Chapter 24: Truth Behind Truth, Toby
The woods. I had never spent much time in the woods. Ariana tells me the forest is still strange to her, but she sees it as inviting. Millie seems the most at home here, out of all of us. Nothing seems to faze her or bring her down.
It’s hard to tell what the path to Fortree City used to look like, let alone where it actually led. It was probably nothing more than a footpath through the thick growth. Now it’s impossible to tell exactly where we’re going. We just head north.
On the first day, we come across what looks like an old shrine up on a hill. A ring of six small rocks, and in the center of the circle a large crater. Rocks fill up its base, overgrown with moss. It looks like there was once a tunnel or cave beneath here, but it caved in. We don’t find any reason to stay. Ariana wants to keep moving, still wary of Lucas, and I can’t say I disagree.
new saplings growing atop their wooden corpses. I’m sure someone else might find it poetic, but to me it’s just eerie. The downed trees are the only real sign of all that occurred here. The trees have grown over the wounds this place endured, like natural band-aids. Wild Pokémon roam about here and there, but none come near us.
Eventually, we come across the first sign of a path. Moving through the thick woods has been slow going, but it was the only way to go. Now we find ourselves at the edge of a wide plain, devoid of trees. A few trainers mill around, unaware of us. The grass sways in the wind, as rain clouds gather overhead. Whatever weather may come, better to have a trail to follow. If it starts to rain too hard, we can always retreat back into the woods.
A river cuts through part of the plain, and Millie immediately jogs over to it, calling for Ariana to follow. She’s about to protest when I give her a little push.
“Go explore with Millie. Have a little fun.” Ariana blinks, gives me the hint of a smile, and runs off to catch up to Millie. Ariana has been in higher spirits since Millie joined us, but she’s been so preoccupied with training her Vulpix that she hasn’t given herself time to really enjoy her friend’s company. Millie has stayed alongside her, though, helping with training and never leaving her side. She’s a good kid.
There’s something eerie about this wide open space. Maybe it comes from having been in the woods for two days, but it’s very different. I like it, though. Ariana would say it’s too exposed, but to me it feels free. Unrestricted.
We’ve only run into a couple trainers along our way through the woods, but a whole group of them is gathered at the northern end of the plain. At first it looks like they’re watching a battle, but as I approach I realize they’re all making a commotion about something on the ground. Two of them wear PFH uniforms. I catch wind of their conversation as I draw closer.
“…like the ones near Lilycove, too.”
“It looks kind of like the logo of one of those terrorist groups…maybe Team Magma?”
Sure enough, it’s another mark in the ground, just like the one in the safari zone. M for Mystery. A couple people give me a nod as I step forward to take a look. I haven’t met any of them before, but I don’t offer an introduction. Nobody really cares, as everyone immediately goes back to discussing the symbol. One of the PFH men is typing away on a handheld. I approach the other one.
“This is the second one of these I’ve seen. Do you guys have any idea how many have been found so far?” The man gives me a curt nod, reaches into his pocket, and pulls out a Pokénav. He brings up a minimap of the area from here to Lilycove, with several red dots across it.
“We’ve recorded seven so far. These were recorded by trainers like yourself, and cataloged by us. We haven’t found many too far into the region yet, but it seems like they fan out. There are two recorded near the shore…” He points at the map on the Safari Zone and a point on the cliffs north of Lilycove. The two are much farther from each other than any of the others.
“And they cluster closer together as we go inland.” He points at our current position on the map. This symbol is recorded there, the red dot blotting out the indicator of our location. Three others lie south of us, and one north. With a tap on the screen, the map zooms out to encompass the whole region, showing a similar pattern in the other explored areas.
I leave the trainers to gossip over the symbols. I was creeped out by them before, but I don’t feel that tension anymore, since I fought Tate. Talking to him reassured me that I wasn’t the only one thinking about this, and that we have leaders like him to help solve the puzzle. So until it’s solved, there’s no sense worrying about it.
I find Ariana and Millie. They’re walking by the stream, Millie balancing on a narrow strip of rocks on the waters’ edge. Ariana is clearly pretending to watch her, but is really preoccupied, glancing back into the woods every minute or so. I start to go over to them, but I hang back. They’re talking intently about something.
“I’m just asking, Millie. I just hope it’s okay you’re still here.”
“You worry too much! Gimme a break, okay? I know they’re headed to Fortree, so I’ll meet back up with them there. Do you want me gone that bad?”
