Fighting Fears, Fighting Fate
1. Weaving tales
I see the sun’s reflection glaring off of Lucas’ gun more than the weapon itself. Upon Lucas’ request, I glance over at Ariana and give her a nod. She nods back at me, and we emerge.
The scene is pretty much what I expected. Damian’s cornered, stuck between a snarling Houndoor and the edge of the cliff. Lucas glances back at him for a moment, but quickly retrains his eyes on Ariana and I. But we’re ready.
“Toby…” Damian starts to speak, but Lucas cuts him off.
“Shut up! I’m the only one talking right now, got it?” He gives Damian a sneer, and turns back to me and my young companion.
“So then…Ariana, was it?” Ariana nods frantically. She’s a good actor. On the way here, and even up until the moment we emerged, she was calm and reserved. But she knows to stick to the plan. Damian looks sympathetic, even he buying into her act.
“Come here, Ariana.” Lucas invites, beckoning with the nose of his gun. She gulps, and slowly steps forward.
“FASTER, BITCH!” He shouts it with a sort of sick glee, and I grind my teeth to hold myself back from retaliating in Ariana’s defense. Ariana squeaks in fake fear, and walks quickly and stiffly up to Lucas, stopping right in front of him.
“Good…” he purrs, putting his free hand on Ariana’s shoulder. She tenses up at his touch. He sneers, obviously enjoying this.
“What are you doing, Lucas?!” Damian shouts, not paying much mind to the snarling dog at his heels. “If you hurt her, I swear-”
“Don’t worry,” Lucas cuts him off. “Your sister still has immunity, for now.”
Everything goes quiet. At least, that’s how it seems. I see confusion on Damian’s face as he looks from Lucas to Ariana, then to me, then back to Lucas. I look at Ariana, and there’s something different about her face now. She still wears a face consumed by fear, but now it seems more real. Like what Lucas has just said has broken through her guise. Lucas cocks his head at Damian’s confusion, and then his face breaks into a wide grin.
“Oh…” he chuckles. “you didn’t know, did you?” Ariana is staring intently at the damp grass at her feet as her captor drapes his arm over her shoulder.
“What are you talking about?” Damian growls. “What are you trying to say?!” Lucas just laughs.
“Oh…oh, this is RICH!” He spits on the ground in front of him. “You really never knew…oh, this is wonderful. At the moment of your ever-so-TRAGIC demise, you finally find out the truth! My my, Ariana…” She tenses up as he tightens his grip. “You’re better at hiding things than I gave you credit for.”
“DAMN IT!” Damian is visibly shook-up by this. “Ariana, what’s he talking about?!” Ariana just keeps her eyes on the ground, shaking her head silently. Damian looks at me, and I see fear in his eyes as well. And all I can do is shrug. There’s nothing I can say or do right now to reassure him. All I can do is wait for the plan to kick into action.
“Oh, Damian.” Lucas’ voice is musing. He’s teasing his prey before making the kill. “In all the time you and your dear sister spent under the GRACIOUS hospitality of Cerberus, you always thought you were doing such a great job protecting your sister. But did you ever stop to ask her who was truly protecting whom?”
Damian’s eyes narrow. “What the hell is that supposed to mean? You’re bluffing.” Ariana looks up, a bit of hope in her eyes. Whatever Lucas is getting at it, Ariana doesn’t want it to get out. She looks over at me, nervously. I nod, doing the best I can to be reassuring. With any luck, the plan will kick into action any second now.
“Oh, Damian, I wish I was.” Lucas says, his voice dripping with a false, mocking pity. “But it would seem your precious little sister has been hiding quite a bi-”
He’s cut off by the sound of rustling in the trees. Lots of rustling, and footsteps. Far too fast and too many to be people. Lucas turns to face the oncoming noise, aiming his gun into the shadows. He releases Ariana to clasp both hands around the weapon.
Safe for the moment, Ariana and I begin going through the motions as planned. I snap my fingers, and Checkers bounces out from the bushes on cue, spitting a strong water gun into the face of Lucas’ Houndoor. The dog yelps in surprise, backing away from Damian. Ariana runs to him, grabs his hand, and pulls him over to where I am.
“What’s the plan?” Damian asks me. At least he’s realized we have one. I look over to where Lucas stands, fixated on the growing sounds coming from the trees.
“Just be ready.”
“To do what?”
Just as he speaks, they break through the trees. Mightyena. At least a dozen. All large, all angry. All rushing straight for Lucas, and, by association, us. Lucas’ Houndoor runs up to face the Pokemon, but it won’t be enough. They will overpower Lucas, and quickly. I turn to Damian.
The water laps lazily at the sand. It’s very quiet. Jacob is thinking, planning out how exactly he wants to say what he’s about to say. Then, he begins to speak.
“My father…” he begins, “is a very rich man. He always has been. I was raised by just him, after my mom…well…” he grimaces. I give him an encouraging smile. He goes on.
“My mother was never really around, and so I was just raised by him. My father. He…he wasn’t the parental type, I guess. He would give me whatever I wanted, except for any of his time. He was a busy man.”
