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Thread Description
the 20s urbfant storylocke is back! past the horizon's edge... (rewrite complete - update #11 posted sept 22nd)

d'angelo russell

tomorrow ain't promised to no-one
Writer
Team Omega
Pokédex No.
231
Caught
Jul 1, 2019
Messages
226
Location
ontario
Nature
Adamant
Pronouns
he - him
Pokémon Type
Dark, Dragon
Pokédex Entry
it was banished for its violence. it silently gazes upon the old world from the distortion world
what if the magic came back?




nominated for best plot and best protagonist in a written run (2018)

--------------------------------------------------------------------------​

hello new forums, the urbfant storylocke is back,

for returning readers; sup guys, nice to see you all. for those of you new to the story, hello and welcome to sturm und drang, the adaption of my (still ongoing) run of pokemon blazeblack. if you want me to sum it up quickly - gijinka urban fantasy set in what I imagine roaring twenties unova would look like, very longform, depressive even by nuzlocke standards but I write pretty-ish so I guess it all evens out? who knows though bop.

anyways full disclosure I spent a while thinking about how I wanted to go forward with this story and crossing over but I'm ultimately confident in the plan that I've settled on. while I did consider doing a full-on reboot ultimately I don't think I could accommodate that on top of all the other writing projects I have going, but that said...changes will be made. I’d like to think I’ve improved as a writer over the past year or so and I’d also like the story to reflect that, so all of my older updates will receive a line-by-line edit and some degree of a tune-up in the transition - this should also allow me to smooth out a lot of the inconsistencies in my early-stage planning as well as let me generally tighten things up and bring the run closer to my current vision of it.

I'll be posting new old updates once a week (usually saturday) and hopefully once the run's been ported in its entirety I will have enough fresh content written to pick up with my regular update schedule (once every three weeks). the run itself still exists in its entirety on tapa and ao3; so people who're only starting now, feel free to read ahead there if you guys are so minded. edit: old content has been ported, and while I'm probs leaving the thread where it is I'll still link it here so you guys can check it out if you want: https://nuzlockeforums.com/forum/index.php?threads/mature-sturm-und-drang-a-pokemon-blazeblack-storylocke.2740/

since I’m sorta starting fresh I’d like to list credits for the friends of my youth: thanks to all of @SeaMaid, @llyarden, @Erberor, @Manifold, @Dee, @SayleeK, and @PagesofParsley for respectively betaing, idea bouncing and offering a ton of support in general back when this was rolling on zeta / tapa, all of it was much appreciated and helped me get to where I am now (it’s been a while though so if I missed anyone I’m sorry, tag me and I’ll add you in). ily all. anyways all that said hope that you guys enjoy the ride, cheers

life is fleeting: magic can do many things, but it can't stop us from dying, nor bring us back from the beyond.

magic is a curse: few in this city wield magic, and fewer would be inclined to join us. opportunities for recruiting new allies will be few and far between.
- the magic number: 8 is the lucky number, the infinite. luck may be a construct, but certain forms should be observed nonetheless.
- the balanced: the best team has members whose skills complement each other. we cannot enlist those with nothing new to offer.
- the choice: free will is all-important. any can leave if they so choose, but there is no path for their return.
- the mysterious: the draconids' loyalty lies solely with their ancient master. they will not join us freely, nor should we accept their aid if offered.
- the capricious: the fae are mysterious, elusive...and more trouble than they're worth. letting one join us would be too grave a risk to take.

combat conditions (1): in a real fight, you don't have time to make adjustments before taking on a new opponent.
combat conditions (2): extricating oneself from a sticky situation is harder than it seems. often, the best move is simply to fight it out and hope for the best.

thrift is a virtue: our resources are scarce. we must purchase only what we can afford and rely on the city for the rest.

ten men wisely led: an army is nothing without its head, thus this party is nothing without its leader.

cut your losses: we have no reserves. should too many fall, we will be unable to continue.

no gods, no masters (1): kindly gods are only a fairytale. should we encounter them, they will give us no quarter, and we should give them the same.
no gods, no masters (2): to reshape this world, we must eliminate all who would stand in our way.

any pokemon faints, it's dead.
1 catch per area.
quasi-notepad locke - rotating team that can have up to 8 members at any given time.
type double-ups are banned (ie two steels are off limits. Pokemon that gain / lose types upon evolution do not count (exception if they're being trained to a final state whose typing does not overlap with any teammates - eg staraptor and scyther is allowed so long as said scyther is being ground to evolve into scizor)).
at any time, a pokemon can be cut from the active team. This counts as half a death and the cut pokemon cannot return to the active team.
no capturing dragon-types.
no capturing gen6 fairy-types (azumarill, gardevoir, etc)
set mode on.
each area has to be cleared of trainers before leaving. healing trainers / different levels can be counted as checkpoints (from which one can leave to heal and return).
budgetlocke: can only spend 1000*(number of gym badges in possession) at any one pokemon center.
starter death clause - if the starter dies, the run is counted as a failure.
if >10 deaths are incurred, the run is counted as a failure.
all encountered legendary pokemon must be defeated (knocked out). As the game requires you to catch reshiram, it constitutes an exception, however reshiram cannot be used and must be discarded asap.
The run is over when alder, cynthia and morimoto are defeated.
for those who prefer reading offsite, the entire run is cross-posted to ao3, and can be found here. also links here redirect to tapa unless the corresponding update has been posted on the new forums, just a heads-up.

prologue / extra #1 - scroll down in this post!
update #1
update #2 (and extra #2)
update #3
update #4
update #5
update #6
update #7
update #8
update #9
extra #3
update #10
update #11
My mother once told me that within every outlandish tale lies a grain of truth.

Unova was - still is - a land of tales. This judgement can be passed on any place where stories are told, in whatever context, but it is more true of Unova than anywhere else. While other regions tell of histories, of landmarks, of social progress, Unova's tales come from a more distant past, one that now seems almost ethereal. The ordinary and everyday can be recorded and passed down and taken for fact, but something as intangible as magic will always be thought of as just a fairytale. And Unova's tales tell of magic.

Few have attempted real explanations of it, because it seemed to defy explanation in itself. All that is remembered is that it was a mystical force that empowered a chosen handful, rendering them capable of feats beyond comprehension. The magic took and warped all that existed, creating wonders that elevated this world, wonders that have since been lost to time.

Some of those blessed with magic grew into specimens of humanity at its peak, who could lift boulders and sprint across great distances, their strength, speed and senses enhanced to inhuman levels. What some gained in body others gained in mental stature, their focus sharpened to move objects, manipulate energy, and touch other minds, their powers unfettered by neither size nor distance. Some were physically warped by the energies that they channeled, warped until they showed the multifaceted eyes and wings of insects, the hard-angled faces and scales of the Draconids, or the ethereal beauty of immortal Faerie. And some were attuned to the elements and could bend them to their will - could summon a wildfire, a hurricane or an earthquake with barely a snap of their fingers. Theirs was the most mystical and destructive power of all.

And above them all stood a single perfect being, an avatar brought into creation by the magic itself, binding together the nobility and fierceness of the dragon spirit and the raw power of the elemental magics in a single vessel. A being that united the warring kingdoms and tribes and brought peace to Unova, beginning a Golden Age which should have lasted forever.

Except it didn't - because from there, the legends and tales become murkier, darker, more violent. Princes quarreled over titles and territories, old quarrels were left to simmer and flare, and even the perfect avatar was sundered by the chaos that ensued, torn into fragments that were only left with partial mastery of their predecessor's powers. Rather than try to mend what had been broken, these fragments turned instead to break down what their progenitor had once built, waging bitter wars against each other...and when they were done the Golden Age was but a distant memory, and magic itself had disappeared from the world.

No-one seems to think about why the legends focus so much on the Golden Age, or why they ignore what happened afterward. But I always thought that it was simple psychology - we think of what we once had, what elevated us, and not how, in the end, our gifts ultimately failed to repress our worse instincts. We glamorised it, wrapping it in myth to forget that it hadn’t been lost, but squandered by the pettiness of humanity. In the end mundane human nature - the desires to kill, to dominate, to possess - had won out against the magic, and reduced it to a fairytale - an unbelievable, golden fairytale, but still only a fairytale, an uplifting contrast to the world we were left with.

Magic was only the symptom of a deeper problem, though, and its loss left this problem to fester, awaiting a new outlet. But even without magic, humans were perfectly capable of punishing and subjugating each other, even killing each other on occasion. In the absence of magic, we turned to science, delving deeper into the fundamental forces of the universe, until we had the power to light city blocks, communicate across vast distances almost instantaneously, and forge metal rods that spat fire and death at our enemies. We fashioned new wonders and horrors of our own, efficient wonders of steel and science, worthy of the world we’d inherited.

And that was all well, because for the longest time there had been no magic in this world, and if it had ever been there to begin with, it was gone, and as far as anyone knew, it would never come back.

Maybe it was like a candle, flickering and guttering into embers, and where others saw death and decay was merely dormant energy, waiting to burst into flame once more. Maybe it'd departed when unneeded, found a nice tree, and lain down to rest, undisturbed by the world passing it by. It didn't really matter. Once magic had existed, and it had faded and lessened until we all thought of magic as just a story - one that could inspire, dazzle and frighten, but still only a story. It was a figment of our collective imagination, and none of us gave thought to what would happen if it had been real the whole time.

Well, it turns out we were all wrong. The stories may have been fantasy, the nobility and high-mindedness was all made up, but the seemingly divine powers? Those were real, and just as lethal as they'd been described.

And of course, when magic did return to this world, none of us were ready for it - neither the magic itself, nor the upheaval it would bring, as the fairytales faded away. As the dust began to settle, the world was forced to adjust to the reality of a world where some had powers and others didn't, where life had just received additional dashes of volatility and fragility that it really hadn't needed. The cruel, violent reality of a world with magic.

But I survived anyways. In Striaton before the Awakening, survival was a battle in itself, and you had to be hard and cold if you wanted to keep your corpse from being chucked into the West Sector Canal. Even in the traumatic weeks after magic began to manifest, I kept my head down, stuck to my routines, and by the end of it I was still on the right side of the dirt. And soon enough, I found my place in this new world. Not without loss or pain, but it was a place nonetheless.

I'm not a hero, or a wizard, or a god. I'm still the same as I've always been, magic or no magic. I've been luckier than most, true, but that doesn't mean I haven't fought for what I have, or that I haven't earned it. Whether it's fair or not doesn't matter. Survival has no rules, no fairness - it just is, and nothing else matters so long as you're still alive. Anyone else would tell you the same...and anyone else would do the same.

My mother always told me that each outlandish tale holds a grain of truth. I guess that it's the same for people - each person is guided and animated by something inside, a spark of truth, a common thread that stays stable throughout a person's life. A steady centre in a world that never stops turning. But if life is anything like those old stories, it seems like the only thing that matters is what you can do with that spark. That's the only reality of this world - all that matters is the choice, the action, the result. The choices I’ve made...and the things I’m yet to do.

As for me, what I’m yet to do? I'm just a survivor, and one who's found himself a niche for survivors. My gift may not be as powerful or as well honed as some, but it's served me well, and it's helped me find stability in the world's anarchy. Though it's taken me to some dangerous places, and it feels more of a curse than a gift, I owe my survival and my place to the magic, more than anything else. I may not love it, but for the first time in my life, I can feel secure in a way I've never felt before.

I just hope I can keep it that way.


one year older, somewhat wiser, a lot angrier, but funnily enough I still like voiceovers. they're a bit cliche but a good one does so fucking much for the story in practice.

anyways here we are. back again. honestly I only spent like an hour and change editing this because it was solid to begin with but I like the more streamlined version that this has become. there’s also a few extra details I managed to slip in and it’s gonna be fun playing with those down the line.

also worth...actually, nvm, that can wait. honestly though going back to my stuff from a year ago has been a fun experience, s’not perfect and some of younger me's writing conventions have me scratching my head but it was still fun to take a look and see the roots of the writer I’ve developed into. glad I decided to go about the rewrite this way, I imagine it’s like being a stonemason or some such where progress is made by incrementally refining what’s already there rather than starting fresh. hope that the rest of the rewrite goes this nicely, lgi bop.

anyways thanks for reading all, if you enjoyed then please be sure to rate comment subscribe and smack dat like button with’cha forehead! peace out for now, and I will catch you all next time.
 
Last edited:

SeaMaid

Songwriter. Swede. Smartass.
Team Alpha
Pokédex No.
332
Caught
Jul 2, 2019
Messages
36
Nature
Impish
Pronouns
she/her
Pokémon Type
Water, Bug
N'aww, it was sweet of you to thank all of us individually in the intro! Good times. Don't really have much to say about the prologue that I didn't mention before (sorry about that;; ) but hopefully I'll be able to stick around 'til the end this time.

(Also wondering what the heck you were thinking when using old writing quirks... That's definitely relatable)
 

Dee

THIS IS MY HAPPY FACE
Writer
Team Alpha
Pokédex No.
147
Caught
Jun 26, 2019
Messages
608
Location
Zion National Park
Nature
Sassy
Pronouns
They/Them
Pokémon Type
Bug, Clever
Pokédex Entry
A regular writer of fanfics and other works, this pokemon loves puns, bugs, and the outdoors.
The return of Sturm! Good to see it back. This is one of my favorite stories on the forums rn!
 

Dingopox

Conqueror of the Vermillion Gym
Team Alpha
Pokédex No.
353
Caught
Jul 3, 2019
Messages
29
Location
Toronto
Nature
Impish
Pronouns
She, her
Pokémon Type
Flying
Pokédex Entry
Despite being found outside it's Australian home range, wild DIngopox still feeds exclusively on Timtams.
A great way to set the tone, very mysterious, as well as introducing the ideals of your new character. I'll be interested to see this fic grow.
 

d'angelo russell

tomorrow ain't promised to no-one
Writer
Team Omega
Pokédex No.
231
Caught
Jul 1, 2019
Messages
226
Location
ontario
Nature
Adamant
Pronouns
he - him
Pokémon Type
Dark, Dragon
Pokédex Entry
it was banished for its violence. it silently gazes upon the old world from the distortion world
  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #5
Clockenstein said:
Should've told me the moment it came up, but hey, at least you only get it a few minutes late or so. So, yeah, obviously I am hyped for this because all those excerpts you've been posting around writechat startled me with how good they were, but enough of what I've already told you and let's stick to the stuff that's more interesting, i.e. the actual content, no?
And Unova's tales tell of magic.
These lines. These are the lines that always have a lot of kick to them, so I always go on the lookout for them because I always want to set them apart on a new line and make them go bang on their own.

