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The Good, The Bad, and The Pretty; Julian and Maggie make a quick stop at Miner Memorial Caves on their way to Sangproctor City
Topic Started: 20 Aug 2016, 07:00 PM (225 Views)
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Two pairs of calloused hooves scrunched the coarse gravel as the mighty horned beast of burden walked forth, carrying on its hardy back its young female Trainer plagued with mood swings, a beautiful scowl on her juvenile face and an exhausted high-crowned, wide-brimmed hat, of the same hue as her loyal steed, on her stalwart head. The complicated Trainer willed her majestic ride to slowly come to a halt, dust settling in around the proud beast's battle-scarred hooves, its three tails whipping the length of back they could reach, keeping it free from any and all pesky freeloading insects. Taking a breath of fresh air, the Trainer tilted her head upwards, towards the ancient sculptures of rock and death that laid before her and her company, rays of blinding sunlight forcing her to squint. She hissed in defiance, the green of her eyes fighting stubbornly in the front lines. Other people would have looked away or even closed their eyes. Maggie wasn't other people. Other people were either good or bad. Maggie was both the good and the bad, and sometimes, even the ugly.

"Woah!" Julian yelled in fear as he tried to reign in the dimwitted Doduo whose heads had began pecking at each other for no other reason than a second of boredom.

The perpetually confused, awkward-in-flight avian Pokemon scrambled to find its—-their?—-footing at the artist's behest. Each bumbling step the Doduo took felt like a kick to Julian's spinal cord, the entire journey a battle to keep his balance and prevent his own death: falling down on the ground has never been such a scary prospect. Julian's endurance was on full-display, his pain threshold put to the limit, having suffered through and survived an uncomfortable 13-hour trip from Vlostik Town to Miner Memorial Caves on the wretched steed. Although to be fair, Julian could have just gotten off the Doduo a mile after Vlostik. His pride wouldn't allow it, however. The very image of Maggie arrogantly staring him down was worth preventing despite all the pain. Or so he kept telling himself.

A day after their initial, terrible encounter, Julian moved out of the motel he had been staying in with Mr. Smile and moved in with Maggie, staying at her apartment. It was her own suggestion, an unexpected move considering how much she hated him and how much effort she made in making sure he knew it. Not really a fan of the motel from the get-go, Julian himself was quick to accept Maggie's offer, another unexpected move considering how disgusted Julian has shown himself to be in the company of the loudmouthed ruffian. The following days were an exercise in patience for the both of them.

"I think it's time I left Vlostik," Julian murmured while dabbing the edge of his lips with one of Maggie's surprisingly clean table napkins.

Maggie's eyes widened and so did the excited smile on her lips. Breakfast had never tasted so great. She caught herself, neutralized her expression, before Julian could open his eyes and turn to her. Maggie feigned ignorance, shrugging as she continued to eat every bit of Grumpig bacon on her greasy plate, eyes on the same plate but mostly away from Julian's. She finished chewing, an achievement in itself, before replying.

"Yeah? Where you headed? Back to Sangproctor?"

In the days they shared Maggie's homey apartment, Julian had let slip certain information about his family. Part of him regretted that, often when images of Maggie spitting in public and yelling in public troubled his mind. The other part thought less of it. Maggie has been kind, more than enough to let him stay with her for free, save for food expenses, and has actually made the effort not to argue with him loudly every so often. Julian appreciated that, so he tried to do the same with Maggie. It was all an exercise in patience that was in theory so much better than it was in reality.

Julian held his spoon and fork away from his plate, one in each hand, hovering above the table. He turned to Maggie, his full attention towards her, "Cadence, actually. I might stay there for a bit."

For brief minute, Julian's thoughts wandered to life in Cadence, a life full of peace and calm, relaxing and beautiful with its fields of green. It was a sanctuary from all the hustle and bustle of city life, not unlike Vlostik. The only difference was, the people in Cadence were much friendlier, especially if Maggie was the familiar benchmark for the people in Vlostik (thank Arceus she was not). Julian has been planning for Cadence to be his new home for a while now. Sangproctor will always be his home, sure, but he could not build his own legacy there. Sangproctor was where the Tijerinas flourished. Julian believed Cadence would be where Julian and Julian on his own merits would flourish.

"Cadence? Oh, right, you have a gallery there, right?" Maggie started trying to lick off a piece of Grumpig bacon stuck between her teeth.

Julian grimaced at the sight of it, though he managed to regain his composure, inhaling as much air as he could exhale, "Yes. I might stay there for a while."

The vagabond artist wondered if that was another mistake, telling her his plans for the immediate future.

"Oh, cool," Maggie picked up her own napkin and haphazardly wiped her entire face with it. "I've always wanted to go to Cadence. Never been able to, but I've always wanted to see the Lab and the Gardens and the University. I've heard there's Gogoat and Kangaskhan there."

Julian narrowed his eyes. Where this conversation was going, he didn't feel like he would like it.

"When are we leavin'?"

It was a mistake. Everything was a mistake. On the surface, Julian flashed Maggie a gorgeous smile before revealing he, they, would be leaving tomorrow. In his head, Julian was slamming his flawless face against the table's surface repeatedly, blood gushing out of his forehead but not a single care coming out from him.

