“The first thing you need to know,” Lorelei told me, swinging a long stick around and decapitating a shrub, “is that there are two kinds of creatures in this world. There are animals, which are like – like the birds, and the horses. Then there are Pokémon, which are like animals – but which can, if you train them properly, perform, uh, magic.”
We were walking in the forest, Lorelei leading; she had no real concept of where we were going, but seemed to be content with merely wandering west. She had told me she was going to teach me something, and, aware that this was a lesson that no one had ever heard before, I was listening very closely.
“How can you tell these creatures apart?” I asked.
“Good question. You can't. You just have to learn. Regular animals are usually scared of Pokémon, though – that can help. That rule kind of falls down with things like elephants and tigers, because they've adapted to deal with Pokémon and overcome their magical advantage, but as a general rule, it's good.” Lorelei paused, aware that she was leaving me mentally behind. “Sorry, I'll slow down.” She halted. “See that bird?”
“That's a starling. It's just a bird. See that bird?”
“That's a Pidgey. It's a Pokémon.”
I studied it. The starling was was certainly less striking than the Pidgey; the latter was bulkier, and shuffled along the branch with more of a swagger. At its approach, the starling twittered anxiously and flew away.
“See? It's afraid, because the Pidgey could kill it.”
We kept walking.
“Where are we going?” I asked, after a few more minutes.
“We're looking for more Pokémon,” Lorelei told me. “I have to show you something else.” After that, she lapsed into silence until we came upon a little clearing, where she raised a hand to stop me and whispered: “Ssh.”
“What is it?” I whispered back.
“Under the bush,” she said, pointing slowly. I looked, and I saw it: a male spikester, a vaguely rabbit-like creature with magenta skin and huge, pointed ears. Its back was studded with spikes, and a single, piercing horn grew from its forehead.
“Careful,” I cautioned. “Those are poisonous.”
“Just don't cuddle it and you'll be fine.” Lorelei made the shelltail she called Bubbles appear; the blue flash startled the spikester, but it stood its ground, poking its head out of the shrubbery and growling inquisitively. Lorelei and I both took a step back, into the trees; now, only Bubbles and the spikester were in the clearing.
“Bubbles, Water Pulse him, but be careful,” Lorelei commanded quietly. “I don't want him really badly hurt.”
The shell bit down hard on the tail, and Bubbles dutifully spat a strange blob of water from its mouth; it expanded into a levitating disc and washed over the spikester's body, flattening its ears against its body and forcing it back a step. I gaped; I had never seen what Lorelei would call a Pokémon move before, and it shocked me. To think that a humble river-lizard could create water from nothing, and in such a way that it could actually cause serious injury! If this was what a shelltail could do, I trembled to think what a Winter Wolf or a dragon, two creatures Lorelei had already identified as Pokémon, would be capable of.
“Stop, Bubbles.” The shelltail sat down and scratched its head with a stubby paw.
Lorelei took a step forward and prodded the spikester with her stick; it waved a claw weakly in her direction, and attempted a menacing snarl that came out as a rather pathetic growl.
“OK,” she said, “it's weak. Now it's your time to shine, Sirinian.”
“What?” I asked, confused, and she pressed a ball like the one that contained Bubbles into my hand. I stared at it. It was red on one side and white on the other, and had a button in the middle.
Then it hit me what I was supposed to do.
“No,” I gasped. “This can...?”
Lorelei grinned. It was a very pretty grin.
“Go on,” she said. “Give it a go. Just throw it.”
Nervously, I tossed the orb – a Poké Ball, I think Lorelei had called it – at the spikester, and it hit it on the head. It burst into the two coloured halves, and for a split second the spikester was surrounded by red light—
—and then it disappeared, and the Poké Ball was lying in the snow, vibrating slightly.
I stared at it for a long moment. The vibration stopped.
“Are you going to pick it up?” Lorelei asked diffidently.
“It – it went in,” I said slowly. “I – the spikester...”
“It's called a Nidorino,” Lorelei told me. “If you bring it to Mount Moon, the radiation from the stones will probably make it evolve.”
Her words were nonsensical, and anyway I was too surprised. I couldn't wrap my mind around it. This was incredible. Men could capture and control these animals, and I had already seen just a small taste of their power. What if they could do more? What would happen if a warrior tamed a dragon, and rode it through the sky? The possibilities were endless: I could see it now, an army of Winter Wolves storming across the land – no, a herd of Great Beasts! The tribe with this power would crush all others in its path. Nothing compared to it. The Tentoi could keep their special bows, the Nadeen could do as they wished with their metal weapons – none of it would matter if ever a tribe obtained the power contained in these machines.
