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COMPLETE: Survival Project (TEEN)

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.

So balancing character development seems to be the main issue. Oh dear, didn't expect that one. XD If I understand right, when you say their problems don't matter in the end, they seem to matter to you if your review if anything to go by, but in the grand scheme of the story it seems like they're trying to one-up each other. Is that right? I'm not really sure how to fix that to be honest or to work with that in other stories. The fic is coming to a head with the climax approaching, and it makes sense to me that everyone's arcs need to wrap up. It may be that the fic is on the shorter side so everything has to be packed close to each other maybe? I have no idea. Without rambling more my question has to be to go about doing major events like this without spreading them out and making the flow of the story go up and down more wildly that it already is.
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So balancing character development seems to be the main issue. Oh dear, didn't expect that one. XD If I understand right, when you say their problems don't matter in the end, they seem to matter to you if your review if anything to go by, but in the grand scheme of the story it seems like they're trying to one-up each other. Is that right? I'm not really sure how to fix that to be honest or to work with that in other stories. The fic is coming to a head with the climax approaching, and it makes sense to me that everyone's arcs need to wrap up. It may be that the fic is on the shorter side so everything has to be packed close to each other maybe? I have no idea. Without rambling more my question has to be to go about doing major events like this without spreading them out and making the flow of the story go up and down more wildly that it already is.

Meep, I don't think I phrased that clearly -- it's more of how each problem is treated as huge and important, but only for a single chapter; by the next chapter, there's another huger and importanter problem that takes over complete focus and the previous problem doesn't face much closure until that narrator comes back. I feel like there needs to be something more cohesive tying all of these plots together (outside of the fact that they all happen to a single group). In multi-narrator stories, I feel like you need to strike a balance between the character of the narrator and maintaining a sense that this is still a single story: whatever incidents that one character face end up impacting some of the other characters somehow. It can be a small way (and sometimes you do do this -- Atis's concerns intersecting with Senori's in that fan club fight come to mind), or it can be huge, but I'm having issues seeing how they all fit together.

tl;dr: it's not so much not having major events/not about spreading them out more as it is making them relevant to one another
Meep, I don't think I phrased that clearly -- it's more of how each problem is treated as huge and important, but only for a single chapter; by the next chapter, there's another huger and importanter problem that takes over complete focus and the previous problem doesn't face much closure until that narrator comes back. I feel like there needs to be something more cohesive tying all of these plots together (outside of the fact that they all happen to a single group). In multi-narrator stories, I feel like you need to strike a balance between the character of the narrator and maintaining a sense that this is still a single story: whatever incidents that one character face end up impacting some of the other characters somehow. It can be a small way (and sometimes you do do this -- Atis's concerns intersecting with Senori's in that fan club fight come to mind), or it can be huge, but I'm having issues seeing how they all fit together.

tl;dr: it's not so much not having major events/not about spreading them out more as it is making them relevant to one another

Okay, that makes more sense. So they should all intertwine with plot and other characters... without having anyone/anything overshadow another aspect of the story so overwhelmingly (ie. with Kuiora's chapters being mostly about Ezrem at this point). Thank you for clarifying! And let me know if what I just said is wrong. Again, haha.
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chapter 22 ; [kuiora]


I had heard many stories in the past, but the ones I remembered and told others held the most significance.

Once upon a time, there was a girl who loved a boy—and then the boy left and she didn't want to love him anymore. Though Sai was slowly regaining my trust, he hadn't quite reached the pedestal I had put him on all those months ago, when he cradled my emotions and told me I was the strongest pokémon he knew.

There were too many questions surrounding the boy, and no answers. I looked to my stories for answers, but I didn't like any of them. Once upon a time, there was a boy who loved a girl—and when the girl died by his hands, he couldn't stop loving her. Or vice versa. It could happen, right? I believed that if I sought my trainer's secrets, I would be in danger. If I didn't go after them, however, he too would be in danger.

There was also the story about Ezrem, who was important when it came to friendships and teaching me about what it means to be ordinary and flawed. Ezrem had burned down Ilex Forest and killed his trainer, just as the man in the story mourned his losses as the town accused him of starting the deadly house fire. That story's ending told me Ezrem would be permanently ruined by his recent wounds. I worried for his safety and his health, but there was little I could do.

I was conflicted about him as well. I wanted to believe he was a good pokémon, but he was set on proving otherwise. He had done unforgivable things, but he was trying. This fact made all the difference. I hoped a legendary pokémon would watch over him and keep him from suffering more.

Finally, there was the story about a girl who stole herts and never returned the favor. It occurred to me that I was a con, too. Sai cared for me and so did the rest of the team, but I hadn't shown them the respect they deserved. I focused on getting stronger instead. Thanks to the ceremony with Lynn and Comerhi, I realized that everyone was special in their own way. I was working on being as supportive as I needed to be, though I feared it was too late and karma was already coming for me.

It was strange, being surrounded by the truth. I had convinced myself that death was a myth, that I was invincible. I had been lying to myself, though the truth was right in front of me. The legendaries wouldn't lie to me, I knew. I just didn't want to believe them.

A story's ending could be undone...

That had to be true too.


Atis's departure came as a shock. I felt the same sensation I had before leaving Professor Elm's lab. Although I hadn't cared for the other pokémon, it was the familiarity that had made me comfortable there. And although Atis was quiet, his presence made everything calm and peaceful. Without him here, I could only see a large, empty hole that couldn't be replaced.

No one was able to sleep that night. We were thinking about our own life decisions. We were all silently asking Sai where he had gone with Atis, and what they had said to each other. Our thoughts might have consisted of consolation once, but now, they were full of fear as we wished that we had known earlier what we knew at this moment.

Sai came into the Pokémon Center room in a rush. He slammed the door and sobbed loudly, supposedly distressed over losing a pokémon on the team he tried hard to build. We couldn't pretend to sleep anymore, so we got up and offered kind words to Sai. We hugged him, gave him his medication and made him lay down. We sat in a circle around him on the bed and told jokes to each other, but there was one thing we didn't joke about as Sai cried all night.


The sun was peering in through the window on the far wall of the Pokémon Center when Sai announced, “We're... continuing with our journey. We're going to the gym.”

We were exhausted and emotionally drained, but no one protested. Sai stood up from the bed and opened the door, almost pushing us out of the room.

“Watch it, pal,” Ezrem said, frowning. That was all he retorted with, though, which was unusual for his talkative self. Senori didn't even have the energy to glare at him.

We made our way to the Ecruteak City pokémon gym. Sai walked slow, as if he were waiting for Atis to jump out of the bushes with a new perspective on life. The sun was fully visible in the sky now. It was just a speck in the daytime, and it was cold, distant and brighter than it had any right to be, especially when we were so consumed by dark feelings.

The gym had a more appropriate atmosphere for our team. It was eerily quiet, with three striking blue lights illuminating the main hallway. The man in the back stared at us like only a heartless man could. There was no trick to this place. I made sure to scan the hardwood floors for any traps, just in case.

Sai approached the man with caution. He kept his distance as he spoke. “Hello...” he said. “I'm here to face the gym leader. Is that you? If you don't mind, I'd like to fight now instead of making an appointment.”

The man lifted his arm, his sleeve falling down to reveal pale skin. He snapped his fingers and six more lights appeared in various locations. We could see him better, and he appeared less scary. He had spiky golden hair with a blue headband around his forehead, and a matching blue shirt with yellow cuffs. He wore plain jeans and even a smile! I scolded myself for being frightened. I should have known better than to believe in ghost stories.

“Hello,” he said. “My name is Morty—”

“Marty? Is that you?” Sai said, his jaw nearly dropping to the floor.

“No, no. I assume you're talking about the boy who came by saying he'd challenge me soon. Our names are similar, but that is not me.”

“Oh,” Sai said, his body relaxing. “I don't have to be afraid anymore, I suppose,” he added with a chuckle. “The Marty I know wouldn't hand me a gym badge even if I beat him ten times over.”

“Ah, yes. That would be a troublesome gym leader,” Morty agreed.

“Yes...” Sai said. He paused. “Can we battle now, then?”

“Sure. We will use two pokémon each,” Morty said. “I look forward to seeing your strength.”

Sai gestured toward me. “Kuiora, do you want to battle?” he asked.

Honestly, I didn't want to. I was tired and sad and I wanted the others to be stronger than me for once. I wanted to help Atis, wherever he was. I appreciated Sai's effort to let me fight first in every gym match, but it had to come to an end. I shook my head.

Sai nodded, as if he understood my reasoning. “Rennio probably isn't ready to fight. Uh, I'll use Senori, since he's evolved.”

“Sure,” Senori said, running on all fours to the center of the arena.

“A normal-type, huh? I'm sure you'll use some interesting moves,” Morty pondered, stroking his chin with one hand. He maximized a pokéball in his other hand and threw it forward. Out popped a ball of purple dust, one that had hands and the ability to float around.

“What... What is that thing?” Senori said.

“Who knows?” Sai said, shrugging. “But you're going to beat it, okay? Use tail whip!”

The battle was underway. Senori sprang toward his opponent, a gleam of weary determination in his eyes.

“Haunter, stay there,” Morty ordered with an air of confidence about him.

Morty's command made Senori stop before he fell for a trap like I had.

“What are you doing, Senori?” Sai called. “That would be a free hit! Tail whip!"

“Okay,” Senori said carefully, not wanting to upset his trainer any further. If it were me battling, I would have done the same.

Senori prepared to swing his tail. When he collided with the haunter, however, his tail went straight through, as if it were a—

Oh. The haunter was a ghost-type. That explained the layout of the gym and the leader's odd demeanor. But I didn't know normal-type attacks couldn't hurt ghost-types in any way, shape or form.

“You're joking,” Senori muttered to himself.

“Hmm. Try again! Tackle!”

The same thing happened. This time, Senori's entire body went through the haunter. He landed on the other side of the arena. The haunter looked completely unfazed.

Senori growled and said, “Sorry, Sai, but my new form is useless here.”

“Exactly,” Morty said. “You should have done your research before you came here. I hope you have something else going on in that head of yours, or this battle is as good as over.”

“I knew that already, but I had forgotten. I'm... a little out of it. If Atis were here,” Sai said, hanging his head, “I bet he would have warned me. He would know those kinds of things because he was a part of the school. He would...”

“Sai...” I said, tugging at his pants. He peered down at me but didn't see me. His eyes were stricken and confused.

“Ghost attacks don't effect normal-types, either. You've got some advantage. Not enough, though. Haunter, use sucker punch!” Morty cried.

Fortunately for the haunter, Senori was in close range. It drew a massive amount of dark energy to one of its floating hands and caused a shadow to appear in front of the furret. Senori was about to dodge when the haunter struck him in the stomach. Before he flew backward, the dark energy transferred to the haunter's other hand, and it struck Senori yet again.

“Senori!” I said as he lay there. “Are you sure none of your attacks would work?”

“I don't know elemental attacks!” he said forcefully, rubbing his stomach. “So yes, I'm sure.”

“Sai,” I said, poking him, “you should call Senori back. He'll get beat up!”

“You think so?” he said, as if he hadn't seen the haunter punch Senori. “Okay, Senori. Return.”

“If you call the furret back, you only have one pokémon left,” Morty explained.

“I'd rather lose than let him go on like that,” Sai said. He still didn't sound like his normal self. His voice was worse than it had been last night. “Senori, return,” he said again.

“Ghost-types are no joke, especially since this guy's a gym leader,” Senori said, running to us. “You should use whoever's strongest here.”

“But Rennio doesn't want to fight.”

“That's right. Sorry...” the young pokémon said.

“And Ezrem is injured. He isn't even my pokémon. Kuiora,” he said, turning to me, “you need to fight. If Atis were here, I guess I'd try using him... He's smart enough to figure something out...”

“Sai,” Senori said sternly, “I know you're sad that Atis left, but you can't let it bother you this much. You're in a gym battle, for crying out loud! Get yourself together.”

“I agree. Don't forget about your goals now!” I said, trying to be as encouraging as possible, though I didn't know the full extent of his goals. “Can't we have a normal gym battle for once?” I added, exasperated.

“You don't understand. You don't understand what I did to him. You don't—”

“I think that,” Morty interrupted, returning the haunter to its pokéball, “this battle is over. Come back when you are ready.”

And with that, he left us with our belittled and horrified trainer, but not before turning off the lights.

“Sai? What did you do with Atis? You didn't hurt him, did you?” I said, deciding to ignore the gym leader. We could always come back later, as he said. Sai would have to deal with breaking the rules once more.

“I didn't really hurt him. Someone else did. They're going to hurt him more, just like they hurt me,” Sai said in one breath.

“Who did, Sai? Where is Atis?” Senori all but demanded.

“I need to go. He's in... Mahogany Town. After all this time, I know exactly where it is! I don't want to know where it is, but I know where it is,” Sai said quickly. “Look, I need to go. Stay here. Don't follow me.”

He dashed out of the building, leaving all of us behind. We tried to search Ecruteak City for him, but he was nowhere to be found.

This was it. He had left us once again. It wasn't Rennio's fault. It wasn't anyone's fault, really, but we didn't want to be wild pokémon again. ...Well, a story's ending could be undone, right?

“At least we... have a lead this time,” Rennio said, trying to keep from crying. “Are we heading to Mahogany Town?”

“I have a feeling that none of us know where it is,” Ezrem said, “but yes, Rennio, I believe that is where we are going.”

We stood there, slinking our shoulders and tired bodies, imagining how far Mahogany Town might be. It could have been anywhere, even in another region. We didn't have a guide, food, water, money or a trainer. Without any of this, we couldn't find him. All we had was each other, and just barely.

Our pathetic team, for the moment, was the epitome of loss.
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So what I really liked about this chapter was how it emphazised Kuiora's growth throughout the fic, something I actually realized myself considering I originally didn't like her much at the start but I've come to warm up to her really well xD but it's nice to see how she thinks now compared to how she used to back at the start of the fic and her thoughts in regards to Sai and the rest of the group.

I also liked your interpretation of Morty, it does fit his in game personality in him being aloof and such but I also liked how he didn't exactly reprimand Sai or anything like other gymleaders, though it's obvious he's still not sure about him.

And then it all goes back around to Sai, I thought we would be learning what happened at the end of the previous chapter but I guess that'll come later, especially since we're apparently skipping to Mahogany now, though this proves that Sai's been running away from Team Rocket mainly. I cant' wait to see what happens when his Pokemon finally find out what's going on, if they do.
So what I really liked about this chapter was how it emphazised Kuiora's growth throughout the fic, something I actually realized myself considering I originally didn't like her much at the start but I've come to warm up to her really well xD but it's nice to see how she thinks now compared to how she used to back at the start of the fic and her thoughts in regards to Sai and the rest of the group.

I find it amusing that Kuiora has always been the favorite among most of my readers, with Ezrem (and occasionally Sai) being the most hated. :p

I also liked your interpretation of Morty, it does fit his in game personality in him being aloof and such but I also liked how he didn't exactly reprimand Sai or anything like other gymleaders, though it's obvious he's still not sure about him.

I think another reprimanding scene would have been overkill. But yeah, Morty's personality in canon worked well when I wanted to mainly focus on the team interactions rather than the gym circuit battle.

And then it all goes back around to Sai, I thought we would be learning what happened at the end of the previous chapter but I guess that'll come later, especially since we're apparently skipping to Mahogany now, though this proves that Sai's been running away from Team Rocket mainly. I cant' wait to see what happens when his Pokemon finally find out what's going on, if they do.

re: "skipping to Mahogany" - it's not necessarily for a gym battle or anything. I'm sure you remember why else Mahogany is significant. ;) We will be getting some answers in the next couple chapters.
chapter 23 ; [SENORI]


Sai's breakdown in Ecruteak City had to be the worst of them all. His eyes were insatiably wild, as if they were about to roll into the back of his head and make him pass out. Instead he ran off, struggling with wobbly knees. He screamed about how Mahogany Town was such a wretched place, and then came along obscene words about what he would do to it if he ever got the chance. It seemed Sai was only violent because he deemed it necessary to be so, since I could never picture him doing it out of malice.

Sai darted off too fast, as if to make a point about us not following him. I could understand, though, wanting to put to an end the city that had apparently ruined his life. Still, I felt guilty about his second disappearance. I was responsible for Sai's overall well-being, but I knew no more about how to control him than I did my own life.

We knew where he was going. That was our only consolation. It would have been ever better if we knew how to get there.

“The fact that none of us are human is really a catastrophe. Then again, if we weren't pokémon, we wouldn't be in this mess,” I said. I was trying to keep everyone's spirits up, but I was failing.

Ezrem shook his head. “I can't tell you how many times I've wanted to be human, just to go somewhere,” he said.

“Agreed,” Rennio said woefully.

Kuiora remained quiet. I knew she loved being a pokémon, but it would've been nice to not be helpless and reliant on a trainer.

We stood awkwardly at the gym's entrance, ignoring passers-by. It was strange for a pack of pokémon to be out and about by themselves. It was good that no one could understand us talking about our missing trainer, or perhaps they could call the police, like Marty had threatened once.

And then it hit me. Marty. Marty knew Sai and his untamed personality. As soon as that boy saw us, he would question us and do something about the situation. The search could lead to some unfavorable consequences, but at this point, I was desperate.

“It's risky,” I said to the team, “but I think I know who to find.”


The most obvious place to look was the Pokémon Center. That was where most trainers decided to rest, after all. Inside, the four of us disregarded stares as we went from room to room, knocking on each door. We split up, though Rennio stayed by my side because he wasn't sure what Marty looked like. Some people answered, and when I didn't recognize them, I bowed in apology and moved on. In the end, no one found Marty.

“It was a good idea,” Ezrem said. I was grateful for his presence. “But it didn't work.”

“And we don't have time to wait for him here, do we?” I said. I rubbed my chin, making it seem like I was thinking. I was spacing out, but it was okay to pretend for once.

Next we checked the fancy restaurant and the pokémart. We scoured the entirety of both buildings, but we got kicked out for causing a disturbance or, more realistically, for being considered wild pokémon.

We were more lost than we were before.

“Ecruteak City has a lot of history behind it, right?” Kuiora said.

“Right,” I said. Even I knew about the towers in the north without the croconaw telling me.

“That means there's lots of visitors, right? Like... Professor Elm was famous, so people would come to New Bark Town just to see him. I think they stayed in hotels. Maybe Ecruteak has something like that.”

“A brilliant idea, Kuiora,” Ezrem said, hopping over to her. He was getting along well without the use of both wings. “Let's go find one.”

I hadn't wanted to explore unknown buildings, in case we weren't allowed in, but Kuiora had a point when she said Marty might be there. I nodded and went along with them. So we went to each building, choosing to look in the windows rather than trespassing. We saw normal houses, more restaurants, a dance hall... I saw Kuiora take a peek into the towers, though she clearly knew they weren't part of a hotel. She reminded me of when I tied to get Sai to quit stalking others, but I wished we could do that all over again. Back then, things somehow made more sense than they did now.

Eventually, Rennio spotted the hotel, saying he recognized the bellboys walking up the stairs with trays in their hands. We rushed in eagerly and avoided anyone who might call security on us. Again, we went from room to room, knocking and hoping.

By some great stroke of luck, we found Marty on the third floor. He opened the door and looked around confusedly. I went up to him and stood on his shoes to get his attention. He rubbed his eyes, and I assumed he had just woken up.

“A furret?” he said, then yawned. “And a croconaw... I've seen that rufflet before. Sai's team?”

I nodded furiously. “Sai isn't here,” I said, even though he couldn't understand me. I had to say it to make it feel real.

Marty was fully alert now, anyway. “What the hell?” he said in a whisper. “What are you guys doing here?”

“Sai isn't here,” I said, holding back tears. They had snuck up on me when I least expected them. I motioned for Marty to come with us.

“Do you need me for something?” he said, not moving an inch.

I pulled him harder. The rest of the team looked up ta him pleadingly, unable to articulate a single sound.

“I don't know what you want... I'm sorry... Here, maybe Gracie will know,” Marty said. He got away from my grasp and disappeared for a moment. He returned with the fire-type pokémon I had fought way back when. She had evolved since then. She had maroon-colored eyes, and her body was longer and more slender, though her cream-colored fur hadn't changed. She shot flames out of her head at us, as if to shoo us away.

“You've grown,” I said stupidly. How could I start a conversation about a crazy teenage boy who had disappeared on a whim?

“You too,” Gracie said. “What do you guys need? This is a little, um, different...”

“Our trainer is... missing. He went to Mahogany Town, and we have no idea where it is. We were hoping Marty would know. We only know him and Sasha...” I said, trailing off. I hadn't realized I was talking as fast as Sai had been. It seemed that I had adopted some of his idiosyncrasies.

I smiled widely when she replied, “We've been there once or twice. I'm sure we can take you there.”

“Oh, geez, this is great. Thank you so much,” I said, attempting to hug her.

“Watch out for the fire-type,” Ezrem said, grabbing the scruff of my neck.

"Ahem,” I said, leaving that clumsy situation just to head into another one. “I don't mean to be pushy, but can we go now? We don't want him to get himself hurt or lost.” I didn't say he had done it once before.

“Of course,” she said. “One minute.”


Gracie somehow conveyed the situation to Marty, who told Sasha what was happening. Gracie led all seven of us out of the hotel and took us to the eastern edge of town. I had a feeling that the only reason Marty was listening was because it was his own pokémon. If it weren't for Gracie, we wouldn't be going anywhere at all.

When we reached a gate, Gracie pointed to a sign and signaled for Marty to look at it.

That was when Marty got angry.

“Are you kidding me? Sai went to Mahogany Town and left his pokémon here?” he said. Suddenly I didn't want to be the leader of the team. Ezrem could take the heat for this one.

“Marty,” Sasha said serenely, “maybe he had a reason to go. We don't know anything yet. Let's get his pokémon to him.”

“Fine,” Marty muttered, walking ahead of us now.

Sasha turned to us. “I'm sorry about him, guys,” she said. “We'll find Sai. It'll be all right.”

Despite everything, I had to admit I wasn't optimistic this time around. Sure, I was certain that we would find him, but I wasn't so certain about us being glad when we did.

We went on. The guard waved at us, and it was a relief to not be given menacing looks. Sasha waved back and smiled. She was always kind to us, exceedingly so. It was preferable to her brother, who had quite a temper and easily held grudges toward others. I remembered hearing Marty's story at the pokémon fan club and was somehow happy he was here, anyway. More than anything, he cared about us, even if we weren't his.

I caught up with Gracie, excited by this revelation. “I know why Marty was so keen on battling us before,” I said. It seemed like a perfectly pleasant way to start a conversation.

The quilava flinched. “You do?” she said. “I don't... I don't know what you're talking about.”

Marty interrupted the beginning of our talk. We had reached a crossroad, where we could either enter a cave or surf through a narrow river. I could already see the other side of the latter path. I could deal with Gracie being distracted if it meant Sai was over there.

“Well, there's no way I'm spending a week in a cave for Sai's sake,” Marty said, sighing. “So we're going over the river.” He drew a plain pokéball from his belt and threw it casually into the water. A massive water-type floated to the surface. It had long blue fins that resembled a flying-type's wings. A pair of antennae sat on its head, swishing around with the joy of being released. Its beady black eyes looked at us expectantly

“She can help us, guys,” Marty said. “Marin, I need you to do us a favor. Do you think you can carry all of us?”

Marin analyzed the group. Her face scrunched up when her gaze met Kuiora's. “The croconaw can swim,” she said sourly, and then she smiled.

“Fantastic,” Sasha said, stepping toward the edge of the river. Marin got close enough to her, so she could climb on her back without falling over.

Marty did the same. “Do you want to go in your pokéball, Gracie?” he asked.

“No,” the fire-type said. “I have to get over my fear sometime, right?”

So the quilava was scared of water. It was typical for a fire-type. I thought maybe that was why she flinched at my presence, but soon I would learn that that had nothing to do with it.

Kuiora lowered herself into the river. She started to mention the last time she could swim freely, but then stopped. After that, the rest of us hopped on Marin. Gracie stood on her hind legs behind Marty, and I went next to her. Rennio and Ezrem sat in Marty and Sasha's laps respectively.
Sasha noticed Ezrem pretty quickly. “Your poor wings,” she said. “What happened to you?”

Ezrem didn't answer.

“Hmm,” Marty said. He avoided looking at Ezrem, as if his wounds were too much to bear. “I suppose we're off.”

