I had to been to many places. I had been to small villages, large villages, cities, towns that wished they were cities. I had been to the sea, the desert, the highest bridge in the world. I had been to these places and back again, only in different regions. It was all the same when you thought that you could die at any moment, when you couldn’t help but wonder what was wrong with you. So I could tell anyone that what could have been tasted like sand, which made me ache for something to drink as my conscious dragged me across a desert of regret. What should have been tasted like salt water, which made ships roar out to the stars in the dead of night, hoping to be answered so it wouldn’t have to feel so alone on the big blue sea.
What could have been, what should have been. That was what my life consisted of. I was beyond limited, when I wanted to be limitless. I no longer wanted to fear every threat that came my way. I no longer wanted to let Annie creep into my thoughts when she was least wanted. I no longer wanted to let Ezrem’s words make me think that I had to accomplish something huge, something larger than myself.
What could I do about it? Well, I had already spent enough time learning about other people and pokémon. It only hit me now that it was entirely another thing to learn from people and pokémon. Yes, that was why everyone came in and out of my life in such a wild, quick paced fashion—they were meant to heal me in their own way. It was time for them to finally teach me something that was not only full of wisdom, but useful to the way in which I thought about life.
I mostly thanked Senori for this. I thanked Sai, too, but for different reasons. When Sai disappeared, I was crushed. Simply crushed. I fretted over him day in and day out, wondering if he was okay. I thought it was the Annie situation all over again, except without the fire! How could he do that to me, when we had just become partners? We had scarcely touched the surface of our journey… and then he left, leaving me to wonder what could have been all over again. It wasn’t a pleasurable week, to say the least. But Senori helped me out. He showed me that I was having a strange sort of combination of delusions of grandeur and guilty delusions. I thought that everything was my fault, yet at the same time, I thought that I was invincible. Since I had already had such a low event occur in my life, it simply couldn’t happen again—that was my reasoning. Senori showed me that it was all a lie. Sai had disappeared—it was true. I had to accept it: a low event had happened again. And I thought it was my fault, for not battling, or for battling poorly, rather…
Then, Sai came back. To say that I was ecstatic was an understatement. He was perfectly okay! He wanted our journey to continue! Even though he said we were going to the pokémon gym right away, I swear that it didn’t matter to me at that moment. And then—when we really did arrive at the pokémon gym…! Senori’s fight had inspired me. He had finally found a way to let go of his past. Even though he didn’t tell me this, I could see it on his face the moment that he evolved. He looked like a free pokémon, through and through. For a moment, I felt like we were at home, though that was nowhere permanent yet.
That was where me—and Ezrem—wanted to be.
I finally approached Sai about this. I finally tried to find a way to get us there, once and for all.
That would be step one, I decided.
It was the morning after the second Goldenrod City gym battle. I woke up early that day, full of energy and determination. I noticed that Sai was up already, too—he was lying in his bed, murmuring to himself about something—and used this chance to talk to him.
“Sai,” I said, approaching him. I made sure to be quiet, since Senori was lying at his side, sleeping still.
“Yes, Elekid?” he said, turning his head to look at me.
“Won’t you call me Rennio?” I said first. If he was going to listen to my thoughts and take them to heart, then he had to know who I really was.
“I don’t consider that your name,” he said plainly, “but I know you do, along with the others. Did your old trainer give you that name?”
“Yes,” I said, smiling at the positive memory of Annie. “That’s why I want you to call me it, too, especially if you’re not going to give me another name…”
“It would be even worse to give you another name. You can keep calling yourself what you want. Anyway,” Sai said, “what did you want to talk about?”
“I wanted to talk about me and Ezrem,” I said, allowing him to change the subject. Someday, I believed that he would call me by my name. “Our goals for the future…”
“The future?” Sai said, as if the idea was foreign to him. I wondered if it truly was. Annie always had had a goal in mind, but they were the exact opposite of each other, it seemed.
“Yes,” I said. “Me and Ezrem have been looking for home. We really want to get there someday.”
“Where’s home for you?”
“Unova. Rufflet are from Unova, and apparently… so were elekid… once upon a time…”
“Oh,” Sai said simply, my words apparently having no effect on him. “I don’t know where that is.”