“Who is he, exactly?” I ask. It’s not really important, as far as I can tell, but I’m curious. Jacob exhales.
“His name…his name is Alexander Mondego. He started making money as the owner of a few poke ball manufacturing plants, and stuff like that, but after a few years he expanded. This was still before I was born, but he moved into manufacturing machine parts and even weapons. At first he didn’t do so well…this isn’t a very militaristic country…but then things started to change.
“Around when I was born, my father started making some deals, and selling to…less approvable buyers. You remember the attacks by Team Rocket in Kanto, a couple years back? My father supplied them with equipment and pokemon. His first clients, back in the day, were the people who eventually formed Team magma and Team Aqua.”
“But Team Aqua and Magma only attacked a few years ago, didn’t they?” Tess asks.
“Yes, just a few months before the disaster began. I don’t know a lot about what they were doing before that, but my father told me that their goals had been very different back then. I don’t really know more than that.
“But as my father became richer, questions began to arise as to how he became so wealthy. He would be arrested if it was ever uncovered that he had done the things he had, so he tried to cover his tracks by also beginning to spread his wealth around. Look like a good guy, that sort of thing. He donated to charities, relief funds after the disaster struck, and then, when the repopulation project began, he stepped in to help. He proposed a work force to watch over the trainers who would be exploring the new mainland, and called it the P.F.H.”
“Hold on,” I stop him. “your DAD is the one who started the P.F.H? He’s basically the whole reason we’re here?”
“Not exactly,” Jacob says with a shrug. “He’s not in charge of the group itself, but he’s funded most of the project, as well as the training of the P.F.H’s workers. He’s not at the top, but has enough influence to do as he pleases within his limits, and that’s how he likes it.”
“Wait a minute, Jacob. Let’s back up.” Something occurs to me that doesn’t fit with his story.
“If you were born to such a rich family, able to do whatever you wanted, how did you wind up living ina cave in Dewford?” Tess eyes me, eyebrows raised, at this new information. I realize I hadn’t told her that little tidbit. Oops.
“Well…” Jacob hesitates. “I guess that’s just it. When I was little, my father and I would come to Dewford on vacation in the summers. I don’t think he ever enjoyed the trips, but I did. It was always so much more peaceful there…my father only took me because he saw it as something parents were supposed to do with their kids, not because he wanted to.
“We took our last trip there when I was 13. By that point, he had pretty much stopped caring altogether what I did with my time, so long as it didn’t interfere with his work. That was the year I discovered that little clearing in the cave.
“I had always liked Granite Cave. I don’t know what it was about it…but it felt just secluded enough to be peaceful, but also near enough to town that it wasn’t lonely. I would always go exploring the caves whenever I went. Father would send me with one of his aides to make sure I was kept safe. But the year I found the clearing, he allowed me to explore it by myself, so long as I took one of his Pokemon.
“When I found the cave, I was really excited. I forced my father to come see it, and told him I wanted to live there. Obviously, he didn’t agree to that, but he did do something for me that I wouldn’t say I had expected him to do. He had a bed, desk and some other stuff set up in the place I had found, and told me that I could go there whenever I wanted. I had taken boating lessons, so after some practice I was able to take myself to the island without his say-so.
“I was so happy there for a while. The locals on Dewford were always friendly, and there was always something fun to do. I liked the feeling of…I don’t know what to call it. Almost-solitude, I guess? The feeling of independence, staying solitary with the freedom to become less solitary if I wanted. It was nice.
“But,” I interject again. “When I met you this morning, you said you had been living in the cave for a while.” He grimaces, looking away.
“About a year later, I came a cross something. My father had taken me with him to a laboratory in Orre that he had been selling materials to. I don’t really recall why we were there, or why he had decided to take me, but there we were.
“I got bored, and slipped away from my father. I wound up roaming the halls of the facility until I was completely lost. Eventually, I found a room that spiked my interest. It was big, with a lot of equipment. It was empty, but looked recently used. All the lights were on, and some computers were buzzing. But what caught my eye was something else.
“In a glass container of some kind, near the center of the room, was a Pokemon. It looked hurt. I knew it was obviously part of some experiment, and it was none of my business, but none of that really occurred to me at the time. I just saw a wounded Pokemon. And it was a kind of Pokemon I recognized, too.” As he speaks, his eyes dart to Garnett, who sits quietly in the sand.
“It was your Aron, wasn’t it?” Tess’ tone is soft, understanding. Jacob nods, and continues.
“He was obviously in pain, and I wanted to help him. I didn’t know what kind of things they were doing to him, and I didn’t really care. I found a couple poke balls in the room, and managed to sneak him out before anyone caught me.”
“What did you plan to do with him?” I ask. If his father had found Garnett, wouldn’t he have just taken him away?
“I was careful. I nursed Garnett to health in secret, and managed to keep him concealed from my father. A couple days later, I asked my father about the people who used the lab, but he wouldn’t tell me anything. So that night I snuck into his office and onto his computer.
