"Hey. Are you lost?"
I called out to the frail little form standing beneath the streetlight, knee-deep in the glistening snow. She turned slowly to gaze at me, blinking in bewilderment, as if she didn't understand the words I spoke.
Her frontal appearance stunned me, for in a bizarre, uncanny way, she seemed to resemble myself, even though I knew she could not be any older than the age of five. Yet, the shiny raven hair, dappled with the tiny flakes of falling snow, draped loosely about her shoulders... The hue was near identical to mine, which always stuck out in odd angles beneath my cap. And those dark chocolate eyes, shimmering with evident youth... They mirrored my own like pools of water.
She stood there, simply staring at me, not responding. It was like my voice hadn't even registered to her brain. As I recovered from the initial shock, I tore my gaze away from her extraordinarily familiar facial features and took the chance to glance down at the lower half of her form. The rest of her build was typical of an average toddler, although I noticed that, in her tiny hands, she clutched a doll of some sort. The tips of its golden fur was also speckled from the snow, but, squinting closer, I managed to discern the stuffed figure of a Pokémon similar to my Pikachu, only smaller and with sharply angled ears. A likeness of a Pichu, I realized.
Still receiving no answer, I tried again.
"Where are your parents?"
Her empty gaze dropped down to the crisp, sparkling mounds of white, and I understood.
"Hey, I'll help you find them," I proposed, probably sounding more cheerful than I felt. A child as young as her shouldn't be out alone on a night like this!
"Pika!" my Pokémon added as it appeared on my shoulder, agreeing to the task.
She smiled up at me, grateful. Yet a sadness seemed to lurk about that smile, and something told me that was the only way she knew how.
Then, curiously, she shuffled forward to me a couple steps, her petite legs struggling against the snow. Staring up at me with another blank expression, she appeared to be contemplating something as her eyes shifted to the Pikachu on my shoulder, then back to me.
After a moment, she unexpectedly extended her arms out towards me, and I noticed that in them she was still grasping the Pichu doll. I stared at the smile stitched upon its dangling head, its button eyes staring back at me. Perplexed, I looked back down at her.
"Do you want me to hold it for you?"
She nodded mutely, still holding the toy out at arm's length.
I shrugged, puzzled, but unconcerned. "Okay," I murmured, reaching out to accept the offering.
My fingertips brushed against the artificial fur, and I suddenly felt a shock of pain, like static. Only the magnitude of this zap was much more intense than any shock I'd ever felt before, even one from my own Pokémon, and I'd experienced plenty of those. It surged throughout my entire body, like my own bloodstream was an electrical current, carrying the painful jolt to all my limbs. I gasped, and nearly dropped the object, but somehow managed to hold on. Something told me I had to.
Then came the memories.
Visions flashed abruptly before my eyes, scenes of sorrow, hate, and despair. It all commenced so suddenly that I staggered, now faced with such a harsh hail of anguish and animosity. The sobs of suffering children rang throughout my ears as accompaniment, along with rueful cries of those that had suffered even more loss. Screams of rage and hatred added to the agony, and I felt myself quaking like a frightened child as if they were all directed at me. Never before in my life had I experienced such woe.
The images were brief, but each made such a powerful impact to my mind that they were the equivalent of painful, physical blows to my chest. In fact, the grief was so overwhelming that I did feel like I was choking.
The worst part of it all, however, was that I knew that these were all the feelings that she had ever felt in her life so far, and it pained me even more to know so, being as young as she was. I could scarcely believe that these were all the things that those bright, beautiful eyes had seen. Such an innocent child, forced to witness and endure all this heartbreak.
The pain was excruciating now, and my entire body was trembling from the horrifying visions I was being shown. Desperately, I clung to the plushie so tightly that my knuckles grew as white as the surrounding scenery.
But, even if I had wanted to, I knew I could not let go. My limbs no longer responded to my commands, forcing me to suffer, just as she had.
Now silently sobbing, I knew I would suffocate from the desolation if I did not find some way to retaliate. Slowly, I forced my throbbing head to churn and process thoughts again, even though it felt too dizzy to do so from all the sickening images resounding in my mind. I closed my eyes and clenched my teeth, although that did not stop the whirl of painful scenes from pelting my being.
