I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t grateful to have Sai take me away from my home for a while. I led him to New Bark Town in silence as quickly as I could, not only to keep him from getting angry and attacking me again, but to escape from some of the guilt and the obsessive thoughts that had been haunting me for a long time. He followed behind me, his expression blank and his arms loosely dangling back and forth at his sides, but with his eyes never leaving me. I kept looking behind me to make sure that I was safe and that he was still there, but my paranoia was pointless, as he never made a sign that made me think he was a threat.
We reached the town at nightfall. We didn’t see any other humans or pokémon, which I was kind of disappointed in. I had wanted to see how someone else reacted to Sai, but I supposed that I would have to wait. This also meant that Sai would have to wait to get what he wanted.
“Everyone’s sleeping, I guess,” I said softly after a few moments of silence.
“Where are the pokémon?” the boy asked simply. His blue eyes looked darker with the night, but maybe I was imagining things.
“They’re with a human who raises the pokémon to give to new trainers.” I pointed my paw to a nearby building with the back enclosed by a fence. Beyond the fence was simply grass with a few charred areas here and there, and some large trees that appeared a bit old. “He trains the pokémon there so they don’t run off into the forest. I’ve see them sometimes when I’ve come close to the town, but that’s always been during daytime. We’ll have to wait.”
Sai stared at me, and I wondered if he was angry for me pointing out the obvious. There seemed to be an invisible, fine line between treating him as if he were stupid and trying to help him with things that he was somehow completely unaware of.
But all he said was, “Time to sleep, then. You can help me with the rest tomorrow, right?”
“…Yeah,” I replied. No threat. It was all I could think about. Did I want him to punish me? I deserved it, after all. The fact that I was being given a chance at redemption seemed lost and non-existent.
Sai turned around and went to sit by a large tree near the entrance to the town. He put his hands behind his head and then rested the top part of his body against the tree. He closed his eyes shortly after, and he seemed so peaceful and relaxed that I thought he had fallen asleep already. I also went to where he was, though I kept a bit of distance between us.
I jumped a bit when he started talking again. “You’ll help me tomorrow, and then we’ll go through the forest again, and we’ll keep going from there,” he said.
“That seems to be the simplified version of things, yes,” I said under my breath. I didn’t think he would be able to hear me.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Picking out your first pokémon seems to be a big deal. When you say we’ll keep going from there, there’s a lot of places to explore, I’m sure. And when we pass through the forest, I guess I’d like to say good-bye to some people, if possible…” My voice trailed off from there. I curled up on the grass, wrapping my tail around my body for warmth. I had forgotten what it felt like to be in this position, and what sleep near someone else felt like. With my eyes still open, I saw Sai snap his open, and look at me curiously.
“Who do you have to say good-bye to?”
“My clan. Or just someone in my clan. I just think that they should know I’m gone, since you’re insistent on taking me on this journey of yours,” I explained. I felt slightly bitter that he was permanently taking me away from my home, but I would find a way around that tomorrow to avoid feeling this way forever.
“You don’t seem too happy about it,” Sai observed.
“They don’t like me anymore, so I’m not really happy, no.”
“Then it should be easier to say good-bye.”
“Yes and no. I’d rather have no one to say good-bye to. It’d be so much easier.”
Sai didn’t answer for a long time after that. Again, I thought that he had fallen asleep. But then he started stirring, trying various positions to get comfortable, and nothing seemed to work. He groaned and complained until he finally went back to his original position. And finally, he said, “I always thought that it’d be better to have someone to say good-bye to. Maybe I was wrong.”
“And why do you say that?” I asked after a few moments.
“It means that, at some point, you had someone, and you cared about them,” he said.
“And you didn’t have anyone to say good-bye to?”
“I could have… but they were hardly worth saying good-bye to.”