“I found…a lot of things. Very, very incriminating things. About my father, and about the people he did business with. Things about the lab where I had found Garnett, and…”
He trails off, his eyes ablaze. He gets so fearsome when he thinks about his past, and I think Tess and I are at the edge of understanding why. Tess puts a hand on his shoulder to try and comfort him, but he pulls away.
“…There were some things on there I don’t like to think about…not just about my father, but about our whole family. Some people who I knew, some I had never even known existed…it was all scary to read about, but I couldn’t pull away. I had to know.
“I was up all night reading. When my father found me the next morning, he passed it off as nothing, same as usual. Even know, I bet he still has no idea how much I know. I took some time to think about everything I had found out, and by that night I made up my mind. I packed a suitcase, stole as much money as I could carry from my father’s safe, and fled with Garnett. Like I said, I knew how to pilot a boat, so getting out wasn’t a problem. We lived on a mansion on a little island south of Hoenn’s waters. So it wasn’t too far to go. I found a little cavern in the coastline where I parked the boat until dawn, and then I set sail quickly to Dewford. I came to the cave, and I’ve just been there ever since.”
“Your dad didn’t look for you?” Jacob shakes his head.
“I don’t think he cared that much. He probably thought about it, but decided that I wasn’t worth his time. Maybe he was right.”
“Don’t say that,” Tess comforts, but Jacob doesn’t seem to hear. He continues.
“Either way, he left me for dead, and I got on with my life. I was safe in Dewford. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t even remember the cave.”
“If you were safe, why did you decide to come here?” I ask. “you seemed pretty nervous to leave.”
“Honestly,” he says with a shrug, “I was running out of money. I had heard that we would be taken care of as much as we needed on the trip, so I kind of just decided to go. Next thing I knew, I was signed up and ready to go, waiting for the boat with you.” He looks at me, a sort of apologetic expression on his face.
“So your dad…” Tess asks, speaking the thought I had just been forming in my head, “he funded the P.F.H, right? So if those guys were after you back there, does that mean your dad is looking for you?”
“It must be. I don’t understand why dad wants me now, after two years. But I don’t want to go back to him. I can’t. If not for me, then for Garnett.” He looks down at the Aron, who lies sound asleep in the sand, and I see something new in his eyes. Compassion, and a great deal of it at that. It’s nice to see.
“Well then,” I say, trying to take charge. “If the P.F.H is looking for you, then we might want to stay out of their reach as much as we can.”
“…you still want to stay with me?” Jacob’s voice is quiet, but hopeful. He looks me into his eyes, and the fire that was there is gone now, replaced by two gray pools of water, still and clear.
“Sure.” I say, flashing a grin. “It sounds like fun, actually. If we’re on the run from the P.F.H, it gives us all the more incentive to travel, and see as much as we can see. That’s what I’m here for anyway. What do you think, Tess?” In my heart, I hope she agrees, but I wouldn’t blame her if she decided against it. She grimaces.
“So, I’ve fallen in with an older man and a wanted boy, huh?” I sigh, bracing for the worse. But she gives me a teasing grin. “Sounds like a plan to me!” I laugh, and even Jacob smiles. I guess we’re a team now.
“So,” I say, trying to get down to business. “If we want to stay safe, the first thing we should do is find somewhere safe to spend the night. Any ideas?” Jacob just shrugs, staring into space. Tess looks back towards the city, and nods.
“Yeah, I know a place.”
2. All in the Past
Everything happens quickly once Toby and Ariana emerge. The horror of seeing my sister threatened hurts, but I don’t let it cloud my mind. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.
Everything happens quickly. Quickly and vividly. I feel every moment sear itself into my mind, but I block out the pain. I have to block it out. But what I can’t block out is Lucas’ taunts.
At first, I assume he’s lying, doing whatever he can to get a rise out of me. Toying with me. But Something about his words, and Ariana’s reaction, bite at my mind. But I can’t let myself think about it right now. I can’t afford to.
I waste no time when Toby tells me to run. I make a mad dash for him and Ariana, and take my sister by the hand.
“Let’s go, quickly! I’ll explain everything once we’re clear.” Toby says, and I nod. I dash into the woods, Toby at my side and Ariana at my heels. Behind us, I hear Lucas yelling commands to his Pokemon. Just before we leave earshot, those yells turn to screams. And all of it is coated with a layer of barks, as the Mightyena assault Lucas.
We slow down after a few minutes, making sure to put plenty of distance between ourselves and the battle behind us. I turn to Toby. There’s a lot I want to say to him. I want to chew him out for endangering my sister, but at the same time I want to thank him for saving my life. But what I come out with is this.
“You’re absolutely insane. How did you do that?”
The first part wasn’t something I had meant to say out loud, more just a thought I had. But he laughs at my words.
“Well, we knew you were in trouble. I hate to tell you, but Lucas led you right into that. I’ve seen it before, and it never ends well. So we had to act fast.”
