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COMPLETE: Survival Project (TEEN)

Hello! Just wanted to say thank you for all the awards comment and all other comments. Sorry for not updating sooner, been MIA lately a bit. I really appreciate the feedback, guys. I've been working on SP's sequel with all your comments and I'm really looking forward to releasing that - after we finish getting through the original, of course. :~)
@The Dude; @Flaze; @kintsugi; @AceTrainer14; @chaos_Leader; @BinkVallen; @AetherX; @Arkadelphiak;


SURVIVAL PROJECT
chapter 14 ; [SENORI]
chance

*​

We searched the city thoroughly for two days before we stopped. I don't want to say we gave up, but it almost felt that way. We had accepted Sai's erratic self, and trying to find predictability in his life was impossible. So we gave up, hoping he would come back to us soon.

Although we settled on having him locate us, I was worried about him and his health. Paranoia in pokémon was a bad sign, and it couldn't be much different in humans. That, and he had left his backpack behind, meaning he had no money or easy access to food. It didn't make sense for him to go home, either. He was from Vermilion City—another region! And as far as I knew, he didn't have anyone nearby except us...

While we waited for him to get over whatever spell he was going through, we figured out how to take care of ourselves. With Atis's help, we were able to sleep in the Pokémon Center room for one more night.

During our group discussions, Rennio suggested we backtrack to Azalea Town. It was too risky, though. What if Sai came back while we were gone? Traveling to the next city, where none of us had ever been before, was a worse idea. I didn't trust myself to let my teammates stray away from me. Separating was out of the question.

I decided it, then. We would stay in Goldenrod City and live as wild pokémon.

“I don't want to spend Sai's money without his permission,” I said when asked why we couldn't keep the room in the Pokémon Center. “We can tell Nurse Joy where we'll be in case she sees Sai when he comes back.”

If he comes back,” Kuiora said.

I shot her a look and said, “He'll come back.”

“How do you know?”

“I just know.” I had to believe in him. I had to believe this journey wasn't a waste. I had to believe we weren't going to crash and burn.

“Well, I don't care what we do.” I didn't point out her obvious lie. “It'd be cool to know what it's like to be a wild pokémon, anyway.”

“You don't want to know,” Rennio replied rather solemnly. He was probably still feeling guilty. I couldn't blame him.

“Anyone else want to add something?” I said, trying to keep things on topic.

“I-I think we should stay here... for now,” Atis said. “This is a big city, and he's more likely to turn up here than in the middle of nowhere.”

“Fair enough,” I said. “In that case, I say we stick around for five days. That seems reasonable, right? If he's not back in five days, then we'll leave.”

No one protested or offered another solution.

We waited in the room for five days. We had to convince Nurse Joy to let us sleep there for free while simultaneously lying about our trainer, but other than that, we had no problems. I tried to take care of everyone as I kept an eye out for Sai through the windows. If anyone wanted to go outside (which was often, considering our clashing personalities), they were allowed, so long as at least one of us was willing to let them back in. For food and water, we used whatever was in Sai's backpack. There was plenty to share. Mostly we were bored, though there was the occasional teasing between Atis, Kuiora and Ezrem. I thought I heard Rennio crying once, but I didn't want to intrude yet.

We waited in the room for five days, but Sai didn't show up.

*

We returned to the wild. None of us wanted to, but it was inevitable and it was the best choice, especially if we were in it for the long run. We were bored and antsy and confused. We wanted our trainer back, but we had to do something for shelter.

That was when Ezrem spoke up.

“Who said you get to be in charge?” he said.

“W-What?” I said, my voice faltering. Even though I didn't trust him, I didn't expect him to have anything against me.

“I asked you what makes you think you get to be the boss of everyone.”

“Well,” I said, pausing because I knew I was a failure, “who else would want the position?”

“I do,” Ezrem said, walking over to me. “I'll be the new leader.”

“You're not part of the team!”

“I'm a better leader than you.”

“Oh? How?”

"I've been with a trainer for years. I know what to do in dangerous situations,” he explained. After a moment he added, “Plus, I gave you good advice on how to win that battle when we met. You owe me.”

“You haven't been with our trainer. I was Sai's first pokémon!” I said. I could feel Kuiora's subsequent glare.

“It'd be safer in the city. What are you going to do if an extra strong pokémon attacks us?”

He was grasping at straws, I could tell. “The forest pokémon are weaker. We already know that.”

“Food and water?”

“Sai's backpack, or get it yourself.” I grinned at him. “Is that what you're afraid of? You don't know how to be a good wild pokémon, so you want to hide?”

Ezrem scoffed. “That's not it—”

“Sai's money is not ours to spend. We need to save it. We're lucky that we got to stay in the room as long as we did, and now it's time to move on.”

“And what if a trainer tries to catch us?”

“We can't be caught in pokéballs,” I said, my confidence growing as Ezrem went quiet. “Now... I think everyone should have an escort. We'll have to guard each other when we want to wander off or whatever.”

“Fine,” Ezrem said, smiling and sitting with the others. “I'll let you be the leader if I can go with Kuiora.”

“Really?” she said, squealing with joy.

“That's fine,” I said. I looked at the other two pokémon. Both of them had been silent, but I needed their input. “I'd like to take Rennio with me. Is that okay, Atis? You can handle yourself.”

“Right,” Atis said. He gave me an affirmative nod.

“Okay...” Rennio mumbled. He looked down, ashamed. Was he upset to not be with Ezrem? The bird had no reaction. He was busy talking with his new partner.

“Good,” I said softly. “Then let's go.”

*

If Ezrem was good for anything, it was for telling us which areas of Ilex Forest were mostly void of wild pokémon. He took us to the outskirts of the forest, a little bit past the daycare center. Kuiora asked why we didn't ask the lady there to take care of us, but I explained that that, too, would cost money.

If I'm being honest, it did feel strange to end up right back where I started. I continued believing Sai would return when he was ready, however long that took. He was a dedicated trainer. He wouldn't abandon us if he didn't have to.

Kuiora's antics were amusing, at least. I second guessed her being paired with Ezrem, noting his deceitful nature, but he seemed genuine when it came to her. He taught her how to purify pond water, even though she could shoot out water guns if needed, and they brought back only the best berries.

“Me having to be a wild pokémon again isn't fair!” Ezrem said once, but I new he was making excuses so he could devour the food and water in Sai's backpack. I laughed at him.

“Don't make fun of Ezrem,” Kuiora said seriously.

“You should choose your battles more wisely.”

“Whatever you say.”

I laughed again. I enjoyed it when everyone followed my rules and directions. It was slowly turning me into a leader. Granted, I had always been the leader of the team, since Sai was incapable of being the trainer sometimes. I was lost without him, but that didn't mean I couldn't act as a sentry.

Atis stuck to himself. He defended Kuiora when Ezrem wouldn't leave her alone, which was nice to see, but otherwise he hid between the trees and slept by himself, as usual.

As for Rennio and me... Well, it was a calm adventure. That's the best way I can put it. I couldn't get him to talk, no matter how much I tried. He knew how to survive and keep us all afloat, though, so he wasn't intolerable. Soon I was determined to get to the room of the problem.

"It's not your fault, you know,” I said to him a week after Sai disappeared.

“Huh?” he said. He showed no emotion as he pretended to not know what I was referring to.

"It's not your fault Sai left. He's always been a little different. If you had been around longer before that happened, I guarantee you wouldn't be blaming yourself as much as you are now.”

“How do you know I'm blaming myself?” he said. It was the longest sentence I'd gotten out of him thus far.

“Once you feel guilty for one thing, you pretty much feel guilty for everything bad that follows.”

“Oh... Yeah. You're right.”

“See? Don't worry about it,” I said, not sure if I was reassuring him or not.

“I'll try not to.”

“Is that all that's bugging you?” I said, sensing that there was something more.

“Well,” he started, “we're close to where my trainer was killed. I don't know if I like it.” He paused. “Okay, I definitely don't like it.”

“I understand. I went back to my clan after the incident, and it wasn't exactly the best experience in the world.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. That's when I started to let go. I hope this can be the start of something new for you. You get a third chance.”

Rennio chuckled lightly—a success in my book. But then he frowned, sniffled and he sobbed.

“I'm sorry,” he said. He wiped his eyes. “Water's supposed to be faithful to electric-type pokémon like me. I'm just... so, so sad.”

“It's okay. Don't cry,” I said. “Don't cry.”

He did anyway.

*

We carried through with our plan to live in the wild. We grew accustomed to it, but we still wanted Sai to come back. Things went smoothly—until there was a mishap. As if our luck couldn't get any worse.

Sai's backpack was stolen.

Even though I carried it by day and kept it near me by night, it was stolen. All that money, all that food, all that water... It was now gone. Sai certainly didn't retrieve his backpack and leave us behind. Someone—another trainer, probably—swiped it while I was sleeping.

Really?” Ezrem remarked, grinning madly. “We were trying not to use Sai's backpack. How ironic. I knew I should have been the leader!”

I said nothing as I evaluated the situation. We were faring quite nicely in the wild, so the loss of water and food wasn't so bad. It was the loss of money and badges that worried me. What would happen if Sai realized his prizewinning belongings were taken away from him? Would he go crazy for the second time? ...Would he run away again?

I sighed.

“Be observant, in case it turns up,” I said. “Other than that, we keep going on like we have been.”

Everyone agreed, even Ezrem. The group dispersed once more, but I didn't fail to notice how Ezrem went over to Rennio and whispered something in his ear beforehand. He must have been more encouraging than me, because later on, Rennio actually began a conversation.

“Do you feel guilty now?” he said shyly.

“Of course. I was in charge of the backpack...”

“Well, don't feel bad!” he said, smiling at me. “I know of a way we can fix things!”

“You do?”

“Yeah! When we were going places with Atis, a pokémon told me a secret about the people of Goldenrod City. Apparently, they're very giving people. A human could walk up to another human, ask to borrow their kitchen, and the kitchen owner would say yes in a heartbeat! I bet they're kind to pokémon, too.”

“...You're saying we should go to a bunch of houses and replace the stuff we had in the backpack?”

“I guess I am.”

I stood there, stunned. I hadn't heard anyone say such a thing about Goldenrod City residents, but it was plausible. We wouldn't trespass or steal or anything. They would be offering things to us.

“We wouldn't be able to replace the badges,” I finally said. That was what we had worked the most for.

“No, but perhaps Sai won't care.”

“You're optimistic."

“Are we going to do it or not?”

“It's worth a try.” I couldn't ignore that happy face of his, especially when he was so forlorn the day before. “Watch out for Sai while we're there. Let's go.”

“Now?”

“Now.”

*

We let everyone know where we'd be going for the day, and then we headed back to Goldenrod City. I should have known better than to get my hopes up. We didn't see Sai anywhere.

“He'll come back,” Rennio said. It was ironic how our roles switched so suddenly.

“I know,” I said, though I wasn't entirely sure I sounded convincing.

Being in Goldenrod City brought back memories, most of them good. Sai had expanded his horizons while Atis broke out of his shell. Kuiora and Ezrem became closer, and Rennio... Well, Rennio got the worst of it. For the most part, this city was on my list of favorites.

Now we had to pick up the pieces after his selfish disappearing act. Going from house to house asking for supplies made everything feel real. I didn't want to accept that my trainer would do this sort of thing.

“Are we sure this house belongs to a human?” I asked when we stumbled upon our first potential building. “This isn't anything like the flower shop, right?”

“Don't know. Who cares? Anyone could donate.”

“True,” I said. I looked up, overwhelmed by the door's tallness. For a moment I wished I was able to stand on my tail so I could open it myself, and so I could hold a human's gaze on an even level. Instead I knocked on the door with as much force as I could muster. No one answered.

“Try knocking again. They might come if you're persistent,” Rennio said.

I knocked again, and sure enough, someone showed up within the minute. The person was a man older than Sai, though not as old as the lady at the daycare center. He wore pajamas, which was odd until I realized the sun was setting. It was dinnertime. My stomach rumbled in response. This caught the man's attention. He smiled.

“Pokémon at my door, huh? That's a new one,” he said. My heart fell. Maybe this wouldn't work, after all. “Sounds like you're hungry. Are you here for food?”

I nodded vigorously. Yes, we were hungry! Never mind the fact that we knew how to hunt.

“One moment,” he said, closing the door on us.

“I can't believe that just happened,” I said, turning to Rennio, who had a wide grin on his face.

“See? I told you! All our problems are solved."

“Yeah,” I said, then added quietly, “Sai will be happy.”

The door opened again, and there stood the man. He leaned down to hand us a bag of opened pokémon food.

“Here,” he said. “I'm sure my snubbull won't mind sharing.”

“Thank you very much,” I said, bowing in case he couldn't understand me. He nodded and closed the door.

Maybe Rennio was right. There was only one way to find out. We went to the door next door and someone answered. I didn't know what I had been expecting, but it wasn't this.

Things don't always go as planned, however.

We ran into immediate trouble as soon as I said, “Hello!”

The person—a lady also wearing lazy clothes—peered down at us. She didn't greet us with a smile. She was about to close the door on us until I stopped it with my foot.

“Wait!” I said. “We're looking for food or water or clothes. Anything you want to get rid of! Someone stole ours, so, yeah...”

She remained mute. The language barrier was a bigger issue here.

“Sorry, I don't know what you're saying. Goodbye now,” she said. She turned and left. I didn't stop her.

“Well, I wasn't expecting that,” Rennio said, sulking. “Annie could understand me... Sai can too...”

“All these gold houses look the same. You would think that all the people inside would be the same. Nice and friendly, like that guy,” I said.

“That's not how things work, I guess. ...Should we keep trying?”

“Trainers are more likely to understand us, and I don't think many trainers would live here...”

“We could go to the Pokémon Center.”

“They'll recognize us. We were there too long.”

“I say we try one more house, see what they're like.”

I nodded. It would be a waste to only try two houses. We went next door, to the last house on the block. I knocked on the door, but it opened instantly. I pushed on it, opening it further.

“Does this mean anyone can go in?” Rennio said. I should have taken this as an obvious sign to retreat. If Rennio, who had traveled from region to region, didn't know, then I definitely didn't know. But what if the answer was yes? There was much to gain and little left to lose.

“Stay here,” I said. “I'm going in.”

“Are you sure...?”

“Yes,” I said. I was the leader and I was going to do what I thought was appropriate. I got down on all fours and crept inside. I remembered scolding Sai for barging into places unwanted, but I sucked it up and told myself it wasn't my fault if I didn't know everything about human customs. I was just a pokémon who had been swept away by fate and brought to a a mysteriously open door.

I couldn't relay that message to the owners of the house if they saw me. And they had to see me, or else I would be stealing. I purposefully sought them out on the bottom floor. It was inviting, what with the paintings on the wall and the comfy couches and the dim lights. It was different than Sasha's house in Azalea Town, and I thought it strange how the layout of a house was made to fit the lives of the humans in it, while Pokémon Center rooms were so bland and made for anyone. If Sai chose to settle down someday, I wanted him to be his own interior designer and architect.

Another thought occurred to me. There were no pokémon here. I should have left, but I kept going until I reached the kitchen. There was a stove, a fridge and a table, and a weird object protruding in the middle. I think Sasha had called it an island. It could keep me hidden, if needed, but otherwise it was useless.

They found me, even though I was careful. They weren't thrilled with my presence, considering they slapped me with a broom. The bristles scratched my and the impact of the blow caused me to fall flat on my stomach. I tried to stand up, but I was hit again.

“Get out, you evil creature! How dare you come in!” I heard a lady yell, along with crazy obscenities that made it seem like I was a monster sent to kill her.

I escaped the broom's third swipe. I darted toward the front hallway and to the open door, but the lady was chasing me. She was doing a fine job of it, as she managed to hit me before I tumbled out off the porch and past Rennio. I backtracked to get my teammate. He was as confused as ever and now he was being swung at. I grabbed him by the arm, ignoring the pokémon food that was spilling, and I dragged him to the other side of the street.

“And stay out!” the lady said, waving her broom in the air. She slammed the door and that was the last we saw of her.

Rennio rubbed his head. “What was that about?”

“A pokémon hater,” I said simply. “Go figure. I think we can be done now.”

“I'm sorry... I was just trying to help.”

“It's not your fault. At least we got one bag of food...” I trailed off, noting how there wasn't much food left in the bag after having to escape from the lady. “Half a bag,” I corrected myself.

On the way back, I asked him who had told him about the Goldenrod City residents.

“Ezrem did,” Rennio replied. “He told me not to say it was him, because you don't like him... Why do you ask?”

That explained a lot. “No reason. I'm just an idiot," I said.

*

Everyone came up to us to see what we had brought back. When they saw that we only had a measly bag of pokémon food, they became upset.

“Geez, I would have done better than that!” Kuiora cried.

“Yeah,” Ezrem said. “All that work for nothing.”

I glared at him. “Don't you even talk, Ezrem. I know it was you who told Rennio about that.”

“I don't know what you mean!”

“I would think that your smile lights up the sky, considering how nice you were trying to be, but now I know it’s just the glow of everyone else’s hopes and dreams being incinerated,” I said, too angry and upset to care if my words hurt him or not.

“You don't say.” He smiled.

“I bet you stole Sai's backpack to make me mad!”

“I wouldn't do that to my new trainer,” he said. “You're losing your head. That means I should have been the leader!”

And maybe he was right. Maybe his personality could have benefited us in this situation. Had he gone instead of me, he could have convinced those humans to give him what he wanted. Or he might have kept us in the Pokémon Center, and then we would still be there, with our belongings intact.

I was a shameful leader, if anything.

That night, I didn't sleep. There wasn't anything to protect except the opened bag of food, but I kept watch over it anyway. I lay there, wondering what I could do to be better. I thought I had gotten past this pain by scrutinizing the team's individual needs and by not letting Sai's emotions affect me. For a while, that had gone over well, but now my world was turned upside down. Sai needed me, and I wasn't there for him. My team needed me, and my efforts had backfired.

I couldn't rationalize the idea of me being a shameful leader. I had done my best, and the terrible things that happened were out of my control. Besides, no one was severely hurt, mentally or physically. I just had to go along with my instincts and not follow Ezrem's (and maybe Rennio's).

Why was I doubting myself? I recalled the conversation between me and Rennio. I concluded that the guilt regarding my clan haunted me still. I heard everyone's cries and the sneasel's lies, the banishment, my heartfelt explanations... I knew my recovery wouldn't be smooth, but I dreaded the fact that I might never get over it.

There had to be another way.

I vowed to figure it out, with or without Sai.
 
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I just have to say one thing.

Goddamn you Sai.