“There are maps and stuff to help you figure those kinds of things out,” I said quickly. “And there’s ships. And planes. Plenty of transportation modes!”
“Why didn’t you just go there after your trainer passed, then?”
“We’re just pokémon…” I said. My voice was soft; he had stung me with his blunt choice of words. Did he have any social skills at all? “We can’t do that by ourselves. That’s why we need you.”
Sai thought for a moment. “So you want me to bring you to this Unova place, huh?”
“That’s exactly right! I’ll do anything for it! And so would Ezrem, if you’d give him a chance to be on the team,” I said, glad we were getting somewhere now. It felt invigoration, empowering.
“What would you do?” Sai said curiously.
“I’d… finally battle for you. Ezrem would, too, if you needed him. I’ll stop being a baby for you. I’ll try, anyway. I’ll really try… and I’ve never even tried before—”
“Stop,” Sai interrupted suddenly. I froze, wondering if I had said anything wrong. “You don’t have to try for me. That’s up to you. Either way, I wouldn’t be able to fulfill your request.”
I could feel my heart fall. It had become a familiar sensation lately, it seemed. “Why not?” I asked.
“I can’t leave the region.”
“Why not?” I asked again.
“It’s complicated. I have—had—people following me… If I left the region, surely they would hunt me down until the end of time… and do unimaginable things…” Sai said, looking up to the top of the bunk. He looked lost in thought now, forlorn and desperate.
“So you’ll never leave the region?”
“No,” Sai said, “but maybe I can get you guys there. I can’t make any promises, but—”
“That’s good enough!” I cried, and then I remembered that I had to keep my voice down. I stopped for a moment, then continued, “I promise that I’ll fight for you from now on. We’re leaving for the next town soon, right? I promise that I’ll battle the first trainer that we come across. You’ll see, I’ll do better than I did at the gym.”
But Sai didn’t look impressed. “Like I said, you don’t have to fight for me. In fact, your not fighting probably helps you out even more.”
“What? That doesn’t make any sense…” I said, wondering how on earth my not being able to fight was at all useful to anyone.
“I can’t explain. But do what you want.”
“Okay,” I said, deciding not to push him further. He was already being mysterious and confusing as it was, and I had completed my goal of getting him to think about us going to Unova, anyway. That was a start.
We were quiet for a few moments, with him looking at me peculiarly. Even when my eyes shifted back and forth between him and whatever else I could look at nervously, he didn’t stop peering over at me. His dark eyes were an odd color of blue; it almost made him look crazy, as if he were feeling intensely wound up inside. He looked like… he was longing for something. That was the best way I could put it. Maybe it had to do with me, since he was staring at me so intently.
Well, since he was looking to please me (maybe—hopefully), I dared to ask, “Will you… feed me sometime? My old trainer used to feed me… It’s been a long time since anyone’s done that… I just want it done, for old time’s sake, you know. I’m sorry if that’s weird. Yeah. I’m sorry.”
At this, Sai just laughed. “I feed you all the time. Every day, in fact. So I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Feeding me. Like… a baby.”
Sai chuckled again. “I still don’t know what you’re talking about, but you aren’t a baby. You can feed yourself. But maybe. Maybe that could be your prize for fighting.”
I thought for a moment, satisfied with his answer—it would give me further motivation to fight, after all. “I have one last question,” I said, thinking back to older times, now. His disappearance hadn’t happened too far back, but still, it was just as fresh in my memory as Annie’s death.
“Go for it.”
“Why did you leave us? We were so worried about you…”
“…Senori said the same thing.”
“Because it’s true.”
“I can’t tell you,” Sai said quietly, finally looking away. “I had… business to take care of. If I could have taken you guys along, I would have. I would have put you all in your pokéballs or something. But be glad you stayed where you were.”
“Why? Being wild pokémon when we belong to a trainer is no fun at all,” I said, shuddering at the idea all over again.
“Maybe one day, you’ll come with me, and you’ll regret you ever did.”
…And that was the end of that conversation. At least we had gotten somewhere, but I understood my trainer even less, now. When would it all finally be clear to me? Perhaps never, but that wouldn’t have been very ideal. I would just have to wait and see.
