Note: After reading this chapter, you will probably either hate Alex as a character, or like him. Or, your opinion might not change because I'm not as good at characterization as I think I am. That is a distinct possibility.
As it turns out, Alex was wrong. It does, in fact, end.
Not now, of course. That’d be a terrible ending. Later- much later, hopefully.
Alex fell, as one would expect when you go over the edge of a god damn cliff- water-powered or otherwise. He curled himself into a ball and rolled through the air, as if he was trying to do a cannon ball. Really, he was trying to do more of a tuck-and-roll, though he wasn’t sure how successful that would be when falling off a waterfall, whose bottom was almost certainly littered with jagged rocks.
Turns out, quite well. Perhaps Alex was just lucky. His low-density bones gave him extra buoyancy, so he didn’t slam into the riverbed- too hard, anyway. The river wasn’t deep enough to totally cancel out his momentum, but it was able to reduce it greatly, so he only got a bad scraping from the rocks. Plus, he had a good speed coming off the waterfall, so he was a bit downstream, were there were less sharp stones.
Kazuko, however…was a different case.
Leaping to his feet, facing downriver, where a dense cloud of mist surrounded the area, so Alex couldn’t see more than ten or fifteen feet ahead, he screamed out “God, I am AWESOME!! Waterfalls ain’t got shit on this Tamer!” He flexed his arms a bit, before noticing the water flowing around his legs was the faintest shade of pink. Alarmed, he felt his back, worried he had cut himself badly. His hands came away wet, but it was just water; his clothes had taken most of the damage, and his back had relatively minor cuts. So, what’s causing the weird water…? He thought as he slowly turned around.
Blood. So much blood. Everywhere, the rocks, the water, Kazuko-
“No, no no no no…” Alex began to murmur, almost repeating her objections to being put in a pokeball. A pokeball, where she’d have been safe, where she wouldn’t have been hurt. “NO!!” he suddenly screamed with a startling ferocity. “No, I’m a good Tamer, I’m the best! This doesn’t happen to good Tamers, it doesn’t, it doesn’t it doesn’t it doesn’t…” His eyes were moist, but that was just the water; good Tamers didn’t cry, and Alex was a good Tamer. This didn’t happen to you a voice said quietly in the back of his mind. She’s hurt, she’s bleeding, she’s about to die.
No, she wasn’t. God damn it, she wasn’t! Pokegirls didn’t die on Alex, he didn’t allow it, he couldn’t allow it. His mind clouded for a second, as dark memories threatened to engulf him, but he waved them away, as if batting off mosquitoes. Not again he thought wearily. Never again.“You’re not going to die” Alex whispered, before shouting “I won’t allow it! He ripped the pokeball off his belt, before quickly pressing it to her lips. Once she was out of the way, he stood and closed his eyes. I’m not going to rage, I’m not going to lose control. I’m not an amateur, I can control myself. A map unfurled before his eyes. Now, where was that town? It couldn’t be too far away…seeing the map, he opened his eyes wide, shocked.
He slowly turned around and walked down the river bed, the fog slowly dispersing to reveal it: Silvermist City. His eyes scanned back and forth, before finding the pokecenter, down the block. Taking a deep breath, he tore down the street, catching some odd looks from the people on the street, but he didn’t spare them a second glace, he didn’t even give them a first glance. The streets might as well of been deserted, though he did hear an angry protest or two. He didn’t stop. He didn’t care.
No, that wasn’t it. They were there; he couldn’t just ignore them, that would be like ignoring a brick wall. But they weren’t people in Alex’s eyes, not right now. They were one of two things: They were either scenery, unimportant to him, and thus, simply unimportant; or they were obstacles, to keep him from his objective. If he faced an obstacle, whatever it was, he would destroy it. Nothing got in his way. A fence? Vault it. A window? Jump through it. A cardboard cutout, blocking him? Cut it down. Simple. Alex was too important to let these things get in his way. However, on this occasion, he was in a rush, so he couldn’t cut the silhouettes down as he might’ve. He did knock down those that stood in his way, however.
After thirty agonizing seconds, he burst into the pokecenter. There was a single line, a Megami tending it. At the counter was a man, probably a few years older than Alex, handing over his pokeballs. Behind him was a younger Tamer with a Bunnygirl, who had a lame leg, sniffling in pain. He dodged around the kid, shoving the older man out of his way, grimacing at the fact that they were hindering him.
The Megami’s brow furrowed and she frowned angrily at him, but before she could speak, Alex exploding, the words pouring out of him like a torrent, uncontrolled as he’d planned to be. His voice pleading, begging her, “Please, Kazuko is hurt, Kazuko’s going to die, please, please, don’t let her die, she can’t die, she can’t die, PLEASE!!” He was almost screaming by the end as the Megami simply took his pokeball, before beckoning him to follow her.
He nodded, taking a step forward before hitting the ground as he blacked out.
