• Magnificent Entertainer faces off against Fantina for his third Gym badge. Watch here as he makes way too many science fiction references.

TEEN: The Long Walk

ready as i'll ever be
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Heyo, I haven't checked in for about four years. How's it going. This is kind of a bit scattered, and I'm sorry, but hopefully you can glean something useful from it.

Starting back at Chapter Eight, 'cause it's been a while and I feel like I didn't really do it well last time. I really liked the idea of having additional towns/Longwater; it gives you a lot more flexibility and diversity in terms of smaller cities and stuff than what Johto gives you. I know you had another fake-town in one of the earlier sections, but it's nice to see that you haven't dropped this concept. I'm having a bit of an issue with the geography, though (I'm seriously only getting this nitpicky because Johto fanfics gotta stick together, right?), because I'm not sure what river these ferries are traversing and how it would interact with the rest of Johto, although you did describe everything prettily.

Also squee friendship-building was really cute, and then, hmm, are we getting subtle hints toward non-Pokemon animals getting eaten or is it all really just magikarp?

ALSO SQUEE FRIENDSHIP BUILDING I DON'T KNOW IF IT'S ROMANCE YET BUT IT'S STILL CUTE FRIENDSHIP GAH.
^this is my way of complimenting you on accurately depicting two people of opposite genders having nice interactions with one another, btw

Bugsy shrugged, “I accept all challengers. Benny, would you fetch the referee?
Dialogue tag error.

Also, this might've just been me, but I felt a bit thrown off when they were chilling and having dinner together at some point, and then Lyra (if Eve is close enough to Lyra to understand her speech, why didn't she nickname her until now?) flies off to do something but then in the next seen with Lyra, Eve is also there and they're capturing a pidgeotto and also suddenly Josh is in a gym battle. I feel like there's a transition missing?

Regarding chapter nine, you used the word carapace and now we need to be friends forever.

Anyway, the battle was well-paced and entertaining, and, as with the first half of it back in the previous chapter, I liked the creative spin you put on some moves, like Shadow Sneak, that made for a more entertaining clash. The PokeGelt thing is interesting and original, so more worldbuilding kudos to you there.

I'm also liking the email interactions with Imogen/Eve--the format is a nice change from the usual narration, and I love how, despite the tension Eve has with a lot of Joy's, she's at least got some family to fall back on. And I might be overanalyzing, but the last line of Imogen's email says a lot about the Joy family dynamic--maybe Eve is exaggerating a little and her parents really do have her best interests at heart OR MAYBE NOT WE WON'T KNOW FOR A WHILE D:

I read about the bath scene by accident when looking through the reviews on the next page for the newest chapter, and I definitely imagined something different. BUT THIS IS LOVELY AND HILARIOUS AND ALSO ANGRY MEOWTH GETS SOME LINES. Random nitpicks, "ok" should be "okay," and is Aron steel what it sounds like where someone takes an Aron and hammers it around into boots or am I misinterpreting things?

And straight onward into Chapter Ten my god I've been gone D:
I like the shift to Eve's narration for this chapter--it really does a good job of showing her thought process and ideas as she goes through this battle, and it's a nice change from Josh (not that Josh was bad or anything, whoops). Hearing the pokemon's responses to getting hit was interesting as well, although Meowth seemed surprisingly complacent compared to the bath scene from last night, heh.

And you used non-prepositional myriad you are the best

I choose you Scyther!”
Missing comma before Scyther. On that note, Bugsy's samurai schtick was pretty cool.

Again, this was another entertaining and creative battle, and Lyra's struggle was pretty badass and all. The ending bit where they missed a little was an adorable lampshade to the typical cliche, and I smiled a bit. Same with the handshake/too formal/high five/cliche/huggggz

The ending line has me a little nervous, and I'm not sure if it's your intention, but it seems to hint toward less-perfect things to come.

Although, in all seriousness, this may be one of the best portrayals of "two random strangers meet up by happenstance and decide to travel together" that I've ever read. It feels real, and that's a testament to their character interactions, and that's legitimately awesome. I'm not even sure how/where you did it, but solid work for making me feel happy that these two fictional people are going to go off on badass adventures together. So much solid work.
 
Ch. 11 - Forging a Friendship
Thesaurus rex
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@Safe-T: Wow, thanks for your comments on the Gym Battle. Honestly, I do find action harder to write than any other aspect of this story. It takes a lot of planning and thinking from me to get the narrative of the battle down
@Flaze: Mid-battle evolution isn't something I intend to do often. It seems to me though, that logically it ought to happen fairly often. If pokémon evolve through battle experience the question I have is why does evolution wait until the end of the battle to be triggered?
@Rediamond: That's one hell of a review! I think you're right in that journeyfics have a box of tropes that probably will crop up one way or another, whether the parent canon is anime or game. What I've tried to do is to present at least some of them in a new way, in particular the idea of the travel companion. I did think about the problem of trust regarding this, but given the tone of the story I felt that the question of whether to travel together should be a question of emotions rather than personal safety.

In hindsight, perhaps I push my luck when it comes down to the RUTs, as you call them. I am a believer in not having to justify everything you change in an adaptation, but I do take your point in that an off-hand moment of explanation here and there wouldn't go amiss - something I've borne in mind in the writing the chapter below.
@Jabberwocky: You flatter me sir! You're not the first person to say that about Eve, and I hope not the last. Honestly, I'm not quite sure where her character came from, but it is good fun to write a nuanced female character. She was originally going to be a supporting character ... no way was that ever going to last.
@kintsugi: As I've said over VM, so many nice things ^^ I hope the geography of the Azalea Town area will become clearer in this chapter. I also wrote an Atlas note on it in oh, Chapter Eight, I think. In answer to your comments about food, yes, I have non-pokémon animals in this world. Frankly, it makes things a lot easier, especially for a detail-oriented author like me. There are any number of problems, not just regarding human society but pokémon diets, when you accept non-pokémon animals into the story.

Regarding characterisation, I'm pleased with how it's turned out in this arc and I'm glad you like it. Honestly, the Lyra nicknaming thing is an oversight on my part, but I didn't want to retcon it so I just kept the damn scene. Oh, and while I think of it, what is it with people and the bath scene? I'm seriously wondering what people were expecting!

Final comment from now, but according to one of the regional Pokédexes, Aron shed their armour when they evolve. The idea is that on Dewford Island, metal workers collect the discarded armour from the caves and use it to make steel, hence Aron steel

1.1 : Rewrote last scene of the chapter
1.2 : Rewrote Josh's "employment" inner monologue to bring it into line with the Chapter One rewrite
1.3 Eve now says "for heaven's sake", not "for God's sake"

Chapter Eleven – Forging a Friendship (Version 1.3)

Joshua

From here the forest seemed to stretch on forever, nothing but mist-shrouded trees marching endlessly into the far distance. The southern side of the forest was dominated by oak and hornbeam, tough old branches frosted with a flush of young spring foliage. Further north, the conifers took over, pine and fir and the great redwoods of the Heartwood. The trees in those groves were the tallest in Johto; they towered up to three hundred feet tall, almost otherworldly clad in their misty cloaks.

Stood with Eve on the foredeck of the paddle-ferry, their new travel backpacks resting on the deck beside them, Josh mentally went over the route ahead one last time. They had decided to head for the Violet City Gym, in a circuitous sort of way, first taking the paddle-ferry from Longwater up the River Esk to Withy End. At Withy End, the Esk was joined by the Withywindle flowing down out of the otherworldly Heartwood. Through the Heartwood, round the Lake of Life Reserve and on through the Ilex Forest to Len Town, following trainer's trails along the way – Josh had chosen that path himself, and Eve had cheerfully accepted it.

The ferry paddled on at her gentle pace, as patient and unhurried as the river itself. She was a quaintly handsome vessel, not so much a ferry as a floating bed and breakfast. Eighteen cabins, a dining room-slash-bar and a tiny shower block were crammed aboard, along with the open foredeck at the bow. It seemed that in defiance of the modern age, steam driven paddle-ferries like this were still one of the easiest and cheapest ways for people to travel in this part of the world.

In many ways, sailing on the Esk was like travelling back in time a hundred years. The river meandered right through the middle of Eskershire; almost every town and village along its banks had a quay or landing stage of some sort to accommodate river traffic. The shire was what Josh liked to think of as 'patchwork quilt country', that part of rural Johto characterised by the distinctive patchwork of fields divided by hawthorn hedges. They had boarded the ferry with a few other trainers at Longwater two days ago, killing time with battling, training, and in Josh's case, studying battle theory. Once or twice Josh teamed up with Eve to fight a double battle – in the evening, they talked about nothing much, forging their friendship one conversation at a time.

Inevitably, last night they ended up having their first fight.

*​

It was a clear, chilly night, tinted yellow by the soft glow of the ferry's lamps. The deck along the sides of the boat was a narrow strip hardly more than three feet wide, hemmed in by the cabins on one side and the river on the other. The captain – a kindly old soul with a beard you could lose a furret in – had decided on the spur of the moment to treat his passengers to a barbecue on the foredeck. Josh nodded to a few of the other trainers as he made his way to Eve's cabin near the stern. She would enjoy this, no doubt – Josh hadn't met anyone who could demolish a burger half as quickly as Eve could.

“Hey Eve, it's me!” he called loudly, with a firm knock for good measure. A muffled curse came from inside, followed by some hurried clothy noises and what sounded like the whirr of a zipper. Eve wrenched the door open a moment later.

“What?” she said shortly. She had her long-sleeved black polo shirt on, and her cheeks looked rather flushed.

“Er, the captain's got a barbecue going and since you haven't had any dinner yet … I can come back,” he said. Eve gave him a glazed look, like she was thinking about something else entirely.

“No. No, I'd rather hang out anyway,” she said eventually. “Give me a minute to get dressed.”

“I'll be on deck,” Josh said, and headed back to the foredeck. He assembled a burger for her while he waited. Mustard, she likes a lot of mustard.

Eve managed a smile and mumbled thanks when she joined him a few minutes later. She'd exchanged her burgundy coat for a sleeveless jacket, forest green with vertical rows of three Poké Ball clasps on either side of the chest. The green matched her brown trousers but clashed absurdly with her pink hair.

“Looking good Eve,” Josh lied. “The jacket suits you.”

“Thanks. It's a gilet,” she corrected with her trademark wink. Food seems to have improved her mood, Josh thought as they fell to their usual aimless chatting. That, and the captain's apparently endless repertoire of tall tales.

“... This is what he said, no word of a lie, 'Ladies and gentlemen. I fear the boat is sinking. Would there be anyone among you skilled in prayer?'

The passengers nodded sagely to themselves, aye, prayer's just the thing at a time like this. Anyhow, up steps a young clergyman, and he says, 'Yes captain, I have some small skill in prayer.'

And the captain replies – no word of a lie, I was right there – 'Excellent! You just stand there and pray, while I hand round the life vests. We're one short!'”

A scattered ripple of laughter went round the deck. “Oh, by the way,” Josh said to Eve, “if there's a Pokémon Centre at Arborville I'll need to visit the library,” he sighed heavily. “I wish these books weren't so damn heavy. I could carry more of them on the road then.”

“Will you quit studying theory so hard and relax? Why don't you just get a Pokédex if the books are too heavy?” Eve said flippantly.

“Easy for you to say.”

“What's that supposed to mean?”

“It's supposed to mean that it's easy for you to 'just get a Pokédex',” Josh replied sharply. The scowl forming on Eve's face was getting on his nerves. “Do you think that running parcels from the back of a bike pays well? I didn't have the privilege of Pokémon Centre wages.”

“So it was easy for me was it?” Eve demanded, fury edging her voice.

“Easier than trying to stay employed in Mulberry Town? Yes, I should think so!” Josh retorted. People were beginning to notice the raised voices. Josh ignored them. He wasn't going to put up with a slight like this, not from Eve.

“Are you seriously trying to tell me that you couldn't find better work? You, an intelligent guy? Bollocks. You just weren't trying hard enough!”

“That's exactly what I'm saying! Not that you'd have any idea what it's like to actually compete for a job, Evelina Joy! You have a high-status job waiting for you whenever you want it!” Eve opened her mouth to shout back but he cut her off. “And I can do without your condescension – don't you dare call me indolent you middle-class snob!”

Eve looked as though she'd very much like to hit him, her fists clenched, the shadow of a snarl on her face. One of her canines glinted fiercely. Bring it on Joy, I'll damn well bite you back.

Eve growled her fury at him and stormed off back to her cabin, leaving a hush in her wake. The sidelong looks and sotto voce commentaries of the other passengers drove Josh to the empty scrap of deck space at the bow. He leaned against the rail, looking out onto the ink-dark river, ignoring the rising conversation behind him. How dare she! How could she?

The biggest shock of Josh's life had been learning that, in Mulberry Town at least, being employed had little to do with merit. All of his certificates of education, his baccalaureate in Modern Kalosian … ironically they had turned out to be a liability rather than an asset. Nobody wanted a fresh-faced clerk when there were any number of experienced administrators competing for the same work. Shops and bars turned him away just the same, under the strange assumption that he was too intelligent for the job. Maybe if I bashed my head on this rail hard enough I can become stupid enough to be employable.

So he'd got by with sporadic courier work, dodging rush hour traffic on his bike. Until the day he'd had enough, and poured all of his Metal Earth profits into pokémon training.

Obviously Eve didn't understand this any more than Dad did. She was a Joy from thriving, bright, Cherrygrove City; her name had a history of honour and respect. He was an overqualified Cook from post-industrial Mulberry Town; his name meant nothing at all.

“She really pushed your buttons, eh Cook?” the captain said, joining him at the bow.

“You could say that.”

“Beer was made for times like this. On me, son,” the captain said, pressing a lukewarm can into Josh's hands. “You know, I've been sailing up and down this river since I was your age. Seen, oh, must be hundreds of couples in that time -”

“We're not a couple,” Josh interjected.

“Couple o'friends,” he replied, not missing a beat. “Couple of inseparable friends. My wife, God rest her soul, she always knew which of the hundreds of couples would stay together.”

“Thank you for your concern, captain,” Josh said stiffly. “But -”

“You can take old Hoster's advice or you can leave it, son. But you'd be wise to kiss and make up, shake hands, whatever. A fight like that's not worth feeling awful about.”

Captain Hoster left him there at the bow, sipping the warm beer and staring at the river. In their twos and threes the other passengers drifted back to their cabins. The red heat of his anger drained away, leaving behind a horrible resentful sadness. He found himself listening for footsteps on the foredeck behind him.

When they did come, they were surprisingly quiet.

“Josh, I'm sorry,” Eve muttered. She looked the way he felt – resentful and sad.

“... I'm sorry too,” he said. There was a lump in his throat. “What I said wasn't fair. I'm sorry.”