The very next day, they were set. Both of them had packed their things, with Maggie packing less stuff than Julian, which the artist believed to be unfortunate. More than two shirts would've been more appropriate.

Julian raised an eyebrow at the sight of Maggie being all kind and courteous to her landlady, an old maid who took to the loudmouth as her own daughter. The very idea of Maggie as someone else's daughter humanized her to the point that made Julian cringe.

"What an unlucky mother," Julian whispered to himself.

"Oh, well," the elderly landlady shared a compassionate smile with Maggie. She put a hand on the young woman's shoulder. "Just be careful, okay? You two be careful."

She turned towards Julian, surprising the artist who was quick to take his mind off of his internal musings and offer the old lady a smile.

"We will. That I promise you," Maggie offered her landlady an apology through a sweet smile, something Julian had never seen from her before. The pain and disappointment in Maggie's voice could not be concealed. "I'm really sorry I won't be around for weeks."

"It's all right," the landlady put both hands on Maggie's arms, caressing them up and down. "I'll keep your place clean for your return."

Maggie excitedly gave her a giant hug, "Thank you so much! I'll be back as soon as I can."

The older woman turned towards Julian once again. Julian continued smiling at her, at them. He couldn't hear what they were saying but he surmised it was probably about Maggie leaving, goodbyes and all that jazz. His own departure from his home was just as sad. No one ever wants to be separated from the people they love, especially over long distances, but sometimes, it must be done.

The two women's laughter caught Julian's attention. Maggie seemed redder as the pair began walking towards him. She even actively avoided his gaze. To his surprise, the landlady grabbed both of his hands from out of nowhere. She felt just as soft and kind as his mother and even his grandmother when in a nurturing mood. Their eyes met and Julian could see, feel, genuine compassion emanating from them and into his very soul.

"Take care of her, will you?"

Julian could only nod. Words didn't seem appropriate.

After bidding their final goodbyes, with Julian pressured to wave an awkward goodbye to the old woman as well, the pair was off. Julian had already taken three steps but stopped when he realized Maggie had not taken even just one. He turned to her, both eyebrows raised, "What's the matter?"

Maggie took one of her Pokeballs and released her Tauros, "You're not just gon' walk to Cadence, are you? Sangproctor is like 30 miles."

It was 41 miles. Julian knew that from all the trips his family made to Vlostik. He shrugged as Maggie lifted herself over the Tauros, mounting the mighty beast with relative ease. Julian walked close to the same steed, put a hand on its side, and was caught surprised when he almost had his face kicked in. The Tauros grunted in rage. Luckily, Maggie was able to reign her Tauros in, calming it with gentle caresses on the side of its face.

"You don't sneak up to a Tauros like that!" Maggie turned back to reprimand Julian angrily. Her Tauros rolled its eyes in agreement, slowly calming itself down with help from its Trainer.

Julian raised both hands in the hair, shoulders being forced to rise as well, "How was I supposed to know that?"

Maggie sighed dramatically, shaking her bowed head right after, "You city slickers..."

The artist blinked a few times, unsure how to respond to that. Shaking his own head, he instead decided to just immediately clarify things, "How do I get up there then?"

"Get up where?" Maggie raised an eyebrow.

"There? Up there? On the Tauros?"

Maggie narrowed her eyes, tilting her head to one side, "You don't get to ride Bubu."

"What?!" Julian put both his hands on his hips. "You mean you're going to ride...Bubu while I just walk beside you both?"

"Shoulda gotten yourself a Pokemon to ride, Scarfbro," Maggie frowned. She turned his back to him, petting Bubu on its head. "Maybe you can ride that Croagunk you got in the trade..."

Julian closed his eyes and exhaled. He let the calm wash over him for a few seconds, making sure that when he would open his eyes, he wouldn't see himself dropkicking Maggie off her Tauros. He frowned at the sight of her still frowning at him. She shrugged in response and turned back around. Julian shook his head and began to walk forward. He stopped when Maggie turned back to him with another Pokeball in hand.

"Calm down, Julie," she stuck her tongue out at him, the nickname making the artist clench his teeth. Maggie twirled the Pokeball in her hand, an arrogant grin plastered on her face. "Here, you can ride Dodo."

Maggie opened the Pokeball and red light flew from it, materializing a Doduo right in front of Julian. At the sight of the Doduo, Julian jerked his entire body back. Compared to the mighty Tauros Maggie was on, the Doduo in front of Julian seemed like a terrible downgrade. Tauros was first class while Doduo was coach. Maybe even just the overhead luggage compartment.

"Dodo? You want me to ride this?" Julian raised an eyebrow as he pointed to the Doduo. The Doduo seemed oblivious to what was happening, to the fact that it was being shamed for maybe having two heads instead of a horn and three tails, to the idea that it was an inferior ride compared to the massive Tauros. The Doduo just stood still, one of its heads staring at the other head that was pecking around at their back. "Are you kidding?"

Maggie sighed and shrugged in response, "Doduo or Doduon't."

As she turned her back to him, willing the majestic Tauros to start moving forward, Julian could feel her snickering in pride at her own dumb joke, a crude play of words. Julian shook his head in disbelief. He stared at the Doduo again and felt his soul escape.

"Better than walking all the way there, I guess," Julian got on the Doduo, mistakenly grabbed each of its two necks, and almost fell backwards on his neck when the terrible idea of a ride sped off without warning.