“Sirinian?” Lorelei's voice brought me back to the present. “Sirinian, are you OK?”
“Are you all right? You seem... distant.”
I didn't answer, just bent down and picked up the ball. I held it between cold fingers and stared at it. A spikester – no, I would use Lorelei's word, since she was obviously the expert in this field. A Nidorino, and it was mine. I had seen what they grew up into – Forest Devils, we called them, and one had visited the village a few years ago. It had caused the single greatest loss of life the Virid had ever sustained in a single night.
“It – it's mine?” I asked eventually.
“Yeah. It's yours,” Lorelei said. “I think you need to sit down.”
I let her guide me down onto a tree stump.
“Can – does everyone do this, where you come from?” I asked. Lorelei paused for a moment, then sat on a log nearby and spoke.
“Not everyone is like me there,” she told me, “but a lot of them are. We are called Pokémon Trainers, because we train Pokémon.” She smiled. “We have competitions where we fight each other.”
Wars, then. I knew about wars. I was no good at them, I knew that without even trying – but I’d overpower the strongest warrior with a Forest Devil at my side. In Lorelei's land, Trainers must surely rank with Shamans as the most powerful people around.
“Lorelei,” I said, “teach me how to become a Pokémon Trainer.”
“Oh good,” she said, “you're over all that shock stuff. That's brilliant, because I wasn't sure how to deal with that. OK. To let your new Nidorino out, throw the ball on the ground.”
I did, and it – he – reappeared in a burst of blue light, looking very confused and somewhat belligerent.
“Tell him to attack Bubbles,” Lorelei said.
“Are you sure?”
“Trust me,” she said with a smile, “it'll be fine.”
“Ah – Nidorino? Attack that shelltail.”
“Slowbro. Attack the Slowbro.”
The Nidorino looked up at me to see where the noise was coming from, shook water off his back and bit me hard on the leg.
“OK,” Lorelei said, “I think you've got that down now.”
For the last two days, we had been living in a forest camp we had set up together, using supplies looted from the cave. We had seen no Virid – but that was to be expected, because we hadn't left the area around our shelter. I had been spending my time trying to tame the Nidorino, and Lorelei had been doing her best to teach me how to do it.
I had decided that his name was Fernine, after the god of fire who was said to have flown over the forest once, many years ago. He was going to be something huge and frightening when he was an adult, and I wanted his name to reflect that. Now, after two days of training, he responded to the name more or less every time.
“The next thing is getting him to know how to attack,” Lorelei was saying, watching me cautiously pat Fernine on the head, avoiding the spike. Since our first meeting, he had warmed to me a little, accepting me as a reliable source of food and protection from bigger animals; after a few painful incidents that bore a striking resemblance to the one in the forest clearing, he had settled down and obeyed me as far as his simple mind could grasp my intent. I doubt he would have died for me, as Bubbles undoubtedly would have done for Lorelei – but it was a start.
“How do you mean?”
“Do you notice that every time I get Bubbles to do something, I say a specific phrase? Like Heal Pulse, Water Pulse, Zen Headbutt. Those are the names of moves. Water Pulse is a flat disc of water – a medium-power move that has a chance to confuse the target.”
I tried hard and thought I understood it.
“And different attacks do different things?”
“Yes.” Lorelei nodded. “But I won't teach you everything about them. I can't tell you everything. You'll have to figure most of it out yourself, and keep learning.”
“Why can't you do that?” I asked. I did a lot of asking around Lorelei; I felt like a little child asking why, why, why of his mother, over and over.
“Because if I remember the history of Pokémon Training right, no one works all of this out for at least five hundred years,” Lorelei replied. “No, it doesn't matter.” She sighed and looked away. “Forget it.”
“What's wrong?” Fernine jumped on top of Bubbles, who rolled over very slowly in an failed attempt to dislodge him.
“I miss having people around who I can talk to,” Lorelei said. “I'm sorry. I don't want to offend you, but... you can't understand me.”
I knew exactly how she felt. She was like me, amongst the dim-witted Virid; I saw myself through her eyes, a slow-witted, ugly creature, barely sentient in comparison to her. And yet she was labouring to teach me the biggest discovery in human history.
“I'm sorry,” I said quietly. “I'm nothing, aren't I?”
Lorelei looked hurt.
