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TEEN: some rise by sin

atlas shrugged
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responses!

I spotted every single one of those references and hate the fact there weren't more and that I didn't get a shitty reference.
soon my pretty, soon.

Did you mean boldly?
Actually, nah, I did mean bodily; he's throwing his entire body into the wave / I swear this is a real word
Oh, well at least Atlas is finally getting the hang of some tricks, I wonder when he'll be able to play dead.
NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

I gotta say, I think this is the first story I've seen where Bugsy gets so much attention, he tends to be a smudge in every Johto story with most of them tending to keep him as a down to earth experienced trainer, that is otherwise just really dully and unremarkable when compared to every other gymleader shown, even the games kind of ignore him so it's interesting to see him being treated as such a renowned trainer and strategist here. The other thing that jumped at me is how much you aged him up, especially considering that one of Bugsy's gimmicks is how young he looks (and how short he is).
He is, admittedly, one of the only things I remember standing out in Azalea.

Description-wise there's two things I can comment on, at first it's a bit hard to tell where the characters are exactly, maybe I just didn't read right but when I first started I thought they were in the forest by a lake or something, then I thought they were just resting by a lake in a cave before realizing that they were actually traveling on Lanturns. Also, I kind of forgot what a Lanturn was for a moment...I ended up confusing it with a lampent and had soooo many questions.
Rip. And with the description, Rip. I imagined them going through this part of the cave:

Which, granted, isn't a river going through the entire cave, but some creative license there. Atlas is running on the river banks because the idea of slow-moving bodies of water not having shallow river banks doesn't make sense to me.

The other issue to bring up in that regard is that we're constantly reminded about the situation Nara is in. I'll give you a pass on this since this is the first chapter in over a year (thank you very much) and readers need a catch up, but it's just something for you to keep in mind.
yeah lol I added in a lot more since it's been almost a calendar year since I updated, but reading them sequentially probably makes that a lot less fun. Thanks, doc![/QUOTE]

haha I get two clauses fuck you fellow journeyfic authors
ty senpai

Fixed the typos.

The First Bug of Azalea. You might have made a bit of a misstep, there. Much as I enjoy the reference I wonder whether I'll be able to take the scyther seriously now.
HEH. Everyone gets a naming scheme and some of them get the badass water dancer.

Thought I'd just bring this up, but I do like the unusual language you use here and there. And no-one ever calls you loquacious for it, damn you.
Thanks!

Now onto the stuff that actually matters. First things first, I like the indulgence in some upbeat travelling - I've harped on about it before, but it's the good moments that ought to remind you of why you should give a damn about the world in the first place. To an extent that's what's missing from A Song of Ice and Fire, and from Breaking Bad.
this chapter was not a full chapter in my original outline -- I experimented with fleshing it out based on people's (/your) feedback that we only see the grimdark edgy parts of the travelling, and I agree with you that there could be more of that in this fic. Thank you for your previous advice + I'm glad you liked it here!

And on that note I think it's worth pointing out how much I really do like Gaia. Not just because she's fundamentally nice and starts off very much the underdog and is the persistent warm heart of the story. She's unusual for one of your characters. In a way Bugsy reminds me of this all the more - there are moments to his speech that sound very familiar, with the casual threats and the tired, matter-of-fact tone. Whereas Gaia doesn't have a sarcastic cell in her chitin, takes the joys of life as they come, and seems determined not to let cynicism rule her thinking.
<3
bugs think alike tbh
this is an actual plot point and I'm extremely glad that it came across in their characters this early

Review for the last two years:

This is all a fine story, really. I enjoyed reading it and I thought that it was one of the best fics currently active on the forum. So while this review might lean to the concritical, just know that it doesn't exactly reflect my feelings as a reader.

What the story has going for it most:

-Silver as either a horrifically cruel person, a self-centered asshole who doesn't consider anyone else, a scared kid or all three
-Possession plotline was fun
-Celebi was adorbs and I loved her
-There were no grammar errors to calmly point out. :(
the good things i can tell you is that all of those things come back except the grammar errors those are gonna stay forever; you just have the benefit of reading after Pav and Flaze put me through the wringer

My interest in Nara's starting to draw down. Don't get me wrong, she's a fun enough character and I think she has her quirks but. When she's not in mortal danger or dealing with someone more interesting, I can lose interest in the story. And I think that's because she's never /quite/ been humanized. Outside of her floor (more on that in a second), the most we really know about her (or that I remember about her at this point, at least) is that she's kind of sarcastic and has horrible luck.
This is an interesting point ... and I could see some argument for saying that TUPpy's humanisation ought to be ambiguous, given developments in the Violet arc. But I at least agree with Athena in that it wouldn't be a bad idea for us to see more of what TUPpy was before the business with the Xatu, for basically the same reason that Gaia is a good idea. Her world has been turned upside down, but Athena's right, we don't really know much about what that world was
I think this is entirely accurate, and it's something that's made struggle with writing SRBS a bit more as of recently.

The original intent when I started writing was to have Nara be this secretive, walled off narrator who paradoxically is retelling her entire story while giving a ton of detail on everything around her except for herself (and maybe her surface-level thoughts, which typically amount to "I don't want to die" and "sarcastic quip #28"). I thought this would be a neat gimmick because she's inherently distrustful and only has even more reason to be distrustful after the story starts off, and while from a theoretical standpoint I still think that's an interesting concept, I never fully considered how utterly damning that is from a first-person narration standpoint. And there are a couple of details of her character that are completely critical, and the explanations for her ridiculous sarcasm quips/crippling fear of death are intertwined hardcore in the plot, but looking back on things now I do understand that they inherently aren't enough to carry a character this far. On some level I planned on relying on her team to make the story more interesting, but even then, I don't think it was enough.

Moving on from here, I dunno. I've also done a lot of thinking on this, but I'm not sure if I completely agree with you on your fix (adding more subtle details about her) -- I dropped some references to her schooling/past friends but I don't think they helped much, either. To me, the key thing is that she doesn't yet have any sort of motivation that lasts for more than a chapter arc -- get a halfway decent starter + make prize money from training gets scrapped for don't get killed in this instant gets scrapped for go undercover in the woods and hope no one finds me gets scrapped for don't die in Sprout Tower, with the vague underlying motivation of "gotta get back to Goldenrod to get back home" that at this point is so buried down that I don't think anyone would've even listed that as critical.

...I hope that that's a more accurate representation of your frustrations with her character, because those are the ones that I've been feeling, and the ones that I've been primarily rewriting this arc around.
As for her floor, there's a sort of a double-edged sword with going into the abusive parents backstory to round her out. To start with, it's... not particularly uncommon (Pixie/Skysong, Avis, Sai, Alaska (if we count severe neglect), Evelina Joy (if we're counting emotional/social abuse, etc.)) So, it's not really a particularly unique backstory in and of itself without more little details to support it. But it also can provide an emotional core if PTSD and whatnot are handled well, so there's that.
there's a plot-critical reason that I picked this specific family dynamic. It doesn't help much for me to say that there's a reason without giving the reason, but I hope that it'll at least convince you that I didn't pick it for the easy pity points or something

I'm tired. Might tell you more in chat later.
ilu mom thank you

___________________________________________________________________________​

if you know me at all you know this isn’t chapter xviii. atlas shrugs
___________________________________________________________________________​

Oh boy.

So we spent a lot of time talking to the man with the funny hair who smelled like he was sad. There was an old man next to him who smelled like he was dying of colon cancer but didn’t know it yet. I didn’t like that smell. Master spent the time glaring at them with her eyes all narrowed like she was trying to be fierce, so I puffed up the furs on the back of my neck to look bigger.

I do not think anyone noticed.

Now, Master huffs and storms away, muttering something, and Gaia flap-flips after her. Icarus and Rousseau start to follow.

I want to go too!

“No,” Master says sternly, and I freeze guiltily where I am. “Atlas, stay.”

We have practiced the ‘stay’ before. I do not like the stay. Nothing good happens when I do the stay. Last time, everyone almost blew up and a talking onion teleported me into a tornado.

{I will protect you!} I say, huffing out my chest to make it look very big. I like protecting people. I am very strong. Gaia is also very strong. She has freaky-freaky psychic powers now and hasn’t figured out a way to tell anyone. She told me once because she said she could tell that I was also very strong, and she wanted to know how I was so good at hiding it. I told her it was very easy; you just had to spend your time thinking with your heart instead of your head.

She said that didn’t help very much and asked me not to tell anyone. So here I am not telling anyone.

“Atlas,” Master repeats sternly. “Stay.”

So this is how I ended up sitting in the smelly-man’s house for a very long time.
___________________________________________________________________________​

Oh boy.

I spend the first chunk of time pacing around the house anxiously. The smelly man has a strange house. It is covered in tools and sawdust and little bits of wood shavings that smell like food.

I eat one.

It is not food.

I very gently deposit it back on the ground. Maybe no one noticed. I look up carefully and saw the man staring at me, so I pretend that I am just sniffing around like a good boy and that I absolutely had no tried to eat his not-food.

I think he fell for it.

___________________________________________________________________________​

Oh boy.

The smelly man has a workshop full of magical balls. They are magic because if a human picks them up and throws them, they are full of magical energy that makes them impossibly fun to chase.

Unfortunately I cannot throw them myself. Throwing is hard when you don’t have thumbs. Also I am not magic so they do not work for me. Making balls magic is a technique all humans have, just like all butterfree can fly and all sentret can puff up very big to tell me to leave them alone.

I wonder where the other houndour are.

Anyway. I tried convincing the smelly man to make the ball magical but he told me to go away.

___________________________________________________________________________​

Oh boy.

The next thing to do when you are anxious and alone in a house is to conduct a shoe heist. This is a very difficult endeavor because humans are very particular about their shoes and very good at finding them, but if it succeeds it is perfect.

The shoe heist has three easy steps.

First, you must find the shoe.

Then, you must hide the shoe.

Finally, you must pretend that you have not executed steps one and two. If the shoe heist is successfully orchestrated, the human will be unable to go outside ever again and therefore will never leave you.

I have thought through this plan and see no flaws in it whatsoever.

___________________________________________________________________________​

Oh boy.

Update on the shoe heist.

It does not work if Master has already left the house.

It also does not work if you are not staying in Master’s house.

The man named Kurt is very mad at me, but I cannot remember where I put his shoe.

___________________________________________________________________________​

Oh boy.

{Iris,} I say at last. {I have come to the only possible conclusion. Master is dead and she is never coming back.}

I forgot to mention. Iris is waiting with me here too! She is not one of the cool kids today. That is good. Last time she was one of the cool kids she got exploded out a window. This was before I got teleported into a tornado. She doesn’t like talking about it.

{Atlas,} Iris responds. {She’s been gone for five minutes.}

I don’t know what a minute is or why there have been five of them, but it has been long enough that we should all give up.

___________________________________________________________________________​

Oh boy.

I spent the next five minutes staring at the door. It was a very ugly door.

Sometimes I would hear people passing by outside. That was nice. I hope they had a good time.

I am not having a good time.

___________________________________________________________________________​

Oh boy.

I am having a good time!

The old man left a piece of food under the cabinets. This is excellent.

The cabinets are shorter than me and therefore I cannot fit all the way. This is less excellent.

{Iris, could you help me?}

{No.}

I like Iris. She is very smart.

I decide to turn my head sideways so that I can shove my snout under the gap and try to get the snack. I like snacks. Master gives me lots and would give me more if she weren’t gone forever right now. My favorite snack is peanut butter. Sometimes when Master is not looking I will sneak into her backpack and eat it all and feel guilty afterward.

Oof.

My snout is too short.

You win this time, cabinet.

___________________________________________________________________________​

Oh boy.

I had another great idea. I was going to burn the cabinet out of the way to get to the snack.

If you are smarter than I am, which Iris was, you may have already noticed the critical flaw in this plan.

Did you know that snacks melt when you light them on fire?

Kurt is very unhappy with me now.

___________________________________________________________________________​

Oh boy.

{Atlas. Hey, Atlas. Atlas.} Iris is sharpening her claws or something. I don’t know. When I look over there, she’s sitting on one of Kurt’s fancy workbenches, her tail flicking back and forth as she watches me.

{What are you doing? Can I join in?}

{Yes, okay!} She sounds so excited! She never sounds excited! {This game is called Standing Very Still and Making No Noise.}

{Okay!} I bound up to her and knock over a bucket of scraps. {How do we play?}

Her face contorts in annoyance but her voice is happy so she must be happy too. {First you must Stand Very Still.}

I can do that! {Okay!}

{And now you must Make No Noise.}

I can do that too! {Okay!}

{You just made noise. The point is not to make noise.}

{Okay!}

In the corner of the room I can see a piece of wood shavings that I must’ve missed the first time when I tested all the wood shavings to see if they were food or not. I need to go check it out.

{Atlas, are you listening?}

{Yes!}

{You aren’t Standing Very Still.}

Ohhhhhhhhhhhh.

___________________________________________________________________________​

Oh boy.

I do not like this game.

___________________________________________________________________________​

Oh boy.

I stopped playing Iris’s game.

___________________________________________________________________________​

Oh boy.

I have had a very busy day today. It is time…

For a gentle…

Snooze.

___________________________________________________________________________​

Oh boy.

Sometimes when I fall asleep I go to a different world. This is called dreaming. You are supposed to dream about the best times of your life, so naturally when I dream I dream about what I do every day.

___________________________________________________________________________​

Oh boy.

Snoozing is a very good way to pass the time. I am sure that all day has passed and Master will be home soon to do more edgy things. Soon, soon! Imagine if all we did was hang around inside all day and talk to each other and have fun and get to know each other. I would get many belly rubs and maybe scritches beneath my ear the way I like them. It would be a very good time.

Maybe that’s what we will do when Master gets back! That would be nice.

{Iris, how long has it been?}

{A month.}

{What??}

{No, let me check.} Iris pauses for a moment. {Yeah, it's actually been more like a month and a half since she was back. That's awkward. She'll probably come back eventually.}

She does this sometimes. That's okay. I will be a good boy and she will come back.

Oh boy.

Soon.

___________________________________________________________________________


some cheerful crack; a real chapter is coming soon-ish

much inspire from the twitter THOUGHTS OF DOG, which is overall wholesome and lovely
also much inspire from my real dog, who is a real fucking goofball/
 
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Thesaurus rex
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You always did have a pretty good handle on the doggy brain. You'd expect to see more of that in a fandom with plenty of dog-obsessed fans, but they never can bring themselves to make dogs stupid rather than cool.

I have one major criticism. Going outside is always the best thing ever ever. Doing outside without the dog is a fate worse than death.
 
shame personified
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Here for chapter 17 and ATLAS interlude yasssss

Maybe Johto had a really great food scene, and I could just go around exploring that quietly while making a platonic relationship with someone who didn’t end up threatening to kill me at least once. Maybe I could just go around feeling like it wasn’t all the same old iterations, an utterly unpredictable projected illusion of survival, or me and Icarus flying in the dark. Honestly, the possibilities seemed endless.
LOL, even though these are forced references, they feel pretty natural. Sporting themes from a conglomeration of other fics seems to be your specialty, eh? ;)

There's a pretty distinct change in the style of narration in chapter. It feels a lot less sarcastic and a lot more weighed down by emotions that feel realistic compared to the borderline melodrama from before. I'm fairly certain this was a change you were aiming for, and if I'm right, you did a good job at it. It gives the impression that Nara's taking her situation a little more serious as more and more conflicting details pop up.

Bonus points for featuring a chinchou, by the way. I fucking love chinchou, and I guess Rex is really a lanturn now, but whatevs. Close enough. His dialogue was a treat, and of course, Rousseau has to be the one to bring up the morbid shit there. :p There's a good balance between dialogue and description in the scene, and also, it's nice to hear more from the pokémon in a situation outside of criticizing Nara or being in the middle of a life or death battle.

I’d learned something in the Tower, something sinister, something that you can’t keep hidden once you’ve actually unearthed it: secrets were a currency. I was broke in this apocalypse, with my shambly squad as my only real assets, and I simply couldn’t afford to trust everyone like I’d been doing.
Interesting thought, but I disagree with Nara that she's been trusting people easily. I get more the impression she's trusted people because she's had very little choice. That, and/or the benefits of trusting people that might not be untrustworthy outweighed the potential backfiring. With Silver in particular, I feel the trust is more of an illusion she tells herself is real to justify her decision in interaction with him as she has, and Bates, well, he was indeed decent, but she still had her reservations with him.

The Atlas April Fool's thing... the most adorable thing I have ever read. That is all. It made me laugh, it made me smile, it made me go "aww," and it made me love the team's dynamic all the more. xD Now I'm imagining all of SRBS in Atlas's POV and I can't unsee it.

Looking forward to the Azalea arc~
 
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So unsuprisingly, it was me judging some rise by sin again this season. I forget how many times I've read through it. Giving the usual feedback probably isn't going to work, given that I'd likely be repeating what I've already reviewed anyway, so instead I'm going to do a chapter-by-chapter commentary from my notes. But first, some more unified comments:

TUPpy
I'm a bit sceptical of how close TUPpy really is to the archetypical YA protagonist. I found while I was making my notes that she has more depth the more you look for.

It's true that if you were to fill out a character-building questionnaire you'd probably end up leaving half of it blank. And I also do think that there's a problem with how the story never really slows down to examine what all this means for her. Her world has ended in at least two ways, but somewhere between Cherrygrove and Violet City the drama eases off and should give her space to stop and reflect.

But that being said, backstory isn't the same as character. I don't have a problem with how her development - in short, deciding that she's not going to be everyone's emotional punching-bag - comes relatively late in the day. She's a twerpy teen, given messages do nothing to help her mature, with mostly a twerpy and thoroughly abusive teen to bounce thoughts off. TUPpy could very easily have been the spunky feisty archetype, and I'm glad she's not.

Ironically TUPpy is the most empathetic of the cast. Quite possibly this wasn't planned, but it's there - she's the only one who really tries to see things from the other person's perspective. Silver and Iris are obvious examples of characters who just don't do this, but even Gaia, more emotionally intelligent than anyone, is quick to wave a verbal finger at TUPpy when she's standing up for herself.

So on the whole I think TUPpy works better than she's given credit for. some rise by sin is a story with an ensemble cast - kind of the main point of the story is that the world does not revolve around you - but she's right there in the middle of all the overarching themes: fairness, empathy, identity.

