I put this fic on hold to finish Flying in the Dark
, then blitzed several chapters for NaNoWriMo 2019. Now we're back in the editing/posting business.
LOVE AND OTHER NIGHTMARES
one foot in front of the other
The gods embody complacent, tight-lipped creatures… usually. But Kyurem? In my comatose dream he howled
, each word oozing with vulnerability and bordering on hysteria.
Some of his spiel overflowed with melodrama, I know now. Obtaining foreign pokémon is going to be much, much easier than he implied. One trip to Jubilife’s Global Trade Station, and a fair portion of his instructions for me will have been exhausted already.
Up ahead is a towering building designated for cross-region trading, attached to the city’s comparatively modest Center. Anyone parading around Johto with a murkrow and its soft spot for shiny things and thievery can ship the bird off to Sinnoh and rid themselves of the nuisance, just like that. No doubt this will be far more productive than Sandgem’s library venture.
Fliers are plastered all over the building’s windows, depicting maps of other regions and recounting the story of the local Nurse Joy’s trusty blissey, a partnership that wouldn’t have existed without the GTS. Kephi rubs his antennae on the bricks, then slimes his way upward to tear at the corner of another poster advertising a snow festival that took place back in February. Apparently, there was an ice sculpture contest, where the winner made off with the latest pokétch model. Kephi rips halfway through a stratus cloud and is about to reach a cryogonal 3D model when I pull him off.
“What, you got a vendetta against ice-types for some reason?” I say.
“A type I’m not even weak against? Yeah, right. I wanted a snack. You don’t know what a feeding schedule is, it seems.”
“And you don’t know the difference between food and paper.”
Nate, the perpetually tongue-tied snivy, gauges us with a level stare a few feet away. His body is still except for the occasional twitch of his leaf-shaped tail. Such impassiveness reminds me of Gregory, who would probably flunk me on this mission if Nate or Kephi had a say in any performance report.
In a way they both determine the success or failure of my journey regardless. So I play along. “Anyway, uh, what did your old trainer do for you?” I ask.
“You remember where I ended up. Where you found me,” he says. “What a f
ucking stupid question.”
I wince. It hadn’t occurred to me until now that Gregory was Kephi’s main caretaker while I prepared for my journey. He didn’t instruct me on food preparation for pokémon, only myself. As if that were knowledge I should’ve acquired on my own time alongside everything else on my plate, or known instinctively.
The five day trek from Sandgem to Jubilife hadn’t embraced bonfire camping where we sat in a circle and shared ghost stories over too-charred chicken kebabs and smores for dessert. Nate feasted on his own; Gregory claimed there was no reason to worry about him. I assumed that Kephi did the same when he refused my charity and failed to broach the subject otherwise.
I regret not questioning the nurse on duty when we rented our room an hour ago. Diving into the cafeteria after making sure the keycard worked wouldn’t have been a bad idea, either. Because now that we’ve reached the city, I suppose Nate and Kephi have no choice but to depend on me for food.
“Okay,” I say. “Okay, just give me ten minutes in here, and we’ll find a café to settle in at after.”
“I’m holding you to it.”
“Have I already made a bunch of promises to you I haven’t kept? Or are you just automatically distrustful of others?”
“Humans tend to lose track of time. Eagerly, I might add,” he says, with a sneer for good measure. Nate holds a slim arm to his stomach as if in agreement.
Inside, a boy is bent over his plush couch seat near the far left wall, grooming his snubbull. One hand is occupied with a bristle brush and the other clutches a purple ribbon to attach once the chore is done. Beyond them is a working escalator also hugging the walls. It must lead to a set of shops, judging by the plastic bags that multiple trainers have trouble juggling on their way back to the main floor. Supplies to take care of their new partners, perhaps?
Standing at the other end of the GTS building, a receptionist on duty looks rattled at the line of trainers before her. She yells for them to have their pokédex and trainer card ready to scan, but she’s drowned out by a cacophony of distracted voices. You’d think a festival was taking place, what with all the activity here.
