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TEEN: Storm Island

chapter 43
Storm Island
Chapter 43: Tavern Tales: How It Began

"♫ Somewhere in the mountains,
Way up high
With the dreams you had,
Under the summer sky ♫

♫ Someday I'll wish upon a star,
Is it there, do I see?
You'll have to travel pretty far,
But that's where you'll find me ♫"


Andrea interrupted the music. "What the hell is that?"

"In The Mountains!" Kimberly answered. "Have you seriously never heard it?"

She shook her head. "I don't listen to happy music like that very often."

"Ah. Perhaps you should, it really lifts the soul and improves your mood."

"What does that mean? Are you saying I'm always in a bad mood?"

"Nothing meant by it, friend, just some advice."

She sighed. "Maybe you're right." Bright, fog-obscured light in the distance caught her attention. "Hey, do you think that light up there is this tavern we're supposed to find?"

The Serenikitten they had been following for the previous half hour let out a meow and rushed ahead. The mist soon began to envelope them again the further it went, prompting them to fight through their exhaustion to keep up. When they finally caught up to the Pokémon, they were met with an unexpected sight: nestled on the cliff side was a rather large cottage, which was brightly lit with what appeared to be oil lamps dangling from the gables. Paper lanterns hung from the solitary tree next to the cottage, giving off a faint red glow to the surrounding area. Decorative topiaries and hedges lined the borders of the property.

There was a certain sort of magic in the air, and Kimberly could feel it. "Hold me, Andrea, I might faint..."

"Feeling light headed? Kneel down, put your head between--"

She pulled Andrea closer and pointed out the various features of the cottage in front of them. "No! Look at how magical it is!" she let out a content sigh. "This. This right here is the reason I left Visalia. This is the stuff I wanted to see when I left home. To think it took a sinking ship to get to this point..."

The magic was lost on Andrea. "Well, it's... it's, uh... welcoming, I'll give it that." she said, not sharing anywhere near the same level of enthusiasm.

"It is! Let's head inside!"

The Serenikitten sensed that its job was done and began to wander away. After putting considerable distance between itself and the two girls, it turned around and meowed, then bounded off into the darkness. In short order, the thick, obscuring mist began to roll back in and thicken.

"Good bye, friend!" Kimberly called out.

The inside of the tavern was just as magical as the exterior. Every wall, shelf and table was crammed full of objects and knick knacks that displayed and defined the culture of the land; scroll murals lined the walls, showing off numerous scenes from flowing rivers to snow capped mountains. The bookshelves were stocked with old leatherbound books that looked as if they were centuries old. The tables were covered in faintly scented candles, providing the only light throughout the entire house. The smell of spring rain incense wafted from a burner in the corner of the room and was thick in the air.

An elderly lady behind the register looked up and bowed her head before addressing the two. "Wanshang hao!" she said. The fact that she chose to speak in a language neither were familiar with immediately put the two girls on alert.

Kimberly bowed graciously before cautiously asking, "Umm... Do you, do you speak..."

"English?" the elderly lady asked. "I do."

"Ah! That's great!" she said with a nervous laugh. "I was slightly worried for a second... Do you have room available for two?"

"Luckily there is one more room available, if you do not mind a room in the basement. The rate for that one is a single golden coin. Double for two people." she said, passing a book and an old fashioned quill pen across the counter. "Please, leave your name in the registry if you wish to stay."

Andrea attempted to write her name into the book, but struggled with the quill pen. She had never used one before, nor even seen one; what she left on the page barely qualified as writing. She handed the book to Kimberly, and watched what appeared to be a master at work; Kimberly effortlessly drew each letter of her name and connected them together in a beautiful display of calligraphy. She added the day's date off to the side and handed the book back to the elderly lady.

"How did you..." Andrea wondered.

"Practice. I was... 'forced' into calligraphy classes when I was younger." she answered as she dropped two golden coins onto the table.

The elderly lady grabbed one of the coins and inspected it closely, attempted to bend it against the corner of the table, then put it back down. "Follow. I will show you to your room."

The two followed the elderly lady towards the stairwell. Muffled talking could be heard coming from upstairs, while a chilly draft could be felt coming from downstairs. As they went down the steps, they began to question the quality of the room they would be staying in; thick, dusty cobwebs hung in the corners of the rustic cobblestone walls, and the smell of potatoes and rice was thick in the air. She led them down a hallway towards a dark room.

They were relieved when the elderly lady began to light the candles and oil lamps throughout the room. The room was small, but very lavishly decorated from top to bottom. A table in the corner of the room was covered in melted candles, surrounding a statue of a meditating bear. Next to it was a bookshelf stocked with books and ancient-looking scrolls, mostly written in a language neither Andrea or Kimberly could understand. Another table had several photos on it, mostly of the surrounding mountains. The smell of the bundled lilies that hung from the ceiling created a soothing atmosphere, and incense burners throughout the room offered a change for those who wanted it. Among it all was a solitary bed, covered with a silk sheet.

"Oh my..." Kimberly started, stepping into the room. She was taken by surprise by how nice it was. "Where I come from, a room like this costs much more than a single coin..."

"I could tell that you were not from around here. I am not familiar with your accent... Where are you from?" the elderly lady said as she continued to set the lamps ablaze.

"I am from Kanto," She pointed towards Andrea. "And she is from Storm Island."

"Ah, interesting! We do not get many visitors from beyond the seas. How are you enjoying your time here?"

"I have not been enjoying it," Andrea boldly stated.

"I am not surprised, considering the land you come from..." she said. "Are you visiting the monastery, by any chance? Most people who come this way are."

"Yes," Kimberly answered. "And then we are moving on towards Yulong-la."

"Ah! Good! Perhaps you will see that this land is not all bad, then."

"Why is that?"

"The culture is very different north of the monastery... In southern cities, such as Letchworth, Tradewind and Patali, a strong nationalist movement has taken root and spread like duliu. They want to return to how things were a thousand years ago, a much darker time..."

"I'm just happy that I'm going to be back home soon," Andrea said.

"I don't blame you... it's such a shame what is happening... But perhaps your view of this country can be redeemed. North of the monastery is the homeland of my ancestors, land that once belonged to the nation of Shinikara. We are a friendly and welcoming people, be it friend or foreigner, for the better or the worse. We have resisted their calls for independence so far, and you will find the folk around there a lot more friendly and accepting of strangers." She paused to visibly inspect the room, to make sure that everything was in order. "I hope you will enjoy the room."

"We will! Thank you!" Kimberly joyously said.

The elderly lady bowed graciously. "If you need anything, you will find me upstairs. Enjoy your evening."

Andrea sat down on the bed and looked around the small room. "Jeeze. I feel like royalty! This room is small, but it's certainly something..."

"I know, right? The last time I stayed in a room like this, I remember the bill being sixty golden coins for just one night!"

"...crying out loud..."

Kimberly wandered over to the incense burner and began to look through the different varieties available. "Would you mind if I used this?"

"Go for it. Let's live a little." she said as she pushed her sandals under the bed and flopped over from exhaustion.

"Is there anything specific you'd like? Let's see... river cattails... bamboo thicket... spring rain... summer seaside... orange blossoms..."

"It doesn't matter to me."

Kimberly opened the box of incense sticks and placed them into the burner, then grabbed one of the candles and used it to ignite the burner. The room quickly filled with thin, translucent wisps of smoke and the faint smell of citrus began to choke the atmosphere. She wandered over to the bed and placed her backpack onto the floor, then dug through it to find a journal and a pencil.

"I should have gotten a journal, as well..." Andrea said, watching her friend take a seat at the table. "As much as I'm not enjoying this 'vacation', I guess it is a once in a life time opportunity..."

Kimberly placed her pencil against the page and began to draw broad strokes up and down the page. "Tell you what. The next time we're in town, I'll head to the shops and buy you one."

"That's really not necessary, but I appreciate the offer."

"Consider it done," she said. She took a look at her drawing so far and noticed a few key errors that she needed to fix before continuing. "Can you have a poke through my bag and look for an eraser? The one on this pencil is rubbish!"

Andrea did as she was asked and began to dig through Kimberly's backpack. As she was doing so, she came across the corrugated metal pocketbook that Kimberly used to hold her badges and her ID card. After a few minutes of searching, she finally found the eraser and tossed it across the room, then grabbed the pocketbook. She opened it up and looked at the two badges inside, which piqued her curiosity. "You're some sort of rich heiress, aren't you? Why would someone like you ever get into competitive Pokémon training?"

She turned around and met with Andrea's eyes. There was a certain sense of gravity in her words that Andrea had never heard before; "Do you have any idea how boring it is to be the child of wealthy parents? All the time... it was balls, galas, social gatherings, events, ballets, operas, theatrical performances, dinners... I could go on and on." Her attention shifted back to her drawing. "I was never interested in that kind of stuff when I was younger... I am now, I suppose... I didn't like the people my parents dealt with, either. They were usually self-centered scum. As I grew older and older, it only grew worse and worse. I needed a way away from it."

"How did you get out of it?"

"I guess it's my turn to tell a story, then! I remember it well, it started in May, nearly two years ago..."


- - - - -​

It was a warm and breezy May afternoon. The sun hung high in the sky, shining brightly off of the sleek marble walls and bright orange tiled rooves of the luxurious homes that made up the port town of Visalia. There were many impressive estates, mansions and houses scattered along the pristine and winding coastline of Visalia, and one such mansion was Fairbrooke Manor, home to the renowned chef and businessman Richard Fairbrooke, his philanthropic wife, Annabelle, and their only child, Kimberly.

While it wasn't the largest or most iconic mansion in Visalia, Fairbrooke Manor was viewed by many as the epitome of excess. High walls topped with spiked fences surrounded the entire property. The mansion itself was three stories tall, boasted thirty five rooms and was staffed by a twelve member team of servants, butlers and attendants. Outside of the mansion was a sprawling and luxurious garden, filled with exotic plants from far away lands, classical and Renaissance-era art sculptures and water features.

Inside of the garden's only gazebo was Kimberly, seated in front of an unfinished painting with a paintbrush in her hand. The subject of her painting was the most prominent feature of Fairbrooke Manor's garden, the 245 year old, 134 foot tall willow tree, known around town as 'Big Willie'. She had spent the majority of the day working on the painting, spending hours trying to capture every meticulous detail. With a few final strokes, she finished her artwork.

She took a step back to focus on the tree, then compared it to her painting. There were many notable differences, each of which she was unhappy with. She placed her hand to her forehead in frustration and muttered to herself, "Why? Why can I not do this?" She knew it was bad practice for a budding artist, but she couldn't help to critically analyze every minute problem that she saw: the branches were too thick. The drooping leaves were too short. The trunk was crooked and leaning. The lighting of the leaves was inconsistent. Minor problems, but they all added up to ruin hours of work.

She picked up her brush and began to touch up the lighting. "Perhaps this could be saved..." she thought to herself, but her hopes remained low.

As she fiddled with the leaves of her tree, a young woman was approaching from behind. She was very out of place in the surrounding environment; Her ragged black hair, highlighted with tones of cyan and magenta, was pulled into a pair of pigtails, allowing full view of her dozen ear piercings. Her jacket was mostly made of leather and featured studs and spikes, while her tartan skirt carried the colors of her ancestors, green and white. Bulky, knee high boots covered her feet. None of it matched the regal atmosphere of the garden around her.

As the young woman tromped through the garden towards the gazebo, a well dressed butler was by her side, feverishly attempting to explain to her that Kimberly was busy. Every attempt was ignored and she continued her pace until she reached the gazebo.

"I am so terribly sorry, Ms. Fairbrooke. I told her that you were busy but she refused to listen and barged through!" the butler said. His words were shaky and his voice was squeaky, as if he were afraid that his career had just been ended.

Kimberly put down her paintbrush and turned around to address the two. "Charles, it's okay! I don't mind a visitor every now and then!" she said, reassuring her nervous servant. She turned to the young woman, opened her arms and pulled her in for a hug. "Nicole! It's been too long!"

The young woman pried herself out of Kimberly's grip and took a step back. "Too long? Whatcha talkin' 'bout? I was there for your birthday party!"

"That was four months ago, friend. You should visit more often!"

"You know how it is... Meet a new guy, all of a sudden your world revolves around him..."

Kimberly turned back to her painting and studied it some more, looking over her mistakes as she thought of ways to fix them. "No, I don't know how that is, and you know that." She grabbed her paint brush and continued working on the lighting. "I've been working on this all day. What do you think of it?"

"Ehh, I ain't no art critic. You know that."

"Nothing? Not even a comment?"

"Look, all I see is a tree," she said in a dismissive tone before changing the topic. "So, hey! I wanted to ask you somethin'! My parents are bein' total jerkbags and are tellin' me I need a job, but I ain't ready to sit in an office for eight hours a day. So I was thinkin', why not go on the road as one of those Pokémon trainers? That's like a job, ain't it?"

"I suppose it is. Those competitive types that compete in tournaments can make quite a bit of money if they do well at it. And from what I've seen, you know what you're doing."

"Yeah, right? It's a win win!" she said with excitement. "How 'bout you? Your parents riding your ass about it, too?"

"Oh... maybe not as much as yours, but they do want me to decide what I want to do with my life soon. That's why I've been working so hard on my art for these past two years. I was hoping to make a career of it, but..." she trailed off, comparing her painting to her subject tree again. "They don't think it'll work, and I'm starting to believe them..."

"What do they want you to do?"

Kimberly placed her brush on the easel and took Nicole on a leisurely walk through the garden. "As my father's only child, he wants me to take over the family business that he built from the ground up. He wants me to be a chef, just like him."

Nicole burst into an uproarious laugh.

"I know! I can't cook to save my life! I've tried and I've tried, but I just don't get it!" she said. "How he expects me to reach his level before he retires... I'll never understand the way he thinks sometimes."

"What about your mom?"

"She wants me to step up my participation in her organization's charity efforts. Since I can't cook, it seems like the option to choose... but much of her charity work is in Andalla, Sakala and Durandas! Those are not nice places, and all I've known my entire life is comfort..."

"Charity? Screw that shit, I got an even better idea!"

"Language!" she chastised quickly, as if it were a regular occurrence.

Nicole dismissed her concerns and continued, "So I'm goin' on the road as a Pokémon trainer, and I need someone by my side. I want that someone to be you. My best friend in the whole world! C'mon, think about it! Just me 'n' you, on the road together, with nothin' to stop us, nothin' to get in our way!"

"Hmm..."

"Think of it as escapin' from your parents. They want you to do all that borin' shit you're not any good at! But you been around Kanto a lot with your dad right? You must know some of the cities like the back of your hand!"

"Is 'escape' really the right word?" she lamented, then sighed. "I suppose it would be nice to leave town again, it's been a few years..."

"There ya go! Hey! You can be a tour guide! I don't even know how to get to Fuchsia from here!"

Kimberly giggled. "You don't need me for that. It's just up the road, friend."

"I'll pay ya a share of my winnings from all those competitions I'll be dominatin'."

Kimberly giggled as she twirled about, pointing out the garden, the seaside view and the mansion she lived in. "You don't have to pay me, you know. I'm not exactly struggling."

"Always flauntin' that wealth... Well come on, will ya?"

She took a moment to think about it. "I suppose it would give me an opportunity to explore other possibilities... I wanted to visit Mulberry and speak to some people for some time, as well..."

"Mulberry? Yeah, I can make that happen."

"I understand if you're expecting an answer today, but I will need some time to think this over. And then I will need some time to prepare if I do decide that this is a good idea."

"You got it. I wasn't plannin' on leavin' until next week at the earliest."


- - - - -​

Andrea interrupted the story. "This Nicole lady sounds like a total punk."

"She has a bit of a jagged personality, yes," Kimberly answered.

"So you left a life of comfort behind to travel the roads with this girl? That seems so... out of character for you."

"I felt like I had to! I could never see myself learning to become a master chef, let alone a novice chef. My mother's ideas did not appeal to me, either... I understand the importance of charity work, but to follow her to an active war zone? I couldn't!"

"Yeah, no kidding... So what happened next?"