* * *
Unconscious, Alex’s mind was afflicted with a series of dark and twisted nightmares. Memories of his past, ones that he only ever thought of during bad times came back. He saw her sweet, smiling face, the innocence, the trust, the love in her eyes, just like he did every time, and he knew how it would end, how she would be hurt, but he couldn’t do anything, and she would die, and it would be his fault again. This dream was different than it often was. Kazuko was there too, flitting through the forest, her laughter echoing through the treetops, her screams piercing through the mists as the fires raged all around, mixing in a discordant banshee wail with the screams that had always been there. Even though he had never heard her scream, he had to live through the sounds of both of their pain, over and over again, all his fault, all his fault-
And then it stopped. Suddenly the dreams faded away, and peaceful oblivion washed over him.
* * *
Soon after (that’s how it seemed, anyhow), Alex awoke. He didn’t open his eyes for a moment. His body ached all over, and he just wanted to lie there, to relax. He was in a warm, dry, soft bed, and he ached all over. He didn’t want to start moving around.
However, the memories of the past day or so quickly flooded back, shattering his ignorance like glass as his eyes flew open. He was in a white, sterile hospital room, long and thin, with a bed on each side of him. The blankets on the left were flat and unused, but the ones on the right bed were bunched in a big pile. On the left end of the room was a door with a small glass pane set into it, and on the right end was a wall of windows, overlooking the town. The early morning sunlight flitted gently through the glass, and with a start, Alex realized it was tomorrow. He appeared to be on the second floor of the pokecenter.
Or, rather, they, he should say, as with a start, he noticed sitting to his left was a Megami; specifically, the one who had taken Kazuko from him. Her head was bowed as she read a book, her eyes flicking startlingly fast, as if she just wanted to put up the appearance of reading fast. Her short black hair cascaded around her head, ending at about her ear level. Her skin was tanned, though not especially darkly, and her small pink lips curled into a smile as he looked at her. Without looking back at him, she said, her voice soft, her accent light and lilting, almost musical, “It is good to see that you’re awake, Master. Are you well rested?”
Alex frowned, confused. Why was she calling him master? Not that he was opposed to it- it was nice that someone actually admitted how amzing he was as soon as they met. Still, this never really happened, so, while pleased, it caught Alex of guard.
“Kazuko is okay, Master, and has been resting sense last night. It is good to see that you’re both well. She’ll be glad to hear”. Her cheeks tinged red, and she added even more quietly “I…I am also glad to see you are well. I was afraid you were hurt too badly…” Shaking her head embarrassedly, she said quickly “W-well, as soon as you’re feeling well enough, shall we go?”
Alex furrowed his brow, biting his lower lip. At first he had been sure this Megami had been playing with him, but…was she his pokegirl? He didn’t remember getting her, but…maybe he had simply forgotten? He was a busy person… ”You’re…not my pokegirl…” he said slowly, testing her, in case she was trying to trick her way into his harem- not that there was anything wrong with that.
Raising an eyebrow, she laughed lightly. “Don’t be silly, master! You’re just still tired, don’t you remember h-“
From their right came the muffled voice “He’s not be buyin’ it girlie. Give’s it up; you’s lost, you did”. With a start, Alex realized that what he’d assumed to be a bundle of blankets was really Kazuko as her fuzzy brown head popped out, her messy hair poofing about everywhere as she looked at them.
The Megumi pouted. “I almost had him! You heard how hesitant he was!”
Kazuko just shook her head. “You’s don’t know this bastard like I’s do, not a’all. Admittedly, I’s only met him day a’fore last, but I’s can say, he’s not one to fall for you’s tricks! Either too stupid a’ too crazy, he be”.
“Hey!” Alex explained, slightly miffed. “I mean, good point, but still, that stings!” After a minute, he added more quietly, almost to himself. “So you’re okay…good”.
Kazuko ignored him, continuing to say as she untangled herself from her blankets “You’s lost, you’s did. Now’s you gotta pay’s you’s end of the bargain!”
The Megami sighed, before saying “Fine, whatever! Let us just have a moment, please?” Without waiting for Kazuko’s answer, she stood, grabbing the curtain from its bunched position against the wall and pulling it around the bed. Then, she raised her left hand, her index and middle fingers pointing up, her ring finger and pinky curled down, her thumb holding the last two fingers down. Blinking in surprise, Alex realized her index finger was longer than her middle finger.
Holding her hand before her face, small orbs, about the size of marbles, appeared on the tips of the Megami’s index and middle fingers. They were black, with a pinprick of white at the center. Pressing her index finger to her lips, she blew gently, and the orbs dissipated. Looking up, Alex saw the visible part of the room past the top of the curtain fade away, turning black with a scattering of white pinpricks. Looking down, He saw the same from underneath the curtain. He realized it looked as if their small cubicle was floating through space, and, knowing what he knew about Megumi (i.e., jack shit), it was a definite possibility. “What did you do?” he asked, his voice shaking. Alex wasn’t fond of being thrust into situations where he had no idea what was going on.