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Miner Memorial Caves is not a place a lot of people go to. There are tourists, yeah, the ones that either value history or are curious about the darkness, the fear and despair, associated with the mines, but not many would want to find themselves here. What was once a major player in the growth and development of Sangproctor City as well as Weswell Town has now become a reminder of lives lost when dozens of workers, men and women, died within its dark tunnels years ago. It was blamed on explosives, the collapse of nearly a quarter mile of the mines. In the memory of the fallen ones, what was once Goliath Caverns was renamed to Miner Memorial Caves.

"They're still open, though?" Julian stared into the dark opening that was before them, beckoning them, him specifically, inside.

"Yes," Maggie responded in complete seriousness. Her green eyes were fixated on the same opening Julian's brown pair was. "Wait, what do you mean still open? Why still open? It's a bunch of caves. Who would close a bunch of caves?"

Julian turned to his scrappy companion, one eyebrow raised, "It's not just a bunch of caves, Maggie. It's a bunch of caves were people died. It's a bunch of caves that were renamed and turned into a memorial. You'd think they'd have better security or something."

Maggie didn't return his gaze. Instead, she continued staring into the pocket of shadow in front of them both. Even the mighty Tauros she was mounting, Bubu, was captivated by the vast potential the strange and mysterious invitation contained. Julian himself couldn't look away for long. His attention was quickly drawn back to the nothingness on one side of hard rock, a blemish on an otherwise beautiful sunny day. Only the Doduo he was riding, Dodo, seemed oblivious to everything, as it has been since the start of their journey. One of its heads only took a quick glimpse of the cavern opening before it quickly picked a fight with the other head. The fight only lasted seconds before both heads were distracted by two different things: a cloud shaped like a knife and a Diglett that poked its head out of the ground for a split second.

"You're just afraid to go in," Maggie whispered to no one in particular.

Julian threw shade, eyes narrowed, eyebrows furrowed, in her direction, "I'm not. I just don't want to find myself in jail. What you want me to do is trespassing."

"No, it ain't," Maggie finally made the effort to acknowledge his presence, jerking her body back as if the offense was a physical ball of mud thrown at her sleeveless green shirt. "It's public property. People can go in."

"But why would people want to go in?"

Maggie let out a loud laugh, the loudest Julian has ever heard from her. Part of him thought it was fake laughter, mocking him for being too curious. The other part thought it was a bit cute. Julian narrowed his eyes, scowling. That part of him that thought Maggie's laughter was cute needed to get punished. Or at least suppressed. Suppression should be punishment enough.

"Yeah, I get it," Maggie raised an eyebrow, an arrogant grin on her lips. "You're afraid, ain't you?"

Julian opened his mouth to defend himself but Maggie cut him off, "It's fine, Scarfbro. I get it. I'd be afraid too, if I were you. People died in there. Lots of weird things might be in there. You wouldn't want to get your scarf dirty."

She chuckled again. Bubu snorted agreement, something of a smile on its face.

Julian turned his neck to the right and then to the left. He sniffed at the air. Grabbing his golden scarf, Julian flattened the non-existent creases over its length. He then turned to Maggie with an exaggerated, exasperated smile, "Exactly. I'm not going to risk any part of myself for one of your childish dares."

Maggie crossed her arms at the remark. She scowled, one eyebrow raised. Heaving a sigh, she patted her open mouth.

"That's so typically you," she grinned pointedly at Julian. "You know, I think, if you were a Pokemon, you'd be an Abra. You'd teleport away at the first sign of trouble."

Julian narrowed his eyes almost to the point of closing them. He started breathing deeply and a bit faster than he would normally. His cheeks turned red, the ends of his eyebrows crashing against each other. He gritted his teeth as hard as he could. Any harder and they would have probably gotten broken. Or not. Julian was not a dentist. He didn't know what it takes to break teeth. He didn't know stuff like that.

Throwing his hands in the air, he made a goofy face at Maggie, exaggerating a frown and intentionally widening his eyes, "That's it! I am going in. I'll show you who's an Abra."

Maggie chuckled, "Yeah, you'll show me you're an Abra."

"Stop calling me an Abra!"

"But Abras are cute, Julie," Maggie stuck a tongue out at him.

"You're using Abras as an analogy to my courage," Julian put a hand over his eyes. He started giving his temples a subtle massage. "Teleporting away at the first sign of trouble... Well, that's not me. I'll show you I'm more than ready to get in trouble."

Maggie simply shrugged, a playful grin on her face. It only served to infuriate Julian. In one fluid motion, he got off the Doduo and took three steps towards the cavern opening. He breathed it in. He breathed everything in. Maggie followed suit, dropping herself off of the Tauros. She took out two Pokeballs and recalled both of her Pokemon, transforming them both into red light, which was quickly stored within the circular contraptions. Pocketing those Pokeballs once more, she took her place beside Julian. Both of them just stared at the darkness that laid before them.

"On second thought..."

Julian raised an eyebrow, dramatically turning to Maggie, "Oh, look who's afraid..."

He teased her with a playful grin of his own.

Maggie fought back her laughter, not wanting to continue infuriating Julian. She looked away from him, losing herself in the darkness that awaited them.