"The first two months were boring, so I'll skip that..."


- - - - -​

The door to the Pewter City Pokécenter whooshed open, and Kimberly and Nicole walked in. Following them was a stubby, round creature with a green body. Adorning its rounded body was a bright yellow flower with a white center at the top and large flopping ears beside it. Every now and then, the creature would shed a petal from the flower on top of its head and leave a trail behind it, quickly replacing it with a new petal. The creature had numerous cuts and bruises along its body, but it kept a cartoonish grin on its face through all of its pain.

"Very well done today, Nicole," Kimberly said.

Nicole wouldn't hear it. "I could'a done better... I lost one of my fighters this time and poor Skippy got all tore up. That didn't happen in Celadon or Cerulean." She wandered up to the reception area and dropped her Pokéball collection onto the front desk, then knelt down and picked up her Skiploom. "C'mon, up ya go."

"Full service, ma'am?" the nurse asked, scooping the Pokéballs up.

"Yeah, make 'em smile," She patted her Skiploom on the back and continued, "You follow the nice nurse, ya hear? I'll be back for ya in a bit. Me and Kimmy are going out for a bite."

The two took a walk down the street towards the Pewter Street Family Restaurant and entered. While being seated, taking their orders and receiving their food, Kimberly tried to start numerous conversations, none of which interested Nicole. Nicole wanted only one thing, to continue the relentless study of the strategy book her nose was buried in.

She felt ignored, and it certainly wasn't the first time since they had started travelling together. She decided to try a topic that her friend might be interested in. "You are the only person I know who can take a stunning victory like that and turn it into a criticism."

Without looking up from her book, Nicole answered, "I'm not gonna get better if I settle for mediocrity. This is my life now, and I need to be the best. There are hundreds of thousands of people out there doin' the same thing I'm doin'. If I'm not better than them, I've already lost."

"Look at what you've accomplished so far! You've been a Pokémon trainer for four months, and you've only started taking it seriously these past two months. What have you done in that time?" She reached across the table and opened Nicole's vest, displaying the three badges and a blue ribbon that were pinned to the inside. "You've defeated three of these gym leaders and placed first in the Mulberry Competitor's Conference. I don't know much about being a Pokémon trainer, but isn't that impressive?"

"It is, but there are people who've done better in shorter time periods."

"There's no getting through to you, is there?"

Nicole chuckled. "I understand what you're saying and I 'preciate it. But please, don't try to dampen my competitive spirit. This is when I work best, when I'm all fired up."

There was a long period of silence as Nicole continued to skim through her strategy book and Kimberly finished her salad. She wanted to break the silence and ask a question that had been on her mind for the previous few weeks, and figured now would be a good time to ask.

"They say that great people teach others... They share their knowledge, their expertise. That is the hallmark of a true master."

"Wha?" Nicole asked, looking up from her book. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"I've been watching you train these past two months, and every day I grow more and more interested in trying it for myself."

Nicole closed her book and put it down. "Oh! Yeah? You, a trainer?"

"It would give me something to do while you're busy."

She shook her head. "I dunno, you're gettin' pretty good at that music stuff. Do ya really need Pokémon distractin' ya from that?"

"I can work on both, can't I?"

"But you can't be the best at both. Remember that."

"Has it not occurred to you that perhaps I am not looking to be the world's greatest in either? I don't give a flip if I end up being terrible at both, I just want to try. That's why I'm here, to find new things to do."

"Alright, alright! Chill! If you wanna try it out, I'll do what I can to help." she said. "Tell ya what, let's take a few days off and swing on over to Pallet Town, getcha a nice and easy starter to work with."


- - - - -​

The story was interrupted once again by a curious Andrea. "Hold on! You didn't even have a Pokémon of your own for those two months?"

Kimberly shook her head. "I did not."

"So what were you doing while your friend was dragging you around?"

"Mostly just enjoying myself! It had been ages since I'd gotten out of the house. I planned on using it as an opportunity to look for inspiration for my paintings, but painting while on the road simply isn't feasible."

"Yeah, I wouldn't want to carry all of that with me. So, you turned to music instead?"

"I did. I was thinking that a career in music would be a way out of inheriting my father's business, or ending up at a refugee camp with my mother... Perhaps you might get to hear it sometime, but I lost my guitar when the S.S. Beckinshire sank..." She looked at the mechanical clock hanging on the wall above her. "Oh, It's getting a little late, isn't it..."

"That's fine! Keep going, this is actually pretty interesting!"
 
Last edited:
chapter 44
Storm Island
Chapter 44: Tavern Tales: A Girl and Her Turtle

"So what was it like that first day you received a Pokémon? I bet you were excited, right?" Andrea asked.

"How did you guess?" she asked in a sarcastic yet friendly manner.

"The day I see you not showing excitement for something, I'll be impressed," Andrea said. "So? It was a run of the mill day when I met Furball, any different for you?"

"Well, for starters, the weather was dreadful..."


- - - - -​

The rain was coming down pretty hard over Pallet Town, accompanied by sporadic lightning and thunder. A fierce wind had kicked up, strong enough to sway even the sturdiest of the trees around the town. Today was supposed to be a big day for Kimberly, but it was already shaping up to be a bad one if the weather was any indication.

"Ugh! I hate the rain! And it's so cold!" Kimberly complained. She rubbed her arms to warm them up, shivering intensely from the unseasonably cool and wet weather. "What kind of town is this, anyways? There's nowhere to take shelter!"

"It's a farmin' community populated by hicks, what do ya expect?" Nicole said.

"Why would Professor Oak set his laboratory up out here?"

"Hell if I know, I don't understand old people."

A gust of wind caught Kimberly's umbrella and tried to rip it away from her, but she was able to hold on. "I do hope we arrive soon. I do not like this weather."

"Are you kiddin'? Rain is awesome!"

"Rain is only nice when it's warm and breezy..."

It was a long walk from where they were to Professor Oak's lab. They spent nearly an hour passing corn fields, wheat fields and potato fields, each with a small farm house nearby. Despite being on the road for nearly two months beforehand, neither had seen true rural countryside like this before. They expected the locals to be friendly, but every single one that they passed gave them mean looks or dismissed them as city slickers. A rapidly spinning windmill eventually poked out of the foggy rain, which was the most prominent and memorable feature of Professor Oak's lab. They had finally made it!

Inside was dry and warm, a very welcome change from the drab and dreary weather outside.

"Okay, we made it. Now what?" Nicole asked.

"I would assume we let them know we are here. Follow me." she said, leading Nicole to a counter in the far corner of the room. A quick look around showed that nobody was manning the office. She rang the bell that sat on the counter and waited patiently. "By the by, thank you for taking the time to come out this way."

"Ehh. Weren't nothin'. I wasn't gonna send you off alone."

More time passed as they waited for someone to answer the bell. The smooth jazz that softly blared from the radio in the corner paired with the gentle pitter patter of the rain and rumbling thunder in the distance helped to create a soothing atmosphere that melted the time away. Eventually a young man entered the room and took his place behind the counter.

"Sorry about that, ladies, the professor needed help moving something large," the man said. "How may I help you?"

"I'm here to see Professor Oak," Kimberly said.

"Sure. What's your name?" the secretary asked as he grabbed a notebook and opened it.

"Kimberly Fairbrooke."

He skimmed through a list of names, times and dates. "Let's see... Ah! Here you are." He looked at his watch. "Right on time, too! I'll go fetch him for ya."

The secretary disappeared through the doorway and more time passed in relative silence. The minutes seemed to drag on and on as Kimberly anxiously waited for her upcoming appointment. She began to realize the importance of the day as she anticipated the events awaiting her; today would mark the day she would officially become a Pokémon trainer, and the day she would take on some of the first major responsibilities she ever had. It wasn't quite the same, but she likened it to adopting a child. Whichever creature she chose would depend on her for its every need. It was a sobering thought.

The door swung open and a young man in his late 20s emerged. "Ah, my guests are here! Good!" He offered his hand out to the two. "Welcome to my lab!"

Kimberly shook his hand. "Thank you for seeing me, professor!"

Nicole blinked rapidly as she tried to understand the situation. "Wait, you're Professor Oak? I thought you were supposed to be some old dude!"

He laughed. "No, that's my grandfather. He retired a few months ago and handed off the lab to me and my sister. The name's Gary, by the way."

"Gary--" she muttered, then feverishly shook his hand. "Oh shit, the Gary Oak? Indigo League Champion? Master of the Silver Conference? Dude, you are an absolute legend! I can't believe I'm in the same room as you!"

"Stop, you're flattering me!" Professor Oak blushed. "Those days are in the past now... So, which one of you was it that was here for a pick up?"

Kimberly took a step forward. "That would be me. Kimberly Fairbrooke."

"Right. Please, follow me."

Professor Oak led them down a hallway, passing by several doors on the way. Windows offered a glimpse of what was in each of the rooms that they were passing by; One was a fully featured emergency room with medical staff inside, hard at work on an injured Pokémon. Another room was filled with shelves, stocked from top to bottom with all sorts of books, assorted Pokéballs, and medical supplies. The final room lacked a window and appeared to be locked down tightly, only opening with a key card and a hand signature.

He opened a door at the end of the hallway and stepped inside. The room was very comfortable compared to everything else they had seen in the rest of the building, with a plush carpet, comfortable looking leather chairs and the kinds of decorations one might find in a home rather than a place of research. In the center of the room was a large oaken desk with several pictures on it from the professor's past, ranging from his brief time as Champion of the Indigo League to when he and his sister inherited the lab from his grandfather.

He opened a cupboard and pulled out a small glass case. Inside were three shining, freshly polished Pokéballs, each decorated with a small pattern; a leaf on one, a flame on another and a water droplet on the last one. He placed the case on the table and opened it. "Here at my lab, we offer a variety of different Pokémon to aspiring trainers. However, these three have proven to be the most popular, so we'll start out with them." He grabbed the Pokéball with a leaf design on it and tossed it into the center of the room.

The Pokéball bounced on the floor, then exploded with a shower of fluttering flower petals. In its place was a small reptilian creature with mottled green skin. The most prominent feature about the creature was the giant, leafy bulb affixed to its back. It examined its surroundings with curiosity, then walked over to the shelf in the corner of the room. Vines extended from under the bulb and reached upwards, grabbing an unmarked flask filled with a syrupy silver liquid.

"Bulbasaur!" Professor Oak chastised.

The Bulbasaur looked back at him, then put the flask down in disappointment. "Myeeeeh!"

"Right. This is Bulbasaur. If you hadn't guessed already, he's very closely associated with nature and plants, despite being an animal. The bulb on his back--" He stopped when he noticed that the Bulbasaur had wandered off and started going through the drawers in his desk. "Bulbasaur! We have guests!" The Bulbasaur refused to listen to him. "Just a moment please."

Kimberly and Nicole looked at each other in amusement as Professor Oak chased after and struggled to get a firm grip on the marauding Bulbasaur. With it successfully in his arms, he returned to the table and continued.

"Where was I... Ah, yes! The bulb on his back is very interesting. Not only is it a source of energy for him during sunny days, it's also useful for garden enthusiasts; it lets off--"

As Professor Oak continued his enthralling lesson, the Bulbasaur was busy getting into more trouble. When he realized his struggles to break free from the professor's arms were fruitless, he extended his vines outward, towards Kimberly. She initially just moved out of the way, then started to swat at the vines as she continued to listen to the professor. The Bulbasaur upped the ante, wrapping his vines around her shoulders, then rubbed down her back.

"Can you not, please?" she asked in a commanding tone, making eye contact with the Bulbasaur.

The Bulbasaur ignored her and slipped his vines beneath her collar.

She yanked the vines out and took a few steps back while her friend laughed uncontrollably. "I've seen enough. If he's going to act that way now, he's going to act that way later, and I won't put up with it."

Professor Oak sighed and grabbed the Bulbasaur's Pokéball. "My apologies. Bulbasaur, return!" The Bulbasaur deformed into a blob of red light, then rocketed back into the Pokéball. "Sorry about that... Bulbasaur and his family members usually have manners." He grabbed the Pokéball with the flame pattern from the table. "Let's have a look at the next one, shall we?" He tossed the Pokéball forward, causing it to crack open with a burst of flickering flames. A small, orange bipedal lizard appeared, with a stream of fire sparking off of its tail. "This here is Charmander, best known for his mastery of fire."

Kimberly knelt down to interact with him. "Hello, there!"

The Charmander responded by hissing at her, expelling his hot breath in her face, then dashed about the room.

"He's not a friendly one, is he?"

"It's nothing personal. Charmander can be quite temperamental at times, especially when he wants to exercise."

"How difficult would it be to train him? And would he be a creep like that Bulbasaur?"

Professor Oak chuckled. "No, most likely not. Charmander is usually too focused on improving itself to get into too much trouble. It's by far the most difficult of these three to raise, but also the most rewarding. His final evolved form is arguably the most powerful of the three, and certainly the most intimidating." He took a second to judge Kimberly by her appearance and figured she wasn't the type interested in power or intimidation. "But... if all you're looking to become is a casual trainer, I might suggest against him."

She looked to Nicole for advice. "What do you think?"

"I say go for it. You can never go wrong with a powerful Pokémon as long as you train 'em right."

Professor Oak watched as the Charmander thrashed around. "Well... Power is a good thing to have, but it isn't everything. I didn't pick a Charmander when I started as a Pokémon trainer almost a decade ago, and I did well enough. It's all about how you use the potential of your Pokémon, rather than brute force."

"Hmm... What about the next one?"

Professor Oak grabbed the last remaining Pokéball on the desk and tossed it upwards. The ball exploded with a deluge of water that evaporated almost as soon as it came into contact with a solid surface, revealing a short and pudgy turtle-like creature with blue, scaly skin. The top half of its brown shell was covered in a mixture of swirly and ring patterns on each fragment. It crawled along the ground as it studied its surroundings.

He knelt down and patted the Squirtle on its still soft shell. "This one is Squirtle. He's our youngest, he just hatched about two weeks ago."

"Aww, he's adorable!" Kimberly said with glee as she watched the Squirtle investigate every inch of the floor around it. "If he's younger, that should make it easier to bond with him, correct?"

"Yes."

The Squirtle pushed himself up onto his hind legs and began to explore the room from his new vantage point. He noticed the Charmander from earlier in the corner of the room and decided to approach. He plodded along as fast as his little legs could take him, stumbling a few times along the way. Upon reaching the Charmander, he became entranced by the flickering flame that danced at the end of his tail. The Charmander turned around and growled; he wasn't happy about the Squirtle being so close, and when the Squirtle didn't back away, he snarled into a hissing roar.

The Squirtle let out a squeaking sound and ran for cover. The nearest thing he found to hide behind was Kimberly's leg, which he used to great effect.

"Aww! Don't be scared!" she said, kneeling down to comfort him. "He's just a big bully!"

The Squirtle climbed up her arm and rested on her shoulder, then buried his head into her hair and fixed a watchful gaze on the Charmander.

"I think he likes you!" Professor Oak said.

"He's adorable..."

Professor Oak grabbed the Charmander's Pokéball and recalled him. "That's our three most popular ones..." he said as he reached into the pocket of his lab coat and pulled out another Pokéball with a snowflake pattern stamped into it. "We've got some more, this one's from the foothills of Johto and goes by--"

"That won't be necessary, professor! I think I found what I was looking for." She grabbed the Squirtle off of her shoulder and held him above her head, then spun around. The Squirtle giggled with glee and clapped as he flew through the air.

"Are you sure? There's a few more for you to look at."

"I like this one," she said, placing him onto the floor. He instantly clung to her leg like a magnet.

"Very well!" Professor Oak said. He handed the Pokéball with the water drop decal on it to Kimberly. "Let me run you through the basics. When you want to recall a Pokémon, simply click on the button in the middle. The Pokéball will increase in size, and then pressure sensors in the top half will tell the Pokéball what you want it to do depending on how you hold it. Most trainers add on a catchphrase as well, such as 'Return!', but that's more of a tradition than a requirement." He demonstrated the proper technique of how to hold a Pokéball for recalling a Pokémon.