They stared at each other's eyes for a long moment, each unsure what to say to the other. Eventually, Eve drew something out of her pocket.

“I had this made for you in Azalea. A little thank you for giving me a great idea. Meant to give it you earlier, but I kind of forgot ...” she opened her hand. A reduced Poké Ball lay in her palm, its upper hemisphere pink rather than red.

“A Love Ball?” Josh said.

“Don't read into it.”

“So you don't like me?” Josh joked.

“If I didn't like you, I wouldn't want to travel with you,” Eve said in a tight little voice. For the first time since he had met her, Eve sounded almost … vulnerable.

“Friends?” she asked.

“Friends.”

*​

It was past noon by the time they reached their last stop at Withy End. The village was perched at the junction of the River Esk and its tributary, the Withywindle. Most of the village was on the right hand side of the Withywindle, along with the red brick landing stage. Weeping willows dipped their long, tendrilly branches into the water, overhanging the landing stage like huge umbrellas. Eve insisted on taking a photo once they'd disembarked, perhaps trying a bit too hard to be friendly after the last night's argument. The photo showed them side by side, Josh with his arm around Eve's shoulders, dappled by spots of sunlight that found their way through the willowy canopy.

It was about a fifteen mile walk to the next town – Arborville, by the Arbor Falls where the Withywindle flowed down out of the Heartwoods over a cliff. They followed the path on the right hand side of the river, walking by orchards for the first six miles or so. After that, it was thick woodland both left and right.

The afternoon's walk was an undemanding one, despite the new weight of their backpacks. They strolled along at an easy pace, taking long breaks to exercise their pokémon. Pidgeotto now liked Eve enough to fly to her wrist on command. Eve cemented their bond by christening her Gail. “Because her Gusts are so strong,” she declared.

Late in the afternoon Josh happened upon a troupe of five bellossom in a ferny glade. Captivated, he'd watched them dance until a sixth bellossom appeared at his feet and challenged him to battle in its high, sweet voice. It was taller than the others, the rafflesia blooms on its head a deep, lusty red. Curiously, this bellossom wielded Leaf Blade like a sabre fencer, dipping a graceful curtsey before drawing its Leaf Blade. The sight of it had melted Josh's heart into a warm puddle, it was so unbearably cute.

As it turned out, catching Bellossom was much easier said than done. The first Poké Ball Josh threw was rent into two ragged, sparking halves by Bellossom's Leaf Blade. His second throw overshot by a good foot, bounced off a rock hidden somewhere in the undergrowth, and struck one of the five still-dancing bellossom in the back of the head, swiftly enveloping it with a flash of red. The Ball hardly rattled before bursting open again. Josh found himself being driven off with a storm of razor-edged Petal Dance; apparently the other bellossom decided to interpret his mis-throw as a sneak attack.

The woods rose steadily up as they drew closer to the high conifers and stately redwoods of Arborville. A fine day gave way to cloudy evening twilight; beneath the towering trees it was like walking through a gloomy, roofless hall. Cloudy skies brought on an early sunset, the world fading to dark shades of shadow grey. Josh noticed that Eve started walking closer to him, and he was glad that she did.

Nightfall was not far away when Josh stepped off the path to pee. The spaces between the tree boles felt uncomfortably wide. Josh squared up to a handy pine and unzipped, resolving to finish this task as soon as possible – he didn't much like turning his back on the woods. He couldn't help glancing around cautiously, irrational though it was. Both Bulbasaur and Screwball were within easy reach at his belt, after all. A light spring rain had been falling off and on for the past hour.

“Are you finished yet? Let's go, I don't want to stand around in the rain!” Eve called from the path.

“Don't talk to me, I cannot go if you talk to me!” Josh shouted over his shoulder.

Thunder boomed, and the heavens opened up, cold rain sheeting down like it was personal. Both Josh and Eve let out cries of wordless dismay. Hurriedly stowing himself away, Josh experienced a brief second of pure panic as something got caught. He ran back to the path muttering imprecations against the capriciousness of zips.

“We'll get soaked!” Eve yelled, trying to shelter under a tree. “Quick, under a tree!”

“Won't work! Not enough cover from these pines!” Josh countered.

“What do you suggest then, clever clogs?”

“We should be about half a mile from Arborville! Let's make a break for it!”

“Aaagh, alright!” Eve ran off along the path, Josh chasing close behind. They splashed noisily through rapidly-forming puddles on the gravel path. In the gathering dark, left and right were beginning to look the same, but for where the beam of Eve's torch illuminated the silvery curtain of hammering rain. Josh's jacket and jeans were already wet through.

“Why does this keep happening to me?” Josh roared.

Raindrops were clustering thickly on the lenses of Josh's glasses, turning his vision into a confused blur. It occurred to him that at this rate he could very likely end up running full pelt into the Withywindle and not know it till he fell in. “Eve! Eve!” he called. “Eve, slow down, I can't see!”

“Oh for heaven's sake,” Eve said, grabbing his hand. “Come on!”

They awkwardly ran hand in hand down the last furlong, Eve towing Josh along behind her. Blurrily, Josh got the impression of monolithically tall trees, those stately giants that he had seen far off from the deck of the ferry. Lights spilling from the windows of the town refracted through the raindrops on his glasses – if he looked over the top of them he could just make out the heights of the Arbor Falls, the hundred-foot falls rendered unremarkable by the indistinct arboreal giants nearby.

Eve stopped with an abrupt splash. “Where the hell is the Pokémon Centre?” she yelled, looking round in every direction. “This way!”

She grabbed Josh by the hand again and dragged him into a nearby building. Light and warmth doused him, and as he huffed down air to recover from the mad run, he realised that Eve had pulled him into an inn rather than the Pokémon Centre. They looked at each other, each soaked through, Josh half-blind, Eve's hair hanging limply, and simultaneously started giggling breathlessly. Eve gently removed Josh's glasses. Josh couldn't help but wince – he didn't like people touching his glasses without asking.

Eve seemed to pick up on this. “Everything ok?” she asked.

“Fine, fine,” Josh replied. For some reason, he felt that Eve should be an exception. She carefully wiped them clear of water and set them back on his nose. “Thank you,” he said, feeling a little taken aback.

The inn's lobby had a homely, traditional look to it, old wood panelled walls and flagstone floor offset by the obviously modern reception desk. The receptionist behind the desk was a middle-aged woman, wearing a sensible cardigan and a welcoming smile.

“Good evening. Are you looking for somewhere to stay this evening?” she said. “The Pokémon Centre is a good thirty minute walk from here,” she added cunningly.

“Shall we just stay here for the night?” Eve said immediately. Almost too quickly. Maybe she doesn't want to deal with her relatives.

“If you like,” Josh said. There was a flicker of relief in his friend's eyes.

“Would that be singles, or a double?” the receptionist asked.

“Double,” Eve said.

“Eve!” Josh snapped.

“Singles,” Eve corrected, giggling. Despite himself, Josh laughed along with her.

*​

Sat cross-legged at the head of the bed, Josh took a sip of hot chocolate. It had been Eve's idea, and a rather good one at that. After a shower and a change into his pyjamas, Eve had turned up at his door with a mug in each hand. She was laid back on the bed beside him, clad in a blue hoodie dress that served as nightwear, scrolling through the menu of her Pokédex.

“Bellossom, the Flower Pokémon. When these pokémon move, their petals rub together, creating a pleasant ringing sound.”

“Carry on?” Eve asked.

“Mmhm.”

“Johto's largest population of bellossom inhabit the Ilex Forest area, ranging from the Lake of Life through the majority of the Heartwood. Concentrations of Sun Stone within the topsoil of this area support this high rate of evolution, the highest rate of natural bellossom evolution outside of the Hoenn region. Unusually for their species, the bellossom troupes of the Ilex Forest area tend to be aggressive in their usage of Leaf Blade. Individuals have been known to wield their Leaf Blades in a manner similar to the style of nineteenth-century sabre fencers. How such distinctly human behaviour could be learned and passed down across generations of bellossom is not yet fully understood, but it is thought that like many anthropomorphic pokémon, bellossom mimic useful behaviours they observe in humans.”

Eve carried on idly scrolling through her Pokédex while Josh quietly finished his hot chocolate. The downpour lashed against the windows, now a cosy reminder that they were both warm and dry for the night. Ok, let's recap. There's a girl lying next to me wearing mostly a hoodie. I'm in my pyjamas, and this is, for all intents and purposes, my bed. By rights I should be feeling nervous, and yet I'm not.

It had only been a week since their chance meeting in Azalea Town, and yet Josh felt as though he had known Eve for much longer. Maybe it was the length of time they had spent together so far – after all, there hadn't been a lot of moments during that week where they had been apart. Truth be told Josh more than liked Eve as a person, he admired the way she dealt with life. She seemed to have a complete disregard for expectations others had of her; Eve did exactly as she pleased and was happy doing it.

Eve shut her Pokédex with a click. The silvery, liquid rattle of the rain was the loudest sound in the room.

“Hey, Josh,” Eve said. Josh looked down at Eve lying beside him. She looked back up at him with a serious, slightly sad expression.

“About last night … we're ok, aren't we?” she said.

“Yeah. Yeah, of course.”

Eve was quiet for a moment. She wouldn't look at him, instead looking down at her own hands. “It's just … look, I know that some things are easier for me. You're right, I have a job waiting for whenever I want it,” Eve sighed and fiddled with her hoodie. “Being a Joy means everyone thinks your choices are their business. All I want is to be my own woman, make my own choices, for me. Maybe someday I will go to nursing college and take my place in a Pokémon Centre. But I won't do it to be a dutiful daughter!”

Eve looked back up at Josh, a complicated look on her face – partly sad, partly fierce, and partly something else entirely. “I took it out on you last night, and I'm sorry,” she said.

“Eve … I really am sorry. I shouldn't have snapped at you the way I did.”

“So we're really ok?”

“I don't want to fight,” Josh said emphatically. “Forgive me?”

“Forgiven,” Eve smiled. “Are we ok enough for a hug?”

“Come here, you.”

Eve scrambled into a sitting position and slipped her arms around his middle. She had a forceful way of hugging him, squeezing rather than just holding. Josh folded his arms around her back.

“From now on, let's just say how we feel,” Eve murmured, without breaking away.

“Deal. I don't want to fight again.”

“You promise?”

“I promise.”

Next Chapter: Heart of the Heartwoods

Atlas: A Very British Johto
It occurs to me that my thoughts in these Atlases are outstripping the sensible size these spoilers should me. I'll restrain myself to a few short comments, though one day I may have to start a more coherent blog-based Atlas. Well, it's obvious that my Johto is indeed a very British Johto. The reason for this, if I'm being honest, is quite simple. I don't know very much about Japan but I know a lot about Britain. My style calls for some pretty involved world-building – frankly I couldn't bring myself to write a Japanese Johto with my current knowledge base. There is, too a certain degree of patriotism involved, believe it or not. This green and pleasant land really is like no other – British down to the core, I can write about my homeland as I would like to see it in the Pokémon world
 
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It's been a while
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Well this was a great chapter, well worth the wait. In fact, considering the content, I think it was a good idea to write the prequel before this chapter, it put things in perspective when it comes to Josh and girls. I loved the captain's dialogue, it felt smooth and authentic, and I very much enjoyed your description of the forest in the rain. I'm seriously loving the character interactions between Josh and Eve, it's almost like watching a sit-com, but at the same times feels a lot more endearing while not being exaggerated. Honestly, I feel like the focus of the story has become the relationship of these two characters, and while I am loving it, I'm having a difficult time seeing how the story could progress without it ending up being a romance.
 
Gather round, people, I'll tell you a story
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Hm. A mixed bag this chapter, honestly. Not to say it wasn't good - it was - but I could definitely see some cracks and weak points, starting with this:

Josh had chosen that path himself, and Eve had accepted it without question.
Something about this line rubs me the wrong way, and I can't help but dislike it. It doesn't seem like Eve to just go along with whatever someone says, whether she's friends with them or not. It's a layer of almost submissiveness that clashes with what I've gathered of her character.

The development of Eve's and Josh's characters - and their relationship - was a nice touch, although I worry you're hinting at a romantic angle a bit too quickly and too heavily. The writing on the wall doesn't need this many coats of paint this early. Personally, I'd dial things back a bit in future chapters. I did like that you included their fight, especially since it was based around the differences in their socioeconomic backgrounds, a topic not often touched on in Pokemon fic. That's a good source of tension going forward and one which is bound to cause more problems for their relationship, as I can attest. I do think things were resolved a bit too quickly - both Josh and Eve seem a bit too stubborn to let things go and be able to apologize so soon after an argument. Things have to keep moving, however, and having them brood for too long risks stagnating the narrative.

Josh gets caught in the rain again (I smell a running gag). It might be wise to invest in some water-resistant drawers, dude :p Josh seems to have gained an interest in catching a Bellossom, which could become an interesting story thread (even if I find that particular Pokemon rather boring).

Overall, a decent chapter, though not an exceptional one. Can't wait to see chapter 12!
 
Thesaurus rex
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Just a polite reminder that The Long Walk is entered into the Summer Awards:

The Long Walk: Best Journey
Joshua Cook: Best Protagonist
Evelina Joy: Best Protagonist
Magnemite: Best Pokémon Character

Thank you to everyone who nominated my characters, truly
 
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I admit, I was actually able to review this at a decent interval but withheld doing so until now because I couldn't properly think of what I wanted to say here and how I wanted to say it. Reasons for this hesitation should become apparent shortly. Also, I wanted to review "A Da Vinci Smile" first because that review was full of good things and fun to write. Anyway. On with the show.

Stood with Eve on the foredeck of the paddle-ferry, their new travel backpacks resting on the deck beside them, Josh mentally went over the route ahead one last time.
I, uh, still get lost in this sentence. The "stood" is wrong, but even a replacement "standing" gets lost here because it egrets to both "them" (from "their travel backpacks") and plain old "Josh." The construction is just kind of vague here, and as a result it's hard to tell what's going on.

NOPE MY BAD, BRITISH SPELLINGS TRUMP MERICA THAT'S TOTALLY CHILL I SHOULD READ MORE BOOKS

The beginning felt a little like scenery-porn with no purpose, although more information about alternate-Johto-locations in the text itself was useful from the later paragraphs. There's a lot of business about redwoods and pines and trees, though, which I suppose is meant to be a buffer to your bomb-dropping "they had a fight!" line.

