Out of all of Sai’s breakdowns, the one in the Ecruteak City gym had to be the worst. His dark blue eyes, which had been reliably switching from crazy to sane in the past within a matter of moments, were completely, insatiably wild now. I would have even said they looked like they were about to roll into the back of his head, and then he would inevitably pass out. No such thing happened, but it was close. Instead, he ran off (again), his body moving in an odd zigzag pattern, as his knees were wobbly. He was screaming about Mahogany Town, and how much of a wretched place it had been all of his life, and he was screaming about all of the obscene things he would do to the place if he ever got the chance. It was the first time that I had ever heard him want to be violent, aside from the time where he had attacked me. I had come to the conclusion, though, that he had done it out of necessity, not out of malice.
And again, he was nowhere to be found when we left the gym. He had darted off quite fast, making it a point so that we wouldn’t follow him. It was either that or he was really in a hurry to put an end to the city that had apparently ruined his life. I remembered the last time that he had disappeared on us… It was safe to assume that all of us had lost some respect for him as a trainer, and that we had suffered for it. We had been cast off as wild pokémon, gotten our belongings stolen, and I had been beaten by a lady with a broom because I was, undoubtedly, trying to steal from others as a sort of revenge.
Admittedly, and unsurprisingly, I was feeling guilty over Sai’s second disappearance. I had finally found the path to moving on from my clan’s banishment by evolving, and now, since I was no longer focused on only myself, I was supposed to be helping my trainer. I still felt responsible for his overall well being. But after all this time, I had learned next to nothing about his past life, his tendencies, and his emotions. I knew no more about how to control him than I did my own life.
The only consolation we had was that we knew where he was going.
It would have been even better if we knew how to get there.
“The fact that none of us are humans is really a catastrophe. Then again, if we weren’t pokémon, we wouldn’t be in this mess,” I said, trying to keep everyone’s spirits up, but I was failing.
“I can’t tell you how many times that I’ve wished I was human, just to find a place. This is one of those times,” Ezrem said, shaking his head.
“Agreed,” said Rennio.
Kuiora remained quiet, and I knew that she loved being a pokémon, but now was not the time for us to be helpless and relying on a trainer.
We were standing outside of the Ecruteak City gym, ignoring the stares of people passing by. Obviously, it was strange for a pack of pokémon to be out and about by themselves. It was a good thing that no one could understand us talk about our missing trainer, or perhaps they would be calling the police, just like Marty had threatened.
And then it hit me. Marty. Marty knew about Sai’s untamed demeanor. As soon as that boy saw us, he would be questioning our trainer and threatening to do something about it. It was possible that some unfavorable consequences would come out of our search, but at this point, I was desperate for anything.
“It’s risky,” I said to the team, “but I think I know who to find.”
The first and most blatant place for us to look was the pokémon center. That was where most of the trainers decided to stay in a city, after all. Inside, the four of us disregarded the new, stranger looks of the new people as we went from room to room, knocking on each and every door. We split up to save time, though Rennio had to stay with me because he wasn’t sure what Marty or Sasha looked like. Some people answered, and when I didn’t recognize them, I bowed in apology and went to the next door, knowing it was useless to try to talk to them. In the end, however, no one found either of the people we were looking for.
“It was a good idea,” Ezrem said, which made me feel grateful for his presence for once. “But it didn’t work.”
“And we don’t have time to wait for the people who aren’t here, do we?” I said, rubbing my chin, making everyone believe that I was thinking. I really was only spacing out, worn out and wanting to rest, but it was good to pretend.
The next places we checked were the fancy restaurant and the mart, the same ones we had gone to with Sai for Atis’s “birthday.” We scoured the entirety of both places, but we didn’t find Marty or Sasha, and even worse, we eventually got kicked out of both places for supposedly causing a disturbance. We stood quietly outside of the pokémon mart now, more lost than we were before.
“This is a place where a lot of history about legendary pokémon originates, right?” Kuiora finally said. It was the first thing she had said during the entire search.