“No, no! I just hope your sister isn’t worried about you…” Millie stops, poised awkwardly on two different rocks. She puts her hands on her hips, looking down at Ariana. Her red hair blows in her face from the wind.
“You’re still worried about your brother, aren’t you?” Ariana shrinks back. I consider swooping in to her rescue, but something stops me. I keep listening in from afar.<
“I don’t know…maybe…”
“Yes, yes you are. And you don’t need to be. You have me now, remember? You have me, and we both have Toby to look after us. I’m sure Damian’s fine back in town, probably doing something boring. We’re having a way better time out here, right?” Ariana looks down, and then nods.
“Good! Problem solved!” Millie grins triumphantly, as if she has won some great battle. I decide to leave them to it. We’ll be spending the night here, so best if they get the lay of the land.
The sounds that awaken me aren’t good ones. I suppose invasive ones rarely are. We’ve pitched our tent by the woods’ edge, in part of a ring of tents set up by other travelers. It’s kind of like a little nomadic village. Now I start to wish we had moved farther out into the grass. There’s a commotion in the woods, and I don’t like it.
Something, or more accurately many somethings, are running around in the darkness. And it’s not the patter of Pokémon paws. It’s something bigger and heavier. It sounds human. Then there’s the whispering. It sounds like people, having hushed conversation in the woods. It’s not even particularly loud, but it’s piercing. The kind of sound you can’t help but notice. Poking my head out of the tent yields nothing but darkness. I root around in my bag, finding a flashlight. Leaving Ariana and Millie still sleeping, I step carefully outside.
There’s something reassuring about not being the only person out. Three other trainers have been woken up, and are huddled together by the ashen fire pit in the center of our little camp. One of them is brandishing a flashlight, holding it like a weapon. Another has two Mightyena, which prowl around the edge of camp, growling at the shadows.
“What’s out there?”
“No idea,” whispers the Mightyena trainer, a portly woman named Lex. I switch my flashlight on, pointing it into the trees.
“You won’t see anything. We’ve been trying. Whatever they are, they’re out of sight.” Sure enough, all I see are trees. No movement, no glint of an eye. Just the sounds of feet stomping hurriedly through the grass, and frantic voices, probably telling each other how much fun it is to mess with us.
“Maybe it’s just some other trainers who wanted to have a good laugh,” Lex suggests. I hope she’s right, but I can’t speak. It’s ridiculous, but I feel like speaking would give away our location. As if they don’t already know we’re here. Lex’s Pokémon prowl a slow circle around us, snarling at their unseen foes. My flashlight shines in the night, the only light source we have. The moon hides behind a blanket of clouds.
After a while, the sounds die down. The footsteps begin moving away from us, and the voices grow fainter. Slowly, mercifully, they slide into the darkness. I don’t sleep well that night.
The next day we finally have a path to follow, and going gets a lot easier. It’s ripped up and dotted with fallen trees, but it’s still a clear way. We cross paths with some hostile wild Pokémon, but we prove to make a good team. Blackjack is a tank, taking hits from Absol and Linoone and striking back with twice the force. Ariana’s Vulpix and Millie’s Staravia and Pachirisu have the advantage of speed. One will distract an opponent, and the other two move around behind to launch a surprise attack. Checkers is a supporter, launching confusion and paralysis attacks to slow down our foes. We blaze a trail through anything wild that gets in our way.
We make our camp that night at the side of a pond. It’s big, surrounded on steep hills on both sides, with a bridge above it. The first sign of civilization we’ve seen in days. It’s reassuring. There’s still no moon, though, and a thick mist grows over the surface of the pond as night falls. We decide to turn in early.
Once again, I awake in the middle of the night. At first I assume it’s the mysterious beings from last night, but as I wake myself up I realize that the voice I’m hearing isn’t a feral, hushed whisper. It’s Millie’s voice. She’s outside the tent, talking to someone on a Pokénav. I wondered how long it would be until her sister tried to contact her. I’ve been a little worried that she’s branded me as a kidnapper by letting her come with us. I listen to the half of the conversation within earshot.
“…yeah, everything’s fine on this end. How’s it going for you?” The silence is filled by her feet walking around in the grass. A much lighter step than our stalkers in the woods.
“Well I don’t know. I mean, we’re already near Fortree…what?…Oh yeah, she’s okay. You’re not going to- …okay. Well, how much longer do you think it’s going to take?” A long period of silence. She sounds concerned by whatever she’s hearing.
