Karuta laid silently amongst the forest trees, propped against a rough trunk with an expression akin to one lingering on the border of sleep. His eyes were half-lidded behind his cracked glasses and stared blankly into space, not focused upon the leafy canopy that hung over his resting spot. For the first time in what seemed like an eternity, the world was quiet…all around him were the subtle sounds of nature, but none of the frantic and angry tones found in the cities he'd run so swiftly to escape from. Pidgeys cooed in the trees nearby as they tended to their nests, the wind softly bent blades of grass to their sides and ruffled the leaves above him.
Why couldn't the world stay like this? So peaceful…
His eyes slowly shut, blocking out the vibrant hues that marked the sky as the sun slowly disappeared at the horizon. How long ago was it he had a chance to simply rest? Nozomi…she was still in the hospital, thankfully. She needed time to recover after everything she'd been through. Amos? Who knew…probably sprawled at the bottom of that sewer, dying or dead at this point? A pang of guilt hit Karuta squarely in the center of his chest, almost making him wheeze as if actually struck. There was nothing he could have done…people die all the time. It wasn't like Amos was anything more than a rival to him…just an enemy…
Idiot…he was your friend.
Like it or not, Karuta had to accept that fact. Sure, they tried to kill each other on an almost regular basis at first…well, for their entire relationship, actually. It was only necessity that pulled them together. But when they did put aside their clashing personalities, the two of them were something to be feared. They worked well together despite their differences…
But guess what? He's gone now and there's nothing that can be done about it. So quit feeling down and move on with your life. If he's alive then you can punch him if you ever see him again. If he's dead, then drink a beer for him and leave it at that.
Karuta didn't feel like opening his eyes…the world hurt to look at. It was too much effort to open his eyelids and take in his surroundings. Reality could wait for when he was feeling more suited to dealing with it. Still, the past played against the darkness of his closed eyes like a movie on a screen, not giving him a moment's peace from his memories.
He thought of Nozomi, laid up in the hospital bed alone. She'd lost so much in their trip to the Underground. She lost a shard of innocence in foolishly defending him. He could see the expression of horror frozen on her face after Sakiyama staggered under the blows of the bullets she fired into him. Karuta knew that the bastard was still alive when he'd fallen over that railing…it had been the Muks that killed him, not Nozomi's attack. But still, she had willingly fired on the man with the intent to kill him…that was not something a normal girl like her could get over easily. Karuta himself had such a hard time with it and he was supposed to be a rough-and-tumble trainer unlike the inexperienced Daylighter. She had meant to protect him and was willing to take Sakiyama's life to do so.
Karuta's eyes slowly peeked open just a crack. The sky was becoming darker now as deep shades of crimson streaked up over the forest. He had killed before…taken lives before their time. It didn't get easier and each one haunted his mind like a vengeful phantom lurking in the depths of his memory. Nozomi had nearly killed Sakiyama…why?
You're still as much an idiot as ever…she did it for you. You! Don't you get it!
A heavy sigh flowed from the man's lips. He had expected something like this…he wasn't much older than Nozomi and barely had any space to think such things, but he had predicted that her hormones would come into play at some point. A boy and girl didn't travel together without developing some sort of feelings between the two of them. He didn't believe she actually had any truly valid feelings towards him…at most, a misconception of affection that bordered on a crush. She was a friend; that much was certain…but a love interest?
Well, you certainly think highly of yourself. A little voice in the back of Karuta's head mused. God's gift to women, you're not.
She's too brash, too ignorant of the world. She's still stuck in the mentality that life is going to be fine and dandy as long as you believe in yourself, have faith in humanity, eat all your vegetables, and recycle. Karuta rolled his barely open eyes. She was just a silly little girl, at the heart of the matter. There was no way she could live the way he did…just traveling with him for a few months didn't give her anything more than a glimpse of the world he'd been given to survive in. Likewise, there was no way he could go back to being a Daylighter…her world was just as foreign to him now as his was to her.
Admit it, though…you wouldn't mind. That's why you've put up with her, despite your claims of her just being a 'silly little girl'…there was that annoying voice again.