I didn’t answer him, and he didn’t say anything after that. He stayed silent for good this time. I didn’t want to press him for further information when he clearly wasn’t comfortable with it and was avoiding specific details. And I didn’t want to try to become closer to him when I still felt connected from my clan. Tomorrow, I would get permission to leave. Tomorrow, I would know that they had officially let me go. Tomorrow, maybe Sai would think that he’d someday have someone to say good-bye to.
As it turned out, we didn’t spend just one day in New Bark Town. Sai just couldn’t decide in a few hours what pokémon he wanted. I told him that there was a grass-type, a fire-type, and a water-type starter that he could choose from. I had to admit that I didn’t know what each species specialized in, but Sai seemed to brighten up again when I pointed out that there was a whole batch of each type that he could look at. I also explained that since each pokémon had weaknesses and strengths, and since he had no other pokémon to try to figure out what weaknesses and strengths he needed, his choices weren’t limited. He said that, in that case, he just wanted the strongest pokémon, and I thought that it would be a simple enough choice from there. But somehow, it wasn’t.
“There’s so many of them,” he said, a hint of excitement in his voice. “I only got a close look at two of them. We’ll have to come back tomorrow.”
This was his excuse every day from then on. We slept in the same area every night, and we stood at a distance from the fence every day to watch the pokémon. Sai tried to walk right up to the fence and climb over a few times, but I had to yell at him to not do that, since the fence was there to keep others out for a reason. He also tried to sit right by a part of the fence to look inside the backyard through the rails, which also seemed odd, so I kept telling him to stop looking creepy and to get away from the fence entirely.
Sai refused to go anywhere else that would make him miss seeing the pokémon during the hours of daylight they were outside. A few times a day, I briefly left to go get some berries from the forest to eat. Seeing that Sai didn’t seem to have anything to eat, I brought him some, too, which he ate quickly and hungrily, though he never asked for more when he looked sadly at his empty hands after eating.
I didn’t really question him, and thought vaguely about going to the forest to say good-bye a few times in order to save time, but then I knew that I’d get the urge to do it all over again when we finally left for good. So I kept quiet and tried to be patient, but it was hard when I wanted to move on. Still, it was better than staying in the forest by myself while torturing my mind with memories.
“Have you picked out a pokémon yet?” I asked after a few days of this.
“No. None of them has stood out so far,” Sai said. “Most of the fire ones keep burning the grass… and each other. I don’t need more chaos. The green pokémon don’t seem much like fighters. I’ve almost gotten through watching all the water-types.”
“Okay,” I said. “Well, I’m going to get more food, then.”
When I came back, Sai was gone. I had come back just in time to see a familiar human walk back into the building with a pokémon following behind him, and I assumed that Sai had finally made his choice. I simply paced back and forth in front of the building that I had first taken him to days ago. It seemed like we had been here forever and done everything that needed to be done, yet in reality, we had accomplished next to nothing. It was all just wishful thinking on my part. The boy had needed a ton of time here for some reason, and I hoped that his decision was worth it. I believed that whatever pokémon he chose would be the correct one to help complete his journey, to make sure that he “listened” properly, as he had put it before. I still didn’t know who he was listening to, but he seemed content when following the instructions given to him, and that was enough.
Soon, I heard the building’s door creak open and saw Sai standing outside, holding the door open for someone. A small, aqua colored creature with red spikes protruding from its back and tail stepped out of the building, and Sai closed the door. So he had chosen the water-type pokémon. No wonder it had taken him so long to choose. The water-types were the last he had looked at.
The totodile walked around aimlessly, seemingly entranced by the surrounding area. Eventually, the totodile’s snout bumped into me, and I bumped into the awkward situation of explaining that I was really Sai’s first pokémon, but admittedly, I had no idea why, nor did I have any idea why the creature in front of me had become a necessary part of our team and journey. I watched as Sai had the totodile roll the dice, just as he had made me do. I wondered if Kuiora—as Sai had named her on the spot—understood him any better than I did at the moment. Probably not. She didn’t look confused, but instead seemed fascinated and relieved.