Marin turned around so that she was facing our destination. A few seconds later she was wading through the water at a peaceful pace that kept us all balanced.

It occurred to me that it could be a long ride, so I said to Gracie, “But yeah, I know what Marty went through. He told the pokémon fan club everything.”

“Oh,” Gracie said simply and without emotion. She was shy, and perhaps I was pushing too far, but I needed something to distract me from Sai.

“Do you know anything about it? You're part of the family, after all. Marty's father was... Well, he was abusive.”

“...I was originally supposed to be a pet. I was in the house when he did terrible things. It was because of that man that Marty left home. He doesn't like his father... as you could probably guess,” Gracie finished.

Though she was speaking more, she was being vague. A part of my heart instantly ached for her, knowing now that was fearful of touching in general. I almost slapped myself because I hadn't seen the truth sooner.

“Well...” I said, not wanting to force her to admit anything she didn't want to. I hated talking about my clan, and similarly, she probably hated talking about Marty's father. “Would you be a pet again if you could?”

“It doesn't matter to me either way,” Gracie said. “It's just... Marty can be overwhelming. You know how he's acted with your trainer. He acts the same with everyone, even if the trainer doesn't seem too bad. Sasha's the only one who can keep him sane.”

Gracie didn't know that I knew what was going on inside her head. I felt like I was invading her mind and making her spill all of its contents against her will, when in reality I was doing no such thing. We were also betraying Marty's privacy. We were talking about a very intimate part of his past, and right in front of him, no less.

To avoid feeling more guilt, I kept quiet. It was Gracie who intentionally went on and said, “I wish that he'd leave it alone and let me forget.”

“You'll move on,” I said. “I don't know how exactly, but you will. I did, too, so I know you can.”

“Thanks...” Gracie said.

The trip was relatively quiet from then on. Sasha murmured something about Ezrem's wings occasionally, and she checked on them often to make sure the bandages were tight. Marty made a comment about dropping Rennio in the water and accidentally electrocuting us all. Kuiora accompanied us on our journey with gurgling sounds as she enjoyed her swim.

I thought about Gracie. I thought about myself, my team and Sai. I originally thought that nothing bad could happen to me, that once I was banished, my story was the most unique in the world and no one else's could ever compare. Like most older pokémon, I thought I knew everything I needed to know. When I met Sai, I realized I'd been a total idiot and that I needed a lot more focus in my life. I worked hard as his pokémon, and when it dawned on me that my heart wasn't necessarily my best friend, I tried even harder to beat it. I evolved and got rid of my tail, my last connection to the clan. Now, as Sai's relocation was a hair's breadth away, I felt that everything I knew was wrong, that my perspective was utterly indefensible, and that there are no objective standards for anything anyone could imagine, including the concept of age. When you think about it, you see there's not much creativity there. Humans and pokémon alike created age as a hierarchy of artificial goals because we wanted to be able to explain how the world works.

To redeem myself I could only spend the remaining time in my life with my team. To do that, I needed Sai to come back safely.


Mahogany Town seemed pleasant enough. It looked like the humanized version of a forest. I would have loved to spend more time there, if we weren't on the lookout for our renegade trainer. The buildings were built with green-colored bricks and topped with black roofs. The grass seemed well taken care of, especially since there was no pavement. Several carriages lined the makeshift roads building, with a crowd of people waiting for their turn to buy whatever goods they could.

Not a single person looked like they wanted to be somewhere else in the world. We, of course, effectively ruined that trend. We wanted to be at the Ecruteak City gym with Atis again, while Marty, Sasha and Gracie most likely wanted to lay cozily in their hotel room.

“Let's start looking,” Marty said. As expected, his mood was growing lower and lower by the minute.

Sasha took over the hard part for Marty, saying that Marty would talk bad about Sai and then we'd never find him. She spoke to anyone who would talk back, asking them if they had seen a boy of about sixteen years passing by. Some people told her to get back in line, and others told her there weren't many teenagers in town.

“Skinny but decently tall, black hair, blue eyes... Plain clothes...” she said, adding anything that would make Sai stand out. His personality would surely stand out, but...

Finally, someone answered nonchalantly, “I saw a boy like that. Hard not to miss him when he's shovin' everyone out the way. He went to the lab over there.” The woman pointed to a lone metallic building to the east.

“Thank you,” Sasha said, bowing curtly. She strode over to the laboratory with us, as if she too were in a hurry.

“Of all places, he sent Atis to a lab?” Ezrem scoffed. “Maybe Atis left us to be a lab rat.”

“Shut up,” I said. “Sai wouldn't do that, and Atis wouldn't agree with him if he did.”

Ezrem coughed. Rennio shrunk back and stood behind the bird. Kuiora glanced at the building in awe, never having seen something more creepy yet fascinating. Gracie didn't react, and Atis... He wasn't here with us. He was in this building with Sai.

Marty barged right on in, fists clenched. He wouldn't hesitate punching Sai in the face if given the opportunity. My team was more reluctant this time, but we couldn't back down now.

The first floor was anticlimactic. I didn't know what we expected to see, but what we got was an empty floor with a simple counter, much like the ones we saw at Pokémon Centers. A fountain stood in the middle of the room, with house plants and chairs surrounding it. There was a guard blocking the upstairs.

Marty approached the guard and said, “Excuse me, but we were told our friend came through here. We really need to see him. Would you let us through?”

“Sorry,” the guard said in a husky voice with the slightest hint of an accent, “but no one is allowed upstairs. Authorized personnel only.”

“Like hell the guy's authorized to be in a place like this,” Marty said, eyebrows raised with suspicion. “He can barely tell his right foot from his left.”

“If he was able to get upstairs,” the guard said firmly, “then he was authorized.”

Marty grit his teeth. “I didn't come all this way to be told that Sai is mysterious and that I should let him stay that way. Let us through.”

“The answer is no.”

“Marty...” Sasha said, about to lightly touch him on the shoulder, but it was too late.

Marty gestured Gracie to attack. She obeyed him, dashing forward and knocking the guard backward. His head hit the tile floor and he groaned. Marty thanked her and stepped over the guard. Though we were stunned, we followed.

The second floor stunned us further. Along the walls were several computers and full desks where people sat, wearing white coats. They experimented with the vials in front of them, then held their clipboards and scribbled on them with their pens furiously. A large machine hung from the ceiling in the center of the room. Part of it was connected with the ground and a cot. On the cot lay a purple snake-like pokémon, and it writhed in pain as a man took notes next to it.

Soon the machine buzzed and there was a ton of screaming.

“Keep going until you find him!” Marty yelled to us.

We scrambled to the second set of stairs. The scientists looked at us with curiosity, and once they figured out we were intruders, they panicked and demanded we be destroyed. On the third floor, it was quieter, aside from the heavy breathing of two pokémon fighting to the death. A serious practice match was taking place in a field marked by white chalk. Blood stained the floor and dripped from the pokémons' mouths while the trainers looked on, unscathed.

“What the hell is going on here?” one of them asked.

“I swear... If I see Sai touch one of these pokémon like those bastards, I'm gonna pound his skull in,” Marty said. Sasha didn't protest as her hand was raised over her mouth in shock. They had caught up to us without our noticing.

...There was something wrong with this laboratory. There was something even more wrong with the fact that our trainer was associated with it. More and more questions arrived as we went on.

“Attack the intruders!” said an unfamiliar voice. Behind us we saw some scientists pursuing us.

The two battling men nodded to each other. One said, “You heard the guy. Attack 'em, Granbull!”

“Join him, Sunflora!” cried the second man.

“Oh, this is such a joke,” Marty said, rolling his eyes. “You mean to fight with two injured pokémon? I'm just trying to find someone. Out of my way.”

“No can do,” said a scientist behind us. He released his pokémon along with the other scientists with him. I didn't bother to get a good look at our opponents. I wanted to find Sai, leave and forget any of this had ever happened...

“Senori,” Marty said harshly as he released Halcyon and Marin, “go find your goddamn trainer. Tell Sai I'm gonna beat the crap out of him. Me and Sasha will be fine here.”

“Sure...” I said. “Come on, guys!”

I darted forward and crossed the arena. The granbull tried to catch my tail in between its teeth, but I narrowly escaped. The sunflora aimed for Ezrem, but the flying-type used his beak to make the grass-type shrink back and cradle its own wounds. Kuiora and Rennio got by without a problem, unless you counted Rennio's sobbing as problematic.

“I want Annie!” he cried, then stopped moving. Kuiora picked him up and carried him the rest of the way. Rennio realized his uselessness and suddenly begged to fight.

“Not now,” Ezrem said.

The fourth and fifth floors were standard rooms with more desks and machines. On these floors were individual offices for the people who worked here. The enclosed walls offered us some privacy and the chance to crawl by without being noticed. Kuiora let out a sigh of relief, but that was the only sound anyone dared to make.

We traipsed through each and every floor, scouting for Sai. Pokémon chased us and tried to trick us, but to no avail. As confused as we were, we knew tricks when we saw them. And by the the time the other scientists saw us, we were already on the way to the next floor. We couldn't be stopped, except we intentionally stopped around the seventeenth floor. The seventeenth floor imitated a modernized living room. There was a leather couch with a wooden coffee table in front of it, as well as some house plants in each corner, giving the room a rather relaxing atmosphere.

We were anything but relaxed, however. Where was Sai? Why was he a part of the laboratory? Where was Atis and what kind of tests were they running on him? We had been asking for so long... Weren't we entitled to some answers by now?

The answers lay beyond the next door. I could tell because there were no more stairs. There were no more chances. And from the light that was pouring through the bottom, it seemed that the door led outside.

“Well, guys,” I said, out of breath, “he's here. Or not. Whichever you prefer.”

Sai indeed was at the top of the building. Physically, he was unharmed, but he wasn't alone and that seemed to bother him as he swayed back and forth. Atis stood, shuddering, about ten feet in front of him, along with a woman I didn't know. She was short and small in stature, but she had a firm grasp on the fighting-type's arm.

“You have some friends here to see you,” the woman said, eyebrows raised.

“Mother, please—” Sai tensed up. His eyes went wide with amazement as he saw us.

Why wasn't his mother in Vermilion City, his hometown? Was that another lie he told us? She didn't look like him, either. She had green eyes and brown, highlighted hair.

“You've grown, Sai,” the woman went on. “You have such loyal pokémon now... just like you always wanted.” She squeezed Atis's arm, and he shook harder. “And you look even more like your father than before. You've got the same wild, lonely look in your eyes. Are you still lonely, Sai?”

“Stop it!” Sai snapped at her. “I want Atis back. Give me Atis back right now...!”

“You willingly gave me the hitmontop. You let us poison him so we could capture him. And you're telling me you want to take it all back?” she said, a taunting tone present in her voice.

I gasped. Sai couldn't have have been so unnaturally cruel...

“I am,” Sai said. “I thought... I thought I could abide by your rules, if it meant I could be free. I can't do it, though. I won't.” His words sounded more reassuring, but I was beyond confused. I stood there with the others, frozen in place.

“You were ordered to prepare pokémon like this and to give them to us. You've done exactly so. We thank you for it.”

“No! I want him back! I've seen what you guys do to pokémon. You call yourself Team Rocket and say you're trying to make the world a better place, but I've seen what you do! It's nothing good. Nothing good at all. I won't put Atis through that. I won't—”

“And then you will never see the light of day again. That was the deal, was it not? I created this project to save you, Sai, and to give you a life you've always dreamed of...”

“I never wanted this! I never did. I only did it because you promised me things would get better. But they never got better! Not even for a second!”

“It's not my fault you believed me,” the woman said evenly, but her words didn't match the ruined expression on her face.

“You promised...” He sobbed as he pulled out the knife he had bought in Goldenrod City. He held it toward her, as if he'd been waiting for this moment all his life.

“Are you going to hurt me, Sai? Just as I've supposedly hurt you?” she asked.

“Why not? You like weapons. You love them so much that you named me after one. How nice of you,” he said sarcastically between sobs. “Give Atis back. I don't want to have to use this.”

The woman frowned, but she let go of Atis and put her hands in the air. Atis ran quicker than I had ever seen him run before. I saw real terror in his eyes as he approached. I went up to him and hugged him, but he said there was no time for a reunion.

“We've got to get Sai out of here,” he said. “Before he goes crazy. Please, Senori, you've got to talk to him and... and...” He trailed off, unable to continue.

Sai wasn't fond of this woman, but she knew more about him than any of us did. “If she knows Sai,” I said slowly, “maybe she can help us.”

Sai heard me. “Don't talk to her! She's tell you all the bad things I've done. Even if what she says isn't true, she's won. She always wins...” Sai said, his arm twitching as he stared directly at her.

“Sai,” his mother said. “Just as you weren't allowed to be close to your pokémon, I'm not allowed to be close to you. I'm your mother. Why else would I act like this toward my only son? I don't want to do this. Please understand and put the knife down.”

“No,” Sai said. “I won't. I'm done listening to you.”

“...Then you will pay for it.”

“Please, Senori,” Atis begged again. “You have to do something.”

I felt as if I lived to help Sai, but... he already seemed too far gone.
Looks like we're nearing the end of the story, and finally getting some answers about Sai. I was a bit surprised by how quickly they went through Team Rocket's hideout, it seems like they managed to get through it pretty easily for a mismatch group that just kind of waltzed in, though maybe that had something to do with it after all.

Aside from that, I found it convinient that Marty and Sasha just so happened to be in Eructeak but it makes sense since Marty's and Sai's journeys have been going at around the same place, getting to know abit more abou t them was nice too though there's still a lot about them we don't know and their personalities aren't very clearly defined, but they are supporting characters after all.

I liked Senori's scene with Gracie, the way you characterized her was really nice in my opinion and there's a friendship forming between the two, I also found the scene with the Mantine to be really funny xD

But of course the main event was Getting to know more about Sai, I do wonder if this woman is really his mother, she says she is but considering that Sai seems to be some kind of experiment I kind of doubt it. I hope we learn the full story of it in the next chapter though, if Sai doesn't do something irreversible before that though.
Looks like we're nearing the end of the story, and finally getting some answers about Sai. I was a bit surprised by how quickly they went through Team Rocket's hideout, it seems like they managed to get through it pretty easily for a mismatch group that just kind of waltzed in, though maybe that had something to do with it after all.

In hindsight, some more obstacles might have made the chapter more interesting/full of tension.

Aside from that, I found it convinient that Marty and Sasha just so happened to be in Eructeak but it makes sense since Marty's and Sai's journeys have been going at around the same place, getting to know abit more abou t them was nice too though there's still a lot about them we don't know and their personalities aren't very clearly defined, but they are supporting characters after all.

Yeah, they've been traveling at almost the same speed. They didn't start together - Marty/Sasha started in Azalea, Sai in New Bark - but it should still make sense, given that they've met in the same locations randomly before.

Not exploring Marty and Sasha as well as other characters was intentional - supporting characters, as you said. The sequel, though, is another story. Literally. :')

I liked Senori's scene with Gracie, the way you characterized her was really nice in my opinion and there's a friendship forming between the two, I also found the scene with the Mantine to be really funny xD

Glad to hear. I know some readers thought it was too... forward and intrusive.. But that was before the revised version.

But of course the main event was Getting to know more about Sai, I do wonder if this woman is really his mother, she says she is but considering that Sai seems to be some kind of experiment I kind of doubt it. I hope we learn the full story of it in the next chapter though, if Sai doesn't do something irreversible before that though.

We shall see. I'll just say be prepared to sit down for a while to read the next chapter, or plan to read over a couple sittings. It's a long one. :C

You don’t want to hear the story
of my life, and anyway
I don’t want to tell it, I want to listen
to the enormous waterfalls of the sun.
— Mary Oliver

chapter 24 ; [SAI]
stand my ground


I was four-years-old when Team Rocket considered me a threat to others.

My mother upped and left the Kalos region specifically to join the underground organization. She adored pokémon because of their potential power and the important feeling they gave her when she owned said power. She moved without a problem, as my father was in prison for drug abuse. She had nothing else to lose and everything to gain as she realized her goals were the same as Team Rocket's. She was loyal and a hard worker. She went through the ranks faster than anyone the organization had ever known. Soon she became an executive and made decisions about what went on in Mahogany Town's laboratory. Her pregnancy caused some complications, but when I was born I was a precious addition to the team. After my brain had some time to develop, however, things went wrong.

I was an outrageous child. No one could control me. My mother found it impossible to send me to a daycare or babysitter, as I would throw a tantrum until she was back in my sight. The separation anxiety forced her to take me to the laboratory to work.

Unlike a normal child, I wasn't interested in playtime. My moods shifted with every few ticks of the clock, but no matter how I felt, I only wanted to follow my mother and do whatever she was doing. Often she was in her office, filling out paperwork and talking on the phone to undercover agents stationed in other cities and regions. She would also supervise experiments and practice battles. I would watch as pokémon were hooked up to machines with numerous black and white cords. The pokémon had fear in their eyes, and this fear remained until their eyes were clawed out or until their whole body was paralyzed with exhaustion.

It didn't take long for me to start interfering with what I saw. During my frequent outbursts, I would run into the middle of the arena, screaming at the top of my lungs as I was hit by a pokémon's attack. While I broke a lot of bones doing this, they always healed, so I felt no need to stop. I ripped out cords in the machines, too, successfully destroying research the scientists spent weeks collecting. I was irritable and miserable, even as people tried to hold me down. I was irritable because I wanted to be somewhere else, but I didn't have the will to actually leave. I was miserable for no discernible reason. I was even more confused when my mood would skyrocket to the point where I thought I was the most special person in the world. I jumped on desks and believed I was flying as I hopped off. The workers found this, at least, somewhat humorous. Their laughter made me angry and led me back toward my destructive tendencies.

I never listened to my mother when she scolded me. I wanted to listen, but more research was ruined, more experiments were interrupted and more bones were broken. At some point, the leader of Team Rocket called me into his office to speak with me in the sternest voice I had ever heard, but even he couldn't keep me from thinking insane thoughts and translating them into actions.

Things got worse. Not only did I want to hurt myself, but also I wanted to hurt others. I didn't like the scientists. They looked at me funny, they never smiled and they didn't do what my mother told them to do. I drew pictures of me stabbing them or killing them by snapping their necks. When I completed a drawing, I showed my mother proudly, thinking she would agree with me. Instead she took away my crayons and burned the drawings before they instigated further problems.

What happened from then on wasn't my fault. My thoughts raced, and I couldn't stick to a single subject for long. When I acted out, I only realized it after it was all over. I spilled vials full of chemicals, which scarred some scientists' skin and made them writhe in pain. I laughed at them as they had laughed at me. “Try experiments on humans!” I yelled. “See how they like it.” I felt the pressure to keep talking, so I insulted them until my mother took me home for the day.

Our house was a mess that my mother wouldn't clean up. Every room, even the bathroom, was used as a storage area for the boxes my mother couldn't unpack, perhaps for sentimental reasons. I had to dig for towels and soap, toys and blankets... Eventually I gave up and forgot about hygiene and entertainment. I was bored and rotated between sleeping too much and then sleeping too little. I had vivid dreams about violence and gore, waking up to ponder the reality of what happened. Other times, I'd spend six hours trying to fall asleep, only to end up sweating and crying because of night terrors.

Occasionally we went out. We ate at restaurants to celebrate holidays, walked to the park and bought groceries at the mart. If we had had the money, I would have been sent to a private school, but my mother insisted on me staying inside those four metallic walls. “You can still learn about the world this way,” she said. If I had known that this was all I would see for most of my childhood and adolescence, I would have been okay without her by my side.

For two years my antics got the better of me. Team Rocket's finally became sick of me. The leader had given my mother leeway since she was of a higher ranking, but there was only so much he could handle.

I was six-years-old when Team Rocket wanted me executed.


“This boy has offered nothing positive to Team Rocket's goals,” the boss started bluntly. I had heard once or twice that his name was Giovanni, but not many workers dared to say it. His appearance didn't help matters. He was a tall man with broad shoulders. He had dark brown hair and thin eyebrows, and he wore a black suit with black slacks held up by a belt. He sported an evil grin, which made me think my mother was the only good person in this place.

He had set up this meeting for us. She brought me along, of course, since the meeting was about me. We were on the seventeenth floor, waiting for him to speak. We stood in front of him, staring at the coffee on the table, as if this would be a normal conversation during which he might ask us if we wanted some. But he didn't look happy, so I clung to my mother and let her do the talking for once.

“Master Giovanni, I can explain—”

“There is no explanation, otherwise the boy would have been tamed long ago. He has ruined years of work and has put a temporary halt to our future research plans. He has blatantly injured other workers, making several of them quit. Above all, he has shown no signs of recovery.” There was a pause. I hid behind my mother. “I like you, Melanie, and I want to like your son. But he's too much, even for you.”

“What... What are you trying to say, Master Giovanni?” my mother said. Her voice was unnaturally weak.

“The boy is clearly mentally impaired,” the leader said, “and this is no home for him. I want him gone.”

“Master Giovanni, with all due respect, I don't want him gone,” my mother said quickly. I clung to her harder, trying my best not to lash out. “I have nothing left but my son. My husband is in jail, and I can't lose my last connection to him. I can't... go through another loss like that. Besides, where will he go? Who will take care of him?”

“Melanie,” Giovanni said, grinning. “If you let the boy loose now, he will tell everyone what he's seen. We cannot depend on him going somewhere else and staying quiet.”

“Master Giovanni, please—”

“I want the boy executed.”

My mother's eyes widened. “You want him... killed?” she breathed.

I was six-years-old. I didn't know what an execution was, but I'd never outright seen Team Rocket kill a pokémon, let alone a child. My hatred for them grew tenfold as I realized they might have done it without my knowing. My feelings welled in my chest, and I huffed. I darted forward, reaching with my hands. I attempted to scratch the leader's face, but he held out his arms and kept me still.

My mother gasped and pulled me away from him. “Sai, how could you attack Master Giovanni?”

“He's evil!” I cried. “He wants to get rid of me!”

“Master Giovanni, please reconsider. This is probably just a phase. He will grow out of it...”

“He's shown absolutely no improvement in two years. I want him gone, and that's final.”

“Surely, there must be another use for him,” my mother said. I went limp and sobbed, wishing my mother's grasp was more comforting. I thought of ways I could hurt Giovanni further. Maybe in his sleep, when he was least expecting it...

“Another use? I cannot think of anything this miscreant could be useful for.”

“I thought you might... try to dispose of him. Hush, Sai, this is important,” my mother said, though she was holding back tears too. “Look, Master Giovanni, I don't want to lose my job here, or my son. There has to be a way. Why don't we keep him here while I'm working? In the basement, with the pokémon?”

“He certainly fights like a pokémon,” Giovanni said. “Go on.”

“He'll stay... locked up as I'm working. I'll take him home at night, and—”

“No more. Have you not thought about him running away and hurting outsiders?”

She gulped. “As you wish. He'll stay in the cells. I will teach him there in my free time, so he gets proper schooling.”

“I have yet to see how he will be of use to us.”

“As you said, Sai seems fond of pokémon. When he is old enough and is no longer a threat, we will send him on a journey.” When Giovanni didn't interrupt, she went on, “He will raise pokémon and send them back for Team Rocket to experiment on. We can see if he is any better at raising pokémon with his... illness. It will be a survival project of sorts.”

Giovanni leaned back in his seat, making it creak eerily. “Now this,” he said, “sounds interesting.”

“Okay.” My mother's voice was barely audible. “Okay.”

“Mommy?” I said quietly, looking up at her.

What was she possibly planning for me?


Giovanni demanded that my mother's plan be put in place immediately. Though my mother was in no hurry, we went home shortly after the meeting. When we got there, she told me to get my suitcase and to pick out my favorite toys while she looked at clothes. It was the first direction given to me as an experiment for Team Rocket, but I didn't know it at the time. I was lost and asking myself questions that had no clear answers.

“We'll feed you there, so there's no need to pack food. Or water...” she said. She kept mumbling things like this to herself, and then she mumbled obscenities about Giovanni, which again made me wonder why she obeyed a man like him.

Since she was so stressed, I listened to her. I chose a few stuffed animals and some talking machines that reminded me of the ones back at the lab. I put them near my suitcase and watched as my mother filled it with different kinds of clothes, pieces even for different seasons.

In the middle of our quiet packing session, I stopped her by climbing into her lab and hugging her because she seemed so depressed. At such a young age, I even knew what depression was. It was feeling too little when you wanted to feel anything else. It was a small yet enormous amount of apathy, hatred, loneliness and sadness all built into your soul. Depression was needing all day tomorrow to recover from today. It was something no one should have had to experience, so I tried to comfort her.

