Well, this is it…Travis and the gang are on their way to Slateport.
Meanwhile, we can get a glance at things happening on the home front.
Chapter 18: At Last, Restored
Katherine gazed out of the window of the third-floor sunroom of her New Bark Town mansion. The woman of about thirty-five combed her long, chestnut hair. Her reddish-brown eyes had a sort of melancholy in them, as of the deadness of a mourner who simply had no more tears to cry…
…yet, even the sky mourned in proxy for her.
This June evening had come with torrential rains and gusty winds befitting a summer storm. Katherine continued to watch from her window, the sadness in her heart manifested in the heavens above. Trees swayed up and down the roads in her neighborhood, and she saw cascades of water slide along the main road several dozen feet below her. Looking down over her dark-green dress and pearl necklace, she saw the ‘Johto Weekly’, her subscribed newspaper. Luckily, she’d thought to pull it inside this morning before the storm hit. On the front page, she read the headline;
PREPARATIONS BEGIN FOR GOLDEN MOON FESTIVAL IN GOLDENROD CITY
Silvercoin To Headline Concert Series for Second Time, Planners Confirm
Katherine scanned that article. It mentioned something about a boy named Shiro Azuki-Blackthorn being set to defend his ‘Regional Title’ in a separate column. At the top of said column was a boy that was probably about fifteen years old. He had short hair except for large bangs of crimson that fell over the center of his black headband. He also had a dragon-fang earring in his left ear, apparently. A part of Katherine was happy for the boy – she had watched him grow up (albeit from a distance) in New Bark Town, and, like many of the people in her neighborhood, thought him to be a rebellious skate punk. She’d give him this, though – he had enough passion for skateboarding to make a career of it and, from what she’d heard, do so successfully. The general feeling was, as was stated by the article, that if Shiro won this tournament, a professional contract was right around the corner, even at his age. Katherine missed the article about the ‘discovery’ of Shiro’s lineage when it came out last summer, but she understood everything alright – Shiro had been discovered to be one of the two sons of Laena Blackthorn, the long-lost and eldest child of the late Drago and Miclai Blackthorn. It astounded Katherine to know that Laena Blackthorn (albeit under a false name) had been living in their midst for years before she died mysteriously after the birth of her second son.
Katherine turned the page and the next article, fittingly enough, was indeed about the Blackthorns:
BLACKTHORN CLAN AWAITS NEXT GENERATION
Baby Due Within The Week, Says J.L. Champion Lance
“Really? That much time has passed already?” she muttered to herself as she saw the article.
She had nearly forgotten – the nation was abuzz last year when the Blackthorns announced Lance’s engagement and subsequent marriage. Toward the beginning of this year, it was confirmed that Fiona was indeed pregnant. Either the Blackthorn family did not know the sex of the baby or they were keeping that a secret until the baby’s birth, because Katherine had heard nothing along those lines.
She put the newspaper down – she’d find out in next week’s issue.
At that moment, the woman’s husband walked in. At an inch above six feet, he was about the right height for a grown man, but he was built very well, which could be seen through his beige shirt and black slacks. He had short, black hair and a full beard that was trimmed extremely well. His green eyes looked down at Katherine tenderly and with a trace of pity.
“Terrible, this weather…” he muttered, glancing out of the windows right after a loud clap of thunder. “What’s the news this week?”
“Fiona Blackthorn’s due this week, according to the paper,” Katherine said calmly.
“Oh, that’s right,” her black-haired, bearded husband said in a smooth, calm, baritone voice. “Does it say what it is?”
“Nope,” Katherine replied. “They’re setting up for the Festival, too…of course, everybody who doesn’t live under a rock in Johto knows that already. They got the same band they had two years ago, when…”
She trailed off and stared down at her sandaled feet, looking suddenly like she was about to burst into tears.
Suddenly, she heard the two-tone chime of the doorbell reverberate through the house.
“Who would be calling in this weather??” the man asked, mostly to himself.
“It’s probably that girl again,” Katherine sighed. “Don’t worry – I’ll send her off.”
“Who is that, anyway?” the man muttered as Katherine exited. He walked up to the window and sighed morosely before it, his breath clouding the dripping-wet windowpanes. He laid his head against one of the panes. He wondered where he’d gone so wrong – where he’d failed so badly…he heard his wife, downstairs, opening the door…
“Good aftern—John!! Oh, my God—JOHNNY!!” he heard a shriek from downstairs.
A loud thunderclap sounded and the man’s heart gave a jolt. Swearing, he began to rush down to the first floor. He’d have to overpower the attacker with brute strength – he had no time to find a weapon. After thirty seconds of running, yelling, “KATHERINE!! KATHERINE!!” he reached the stairs to the first floor and descended them, rounding the corner. He got to the halfway mark and stopped dead in his tracks.