On that note, I'm not really sold on the structure of this chapter, and the pacing is really the mechanic from which I derive the bulk of my issues with this chapter. The "and last night, they had their first fight" line feels line it could serve for a nice, dramatic closing for a section, but it felt really forced here. There's no real emotion in the tree section beforehand that makes this fight feel like it had any lasting implications--we're reading about trees and geography, not the emotional impacts of what's probably a big deal. The only thing that really makes me all nervous about this fight is my attachment to these characters that you've built up in precious haters; from what you had up to this point in this halter, though, everything felt pretty unchanged. The lack of Eve's presence here serves as an indicator that something's amiss, but that's almost too subtle for the drama that "and then they had their first fight!" seems to intend to bring about.

The fight itself also seems like a bit of a letdown given the buildup--you've literally heralded its coming the section before, but it's also pretty small scale--not in the "oh, there are no cases flying or tears flowing sense," but in the lack of emotional response sense. There's no sense of escalation, no tension in the build-up, no description of how these characters are anything but calm while apparently reaching a major milestone in their relationship. There are tensions and emotions are running high, and the whole class issue is coming up here, but it doesn't feel real. There's just some dialogue and them some dialogue in louder voices, and then it's kind of over. As a result, the buildup to the fight feels forced, as if you threw it in for the dramatic tensionz (which I know you didn't) (if you want a real example of how completely pointless/worse these tricks can be for generating drama, I can refer you to Season Seven of Doctor Who with millions of examples).

Anyway. Perhaps I like seeing things spelled out more, but this feels like one of those places where you would really need more feelings/emotions overwhelmed dialogue. Action would be great here, too--I can't imagine that this is the kind of thing that people do sitting down--anything, really, to bring this dialogue out of the void. I don't suggest teh dramaticz for teh lulz or anything, but I want to stress that this felt rushed, as if you acknowledged that Josh and Eve shouldn't be perfect bestest friends because that's not how relationships work (realistic friction of which I approve), so let's quickly throw in something to show that things are amiss in paradise.

And then cut to fighting a pokemon. I give you massive credit for giving your characters pokemon that trainers almost never use (Potentially a bellossom? Meowth? Ledian?), and I like that you didn't devote the entire chapter to oh noes we had a fight so sad, but the transition here felt choppy as well. There was a fight, there was escalation, and now there's a literal fight bellossom surprise!

The makeup felt slapdash as well, although not nearly as much. I was never really afraid that this fight would have any lasting magnitude (see above paragraph for that song and dance), so the two-sided "hey we're still friends" was nice, but it didn't have the sense of relief that I felt like it should. I did, however, like how they opened up, but I could've used some more grudge-nursing instead of quick recap of our motives and then it's all good, I guess?

Again, maybe I'm really big into having things explained to my slowly in fiction, but this all boils down to a lack of emotion. You typically do spend a lot more time describing inner thoughts, which is why I have issues digesting this, but things seem so Vulcan here. The makeup has a lot of good description, but the fight itself never had me emotionally invested. There's a sort of forced quality to everything, and yet there's no emotion behind these actions, so I almost have no reason to care.

I feel like I'm being shittingly critical here, especially after praising so much in previous chapters, and I'm sorry. I feel like this chapter was a bit lacking compared to some of the previous ones, though, and it could certainly use a little more of that charm and cute that you usually have--emotions and reactions, dammit.

Again, my opinion is not God. I agree with jabber--a decent chapter, but not excellent like its peers. Still looking forward to more, of course.
 
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Gather round, people, I'll tell you a story
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I vastly prefer the rewritten final scene to the original. Much more believable and better-paced to boot. While this still is not the best chapter you've done, it's certainly better for the revision.

The British influences on Johto are intriguing and do make a certain amount of sense given the aesthetics and atmosphere of the region. It's not every day you see a fic that takes cues from the author's own home to flavor an existing region (in my case, while I view Alta as heavily influenced by Californian aesthetics and culture, I created the region, so it isn't exactly an interpretation). It seems like you're the kind of person who would think about each city's economic and social role in Johto - and I'm eager to see how you apply that to more existing towns and cities.

Stood with Eve on the foredeck of the paddle-ferry, their new travel backpacks resting on the deck beside them, Josh mentally went over the route ahead one last time.
I, uh, still get lost in this sentence. The "stood" is wrong, but even a replacement "standing" gets lost here because it egrets to both "them" (from "their travel backpacks") and plain old "Josh." The construction is just kind of vague here, and as a result it's hard to tell what's going on.
I understood it perfectly, though perhaps that's because I watch too much Rooster Teeth. As I understand it, it's a British turn of phrase to use "stood" in such a manner, although for someone not in the know, it would indeed be rather difficult to decipher the sentence.
 
Don't Look Away
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All right I do have to agree that this chapter wasn't your best in a way. There were a couple of minor technical mistakes which were pointed out and yes the argument between Eve and Joshua could've been expanded upon.

While the argument itself got resolved a bit too quickly I did like the world building that you did in this chapter. Expanding the road between Azalea and Goldenrod in such a way, adding new towns, landmarks and all that also matched the places you're familiar with are really great and I'm jealous that you get to take advantage of that with this xD but it makes me curious as to what else your version of Johto has to offer.

I did enjoy the developtment that Joshua and Eve had and their scene at the end was really nice, though it does make me wonder how close they got after just a few days, they just date already. Other than that I actually hope Joshua gets to catch a Bellossom.

The other thing I didn't quite get was that while this chapter did speed up the journey a bit I feel like maybe it sped up a bit too much.
 
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It's been a while since I've read a journey fic, but I've don't think I've read one quite as unique as this one. As others have said, most journey fics tend to focus on the action or the romance, and while there are some very good fics that do that, few take the time out to flesh out the world the trainers are actually journeying in. Maybe writers assume that as the readers know the region, they don't need to spend time describing it, but seeing you do it here has been refreshing. In general, I like your description. It's not overly flowery, but still detailed enough to paint a clear picture of the environment.

I feel that the biggest strength of your fic, though, is the characters. Their personalities are strongly presented without turning them into caricatures. They've got layers. Josh is clearly a smart guy, awkward and a little lacking in confidence, but there's also a cynical streak in him; the sort of world-weariness you actually see quite often in young adults in real life. Most of all, I feel like he's easy to emphasise with, which is something I find to be very important. He's qualified, he's capable, yet that's not enough to get a good job; I've family members who have been through the exact same thing. Evelina's problems are also relateable, having to put up with pre-conceptions due to her family, and trying to break the mould. There's good potential for conflict there.

The pacing, so far, is both a strength and a weakness for this story. It's called The Long Walk, and it does appear that the journey your characters are on will be a long one, so it's the slow pace seems suitable. At the same time, I feel like I have to be patient for those big plot elements to appear. I want to follow Josh and Eve's journey and see them grow as trainers and as people, but at the same time I do like having that sense that something bigger is on the horizon, and I don't quite have that yet. Nevertheless, I will read on.
 
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Hello!!! I've been enjoying this story for a while now. You have a wonderful style of writing and a natural flair.

Attention to Detail

Your attention to detail is stunning. It adds a beautiful sense of realism to your writing and expands upon the Johto region - which, I've personally loved for years. I can tell exactly where all the little villages, rivers and cities are placed. It feels very natural.

Personalities

You give your characters great personalities. I loved the piece on Bellosom in the last chapter. I hope Josh goes back to catch one. Also, the little Pokédex entries you included are great. They're really well thought out.

All in all, no much to fault (nothing actually) - can't wait for the next chapter :)
 
The Vulture Queen
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I was going to give original advice but I'm really busy today and promised something this weekend. Here's a very slightly edited c/p styled as an actual book review, down to third person author references, like I posted during the awards. My concrit thoughts on basically everything were explained in the mega review two months ago and too little has changed for me to repost that thing.


The Long Walk

Plot:

The story drifts a lot, which is kind of one of the most iconic parts of it but not great for forming a central plot. A guy and a girl drift through Johto to collect badges and figure out what they want to do. This take on things, focusing mostly on self-discovery rather than characters setting out with some grand goal, is intriguing. It is executed well. It just doesn't allow for complex or thrilling plots to be set up. There are some signs that something is coming, but now it's just kind of two people walking around handled well.

Characters:

Since there is no grand plot, characters inevitably must rise up to take the place of it in keeping the narrative together. This is adequately done, with most of the action focusing on the interactions and obstacles of two central characters who got quite a bit more exploration in this judging period. However, I can't say that any single character beyond possibly Evelina is truly captivating for me. Joshua himself is honestly kind of forgettable most of the time. There are several characters handled well, and even some funny or otherwise interesting minor ones such as Bugsy and the captain, but none are so spectacular that it gets into the top echelons of characterization.

Style:

It's style is nothing new, sure, but it's handled well enough. Frequent perspective flips and alternation between two main characters are handled very well and the story as a whole conveys a lot in relatively small sections. It also mixes casual heartwarming with some genuinely funny scenes that fit in and don't disrupt the flow while keeping the work reasonably serious. More than the characterization or plot, I would say that Pavell's style and skill with crafting individual moments in such a way that they gain significance is what holds the story together.

Technical:

There are one or two errors in all of the recent chapters, but those might be handwavable by my lack of fluency in English English. They are more than compensated for by the high but not pretentious vocabulary of the work.

Setting:

It's Johto, but British. A fair amount of work was put into developing a more realistic version of the region based on certain regions of England, and it kind of shows. The slow-pace and unconventional region kind of force world-building to a degree. Atlas entries at the bottom of chapters explain the world a little better as well as the real-world basis, and almost every geographic detail is there for a reason. The region's economy is also explored a little bit in some chapters, as well as the nature of a handful of other institutions in the Pokemon world. While it's not as exciting or elaborate as some stories, Pavell put in work and shows it.

General:

The Long Walk is a slow journey held together by character development and the author's skill at the slice-of-life genera more than any groundbreaking innovations or epic plot. The story goes slowly and apparently aimlessly, but there are some signs of a greater master plot in the works. Overall, though, Pavell executes the pacing well and makes his scenes count without dragging things out too much. But, for a character-centric story, there really isn't any single well-built core character. Joshua's developing, sure, but in the hands of a less-capable author it would be hard to use him to keep the story moving. Eve helps somewhat, but the problem and the lack of a core plot keep it from being perfect. But, it is still very good.


Joshua Cook

Depth:

He's kind of dull at first, in that he comes off as just an older, kind of poor journey fic protagonist that writers in this fandom generally rely upon to avoid writing children and allow for (usually) stronger trainers at the start. He isn't quite like this, as the story shows, but at the same time he sort of is. His family disputes and socioeconomic status are explored a bit more in this judging period, but I still can't connect with him really. It's clear now that he obviously has a backstory (he can now sort of blacksmith or whatever the verb form of that is and we know his useless major) but it's not terribly compelling. Then again, for a work that's sort of about average people on a seemingly average journey, that's almost kind of expected.

Originality:

I elaborated on it above, but he still can't really shake the mold he's apparently crafted from. Pavell's slowly forming him into his own character, but the base he's working with isn't quite original in this fandom.

Entertainment:

He isn't a guy prone to do awesome things. But, he occasionally does. His skill against Bugsy was quite admirable, for one, and he had some serious guts to climb into an onix burrow earlier in the fic. These moments are punctuated by long periods of him kind of being a normal guy, though, and he doesn't really make me think or cheer or laugh or feel very deeply. He's getting more exciting, but I don't think he's there yet.

Plot:

The story is his journey, mostly. Until he had to start sharing it. Eve was almost more of a driving force in more recent chapters, but it's still more or less his story. Not having total control of the story slightly hurt him in judging, though.

General:

He's kind of a plain character trying not to be kind of a plain person with the journey. He's started to succeed, but he hasn't quite done so yet. I look forward to seeing more of him, but I wouldn't quite call him one of the best characters on the site.

Evelina Joy

Depth:

Her family side is explored a lot more than most Joys in fan fiction, and she's really got quite a personality beyond her last name. We haven't seen a lot of her yet, but she provides a lot more active contribution to the story than Joshua's developing personality right now. While her hidden depths are not fully explored, I am willing to believe they are there for now.

Originality:

Yes, Rebel Joys happen. However, I think they happen relatively infrequently and given the size of the Pokemon fan fiction community basically every concept with merit has already been done in some form. Evelina is handled much better than most Rebel Joys as well, having her own personality and not just a hatred for her family. In fact, her attitudes are really less a hatred for her family and more a desire for independence that happens to clash with tradition at this point. It's an interesting take on a relatively rare trope.

Entertainment:

She's good for a few really funny parts of the story (the bath scene, man) and provides a lot of the passion and emotional depth without being a character explicitly meant to be funny or emotional or philosophical. I would seriously consider reading a story solely about her exploits, even if there are characters who I find more memorable.

Plot:

For being introduced as a minor character, Eve has really risen in importance to be at least half of the story. In the recent arc I would argue more than half as her family issues and Pokemon training and capturing have really been more interesting than Josh's and she was the one who instigated the shared journey. However, it really is still Josh's story at the moment so I wouldn't be totally comfortable giving her a nine.

General:

With all that said... Eve has a few problems. Her family issues have been introduced and all, but it's clear that there's a lot more there to explore. She's started opening up but it's not all out yet. Furthermore, the speed at which she kind of falls for Joshua is a little off-putting given that they had been together less than a week when she wanted to travel with him. I want to see more of her to make up my mind, but for now she's still a solid protagonist.

Magnemite

Depth:

The Long Walk has some variant of Pokespeak. Eve's Pokemon use it in some way, often to humorous or endearing effect. Magnemite does not, although we do get some of his thoughts to compensate. The problem is, these thoughts basically amount to "I like being polished and I like my trainer." If we add in implied, show-y things than we get "I trust my trainer when he has me do seemingly dumb things." Once he gets to speaking kind of regularly or actually develops a coherent personality (note: it is stated at one point in the story that it only barely understands what the word "I" means in either a strange reference to Anthem or as a sign that it has no personality), I expect his depth to pick up. For now, there's not much there.

Originality:

It's a Magnemite as a first captured Pokemon. You don't see that everyday. It has a few unique takes on the Magnemite line, like liking polishing and orbiting around his trainer, but there's not much unique about him. It's a Pokemon without much emotion. It likes its trainer. Once depth picks up we can look more at originality.

Entertainment:

Magnemite's most memorable scenes are probably tied to it beating Bugsy with Joshua's commands. Even then, it kind of took the role of most batting Pokemon... a dependent pawn of the trainer with no in-battle personality. Its crowning moment was probably managing to blast apart a Spinarak, mostly though its trainer's stratagem. Outside of that, it has a one-off gag involving a Pikachu that is overshadowed by a much funnier Pokemon in the same scene. It's not boring and he has a few moments mentioned above, but I don't find it terribly memorable.

Plot:

It was Joshua's primary means of earning a badge, as well as his first capture. But, I feel like basically any Pokemon with an advantage over bug could have been added in with little lost. It just simply hasn't changed terribly much by the value of it being there.

