Chapter 23: Battle to My Beat,
As Tess said it would, the tunnel leads to a dead-end. Or, at least, it once did. Some things are constant, like the damp cave walls. But they can still bear change.
What was once a dead-end has caved in from above. Before me now is a path of rubble, rocks broken through. Once the ceiling of the tunnel, now the stepping stones out from it..
I make my way back through the twisting tunnel. My flashlight pierces through the darkness, but shadows quickly reclaim their place as soon as the light moves away. You can strike at them, but never destroy them. They always return. They endure.
Drip, drip, drip, say the rocks. The ground below my feet is dotted with little puddles. There’s a rhythm to the dripping of the water, but not a normal rhythm. No 1-2-3-4 timing. It’s more like 1…2…3, 4, 5. 1…2…3, 4, 5. 1…2…it accompanies me back to my friends.
Kieth looks like he’s trying to think very hard, but not doing a very good job. But he still gives me a grin when he sees me return. Tess is the same as she was when I left. My flashlight shines in her face before I think to turn it away. Her eyes shine golden in the light, but then she blinks and turns her head away.
Tess looks confused when I say what I found, but agrees to come with me to see the exit. Kieth stays behind to keep watch on the cloaked man. So the two of us enter the tunnel, me leading. We walk in silence. Our feet conspire to make their own rhythm. 1-2, 3-4, 1-2, 3-4…I focus on that, not Tess. I don’t know what to say to her. She’s calmed down, but I can still see fear in her eyes. And I don’t feel it. It’s like I know we’ll be okay. I still have things to do, and this won’t slow me down. That keeps me going. That and the flashlight ahead of me. We both follow it, treading on through the sea of darkness. 1-2, 3-4, 1-2, 3-4…the trip seemed shorter by myself. The shadows grow longer when more people are there to perceive them.
She bumps into me from behind. Once, then twice. Hiccups in the beat.
“No, it’s my fault. Stop for a sec?” I do, and the foot-generated drumbeat ceases. After a moment, I feel her hand slip into mine. It’s a little sweaty, a little cold, but very real. It’s there, loosely keeping hold.
“There. Now we can keep track of each other.” I can’t see her face, but I can hear the smile in her voice. She tightens her grip a little, and her hand gets warmer. I feel a surge of happiness, for some strange reason. It’s just a hand. Just skin. Nothing important.
But maybe there is. Under the skin, I can feel something. Very faint, but as present as the tunnel walls around us. Another constant. A pulse. A rhythm. Ba-bump. Ba-bump. Ba-bump. A living beat. I start to walk in time with it.
When we reach the exit, she lets go of my hand to jog ahead, up into the sunlight. My hand curls up into a fist with the absence of her touch. When I emerge after her, we find ourselves in a sort of crown of rocks. Stones poke out of the ground around us, circling us in. We stand on top of a rocky plateau, a long, narrow outcropping in the side of a larger mountain. It stretches out along the mountainside on either side of us, like a rocky shelf. Below us to the south, I can see the route that took us to the cave. Some trees are growing here, perched precariously on the tall rocks, their roots protruding like veins. Some even poke the horizon from atop the great stones. The sky above us is open, the sun shining with midday light.
Tess walks to the edge of the outcropping, looking down at the route below. I stay in the crown.
“He’s still there. The hooded guy.” I step forward to look. Indeed, there he is, still stoically staring at the cave entrance below us. Completely oblivious to our new position.
“Are you scared?” She doesn’t look like it anymore. I don’t know what changed. Maybe standing high above the enemy makes her feel safer in some way. But we’re not, not really.
“I was,” she says, giving me a smile. “But I’m fine now. Let’s go get K-” Her words are cut off by a loud crashing sound behind us, like a rock slide. Tumbling. We turn around with a start, to see the source. A crowd of Geodude and Graveler surrounds us, and they don’t look friendly.
“Where did they come from?”