“Well, I can’t really hold them in Fortree…no. Oh no, I made sure of that. She shouldn’t be too hard to deal with…okay. Okay, so I’ll stay with them until I hear from you. You’re still getting my beacons, right? Okay, good.” I start to get a sinking feeling in my chest. Holding us in Fortree? “She shouldn’t be hard to deal with”? Beacons? I tell myself I’m just being paranoid, and wait to hear the rest of her conversation.
“…Okay. Mauville? Gotcha. I’ll see you then, sis.” Sis. There it is. So it is her sister she’s talking to, after all. The weird way she was talking must have just been slang for something. I’m sure it doesn’t mean anything. I turn back over and pretend to be asleep as Millie tiptoes back into the tent, laying down on the other side of the tent. With Ariana sleeping between us, I hear her type on her Pokénav for a minute. And then silence.
I’m sure it means nothing. I’m sure it’s just letting my mind get ahead of itself. It must be.
But I’m not sure. Not at all.
I’ve never been in the mountains before now. But something tells me they aren’t normally like this. This is like someone took a mountain and dragged something through it, over and over, until they molded a sort of natural flattened path to follow.
It’s a pretty route, though. Towering mountaintops on our left, the woods and roads below us to our right. Having a nice open path like this gives a good view of what lies below. A very good asset to have after the attack of the hooded people.
We travel the winding rock shelf for a whole 2 days, and it just keeps going. It crawls along the side of the mountain, hugging it tightly. It’s kind of like a strip of earth picked up off the ground below and placed here, with trees and all. Some small twiggy branches even grow hang off the edge, dangling in the cool air. We run into a few more Geodude nests like the one Tess and Jacob discovered, but it’s not hard to handle. Tess’ Seadra proves to be a huge bounty of power, and Jacob seems more confident than before.
Speaking of Tess and Jacob, they’ve been a little more chummy since finding the path. I frequently find myself taking a noticable lead as we walk, Jacob pulling Tess back to talk to her in a rushed whisper. Not that it bothers me. There’s no reason it should. It’s good to see him warming up a little. Whatever goes on in Jacob’s head, Tess’ presence seems to be something of a natural calming agent. Besides, it lets me lead. Not that there’s much in the way of other travel options, but I like leading.
No reason. No reason it should bother me. None at all. And yet I can’t stop myself from noticing every time he starts talking to her. Like they’re exchanging secrets. I can’t help it if it’s starting to wear on me.
On the third day, we’ve reached the end of the path. It’s been nice being able to follow a straight line, meandering as we pleased, but now it’s time to decide where to head next. The path ends abruptly, broken apart on the ground below. We’re fairly close to what I assume is Mt. Chimney. A huge, clay-colored mountain towering over us, with trails of cooled magma frozen in an oozing state down its sides. We’ve traveled as far as it’s northeast corner, which, according to the beat-up old map Tess extracts from her bag, puts us roughly in the area of Fallarbor Town.
“Oh man,” Tess scoffs when we figure out where we are. “Honestly, we could just skip it. I used to have some family there, but there was never much to see. It’s pretty much the dead-end of Hoenn.”
“Oh, neat. Maybe now it’s overrun with zombies or something. Let’s go.” Tess gives me a look, but I just start walking. She’ll follow. Honestly, it sounds cool. I’ve often found that the hidden, backwoods places tend to hold a lot of secrets and challenges. And maybe it’s following the same road for so long, but I could use a challenge. I want to fight something. We make our way down the rock slide, ending up in a quiet little grove. There’s a cave behind us, which I would guess runs under the path we’ve been following. Jacob keeps looking back at it and muttering something.
“You know the place, bud?” He doesn’t really hear me.
“A vent…kind of like an offshoot…a strand in a greater web…” He blinks, looking up at me. “What? Oh, no. It’s just familiar for some reason…reminds me of something, that’s all. Not important.” He fixes his gaze back on the cave, and just keeps looking into it for a while.
“The open mouth…of a dragon.” Whatever Jacob’s talking about, he’s pretty far gone. I leave him to it.
Tess is a little ways off, by an old shack. It’s overgrown with moss, the windows vomiting vines and growth. It’s eerie, but kind of intriguing. Like it’s hiding something. Another exchange of secrets. Tess gives the front door a push, but it won’t budge.