“Right,” I said. Even I knew about the story of the towers in the back of the city without the croconaw telling me.
“That probably means there’s lots of visitors, right? Like… Professor Elm was famous, and so a lot of people visited him. They always stayed in… hotels, I think they were called. Maybe Ecruteak City has a place like that for Marty and Sasha to stay in.”
“A brilliant idea, Kuiora,” Ezrem said, hopping over to her. He was getting along well without the patent use of his wings. “Let’s go find one.”
I hadn’t wanted to explore buildings in the city that we hadn’t been to yet, in case we weren’t allowed in. Then again, we hadn’t been allowed in the restaurant or the mart without our trainer, so this would be no different, and Kuiora had a point when she said that it was a likely place for Marty and Sasha to be. I nodded, deciding to go along with them.
So then we went from building to building, choosing to look in the windows instead of going inside. We saw normal houses, more restaurants, a dance hall, and I saw Kuiora even take a peek into the towers, though she clearly knew that they weren’t part of a hotel. The search reminded me of when I tried to get Sai to stop looking into buildings, and I wished that we were still at that point of our journey, when things somehow made more sense than they did now.
The last building that we looked in, of course, happened to be the hotel. Rennio had spotted it, saying that he could tell that it was a hotel because of the bellboys walking up the stairs with trays in their hands, and with the lady at the counter checking people in. We rushed inside, eager to have finally reached our destination. The hallways were mostly quiet except for the occasional person walking about, so we weren’t worried about getting kicked out this time. Again, we went from room to room, knocking and knocking and hoping.
By some great stroke of luck, we found Marty on the third floor. He opened the door, looking up and down the hallway, confused as to who could have been knocking. I had to pull on his pants leg to get his attention, even though there were four of us there, and none of us were particularly small anymore. He was rubbing his eyes, making me think that he had just woken up and was simply in a daze.
“A furret?” he said sleepily. “And a croconaw… And I’ve seen that rufflet before. Sai’s team?”
I nodded. “Sai isn’t here,” I said, although he couldn’t understand me. I had to say it to make it feel real.
“What the hell? What are you guys doing here?” he said, fully alert now.
“Sai isn’t here,” I said again, trying to hold back tears. They had snuck up on me when I least expected them. Stepping forward, I pulled on Marty’s leg, motioning for him to come with us.
“Do you need me for something?” he said, not moving an inch.
I nodded again, pulling him harder. The rest of the team looked up at him pleadingly, unable to say a word.
“I don’t know what you want… I’m sorry… Here, maybe Gracie will know,” Marty said. He pulled away from my grasp and went into his room for a moment. He returned with the same small fire-type pokémon that I had fought back when we had the battle to decide who would stay or go. This pokémon looked slightly different, however. For one, I could now see her maroon-colored eyes. Her body was longer and more slender, though the colors were exactly the same. And instead of having just some spots on her back for flames to shoot out of, I could see that she could use her head to fight, too. She had evolved sometime between our battle and now, it seemed.
“You’ve grown,” I said stupidly, trying to figure out a way to start this awkward conversation.
“You, too,” Gracie said. There was a pause. “What do you guys need? This is a little, um, different…”
“Our trainer… is missing. He went to a place called Mahogany Town, and we have no idea where it is. We were hoping Marty or Sasha would know. They’re the only two other humans we know…” I said, soon trailing off. I didn’t realize until I was done talking that I had been speaking almost as fast as Sai had been. At some point in time, it seemed that I had adopted some of his idiosyncrasies.
I smiled so widely when she replied, “We’ve been there once or twice. I’m sure we can take you there.”
“Really? Oh geez, this is great. Thank you so much,” I said, running up to hug her.
“Watch out for the fire-type,” Ezrem said, pulling me by the scruff of my neck. I glared at him, but was thankful that I hadn’t burned myself, too.
