A Broken Trinity

A friend is a priceless treasure—two are a blessing. My mother used to drill this motto into us at every available opportunity she had. Like the skeptical kids we were, my elder brother Liam and I just brushed it off as a nostalgic cliché, not realizing that behind those overused words there lay an indomitable truth. Only now, after I had left the Pokemon Center's medical bay for my cheap room in the living quarters, did I see that truth. Only now have I realized how blind I was to my mother's wisdom.

Mercenary, the great Typhlosion at my side, gave a small whine and craned his neck from where he was to nudge my arm. For once, the shaggy-furred navy and yellow fire Pokemon was not romping and racing in tight circles around the room, as he usually did, but was hunkered down at my feet on the floor, scrunched in the narrow space between the bed and the nightstand. The absence of our third teammate, the overwhelming sense of loss, grief, and helpless rage, were deeply affecting him, too—and it showed. His usual spunk and verve were gone, and for the past half an hour he had been pacing endlessly, searching the place for any sign of the Pokemon that was his battle partner and playmate. I couldn't blame him for being out of sorts—Tiru was just as close to my heart as he was for Merc. It just didn't seem possible that he was not here now. How could the same Pokemon I cuddled with every night just be gone, before I even had a chance to say goodbye? How could the Pokemon I had hand raised from a calf, along with Merc, suddenly drop out of my life like this?

It felt impossible, but it still happened nonetheless.

We knew that battling wasn't as easy as it sounded. You didn't just call out attacks while your Pokemon made a couple flashy moves. No, in battles the moves were very real, and injuries of any kind were unavoidable. All experienced Trainers knew that battles were borderline ferocious. And yet it was a restrained ferocity. Any attack on an opponent was intended only to wear them down, never to kill. Besides, the three of us—myself, Merc, and my Donphan, Tiru—had become such an unstoppable team that each victory well overshadowed the gashes and aches afterwards. I could hardly believe how much my Pokemon had grown and changed, how far they'd come from being the timid Cyndaquil and bumbling Phanpy I had left Newbark Town with months earlier. Tiru and Merc were a perfect duo, the pair that every Trainer hopes to someday work with. It was amazing how their personalities played off of each other—Tiru's levelheaded calmness helped to keep Merc from panicking or, as he got older, going completely berserk when he got excited, and in return Merc was the one who helped teach Tiru how to have fun with life. It was almost as if they had been born as siblings. I never thought for even a second that one of them could end up leaving. The three of us grew to trust and love each other so much, that had we been given a choice we would never have split up for the world. Now, though, I keep telling myself that I should never have done what I did. That I should have seen something wrong with what that other Trainer was asking of me and acted to avoid it happening.

The other Trainer's name was Christian. He'd seemed decent enough, although he'd also acted a bit nervous and had shied away from any mention of battling. I had been traveling with him for a month and a half, and was glad for his company—even though I had started my journey tagging along with Liam and his Cubone, I had eventually parted ways with my brother as different opportunities pulled us in separate directions. Christian was the first real human friend I'd had since then. Still, I couldn't help but be curious about his introverted habits. I knew he had a Pokemon, for I had seen him toying idly with a Pokeball in his left hand from time to time, yet I had never seen it for myself. Interested as I was, though, I never thought to push the matter. I just figured that he was the type that preferred to battle only occasionally. So, I didn't think it was a big deal when Christian approached me in Mahogany Town with a request.

"Would it be a problem if I borrowed Tiru for a couple of hours?" he asked me while we were both in the lobby of the Pokemon Center. "I was thinking about heading up the route north of here to see the Lake of Rage."

I looked up. "This is random," I commented. I was seated on the floor next to a bench. Tiru, the Pokemon in question, was stretched out next to me, his blocky head resting in my lap and eyes drowsily half-shut. I found it adorable that he was still such a cuddle bug even after seventeen months of battling. "I thought you had a Pokemon, didn't you?"