"I'm not afraid," she whispered. "I'm just not sure this... I'm not sure if this is safe."

Julian sighed loudly. He wasn't looking at Maggie. He was still entranced by the cavern opening.

"Well, we're not going to find out just standing out here."

Maggie swallowed air. Suddenly, everything felt so cold.

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Through the darkness, walls of solid rock paving their way into the belly of the underworld, Julian and Maggie walked side by side, with Mr. Smile floating right behind them. Through the Gastly's wide eyes, it seemed that Julian and Maggie knew just when the other would take a step, keeping to each other's rhythm as smoothly as possibly. That or they could have been just keeping an eye on each other, neither wanting to present themselves as the braver one or the coward. While being the more courageous one, walking in front of the other, seemed like a good idea on paper, in reality it didn't seem so attractive, especially inside the mysterious abyss. Both flamboyant artist and grouchy gaucho used their respective phones as ample sources of light, careful where they took a step, at what could be in front of them.

"Why do you care so little about safety?" Julian suddenly quipped.

Maggie turned to him, green eyes wide. It took her a few seconds before she could think up of anything to reply, before she could understand the question, really, not as a pointed statement, an insult, but as a genuine curious effort to get to know her better. The pair continued to move on, to walk forward, with the Gastly keeping its ghostly eyes on them, narrowed to ensure that if something does happen, it could offer support to the best of its abilities.

"What do you mean?" the words crept out of Maggie's thin lips before she could fully review them in her head.

It was Julian's turn to turn to Maggie. With one eyebrow raised, Julian's brown almond-shaped eyes stared right into Maggie's green pair. Only a second of connection transpired before Maggie found herself looking away. She swallowed air and licked her lips that suddenly felt dry. Julian's one raised eyebrow rose even higher. He almost stumbled at the distraction but was quick to immediately regain his composure. It helped that Maggie's attention wasn't on him, instead forced to the lifeless and boring wall right beside her. The path they took continued to be as narrow as when they went in.

"I mean," Julian sighed, taking a second to think his next words through. The last thing he wanted was to get into another verbal fight with Maggie. Their truce in Vlostik worked well because they both considered everything that came out of their mouths. In the darkness, where they were, it would be much harder to consider anything else but their immediate safety. "...you seem so careless, reckless. All the time. I don't mean to offend you. I just want to find out why you're so...fearless."

Julian scowled at himself. Thankfully, the darkness kept his negative expression from Maggie's indomitable pride.

Maggie felt her head grew heavier. She settled for looking down in front of her, the light from her phone keeping her from tripping, images of her past life flooding in her head. Most of them made her frown. Only a few could've made her smile but they weren't enough to counter the onslaught of sadness from her memories.

"Well, I guess it's because I grew up poor," Maggie whispered to no one in particular. "I had to fight for everything, and by everything, I mean barely anything. I'm still poor, and I'm still fighting for things I want, need, for everything I've ever gotten and will ever get. It's been me and only me, my way or no way..."

"It was hard, growing up with more brothers and no sisters, with a dad who always tried his best, his hardest, to feed all of us under one roof, only to always, to consistently, fall short. He was a good man, a good father, but he was a terrible provider. I felt sad for him, more than I did for myself and my brothers. He always meant well. He always tried. He never stopped fighting. He wasn't just enough."

"So when I could, I left that house. I loved my dad. I loved my brothers. I loved everyone in that house. But I knew that if I didn't leave, I would have nothing. I didn't want to be poor my entire life. I wanted more out of my life. I ended up being homeless for a while. Until someone took me in," Maggie smiled to herself.

Julian thought it was the prettiest he'd ever seen her. It was so infectious, he couldn't help but smile as well. Mild redness invaded his face. He didn't mind. She was too absorbed in her story to care, to even see him, to remember he was still there, walking beside her.

Maggie continued, "Sadly, I couldn't be any better than my dad. I tried to get a job, got a lot of jobs, but never really got lucky with any of them. Most of what I had only gave me enough to pay for rent and food. I stayed poor. Despite my best efforts, I stayed poor. But I never stopped fighting. I don't think I ever will."

Suddenly, Julian stopped walking. Maggie noticed this and stopped as well. She turned to find him staring at her with pity, eyebrows pointing down closer to his ears, a sympathetic frown on his lips. Maggie searched his eyes for answers as to why he was looking at her that way. Then she realized it was all because she had shared too much of herself. Maggie held her arms, crossing them over her chest. She looked away from Julian, back down on her feet.

Julian put both hands on her shoulders and tried to comfort her, "I'm sorry tha—-"

Out of nowhere, Maggie pushed him away, yelling at the top of her voice, "You're such an Abra! I fought my way through life, to get to where I am today, while you cruised through it with your money and your charm and your family. You have the luxury of teleporting away when you see problems. I've never had that and I don't want it. I will always fight for myself."

Julian froze on where he stood, caught surprised by Maggie's sudden outburst. Both his raised eyebrows slowly met in the middle, on top of his nose, pointing down to it, crashing against each other. His open mouth slowly closed itself, its corners dropping down towards its chin. Julian crossed his arms in front of his chest, staring daggers at Maggie who started to breathe heavily, panting, as if she had just finished a race. The artist looked away from her, rolling his eyes, igniting her fury.