Though my words had seemed to come out of nowhere, I intended to keep my promise of fighting the first trainer we saw on our way to the next destination: Ecruteak City. Of course I was nervous, and of course I would probably want to back down as soon as the situation was closer, but I pushed those thoughts aside for now. We left early in the morning—shortly after our conversation, as everyone else had risen to the sound of our voices—and we headed through the northern exit of the city. I noticed Sai was walking quicker than he usually did, as if he was in a hurry.
“So, uh, why are we flying through the cities? I think that’s how you put it before, anyway,” I asked, keeping my pace brisk in order to keep up with him. It wasn’t working. The others seemed perfectly fine with doing this.
“We are flying through the cities… because that’s what I was ordered to do.”
I gave up my pace in order to think about this for a moment. As long as I could see the group, I supposed that I could afford to keep myself slightly behind. Again, I tried comparing Annie to Sai. Annie was on a journey because she wanted to be. Sai was on a journey, even though he didn’t want to be. Annie was a free spirit, and Sai was tired down by some invisible wires that only he could see. Yeah, that sounded about right. Did it make any more sense to me? Not at all.
I decided to try a different approach. I went up to Senori and asked him how long they had been traveling.
“Well, we spent a week and a half out in the wild recently… And we spent a week in a cave, once… but other than that, we’ve been moving quickly. So maybe a month, or a month and a half,” Senori said thoughtfully.
“Do you know why he’s going so fast?”
“No one does. You’re not alone.”
Suddenly, Ezrem, who had been walking in front of me until now, stopped moving and let me bump into him. I stumbled backward, mumbling that I was sorry, and to watch what he was doing.
“Oops,” Ezrem said, grinning. “But really. I’m trying not to let your mind wander too far. It’s too small and fragile to be out by itself, don’t you think?”
“Hey! That’s not very nice,” I said, huffing and crossing my arms.
“You’re the one who says he’s a baby,” Ezrem said. “Look, enough’s gone wrong already, right? Don’t try to bring any more drama into our lives. Our schedules are full.”
“Oh, yeah? And what exactly are we so busy with?” I said.
“Moving on to the next city, and getting closer to home. You should know that.”
I did know that, but I didn’t say anything in response. Smiling, I figured that soon, I would tell Ezrem that I had talked to Sai about going home, and that he had agreed to at least think about it. That was closer than we had ever gotten in years, since Annie never seemed like she was going to let us go or finish her journey (not that I would have left, had she not passed—but Ezrem was another story). He would be so thrilled, I just knew it! And after he knew, nothing would be able to bring his spirits down like they were at this moment, for whatever reason.
Things were quiet for a while after that. We kept traveling, and we only dared to speak up when we were hungry. Sai, of course, being the good trainer that he was—and I still believed he was a good trainer, despite what his sudden leave, because I thought that that was a problem with me, not him—fed us, but he told us that we should walk and eat at the same time, because we were running out of time. Dusk would start setting it soon, he said. Due to past experiences, I didn’t feel that we had been moving long enough for it to be dark anytime soon, but I listened anyway. That was just the kind of pokémon that I was.
It was only when dusk really did start setting in that Ezrem approached me again.
“So you talked to him about going home, huh? It was hard not to notice that smile on your face after I talked about it.”
“Yeah. I told him about Unova and everything,” I said, surprised in a good way about his more normal demeanor.
“I don’t know if Unova is really home or not. I mean, rufflet live there and all, and so did elekid, but who says that we’ll like it there?”
“Ezrem?” I asked, not sure what he was saying. After we had come all this way, he was going to change his mind? It didn’t make sense.
“Home could be just about anywhere. We could just take life as it is, and end up in the same happy spot as we would if he went to Unova. Do you get what I’m saying?”
“I guess… So you want to give up the plan?”
“No. If we can get to Unova, we should take that chance. I’m just saying that I’m not as excited about it as I once was.”
Well, that was certainly a better response. Had he given up the plan entirely, I would have felt simply crushed. I had only followed in his footsteps was because he was so much smarter than me and because I was always so lost on my own. If he didn’t even know the path to succeeding in life, I obviously wouldn’t have a chance.
“Yeah…” I said, deciding to change the subject to something that I was (slightly) more confident about. To get him to think about it, I also told him that I’d fight again.”
“You did?” Ezrem said, his eyes growing wide.
“I did,” I said. I thought for a moment, then added, “I meant it this time, too.”