“We realized that our best resource were the Mightyena.” Ariana speaks up, letting go of my hand. “We found the body of one, and…” She grimaces, and Toby steps back in.
“We made a trail. The Mightyena didn’t go far after the battle in town, they were mostly prowling around the edge of town. We spotted a pack for a distance, and left the carcass for them to find. From there it was just matter of setting up a scent trail.” Toby glances over to Ariana.
“I remembered reading once that Pecha berries have a scent that Mightyena detect as similar to how humans smell. Between finding a fallen Poochyena covered in what they think is human scent and a lot of sore spots from fighting people in Lilycove, their aggression would be high. So we led a trail of the juice, leading to near the clearing where you were.”
So, my sister is more resourceful than I gave her credit for. But something doesn’t add up.
“How did they know to go after Lucas?” Ariana smiles.
“I figured Lucas would use me as bait. So, when he grabbed me, I waited until the right moment and dropped a couple berries into his pocket. They give off a very strong smell that Mighgtyena pick up easily, so the Mightyena smelled the exact same scent on Lucas that they smelled on the dead Poochyena. It was a little risky, but it worked out.”
“A LITTLE risky?!” I’ll admit it wasn’t a bad plan, but I’ve reached a boiling point. Maybe it’s just stress from what’s just occurred, but I snap. I turn to Toby.
“I can’t BELIEVE you did this! She could have DIED, and you just let Lucas take her? I can’t believe I almost trusted you!” Toby backs up, hands raised.
“Damian, she volunteered to do it. The plan was mostly her idea.” I lunge forward, grabbing him by the cuff of his shirt.
“What the HELL does that mean?! You’re still the one who agreed to risking the life of a 12 year-old girl!” I glare daggers into his eyes, my lip curled into a snarl. This is the angriest I’ve gotten in a long time - years, maybe - and now that I’ve started, I don’t plan to stop until I’m burned out. Toby gazes calmly into my eyes, pushing me gently away from him. For some reason, this angers me more. He opens his mouth to speak, but I cut him off.
“I don’t want to hear it! You don’t get to apologize.” He raises an eyebrow, but backs off. I turn to Ariana.
“And you! I can’t believe you’d go along with something like this, let alone be the one to suggest it! I honestly expected better of you than this, Ariana. I thought you knew better than to risk yourself like that.”
“I know to protect my brother.” Her words are stone cold. She holds a steady gaze into the distance. She doesn’t look at me, or Toby. For some reason, this bothers me more than her words.
“How to protect me? Excuse me?!” The indignation in my voice erupts like a volcano. “Who’s the one who spent the last five years working their ass off to support us? To keep us safe? I’m all you’ve got, Ariana! I’m it! What the hell would you have had to protect me from?!”
Oh, no. Please no.
The pieces begin to fall perfectly into place, one by one. Lucas’ comments, which I tried to brush off as meaningless taunts, shine true.
She’s still protected. For now.
You’re better at hiding things than I gave you credit for.
But did you ever think to ask her who was really protecting who?
“Ariana…” My voice comes out very quietly. I want to scream, but my voice is muffled by a gag of my own confusion. It’s all I can do to mumble. “What did you do?”
“Was Lucas telling the truth?”
“What did you do?”
“Nothing. It’s all in the past now.”
“WHAT DID YOU DO?!” I’m shaking. I’m falling apart. Right here, in the middle of the woods, I am disassembling. Torn apart by my imagination leaping to a million places at once. Nobody to bear witness to my crumbling except my sister, the cause of it all, and the only other person I know who doesn’t want me dead.
Ariana looks at me.
“I never told you because I knew you would react like this…”
“Please, Ariana…just tell me…” I’m pleading now. Bargaining. Pitiful. But she shakes her head.
“I did what I had to.”
She turns. She’s walking away. Towards Lilycove. Away from me again. No, no no.
“Ariana!” I lunge forward, but Toby grabs me by the arm.
“Let her go.” Toby’s voice holds steady, trying to calm me. But nothing will calm me. I struggle, but can’t break free. I can feel a couple tears leak down my cheeks.
“Damian, you need to calm down. I’m sure she’ll explain herself, but you need to calm down…”
I stop struggling. Not because he tells me to, but instinctively. I just sort of give up on the spot. I fall to my knees, feeling moisture from the damp grass soak through my jeans. Toby is right. I hate him for it, but he is right. I need to calm down. I need to regain control.
I need to know what my sister has done.
I’m here again. Just a little while after the battle with Keith, I’m back. Before, I came here to try and escape my past. Now, I’m ready to face it. Keith and Jacob stand off to the side, letting me have some space. I’m thankful for it. I take a deep breath, and step inside.
It’s dusty. I’m sure things are broken, wrecked beyond repair, but for some reason the dust is what catches my attention. Everything is covered in a coat of the stuff, like a somber gray snow. Enough light shines through the cracked and broken windows to illuminate the place. The atrium I stand in is small, but even that brings memories.