“Ahem,” I said, leaving that clumsy situation alone just to head into another one. “I don’t mean to be pushy, but can we go… now? We don’t want him to get himself hurt or lost.” I avoided saying that he had done it once before.
“Of course,” she said, smiling timidly. “One minute.”
After somehow conveying the situation to Marty for a few moments and after Marty told Sasha the situation, Gracie led all seven of us out of the hotel, taking us to the eastern edge of town. I had a feeling that the only reason Marty was listening was because it was his own pokémon. If it weren’t for Gracie, we would definitely be going much slower, or we wouldn’t be going at all.
When we reached the gate that would take us to the next section of the Johto region, she pointed to a sign and signaled for Marty to look at it.
That was when Marty got angry.
“Mahogany Town? Are you kidding me? Sai went to Mahogany Town and left his pokémon here?” He looked at me scarily, and for one brief moment I wished that I wasn’t the leader of the team. Ezrem could take the heat for this one if he really wanted to.
“Marty,” Sasha said serenely, probably trying to project her feelings onto him. “Maybe he had a good reason for going. We don’t know anything yet. Let’s just help these pokémon get to him for now, and stay calm.”
“Fine,” Marty muttered, and he kept walking ahead of all of us.
Sasha turned to all of us. “I’m sorry about him, guys,” she said. “We’ll find Sai. It’ll be all right.”
I could only hope that she was right. Despite everything, I had to admit that I wasn’t feeling as optimistic this time around. Sure, I was certain that we could locate him, since we were lucky that he talked more than usual, but I wasn’t so certain about us being glad when we found him.
We passed through the gate that would lead us to the Mahogany Town path. The guard there waved at us, and it was a relief to not be given threatening looks for the first time that day. Sasha waved back and smiled. I thought about how we were also lucky to have someone like her with us. She was always kind to us, and exceedingly so. It was preferable to her brother, who, instead of having identical characteristics as siblings should, had quite a temper and easily held grudges toward others. I remembered hearing Marty’s story at the pokémon fan club, however, and somehow I was glad to have him around, too. More than anything, he cared about our well being.
Deciding to bring this up to someone who could understand me, I caught up with Gracie, who was walking next to Marty while the rest of us trailed closely behind.
“I know now why Marty was so keen on having us battle before,” I said. It seemed like a perfectly pleasant way to start a conversation.
The newly evolved quilava flinched at my sudden appearance next to her. “You do?” she said. “I don’t… I don’t know what you’re talking about…”
Luckily for the quilava, Marty interrupted the beginning of our talk. Immediately after the guard postings was an entrance to a cave and a rather small body of water. I could already see the other side, and I hoped that it led to where Sai would be.
“Well”—I noticed that Gracie’s attention shifted toward him suddenly instead of me—“we could either go the long way, or the short way. And there is no way in hell that I am spending over a week in a cave for the sake of Sai. So we’re going over the river.”
He reached behind his back and pulled a red and white pokéball off of his belt. He threw it forward, just like every other trainer would. His throw was different, however, as he had thrown it into the river, and the ball disappeared beneath the water’s surface. Soon, a massive water-type pokémon emerged and floated above so that we could see the top of its body. It looked like it had long, blue wings, like a flying-type might, but they were really just fins that were larger than most sea pokémon’s. Short blue antennae sat on its head, swishing around with excitement. It had black beady eyes that were looking at us expectantly.
“She can help us, guys,” Marty said. “Marin, I need you to do us a favor. We need to get across this river and go to Mahogany Town. Do you think you can carry all of us?” he asked, motioning to every member of our group.
Marin surveyed us, giving us a good look over for a few seconds. Its face scrunched up into a ball when it peered over at Kuiora.
“The croconaw can swim,” she said, and I thought that she would tell the rest of us no for a second. But then she smiled, and I knew that everything would go smoothly from here on out.
“Fantastic,” Sasha said, stepping up to the edge of the river. Marin got close enough so the young girl could climb on her back and rest peacefully, without wobbling and falling over. Marty did the same, and then gazed back at us.