Seriously I mean, I get the guy's probably gone through a lot and he has his problems and we still dont' know his full background or why he does what he does but...he's way too irresponsible for me not to facepalm xD I mean you don't just run off for who knows how long and leave your Pokemon behind, he better had been kidnapped or been in an accident or something or he'd be the worst trainer in the history of ever by my book. Also yeah, this is why you keep your Pokemon in pokeballs you dumb free spirited trainers :p

Anyways I feel really bad for Senori, the poor guy's just trying his best to keep the team from falling apart and the way he was going about it wasn't bad either. I mean it's easy for others to see it as him ignoring what the group's needs were (if they had an easy way to get food and water then they should've) but he also didn't want to disregard Sai by just using his belongings like it didn't matter like what Ezrem was saying (considering what happened I assume his plan was to use up the stuff int he backpack and fill it up with new things from people in the city). In general I dislike Ezrem now, he's exactly what I figured he was from the moment he first appeared and I'm not looking forward to him appearing in Laon at all, the characters in that story have enough problems without him being in it.

I can see what you did though, this just amounts to another blow on Senori's confidence and causes more turmoil to the team, normally Sai's return would give me hope of things going back to normal but considering how Sai is I don't know if his return will actually help out or not.
 
Yay! Finally had enough time to read again, catch up, and put my thoughts down. Only took me almost a month, crazy busy ship life and all, but I got it done just like I said I would!

Oh Sai.

Good stuff! The interactions of the Pokémon characters as they're stuck in these situations is an interesting read as always.

I'm getting a feeling that a lot of this story is starting to become a series of "Sai does absurd weird things, Pokémon react" episodic scenarios. It's built around the classic journey structure, which helped keep everything together and collected for much of the previous parts of the story. However, I feel like the mysterious bizarre character and the holding-back-information method of characterization can only string a reader along so far without a trail of breadcrumbs to follow. At this point, Sai now feels less like a character to me, and more like just a catalyst for the weird situations the team finds themselves having to confront. I get the feeling that this was at least partially intentional, as a weird trainer who does weird things is certainly an effective means to grab a reader's attention, and provides a plethora of minor plot lines for the team characters to deal with.

Now that we're this many chapters in though, the lack of a central plot thread, or at least a definitive hook or hint at something else to drive the story beyond the ambiguous capriciousness of Sai himself, is starting to cause my interest to wane. I'm getting to the end of this chapter feeling left wanting to see how the team and Sai react to something occurring that affects them, and those around them. I don't mean that in a "I'm hooked and want to read more" sense, I mean that in a "I'm beginning to care less and less about Sai, and his team by extension, and if something doesn't happen soon I might stop caring about the story."

I don't mean this review to seem like an ominous put-down or a slap in the face. I've said before that I'm really intrigued by the premise of the story, and the interactions thus far have been interesting reads. I wrote a review like this because I care about the story, and I don't want my interest in it to wane as I feel it might. I don't want to see an interesting premise like this get stuck spinning its wheels so to speak.

I hope my observations and reflections of my feelings and opinions are helpful to you going forward, and keep up the writing!
 
@The Dude; @Flaze; @kintsugi; @AceTrainer14; @chaos_Leader; @BinkVallen; @AetherX; @Arkadelphiak;
@chaos_Leader: Give me three more chapters. Two more are for character development for the team, and third will start the action. I hope you'll stick around further than that, but we'll see. Thank you for your honesty.


SURVIVAL PROJECT
chapter 15 ; [EZREM]
unfettered

*​

Ah, how nice it was to have my things go my way.

I do mean that. It felt like it had been a long time since the positive side of life catered to me. First, there was Annie's death, which I tried not to dwell on, but Rennio's grief kept reminding me of it. Then I spent my days looking for a new trainer. When I finally found him, he rejected me faster than I could blink! And now, that new trainer was gone, off doing whatever, wherever. I couldn't imagine Rennio's feelings in all of this. If his allies kept disappearing, then he'd develop abandonment issues too. Well, I could make sure I stayed with him, even if Sai looked down on me for it.

I stood by Rennio. I stood by the team. I even offered to be the leader! Having Senori send us out into the wild was despicable, so I wanted to take over. That didn't go as planned. (I had started learning that most things, when done for selfish reasons, didn't go as planned.) I mostly stood by Kuiora, because at least she treated me with some respect. She marveled over me every chance she got.

I still didn't like Senori for bringing us back to Ilex Forest. I decided on revenge. Contrary to popular belief, I had no part in the backpack stealing, but it gave me my chance. I told Rennio a lie about Goldenrod City's citizens. I told him they were nice, when past experiences told me snobbish people often lived in big, expensive cities. Apparently, Rennio hadn't noticed. Senori's forlorn face when he returned was a small victory, but a victory nonetheless.

Kuiora called me evil for it, among other colorful insults, but I didn't like that term. It made me sound worse than I thought I was. I preferred being called... ethically unfettered.

Yeah, that sounded about right.

*

“So, what do you think is wrong with Sai?” Kuiora asked me once. We were sitting against the trees near the Ilex Forest entrance—or exit, depending how you viewed it. I was sure the rest of the team couldn't hear us, so I didn't bother telling her to to hush. Sai seemed to be a complex, confusing and argumentative topic among the group.

“As if I know!” I said, my eyes closed as I rested. “Haven't you been with him longer?”

“Of course I have,” she retorted, “but you're a legendary, so you should know these things.”

A legendary. She was on about that again? I wasn't legendary, that much was very clear to me. I had been given special treatment before, though. I didn't know why, but no one went so far as to bow down to me. I was the most important person in her life! I was the one she worshiped and put above herself. Religion is something people and pokémon believe in for the same reason children believe in fairy tales. It gives them false, redeeming hope. I could provide that for her. To do that I had to continue playing my new found role, or it would be lost forever.

“Well,” I said, thinking carefully, “it's like Sai read the handbook for human behavior, but he didn't quite understand most of the instructions.”

“Tell me about it,” Kuiora said. Her calmer demeanor told me I had done well in answering, even though I was as vague as I could possibly get. “You think there's really someone following him?”

“Who knows? Paranoia is poisonous. It's a poisonous wish that makes everything become true so even if it's not true, it's real in his mind.”

“That's creepy.”

“I know.” I paused. “He better not go off and get himself killed or anything,” I added softly.

“Death,” Kuiora said, her chin lifted, “is just a myth invented to scare little kids.”

“You think so?” I knew she was young, but to be this naive about such a pertinent concept seemed silly to me. Could I tell her about Annie, about what I did? She would accept it as the work of a legendary. I couldn't bring myself to do it regardless. There was always the chance she could tell someone else, and I mostly worried about Rennio finding out. The truth would break his heart into a million more pieces.

“Yeah. There's all these stories about dying too soon, or too late, or in the most horrible ways. It's meant to scare people and pokémon like me. I don't know why anyone would go to the trouble to make that stuff up! If you believe in the legendary pokémon, you can never die. It's as simple as that. They'll always remember you, no matter what happens.”

I thought she was delusional. I didn't tell her that.

She changed the topic and said, “Do you want to hear a story?”

“A story?”

“Yes! You might already know this story, but I'd like to tell you anyway. It's about your evolved form.”

At this, I was intrigued. I nodded to her.

“Okay,” she said. “Most stories try to avoid spoiling the end. But you need to know before we continue: she didn't want to come back.”

“Who?”

“Shut up and listen!” she snapped, hitting me lightly in the face.

“With a temper like yours, I'm truly surprised the world hasn't been blown up yet...” I said, rubbing the spot where she hit me.

“Shut up,” she said again. “Do you want to hear this or not?”

“Yes, yes. I will be quiet,” I said. She had a lot of guts, standing up to me the way she did. Maybe she believed toughness was a trait to be remembered by the legendaries. I could admire that.

And so, she went on.

There once was a con girl. This girl was a con because she became close to anyone and everyone she could, only to steal their hearts. Everyone was enamored with her at first sight, and they always wanted to be there for her, always wanted to be by her side—even in the darkest of moments. But she was with them for her own benefit. She wanted their money or jewelry, anything she could get her hands on successfully, and in a decent amount of time.

One day, she stole too much. She took a diamond ring her boyfriend bought for her, then immediately left him in the dust. She didn't have an explanation for this boy who loved her so much, so he kept bothering her, eventually threatening her as he prayed for a reply. This was the first time anyone had ever called her out on her selfish crimes, and she couldn't handle it. She had let her guard down, and now she had to pay for it all. She decided to skip town.

Leaving by train or plane was out of the question, as it was easy to follow her that way. Besides, to take a plane or train meant that she knew where was going. She didn't know, though.

She left in a hot air balloon she had stolen from an old friend. She was putting it to good use and making sure she wasn't followed. It was a light blue hot air balloon, so that if anyone looked into the sky at the same exact moment she was passing by, they wouldn't notice her. She would be blending in perfectly.

Her plan backfired. Her boyfriend had been a trainer once, and a very strong one at that. He sent his braviary out to look for her, knowing his braviary wouldn't come home until it found her. Many days and nights passed, but the braviary eventually located her hovering above the sea. Then many days and nights passed as the braviary tried to convince her to turn around. She wouldn't listen. She couldn't face the past.

What happened next was both karma and a stroke of luck. There was a storm. A streak of lightning crashed down on the hot air balloon. She went careening into the water below. The braviary, despite its disdain for the girl's audacity and thievery, caught her in its claws. It took her home and from there, the girl worked to improve her life so that she could form real relationships, ones in which she could reciprocate fully.

“The end,” Kuiora said. She hastily added, “Of course, if we were at Professor Elm's lab, there'd be pictures and stuff. I don't have that here."

How appropriate, to hear a story about a valiant member of my species. Perhaps Kuiora had done that on purpose, or maybe something like fate conspired to have guilt follow me wherever I went. The difference between the story and me was simple. I couldn't save anyone, not even Rennio. That was definite. And besides that, there was something else bugging me.

“I have a question.” I didn't want to make her angry, but I was really wondering about this.

“What?”

“Legendaries aren't owned by trainers, right?”

“Yeah, legendaries are far too powerful. Why?”

“Well, the braviary in the story is owned by a trainer. With that logic, we can assume braviary is not a legendary pokémon. And Sai has me as his pokémon. Kind of, anyway...” I trailed off, bracing myself in case I got hit again or something.

“You're right. Normal rufflet and braviary aren't legendary,” she said. “They're rare, though. I heard they can only be caught by the toughest of trainers on Victory Road! That's almost legendary status. But you, Ezrem, are legendary for a very special reason!”

“What reason is that?” I asked, curious to hear a fact that could potentially redeem my terrible self.

I didn't get a response. I was knocked in the head by something other than Kuiora's fist. I let out a tiny squeal of surprise and looked in the opposite direction. I didn't see anyone on the team. All I saw was a red and white object on the grass.

A pokéball.

“Oh, man,” I said. “Not this again.”

“What's wrong? What was that?”

“A trainer's trying to catch me. It's always been like this.” I saw a girl running up to us. “I have to go. You should hide if you can,” I warned, and with that, I darted away from my escort.

I didn't know where to go. Yes, rufflet were generally found in Unova, but it didn't mean every trainer who saw my pretty face had to come after me so aggressively! I was lucky, since no one could officially catch me by pokéball. There are other ways to catch pokémon, though. The trainer could try to battle me and take me by force.

Before I knew it, I was heading deeper into Ilex Forest. I passed guards, their expressions more cautious than alarmed. It wasn't the brightest idea, going back to a place of painful memories, but it was a lot easier to hide in a maze than it was amongst clear, open paths.

I dared to stop and peer behind me for a moment. The girl didn't have any intentions on losing sight of me. I went to the left, crossing a pond by running on the rocks sticking out above the water. The girl tried to cross, too, but she was slower.

I made my way to the burnt area of the forest. I remained where I was, figuring the girl would ignore an area with no hiding places. I walked, surveying the damage, stepping over dropped tree branches and trunks. Nothing but debris polluted a nearby body of water. There weren't any pokémon living here anymore.

I turned and came across another pokéball. The ball showed no sign of being affected by the fire, so maybe it was a fairly new item here, or maybe it had been spared. But it was a special kind of pokéball, a green and white one with three red stripes on each side... It looked like the one Annie had caught me in! A friend ball, she called it once, though I didn't see how a ball could be friendly.

If it was once Annie's, I couldn't leave it there.

Part of me wanted to destroy the friend ball. Part of me wanted to be set free from Annie's grasp. I could crush it, but part of me thought this was a bad idea, because then other trainers could really catch me. And if it wasn't my pokéball, there could be another pokémon inside. I didn't want to kill anyone else.

I heard a rustle in the bushes, and the girl appeared once more.

She was smarter than I gave her credit for. Luckily for her, I suddenly didn't have the energy to move. We stared at each other for a few moments. The situation was dire. She wanted me as her pokémon, yet I already belonged to someone else. I started running again, but she called to me.

“Wait!” she said. “That pokéball might belong to my brother. We've been looking for it for a while.”

I stood there uncertainly. Part of me wanted the ball to be mine, and part of me wanted to give it to this girl and forget the whole situation had even happened.

She put away the pokéball in her hand and put up her arms. “My name is Sasha. I won't catch you if that's what you want. Please, could I just have the ball? I'll leave you alone.”

“Ezrem!”

“Sasha!”

Two new players entered our game: Kuiora and, surprisingly, Marty. Great. Now I had to worry about Kuiora getting hurt and another person chasing us.

“Ezrem, why did you run away like that?” Kuiora said, walking up to me and looking me over, as if to see whether or not I was injured.

“She was trying to catch me,” I said.

“Look, Marty, it might be Halcyon's ball. You dropped it while we were out here, remember?” Sasha said. I kicked the ball with my feet, wondering about its true origins. How hard it was, to think about passing up this once in a lifetime chance... With Marty's personality, though, I could see why he'd use a friend ball.

“Oh. That's right. So that bird has it?”

“It's a rufflet! I was trying to catch it to give it to you for your birthday, since pokémon like that are one in a million! But it didn't work...”

“It's the thought that counts,” Marty said, smiling. “That's Sai's croconaw, anyway, and I guess that also means it's his rufflet.”

“Sai? I didn't see him anywhere...”

“Oh...” Kuiora said, absorbing the situation. She whispered into my ear, “That Marty kid really hates Sai. We can't let him know Sai disappeared or they'll kill each other for sure.” Then, to Marty, she said, “Sai's shopping.”

I automatically added, “Then he said he was going to sleep at the Pokémon Center. We're out here exploring.” This, of course, earned me another slap.

“I don't know what just happened, but I'm sure whatever the rufflet said can't be repeated in polite conversation,” Marty said sarcastically.

Our efforts were futile. “Idiot,” I said. “And I was almost destined to be your pokémon? As if.”

“Sai's probably letting them run rampant on purpose. Go figure,” Marty said.

“You really should be nicer to him. He does try,” Sasha said.

“Not hard enough.”

Because of that, I knew the friend ball directly at Marty's stomach. I didn't care if the ball was mine at this point. I felt fiercely proud of having Annie and Sai as my trainers, and I knew there were more important factors than being caught in a pokéball. I was also glad I hadn't been caught by this imbecile and that I hadn't mistakenly chosen him over Sai.

Marty let out a grunt. “Thanks a lot,” he said, rubbing his stomach and picking up the pokéball. “Let's go, Sasha.”

I stuck out my tongue at them as they left. Sasha kept her gaze on us for one long, regretful second, and then turned away. I got another hit in the head from Kuiora once they were gone. Soon I would have a permanent bump there.

“Well, should we go back too?” Kuiora said. “Senori might kill us if he realizes we've been gone.”

“I'll only go with you if I stop hearing that word,” I said, but I was already making my way back toward the team.

“What word?”

I sighed. “Don't make me say it.” Kill. Death. I've killed and seen death firsthand.

“Don't make me guess it.”

I walked backwards and glared at her. “If you're gonna say it, then don't follow me.”

“I'm not following you. I'm following the path,” she said, pointedly peering at the horizon to prove it.

I sighed again, feeling that this was one of the longest days ever. Some things had been made concrete to me, at least. For one, Kuiora cared about me. This meant more than I could say. There was always Rennio, but Rennio stood by my side because he didn't know my faults. Kuiora knew I had plenty of faults to go around, but she put me on a rather high pedestal anyway.

In addition, it appeared that I cared for Annie more than I originally thought. She was on my mind a lot, whether I liked it or not. She kept my conscience at bay. I vowed to try being good—once I figured out what good was.

In a more general sense, I learned that having wasn't the same as keeping. It was a lesson I didn't want, but such was life. Just because I had Rennio and Kuiora's love, it didn't mean it would last forever. Just because Annie had been there for me, it didn't mean she would be there for me again. Just because I thought Sai would make a great trainer, it didn't mean that he would live up to my expectations. And just because I would make a home in the future, it didn't mean I'd be content with it forever. I wouldn't be searching forever, either, but still.

There were many levels to my pain. I unraveled each level, one by one, as we went back to the team, wondering and wishing. The pain wasn't like a knife, or like fire, or ice, or any other metaphor. It was simply... pain. It drowned out the rest of the world as I felt a harsh, white flash of sensation take over, reminding me that I should try a little harder.
 
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@The Dude; @Flaze; @kintsugi; @AceTrainer14; @chaos_Leader; @BinkVallen; @AetherX; @Arkadelphiak;

I'm alive, I guess.


SURVIVAL PROJECT
chapter 16 ; [KUIORA]
connection

*​

Everyone makes mistakes. I always knew I could make mistakes, but the number of consequences had gotten bigger since going on a journey. No one at Professor Elm's lab cared if my water gun wasn't as powerful as it was supposed to be, after all. With Sai, it mattered.

My mistakes were much more noticeable as well. It was embarrassing for me to lose against a normal-type pokémon. It wasn't my fault it could use electric-type attacks, but the defeat was unbearable nevertheless. I spent the rest of that day in my pokéball, lamenting and imagining the scene over and over. Ezrem told me later that Rennio experienced a painful loss, too, and that made me me breathe a sigh of relief.

Ezrem was also nice enough to inform me about Sai's disappearance. My trainer made the greatest mistake of all! We needed to train for the gym, and we had to head back for a rematch... but he needed to be there for that! I couldn't win two badges by myself. I couldn't so easily forgive him, no matter where he was. Maybe I was just being stubborn, but I didn't care.

Then there was Senori, who went and lost our supplies. Atis never wanted to fight or become stronger. The blame was on them and no one else. Even Ezrem seemed to miss the memo. He was a legendary pokémon that didn't know he was a legendary pokémon! I had been about to tell him why he was so special, especially to me, but we were rudely interrupted.

I had seen pictures of rufflet and braviary in the past. There was a difference between Ezrem and the rufflet I saw. It hit me a few moments after we met. Rufflet were supposed to be blue, but Ezrem was red. He was a shiny rufflet, perhaps the only shiny rufflet in the world.

I just had to tell him, and soon.

