stopped you from going through with some sex crime?”

“Tamaki, for fuck’s sake, I am celibate and not even straight.” I’ve been accused of a lot of things, but that's actually insulting, sheesh.

The ninetales’ gasps switch to coughing and finally to normal, if exhausted, breathing. It paces to me, claws clicking on the cobblestone and its head held low. It shows its teeth and -- whoa! Watch it with the fire!

After puffing that small but clearly hot flame in my direction, it hmphs and walks off, black smoke leaving its nostrils.

“Let's leave,” it says to Tamaki. “This guy's crazy.”

Tamaki nods and joins his friend. “Did he really say he was celibate?” I can hear him ask after a few meters of walking.

My heartbeat slows and with that, all the stress of today crashes down on me at once. I collapse onto my back under all its weight. I sigh.

Well, what now? Am I just gonna get up and walk home and resume that painful existence where the one I care about most treats me like I'm nothing?

The twinkling stars above in the dark velvet sky stay silent. Yeah, I guess only I can answer that question.

---

I close the front door behind me and nearly collapse. The only thing preventing it is the sheer relief of finally being out of that frigid hell. The cold bites through damp clothing rather fast.

“That you, Red?” Fonz asks from out of sight.

“Mm-hmm.” I hope he heard that despite how weak it was.

“Good,” he replies. I can hear him get up and walk to me - and look, there he is. The big purple quill-backed kaiju with the jacket. That's him. Gods, I’m tired.

“Listen, I wanna talk to you,” he says. Ughhh.

“Can we do it on the bed after I take my clothes off?”

“Uhh.”

“Because my clothes are wet, Fonz.”

“Oh, yea. Meet me there, then.”

He leaves me be for the duration of my sluggish change of clothing. The button-up and jeans are replaced by a t-shirt and sweatpants - proper home resting gear.

As I trudge through the living room to an awaiting Fonz, I give the sofa one glance. My lord's on it as usual. He looks back at me. I quickly turn my head. I don't even want to see Him like this - it hurts too much.

While I’m now warm, dry and comfy, I’m still exhausted, and when Fonz closes the door to our room I instantly fall onto the bed. I flinch as something pricks my arm.

“Ah, sorry. Must've hidden itself in the blanket,” says Fonz as I pick up the withered yet still sharp quill and place it next to the water tank. I lie back down, far more careful this time.

“So…” Fonz picks up a part of the quill-proof cover, lowers it onto the bed and lies down on it. “I wanna know what you've been up to.”

I had a feeling you did… ugh.

“Like, who’s this new friend of yours?” he continues. “With the limo and all that? And where were you just now?” He lowers his voice. “Are you involved in something illegal?”

Actually not this time, which is surprising. I sigh. “Well, if it makes you feel better, we’re not friends anymore.”

“Did something happen today?”

I stare at the ceiling. “You know how I had some… trouble in high school?”

“Yeah?”

“This friend of mine, sh- he wanted a tour of Pallet. I’d lied to him that I still went to high school, to sound normal, and then when we were out, Tamaki from my class showed up… you can guess the rest. And now they never want to see me again.”

“Hmh… was Tamaki the one you…?”

“Yeah.”

“Ah. I see.”

He’s quiet and I’m quiet. I guess the conversation’s at a pause. I take the time to enjoy the softness of the bed beneath my tired limbs.

“You seem upset about it,” Fonz says after a while. “I don’t think I’ve seen you upset about what other people think… ever. Excluding Helix. Was this friend important to you?”

“Yeah, he was… very important.”

“Is there anything you could do to get him back?”

“I… don’t know. I honestly don’t know.”

Another spell of silence.

Fonz sighs. “Well, why exactly was he upset? What were his specific issues with the situation?”

“Hmmh… he was upset I'd lied to him,” I speak slowly, tasting every syllable. Fonz nods in the background. “I told him I'd changed, but he pointed out I didn't say anything good to Tamaki…”

“Isn't that your chance, right there? If you went to apologize to Tamaki and showed it to your friend, he might believe you really have changed.” He pauses. “Assuming you have.”

I'd say I had, but Fonz knows me better. Apologizing to Tamaki, though… “Good idea, except for the part where Tamaki despises me - for good reason - and would never forgive me. And how would Sh- my friend even find out about it?”

“Well, you have that new phone of yours he gave you. You could take a pic or video of you and Tamaki looking friendly together and send him that.”

“Eh, I don’t know...”

“Can’t hurt to try. And, well… it's the right thing to do anyway. Like it or not, Tamaki does deserve an apology.”

I grimace. I hate it when I have to say I'm sorry when I’m not. Which is every time, really.

“Alright, you've convinced me,” I sigh. “But I'm gonna be a dick to you if and when it doesn't work.”

“As if you needed a reason,” he replies, smiling.

---

It sure was a good thing this whole fiasco happened on a Thursday - had it been today, I wouldn't know where to go to find Tamaki. But as today's a Friday, he has to go to school like every other student.

The high school looks much more familiar in daylight. Dark red bricks arising from the dirty white snow… Gods, does it feel good not to have to go here anymore. Unlike all these other people. Suckers.

But now begins my stakeout, which will probably end up making me the sucker here, as Tamaki can get out at any time between one and four o'clock. He was out late last night and he always tries to make it to school on time, so I excluded midday from the range. No way they've made the days that short after I left.

In any case, I'm gonna have to kill up to three hours of time, and that'll suck. But it just might get me close to Shirlee again, so it's worth it.

It's a few minutes before the lesson around 1pm ends. I've arrived just in time.

I sit on the bench next to the main entrance, at the end without the piece of gum attached to the side. It amazes me how people can call themselves moral and then do shit like this. Maybe I kill people, but I don't ruin a public space just because I can't be fucked to walk ten meters to a trash can. That's the real insanity there.

The school clock isn't sufficiently visible from this angle and wristwatches don't pair up with winter, but luckily my phone has my back. I click its screen alight every now and then, waiting for the moment of dismissal. Before long, it comes, and I head further into the yard to have a view of all the exits.

For the first minute or so, nothing changes, but then a door opens. The first student has left - or is possibly just grabbing some fresh air, maybe. She’s not Tamaki, though, so I keep waiting.

The count of leaving student per minute increases rapidly. I check each face and hairdo, but none are a match. Same goes for each exit. After a few minutes, the flow dwindles to a stop. Doesn’t seem like Tamaki gets out at this time today, then.

I don’t want to spend the next 75 minutes out here in the cold, so I return to the main doors and enter. Oh, the lobby… every Monday after school, I’d meet Tamaki here and we’d walk to a secluded spot… Monday was our day. I chose it so I could last the week with my bloodlust sated, and he agreed since Mondays sucked anyway.

I sit on one of the benches and study my reflection in the mirror wall opposite to the entrance. I haven't changed that much in two years. I think the extent of it is just my hair getting longer and muscles a bit larger. Not that the latter's visible with all these clothes on, anyway.

I suppose Tamaki's changed a lot more. He's dyed his hair and grown some balls. I wonder what caused that. Just dwelling on what I did for months after I'd left? Maybe he got together with that girl he was trying to impress. He did get a lot of money from me to buy her shiny things.

Wondering about Tamaki's motives keeps my mind busy until the time for lessons to end comes once more. I exit and return to my sentry spot, ready to run to Tamaki if and whenever he appears. People start leaking out, and… is that him? That's him, right?

I set a course for the young man. He's got some people with him… has Tamaki made friends, too? He's really pulled himself together.

He notices me approaching, showing his face fully - yep, that's him - and quickly looks away. Don't ignore me! I’m clearly coming to you…

“Hey, Tamaki!” I call. He breaks into a run, leaving his group behind without a word. Psh, not so tough now with your firefox friend away.

Careful not to slip, I dash and gain on Tamaki. “I just wanna talk, calm down!” I shout behind him. No effect. I'll do it the hard way, then.

