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TEEN: Storm Island

Eye eye, it's been a while since I last saw a Caitlin on staff

Technical Accuracy/Style
There's a definite change in the style with both of you working on it. The prose is just a bit more polished, a bit more elegant. I would strongly suggest that Caitlin at least regularly beta if co-authorship is too much of a commitment

Story
A pretty classic slice-of-lifey sort of chapter, and just the sort I reckon the story needs here and there. The length of the whole thing was about right. Poking Andrea's story along in what would otherwise be a travel chapter is sensible use of the wordcount

Setting
Caves are always tricky, and I reckon there's a reason most of them end up looking even more generic than woods. Despite that, there's a decent attempt to give this location some texture, which I appreciate

Character
Andrea's cooking skills did make me double-take there. If you're going to retcon it then I say make it a full retcon and tweak the previous scenes so they fall into line. And I still maintain that Kimberly is the sorely-needed supporting character. I suppose I have a soft spot for casually girly-girl characters who don't get hung up on being feminine
 
Odd, I was never notified of your response.

Eye eye, it's been a while since I last saw a Caitlin on staff. I would strongly suggest that Caitlin at least regularly beta if co-authorship is too much of a commitment
I know, a rare treat to be working with her again! I'll see if I can get her to stick around, but don't be surprised if the quality remains at this level during times she's on break from the project (no offense intended towards my esteemed colleague). She was more of an idea consultant than a writer, but I won't discount her contributions.

Story
A pretty classic slice-of-lifey sort of chapter, and just the sort I reckon the story needs here and there.
They may actually become a bit more common as certain plotlines advance, but mostly because they're just so damn fun to write. The finale to the Sakala storyline will hopefully be a treat in this regard.

Character
Andrea's cooking skills did make me double-take there. If you're going to retcon it then I say make it a full retcon and tweak the previous scenes so they fall into line.
I'll see about working on this, but that'll take a back seat as I want to continue the sluggish momentum or perhaps even boost it. Even just taking this as a hobby, I feel like fifteen chapters in a year isn't quite enough. That may seem insane to some people, and I can understand why they would think that... but I still have that itching feeling.
 
chapter 48
Storm Island
Chapter 48: Fertile Farmlands

"Let's see, how much further to Yulong-la..." Andrea muttered as she fiddled with her R-Kit. The map function was open, and while it wasn't providing detailed information due to her presence in a cave, it at least gave her a rough estimate of how much time it would take to reach the end of the tunnel. After some quick math in her head, she sighed heavily; they had perhaps a twenty minute walk until they reached the exit, so camping for the night wasn't necessary. "Of course..."

"Is something the matter?" Kimberly asked as she read from the training manual she purchased at the monastery.

"It's good news, actually. We'll be out of this cave pretty soon."

"That is indeed good news."

She stood up, stretched, then grabbed her backpack. "No kidding. You ready to leave?"

Kimberly closed the book and slid it into her backpack. "I've been ready since we met those bats last night..."


- - - - -​

It took a moment for their vision to adjust to the brightness, but when it did, Andrea and Kimberly were greeted with a beautiful sight. Far off into the distance was a chain of mountains composed primarily of a green stone that seemed to sparkle in the sunlight, even at that far distance. Scattered in the surrounding foothills was a large collection of skyscrapers and towers, themselves lost in a sea of smaller buildings. Even though neither had visited the place, they both immediately recognized it as the next stop on their journey, the city of Yulong-la.

But before they'd get there, they'd have to travel through the wilderness before them first: rolling hills as far as the eye could see, tamed by humanity and carved into hundreds of terrace farms. Each layer was a distinct color, from green to greenish-blue, amber to brown, with a few patches of purple mixed in. It highlighted the diversity of the farming done in this part of the world. A few settlements could be seen between themselves and the horizon. None looked particularly interesting to them, but they knew they'd have to pass through at least one of them in order to reach the city.

"It never ends, does it?" Andrea asked. "You get to one place, and you've gotta keep going..."

"That is the very essence of travel, is it not?" Kimberly responded.

"It is, but I've gotta be honest, my legs are starting to hurt from all of this mountain climbing and cave spelunking. And now I've got a few hours of walking ahead of me?" she said as she took turns to stretch her sore legs. "Gimme a break... How have I not gotten used to this by now?"

"It takes awhile," Kimberly offered her hand out. "May I see your... R-Kit, was it?"

She unwrapped it from around her wrist and handed it over. "I need to get you one of these things. Kamin was never interested in using it, but you seem to ask for it every day."

Kimberly opened the map function and began to study the surrounding landscape. From the mouth of the tunnel that they had just emerged from, literally hundreds of marked trails and paths snaked into the surrounding hills and mountains. Her head spun as she tried to make sense of it and figure out which direction they should travel, until she grew frustrated and asked it to do it for her.

The R-Kit droned in its robotic voice, "Estimated travel time from the current location to Yulong-la via the highlighted route is estimated to be eighteen hours. Delays due to road--"

"Eighteen hours?!" she shouted.

"I was hoping this thing would be a bit quieter..." Kimberly lamented as she refined their path. "Let's see what it says now."

The R-Kit adjusted for Kimberly's new route. "Estimated travel time from the current location to Muyang via the highlighted route is estimated to be four hours."

"That's more reasonable, isn't it?"

"Maybe... I just hope my legs can carry me that far."

Kimberly wrapped her arm around Andrea's shoulders and guided her forward. "It'll help if we distract ourselves with conversation!"

"More talking, huh?" she asked, then lowered her voice to mutter, "It never ends with you..."

"What was that?"

"Nothing!" she said as she tried to think of an interesting subject to talk about. "Hmm..."

"I've talked a lot about myself, why not you this time?"

She gave Kimberly a funny look. "Me? What do you want to know?"

"Didn't you say you went to university? What was it like? What did you study?"

"Oh god, college," she laughed. "Those were... dark, depressing days."

Kimberly was surprised. "What?! How so?"

"I didn't know any one. I don't know how it is at other places, but at the Azure Ridge Community College, most people aren't there for an education. It's a glorified rat den, and people throw parties almost every day... I never went to any of them."

"I'd say you made a good choice! University is for education, and education alone, and I'm proud of you for focusing on that."

She shook her head. "Maybe not the best choice. I was so alone there... any time I tried to socialize outside of class, I was thrown aside as 'that nerdy girl'. It was... so horribly depressing. I couldn't focus on my work." She sighed. "Maybe if I had a little fun every now and then, I might still be there, I might have been able to focus on my grades."

"Oh, uhh..."

She could feel that her friend was starting to feel downtrodden and decided to move on. "Anyways! I was majoring in mechanical engineering while I was there. Quite fascinating stuff, I must say."

"Oh yeah? How so?"

"Well! First off, you can't appreciate the nitty-gritty of mechanical engineering without realizing the incredible progress humanity has made thanks to it. Like the internal combustion engine, steam power, motor vehicles, refrigeration equipment, I could go on and on! Without it, we wouldn't have electricity, we wouldn't have plastics, the DeWitt sisters would have never gotten that first airplane off the ground... Not to mention things like modern construction being rooted in engineering. And trains! You know trains? Well, trains--"

Kimberly blinked and nodded as Andrea enthusiastically assaulted her ears with a barrage of topics she was completely clueless about.

"--really quite fascinating how those old engines work. To think, it's as simple as bringing water to a boil and using that energy to spin a gear system. I mean, history itself has been forever changed by just a few simple inventions that we take for granted, it's really humbling to think about it all."

"Umm, yeah! I hadn't thought about it that way." Kimberly answered, slightly lost. "I never quite understood how all of these fancy machines work, but if what you say is true..."

"It is!"

"How much of it have you actually worked with? Did you ever work on any hands-on projects during your studies?"

She thought back to her classes. "A few. I remember building a textile loom in my dad's garage... getting that thing up to the campus to display it to the class was so difficult."

Kimberly's interest was piqued. "Did you ever make anything with it?"

She shook her head. "No. I only had enough material to show my professor that it worked."

"Ah. I suppose if you only build it to show it off, you don't care to actually use it.

She nodded. "I also pulled apart an old sterling engine and put it back together without consulting a technical manual. My professor was very impressed, I was the only person in the class that restored it to working condition."

"I'm going to take your word for it that doing so is quite difficult."

She shrugged. "Well, it kinda ticked for me, ya know? It probably is difficult, but it's like I had a sixth sense on how to put it together. That's about it, really, I dropped out before any other big projects. Anything else I did was a personal project I did at home."

"Did you study anything else while you were there?"

"The usual. Literature, physics, finance... One of my favorites was probably astronomy, though. It's such a great subject." she said. "I always wanted to be an astronomer when I grew up, but I figured that getting into mechanical engineering was probably more practical."

"What can you do that hasn't been done already as an astronomer?" Kimberly asked, genuinely curious.

"Loads! Did you know that we can determine if a far away star has planets just by measuring the effect of gravitational fluctuations on light?"

Kimberly stared at her with a blank expression on her face.

"I lost you again, didn't I... Well, they say that space is the final frontier. Some place we'll 'boldly go' someday. We're not exactly exploring it yet, but today's astronomers are laying the groundwork for it. If we ever do journey to the stars, we'd know which ones are worth visiting."

"That sounds awfully boring, if I'm honest."

"Yeah. It's not for everyone, I guess." she conceded. "But it was for me. I remember building a dobsonian reflector with my father when I was about thirteen years old."

"A what?"