“The rocks.” Tess points at the crown of rocks. There are several indents in them that weren’t there before. Perfect for a rock-type to conceal itself in. “I think this is their nest. And they don’t want us here.”
“Then we have to fight them, right?” Tess doesn’t answer, but extracts a poke ball in response. Time for another round. My pulse starts to race, and I still feel that fear of using Garnett. But I have to remember to trust my partner. Trust my partner. Trust my partner.
I release Garnett, and feel his own rhythm. The rhythm of our bond. It’s new to me, but at the same time it feels familiar. Like the pulse of Tess’ hand. It’s a weak beat. Ba-bump….ba-bump…but it’s still there. The burning in his belly pulsates, sending a shiver through my bones. Tess releases her Horsea, and we leap into the fray. Tess’ partner sends a sweeping blast of water, knocking back several of the smaller Geodude and Graveler. Some begin to retreat at the sight of the water Pokémon, but most of them do not. They won’t be swayed easily. One roars, and charges us.
Garnett’s rhythm grows strong. A heavy bass drum thump accompanies a pulse of bright green, bursting outward from his body and knocking down the attacker. The beat grows stronger, loud strike after loud strike, as Garnett lets cannon blasts of green energy out of his mouth. Pokémon after Pokémon is sent flying, and the remaining forces retreat quickly. We have won before our opponents could even begin.
But the beat doesn’t stop. It gets louder, stronger. Garnett keeps shooting blasts of energy, aimlessly into the air now. Something’s wrong. I can feel it. He can’t stop the fire in his belly, the war drum pounding inside him. His body glows green. Like he’s overloaded with power. And it’s starting to burst. And I realize that I HAVE felt this rhythm, twice before. First on the boat, and then against the PFH soldier.
The wild Pokémon are gone, but now there’s a bigger problem: Garnett. His body flickers with fire, that same sickly yellow as before. Jacob looks afraid. And if he’s afraid, that means we’re dealing with something worth fearing.
“Can you stop him?” He doesn’t speak. He just jerks his head a little bit, as Garnett lets loose a cannon blast of green light that breaks the base of one of the big, pointed stones into tiny fragments of dust. The pillar tips over, falling near us with a huge thoom. Dust flies around us.
“Jacob, talk to me.” He just shakes his head. Garnett stops firing blasts, and begins to glow even more intensely than before. A high-pitched noise fills the air. Ringing. It sounds like a heater left on for too long.
“Get down!” In a flash, Jacob breaks out of his panic. He leaps headfirst into me, pushing us both down behind the fallen pillar. Just in time, too. The high-pitched sound reaches a screaming peak, and then stops. There’s a moment of silence, save for my breathing and Jacob’s. He’s on top of me, his attention fixed on the rock in front of us and what lies behind it. Then he whispers something I can barely hear.
Just as the sound leaves his lips, the ground shakes. The sky lights up. Jacob darts to the ground next to me, curled into a ball. His hands grab my arm. He looks terrified. From behind the big rock that shelters us, Garnett releases a wave of blazing green fire. It streams out around and above the fallen stone slab, and I feel the heat. Jacob squeezes his eyes shut, squeezing my arm so hard it hurts. But for some reason, I’m as calm as can be. I have to be. I want to protect Jacob, and so I have to be strong for him when he breaks. So I curl up next to him, and we wait out the blast. The heat is tangible through the stone, and I’m afraid our protection will break. But it holds.
“It’s too loud…” Jacob moans softly.
“We’re safe back here, Jacob. Don’t worry.”
“It’s in my head…” Either he’s going crazy, or he picked a very bad time to form a stronger bond with Garnett. I try to think of a way to calm him down, but now he’s freaking me out a little. So I just stay quiet.
The wave ends. The air is still hot, but it’s over. I peek my head out, expecting to see Garnett sound asleep in a crater of his own power, like he was on the boat. But he’s still standing, breathing hard. And he’s staring standoffishly at something. Something I had forgotten about in the moment of the blast.
