To think that the world was keeping such a huge secret from me was unbelievable. To think that this was how everyone repaid me for all the damage I had done… It was deniable. More than anything, I wanted to deny it. I had started trying to be a good pokémon, after all! I was staying away from Kuiora, because she was so much better than me, and I didn’t want to taint her further than I already had. I was trying to help Rennio in his time of need by encouraging him in my own way—he would understand entirely, I knew. And I had taken the heat for him—literally, even! While my whole body had been engulfed in pain, my one wing was badly burnt, or so the nurse had said.
I had just been handed over to the nurse by Sai, and she had said that. That was the only good thing about this whole situation—Sai was showing that he at least cared about me a little by taking me to the pokémon center, despite his obvious wish to get to Ecruteak City as soon as possible. So the rotten boy did have a soft spot in his heart for me!
But now, that was by far the last thing on my mind. My head was reeling, and I felt like I was going to vomit at any moment. My one wing ached vaguely, and as for the other one… Well, I wouldn’t have minded it being amputated if it meant that the agony would subside.
The nurse brought me into the back room of the pokémon center. There were plenty of beds, some of them filled with obviously sick pokémon, and others completely empty and cleaned, ready for use by anybody. Next to each bed was a large, grey machine that was similar to the one behind the main counter. I assumed that it was used to heal pokémon.
But the nurse didn’t hook me up to this machine. She simply set me on the bed and told me to relax, and that everything was going to be okay. Her voice sounded so sad that I couldn’t believe her.
“Everything will be all right,” she said again. She went out of the room for a moment, and came back with a glass of water. “Drink this,” she said. “Keep yourself hydrated.”
Next, she went over to the far wall and grabbed a pair of gloves from a small box. She put them on. I knew that she was preparing to touch me, and I flinched just thinking about it. But she didn’t even touch me at first. Looking at me, she began mumbling to herself about how the feathers had been charred off, and that the skin underneath appeared very pale. Finally, she reached toward me—I braced myself to feel an immense amount of pain, but shockingly, when her gloves came into contact with my wing, I felt nothing.
“Does that hurt?” she said.
“N-No,” I managed to say.
“I see,” she said, and I swore she sounded sadder. Just great, I thought. Then—“I’m going to examine your airway,” she added calmly, soothingly, “and check your breathing, to make sure that you’re functioning correctly there.”
That was fine, I thought. I could deal with that. I breathed in and out as normally as I could, and it only hurt when I exhaled, as part of the flames had struck the lower part of my neck. Apparently, she was concerned about this.
“Your airway seems fine, which is good,” she said. “But the wing…”
And it all went downhill from there.
The nurse picked me up and cradled me as she brought me back out to Sai. When he saw us, he stood up immediately, and looked at her expectantly.
“Well?” he said. “What’s wrong with him?”
I wanted to choke him then, and tell him that there was nothing wrong with me. There was nothing wrong at all… And it just so happened that everyone but me thought the opposite!
“The base of Ezrem’s neck and his one wing are minor burns that can be treated with care and in time. The other wing, however… The other wing has sustained severe third degree burns…” the nurse said, her voice trailing off, as if she couldn’t continue. She cradled me further, though, and it would have been comfortable—if I wasn’t able to understand her.
“So? What does that even mean? What are you trying to say?” Sai said, motioning for her to go on with his hands. Such an impatient little boy, he was.
“Third degree burns are also called full thickness burns. This is because they destroy the entire outer layer of skin, and the layer of nerve fibers underneath. This means that usually, not a lot of pain can be felt, which seems like a fortunate sign,” the nurse said. She sighed. “But unfortunately, these types of burns cannot be treated, even with care and in time, even with our machines here. I’m sorry, but he may not be able to use his wing anymore.”
I froze. I had been expecting something terrible, but I hadn’t been expecting this. I wouldn’t be able to fly anymore? I wouldn’t be able to suspend in the air, showing off to the world that I was freer than everyone else? A part of me that had been with me through thick and thin would no longer be there. It was inconceivable, impossible…
Sai got my hopes when he said, “He may not be able to? Is there any other way?”
“There could be a way, but I can’t be certain. No one can.”
“What is it?” I blurted out. I would do anything she asked—
“Well, skin grafts could be an option. Skin grafts are used to permanently replace destroyed tissues. They are very expensive, however, and would require Ezrem to stay for a much longer period of time in order to recover.”
Sai thought for a long, long time. The nurse was about to prod him to speak when he said, “I’m a trainer. I don’t have much money…”
My heart fell. Of course we didn’t, I already was aware of this. And I knew, even though he wasn’t saying it, that we were low on time, too, for whatever reason.