“Sorry about this,” I say to win myself some moral points and leap right at him. My chest collides with his back as my arms wrap around his torso. In a second, we tip over, with him luckily breaking his fall with his arms. Given his grunt, though, it can't have been too painless. I roll off him.

“What the fuck, dude?” he wheezes. “What do you want from me?”

“I told you, I just wanna talk.”

“What, you came back to mock me?” He clambers up. I follow suit, ready to catch him if he tries to flee again.

“It's nothing like that. I came back to apologize.”

“What?” he yells. From the tone of his voice, he clearly heard what I said, but has trouble processing it.

“I'm sorry,” I say. “I'm sorry for what I did two years ago, that was fucked up. And I'm sorry for what I did last night.”

Murmurs reach my ears. I glance around and notice a few people have gathered to watch. Well, I guess this is one of the rare times when more witnesses are better, so I'll let them be.

“What do you mean you're sorry?” Tamaki asks, now quieter than before. “You're Red. You're never sorry.”

“I'm not that Red anymore. I've tried as hard as I can to leave him behind. I've had some success, but as you saw last night, I'm not quite there yet…” I shake my head. “I still lose my temper at times, and when you showed up and exposed my secrets to that companion of mine… I got scared. Scared of her leaving for good. I don't do well with fear, so it turned to aggression, and you know what happened next.”

Agh, this sounds so scripted out loud. It is, but they're not supposed to know.

My ears pick up a few sentences from the noise of the growing crowd.

“Who's that?”

“Is that Red?”

“Shit, why is he here?”

“Should we go inside?”

It appears they don't trust me. Well, I wouldn't if I were them, but I have a brain.

“...Wait,” says Tamaki after his long pause, eyes narrowing. “Are you only here to get back with your girl?”

Ah, fuck. Tamaki’s gotten smart. Hmm. Perhaps if I…

“Tamaki, I won't lie to you. It is part of the reason.”

He sighs and turns away, but I interrupt.

“But that doesn't mean I'm not genuinely sorry for what I did. And I feel guilty from not coming to apologize sooner. Losing my friend got me thinking about all this again, and now I want to make up for it. Or, well, I know I can't make up for what I did, it was too much. But I just want you to know I'm sorry.”

Dammit, I'm starting to repeat myself. I hope he sees it as a strength rather than a fault…

Tamaki pauses yet again. I can see people behind him… with their phones up. Are they filming? What the hell? Is privacy completely dead?

Tamaki’s looking around too. He looks nervous. Camera shy? I can get that.

He sighs. “Red,” he starts, eyes locked into mine. “Do you truly mean all this?”

Am I winning him over? Yes! “Of course! I’m done lying, Tamaki. You deserve an apology. I came here because it was the right thing to do.”

“Alright, alright...” Tamaki says, raising a palm. He sounds… defeated? “I… understand.”

“You do?”

“I believe you, Red. I accept your apology, and… I forgive you.”

“You do?” I repeat, this time with twice the shock. The audience was taken by surprise, too, if the gasps say anything.

“I mean, people can change. I don’t think it’s fair to keep a grudge over something the other clearly regrets.”

A laugh of relief leaves my throat and I grin. Thumping arises from around us - clapping of gloved hands. What, really? I guess this was a real spectacle to them… but who cares, I won! I’m gonna get Shirlee back! Or, well… I might. Depends on if she’ll even look at my messages.

I keep smiling, though. Gotta keep up the illusion.

“You two should hug!” a stray voice yells. His suggestion receives instantaneous backup in the form of ‘yeah’s and ‘woo’s, which in turn eventually morph into chanting.

“Hug! Hug! Hug! Hug! Hug!”

Ugh, I am so glad I left this place.

Nevertheless, I open my arms and offer Tamaki what the crowd wants. He looks discomforted, but finally abides. The other students cheer as our arms wrap around one another. Someone yells us to kiss next. I probably would if I had to, but it seems like things have already worked out. Now all I need is that picture…

Our bodies separate, and Tamaki raises his arm to the crowd.

“Alright, show’s over,” he yells with a faint smile. “You can all go home now.”

Quiet laughs come as a response, followed by shuffling as the people turn away and scatter. Tamaki steps closer to me again.

“Can I talk with you in a more private spot for a bit?”

“Oh, totally,” I reply, foreseeing a suitable moment to ask for a photo. “I was actually gonna ask that of you…”

Tamaki heads for the left side of the school, and I follow. When his friends start making motions toward us, he halts them with a raised palm.

I'm grinning like an idiot, but I can't help it. This went way better than expected.

As we start to get far enough from the front yard, Tamaki slows down. I can start talking now.

“So, this is pretty crude,” I laugh, pulling out my phone, “but could I just get one pic of us two together? It would really go a long way in getting me another chance with my frie-”

Tamaki turns around and pushes me back. I nearly slip. “You've got some fucking nerve, you know that?” he hisses as I regain my balance. His face and tone are furious.

“What do you m…”

“Quit the act already! You're not sorry. And even if you were, I'd never, ever forgive you. Do you even understand the damage you did to me? It wasn't just bruises and nosebleeds. I go to therapy nowadays. You fucked up my life, and the moment my future starts looking okay, you show up.”

Psh, what? You came to me on that street. You're the one fucking up my plans.

“You come here and you get a big crowd and you put me up on the spot so that I have to ‘forgive’ you or I'll look like a dick and ruin what I've worked for two years to attain. Yeah, very clever. Is that what you want to hear? Are you satisfied? Or will you keep going till I snap and jump off a bridge?”

What is he even talking about by now? Are those… tears in his eyes?

“Oh, and still you keep that innocent look on your face. Like Tamaki's the bad guy here. Tamaki's the fuckup. Red hasn't done anything wrong because there's no proof. That's how you think, isn't it?”

I try to come up with a response, but I can't. I can barely tell what’s happening.

Tamaki straightens his back. “So, no. No, you can't have that pic. I'm not gonna help you ruin another person's life.” He walks past me, back towards the yard.

I speed after him. “Tamaki, please --”

“Do not fucking follow me!” he yells, stopping me. “I’ll call the cops on your ass if you do.”

But… I need to get that picture. Just one picture, it can’t be that bad! Maybe if I’m really fast...

I open the camera and run to Tamaki. As he turns to no doubt yell some more, I slip an arm over his shoulders, hold out the phone, smile and snap a pic.

An elbow shoves into my chest, blowing the air out of my lungs. My knees lose their strength and give out beneath me. I barely manage to hold onto the phone while I fall.

“Crazy son of a bitch...” mutters Tamaki as he walks off.

I take a few seconds to breathe out the pain, shins getting wet from the snow beneath. Finally, I check the phone. Back to home screen, into gallery, latest photo…

Shit, it’s as I feared. Tamaki just looks disgusted. This is worse than no pic at all.

Well, what now? I have nothing with which to prove Shirlee I’ve changed. All I can do is say the same shit I already did when she ran off, and clearly that doesn’t work.

I sigh heavily. All this effort and no payoff. Just like this whole Shirlee thing in general. I’ve just been kicked around and made a fool of, and my lord still treats me like nothing. Should I simply give up for good? Lock myself in my room so that I don’t end up shoving my knife somewhere it shouldn’t be, and stay there until He comes to His senses?

Wait… wait a minute. Didn’t people… didn’t people film me and Tamaki?

Yes, they did! That means someone has a video of my apology! That means… that means I gotta run really, really fast to catch someone like that while they’re still near the school!

I wobble onto my feet and break into a run. Don’t go far now, folks! Red’s on his way.

...wow, way to give them a reason to get away even faster.

---
 
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Persephone

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Hey,

We've talked about this over PM. So here's your formal review of the chapters eligible when the awards started.