Christian balked for a second. "Well, yeah, that—I mean, I just thought I might need another Pokemon for backup, you know, if we end up in any battles or something. I mean, it's still pretty weak…"

Weird. I'd never seen somebody flip out over something so simple before. "Okay, okay, just calm down," I said, trying to appease him. "Sure, you can take him with you. No biggie. Right?" I looked down at Tiru to make sure it was okay. To my surprise, he returned the inquiry with a look that almost seemed apprehensive. I imagine that had he been human, he would have asked, are you sure about this? "Relax," I told him, stroking his head to reassure him. "Everything will be fine." He still didn't look too eager to abandon his nap, but after a few seconds he gave a small nod.

"Thanks, Emma," Christian said as I handed him Tiru's Pokeball, an odd tone of relief in his voice. "I'll be careful with him, I promise."

"Anytime." Once he was gone I looked to my left, where Merc was sprawled on his back in a patch of sun, snoring heavily. I decided to spend the couple of hours in training with the young Typhlosion—powerful as he was, he still had a habit of getting overexcited and losing track of what he was supposed to be doing. I had planned to take on the Gym leader of the town the next day, and intended to do something about this habit once and for all. "Ready for your workout?" I said, reaching over and rubbing his belly. In the past I would have tickled him awake, but experience had taught me that with a hyperactive Fire-type, this was generally not a good idea. Merc yawned and rolled onto his side, shook himself off, then stood upright and looked eagerly at me as if to say, Whatever you say, boss.

From the mood, it would have been impossible to guess that something could go wrong. For me, the weather was clear, things were going good, and I was just one day away from my seventh gym badge. What wasn't there to be happy about? And yet, I couldn't help but feel a little uneasy, as if a storm were brewing on the horizon. I tried to shake it off, telling myself that I was just experiencing nerves over Tiru's absence. Nothing's going to happen to him or Christian. Relax, Em, I tried to reassure myself. Nothing to worry about. Right.

For the next two and a half hours, I threw myself into Merc's training. It was slow going—Merc was young and wired, with the attention span of a kindergartener, and getting him to concentrate proved difficult. With time, though, I was able to do it, and by the time we headed back to the Center together he was plodding submissively at my side, looking tired but content. Oddly enough, Christian was nowhere to be found. Was it just taking him longer than he'd expected? That had to be it. There was still yet to come a time when any human being was precisely correct on their estimates for how long a training session was going to take. I headed to my room and gave Merc a snack, then showered and changed clothes. When I came out, Merc was back to his crazy old self—but there was still no sign of Tiru or Christian. I glanced at my digital watch lying on the bedside. 6:40 PM.

I was starting to become a bit concerned. Usually I would have heard from Christian by now if he was going to be out late. Leaving Merc in the room, I went out to check the reception area again. Upon setting foot in the lobby I got a feeling right away that something was…off. The air felt heavy, charged with some ominous note of tension, and whatever people were present were huddled quietly around the edges of the room. Then I noticed that this wasn't entirely true—there were a small handful of people standing at the desk, an unfamiliar teenage boy and…police officers?

Okay, now I was really starting to worry. Christian wasn't back, and now something was happening here? I felt my stomach knotting up, and before I knew what I was doing I found my feet moving and carrying me over to the group.

"What's going on?" I asked. "What happened?"

The cops looked a little annoyed, as if they were about to send me away. The teenager spoke first, before they could act. "Someone's Donphan got hurt in a fight. The guy just left him lying there on the road, all beat up. He's hurt pretty badly—they don't know if he's going to make it."

Hearing these words, I felt as though a cold knife had been shoved into my gut, and suddenly my bad feeling from earlier came back multiplied by ten. "Did the…Trainer…" I had to swallow—my mouth had gone dry. "Did he have green eyes and streaked, dark blond hair?" Inwardly I was desperately hoping my fears weren't about to come true. Not Tiru, dear Arceus, it can't be my Tiru…I pleaded silently.

Much to my horror, I saw the guy's eyes widen in recognition. "You…know him?"