A boy runs into the building, no older than 11. Behind him walks a girl, only 6 or 7, struggling to keep up. Their entrance is met by smiles on the faces of the scientists. They all recognize the kids as belonging to one of their coworkers. The boy stops, gives them a grin, and runs into the main construction center. The girl hurries to keep up.
The construction center is in rough shape. Several of the supporting beams are bent or warped, almost all of them rusted, and a few broken altogether. I’m not worried, though. We’d need about 20 people on the second floor to risk any kind of collapse.
The large generator in the center of the room is still in one piece, but scarred by burn marks. I recall my father telling me about the fires that broke out here when the cataclysm first began. Looking closely at the walls, more scorch marks paint stencils across the entire interior of the room. A lot must have happened here. Even more than I had the chance to see…
The boy halts. Lots of big, important-looking people are moving around. The room is very loud, from the sounds of equipment and a large generator. Men shout to each other, pounding away on vast chunks of metal, forming them into the shape of a boat’s hull.
“Hey there, little man.” The boy, startled, turns to see a man in a lab coat staring down at him. The boy looks down.
“Hi, Mr. Stern…”
“You two know you’re not supposed to be down here, don’t you?” Mr. Stern’s voice is scolding.
“Yes, sir.” The boy mumbles. The girl elbows him in the ribs.
“Told ya so.” The boy pushed the girl away, and she sticks her tongue out at him. Mr. Stern laughs.
“Your dad’s upstairs. He’s expecting you, so go ahead up.” The boy grins, glad to not be in trouble, and takes the girl’s hand.
“C’mon Tessa, let’s go!”
Tessa. I forgot he had always called me Tessa. I remember deciding from very early on that I liked the name “Tess” a lot more than Tessa. Tessa sounded too cute for me, I wanted something short and cool. I guess I was pretty vain when I still barely knew how to count to 10.
Everyone went along with it, until I got into a fight with Michael. I broke a toy of his, and in the end he decided to get back at me by calling me Tessa instead of Tess. I hated him for it at first, and decided that instead of calling him Mikey like everyone else did back then, I would only call him Michael. After a while, both names stopped being used out of spite, and just became natural. To the rest of the world we were Tess and Mike, but to each other we were Tessa and Michael. And for whatever silly reason, that made all the difference in the world.
I return to the atrium, following the same path I would always take, without thinking about it, to see my father. I find Keith and Jacob waiting for me there.
“You didn’t have to stay out here…”
“It’s okay,” Keith says with a small smile. “We figured you might need a minute.” I smirk.
“I’m not about to break down…”
“Yeah, you’re right…”
“Thanks, though.” I say, turning to look to the stairs.
“Let’s go see how the second floor is.”
“Michael, slow down!”
“You’re just jealous you’re too little to keep up!” The two children run up the stairs. The boy exits the stairwell on the second floor, stopping just in time to avoid running into someone’s legs. The man stumbles around the boy, grumbling something, and moves on. The boy apologizes, but the man doesn’t seem to hear.
“Come on, Michael, can we find Dad?” The girl whines. Michael nods, and looks around.
“There he is, over at that table with Mr. White! Let’s go.” The boy points to a table where two men stand, bent over a set of blueprints. One man looks up as the boy and girl approach.
“Hey guys, how was school?”
“Good.” Chorus the two children in unison. The man gives them a warm smile.
“Glad to hear it. I’m just going to be a few more minutes, so stay out of trouble, please.” The boy nods, the girl barely paying attention. She tugs on the boy’s sleeve.
“Michael, let’s go watch them build stuff.”
The second floor is in pretty bad shape. The floor is full of dents and large cracks, and most of the furniture is splintered and broken. Areas of floor are littered with glass from where one of the skylights has shattered.
“This is where he worked…” I say the words without realizing it. Keith responds from behind me.
“Oh, my father…my brother and I used to visit him here when we were little…then my brother started working here too, just a few months before…” I trail off. I can’t let myself think about that part. Not just yet. I walk to the center of the room, where a large, fenced-in gap provides a view of the work that used to be done below.
The boy and girl sit on the edge of the hole, legs dangling off the edge. The girl swings her feet back and forth as she clutches the cold metal, watching the work being done below her.
“I want to go on a boat.” She says.
“You will soon.” The boy is calmer now, smiling to himself at the prospect of boating.
“I want to now. Why won’t daddy let me?”
“He’s just protective, Tessa. He didn’t let me take my first boat ride until I was 8, because that’s when his dad took him. I’m sure he’ll take you when you turn 8.”
“But 7 is most of the way to 8.” The girl pouts. “It’s so close, why can’t he just take me now?” The boy laughs. The girl stands up, angered at his laughter.
“Hey, calm down Tessa. You’ll get to ride, and I’ll be right there with you. It’s more fun than you could possibly imagine.”
“Of course. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had!”
“No, Michael. Do you promise…do you promise you’ll be there too?” The girl’s face reddens with embarrassment. The boy grins.
“Of course, goof.”
“You’re the goof!”