“Here, you want a hand?” I come up behind her, putting a hand on the knob, my fingers partially covering hers.
“Sure.” We push and shove, but the door won’t budge. I don’t know if the latch is rusted, or if something’s holding the door in place from inside, but it’s stuck in place. Tess lets go, leaning on the door. She doesn’t look like she really cares about the door. She’s somewhere else.
“So, what do you think is inside?”
“I ‘unno.” She gives a half-hearted shrug. “You got any ideas?”
“Not really? I mean, probably just a bunch of musty old furniture. Maybe some Pokémon poop.”
“That’s gross.” She gives a small smirk.
“Yup. It’s still interesting, though.” She moves her gaze from the horizon to Jacob, who still stands in front of the cave. The dragon’s open mouth.
“He keeps talking to himself. I don’t know why he’s so interested, it’s just a cave.” I comment. Tess nods.
“It’s the Firey Path. I think it was an old mining route, or something. There used to be a bunch of iron deposits near Mt. Chimney, and that was a tunnel they made to try and get it all out. Originally there were dozens of them, like a big web. But the rest caved in. The Firey Path stayed, so people started using it for travel after the mining project was abandoned.” A grizzly tale.
“You know a lot about the area?” I ask.
“Nah. I just had an uncle out here who was a big history nut. I have more of a memory for mythology. I’d rather focus on worlds from long ago than the one I live in.” She’s still far off. I don’t know where, but I think I know how to get her back.
“So what have you and Jacob been talking about?” She blinks, and for a second there’s something almost like fear in her eyes. No, not fear. Guilt. But she blinks it away just as quickly.
“Nothing really. Just little things he notices. He’s gotten more talkative since the cave.”
“What really happened the other day?”
“…what?” Here we go. It’s been bothering me ever since Tess came to get me out of the cave. And Jacob’s new-found affection for her keeps making it worse. Feeding the fire. Maybe it’s jealousy.
“C’mon, Tess, don’t think I’m stupid. There were explosions up here when you and Jacob were gone. Explosions! And when you brought me up here, the ground was scarred with all these huge burn marks. And they looked fresh. Whatever happened was bigger than a few Geodude, and you know it. What are you guys hiding?” Tess pushes herself off the door, stepping back.
“Hey, calm down. What’s with the blame game all of a sudden?” She’s trying to deflect my words. It won’t work. This isn’t a Pokémon battle.
“I don’t like being lied to, Tess. You two have been a real happy little duo the last couple days, but I’m here too! You can’t ignore me.” I’m losing it. I know I’m losing it, but I don’t even care. Tess keeps taking steps away from me.
“Kieth, calm down.” Her hands are clenched into fists. She knows that what I’m saying is true.
“I just…I don’t want to be lied to, Tess.” I feel myself start to deflate just as quickly as I blew up. I don’t know where this sudden anger came from, but now it’s gone again.
“You just like to be in control, Kieth. And now you don’t feel like you are.” She turns as she speaks, walking away from me.
“That’s not true.” She doesn’t respond. She just keeps walking, and then stops.
“Get out of the way.” She whips around, charging at me. No, not at me. At the door. She slams into it full-force, and it breaks clean off its hinges, collapsing in front of us. A cloud of dust shoots into our faces, sending me into a coughing fit. Tess doesn’t seem fazed, walking slowly and carefully into the house.
It’s pretty barren. Living room furniture, a broken TV, and a lot of dust. Some moss clings to the carpet, and everything smells like mold. I move farther into the house, to find the kitchen floor all torn up, with dirt underneath holding a few sapling trees. The sink, full of water, has turned into a sort of micro-pond, filth and all. The rest of the house is pretty much the same. Broken windows, moss and vines growing over everything, and, indeed, Pokémon leavings. It’s not pretty.
I come back from my circuit of the house to find Tess still in the living room. She looks up from a musty old bookcase full of books. She holds one vaguely moldy volume in her hands. I don’t know what to say.
“There’s not even…god, I don’t know what I expected. Y’know?” I stutter my words. I feel stupid. Like I put a ton of effort into getting inside or something, only to find that there’s nothing here.
“There’s nothing here, Kieth.” She won’t look me in the eyes, keeping her gaze fixated at the bookcase. I feel bad for yelling at her, but I can’t help feel now that I’ve won some sort of battle. I got her to open it, and for some reason that means something to me. Maybe I’m going crazy.