I seem to have a habit of reading things in voiceover and this is where I imagine the narrator goes on a dramatic pause before he tells the rest of the story. It's good shit, you know?

grew into specimens of humanity at its peak
At their peak? So there are those who didn't, then -- divergent evolution? If we're getting into that territory I wonder just how long ago magic was in Unova. I can't imagine it being anywhere close to four digits old -- or should I say, young.

or why they ignore that happened afterward
"that which happened afterward", or "what happened afterward", perhaps

My mother always told me that each outlandish tale holds a grain of truth.
Yo. Callbacks. This one came off really well.

I'm not a hero, or a wizard, or a god. I'm still the same as I've always been, magic or no magic. I've been luckier than most, true, but that doesn't mean I haven't fought for what I have, or that I haven't earned it. Whether it's fair or not doesn't matter. Survival has no rules, no fairness - it just is, and anyone else would tell you the same. And nothing else matters so long as you're still alive.
so let me get into why i think this particular segment works well: one moment our protagonist is waxing dramatic about the world at large, and then -- back to themselves. see, when one is talking about stuff that's larger than their life the inevitable result is that they will come off as detached from it -- and so the real proof in the pudding is how it relates to them, because when it's personal, it somehow sounds more direct and stark and thrilling, no? so it's a hell of a mood whiplash in that now it's personal. fuck, this was good.

I just hope I can keep it that way.
oh, how little you know.

i actually have no idea what to say, other than this is such a big leap from the writer whose first google document i raised my eyebrows at dubiously not too long ago, and man it shows. i think you've made something you can really be proud of because at the very least i am looking forward to everything that comes next.
 

d'angelo russell

tomorrow ain't promised to no-one
Writer
Team Omega
Pokédex No.
231
Caught
Jul 1, 2019
Messages
226
Location
ontario
Nature
Adamant
Pronouns
he - him
Pokémon Type
Dark, Dragon
Pokédex Entry
it was banished for its violence. it silently gazes upon the old world from the distortion world
  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #6
Flopdisc said:
yo I'm super interested here in the implication -- intentional or otherwise -- that Unova is the only nation whose culture includes mythic storytelling! That is super super interesting and it was what hooked me into the prologue. It was fun to see you gradually introduce your narrator's voice into this spoken piece. I noticed towards the end that things were growing a little circular, so both the variance in sentence structure and the altering of language as your narrator shifted to present day was both timely and welcome.

All in all, I'm interested in what's coming! I'm excited to see how what you've laid out here plays out in the present. I've been enjoying seeing your practice your narration on discord and post upcoming snippets from this, so consider me joyfully here to stay.
 

d'angelo russell

tomorrow ain't promised to no-one
Writer
Team Omega
Pokédex No.
231
Caught
Jul 1, 2019
Messages
226
Location
ontario
Nature
Adamant
Pronouns
he - him
Pokémon Type
Dark, Dragon
Pokédex Entry
it was banished for its violence. it silently gazes upon the old world from the distortion world
  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #7
Missy said:
Starting us off with a whole brick wall of lore tells me this is gonna be a world-heavy run, and I'm curious as to how that'll go, the implied clashing of antiquity and modern sensibilities in the prologue and all that. It's all solid prose, nothing too outlandish in concept yet which, thanks, because I'm not a huge lore person and it helps me to get interested when stuff's not front-loaded with crazy complicated concepts. Urban fantasy is something I don't think I've seen in a nuzlocke quite yet, so milk That for all it's worth lol.

Personally, things got much more interesting when the narrator's experience was introduced towards the end, so if I'm looking forward to anything it's being able to meet our protagonist proper and have something to latch onto that isn't tweaked game lore. Sounds like a tricky, jaded fellow. Looking forward to see your take on the pragmatic survivor archetype.
 

d'angelo russell

tomorrow ain't promised to no-one
Writer
Team Omega
Pokédex No.
231
Caught
Jul 1, 2019
Messages
226
Location
ontario
Nature
Adamant
Pronouns
he - him
Pokémon Type
Dark, Dragon
Pokédex Entry
it was banished for its violence. it silently gazes upon the old world from the distortion world
  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #8
Erberor said:
Well, I'll be, another blaze black run! And with a bonkers as heck ruleset to go along with it!

Grind, grind because your life depends on it. May Dray have mercy on your soul.

Alright, so let me try to touch on all the stuff I like here...

the rules are really fun to read, and add to the mood a lot. And speaking of the mood, you've got it absolutely nailed here. Seriously, I love the semi-mythic tone you set up early in the prologue, and the transition to the experience of the PoV character is excellent because it shifts away from the magic and connects it with the world. It works beautifully. Also…

No-one seems to think about why the legends focus so much on the Golden Age, or why they ignore what happened afterward. But I always thought that it was simple psychology - we think of what we once had, what elevated us, and not how, in the end, our gifts ultimately failed to repress our worse instincts. How mundane human nature won out against the magic, and reduced it to a fairytale, something unbelievable, but an uplifting contrast to the bitter world we were left with.
This paragraph gave me chills. It's kind of profound, and I love it. it flows beautifully, and... gah, I just can't quite figure out what it is that strikes me about it so much! I think it may be the "we think of what we once had..." bit, because it just resonates with me somehow. Beautiful line.

I'm tracking this. I cannot ever get enough fantasy into my life, and I love a good fantasy approach to a nuzstory.
 

d'angelo russell

tomorrow ain't promised to no-one
Writer
Team Omega
Pokédex No.
231
Caught
Jul 1, 2019
Messages
226
Location
ontario
Nature
Adamant
Pronouns
he - him
Pokémon Type
Dark, Dragon
Pokédex Entry
it was banished for its violence. it silently gazes upon the old world from the distortion world
  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #9
British Air Snails said:
Damn, if that's not a hook of a start I don't know what is. I am already deeply in love with your setting. I can't wait to see how you're going to weave it all together and to meet our protag! With this whole opening I'm really interested to see how they fit into all of this.

Great job. You did amazing on the voice and setting us up for what proves is going to be a wild ride :D
 

d'angelo russell

tomorrow ain't promised to no-one
Writer
Team Omega
Pokédex No.
231
Caught
Jul 1, 2019
Messages
226
Location
ontario
Nature
Adamant
Pronouns
he - him
Pokémon Type
Dark, Dragon
Pokédex Entry
it was banished for its violence. it silently gazes upon the old world from the distortion world
  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #10
@SeaMaid yw for the shout, I wanted to give credit and all and figured this was as good a place as anything. tbh this is like...70% maybe 80% the same as the original so not having anything new is fine (and being told I’ve looped back around into ‘hhhhhhh too good for words’ territory is nice), anyways thanks and hope to see you around.

@Dee aaaaaaa thanks for putting me on the favorites list, and yeah we back in this. slight edits but not too much and honestly having something I can chew out has been good, and it’s great to post it over here.

@Dingopox hi and nice to have you! mysterious is part of the name of the game tbh, but glad it turned out well. anyways thanks for the comment and hope you stick around for the ride.

older responses:

@Clockenstein - I honestly screamed a little when I got this bc I adore sl and pretty much all your writing so your seal of approval just made my fucking day. anyways, err, the content itself - the magical introduction is honestly a kicker and I was considering making it a separate line but it flowed so well from the paragraph that I had to include it (and it still hits pretty hard).

I really liked working on sketching this update out because it almost has its own emotional rhythm to it and yeah, the shift in focus does a lot for the flow by grounding it, giving personal context and making it a lot more blunt to the point it's almost overpowering (but in a good way), and then the last few bits bring it full circle and add a slight, fragile ray of hope to the thing. future updates will show whether it can survive (yeah I'm evil what's new)

@Flopdisc - there's mythical storytelling, and then there's magical mythical storytelling, and the latter is what only unova really has. also, maybe for whatever reason, magic is localised to unova, bound to it even. who knows? (well I do but I'm not telling). but yeah, glad to see that you enjoyed the read, here's hoping I can keep it up.

@Missy - your guess is...mostly correct, like this is definitely more of a character piece than the other things I've taken a stab at but it is driven hugely by the plot, the world, and the cast learning more about that darned magic so yeah. one of the interesting 'points' I've got is that though antiquity and modernity do clash they also come together in dark twisted ways (or mirror each other because as we all know time is a circle and everything repeats). but yeah, it should be fun, some of my defining writing influences have been urban fantasy so I wanted to try one of my own.

as for albert...well, we're meeting him pretty soon. he's an interesting fellow, rough around the edges but imo he's worth getting to know.

@Erberor - I was sorta bored of breezing through standard nuzlockes and never getting over 5 deaths so I wanted a challenge. blazeblack may have been me biting off more than I can chew, but thankfully I'm not out of it yet. (if I wiped you guys would know but yeah it is really really difficult.)

yeah there's something about the steady transition between the happy fantasy magic and dark grim reality that I love and explicitly saying that happy fantasy magic isn't a real thing was cathartic but kinda necessary for the opener. that line in particular...I don't know what about it, but there's a certain mix of nostalgia and bitterness behind it that makes it hit really hard (I revised that paragraph a bunch but that line and one other stayed constant throughout.) nice seeing that you appreciated it.

@BritishAirSnails - aaaaa dev thanks for dropping in. I spent a while working on my setting and the voiceover just manages to play up the interesting aspects of it really well. glad you liked it.

The key still felt warm in my pocket.

My hand dropped to my side, and I thumbed the strip of metal out of my coat, raising it up to eye-level. In the dim light cast by the streetlamp, I couldn't see it that well, but I knew how pristine the metal was - free of any blemishes, nicks and notches that would indicate shoddy workmanship or regular wear and tear, and so unlike its predecessor in that regard. I thought back to that predecessor - a key almost identical to the one I now held, save for a long groove along the edge, the result of a nasty scrape with an earth mage.

But the key hadn't been indestructible - it had only taken a week after that scrape before it’d broken, courtesy of a body blow I'd taken in the Hyde Street scuffle. The key had been nestling in my pocket, and the hit I'd taken had shattered it - sparing my ribs a break at the cost of a dozen metallic splinters embedded in my torso. It had taken two hours for Tom and Claire to patch me up, drawing the fragments from my chest and mending the rents they'd caused, leaving me fit to go out again. The key had taken longer to be replaced.

And here I was, staring at the replacement, trying to see what lay behind its artificial brightness, the way it almost seemed to pulse in the evening. Two hours since I'd taken it from Qarl, and it was still warm - eerily so.

And there it was - the last missing detail that had been eluding me. The key glowed a smidge brighter than the light illuminating it, and the air around it was tinged with blue. Magic. The steelthreaders had thrown in a little something extra for me, assuming that this wasn't to become standard issue for all safehouse keys.

It would be an upgrade, I supposed. Probably wouldn't break like the last one, and it might have some other functionalities beyond simple luminosity, something I could find useful. Still, it unsettled me, to see that the same magic that coursed through my bloodstream could be transferred to something as pedestrian as the key in my hand.

Well, it was what it was, and there was no point dwelling on it. There was less point in idling in the cold longer than necessary.

The key rolled into my fingers, and I pushed it gingerly into the lock. Whatever magic it had evidently didn't extend to silencing the groan of the wood frame, nor easing its reaction to the sudden weight on the door's hinges. I stepped quickly through the doorway, catching the door with my free hand and shutting it behind me.

I took the stairs at a jog, occasionally jumping a step or two as I made my way up past faded wallpaper and grimy windows. I reached the third floor landing, and without slowing down, I turned left into the narrow corridor. The bulb had been fused for about a week, but I didn't need it - I knew by heart how many steps lay between the landing and room 3G. The key slipped back out of my pocket and into the keyhole with a dull shink, and I leaned in to push the door backwards.

I inhaled as I stepped inside, breathing in that lingering hint of lavender. Jes had last been here a week ago, and yet the smell remained, a remnant of the candle she'd brought that night. The stuffy, secluded air of the apartment had preserved it for all this time.

I thought back to the candle's glow, to the two of us leaning over the small table, elbows almost touching, as we discussed news from Dagger Lane and what might be asked of us next. Thinking of the memory brought a strange lightness to my heart, and I felt the corners of my mouth twist upwards, involuntarily. I didn't mind the feeling. It was a nice reminder, a touch that made my room a little less drab and gloomy - a spot of light in the gathering darkness. I didn't want it, didn't need it, definitely didn't deserve it, but it was still nice to have.

The table we'd sat at still lounged against the far wall, a battered typewriter resting close to its edge. Every time I saw it the typewriter looked all the more worn, marked by fresh chips in fading paint and I didn't think it was being used enough to wear that badly. That table, the two wooden chairs, and the small cot in the far corner were all the concessions made to the people who rotated through the apartment...not that anyone who spent the night here was looking for comfort or luxury. I smirked slightly at the thought, then bent down, grabbing one of the chairs and dragging it over to the only thing of value in the apartment.

As far as windows went, it wasn't particularly fancy - a simple glass frame, bisected by a cast iron cross into four small squares. Beneath the latter two squares was an unimpeded view of Striaton Garden, and the edge of the Market District, where the Crooked Dice's territory met the Disputed Zone. Cobblestones brushed up against the green not too far from the apartment, but the treeline didn't begin until about 10 feet away from the edge of the Gardens, and my elevation allowed me to see a decent way into the Garden itself, even at night.

There was a reason that every patrol team had one person covering the window, keeping a birds-eye view over their territory. It was the same reason that I was here to begin with.

The Bookkeeper had established the pattern earlier than any of the other gangs, and even when they'd started copying him, they'd never managed it to the same efficiency that we had. It was simple in concept - every vulnerable three-block strip was covered by a 5-man team, all low-level magicians. 4 of them circled the perimeter on the ground, and their leader took an elevated position, to spot potential incursions and reinforce the team on the ground if necessary.

However monotonous the job could be, it was important. The Crooked Dice had made their rise by being thorough and ensuring that they had a clear field to operate within, expanding that field whenever opportunities arose. An incursion by another major gang, or any unaffiliated magicians setting up shop could threaten the tenuous structure we'd assembled out of the ruins of the world before, and destroy our livelihoods in the bargain.