I’m a tad dizzied myself. From my perspective, there’s dozens of Sinnohan words spoken by pokémon hovering about, left unanswered. The crowd’s likely full of rookies, sprinkled with a few badge holders who need more experience still. If a trainer replies, their lack of understanding shows.
A buizel’s tail spins out of rhythm as it stomps its foot to emphasize a point, and I feel sorry for it when its trainer, a girl flipping through a magazine about evolution, revels over how she can’t wait to own the pokémon equivalent of a lifeguard. The buizel wants its trainer to know that evolution sounds terrible, and I want my parents to view me as anything except a young adult prone to childish tantrums. What’s the difference?
I open my mouth as I pass by these unknowing trainers, to straighten things out, to bridge the gap between pokémon and trainer, but it’s pointless.
As we reach the last trainer in line, who, like everybody else, is waiting to register their information internationally, a giant infographic poster on the back wall catches my eye. Immediately my mood sours and rivals even Kephi’s natural state of being.
Only trainers with proven skills and experience with pokémon—three badges’ worth, specifically—can take advantage of the GTS. Jubilife isn’t even part of the gym circuit, nor is it convenient to travel to mid-journey. Whose brilliant design was this?
Kephi snickers and says, “Can’t get rid of me that easily, ass
hole. Nice try.”
At the same time, the receptionist laughs a delirious laugh, her pigtails held by a blue satin scrunchie bouncing from the force of it. As if she were covering for an awkward joke a customer made, or trying to compensate for a complaint about her grumpiness. Feeling mocked, I curse her silently.
“Like I’d trade my starter,” I say to Kephi. I bend down to gather him up in my arms, and his subsequent hiss attracts a few looks. Holding up my hands in surrender, I add in a quiet but audible voice, “I wanted to get you a teammate so we’re not overwhelmed once we start training and battling. I’d find something catchable people want in return for something we want, and it’d be a win-win situation. Except I need badges first, apparently.”
“Nor do you want to wait a whopping six months before you can ship it through the technological ether, I imagine.”
“I guess you didn’t reach that part of the reading lesson yet. I’ll leave you to it.”
And so he slinks off toward the opposite end of the wall, which dons the same poster but in four other languages. The bottom of the Kaloseux version is covered by a leather reception chair, most likely swiveled away from its proper spot by some prankster ghost-type. Its partner in crime probably left the slash in the seat cushion, then scattered some stuffing across the linoleum floor, too. Kephi ignores the mess, though he could easily add to it with his signature slime. He takes advantage of the space under the chair instead. It’s just big enough for him to fit and hide from the world.
Humans talking to pokémon isn’t a complete anomaly, but a pokémon who can read is
. Even if Kephi can read, truly, the viewing angle his hunchbacked self had of the poster was all wrong. So no, he had to learn the information from someone else.
Perhaps Kephi isn’t hiding from the world—just me, who forced him to reminisce about his old trainer. Again.
I sigh and glance at Nate. “Well, let’s see what other hurdles I’d have to jump over, then.”
He nods in approval—the first positive sign I’ve detected from him since we partnered up.
It’s inconvenient for me, but I can appreciate the rules being strict. If you own an endangered species, or one near threatened in their native habitat, you have to prove the everyday environmental conditions it’ll experience in your care are adequate. This way, ice-types won’t land in the heart of Cinnabar without their trainer taking precautions first.
Breeders and trainers who wish to expand their team of six require a license to ensure that each pokémon is both physically and mentally taken care of. If they want to maintain their license, they have to be examined annually. And before a baby can be adopted, before a pet or battle-ready pokémon can be traded, six months must pass and the owner must write a letter to the League expressing all the reasons why they should be given permission to seal the deal.
There’s no reason to loiter here, but another heading at the bottom of the poster catches my eye: trading pokémon meat, bones, skin, body parts… The logical part of me knows that these caveats are geared toward the restaurant industry, museums, research laboratories, the like. But I find myself shivering at the image of Kephi’s old trainer, a shapeless silhouette in my ignorant mind, amputating the venipede’s antennae because they failed to work when he needed them to.