It was time to go after that. I hoped that I would be fascinated and relieved soon, too, as we moved on toward the forest for what I believed would be the last time.
They later reminded me of Sai.
They had blended in with the night, and they were fast.
They were not from around this area, but they were here nonetheless. And they intended to make the best of their trip at my home. Their trip with my clan.
I’m sure, in their minds, they screamed success.
I was watching out for danger when one of them had come up to me. It was crawling, and moving so slowly. I immediately let my guard down as I sympathetically realized it must be injured. It was too dark to see any blood, but I couldn’t think of any other reason why it was crawling pathetically on the forest floor when I could see that it had feet to use instead. I was using my tail to see as high up and as far as possible, but now I was on my own feet, scrambling over to the seemingly damaged pokémon. As I got closer, I could see that its skin matched the color of the dark sky, with red feathers jutting out of its back and one of its ears. Its eyes looked weak and tired and the creature had dulled yellow jewels on its forehead and chest to match. Its white claws were sharp, and the pokémon had been using them to dig into the ground and propel itself forward. I had never seen this type of pokémon before.
“Are you okay?” I asked. “What happened?”
The pokémon stopped crawling and looked up at me. “I was in a battle and got separated from my trainer,” it explained, stopping to take a breath every few words. “Please help me find him. He couldn’t have gone far… He must be looking for me, but I’m hurt…”
I wished that it was daytime, that I could see its wounds, and get it the proper berries to help heal him. But I didn’t know what was wrong with him, or what kind of pokémon it was and what kind of food it ate anyway. But I also couldn’t just leave my post when I was supposed to be looking out for danger. I had never left my post before.
“Why don’t you just stay with me? I’ll keep you safe, and if your trainer comes through here, I’ll make sure you get back to him. It’s not safe to travel through the night like this.”
“My trainer likes to travel through the night, though. He could be out of the forest by sunrise. He could leave me here,” the pokémon said pathetically.
I found it odd that a trainer would leave his pokémon here, but I had no reason not to believe him. I tried to consider my options. I could stay with the pokémon here, putting it at risk for losing its trainer and getting hurt even further due to lack of proper care. I could go with it and keep watching for danger as we moved along, and then we would have a better chance at finding the trainer. I chose the latter. I figured it was rude to wake someone else up just to take over for me, so I would just do two jobs at once. It would just be a bit different compared to other nights. I would have felt terrible just leaving it where it was and risking its life. It had obviously found me for a reason, after all, and I had to do something about it.
I simply nodded and helped pick up the creature so that it could walk while using me as a crutch. I didn’t care so much about blood, if there was any, as I figured that I could just wash it off later and explain to my clan that I helped a pokémon rather than just idly standing in one spot as usual.
The pokémon explained that the battle had taken place near the edge of the forest, so I led it there. We traveled in silence, and by the time we got there, it was almost sunrise.
I stopped moving with the pokémon. “This is the edge of the forest. It’s close to New Bark Town. Could your trainer be here?” I asked.
“Maybe…” it said softly.
I set the pokémon down so that it could rest on the floor rather than use extra energy trying to stand up. I turned and looked around everywhere, but I saw no one but the damaged creature. I started to say that we could look again when the sun rose completely, since we’d have better luck then. But no one answered me. I turned and looked around everywhere once again, but this time, the pokémon was missing.
The first hint of daylight was showing through the tree canopies. I looked at my body, my paws, the grass.
There was no blood. There was no other pokémon with me.
I thought that I might have learned that helping people and pokémon from then on would have been a terrible idea. But I could not give up my penchant for taking care of people. Not everyone was fake. Not everyone was out to hurt others. I had to believe that there were others that truly needed help. There was no way that Sai could feign such naivety, and there was no way that Kuiora could consume the outside world with a human boy who was just as clueless as she was. Was there a way? I couldn’t believe it. This was my second chance. I had to keep reminding myself of this fact as we traveled through the forest once more. I had been here all my life, but it was time to leave.