Suddenly I felt light-headed, as if I were going to faint. I remember saying something, though I can't recall exactly what—I only remember saying Tiru's name. I think I must have been starting to become a little hysterical, because somebody took my shoulder and gently but firmly steered me over to sit on a chair nearby before I could white out. After a while I became calm enough that I could listen to the other Trainer's story. The Trainer, who identified himself as Scott, had met Christian just a mile south of the Lake of Rage. Things had started off perfectly normal, except for one thing—Scott had challenged him to a battle, and, oddly enough, Christian had accepted. He had even taken the first turn, sending Tiru—my Tiru!—out onto the field. Releasing his own Hypno, Scott noticed something funny about the way Christian was handling the Donphan. For one thing, Christian was acting somewhat hesitant and indecisive, almost as if he wasn't too sure of what he was doing. This mood had carried over to Tiru, who had become nervous and easily excitable by the time the fight had started. He was able to hold his own for the first few turns, until a blinding Flash by Hypno caused him to jerk back in surprise, coming close to his temporary instructor's leg as he did so.

Christian's reaction was a shock to Scott—he'd lashed out at Tiru, hitting him square in the side and sending him stumbling back a good few feet, before immediately bringing out his own Pokeball and summoning its inhabitant, a Weavile. This might have been out of reflex, intended to defend himself, or perhaps something else entirely, but in any case what happened next had had terrible consequences. The Weavile had immediately gone for Tiru with all the rage of a wild Gyarados, viciously slashing and biting, the savage snarls that ripped out of its throat contrasting sharply against Tiru's trumpeting screams of pain and Christian's shouts trying in vain to get his Pokemon to stop. It had taken Scott a minute to realize what has happening—the Hypno had acted ahead of him and was trying to psychokinetically separate assailant and victim, but with no success. Being a Dark-type Pokemon, the Weavile was unaffected by its attempts and kept up the attack. Tiru was thrashing panicked in his attempts to escape, occasionally managing to pommel the predator with his trunk or get in a lucky stab with his tusks, but the odds were overwhelmingly against him—and it showed in every new wound that opened on his hide.

Then, as quickly as it had happened, it was over just as suddenly. Weavile disappeared with a flash of red light back into the Pokeball, Christian looking pale-faced and shaking. Before Scott could make a single move, he turned and bolted off into the woods—leaving Tiru lying bloody and incapitated on the ground. Still stunned by what had just happened, Scott was torn between going after Christian and staying with the Pokemon to ensure he got required medical attention. The latter soon won out, and with Hypno's help he had managed to flag someone down to call the Pokemon Center for an ambulance. During the drive over he had taken the time to try and piece together what had happened. From what he could figure, Christian had been just another example of a common but sometimes fatal occurrence. Through some event or another the Weavile had simply become too strong for him to control, and as the Pokemon's behavior had become increasingly more violent and bloodthirsty he had started to become wary of all Pokemon, seeing them as potential threats. When Tiru had unwittingly brushed up against him he must have seen it as a direct assault and instinctively done what he did in order to protect himself against what he thought was coming. Unfortunately, in doing so he had forgotten the possibility that his Weavile would not only stop what was happening, but turn all its rage on the first Pokemon it saw—Tiru.

Slowly, it was all starting to make sense to me. Of course! Christian had known that he might be encountering other Trainers on the road, and to avoid having to use his own Pokemon to battle he had used mine instead! I couldn't believe what he had been hiding the entire time I'd known him. Now, however, it was clear as crystal, painfully so—his meek, shy behavior wasn't out of timidity, but out of fear of his own irresponsibility as a Trainer! It was entirely understandable that he was having trouble with his Pokemon—Weavile were reputed as short-tempered and quick to fight, at any rate—but to use me to hide it, without even telling me what was really going on! And I had trusted him! How could he have done that to me?! And not only betraying me, but to get Tiru hurt because of it!

Even though all this hurt and anger at being lied at swirled around in my head, even more urgent was the feeling of fear for my Pokemon. "Where's…Tiru?" I said quietly, brokenly.

Scott hesitated for a moment, biting his lip. "He's…not too well off," he said. "I talked to the nurses, and they're not sure he's going to recov—"

"Where is he, dammit?!" I shouted, suddenly furious as I leapt to my feet. "You brought him here, didn't you? Now tell me where my Donphan is!"