"It's a type of telescope an amateur can build in their back garden. Cheap and very easy to build. My father and I were supposed to take it out into the wilderness so that we could get a better look at the night sky, but that never happened."

"Why the countryside?"

"The city is way too bright to see much of anything... But I did see a few interesting things. I got to see the craters on the moon, a few of the stars that can't be seen by the naked eye... I was even able to see some of the planets in our solar system, too. Specifically Vulcan, Minerva and Jove."

"Oh, that's cool! Jove is the big one with the red spot on it, right?"

"Yeah!"

"That's pretty impressive that you can see that far with something you built in your back yard. Minerva is the one with the rings around it, right?"

She nodded. "You actually know your stuff, it sounds like."

"I was interested in it briefly, when I was a child."

Her words made Andrea think. "Why did you never go to college? You're one of the few people who could actually afford it."

"I just figured it wasn't for me. I was either going to be a philanthropist, a chef or an artist... University would have been a waste of my time."

"Hmm. Good point, I guess."

As they continued their conversation, they traversed through dozens of terraced fields. While most of the farms in the area specialized in growing immense fields of rice, others grew a variety of crops that neither expected to see. Giant pumpkins, fields of rectangular melons, cabbage patches, orderly rows of carrots, turnips and scallions, and forests of violet amaranth stretched as far as the eye could see. The fields were tended to by dozens of workers, including a few that appeared to be black and white bear-like Pokémon. Curious about them, Andrea scanned one with her R-Kit as she passed by.

"Nongmao, the Panda Pokémon!" the R-Kit said. "Nongmao is a critically endangered Pokémon, often poached for its luxurious black and white fur. There are no known members of the species in the wild anymore, but rigorous conservation programs have ensured a small and thriving population. In ancient times, they were regarded as nature spirits, as they protected both farmers and their fields from encroaching threats. In accordance with this ancient tradition, a majority of the surviving members of the species are currently owned by farmers in the Shinikara, Sakala and Ahnkol regions."

Each of the Nongmao carried a long stick with them. Fastened to the ends of the sticks were small jars of what appeared to be honey. Every now and then, one of the Nongmao would retrieve the small jar and dribble the mysterious, syrup-like substance onto the larger crops.

"What are they doing, do you think?" Kimberly asked.

Andrea shrugged. "Maybe it's a special sort of fertilizer? Might explain why some of these plants are so huge."

Their chatter caught the attention of one of the Nongmao, who turned around with surprising speed and glared at the two as they passed by. Deep growling and a show of its fangs was enough to put Andrea on high alert. She instinctively reached into her purse to grab one of her Pokéballs, but felt a tug on her arm.

Kimberly pulled her aside and gingerly approached the Nongmao, but remained ready to run at a moment's notice. She placed her hands together and rested them just below her chin, then bowed slowly and graciously. She hoped that the gesture would be welcomed by the creature and that it would no longer see them as a threat to the farm.

The Nongmao approached the road and stood still for a moment as it examined her body language. After a few seconds of study, its bulging muscles relaxed and its posture loosened. It offered the same gesture back to her before returning to its duties in the field.

She let out a sigh of relief.

Andrea was ready to rip her head off. "Are you kidding me?! That could have gone so horribly wrong!"

The two continued down the road. "Yes... It very well could have. I understand that. But I also understand that violence isn't always the answer."

Andrea returned a puzzled stare.

"Have you not learned that yet? Is that not one of the first lessons you learned when you were given your first Pokémon?"

"Umm..."

It was a worrying thought, but she couldn't help but giggle. "Oh dear... What were those boys teaching you before we started travelling together?"

Andrea shook her head. "Practically nothing. Larson taught me how to turn a good day into a disaster and Kamin taught me how to be rude and disrespectful to people."

Another giggle followed.


- - - - -​

Another uneventful hour of navigating the farmlands had passed before they finally reached something that resembled civilization. The village of Muyang was very much unlike the town of Letchworth; the houses were crude in design and fashioned from bamboo, untreated wood and even long reeds in some places. They were crammed together as if the concept of personal space didn't exist.

What stood out the most to both of them was the complete lack of ethnic diversity compared to Letchworth. The people were quite busy and very quiet as they moved quickly and efficiently up and down the gravel paths with baskets full of farm produce stapped to their backs. There were no loiterers, but mostly because there was no room to simply stand around. What little discussion occurred amongst the locals indicated that most, if not all of them, spoke the Shinikaran language.

"I really hope we can find someone who understands us..." Andrea said.

"I would not hold your breath on that one, friend."

She grumbled as she raised her arm to look at her R-Kit. She brought the translation application up and began to meticulously scan every word she came across with it. They came across a structure labeled as the 'Muyang Storehouse', where a large collection of farm produce was kept. Another location was 'Qian's General Goods', which unsurprisingly specialized in farm equipment. More locations included a tailor, a metalworking shop and a schoolhouse. After much hesitation, the two decided to ask around to see if there was an inn that they could stay at.

"Hey, uhh, do you know--" Andrea asked as she approached one of the busy farm workers.

"Shenme?" the man interrupted, then quickly moved on.

Kimberly had similar luck when approaching one as well. "Excuse me, sir?"

"Wo bu hui yinghua!" was the response she received.

After a few minutes of asking around in the hopes that at least one of them would understand, the two reconvened near the metalworking shop.

"Any luck?" Andrea asked.

Kimberly shook her head.

She sighed. "Great..."

As Kimberly thought the situation over, a light bulb flashed in her mind. "Your R-Kit can translate written text, correct? Can it also do something for spoken language as well?"

"I really doubt it..." she muttered as she began to search through the translation application's options. She almost wanted to smack herself when she noticed the voice tab. "Maybe, uhh..." She set the target language to English and tapped on a button that said 'begin'. "I think it's... listening? How do we know if it works?"

"Cela va nous dire," Kimberly said in a strange language. "Au moins qui est... l'espoir?"

Andrea's eyes widened with surprise as the R-Kit took a moment to analyze her words.

"This will tell us," the R-Kit droned. "At least that is the hope?"

"It works!" Kimberly said with excitement. "Mostly. It got a word wrong, but it's good enough."

The fact that her R-Kit was able to accurately translate other languages in real time was lost on Andrea. "Oh my god, you speak other languages, too?"

Kimberly shook her head. "No. I only learned a bit when my father and I lived in Kalos for about a year, when I was a little girl. I'm surprised I remember that much. But that doesn't matter, what matters is that we can talk with people now!"

"Only if they're patient enough to listen to us savagely butcher their language..."

They decided to continue exploring the town, but found themselves swept up by the local farmhands, who were pouring out of the fields and into the village after a hard day of work. There was very little opportunity to break free from the bustling 'traffic'. It worked in their favor, as they were led towards the center of the village, which was full of establishments dedicated to food, drink and lodging.

"Let's try this one!" Kimberly said as she led Andrea over to a place known as Yating's Ranch, a small, family run canteen that had been operating for nearly four hundred years, if the sign hanging above the entrance was to be believed.

The inside was just as rustic as the outside. Rickety, splintering wooden chairs surrounded nearly a dozen tables, each decorated with a clay vase that held a few wilting reeds. There were no other customers inside yet, but there were employees gathered near the back, ready for an evening of hard work.

As they entered, a young woman greeted them warmly. "Ah! Welcome, welcome!" she said in her native language. Her demeanor was beyond friendly to the point of excessive sweetness, and her giggly nature only added to it. "Please, have a seat! I'll be right with you!"

The two chose a table to sit at and waited. "Well. She's certainly friendly." Andrea said.

"That's what I like about closely knit communities such as this. Everyone is so friendly!"

The canteen began to fill up as they waited patiently for the waitress to return. Most gave them the odd look every now and then, but largely ignored the presence of visitors in their village. As time passed, each table was served, one by one, with bowls of steaming hot rice coupled with a small ceramic cup of tea. Andrea was slightly dismayed by the lack of a menu, but figured that such a small establishment in such a small village wouldn't have many choices.

Eventually, the waitress returned to their table with the same dish that was given to everyone else; bland looking amber-colored rice and very strong tea, accompanied by a pair of chop sticks. "Please, enjoy!" she said as she bowed with respect.

"Thank you," they both attempted to say.

Andrea picked up the two chop sticks and immediately realized she had no idea how to use them. She held them like a spoon and tried to scoop some of her rice onto them, only to see it easily fall off. She took a second to think of how they were actually meant to be used and adjusted her grip on them accordingly. To her dismay, her new grip did absolutely nothing to help, as the rice simply fell off once again. She looked around at all of the locals and watched as they effortlessly used their own chop sticks and wondered how it was even possible. "Hmm..." she mumbled.

She looked across the table to see if Kimberly was having as much difficulty as she was. She was unsurprised to see that her friend had knowledge of how to use chop sticks properly. "She's too talented. It's inhuman, I swear..." she thought to herself.

"Is something the matter?" Kimberly asked.

"Huh?"

"You're staring a hole into me, friend! What's on your mind?"

"Oh, uhh..." she whimpered as she tried one last time to use her chopsticks, only to fail once again. "I'm just wondering how to use these stupid things. They don't make sense."

"Well, you have to hold them correctly, first!" Kimberly said as she put her own down and reached across the table. She grabbed the two that Andrea was holding and said, "Hold your hand out, as if you're about to shake someone else's."

She did so.

"First, you hold the lower stick against your thumb and rest it on your palm, like so," Kimberly said as she placed the stick in her friend's hand. She grabbed the other one. "And now you hold this one between your thumb and your index finger."