So I was here, a small cog in the machine that held the dark at bay. Whatever it cost me. It wasn’t how I’d have liked it...but I could live with it.

Night had fallen. The moon drifted through the sky on my right, a pale half-circle in a sea of deep purple. A few blood-red strands snaked across the sky to my west, framing the dark waters of Accumula Sound in the distance. And though I knew from experience that the city behind us was as vibrant as ever, only a few scattered lights shone out from the western suburbs, seeming oddly muted. I settled into my chair, my eyes alert.

It was funny how the hours could slip by, sometimes. Once darkness had expunged the last shreds of daylight, it was impossible to measure time without my pocket watch (which I never really bothered to check). After twilight had faded, the view from the window became almost surreal, a scene of distorted shadows and indistinct shapes, marked by faint glimmers of light. At this time of night, streetlights and stars were equally cold, equally remote, and I felt oddly lonely, up in the shadows, alone but for the occasional dark thought.

A burning trail of yellow scorched its way into the sky, disappearing as quickly as it came. I got to my feet, my eyes following the streak of fire. It came from inside the Disputed Zone, which at this time of night would mean-

My coat was on in half a second, and I raced for the door, slamming it shut behind me and jamming my key back into the lock. Once I heard it click, I shot towards the stairs, and descended as quickly as I could, practically freefalling my way to the ground level. I paid the cold air no mind as I emerged from the building, my eyes fixed on a fresh flame trail in the distance. The second one had come from closer to the Gardens, much closer to our territory. That would be worrisome.

Fire magic was one of the more common powers, and yet most people considered it the most desirable. For the life of me, I couldn't work out why - however flashy a fireball looked as it arced through the air, it was slower than a bullet and didn't put its targets down, so most of the time you'd have been better off using a gun. While more powerful mages could unleash concentrated streams of fire on their opponents or strike at their surroundings, they lacked the raw power to overwhelm single opponents or burn through brick and mortar, rendering them a disadvantage in close quarters fighting. And all of that was before getting to the various ways of working around a fire elemental's power - shields of earth or mental energy, shrouds of darkness that dispelled heat, the natural resistance that enhanced and the Draconids had to fire, not to mention that a fast opponent could simply dodge the fireballs. Can't beat what you can't hit, after all.

This shouldn't be too hard, I thought for half a second, before I cursed myself for the thought. No point underestimating what I'd be facing before I'd had the chance to size it up.

Another short burst of fire jetted from an alleyway a few feet away from me. The fight was probably still raging, but it shouldn't be a problem. Consciously, I slowed my pace, walking the last few steps and turning myself sideways to survey the scene.

The alley was emptier than I'd expected. There were no shouting figures here, locked in desperate combat as magical energy whizzed and cut through the tight space. Instead, a greasy-haired man a few years older than me stood over a scrawny redhead, gun cocked and aimed at his head.

A stray burst of fire shot from the kid's hand, leaving traces of ash along the brick wall behind him. His assailant chuckled. How he had managed to chase down and overpower a fire elemental I didn't know, but that wasn't the point.

"Excuse me," I said, my voice just loud enough for them to hear it. "I don't think you're licensed to work around here."

"Who're you?" he spat, turning upwards to face me. His face was dotted with pockmarks, and his hooked nose gave him a sinister air. Still, he wasn't too big, and he was alone.

My tattoo was covered by my sleeve, but my pendant hung outside my shirt, two dice tied around my neck like a chain to signify my allegiance to the gang. It was clearly visible, so he must have been new around here if he didn't recognise it. Good - his gun suggested that his magic wasn't all that much to rely on, and he wasn't carrying anything that would mark him as a member of another gang. A neophyte and a bully then, with nobody who’d miss him.

"Like I said," I said, low, letting an edge creep into my voice. "You're not licensed to work around here. Pocket that gun, walk away, and I'll forget I saw you."

"You'll forget?" spat the man, a slight lisp weakening his delivery. "You won't be remembering anything with two bullets in yer skull," he sneered, swinging his gun in a wide arc to accompany his statement. He took a second too long to center his aim on me and start pulling the trigger, and he shot one-handed at me, bullets flying indiscriminately from the barrel.

My hand curled, and a thin trail of water leaked from the vials in my coat pocket, spooling into a circular barrier between the two of us. The liquid-forged construct was as good a shield as I could summon on demand, and it was more than enough for a shootout.

The first bullet missed my shield entirely and passed about a foot to my left, the second ricocheted off the edge into the wall, the third and fourth were bounced upwards, shooting off into the sky. The disc of water thrummed with a deep, menacing note as it absorbed the impacts, and once the sound faded, its outer surface was as smooth as ever.

Even if I hadn't used my power, all four bullets would have probably missed me anyways. It was a sorry display - even though an expert triggerman wouldn't have been able to get past the shield, they would have made a much better attempt at it. Hell, they might have gotten a shot off before my shield was up, and that could have been all they needed.

I cut that line of thinking off quickly. He'd missed his chance, no point worrying about it. Now it was my turn.

I breathed out, and the shield vibrated, condensing itself into a bite-sized sphere. It floated lazily down the alley, spinning slightly on its axis, and reflections of the flames glittered deep in its core, twisting, flickering, merging and breaking apart again. Despite the amorphous quality, the orb was compact and would resist an attack, and its bobbing progression was imposing in its own way. It was calm, unhurried, not daunted in the slightest, the very image I sought to project.

For a second the thug wavered, indecisive, a spark of fear in his eyes. Then, as the sphere flitted a little closer, he feinted to one side, before throwing himself upwards into a massive, all-or-nothing leap. Evidently he hoped to clear the alley, dodge the sphere of water and take me out before I could retaliate.

He'd chosen the easiest path of assault, and the most predictable. I rolled my eyes, and a flick of my fingers sent the sphere accelerating upwards, slamming into his midsection with a heavy thwump. He fell backwards, and crumpled to the ground like a deflated balloon, all the bravado from before gone. It wouldn't kill him - judging by the speed at which he'd moved, his magic went towards physical augmentation, and I hadn't hit him hard enough to kill even an ordinary human - but that didn't mean I'd held back. He'd be feeling that blow in the morning.

I walked slowly down the alley, letting the sphere spin on its axis in midair, feigning disinterest in the prone punk. Let him think that he wasn't worth my attention, that my seemingly effortless victory was just a pedestrian affair to me. He'd remember this all the better if I did.

And that was the Bookkeeper's plan, anyways. He told us that by making an example of the few who dared come for us, we could frighten the rest into submission, make the other gangs too afraid to come after the Boardwalk or Dagger Lane. But to do that, we needed examples. And here was one who'd delivered himself up on a platter.

"I warned you," I told him, quietly. "But you didn't listen. People like you never listen."

"Why...should I listen...to-" and then I kicked him in the chest. Hard. Whatever insult he'd been about to fling at me was swallowed by a sudden coughing fit, not that I'd been interested in hearing it.

"Well, you're listening now, aren't you?" I let the easy smile fall, and then spoke, my voice calm and even. "Here are your terms. If you're seen at the Boardwalk, near the Park, poking around the Dreamyard, or anywhere in East Striaton, really, your life is forfeit. The Crooked Dice will come after you, and we'll hunt you until you're out of the picture, one way or another. Are we clear?"

He didn't answer. I sighed, and a droplet sloughed off the sphere, landing on his cheek. A beat passed, and a swirl of scarlet blossomed within the wet patch. His face contorted in pain, but the drop stayed where it was, held in place by my focus and willpower. Beneath the drop, through the shadows and cloudy red, a tiny, fresh puncture wound was visible - a little water pressure was just the tool to send the message home.

"Are we clear?" I asked, once more.

He nodded, then nodded again, almost defying gravity with how his head frantically bounced off the ground. Another example had been made.

"Get out of my sight," I muttered, as I turned away. I half expected him to make a stab at my back, had the sphere reformed and spinning above my hand within a second, but the attack never came. Instead I heard the steady thrum of retreating footsteps behind me, growing fainter with every impact.

"Is he gone?" asked the redhead. I'd almost forgotten about him.

He had his arms wrapped around himself as he stood up, and he looked warily at me, still slightly crouched, looking smaller than he actually was. Funny - in my experience fire elementals tended to be overconfident, flashy, projecting a presence greater than they really were. There were always outliers, but it was one thing to know outliers exist and another to encounter them.

"He's gone," I told him, trying to be reassuring. "I'll put his name and description in the book for good measure. If he comes back to this neighborhood, then the first member of the Dice to spot him will go after him and take him out for good. Might even be me that does it." Wouldn't matter if it did - there was a principle to this whole affair. We couldn't have a monopoly if others came in to muddy the waters, and so we made clear that they weren't welcome. In any case, "if he's smart, he'll drop the extortion-and-bullying act and find a job more suited to his talents."

"Will he?"

"Will he what?" I'd let my thoughts distract me, almost enough to miss the question.

"Find another job? Stop harassing people?"

I sighed. "No. He probably won't."

"Why not?"

"Because people are idiots, mages especially. Think because they can do a few tricks they're practically invincible, and better than everyone else. He's been rattled, but it won't change him, not in the long run - he'll just settle for picking on targets he can get away with picking on, now."

A glance at the kid was enough to tell me that I was spooking him. With his suddenly on-edge expression, the puffiness around his eye and the nasty scrape along his cheek became all the more apparent, and I felt a slight pang of guilt for not noticing his injuries earlier. The pang faded quickly - it wasn't my problem, after all. Still...

"You should get yourself looked at. There's a couple of healers around here that take patients off the street, and they don't charge too much for it."

"No, it's okay. I'll be fine."

"Kay then," and I turned around. The incursion (or whatever this was) had been dealt with, and now I had to get back to spotting the next one. Which meant getting back to the apartment.

"Hey! Where're you going?"

"You said you'd be fine!" I called back. "I've got business to deal with! Another time!" I put the kid out of my mind and strode briskly back to the building's entrance.

"Albert!" called a voice. It was Sting - one of the enforcers hanging around this area.

"Sting."

He took the hint and cut right to the point. "Me and Gordon saw that flare, Gordon's heading to cordon off the area. It's been taken care of?"

"Yeah. One lone gunman who managed to get away with bullying a fire elemental. I ran him off."

Sting shrugged. "Alright. Good. Getting kinda quiet around here, honestly."

I laughed a little. "Yeah. No serious incursions in a while - I wonder if we need to start expanding again." A pause - I didn’t get any response, so I let it lie. "Anyways, I'm heading back upstairs, to get back on watch."

"You'll let us take the next one?"

I shrugged with one shoulder as I pulled the key out of my pocket. "Sure. No reason not to, unless you don't think you can handle it."

As I slid the key into the lock, I heard him say "Well, we'll never know if we can handle it if- if we don't get the chance." The thud of boots meeting tarmac followed his parting line, before I could think of a response. It felt like he'd meant to say something else, but hadn't, and the hidden meaning was lost on me.

Well, I could always ponder that question back in the apartment. The key came out, and I pulled the door open, stepping inside and rubbing my hands a little to warm up.

Something flickered in the corner of my eye, and I moved, catching the intruder by the collar and slamming him against the wall with a thud. I didn't worry about anyone hearing me; the Dice owned the building, and the residents were well aware of that fact, so any disturbances would be brushed off, and I was left a free hand to deal with the redheaded kid.

It was the same kid from before. A single look at him was enough to confirm it - same auburn mop of hair, same scared expression. He'd probably slipped through the doorway behind me - less of a feat than him slipping past Sting, to be true. I silently revised the assessment I'd made earlier.

But however slippery he might be, it didn’t matter now - he was pinned solidly against the wall, with little muscle and less inclination to break free. Maybe this didn't have to end with blood.

"Jeez, kid," I said, letting the sphere dissipate before it could form. Didn't loosen my grip, though, and I let exasperation creep into my next words, "What part of 'I've got business' did you not understand?"

"Please," he said. "I don't have anywhere else to go."

"Is that my problem?" I asked him.

"No...no, it's not, sir. But I thought..." he trailed off.

"Spit it out," I said, patience dwindling.

"My powers!" he blurted. "The director saw them - he wouldn't listen - threw me out - I don't know where to go. You have magic too - I saw it. Do you know someone who could help?"

"I know a lot of someones, kid," I said. "Whether they could help you...depends on what exactly you want and what you can offer in return. Nothing comes for free in this town, not anymore." And money’s not what you’ll have to pay to get in, I added in my mind.

I let the kid go, shaking my arm out. “Sorry,” I said, but I wasn’t, not really. There were better things he could be doing than this.

"Please!" he said, grabbing my sleeve. I resisted the instinct, honed by countless streetfights and scrapes, to throw him over my shoulder and through the door. "I could help. My powers - I could learn to use them, to help you, your people. Please. I can't go out there again."

The last note struck close to home. Something deep inside me stirred, and for a second I heard an pained echo beneath his pleading voice, a fragment of memory I'd thought buried and forgotten. We can't live like this forever, Al, said the voice, almost sadly. As it faded, I looked up and met the kid's eyes. They were green, with a fragile quality that reminded me of stained glass. His eyes had been the same color, with the same quiet desperation behind them. And what the kid had said...

"Fine," I muttered. "Fine!" This time, it was loud enough to make him flinch. What was it with this kid? "I'll talk to the boss, see if he can find you a place. It won't be nice, though - but if you're accepted, you won't have to live out in the cold."

"But where do I go now?" He asked, looking up at me, worry still brimming in his eyes. I considered for a second, and sighed.

"You can stay at the apartment for tonight. Just for tonight. There's a cot, and I don't sleep on the job, so you can have that."

He sagged a little. "Thank you, sir."

"Don't call me sir," I sighed, "and don't thank me. You don't know what you're getting into." I turned away before I could say more, letting him go. As secure as our position was becoming, it wasn't as if we could turn away magically gifted recruits who were looking for jobs. And for all I knew, the trainers at Dagger Lane could turn the kid into a reasonable enough fighter - he seemed persistent enough, and the rest could be taught. He hadn’t been like I’d been, and he could avoid the attention, stay low enough on the ladder to avoid the Bookkeeper’s attention.


So it was logic that had driven me to accept him - it had to have been. Why else would I break a dozen of our codes and let the kid crash in the apartment?