She stood, leaning against the curtain right at the foot of his bed (the fact that she didn’t fall through went right over Alex’s head, considering everything else that was happening) and crossed her arms, her head tilted as she studied him with a small frown on her face. He gentle shyness from earlier was gone.
After an indeterminate amount of time, she finally said “I cast a spell so that no one- not just Kazuko- can hear us”. She was quiet then.
Alex considered breaking the silence for a moment, but decided against it. He had read a good amount of books before he became a tamer (he read less now, occasionally downloading a book to his pokedex), and it was unanimous amongst smart heroes that in situations like this, the interrogator’s reasons would come out eventually. Stupid heroes, meanwhile, apparently couldn’t stand silence, and would eventually blurt out something stupid. And I’m an amazing tamer, so it makes sense that I would be one of the-
He grimaced inwardly. He had failed, simple as that. It hurt to admit it to himself, and it felt like there was an iron ball in the pit of his stomach, consisting of shame and self-detest. I’m better than that. That was a fluke, nothing more. Closing his eyes, Alex took a deep breath in, and imagined the iron flowing out his nose as he exhaled. And it did lighten, a little.
After a few more breaths, the shame was gone, just an acceptance that he wouldn’t fail like that again.
“Kazuko’s right” The Megami said suddenly. “You really are a strange person”.
“What makes you say that?” Alex said warily, worried that she was reading his thoughts.
With a small smile, she said “Don’t worry; I can’t read your mind. Or, at least, I’m not”. Well...shit Alex thought, unsure of what to make of that. “I say that because of what Kazuko told me. We talked a lot while you were asleep. She told me everything that happened sense you two met, up till the waterfall. She blacked out after that. Mind filling in the blanks?”
Alex furrowed his brow, inwardly angry at the Megami for making him repeat his failure. I don’t need to answer to you, and certainly not anyone else. I only need my own approval. So, he began to explain what had happened, not caring what she thought of him. “We had to escape the Buzzbreasts, so I used the river. Turns out, it was a waterfall. Well, I made it over fine. Kazuko, however, didn’t. She was in a bad way, so I needed to bring her to the pokecenter, simple as that. I made a mistake, and so I fixed it. Simple as that”. He looked up at the Megami, glaring at her, challenging her to say he hadn’t made up for his mistake.
“Why?” she asked quietly. “It almost sounds as if you love her, how determined you were to save her”.
Alex blinked at this, his resilient attitude evaporating like a snowball in lava as the tips of his ears reddened. “L-love?” he said. “I…Kazuko told you we just met the yesterday- err, the night before last, right? How could I love her?” Maybe she loved him, considering the fact that he’d saved her damn life, but certainly not the other way around!
“It could be Recognition” she suggested. Then, in an offhand sort of tone, added “But, it would be terrible to go through Recognition with a Feeblass. They’re useless, aren’t they? It wouldn’t have been much of a loss if she died, would it?”
Alex frowned. Was this really a Megami? He’d thought they were beings of love and kindness. Ugh, first a bitchy Feeblass and now an uncaring Megami Alex thought tiredly. Why can’t I meet any normal pokegirls? “Do you really not understand?” he asked incredulously. “She was given to me. Whether or not I wanted her, Kazuko was put in my care. I don’t let my pokegirls get hurt”.
Alex didn’t have nightmares too often, once a month on average, unless he was stressed, or hurt or something. When he did, though, they were always the same, or very similar. There was a single factor that was never absent. Something he had heard six years ago, when he was sixteen, when he had just set out on his journey. He had been…different back then. He hadn’t had much training to control his False Superiority, and he was sure he was already the greatest tamer that had ever lived, or would ever live. That he would win every battle, catch every legendary, and just be the best. Now, Alex knew that once he put in the effort, this would probably happen, but back then, he’d assumed it would be handed to him on a silver platter because he deserved it.
One week after he had set out…it…had happened. And that was when he heard what haunted his dreams to this day:
“Aww, don’t cry rookie! It ain’t human!!”
“I…I couldn’t let her die” Alex said simply. Surprisingly, The Megami nodded, smiling gently (It was at this point that he suspected that her question had been a test, a sort of “devil’s advocate” situation) and said “While you slept, I noticed you tossing and turning, muttering and sometimes crying out as if in pain. Often, I heard you say a name: Felicia”. She shifted, and commented “I hope you don’t mind…I went into your dreams, calming them…I saw what they were”. Alex nodded simply. There wasn’t really anything to say. If she wanted to condemn him, fine, that was her right. She was wrong, but that was her choice.
Instead, she only said “You…you can call me Jade, okay?” Turning around, she snapped her fingers. The darkness past the curtain faded, and the world returned as she swung the curtain aside, revealing Kazuko, right up against it, who leapt back startled.
“Ah! Don’t you’s scares me like that, damnit!” Scowling, she asked “So what’s you two’s been talkin’ of? I ain’t hear nothing, did’s I!”
While Alex tried to formulate an answer, Jade replied “We decided I’m traveling with you. Now let’s eat, I’m starved!”