"Like this?"

"Yes! Now, curl your ring and pinkie fingers and rest the lower stick on them, then rest the top stick against your middle finger."

She tried to follow her friend's advice and found the new grip surprisingly easy to maintain despite how delicate it was. Its effectiveness was proven when she was able to actually pick up some of the rice this time. "Thanks... I was about to scream at these stupid things and maybe shatter this bowl against the wall." She peered upwards and found her friend giving her a funny look. "It was a joke! But really, thank you."

"You're welcome!" Kimberly said. "How is it?"

"It's... different than what I'm used to, I can say that much. But it's also better than I was expecting."

"I know! I had always hated when rice was a part of dinner, even when my father would cook it, but I love this stuff! I wonder what they do differently here?"

"They probably use a different kind. When I'd fill in for someone in the kitchen back at the Crimson Crawdaunt, I remember we briefly had an older man from this part of the world working there with us, and he always criticized our 'inferior' rice."

"Hmm. That makes sense."

As they enjoyed their dinner, there was a long silence between them which Andrea decided to break. "You know... as much as I complained about being stuck in this country, I think I'm actually starting to... I don't know, like it a bit."

"That's good!" Kimberly responded. "I think I can see why... What did Mr. Kent say this place was, 'Old Shinikara'? It's certainly been very different up here in the mountains."

"I know! The people are actually nice! And they don't treat us like animals simply because we're women!"

"Yes! That's probably been my favorite part."

She pushed her empty bowl forward slightly. "I think my favorite part so far has probably been travelling with you."

The praise caught Kimberly off guard. "Huh?"

"I mean it! When I think about it... when I was on the road with Kamin, it always felt like such a chore to deal with him. He was rude, he was secretive, he was cold and I'm not even sure he had any emotions. Larson wasn't much different... We didn't spend much time together, but he had little regard for what I wanted to do. It was always 'Let's do this! Let's do that! It'll be good for you!' but it never really was. It's not just those two, either... none of my friends throughout my entire life have been particularly, well, friendly."

Kimberly listened intently.

"You're different, though. You care. You listen. You're excited about everything. At first, I was sick of the endless spring in your step, the endless positivity... but it's grown on me. Because of your hopeful attitude, I no longer wake up scared that I might not survive this journey... You've turned this nightmare into something I can actually enjoy, and I think it's your bubbly personality that's done it."

She was humbled by her friend's words and praise, almost to the point of speechlessness. "That's... that's very nice of you! It's nice to hear that. It gives me something to think about."

Their conversation was interrupted by the waitress, who approached from behind. "Did you enjoy the rice?"

"Yes, thank you!" Kimberly attempted to say. She dug through her purse and grabbed a few coins, then counted out a few silvers and offered them to the waitress.

The waitress' eyes widened. "Oh! No! This is too much!" she said as she divided the coins up and offered some back. "I appreciate generosity, but I can't accept this much!"

She hesitantly grabbed the coins back and looked across the table at Andrea. "So cheap!" she whispered.

After the waitress left, Andrea stood up and pushed her chair in. "Let's go and see if we can find a place to stay for the night."

Kimberly remained seated and dug through her backpack. "I think I'd rather stay here a bit, actually. I want to do some reading, if you don't mind, maybe a bit of writing, too. If you need me, though, come and get me."


- - - - -​

Author's note: Speech written entirely in italics is intended to mean that the characters are speaking another language, unless specifically stated that is a character's inner thoughts. Obviously, attempting to read my horribly broken attempts at Chinese (or in one instance, French) would severely impact the flow of the story, so I've written it in English instead. Rather than painstakingly remind the reader that each line is translated, it's assumed that the R-Kit is constantly running its translations for Andrea and Kimberly in both directions.
 
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Time for the usual, eh?

Technical Accuracy/Style
It gets the point where there's not a lot new I can say here, because honestly when you really polish up a chapter, it works. I don't have any complaints as far as the translation convention goes. The chapter was the right sort of length as well, quite a short one, this.

Story
The plot doesn't really move on here, but that's rather the point, isn't it? Besides, a relatively short chapter is fine just to put a bit of shine on the main character's interactions.

Setting
Two languages I know, bwahahah. I don't think people would use "shénme" for the same reason as "what". "Wŏ bù mingbai nĭ" (Why are there no sodding shortcuts for fourth tone) ... that's probably "I don't understand you, though I'm pretty sure the grammar is wrong. Ok, I'll stop being a bitch now, since Shinikaran isn't supposed to be actually Mandarin.

Characters
I wouldn't worry too much about the conversations. It all came out pretty naturally here, and that's more or less what I meant in the General Questions thread. You don't have to get clever about it, just let it flow as you would expect it to in the mythical Real Life
 
The plot doesn't really move on here, but that's rather the point, isn't it? Besides, a relatively short chapter is fine just to put a bit of shine on the main character's interactions.
If you think this one is short, you're going to think the next chapter is an insult to the concept of length.

Setting
Two languages I know, bwahahah. I don't think people would use "shénme" for the same reason as "what". "Wŏ bù mingbai nĭ" (Why are there no sodding shortcuts for fourth tone) ... that's probably "I don't understand you, though I'm pretty sure the grammar is wrong. Ok, I'll stop being a bitch now, since Shinikaran isn't supposed to be actually Mandarin.
I had a feeling I'd run into trouble here. While it's not supposed to actually be Mandarin, it basically is. The reason the grammar is so terribly broken is because I'm running it through Google translate, as I don't really have a whole lot of options other than learning the language myself. Considering I'm already struggling to learn Norweigan, I'd rather not waste my time on something that's marginally consequential. At least with the French part, I double checked the rules of verb conjugation... not sure if that helped.

Or I could bug my sister-in-law who actually understands the language, but I think she has even less time than I do.

Characters
I wouldn't worry too much about the conversations. It all came out pretty naturally here, and that's more or less what I meant in the General Questions thread. You don't have to get clever about it, just let it flow as you would expect it to in the mythical Real Life
Yeah I'm not sure what I was worried about. When I actually started to write, it felt right. I guess everyone needs a bit of self doubt at some point.
 
Google Translate is a perfectly good quick dictionary substitute, or tourist translation tool, but it does have its limitations, whatever Google might claim with their Star Trek future crap. Anyway, French is supposed to be my major field of study and I regularly get tripped up by bloody conjugations, so I really wouldn't worry too much about that. I suppose I would probably go for "Wŏ bù huì yīnghuà" (I think I have the tones right on that one), since the few people who didn't want to speak to me in Shēnzhèn just waved contemptuously It's really a nitpicky matter, though
 
Yay for more world building! I really liked all the little tidbits you and Caitlin have been throwing in the last few chapters, from musician and band names to the Dewitt sisters thing, it's just nice touches really.

Also, is it me or did Kimberly want Andrea to think she was putting make up for her two chapters ago? xD it's just something that made me laugh. But anyways, not much really has gone on in these last two chapter essentially, we at least went through the cave and now the girls are closer to their goal, plus the adventure in the caves was a good way to go back and re-explore Andrea's fear of caves and her bad experience back in Storm Island.

I honestly had thought the R-Kit had already been used to translate speech, it just seemed like a function that a machine like it would have considering how handy it is. And again I liked the inclusion of the more Mandarin/Chinese like aspects into these part of the region, it's kind of as if you have two regions in one.

It was nice seeing Caitlin back after so long and there are differences in the prose but I like both of them myself, Caitlin's is a bit more sophisticated and relies on the reader inferring the character's tone and feelings from what they say while prescott's is quicker (at least imo) and while it's not as sophisticated I think it has a really good flow to it that makes it easy to read and digest.
 
The praise directed in my way is nice, but I think it's kind of undeserved. Let me explain.

Prescott did a majority of the writing for chapter 47, which is why her name appeared first in the credits. She devised the setting, she wrote out the conversations, and she did most of the description. My contribution was mostly in the form of ideas and consultation. When I left the project early on, I had very poorly written notes about what's supposed to be so special about Furball, so she asked me to write it out the scene where Andrea discusses her theories, which she then edited to fit the style of the rest of the chapter. I also did a bit of polishing before it was released, but that was mostly simple grammar changes. To say that my writing is more elegant compared to Prescott's is simply not true.

I do consistently beta read for her and I've been following the story closely since I handed it off to her. I was a bit surprised by the change in quality between chapter 46 and chapter 47, too. They're subtle differences, but in impactful ways. I bet it's tied to her vacation to Las Vegas in the weeks before the chapter was finalised and released. She told me she read two full novels in under a week while she was out there, rather than actually enjoy the city. Maybe some stylistic choices of the authors she read rubbed off on her? I dunno.

Anyways, it warms my heart to see that people are still reading this story, and the fact that it's actively competing in awards cycles. I never thought something like this would happen to something I began writing during my high school classes to pass the time. I guess I just needed the perfect person to take it to the next level, and it looks like I found her.

I'm getting emotional writing this, so I should stop. Thank you all!
 
chapter 49
Storm Island
Chapter 49: The Seeds Are Blossoming

Journal entry, September 16th

It's another fine day! The temperature is moderate, the skies are clear, the surrounding landscape is simply marvelous, and the local people are very welcoming! Andrea and I just enjoyed dinner at a family ranch and got a taste of the local cuisine. I was never a fan of rice as I was growing up in Kanto, but the rice here? Out of this world! There's something different about it, and I can't quite put my finger on what... Even my father's mastery of cooking couldn't compare to what I just experienced at this small, family-owned establishment!