General:

It's currently a one or two dimensional character that isn't terribly entertaining. It might get better. I don't know. It gets overshadowed by the humans and even the other Pokemon, to be honest. But some of the logic behind how a Magnemite would work is interesting enough to put it a little higher than I might otherwise would.



Sorry for the delay. I was originally going to do something other than c/p, but I realized that I would basically just be slightly updating the last review I gave.
 
Ch. 12 - Heart of the Heartwoods
Thesaurus rex
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I really should start writing these at the time I receive feedback. I'm certain I had all kinds of clever things to say two months ago. Oh well, here's my best effort to be clever and interesting. Oh, and a lot of feedback, which I am in no way resentful for. Seriously guys, thanks for all the comments

@Safe-T: I'm glad you liked Captain Hoster's dialogue. It was a bit of an experiment, you might say – it's a bit more American than usual for The Long Walk, but I kind of felt like it should be. The whole riverboat concept is something of an American one – British rivers aren't big enough for that sort of thing, alas. Personally I'd love to cruise down the Mississippi on a big ol' riverboat.

@Jabberwocky: You make some good points, and as you could see by my editing, I agree with the general thrust of your feedback. I'll address some of your comments below since they overlap with kintsugi's feedback

@kintsugi: First of all, I'll admit that I have been a bit self-indulgent with the world-building in this chapter. The idea of introducing the fight before it happens was intended to say “Hey, things like this were are inevitable, so it's no surprise” - the whole idea of the argument, in fact, was based on the idea that you can't put two people together for long periods of time without them clashing over something stupid.
However, I agree that it wasn't my best interaction. It was really difficult to write, and to get to a point where it felt like I'd done the best I could. I suppose what it boils down to is that I was trying to do too much in too short a chapter. The Long Walk is a slow story and I wanted to clip along at a fair pace after the Azalea arc, but that idea kind of clashed with the events of the chapter. A lesson learned, there, I think.

@Flaze: A few days, yes, but a few days spent almost entirely in one another's company. I refuse to respond in any particular way to the dating comment. And looks like you picked up on the pacing problems as well >_<

@VTP-Dawkins93: Such a lot of nice things to say, thank you! I'm glad you like Josh as a character. I often worry that he's a bit too ordinary for his own good, especially next to the oddball that is Evelina Joy.

@Airt: Oh, you sweet-talker, you. I'm sorry for making you wait so long for this chapter, I hope you enjoy it

@Rediamond: I appreciate you taking the time to post, and indeed, some decent constructive criticism may well just be repeating yourself. I was thinking the same thing a few days ago, believe it or not

Version History:
1.1 : Slimmed down Arborville description

Note: I'm aware that this chapter is quite a bit longer than previous chapters. To find the halfway-point, Ctrl+F (XII) will take you down to the right place

Chapter Twelve – Heart of the Heartwoods (Version 1.1)

Joshua

Majestic in their immensity, the redwoods of Arborville rose up like pillars of the world. Cloaked in the early morning mist, tall and strong and silent, one could almost believe that the trees somehow had a consciousness of their own.

Beneath the roof of sleeping leaves the dreams of trees unfold …

The fragment of poetry came back to him as he stood out on the balcony, clutching a mug of caustic coffee, enjoying the moment of unalloyed peace. Pale and cold, the forest had a washed-out, desaturated quality to it; wheeling sunbeams lanced down through the treetops high above, lending the mists a soft, ethereal glow.

Really, it was a privilege to be here.

From his perch on the narrow balcony, Josh had a panoramic view of the town. Most of the homes were treehouses, cosy little bungalows built up near the branches of a redwood. About a third of the town – the Low Village – was situated close to the banks of the Withywindle at the bottom of the Arbor Falls. The High Village lay at the top of the cliff, looking down upon the Low Village from dizzying heights.

Josh took a sip of his dark, sweet coffee – a second mug stood steaming on the balustrade. Behind him, floorboards creaked gently as Eve padded out to join him on the balcony. Her hair was still damp from the shower, and she shivered a little even though she was fully dressed. Wordlessly, Josh handed over the second mug. Eve drank her coffee in long draughts, heedless of the heat.

“It's a beautiful morning,” Eve said after a while.

“Yeah,” Josh replied. “Where did you say the Poké Mart is?”

“In the Pokémon Centre,” Eve sighed. “Pokémon Clinic, technically.”

“What's the difference?”

“Size,” Eve said glumly. She took a gulp of coffee and huffed ruefully.

“Want me to go in? I can get your things as well as mine.”

“Would you mind?”

“It's ok. Being a Joy isn't easy, right?” Josh said. Eve gave him a small smile.

“Anyway,” Josh added, “if I'm going to the Poké Mart, you're getting the groceries.”

*​

Arborville's idiosyncratic architecture extended even to the Pokémon Clinic, which was a full-blown treehouse in the High Village. In all other respects, though, the Clinic resembled a scaled-down Pokémon Centre. Most of the floorspace was taken up by the common room, with the semi-circular reception desk directly in front of the door. Off to the right, two blue shelving units partitioned off the Poké Mart from the rest of the Clinic.

“Good morning! Welcome to our Pokémon Clinic,” Joy said. She wore a different uniform to her peers, without the usual white apron and cap. Instead she wore a sleeveless pink dress, with a white armband around her bicep. It occurred to Josh that the teenage Joys at the Azalea Pokémon Centre wore an armband over casual clothes, rather than the full uniform.

“Hi. My magnemite just needs charging,” Josh said.

“We can do that for you! May I see your trainer's licence?”

As Josh handed over his licence it occurred to him that the Joys weren't quite identical. There were differences in each of them, if you looked for them. This Joy had a paler complexion and slightly frizzy hair compared to her relatives in Azalea Town. Eve had a rather willowy figure – although, Josh realised, the uniform didn't give much away in that respect. Every Joy wore the same uniform, the same hairstyle, adopted the same calm, competent public persona. No wonder you'd think them identical at first glance.

“That's all ok Joshua. Is there any-anything else I can help you with?” Joy said, stumbling over her words.

“No, thank you,” Josh said. “I'll just be in the Poké Mart.”

There were differences in their mannerisms too, Josh thought as he picked out medicines. All Joys had blue eyes, but Eve … Eve's were special. It wasn't so much the way she could nail you to the spot when she was in a mood – she'd given that look to her cousins in the Pokémon Centre – but the way she looked at him in Azalea Town after her Gym Battle -

“Joshua?” Joy called, appearing from behind the shelves. “Y-You have a phone call.”

Who the hell would call me here? Joy led him round into the common room. There was a row of video phones across the back wall. One was live, the video screen showing a Joy in full uniform. Josh sat down, wondering what this was all about.

“Good morning, Joshua! So nice to finally meet you,” she said in that warm, melted-butter voice the Joys so often used.

“I don't believe we've been introduced, Nurse Joy,” Josh said diplomatically.

“Oh, I'm sorry! Gabriella Joy. Evelina's mother. A little pidgey tells me that you're my daughter's new travel companion,” she added playfully.

“Pleased to meet you, Mrs Joy. And yes, we are friends.”

“Oh please, call me Gabriella! No need to be so formal,” Gabriella said, smiling warmly. Typically for a Joy, she seemed to have aged well - a few thin lines around her eyes and mouth marked her seniority. “I like to get to know Evelina's friends when I can.”

I'll bet you do. Josh came from a large extended family. The Cook clan often feuded amongst themselves, apparently just to give themselves something to do at family gatherings. Josh was beginning to suspect that Gabriella was playing Feud, and trying to pull him into it. Eve hadn't said much about her mother – Josh doubted they were on great terms. What do you want, Gabriella Joy?

Out loud he said, “Well, I'm a trainer from Mulberry Town, and I have one Badge so far. Eve and I met by chance at the Azalea Gym. She's good company.”

“Evelina's become quite a young woman,” Gabriella said. “Enough to make your girlfriend jealous, huh?”

Josh decided that he was fed-up with this game. “Does Eve know you're talking to me?” he demanded.

The smile froze on Gabriella's face. “That's an odd question to ask, don't you think?” she said jovially.

“She doesn't, does she?” Josh insisted. “Why did you call me, Mrs Joy?”

This time her smile disappeared entirely. “I told you once already. I wanted to get the measure of this Mulberry Town lad who has been hanging around my daughter,” Gabriella said. Her Cherrygrove accent was beginning to slip out. “And to let him know that the Joys look after their own.”

“Just what are you suggesting?” Josh said coldly. He didn't much like the implications in those remarks.

“That you'd better behave yourself,” Gabriella replied. The butter in her tone had gone, replaced with a superiority that just made Josh angrier.

“Would you be telling me this if I was called Sebastian from Ecruteak City? No, don't answer that,” Josh said, putting some iron into his voice. “You're a mother, and you don't know me, so I'll overlook that insult.”

“You'll overlook it? I suggest you keep a civil tongue in your head, or else -”

I don't answer to you.

They stared angrily at each other through the video screen. Gabriella was giving him the same sapphire-edged glare as Eve did when she was angry. Look, she's even gone a bit red in the cheeks like Eve, too, the observant part of his brain remarked.

“Eve will be as safe with me as she would be with her own dad. On my word of honour. Even Mulberry Town lads have honour,” he added sourly. Gabriella said nothing, looking at him like she intended to burn him alive with the force of her glare. Josh kept his face as still as he could. Out of sight of the video phone's camera he compulsively drummed his fingers against his knee.

“People think that because nurses are everywhere that we're invisible. And that we don't have eyes and ears,” Gabriella said slowly. “If you betray my trust I'll know.”

“Duly noted,” Josh snapped, abruptly stabbing at the call end button and hanging up before Gabriella could reply. For a moment Josh wondered whether it was wise to try and make her more angry. He didn't care – he was in no mood to be given orders by anyone, least of all Gabriella Joy.

*​

It was hard to stay angry, walking through the Heartwoods with Eve. The forest that had felt so uncomfortably wide and gloomy last night now had a stately beauty to it. The air was bright and clear with a pleasantly earthy smell. The trainer's trail was little more than a forest path marked with wayposts every mile or so, following the course of the Withywindle. Once the trail passed close to the boundary of Lake of Life Reserve – legend had it the lake water had mystical life-giving powers. Josh doubted there was anything more than a grain of truth to the legend, but it was definitely true that the undergrowth was a lot lusher than he'd expected. All sorts of bushes and ferns – even the odd young tree – somehow managed to thrive in between the giants. Pokémon were in abundance too - Bug-types of all kinds, furret scampering up the trees, clouds of jumpluff floating through the canopy.

Eve was apparently in a playful mood. Her aimless chattering made him laugh despite his bad temper. At one point she punched him on the arm in retaliation for a snide remark – without really thinking Josh punched her back, and started a war that ended with sore arms for them both.

Late in the afternoon they came to a place where the trail was crossed by a muddy banked stream. The stream was only about a couple of feet wide, but somebody had built a wooden bridge across it anyway. And it was guarded by a knight.

There was no other word for it. He – presumably it was a he – stood at the near side of the span, statue-still. He wore a hauberk of bright mail beneath a black surcoat blazoned with a heraldic grumpig. The greathelm on his head completely obscured his face, with nothing but a narrow letter-box slit to see through. Josh shot Eve a quizzical look; the knight had made no indication that he'd seen them as they approached. She just shrugged, smirking.

“'scuse me, feller,” Josh said awkwardly, moving to step round him.

“None shall pass!” the knight suddenly boomed.

“What?”

None shall pass!”

“Why?”

This seemed to flummox the knight. “Because … because I am sworn to defend this bridge against all pokémon trainers!”

“Oh come on!” Josh said. “I could just walk across that stream!”

“Then you'll get muddy won't you,” the knight said unsympathetically. The hollow greathelm made his voice echo. Josh gave him a cold stare. The helmet stared back impassively.

“Are you really a knight?” Josh said.

“My arms! Look!” his voice turned petulant and he pointed irritably at his surcoat. “My heraldry! See? I am Sir William the Black, and no man shall pass me!”

“What about women?” Eve piped up.

William appeared to notice Eve for the first time. “My lady!” he cried, dropping to one knee with a jingle of mail. To Josh's annoyance, he rather theatrically took her hand. “What manner of ill-fortune has led you to travel these lands, guarded only by a base cur?”

“A what?” Eve said.

“Oi!” Josh protested.

William ignored him. “A lady so fair should have a knight for her praetorian,” he said softly. The effect was rather spoiled by the tinny echo from his greathelm. Without waiting for an answer he leapt to his feet and squared up to Josh.

“You!” he barked. “Guard yourself, peasant, and face me in honourable battle!”

*​

Josh faced Sir William across the clearing, and wondered why he was playing along with this. Their chosen battlefield was on the near side of the bridge, at William's insistence, the stream trickling away to their left. The forest floor was carpeted with a deep, springy layer of leaf litter – the light alternately brightened and faded as clouds passed over the sun.

William unsnapped a Great Ball from his belt. “For the honour of the lady and for the passage of the bridge, I, Sir William the Black, of the noble line of Fairfax, challenge you to combat!” he declared. “Come forth, Caerbannog!”

Caerbannog was a large, spiny, rabbit-like pokémon, livid purple with a savage horn protruding from his forehead. Nidorino. Poison-type. An aggressive species. Hmm …

“I, Joshua, of the lowly line of Cook, who built this Johto from smoke and iron, accept your challenge. Bulbasaur, battle's on!”

Bulbasaur pawed the ground and gave a nervous bark. Josh could see why – Caerbannog had fixed him with a ferocious look, snapping his fangs with a kind of methodical menace.

“Don't let him intimidate you, Bulbasaur!” Josh called encouragingly. “There's power beneath your scales!”

[If you say so! I trust you, Josh.]

Ok, so, tactics. We can use the sun – wait a minute. I understood that!

“I understood that,” Josh breathed. He laughed joyously as the implications of it sunk in. It had finally happened! Just like Eve had said, Josh heard nothing but the usual 'bulba-bulbasaur' – but his mind understood the meaning as easily as if Bulbasaur had been speaking English.

The sun came out, and Josh laughed again. “Alright! Start off with Growth!”

Charge, Caerbannog! Horn Attack, full tilt!” William boomed. Bulbasaur flinched at the sight of Caerbannog's powerful legs propelling him forward into a thudding charge. His bulb glowed brighter and brighter as he drew power from the sun.

“Trip it up,” Josh ordered hastily. Bulbasaur’s vines whipped out and he sharply smacked Caerbannog on the ankles, causing him to stumble for a few paces before losing his footing completely. Josh breathed a sigh of relief. He hadn't had time to think that order through. What would Eve do now?

“Tackle.”

Trailing yellow sun-motes, Bulbasaur counter-charged hard. Caerbannog gave a wheezy bellow as Bulbasaur knocked the air from his lungs, almost drowning out Sir William's complaints about unchivalrous tactics.