I jogged up the stairs, quicker than I usually would, stepped out of the landing and into the dim hallway, letting my momentum carry me for a few seconds before I looked up. I stopped dead, taken aback by what I saw.

I'd locked the door before leaving - it was standard practice, couldn't be too safe in this part of town, after all. And yet now the door balanced in the doorway, slightly ajar, letting a glimmer of pale blue light creep out into the hallway. In a place where open doors didn't stay open for long, this one was yawning out an invitation...or a warning.

"What is-"

"Ssh!" I hissed, a short sound that left no room for a response. The only explanation was that someone was still inside.

Water pooled into my hand, solidifying into an orb. I took a step forward, then another, the sphere flitting ahead of me to cover my advance.

I didn't realise my error until the globe floated in front of the door, and into the path of the moonlight. The light met the water and almost glowed under the radiance - bright enough that anyone covering the door would have noticed it. I cursed under my breath, and barged for the doorway, shield forming in a heartbeat to cover my entrance.

"It's not polite to enter without knocking, Albert." It sounded half a reprimand, but the light, almost-teasing tone of the comment was enough to defuse the tension. I let my shield fall, drawing the liquid back into my jacket sleeves before I stepped inside.

She stood there, in the center of the room, facing the window with her back to me. Her hair fell like a curtain over her back, throwing her profile into shadow, and all I could see was the mischievous light in her eye. The air around her was suddenly tinged
purple, and the vivid scent of fresh lavender filled the room. Suddenly, the dry, near-empty space now felt inconceivably lovely.

But Jeslin Thompson always managed to look lovely. Always.

"Jes," I said. "You could've told me you were coming."

"Well, that would spoil the surprise, now, wouldn't it?" She turned around to face me. "It's nice seeing you - that you're well, I mean."

"The pleasure is mine, Jes - always has been." I let her sling her right arm around my shoulder and pull me into a half-hug.

"Who's the kid, by the way?” she asked as she let go, leaving me to fumble for my answer for a second. A glance around my shoulder confirmed that he hadn't come in yet, but with Jes’ air control, she didn’t need to see someone coming to know they were there.

"He's um...he wants to get recruited and I told him I'd put in a word for him. He's a fire elemental, young, but I think he's got the makings."

"Well, you'll probably have the chance to make that argument pretty soon," she commented lightly.

"Yeah...wait, what do you mean soon?"

It was at this moment that the kid chose to step into the room, nervously balancing a fireball in his right hand. He eyed Jes warily, a mix of confusion and fear playing across his features, until I cut in. "Put that out, kid, it's fine. This is Jes, my...well, not my boss, but I still work with her. She's part of the organisation you want to join."

The kid peered nervously at the two of us, and Jes turned to face him, a gentle smile reappearing on her face. "Hi there," she said, calmly. "Albert was just telling me about you. What's your name?"

Another pang of annoyance twinges, at my forgetting to ask the kid for his name. Thankfully, he manages to cough it up.

"Sam. Sam Wither...no, actually, it's just Sam."

"Nice meeting you, Sam," said Jeslin, her smile a little brighter now. The kid - Sam - looked like he was relaxing a little too, and I internally thank whatever reason Jes came out to visit for the night. Aside from her pleasant company, things always seemed to go more smoothly when she was around. But on that note-

"Anyways, Jes, you were going to tell me about what you're doing out here," I commented, dryly.

She shot me a mock-annoyed look, before glancing back to Sam, and saying "Hey, Sam, Albert and I have to discuss business for a bit. You mind waiting out in the hall for a few minutes?"

I'd have expected the kid to bolt or get nervous if I'd said it, but Jes is the kind of person you just can't help trusting regardless of what she's asking you to do. Sam glanced once at me, received a nod, and with a shy look, he stepped out into the hallway.

"OK, I'll cut to the chase." Jes turned around, looking me dead in the eyes, all traces of warmth gone. "The Bookkeeper wants you at Dagger Lane tonight."

The words hit like an unexpected gut-punch. I was wanted at Dagger Lane? I hadn't been there since-

"Did he tell you why he wants me?" I asked, trying to get an angle. Invitations (or more accurately, summons) to Dagger Lane didn't come lightly, and I wasn't aware of any reason I'd be called there.

"No, he didn't, and despite what you'd think, Albert, I don't know about everything that's decided at Dagger Lane. The Bookkeeper doesn't tell anyone about what he's planning until it's a done deal. But I can tell it's big."

"How big?"

"Bigger than anything you've been part of thus far. Probably bigger than anything that the gang's done so far - and clearly, he thinks your track record is enough to qualify you a spot on it."

"I haven't done all that much," I protested.

"You've done as much as anyone to help us build what we have, and I'd be lying if I said he hasn't talked about finding a bigger stage for your talents, ever since he recruited you. You made an impression on him that day." She paused slightly, as if realising what she'd almost brought up, and it took a few seconds before she spoke again. When she did, something strange laced her words. "Albert...I think this is your chance."

I knew what she meant when she said 'chance', and I was already skeptical about it. Theatricality was one of our boss' specialties, and despite our steady gains and improving conditions, the bombastic proclamations were never quite fulfilled to the level we’d expected. Plus, whatever assignment I'd be set to, I'd still be taking orders from Dagger Lane, stuck inside the organisation and beholden to someone else - even though I was just fine having it that way. Just fine.

There weren’t any outs from this world that I’d entered, not unless I got very, very lucky - storybook lucky, to be exact. And I was just about ready to dismiss that possibility altogether. Do things balance out given time, or do they only get worse?

"So it looks like I'm finally moving up in the world." I muttered, not sure whether for my benefit or hers. "You don't mind watching the kid while I'm out, do you?" I felt slightly guilty for imposing on Jes, doubly so because I knew she hated having to sit around, but I didn’t have anyone else who I could call on short notice and trust to ignore me waiving the code like this.

She sighed. "I can put up with it, I'll even cover your shift while you're gone. But it's just for you, and you owe me one."

"Don't I already owe you how many favours now - three? four?" I ask, half-smiling, as I step into the doorway.

"I'll be generous and call this the fourth. Now get going - you wouldn't want to keep Mr. Juniper waiting for too long.”

and now we are back in earnest. bunch of edits / new lines / tweaks and honestly I spent more time on this than I should've but the end result is worth I think. aside from that...we have a protagonist, world exposition, fight scene, set-up towards the end, etc etc. there's a fun mix of more overt reveals and subtler hints here and there that I think make the exposition work better, and having had time away helped me come back and tighten it up to good effect. next time we have...more world exposition, set-up towards the end, overt reveals and subtle hints. some tricks are just worth reusing.

slight apology bc we're not getting a new desert daze chapter till friday, it still needs a little work before I can toss it out. hope this doesn't put me too far behind on that. anyways as always I hope you guys enjoyed and thanks for reading, catch y'all next week! peace out.
 
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Dee

THIS IS MY HAPPY FACE
Writer
Team Alpha
Pokédex No.
147
Caught
Jun 26, 2019
Messages
608
Location
Zion National Park
Nature
Sassy
Pronouns
They/Them
Pokémon Type
Bug, Clever
Pokédex Entry
A regular writer of fanfics and other works, this pokemon loves puns, bugs, and the outdoors.
I love the snappiness of this first chapter--a real treat to read.

What's the schedule for Sturm reloads? once a week? Two weeks? More/less?
 

d'angelo russell

tomorrow ain't promised to no-one
Writer
Team Omega
Pokédex No.
231
Caught
Jul 1, 2019
Messages
226
Location
ontario
Nature
Adamant
Pronouns
he - him
Pokémon Type
Dark, Dragon
Pokédex Entry
it was banished for its violence. it silently gazes upon the old world from the distortion world
  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #12
Missy said:
yooooooooo

ignoring perhaps what i should obviously be commenting on, this first chapter was a ton of fun. Albert's powers and how they're very precise and smaller in scale compared to say, how one could interpret hydrokinesis to be huge, sweeping waves of water etc is very, very cool. the small things people do with magic mechanics are always much more interesting imo than gigantic fuck-off sorta fireballs and all that jazz. the descriptions really sell it. the detail of how it sounds when the shield deflects bullets was v good. or maybe im just a ho for watery characters

the very first moments of the chapter, too, i think are worth mentioning. i love how it sort of.... zooms out? it goes from focusing on the details of the key in scope and giving world details in passing to the apartment to the world outside the window and a quick peek at the gang situation.

also gonna second Dee on this one cause Crooked Dice is fucking awesome for a gang name.

final note, now that ive got some context on these character your qotd answers will finally make sense to me lmao
 

d'angelo russell

tomorrow ain't promised to no-one
Writer
Team Omega
Pokédex No.
231
Caught
Jul 1, 2019
Messages
226
Location
ontario
Nature
Adamant
Pronouns
he - him
Pokémon Type
Dark, Dragon
Pokédex Entry
it was banished for its violence. it silently gazes upon the old world from the distortion world
  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #13
@Dee - xd thanks, snappy isn’t what I’d have thought to describe this but on reflection it fits. also my schedule was supposed to be one new chapter every week but I dropped the ball last week bc work and my gym routine and a bunch of other things alas. anyways uh new chapters will usually drop saturday maybe sunday if I fall late. the transition goes on.

older responses (yeah I'm porting these alongside lol):

@Missy I mean fwiw albert's actually capable of large-scale hydrokinesis (think like tidal waves or just turning himself into a storm cloud), but to him control > power and so he settles for more defensive / pragmatic applications of hydrokinesis that he can actually make use of on a regular basis, with a limited amount of water etc. making the descriptions work was fun as well, sidenote I actually pulled out my hs physics notes to confirm whether this sort of hydrokinesis would actually work in real life (and the physics / math is more or less sound).

as for the other stuff, messing with focus is one of those things I've found really cool, zooming in and out means bouncing between scenes as necessary, keeping the setting fresh and it also allows for tactful infodumps if you play it right 👀 anyways, glad you enjoyed.

before we get to the update two important things: firstly I'd like to thank the fantastic @Erberor for this cool sketch of albert, it's really solid and I dig it. can't wait to see the proper drawing 👀. anyways second but not least I've finally prevailed upon myself to get to writing future chapters and as of like half an hour ago update #11 of sturm is fully drafted. yep @caught-up readers you guys heard me right, we have fresh content for when the reposting is complete. hallelujah. anyways that said lettuce get to it,

Almost midnight, and the Boardwalk was still lively.

I'd heard some more travelled people say that it wasn't much compared to Castelia or Nimbasa's nightlives, but to me the Boardwalk had always been bright and bombastic. And yet I could see something in the positioning of signs and lights, in the colors and wavy lines, all positioned to look bigger and brighter than they actually were. Like children wearing their fathers' suit jackets, pretending at magnificence they'd one day have for real.

I watched from a distance, my route taking me southeast around the Boardwalk's edge - close enough to see the lights but far enough to avoid the glamour. I'd never been one to empty my pockets at one of the speakeasies there, instead whiling my off-hours away in the town's eastern districts. I'd known those alleys before the Awakening, and even now they felt like home.

But I'd forsaken that home for something new.

Dagger Lane - Knife Lane once, but not anymore - had always been a hotbed of violence. It'd been named for a black joke originally, and rechristened later by the Daggers, one of the first organised gangs of magicians formed after the Awakening. When the Dice descended on Dagger Lane and claimed it for their own (wiping out the Daggers' successors in the process), we'd kept the name. 'Dagger Lane' had a simplistic flair to it, and an edge that appealed to the Bookkeeper, and so he'd retained the title for his new centre of power.

But the name was the only thing that'd survived the Dice's takeover and subsequent remodel. Steelthreaded gates had been raised at either end of the three-block stretch, guarded by low-level psychics who scanned every passerby for hostile intent. The small spires above the buildings were manned by aeromancers and riflemen ready to shoot down any interlopers. I passed these without too much incident, and came out into an open lane. From this set of ramshackle properties a fortress had been built, a fortress of semi-detached houses and squat buildings, to house our enforcers and store the Dice's wealth. One of those houses was mine, technically, though I hadn't checked on it in a while. Maybe tonight, I thought idly, before turning to my destination.

There was only one building in Dagger Lane whose doors were open - the Diceton. From the outside, it looked just like any other small-town speakeasy, with the dim lights, the jazz quartet, and the relaxed ambience typical to those establishments. The similarity was intentionally misleading. This was the Bookkeeper's stronghold, his impregnable redoubt, the nerve center of his fledgling empire. Masked by paralegality and the unassuming front, he and his closest associates operated out of the back rooms, planning the expansions of the Dice's dominion and navigating the tides of post-Awakening Striaton.

The Bookkeeper never held court as other gang leaders sometimes did, and invitations to his back rooms didn't come often. Truth be told, he hadn't issued a personal invitation like this for at least a month or so - almost a lifetime in these times. Jes's supposition was probably correct - this had to be something big to justify a face to face meeting. But I'd been pondering the question since I left, and I still had no plausible answers. It seemed like I'd have to wait for it to be spelled out for me.

At least I'd have the pleasure of being here, however much it amounted to. The last time I'd been here had been after the Darrigan escapade, and before that...didn't bear thinking about. Not now at least.

I nodded at Heth on the way in. He inclined his head slightly, his green dreadlocks bobbing in the night wind, and he waved me in without a word. He'd been chattier the last time I'd been here, but he must have known I hadn't come to relax. He should have known.

Even in the dead of night, the world seemed to darken around me as I stepped inside. The few lights in the bar were tinted by dark red screens, and cigar smoke drifted in idle wisps through the air, clouding the small space. Tonight as always, the crowd was mostly regulars - hard-eyed, hard-drinkers, their voices soft and low. None of them would discuss business in here - couldn't be too secure - and so I wondered what it was they were trying to keep down. Domestic spats or some such?

Perhaps it was simply the atmosphere - where the Boardwalk's speakeasies were bright and loud, almost garish, this felt subdued to the point of subtlety. It served a double purpose - or one purpose in two parts, really. The first was to limit attention, to keep strangers away, and as much as that helped the Bookkeeper stay out of sight it also made the space more exclusive, more familial, thereby strengthening the bonds that held the gang together.

I didn't drink, and if I did I wouldn't be drinking tonight. But I could use something to still my nerves. I found a quiet spot beside the bar, waited for the bartender to notice me, break away from the throng. "Anything I can get you?" he asked.

