5th August 2016, 7:32 PM
The Rainbow Chasers
I wrote this for a contest somewhere else, and I quite enjoyed doing so because it's the first thing I've written in about four years. Then I realised I also have an account here and I should probably post it here too because why not. I realise it's not perfect, but I hope you like reading it anyway.
The Rainbow Chasers
The rain had come in the early morning, a light shower which left as abruptly as it had arrived and brought with it the sweet scent of earth and the occasional, chirruping scatter of bird Pokémon which erupted from the canopy to the edge of the clearing. The sky was a dark blue, giving way to violet, giving way to orange, and the last glimmers of Venus were barely visible in the dim rays of the rising sun as they pierced through the morning fog. A wisp of smoke, imperceptibly faint in the morning sky, trailed downwards from the dawn star and criss-crossed through the morning sun-beams, coming finally to rest before a juvenile fire and its starter, a middle-aged man.
The man, cross-legged before the fire, palms outward, sat on the dew-drenched grass paying no mind to the rapid dampness that was permeating his jeans. The flames flickered, and danced as he threw another handful of kindling into the fire pit. Satisfied, he turned his attention upwards to the rapidly brightening sky and the orange which was now giving way to a lighter blue.
This man was known only to his followers as the Shaman. His figure was tall and thin but not particularly emaciated. He had eyes the colour of coal and hair with a depressingly similar shade. There seemed to be a natural slowness to the way he moved with each action coming from deliberation rather than habit, judgement rather than routine. As he looked at the sky, his eyes moved back and forth between the clouds, carefully, and with an air of practice, searching for the tell-tale signs of a certain something that constantly eluded him.
"Near perfect conditions this morning, I’d say."
From behind, a woman, the speaker, emerged from one of a few tents that dotted the clearing. She was significantly older than the Shaman, bronze hair streaked with pink and grey, and a bright orange jacket adorning her figure. Despite the difference in age, she had a delinquent air of someone much younger. The way she dyed her hair, the garishly bright clothes, even the way she moved, fast and instinctual, seemed to all be aimed at denying anyone from knowing her true age.
The Shaman didn’t turn to acknowledge her and continued his silent search of the skies. The older woman smiled and sauntered over barefoot, enjoying the feeling of the wet grass upon her feet. Following his example, she also looked up at the sky. Despite that, her gaze seemed less focused than the Shaman. Where his was precise and deliberate, her eyes seemed to glaze over the infinite azure, picking out the odd looking clouds at random and noting, only casually, the receding rainclouds in the distance.
"Found any yet?" said the woman, turning to the seated figure.
The Shaman shook his head slowly.
"I'm Morgan," said the woman. "You must be the Shaman everyone's been talking about right?"
This time he nodded.
"Is it true what they say: that you're the best at finding rainbows?"
The Shaman considered this for a moment but didn't nod nor shake his head. Instead, he turned to Morgan and eyed her carefully with the careful gaze of a mystic eyeing their subject.
"Yes," he said finally, breaking his silence with a dramatic hand-gesture, "I am." Then, as though nothing had happened, he dropped his arms and turned his gaze back to the skies, making as though Morgan hadn't even spoken.
"Err… okay," said Morgan. Undeterred by the Shaman's aloofness, she stuck out her hand. "Well put 'er there," she said confidently. And as she did that, a bracelet slid down her arm to her wrist and was visible.
A gleam of red and white and jingle of chains caught the Shaman's eye and, for a moment, he turned his gaze downwards and caught Morgan hastily pushing the bracelet back down her arm, as though it were a painful memento of a time long gone.
"You're a trainer," noted the Shaman.
Morgan paused. "Yes," she said cautiously, "I was. But that was a long time ago." She looked at him and frowned inquisitively. "You're suddenly curious," she ventured.
"You weren't saying much a moment ago."
"I didn’t have anything to say."
"And you do now?"
The Shaman fixed his eyes upon Morgan, gleaming coal irises now focused not on affecting some kind of faux-mystique but instead on actually looking at Morgan, picking out the features he had not noticed before, noticing for the first time that, as old as she was, she looked the part of a trainer who was just heading off into the open world.
He said, "I'm not joined by many trainers."
"Well, camping and hiking is what trainers usually do besides training. The novelty wears off," responded Morgan.
"Yet you're here."
"I'm not a trainer anymore."