“There’s another way, though,” she went on. “If he evolves, the nerve fibers may be replaced and he could use his wing again. It may not be as effective, but it’s better than nothing. It’s a possibility, anyway.”
… I would do anything she asked, except for that.
Of course the solution to my problem would be the one thing that I had promised I wouldn’t do for Annie. I mean, at the time, I only did it because I wanted to get home, and I willing to listen to anything she said… and I had planned on evolving sometime when I was on my own… and she was gone now… and I wanted to keep her memory alive now that I cared what I had done to her… I just didn’t know. This was also inconceivable, impossible.
“Okay,” Sai said. He looked at me solemnly, as if he were telling me sorry for neglecting me all this time. “What else can we do?”
But I was lost in a train of thought, and I didn’t want to hear it.
I was hit with two low blows in a row. I had lost the use of my wing, through a situation that could have been entirely avoided if I weren’t so stupid. That’s not to say that I regretted saving Rennio. That just meant that I shouldn’t have pushed for him to battle in the first place… even if he really needed to do it eventually.
And the secret. The secret!
How could I not have known? That was the first thing that I wondered when I found out. Really. After all these years, why hadn’t Annie told me? Knowing her, it probably wouldn’t have mattered whether or not she told me. But she had always believed that one should be aware of their own identity, so… why hadn’t she told me? Why hadn’t Rennio told me? And why hadn’t Kuiora, given her love for rare and legendary pokémon? On second thought, she had been close to telling me, once, but we had gotten interrupted. Thinking back on it now, I was grateful that she hadn’t told me, because that meant that she didn’t have to see me this way…
My mind continued spinning as we left the pokémon center and started heading back toward Ecruteak City.
“We’re heading back, now,” Sai said. “I’m sorry for the interruption.” And that was all that I had bothered to listen to. He carried me as he walked briskly, as if he thought that my legs weren’t able to move or something. And maybe he felt sorry for me. And I was sorry to say, buddy, that I didn’t want your self-pity. But I didn’t make a sound. No one else did, either, but I thought that I heard Rennio crying—again.
I soon found out what the nurse had said about healing my burns, however, when we had reached the same clearing where the incident had taken place. Sai had stopped here on purpose and set me down. He asked for Kuiora to step forward, and for the rest of the group to back off.
“Kuiora,” I said, my voice barely above a whisper. Could she still think that I was special? Probably not!
She nodded. Her head tilted backward, and when she lurched forward, a soft stream of water came, too. She hit me in the neck, and then moved toward my other wing. Since the wounds were still fresh, I roared in pain.
“What was that for?” I cried through gritted teeth.
“The nurse said you have to take cool baths for your burns,” Sai explained, “and it just so happens that we have a water-type pokémon on the team. Aren’t you lucky?”
I felt anything but lucky, but I said nothing.
Next, Sai handed me two small pills, similar to the ones he had been taking himself. “For the pain,” he said, and we both nodded. I opened my mouth and he stuck them on my tongue. I nearly died trying to swallow them without water, but I managed to get them down and keep them down.
“And now,” Sai said, taking out a small bottle from his pocket, “we put some cream on it.”
He put some of the cream on his hands, and he gently rubbed it into the side of my neck, and on both of my wings. Of course, the wing that would be out of commission forever didn’t hurt, while the others were still trying to make me scream. I didn’t know whether to be thankful or spiteful over the fact that the worst burn was mocking me by staying so silent.
Finally, Sai took out some bandages from his pocket. I assumed that he got all of these supplies from the nurse, and I vaguely wondered what would happen if we ran out on the middle of the route. I thought back to when I told Rennio our schedules were full. This conversation had just happened this morning. Then, my only worry was getting home. Now, I was worried about being a shiny pokémon that everyone targeted, and being a useless flying-type pokémon for the rest of my life.
Sai placed a square shaped patch on my neck, over the minor part that was burned slightly. Then, he wrapped the other two wings fully. He had to try at least three times before he got it right, though.
“Sorry,” he said. “I’ve never done this before.”
“It’s okay,” I said sadly. “Me neither.”
When he was finally finished and satisfied with his attempt, I tried flapping my wings and immediately regretted it. My left wing didn’t—couldn’t—move at all, and my right wing paid me back in full for daring to move it. I cringed.
And soon enough, all was quiet again. Sai offered to carry me the rest of the way, but I said no, I wanted to walk with the rest of the group. In truth, I wanted to talk to Kuiora… and after that, I wanted to talk to Rennio.