"And you're a Snubbull," he sighed. "You pretend to be strong, tough on the outside, when inside, you're just like everyone else, including me: afraid. You're afraid, so you left home. You're afraid that you would never be enough, so you're angry, always angry. You've misdirected your anger from yourself, your shortcomings, to everyone else around you. If that's not because of fear, fear of reality, I don't know what is."

Julian sniffed at the air at his supposed triumph, his chin higher in the air than normal. Maggie just stared at him, panting, eyebrows furrowed against each other, mouth slightly open. She soon gritted her teeth, both hands clenched into fists to the point of crushing her phone in her right. Fuming, steam coming out of her ears, her entire face redder than a fresh tomato, Maggie hurled an open hand to the side of Julian's face. Julian was quick to catch it, however, preventing any contact between her palm and his face.

Maggie felt like something was caught in her throat. She stared at Julian's hand on her wrist and then found herself staring into his almond-shaped eyes, brown as autumn, staring back at her widely, both eyebrows raised to the highest they could reach. Maggie's face softened but the redness stayed. She started blinking uncontrollably, unable to continue looking Julian in the eye, much to Julian's continued confusion. Looking everywhere, turning everywhere but to him, Maggie slowly took a step back, freeing her arm without effort from Julian's grasp. She took another step backwards but the ground on that foot suddenly broke.

The green-eyed human Snubbull let out a scream as she started to fall down. With wide eyes, Julian lunged forward to grab Maggie's hand. In a panic, Maggie grabbed Julian's hand in return but ended up pulling him towards her. Maggie had nowhere else to go but down, not a single place near her where she could put her foot down, so she used up all her strength, gave it her all, to prevent just that by grabbing on Julian's hand. Unfortunately for her, for the both of them, Julian was way physically weaker than Maggie, and in a quick few seconds, found himself tipping forward, towards Maggie, as the ground on his feet started to break as well.

Both of them screamed as they fell into the abyss, with Mr. Smile following helplessly after them.

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Julian couldn't decide where was up and where was down as he continued tumbling down the side of the tunnel. Glimpses of brightness meshed with pure darkness. The images his eyes would see only lasted for a few seconds before being replaced by more, varied scenes. It was as if the whole world was spinning around him, more out of control than ever, and he was the hapless observer of all that confusion. He couldn't even pinpoint where Maggie was, though by the sounds of her, she was close.

Finally, their trip ended abruptly. Julian landed on his backside, bounced a second or two off of the ground, and only had another second to realize he was in pain before Maggie came crashing down from behind him, one of her heels striking the side of the back of his head. It took another second, maybe three or four, for Maggie to find her footing, to realize where exactly was the ground she could place her feet on.

Yet nothing welcomed them, only the immense darkness that has been calling this abandoned part of the tunnel home. Not a single soul they could see, not anything they could hear, but each other, their respective pairs of eyes locking together despite the darkness, the beats of their respective hearts joining together in familiarity, in fear, in camaraderie.

"Where is Mr. Smile?" the words crept out of Julian's mouth without his consent.

He took a step forward, his head turning everywhere but to no avail. All that he could see was mask by shadows, the same thing Mr. Smile was made of. His mouth began to move, the name inching closer to his lips from his tongue, but he stopped. A hand grabbed his arm firmly. He had to turn around to make sure who it was, even though he already knew. Maggie's emerald eyes shone in the darkness, the fear in them crippling him. But only for a second.

Julian flashed her a smile, though he did not know whether she would see it, "It's fine. We'll be fine."

Maggie responded by shaking her head in defiance. Julian softly grabbed the hand that was locked on his arm, carefully detaching it from him. Maggie tried to offer a little bit of resistance but couldn't offer more than a few seconds of it. Despite her fear, she still believed in him, had faith in him, trusted him for some reason she could not recall at that very moment. Maybe she just understood that Julian was going to do whatever he wanted to do, anyway. Saved her some trouble.

"Mr. Smile?" Julian called out quietly, forcing Maggie to close her eyes, her knees briefly buckling but she was able to compose herself.

"Mr. Smile?" he called out again, this time louder, taking two steps in front of Maggie. The third time sounded like a normal conversation between friends. "Mr. Smile?"

When he found no answer, Julian slid his hand behind him, down into the backpocket of his pants. Maggie hadn't noticed it in the darkness, but when his hand resurfaced, she could see things in a brighter light. Julian took out his Holocaster, using it as a makeshift flashlight. Maggie immediately made her way closer to him, afraid of what might happen next. It was one thing to shed light on what they didn't see. It was another for her to see things she didn't want to see far from anyone else.

"There's nothing here," Julian quipped to no one in particular.

He directed the light from his Holocaster in front of them, behind them, all around them, but found nothing but rocks, rocky caverns, and more rocks.

"See?" Julian turned to a frightened Maggie. "There's nothing here. Just a bunch of rocks."

He turned his back to her just as she nodded in agreement. Suddenly, they both heard shuffling. Julian was quick to shine a light on everything around them but again to no avail. The shuffling continued. Julian turned to Maggie again, this time in confusion, but she protested that she had no idea where the sound was coming from. Getting an idea from out of the blue, Maggie slowly looked up, finding nothing but darkness. Julian carefully followed suit, a bit skeptical, and the light from his Holocaster revealed the very source of the shuffling: a colony of Zubats high above them.