I agree with the League. I shouldn’t have the right to pluck a pokémon out of its home just to send it to a different region. Whether Kephi himself should’ve been entrusted to me is still up in the air.
Without meaning to, I break into a light jog so I can reach Kephi as fast as I can. Nate lags behind on his digitless feet. My hemiparesis warns me to slow down, my mind reassuring me, too, that there’s no particular time limit on us warming up to each other. Inside and out, I feel the kind of fuzziness you get when standing in place too long and your limbs need to wake up again.
The tears in the reception chair look unsalvageable up close. Kephi’s antennae poke out from his hidey hole, where unsuspecting souls can step on them and provoke him into making use of his poison glands.
“Hm, I wonder where Kephi could be,” I say, a mocking lilt to my voice. Then, the weight of our situation crash-landing onto my body, already exhausted from imitating normalcy, I drop the charade. “You shouldn’t have let me walk in here. At all.”
Silence. I hope the din of the crowd around us isn’t preventing us from hearing each other, but at last he says, “Yeah, it’s my fault.”
“No, that’s not—”
“I wanted to see what you were up to. You’re hard to read.”
He’s one to talk. But my own silence dominates the conversation now.
A few people passing by turn their head toward me, their eyes scrunched up as if searching for the translucent ghost-type I must have. What other kind of trainer seemingly babbles at inanimate objects, walls, the air itself? Nate, practically invisible, does little to dispel the onlookers’ incredulity.
“Besides,” Kephi says suddenly, “what could I have done to trump the Nurse Joy who blabbed about this place like it’s worth all the emeralds in the world?”
“Yeah, her enthusiasm was a bit much. The staff team must benefit nicely compared to any other Center in Sinnoh based on location alone.”
“Obviously. They’re the ones who scan pokémon from head to toe or whatever ****ed up anatomy applies before giving the go ahead to trade.”
“Maybe I should become a nurse, and that’s how I’ll make money,” I say. My voice betrays my lack of perceptiveness. Still struggling to entirely grasp the intelligence that pokémon are capable of, I feel extra sorry for those with ignorant trainers. Not that I’m a role model of any kind, nor do I aspire to be one. I also feel a pang of envy for the trainers themselves and their permission, their excuse, to be carefree.
“I’m no blissey, but I’m in if it means constant access to food,” Kephi says. With his newfound lightness he crawls out from under the chair. He ogles Nate hopefully, but the snivy doesn’t confirm his food hypothesis. “Bah, fine. Gregory will tell me.”
The duo, almost in unison, starts shifting their heads this way and that—looking for the exit, I presume.
“All right, come on, we can go,” I say, wishing that this meant the day was over. “You never have to see this place again if you don’t want to, Kephi.”
“I don’t want to. So you better not change your mind once you get some gym badges under your belt.”
Badges. He thinks I want badges? I’m about to interrogate him about it, that’s how much of a revelation his statement is to me—and the day’s events have included one surprise after the other—but he’s already slinked off on his own. Straight into another trainer in his careless temper, no less. I hear Nate gasp and interpret that to be his way of sounding an alarm. I size up the trainer when she doesn’t skirt around Kephi and carry on with her day.
She’s new. That much is obvious, what with the chimchar dancing at her feet and the keen grin characteristic of overly confident youth fresh from Professor Rowan’s lab. The snapback cap, donning the League logo and tilted on her head, offers an extra air of smugness. Breaking eye contact with Kephi, she turns to Nate, then me, and her face stretches even further. It occurs to me that she might feel superior, being younger and with the type advantage. I refuse to blink, but, apparently seasoned, she stands undeterred.
“Go on, scram now,” I say. “Sorry he got in the way, but your lingering’s creeping me out.”
“Well,” she starts slowly, “I thought he was approaching me because he was interested, but…”
“But what? That’s illegal, and we’re in a public space?”
The girl gives up on our staring contest in favor of cringing. So she’s not the youngest in the room, but old enough to not take the bait and cause a ruckus over my off-color comment. If Kephi himself is perplexed by my attempt at practicing his sense of humor, he doesn’t show it.