I sit now where I did then, feet dangling off the edge. The metal fence is rusted, but it still feels like it did back then. From up here, things don’t really look different down there. Just still. Frozen in time. And maybe, in time, we can defrost the place. I hope so.
This is where he stood, too. The last time I saw him. Knowing I can’t let it bite at me any longer, I look to the back wall of the building. The elephant in the room.
There, an entire part of the floor is gouged by an enormous metal beam. My stomach churns at the sight of the blood stains, still present. My stream of memories fast forwards a few years, to the day we evacuated. The day I know I will always remember more vividly than any other. The day Michael died.
A violent shake seizes the ground, rattling everything in the house. It is violent, but mercifully brief. The girl rushes to pack her things into a suitcase, when she hears a voice from outside her room.
“Tess? Tess! We have to go!”
“Coming!” The girl bursts out of her room to meet her mother in the hall. “Are Dad and Michael still at the shipyard?”
“Yes. We’re meeting them there.” The mother grabs her daughter’s hand, and they leave quickly.
The path to the shipyard is mercifully safe. The two make it inside, and hurry to the second floor, where the girl’s brother and father await.
“Are you ready to g-” the brother starts to ask, but is interrupted by a violent earthquake seizing the building. The lights flicker, and something explodes on the floor below. The four of them run to the rail, looking down on a sea of flames below. Something burst in the generator, and flames and sparks are everywhere. The boy looks down, sweating profusely, and then looks to his father.
“Get them downstairs.”
“I can get to the fire extinguisher controls and crank them to max. It won’t fix the problem, but it should lower the flames for long enough to get everybody out. You get them out, I’ll regroup as soon as I can.”
“Go!” The boy is insistent. There isn’t time to argue. The father takes the girl’s hand in one hand and his wife’s in the other, and they run back downstairs.
The girl looks up to where she can see her brother,
Quickly making his way through the frenzied workers, trying to reach a switch on the far wall.. A wall of flame sears the ground in front of them, blocking the exit. The father sends out his Pokemon, a Golduck, who engulfs the blaze with water as much as possible. But it isn’t enough.
Suddenly, a torrent of water rains down from above. The flames recede, and go out.
“Go!” Shouts the boy.
“We’re not leaving without you!” Says his mother.
“I have to stay and help! Just for now. Dad, please…” The boy and his father lock eyes. The father grimaces, and nods.
“Just go!” The boy replies, as a violent tremor shakes the building. The father ushers out his wife, who still protests, and his silent daughter.
The girl looks back at just the right moment. Or the wrong moment. Whichever fits. She sees the beam break overhead just as her brother does, and can only bear witness as it plunges down on top of him in the blink of an eye.
I’m crying. I don’t care, but it’s still fact. Tears are streaming down my face. I had forgotten the visual of his death…until now. Now, I can’t imagine how I ever forgot it. But now I remember. Now I know once more.
I stand up, wiping the tears from my eyes. I look at my companions. Jacob stares down at the floor, and Keith watches me. Not piteously, but curiously. I realize he still doesn’t know the details. He still doesn’t know why this place matters so much.
Should it matter to me at all?
Of course the place itself matters, but the memories attach me to it too much. Thinking about it now, I start to think about what it all means to em now. Remarkably, it actually seems pretty clear. Michael died saving my life, along with those of my parents and many other evacuees. The last thing I would ever want to do is leave his death in vain. So I must do whatever I can to make this land a better place. The land that was once our home. The land he died for.
I have to take his actions and use them to fuel my own. If he saved me, then there is no reason why I shouldn’t make my lease on life matter. I have to move onward. I WILL move onward.
“Are you okay?” Keith’s voice pokes its head in behind me. I turn to look at him.
“yeah, actually…I know this is random, but what do you say we finish that battle?”
We decide to finish our match on the roof. I stand, Charybdis in front of me, ready for the fight. In front of me, looming like a great, living shadow, is Keith’s Crobat. It is truly fearsome, but for once I feel absolutely no fear. I am ready to look fear in the face and laugh. I am ready to fight.
3. A Shift
Sometimes you have to keep secrets. You don’t want to. You know that, in the end, all you’ll end up doing is hurting someone you love, but you have to do it.
You have to do whatever you have to do to survive. Damian doesn’t know that I’ve realized that, but I have. I’ve been watching him do it for years, after all. He never saw that part of me because he never bothered to look. He just saw his sweet, helpless little sister. But the truth is, I stopped being that person a long time ago.
Damian always tried to look out for me, and protect me. But when Cerberus invaded our building, and Lucas came into our home, I knew I would have to work to protect myself and my brotehr. I was proud to do it. And it turned out I did it well.
I block out Damian’s cries as I walk back to Lilycove. It hurts to ignore him like this, but I know he needs to calm down. As soon as we spotted Lucas, I had a sinking feeling that things would go wrong. That Lucas would spill the beans, and tell Damian about the deals I had to make to keep us alive. I should have stopped my brother from chasing Lucas, but there wasn’t time.
Damian will come to me once he’s calmed down. For now it’s best to forget about him and find something else to do.