Atlas
Atlas is a bit of an oddball in this story. The other characters - and by the time the Azalea arc starts there are a lot - all have their own point in the story, one way or another. Icarus kicks off the plot in the first place. Gaia is the emotional intelligence. Iris is all about (un)fairness (Though I am beginning to wonder whether she's one-note). Even Rousseau has the capacity to do something narratively the others can't. But Atlas is really comic relief at best. Icarus has done that before now, and Gaia fills the role of a pokémon with a warm heart.

If there's any character to cut, it would be Atlas, recognisably doggy though he is. Conceivably you could push more of the mindfuless angle he showed briefly when talking to Iris. There are few animals more completely mindful than a dog, after all.

Points of Style
It's probably an inevitable fact that any long story written over a long period is going to have shakier beginnings. The earlier chapters have been well-edited, and probably I'm the one who's most familiar with their development, by now. But yes, you can definately see how the later chapters ramble less and have a more mature voice. I don't know if that's ever something that can be overcome short of total rewrites. I wonder whether this comment, coming up time and again, is responsible for your later protagonists being decidedly less prone to quipping.

So anyway, moving on to chapter 0. There's a degree of the edgy edgy young adult voice going on in there. It's not asinine, forgivable, I think, because it is still TUPpy's voice.

chapter i:

But I wasn't going to find myself. I wanted to lose myself.
I don't remember this - looks like this is new to the edit.

1988 has a lot to answer for regarding dictatorships. I suspect the book is to blame for a lot of fictional dictatorships bent on grinding people into the dust for no reason. I think I've mentioned before how I like the worldbuilding in the Rocket regime, but it bears repeating here. Something that bugged me re-reading the chapter (And I apologise for the lack of concrete examples here, my notes are silent on it and I'm short on time) was that she does think a lot of dangerous thoughts for a girl educated by the Rockets.

According to my notes, I found the comparison of types to threatening personalities a bit contrived, but the type chart is the type chart.

Petrel and Ariana come in awkwardly here. As I recall, in the previous version Ariana is spotted in the middle of the chaos. Here she and Petrel are mentioned as if we knew they were there all along, but their first appearance is when TUPpy is contemplating summary execution.

I reacted almost on reflex, online articles about murders of murkrow savaging travelers in Ilex Forest running through my mind as I swatted the bird out of the air with an outstretched fist.
This does make more sense as a murkrow-taming device.

chapter ii: Very much the usual again. I wondered whether it's particularly apropos that Icarus is quicker on the uptake than TUPpy. He's a bird that thinks very pragmatically, perhaps that ought to be a true trait of Dark-types?

chapter iii: I think I may well have read it one too many times, because the stand-off between TUPpy and Silver seems longer than ever. Probably you won't be surprised to hear that my notes say "I still think Silver is a bit thick". I did also notice, to my own amusement, that Abra's not brighter than his own trainer, given that he's not listening to the orders TUPpy gives Gaia, either.

chapter iv: I did a quick count at one point, of how many times you start a chapter with some kind of summarising sentence. It tapers off in later chapters - my suspicion is that this is partly responsible for the accusations of too much snark.

{Ceaes your struggles or I will continue to shock you,}
Typo.

Interlude i: There is more of an idea of who TUPpy was before she started the journey this time round. I started thinking that perhaps the real oppression is how Team Rocket pigeonholes people. All these little twerps have been growing up thinking that a person is fixed and defined before they've even finished puberty. Nobody gets any hope that they can be something different - this kind of neat Sorting ceremony always appeals to teenagers, so long as they're confirmed to be be what they want to be.

It's a good interlude. I think it was written fresh - it seems to have more in common with the Violet arc.

chapter v: Big old question here - how forbidden are Ghost-types? Clearly Brigid is no secret, so what is it about Bates that's allowed him to quietly run this store all this time?

Indio League
Typo.

chapter vi:

but I couldn’t head or tails of him.
“That’s odd. I always differently.”
Two missing words there, I think.

I still think this chapter keeps tripping up over its own humour. Without Gaia being missing there'd be no problem with poking fun at the Sentret. In the context of the situation it just feels too indulgent. Once they've got on their way and the narrative is inching towards the froslass there's nothing wrong with it.

chapter vii


sixty-five points
Pounds.

One hand self-consciously flew up to pat the terrible dye job I’d done to my hair
She hasn't dyed her hair yet.

I kept being reminded of the xkcd Thing Explainer reading this, and not, I'm afraid, in a good way. I couldn't find a good reason for elongating things as "vengeful undead ice-spirit", etc. After the first time we get it ... and really, the narrative is plenty horrifying enough for "froslass" to be horrifying. More so, really, since it doesn't look like an out of place joke.

interlude ii:


callouses
Calluses, I think.

they a little less-than-kind to being subservient to mere mortals
Missing words again.

chapter viii:
I think there used to be an alethiometer joke in this chapter ... in any case, wherever it was, it's gone now. It's here that I started to wonder about whether Atlas was superfluous or not.

chapter ix:
I still love this chapter. I still don't think the worldbuilding here is given enough credit. The description of Sprout Tower could be fine by itself, but it pays off with a more tangible reason when Celebi shows up. It occured to me at this point that Ho-oh doesn't seem to show up much in this story. Not just in that the Rockets haven't caught it yet, but that there doesn't seem to be much cultural baggage attached to it.

Beneath the layers of buildings on the steppes
That should be "steps", I think.

chapter x:
According to my notes, the Hamlet reference doesn't work, and now I can't find it again to illustrate my point. Proving that I never really learn. If I had to sit and argue for hours about some rise by sin, I'd probably use this chapter as evidence that you know where to stick a sharp emotional stick into the reader.

Hey, lay of her.
Typo.

but it was sort of like getting milled by a bunch of little furballs
"Mauled", rather than "milled".

chapter xi:
This chapter highlights that point I was making above about Iris. She very unambiguously made a choice, but lord how she likes blaming TUPpy for it. She's probably my least favourite character in this story, including Silver. Silver has at least been conditioned to be a bell-end. Whereas Iris, frankly, could do with a kick in the tail.

chapter xii:
There's no doubt the pacing is strained here. There's a pattern to TUPpy's reactions, which as I recall, boils downs to her saying something followed by the inner monologue explaining why it was a mistake. But it's kind of not, because whatever she says Silver remains precisely as much of a bellend as he ever is. So there's definately some tidying to be done there ... not to say that it would be an easy edit by any means.

chapter xiii:
Another chapter to illustrate a point - early on you tend to have the narrative analyse rather than emote. This chapter shows the opposite. You don't have to spell it out because we know why these visions are significant.

chapter xiv:
This seems to be as good a place as any to talk Abra. His abilities are, well ... a bit silly. I mean, he is still a first-stage pokémon, but he is an absolute powerhouse of psychic ability. And honestly, I think it's just a case of getting carried away, given Alakazam's mimetic status in the fandom. You might argue that he needs to be for this Falkner duel to make sense, but well, I've already talked about that action scene once before (And how it really needs to be snappier).

chapter xv:
I still really like this chapter. It feels like your poking a bit of fun at yourself, especially when Celebi comments about how TUPpy is too melodramatic.

What did she see in my mud-stained jeans, or the tattered, green bomber jacket bates had given me to stave off the cold?
A big B for Bates. I still love that little bit of narrative, though.

chapter xvi:
The battle we've been over plenty of times. I don't recall if I've mentioned before, but you fall back on the too-something construction a few too many times, at least in this little parcel of chapters. Rousseau was misspelled somewhere in this chapter and now I can't find it again.

interlude iv:
I liked the tired tone in this chapter. TUPpy might not be feisty here but she is too tired and too fed up to play gaslight games with Silver - who, at the risk of beating a dead ponyta, really likes to forget just what Team Rocket is when he feels like it. These vignettes are as tightly written as you could ask for ... so much so that I'm wondering whether to try something like that in my tourney arc.

And finally, chapter xvii:

“I do not like swimming.”
{that needs poké-parentheses}

So there we have it. Sorry I couldn't be more coherent, but as I say, I think I'd be repetitive at this point. Who knows when we're going to see this again, but there's Bugsy being taken seriously, and whoever Whitney is. Let's face it, the story's come a long way since it was started years ago.

EDIT: Almost forgot TUPpy and Silver were in a category:

When you look at their interactions as an adult, you see that it's a case of the meeting of two idiots. TUPpy is slow on the uptake in general. Silver is cunning enough when it comes to gaslighting TUPpy, but the moment he comes across a problem he can't bully his way past he's stuck. There's a lot to unpick besides that, much of which I've done at length already.

Something I don't think I have properly acknowledged is how in large part their developing relationship mirrors TUPpy's own character development. The Violet arc is where she finally has had enough of being gaslit and assaulted by Silver. More significantly it's also where she starts to reject the idea that not wanting to be gaslit and assaulted makes her a bad person.

On Silver's side it's harder to tell where the development is - though some rise by sin is (Mostly) told first-person, so you can't expect to see too much. But we do see that he's not as clever as he appears to be, being wrong-footed and bewildered when he's forced to negotiate as opposed to merely command. You've got to wonder how many other Rockets are like that.

You can see why TUPy is disposed to believe she's evil for wanting to survive. You can see why Silver doesn't know how to interact with her as an equal. For all that the narrative rambles sometimes, the story at least takes them seriously and doesn't insist on suspension of disbelief to make the plot work.
 
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The plot isn’t much like the typical journey fic. It departs from many of the standard Journey Fic staples which brings many positive but also some negative aspects to the story in general. The original plot helps set up more consequences and complications to a Journey fic that most people wouldn’t even think about. The rations of potions along with other items and the clear danger of travelling from town to town changes the challenges of the protagonist and makes the road to her eight badges much more muddied and harsher than it might normally be. These also help the thriller genre which is found in the fic well utilized in many places. The cliff-hangers used at the ending of many of the chapters do well at keeping the reader-hooked, especially in the first arc of the fic. It also allows for the plot to be darker without appearing overly dark most of the time.

The downsides of avoiding these standard hallmarks of Journey Fics apparently comes to it’s pacing. This isn’t as noticeable in the first arc as in the second but still many of the chapters feel a bit ramble-ly and padded out in ways it’s not necessary. We’re two arcs down and not too much has happened in terms of plot events. Although what has happened was interesting we should have probably done and seen a bit more by now. The Tower arc specifically was a good diversion from what a typical journey fic might include but it was also where most of the more 'padded out' chapters were. A faster pace would also increase the sense of tension as the story is indeed a thriller.

The characters are a fairly mixed case some are excellent, some are good but not great others aren't anything special.

The Pokémon characters are probably some of the best. The really focused on their backstories along with how those in the real Pokémon games tend to treat them, such as Gaia and her fear of being abandoned, Iris and her passion for her clan and Atlas just being plain adorable. They felt bright and animated and gave us the ability to see something we see more rarely in Pokémon Fanfiction. The aspect of them being able to talk to Nara really helps their character come across – of course, Pokémon normally can’t communicate in this way, so portraying their backstory would have been much harder without it (something most Journey fics can’t and choose not to do.)

Nara is an interesting character to ‘get inside the head of’ and her teenage sarcasm and quick witted personality adds some humour to a fic which would otherwise be pretty dark. This snark grows through the story and helps establish the dystopian setting and narrative of the story well. He role is naturally suited to the worldbuilding. Despite this sometimes the world around her gets a bit lost inside her head. The plot sometimes slows down a bit too much to present her inner thoughts.

Her snarkiness is generally her domineering and most remarkable personality trait and is the one which remains the most consistent through the narrative. She also possesses a sense of scepticism and slightly paranoia both about herself and the world around her, which makes her a great fit for the dystopian setting as we see how growing up in a world of 'Team Rocket' domination has impacted her; along with the constant reminder by everyone and the cat’s mother that she is evil because the psychic MBTI machine determined she was best fitted to a dark type.

She is a well-written teenage character, who feels like a teenage character but as a teenage character her personality doesn’t stand out too much. Many teenagers are snarky and self-doubting, but writers also tend to write many teenagers this way In the grand scale of teenage characters, her most remarkable traits don’t stand out too much. A lot of Young Adult fiction have these kinds of protagonist, making the trope much more recognisable today. This makes her fall into a bit of an 'archetype'.

Her lack of backstory and mysterious beginnings are both a strength and a weakness. Characters with next to no past are hard to write well and with no history to go off of it’s probably easier for the audience to place themselves in her position. It also highlights how the world around her lacks individuality as they are placed on people in the form of a starter Pokémon and their types. The blank slate of Nara almost serves to highlight this, that people are more than their types. But this is also a weakness in that sometimes she feels too much of a blank slate. I’m still interested in who her parents are and how she lived before. It’s hard to entirely gauge her character when I don’t completely know where she came from in the first place. Not even her name is mentioned for many chapters!

Another comment I have (although this might be down to the writing) I had a hard time sensing what was happening to Nara physically. She rarely seems to tell us the state her physical body is in when she’s doing all this crazy stuff in dystopia world and I feel as if this should be included more.

I’d say that she is certainly a good ‘stand in’ used to represent how a dystopia would affect the growth of the average induvial. She appears to embody the world within her and in protagonist fashion she is unique in this world, and her own self wishes to deny this. That sense of denial is what carries both the plot and the character.

Silver I didn’t feel as if he stood out all that much. Especially at the start of the fic. He was introduced as a stereotypical ‘jerkass who hides he cares’ kind of character and his character development with Nara later on happens more quickly that it probably should have done. His backstory is somewhat interesting, and I feel his character could reflect this better, or at least, more originally. He doesn't leave as much of an impression as any of the Pokemon characters or as Nara.

Depth and Development is strange in terms of these two characters, Nara and Silver when they interact. Nara learns his backstory and starts to trust people a little more and Silver goes from a guarded rival and semi-villain character to being much more open and pretty much a friend to the protagonist. The reveal of Silver’s backstory itself was intriguing and added to the setting I still feel it didn’t give me much more depth to Silver’s character and he still feels somewhat archetypical as a character despite this reveal. So, it didn’t truly do much to add depth to Silver’s character.

Considering the situation these characters are in, it certainly makes for interesting dialogue. They are entertaining because they are able to share how this world has affected them in different ways. One being a mere citizen under the dominance of those in power and one being surrounded by that power – yet they seem to understand each other, at least, somewhat. With their interactions, they can assure themselves that they won’t be alone, even in a world that considers them malicious. Their naturally contrasting personalities helps raise the tension of the plot to come, now they seem to be with each other going forward. Although I felt this destroyed some of the initial threat of Silver’s character and took him away from what he was originally set up to be with some rather quick character development.

As a main 'pair' of protagonists, they seem interesting but they still have some way to go.

The minor human characters are definitely a mixed bag, even more so than the main ones. Bates is a very compelling character and does well in setting up the early narrative and atmosphere. The treatment of many of the character imported from canon however, was poor. Falkner and Archer appeared especially OOC and because of these parts of the fic began to cross the ‘edgy’ line. Falkner is possessed and then used by the author to sprout literature references to show that the author knows them, and then acts as a creepy finale character at the end of the tower arc and not much becomes of him. Archer is characterized fairly poorly. People forget that he’s not villainous because he desires anything he wants for himself but because of his passivity and dedication to living out other people’s wishes. This can be used in an interesting and villainous way, but most people ignore that and treat the rocket executives like stereotypical evil henchman and this fic isn’t too different. If you do want to use canon characters, please, don’t make them the opposite of their canon interpretation for the sake of minor story roles, or else they might as well not be there.

The worldbuilding and exposition starts off a little bloated. It's still a very original setting but the first arc gives us a sense of a world which we so far can only view through a narrow scope. Several aspects of the world get thrown about the plot, but you can’t really ‘feel’ as if their there. The second arc helps develop the setting more, or at least, in this section it feels more complete. The physical descriptions are also sometimes lacking in places. Don’t get me wrong, it’s distinctive and beautiful when it wants to be but other times it feels forgotten. In one chapter, a forest is described as a ‘forest’ and a ‘tree’ is described as a tree. This mostly happens so that the dialogue can take more importance in the narrative. I can why you chose to not focus on it, but sometimes the settings are hard to imagine. Despite the lack of physical description, the fights between the Pokémon themselves are exciting and well written and much more easily imagined.

The general writing and dialogue are very fluid and sometimes feels professional. The dialogue between the characters feels realistic and often compelling. I don’t have any complaints about the dialogue. The one thing I can say is something that I’ve already mentioned, which is the repetitively of certain concepts coming up; such as Nara possibly being evil and ‘the centre cannot hold’ as an arc term is repeated also once a chapter after it comes up once. I feel like it’s a bit too much.

I know it sounds like I whined a bit in this review, really, I didn’t mean to. This is a good fic, a really good fic even. It’s not without its flaws but it’s still a unique experience which is eloquently written. I feel like with a few adjustments here and there it could be a professional piece. Although the issues that it does have are hard not to notice.
 
xviii. swarm
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ah man. I've been back and forth on this chapter/arc for a while now, but fuck it.

responses btw ilu all
LOL, even though these are forced references, they feel pretty natural. Sporting themes from a conglomeration of other fics seems to be your specialty, eh? ;)
u kno it

There's a pretty distinct change in the style of narration in chapter. It feels a lot less sarcastic and a lot more weighed down by emotions that feel realistic compared to the borderline melodrama from before. I'm fairly certain this was a change you were aiming for, and if I'm right, you did a good job at it. It gives the impression that Nara's taking her situation a little more serious as more and more conflicting details pop up.
mmhmm yes this is 100% because of a conscious narrative choice in the early chapters and not because I was writing badly mmhmm yup yup

Interesting thought, but I disagree with Nara that she's been trusting people easily. I get more the impression she's trusted people because she's had very little choice. That, and/or the benefits of trusting people that might not be untrustworthy outweighed the potential backfiring. With Silver in particular, I feel the trust is more of an illusion she tells herself is real to justify her decision in interaction with him as she has, and Bates, well, he was indeed decent, but she still had her reservations with him.
Getting this said openly was was kind of a mixed bag for me -- from a narrative standpoint, tied to a first-person narrator while trying to avoid flashbacks, the main way I can get Nara's motivations and thoughts on the page is to have her say them. Out loud. Usually to relative strangers. When it's in fic it's more palatable and suspension of disbelief usually covers it, but early on she mostly says her thoughts and motivations at face value for sake of character establishing. In-universe it's explained as her being pretty sure she's made some objectively dumb decisions with trust that haven't killed her out of sheer luck. Her MO in the past when anyone has questioned her is usually just to blurt out the truth, but that's... gonna change a lot from now on. This was my way of trying to foreshadow that before shit starts going pear-shaped.