"Lemonade, on the rocks," I said. A nod, a few smooth motions, and my drink appeared in a tall glass. The ice clinked softly as it drifted to the top.

"Enjoy," he said offhandedly, and before a cube could break the surface he'd found other customers to attend to. This was a busier night than usual.

I found myself a quiet booth near the window and sat down, sending an idle glance towards the back door. The Diceton had specific rules, and one of them was the need for a formal, verbal invitation to enter the inner sanctum. As of now, no-one was coming out to deliver it, so I had a few minutes to relax and compose myself. I settled back in my booth, raising the glass to my mouth, savoring the cold for a second as my eyes wandered the speakeasy.

"Mr. Thawne," called a voice from across the room. My eyes followed the call on instinct, and- Cassius. Of course it was Cassius. He locked his yellow eyes on mine, and I swore his lips twitched.

I sighed as I rose to my feet, feeling the eyes that glanced my way. It was to be expected - every member of the Dice had wasted a free night here drinking with their co-workers, but only a small handful had actually passed through this doorway. To have it happen was almost an occasion of its own.

"I hope you've been well, Mr Thawne," commented Cassius as I reached him, a touch of asperity in his tone. I stared into the hallway behind him, not meeting his gaze or giving any indication that I'd heard him. He wasn't the person I'd come to see, and I didn't have to take his 'concern'.

"Very well," he said, after a few seconds. "We mustn't keep Mr. Juniper waiting." His voice was still calm, still polite, but slight hiss on the 'mustn't' added edge to the statement. I ignored the hint of a threat. For all the power that he held, for all that we were on his turf, I'd be damned if I deferred to him in any noticeable way.

"Lead the way," I said, forcing a little fake cheer, and extending my arm as if I was asking an usher to show me to my seat. I figured I could get away with it - the Bookkeeper had personally summoned me, and Cassius wouldn't dare make him wait for the sake of a petty comeback.

He settled for a warning look, his eyes flashing golden, before he stepped into the hallway. I followed a few steps behind. "Last door on the right, correct?" I asked.

"Yes," he responded, starting a little, as if he hadn't expected me to remember that. But he turned left instead.

"Where-" I started, then I froze. A smooth steel door opened to reveal darkness.

"I'd wanted to consult with you on something," Cassius said, somewhat plaintative. "With all that we've been doing, it's hard to find time for renovations, and as I'm sure you'll remember, the lower levels of this building are...somewhat waterlogged."

I didn’t respond, and so Cassius pressed on. “Knowing your specialty, I’d thought you could be of assistance. Would you like to take a closer look?"

Ice grazes my spine, trickling slowly down my shoulders. Pain erupts in my cheek, screams fill my ears, death treads closer and closer to whisper my ear and then-

I swallowed, dispelling the memory. "Don't we have someplace else to be?" I asked hoarsely.

This time I saw the smirk - but then he probably let me see it. It was gone in a flash, as he straightened, and I was staring at a cool, impermeable mask. "Of course. Forgive me for taking the opportunity to...reminisce." He turned, beckoning me to follow.

I resisted the urge to raise my hand, shatter that mask with a good punch. If it came to blows I could take him, even if I wouldn't survive the fallout...and it was that fact that held me back. It was my fault, anyways. I'd let him take the shot, and now I had no chance to get a retort in.

So I followed until we reached the end of the hallway, right next to a plain, unornamented door. "Enter," came a voice from inside, as Cassius was raising his hand to knock. He nodded, dropping his hand to the handle and pushing the door open.

It was a small space, dominated by dark, forbidding colours - blood-red velvet lined the walls, bordering dark green wallpaper, and rows of dark oak bookcases, all chock-full of rare texts, were stacked against the back wall. A tall, mahogany desk dominated the space, its wood glistening in the candlelight. It felt less an office and more a sanctum, a place of knowledge and power.

I’d always thought of Cedric Juniper as a teacher - and maybe he’d been one, before the Awakening. He was built slight, his iron-grey hair cropped short, and a pair of reading glasses were tucked into his shirt pocket. Despite all this his face was smooth, and his blue eyes glittered with a piercing intelligence. Another sector captain had told me that the boss’ look was that of a man with a knife, constantly thinking of the best way to cut someone into pieces, and eye contact was enough to bring that statement back.

"Welcome, Albert, my boy," he said from his easy chair. When things were going well like this, he was charming, expansive, waxing on in good cheer that almost reached his eyes. When the chips were down, though, the kind mask dropped, and the Bookkeeper - the ruthless, unforgiving crime lord - came to the fore. For so long as I was dealing with the former, I would be fine...and the best way to do that was remember my manners.

"Mr. Juniper," I responded, inclining my head. "Thank you for inviting me, I'm honored to be here."

"Yes, I can imagine that you are. I don't get many visitors these days, so having someone in is always a delight. Cassius, would you kindly attend to the Adjunct Files? I'd like to speak with Albert privately."

"Yes, Mr Juniper," and he was gone, slipping down the hallway. Good riddance. I stepped inside the office, moving over to stand behind one of his chairs, placing my hands on the seat back.

"How goes your patrol routine?"

"It's been going well, sir. There’ve been no serious incursions since the Darrigans fell apart, and the only activity these days is dealing with strays, loners trying to set themselves up. Dealing with them is troublesome, but it’s more extermination work than anything.”

"I assume that, like an exterminator, you're being thorough with your work." It wasn't a question, nor should it have been. I knew full well what he expected to hear.

I shrugged. "As thorough as we can be. Some saw which way the wind was blowing - those of them who had potential I forwarded to Harrison. The rest we told to go fly elsewhere, and they seem to have gotten the message.”

"Good. From the sounds of things, you're attending to patrols and engagements personally, more often than not."

"Yes, I am. It's good practice," I commented, feeling strangely defensive.

"Even for a sector captain?"

"Yes," I said. "There's not so much paperwork that I need to be in a back-office attending to it. Actively patrolling allows me to keep a close eye on developments and establish a rapport with the other enforcers, and it'll be easier to take charge should the occasion ever arise."

"Yes, well, as is your prerogative," remarked the Bookkeeper, waving his hand idly as if to dismiss the question. "Though it would be optimal for you to manage from the rear, I haven't called you in tonight to discuss your management habits." Before I could think to respond, he bent down towards his desk, and the metallic thunk of a lock opening reverberated through the office, filling the air with sudden tension. He rustled through a drawer for a few seconds, before drawing out a small clear vial.

Inside the vial, a yellow-green liquid churned, small bubbles forming periodically and drifting to its surface. When I looked at it, I found myself remembering my key, and the otherworldly luminosity that radiated from it - this liquid radiated the same pale light, and the vial glowed even in the candlelight. But here it felt artificial, imposed, wrong, as if this light was drawn from some far-off plane and its presence here was overwriting reality itself.

"Velos," said the Bookkeeper, quietly.

"Velos, sir?" I asked.

"That is what the documents that accompanied this vial called it. Velos. You recognise the glow, yes?" I nodded, a little wary.

"There is magic inside this vial," he said, confirming my suspicions. "How this Velos was infused with magic, I do not know, nor for what reason."

"But you know something about what it does." It wasn't a question, nor should it have been. The Bookkeeper had little patience for trifles or curiosities, only things that served a purpose. If he wanted the Velos so badly, it had to be useful for something.

"Perceptive as ever, my nightclaw." I couldn't stop my lip from curling - I hated that nickname, not that I'd admit it to him. Fortunately, the Bookkeeper was too engrossed in his thoughts to notice my lapse. "The documents that accompanied this vial were quite illuminating about what it could do, and my initial tests confirmed those reports. If it could be refined...we wouldn't need it for ourselves, per se, but if we can possess this Velos, then we will control the future of this city, potentially even the region itself." His voice changed as he spoke, becoming slower, almost reverential. I didn't think he was capable of showing respect like this - all I’d known him to show were patriarchal concern (affected, of course) and brutal pragmatism, and this third side of him was by far the most disturbing.

Infusing objects with magic was a known practice, and I'd seen my fair share of steelthreaders' work, but this liquid - Velos - was clearly different. And if it was liquid, I should have been able to feel something from it - but to me it was a dead space, beyond my senses and my power’s dominion. And it was all the more unsettling for it.

"So where do I come in?" I asked, trying to redirect the conversation.

"This vial was obtained by one of my operatives in Castelia," he responded, tapping the vial once. He tucked it back into the drawer before speaking again. "This operative sent his own report about claiming it from a warehouse in the Western Districts, yet he was unable to identify a source. While more of this Velos may exist, there is no concrete trail that may lead to it, and those who may know of it might need to be coerced for the information.

“For the most part, my operatives in Castelia are good men, but better suited for gathering information and raids than claiming territory, fighting, and pursuing leads such as this. I need a hunter in Castelia, a hunter that can follow this trail and get what we need...and you're the best I have in my employ."

"So you want me to go to Castelia?" I asked. "For how long?"

"Indefinitely. This Velos business must be investigated, and thoroughly - we must know all there is to know regarding its creation and the parties behind it. With that in mind, you, and whichever members of the Dice you could enlist to join you, would be free to operate however you would."

As I was digesting that, the Bookkeeper continued without missing a beat, "In addition, all the operatives I have deployed in Castelia will be ordered to report to you, and aid you however possible. Even if the trail leads outside of Castelia, their support may prove useful. You'll meet with them in Castelia, and follow up on their leads.

“You have your mission. Cassius will have your team's transport arranged, and you can give him any supply requisitions you might need to make."

I nodded, glanced back to the door, eager for a little space. "Will that be all, Mr Juniper?" I asked.

"Yes, that will be all. Good fortune, Albert." The last time we'd met, the Bookkeeper had told me he didn't believe in luck. Granted, he'd meant it as a reassurance, but the fact he was wishing me good fortune now meant that he was thoroughly invested in this business - and as reassuring as it should have been, it was just as unsettling as the eerie green glow.

"Thank you," I said, meaning it, as I walked to the door. I closed the door gently behind me, ignoring the low wail it gave as it swung shut. The beautiful old room vanished from sight, and it felt like I'd closed the door to another world.

And I have, technically, I thought to myself. Compared to Striaton, Castelia might as well have been another world - and that was where I was headed, now. The times continued to change.

I felt somewhat dazed, almost drunk, but I elected to walk it off nonetheless. But when I was halfway down the hall I turned into a seemingly empty room and spoke to the darkness. "Cassius. I was told that any supply requisitions and personnel approvals I needed, I could make of you. Do you have time to take a list?"

The note of asperity was there when he responded, a little more pronounced this time. "Sadly, I do not. I have my own matters to attend to, matters whose importance to the Dice is equal to that of your...mission. You'll have to return later."

"Considering what Mr. Juniper was telling me, I find it hard to believe that whatever you're up to is that important," I commented. "But no matter - I'll give Qarl my requisitions. I prefer working through him anyways."

That made him look up, his eyes flashing in the gloom, a slight hiss emanating from his direction. "Be careful, Albert. You may have Mr Juniper's favour, but not all of us feel the same way as he does. And should your luck fail...you know where you shall end up.” I heard his grin in his voice, as he continued, “It would be my pleasure to reacquaint you with the lower levels.”

I gave him a pointed look. He pretended to not notice it, waving idly as he turned back towards his lair. That he’d been outright hostile I’d expected, although his threat had chilled me too much for a response. But it was fine - I could deal with him later, or not at all as I chose, and I didn’t necessarily need his support for anything. Let the sleeping snake lie.

I walked out of the hallway and into the Diceton's front room, ignoring the looks I got as I headed back to my booth. I drained the rest of my drink in a single gulp, left a few bills on the table, and turned towards the door. While I’d been inside the night air had turned frigid, and it cut like a knife as it whistled through the alleyways. I tugged my coat over my shoulders, then started walking, ignoring the chill as best I could. Inside, my mind was pondering the problem before me.

"Don't cheat to even the odds. Cheat to tip them." It was those words that inspired the Dice's name and working philosophy, relying on thorough preparations and co-ordination to give us an edge in any situation. And though I was loath to admit it, I'd internalised that doctrine far better than most, enough that it was my go-to for trying to analyse questions like these.

Still, I didn't know how I was going to apply it to the situation before me. Getting out of this assignment was impossible - if the Bookkeeper wanted you to do something, you did it. And as for the assignment itself, there were too many uncertainties in the mix - Castelia, the Velos, its makers, and probably more I couldn't think of. It was hard to cheat effectively when you didn't know what the rules were.

Hopefully Jes might have some ideas. She usually did.

I opened the door to a quiet, darkened apartment. The moon gleamed pale grey above, casting the room in perspective. The kid - Sam - was curled up in the cot, dead to the world, while Jes sat back in the chair, one knee drawn up, contemplating the shadowed vista outside the window.

"I miss anything?" I asked, in lieu of a 'Hello, how are you?'

"No," she responded, stirring in response to my question. "It's been quiet since you've left."

"Kay," and I pulled the door shut, walking over to her side. She looked up as I approached, her violet eyes flashing, as the moonlight marked their hexagonal patterns. She looked younger, more vulnerable - and I found myself remembering that despite her confident front and her obvious power, she was only a few months older than me. We'd both grown up too soon.

"What did the Bookkeeper want from you?" she asked, startling me out of my thoughts.

"He wants me out of Striaton," I responded, repeating the story I'd come up with on the walk back. "He sees opportunity in Castelia, wants the Dice to set up a side operation there. And he wants me running that side operation." I left out the bit about the Velos - she didn't need to know about it yet, and somehow even thinking about the green vial was enough to bring that unsettling feeling back. Might as well keep that one secret for the Bookkeeper, for now.

Jes waited to be sure I was done before she spoke. "This could be your chance, you know," she said, quietly. "To get out. To leave Striaton behind and start fresh."

Of course that was the angle she'd consider. It was something I barely wanted to believe in, and it was still so unrealistic, but that had never stopped her.

"I don't know," I said, the words sliding out slowly, as if I'd released them from some deep place in my heart and let them finally crawl their way to the surface. My next words were more level, more rational. "Even if we're in Castelia, we're still working for him - and I don't think there's anywhere in Unova where we wouldn't be within his reach."

"Well, we could just leave Unova behind. I have always wanted to see Kalos," she mused, hand on her chin, staring off into the distance.