“No!” she said emphatically. “You're not! You're the most important person alive right now! It's just... I've never been so far away from home. And I miss the people who live there.”
I was quiet for a while.
“Where do you come from, Lorelei?”
“I come from somewhere unimaginable,” she answered simply. “I wish I could tell you. I really do. But you wouldn't understand.”
“I'm certain you're right,” I replied. Lorelei had to be right. She knew too much to be wrong.
“Well,” she said. “OK. Let's get to attacks. I’m going to show you how to teach them to him.” She stood up and snapped her fingers; out of habit, Bubbles looked up at her. “Sirinian, I want you to show Fernine what to do. It'll be hard the first time, but afterwards he'll understand you better. Let's start with Horn Attack...”
The days passed. By day, I learned Lorelei's wisdom and applied it to Fernine; by night, I cried, and dreamed of the Virid. No matter how much I wanted to hate them, no matter how much I wanted to destroy them for what they had done, I couldn't let go. I was a Shaman-child – fourteen and still not a man, I thought bitterly – and I thought too much to be able to commit myself to one cause. I hated them all, but I still loved them, too. I mentioned it to Lorelei one night, when I was feeling lonely. She told me I was very modern, whatever that meant, and gave me a hug.
Lorelei taught me how to work out what a Pokémon could and couldn't do; she taught me how to teach them new moves; she taught me about the way they matured, and I finally understood why so many of them were so vicious: they could only achieve full adulthood by fighting. When she said this, I told her about the Winter Wolf killed by the Great Beast, and she nodded.
“That's right,” she replied. “That one was probably close to full evolution from a Poochyena, and just needed a bit more to reach adulthood.”
That was just one conversation Lorelei had with me; I remember them all like they were yesterday. It is a Shaman's job to remember the history of the tribe, and consequently I had had some lessons in memorising from Elesi. There was nothing more important to remember than Lorelei's lessons – and so I committed every one to memory. Perhaps I half-knew then that one day I would be passing them on to someone else. I don't remember thinking that, but it sounds right.
Lorelei took me once deep into the caves of the mountain she called Moon, and showed me a deposit of pale white rock that seemed to glow with an inner light; she made me hold Fernine away from it, and told me that when, and only when, both he and I were truly ready for it, I should take one of these stones and leave it in Fernine's presence to mature him fully. She explained that some Pokémon, Nidorino included, needed more than battle to achieve adulthood; these rare stones were one way to get to it.
Lorelei also told me that every Pokémon had at least one, and sometimes two, of seventeen elements in their nature. It seemed to me that they were divided up amongst the gods: heavy, rocky beasts like mountainbreakers and Stone Snakes belonged to the mountain god; creatures like the firehorse and the dragons were the brethren of the fire god. Different elements were weak or strong against each other, and again this made sense: piling sand or dropping water on a fire, after all, did put it out. It was only natural that the water Pokémon should have an advantage over the fire ones.
I learned so much, and at times I almost forgot I had been cast out.
After eight days of Lorelei, I felt halfway to a god. My mind had broadened, opened up like a new flower; I understood more than half of what Lorelei said now. Looking back, I see she was a pioneer. It was she who started the Kantan people, as we now call ourselves, on the long road to true civilisation. If it had not been for Lorelei, would I have thought of farming? Would I have thought of bringing the tribes together? No, I think not. Lorelei had reached back from wherever she came from and wound the key of a new world – even that metaphor is one of hers, now I think about it. I have no idea what a key is, or why anyone would wind it. But Lorelei said it once, and so I use it here.
Anyway, after that tuition period, I felt like I must surely number among the greatest Shamans who ever lived in this land; the knowledge of Lorelei's people burned hot in my brain like a flaming torch. Lorelei taught me how to take down a Terror Bird in a reliable way (Bubbles could shoot them down during the death-fall with a beam of cold light; Fernine could spray them with poisonous darts that threw their aim, and then beat them senseless when they crashed). She taught me how to combat Winter Wolves: they were all led by one wolf, and if that one could be injured severely enough, the whole would turn tail and flee, for fear of losing a skilled leader. It wasn't easy – the leaders usually always had a lower-ranking wolf between their foes and themselves – but it was possible.
That first time we did it was incredible. I took Lorelei out to the foothills of the mountains at her command, unable to shake off the fear of the wolves despite the presence of both Fernine and Bubbles. We walked around for about half a day, all the while hearing the snow-muffled howls of distant wolves, and eventually we came across a large copse of pine trees, almost big enough to be a proper forest, and here we found several fresh-killed treedeer, which surprised Lorelei quite a lot.