Today felt... almost surreal. Andrea and I have only known each other for about three weeks now, but it feels like we've become the greatest of friends. We spent all day discussing what we want out of life... I already knew one of her goals was to help research things that might save lives, but she still doesn't know what that research might be or how to apply herself. She spoke a lot about astronomy as well, and how she had dreams of working at an observatory. I didn't know she was so passionate about it! And then hearing her talk about her mechanical engineering studies, during her college years... She lost me many times on the way, which tells me she knows what she's talking about. How did she end up as a waitress!? She's a smart girl, and I hope she realizes that, but sometimes it feels like she actively looks for ways to deny it.

She listened intently to every word I've said, as well. I find that... unusual for her. Perhaps it was just the stress of trying to survive, but she was never terribly interested in what I had to say until recently. I'm grateful that she can sit there and listen to me waffle on about my time in Kanto, about my family, about my hopes, my dreams. When she agreed to stay at the monastery so that Juliano and I could learn more about Mistweaving, it struck me... I've stumbled on a very great friend, such a rare find these days! Andrea is very much unlike Nicole, who often ignored me, or grew impatient with me when I wanted to take a break from the road to see something new.

She was adorable, too! During dinner tonight, she was struggling without end on the proper way to use chop sticks, until she finally asked me. I would not call myself an expert, but I was happy to help. The look on her face, the look of genuine gratitude when she finally got it right with my help... I haven't seen something like that in years. Her personality can be jagged at times, but when she opens up... It warms my heart unlike anything else.

Which brings me to something that's been bothering me. Andrea has been on my mind a lot since we found our footing at that hunting safari. I'm starting to worry... I fear I'm falling for her. To most people, this wouldn't be a fear, but... I'm genuinely worried that if this continues, it will only end with me having my heart broken, and that I might lose a great friend over it. It's happened too many times before. I feel I've done an adequate job of hiding this from her, but secrets can only be kept for so long.

My biggest fear is her ongoing obsession with her old flame, Larson. It feels like a day doesn't go by where she doesn't mention him, or think about him in some form. She's beginning to think he's a monster due to what he did on that cruise ship, but yet he still captivates her imagination. How could I possibly compete against that? Can I even? I have a feeling she couldn't possibly reciprocate my feelings if I opened up to her. It's very likely that she doesn't like girls in that way, and that weighs the heaviest on my mind...

While Andrea and I were climbing the Thousand Steps on our way to the monastery, we came across a wishing well. I feel like I've had good luck with wishing wells in the past, as most of the wishes I made on them have come true. I do hope this does not break the unwritten rule of wishes, as I am not technically telling anyone... I wanted a bit of clarity on the feelings I am developing for Andrea, and whether they are harmless and just friendship as usual, or more... It may be a bit early to draw any conclusions, but I think I'm starting to get a good idea.

She has sacrificed and suffered a lot to ensure my well-being. When she could have easily abandoned me to the monstrous mammoth when we first met, she came back for me. When I became gravely ill with the jungle fever, she used every last bit of her knowledge to bring me back from the edge, at great risk to herself. She stood firm and defended me from a pair of robbers, without even thinking of the consequences if she failed. And then her bravery in the tunnels yesterday, despite her own fears... I owe her a lot, and it's weighed heavily on my mind. Nobody has been so selfless for me in my entire life, not even my parents.

And then there is the way she's acted since I made that wish... There was one rough moment, admittedly, but the rest? I've never seen the like of it from her! Her patience, her friendly demeanor, her willingness to listen and to learn, her desire to learn about the culture of this land with me... Was that all a result of this harmless little wish? Is this the clear sign I asked for, regarding my feelings for her? From the stories she's told me, she was never a patient person growing up. The more I think about it--"


"Whatcha writing?" Andrea's voice called out.

She seized up and slammed her journal shut. "Oh dear! You frightened me!" she said as she caught her breath. "Nothing you'd be interested in, I imagine. Just personal musings."

"Try me," Andrea replied.

"No, no. This is something I need to think about deeply before I speak about it."

Andrea paused briefly. "Hmm. Anyways, I 'spoke' with the owner of the ranch, or at least I tried. I think we can rent a room from them tonight for twenty silvers."

"Oh, lovely!" she said.

"I could be very wrong about that, just keep that in mind. I have no idea how well my R-Kit actually does when it comes to translation..."

"It seems to have worked for us so far, hasn't it?"

"Has it? The owner kept giving me strange looks and telling me I was using the wrong words."

She packed her journal away and slung her backpack over her shoulders. "I'm sure it will be fine. Let's go negotiate with him, I'm starting to get a little sleepy."


- - - - -​

Author's note: This is a very short one, and that was by choice. I felt like an entire chapter needed to be dedicated to what is perhaps the most important piece of character development for Kimberly, yet I wanted to be short and concise with it at the same time.
 
I KNEW IT!

um...*coughs* excuse me. I mean I had a feeling considering what I mentioned in my last review, it's totally not because I've been shipping the two for a while or anything. Either way, things just got a lot more interesting now, though I do hope things go well for Kimberly, we haven't exactly gotten any indication that Andrea might be interested in girls before, or at least that I can remember.
 
um...*coughs* excuse me. I mean I had a feeling considering what I mentioned in my last review
kekekeke, I've held off on a responding to that because you pointed it out. :D

Yay for more world building! I really liked all the little tidbits you and Caitlin have been throwing in the last few chapters, from musician and band names to the Dewitt sisters thing, it's just nice touches really.
I'm glad someone's picked up on it. I've been wanting to differentiate the Storm Island universe from our own for awhile now, and I figured making parallels to ours but changing a few things up would help to do that.

I honestly had thought the R-Kit had already been used to translate speech, it just seemed like a function that a machine like it would have considering how handy it is.
Just written text up until this point. The characters who've been speaking English so far have done so by choice, since they're in kinda-touristy areas. Having broken away from a nation that speaks English as a primary language (West Sakala), I don't think it's too much of a stretch. However, now that we're getting out into the countryside, they'll be running into less and less people who speak their language.
 
chapter 49.5
Storm Island
Rocket 4: Civic Center Subterfuge

September 14th, Azure Ridge
12:32 PM


It was a bright and sunny summer afternoon in the city of Azure Ridge. Another gripping heat wave was blasting the city and the surrounding countryside with no relief in sight. Most folks were smart enough to be inside, hidden away from the triple digit temperatures, but there were several crowds of young people congregating around the Azure Ridge Civic Center. Most were segregated far away from each other, and each had a specific trait that set themselves apart from the others. For some, it was their outfits, while for others, a specific color theme distinguished each group from each other.

Across the street from the civic center, a woman with auburn hair kept an eye on each group, studying each as closely as she could from that distance. Across the table she was sitting at was a man, enjoying a salad as he flipped through a stack of papers. Between them was a radio, tuned to Storm Island's 24 hour talk radio station. The subject of that afternoon's discussion was the aftermath of the S.S. Beckinshire's destruction.

"...conference early this morning, Rear Admiral Blackmoore has announced that the search and rescue operation in the western sea has officially ended; two weeks following the deadly attack on the S.S. Beckinshire, officials are now calling this a recovery operation. With only thirty seven confirmed survivors out of the nearly 8000 aboard the ship, it's a grim--"

Before the hosts of the radio show could discuss the subject, the woman objected to hearing it entirely. "Travis, turn that off, please."

The man flipped the power on the radio off, then sighed. "Yeah, it is a bit depressing, isn't it..."

"It's not depressing, it's angering. I don't need to be angry today." Eliza reached into a sack at her feet and grabbed a pair of binoculars, then raised them to her eyes. She scanned the grounds of the Azure Ridge Civic Center, moving quickly from group to group as she tried to get a feeling of who they were.

"What are you looking for, exactly? When I agreed to help you with this, I thought I was going to be told stuff, not kept in the dark." Travis asked.

"We're looking for leads into Team Rocket's plans," she answered.

"And how, exactly, are we going to do that? What are we going to learn by watching a bunch of kids at a community center?"

She lowered her binoculars and looked across the table at him. He noticed two things in her eyes: a burning passion for what she was doing, and slight annoyance at him for asking so many questions. "That letter I got from that former member of Team Rocket... she told me this would be a good place to start. I'm looking for a band of Shinikari youth with red bandanas, apparently they've gotten involved with Team Rocket somehow."

"That's it? Some kids with bandanas? No known connection, either?"

She raised the binoculars and began to look around again. "Look, I don't have a lot of information to go on either. It frustrates me, but it's what I've got to work with. Besides, this is our job, remember. We seek out information with little to start with, and this will be no different."

"We better get something out of this. I had to use my vacation time to come all this way with you!" He chuckled angrily. "My wife is not going to be happy. Using vacation days, just to go to work? What am I doing with my life?"

"I don't want to hear it. This is important work we're doing, more important than a day with the family."

"Then why don't we do it through the official channels?" he protested. "At least we'd get paid for it."

She turned around and aggressively addressed him. "We tried that once before. It didn't work. The less people involved, the better, because I don't know who to trust."

"So you're going to take Team Rocket on all by yourself?"

She shook her head as she continued inspecting the congregating crowds. "No, I'm going to be getting some help along the way. You, for a start."

He sighed. "I just hope we can do something good for a change."