She was showing me her memories...
Her memories of Hate...
I could show her my own...
I took a deep breath, bracing myself, and searched my brain for recollections of my past. A memory of my Pikachu and me surfaced abruptly, the day we had first become friends. I concentrated hard on it, recalling the moment we began trusting each other, bringing it into focus. That day had brought me indescribable joy, and the bond we now shared was one of the most powerful forms of friendship I had ever known. I lavished in it, basking in the pleasant feelings it brought back.
For a moment, I felt the opposing memories falter, but they persisted, growing even more brutal. However, I did not relent either. I cudgeled my brain again, producing thoughts of warmth, love, and friendship to counter hers of rage, torture, and distress. The war raged on in my mind, neither side showing any lenience. It was the classic battle of Good versus Evil, Love versus Hate.
My opponent was weakening, but so was I, and I feared it would not be enough.
Still, I had to try. I delved deeper, retrieving further memories of my childhood. I remembered happy times with family, the warm, pleasant comfort and satisfaction of home. Laughter, friendship, love, even those emotions of events that I had only seen and not felt, I recruited them all as allies against the darkness.
It was enough. I finally reached the end of her hateful memories, and I'd countered each with one of my own. There was no final battle, no great conclusion. It simply stopped with the fading feeling of being abandoned in the frigid cold, without a single bit of remorse in answer to her tears. But there was no more.
Exhausted from the confrontation, my trembling hands promptly dropped the toy to the earth upon returning to reality. It landed with a soft plop upon the snow, and lay there, completely lifeless and inanimate.
Panting wearily, I managed to lift my gaze towards the girl once again, having nearly forgotten her during the clash of forces. She hadn't budged an inch, and was staring at the motionless plushie lying there on the earth. She raised her head to look at me, her large, brilliant brown eyes shimmering brightly in the reflecting lamplight.
"I-I'm sorry," I began, then halted. Her expression was strange, no longer cheerless as before. In fact, she did not seem at all saddened by the loss of her plaything, more so elated by it. Gazing up at me, she burst into a wide, genuine smile, characteristic of someone her age. I couldn't help but beam back at her, despite my exhausted state.
Then, without warning, she turned and fled into the night, immediately vanishing into the shadows.
"Wait!" I cried, trying to hurry after her. Picking up the plushie from the ground, I pushed forward, desperately hastening to catch up. "You forgot your-"
But she was already gone. The whirling snow obscured my already bleary vision and had covered her tracks, so that there left no indications of her presence. She had simply disappeared, as if she had only been a ghost.
I stood there, dumbfounded, like a statue among the drifting white, which had suddenly grown much calmer in a matter of seconds. In a trance, I gazed towards the direction in which she ran, retaining a rueful silence.
The cry of my Pikachu finally startled me out of my reverie, and I glanced anxiously in its direction. It was now standing erect atop the snow, pointing to a tiny object drifting down from the sky. Its bright tangerine hue contrasted sharply against the pastel blue background, and I managed to discern it easily without having to closely follow my Pokémon's line of sight.
It landed atop a snowbank, and I shuffled forward eagerly, my feet crunching against the frozen snow as my Pikachu trailed softly behind. Gingerly, I stooped over and grasped the thing in my fingertips, holding it up to the rays of gathering sunlight to examine it better.
It was a shimmering feather, an amalgam of varying vivid shades of scarlet and orange, tinted with multiple hues of all the colors of the rainbow, which all shone beautifully if held at a certain angle in the light. It glittered brilliantly in the golden sunlight, casting an ethereal aura of its own in response.
Watching the Seekers of Love and Hate...
Watching, waiting to see...
Is the World truly as dark and wicked as she has known? So bleak, so corrupt, that is beyond worth saving?
Or is there still one last ray of hope? A glimmer of Light in the Darkness? Do we still deserve a chance?
I leaned against the alley wall, fingering the feather absently, deep in thought.
Perhaps there is still hope after all.