“Charybdis.” My Horsea is out there, facing off against Garnett. He teeters atop a rock, which I can only assume he managed to use as shelter, as he looks fairly unfazed by the attack. As I watch, he begins spinning, whipping up a Twister. The whirlwind ignites with purple flame and is sent flying into Garnett. The steel-type is picked up, spun around, and spat out by the gale, but lands on his feet. He breathes more heavily than before. He looks unfazed, and more angry than anything.
“One, two…one, two…” Jacob mutters form the ground. He’s losing it. This has to end soon. But if Garnett is out of control, and even Jacob can’t get through to him, there’s only one thing left to do.
“Keep going, Char!” I call, standing up. I glance down at Jacob, who looks up at me with big, confused eyes. He shrinks into the ground.
“I’m sorry for this, Jacob.” He just looks away. Like he’s disgusted with me. But what can I do? As much as it hurts to do it, the only surefire way to stop this is to take Garnett down.
“One, two…One, two!” As Jacob speaks, Garnett unleashes two blasts of energy. THOOM! THOOM! Charybdis dodges the first, but the second makes impact. But my Horsea is strong, and withstands the bolt.
“One, two!” Jacob speaks, Garnett fires again. Luckily, his shots are predictable, not specifically aimed at Char, and my Pokémon dodges them both.
“Char, Twister!” Charybdis begins spinning, but not in time. Jacob sounds off again and his Pokémon’s attack follows. Charybdis is knocked down for a minute, but manages to get back upright.
It’s like Jacob is predicting the attacks of his Pokémon. He’s not giving commands, but he’s picking up what his Aron is about to do, on some level. And there’s a rhythm to it. I bend down, touching his face. He looks up at me.
“Keep going, Jacob. Keep counting that beat.” He blinks, and then looks away again. Concentrating.
“One, two!” Two blasts, a pause to recharge. I let him keep going for a few beats while Char dodges. Getting the beat stuck in my head. Two beats of attack, six of recharging. Boom! Boom! One-two-three one-two-three, boom! Boom! One-two-three one-two-three. And my Pokémon and I start to develop the counter-rhythm of a plan. We see the same opening, and build a strategy as one, in the same moment. It begins right after Garnett attacks.
“Char, Twister! Charge it up until I say go!” Charybdis begins to spin as soon as his opponent’s attack ends. He times the bursts of purple flame so they revolve around him, making bigger and bigger clumps of fire until his body is obscured by a flickering, whirling violet shield. He moves faster than I have ever seen him move before.
…one-two-three. Boom! Boom! Garnett shoots two more blasts of green energy. I had expected the fire to deflect it, but the speed and ferocity of my Pokémon’s cyclone is so great that it even manages to snare a good portion of Garnett’s attack along for the ride. Despite the intensity of Garnett’s blasts, Charybdis’s whirling shield is faster. Char is now completely invisible behind a revolving funnel of bright purple and green. It looks like a huge, neon bonfire. But it still isn’t strong enough. We have to let it build even more in order to knock the Aron out.
Boom! Boom! One-two-three, one-two-three…boom! Boom! One-two-three, one-two-three…Char keeps taking more and more of Garnett’s own assault into the twister. Charybdis’ body is a bright neon torch, and I even see some flickers of blinding white. It must be getting hot in there. Time to launch this counter-strike.
“Changing.” Jacob says, standing up and putting his hand on my shoulder. “The tempo is changing!” Sure enough, garnett doesn’t attack. 1-2-3, 1-2-3…nothing.
“Now’s our chance, Char!”
“No!” Jacob tightens his grip. “There’s something else. Like another part to the beat…tk, tk, tk. Look at the air around him.”
The afternoon sun glares in my eyes, but after a moment I see it. There’s a dome-shaped cover of faint green light around Garnett’s little body. It crackles with yellow energy.
