Valley of Symbols
I’m an only child. I’ve never really felt like anyone’s “big brother”. I was always just my dad’s son and student, and didn’t really have anyone else to call family. I don’t know how I would act with a sibling. I used to wonder what it would be like. I like to think we would get along, but I don’t really know, of course.
All that said, what Damian’s doing is wrong. There’s no way past it. Ariana disappears into the woods, her Vulpix scrambling to keep up. And Damian just watches. His eyes are cold. He’s already forsaken her. He’s not the person I met yesterday on the boat. Neither of them are.
It’s wrong. Of course he’s upset that he’s been lied to, but he’s abandoning his little sister. I don’t care if she’s 12, or 2, or 22, he shouldn’t be doing this. Nobody should be going it alone out there. Last night, he didn’t sleep. We were in the same tent together, and he just sat there until I fell asleep. At first he was crying, clearly still angry, but then he calmed down and just stared into space. When I woke up, he was still there. In the same spot. The only difference was the size of the hollow shadows under his eyes.
One would think that after that long night, he would have come to terms with what his sister had done. But he hadn’t. He had just resigned himself to abandoning her. I tried to talk him out of it, but he wouldn’t listen. He just went about his morning. He was issued a Pokemon - I didn’t see what kind - and went off with it for a while.
And now, here we are. He’s decided that, for whatever reason, he would be better off staying here and letting his sister leave than follow her and talk to her. He simply turns away, walking back towards his side of the line. It’s like he spent the night crying out any feeling that was left in him, and now he has no emotion left.
I don’t try to talk to him, though. I think he’s still angry at me for what happened yesterday, even if it did save his life. If I hadn’t brought Ariana to the cliffs, the truth would have stayed hidden. He could have come back to his sister in blissful ignorance of what had happened. But things seldom go the way you would like them to, especially when you don’t realize there’s an alternative. That alternative always finds a way to sneak in and become reality.
So what happens now? Ariana is gone, and Damian is receding back into the crowd. I’m still going out as an explorer, and it would have been nice to have another guy watching my back. Unfortunately, I walked right into a pit of drama and deceit. Damian is, at least for now, broken. And I’m not going to fix him. I know what it’s like to be broken - I was that way for over a year after my father died - and I know it’s a kind of break that he’ll have to fix by himself. For now, he’s a lost cause.
But Ariana might not be.
“Damian!” I shout as loud as I can, moving quickly through the crowd. I see him, stopped and looking back at me.
“What’s your last name?” Understandably, he gives me a confused look.
“Just tell me.” He continues to stare at me, then shakes his head.
“Rookwood. Damian Rookwood. Why?” I just grin at him. Rookwood it is, then. I turn and hurry back to my crowd.
The PFH guys are calling out people by their last name, alphabetically. Rookwood comes before Rye. There's an anxious moment where I'm afraid Damian will come find me and ask why I needed to know his last name. But he doesn't.
“Rookwood? Ariana Rookwood.” I hear the man call her name, and I step forward.
“She's with me. We're traveling together. My name's Tobias Rye?” As soon as I say it, I start getting even more worried. He'll have records that Ariana is traveling with her brother, who I clearly am not. There will be a lot of questions...
...but there aren't. He checks something off on a clipboard, reaches into a bag hooked around his wrist, and pulls out two small, green devices. He hands them to me.
“These are your Pokenavs. They've been modified so you can keep us updated with your whereabouts and findings. Make sure she gets hers, too.” And then he's on his way. I can't believe how easy that was.
Now to find her.
Route 121 lies before me. The crowds in Lilycove have dispersed, and lots of other trainers are around. For a moment, it's almost as if civilization had never left.
But I know that's not how it is. The proof of that is strewn all around. The route lies in ruin. The path is ripped up, as if a huge set of claws had slashed them. Huge, clawed footprints dot a path running through the road and into the forest. Old fences lie rusted and twisted. The woods surrounding the path rustle with the sounds of wary Pokemon. For many of them, this must be their first time seeing humans. I'd be confused, too.
Trainers are starting battles around me. I suppose I'll find some to challenge eventually, but I want to find Ariana first, before she gets too far. She went north...
Looking north, there's a caved-in building. Chipped, faded paint reveals an old logo, but I can't make it out. The ceiling debris fill up the inside of the building, making entry impossible.