Nearly twenty minutes passed by. Just as she was about to give up, she noticed the door to the gymnasium open up and several young people spill out onto the lawn. Each person seemed to meet the standards she was looking for; they were all Shinikari youth, they all wore black and red bandanas, and they all appeared to have an unspoken but unbreakable bond between them.

"I think these are the people I was told about..." she said, lowering the binoculars again. She handed them across the table.

"So now what?" he asked.

"I have to get in closer and listen to what they're saying."

"What?! Are you insane?! They would eat you alive the moment they realized you were a cop!"

She looked down at her clothing; long and loose fitting tan cargo pants, a cropped tank top that exposed her midriff, gaudy coral pink hoop earrings and a black and red bandana, similar in design to the style worn by the people she was about to approach. It was much different than she was used to. "It's a good thing I don't look like a cop, then."

"I was going to ask what was with those clothes..."

As she prepared to cross the street and approach the crowd, she adjusted her clothing one last time. "Well, how do I look?"

"Like an aging beach babe."

"That doesn't fill me with confidence..." she said. She raised her aviator sunglasses and slipped them over her eyes, then pointed out to some bushes at the side of the street, adjacent to some tennis courts. "See those bushes? I want you to hang around there. Keep an eye on me. If things start to go tits up, I'm going to need some help."

"Got it."

She took a deep breath to steady her nerves. "Let's do this."

"Hold up! Before you go..." He grabbed the bandana off of her head, then stashed it into his pocket. "You want to blend in, but probably not too much. If you go over there flashing their colors, they might be a bit suspicious, maybe think you're one of them. The second they start talking to you, they'll figure out that you're not."

She nodded. "Good point."

They crossed the street towards the civic center, and the game was afoot. Travis approached the bushes that Eliza pointed out, while she made her way across the vast, freshly cut lawn towards the basketball courts. She thought of ways to appear less out-of-place and settled on the one thing she saw most other people doing: she pulled out her phone and buried her nose in it. She idly approached the group of Shinikari youth, her attention locked on them. Luckily for her, she found a bench relatively close to them, and even luckier, close enough to eavesdrop. Now all she had to do was wait and listen.

"--definitely looking forward to it. The big match up between Caelshire and Glengary is tonight! Who you think's goin' to the finals?" one of the youths asked.

"Glengary for sure. Bonnett's the best forward in the league, they can't lose with him on the field." another commented.

"Ah, you're full of shit!" one of the others protested. "Hartle's the better forward!"

"Oh yeah? How come he's only scored three goals this season? My grandma could do better than that, and she's got a walking cane!"

Hartle's fan was upset by the claim and forcefully shoved the other. "You take that back!"

"He might have been good a couple years ago, but he's gettin' old, man! C'mon!"

Eliza groaned as she listened to the youths debate sports. It wasn't what she was hoping to hear about. Still, she remained determined, her attention still fixated on her phone. She took a brief moment to look around her, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary.

Nearly half an hour passed by as she listened in on their conversations. Most of it was uninteresting and had little to do with the information she was after; more spirited sports discussion, the results of the previous night's reality TV contests, relationship drama and personal problems all came up as discussion topics. As she continued to eavesdrop, a man in his early thirties approached the group of youths. He was dressed in a similar way to them, but she could tell that he wasn't Shinikari.

"Wassup, Lu'?" one of the youths asked.

"Not much," the man said.

"How'd things go with Molly last night?"

Lu grinned wickedly and chuckled.

There was a collective gasp of surprise, followed by uproarious laughter and animal-like hooting.

"Best part is, I'm seeing her sister tonight, too! She doesn't even have a clue!"

The group erupted with noise and admiration again, and high fives went all around. Eliza was disgusted with their behavior, but put it out of mind as she continued her eavesdropping. Domino had suggested she look into these folks, surely there must be something to learn from them. Her patience was quickly rewarded after the noise began to die down.

"How's business been?"

"Pretty well, considering all that's happened," Lu answered. "Money's coming in from Ambervale. We're expanding into Silvermist. Mixie and Gavin have been scoping out places for our next operation."

Eliza immediately perked up upon hearing the name. "Mixie?" she thought. "Now that's a name I recognize..."

"We're picking up a lot of support, too. I was skeptical of our future when that cruise ship went down, but a lot of people have come forward to join our organization because of it."

One of the youths shook his head in disgust. "I dunno, man. Do we really want people like that in our crew? We're not savages."

"I actually agree. But who's in and who's not isn't up to me." he replied. He looked down at his watch, then clapped his hands together. "Anyways, I've gotta jet. Shit to do. See y'all around."

Lu's abrupt departure caused the group to scatter, and Eliza saw an opportunity in it. She was slightly curious of what stuff he 'had to do', but figured it wasn't as important as extracting information from him. His mentions of a person named 'Mixie', as well as his apparent intimate knowledge surrounding Team Rocket's inner workings told her that this was a leader of the crime syndicate, or at least a high ranking member. The knowledge he held would go a long way towards preventing whatever they planned next. She made the decision: he was being brought in for questioning. She hopped off of the bench and began to pursue him. As she followed him, she opened her phone and began to dial Travis' number.

After a few rings, Travis answered. "I see you're following someone, what's up?"

"I think this guy's important," she said softly and quietly. "Keep up with me, but stay out of sight. I don't know where he's going."

"What's so important about him?"

"He seems to know a lot. Operations, finances, speaking with leaders. Your average member doesn't know that much."

"What's your plan?"

"I'm gonna make a move on him when he's isolated."

Travis sighed. "Okay. Give a signal if you need a hand, I'll be ready."

Lu looked behind him and noticed that Eliza was following him. He shrugged it off at first, but a second look back showed that she was still following. He decided to test her. As soon as he reached the end of the wall beside him, he turned the corner and continued in that direction. He turned around again, and there she was, following the same as always. "Hey! You followin' me, lady?" he hollered.

Without a word, she pulled a white and green Pokéball that was emblazoned with a golden shield out of her pocket and tossed it to the ground. The ball exploded with a bright flash of golden light. An orange canine creature with blackened stripes running along its back and puffy, white fur running along its chest appeared and immediately lowered to all fours.

"Sweet, after him!" she commanded.

Sweet charged forward with incredible speed. Lu could do little to escape the approaching Growlithe, but he tried anyways. He barely made it ten feet before Sweet pounced through the air at him. He shouted in agony as her fangs sunk into his arm; she swung around him like a sling, and the momentum slammed him into the ground with considerable force.

Eliza quickly approached and jumped on top of him. With him tightly pinned to the ground, she reached into his pockets and began to empty their contents onto the ground around him; a switchblade, some crumpled papers, a few filthy coins, a small bag of nondescript pills, and a wallet. She opened the wallet and had a look at his ID.

"Luigi Andelli, huh?" she asked. The name sounded vaguely familiar to her, but she couldn't figure why.

"Get off of me, I didn't do shit!" the man protested, completely motionless as he shouted.

She reached into her pocket and grabbed her phone. "We'll see about that."

"You can't just--"

She pressed her knee down on the back of his head and rubbed his face into the dirt. "Be quiet and make this easier for yourself." She began to dial a number she became very familiar with over the past month, Marvin Dennison's phone number.

The phone rang several times before it was answered. "Eeyello?" Marvin asked in a cheery manner.

"Marvin! It's Eliza!"

"Oh, hey! What's up?"

"Can you do me a favor? Are you in the office?"

"Yeah, just sitting down for lunch. What do you need?"

"Can you run a database check on a man named Andelli, first name Luigi?"

"Luigi Andelli, huh... Sure, let me look." There was a long pause. "Got something. Two outstanding warrants: one for armed robbery and another for assault with a deadly weapon. A very, very long arrest record, too. Why?"

She looked down at the man and patted him on the head. "Because I'm sitting on top of him right now and I needed an excuse to bring him in for questioning."

Marvin was confused. "What? Why are you--"

"I'll explain later, it's not important right now. What matters is that I'm bringing someone in for an interrogation. Can you arrange that for me?"

"Uhh..." he blustered. "I dunno, that's the Silvermist branch's responsibility, right?"

"I'm here in Azure Ridge, it'll be quicker and easier to bring him into your office."

"What are you doing--" he started, then stopped himself. "I guess I can take care of that. You'll tell me what's going on after that, right?"

She paused for a moment to think. She knew that he would be a trustworthy and valuable person to bring into her investigation, but she also remembered the warning she received a week prior about involving him in it all. She carefully tried to craft her words. "I have to play this one close to the chest for awhile, Marvin. I don't think you'd go and blab, but the less people who know, the better."

"Huh... well, alright. I'll trust that this is all above board." Despite his words, there was a noticeable tone of skepticism in his voice. "I'll get that interrogation set up, then forward you the details."

"Thanks."

"See ya soon."

"Yep." She closed her phone and placed it back into her pocket, then made a flailing arm gesture towards the street.

Travis saw the signal and quickly approached, keeping a watchful eye on his surroundings. "We bringing this guy in?"

She nodded.

He reached into his pocket and grabbed a pair of handcuffs. "Alright, big guy. Nice and easy."

As her partner handcuffed Luigi, Eliza began to recite his rights to him. "Mr. Andelli, you have the right to remain silent. Anything you say may be--"

"Yeah, yeah, stow it, ya bitch. I know my rights." Luigi replied. "Just bring me in already."
 
So you finally cracked it eh? I don't know if I've said it before, but I like your attention to detail when it comes to the law enforcement in this world. I've always maintained that if you pay attention to the little details you can get away with more when it comes to the suspension of disbelief.