I know we talked a lot about Red. Most of my criticisms boil down to him being unsympathetic. Part of that comes from the violence and misogyny. Part of it comes from the lack of consequences (can't root for him, don't get any pleasure from rooting against him). I increasingly think that it comes down to... none of his relationships feel particularly meaningful. The nidoking shows up and leaves, but not having read your other story I know next to nothing about him and didn't really feel attachment. While he claims to love Helix, he never actually has a positive interaction with him the entire story. Or anyone, really. He exists alone and miserable.

It makes it hard to appreciate any of the character interactions. And everything just always goes... perfectly for him. He never has to scramble to make up for a mistake, outside of the one thing that kickstarts it. None of his relationships are ever at risk because you never give me a reason to care about them. He just... does things and they happen. And he thinks about murder and maybe rape a lot. It's... off-putting.

A lot of serial killer works inevitably have to give the character concrete motivations and distinct character traits aside from murder, or at least put them up against even worse opponents. When they do horrible things, it makes sense. They have motives. Character strengths and flaws that have nothing to do with their... occupation. Red is... violent and he loves Helix? tbh that's all I can really say about him. The job of getting the audience to root for a mass murderer is hard and the media that frames such a character well (Hannibal Lecter, Walter White, etc.) tends to focus just as much on their non-ax crazy bits.

What I'm saying is, Red is A Serial Killer character. He should be a character who is a serial killer.

Ok final divergence from my general criticisms: I loved the interactions with the not-cephalapod once she showed up. Red pretending to care while deeply hating her. And she's just so cute and endearing and kind of weirdly vulnerable, being willing to show up at a random fan's place because she's got nowhere else to go. First time I ever really connected to a character in the story and she's the antagonist. Which kind of means that you flipped the usual serial killer roles, but not the implications. I still want to root for the antagonist. But now she's the cute/innocent one.

I'm unsure how to feel about this dynamic, but it made me like the story a lot more. Will catch up when I find the time.
 

canisaries

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I increasingly think that it comes down to... none of his relationships feel particularly meaningful. The nidoking shows up and leaves, but not having read your other story I know next to nothing about him and didn't really feel attachment. While he claims to love Helix, he never actually has a positive interaction with him the entire story. Or anyone, really. He exists alone and miserable.
Red is essentially a sociopath. Sociopaths have trouble forming and/or maintaining meaningful relationships. Sociopaths are capable of "love", but the love is selfish and obsessive and doesn't care much for the other party. I'm glad to know I apparently captured that well, then.

And he thinks about murder and maybe rape a lot. It's... off-putting.
I literally can not tell what made you think Red is a rapist. He's even established to be celibate in a few chapters.

And everything just always goes... perfectly for him. He never has to scramble to make up for a mistake, outside of the one thing that kickstarts it.
I take it you only read the prologue and first three chapters, as was the judging area, but obstacles do appear later on.

As for the dark themes in the story, I should point out that Seiren leans a lot on dark humor. It might not be your thing, or it might be your thing and you didn't think it was handled well, but the way you wrote about it here didn't seem to address it at all. Glad you at least liked Shirlee, though.
 
Chapter 10

canisaries

break necks, i'm the chiropractor
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Seiren ain't dead just yet, fellas! New chapter! And yep, that really is the chapter title. You come up with a better one.

Rated teen for language, I suppose. I don't think there's even any violence in this.

---

CHAPTER 10
Bottom Text


---​

Well, I learned something today, and it’s that girls really don’t like it when a guy they barely know chases after them. I’m calling double standards on this bullshit. No way they would’ve screamed if I was a girl, too.

Hrmh. I do still have a chance, but it's a slim one. Shirlee’s going to have her everstone surgery on Monday at 4pm, meaning I could go to the school in the morning, steal as many phones as it takes to find one with the recording on it, send the video to my phone, send it to Shirlee with an apology, hope she forgives me and wants to see me before her surgery, arrive and find a private place, kidnap her and do all of this without getting caught.

The outlook is not promising on that, but I have to try. I suppose I should use this weekend to practice using my phone some more. And because I'll have to work with others’ phones, that means dark theme off. I grimace. More ripping at old wounds.

I step out of the hall. Fonz and my lord greet me, and I greet them back.

“So how'd it go?” asks Fonz.

“Nghh.”

“Not great, huh?”

“Yeah. See me in the bedroom if you want the whole story.” It's possible he might have some advice I haven't thought of. Even if he doesn't, it's nice to tie up loose ends.

We enter the bedroom, leaving my lord alone on the couch, not that He likely minds. I close the door behind the nidoking.

“Did he not accept the apology?” he asks, pulling up his quill-proof bed cover and setting it on the bed once again.

“Well,” I sigh, sitting on the edge, “he did, and then he didn't.”

Fonz raises an eyebrow. “How's that work?”

“He accepted my apology publicly, and after the crowd had left, rejected it and naturally didn't let me take a pic.”

“He was looking after his reputation?”

“Guess so.”

Fonz glances at the clock. “Did that alone really take you this long?”

“Nah. You see, I noticed some people were filming during the public apology, and I tried hunting them down… but I couldn't find anyone who both had the video and didn't outrun me.”

“Hmm. Well, have you looked online?”

“Online?” I frown. “Why would it be online?”

“Well, you know how kids are…” He pauses as he sees my expression. “Okay, I guess you don't, but my point is that a lot of kids really want fame. It's not at all unlikely that someone would've put that video on MewTube in hopes of it going viral. It's not every day you see a former bully apologize, and a lot of people would consider that uplifting. Give it an attention-catching title, and...” Fonz snaps his claws, which produces an unsettlingly loud click. “Instant fifteen minutes of fame.”

Listening to Fonz's theory spreads a warmth into my body. Could it be that easy? Could this be my chance?

I snatch the phone out of my pocket. I unlock it, and…

Right. I don’t have the app, and the only way to get the app is through the app store. Last time I tried that, it didn't end too well.

A shudder comes before I can suppress it.

“...What’s wrong?” asks Fonz.

Right, Fonz, I do have Fonz. I can have him do it. That's good, but I can't lie, being dependant on others like this is frustrating…

“Well,” I sigh, putting the phone down. “You know I'm not good with technology --”

“It's about the PCs, isn't it?”

Fonz voice is quiet, but his face is stern.

“...Yeah.” It’s no use pretending this doesn't go deep if he already knows it does.

Fonz hugs a knee. “Well, I can't pretend I know how bad it is, as you were the one with the Twitch, but… know that on a level, we've all been there. The whole team. Jess may not seem like he's bothered by anything from the journey, but I'm rather sure that his ego and confidence are at least partly to cover it up. Helix seems to have forgotten most through His reincarnations, and I'm glad for Him. I bet you are, too.”

Fonz is right in that. I wouldn't want Him to remember. It'd make me remember more, and then both parties would be miserable.

“So… for all of us, the effects of the journey were a little different,” Fonz continues. “And yours seem to come out when you're reminded of centers’ PCs.”

I exhale through my nose and lie down on the bed.

“I just…” I begin, “I don't want it to keep… restraining me like this. I hate feeling helpless. It's so annoying, but whenever I try to fix it…”

“It hurts?”

“Yeah. And it just flings me back three more steps.” I massage my scalp. “I just don’t get why it has to be this way.”

“It's tough, yeah.” Fonz lowers his claws on my shoulder. “But I believe that, if you take it slow enough, you can eventually overcome it.”

His eyes are honest. He truly believes that. I think… I can believe it, too.

I smile. He smiles back.

“Now,” he starts, picking up the phone. “Let’s get searching.”

---

After Fonz discovered I didn’t have the MewTube app, he took the dive into the app store and downloaded it for me - though not before borrowing my fingers to configure the phone to also respond to the touch of his claws. I had my back turned the whole time the app store was on, having told him of my previous experience and him understanding.

With MewTube downloaded, I asked if it had a dark option. Fonz looked, and it did.

“It’s on now,” he says. “You ready?”