Kimberly tried to emulate him, but held the Pokéball upside down. She aimed it at the Squirtle and shouted, "Squirtle, in you go!" However, the Pokéball refused to act.

"Try turnin' it around," Nicole said.

She did as she was asked, and this time it worked. A beam of light surged out of the Pokéball and hit the Squirtle, deforming it into a blob of red light which surged back into the Pokéball. She studied the Pokéball, worried that her new Squirtle might have been harmed by the process.

"There ya go."

"Yup! And in order to release him again, it's just as simple as throwing it." Professor Oak added. "So are you two on the road together?"

"Sure are!" Nicole said.

"Are you a trainer yourself?"

She opened her vest and displayed the three badges she had already earned. "That's right!"

"Good! Maybe you can teach her what you know." he said, grabbing a book from his desk. He handed the book to Kimberly and continued, "This book details the basics of being a Pokémon trainer. Study it, learn it, live it. However, reading a book isn't quite the same as learning from someone who already knows."

Kimberly opened the book and idly flipped through the pages. She was mortified to see that it was over 300 pages long and only sparsely populated by images and diagrams. She never intended to be a serious competitive trainer, but she began to wonder just how complicated being a casual trainer might be as well.

"Oh, before I forget, bring him out again," Professor Oak requested.

She did as she was asked and tossed the Pokéball into the air. The Squirtle appeared in a shower of splashing water, then landed on the floor.

"One of the most important parts about bonding properly with your Pokémon is choosing a unique name for them."

"A name?"

"Yeah. Think of him as a pet. Every good pet needs a good name."

Nicole shook her head in disagreement, but kept quiet.

"Hmm... a name..." Kimberly knelt down and stroked her Squirtle on the head. "I fear I'm not the creative type... How about..."

"Your grandad passed recently, didn't he?" Nicole asked. "Maybe you could name him in his memory?"

"Juliano?" she asked, then studied her Squirtle. She wasn't sure if Juliano was a proper fit for him, but her lack of other ideas prompted her to ask, "What do you think of it, little guy? Are you okay with Juliano?"

The Squirtle tilted his head with curiosity.

She began to wonder. "Do they understand us?"

"It's a very interesting question, and a subject of great debate amongst the scientific community. Some researchers swear that they don't, but from what I've seen in my own time as a trainer, Pokémon can pick up on human language, even at a young age like his. There aren't many that can speak it back to us, though... Most lack the jaw structure for complicated speech."

She turned back to her Squirtle. "My grandfather Juliano was a very special part of my life when I was younger. I hadn't seen him much in the past few years, but it was tragic when he passed... Would you like to take on his role as my special somebody?"

The Squirtle grinned and nodded with excitement.

"That settles it!" she said as she patted him on the head. "We're going to be great friends, Juliano!"


- - - - -​

"That was kind of heartwarming!" Andrea said. "So that's how you and Juliano met, huh? You protecting him from a bully?"

"Yes."

"Heh. If only we knew each other when I was younger..."

Kimberly looked up at the clock, seeing that it was about twenty minutes after midnight. "Oh dear. I gabbed on the whole evening! We might not get an early start in the morning." She closed her journal and gathered up her pencil and eraser, the headed over towards the bed. "Maybe it's for the best. Fog likes to stick around in the early morning."

Andrea adjusted herself on the bed and wrapped the silken sheet around her. "What were you writing over there, by the way?" she asked.

"I wasn't writing anything," Kimberly said as she put her pencil and eraser back into her backpack. She flipped open her journal to her unfinished drawing and showed it to Andrea. "I was drawing something, instead."

Andrea sat up to get a better look at the drawing. Despite being unfinished, it was very detailed; on one side was a very rough sketch of a humanoid figure, likely the unfinished part. The other side featured a young woman who appeared to be leaning on the roughly drawn figure with one of the happiest smiles she had ever seen. Considerable time was spent on the young woman, especially with her hair and clothing, which were fully detailed and shaded. "Wow, this is incredible! I thought you might have been stretching the truth when you were talking about painting that tree, but... Maybe painting just isn't your thing, but look at this! You're a master with pencil work!"

"Thank you!"

"Seriously, you are so much more talented than I am... You can draw, you can paint, you're a Pokémon trainer, a coordinator, a singer... And what am I but just a dumb waitress who got scammed into doing some professor's dirty work..."

"You're much more than that! We need to find your talents and work on them!"

"Eh..." she groaned, then sighed as she turned away. "Sorry, I bummed myself out, I think I'm going to get some sleep..."
 
I honestly loved the last two chapters. I liked the fact that we could finally get some more insight on Kimberly and I honestly wouldn't mind if there was a whole arc dedicated to more vignettes on Kimberly's past xD I just thought it was really good. I do wonder what happened with Nicole though, I hope they're still friends at least.

Also I noticed that aside from the way she speaks Nicole and Andrea are a lot alike in some ways, it kind of makes it funny when you consider that in the case of Kimberly and Andrea Kimberly is th emost experienced one and is the one that has to help Andrea find what she's good at. Maybe I'm thinking too much but it was just something that made me appreciate the two of them even more.

Also, I think I might've forgotten if you've stated it before but...is this anime verse? game verse? the last chapter with Gary just left me wondering really.

I didn't detect any grammar mistakes and as per usual your description and prose have been really good, I really can't commend you enough with how much I like the flow tha tyour chapters ahve.
 
I honestly loved the last two chapters. I liked the fact that we could finally get some more insight on Kimberly and I honestly wouldn't mind if there was a whole arc dedicated to more vignettes on Kimberly's past xD I just thought it was really good. I do wonder what happened with Nicole though, I hope they're still friends at least.
I do plan to go into Kimberly's past some more at a later time, as we only saw how she became a trainer rather than a coordinator. Even more, I want to touch on her artistic side as well. Being a musician was listed as 'very important' when Caitlin and I brainstormed her character, but so far very little of that has come out.

Andrea's going to get similar treatment, too. I've already retconned it in the notes that she's a college drop out, and things referenced in earlier chapters make it difficult to squeeze that kind of thing into her timeline. The field she was studying will be kind of important for one of her storylines I've got planned, maybe another one if it feels like too little is going on with her.

Nicole is unlikely to return, either in a flashback or with an appearance, so I'll say what's happened to her: She went on to conquer all eight of Kanto's gyms and challenged the Elite Four in the time it took Kimberly to earn her two badges. After that, she returned to Visalia to start her own unofficial Pokemon gym, which left Kim without a travel buddy. Whether she succeeded at the Elite Four or what her gym specializes in, I haven't decided. She's also the girl Larson mentioned he was dating in the finale of the first season, which could lead to some interesting interactions between her and Andrea if the two ever meet.

Also I noticed that aside from the way she speaks Nicole and Andrea are a lot alike in some ways, it kind of makes it funny when you consider that in the case of Kimberly and Andrea Kimberly is th emost experienced one and is the one that has to help Andrea find what she's good at. Maybe I'm thinking too much but it was just something that made me appreciate the two of them even more.
I really need to get onto this. I've had two stops so far where Andrea was supposed to ask Kimberly for some advice and training help (after getting situated in Letchworth and at the Southwind Tavern), but I decided to move onto other ideas. I also need to bring their Pokemon out more often, Andrea's never going to learn if she keeps them hidden away all the time.

Also, I think I might've forgotten if you've stated it before but...is this anime verse? game verse? the last chapter with Gary just left me wondering really.
What I've got going is my own eldritch abomination, which I guess one could consider an alternate universe at this point. Caitlin originally started the story hoping to keep it strictly based on the video games (since it started out as a novelization of our fan game project), but over time I was able to weasel more and more outside material in until she eventually gave in and dropped the restrictions she wanted. When all is said and done, there will be influence from the anime, the video games, even the manga, all while it tries to maintain its own unique flair. It'll be a hideous monster, but hopefully one you can't help but look at in wonder.

your description and prose have been really good, I really can't commend you enough with how much I like the flow tha tyour chapters ahve.
This is good to hear. I'm a bit nervous with how much description I've been putting into recent chapters, and flow interruption is the biggest thing I worry about. While it's good to paint a picture, I might be putting in too much detail in some places. It's also extremely jarring to read over old chapters and see hundreds of lines of dialogue, while the more recent ones are dozens split up by paragraphs of information and detail.
 
chapter 45
Storm Island
Chapter 45: Mistweaver

It was a bright and early start to the day. Kimberly was wide awake, seated at a table in the courtyard that had a spectacular view of the stone spires that dotted the valley below. Beside her was Patches, and they were both sharing their morning breakfast of diced carrots, spiced rice and orange slices, all drenched in honey. Her journal was open and contained an exhaustive list of potential ideas for material for her coordination routines, but most had been crossed out.

"Once I return to Storm Island, perhaps I could buy a new guitar and work that into one of my routines somehow... Maybe with Wiggles..? Hmm..." she said as she took notes. "What do you think, Patches?"

Patches meowed and shook her head.

"I know that didn't go well in the Winter Carnival last year, but I've had more time to practice since then! Remember, that was my first appearance. Much of my performance was hampered by the limelight, and that's something I've grown accustomed to."

Patches remained steadfast and shook her head even harder.

"C'mere you little rascal!" she shouted as she picked up her Skitty and cuddled with her. "You just don't like my music do you?"

The cellar door swung open and the elderly tavern keeper emerged with an empty wooden bucket in her hands. She noticed Kimberly seated in the courtyard and approached. "Ah, the young traveller from afar! Are you enjoying your breakfast?"

Kimberly turned around to face the elderly woman. "I am! Your son prepared this, correct?"

The elderly woman nodded.

"Extend my gratitude to him. This meal is simple, but there's something elegant about it... I dare say it rivals my father's cooking!"

"I'll let him know that you're happy with it," the elderly woman said as she placed the bucket down on the table next to them. "How about the room? Did you enjoy that, as well?"

"It was a bit chilly, but I would expect that from being in the basement."

"Hmm... a common complaint... perhaps I can move another heater down there..." the elderly woman mused. "Besides that, did you have a good night?"

"I did! My friend and I stayed up most of the night, having a nice chat. It was the first time that she seemed truly interested in me, in what I have to say. I feel like I'm getting somewhere with her." Her excitement began to fade as she recalled how the previous night ended, then sighed. "But I feel like I might have bragged a little too much..."

"Oh?"

"Her and I are similar in age, but I've accomplished so much more than she has, and I've been so much more fortunate as well. I hadn't realized it until now, but she must feel so inferior when comparing herself to me, and she does that an awful lot."

The elderly woman leaned on the railing beside her. "In my many, many years, I've learned that the downtrodden are always their own harshest critics. Perhaps she needs greater encouragement? The great men and women of history rarely achieved what they did when no one believed in them."

"Yes, I'll try to encourage her. I owe her that much at least."

Andrea approached from behind. "I'm ready to go, I guess..." However, she looked haggard and worn down, the complete opposite of someone who was ready for a day of travel.

"Ready to go? You haven't had breakfast yet!" Kimberly said.

She shook her head. "Not hungry..." she muttered, then turned to the elderly lady. "Thank you for the room. It was a nice change from camping."

The elderly lady bowed courteously. "No, thank you for visiting, young one. May the wind be at your back!"

"Ehh, feels like it's always in my face..." she groaned. After a moment, she shook her head and apologized. "Sorry. Grumpy morning. My fault, really."

The elderly lady turned to Kimberly. "I see what you mean."

Andrea grumbled. "What, talking about me behind my back now? I get it, you're better than me. You don't have to rub it in..."

Kimberly was shocked by her friend's words. "No, no! That's not it at all. I was only asking our host for advice about cheering you up!"

The elderly lady nodded. "It's true. She wants you to be happy."

"Whatever. Can we just go already?"


- - - - -​

Along the road, Kimberly tried to strike up numerous conversations, but Andrea was hardly interested in talking. Nothing could hold her attention longer than a few seconds; childhood memories, favorite movies, dreams and aspirations, battle and coordination strategies, none of it could break her silence. Concerned about her friend's silence and wondering if it might be related to the story she told last night, Kimberly tried to dig in and understand just what was wrong, and began asking a long line of questions.

Eventually, Andrea lost her temper and snapped. "Nothing's wrong!" she shouted.

"I only wanted to--"

"Please, just shut up! Can we not talk for once? Is that too much to ask? I have nothing interesting to say, I never have. I just want to get to where we're going, okay?"

"I... umm..." she bumbled, completely speechless. "Oh... okay..." Her voice wavered with sadness. It had been the first time in years that a friend had been so rude to her, she had almost forgotten how to react in such situations.

The rest of the journey was long, silent and awkward. The tension between the two girls was almost solid. Andrea fumed away in anger and frustration, jumping immediately at every opportunity to interrupt her friend, even if it was interrupting something as harmless as a cough. Kimberly began to realize that something didn't feel quite right about the way Andrea was acting, but figured that poking the hornet's nest would be a bad idea. Instead, they walked in relative silence for what felt like hours, but in reality was closer to only twenty minutes. As they rounded a corner and climbed one last set of steps, they began to realize that they had arrived at the Shenzin Monastery.

The monastery was hidden from sight by an imposing brown brick wall that stretched to heights of nearly thirty feet. The wall was flat and bland, with no decorations or windows, and the only way through it was a small gateway. Hanging from the gateway was a peculiar ornament; forty crystal shards of varying sizes and shapes dangled from red silken ribbons. The crystals appeared to be deliberately ordered, as they were hung in such a way that they created a symmetrical, almost-alien shape. The crystals had a soft, white glow to them, contrasting quite clearly against the dark background around them.

As they passed through the gate and under the crystalline ornament, Andrea began to feel different. Even though she had yet to properly cross into the monastery's grounds, she felt as if she had found a sanctuary from all of the troubles of the world. The stresses of the journey she been on since waking up on the shores of Sakala seemed to fade from her mind, as did the uncertainty of what was ahead of her.

The two crossed into the courtyard and were met with a beautiful sight; The monastery itself was very regal in appearance, decorated with bright red, white and gold coloring. The central spire of the main pagoda towered over the area, stretching eleven stories tall. The windows were filled with stained glass depictions detailing the religious history of the region, with most focusing on imagery of tigers, dragons, doves and shapes similar to the crystal ornament hanging from the main gateway. Several smaller pagodas dotted the landscape, decorated with similar imagery. Various ornaments, ribbons and lamps hung from the sloped rooves, stretching between the main pagoda and its satellites.

The garden surrounding the monastery was impressive in its own right. Numerous trees were scattered throughout it, ranging from leafy trident maples and dogwoods to the more hardy hornbeams which the surrounding area was known for. Polished stone pathways snaked through the garden, surrounding ponds and connecting bridges that crossed a myriad of creeks and cliffs. Hedges divided the garden into distinct districts, where monks could be seen meditating, practicing martial arts or studying other disciplines.

The monastery was not as busy as they expected. They heard about the Shenzin Monastery's popularity as a tourist attraction, but there wasn't a single visitor besides them in sight. All they could see were dozens of monks, all of them with shaved heads and dressed in simplistic crimson robes. The monks were performing a variety of tasks, from tending to the gardens to sweeping the polished stone walkways, and they all seemed to be enjoying what amounted to little more than menial labor.

As the two wandered through the gardens and admired their surroundings, Andrea began to think about what had happened earlier that morning. She felt awful about the argument, the yelling and the name calling. She realized that her own shortcomings were no excuse to try to bring down others. "Kimberly?" she started.

"Yes?"

"I'm really sorry that I yelled at you this morning."

Kimberly turned to look at her, then rested her hand on Andrea's shoulder. "You were feeling down, I understand!"

"That doesn't make it right. You were trying to cheer me up and I wasn't having any of it." She shook her head. "I shouldn't be comparing myself to you, anyways."

"You're correct, you shouldn't. We all have our own story. Our own standards. The life I was given, while fortunate, is not the one you were given and by comparing your achievements to mine, you are only being dishonest with yourself."

"Yeah..."

"Besides, success isn't about what's given to us, it's defined by what we've earned. While it might seem like I've done a lot with my life, the truth is that I've failed at things more often than getting it right from the start. It's only natural! The most important part about being a successful person is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm."