A young man – only a few inches shorter than he, from first glance – had his arms around the woman tightly.
“What the hell?!” John shouted. “Who are you?!”
The young man looked up from the woman’s shoulder and released him. He had black hair that was extremely long and untidy, and hung limply as it was a bit wet. He was wearing a blue traveling cloak that looked to be absolutely soaked with rain. The eyes, though…he had burgundy eyes, and that’s what gave him away.
“Nathaniel?” John tilted his head, almost refusing to believe it. “Son, is that you?”
The fifteen-year-old – at least, if John was right – looked at him…and nodded. In spite of himself, John clenched his fists and began to shake with anger.
“I can’t begin to describe the pain your mother went through. Crying herself to sleep all those nights whenever she’d look at pictures of you as a baby…” he growled. Opening his eyes and raising his hand, he walked toward Nathaniel and shouted, “YOU DAMNED FOOL!”
“JOHN, NO!!” Katherine screamed – but it had already been done. John had hit his teenage son square in the left jaw with a well-placed fist. Nate’s head snapped sideways as he made no effort to block or dodge the punch. It was at this point that John noticed the cross-shaped scar on Nate’s left cheek, for John had hit him in that exact spot, turning it slightly red. Everything went quiet. All that could be heard were the raindrops bombarding the ceiling and windows and, just over that, Katherine’s racking sobs.
“I guess I had that coming,” Nate said in a stoic-sounding voice. After a second’s pause, he found himself engulfed in his father’s arms, which were the size of tree limbs. He could have sworn that he heard a sniffle or two, which really would have been something. He remembered his mother, Katherine, telling him that the only time that John had ever cried in front of her was at Nate’s birth and at hearing the news of the death of his own father, whom he had apparently idolized in his youth. He felt another pair of arms around him – his mother had joined in as well. He stayed silent for several moments, not willing to talk. After causing the man and woman who had birthed and reared him nearly two years’ worth of pain, he felt he had no right. After what had to have been five minutes, they finally let him go and stood in front of him. Katherine’s eyes were filled with tears almost like the day they sent him off on his Pokémon Journey, except with deliberate differences.
“How awful…” Katherine muttered, stepping closer to her son, putting her hand to her forehead, and bringing the edge of it to a spot right above Nate’s eyebrows. “You were shorter than I am when you left summer before last. Now you’re nearly as big as your father!”
“Katherine,” John said calmly, gently pulling her away almost as if there were bigger things that he wanted to talk about. “Nathaniel, where have you been all this time?”
(When Nate had left Johto permanently in late 2011, his parents never actually saw him. They were out running errands at the time and he left a letter in their mailbox. Therefore, it has been just over two years since Katherine and John Elm saw their son last.)
“I did everything you wanted. Learned more about the world…toughened up…joined an army for a while…” Nate said, sounding rather distracted.
“Joined the army? You’re only fifteen!” John shouted incredulously. “Who let you enlist?”
“It wasn’t Johto’s army,” Nate said. “It was something more…underground.”
“Just tell me who it was,” John said. “I’m a military official – there isn’t much that slips by me.”
“There was a war two years ago…Johto’s army wasn’t involved,” Nate said.
“Blackthorn City?” John asked. “That was the time where the Council refused to help Blackthorn City…”
“That’s what happens when you’re dealing with the supernatural…” Nate said, pulling a sword out from behind his cloak. Katherine gasped and John let out a stifled yell. “Some people don’t believe you.”
“That sword…” John muttered. “Don’t they have legends about that sword? My mother used to read them to me when I was little. My father didn’t like it one bit.”
Nate drew the sword.
“What do you think you’re doing?!” John shouted.
“I didn’t believe it when I first heard, either…” Nate said. “There were three swords that were created by the three servants of Arceus. They each had three different but cooperating purposes. To judge, to rule…”
“To bring peace,” John finished. “Do you mean to tell me –”
A faint orange glow emanated from the blade of the sword – then it turned white. John took a step back and let out a gasp. After three or four seconds, Nate sheathed the sword.
“When war broke out, it was my job to stop it,” he began to explain. “Funny, seeing as I got this sword from being on the wrong side to begin with – all because I let my selfishness and personal vendettas define what was right and wrong. Then I woke up. Or someone woke me up…”
“John…” Katherine spoke up. “Can’t you hear his explanation later? I’m sure he’s tired and probably hungry.”
John looked up at Nate for a moment and smiled.
