Chapter Sixty-Five: Fairies and Fireflies
I sit nervously at the foot of my sleeping bag, stroking my newly evolved Ivysaur. He's quite tired from the exertion of his battle with Gladion's Golbat, but his scratches have healed quickly, and he seems none the worse for the wear.
I can't help thinking of what Gladion said to me, though. "If you don't learn how to think like your Pokemon, you'll never know how to train them." What on earth did he mean by that?
"Hey, are you okay?"
It's Shu, with Kachu on his shoulder. I blink. "What are you doing here?"
"Kachu smelled your fear," Shu says matter-of-factly. "I guess there's some things you can't even hide with an aura dampener."
"Because Pikachu can smell fear. Of frickin' course." I sigh and slouch a bit. "Any more weird things about this world that I never knew about?"
"Well, Kachu can charge a cell phone if you stick the adapter in her mouth."
I stare at him. "That is an oddly specific answer."
"Well, given that Clemont's tried to build seven generators so far and they've all exploded, I thought you might want to know about that."
I sigh. "Thanks, but my cell phone has no coverage for Pokearth. And I didn't bring the adapter with me because I didn't expect to be, you know, suddenly zapped into this world with no clear way back."
"Couldn't Hoopa -- I mean, Ali -- get you a portal back home?"
"No good. I've asked her. She has no idea where my house is. She hasn't been to the real world -- I mean, to my world -- for as long as she can remember. For all she knows, she's been in the Interdream Zone all her life."
There's a pause.
"I wonder if there's a Prison Bottle for her?" I think out loud. "If she really is the Hoopa from the Dratini legend. Where would her Prison Bottle be?"
"The thing that holds the rest of her power. Hoopa usually look like towering six-armed horned deities when they're at full power. Ali's a Hoopa-Confined, so she's naturally smaller. Sure has the appetite of a full-sized Hoopa, though."
Shu looks around. "Where is Ali, anyway?"
"She should be off somewhere. I let my Pokemon wander around the base because I don't feel comfortable leaving them in little balls all day long." I sigh, looking down at Yoshi. He's fallen asleep.
"So do the Unown translate Pokemon cries for you?"
"Not automatically. They have to focus to do it. And Unown can get tired like anyone else."
"Do you think the Unown know where Ali's Prison Bottle is?"
I blink. "You make a valid point, Shu. The Unown are the ones that took me to the Interdream Zone. They can travel between dimensions. Maybe some of them have been to wherever Ali's Prison Bottle is kept."
"Well, at any rate, we won't know where the rest of the Unown have been until we find that Pale Sphere that we need to summon Palkia. And even then, there's no guarantee he'll let us speak to them."
I consider the options. "It could be that Tornadus and Thundurus know where the Prison Bottle is. Ali seems to know them -- maybe they were her jailers, or at least her prison guards."
"But they're currently running loose throughout Kanto," Shu points out. "Probably still looking for her. I don't think they'd hand over the bottle, even if they knew where it was."
I sigh again. This just keeps getting better and better. "Shu, how do you know how to think like your Pokemon?"
"Well, generally I just ask them what they're thinking," Shu says. "Which you can do too, if the Unown translate."
"I'm just worried about my skill as a trainer. I've terrified Benga, and I made Yoshi pass out battling Gladion's Golbat. How do I get in tune with what my Pokemon want?"
"First of all, you need to acknowledge that losing happens. It hurts, and nobody wants it, but it's not the end of the world. Pokemon in friendly battles aren't trying to kill each other; they're training to grow stronger. Physically and morally. And that means accepting loss."
Yoshi opens one eye. "Can you take it to another room?" he asks. "I'm trying to rest here."
I carefully stand up, doing my best not to disturb Yoshi as I do so. The egg on his back has a thin crack in it, and I don't know what will happen if it breaks. "All right, Shu. Where do you suggest we head up?"
"You've got your aura disruptor on, right?"
"I'm an offworlder. I don't give off any aura."
"Then let's head topside."