The scene in Lilycove is calmer now. I’m relieved to see that the Mightyena are gone. The registration tables are set up again, and people are milling about the town. I see a couple trainers battling Pokemon, and that reminds me of my new companion.
I reach into my pocket, extracting the poke ball. I release the Vulpix, who immediately starts sniffing the ground. She smells home. She looks around, confused at the sight of people everywhere, and none of her kin. It’s kind of sad to watch. I kneel down.
“It’s okay, little one.” I say, putting on a soothing inflection. I extend a hand, and the Vulpix trots up to me, giving it a lick.
“You haven’t seen people before, have you?” I think out loud. “I guess you have no choice but to trust us…not like me at all.” I sigh. This is the first time in a long time I’ve gotten to talk to someone without calculating every word, and I’m talking to a Pokemon. Great.
At least having a Pokemon gives me something to do. I bring my new friend to the registration table, and sign in, explaining that I had been going to be given a Pokemon on arrival, but that it wouldn’t be necessary now. In a matter of minutes, I’m an official, registered trainer.
The Vulpix and I walk north, through the town. It’s in rough shape, but I don’t focus on the town itself as much as the experience. Walking by myself, being able to take in my surroundings without worrying about my safety, it’s a nice change. I don’t know how long it will last, but it’s all I really need right now.
There’s a dilapidated shopping center at the northern end of town. Some trainers surround it, and I hear the echoed voices of more inside. I walk up, stopping in front of the building, to take it in.
The windows are almost all broken, many more cracked. The walls are chipped away, leaving the place looking wounded. Spider-web cracks reach of the length of the building, almost reaching the top. It certainly doesn’t look safe.
“It’s kinda creepy, isn’t it?” A voice startles me from my left. I look to find a girl, around my age, standing next to me. Her skin is pale, looking even paler in contrast to the long, curly red hair that blows about in the breeze.
“Yeah,” I reply. I’m not really sure what to say. I guess she’s just being friendly, but I never really had any friends after the evacuation.
“During the battle,” the girl continues, “I Saw a bunch of Mightyena and Poochyena swarming out of here. I think this was their den.” She looks s ad, like she’s feeling sorry for the beasts.
“Well, they’re just wild Pokemon.” my tone is cold, uncaring. “We needed to take back what’s ours.” the gril shrugs.
“I guess. It’s just funny how you always hear about the bond of friendship between trainer and Pokemon. And yet here we are, driving them out of their home.”
“It was our home first.” I retort. The girl shakes her head.
“No. No it wasn’t. It was just ours most recently.” She stares a the building, as if transfixed, and then back to me.
“Sorry, I’m Millie.”
“That’s a really pretty name.”
“Thanks.” I smile, and to my surprise it doesn’t feel forced. It’s nice to have a conversation without trying to falsify myself.
“Hello there!” Millie says, looking down. My Vulpix has started sniffing at the girl’s feet. Millie bends down to scratch the Pokemon behind the ears.
“What’s her name?”
“She doesn’t have one yet. I just caught her. Her family had been killed by the Poochyena. I think they were still after her when we arrived.”
“Poor thing.” Millie sighs. “I’m glad you saved her. She’s a cutie.”
“Yeah.” I agree, looking down at the orange fox. It looks so young, so innocent, as it nips at Millie’s fingers…just how I used to be. How I pretend to still be.
“How about Lily?” I cock my head, not sure what she means.
“Since you hadn’t named her yet. Since you found her in Lilycove, how about Lily?” It’s a simple name, and a little bit corny - well okay, a lot corny - but I like it. I look down at my new Pokemon, and the name fits.
“Lily…” I say to myself. “Lily the Vulpix…I like it.” I give her a smile, still genuine for once. “Thanks.” She grins.
“You’re welcome! I named my Pokemon after where I got them, too. I have a Staravia named Twinleaf, and a Pachirisu named Sunny, after Sunnyshore city. I come from Sinnoh.”
I nod, distracted by a sudden feeling of foreboding. I look behind me, and see my brother walking towards me. Toby isn’t around. Damian probably asked him to give us some time. I exhale.
“I’m sorry. I have to go. My brother…” Millie gives me an understanding grin.
“It’s cool, my big sister’s around here somewhere too…I’m surprised I got more than three feet away from her. It was nice meeting you!”
“You, too.” I say, turning to face my brother. “C’mon, Lily.” I don’t think Lily recognizes her name yet, but she still follows behind me when I start walking.
Damian and I meet in the middle of the old stone road. He isn’t angry any more. He looks more confused any more. here it goes…
“So what did you do?” He asks. “This whole time I thought I was protecting you, keeping the Cerberus away from us and working as a mole. So what were you doing?”
Where to begin? Actually, I know exactly where.
“Damian…you remember how occasionally, people would disappear from the building?”
“You knew about that?”
“Sure…I mean, word got around. Well, those people were taken by Cerberus and…toyed with. Some of them killed, some of them tortured. Their leader, that Malakai guy, was really messed up. Anyway, pretty soon after they first occupied the building, they came knocking on our door.”