“That’s fine – you can finish when you’re ready,” he said. Nate was almost surprised. Then, John explained it. “It’s hard to think that you’re lying about all of this when you brought the sword with you as proof. What’s important is that you’re here…for however long you’re staying.”
“You’re leaving again??” she asked. Nate turned to her.
“No…I came back because I heard someone I knew was here,” Nate explained. “I’m going to find her…but not today.”
“No…not today,” Katherine repeated, putting her hand on her son’s shoulder. “Today, you’re going to rest.”
June 13, PA 2013 – New Bark Town
That day and the next passed, and had been comprised mostly of questions and awkward silences. After all, they had not been together as a family for over two years. Katherine and J.R. noticed that Nate – from his tastes to his outlook on life – had undergone a drastic change in that frame of time. For example, Nate point-blank refused to let his mother cut his hair. Of course, Katherine made a huge issue about it while Nate attempted to explain that he simply preferred his hair that way now. Eventually, she relented and allowed him to keep the wild, spiky mane of hair that he had grown.
Now, he stood in the sunroom on the third floor – ironically, the same room where his mother had kept vigil for him during his absence (although she never told him that). He had dispensed with his traveling outfit – the cloak and orange shirt…there was no need for them anymore. He had returned to more normal dress – a black, button-down shirt with short sleeves and blue jeans. Today was much more pleasant than the day of his arrival; the sun shone brightly through a few fair weather clouds.
He looked down upon the street and wondered; what was she like now? In the letter, she had seemed almost normal – like she had forgotten anything that had to do with her childhood or the war.
Nate knew that wasn’t true.
If she’d forgotten about the war, she’d have forgotten about him, too – and from the way she wrote, she might have thought of him every day. When…or if…they finally met, what would he say to her?
Sorry, Avril – I didn’t bother coming back because I was sure you were dead.
How does one explain to another that he gave up all hope of the other’s survival?
Would he introduce himself like a normal person, as if the two had, up to that point, been complete and total strangers?
No – that was stupid.
Frustrated with himself, Nate sat down in the chair. He picked up the nearby newspaper, which had not left its place since the day he had returned, and began to read through it.
He saw that Shiro was doing well…Travis would be happy to hear that.
Lance was expecting his first child soon…
He put the newspaper down and went into his pocket. He took out a small picture of a girl about his age with honey-blond hair. At that moment, he heard a woman’s voice.
He recognized the voice at once and turned toward the door. His mother, Katherine, was wearing a white blouse and black skirt. She strode in and sat down right next to her son, looking over his shoulder at the picture. Nate didn’t bother to put it away – he figured that he’d held enough secrets from his parents to last them all a lifetime. To his surprise, Katherine smiled.
“She’s pretty,” she commented, trying to sound conversational.
“Yeah…” Nate muttered, lost in his thoughts for a moment.
“She’s here, you know – that girl,” Katherine said, looking at her son with a smile on her face and ruffling his wild, black hair – a habit she found she rather enjoyed after a while. “…or, at least, someone that looks like her.”
“What’s her name?” Nate asked, trying to sound as calm as possible, even though he was sure that his mother could hear his heart about to burst forth from the confines of his chest. Katherine stood, looked out of the window, and began to speak.
“Avril Pennington,” she said very clearly. Even if Nate had wanted to mistake what she’d said for something else, he couldn’t have done so. The picture fell from his hands and wafted harmlessly to the ground. With a slight gasp, Nate bent down to pick it up. Just as he did that, his mother added, as matter-of-factly as possible, “Actually, when I opened the door and saw you yesterday, she’s who I was expecting. She comes over here from time to time looking for you.”
Nate let out an audible gasp. Katherine turned around and saw the pained look on her child’s face. There was awkward silence for a moment. Nate stood up and began to walk out.
“I’m…going to take a walk,” Nate muttered. At once, Katherine began to panic.
“Take a walk?” she repeated, dumbfounded. “Wh-where are you going??”
“A walk around town,” Nate explained, looking over his shoulder. “After two years…things might have changed. It’d be nice to remind myself where everything is.”
Katherine smiled a knowing smile.
“You’re going to look for her, aren’t you?” she asked. Nate looked toward the ground.
“Eventually,” Nate answered.
“Why not now?” Katherine asked. “Apparently, if you’ve carried her picture in your pocket all this time, she’s pretty important to you.”
“…I don’t think I’m ready,” Nate answered. “I don’t know…”
“You always talk in code nowadays,” Katherine commented, exasperated. “Why don’t you give me a straight answer? What don’t you know?”
“I don’t know if it’s a good idea,” Nate said. “If Avril remembers me, she might remember other things that weren’t so happy. Maybe it’s better if we never see each other…”
“That sounds like a silly idea,” Katherine said. “If you plan on staying, you’ll see each other at some point.”
