Shattered Gemstones Chapter 16: The Wise Girl and the Forest

Season 2
A Vast and Fertile Wasteland
Chapter 16
The Wise Girl and the Forest
   The Watcher stands high above. He watches the invading ones. They scramble about in the morning sun, trying to whatever it is that they are trying to do.
   The Watcher knows that their fate is sealed. They already gave this land up. And they can try to take it back, but they cannot succeed. 
   The fire of the earth burns low, a dull orange. But soon it shall burn blue again.
   “So you’re sure you want to do this, kid?”
   “Of course. My brother’s doing everything in his power to make sure we stay alive, and so should I.”
   “Smart kid. You’re what, 11 or 12?”
   “…I’m mature for my age.”
   The dawn is welcome. It wakes me quickly from my dream, a flashback to a time I would much rather forget. 
   I sit up, surveying my surroundings. I’ve been sleeping in one of the many big tents they have set up in town, to act as a home base. This morning, we get our first assignments. Last night, when signing in, I had asked to be sent as an explorer. The sooner I get out of here, the better.
   Falling asleep last night was hell. The longer I laid there, the more I thought about Damian, and what we had said to each other. Damian was forced to see the harsh reality, that the person he thought I was never really existed at all. And he reacted by abandoning me. I can honestly say I didn’t see that coming, but I should have. I should have known this new information would be too much on him.
   Waking up now feels a little different than it has in a long time. Like I’ve shed my shell. I don’t have to pretend to be cute, or innocent, or quiet, or anything else that I’m not. Nobody here knows me, and the only person I had to hide myself from no longer wants me. I’m free.
   So why do I feel so heavy? There’s something in me weighing me down, like a concentration of all the lies crawled into my mouth and down my throat as I slept. Is it guilt? Loneliness? Maybe a little of both.
   A soft touch at my arm snaps me back to my senses. I look down, and see Lily pawing at me. At least someone hasn’t forsaken me. Too bad it’s just a Pokemon, not a person at all I lay back down, and Lily instantly starts sniffing my face intently. It tickles, but I don’t push her away. The contact is nice.
   A lot of people are just stirring now, standing up and slowly making their way outside. I just lay where I am, not feeling very motivated to get up and face the day. 
   What should I do? Like, really. What do I do now? Coming here in the first place was Damian’s idea, and although I went along with it, I more or less expected to follow his lead. We would go where he planned on going, but now I don’t have anyone to follow. I have to carve out my own path here, and I honestly have no idea where to start. I’ve always been so take charge, willing to risk my life to protect myself and my brother - so why am I so directionless now? I feel lost.
   Time passes, and I give up on hiding. I’m the only one still in the tent, and the sun is glaring brightly through the white plastic. Lily grows restless beside me, so I decide to bite the bullet and face the morning after all. I pick up my bag, now bulky with camping equipment supplied the night before, and head outside.
   Outside, the place looks mostly the same. Last night after talking to Damian, I spent the evening roaming around streets I didn’t really absorb, but I guess they must be the streets that I’m seeing now. The same ones I saw yesterday morning. 
   There’s a large area by the boat that’s been cleared off. I see trainers there receiving Pokemon. I see Damian’s dust-colored hoodie, and quickly turn away. Lily is roaming where she pleases, only vaguely following me.
   We’ll all be issued instructions about our roles now that we’re here. I’m going to be an explorer, which I figure means I won’t have very many strict responsibilities. The power to run away into the woods sounds pretty enticing, I’ll admit. But that wouldn’t help anyone. It wouldn’t give me any direction, and direction is what I need right now.
   I wander north, and soon find myself back at the hollow department store. The bricks are ghostly whitish-blue, even where the paint is chipped away. It’s depressing.
   There’s nothing here worth looking at. This whole place has been taking so many hits from the disaster over the last few years that I’m surprised there are any buildings still left standing. I never had any attachments to Lilycove, but the longer I’m here the more I want to leave. To run into the forest. And I don’t have anyone to stop me. The temptation is so, so strong…
   “Are you okay?”
   The words snap me back to reality. I look to the voice’s source, and see a girl with curly red hair. The same girl I met here yesterday. I struggle to remember her name.
   “Oh, sorry!” She says in a hurry. “My name’s Millie. We talked yesterday?”
   “Right, Millie.” I feel my face flush. I hate forgetting things. “Sorry, I remember. I’ve just got a lot on my mind…”
   “That’s okay.” She says with a smile. “Actually, I saw you walking around last night, but you looked like something was on your mind and I didn’t want to bother you.” I’m surprised. This girl appears to be determined to be nice to me, and I’m not really sure how to handle that. Now I feel like I have to explain what’s going on.
   “Yeah, my brother and I came to a…disagreement. Now it looks like I might be traveling alone.”
   “Lucky!” She says, her eyes widening. “I’d love to be going without my sister and her boyfriend…”
   “I’m not sure it’s as great as you think.” I cut her off. “I’m not really sure where to go or what to do now. It sucks, actually.” Why am I doing this? Opening up to her like this? And also how? It just feels easy to talk about this stuff when it’s with someone new, someone you haven’t messed things up with yet.
   A sound saves me from telling her more. Someone on a megaphone, down by the boat, is calling us back for orders. I look hurriedly around for Lily, finding her a few yards away. I run over to her, returning her to her poke ball. She is too busy inspecting a flower growing from a crack in the concrete to notice me. 