“Fury Attack!” he yelled tinnily. Caerbannog turned and drove Bulbasaur back with a flurry of attacks, primarily stabbing with his horn, throwing the occasional kick to keep Bulbasaur confused and off-balance. Come on, think of a counter! What have you read about nidorino?

[Back off, you!] Bulbasaur barked, and fired a Leech Seed at Caerbannog's face. The nidorino had to hop awkwardly to one side to dodge it, then rear up on his hind legs to avoid a follow-up shot. Bulbasaur seized his chance to create some space between Caerbannog and himself.

“Well done, Bulbasaur,” Josh called. Get it together, man! Their pokémon circled each other warily. William seemed to like battling up close with his nidorino – Josh wondered whether it was capable of attacking at all from a distance. “Keep your distance Bulbasaur, and be patient,” he ordered. They'll have to make a mistake sooner or later.

Caerbannog was growling something at Bulbasaur as they circled one another. [Hey, shut up,] Bulbasaur replied contemptuously. [You know nothing about him.]

Caerbannog bellowed in fury and charged again. Sooner rather than later. “Trip it!” Josh immediately ordered. Bulbasaur scythed at his opponent's legs, but Caerbannog simply leapt straight over the vines with one bound.

“Oh damnit!”

[Oh damnit!]

There was no way Bulbasaur could dodge in time. Hit head-on, Bulbasaur was thrown across the field like a football, where he collided heavily with a tree.

“Bulbasaur!” Josh shouted. “Are you alright?”

[I'm -] Bulbasaur started. Something plopped onto the leaf litter beside him, followed by another, and another, and another. There were five in total, like rather large pine cones covered with bark and bits of forest detritus.

“Pineco!” one of them announced. On cue, all five started to glow. Self-Destruct. Five Self-Destructs, right next to Bulbasaur. Josh's blood ran cold. He was dimly aware of Eve and William running for cover, but all he could think about was bringing Bulbasaur's Poké Ball up as fast as he possibly could -

- the next thing he knew, the scenery was whirling around him and there was a sudden sense of weightlessness. Dust and shredded leaf litter blasted by, and he landed heavily. He couldn't remember hearing the explosion, but he must have done because his ears were ringing. Josh instinctively clutched the Poké Ball hard to his heart.

Eve was pulling him to his feet. “Is he alright? Josh, is he alright?” she said gently.

There was a recall beam. I saw the recall beam! “He's alright. He's alright,” Josh managed. His breathing was ragged and shallow. I saw the recall beam. I was fast enough. He's alright. He's alright. The pineco smoked innocently next to their tree while the nearby stream babbled in its muddy bed.

“You forfeit the battle,” Sir William declared. Josh looked at him blankly.

“What?” he said.

“By recalling your pokémon, you forfeit the battle,” William repeated. “Victory is mine, peasant. I win the bridge and the lady both.”

Eve spun around and gave William a firm two-handed shove, pitching him into the stream. The knight impacted with an ignominious splat.

“I can't be won, Sir,” Eve called down at him. “I don't care what you've won, I've chosen Josh, so deal with it! Oh, and learn to show some compassion, you jerk!” she added as an afterthought.

Josh smiled weakly, fumbling at his belt as he tried to clip Bulbasaur's Poké Ball back onto it. His hands didn't seem to work properly, and he dropped the Ball into the leaf litter. Eve picked it up, reducing it with a quick tap on the button. Before he could thank her she put her arms around him.

“Hey,” she said gently. “It's alright. I'll check Bulbasaur out, he'll be fine.” There was something reassuring about that voice, and in the forceful way she held him ... Josh felt his breathing slow down and match Eve's own.

“Feel better?” she said. Her voice was like melted butter.

“Yeah. Yeah, I feel better. Thank you, Eve.”

“You're welcome, Josh.”

*​

They camped by the Withywindle that night. They weren't far from the northeastern border of the Heartwoods now, with the majority of the redwood forest behind them. Their campsite was just at the edge of a little meadow surrounded by more familiar hazels, alders and willows by the river. Further east, there was a Pokémon Centre where the Heartwoods met the Deepwoods.

Next morning dawned pale and cold again. Josh was the first awake, and he'd set to building a fire to drive off the chill. His pokémon didn't really mind the cold – Bulbasaur was cheerfully downing mouthfuls of damp earth for his breakfast, his wounds sealing up nicely after Eve had treated them. Screwball hovered near to Josh's shoulder, wearing the vacant expression of a magnemite with nothing in particular to do.

This morning wasn't quite so peaceful as it had been in Arborville. Somewhere in the branches of the alder that overhung the campsite, a pair of mating pikachu were being annoyingly vocal -

“Piiika pikapikapikapikapikaaa!”

Josh did his best to ignore them. Screwball had no such sense of discretion and stared up into the branches – although Josh suspected he was more interested in the electricity stored in their cheek sacs.

Some sleepy mumblings drifted from Eve's tent. Yesterday she'd decided to catch a pineco, to add some balance to her team of speedsters. The problem was that the pineco seemed to know what she wanted. The first colony she approached immediately surrounded her with a thick field of Spikes. It turned out that Spikes were no match for aron steel soles, though Josh wished that he'd discovered that under other circumstances. Picking Eve up and carrying her out of the Spikes might have seemed like the most sensible solution but it was also the most awkward ... not least because it was only after he'd set her down that they'd both remembered Gail's Defog -

“PIKA-AAA!”

“Right, that tears it!” Josh snapped. “Screwball?”

“Maaag.”

“Get rid of them.”

Screwball swiftly headed into the branches. There was a brief blast of electricity, the ckroom of a Sonic Boom, and a pair of shell-shocked pikachu dropped into the dirt. The female gave Josh a reproachful look before they scampered away.

Still in her hoodie dress and yawning like a slowpoke, Eve emerged from her tent and plunked down opposite. “What's the fire for,” she said tonelessly.

“Breakfast.”

“Why didn't you just use my camp stove?”

“What? Oh. I forgot you had that. I guess my first instinct is to build a campfire,” Josh said. Eve was giving him a sceptical look, “Blame my parents and their 'hunter-gatherer camping' trips.”

“Well it's warmer than my stove,” Eve admitted, trying to rub the sleep out of her eyes. While Josh kept an eye on the fire, Eve rummaged after the bread for breakfast. “Ugh, great. The baguette's stale.”

“I know what we can do with it,” Josh said after a pause for thought. “Bulbasaur, would you find us some salad?”

[Sure thing,] Bulbasaur replied, and headed off into the meadow.

“You know what you're looking for, right?”

[Yep!] Bulbasaur called back, while Josh grabbed a cookpot and headed off downstream.

“Hey!” Eve said indignantly. “Aren't you going to tell me what you're planning?”

“Nope. It's a surprise!”

About half a mile downstream he found what he was looking for – a good spot to look for river clams, in the fine silty mud by the riverbank.

Unfortunately, that spot was on the wrong side of the Withywindle. This side was a flat, pebbly beach, and there wasn't a worthwhile crossing in sight. Damn. There was no way there'd be any shellfish in the shallows. Oh well, nothing for it. Making certain that a nosy Eve hadn't decided to follow him, Josh quickly stripped down. The waist-deep river water was chilly but it would be easier to dry himself than to dry his clothes.

It only took a minute of rummaging to find a clam, dull brown and about palm-sized. Josh liked foraging for shellfish in this tactile way, even if it was cold. He searched as much with his hands and toes as with his eyes. It was with toe-touch that he discovered a bed of freshwater mussels hiding beneath the overhang of a large boulder – Josh picked a double-handful of the biggest. He was bent double, digging out a particularly big clam when something growled softly.

There was an ursaring standing on the river bank.

Josh froze, the prize clam in his hand forgotten. The ursaring loomed like a wall of fur and muscle scowling down at him. His gaze was drawn inexorably to the battery of gleaming six-inch claws adorning its paws. And I left Bulbasaur and Screwball behind. Naked and unarmed, he could hardly feel more vulnerable.

Ursaring had been fishing, he noticed. It was holding a pawful of freshly caught trout and … not doing anything much. It was just standing there, scowling at him.

Hoping fervently that he was going to get away with this, Josh carefully tossed his prize clam at Ursaring's feet. Ursaring picked it up with a shovel-sized paw and examined it closely. Please, just take it and go! Ursaring grunted and daintily popped the clam between its teeth. With its free paw, it selected the smallest of its fish and held it out invitingly. Tentatively, and with one worried eye on those long claws, Josh took the gift. That done, Ursaring turned and ponderously stumped off, waving a paw as if to say 'So long!'

With Ursaring gone, Josh finally had a chance to swallow his heart again. Ok. He forced himself to stay calm. Just because an ursaring has given me a fish is no reason to start running around panicking. He made his way back across the river and sat down on the beach for a while, no longer caring who happened by. It would be nice to go for more than a day without being scared out of my skin. Then he got dressed and headed back to camp.

*​

Back at the campsite, Eve was browsing her Pokédex while her pokémon finished their breakfast. Bulbasaur was back with bunches of wild salad held in his vines.

“How on earth did you catch that?” Eve demanded on spotting the fish.

“I didn't. An ursaring gave it to me,” Josh said in the bright, brittle voice of a man who can't quite believe the morning he's had.

“You're not joking, are you?” Eve said. “That does it, I'm looking that up.”

“Ursaring, the Hibernator Pokémon,” her Pokédex chattered as Josh spitted the fish on a hazel rod. “Though these pokémon have a fierce reputation, they are not usually aggressive. When two ursaring meet, they will often exchange gifts of food as a method of avoiding territorial conflict.”

“That explains that,” Josh said with forced casualness. He suspended the fish over the fire to cook. “So Bulbasaur, what have you found?”

“Ooh, what we having?” Eve said, immediately interested.

“Wild salad, river clam and mussel sandwich with a bit of fish on the side. Ok, let's see … chickweed, dandelion leaves – hm, and flowers – wood sorrel, oh!” Josh gasped. “Wild garlic! Bulbasaur, you've excelled yourself.”

[I looked really hard for it,] Bulbasaur said proudly.

Josh cleaned the shellfish while Eve cut the bread. The shellfish went into the pot with a cup of water, the wild garlic and a good splash of olive oil. I wish I had a bit of chilli pepper for this. He set the pot over Eve's campstove to cook. Josh wasn't sure he approved of that stove. It was an expensive wood-burning model, with an integrated fan and electricity generator; Josh had been brought up to distrust devices like that.

By the time their food was finished Eve was hovering impatiently, the phrase 'Is it ready yet?' obviously teetering on her lips. Josh smiled with the satisfaction of a job done well as he added the gently steaming shellfish to Eve's sandwich. Eve bit into it eagerly, tearing away a chunk with gusto.

“Mmn,” she exclaimed appreciatively. “What's that lemony kinda flavour?”

“That'll be the wood sorrel,” Josh said, taking the fish off the fire. “Have some of the trout.”

He peeled back the skin and pulled off a lump of the pale pink fish. The flesh was firm and light and gloriously oily from being cooked in its own skin.

Neither Josh nor Eve said much for a while, focussing on their hot breakfast for a cold morning. Inevitably the trout didn't last long. By rights, the sight of Eve methodically licking her fingers ought to be rather off-putting, Josh thought. Her lips were shiny with oil – oh, and a bit of her cheek too. Yet there was something endearing about that; it was cute, in a messy sort of way. Maybe it's because it's my food she's devouring. There was still something bothering him about their friendship though.

“Um, Eve? You know how we're being honest about how we feel?” Josh started. Eve looked at him apprehensively. “Well yesterday you told that idiot William that you'd picked me and I just wondered … why,” he said rather more quickly than he'd intended.

“Oh!” Eve said with a relieved giggle. “I thought you were interesting. But more than anything else you really listen to what I've got to say. Most people don't, not really, they're just waiting for their turn to speak. Or they don't see Eve at all but just Joy and are only interested in putting a novelty notch in their bedpost,” she growled.

Josh hurriedly took a bite of his sandwich. There was a warm, fuzzy-edged sensation somewhere in the region of his diaphragm that had nothing to do with the hot breakfast. Eve liked him and he was just being himself – that was a good feeling.

“Why did you say 'yes'?” Eve asked.

“I admire your passion. Your self-assurance,” Josh said, looking at the fire. “You know exactly what you want to do, and why, and damn what anyone else thinks,” he idly poked at the ashes. “And I usually feel intimidated and nervy around pretty, confident girls, but not with you.”

“Oh ...” Eve said nothing else for a moment. It didn't sound like a disappointed 'Oh'.

“I guess I'll just have to try harder to be scary then! Grr!” she said, growling playfully. She was shivering again this morning. Josh grabbed the pot from by the fire, still holding the savoury broth from the shellfish.

“Here,” he said, handing it over. “Have a mug of this, warm you right up.”

“Don't you want any?”

“You have it, buddy. Call it my thanks for yesterday, if you like,” he said sincerely. The events of yesterday had underlined something he'd managed to forget – that, in short, he loved his Bulbasaur dearly. His pokémon was so familiar that it was an emotion Josh didn't really notice any more. Screeching bull onix and wandering ursaring were frightening, but the cold fear that had gripped him when those pineco started glowing … his bruises were beginning to seriously ache, but it didn't matter because Bulbasaur was safe. Now that they could actually converse Josh resolved to tell his beloved partner these things.

“So are you still determined to catch a pineco?” he asked Eve.

“Yep. And I'm going to catch that pineco,” she answered, pointing up into the branches of the overhanging alder. There was a solitary pineco looking down at them charily. This one had constructed its bag from a multitude of short twigs arranged like wooden spines.

“It's kind of small for its species, isn't it?”

“So are you. What's your point?”

Eve tossed a Poké Ball in the air, expanded it, and caught it in one smooth motion.

*​

Eve tossed a Poké Ball in the air, expanded it, and caught it in one smooth motion. “Give it another Gust, and make it a concentrated one!”

Josh was watching the battle, taking mental notes. Eve had already had Gail harass Pineco with a succession of Quick Attacks before knocking it out of the tree with Gust. Pineco hopped upright and briefly flashed a dull iron colour. Gail launched herself into the air, swooped down and trapped the grounded bagworm in the teeth of a Gust. Debris whirled erratically in a proto-vortex before the lashing wind flung pineco against a tree trunk.

“Got you! Go Poké Ball!” Eve threw the Ball with a quick flick of her wrist. Her Poké Ball struck Pineco's centre of mass and bounced off without so much as opening.

“What the? Oh, you clever ...” Eve sounded more impressed than upset.

“What the hell happened there?” Josh asked.

“It's using anti-Poké Ball armour. Those twigs stop the Poké Ball from getting close enough for the Capture Net to deploy. Oh, I have to catch you now!”