“I know,” Nate sighed. “I just…need to get my head on straight before that happens.”
He walked out without a further word, figuring that further conversation would do no good at all. He wished not to leave Katherine alone. J.R. was at a meeting that day – it just so happened that the Assessment took place not long after Nate arrived home. The Assessment was a yearly peacetime census of sorts – but not of the entire populace. Rather, the Assessment was a count and categorization of all military forces. J.R. Elm, as the highest-ranked able-bodied military officer in New Bark Town (serving in the stead of his aging Lieutenant, who had apparently been confined to bed), had been commissioned to receive this report.
Nate shut the door behind him and began to walk away from the mansion. As soon as he had gone far enough to look up into the sunroom, where his mother was gazing down at him with a look of worry on her face, he muttered, “Don’t worry. I’m coming back this time.”
He set off down the road and felt the warmth of the sun and the cool of the breeze against his face. It was still morning, so the air was still very comfortable. As he walked a road that he knew very well, he allowed his mind to wander for a while before realizing that it could not do so properly. To say that he had a lot on his mind would be true, yet at the same time untrue. Although he had many things to think about, all of them traced themselves back to one person. She had been reinserted into his life like the unexpected change of a well-thought-out plan, and Nate didn’t quite know how to handle it. He was sure that she had changed drastically in two years. Because of the picture, he had an idea what she looked like, and could probably pick her out of a crowd if necessary. Once he saw her again, though…
Would she recognize him? Surely, the hair would remind her (part of the reason that Nate refused to have it cut). His voice had changed a bit in the last two years, obviously. He had grown much taller – that was the first thing that his mother noticed after getting over the shock of his return. Now that he thought of it, his parents had to feel about him the same way he felt about Avril. Here was someone very dear and close to his heart, and he thought that he had lost her – just like they thought that they had lost him. Then, suddenly, she was back in his life. The idea of them being together was now, instead of something encountered in pleasant dreams, a very real thing…
…and because of that, he had no idea how or what to think or feel.
Happy, perhaps? That should have been the first thing to come to mind. She was alive and still remembered him. But…
…angry? Angry that Fate had played such a cruel trick on him by sending him on a most painful downward spiral for nearly two full years, only to have him find out that the one whom he was mourning so sorely was, in fact, alive? The powers that be like to play games with some people, so perhaps…
…paranoid? This seemed too good to be true. Usually, if it seems too good to be true, it is. Could that mean that someone, in fact, was lying to him, all in an effort to get him to come home and to stay here? His own mother wouldn’t do that to him, would she? Katrina went through a lot of trouble to convince him.
…Betrayed? Had Avril simply pointed to a spot on a map and figured to find a way to get her letter there?
…No, that didn’t add up.
Was this whole situation contrived by a combination of lucky circumstances?
If they had been meant for each other, he wouldn’t have lost her for two years, would he?
By this time, his thoughts had carried him all the way to Barkton Terrace. Things here were a lot cozier and a lot less complicated here. Two years ago, he hated this place on principle – avoided it, in fact. He looked down on these people because they were not affluent enough to live in Gilchrist Heights like he did. Moreover, some of the people that he used to hate most lived here.
Class, income…foolish distinctions they were – mad discriminations that simply brought out the worst in people. The entire concept of society, it seemed, was based on the hand of cards one was dealt. If you were ‘meant’ to be something, you’d have the right people around you to make you that something.
You’d be born into the right family.
You’d have the right teachers.
You’d have the appropriate hobbies and interests.
Your fate was predetermined from birth – nothing could be done to stop it. Your choices could not stop it, for they were preordained as well.
People can change – Nate knew that now…and even if it were not so, it wouldn’t matter. He also knew that love crossed any borders. It blurred any lines that Man could invent, any walls he could erect, any barriers he could build.
…and it was because of love that Men could dream.
Dammit... AURA’s newest agent thought to himself as he reached a dead end on the Hyperion. This place has about a million twists and turns. Where the hell is the deck?? He saw cloaked agents everywhere. He had figured something out, as all of the grunt-level agents seemed to be the exact same height and body build. But that wasn’t significant right now. Philippe had ordered everyone out to the top of the airship for some kind of rally. The agent, wearing a cloak in the same style as the one that he had had before, except it was all black, made a left to where he saw some grunts headed. After a few steps of walking, counting the tiles along the floor that all looked exactly the same, he hit something, and heard someone stumble.
“Sorry,” the agent grunted. He then heard a girlish groan. “So, you’re human, then?”
“It didn’t take you long to figure out where our king gets his pawns,” the girl answered. Slowly, she removed her cloak, and the agent was taken aback.