*

Two days passed since we were interrupted. Ezrem had suddenly turned quiet. Something had happened between him and Sasha, but I couldn't figure out what. He wouldn't tell me, either. He never told me much about himself. The only words that came out of that bird's mouth were ones that made me feel like I should slap him.

He was acting as worse company now. I wanted to switch my partner, but Senori wouldn't allow it. “I think I'm a better fit for Rennio, and you don't like Atis,” he had said.

Well, that was fine. I would find my own partner outside of the team, if I had to.

While Ezrem napped, I went over to a pond he showed me once. Immediately I decided that being a wild pokémon sucked. You had to retrieve your own food and water instead of having it handed to you, and there was too much competition. Those who wanted a trainer waited ever so patiently, while those who didn't lived in fear of being caught. This pond would be put to good use another way.

I stood by the edge, leaning over and washing my face with my paws. None of the water-type pokémon swimming nearby came to talk to me. I got bored rather quickly and plunged into the water myself to find someone.

There was a school of magikarp murmuring to themselves as they passed by. A few psyduck floated by, some of them on their backs. To my dismay, I didn't see any totodile.

The most peculiar thing I found was a pack of poliwag, all huddled around at the bottom of the pond, away from everyone else, as if they were discussing something top secret. I made my way over to them, curious and hoping to learn more about them. I saw a larger version of the poliwag present, one with arms and longer legs. I assumed it was an evolved form.

As I approached, I heard one of the poliwag say, “The ceremony will take place tonight, so everyone should be there if they can.”

“Ceremony? What ceremony?” I said, butting in as I placed my feet on the ground. I put myself in between two poliwag, noting the rough, pebbly exterior of the pond floor. Whatever they had to say, I wished they would say it fast so I could go back to swimming.

They looked at me suspiciously, and no one spoke for a while. Finally, the poliwhirl stepped in and asked with a sweet but stern voice, “Excuse me, but who are you?”

“I am Kuiora, the only croconaw in this pond!” I cried, my voice full of excitement as I was able to prove myself to others. “Since I am the only croconaw, that also makes me the strongest.”

“I see...” the poliwhirl said, scratching her belly idly. “You are new, then.”

“I have a trainer, but he's kind of missing at the moment,” I said. “So here I am.”

“I see,” the poliwhirl said again. Since she had no real mouth, just a stomach full of swirls, I couldn't tell if she was happy to see me or not. She accepted me, at least, when she added, “Well, welcome. We have a tradition here that takes place once in a great while. Would you like to join us?”

“Sure!” I said, gleeful because I had found not one partner, but several of them.

“There are very few staryu around these parts,” the poliwhirl started. I saw her as the leader. “Similarly, there are very few water stones that we come across. Trainers leave them behind, or they are dropped from the skies above. We have found one of these water stones, and therefore we are ready to evolve a chosen staryu.”

“And why is this a ceremony?” I asked. “Don't pokémon evolve from stones all the time?”

“Yes,” the poliwhirl admitted sheepishly, “but the staryu are an interesting species.”

“Really?”

“Staryu evolve into starmie. Starmie are considered to be alien creatures. That status shows us they are very rare and deserving of special treatment.” Now I had come across the chance to meet another legendary pokémon! This day was getting better and better. The poliwhirl went on, “Every participant gathers their own food around the forest. You will bring this food to the ceremony, and the rest will be made clear to you during the actual ritual. Oh, and another thing... Men are not allowed to know about this ceremony.”

“Why not?” I asked solemnly. I was thinking about bringing Ezrem. Then again, he wasn't a water-type pokémon...

“Some ceremonies involve men. It depends on the sex of whoever finds the water stone. This is because staryu are genderless,” she explained. “In this case, a female found the stone. ...Any other questions?”

“Nope!” I said. The others shook their heads no, seemingly intimidated by my unfamiliar presence.

“In that case,” the poliwhirl said, lifting her arm like she was saluting us, “I will meet you all at the south end of the pond at dusk.” With that, everyone but me swam away in different directions. She turned to me. “This is the first time we will have a croconaw at our ceremony. I think it's a bit unnerving for them, to have the ritual be different,” she said, laughing. Apparently, she had been reading my mind. “By the way, my name is Lynn. You don’t have to remember, since I’m the only poliwhirl in Ilex Forest and therefore I’m easily recognizable, but there it is.”

Meeting Lynn was nice, but it would be even nicer when I met the legendary starmie. I looked forward to it immensely.

*

One of the drawbacks to being a pokémon is that it's very difficult to tell time. I slept when it was dark, and when it was light, I woke up and trained. So naturally, I had no idea how long it would be until the ceremony took place. I asked the entire team, but no one knew, not even Atis.

“Why do you need to know?” a curious sentret asked me.

“I have to be somewhere at dusk,” I said.

“You’re not supposed to be going out on your own. What if we need you and can’t find you?”

“I’m not a baby like Rennio, you know,” I retorted, ignoring his question. “I’m young, but I can handle myself. I won't be alone, anyway. I met some friends. I want to hang out with them before Sai comes back. If he comes back,” I added, correcting myself at the last second.

Senori glared at me. “He'll come back,” he said. His face was strained to the point where I could feel the pain he held inside.

“Well, I need distractions just as much as you do. I don't like him being gone,” I said, willing to admit anything in order to see that rare legendary pokémon. I was being vague, but I wasn't lying.

Senori remained quiet, contemplating my answer. Finally he said, “Don't go getting into trouble. And make sure Ezrem knows where you are. We don't need to lose anyone else.”

“I'll be fine,” I said, dismissing him with a wave of my arm. I thought for a moment. How much leeway could I get away with? “Say, can I take that bag of pokémon food you got in Goldenrod City?”

“Definitely not,” Senori said immediately. “Eat berries. I know you like those.”

“Fine, fine,” I said, sighing.

Smiling, I turned to leave. In addition to mostly winning the verbal battle, I had gotten a wholehearted confirmation of Sai's future return. I hadn't known that was what I was looking for. I wanted a rematch at the Goldenrod City gym... I wanted Sai's continual affection as he saw me grow stronger... I wanted to evolve once more, into a tall feraligatr that would force him to look up at me... I wanted him to come back, but knowing his personality, it wasn't very likely. Everything seemed to remind me of that last part.

I searched for berries, trying to forget about him. Cheri berries were my favorite because of their spicy, pungent flavor, but they were hard to find. They were usually planted around flowers, but there were only trees and bushes around the forest, which made my quest harder than it had to be. I settled for a mixture of cheri, oran and pecha berries. I couldn't help but wonder what would happen if I had to settle for Sai not being in my life as well.

*

Ezrem was still napping when I went back to him. He stirred when he heard my footsteps, but he was silent as ever. I gathered a few large leaves from a nearby tree to help carry my berries. Then I sat next to him and counted them.

When the slightest hint of darkness came over the horizon, I told Ezrem I was leaving for a while.

“Where are you going?” he asked, now choosing to show interest in me for some reason.

“I met some friends. Water-type friends!” I said. “No flying-types, sorry.”

“That's a shame. I'll stay here,” he said.

“Good enough for me.”

With that, I made my way to the pond. When I reached the water's edge, I realized another drawback to being a pokémon. I didn't know my directions. I didn't know which way was south. Luckily, I saw a group of poliwag on the other side. I swam across the pond to meet up with them.

“Hello!” I said, trying to be cheerful so they would accept me. That tactic seemed to work for Ezrem, anyway. They said hello back, but my cheerfulness disappeared when I saw how thin the poliwag looked when they were outside the water. I could see their insides! I felt uncomfortable as I wanted to put feed them my berries and fatten them up.

Each of them had food with them, at least. Some, like me, had berries, while others had caterpie and weedle. No one said anything about it, even if they eyed the dead bug-types sadly.

Surprisingly, other species joined us. A couple psyduck waddled over to us and expressed their regrets on behalf of the pond's magikarp. The magikarp would be unable to attend the beginning of the ceremony due to their inability to breathe on land.

“We're water-types!” I exclaimed. “Why do we have to do this on land?”

“You'll see,” said one psyduck. “Anyway, I think we have everyone. Lynn and the staryu are at the entrance, so let's go.”

The psyduck led the way. We left the route and soon arrived at Ilex Forest, but then we went around what seemed like a million trees, all part of a labyrinth we'd never be able to escape.

“I thought they were at the entrance,” I whined, tired of being lost.

“Sorry. Here we are,” the psyduck said, moving to reveal a large clearing, filled with even more pokémon chattering amongst themselves, waiting for the ceremony to start. Lynn and the staryu—the legendary!—stood in the middle of the clearing. I could see a blue, shimmering item in Lynn's hand.

The two groups merged. I placed myself in the circle, pretending I knew what I was doing. There was a downside to being the only croconaw here. It was awkward, too, being around what was basically a pile of skinny bones. Lynn wasn't so different, though she was evolved. At least the staryu's appearance was normal...

“Ladies!” Lynn suddenly roared. Everyone hushed and stood to face her. “Thank you. I am glad to see you could all make it. Without further ado, we can begin the ceremony. We will make it as quick as possible, since Comerhi as been waiting a long time for this day to come. Isn't that right, Comerhi?”

“Yes, it's true,” said the staryu.

I took a moment to absorb the staryu's presence. As expected, the main shape of the pokémon was a star. It had five appendages, all of which were a golden-brown color and flexible. The outline of the star was a dark yellow, and in the very middle of the pokémon, their was a bright, circular ruby. So this was what a rare water-type pokémon looked like! How had I never heard of a starmie before? I mentally scolded Professor Elm for not telling me about them before.

“For today, Comerhi wants to be referred to as a female to fit in with us,” Lynn went on. “Her being a part of our team here in Ilex Forest and Goldenrod City has been wonderful. She's been here for about ten years, and is now finally ready to take that final step toward evolution.” Lynn bowed honorably. “She was born to two proud starmie. Sadly, they have left us since then. They consistently reminded us that Comerhi was a temperamental baby, but was soothed by companionship. As she grew up... Well, there are many stories to tell. Does everyone remember how she used to pretend to be a magikarp? There was also the time she learned to walk on land. Her determination was inspiring. And no one can forget the day her parents sacrificed themselves so she wouldn't get caught by a trainer...”

Lynn stopped, allowing the silence to spread over the group and engulf them.

“Anyway… I’m a bit jealous. Maybe one day there will be no staryu in Ilex Forest, and I can use the stone on myself, though I am not as special as this well-renowned species,” she added to lighten the mood.

She paused again. The audience chuckled. I stood in awe at this new found information. Poliwhirl needed a water stone to evolve, too, yet she was being noble and selfless for the sake of a friend...

“Enough memories. As I said, Comerhi is beyond excited. She is ready to move on with her life and become an alien creature. Though she will be as mysterious as ever, we vow to love her for as long as we live.” She nodded. “Comerhi wll come around to each of you. She will sprinkle her body's dust on the food you have brought. This is done to bless everyone and make sure her un-evolved form will be remembered fondly.”

Comerhi made her away around the concentric circle. Her body was practically shaking with anticipaton. I suppose that's what happens when staryu prepare to evolve, though I consider evolution as an act of creating rather than simply changing.

Comerhi approached me last. When she came to me, I felt included in something unique, as if the staryu had passed on its legendary status to me. For once I believed we are all special just because of the different lives we lead.

When Comerhi finished, she went back to Lynn and the water stone.

“Eat your blessed food,” Lynn instructed, “and let us have a moment of silence for the group member that made this occasion possible.”

We did so, and all I could hear was the sound of masticated food. Soon Lynn turned to Comerhi and held her arms out, revealing the water stone. Comerhi's bent forward. She began to glow when the top part of her body touched the blue rock.

I ignored the bitter taste of dust in my mouth and stared. Comerhi grew larger, then larger still. What astounded me most was how her red core fell apart and disintegrated right in front of our eyes. When the illumination faded, I saw the starmie's purple form, with a dark yellow belly and a spinning second star behind her. The red core had been replaced as well, and the new octagonal gem symbolized a passion for life with its deep crimson color. Comerhi let out a robotic, rhythmic grunt to signify the transformation's end.

Everyone yelled with joy and clapped if they had hands. I finished the rest of my berry, then applauded.

Lynn spoke when the celebration died down. “When you are done eating, you may take a part of Comerhi's lost core, which is vital to its communication abilities. Embrace this piece of jewelry as you sleep tonight, and use it to dream of your lover, or someone important to you. Once this portion is complete, the last part of the ceremony will commence. Everyone will follow Comerhi to her pond of choice and swim with her alien form.”

I got up and stepped over a bunch of poliwag and psyduck to get to the two of them. I picked up a piece of the jagged, sharp stone. I would have to be careful with it. I bowed to Comerhi and asked, “So what's it feel like to be a legendary?”

But Comerhi only laughed and said, “I'm not a legendary. There are plenty of my kind in the world.”

“Then why did we do all this for you?” I could have reworded the question, but I couldn't help but ask.

“Staryu and starmie are hard to find in Johto. Their foreignness is cherished here. It really is nice.” Without distinguishing features a face might have, it was hard to decipher whether she was smiling or annoyed. I left after bowing again.

Comerhi left with me. I slowed my pace and let her lead the way. I owed her respect, and so would the others, once they finished eating. Lynn decided to join us too. She walked beside me, looking at me expectantly.

“What did you think?” she asked.

“I learned some things... I'll think about those things tonight,” I said. I tried not to mention my disappointment, knowing now that starmie weren't legendary after all.

“I see. Well, feel free to stop by anytime.”

“I will."

Dusk came. No one noticed when I left the ceremony and headed back to my trainerless team. It took a while to find my way back, but it gave me an opportunity to think. In the end, though, I couldn't think about much of anything. I had been shaken up. My whole understanding of the world had been brought into question. I wasn't sure what to make of that.

*

Ezrem and the others were already sleeping when I returned. They would have been awake, had they really missed me or worried about me like they said they would. I sat next to Ezrem, amused by seeing his head buried in his feathers. I looked away, knowing I wasn't going to get any rest tonight.

I held the red jewel piece in my hand. It felt like the ceremony had happened years ago. The starmie's word rang in my ears. They weren't rare or legendary, but the group treated them as such. Where was the justice in that? Wasn't that an insult to real gods? I remembered the stories I had told the team. All of them ended with disaster. Surely the legendaries didn't mean for tragedies to happen. The legendaries would want humans and pokémon alike to lift each other's spirits. And that's exactly what the group did. That's what Sai did, too, when he was here. That's what Senori did, when he wanted to take care of us. That's what I did, when trying to impress Ezrem or make myself feel superior.

Being ordinary could be powerful, if done right. The whole team was special. Ezrem had been special before, but now he was special in an ordinary way. I decided I wouldn't ask him about his shiny self. It no longer mattered.

What happened next was a great stroke of luck. I wished epiphanies hit me more often, if this was the result, really. So that is the way of it. You wake up, hoping the day will go as planned. But it never goes as planned. Between the exchanges you have with people and with pokémon, there's this and that. This and that may change your beliefs and morals. There's you'll never guess... and didn't I tell you?—both of which may spite you. But by the end of the day, there's hey, by the way, I love you, too...

I heard something. Someone.

I stood up and listened for the sound's source. I heard human footsteps, soft but firm against the forest floor. There was definitely someone coming.

“Who's there?” I said, wanting to wake up the others in case it was a violent intruder. I held up the sharp end of the jewel, prepared to use it if necessary.

“Kuiora?”

It wasn’t a violent intruder. It wasn't a legendary pokémon. It wasn't a member of the team attempting to scare me.

It was Sai.
 
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SURVIVAL PROJECT​

chapter 17 ; [ATIS]
resolute

*​

Everyone at the Violet City pokémon school had high hopes for me. Shannon thought I'd be a kickboxer, even though I hardly spun or fought with my legs. Joey hoped I would magically turn into a fire-type pokémon for whatever reason. And Jason wished he could be my trainer someday. They created these scenarios for me without asking me what I wanted out of my life. If only they could look at me now... I was being reunited with my trainer, who chose to abandon us and leave us to temporarily live as wild pokémon shortly after I decided he would never do such a thing.

For me, living as a wild pokémon wasn't easy. It was my first time being on my own. Though I had my team, I had no escort, and preferably so. I made my own rules. I wouldn't kill anyone for food, even if it was dreadful eating the same kinds of berries day after day. I searched for ways to purify the dirty pond water, having to fight a few wild pokémon along the way. The tension didn't make for an ideal habitat. The wild pokémon initially tried to talk some sense into me, but I had a feeling they were aiming to backstab me. I instigated further battles.

Life went on like this for about three weeks before Sai showed his face again. We were woken up by Kuiora's cry and the conversation that followed. No one showed any excitement except for her. The confusion surrounding the entire ordeal loomed through the air, and we wanted an explanation. But Sai didn't offer one. He said hello to each of us, then added how it was good to be back. He said he was very sorry. Eventually, we went back to sleep, thinking this would appear as a dream in the morning. Sai seemed normal, as he didn't sleep at all.

I felt betrayed. I thought I knew Sai. I thought I was the closest to him compared to the others. He held my secret, I knew his secret, and we had had heartfelt conversations in the past. Yet he had left me—left us—presumably knowing the damage his actions might have caused. Even if he wasn't the most logical person, he had to have known his disappearance would have an effect on us.

There was no euphemism for what happened. Sai had truly messed up. Soon he was trying to cover up his mistakes with jokes.

*

“I thought about what we'd do when I came back,” Sai said. We were making our way back to the Goldenrod City Pokémon Center, leaving behind an area none of us would miss. “We should take over the world!”

“No,” Ezrem said flatly.

“Hey, you haven't even listened to my ideas yet.” Sai folded his arms and pretended to pout.

“No,” Ezrem said again.

“Let him talk,” I said. Even if I wasn't happy with my trainer, I wanted him to speak until he cracked and told us what he was doing for the last three weeks.

“No,” Ezrem said, grinning at me. I looked away, ashamed.

“Well, anyway,” Sai said, “we're gonna continue our journey to get the badges. Once we get all eight of them, I can become the champion! We'll be the strongest team in the Johto region.”

“Isn't that the point of any journey?” Rennio said. “This doesn't sound like anything you made up.”

“That hasn't been our goal,” Sai said, “but it could be. Once I'm the champion, every pokémon in the world will want to be on our team! We could form an army of sentret, an army of elekid”—at this, Rennio blanched—”an army of hitmontop, and so on. We'll take over the government and make sure no one has to suffer ever again.”

No one dared to question him.

Instead, Senori said, “Sai, I have something to tell you.” If he couldn't make Sai feel bad about leaving, he could make Sai feel bad about other things.

“You don't think it's a good idea?”

“Not that. If you haven't noticed already, your backpack was stolen.”

“Oh. Yeah,” Sai replied, the spirit in his voice still there. “Is that it?”

