That's right! I'm at it again…good lord, will I ever learn my lesson? Oh well…it's a new attempt, so hopefully this one will stay alive longer than the others. Hopefully. Whelp, there ya go…enjoy! ^_^
Chapter One: A Wish or a Prayer?
The sun rose early in the eastern sky, burning with the fury of the coming summer. Wingulls took up their raucous calling, gliding on the breezes like scraps of cloth. The sun's rays slowly crept up the sides of the ancient crater before spilling over its edge and making the white stone glow. Sootopolis City gradually came to life.
Noirsha Hunter awoke with a start as someone flung the light, summer sheets from her bed.
"Wakey wakey, Nori! First day of summer hols! Six AM, doesn't do to waste the day! UPUPUPUP, LET'S GO LET'S GO!"
Nori clutched at her pillow protectively, drawing her legs up against her chest. "No! Wanna' sleeeeeeeeeeeep…"
"Go AWAY, Owen!"
"You are SUCH a grouch in the morning."
"It's not morning! It's still bloody dark out…" whined Nori, covering her head with her pillow.
"Dark? It's been light for half an hour! You're wasting time."
"Shush, there's no such time as six in the morning, only six in the too bloody early!"
"Do I have to bodily haul you into the lake? You know I will," said Owen, tapping his foot impatiently as Nori groaned into her pillow.
"GREAT! I've got your shorts and a t-shirt and your b—"
"DAMMIT OWEN I CAN GET MY OWN CLOTHES—"
"Rightoh, I'll just skitter off into the hallway, shall I? O-kay."
Owen quickly vacated Nori's room, closing the door behind him. Nori re-emerged a moment later, pulling on a pair of much-worn men's khaki shorts over her boxers. She glared at him with bleary, dark green eyes.
"Who let you in, anyway?"
"Myself. I think your brothers are still asleep."
"They'd sleep through a three-alarm fire, the ba—"
"So, are we ready to go?" asked Owen brightly, beaming at Nori.
"Yeah, yeah," said Nori, straightening her black tank top and running a hand through her spiky, chestnut bangs, "Whatever you—URK!"
Owen had grabbed her hand and started running, while she helplessly stumbled along in his wake. They thundered down the stairs, through a hallway and the kitchen and paused briefly enough for Nori to grab her sandals before flying out the door.
Nori felt better after she pushed Owen off the dock.
Sootopolis Island was an old volcano crater, made of the white ash spewed out by the earth in days long past. The city was built on the inside of the crater, the rock terraced to create a flat surface. In the center of the crater, rainwater had collected over the ages, creating a treacherously deep freshwater lake. To the annoyance of most trainers, it contained mostly magikarp, but tales were told of things much older in the deeps…and especially of the Cave of Origin.
Growing up in Sootopolis, children learned to swim, run and climb very quickly. With daily practice running up and down sets of stairs most of the day, the local high school's track and field team regularly dominated the other teams from Hoenn, and this year were poised for victory over Johto and Kanto in a tri-region meet. Swimming they were excellent at as well, but the real titans were the Pacifidlog and various Orange Island teams.
Owen and Nori were no exception to this rule, even going beyond what was normally seen. They lived outside, really, most of the summer, and most people had no idea why they hadn't gone out on their trainer's quests yet. Owen was eighteen and Nori seventeen, and by those ages most kids had been out training, won badges and come home already. Also perplexing to most gossips was their romantic status; many things were suggested, but there was no real evidence, and the pair refused to confirm anything. Owen had a talent for not hearing questions he didn't want to answer, and Nori deserved a medal for changing the direction of a conversation.
Sootopolis was small, only a few thousand people, like most towns in Hoenn. It was dubbed a city not because of population, but due to Wallace's position as a gym leader. The island was famous for one other thing: berries.
Berries, used by trainers as cheap alternatives to the artificially produced status-rectifying potions, or as ingredients in the mysterious candy called pokéblocks, were difficult to grow: they required a certain amount of water, sunlight, a certain type of soil…but if those requirements were fulfilled, the plants grew rapidly. Sootopolis, with its sub-tropical climate and volcanic soil, wasn't quite ideal…but it worked. Berry trees of many different shades flourished on every slope, yielding a crop of berries every few days or weeks, depending on the berry. Every house had at least three old trees in their backyard, tended by successive generations of residents.
Nori was her house's unofficial berry tender, and she was good at it, too. It was mostly because of her that her family was able to scratch out a living, although few people knew this…
"Hey! Wait, wait dammit!"
