Prologue: Shelter from the Storm
The sandstorm loomed ever closer. Glancing over my shoulder, I could see the brown cloud engulfing the desert behind us like a mammoth monster. I needed to find shelter soon, or else we would become victims to its relentless fury as well. In the passenger cart beside me, Rui looked scared out of her wits. Worry and fear had etched their mark on her pale face, framing her bright blue eyes. Normally she had kept her hands cupped over her ears to block out the roar of the desert runner’s engine. Now they kept a death grip on the sides of her cart.
She turned to me and shouted a question, but the words were lost over all the noise. I was pressing this hunk of junk harder then I had ever dared to, but all that did was eat more gas. However, I could imagine what she asked. In reply, I shouted, “Almost” and she seemed to understand.
Columns of red-brown rock flew past us as I angled more to the south. It was here, somewhere. I kept my eyes peeled, searching for a particular rock formation that could save us from being wiped out. It had been a long time since I had last been in these parts, but the memory was still with me. Hopefully, I could still find it.
Finally, I could see it: a boat-shaped rock hidden by several other spires. Allowing myself to relax a little, I slowed the runner down. I had taken a big chance by coming out here, but I knew I had no other choice. Hopefully, everything was still in in order.
“Is this it?” I could finally hear Rui’s voice as the engine gradually quieted. Without answering, I leapt off the machine to face the rock. Running my shaking hands over its surface, I searched for a inconspicuous groove that ran parallel to the earth. The clock was racing, and every second counted. I had to find it. I knew it was . . . There. Now, I reached my fingers into the gap and felt for the trigger, all the while praying that the pulleys were still intact. My hand met it, and I braced myself as I pulled.
Grrr-ack! came a resounding grind as a section of the rock popped out. Counting my lucky stars, I ran over and raised the door the rest of the way up. It wasn’t as easy as it once had, having been rusted over with age, but I managed. Grudgingly, the shelter revealed itself. Hopping back into my runner, I eased it under the gate. Its popping and chugging echoed in the musty structure, but it was no where near how loud the rumbling and howling the sandstorm made as it drew nearer. After killing the engine, I raced back to the door to close it. The wind was begging to stir and the sun grew dim outside. It would only be moments until they were finally overtaken.
Stretching my hand up above me, I grabbed the door and tried to yank it back down. However, it stubbornly resisted. My heart nearly skipped a beat. I tried harder and harder, but the door barely budged. Rui saw the dilemma and joined my side. Together, we finally managed to slam the door shut. The air grew eerily quiet, save for our breathing, until the sand began to patter against the shelter. Finally, all the tension vanished. I exhaled in relief at our incredible luck. I didn’t even think we’d get this far. Turning around, I took a good look at the room.
A fine coat of dust and sand covered everything, from the desk to the sparsely provided furniture. Other than that, the shelter looked just like I had last seen it. There was the shelves, carved straight out of the rock, along with the old cots and creaky chairs. Some light filtered in from a sturdy window above, but as the storm progressed it would soon fade away. It was enough to see that some sand occasionally spewed from the air vents, yet that was nothing threatening.
“We’ll be safe here?” Rui interrupted my thoughts, her eyes full of doubt as she scanned her new surroundings.
“Safe enough,” was my vague answer. It was risky coming here, and if it had been any later that door might not have worked. Even now I wondered if we would even be able to make it back out. I didn’t voice that concern. Instead, I released my closest companions from their Poké Balls. In a brilliant flash of light a pair of odd-looking foxes, one purple and the other black, materialized into the room. The purple one, with its large ears and forked tail, looked about in keen curiosity. His partner yawned and stretched, looking only mildly interested. I smiled and reached down to stroke its sleek black fur before straying farther into the shelter.
“How long will it last?” came yet another question from Rui, who had hung back by the door. She seemed hesitant to walk into the dusty room. My Espeon, who I had named Yin, perked his ears up. He was a psychic type, but he wasn’t skilled enough to use true telepathy. Still, he could communicate feelings to me. Through this, sent me an equivocal answer.