“That means your badges were stolen,” Senori told him bluntly.

“Oh. Oh...”

“Look, I'm really sorry about that. I should have been paying more attention.” The sentret hung his head.

“It's okay. Like I said, our goal isn't to become the champion or anything, right? We don't need them.”

“What is our goal, then?” Ezrem asked.

“To be as strong as possible,” Sai said after a few moments. There was another pause before he said, “Wait. That means I have no money for a Pokémon Center room.”

“Right...” Senori said.

“What about food?”

“Half a bag.”

“...I guess we're heading to the gym first.”

There had to a plus side to this. Sai was back to his cheery, careless self. No longer was he self-loathing. He felt pride in his actions and words once more. It didn't make sense to me. If he went through some sort of suffering during his absence, why did he seem so upbeat? My head hurt when I tried to figure it out.

As we went on, I stayed behind everyone else. I was the only one who saw Sai reach into his pocket and pull out a bottle. He held it at his side, opened it discreetly, and took out a small, white pill. He crammed it into his mouth and swallowed it. Medication, Earl had called it once. So Sai meant it when he told me he was always sick, but I couldn't pinpoint the actual illness...

We were interrupted by two familiar people before we reached the gym. I recognized them as Marty and Sasha. Maybe it wasn't a lucky encounter, considering Marty's hatred for Sai, but he seemed calm and collected as he approached us.

“Yo, Sai,” he said. “I saw your croconaw running around Ilex Forest the other day. Where were you?”

If Marty knew the truth, he would call the police and have us taken away from Sai. I curiously noted Kuiora's escape. Hadn't she been told to stay around the designated area?

“She's a strong pokémon,” Sai said. “She can handle herself, so I let her go out and get some exercise.”

“Not the smartest thing to do.”

“She wasn't alone, remember?” Sasha said, turning to her brother. “She had the rufflet. It really is Sai's.”

“He's not exactly mine,” Sai admitted. “He likes to follow me around.”

“She wasn't alone, and that's all that matters. Marty?”

“I suppose,” Marty replied. He was more sociable since his sister was around. If we kept running into him, I wanted her to be there as well. “Looks like you could have caught that rufflet for me.”

“What?” Ezrem chimed in. “No way! I never would have allowed that!” He jumped up and down to attract attention to his fury. He threatened to peck Marty, but Sasha stopped him.

“Yeah, but not if he's taken a liking to Sai,” she said, bending down to pet the bird on the head. Ezrem relaxed and accepted her affection.

“Anyway...” Sai said, changing the subject. “What are you guys doing in Goldenrod City?”

“Oh, right. I had a favor I wanted to ask of you, so we've been looking for you these last few days!” Sasha said.

“A favor?” His head dropped as he realized he had left not only his team, but also the people he wanted as friends.

“There's a pokémon fan club on the west side of the city. We're here for this month's meeting. Even Marty is gonna join this time!” She put her hands together and peered over at him. Marty nodded. “We focus on pokémon types, and we're asked to bring a pokémon of the specified type if we can. This month, the fan club is asking for normal- and fighting-type pokémon. I don't have any, so..."

She glanced at us, one by one. Her gaze stopped when it reached Senori and me.

“Oh,” Sai said. “But we were about to go to the gym...”

“The meeting is in an hour. You can go to the gym tonight! Not a problem,” Sasha said excitedly. “Also, I'd like to take the rufflet, since he's so rare.”

“That's up to Ezrem,” Sai said. He paused. His face was strained. He was torn between catering to his friends and getting on with his journey after already being delayed. He looked like he was going to burst if he didn't get the gym badge within the next five minutes. “I don't know...”

“What do you say, Ezrem? Do you want to come with?”

I wanted a choice too. The fortunate rufflet shook his head no. “I'm not going with that guy,” he said. “I'm sticking with Sai.”

“What'd he say?” Sasha asked.

“He said he doesn't want to go with you.”

“Pretty please?” She ruffled the feathers on his neck.

Ezrem pulled away and said, “First you asked for my pokéball, and now you want loyalty? Will you be out for my blood next? The answer is no!”

“He said no,” Sai said. It was a smart idea to keep things simple, I gathered.

Sasha frowned and stood up. “Okay. What about Senori and Atis? Is that okay? I promise I'll return them as soon as I can.”

Sai paused, then gave in. “Sure... Just be back by dusk, okay? I really need to go to the gym today.”

“Deal!” Sasha said, clapping her hands together. She picked up Senori, hugging him and telling him what a great time they were going to have together. Then she came to me and grabbed my hand, ignoring my spikes. She had guts, or she was just too excited. She pulled me along as I waved goodbye to Sai and the others.

I wondered when I would see Sai next. Sai had abandoned us, and now he was sending us away to spend time with other trainers. ...The second part wasn't so bad. It wasn't as if Marty or Sasha were complete strangers. Sasha had proven herself to be nice, and Sai was probably trying to get Marty's approval.

But... a pokémon fan club emphasized everything I despised. I was suddenly living in a nightmare.

*

As it turned out, no one else in the club had a normal- or fighting-type pokémon. We were the center of attention.

The club members sat around a circular table. Senori and me were placed on the table. We were told to have some fun. I couldn't tell her so, but I would not be having fun during this meeting.

“All right,” said a man. He wore a nice brown suit with a white scarf coiled around his neck. His voice was thunderous, nearly making me jump. “Everyone look at these beautiful pokémon! Sasha has brought them for us today. Everyone give her a round of applause.” The entire room clapped except for Senori and me. He seemed lost, but satisfied. “We revel in a pokémon's presence! We thank them for being here! We look at them and smile. They bring us joy, and they help us with our hopes, our fears, our dreams. We owe a lot to these creatures that make our world a ton brighter. Sentret and Hitmontop... On behalf of all of us, I thank you.”

I felt more uncomfortable than before. Not only was he worshiping pokémon, but also everyone was staring at us. My legs shook, and I had to sit down to prevent myself from falling over.

“We will talk today about the relationship between normal- and fighting-type pokémon. Normal-types offer us a unique perspective on life and encourage individualism. Fighting-types teach us to stand up for ourselves.” I cringed. I inspired no one, not even Earl and Sai. “While fighting-types have the advantage over normal-types, we know they can work in harmony. Sasha”—she snapped her head toward him—“won't you start the discussion today? They're your pokémon, after all.”

“Oh, no,” she said, laughing. “They belong to a friend of mine, so we're lucky to have them today.” She stopped, and everyone clapped again. “It's also true when you say normal-types are unique. They can learn almost any elemental attack."

“Yes, yes,” said George. “This sentret, when it evolves and becomes stronger, will learn many useful attacks.”

“Now that you mention evolution...” Sasha said, glancing at Senori confusedly, “this sentret's trainer almost has three badges. Aren't sentret supposed to evolve at a low level?”

At this, Senori stood up again. He turned around, surveying the audience's reactions. The audience whispered amongst themselves.

“What's wrong?” I asked him.

“I'm getting old, but I've never thought about evolving. I didn't know it was so... commonplace for my species,” Senori said. “I need to evolve.”

“You're gonna evolve here? It's not like you to be so impulsive, either..."

“Don't be silly. I have to be like Kuiora and put on a show,” he said. I could tell he was joking. His voice was jittery, as if a revelation had come to him. He sighed contentedly.

“I'm glad you're having fun,” I said as the man kept talking.

“What's life without a little adventure?” Senori said, grinning at me.

“It's safe,” I said, “and comfortable.”

“Fair enough.”

“Now,” George said, “what about you, son? Sasha's brother. I'm afraid I don't know your name."

“Marty,” he replied. All eyes were on him now.

“Do you have anything to add?”

“Hmm. While normal-types have access to special moves, the moves aren't as powerful as, say, a fire-type's attacks would be.”

“True, true,” George said.

“Way to be a downer,” Senori said, glaring at them.

Marty ignored Senori, unable to comprehend his speech. “Fighting-types are almost the exact opposite to normal-types,” he went on. “They have a lot of advantages, but they have a lot more weaknesses. And they have very limited attacks.”

“The boy knows his stuff. I'm glad you brought him, Sasha.”

“That's my brother for you,” she said.

“Well, the last thing I want to point out for now is that hitmontop are rare around these parts," the man said in a peculiar fashion.

I gulped and played with my hands nervously. If only I was as common as a sentret... Then I wouldn't feel so alone... I tried to focus on the rhythm of my movements. It didn't work.

Someone raised their hand. George messed with his white scarf for a moment before he called on the young teenage boy. “Can we get the hitmontop to show us some of its signature moves?” he asked.

“Signature moves, my boy?”

“Yeah. It should be able to spin on its top and do handstands.”

“Marvelous,” George said. I shuddered. “Hitmontop, will you do this for us? Will you?”

“Uh,” I said dumbly. How could I say no when they couldn't understand me? I shook my head no, but they egged me on by offering encouraging words. I was more self-conscious now.

“Come on!” Senori said. “You can do it. I'll make sure Sai doesn't make you battle if you do it.”

That was the honest motivation I needed, though I wasn't sure if I could still perform those tricks. There was one way to find out. I got to my feet shakily, which took longer than it should have. To my dismay, the club members cheered. I bent forward, my hands touching the table. I pushed off of my legs and soon they were up in the air. I used my hands to balance myself. Everyone continued to cheer.

The handstand trick was easy. Spinning was not.

I propelled myself to the left, then removed my hands out of the way so that the only thing keeping me upright was the pointed top of my head. I spun slowly, as I hadn't given myself much momentum. There wasn't much I could do about that except keep going. Soon I lost speed and came to a dizzy stop. I fell on my stomach and sighed.

Everyone commended me for my attempt, especially Sasha and Marty. I smiled weakly and waved my hand in a passive manner. I could tell I was sweating.

When the audience went quiet, George had another grand idea. “Fighting-types have an advantage over normal-types,” he said. “These two pokémon, however, have the same trainer. That means they know each other's moves and tactics. Why not try a mock battle?”

That was the last thing I needed. Senori, on the other hand, was all for it.

“I need practice now,” Senori said. “I need to get close to evolving!”

“Uh,” I said. “Do you really want to? I mean, we could always say no...”

“Nah.” He lifted himself up. “I'm making you do this.”

“I wouldn't expect anything less from you...”

Seeing the worried look in my eyes, Marty said, “You don't have to actually hurt each other.”

“Ah, Marty is concerned for the pokémon, I see,” George said.

“I'm always concerned about that.”

“Why is that? It's natural, but I'd like to hear your point of view.”

“Well, my situation might be a bit... unique. At least, I hope so,” Marty said, rubbing the back of his head. “I don't like admitting this, but... my father used to abuse pokémon”—at this, some members gasped—“and I hated that. I really despised that, actually.” He paused. “There was nothing I could do to stop it when I was younger. Now, though, I've rescued my pokémon from him. And since then, I've vowed to try to keep pokémon safe. That includes the sentret and hitmontop. I'm not saying their trainer is abusive, but...”

“But?”

“He's concerning. Sometimes.”

“These pokémon are lucky to have you.”

Marty's aggressive behavior made sense now. I imagined what it would be like if Sai was abusive. He had run away, but he didn't mean to hurt us... He said he was sorry, and perhaps his reasons had to be secretive. If he was physically abusive, though, we'd have bruises. We'd be like Rennio, scared to battle and be touched.

Things could be a lot worse, but they could also be better.

Again, I was torn. Did I want to stay with Sai, or go somewhere—anywhere—else? I was coming closer to my decision.

“So,” Marty continued, “if these pokémon don't want to fight, I won't make them.”

“I want to fight!” Senori said, raising his paw high. He ran to me and raised my hand, too.

“W-What are you doing?” I said, forcing my hand back down.

“I want you to fight,” he said, “and as your leader, you should listen to me.”

“I don't know...” I muttered, looking around. After doing those tricks, the atmosphere was less nerve wracking. I could battle, if that's what he really wanted... I owed him, anyway, for taking care of me when Sai couldn't.

I raised my hand again.

“They both want to fight!” George said. Everyone clapped, hopefully for the last time, because I was getting tired of hearing it. “There are no rules. You both may begin whenever you want!”

Senori went to the other side of the table. I was by the building's door. I could leave whenever I wanted. And were we fighting on a table? We would have to keep our attacks light and playful, so we didn't break anything.

Senori got down on all fours and charged at me. His body rose and he kicked his legs out. I put my hands in a defensive formation, and when Senori struck, I barely moved an inch.

“Good defense, as usual,” Senori said. “Happens outside of battle, even.”

“You know me so well, don't you?” I said sarcastically. Suddenly I felt dispirited. I thought I had known Sai too.

“Yeah,” Senori said. “Just like I know you've been thinking of leaving the group recently.”

I froze. How did he know? He was a leader, not a psychic-type that could read minds! It wasn't fair... What if he told Sai and Sai stopped me? Originally I didn't think he would stop me, but now, I wasn't so sure.

The sentret took advantage of my vulnerability and kicked me into someone's lap. The person, Sasha, picked me up and said it was okay. “Just don't let your guard down again!” she said, as if it were so easy. I climbed back onto the table, trying to appear unfazed.

“You've been distant from the group ever since Sai gave us the choice to leave or stay,” Senori said, grinning. “Your defenses failed you, I guess.”

“I see...”

“It's up to you, though. I won't stop you.”

“You won't?” He nodded. “After Sai disappeared, I thought of leaving again. For real this time...”

“Is that your idea of revenge? You base your life decisions on what Sai does?”

“Well, he's my trainer, and he decides everything...”

Senori chose to continue being stubborn, blunt and, above all, demeaning. He said, “I'm sure that your life revolving around his is all he's ever wanted. I'm sure he hates that he had to put you through such a trial in order to be on your mind night and day, but if hatred is the gravity that keeps you near him... Well, you know he will be that force.”

I was starting to feel angry, to say the least. My life did not revolve around Sai. My life revolved around things that made me happy—like poetry, the seasons, the art of growing older and wiser—things I didn't know much about, but wanted to know about...

I told Senori, “You really don't have to make it look like he wants me on the team so much. He just doesn't like anyone hating him. I'm sure he would want me gone, in that case.”

“You think so? Because I don't. Better prove it to me!”

Fine. I could do that. I ran to him and prepared for a punch. As I reached him, however, he jumped at me and bounced off of my head. I had anticipated this, as this was a popular way for pokémon to avoid my punches. I stopped quickly and turned. As Senori landed on the other side of the table, I punched him in the back. He fell and stayed there, allowing me to believe I had won.

He got back to his feet a few moments later. “I want to do a lot of things too. I knoq now that I want to evolve,” he said. “But I'll do it with Sai.”

“That's the difference between us, then,” I said, and that was the point where I accepted the fact I would be leaving the team.

“Where will you go? What will you do?”

“I don't even know...” I admitted.

“Give yourself some time to think about it. Don't leave us just yet.”

“I wasn't planning on it.”

“Good.”
“Don't get me wrong. I feel trapped if I stay and guilty if I leave... I'm not heartless or anything,” I said, feeling the need to explain myself.

“That sounds unpleasant.”

“...It has its moments.”

“Don't act distant anymore, either!” he ordered.

“Yeah, yeah.”

“And let me win this battle!”

I was no longer angry. I let my guard down once more. Senori charged toward me. I stood there, unsure of his next move. When he reached me, his energy seemed lost, like he wasn't going to attack me at all. He only hit me with a headbutt and knocked me off the table again.

Apparently, that meant I was disqualified, because George said, “The sentret wins!”

As the meeting came to an end, Sasha and Marty took us back to Sai. I became lost in my own thoughts. In the end, I was thankful for the meeting, and for a lot of other things... even if I didn't know it sometimes. I was thankful to know that the beginning of understanding comes in the small form of knowing that life is hard, but that doesn't mean it won't break. I was thankful for the concept of rituals—like eating three meals a day—and feelings the sensation of fullness and temporary completeness. I was thankful for the earth's ability to give meaning to both life and death. I was thankful for simple, daily moments, such as the sunrise, and when the clouds broke through the moon at night. I was thankful for a stranger's kindness, for intense emotions such as grief and ecstasy, for the ultimately unknowable organ that is the heart. I was thankful for having a curious mind.

I was mostly thankful for the chance to leave. I knew, honestly knew, that soon, it would be time to go.
 
All right! finally caught up with this again xD

The Kuiora chapter was nice. It gave extra focus to her and this time just by herself, I didn't think Kuiora could actually make friends even! she's still a huge immature oddball though and doesn't seem to get that her whole religious ideals aren't exactly things she should assume exist, but at least she learned more things.

I liked the way you expanded on Pokemon culture though with how the festival works, it really enhances that feeling of camaraderies that the wild Pokemon around a certain area might have for each other, that even if they're in the wild and are different species they're just like any human community looking after each other. In a sense it's a stark contrast to Sai's team who are all supposed to be looking out for each other but are always separating frome ach other and not trying to understand one another, granted they don't know each other as long but...the wild Pokemon tried to understand kuiora more than most of her team usually does.

The Atis chapter was a bit quieter and more emotionals, focusing on Atis' doubts that we've seen in other chapters focusedon him and also on other Pokemon. Atis stands out in Sai's team because he's not particularly loyal to Sai, inf act I'd say he's the only one besides Ezrem that really wonders WHY they should follow Sai, Ezrem has proven that he mostly does it because he A. Has Rennio and B. Ezrem knows having a potential trainer around would be easier for him. Atis on the other hand is a Pokemont hat's never been able to live on his own and he seems willing to live on the wild before having to deal with people deciding what he should do again.

The feeling of the Pokemon club was...uneasy, kind of cultish even. I never liked the whole idea of the Pokemon Club in the games either so the way youw ent about it here made my fears all the more true xD I can honestly agree with Atis because while they're a group that supposedly love Pokemon they sure are the first ones to treat them like pets, except I wouldn't have my pet fight another pet on a table.

Overall, it's nice to have Sai back but it seems like his little detour this time just did more to hurt his team and his leadership, I wonder how he'll deal with it, if he even does at this point.
 
SURVIVAL PROJECT

chapter 18 ; [SENORI]
crescendo

*​

I think life is defined by the distance between what you want and what you need. I especially felt this way at the pokémon fan club, where the solution to all my problems came to me in the most unexpected way. Who knew that a human could solve what they had no knowledge about? Who knew fate could bring such an opportunity to me? I just knew I needed to move on from my past, and that it was becoming more and more painful to do so. The pokémon fan club provided me with insight I never would have thought of myself. It helped me realize the distance I originally believed to be so far apart was actually as close as it could possibly be.

After Sasha and Marty brought us back to Sai, we made our way to the gym to keep the boy from going crazy again. At any rate, I felt like I was home. I felt as if I were in the forest, experiencing every part of nature, which, I had discovered, is a concept closely related to friendship.

