Shattered Gemstones chapter 17: The Silent Boy and the Night

Chapter 17

The Quiet Boy and the Night


   Cave walls are damp. They’re always damp.
   You could hold a hot lantern to a cave wall for hours, or wipe it with a towel until the thing ripped to shreds, and the wall would still have a faint moistness to it. You can work to change it, but you never really will.
   In my right hand, I hold a red ball. It’s red and squishy. Spongy.
   In front of me is a cave wall. Not one I recognize. It’s jagged and dark reddish-brown. It stinks, and drips.
   I throw the ball.
   I am awakened by a hand on my shoulder. Get up! my brain tells me, and my limbs obey. I’m on my feet, swatting the hand away. I look at the hand’s owner, and after a moment my eyes focus on his face. It’s Keith, looking a little surprised. I shrink back. Stupid. Stupid and paranoid.
   “Hey, cool it…” Keith says. The only light comes from a flashlight he hold in his hand, but it’s enough for me to see the dark circles under his eyes. Despite how tired he must be, he’s grinning. He looks proud of himself. Was I so hard to wake up that he saw it as a big achievement, or was he just happy to have made it through his shift on watch? 
   “Sorry.” I mumble, staring out into the darkness of the night sky. From the roof of the shipyard building where we decided to make camp, I see the moon, a crescent grinning wickedly down on us.
   “No worries, man. Glad your reflexes are good.” He lets a huge yawn out of his mouth, stretching his face.
   “So I’m on watch?”
   “You got it, bud. You’re on lookout until morning. Tess left a book out for us, so feel free to read if you’d like. And remember, wake us as soon as it starts to get light out. Don’t wait until you can actually see the sun, we need to still have a little-” His words are cut off by another loud yawn. 
   “-cover of darkness. Oh man, I’m tired.” He shuffles over to his sleeping bag, which lies between mine and Tess’, unzipping his sweater and talking off his glasses before laying down and falling asleep immediately.
   I pick up the discarded flashlight and shine it around me. The roof is mostly barren. I hear Keith’s Crobat flying around above us, and its presence is reassuring. I’m not the lone guard here.
   I shine the light beside me. Keith is on his stomach, breathing softly. Behind him is Tess. She lays on her side, her back turned to me. I walk around her, looking at her from the front. She’s nestled into her sleeping bag, only her head and one arm poking out. 
   She’s beautiful. The slumbering girl, her chestnut hair everywhere, is beautiful. But I don’t know what to do with that. Beauty confuses me, and all the feelings that come with it are poisonous. I want to take her hand, lie down next to her. But I’m afraid to want. Wanting shows weakness. The only thing I let myself want is the thing I know I need. And it isn’t love.
   I assume the post Keith and Tess already had. I shine the light down off the edge of the building, but don’t see anything worth the illumination. There’s nothing to see but destruction and darkness. 
   I pick up the book sitting on the ground by my feet. It’s a very old hardcover, with no visible title. Its front cover is inscribed with faded line drawings. In the center is a white star shape, and around it are three shapes; a blue diamond, a purple circle, and a red triangle. The four shapes are enclosed within a large, golden circle.
   Turning the book over, the back cover is also inscribed with symbols. Ones I recognize as part of the old written language of Hoenn. There are three of them. Two, one red and one blue, and a third, yellow one, above them. I know I’ve seen them before, but I’m not sure what they mean.
   The book has an interesting look to it. I’ve always had an affinity for old books, probably because of the entire room of them that my father spent his spare time in. I crack the book open, and find the title on the first inside page.
   History in Mythos
   A compendium of tales
   Flipping through the pages, I see the names of many stories, but none of them catch my eye. “The Legend of the Musketeer Trio”, “The two towers of Johto”, and a few other stories pass by my eyes before I see one that sounds interesting. “The Gods of Earth, Sea and Sky: The tale of Hoenn’s formation.” This is a tale I know very well, but I decide to read anyway.
   The tale is of two great titans, Groudon and Kyogre. When there was still little land among the great seas of the old world, a great titan of earth was born. Groudon. He was first born underground, in a cave of molten lava. He created a surge of power great enough to send an enormous fountain of lava that burst out of the sea. Eventually, this became Mt. Pyre, and formed a large land mass around it. Groudon aspired to raise the earth up, out of the water. He began to do so, but was stopped by Kyogre, lord of the sea. The two fought relentlessly for an age, and their battlefield was the land that eventually would become Hoenn, the land created by Groudon‘s arrival on the surface. In the end, a third great being had to intervene. Rayquaza, a great dragon that claimed dominion in the sky, broke up the fight, and sent the two other titans to a deep sleep underground. Two orbs were brought into existence that could one day reawaken the titans.
   The orbs were always the part of the tale that interested me the most. How did they come into being? Did Rayquaza make them? Or were they created by some outside force? Were they meant to be keys to reawakening the beasts, or were they the locks that had to be broken to fully bring the beings back? Every iteration of the story seems to disagree with the next.
   The night is still dark, and even with the flashlight it hurts my eyes to read, so I set the book down. The darkness stretches wide like an open mouth, fangs bared. I shine the light across the ground below me. Even with the beacon of light illuminating bits of the sidewalk, the darkness is still there, suffocating on all sides. If anything, it seems even darker around the small shining light.
   The night behaves much like the cave wall.
   I shut off the light, letting darkness swallow me whole. I don’t mind it. There’s no concept of what’s where, save for the stars and the moon up in the sky. There’s no definition of where the roof of the shipyard building ends and the ground below begins. There’s no definition of where Keith is, or where Tess is. They could still be asleep, or they might be awake. You’d never know. There’s no sense of direction in the dark. Every path leads to more darkness. Well, every way but up.