"I'm pretty sure you're just teasing me there, Jes," I said, rolling my eyes.

"Am I? It would make for a good story, though. Two runaway outlaws fleeing to a strange foreign city, surviving day to day as best they can, kept afloat only by their undying love..."

"Okay, now I know for certain." I shook my head a little, trying and failing to dispel the sudden smile. "Anyways, it's my assignment, not yours. The only outlaws would be me and whoever I manage to talk into this."

"Who says I wouldn't be up to going?" I looked quizzically at Jes, but she was suddenly animated, raising a finger to shush me. "You said the Bookkeeper wants you to set up in Castelia, so he'll have to let you take a team. And there's nothing stopping me from joining that team - I am part of the company, after all."

"You think he'd let you go?" I asked, a little disbelieving. As much as I knew I'd need firepower on my side if I wanted to follow this trail, Jes offered much more than that. She'd been a fixture with the Dice even when I'd joined, and it was well known that the Bookkeeper was grooming her for a higher position in the future. As much as I'd like to have her watching my back, I wasn't so sure that the boss would let me take her.

"He would. If he wants you to actually accomplish something in Castelia," and she rolled her eyes, "he'd let me go and find someone else to take over. He'd probably welcome this, honestly." The significance of her sudden smirk was lost on me. "Besides, it's not like I'm that attached to the perks that working here offers."

"But you'll expect me to find some way to make up for them anyways," I finished.

Jes just smiled wider. "Honestly, I was going to say I'd be willing to rough it for a month or so to make things work. But if you're offering…"

I sighed. Then, "Well, at least we understand each other," I deadpanned.

"That we do," she responded. She leaned towards me, but then she shifted back, as if she'd thought better of whatever she'd been about to do. "We've made a good team, Albert...and I'd hate if we got broken up. Plus, you do need someone to watch your back."

I didn't miss the gesture, nor the sincerity in her tone. But there were some things you had to hear out loud to know for certain.

"Are you sure you want to come with?" I asked, slowly. "Really sure?"

She shrugged. "It's been getting boring here, honestly. Too much business, too many meetings, and I haven't had the chance to cut loose in a while."

"The price of being so high up," I said, smirking slightly.

"Yes, exactly! You can't do anything fun for yourself, because you have underlings to do it for you. Well, I'll have to get out a little in Castelia, and we should have opposition worth facing.”

“Opposition worth facing,” I repeated slowly. “Jes, the last time we had opposition worth facing, you almost took my head off.”

“Well, I wasn’t aiming for you,” she responded, shaking her head like that fact made a difference. It wasn’t like she’d hit what she was aiming for in the first place. “And we’re both still here, so I think that counts as a point in our favour.”

I sighed. “Yeah. We are still here.”

Again Jes leaned in, and this time she put a hand on my sleeve. I resisted the urge to shy away. “Just...promise me one thing. Promise me that if we get the chance to cut loose, we take it. I don’t intend to spend the rest of my life working for Cedric Juniper.”

I looked away, into the pale moon. “I don’t intend to either,” I said, “but I don’t recall that I had much choice in the matter.”

“It’s not like I had that much more,” Jes said fiercely. “Look, I won’t ask you to do anything you wouldn’t anyways, and I’d never ask for more than you could deliver. But we could have more than this. And if this works out-”

“If this works out then-” I stopped short, before I could say something I wouldn’t be able to take back. I wasn’t ready to lay all my secrets on the table yet - there were reasons I was here, reasons why I wasn’t quite ready to cut loose. But she still deserved an answer.

So I reached up, clasping her arm with my hand - because some promises needed something stronger than mere words. "I'll think about it," I said slowly. “And if the opportunity comes, I’ll help you at the least. I promise you that.”

It wasn’t all she hoped for, I could tell, but she knew when she’d won and knew not to press it. “Well,” she said. “Score one for our team, then.”

"We can't really be a team, Jes,” I responded. “Two people is a duo, not a team. And speaking of which," I sighed, remembering my other obligation. "Damn, that was what I was meaning to ask you. I have to recruit a few other people to take with me, and I’m not really sure where to start.”

Jes shrugged. "Come on, Albert. You can't tell me that you don't know anyone who wouldn't be willing to spend a few weeks living the high life in Castelia."

"Well, when you phrase it like that, maybe it would work. Would you be willing to come and help me pitch it to them?"

"I'd love to. Sadly," and she patted the chair, for emphasis. "I'm covering someone else's patrol shift. Can't leave till sunup, I'm sure you know the drill."

"Fine," I sighed. "I'll do it alone." I turned, walking for the door.

"Hey," Jes called as my hand brushed the handle. "I was being serious, earlier. About...even if this isn’t freedom, it’s enough. And at least I’ve got you, you know?”

Damn. A part of me had hoped she was joking, and the other part... "Yeah, I know," I said, slowly, trying not to stammer over my own words. "I appreciate it, I really do. And I owe you at least two more favours for this.”

"Albert, I already have a lifetime's worth of favours owed me," she said, laughing lightly. "I don't need any more. In fact, I owe you for being willing to take me."

I tried to respond, only to notice the lump that'd formed in my throat while I’d been listening to her talk. And I didn't know what I could say, in all honesty - all this time I'd been thinking about how much I owed her for having my back, for being open with me and letting me be open in turn...until I cared enough that now I was almost in tears.

"Did I say something?"

"Nah," I tried to respond. It came out as a choked, wet sound. I took a breath and tried again. "Just...you're still selling yourself short, Jes.”

I stepped out of the room before she could respond, putting the door between us. And then I stood still, facing the wall, focused on swallowing the lump and composing myself a little. I could deal with this later. Probably should deal with this later - I'd been through a lot today, and I still had more tasks to attend to.

What had I been planning on doing...recruiting. Yes. Recruiting. I had a few names in my head, a few haunts to visit. And the night's still young. Might as well get started.

tbh I didn’t expect when I started out on the rewrite that a chapter would evolve to this degree but here we are. funny how having a clearer vision of where you want to go helps you polish this sort of stuff, it almost makes me want to commit to the overplanner doctrine. also if anyone on this forum reads a practical guide to evil please lmk if you caught the reference here.

anyways uh, this was very much another installment in character introduction and plot balls being set in motion. writing cedric juniper / the bookkeeper is still very very fun and I’m glad I managed to preserve something of the godfather vibe I originally wanted - he’s reasonable and friendly even but at the same time trifle with him and he’ll end you bop.

oh yeah forgot to mention I wrote a short extra for last year's pride month and I liked it so much that I gave it a spot on the thread. being torn between wanting to burn an entire week of reposting time for a 400 word extra and just dropping it I took the middle ground and just included it here for anyone that wants to read. hope you guys like it!

"Albert? Hey, Earth to Al!"

I blink. "Jes, you know I don't like being called that."

"Well, I needed to get your attention somehow. Otherwise you'd probably just keep staring at the cute guy over by the streetlight."

"He's not that cute." Jes tilts her head, giving me an oh, really? look, and I sigh, glancing back out of the alleyway. The guy's still standing there, his dark-brown hair ruffling slightly in the wind, just unkempt enough to look inviting. His face is a little long, with high cheekbones and an easy smile, and the casual grace with which he moves is magnetic.

"OK, he is cute," I amend my earlier statement.

"Cute enough to consider finding a different alley for you and him?"

"No, cute enough to just silently stare because I'm too scared of getting shot down." Ironically, I'd probably use the same words to describe Jes, but she doesn't need to know that. "Plus, we're on a schedule."

"True," she responds, pulling her pocket watch out. "We need to be there in five minutes. Want to leave now and get there early?"

I shrug, let her reach over and slip her hand through mine. She gives me a smile, before turning away and dragging me down the alleyway, en route to our next assignment. I mentally revise our entrance route, the floor plan, and the opponents we were expecting, but try as I might, I can't ignore the warmth of her hand, nor get the idiotic grin off my face.

Strangely enough, I'm ok with it. Even if we are heading into near-certain death...at least I'm doing it with her.

s/o @Manifold (make the jump, like the child did!) for their help on the original chapter, and helping me through all the pressure points this had to begin with, and also thanks to @Obelisk for going over the revised draft with me and smoothing out most of the middle sections. anyways, catch y’all next week!
 

d'angelo russell

tomorrow ain't promised to no-one
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Team Omega
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231
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it was banished for its violence. it silently gazes upon the old world from the distortion world
  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #14
AstroDeath said:
I'm sad that I didn't find this earlier--but I'm thrilled that I'm getting to it, and with a recent update to boot! There's a lot to unpack here because I'm digging pretty much all of it.

I'm always a sucker for the storytelling narrator intro. It's such a great medium to explore a setting and naturally mix in exposition without it feeling like an info dump. It's also great because since it's coming from someone's point of view, you can play around with biases and opinions of the narrator, if things they see and say don't actually add up with reality.

The scope of Unova's legends and early history is crazy. There's a sense of real awe with all these abilities, creatures, and magic that really hits on what myths and legends are suppose to be. I also love seeing humanity analyzed and criticized because hey, are you really even human if you don't go balls to the wall destruction in tearing down what you don't understand?

I'm pretty bare in familiarity with gen 5 (and think I'm getting introduced to only through a couple other gen 5 runs), so it's awesome to get a feel for the setting with it influenced by someone else's take on it through a nuzlocke. I'm getting heavy Shadowrun vibes from this, minus perhaps all the cyberpunk stuff. There's some d20 setting that I can't quite remember that's also similar, what with magic existing, disappearing, then something making it come back to the world eons later.

My mother always told me that each outlandish tale holds a grain of truth. I guess that it's the same for people - each person is guided and animated by something inside of them, a spark of truth, a common thread that stays stable throughout a person's life, while the world changes around them. But if life is anything like those old stories, it seems like the only thing that matters is what you can do with that spark. That's the only reality of this world - intent is nothing, the end result is all.
I loved this bit and how it ended. With all the storytelling, you get a feel for the narrator, but here is where the meat of it lies.The speaker seems like a chill dude, who understands and knows his place in a world that doesn't quite seem to be the most inviting anymore.

Ouch. Dude's injury don't sound too fun to have dealt with. I like that hook to this chapter, with the keys and the injury. Provides a flash of magic's abilities and gives off a grizzly image of his pain--kinda cringed thinking about the metal sticking into him, which was a good sign!

Nothing really goes in depth right way, in terms of all these names and groups and places, yet there's life to them. Little is said but a lot is felt. There's so much mystery to your words and you waste no time making me want to know about everything.

Actually seeing powers on display, I'm liking the magic here a lot. Albert's fitting what I thought he would. Dude knows what he can do and knows who're crummy people who overthinking their own skills. At first I thought he came across a bit cocky, and I suppose he does, but it's more knowing he's better than common thugs and nobody goons overstepping their boundaries.

With how you mentioned the early 1900s as an idea source, it makes me think of Baccano, in terms of bunches of gangs working against one another and looking to stake their claims on the city. I'm getting a feeling things will ramp up and be pretty team-character focused, with gangs and fellow members working in tandem, and I'm so ready for that.

Man, some of these gangs don't fuck around. Dagger Lane sounds like an absolutely impregnable. The Dice sound equally as deadly, as Albert's gang is given a bit more in-story right from the get-go this chapter. When he was talking about the Daggers, mentioning them getting wiped out sounded like it was a chore rather than two gangs going at it for control of part of the city. I'm wondering if things are like this regionally, from city to city with gang warfare or if Striaton's a sort of lawless 'Wild West'.

The Bookkeeper sounds like that big, important ringleader who sits behind his desk, chair never positioned so that whoever he's talking with can ever see him. Guy's made out to be a king, from the sounds of it, with his operation. Definitely not someone to fuck with.

And I can see why now. I wasn't sure if he'd be more shadowy or not, but I love how he balances that plain-ness with the ruthlessness hidden away for when he needs it. Albert's whole conversation with the Bookkeeper feels like he's walking on eggshells; for all of his loyalty and success in the gang, it still seems one small slight can put him on his boss' shit-list... and I imagine the Bookkeeper's shit-list is worse than hell itself. After seeing the AN, you definitely nailed the Godfather vibe hardcore, man.

Again, going back to what I mentioned about loving team dynamics and character-focused stories, I'm excited to see Albert having free reign to recruit his own band of merry folk. Starts from scratch and we'll be able to see people jel with one another on the fly--or be at each other's throats. Jes is a cool cat already, so I'm definitely seeing her come along, and I thought the fire kid might've been a throwaway until now.

I'm glad I got around to starting your story, especially with having the second update on the same day! The 'lore' is fun to experience through Albert, I can totally see now what you meant by quasi-gijinka, and your hooks and leads for the story are great (this Velos business has me super intrigued.) I thought it funny that I didn't really notice how long the chapters were until after reaching the end. Things move along at a nice, easy pace, and it's a good balance with the length. The world is so smooth, too. With or without the pokemon references, I feel this can stand on its own as a non-nuzlocke/non-fanfic.

I'm onboard, man.
 

d'angelo russell

tomorrow ain't promised to no-one
Writer
Team Omega
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231
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it was banished for its violence. it silently gazes upon the old world from the distortion world
  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #15
Dee said:
More fun stuff from Sturm Und Drang! Very nice.

Cedric certainly has that "aloof grandfatherly" vibe going for him that's intimidating in the best way, I could definitely feel the Godfather influence even before you mentioned it. So Albert's gonna be a gang leader in Castelia, eh? Interesting to see where that leads. I wonder who he's bringing along. Almost certainly the kid.

Cute! Nice to see Al being just a little bit vulnerable (bet that doesn't happen a lot) and getting to see a bit more of his and Jes's relationship. Looking forward to slightly more regular updates as well!
 

d'angelo russell

tomorrow ain't promised to no-one
Writer
Team Omega
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231
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Jul 1, 2019
Messages
226
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ontario
Nature
Adamant
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Pokédex Entry
it was banished for its violence. it silently gazes upon the old world from the distortion world
  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #16
Manifold said:
This run's got style. From the sick names (like everyone else has said, shoutouts to Crooked Dice) to the slick speakeasy to the surprisingly tender moment shared between what should be two hard-edged gang members, you've got a great atmosphere to suit the grim underbelly of an urban fantasy world, and it's a lot of fun to read along and explore. Just wondering, have you read Perdido Street Station by China Miéville? There are certain bits and pieces of your story and that novel that share a similar flavor, I think. Not everything, but some of his characters, like Motley, would slide right into your world.