“Sawsbuck?” she queried. “They don't live here... but then again, neither do Mightyena. In fact, there aren't any giant white Mightyena anywhere. I guess they all become extinct later.”
“There will be wolves near,” I said nervously. “They don't leave their prey for long.”
“Good,” replied Lorelei. “We'll wait for them to come back.”
So we sat and waited while I grew more and more anxious. At one point, I almost got up and walked off – but then I looked at Lorelei, and saw how calm she was. She wasn't a warrior; she was a Shaman like me. She shared my physical weakness – in fact, I was stronger than her. And yet she had faith in her power, and was unafraid. A little ashamed of myself, I resolved to stay, and wait with her to see how to chase off wolves.
At length, the pack returned, bringing with them another treedeer to add to their stock. I took in the huge paws, big as my head, and the savage eyes – but I didn't move. I forced myself not to tremble.
“Fascinating,” was all Lorelei said. “They have a kind of larder going. I don't think modern Mightyena do that...”
Then, of course, the wolves noticed us. We weren't even trying to hide. Their hackles rose, and they lowered their great craggy heads close to the ground, growling. The message was clear: this was their land, and they didn't want us nearby.
“Stand up, Sirinian,” Lorelei said quietly, getting up herself, and I did. “Get out Fernine.”
With trembling hands, I tossed the ball into the snow; Lorelei's followed, and Bubbles and Fernine appeared in a double flash of light. The flare seemed to startle the wolves, because they backed off a little, yapping, but it was only temporary: we stood there, silent, and they regained their confidence, creeping forwards and then suddenly they were bounding towards us, barking commands at each other in booming voices—
“Bubbles! Water Pulse!”
The disc of water caught one wolf full in the face, arresting its leap and knocking it to the floor; the one directly behind it stumbled over it and the two fell into an undignified tangle of snapping jaws and tangled limbs. The other wolves slowed, concerned; fast as lightning, growls passed between them, a discussion about what they should do next.
Lorelei shoved me aside as a lupine head whipped through the space where my head had been a moment ago; we rolled over in the snow and sprang up and apart a few paces away.
“You can't stand still in a fight!” Lorelei shouted, snapping her fingers and leaping to one side as Bubbles slammed her heavy tail into the side of another wolf, the spiked shell drawing blood and snapping ribs. “Keep moving and fight back!”
The wolves drew back warily, regrouping closer to their little pine forest. The injured wolf moved slowly, its breath laboured.
“Dark Pokémon like Mightyena take Fighting moves badly,” Lorelei said rapidly. “What Bubbles used on it was Brick Break, a medium-power Fighting move. That's why it's so pained. That one.”
“Use your eyes, Sirinian.” Lorelei took three steps back, and I followed. “The one in the centre of the group, giving the orders. That's the alpha, the leader of the pack.”
I looked, and I realised she was right.
“Hurt him, and they'll run off to hide,” Lorelei went on. “Mightyena are cowardly at heart, and without good leadership they can't go on. Walk back with me, we'll make them attack again.”
I had never seen Lorelei like this; she was a brilliant strategist. She knew her foe and her whole mind was focused on using their weaknesses to her advantage. Awed and not a little envious, I followed her as we retreated, keeping our eyes on the wolves. Emboldened by the fact that we appeared to be leaving, they came for us again – but this time, I was ready. Lorelei and I rushed them; nothing ever actually chased a charging Winter Wolf, and so the big animals paused for a moment, confused. The moment's hesitation was all we needed; I recalled that Fernine had a Fighting move, and, skirting a wolf that had come too close, I cried out:
The command had been well learned. Fernine snarled and bounded towards the leader wolf; it stared down at him, not believing that a tiny spikester would dare attack a wolf – and then he kicked it twice in the foreleg, and broke it with a resounding crack.
The effects came as swiftly and violently as lightning: the leader wolf yowled in pain, and immediately the other wolves turned and rushed to it. One snapped at Fernine, an ill-advised move, and came away with a few toxic spines lodged in its mouth. As the Nidorino retreated, the alpha wolf barked out a pained command, and its pack moved away, one wolf pressed against its bad leg to help it walk. They growled insults at us, and more than one made a half-hearted attempt to snap at us as it passed – but, true to Lorelei's prediction, they fled.
I stared after them.
“They ran away,” I said, hardly daring to believe it. “They – they ran away!”