"Wouldja look at that sky? Beautiful!" Owen stood on a pinnacle of rock on the edge of the crater, the sea-salt breeze ruffling his extremely curly, unkempt black hair, while Nori scrabbled to gain a hold on the rock. He bent down and seized both of Nori's forearms before hauling her easily up onto the rock.
"Don' mention it."
They formed an interesting pair; Owen was muscular and of average height, five foot ten or so, and Nori was as thin as a rail, five foot eight and her womanly curves rating depressingly low. What little flesh she did have on her bones was muscle gained from eleven years of tussling with Owen. Much to her annoyance, he still had her beat with everything they did except for school, swimming and berry growing. They were constantly in motion, save for when they were sleeping. With Owen it was obvious, but with Nori it wasn't immediately apparent. She tended to be quiet and rather cynical, ranging on bitter. Owen was energetic and never let anything get him down for long.
Owen hopped off the rock onto another, arms outstretched and whistling. Nori clambered down, following on the ground. She was all right with most heights, but the dizzying sheer drop on the outside edge of the crater was too much for her.
They stopped to flop down in front of an ancient, weathered pecha berry tree, overlooking the ocean. The two sat in silence for a while, listening to the roar of the sea against the rock of the island. A few wingulls swooped and dove, their thin bodies supported by the gentle breeze. Fluffy, white clouds passed lazily overhead. The sea sparkled in the sun to the edge of the horizon, where you might fancy you saw Mossdeep Island.
"So…" said Owen, quietly, suddenly serious. "Your dad get a job yet?"
Nori was silent a long time before she sighed, and answered, "No…not yet."
"It'll be all right. Something'll turn up," said Owen, syrupy brown eyes concerned. Nori seemed to be staring very intently at a point in the air in front of her.
"No…it won't," she said, quietly. "Ever since…ever since mom died, he's…" Nori trailed off. Owen sneaked a glance at her; she was hastily rubbing her eyes. "Well…if it wasn't for the berries, and for Andrew's pair of delcatties… I don't know if we'd be able to feed ourselves. I want to get away…go off pokémon training…but I can't. They're all lazy bastards, every one of them. They don't care…the only reason they haven't kicked me out is because I pay the bills…"
Owen stared at the ground, biting his lower lip as if debating with himself. Finally he sighed, and put an arm around Nori's shoulders, pulling her closer. "You've been dealt some pretty bad hands…this is the first time I've seen you really broken up about it. What happened?"
"We're done high school, Owen. I realized that if I don't do something…about my family, I'm never going to go anywhere. I'm going to be stuck on this island shipping berries and skitty kittens to Lilycove while my brothers and my father sit around all day alternately jacking off and eating, all the while talking about the jobs they're sure they're going to get. I can't take it anymore."
Owen felt her twitch slightly, as if she wanted to fling herself onto his shoulder and sob hysterically, but instead Nori got to her feet and started running down the path back inside the town.
"Nori? Wait a m…" Owen trailed off. "Gods. Like a stantler, that one," he said to himself as he watched her run. He leaned back, sighing. "Women." He then rose to his feet and started running after her.
Owen found her a bit later, floating on her back in the lake, not too far from the water's edge, her sandals and tank top discarded at the end of the wooden dock. He moved quickly to the side of the dock, where, crouching, he could not be seen. He regretted having to soak his khaki shorts again right after they'd achieved some measure of dryness, but shed his own sandals and t-shirt, placing them on top of the wooden planks of the dock's surface anyway. Moving as silently as he could, Owen slipped into the water. As he rounded the corner of the dock, he took a deep breath and vanished beneath the crystal surface of the lake.
Nori sighed, staring up into the blue, blue sky. Her ears were underwater, cutting off most outside sound. She floated with her hands resting on her stomach, chestnut hair fanning out behind her, her only motion her chest rising and falling with her breathing. How peaceful and quiet things seemed, how simple…
Owen swam along the soft sand bottom of the lake, doing an easy breaststroke. He passed under Nori, flipping around, then kicking off the bottom and shooting upward, breaking the surface of the water. He closed his arms in a bear hug around Nori's middle, his weight forcing them both down beneath the surface of the water.