The Atlas April Fool's thing... the most adorable thing I have ever read. That is all. It made me laugh, it made me smile, it made me go "aww," and it made me love the team's dynamic all the more. xD Now I'm imagining all of SRBS in Atlas's POV and I can't unsee it.
I will go ahead and save you the unnecessary suspense: the answer to the Eternal Question is YOU! You are a good boy!

So unsuprisingly, it was me judging some rise by sin again this season. I forget how many times I've read through it. Giving the usual feedback probably isn't going to work, given that I'd likely be repeating what I've already reviewed anyway, so instead I'm going to do a chapter-by-chapter commentary from my notes.
Unclear if I've ever said this in person, but it bears repeating: thank you for sitting down and re-reading this fic over and over again, year after year. Glad the edits make it more enjoyable; I do put in some effort on them.

Ironically TUPpy is the most empathetic of the cast. Quite possibly this wasn't planned, but it's there - she's the only one who really tries to see things from the other person's perspective. Silver and Iris are obvious examples of characters who just don't do this, but even Gaia, more emotionally intelligent than anyone, is quick to wave a verbal finger at TUPpy when she's standing up for herself.

So on the whole I think TUPpy works better than she's given credit for. some rise by sin is a story with an ensemble cast - kind of the main point of the story is that the world does not revolve around you - but she's right there in the middle of all the overarching themes: fairness, empathy, identity.
Some of it is intentional; Gaia probably wasn't but I'm gonna act like it was because man does that add some painful nuance to their conversations.

Atlas is a bit of an oddball in this story. The other characters - and by the time the Azalea arc starts there are a lot - all have their own point in the story, one way or another. Icarus kicks off the plot in the first place. Gaia is the emotional intelligence. Iris is all about (un)fairness (Though I am beginning to wonder whether she's one-note). Even Rousseau has the capacity to do something narratively the others can't. But Atlas is really comic relief at best. Icarus has done that before now, and Gaia fills the role of a pokémon with a warm heart.
I'll actually agree with this. His current incarnation was the least planned character -- in initial drafts, he was a smoldering, edgy houndour who was aware of what the Rockets did to his species and was very, very upset about it. This served as a counterpart to Icarus's general lack of engagement with his dark-type past.

Then I got a dog and realized that no dog ever would act like this, but at this point I was pretttty far into the story. One of my lesser planned aspects. He and Iris do end up fitting into more defined niches around Goldenrod onward, but for now my approach has been to shove them into corners while other characters get more focus. Unclear if that's working.

I wonder whether this comment, coming up time and again, is responsible for your later protagonists being decidedly less prone to quipping.
95% yes. It'd probably be 100%, but at least some amount of this lack of quipping also comes with five years of realizing that being a sarcastic teenage asshole is a lot less fun than it sounds like. Thank you for sticking with me enough to get the honest feedback through.

Something that bugged me re-reading the chapter (And I apologise for the lack of concrete examples here, my notes are silent on it and I'm short on time) was that she does think a lot of dangerous thoughts for a girl educated by the Rockets.
Nope, that's very fair! I tried to slow it down -- in the initial drafts she jumps straight into thinking about burning down the establishment -- but it's probably gonna slow down a loooot more.

I wondered whether it's particularly apropos that Icarus is quicker on the uptake than TUPpy. He's a bird that thinks very pragmatically, perhaps that ought to be a true trait of Dark-types?
yessir

Probably you won't be surprised to hear that my notes say "I still think Silver is a bit thick". I did also notice, to my own amusement, that Abra's not brighter than his own trainer, given that he's not listening to the orders TUPpy gives Gaia, either.
I struggle with this, because I want him to be an intimidating antagonist, but his whole point is that he has to be the least competent named member of Team Rocket. If he were good at his job, the story would end in that chapter.

Oh man. This is awkward. I distinctly remember you pointing out these exact same typos to me and me correcting them. I think what happened was I corrected the forum version and not my word doc version, and then when I posted edited versions from the word doc version, I cleverly erased those edits. I'm a genius. Fixing these in both places now.

All these little twerps have been growing up thinking that a person is fixed and defined before they've even finished puberty. Nobody gets any hope that they can be something different - this kind of neat Sorting ceremony always appeals to teenagers, so long as they're confirmed to be be what they want to be.
Shit, I've gone from knockoff Hunger Games to knockoff Divergence. So it goes.

Big old question here - how forbidden are Ghost-types? Clearly Brigid is no secret, so what is it about Bates that's allowed him to quietly run this store all this time?
This is something I struggled with stating vs hinting. Getting a ghost type as a starter is usually viewed as the trainer being a bad person; getting a regular starter that dies and becomes a ghost is usually viewed as a tragedy. People are usually leery of both types until they can figure out which method you got your ghost through.

I still think this chapter keeps tripping up over its own humour. Without Gaia being missing there'd be no problem with poking fun at the Sentret. In the context of the situation it just feels too indulgent. Once they've got on their way and the narrative is inching towards the froslass there's nothing wrong with it.
Mmm, duly noted. This and the hair-dye note from later are relics from pretty meh attempts to rewrite this.

I think there used to be an alethiometer joke in this chapter ... in any case, wherever it was, it's gone now.
There was! I started cleaning out arbitrary references to books I enjoyed to streamline the narrative :')

It occured to me at this point that Ho-oh doesn't seem to show up much in this story. Not just in that the Rockets haven't caught it yet, but that there doesn't seem to be much cultural baggage attached to it.
The main reason is that Goldenrod (Nara's hometown) is largely secular, New Bark has no real culture, and Violet prides itself on being atheist. Lugia gets a bigmuch mention because it's currently being harnessed as a nuke, but Ho-oh gets some solid focus once Nara gets to cities that actually give a shit about traditions. The "keep reading it gets better" is an excuse I personally hate giving, but in this exact situation it's the best I've got.

This chapter highlights that point I was making above about Iris. She very unambiguously made a choice, but lord how she likes blaming TUPpy for it. She's probably my least favourite character in this story, including Silver. Silver has at least been conditioned to be a bell-end. Whereas Iris, frankly, could do with a kick in the tail.
foils foils everywhere and not a drop to drink

There's no doubt the pacing is strained here. There's a pattern to TUPpy's reactions, which as I recall, boils downs to her saying something followed by the inner monologue explaining why it was a mistake. But it's kind of not, because whatever she says Silver remains precisely as much of a bellend as he ever is. So there's definately some tidying to be done there ... not to say that it would be an easy edit by any means.
gotcha!

This seems to be as good a place as any to talk Abra. His abilities are, well ... a bit silly. I mean, he is still a first-stage pokémon, but he is an absolute powerhouse of psychic ability. And honestly, I think it's just a case of getting carried away, given Alakazam's mimetic status in the fandom. You might argue that he needs to be for this Falkner duel to make sense, but well, I've already talked about that action scene once before (And how it really needs to be snappier).
A bit of a struggle here in stating vs implying. Silver's schtick to surviving in Team Rocket is talking tons of shittalk while appearing less threatening than he is. He talks big talk to make it look like he's just talk, but he does his best to back it up with a big walk. He tells people that his Gift is lie detection when it's actually far more game-changing; his primary battler is a pokemon known for sleeping and running from danger when it's actually his ace. He's a stupid teenager with the development skills that rival Nara's stupidity sometimes, but his pokemon are OP relative to Nara because he has been training for six years -- Nara's the one who's late to the party here.

Something I don't think I have properly acknowledged is how in large part their developing relationship mirrors TUPpy's own character development. The Violet arc is where she finally has had enough of being gaslit and assaulted by Silver. More significantly it's also where she starts to reject the idea that not wanting to be gaslit and assaulted makes her a bad person.
Ahaha. Thank you. This is something I've been trying to coax out of the narrative for a while, and something that probably didn't come across very cleanly in initial drafts. Glad it worked.

So there we have it. Sorry I couldn't be more coherent, but as I say, I think I'd be repetitive at this point. Who knows when we're going to see this again, but there's Bugsy being taken seriously, and whoever Whitney is. Let's face it, the story's come a long way since it was started years ago.
Thank you for the encouragement. It really means a lot. Not gonna say that I'm pre-emptively publishing a chapter I've been obsessively re-grooming for a year just because of this comment, but it was good inspiration.

The plot isn’t much like the typical journey fic. It departs from many of the standard Journey Fic staples which brings many positive but also some negative aspects to the story in general. The original plot helps set up more consequences and complications to a Journey fic that most people wouldn’t even think about. The rations of potions along with other items and the clear danger of travelling from town to town changes the challenges of the protagonist and makes the road to her eight badges much more muddied and harsher than it might normally be. These also help the thriller genre which is found in the fic well utilized in many places. The cliff-hangers used at the ending of many of the chapters do well at keeping the reader-hooked, especially in the first arc of the fic. It also allows for the plot to be darker without appearing overly dark most of the time.
Heyo, thanks for checking me out. These are all things that I knew I wanted to portray but had difficulties portraying clearly the first go-round, so I'm glad that they worked here.

The downsides of avoiding these standard hallmarks of Journey Fics apparently comes to it’s pacing. This isn’t as noticeable in the first arc as in the second but still many of the chapters feel a bit ramble-ly and padded out in ways it’s not necessary. We’re two arcs down and not too much has happened in terms of plot events. Although what has happened was interesting we should have probably done and seen a bit more by now. The Tower arc specifically was a good diversion from what a typical journey fic might include but it was also where most of the more 'padded out' chapters were. A faster pace would also increase the sense of tension as the story is indeed a thriller.
I appreciate this 'cause I struggled a lot with the pacing -- do you have any specific chapters that felt padded? I juggled a lot of elements in the first two arcs (Nara gets five pokemon, burns down a national monument, starts a war with a fascist government, and breaks the time-space continuum), and the crit I usually get is that the plot is rushed -- I'd love to hit a happy medium here.

The Pokémon characters are probably some of the best. The really focused on their backstories along with how those in the real Pokémon games tend to treat them, such as Gaia and her fear of being abandoned, Iris and her passion for her clan and Atlas just being plain adorable. They felt bright and animated and gave us the ability to see something we see more rarely in Pokémon Fanfiction. The aspect of them being able to talk to Nara really helps their character come across – of course, Pokémon normally can’t communicate in this way, so portraying their backstory would have been much harder without it (something most Journey fics can’t and choose not to do.)
I'm glad you enjoyed this part! It's a thing I also spent a lot of time trying to tease out, so I'm glad it worked.

Many teenagers are snarky and self-doubting, but writers also tend to write many teenagers this way In the grand scale of teenage characters, her most remarkable traits don’t stand out too much. A lot of Young Adult fiction have these kinds of protagonist, making the trope much more recognisable today. This makes her fall into a bit of an 'archetype'.
I get this a lot, and it's definitely something I'm trying to iron out -- a lot of the humor falls flat for some people, which isn't something I want.

But this is also a weakness in that sometimes she feels too much of a blank slate. I’m still interested in who her parents are and how she lived before. It’s hard to entirely gauge her character when I don’t completely know where she came from in the first place. Not even her name is mentioned for many chapters!
This is a bit of a relic of poor initial planning, and I apologize -- a lot of her backstory comes out when she goes home (Goldenrod). I didn't realize how long it would take to get her there, and as a character her backstory struggles as a result. Her name isn't gonna be revealed for a looooong time tho.

Another comment I have (although this might be down to the writing) I had a hard time sensing what was happening to Nara physically. She rarely seems to tell us the state her physical body is in when she’s doing all this crazy stuff in dystopia world and I feel as if this should be included more.
In one chapter, a forest is described as a ‘forest’ and a ‘tree’ is described as a tree. This mostly happens so that the dialogue can take more importance in the narrative. I can why you chose to not focus on it, but sometimes the settings are hard to imagine.
Thank you! This makes a lot of sense and is something I'll work on including -- I rewrite pretty much constantly, heh.

Falkner and Archer appeared especially OOC and because of these parts of the fic began to cross the ‘edgy’ line. Falkner is possessed and then used by the author to sprout literature references to show that the author knows them, and then acts as a creepy finale character at the end of the tower arc and not much becomes of him. Archer is characterized fairly poorly. People forget that he’s not villainous because he desires anything he wants for himself but because of his passivity and dedication to living out other people’s wishes. This can be used in an interesting and villainous way, but most people ignore that and treat the rocket executives like stereotypical evil henchman and this fic isn’t too different. If you do want to use canon characters, please, don’t make them the opposite of their canon interpretation for the sake of minor story roles, or else they might as well not be there.
Canon is definitely something I struggle with -- taking interpretations of characters that have more depth than their source material but could still be plausibly seen doing/saying what they do in the source material. Falkner I admit is a mixed bag, but he's mostly OOC because the character doing the talking certainly isn't Falkner any more.

Archer's... a bit harder, I guess? I'm not sure which canon you're basing off of; I don't watch the anime/read the manga so this is direct from my experience of Pokemon Gold -- I really only remember him having a few (like three-ish) lines of dialogue, most of which were the standard "I can't believe I got beaten by a child". It was kind of hard to draw motivations from so little text, so I interpreted things pretty loosely, but if I contradicted direct stuff from him, please lmk!

I know it sounds like I whined a bit in this review, really, I didn’t mean to. This is a good fic, a really good fic even. It’s not without its flaws but it’s still a unique experience which is eloquently written. I feel like with a few adjustments here and there it could be a professional piece. Although the issues that it does have are hard not to notice.
No worries! I really appreciate any/all feedback here, and thanks so much for taking the time to read through this crazy train.

___________________________________________________________________________​

chapter xviii. swarm
___________________________________________________________________________​

“Kurt’s safe,” Bugsy said in a low voice as he looked over his shoulder before ushering me to stand in the porch. His scyther followed. I watched with removed interest as its razor-tipped wings scraped a fresh set of shallow gashes in an already mangled doorframe. “Most of Azalea is somewhat safe. Probably.” He knocked twice on the wooden door and then leaned against it expectantly.

I made uneasy eye contact with Rousseau, who was floating around my shoulders. Bugsy was the leader of Azalea. Why was he only “somewhat probably” certain that his people were safe?

The counterpoint was written all over the gastly’s face. Bugsy was the tactical strategist responsible for keeping the rebellion alive for as long as it had been. If he was wondering if his people were safe, he probably wasn’t wrong.

Counter-counterpoint: was Bugsy paranoid about the rest of Azalea because he thought they were rebels against the Rocket cause, or because they were rebels for the Rocket cause?

The ghost shrugged.

The door opened a crack. A gruff voice whispered, “Who’s there?”

Bugsy whispered back, {It’s Bugsy.} A pause. {Project Hamartia.}

I could see the wrinkles on the hand fiddling with the deadbolt chain before the door opened another crack and Bugsy pulled us both inside.

{I’ll give us light,} a third voice murmured, and suddenly I was staring at six tiny bulbs of light illuminating the room. A ledian fluttered away, pinpricks of illumination burning into my dazed eyes.

{Thanks, Marin,} Bugsy said, and then prodded me forward. {Have a seat. Keep the murkrow close, obviously.}

Obviously. Of course. I knew exactly why that was important.

I sat down on one of the wooden chairs around the narrow table, trying not to make it obvious that I was looking around intently. The house was hardly larger than a room, and the entire back wall was devoured by a work bench and immaculately organized sets of tools. I could almost see what one of the projects was, but—the light flitted away as its bearer settled down at the table next to me, throwing the scratches on the wood’s dark surface into harsh shadow.

It was a little disorienting trying to get used to the sudden, shifting darkness. I looked over my shoulder. It looked like the place had windows, but they were all boarded up.

{Syrio will brief the rest of your team on what they need to know. This is faster.} I registered Bugsy saying words as he pulled up a chair beside me. Too late, I turned and saw the scyther trudging off to a darkened corner of the room, apparently already deep in conversation with Rousseau. Atlas was sniffing intently at the mantis’s heels. Iris took one look at me and the humans gathered around the table and took off after Syrio, her tail fluttering behind her like a banner. I wanted to call after them; I felt naked without my team.

{I’ll stay with you, trainer,} Gaia murmured quietly, perching on the back of my chair. Her thin wings whispered across my hair.

“We stay,” Icarus said stonily, flapping his wings from my shoulder. Even from the side, I could feel the burn of his bloody glare.

When I was younger, I liked to go outside and watch the stormclouds gather over Ecruteak. On good days, there’d be an hour or so where I could tell that a good storm was coming: the air was thicker, somehow, and laced with the crisp and unmistakable tang of ozone.

I was no expert at the trickier kind of storms, the human kind, but something was coming.

{Listen,} Bugsy said, the already-familiar crease between his eyebrows deepening again. {You probably have a lot to discuss. Kurt and Marin can swarm too, but we don’t have forever. Someone’s bound to notice that we’re off the grid.}

“Swarm?” I couldn’t help it; I had to ask a dumb question. It had been a long time since the last one.

The old man—Kurt, ostensibly—fiddled with his fingertips before speaking. {Our Gift. It keeps us safe. We commune automatically with our pokémon; together, we are one. From afar, our minds look the same, and our presence is masked by our pokémon. We cannot be located at a distance through the telepathic network, nor can our words here be intercepted by psychics.}

Belatedly, I realized Icarus and I were the only ones talking out loud.

“We don’t have to worry about being overheard, though,” I said, slowly trying to piece the words together. Of course Azalea’s Heart would have some crazy ability that had to do with family and unity. And of course he’d found a way to weaponize that bond into making his strategy as impermeable as it was unexpected.

I didn’t like where this was going. It was best to keep things vague: glancing, basic statements that couldn’t be held against me in the event that I was being detained for questioning and these guys were really, really bad at it. Maybe Team Rocket would be more lenient if I kept mentioning how much I didn’t want to burn their country.

Bugsy’s voice was sharp, like his scyther, when he said, {I will always have Azalea’s best interests at heart. For we were made in the image of gods.}

I looked between Bugsy and the white-haired man with wizened, delicate hands, who apparently took that as his cue to say, {Johto forever.}

I opened my mouth.

Then closed it.

I’d finally realized what they weren’t trying to tell me.

First, yeah, they were definitely the kind of rebel terrorist cell where talking to them would get you axed. Probably should’ve picked up that one from the passcodes and paranoia. But there was more to it than just Johto’s underground resistsance.

Bugsy had gathered me and my team here, in secret, in this tiny hovel of a house with the only people in the country who wouldn’t show up on a psychic radar. He treated me like I was a rebel with a cause because that’s exactly who he thought I was.

No, it went deeper than that. He treated me as someone who couldn’t trust anyone, who couldn’t talk to anyone, who needed to keep Icarus close at all times because…

I thought about what Bugsy’s profiles had said about him: that the key to his strategies had been his unpredictability. There had been tactical genius and sheer skill, yes, but that wasn’t how you held off an incoming army using a swarm of bugs. There had to be more.