We leave the house to find Jacob examining it from the outside. He shakes his head sagely as we emerge.
“There wasn’t anything in there, was there?” He nods, as if answering his own question in his head.
“Just a few books,” Tess says, holding up the one she took. Jacob lights up at the sight of it, and runs over to Tess.
“Can I see?” I leave them to it. I’m kind of ashamed at myself now, and I don’t really want to face either Tess or Jacob. They can just keep conspiring together, keeping their little secrets. What do I care? I don’t. I wander back to the Firey Path’s entrance. The dragon’s mouth. If there’s anything interesting around here, it would be in the tunnels, not some stupid house.
“It wasn’t the cave-ins that stopped the mining.” I jump, whipping around to see Jacob standing behind me. He stares at the cave with a sort of reverence.
“Oh, hey. You scared me.” he blinks, ignoring my words.
“The dragon ate them. They climbed into its mouth, so it ate them all. This is its mouth, but it has a whole web of throats. Most of them are closed up now, though. And it’s belly doesn’t rumble anymore, either.” He points a finger up to the mountain overhead. Mt. Chimney.
“Is there something there?” It seems like Jacob knows more about the place than he’s letting on. But he just shrugs.
“Could be. Or maybe it’s like the house, and the Groudon marks. It’s there, and it’s interesting, but once you open it up there’s nothing there. Like it was just a distraction this whole time.”
“A distraction from what?”
They came in the night. The first couple days were peaceful enough, working and building. It was easy to take my mind off things. Now, I don’t have a moment to spare thinking about Ariana.
Apparently the Mightyena didn’t like us taking their territory. I woke last night to screams, and howls, and the sounds of battle. Emerging from the tent along with a bunch of other workers, I found a swarm of dark, furry bodies attacking the night watch. The PFH men were struggling to combat the surprise attack. Some of the other workers here are cowards, and shrunk back into their tents. I gathered those I could and led a counterattack.
Now it’s day again. We fought them off, but who knows for how long. The gym leaders are locked away in their private tent, discussing defensive procedures. The trainers with Rock-types raised an impromptu rock wall to defend us. It doesn’t cover the northern woods, in case we need to abandon the city. It wouldn’t do us any good to trap ourselves in. Only problem is, that big chink in our armor leaves a gaping hole for the enemy to pass through.
I’m in the old shopping center. A bunch of us have been sent there to clean it up, hollow it out and get it ready to use as a sort of command center. It has the best view of anywhere in the city, making for a good watchtower as well as a base. If the wild Pokémon continue to be this hostile, we’ll need a tactical advantage like that. I hope Ariana is safe out there, but I need to keep my priorities straight. And that means protecting Lilycove.
The top priorities are to clean up the first and top floors of the tower. Make the ground floor usable, and clean off the roof for keeping watch. A couple other guys and I are up on the roof, doubling as watchmen. The forest below us is fairly quiet, but who knows when that will change. The others keep looking into the woods, paranoia in their eyes. But not me.
Maybe it’s not having someone to worry about. Maybe it’s the need to prove that I can do something. But I feel great. I’m helping to rebuild Hoenn. This time, I really am making a difference. Even if right now it’s sweeping a thick coat of dust and debris off the roof of the shopping center, it’s still something. It’s a place to start. And once the Mightyena attack again, I’ll leap into the fray and help fight them off.
Sounds in the woods pull me out of my musing. Fast footsteps, running. From up here, I can make out dark gray pelts moving through the trees. And I’m the first one to see them. See, Ariana? I can make a difference.<
“Dogs!” I holler at the top of my lungs. The other watchmen run over to me, looking over the edge. I hear a few people below us reacting, calling their Pokémon to their sides. I turn to my companions.
“Get the gym leaders and help them on the ground. Make sure everyone knows we’re under attack. Go!” They turn and run. As for me, I take my Poké Ball out of my pocket. My new partner and I have bonded quickly, and now it’s time to put that bond to the test.
“Let’s go, Suna!” In a flash of green, my Vibrava unleashes itself from its ball. Suna is insect-like in form, but holds the power of a dragon, rocketing into the sky before landing beside me. From the moment I saw him, I knew he was the Pokémon I would pick. A true spirit of the sky and the sand.
“See them down there, Suna? We’re taking them down.” Suna growls, his body vibrating in anticipation. He spreads his wings wide, making room for me on his back.
Written by Jay
Proofed by Greg