"Right."

"Maybe something one of my role models once said can help inspire you. I believe she said, 'I'm a success today because I had a friend who believed in me and I didn't have the heart to let him down.' I'll be that friend who believes in you. I am that friend, because I do honestly believe you have what it takes to achieve whatever your heart desires!"

She let out a chuckle. "Somehow I doubt I'll ever explore the stars, but... I just need to try a bit harder, don't I?"

"Trying harder never hurts, and I will be very glad to help if you need a hand!"

"Thank you. I don't know why I was doubting myself so hard this morning." She pulled Kimberly in closer for a tight, squeezing hug, who found it a bit strange and unexpected. "Now that I feel a little bit better, let's enjoy this day, let's enjoy this monastery!"


- - - - -​

The two had spent nearly an hour wandering through the extensive gardens before moving onto their next stop, the main pagoda. Unlike the rather simplistic exterior, the interior of the pagoda was incredibly detailed: the red walls and pillars were covered in all sorts of decorations, from murals and scrolls to intricately chiseled brass tiles. Wine racks lined the walls, each paired with a rack of martial arts staves next to them. Every table in the main room was littered with golden, silver and jade statues of tigers, doves and dragons.

Andrea and Kimberly wandered around the room, soaking in the culture around them like sponges. The imagery on the murals and scrolls were easy enough to understand, but everything else was written in a language neither of them could understand.

"Can that thing on your wrist translate other languages? I'd be interested to know what any of this actually is."

Andrea searched through the features of her R-Kit and eventually found a translation app. "I guess it can! That might have come in useful a few times..." she said.

She scanned the sign next to one of the doors, which her R-Kit was able to translate with surprising speed. The screen displayed the intricate symbols on the sign followed by a translation below them.

"Great Shard of Valakasa," she read out.

"Shall we have a gander?"

"Why not? We're here."

Through the door was a spiraled stairwell that led underground. The stone steps downward were littered with pink and red flower petals, leaves and lit candles. At the bottom was a large room with an intricate tile floor. A golden statue of a roaring tiger was on one end of the room, while a silver statue of a meditating monk was on the opposite side of the room. The most obvious feature in the room was the large, glowing crystal embedded into the floor in the center of the room, shining so brightly that it was difficult to look at for more than a few seconds. They cautiously approached it.

"What do you think it is?" Kimberly asked. "This 'great shard', I mean."

"Maybe we can find out," Andrea raised her R-Kit to the shard and noticed that it was radiating a considerable amount of heat.

As she began to scan the crystal in hopes of determining its physical properties, the R-Kit bleated, "Anomalous energy signatures detected. Energy analysis commencing..." After a few brief moments of it scanning and working with the incoming data, it added, "Analysis complete. Wavelength is measured to be 10 to the power of negative 15.8. Frequency in Hertz is measured to be approximate 10 to the power of 24.7."

Based on her knowledge of the electromagnetic spectrum, she instinctively backed away from the crystal, but quickly realized there was no point. It spurred her memory, as she couldn't help but think she had an experience very similar to this before.

"Something wrong?" Kimberly asked.

"I've seen something like this before!" she said as she tried to recall when and where. "Back on Storm Island, in the Blackwood Forest... Yes! There was a stone obelisk in the forest that let off similar levels of electromagnetic radiation, I'm sure of it!"

Kimberly looked up at the crystal with fear and worry. "R-radiation? I don't know a lot about science, but isn't that bad?"

"I would think so, but... I mean, you don't feel weird, do you? Not sick, dizzy?"

Kimberly shook her head. "If anything, I feel... happy, maybe?"

"You're always happy, though..." she said. "I don't feel weird either, though... But I should definitely be feeling something! This thing is putting out energy waves far above gamma radiation."

"Gamma radiation?"

"It's the most powerful form of energy that science has uncovered. To put it simply... we should be dead right now. But we're not..." She placed her hand on the crystal. "What the hell is this thing? And that black stone I found in the Blackwood Forest... are they related in some way?"

"Perhaps we could find one of the monks and ask them?"

They decided to do that later and continued to have a look throughout the room. Their attention was drawn towards some scrolls that were hanging from the walls, which Andrea translated with her R-Kit; one appeared to be full of quotes about world peace and self improvement, while another likened taking care of a garden to cultivating the soul. Another detailed the proper way to practice the 'martial art of tiger's fury', with the one next to it describing the importance of meditation.

As they continued to explore the writings together, a monk entered the room, his head hung in silence. He noticed the two in the corner. "Ah! Visitors!" he said.

Kimberly turned around to greet him. "Hello, sir!"

The monk clasped his hands together with delight. "Ah, good, you speak English! That should make this easier."

"A surprising amount of people speak English in this land..." she said.

"Well, I'm not from around here, and judging by your accent, neither are you," he said as he approached and offered his hand out to them. "I am known as Brother Dent."

She shook his hand. "I am Kimberly, and this is my friend, Andrea."

Andrea shook his hand next. "Nice to meet you."

Brother Dent wandered across the room and grabbed a broom, then started to sweep away at the floor. "So, what brings you two to the monastery today? Are you here on a pilgrimage?"

"We're trying to get home, but the monastery was along the way. I didn't want to come at first, but I'm glad I did." Andrea answered.

"Oh?"

"I was in a pretty bad mood this morning, but now... I don't know how to explain it, but it's like all of that washed away when we came here."

"I am not surprised, most of the people who visit say the same. Here at the monastery, we teach that inner peace is a gift from the Grand Spirits, specifically the Grand Spirit of Serenity, Shenzin, which the monastery is named after." Brother Dent said as he continued sweeping. "Most people don't believe it, but I've been here long enough to see that it's very true."

"What is Shenzin? Is it this giant crystal?" she asked.

"No, the crystal is something else. Shenzin is the embodiment of inner peace, a core aspect of life. You may have noticed the tiger motifs around the monastery and in the surrounding wilds, that all relates to Shenzin."

"What about this crystal, then?" Andrea asked, placing her hand on it again.

Brother Dent walked over to the crystal, sweeping at the floor along the way. "That crystal is rumored to be the remains of an ancient god that the people of this land used to worship. Ancient legends tell of a battle waged by the stars themselves. I can't say if that's accurate or not, but when the Shenzin Order was originally founded nearly five thousand years ago, the monks chose to build the monastery around this crystal, and I'm sure they had their reasons. They called it the Shard of Valakasa, named for their god."

"Why does this thing give off such weird energy?"

He shrugged. "If I knew, I would be happy to tell you. But I'm little more than a humble monk, I'm not a physicist or anything." He paused for a moment and watched them inspect the crystal again. "Say, would you two like to take part in our Mistweaving ritual? It seems like you two are interested in this kind of stuff, and it's about to begin shortly."

"Mistweaving?" Kimberly asked, clearly curious.

"You've come to this monastery and you haven't heard about Mistweaving? Perhaps we need to increase our efforts at getting the word out... Well, it's a ritual of healing, both of the body and of the mind. Pilgrims come to us from all across the world in hopes that we can relieve them of their troubles."

"I'd love to!" she said, then looked at Andrea. "What do you say?"

"Hmm... I don't know..."

"Today's ritual will be a special one. A blind man has come all the way from Shinikara to seek our help." Brother Dent said.

Andrea wasn't sure if she heard correctly. "Come again? A blind person?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"And he expects you to be able to heal him? Now this I've gotta see..."

"I can almost feel your skepticism! Perhaps today we will make a believer out of you." he said with a laugh. He began to sweep the floor even more vigorously. "It should start soon. I have to get this finished!"

"Where should we go to take part in this?" Kimberly asked.

"Will we even be allowed to? This sounds like something that should be kept low key, ya know? I wouldn't want random strangers showing up to something so important." Andrea added.

Brother Dent nodded. "We do have guests from time to time, especially for our more... 'difficult' requests. As for where, the ritual takes place here in the glow of the Shard of Valakasa."

Andrea pulled Kimberly to the opposite side of the room to voice her doubt. "Healing a blind man, huh? This should be interesting."

"It is a little hard to believe, isn't it..."

"Well, if these monks are supposedly able to do what they're claiming... You think they can heal a broken heart, too?" she joked.

"Don't be rude now, we've yet to see what this is all about!"

"I wasn't trying to be mean about it, but maybe that did come across as a little insensitive... Sorry."

Kimberly jokingly gasped. "Two apologies in one day? What's gotten into you?"

The door to the spiral stairs swung open and three monks entered the room, their heads hung in silence. One was carrying an incense burner attached to a thick metal chain, while the other two carried small crystal globes with them. Behind them, the door opened again and in walked an elderly man, guided by a young woman about the same age as Kimberly. She slowly walked across the room with her arm wrapped around his shoulder, offering him words of encouragement in her native language.

Brother Dent approached the three monks. "Brother Mohar, we will be having guests join us for this ritual." he said as he pointed at Andrea and Kimberly.

"Ah, guests. Very good." Brother Mohar said. "Will you direct them as to what to do? Brothers Darbhan, Dalhi and I must make a few final preparations before the ritual begins."

Brother Dent bowed graciously. "Yes, will do." He motioned for Andrea and Kimberly to come over. "Brother Mohar will be leading the ritual today, and he has agreed to let you two take part in this ritual."

"What do we have to do?" Kimberly asked.

"If you think you might screw something up, don't even worry about it. Participation is minimal. This ritual asks a lot from us monks, but not much from onlookers."

Brother Mohar placed the incense burner in front of the large crystal and bowed his head to offer a quick and quiet prayer in his native Sakalan language. The other two monks who had joined him did likewise as they rested the crystal globes beside the incense burner.

Brother Mohar spoke with a heavy accent. "Before we begin, I would like to bring attention to the fact that we will be having guests take part in the ritual today. Brother Dent has informed me that they have come from afar and displayed an interest in what we do here." he turned to Andrea and Kimberly and bowed with respect. "Would you like to talk a little about yourselves so that our pilgrim may get to know those who wish to help him?"

Kimberly nodded and sheepishly started. "My name is Kimberly Fairbrooke, and I am from Visalia, in Kanto. I did not come to this country by choice, but I have decided to use my being here as a rare opportunity to explore new cultures and ideas, perhaps even find myself, my purpose in life."

He turned to Andrea. "And you?"

"Umm. I'm Andrea, and I'm from Storm Island. That's about all I have to say."

Kimberly placed her hand on Andrea's shoulder. "She can be a quiet type sometimes!"

"That is no issue! Brevity can be just as important as florid detail." one of the monks added.

Brother Mohar took a seat in the center of the room, with his back to the large crystal. He assumed the half-lotus meditative position and closed his eyes. "Brothers and sisters, today we gather before the Shard of Valakasa to help our fellow man. A pilgrim has undergone a risky journey to join us today, in the hopes that we may cure him of the blindness that has stricken him. It seems an enormous and impossible task, but through the awe inspiring power of the Grand Spirit of Purity, and through the power of his faithful servant, the Grand Spirit of Serenity, all is achievable. Please, brothers and sisters, join me in meditation."

The three monks sat beside him and took up the same position. The elderly man and his grand daughter took their seats next, sitting across from the monks. She directed him on the proper meditative posture to take, then did so herself. Andrea and Kimberly joined in shortly after. The two tried to join the rest of the gathering in meditation, but were a little unsure of how to properly go about it; neither had meditated in their lives, and their makeshift attempts at clearing their thoughts were interrupted as Brother Mohar moved on with the ritual.

"And now we begin the tradition of purity... Through purity, we expunge the evil within ourselves, the darkness from within our hearts, and the guilt from our minds." He opened his eyes and raised his head. "Brother Dalhi, we begin with you. Confess your misdeeds and shed the shawl of corruption, so that you may purify yourself for our coming ritual."

Without opening his eyes or breaking from his meditation, Brother Dalhi spoke. "I have taken strides to act with purity, but no man is perfect. During this past Festival of Lights, I partook of too much wine. In doing so, I made a fool of myself... and more importantly, I broke a vow that I had made in the presence of others."

"Admission is absolution. Brother Darbhan?"

Brother Darbhan spoke softly. "When I was a child, I found a woman bathing by the river. When she wasn't looking, I stole her clothing and she was forced to return home indecent." There was a collective, soft chuckle from the monks participating in the ritual. "It has been half a century, and I wish that I could take it back, but what's done is done."

"Admission is absolution. Brother Dent?"

Brother Dent took a deep breath, as if he was preparing for a great deal of judgement from his fellow monks. "I continue to lie to my family... about where I've gone, what I've been doing with my life. They would not understand the work I do here, but that is no justification for speaking falsehoods."

"Admission is absolution. I understand the pressures your family may be putting on you. While it may be difficult to speak to them about the life you have chosen, they must know. Be true to others, or you may never be true with yourself. Self truth is the mother of purity." Brother Mohar said, nodding. He closed his eyes and lowered his head again. "Myself... I did not keep stock on our reagents. Through my laziness, my fellow brothers of the monastery could not properly perform the tradition of cleansing last week."

Brothers Dalhi, Darbhan and Dent spoke in unison, "Admission is absolution."

Brother Mohar opened his eyes and fixed his gaze on Andrea and Kimberly. "Would our guests from afar like to join? It is by no means required, but spiritual purity is never a bad thing."

The two looked at each other bashfully, wondering if they should. It seemed easy enough; confess for a crime or misdeed, and be absolved of responsibility. However, they both worried that they didn't properly understand the ritual and would insult the monks, ruin the ritual or make some other mistake.

Andrea wanted to try anyways. "Oh, hmm..." she started, then realized she had a long list of things to confess for spanning her entire lifetime. "We would be here all day..."

"Just one confession is all that purity asks of."

"Well..." she said as she searched her mind for something that wouldn't be too embarrassing. "I've never been close to my mom, but I've always tried to keep our disagreements somewhat civil... A few months ago, I lost it when I was arguing with her. I called her every name in the book." She looked down with a hint of sadness and remorse on her face. "I owe her an apology when I get home... For everything I've ever done."

"Admission is absolution," Brother Mohar said. "Good relations with parents are the foundation of a good man. Without that, one can never hope to be good to others." He turned to Kimberly to ask her next. "And you, young one?"

"Have you even done anything wrong in your life?" Andrea joked.

"My fair share, yes," Kimberly answered. "The only thing I feel comfortable talking about today is the time I lied to my parents about being in a relationship with someone so that they would stop trying to arrange one for me, I suppose?"

"Admission is absolution," Brother Mohar repeated. "And now, the devotee's granddaughter. Do you have anything you wish to confess?"

The young woman bowed her head forward. "I have committed acts of violence against those who did not deserve it. I was blinded by the idea that I was defending the innocent, but I was not."

"Admission is absolution," Brother Mohar said once more. "Finally we come to the devotee. Only through purity can the healing process begin. Speak, and confess your sins."

The elderly man struggled to find his way to his feet and reached out for his granddaughter's support. She took his hand and led him across the room, towards the bright, shining crystal. He placed his other hand on the crystal and began to speak, "I... have done many terrible things in my life. I have lied. I have cheated. I have had relations with a married woman. I have gambled with the fortunes of others. I have been violent, and encouraged others to be as well. I have shunned the sacred tenets of life in favor of pleasure. Wisdom. Kindness. Serenity. I stand here in the presence of the Bright Star and his many servants, and I offer my penance."

"Admission. Absolution." all four of the monks said in unison.

As the elderly man and his granddaughter returned to their places, Brother Mohar moved forward with the ritual. "As we invoke the healing powers of the Mist, I ask that all present join me in meditation. Those unfamiliar may follow my lead; cross your legs, straighten your back, stretch your shoulders back, interlock your fingers and rest your hands in your lap. Hold your head high, close your eyes, filter out the sounds around you..."

Each member of the group did as they were told. Andrea tried her best to let go of her thoughts, but it was a difficult concept to grasp. She was always thinking and piecing together ideas, even during periods of rest and relaxation her entire life. To change that felt unnatural to her.