“Tk, tk, tk, tk…a small but strong sound. Get it?” I do. It’s a barrier. A thin shell of energy. And if it’s as strong as Jacob seems to think, we may not be able to penetrate it.
“It’s a buildup. It’ll end soon.” Jacob taps his foot to the beat that only exists in his head.
“What happens then?”
“Not sure.” So it’s a standoff, then. Jacob’s Aron holds its shield, and Charybdis keeps spinning around inside his cyclone. I can feel his fatigue, and I just tell him to hold on a little longer.
“No!” Jacob cries out. His foot stops tapping. Before us, the energy around Garnett shrinks, like its returning into his body.
“Now, Char!” As the words leave my mouth, Garnett releases a fan of green energy beams, fanning out from his mouth. The beams dance around, burning searing lines into the ground. They move like beams of light reflected by a prism. I can feel the heat from our shelter, and I’m sure Char won’t be able to handle it. And yet, he does.
Charybdis doesn’t release the Twister. It begins to move, but no little blue Horsea appears in its place. Somehow, he’s moving with it. I can feel that something is different in there, that he has some newfound strength allowing him to control his attack like this. As the energy beams from Garnett’s mouth sear into the ground and through the air, the cyclone spins around them, maneuvering through the air. Garnett’s body is fixed in its place, his feet digging into the ground. His eyes are squeezed shut.
Charybdis moves behind Garnett, and the spinning green torch slams into him. The force of the twister picks him up, and his body is swallowed by the flame before spitting him back out. He lands on the ground with the metal on his back dented and singed. Jacob flinches as he lands.
The cyclone surrounding my Pokémon starts to move differently. It takes me a minute to realize that all the energy it was carrying is being sucked in by Charybdis. But how can he hold it? As the glaring neon fire is sucked up by his snout, the whirlwind clears up, and then ceases entirely. And I see.
Charybdis has changed. The curved horns on the sides of his head are now sleek and razor-sharp, and so long that they touch around the back of his head, like a spiky halo. His forehead has three similar horns, like razor blades on his skull. The small fins he once had are now large, fanning wing-like things shaped a little like claws. He’s larger, and his scales are darker and sleek. Charybdis has evolved. So that was the flash of white light within the twister, and the extra surge of power I felt from within him. His chest is puffed up with the excess of power he has swallowed, and now it’s his turn to blow.
“The beat is gone.” Jacob tugs at my arm. “The beat is gone! Just stop it!” But as he speaks, Charybdis lets loose, fueled by a new-found rage. An enormous cannon-fire blast of fire erupts from his mouth, washing over Garnett like a wave. When it ends, the little thing is on his back. Not moving. Jacob runs for him.
“Is he okay?” Jacob scoops up his Pokémon, who looks much smaller in his arms. Clearly, it’s over.
“I think he will be.” Jacob looks sad. Not like he’s about to cry, just sort of defeated. I feel bad for him. Not being able to control your own Pokémon is a scary thought. Char just proved himself to be far stronger than I had thought, so if he went off the handle it could be almost as hard to contain. For now, I return him to his ball. I’ve got a little twinge of pride at being able to evolve him, but now isn’t the time to congratulate myself.
“Hey.” Jacob walks up behind me. “Can we…not tell Kieth about this?”
“Why?” Jacob looks away, and his face gets red.
“I just…I don’t want to make a big deal out of it. So if someone has to know what happened, I…I’d rather it was you.” In a weird way, I’m touched. I still don’t fully understand Jacob, but if it’ll make up for beating down his Pokemon I will be more than glad to be his secret keeper.
“Hey, stranger.” Kieth raises his eyebrows wearily as I return.
“Sorry, were we gone long?”
“A bit.” He stands up, stretching his back so hard he’s bending over backwards. “Our buddy left.”
I look outside, and it’s true. To my relief, the hooded man is gone. Maybe he saw the battle from below, and got scared off. Hopefully, he’ll stay gone.
“Heard some commotion from up there. You guys okay?”