“Do you want to go back in your pokéball, Gracie?”
“No,” Gracie said, shaking her head. “I have to get over being around water sometime, right?”
So the quilava was scared of water. It was typical for a fire-type. I thought that was why she was scared of my sudden appearance—she simply was afraid of what was coming next. But soon I would learn that that had nothing to do with it.
Kuiora was able to lower herself into the water, and she mentioned how it had been a long time since she could swim like this. After that… Well, it was a gratifying thing that Marin was as long as she was wide, or the rest of us wouldn’t have fit. Gracie stood on her hind legs behind Marty, and I went to be next to her. This made sense since we were long and slender, and thus could accommodate our body positions satisfactorily. Rennio and Ezrem, on the other hand, had to sit in Marty and Sasha’s laps respectively.
“Your poor wings,” Sasha said, noticing rather swiftly. “What happened to you?”
Ezrem didn’t answer her. He sat there, looking straight ahead.
“Hmm,” Marty said after a few moments of awkward silence. If he seemed concerned about the rufflet, he didn’t express it. “I suppose we’re off.”
And so we were. Marin slowly turned her body around so that she was facing our destination. It only took a couple seconds longer for her to start wading through the water at a quiet pace that would keep us all from falling backward.
After a while, it occurred to me that it could be a long ride. I attempted to talk to Gracie again by saying, “But yeah, anyway, I know what Marty went through. He mentioned it at the pokémon fan club Sasha goes to.”
“Oh,” Gracie said simply. She was shy, and perhaps I was going to be pushing too far, but I wanted something to distract me from the mess that was Sai.
“Do you know anything about it? You’re a pokémon, after all, and Marty’s father used to… abuse pokémon.”
“I was supposed to be a pet, so I was in the house when he did that. It was because of that man that Marty left and went on a journey to the first place. He didn’t like it… as you know,” Gracie said. Though she was speaking more, I could tell that she was still being vague.
A part of my heart instantly ached for her. Her flinching at my appearance wasn’t because of her being scared of water; it was because of her being scared of touch in general. And why would someone be afraid of touch? I almost wanted to slap myself in the face because of how obvious it was.
“Hmm,” I said, not wanting to force her to admit to anything she didn’t want to. I despised talking about my clan; similarly, she would probably hate talking about Marty’s father. “That stinks,” I went on brainlessly. “Would you have rather been a battler or a pet?”
“It doesn’t matter to me either way,” Gracie said. “It’s just that Marty gets to be too much sometimes. For instance… you know how Marty’s acted with Sai. He acts intensely insane with every bad trainer he comes across, even if the trainer doesn’t seem too bad to Sasha or me. Sasha’s the only one who can keep him somewhat calm… since she can talk to him…”
Of course, Gracie didn’t know that I knew what was going on inside her head. I felt that I was invading her mind and making her spill all of its contents against her will, when in reality I was doing no such thing. And in a sense, I felt that I was betraying Marty’s privacy. We were talking about a very intimate part of his past without him knowing it, and even worse, we were doing it right in his presence! It was times like these that I wished others were like Sai—private and able to talk to pokémon—only less eccentric and less prone to running away.
To avoid feeling even more guilt, I kept quiet. It was Gracie who intentionally went on and said, “I wished that would leave it alone and let me forget.”
“You’ll move on,” I said. “I don’t know how exactly, since I’ve never been in your situation, but you will. I did, too, so I know you can.”
“Thanks…” Gracie said shyly, and then she turned away.
The rest of the trip was relatively quiet. There was some more murmuring from Sasha about Ezrem’s wings, and she kept checking them to make sure that the bandages were on as snugly and as tightly as they could be. Marty made some comments about being scared of accidentally dropping Rennio in the water and consequently electrocuting us all, and thankfully, though his fears were warranted, it never happened. The only other noise that accompanied us on our journey was the sound of Kuiora gurgling in the water, enjoying her time swimming.