Making my way around the building, I find a huge clearing on the other end. Bordered by such thick woods that you couldn't even notice it from outside, I stand at the edge of a huge valley. The grass sways in the cold breeze, and the land dips down a great distance before rising in a series of rocky bluffs. Pokemon wander freely through the grass. I spot Girafarig, Zigzagoon, and a couple kinds I don't know. The whole view is beautiful, I can't help but notice how liveable the place looks. Again, it's like the disaster never happened.
What's strange about this place is in the structures littered about. I can't tell what they are from here, but they look like small stone statues. They don't look upright. In addition, at the head of the rocky bluffs is a huge outcropping of earth. It's not a mountain or a cliff. It's shape resembles that of a Zubat's wing, raised at a tilt and fanning out. I'm not sure how it stays upright, but it stands steady on the horizon. It's kind of majestic to look at, but strange. I guess a lot of strange things have happened here.
Letting Checkers out in case the Pokemon are hostile, I make my way down into the valley. The statues are, indeed, all tipped over. They're about half my height, made of a dark gray stone. They look like small-scale people, but without faces. The gray of the stone is contrasted with bright red markings and patterns. The style is very familiar. I know I've seen similar markings on old artifacts and religious items from Hoenn. It's a web of lines, all connecting to a circle on the statues' heads. Each one is the same.
There are loud rustling sounds behind me. I turn around, and...oh dear.
I'm surrounded by a group of Herracross. Large, with shiny, dark blue shells, their horns gleaming sharply in the daylight. They move slowly towards me, and I doubt they're a welcoming committee. Slowly, I back up to where Checkers still has his attention fixed on the statues, and pick him up. I make sure my motions are slow and deliberate, so they know I'm not trying to harm them. But somehow, I don't think they're too concerned with my plans. One of them, the one with the largest horn in the pack, lets loose a cry, and charges.
Pokemon battles are a lot like playing cards. Sometimes you can plan around the hand you're dealt, but other times you have to improvise. Right now, I'm going to have to improvise. I'm standing directly in front of a statue. So, without turning away from the oncoming bug, I hop backwards onto it, catch myself, and push off the statue, leaping forward and over the Herracross. Its horn is lowered to skewer me enough that my feet don't even touch it. I land on my side in the grass, rolling and cradling Checkers tightly. I stand up, holding him out in front of me like the world's silliest gun.
“Thunder wave! As wide as you can!” Checkers releases twin waves of electricity from his antennae, hitting most of the startled Herracross. Without taking the time to count the number shocked, I make a run north. There are clusters of trees there closer than those back up the hill behind me, so I stand a better chance of them losing me.
I hear enough scuttling footsteps behind me to know that there's more than one of the Pokemon still chasing me. They're fast, but their limbs are stubby. Luckily, I'm a pretty tall guy with strong legs, so hopefully I can outrun them. The trees shadow me as I start weaving my way through them. I hear one body thud against a tree trunk, but at a guess, it sounds like I still have two pursuers.
Suddenly, I've hit a wall. Quite literally. I stop suddenly, as in front of me looms a large pillar of dirt and rock. I don't really have a chance to think about how it got there. Turning around, the two remaining Herracross stand, hunched low, horns ready to strike. There's no time to think. The big-horned one makes a low clicking sound, which sounds almost like a growl. There's no time...
Suddenly, I hear a loud bark from above me. Craning my neck, I see something small, fuzzy and orange above me. Barking high and squeaky, but loud. No, not barking. Roaring. In front of me, the Herracross cower. Their new foe is small, but the sound is loud enough to discourage them. The smaller one scampers off. The big-horned one glares at me, then the thing above me on the pillar, then turns to follow.
The voice is relieving to hear. It belongs to the person I've been looking for. I turn to see Ariana standing on top of the pillar. In front of her stands the Vulpix I helped her catch, looking very proud of itself. Ariana looks more surprised than anything.
“Is he with you?”
“Nope. Just me.” She doesn't speak for a minute, looking back in the direction I came from.
“Come up here. It's safer. It dips down at the other end.” Making a half-circle around the pillar, I find that it is indeed sloped downward at the back. It's steep, but I make my way up. Ariana watches me carefully.
“No, you listen.” Her voice is sharp. Cold.
“I know you and my brother agreed to travel together, but that doesn't have anything to do with me. My business, and Damians, don't have to be yours.”
“Do you really want to go it alone?”
“What choice do I have?” Her voice breaks a little, but she doesn't cry. She's too strong for that.
“What about me?”