Julian swallowed air. Maggie shuddered, her eyes unable to look away from the ceiling of Zubats. The artist was quick to notice this and immediately slid his hand around hers. It was enough to make Maggie to turn from the ceiling to her companion. The awkwardness in her only lasted for a second. Her fear of the Zubats overpowering any and all other emotions. She tightened her hold on Julian's hand in return, moving closer to him.

It didn't take long for the Zubats to erupt in chaos. Reacting to the light that never left their supposed secret hideout, the Zubats began to fly everywhere, drowning the entire cavern into a flurry of fluttering wings and demonic screeching. Maggie responded by screaming as well. Reacting quickly, Julian grabbed her and began pulling her blind through the storm of Zubats, his Holocaster guiding their way.



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Julian Tijerina

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West Godai's Favorite Son


Being lost in complete darkness without sound would be deafening, but being lost in complete darkness with only the sound of screaming and screeching and wings flapping everywhere and nowhere at the same time? Now, that would be terrifying. And, for Julian and Maggie, it definitely was. They say that when one of your senses is taken away, in this case the sense of sight, your other senses would try to compensate by working harder, better, stronger. On any other day, that would have proven useful. On this day, neither of the two appreciated being blind as a Zubat in the middle of a storm of angry Zubats.

The venomous virtuoso could barely keep an eye fully open, as the threat of a Zubat's wing or fang or tail scratching or even just poking his eyes out was as real as the trouble he and his companion had found themselves in. Julian could only squint as he ran as fast as his legs would take him, dragging along by hand Maggie who couldn't stop screaming, wouldn't stop screaming, her eyes closed, her faith fully in Julian, perhaps half out of trust and half out of desperation. All around them the chaos of a colony of Zubats disturbed made running around in the dark more difficult.

Both of them knew they had to get out of there but, as Julian scrambled to look for a direction to safely head in, a sanctuary in all of the darkness, as he, they, continued running forward, maybe even around in circles, only one of them could lead the other out of this predicament. Panting, with only one eye open, Julian saw from the corner of that eye, a strange source of light. In between flapping wings obscuring his line of sight, and with no other real option, Julian gritted his teeth and steered both himself and Maggie in the direction of that light, which grew brighter and wider as they got closer, their hearts beating faster than ever.

As the screeching seemingly got louder, and with Maggie still screaming, Julian heaved, mustering all the air from his lungs out of there, and screamed as loudly as only he could, lunging towards the light, throwing all of his weight, his body, towards it, through the thankfully big enough cavernous opening, and pulling the screaming Maggie right behind him.

Thud!

"Ow!"

Julian landed on his back after having flipped himself over right when they entered another part of Miner's Memorial Caves. Maggie, on the other hand, slipped forward, thanks to her inability to let Julian's hand go, and landed right on top of him, her head on his chest. This part of the caves was brighter, definitely the brightest. Their eyes found it difficult to adjust to all the light, like they were divers who have been under the sea for hours and was only just coming up for air, but when they could finally see properly, Julian couldn't help but smile when he found out that there was no Zubat around them. Not a single one. He started laughing in triumph, the Zubatnado completely behind them.

"Yes," he murmured before raising his voice in victory. "Yes, yes, yes! The Zubats here can't stand the light. This is too bright for them. This is too perfect for us. We're saved!"

Julian took a quick look around them, his back still on the ground, Maggie still on top of him, "Where is all this light coming from, though?"

That's when he noticed his usually loud traveling partner was no longer loud. Instead, Maggie was shaking on top of him, her face buried in his chest. Julian propped himself up, holding Maggie's head with one hand and carefully pushing himself off the ground with the other. "Maggie? You okay?"

Julian tried to get Maggie to look at him, eye to eye, but on her knees, she quickly hugged him, wrapping her arms around his chest and effectively hiding her head behind him, away from his line of sight.

"I'm sorry!" Maggie wasn't only shaking. Maggie was crying. Julian's jaw dropped at the realization, his eyes widening. His hands hovered a few inches over Maggie's back, unsure of what he should be doing. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry! I shouldn't have insisted we pass by Miner's instead of heading straight for Sangproctor! This is all my fault! We would be at your parents' house by now, you seeing your sister again, your parents, your funny grandma, instead of being trapped here in this overgrown grave. I'm so sorry, Julie. I'm so sorry!"

Maggie continued shaking and crying and panting. Julian wrapped her in his arms, realizing it was the only thing he could do. He started combing her hair and that warmth served only to make Maggie cry even harder. She hugged him tighter and buried her face deeper against his side.

"Heeey," Julian whispered, mimicking her mother's soft tone, the one she put on when he was a kid, when she needed to calm him down. "It's okay, Maggie. I wanted to do this, too. It's not your fault."

"Yes it is!" Maggie pulled away away from Julian. She stayed on her knees, right in front of her, but buried her face in her hands, not wanting him to see her cry. "It's all my fault. You were right. I should've thought more about our safety, your safety. I shouldn't have been that reckless. I'm so sorry, Julie..."