I was reflecting about Gracie’s ambiguous yet straightforward story, my story, and Rennio’s and Ezrem’s and everyone else’s. I had originally thought that nothing bad could happen to me, and once I was banished, I thought that my story was the most unique in the world, that no one else’s story could ever compare. Like most older pokémon (or like most of the sentret in my clan), I thought I knew everything that I needed to know. When I met Sai, I realized that I’d been a total idiot and that I needed a lot more focus in my life. I worked hard as his pokémon, and when it began to dawn on me that my heart was not necessarily being my best friend, I tried very even harder to beat it. And did beat it, by evolving and getting rid of my tail, my only connection to my clan. Now, as Sai’s relocation was just a hair’s breadth away, I felt that everything I knew was wrong, my perspective was utterly indefensible, and that there are no objective standards for anything anyone could imagine… including the idea that there are stages to life that everyone must follow. There’s not much imagination or creativity there, when you start thinking about it. Humans and pokémon alike have created these artificial goals simply because we wanted to have some way to explain the way the world works.
At this point, I decided that I didn’t care much anymore. I hoped to spend the time that remained in a way that was best for not only me, but for every single one of us on the team… including Sai.
Mahogany Town looked like a pleasant enough place, one that I would have loved to spend more time in, if we weren’t on the lookout for our renegade trainer. I would have loved to spend more time here because the town almost looked like a humanized version of a forest. All of the buildings were a light green color, with the roofs being of a darker green. Unusually, there was no pavement to walk upon here, and the grass looked well taken care of, beautiful and alive. Several carriages were lined up next to every building, with a crowd of people at each—they were waiting for their turn at whatever goods the carriages were selling. Not a single person looked like they wished they were somewhere else in the world.
Well, we were about to ruin this trend, effortlessly so. None of us wanted to be here. Marty and Sasha and Gracie probably wanted to be in their cozy hotel room, and the rest of us wanted to be at the Ecruteak City pokémon gym, pretending that nothing was wrong with our trainer.
“Let’s start looking,” Marty mumbled. As expected, his mood was growing lower and lower by the minute.
Sasha decided to take over the hard part for Marty, as he “would talk about him terribly and then we’d never find him,” apparently. I supposed that was true. When Sasha talked about him, he seemed nothing short of ordinary. She went from person to person, speaking to anyone who would talk back, asking them if they had seen a boy of about fifteen years coming by lately.
“Medium build, black hair, blue eyes… Plain clothes…” she added, trying to think of anything that would make Sai stand out. His personality would, but that didn’t seem helpful at the moment.
“Are you trying to cut in line? Get in the back!” one old man said. He clearly wasn’t paying attention to anything Sasha was saying. We ended up leaving those kinds of people alone, not wanting to hear them speak again.
“I haven’t seen a boy like that,” one old lady said. “But there aren’t a lot of young people in this town. I’m sure he would stick out.”
That sounded more promising, but it took a few more tries before we reached any sort of conclusive answer.
Finally, someone answered nonchalantly, “I saw a boy like that. Hard not to miss him when he’s away from everyone else. He went toward that laboratory over there.” The woman pointed to a lone metallic building at the edge of town. It was away from all of the other buildings, and no carriages or large amount of people were there.
“Thank you very much,” Sasha said, bowing curtly. She was suddenly in a hurry. She strode over to the laboratory, and the rest of us eagerly followed.
“Of all places, he send Atis to a laboratory? Maybe Atis left us to be a lab rat,” Ezrem commented, scoffing at the thought.
“Shut up,” I said. “Sai would never do that. And Atis would never willingly agree to that, either.”
Ezrem said nothing more, but he coughed mockingly. Rennio was shrinking back from the place, staying behind all of us. Kuiora looked up at the building in awe, probably never having seen something more creepy yet fascinating in her life. Gracie didn’t seem to have a reaction… since it wasn’t her trainer that we were talking about. And Atis… I looked for him, but then I remembered that he wasn’t here.