Fernine pressed a non-spiked part of his head against my leg, wanting rewards for his daring achievement, and I reached down absently to pat him.
“Lorelei,” I went on. “The Winter Wolves... we beat them.”
“We did,” she agreed, amused at my reaction. “Sirinian, does everything we do surprise you?”
“Without fail,” I replied seriously.
“Oh,” Lorelei said. “That... wasn't the answer I was expecting.” She smiled. “Come on, Sirinian. I don't think we want to stay out here after dark.”
That night, we feasted on the treedeer the wolves had stored up in their larder. Lorelei congratulated me, and told me something about how Pokémon's power could increase – but for once, I wasn't listening. I was caught up in the memory of the big leader wolf, leg broken, limping pathetically away from the battlefield. It was a major victory; a mere quarter-moon ago, there had been no way on earth that I could possibly defeat a Winter Wolf in combat – and now, with Fernine's strength and Lorelei's wisdom, it had been nothing.
The next day, at the height of my jubilant celebration, Lorelei left.
I think I invented Pokémon Training. It was so strange. I always wondered how it could happen, how someone could one day figure out that Pokémon could be trained to become more than just savage beasts, or think that today they would hollow out an apricorn and try to stuff a Nidorino in it. And then I found out the answer: no one ever did. It was me recycling an idea, when I went back. I know it sounds arrogant to claim the whole thing as mine, but it's true. I brought the idea from 1985 back to the Stone Age, and whenever I think about it, I just remember how happy it made the boy I taught – the first ever Pokémon Trainer...
She told me at dawn, when we got up. Or rather, she didn't – but I knew something was afoot. She was so quiet, where she had previously always been chattering on; she lay on the floor and stared at the sky for a while, where she used to leap up, eager to get teaching.
“What is it?” I asked, straight away.
“Sirinian,” she said, “I need you to take me back to the spot where you first met me. Can you do that?”
“Yes, but...” I trailed off and my eyes widened as I worked out what would happen. “No! You can't!”
“I have to,” Lorelei replied. “This isn't my world. Celebi made me sign a contract; everything is really tightly controlled. Eleven days here, and then back to present-day Floe Island.”
“Is that the name of the land where you live? I’m a Trainer now, I could go there with—”
“No,” said Lorelei flatly. “There are rules about this; there is one open slot for a person in the space-time continuum back there. Only one person can go there.”
“Then stay,” I pleaded. “I'm not finished—”
“You'll never be finished learning,” Lorelei said gently, sitting up and putting a cool hand on my cheek. “I've left so much for you to discover yourself.” She stood up and let her hand drop. “Take me back to the place, Sirinian.”
I couldn't deny her; I couldn't deny Lorelei anything. I got up slowly, and began to walk away through the woods, without so much as another word.
As we walked, I thought. Lorelei, gone! I suppose I must have always known, deep down, that she could not stay forever. She was so obviously alien that it was a wonder she was even here. But still, I wanted her with me. I wanted to learn from her. I wanted to ask her so many questions. I wanted – I wanted to look at her beautiful face every day until I died...
We reached the spot a short while before noon; Lorelei leaned against a tree and folded her arms.
“Celebi will be here at midday,” she said sadly. “Is – is there anything final you want to ask me? Before I go?”
“I...” I thought of everything I could ask. Would you stay if you could? What do you truly think of me? How do I know when it is time to make Fernine evolve? What, when, how, why?
I took a deep breath and steadied myself.
“What is that device you wear on your face?” I asked. Lorelei looked startled for a moment, and then burst out laughing. Despite myself, I found my mouth twitching, and after a second I had joined in, though I didn't know what the joke was.
“Oh, Sirinian,” Lorelei gasped, removing the thing from her face and wiping tears of laughter from her eyes, “these are my glasses. Spectacles, that's their proper name.” She straightened up and held them out for me to see. “I have very bad eyesight,” she said. “If I don't wear these, I can't see.”
Another piece of wizardry from Lorelei's people. I studied the glasses for a moment, wondering at the fineness of the metal components, and the strange transparent material in the front, and then handed them back. Lorelei put them on and smiled.
“I'm glad we can end on a laugh,” she said. “Sad goodbyes are just so... sad.”
I agreed that this was so. In common with most other sad things, sad goodbyes were indeed sad.
I flinched as the world began to hum and pulse; I turned and saw that tongues of lightning were curling out of midair again.
“It looks pretty scary when you're not the one doing it, doesn't it?” Lorelei said nervously.