Damn... he swore to himself in astonishment. This girl had to be about his own age. She had striking, light-blonde hair that went down to her shoulders, baby blue eyes that seemed to have no end to them, and her face...it didn’t just look like it had been shaped by a god. She looked like she herself was divine. She had that same beauty, that same elegance, that same innocence. She reminded him of the mythical elves his mother used to read to him about in those stupid fairy tales. But this was real...
“You’re lost, aren’t you?” The girl answered. “Lord Nathaniel?”
Feeling it would be rude to keep his hood on when the girl already knew who he was, Nate removed it.
“I sure hope our enemies don’t spot me that easily,” Nate commented. “How’d you know?”
“You’re not hard to find,” the girl said with no change in her expression, which was a shame – Nate wondered how beautiful her smile was. “You’re the only one that has that cloak, and your hair’s even darker than it is.”
Trying not to get distracted from the task at hand, Nate suddenly said, “I sure hope you know your way around here, because I sure don’t.”
Nate started walking. He heard no footsteps, so the girl, far from leading him, wasn’t following. He turned around.
“My name’s Avril,” the girl said.
“Avril, that’s a nice name, if you don’t mind me saying so,” Nate said. “But why is it so important for me to know who you are? It’s obvious that everybody works in secret around here.”
“Well, there aren’t a lot of normal human beings around here to talk to,” Avril replied. “Plus, we’ll be working together – under Lord Philippe, of course. Since we’re the only other humans in the unit, we’re his overseers.”
“Overseers?” Nate repeated, confused. He didn’t yet know AURA’s terminology. “Can you explain it on the way? I have no idea how to get anywhere on this monster of an airship.”
The first time he and Avril had met…he had joined a terrorist army. A ‘Resistance,’ its leader, Angelos – a chilling, sadistic, monster of a man – called it. Nate hadn’t really cared much about Angelos’ plans. All that he knew, all that he cared about, was that Angelos’ plan involved destroying Travis.
He hated Travis – a pretty-boy goody-two-shoes over that good-for-nothing slum everyone called Barkton Terrace. He was always preaching the concepts of ‘love’ and ‘friendship’…how annoying. Even worse was the fact that everybody loved him for it. It was as if the success that he was born into no longer mattered. Nate let a smile cross his lips as he walked. It was so ironic, it was almost painful to think about it…that he met his first love because of decisions he had made – decisions fueled by his hatred for someone else.
He still remembered how she looked on that fateful June day two years ago. She was beautiful even back then, but her ash-blond hair was flyaway and uncontrollable. She was always as pale as a ghost back then, too…as if she was living in perpetual fear...
Nate remembered feeling one thing as Avril shared with him the little she knew about herself. He remembered feeling one emotion – pity. He then realized how hopeless and miserable the trap of fatalism truly was. To say that one could not alter his or her circumstances degraded living to a long, tedious process of going through the motions.
As for her, she had resigned herself to a fate of death on the battlefield in service to Lord Angelos. She saw no reason to continue living and, in fact, embraced the idea of death as a deliverer – a cure for her meaninglessness. This was a powerful lesson to Nate about the human mind.
”A man who has no purpose has no hope.”
“You’re too beautiful to die on a battlefield,” he had told her once. Somehow, he felt that her life – and, in turn, his own – was worth so much more than that. He looked ahead to a future of peace…somehow.
How ironic that he nearly ruined it for both of them by staying on the wrong side for so long.
This was, of course, when he was still semi-normal. He had no idea of true nature of his sword, nor the part he was to play in that grand history.
Slowly, but surely, he fell, driven nearly to madness by the decisions he had made and ever-conscious about how they affected her. Then, one day, he woke up and realized that her happiness and well-being was, in his eyes, more important than his own.
He realized that he loved her.
In the sky above him, where a few stars were still barely visible, the dark blue burned as it met the horizon, and orange and red from the sunrise kissed the clear waters of Olivine’s coast. It seemed to him the best time in the day to come here and think. He had been completely silent for probably the last day or so, talking to no one and avoiding everyone – because there was still too much on his mind. He had spent what felt like forever in soul-searching, trying to find out who he really was. Today he was up before the sun to watch the dawning of a new day – another chapter in his purposeless existence.
Life sucks when you can’t find a reason to live.
It sucks even more when the quality of your life is solely dependent on whether someone else is dead.
And that was the situation that he found himself in. He sighed morosely at the rising sun as he again contemplated the emptiness of his life up to this point. All of his stock had been in things. He had never worried about people. He never needed them. Up until now, he had never felt a need for anyone – their presence, let alone their kind words, advice, or favors. Up until now, people were just nice to have — to use. They were trophies, they were put on the earth to please him. And he owed them nothing in return.