He was in the building in front of us. And so was Sai.
Sasha stopped in front of the entrance, but Marty barged right on in, fists clenched and raring to go if necessary. I knew he wouldn’t hesitate to punch Sai in the face once he was given the chance. The rest of us followed. We were more reluctant this time, but we knew we couldn’t turn back now.
The first floor of the building seemed anticlimactic to us. I didn’t quite know what we were expecting to see, but it wasn’t an empty floor with a simple counter, much like the one we saw at pokémon centers. A fountain stood in the middle of the room, with plants and chairs surrounding it for comfort. Other than this, only one thing stood out: there was a guard blocking the stairs leading upward.
Marty approached this guard first and said, “Excuse me, but we were told one of our… friends came through here. We really need to see him. If you don’t mind, would you let us through?”
“Sorry,” the guard said in a husky voice with the slightest hint of an accent, “but no one is allowed upstairs. Authorized personnel only.”
“Authorized personnel? Like hell the boy is authorized to be in a place like this. He barely knows how to tell his right foot from his left.”
“If he was able to get upstairs,” the guard said firmly, “then he was authorized.”
Marty gritted his teeth; he was getting real angry, real fast. “I didn’t come all this way to be told that Sai is as mysterious as ever, and that I should leave him alone to stay that way. Let us through.”
“The answer is no,” the man insisted.
“Marty…” Sasha said, about to lightly touch him on the shoulder, but it was too late.
Marty had gestured to Gracie to attack, and, as loyally as ever, Gracie obeyed him. She dashed forward, running underneath the guard’s legs and knocking him off balance. He fell on his stomach, groaning at the impact of his chin hitting the ground. Marty thanked Gracie for her services and stepped over the guard, running up the stairs and motioning for all of us to follow. Stunned, we felt obliged to obey just as well as Gracie had.
Upstairs was where the real scenery came into play. The first floor donned nothing that any normal building would—and should—have. I had never been inside a laboratory before, so maybe that contributed to my unusual viewpoint, but I was sure that this place wasn’t normal. Along the walls were several computers and full desks where people sat, wearing long, white lab coats. They were holding clipboards and scribbling on them with their pens furiously, or they were messing with the vials that sat in front of them. What stood out the most, however, was the machine in the middle of the room. Part of the machine hung from the ceiling, and part of it was connected with the ground and a cot. On the cot lay a purple snake-like pokémon, and it was writing in pain as a man next to it was taking notes…
On the first floor, Sai wasn’t there, but there was the buzzing of the machines and a ton of screaming.
“Keep going,” Marty yelled over the screaming, “until you find him.”
We went to the edge of the room, which led us to the stairs leading to the second floor. As we ran through the room, the scientists nearby looked up from their clipboards and looked at us curiously, suddenly panicking and demanding that the intruders be attacked. As we ran as quickly as we could, I noticed that there were also stairs leading down, and I kept a mental note to myself that said we should return to this floor if we didn’t find Sai anywhere else.
The second floor wasn’t much better in terms of content, though it was quieter. The room was completely empty save for two people and two pokémon, taking their places on the arena that was designated by white chalk on the otherwise empty, bare floor. The battle would seem normal if the pokémon didn’t look like they were battling to the death. There was blood—both dried blood and new blood—all over their bodies and in the fighting area. The pokémon were panting heavily, while the trainers—if you could even call them that—stood by watching, completely unscathed.
“What the hell is going on here?” one of the people yelled when he took notice of us.
“I swear to Arceus… If I see Sai do anything so much as touch one of these pokémon like these other bastards, I’m going to pound his skull in,” Marty said.
Even Sasha didn’t try to stop him from speaking bad things about Sai this time. Her mouth was raised over her hand in shock. There was something wrong with the place, and there was something even more wrong with our trainer being so closely associated with it. Still, no questions were answered. Instead, more questions arrived.