The lightning-ball curled up and collapsed in on itself – and then exploded into a little green creature, all head and eyes, that floated unsupported about four cubits from the forest floor. I shrank back; this beast had to be the one Lorelei described as Celebi, and I had no doubt that it must be a god.
“At least you're on time,” it said, in the same strange dialect of the language that Lorelei used. I wasn't surprised that it should speak; it was, after all, a god – or goddess, to judge by the voice. “Bloody nightmare getting here. Dialga was moving from the sixteenth to twenty-fifth centuries, and the big bastard takes up all seven lanes...” The goddess Celebi trailed off as she saw me. “Who's this?” she asked suspiciously. “Not a pet, I hope? You can't take anything back with you.”
“No,” replied Lorelei. “He's just a friend. The first Trainer.”
Celebi snapped her stubby fingers.
“I knew it!” she crowed. “I knew you humans couldn't just invent something like that—”
“Celebi, shut up a minute,” Lorelei said. “I want to say goodbye.”
“All right, whatever.” Celebi waved a hand and drifted a few cubits away.
Lorelei turned to me.
“Goodbye, Sirinian,” she said simply. “I hope – I hope I've given you enough to pick your life up again.”
“You've given me more than anyone on this world has ever had,” I replied. My tongue felt thick in my mouth; it was hard to speak. “I... I can survive...” I felt tears pricking at my eyes, and blinked them back furiously. I had known Lorelei for just eleven days. How could I have become this attached to her?
“OK.” Lorelei looked about as happy as I felt, but I knew she would forget her sorrow soon; she was returning to a paradise land, where everyone was like her. A land for beautiful people with white teeth that did not rot, and pale skin and colourful hair. “Sirinian... yeah, goodbye. I won't forget you. I'll write it down, and everyone will remember you.”
I didn't know what writing was back then, but I understood that this was something important.
“Thank you,” I replied. “Good – goodbye.”
“Done?” asked Celebi, floating over towards us. I saw that she possessed wings, though they were tiny and she did not seem to beat them. “Come on. I haven't got all day. Actually, I have, I've got the entire life of the universe, but I’m impatient and don't like waiting.”
“All right,” Lorelei said, and stepped back towards Celebi. Lightning forked from the goddess's onion-shaped head, and started to coil around the pair of them. I stared, but not out of astonishment: now I just felt like I was losing some rare and precious thing that could never be regained.
“OK, Lorelei,” Celebi said. “We're sending you... back to the future!” The goddess fell about laughing as the lightning formed a sphere around Lorelei and herself; I decided to hate her, and see where that got me.
“Sirinian!” cried Lorelei. “I hope—!”
I never heard the end. The ball of lightning imploded, taking Celebi and Lorelei with it, and air rushed in to fill the gap where they had been. After that, there was silence.
The forest was very quiet that day.
I did not give up. Lorelei was gone, and that hurt, though I couldn't work out why – but I had to continue. There was nothing to be gained from standing still.
I worked at Training. I spent a year in the forest with Fernine, trying to create the same bond that existed between Lorelei and Bubbles. It was hard to say who grew fastest. We were able to hunt and gather so much between us that every day seemed a feast-day, and I think it was all of this food that made me grow so much. It wasn't long until I was tall, nearly as tall as Lorelei had been, and strong and sinewy like a Storm Cat. For his part, Fernine grew to to the size of a young Summer Wolf on the back of the battles he won.
In the autumn, when I thought he was big and strong enough to handle a sudden change in size and shape, I went into the mountain caves and came back with one of the Moon rocks that Lorelei had pointed out to me. I put it in the shelter I’d built for Fernine to sleep in – I eschewed the Poké Ball now; I found it was only really necessary with new-caught Pokémon, who didn't trust you – and gradually, over the next few nights, the Nidorino's shape began to change. He would walk more on his hind legs, dropping onto all fours only for bursts of speed; the proportions of his body changed, shifting into something almost human; his tail lengthened and broadened into a long, flexible pack of muscle. Before a week was out, I had a Forest Devil.
I had been waiting for this. Once the evolution was done, I threw away the Moon rock, packed up my meagre possessions, and travelled.
Two weeks north, I encountered the Putar tribe, who tried to kill me, only to find that I was not killable. There were no arrows strong enough to penetrate Fernine's hide, and his sharp reflexes and strong arms let him pound spears out of the air or smash axes and knives without so much as nicking himself. I forced my way into the centre of their village, and told them of a secret I had discovered, a way to make the predators that hunted us the comrades of man.
That was when I got my first apprentice.