   After a long time, the stars begin to fade. The first hints of vague, nonspecific light crest the horizon. I’ve been in a sort of half-awake state, mindlessly performing the same sweep of the surrounding area over and over for the last few hours. It takes me a minute or two to realize dawn is approaching. Time to wake up my companions.
   It’s still dark enough that I need the flashlight to clearly see them. Tess is curled up in a ball, and Keith is sprawled out on the floor, having tossed and turned his way out of his sleeping bag at some point. I’m not really sure how to wake them, so I just stand there.
   I sit down in front of Tess. How do I do this? Do I speak? Touch her? Shine the flashlight in her face? Well, probably not that last one. I don’t want to startle her, but I’m not really sure what will or won’t do that.
   Eventually, I reach out my hand and touch her face. My heart is racing, but I push through the nerves, trying to tell myself it should be easy. My hand rests on her cheek. Her skin is soft. Warm. Good. She murmurs in her sleep, but doesn’t open her eyes. I don’t want to take my hand off her.
   But I do. The desire to keep my hand on her scares me away. Human contact is one of those things I never really understood, because of all the stupid feelings that come with it. But when I pull away, she opens her eyes. Slowly, groggily. Her eyes are brown like chocolate, with little bits of goldish-yellow. 
   We just look at each other for a minute. I feel my face redden, and I kind of want to look away, but I don’t. I can’t escape her eyes. It’s like we’re interlocked, in some sort of unbreakable bond. 
   Then she blinks, and seems to snap out of it. She gives me a half-smile, and sits up.
   “Hey. Time to go?” I can’t find any words in my mouth at the moment, so I just nod. She yawns a long yawn, and wriggles out of her sleeping bag. Still wearing the same clothes as yesterday. 
   “I’m gonna go inside and change,” She tells me, picking up her backpack. “Wake Keith.”
   The thought of her changing sticks in my mind far more than I would like it to. I feel my face get bright red as I watch her disappear behind the door leading back inside the building. What was I supposed to be doing again?
   “G’mornin,” the half-asleep mumble behind me breaks the hot mess brewing about in my brain. I swivel around to find Keith stretching.
   “Sorry, did I wake you?”
   “Well yeah, that’s the idea. Time to get going.” He finds his sweater and glasses on the ground, giving them a dusting-off before putting them on.
   “You’re not changing?”
   “Nah. Not dirty yet. I can take a little dust.” He gives me a grin, and looks up to the sky. “Yo, Vladmir!”
   After a moment, his Crobat emerges, swooping up from below. I had forgotten about my watch companion. Even it looks tired as it returns to the ball in Keith’s hand. 
   “How was the watch? See anything cool?” I shrug. I toned out my surroundings in the dark after about an hour, so as far as I know there wasn’t anything interesting TO see. I have something more important on my mind.
   “So where are we going?” Keith shrugs. 
   “I guess north, for a start. That’s the only way out of town. After that, we can just make up our mind from there.” He looks at me. It looks like he’s studying me, and I don’t think I like it. 
   “Is there anywhere you want to go?” 
   The question catches me off-guard. There is an answer, but I don’t want to tell him yet. Nothing stays secret forever, but I don’t have to tell him yet. So I lie.
   “Not really. Like you said, north sounds good.” Something else nags at me. “Somewhere I can train.”
   “With Garnett?” Keith has a weird look on his face, like he’s trying to suppress something. But I think it’s pride that he’s trying to keep down, like he thinks I owe my desire to train to him.
   “Well, I’m glad I know where we should go, or else we’d just be wandering around in circles forever!” Tess’ voice cuts through the conversation like a knife, as she reappears from inside. She looks mostly the same as when she entered the building - same hat(turned forward today), same sweater - save for a pair of faded jeans. 
   “Where are you thinking?” Keith asks. Tess grins as she walks over to us. There’s a spring in her step.
   “An old cave. Just chasing some more ghosts, I guess, but it’s an old hangout of Michael’s and mine. It’s just a little ways north, not far off the bike path.” 
   “Well, someone’s a little excited.” Keith says with a smirk. Tess frowns a little, and Keith quickly continues. “Sure, let’s go to your cave! Sound good, Jacob?”
   I simply nod. I’m ready to go. I feel strange, like someone has injected me with energy, and something more…joy? I’ve been basically happy before, and this doesn’t feel quite the same. No, this is something else. And maybe it’s from the moment with Tess, or maybe it’s just from being awake with nothing to do for hours, but it’s still there. It’s excitement. For the first time I can remember, I feel truly excited. 
   “Well then, since we’re all agreed,” Keith says, “I suppose we’d better get a move on, before Slateport wakes up.”
   He’s right. It’s still barely light out, but there are the sounds of footsteps in the distance. Time to go to work.