“Mommy,” I said, “are you going to leave me?”

“No, Sai,” she said, but then she broke down and switched from holding me to holding her face in her hands. She was trying to mask her sorrow but I could feel it and see it.

I sat there quietly, the sound of her crying mixing in with my racing thoughts. Neither was pleasant to listen to. I couldn't even come up with anything to say to her anymore.

We sat there in silence for a while.

Finally, she said, “Let's go... before he thinks too much and changes his mind.”

We made our way back to the laboratory, acting deliberately slow. We passed the green brick houses and the even greener grass. My mother told me to remember the view, because it would be a long time until I saw it again. I didn't take her too seriously, but I enjoyed the grass tickling my ankles anyway.

Inside the lab, we went into an area I had never been to before. We usually always went upstairs, but now we were in the basement. I thought it might resemble the basement we had in our own home, but it didn't. There was a movable cot which had a loose leather strap lying out. What caught my eye were the small cages lined up against the walls. Each cage was filled with two or three pokémon. So this was where all those experimental pokémon came from. It made sense to me now.

My mother brought me over to the far left wall where three empty, larger cages loomed. They were there for bigger pokémon and, in special cases, humans.

“This,” she said, “will be your new home, Sai.”
I stared at it, unimpressed. While our house was nothing to brag about, the cage was only about as big as a bathroom. It had a bed in the corner, a sink, a toilet and a barred door. I swallowed hard, squeezing the handle of my suitcase, wishing there was no reason for it to exist.

My mother opened the door and waited for me to go inside. I refused to move until she pushed me and told me not to be so difficult. I could no longer be difficult or I'd never get released. I didn't think the things I had done were really that terrible, but I was beginning to second guess that notion.

“Sai, you are going to do extraordinary things for us,” she said in a more lighthearted voice. “I'll be here with you always. That'll help you, right? Can you do this for me?”

For her, I nodded. I trusted her wholeheartedly. I was six-years-old. I didn't know what I was agreeing to at all.

She smiled weakly. She shut the door, but I couldn't tell if the bars were shutting me out from the world or if they were shutting me in to keep me safe.


And so began my life as a human experiment for Team Rocket.

At first, it didn't seem so bad. I was living with a relatively peaceful state of mind, which happened rarely. The serenity of it all made me think the cage was meant to be my home. It was cozy enough. The bathroom was always accessible, and the pokémon on the other side of the room looked away when I had to go. I had my toys to play with whenever I felt interested. And the bed was comfortable, though I'd outgrow it within a few years. Would my mother buy me a new one? Was she allowed to?

As she promised, though, she didn't abandon me. She visited me every day—several times a day, in fact. She was more involved in my life than ever before! It seemed like a great deal to me. She taught me my numbers and my letters, saying I'd normally be in school by now and that she wanted to keep me on a regular schedule like most kids.

But soon my old habits returned. My separation anxiety had improved, but it became increasingly difficult to think about numbers and letters long enough to memorize them. I wanted to destroy things, and people, if given the chance. I was too sad, or too angry. When I was sad, I spent the hours huddled over my suitcase in the corner, begging to go home. This riled up the pokémon, but I ignored them. When I was angry, I tore up clothes and the flashcards my mother had given me to practice with. I yelled and yelled, both curse words and random things on my mind, just to get the thoughts out of my head. But no one came to rescue me, not even my mother.

“If you want to get out of here,” she told me, “then you have to focus. You can't let your emotions get the best of you. I'm going to teach you everything you need to know so you're prepared when you leave this nice place. But we have to start small.”

I tried my best. I used self-made routines to help me. I used my fingernails, which were never cut, to etch the alphabet into the stone wall of my cell. I did the numbers, too, zero to one hundred, even when I bled. I needed something I couldn't destroy, and this was it. My mother didn't seem to approve or disapprove. She only seemed pleased that I wasn't hurting others. As a reward, she explained that most pokémon trainers set off on their journey at age ten, which was only four years away. The first four years of my life were a blur now, so I didn't think another four years was a big deal.

Time passed so quickly I couldn't keep up with it. There were no windows, so I didn't know if it was day or night, winter or summer. Many things happened, but a very special visitor stood out to me the most.

He was a short man with a shiny bald head. His face was lean and taut. He wore a red tie and a gray suit. He had a soft, inviting smile, so I didn't scream at him, though I was feeling especially wild when he showed up. I had never seen him before, so I knew he wasn't from the lab. His name was Dr. Richards, and then came along new experiences and feelings I didn't have names for.


“Sai... Sai Luart. Age seven. Is that right?”


“From Kalos? No Kalosian accent, I see.”

“I guess not.”

“You might learn their language someday. It's best to learn multiple languages when you're young. You're able to speak the different sounds and learn them better.”


“You know, I don’t get many young patients like you. I would say you’re special.”

“That’s what they all said.”

“Who said that?”

“Everyone at the lab. They want me dead.”

“That’s not very kind, is it? Well, I don’t want you gone.”


“I’d like to hear your side of the story. Is that all right with you?”

“Did my mother bring you here?”

“Yes. She did.”

"...Still. I have nothing to say.”

“I bet you do. Everyone does. From my understanding… You are a very worrisome young boy. You seem to harbor a ton of anger toward yourself and others, and you seem to use violence when it seems most convenient for you. Many interviewees pointed out that they knew how you were feeling based on the look in your eyes. What do you think?”

“Yeah. Well, I’ve changed an awful lot since then. I’d love to tell you about it.”


I ended up learning those languages after all, and then forgetting them soon after because there was no one to talk to. I learned the basics too. Writing didn't take long, as I had partially taught myself by carving the walls. My handwriting was legible enough for her. There wouldn't be many instances in which I had to sign something, anyway. Next came reading. This, at least, gave me something to do when sitting in my cell, but it was hard with my short attention span. My mother gave me plenty of children's books, but she had to replace them every two weeks or so because I tore those apart too. When I said I wanted something more challenging, she brought young adult books. She made jokes about me reading the research materials from the lab, but I didn't find it funny.

Soon I was ten years old and I hadn't learned anything about pokémon yet. She had lied to me, but tried to make up for it. She told me there were seventeen types of pokémon. She used the pokémon in the basement as an example. Mostly there were fire-types, poison-types and dark-types with us, with a small number of steel-types. These types were the most difficult to raise, she said, but they were worth it. She explained which types were effective against others and which were not so effective. Fire beat grass, water beat fire, grass beat water. It seemed simple enough. If Giovanni could have seen how intelligent I was, he might have let me out sooner, but my mother told me not to get my hopes up this time.

History and mathematics came next. Addition, subtraction, multiplication and divison weren't too fun, but they would be useful when trying to budget money. Money would be essential, and she promised to have some saved for me. When I went to protest, she hushed me and had me repeat mythological stories originating from Kalos, Kanto, Johto and other regions.

The lessons, though simple, kept me busy. The books and my mother's visits kept me busy, but it wasn't enough. As it turned out, four years was a very, very long time when most of what I did was sit there, looking at the caged pokémon. While my mother taught me different languages, I taught myself how to talk to the pokémon due to boredom and slight curiosity. It was relatively easy, and I figured it would help me talk to my own team. Why my mother hadn't taught me herself was beyond me.

I learned by observing. To anyone who doesn't understand, pokémon speak their names, so intonation and body gestures are key. Each pokémon had a clear voice they used for all of their individual emotions. I learned the sounds of sadness, anger and happiness. The pokémon shook their tails when they wanted something, or their eyes glittered when they smiled. Ears flattered when they were worried or guilty, and so on.

The first full conversation I had with a pokémon—a long, purple snake named Arbok—went something like this.

“Hello?” I said, wanting to practice. I wanted to socialize. I knew that saying hello was appropriate because that was what my mother used to say when she answered the phone.

“The boy is talking to himself again,” I heard the arbok say nonchalantly. He wasn't even trying to be quiet, and in truth I had come to understand the many insults he had thrown my way over the last couple of years. These insults had triggered my rage, but with my lack of self-control, I didn't know how to stop him.

“That's not very nice,” I said. I was in one of my calm, peaceful states. It wouldn't last long, so I had to make use of it while it was still there.

“It's not?” the arbok said, glaring at me. Then his face softened and his mouth opened in surprise, revealing a red, forked tongue.

“It's not.” I repeated his words, suddenly too overwhelmed to think of my own.

“It's apparently a special gift to be able to talk to pokémon, boy. How long have you been listening to us?”

“I think,” I said, ignoring his question, “it's just because I have nothing else to do. I learn while everyone else is too preoccupied with real life.” I shifted my body, the bareness of my feet grazing the stone floor. I didn't have any socks or shoes on. I wasn't even sure if I had any.

“That could be it too. Would explain why all the Nurse Joys in the world can understand us perfectly fine.”

“Nurse Joys?”

“You'll meet one someday, I'm sure. They do nothing but spend time with pokémon... just like you,” the arbok said snidely. I could feel his scorn firsthand among all of my own emotions.

“Why do you say that?” I asked.

“You're getting out of here. We're not,” Arbok said.

“I'm stuck here for a while.”

“Then rest, boy. Quit making so much ruckus. Prepare yourself for the world,” Arbok said. He looked away from me and that was the end of the conversation.

Rest. It was easy for him. He didn't have a list of things he needed to do when he got out of this prison. He didn't have a mind that constantly ticked over, counting the patterns on the walls surrounding three sides of his body. He didn't have songs that his mother used to sing to him. He didn't have images from last night's dreams haunting him. Rest, he said... I would, if only it were that simple.

It was getting easier. I had a mental illness, as Giovanni had called it, though I wasn't sure what that entailed. My symptoms changed drastically as I grew older. My delusions of grandeur made me believe I was sent to do Arceus' bidding, and I no longer wanted to tear things apart. I had new impulses, and when my moods shifted, they stayed for longer periods of time. That meant I had longer moments of clarity as well.

But I was sick, no matter what happened.


“I want to hear it, if you're willing to tell me.”

“I either feel too much or feel too little. I think I'm better than everyone else and everyone's just keeping me locked up because they don’t like my greatness. I have no desire to live my life half the time because things don't improve. Yet I have many plans for the future... My father is dying in prison, miles and miles away, and I feel like I’m the one killing him. I feel guilty, like I’m being punished for doing that to him. I can’t eat, or I eat too much. I can’t sleep, or I sleep too much. I can’t make any decisions for myself, so I have my mother make them for me. I am bored with everything. I can’t overcome my loneliness. I can’t be with others without going crazy, but I can’t be alone. I can’t concentrate on anything for too long. I want to fight and fight and tell everyone that they’ve all let me down. I want to talk too much, all the time… if you couldn’t tell by now.”

“It sounds like you're very overwhelmed.”


“I think I can help you, Sai.”

“You can? Are you sure?”

“Yes. Why not?”

“No one’s ever offered to help me before.”

“Well, I can give you medications to keep your moods stable.”

“What’s wrong with me?”


“Give me a name. Tell me what’s wrong with me.”

“They call it bipolar disorder. Very uncommon in children, but it does happen.”


“There is one problem, however. As I told you earlier, Sai… you are very young. Medications for younger patients aren’t forbidden, but they aren’t encouraged, either. Do you know why that is?”


“This is because your brain is still growing. Your body is still growing. These medications can do things to permanently… mess up your brain chemistry.”


“You’re young, but this isn’t going to be a phase you’re going to grow out of. Bipolar disorder is forever. Medication might be a necessity for the entirety of your life. Nevertheless, it’s up to you. What will you do?”


“For your mother, will you take the medication?”



“…Yes… I will.”

“I hope they work well for you. It may take a long time to find the right one, so let’s get started.”


Another peculiar symptom that came to me was delusions. That was what my mother called them, anyway, though she regretfully said she could do nothing for me. Dr. Richards would have to take care of it, but he couldn't say whether or not it was the medication. Delusions were common among the mentally ill, but medications could cause terrible side effects.

By then, I had accepted I was mentally ill. Messed up in the head. Forever sick.

I was lying in my bed, which I was starting to outgrow. My mother promised it would be replaced soon. The room spun and I forgot where I was. I wanted to punch myself, burn myself, convince myself I was real. But I couldn't move. My lungs seemed to have finally noticed there was a dead spot sitting in the middle of my chest, shriveled up due to lack of use. My vision became blurry. My mind was muddled. I was convinced all my memories belonged to someone else—a pokémon.

I was a small creature. My fur was dark brown, with some cream color on a circular part of my belly. I had tiny paws, tiny feet. My sense of smell increased tenfold, and my newfound ears felt nothing but danger nearby. I was a pokémon, and yet I wasn't.

Images flashed before me. They were images of destruction, of blood and gore. This felt different than my normal nightmares. This felt too close to reality. Other pokémon that looked like me were torn apart and eaten alive, even the babies. From far away, I was a powerless spectator, unable to fight. I watched and watched, mouth hanging open in disbelief.

I violently shook myself. I sat up, taking in the view in front of me. All was dark and all was quiet, aside from my panting. I jumped out of my bed and ran to the other side of the room, crashing into the bars. I had to find that pokémon and save it, but I didn't have the means to do so. I had never seen it in the lab, either.

The next day, someone was brought into the cell next to mine. I was in my bed, sleeping away my terror, so I didn't get a good look at him. When I woke up, the pokémon were laughing at each other, saying the person next to me was just as crazy as I was. The other boy yelled frantically, praying to Arceus that He would shed some light upon him, Senori Deliro, from the life he had been unwillingly given.

He was another test subject. Supposedly, Team Rocket thought I was successful.

I thought about the boy all night. I vowed to find that pokémon and to put it on my team so I could take care of it as best I could. I would name him Senori, for the sake of the boy just like me, the one stuck behind bars in a life less than ordinary.


Sertraline hydrochloride, anti-depressant, 50mg. Used to confirm the diagnosis of childhood bipolar disorder. Reported frequent headaches, symptoms of mania (delusions of grandeur, high motivation and energy). Discontinued.

Fluoxetine hydrochloride, anti-depressant, 10mg, increased to 20mg. Used upon request by Master Giovanni upon seeing the effects of sertraline hydrochloride. Reported weight gain (10lbs), frequent nausea, sweating, symptoms of mania (worsened insomnia, delusions of grandeur, impulsive and aggressive behavior). Discontinued.

Lithium carbonate, anti-psychotic/mood stabilizer, 300mg. Reported severe pain and tremors, and thinking that he was a “zombie, though I’m not sure what that means, but I’ve heard my mother describe it as a bad, bad feeling.” Discontinued upon experiencing suicidal ideation.

Lamotrigine, anti-convulsant/mood stabilizer, 25mg. Reported better sleeping, calmer moods, slight paranoia. Discontinued upon seeing rash.

Quetiapine fumarate, anti-psychotic/mood stabilizer, 50mg, increased to 100mg. Reported sleeping too much (16+ hours a day). No other reaction. Discontinued.

Aripiprazole, anti-psychotic/mood stabilizer, 15mg, increased to 30mg. Reported extreme paranoia (thinking that others wanted to poison him) and an unwillingness to eat. Discontinued.

Patient refused further treatment but called for me five days later, saying he had changed his mind.

Divalproex sodium, anti-convulsant/mood stabilizer, 25mg. Reported severe weight gain (30lbs), returned homicidal thoughts, frequent dizziness and aggression, strange and vivid dreams. Discontinued.

Chlopromazine hydrochloride, anti-psychotic/mood stabilizer, 10mg. Reported lethargy, depersonalization, numbness. Discontinued upon request.

Risperidone, anti-psychotic/mood stabilizer, 0.5mg, increased to 1mg, then 2mg. Reported slight anxiety, calmer moods, better sleeping.


I asked my mother to stop celebrating my birthday at the beginning of every January. She tried to cram Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day all into one. It only made me miss the outside world more, which wasn't what I needed. I think I was fourteen-years-old.

What I needed was to get smarter and stronger. The readings got harder, the mathematics got crazier, and the history more complex. Science came into play, since I needed to know what kind of land I'd be traveling through, as well as human and pokémon biology. Soon, my mother went back to teaching me life skills too.

Cooking came first. She stated the obvious fact that food would be essential not only for myself, but also for my pokémon. This endeavor failed anyway, as Giovanni forbade me to work in the kitchen. He thought I'd go on a vengeful rampage if I were let out too soon. It would be he who decided my departure date. So my mother told me all about berries, both the poisonous and beneficial ones. She brought well-planed meals to my cell and explained human foods that would give me energy. Not that I needed it, but still. She warned me about avocados and flying-types, excess chocolate for anyone, and so on.

She taught me how to fight. This, she said, was something we could learn together. She read up on martial arts and watched videos, then relayed the information to me. In the small basement, we practiced kicking, punching and headlocks—any move that could put a murderer or poacher in his place. I hoped I wouldn't have to use these techniques someday, but it never hurt to be prepared.

Traveling tips, of course, were included. I was told how to make fires, how to find clean water and how to stock my backpack properly. Keeping pokémon out of their pokéballs at night was necessary so as to ensure safety while sleeping. I would have to order them not to sneak off, which would be easy enough to enforce, since I barely slept. I asked if this was really okay, since one of the rules was to not build bonds with my pokémon. My mother said it was a risk I'd have to take. If bonds did form, then I'd have to find a way to prevent separation anxiety when the time came to give them away.

Lastly, I learned how to read maps. My mother taught me what the little symbols meant, and how to tell which way was north, south, east and west. I only saw the map of Johto, though, since it would be impossible to leave the region. Each city took up its own area of the map, with routes made of forests and roads in between. I located Mahogany Town and hoped I'd never have to come back here again.

I tried to keep this all straight in my head, but my ability to retain information was starting to fade. Ever since Dr. Richards had given me medicine, my memory had become worse and worse. That was what he meant when he said medicine could potentially ruin my brain chemistry, I supposed. I didn't tell anyone. I didn't want Giovanni to know my mother's lessons were for nothing.

So I focused on getting better. But it was the hardest thing I had ever done and would probably ever do. Not being sick anymore required me to be an entirely different person, a person I just didn't know how to be. I couldn't live vicariously... I couldn't choose to think differently... My brain was making me this way. There was little I could do.

More people came into the cells. They were mentally ill, too, so they couldn't teach me normalcy. A woman named Kuiora Loki had bipolar disorder, though she controlled herself by being creative. She was obsessed with sculptures and carvings of pokémon. She etched her drawings into the stone walls at first, threatening to break through. My mother, officially in charge of the project, brought Kuiora some carving blocks over the course of a few months. Giovanni released her after seeing how gentle she was when she expressed herself, and once he made money off of selling her work.

Another man, Atis Harleen, was the quietest person I had ever met. It took me weeks just to get his full name out of him. He slept most of his time away, and once I was released, he was still there. I never figured out what was wrong with him, or if anything was wrong at all.

The last person to come into the cells was another man. He only withstood it for one night. He went into a screaming frenzy, yelling about how he didn't deserve to be put in a place like this. He wanted to go somewhere else. He said he'd give my mother two hours before he let himself go. “If you really want me,” he said, “you'll come and get me!” But no one came. Two hours later, I heard the loud, familiar sound of bones cracking against concrete. I covered my ears but I heard it until there was nothing. Later I found out he banged his skull against the stone walls until he put himself into a coma. Giovanni had him executed, not wanting to pay for the hospital bills needed to repair him.

These people meant the world to me, though I had little to no contact with them. I felt them in my heart and I didn't even know them. They gave me hope and strength, even the unknown man. I especially rooted for Kuiora when she was released, knowing I would be set free someday too. My mother promised me the same thing and I smiled wider than I ever had before.

I decided they'd help me shape my future pokémon team. I wanted to honor their lives and memories. I pledged to gather pokémon with similar personalities or hobbies. They would even have the same names. There was Senori and Kuiora and Atis and... Well, I would figure out the unknown man's name eventually. It seemed like the perfect plan to me, if I ignored the idea of handing them over to Team Rocket.

Thankfully, the medication made the delusions subside. I had strange, vivid dreams instead, ones that also helped me shape my future pokémon team. I saw flashes of yellow and cackling electricity, as well as rivers where water wavered between rippling calmly and wildly. A top spun in an army of pokémon fighting against each other. There was a leader in front.

I dreamed and dreamed, and for once, my future seemed beautiful.


“So what was that man's name? I'm sure my mother tried to get you to talk to him.”

“What man?”

“The one who put himself in a coma.”

“That has no place here. I'd like to know how you're feeling.”

“I’d feel a lot better if I knew the man’s name.”

“I don’t know the man’s name.”

“Are you sure?”


“...I feel better. But I still miss the outside world.”

“I don’t think that will go away.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be the optimistic one?”

“Yes. I’m sorry.”


“How about if I do you a favor?”

“A favor?”

“Tell me anything that you want to see. Anything from the outside world, and I’ll bring it to you.”


“You will?”

“I will. Right now, whatever it is.”

“Well, I don’t have a window in here. Show me what looks like outside your window at twilight. My favorite part of day.”

“I can do that. I’ll be right back.”

A very, very long silence.

“I was starting to think you’d never come back.”

“Of course I would. I had to think about it, though. I couldn’t just take a picture, since it’s not twilight yet.”

“What time of day is it?”



“I brought you this.”


“Yes. I guess I can tell you one bad thing about myself... since I know so much about you. I’m, ah, afraid of the dark. At twilight, everything starts to turn black, just like the dots on the die. And for me, it’s scary. The only safe place is inside. It’s light and bright inside. The white resembles the purity that I feel from this safety. The intensity at which I feel this fear varies each day… thus the varying numbers on each side of the die.”

“You’re highly creative. I wish I was.”

“So I’ve been told. Does it suit you?”

“It wasn’t exactly what I was looking for, but yes, I suppose so. …Can I keep it?”

“You can.”

“Thank you. Thank you.”


To keep myself occupied, Dr. Richards suggested I find ways to make my upcoming journey special. If I wanted to be creative, I'd have to follow the rules at the same time. So I did.

I'd have a lot of money, apparently, so I would give each of my pokémon their own rooms. That would keep us separated, and each of us would get much needed privacy. And I would use the pair of die... somehow. I would make my pokémon roll the die for me before catching them. If fate willed it, then the die would land just right. One, two, three, four, five, six pokémon... I knew it would work because every time I thought about Senori being my starter, I rolled the die and it landed on the number one. This would surely make them feel like they belonged on my team, even if they didn't particularly like me (which I assumed they wouldn't, given my illness).

This only made me more excited to be released.

Of course, things didn't always go as planned, especially not for me.

The medication kept my partially stable at best. I went off into rages, and a few nights later, I went into my worst one yet. It wasn't my fault, but the damage was still the same.

The caged pokémon were restless. For some reason, my mother was late with our food, and the water was dirtied. I didn't mind (and neither did Atis), but the pokémon fretted. If they had to be loyal test subjects, then they needed to be treated as such.

“It’s bad enough that I have to share a cage with this goddamn kadabra,” Arbok said.

“Don’t forget that I can mess up your mind. You should watch what you say,” the kadabra replied in an even voice.

“Yeah. Right. You should have ruined these scientists long ago and gotten us out of here. You’re useless.”

As their exchanges escalated, my mother arrived, a tray of food in hand. She apologized, but she had thought of something great for me. This made the pokémon glare in my direction, and I shied back into the corner of my cell. She went on, saying she had to get approval from the boss. It always took a while to be able to talk to the boss. The pokémon settled down as they ate. She left and returned with Atis's food, which he thanked her feebly for. Before I knew it, she was in my cell, grinning. I stared at her, expecting her to pull me out of there and into the real world.

“Sai, battles are going to play a huge, huge part during your journey,” she said. “Giovanni won't let you battle on the second floor but he said”—she extended her arms to show me the room, as if I had never seen it before—“we could fight in here.”

“That sounds quite a bit dangerous,” I said stupidly, “even for you guys...”

“Well...” my mother said regretfully, “it's big enough. And the pokémon know better than to disobey by now,” she added, peering over at them. The pokémon didn't dare look up from their bowls.

“Okay. I trust you,” I said.

“As you always have. Let's get started.”

She locked my cell door. Once the pokémon finished eating, she just had to choose the arbok and kadabra to battle. I should've told her about their earlier scuffle, but I didn't have the courage. Luckily, they were on their best behavior, which consisted of mindless obedience. They cooed and shook their tails with vigor. Once the stage was set, I saw that the arbok would be mine, and the kadabra, my mother's.