Really curious to see what the full crew's going to be like and how well they get along with each other. Gangs are a lot of fun to watch when things go wrong and it comes down to which of your comrades you trust. Personally I'm eager to see if there's any in-fighting down the road.

Their signs and buildings were positioned as if to look bigger, lights brighter, like children wearing their fathers' suit jackets.
Already told you this but I love this line.
 

d'angelo russell

tomorrow ain't promised to no-one
Writer
Team Omega
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231
Caught
Jul 1, 2019
Messages
226
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ontario
Nature
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Pokédex Entry
it was banished for its violence. it silently gazes upon the old world from the distortion world
  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #17
Thirteenth said:
Albert's voice gives me nothing but film noir vibes for this entire run. And it's interesting to put it all in juxtaposition with this extra. I know the extra covers maybe a handful of minutes and we haven't even seen a full night of his life, but it's enough that it makes it seem like something big happened between then and the point at which the story proper takes place. Which raises a few questions for me. The extra takes place a month before the story, and in this last chapter, Al suggests the bartender started three months ago, though he phrases it in a way that suggests he started around three months ago as well. Which seems odd if he's relatively important already, but he is pretty keen on survival isn't he. I had the thought that whatever near-death situation he and Jes were getting themselves into was the thing that got them all wrapped up in the Crooked Dice - because they definitely got into this without wanting to, look at all that talk about fleeing to Kalos - but it seems likely that they were already a part of the gang. But if not, again, keen on survival, possibly already having the skills they needed to be important, etc. (Unlikely, though.) I wonder if either thing is what Cassius was being all smug about.

But that's me trying to see the whole picture when I have like five tiny pieces of the puzzle lol.

Since this is Blaze Black, I have no idea what everyone's supposed to be (though I still wanna guess Al's an Oshawott, Cassius is a Snivy, the fire kid is a Tepig, and Jes is a Munna) but I don't really care? Honestly I forgot I was reading a Nuzlocke a few times.

Anyway, urban fantasy's a genre I've wanted to look into so I'm here for this.
 

d'angelo russell

tomorrow ain't promised to no-one
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Team Omega
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it was banished for its violence. it silently gazes upon the old world from the distortion world
  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #18
@AstroDeath it's nice getting a comment from you, especially one as detailed and thoughtful as that.

anyways short responses to everything you brought up - yes albert is a bit of an unreliable narrator, striaton is an example of what other cities are like but not exactly the norm (if anything it's becoming less lawless as the bookkeeper's consolidating his control), and yeah I'm definitely going for a bit of genre / character deconstruction here (wrt to magic as well as the 1920s setting and a few other things), although it'll take a while for it to fully show up.

With or without the pokemon references, I feel this can stand on its own as a non-nuzlocke/non-fanfic.
this means a lot, thanks for reading and providing such a thorough response, and I'll do my best to keep the quality up!

@Dee when it gets down to it this story is really the godfather but with magic and all the baggage that comes with it, so yeah. also albert tends to be very closed off most of the time so writing him letting his guard down makes for some good scenes...whenever I get the chance that is. I'm deeply hugely very sorry for falling off the update schedule wagon, rip my life, it's definitely going to be much more regular from here on out.

@Manifold ah glad you like the sort of style I've tried to attach to this run, the names and whatnot are just a few ideas and recurring motifs but I'm glad it comes off well in practice. as for the gang bit, I figured it would be fun to try and deconstruct the standard hero's party by adding that more opportunistic, pragmatic element that you don't often see. as for infighting and backstabbing down the line...maybe?

also I read perdido street (he says, one year or so later) and I can def see the similarities, glad to get that comparison too xd.

@Thirteenth am I getting plotguesses already 👀 can't really answer your points without giving too much away - I will say though that albert and jes joined the dice individually at different times, and the extra has no relation to either of their separate recruitments, or the reasons why they want to leave the dice (it does however relate to something else that'll pop up down the line. as for how both of them have risen as high as they have, its mostly raw magical power as well as being competent in general). also yeah urban fantasy is a fun genre, 1920s urban fantasy is underdone but it works out well in practice xd (also leaned into the film noir vibes and its gone nicely so far.) anyways, glad you enjoyed!

I hadn't expected to be back at the Diceton so soon, but here we were. It was later now, and every step I took ruffled the shroud of silence that had fallen. Inside, I could see only a handful of people still drinking, and the band had long since packed up...but Heth still stood by the door, where I'd expected to see him.

"Heth," I called his name, standing on the edge of the sidewalk. I knew how far away I was standing from his post, far enough that for us to talk without having to shout at each other he'd have to walk over here. It was a pragmatic decision - as much as he had to cover the door, if we spoke by the entrance we could be overheard, and that was the last thing I wanted.

So he came over - his green hair fell shadowing his right eye, and his left glinted with something I couldn't identify. "Albert," he said, slow and wary. "What's the matter?"

"Nothing," I responded, pitching my voice low and neutral. "Just had an offer that I thought you might want to hear."

"An offer?" he asked, slowly. For a beat I felt curiosity mixed with resentment, something prying at me - and then it was gone, vanished into the shadows. Heth still had his one visible eye trained on me, though, and my silence would be making him wonder.

"Nothing off the books, I promise," I said, hoping he'd sense the truth in it. "Just...a step up, is all. I'm putting together a team for a job."

"And you want me?" He wasn't bothering to hide his skepticism.

This wasn't exactly going to plan. "Well, yeah," I said, trying to reassure, to retake control of the conversation. “You’re an empath, you’re good enough to be manning this post, and we could definitely use you.” A note of anger flared - sudden and alien - and I had to stop, bat it down before I could speak again. “So yeah, I want you. You in?”

It took a few seconds for him to respond. “You know why I’m manning this post, Albert?” he asked.

The question threw me. “It’s an important job, but-”

"Because it's simple." The statement rattled me, but he barrelled on before I could get to processing it. "I'm not a glory-seeker like you, Albert. This is a solid, steady gig, and I don't need to hop on a train with you to find some excitement. This is a good enough deal already."

Another flash of anger - more alien than the first. I was contemplating voicing my frustrations, lashing out for his stubbornness, but...it wouldn't do any good. Either way, this didn't seem like it would work out.

"Sorry, Albert," he said, as if he'd come to the same conclusion I had. He stepped backwards, away from the landing, putting a little more distance between us. "I'll have to decline."

"It's no problem," I responded, forcing a smile onto my face, hoping he wouldn't read my feelings to see the lie. "Thanks for listening, I'll be off now."

The twinge of anger faded before I'd reached the end of the street, the slow burn having all but dissipated. It was strange, honestly, how it'd come so suddenly over something so minor. Except...I thought back for a second. Heth could read peoples' feelings...could he influence them too? And if he could, why would he have done it now?

The question felt important, and for a second I consider turning around to confront him...but the moon wasn't so high in the sky anymore. It was late, I still had names on my list, and I had things to see to.

So I put the thought aside, and got to walking again. Even in the dark, the back alleys of East Striaton were as familiar as my left arm (tattoo and all), and I picked each shortcut well in advance, working out the fastest way to my destination. 15 minutes of walking got me to the intersection of Marlborough and Pryde, and the half-rusted door at the corner. I pulled it open, ignoring its agonised groan, and descended into the tunnels below.

Most of Striaton's underpassages were supposed to have been condemned, including this one. It was one of those things that the people in charge talked about, to give the impression that they were doing something for the city, except they had never actually got around to doing it. After the Awakening, the new people in charge had made no such pretenses - they'd seen the merit of maintaining the underpasses, keeping traffic open in the underlevels to extend their control across the city. The Bookkeeper had made especial use of them to hide supplies and move his agents, shrouding his actions in one more layer of mystery and making his goals that much harder to decipher.

But despite his interest in the underpasses, he'd never gone to the effort of renovating them, of clearing the blocked passages and making them a little less rundown and hellish. Maybe, I thought, contemplating the dank, grimy hallway, that task was just beyond him. Rot like this didn't clear away easily.

It wasn't comfortable in a traditional sense, but the gloom was familiar, and the damp felt strangely secure. Here, my magic was as strong as it had ever been, and I reached out with my senses, felt the moisture all around me, hanging in the air or bleeding rivulets along the walls. I was in my element, and I felt it reaching back to me, its influence clearing away the weariness and the doubt. Refreshed by this small use of my power, I put my body on autopilot and let my mind start ticking again, computing angles and potential hooks for my next mark.

I started by looking at my impediments. He was a creature of routine, suspicious of changes and surprises. But his routines were equally repetitive, and there were a few things I could point out that might jar him. Flattery would also be a good play, God knew he appreciated it. But the friendship card would be my best play - here, unlike with Heth, I had a solid past connection with my mark, one I could try and leverage. And it was likely he'd reciprocate, assuming the quiet life hadn't gotten to him too.

My planning finalised, I looked up, and the familiar sign was there in front of me, barely distinguishable in the dark. I was right next to my exit.

I pushed the door open - the streetlight stung my eyes, and I blinked once or twice to clear them as I emerged from the underpassage. This neighborhood was more upscale than most of Striaton, and even at three in the morning, the brighter ambience was notable. The semi-detached structures were a little less pedestrian, their stones a little cleaner and their windows displayed more knots and flourishes, the trappings of wealth. And at the end of the street was the local watchman - a lion about as big as I was, standing atop a granite podium. Its mouth hung open in a roar, and its grey paw was transfixed in mid-air, as if it was batting away a fly.

I passed the lion without a second glance, proceeding to the houses beyond it. The unit at the end had its door was set further back than any of the other houses, dug in like a badger's den. I stepped up the stairs to that unit, walking over to the door. I knocked out the rhythm to 'shave and a haircut, two bits' twice, waited a second, then knocked twice more. And just for good measure, I let some fluid creep from my sleeves, projecting a smaller version of the shield I'd used earlier.

"It's me," I said, as the door swung open and a gunshot drowned out my voice. The ping of steel screeching off of water and into stone followed, a clearer note than it'd been before, and their echoes melded into a piercingly high note.

"You know, Phil," I commented as the sound faded, "one of these days, that shot's going to ricochet at the wrong angle, and I'm going to have to explain to Mr Juniper how you were found dead in your doorway."

"Can't be too safe, Albert, you know how it is," responded the house's occupant, twirling the gun around his index finger. He was about an inch shorter than me, with matted auburn hair, and an overcoat thrown over his wiry frame. "These eyes have been fooled before."

"That was one time," I answered, eyes raised. "I still think shooting everyone who comes by here is an overreaction to that one time."

"Is it really an overreaction, Al?" he asked, pointedly. "When anyone who walks up to this door could just be her wearing someone else's face, am I that out of line to be paranoid like that? Especially at 4 AM in the morning?"

'It's 3:37. I checked my pocket watch five minutes ago."

"At 4 AM in the morning, when for all I know she's waiting on the other side of the door, is it wrong for me to be concerned with my safety like that?"

I fell silent. As silly and pointless as this routine seemed, when it came to individual in question, he was being exactly the right amount of paranoid.

"Thought so," he remarked, a half-grin stretching across his face. The gun disappeared into a side pocket, and he pulled the door a little further open. "Anyways, come on in," he said, waving idly behind him.

It was a small place. Though Phil liked his creature comforts, he was also a man of simple tastes and prudence, and his house reflected that. A few pieces of furniture were scattered near the entrance, all seemingly new - but I knew which ones were covering tears in the faded grey wallpaper. The rest of the house carried forwards the mismatch of new and old, well-kept and battered, but it felt less second-hand and more familiar, lived-in.

We walked into the living room, my host hitting a switch on the wall to brighten up the space. "I'd offer you a drink, but it's way too early in the morning for that," Phil commented.

"It's fine, wouldn't want to chip into your stockpile," I said. "How's your gig been?"

"Gig's good. Dice has this neighborhood locked down, and there's nothing to do except do the rounds and collect the green every week. I sleep in most days - it's not like there's anything better to do with my time."

"Sounds like the life," I remarked, quietly.

He laughed. "Yeah. If nothing else, all this downtime means I'm slightly less tired when I get a knock on the door at 4 in the morning.

"Speaking of which, Albert, it's rare that you find the time to darken my door these days. Why're you here?"

"That can wait," I said, glancing around the room. I didn't want to come on too strong, after how the last meeting had gone. "You've been renovating," I noted, trying to change the subject.

"Yeah. Just a little moving things around, trying some different looks. Oh, and I picked up a new rug from one of the triggermen, tossed it around here somewhere."

"The lamp looks new, as well," I added. That comment was sincere - it was a nice lamp.

"Yeah, that too. Anyways," and he pointed a finger at me for emphasis, "you're stalling, trying to let me go on, rather than explaining what you're here for."

Damn.

"It's a job," I responded, giving him the simplest possible answer I could.

"What kind of job?"

"Think of all the jobs you've hated - big jobs, long jobs, and out-of-territory jobs. This is all of the above. Boss wants me in Castelia, to take charge of his agents there, carve out a new base for the Dice, and look into something else for him. I wanted to see if you'd be up for it."

Phil chuckled as he rose from his seat, crossing the room in a few strides. "Don't worry, this is for me," he said as he grabbed the decanter, shaking out deep brown liquid into a glass. "Starting to regret not starting on this a few minutes ago. That way I could've taken your news a little better."

I decided not to comment on that.

"You've risen fast, haven't you, Albert?" Phil commented, barely stifling another chuckle. "Three months in, you'd had your own sector to run, and now you're being packed off to take charge in Castelia. Clearly the boss has some faith in you."

Not for the first time this night, I considered that he was probably right. Some of it was my fault, though - my recruitment into the gang had made an impression on the Bookkeeper, enough for him to back me and continually push me upwards. And despite my detractors - Cassius among them - I'd handled my assignments well, validating the boss' trust at every step of the way. And here I was. Being packed off to Castelia and literally entrusted with securing the Dice's future.

On some level I was conscious that the higher I rose, the deeper my ties to the gang would stretch, and the harder it would be to eventually walk away. But that was still a problem for the future. For now, I had to focus on talking Phil into this.

"Well," I said, "the boss has faith in me, and I want you with me in Castelia. You in?"