"Topside" in this case means the top of Mt. Moon. After several rickety ladder climbs and a few Super Repels, we make it to the surface. It's late evening, and we can see the sunset from the mountain's peak. There's a small shack there, presumably the souvenir shop, and a grassy meadow with a lake. Unlike the tops of most mountains I know of, the ground is actually curved inward slightly, although flat enough to walk upon.
"Welcome to Mt. Moon Square," Shu announces. "They say that this is where a giant meteorite fell from the sky, leaving this crater, thousands of years ago. It's said to have brought the first Clefairy to our world."
"Who says that? The Clefairy?" I joke.
"Yes," Shu answers, dead serious. "Over time, the Clefairy of Mt. Moon grew to worship the meteorite, calling it the Great Moon Stone, believing that it could bring them back to their world. It was taken down into the caverns of Mt. Moon and hidden away where only the Clefairy could reach it."
"And then what happened?" I ask.
"Team Rocket stole it. At least, that's what I heard from the locals."
I look around. It's getting darker, and a few Clefairy are mulling around. One of them has a pair of Cleffa at its sides, and they stare at us curiously. "Clef clef?"
"Oh, hey there, little ladies!" Shu laughs, waving. "Never seen a human before, have you?"
Kachu leaps down from Shu's shoulder and approaches the Cleffa, little whiskery nose twitching. The Cleffa stare back at her, possibly surprised at the sight of a Pikachu wearing clothes. I wonder if the clothes worn by some Fighting-type Pokemon are actually clothes, or if it's part of their natural markings and the Pokearthian humans modeled their own clothes after those markings. I've heard that for Machoke and Machamp, only the belts are actual clothes, and the rest is just their markings. Maybe the thongs that some humans wear in this world were based off Machoke markings. Wouldn't surprise me much.
"This is an important time for the Clefairy," Shu says. "Every Monday, the full moon reflects in the lake, and the Clefairy dance by its light, remembering the home of their ancestors. Sometimes they pray that the moon will send them a second Great Moon Stone to bring them back to the moon."
"That's incredible," I say, and then it suddenly hits me. "Wait. Every Monday?"
"Well, when else are you going to get a full moon?" Shu laughs.
I'd remembered this from the games, but I never actually thought... "Your entire lunar cycle lasts a week?"
"Is it different where you come from?"
"Well, where I come from, the moon is only full about once a month. Sometimes twice -- we call that a 'blue moon,' even though the moon doesn't actually turn blue. The moon does appear red on some occasions, though -- we call that a blood moon. Does your world get blood moons?"
"I think so," Shu says, "although I've never seen one. Next thing you'll tell me is that your seasons last more than a month."
"Actually, where I live, seasons last three months."
"Wow!" Shu exclaims, clearly impressed. "How does your world survive with three straight months of winter? You don't even have Pokemon!"
I smile. "You'd be surprised. We've gotten used to it over the ages."
He smiles too. "Three straight months of spring or autumn sounds really beautiful. But how well do you handle allergy season?"
I laugh. "Where I live, there's this one time of year where all the pine trees let out their pollen at once, and everything's covered in a thin layer of yellow dust for a week. It's pretty crazy!"
"Pika pika!" Kachu exclaims, having returned to Shu's side after giving her hat to the two Cleffa to play with. One of them is holding the hat upside down by the brim, and the other one is rocking back and forth inside the hat and squealing with excitement.
Shu sighs. "And I just bought you that hat, Kachu!" Kachu's ears go down, and she sulks. "Aww, don't get upset. I can always buy you a new one."
Kachu's ears prick up, but more aggressively. Clearly she doesn't like this idea. "Chu!"
"Okay, okay, I'll buy you something you actually like this time," Shu agrees. "Cool your jets."
A voice comes from behind us. "So what's this big thing you want us to see, Cap?"
I turn and see the rest of the group heading up the ladder to Mt. Moon Square, one by one. Gladion, the speaker, looks as surly as ever. Abe is holding a notebook and pencil. Cyan is pretty dirty after all the mining she's done to look for the Pale Orb. Ilima manages to look immaculate despite mucking around in a cave all day. Clemont looks pretty tired from all the climbing, but Bonnie is full of energy, with Lillie constantly trying to keep her out of trouble. Will and Karen come up last, with Karen looking skeptical at whatever this thing is that Ilima's dragging them all to, but Will looks eager to explore.