I was too preoccupied by my thoughts to pay much attention while Kuiora mumbled on about how pretty and vast the forest was, with Sai agreeing wholeheartedly. She also mentioned how lucky that all of the pokémon here were so friendly so that no one had to battle and exert themselves too harshly, and Sai made some comment about how he didn’t know pokémon could be this calm and quiet. I could see from their point of view to a certain extent. The pokémon here usually left trainers alone unless provoked, but I also thought about the pokémon that had tricked me while she rambled on. But I completely came back to reality when we came across the river that was so close to my home. I stopped moving and asked them to stop for me, too, though my voice cracked when I did so.
“What’s wrong?” they asked in unison.
“My… My clan is near here. I told you I wanted to say good-bye. Do you remember, Sai?” I asked, looking up at the boy. He said nothing, but I could tell by the way he was averting eye contact that he definitely remembered our conversation. “So I’ll be right back. I’ll bring you guys some berries so that you can eat while I’m gone.”
They both nodded, but I wondered if they both understood. Sai didn’t have anyone to say good-bye to, and what about Kuiora? I knew next to nothing about her, except that she didn’t seem to find Sai odd. Instead, everything was new and fascinating to her childish mind. I told myself that I’d have to change that as soon as my head was cleared of this lovely yet degrading place.
I did as I said I would. I brought them various kinds of berries from the nearby trees and bushes, hoping that they could find at least one kind that they liked. I couldn’t recall what kind of berries I had brought Sai before, but I could pay attention soon and fix this, too.
I turned and made my way toward the river without saying a word, unsure of what I would say to them, anyway. I certainly didn’t want to reveal too much about what I was doing and why I had to do it at all.
I found the trees whose branches extended all the way across the river. To get to the other side, I simply climbed up the tree, and ran across the branch only to jump to the ground when I reached the end of the path. It had been a long time since I climbed that tree, and it didn’t feel as natural as usual. I took that as a good sign and was able to smile a little.
I made my way past the clearing on the other side of the river only to find another clearing. While the other clearing was empty, this one was filled with other sentret. Some of them were playing, some were training, some were eating, and some were resting. All of them were unmistakably from my clan, and all of them unmistakably recognized me as an outsider and froze when they realized I was here. Some stared, some ran, and some of them scowled at me. I tried not to look down at the ground in shame, but it was hard. I simply asked to see Ari in the most confident voice that I could manage.
No one moved or acknowledged my request. Some of the smaller sentret asked why I wasn’t able to play with everyone else. Their innocence and lack of awareness at least let me know that at least someone in the clan didn’t know what I had done.
One of the sentret who had previously run away must have gotten Ari for me, even though they didn’t hear my request. Upon seeing Ari, I turned and went back to the first clearing I had been in. The river was loud, but Ari’s footsteps rang louder in my ears. I turned to face him when they became too loud for me to feel comfortable.
“Why are you here?” Ari asked simply. He seemed void of emotions entirely, though I knew what he was thinking. He was thinking of how worthless I was. He was thinking that this was a waste of time, and he was hoping that I would regret showing my face again.
“I’m leaving,” I stated simply. Ari’s expression remained the same; there was no hint of happiness in response to my words. “It was my fault. I know. I’m sorry. I would take it back if I could.”
“Words don’t change anything,” Ari said sharply.
“Words are all I have when my actions aren’t acknowledged anymore.”
“Then you have nothing.”
“…It was my fault.”
There was no injured pokémon. There was a liar and a sentret who was foolish enough to trust the liar.
The pokémon, whatever it was, had lured me away so that its friends and family could invade my home. Simply attacking me at my post may have been loud enough to alert my clan of intruders. It also eliminated the possibility of me shrieking to tell everyone to run, that someone was coming to hurt them. The worst part was that I helped them. I fell into their trap so easily.