“You weren’t home at the time, you were out shopping or something. That’s another thing they would do. Wait until one person in an apartment left, and then abduct the rest just to mess with them. And they were ready to do that with me.
“But by that point, I had figured out that we were probably on their hit list. So when Lucas came, I proposed a deal. He laughed at first, but when he realized I was serious he listened. We would be protected, promised immunity from their crap, as long as I worked to earn it.”
“Worked?” Damian is concerned. Of course he is, when is he not? “What kind of work?”
“Services. Help. Another grunt.”
“Another…Ariana, you don’t mean-”
“Yes.” This is going to be hard. Not because I betrayed Damian, that part was hard at first but I got over it. Watching his reaction is what’s going to be hard.
“Once in a while, while you slept, I would be out with Malakai’s thugs. Stealing Pokemon, looting, whatever needed doing. The first time nobody expected me to make it, not even myself. But it turned out I was good at it. Knowing that I was protecting us, keeping us safe while you tried to get us out, was all I needed to keep me going.”
Damian’s eyes are cold. His hands are curled into tight fists. He’s not looking at me, but down at his feet.
“And just how far did it go?”
“I didn’t kill anyone. The most I ever did was keep lookout for cops. I know helping them was wrong, but it could have gotten a lot worse.” My voice trails off. I really hope he doesn’t push further.
But of course, he does.
“There’s something you’re not telling me.”
“Ariana, just tell me.” He’s calm as he can be, trying to bargain with me. I might as well let it out.
“…I saved his life.”
“No. Lucas’.” Watching Damian’s face is like watching someone going through every stage of grief at once.
“It was the one time we almost didn’t make it back. A police officer found him, and was about to take him down. She didn’t see me, and I distracted her long enough for him to get away. It wasn’t anything huge or dramatic, but I think he still remembers it. He’s an evil guy, but he has a sense of honor.”
“Who are you?” Damian’s words cut like a knife. I feel so bad for him, having to find out about this now. And maybe I still feel a little bad for the things I did after all.
“I’m the same person I’ve always been, Damian.”
“You’re NOTHING like you always have been! What happened to you?!”
“Life happened, Damian. Face it. We’ve had a tough life, and it forced me to grow up quickly. The innocent little girl you thought I was died a long time ago.”
The silence that follows is awful. Damian just stares fixatedly into my eyes, and for the first time it’s hate I see. True, unbridled hate.
“You were keeping this a secret all this time? Why?”
“Because I’m smart, Damian. I’m really smart. Smarter than you. I knew you would react like this. You, with your ridiculous sense of justice. You think it makes you a better person, but all it does is BLIND YOU!”
“…go to hell.” He’s turning. Why is he turning away?
“Where are you going?”
“Anywhere away from you. I can’t look at you, Ariana.”
He’s walking away. The one steadfast I’ve truly taken advantage of, and he’s walking away. I don’t try to stop him. I want to, but I don’t. I just stand there, and watch him go.
There’s no plan now. No calculation. No act I can put on to change things. I’m a stranger in a strange land, and my brother has forsaken me.
Whatever is ahead of me, it looks like I might be facing it alone.
Keith won. Of course he won, his Pokemon were better. Better than Tess’, and better than mine. That’s okay.
I sit on the edge of the roof, watching the sea. It looks so different from this high up than it had from the boat.
Everything’s scattered. My confidence is scattered by the thought of my father looking for me. My trust is scattered, because I want to trust these new people I’ve met, but I still don’t really know how. I guess I’ll just make it up as I go along.
Tess sits down next to me. She doesn’t say anything. There’s something I want to say to her.
A couple things I want to say to her.
A million things I want to say to her. But I don’t need to. She speaks up.
“My life was so different this morning. I thought I had a plan. Me and my friend Kara…we were going to be the ones sitting up here…”
Is she telling me this? Or just sort of saying it, in that way people do? I want to know what happened to the girl.
“Where is she?”
“She couldn’t come. But that’s okay. I’m glad I met you guys. Everything’s changed in one day…and I’m glad.” I nod. She sounds like how I felt when I left home. The high that change gives you.
We sit in silence. The sun sinks into late afternoon. Keith is back at the camp, getting food for us. The plan is to leave at dawn. And then what? Who knows?
Keith and Tess have their own agenda. Tess found her peace inside the shipyard. Whatever connects her here, she’s laid it to rest. Treating a memory like a dying old friend.
As for my agenda…it lies on the horizon. I don’t know where. But I know my destiny. I know what it is that I’m looking for.
I know the nature of the dragon I hunt, and I will tame him.
My future lies in my past. The secrets I discovered on my last night in my father’s house contained much more than I told them.
There is power in this place. Hoenn is a land rich with something I can’t even comprehend. Something I want. But something my companions can’t know about just yet.
Father spoke often of power. Not power he intended to obtain himself, but power he wanted me to know about. How to understand it, combat it, and use it. And it is power that I will obtain here.
But nothing can stay secret forever.