“Your poor pokémon,” she says, shaking her head. “I meant interested in a battle
I dig my left hand deep into my jeans pocket, hoping to smother the pervasive tingling sensation traveling up to my wrist. The girl takes a half step back, nearly tripping over the loose rip at the cuffs of her own jeans. Might I have another, unenlarged pokéball hiding, one whose contents would add to her lost battle count? This
kind of tension is enjoyable, so I leave her in suspense.
She reaches up with her own hand, fingernails painted sky blue with white polka dots, and wipes her blonde bangs away. It’s at this point Kephi decides to intervene. Closing the distance between the chimchar and him, he declares, “You’re on, dude.”
Then the venipede looks up at me, his expression somehow both hopeful and threatening. He’s so small, I’m afraid he’ll break his neck doing that so often. I’m afraid, too, I admit, of losing and watching the last fringes of our self-esteem dissolve. Not to mention whatever sliver of respect we may or may not have for each other.
I’ve got a tall order in front of me, trying not to make him feel not so small. But we can’t just jump in blindly. Nate and Gregory would agree, but Kephi…
Well. One foot in front of the other.
I take a deep breath and say, “Sorry, pipsqueak. I appreciate the challenge, but I’d rather not set the building on fire and have to pay reparations.”
“What?” Kephi hisses. “She’s a rookie and I’ve got experience! Or did you forget that? Can’t get it through your thick skull?”
His rage is obvious, even to the girl. She glances at her chimchar, whose mouth hangs agape, perhaps impressed by the bug-type’s fiery spirit.
I bend down to Kephi’s level and say, “Look, she’s challenging us because of the type advantage. Like you’ll be an easy win for her. Give in to that, and you’re letting others control you. Besides,” I add, amazed at the lack of interruption this far into the conversation, “we haven’t trained together
at all yet. Clobbering the wildlife on our way here doesn’t count, since you did that independently.”
I hold my breath for a quiet surrender, but no such luck.
“Huh. You’re giving up after the first real obstacle in your journey already. You better not be a dropout in a few weeks, joining all the other kids who realize training’s not as f
ucking extravagant as they thought it’d be.”
If only he knew about the assortment of invisible obstacles in my way. But I can’t answer him candidly, not with our audience here. I hold my palm up to prompt him to stop, and his voice dissolves into an indignant gurgle.
“Again, we’ll pass,” I say to the girl.
“Are you sure?”
“All right, then fork it over,” she says. Her grin returning, she holds out her hand. The annoyance from the tollbooth situation yesterday flares up. This can’t be a gesture trainers are meant to see daily.
“Losers pay winners. Since you declined, well, you’re a loser by default.”
“Come on, just let me fight,” Kephi says. He wraps his antennae around my shoe and squeezes in a strange, futile attempt to change my mind.
“Surely the League didn’t devise such as a stupid rule that allows you to rip people off so handily,” I say. I motion to Nate, whose face is simultaneously inscrutable and judgmental. If this is a test he wants me to complete alone, I am bound to fail.
“Hey, not my fault,” the girl says. “How old are you that you don’t know this stuff? Anyway, you owe me five rubies.”
It’s a modest sum for a scam, so maybe she isn’t lying. But I don’t have time to dwell on her shenanigans when the tempest that is Kephi possesses the pervasive ability to make my head swim, unable to tread. Forget Gregory and Nate’s little experiment. My starter’s switching between squeezing my shoes and my ankles. If he could access his full strength, would he succeed in cutting off my circulation? Treating him as if he has that power is what he wants, I suspect.
“I hope your ass gets handed to you in your next real battle,” I say, scrambling for five rubies in my backpack and shoving them into the girl’s hand. Two miss their mark and clatter to the ground. Her chimchar moves to rescue the so-called prize as I sweep Kephi into the crook of my arms and ditch the cursed GTS building.
Contrary to what Kephi thinks, I doubt we’ll be coming back. I might as well circle back to my parent’s house when I get the urge to to bask in a miserable place.
“Put me down!” I hear Kephi’s demand, but he sounds farther away than he actually is. “If only I could
be rid of you!”