After nearly ten minutes of clearing their thoughts, Brother Mohar spoke up and led the group with a prayer. "Grand Spirit of Serenity, a devotee has travelled a long distance to visit us to receive your healing power, from the far away land of Shinikara. Stricken with blindness, he has risked life and limb to join us, and upon arrival, confessed past crimes. We humbly ask for your aid, White Tiger, so that we may help this man, and in turn, help others through him."

More time passed by as they continued to focus on the ritual. Brother Mohar offered another prayer. "Grand Spirit of Purity, we beseech your blessing, your unending and inspiring power. Through you and within you, purity of the body, mind and spirit can be achieved. Another sick pilgrim has turned to your guidance, and we have gathered around him in solidarity. Will you bless this child of yours and restore his health?"

Moments after his prayer was finished, Andrea began to hear a peculiar sound, a sound she had heard many times during her travels in East Sakala: the gentle song of wind chimes dancing in the breeze. Her eyes snapped open and she looked around, careful not to break the concentration of those around her. As she looked around for the source of the angelic sound, she remembered that she was in an enclosed room and that there was no wind. Even more, she couldn't find a source for the sound. As abruptly as the sound began, it ceased nearly a minute later.

Brother Mohar rested his elbows on his knees and extended his hands outward. Small puffs of icy blue mist began to coalesce within his cupped palms, growing in size until his hands were completely enveloped. The mist began to rise off of his hands and slowly swirl around the room.

Andrea was shocked by what she saw. She had just gotten accustomed to the idea of Pokémon conjuring elemental forces such as fire and water from thin air, but to see a human capable of it was beyond her imagination. She reached over and tapped on Kimberly's shoulder.

Kimberly opened her eyes in silence and saw the mist beginning to form in the hands of the other monks. Her eyes widened with disbelief as the mist began to billow around her. She too was shocked to see that humans were capable of calling on primal powers in a manner similar to Pokémon.

As the mist slowly began to wrap around them, the two felt the soreness and exhaustion from the previous day's grueling mountain climb begin to subside. The pain in their legs went away, their lungs began to soothe and their minds began to feel refreshed.

The four monks began a strange dance of martial arts stances and vivid somatic gestures. The mist that had formed a dense cloud throughout the room began to condense into steady streams that wrapped around the monks like ribbons hanging from a festive holiday tree. The mist followed every movement of their hands. Without words, each monk outstretched his left arm towards the elderly man, redirecting the mist towards him. The mist covered the man from top to bottom, clinging to his skin and clothing as it slowly began to thin, until eventually none was left.

"Open your eyes, devotee, and gaze upon the world!" Brother Mohar commanded.

The elderly man slowly opened his eyes. They quickly widened; for the first time in over thirty years, he could see! With the incredible gift he had received, his first reaction was to look at the granddaughter he had never seen. He gasped as he marveled at her beauty, reminded of when his wife was her age. "Shantiang... You're... you're beautiful!" He grabbed ahold of her and hugged her dearly as tears began to stream from his eyes. "You're beautiful! This monastery is beautiful... it's all... so beautiful..."

"By the gods, it worked..." she said. "How does it feel, grandpa?"

"Words can't even begin begin to tell..." He took a second to look over his granddaughter one more time, then pulled her back in for a hug. "If only I could lay eyes on your grandmother one more time..."

"You have our thanks, monks. We'll never be able to repay this debt."

Brother Mohar shook his head. "No! There is no debt! One can not put a price on divine healing."

The old man let his granddaughter go and approached the four monks and bowed graciously. "Regardless, you have given me a gift that I have only dreamt of for so long. You have my eternal gratitude." He motioned for his granddaughter to follow as he rushed for the doorway. "Come along, Shantiang! Let's see if the garden is as beautiful as you described..."

As the room began to slowly empty, Andrea asked, "Wow... did that really just happen?" She was shocked by what she had witnessed. "Is this real? A man's sight restored by... what was that, magic?"

"I can barely believe it, as well," Kimberly added. "I must know more about this..."

Brother Dent approached the two. "So, what did you think? It's quite something, huh?"

"You're telling me!" Andrea said, still having a hard time believing what she saw. "It doesn't make sense. At all. I mean, how does it work? How can man harness, control and redirect energy with his hands and mind? And how can he tell that harnessed energy to just fix a man's blindness? That's a delicate medical procedure! And... I just don't see how it's possible!"

Brother Dent chuckled. "Are you a physicist, by any chance?"

"No, but I did study it while working on my mechanical engineering degree."

"To answer your question, it is not man who performs these miracles of wonder. The Grand Spirit of Purity, Valakasa, he is the one who does that. We merely bring such situations to his attention so that he may act accordingly."

She shook her head as she tried to accept it. "I guess I have seen stranger things..."

"I understand, it can be difficult to believe for the uninitiated, especially those that are scientifically minded. When I first witnessed the power of the Mistweavers, I was just as skeptical." he said, then bowed with grace. "Thank you for taking part in the ritual, by the way. It means a lot to my fellow brothers of the monastery that outsiders such as us show an interest in their beliefs."

"Of course!" she happily said.

"You're welcome, Brother Dent. It was an eye opening experience." Kimberly added.

"It was, literally!" he said as he clasped his hands together. "Now, I'll leave you two to ponder what you saw today. The art of Mistweaving is physically draining, and I feel like I'm about to fall over. So if you'll excuse me... Enjoy the rest of your stay at the monastery!"
 
I was going to review this earlier, but since I ended up emergency judging it for the Awards, it's ended up waiting till now.

Storm Island is a story of two halves, really. You already know by thoughts and criticisms on Season One, so I'm not going to just repeat them. Looking at the plot for Season Two, it is much improved. I think the main reason for that is that there's a central thread running through all the arcs: "Get home to Storm Island". This gives it the direction that Season One didn't have, and together with Andrea finally starting to be more proactive, lessens the feeling that she's just pinballing around from arc-to-arc.

Season Two has kind of become a more obvious slice-of-life, which I know all to well brings its own challenges. If you haven't got a plot which is angsty, epic or dark, you really have to sell the characters and the world to bring the readers into the story (This doesn't apply to all writing, obviously, but it's a reasonable generalisation in context). As far as the setting is concerned, well, reading Season Two reminded me of why I started reading this story in the first place. A few things I picked up on that I liked:

Usage of the sense of smell in the marketplace. Arbok coloured like a Naga naga. Shenzin goes all Chinese (And is Shinikaran cobbled together Mandarin Chinese?)

Oh, and I was so sold on Serenikitten. So I'm really enjoying seeing what you come up with in Sakala.

Moving on to characters, well, as I mentioned above it's nice to see Andrea being more proactive. The plot is still something that happens to her, but it doesn't feel frustrating now that she's starting to make decisions for herself and apply what she does know to the situation. Case in point: making impromptu medicine in the jungle. I don't think she's quite there yet. The phone call home, for example, needed more bite to it, from Andrea and her father. I mean, ok, maybe they're not used to being emotionally open, but he did think she was dead. I found it strange that he didn't immediately go and wake his wife up. From their point of view it might as well be a miracle, and from Andrea's she certainly had no reason to expect that the phone call would ever happen.

Kim is a good addition to the story. She's a good supporting character, actually, partly because her presence smooths out the more annoying aspects of Andrea. It's nice to see Kim as reasonably competent in her choice of, well, job. I like her sweet temper (Not so sweet as to be cloying), and her ability to appreciate the romance of life. Her story is pitched about right - definitely a supporting character, but I do get the feeling that she is her own character and not merely a glorified piece of equipment for the protagonist.

The rebellious socialite idea is a bit on the clichéd side. In a medieval story she'd be a rebellious princess. As it stands it's not something to become annoyed about, but something to be mindful of going forward.

And that's about all I can think of in one sitting. I may well be back at a later date if I remember something else that I intended to mention
 
Storm Island is a story of two halves, really. You already know by thoughts and criticisms on Season One, so I'm not going to just repeat them. Looking at the plot for Season Two, it is much improved. I think the main reason for that is that there's a central thread running through all the arcs: "Get home to Storm Island". This gives it the direction that Season One didn't have
Hopefully I've learned that lesson for Season 3, when it comes around. It'll be back to being the professor's road warrior, but hopefully other motivations will crop up (and keep my attention)

And is Shinikaran cobbled together Mandarin Chinese?
More or less. I'm basically taking small phrases and running them through simplified Chinese in Google Translate, using the romanized version and then removing the accenting. My attempts at creating my own language for the Sakalans was more difficult than it was worth.

Oh, and I was so sold on Serenikitten. So I'm really enjoying seeing what you come up with in Sakala.
Good! I feel like I'm starting to run out of ideas for Fakemon already, I was certain people wouldn't buy into Serenikitten.

The phone call home, for example, needed more bite to it, from Andrea and her father. I mean, ok, maybe they're not used to being emotionally open, but he did think she was dead. I found it strange that he didn't immediately go and wake his wife up. From their point of view it might as well be a miracle, and from Andrea's she certainly had no reason to expect that the phone call would ever happen.
That's a problem that will continue to persist I think. I don't know how to do emotion. I have very little experience (other than being friendzoned hundreds of times like with what happened in Chapter 28) to draw on. Maybe it could be the subject of a future academy?

As for Meredith not being immediately alerted, Marvin was busy on his patrol and was away from home. He asked Andrea to call again that night, but she decided not to (mostly because she's still kind of at odds with her mother, despite everything). Maybe that was a narrative mistake, but I kind of wanted to move on. I'm thinking of having Andrea call the professor again when she reaches another town, perhaps I can have her call home again, too. Especially now that she wants to apologize to her mother for some stuff.

Kim is a good addition to the story. She's a good supporting character, actually, partly because her presence smooths out the more annoying aspects of Andrea.
More annoying aspects? Are those writing flaws or just parts of her character you're referring to? If it's writing flaws, examples are welcome.

It's nice to see Kim as reasonably competent in her choice of, well, job. I like her sweet temper (Not so sweet as to be cloying), and her ability to appreciate the romance of life. Her story is pitched about right - definitely a supporting character, but I do get the feeling that she is her own character and not merely a glorified piece of equipment for the protagonist.
I originally pitched her as merely a supporting character, and one who I'd planned on dismissing after awhile, but she's definitely evolving into a main character of her own. Some of the upcoming arcs are planned to center around her more than Andrea, because she's definitely grown on me.

The rebellious socialite idea is a bit on the clichéd side. In a medieval story she'd be a rebellious princess. As it stands it's not something to become annoyed about, but something to be mindful of going forward.
Eh, cliché smiché :p I just want an opportunity to write such a character, and now is as good a time as ever. But I am trying to step away from being rebellious for the sake of it. She didn't believe she had it in her to do either of what her parents wanted. If she did, she'd probably be doing one of those. On a similar note, she's still trying to maintain that air of sophistication while exploring what she wants out of life, rather than spiraling into being a smartmouth punk ass. I feel like that drives a few wedges between Kimberly and the standard rebellious heir.
 
This does actually remind me of a few things I forgot. First up, the links for the last couple of chapters are broken - they lead to the wrong chapters. With that out of the way ...

That's a problem that will continue to persist I think. I don't know how to do emotion. I have very little experience (other than being friendzoned hundreds of times like with what happened in Chapter 28) to draw on. Maybe it could be the subject of a future academy?

I think that's the kind of problem that can be solved by reading with a mind to partly study what you read. diamondpearl876 is pretty good at this sort of thing in Survival Project if you want a fanfiction example.

More annoying aspects? Are those writing flaws or just parts of her character you're referring to? If it's writing flaws, examples are welcome.

The parts of her character. I actually hope you hold on to Kimberly. I know, I know, art is not a democracy and once you start writing to try and please your readers you won't manage it. But I find the interaction between Andrea and Kim the most believable so far. They play well off one another. How much you want to make her a supporting character vs the deuteragonist is up to you, since you know the plan
 
This is very late. In fairness, I reviewed the whole thing two months ago and don't have much more to say.

As I emphasized earlier, Kimberly is the first secondary character in this story who really works. Whether or not you continue with her in a central role or just note the things that made it work out in for future reference, I encourage you to keep noting that. Beyond that I am increasingly convinced that you could afford some more long term planning, or at least mid-term planning. The story takes a ton of unexpected turns, often anti-climactically, and at some point when binge-reading it becomes a little annoying.

Other than that, the setting continues to be fantastic, you're finally getting a hang of character chemistry, and you totally deserved the awards this story got.
 
Beyond that I am increasingly convinced that you could afford some more long term planning, or at least mid-term planning. The story takes a ton of unexpected turns, often anti-climactically, and at some point when binge-reading it becomes a little annoying.
There's always been a bit of a long term plan in store, the reason I had Andrea and Kimberly head north rather than east was to extend the time they'd be in Sakala. It felt too short to have such a disaster end in a 10 chapter mini-season. Perhaps my mantra of 'never go back and rewrite, keep moving forward' could have been ignored here, as yes, Roger's advice to avoid going to Tradewind was completely out of left field. I should have just wrote them going north the entire time.

From here on out, it's unlikely for the story to take unexpected turns, as nearly every aspect of the next three seasons are planned out. The only grey areas are the small lead up to Crestfall (the next major city once returning to Storm Island), and a bit before Ambervale near the end of season 4.

Of course, ideas could change and we might see another twist. Who knows.
 
chapter 46
Storm Island
Chapter 46: An Ancient Art

The full moon hung high in the air, brightly illuminating the gardens of the Shenzin Monastery. Despite it being relatively late in the night, the gardens were still busy; several monks were practicing a particularly fluid style of martial arts, while more were gathered under the trees for meditation. Kimberly was wandering through the gardens alone, taking in the scenery around her.

She wasn't just wandering idly, however; she had a purpose. She was searching the gardens for Brother Dent in the hopes that she could ask him a few questions about what she had seen earlier that day. She was so fascinated by what she saw that she needed to know more. Her search was over fairly quickly, as she found him meditating in front of a well known as the Well of Spring and Summer.

She timidly approached with the hope that she wasn't interrupting important meditation. "Excuse me, Brother Dent?"

Brother Dent's posture loosened and his eyes opened. "Ah! Hello! You are Andrea, correct?"

"No, Kimberly," she said.

"Ah..." he said, then pointed at his head. "You'll have to excuse me, my mind can be a bit fuzzy after a long day. How can I help you?"

"I was curious about some things..."

"Oh? About what?"

"Mistweaving, for a start."

"Ahhh... Yes..." He motioned for Kimberly to sit in front of him. "What would you like to know?"

"I want to know more about... about everything, really! How does it work? Can anyone do that? What is the source of this miraculous power? I have so many questions!"

Brother Dent resumed his meditative posture and closed his eyes. "I'm afraid there are no easy answers. The Mist is shrouded in... mistery..." He paused for a second and opened his eyes to gauge her reaction. "Get it? No? Moving on then... We here at the Shenzin Monastery don't understand the nuances of how it works. All we know is that it does."

"I suppose it's magic, then?" she asked.

He closed his eyes again. "I guess it is, isn't it? Anything we don't understand could be called magic. Take electricity for example." He paused. "Actually, no... I learned about electricity when I was in school, back in Thousand Pines... My point is, what my brothers and I understand about the Mist is rather limited. All we know is that our power is granted by our connection to the White Tiger and the Spirit of Purity, and this is only achieved through years of study, training and spiritual cleansing."

She was disheartened by what she heard. "So not just anyone can use this miraculous power?"

"That's a question I don't have an answer for. There are so few of us who practice the art that we can't say it's limited to just us. Could anyone do it? Maybe. But I don't think many people are willing to put in the effort and time to reach the level of dedication that my brothers and I have." He opened his eyes again and studied her. "You were interested, weren't you?"

"After seeing what I saw, absolutely!" she said with excitement. "I'm just afraid I might not have what it takes."

"I understand that fear. I didn't think I could do it either. For man, it takes so much..."

She perked up. "For man? What do you mean, do women have it easier?"

"What? Oh! No! That's not what I meant!" he said with a laugh. "I haven't seen it much, but my fellow brothers tell me that certain Pokémon are capable of mastering the art of the Mist much easier than us humans. It'd make sense, wouldn't it? They can already do crazy things like breath fire, shoot lightning and use psychic abilities."