”Guess I can’t get any readier.”

I shuffle to his side, wary of his quills. The screen is dark gray with red accents and colorful windows to the worlds recorded. Stress level: low. I think I can do this.

“Okay,” starts Fonz. “Let's try… ‘bully apology’.” He types the phrase in the search bar and taps the magnifying glass.

Thousands of results surface. The titles and thumbnails show different scenarios - ‘high school bully and victim meet up 20 years later’, ‘calling my old bully’, ‘mother finds out her daughter is a bully and you won't believe what happens next’... none of them match mine.

“Are we really gonna find it this way?” I ask. “There's so much to sift through.”

“Hold your horseas. Let's sort by latest.” Fonz taps the icon of three horizontal lines, ‘sort by’ in the new menu and ‘upload date’. The titles and thumbnails change, and…

“Is that me?” I ask, eyes on the second result, said to have been uploaded today and not too long ago. I squint. “Can’t see clearly from this. Especially not with that red circle and arrow in the way.”

“Well, let’s check it,” says Fonz and taps the picture.

BULLY APOLOGIZES TO VICTIM!!! MUST SEE!!! (HEARTWARMING), reads the title of the now loading video. Never thought I'd have someone describe an action of mine as ‘heartwarming’. Unless I was literally cooking one.

The video finishes loading and plays. Despite the camera's shaking, I can soon recognize the setting as indeed being the yard of Pallet High.

“What do you mean you're sorry? asks the Tamaki on record. “You're Red, you’re never sorry.”

“Yep, this is the video,” I sigh out of relief, relief that I'd held back until I really could be sure. “Where does it end?”

Fonz skips to the last seconds of the recording. Tamaki shouts to the audience that the show is over, and a moment later the footage cuts.

“Good, they got everything, then.” I clasp my hands together. A weight floats off my shoulders. But I'm not in the clear yet… Shirlee still needs to see the message, and that’s something I can't influence.

“Alright, now let's send it to he- him,” I rush, but Fonz raises a claw.

“Just a bit, I wanna see how this played out first.” He resets the video despite my protests. I lean on my fist, disgruntled.

The video rolls from beginning to end. My voice still sounds really weird played back. Less manly than I'd wish, but in the end, the difference clearly isn’t big enough to affect my life.

Fonz smiles. “I'd say you handled that pretty well, champ. Especially the hug,” he chuckles.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Gimme the phone.” I nab the phone from Fonz’s claws, meeting little resistance. “Now show me how to share this.”

“Just tap on ‘share’ and choose the texting app you use,” he instructs. “It's pretty obvious from there on out.”

I shuffle further away on the bed to keep the recipient a secret and do as told. Share, text message, Shirlee. Now I can write a message to go with the video… but what to write?

“Not sure what to say?” asks Fonz.

I nod.

“Well… I'm sorry to say, but you should know best what he'd like to hear,” he says, stretching and getting up. “But as a tip, remember to be genuine and humble. And don't expect him to forgive you right away. These things take time.”

Ngh, I don't have much of that, though.

Sensing I'd like some space to think - and being correct - Fonz excuses himself and leaves the room. I'm left alone on the bed, staring at the old text messages and the… what's that called? That blinky black line that appears when you type things. That.

Should I get straight to the point, or would she consider that tactless? I mean, I have the video here, so I will need to address that…

I begin to tap. I'm really sorry about lying to you and to prove it here's -- no, I can't say it like that, it'll look orchestrated. I've apologized to Tamaki and someone happened to film -- yeah, someone just happened to film it, I had nothing to do with that whatsoever…

I rub my forehead. Since when did lying get so hard for me? This is the same mon who came to a random fan's house in the dead of night to drunkenly thank him for such sweet words. It shouldn't take a lot to sway her. Or perhaps I’m underestimating what a few beers can do.

But… what if I tried that… thing again? What I did when she told me about her everstone woes, where I imagined she was Him. How I spoke with that was amazing. It was like I was someone who could actually connect, not just someone piecing together what they’d heard others say in similar situations. A lie so convincing even the speaker starts to think there's something to it.

I’ll do it. It's worth a try.

I close my eyes and think of Him. He’s next to the school, where Tamaki first confronted me. He hears Tamaki’s words, hears all these awful accusations, when He always thought I was a trustworthy caretaker. He becomes afraid. Afraid of what I might do to Him. But I'd never do anything! I could only ever protect! His stare is terrified, and it really shouldn't be, He turns around and runs away… somehow? But He can't leave, I need Him, I can't let Him feel like this, think I'm dangerous, pull away from my touch. He's disappearing in the horizon. I'll never hold Him again. I'll never get to be in His presence again. He's gone from my life and He's left a burning, chilling void in me, a bottomless pit nothing can fill and its edges are melting, quicksand, I try to run but the ground beneath fails and I succumb to the darkness and the light in my soul is suffocated…

My eyes feel hot. Wet. Tears. Heart pounding. Gut heavy. I… didn't expect to feel this way. But I just… miss Him. I miss Him so much.

I breathe in. Some tears fall on my cheeks. Okay. Bit of a tangent. Let's just get through this quickly and professionally. He needs to be apologized to. She.

---

It's the best I could do. I can't blame myself. If it doesn't work, it just wasn't in the stars.

It's too soon to say, anyway. It's only been twenty minutes. She may not have even looked at her phone yet… oh, who am I kidding, everyone is on their phones constantly.

I sigh, tuck the phone in my pocket and get off the bed. I should go do something else for the time bei-

Buzz! Is that a buzz? It is!

I check the screen - new message from Shirlee! Oh my Gods, it worked!

No, no, wait, it could still be her just berating me more. Shouldn't get my hopes too high.

I unlock the screen and peer in.

(16:39) Red. Do you really mean what you say?

Proper grammar. She has to be really serious.

Of course, I tap and send.

Another message. She's still present.

(16:39) Do you truly want to prove you've changed?

What is she getting at?

I do.

(16:40) There’s a way for me to know for sure.
(16:40) But are you prepared to do it?


She's making this sound dangerous…

What is it?

(16:40) Promise to not tell anyone.

I would never.

(16:40) You know this thing psychic types are able to do.


It finally clicks.

Mind reading.

But I absolutely can't let her do that! She'll see things far worse than she could ever dream of - and while mind reading is a crime, it's nothing compared to septuple homicide. If she saw what goes on inside this skull --

Ah, but she won't, will she?

The seal. The seal on my wrist will block any attempt to infiltrate my mind. But is it still even active? It's been a good while since its initial carving. I should refresh it, though I have to make sure not to dig too deep - I don't want it to leave behind obvious marks. If all goes according to plan, I won't need it for any longer than a few days, so leaving lighter wounds is perfectly acceptable.

Oh, shit, I should respond to her.

I think I know what you mean… and I'm prepared to do it. I want you to know the truth.

(16:42) Good. I could see you outside the hotel later today. Can you make it?

Depends on the time. How soon?

(16:42) How is 10pm?


Ehh, five hours… that ought to be enough time to plan and find the bus routes. Viridian isn't too far, and I imagine buses from Pallet to there aren't in any way rare, given a lot of people must rely on it for commutes.

I think I can manage it. What's the address?

(16:42) Hotel Evergreen. It's right next to the town center. Big white building. You can't miss it.


Hrmm, you probably underestimate me there… but luckily, I have Abe to ask.

Thanks. Will we go somewhere from there?

(16:43) Someplace private. Even an alley will do. But let's be outside… I don't trust you that much yet.


Well, this just gets better and better… totally alone, no witnesses. The way I like it.

I understand. See you at the hotel at 10pm, then.

(16:43) Yeah. See you.


I close the phone and physically restrain myself from screaming triumphantly. Finally, things are going my way! She'll turn hideous, He'll reject her and I'll get Him back. Everything will go right back to being how it should be. Perfect.