"But you still carry around that Pokéball."
Morgan frowned. Slowly, she rolled up her left sleeve and brought down the bracelet she had been hiding. Between the fingers of her right hand, she fingered the red and white sphere that was the centrepiece of her bracelet.
"This... is just a keepsake." She pressed the middle of the Pokéball causing it to expand and then pressed it once more to release the catch. The Pokéball opened and revealed an empty metal interior. "When I was a trainer, it used to belong to my best friend."
"I'd rather not say."
"Well you've managed to pique my curiosity."
Morgan turned to the Shaman, closing the Pokéball and returning it to its miniature form. "You ask a lot of questions for a shaman. Why don't we get to know each other before you start asking me these deep, personal questions about my mysterious past?" She laughed, but even to her it sounded hollow and uncomfortable.
The Shaman pondered this with a thoughtful look playing upon his face and nodded. "Well to begin with, I'm not really a shaman."
"I wasn't being serious," said Morgan hastily. "You don't have to—"
"And I don't really chase rainbows."
Morgan stared at him with a frown, suddenly unsure of herself.
"I won't force you to tell me about yourself," said the Shaman, "but it's been a while since I've felt a particular kinship with anyone."
"We've just met," responded Morgan. "What could you and I possibly have in common?"
The Shaman smiled and, reaching into his trousers, produced a tiny red and white ball between two fingers, a ball not too dissimilar to the one Morgan had displayed a moment ago. "It's as you say, the novelty of the outdoors wears off. So what, in fact, are we doing here? Why are we both chasing rainbows?"
"I suppose you've also piqued my curiosity." Walking forward, she sat next to the Shaman. "So what do you want to talk about?"
The Shaman was silent for a moment and avoided Morgan's gaze. Leaning backward, he allowed his hands to sink into the wet grass and stared upwards into the sky. For a moment it seemed that he was silent once more, focused intently on his prior activity, but then he exhaled loudly as though preparing himself and started talking.
"When I was younger, I was a trainer like you," he began. "I had a Hoothoot as a starter and my stomping grounds were the Johto you see before you." He turned to Morgan. "You're also a Johto trainer, am I right?"
"Yes," replied Morgan.
"Johto, in my opinion, is one of the most beautiful places in the world for training Pokémon. The Pokémon caught here tend to be wilder, harder to tame, but that makes it all the more satisfying when through much hardship you finally manage to establish a connection with them."
The Shaman turned to Morgan.
"My Hoothoot was like that. I remember an incident from when I was just starting out. I had just released my Hoothoot from his Pokéball after losing a battle about half a day before, and I was fairly sore from the loss. I'm sure my Hoothoot was too because it took off for the trees almost instantly the moment he was free."
"He what?" Morgan laughed.
"It's true," said the Shaman. "Bird Pokémon are one of the harder ones to tame because of their mobility. I don't even think you can ever even truly tame bird Pokémon. They are free spirits, agents of the wind. They go wherever they please and return whenever they want. The most you can hope for is that where they want to go and where you want to go coincide."
"You call that tame?"
"So what happened next?"
"Naturally, I took off in a dead sprint after my renegade companion. I remember vividly the Johto forests closing in behind me as I followed the twists and turns of the winding path, lead solely by the flutter of brown wings and the occasional distrustful screech. I thought at the time, 'what a crappy Pokémon.'" The Shaman gave a small chuckle. "Well, after a while I noticed that I really shouldn't be able to keep pace with this Pokémon. Hoothoot are far faster than any 11 year old."
"Yes, exactly." The Shaman nodded. "It was testing me. So gradually I slowed down to test this theory of mine and, lo and behold, the Hoothoot also slowed down. So, I took a gamble. I stopped."
"Yes. I stopped chasing the Hoothoot. I learned that day that you cannot control nature. You cannot beat a Hoothoot on foot no more than you can catch the breath of the wind with a bug net."
"And then?" Morgan leaned forward in excitement.
"At first nothing. It kept screeching, it kept its speed, it receded further and further into the distance, and I did nothing. I stood my ground and I watched it leave. Even though every fibre of my being was screaming at me to give chase, I stopped, and I waited." The Shaman smiled to himself in remembrance. "I waited almost an hour, and nothing happened. Two hours went by and I didn't hear a peep. Only when three hours had gone and I had I set down my camping equipment, resigned to never seeing my Hoothoot again, did I hear a soft cooing sound. I looked up and there it was. I could have sworn it was squinting at me, wondering what my game was, what I was playing at.