Before he could respond, I raised a hand, and pointed at the bottle. "You should probably put that away first. The last time you drank before making a serious decision, well, you're still paranoid enough to shoot strangers who walk up to your door."

He grimaced. "Touche," and he placed the bottle on his table, idly rubbing his hands together. "So, the boss says you can have me if you want?"

"He says I can have anyone I want. There's probably a limit to it...but I've already roped in a heavy hitter or two, and he's fine with me recruiting them." I stretched the truth a little with that - I had Jes and no-one else, but she still counted as one of the gang's heavy hitters, so it wasn't an outright lie.

But the truth didn't seem to have the right impact on him. "If you could have anyone you wanted, then why would you want me? I don't even have magic, Albert. In Castelia, I'd be deadweight at best."

"You're good with that gun."

He shrugged. "Not good enough, considering you're sitting there."

"I have defensive magic. Most people don't. Plus," I shrugged a little, "I knew you were going to try and shoot me. The people in Castelia won't. Think about that a little."

"Maybe," said Phil, clearly unconvinced. But it wasn't a flat no, either.

"I mean, I'm looking for a little synergy here. If I wanted powerful mages, I could find them, but I need more than that. I need someone who can run point and troubleshoot in a crisis. I haven't met many problems that couldn't be solved with a well placed bullet - and you're still the best shot I've seen."

He smiled. "And you're still a flatterer, Al."

"I try." After a few seconds, I decided to nudge him again. "You still haven't given me a solid answer. You want in?"

"The part of me that the liquor hasn't hit yet is saying that you wouldn't be asking me if you didn't actually want me. It's also saying that you're good enough as a leader to avoid fucking up, so it's not like joining you is that big a risk to my life expectancy. That's 2 for 2. Obviously this job is big, but you've risen to the occasion before - I still remember how you dealt with those Darrigan bastards, after all."

I might have blushed at that last comment - Jes and I had dealt with the Darrigans, but it was much messier, much more touch-and-go than we'd claimed it to be afterwards. If I told him the truth about it, it would probably color his judgement in the wrong way, and I couldn't have that (leaving aside the fact that Jes would kill me).

So I stayed silent, inclining my head to tell him to 'go on.'

"But it's not like I'm particularly itching to leave a cushy gig like this one. Let me think about it a little more," he said. Not a yes, but not a no, either. Progress.

"You'd best not think too long," I commented as I rose. "I don't know when we leave, but it should be soon. Boss doesn't like to wait on these things."

"True. You got some other people to meet?"

"Yeah," I responded. "But I came to you before...most of the others."

"Wow, you really know how to flatter a guy."

I raised a hand before he could launch into one of his falsetto impressions. "Please. Your place was just closer than the others', and I don't want to spend my evening walking circles around Striaton."

"I see," he commented, saving the sarcasm for once. "Anyone you've recruited that I'd recognise?"

"Just one recruit so far, discounting your maybe," I responded, being frank. "And you'd definitely know who it is."

"Your usual partner-in-crime?"

"Yep," I shrugged, "although recruiting you was my idea, not hers. I figured you could use the knock on your door."

"Oh really? And why do you think I'd need that?" he asked, a wry look on his face.

"You're bored," I shot back. "You need something to do or you'll wind up glued to your couch, redoing your den a dozen times before anything sticks. This is the first opportunity that's coming your way, and for all you know, you won't find someone else to offer you the chance. So you might as well take it now."

For a second, I worried that in my exhaustion, I'd gone too far. But Phil just laughed. "You still don't mince words, do you Albert? Maybe I'll give this offer a little extra consideration now."

We were at the door. "Just remember, consideration only counts if it's sober. Oh, and thanks for having me."

"Anytime," he said, glancing out the doorway. "You best take care of yourself, Albert. It's a rough world out there."

"Don't I know it," I responded, looking out to the road. I saw him shrug slightly in my peripheral vision as he turned back inside.

It hadn't been entirely unsuccessful, I thought to myself as I made my way east. A maybe was better than a no, and it was an improvement on a no, anyways. At this rate, I should be able to extract a few yeses before the night faded away.

On the eastern edge of Striaton, near where Dagger Lane began, the dojo stuck out like a sore thumb - the redwood pillars and the paper sign with its flowing Kantonese script looked out of place against the grimy, industrial buildings around this part of town. From inside the dojo came a series of heavy thumps, one after the other, each one heavier and more violent than the last. The beats landed close together, enough that if you weren't paying attention, it bled together into one elongated note, a peal of thunder rolling and rolling without end, deep enough that people could probably hear it in their apartments across the street. If I hadn't known his schedule, that thunder would have been enough to tell me that my last recruit was inside.

I stood under the streetlight for a few minutes before crossing the road, letting my eyes adjust to the softer candlelight before I stepped inside. My mark stood in a far corner of the gym, his attention fixed by the bag in front of him. He wore a loose white uniform, its folds darkened and creased by his exertions, but his movements showed no signs of fatigue. There was a fierce, grim intensity to the way he pummelled and brutalised the bag in front of him.

His next kick caught the bag's midsection, widening a tear in the fabric. Sand began to spill out, and the fighter took advantage of it, taking advantage of the shift in balance to lash out with one hand, sending it spinning. It was as if that tear was deliberate, to simulate how a blow to a human opponent would leave them similarly unbalanced.

Good. If he was practicing new combat routines like this, keeping himself prepared, then his inclusion would probably be all for the better.

"Kenta," I called from across the gym, my voice thankfully steady. I even managed to sound somewhat awake.

He fixed me with his steely look. "Albert," he said, quietly, with just a trace of a Kantonese accent in his voice. "What brings you here?"

"I have a job." I paused to give him a second to digest that, and continued. "It's in Castelia - way afield, but if that doesn't bother you, I've got an opening in my team."

For a second, he stayed silent. Then, "Why would you come to me? If you wanted men who would go to Castelia, then you could find them elsewhere."

"Every team needs someone like you," I responded, "someone who can enter a fight and win it. I'm not looking for powerful mages here - I need professionals who can do a job. You fit that criterion."

"Your mandate is to fight?" The question was quiet and deadly.

"Not necessarily," I said, my voice still steady. "Its retrieval and carving out a base. Fighting shouldn't come into it, unless we're unlucky."

"But you expect fights nonetheless. You crave them, even - else you would not have come to me."

"Yes," I said, reluctantly, trying to ignore the implications of his statement. I wouldn't let myself get thrown off like I'd been by Heth. "But that doesn't matter - I'm looking for the best people I can find. Are you in?"

He stood stock-still, his eyes boring into me.

"Very well," he said. "You know where to find me, Albert."

I stayed silent. I knew what he meant - in his unique way, he'd signalled tacit approval to joining my team.

"See you then," I said, turning to leave. Behind me, I could hear him hanging up a new bag, preparing for another round. I left him to it.

Funny, I thought to myself as I walked out of the dojo. Despite my reservations about Kenta, now that I had his assent I trusted in him more than anyone else I could have added to my team. His loyalty was a strange thing - it was grounded in concepts I rarely found the time to consider, and thus it could be fickle as a tossed coin or hard as enchanted metal. Still, I had that loyalty for now - and if I still had it when the time came to pursue the Velos, it would be more than enough to work with. I'll just have to keep that loyalty, then. Whatever it takes.

Looking up, I saw a few ribbons of pink lacing the dark sky. A faint nimbus was rising in the east, as the clouds lightened. My path led towards it, past the edges of the city, merging into the horizon's dim glow. It was barely a few minutes before I'd left Striaton behind altogether.

Kettigan Hill stood before me, the highest summit south of the badlands. It was a crossroads of sorts, lying between the Dreamyard and the old station, astride the road that had once run between them. The Hill was the only one of those three locations that was frequented by non-Dice members, but given the early hour, I'd probably be alone up there. Which was also fine - quiet and empty was the way I liked most places, and Kettigan Hill was no exception.

As I reached the crest of the hill I could feel the first light of dawn creeping over the treeline, just ahead of me. Acting on an instinct I couldn't explain, I turned my head backwards to follow the light, watching it cast its glow upon Striaton.

The sight was magical. The city was bathed in reddish-gold light, its worn stones burning incandescent under the rising sun. The park and western districts seemed more vibrant as their shadows receded into the distance. Striaton Canal seemed to glitter in the morning light. In the tall buildings, their confident glow, I could see the city's vibrant strength, which so rarely made itself apparent. Light and shadow melded, two halves of one whole, and within that whole, I saw the city as it was and as it could be.

Strange, that I was seeing Striaton like this only now. And yet...maybe it meant something. This was my home, but it was no longer enough for me, and it hadn't been for a while. And maybe Jes was right - maybe I did need a fresh start, one I couldn't get here.

I'd said goodbye to my past before. And now I was doing so again. Moving up means moving on, after all.

So there on the height, under the rising sun, I looked down on my city one last time. I looked down on Striaton, seeing the familiar byways, the worn stones, the fond memories in my mind's eye, making the scene all the more vivid. It was refreshing - heartening, even - to know that though I would depart, this city would still remain, to grow and carry on in my absence. The forest could live without one tree, and the tree could survive beyond the forest.

Was it an omen? A sign? I didn't know. But I felt a new lightness in my step as I descended from Kettigan Hill, and despite my previously mixed feelings, I now felt suddenly hopeful, for the first time in a long while.

Just a few more things to cover, and I can finally set off, I thought to myself. Then I slung my hands back into my coat pockets and turned my face south, following the path I'd started myself upon.

unlike last chapter the rewrite was def easier than the original - having made the hard decisions and bit the bullet first time around, this only required a bit of streamlining / trimming to get it to work. I did take my time with this one though and I leaned into a few of the last minute changes, but the end result is definitely better for it. recruiting tour ends next chapter I promise (also there's the early-game team roster, I'd move it here except lazy and I haven't quite introduced everyone yet bop).

in terms of future update news...planning on having this all reposted by end of september at the latest, from there I'll empty my buffer across october then go into hiatus over november for nanowrimo, and from there we'll be back to once every three weeks or so. should be alright, anyways thanks for reading y'all and catch you guys next week :)
 

d'angelo russell

tomorrow ain't promised to no-one
Writer
Team Omega
Pokédex No.
231
Caught
Jul 1, 2019
Messages
226
Location
ontario
Nature
Adamant
Pronouns
he - him
Pokémon Type
Dark, Dragon
Pokédex Entry
it was banished for its violence. it silently gazes upon the old world from the distortion world
  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #19
Dee said:
Very nice! I like how Albert's first attempt at recruitment flat-out failed, it feels very true-to-life. It also serves as a reminder that not everyone in the Dice is going to be on his side, necessarily. I don't know if Heth will make a move, but perhaps Albert should watch himself--if dozens of gangster films have taught me anything, it's that you're as likely to go down to a bullet in the back as to the front.

The other two recruits seem interesting, and both play off of Albert himself well. He's already a decent mage himself, so he's deciding to back it up with physicality. Very keen. Both of them also have clear personalities that mesh well with his. (Also it's funny that Phil lives in a "slightly more upscale" part of Striaton, yet apparently "upscale" doesn't translate to "locals don't care about gunshots at 3:30am". Really tells you everything you need to know about Striaton.)

Also, I loved your description of things like the underpass, as well as the final touch of dawn. Really, really well done.
 

d'angelo russell

tomorrow ain't promised to no-one
Writer
Team Omega
Pokédex No.
231
Caught
Jul 1, 2019
Messages
226
Location
ontario
Nature
Adamant
Pronouns
he - him
Pokémon Type
Dark, Dragon
Pokédex Entry
it was banished for its violence. it silently gazes upon the old world from the distortion world
  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #20
Rumors said:
Let's just get this out of the way:

Super minor nitpick: You need to update the date in your signature. :p


Aaaannnyway, kinda got lured here mostly because of the title. What is a Sturm Un Drang? I still don't know and, while I could Google the answer, that seems pretty boring. I'll either let the story answer or give me enough stuff to guess, since that's more fun! (I'm betting something to do with magic).

The story so far is pretty cool. I'm always a bit of sucker for thought-out magic systems and gray morality and this story smells of the promise of both. Got an apparently rough and tumble world where the protagonist's gang are certainly not "the good guys", but they don't really appear to be "the bad guys". Kinda more like... everyone's gotta be a bit ruthless to stay alive because the other guys will stab you in the face for showing weakness. But who knows? Maybe Albert will turn into an expie of N and the Bookkeeper an expie of Ghetsis? Doesn't appear so but, hey, tooons of time to throw all the curve balls.

Either way, I really like how the world is shaping up so far. It definitely feels believable, even if it is grounded in a world where the supernatural is a thing. Things are consistent, everything seems to have its own rules, and the characters are acting naturally within them.

Gameplay-wise... hmmm, I'm gonna guess you're currently covering the first few towns right now? Really hard to say without any sort of gameplay notes and, it being a hack I've never played, I can't accurately gauge who is what Pokemon, short of Albert probably being Oshawott and Sam being Pansear. Gameplay notes, while not necessary, would be super nice since seeing what sort of events inspired the story is pretty cool.

Minor bit: I think your rules spoiled a little about the story. Weird thing to happen, never had rules give something away. But as soon as Heth was revealed as a psychic type, I knew he wouldn't join because we already had Jes. It's not a huge give away, just like... three paragraphs of advantage. But maybe something to be mindful of when it comes to bigger events?

Bigger bit: I think I have a vendetta against expositional prologues or something. They come off as history lessons, things you'd have to study before you're quizzed, and they're not very memorable. And honestly, despite being narrated by Albert (which helps), I'm not entirely convinced your prologue is necessary. Most of what it covers, if memory serves right, is already covered in the chapters that follow, said chapters which are a lot more interesting. The big thing though is I feel it disarms you, as a writer, a little bit. Rather than saving the right cards for the right time to perk your reader's interest, you're revealing part of your hand at the start. World building is cool, but I strongly feel its often better to let a reader explore it more "organically" as opposed to giving them school lessons on it at the first page.

Really though, that's mostly my opinion and everything else in the story is super solid. Albert is fun to read so far and I'm curious how things will really begin to transpire once the group is together and they're setting up base in Castellia. It looks like it could go either focusing on the big city or the story could take them all over Unova. Certainly looking forward to see which it is!

Anyway, I'll definitely be keeping this one subscribed so I can catch the next update.
 

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