Up until now.
He sat down as, not for the first time, the gravity of his foolishness hit him. His burgundy eyes stared at the sandy ground beneath him. They closed in sorrow, penitence, but most of all, they closed in fatigue.
He was tired.
Not physically tired – his soul was broken. Not only could he not suppress his own feelings, but he failed even to control them. He was tired of suppressing his own feelings, because the result had been that he no longer knew which was which. And the pressure...the pressure had built up inside of him, tearing away at his soul – eating at it like a cancer. For the first time, he sang to himself a song that he had written over the last week – a song that described where he was.
I am nothing but an angry child of nothingness...
Love is such a foreign world to me.
I am nothing but a hardened heart that can’t confess
The truth that I so need to set me free —
So I am empty. . .
But maybe one day my scars will fall away,
I’ll lay down all I won’t yet say
To you, to show you who I am.
And maybe one day you’ll let down all your walls,
And hand in hand, we’ll finally fall
To earth, to death and rebirth, from skies so far above,
We’ll fall to love...
Deep in thought, he began on the second verse, but stopped quickly as he felt a presence behind him. Someone had been watching him this entire time.
“That was...beautiful,” the girl’s voice said simply. The girl sat down very close to him. She had blonde hair and grey eyes that looked very familiar, but was wearing a white blouse and a black dress that went down to just above her knees.
“Not really...it’s really cold and ugly,” Nate said finally. “I never sang before because I was never in touch with how I felt. I always hid it under lying to myself...’til, finally, I started to believe my own bull.”
“For someone who doesn’t like to sing, you do it well,” the blonde-haired girl said blankly.
“You know, musicians are a cursed race of people. You can always tell from their voices how much pain they’ve gone though, and how much they’ve seen and heard,” Nate said mournfully. “You can hear the pain in my voice. But it’s too much...it doesn’t sound good.”
“It’s honest,” the girl said. “You’re not lying to yourself or anyone around you about how much your heart aches when you make music. And that’s why...to me, it’s beautiful.”
“Avril...” Nate whispered.
“That song...” Avril said. “What made you write it?”
“It’s complicated...” Nate said. “Basically, I know someone...I guess it’s better to say that I have ‘feelings’ for this someone...who knows as little about love as I do.”
“At least you know something,” Avril said.
The sea breeze blew Nate’s ever-lengthening, jet-black hair across his face. He sighed and looked at Avril. “Do I?”
“...are we on the right side...Nathaniel?” Avril asked after a long, nearly painful silence.
“How the hell should I know?” Nate answered with a sudden harshness in frustration. “All I know is...I have to...no, we have to, at the end of all of this, be on the side that wins. And that’s called ‘survival’.”
“We?” Avril repeated. “I thought you only cared about destroying him.”
“I thought I did, too...” Nate muttered. As if paying homage to the significance of this comment, nature went completely quiet at this moment, save for the rushing in of the tide. “And since I’m the villain of this story, I don’t know...if justice will allow me...and this person...”
He stood up. Avril followed him soon after.
“Ironic...I’m fighting for an idea that will end up destroying me, too. Because I was cursed to be the villain of this story...”
“I don’t believe so,” Avril replied. Nate looked at her for a second and saw something he had never seen before –
As her gray eyes lit up with the colors of the sunrise and lustered like silver when the light hits it, she was smiling. A true smile.
“I think...that wherever love is, a hero can be,” Avril said. “And since you have love, you have at least a chance. So maybe you’re not a villain – maybe you’re another kind of hero.”
“I thought I gave up on love,” Nate muttered.
“...I guess, then, the only answer is that love didn’t give up on you,” Avril replied. Nate felt a lump forming in his throat. She had been brainwashed to be a killing machine for nearly the entirety of the short time she’d been on this earth. She, strictly speaking, wasn’t supposed to feel love. And yet she still believed. She hadn’t given up on love...so what right did he have to say that he did? Maybe, eventually, everything would work out. AURA would win the war, and he and she could be together in life, and not in death.
Maybe it was his turn to believe.
He put his arms around her and was a bit surprised to find that she did not resist. She buried her face in his chest and stayed there for a while, almost as if trying to get closer to him than even he could pull her. As he stood here embracing her, he knew that he could not tell her yet. That would happen after the war, but there was something he knew he could say to her now, to help them to that point.
“We’ll make it through this, Avril,” Nate whispered. “I promise.”
He arrived at the town park – the same place where Katrina had dumped him over three and a half years ago. He sat down on the bench and looked straight ahead.
For all his wandering, it was now approaching high noon. The sun was warmer, but not merciless, as the recent storms had cooled the air enough to be manageable.
