Part Fourteen

Twenty Years Ago

Selected excerpts from Sumomo's diary

July 15.

Our first performance of Dance of the Camellias. I am absolutely thrilled that I get to be lead dancer. Headmistress has been promising me that forever but it is not easy to displace her own daughter, especially someone like Tamao who is extremely talented herself and extremely headstrong.

Since the very beginning, I love this dance. Everything about it sings to me in a way no other dance has ever done and will ever do. The kimono I am wearing, the camellias in my hair, each and every twirl and movement, each and every note of the music. It is all just so beautiful.

Tonight is extra special. He is there. Dorian. Yes, the trainer we chose for the Rainbow Reckoning! He was in the crowd, watching us, watching me. I did not look at him during the dance, of course, I was too focused on dancing, but when we were taking a bow, he met my eyes and oh, he is so dreamy. I still remember how we met. I was twirling in Goldenrod Tunnel and he was watching me, his eyes all crinkled.

Well, I should really stop writing before I embarrass myself more. But tonight was – is simply amazing.

July 20.

I ran into Dorian today. I was buying new flowers in my favorite boutique and he just came in. He saw me immediately and we sort of had a little talk before I had to go. My mind is too jumbled up to remember what we said. I know we talked about the first test, because he's taking that on Saturday. And then he mentioned that he saw me dancing a few days ago. That is what he said – he saw me dancing, not us.

"I saw you in the crowd too," I admitted shyly.

"I made sure to get a front row seat so you could see me," he said.

I must be blushing then, because my cheeks felt hot. I didn't say anything. Then we just talked about our backgrounds. I told him that my family had lived in Ecruteak City for centuries. We – the Sasaki clan – used to be noblemen back in the day. I am the first Kimono Girl to come from my family.

He told me that he is from a place called Unova, but he hasn't been back there in years since he started on his pokémon journey. He must be pretty good too, because he's gone to Leagues in quite a few regions, which means he must have a lot of badges. He doesn't train as actively. In fact he's studying to be a professor, like his late father, and he was doing fieldwork when we gave him the Rainbow Wing.

We walked all the way back to the gates of the Dance Theater before we parted. I promised him I will try to sit near the front during his gym battle. Headmistress and the Elder alone can sit in the front row.

July 26.

So, that was the first test. It was pretty fast, one-zero. Dorian actually beat Morty before, when he was participating in the Johto League a few years back, before I became a Kimono Girl. But Morty used very strong pokémon this time and it hadn't been clearly who was going to win at first. Dorian was actually down to his last pokémon while Morty had two pokémon left, and then he sent out a three-headed dragon from Unova that obliterated Morty's ghosts.

He grinned at me after Morty's last pokémon fainted. My heart definitely started fluttering, he has such a nice grin. Now I will have to battle him in the autumn, after both he and we train a bit more. I am going to aim to take down at least one of his pokémon with my Camellia – yes, I have indeed finally decided to give my darling vaporeon a nickname. Now Tamao can no longer claim that her Kaguya is special.

August 15.

Tamao said something worrying today. Or rather, she did something worrying. Now, I probably should not have been talking to her in the first place. I know she is nursing a resentment that I got to be lead dancer this season, and I was getting rave reviews that she never got. (I don't mean to boast, but I am a far better dance than she will ever be. Headmistress told me so privately, and I swore never to repeat her words before Tamao.)

Back to the story: we were getting ready for dance practice when I made some offhanded remark about Ho-oh. I think I said, "Wouldn't it be cool to see Ho-oh?"

"You mean, like in the legends?" Sakura said. "Yeah, that'd be cool."

Tamao snorted. "And why would Ho-oh show itself to the likes of you?"

"Well, for the Rainbow Reckoning," I said. "Don't we dance at the top of Bell Tower to summon Ho-oh?"

Tamao then got this really disturbing smile on her face. I recognize it from childhood. It's her I-know-something-you-don't-but-will-hurt-you smile. And I should've known better than to say, "What's with that smile?" Except of course, I did, because I could never allow Tamao to have the last word.

"I just think you are a little naïve, that's all. We aren't dancing to summon Ho-oh."

Now I'm wondering what she means. What are we doing with this dance we are starting to practice?

September 25.

I ran into Morty on my way to my parents' house. In general Kimono Girls and gym leaders do not cross paths, but I stopped because I sensed that he wanted to talk to me.

What he said was kind of disturbing, and I will try to reproduce every word here. First he said, "You are fond of the new challenger." He did not allow me time to protest – everyone knows that Kimono Girls mustn't fall in love. "I need to warn you about something."

I said, "Warn me about what?"

He seemed very conflicted. Then he said, "Try not to lose the second test, because if you do, you will lose more than just the battle."