"What kinds of Pokémon, if you know?"

"Have you seen the Serenikitten that wanders the mountain pass, by any chance? That one seems to have an almost unnatural ability with the Mist. I can see why, considering his close relations with the White Tiger." he said, then began to think deeply. "As for what I've seen... One of the local farmers owns a Psyduck, and I've seen it use the Mist before. Same goes for the Politoed of the White Spring, near the summit of one of these mountains. My brothers have mentioned Xingli, a Slowking that used to live here at the monastery before I arrived. He was a Mistweaver as well."

"Psyduck... Politoed..." she muttered as she tried to piece together a connection between the Pokémon he mentioned. "Besides Serenikitten, those are all closely associated with water, correct?"

"Yup, that's right!" he said. "You're a smart one."

"I have something that's fits that description!" she said with joy as she reached into her purse. She retrieved Juliano's Master Ball and tossed it up into the air. The Master Ball exploded with a lavish display of soothing rain and Juliano dropped to the ground. "This is my Blastoise, Juliano."

"Ah, Blastoise! I have heard about them, but I've never seen one before!" Brother Dent stood up and studied Juliano closely. Juliano twitched lightly as he touched the cannons extending out of his shell. "If you want an affinity with water, I don't think there is a better choice than Blastoise."

She waited for him to say something more, but he was too busy looking Juliano over to continue speaking. She broke the silence with a question, "This may be a bit much to ask, but would it be possible to arrange some sort of... I don't know, a test of some sort? To see if Juliano or I might have the potential?"

Brother Dent broke away from his inspection. "I could possibly set that up... But please, understand this, it took me years of dedication and work. Don't expect instant results. Even if my brothers and I did study you as a person of purity, a week, let alone a single day, wouldn't be enough to see if you're capable." he warned. "Your Blastoise on the other hand... he may be capable of it, but again, it may be difficult to see in just one day."

"This could be the only time in my life that I find myself in this part of the world, I simply must try!"

"Very well. I'll speak with Brother Mohar, my mentor in the art of Mistweaving. Meet me here tomorrow morning at this spot, I'll have his decision ready for you." he said.

"What should I do to prepare? Should I bring anything?" she asked.

He scratched his chin in thought as he attempted to remember his initial training. "It wouldn't hurt to meditate. Like spiritual purity, mental clarity is key to becoming a Mistweaver. As far as what to bring goes, bring a good mood, and bring the faith that you can succeed."

"Thank you, sir!" she said. She stretched her arms out wide and fell onto Juliano, hugging him tightly. "Isn't this exciting, Juliano? It's been awhile since we've learned something new!"

Juliano picked her up and spun around. Despite his hardened and usually-gruff facial expression, his enthusiasm was on full display.

Brother Dent closed his eyes and resumed his meditation. "You've got a lot to prepare for, I suggest getting a good night's sleep. In the meanwhile, I've got a lot to prepare for as well..." He placed his thumbs and his index fingers together and began to hum loudly. In just a few seconds, he entered a trance and completely zoned out.

She leaned in closer to Juliano and whispered, "I think that means, 'stop bugging me'." She took his scaly hand and led him away. "This is so exciting, isn't it Juliano?" she said, bubbling with joy and anticipation. "Just think of the things we could accomplish if one of us learned how to do this Mistweaving stuff!"

He held his head high as he imagined it.

"This is going to be so great, I can't wait for tomorr-- oh... Oh no..."

He looked at her with curiosity.

She shook her head in despair as she took the time to think it over. "Andrea is going to throw a fit, I just know it! She wants to get home as quick as possible, she'll never agree to this!"

He placed his stubby hand on her shoulder as if to reassure her.

"Maybe you're right. We won't know unless we talk to her..."


- - - - -​

Meanwhile, at the inn situated outside of the monastery's stone walls, Andrea was busy with her research. Her Garna, Dilithium, was gently hovering near a table in the courtyard, pulsing with a dim, green light. Furball was behind it, patiently awaiting his next order, while Andrea was seated at the table as she took notes on her R-Kit.

"Okay, so this thing has a sense of touch... Somehow..." she muttered and shook her head. "God, I wish I paid attention in my biology classes..." She looked up and studied the Garna closely. "I want to try something else, Furball. Make as much noise as you can, let's see if it reacts."

Furball let out a loud, high pitched squealing noise as he flailed about behind Dilithium. Every attempt he made to capture the gemstone's attention ended in failure; no matter what he did, Dilithium didn't seem to react and continued to hover in silence.

"Hmm... Circle around it and head off in one direction. Be as flashy as you can!"

Furball did as he was asked and approached Dilithium from behind. As soon as he circled towards the other side, Dilithium's attention snapped almost instantly, and the gemstone core rotated as if it were now studying his movements. He ran to the left and to the right and jumped through the air, with each movement of his tracked carefully.

"Let's see... sense of hearing... none. Sense of sight... Maybe, but how... from where..?" Andrea muttered to herself as she entered her findings into her R-Kit. "This thing doesn't have eyes, but it can see... I think? I don't get it..." She looked up and noticed that Kimberly and Juliano were approaching and waved to them.

Kimberly waved back. "Hello! Am I interrupting something?" Kimberly asked.

She shook her head. "No, I was just finishing up. I'm doing a bit of research."

"Research? About what?"

She held out Dilithium's Love Ball and recalled it, then studied the ball closely. "I'm trying to figure out what the hell this thing is. I haven't found out much yet, but at least I'm actually doing something productive this time."

"What do you mean?"

"When Professor Ansen first hired me, she wanted me to study Furball and see if there was anything strange about him. That was over a month ago, and I've yet to even start... I get the feeling that she's starting to become a little impatient with me. It's a wonder she hasn't fired me yet! But I'm not going to make the same mistake with Dilithium here. I'm going to figure out what this thing is, and hopefully it won't take me nearly as long."

"If you need any help, I'll do what I can!"

"I get the feeling I'll need a little help. I'll let you know when I get closer to testing a few of my theories." She took a seat on the table and began to dig through the encyclopedia on her R-Kit for an interesting topic to read about. "So, how was your walk in the garden? Enjoy it?"

"I did! There are so many beautiful sights to see around here!" she said, her eyes glittering as she remembered what she saw. "The koi pond, the Spring and Summer Well, the banquet garden... You really did miss out, friend!" Her discussion with Brother Dent came to mind next. "Oh, but, umm... Oh sugar..."

"What is it?"

"Promise you won't be mad?"

Andrea's head tilted with curiosity. "Oh god, what did you do?"

Kimberly hesitated to speak. "I might have spoken to one of the monks about learning more about Mistweaving tomorrow." She cringed slightly as she awaited the angry outburst she knew Andrea so well for.

However, Andrea didn't explode with rage. "Oh, is that it? That's fine!"

"Really?"

"Yeah, why not? I like it here! I'm so relaxed... Maybe there is something to all of this spiritual hocus pocus... What was this monastery dedicated to? A white tiger? Serenity?"

Kimberly nodded.

"Well, I'm certainly feeling serenity, definitely. So yeah, we'll stay here another day if you want. Especially if you're as interested in this Mistweaver stuff as you say you are."

Kimberly couldn't help but grapple her into a friendly bear hug. "That makes me so happy! I was so worried you'd flip out and tell me I was wasting too much time!"

"That does sound like me, doesn't it?" she asked, then pried herself out of Kimberly's vice-like grip. "Look, we're in this together. If you want to take a detour or two, that's fine. I'm sure I'll want to do the same eventually."

"Good! It means so much to me that you're letting me do this." Kimberly said, then yawned. "Speaking of, I should get to bed. I want to be wide awake and ready for this."

"Sounds good."

"You coming?"

She looked up at the star lit sky above her. "I think I'll stay out here a bit."


- - - - -​

"He said to meet him here in the morning..." Kimberly said, tapping her foot as she waited. "What time is it?"

"Time for you to buy a watch..." Andrea joked. She raised her R-Kit to look at the time. "8:24 AM. Maybe it's just a little too early for him?"

"Maybe..."

Several minutes passed by as they waited patiently beside the Spring and Summer Well. Several monks approached with buckets in hand to take water from the well. When asked about where Brother Dent might be, those that spoke their language told them that he was often late with his appointments, though had been making recent strides to be more punctual.

Before long, Brother Dent appeared at the bridge leading to the well. His face lit up as he saw the two waiting for him. "Ah! Very eager! You got here before I did!"

"When an opportunity like this comes along, it's hard not to be eager!" Kimberly replied. "What did Brother Mohar say? Please let it be good news!"

"Brother Mohar has agreed to administer a test. This test will see if you, your friend or Juliano are indeed worthy in the eyes of the Grand Spirit of Purity, and are ready for further training. He has asked me to bring you to the cliffs, he has an idea of how to perform the test... and maybe do a bit of garden work, as well."

Andrea raised her eyebrow with suspicion. "Garden work?"

"You'll see. Come!"


- - - - -​

Their journey to the cliffs was a short one and took them behind the main pagoda. The view from the cliffs was nothing short of magical; stretching into the distance were the majestic stone spires the area was known for. A clear view of Letchworth revealed just how segregated the town was, with each of the five districts being clearly divided based on the colors of the roofs. Far in the distance was the skyline of Tradewind, complete with its antiquated harbor and accompanying sailing ships. Just looking at them filled Kimberly with regret that she wouldn't get to see them closer, but their decision to visit the Monastery instead was even more rewarding than looking at old, waterlogged wood.

Brother Mohar was seated under a sickly looking tree. He saw them approach and stood up to greet them. "Ah, the aspirants arrive! Are we ready to begin?"

Andrea interjected quickly. "Before we do anything, what's this about garden work?"

Brother Dent wandered over to the tree that Brother Mohar was under. He placed his hand on the trunk, which caused a piece of bark to splinter off and fall to the ground. "This dying tree will assist us. If either of you are capable of Mistweaving, this tree will be the first test of your powers."

"Oh, okay. I was worried you'd have us slaving away in the garden. I don't think we have the time for that."

The two monks walked over. "Yes. Brother Dent has informed me that you two are on a tight schedule. We should begin immediately."

Kimberly reached into her purse and grabbed Juliano's Master Ball. With a toss in the air and a glitzy display of radiant bubbles, Juliano appeared.

"Ah, yes! The Blastoise, what a treat! I haven't seen one of these since I was a child." Brother Mohar marvelled. "Your Blastoise's close affinity with the waters of life will be beneficial. I do not have any answers why, but those acquainted with the sea are blessed with a natural connection to the Mist." Brother Mohar turned to Andrea and asked, "Will you be joining your friend and her Blastoise?"

Andrea shook her head at the offer. "No. I definitely don't have what it takes, I'll sit this one out."

Brother Dent leaned in and spoke softly. "She is the skeptical one."

"Ah. Very well. You are free to believe or disbelieve what you want. Are you ready to begin, Kimberly?"

"Yes, I am," she said.

"And you, Juliano?"

Juliano nodded.

"The most important part of this trial is learning the basics. Without the basics, there can be no measurement of readiness. I had my eyes closed for the ritual we took part in yesterday, so please, demonstrate the meditative posture you took then."

Kimberly assumed the same position she had taken for the ritual the day before; crossed legs, straightened back, shoulders apart, head high, and with her fingers interlocked, resting in her lap. Juliano hopped into the air and put his stubby legs out, shaking the ground as he 'sat down'. He followed Kimberly's guidance and did his best to assume the same meditative position, but found it difficult due to his shell, shorter arms and stubby legs. Regardless, he did his best.

Brother Mohar circled around the two as he inspected them closely, making brief corrections to their posture as he did so. "Hmm. Yes. You have the correct posture. Improvements could be made, but the basis is there. Now, do you remember what is next?"

"Meditation," she stated.

"Mmm. You were paying attention. You may begin. Clear your thoughts."

She closed her eyes and began to empty her mind. Seconds of focusing turned to minutes of concentration. She tried as hard as she could, but she couldn't properly empty her mind. There was always a lingering thought, or a picture forming. She started to become frustrated by it.

"I can see it in your face, your muscle movements... You still have lingering doubts. Thoughts that you may not be able to do this. You lack the concentration required."

She ignored his comment and continued to try. Eventually, she began to realize that he was right; as much as she wanted to believe she could do it, she had never meditated before. It was new to her. "I... I... I can't do it." she bumbled. "I want to, but I can't focus."

"I would not expect the uninitiated to be able to achieve a state of Zen so readily."

She opened her eyes and hung her head in disappointment. "So is that it? Am I not capable?"

"Not today, unfortunately," he said, as he switched his attention to Juliano and studied intently. "Your Blastoise on the other hand... I can see a sense of purpose in his face. A willingness to learn. A primal mastery of the basics. Look at him. No twitching muscles, steady breathing, rock solid posture, perfect balance."

"Do you think he's ready?"

"We shall see. Let's move on to the next step."

"Confession, if I recall," she said. "How will that work? He can't speak like we can."

"Humans express themselves through speech. Pokémon express themselves through their actions and their thoughts." He knelt down in front of Juliano. "Juliano, I want you to think of a misdeed you have committed in the past. When you have done so, you may open your eyes."

Juliano scoured the depths of his mind. He had always been reasonably well behaved ever since he was newly hatched, which made it difficult to think of a misdeed. He tried to remember the times that he was punished, as punishment always had a reason behind it, then remembered the time that he stole a piece of fruit from Wiggles. He remembered the look of sadness on Wiggles' face, and the angry glare he received from Kimberly. He lowered his head slightly and opened his eyes.

"Admission is absolution, gentle creature," Brother Mohar said.

"What's next?" Kimberly asked.

"Conjuration of the Mists. He does not need to focus all of his energy into it; he merely needs to create it, first."

She knelt down and rested her hand on his shell. "You can do it, Juliano. I believe in you."

Juliano closed his eyes and began to clear his mind once again.

"I want you to focus on happy thoughts, friend," she said.

As Juliano resumed his meditation, happy memories began to flood his mind. He remembered the time that he and Kimberly first met, when she protected him from a rowdy Charmander. Next, he remembered when the two began to start training for coordination rather than competitive battling, and then went on to compete in their first contest. They didn't win that contest, but it was one of his fondest memories, as he enjoyed coordination far more than battling. More memories surfaced, including when he met and became friends with Patches, when they set sail for Storm Island, and finally when his efforts spent towards taking care of his sick master were rewarded when her health returned.

His cannons began to slowly recalibrate themselves without any effort on his behalf; A dim silver light began to illuminate the insides, followed shortly by a thin fog that began to coalesce in the center. The mist grew in size until it began to pour out of his cannons and fall to the ground around him. It was weak, but it was a start.

"There it is..." Brother Dent whispered.

"Interesting..." Brother Mohar added.

He ignored the commentary and continued to concentrate. More and more foggy mist billowed out of his cannons until eventually a small cloud had formed around the bottom half of his body. He was unsure of what to do next and opened his eyes, looking towards Kimberly for guidance.

She was unable to give that guidance. She tried her best to contain her excitement and asked, "What does he do next?"

"Next is the most important part, the application. He focuses his energy on the tree. If he is well trained in the art of battle, he should know how to do this. It may be difficult, though... Blastoise focuses mainly on attacks of a physical nature, correct? Mistweaving is more of a mental art."

She leaned in closer and spoke softly, "So they say that this is a mental thing... we can do this, Juliano. I want you to close your eyes and picture that tree. Visualize that tree being brought back to health. Maybe that will work?"

Juliano followed her directions. With his eyes closed, he imagined the tree in front of him, all sickly, brown and wilting. He visualized the tree being pelted with soft rain, which perked it up. Next, he envisioned the tree being wrapped up in a thin, soothing cloud; as the cloud cleared, the tree was no longer a sickly, brown sapling, but a vibrant, green tree, full of life.

As he continued to visualize the tree's health returning, a peculiar sound began to echo deep within his subconscious thoughts: wind chimes. It wasn't just him that heard it, either; everyone present could hear the angelic noise.

Juliano opened his eyes and the dim, silver light that illuminated his cannons began to glow brightly. The mist that lingered on the ground around him started to swirl in a counter-clockwise motion, then began to slowly rise around him like a serpent climbing a tree.