“You've been a part of battles before,” my mother said. “It's an entirely different thing to be controlling the battle. You have to know your pokémon inside and out. You have to make predictions and come up with strategies on the spot. You have to balance offense with defense. Do you understand?”


“Good. It's better for you to learn by doing,” she said. “I'll let you go first.”

This was what I'd be doing in the real world if—when—I got released. I froze as a million emotions swirled within me, threatening to make my chest explode. I didn't want to make pokémon hurt and bleed. I wanted to make friends and to share my dreams with them. But I had to follow the rules. To do anything else would lead to my death...

I gulped and said, “I don't know any of Arbok's moves.”

“Then think of standard moves. Think of the basics.”

“Okay... Arbok, use tackle!” I said, remembering to sound forceful. I had to sound like I was the boss, or else my pokémon wouldn't respect me.

The arbok lunged at the kadabra, headfirst and with full power. It seemed that the arbok had acted patiently just for the chance to tear the kadabra apart. My first command as a pokémon trainer worked, at any rate. An odd sense of relief passed through my body. I welcomed it.

The feeling didn't last long, however, as the arbok did more than tackle the kadabra. The kadabra was flung backward, and the arbok didn't allow for the psychic-type to stand up. Arbok plopped down on the kadabra's torso and stayed there.

“Arbok, get off of him!” I said, rushing to the bars and clinging to them. The arbok didn't appear to hear me.

“Kadabra, use psychic! Don't hold back,” my mother said.

The kadabra's body stiffened. He held out the spoon in his hand, closed his eyes and focused. The arbok was enveloped in a bluish light, and he rose up in the air. He tried to lash out at the psychic-type without my ordering him to, but it was too late to reach his opponent, anyway. He went higher and soon his body was twisting in peculiar ways. His tailbone cracked and broke, which made him wail. The horrible sound mixture reverberated in the air.

“Why are you doing that? This is supposed to be a battle!” I cried, my heart hammering now.

“Arbok's neck could have been broken instead,” my mother, unaffected by the scene. “We believe that a pokémon should never hold back. They should maim and kill when necessary. If they can't, then they're useless to us. ...I thought you knew this, Sai.”

“I do know that! I do... But bad things should only happen to bad people, like the ones I hurt. These pokémon are good, trapped here for no reason...” I let my voice trail off. My attention then centered on my abruptly shaking limbs. My volatile thoughts argued with each other. Some of them said violence was the answer, while the other half claimed that no, there had to be another way, or life was meaningless. The sight before me became a blur, and the arbok's screaming deafened. I was rolling and rolling around in my head. I had a front row seat to the end of my world, and there was nothing I could do about it.

My grasp on the cell's bars tightened considerably. I was used to my view being obscured by these thick pieces of metal that took away my freedom. Sometimes they moved, but I could never see out the door long enough to keep myself satisfied. Even if I were to be let out of this place, would anything ever be enough? Maybe I'd never get over the sun's warmth, or the grass tickling my feet, or how I could converse with others about the simple things in life. Still. It had to be better than this, right?

I had always wanted to be set free. I had always wondered whether my illness would change, for better or for worse. But the desire to to learn, to know, wasn't actually something you could get used to, like catching colds or eating three meals a day... It was just as terrible, just as terrifying every time the yearning came.

I shook the bars, trying to make them bend and break, like the kadabra had done to Arbok. My actions wouldn't have been cruel and unnecessary, at least. The bars weren't living, breathing creatures. ...Or were they? What did I know? But they didn't budge. Instead I beat at them with my head, which reminded me of the nameless man, and I didn't want to be like him, I really didn't, so I used my arms and legs instead. I didn't even make a dent. This only made me angrier. I tried again, ignoring the pain that coursed through my shoulders and down to my feet. If I gave up now, I'd never get out. I'd be stuck in my own devious mind and in my own spiteful body. I couldn't deal with that. I couldn't...

I turned to my mother. “Let me out!” I yelled. She was the one who had given birth to me. She was the one who had raised me. She had homeschooled me for years. So why couldn't she let me out? Why was she so powerless when I needed help the most?

Let me out!

Bruises were forming, bruises that would last for weeks, an everlasting reminder of rage that can't leave.

Let me out!

My feet struck a small, sharp section protruding from the main bar, which sliced my toes. Blood seeped to the floor, drip by drip, as if that part of me was crying.

Let me out!

My mother was on the other side, trying to soothe me. It didn't work. She was scared of me, otherwise she would have come in and held me.

Let me out!

I slid to the floor and sobbed for a life I didn't even know.


“You say bad things happen to bad people?”


“Bad things have happened to you. Are you a bad person?”

“Yes. I don't follow the rules like I should. I'm afraid I won't follow them when I'm out, either.”

“This isn't your fault. You're sick.”

“Uh huh.”

“You did this, and you don’t think you’re ill?”

“I never said that.”

“Well, you certainly don’t act like anything's wrong with you.”


“...I don’t know who I am.”

“You’re Sai Luart.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means you’re a strong, courageous boy who’s been through a lot. You’re kind and you’re a dreamer. And it means that you have a lot to look forward to.”



“What do you want from me?”


“What do you want from me?”


“What do you want from me? What do you want from my life?”


To my pokémon—

I want to love you, whoever you are and whatever that means. I'll eat mint chocolate chip ice cream with you on a swingset at night. We'll watch the moon say goodbye to its missing half. We'll stay up and rent movies, listen to your favorite songs and eat your favorite foods. I want to stop counting the months, the days, the minutes and the seconds until I can see you. I want you guys to tell me when something good or bad, extraordinary or humiliating happens to you. We'll sit in circles and tell stories one by one. I want you to like your name because of the way I say it. You'll realize that you're named after someone special. I want to laugh at stupid jokes until I cry. We'll make a habit of it. I want to try to take care of you before Team Rocket takes you away. I want you to love me more than you love yourself, or vice versa. I'm not sure yet. Either way, I'll save you from your fears.

I want... to go on adventures with you, but not the kind where we search for treasure, because I'll already have everything I want. And what I want is to hear about your past lives. I want to remember the small details about you. If it's okay, I want to find excuses to hug you. I want to worry about you incessantly, because I don't want to lose you any sooner than I have to. I want you to know that reality is nothing to be scared of, not anymore, and not yet.

I want to tell you of your perfection, or lack thereof, if you insist on that. I want to experience new things, things I don't yet understand or have names for. We'll eat at restaurants, watch fireworks and stuff like that. I want you to know that your existence means something to me. I want to avoid shame, pain and fear. I'll probably repress my emotions so that I can overcome the rules in my own way. We'll fight against coercion and secrecy as best we can. I'll boost your self-confidence in the process. I want to defend you and then myself. I want to stop charging toward my death.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm sorry. I'm in a weird situation, and it's anything but pleasant, but we'll deal with it as it comes. I'll hide the facts from you, and you'll keep me sane. You'll be my everything. You're already my everything. But if you get curious, stop yourself before diving in, or at the very least, just think, think before you take a memory of mine.

(continued on next post)
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A couple more years passed without incident. There wasn't much schooling left for me, so I tried studying the same subjects over and over. Sadly, it was as if my memory had been blocked. I could recall emotions without effort, but facts such as how type differences affect a battle slipped my mind.

Not having anything to teach me meant seeing less of my mother. I became lonelier and lonelier. I slept with my books, shoes and clothes on the other side of my bed to make it feel like I was sleeping next to someone. It didn't work.

Once I heard the news, I was restless. I felt wholly unprepared, like I had forgotten everything. That wasn't too far from the truth, anyway. I paced around the room, unable to sleep. The caged pokémon looked at me with disgust, and didn't even bother to say goodbye the following morning. I couldn't blame them.

My mother came downstairs to get me. She took a set of keys out of her pocket and unlocked the door. Her hand shook as she did so, making it difficult to slide the metal open. I smiled at her, somewhat glad that I wasn't alone in being nervous.

“Come on, Sai,” she said. “We've got a few things to do before you go.”

I nodded. I followed her, peering back at my cell one last time before rounding the corner. I realized there was one good thing about being all the way in the basement. No matter where I went from here, I could only go up. Up the stairs and out into the world.

My mother brought me to the third floor. Walking up the stairs put great strain on my legs. I mentally noted how I'd have to build up my strength yet again if I wanted to survive the journey.

Next I noticed that the scientists had done a decent job of moving on from my antics. The machines were brand new, and the desks were organized. This room was the definition of cleanliness. On the other side, I noticed, too, a card that had my mother's name on it in fancy, cursive lettering. Melanie Luart...

“Sit down,” she said, motioning toward the chair in front of her desk. I did so, not feeling the force of my obligations until she started speaking again. “You know your mission. You are to set out on your own pokémon journey. Giovanni has decided you're as ready as you'll ever be.”

I shifted in my seat. “Must you be so formal?” I said. I didn't know what I had been expecting, but it wasn't this. There was much more to come. I just had to be patient for a little while longer.

“Yes,” she said simply. “Anyway, your ultimate goal is to prepare pokémon for our use, experimental or otherwise. Utilize everything I've taught you thus far. Catch pokémon with the most potential. The pokémon must become as strong as possible, and when you think their growth is complete, you must report to us and send them to our laboratory. You are not to become attached to them. This ensures that you won't betray us. You are not allowed to leave the region or stray too far away from the main route.”

“The main route?”

“You will start in New Bark Town. This is where it will be easiest to find pokémon you can control.”

“...Do I need to know anything else?”

“Nothing that you shouldn't know already. Train as much as you can. Don't stay in one place for too long. We can't have you slacking off. If we catch you doing anything that doesn't meet our approval, then you will be punished accordingly.”

Hadn't I been punished enough just for existing? Saying nothing, I looked down, wanting to leave already. Why were we wasting time here? I felt too energetic for my own good.

“If I think of anything else, I'll be sure to let you know,” my mother said, standing up. She gestured for me to join her and so I did. Before we left the room, I saw a picture frame that showed me from when I was younger. At least, I thought it was me. Did I ever look like that? But I wasn't sure what I looked like now...

My mother saw my curiosity. She brought me to the staff bathroom. From my peripheral vision I could see a large mirror hanging on the wall. My skinny frame immediately stuck out to me.

“Make yourself look presentable,” she said. She reached into her pockets and pulled out a sharp device and handed it to me. “That includes shaving,” she added, smirking.

“How do I do that?”

“Figure it out. You're a man now, right?” she said. She left me to be alone with my confusion.

I wasn't interested in cleaning myself up. The mirror and its image of myself mesmerized me instead. I leaned in over the sink and stared at my face. My dark blue eyes seemed rather intimidating. There were eyes accustomed to the dark, the same old views, and now they were seeing something new. There was a spark inside them that I hadn't seen anywhere else.

And when had my hair turned black? I thought the little boy in the picture had brown hair, but now I wasn't so sure. Seeing myself all at once threw me off guard. ...How old was I, anyway? I had a baby face with soft skin, aside from the stubble under my mouth. Well, I wasn't about to ask. The answer would only reveal how many years I'd lost.

I figured I was wasting already, like Team Rocket didn't want me to. I took a quick shower, reveling in the warm water. Then I tried shaving, as my mother requested. For the most part I succeeded, but there were clear cuts making me bleed. I brushed the blood away, wondering if I had made myself look better or worse.

I stepped out of the bathroom to find my mother waiting for me.

“Sorry,” I mumbled. “I got sidetracked.”

“Don't make it a habit,” she said.

We went outside. I automatically felt new, unfamiliar and overwhelming sensations. The sun's rays blinded me. I was almost blown away by the wind. Dizzy, I kept myself grounded to the concrete below my feet.

My mother chuckled. It was a sad chuckle used to lighten the mood. She dug into her pocket once more and handed me a rolled up piece of paper.

“This is a map of the Johto region,” she said. “Head to New Bark Town. You'll be fine.”

“You think so?” I said. “I can hardly stand the sun as it is.”

My mother became tense. She paused before saying, “Your father would be proud, you know. He said he'd be proud, no matter what.”

“It was as if you both knew this would happen...”

“I didn't. I never meant for it to be this way,” she said, but she wouldn't look at me.

“I believe you,” I said anyway.

“Do you?”

I shrugged. “You're the one who brought up the idea in the first place, but given the circumstances... Yes, I guess I believe you.”

“Sai... I know you can deal with whatever is thrown at you. ...Your name is like a weapon. Intelligently sharp, and very powerful.”

That was something I couldn't believe right away. Still I trusted her words and nodded, keeping my disbelief silent, for it was not a prison of stone and metal that I feared, but one built of words and promises.


The world I had known was a flat world. It took me three weeks before I realized this. At the Team Rocket headquarters, there were flat colors, flat noises and flat people. It had nothing to do with Mahogany Town or geography in general. The real world was just that much more lively. All of its smell, textures and sounds seeped into my bones and made me half-forget everything I had known before. I adapted and was coming out of my shell. This sort of beauty was my new truth.

As instructed, I made my way to New Bark Town. I traveled through the cave on the east end of Mahogany Town and then it was a matter of heading south. My mother had warned me that this method was the fastest, but also the most dangerous. There were highly skilled pokémon in the icy cavern and the next city, but the playing field would be even when I was halfway to my destination. I fled from many wild pokémon and fought others, which was difficult for the first few days as my body gained experience. A few of them offered to come with me, but I had to decline their offer. Accepting them would have meant breaking the rules too soon.

The ice cavern was cold. The nights were cold, but nothing could have prepared me for the chilling moment in which I met Senori. When I found him, I didn't know what to do. He was walking around aimlessly, maybe searching for something to eat. I knew he was my starter because he was alone, and his eyes told me he had seen terrible things. I had to capture him somehow.

I didn't have any pokéballs. I hadn't gone to a Pokémon Center or a pokémart yet. In fact, I hadn't communicated with anyone except a blonde-haired girl who seemed to know too much about me at first glance. She was shocked and nice enough, but I couldn't let her distract me from my journey.

My tact was less than impressive. I left her, and then I attacked Senori when he couldn't see me, which ensured his dislike for me from the start. It was my only option in terms of catching him, anyway. I forced him to join me with sharp words, like my mother would have done.

“I don't care what anyone's called you. Your name is Senori,” I had said, trying to sound confident. Inside I was regretful, but there was no way I could let it show.

I told Senori to roll the die that Dr. Richards had given me way back when. Half of me hoped this wasn't a silly game, and the other half of me was overcome by intuition. When the die showed a single dot, both me and Senori came to the same conclusion.

“Don't worry. I'm going to take care of you,” he had said.

And so he did. He took me to New Bark Town's laboratory, which was where Professor Elm raised starters for new trainers. Senori scolded me while I was on the lookout for a proper starter. Kuiora stuck out to me the most. During the training sessions, it was clear to me that she was fierce. She fought to get what she wanted. She was the strongest of them all, and it wasn't just because she wanted to be the strongest. She had natural talent. I discovered she was equally as gentle and that she had a soft spot for legendary pokémon. I took her in. Lying to Professor Elm about my origins was surprisingly simple, but it made me paranoid as well. This journey certainly was going to keep me on my toes.

Senori told me all about the gym circuit. I assumed that this was what my mother wanted me to do, since the gyms went in order, just like the cities I was supposed to travel through. The badges you won proved your pokémons' strength. Atis was my first step into that adventure. I entered the pokémon school to see if I could learn anything new, but then I swiftly decided that I was going to recruit my third pokémon. Atis's bored, terrified demeanor was too obvious. His reaction toward others told me he didn't want to be there, so I took him in, too, even though he already had a trainer.

Meeting Atis was important not only because he was an evolved pokémon, but also because he set some ground rules for my journey. I had to set up appointments with gym leaders in order not to disturb them, and during the actual battle, I remained on the sidelines and let Atis do whatever he wanted. I was unsure of what attacks to call out. I couldn't call out the wrong move, as I had done during my training in the cells. We won, and so it all began.

Several things happened before our next gym battle. We came across a boy who deemed me a terrible trainer. Marty came along at the right moment as he saved Senori from the falling rocks in the cave between Violet City and Azalea Town. If it weren't for him... Well, I don't like to think about it. I don't like to think about the violent words he threw at me, either, but they had some merit. I had been too busy with the racing thoughts in my head to notice any imminent danger, but how could I tell that to Marty without sounding crazy? How could I tell him that I was a good trainer because I knew how to communicate with my pokémon and he didn't? I didn't know what to say around him. His reaction toward me justified my fear of interacting with others.

That fear soon dissipated. There were many restless, sleepless nights in the cave, and then my mood escalated once we hit Azalea Town. I wanted to do everything at once because I couldn't focus on a single thing. My speech was fast and suddenly I had an endless amount of energy. There was nothing in the world that could stop me. That was why I asked to visit Sasha in her home, though she didn't quite want me to come. I wanted her to be my friend because she accepted me despite being reluctant. Her being Marty's sister was an unfortunate coincidence.

In the midst of my mania, I spent money on random things. I bought everything in sight, everything except medicine, because it wasn't like the medicine from my past ever did any good. I even bought my pokémon t-shirts, which wasn't so random. It made me feel closer to them. I didn't care about any consequences. I was invincible, even at the hands of Team Rocket.

It wasn't long, however, before this high energy turned into bouts of anger. I yelled at Atis and launched a lamp in his direction after he said he wanted to stay in Azalea Town longer than anticipated. I wanted to stay, too, but couldn't. He knew nothing of my situation, and for that I despised him and acted in the only way I knew how.

That night, I couldn't sleep. I couldn't stop thinking about Atis and how I had hurt him. In spite of everything, I wanted to be closer to my pokémon, but now I believed I had succeeded in making him hate me. I had to do something, anything to distract myself. I went into the Azalea Town well and caught as many magikarp as I could. I intentionally caught them because they weren't going to be on my team, and later I gave them to the daycare couple, who could take care of them better than I ever could.

I got back on track. I fought Bugsy, but that battle turned into a lesson I didn't want. Bugsy didn't understand that I had no use for weak pokémon. It just wasn't an option. I felt proud at my outburst, if only because I was finally following the rules.

Kuiora, then, became a problem. She wanted to be stronger. Team Rocket wanted her to be stronger. I wanted her to be stronger for herself, not for them. I knew everything. I knew she had been begging for my attention. I didn't give her what she needed until I had no choice but to do so. My lashing out against her... I didn't want it. But sometimes violence really is the answer. Things got better from there. Her gratitude kept me happy.

I wasn't too surprised when Marty subsequently challenged me to a battle. He wanted to prove he was the better trainer, so that my pokémon would leave me. I agreed to the battle, thinking that I wasn't going to let anyone leave regardless of whether or not they wanted to. I would convince them to stay, like I convinced them to come with me at all. I didn't have to do anything of the sort. Everyone chose to stay. I was secretly glad, but this meant that none of my defenses were were working. Somewhere along the line, I had let my guard down and had let them in.

Another miracle happened. Rennio showed up. At that point, he was nameless to me, since I hadn't learned the name of the final man in the cells. He seemed so young, so eager to grow, but something was stopping him. He gave off an anxious vibe, like he didn't want to stay in Ilex Forest for too long. I offered to take him in, so that things could be better, if just for a little while.

Ezrem showed up too, but I didn't need him. I didn't want to seem cruel, but he was persistent. My team was complete! He didn't belong, though technically, I could carry him around and have a full team of six. I said no, expecting my answer to be final. I let him follow for Rennio's sake. If I wasn't able to be the source of comfort Rennio needed, then someone else would have to take on that role.

Despite my happiness, I fell into a deep depression, as I often did after being manic. The trigger: Marty telling me that Sasha would never want to be my friend, and that I wasn't a suitable traveling companion. To have these facts confirmed dispirited me to the point where I was miserable all the time. I was barely able to move, and as a result, we stayed in Goldenrod City longer than intended. I said yes to Atis when he wanted to show me the city's culture. I found a pocketknife, at least, at the large department store. When I saw it, I thought of my mother and her love of weapons, be it a pokémon or a handheld weapon. Turning it over in my hand, I decided it would be perfect for her, and it was also then I decided I would have to face her again someday, after everything was over.

But keeping the pocketknife made me recall the rules my mother had set for me. Never become close to your pokémon, she said, but it was clear that Atis wanted to know me more. When I let him write a secret on my back, I felt that it was etched into me like a tattoo or whatever those markings are called. His secret disappeared in the shower the next day, but for one night I had a physical reminder of Atis's sheer existence.

Then Atis took me to the radio tower. The worker there informed me that Team Rocket was lurking around. I assumed they were after me. They had caught on to all my misdeeds and were ready to take me back to my prison. I had to do something to make up for it. I made Rennio fight, despite his fear of battles. If it were up to me, I wouldn't have made him do it, but it was up people with authority. When we lost to Whitney, my intention wasn't to leave my pokémon behind. I was going to find a safe hiding spot for us to go to, but before I could, I was confronted by a Team Rocket grunt who had been asked to bring me back to Mahogany Town for rehabilitation.

Rehabilitation involved me being in my cell once more, while being asked to take my medication, which I had unwillingly stopped. I had run out of the medication and had no idea where to refill it, and I had no one to ask. Dr. Richards shook his head, watched me and checked my mouth for pills after I swallowed.

Soon enough I was manic again. I couldn't think about my pokémons' whereabouts anymore without my mind wandering off somewhere else. I asked Dr. Richards why this happened, since I thought the goal was to keep me stable, not to make me go up and down. He explained very, very slowly that Giovanni had paid him money to give me antidepressants instead of mood stabilizers. This kept my moods high and energized for proper travel. Supposedly I was more active and successful while manic.

“So they've been watching me the entire time,” I said.

“Yes... and they'll continue to do so. I'm sorry.”

When they considered me fully functional, it occurred to me that I hadn't seen my mother at all, but I wasn't going to stick around and prove to her that I had temporarily failed. I fled back to Goldenrod City, hoping my pokémon were waiting for me, and that they had been well taken care of in my absence.

I was overjoyed when I found them. If they hadn't waited for me, I wasn't sure I could have started over or tracked them down. Unfortunately, I had to deal with their inevitable questions. I tried to pretend nothing happened. It worked, to a certain extent, but I could tell there was a different feeling in the air now, one of tension and mistrust. There was nothing I could do about that, and I figured it was for the best, anyway. Now I could do things better.

I quickly ran into another obstacle: Sasha. She asked to take Atis and Senori for her pokémon fan club meeting. Either I could have said no and insisted on going to the gym, or I could have gone with my desire to be her friend. I went with the latter. I didn't have the heart to say no, and it was only for a few hours...

Seeing Senori evolve during the Goldenrod City rematch was worth it. It was a proud moment for both of us. He was finally letting go of his past somehow, as his new movements were much lighter, and less tense. To see my very first pokémon come so far in such a short amount of time made all the pain I had gone through seem like nothing. When Senori came to me that night with my antidepressant bottle in hand, asking me to stay with them, I felt like a true trainer.

Things were looking up then, and I didn't think it was just the medication having an effect on my brain. But then the incident with Rennio and Ezrem happened. Once again, I had a choice. I chose to backtrack and save Ezrem from his burns. There was no way I could leave him behind now, not with Rennio trying so hard to battle for me. When I called him by his real name and saw him cry, I had to try not to cry for a different reason.

That day, Atis told me he wanted to leave the team. I understand and didn't question him at all. After the Ezrem ordeal was settled, we celebrated one last day to make Atis happy, and also to try to get him to stay. I couldn't come up with anything that might have convinced him. Only the evil thought of turning him in swayed in my mind. In a way, it was nice timing. I hadn't meant to deceive him, but I couldn't let him go. If I had let him go, I was risking more suffering on my part. I admit it was selfish. When I watched him faint in front of me, the disbelief in his eyes ripped into me. I felt sick. I could only help that my promise to him had rung true in his mind.

It was unnatural, but I cried all night. My pokémon tried to comfort me despite their own sadness, but there was no way I could tell them what I had done. They would all run and know me as a horrible person. I couldn't afford any more mistakes. Anything else would have let Atis's sacrifice be in vain... but when had I ever been known to stick to the rules? When had I ever not followed my own intuition? Never. I just didn't have it in me.

My adventure without Atis didn't last long at all. When no one wanted to fight for me at the Ecruteak City gym, I thought of Atis and his introverted self. When Senori couldn't attack the ghost, I thought of Atis's knowledge of the world, which surpassed my own. My team was falling apart, because it wasn't just the trainer that held the team together. We all held the team together in our own way, and the absence of one of us was showing.