Meanwhile Pineco was sensibly winching itself back into the branches while Eve was distracted.

“Hey! Where do you think you're going?” she yelled, throwing another Poké Ball. Josh could tell that she was trying to hit a broken spot in Pineco's armour, but even Eve's aim wasn't that good. The Ball bounced off, Pineco made good its escape, and Eve screamed wordlessly in frustration.

However, the wheels in Josh's head were beginning to turn. If he could find a length of hazel the right shape …

*
Josh sat cross-legged with a hazel branch across his knees. He was removing the surplus twigs with the saw blade on his multi-tool. With admirable bloody mindedness Eve was still trying to catch that pineco. Unfortunately, Eve's aiming problems were exacerbated by the fact that Pineco was now deliberately trying to stop her from targeting the damaged spots of its armour.

Josh gave his work a critical look. It would still need to be straightened out over the fire – I wish I had some sandpaper and a bit of copper sheeting to finish it properly – but it would be fit for purpose.

*​

Eve gnawed irritably at a chocolate bar. Pineco had retreated into its tree, watching Eve as intently as she watched it. “It's repaired its armour already, look,” she commented.

Josh trimmed off the last few splinters with his knife. “That'll do,” he grudgingly admitted.

“What are you making now?” Eve said testily.

“You're going to regret that, Eve, because it's something for you,” Josh replied calmly. “I call it – the Capture Spear!”

The finished tool was over sixty inches long, making it almost as long as Josh was tall. For most of its length it was simply a stick of good hazel, but at one end he had left a few inches of the branches on the stick, so that a Poké Ball could nestle quite nicely there. He had secured one in place with a few strips of electrical tape, so that the button faced directly forwards like a spearhead.

“Josh, you hoopy frood,” Eve exclaimed, understanding immediately. With a Poké Ball taped into place, the Capture Spear would allow her to strike faster and with much better accuracy than she could manage from throwing a Poké Ball. She spun it around in her hands a few times to get a feel for the balance.

“Yeeah, this'll work! Ok, let's do this while pineco's still tired!” Eve said with renewed enthusiasm, selecting a Poké Ball from her gilet. “Meowth, you have the honour!”

Meowth scratched an ear idly, giving Eve a look of feline disdain. He lazily meowed something to his trainer.

“Yes, you do, you rotten moggy. Now behave and cut down that pineco. There may be a fish head in it for you.”

“Mee-owth!” the scruffy black cat replied, suitably bribed. He darted off towards the base of the big alder, splitting off into Double Teams as he went. The clowder of fake meowth swarmed up the nearby trees, converging on the solitary pineco. Unconcerned, Pineco launched a flight of Pin Missiles, the pins arrowing and snaking down at the clowder. In one attack it destroyed most of the clones – but missed the real Meowth, who sliced through its silken anchor with one swipe.

“Chase it! Fury Swipes!” Eve ordered. Meowth dropped straight from the tree, claws unsheathed and ready. It should have been an unavoidable high-impact attack, but Pineco simply started a Rapid Spin; Meowth was thrown violently clear before he could so much as land a blow. He howled harshly, as angry as he was hurt.

Eve paced back and forth predatorialy, holding the Capture Spear in both hands. Even as a high-speed Meowth whizzed by she lunged, jabbing once-twice-thrice. Eve apparently saw something Josh couldn't, since she suddenly cursed and retreated.

“Meowth, in front of me!” she barked in a tone that brooked no argument. Josh almost took a step forward before his brain reminded him that she was talking to the cat. Meowth looked like he was itching to attack, but he obeyed his trainer and placed himself between Eve and Pineco.

“Flash,” Eve commanded. Meowth's charm suddenly blazed like burning magnesium. Josh covered his eyes too late – by the time he blinked the glare out of his vision Pineco was starting to glow yellow.

“Oh, no you don't!” Eve roared, lunging forward.

Eve!” Josh shouted. What the hell is she doing?

Eve deftly spun the Capture Spear into an overarm grip. Pineco's glow brightened, its armour about to become a hail of flying shrapnel. Eve struck fast and true, thrusting the Spear down with both hands. With the distinctive whine-whoosh of the Capture Net opening, Pineco was sucked into the Ball. The button light flashed half-heartedly a few times.

ping!

Ha-ha!” Eve whooped. “I finally gotcha, you cunning little bastard!”

I can't believe she got away with that. Eve started an impromptu victory-dance, waving the Capture Spear in the air while Meowth meowed insistently at her feet.

“Oh, calm down, you'll get your fish head – hey, what's up?” she said, seeing the look on Josh's face.

You got closer to a Self-Destructing pineco. “You are … a brave, crazy girl,” was all he could think to say.

Next Chapter: Deep in the Deepwoods

Atlas - Wild Foods:
I really want to talk about the proper use of the terms “arms” and “heraldry”, but this is supposed to be The Long Walk Atlas and not Pavell's Complaints. So I'll talk about wild foods instead. It's surprising how little you have to make up in fiction. I'm pretty sure I invented the freshwater clams and mussels, but it's not competely out there – freshwater shellfish do exist, after all.

Anyway, you'd be amazed at how many plants that are apparently weeds are nonetheless both edible and palatable. I live in British suburbia (More or less), and I can find about five things I can eat raw just walking to the convenience store. Daisies taste fresher than any pre-bagged salad I've ever eaten. Dandelion leaves are a bit bland but quite acceptable. Dandelion flowers are a bit grassy, perhaps – though don't eat any of the sap. It contains latex and is vile.

My point is that with a decent field guide to wild foods and a good eye, you can find all kinds of things to eat. Even before resorting to grinding up acorns.
 
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Another wonderful chapter! I took a little bit more time to settle into this chapter, but nevertheless, a very skillfully crafted piece.

The addition of Sir William and Gabriella Joy to the cast give Josh some time to develop and show the reader more of his personality. By the way, Gabriella is not really the nurse I'd to see like in a Centre. There's a coldness about her that permeates her melted butter tone, and she seems very domineering in regards to her daughters life - Looking forward to seeing her more often in future chapters.

Sir William's scene was brilliant and very funny, but for me, the scene with the Ursaring and cooking up lunch stole the show. That was a great bit of fiction.

The only bit about this chapter that seemed a little jagged was the pacing and the scene breaks. Though each individual scene logically follows the one before it, coupled with your amazing eye for detail, it seems to jump around a little. You've so much compacted into this chapter, but maybe that's just me.

Also, do please fill me in on the difference between "arms" and "heraldry", its an interest tangent :)

Well done again,
Le meas,
Airt
 
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YOU ARE SUCH A WILDERNESS SURVIVAL GEEK I LOVE IT.

Nah, but really, the attention to detail here is great. I had thought about including these kind of camping/traveling details in my own writing, but I ended up leaving them out because I thought no one but me would care. You even nailed the subtle mistrust that survival purists have of fancy stuff like the Biolite stove. I was skeptical about the river clams, but on looking it up, they do exist (they just aren't generally as good for eating as the saltwater variety). I don't know why I was skeptical, I guess I'm just so used to seeing shellfish in a saltwater context, since I live by the sea. Kind of related, I'm interested as to what your headcanon is regarding non-Pokemon animals. I personally feel like some regular animals would still exist, but only the very populous species like bugs and fish wouldn't get quickly out-competed by Pokemon.

Now, you know I'm a huge proponent of description. I'm the first person to speak up in argument against someone who says extravagant description is needless and irrelevant. But my reasoning for this is that I believe that description is more relevant than most people realize. However, I have a bit of a complaint regarding Arborville. A full paragraph of very specific description is devoted to Arborville's layout. That specificity was kind of off-putting since they don't even stay in Arborville for half of a chapter. The way that description was written made me think that it would be mildly important, but then it wasn't. I realize this is contrary to pretty much everything I usually say about description in my reviews, but it felt weird to me so I thought I'd say something.

I like what you're doing with Josh. So far he's seemed kind of like a blank slate, but characterization is quickly developing. Him being pulled into Joy family issues was inevitable, and I think it was and will be a great way to measure his character. For example, he was quick to get snappy and defensive about Evelina when talking to Gabriella, whereas most people I know (including myself) would have been quiet and polite while keeping their thoughts to themselves.

You also had some great humorous dialogue in this chapter. These were my favorites:

“Then you'll get muddy won't you,” the knight said unsympathetically.
I don't know why I found that so funny.

“It's kind of small for its species, isn't it?”

“So are you. What's your point?”
GET REKT JOSH.

Also, I'm kind of expecting a bit of exposition as to what a knight was doing guarding a bridge. I know this is pseudo anime-verse so shit like that isn't exactly out of the ordinary, but still. Kind of odd.

Anyway, I loved the chapter as always. Well done!
 
Pull in all the Magikarps!
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Yet another beautiful chapter. I love the addition of Eve's mom to the picture: I expect to see more of her later on. Josh's connection with Bulbasaur is something I was hoping I would see soon but didn't realize it, and I can't wait to see how this plays out with Magnemite. Just seeing how a magnet thinks... I can't even begin to tell you how intrigued I am. The night was a bizarre but humorous twist, and the whole time I was thinking about Monty Python and the Holy Grail, hoping for a similar outcome as in the movie. However, I was also hoping Josh would jump across the stream. I'm forseeing problems with future trainers for Eve unless she becomes a very strategic and systematic approach; she now has two Bug-types and two Normal-types. Keep updating! ^_^
 
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Technical/Style:

Well, lots of good descriptions in this chapter I have to say that much. Aside from the general description of the surroundings I think that the way you described Joshua's thoughts and feelings were particularly well and the general reactions were also good. I have to admit...I'm a city boy so all these little camp explanations went right through me XD I mean I liked the fact you took the time to focus on it and described more about the herbs that could be used, plus it showed a bit more of Joshua's character as a whole and made for some good knowledge.

Much like AetherX I also agree that I was a bit thrown off by how much emphasis you had put in Arborville, of course I also know that you shoved the whole Ilex Forest arc into one chapter and under that context it does make sense, but under the context of the whole chapter it does make for a bit of a bother when you are thrown off like that, especially cause Arborville seemed like a really nice place : p

Story:

This chapter was pretty long and it also packed a few things into it that helped further the story and the characters a bit more. On that end it was a nice touch to introduced Gabrielle into the story as that adds up a little more spice to it, I wonder if Eve will find out that Joshua got contacted by her mom and what will happen after that. The thing with the knight was...silly to be honest, part of me hopes that it wasn't just some one off guy and that there's actually something to it xD but I'm not gonna hold my breath here.

The scene with the Usaring was funny though, I liked how you used that little tip to explain why they did that sort of exchange. The fact that Josh was able to understand Bulbasaur was also a good thing to add into the story and makes the Pokemon more interesting, not that they weren't already...on that note, the pikachu mating scene was priceless xD

Characters:

SO as I said before in the review this chapter had a lot in regards to character development, particularly for Josh. Not only is he improving as a trainer but also learning more about Eve and he seems generally more confident in himself than when he first started the journey. This chapter also showed a bit more of Eve's courageous and strong size, she's definetily not someone that can be tied down. We also learned a bit more of his backstory and the fact that he's a genius camper xD

If you don't mind me asking and this is probably just me not being experienced with it but what's with the distrust of modern appliances though?
 
oh my
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So it's just occurred to me that I've never posted anything in this thread. Let's change that!

Oh! And kinda-also-not-really here for the review game! I'm going to split this review into two parts; the first half of the chapter and the second.

First off, Arborville sounds like a very nice place. I think you did a good job describing it, and I always love to see made-up towns because it really shows the author's creativity. The name could have been a smidge more creative, but that's getting into my tastes.

I like how Josh talked to Eve's mother this chapter- a nice takeaway from the sole adventures of Josh and Eve. I'm interested to see where this 'rivalry' between them will go and how the other Joys will act towards him. But I have to say, I never really imagined the Joys to be snooty people. In some of the fics I have read recently, they're portrayed as high-class snobs who don't cater to lowlier people. Oddly enough, I've always imagined the Joy family to be low-class workers who are struggling to make a living. Funny how things change depending on the author.

The knight guarding the bridge did seem a little out of place, but once I realized that you were trying to make the backgrounds of characters a big thing this chapter, it did make some sense as to why you threw a knight in the middle of the forest. That said, may I ask why you decided to go that route? Wait, no, don't answer that. I'm sure we'll find out eventually. :p I did like how you emphasized the knight's words by using a bigger size font. It's a lot nicer than "NONE" and "CHARGE".

The development of Josh and Bulbasaur's bond was a helpful progression this chapter, though it seemed to glossed over right afterwards. I guess it will shine more in later chapters.

Second half!

The mating Pikachu were disturbingly funny. Kind of makes me wonder how many mating Pokemon one would run in to on their journey. Oh, and at first, I totally read "cheek sacs" as "cheek ass".

Josh's encounter with Ursaring was pretty cool. I'm sure Square is proud that you portrayed a fellow Ursaring as more intelligent than your average beast.

I must say, I wouldn't mind going on a journey with Josh. If it were me in those woods, I would be eating random berries from a random bush. He seems like a good cook, what with making salads and all that good stuff.

So Eve catches yet another Pokemon! Her team is filling up pretty quickly, and I think she now has a total of four? I think some more character development from her current Pokemon before she catches anymore would be good, otherwise you're going to have a 'quantity over quality' situation. And now that I say that, her Pokemon could use some more moments. Compared to Screwball and Bulbasaur, Eve's Pokemon are on the dull side. But I guess that's just my opinion.

Overall, I think this was a good chapter that at first glance seemed like a filler, but turned out to have a lot of good moments. At times it seemed a little description heavy, but for a self-made town I think a lots of description can be necessary. And I must say, this left me quite excited to read the next chapter.


Hope this was an okay review! Not really the best at these and I feel that it was a little disjointed, but I hope it's suitable to your standards!
 
Ch. 13 - Deep in the Deepwoods
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@Vivillon: I didn't know you were among my readership! Thanks for the comments, it's nice to know you're reading. Y'know, I was beginning to wonder whether anyone had noticed the Monty Python reference. It was one of those ideas that came to me in the shower – originally I was just going to have a sparring match between Eve and Josh. This idea was too amusing not to do, and in any case the odd bit of shameless silliness is no bad thing xD

@Airt: Sorry for making you wait so long for this one! Yes, the montage style scenes at the end didn't quite work as I'd hoped – maybe it's time to admit that the format doesn't really work in prose. I'm glad you liked the cooking scene. I was a bit worried that it was going on for too long and that people would think it a pointless tangent

@AetherX: A long review from you, that's a nice surprise! Fun fact, I hate camping, but I do like wild places. And wild food. And skills that mainly require observation and knowledge over masses of manufactured tools.