"Yes, good..." Brother Mohar commended. "We're making good progress. Now comes a part that is merely tradition for us monks... the gestures."

Despite not having taken part in the ritual the previous day, Juliano already had a fairly good idea of what Brother Mohar meant. With the mist billowing around him, he stood up and outstretched his arms. It was a slow and tedious process, but the mist eventually began to obey his thoughts and follow his hands. He raised his left arm and the mist quickly surged towards the tree. The mist dispersed as it made contact with the tree, eventually obscuring it from vision.

"Is it actually working?" Andrea asked as she watched in anticipation.

"We can only hope," Brother Dent said.

That hope soon became a reality; Just as the day before, the mist began to fizzle away, and with it, the tree slowly began to perk up. The sickly leaves shifted from brown to a vibrant green, the branches straightened with new strength and the withered flower buds began to open and bloom in vibrant colors. Little by little, every part of the tree was affected.

Kimberly rushed over to the tree to give it a closer look. She wanted to make sure it wasn't just a trick being played on her. Everything about the tree indicated that Juliano's attempt at using the power of the Mist was a moderate success: Most of the leaves were smooth and flexible, most of the flowers gave off a sweet smell and the branches were no longer losing their bark. "I think he did it!" she said with excitement. "This is unbelievable!"

Brother Mohar led everyone present over to the tree to inspect it. "Not unbelievable. Unusual, to say the least. It has been a long time since I've seen a Pokémon master the art of Mistweaving so readily." Satisfied with what he saw, he turned to Juliano, pressed his hands together and bowed graciously. "You have passed the Grand Spirit's test with finesse. He has seen within you a worthy wielder of the Mist, a noble spirit of peace, kindness and wisdom. Congratulations!"

"I knew you could do it," Kimberly added.

Brother Mohar turned to her. "As for you... While you did not pass the test today, there is always potential, even more so in your case. A Pokémon is nothing without its master. Only with the guidance of a caring and loving trainer can a Pokémon learn the tenets of life that the Grand Spirit looks for in a servant, and learn them well. Juliano's apparent mastery of these concepts gives me faith that you, too, are capable. It may only require patience, study, training and a little bit of luck... Or I could be totally wrong. I have no answers, only suggestions."

"I would love to stay and train, but I have a life to get on with..." she said, downtrodden. "Oh! That's a point, actually! I imagine Juliano will want to continue working on this. Is there anything I could do to help him with that?"

Brother Dent scratched his chin in thought. "That's a good question. All trainees in the art stay here to hone their skills, but that obviously won't work for you. We have a gift shop that sells literature about our training methods, across all of our disciplines. I don't know for certain, but maybe you'll find some answers in one of those books?"

"I'll have a look!" she said with excitement. "Thank you for everything! The progress Juliano made is more than I could have ever hoped for!"

"It was our honor," Brother Mohar said.

She turned to Andrea for input. "So what do you think? Should we get ready to leave? Or do you want to look around some more?"

"I think I'm ready to go. We shouldn't waste too much time." Andrea said. She turned to the monks to offer her gratitude. "Thanks for taking the time. I think she's going to be in a good mood all the way until we get back home. You've saved me a bit of trouble."

"Trouble? I'm always in a good mood!" she protested.

Brother Mohar let out a polite chuckle. "Safe travels, you two. May the Grand Spirits watch over you."

The two groups parted ways; the monks returned to their daily routines, while Andrea, Kimberly and Juliano headed for the exit.

"Let's find that gift shop, I want to find that book Brother Dent mentioned..."


- - - - -​

A bell rang as the door opened, and a short and gruff looking elderly man behind the counter stood up and bowed. "Welcome, customers! If you need help finding something, let me know."

"Yes, actually!" Kimberly said. "One of the monks told me that I could find a book here. He said it was about their training methods."

"Training methods? What kind? Pokémon? Martial Arts? Cooking? Herbalism? We have many books for training, all written by the monks."

Andrea perked up upon hearing the mention of herbalism. "'Herbalism'? Could I get a quick look at that?"

The elderly man turned around and inspected the bookshelf behind him. He found a green leatherbound book decorated with golden Hanzi symbols and offered it to Andrea. "A very fascinating book, that one. It's a complete catalogue of most of the plants, trees, bushes, berries, fruits and vegetables native to this land."

As Andrea flipped through the pages of the book she was given, Kimberly described the one she was after. "He mentioned that the book I wanted encompassed 'all disciplines' a monk of the Shenzin Monastery uses in his daily life."

"Hmm. I know the book he speaks of. We don't have many in stock." He turned around again and reached for the top shelf.

"It must be popular, then?"

"Quite the opposite! We haven't sold a copy in nearly seven years." He grabbed a large red book and dropped it onto the counter, causing it to shake.

She opened the book and found that it appeared to be completely written by hand, but in what she assumed was the Shinikaran language. The pages were lined with diagrams and beautiful, hand drawn illustrations. Much to her relief, the book was split into two sections, with the second half being written entirely in English. A quick inspection showed the types of training the monks did, from martial arts to mental perfection, cooking to cleaning and almost everything in between. "Yes, this is it, I believe. How much is it?"

"That will be sixteen golden coins."

She reeled at the price and debated the purchase with herself. "Sixteen! Oof... that's quite expensive for a book..." she muttered. "But look at how beautiful it is... And the knowledge inside..."

"Can one put a price on knowledge? Especially knowledge that one is evidently seeking..."

She dug through her purse to scrounge up the coins. "I hope there's a bank in Yulong-la..."

"There is."

"Fairer than the one in Letchworth?"

"I can only imagine. I have never been to Letchworth, but it has quite the reputation as a den of thieves."

"I can confirm that..." She placed the coins on the table. "Here are your coins."

Andrea spoke up. "How much for this one?"

The elderly man scooped the golden coins up. "That one is three silver coins."

"Now that's more reasonable!" Kimberly said. "Did you want to buy that one?"

She placed the book on the counter. "Yeah, this looks like it could be useful on our travels. Even if it's not, I bet my mom would love it."

"Oh yeah? That's nice of you!" she said. She dropped three silver coins into the elderly man's hand. "Thank you, sir."

"Thank you!" the elderly man said. "Will that be all?"

They both nodded.

"Farewell! Enjoy your books!"
 
This was a pretty interesting chapter if I do say so myself. Mistweaving in general seems like a very interesting power that I didn't expect to see, if anything because it's different from the type of supernatural powers you'd see introduced in Pokemon fics, that and the fact ti's one that is closer to water type Pokemon help it stand out, though I do wonder what it's applications besides healing are.

Also while I still wanna see the rest of Kim's flashback I liked the fact you decided to focus on Juliano's personality in this one, he hasn't seen as more than Kim's bodyguard since his first appearance so getting a bit more into his head was nice, I'm also curious about what kind of discoveries Andrea will find about her new Pokemon.

I also think your description during the mistweaving scene was a whole was pretty good and easy to see, especially with all the spiritual undertones it gives out.

That being said I think this chapter, and the last one, have been pretty slow overall, I mean it makes sense since Andrea and Kimberly are so far close to reaching the end of their journey in Sakala but I'm eager to see what'll happen next as soon as possible myself.
 
I finished my re-read of the first arc of the story, and I've finished the first chapter of the next, but I'm gonna stick to the first arc for this post.

I really, really like the story. The setting and the characters pop. I really like how you gave Andrea such a normal Pokémon... it really defies convention in a good way. The contrast between her and Larson also really helps define both characters. It's especially telling that Larson takes it upon himself to push Andrea into situations she wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole otherwise... as well as that he has to do so.

Like I said, the setting really pops. It's a fairly unique take on the Pokémon world, without feeling at all out of place or... different. It really feels like a part of the Pokémon world, without being a retread of previously-seen locales. I love the "Queen of the Sea" motif, and Kyogre works well in the role, even though I was more expecting Lugia. :p

I do think the prose was a bit rough and the dialogue a bit clunky, however. I realize it's been three years and doubtless you (and Caitlin) have improved, but it's the one thing holding the beginning of the story back.

I'll post again once I've finished the Blackwood arc.
 
Funny you mention the first chapters, I was contemplating rewriting them to fit in a few retcons as well as bring the quality up, but when I read them they didn't feel that out of place. The grammar has certainly changed a bit since then, but overall I feel like the quality is acceptable. I might have a second look at it.

As far as Kyogre being "queen of the sea", I remember Caitlin basing it off of some sort of mythology, where a whale was seen as the king of the sea. I'd have to check with her which one that is. Besides, I think it fits a bit better considering the Kyogre-Groudon dynamic that was established. Lugia's counterpart in Ho-oh doesn't really fit in with the idea of what's happening regarding the weather.
 
The quality is definitely acceptable, but like I said, a bit rough. There are several instances of redundant text, but it could be a stylistic thing, and in that case I'm just being nitpicky. I don't really think the technical side is what's most important. The essence of the story is what it's about, not how it's gotten across. In any case, I can't judge the fic as a whole yet... it'll probably be a while (whew, you're at what, almost fifty chapters?).

I definitely do agree with the Kyogre/Groudon dynamic going on, and it does work well. In my head, Kyogre is more of an Oceanus to Lugia's Poseidon, though, so I tend to associate "ruler of the seas" with Lugia... Just call it a prejudice lol.
 
Okay, finished with the Blackwood arc. I really, really liked it! Andrea's character remains pretty consistent but she also grows over the course of the handful of chapters. Kamin hasn't won me over yet, though. He's fairly solid but nothing special just yet. I do fully expect that to change in due time, though. I liked Raven a lot, but I did feel like his dialect was a bit distracting at first, but it stopped popping out at all after a while. Also... Dr. Egon? I'm surprised he didn't suggest crossing the streams. :p

The atmosphere here was so different from the prior arc but it worked so well. I noticed Pavs comparing it to Lovecraft, and I have to agree. Though I do think it was a bit odd that there was very little of the actual hurricane outside of the chapter back in Azure Ridge. I get that the woods basically block out the weather, but even in Blackwood Grove we didn't really get any sign of it. Unless the whole town is also under a thick canopy.

Prose really improved as well over this group of chapters. I knew it would have to eventually (I did read part of your Zelda fic), so getting to see that occur so soon was a good sign!

Again, I'll post again once I've finished the next arc (which looks to be shorter, so that shouldn't take long)!
 
Okay, finished with the Blackwood arc. I really, really liked it! Andrea's character remains pretty consistent but she also grows over the course of the handful of chapters. Kamin hasn't won me over yet, though. He's fairly solid but nothing special just yet. I do fully expect that to change in due time, though.
This does remind me, I reaaaaaaaaaally need to get back to work on Kamin. He's the character with the most potential, I think, but I've treated him very badly. Hopefully the motivation to get back to work on him returns at some point. :( Don't get your hopes up too much with him. He's got his moments, but the constant criticism I was receiving regarding his character kind of killed my will to even work with him.

I liked Raven a lot, but I did feel like his dialect was a bit distracting at first, but it stopped popping out at all after a while
You'll love Senna, then. She takes broken English and dials it up to 12. Thankfully it's only for a brief appearance.

Also... Dr. Egon? I'm surprised he didn't suggest crossing the streams. :p
Believe me, the temptation was there. But I didn't really have much of a place for it, since he was the only one properly kitted out to deal with the paranormal.

Though I do think it was a bit odd that there was very little of the actual hurricane outside of the chapter back in Azure Ridge. I get that the woods basically block out the weather, but even in Blackwood Grove we didn't really get any sign of it. Unless the whole town is also under a thick canopy.
Yes, practically the only part that isn't completely covered in choking trees is the lumber mill. As far as the severity of the storm, I believe I had it in the narrative somewhere that the hurricane either missed the island or made a glancing blow. I probably could have sold it a bit better, though. A category 5 is nothing to laugh at.

(I did read part of your Zelda fic)
Oh jeeze, I was rereading those while contemplating picking that story up again, and I noticed the quality of those was a bit worse than I'd have liked. So if that's your metric for improved grammar, you're gonna love season 2 :p
 
Finished the Team Rocket arc. While not as enchanting as the Blackwood arc, I found your level of detail went up again, and that's definitely a good thing. It was not hard to picture the layered earth of Slate Valley or the caverns beneath that Team Rocket were hiding out in.

Speaking of Team Rocket, I'm very interested to see what direction they're trying to go in. Giovanni here calls to mind more recent portrayals of Magneto, attempting to fight for a better cause and yet still with a degree of pragmatism.

I also really liked Andrea trying to stick up for herself, and I do think Kamin's personality is coming through a bit clearer here; he seems rather obstinate but also way out of his depth.

Not much else to say for this arc. It was short, but in a short, sweet, and to the point kind of way. As always, I'll post again once I've finished the next arc (or possibly two, since the final arc of the first season is only two chapters).
 
Speaking of Team Rocket, I'm very interested to see what direction they're trying to go in. Giovanni here calls to mind more recent portrayals of Magneto, attempting to fight for a better cause and yet still with a degree of pragmatism.
Oh yeah, Team Rocket... I really need to get back to them. I've been kinda slacking with that storyline as things progressed later on. Thank you for reminding me.

I do think Kamin's personality is coming through a bit clearer here; he seems rather obstinate but also way out of his depth.
And him as well. He really needs some love and attention, too, and I've absolutely refused to give it to him. Another thing to work on. >.>
 
chapter 47
Storm Island
Chapter 47: Theories

Co-written by Kimberly Prescott and Caitlin

Andrea let out a deep sigh. "I don't like the look of that..." she muttered. She was stood in front of a rocky tunnel entrance nestled deep within the Hanzi mountain range, a tunnel that was the only passage forward from the monastery towards their next destination, Yulong-la. She recalled her second day on the job, when Larson had suckered her into 'training' inside the Silver Ridge Caverns. The darkness, the smell, the killer vines and Larson's poor leadership and judgement all brought back bad memories. They made her question if she was in for another bad experience in this cave as well, but she reasoned that it couldn't possibly be as bad.

She paced back and forth as she waited for Kimberly to catch up, and took the time to study the entrance of the cave. She couldn't see much without going in deeper, but could see that there was a clearly marked path at the very least. The path's surface appeared to be relatively smooth and flat, as well, and she was relieved to see it; she was tired of constantly tripping on loose rocks with her heeled sandals, or snagging them in roots.

Just as her impatience began to get the better of her, she spotted Kimberly weaving through the fallen rocks that surrounded the cavern entrance. She noticed that her skin appeared to be smoother than before they left, coupled with coral red lipstick and fancy eyeliner. She wanted to be angry at her for wasting her time on this, yet at the same time felt oddly captivated by her looks. "Wow, you look... almost too nice to be out here."

Kimberly rubbed her ring finger across her left eyebrow and giggled shyly. "You mean it?"

"Yeah, but... why? I mean, I guess I could kind of see if we're going to be meeting with people, but we're in the middle of nowhere..."

"I just wanted to look nice, that's all."

"For who, though? I'll be surprised if we run into anyone out here!"

"Why not you?" Her hopes of receiving some sort of positive response were dashed, so she sheepishly pointed towards the rocky cavern's entrance. "Where are we going next? Through there?"

Andrea nodded.

She took a deep breath, tried to steel her nerves and took her first few steps forward. "Very well." There was a sense of shakiness and unease in her voice.

Andrea could tell that something wasn't quite right with her friend, but she wasn't sure what it could be. "What's the matter?"

She stopped in her tracks and turned around. "What do you mean?"

"You're not afraid, are you?"

She spent a moment thinking about the situation ahead of her. "I'll be okay."

"You are, aren't you? That's fine! It's just... a surprise, I've never seen you afraid of anything before."

"'Keep your fears to yourself, but share your courage with others.'"

"What?"

"It's a quote I read in a book while I was in school. Robert Louis Stevenson." She turned to face the cavernous entrance again and took another deep breath. "I've faced quite a few of my fears since we've arrived in this country... I've tried to keep that to myself, however. In times of hardship, a clear leader needs to step up to the task, and a good leader never shows how afraid she is."