Piece it together.

This was one thing that would never be in a history book, because it pointed to the craziest weakness of all. The reason why you couldn’t outstrategize Team Rocket on your own was the same reason why the siege of Azalea had been the longest part of the war. More than that. It was the reason why I’d managed to get the jump on an accomplished member of Team Rocket on my first day of being a trainer when my plans amounted to ‘if it moves, stringshot it’. The reason they were terrified of me.

The only reason I’d managed to make it so far without dying.

Bugsy’s strength was the fact that, to Team Rocket, he was literally unpredictable. In their ivory tower of telekinesis and mind-reading, they’d stopped needing to actually strategize in their battles because they’d found something more efficient. There was still intelligent planning, sure, but guessing and prediction was much less efficient than knowing exactly what your opponent was thinking via telepathy. Someone in their ranks had it. One of the Executives, maybe Giovanni. It didn’t matter. One was enough.

And with that gone? Facing Bugsy? Facing me? It was like having the internet your entire life and then being told you had to use a library for a research paper, or… having a country dependent on electricity only to have the entire power network knocked out.

For the briefest moment, I saw it: there was some weird, shadowy force pulling strings from behind the scenes. Everything that had happened so far was too interlinked to have happened by accident. Bates being in the right place at the right time to save me from the froslass. Silver being the only one to tail me. Our paths inevitably leading us to the one spiritual locus where the Forest Queen could rip me through time. It was all too much to be coincidence.

Most troubling of all: there was a wizard behind the curtain, and Bugsy and Kurt thought it was me.

“I’m not planning anything,” I said blankly, more aware than ever that I was the only person who got to use real words at this table. Did Icarus mask me that well, or were we all just staking our lives on a bird that was currently picking out bits of dirt between his toes?

{Of course not,} Kurt said smoothly. {After the power grid was brought down by external forces, a unified Johto is more important than ever. Participation in Project Hamartia would be treason.}

Oh, good, they had a name for their underground rebellion that was going to get us all killed. That made things much more legitimate. They probably even had passwords and secret knocks and… wait a second.

things fall apart

the center cannot hold.

Son of a

“I’m just trying to go home.” This was crazy. Bugsy was openly a traitor to Azalea who was secretly a traitor to Team Rocket. He’d roped some old guy and his ladybug into helping. And, craziest of all, they thought I was the strategic genius behind Johto’s steady collapse. At this point, I was almost missing Silver’s constant derision of my mental capacity, because the other end of the spectrum, where they thought I was an untouchable mastermind, was actually laughable even to me.

No, craziest of all, they thought that I had a chance.

Bugsy nodded serenely. {Of course. Participation in Project Hamartia would be treason.}

“I’m resigning from this coup. I’m not working with anyone. You can keep the murkrow if you want; he probably won’t mind.”

Icarus squawked indignantly.

{Your resignation is accepted.}

Huh. That’d turned out to be suspiciously easier than I’d expected.

Gaia wasn’t convinced. {Are you just saying that because...}

{Your response is reasonable,} Kurt repeated. {Participation in Project Hamartia would be treason.}

They assumed I was lying to them on purpose, because I couldn’t trust them enough to say I’d obviously already planned this chess match out nine steps ahead in four different dimensions. “You’re seriously trying to undermine Team Rocket with this breloominati—”

{Illuminatu,} Bugsy corrected dryly.

“You shut the hell up right now with these puns I swear—you had to name your project?” I knew what names meant. “There are multiple projects in your organization? You made more than one suicide pact?” Icarus was cackling distractingly in my ears. Of course he would. This was his style, not mine.

{Participation,} Kurt said with herculean patience, {in Project Hamartia would be treason.}

I filed Kurt away as the NPC whose dialogue the programmers forgot to update outside of the tutorial level, and looked desperately back at Bugsy, metaphorical fingers crossed for a miracle.

{Team Rocket can ensure that anyone’s thoughts will eventually be laid bare if they so desire,} Bugsy said matter-of-factly, which dashed one plan. {And given our high-profile status, I find it frustrating that you can’t speak your mind, but I understand.}

Read: the Rockets could still pick his mind apart if they ever got ahold of him, which meant that running wouldn’t save me at this point. He knew I was the murkrow girl, and he’d seen my face. He’d seen my reaction to the idea that someone else could destroy our government for me. Could I kill Bugsy? Was it worth it? “I’m not planning anything.”

Bugsy blinked. {Of course.}

“I’m going to go poke around Ilex Forest and not die.”

{An excellent plan.} Bugsy paused, and then added placidly, {Ilex Forest holds the shrine of the Forest Queen. It is an excellent historical landmark and not at all linked to Azalea’s rebellion.} There was a minute quirk in his eyebrows that made me think he was questioning my ability to connect the dots if I really hadn’t figured out that Ilex Forest was the worst place to hide. Or maybe he thought I wasn’t hiding, and I was going to do something stupid like summon the Celebi.

Haha. Joke was on him; I’d already tried that and I was still in deep shit.

I started over. “I’m going to go poke around Slowpoke Well and not die.” Maybe, if I walked quickly enough, I could get to Union Cave before they noticed I was gone.

{An excellent plan,} Bugsy said. {Slowpoke Well is an excellent historical landmark and not at all linked to Azalea’s rebellion.}

Of course everything here was linked to Azalea’s rebellion, even the water; this was how they’d been forged. On second thought: I’d never actually confirmed with the Celebi that my actions in Violet constituted “saving the Tower.” The original idea there had been that she hadn’t left my body trailed across ten minutes, which I’d taken as a sign that she approved of what I’d done, but maybe I could get answers.

{I’m coming with you,} Gaia said automatically. {This forest has teeth.}

“Boss need no teeth,” Icarus added, and hopped up to my shoulder. “Boss has Icarus.”

{You are free to use our resources here as you please, in whatever way you think is best, for whatever you need. If your pokémon need to rest before the upcoming conflicts, we are more than happy to assist you.}

“There are no upcoming conflicts. I’m still not planning anything.”

{Of course.}

I stood up. Fine. I wasn’t trying to be a firebrand, but if they were going to be dumb about this, I could at least get some stuff out of it. “My awesome plan requires that I get fresh supplies, a change of clothes, and six of those no-tech pokéballs that you used to export with the apricorns. Oh. And the Hive Badge. That’s super important to my plan.” Why the hell not. If they were going to make me the lynchpin of their definitely-not-treason organization, I was going to take it for what it was worth.

Bugsy physically flinched at the last one.

{Of course,} Kurt said smoothly.

___________________________________________________________________________​

{They think you’ve got a master plan for taking down Johto.} Gaia perched around my shoulders, which felt incredibly light without my backpack on, and let her wings still for a moment.

I chewed on that one for a while. “Yeah. Me and my master plan.” I swallowed nervously. “Do you think this is how all of Azalea is going to be?”

{I imagine so. The rest of Johto, too, if we’re lucky.} A pause. {Lighten up, trainer. This is easier.}

“Gaia, this sucks.

{The alternative,} she said in a fair voice that told me she and I both knew she was right, {is him trying to take us out with brute force. I do not think I could take his scyther alone. This is easier. We’ll find a way through this.}

{This… isn’t the way to Slowpoke Well,} Rousseau said instead.

“Nope.”

{You told Bugsy we were going to Slowpoke Well,} the gastly pressed.

“Yup.” I’d run out of words to tell the people of Azalea that I wanted no part in this bullshit, so maybe my actions could speak for themselves.

{I only came along because I wanted to see the Well.} Rousseau paused. {I told Iris I’d help her practice some new techniques.}

“Oh.” I hadn’t thought about that. “Sorry.”

Ilex Forest was quiet, almost peaceful. Sequoia trees as thick as doors clawed upward into the sky, twisted branches curling around the sunlight. The air here was at least ten degrees cooler, and the sweet tang of sap was everywhere. Every now and then, the gentle rustling of fallen cedar fronds on a breezeless day reminded me that we weren’t alone, but none of the pokémon had come out to meet us yet.

It looked like our reputation preceded us.

And yeah, I’d told Bugsy I was going to Slowpoke Well. I know.

We kept walking. I didn’t really know where we were going, but there was precisely one major trail through Ilex Forest, and thigh-sized roots hemmed us in from the other sides. Absent-mindedly, I rubbed at the bloodred edges of the Hive Badge. I kept turning the ledian-patterned stamp of metal in my hands; getting a badge this way hardly constituted as ‘earning’, but hey, I wasn’t going to look a delibird gift in the beak. If Bugsy was going to blindly paint me as the enemy of all of Johto, the least he could do was give me a badge.

How far did it go? Team Rocket probably couldn’t read every single person’s mind at once from any distance, but was there a range? If someone saw me, was the battle already lost? Were they able to hunt people down from a distance?

No, Silver had mentioned when we’d first met that long-distance teleportation went down with the grid for some reason. At the time I hadn’t had time to wonder why those two were related, but now… no, I still had no idea why they were related.

“They right, fearing us?” Icarus squawked from above. He didn’t seem to like Ilex so much, surprisingly enough—the branches were too high for him to perch in and talk shit from.

I had the feeling that Bugsy knew some of the answers, but I didn’t want to ask him—and from the way he was acting like I should’ve been acting, he didn’t think I needed to. I was only safe as long as he thought I was doing what he wanted. And the second that he realized I wasn’t, I would be the enemy of the town that was the enemy of the rest of Johto.

Hm. So did that make us friends again, or was I just screwed?

“I don’t know.”

{Are you sure?} Gaia asked.

“No.”

Somehow I don’t think that answered either of their questions.

{Are you hiding something like he suspects?}

“No.”

This time, Rouseeau—who had been increasingly quieter and wrapped up in his own thoughts—stopped to fix me with that same, empty smile.

{Trainer,} Gaia said at last, carefully, and a hurtling sense of vertigo filled me.

I couldn’t put away the trepidation; I suddenly knew without a doubt—we were doing this.

{I was a metapod when we went into Violet. I remember this. I remember the froslass telling me that you were more monster than human when she took me, I remember evolving to spite her in the forests of Cherrygrove, I remember traveling as a metapod. And yet, for some time atop Sprout Tower, I was a caterpie once more, until I was not.} She hesitated. {I know you are different. I know you are aware of more than you let on, but this is beyond even that line. This breaks all rules I have ever known.} She paused, and the silence weighed heavier on my shoulders than either of my pokémon did. {Trainer, what have you done? What are you planning?}

I could lie to everyone else. I could keep my mouth shut to the lanturn; I could convince Bugsy I had a plan; hell, I could even tell Rousseau to his face that I didn’t know what he was talking about when he called me out on this kind of stuff. But I couldn’t lie to her. Everything I told her to be—my starter, my moral compass, my rock—was already lies, but I couldn’t lie to her.

I kept my voice low and quiet, and with the trees standing watch, I prepared to burn a bridge.

“The first time we fought Falkner, we all died,” I said at last, glancing furtively around us. There wasn’t anyone in sight. It didn’t mean I was alone. “The Forest Queen intervened. She sent us back in time. She gave us a second chance.”

Gaia’s voice was firm. {Mortals cannot travel to the past. We are leaves in the stream of time. It only flows one direction for us. We cannot go against the current.}

“We did.”

{How?}

“There was a price. Three prices.” I tried to put the gifts of the Birds Regent and the Forest Queen into a simple of terms as I knew. “We sacrificed the way to past by consuming the spiritual energy accumulated in Sprout Tower. We sacrificed the present by undoing the reality I was witnessing. And we sacrificed the path to the future by…”

There was a long silence.

{By what?}

I opened my mouth and closed it.

Rousseau began, {She—}

No. She had to hear it from me. “By destroying you. She reversed your evolution.”

Icarus stopped his current task—using the edge of his beak to gnaw off the edge of a tree branch and sending a cascade of red back to the ground—to fix me with a bloody gaze. “You,” he growled, looking at me and the gastly with murderous intent.

{I had no part in this agreement,} Rousseau said. The gaseous nebula around him flared upward; I imagined it was the mental equivalent of him raising his hands in the air.

Icarus didn’t back down. “Yet Gaia says Tower only morphed after you appear.”

Pause.

Rousseau looked around pointedly. {If this is all we’re here to discuss, and we actually aren’t going to the Well after all, I’m going to go back spar with Iris like I promised her I would.}

Words,” Icarus spat. “Cannot use many words and pretend to be blameless.”

But while they squabbled and Rousseau floated serenely back the way we’d come, I was looking to Gaia. I didn’t know what kind of response I was expecting, but it still hurt like a gut punch when my butterfree didn’t answer for a full minute. In the dead quiet of Ilex Forest, the silence meant that the pounding of my heartbeat was a war drum.

{Did you know that was the price when you made the arrangement?}

Something in her voice had cracked. Maybe now she understood what I’d meant back in Violet when I said I didn’t deserve her. “No. Gaia, please, no. I had no clue.”

Gaia didn’t falter. I couldn’t see her face, but it wasn’t like I ever had really understood her to begin with. {Knowing what you do now, would you have made the arrangement again?}

I—

I couldn’t lie to her.

“A chance to save all of our lives?” She hadn’t seen the first future, the one I’d left behind, the one that even Rousseau was afraid of. Anything was better than that. “No. Gaia, I know you don’t have to believe me, but I didn’t know the price. I didn’t even know I was making an agreement.”

{I see.}

Icarus’s claws dug into my collarbone, so hard that I could feel him breaking the skin. He landed aggressively, enough to for me to realize that he’d been making a point to be gentle before, and that point was gone. “Boss cannot let anyone suffer. Boss is to protect.”

There was a long pause.

{Knowing what we know now, I would make the same decision as you unknowingly did, every time,} Gaia said at last. {If it was anyone versus the life of our entire team, I would not hesitate.}

I could hardly believe my ears. This was not the timid caterpie I’d picked up on the first day of what was supposed to be an uneventful adventure. “You would. I would.” I paused. She didn’t seem convinced. “Gaia, we all would.” I took a step forward and something crunched beneath my feet; I looked down to see a strange shard of translucent yellow rock sticking out of the ground.

{You didn’t.} There was no room for argument in her voice, even though I knew there should have been. {So neither would I. It’s simple math.}

“No. Choice. To. Be. Made,” Icarus hissed, accenting every word by squeezing his talons tighter into my shoulder. “Boss is Boss.” He actually looked flustered; his gaze frantically flicked between me and Gaia. “Soldier jumps on grenade to save everyone in room. Is noble. General tells soldier to jump on grenade. Is cruel. Is wrong!” Icarus squawked. He flapped his wings directly into my face, but his furious gaze was fixed on Gaia. “Murder does not die. Murder does not pick who from murder dies. Murder means everyone lives.”

I stared at them all, lost for a moment in this three-way conversation. The last time they’d sat on my shoulders and offered conflicting advice, it had been so easy to at least see what was morally right, even if I didn’t agree—kill someone, don’t kill them. This was the same, but the roles were flipped, but it also inherently wasn’t the same. Gaia was asking me to lead them marching nobly to their deaths; Icarus was asking me to create a world where no one died.

“Gaia—”

{Are you a general or a soldier?}

I wanted to say soldier. I didn’t like the idea of being in a cloister, the king on a chessboard, the weakest piece whose only purpose was to be protected.

But that wasn’t how things had played out.

“I’m a trainer,” I said at last, crushing undergrowth beneath my feet. “I’m your trainer. It’s my job to be at fault.” But even as I said it, I knew it wasn’t an answer. Did that mean I would make the choices that no one else had the heart to, and I could never let myself feel bad about it? History immortalized Bugsy for the loss he experienced at the hands of Team Rocket, but it was his pokémon who must’ve suffered the most when he fought, and I’d never seen a textbook entry on his scyther. “I’m not the king. I’m not the pawn. None of us are.”

The forest abruptly gave way to a strange rock formation. It was weirdly smooth, the way obsidian formed clean facets, and the sunlight filtering through the trees gave it a sickly yellow glow from within. Beneath the surface, just a few inches out of focus, the stone abruptly turned dark. I pulled up short; I hadn’t seen this on the route signs. The rock itself was huge, almost the size of a building, and it didn’t look natural. A monument? A landmark this big should’ve been marked. We couldn’t be at the Celebi’s shrine already; that was a few more miles in. I frowned, momentarily distracted as I reached in my backpack for the map—

{Icarus is your king,} Gaia said when I didn’t continue. {Maybe I am your queen; maybe not. But you are neither king nor pawn. You are the player.}

“That—”

I realized what the Tower had taken from me.

My pokémon were no longer my peers. Maybe they’d never been, and I’d just been fooling myself all along—the concept of a journey was inherently strange, after all. But now that they’d seen how the rest of the world wanted to see me, they’d taken away different images of who I was supposed to be: a puppeteer commanding them to victory in a playing board that spanned the world, a warlord who would kill all in the way to protect the flock. Neither of those roles were human. Neither of them were me, but somehow it was who I was supposed to be, now. It wasn’t like I’d actually had a choice.

So what did I want it to be? Did I want them to see me as a god? They’d believe me.

But I couldn’t lie to them like that. Not to Gaia. Not to my starter.

I stopped and looked at her fluttering wings and ruby-tinted compound eyes that, I realized belatedly, finally matched Icarus’s. “Gaia. I am a living creature. We are a team. You aren’t my pawn, you aren’t my queen, you are a living creature too. We don’t do that to each other . What happened to you was my fault but it’s not happening again.”

“Boss. Protects.” Icarus pressed the matter, flapping his wings in my face for emphasis.

{Except that isn’t how it works, is it?}

I spluttered and spat out a fragment of one of Icarus’s black feathers. I could see her out of the corner of my eye, barely needing to flap her wings to stay afloat. “Gaia,” I began, unable to bring myself to reach out for her. To do what? Pet her troubles away? I wasn’t sure. “I’m not sacrificing anyone. We’re in this together now, and—”

Gaia was still on my shoulders. My eyebrows knitted together. Icarus was suddenly bristling. “Who are you.” I spun to face the newcomer.

The insect had a golden carapace where hers was black, and instead of wings, it had six golden protrusions spaced out around its back. When I wasn’t looking at it from the corner of my eye, in a shadowy forest, it was hard to believe I’d ever mistaken this creature for Gaia. It was smaller, and its underbelly was silver, and above all there was a terrifying lack of movement or life in it, like a dead shell. Even when I stared at it, it hovered back and forth as if on an unseen wind; no part of its body moved.