When I realized what the pokémon had done, I rushed back to my clan as fast as I could. I nearly fell out of the tree and into the roaring river because I was too focused on trying to get back as quickly as possible. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw an odd movement in the river, a mix of red and brown that I hoped was a part of my imagination. I ran and ran and ran. I didn’t bother trying to protect myself or watch for danger anymore. The danger was already here. I failed, and I wanted it to come after me instead now.
It didn’t. It was already gone.
Before the danger left, it destroyed the clan. Torn parts from sentret and blood were what I had seen in the river. More blood and limbs were splattered through the grass, on the trees, on the leaves. Everywhere. Some sentret bodies were smashed underneath tree branches that had been cut off and left to drop. From the small amount of sentret left, I assumed that some of them had been taken… but I didn’t want to think about why. The sentret who were wounded or almost unharmed were squealing and crying over the sight, not daring to move out of intense fear and sorrow. They had been attacked while I was leading the pokémon to the edge of the forest. The pokémon had successfully taken me far away enough to where I couldn’t hear the slaughter. There was nothing I could do now.
My heart cried and my stomach lurched. My mind screamed disaster.
My family, things were peaceful just moments ago—
The babies, they were just learning to walk—
I should have heard—
I started mumbling about what happened, as if an explanation could reverse everything. The pokémon seemed genuinely hurt. But it was my fault for not looking for blood carefully enough, or other proof that the pokémon was hurt. Wouldn’t we have wanted other pokémon to help us if they could, too? Why hadn’t anyone else helped? It wasn’t my place to ask, but I was asking anyway. They must have been scared. I would have been scared, too. I’m scared right now. I’m sick right now. I was just trying to do a good thing. It would have been terrible to not help, too—
And in the midst of my thoughts, Ari crashed into me and started pummeling me faster than I could blink. He must have heard me, must have been listening, must have been watching the clan break further.
“Why didn’t you warn us about this?! You could have said something before you left with the enemy, at least!”
I didn’t fight back, I didn’t try to breathe, I didn’t dare look him in the eyes.
“They told us that you were on their side. It looks true! Because of you, my wife is hurt, the kids were eaten right here—”
I thought that he was going to kill me, but his punches and his cries eventually weakened and quieted. He eventually stopped, and I heard pathetic wails that only reminded me of the baby sentret once more. He left me with some throbbing, aching bones and a body covered in blood. I was sure that most of the blood was not mine.
“Get out of here. Just go, just leave,” he snarled.
After torturing myself with one last, long glance at the gory scene, I left, and did not try to come back, though I ached to. I could not sleep, could not eat. I wanted to mourn with the others. I didn’t even know everyone who was gone or everyone who had survived. I wanted to mourn, to apologize, to make up for it… but they wouldn’t let me. Unfortunately, I was not completely dead. It should have been me. But I was only dead to them, and rightfully so.
And I was so, so very sorry. So, so sorry. So sorry. I could beat many pokémon, many trials that were thrown at me. Over the years, I had learned that I could beat many things, but—
Life was not one of them.
“They should have gotten you. You were at fault, and yet you were the only one left unharmed.”
“They were trying to avoid commotion from the town as well. If I had heard any of them approaching, you know I would have called out…” I explained, though I knew it was in vain. But I had to try. When Ari would give me permission to leave, he would have all the information to know that he had made the correct choice. His decision would be final and real, done after many weeks of being able to calm down and think rationally.
“Those monsters were not from around here. It shouldn’t happen again, not just because of that, but because we will have more reliable people on post next time from now on,” Ari said, ignoring me almost completely.
I made one last attempt at helping them and said, “Perhaps you should consider relocating the clan—”
“Don’t tell me what I should do! You are not a part of this clan anymore!” Ari cried, rushing after me once more, but stopping halfway through. He didn’t want to relive that night again, not even the best part of it, where he got to punish the one who had caused him so much misery.
“…A trainer came by here and attacked me,” I said simply, now looking at the ground.