"That's pretty cool of you, I have to admit," Andrea said. "So what is it, then? Claustrophobia? Getting lost?"

She shook her head. "No, it's the darkness. I don't like darkness."

Andrea chuckled nervously. "Damn it..."

"I don't like the sound of that..."

"Well, darkness is one of my biggest fears, too. I was hoping you could take the lead, but... you want me to try?"

She nodded. "I'll be right behind you. If it gets to be too much for you, I'll take over. Sound like a plan?"

Andrea unhooked the lantern that was swinging from the bottom of her backpack and turned it on. "Let's go slowly then." She led Kimberly into the cavern with great caution. As soon as they crossed the rocks that created the entrance, they were nearly overwhelmed by the thick stench of mildew. The smell brought back the memories Andrea had of the Silver Ridge Caverns. "Watch your step. When Larson and I explored a cave on Storm Island, he fell down a pit like a damned idiot. I don't want the same thing happening here."

"I learned a similar lesson when passing through the Diglett Cave..."

Andrea shined the lantern around and looked at the hundreds of dozen-foot-tall stalactites that hung from the ceiling. Thick, silky webs hung from a few of them, but she couldn't see any creatures or large insects in them, much to her relief. It was still an unnerving experience, but she wanted to take Kimberly's advice and remain strong.

The two followed along a small trail of burnt out glass lanterns. It didn't take them long to realize that this road was not as well maintained by the monks of the Shenzin Monastery as the Thousand Steps were, but at least they had an obvious path ahead of them.

Andrea tried to take her mind off of the environment around her with a bit of idle chatter. "So... you're into music, right?"

Kimberly was far less interested in distracting herself and kept a watchful eye on the brown stone walls around her. "Yes, I am."

"What kind?" she asked.

"Ooh, all kinds, really. There's the folk music from Visalia and the surrounding countryside, then there's soft rock... I'm a huge fan of artists such as Freddie Gallium, Shield of Roses, Heartfelt Tears and Honest Fears, Danielle Burke..." she said, counting each one off on her fingers. "And then there's classical music... you know, Beethoven, Mozart, that variety of music."

"We have much different tastes, then," she said as she came to a stop and flashed the lantern up a small ledge. She handed the lantern back to Kimberly. "I think we have to go up here. I'll go first." She struggled against her loose-fitting dress to lift herself up the ledge, but eventually made it. She reached down and offered her hand out. "Pass me the lantern and then I'll pull you up."

Kimberly did as she was asked; as soon as the lantern left her hand and disappeared over the ledge, a sense of dread overcame her. She pressed up against the wall and peered out into the darkness behind her, absolutely sure that she would see something, but she couldn't. Andrea lowered her arm downward and the two grabbed onto each other.

"One... two... three..." she said before lifting with all of her might. She stood back up, grabbed the lantern and brushed herself off, then looked down at her filthy clothes. "I hope Estelle didn't want this back once we got home... Never thought I'd be climbing through a dirty cave in something this fancy."

"That's the thing with travel, it's always a new and often unexpected experience. It's partly why I do it." Kimberly said as she dusted herself off. "So what did you mean by us having different tastes in music? What do you listen to?"

"I'm a metal person myself..." she answered. "I don't think you'd like it."

Kimberly shook her head. "You would be correct. Nicole was always listening to it when she was sick of hearing my voice. It's just noise to me."

"Yeah, I can see why you'd say that."


- - - - -​

Nearly half an hour had passed since they entered the tunnel. In that time, they navigated slippery slopes, climbed up and down ladders, passed through cramped and narrow tunnels and made their way through a maze of thick stone spires. Yet through it all, they remained on the marked pathway, and both of them began to think it was a miracle that they hadn't gotten lost yet. Their journey took them into a large, seemingly empty room that echoed with the sound of running water and carried the thick smell of dead fish.

"I hope we're almost through this place..." Andrea mumbled. "This is almost as bad as the Silver Ridge Caverns... at least we haven't been attacked by the walls."

"Don't even say that," Kimberly scolded.

"Yeah, I should keep my big mouth shut," she said, then reached into her pocket. "You know, that's a good point, one of us should really have a Pokémon out, just in case." She held the Pokéball that she grabbed up to her lantern and bathed the area in a pink glow; she had grabbed Dilithium's Love Ball, and figured that it would do. She tossed the Love Ball ahead of her, which caused it to explode in a shower of cartoonish hearts and let out an angelic harp sound.

Her decision to call out a Pokémon for protection was a foolish one, however; the light and sound from the Love Ball both illuminated the cavern and echoed throughout it. It was only a brief glimpse, but it was all that she needed to see that every inch of the ceiling was covered in bat-like creatures. The bats dropped from the ceiling and began to fly around in a frenzy.

"Shit, bad idea!" she shouted. She tackled Kimberly as she dived for the ground.

Without even an order, Dilithium could easily sense the distress of its master and took action. It quickly shifted from a green hue towards red and began to rise into the cloud of bats. Every few seconds, a beam of energy would erupt from its central core and strike one of the bats hard enough to send it plummeting to the ground. The swarm began to disperse as more and more were shot out of the sky, until eventually most had vacated the room through a dozen different tunnels.

Andrea poked her head up when the deafening screeching of the bats had ceased. "Holy... That was, uhh... Wow! Unexpected!" She rushed over to help Kimberly up off of the ground and found that she was trembling heavily and her skin three shades lighter. "You're not hurt, are you?"

Kimberly put her hands out in front of her and tried her hardest to stop them from shaking, but she couldn't. She let out a deep breath and said, "I hate bats... I bloody hate bats!"

Andrea pulled her up to her feet and led her forward. "It's going to be okay, let's just get out of here and hope we don't run into anymore." She looked back to see that Dilithium was following them closely. "I need you to take the lead and protect us."

Dilithium continued to bob up and down slowly behind them.

She remembered the observation she made the other night. "Right, no sense of hearing..." She pointed at it, then pointed at herself and Kimberly, then pointed ahead of them. Dilithium appeared to understand her gestures and floated forward to lead them down the pathway. "I have no idea how I'm going to work with that thing..." She looked back at Kimberly and could sense the discomfort of the situation radiating through her. "You okay?"

"This is too much... First it's the darkness, and now bats? I could never hope to deal with both..."

Andrea offered her hand out. "Come here, I'll keep you safe."

Kimberly eagerly grabbed her hand and held it close to her chest for comfort. She never had any particular faith that Andrea could actually keep her safe, but the promise, however hollow it might have been, meant something to her.


- - - - -​

More time passed in relative silence. Their initial plan of speaking during their entire trip through the cavern gave way to silence and suspicion of their surroundings. The increasing frequency of unknown noises began to shake what little confidence they had left. The experience had disturbed Kimberly so much that she didn't call out just one Pokémon to protect her, but two: Wiggles joined Dilithium at the front of the group, while Juliano protected their rear flank.

"This must be what Mr. Kent was talking about when he said to hire a guide..." Kimberly mumbled. "I should have known better than to try this without one."

"It's okay, we can do this! We've been through worse before."

"I can only hope so..."

The group entered another large room and stopped as Andrea flashed the lantern around. Like before, the room echoed with the sound of rushing water, but at least this room was different in structure; the room was split almost down the middle by a large crack in the ground, and a look down that crack showed a raging subterranean river, choked by debris such as large boulders, fallen logs and discarded plastic. It was difficult to gauge how fast the water was flowing due to the darkness, but the deafening roar of the water told them that falling in would likely be certain death.

The two investigated the cavern further. Much to their relief, there was only one clear path forward. On the contrary, much to their dismay, the path forward was on the other side of the rushing river. To make matters worse, the only bridge over the river was totally destroyed. Further investigation revealed a large boulder halfway down the river, surrounded by bricks and stones that appeared to be from the bridge. They had reached a dead end.

"This is just our luck, isn't it..." Andrea lamented. "We come all this way..."

Kimberly tried to reassure her friend. "Before we give up hope, let's look around a bit more. I may have an idea. May I see the lantern?"

Andrea handed the lantern over and Kimberly took the lead. Her investigation took them along the entirety of the crack in the ground. As she assumed, the crack was too wide to simply jump across. She was relieved to find that in some areas, the distance down to the water was only about six feet.

"Yes, this might work..." she muttered to herself as she handed the lantern back to Andrea. "Juliano!" she called. "Do you think you would be able to cross that river?"

Juliano carefully approached the cliff and jumped down towards the bank of the rushing river.

"Careful now, there's no telling how fast that water is moving," she warned.

Juliano agreed and gingerly raised his left foot, then slowly placed it into the water. The force of the river quickly overwhelmed him and knocked him onto his back, but thankfully he landed on the riverbank.

"No, that won't work..." she said as she quickly retrieved his Master Ball and recalled him before he fell in. "But... Hmm..."

"Any other ideas?" Andrea asked.

She exchanged the Master Ball with Patches' fuzzy Feline Ball and tossed it into the air. Patches appeared with a flash of brilliant light and landed on the ground in front of her. "I think that Patches may be able to help." she said. She motioned for the roaring river and asked, "Patches, I need you to put everything you have into this. Can you blast that river with arctic wind?"

Patches wandered up to the edge of the cliff side and hopped down towards the river. She cautiously approached the rushing water, then sat down at the bank of the river. She closed her eyes and lifted her head towards the skies. Her fur began to bristle and blow about as a soft wind kicked up around her. Ice crystals and snowflakes formed and orbited around her as her fur began to frost over. Her eyes opened and revealed a bright, icy white light that seemed to sublimate into the air around her. With a howl, she exhaled a frigid blast of arctic wind that froze a large section of the river instantly.

Andrea was amazed. "Holy..."

Kimberly tugged on her arm. "Come along now, we won't have much time before the water begins to flow over the ice. You too, Wiggles!"

Both Wiggles and Dilithium ignored the makeshift bridge; Dilithium simply floated across, while Wiggles deftly jumped the gap with little effort. The two girls carefully made their way down the cliff side and approached the ice. The platform of ice that Patches had formed was coarse and covered in snow, giving them a stable footing as they rushed across. Safely on the other side of the river, they climbed back up the cliff side. They watched as the ice began to crack from the force of the water rushing into it, until it eventually crumbled and gave way.

Andrea knelt down and motioned for Patches to come over. "What is this thing?"

"She's a Skitty, silly!"

"I know that much! But I mean, like... how does she do it? First lightning, and now ice."

Kimberly shrugged.

"What else can she do?" she asked as she cradled the exhausted Skitty in her arms. "Just those two things, I think. I haven't seen her do anything else."

"I wonder... Furball can do something similar..."

"What do you mean?"

"Oh yeah! You were still out cold with the jungle fever, you didn't see that! When we were camping out before we made it to Letchworth, our camp was attacked by Dilithium. Furball defeated that thing with a rapid barrage of fire attacks. I was completely shocked when I saw it!"

"Fire, you say?" Kimberly pondered. She searched the depths of her memory and recalled nearly a dozen times that she had been confronted by a Furret or a Sentret while on the road in Kanto, and none of them displayed similar abilities. "So what are you thinking?"

"Well, when I first started my job as Professor Ansen's assistant, she told me that Furball had some sort of anomaly in his genetics... Like a mutation, I guess." She reached into her pocket and grabbed Furball's Pokéball, then held it up to her R-Kit. "She wants me to find out what exactly this anomaly is, but I have no idea what it could be." The screen on her R-Kit flashed as it displayed all sorts of information about Furball. "Here, look at this."

Kimberly leaned in and took a closer look at the R-Kit. Furball's genetic code was displayed on screen, with 'ANOMALY DOCUMENTED' flashing below his species name.

"I was wondering... maybe this genetic anomaly might explain his abilities?"

"You think so?"

She nodded. "Here's what I have in mind. I know that Furball has some sort of anomaly in his genetics. I know that he has something that both of us are assuming to be 'unusual', some sort of basic control over fire." She looked down at Patches, who had fallen asleep in her arms. "And here we have Patches. I know that she can control electricity and now work with ice... Maybe she has this anomaly as well? I mean, I don't know a lot about Skitty, but... Something tells me that a house cat being able to shoot lightning and freeze the air around it isn't exactly common."

Kimberly grabbed Patches' Feline Ball and recalled her. "Can your R-Kit determine if she might have it, as well?" She offered the Feline Ball to Andrea.

"Hmm..." She grabbed the Feline Ball and scanned it with her R-Kit. The screen flashed with similar information about Patches, but there was no mention of any anomalies in her genetics. After a few more clicks on the screen, the R-Kit advised her to take Patches to a dedicated laboratory for further analysis. "I guess we won't find out here. Still, this may have put me on the right path for my research."

The discussion was interrupted by a squeaking noise, which caused Kimberly to flinch and look towards the pitch black ceiling. "Perhaps we can discuss it further later on?"

"Yeah, good idea..."


- - - - -​

"Here goes nothing..." Andrea said as she grabbed a small loop of steel from her backpack. With it firmly wrapped around her fingers, she grabbed a black stone that sat next to her and began rubbing the two together. A shower of sparks erupted from the metallic loop and rained down onto a pile of dry, flaky wood. Small embers began to glow until eventually a small fire engulfed the wood. Satisfied with how the fire had progressed, she took a step back and studied the piece of metal. "Huh... Who knew something so simple could work so well..."

"Hmm?" Kimberly asked, her attention buried in the book she bought at the Shenzin Monastery.

She unhooked the wok from her backpack and rested it on the growing campfire. "Nothing, I'm just thinking out loud." She opened her backpack, placed the fire starting kit inside, then unburied a small wooden box from the bottom. She opened the box of cooking supplies and began to rummage through it as she thought about what she could make.

"Are you going to make us dinner?" Kimberly asked, still focused on her book.

"Gonna try."

"May I request something?"

"If I have the stuff, sure."

She put down her book and crawled over to Andrea's box of supplies to see what might be available. "Mushrooms!" she said with joy as she saw a small bag of them. "Got any garlic? How about basil?"

Andrea retrieved the small bag of pre-cut mushrooms, then dug through her herbs and spices. "I do! I think I can make what you have in mind."

"I'm looking forward to it!"

"Don't, I'm terrible at cooking."

"We'll see!" she said, before returning to her book.

"Alright, let's see here..." Andrea murmured as she retrieved a small packet of butter from the box of supplies. "Butter first, uhh... then the mushrooms... I hope I'm doing this right..." she said as she waited for the butter to melt. When the butter was all melted and formed a thin layer at the bottom of the pan, she began to toss in the mushrooms, then sprinkled on some of the basil. When she grabbed the garlic, she realized that she didn't have a knife to cut it with. Lamenting her forgetfulness, she clawed it apart with her fingers and tossed the small bits in next, all the while watching to make sure she didn't burn anything.

Several minutes passed by as she used a nearby stick to flip the mushrooms. The aroma coming off of the pan was heavenly and almost intoxicating. "Maybe I haven't forgotten..." Satisfied with how they looked, she began to separate the meal into two separate sides of the pan and rested it on a nearby stone. After a few moments of waiting for the pan to cool down, she said, "Dinner's done... I hope."

Kimberly scooted over to join Andrea and picked up one of the mushrooms. She popped it into her mouth to sample Andrea's cooking and was pleasantly surprised by the taste. "Are you sure you've never cooked before?"

"Not enough to consider myself even terrible at it, why? Is it good?"

She nodded before gobbling up a few more. She may have embellished the truth slightly, but she praised Andrea's attempt. "My goodness, this is to die for!"

"And that asshole fired me..." Andrea grumbled. "Maybe it was a good thing. If he didn't, I'd still be back at home. As much as I'd hate to admit it, I'm actually starting to enjoy being in this country..."


- - - - -​

Co-author's note: It's good to be back and doing some writing! Prescott has warmly welcomed me back to the project, but I can't say how much I'll actively contribute as the story progresses. I'll take this opportunity to note that Andrea's cooking abilities have been retconned. There have been a few references to her absolute inability earlier in the story which Prescott has decided to ignore. I'll trust her judgement on that one, since she was actually a waitress for some time much like Andrea, and picked up quite a bit of knowledge despite never being officially assigned to the kitchen.
 
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