"We stared at each other like that for a while. The Hoothoot and I, facing off, our eyes locked on each other and both us like two old gunslingers waiting for the other to pull the metaphorical trigger.
"And so I did. Carefully, I reached for my pocket and, without giving it any warning, I threw my only Pokéball, the one I had caught it with, straight at my Hoothoot."
The Shaman stared at Morgan. "It was actually the first time I'd caught anything. The Hoothoot, you see, was given to me, so our bonds of trust hadn't yet been solidified. But with this exercise, with this wait-and-see approach I'd go on to practice my entire life, I'd managed to acquire even the tiniest piece of the spirit of the wilderness that manifested itself in my Hoothoot. It felt truly amazing."
Morgan let out a low whistle and smiled. "Impressive. So that's the story of how you tamed your starter?"
"No, of course not."
Morgan raised her eyebrows and the smile instantly vanished.
"That was the first of many times in which I'd wrestled with the loyalty of my Hoothoot. It wasn't the last time, but it was certainly the most memorable."
Morgan let out a sigh. "Okay, so why are you telling me all this, Shaman."
"An anecdote. You cannot control nature. The best you can hope for is that it plays ball. So that said, I won't push you for your story—won't chase you for it, but in due time, if and when you feel you would like to tell me, I would really appreciate your story too, Morgan."
Morgan considered this as she brought out her bracelet. The jewels were cold to the touch in the morning air, but the miniaturised Pokéball… somehow that seemed to chill her much more than any natural cold ever could. She drew her jacket closer together and looked to the Shaman.
"Okay," she said with a sigh. "Okay. I'll reciprocate."
The Shaman smiled and nodded, turning once more to the skies, though this time it was clear that his ears were focused elsewhere, and the slight sideways glances he gave occasionally indicated he was ready to hear her story.
"From the beginning," she said and turned downwards to face the grass as though uncomfortable to meet the Shaman's gaze.
"My best friend I told you about. She was a Sylveon. This Pokéball was hers." She held up the bracelet. "I started training late, at fifteen. When my dad gave me my first Pokémon, an Eevee, I was ecstatic. I'm sure you're aware that Eevees are pretty rare, and we took to each other like a couple of old friends. Pokémon in Johto, as you say, are incredibly hard to tame, but my Eevee and I… we worked well with each other from day one. I think she was just naturally affectionate, which is why, I suppose, she eventually evolved into a Sylveon."
The Shaman nodded not tearing his eyes away from the sky.
"So we did the whole travel Johto thing and we even did Kanto for a bit. I won my fair share of battles, entered a couple of contests, and I even managed to snag a couple of badges. All in all, pretty normal."
Morgan stood up.
"And that's it." She smiled.
The Shaman turned to face her and cocked his head slightly to the side, as if examining a particularly odd plant.
"What a strange story," he said.
"Well, it is what it is. I'm sorry it didn't meet your expectations."
Restoring his head to its normal position, he said, "Well, do you mind if I tell you a bit more about myself?"
Morgan turned towards the tents. "Well, the others might be waking up soon and—"
"The others," said the Shaman, "will be fine. I've never had a non-trainer wake up this early before."
Morgan turned back to the Shaman with a slight look of annoyance upon her face.
"The rainbows aren't even out yet. Let's continue."
"You said you didn't chase rainbows," said Morgan irritably.
Despite that, she trudged back to the Shaman with a scowl and took a seat on the grass which was still fresh with the imprint of her behind.
The Shaman scratched his chin thoughtfully. "Rainbows aside, your story's a bit sparse. Do you mind telling me a bit more about your travels?"
"After you, maestro," she intoned sarcastically.
"Hmm, seems pretty one-sided, but if you insist," he said with a smile. "Umm… well continuing on, I have to say that training my Hoothoot, I admit, was a large part of my trainer years, but they weren't the only part. I had other Pokémon, which I don't think are relevant to name, and we served each other well during our time together."
"And what happened to them after your time together?" asked Morgan.
At her question, he grabbed a handful of blades of grass and tossed them into the wind. As they were caught by the gust, they seemed to dip and rise in the morning breeze before being lost to the forest. "I released them," he said simply. The Shaman then opened his hand to reveal a single blade of grass that had not scattered. Wet as it was, it had stuck to the palm of his hand and stayed resolutely behind while its dryer counterparts had scattered to the whims of the wind. "All except one."