{I am Naathi,} the strange pokémon said. I could feel Gaia peeking up curiously from behind my head, antenna ghosting against my ear. {Guardian of the largest mass grave in Johto. Welcome.}

___________________________________________________________________________
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Thesaurus rex
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Then I got a dog and realized that no dog ever would act like this, but at this point I was pretttty far into the story. One of my lesser planned aspects.
I'm finding the same issue with Gail the Pidgeotto. Her flight has been very peregrine, but now I'm thinking about making it more merlin, and in any case her mannerisms aren't nearly raptor enough. It happens.

Shit, I've gone from knockoff Hunger Games to knockoff Divergence.
Doesn't it make no real sense in Divergence, though? I mean, this is my point. The Sorting Hat theme appeals to teenagers because it simultaneously makes the world nice and neat (All you people are Dauntless, or whatever the hell they're called), and makes a select bunch of misfits special (You are two kinds of personality!). What TUPpy's finding out is that a Gift no more completely defines anyone than does any other personality trait.

Thank you for the encouragement. It really means a lot. Not gonna say that I'm pre-emptively publishing a chapter I've been obsessively re-grooming for a year just because of this comment, but it was good inspiration.
The more I write, the more I'm coming to the conclusion that sometimes you just have to publish and let the dice fall where they may.

Technical Accuracy/Style

The forest abruptly goh ave way to a strange rock formation.
Too much coffee when typing this line, eh? There's actually not a lot to say besides this. The chapter is perhaps leaner than I was expecting, when it came to the Bugsy/Kurt conversation. I did wonder at first whether Bugsy apparently speaking telepathically was a typo, but no, turned out it was deliberate.

One question of description I did have was the idea of sequoias clawing upward ... I mean it's a perfectly good image, just doesn't seem appropriate to what I've seen of sequoias. Oaks, certainly (Since they always look ancient no matter how old they are), ashes, quite possibly.

Story
Kind of chewing over this one. Bugsy and Kurt (Apparently) disappear from the story a lot faster than I expected. And though the dialogue is obtuse and weird, it does remind me of that one comment from Small Gods about the difficulty of co-conspirators communicating and being paranoid at the same time. It follows the usual theme of nobody bothering to actually talk to TUPpy in favour of pigeonholing her into whatever role suits them.

In their ivory tower of telekinesis and mind-reading, they’d stopped needing to actually strategize in their battles because they’d found something more efficient
Funny this should come up, because Team Rocket is a group pretty well obsessed with psychic power, and in the story it is presented as being more or less the checkmate power. I was toying with bringing this up in the last big review - whether there'd be absurd logistical problems in trying to industrialise the use of psychics, pokémon or human. But this is an interesting thought, that the Rockets might have stopped thinking for themselves. I mean, it would explain why Silver constantly thinks the best solution to any problem involves Abra.

Character
I think I may have mentioned it somewhere before, but TUPpy would never have been a very good trainer whatever she had been given. You've got to wonder what she thought her journey would have been like. I mean, ok, she probably hasn't seen what good leadership looks like, but her attitude seems to be to let her pokémon do what they want and desperately hope they dovetail with her own interests.

Unusual to see Icarus actually serious about something, but perhaps it's time, since his default mode is to cackle and make the odd wisecrack.
 
xix. a monument to all your sins
ready as i'll ever be
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Doesn't it make no real sense in Divergence, though? I mean, this is my point. The Sorting Hat theme appeals to teenagers because it simultaneously makes the world nice and neat (All you people are Dauntless, or whatever the hell they're called), and makes a select bunch of misfits special (You are two kinds of personality!). What TUPpy's finding out is that a Gift no more completely defines anyone than does any other personality trait.
True, Divergence is a bit more of a pandering clusterfuck, but still, I'll do my best to stray from its mold.

One question of description I did have was the idea of sequoias clawing upward ... I mean it's a perfectly good image, just doesn't seem appropriate to what I've seen of sequoias. Oaks, certainly (Since they always look ancient no matter how old they are), ashes, quite possible
I. Hmmm. This is mostly inspired by me visiting sequioa forests and not quite having a word for it. I'll keep my thesaurus close to heart.

Kind of chewing over this one. Bugsy and Kurt (Apparently) disappear from the story a lot faster than I expected. And though the dialogue is obtuse and weird, it does remind me of that one comment from Small Gods about the difficulty of co-conspirators communicating and being paranoid at the same time. It follows the usual theme of nobody bothering to actually talk to TUPpy in favour of pigeonholing her into whatever role suits them.
The pacing of this chapter is the main thing I've been sitting on and decided to say fuck it, I'll revisit it later. cheers to later.

I think I may have mentioned it somewhere before, but TUPpy would never have been a very good trainer whatever she had been given. You've got to wonder what she thought her journey would have been like. I mean, ok, she probably hasn't seen what good leadership looks like, but her attitude seems to be to let her pokémon do what they want and desperately hope they dovetail with her own interests.
Yup! She's a trash-tier trainer who learns what it means to be less trash. To be fair, there was definitely a reason no one encouraged her to go out journeying in the first place, and it was probably a combination of her stunning lack of forethought and inability to coordinate others...

___________________________________________________________________________​

chapter xix. a monument to all your sins
___________________________________________________________________________​

{How long have you been following us?} Gaia asked.

{How long have you been talking?}

I swore under my breath; this was probably the fifth time someone had snuck up on us and jumped into our conversation. And then I realized the second, stranger thing. Rousseau had been gone for quite some time now, and yet. “You’re what’s making the telepathic field.” I’d had Rousseau around for so long that I’d taken it for granted.

{Yes,} she said quietly.

“You must be one hell of a psychic.” As far as I knew, most bugs couldn’t develop telepathic fields. There were a handful of bug species that were decent psychics, and of that handful there were one or two utter exceptions. Sabrina’s venemoth, for example, but rumor had it that he’d also gone head to head with half of Red’s team. At the same time. With one wing behind his back, uphill both ways, et cetera et cetera.

Revisionist history was a pretty wild thing.

{I was raised by the best.}

That wasn’t remotely reassuring.

{You’re a ghost,} Gaia said, far more calm.

{Oh? What makes you say that, young butterfree?}

{You do not feel like one of the living,} Gaia said. She fluttered in front of the strange pokémon, looking like the distorted reflection in a funhouse mirror.

Naathi chuckled. The sound was cold and empty, and it seemed to echo around in the hollows of her shell. {You must be one hell of a psychic.}

“Why here?” Icarus asked. “Why ghost?”

It was starting to become formulaic. Another national landmark, another ghost. Was this one going to try to kill us, too?

{There is a lot in your question, young murkrow. Why are any of us here? What does it mean to be here?} A pause. Another serene, haunting chuckle. {And why indeed would I linger as a ghost?}

Well, at least that question was answered. Unless she wanted to talk us to death, we were probably safe for the time being.

Icarus glared daggers at the strange pokémon. While I’d come to accept the seemingly endless stream of strangers spouting non-answers, Icarus was a much more literal kind of bird. “Why?”

{Do you know where we are, young murkrow?}

“Not young.”

{Compared to me, all of you are children.}

Gaia’s head tilted at that one. In another time, in another place, I could spend years trying to understand and replicate the insight she brought to what was otherwise Icarus and me running around aimlessly. {You’re a ghost who remembers who you are.}

{And you’re a butterfree who’s so intertwined with fate that I can feel Time herself slipping off of you. Tell me, do you understand what your trainer’s actions made you become?}

All three of us fell silent. Icarus didn’t mean it this time, I think, but his talons clenched in my shoulder again, adding another set of puncture marks.

{Your words earlier were truly spoken,} Naathi continued, as serene as ever. {Mortals can only travel down the stream of time, and they can only ever move at a fixed pace. And yet here you are, a child of the hive who has risen from servant to queen and fallen back again.}

“How you know this true?”

Naathi chuckled, unfazed by the murkrow glaring daggers at her. {Your companion is a stitch in the fabric of Time, now. Even if I can only move one in one direction across the cloth, I would have to be blind not to see the ripples from her rip.}

“There’s nothing wrong with her,” I said, taking a protective step between my pokémon and the ghostly carapace before us.

{Oh?} I’d have to be deaf to ignore the mocking tone that had slipped into Naathi’s voice.

“What you want?”

{On the contrary, I wonder what it is the three of you want. I doubt you will be able to find the path where you all end happily.} She laughed a little at a joke whose meaning only she understood, and it was then that I pinned down what I found most unsettling about her: when she said these grim things, she actually sounded sad. {Your physical path so far brought you here, which does not bode well for the road ahead.}

Gaia’s antennae flickered, the only sign thus far that she was even listening to the conversation. {What—}

{Hush, now. He comes.} Naathi’s voice had taken on a deadly-calm, almost prophetic quality. {Watch him falter, watch him weep. Behold, Azalea’s Heart.}

I had the presence of mind to pull Icarus back before he could open his beak, and I yanked him with me behind the trunk of an enormous sequoia tree, heart pounding, umber bark digging into my back.

The footsteps followed, dry crunching on dead leaves, and then they stopped.

Seconds ticked by. I held my breath, finally trusting Icarus enough to relinquish my deathgrip on his beak, but none of us moved.

{Did you come to heal again?} I heard Naathi whisper to the newcomer.

{Hello, Naathi,} a familiar voice responded despondently, and I had to bite my lips to keep the frightened squeak of surprise trapped, where it belonged.

Bugsy?

He didn’t answer.

The silence dragged on.

I was itching to see what was going on down there, at what you’d get when a priest, a dead bug, and Azalea’s gym leader walked into a mass grave, but I also knew that Bugsy had the kind of magnetic gaze that would pick out a pair of watching eyes in a heartbeat. Was he jumpy enough to kill me?

Not worth finding out.

New plan.

I angled the Hive Badge in my palm, catching first the reflection of the giant lump of stone, and then the blur of pine needles, and then—

The purple blur of hair that indeed resolved into Azalea’s gym leader, sitting forlornly at the base of the strange, golden rock formation, his head tilted upward to look at the empty blue skies above. His scyther was nowhere in sight.

That didn’t answer anything. What was he doing here?

“There’s way too much residual psychic energy here for the Rockets to spy here. You can come out now,” he said, and I realized that this was the first time I’d heard him speak aloud.

Shit.

{What is this place?}

Too late, I realized the second oddity—Gaia wasn’t hovering by my shoulder any more.

Bugsy’s head pricked up tiredly as the butterfree approached him. He leaned into his walking stick. I imagined his knuckles whitening around it as he prepared to strike. “Nokonozo,” I watched him answer, which wasn’t really an answer at all. “Is she here too?”

{No. She went to the Well. I wanted to see the forest.}

“And yet she didn’t bring her ace with her?” Bugsy asked. I could practically hear him raising his eyebrows. When Gaia didn’t answer him, he continued, “Nokonozo is the site of the last battle in the Rocket takeover.”

I remembered Naathi’s first words to us, and apparently so did Gaia. {This is the largest mass grave in Johto,} she said.

“Some things were wiped from the history books, young butterfree. Nokonozo is a pinnacle of triumph for order and prosperity. This is where, after five months of cowardly guerilla warfare, the last bastions of a backwards era were finally ushered out.”

I finally recognized that strange, golden-honey color that made up the faces of the enormous obelisk.

Amber. This was amber. And the twisted mass of darkened shapes in the middle, spindly like spinarak legs, tapered points like weedle stingers, segmented in the all-too-familiar silhouette of a butterfree’s thorax—

{Team Rocket won here,} Gaia finished for him.

“No,” Bugsy said quietly. “That’s not what the stakes were. Say it how it really was.” His reflection turned a shard of golden stone over in his right hand. “Azalea lost.”

The features of their faces were blurry, but somehow I didn’t think I’d have been able to read the smudge that was Bugsy’s eyes even if I’d been staring straight at him.

{Azalea still stands.} Naathi was back in this, although I couldn’t see where she stood in the limited view that the badge was offering me. {You made the right choice.}

{What did you do?}

{Young butterfree,} Naathi began. {He—}

“No.”

The clearing fell silent again.

I recognized the callous foolhardiness in his voice, the sensation of words being stripped of the emotion behind them—no, the feeling that saying the words aloud was only a fraction of the punishment he deserved—when he continued: “I held the warfront for five years after the rest of Johto fell. I organized the strategy and lost the war. I negotiated the surrender that came after. The results of that treaty are in front of you, Gaia. There is nothing new in executing war criminals. Azalea and I entered that negotiation table fully expecting that I had nothing to left lose. We were ready to die.” A pause. His first one, this time. The words here were tumbling out of his mouth like he’d been bottling the up for years. “They didn’t ask us to die. They asked me for something that everyone agreed was utterly abhorrent, something we couldn’t give, and when I gave it, the Rockets built Nokonozo out of my transgressions. How old is your trainer, young butterfree?”

{It doesn’t matter.}

Bugsy’s reflection made a blurry motion that might’ve been a shrug. One hand tapped idly on the handle of his walking stick. “I’ll guess sixteen. A strange age in these parts. She must’ve been born during the invasion.” No. He wasn’t bottling this up. The sentences were all there, like he’d been saying them over and over again, but the syllables were disjointed, like it was his first time saying them aloud. “You haven’t had time to see the city, young butterfree, but when you do, you and your trainer will find something quite strange. You can search every inch of the city, and you will find no one her age.”

The Hive Badge slipped out of my fingers as I processed the implication he was trying to make. It took the reflection of Bugsy before Nokonozo with it, which was a blessing, but it couldn’t take his voice.

“We took years of progress from the Rockets, so they took those years back from us. That was the price they asked of me in return for Azalea to be welcomed back to the fold. Every child born to us, pokémon and person alike, from the day the Rockets set foot in Johto to our black day of surrender. You won’t find them in Azalea because they’re all right here.”

I’d read stories, once, about how the Lugia could freeze things in time. I’d always thought they were just stories.

“It was a trade that no one else could have made, but it was the only one that let all of us be here to judge me for it. I had a butterfree, once,” the disembodied voice of Bugsy was saying softly. “She was wise, like you, and she told me something very important. It was from her that I learned a lesson that I hope you will learn soon—and yet one that I hope none of us ever have to learn, somehow—that once you start recognizing your pieces as pieces, you stop losing as many.”

{Surely,} Gaia said carefully, {you do not blame yourself for the choice you made? Naathi is right. You guaranteed the future of Azalea.}

{Bugsy has forgotten what it means to be Azalea’s heart,} Naathi answered for him, immediately. Even from where I hid, I could hear the contempt dripping from her voice. {Imago dei. The hive understands. We would trade drones for the queen a thousand times over and never look back.}

And then Bugsy answered for himself. “Naathi and I stopped seeing eye to eye long ago. Once you convince yourself that you play for the bigger picture, you can stomach trading your children for your future. And yet, Gaia, remember this lesson that my butterfree never taught me: once you become a piece, once your trainer becomes a player, neither of you will ever be able to go back to the children you used to be.”

The three of them were silent, so silent that I thought maybe they’d left. And then I heard Bugsy sigh heavily. “Before you leave Azalea, show your trainer this place, if you haven’t already. Show her my city, and show her where the children like her ended up. Make sure she understands what it means to make my mistakes.”

{She is young.}

Bugsy’s answer came too fast, as if he knew what was coming already. “And the world will expect her to be far older.” A pause, and then: “Much like you.” Another pause. In the mirrored surface of the Hive Badge, I couldn’t quite see his eyes, but then his entire head snapped to Naathi like it’d been loaded with clockwork. “Oh, my. You’ve been places, young butterfree. Are you a general or a soldier, indeed? You and she may be neither piece nor player.”

Swarm.

They were swarming. Naathi had been telling him everything. Or he’d been gleaning it from Gaia. Or one of the hundreds of bugs around us who had seen it happening. It didn’t matter, because at the end of the day the only important thing was—

“You know I’m here, then,” I said aloud, quite cleverly, from behind my tree.

“I think ‘knew’ is the correct word, but yes. Feel free to come out.”

This was probably Bugsy’s specialty back in his prime—pulling the rug out from beneath his opponent’s feet right when they thought they had an advantage. I sighed and shuffled out from behind the tree, keeping my hands casually in my pockets as if I hadn’t been spying on an incredibly somber and personal conversation. “You didn’t mention you were coming to the forest.”

He swung his walking stick around lazily, just enough for me to see that it wasn’t a walking stick at all. It was a crowbar. I tried not to look at the crowbar, because looking at it would remind me of my history classes, and my history classes would remind me that this crowbar was the reason that there were four members of the Rocket executive core, not five.

Bugsy noticed my obvious discomfort and said, “And you told me you were going to the Well. I do sincerely apologize for not reading deeper into your statements.”

Unless he had read deeper into my obvious lies, and he’d known where I was going to go instead, so he’d acted accordingly. Maybe I could pretend that I’d known he was going to know that I was going to do that, which is why I’d… tried to hide behind a tree from someone who could telepathically communicate with every insect in the forest.

Gods, this chessmaster stuff was way too above my level.

“They never mention this part of the war,” I said instead, looking up at the massive tower of amber in front of me.

“Of course they wouldn’t.” The scoff was back in his voice, and suddenly it was hard to remember how vulnerable he’d sounded just seconds ago. “That would create the idea that actions have consequences.”

“They’ve reminded me of that well enough,” I muttered darkly. Me and Icarus both. “The murkrow and I have consequences for things that I never even acted on.”

Bugsy raised one eyebrow. “If it helps, which I know it won’t, Azalea was weary of his kind long before the Rockets told us we were supposed to be.” He must’ve noticed me about to splutter something indignant and utterly incomprehensible, because he shrugged and said, “Murkrow eat bugs in increasingly cruel and creative ways. We like bugs.” He waited for me to close my mouth, and then added, “And besides, I’ve put my differences behind me, haven’t I? You have whatever aid you need from me, Hamartia.”

Hamartia. I was his stupid pet plan. It all came down to that.

No, not just his pet plan. Everyone had an idea of what we were. A dozen shadowy forces trying to tell me and Icarus what we should be—walking, flying disaster. The Rockets feared it because, well, I figured most governments were afraid of a sentient skeleton key in their formerly all-powerful control network. Bugsy welcomed it because, because it’d give him revenge for however many years of hardship left him still coming to an amber tomb to apologize.

Everyone was looking at us like we were actually a player on this board. Everyone but me.

“Did you take out the generators?” I said instead. If anyone could’ve done it, it would’ve been Bugsy. Informally confined to Azalea or not, he would’ve found a way.