All I need now is a plan…

---

The evening sun stares down at me, squinting with two golden clouds as its eyelids. Another mass of cold air rolls over me and sinks its sharp little teeth into my limbs. I really hope the meeting in Viridian won't take too long. I may get sick.

I tighten my scarf, wait for the oncoming car to pass and cross the street. The cold sting in my nostrils switches to a cough-inducing smell of exhaust fumes, then back again. How does this part of town manage to be so cramped and yet still so windy? Well, at least I'm finally here. The place to get the final ingredient to my plan.

I read the obnoxious red-and-yellow sign over the dirty-gray concrete doorway. Thompson's Natural Remedies. Good, it's still here and in business. Guess the world never runs out of morons.

The door opens with a ring of a bell, and a murkrow flits out to the street. With its tired eyes, it gives me a glance so quick it barely even counts, then digs its talons in the satchel around its neck to produce a cigarette. It seizes the cigarette with its beak, freeing its foot to draw out a lighter and maneuver it skillfully to light the cigarette's end.

The cigarette lit, it returns the lighter to the satchel and -- oh, it's looking at me.

“Fuck you want?” it asks, cigarette somehow not falling from its beak.

“Uh, nothing,” I mumble and enter the store.

The ring of the bell immediately raises the face of the Unovan man behind the counter, Mr Thompson himself. The man-rattata shines a sunny smile, one you'd expect from a long-time friend, despite the fact that we've seen each other exactly once and never spoken directly to one another. The extent of our relationship is him witnessing me meet up with a buyer after they'd had a discussion of their own. An exchanged look, that's all - after that, I departed with the client to find a lonely spot to hand him the organs in peace.

What an asshole that guy was. Reeked of smoke and handled the package like mere groceries. Sure, he gave the money, but that's the bare minimum you ask for in a business partner.

Ah, dammit, I gotta stop spacing out like this. I think Thompson just tried to shake my hand but I was too deep in thought to react. I'll just nod to at least acknowledge his greeting.

“So, what’cha here for?” asks Thompson, still wearing his smile. “You look young. Searching for something to spice up a party, perhaps? Better your exam performance? Better your… other performance?” He raises a brow.

“Qwilfish spikes,” I answer, feeling far less wordy than him at the moment.

“Ah, gotcha.” He slides to one of the aisles. I look around. Herbs, sparkling stones and jewelry, dried mushrooms and wild mon parts. Hand-made price signs. An odd smell in the air - a chimera of a dozen individual stenches, somehow tolerable despite its suspicious ingredients.

This is one of those places that takes either cash or your entire credit card information. Sadly, I don’t have a choice. The more trustworthy places simply won’t sell qwilfish spikes - naturally because it can easily be used for nefarious purposes, but also because people generally just don’t want to use products plucked from ‘helpless creatures’. Add to those the fact that storing the poison in its original spike is one of the less sanitary options.

The customers of stores like these, however, are the kind of people to believe drivel about how the natural way is always better. Ignorance like that is the bread in which mold like this can grow.

Thompson returns to hand me a plastic package of five bluish thorns. “Qwilfish spikes, for you. Soak the tip in a glass of liquid for thirty seconds - careful not to prick yourself or squeeze it - then take it out and dry it for next time. Each spike has about three doses worth of juice. Now, one dose is suitable for a nice calming effect - great de-stresser, will chill your mom out about the homework - and two is good for helping you fall asleep. Three normally knocks you out for quite a while, so I'd only use that when you really, really can't keep those eyes closed. Even then, you ought to pace yourself and not gulp it all down in a sec-”

“I know how to use it, thanks,” I interrupt with a raised palm. “What's the price?”

“Twenty-nine, ninety-nine.”

So thirty. Ngh, annoyingly much for something I'll only need one of… but His attention is worth the price.

Or you could just shove a knife in his gut and get the spikes for free.

If getting rid of Thompson was that easy, you really think he'd have lived past twenty? Also, fuck you. I’m still mad at you for causing all that shit with Tamaki.

“Got it,” I reply. I fetch the necessary bills from my wallet and tuck it back. Thompson takes the money patiently. Sort of expected him to nab it like a stray vulpix offered some berry flesh. “Now, keep in mind that the doses I explained are set for humans and not --”

“Yeah, thanks.” I store the package in my backpack. “See ya.”

“Oh, you’re really gonna buy only that? Come on now, you came all the way here, may as well take a look at the rest of the select-”

“See. Ya.”

The unwavering stare and emphasized words succeed in shutting him up. I make my way to the door in silence.

“Thank you for coming,” Thompson half-sighs, half-laughs, that indestructible smile still etched onto his face.

As I exit the store, the murkrow from before slips in. I guess it works there. I’d say I wouldn’t like a smoke-marinated employee, but then again, it’d probably just drown in all the other smells.

Alright. Time to head home and gather up the rest of the equipment. Then I’ll catch the bus and be on my way. I should be on schedule so far. Everything’s going right as it should.

I tap my coat pocket, realizing I brought the ball with me for whatever reason. I must’ve forgotten to leave it at home for later… well, matters not. I didn’t lose it or break it. Right?

I pluck it out and press the button on its side, sighing in relief. It enlarges and - click - shrinks just like it should. I don’t know why I got so scared suddenly that it wouldn’t. If ultra balls expired in just a few years, there’d be a lot of angry trainers. Not to mention grieving ones, if the mon happened to be inside when the thing broke.

But I guess it’s just a matter of time before they ban these things completely - I’m not an avid follower of the news, but I know more and more people want to put an end to the whole journey thing. I’d be all for it - it’s a pointless practice, anyway - if it wasn’t wanted to be shut down for all the wrong reasons. Mons’ rights. So called. But the wild ones simply aren’t people. I don’t get why we have to pretend they are.

I know I shouldn't care. It’s all going to be rubble once I ascend, anyway. But there’s just something about being told I can’t do certain things that… makes me want to do them ten times worse. I suppose it just makes me feel powerful. Like a wild beast.

Eh, never mind that. For now, I’ve got other matters to worry about.

I return the black-and-yellow ball to my pocket and walk on.

---
 
Last edited:
Chapter 11

canisaries

break necks, i'm the chiropractor
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two months later i have returned with likely the penultimate chapter of this... thing

okay so about the content: we're at the part where this rewrite actually goes over a scene in the old version that got a mod contactin me. so that's my subtle way of saying that this is a mature rated chapter rather than the usual teen. what for? well, the story's been hinting at it already, but on-screen physical and i suppose mental abuse. i definitely think it's done more tastefully than it used to be, but the subject matter is still there so yeah. also language but that's been there in previous chapters already

anyway let's go and i'm proud of that chapter title but not as proud as i'm gonna be of the next one yup uhh yeah enjoy

---

CHAPTER 11
Destruction of Public Property


---​

Hotel Evergreen of Viridian City is not quite as impressive as Celadon Hotel. It's still pretty, don't get me wrong, but it's just not as glamorous as the black skyscraper of verdant windows. Instead, it seems to be from a far older generation with its white marble and decorated pillars.

Not sure why it's called ‘Evergreen’. There isn't a sliver of green to be seen here. Maybe it's just to match the name of the city… or maybe it's symbolic somehow? It's an old building, but it keeps its luster despite the time, like an evergreen… tree… no, that doesn't really make sense.

Ah, the door opens. And a floating winter coat comes through. That must be Shirlee. Alright, it’s showtime.

I give a shy but warm smile. “Hi.”

Despite my expectations, I don’t receive a greeting in response, only an absent-seeming stare from the inkay. She floats down the front step and hovers past me. The seal on my wrist buzzes and quiets accordingly. Had already forgotten about that.

“Let’s go,” she says quietly. She doesn’t seem mad. Nor does she seem excited. She just seems… quiet. I guess I should tone my mood down as well. Make her feel more comfortable.