I wonder what he means by that. What else would I lose? My dignity as a Kimono Girl, perhaps? If I lose, but fight an honorable battle, Headmistress will understand. Nobody can condemn me.

October 10.

The night before the second test.

I had a nightmare. I dreamed that we were dancing at the top of the Bell Tower and Dorian was watching me. Then Ho-oh appeared and incinerated him.

I woke up sweating. I'm glad I didn't scream and wake anyone up though.

October 11.

The second test is over. Five-on-five. Our five pokémon against five of his pokémon. I went last. The other girls did a reasonable job. He had two pokémon left when he faced me. Camellia took down his three-headed dragon and then he sent out a breloom. Even though Camellia tried to ice beam the breloom, it put her to sleep first and then giga drained a couple of times for the victory.

Camellia is fine. She's now sleeping on my lap as I write.

I don't know why I am feeling so uneasy. I am not unhappy that I lost, but I am unhappy that he won. It doesn't help that Morty was in the crowd and gave me a pitying look.

October 15.

I ran into Dorian at the flower shop and congratulated him on his win. "You didn't look happy," he told me, and I lied and told him I was just worried about Camellia.

I was tempted to tell him about Morty, but something told me that I would be violating one of the many unspoken rules in Ecruteak City.

November 3.

Tamao does not like Dorian. That is for sure. Today Koume mentioned the third test and just like that, Tamao started ranting about how arrogant Dorian must be to think that he could challenge Ho-oh and capture him. "It's been around for hundreds of years, why would some no-name trainer from a no-name region be its captor?"

She was looking at me directly. Sometimes I think either she or her umbreon could read minds.

None of us knew what to say. For us, the Rainbow Reckoning was sort of fun, like watching a tradition you always heard about actually taking place. The idea of anyone, not just Dorian, capturing Ho-oh does sound ludicrous, though. And combined with Tamao's earlier comment about not actually summoning Ho-oh, well, I am very uneasy.

December 20.

I met Dorian again at the flower shop. I'm starting to wonder whether it has stopped being a coincidence. I wished him a happy holiday, because he would be leaving to train in the mountains near Mahogany Town for a while for the third test. The date hasn't been fixed yet. The Elder likes to give challengers ample time to prepare but Dorian is so strong that he would just like to get the tests over with and catch Ho-oh.

I asked him what he was going to do with a captured Ho-oh and he laughed. "I don't actually think any manmade pokéball can catch a legend," he said. "Just seeing it would give me the closure to my career that I need."

His answer made me feel better.

And oh, he had such straight, white teeth.

January 25.

Dorian is back in the city. Guess where we ran into each other. He bought me a ragecandybar. When I told him that I wasn't supposed to eat sweets, he just laughed and told me that I would look beautiful anyway.

I floated for the rest of today on these words. Nobody has ever told me that I am beautiful, not in that way. Nobody has ever told me that I am beautiful beyond my role in a dance.

February 8.

The flower shop is our regular meeting spot, or is becoming one. It is not intentional on my part, we need fresh camellias every time we dance.

I wonder whether it is intentional on his.

I don't want to say that I'm falling in love. That sounds like something people say in movies, not in Ecruteak City. But I like that he is always around for a small chat and there to walk me back to the Theater after.

February 17.

The flower shop owner told me today that Dorian hangs around the place every day. I'm fortunate that she is a senile old woman. It's becoming clear that it's his way of finding me.

February 24.

I went to the flower shop today, even though we won't be performing our dance for a week. He was there, of course. We did not go back to the Theater right away and instead went to a little park. Spring is coming and we could already see the beginning of buds on the trees. We were talking about his upcoming test, joking about his training, and then he kissed me. I don't think I'm the first girl he kissed, but that is all right. It felt so nice that we did it a few more times.

After I got back to the Dance Theater, I practiced our dance for hours and hours without tiring.

March 1.

Tamao caught us kissing and she was furious. I told her that it is not against the rules and Koume dated someone briefly when we toured in Kanto last year, but it did not help. It occurred to me for the first time that she hated Dorian because she liked him and he chose me. And maybe she just hated me because Headmistress preferred me to her as well.

It is so strange to think about that the Dance Theater, the site of the most beautiful dancing in Johto, is not free from the type of jealousy that beleaguers most women. I'm not sure what to do. Do I apologize? For what? Is she so naïve to think that everything just falls into my lap, and there is no work involved?

March 2.

Tamao came to talk to me today. At first I thought we could reconcile, but now I realize that there is no hope. She was there to give me an answer that I did not want.

"You wanted to know what happens on top of the Bell Tower, don't you?" she said, with a horrible, horrible grin. "What happens when we dance the summoning dance? Well, I will tell you. The dance is no summoning dance at all. It is the dance of the sacrifice."

I think at the moment I still thought she was joking, so I repeated, "Sacrifice?"