Perhaps it was true. There was only so much that pokemon could do for a person. Sure, they were great companions and training them occupied almost all of his time, but in the end they were animals--pets and fighters. Friends, of course, but humans go mad without the company of other humans. Karuta enjoyed his solitude, but there was something about the threat of being alone without any chance of human camaraderie that terrified him. When Nozomi had first joined him, she'd been an annoyance and he couldn't understand why he didn't just ditch her while she slept.
You liked having her around, that's why.
No point in denying it. He did like her; the company she offered, her strong opinions and willingness to defend them. Just being near her was relief from the lonely life he'd led up until that point and he found a dull ache bubbling up in the pit of his stomach as he thought of her condition now because of him. Would she still see him the same way after all she'd been through? There was little chance he could actually come back and see her after all this…
She probably hates you…after all, who could love a criminal…a murderer, at that?
That thought brought the dull ache to a sharp stab in his gut. Murderer…was that what he really was? He'd killed before for reasons…yes, he was a murderer. Asuka Kounji died of cold blood at his order. Murder and self-defense…both were on his list of reasons for causing death. The reasons did nothing to justify the fact that he was a killer.
And what about mercy?
Karuta's eyes opened fully now, though still glazed in thought. Sitting up, he tugged out the gun he'd stolen from the officer guarding his cell back at the prison days prior. He despised guns…such disgusting tools that were nothing but noise and mess. Feeling the weight of the weapon in his hand was disconcerting. It had none of the fine balance of his sword…it felt like a cold lump in his gloved palm that reeked of destruction.
It was an old snub-nosed revolver, an unusual weapon for the modern police officer to have considering the advances with clip-using Magnums. Most likely it was a token of past times and was probably sorely missed by the officer. Clicking open the chamber, Karuta checked the bullets…a full set of death contained in six tiny pellets. Thankfully, he hadn't needed to fire upon the police as he escaped, using only his chemically-enhanced body to do the job. He snapped the chamber shut and spun it like a cowboy right out of the spaghetti westerns he'd watched as a child brought from silly American novelty shows overseas.
Without any sort of hesitation, he pressed the barrel of the gun up under his jaw and rested his finger on the trigger gingerly. It would be so easy now…just squeeze the trigger and abandon all the worries of the world…
Sighing once more, Karuta lowered the gun. He'd never been an advocate of suicide…it wasn't a proper way to die, in his opinion. He knew he could never actually kill himself and held no sympathy for those who took such a cowardly way out of their problems. A person has responsibilities in their lives that they must face in one way or another…running away was sometimes how one would deal with such things, Karuta noted for his present situation. But killing oneself…? Just giving up? Out of the question.
A sudden flash struck his mind like the crack of a whip, leaving him cringing where he sat as his eyes teared up despite himself. The thoughts of suicide brought up a painful scene that he'd stumbled in upon during his youth; dashing into his home only to find nothing but noise, strangers, blood on the walls, and the bodies of those he'd loved hidden under stained white sheets. Murder...Suicide...it wasn't a proper way to die...it was selfish. The images he'd kept buried for so long now came flooding back against his wishes, stirred to the surface because of that damned Kadabra's meddling. Gritting his teeth, he forced away the images and gave a low, tired groan as his mind settled once again.
Just one little pull of the trigger...you could see them again, be with them again...
The glum trainer reached around to the back of his head and dug his fingers into the base of his overly long ponytail, working his gloved fingers through thick hair to uncover the item he'd hidden there long before. He stared long and hard at the pokeball now resting in his palm before enlarging and opening it out towards the grassy clearing he laid in.
The darkening woods were illuminated briefly with a dull flash of red as the massive body of Dokuga materialized from its tiny sphere. The snake glanced around sharply as if expecting to still be in the conflict from the Underground, though notably relaxed as it realized its new surroundings. The Arbok's cold eyes fixed on Karuta and it waited still as a statue, as if awaiting a command.