She leads me away from the hotel, across some streets and into an emptier nook of the neighborhood. We enter an alleyway and stop.

“We’re really doing this alone,” I remark, having watched out for and failed to spot a bodyguard tailing us.

“Yeah. I mean..” She lowers her voice. “It’s illegal, after all.”

Oh, may the Gods have mercy on us! We're about to break the law! After this, we will truly have lost our innocence for good. We wretched souls now bid farewell to our sweet, pure childhood and plunge ourselves to the abyss of sin!

“Don't fret it. It's for a good cause,” I say, “and no one's getting hurt. I'm fully willing.”

“Yeah…” Shirlee stares at the ground. “I-I guess we should just get to it.”

“By all means.” I kneel, placing my hands behind my back. “Do it whenever you're ready.”

“Y-Yeah. I'll just… need a minute,” she says, closing her eyes and massaging her mantle. “I haven't read minds since I was a hatchling in my brood… it's how we communicated before we learned to talk.”

The hood of her coat drops down among her motions. Perfect, just as I'd hoped - no need to gamble on whether the spike can pierce the fabric.

The moment will soon come. Stealthily, I dig my hands in my jeans’ back pockets. From the left, I produce the minimized ultra ball. From the right, where my wallet lies, I carefully pluck out a spike from between the leaves. Two are left remaining. Better safe than sorry.

“Right, okay,” says Shirlee. “I-I think I can do it now. I'm gonna put my tentacles on your temples. Watch out, they're probably cold...”

I nod. My pulse speeds up, spreading warm blood to my fingers and face. I stroke the side of the spike with my thumb. Only seconds remain. Only seconds until I can stop pretending. I bite my lip as my mouth almost forms a smile. Not yet.

Shirlee lifts up her tentacles. Their wet clubs gleam white from the streetlights afar. “H-here we go.”

She presses the clubs on the sides of my head. They really are cold, brrh. But I gotta stay focused. Another sensation awakens in my wrist on top of the previous one. It feels... smoother than the other. Telepathy must use psychic energy more gentle than telekinesis, I suppose.

Okay, she looks down. And her… eyes… are… closed. Now's the time.

“I don't see anything yet, but h-hold on, I'm sure it'll --”

The spike sinks into the back of her mantle. Her eyelids yank apart along with a screech from her beak. “What --”

Her eyes follow my arm from my shoulder to the edge of her vision. She pieces the events together. “What did you -- why did you…”

My arm is forcefully thrown off - with telekinesis, my wrist tells me - and Shirlee yanks the thorn out of her flesh. She levitates it in front of her, squinting and trying to recognize the object. She doesn’t look like she’s getting any less energetic. The poison works, right? I didn’t just get scammed, right? Oh Gods… oh Gods, just please work, otherwise I am so fucked.

Shirlee launches backwards, glaring at me in rage and fear. I can’t wait any longer, I have to act now, before she flies away!

I click the button on the ultra ball, enlarging it, and sling it into the inkay. It smacks against her soft flesh, prompting a yelp. The ball opens, fires a bolt of red lightning that envelops the mon along with the spike it holds and draws its catch inside itself, closing. On the ground, it wobbles threateningly.

“Stay shut, stay shut…” I mutter, leaping to the ball. It twitches forcefully. Don’t! I contemplate clasping the ball with my palms, but decide against it, knowing it wouldn’t actually help and that empty hands are better for catching runaways.

Another nudge. But it’s weaker, isn’t it? The motions are getting weaker. But I can’t celebrate yet, not before the button’s red light stops blinking and that click rings out.

Nudge, nudge, nudge. Nudge.

Click.

I got her. I got her! Yes!

Heart still pounding, I swipe the ball off the ground and rub away the dirty snow stuck to its bottom. Guess the poison worked on her after all. That, or she was weaker than I expected, which would mean I'd have to deal with a very angry squid when releasing her.

But here we are. I’ve done it. She’s in the palm of my hand. The one responsible for my misery for almost three weeks now. Tonight, I will end it. Sure, there’ll still be some loose ends to tie up afterwards… but now, there’s really no turning back.

Gods… I’ve caught a mon. I haven’t done that in a long time. Have I even caught anything after my journey ended? That’s six years… six years without catching a single mon. Champion trainer, everyone. Not that I ever wanted to be one. One day they just came and… made it be like that. No matter how much it hurt.

No, no dwelling on that now. Breathe in the cool winter air. It was six years ago. It will never come back. Right now, right now you’re the one in charge. The one with the power. You have the right - no, duty to use it.

See you in the basement, Shirlee.

---

The blade.

The beautiful, gleaming metal edge, sharpened with care to sever the fibers of flesh like a sickle reaps crops.

It is with great sorrow in my heart that I announce you will not get to show your elegance today.

I place the knife in the drawer and push it shut, sealing it with duct tape afterwards to make sure it stays that way.

Ugh, it looks tacky as hell. I bet it’s gonna leave marks on the wood. But what can you do? I can’t risk getting telekinetically stabbed. All loose objects have to be put away for the time she’s awake. All which she could possibly use to harm me, that is - and I do still need to keep a certain few objects available.

Well, anyway, that was the last I could put away - my knife in its scabbard. Now I just have to wait for her to wake up.

I sit down on the white-tiled floor as comfortably as I can and fix my eyes on the immobile blob hanging before me. Two brown belts, slightly worn, wrap around the blob’s glassy tentacles and fasten the creature to the ceiling. Its round eyes and pretty little beak are shut, but likely not for long.

I was very relieved to find her unconscious upon releasing her from her ball. I was prepared to rely on the rag and flood her face with spores, but turns out there was no need.

Already getting bored of waiting, I fidget with the buttons of my shirt. Probably should've changed to something more comfortable now that I have no gentleman image to keep up anymore.

Hmm. You know what? I'm gonna open this. I'll feel fresher, and she'll get a good look at my scars, which'll no doubt only freak her out more.

There. I already feel more powerful.

“Ngh…”

Oh, is she waking up?

I stand up and lean closer. Her eyes are still closed, but her subtle motions tell me I wasn't just hearing things.

Let's speed things up. And give my hand a test run while we're at it.

I raise my right palm and confidently smack the limp inkay.

“Wake up, sunshine!” I shout, watching the startled squid squirm in confusion and pain. The belts holding her up tangle as she spins, first clockwise and then, as the belts fight back, counterclockwise.

“Whaaahh…!” she wails, sounding dizzy. I grab the belts and stop the spinning. Her front stops to face my chest.

Her half-open eyes flick around, trying make sense of the odd surroundings and her situation. “Whahm I… whassuh…”

Then something clicks in her brain. Her eyes widen, and she flails like a magikarp, trying to flip herself the right way up, I'm assuming. My wrist alerts me with a faint vibration. She’s helping herself with telekinesis, but it seems to be weaker than usual. That’s likely due to the poison and her current lightheadedness. Either way, good news for me.

“Don't bother,” I say. “Even if you managed it, I'd just knock you right down again.”

“...Red?” she wheezes, halting her struggle to see me better.

“Yes! It's me!” I announce, grinning. “Your dear friend, Red!”

“What are you… what is this?” Her voice gets louder, more anxious.

“Oh, yes… this must all be so confusing to you, poor thing… well, allow me to explain!” I spread my arms. “Welcome to the space inside my skull. You wanted to read my mind, didn't you? Find out the real me? Well, here we are. My natural habitat.”

“What are you talking about? Let me go!”

“Sorry,” I coo, circling her, “but I can't. I've got plans for you.”

She attempts to twist around to keep me in her sight, but fails. “What the fuck, Red? Is this a joke?”

I slide before her and grab her body. I lean my face right in front of hers. Her flinch is the strongest I've felt at my fingertips.