For a second or two, Julian just stared at Maggie, his mouth still somewhat open. After that, he sat straight up, smiling. "You know, you remind me of my sister. She's also afraid of Zubats. One time, we had this huge family reunion in Viendre, all the relatives were there, some of whom we've never even met until that day. We were so small, niña y niño, but we were big in our heads, brave and stupid all rolled in one. There was this small cave, smaller than Miner's, and my sister and I, we were playing hide-and-seek. She decided to hide inside the cave, thinking... Well, not really thinking."

"I wouldn't have found her, though, I mean I didn't think she'd hide somewhere she wasn't familiar with. It was a small cave but we were kids and we were scared of things we weren't familiar with. She was really competitive, though. She wanted to win. She would've won, if only she hadn't screamed in fear. I immediately ran in, afraid something horrible had happened to her, my sister, and found her on the ground, cradling her knees, screaming, crying, as a single tiny Zubat was curiously staring at her, staring, so to speak. I think it was just curious. But my sister was deathly afraid, so I had to shoo it away," Julian smiled wider when Maggie finally showed him her face again.

She took both hands off her face and wiped the tears away, trying her best to look better, more presentable. She swallowed air and slowly paced her breathing as she did so. Maggie jerked back when Julian reached for her, helping her clean herself up. She turned to see him smile, and along with the warmth of his hand on her face, she couldn't help but follow suit.

"You know what I did to calm her down?"

Maggie slowly shook her head. Julian carefully went closer to her, wrapped his arms around her again, and gently placed her head on his chest. Maggie's eyes were wide in surprise but the soothing rhythm of his heartbeat helped her calm down. She closed her eyes as Julian began combing her hair again.

"Everything is going to be okay," Julian whispered to Maggie.

Maggie started to tremble, shake again, but she managed to quiet herself down. Julian started humming a childhood song. The melody helped anchor Maggie's emotions, her fear, her guilt, everything down. She started keeping her breathing to that of Julian's rhythm. He kept combing her hair, also at a rhythm, a steady pace.

They stayed like that for a few more seconds until Julian, after making sure Maggie was going to be calm for a while, slowly let her go. Maggie carefully pulled away from Julian in response, heaving a sigh of relief. Julian's brown almond-shaped stayed with Maggie throughout, and when she noticed this, Maggie turned a little red. He had seen her at his most vulnerable. It made her feel a little angry, more at herself for letting him see that side of her. Clenching her fists, Maggie wanted to scream at Julian for no real reason other than getting her pride squashed but suddenly changed her mind. He had shown her vulnerability, too, sharing that story about his sister when he didn't need to. Maggie turned to Julian with a raised eyebrow. Julian returned the look, having expected her to yell at him as she always did whenever they got too close to each other.

"Thank you," Maggie expressed her gratitude meekly. Julian's eyes grew wide, his jaw dropped, his entire body jerked backwards, as if she had screamed something obscene to him. He tried to say something but Maggie cut him off, crossing her arms and turning to her right, not wanting to make eye contact with him. "But if you ever tell anyone..."

Julian laughed, the loudest he had ever laughed in quite a well, "Don't worry. It'll just be between the two of us."

Maggie turned to him with a scowl but was met by a smile. Her arms softened, her entire face softened, and sighing, she gave him a friendly smile of her own. Julian nodded to her, acknowledging their respite from antagonizing each other, a respite born out of trauma. It wasn't the best way to get closer together as traveling partners, as friends, but it was what it was. Julian stood upright and wiped dust off his pants.

"Well, that's that," he extended a hand to Maggie who took it. Julian helped her back to her feet as well. "Now, let's find a way out of..."

"Clefairy!"

A blanket of silence fell down on Julian and Maggie from out of nowhere when, also from out of nowhere, they found a Clefairy standing close to them, seemingly having been there for a while now, watching them, eavesdropping on them. Maggie's eyebrows crashed against each other, her face turning hot and red. She took a step forward, away from Julian and towards the pink fluff of intrusion, placing her hands on her hips. Julian's throat went dry and his eyebrows shot up on his head. He placed his hands before him, just in case he needed to shield himself, his face, from what was looking like a fiery encounter.

"Have you been there the entire time?!" Maggie screamed at the Clefairy whose facial expression changed from being happy to see them to being confused as to what was happening.

Julian remembered those days, when Maggie's reactions would still confuse him, too. But those were the old days. After having spent a lot of time with her, Maggie's volatile reactions to things she shouldn't have volatile reactions to no longer surprised him. But just because that was the case doesn't mean he won't protect himself. He will.

Maggie didn't pay him no attention, though. Not a single bit. All her fury was locked on to the pink ball of confused cuteness before her, and with each following word that flew out of Maggie's mouth, she also took one step closer to the Clefairy. Both Julian and the Clefairy stood their respective grounds, Julian because he did not want to be anywhere near Maggie whenever she explodes and the Clefairy because it was still pretty confused at where all this negativity was coming from.

"This was a private thing between me and my...Scarfbro! How dare you eavesdrop on us?! On me?!"

With only a few inches separating Maggie and the Clefairy now, Maggie decided it was the appropriate moment to pull her foot far back. She was about to punt the innocent Pokemon away when the Clefairy surprised her by putting both its hands in front of it. Julian craned his neck from far away to see what was going on.

"Clefairy!" the Clefairy began. "Clefairy! Clefairy! Clefaaaaairy!"