"Human sacrifice," she said, and her eyes were freaking me out. "Your precious Dorian will die. The Ecruteak Elder will sacrifice him to Ho-oh's shrine. That is the true legend of the Rainbow Reckoning. Sacrifice enough trainers of worth, and Ho-oh will be persuaded to come back."

She was serious. I was so horrified that I couldn't speak until she laughed and started to leave the room.

"Hey Tamao." She stopped. "If Dorian had picked you, would you have been so happy to let him die?"

She did not answer.

March 5.

I ran the idea of him being offered up as sacrifice by Dorian today. He just laughed and asked if I were joking. "I have six high-leveled pokémon," he said. "I'd like to see how anyone could kill me!"

There was no telling what was going to happen during his ascent of the Bell Tower, an arduous task in itself. Wild pokémon abound in the tower, along with traps and other manipulations.

Besides, Tamao was not joking.

March 8.

My parents do not sympathize with Tamao or Dorian, but they find it strange that I would take such an interest in a stranger. Perhaps they suspect that my feelings for Dorian run much deeper than indifference, perhaps not. In any case, Mother told me not to be a fool and stop thinking about the Rainbow Reckoning and focus on dancing.

March 12.

Headmistress said the same thing – that I should stop being a fool and focus on what matters, which is dancing – except she subsequently confirmed with Tamao said.

Human sacrifice. Even now my mind refuses to accept the possibility. I have lived in Ecruteak my whole life. Why was I never aware of this?

Now I understand Morty's warning.

March 21.

The third test. I didn't go. He won. Of course he won.

He doesn't know and I am bound by honor to not tell him the fate that awaits.

I am a coward.

March 23.

I have to save him. In the past, if I need something done and put my mind to it, I always succeed. I cannot give up, not when a human life is involved.

March 24.

A possible method of saving Dorian is coming to me. Now the question remains – can I do it?

March 25.

No, of course I can't do it. It means throwing everything I have ever known away – my family, my friends, my dancing. My home. It means that I will never show my face in Ecruteak City again. I'm crazy to even consider it. I'm crazy to fall for some hotheaded trainer from Unova who wants to capture Ho-oh.

March 26.

It is strange. I dreamed of our daughter last night. Her name is Mai and she is a dancer like me. She does not even exist and yet I already love her. It reminds me of a dream I had when I was younger, where I was married to someone I loved and had children I love. I wake up smiling and then I stare up at the ceiling for a long time afterwards.

This future is there, if I have the courage to go for it.

March 28.

I have quit. I'm no longer a Kimono Girl. Headmistress is absolutely furious when I told her.

"Why are you quitting now, when you are on the cusp of your glory?" she shouted at me. "I cared for you more than I cared for my own daughter! You could be legendary, truly legendary. Why are you throwing your future away for a boy who does not deserve it?"

"He doesn't deserve to die!" I said.

"He chose this path," Headmistress said. "He is the fool who thinks he could challenge and capture Ho-oh. He could have backed off at any point and he chose not to."

No, that is not true. We goaded and persuaded him at every step, gave promises of eternal glory that would have turned anyone's head. I know nothing about pokémon training, but for most people it is not glamorous, and the Rainbow Reckoning gives Dorian the recognition he seeks so desperately.

"Besides," Headmistress says, "he does not love you. He cares nothing for you. You're just one girl of many that he meets on his pokémon journey, and you will certainly not be the last girl. He is not worth your sacrifice."

I could not stay in the room longer. I had to leave before he changed my mind! I had been so sure before I went into her office.

I am back in my dorm of five years now. The other girls don't know, though Tamao and Satsuki may have an inkling. They tried to come talk to me but I locked my door. I am not sure what to feel. Sad, definitely. Years of training, of pain and dreams and happiness, down the drain. But also, I am relieved. I did not know all the things that I was responsible for when I first started training. I did not know that one day, I will send a man to his death.

And more than that, I almost feel a weight lift off my shoulders, as if the rules that bind the insiders of Ecruteak City no longer apply to me.

And now I am determined. I must save Dorian.

April 1st.

My mind is set. Dorian ascends the Tower tomorrow. If I don't do anything, he will die. Tamao has told me as much. What could I do, though? Tell him what is going to happen, I suppose, and explain why he cannot stay in Ecruteak City any longer. Will he believe me? Me, who is throwing everything away to save him?

I suppose that doesn't matter. What is done has been done. I will have done my duty. I will leave Ecruteak Cit myself, perhaps Johto entirely. Right now I have a bus ticket for Goldenrod City. There is nothing that I need, nothing else that I can take. I must not arouse suspicion.

I am no fool, of course. My betrayal will catch up with me. I have betrayed the sisterhood of the Kimono Dance Theater and death is impending.

But until then, I shall be free from Ecruteak City.

Until then, I shall live.