There was something odd about the clouds that day. They moved in our direction and sent shivers down my spine. The few trees in the city swayed in the wind, speaking to me. There was a silence emanating from the cracks in the pavement below my feet, a distant echo of times I've spent alone. The memories were muffled by all our footsteps, though they tried to tear loose in an attempt to break my shell. If my memories were to find anything, I suppose they'd find the decision to stay away from my clan. And then my memories would try to bring me back to the nightmare I hard already lived through once. Well, I had already vowed not to live there again. The dead, the result of my carelessness, hung below me, muttering to themselves in discontent. While I was deeply sorry and always would be, I had to do this for myself.

Atis had asked himself why evolving would help. The reason was simple, almost terribly so. I would be getting rid of the one hing every sentret in the clan cherished most.

I would be getting rid of my tail.

When all sentret were born, we held a ritual to bless the tail. We hoped the ritual would bring about great growth and prosperity to this important part of the body. We had contests to see whose was longer and therefore the most efficient if helping the clan succeed. This was how Ari and me were chosen as the leaders.

If I were to lose my tail, no longer would the leader in me tell me to keep an eye out for others, like I had done several nights in the forest, including the one that ruined me. I could look to the path in front of me rather than the one that lay miles away.

And it just so happened that we were heading to the gym this very moment. The timing couldn't have been any more spectacular.

I willed my heart to stop pounding, but it ignored me.

*

“You're back again! It's been a while,” Whitney observed when we approached her. “You must have been training a lot.”

“Something like that,” I said, trying not to be too sarcastic. The revelatIon I had come to was even better knowing that Sai was here to witness it, but I wouldn't admit it. I was bitter toward him for leaving, but I was still curious as to where he had been. My next goal would involve uncovering that secret, since once I evolved, I would be fully prepared to deal with him and his emotions.

Sai glared at me. “Yes, we've trained a lot for our rematch,” he said.

“Well, we can start the battle whenever. We'll use two pokémon each,” Whitney said, pulling a pokéball out of her back pocket. She thrust it forward, revealing the clefairy that had fought and won last time.

“Can I fight?” Ezrem asked, pulling on Sai's pant leg.

“No?” Sai said. That answer was obvious.

“Rude. What about Rennio?” Ezrem said, now pulling on the elekid's arm, making him panic in retaliatIon.

“I won't do that to him again if he doesn't want to fight.”

“On a more serious note,” I said, “can I fight, Sai? We're all so eager to fight for you, as you can see.”

“Kuiora first,” Sai said. “She asked me earlier. She wants a rematch against the clefairy, and I don't blame her. But you can fight second, okay?”

That was acceptable. As strong as Kuiora was, I didn't think she could beat two pokémon belonging to a gym leader. Whitney's pokémon were far too powerful and their strategies were better than hers, though perhaps she had come up with something by now.

“Thank you, Sai!” Kuiora cried. She took her place in the middle of the arena. Her stance made me question my faith in her. Maybe she could beat both pokémon. Maybe I wouldn't have the chance to fight. I would have to wait it out, since my trainer's decision was made. There would be other opportunities, at any rate—but why wait any longer than I had to?

“Okay, Kuiora,” Sai said. He seemed to be talking for the sake of talking. “Let's do this like we planned, all right? Start off with a bite!”

Though she initially seemed confused, she obeyed. She pounced at the clefairy with lightning speed. The clefairy didn't have time to move, nor did Whitney have time to call out an attack. Kuiora specifically bit down on the clefairy's right arm.

She said through gritted teeth, “That's so you can't use your metronome! No electricity will be comin' from those little paws.”

I laughed and marveled over her simple tactic. And how had she gotten so fast? Not only had her speed increased, but also she looked more determined. She looked wiser and older. I was glad I didn't have to worry about her wandering off anymore. She was now more than capable of taking care of herself.

The clefairy tried to use its good arm to cradle the bad one, but its arm wasn't long enough to reach across its body. It hung there, limp and bleeding, unusable.

“I see how it is,” the clefairy said, wincing.

“You do?” Kuiora said, grinning.

“Clefairy, don't let it get you down! Use growl!” Whitney said.

Though its voice showed it was in pain, the clefairy grunted and let out a high pitched growl that forced even Kuiora a few steps backward. The clefairy stood up taller, having regained its confidence and ability to battle.

“Now use pound!”

The clefairy charged at Kuiora while she was out of commission. It used its good arm to punch Kuiora in the stomach, over and over, pushing Kuiora toward the edge of the arena.

“Good! Try a doubleslap now. Keep her confused.”

Kuiora became dizzy. She tried to swipe away the clefairy with her paws, but kept missing.

“Kuiora,” Sai said, uncertainty and excitement in his voice, “use water gun! It's the perfect chance!”

And indeed it was. The croconaw spat out her water gun, striking the clefairy directly in the face. As the stream of water grew longer, the clefairy was thrown further backwards, as it couldn't escape the relentless flow. Whitney dove out of the way as her pokémon flew toward her, and the water gun ended once the clefairy struck the wall behind her.

“The pokémon got knocked out of the field,” Sai observed. “Does that mean Kuiora wins?”

“That would work in a tournament, but not here,” Whitney said weakly. “Clefairy, you can get up, right?”

The clefairy was able to stand up, but just barely. I gave it some credit for having a lot of spirit.

“One more water gun and you should win, Kuiora,” Sai said.

Kuiora nodded. Soon enough there was another blast of water shooting straight for the clefairy.

“Clefairy, dodge it!” Whitney said with a hint of worry.

The clefairy dodged the water gun in a peculiar way. Instead of moving, it suddenly grew smaller. It happened in increments. As the clefairy changed sizes, afterimages were left behind, disappearing as quickly as they came. The clefairy was hardly visible now, and the water gun missed completely.

“Clefairy, why did you use minimize?” Whitney whined. “That may make you smaller, but it makes you hurt a lot more!” Once again, I thought she was going to run into the arena, but she restrained herself by folding her arms above her head and spinning around on her heels.

“It was the only way,” it said. “I can't move...”

“Oh, dear...”

“Well,” Sai said, “bite isn't going to work... Water gun isn't too likely to hit... Try stomping on it.”

“Okay.” Kuiora walked over to the clefairy casually, staring down at the ground so she could locate her target. When she lifted her foot, the clefairy tried to return to its original size. As it was about to succeed, Kuiora brought her foot down on its head.

The clefairy landed with a thud and didn't get up.

Stomping on the clefairy was a bit harsh, but I didn't say anything. It was a legit pokémon attack, one she had used in several battles before today. The clefairy simply had to suffer the fate of being a trained pokémon, just like the rest of us.

It was surprising to all of us, but Kuiora stepped down from the next battle.

“I got my revenge,” she explained. The Kuiora I knew, though, never turned down a battle. This wasn't entirely unwelcome, but it was new. I congratulated her and told her I would win for her.

“If you don't win, I'll pick up the pieces,” she said.

“I don't lose battles,” I said. In that moment, I honestly couldn't remember losing to anyone but the group of sneasel. I wasn't going to let that faze me today.

I leapt into the arena, waiting for my opponent to arrive. It didn't seem like Whitney was going to send anyone out, however. She was trying not to cry.

“My poor clefairy!” she said, burying her face in her hands.

“Uh, Kuiora won fair and square,” Sai said. “A gym leader should know that.”

“We can still win,” she said, wiping her eyes. “Go, Miltank!”

The miltank lived up to its name. It was a cow and its body represented a tank. The pokémon was huge compared to me, and considerably wider and thicker. It was mostly pink, though its belly was a cream color. It had six udders, white horns on its head and a tail with a black ball on the end of it. Was the miltank's tail as important to the species as it was to mine?

“We're gonna try to win this as quickly as possible,” Whitney said. “Miltank, use body slam!”

If Kuiora's attacks were bad, then the miltank's would be terrible. I braced myself for an awful collision. The miltank ran toward me, its body fat flapping along the way. I got down on all fours, frowning and yet reveling at how big of an adversary I had to face. It gave me even more reason to evolve in the middle of this particular battle.

When the miltank was close enough, I hopped in its direction, landing on its head and then bouncing back onto the ground behind it. The cow struggled to stop itself, but when it did, it turned and stared at me furiously.

It charged at me again, but I successfully dodged the body slam using the same method. My opponent had quite the temper, it seemed, and it wasn't using any sort of strategy.

“Use your own body slam, Senori!” Sai said.

“My attack is called slam, thank you very much,” I said. Either way, I was much quicker due to my smaller size. My body blasted against the miltank's, causing it to lose its breath. I didn't move the miltank very far, but the attack still left an impact. Its shoulders drooped a little and it became less confident.

“Good job, good job,” Sai said. “Use slam again.”

“Yeah, yeah,” I said, mimicking him though I was glad for his attentiveness.

“Miltank, use defense curl!” Whitney shouted.

Defense curl was a move that had been proven useful to me in the past, so I knew this was going to be a difficult task. The miltank rolled into its new position, and I sped up. The miltank's body was like a rock, and I had a throbbing headache the moment we collided. I grabbed my head in a daze.

“I think it's time for your signature move. Rollout!” Whitney said. All hints of her crying self were gone, it seemed.

I asked myself what the rollout move would entail, afraid I would soon find out. Since we were both normal-type pokémon, and since we were only at the third gym in the traditional Johto circuit, I assumed it wasn't anything elemental. I had expected every command to be familiar.

I put myself into some sort of warrior pose, hoping to intimidate the miltank. The miltank, however, stayed in its rolled up position. My self-confidence waned when it rolled toward me, and at a remarkable pace. Stunned, I couldn't dodge. It rammed into me, and forced me to bend my back so that I was leaning against my tail in an awkward fashion. The miltank flattened my body as it tumbled over my stomach, my face, ears. Out of every body part I had, the tail hurt the most. It went without saying that I was sick of my tail hurting me. It signified pride and strength, but I was tired of pretending it was an object I didn't own because it was in a location I couldn't always see.

I had to evolve now or never.

Up until then, I hadn't noticed the physical urge to evolve. It was a peculiar sensation that other sentret had reported having in the past, though they never acted on it. I felt like I was about to burst out of my skin at any moment. My eyes bulged at random intervals, as if they wanted to detach and turn me inside out. My ears heard a ringing that didn't exist.

These sensations were strong to the point where even the miltank realized what I was about to do. The miltank unfurled and watched me, its expression rather unpleasant. After a while it rolled up again and raced toward me, but it was on the other side of the arena.

“Senori, dodge it! Quick!” Sai cried.

But I wasn't planning on dodging. I didn't want to dodge. I wanted to stop the miltank dead in its tracks. I had to prove that my powers lay hidden inside of me somewhere other than in my tail. I had relied on my tail in too many situations. I didn't want that anymore.

I kept my body straight as I could, resisting the desire to turn away. I thrust my paws forward and waited.

“Senori, what are you doing? Dodge it!”

“Nah,” I said. He would have to trust what was to come. He seemed accustomed to trusting people, anyway, almost to a fault. So I would follow myself, just this once, and then I would never disobey another order from him again.

Finally, the miltank reached me. I pushed myself at the massive creature, keeping it suspended on the ground. I grimaced, as I was using every ounce of my abilities to keep the miltank grounded.

“I... won't let you... stop me!” I cried through gritted teeth. I couldn't see the miltank's face, but judging by the sudden increase in momentum, I could tell it was more angry than ever.

This was an enlightening battle. Who knew I had it in me? Now I had to give myself the chance to evolve. I had to keep the miltank distracted somehow...

In a battle, the best way to distract an opponent is to let them recover from getting hurt.

I let the miltank push me back on purpose, letting it believe it was starting to overpower me. In reality, I was in control. I looked behind me and saw how close we were to the wall. I moved my feet to the left and jumped out of the way completely, allowing the miltank to smash into the wall.

I didn't waste any time after that. I let go of my inhibitions, all the inner energy I had been keeping contained. The transition didn't hurt. I felt my body grow longer, more slender. My arms were soon shaped like normal arms, with bigger paws. My ears grew shorter and my fur changed to a lighter shade of brown. My eyes dilated in response to a glow that came and went rather swiftly.

When the evolution was done, I looked behind me. My new tail was one that wasn't considered blessed. I couldn't stand on this tail. I couldn't look out for danger in a forest. Now I could only look out for Sai and the rest of the team. Now I could only look out for my new clan. That was what mattered.

“Senori, you evolved!” Sai said. “Wow...”
I waved to my awestruck trainer. It felt awkward, but I'd grow used to it. The rest of the team seemed lost in thought as well.

“I know things don't look good,” Whitney said, “but you can do it! Use rollout.” The urgency had returned to her voice.

The miltank huffed. As it headed toward me, I swished my tail around, enjoying its softness.

“Uh,” Sai said. “Use a new attack or something!”

I laughed at him. “I didn't forget my attacks or learn any new ones,” I told him. I would have laughed more, but—oh, right. The miltank was coming and here I was, having fun.

I focused my senses, which seemed different somehow. As I stared at the miltank, I was able to see the position its body was in at any given moment. I used my slam attack when its head was facing my direction, which halted the rollout. Confused, the miltank went around in circles.

“All right,” Whitney said. “That's enough. A gym leader knows when she's... lost...” Before she finished her sentence, she burst into tears. Her sobbing echoed throughout the gym.

“Oh...” Sai said sheepishly. “I didn't expect Senori to evolve! I wanted to win, of course, but I didn't want to make you cry! This is the second time now too. ...Can I tell you a joke or something?”

“Jokes won't work, you jerk!” she cried as she returned the miltank to its pokéball. I watched as it was immersed in a flash of red, thanking it for its efforts. Then she pulled something out of her back pocket and flung it in my direction. I picked it up and held the badge gently.

“Here,” I said, running up to Sai (rather clumsily, I might add) and handing it to him.

“I believe it's your win,” he said, patting me on the head, “but I suppose I can hold onto it for you.”

“You flatter me,” I said. “If the miltank had taken advantage of my new form, I would have been doomed.”

“Jerk,” Whitney said again.

I gauged my teammates' reactions. Atis kept himself behind everyone else, but he did strain to peer over Kuiora's shoulders. Kuiora didn't seem as jealous as I thought she'd be, and Rennio was beyond relieved that the battle was simply over.

As for Ezrem...

“How about a good math joke?” he said. “That always cheers everyone up. So, say this gym leader and her opponent have two pokémon each. The opponent loses no pokémon, while the gym leader loses both. How many pokémon does the gym leader have now?”

"...Ezrem?”

“Yes?”

“Shut up,” I said, but really, I was trying not to laugh.

*

We won not only a gym badge from Whitney, but also money. The first thing we did with the money was buy a new backpack, new food, new water and more clothes for Sai. He spent most of it in one place, as usual.

The second thing we bought was a room at the Pokémon Center. It was a major step up from being out in the wild.

In the room, Sai insisted that the badge was mine.

“But what about me?” Kuiora said. So she was jealous.

“Senori evolved!” he replied. “Your badge is the one you won by yourself.”

“But Senori lost that badge,” Kuiora said, crossing her arms.

“Sorry,” I said. “We can share this one. The spotlight can be yours next time.”

“Deal,” she said.

We sat in a circle on the carpeted floor, passing the gym badge around and indulging in its presence. That wasn't the only thing I was thinking about, though.

I was thinking about Sai. He had been happy at the gym, but now he was secluding himself as we talked. Wasn't he glad we had won? Wasn't he glad we could move on to the next part of our journey? I got on all fours and went over to Sai's new backpack. I dug through it. When I retrieved his bottle of medication, I wobbled over to the boy and handed it to him. Atis had told me about it, and I agreed that the bottle was odd, but not unwelcome.

“Won't you stay with us?” I said. “We were worried when you left.”

Sai took the bottle, turning it over in his hands slowly. He smiled sadly and said, “I'll try to stay.”

That was what we wanted. We wanted this Sai—the loyal, excited one. We loved this Sai. Though he was reckless and his emotions ran high sometimes, it wasn't anything we couldn't deal with.

That night, when most of us had gone to sleep, I went up to be on the bed with Sai. His mind was racing, I could tell. I didn't say a word. I rolled myself into a tiny ball and curled up next to his side, silently telling him that I hoped he kept his promise.

It was the most comfortable I had ever been.
 
Well like I said before I think this was your best battle yet :p

But that aside, ti seems like Senori had a huge epiphany at the end of last chapter...sort of, he's still putting group mentality above his own and relying on it to get himself through, he just feels like switching from one to the other will make it better. Well at least he evolved and the group achieved some semblance of peace from the time being.

The evolution made sense, though it really does seem like evolution here can actually be spurred on by the Pokemon themselves? I mean, I guess it makess ense since it's been explained that it's something they can feel whe it's about to happen. Aside from that i really liked your flow in this chapter and I liked the subtle (and not so subtle) ways inw hich it was shown how much the characters had grown during the arc.

Anyways for now, I wonder if Sai will ever get those badges back xD; kind of sad he lost them. But at least things are good with the group for the time being and hopefully they can keep getting stronger together.
 
Well like I said before I think this was your best battle yet :p

Still not sure how that's possible given I wrote this a long time ago, but thanks. XD

But that aside, ti seems like Senori had a huge epiphany at the end of last chapter...sort of, he's still putting group mentality above his own and relying on it to get himself through, he just feels like switching from one to the other will make it better. Well at least he evolved and the group achieved some semblance of peace from the time being.

One step at a time, one step at a time...

The evolution made sense, though it really does seem like evolution here can actually be spurred on by the Pokemon themselves? I mean, I guess it makess ense since it's been explained that it's something they can feel whe it's about to happen. Aside from that i really liked your flow in this chapter and I liked the subtle (and not so subtle) ways inw hich it was shown how much the characters had grown during the arc.

In my own worldbuilding verse or whatever, a pokemon can call upon evolution anytime if their body is/has been ready for it. As leader of the clan + an older member of the team, age-wise + the canon fact that sentret evolve at an early level, it shouldn't be a real big surprise that he's strong enough to evolve by now. I would think some pokemon find it easier to repress evolution compared to others. Kuiora's bad at repressing the urge, for example, if you remember that she evolved during an angry outburst with Sai. Senori would find it easier to not evolve since it was for the sake of his clan, and personal growth just hasn't been important to him until now. And there's another important evolution in about 6-7 chapters that relies upon this same logic, so yeah.

Thanks for the comments, as usual!
 
XD Remember that Rennio/Ezrem have mentioned how Annie did not want them to evolve (not an actual scene present in LaON yet), and they're trying not to in honor of her memory. I suppose it could be one of them, but we'll see... :D
 

SURVIVAL PROJECT
chapter 19 ; [RENNIO]
ephemeral


*​

I had been to small village, large villages, cities, towns that wished they were cities. I had been to the sea, the desert, the highest bridge in the world. I had gone from region to region. It was all the same when you thought you could die at any moment, when you couldn't help but wonder what was wrong with you.