"It's summer in Kanto," Ilima says, "which means it's lightmite season. When it gets a bit darker you'll see what I mean."
"Lightmite season?" I ask as everybody chooses a place to sit or stand. "What are lightmites? Are they a Pokemon?"
"No one knows," Ilima answers, "although they're certainly too small to battle. They're nocturnal flying insects that glow in a variety of colors, and they're only found in areas where meteors fall, such as Meteor Falls in Hoenn and Mount Hokulani in Alola. They seem to feed on the meteorites, and a popular hypothesis is that they come from space themselves. Some believe they're smaller relatives of Minior, another being that falls from space."
"And you think we'll see them tonight?" Gladion asks.
"I certainly hope so. I've always wanted to see lightmites." Ilima grins. "Look, the sun has almost completely set. It should be happening soon."
I feel something warm rub up against my leg. To my surprise, Benga has somehow made his way up here (how did he climb the ladder?) I look to my left, and Ali floats next to an open ring, a smug grin on her djinnlike face. Yoshi and Kappa jump out of the ring, Yoshi yawning and stretching while Kappa floats over to a grove of trees and rests against a trunk, looking almost like an initial carved into the trunk.
The sun is a mere sliver in the sky. Will gives Ilima an expectant look. "Well? When does it start?"
"I don't know," Ilima explains sheepishly. "I don't speak Lightmite."
"Soon," Shu says, watching as the Clefairy and Cleffa step forward, close to the lake. "Soon."
The sun slips below the horizon, and to my surprise, I see the moon already high in the sky. Was it hiding behind a cloud, or was I simply not looking for it? This is the world you've always dreamed of, I chide myself, and you can't even find its moon. Start paying more attention.
Yoshi in particular seems intrigued by the moon. I suppose the Distortion World might not have a moon of its own, given that it's not even really a planet, just a bunch of surrealist islands chained together by broken physics. Also, it's kind of like the sun, but softer, and much safer to look at. Since normal Ivysaur get their energy from the sun, I imagine even Mirror Ivysaur could have a love of the light.
I look back down at the lake, and the moon reflected in the lake, and the Clefairy around the moon. "They're so cute!" Bonnie exclaims, drawing their attention. One Clefairy, the one with the two Cleffa, puts its finger to its mouth and shushes her.
Then the lightmites emerge.
They fly up from the bushes, glowing in every color imaginable. Bold reds and oranges, soft yellows and greens, deep blues and purples, wild pinks and teals. They're tiny, smaller than fireflies, but their glow is twice as bright. The entire mountain seems to light with their glow.
The Clefairy welcome their presence, chanting softly as the lightmites fly around them, illuminating the lake that reflects the moon. The two Cleffa, still clinging to their parent's legs, bounce up and down trying to catch the lightmites, which zip away quickly.
One lightmite lands on Benga's nose. He sneezes, and embers fly. So does the lightmite, darting towards the embers and then very quickly away from them once it realizes that they are certainly not lightmites and certainly quite hot. Benga snaps at the wayward lightmite, trying to catch it in his teeth. It quickly darts away from this strange and dangerous new creature.
Ali brings out her hoops to confuse the lightmites with portal power. The lightmites flick back and forth between the rings for several moments, then all gather on top of Ali at once, making her look like a Christmas decoration of the Devil. Ali yelps, shaking herself vigorously. "Get them off Ali! Get them off Ali!"
Shu laughs at this. "Relax, Ali. They don't bite. Although they can itch quite a bit, if they stick on you. Give them some time, and they'll leave."
The Clefairy continue to chant, joining paws and pacing sideways around the lake. The lightmites settle on their heads and bodies, forming colorful garlands and crowns. The Clefairy hover in midair, animated by some strange magic, continuing their recitation in their fairy tongue. They dance faster and faster, floating in the moonlight, forming a colorful chain of fur and light.
Then Clemont sneezes.
The dance ends suddenly, the Clefairy scattering into the brush, the lightmites darting after them. One of the Cleffa goes back to try to pick up Kachu's hat. Its parent quickly grabs it and pulls it away.