“Metaphors too advanced for your brain, are they?” I tilt my head. “I guess I'll have to be clearer then…”

I stand back as she watches with fury. “Truth is, Shirlee, you were right after all. I am no gentleman. I never changed. I didn't feel any guilt for what I did in my past, nor do I feel it for things I do now...”

“Oh my Gods, what do you want?”

Doesn't she know it's rude to interrupt? Well, this'll teach her!

Smack!

“Ow! Stop doing that, it hurts!”

“Precisely the point!” I laugh. “When are you gonna get it? I'm trying to hurt to hurt you, silly girl!”

“I'm gonna sue the shit out of you, you prick!” Shirlee screeches, her face turning a darker shade of blue. “Untie me now, and maybe I won't end your fucking life!”

You're going to end my life? I assume that's only hyperbole, but quite amusing still. You see, I actually have some experience in ending lives. Literally. Yes, Shirlee, I kill people! I don't just beat them up, like I did with Tamaki, I kidnap, torture and murder them! For the sake of my lord! N-not the little one. I mean the big one.”

Shirlee squints. “Are you fucking larping?”

“Am I what now?”

“You're not your character, Red, and this isn't a game. You're welcome to express yourself how you want in your free time, but don't drag me into it, and especially not through a kidnapping!”

“Are you…” I close my eyes and scratch my head. “Are you insinuating that I'm just playing pretend?”

“Get the fuck out of your character and talk to me like an adult!”

“No, this isn't --”

“And what the fuck is this character, anyway? Some edgy anime villain? No one's going to take that seriously!”

“Oh my Gods! You're in the basement of a serial killer, can you maybe act like it?”

“Listen to me, Red! You're not scary, you're not intimidating, you're just being a giant prick!”

I bury my face in my palms. I can already feel it heating up. This is not how I wanted this to go.

Okay. Bad start, but I can still turn this around. I've got the facts on my side. I just need to get her to understand that she is in real danger and --

“Good makeup on those scars, though.”

“They are real!” I roar at her face. “Real! All of this is real! Get it through your thick skull! Or lack thereof! Fuck!”

“Uh-huh. Sure it is.”

A surge of rage momentarily jams my brain and all I can do is glare in silence.

Okay, Red, just ignore her words for now. Take a deep breath. What's your actual goal here? To force her evolution. She told you it would happen with stress or strong emotion while upside down. Upside down, check. Stress or strong emotion, not quite. I was doing pretty well on that front until she got into her head that this is just pretend.

I could continue trying to prove that I really have killed people, but she'd likely just find excuses for everything being fake. Do I have anything she can't deny?

“Look, can you just stop this nonsense?” she sighs. “I have places to be and folk who need me.”

Hm. “Oh, do you now?” I turn back to her, sly smile returned to my face. “Well, go ahead. Unfasten those belts that hold you up and hover right away. Shouldn't be hard for a psychic like you.”

She stares for a second, then gets right to work. The buzz returns to my wrist.

The buckle of one of the belts begins to move in its place, quite clumsily. Invisible hands - or tentacles, perhaps - fiddle with it for quite a long time, making sluggish and unsure progress, but eventually, the buckle is unfastened and the tentacle slips free.

“Ah, there we go,” whispers Shirlee. “Now for the oth-”

Smack!

The impact sends her into another spin.

“Augh! Cut that shit out!” she snaps, but her aggression is exchanged for stupefaction as my hands grasp her free tentacle. Even with her struggle against it, the tentacle is refastened much faster than it was released. Her strength insufficient for physical retaliation, she settles for verbal abuse and calls me some names I’m surprised to hear from her considering her prior preaching of tolerance.

“If you’re done ranting,” I interrupt her, “I’d like you to tell me what you’ve learned now.”

“That you’re a complete asshole?” she spits.

“No, no, no.” I clasp my hands together. “I’m talking about the fact that you cannot leave this room unless I allow it. Any attempts you make to escape will be shot down just like the one moments before. If it starts looking like I can’t, that your full powers are returning to you, I’ll just do what I’m about to do right now.”

I leave that part of the room and walk over to the other half obscured from Shirlee’s view.

“Hey, get back here!” she shouts.

“Just a minute, dear,” I call. I grab the rag and vial of yellow liquid from the altar. Even if the rock above it is covered by a towel for the duration of this session, I can’t help being overly careful not to look at it. I just really wouldn’t want to awaken HIM by accident right now.

I pop the vial open and pour a bit of its contents onto the rag, then leave the vial and return to Shirlee.

“The hell is that?” she says, eyeing the sandy-brown piece of cloth in my hand.

“Take a guess.”

“Don’t you dare put that -- mmph!”

The rag covers her beak. She wriggles, and I feel something try to move my hand, but its strength gradually diminishes along with the tingling it brings to my wrist.

“There. All powered down,” I say and lean in with a smug grin. I take the rag off and throw it onto another table for now. Or try to, but it misses and falls onto the floor instead. Awkward. I hope she didn’t see that.

I clear my throat. “Anyway… if you’d kindly start getting scared now, that’d be great. I may be able to keep you here for quite a while, but that doesn’t mean my patience will last as long.”

“What was… in that?” Her words are slurred.

“Sleep-inducing spores. It’s what I use for all my targets.” I look to her and flash a smile. “You know, my victims.”

“Vic...tims…”

She stares blankly at the floor. Slowly, something begins to change in her expression.

“Finally getting it, huh?”

She frowns in thought.

“This is not pretend, Shirlee. I drug you and hit you without hesitation. You do understand that’s not the end of it?”

“H-hey… Red...”

“M-hm?”

She stares into my eyes. For the first time after her initial awakening, vulnerability is present. “L-let me go.”

“No.”

“Seriously, let me...”

“I will not.”

“If you don’t let me go, I might --”

“You will.”

There it is. In those big, pleading eyes. Fear.

“You’re upside down for a reason,” I slowly say.

“...Why?” She's so quiet now. “Why would you want to do that to me?”

“I'm so glad you asked. I've been trying to destroy you for so long now that I've somewhat lost sight of the true cause myself. Going over it once more will no doubt remind me how important this all is.”

I sigh, playing back my memory. “In order to make you understand… let's go back six years. To the worst period of my life. My time with the Twitch. Have you heard of the Twitch?”

She doesn't answer. I guess she doesn't know.

“It's hell. That's what it is. A million voices just appear inside your brain one day, screaming, and they won't quiet until they've puppeted you into the position of a champion pokémon trainer. Why are they so obsessed with a dying sport and a meaningless title? Who knows. I only know that it was all agony. I wasn't the happiest kid to begin with, and there I was, stuck in an endless waking nightmare. Unable to walk freely, unable to sleep outside of losing consciousness, unable to even off myself to be free.

“Then something happened. Something that saved my life, my sanity. I met someone. Him. The omanyte, as you know Him. I don't know how, but being around Him, it felt so right. So right that it overpowered the pain. I could keep going. I felt like there was hope, a way out. And, eventually, I became the champion. The voices went away. I felt reborn. Alive again.

“Years passed, with a bunch of things happening, but He was always there. He did die more than once. The first time around, I felt like the world was ending, but afterwards I found out He had the ability to reincarnate and retain memories of His former life, of me. Around that time, I also met HIM, but that’s a whole another story...

“Let’s get back to the main point. His attention, presence and existence is priceless to me. No one but Him can make me feel the way I do with Him. So how do you think it made me feel when, only weeks after resurrection from His last death - still always a horrible experience - someone like you comes in to steal all the attention? Makes me invisible to Him for an indefinite period of time?”

Shirlee glances around nervously.

“He’s been obsessed with you. Almost as obsessed as I am with Him. And that makes it all the more painful.”

I open the fists I notice I’ve formed. “But now, now I get to fix it all. I get to end your career. He will turn to me. He will remember my loyalty, what a great servant I’ve been.” I smirk. “And I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t personal by now, so… you bet I’m taking great pleasure in destroying you. You vapid, irritating, thin-skinned little worm.”