Maggie sighed deeply. She narrowed her eyes, scowling, "I don't speak Clefairy, but I sure do speak violence!"

The Clefairy's eyes grew wide as Maggie swung her legs at it. Julian's hands flew on his head. He didn't think Maggie would actually do it but... Well, actually, Maggie has done worse. This was actually right up her alley. Julian shrugged and wondered if he should do something about it. The Clefairy was pretty agile, rolling away from Maggie's pathetic kicks with relative ease. Was Maggie even trying? She might still be reeling from her emotional trauma seconds ago. Julian should probably do something this. Before he could decide on any course of action, though, the Clefairy rolled out of Maggie's range, surprising both trainers. It inhaled deeply, alarming both Julian and Maggie, but instead of blowing them away, it actually began to sing.

"Cleee-faiiiry! Clefairy, clee-fai-ryy! Cleee-faiiiry! Clefairy, clee-fai-ryy!"

Beauty and peace washed over Julian and Maggie. They couldn't move. They didn't want to move. They stayed motionless where they stood, smiles plastered over their respective faces. They weren't just smiles, though. They were the kind of smiles you'd put on when you were feeling good, really good. The smile you put on when you finally get a vacation from the past few months of stress. The smile you put on when you finally have nothing to worry about after a few weeks of constant worrying. The smile you put on when you're at the altar and you're staring into the eyes of the person you're going to marry, knowing that this was going to be the start of a beautiful chapter in your life.

Julian and Maggie held each other's hands as their eyes were suddenly glued to one another. Neither of them could contain the euphoria as the Clefairy continued her song. Julian slowly, carefully, leaned his face forward, and Maggie took it as her cue to do the same. Slowly, their lips moved towards each other. Slowly, they both closed their eyes. Slowly, the Clefairy continued her song. Their lips never made the kiss, as Julian dropped to the ground snoring and Maggie followed suit shortly after.

It took the Clefairy a few more seconds before it realized what had happened. It stopped its singing abruptly and narrowed its eyes at its sleeping audience. It puffed itself up, its cheeks ballooning, angry at being disrespected. Crossing its arms, the Clefairy closed its eyes to think of a way to make all this right. This was disrespectful. How dare these two trainers disrespect a creature with such great singing talent? The Clefairy inhaled deeply again and this time blew Julian and Maggie away and away with a beam of pink hearts in a loud shrieking voice.

The noise was so loud that it was heard throughout the caves and even near the entrance. A punk couple was egging each other on at the entrance, the girl teasing the guy about being scared to go in, when Clefairy's Disarming Voice scared them both running. Elsewhere inside the caves, the same colony of Zubats that attacked Julian and Maggie erupted in chaos once more, a couple of Diglets hid back down on the ground, some Roggenrolas and Arons ran for their lives, and even Mr. Smile heard the commotion, too.

Thankfully, the two trainers landed just a few meters away from the Clefairy, still in the same bright area of the caves. Julian landed first, on his rear end, a little too hard, and Maggie's entire body hit him in the face mere seconds after he landed, like she was a sack of potatoes that hit its thrower's aim accurately. Both of them groaned in, Julian especially rubbed his head. The angry Clefairy made its way towards them, offended to the highest degree.

"Clefairy!" It ranted at them. "Clefairy, clefairy, clefairy! Clefairy, clefairy! Clefairy!"

"Ow!" Maggie complained, scratching her head. "What the heck was that?!"

Julian could only groan in response.

The Clefairy stood its ground mere inches from the struggling trainers. It inhaled deeply for the third time. Maggie's eyes widened in horror when she saw what was happening. She poked Julian and gestured for him to turn his attention, what he could muster anyway, towards their doom. Julian swallowed air at the sight of the furious Clefairy. Both of them suddenly found it difficult to breathe, as if their throat had closed up and all air around them were toxic.

"Gastly?" Mr. Smile reappeared before the pair, in between them and the Clefairy.

The intrusion surprised their attacker so much that it stopped dead in its tracks. Both Maggie and Julian couldn't contain their delight and relief at the sight of the confused Gastly.

"Yes!"

"Mr. Smile!" All the pain Julian was feeling seemed to dissipate in the air. Mr. Smile turned to him with a grin. Julian winked at his old friend, his face bright with joy. "Where have you been?!"

"Prepare to meet your doom, you big ball of softness!" Maggie scrambled to her feet, vigor renewed. She dusted herself off and shook her fist at the cute but threatening Fairy Pokemon. "Mr. Smile, Julian, end this now!"

Julian followed suit and stood his ground behind Mr. Smile. Trainer and Gastly grinned at each other. The Clefairy's confusion passed and, narrowing its eyes, it looked more determined more than ever.

"All right, then," Julian smiled confidently. "Looks like we have us a fight."

If Mr. Smile had an eyebrow, the Gastly would've raised it. If Mr. Smile had shoulders, the Gastly would've shrugged them, too. All that effort searching for these trainers, thinking that if Mr. Smile could find them, maybe then Mr. Smile would get some time to rest easy. Mr. Smile sighed, correctly guessing that rest easy wouldn't be on the schedule today. The Gastly beamed at the determined Clefairy, and the latter suddenly found its courage crumbling at the sight of that sinister grin.

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West Godai's favorite son


Julian Tijerina

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