Gladion glares daggers at Clemont. "What the hell was that?"
Clemont stammers a barely audible apology, stating that one of the lightmites had tickled his nose. Gladion looks about to punch him when Ilima intervenes, chiding Gladion for getting angry. Bonnie looks scared. Gladion looks scary. His fingers are twitching again, the way they always do when he's about to do something he'll regret.
Lillie is yelling at Gladion to be nice to poor Clemont. Clemont looks rightly terrified. Ilima looks one step away from mind-controlling Gladion away from the situation.
Eventually Gladion mutters a half-hearted apology and backs away. Everyone glares at him, except Ilima. Even Cyan is glaring at him, and he wilts under her glare. Ilima looks nervous, clearly feeling the brunt of the group's thoughts against Gladion's behavior.
I turn to Shu awkwardly. "Well, there goes the dance," I say, disappointed.
"It'll happen again," Shu says, shrugging it off. "It happens every Monday, after all. We can always see it another time."
The lightmites continue to float through the brisk night sky.
But nobody cares anymore.
I sit on a log on Mt. Moon Square, staring at the water. The full moon is still reflected clearly, and a few lightmites still dance over the lake. The lake is larger than I remember it in the games, looking like a place where our entire group could have a fine swim. Perhaps the scale in the games is an illusion, to get across the idea of the place while not taking up too much cartridge space.
Gosh, that was a weird thought. Do the makers of the Pokemon games know that Pokemon are real? Have they been to this world, too? If so, how come this version of the world has types and forms that have never appeared in the games at all? Is this even the same Pokemon world, or just another branching dimension of it?
"Are you all right?"
It's Ilima, looking apologetic. "I'm sorry this night was a disappointment. I'd wanted to see the Clefairy's Lunar Dance as well. It's a sacred moment, critically important to Clefairy culture."
I smile. "It's not your fault. Or Clemont's, for that matter. Mistakes happen." I pause. "Lunar Dance?"
"Taught to them by Cresselia herself, or so I hear. Don't worry -- it's not the same kind of Lunar Dance I used to heal Gladion. It's more of a traditional thing. Nobody knocks themselves out dancing it."
I consider this. "So the Clefairy worshiped a Moon Stone, and then Team Rocket stole it. It seems kind of foolish to put your trust in a rock."
"I can't argue with that," Ilima sighs. "There are some people that even worship Mew. We're just Pokemon, after all. We're only human."
"You certainly do a good job of being human, for a Mew."
"And you don't do that bad a job at being Pokearthian, for an alien."
There is a pause.
"Do you really think I can do it?" I ask.
"Do what?" Ilima says, either to be polite or because he's still got his aura disruptor on and can't read my mind. Or can he even read my mind at all, if I have no aura? Will couldn't read my emotions, but Will is not a mythical Pokemon.
"Save this world," I sigh. "Back at home, I'd always dreamed of Pokearth, ever since I was six. I just wanted to come here and make friends with all of you -- all of the humans, and all of the Pokemon. But from the moment I arrived here, it's just been one disaster after another. I get chased by legendaries, bucked off a Dragonite, crash-land in a greenhouse in a town where everyone's been kidnapped -- and that was just the first half hour! Now I'm caught up in some sort of prophecy and am supposed to be the only thing that can save the world from complete and total destruction. I'm twelve years old! What am I supposed to do against Dark Matter?"
Ilima considers this. "I expect the Unown meant to tell you when the time was right. They wouldn't have chosen you if they didn't believe you could do it."
"Except the Unown have been banished by Palkia," I mope bitterly.
"Well, once Cyan finds a Pale Orb, we can summon Palkia and politely ask it to let the Unown back in. I'm sure that once we've explained that what the Unown did was not their fault and that Gladion won't do it again -- actually, he can't do it again, because Sasha isn't even still on his team -- then Palkia will let them back in and we can go back to planning how to save reality."
"If we can even save reality," I sigh. "Ilima, we're kids. We're up against a criminal empire with legendary Pokemon, a corrupt and murderous League, and some force of nature that wants to end the world. How are we going to beat all that?"
"One step at a time," Ilima answers. "One step at a time."