Andelli's arrest rather reminds me of reading up on mob stories (Which knowing this story, was probably deliberate). The stupid ones always did give the police a standing reason to arrest them. There's a reason the modern mob scrupulously pay their income tax, after all.

If I were to pick on anything, it would be how much of the arrest would come out in the paperwork. Since Eliza's trying to conduct what amounts to a private investigation, that could prove to be a sticking point
 
So you finally cracked it eh?
Eh, only kinda. I still don't know how to move Andrea/Kimberly's story forward (nor Kamin's, for that matter. I Gendry'd that poor bastard). A few ideas are still in the works, but none are particularly satisfying to me as a writer to work with. Maybe I need to start asking people for ideas again.

I don't know if I've said it before, but I like your attention to detail when it comes to the law enforcement in this world. I've always maintained that if you pay attention to the little details you can get away with more when it comes to the suspension of disbelief.

I think it's a double edged sword. I know very little about how law enforcement actually works (in fact, I had to google to see if it were legal for off duty officers to make an arrest). There's a lot that might make people who understand the system roll their eyes. I worry about that sometimes... the thought that my writing will display how utterly ignorant I am of how the real world works in even a basic way.

Oh well. It'll happen eventually, but until it does, the show goes on.

If I were to pick on anything, it would be how much of the arrest would come out in the paperwork. Since Eliza's trying to conduct what amounts to a private investigation, that could prove to be a sticking point
Yes, that will be a problem that I have not strictly planned for, I must admit. There are plans in the works to get around the paperwork and the red tape. Eliza is a resourceful girl.
 
Well, when it comes to a fantasy world, I'm looking for verisimilitude rather than strict accuracy. It's that feeling of a world that functions that matters most. What gets on my nerves is if I get the feeling the author thinks that just because it's fantasy they don't have to try and make the world make sense
 
chapter 50
The quality of this one may be terrible. After being stuck for three months, I felt like I had to get something out. Hopefully it's not too mangled.

Storm Island
Chapter 50: The Important Things We Do

Written by Kimberly Prescott, consultation by Caitlin

It was a long and boring slog through the remainder of the farmlands surrounding the village of Muyang. Little of interest had happened to Andrea and Kimberly as they made their way towards their next destination, the city of Yulong-la, a journey that took them nearly twelve straight hours of walking, a feat and distance that would impress even a professional marathon runner. At long last, and through considerable effort, they reached the city limits.

It was different than they were expecting. The transition from rural farmland to the busy city was almost instant; one moment, they were in a muddy rice field, and the next moment, they found themselves in an urban jungle characterized by concrete, metal and the chaotic hustle and bustle of human activity. Despite the fact that it was late at night, the city was more active than both had expected, and it was something the likes of which neither had ever seen before. Loud music blared from nearly every establishment they walked by, and brightly lit electronic billboards illuminated the surrounding environment to near day-time levels.

Fighting through the immense crowds was a difficult task; despite the fact that she had grown up in a large and bustling city, Andrea felt overwhelmed by the sheer amount of people on the streets. Kimberly was even less accustomed to the hustle and bustle. Thousands of people filled the streets like water, ebbing and flowing like tides as they reached each intersection. Not wanting to become separated, the two wrapped their arms around each other tightly and braved the hordes as they tried to find a place to sleep for the night.

"This is incredible!" Kimberly said. "I've never seen anything like it! We have to look around!" The sense of wonder in her voice was palpable, even through the deafening amount of noise that came from both the people and the businesses around them. Her eyes were drawn to the animated billboards, the neon signs, the blinking lights, and everything in between.

Andrea was remarkably less captivated by the sights around her. "I just hope we don't get lost... Where was this hotel again?"

"Ummm... was it Ganju Boulevard?" she asked, trying to remember the details.

"You're not even certain?" Andrea looked at the map on her R-Kit, taking care not to bump into the crowds around her. "There's Ganju Avenue coming up in just a few blocks. I really hope they don't reuse street names in this country, or I'm gonna be pissed."

"We'll get there soon, surely!"

"I hope so... My legs gave up on me a long time ago."

Just as Andrea was about to keel over from exhaustion, they reached Ganju Avenue, which gave her the final bits of motivation needed to arrive safely at the hotel. Luckily for them, they could see their destination just a few blocks down the road. It was a short walk, much to their relief.

Before them was the Palatium Romatti. Unlike most hotels which are simple towers or sprawling complexes, this one was a carefully crafted building, characterized by a sloped tile roof, supported by dozens of marble pillars and lavishly carved limestone walls. Numerous marble statues surrounded the building, carved into the shapes of great leaders of history, mythical creatures and other depictions of classical beauty. A large pool of water graced the front lawn of the hotel, and an intricate network of sprinklers bathed the area in a soothing mist. They were drawn in by the sheer beauty of it, but also put on alert.

"Umm, are we even going to be able to afford this place? It looks awful expensive..." Andrea gawked.

"Yes, we'll be able to. Trust me, I knew what I was doing when I chose this place."

The interior continued the theme of opulent antiquity. The first thing they noticed was the fountain in the center of the lobby, decorated with a statue of the greatest emperor of ancient Romatti, Gaeus Andretalus. Murals lined the walls, telling the stories of Emperor Andretalus' conquests of much of the known world. Even someone fluent in the history of the Romatti Empire could learn something new just from standing in that lobby.

The two approached the front desk, ready to negotiate with the attendant. Much to their surprise, however, the attendant spoke reasonably understandable English.

"Welcome to the Palatium Romatti!" he said. "How may I help you two?"

Kimberly took charge of the negotiations. "We'd like to rent a room, please."

"Very well. Do you have a reservation?"

She shook her head. "No, sir."

"Give me a moment, then..." The attendant began to tap away furiously at his keyboard. "We have a room available on the seventh floor... Twenty gold coins."

Andrea was a bit dismayed by the price. "Wow..."

The attendant nodded as if he understood her shock. "I can assure you, you pay for the best here, ma'am."

Kimberly dug through her purse to gather up the payment, only to find that she was several coins short. Instead, she retrieved the corrugated metal pocketbook that contained her gym badges and grabbed a small plastic card from inside, then handed it to the attendant. "You have an ID scanner, correct?"

"We do! A moment, please." The man took the card and disappeared into the office behind the front desk.

Andrea took the time to study her surroundings further and was almost disgusted by how needlessly expensive everything looked. She knew she was in a different part of the country and that neither were connected, but she couldn't help to think back to the abject poverty she observed while she was in Letchworth. She began to think that some of the exorbitant wealth that went into the design of the hotel would perhaps be better spent aiding the poor. "Are you sure about this? We can find somewhere a bit more... reasonable."

Kimberly rested her hand on Andrea's shoulder and patted it. "I'm sure, friend! It will be awhile before my savings start to run low. What's wrong with enjoying a bit of luxury when we can?"

"I dunno, all I need is a bed, not royal treatment."

The attendant returned and handed the card back to Kimberly. "Everything is in order, Ms. Fairbrooke. You'll both be sharing this room, correct?"

"Yes."

He slid a guest registry across the desk, then began to tap away at his keyboard some more. A machine beside his computer began to whir with life as it spat out two small metallic cards. He grabbed the cards and handed one each to the girls after they both signed the registry. "These are the keys to your room. Enjoy!"

Their room was no less grand than the rest of the hotel. Azure silk curtains in the windows, a queen size bed, luxurious leather furniture, a delicately designed chandelier and a marble floor hidden beneath the blue and gold carpet greeted them with decadent charm.

Andrea groaned with delight as she crashed onto the bed. She tried to fall asleep right there, but couldn't. Despite being completely and utterly exhausted, she felt oddly energized by the lengthy walk that brought her here. The silence and the strange atmosphere started to drive her insane, so she sat up and looked around. The first thing that caught her attention was the phone sitting on the bedside table next to her. Thoughts of home immediately rushed to her head; she wanted to get in touch with her parents again to update them on what was happening. She picked up the phone.

"Oh? Do you need some privacy? I can have a bit of a wander." Kimberly asked.

"No, that's fine," She picked up the phone and took a deep breath. As she started to dial her parents' phone number, she began to think about what time it might be back on Storm Island; while she was genuinely worried about waking her parents up, she was also partially looking for an excuse to put the phone call off. Before she could finish dialing, she asked, "Hey, do you happen to know what time zone we're in?"

Kimberly tried to remember her foggy geography lessons. "Ummm... I don't. Sorry."

A quick check of her R-Kit indicated that it was 3 AM on Storm Island. "Yeah, it's definitely way too late..." she said. "I'll call tomorrow, maybe."

"If you don't mind my asking, who were you going to call?"

"My parents. I dunno though... I should, but I almost don't want to."

"Huh? Why!? Your parents would love to hear from you!"

"Maybe, but... I'm kinda scared..."

"Scared? By what?"

She shook her head and sighed.

Her silence piqued Kimberly's curiosity, and she could tell that her friend was clearly troubled by something. She closed her book, put it on the table, then hopped off of the couch to join Andrea on the bed. "Whatever it is, we can talk about it if you'd like."

She groaned, crossed her arms and looked away.

Kimberly rested her arm on Andrea's shoulder and leaned into her. "There's nothing to be afraid of! Please, tell me what is on your mind, I don't want you to face whatever is bothering you alone."