“Attack the intruders!” said an unfamiliar voice. We looked behind us and noticed that some of the people in lab coats from the first floor had pursued us.
The other man from the arena pointed to us and said, “You heard the guy. Attack them, granbull!”
“You too, sunflora!” cried the second man.
“Oh, this is such a joke. You mean to fight with two injured pokémon?” Marty teased. “I’m just trying to find someone. Get out of my way.”
“No can do,” said the scientist behind us, and the ones who had followed us—there were three in all—also took out pokéballs and released their pokémon. I didn’t have time to get a good look at them, nor did I want to. I just wanted to find Sai and leave and forget any of this had ever happened.
“Senori,” Marty said harshly as he released Halcyon and another pokémon I didn’t know he had, “go find your goddamn trainer. Me and Sasha will be fine, here. Tell Sai that I’m going to beat the crap out of him when I see him, too.”
“Sure,” I mumbled. “Come on, guys.”
I darted forward on all paws, crossing the arena. The granbull tried to catch my tail in between its teeth, because I stupidly got too close—that’s what happens when confusion takes over—but I narrowly escaped. The sunflora tried to take Ezrem out since he appeared weaker, but Ezrem yelled something about being a flying-type and having the advantage, so the grass-type shrunk back, trying to cradle its wounds instead. Kuiora and Rennio got by without problems, unless you counted Rennio’s sudden sobbing problematic.
“I just want Annie!” he cried, and when he stopped, Kuiora had to start carrying him and tell him to suck it up. He stopped talking about his older trainer and now asked to stay and fight for his new trainer, but no one was actually going to let him do so.
“Not in this mess,” Ezrem agreed.
The third and fourth floors were standard rooms with desks and machines lined up everywhere. The only difference from the first floor was that it seemed that there were individual offices for the people who worked here. The privacy that the enclosed walls offered thankfully allowed us to sneak by quietly, and without being noticed. Kuiora let out a huge sigh of relief, but that was the only sound we made, and it was hardly damaging.
We kept running and running, floor after floor, not daring to stop even once. Most of the rooms looked the same, and thankfully, we went by relatively unnoticed. It was finally different on the seventeenth floor—I think it was the seventeenth floor, anyway. It resembled a modern, humanized living room. There was a couch in the middle of the room, a coffee table in front of it, and some plants in the each corner, giving the place a rather relaxing atmosphere. We were anything but relaxed, however. Questions were running swiftly through my mind. Where was Sai? Why was he affiliated with a place like this? Where was Atis, and what kind of tests could they be running on him? Why were there pokémon fighting so brutally when battling was supposed to be fun? My thoughts lingered on the basement that we didn’t get to see, but it was too late to go back and explore.
The stairs in this room were hidden behind the tall couch. When we arrived at the foot of the stairs, I could see that there was a door at the top, which was different from all of the other floors. From the light that was pouring inside, it seemed that these stairs led outside.
“Well, guys,” I said, out of breath from running, “this is one of the last places Sai could be. Let’s hope he’s here.” I paused. “Or not. Whichever you prefer,” I added solemnly.
Luckily—or unluckily, depending—Sai was at the top of the building. I was glad to see that he was safe and that he seemed physically unharmed. He wasn’t alone. I was also glad to see that Atis was standing a good ten feet in front of him. The only person I didn’t recognize was a woman that was by Atis. She was short and had a small body, but it seemed that she had a rather firm grasp on the fighting-type’s arm. And the fighting-type was visibly shuddering; we could all see it, even though we were far away.
“It looks like you have friends that are here to see you,” the woman said calmly.
“Mother, please—” Sai started, but then his body unmistakably tensed up. He turned to see us, and his eyes went wide with amazement.
I took a closer look at the woman that was with Sai. Apparently, it was his mother. Why wasn’t his mother back in Vermilion City, where he said he was from? Was it just another lie he told us? And surprisingly enough, she didn’t look very similar to him. She had green eyes instead of blue, and her hair almost looked black, but I could tell it was just a dark brown because of the sun that was highlighting it.