"The Hoothoot," said Morgan.
"Yes, but it had become a Noctowl then." The Shaman gave Morgan a sad smile. "My Noctowl was one of my most loyal companions. When I was a trainer of twenty one, nearly a decade had passed since we'd become friends, and I was just about ready to take on the Indigo Plateau."
"After ten years?"
"Well, geniuses do it in a year, most do it in five or six." The Shaman blushed. "I suppose I was a particularly untalented trainer. Or perhaps I liked to take my time with things. Although I do have to say: my ten years on the open road, getting stronger after each of my many defeats… I wouldn't trade those years in for the world."
"So twenty year old trainer takes on the Indigo Plateau. What then?" Morgan said dismissively.
"Except I didn't," said the Shaman.
"Well you sounded like you were hyping up to some big—"
"I got caught in a forest fire near Tohjo Falls on my way there."
Morgan winced and hung her head. "I'm sorry."
"Don't be, it wasn't your fault," he said, now turning away to face the sky once more. "In retrospect, I shouldn't have been trekking through Route 27 during the dry season, but it never occurred to me that I'd be facing a forest fire right next to a famous waterway. It seems almost absurdly cruel for one to sprout in the first place, but that's life."
"So what happened then?"
The Shaman was silent for a while, but when he spoke he sounded as though he were bearing the weight of the world on his shoulders.
"The fire caught me by surprise. One minute I was making my way through one of the many islets of Route 27; the next, a sudden a gust of hot air accompanied by the acrid smell of smoke heralded this massive blazing inferno. All I could do was run, so that's what I did.
"I ran as fast as I could through groves, bushes, and glades. Really, anything that would get me away from the fire as quickly as possible."
"If you were on Route 27 then you must have had some water Pokémon right? Couldn't you get them to help you clear a path?"
"I did have some and you're probably right. But if I'd learned anything from my ten years at that point, it's that it is particularly futile to go against nature. It has its own way and its own rhythm. The best we can do is to keep in tune or fall by the wayside and be swallowed by the music. And I wasn’t willing to become a casualty.
"So I continued running to the water's edge. But just before the entrance to Tohjo Falls, the fire caught up with me and it brought down a particularly weak tree. If you understand where I'm leading up to by now, I got caught in the path of that tree and it gored a particularly nasty wound in my leg."
The Shaman lifted his trouser leg to show off a faded scar.
"And you survived that?" asked Morgan in awe. "Actually, no. Stupid question. Continue."
The Shaman laughed. "A bit of levity. I like that. In any case, the wound was horrendous, but I suppose the shock allowed me to crawl through to the safety of Tohjo Falls where the flames couldn't reach me. You wouldn't notice it if you'd never been in my position before but Tohjo Falls has a complex network of cracks and crevices in the ceiling that were perfect for siphoning off the dangerous smoke and gases from the fire.
"Of course, I didn't know that back then, which is why I wanted to avoid the Falls in the first place, but I was desperate, and I needed a place to treat my broken leg and ride out the fire."
"The thing about forest fires though is that they're not like any simple fire. They tend to last for days if not weeks and if you're caught in one you best hope you have an escape plan because if not you're essentially signing your own death warrant. I was twenty one and I knew this. I'd learned enough about forest fires from my years of travelling that I knew I didn't have a hope in hell of escape.
"So I did what any sane person would do. I resigned myself to death and released my party. They were mobile and they were able. My water Pokémon would have been able to easily ride out the fire in the waters of Route 27 and the rest could escape through the Kanto side. The one who had it easiest was my Noctowl who could have easily escaped through the rocky mountainside. I'm sure there would have been plenty of prey and shelter for it up there, and yet, that's not what it did."
The Shaman turned to Morgan and retrieved his miniature Pokéball from his trouser pocket. Holding it up in the sun, he stared at it through squinted eyes, noting the tiny imperfections and patches of accumulated dirt from years gone by.