It took a moment of silence and consideration before Andrea opened up. "I messed up. When I called home back in Letchworth, I made things right with my dad... but not my mom. He told me to call again that night so that me and her could talk, and I said that I would... but I never did." She shook her head in disgust. "What's wrong with me? I mean, we've never been particularly close, but... Ugh..."

"It's okay, you were--"

"No! It's not okay! That was terrible of me!"

"Okay, maybe it was, but you have a chance to right that wrong."

"I'm just terrified of how she'll react. I know it won't be nice."

"She may be a bit upset--"

Andrea interrupted with a laugh. "Heh. 'May'. You don't know her, she'll go nuclear."

"And yet you were still thinking about calling her. I think that says a lot about you as a person, that you're ready to let past experiences go. Maybe she'll see that."

"I don't have high hopes... But, stranger things have happened, haven't they?" She let out a deep and sad sigh. "I just want to apologize to her, ya know? For all the fighting, all the yelling... If I can just do that, even if she flips out, maybe I'll begin to feel better about myself."

"I admire you for wanting to try. It takes a lot of strength, most people would be happy to just let a bad relationship fall apart." Her stomach began to growl loudly. "Oof! Pardon me! I know we shouldn't eat just before we go to bed, but maybe we should grab dinner first?"

"Sure, sounds good."


- - - - -​

Angelic humming echoed throughout the bathroom, fighting for dominance against the harsh sound of a running shower. When the shower was shut off, the humming continued, accompanied by softly spoken, broken up lyrics. An arm stretched out from behind the shower curtain and grabbed onto a nearby towel, then disappeared back behind the curtain again. A moment later, the shower curtain was pulled aside and Kimberly approached the mirror, still humming her tune.

"Ahh..." she murmured. "So refreshing..."

She studied herself carefully in the mirror. Even though she realized there was nothing particularly wrong with it, she couldn't help but be critical of her appearance. What bothered her the most was her eyebrows; she hadn't had the time to properly trim and shape them in the past few weeks, and she feared that it was showing. She licked her finger and ran it over both in an attempt to hide the minor flaws she found in them. She reached for the tweezers that were resting beside the mirror and raised them to her left eyebrow, then paused.

"Wait a tick, when did I become so vain?" she asked. She sighed and shook her head as she placed the tweezers back. "I doubt it matters. She probably wouldn't notice, anyway..." she thought to herself.

She dropped the towel to the floor and slipped her ragged, filthy clothing back on, almost defeating the purpose of the shower she just took. "I should really buy a second set of clothes before we leave this city..." She wandered out into the main room to suggest the idea to Andrea, only to find her all packed and ready to go.

"Ready to leave?" Andrea asked.

"Weren't you going to call your mother before we left?"

She looked off to the side and sighed. "I... think I reconsidered."

"Oh? Why? You seemed so adamant in doing it last night."

"I also did a bit of thinking after I said that, and I don't know if I can," she said. "I can see it now, she's going to yell so hard her head's going to pop. She always does when I make her angry."

Kimberly approached the bed and brought Andrea along with her. "This is the perfect opportunity. I can understand if this is difficult, Andrea. We've all dealt with difficult circumstances in our lives, in one way or another."

"Oh yeah?" she asked, with a heavy dose of sarcasm. "And what difficult circumstances, our current situation excluded, have you dealt with?"

Kimberly could sense her friend's skepticism. She grabbed her hands and looked her deep in the eyes, a gesture that made Andrea slightly uncomfortable. She tried to ignore it as she listened carefully to her friend's advice:

"I'm sure you know this by now, but honesty is one of the things I hold most dearly. I've had to keep secrets from close friends and family, and it's painful to do so... Sometimes, I have to keep secrets even from my best friends... But this isn't about me. This is about you, your mother, the regret you feel over your actions, and a chance at repairing the damage that has been done. You don't have to do this today, but the longer you put it off, the worse things will be when you finally see her again. Do you really want that to loom over you as we get closer and closer to home?"

She shook her head. "I don't."

"Do you want to put the situation with your mother behind you?"

She nodded. "I do."

Kimberly picked up the phone and handed it to Andrea. "Then do what you can to make things right. I'll be at your side if you need any support."

She grumbled and shook her head, then took a deep breath and steeled her nerves as she began to dial her mother's phone number. "Here we go..."

The phone rang several times before it was finally answered. "Hello?" a feminine voice answered.

"Mom? It's Andrea. I... I--"

There was an audible gasp on the other land. "Andrea?! I'm so glad you're okay! You had me worried sick!"

"Sorry about that..."

It didn't take long for conflict to begin. "Why didn't you call me?! Why didn't you let me know you were okay?!" The anger in her mother's tone was obvious.

"Well, I--"

Before she could offer an explanation, Meredith's verbal blitzkrieg started. "What? Are you too good for me? Can't you call your mother every now and then? Especially when she most needs to hear that her daughter is alive? Is that too much to ask?"

"It's not like that, I--"

"It is just like that, and it's just like you... what happened to my sweet little girl? When did you become such a frigid--"

She was already beginning to regret calling home, but fought the growing temptation to hang up. She didn't want to do it, but she felt like she had to yell even louder in order to get a word in. "ENOUGH!" she roared. "This is why I don't call you! It's always yelling, it's always how bad I am at things, it's always something! But I don't care about any of that, just... Let me say something, please. This is important."

"Go ahead," her mother said in a stone cold manner.

She took a deep breath before letting it all out. "I... I'm sorry. For everything. Everything! For being such a pain in the ass when I was growing up, for being such a rebel during my teenage years, for wasting your money at college... I want to apologize for all of the times I've been rude over the past couple of years, especially the last time we saw each other. I especially want to apologize for not calling you once I reached someplace safe. That wasn't right of me, no, it was fucking terrible of me! I can't even begin to explain how bad I feel about that, and how deeply sorry I am for it."

Andrea's genuinely remorseful tone caught Meredith by surprise. She was speechless.

"I didn't agree with the way you were trying to guide me through life. I didn't feel like I needed to be protected from the world. I thought you were trying to keep me from reaching my potential, but the more I think about it, what mother would do that? You just wanted what was best for me, even if it didn't seem like it." She paused in an effort to contain her emotions. "We... disagreed about a lot over the past few years. We yelled, we fought... But despite all of that, I want you to know... I still love you, with every ounce of my heart."

"Andrea... It's been so long since I've heard that from you..."

"I'm lucky to have survived when that cruise ship sank. The experiences I've been having these past few weeks, in this strange land... They've taught me that life is far too fragile to hold petty grudges, especially with those you love. We're family. No matter what's happened in the past, we're in this together, and we always will be."

Her mother's voice was shaky. "I... I just wanted what was best for you. You're my little angel."

"I understand that, mom, but things have to change eventually. I'm almost twenty years old, I have to leave the nest at some point. I have my own life, and I need to live it. I can't do it if I'm attached to your hip."

"Maybe you're right..."

There was a long and silent pause between the two.

"How have you been?" Meredith asked. "I hope things have been okay."

"It's been a struggle at times, but I've kept my feet on the ground. I'm safe, I'm in good health, I've found someone reliable to travel with... Oh! That reminds me! You're going to love this! Remember how little interest I showed over the years to your gardening hobby? How much I said it would never come in useful for me?"

"I suppose you're going to tell me that it did come in useful, right?"

"Yes! A couple weeks ago, my travel partner was gravely ill with some sort of fever, and she was getting worse and worse by the hour. I didn't know what to do, but then I thought back to all that time you spent in the garden, all that work you put into understanding the medicinal properties of the plants you were growing... I mean, I was never interested in it, but it must have stuck in my head, because I figured out a way to bring her back to health with the knowledge you taught me."

"Oh yeah? What did you use? Dragonlily extract? Salveya?"

"Witchfinger, actually. You know, that really horrible stuff that Spud seems to like."

"Oh! Witchfinger grows over there? I didn't know that!" The joy in her voice was obvious. "It makes me happy to know that you actually learned a thing or two from me."

"Same. I don't think she would have survived if it weren't for the things you taught me. I got my best friend back because of you, and I can't even put into words how much that means to me."

"That's what I do my work for..."

She opened her backpack and began to dig through it. "I also got a gift for you when I get back to Storm Island. I visited a monastery and I picked up a book written by one of the monks that you might like." She grabbed the green leatherbound book she was talking about and began to idly flip through it. "It's called 'The Sacred Art of the Herb', and it details all sorts of practical uses for the plants found in this part of the world."

Her mother gasped. "That sounds interesting! You got that for me?"

"Partly for myself, too. I figured it would be useful if I needed to create some sort of remedy again, but once I'm back home, you can have it."

"Thank you!" she said. "You know, I honestly started to think you hated me, but... maybe we just had some differences we need to work through."

"There were times when I..." She paused momentarily to think carefully about her words. "Well, I don't think 'hatred' could ever define us."

"Good."

There was another long pause between the two.

"When do you think you'll be home?" Meredith continued. "I want to see you again! I miss you!"

Andrea tried to calculate a rough estimate of when she'd arrive in Mankala. "Umm... a week, maybe? That might be a bit generous... We still have a few cities to go through on our way to Mankala, and I imagine my friend will want to stop and smell the roses along the way. Even then, we haven't figured out the details of how we're getting home... we could be here awhile."

"Regardless of how long it takes, you're always welcome here at home. Until then, please, stay safe!"

"I will, don't worry! I can handle myself out here." Once again, there was another moment of silence between them, this one longer than the previous ones. It was so long that Andrea began to feel awkward about it. "I... I should go. My friend and I have things we need to do."