I panicked. I screamed. I was so very tired of keeping quiet about all my lies, all my secrets. I didn't know how much I was revealing, but I didn't pay attention. The only thing I cared about was getting to Atis before he became an experiment of Team Rocket's. He was a special pokémon, just as I was a special child, but his situation could have been handled much more effectively.

Thanks to the map my mother had given me, I knew exactly how to get back to Mahogany Town. Coincidentally, there was a cave in Ecruteak City that led me there. I didn't stop to rest, even when my limbs felt like they were about to break down. I didn't sleep or hesitate before running back into the lab that offered several years' worth of unfavorable memories to me.

Inside, I grabbed the first person I came into contact with. I yelled, “Where's my mother? Where is Atis?”

“Sai...? W-What are you—”

“Where is she?!” I said, gripping his collar more fiercely. He was making small talk, and that was unacceptable.

“Last I heard, she was going to train and—”

I let him go, not needing to hear anything else. There were only two training locations in the building, and whichever one she was in, I knew that she and Atis weren't too far from me anymore. I scrambled up the stairs in the corner, causing two more scientists to drop the materials in their hands. I didn't apologize. My head felt like it was going to burst at any moment if I didn't see Atis, not locked up, not bruised and not bleeding.

For once, I was glad that everyone recognized me and no one questioned my presence. There were no alarmed shouts about an intruder, so I could go wherever I wanted. I ran up the next of stairs. My gaze shifted from one thing to another, but neither my mother nor Atis were there. I stood there, panting and ignoring side glances, before sprinting across the middle of the arena. I had done purposely as a child, but I had grown up now. Couldn't anyone see that? Couldn't anyone see that I was as normal as I'd ever be, and I was still out of control?

I went up to the roof. Please be there, I thought. Please be there... I didn't want to bother anyone else as I tried to find them, but at last, I found them. My mother stood next to Atis, and she was far too close for me to be comforted.

She turned to look at me. “Sai?” she said. “What are you doing here?”

“You know exactly what I'm here for!” I said in between breaths. I couldn't tell if Atis was disappointed to see me or not. It was times like these where I wished that he was easier to read.

“Hmm...” my mother said, pacing now. “This pokémon is no longer yours. The moment we took him away, he became the property of Team Rocket.”

“But I'm... I'm part of Team Rocket too!” I said, the words creating a foul taste in my mouth. I had never admitted this before, and I could only wonder if I would regret it after all was said and done.

“You're not part of this group. You're... an experiment yourself—”

I grit my teeth. “Don't remind me,” I said. “I'm a toy, I know. Don't I have a say in anything? What about the others? Where are they right now?”

“The others? Well, we followed them for a short amount of time,” she said, her voice lowered.

“What are you saying?”

“They're dead, Sai. They're all dead. Killed by pokémon, suicide, murdered... You name it, and it probably happened.”

My eyes widened. To know I was a lone survivor was hard to believe. Wasn't the will to live supposed to push anyone through any adversary? Wasn't misfortune eventually supposed to give way to good fortune? It made no sense to me. I put my hands over my ears, wishing I had heard nothing.

I took a few steps back. “But they were sick like me...” I said. “They were special...”

“Whatever they were means nothing. All they are now is dead,” my mother said, shaking her head. “I told you that you'd be able to overcome anything. By the looks of it, you didn't even run into anything truly dangerous. Besides yourself, that is...”

She walked toward me, and Atis shuddered. What had I learned from Atis? How could I prove to him that his journey with me wasn't for nothing? I tried to persuade him with pleading eyes. His mouth opened for a moment as if he were going to speak, but then his face scrunched up and his eyes closed.

“Sai!” he suddenly shouted, darting forward. My mother seemed to anticipate his actions and caught him by the arm because he could reach me.

I bit my lip. “I just want Atis back. I'll do anything you ask.”

“You say that, but you haven't done much of what I asked of you before you left.”

“I... I mean it this time. Do whatever you want to me, but let Atis go.”

“I can't do that, Sai. Pokémon are more than beneficial to us. You know this.” She paused. “It looks like you have friends here to see you.”

“Mother, please—”

I cut myself off. Confused, I saw Senori and the rest of the group. I gaped at them, wanting to shout about how crazy they were, how they should be far, far away... Why did they come here, and how did they know where I was?

My mother went on, talking about how I had such loyal pokémon now... She said I was lonely... Was I lonely? Yes, I was lonely in the sense that no one knew what I was up against in life, but of course I didn't want to give her the pleasure of knowing that. I yelled, this time being random. I just want Atis back... You told me things would get better and they never did, they never did... I won't follow your rules because you lied to me... You lied to me!

But she knew where to get me most.

“...And then you will never see the light of day again...”

I wanted life. I wanted freedom. When she brought up the idea of me dying, I remembered the others and how they were gone now. I fumbled with my pants until I found the pocketknife I had bought at the Goldenrod City department store. I held it out toward her. It was the one weapon I had left, if words weren't going to work and if my pokémon were about to bolt...

“Are you going to hurt me, Sai? Just as I've supposedly hurt you?” she asked.

I wasn't sure what my intentions were. I wanted to seem like a scary person, just as everyone else seemed to me. I almost didn't believe it when she put her hands up in surrender and let Atis flee toward us. Atis ran right past me and mumbled things to Senori, things my mind couldn't process. I focused on my mother's words, which hurt me more than any damage the knife could ever do.

“I’m done listening to you,” I said. It was the most confident thing I had said during the whole conversation.

“…Then you will pay for it,” my mother said. She reached behind her and pulled out a few pokéballs. She extended them toward me. “A battle,” she said. “If you win, I will see to it that you are allowed to abandon the project. If you lose, you must subject yourself to us, or choose death. It's up to you.”

I remained silent and unmoving, thinking about the proposal. How could I beat her, a trainer of many years? I had little experience in battling. I had done little actual training with my pokémon. Having three badges couldn't be enough, and I didn't even have the badges to prove my worth. They were lost. It felt like I myself had already lost. And would my pokémon fight for me, anyway?

Slowly, I put my arm down. I put the knife back into my pocket.

“Unlike some people, I am not a torturer. I am not a killer.” I sighed. “I agree to your challenge, but only under fair one-on-one conditions. I also won't be forcing any of my pokémon to fight. If they choose to leave me alone in this battle, then so be it.”

I faced my team. They looked up at me with such innocent, questioning eyes. I managed a smile and kneeled down to be near them.

“I'm sorry I left again,” I said. “I had to find Atis, but I didn't want to put you guys in any danger. I hope you understand, but if you don't, it's okay. If you don't want to fight for me right now, that's okay too.”

I reached for Atis gently. He flinched at my touch, but he let me pet him on the side of his head. It was all I needed. I had intended to tell them everything after the incident was over, no matter what happened, but the touch felt so final, so conclusive, that I explained everything in that moment. I explained that I was mentally sick and that I had been imprisoned for it. My goal as a Team Rocket experiment was to train pokémon and then turn them in as test subjects. I told them everything and I was out of breath by the time I was done. I shook my head and repeated that they didn't have to fight for me.

I didn't wait to see their reactions. I didn't think I could handle it. I told my mother I was ready, and that whoever wanted to fight could step forward.

“If you're ready, then let's begin,” my mother said, tossing a pokéball in the air. Out popped a small lizard pokémon whose tail lit brightly with fire. The orange creature let out a fierce growl. It was my mother's first pokémon, a charmander from the Kanto region, and it didn't seem to recognize me. To go from playing with this pokémon as a child to fighting in a life or death battle seemed beyond surreal to me.

I held my breath, my mind reeling with words of false persuasion and comfort. I knew in my heart that not a single pokémon was going to step forward. They had no reason to defend me anymore, and I wouldn't blame them for leaving. But Rennio—Rennio, out of all of them—stood in front of me and faced the charmander.

“Are you sure this is what you want, Rennio?” I asked quietly. He nodded. Though he was frowning, I could tell he was sincere. “All right. I won't be commanding this battle, as usual. Everything is up to you.”

And then it began.

I would like to say everything that happened next was by my own design. I would like to say I watched Rennio battle and cheered him on like any normal trainer would. But I was manic from before, and now I was depressed after Atis's situation. When you're manic and depressed at the same time you can only keep yourself occupied on a single thought for a few seconds before you succumb to something worse. The battle, then, was sporadic for me, and I thanked myself enough to have found the strength, courage and time to explain before the end of it all.

Come on, Sai. Keep yourself focused. Stay on your toes. But I couldn't do it. Rennio shocked the charmander and the charmander retaliated with a tackle and my thoughts turned to death. It was all over for me. I didn't raise my pokémon well enough. I was a failure of a trainer, just as Marty had said. He should have taken everyone away while he still had the chance.

Team Rocket should have executed me when they had the chance all those years ago too. I should have been a different experiment, one with cords and machinery and a bunch of paperwork filled with invaluable information. The white cords would have been happy cords and the black cords would have been sad cords and they would have hooked up to me simultaneously, sending me back and forth between the two extreme conditions that constantly pervaded my life. Because that's what life was to me. It's all a game, it's all a game. It's all a joke, a fraud...

Rennio swung the charmander around by the tail, an otherwise amusing sight. The charmander smashed into the wall. At this point, Kuiora asked to switch in, since her water attacks were much more effective. That was another one on my team. Two out of five. Why were my pokémon here, anyway? Was that Ezrem cheering Kuiora on? Three out of five. My god, they're raising hell. They're raising hell to give to me what they already gave to me once—a chance at independence and happiness. They couldn't do it again. It was too late for me.

It's okay. If I don't make it, someone else will. A normal person, maybe? It had to be a normal person. Everyone else was dead. All they had ever been was dead. But I believed one of my kind would prevail someday. We were special, after all. Kuiora, when did you get so strong? I didn't train you at all like I should have. You did all this for me? Stop raising hell already. It's too late for me.

I couldn't sit still anymore. I made my way around the edges of the battleground, watching as intently as I could, which didn't mean much. Kuiora took down the charmander, as expected. She was happy to know that my mother was a fire-type pokémon trainer. My mother sent out her ninetales next. I remembered it being a young vulpix. Why hadn't her charmander evolved? Was my mother threatening me again? If you mistreat a ninetales, you can be cursed... Did I want my pokémon to be cursed? I would have taken the curse for them. But I was cursed enough as it was, the ninetales said.

Unbelievable. I was cursed with depression and mania. Depression is needing all day tomorrow to recover from today and mania is needing all day today to prepare for the invincible tomorrow. It was a vicious cycle. It never ended. Because of my medication I hardly had any periods of normalcy. I didn't know what it meant to be stable, but my pokémon did. Atis ran into the middle of the battle to make Kuiora save her strength. Four out of five. That left Senori. Senori? What do you think of me? ...What do I think of myself?

Well, how can your mind get this messed up? How can you be so clueless, so lost? How can you be so lonely that you don't even like yourself for company?

...How can you not?

I tried to give my love to the world. The world didn't seem to want it. The only constants I ever had in life were my mood swings and air. Air kept me alive and breathing and together with my pokémon. It had been with me in the cells, in my dreams, in my lungs.

It would be the perfect way to go, and I was in the perfect position to go.

The ninetales was defeated. Was I winning or losing? I wasn't part of the battle anymore. Maybe I never was to begin with. I really couldn't get over this pokémon training thing. I wanted it for so long and then I never grew accustomed to it. I liked the feeling of learning and having my pokémon teach me instead. I liked not being expected to know everything. Tell me, Senori, that I'll never get used to this... this so-called form of living. The unknowing and uncertainty will come to me and I will always be so inviting.

Senori was last. He was last! This told me something, but I couldn't figure out what. Still. My mother had six pokémon, and I only had four usable pokémon. We were overwhelmed, no matter what my furret did. It was too late for me.

I backtracked to the edge of the building. This way, I could see not only my pokémon but also my mother and my opponent. I felt like I was watching a show I had no part of. I was completely dissociated from myself. I was already gone. No matter how much I wanted to live, the idea of death overtook me. Even if I won the battle, I would never get better. I would be forever sick. If I lost... Well, then I was even more gone. Either way, I was dead. Who's dead? I'm dead.

It’s such a shame that I’m drowning in my goddamn shame.

...I always wanted to see myself become a better person, but I realize I never got very far. I wanted to see Senori stop worrying about me all the time. I wanted to see Kuiora evolve into her final form and fulfill her dreams. I wanted to hear Atis smile so much that I forgot his normal scared voice. I wanted to continue watching Rennio fight and I wanted to feed him, whatever that meant. I wanted to see Ezrem through his old trainer's eyes.

It never occurred to me that any of these things could still have happened.

I might have begged for help, once... but I didn't.

I jumped.
chapter 25 ; [EZREM]


It's odd, the things you remember when you're watching someone die. It only takes a second for everything to go wrong. It only takes a second for everything to change. Such is what I learned when I started that fire and when I decided to follow Sai. And when Sai jumped... Sai, before this, you didn't tell anyone you were hurting so much. Or maybe you did and it went over our heads. Is that how it usually goes? Is death supposed to remain unnoticed and unexpected until the moments of reflection that scream otherwise?

When Sai jumped, the world stopped. The battle ceased instantly. It felt like there was cotton in my ears and all our shouts emitted no real sound. The walking traffic below was dulled and unwillingly shoved into our pathetic existence. If anyone's experience was different, it was Sai's.

Sai, is the white light at the end of the tunnel as bright as it's supposed to be?

You're gonna tell me all about it, goddamn it.

It only takes a second, and I didn't even have to think about it.

I sprinted forward and jumped after him. There was something about losing my own dreams that made me stubborn when it came to others. Annie would just have to understand my second betrayal, which didn't seem like a betrayal in reality, but rather an act of desperation. I wanted to see someone live, so I let myself evolve.

At first I fell freely and flapped wildly. Soon I had a larger body, larger wings and larger talons. There was no pain! I could focus easily then. I positioned myself rightly and darted straight down, catching up to Sai. The wind tried hard to push me back, but I wasn't having any of it. As I got closer, I saw Sai facing upward. He looked to be at rest already, with his eyes closed and his small movements graceful, as if this was exactly what he wanted. That was too bad! This was my revenge. He should've let me be on the team from the beginning.

I don't know how far we were from the ground when I caught him. Though my evolved form was stronger, he felt heavy. I was carrying not only his body but also his burdens. I thought his weight was going to make us fall, but I struggled and managed to bring him back to the top of the building.

After setting him down, purposely away from the woman who had started this whole thing, I tried not to collapse from exhaustion. As the team ran over to us, I took a look at my wings. There were no scars, no burns. I was completely fine, and Sai, so innocent and lost, was not fine. Surely there was something we could do. Saving him from death wasn't enough. If we left him alone now, he'd suffer more and maybe try suicide again.

“Sai!” Senori yelled, shaking our trainer. “Wake up! Sai, why did you do this?”

“Isn't it obvious?” I scoffed. “You're the leader. What should we do next?”

“I... We should take Sai to a Pokémon Center!”

I fluffed my feathers, preparing to fly again. “Get on,” I said.

“The Pokémon Center? That's not for humans—” Atis said frantically, but he didn't have any better ideas in the heat of the moment.

“It's the only place we know of. I'm trying, okay? We're all trying,” Senori said.

We became silent. Atis rubbed his hands together. Senori covered his face with his paws. Rennio and Kuiora sobbed and held each other, because even though I had rescued our trainer, it wasn't over yet. It wouldn't be over until he smiled again.

“Are you going to take him away from me?” a feminine voice said. I turned and saw Sai's mother coming toward us, her head lowered. She was holding back tears.

“Of course we are,” I said. “You haven't been much help, to say the least.”

She ignored me. “I always knew you'd take him away from me,” she said. “I knew it from day one. But out of everything I've seen regarding this project, I never... anticipated this...”

She seemed sincere enough. I sympathized with her, but I wasn't about to admit it. There was nothing else for me to say. There was nothing that anyone could say to make things better.

“There's a hospital right next to the lab. You should take him there,” Sai's mother said after a while.

Could we trust her words? We had no choice. The team climbed on my back, one by one. Everyone except Atis, that is. He was being reluctant and I couldn't blame him.

“It's up to you, Atis,” I said. “Are you on this team or not?”

Atis paused, then nodded fiercely. With the help of the others, he was hoisted onto me. I took a breath. I could do this. Aside from Kuiora, everyone was light, so why not? Well, I had to do this, even if I had trouble. I lifted myself off of the building's roof, gently grasping Sai once more.

Together, the six of us flew to the hospital.


This was our second time sitting in a waiting room in a matter of days. At this rate, every Nurse Joy in the Johto region would know our names by the end of our journey. I was assuming that Sai would want to continue our journey, however. I was no psychiatrist, but my instincts told me that Sai would need to work on himself before even thinking of going back to the gym circuit.

When we arrived, Senori composed himself enough to explain to the nurse what had happened to our trainer. She took the boy in her arms and placed him on a stretcher herself, then rushed him into another room. When she returned, she said there was a special unit in the hospital meant for patients like him. He would have to stay for a week or more, until he was no longer a threat to himself or others.

We waited till we could see him. I went outside to stretch my wings and almost missed being a rufflet that could fit into any building without a problem. The evolution had been worth it, though. Had I let Sai die knowing I could have done something, I don't think I could have lived with myself.

It was turning dark outside when the nurse said Sai was awake. It seemed like forever ago since we had made our way to Mahogany Town, found him and battled. She led us to his room, explaining how Sai would eventually have to move into a psych ward.

“Pokémon can be with their trainers at all times, but if Sai has any friends that want to see him, they'll have stricter visiting hours from here on out,” she said. I wondered what had happened to Marty and Sasha. If they knew about the situation, they couldn't have left us without figuring out how it ended!

I stopped caring about them quickly when I saw Sai. He looked as normal as he possibly could, as there were no machines by his bed, nor were there any cords hooked up to him. He was lying down and was barely alert to his surroundings. I didn't have to be near him to see how lifeless he was.

“I'll leave you guys alone. If you need anything, there are nurses around the hall,” the nurse said, and then she was gone.

It was, at first, awkward. No one knew how to approach Sai. What do you do after your trainer tries to end his own life? Well, you put him into good, capable hands. And then what?

I offered to talk to him since no one else would. I flew to his bed and nudged him on the cheek with my beak when he didn't look in my direction. Slowly his head turned toward me, but his dark blue eyes were as hollow as ever.

“I'm alive,” he said stupidly.

“That's my fault. I'm not sorry,” I said. “If you have any pent up anger you want to kill me with, I'd totally understand. Actually, I wouldn't understand, but I'd let you do it anyway.”

Sai smiled. He smiled! It seemed difficult for him, but he was then able to prop himself up. He said nothing.

“I'm not part of the team and I saved you! I disobeyed my old trainer's orders for you. That takes a lot of guts, but you don't have to be grateful,” I said dramatically, folding my wings to make a point.

“Ezrem,” Sai said, frowning now, “you've... always been part of this team. I didn't know it yet, but you joined the team when Rennio did.”

“Oh, come on!” I said. “You don't have to get all sappy on me now. You're supposed to tell me you despise me. You're supposed to tell me the light at the end of the tunnel let you see your whole life over or something.”

The mood had lightened enough for everyone else to join me at Sai's bedside. I feared another breakdown when Sai saw Atis, but he only scratched the hitmontop on the head. Atis accepted the touch without a problem.

“I'm not angry at you,” he said. “You have to understand... I never wanted to die. I wanted to stop the craziness in my head. I wanted to stop my sickness. But it's just... something I have to deal with.”

“Well, you're calmer, and that's all that matters!” Senori said, hopping onto the bed and snuggling into Sai's lap. Sai used his other hand to pet the furret behind the ears.

“Yeah... They gave me medication,” he said, then added quietly, “Real medication.”

“I don't know what you—” Senori started.

He was interrupted by a banging sound. The door had been shoved open and had bumped against the wall. In stormed Marty, who glared at Sai. There was a nurse behind him, begging for him to leave for the sake of the other patients.

“I'll leave after I give this boy a piece of my mind,” Marty said through gritted teeth.

“Wait,” Sai said, seeing us leap to his defense. “Stay there.”

“This guy's gonna beat you to a pulp!” Atis cried, pulling back and hiding in a corner.

“Not if I can help it,” Kuiora said, standing between the two trainers.

Sai swung his legs around the edge of the bed. He stood, somehow managing to keep his balance. He went to Marty and stared the boy down, his fists clenched.

He said confidently, “Whatever you have to say, you should at least face me like a man when you say it.”

Marty snickered. “Good grief. Where do I start? What were you thinking, deserting your pokémon? What the hell were you doing in a lab full of idiots like that?”

“I didn't want them to get in trouble—”

“Yeah, yeah. I'm sure you've got an answer for that. But what are the prerequisites for committing suicide? That you be fucking insane? Me and Sasha saw something fly down in the window while we were fighting, and it wasn't a bird... Well, then we saw a bird, but still...”

“That was Ezrem.” Sai paused. “Wait... You were in the lab?”

Marty rolled his eyes. “You ignored my first question.”

“I'm as insane as you think I am,” Sai said. Ever since he had explained his secrets to us, he had no problem speaking about himself, especially about his past and personality.

“It's just like you. You want to kill yourself, so you make it inconvenient for everyone else. What would your pokémon have done after? Why'd you make them watch?”

This made Sai look away. “You would have taken them, right? That's what I was hoping...”

“Of course I would have,” Marty said. “...You act cool, but I can tell you're avoiding me for some reason.”

“I'm sorry,” Sai replied. “It's been a long day, as you probably can guess.”

Marty's eyes shifted to the empty air beside him, indicating that he had heard something. “Anyway... I'm glad you're all right,” he said, then stepped aside.

I'd like to say that a much more relaxed person walked into the room, but it would only be half true. Sasha, her face red and her hands covering her mouth, came into the room. She promptly burst into tears when she saw Sai. She embraced him, almost causing the boy to fall over from surprise.

“Sasha...?” Sai asked concernedly.

“I'm sorry... I waited to come in so I could stop crying... but I can't help it!” she cried. “I can't believe you did that to us,” she added, burying her face into his shirt.

Sai put his arms around her and squeezed her while resting his chin on top of her head. “I'm sorry too,” he said. “I didn't think you'd be affected.”

“Of course I would be! I-I wouldn't want it to happen to anyone, but especially not a friend, you dummy...”

Sai lifted his head and extended his arms so that they were a foot away from each other. I thought he was pushing her away, but he only wanted to put enough distance between the two of them so that he could take a good look at her. He gazed at her, judging her. Finally he acquiesced and smiled warmly.

“I'm your friend, huh?” he said. “It's... really nice to hear that. I don't know how to repay you, since I don't know what friends do.”

He leaned forward until his forehead was touching hers. To see Sai act so intimately with another human partly made me want to puke, but another part of me was happy to see him interacting with her. Now that I thought about it, Sai must have been hoping that she and Marty would be his companions despite their reluctance toward him. He had just been granted his wish, and so he tilted his head upward and kissed her forehead, right in front of her brother and in front of his pokémon. He murmured something I didn't hear, and she blushed and stammered out intelligible words.

“I don't know what you're doing, but don't you ever make a move on her again!” Marty said, separating the two of them.

“My mother used to do that whenever I was sad,” Sai said.

“It's fine, Marty,” Sasha said shyly, swaying her hand around. “You're welcome, Sai, for... whatever I did.”

“You did everything. You all did everything. Because of you guys, I have quite a few things left to do. If you don't mind, Marty... Sasha... I'd like to be alone when she comes.”

“Who?” Sasha asked.

“One of Team Rocket's executives. My mother,” he said. He sighed, then relayed his past to them. As he told his story, his voice was less rushed. He wasn't in a life or death situation anymore, and he knew it. Before he finished, Sasha had broken out in tears again, and Marty had calmed considerably. “So that's why I'm weird. That's why I'm a terrible trainer. I wish I could have told everyone sooner, but... I couldn't.”

“Oh...” Sasha said. She ruffled Sai's hair and chuckled through her tears. “Don't beat yourself up, okay?”


“Sounds like a bunch of excuses to me,” Marty said, opening the door to leave. He held it open and said, "Get better soon."

Sai fell asleep almost immediately after they left. We watched over him as if he were going to disappear into thin air.


His mother showed up the next day, apparently having known the psych ward's visiting hours. I silently scolded her for not coming sooner, but she was probably still recovering. A mother who loses her son couldn't be taken lightly.

Sai had been rehearsing for their meeting. This was a woman who knew how to break Sai. Even while practicing he stumbled over his words and everything came out wrong. He paced around the hospital room and attempted to make small talk with us occasionally, trying not to appear frustrated. It didn't work.