"When the rest of my Pokémon had left, my Noctowl continued to stare at me. I was reminded of that fateful moment from ten years ago, that moment we had stood eye to eye like old western gunslingers and I had tricked it into becoming my partner for life. But in its eyes I saw myself reflected, and I realised I was nothing like back then. I was a pathetic mess, a person who through blubbering tears, scared of death as I was, begged the Noctowl to leave, to just find its own way and let me die in peace. In a fit of desperation, I even picked up a rock and made as if to throw it at my Noctowl, but even then it did not flinch.
"It understood me too well. It wasn't human, but it understood my tears, my fears. That I wasn't exactly resigned to death as I had tricked myself into believing I was. And it wanted to help.
"Gradually, as my tears subsided, I too began to understand. I didn't want my Noctowl to do it of course, but I understood what it wanted. It wanted my assurance. My assurance that I would not die. Instructions that would lead it to that end. I tried lying of course, tried directing it to the mountains or to Kanto, but I assume my hesitation was all too transparent to my oldest friend because he left only once I gave him directions back to New Bark Town with a note of help detailing my coordinates."
Morgan gripped her jacket tighter. She seemed to be hanging off the Shaman's every word, but there was something about her attention which seemed not to derive from interest but from something else, an unseen something which she kept close to her heart and away from prying eye.
"And what happened next?" asked Morgan.
"Next?" said the Shaman. He smiled. "Well, after a day or two I was found by the emergency services. They'd found my Noctowl passed out from the smoke in New Bark Town and had treated him for any injuries. I survived my ordeal and here we are."
Morgan loosened her grip. "That's it?!" she shouted, causing a couple of bird Pokémon to scatter in the distance. "All that build-up, and that's it?!"
"It is what it is," said the Shaman.
"What absolute, bull!" exclaimed Morgan. "A complete rip-off, that's what this is. You make me sit through your nonsense stories, make me feel empathy for you, string me along with this tragic story of loss, and suddenly everything's okay?! Everything's suddenly fine?!"
"Well, I never said I was okay after that."
Morgan turned on him angrily. "Of course you are. Look at you. A scar and a happy little job chasing rainbows with flippin' tourists! I bet you went on to take on the League and everything just worked out fine in the end didn't it?"
"And I never said I took on the League."
"What does that matter?" shouted Morgan.
"Because you didn't either."
The Shaman's voice was quiet, a simple accusation of a misspoken word, easily deflected. And yet, almost instinctually, Morgan turned around away from the Shaman and clutched her jacket, suddenly silent.
"Tell me, Morgan. Have you ever been in a forest fire?"
"N-no," she said hesitantly.
"So how could you empathise?"
Morgan was silent.
"And you visited gyms in both Kanto and Johto right? Did you never think to aim for the League?" pushed the Shaman.
Once more, he was greeted with silence.
"If you don't want to talk—"
"Shut up!" she growled.
The Shaman fell silent and continued to observe. Carefully, he peeled his eyes away from the stationary Morgan and turned back to the skies as he noted a flash of the most brilliant colour appear. This seemed to satisfy him as he nodded to himself and turned back to Morgan.
"It was a landslide on Victory Road," she said suddenly. "She pushed me out of the way. There was nothing I could do." She gripped her jacket tighter. "I recalled her to her Pokéball, but..."
The Shaman stood up and walked towards Morgan. He placed a hand on her shoulder. She was shaking. Her trembling was slight and invisible to an outsider, but in his position he felt the tremors and the gloom as clearly as he could see the fresh dew drops of misery fall onto Morgan's hands, hands which clasped the Pokéball bracelet in her hands so tightly that they had begun to turn pale.
"Let's walk," he said. "I can see a rainbow."
Morgan raised her head slightly and through bloodshot eyes she thought she saw in the Shaman's gaze the true reason for his occupation. Hidden behind mystique and showmanship, she was sure she could see sadness and grief hidden deep inside, feelings which gnawed beyond his stoicism, feelings which were seeking a cathartic release or at least a desperate escape.
They left the clearing and the other tents after dowsing the fire, leaving their sleeping party behind to assurances from the Shaman that they'd only be gone for a short while.
There was a trail which cut a natural path through the forest, but the Shaman lead Morgan over to a separate, never-travelled undergrowth from which the sun shone a little less brilliantly and the morning dew had not yet evaporated.
"Tell me," said the Shaman as they picked their way through the forest, "do you still remember your Sylveon?"
"What kind of question is that?" snapped Morgan. "Of course I remember her. Clear as day. I haven't turned senile!"