“What ABOUT you?!” She's angry. Still at Damian, but it's bleeding through.
“Look, why Damian did what he did isn't my concern, you're right. But I still don't want to travel alone. And I can't believe you do, either. The agreement we made on the boat wasn't just between Damian and I. It was between all three of us. Damian cared about your opinion, and so did I.” She's looking at the ground, staring intently through it. She's listening.
“...Can I trust you?”
“This again? I thought you had already decided you could.”
“Damian did. I never really made up my mind.” I see a little bit of where she's coming from. Paranoia. She's so used to distrusting people, that now she's almost out of people to trust, and doesn't know what to do with the one she has left.
“...but I guess you're right. Besides,” she says, bending down to pet her Vulpix. “I guess I owe you for Lily.”
We climb down the strange pillar. She say she doesn't know how it got there either, she just found it after she ran away from Damian.
I give her her Pokenav as we exit the glade. She toys around with it for a while in silence.
“There's a map on here. Satellite, I guess.”
“Good to know. So, where are we?”
“Right now,” she says, lowering the device to look around us. “We're in what used to be the Safari Zone.”
“So do the statues lying around have something to do with the Safari Zone?” Ariana looks around, surprised, as if seeing the statues for the first time.
“...Hm. I didn't even notice them before. But, now that you mention it...I don't think so. My family came here a few times, and the only man-made things in here were the PokeBlock stations. These...I guess they must have been put here after the disaster started.”
After the disaster...but wouldn't that mean there were people here during the disaster? The evacuation took a while, but I can't imagine anyone would be here long enough to place all of these without getting killed.
“Let's look around here some more.” She beats me to the punch.
Going northeast through the safari zone, we tread a wide hill leading up to the rocky bluffs. There are a few spider-web cracks in the rock, but everything looks fairly preserved. As if the disaster had never even happened. Except for the statues and the enormous spire of rock on the horizon, this place is practically a sanctuary.
“Toby.” Ariana stands a little ways away from me, looking west. She points, and I see it too. Three more statues, the only ones so far that are still standing. In front of them, there’s something in the grass.
We make our way to it slowly, softly. There's nobody else around, but I'm still a little paranoid that the Herracross could return. If their territory was only in the south part of the Safari Zone, then we might be safe. But even so, who knows what else is around. That pillar of earth was strange as well, and the statues are starting to creep me out too. Who could have made them? And why?
Getting closer to the three standing statues, I see that what's in the grass...isn't exactly in the grass. It's a series of lines burned into the ground. Wide and thick. They look like they've been there for a long time, but no new grass has grown. The ground is dark gray and solid, carrying smaller lines that look painted on. They shine a dull red in the sunlight, which swindles behind the edge of a storm cloud.
It's a familiar shape. It's the same style as the designs on the statues, but this one I recognize. It's a large circle with three lines protruding from it. Two angles, one straight. It looks like a giant, red “M” burned into the grass.
“Groudon.” Ariana stares at the symbol, not in awe or confusion, but as if looking at an old friend.
“You don't know the old tale of Hoenn's creation?” Ariana scoffs.
“Hey, I recognize the symbol, I just don't really know what it means. My dad and I traveled a lot. It's not my fault I never got to lear-”
“Okay, okay. Don't get defensive.” She gives me a smirk, then turns back to the symbol.
“Groudon and Kyogre were two great Pokemon that ruled the land and sea long ago. The two were locked in an endless battle for supremacy. There are different versions of the story, but what my grandparents always told me was that Groudon was born from Mt. Pyre, and Kyogre was born from what became Sootopolis City. The two fought with spears of earth and tidal waves form the sea, and their battle eventually created Hoenn.”
“So what does that have to do with this symbol?”
“It's part of the old language of Hoenn. Hoenn's first written language is supposedly based off patterns and symbols on the bodies of Groudon and Kyogre. The legends say that when the two were at their highest power, the symbols would glow brighter than the sun, burning like fire. I guess the entire language was formed from those symbols. Anyway, this is the symbol for Groudon,” she walks a slow circuit around it.
“And if you look at it upside-down...” She stops in front of the statues, facing me and the symbol.
“You get the symbol for fire.”
This is starting to scare me. I don't know why. Maybe it's the statues, and maybe it's the symbol in the grass, and maybe it's the pillar in the glade, and maybe it's the huge spire of earth looming over us. But I feel exposed. Weak. And for all the world, I feel like somebody's watching us.