I ignored the desperate looks from the elekid as I motioned for Kuiora to come to the back of the line with me. I saw Rennio turn his back to me regretfully as he started following Sai. Occasionally, I saw him turn back again and again, but he never said a word. He acted and looked as if he had been the one burnt instead. And in a way, I was sure he felt burnt. I would have to take care of it later.
I wondered what would come of these conversations. At least Kuiora was still caring for me. That was a start. But she looked angry, I knew, as if she didn’t want to help me to begin with. Maybe it was all in my head, but I sure didn’t think so.
“Well, what do you want?” she said in a tone that pretty much confirmed my fears.
When I didn’t answer, she looked as if she was about to leave, but I stopped her by pecking her on the tail. She soon acquiesced, sick of the passive-aggressive attacks.
“Do you want to know,” I started, “what’s worse than a legendary pokémon who has a short temper, is a bit smite happy, and who has no developed sense of humor?”
“Uh,” she said. “Sure?”
“What’s worse is a legendary pokémon with a short temper who is very smite happy, and has a highly developed sense of humor.”
“I’m not sure I know what you’re getting at…”
“Even the legendary pokémon can be just like us! They can destroy others, destroy places, and get lost in their own minds. It’s such a mind blowing catastrophe.”
“Ezrem, are you okay? I mean, I know you’re not okay… But even before all of this, you haven’t seemed like yourself lately.”
“I’m special to you, and therefore I am invisible, like the rest of your worshipped friends. Who cares?” I said, knowing that I was being difficult, but I didn’t care.
“I do, and that’s exactly why!”
I couldn’t stand it. I wanted her to care, but at the same time I didn’t. Looking over at Atis, I thought about bothering the others.
“What about you, Atis?” he said, hopping over to the fighting-type pokémon, who was staying close to Sai from behind. “Do you care?”
“I guess so…” he said, looking at me oddly. Apparently, he had been eavesdropping. As expected from the quietest member of the group.
“What do you think about the legendary pokémon? What do you think about me? Am I evil?”
“W-Well, I’ve never seen you do anything bad… like hurt anyone or anything…” Atis said, walking slower and slower now, his feet turning uncomfortably as he did so.
“Any decent human being wouldn’t do such a thing. But I am neither decent or a human being. You lose.”
“Ezrem—” Kuiora tried to start, but she didn’t seem to know where she was going with it.
“Calm yourself, Kuiora,” I said. “I am clearly having an identity crisis here, and you are not allowed to interrupt.”
“You’re my friend. I’ll interrupt if I want to. Why don’t we keep standing in the back and talk it out a little?”
But I didn’t want to talk it out anymore, though I knew it was inevitable. Torn, I kept spouting out nonsense, talking about how everyone in the world was keeping a secret from me that I just couldn’t figure out.
“But I finally found out,” I told Kuiora. “I’m a shiny pokémon. A real, live, breathing shiny pokémon. Isn’t that fantastical?”
“Ezrem,” she said, “it’s not a bad thing. That’s why I’ve thought you were special all this time, and you’re still—”
“But you must be mad, right? Obviously, I didn’t know that I was shiny, but I still claimed myself to be legendary in front of you. That’s some deceitful stuff right there, don’t you think?”
“Yeah, I’m angry… but I can’t stay angry with you, considering the state you’re in,” Kuiora said, looking me over thoroughly, making a point. “I’ve been angry before, and I’ve learned from it. I don’t want to be that way again, especially not with you.”
“You should be angry. Angrier than you’ve ever been.”
“Why? What’s so bad about being a shiny pokémon?” she asked, genuinely curious.
She wanted to know why it was a bad thing? I could tell her why. I told her everything. I told her about making Rennio believe that he was the last elekid on this planet, just so that he would become attached to me and never want to leave. I told her that being a shiny pokémon suddenly made me feel like the only shiny rufflet in the world, and it made me feel lonely, and I wanted to bring someone down with me. I was missing my monster more than anything. I told her that I wanted to be the same monster that I was when I killed my previous trainer in a fire. In a fire that I started. I told her how ironic it was, now, that I should get burned myself. It was karma, I knew. Pure karma.
“And that,” I concluded, “is why you should be mad with me. I am a terrible pokémon, and I know it, and I won’t stop it, though I’ve tried. I tried keeping quiet with you, and I’m going to tell Rennio… soon. Not today, but soon.”
Kuiora stopped walking, making me stop, too. Her face was turning red, the sides of her mouth turned down as low as I had ever seen them.