Shock registered in his eyes—only now did he realize that I was, in fact, Tiru's true owner. "I…didn't know, I'm sorry…I thought he was…" He shook his head briefly and interrupted himself. "I'll go ask the nurse if you can go see him." He stood and, after a brief pause, placed a hand on my shoulder. "But I'm just saying—please don't kill me for this—you might want to prepare yourself. They did absolutely everything they could, but he might not see tomorrow."

Hearing this cut deep, and for a moment I feared I would burst into tears right then and there. By some miracle I managed to hold myself together enough to just give a tiny nod, and within minutes a nurse came out and escorted me to the room where Tiru was being held. Seeing the cruel lacerations across his skin and the IV shunt taped to his forelimb, and how forbiddingly quiet he was, I felt another sob rising up. I forced it down and stood in the doorway for a few seconds, and then went over and knelt next to him.

"Hey, Tiramisu," I whispered softly, calling him by his full name. At the gentle touch of my hand on his head Tiru's eyelids flickered slightly, and he looked up at me. Even under duress there still remained a faint, warm glimmer in his eyes—the same look that could speak volumes of love and adoration. I swallowed and moved my hand down to gently lift his trunk. For once, he did not try to glom onto my wrist, but let his trunk hang listlessly from my palm. A horrible sense of guilt ripped through me. I had done this to him. I had let him go despite the warning he had tried to give me earlier. Why, why hadn't I listened?

Unzipping my fleece jacket, I draped it tenderly over his back, more to hide the injuries from view. It was fairly cool in the room, and I was getting slightly chilled wearing just sweatpants and my Cleffa T-shirt, but this way it was a bit more bearable to look at him. "I guess maybe I should have listened, huh, buddy?" I said quietly, giving a weak smile. "Sorry about that." I turned my gaze up to the ceiling as I stroked his head. "Merc and I really missed you today, you know that? It just felt weird, not having you there. Next time we'll all have to go together, just the three of us."

Next time? What was I saying? If there was a next time. My throat clenched at this thought. Suddenly aware of the lack of motion underneath my hand, I looked back down in time to see Tiru's eyes slowly flutter shut, his breathing incredibly shallow. "Tiru?" I said breathlessly, fear seizing my heart. "Tiru!"

No response. Tears starting to sting and flood my vision, I stood and quickly backed out of the room, unable to stay any longer while my Pokemon was dying. As I did, I bumped into something solid and whirled, to see…none other than Christian.

"Emma…" Christian swallowed and held up his hands, as if struggling to find words. "Emma, I swear, I—"

This was too much. All my anger suddenly exploded, and before I knew it I was flailing at him, sobs tearing themselves from my chest as I screamed raggedly, "Dammit, Christian! Why didn't you tell me the truth?! It was your own damn Pokemon, why didn't you stop it?! This is all your fault! You killed him, it's your fault! You killed him!"

Christian said nothing, made no move to stop me, just stood there with an expression of complete shock on his face. Never before had I lost it like this—I just wasn't a naturally aggressive person. After a minute my rage ended and I stood there with my still balled-up fists on his chest, gasping in breaths between sobs. Tentatively, he reached up to place his hands on my shoulders. "Emma…" he started.

I jerked sharply away from his touch. "Don't," I snarled, low and furious. "Don't you dare try and touch me with those filthy hands of yours." I did not look up to see his expression—I kept my eyes turned to the floor. "Just get out of my sight," I continued bitterly. "I don't want to see your face ever again. You've done enough." This having been said, I turned my back on him and headed to my room without another word.

I'd meant everything I said, every little bit. Now I would let him face the music on his own. The police would deal with him—at the very least he would be called in for a court trial on the charges of Pokemon abuse. A fat bunch of good that did. No amount of law enforcement or jurisdiction would ever bring Tiru back. Nothing could. He was gone for good.

