We’ve docked. Here we are. We’ve made our way to Slateport.
At least, that’s what the loudspeaker says. But Keith and I are too preoccupied to really notice at the moment. Jacob is gone.
When we entered the dining cabin, the table Keith had left him at was empty. No sign of anyone having been there. We asked around, and nobody had noticed him acting strangely. He just got up and walked out.
“Where would he go?” I asked. “Do you think he just doesn’t want to talk?”
“I honestly don’t know,” he said with a sigh. “If he’s worried about what we want to know about what happened, he could be hiding somewhere.”
“Should we look for him, or just let him be?” I really wish we had more to go on as far as where this kid went, and why.
“I guess so, yeah…”
And so the rest of the ride went. Now, here we are, on the mainland, but we can’t even feel excited.
“Should we keep searching for Jacob now, or should we go ahead and leave the ship?” How badly does Keith want to keep this kid with us? I’d feel bad abandoning him, but if he ran from us than maybe he changed his mind.
Keith is silent for a minute, deep in thought. When he looks at me, he looks a little relieved, which surprises me.
“Let’s go ahead and get off the ship with everyone else. Jacob may be a strange guy, but he’s smart. He knows what he’s doing. If he wants to be found, he will be. So for now, let’s just enjoy what’s ahead, okay?” He flashes me a grin, and extends a hand.
This is true. I’m letting these new friends distract me from the main event at hand: we have arrived in Hoenn. The real Hoenn. And not just Hoenn, but Slateport. The town where I spent the first 11 years of my life. The town where Michael died saving us, and so many others. The graveyard of my past.
I shake my head, unable to hide a small grin, and take his hand. Together, we walk towards the crowd of people exiting the ship.
Our first look at Slateport is rough. I had never been here before the disaster, but you can tell things were very different back then. The towns cobblestone streets are in rubble, with enormous cracks and fissures lining the roads like stripes on a Growlithe’s back. Looking south, there are whole blocks of houses submerged in water, from the permanently risen tide. You can even make out the tops of beach umbrellas just below the waters surface, serving as markers for the now drowned beach. It’s a bit surreal.
They usher us off the boat in single file. Tess walks in front of me, looking very uneasy. As she surveys the surroundings, she releases her hand from its loose grip on mine and covers her mouth with it. Like many of the other trainers around us, she can’t help but show on her face how much this is tearing her up inside. We walk in silence.
“…I used to live here.” Her voice is quiet, like she can’t accept what she’s saying. “For my whole life until the disaster, I lived here…but I can barely recognize it.”
“I’m sorry…” I wish I knew more of what to say…maybe it’s best that I can’t comfort her. I don’t have any idea what she’s going through right now, but I can see how it could be something she needs to deal with by herself. She turns to me, and looks more confused than sad, as if she’s struggling to comprehend what she is seeing.
We make our way to where a series of tables have been set up, where people are checking in. Tess gives her name and shows her card, and then so do I. People mill about, but nobody really goes anywhere. None of us know what to do. We all feel a little lost. Tess and I just wander around by the boat. A few of the buildings around us have caved in, but many are still intact. There are darkened patches along the ground and even the sides of the building, where fires had been blazing long before.
After a short time, the boat is entirely unloaded of passengers. The same people who ushered us off the boat now come to organize us into a group, and I notice their uniforms. They all wear navy blue jackets buttoned up to mid-chest, with black shirts underneath. More interesting is the insignia that each of them wears. It is comprised of a white circle, with three lines extending outwards in different directions: A yellow line extending upwards, a red one downwards and to the left, and a blue one downwards and to the right. The style of the symbol looks vaguely familiar. It takes me a moment to place, but then I realize it looks very similar to a symbol of Hoenn’s early written language. I don’t know any, but we all had to learn a bit about the subject in school.
We are all arranged into a large group. Once we are in order, a woman steps up onto a pedestal placed in front of us. She wears the same uniform as the other workers, but her jacket is a bright red instead of blue. Her face, framed by long violet hair arranged in a loose ponytail, looks very familiar, but I can’t quite place it until she introduces herself. A cold eastern wind begins blowing as she begins to speak, but her voice is loud enough to overcome it with ease.
“Trainers! As I am, you are all here today for a grand reason, one that you should be honored to have. My name is Winona, and until five years ago I was the Gym Leader of the Fortree City gym. I stand before you now as an equal. I, like yourselves, want to return this land to what it once was: our home.” I realize who this woman is. I had no idea one of the surviving gym leaders on board, let alone Winona. I recall stories I’ve heard, about how she refused to leave Fortree until she saw each living citizen safely out.
“Our facilitators - the government of New Hoenn -” she continues, “have created an organization around which this mission has been built. You see my uniform, and that of the workers - we are overseers of sorts, here to help everyone in any way possible. The symbol we wear on our uniform comes from a combination of three similar symbols from the written language of ancient Hoenn. Combined, the symbol means ‘Persistent Force of Hope‘. The name of the organization backing this mission, PFH, is named after the same mantra. A persistent force of hope. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what everyone here is. We are the hope for the future of Hoenn. We are pioneers, here to take back what was once ours. We are ready to face any challenge that stands in our way!”
She pauses for a moment. Her face has gotten a little red, and it’s easy to tell that she got into her speech. Some people applaud, but she holds out a hand to quiet them.
“Now then. Take a small time to explore our surroundings. We stand in the ruins of Slateport, a well-known town of Hoenn. Some of you may even have heritage here.” I glance over to Tess. Her face is stony, concentrating on Winona’s words.
“It is important to know one’s surroundings. You are all licensed trainers, and are allowed to explore anywhere within the city at your own risk, until sunset. At that time, everyone will be asked to return here for further debriefing. Also, nobody will be permitted outside of the city. Keep this in mind.”
She steps back a little bit. “If anyone needs assistance, come see myself or any other PFH officer. Until tonight, my friends,” she raises her arms. “It’s time to begin rebuilding our land!”
“It’s time to begin rebuilding our land!” These words resonate within me. Seeing Slateport - MY Slateport - maimed like this was hard to bear at first, but something in Winona’s words stirs courage in me. I’m ready. It’s going to be hard at first, but it’ time to face the fear I’ve been harboring. First I thought it was towards my mother, or leaving home. But it wasn’t fear of what I was leaving behind, not at all; it was fear of what I was heading towards.
As the crowd disperses, I remain standing where I am.
“So where do you want to go?” Keith asks me. I raise an eyebrow.
“Don’t you still need to find Jacob?”
“Like I said, he’ll be fine. AS for you, you said you used to live here. So where do you want to go?”
I exhale. I really don’t know. There’s always my old house and neighborhood, or my school, but none of those places sound interesting at the moment. What does strike my fancy is something else. I’ve been nothing but stressed ever since leaving this morning, and I need to blow off some steam.
“Let’s battle.” I reach into my pocket, extracting a Poke ball. I’m not even sure which one.
“Or anywhere. I want to battle you. I don’t know why,” I admit truthfully, “but it just feels like the thing to do right now. So let’s find a good place, and have a battle. You said you were a skilled trainer,” I add with a smirk, “so prove it!”
Keith looks at me for a moment, and then grins.
“With pleasure, ma’am.”