The biolite was what I had in mind for Eve's stove – I did a lot of research, looking at reviews of camping and equipment and suchlike in the hope that guys who actually do go camping don't cry foul ^^' I thought I'd made up river clams, but what the hell, biology is more my strong suit and they seemed plausible enough to me. And you lucky sod, wish I lived near the sea.

In hindsight I think I got a bit carried away with Arborville. It's not quite as it is seen in Celebi: Voice of the Forest so I suppose I felt the need to be clear on how it was different, promptly forgetting that it didn't matter much.

@Life: Well hey, thanks for that review! I have to admit that I didn't invent Arborville (See my comments above to AetherX) I didn't mean for Sir William to be anything other than a joke either, but now you mention it, he is sort of thematically appropriate to the chapter! Oh, and the mating Pikachu ... xD Yeah, funny thing is I was watching Planet Earth - the documentary, go Sir David - as research for the Heartwoods. There was a shot of a couple of mating grey squirrels, squeaking away and well, before I knew it I had the joke in my head. Oh, and any comments are useful, so thanks a lot :)

@Flaze: Josh's distrust of Eve's stove is a bit of a Luddite response, frankly. He'd probably argue that if you don't know how to start a fire by hand, you're screwed if your expensive gadget breaks. I can't help but think that I got away with this chapter - I hadn't realised how much silliness was in there till I read your review

1.1 : Ninetales now attempts to rip Josh's arm off

Note: Halfway point bookmark: XIII

Chapter Thirteen – Deep in the Deepwoods (Version 1.1)

Evelina

It was their third morning in the Ilex Forest. Eve sleepily checked her hair in the mirror before she headed downstairs to the Pokémon Centre's common room. She'd managed to do it while still more than half-asleep – after so many years of styling her hair in the same way every morning, the habit was ingrained into her bones.

Eve had never been to Deepwood Pokémon Centre before, but she was familiar with it. It was quite big for a trailside Pokémon Centre, being a large two-storey log house sited at the crossroads of the Ilex Forest. Most visiting trainers came up the southern trail from Azalea Town to head on north to Route 34.

It was quiet in the common room this morning. The Centre nurse was doing paperwork at the front desk – their eyes met, and she raised a sardonic eyebrow. Sonya. If Eve was the black mareep of the Cherrygrove Joys, then her second cousin Sonya was the golden. Eve knew what that raised eyebrow meant. It meant: 'I'm twenty-three, and I'm already a nurse. This is my Pokémon Centre. I'm a real Joy - what are you?'. She shot her cousin a sharp look back, with a slight flourish of the Capture Spear. It meant: 'I am a pokémon trainer. My choices are my own. Back off!'

Josh was watching the coverage of yesterday's Pokémon World Tournament matches in the lounge. Eve hesitated – Oh, what the hell – and gave him a good morning hug.

“Ow!” Josh flinched. “Not so tight!”

“Sorry,” Eve said sheepishly. “Shouldn't have hugged you with your bruises.”

“I didn't say that ...”

She hugged him again, gentler this time. “Hey, Lorelei's back at the PWT!”

The camera lingered on Lorelei for a moment. She was beautiful in the same way that a snowflake is beautiful, arms folded tightly – no easy feat – across her chest. Her glasses seemed to obscure her eyes, like sheets of ice.

“Yeah, I wasn't going to watch this but she caught my eye,” Josh said admiringly.

Typical guy.

“The way she battles is just - incredible!”

Atypical guy!

“- she was spaced as a psyduck, frankly, until she set foot in the trainer's box ...” he trailed off. Eve found she wasn't sure how to react; she hadn't seen Josh star struck before. Out of the corner of her eye she noticed Sonya surreptitiously keeping an eye on her.

“It was like she flicked a switch, you know?” Josh continued. “One minute she's away with the fairies, the next – calculating. Ruthless. Indomitable as a glacier.”

“Well, she is a pokémon master,” Eve said. Sonya was getting on her nerves. What is that little witch looking at? It seemed to her that Sonya was watching Josh a lot more than she was watching her.

“Josh ...” Eve said slowly. “Why is my cousin over there spying on you?”

“Must be my virile aura of sexuality,” he deadpanned.

The giggle bubbled up before Eve could stop it. She could think of several positive adjectives to attach to Josh, but 'virile' was not one of them. “Come on, you. We'd better make tracks before Sonya jumps you,” she giggled, as they stepped out into the Ilex Deepwoods.

*​

Beneath the leafy roof of the Deepwoods, the dawn twilight lasted all day. The Deepwood trees stood so closely together that their crowns merged into a green roof. They were ancient-looking things, with gnarled grey limbs and leaves of a rich, dark green. Here and there spots of daylight found their way down through the forest roof, startlingly bright against the gloom. The Pokémon Centre itself stood in the middle of a small clearing, a rough oval washed with sunlight. Just outside, a tall flagpole rose up above the dense trees, flying a red P on a white background.

Eve wasn't sure what she had expected from the Deepwoods. They were said to be one of the few true wildwoods left in Johto – the very soul and centre of the Ilex Forest. People had lived here once, long ago, but the wildwood had returned, smothering the abandoned villages under a green blanket.

You couldn't help but feel a little intimidated by the forest. There was something about it that was vaguely unfriendly, as if the trees disapproved of people. Josh said they were called Quercus obscurus, or black oak, and that they grew nowhere else in the world. Eve was privately glad that their time in the Deepwoods would be a short one. The eastern trail from the Pokémon Centre struck out across the narrow waist of the forest, the quickest route through to Len Town.

“Oh, hang on Josh,” Eve said, holding out the Capture Spear. “This is yours.”

Josh didn't take it right away. “But I made it for you,” he said.

“I know, Josh. And it worked beautifully.”

“Well ... ok then.”

“You're not upset, are you?” Eve asked anxiously.

“No. No, it's ok. It's just a clever stick.”

“Are you s-” said Eve, then stopped herself. Trust him on this one, Eve.

About half a league down the trail they came across the Ilex Forest Shrine.

It looked very much like any other wayside hokora, discreetly tucked away beneath the spreading crown of a huge black oak. The shrine resembled a small wooden house raised up to a convenient height on stilts, with a porch of sorts to accommodate offerings. Eve felt a bit disappointed; the Ilex Forest Shrine should be mystically illuminated by a sunbeam, not standing gloomily in this grey shade.

They regarded the Shrine in silence for a while. Eventually, Josh said, “You going to leave an offering?”

Eve kicked her heels in the dirt a couple of times. She was well-known to the spirits back home in Cherrygrove - she had been making small offerings at the shrine for almost as long as she could remember. It wasn't worship, as such. Eve regarded it as an acknowledgement that people and spirits had to live in the same area, so they might as well get along.

“I don't think so,” she said. Making an offering to the spirits at home was one thing, but the Deepwood spirits didn't know her any more than she knew them. “How about you?”

“No,” Josh said firmly. “I don't need their help to get through this forest.”

Boys and their pride. Eve shrugged and followed her friend down the trail. A faint breeze stirred the air. She turned, looking back at the Forest Shrine. Dead leaves skittered across the path but … nothing.

*​

It was almost noon, and Eve decided that she didn't like this forest. It was too dark. It was too quiet. The forest pokémon were secretive, watching them from conspiratorial huddles, melting away whenever she stared back. It wasn't so bad with Josh there. He was practising with his Capture Spear, trying to 'learn how to wield it as deftly as she did'.

It was sweet, really. She watched him try to spin the Spear from an underarm into an overarm grip, lose control of it and drop it clumsily into the dirt.

“Not much of an athlete, are you?” Eve laughed, giving him a friendly punch on the arm.

“You shut up, you,” he grumbled.

“Oh, sweetling, I'm only teasing,” she said, retrieving the Spear from the dirt. “I am going to teach you to throw better, though. See if we can avoid a repeat of that bellossom incident, huh?”

Josh wasn't paying attention. He was frowning in concentration, head cocked to one side.

“Josh?”

“Sh-sh … can you hear that?”

Eve listened sceptically. Aside from an oddish slipping away into the undergrowth … nothing.

“... no?”

“Someone's crying, I'm sure of it. They might need help.”

With that, he turned and strode briskly off the path. Bewildered, Eve hurried after him, trying to keep up as he weaved purposefully between the trees. How the hell does he move so quickly in these sodding woods? She was debating whether to argue with him over whether he had heard anything at all when she caught the sound of feminine crying from up ahead.

“Hey!” Josh called out. “Hey, are you ok?”

There was a gasp of surprise and relief, then the sound of someone tearing through the undergrowth, wildly yelling “I'm here, I'm here!” as she ran. The girl half-collided with, half threw her arms around Josh, nearly bowling him off his feet. She sobbed breathlessly over his shoulder, burbling something about being lost forever.

“Hey now, hey now,” Josh said gently, tactfully extricating himself from her vicegrip. “It's ok, we've found you now.”

The girl sniffed prettily and wiped her eyes with a sleeve. She looked about sixteen to Eve, a little shorter than herself. She was dressed head-to-foot in mossy green – green raincoat, green umbrella, green wellies. Her hair was the most gorgeous shade of pale gold, tied back into a loose ponytail.

“Sorry,” she said. She stroked her ponytail awkwardly, “I've not long broken up with my boyfriend and I thought I'd take a walk to, ye know, clear my heid and I wasn't watching where I was goin' and oh god I'm babbling. I'm Maisie. Just Maisie.”

Eve took a moment to absorb that stream of nonsense. The silly girl evidently wasn't an Ilex native – there was a lot of heathery Blackthorn brogue in her accent. “Josh, hadn't we better get back to the path?”

“I suppose so. It's in this direction – no, I tell a lie ...”

Maisie gave Eve a watery smile. “I bet I can guess what your name is!” she said with a kind of wobbly gaiety. “I don't think I've ever seen a nurse on a journey before!”

“I'm not a nurse,” Eve replied bluntly, and felt a brief burst of schadenfreude when Maisie's smile disappeared. Josh was pacing back and forth, frowning the way he tended to do when he was concentrating. A nasty little suspicion started to grow in the back of Eve's mind. “Josh … which way do we go?”

Josh wouldn't look at her. Instead he scowled at the trees accusingly.

“Joshua Cook!” Eve warned.

“I'm … not sure which direction the path is in.”

“What!” Eve barked.

“What?” Maisie cried.

“Calm down, damnit! We're not bleached skeletons yet. There's still the Ranger Union,” Josh said, tapping the number into his battered slab of a PokéGear. “No signal, what the hell?”

“Shall I get the bone polish then?” Eve said tartly.

“This can't be happening again!” Maisie wailed.

“This is ridiculous, I bought this Pokégear because it gets a signal anywhere!”

“Everywhere but this forest!” Maisie persisted.

“I -”

“That's not helping!” Eve yelled at the silly girl. These sodding woods were unnerving enough without Maisie's wailing.

“Now -”

“Why are you yelling at me?”

“Because this is your fault!

Everyone shut up!” Josh roared.

There was a shocked silence.

“Right,” Josh said. “Eve, send Lyra up above the trees and find out where the Pokémon Centre is. If I'm right she should be able to see the flag.”

“I'll go myself,” Eve said, taking off her backpack. Secretly she was relieved that Josh still knew what he was doing, and relieved to be doing something useful, “Give me a leg-up.”

With a little effort Josh helped her hoist herself up into the branches. That was one good thing about these trees – the gnarled and twisted limbs made for easy climbing. Eve made her way to the highest point she could find, pushing her way up through the leafy, twiggy roof into the noon daylight.

The day was overcast and getting cloudier, but after the Deepwood gloom Eve still needed to blink to get used to the light. It looked as though they were near the middle of a miles-wide depression in the ground; in every direction almost all she could see was a blanket of trees. Even the lines of whatever paths existed were smothered by the Deepwood. Leagues off to the right Eve could see the Ilex Hills, the highlands that lay near to the Lake of Life. And very far off, she could just about make out a red P fluttering above the horizon.

“It's that way, just on the horizon,” Eve said, leaping down the last few feet.

“That way,” Josh repeated pensively, scrutinising the map. “Good, we have a bearing. Ok, so we'll head that way.”

“But – the Pokémon Centre's the other way,” Eve said, confused.

“Yes. But there's bogland somewhere that way that spells trouble if we end up in it. No. We'll keep heading east.”

*​

(XIII)

It was late afternoon, and the forest was seriously getting on Eve's nerves. The damn black oaks stretched on for mile after endless mile, glowering down in mute disapproval. Strange paths appeared in the undergrowth only to abruptly disappear again; the sun was hidden behind the clouds, deepening the gloom still further. Eve didn't have the slightest idea where she was, and that chilly knowledge was steadily fraying her temper.

Josh was having real trouble navigating, and that wasn't helping either. Somehow he kept getting turned towards the north, away from the east and into the heart of the Deepwoods. Eve could see his growing frustration every time he glanced at his compass. “I don't understand it,” he kept muttering to himself.

Eve finished the last of her chocolate bar and growled under her breath. Josh had decided to stop for a rest while he figured out the way. They'd finally come across a proper path over the last half-mile, following it southeast till it split into a fork. The left-hand fork headed down a wide avenue of trees – the right was rather narrower, thick beset with thorns and briars. A gentle gust disturbed the dark leaves. Their rustling almost sounded like sibilant whispering.

“I think … I think I know this place,” Maisie started. “Aye! Aye, I do! That broad, bonny road there, that leads up to the hills! There's a path that takes ye out just north of Len Town.”

The trees loomed over the thorny path, their branches lacing together overhead. They were whispering malevolently at her. Wait … no they weren't. Just her imagination.

“Hm,” Josh said neutrally. Eve drifted closer to her friend for the comfort of it.

“We could be in town before sunset,” Maisie said pointedly.

“Josh, maybe, maybe she's right, we'd end up heading east anyway,” Eve said.

Josh stared down the left-hand path as if he hadn't heard either of them. After a while he slowly recited:

“Up the airy mountain,
And down the rushy glen,
We dare not go a-hunting,
For fear o' little men.”

“No,” he said firmly. “No, there's no such path on the map, and going north for a while solves nothing.”

“Why don't you believe me?” Maisie complained.

“Because you got lost here in the first place.”

There was only enough room for them to go single file, and still the thorns snagged and pulled. Eve made sure that she walked behind Josh; she wouldn't admit it, but his confidence was encouraging. It was silly – she felt silly – but she also felt nervy and annoyed.

There was an oddly familiar crackling, spitting sound behind her. Eve glanced about, puzzled, and spotted a leaping orange light in the brambles.

Fire.

The flames spread quickly, greedily burning through the tangled vines. Leaf litter caught light and crumbled to ash in moments. The air was already starting to become hazy from smoke. Eve looked about wildly – to her horror independent fires were breaking out all across the forest ahead.