   “I guess we should head down there?” Millie says, and before I know it I’m walking with her. We don’t really talk. She looks nervous.
   I don’t feel nervous until I’ve made my way back down to the pier. Everyone is converged there, in a crowd split down the middle by a sign indicating where to go. Explorers to the left, workers to the right. Surprisingly, the crowd of workers, those who will stay and help rebuild Lilycove, is much larger than that of the explorers. Maybe the Mightyena attack yesterday was too much for some people.
   Millie gives me a quick goodbye before wandering off to find her sister among the group of people. At the head of the crowd is a stage, consisting up several raised platforms bolted together. Atop it stands a man in a bright red jacket. He looks middle-aged, with a mustache and combed-back white hair. He isn’t speaking to us yet, conferring with some of the blue-coated workers standing just offstage. 
   In the meantime, I mill around the crowd of explorers. I’m sure I’ll see Damian sooner or later, and I’m not looking forward to it, but I guess there’s no avoiding it. Inspecting the people in the crowd, I see a lot of younger faces. Lots of teenagers, and even kids my age or younger. I guess most of the people willing to go out into the unknown like this are the young, blindly ambitious types.
   So why am I doing this? That’s not who I am. Sure, I want to see what’s left of my home eventually, but I don’t have any huge ambitions of changing the world, or seeing everything that’s left of Hoenn. I’m here because for some reason, I thought I would be safer. But that got dashed in an instant. Maybe I am naïve, after all.
   Damian's feelings aside, he and I came here for the same reason. To find sanctuary from our enemies. But our enemy followed us here, so now what? I’ve been thinking about it since last night, and I still just don’t know what to do. What do I want to do? What am I here for? What am I looking for? What do I need?
   The man on stage steps up to the microphone, and begins to speak. He tells us that his name is Juan, and that he is the gym leader of Sootopolis City. Forward from behind the stage step two more people, wearing the same red uniform as Juan. They look around Damian’s age, and identify themselves as Tate and Liza, the twin gym leaders of Mosdeep City. I don’t really know anything about them, but a lot of the other onlookers begin talking excitedly among themselves.
   What follows is a speech by Juan. I tone it out, not really caring about his generic talk of ambition and courage. A lot of other people are getting into the speech, cheering and grinning with excitement. I wish I could channel the same joy , but I can’t get myself to feel much of anything. He’s just saying a bunch of empty words, none of them matter. The only interesting things he has to say are about the blue-uniformed workers, who he calls the P.F.H. Apparently their job is to stay around the cities that are being rebuilt, overseeing the reconstruction process.
   The speech ends, and Juan directs us to stay where we are. He and the other two gym leaders step down, joining a small group of P.F.H agents off to the right. The group splits in two, all of its members carrying clipboards. One of the two groups begins speaking to members of the explorer group, the others moving over to the reconstruction group. They begin taking names and giving out assignments. 
   I’m towards the back end of the crowd, so I have a little time to kill. I spend it scanning the crowd for any sign of Damian or Toby. I spy Toby, but Damian isn’t with him. Maybe Toby decided the sudden family drama was too much for him. I wouldn’t blame him. But I still have to know where Damian is; I need to talk to him before he leaves. And so I shuffle through the crowd, making my way towards Toby.
   “Hey,” he starts with a  start, turning to face me. I start to notice how weirdly short he is for someone the same age as Damian. He’s still looking down at me, but not by a lot.
   “Where’s my brother?” 
   “Well, he was pretty shaken up last night…”
   “Yeah…I’m sorry you had to deal with it.”
   “I didn’t really deal with anything,” he shrugs. “He thought everything through, and came to a decision.”
   “What decision?” A pit is starting to throb its way into my stomach. The lack of feeling inspired by the words of the man on the stage is being replaced with a cold dread. Damian acts decisive as a coping mechanism, so whatever choice he’s made isn’t as rational as he’s probably told himself. Toby’s eyes leave me, looking somewhere just behind me.
   “I’m staying here.”
   I whip around, and he’s there. Damian stands like a resolute statue, staring blankly down at me. He’s the same as I am right now; not even able to feel anything.
   “If you’re so damn independent, you shouldn’t have any problems making it alone out there.” His arms are crossed, his face stony. He means it.
   “I just…I need to be away from you, Ariana. I don’t want you around me. If you stay around me, I’ll keep trying to protect you. It’s in my nature. But I refuse to protect someone I don’t know if I can trust anymore.”
   “Damian, you can trust me…”
   “You know that’s not true.” He’s snarling - actually SNARLING - these words. I’ve never seen him like this in my life. “You KNOW, Ariana, that that’s a lie, and so do I. I just…” He looks away, trying to hide the tears forming at the corners of his eyes. 
   “I just can’t, Ariana.”
   I’m shaking. Not crying, not angry. Still not really feeling much of anything at all. Nothing except the pit, still throbbing merrily in my stomach. It feeds off what I’m hearing.
   I need to escape. It hurts, hearing this stuff from my own brother, but I’m prepared, and a bit numb to it. I just want out, and that desire fuels me as I turn away from my brother.
   I don’t listen. I just look to the west. The forest beckons. And I run to meet it.
Shattered Gemstones (c) Jay Petrequin and, 2012