“Then what am I focusing on my own self-pity for? I can find a trainer for you! This won’t be a problem at all!” Ezrem said.
I didn’t stop him, because he seemed so happy about my words that I just didn’t have the heart to tell him that I wasn’t ready yet. In truth, I didn’t know if I was ready or not anymore. Senori had certainly inspired me, and I had grown a lot when Sai had disappeared, but still. I only knew that it wouldn’t be hard to find a trainer. While I had promised to fight the first trainer we came across, we had encountered several trainers thus far, and Sai hadn’t spoken to any of them about a battle. Either he had forgotten, or he truly thought that not fighting was best for me. I couldn’t believe that. How else was I supposed to gain respect to the electivire line?
Ezrem literally ran up to every trainer we saw after that. He frantically tried pointing to them, and then to Sai, since none of them could understand him. Most of them blew him off, confused and in a hurry to find shelter before it got completely dark. When he got tired of being ignored, he started kicking them in the shins. I couldn’t help but laugh. Such behavior was so… Ezrem-like, and it appealed to me greatly compared to his earlier self.
Eventually, he found a trainer who approached Sai.
“Is that your rufflet?” he said, pointing to Ezrem.
“No,” Sai said, “but he likes to follow me around. He wants me to battle you.”
“I can battle you,” the trainer said immediately, automatically. “Let’s make it interesting, okay? If I win, I get that rufflet. If I lose, you can, of course, keep him.”
Sai thought for a moment. Was he really going to use Ezrem as a bargaining tool? My heart began to pound. If this was how my first battle as a brand new pokémon was going to go, then I definitely wasn’t prepared or willing to participate anymore.
Finally, Sai said, “I’m not interested in making bets. Ask him.”
“Tell him it’s a deal. I have faith in Rennio,” Ezrem said.
“Ezrem, just because you’re have an identity crisis doesn’t mean that you can gamble your life away!” I cried, waving my arms at him frantically. He simply kept his eyes on the trainer in front of him.
“He says okay,” Sai said emotionlessly.
“All right,” the boy said, licking his lips. “Let’s do this.”
And so it started. While I started sweating profusely, Sai and the other boy took their positions, turning the clearing we were standing on into an arena. I was already standing in the middle, so at least I didn’t have to walk to the middle while my legs were shaking. This battle was off to a good start, I thought sarcastically, bitterly.
“Go, Arcanine!” the boy cried, eager to get started.
I, as usual, wasn’t mentally—or physically, as it turned out—prepared for my opponent. The pokémon that appeared resembled a dog. The most notable thing I saw was that it was at least three times my size. It had a cream-colored mane covering around its neck, head, and legs. The otherwise orange pokémon had random black stripes on its body.
As a greeting, it growled ferociously.
“You have got to be kidding me,” I said weakly.
“I believe in you, Rennio!” Ezrem called again from the sidelines. “What do you have to lose, anyway? Your life? You got that for free!”
I waved to him slowly, and I felt more like I was signaling for him to shut up than thanking him for his (very kind) support. I tried hard not to let my thoughts succumb to death, and so far, it was working, aside from being forced to think about it due to Ezrem’s comment. Yes, there was an obvious change that had taken place in me, and it was already showing.
“Don’t forget your catchphrase!” I heard Ezrem call amidst all of his cheering.
“Yeah, yeah,” I said. “Rennio has come back to the world!”
The arcanine laughed. “You have, have you? This should be an enthralling match between me and a little pipsqueak like you.”
Words were either exceedingly encouraging or exceedingly brutal, I realized. I didn’t say anything, but took the mention of my size to heart. If only I had evolved… But it was too late for that. My promise to Annie had been made—and kept.
“Elekid,” Sai said kindly, “show me what kind of moves you’ve got, okay?”
“Right,” I said, trying to put myself into an intimidating stance, but the arcanine didn’t seem fazed.
“You know why my trainer made such a dangerous bet for your trainer? Because he knew he wouldn’t lose! You don’t scare me!” it roared.
“Hmm,” was my response. I couldn’t back down now. I wanted to crawl back to Sai and beg him for forgiveness already, but it was too late. I had gotten myself into this mess, and it up to me to get out of it, too. This had to be done not only for my sake now, but for Ezrem’s as well. I would have to smack him later for putting me—and himself—into such a life-threatening position.