“You’ve grown, Sai,” the woman went on. “You have such loyal pokémon now… just like you always wanted.” I saw her squeeze Atis’s arm, and he only shook harder. “And you look even more like your father than before. You’ve got the same wildly lonely look in your eyes. Are you still lonely, Sai?” she said in a sympathetic, motherly tone.
“Stop it!” Sai cried, snapping his attention back to her. His voice had a much harsher tone than it normally did, and it almost made me shake myself. “I just want Atis back. Give me Atis back right now…!”
“You willingly gave me the hitmontop. You even let us poison him and make him faint just to capture him, so he wouldn’t fight back. And you’re telling me that you want to take it all back?” the woman said tauntingly.
I gasped. Had Sai really done that? It seemed unreal to me, to hear of him being so unnaturally… cruel. I looked at the others, and I could tell that they were all thinking the same thing.
“I do,” Sai said determinedly. “I thought… I thought I could abide by your rules, if it meant I could be free. I can’t do it, though. I won’t.” His words sounded reassuring. They sounded more like the Sai I knew, but I was still beyond confused. I stood there with the others, utterly frozen.
“You were ordered to prepare pokémon like this, and give them to us. You’ve done exactly so. We thank you for it.”
“No! I want him back! I’ve seen what you guys do to pokémon. You call yourself Team Rocket and say that you’re just trying to make the world a better place, but I’ve seen what you do! It’s nothing good. Nothing good at all. I won’t put Atis through that. I won’t—”
“And then you will never see the light of day again. That was the deal, was it not? I created this project to save you, Sai. To save you. To give you a life you’ve always dreamed of…”
“I didn’t want this! I never did. I only did it because… because you promised me things would get better. That I would get better. But I never got better! Not even for a second!”
“It’s not my fault that you believed my words,” the woman said evenly, but her words didn’t match the ruined expression on her face.
“You promised! You promised…” Sai said. He started sobbing as he reached into his pocket and pulled out the knife that he had bought in Goldenrod City. I almost cried, too. Had he been waiting for this moment all his life? He held it out threateningly toward her. His arm was as firm as the woman’s grasp on Atis.
“Are you going to hurt me, Sai? Just as I’ve supposedly hurt you?” she asked.
“Why not? You like weapons. You love them so much that you decided to name me after one. How nice of you,” he said sarcastically between sobs. “Give me Atis back. I don’t want to have to use it.”
The woman frowned, and she let go of Atis and put her hands in the air, as if signaling surrender. I watched in awe as Atis ran over to us quicker than I had ever seen him run before. When he got close to us, I could see real terror in his eyes. I went up to him and hugged him, but Atis said there was no time for a reunion.
“We’ve got to get Sai out of here,” he said with haste. “Before he goes crazy. Please, Senori, you’ve got to talk to him and… and…” But he couldn’t continue.
It was clear to me that Sai wasn’t fond of this woman. Despite this, she obviously knew about him more than anyone else. She knew everything, perhaps.
“If she knows Sai, maybe she can help us keep him from going crazy,” I offered quietly. Apparently, I hadn’t been quiet enough, because my trainer obviously heard me.
“Don’t talk to her! She’s only going to tell you about all the bad things I’ve done. Even if what she says isn’t true, she’ll win. She always wins…” Sai said, his arm twitching slightly now. He was staring directly at her, talking loudly to make sure we could hear him.
“Sai,” his mother said. “Just as you weren’t allowed to get close to your pokémon, I’m not allowed to be close to you. I’m your mother. Why else would I want to be like this to my son? I don’t want to be like this. Please understand and put the knife down.”
“No,” Sai said. “I won’t. I’m done listening to you.”
“…Then you will pay for it.”
“Please, Senori,” Atis begged again. “You have to do something.”
More than anything, I wanted to help Sai. I felt that it was all I lived for, really…
But Sai already seemed too far gone.