Nori blinked, her eyes adjusting the crystalline water, bubbles swirling around in a desperate flight for the sea of air above. What had grabbed her? A Gyarados? her shocked mind considered for a very random split-second. She looked down, seeing fluffed-out curly hair. No, worse. Owen. She reached out and, grabbing a handful of Owen's curly locks, gave them a hard yank. Owen relinquished his hold on her, and she kicked out toward the surface and sweet, sweet oxygen. She broke the surface, sputtering and coughing, Owen appearing directly after her, laughing.
"You, you bastard!" she said, in between coughs.
"Aww, come on…heyyy, you're smiling."
Nori tried to glare but found it impossible, so she tried to tackle Owen instead, which led to a round of splashing and horseplay.
Finally, Owen backed away, making a 'T' shape with his hands.
"Okay, truce! Truce! I want to show you this place I found the other day."
Nori looked at him a bit skeptically, but nodded. "Fine. Where?"
"Over there," Owen said, treading water with one arm and gesturing across the lake with the other.
"It's a bit of a climb, though, we should walk there."
"Right. Race you to shore!" Nori dove underwater, streaking off like an otter.
Owen followed at a more leisurely pace. He had no chance of winning now that Nori had a head start.
When he reached the shore of the lake, Nori was already sitting on the end of the dock, her feet dangling in the water as she waited for the breeze to dry her upper body, which wouldn't take long in this heat. It was barely nine in the morning, but the sun was already high and oppressive.
"So, what's this place you found?" Nori asked, when he had joined her at the end of the dock.
"Oh, you'll see when we get there, I guess."
They sat in silence for a moment longer.
"Alright, that's good enough. Show me," said Nori, pulling her tank top back on and standing up.
"Mm'kay," Owen said, putting his own t-shirt back on. "This way."
The majority of Sootopolis City's clean, white buildings existed on the heavily terraced south-facing slope of the crater. The other side, the shaded north slope, was covered in trees, and was primarily untouched by humans…although no one was really sure why. Some said it was because the north slope was in shadow most of the day, others that it would cost too much to develop. Unspoken was the affirmation that every resident of Sootopolis shared: that they, personally, would never live there. Let the tourists defile the land where the gods were said to speak.
They walked in silence, shedding water as they moved, passing from the bright, hot sands of the lake to the cool, shadowed forest. It would have been hard going, had there not been an ancient stair of flat planks of wood set into the steep hillside, winding and curving around trees and rocks.
The forest was incredibly still, the only sound the breeze moving through the trees and the creak of the old stair. There were no pokémon in the gods' wood.
Nori looked around, seeing nothing at first…then she looked up, seeing the small shrines set into the edge of the crater. She drew closer to the nearest one. It was small, four wooden pillars set into the stone of the crater with crosspieces running between them and a tiled roof overhead. Old, faded banners flapped idly in the breeze. She looked at the next structure, and the next, and the next; they seemed to be identical, save for what color remained on the faded banners, and the ancient glyph carved into the crosspieces of each one.
"These…are the temples to the gods," said Nori, speaking quietly, although she did not know why.
"Yes. I saw my mother coming up here, and I followed. Some people still follow the old traditions, I guess," Owen answered, speaking equally soft.
Nori swallowed, feeling apprehensive. There was an ancient tradition of honoring legendary pokémon—pokémon of immense power and rarity—as the manifestations of gods on the earth.
"Why show me this?"
"I thought you might like to make a request at the temple of the spirit of wishes."
"Owen, you know I don't believe—"
"Can it hurt, at this point?"
Nori frowned, staring off into the sky beyond the temples. "Fine…"
Owen smiled. "Alright, I think it's this one…"
The temple to Jirachi, god of the stars and of wishes, contained a stone tablet, carved with the image of what the artist supposed the pokémon looked like, and surrounded by runic symbols and constellations.
"So what do I do?" asked Nori, grumpily, the sea breeze playing with her hair.
"Make a wish," Owen said, seemingly trying not to grin.
"I'm sure you can think of something you'd like changed in your life," said Owen. "I'll meet you back at my house. I haven't eaten yet today and I'm starving." He put his hands on her shoulders, feeling the tension and stubbornness that was coursing through her so angrily. "Have some faith now and then, hmm?" he said, quietly, then bent forward a bit and kissed her on the cheek.
He disappeared back into the shadows of the trees, but Nori stood in complete shock for a moment or two. She put her hand up to touch her cheek as if she couldn't comprehend what had just occurred. Only when the breeze began to blow her long hair around again did she shake her head, dismissing it as pure silliness.
"Stupid…now, a wish…" she muttered, folding her arms and staring hard into the distance.