“Of course not.” There was almost a look of profound disappointment on his face before Bugsy wiped it away. I figured he was either sad that I was stupid enough not to understand the real culprit, or sad that I thought he was stupid enough to hurt Johto like this. “Although I appreciate the message that was sent, one I think the Rockets have yet to receive despite our best efforts. That their kind of modernization has a price. They bulldozed their fabled route system straight through five centuries of heartwood, and there was nothing I could do about it. They burned Brass Tower to the ground to summon Lugia. They turned Olivine into an industrial wasteland for their generator field, which now doesn’t even work. Johto is dying, and it’s only a matter of time now before the Rockets suck it dry. But that wouldn’t make for good propaganda, would it?”

He waited expectantly, but I didn’t notice fast enough. It wasn’t until he was halfway through saying, “Syrio suggested to me that you might have been serious when you said that you weren’t planning anything,” that I realized I’d just failed a test. And by that point, Bugsy was already saying, “Perhaps I misjudged you. Perhaps you legitimately just wanted to go home, and perhaps you didn’t even mean for any of this to happen. You could just be a kid who bought into the Rocket propaganda and just happened to get the worst starter possible at the worst possible time.”

I, quite cleverly, decided not to answer that one.

And Bugsy, to his credit, chose not to look at me when he continued, “And if that were the case—which I’m not saying it is, by the by—I would tell that kid, who just wants to drink the lemonade and buy the propaganda and then go home to a quiet life, that some people don’t get that choice. Some kids end up becoming leader of a town at the age of thirteen, which is great, until some foreign terrorists end up on their doorstep with the closest thing they’ve ever known as a god, demanding that they roll over and let someone else destroy everything that they’ve ever known as home.” He turned to look at Naathi with hard eyes. I couldn’t tell if he was talking to her or me. “And maybe, in theory, the kid understands what it means to be at the heart of a cause, but they don’t want to accept it, because everything they’ve learned about reality up until this point told them that this situation isn’t fair and it shouldn’t be happening to them. And, hypothetically, as the leader of Azalea, I’d have one word for that scared kid.” He reached one hand out for the glassy surface of Nokonozo. “Sucks.” He pulled away, as if touching the pillar would burn him. “Reality doesn’t care about you. Zoom out far enough and we’re all just drones for another queen. The hive understands, even if it doesn’t realize how far up it scales. Reality will trade you for the queen a thousand times over and never look back. You either become the queen or decide you’ve got so little to lose that it’s okay to be part of the wager. This is imago dei. You won’t get anywhere just thinking about yourself; it’s the legacy that lives on. It’s about sending a message. This is what it means to build things that last.”

I followed his gaze.

Seeing Nokonozo this close was haunting. The strangest part was how serene they all looked, suspended in amber as time passed them by. I couldn’t help but linger on a butterfree, not much bigger than Gaia, the outline of her carapace distorted from crystalline refraction into a silhouette that was too familiar to be ignored; too alien to be accepted as real—

“I’m going to the Teneral Festival,” Bugsy said suddenly. “Do you want to come?”

“I’m sorry?”

“The Teneral Festival,” Bugsy repeated, as if that explained anything. “It starts tonight. It’s a tradition from a few hundred years back, after the rise of the Tohjo conflicts.” He paused to look at me, a wry smile crossing his face. “And besides, there’s a small battle tournament. Since you beat me for the Hive Badge and you’ve been shining it in my face for the past twenty minutes, I’d say you’re a prime contender here.”

The weight of his stupid ladybug badge weighed heavy in my pocket all of a sudden. “I’m sorry?”

“The Teneral Festival,” Bugsy said for the third time. The smile faded a little. “It’s a thing we do down here in Azalea. The final molting before winter. We gather together and acknowledge the hardships that came before, the rockiness of the road ahead—but above all, we share what we have. We are a place of community; our hive lives and dies as one.”

As one? I chanced a look at the massive amber tower before me, darkened shapes at its core casting twisted shadows around us. There had been a trade here, one that I could never imagine making, but it certainly hadn’t been made as one. “I’m. I’m going to pass. I have a lot on my plate right now.”

Bugsy wasn’t looking at me. This entire conversation, and he’d only been staring at one thing. The one piece that mattered to him. I almost caught the sound of his sigh through the breeze, but either the trees were so loud or he was so quiet that I was left wondering if I’d imagined it in the first place. “Look. Hamartia.”

“That isn’t my name. I’m not your stupid project.”

“Look.” There was a level of world-weariness laced in his intonation, like that single plea for me to just listen weighed like a heavy burden on his shoulders, that I couldn’t help but stop. “Either you’ll bring about the destruction of Johto or you won’t. Either you’ll prove to us that you deserved a murkrow, or you won’t. Either I’ll finally figure out how to redeem my people or I won’t. Life is made up of these uncertainties and at some point you can’t keep trying to strategize around them.”

The best strategist in Johto turned to stare me straight in the eyes, but what I saw in that purple gaze wasn’t desperation or anger or sadness; it was simply calm, even if his voice slipped into a plea. “It won’t do you any good. It never did me any good when I tried it, either. But there’s a festival about to begin, and I’m going to watch a bunch of off-pitch children absolutely butcher one of my favorite folk songs and I’m going to applaud them the entire time, and for one night we can all just forget about whatever horrible things keep taking from us and just enjoy what we’ve still got, you know?”

And I saw him there, slouched and smiling in the shattered yellow light of the monument they’d made to all his sins, and I finally began to understand how a man like him could possibly be all of the rumors the world had about him and more.

I let myself smile too. Just one night. “Okay.”

___________________________________________________________________________
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Thesaurus rex
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Has it been a year already

First, response of a response. Again.

I. Hmmm. This is mostly inspired by me visiting sequioa forests and not quite having a word for it. I'll keep my thesaurus close to heart.
This is where I ought not speak in a lordly tone about all things natural - I've seen precisely three sequoias in person in my life, in Worcestershire, of all places. I still maintain that "clawed" doesn't seem to be the right word for it, but I can hardly pontificate on what is. I would suppose that the overriding impression would be the space - big trunks that go up forever and have a lot of air between them. Certainly for a necessarily brief description I'd pick the overriding impression and focus on that.

I thought for a while about whether there ought to be more description for a sequoia forest, and whether it ought not be sequoias if there shouldn't. But I think you had the right of it. There needs to be something pretty damn big for the likes of Nokonozo to be a hidden monument. And Nokonozo is the point here, it needs to be the focus.

Anyway, back to the quotey bit of the review:

Well, at least that question was answered.
Sarcasm, rather than snark. It occurred to me the difference might not be pedantic. Snark kind of reminds me of the way American sitcoms love to do sarcasm - the tone of voice pretty much outlining the sarcastic line in flashing lights so no-one could mistake it. Which might explain this:


and it was then that I pinned down what I found most unsettling about her: when she said these grim things, she actually sounded sad.
Kind of reminds me a little bit about my usual speech about nice things in dark fics, after a fashion. In actual fact there are plenty of characters in some rise by sin who do emote sincerely, but the cleverer ones do have a habit of speaking like this is all a children's game. Celebi, for one, though I reiterate her character is great. One thing that does niggle me is how much you have to tell me she sounds sad. It would be nice if I could see that more clearly in Naathi's dialogue.

I angled the Hive Badge in my palm, catching first the reflection of the giant lump of stone, and then the blur of pine needles, and then—
Surprisingly clever for our little TUPpy.

“And yet she didn’t bring her ace with her?
Out of curiosity, where did the decision to refer to an ace come from? I know mine was from watching Haikyuu!! and trying to figure out some reasonably authentic-sounding sports jargon for that damn Tourney arc. Anyhow, next:

Technical Accuracy/Style

Should that one be capitalised?

This is always a tricky section, because usually there's only something to add after a big edit. In this case I think I'd revise that big paragraph where Bugsy discusses whether TUPpy is some kind of revolutionary or not. It's technically accurate, but it tries to blur into a block of text. Either trimming the dialogue or finding somewhere to divide it into two proper paragraphs would be the solution, I think.

Story
Strictly speaking this chapter isn't that long, but it felt like a longer chapter. This upcoming festival could be a welcome change of pace. There have been plenty of long, cryptic conversations, and if nothing else the plot could do with being shaken up a bit. We haven't really seen much of people just doing what people do, which wouldn't be thematically inappropriate, since TUPpy's whole character is about being much more ordinary than anyone expects.

and for one night we can all just forget about whatever horrible things keep taking from us and just enjoy what we’ve still got, you know?”
My favourite theme looming on the horizon there.
 
Don't Look Away
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Wow, it's April Fools already?

But shitty jokes aside (especially since Pav already used that one sadly) of all the things for this week the last thing I expected was a srbs chapter, so I was pleasantly surprised when I saw it. Admittedly the last chapter came out...shit, I think like last year? so it was hard to remember what exactly happened aside from the general stuff like Nara meeting Bugsy and the like.

Anyways, moving into the chapter, you really jumped into high gear. And honestly, maybe this isn't what I should do as a reviewer since if anything I should focus on critiquing but I was wondering just how you're able to make every chapter feel so...like touching, like this has been a thing in your writing the last couple of years where there isn't a single chapter that is devoid of meaning, even chapters that don't matter to the story have some kind of moment or scene where you're just like "wow" and it's something that has me really curious.

And on that note I think this chapter embodies that. In paper the chapter is basically like an elongated scene, like when you really think about it you realize that not much really happens outside of Nara hearing Bugsy's conversation with Gaia and then intervening and getting the reveal of what the monument really is.

But it's when you peel those layers that you realize that the chapter is pulling double duty by having the events of the Azalea arc tie back up into the story's theme. There are two big themes that I can spot in srbs and correct me if I'm wrong but they're regret and uncertainty and the way they interact. I mean, there are others like that but you can see it with so many characters, at this point even Nara, having clear regrets about things they did or didn't do in the past, at the same time you have character betting their lives and feelings on things that they're not even sure will work out, whether it'd be Bates trusting Nara, Nara trusting Silver and Celebi and now Bugsy wanting to put his trust on Nara. Actually, trust is probably another theme but I digress. The point is that you have this back and forth where you expand on the character's perspective and every action they take receives a new meaning when you realize that everyone just wants to do something that will make their lives better, whether that'd be taking down Team Rocket or just living a quiet life.

I think that's what helps elevate Bugsy's and Nara's talk much more than it first seen because outside of that the chapter would otherwise pretty disappointing considering not much else happens (though I know you've been working on future chapters so I'm sure we won't have to wait that long). Also, what questions it does answer it mainly makes up for by raising new ones, such as that whole cryptic thing with Gaia "becoming a Queen but then going back to being a worker" thing they mentioned, which I assume has to do with the fact that Gaia was supposed to die.

That's really my main criticism with the whole deal as far as I could see it, outside of that I think the chapter was a perfect return for srbs and I'm interested to see where Azalea's festival goes now that we know that the town's basically been rebuilt on the corpses (technically?) of its previous generation. I mean...it's still nice that Nara and Bugsy were able to speak eye to eye though so points for communication!
 
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Hey, this is your secret santa review, I guess.


Okay, let me start by saying that I wish I’d started reading this story ages ago. With what there is currently, it’s easily one of my favorite on the site. It might just be that I’m a sucker for good worldbuilding, but I love this story. Anyways, onto the review.


So the protagonist is a lovely Jane Doe. She doesn’t have a name, but it doesn’t really impact the story that much, and I kind of like it. It might not be intentional, but I feel that it kind of helps sell the “I’m not some destined hero to save johto, I just got roped into this” message that she keeps trying to tell everyone, even if they aren’t really listening. I don’t have any major problems with her, really, although sometimes her incessant sarcasm kind of interrupts the mood of some scenes. That’s not necessarily a huge flaw, but it did kind of remove me from the moment at times. As for her Pokemon, they’re all wonderfully lovable, too. Icarus and Gaia are the most developed of the group, with the others kind of just… being there, but that isn’t a bad thing. I do hope they get more depth soon, especially Rosseau. Iris gets a bit in Sprout Tower, as does Rosseau, but it’s still not anywhere near the levels of growth Gaia has gone through. Whew, Gaia is booking it. This little bug type has gone through more and grown further than most protagonists do in their entire story. Gaia is by far my favorite of all the characters, and it’s easily because of how much it’s changed. I guess bug types really do grow fast.


Anyways, onto the plot. I love the background of Team Rocket taking over the region. You’ve got a unique spin on it, with them actually doing some things that might be considered good while ruling johto with an iron fist, instead of them turning the region into a big ol prison camp, like most fics that have the bad guys win seem to do. All the exposition in the first two chapters is a little much, but I love that sort of stuff, so you won’t see me complaining. As for our wonderful protagonist, we get a good couple of hints (Don’t lose your way in the dark, ooh spooky) that they definitely are some form of chosen one, and not just an average new trainer caught up in this whole mess. Ms. Jane Doe hasn’t done a ton of interacting with the Rockets, who I assume are our main antagonists here, aside from Silver, but the story is clearly all about her avoiding them at the moment, and presumably becoming a significant annoyance for them in the future. But for now, the story seems to be mostly about the protagonist hiding from the Rockets and getting the hell home. I’m excited to see where it goes from here.


As for technical, no complaints here! I didn’t notice any errors, and even if I did, everyone else had already pointed them out. That’s what happens when I’m late to the party, I guess. Looking forward to more updates!
 
xx. teneral
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889
responses:
Kind of reminds me a little bit about my usual speech about nice things in dark fics, after a fashion. In actual fact there are plenty of characters in some rise by sin who do emote sincerely, but the cleverer ones do have a habit of speaking like this is all a children's game. Celebi, for one, though I reiterate her character is great. One thing that does niggle me is how much you have to tell me she sounds sad. It would be nice if I could see that more clearly in Naathi's dialogue.
Oh, yeah, on re-read I see how Naathi comes off as too distant for my liking.

Out of curiosity, where did the decision to refer to an ace come from? I know mine was from watching Haikyuu!! and trying to figure out some reasonably authentic-sounding sports jargon for that damn Tourney arc. Anyhow, next:
Irony! Mine was from my short-lived stretch of playing volleyball in high school.

This is always a tricky section, because usually there's only something to add after a big edit. In this case I think I'd revise that big paragraph where Bugsy discusses whether TUPpy is some kind of revolutionary or not. It's technically accurate, but it tries to blur into a block of text. Either trimming the dialogue or finding somewhere to divide it into two proper paragraphs would be the solution, I think.
gotchu gotchu, that does make sense.

Strictly speaking this chapter isn't that long, but it felt like a longer chapter. This upcoming festival could be a welcome change of pace. There have been plenty of long, cryptic conversations, and if nothing else the plot could do with being shaken up a bit. We haven't really seen much of people just doing what people do, which wouldn't be thematically inappropriate, since TUPpy's whole character is about being much more ordinary than anyone expects.
[..]
My favourite theme looming on the horizon there.
Hurrah! The lack of breathing room definitely got to me in the Cherrygrove->Violet arcs; I ended up retooling a lot of Azalea to make room for scenes like these, so I'm glad that paid off!

But shitty jokes aside (especially since Pav already used that one sadly) of all the things for this week the last thing I expected was a srbs chapter, so I was pleasantly surprised when I saw it. Admittedly the last chapter came out...shit, I think like last year? so it was hard to remember what exactly happened aside from the general stuff like Nara meeting Bugsy and the like.
i guess i'll see you next year geddit because 2019 is tomorrow

Anyways, moving into the chapter, you really jumped into high gear. And honestly, maybe this isn't what I should do as a reviewer since if anything I should focus on critiquing but I was wondering just how you're able to make every chapter feel so...like touching, like this has been a thing in your writing the last couple of years where there isn't a single chapter that is devoid of meaning, even chapters that don't matter to the story have some kind of moment or scene where you're just like "wow" and it's something that has me really curious.
hey. you in the chair. thank you for writing this. this made me feel really warm and fuzzy inside.

Also, what questions it does answer it mainly makes up for by raising new ones, such as that whole cryptic thing with Gaia "becoming a Queen but then going back to being a worker" thing they mentioned, which I assume has to do with the fact that Gaia was supposed to die.
It's actually referring to her evolution/devolution/time travel shenanigans back at the top of Sprout Tower -- turns out that time travel totally fucks you up; who would've known??

Hey, this is your secret santa review, I guess.

Okay, let me start by saying that I wish I’d started reading this story ages ago. With what there is currently, it’s easily one of my favorite on the site. It might just be that I’m a sucker for good worldbuilding, but I love this story. Anyways, onto the review.
Hey! Wow. Welcome to the party; glad you could make it + even more glad you enjoyed it.

It might not be intentional, but I feel that it kind of helps sell the “I’m not some destined hero to save johto, I just got roped into this” message that she keeps trying to tell everyone, even if they aren’t really listening. I don’t have any major problems with her, really, although sometimes her incessant sarcasm kind of interrupts the mood of some scenes.
The namelessness thing was done pretty much for the reasons you've outlined, yeah! And the sarcasm interrupting... is a thing I'm still working on toning down, heh.

As for her Pokemon, they’re all wonderfully lovable, too. Icarus and Gaia are the most developed of the group, with the others kind of just… being there, but that isn’t a bad thing. I do hope they get more depth soon, especially Rosseau. Iris gets a bit in Sprout Tower, as does Rosseau, but it’s still not anywhere near the levels of growth Gaia has gone through. Whew, Gaia is booking it. This little bug type has gone through more and grown further than most protagonists do in their entire story. Gaia is by far my favorite of all the characters, and it’s easily because of how much it’s changed. I guess bug types really do grow fast.
They definitely will get more growth! And I'm glad you like the other characters too; it's been a bit of a struggle getting them to this point, haha.

As for technical, no complaints here! I didn’t notice any errors, and even if I did, everyone else had already pointed them out. That’s what happens when I’m late to the party, I guess. Looking forward to more updates!
Thanks for reading this all so far!

hey look it's a christmas chapter??
can definitively say that there won't be another update until next year haha great joke

___________________________________________________________________________​

chapter xx. teneral
___________________________________________________________________________​

{What is this. You’re trying to kill me, aren’t you.}

“No, Iris,” I said, swallowing a sigh as I popped the piece of funnel cake I’d offered her into my mouth instead. “It’s fine, see? It’s actually really good.”

{…Let me smell it again,} the sentret said after a moment of consideration.

I sighed and tossed her another morsel.

Tiny claws dug pinprick marks in the packed-earth floor of the tent as Iris sniffed her way in a circle. {It smells like sugar and fat,} she announced at last. {You are trying to kill me.}

I shrugged. “Eat it while it’s hot, if you want.” If not, well. More for me, then.

Hey. No one said I was going to be a great parent, least of all me.