"Then please, I'd appreciate it if you told me something about her."
"Anything happy, anything sad, is there anything in particular you feel is worth sharing?"
"They were all happy with her," she muttered. "But there is one I remember vividly."
"What is it?"
"Well," said Morgan stepping over a particularly large tree root. "I don't have your way with words…"
"Any story's a good story if it's about something we care about."
Morgan sighed, fingering her bracelet as she walked.
"There was one winter," she began. "Our last winter. We'd set up camp in a cave just about half an hour to the north of Ecruteak City and the snow was coming down pretty thick. We could barely make out the Burned Tower to the West and the Tin Tower to East through all the snow, that's how bad it was. We had a beautiful fire going and I wanted to keep my Sylveon back in her Pokéball, shelter her from the cold and all that, but she didn't let me. You don't see it with tame Pokémon much, but you know how the ball wiggles around a bit and opens up if you fail to catch a Pokémon? Yeah, it was like that. Normally, she wouldn't hesitate to follow my order to return, but this time she absolutely refused to.
"I could tell that all she wanted to do was keep close to me despite the cold. I had my coat and winter wear, but my Sylveon? She had her fur and her feelers, those ribbony things that Sylveon have, and yet she wrapped them around me like she thought it would help shelter me from the cold."
"So what did you do?" asked the Shaman.
"Well, I couldn't let her freeze, could I? I pushed her away, but not like in a way that showed I hated her. It's the kind of thing where I picked her feelers off bit by bit and kind of placed her on my lap. We watched the fire together with my hands on hers, and I had to constantly stop her from trying to wrap her feelers around me. She was persistent as all heck."
Morgan laughed sadly as tears welled up in her eyes.
"She was beautiful, and I'd do anything to get her back." She rubbed the tears out of her eyes. "Like your Noctowl, am I right?"
The Shaman was silent and kept his pace through the brush.
"We're here," he said finally.
Both of them emerged into cliff clearing overlooking a large valley through which a river wound its way through. The sun had risen nearly three quarters of the way to its zenith and the clouds left in the sky were wispy and discouraging, none of them particularly great candidates for rainbow formation. Despite this, the Shaman cast his gaze towards the sky and nodded to himself, as though to say that conditions were perfect.
"You mentioned the two towers of Ecruteak," said the Shaman. "That wasn't a coincidence was it?" He turned to her and saw that her fists were clenched and the tears had stopped flowing. In her eyes, he saw reflected not himself but Morgan's hopes and fears in quivering irises that were wide open to a possibility which, the Shaman understood all too well, she had been clinging to for a very long while.
Morgan didn't respond to his question. Silently, her eyes urged him to continue.
The Shaman turned to the valley. Unlike Morgan, his face was different. His mouth was twisted in a strange contortion of shame and sadness, but, simultaneously, the rest of his face displayed a certain weariness, a certain feeling of having seen the same things over and over again and wishing to any deity who wanted to listen for such things to end.
The Shaman steeled himself and returned to face her.
"So you must know about the story of the three beasts that died in the fire?"
"All too well," said Morgan, her voice cracking.
"I told you I don't chase rainbows," said the Shaman.
"I know," said Morgan, "In fact, I think I'm starting to understand. I know what you mean." She stumbled forward and grabbed his shoulders as the tears began falling freely. "I… I understand. We're the same, you and I. We want the same things."
With that, she raised her head to the Shaman. "And you've finally found it right? Today's the day, you've finally found it?"
The Shaman looked at her with pity. "Yes," he said hesitantly, quietly. "I've found it."
"Well then where?!" shouted Morgan through teary eyes, "Where?!"
The Shaman picked her hands off his shoulders and turned to the cliff side.
Both of them turned towards the cliff and were blinded with sudden display of dazzling light, an array of colours which shone in their surroundings more brilliantly and in more variety than the named cardinal seven. A winged phoenix seemed to emerge out of the coloured aether, its wings beating a steady rhythm as parts of it gleamed too brightly to look at. There was a majesty, a grace to its hover that brought Morgan to her knees. The Shaman stood his ground and regarded the phoenix sadly like a familiar friend.
"Morgan," he said, "the Pokéball."
Slowly, Morgan reached for her bracelet but was stopped at the last minute by the Shaman's sad gaze. "The one you've been hiding in your jacket."
"You realised," she said with a laugh.