I started running at the arcanine, unsure of what attack I would even be doing or how it would affect the giant monster. It had been so long since I battled that I apparently forgot the meaning of strategy. Nevertheless, I ran until I was in front of the arcanine. The dog crouched downward, looking like it was going to bite me the first chance it got. I wasn’t going to give it that chance, so as I got close to his mouth, I slid down on my knees, going under his head and positioning myself under its belly. Here, I felt somewhat safe, compared to being outside in the arena, where anything could happen. I knew that I had to attack, though, so I jumped up to the arcanine’s underside and kicked it with as much force as I could muster. The arcanine yelped, as he probably wasn’t expecting any move from me, much less one that was so powerful. I immediately made my way back out into the arena, afraid that he would crush me in retaliation.
“Not bad for someone of your size,” the arcanine said, one eye closed from wincing.
“Exactly… Don’t underestimate me…” I said, but my words didn’t sound very strong. My voice was still shaky, confused and lost. Baby-like.
“Sure,” it said. “I won’t.”
“That was my low kick attack,” I said, turning to Sai to make sure that he could hear me. Of course, this turned out to be a big mistake—it left an opening for the arcanine to attack me.
“Arcanine, use take down!” the pokémon’s trainer called.
Before I knew it, I was being sprawled backward, landing by Sai and the others. I cried out in pain, not expecting the sudden impact of the attack. The arcanine had collided directly with my stomach, and I held it comfortingly, swaying back and forth, hoping the cradling motion would send the terrible sensation away.
“Don’t talk to me,” Sai ordered. “Use your own attacks.”
I nodded. I had learned that Sai mostly enjoyed being a spectator of battles, while checking in here and there to keep everything sane and controlled. That made sense to me. Besides, he wasn’t experienced enough to control me, so this was for the best. I made my way back to the center of the arena, legs shaking from the sudden pain. It hadn’t been a terribly powerful attack, but it told me that the arcanine not only knew what it was doing, but it knew how to make full use of every single move it had.
I continued trying to run under the arcanine and using low kicks, but this time, the dog knew what to expect. Every time that I got close, it hopped out of the way with extraordinary speed, and it tried to fight back with more take down attacks. Similarly, I dodged out of the way each time—but just barely, due to the pokémon’s enormity and my nervousness attempting to keep me frozen. At least my speed, during all of this break time in between battles, hadn’t betrayed me much.
Eventually, I decided to stop playing games, and to try really attacking—with a move that couldn’t be avoided, no matter how hard the arcanine tried. I ran to my side of the arena, making the arcanine think that I was forfeiting. I tried to focus my mind, recalling what it was like to use this attack. It felt like being pure, as if I was striking the arcanine with the full force of the night sky that everyone wishes upon. I released a series of bright, solid stars toward the dog. The arcanine tried to avoid the volley of stars, of course, but I kept shooting so many of them that several of them hit, causing more and more damage with each blast.
The arcanine growled. “How dare you use those cheap tricks,” it said.
“They’re legit attacks…” I countered. “Obviously.”
This only made the arcanine angrier. I scolded myself, wondering why I was only serving to aggravate the pokémon further. A more furious pokémon meant more powerful attacks, and more powerful attacks meant that the battle would turn against my favor.
Apparently, Sai noticed this. “Use thundershock, Elekid!” he cried.
That, I could obey. It was the next attack that I was going to use, anyway. With all of the sweat that I had been building up on my body due to anxiety, the attack was going to have a much greater impact. I tried to focus my mind once more, remembering not only myself using the attack in the past, but the clefairy from the Goldenrod City gym. If a normal-type pokémon could use elemental attacks, then so could I…
When I released the loud, crackling streak of lightning, it felt like a huge relief to me. I had done it. I had really done it. And by my own free will, no less. It wasn’t done as self-defense, and it wasn’t done just for the sake of doing it. I was doing it during a battle, a real battle. I had never felt more immensely proud of myself, and I smiled as the electricity engulfed the arcanine in a beautiful yellow glow.
Then, things backfired on me. I hadn’t been wanting to make the arcanine angrier, but apparently, losing made its fury rise and rise. That was the goal of the battle, of course, so I wanted to win, but… Apparently, the arcanine hadn’t been expecting me to be this powerful.