I tore my eyes away from commotion in front of me—Kurt and his ledian were producing a cloud of glimmering stars and letting them drift through a crowd of delighted children—when I heard rustling from the parchment paper in my hand.

“Iris.”

I glanced around my feet, but she was already darting away, her striped tail fluttering in the air until she was safely out of range.

“Did you just say you didn’t want to eat any funnel cake and then eat all of my funnel cake?”

{No,} she said petulantly, which might’ve been believable given that telepathic voices didn’t convey the fact that she was chewing, except that she was still licking powdered sugar off of her paws.

I scowled. Normally I expected Icarus to do this, but it kind of made sense. If he was banned from the festival on the grounds that only “most” of Azalea was safe, of course he’d probably find a way to get Iris to do his dirty work for him.

It’s what I’d do, after all.

“May I give your sentret some more funnel cake?” a vendor was saying next to me, his voice carrying surprisingly clearly over the clamor from the puppet show beside us.

“I don’t have any more money on me,” I said automatically. I’d gotten used to phrasing it like that; ‘any more’ made it sound like I’d been able to afford the first funnel cake to begin with, instead of taking some random stranger’s charity.

The man smiled, the skin around his eyes creasing like the floppy leather of his beret. “Charging you? On Teneral?” Grease-burned hands were already holding out another parchment-wrapped parcel. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”

I could feel Iris’s eyes burning hungrily into me.

“Fine,” I sighed, making sure to drag the word out for as long as possible. The baker beamed, and Iris shot me a look that I almost thought was gratefulness if I hadn’t known her any better.

“Beautiful sentret you’ve got there,” the man said absent-mindedly, hands folding up more packets of parchment as if of their own accord.

I waited expectantly for him to say something heart-breaking about how it reminded him of his dead best friend, but instead he just added, “She has a nice colored tail.”

“Yeah?”

“The stripes. They’re like wood rings.”

He paused again. I didn’t prompt him. This was a quirk I was starting to see in the conversations here—people were much more slow and methodical. While Bugsy talked at a million miles per hour, that just covered up the fact that he was thinking at a million miles a minute, and every sentence came out strained and distilled anyway. But even the bakers here mulled over each word with the patience of watching grass grow.

Compared to the breakneck pace I was used to having information thrown in my face, it was honestly relaxing to have things segmented out like this. I took the few seconds’ pause to look at Iris as she began worrying away at her chunk of funnel cake, striped tail flicking through the air.

“Reminds me of mahogany.”

Huh. I’d never noticed that before.

___________________________________________________________________________​

“You have… heavy hands,” the elderly woman who had introduced herself as Elena said at last, parsing her words carefully. “You aren’t from around here, are you?”

I flinched back without meaning to, and then calmed myself. This was a festival. Bugsy had said these people were safe. Icarus was far away. I was just a trainer with a butterfree and a sentret and a gastly, travelling the world without a care. “How could you tell?”

“Azalea’s children,” she said, her voice low and gravelly with age, “have a softer touch.” Her statement was serene, the way Gaia sometimes dropped bombs—with enough truth in them to make me shudder, but with so little judgment in her voice that it was hard to tell she was even critiquing me at all.

I glanced down at the crumpled mess of paper that I was supposed to be folding into a butterfree. Oops. I’d never been one for fine motor skills, but when I was looking at the razor precision of the creases in Elena’s paper compared to the haphazard folds I’d managed to impart in my own, it put things into better perspective. “Oh?”

“Insects are born soft,” Elena was saying. Her hands flew across the paper with an ease born of only practice, forming hard-edged creases where there had previously only been foil. “We grow strong, but still.” As if to punctuate her words, she ran the flat of her thumb across a particular bend in the pattern where four sheets of paper had to be flattened into one. “Our children learn it early. The emerging imago is strong. It has survived so much. It grows wings and flies above the desolation of this world.” She wasn’t looking at me; her tongue had tracked to the corner of her mouth as she gently pried a flap of paper out from beneath the incoherent mess of folds she’d created. “But the larva are soft. Their carapaces haven’t learned how to weather a storm yet, and until they do, they are vulnerable. They must be handled gently. So the children of Azalea learn to have a softer touch than the rest of Johto. We teach them, children and pokémon alike, how to grow strong alongside one another. It comes with the territory.”

Her fingers pinched the edge of her paper and pulled outward, and suddenly I was staring the fully-formed image of a butterfree, pressed into the floral pattern of the pale paper she’d started with.

“Oh. Wow.” I looked back down at the one I’d made—crumpled wings and thorax looking drab in comparison to the sharp creases in front of me.

“It comes with practice, too,” Elena said with a warm smile. She took the paper butterfree from in front of me and added it to the ever-growing pile beside her. Another piece of paper was in front of each of us before I could blink. “Would you care to try again?”

I wanted to say something, some dumb excuse about how I was out of time or second chances, but a tiny voice in my head reminded me what tonight was for. “I’d love to, thanks,” I said instead.

The next piece of paper I received was patterend with red maple leaves. “I do the diagonal creases first,” Elena said, using exaggerated movements and slowing herself down so I could follow along this time. “It helps the paper keep its shape.”

I nodded and followed suit.

“This will be a strange Teneral,” she said absent-mindedly, but I was suddenly aware of her eyes boring into me across the table. “The paper imago are the only ones we have.”

“What are you wishing for?” I learned this with baker from before: the people of Azalea spoke a different dialect, really. Growing up in Goldenrod, with the strange upbringing I’d had, I’d learned some of it—but clearly, with my clumsy hands, I hadn’t learned enough. The trick, though, was understanding what someone was thinking before I said it. Elena was folding paper butterfree after paper butterfree, and teaching the rest of us to do the same. At the end of the festival, they would be thrown to the wind.

There were two key bits of history to learn here. The first I had learned from Gaia, and the second from Elena.

First: that paper butterfree were seen as a token of good luck. If you folded a thousand, you could release them all and make a wish.

Second: that each paper here folded over a handwritten name.

“I had a son, once,” she said simply, and continued her work.

___________________________________________________________________________​

“Gather round, children,” a gangly, greying man was saying as he helped his equaully gangly ambipom methodically set up a white sheet behind him. “What story will it be this time?”

“The storm of Brass Tower!” one boy shouted, standing on his tiptoes and raising one chubby hand into the air.

“The siege of Azalea!” another girl cried out, no older than five.

I saw the man’s smile dip and rise for a second, the same way Rousseau’s did sometimes. “How about,” he said instead, not missing a beat as he fumbled in the wicker basket behind him, “the story of Kodama, who stopped the rot of Ilex Forest?” He leaned forward, brown eyes twinkling. “Coulter, could you give me a hand or two?”

The ambipom nodded cheerfully and then, with a flourish, produced a magnificently detailed pidgeotto puppet from their basket, flattened as if made of paper. Each feather was carved carefully into the puppet’s surface, tiny quills that tapered off into thin air, and tiny brass joints let it flap its wings as the pokémon deftly used both tail-hands to guide the bird to the stage, much to the children’s delight.

The story that the old man and his ambipom told that evening went something like this:

Once upon a time, there was a young pidgeotto living in Ilex Forest. She was still a very young pidgeotto, but today she was to go around the forest and gather berries for her nestmates.

And so Kodama the pidgeotto flew, very carefully, into Ilex Forest. She spent all morning carefully gathering the most delicious cheri and oran berries that she could find, because they were her mother’s favorites. But no sooner had she reached the first lake then did she see a swarm of heracross, who appeared to be laughing at something quite funny indeed! Curious, she alighted next to them.

“Hello,” she tweeted happily. She was careful to fold her wings neatly close to her body so that they wouldn’t accidentally cuff her neighbors. “What do you find so funny on this lovely afternoon?”

Momentarily, the heracross didn’t answer her, so busy as they were with their guffawing. Finally, one of them managed to calm herself long enough to respond, “The horns atop your head! They are so soft, little one. How do you intend to joust?”

“My horns?” the young pidgeotto asked, quite surprised. Her eyes widened as she realized that they were laughing at her crest! Her mother had helped her comb her crest this morning, taking care to pick the mud out of the five luxurious feathers that had slowly started to grow longer and darker than the rest of her plumage. When her crest was as long as her tail, her mother had promised, Kodama would be ready to evolve into a big, strong pidgeot. Kodama puffed out her chest. “I like my crest! It means I’m growing strong!”

The one who had spoken earlier shrugged and turned back to the other heracross, who was still guffawing, and swung her own horn at him. The crack that resulted sent a mighty shockwave that echoed through the forest. Kodama looked on in awe. “Can your crest do this?” she asked, as the two pokémon locked horns and began struggling back and forth.

“No,” Kodama replied miserably, suddenly painfully aware of the floppy weight that her crest had upon her neck. “I suppose not.”

Leaving the two heracross to their tussle, Kodama flapped away, but their words followed her.

Suddenly, Kodama came across a stroke of good luck! A patch of thick, sticky mud stretched out in front of her, and Kodama had a brilliant idea! She would cover her crest in this mud, and then it would harden and be just as strong as the heracross’s horn. That would sure show them!

She was in the midst of carefully using her talons to slather the mud over the feathers on her head when Kodama heard an astonished voice behind her: “Child, what are you doing?”

“Good morning!” Kodama greeted cheerfully. She looked up to see a magnificent fearow settled in the treetop, his long neck craning down to scrutinize her. Kodama dipped her beak to show her respect for the elder pokémon.

But the fearow scoffed, and ruffled his dark feathers in disapproval. “My, my,” he said, piercing Kodama with a scornful, sidelong glance. “What an ugly beak you have. It’s a good thing that you bow it in respect to me; I hope that you have the wisdom to keep it hidden beneath the rest of your feathers.” And with that, he tilted his own long, magnificently pointed beak away from Kodama and flew off.

Kodama looked after him, bewildered. Suddenly, her own beak felt short and pitiful in comparison. What an embarrassment to her family, and to her species! Her own siblings surely had brilliant beaks of their own, but she only had this short, stubby beak that was far too short to be beautiful.

Aha! Yes! Kodama’s keen eyes spotted something, and she knew what she should do. There, in the corner, was an energy root! She could tie it around her beak and it would look much more majestic, like fearow’s.

Yes, Kodama realized as she worked diligently to fasten the root to her feathers. This would do quite nicely.

“What ugly wings that poor creature has. How do you think she’ll ever attract a mate?”

Kodama looked up in alarm to see a pair of dustox flapping in front of her. She opened her beak to spout off a retort, but she stopped short when she saw the scintillating green and red wings that the pair sported. Flecks of glitter caught the sunlight and cast it all over the forest around her; Kodama could not help but stare on in awe!

“You have very nice wings,” she agreed in a very small voice.

“Of course I do,” the first dustox said, his golden antenna twitching proudly. “I work very hard to keep them this way.” He scoffed and then looked discerningly at Kodama’s own wings before fluttering off.

How could she be so foolish? She’d been so focused on her beak and crest that she’d forgotten her own dull plumage! Kodama stood stock-still, the shame and disbelief settling in. No, no! Kodama had a clever plan! She would use the berries she had gathered to dye her feathers green and red, like the dustox, and then she would have wings as nice as anyone in the forest had ever seen!

Kodama was so pleased with her plan and so intrigued in the work of smearing berry pulp all over her feathers that she almost didn’t hear the commotion gathering toward her, until—

“Run!” a poliwhirl shouted, stubby blue legs carrying her as fast as they could. “The gods have come back to Ilex Forest!”

The gods? Kodama looked around in alarm, and then lifted herself airborne as fast as she could, berries abandoned in a muddled heap beneath her. “Wait for me!” she called out, catching sight of Dustox’s wonderous wings ahead of her, but he was flying too fast for her. “Let me catch up!” she tried instead, but Fearow dipped his beak downward like an arrow and rocketed on ahead. “I want to talk to you!” she cried to Heracross, who was ripping through the forest with long, panicked strides.

“Great and magnificent Ho-oh, what would you want with a lowly forest-dweller such as myself? Please show kindness to your children and know that we worship you dearly!” cried the heracross, throwing herself prostrate onto the ground.

Kodama squawked in disbelief. Ho-oh was here? In Ilex Forest?

“Please! Be merciful to your humble servant,” Fearow said, and splayed his wings so that his wingtips and long neck trailed into the dirt. “We do not mean to offend you.”

It was then that Kodama realized they were all they were staring at her stiffened crest and her pointed beak and her stained wings, silhouetted and blinding in the sunlight.

They thought that she, with all of her imperfections and ugliness, was the Sacred Flame.

Kodama thought about that for a moment.

The wind blew through the trees, fluffing up her plumage.

Kodama puffed out her chest. In her deepest, most gravelly voice, she mustered the words: “I am indeed Ho-oh, and I am indeed offended.”

Dustox balked, yellow antennae flying in two directions at once. “Please, oh great one. Please tell us how we can earn your forgiveness rather than your ire.”

Kodama kept her voice as regal as she could manage. “You, dustox, made a young pidgeotto very upset when you called her wings ugly. And yet she surely must have beautiful feathers, because I, the great Ho-oh, have feathers like hers. Do you think I have such ugly plumage, dustox?”

The forest was so quiet that you could’ve heard a pine needle fall to the ground when Dustox replied, “No, your excellency.”

“And you, fearow. Would you dare me to hide my beak?”

Fearow’s wings trembled against the ground. “Of course not, oh great one!”

“And why would you, heracross, even think that my crest is unworthy?”

Heracross did not dare meet her eyes, but the bug pokémon did lower her horn in shame as she said, “I was upset because Pinsir said my horns would never crush enough boulders to be the strongest in the forest!”

And Pinsir clacked his mandibles together hurriedly. “I only said that because Parasect said my claws would never scratch through anything!”

Parasect retreated a little deeper into the shell on his back before murmuring, “Beautifly said that my nectar would never taste as good as hers, so I had to prove myself somehow…”

Dustox perked up. “Beautifly called my antennae ugly, which is why I lashed out at Pidgeotto! So it’s her fault!”

All eyes turned to Beautifly, who managed to splutter, “I felt miserable for saying that to you! But I was feeling bad because Beedrill called my eyes ugly!”

And Beedrill pointed one stinger to Scyther. “But I only said that because Scyther called my legs spindly!”

All eyes in the forest turned to Ho-oh.

“Oh dear,” Kodama managed to say. “We had better write this out.”

After a long while, and much discussion, Pichu finally held up a leaf with a veritable web of charcoal drawings on it. “And then Noctowl told Weedle that she was an uglier color of brown, so Weedle said Fearow was the ugliest brown of all, so then Fearow called Pidgeotto’s beak ugly.”

“So then it’s Fearow’s fault?” someone asked hopefully.

Everyone looked back at Kodama.

“No!” Kodama spluttered. “Er, I mean. Of course not. I, the great Ho-oh, clearly can see something you mere mortals cannot.” Kodama puffed out her berry-stained chest. “You. Weedle. Did calling Fearow’s brown ugly make you feel any better?”

“Not really, your greatness.”

“But do you think it made Fearow feel worse?”

Weedle cast a sidelong glance at Fearow before admitting, “I quite think so, your greatness.”

Kodama threw her wings into the air in frustration. “Did anyone here feel better by making their neighbor feel worse?”

“I did, a little,” said Psyduck, but everyone glared at him.

“No, your excellency,” Dustox said in a small voice, speaking for all of them.

There was a long pause.

“Then go, children of Ilex Forest,” Kodama commanded. “Stop this rot from spreading any further among my trees. Learn to love one another again. Thus declares Ho-oh.”

The old man and his ambipom folded up the pidgeotto puppet and packed their miniature stage away.

___________________________________________________________________________​

“I yield,” a boy no older than twelve was saying, watching with poorly-concealed concern as his beedrill wavered on dangerously weak wings.

Bugsy and Syrio nodded in perfect tandem. “I accept your forfeit,” Bugsy said on behalf of both of them. A sharpness seemed to leave his gaze, and when he straightened his back away from the makeshift battlefield, he suddenly looked human again.

See, when I heard the words “battle tournament” I tended to think of the televised events you’d see sometimes on cable. They’d do a bracket of a ton of trainers and focus on their favorites. There would be sob stories and underdog climbs and that one arrogant asshole who bragged about how they’d win the whole thing before getting eliminated in the second round.

This wasn’t like that. Not really. There was an informal bracket and a ton of trainers, but to call it a “tournament” would be to suggest that anyone had a chance to begin with.

No. After watching the fourth trainer walk away from this side of the field in as many minutes, it was pretty clear: the true word for this one-sided shredding of the bracket was “domination.”

The woman in her mid-forties standing in the middle of the field, a noctowl perched with shuffled wings beside her, nodded curtly. “Bugsy is the victor. Is there another challenger?”

{We will,} Gaia said, surprising me for the second time today with her boldness.

“Gaia, what?” Too late, I realized all eyes were on us. Iris instinctively stood on her tail to make herself look taller. “I mean. Um.”

Bugsy’s knowing smirk cut whatever else I was going to say off short. “I accept.”

Shit. Shit.

I didn’t really process what was happening next, and suddenly I was watching the back of my butterfree squaring off against all five bristling feet of Bugsy’s scyther. The next three things surely happened in sequence, but to me, they were simultaneous.

“Begin!” cried the referee.

“Go ahead,” Bugsy said lazily.

Syrio clipped into Gaia’s carapace. She went flying thirty feet in half a second.

“Gaia!” I was shouting uselessly, but the butterfree had already righted herself and launched a massive blast of wind, the likes of which I’d never seen from her before, from her splayed wings.

“Gaia?” I found myself repeating in a smaller voice, but I was washed out by the resulting shockwave as the ground beneath Syrio buckled and crumbled. I watched numbly as the mantis gritted his teeth and then vanished from my sight, reappearing with both scythes aimed firmly at Gaia’s right wing.

There wasn’t time to shout a command, but she was already expelling a blob of dark purple energy the size of my head where the scyther had appeared. I blinked and almost missed it, by which point Syrio had already twisted out of the way, narrowly dodging Gaia’s projectile before it smashed into the ground he’d been hovering over.

“Are you going to command your pokémon?” Bugsy asked over the chaos of the battle, his voice deceptively calm.

“Are you?” I shot back through gritted teeth, by which point I’d already watched another criss-cross of lightning fast blows exchange.

I couldn’t tell him the real reason that I wasn’t commanding Gaia—that I hadn’t seen any of these moves before, not from her, not ever. This didn’t make sense. I wasn’t used to watching this much raw power unfold in front of me, not when it was friendly to me. Gaia was supposed to be the moral compass of my team, not the nuke.