“You killed your trainer? You told Rennio that?” she said weakly.
“I did,” I said, smiling for dramatic effect.
“I don’t want to be angry. Don’t do this,” she said, noticing my theatrics. She knew me too well.
“You should hurt me. Or kill me. Or something. Really. I deserve it.”
“No, Ezrem!” Kuiora cried. “I won’t!”
When she continued this persistent refusal for a little while, Sai finally stopped moving, probably having heard part of the conversation despite being several steps ahead of us, thanks to Kuiora’s frantic screaming. I couldn’t see his face, but his fists were clenched, and I feared for the worst.
He turned, bent over, and picked me up by the wing—the bad one. I hung there, trying to flap my other wing wildly, ignoring the pain, trying to make a point that I was still stronger than he ever would be as a trainer. I was either yelling out obscenities or grunting sounds at this point, and eventually, when I realized that I truly needed both of my wings to get anywhere, I let Sai win and let myself go limp.
“Let’s get this straight,” Sai said, keeping his firm grip on me. “You are not on this team. I helped you and broke the rules yet again out of the kindness of my heart, but you are still not on this team. I don’t know what you were saying, but you won’t antagonize my pokémon if you’re going to keep following us around. You’ve only been allowed to follow us around because of… Rennio. It was a favor I did for him in exchange for his being on my team. Do you understand?”
“Yeah, yeah,” I said quietly. I was much calmer now, but looked much more ashamed. I should have felt ashamed, I thought. I wanted to be on this trainer’s team, and I already had very little hope of doing so… and now, my chances might have just been ruined forever.
“Besides,” Sai said, suddenly calmer now. “He cares a lot about you, so you should listen. He came to me just this morning to talk about you. I’ll leave you to guess what it was about, since you won’t talk to him or listen to others.”
“Okay,” I said simply. I didn’t mention how we had already talked about it, and I dreaded the fact that we had to talk yet again, and soon. My witty comments and his jokes were set aside. “I’m sorry,” I added, my voice even more quiet.
It was strange, in a way, to have Sai being the only one to calm me down. There was some solace, I knew, in the fact that he didn’t like me. I felt that I deserved it. With Rennio and Kuiora, I wanted them to hate me yet I wanted them to love me at the same time. It was a poor place to be on the battlefield on friendship.
Sai lowered his arm and released his grasp on my wing, causing me to start falling to the ground, but I kept myself levitated before I crashed, making my wing explode with pain yet again. At this rate, how long would it take to heal? My landing was soft and quiet, unlike the previous conversation and confrontation.
Kuiora didn’t give up, as expected. I both despised her and cherished her for it at that moment. She came up to me, asking, “Do you know what the most important thing in this world is?”
“If you say friendship, I’ll stab you with your spinal cord,” I retorted.
“Despite everything, I know you wouldn’t do that,” Kuiora said. “It is companionship, though. I used to only want companionship with legendary pokémon, and ignored everyone else at Professor Elm’s lab for it. Now, I regret it, and I’d like to start over. I won’t even consider you legendary if you think it’s a bad thing, okay?”
I looked down at myself. I was red. The color of passion, of violence. Even more ironically, it was the color of fire. It fit me perfectly. What color was I really supposed to be? I asked her.
“Blue,” she said. “I’ve seen pictures. That’s how I knew.”
“I see,” I said. The color of loneliness was blue. I was not meant to be blue, and therefore… I wasn’t meant to be lonely? Was that what it was? It was such a strange, strange concept. “So… you still want to be with me?”
“Then… if you really want to… I’d like to spend more time together, too. I say that Arceus made another one of me to love you better than I ever will, but we can settle with my stupid self for now, I suppose. So… what are you doing between now and forever?”
Kuiora giggled, and I knew that all was well.
That was one battle down. Now, I had another battle to face. In some respects, it was the harder of the two battles, and in some respects, it was easier. I knew Rennio better, for one, so I knew that he would instantly begin by incessantly asking for forgiveness. But it was this same exact thing that made it harder—I knew him, and yet he didn’t know me. He didn’t know the first thing about me, even after all these years. The fact made me want to open to him, but it wasn’t time. Not yet.
“Rennio,” I said, leaving Kuiora with her giggling self to go to talk to him.
He snapped his head in my direction, and I could see his teary eyes. So he had been crying, after all. This was nothing new. It was only new in the sense that he was crying over me. Usually, he was always crying about himself… I mentally scolded myself for making him cry, even though I had tried to be… heroic. Something less than sinful.