“Fire!” she shouted. Her warning was redundant – Josh had stopped dead, startled. Maisie was shrieking incoherently. Trees were blazing, old dry bark going up in rippling sheets of flame. Eve clamped down on the rising panic. Think. Use your eyes! The wildfire described a rough crescent consuming the forest to the right and the path ahead. Back. Back and to the left.

“Back! Back this way!” Eve shouted. Maisie was still overwhelmed with panic; Eve grabbed her firmly by the arm and towed her away from the blaze. She could feel her own fear crushed down into a little ball in the pit of her stomach. Panic later. Act now. Take charge. Be sensible.

She glanced back. There was Josh, leaning on his Spear, silhouetted against the raging, billowing, yellow-hot fire. The madman hadn't moved! The trees were like black skeletons wreathed in flame and he hadn't moved!

“Josh! Get back!” she commanded with her mother's steel tone.

Josh half-turned to look back at her. “Why?” he said, and stepped into the inferno.

Josh!

Dusk descended on the forest. The wildfire snuffed itself out. Unharmed, Josh looked critically at the unscorched forest, as if awarding it marks out of ten. He said something cheerfully, but Eve couldn't hear him. Her heart was beating so hard she thought it would burst. Suddenly, the truth of what had just happened sunk in; her fear turned to fury, and she punched his arm as hard as she could.

“Bastard!” she yelled.

“What -”

“Bastard!” Eve punched him again. “Do you know how scared – I thought you'd be – how could you -” she babbled, trying to hold back the tears.

Josh had the decency to look ashamed. “I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare you. I'm sorry.” He put his arms around her, but Eve wouldn't hug him back and just held her arms up close to her chest.

“If you ever do that again I won't forgive you,” she muttered into his shoulder. Make an excuse and I'll bite your head off. Josh wisely said nothing.

“How did you know,” she said.

“The fire wasn't hot.”

“What?” Eve said, breaking away. “Of course it was -”

But wait … it wasn't, was it? Now that she thought about it, there had been smoke and light, but no heat – and she'd been too scared to notice.

“Something's screwing with us,” Josh said. “Ghost pokémon, maybe. I'll bet that's why I'm having trouble navigating.”

“What are we going to do Josh?” Eve asked wearily.

“We keep going,” Josh said resolutely. “No forest has defeated me yet, and the Deepwoods won't be the first,” he laid a hand on her shoulder. “Trust me on that.”

Eve looked Josh in his dark eyes. The fact was, even without an accurate idea of where they were, no phone and illusions throwing him off track, Josh still wasn't lost.

“I trust you.”

*​

It was early evening, and Eve decided that she hated this forest. The sun setting above the trees brought an early nightfall to the Deepwood below. Over the past few miles the path had turned from thorny to ferny, forcing them at times to wade through a carpet of waist-high fronds. Eve wondered how often anyone walked this deep into the forest. A while ago they'd come across an old iron signpost, of all things, pointing towards a place called Ercledoune.

Not long after that they happened upon the ruins of a castle. Not much of it was left standing aside from the shell of the keep - the outer bailey had crumbled to the height of a garden wall. Best of all, the bailey was also a very welcome woodland glade. Second best of all, Maisie was finally quiet. Probably sulking.

“Doesn't look like there's much more than an hour of daylight left,” Eve said. “What do you say to camping here for the night? It's as good a place as any.”

“Yes, please!” Maisie groaned. “I'm so tired.”

“I'd hoped to reach Len Town by tonight,” Josh said doubtfully. “Depends how close the Deepwood edge is.”

Eve slung her backpack on the ground. “I'll take a look at the land. I saw a good climbing tree back there.”

“I've just got to, erm … use the ferns,” Maisie said needlessly euphemistically. “Might have a wee look at the ruins too. I'll be a while.”

There was a rotten old grandfather of a black oak within eyeshot of the glade. Eve quickly hauled herself up into its heights and scanned the landscape. The grey sunset made details difficult to pick out, but her heart leapt to see the lights of Len Town in the east. It would mean a trek in the dark, but they could make it there tonight.

Eve made her way to one of the stockier lower branches and sat herself down. Down below, Josh sat leaning against the bailey wall, resting his eyes. The sight of Len Town had put her in the mood for mischief. Time to give him a scare.

But she couldn't move. Her muscles were frozen, held not painfully, but immovably. With a flash of anger Eve remembered the sensation from an incident involving an irritable abra – Disable.

“Looks like we're going to have to sleep here tonight, hun,” something said in Eve's own voice.

The something that walked into the glade was a young woman in her twenties, kinda skinny, sensibly dressed, with a hairstyle better suited to a somewhat more mature woman. Down to the last detail, she was Eve's exact double. Another illusion! Something's going to pay for this one!

The illusion-Evelina gracefully vaulted the bailey wall. For some reason illusion-Evelina had removed her polo shirt, and was wearing just the sleeveless green gilet instead. Slightly unzipped, too, Eve noticed to her deep annoyance.

“What? Oh. Oh, well,” Josh sighed. “Can't be helped. I'll get a fire started in a moment.”

Illusion-Evelina sat back on her legs in front of Josh, with a rather contrite look on her face. “I'm sorry I hit you earlier. I was just so scared that I was going to lose you.”

“I didn't intend to do that, Eve, honestly I didn't.”

“Well, thinking back … it was kinda hot,” Evelina giggled.

Josh gave her a blank look. “No, it wasn't. That's the whole point.”

“Not the fire!” Evelina laughed, giving him a playful shove. “You! Standing there all fearless and figuring it out.”

There was a pause as Josh considered this. “Really?” he said.

“I'm really glad you're here, you know. Journeying by myself was an adventure, but also … kinda lonely,” Evelina went on softly. “Don't you ever get lonely on the road?”

“I liked the freedom,” Josh said carefully. “But I like travelling with you, more than I thought I would.”

There was another moment of silence. Frozen in her tree, Eve watched with the intensity of a pidgeotto.

“It's a lovely evening,” Evelina said, biting her lower lip gently. “All the better for being out here alone, huh?”

“Er. I suppose so ...” said Josh, beginning to look a little nervous.

Evelina leaned forward, her hand drifting to the zipper of her gilet. “I know what I want this evening,” she said seductively. She tugged the zip down another couple of inches. Josh obviously couldn't help but look, brief and almost reluctant though his glance was. Eve burned with embarrassment and fury. Those are my boobs you're showing off!

“Eve … you can't be suggesting what I think you are.”

“Is it so strange? I've seen the way you look at me,” Evelina purred. “Don't you want to see what's under my jacket? Unless you'd rather see me from the back.”

“... what about Maisie?”

“There are two tents. And she's going to hear me anyway,” she giggled. “I can't believe I just said that.”

“You know, Eve, this is all a bit sudden -”

“Shh. Don't think.” Evelina shuffled closer. She leaned in -

- and caught Josh's fist square in the mouth. Josh wasn't a big man, and it wasn't a hard blow, but it was enough to knock Evelina onto her back.

“What are you?” Josh demanded. The force holding Eve was instantly released. Driven by fury, she raced down the tree and was over the bailey wall just as the illusion-Evelina was scrambling to her feet.

“There's the real Eve!” Josh said.

“So you've figured it out, have you?” Evelina snarled. She made a wide sweeping gesture, like she was throwing off a coat. The girl blurred, her features transformed – and became Maisie, angrily tossing her pale gold ponytail.

Now to find out what you really are.

“Ninetales, the Fox Pokémon, and the evolved form of Vulpix. Ninetales are both intelligent and vengeful, using illusions to trap victims into receiving curses.”

“I nearly had ye as well,” Maisie said, her illusion visibly slipping. Pointed vulpine ears were pushing their way up through her hair.

“Why,” Josh bluntly demanded.

“Why? Why?” Maisie barked. “You dare walk through these sacred woods and leave nae offering? How dare ye come to Ercledoune withouten leave of me?”

“I'll come and go of Ercledoune and ask no leave of thee,” Josh flatly replied. It wasn't an argument; he said it as if he was stating a fact.

“Oh, we'll see!” Maisie appeared to produce a Poké Ball from a pocket. “Ninetales, go!”

Ninetales – the true Ninetales – manifested in a flash of fire. Her coat shimmered gorgeously even in the fading light, but there was malice in her deep red eyes.

“So it's like that, is it?” Josh said evenly. “Magnemite, battle's on!”

“Gail! Help him out!” Eve cried, yanking Gail's Fast Ball from its clasp on her gilet. Gail elegantly backed air with a flick of her wings and settled on Eve's upraised wrist. Josh folded his arms in preparation for battle.

“Indomitable as a glacier,” he muttered.

“Ninetales, Flame Burst!” Maisie ordered.

“Intercept. Thundershock!” Josh snapped. The two attacks collided, the Flame Burst exploding in a shower of embers.

“Gail, Quick Attack!” Eve said. Gail eagerly launched herself at Ninetales' legs. Ninetales was just that bit quicker, leaping straight up and over Gail who went skimming away across the clearing. Ninetales landed fluidly and launched her own Quick Attack, dashing past Eve and pouncing on Josh, driving him into the bracken with a cracking of fronds. Maisie growled a chain of guttural imprecations as in the depths of her wrath Ninetales vigorously attempted to tear Josh’s arm off.

But Magnemite didn't take too kindly to pokémon laying teeth on its master. Maisie screamed as Magnemite's Thundershock burned through Ninetales. By now Gail was lined up ready for another attack, picking up speed, bringing her talons to bear -

“Hit the neck!” Eve shouted. I'll make you regret that Quick Attack! Gail put all the force of her descent into her Tackle and sunk her talons in deep. Ninetales howled in pain and vindictive fury. Maisie's illusion was seriously beginning to unravel, her teeth turning into fangs, ponytail multiplying and growing longer. Gail cunningly took flight again, circling round Ninetales so she couldn't keep an eye on her and Magnemite at the same time.

Magnemite seemed to realise they had the advantage. It spun to face Ninetales and emitted a terrible screeching, scraping noise; much like Supersonic, but harsher, even more discordant.

“Aaargh!” Maisie screamed. “Burn it!”

Ninetales rounded on Magnemite, flames flickering between her jaws. Her attack engulfed Magnemite in a ball of crackling fire. “Magne-miiite ...” it wailed, drifting semi-conscious to the ground.

“Come on Gail, let's end this now!” Eve shouted. She was resisting the urge to throttle Maisie where she stood, illusion or no, “No more games! Gail, give it your strongest Gust!”

Gail swept down her powerful wings as hard as she could. The Gust rippled Ninetales' lustrous fur, her tails streaming out like banners. Ninetales snarled her defiance – a Flame Burst roared from her jaws only for the fireball to be torn apart by the winds. Suddenly the Gust started to spin around Ninetales, dust and dirt whirling in the vortex. Cobalt lightning flashed in the howling winds. Eve quickly scanned the vortex with her Pokédex.

“Twister, a Dragon-type attack. Classified as a Special attack, Twister may inflict the Flinch status on opponents.”

“Perfect work, Gail!” Time to end this. “Poké Ball -”

“No!” Maisie screamed. Battered and bleeding from her neck, Ninetales fled to the edge of the bailey, “No, no, no, I will nae be captured!”

Maisie was beginning to fade. She pointed a vengeful, translucent finger at Eve. “This is not the end. Mark my words!” she warned. “I will be back and I will see you cursed!”

“If I see you again then it will be the Poké Ball for you! Be told!” Eve raised the Poké Ball threateningly, and with a last snarl, Ninetales fled into the depths of the Deepwoods.

Eve found Josh sore, with a torn jacket, but otherwise fine. As it turned out, Ninetales' attack had badly winded him, and it seemed that Magnemite had put a stop to her attempt to maim him. He winced from the pain of his many bruises when Eve helped him up. “You're seeing a doctor in town,” Eve told him. “No arguments. I'll take care of Magnemite.”

Eve held up her wrist for Gail to perch. “Perfect work,” she told her, stroking her brilliant scarlet crest.

“Pidgeo,” Gail replied, and tried to groom her hair.

“Josh …” Eve asked hesitantly. “How did … how did you know it was another illusion?”

To her surprise, Josh actually blushed. “The eyes. They were the wrong shade of blue.”

*​

Night had truly fallen, and Eve had never been so glad to see the lights of a town. The Deepwood edge loomed behind them; down across the fields Len Town twinkled like a friendly constellation. It had been one of those days that felt like it had lasted forever, and though Eve suspected that she'd look back on it as a great adventure, now she was only too ready to leave the Ilex Forest behind.

Josh leaned on his Capture Spear. For once, he didn't have a compass in his hand. Eve put her arm around him, this time being gentle about it. “So I was right to trust you,” she said. “No forest has defeated you yet.”

Josh gave her a tired smile. “Yeah, well, it's a matter of honour. For you to be safe with me, that is.”

Next Chapter: Old Maud

Atlas: Religions and Beliefs
This chapter is quite an involved one in terms of the amount of supplementary reading that's gone into it. There are an awful lot of references to British folklore in there, far more than I can sensibly talk about in the length of one Atlas. I've written a blog – that you can find here – explaining and exploring these references, for whoever's curious.

Anyway, addressing the question of religion for the first time turned out to be somewhat similar to the question of how much Japanese culture to include. So few Westerners notice the references to Shinto in the the earlier pokemon games – why should we, since Shinto is very much a Japanese religion? After a lot of thought, I decided to simply treat the pseudo-Shinto you see in this chapter much like real Shinto. I've been deliberately ambiguous about whether the spirits worshipped are pokémon or not, though Ninetales certainly believes in them too. It seems to me that in a story that deals with slices of people's lives, the “truth” behind the religions shouldn't matter. What matters is what the belief means to the characters.
 
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Awwww, I'm loving this story more and more every time you post a chapter! On a quick little tangent of my own, do I see a little relationship blossoming between Eve and Josh?? I mean, more than friendship??

Anyway - Firstly, since I don't think I've ever mentioned it before, you have a fantastic way with the genre of realism and you fuse it well with bildungsroman. Your description,narrative, and pacing makes the story feel like its happening as I read it. You conjure a great illusion and it's only when the chapter's finished do you kinda realize that it is a story. The cultural thread running throughout this story is also very evident here. Being Irish, I can relate to the myths and legends of the Deepwoods, and Masie seems like this polyvalent character who guards her woods well, despite the odd overly-protective rampage :)

Arís, mo cheol thú!
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Yet another wonderful chapter. You have me curious now; will the Ninetales get its revenge later in the story? Will the curse force Eve to work for her family or Josh for the Ninetales? From a personal standpoint, I would have loved for Maisie to be a cursed person who is under Ninetales' curse after having fallen for its illusions, most likely of her "boyfriend" that she mentioned earlier on. Still a wonderful chapter, I really hope that the next one comes sooner than this one did. Please don't rush it, though. You can't afford the quality to slip! ^_^
 
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