When she knocked on the door, Sai's intuition told him it was her. His muscles became tense. He cleared his throat and told her to come in. She opened the door casually, saying she didn't want to interrupt anything. I didn't say that Sai's sanity might have dissipated by the time she was done with him.

Sai's mother didn't cry. She didn't seem angry or even sad. The tension betrayed her lack of emotion, however.

“Hello, Sai,” she said. She watched the door as she closed it.

“Hello, Mother,” Sai said, imitating her tone. Because he was unable to stay still, he resorted to sitting on his bed.

“Did you think I'd come?”

“I thought you might.”

“I wasn't sure you'd want to see me. I debated over whether or not to come. But I had to see you... one last time,” she said. She certainly wasn't wasting any time getting to the point. I pretended to fluff my feathers while the rest of the team listened nervously.

“One last time?”

“I know you, Sai. I know your plans,” she said sadly. “You won't be able to keep quiet about us anymore. After all these years, you're ready to speak.”

Sai stared at her, dumbfounded. When he pulled himself together, he said, “What you guys do... It's horrible. You torture pokémon and turn them into slaves. You dabble in human trafficking. I can't let that go. Not after being out in the real world.”

After a few moments, his mother asked, “Do you think I'm evil, Sai?”

“At some point in your life, you were in the wrong place at the wrong time. You made the wrong choice. But you've mostly been good to me, I think... I don't really know anymore...”

“Say no more,” she said, putting her hand up. “I just need you to know that I made you stay in the lab because I was afraid of losing you, just like I lost your father. I had no intentions of hurting you.”

“I know that. But you hurt me in more ways than one.”

“I can't pretend to understand,” she replied. She as making it difficult to decide whether she was an ally or an enemy. Either way, I was ready to pounce on her and throw her off a building to see how she liked it.

“If there's more to life out there, I want it,” Sai said, changing the subject. “I mean, I'm here despite all logic and likelihood, right? I survived the survival project. So I should enjoy—”

“I always knew you'd make it,” she said, not wanting to hear more. “I really do marvel at how everything connects. With the way you acted as a child, I could tell how your journey would go.”

“You knew I'd... jump off a building?”

“Well, no. I don't understand your illness. You got that from your father. To me it seems that your brain makes you do irrational things.”

“That sounds about right,” Sai said. He clasped his hands together, as if he were recalling something painful. I wondered what else he had gone through before meeting us.

“...What will you do next?”

“Honestly, I don't even know.”

This was when the team butt into the conversation. Senori suggested that he shouldn't tell her our plans. If she knew, then she'd follow up and make us miserable.

“It's okay,” Sai said. “She won't do that.”

We didn't quite comprehend the meaning of that. I thought he was going to report her because she was a Team Rocket executive, but...

“What do you mean, Sai?”

“I'll give you two days. Pack your things. Get out of here. Get as far away as you can,” Sai said. Had this been a part of the rehearsal? “I'm reporting Team Rocket to the police, of course. I'm giving away as much information as I know. You can tell as many people as you want, but I'll make sure they're accounted for in the report. Just so you know.”

Kuiora suddenly yelled, “You can't let her go, Sai! She made you crazy!”

“You said it yourself, Sai. She hurt you and you're not sending her to jail?” Rennio said, pulling on Sai's arm to make sure he was hearing us out.

“She's still my mother, guys,” he said. He didn't take his eyes off of her. “I can't do the same thing to her. I don't have the heart to do it...”

His mother bowed and said, “I thank you, Sai, but you don't have to do this. I deserve whatever is coming to me.”

“Your choice. But I won't be reporting you regardless.”

“You've got to be kidding me!” I said, shielding my eyes to hide this horrendous view.

“It's really happening, Ezrem,” Rennio said. “Was Annie ever as crazy as this?”

“I bet she wasn't,” Sai said, smirking. At least he had a good sense of humor. At least he was paying attention to us when his mother was so important to him. “Do you have anything else to say to me?” he asked.

“Nothing that would make a difference. What about you?”

“I want to ask you the same question. What are you gonna do if you don't turn yourself in?”

“...All I can think of is going back to your father, but it's been so long. Well, what I do doesn't matter. What you do, on the other hand, does matter. Tell people your story. Expand your story. Whatever the final product is... That will be my story too.”

Sai shrugged. “If that's what you want,” he said. “I'll try to remember everything you taught me. I'm going to treat my pokémon right, though. And—”

“You don't have to tell me."

“But I think—”

“I think you're sweet, as always. Don't be.” She paused. “I'm glad to have witnessed this day. The first sixteen years of your life don't count anymore. I wish you the best of luck, Sai.”

She didn't let Sai say anything more, though I could tell she didn't want to leave, judging by her slow departure. Sai nodded to her, permitting her to leave without guilt. As the door clicked shut, he buried his face in his hands.

“Is it bad that I don't know what to do next?” he asked. “And I'm never going to see my mother again. Shouldn't I be upset?”

Senori nuzzled into Sai's neck. “You're fine, Sai. Things ended on a good note, even if none of us... agree with your decision.”

“Thanks, Senori. But I think what I did was right.”

“And that's all that matters...” Atis muttered.

Kuiora said, “I still think he's crazy.”

“He knows!” Rennio said.

“Yes, Kuiora. You've said that five times now.” She harrumphed. I ignored her and addressed my trainer. “I just have one question for you, dear Sai. I ask you this because, you know, near death experiences are my forte. Have you ever felt sorry for the ground for putting too much weight on it?”

“Too much weight... As in, all of my problems?” Sai said, tilting his head in confusion.

“You got it,” I said, impressed with him not taking me literally.

“I never really thought about it that way, but yeah...”

“I don't think you have to worry about that anymore.”

“I guess not...” Sai said, “and it's all thanks to you, Ezrem.”


I had saved Sai from his suicide mission and I had come to terms with Annie's death. But there was one final conundrum weighing on my mind. When the nurse asked us all to leave for a few moments so Sai could take his medication, I told myself that it was now or never. There was no reason to put it off anymore, no reason to prolong the suffering.

“Rennio...” I said, dumbfounded by my hesitation. Where was I supposed to start? I'd been lying to him for years!

“Yeah?” Rennio said absentmindedly. He was probably worrying about Sai's mother running free.

I got his full attention by unfolding my wings and wrapping them around his eyes. It was a miracle that my wing was no longer hurt, but then I realized that I would no longer be able to tease Rennio the way I used to. He flailed around for a bit, blinded, and when he began generating electricity, I backed off. Though I deserved it, I didn't want to get injured again so soon.

“What was that for?” Rennio said, sparking with anger.

“Just making a point,” I said.

“Well, what do you want?”

“Someone's in a sour mood. Come here for a minute,” I said. The others were glancing at us, snickering. I had to get Rennio away from them. I made the short flight to the other side of the hospital lobby, wishing I didn't have to do this.

When Rennio followed me, it seemed that all of a sudden, I lost my ability to be manipulative, to make jokes and to beat around the bush. I figured I could start with the lesser of the two evils...

“Look, Rennio,” I said, sighing, “I'm gonna get right to the point. ...You're not the only elekid in the world.”

And it was just like Rennio to appear overjoyed. “Really?” he cried. “You found another one? ...When did you have time to do that?”

“Don't misunderstand me. I... always knew you weren't the only elekid in the world. The entire idea was pretty absurd, to be honest.”

“W-What?” Rennio said, his face falling. “You... lied to me?”

“I did,” I said bluntly. It was the best way to get to Rennio, otherwise he would think I was pulling another prank on him. But his defeated expression told me he believed me.

“Where are the other elekid? Why haven't we seen them?”

“You were born in Sinnoh. Elekid really are rare there. Annie never knew where your egg came from. Supposedly there are some in Unova, but we never saw any. Elekid are native to Johto, but I don't know specifically where... which reminds me...”

“There's more?”

I nodded.

“...More lies, I mean.”

I nodded again.

“Ezrem, I've been scared out of my mind since you told me that! I didn't want to die before I could keep the line going. I thought... I thought I was alone this entire time...”

And then came the tears. Rennio tried to be tough, but deep down he was still a baby. Or maybe I was being harsh. This was shocking news, and the worst was yet to come.

“You haven't been alone, Rennio. You've had me, right? And you had Annie... until I messed everything up, that is.”

“You didn't do anything, did you? Annie died in the fire... It was just an accident...” Rennio said in between sobs.

“Well, yes, it was an accident. But haven't you ever wondered where the fire came from?”

“But what about Annie's cigarettes? She could've dropped one...”

“I didn't see her smoke that day. Did you?”


“The tepig started the fire. But it was me who made him start it. ...It was me who killed Annie, Rennio. I'm so sorry.”

The elekid stared at me in disbelief, tears still rolling down his cheeks. “Ezrem, why would you do such a thing?”

“I wanted to meet the legendary pokémon of Ilex Forest. It only comes out in the face of danger, though. So I created my own danger. I wanted the legendary to take me back to Unova. To home. I mean, why'd Annie have to take us all away like that? I know that doesn't make up for anything, but there it is.”

Rennio covered his eyes, an effective movement since his arms were so thick. I couldn't see whether he was about to attack me with that excess energy of his or not. Somehow I needed to convince him that I hadn't intentionally caused any harm. I only wanted—

I only wanted...

What did I want? His trust? His undying loyalty? For him to grow up already? It was a mixture of all these things and more. I was wordless, and yet I owed him an explanation.

“You don't know what you do to me, Rennio,” I said. “You really don't. If I hadn't lied to you, you wouldn't have given me the time of day. You wouldn't have asked me for my help. You would have left me.”

Rennio kept his face hidden, his crying becoming noticeably louder. The rest of the team could hear him, and as they tried to approach, I motioned for them to stay away. This was personal. It was better if they focused on Sai instead.

“I didn't give you the time of day because everyone warned me about you! I should have listened! Annie, why did you keep him on the team? Annie...”

“Annie was too kind,” was all I could say. It hit me, then, that my confession could have waited. Rennio was feeling insurmountable guilt about my burns and, to top it all off, he almost saw his second trainer die. I had used my gut instinct, even though that usually got me into trouble. There was no turning back now.

It had been too much to hope for, but I had imagined Rennio embracing me and forgiving me. He did no such thing. He was frozen as he relived the pain of Annie's death all over again. There was a sort of revelation to be had, too, when you learn that you're one among many.

I waited. Was there really nothing else for us to say? Surely it couldn't end with him hating me after all we had been through.

“Rennio, is there anything I can do to make this up to you? I'll do anything you ask.”

“No,” Rennio said instantly. “Y-You can't bring Annie back. You've tried to break my fear of death, but it hasn't worked...”

“Okay, so I can't do anything,” I said, disheartened. “Rennio, I was desperate... but now you can laugh me me, all right? I evolved to save Sai. I'm no longer a part of Annie's precious, unevolved team. And I'm a shiny braviary! I might be one-of-a-kind. See how the tables have turned? ...See?”

“Yeah... I see,” Rennio said, removing his arms and letting them fall limp at his side. He was visibly shaking. The electrical sparks now surrounded his face, ignited by the tears.

“What are you gonna do now?” I asked.

“What can I do? I'm not gonna leave Sai. I'll just hope to see another elekid sometime. That'll be my new goal...” His voice was void of all happiness. “What about you? Can I trust you?”

“If I said yes, would you believe me?”

“No, I suppose not. ...Thanks for telling me. It's a shame, though. I thought I knew you.”

He went outside. As he brushed past me, I felt a shock even though we weren't touching. Rennio was powerful, both in battle and in his mind. Whatever damage I had done, it would be fixed eventually. I just had to be patient.

I stood there dumbly, unable to face the team or even myself. Now that my lies were exposed, I was naked and confused, though everything was as it should have been. Sai had accepted me and changed me. Rennio hated me. Kuiora cared for me, albeit warily. The rest of the team dealt with my presence in their own individual ways. It was all fair, whether I liked it or not. I had no choice but to admit that on that day, in that forgettable Sinnohan city where Annie recruited me, a lot of things went wrong.

When Rennio returned not too much later, the sparks were gone. I felt bad for anyone or anything that had gotten in his way. I heard thunder as I saw him go back to the team. Was it Annie speaking to us, or had Rennio sent a message saying sorry for believing in such a fool? Patience. Someday he'll come back to you, Ezrem.

It's too bad that I'd never had any patience. It only the time traveling pokémon had at least granted me that. That legendary was given numerous chances to help me redeem myself, and it always chose not to do a thing. It didn't bring me home. It didn't save my old trainer. It didn't prove that what I had done was moral.

What was I supposed to do now?
chapter 26 ; [ATIS]


I had been teetering on the edge of Sai's wild story, just as he had been teetering between life and death on top of that building. I was where the lies stopped and the truth began. I didn't know this right away. I was too busy being poisoned by a butterfree hiding in the shadows to know much of anything.

The experience was frightening, and that's an understatement. Back at the school, I didn't have enemies, and I hadn't been through some tragic incident like the rest of the team had. That's why I was the perfect candidate for being Sai's confidant despite my personality. I could look at him with unbiased, fresh eyes. Still I always kept myself far away and hard to reach. I always kept myself safe. To be thrust into Team Rocket's hands was unexpected. I had no way to counteract and I couldn't even depend on my trainer to help me. All I could do was succumb to the feeling of despair and faint after seeing Sai one last time.

My captor was humane enough to give me the antidote I needed to keep from dying. I woke up on the trip to Mahogany Town, and my body and ability to think slowly recovered. I'm not sure how long we traveled. It's hard to tell time when you have no idea where you are and what's supposed to be happening.

From the laboratory's basement I was able to overhear two people discussing Sai and how he had finally followed orders. They seemed pleased by the fact that I was the strongest on the team. The prison cell I was in, they said, was to become my new, permanent home.

I shuddered. A persistent shivering shook through my back. I was going to die, and I was going to die violently, before I had accomplished anything of significance. I imagined my headstone and what it would say. For a moment, I regretted leaving Sai, even though it meant I was reveling in his lies.

I outright panicked, too, when I heard shuffling. There were other caged pokémon. The room was pitch black, so I couldn't see them, but I had a nagging feeling that told me they knew I was here. Would they be able to get me out of this mess? I wanted to ask, but communicating with others hadn't done a thing for me. I stayed silent.

Eventually a ray of light poured in as someone opened the door to the basement. The pokémon began whining and pushing each other, anticipating food or, if they were lucky, release. A lady came in, grabbed me and left the others behind. The disappointed groans that followed were overwhelming.

The lady led me upstairs. The workers I saw shouted orders to each other and the experimental pokémon complied without a shred of contentedness. I couldn't make sense of any particular study being done, but it was enough to scare me into submission.

Soon we were on top of the building. The enclosure would make escape very difficult and, to make things worse, it seemed that this would be a one-on-one confrontation. It was as if Team Rocket knew each and every one of my fears.

The lady, wearing a magenta-colored dress that reached her ankles, let me roam. She had straight brown hair that went slightly past her shoulders and green eyes. She almost looked normal, if not for the glaring R logo planted on her chest. I backed away and growled at her. She didn't seem intimidated as she chuckled softly.

“Don't worry, Hitmontop,” she said. “I'll be calling you that from now on. There's no need for nicknames in a place where everyone is equal.”

Her voice threw me off. She was related to Sai somehow, but I hadn't yet figured out the puzzle. Her eyes, at least, had a spark like his, the same spark that I could never quite identify. Now I knew that it was the dangerous look of knowing things that no one else did.

“I know you're confused,” she went on, pulling out a pokéball, “but you don't need answers. We're here to gather an initial assessment of your strength.”

Before she could test me, Sai showed up. He was frantic, then angry when the lady told him that she wasn't going to return me to him. The rest is a blur. The team showed up, and I begged Senori to do something. I thought he'd know a way out. He didn't.

Sai composed himself and gave us a quick rundown of his story. Then he asked us to battle. I battled because I felt obligated to. Even if he was a bad person, he wasn't on the same level as the woman we were fighting. There was something about her that made me remember that rough, personal hell I'd been born into.

I just never expected Sai to jump...

You can say that you won’t miss me, but I’ll think about you every day.


I tried to block out those memories, but failed. I had nightmares. They started out vivid and became increasingly unclear once Sai ran into the picture, though I knew everything now. I knew that Sai had no choice but to hand me over to Team Rocket. I knew that Sai was sick and that he wanted to get better. I misjudged him when I decided he was just like everyone else. His journey was never about pokémon at all. It was about survival, and for that, I could forgive him.

So far, I wasn't regretting my decision. I was almost exactly where I wanted to be, as I had once considered volunteering for a human hospital. I wished, of course, that Sai wasn't the actual patient, but it would have to do for now. I had only hindered him up to this point, after all. It was my duty to make it up to him. I couldn't make myself leave the team again even if I wanted to, not with the way Sai asked for me every few minutes to remind himself that I was still there. I forced myself to give him an eager, supportive smile every time.


We were there for days. The days turned into weeks. Overall, Sai was in the hospital for one month. During his recovery he was required to attend a group therapy session once a day. He skipped the first few days, saying it could do nothing for him. He had been taught that medication was a cure when it wasn't. He had to write in a journal about how he was feeling as well, but each pencil he was given broke. He grew frustrated and gave up.

I wrote to him, mostly to keep the team from listening, but also because I wanted him to to cooperate. I found a marker at the receptionist's desk and gave it to Sai. With that, his words would bleed through the pages in the worst case scenario.

What are you doing? I started. It was a vague yet open ended question. After deciding my handwriting was easy enough to read, I gave him the journal. He sat on the edge of the bed, watching as Ezrem and Kuiora bickered with each other. He seemed confused, but he took the journal and wrote back to me anyway.

I’m sitting here.

…Simple, but true. I tried a different approach.

How are you feeling?

Like I want to get out of here.

What are you going to do once you're out?

No response. Sai shook his head and gave the journal back to me.

Well, you should do what the nurse says so you can get better. We’re all rooting for you, you know.

I’m afraid you’ll leave when we get out of here after what I did.

I looked away, ashamed. Sai was worried about me and he was taking it out on himself. He was so selfish sometimes... or was he selfless? Sometimes I couldn't tell the difference.

I won’t, I wrote to him.

…So what do you want me to do?

Write how you’re feeling. Go to those therapy sessions. …I’ll even go with you if you want.

You will? Is that allowed?

Uh… Yes?
To be honest, I wasn’t sure, but I had to convince him somehow. I’m having some problems myself, so it wouldn't be so bad, I finished, thinking about those unrelenting nightmares.

Okay. I’ll go.


So I went to the therapy sessions with him. I was allowed in once I promised to be quiet, since not everyone could understand pokémon. That was fine by me.

I had no idea what we were getting into. My wild imagination had constructed some fantasy about a bunch of people fighting each other until they were too exhausted to be hurting. That was what Sai made me think of, anyway. He was prone to violence and arguments, and so I had assumed all people with mental illnesses were like that.

But it wasn't true at all. The advisor gave us a look for being a few minutes late to the meeting, but that was it. The other patients were calm and reserved as they tried to curl up in their seats, pretending not to exist. I wondered if Sai would have told us he was sick if he had had the chance. If these peoples' postures were anything to go by, he would have kept it to himself until the day he died.

Sai introduced himself and then me, his guest. I felt awkward until I realized that the patients were focused on Sai rather than me. They made eye contact with him and exchanged greetings. It made sense for them to accept one of their own kind. I was only there to absorb information about my trainer, information I could use to understand him and help him better.

Since we were late, we missed the other introductions. Everyone stated their names and goals again, just for Sai. He relaxed as he welcomed the room's positive vibes. It occurred to me that he probably appreciated the special attention I gave to no one but him. To help him, I would have to keep giving him that attention. I was already surpassing step one by being at his side.

Next the patients were informed about confidentiality. It was vital, the advisor said, for everyone to understand that what was said in the room stayed in the room. This forced the group members to respect each other's privacy while simultaneously making each other comfortable when sharing.

Breaking confidentiality is not my intention, so the expanded version of each session will be left out here. The gist of it is that everyone had had a hard life. They had all lost relatives or friends due to disasters they couldn't control. They had all lost their sense of self. They were all like a puzzle that needed to be put back together, but the feat seemed impossible, even with the outside pieces intact.

I've chosen to leave out Sai's segment too. I respect him as much as I would anyone else, though I don't think he'd mind if I told the whole world. It goes without saying, however, that his problems hit closest to home. Being with him really was home, yet I had known so little for so long. I had no idea what went on inside his head until we participated in group therapy. How did he live with such a scattered mind and no sense of direction? Neither of us knew.

The only piece of information I'll reveal is his hardest, grandest confession, mostly because policemen and reporters came shortly afterward to air the news on national television. Before his suicide attempt, Sai avoided explaining his emotions in favor of pushing away his past. He never said he was a part of Team Rocket. He never said he was the center of an unethical experiment that left him tormented even during his escape.

His confession started with an awkward silence that a human voice was meant to fill. This happened often, particularly when a person had finished telling their story and had received feedback.

“Would anyone else like to take some time to talk today?” the advisor asked. She was an older woman. She mediated the discussion and kept notes on a clipboard she hid in her lap. Usually it was up to her to prod Sai, but she didn't have to as he stood up to make his point.

“I would,” he said, his fists clenched. “I expect this to leave the room. If it doesn't, I'll be pretty disappointed.”

“You're protected by confidentiality, Sai,” the advisor said as everyone looked on, bewildered by my trainer's sudden act of courage.

“I was going to tell someone anyway, but who knows when I'll get out?” He shrugged, then added, “So I'm going to say it here... and hope it reaches the right ears.”

“We're all listening,” she said hesitantly. The rest of the group nodded.

Sai took a deep breath. “I'm sure we've all heard of Team Rocket. They're known for stealing and selling pokémon, as well as performing experiments using questionable methods. But no one's been able to locate them. Well, I'm here to say that I know where they are.” He paused. I nudged his leg, urging him to continue. He seemed as ready as he'd ever be, so he had to say it now. “I was a part of them. Not in the way you're probably thinking! I... was one of their experiments.”


“You guys might have actually supported the idea, had they not gone about it all wrong. Can the mentally ill surpass others in terms of raising pokémon? Can the mentally ill be good for anything besides destroying things and causing problems? It was my job to figure this out. I passed because I survived when no one else did. I failed because I quit. That's how I ended up here. I was tired of it and tried to... leave.”


“You know the lab on the northern edge of town? That's them. They've been hiding close to your homes all this time and you didn't even know it. ...I'm sorry I didn't have the strength to say anything sooner. I was scared for my life. I wanted... I wanted the freedom the rest of you had. But in the end, we all landed in the same place. It's funny how that works sometimes.”


Sai sat and leaned back in seat. I saw the corners of his mouth turning upward, though tears were threatening to ruin his smile. The group was quiet, presumably waiting for the advisor to intervene, as she often had to. There was no correct way to respond to something like that, anyway. No words could change Sai's past or the lives of Team Rocket's other victims. Sometimes the world is a better liar than the rest of us combined. This was one of those times. You won, world. You won for a while, anyway... but now you lose.

“We'll have to finish this session early,” the advisor said, holding her clipboard close to her chest so no one else could see what she had written. “Sai, you and Atis should come with me.”


“Sai, why are so many people in uniforms here?” asked an anxious Kuiora as she scrutinized the men and women in his hospital room. She could recognize the items in their belts as weapons, but was too naive to know that they could keep us safe if needed. The police ignored her and, as they took turns advancing toward Sai to talk to him, she growled and prepared a water gun attack. Ezrem told her that they weren't here to play her games and inevitably took her away to calm her down.

Rennio and Senori, having heard of the police before, weren't as wary. We were all supportive of the idea. Not all of the Team Rocket members would be caught, but we were satisfied that Sai's story had reached some sort of conclusion. We couldn't have protested even if we wanted to.

“We were informed about your... situation,” the policeman in charge said.

Sai nodded. He had been bitter, not knowing whether or not the police would take action, but he was cooperating now that they were here. He was antsy, too, since the nurses had told him to speak with them after the questioning was over. He insisted on talking to them then, but they kept to themselves, expressions indifferent.

“Now, how long did you say this has been going on?” the policeman asked, peering at Sai sternly.

“I was there for at least ten years. They've probably been there much longer,” Sai answered. He fiddled with his hands, which told me he wasn't sure of himself. His knowledge of time had been skewed during his imprisonment. I knew, too, what that could be like.

“And why didn't you say anything once you were released?”

Sai gulped, then said, “They threatened me. If I told anyone, I was going to pay for it.”