Outside, there’s an empty green metal bench I sit on, careful to avoid the bird droppings hogging the left side. Nate, seemingly accustomed to bodily filth, plops down without concern. I set Kephi on the grass and marvel at the way his weight, unnoticeable in my arms, flattens the blades beneath him.
“Sorry, but I really couldn’t have handled our first battle right then and there,” I say.
“Sounds like a personal problem. I’m used to thinking on my feet, you know.”
Is he, though? He seems the type to resort to emotions before logical reasoning. Yet a neglectful old trainer can, if nothing else, be successful in breeding an independent pokémon prone to the fight-or-flight response.
“Okay,” he says when I don’t answer him. “Okay.”
“Uh, okay, yeah. I’m glad you get it.”
Suddenly he opens his mouth wide. I swear I can see the gob of poison forming in his throat before he spits it out at me. I jolt out of my seat and sidestep him easily as a result, but not without bumping shoulders with a passerby woman who, for some reason, is wearing a scarf wrapped tightly around her neck like it’s still winter.
A flashing thought, uninvited but resolute: It would have been simpler, kinder, if Kyurem had let me die.
A second thought to drown out the first and ground me to the present moment: Did Kephi mean to hit or miss his mark?
“Good speed, sort of,” he says. “You should train more, do the battling yourself. I’ll be the trainer. Our personalities are more suited to those roles, don’t you think?”
“I… I’m sure that’s how it works somewhere in the world.”
As usual, Kephi resists my attempt to lighten the mood. “F
uck logistics. Leave that to the League. I just want to battle, and you took my opponent away, so do you
want to be my opponent?”
“You heard me. Right here, right now.”
Nate’s slight, ear-catching gasp makes me want to throttle something. Why won’t he intervene if he’s so disturbed?
The pity in my voice seeps out without me meaning for it to. “We’re still in public, Kephi,” I say.
“You’re underestimating me. It’s my condition right? That’s what stopped you?”
So he saw right through me. Not that I think the rationale I proposed to him is unreasonable, but as far as avoiding a battle with an inexperienced trainer goes, well, the paths my logic could follow were rather limited.
“To be fair, I really don’t
know all your—our—strengths and limitations yet. But yes, fine, that was my first thought. I’m sorry.”
The hump on his back expands, then contracts again in one long, drawn breath. “Okay,” he says. “Now that you’ve been honest, let me make one thing clear.”
“If you ever underestimate me again, I’ll kill you.”
He wouldn’t. His threat, it has to be empty, a power play and a byproduct of his grudge toward the world. Then again, how well do I know him? Not at all, clearly, given my constant failure to appease him ever since Professor Rowan officiated my initiation to become a trainer.
I want to retreat into my mind, the usual coping mechanism I resort to. But he’s lodged another poison sting at me before I can check out. My body instinctively reacts, darts to the right. The gob of sludge lands in a nearby pile of camellia bushes, followed by a slight cry.
Interestingly enough, Kephi’s muscles tense up at the sound. This could be my chance for… something—I don’t know what, but my body and my mind are in agreement that we should pursue it. I remind myself that Gregory had told me to keep sudden, speedy movements to a minimum and force myself to only walk toward the bushes.
Up close, Kephi’s unintended target blends in with the deep pink flower petals, except the cherubi is missing a bouquet of yellow stamen. And its second head is bruised purple, a surefire sign of poison.
Cherubi, they’re native to Sinnoh. I can’t deny my disappointment, or the shame I feel because that’s my first thought. More practically, I recognize the pokémon as a grass-type, which leaves it extra vulnerable to high toxicity levels. I watch with uncertainty as the cherubi sobs pitifully, its second head throbbing with greater intensity as the moments pass.
“Kephi, come here,” I say, motioning him over. His eyes are glued to the ground, his carapace rigid. Still, I don’t have to prod him twice. Shaking his head, he scuttles on over and through the bushes. His legs leave sharp imprints in the soil and a few serrated leaves drag along his back before rattling back into place.
“It’s a cherubi,” I tell him. Then I finally turn to address the victim of circumstance. “You all right, little guy?”