“Couldn’t you just… talk to Him about it?”

“...What?”

“Tell Him how you’re feeling. Or did you try that already?” she weakly asks.

“...No, no, that wouldn’t work.”

“Are you sure?”

I cross my arms. “He’s just a child right now. He wouldn’t get it.”

“Are you really sure?”

“Yes. Of course. I mean, I can see why you’d suggest that, but you don’t know the situation. You wouldn’t get it.”

But… I mean, why haven’t I talked to Him about it? I must have had a reason, right? A good one. I just can’t immediately think of it right now. Right! Now I remember!

“You see,” I add, “if I confronted Him about it, He’d see me as the enemy. That would just push Him further away.”

“Didn’t you say you’ve known Him for six years? And you started off with some kind of difficult disease, and He was by your side the whole time? I-it doesn’t seem like He’d just abandon you for having an opinion...”

I don’t like this. I don’t like this feeling she’s making me feel. I don’t like her implying that she’s smarter than me for thinking of this. She’s just a singer. I’m a priest. His servant. I know better than her. That has to be true. And because it’s true, there’s no point in dwelling on it. I have a job to do. A goal to accomplish. I’m not stopping until I’m finished.

“Look, what if...” she starts. Oh, no no no, don’t you dare. “What if you just went to Him and talked it out? Or even had me talk to Him, if He sees me as such an idol? W-we can still solve this in a way that doesn’t need anyone to get --”

“Sh-shut up.”

“Red, please --”

“Shut up!”

Smack!

The smack is no softer than the ones before, but she only groans in discomfort. She’s getting used to it. Does it even hurt at all? Is her body too blubbery?

“I’m done listening to you!” I shout. My hands form fists. They feel hot. So does my face and, well, I guess everything. My nails dig into my palms.

“You don’t get to talk to me like you know anything!” I continue. “You don’t get to be that way after you… after you force a phone onto me! I don’t want that shit! I didn’t have one before for a reason!”

“Wh-what reason?”

“Don’t try to be my fucking therapist! Don’t try to do any of your defusing anymore! Don’t… just don’t do anything! Except evolve! Just evolve already!”

“I-I can’t --”

“Then I’ll make you!”

I raise my right fist to hit. The ball of nails and knuckles trembles. Shirlee’s lesser tentacles reach for her face, trying to shield it.

Wait, her lights. They’re flickering. What does that --

“Gahh!” My eyes!

I shield my face from the shine. Something’s lit up, something burningly bright. Rainbow smears still plague my sight. Is this some type of natural defense mechanism? Or could she perhaps be…

“No… no no no no!” Shirlee cries. Her voice is changing, getting deeper. It's happening. It's happening!

The light dims, then dies. It's done. She's changed.

So, what's she gonna look like? Hideous, that I already know, but just how hideous? The worse, the better for me, isn't it? I'm almost too excited to look - but I know I have to.

I uncover my eyes.

Glimmering skin.

Powerful tentacles.

Fierce eyes.

But the face twists with agony.

“I know! I know!” the creature bellows. “There’s no need to rub it in. I know I’m disgusting!”

Three long fins at the end of the mantle. Thick, muscular tentacles as hair, undulating with a fraction of their full strength. Vibrant hues, sharp beak, intricate symbol of light.

She looks sacred.

Like a creation of HIS. Terrifying, powerful, yet beautiful. Otherworldly, yet familiar. Dangerous, yet I only want to get closer.

Her expression changes. Agony is replaced by realization. What? What did she realize?

Her larger tentacles - longer than I am tall - contract with force. No, don't!

Shink! The hooks holding up the belts come off the ceiling. They clank onto the floor. She's freed. Oh fuck! Don't you dare --

I'm slammed to the wall. Fuck, my back! I collapse from the shockwave, forearms hitting the ground.

“No… stay!” I growl, stumbling back upright. I can see her moving. Hear her moving. My wrist is screaming. Her power is far greater than before, but she's clumsy, bumping into the walls and furniture. She’s found the door out, shit. I need to stop her -- no, wait, I stand no chance physically, look at her! A predator of the deep sea! And I'm just a hairless mankey!

But I have tools. Items. I need the spores -- no, the ball! Of course!

Shirlee's opened the door out of the room. She's moving the shelf. Fast, run past her and get the --

“Get away!”

A glassy tentacle slams into my ribs like a truck, launching me onto the table behind me. The edge knocks into my thigh, no doubt creating a bruise for later. A grunt leaves my poor lungs.

But I can't let her leave. That'll do way worse than just ruin my plan!

Shirlee manages to push the bookshelf blocking the other side of the frame far enough to squeeze through. I throw myself off the table and lunge for the other one, for the ultra ball on it. Grab the ball, there, turn around and run after her! She's only a set of stairs, a door and a few meters from escaping the house!

I slip out of the room. She's halfway up the stairs. Dash after her. Fuck! Another psychic attack knocks me on my back, but I get up, despite the aching limbs. Can't see her now. I hear a handle being turned. Quick!

Two stairs at a time, I see her again, but I need a clear shot or I'll lose even more time. Climb the last stairs - more and more of her in my vision - dash through the door. I'm right behind her. Now? Now?

Now!

I throw the ball. It hits, bounces off. She turns. It opens. Red light. She glares at me. Her eyes glow bright. What is she --

My neck is squeezed. Too tight, can’t breathe! My arteries thump in my ears, my vertebrae are touched, grabbed, compressed - she’s going to snap my neck - and her eyes, they burn with rage, she’s really going to --

Gone.

She’s gone.

I’m breathing. My neck is free. The ball - she returned to the ball. I did it. I’m safe. No irreversible damage done. Okay.

“U-uh.”

Oh no.

From atop the living room couch, wide eyes stare at me. A pale red beak is slightly ajar.

Jess.

“Dude...” the pidgeot starts. A nervous chuckle leaves his throat. “Wh-what was that, dude?”

“Jess...”

I swallow hard. How do I continue? How much did Jess see? What would he believe, what would he accept?

Jess lifts his feet, tense. “You’re not, like… doing anything fucked up?”

“Jess, I...” I notice my breathing is near hysterical and pause to take a deep, albeit shaky, breath in. “I can... understand why this looks bad. But it... isn’t. There is… a perfectly valid... explanation.” It’s like I’ve forgotten how to speak.

“And… what w-would that be, dude...?”

“Uhh.” Think. Think.

No. Nothing is coming.

I take steps towards the couch. Jess shuffles his wings, glancing around.

“...Jess.”

I lock my eyes onto his.

“You were my ace,” I say, almost toneless. “I was your trainer. You were the one I relied on. The voices, too...”

“Wh-where are you going with this…?” he asks faintly. “Y-you’re not gonna, like, h-hurt me or anything? ‘Cause I’ll… I would fuckin’ rip your face off, dude, haha...” He lifts his feet faster.

“No, no, I’m not gonna… do anything, Jess. I just… need to be able to rely on you now. Please. For old times’ sake?”

“...What do you need, dude?”

The pidgeot blinks. That reminds me to blink. I hadn’t done so in quite a while.

“I… need you to not tell anyone what you saw. Can you do that?”

Jess glances at my hand. The one with the ultra ball. “Y-yeah.”

I minimize the ball and hide it deeper in my fist. “I wouldn’t do anything if you said no,” I say slowly. All my words are slow. But these ones are a lie.

“I know. I… I wanna help you out, dude,” Jess says. “I’m your ace, haha.”

I carve a smile onto my face. “Thanks, Jess.” I dare let my eyes off him now.

Silence comes and lasts for eight seconds.

“I should go to sleep,” says Jess.

“That’s a good idea,” I reply. “I should too.”

Stiffly, he spreads his wings and flits down off the couch. He paces to the stairs and begins climbing. I don’t relax until he’s out of sight. Or after it.

I only hope I can trust you, my ace.

---

 
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