Karuta stared back into the unblinking eyes of his pokemon. Before him was a creature of malice…pokemon were generally considered to be clever and some even sentient. Their intelligence was measured by their ability to understand and interact with humans, though many were so delusional as to believe that all pokemon had souls and were almost human in that aspect.
Karuta knew differently. Kyuuden had a soul, no doubt about it. The little Raichu was smart and compassionate, friendly to a fault and truly seeming fully aware of itself as a being. He became angered, felt happy or sad, generally lustful, and had desires and dreams that he expressed in his own way…there was no denying that Kyuuden was as close to human as a pokemon could be.
No…there was no soul behind those pale yellow eyes. The Arbok was indeed clever…it was cold and calculating, a true hunter down to the core. Despite all the time and effort Karuta put into training the huge snake, all he'd gotten as a result was a semi-obedient beast that lacked the intelligence to be considered truly sentient. Dokuga showed instinctive reactions to memory, though that proved little in the way of actually acknowledging their significance beyond basic reactions to pain or pleasure.
"You're nothing but a killer, aren't you? Just a cold-blooded murderer, if you'll pardon the pun." Karuta smiled up at Dokuga, though it was a grim smile.
Who are you talking to? The snake or yourself?
"Times have gotten hard for us, Dokuga. I've lost all of my partners…you're the only one remaining. I can't care for them with the mess I'm in right now…they deserve better than to be on the run with me. I love my pokemon dearly…but somehow, I've never been able to love you. Despite your usefulness, I'm pretty sure I hate you…"
Dokuga's expression showed no sign of comprehension with Karuta's cold words. Master was speaking, that was fine…but it could not recognize any commands that had been drilled into its brain being spoken, so it had no reason to act. The other words were meaningless.
"I don't suppose you remember when we first met, do you Dokuga?" The snake perked softly at hearing its name, though settled once more as Karuta continued speaking words that didn't matter to it. "Such a long time ago…back when you were still just an Ekans looking for a bite to eat."
Brief flashes of memory blinked across Karuta's mind. A car wreck, a bleeding child, the looming form of a hungry Ekans, a plump Raichu protecting its master. Such close memories, more potent than ever thanks to the mental meddling of that Kadabra who'd so carelessly brought up his repressed thoughts. These were the memories in his dreams bubbling up, piercing into his fully awoken mind scenes he thought had been erased long ago. He could see it so clearly now…he could almost smell the burning wreckage of the car as it was slowly devoured by fire.
"Kyuuden beat you…you were captured…and then…" Karuta's teeth gritted tightly at the recollection.
The scenes flashed past his eyes so quickly he could barely keep track of them. The underdeveloped Raichu, standing boldly before the Ekans, fought to defend its master. The boy's face was streamed with tears and dirt as he watched wide-eyed while the snake writhed in pain from the rat's attack. Where had the child summoned enough thought to capture the fallen Ekans? The pokeball was left lying in the road as the boy quietly slumped to the ground by the car, more concerned for his apparently slumbering mother than the captured pokemon.
Everything was so quiet. Only soft sobs and the crackling of fire broke the stillness. But then from the nearby bushes was another rustling…and footsteps.
"I found him…that boy…bleeding from a wound to his leg and orphaned since his parents were already dead inside of that car. I saw you fall to Kyuuden, though that wasn't his name yet, I suppose. Why didn't I step in sooner? I felt so bad for him, watching him lay curled against the side of the upturned car, moaning for his mommy as I came down that road. He was in so much pain…" Karuta groaned softly, looking at his free hand with a pained expression of his own.
He could feel the soft texture of the boy's matted hair as he had rested his hand atop the boy's head, holding him close to his body and cooing comfortingly, though vainly, to try and suppress the child's sorrow. The boy had nothing now…his parents were both dead and he was no doubt crippled from the wound, possibly dying. So much pain would do the child no good, Karuta had reasoned many times since then when he woke up screaming. It was a kindness he offered, mercy from a merciless world.
He could still feel the boy's body shudder in his arms as he curled his arms around in a warm hug, squeezed...
...and felt the boy's neck snap.