No, not just that. I wasn’t supposed to have a nuke. Where was this coming from?

Um. No time for that. I had to be there for my team.

Syrio’s carapace was deceptively rigid—I’d seen him tanking attacks from a graveler a few battles back with next to no damage. But he’d dodge Gaia’s attacks regardless, as if he knew how much more they’d hurt him. He and Bugsy were hiding something. And it certainly didn’t help that I was going to have to say all of my communication aloud.

“Air Slash. Aim for the knees,” I said. I could feel the crowd’s eyes pinned on me. This was my first actual, structured battle, and I had a feeling the best we were going to do was make it to a minute. “Hit like how Rousseau hit the froslass.”

Gaia reared back, wings flaring wide as she gathered energy, and—

There. I could see it. The way that Bugsy’s brow would furrow, just a little. The same way he did when Gaia asked him a question, the same way it didn’t when I spoke. If I had to guess, which I did, he and the scyther were communicating telepathically, because of course they could.

I hadn’t practiced non-verbal commands with her; after the Tower, I’d barely mustered the urge to train any of my pokémon at all. And now we were going to have to gamble on if Gaia could react faster than a pokémon fabled for its ability to cut raindrops in half in midair.

“Skill Swap.”

Syrio was already dodging away from the anticipated blast of wind, which meant that by the time he recognized the multi-faceted rainbow beam of energy hurtling toward him instead, he was midair and unable to pivot.

We had to take out their swarm. Severing their communication was the only advantage we’d be able to earn in such a short time—Bugsy and Syrio had accumulated their speed, strength, and tactical ability over the course of decades. Gaia was already fluttering through the air, the angle making it almost look as if she was catching the other end of the beam, when she and froze. Her wings locked up, and she plummeted to the ground.

Simultaneously, Bugsy’s right hand flew to his forehead, and his knees buckled before he managed to catch himself.

“Gaia?”

But the butterfree wasn’t responding to me. She’d managed to pull herself back aloft, but every wingbeat was suddenly laborious. She was keening something, something in a language I could no longer understand, mangled shrieks of “Freeeeyeh” trying and failing to convey a message I could barely piece together.

“Rousseau!” I shouted haphazardly.

But the gastly was already responding, {Her thoughts are with the swarm now.}

“Knock out. One of us,” Bugsy managed to grit out, an instant before Syrio expertly smashed Gaia’s wing with the flat edge of his scythe, sending her crumpling back down again.

Bugsy’s words from earlier were echoing in my ears. Winning meant sacrifice. Sacrifice meant blinding yourself to the perceived feelings that your pieces had when you wanted to play them.

I didn’t think his words over a second time.

“Skill Swap him back, and then forfeit.”

The referee nodded. Gaia gathered herself off the ground and fluttered back to my side. Whatever interest the crowd might’ve had in our particular battle died away as quickly as it had began.

I stood back by the sidelines, and Bugsy took the next challenger in stride without so much as another glance in our direction.

“Are you okay?” I whispered.

{Azalea’s Heart,} she murmured back, trying and failing to keep the quiver out of her voice, {harbors much pain. But you already knew that.}

“What did he do to you?”

I hadn’t calculated that the only way to remove Syrio’s ability to swarm with Bugsy would necessitate an equivalent exchange. I hadn’t calculated what it would do to Gaia.

{I understand him better now,} Gaia said instead, choosing not to answer my question fully. {I admit at Nokonozo I thought him a fool for not seeing things the way Naathi and I did. We are all servants of the hive, after all.} A pause. {But to see each drone lost as something intrinsically valuable, to feel so much pain even though so much time has passed… I admit, I will never see things the way Bugsy does, or even how you do, Trainer, but I understand you both. You are only human, after all.}

But even as Syrio swatted a weepinbell’s vines out of the air, or slashed a geodude’s projectiles in half with razor-sharp accuracy, or did the precise action needed to guarantee as swift and dominating of a victory as possible, I could see the scyther’s eyes trail away from his target half the time. I could see his eyes trail towards us.

Towards Gaia.

Too late, I remembered something else. Bugsy’s raw and unfiltered guilt might’ve momentarily paralyzed Gaia, but she’d managed to make the man who had commanded a warfront at age thirteen stumble back as well.

___________________________________________________________________________​

Bugsy wasn’t kidding. The children’s choir really did know how to butcher a perfectly serviceable folksong.

I stood off to one side, watching the crowd that had gathered beneath the lantern-strung trees. Young and old, many of them had started dancing in a square of tamped-down earth, clapping their hands and moving to the tune of the non-sensical cacophony of stringed sounds being produced behind them. They did it with an ease that suggested that this was regular, and yet an exuberance that suggested that this was genuine.

My eyes were drawn to Elena spinning in gentle circles with a yanma that streaked around her, painting the air near her head with flashes of orange and green. And yet despite this, there was a strange emptiness in her movements, her arms held out in front of her as if to cradle a third, unseen partner to their tango.

Seeing the people of Azalea all gathered here in one place made the lopsidedness of the picture clear at last. Bugsy’s words from Nokonozo echoed back again, and I looked and looked for anyone my age and found no one. The wizened parasect shuffling a brood of his children amongst a group of gawking toddlers. The middle-aged man and his noctowl. The puppeteer and his ambipom.

I wondered what it would be like to see Azalea on a day that wasn’t a festival. There wouldn’t always be laughter; there couldn’t, not in a small town that had lost so much. An entire grade of classes wasn’t being taught; shopkeepers probably rotated entire sizes of clothing off of the shelves. There was an entire generation here that was defined by the act of having their children taken before their eyes. There were dozens of children who had only heard whispers about their older siblings.

What did you do in a world like that?

The Rockets hadn’t been looking for loyalty with Nokonozo. They’d been looking for submission.

And yet. Iris was chasing a farfetch’d in lazy figure eights across the clearing, brown ears flicked forward intently and looking as if she was having more fun than I’d ever seen her have in her entire life. Gaia had taken up the empty third leg of the triangle that Elena and her yanma had created. Rousseau was bobbing in deep concentration alongside a slowpoke, apparently engaged in a conversation that made a true smile stretch across the nebula of his face. A thousand paper butterflies were strung up on the lights around us.

“You should dance,” Bugsy said from behind me. “The music gets a lot more bearable when you start moving; it gets a lot harder to hear.” He cocked his head toward the singing choir with an exaggerated grimace. “I still love this song more than I should.”

I thought of all of the awkward proms I’d spent in this exact same position, peoplewatching a crowd of people who had learned to look beyond those who were watching. “I don’t know how to dance.”

“Do you want some mead?” He tilted a glass toward me. “Have enough of this and I promise the songs won’t bother you any more.”

“I don’t drink.” Pause. “Didn’t you say you thought I was sixteen?”

The look he gave me bordered on pity. He opened his mouth, a fast retort at the ready, and then he closed it again, and then: “You’re on the run from Team Rocket, have an illegal starter, blew up a monument, are being charged for murdering a gym leader… and the thing that makes you pause is the drinking age?”

He did have a point there.

“One night of fun never hurt anyone.” He gestured with his chin to where Gaia and the yanma were creating a helix of purple and orange. “Look at them. Even your butterfree, who is burdened by so much. Smile, Hamartia, lest the people of Azalea assume we were bad hosts.”

I took a sip of the mead. “It’s sweeter than I thought it would be,” I said at last, mulling the taste of fermentation and honey on my tongue.

“A lot of things are.”

I didn’t really know how to explain to Bugsy that me sitting in the corner watching everyone else was my idea of enjoying the festival. I loved being able to spectate from the sidelines and see how everyone else was taking this day. If I had to choose between being the center of attention and being the wallflower in the corner… I’d pick the wallflower, every time. If I had the choice.

“You aren’t dancing. You’re still here,” I blurted.

“I’ll be back in the fray soon.” Bugsy smiled serenely. “I thought you would’ve learned by now, Hamartia,” he said, infuriatingly calm. And yet his back was ramrod straight with pride as he looked to his smiling, suffering town without sparing me another glance. There was a hint of laughter in his smile, the kind that was just starting to remember how to reach his eyes. “When you’ve got nothing left, there’s plenty to go around.”

___________________________________________________________________________
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Thesaurus rex
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Typo. It's a terrible thing to start a review with, but I forgot to save my quote block last night. And I would have reviewed last night, but I'd been at the whisky and was tired.

Looking at the worldbuilding here, it's teetering just on the edge of being overthemed. It's something of a danger with a lot of fantasy towns, especially in regards to Pokémon, that the theming ends up running so completely through the town that it looks like a theme park. I seem to recall Unova's towns were susceptible to that. Azalea with the bug-culture isn't quite there, but I think if you were to push it further it would be. It does help that teneral does some heavy lifting in the plot here, at least. It may just be me trying to be too clever, but it looks like a metaphor for adolescence in context. Because being a teenager is a little bit like that - not quite a larva, not quite an imago, pliant and impressionable. That might be a somewhat irrelevant observation were it also precisely what Azalea doesn't have at the moment.

I'm beginning to realise why you were so gleeful about my use of imago in my Button-on-Sea chapter.

I've been trying to think of ways to unpack this harmartia business. It seems to me you can look at it in two ways. Is it TUPy's harmartia? What is TUPpy's harmartia? The obvious answer would be her Dark-typing, and whether that's something ultimately good or bad is anyone's guess. But then, Bugsy isn't saying "your harmartia", he's calling her Harmartia. So is she the Rocket's Harmartia, their fatal flaw, what happens when rulers ignore the social contract one too many times.
 
The acest of trainers
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So, after two years, I've finally caught up once again! I have not gone back and re-read as I wanted to get these chapters done this weekend, so can't comment on the Froslass stuff this time. I will instead pick once we have met Rosseau.

I think I commented on these chapters last time, but the rewritten aspects are much better than I remembered. The scenes on TUPpy's floor flowed much better and the image created was a lot clearer. I re-read Iris and Gaia's floors just to re-familiarize myself, and both remain so beautifully written and moving that it was a pleasure to go through them again. The structure of the chapters made the 'Ghost/Possessed' revelation flow a lot better, and I don't really have any qualms about Silver's role. I think there is some problematic stuff around how TUPpy views him so favourably and herself around him so unfavourably, as I think he has much nastier elements to him than she does and his issues with Archer and that are damaging they are kind of alleviated by his position, but still I do enjoy their relationship and the antagonistic spark between them.

On to the newer elements. I think that you have always excelled when it comes to the quieter, more emotional and character-driven moments; motives and teneral are clear highlights of your gifts in those areas. Your prose is also always astounding and so lyrically crafted that its joy to read. The one area, and perhaps the only area, where you seem to struggle is battle scenes. The initial fight against Falkner and the subsequent one post-time travel were both a little confusing to read. It was hard to follow the specific actions around what was occurring, which removed some of the tension from the scene. It didn't help that TUPpy was also internal monologuing for so much of those scenes, and the splice between 'this character was thrown into a wall' and beautifully written, rapidly unfolding thoughts doesn't quite work. In a sense, they were just too busy that the thrill of the actions was lost. I know there's a big cast of Pokemon, but it is usually easier to follow two-four opponents rather than nearly 10.

However, when the light exploded and all hope seemed lost, I was really excited to see what happened next. And then we got time travel. I'm sure Celebi and the implications of this scene will be felt later on (more on Ilex later), but I was disappointed that it was something so convenient. Not to drag another author into it, but it reminded me of some of the elements of Vaira I wasn't fond of, where gods were magically behind everything. I can hardly talk since I've recently saved Alaska's arse by the convenient appearance of a god, but I defend myself since that was something long in the works. Here, it just felt too coincidental and magical for me to believe. The three consequences element didn't really make sense to me, it felt too metaphorical and vague for there to be any weight, and the one big change, Gaia de-volving, was altered by the next chapter. Celebi's dialogue was sassy and fun, but again, it had that Vaira-y element of "I'm a sassy god, fuck you" that deflated the weight. I trust you enough that there will be more to it one day, but that was my gut instinct

The later chapters were as beautiful and as haunting as the best of your work. I, in particular, liked Atlas' joyous description of fire, and the presence of the loyal Lanturn brought me more joy than anything else recently. I have noticed in binge-ing on this that you/TUPpy have a habit of thinking aloud and trying to piece things together in this lengthy sections that tend to drag on. When she's talking to Bugsy and Kurt is a prime example, with her trying to piece together all these pieces and running through every thought and possibility in her head before coming to a conclusion. I get the point of these sections, by they come in such a roundabout way that by time we've reached the end the journey has left me dazed and confused. I can't offer much by way of solutions or advice, but when that last sequence started my first thought was simply 'God, not again'.

Then you redeem yourself and highlight your talents for the rest of this arc. The weight of Azalea's punishment/sacrifice was a striking and powerful image I fear a story of this dystopian future ran by dictators has lacked since the early chapters. Bugsy had more weight and emotion than I ever expected, and the latter talk between him and TUPpy flowed much better, made more sense, and was ultimately more moving, both emotionally and for the plot, than the previous two chapters. I really enjoyed the break from the norm with the festival - the Pidgeotto story was a sweet touch if a lengthy aside, but it still sat in nicely. I'd be wary of doing too many of the 'I had a son, once' type enders, as I feel there's always two/three paragraphs in these triptych-y chapters that end with a one line-no context gut punch, and overdoing it could lose the magic. The emotions are your strongest suit, and I wouldn't want that play to get dull.

The characters, how can I look past them. The loss of Best Pokemon at the awards is felt no more severely than by Gaia's entire arc. Her stubbornness in the face of Falkner, her emotional maturity, her interactions with Bugsy and Silver; she is swell and is a clear standout. Iris and Atlas also thrive under their limited Pokemon-restrictions, and both have a clear sense of character coming through. Icarus is too sparingly used in these chapters to stand out much, though his squabbling and defence of TUPpy in Ilex was a nice development. Rosseau is sassy and French but needs his own character moments to stand out more; he remembers an entire forgotten dimension, but that was casually brought on and not really touched on since. TUPpy, I think my criticisms around her monologuing are all I can say there. Sometimes she can read like she's feeling all the emotions all the time, and she still acts too rashly and stubbornly at times for her situation, such as when she throws spite at Silver (a strong-minded female trainer who hasn't changed much despite life-altering events, where have I read that before?), but in the recent chapters it feels like she is calming down more and maturing more obviously, and I look forward to seeing what she does next. The scene with her and Silver felt like a turning point in terms of trust, relationships and looking ahead. The conversations between the two feel their most natural when there are limited antagonism and more unfiltered honesty, and they are the moments where your dialogue rises above the rest.

In conclusion, I look forward to being up to date with this once again. Binge-reading did help things make sense, namely around Sprout Tower, but I am hoping that the Azalea arc is a hint of what we might see more of; calmer, less high-stakes plots focusing on not only the human characters but the region itself. Sprout I think was an overextension of your gifts, whereas what I remember of Cherrygrove and what I adore here in Azalea are clearer signs of where you exceed. You continue to be on top (TOPpy?) of your game, and I have higher hopes for the remainder of the story and the pacing than I did when I last made a visit to your nightmare queendom.
 
Don't Look Away
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I wanted to say something, some dumb excuse about how I was out of time or second chances, but a tiny voice in my head reminded me what tonight was for. “I’d love to, thanks,” I said instead.
Omg, Nara's actually being a decent human being for a change.

The ambipom nodded cheerfully and then, with a flourish, produced a magnificently detailed pidgeotto puppet from their basket, flattened as if made of paper. Each feather was carved carefully into the puppet’s surface, tiny quills that tapered off into thin air, and tiny brass joints let it flap its wings as the pokémon deftly used both tail-hands to guide the bird to the stage, much to the children’s delight.
Having an ambipom as a puppeteer is such a fitting take that I'm surprised I hadn't seen it before.

“What ugly wings that poor creature has. How do you think she’ll ever attract a mate?”

Kodama looked up in alarm to see a pair of dustox flapping in front of her. She opened her beak to spout off a retort, but she stopped short when she saw the scintillating green and red wings that the pair sported. Flecks of glitter caught the sunlight and cast it all over the forest around her; Kodama could not help but stare on in awe!
Man, this forest is full of turds.

“Please! Be merciful to your humble servant,” Fearow said, and splayed his wings so that his wingtips and long neck trailed into the dirt. “We do not mean to offend you.”

It was then that Kodama realized they were all they were staring at her stiffened crest and her pointed beak and her stained wings, silhouetted and blinding in the sunlight.
Kodama is such a mood right now.

What an interesting chapter, though it feels more like an extension of the last one, meant to shed more light on the revelation we were given in regards to the Children of Azalea. It's still a very mindblowing twist mind you, especially when you consider, like how Nara realized, that there's a whole generation gone and whole grades that aren't being taught in school because the youngest townsfolk in the town are still children. That leaves me with a lot of curiosity as to how these children grew up, not just because there are family members they didn't get to meet or because of Team Rocket taking over Johto, but because of how all of this could influence their worldview.

It's a topic that really comes to my mind because, coming from a third world country ruled by a dictatorship, what's always on my mind is how the generation below me have grown up, what they value and what they expect for their own future. Nara gets to see some of this by the fact that the children can't think of any cheerful stories they want to hear, they're all stories of war and despair, because that's what they know. I'd imagine that this is really hard on the older Azalea townspeople who not only had to go through everything that happened, but also had to see this new generation grow up in such a world while also being unable to do anything about it.

There's a similar sort of melancholy with the way Nara is treated. She's an outsider, sure, but she's also a part of the generation that Azalea lost and having her around, as fleeting as it is, acts as both a reminder to what was lost but also an opportunity to interact with that. It subsequently adds a level of depth to Nara now that she realizes that, as shitty as the other cities have been, there are people who are still genuinly kind and who are just trying to live happily.

Kodama's story was also an interesting tidbit, it genuinly felt like a fairy tale that you'd hear a lot at a kid's party, with an AESOP that is both common for said stories but also one that's necessary, especially considering the times we live in. I do kind of wonder how much mud Kodama had to use in order for her crest to resemble Ho-Oh's though.

Lastly, there was the battle against Bugsy. This is the part of the chapter that surprised me a little. I honestly feel like an idiot because it seems there's always a small detail I miss when it comes to your chapters, but I didn't completely understand why Gaia was so gung ho about fighting Bugsy. Was it because she was still mad at him with what they discussed in the cave earlier? That's most likely it but I wasn't too clear on that. I also wasn't too clear on how the Swarm thing worked. I understand that Gaia started acting hostile because she'd taken on Scyther's Swarm ability and it's implied that Swarm's effect is taken more literally, which is interesting, but it was also slightly confusing.
 
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