What could have been, what should have been. That was what my life consisted of. I was limited, when I wanted to be limitless. I no longer wanted to fear every threat that came my way. I no longer wanted to let Annie creep into my thoughts. I no longer wanted to let Ezrem's words make me think I had to accomplish something amazing.

What could I do about it? Well, I had already spent enough time learning about other people and pokémon. It was entirely another thing to learn from people and pokémon. Everyone came in and out of my life in such a wild, quick-paced fashion because they were meant to heal me in some way. It was finally time for someone to teach me to think differently about life.

I mostly thanked Senori for this. When Sai disappeared, I was crushed. I fretted over him day in and day out, wondering if he was okay. I thought it was like Annie's situation all over again. How could he do that to me, when we had just become partners? At least Senori helped me out. He told me I was having guilty delusions along with delusions of grandeur. I thought everything was my fault, yet I thought I was invincible. My reasoning: since such a terrible event occurred in my life, it simply couldn't happen again. Senori showed me that that was a lie. I had to accept that another terrible event happened. I had to accept that it didn't happen because of my lack of battling power.

Sai came back, and I was ecstatic. Even though he said we were going to the gym right away, I swear it didn't matter to me in that moment. And then, at the gym, Senori's fight inspired me. If he could find a way to escape his past, then so could I. I felt like I was home.

Home...

That was where Ezrem wanted to be.

I approached Sai about this. I had to find a way to get him there, once and for all.

This would be step one, the beginning of my change.

*

I woke up early the morning after the successful gym battle. I was full of energy and determination. Sai was awake too. I used this chance to talk to him, though he was murmuring to himself about something.

“Sai,” I whispered to him, since Senori was lying at his side with closed eyes.

He turned his head to look at me. “Yes, Elekid?”

“Won't you call me Rennio?” If he was going to listen to my thoughts and take them to heart, he had to know who I really was.

“I don't consider that your name,” he said plainly. “Did your old trainer give you that name?”

“Yeah,” I said, smiling at the positive memory of Annie. “That's why I want you to call me too. Especially if you're not going to give me another name...”

“It would be even worse to give you another name. You can call yourself what you want,” he said.

I allowed myself to change the subject. “I wanted to talk about me and Ezrem,” I said. “Our goals for the future...”

“The future?” Sai said. Annie always had had a goal in mind, but it seemed my two trainers were the exact opposite of each other.

“Yeah. Me and Ezrem have been looking for home. We really want to get there someday.”

“Where's home for you?”

“Unova. Rufflet are from Unova, and apparently so were elekid... once upon a time...”

“Oh,” Sai said, my statement having no effect on him. “I don't know where that is.”

“There are maps and ships and planes! Plenty of ways to get there,” I said in one breath.

“Why didn't you go there after your trainer died?”

“We're pokémon,” I said, my voice soft. He had stung me with his blunt choice of words. Did he have any social skills at all? “We can't do that by ourselves. That's why we need you.”

Sai thought for a moment. “So you want me to bring you to this Unova place, huh?”

“That's right! I'd do anything to go there! And so would Ezrem, if you'd let him be on the team,” I said. This conversation was invigorating, in a way.

“What would you do?”

“I'd... battle for you. Ezrem would, too, if you needed him,” I repeated. “I'll stop being a baby. I'll really try... and I've never even tried before—”

“Stop,” Sai interrupted. I froze. “You don't have to try for me. Either way, I can't fulfill your request.”

“Why not?” I said, my heart falling in my chest.

“I can't leave the region.”

“Why not?” I asked again.

“It's... complicated. If I left the region, people would hunt me down and do unimaginable things if they caught me...” Sai said. He lay down, seeming forlorn and desperate.

“So you'll never leave Johto?”

“No,” he said, “but maybe I can get you guys there. I can't make any promises.”

“That's good enough!” I said. Senori stirred in his sleep. I continued quietly, “I promise I'll fight for you from now on. We're leaving for the next town soon, right? I'll fight in a trainer battle. You'll see.”

But Sai wasn't impressed. “Like I said, you don't have to fight for me. In fact, you not fighting probably helps.”

“What? That doesn't make any sense...”

“I can't explain. But do what you want.”

“Okay.” I didn't push him any further. He was being mysterious and confusing as it was, and I had completed my goal, anyway.

He looked at me peculiarly after I stopped talking. Even when my eyes shifted back and forth between him and the room, he didn't look away. His eyes were a dark shade of blue. It almost made him look crazy, as if he were feeling intensely wound up inside. He seemed to be longing for something. That's the best way I can put it.

To break the silence, I asked, “Will you... feed me sometime? My old trainer used to feed me... It's been a long time since anyone's done that... I just want it done, for old time's sake, you know. I'm sorry if that's weird.”

At this, Sai laughed. “I feed you all the time. Every day, in fact. So I don't know what you're talking about.”

“Feeding me. Like… a baby.”

Sai chuckled again. “You aren't a baby, but maybe that could be your prize for fighting.”

I was satisfied with his answer. That would be my motivation to fight. “I have one last question,” I said.

“Go for it.”

“Why did you leave us? We were so worried about you...”

"...Senori said the same thing.”

“Because it's true.”

“I can't tell you,” he said. “I had... business to take care of. If I could have taken you guys along, I would have put you all in your pokéballs or something. Be glad you stayed where you were.”

“Why? Being a wild pokémon was no fun at all,” I said, shuddering at the idea.

“Maybe one day, you'll come with me, and you'll regret you ever did.”

And that was the end of our conversation. I understood my trainer even less now.

*

Our next destination was Ecruteak City. I was nervous as we set out because of a promise I didn't even have to keep. Sai walked quicker than he normally did, which didn't help.

“So, uh, why are we flying through the cities?” I asked him, trying to keep up the brisk pace. It wasn't working. The others were moving along just fine, though.

“We are flying through the cities because that's what I was ordered to do.”

I lagged slightly behind. I could afford it as long as I could see the group. Again, I compared Annie to Sai. Annie went on a journey because she wanted to. Sai was on a journey though he didn't want to be. Annie was a free spirit. Sai was tied down by... something. Someone. Yeah, that sounded about right. It didn't make things any clearer.

I went up to Senori and asked him how long they had been traveling.

“Maybe... three months? Four months?" Senori said after doing the math in his head.

“Do you know why he's going so fast?”

“No one knows. You're not alone.”

“Well—”

I bumped into Ezrem. I stumbled backward, mumbling that I was sorry, though he should have been watching what he was doing.

“Oops,” Ezrem said, grinning. “But really. I'm trying not to let your mind wander too far. It's too small and fragile to be out by itself, don't you think?”

“That's not very nice,” I said, huffing and crossing my arms.

“You're the baby,” Ezrem said. “Enough's gone wrong as it is. Don't try to bring any more drama into our lives.”

I didn't respond. Soon I would tell Ezrem about the talk I had with Sai. I would tell him how we were closer to home than we had been in years, since Annie never seemed like she was going to finish her journey. (I wouldn't have left, but Ezrem was another story.) He would be so thrilled, I just knew it! And after I told him, nothing would be able to bring his spirits down.

Things were quiet for a while after that. We kept going and only dared to speak up when we were hungry. Sai, being the good trainer that he was, fed us. He told us, however, that we should walk and eat at once, because we were running out of time. Dusk would start setting soon, he said. The sun was as bright as ever, but I listened anyway.

When dusk really did come, Ezrem approached me again.

He was about to say something when I said, “I told him about Unova and everything.”

He closed his beak and then opened it again. “I don't know if Unova is really home or not. I mean, rufflet live there and all—so did elekid—but who says we'll like it there?”

“Ezrem?” I was unsure of what he was saying. He was going to change his mind now?

“Home could be just about anywhere. We could take life for what it is and end up in a happy spot nonetheless. Do you get what I'm saying?”

“...So you want to give up the plan?”

“No. If we can get to Unova, we should go. I'm just saying I'm not as excited about it as I once was.”

I sighed in relief. I had only followed in his footsteps because he was so much smarter than me and because I was always lost on my own. If even he didn't know the path to success, I wouldn't stand a chance.

“Yeah...” I mumbled. “To get Sai to think about it, I told him I'd fight again.”

“You did?” Ezrem said, his eyes growing wide.

“I did,” I said, then added, “I meant it.”

“Then what am I focusing on my own self-pity for? Let's find a trainer!”

I didn't have the heart to tell him no. Truthfully, I didn't know if I was ready or not anymore. We had seen trainers pass by already and Sai hadn't spoken to any of them about a battle. Either he had forgotten, or he really thought fighting wasn't the best plan for me. I couldn't believe that. How else was I supposed to earn respect for my evolution line?

Ezrem ran up to several trainers. He pointed to them, then to Sai. Most of them blew him off, in a hurry to find shelter before the sun set completely. When he got tired of being ignored, he started kicking them in the shins. I couldn't help but laugh. That kind of behavior was so... Ezrem-like.

“Is that your rufflet?” one trainer said.

“No,” Sai said, “but he likes to follow me around. He wants me to battle you.”

“I can battle you,” the trainer said excitedly. “Let's make it interesting, okay? If I win, I get the rufflet. If I lose, you can keep him.”

Sai stared at the other trainer. Was he really going to use Ezrem as a bargaining tool? My heart raced. I definitely wasn't willing to participate anymore.

“I don't want to make bets today. Ask him,” Sai said.

“Tell him it's a deal. I have faith in Rennio!” Ezrem said.

I waved my arms at him frantically. “Ezrem, just because you're having an identity crisis doesn't mean you can gamble your life away!” I cried.

“He says okay,” Sai said.

“All right,” the boy said, licking his lips. “Let's do this.”

And so it started. While I was sweating profusely, Sai and the other boy took their positions, turning the surrounding clearing into an arena.

“Go, Arcanine!” the boy cried.

I wasn't mentally or physically prepared for my opponent. The pokémon resembled a dog that was at least three times my size. It had a cream-colored mane covering its neck, head and legs, along with random black stripes on its mostly orange body.

As a greeting, it growled.

“You've got to be kidding me,” I said weakly.

“I believe in you, Rennio!” Ezrem called from the sidelines. “What have you got to lose, anyway? Your life? You got that for free!”

I glared at him, ungrateful for his fake support. I tried not to let my thoughts succumb to death. Rennio has come back to the world, and whatever.

“Elekid,” Sai said, “show me what kind of moves you have, okay?”

“Right,” I said, putting myself into an intimidating stance. I couldn't back down now, though I wanted to crawl to Sai and beg him for forgiveness. I had gotten myself into this mess and it was up to me to get out of it. I would still have to smack Ezrem later for putting me and himself into such a life-threatening situation.

I ran at the arcanine, unsure of what attack I would use. It had been so long since I battled I apparently forgot the meaning of strategy. The dog crouched downward, opening its mouth to show off its fangs. I slid down on my knees, going under its head and landing underneath its belly. I felt somewhat safe here, but I kept on fighting. I kicked its underside with as much force as I could, causing the arcanine to yelp. I fled to my original spot before he could crush me in retaliation.

“That was my low kick attack,” I said, making sure Sai could hear me. Of course, this left an opening for the arcanine to attack me.

“Arcanine, use take down!” the boy called.

Before I knew it, I was crying out in pain, not expecting any sort of impact. I held my stomach, swaying back and forth, hoping the cradling motion would send the terrible sensation away.

“Don't talk to me!” Sai said. “Use any attack.”

I nodded. Sai enjoyed being a spectator, but at least he checked in here and there to keep everything controlled.

I continued using my low kick again, but the arcanine knew what to expect. Every time I got close, it hopped out of the way with extraordinary speed. I dodged its take down—but just barely, due to the combination of my opponent's size and my own nervousness.

Eventually I decided to stop playing games. I would use an attack that simply couldn't be avoided. As I focused my mind, I recalled what it was like to use my swift attack. I felt pure as I released a series of bright, solid stars toward the dog. The arcanine maneuvered around the volley of stars, but I shot so many of them that it got hit more and more often.

The arcanine growled again. I scolded myself, wondering why pokémon got aggravated during battles. It wasn't my fault, right? But the angrier the arcanine was, the more powerful its attacks would be... This battle wasn't over.

Apparently, Sai noticed this. “Use thundershock, Elekid!”

When I released a loud, crackling streak of lightning, I felt immensely grateful. I had done it. I had really done it—and by my own free will! It wasn't done for self-defense, and it wasn't done for the sake of doing it. I was in the middle of a real battle. I smiled as the electricity engulfed the arcanine.

The attack backfired. The arcanine had been underestimating me, and now it was going to unleash its fury.

“Arcanine, use flamethrower!” its trainer cried.

Flamethrower was the strongest fire-type attack anyone could use. And since the arcanine was a fire-type itself, it would be even worse. It was simple logic that even I, in my anxious state, could follow.

Fire.

I remembered Ezrem and I remembered I was the last elekid and I remembered instances in which I had seen hurt pokémon... None of these memories were pleasant, though I cherished Ezrem dearly.

The arcanine drew in a deep breath, and I swear it was grinning at me as it did so. Its head drew back, and when it burst forward, so did numerous flames. I stood there. I wasn't ready to die or be hurt... I still had so much to do...

“Rennio, you have to do something!” Ezrem cried, flapping his wings up and down. But he knew I wasn't going to do anything. He flapped his wings not to get my attention, but to fly over to me. He braced the flamethrower attack with one lone wing.

I watched as Ezrem was shrouded by the fire. It hurt me, as if I was the one being hit. I couldn't imagine what agony my friend was going through. The whole thing reminded me of Annie and the forest fire. It was as if the world conspired against us at all times.

When the attack ended, Ezrem shrieked. He hopped around like an imbecile, holding on to the wing that had taken the most damage.

“What's going on here?” the boy cried. “The rufflet wasn't supposed to battle! I can't believe this. You just hurt my shiny pokémon...”

"...Shiny?” Ezrem said, toppling over. I was probably the only one who could hear his muffled confusion.

“Battle's over,” Sai said, rushing over to us.

“Shiny?” Ezrem repeated. “That's what I am? That's why everyone's after me? Because I'm shiny?”

“I need to get him to a Pokémon Center,” Sai said, picking up Ezrem in his arms and holding him carefully.

“This isn't over yet! The bet is still on!”

“The bet is over! No one wins,” Sai said firmly. Without forfeiting his money he turned toward Goldenrod City, motioning for all of us to follow.

And so we went back to the city, with me being the farthest behind.

*

It took about an hour to get back to the Pokémon Center. Ezrem was shouting out indecipherable obscenities the entire time. I wasn't sure what being shiny meant, but evidently it was something special.

When Sai handed Ezrem over to the nurse, she asked what had happened.

“We ran into a tough pokémon,” was all Sai said, his head drooping low. He was out of breath, but was doing a good job at not letting it show.

“My goodness,” she said. “It looks like he got burnt. I'll have to take a closer look at him. Please wait in the lobby, and I'll come get you as soon as I have more information.”

“Thank you.”

The running, the encounter with the nurse, the waiting... It all went by like a blur to me. I had gotten Ezrem hurt, badly so. I hadn't meant to, I really hadn't. My fear of death was supposed to be my problem, not his! He shouldn't have run into the arena so selflessly. He shouldn't have taken the blow for me. It should have been me who got burnt. At least he was alive. Still, I was overcome by guilt.

“It's okay...” Sai said, noticing this. He pat my shoulder. “Rennio, you did a good job,” he added.

“Rennio...” I said to myself. Sai had said my actual name.

I started crying, both from happiness and sadness. Until now, I hadn’t thought such a thing was possible.
 
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Plot: 8/10

From the beginning, the story tries to make us wonder just what our main characters are trying to survive. Are they trying to survive in a world filled with tragedy? Survive against their own inner demons? Team Rocket's return? Although this has not been answered in any of the released chapters so far, it is likely that this will be answered in due time. There have already been some memorable moments, such as the trio rushing to find Sai, and the battle against Bugsy.

Setting: 8/10

So far, the story seems to stick closely to the GSC storyline, but there are darker undertones, such as Prof. Elm's tragic story. References to Shinou may also hint that that region could come into play later on. But having the world described from a Pokemon's POV is something that isn't done too often, and if done well--as it is here--makes the world feel alive to the audience.

Characterization: 9/10

So far, there appear to be three main POV characters--Senori the Sentret, Kuiora the Totodile, and Atis the Hitmontop. Each of them has her own unique voice--Atis being the most optimistic of the three, Senori trying to make sense of the world, and Kuiora is surprisingly mature, if a little rash--the best example being in Chapter 5, when we clearly see his jealousy over not being favored as Sai's preferred Pokemon.

Juggling multiple viewpoint characters can be done well--this is a great example for the Pokemon universe.

Style: 9/10

Each viewpoint character has their own unique voice--even without the note saying who is narrating, it is easy to tell who is telling us the story for that chapter.

Technical: 10/10

I did not see any major spelling or grammar mistakes.

Final Score: 85/100

A very solid and well written story, with three unique voices driving it along. That said, I'm intrigueed about the meaning of the title, and wonder how and if the plot has deviated from the GSC storyline (if it hasn't already--definitely one to keep an eye on.
 
I had better do this now lest I manage to forget completely. So, post-Awards review, and again it won't be a copypaste job.

This was a damn difficult story to judge, because the problems and strengths are never in the places I expect them to be. In summary, the individual stories of the pokémon are good, there's a subtle difference in the narrative voice for each viewpoint, stylistically it's good. The setting is a bit of a let-down, I feel. Simply put, each chapter is very lean - on the one hand that means that the pacing is good, but there's some space left over for some proper worldbuilding. The world in general comes across as very generic - there's nothing particularly different between Senori's home woodland and the Ilex Forest, for example.

Coming back to the pokémon characters, I like the diversity there. There are some difficult themes emotionally in there that you do better than most. I'm thinking of the death and grief themes in particular here. Senori's an odd one. It's hard to say whether he actually goes through any personal growth himself, but his attitude does change. At least, he goes from being a ball of guilt to believing himself to be the leadership glue that holds the team together. Other aspects I liked was the odd relationship between Rennio and Ezrem - and incidentally that was one of the best ways of introducing "shiny" colouration that I can remember.

The real problem I have with the story, however, is Sai, though perhaps not in the way you would expect. I always got the impression that the story would have worked a lot better if Sai was more of a plot device driving the development of the pokémon he encounters. What we actually have, though, is a story about Sai seen through the eyes of the pokémon. I'll admit that I wasn't really sold on Sai's weirdness, but what the hell, to suspend disbelief on the premise of the story isn't that big a deal.