I could feel his glare.
“I know that you think he is a threat,” I said quickly. “He is. But he also wants me to be his pokémon. He wants me to… help him.” I wondered: how can words feel so wrong but be so true at the same time? “With your permission, I would like to take him away from the forest and be his pokémon so that he is no longer a threat.”
“As I said, you are not a part of this clan. You may do what you wish, as long as it doesn’t involve us,” Ari said. He was looking around now, presumably watching for Sai. I couldn’t keep the mysterious pokémon from attacking the clan, but I seemed to have some control over Sai. I could get him out of here. I could. It would be so easy.
“So I can leave,” I said.
“…You don’t want me.”
“We don’t want you. Too much damage was done. Take the trainer away from here, and make sure neither of you ever comes back.”
That was all I needed. I felt like a burden had been lifted off of my shoulders. Of course, I still wanted to help the clan. I didn’t want to leave. I would do anything to be accepted again and to be expected to protect everyone again. I would do anything to bring the others back. But nothing could fix what had happened, and it was time to move on. I would protect Sai now. I would protect Kuiora, and anyone else who was going to join us. I would believe that I had survived this attack for a reason, and would take my second chance.
I could leave with Sai now. This was all I wanted.
I didn’t say anything more. I only made eye contact with Ari for a few more long, agonizing moments, hoping that he could see how sorry I was, how much regret I carried around with me. Ari was the only one who had ever broken my heart by banishing me from the clan, the one thing I had loved at the time. But I also broke his heart, though indirectly; I took his wife away, I took his children. No one is ever safe.
When I was walking back to Sai and Kuiora, I still went slowly, taking in the scene one last time. I took in the rough feeling of the bark on the trees as I walked on it. I took in how big and old the tree itself was, and how it took years and years for it to grow this tall and be such an important part of our lives. The river was purely blue, which made me feel a bit better. Everything seemed clean and peaceful. The sun shone down and made me remember what was wonderful about the clan. Seeing the babies learn about the world for the first time. Always discovering new kinds of berries and indulging in the old ones that had treated us so well for so long. Knowing how friendly the other pokémon in the forest seemed to be. Seeing the new trainers with their new pokémon come by with such excitement and joy shining in their eyes.
I would try to remember everything from then on, the good and the bad. I hoped that that was what moving on meant.
When I reached Sai and Kuiora, I simply said that I was ready to go. It seemed easier to speak, as if I wasn’t keeping such a careful watch on everything I said anymore. I certainly had to do that with Ari, but not so much with these two. I’d still make sure to be careful, because I didn’t want to hurt them.
“Where are we headed next?” Sai asked curiously.
“Well, the next town is Cherrygrove City. I don’t really know anything about that place except that new trainers don’t ever seem too happy about going there.”
“They always want these badges, and you apparently can’t find one in Cherrygrove.”
Sai started walking slower and frown a bit. “I’m supposed to get the gym badges. I think that’s what you’re talking about. Well, I don’t want to waste time there, then. Not allowed.”
“Badges?” Kuiora asked, coming out of nowhere. She had been so quiet that I had nearly forgotten she was there.
“Yeah… We train, battle, and get badges. That’s what I was told to do, so that’s what we’re going to do,” Sai said, smiling again.
“I was training at the lab, so I’m ready for that whenever you are,” she said confidently.
“Senori will lead the way,” Sai said, looking at me expectedly.
“I’ve never been anywhere else… but I’m sure we can find the path to whatever place is next,” I said, trying to sound confident as well.
“Okay. It’s unfortunate, but I knew that you couldn’t have already visited everywhere. Thanks, Senori,” Sai said.
Sounding more confident already seemed a little easier after that. I started to lead the way again, unsure where I was going, but feeling all right about it.
Like most new trainers, Sai didn’t care for Cherrygrove City. But he sure did enjoy Violet City, a place completely new and refreshing for all of us.