It begins to mumble an answer, its voice feminine and high-pitched—because of the pain? No, she has female markings, a shorter stripe between her eyes than a male would. Not expecting me to understand her, she turns to Kephi and asks, “Was that your poison?”
“Yeah,” Kephi says with the slightest of stammers. Then his triumphant self takes the stage. “Yeah, it was. Feels terrible, don’t it?”
I’m about to set in motion another lecture when another, greater—riskier, to be sure, but greater if I can reap the reward I want—idea slaps my mouth shut. My new plan gambles on my suspicions about Kephi and how he doesn’t, in fact, have the capacity of a killer. To avoid seeming heartless or as if I’m bluffing, the cherubi should continue to believe I can’t hear her pleas, only Kephi’s protests, which, from her perspective, I can decipher from his body language. And I have to utilize my well-practiced poker face.
I silently promise that I’ll make it right at the end, or intervene if necessary. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time… I know the rotten feeling all too well.
Looking behind us, I see how Nate’s swivelled around on the bench to watch and listen. His eyes are clouded, feasibly weary from traveling alongside two disasters. I have to choose my words carefully and not alert Nate to any commotion that will further tank his impression of me.
“Lucky you, Kephi, when we still haven’t gotten you any food,” I say. “You’d hunt grass-types in the wild, right? Let’s save us some money. Here’s your lunch.”
As I’d hoped, the venipede’s eyes widen, overshadowing his heavy lids. They shrink into a formidable glare. “You can’t be serious,” he says.
“Why not?” I say, shrugging. My own nonchalance stuns me.
“Wait—” The cherubi, she stops herself again after forgetting for a moment the futility of addressing me. In a few more moments things will be okay again and I’ll beg for forgiveness and I’ll move on with my life whether or not my wish is granted.
Sometimes it really is that simple.
“Why not?” Kephi repeats in a mocking tone. “I’m no feral, and I’m not a wild ‘mon looking to prove its worth to you! Nor are we stranded and have no other choice! You can feed me like a normal trainer.”
“Come on, I don’t wanna blow all my money on food in Jubilife. Just go for the easy meal.”
“Trainers with a safe supply saved up are scarce, you know. I’m not one of them. And with little girls and their chimchars parading around Sinnoh, my wallet will wear out quick.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t have become a f
ucking trainer, then!”
Kephi couldn’t be more right on that point. Or maybe pokémon shouldn’t be competent enough to fathom the complexities of human society. “Too late,” I mumble, too low to be heard. Then louder, assertive: “Are you going to eat or not?”
The real question is, is he going to kill or not? Bending down, I glide my fingers across the coarse grass. I pull a few blades and rub them between my fingers, until they fall away and Kephi has not moved. The cherubi is equally frozen, fusing herself with the background so completely that a feral, even at this distance, would lose track of her. My breath hitches, relinquishing itself to the inescapable stillness.
Scowling, Kephi finally plunges into the undergrowth. My diaphragm trembles, spasms. I clutch my ribcage and wait for my breathing to ease back into the involuntary process it’s supposed to be when I have pokémon vying for my attention. When I go to scan the cherubi’s body and figure out how much the poison’s spread in the last several minutes, her camouflage briefly tricks me. It’s the ugly pulsing purple consuming her second head that gives her away.
“Don’t waste anymore energy,” I tell her. As I move to rest on my knees and retrieve the sole bottle of antidote from my backpack, the cherubi drops her facade. She thrusts the petals on her heads forward—a feeble leafage attack that earns her a bald appearance and nothing else. She whines and whines, her potent vocal cords providing the last viable show of distress that might elicit mercy from her enemy.
“Shh, no! Look, I’m going to heal you,” I say, my words stumbling over each other. All I want is for Nate to remain blissfully ignorant of the situation. For that to happen, the cherubi needs to hush. In my rush to find the antidote bottle, Nate’s pokéball rolls out, its mossy color contrasting with the bright camellia bushes.