The policeman coughed. Did that mean he didn't believe Sai? Surely Sai's current condition told the the truth. Suicide attempts don't just happen wthout a reason. I looked away, ashamed because it didn't matter if we, Sai's pokémon, believed his story when no one else did.

“You say you saw them do experiments on both pokémon and humans?”

“They keep pokémon locked up, letting them out only to fight or to hook them up to some machines. I wasn't the only human there, either."

“I see,” the policeman said, noting the animosity and effort Sai was putting into this discussion. “We know Team Rocket is dangerous, but we just want to hear your side. Some members of the force are already heading there to see what they can find. There's a warrant to get inside if the guards don't comply. We're also here to offer you protection.”


“Yes. From what you've told us, these people are a threat to you, and they may continue to threaten you through outside sources. If anyone escapes, they may also try to find you to exact revenge. We can keep watch over you and make sure no one finds you.”

Sai frowned. “You mean you'll keep me in one place. I'll be safe within your care and whatever.”

“That's the point, yes.”

“No,” Sai said instantly. “That sounds like what they did to me. Even if your intentions are true, well... If I need anything, I can count on my pokémon.”

“It's up to you. Just know that the option is open.”

“I'm stuck here as it is, anyway,” Sai said, rolling his eyes. Did he really hate this place? He had shown me his journal entries, and he had gradually grown more stable. And as if his healing affected mine, my nightmares had been drifting away, so I could reflect on that incident with a clearer head.

“About that... Well, the nurses say you're free to leave tonight. You've made significant progress in the last month. If you feel differently and want to stay, it would cost you more money than you already owe. This is another reason we offer protection—in case you have nowhere to go afterward.”

Sai's face lit up. “Really? I'm free to go?”

The policeman nodded.

Sai sat there, contemplating the nurses that had been hiding this secret from him earlier as they refused to acknowledge him. “Well, I really don't have anywhere to go... but like I said, I have my pokémon. I'll figure something out.”

“Then it's settled. We wish you the best of luck, and we thank you for doing what was right.” He took a step forward and extended his arm out to Sai. The boy didn't understand the gesture at first, but figured it out quickly and shook the man's hand.

When the uniformed group left, Sai didn't hesitate to show his excitement once more. “You hear that, Atis?” he said. “We're getting out of here, and it's all thanks to you!”

Thankfully, Ezrem and Kuiora returned (with the croconaw sticking out her tongue to the others on their way out), along with Senori and Rennio. I was grateful for their presence, until I realized that they had no idea why Sai was so thrilled.

“Oh...” I said. “It's not all thanks to me! E-Everyone helped in their own way, you know...”

“No we didn't,” Senori said. “We stayed back because we figured you two needed, uh, some time together. To get things straight.”

“Aren't we so considerate?” Ezrem sneered. He flapped his wings and took off into the air, seemingly aiming for Sai. He flew over the boy's head, though, and landed on the other side of the bed.

“Did you really have to do that?” Rennio said. It wasn't like him to scold the bird. I wanted to know what had happened to them. It wasn't any of my business, but we couldn't afford another break in the team...

“Yes, I did,” Ezrem said in an even ruder tone than usual.

“Do we need to get someone to put a ‘do not resuscitate or save’ tattoo on that egotistical head of yours, just in case you get hurt again?” Rennio retaliated, folding his arms.

“So critical. That’s good, because I’m obviously flawed. That’s why I need my daily dose of attention, since Atis has been hogging it all for the last month.”

“I… What? I didn’t… I mean—”

“It’s going to be the next big thing on the news, after the Team Rocket scandal. Prizewinning pokémon scientist Atis finds the cure for brokenhearted boys.”

I blanched, unable to find the ability to even stutter.

“Ezrem,” Kuiora said. “Be good.” That was all it took for the braviary to close his beak. He fluffed his feathers, hiding his face in embarrassment, probably from Rennio more than anyone else. The bird had no shame in most situations, I had come to notice.

“Speaking of news…” said Senori. “Doesn’t this mean… we’ll be on the news? Since Sai reported Team Rocket?”

The room went quiet. None of us had considered this notion until now. We all looked at our trainer, but as usual, he didn’t have an answer.


If Senori hadn't pointed out this obvious fact that we had all overlooked, we never would have been prepared to leave the hospital. Despite the warning, I was nervous, less ecstatic than I had been before. I didn't want the inevitable attention. If Sai wanted to move on with his life, though, we had to start over and get past this..

Sai gathered his small amount of belongings. He checked out of the hospital and asked how he would go about paying for his visit. After a brief lecture from the nurse, we made our way outside and ran into a giant crowd that apparently knew he was going to show up at any minute. Some people in the crowd had cameras, while others had microphones. Each device faced Sai's mouth, begging him to answer private questions. Sai raised his hands, as if to surrender.

“Sai Luart, would you please tell us about what it was like to be imprisoned by Team Rocket?” one reporter yelled over the rest.

Another asked, “Is it true that Team Rocket brutally harmed pokémon and humans during their research?”

No one could see me, but I could feel my face growing hotter by the second. It was odd, the way my anxiety latched onto others when they were being humiliated instead of me. Since Sai was embarrassed, so was I. It wasn't logical, but nothing about anxiety is really logical. It's something I tried not to dwell on too much.

I pushed Sai along, hoping he'd forget these people. They only wanted to earn money off of his story. Sai stumbled forward, forcing the reporters to make a path for him unless they wanted to be trampled by a trained team of pokémon. The others caught on to what I was doing. Kuiora growled at passers-by while Ezrem pecked at the equipment, breaking camera lenses and producing loud feedback from the microphones. Senori hopped onto Sai's shoulder and used his tail to cover Sai's face, keeping our trainer from being filmed. Rennio threatened the crowd with his electricity.

When it was safe, we let down our guards and gave Sai room to breathe.

“Well,” Sai said, “it looks like Team Rocket was found and arrested, at least... Do you think I'll be wanted on television forever?”

“Just until the next big story...” I said.

“Remember, Atis, you are a prizewinning scientist pokémon—” Ezrem started.

“No thanks.”

“So what are we going to do now?” Rennio asked, still not amused by Ezrem’s antics.

“I don’t know yet.” He turned his neck in all directions to make sure no one was following him. “...I thought about going back to Ecruteak City, but how can I fight against Morty after what happened last time?”

Without thinking, I asked, “What happened?” It didn't occur to me that I might have had anything to do with the situation.

“You don't want to know,” Senori said, so I didn't ask again.

“Anyway...” Sai went on, “I don't have a solid plan. I want to keep traveling, though. I want to keep learning things. I want to be a better trainer... and a better friend. If we see something we really want to do along the way, then we'll stop and go from there. How does that sound?”

“You sound like you've thought this out real well,” Ezrem said.

Sai reached out his arm and clamped his hand around Ezrem's beak, not allowing the braviary to say anything else. It seemed like Sai was going to get angry with him again, but then he laughed.

“You be quiet,” he said. He let go, then added, “I thought about it in the hospital, but I didn't come up with anything. So sorry.”

I sighed. His stability was more than any of us could have asked for, and it was nice, having Ezrem's wild demeanor bring some positivity to us. I owed him a great deal already for saving Sai, but now he was helping even more, albeit indirectly. Though they didn't know it, they had all found their own niche in Sai's life. Ezrem offered a good laugh once in a while, which never hurt anybody. Senori guided us down safe paths, and Kuiora's naivety was ideal for keeping us sane. Rennio's youth let Sai know that he was important and that he had someone to take care of. And I... I guess I made Sai determined. I made Sai think about having dreams and reaching out toward those dreams, because I, too, once wondered what I wanted. I wanted the world. I got the world, plus Sai and the rest of the team.

I didn't know what was in store for him, but I hoped for nothing but the best.
(Probably should be working on my awards reviews right now, but never mind, this is important too.)

Hello! So I've owed you a review for a while now, and you said you wanted to see my reaction to the ending, so here it is. Sorry I haven't been as quick as I hoped with this, I wanted to re-read the story from the start, but mostly didn't have time for more than a couple of chapters a day. Stayed up far too late last night getting to the end though. (I presume this is finished now, it certainly reads like an ending even if it doesn't have 'the end' stuck on after it.) Anyways, rambling, let's get started.

Well, first of all, that was a really impressive finale. I think you picked pretty much the perfect moment to go into Sai's backstory and to be honest, I'm still kind of reeling from it. I mean, it was always clear he'd had a tough life, but actually seeing it is another matter entirely. So much of his behaviour, even pretty trivial-seeming stuff, all makes so much more sense now - even little things like him not liking giving orders in battle, which I'd just put down to lack of experience, clearly reflects that battle with the arbok, and Sai not wanting to give the wrong order again. On that note, I found it interesting how you went on to retrace the journey from Sai's point of view, it really brought out the fact there is actually some method and reason behind everything he does (even the mass-magikarp catch) - though I can imagine some may find it a bit redundant to go over everything again. Got to say, it's very strange now to think of Sai actually making sense, I feel I've become far too used to him as an apparently random 'force of nature' almost. Not that that's a bad thing, but it'll take some getting used to.

So probably the main thing I've enjoyed about this story would be the characters and the team dynamic, though I'd definitely say their interactions come in fairly late, and it might've been nice to get them talking a bit more earlier on. Anyways, I'd say my favourite character is probably Senori. (Am I strange for not saying Kuiora?) But yeah, I like Senori. His backstory with his clan ties in well to his role in the team, in just trying to keep everything together to stop this group from being a similar disaster. Early on, he feels like a natural leader who has lost the confidence to lead, and I love the way he grows over the story, from being forced into a bad spot when Sai leaves, to finally getting his confidence back when he evolves (though I do note a fair bit of his character development is pretty late on in the story). And while he may not be as in-your-face cute as Kuiora, I've got to say Senori is still very endearing. Also, Senori x Gracie. Make it happen.

But yeah, I like all your characters. Sai I was pretty curious about from the start, and the reveal definitely didn't disappoint - one thing I note about his bipolar personality, while he has some really nasty moments, they really help you appreciate his nicer phases all the more and make him seem honestly quite sweet at times. Kuiora's plain adorable, and the religious and storytelling sides to her personality are very interesting and original. Atis I was a bit unsure of to start with, but he grew on me - he's just such a nice guy who doesn't want or deserve any trouble. Rennio I'll confess I'm not completely sold on, I mean, he's interesting in his own way, but I'm not sure I really feel he quite stands up to the other characters here - not quite sure why, he just feels like he's missing something but I don't know what, which I know isn't very helpful of me, I'm sorry. Anyways, Ezrem was one who had me torn for a while, what with his more malicious and disruptive streak coming in at a time the team really didn't need it, but I'd definitely say he's redeemed himself since that in so many ways, in his interactions with Kuiora, saving Rennio from that arcanine and last but definitely not least, saving Sai after he jumped from the building. Ezrem probably went from one of my least favourites to one of my favourites.

If you wanted the short version of that: the characters are good.

Uh, so yeah, here you go! Don't know how long it is since I said I'd review this, but here's something.
(Probably should be working on my awards reviews right now, but never mind, this is important too.)

Lol, I do appreciate it! The review notification was the first thing I saw this morning in my email and it made my day. :D

Well, first of all, that was a really impressive finale. I think you picked pretty much the perfect moment to go into Sai's backstory and to be honest, I'm still kind of reeling from it. I mean, it was always clear he'd had a tough life, but actually seeing it is another matter entirely. So much of his behaviour, even pretty trivial-seeming stuff, all makes so much more sense now - even little things like him not liking giving orders in battle, which I'd just put down to lack of experience, clearly reflects that battle with the arbok, and Sai not wanting to give the wrong order again. On that note, I found it interesting how you went on to retrace the journey from Sai's point of view, it really brought out the fact there is actually some method and reason behind everything he does (even the mass-magikarp catch) - though I can imagine some may find it a bit redundant to go over everything again. Got to say, it's very strange now to think of Sai actually making sense, I feel I've become far too used to him as an apparently random 'force of nature' almost. Not that that's a bad thing, but it'll take some getting used to.

There's a couple more chapters like I said, though I did contemplate ending the story right at the end of this latest chapter. XD Ah, well.

And yeah, it could be seen as redundant. I tried not to make it too long and hoped Sai's one and only POV chapter might make it interesting. *shrugs* I just didn't feel I could skip over everything that'd happened so far and move forward, you know?

So probably the main thing I've enjoyed about this story would be the characters and the team dynamic, though I'd definitely say their interactions come in fairly late, and it might've been nice to get them talking a bit more earlier on. Anyways, I'd say my favourite character is probably Senori. (Am I strange for not saying Kuiora?) But yeah, I like Senori. His backstory with his clan ties in well to his role in the team, in just trying to keep everything together to stop this group from being a similar disaster. Early on, he feels like a natural leader who has lost the confidence to lead, and I love the way he grows over the story, from being forced into a bad spot when Sai leaves, to finally getting his confidence back when he evolves (though I do note a fair bit of his character development is pretty late on in the story). And while he may not be as in-your-face cute as Kuiora, I've got to say Senori is still very endearing.

Nah, you're not strange for not saying Kuiora, lol. Senori needs love, too! And just to reply to your other character paragraph without quoting it: I think Rennio's not as popular or well-rounded as other characters mostly because he had little to no character development in the story. I have no excuse for that, really. I also don't think his voice was as unique as the others, so to speak.

But yeah, thank you again for reading/reviewing. No worries about not reviewing sooner or anything - knowing people are reading is enough, so!

Also, Senori x Gracie. Make it happen.

there is a sequel dun dun dun

chapter 27 ; [SENORI]


Oh, Sai... What could I say about him after all that had happened? I never realized that we had such disparate ideas of what life could be. He believed life was supposed to make him scared and paranoid as he was controlled from afar. And here I thought that the hands of fate would guide me and forgive me when I did wrong.

It was easy to forgive him for what he had done, but I couldn't help but wonder... Was what happened meant to happen? Did fate try to take Sai away, only to have Ezrem defy it? Did fate throw this obstacle at Sai with the intention of having him survive and turn into a better person? Either way, I couldn't blame fate for wanting my trainer back so soon. He certainly was special. His new found will to live couldn't have been mustered so easily.

Sai had an effect on my beliefs that I still couldn't place, to say the least. If I tried to think about it too hard, though, my mind turned to mush. I was hoping that some sort of understanding would just fall from the sky, but I had no such luck. All I knew was that I couldn't bear the idea of losing Sai after I had lost my clan. It would have been my fault for not helping him sooner. I would have been alone and destined to start another journey doomed to end far too soon.

I cared about the others too, of course. Each member of the team seemed to take on physical forms of my fears that followed me everywhere I went. The fear of loss, the fear of guilt... Those fears had never left, not even after I evolved. These faults of mine had just been replaced with new hearts, new lives, and they wouldn't go away unless I was separated again, permanently or not. The six of us took breaths like one, and it showed.

Even if life only offered me inevitable pain, it was worth it to be with them.

...That was how I felt, anyway, as we rushed past the news reporters. Didn't they know that a member of Team Rocket—Sai's mother—was still out there? Didn't they know that she had taken away the majority of Sai's life? Probably not. Would they care, even if they knew? Probably not—unless they earned a profit from it. They wouldn't even care if Sai's old cage was placed in the middle of Mahogany Town for everyone to see. They wouldn't even care if he begged them to release him, as he was too exhausted to try to escape himself.

...Everyone, reporters included, would pass by, the deepest parts of their brains knowing that Sai was dying for them. They wouldn't stop to think about it. So it went without saying that I was glad when we were out of sight and out of mind. It was a rather pessimistic view, but that was what Sai had taught me. We could only count on a small amount of capable people. We counted on each other. We counted on Marty and Sasha. Maybe we counted on the nurses and the police. But no one else, not until they gave us a reason to consider them worthy. For now, this view would have to stay, but I wished that Sai wouldn't have to keep himself contained within four walls for the rest of his life.


We were heading back to Ecruteak City. We planned to stay there for a short while, and then we would set out on another adventure.

Whenever we planned to go anywhere, however, something or someone interrupted us. As if fate were reading my thoughts about trustworthy people, we ran into Marty shortly after the news reporters had gone away. Surprisingly, Sasha wasn't with him, but he quickly explained that he had to see Sai right away. Alone.

“What's the matter?” Sai asked, scanning the area. “We're alone now...”

"I waited for those news idiots to get away from you. Look, I'm sorry about what I said in the hospital. I was shocked, that's all. But your pokémon... They did a good job. They must like you a lot,” Marty said quietly, glancing at us one by one.

“I don't know why, but they do,” Sai said, reaching behind him to pick me up off of his shoulder. He cradled me in his arms and pet me behind the ears. If only I could have explained to Marty that we cared because of the tender moments admist the craziness.

“It was wrong of me to have said otherwise. It was uncalled for.” When Marty saw that Sai was about to protest, he added, “I know we both said that you're a bad trainer, but you're not. There's a difference between being a bad trainer and learning in the process of becoming a good trainer. That's why I have a request for you.”

“A request...?”

Marty plucked a pokéball from his belt and pressed the middle button to enlarge it. He threw back his arm and thrust the ball forward, calling out, “Go, Gracie!”

The quilava appeared in a flash of red and white, but instead of giving off her battle cry, she sat there, disinterested. The very act of releasing a pokémon set everyone into battle motion regardless. After everything that had transpired, we were worried about betrayal.

And so, Kuiora took it upon herself to step forward and say, “I'll take care of the fire-type!”

“Seriously? Marty wants to fight us?” Atis said, covering his face in shame.

“Looks like it,” Ezrem said. “I'll cheer you on, Kuiora! This asshole's got nothing on you.”

“I'll fight second if you need to rest!” Rennio cried.

“Guys,” Sai said, grabbing Kuiora and forcing her back, “I don't think Marty wants to fight. Am I right?”

Gracie stared at her trainer quizzically, though she didn't seem to want to battle, either. At this, the team relaxed and watched for the other boy's reaction. Marty frowned and nodded sadly, saying, “I just wanted to do that... one last time.”

Sai waited a moment before saying, “Marty, you're not the kind of person to be so vague. Is something wrong?”

“Did you know your pokémon came to me and Sasha when you were missing?”

“No, I didn't,” he replied, but he didn't appear to be surprised.

“Gracie translated what was going on. She traveled outside of her ball the entire time and talked to some of your pokémon. She's been acting strange ever since then. She won't eat, she won't battle... This is the first time she's looked at me in weeks.”

“Oh. I see,” Sai said. “Do you want me to talk to her for you?”

“No!” Marty said. “I mean, I think I know what's going on, but I don't want you to force anything out of her. I've done enough of that already.”

Gracie hung her head, which only proved Marty's words to be true. I remembered us riding on Marin's back as we talked about her past. About the abuse she endured. About Marty's persistence, his assertiveness and the constant reminders. About how she couldn't handle it. Perhaps I had brought up too many harsh memories and had caused her to treat her trainer with disdain. I told myself that she would have cracked sooner or later, but surely, there had to be some way to help her now...

“What do you want me to do, then?”

“Gracie,” Marty said, raising his voice, “I'm giving you a choice. I've given a lot of thought to this. It's been hard because you're my starter, but if you're not happy with me, then... you can leave. I brought you to Sai because his pokémon might have done something for you that I couldn't. You should go with him, if you think that's a better fit.”

“Marty, what are you—”

“Shut up, Sai! You'll take her, won't you? I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I let her go and she ended up in the hands of the wrong person. You of all people should know how I feel.”

Sai had nothing to say to that.

Gracie spun around, stopping to look at our group, then Marty. Her face was strained, her mouth open as if she wanted to scream and the fire on her back dimming due to the stress. While everyone else watched the scene unravel, I went up to her. It was my fault that she was in this mess to begin with, after all.

“I know you don't want to stay,” I said, hinting at our last conversation. “This is your chance to be happy!”

She scratched carelessly at the ground. “Will I be happy with him, though? Is he better than Marty?”

“Sai's... got his own problems, sure, but they shouldn't conflict with yours. He'd never hurt you.”

“But Marty's fed me all this time. He took me out of my pokéball to exercise. He trained me enough to evolve, and he's never afraid of me even though I've burned him a few times. On the other hand, he's just so... triggering. And Sasha... She'll be crushed. What about the rest of the team? I-I don't know...”

“I'm sure Marty's got it covered. They'll have to understand. If you're not happy with what he's done, then... something's still wrong.”

“You'd think that after all the time, he'd be able to understand me and hear me out,” Gracie said. “But I started to think it'd never happen. I lost hope, so I ignored him. ...I guess that was hard for him not to notice, huh?”

I nodded. The final decision was hers now. All I could do was make sure she knew that Sai would have her if she chose to go.

I turned to my trainer. “You'd take her if she wanted to come, right, Sai?” I said.

“Of course,” he said.

“No dice?”

“No dice.”

I waited for Ezrem to make a sarcastic comment about how unfair the situation was, but the whole team was too busy remembering how they had been given this very same choice once. A lot had happened since then, and it was awkward, seeing it happen to someone else.

“You hear that, Gracie?” I said. “We'll have you.”

“I don't know what they're saying over there, Gracie, but... please choose. Don't worry about me,” Marty said. I could see his body tense up. He was trying hard not to show any weakness so that he could stay true to his word.

Gracie took a cautious step toward Sai. With every move she made, she grew more confident. “...Would you tell Marty that he's a good boy,” she said, “but my heart's just not in it yet?”

“So this is your decision,” Sai said, leaning down to see his new pokémon. Gracie extinguished the flames on her back and nuzzled up to Sai's leg without hurting him.

“Well, that's that,” Marty said, turning his back toward us. His shoulders crouched forward and he faltered when he moved, as if he could break at any moment. It had to be difficult, losing your first partner, but it had to be some consolation, to feel you were doing the right thing.

“Marty, I'm sorry. So is Gracie,” Sai said. “What are you going to do now?”

“As I said, don't worry about me,” the boy replied, waving his hand around weakly. “Thank you, Sai. I must say, I've grown to love your disappearing acts, so... I think I'll do one of my own. Right now. ...See you around.”

He bolted toward the other route leading out of Mahogany Town. His disappearance marked the end of Gracie's quest for contentment, and we all welcomed her as best as we could.


Gracie could be shy, but she still had that determined side of her I saw when we first met. Anyone who could deal with Ezrem and Kuiora's witty bantering, anyway, had to be extremely durable.

“You're Kuiora's perfect opponent, Gracie. She's ecstatic, so you better watch out. She may shoot a water gun at you without warning,” Ezrem said, flying high enough to where Kuiora couldn't hit him in response.

“I wouldn't do that!” she cried.

“You were ready to do it when she was sent out of her pokéball,” Ezrem retorted.

“W-Well, that was different...”

“It's okay,” Gracie interrupted. “I'll practice with you anytime, Kuiora. The bird, on the other hand, better not underestimate me or he'll receive a swift kick in the face.”

“That’s awfully rude of you. If you’re finding it difficult to laugh at yourself, then I’d be happy to do it for you.”

“Hmph. You can use me for your witty jokes. You can step on me and walk all over me like I’m not even here. But I will not let you look down on me.”

“Woah,” I said, running up to them since I had been listening to their conversation the entire time. I felt obligated to join at this point, so I did. “Gracie’s standing up for herself and she hasn’t even been on the team for a whole hour.”

Needless to say, I knew why she said what she did. Having someone look down on her reminded her of the past abuse. I could tell by the intensity in her voice. The human who hurt her literally towered over her and struck her down as punishment constantly, so it made her think of pain. It was similar to how the sentret in my clan looked down on each other when they became taller with their tails. This was how they declared their dominance. Unlike the sentret, though, she didn’t mind being invisible or used as a source of humor. That was just the kind of pokémon she was. With these characteristics, I thought she’d fit nicely into the team.

“I’ll step all over you while I still can, then,” Ezrem said, rolling his eyes and ignoring me.

“Is that a threat?” Rennio chimed in.

“No,” Ezrem defended quickly.

“I think it is.”

“Oh, Rennio, where have you been all my life? Such a reliably disappointing pokémon such as yourself deserves to be my top priority.”

“I was hiding from you, like everyone else should.”

“L-Let’s all be nice, guys,” Atis said. We were able to hear him though he was traveling behind us, next to Sai. “We don’t want our new companion to think she made the wrong decision, do we?”

“Let’s talk about something random,” Kuiora offered. “Like, uh, how blue Sai’s eyes are.”

“What?” Sai said after hearing his name. So much for having an attentive trainer who was watching us to make sure we were behaving. I wondered what he was thinking about, but there was no way to know.