Before the fountain, he sat and he wondered – if he did see her again…provided that everyone was not lying to him…how would he react?
Would he be afraid and run away again?
Or would they spend every possible moment together, as they did when they first met?
In the face of war, they had found peace only with each other. To each, the other was solace. She was the eye that was in the center of the storm that was his life at that point. His only sanity in an insane world…then…just as suddenly as he had met her, she was gone.
September 1, PA 2011 – Battle on the Plains of Jonah
Nate turned on his heel and charged...not Travis, but Philippe, who was nearly decapitated before he could register what was going on. He and Nate traded blows for a couple of seconds, before Philippe, in a towering rage, hit Nate so hard that the latter went skidding backwards and came to a stop just feet in front of Travis, who jumped backward and brandished his own sword just in case he was about to be a victim of a...he guessed that this would be a double-double-crossing...would that make this...
A triple-crossing, if Nate were to double-cross Philippe, and then cross Travis again? Since he was on the side opposite Travis to begin with, he couldn’t truly be considered to have double-crossed him? Since they were enemies at first, he’d have only crossed Travis once, because that was all that would be necessary...A triple-crossing...
Or, if Nate (now, apparently, on Travis’ side, at least for the time being) turned around and attacked Travis while his guard was lowered, would he be considered to have double-crossed Travis after he double-crossed Philippe...thereby making this a....quadruple-crossing?!
Travis was confused entirely. Just what the hell was going on?!
“Get going!” Nate shouted. “Leave Philippe to me! Knock down the rest of those drones – Angelos should show his face soon!”
Travis, already not willing to stick around long enough to see Nate switch sides again (if he was indeed going to), decided to take off away from Nate and Philippe, still limping a bit because of the recent injuries that he had sustained. His body no longer felt tired, but now his brain certainly felt tired. This was like taking the TEST all over again...
Meanwhile, Philippe was uttering an extremely loud and filthy expletive at his opponent.
“That’s a nice greeting,” Nate growled. “You must be even dumber than you look. After the way you treated Avril...after all you’ve put us through...you mean to tell me that you didn’t see this coming? Yes, I destroyed your airship out of spite when I found out about what you did to Avril. Yes, you! Did you think I was stupid?! I know damn well that you’re the only one that had a key to Avril’s cell.”
“Urgh...so, after all the fighting you did for us, you’re nothing but just another bleeding heart,” Philippe said, rolling his eyes derisively. “That’s the reason she’s in a cell right now. People with hearts are —“
“– no use to you,” Nate cut him off. “You’ve cut down anybody that has a heart. Even your own father...”
“My father misused his power,” Philippe said sharply. “So I removed him.”
“You’re full of it,” Nate growled. “You had your father executed because, among other things, he actually cared about Avril. Before I met her, that was the only person she ever thought cared about her...and you took him away, too...”
“I’ll see him in hell,” Philippe said nonchalantly, shrugging his shoulders.
“Very soon...” Nate growled, his hair beginning to stand on end just a bit. “Personally, I hope they’re saving the two worst torture chambers in hell for after this battle. I think you should know that Angelos deserves the second worst torture chamber!!”
“I’m shaking in my boots,” Philippe barked sarcastically. Pointing his sword at Nate presently, he snarled, “Look. I don’t think you realize how big of a mistake you just made.”
“I haven’t made any mistake,” Nate said calmly. “Except for not doing this sooner.”
Nate brandished his sword, steeled his courage, and charged...
Philippe and Nate had been trading sword strikes for what seemed like an eternity. Philippe swung his sword at about the torso region of Nate, who blocked the strike easily and then struck Philippe in his jaw with the hilt of his sword. Blood went flying from Philippe’s mouth as his lip was cut by the attack. A dangerous orange glow coming from his eyes, Nate raised his right hand (as his sword hand was his left hand), aimed, and fired an orange-colored wind blast from his palm. This ball of light, about the size of a rather large grapefruit, smashed into Philippe and blew him backward by an immense amount. Nate lowered his hand and immediately gave chase. Raising his sword, he attempted to drive straight into Philippe, but the latter blocked with his own sword, although he was being pushed backward by the force of Nate’s strike. Eventually, he simply let Nate overextend himself. Then, to Nate’s misfortune, Philippe’s vicious streak took over. He kneed Nate in the nose and then grabbed the boy by his throat. Laughing maniacally, he lifted the boy’s head, took his sword, and placed the point right on Nate’s belly. Then, as slowly and as painfully as he could possibly do, he pushed. After about a second, the blade pierced the skin and began to sink deeper and deeper as Nate choked and groaned in pain.