- - -

That was an hour ago. The time since then passed in such a long, colorless blur. I had already cried myself empty of tears into Merc's thick, soft neck fur—bless Merc, he just stood there and let me do it. I had just now gotten off of the phone after a long conversation with my brother, telling him what had happened. Liam knew how much care I put into raising my two Pokemon—he had seen it for himself, had even helped me while I was still getting the hang of it. Towards the end of the conversation we both sat in silence for the longest time, until he finally said quietly, "I love you, Em. You know that, right?"

"Yeah…" I'd nodded, even though he couldn't see it over the line. "I love you too, Liam."

I did not realize until now just how much a part of my life Tiru was. Everywhere I looked, I could see traces and reminders of him. The soft blanket in the corner he had slept on just yesterday. The frayed tug-o-war rope, sitting on the bedside, which was his favorite toy. The two empty food bowls stacked up on the small counter of the mini-kitchen in the room. So many of the objects I carried with me were for my Pokemon, the list of my own belongings was dwarfed in comparison. I could feel another lump rising in my throat, more tears coming that I thought were long gone. What was I going to do without Tiru? I couldn't bring myself to get rid of all his things, but seeing them only made the pain worse, throwing into my face how I had failed to protect him after all his loyalty and devotion.

Something poked my stomach, and out of reflex I looked down. Merc had somehow wormed his head underneath my crossed arms and onto my lap, and was now looking at me with upturned, mournful eyes. He whimpered quietly, his ears lying flat on either side of his head. For him, the look was almost comical, and were it not for my heart being broken I could have laughed out loud. Somehow he had always been able to lift my mood just a little at the moments when I was feeling the worst. I was then confronted with the sudden realization of the amazing fact that despite everything, despite all the problems we've had and mistakes made on my behalf, he and Tiru had unfailingly stayed by my side since the beginning. Even for all his faults, Merc had shared one thing with Tiru—complete loyalty. Even with his default setting stuck on eternal incorrigibility, he had always given 120 percent effort to please me. All this hit me within a nanosecond, and I found myself flinging my arms about his neck, clutching him close like an oversized doll as I buried my face in his fur. There was something I had to tell him, something I had to get out of my system before it ate away at me.

"Do you remember all that stuff I've said about you before?" I asked him, my voice wavering with the threat of tears but muffled by his fur. "How you were always such a pain, and impossible to work with? Don't even think for a minute that's all true, Merc. You are an incredible Pokemon, and one of my closest friends, and I wouldn't trade that for the world. I love you for what you are, Merc, so don't you ever change. Got it?" In response Merc's wide tongue slopped my face, leaving traces of Typhlo-drool on my cheek. It was his way of confirming that I was still the boss, that he was doing whatever he could to try and make me happy.

Now I realized what I had to do. I would still take on the Gym challenge, but this time it wasn't about the badge. Tiru had worked his hardest to train up for this battle—it was only fair that I finished this now, for him. Besides, his was an incredibly lucky life. I'd seen horrible stories on television and in the news about Trainers that had treated their Pokemon in the most frightening of ways, often leaving the Pokemon scarred emotionally or dead. With our lifestyle, things hadn't always been easy for Tiru, but he had been lucky enough to be with a Trainer who loved him. This was also true in reverse—getting to work with Tiru had been one of the greatest blessings in my life. How could I end all this by just giving up on the goal we had strived to reach since we'd met? Even if Tiru couldn't be brought back or replaced, I would keep training for both him and Merc, because there were still others who needed me to be strong for them.

A friend is a priceless treasure—two are a blessing.

My mother's words of wisdom no longer seem so dated now. I can see now—she was right. In a way, I suppose this works the same as the principle of trinity—it takes three to really create something special. If even one corner goes missing, the entire balance goes awry. However, the love still remains—once blessed, always blessed.

So, though our trinity has been broken in the physical world, I see no reason not to keep giving my best effort. Even with Tiru gone, the three of us are still connected by the threads of fate. We have each touched each others' lives in ways that will stay with us to the end of our days. Maybe this is how fate works—once you meet someone dear to your heart, your life will never be the same again. Otherwise there is nothing—just solitude. If we ever want to change, sometimes a good-bye is necessary, no matter how painful.