I had no Poké Balls, of course, but I used Fernine's speed and strength to catch a boulderbeast – the kind with arms that snatch at the legs of passers-by – and with my aid, my apprentice managed to tame it. I stayed with the Putar for a few weeks more, and then, satisfied that the boy now had the basics of Training set deep in his mind, I declined thank-you gifts and set off east.
This path took me through the mountains, and on the other side I found the Seruly tribe. They lived by the water, which gave me an idea. I peeled a Razor Star from the rocks there, since they could float with a mysterious power and seemed to be able to survive in air, and gave it to my second apprentice, a Shaman-girl who was also the Seruly's most talented fisher. Again, I stayed a couple of weeks to teach her, and left.
And so it went: three years of wandering across the land, teaching the Shaman-children of each tribe the necessary skills to work with Pokémon. After a while, I found that people rejoiced when Fernine and I came to their villages instead of fleeing in fear. It first happened when I came to the Iavendr people, and I asked their Shaman why the people weren't afraid.
“They know why you're here,” he told me, grinning. “You're the Beastman, the Trainer. Everyone has heard of you and the miracles you work.”
So it was that I passed into legend. I would come across cave-shrines and see images of a figure with a Forest Devil at his side daubed on the walls, amongst the pictures of the gods. Perhaps the tribes thought I was a god. Perhaps not. Whatever they believed, I kept travelling, kept teaching, all the while wondering what I was meant to be doing. Was this what Lorelei wanted me to do? What had she been going to say when she told me 'I hope—'? I wandered on, and with time I missed her less – but I always did miss her. It was stupid, really; as I've already said, I only knew her for eleven days. In that time, though, I was more thoroughly captivated than I had by anything before; my mind was broadened, my soul opened up. Lorelei was a warm spring, and I was a flower that had opened early; now I had hardened into my autumn as some ripe fruit, and the novice Trainers that I left scattered across the land were seeds who would one day grow into trees themselves.
Fernine helped. He was an old friend now. I didn't know how long Forest Devils lived, but I had a feeling it was a long time, and I was glad of it. He might not have understood what I said, but it was good to have someone to talk to other than the occasional hunter I met in the forest.
Someone to talk to.
That was what was missing in my life: home. Other people. It occurred to me as I was crossing the bridge out of the Fussi Village and heading north again, to seek the Tulai. A thirst for revenge flared once again in my breast, and I resolved then and there to return to the Virid. I had a score to settle with the Chief, and I would not be denied.
I always wondered what happened to him, in the end. I hope he was happy. He was a sad-eyed boy. All those things that had happened to him... well, they weren't kind to his heart.
I hope he managed to be happy.
The Virid village could never have stopped me. Not all the warriors of the tribe had been able to take down a wild Forest Devil – and Fernine, with the strength of a Shaman's mind and Lorelei's tactics behind him, wouldn't have been halted by an army of giants.
I was sure to kill no one, and injuries were light; most people, having heard of the Beastman's benevolence, were expecting a friendly visit and were thus caught by surprise when Fernine showed up and demolished a section of the village wall with his tail.
It took us about four minutes to smash our way to the ever-fire, and a further two seconds for Fernine to stave in the front of the village hall. With him standing guard outside to scare off any zealous warriors, I stepped in to confront the Chief.
He was old now, over thirty, but he stood erect in the hall, and waited for me as a man ready for anything. Alone of all the people in the village he seemed to recognise me straight away.
“Sirinian,” he said. “I knew you'd be back. Though I have to say, I didn't expect quite such a dramatic entry.”
“You cast me out,” I told him. There was a strange cold fury in my veins; it was like my blood had turned to steel. I was utterly calm and consumed with anger all at once.
“I did,” he agreed. “Because it's the Law. And I slashed your arm” – he indicated the scar – “because it's the Law. And I pretended to be very angry, because I knew that if I was angry enough, you would hate us so much that you would stay alive, just so you could take your revenge.”
I was stunned; the Chief's words seemed to ring in my ears like the echo of a drumbeat. This wasn't how it was meant to happen. I was supposed to come here, he would be furious, I would kill him...
“You're not a killer, Sirinian,” said the Chief gently. “You're a Shaman. And the Beastman, it seems. You've made it good for yourself.”
“Shut up!” I roared, and made as if to hit him; at the last minute, however, something stayed my hand.
“You see?” The Chief threw up his hands. “You won't kill me. You don't want to kill me.” He sighed. “I was bad to you, but I had to be, or you would have given up and died.”