“A while. An hour at most,” I shrugged.
The young girl sighed, then stepped closer. “Well, we’d better make the most of it,” she tried to sound optimistic. Pulling up a chair, she tried to pat off the dust as best as she could. This, however, only rewarded her by making her sneeze. I chuckled and looked away as the room began to darken. A light fixture hung above, but it probably wouldn’t work at all. We would have to rely on the light coming from my other Pokémon, an Umbreon named Yang. He gave off enough light for me to notice the metal racks hiding in the far corner. I didn’t remember ever seeing them before, so in curiosity I went in for a closer look.
Yang saw them, too, and followed. With the extra light, I could finally see what the racks held: small spherical objects. Right then, a shadow passed across my face. Tentatively, I picked up a ball and wiped the grime from its surface. It was a Poké Ball, but on the top of it was an ominous black chip that identified what it truly was; Snag Balls, from the main machine. The metal on my arm suddenly felt much heavier, but my anger rose to counter-balance.
Rui jumped from her seat at the ruckus the racks made as they crashed to the ground. I felt her questioning stare boring into my back. For once, I wished that she would have enough sense to stay quiet. But, being Rui, she had to ask questions.
“What-,” she began.
“Nothing,” I cut her off, keeping my back to her. She was clearly taken aback, maybe even hurt. I shouldn’t have been so sharp, but I allowed an uncomfortable silence to grow. After a while, she spoke up.
“Wes,” she started, slowly and cautiously, “I feel like I have no idea who you are. I know what you’re doing, and I have a clue of what you did before. But no matter how much I try, I just can’t figure you out.”
“It’s probably better that way,” I lowered my voice with a sigh. Don’t do this, Rui.
“No, it’s not,” she pressed, growing frustrated. “How are we suppose to work together if I don’t know who you really are.”
I didn’t answer. I just kept my eyes on the wall in front of me.
“I know that you’ve changed,” she continued, a shadow of a plead underlying her determined tone. “But sometimes, with the way you act, it’s hard to tell.”
“I’ve been helping you, haven’t I?” My eyes strayed to the device on my arm. “You trust me, don’t you?”
“Of course, but . . . ,” admitted she uncertainly.
“Then what more do you want from me?” I spun around to face her, but she returned my glare unabatedly. Yin and Yang watched warily from a safe distance, the tension making them uneasy.
“Answers, Wes. I want answers.”
I exhaled in exaggerated volume as I sat down on a nearby chair, not caring if it was filthy. Slipping of my glasses and gloves, I ran my hands through my sandy-white hair. Why had I dragged myself into this mess? I never intended for this to happen. I was going to live the rest of my life away from all this trouble, but somehow I had been pulled right back into the mess of things. It seemed as if I could never rid myself of the past. Rui wasn’t helping. I knew what she wanted to ask, but why did she have to open old wounds? What a fool I was, to think that I could leave it all behind me.
Rui bit her lip, but asked in a softer voice the questions I had guessed she wanted answered. “Why did you do it? Why did you join them?”
I looked over at her, wondering how many secrets I wanted to keep from her. She had been nothing good to me, but I still couldn’t bring myself to trust her completely. I couldn’t trust anyone. That was what I had learned living on this cursed soil, but . . . Since meeting her, I’ve began to think otherwise. Maybe there were better people out there. Maybe, I should trust her more. It burned at me to keep everything bound up within me. I needed to release some of that pressure, or else it would kill me. Yet, I hesitated to share my burden with this girl. Half of what stopped me, most annoyingly, was the worry of what she might think of me. Seeing her now, I knew that I couldn’t hide this anymore. She was going to force it out of me or leave. And I couldn’t . . .
“Rui, I had no other choice,” I finally began, and my life story began to unfold . . .