No, what bugged me was how easy he has it. Sai hardly has to work for anything in the story. By luck he comes across the one Sentret crippled enough by guilt to want to everything he can to enable him. He's awarded a Gym Badge even though he didn't win and didn't learn anything from the leader. The point is, his actions don't have any lasting consequences. Whether it's running away at the drop of a hat, treating his pokémon like robots or demanding that they get smashed to bits in a Gym Battle, it doesn't matter because things always work out for him.
 
SURVIVAL PROJECT
chapter 20 ; [EZREM]
mentality

*​

It was unbelievable, the way the world had been keeping such a huge secret from me. This was how everyone repaid me for all the damage I had done? I wanted to deny it. I had started trying to be a good pokémon... I was staying away from Kuiora, because she was so much better than me and I didn't want to taint her further... I was trying to help Rennio by encouraging him in my own way... I literally took the heat for him and everything!

At least Sai displayed some affection toward me. He backtracked to the Pokémon Center despite his hurry to reach Ecruteak City... He handed me to the nurse as she said my wing was burnt.

My head was reeling, and I may have vomited once or twice. My one wing ached. As for the other one... Well, I wouldn't have minded it being amputated if it meant the pain would subside.

The nurse brought me into the back room. There were plenty of beds, some filled with sick pokémon, others empty and cleaned. Next to each bed stood a large machine used to heal pokémon in need.

I was certainly a pokémon in need, but the nurse didn't hook me up to the machine. She set me on a metal counter and told me to relax. She said everything was going to be okay. I couldn't believe her. Her voice sounded too sad.

“Everything will be okay,” she said again. She stepped out of the room and returned with a glass of water. “Drink this. Keep yourself hydrated,” she said, holding it so I could take a couple sips.

She went over to the far wall, grabbed a pair of gloves and put them on. I flinched as I thought about her messing with my wings, but at first she only mumbled to herself about how my feathers had been charred off, and how the skin underneath appeared pale. Eventually she reached toward me. I braced myself, but I felt nothing.

“Does that hurt?”

“N-No,” I managed to say.

“I see,” she said. I swear she sounded sadder. Great. “I'm going to examine your airway,” she added calmly, “and I'm going to check your breathing. To make sure everything's functioning properly.”

I could deal with that. I breathed normally. It hurt when I exhaled, as part of the flames had struck the lower part of my neck.

“Your airway seems fine,” she said. “But the wing...”

And it all went downhill from there.

*

The nurse cradled me in her arms as she brought me to Sai.

When he saw us, he said, “Well? What's wrong with him?”

I wanted to choke him and tell him there was nothing wrong with me. It just so happened that everyone else thought the opposite.

“The base of Ezrem's neck and his one wing have minor burns. The other wing, however... The other wing has sustained servere third degree burns...” Her voice trailed off. Her grip on me tightened.

“So? What does that even mean? What are you trying to say?” Sai said, motioning for her to go on. He was such an impatient little boy, one with a soft spot for me!

The nurse sighed. “Third degree burns are also called full thickness burns. This is because they destroy the entire outer layer of skin, along with the layer of nerve fibers underneath. He can't feel pain,” she said, “which is fortunate. But these types of burns can't be treated over time, even with our machines here. I'm sorry, but he may not be able to use his wing anymore.”

I froze. I had expected terrible news, but I hadn't expected this. I was a flightless bird, but now I wouldn't be able to suspend myself in the air... A part of me that had been with me since I was born would lose its meaning. It was inconceivable. Impossible.

Sai said, “He may not be able to? Is there any other way?”

“I can't be certain, but it's possible.”

“What is it!” I blurted out. I would do anything she asked

“Skin grafts are an option. Skin grafts are used to permanently replace destroyed tissue. They are very expensive, however, and would require Ezrem to remain here for a long while in order to recover.”

Sai paused. The nurse was about to prod him when he said, “I'm a trainer. I don't have a lot of money.”

Of course he didn't. I knew this. And though he didn't say it, I knew we were low on time.

“There's another way, though,” she went on. “If he evolves, the nerve fibers may be replaced and he could use his wing again. It may not be as effective, but it's better than nothing.”

I would do anything she asked—except for that.

I promised Annie I wouldn't evolve. I mean, I only made that promise because I wanted to go home and I was willing to agree with her on anything. I had planned on evolving when I was on my own, too, but it was my fault she was gone now. I was obligated to keep her memory alive. To do that, I needed to be a rufflet for the rest of my life.

“Okay,” Sai said. It wasn't okay. He looked at me apologetically. “What else can we do?”

I tuned out the conversation. I didn't want to hear it.

*

I lost the use of my wing for a stupid cause. That's not to say I regretted saving Rennio. I simply shouldn't have pushed him to fight.

And then, there was the secret.

How could I not have known? Really. Why hadn't Annie told me? She probably didn't care, but she always believed that one should be aware of one's identity. Why hadn't Rennio told me? Did he even know? And what about Kuiora? Now that I thought about it, she had been close to telling me before we got interrupted once. ...I was just glad she didn't have to see me this way.

My mind continued spinning as we headed toward Ecruteak City. Again.

Sai carried me as we walked, as if he thought my legs were incapacitated as well. Maybe he felt sorry for me. Well, I didn't want his pity anymore! But I didn't make a sound. No one else did, either, though I might have heard Rennio crying.

We came across the same clearing where the incident had taken place. Sai set me down and asked Kuiora to come forward, and for the rest of the group to move.

I soon found out what the nurse had said about healing my burns, however, when we had reached the same clearing where the incident had taken place. Sai had stopped here on purpose and set me down. He asked for Kuiora to step forward, and for the rest of the group to back off.

“Kuiora...” I said, my voice barely above a whisper. Could she still think I was special? Probably not.

She nodded. She released a soft stream of water that struck me in the neck and then my burnt wing. The wounds were fresh! It wasn't a pretty sight.

“What was that for?” I said, hugging my body.

“The nurse said you have to take cool baths,” Sai explained. “Aren't we lucky to have a water-type on the team?”

I didn't feel lucky.

Next Sai handed me two pills, similar to the ones he took himself. “For the pain,” he said. I opened my mouth and he stuck them on my tongue. I nearly vomited again, trying to swallow them without water.

“And now,” Sai said, “we put some cream on it.”

He rubbed the cold cream onto the damaged areas. I wondered how loud my screaming would be if I could feel the full aftereffects of the third degree burns. Those third degree burns, it seemed, were taunting me.

Sai pulled out the bandages from his backpack. There weren't enough to get me through the entire route, assuming I would be wild and shake them off. He placed a square-shaped patch on my neck, then wrapped the other two wings. He had to try at least three times before he got it right, though.

“Sorry,” he said. “I've never done this before.”

“It's okay. Me neither.”

When he finished, I tried flapping my wings, which only made me cringe. This morning, I told Rennio our schedules were full. My main worry at that point involved going home. Now I was worried about being a useless, shiny flying-type pokémon.

Sai offered to carry me, but I shook my head. I wanted to—needed to—talk to Kuiora and Rennio.

I nudged Kuiora in the side and she lagged behind everyone else to be with me. She did this without so much as looking at me. Was it all in my head?

“What do you want?” she said in a tone that confirmed my fears.

When I didn't answer, she turned to leave. I pecked her on the tail and she acquiesced, sick of the passive-aggressiveness.

“Do you want to know,” I said, “what's worse than a legendary pokémon that has a short temper, is a bit smite happy and has no developed sense of humor?”

“Uh,” she said. “Sure?”

“What's worse is a legendary pokémon that has a shorter temper, is very smite happy and has a highly developed sense of humor."

“I don't get it...”

“Even the legendary pokémon can be as stupid as us! They can destroy others and get lost in their own minds. It's such a catastrophe.”

“Ezrem, are you okay?” she said. “I mean, I know you're not okay. But even before this, you weren't acting like yourself.”

“I'm special to you, right? I'm invincible, just like the rest of your worshiped friends. Who cares?” I said, knowing I was being difficult. I couldn't gather the strength to be anything else.

I care!”

I couldn't stand it. I wanted her to care, yet I didn't. I glanced at the rest of the team and thought about bothering the others.

“What about you, Atis?” I said, hopping over to the fighting-type pokémon. “Do you care?”

“I guess so...” So he had been eavesdropping. As anticipated from our shyest teammate.

“What do you think about me? Am I evil?”

“W-Well, I've never seen you do anything bad... like hurt anyone or anything...” Atis said, walking slower now.

“Decent humans beings don't do such things. But I'm not decent nor am I a human being. You lose.”

“Ezrem...” Kuiora started, but she didn't go on.

“Calm yourself, Kuora,” I said. “You are not allowed to interrupt.”

“You're my friend! I'll interrupt if I want to. Why don't we go further back and talk it out a little?”

It was inevitable, but I didn't want to talk it out a little anymore. Torn, I kept spouting out nonsense about how everyone in the world had been keeping a secret from me.

“I finally figured it out,” I told her. “I'm a shiny pokémon. Isn't that fantastical?”

“Ezrem, it's not a bad thing. That's one reason why I've liked you all this time, and—”

“But you must be mad, right? I didn't know I was shiny, but I presented myself as a legendary anyway. That's some deceitful stuff, don't you think?”

“Yeah, I'm angry. But I can't stay angry at you, considering the state you're in.” She stared at my wounds. “I've been angry before. I learned from it. I don't want to be that way again, especially not with you.”

“You should be angry. Angrier than you've ever been.”

“Why? What's so bad about being a shiny pokémon?” she asked, genuinely curious.

Why? I told her why. I told her everything. I told her about making Rennio believe he was the last elekid on the planet just so he would become attached to me. I told her that being a shiny pokémon suddenly made me feel like the only rufflet in the world. I told her I felt lonely and I wanted to bring someone down with me. I told her I missed being a monster. I told her I wanted to be the same monster I was when I killed my trainer with fire. I told her how ironic it was that I should get burned myself.

“And that,” I concluded, “is why you should be mad at me. I am a terrible pokémon. I know it, and I can't stop it, though I've tried.” On second thought, I added, “I'm going to explain this to Rennio. Not today, but soon.”

Kuiora's face became red, the corners of her mouth turned down as low as I had ever seen them.

“You killed your trainer? You told Rennio that?” she said weakly.

“Yes, I did,” I said, smiling for effect.

She noticed my theatrics. She knew me too well. “I don't want to be angry. Don't do this,” she said.

“You should hurt me. Kill me. I deserve it.”

“No, Ezrem! I won't!”

She persisted on refusing my offer until Sai quit moving. He must have heard part of the conversation thanks to Kuiora's frantic screaming. I couldn't see his face, but his fists were clenched. I feared for the worst.

He came over to me and picked me up by my bad wing. I thrashed about, trying not to scream so he would think I was as strong as I had ever been. When I realized I wasn't getting anywhere with the stubborn boy and his stubborn pokémon, I let myself go limp.

“Let's get this straight,” he said, keeping his firm grip on me. “You are not on this team. I broke the rules for you, but you still aren't on this team. I don't know what you told Kuiora, but you won't antagonize my pokémon if you're going to follow us around. I only let you follow us because of Rennio. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” I said, ashamed. I wanted to be on this trainer's team and now, I might have forever ruined my chances.

“Besides,” Sai said, setting me down, “he cares a lot about you, and so does Kuiora. You should listen.”

“Okay,” I said. My witty comments were set aside.

It was strange, in a way, having Sai be the one to set me straight. His rejection offered me some solace. With Rennio and Kuiora, I wanted them to hate me and love me. The battlefield known as friendship was not the greatest place to be that day.

Kuiora didn't give up after Sai's lecture. She came up to me, asking, “Do you know what the most important thing in this world is?”

“If you say friendship, I'll stab you."

“Despite everything, I know you wouldn't do that.” She smiled. “It is friendship, though. I used to only want legendary pokémon as my friends, so I ignored everyone else. I regret it and I'd like to start over. I won't even consider you legendary if you think it's a bad thing, okay?”

I looked down at myself. I had red feathers. I was the color of passion and violence. ...I was the color of fire. It fit me perfectly. I asked her what color I was supposed to be.

“Blue,” she said. “I've seen pictures. That's how I knew.”

“I see,” I said. “You still want to be with me?”

“I do.”

I sighed. “I'd like to spend more time together too,” I admitted. “Arceus knows there's another rufflet that could love you better than I will, but you can deal with my pathetic self, I suppose. So... what are your plans? Between now and forever, I mean.”

Kuiora giggled, and I knew all was well.

*

I had another battle to face. In some respects, this would be the harder battle. I knew Rennio better than Kuiora, but he didn't know me. That fact alone made me want to open up to him, but I wasn't completely ready. Not yet.

“Rennio!” I said, leaving behind a smiling Kuiora.

He snapped his head in my direction. I could see tears in his eyes. He was crying over me, it seemed... Usually he cried about himself... I mentally scolded myself for making him cry, though I had tried to be heroic, or at least something less than sinful.

“E-Ezrem!” he said, embracing me. I winced at my body's reaction, but I made no attempt to pull back.

“You're squishing me,” I said. He let go. I ruffled my feathers to make myself feel more comfortable. The medicine made things better.

“Sorry,” he said. “I'm sorry for everything... I tried to battle, I really did. But that attack was too powerful for me. And look! I was right! It got you burned, and it's all my fault...”

“Rennio...” I said, “do you know why I jumped in front of that flamethrower?”

“No... Not at all.”

“Because I wanted to. What would happen if you got injured?” I said. I wasn't about to pull the last-elekid-in-the-world trick, though. “My best friend would have been badly hurt. And that would have made two of us very, very sad. I wanted to prevent that. Taking the blow was only the natural thing to do.”

“I am sad!”

“I know, but it's not so bad. I actually... prefer to be this way, you know?”

“You... do?” he said, wiping his eyes. “Who would ever want to be hurt?”

“Think of this way. I'm strong, right? And these burns are a setback, yeah. But when I defeat a fearful pokémon like that arcanine, others praise me and my efforts.”

“I... guess I get it...”

“Do you, Rennio? Praise is a wild thing. Praise can be sung from one corner of the nation to the next. Praise makes people build honorable statues. Usually, famous songs fade away, statues crumble, and more people die. But I would live on as a monument of pride. People would tell campfire tales and make others shudder, mothers would scare children into thinking I'll punish them if they're bad, scholars would think of me when they wonder if power can have too high a price, and both the pious and the wicked would pray to to their gods, asking for my judgment instead. That, my dear Rennio, is legacy. So yeah, I don't mind these burns one bit.”

“O-Oh,” Rennio breathed. His voice was barely above a whisper.

“Exactly.”

“Are you sure, Ezrem? You rant like this all the time,” he pointed out.

“I'm very sure.” It was odd, the way he would believe me in any other context.

“Is there anything I can do for you?” he asked. “I'm not a water-type or anything, but surely there's something...”

“Ask Sai to change my bandages next time.”

“Okay. Anything else?”

“Rennio, I am miserable and perfectly happy about it. You don't have to do a thing.”

I wasn't happy, but in that case, it was a necessary, warranted lie. Without that lie, Rennio would never get rid of his guilt. The other lies I told would be taken care of somewhere further down the line.

Rennio said nothing. The conversation was short and it was done. We weren't anywhere close to Ecruteak City. That was our real destination, but I felt I had reached a new part of my life. There were going to be hard times and good times, of course, but I'd deal with it. The worst was over and I was becoming more and more aware of myself. Those two facts would help me become a better pokémon and a better teammate.

I thought of Annie. She had said that when she pictured herself, it was like looking at the night sky and thinking her life was made up of pictures within the stars. She would then connect the dots and everything would make sense. For me, the lines had been filled in.

Up until the incident, I was nothing but a liar. Now I was nothing but forgiven.
 
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Well first of all.

use of use of

Repeated here :O

Aren't we

You forgot the all important lucky xD which actually plays a role in the rest of the scene.

Now onto the review itself.

The Rennio chapter was really cute, I mean...it was sad cause like Rennio finally decided he was ready to fight again but it ended up getting Ezrem hurt. It's cute in the sense that at least Sai fully accepted him and Rennio was able to...kind of overcome his worries, it's a step by step thing and I certainly like that about your story, your character's insecurities and issues aren't just overcome in one go, they go by slowly through many different events that help them get better every time.

I honestly can't critic you much, maybe I'm just tired by now but I really liked your dialogue in the last two chapters, and I think they have a good flow. It's true that you still don't put any focus on the scenery but that's cause you instead choose to focus on the people and Pokemon in there and really zero in on their worries. Your chapters are mostly dialogue but that's not bad, it helps explore a lot of things about them that works best.

I also like the subtle character developtment for Ezrem and the not so subtle one. He's finally learning to be a better Pokemon to others and maybe he'll get to join Sai's team, I hope he and Rennio learn that evolving is just a part of growing up for them and that they shouldn't be afraid or tied down by Annie's promise.

Lastly...I like Kuiora now, I know I criticized her a lot before but her character developtment has helped her come really far now, it's shocking xD
 
SURVIVAL PROJECT
chapter 21 ; [ATIS]
cynosure

*​

If there was anyone in the world I didn't want to be—aside from my hitmontop self—it was Ezrem. Though valiant, he was incredibly reckless. Running into an attack like that... I wouldn't have done it. And finding out he was a shiny pokémon... I knew how rare and valuable they were to collectors, trainers and hunters. To be wanted by so many people must have been unbearable.

As we waited in the Pokémon Center for Ezrem to heal, I thought about what it would be like to not know myself. What if I didn't know my origins? What if I didn't know how I felt about humans? What would I have and who would I be?

There were some things I didn't know, of course. Ezrem's situation had given me some ideas about where to go after I left Sai. I could work in a hospital for humans or volunteer my time to charities, and then I could explore other hobbies I might be interested in. As long as I was around people who appreciated my efforts, I would be fine.

Before I went, I needed to repay Sai for all that he had done for me. Though he didn't live up to all my expectations, it didn't mean I totally hated being on the team. He gave me shelter, food and entertainment, as well as a lesson or two on what it meant to be human. But training had put such a great strain on him that I wondered if he would go back and change what happened. All those rules, all those breakdowns... None of them could have been healthy for him.

I had to give up on making his life better. That was up to him, not me.

“Sai,” I said quietly, not wanting to disturb the peaceful atmosphere. When he didn't answer, I poked him in the shoulder.

“Yes, Atis?”

“I...” My voice trailed off. I wanted to ditch the team and I wasn't sure how to construct this idea in a sentence. “Well... Do you remember when you gave us a choice? You made us say whether we wanted to stay or go...”

Sai's stare lingered. I swallowed and twiddled my hands around. Finally he said, “Yeah. I remember. Why... do you bring it up now?”

The pause in his voice sent shivers down my spine. When he talked, I was used to him being brash, so sure in what he was saying, even if he regretted it later. But now he was uncertain. He had to have known what was coming.

“I think... I've made my decision,” I said, not daring to look at his heartbreaking eyes.

“You want to leave, don't you?”

I nodded. The others didn't hesitate on offering their opinions.