“Oh…it was nothing. Just some wild Geodude.” I give him my most convincing smirk. “Nothing we couldn’t handle. Jacob was especially impressive, and Charybdis evolved. Too bad you missed it.”
“No kidding? Congrats on the Seadra! See, I knew you were good.” I give him a fictionalized account of the epic battle as we head up the tunnel and out of the cave. This time, I lead. And I don’t offer him my hand.
It’s night again. We spent the afternoon on the plateau. Talking. Pondering. Exploring. The ledge leads on for quite a ways, like a wide path along the side of the mountains. We decide to start following that path tomorrow.
There’s still an underlying paranoia of the return of the hooded men, so we decide to keep watch. Tess takes it first. It seems like she did what I asked. Kieth didn’t ask about Garnett, and I didn’t tell.
I can’t sleep. Staring at the dark ceiling of the tent is like looking at a night sky that doesn’t want you to see it. Pointless. So I go outside.
Tess sits leaned against the same stone slab we used to protect ourselves with, at the edge of the now-broken crown. The flashlight is rigged up on the rock at just the right position to shine down on her lap, where she’s holding something she is focusing very intently on. Her Horsea – or Seadra, now – rocks back and forth on its tail in front of her. When I approach, I realize its eyes are closed. It has fallen asleep standing up.
“Hey. Sit down.” Tess doesn’t look surprised that I’m awake. Maybe she’s been expecting me. I walk over, sitting down by her side. The rock feels very cool against my back, and I feel some goosebumps rise on my skin. Or maybe they aren’t from the cold.
The thing in Tess’ hand is a small notebook. She holds it in one hand, and a pencil in the other. She’s drawing something. Something that looks a lot like…
“It’s Charybdis.” She taps the half-finished picture with her pencil for emphasis. “After he evolved, I wanted to capture his new form. I’m going to try and draw how he looked before, too.” She looks over at her sleeping Pokémon with a gaze of affection.
“Why?” I thought it, but didn’t really mean to say it. Tess just shrugs.
“I guess I’m not the best at handling change, y’know? I was proud when he evolved, but I felt like I had lost the old him. So this way I can have Charybdis as he is now, and as he used to be. I’ll even write down his moves as I go. It’ll be kinda like my own Pokédex.”
I don’t really have anything to say to that. I don’t get the sentimentality. So I just stay quiet. After a beat, she begins to draw again. Even something as small as a pencil against paper as a sort of soft, irregular rhythm to it. Skrthaskrtcha. Shkshkshkshkshk. Skrtchasckrtcha. Shkshkshkshkshk.
“Are you mad at me?” With the question, she halts her graphite drumstick. Or maybe I just stop paying attention to it.
“Um…” Why would she ask me that?
“I mean, for beating down on Garnett.” She won’t look me in the eyes, instead staring intently at the unfinished sketch.
“No. I should have been able to stop him. And he’ll be fine.” A full measure of silence. I feel the pang of regret for my own uselessness in the battle.
“How did you do that, with the rhythm?”
“I don’t know.” I lie. Better than to tell her the truth. How holding her hand, and feeling her pulse, tuned me into a whole new kind of communication. I could sense the pulsating beat of my Pokémon’s attacks before they happened. But even after Garnett was defeated, I could feel the faint beat of his heart, even from across the battlefield. Sensing him on that level might have brought me a little closer to him. And if I can keep following the rhythmic flow of the fire in his belly…maybe I can learn to control his power.
“For the record, I thought it was amazing.” She flashes a grin at me, and quickly looks back to her sketch pad. I feel my face flush. If only I could learn to control that, too.
But I can’t. So instead, I just ignore it and watch her draw. I don’t really have an eye for art, but I can tell she’s pretty good. I follow the sounds of the pencil, and then pick up another sound. The gentle, faint beat of her breathing. I move in a little to hear it better. It’s soft, and low, and good. And soon, I find myself drifting in it, and into sleep.
Written by Jay
Proofed by Greg