"What would it have mattered if I'd let you eat that kid? He'd have suffered but died anyway…I suppose that's the point though. I didn't want him to suffer anymore…" Karuta muttered through clenched teeth, feeling hot tears spring up at the memory. "But…there are times in a man's life when he has to take responsibility for what he's done…"
Karuta brought his gaze back up to the still unmoved Dokuga, soft tears beginning to drip down his cheeks.
"I used you to kill Asuka Kounji…there was nothing but murder there. I had nothing against her…her life was snatched away far before her time." He sighed deeply. "You tried to kill Nozomi all on your own, though…and all those people you hurt in the Underground, though some of them may have deserved it…"
Those cold eyes were still locked on his, unblinking, unwavering.
"Most of what you've done is my fault. But even without my influence, you've always been dangerous, haven't you? If I just let you go, you'll go on hurting people especially since you've grown so big. A killer…like me."
Without another word, Karuta raised his arm and leveled the dully-polished barrel of the gun directly between Dokuga's eyes. Squeezing the trigger, he fired four shots into the pokemon's head, grimacing as dark red splotches sprang up in its flesh like angry welts. The gunfire was so much louder than Karuta had remembered as the barrel flashed with fire and smoke, the recoil making his arm jump every time the hammer fell. The Arbok's blood spattered down onto his clothes and upturned face as it jerked sharply, a shiver running through its entire body before it simply slumped over like a cut rope, lying limp in the grass as its breath slowly hissed out from its lungs one final time.
Dead before it hit the ground, Dokuga's soulless eyes stared out at Karuta…there was still no change in them. They lacked the sparkle of life before and now were no different. Hand still shaking gently as he lowered the gun, Karuta tossed the weapon aside in disgust and strode silently past the prone body of Dokuga deeper into the now moonlit forest.
Mercy…was it just an excuse for weakness? What good did killing Dokuga really do him? His conscience was not lightened by the death of the snake…he hadn't expected it to do much in that aspect. Now he was without, arguably, his most powerful pokemon. But he couldn't have kept the monster around any longer. He'd always known that the Arbok wasn't a suitable pokemon to keep…too wild, despite his efforts to train it. It always ended up doing as it wanted despite his orders…
Feh…you call that taking responsibility for your actions? The voice sneered in his subconscious, mocking his pitiful display. Passing the buck off to a wild animal and hoping the guilt would die with it?
"Pathetic." Karuta spat.
He really was pathetic…all the bluff and bravado he held, dressing the way he dressed, acting the way he did…was this really all he amounted to in the end? The world was full of what-ifs that he ignored as he went along forcing everyone away from him for the sake of his all-important mystique. What if he'd dropped the act and just been friendly to Nozomi? What if he'd simply ditched her at the very beginning?
The memories of that injured boy flashed into his mind again…he'd never even known the kid's name. What if, instead of killing the boy, he'd shown showed him true mercy and taken him to someone who could help him? What if the kid had extended family? He didn't know anything about the child whose life he had snuffed out so thoughtlessly…
What if he'd truly taken responsibility? What if he wasn't such a coward?
Karuta paused, considering the gun he had discarded once more. What if…
There was no 'what if' about that situation. Whether it was cowardice or simply a strong survival instinct, Karuta would not go out like that. There were other 'what ifs' to be answered in the rest of his life…this was just one instance in the scheme of things, he told himself. The events of one's life extend quite long...maybe later in life he'd stop living in a way he regretted after the sun went down.
What if you killed yourself right here?
Things would end…eventually his body and Dokuga's would be found and it'd all be written up as a case-closed once word reached the police. Marked even in death as a criminal and a coward who feared consequences more than the afterlife.
What if you kept walking?
Now that was a question he didn't know the answer to…
"Only one way to find out." He sighed as he tucked his hands into his coat pockets and continued on amongst the trees.
Ah...the end? It's sad to have a story I've worked on for so long finally be over, but a relief as well. Thanks to everybody who supported me with their reviews and opinions all this while, if there's any of my fans left because of my extended absences. I'm in your debt for all the support you've offered. Again, thank you and please look forward to my further works.