"I understand... It was good to hear from you after all this time."

"I'll try to be in touch more often, with both you and dad."

"I'd like that. I'll talk to you later."

She hung the phone up and let out a deep sigh of relief. "That went surprisingly well, all things considered."

"I'm proud of you for taking a stand and making things right with her!"

She blew off the praise. "Pfft! Doing what's right isn't taking a stand."

"Hmm... I'm not sure I agree with that, but... Hey! When you were talking to your mother, you said... I'm your best friend?"

She nodded. "Absolutely. The only real friend I had before was Larson, and sometimes I'm not so sure about him anymore..."

Kimberly rested her arm on Andrea's shoulders and pulled her in for a hug. "You have no idea of how happy I am to hear that."

She tried to pry Kimberly off of her. "You look for any excuse to hug me, don't you?"

"Oh... I can tone it down a bit, if you'd like."

She shrugged before gathering up her belongings. "Now that that's out of the way, let's have a look around this city. I want to check out the mountains, we've got a good view of them from here and I want to get a closer look."

"Do you mind if I tried to get in touch with my parents while we're here?"

She picked up the phone again and handed it to Kimberly. "Go ahead."

Kimberly dialed her parents' phone number and waited patiently. "Let's hope that there is someone home this time..." she said. The phone rang nearly five times, her heart sinking with each unanswered ring. Just as she was about to hang up, someone answered.

"You've reached Fairbrooke Manor, this is Mr. Keepsley speaking. How may I help you?" an elderly voice replied.

"Mr. Keepsley!" Kimberly joyously said. "It's Kimberly!"

"Ah! Miss Kimberly! It's very good to hear from you! We here were very worried when we heard the news about the cruise liner... Likewise, we were very relieved to hear about your survival! Your father especially."

"Where is my father? Would I be able to speak with him?"

"Yes, he has returned early from his obligations upon hearing what happened. Allow me to go fetch him."

"Yes! Please!"

"Very well, he will be right with you."

As she waited for her father to answer, she turned to Andrea and smiled widely.

"That smile is both adorable and creepy," Andrea responded.

She giggled.

The silence on the other line was broken by a refined yet blustering voice. "Hello? Kimberly?"

"Father!"

"Ahh! Yes! Words can not describe how much I've been wanting to hear your voice... It's good to hear that you're in good health... And in good company, from what I hear!"

She looked up at Andrea. "Yes, the best company. I owe her very much... Wait, how did you know about her?" While she remembered saying that she was in Sakala the last time she tried to reach her parents, she didn't remember mentioning Andrea.

"While I was aboard the S.S. Glastonfell, I was contacted my a member of the Storm Island police. I thought this to be odd, but I quickly learned why he contacted me. His daughter had found you! From what I heard, she's been instrumental in keeping you safe out there. Please, extend my gratitude!"

"I will, father!"

"Where are you, by the by? Sakala, that's a given, but where? Are you still in Letchworth?"

"I'm in a city called..." She looked to Andrea for guidance. "Yulong-la, was it? Yes."

"Yulong-la..." her father started, his voice trailing off as if he were researching the subject. "Let's see... there is no airport from what I can tell..."

"Correct. One of the locals told me that the only airport in this country is in Mankala, so that is the direction we are heading. We're planning to arrive there in about a week."

"Ah, marvelous! When you arrive, do let me know and I'll have the family jet flown out to pick you and your friend up."

"That was the plan!"

"That's my girl... I must admit, I was worried when you said that you would be travelling to Storm Island. I always knew that you were a capable young woman, but in the back of my mind, I feared that you wouldn't be able to manage it. It's no secret that you were given the royal treatment and spoiled rotten as a child... and yet, by the sound of things, you've been managing just fine! Alive, healthy, a plan and a reliable partner to lean on... Most people screw at least one of those up. In fact, I seem to recall a certain young lady by the name of Nicole who didn't have much of a plan..."

The two shared a laugh of agreement.

"Where is mother? When I tried to call last week, I wasn't able to reach her."

"Ah, yes, Annabelle," he blustered. "She is still in Um-Boro, over in the basin, and I fear she will be for some time. I'm sure you're aware of the stresses of running an international relief organization, and the dangers of working in an active war zone. But she is very happy to hear that you're alive and well! She misses you very much and looks forward to the next time you see her!"

"That's good to hear. I was a wee bit worried that she didn't care about what happened... When I told her I was to be on that cruise--"

"Kimberly, allow me to stop you right here," he said in a very stern yet stoic manner. "I admit, her decision to leave for the Andalla Basin the day after may seem suspect, but do remember: she had been planning this trip for months! She very much loves you, and while some might question her decisions sometimes, she decided it was best to continue her hard work while she had the chance."

"I know she does, it's just... You're right, silly me! It's been a stressful few weeks, sometimes awful thoughts enter the mind in these circumstances."

"I understand... So... how are things? Kept your spirits up?"

"This may sound strange, but things have been going very well! The first few days were rough, but we've found our footing. Horrible circumstances brought us here, but I'll be darned if I let that ruin an opportunity I might not have had. Andrea and I plan to see the sights while we're here... We've already done so, actually!"

"Ah, the Fairbrooke spirit! That's my daughter! What have you visited?"

"Have you heard of the Shenzin Monastery?" she asked.

"I have! I even almost visited when I was in that country a few years ago, but I couldn't find the time. How was it?"

"Incredible!" The excitement in her voice was incredibly apparent. "I learned a lot while I was there! Myself, spirituality, the local people, the bond I share with my Pokémon... I may have even learned some new tricks I can work into my coordination routines somehow... but I'll have to see about that."

"Ah, yes..."

There was a certain distance in his reaction, or rather lack of reaction, that Kimberly picked up on. She knew that he held little enthusiasm for her career choice and decided to change the subject. "Andrea and I were planning to see the sights of the city today. Do you know anything about this place?"

"Unfortunately I do not. I didn't have the opportunity to visit. I do know that there is a growing media industry somewhere in that city, but I don't know if that would be interesting to look at. I often hear that there are some fantastic mountains nearby, perhaps you and your friend could have a look at that?"

"Andrea wanted to look at that, so maybe that's what we'll do."

"I would get started now, my dear. Time has a nasty habit of running out when you're enjoying yourself, you may as well make the most of your day!"

Kimberly looked up to see that Andrea was pacing in circles around the window. "That sounds like a good idea, my friend seems to be getting a little restless."

"Very well! It was such a relief to hear from you!"

"The same, father. I'll get in touch with you when Andrea and I reach Mankala!"

"I'm looking forward to it! Be careful out there."

"I will. Bye!"
 
Hm. Well, yes, not one of your best chapters. There are aspects of it here and there that I would have recommended giving a rewrite, if I were the beta here. Overall it's not something I would worry too much about for the moment. The story does move on - calls home to parents counts as story too, even if this fandom seldom acknowledges it. You're definitely signalling an end to the Sakala arc here, so I think it would be wise to think about the pacing between here and Mankala. If you're struggling for more than one or two interesting settings, don't force it, because it'll show.

I do hope that you keep hold of Kimberly. Shipping jokes aside, she's a useful device, and I think you need her in this story. Andrea/Larson's friendship was really told more than shown - Andrea/Kamin was a bit too distant to really get much reaction from Andrea. Kimberly's making you build Andrea into a more complete protagonist, and honestly, she's a pretty decent deuteragonist. She has a brand of common sense that you don't see very much in pokémon fanfic
 
Hm. Well, yes, not one of your best chapters. There are aspects of it here and there that I would have recommended giving a rewrite, if I were the beta here. Overall it's not something I would worry too much about for the moment.
Which parts? I have a solid idea for the next chapter, so that's not a concern for me at the moment, and I want this one to be better.

If you're struggling for more than one or two interesting settings, don't force it, because it'll show.
Actually I was really only struggling with this specific instance, moving into the city. I wanted to do another chapter on the road but I seriously couldn't figure out how to do it. However, probably 90% of the rest of the season is more or less planned out, so hopefully they should feel less forced.
 
Well, let's see

It was a long and boring slog through the remainder of the farmlands surrounding the village of Muyang. Little of interest had happened to Andrea and Kimberly as they made their way towards their next destination, the city of Yulong-la, a journey that took them nearly twelve straight hours of walking, a feat and distance that would impress even a professional marathon runner. At long last, and through considerable effort, they reached the city limits.

That's not the most elegant introduction you've come up with. If it were me ... hm, I think I would probably have made a cursory mention of the walking time to frame the tiredness and started the narrative right in the "sudden change" note. In fact, no, I would have started with the description of Yulong-la, and then found somewhere to mention why they're knackered.

Before them was the Palatium Romatti. Unlike most hotels which are simple towers or sprawling complexes, this one was a carefully crafted building, characterized by a sloped tile roof, supported by dozens of marble pillars and lavishly carved limestone walls. Numerous marble statues surrounded the building, carved into the shapes of great leaders of history, mythical creatures and other depictions of classical beauty. A large pool of water graced the front lawn of the hotel, and an intricate network of sprinklers bathed the area in a soothing mist. They were drawn in by the sheer beauty of it, but also put on alert.

Again, not my favourite description. It's not dreadful, don't get me wrong. I wouldn't have used the last sentence - when you start outright telling the reader how beautiful something is, it sets a high bar to meet in the description.

I'd comment on the argument as well, but let's face it, I'm not renowned for getting those right myself
 
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