“You know. Like a lake or something. …I thought of it because I could really go for a swim right now. Sorry. It’s been a while.”

“The city we’re going to, Olivine City, has a huge ocean next to the ferry port. We could go swimming there if you really wanted,” Rennio suggested.

“Really? How do you know?”

“That was where me and my old trainer arrived in Johto. We were able to explore the town a bit before starting at the beginning in New Bark Town.”

“I’d like to point out that I was there too,” Ezrem said. “And what he says is true.”

“Wow!” Kuiora said, jumping up in excitement. “Can we go, Sai? Can we?”

“Uh,” Sai said. “It’s not like we have anything better to do…”

“That’s a yes!” the croconaw affirmed. “Oh... Sorry, Gracie, I bet you don’t like water, do you?”

"I don’t mind it,” she lied. “I’m not like most fire-types, I guess.”

“Isn’t it great to have a fire-type pokémon on our team?” Atis sighed before Ezrem could make another snarky comment. “Maybe she can help us keep warm at night…”

“It’s just like you to be thinking of sleep. We just spent a month resting in the hospital. Don’t tell me you’re still tired,” I teased him.

“It w-was a lot harder of a time than it looked, you know…”

I looked up at Sai to make sure he wasn’t paying attention before continuing to speak. “I don’t know what you did for him or what changed your mind, but thank you.”

“Ah, I didn’t do anything, really…” the modest hitmontop replied.

“You did, though. We all stood back on purpose because we knew you could do it. Do you regret it or something?”

“No… I trust him.”

“The error you made before was trusting him. Here’s my observation, though: you’d do it again if it meant seeing him smile.”

“It doesn’t have to be as corny as you make it sound, but yeah.”

“Excuse me, leader, but is that you talking to yourself over there? Has being with Sai too long made you a little crazy?” Ezrem asked, swooping down to get in between me and Atis.

“Of course I’m talking to myself,” I said, saving Atis the embarrassment by playing along with his games. “I need an intelligent conversation once in a while, you know.”

“Your wits don’t match mine, but they’re pretty high up there,” the bird said. “Don’t forget who saved your trainer. I could have left him alone. Maybe then I might not have spent that time cooped up in a tight building with strict women.”

“It’s not Senori’s fault that braviary are so huge,” Atis protested. Once he realized he had talked, he covered his mouth and hung back a little as if trying to pretend he didn’t exist.

“Oh, so you do like to talk sometimes,” Ezrem said. “You know, I thought I understood evolution until I met you. I thought about it a lot thanks to my old trainer. Weren’t you only supposed to evolve into a hitmontop if attack and defense were equal? But it seemed your defenses were higher than anything. Now I see—you’ve got a mouth on you, too. …You should use it more often.”

“I should…?”

“Actually, I agree with Ezrem for once,” Rennio said. “We’d all like to hear you talk more.”

“And we’d like to see you battle more,” Kuiora agreed.

“Then I’d be a real hitmontop, huh?” he said. And he smiled as if he had been forcing back a smile for a long time. Everyone but Sai had missed it ever since the incident.

“A real hitmontop can also spin on his head,” I said. I laughed, remembering how he couldn’t fully perform the trick for those at the pokémon fan club. Luckily, no one else knew what I was talking about.

Atis gave me a halfhearted glare and said, “I’ll spin on my head in the water and splash you. All of you.”

“Except for me, right?” Gracie said.

“Right. Sorry,” Atis said, blushing.

“Sounds like a plan to me,” I said. When we all seemed to quiet down, I turned to my trainer and said, “Sai, you haven’t said much. Do you know how to swim?”

“No…” Sai said slowly, as if the word was completely foreign to him.

“I thought I’d ask, in any case. Well, we’re going to teach you.”

I’m going to teach him,” Kuiora corrected.

“And if he refuses, just remember that I’m an electric-type,” Rennio said, smiling.

“Oh…” Sai said, finally joining the conversation by grinning. “Is that a challenge?”

And that was how our next journey began.


It took us another three days to get to Olivine City. We sped through Ecruteak City due to Sai’s unfavorable memories. From there, we made our way past tall grass with a bunch of wild pokémon and eager trainers. There was no time for bantering like there had been at the beginning, and we were all worn out by the time we arrived, especially Sai, who still hadn’t gotten over the battle that had taken place on the roof. Perhaps he’d never get over it, but it didn't hurt to try.

Still, this was exactly what we needed. There were no memories associated with Olivine City. No one was threatening to follow or hurt Sai anymore. It was an added bonus that we had something to do besides battle the gym leader first, though I was sure we’d get around to that eventually, considering that the gym challenge was all that he had ever known. There was nothing particularly wrong with that, seeing as how Sai enjoyed battling. He had to grow out of it sometime, though… And it seemed that Atis was starting to rub off on me…

“Senori?” Sai asked, breaking me out of my thoughts. “Are you going to go in the water?”

I looked at everything around me. Kuiora and Rennio hadn't wasted any time with getting started, and Sai was happy to give in to the two of them. So here we were, on the west side of Olivine City already, surrounded by sand and a line of beach houses that people could rent out for a day or two. Sai had purchased one, but he said they were expensive so it would be a special treat after everything had happened.

“Anything to make up for what I did,” he said sadly.

But the team wouldn’t let him feel guilty. Not right now. We forced him out into the sun and tried to get him into the water, but he said he’d wait to see what everyone was doing first before having some fun himself. He was concerned for us, probably because this was something new to him, and probably because he had a newcomer to care for, a newcomer that could be damaged by too much water exposure.

So I watched as Kuiora hopped on Ezrem’s back. I watched as Ezrem flew into the sky and over the deeper part of the water, allowing the croconaw to jump off of him and dive right in. I watched as Atis practiced spinning on his head a few times before finally getting the hang of it. He chose to just run into the water, but I was sure he’d keep his promise. I watched as Rennio did a practice thundershock attack on the ground to get the excess electricity away from him before following. I watched as he urged Gracie to come with him, but also to not get too close. “I want to be your friend because you’re the new baby of the team,” he had said, and it made me smile. And it made me think.

I thought too much, and so Sai interrupted me.

“I'll go in the water soon,” I said. “I haven’t had a bath in… forever.”

“Why is that?” he asked, genuinely curious.

“Because you, as my trainer, haven’t given me one? You take showers by yourself. We have to stay clean too, you know.”

“Oh,” Sai said. “I didn’t know. I’ll change that from now on. Sorry.”

“It’s okay. The others don’t seem to mind, not even Kuiora. It might just, uh, be a sentret thing.”

“You’re a furret.”

“But I used to be a sentret, no?”

“I think I’ve known you longer as a furret, though, so it’s a furret thing.”

“…Just get in the water already,” I said, running behind him and pushing his legs to make him go forward. I didn’t have to do it for long, as he followed along with my movements and made his way into the ocean. He paused after seeing other people and pokémon beside us laughing and playing with toys, as if he were wondering whether or not he belonged, but I gave him one last final push before his feet were covered by sand due to the force of a wave.

Before he went in any further, he asked, “Don’t I need different clothes for this? Everyone else seems to have… almost nothing on…”

“Who cares?” I said, running deeper than him and splashing him with water. “You’ll just be special.”

“Right.” He chuckled and sat down, letting the sea envelop him, as he was afraid to go any further without being able to swim. “Now I’m just waiting for Kuiora.”

A large figure sprang out of the water, causing a massive amount of water to spray at the two of us. Once I wiped the liquid out of my eyes, I was able to see that it was the troublesome croconaw.

“You called?” she asked, bowing at her own fantastic entrance.

“Yes. You said you were going to teach me how to swim, didn’t you?”

“That I did. You have to be in deeper water. I was barely able to hide myself here while trying to scare you.”

We went into deeper water, as I was curious to see how this would turn out. Sai going through any new experience was bound to turn either horribly awkward or magnificently perfect. As it turned out, things went horribly awkward. Water-type pokémon and humans swim in a completely different way. Kuiora was able to glide seamlessly through the water. Her body did a wavelike motion as she swam, but if Sai tried to do this, he only floated right back to where he started.

“He has to move his legs and arms to get around,” Rennio offered, trying hard not to laugh at our trainer.

“If you think you’re so good at this, then you teach him!” Kuiora fumed, storming off to be with Gracie, who was waiting patiently at the edge of the water, careful not to get too close. “For now, I’m going to be a fire-type pokémon.”

Ezrem sighed rather loudly, as if we were depriving him of attention. “Someday,” he said, “we’ll all look back on this day, laugh nervously, and then change the subject. I can see it now.”

“Don’t you get smart with me,” Sai said, irritated.

“I’m sorry that you only want the dimmest of the dim for your team, dear Sai.”

“I’ll show you. Rennio, what have you got?”

“Well, I’m no expert, but… you should kick your legs up and down and keep pushing your arms forward. Don’t take my word for it, though.”

Sai tried it anyway, and it certainly worked better than Kuiora’s methods. With Rennio’s instructions, he was able to reach even deeper water without touching the ground, and when he stopped, he was able to keep himself afloat. Since he didn’t even sink once, he seemed pretty proud of himself.

“See, Ezrem? I can do it,” he said.

“If you’re so sure of yourself, you should swim until you hit the end of the world. And then you should stay there.”

“You’d get too lonely without him, since you hate the rest of us,” I said, but Sai seemed to have a different idea.

“The end of the world, huh…?” he said, making his way back to where he could stand. He peered out into the distance, seemingly lost in thought.

As usual, we were interrupted, this time by the most unexpected of visitors. It appeared to be an incoming tornado made of water, and it was heading relentlessly toward us. As it passed us pokémon, we all got splashed with a large amount of water. All of us held up our arms (or wings) to hide the blow, but it was pretty powerful for me to avoid entirely. When my vision was clear again, I tried to yell about how Sai should watch out, but it was too late. The tornado leaped out of the water and flipped over, revealing Atis’s regular, humanlike form. He landed on top of Sai’s chest, sending the boy completely underwater for the first time since he ventured out of here. Atis went under with him, and after a few moments, they surfaced, with Sai’s hair covering his face and with Atis suddenly having a concerned look on his face.

“I hope I didn’t hurt you,” he said after spitting out the water he had gotten in his mouth.

“I didn’t know you could do a thing like that,” Sai said, wiping his hair out of his face.

“Yeah… Well… Now your hair doesn’t look as messy.”

“Now you’re a real hitmontop, as you said you would be,” Ezrem complimented.

“I would shock you for that, but I can’t right now. I’ll get you later,” Rennio threatened.

“My legs are starting to get tired after swimming and traveling for so long,” Sai said, changing the subject. “I’m getting out of the water for now. The rest of you can do whatever.”

Sai stepped out, with Atis’s arms wrapped around his neck, legs wrapped around his torso. I had no reason to stay since I was clean now (or as clean as I could be with seawater), so I tagged along. Ezrem and Rennio didn’t want to be alone with each other, but that was the only reason they came too. Gracie and Kuiora had already been waiting there from a while ago.

“If you wanted a water competition, Atis, you should have just said so,” Kuiora said. “I could have showed off more of my moves.”

“I’m just glad I stayed at the shore,” Gracie said, shaking her head.

Sai sat down next to Gracie, setting Atis down next to him. He visibly shivered a bit and then placed his hands over Gracie’s back and asked, “Do you mind?”

“Not at all,” she replied, smiling and igniting her flames just enough for the warmth to radiate around us.

“Hmm…” Sai mumbled, rubbing his hands together. Though the majority of his body was facing in Gracie’s direction, his head was facing toward the sea. Again, he seemed lost in thought. Had he really taken the bird so seriously? That was a mistake in and of itself, so I had to make sure he wasn’t doing anything stupid.

“Sai, what are you thinking about?” I asked.

“Oh, nothing,” Sai said, but then he changed his mind. “It's just... It’s still hard to talk about. I was caged up for so long that I’m not used to seeing some things. ...I think I like the sea.”

“So do I! You have great taste,” Kuiora said.

“Yeah. It tells me that there’s something more out there for me to see. It seems endless, and that’s what I always imagined my life experiences to be. I don’t know… Sorry if I’m rambling.”

An idea hit me as he spoke. “If you could be around the sea all the time,” I said, “would you be happy?”

“Yes,” Sai said. “It would be good to have a reminder like this. And I’d like to learn to swim more. It was quite enjoyable. The movement makes me feel free. I’m not trapped like before…”

“You know what else could get you around to places? The ferry in the city. The port is right over there,” Rennio said, pointing toward a nearby building with a lone ship facing toward it.

“Ah,” Sai said. “That would certainly help too. I could go anywhere I wanted, anytime…”

“Sai, are you thinking what I’m thinking?” I said. Apparently, though, no one else was thinking what I was thinking, because they all looked at me in confusion, even Rennio, who I thought had been catching on even just a little bit. “This could be your new home for a while. We don’t have to travel anywhere else if you don’t want to, especially if it brings you bad memories—”

“I only rented the cabin for one night, though,” Sai interrupted.

“We can get more money by battling trainers and buy more nights. Or we can buy a real place.”

“What about the gyms? We only have one out of eight badges right now, since we lost some…”

“You don’t have to do those anymore, remember? I mean, honestly, did you even enjoy doing them before?”

“Not since I felt rushed…”

“Then you’re just making excuses!” Ezrem butted in. “It’s as clear as day.”

“I’d love to be here all the time!” Kuiora offered.

“You know me… and Ezrem… have always wanted to travel other places, so this is perfect for us,” Rennio said, nodding.

“I don’t care where we go. Location isn’t an issue for me,” Gracie said, licking her paws idly.

“What do you say, Sai? It doesn’t get much better than this,” Atis said. I could tell he was trying to hide excitement in his voice, but he was failing.

There was a moment of silence before Sai sighed and said, “First, we’ll go to the gym here in Olivine City… just for fun, all right? It won’t be about getting stronger or getting a badge. I want to know what it’s like to be a trainer for a little while longer. I did enjoy that, at least.” He paused. “And then I’ll let you know what I think of your idea.”

This seemed like a reversal. The pokémon were being impulsive, while Sai wanted to take his time and think. It was hard to tell whether this was a good sign or not. Difficulty making decisions was an equally troublesome problem. We saw a boy who wanted to find a place as soon as possible, with the smallest amount of traveling involved, so that he could start focusing on recovery alone. And what better place than here? We weren’t lying or exaggerating any of the city’s features. We were content, and today seemed to go well enough for him. Our hearts were set, but we were also content to wait. We had been loyal thus far, and we didn’t intend to change that, so we granted the wish of our trainer and went to the gym.
OKAY finally caught up all the way with this (you posting a new chapter today really threw me off :mad: )

But...where to start. You certainly were right when you said that I'd like Sai a lot more after reading the chapters focused on his backstory. And the way you showcase it is...really really twisted, which is actually a feeling that your stories tend to have to be honest, like there always seem to be layers underneath what it all looks like.

Overall Sai's backstory is a very interesting if disturbing and sad scenario, you can tell that his mom did love him all the way to the end even if she had to push those feelings aside as time went on, as much as she cared for him she always did favor her desires more than what was better for his sson, regardless of whether it was to keep him from getting killed or not. The way you tied the Pokemon names to the people that shared cells with Sai was a little...overdone in my opinion but it solved a plothole at least, plus it fits with Sai's character to do something like that, though that really is a magic die.

And I actually didn't realize till his mom pointed out but aside from dealing with his own issues Sai really didn't face any dificulties, he didn't have to fight any evil teams (because he was technically working for one) and whenever he wasn't vanishing or having freak outs his journey was mostly uneventful and quiet, which I guess actually goes to show that not everyone has to have some kind of amazing adventure filled journey and the few "adventure" filled moments Sai had weren't exactly happy either.

The chapters after that were really well done and have been my favorite chapters, obviously Sai can never change who he is but the fact tha the finally gets to start over and live his life his own way, well at least it's given him inner peace in a way. That coupled with him finally forming an actual friendship with Marty and Gracie were really great moments as were Atis helping him recover from his suicide attempt.

My only complain is with the last chapter which, while another good chapter that showcased the characters relationship in a lighthearted way (as opposed to all teh grimdark stuff they've been dealing with) Sai getting his sixth Pokemon right at the end feels like something that was done just to complete his team, even if it had been foreshadowed just a little earlier. I also know that there's at least one more chapter (at most three) following this and I'm worried that since the story seems to be essentially done that it might just end up dragging and stagnating as it reaches the finish line.

But regardless, the last batch of chapters has been awesome and you really deserve the wins that you just received, keep it up!
OKAY finally caught up all the way with this (you posting a new chapter today really threw me off :mad: )

But...where to start. You certainly were right when you said that I'd like Sai a lot more after reading the chapters focused on his backstory. And the way you showcase it is...really really twisted, which is actually a feeling that your stories tend to have to be honest, like there always seem to be layers underneath what it all looks like.

That's exactly the kind of effect I want my stories to have. There's always more to find out. :D

Overall Sai's backstory is a very interesting if disturbing and sad scenario, you can tell that his mom did love him all the way to the end even if she had to push those feelings aside as time went on, as much as she cared for him she always did favor her desires more than what was better for his sson, regardless of whether it was to keep him from getting killed or not. The way you tied the Pokemon names to the people that shared cells with Sai was a little...overdone in my opinion but it solved a plothole at least, plus it fits with Sai's character to do something like that, though that really is a magic die.

Writing Sai's mom was pretty... tough, not gonna lie. It would have been very easy to portray her as completely awful with no love for Sai, but that's not what I wanted. And obviously, if his mom hadn't been on board with the whole plan at all, this whole story would've been dramatically different. So achieving a balance was tricky, so I'm glad to see it worked.

And I actually didn't realize till his mom pointed out but aside from dealing with his own issues Sai really didn't face any dificulties, he didn't have to fight any evil teams (because he was technically working for one) and whenever he wasn't vanishing or having freak outs his journey was mostly uneventful and quiet, which I guess actually goes to show that not everyone has to have some kind of amazing adventure filled journey and the few "adventure" filled moments Sai had weren't exactly happy either.

Sometimes our only enemy is ourself, I suppose.

The chapters after that were really well done and have been my favorite chapters, obviously Sai can never change who he is but the fact tha the finally gets to start over and live his life his own way, well at least it's given him inner peace in a way. That coupled with him finally forming an actual friendship with Marty and Gracie were really great moments as were Atis helping him recover from his suicide attempt.

Glad someone liked the Marty/Gracie scene, even if it did seem tacked on. I have a feeling it wouldn't have seemed so tacked on if Marty/Gracie had been expanded on as characters more, but... Well, there's always the sequel, I guess.

My only complain is with the last chapter which, while another good chapter that showcased the characters relationship in a lighthearted way (as opposed to all teh grimdark stuff they've been dealing with) Sai getting his sixth Pokemon right at the end feels like something that was done just to complete his team, even if it had been foreshadowed just a little earlier. I also know that there's at least one more chapter (at most three) following this and I'm worried that since the story seems to be essentially done that it might just end up dragging and stagnating as it reaches the finish line.

But regardless, the last batch of chapters has been awesome and you really deserve the wins that you just received, keep it up!

They're pretty short. Like, 10 pages totaling them kind of short. Thanks for reviewing, as always!
because it's been a while since I've written out things in full
um, not much has really changed since I last reviewed, so apologies if this is repetition.


This isn't so much a plot as it is a string of character interactions as the main cast tries to stumble through Johto (more on the characters later). However, it ends up working -- the mishaps of these poor babbies is simultaneously fascinating and tragic enough to tell a good narrative, even if the plot is really six different stories of suffering twined together. It deals with its themes well, it carries its arcs cleanly, and overall the story comes to a head.

However, especially toward the end, it kind of felt like each POV character was overshadowing the one that came before it -- Kuoira realizes the dangers of putting people on pedestals, but then Ezrem has a tragic past, and then Rennio tries to be brave, and then Senori decides to protect his clan, and and then Ezrem is literally on fire, and then Atis has his whole team crisis thing, and somewhere inside all of this is Sai. This almost works as a way to demonstrate how fucked up this version of the world is, except each viewpoint ends up detracting from the ones that come before it, to the point that it's hard to care about X because Y's world is ending, but then Z's life falls to shit, so how could we possibly focus on X or Y?

My other qualm is how the fic starts to wrap itself up: there's this big finale with Team Rocket on the horizon, but they've basically become relevant in the last three-ish chapters, with almost no mentions of them any time before. It's a little jarring, as this is supposed to be Sai's big reveal, and yet the buildup to this was done exclusively at the finale. If I hadn't seen this fic posted the first time, I would've thought this was some random ending cobbled together, but nope, this has been planned for years, and I still have no idea why there's so little foreshadowing for such a huge reveal.


Admittedly, this is not a focus of the story. The atmosphere overall is very grimdark (although not to the point that Team Rocket raising feral children was something I particularly expected), there's a lot more detail to the gym leaders/cities in general, and there's some nice lore being told through each of the primary characters (namely Kuoira). However, there's a lot left unaddressed.

A lot of good worldbuilding gets conveyed through the side characters -- Sasha and Marty, for example, are great ways to show what trainers should be doing in this world when the main cast is doing such a fucked up job of it.


This is, I feel, where the fic absolutely shines. Each of the viewpoint characters has a unique feel, and they feel like actual living beings beneath it all. They've all got their own little surface quirks that make them entertaining at first, but they're all hiding darker secrets that start to emerge naturally during the course of the story, and their interactions with one another absolutely sell it for me. They're insecure, fallible, varied, and ultimately imperfect, and that's what makes this story so goddamn relatable and enjoyable to read. The plot doesn't feel particularly linear or jointed because it's not -- it's about six broken people coming together (and also falling apart).

Whether or not this says good things about the actual plot is a bit of a mixed bag, but the characters are definitely some of the strongest I've seen.


Sweet honey child, my heart. The revelation of Sai's character is almost backwards in its execution, honestly: we get a collection of quirks that reveal themselves to be deeper secrets that reveal themselves to be tied to this one big central thread, but I thought it worked. Outside of this, Sai feels real, and even barring the reveal at the end that explains a lot of his actions, he still seems like a working, sympathetic human being.

The development was definitely there. The Sai we meet from the beginning compared to the end is so, so different, but the progression follows pretty logically. My major concern is how his growth basically came in spurts -- he appears at some point, disappears, reappears completely changed, and so forth. A lot of this is tinged by who's narrating which chapter, because they all see him differently, but his growth didn't feel like current character growth so much as POV characters discovering more about his hidden demons.

Perahps this is simply in comparison to the strong performances from the rest of the cast, but Sai's story is much less appealing to me than some of the other viewpoint characters. He's sympathetic out the whazoo and I honestly feel for this poor kid, but for most of the story, he's basically just that -- someone to feel for. That being said, he's tiny and fragile and real, and when he shines, it's chillingly effective.


The first time I read over this, I didn't particularly like Atis. In the face of so many louder, bolder voices (Kuiora and Ezrem come to mind, but Senori as well), he fell to the wayside in my first readthrough. However, going over a second time, there's a lot more to this hitmontop than I'd caught. His struggles with being good enough, with not wanting to be good enough, and even toward the end, when he's trying to make everyone happy and ultimately failing, are all complex feelings that I rarely see in human characters, let alone Pokemon. One qualm I'd have is that a lot of his growth seems to happen relatively early (like, within the first few chapters), and then the rest happens all at once near the end. But I love him.

At first, I was surprised that Atis was the Pokemon picked to advance from SP, but reading back over the story again, I can see why: he's a small drop of sanity in the midst of all this chaos, but there is no denying that he's still human (Pokemon?) beneath all of this. He's the voice of reason of the team without even trying, but there's still the expectation of trying to live up to that role. That scene where he and Sai write secets on each other's backs will stick with me for a while.


Admittedly, I'm a huge fan of refusing to capitalize titles, overly floral langugae, dramatic tension, and the other artsy-fartsy things here. That being said, I feel like it really works here, and in may ways, the style is critical to the rest of the story -- each viewpoint character is able to feel different from the ones before them by virtue of the style being so different between them. The language borders on melodramatic in a few places, and sometimes I feel like a particular line is beautifully written but also not really in-line with what the POV character should be saying, but as a whole, the prose flows very well.


This story has some of my favorite character interactions and stylistic choices by far. It deals with themes I rarely see addressed in fanfic, and it manages to handle them gracefully.

That being said, sometimes the plot can be a little difficult to distinguish beneath all the shiny prose, and there's a significant lull in the middle where the story seems to lose focus, but overall it's a fantastic read.
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