“You missed something,” Philippe growled. “Don’t you understand? It doesn’t matter what you do here. Even if you win...you’ll be too late to save Avril. She’ll die, one way or another. She would have been better off fighting with us and dying that way. But she chose to love. She chose to rot away in a cell and watch as you are destroyed...”
He yanked the sword out and then painfully kneed Nate in the groin. It doesn’t matter how powerful you are – that hurts like hell.
“Heh...” Philippe chuckled as Nate, groaning loudly, sank to the ground, concentrating hard to hold on to his sword instead of holding on to...himself. “Every man’s worst weakness, eh?”
“Tch...” Nate groaned, his eyes blurred by pain and venom as he stared at the ground. “To hell with fighting fair, right? ...urgh!”
“Attacking vulnerability – that’s fair, obviously. As a matter of fact,” Philippe commented. “That’s how you win a war. So...you’re a smart kid. You tell me: How’s the best way to avoid getting hit at your weak point?”
“Learn how to...defend it...” Nate groaned, swearing in pain. “Damn you...”
“Better yet?” Philippe replied. Raising his sword to Nate’s face, he carefully slipped the blade of the sword across Nate’s cheek, creating a cross-shaped scar. “Don’t have the weakness at all.”
“Gah...” Nate groaned again, struggling to get off of the ground while fighting the unimaginable pain in his groin. He figured that he’d at least better get up while Philippe was screwing around with him. If nothing else, he’d buy himself a few more seconds and die with dignity.
“Now, I’ve got another question,” Philippe said. “How much do you think that would’ve hurt if you’d had three?”
“Where do you come up with this ****?” Nate swore, getting to his feet as his eyes came back into focus. “Never mind – just get to the point. These sick metaphors are killing me, among other things...”
“You want to hear the moral of the story, do you?” Philippe answered. “Love’s just another weakness.”
“I hate to say it,” Nate muttered. “But you’re half-right.”
“Half-right?” Philippe repeated.
“If you want to do evil....” Nate replied, his mouth twisting up into a weak smirk. “Love’ll screw you over every time. Believe me – I know from experience.”
“And maybe you’re half-right,” Philippe conceded. “Maybe love is a good thing to have. But here’s the question you’re not answering well enough for me – is it worth the pain?”
“What?” Nate asked, taken aback.
“A demonstration,” Philippe said, going into his pocket for something unfriendly.
Slowly, Travis stood. His eyes narrowed and he saw his target above him. He raised his finger straight into the air and an enormous ball of energy began to emanate from it. This ball quickly shrank to the size of a small cherry. Travis could have sworn that he heard shouting somewhere in the background of his troubled mind, but he ignored it. All that mattered now...all that mattered was destroying this ship. If he destroyed this ship, he and Katrina, and the rest of his friends could all go home to peace. If he destroyed this ship – the ship that had to contain Angelos, considering that he could not be found anywhere else – the war would end. He steeled his resolve and channeled as much power as physically possible into his left index finger. He continued to hear the shouting. Perhaps the people behind him were celebrating. Hopefully someone who was celebrating back there had the sense to fix up Katrina while they were at it...because, if she died, he would never be able to forgive himself. He saw what had to be the center of the airship, and he let it rip.
“SACRED NOVA SHOT!” he shouted. He heard a resounding crack and felt a slight pain in his hand (as the recoil from his attack created a crater within a crater). As he’d half expected, the force from this shot had broken his left index finger. The ball shot up into the center of the airship and then faded.
Nate looked into the air with shock. His heart literally stopped beating as, a few moments after it seemed like nothing at all had happened, the entire ship suddenly went up in a white fireball as the sky around them darkened from blue to black and red.
“NOOOOOO!!” Nate yelled at the top of his lungs over the sound of the explosion. He watched as a small, meteor-like streak shot out from the explosion in the southern direction, toward New Bark Town and then looked back as the ship was entirely consumed. The sky turned to its original color, and there was now no sign that the airship had ever been there – not even dust. The Sacred Nova Shot had completely obliterated the Highlander. “Avril...no...”
Like a broken tape, his mind began at the meeting with Philippe at the forests outside of Ecruteak...
His first meeting with Avril...
”Are you lost?”
Their growing ever closer in the days that were to follow...
”You’re too beautiful to die on a battlefield.”
His promises to her...the ones that he had failed to keep...
”I will get you out of here.”
”One day, when we have peace, you’ll be able to spread your own wings. And you’ll be the most beautiful Butterfree anyone’s ever seen.
”...the most beautiful Butterfree anyone’s ever seen.”
”I will get you out of here.”
”...you’ll be able to spread your own wings.”
”...when we have peace...”