The Shaman nodded and took the Pokéball from her. Gently, he placed it on the ground. "I want you to watch closely. Whatever happens, do not shield your eyes."
As the Shaman retreated from the Pokéball, his own eyes turned away, Morgan watched in rapturous splendour as she felt her dreams manifest before her eyes. The phoenix turned downwards to the offering and simply regarded it with a regal stare. Here, felt Morgan, was the culmination of her hopes. The endless nights in search of the rainbow God finally come to fruition to beg it for this one, simple wish. The wish to see her friend again.
And suddenly, the Pokéball caught fire.
Morgan screamed and dashed forward, but the Shaman was quick to act and held her back. The fire of the Pokéball burned brightly, and the phoenix continued to hover in place, giving out a gentle croon as the fire wrapped itself around the red and white sphere as though held in place solely by its song.
Furiously, Morgan banged her fists on the Shaman's shoulders as he held her in a bear hug, preventing her from reaching the rapidly growing inferno. "What. Are. You. Doing?!" she shouted at him, punctuating each word with a bang on his shoulders. "What are you doing to my Sylveon?!" Screaming through teary eyes, she pleaded with phoenix to end it, to stop what it was doing, to bring back her Sylveon.
And yet it persisted. The phoenix had a sad gaze to its face. However, it seemed not to stare at her, or the Pokéball, nor even at the Shaman, but at something else entirely. Something hidden beyond the pale of fire, as though it saw into destiny itself and was merely working its way to an outcome it felt best for all.
Finally, after what seemed an eternity to Morgan, the fire died down and the Pokéball was left unharmed. The phoenix screeched and the Pokéball popped open. Within it: ash.
Morgan collapsed and the phoenix vanished as suddenly as it had appeared. She sobbed on the ground, hands listlessly beating the dry earth, tired of it all and the cruelty of Gods. The Shaman regarded her with pity. He understood all too well her feelings, of a whole world crumbling before their eyes, the many happy realities branching off from the supposed miracle that they had once pictured in their mind's eye collapsing into a dark and singular corridor into which one truth was unerringly certain. The final, unavoidable destination of all who walk the path of life.
As she calmed down, the Shaman turned away and walked slowly to the Pokéball.
"Why?" she said after some time. "If you knew: why?"
"As I said, you cannot control nature," said the Shaman. "Our lives point only one way and we'd be fools to think otherwise and even bigger fools to chase a rainbow for years and expect a miracle. I was that kind of fool once, and I sought the most foolish thing of all. And when I thought I'd found it: well..." The Shaman regarded the ash sadly.
He began walking towards Morgan. "You aren't the first and possibly won't be the last. It is a painful thing to spend years on end searching for a way, any way, to bring back the ones you've lost and having that hope dashed in the miserable conflagration you've just witnessed. So I made it my duty to shepherd people like us, the ones who couldn't simply let go, to end it quickly and cleanly. I cannot begin to fathom why Ho-Oh would go to such lengths to aid us, but in some way it makes sense. Possibly it feels guilt at the hope it gives people from its one moment of weakness in the past and helps us the only way it knows how."
"Helps us?" Morgan said almost sarcastically.
The Shaman nodded. "I had a similar reaction the first time around, but I eventually understood that I could not hope for a more beautiful end to that wretched chapter of my life. To have my loved ones embraced by the sacred fire of a deity which shows itself only to those most worthy and to those it pities. What greater way for us to move on from our grief, to cease dwelling on the painful memories of the past that we cannot hope to change and continue on forward."
The Shaman kneeled down to Morgan. "But," he said, "even though we should not dwell, I also believe that the sentiment, the feeling of having loved and lost, is something we should cherish." The Shaman grabbed Morgan's limp hands and handed her the open, ash-filled Pokéball.
Morgan looked up at the Shaman, her eyes dry.
"It will take time to heal," said the Shaman, "but I first want you to take this Pokéball and do something for me."
Standing up with his arm around Morgan's shoulders, the two of them walked slowly to the cliff edge, Morgan herself cradling the ash-filled Pokéball in two hands. Both of them regarded the valley solemnly, neither of them daring to say the words which she had dreaded her whole life and which the Shaman could never get used to saying.
Morgan's hands shook violently and she looked into the sad face of the Shaman. He nodded.
In the valley, a scattering of ashes lost themselves in the wind.
I'll get to this.