I grapple with the bottle topper. Between its skull and crossbones label, one hand disobeying me, and the cherubi’s lamentations, I can’t move fast enough. “It’s fine now,” I say. Whether I’m reassuring myself or the cherubi, or both of us, is undecided. “I’m sorry for scaring you. I just wanted to see…”
Miraculously and doomingly, the cherubi quiets down to listen to my explanation. As if there is one that’s sensible. Something tells me that the truth would not suffice: Hey, I made terrible life choices and suffered a coma as punishment, and then I was rescued by the ice god Kyurem, who you may or may not worship as a grass-type, so now, I’m responsible for an undetermined team of pokémon that inevitably will have deep seated psychological problems I’ll have to uncover if I want to live past age twenty-five…
I might’ve just made progress by uncovering one thing. Kephi wants strength and control. His definition for those doesn’t include killing. The toughness, the threats, they’re a protective front.
The cherubi whispers to herself, “Is she really going to heal me?”
She reminds me just how self-absorbed I am. I cup my fingers around her tiny, weightless body, then tilt her carefully so I can properly view her second head. Shivering under my touch, the cherubi whines—this time not from helplessness, but from sheer pain.
I can fix this, fix her. Maybe I can’t fix anything else right now, or ever, but this
is something I can do, at least.
After gently prodding the cherubi to drink the antidote, a clear and sticky liquid that reminds me of cough medicine, the effects are near instantaneous. Her bruises first dissipate into purple veins, followed by a normal fuchsia color and a relieved expression on both heads. I hold her in silence until she reaches one hundred percent. Even if my starter is using this as an opportunity to slip away from me permanently, I have no regrets.
Another minute passes before the cherubi hops out of my hand, good as new. She takes several steps backward while keeping an eye on me. She’s afraid of me still, and justifiably so. But then she thinks better of it and, with her second head covered by the bushes already, nods to me. That’s her way of saying thank you, I think, so I nod back. My voice has abandoned me completely or else I’d spill my guts to her.
The heat of the day catches up with me as I stagger back to Nate. Or perhaps that’s only adrenaline revolting against me for putting it to work, again, when trainers like me should relax within city walls before tackling the next stretch of wilderness. Relaxing on a cleaner section of the bench, at least, is Nate, with a dark lump lying beneath him. It strikes me like an unwanted phone call that that’s Kephi sleeping and allowing Nate to perch so close. As a grass-type, isn’t the snivy afraid? Why are those two on good terms now, anyway? Surely I can’t be the only one afraid and lost in the face of seemingly insurmountable situations.
“Whatever,” I say, to neither of them. “We’re done. Gregory’s mission is done, and I failed.”
Writing the day’s events in my journal, as Gregory asked me to, would take another couple hours that I just don’t have the energy for. The muscles in my hand could take it, but not the liar in me, who has to spin a spiderweb to avoid the truth and cast herself in a favorable light.
Fiddling with my pokédex, I wish it could spell out the knowledge I need to make this journey work. What is a venipede’s average weight or a snivy’s egg classification supposed to do for me? And the diet facts are too broad, or else they could have helped me earlier.
Before dialing Gregory, I resolve not to mention the intermittent tingling sensations in my body. He’s already wasted time perfecting my posture and movements for the exercises I should do as necessary. It’s not his fault if I don’t comply, and I don’t deserve his fretting over me.
The conversation is quick. I claim that I kept up with my journal as best I could, until I lost my only pen in the middle of Route 202, and no other trainer I passed by had thought to carry one. Oh, and it turns out that I was
scammed by the little girl and her chimchar—when the power balance between trainers is too uneven, either side is free to decline without penalty, including gym leaders. I’d have five more rubies to my name if I’d just admitted Kephi’s experience to her. Nate’s been great, well-behaved, et cetera. And no, we didn’t run into any real trouble.
He’ll pick up Nate later this evening, and my journal. After that, would he hunt me down if I tried to cut contact with him completely? The urge to find out is overwhelming.
It’s probably not a coincidence that Kephi’s awake and fully alert once me and Gregory hang up. I wonder what chaos has to happen now, but just for a moment. The answer is all too obvious.
“Let’s finally go get you, like, a massive steak. Or whatever you’re in the mood for,” I say. “You must be starving.”