“This must be a joke,” the arcanine snarled. “That trainer is new, no doubt. And you—you are anything but new to this. I can feel it in my bones.”
“Y-Yes… Well, that’s a long story, you see—”
“One that I’m not interested in hearing,” the arcanine interrupted. “If you want to play a game of elementals, then I will join you.”
As if they were communicating telepathically, the trainer yelled, “Arcanine, use flamethrower!”
That was when I froze completely. Flamethrower, I knew, was the most powerful fire-type attack anyone could use. Since it was being used by a fire-type pokémon, the flamethrower’s power was probably going to be beyond my imagination. It was a simple logic that even I, in my anxious state, could understand. I remembered Ezrem, and I remembered that I was the last elekid, and I remembered other instances in which I had seen hurt pokémon—none of these memories were pleasant, to say the least, though I cherished Ezrem dearly.
The arcanine drew in a deep, deep breath, and I could swear that it was grinning at me as it did so. Its head drew back, and when it burst forward, so did an intense streak of red and orange flames. I stood there, unsure of what to do. I wasn’t ready to die or be hurt. I still had so much to do.
“Rennio, you have to do something!” Ezrem cried, flapping his wings up and down, up and down…
But later, I knew that he knew I wasn’t going to do anything. He was flapping his wings not to get my attention, but so that he could fly over to me as quickly as possible. He stood in front of me, and I saw him, and I wanted to scream at him to move, but I couldn’t—even my lungs were shut down. Ezrem braced himself with one wing as the flames clashed with his tiny body.
I simply watched as Ezrem was shrouded by the fire. It hurt me, as if I were the one being hit, and so I couldn’t imagine what kind of agony that my friend was going through. It reminded me of Annie, of the forest fire, all over again—like so many things did. It was as if the world was conspiring to be against us, forever and for always.
When the attack ended, Ezrem started shrieking from the pain. He hopped around like an imbecile, holding on to the wing that had taken the most damage.
“What’s going on here?!” the boy cried. “The rufflet wasn’t supposed to be in the battle! I can’t believe this! You just hurt my shiny pokémon!”
At this, Ezrem stopped hopping, though he looked like he was going to topple over instead.
“Shiny?” he said, and he was so quiet that I was probably the only one who heard him.
“Battle’s over,” Sai said quickly, rushing over to me and Ezrem.
“Shiny?” Ezrem repeated. “That’s what I am? That’s why everyone’s after me? Because I’m shiny?”
“I need to get him to a pokémon center,” Sai explained, picking up Ezrem in his arms, holding him carefully.
“This isn’t over yet! The bet is still on!”
“The bet is over! No one wins,” Sai said firmly, glaring at the boy. He started running back toward Goldenrod City, motioning for all of us to follow.
We all followed, with me being the farthest behind.
It took about an hour to get back to the Goldenrod City pokémon center. The entire time, Ezrem was shrieking from either pain, or from the realization that he was a shiny pokémon. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but evidently it was nothing special.
When Sai handed Ezrem over to the nurse at the counter, she asked what on earth had happened.
“We ran into a tough pokémon,” was all Sai said, his head drooping low. He was out of breath, but he was doing a good job at trying not to let it show.
“My goodness,” she said. “It definitely looks like he got burnt. I’ll have to take a closer look at him. Please wait in the lobby, and I’ll come get you as soon as I have more information.”
“Thank you,” Sai said.
The running, the encounter with the nurse, the waiting—it all went by like a blur to me. It wasn’t something that I pleasantly wanted to remember, anyway. I had gotten Ezrem hurt, and badly so. I hadn’t meant to, I really hadn’t. My freezing was supposed to be my problem, not his! He shouldn’t have run into the arena so selflessly. He shouldn’t have taken the blow for me. It should have been me who had gotten burnt. At least he wasn’t killed—that would, of course, be the worst outcome—but still… Once again, I was overcome by endless, all-encompassing guilt.
“It’s okay…” Sai said, noticing this. He was patting me on the shoulder. “Rennio, you did a good job,” he added.
“Rennio…” I said to myself. Sai had finally called me by my name.
I started crying, both from happiness and sadness.
Until now, I hadn’t thought such a thing was possible, but it was.