“E-Ezrem!” he said, turning his body around fully and embracing me. I winced at the agony, but made no attempt to pull back.
“You’re, uh, squishing me,” I said to make him let go. He finally did, and I ruffled my feathers with my beak to make me feel at tiny bit more comfortable among all these bandages. The medicine was starting to settle in, at least, and I felt more at ease.
“Sorry,” he said. “I bet that must have hurt”—I shook my head up and down—“but sorry for everything. I tried to battle, I really did. But that attack just seemed so powerful. And look, I was right! It got you burned, and it’s all my fault…”
He started sobbing again. I used my head to turn his body around, and made him keep walking, so we wouldn’t get too far behind. I saw Kuiora turned toward us, smiling, but she turned to face Sai again when she saw me looking at her. It gave me some of the strength I needed to talk to Rennio.
“Rennio, do you know why I jumped in front of that arcanine’s flamethrower?”
“No… Not at all…”
“Because I wanted to. What would happen if you got injured?” I said, stopping myself for a moment. I didn’t want to pull the card that told him he was the last elekid in the world, not anymore. “My… My best friend would have gotten hurt. And badly. And that would have made him very, very sad. So I wanted to prevent that. It was only the natural thing for me to do.”
“I would have been sad, yeah… But now I’m sad that you’re hurt, too!” he wailed.
“I know. I know,” I said. “But it’s not so bad. Um. I’d even… prefer myself to be this way, you know?”
“You… You do? Who would ever want to be injured?” Rennio said.
“Think of it this way. I’m really strong, right? And these burns are a setback, yeah. But when I face pokémon in battle and defeat them—or any other adversary, really, such as life itself—think of the praise I can receive when I win!”
“Oh… I guess I get it…” Rennio said, wiping away his tears.
“Do you, Rennio? Praise shall be sung from one corner of the nation to the next. Statues could be raised in my honor. People could name their children after me. That sort of thing, you know? Usually, notes of the famous songs die out, statues crumble, and more people die. Still, I would live on as a monument of pride. People will tell tales around campfires to send shudders down others’ spines, mothers will tell children that if they are bad I shall return for them and drag them screaming into the night, scholars shall use me as a cautionary tale that power can have too high a price, and both the pious and the wicked will pray to their gods in their temples and cry upon their deathbeds to save them from the fires below, where I shall be waiting for them. That, my dear Rennio, is legacy. So yeah, I don’t mind these burns one bit.”
“Wow,” Rennio breathed, and his voice was barely above a whisper.
“Exactly. I’ve blown your mind, just like I can strike the hearts of many others with my newfound self.”
“Are you really sure, Ezrem? You like to tell these stories all the time,” he pointed out.
“I’m very sure,” I said, finding it somehow odd that he had noticed and yet believed me every other time I told him something.
“Is there anything I can do for you? I’m not a water-type pokémon or anything, but I can surely do something…”
“I want to do something, though…”
“Ask Sai to change my bandages next time. We’ll see if you can do it.”
“Okay! Is there anything else?”
“Rennio, I am miserable for the moment and perfectly happy about it. You don’t have to do a thing.”
The idea of me being happy was a lie, but in this case, it was a lie that was necessary and warranted. Without it, Rennio would carry around the guilt of hurting me forever. That was just the kind of pokémon he was. And anyway, white lies were simply truths that someone tucked under the bed, all the while showing the receiver of the white lie to the doorway so they would not ask any questions. The other lies I had told—the ones I had confided to Kuiora instead, for the moment—would be handled somewhere further down the line.
Eventually, Rennio gave up. The conversation was short and it was over. It had gone about as well as I had expected. If I had had any luck, he would have hated me for the rest of my life, and then asked me to leave him and Sai in peace. Such was not the case. Maybe someday, I thought, when he finds out everything, but I didn’t have much hope.
For now, we weren’t anywhere close to Ecruteak City, our real destination, but I felt that I had reached a new part of my life. There was going to be hard times and good times, obviously—but I could handle them. I was handling burns, and I was becoming more and more aware of myself. Those two things would help me become… a better pokémon. A better bird. A better friend.
I thought of Annie again. I thought of the ways she compared the grand scheme of life to the more ordinary gifts of life. She said that when she pictured herself it was always just like an outline in a coloring book with the inside not yet completed. Or she said that, if no coloring books were available, she would look at the night sky and think that her life would make up a picture within the stars; she would connect the dots and everything would make sense. The lines had finally been filled in. That was how I felt.
Up until the incident, I was nothing but a good liar. Now, I was nothing but forgiven.