“So you're doing something for yourself, huh?” Senori said. He smiled at me and I forced myself to smile back.

“Atis!” Kuiora said. “We haven't settled our competition to see who's strongest!"

“You're stronger than me now, I assure you,” I said, trying to sound as bold as Sai.

“You think so?”

“Yeah. I never fight, so...”

“You're still going?”

“Sorry,” I mumbled.

“Atis, I would've liked to learn more about you. I'll be sad to see you go,” said Rennio.

“Thank you,” I said, surprised. Preventing the young pokémon from inheriting my abnormal views was for the best, though.

Sai had yet to respond. He was barely scraping by, it seemed. I sympathized with him, but I knew what I was talking about when I said training wasn't just a walk in the park.

“When would you like to go?” he said after a while.

“Soon,” I said, “so I can get out of your way—”

“Atis,” he interrupted, “do you know what day it is?”

I froze. It was a Wednesday, but that conclusion was next to useless. “N-No,” I managed to say.

“Earl told me all about you,” Sai said. He paused, then continued, “He told me you came to him in the middle of June. You were a... tyrogue, I think. You were with him for three years. If you were still with him today, this would mark the beginning of the fourth year.”

Even I hadn't remembered this. Did Earl really say those things about me? Did he really care that much? I never doubted that he was a caring man, but I was dumbfounded anyway. I was feeling loved at a time like this...

“It's the middle of June, isn't it?” I said.

“It's not the exact date, but it's close.”

“Why does it matter?”

“Atis,” Kuiora scolded, “don't you know what that means? It's your birthday!”

I let her believe what she wanted. I knew what a birthday was, and it definitely wasn't this.

“Professor Elm celebrated the day me and the other pokémon joined him. He said the year was full of good memories of us growing up. We should celebrate before you go!” Kuiora went on. I blinked. “It's a must,” she added, “and I won't take no for an answer.”

I laughed. Kuiora's childish self was shining through. I'd sincerely miss it.

“I think she's right,” Sai said. “Please stay until we get to Ecruteak City. We'll celebrate there.”

“O-Okay,” I said. It seemed that Goldenrod City held too many bad memories for him. I could deal with being on the team for another few days, anyway. It would give everyone time to adjust to the idea of me being gone.

*

The next two days went by quickly. I tried my best to keep up, though my mind was muddled as I pondered over my next journey. I'd be starting out in Ecruteak City, but I didn't know what the the place had to offer besides the renowned burned tower. At least Kuiora could have fun with the stories surrounding the building.

As we traveled, I was concerned by Ezrem's outbursts. He yelled at Kuiora and, to a much lesser extent, me. Sai had to to intervene. His sudden fury made me cower and only cemented my decision. I knew the answer to my previous question too. If I didn't know myself as well as I did, I'd go crazy and attempt to destroy every promising opportunity in my life.

Everything after that was quiet. I saw Ezrem and Rennio talking, but I couldn't hear them. Kuiora's face was twisted in a scowl, but her movements were carefree. Senori passed me an all knowing smile once in a while, as there were no more words to be said between us.

The night before we reached Ecruteak City, I woke up to see Sai sneaking off. I was too dazed and tired to follow him, but I took note of it. His walk was slow, too, making me believe he was just thinking. Yeah, he was just... thinking. I convinced myself of this and went back to sleep. He would be there in the morning.

*

I let out a sigh of relief when I woke up again and saw him resting against a tree. To have him disappear would have put a big dent in our broken team. No one noticed where Sai had gone. I'd find out where he went later.

“So,” Sai said as we went underneath the city's entrance gate, “what do we want to do for Atis's birthday?”

“Have lots of cake,” I said before Kuiora could butt in.

“Don't forget presents,” Senori offered.

“Okay. Cake and presents,” Sai said. “To the pokémart.”

He stopped and peered around, taking in his surroundings. There were plenty of sturdy, oriental buildings with dirty windows and graffiti on each side. The pavement was set up in a grid-like pattern, and along the roads were high, triumphal arches that were built to honor the city's founders. I saw the burned tower, which, though it had been damaged, was the tallest structure standing.

We had to peer inside a couple restaurants and the dance hall, but we eventually found the pokémart and ventured inside. The pokémart's interior design reminded me of the pocket knife Sai had bought, and suddenly I was scared of what kind of gift he'd give me.

We went up and down the aisles. Sai picked up random items, but he put them back where they belonged after scrutinizing them. Soon he reached the electronics section, where he picked up a camera.

“Do you like taking pictures, Atis?” he asked.

“I've never taken any... I don't know.”

“Is it something you'd like to do? You can take pictures of us and take them with you.”

“Yeah... Right. I'd do that,” I said, smiling. Usually Sai put himself at the center of his world, so I was interested to see him act with thoughtfulness.

“It's settled,” Sai said, handing me the camera. “This will be your present from all of us.”

Kuiora cheered. Rennio explained to Ezrem what happened, since he wasn't paying attention. Senori was quiet. I took the camera from Sai and we went to the counter to buy it.

*

“Now we need a cake,” Sai said as we came out of the store. “We'll go back to the restaurant we saw.”

Inside, chandeliers hung from the ceiling. The lighting was dim, giving off a relaxed atmosphere. The walls depicted special paintings of ho-oh and lugia, Johto's legendary pokémon. Kuiora was practically glowing with excitement as we were seated. Sai and Senori were confused, since we had never been to a formal restaurant before. Overall, though, I enjoyed myself.

I noticed, however, that cake wasn't on the menu. I chuckled when Kuiora looked at it upside down, asking what the funny shapes on the paper were.

“Kuiora doesn't know how to read,” Ezrem said teasingly.

“Neither do you!” Rennio retorted. Kuiora gave him a high five. It was difficult, since their hands were different in shape and size.

“Well, what are you gonna get, Atis?” Senori asked. “I can't read, either.”

“Aren't you confused as to why I can read?”

“Nah.” Knowing him, he recalled how I came from a school. It seemed like such a long time ago that the three of them had come to whisk me away just to fight at the gym...

“I see,” I said. “They have cupcakes. I guess that works...”

At that precise moment, the waiter came to our table, asking us what we wanted.

“Just cupcakes. One for Atis, of course”—he pointed to me, and then the others—“and one for Kuiora, Senori, Rennio, me... I suppose Ezrem can have one. Yeah. Cupcakes.”

“Atis is the only one who should get a cupcake, Sai!” Kuiora said, rising from her seat. “It's his birthday.”

Sai ignored her and nodded to the waiter. The water was confused, presumably because this was a restaurant that specialized in hamburgers, not desserts. That, and the fact that Sai burst out the order in one breath. His odd self was continuing to show. How had he never been to a restaurant at some point in his past?

When the waiter left, we talked about random things. Rennio was the first to bring up the paintings on the walls, asking if there was a painting of an elekid. I explained to him how ho-oh could revive dead beings, while lugia hid itself beneath the ocean's depths. I didn't see the electric-type, and I told him that. He looked disappointed.

“Hey, now,” Ezrem said. “Let's all think about the cupcakes. I want to order so many cupcakes, my internal organs will start a revolution and leave.”

“Haven't they already done that? Kind of, anyway,” Kuiora said. She covered her mouth as soon as she finished. “Sorry,” she added, her voice muffled.

Ezrem blanched. “Yes, I suppose they have. Darn it. ...I guess I'll have to settle for one cupcake.”

“Cupcakes aren't healthy for you,” Sai said.

“Cake isn't any better. I say we still get a cake. We can split it into parts, and then—”

“And then you can con everyone into giving you their piece?” Senori said, interrupting him with a grin.

“Yes! You get me, Senori. I am so lucky to have someone who knows me as fantastically as you do,” Ezrem said.

“Divide the cake evenly so everyone gets a piece,” I said.

“But what if I tried to divide the cake by zero?” he said loudly. “Let's say this cake really exists, but no one owns this cake. It just exists. If I divide it by six, so there's one piece for everyone, then there are six pieces. If I divide it by zero, then the cake still exists. It may be mathematically impossible, given that limits exist. But who is to tell me that I cannot divide this cake by zero?”

I blushed at his response. I didn't know how to answer. Luckily, Kuiora did for me.

“You, Ezrem,” she said, “are a smart pokémon.”

“I would hardly say so,” Senori said, folding his arms.

“Annie used to tell you that math stuff, didn't she?” Rennio chimed in, winking at Senori to keep the furret calm.

“Do you want to hear another math joke? I know you do. Let's say—”

The waiter returned with the cupcakes, successfully shutting up the flying-type. The waiter set one down in front of each of us. I thanked him, even if he couldn't understand me. Sai said nothing, and I silently scolded him for his lack of manners, not having the courage to say it out loud.

I looked down, nervous. Now was as good a time as any to start using my camera. I picked it up and embraced the welcoming feeling of cool plastic on my hands. Was it appropriate for me to take pictures of my friends so I could remember them? I didn't see why not... I just didn't want to give them the impression that I regretted leaving. ...I'd think about it later.

So I took my pictures, one by one. Sai's picture showed him looking at his cupcake as if he were studying an alien creature. I caught Kuiora in the middle of her first bite. Her jaw hung open and the cupcake lay unassuming on the table in front of her. Senori, though, beat her to the first bite. Ezrem was messy in his picture, as he had white icing all over his beak by the time the cupcake was gone. And Rennio held the cupcake delicately, as if he were trying very hard not to squish it before consumption.

Soon I had a picture of everyone. I could have asked to take a team picture, but I was too nervous. I didn't want to disrupt the peace. Besides, I didn't want to be in a picture myself.

“Ah,” Ezrem said, patting his stomach with his functioning wing. “That was good. It's been a while since I've had sweets.”

“It's definitely better than berries,” Rennio agreed.

“Berries aren't so bad!” Kuiora cried. “Cheri berries are good, at least.”

Ezrem waved her off. “Whatever you say,” he said. “Well, Atis, I hope you liked your presents. I wonder if there's more?”

“W-What?”

“If there's more, I should warn you that some gifts are better left unopened. I'm mostly referring to the gifts that explode in your face upon opening.”

“That's... nice. Thanks for the warning...”

“Anytime,” Ezrem said.

Senori glared at him. “Don't worry, Atis. There's nothing else.”

“Actually, there is,” Sai said. His voice was quiet, perhaps the quietest I had ever heard it.

“Oh? Please, Sai, enlighten us,” Senori said.

“It's for Atis only. For now, the day is over. Let's go to the Pokémon Center.”

Sai didn't have enough money to buy everyone their own room, and he apologized for that. In the end, it wouldn't mater to me. It was weird, though, knowing this was the last time I'd see everyone together in a Pokémon Center room. I glanced at the top bunk, wondering if I would sleep there one last night, listening to the breathing of those below me...

Sai regarded me dubiously. He peered over at me every few moments, as if savoring his time with me, all the while knowing there was more to come. I shuddered. It was awkward, those eyes that gave me mixed emotions. I was sure he was the only one who had such passion in his eyes.

As we prepared to end the night, Sai announced, “I'm going out with Atis. Say your goodbyes... I'll be letting him go.”

Everyone stopped what they were doing to come up to me. Senori nodded to me and nuzzled up to Sai, telling me that he'd take care of the boy for me. Ezrem stood up on his feet to peck me on the head. He whispered about the exploding gifts and I let out a stifled laugh. Rennio pushed Ezrem out of the way. I smiled at him and told him I wished I had gotten to know him too. And Kuiora, with her enormous size and weight, just had to hug me. I thought she was going to crush my body in the process.

Sai didn't say anything. I expected him to say goodbye later on, and I felt the sensation I got when the two of us knew something that no one else did. He went to the door and held it open, motioning for me to step outside. I did so, but I didn't forget to look back one last time at my teammates.

The walk to... wherever... was silent. Sai seemed just as lost as I was. I saw the entrance to Ecruteak City and figured he was going to release me into the wild. The night sky and lit moon loomed above us. There were very few people out at this time, which made me feel like we were the only ones in the world. We passed the front gates. I was already backtracking through my journey, and I speculated about how far I would go until I was satisfied.

We reached an area that appeared familiar to me, though Sai had taken a turn that led us into a more forested section. Trees lined my peripheral vision, while a small clearing lay ahead. Berry bushes marked a dead end.

“Atis,” Sai said. “Yesterday, Senori told me you didn't quite know what you were going to do after this. So I thought about it for you. I... remembered... someone that can help you. She will take you somewhere nice. I, ah, already told her you would come with her, so it's a little too late to say no right now. You can always say no later, I suppose, if you want to...”

I stood there. I found his voice even more unnatural than it had been earlier. I couldn't place it, but the pauses were starting to make sense. This was different from when he gave answers in other situations. When he talked about himself or his past life, he was being honest, even if vague. But this...

He was lying to me. And I didn't know why.

Anxiety welled up within me. Again, I remembered when he deserted us. Had he gone to this mysterious lady? It seemed that he didn't find comfort in her company, either, so perhaps he felt the need to lie about her... Not that this made me feel any better... In fact, it made me despise whatever disaster was waiting for me.

My concentration broke when a strong gust of wind blew in my direction and knocked the camera out of my hand. It clattered to the ground and I scrambled to make sure it was okay. When I retrieved it, I saw that Sai was unaffected by the wind.

Soon I felt lightheaded, ill and tired.

Sai frowned as he noticed my sudden distress. “Earl told me all about you,” he went on. “He told me you were an obedient pokémon that always acted with a clear head and a clear conscience. He said you were smarter than he could ever be. Though you were shy, he always took it as a sign that you were breathing in the air and thanking life for every opportunity thrown your way. As we traveled, I could see he was right. I was proud to have you on my team. Earl also said that someday, you would want to accomplish great things. I suppose that now is the time.” He paused. I flinched. “I know you've always wanted to be alone. I respected that, but I wish we could have spent more time together. I will wish that always. You can say that you won't miss me, but I'll think about you every day.”

As he spoke, I sobbed, not only because of his heartfelt confession, but also because something was happening inside of me and it felt terrible. I was sick to my stomach, as if I could start retching at any moment.... I couldn't think straight and it was difficult to breathe... My limbs seemed to be paralyzed, so I couldn't run away... I wanted to believe Sai would help me, but he did nothing. He knew this was going to happen. Was he really my trainer, the one I had trusted all this time?

My head spun. Whatever was happening to me... It was happening fast. I fell backward, hearing Sai sob too. Before I could question his enigmatic betrayal, everything went black.
 
Wait.wiat.waithaidha;idsaiodfnas What the hell was that?

It's like the whole chapter was going by peacefully and then suddenly we get hit by that, I mean did Say do something? he didn't really approach Atis outright while the two were walking together. Granted I can't say I didn't see something like that coming with the whole taking him to a secluded area for just the two of them thing, but I didn't think it would actually happen.

But, that little plot twist that I'm sure will be explained (right?) aside, this chapter was interesting. While working as Atis finally making his choice it also gave us a good look at how the group has changed not just individually but together, only ten chapters ago all these Pokemon didn't know how to feel about each other and they weren't exactly cooperating, this is particularly important for Ezrem who managed to not be a dick during this whole chapter and was actually quite nice.

At the same time though, the chapter was slower, maybe it was me being tired when I read it but I did feel like it moved a lot slower than others particularly around the time in the restaurant, I can tell what you were trying to do but it did cause the chapter to drag for a while. Aside from that not much really happened, I mean it was a shorter chapter after all and I can understand why you'd make it this short.
 
hiiiiiiii I haven't dropped a review since ~chapter fourteen, which is far too long. On the plus side, your chapters do a great job of somehow reintroducing me to all of the fallout without actually saying it outright, which is fantastic. Oh, and I really missed your style. Something about how all these viewpoints are so unique while still keeping the central thread of the story makes this an absolute treasure to read.

Anyway. Bingeread this + a bunch of other things during an airport layover, so the details are a bit fuzzy, but my general thoughts: the one negative thing I had to say, really, was that it becomes difficult for you to focus on the characters as heavily as you used to. Ie in the beginning, when it was just Sai, Senori, and Kuoira, you could really do miles each chapter in terms of character development and stuff. (Kuiora and Sai's exchange after fighting Bugsy sticks out to me in particular as being a fantastic way of setting up two characters in a way that I haven't really seen in journeyfic). But, as you start having more and more characters, it becomes especially clear when you start ping-ponging between focuses, which was exacerbated a bit more given that we can tell what the focus is because it's usually the viewpoint character (except Kuoira -- even her chapters are focused on Ezrem now, haha). What this basically amounts to is that Rennio and Kuoira feel shafted (Rennio is this big blobby Elekid in my mind that has "timid" written around him somewhere), and then Ezrem, Senori, and Atis basically take turns fighting over whose the big focus ("I don't want to be on this team any more!" // "Oh yeah, I have officially abandoned my home, and now it's symbolically official too!" // "Well I can't fly ever again and also backstories and now I'm forgiven* even though I kind of accidentally killed my trainer and manipulated anyone remotely close to me!" // "Yeah while I'm still ditching this team!"). I can kind of see what you were going for here -- there's so much shit falling apart that the narrative reflects that, but at the same time, each individual problem basically means nothing because there's always a bigger fish/problem. Ezrem's no longer a total asshole, but that was overshadowed by the gym battle -- Senori's evolution should've been huge, I think, but it felt overshadowed by the fact that we were going to lose Atis forever, which was in turn overshadowed by the fact that Ezrem is no longer able to fly.

*this was a beautiful line btw

And then on top of all of that is Sai, somewhere. I'm 95% sure that his tragedy is supposed to be the biggest, most pressing one at all (logic tells me this, at least), but there's very little in the narrative itself to suggest that. I feel like at least some of this is intentional -- there's a reason, after all, that you've chosen to tell Sai's story through a bunch of different voices, none of which are Sai's, and this is a fascinating way at watching someone fall apart from the outside. However, when even the narrators neglect to mention Sai in anything more than passing in favor of discussing the other half million things wrong at the moment, it's hard to figure out if he's still relevant at all.

Oh, and I'm not sure what the last part of the most recent chapter was -- did Sai drug Atis or something?

Anyway. All that being said, I still loved this. I loved how you made me hate Ezrem and then pity him and then kind of hate him again in the span of a few chapters. Imparting depth through voice is one of your strongest skills, and you use it so well here. Besides Rennio and probs Sai the entire crew feels so goddamn real.

Also, in terms of us both having Johto trainers with sentret and trying to explore the idea of a species designed around scouting, you have pulled this off 100000x better than my wildest dreams for Iris. The writing during that gym battle was so fucking on point. Other awesome parts include everything involving Ezrem (his math joke after the gym battle lols), Atis's situation actually making Sai make good on his promise, more things with Ezrem, and seriously, how and when did Ezrem become my favorite character ack.

Anyway. Lovely bunch of chapters here. Stay strong.
 
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