“It wasn't you,” I growled. “It was Lorelei.”
But was it? I recalled hearing Lorelei's words, that first time in the clearing – and I remembered thinking that they were the perfect skills to learn in order to exact revenge. The Chief saw my face, and nodded.
“I don't know this Lorelei,” he said, “but you've realised it was vengeance that kept you alive, I see. I didn't want to kill one of my own, Sirinian, much less a Shaman-child. It's an abomination to the gods. So is not exiling you, though – so I made a compromise.”
The world was spinning slightly, drifting and shaking as though it had become detached from its anchors. I felt lightheaded and turned, swaying a little, to the doorway and Fernine's broad, spiked back.
“Sirinian?” asked the Chief. “Sirinian?”
“I'm not here to kill you,” I said, half to myself. “I'm – I’m looking for Lorelei.”
I stumbled out into the sunlight, and led Fernine away through the trail of wrecked huts and back into the forest. It was a clear summer afternoon, and as I stared upwards I could see a beautiful blue sky between the leaves.
It wasn't vengeance I needed, I knew. It was a home, and that was what Lorelei had been: a friend in a world that had cast me aside because I was not strong, because I could not kill a Winter Wolf, because I was not them. She was a point of solidarity, a solid rock that my new life could build upon – only now that the rock was gone and the hut was tall, everything felt unsafe, as if it could come crashing down at any moment...
I walked off, veering off the trail and recalling Fernine to the Poké Ball. I wanted to be alone for a while. I wanted to wallow in despair, and maybe try and kill myself again. After a day or two of wandering, full of self-pity, I came to the dark woods where the black Summer Wolves, smaller than their white counterparts but faster, dwelt. I saw their pawprints, and followed them to a clearing full of bones; here, I thought, I would wait, and if they chose to eat me when they returned, I would raise no objections.
The world kicked and buzzed; I swung around and looked around wildly for the lightning, despondence traded in an instant for excitement.
Who would it be? Some new traveller? Lorelei?
The lightning-ball, I saw, was to my left; it collapsed, and Celebi appeared, looking annoyed.
“Now listen here, you little monkey bastard,” she said crossly. “I'm not playing silly buggers here. It isn't a mistake that Lorelei appeared here.”
“Celebi, what do you want?” I said. My gloom had returned when I saw it was not Lorelei who had come back.
“What do I want? What do I want?” she shrieked. “Bloody hell, you're thick. I want you to stop acting like a bloody emo and pull yourself together! Don't have a home? Make a home, you daft bastard! Miss Lorelei? Find a nice monkey-girl and get laid!” Celebi paused to draw breath; she hadn't breathed for quite a while. “Look, you're important. Lorelei told you that and all – the most important person alive right now, she said.” The little goddess sighed and, folding her arms, leaned forwards. “What I’m saying is, don't give up.” She sounded quite calm and serious now. “It doesn't matter if you're an outlaw, someone will take you in. You're the Beastman. Even if they don't, you can make your own home, tell students to come to you. Set up a Pokémon Academy.” Celebi's face twisted into a wry smile at that, and then dissolved back into its habitual look of mild revulsion. “But under no circumstances kill yourself, you stupid bugger. You're too important for that.”
That was the last time I saw Celebi. She vanished in another electrical storm without waiting for an answer, and all links to whatever strange land Lorelei came from were finally severed.
I stood completely still for about half an hour after she'd left. I was thinking of Lorelei.
The most important person alive right now...
I let Fernine out of the ball; he tilted his great head down to look inquisitively at mine.
“It was nothing,” I told him, patting the horny beak that covered his upper lip. “I'm better now.”
We walked away. I didn't care that I was an outlaw. I didn't care that Lorelei had left.
I had Fernine, and there were people out there I needed to teach, and that was enough for now.
She looked up from the typewriter at the young man in the doorway.
“It's time,” said Brock, out of breath. “The meeting is starting.”
“Thanks,” Lorelei replied distractedly; Brock, perhaps taking offence at the coolness of her tone, left in something of a huff.
Lorelei looked at the stack of papers next to the typewriter and paused. It was her memoirs, three hundred pages of an extraordinary life – and the last surviving record of the man who had once been known across Kanto as the Beastman. She pulled the last sheet of paper from the typewriter.
Another insistent voice; Lorelei sighed and set the page aside, on top of the stack on the desk.
“Coming!” she called back, and left her office. Sirinian had been dead for a little more than four thousand years. He could wait a day longer.