Like No One Ever Was
I survey my opponent on this quiet morning. He reeks of some old acquaintance whom I've met before, I'm sure. Hunched on all fours, he appears to be just as determined and prepared as I am. We exchange glances. His glassy black eyes stare at me with excited competition as a smirk crawls across his pudgy mouse face. I lower my eyelids and reciprocate his confidence with a grin to match. My opponent's expression lights up as tiny traces of lightning dance across his cheeks. I force out a hot huff, puffing smoke from my snout as I threateningly pound my fist into my opposing palm. I lash my tail into the ground behind me with a whip-crack, flames from the tail's tip turning a nearby dead leaf into dust.
We are both in position. It is time.
My oldest friend stands behind me, supportive in this endeavor. Many we meet assume he is in charge of our operations, but in reality, we stand on equal footing. He is not my "trainer." He is my coach. Where once we had a team, I am now the only player remaining, refusing to retire for love of the game. He manages the expenses, lays out the game plan, and I am the force that makes those plans a reality, and adjusts them at my discretion in the heat of the moment. I rotate my head over my shoulder to face him, his dark-skinned face shadowed by the worn brim of his old cap. The black and red hat is adorned with an assortment of colored pins commemorating our victories over the years.
He nods to me and raises his hand, flashing his index, middle, and ring fingers. I nod back, acknowledging the signal. Plan Number Three.
"Go," he says calmly. This isn't a command so much as the whistle to announce that the game has begin.
One foot lifts off the ground, the other propels me forward, and I rapid-fire a volley of cinders through my lips like blow-darts. They miss their mark, my opponent dashing to my left, quick as a wink. I skid to a stop and prepare for his incoming blow - he is quite quick, indeed. I raise my arms in the split-second I have to react before he rushes past, his skull sliding across my forearms as I rotate my body to let him fly past. A glancing swat - barely a bruise on me.
"Hit 'em hard!" cries the gravely tone of my current rival's human companion. Atop his shaggy black hair he bears his own cap - what is the appeal of these hats, anyway?
My foe rises on two fat, yellow legs - and balls up his fists, charging energy into the pouches on his face. I lean to the left, only to hop to my right immediately thereafter, a blast of bright electricity flooding the space where I had faked to move to. In this moment I've earned, I lunge forth and slash out my right hand's claws, managing to connect with the rodent's side as he narrowly escapes any severe injury. Flexing the fingers that did the damage, I flick off the droplets of fresh blood from their tips.
"You can do this, Pikachu," encourages the congested voice of the other human. My heart sighs. This worthy combatant isn't even graced with a proper title? Poor sap. The name bestowed upon myself may have come from the mind of a twelve year-old, but he was my twelve year-old, and I was his. And that name is my own to wear proudly, even after all these years. It is insulting that this human would have his colleague fight for him, but would neglect to respect him with a title.
I hate to burst your bubble, Sir, but 'Pikachu' cannot do this. I'm not going to let him. He is going to lose. Sorry.
As Pikachu's retreat slows, I observe the pink-stained spots of fur on his left leg and relish the tiny accomplishment. But there is still work to be done.
"Strike him down!"
With grit teeth and a glint of revenge in his eyes, the rat charges head-on, its eyes intent on spilling some blood in return. All in good sport, I can assure you.
I suck in a deep breath and toss out a stream of searing flames from my mouth, my throat a mini volcano. Some dead autumn leaves on the forest floor disintegrate from the heat, but I observe no scent of broiled mouse. As the fire clears the air, he is gone. My mind reels as I rapidly calculate where he would have gone. He is not behind me, but to my left, I manage to detect. He moves so fast from one spot to the next that my mind assumes for a moment that I am seeing double. Before I can properly react, his skull smashes into my right rib and I am sent to the ground. The wind knocked from me, I immediately roll to the left to avoid the pre-loaded shock of lightning that my opponent has set up for me. I can feel the heat on my back as I barely avoid it. Electricity, I am reminded, has a different type of hotness to it than fire, and it certainly is not a quality I appreciate against my skin. It seems that this pair have their own game plan to bring to the table, as well, playing things one step ahead rather than following in my own steps like man others. I am pleased by this.
Now on my hands, I bounce to my feet, my side aching, and whip my tail behind me in anticipation of the next blitz. My instincts are correct this time, as I feel the impact of my extra 'limb' cracking against his flat nose while I spin round. His defenses down for a split second from the impact of the burning tail, my readied feet collide against his body with the momentum from my spin. One-two. My pair of kicks connect against his maw. It is now his turn to collide with dirt, landing in the singed patch my flames laid waste to not long before. He rolls a couple times before sliding onto his feet, recovering with some grace.
I smile and shake my ankles off as I build heat in my throat, but notice that he is already coming right back for more. His cheeks shimmer and flash as his chubby limbs propel him toward me. Bolts race across his body, encasing it in a field of dancing volts of energy, closing in to tackle me down.
There isn't much time to react, as my backlash of kicks didn't send him all that far off. In the critical instant I have available, I unleash the heat I've generated in my bowels since I slammed him in the jaw. Heaving a cloud of thick smoke from my agape mouth, I simultaneously jump forward with all my might, unable to see just how narrowly I miss his charged body through the smokescreen. I tuck and roll on ground entry, and as soon as I've regained my bearings, I immediately inhale deeply and with a purpose, then inundate the immediate chunk of dirt at my feet with a gush of molten force. The ground weakened, I pound my body into it, furiously clawing my way through the dry autumn soil, the sound of thunder rippling above as the very earth around me trembles.
My bruised side makes each rotation of my arm an endeavor, but I force through the pain for a few meters before I give pause. I open my eyes in my burrowed tunnel for a hiatus of reflection. The faint light of my ever-burning tail is a relaxing sight in this eye before the other half of the storm. I sigh to myself as I am reminded of my comrades of days gone by, always insisting that my tail was the torch that lit their way. Those days are only a memory now, as I have become an army of one Charmander. I am no longer that leader thy once knew. I am only a fighter now. I shake off my regrets.
I wait, and I listen. I hear nothing. The longer I rest in this interim of reprieve, the closer I get to the point where it is no longer strategic biding of time but could be considered cowardly stalling.
I press on, digging back up to the surface. As I break through, I hear the sizzling of a bolt aimed for my dirty red skin. I'm fortunate - I've risen fairly close to my foe, only a few meters off. My body still half submerged, I kick off the edge of my fresh hole, thrusting a barrage of particles into the air at Pikachu's face, lodging sand in his eyes. He's likely getting very out of harm's way, and the attack ignites a bush off the side of the path, frying it on the spot. None of us seem to pay this any heed.
As Pikachu cleans off his glassy beads for eyes, I give my coach a quick glance to see him flashing the back of his wrist to me, all five fingers extended. I reply with a quick nod while my brain melds together how to put the plan into action. I pursue Pikachu, who has opted to evade any potential assault, backing himself into a tree in his half-sighted haste. I call forth fire from my innards as I charge ahead, raising my right fist. I spew flames across my fireproof knuckles and savor the sensation. Flares still flickering from my hand, I pound my fist toward my foe, hoping to burn through his fat stomach when I pin him to the tree, but he manages to sneak past my efforts and instead my blow intersects the tree's bark, leaving a small crater of blackened wood. This is fine, though - somewhat expected, really.
I open my fist and tear a handful of smoldering pieces of bark from the tree, casting my glance to the direction of the target. I fling the embers out like daggers, happy to see that they reach their mark, sticking right into Pikachu's furry shoulder as he prepares another attack. He tolerates the burns, the tiny, hot wooden knives searing his skin and singing his fur. As he continues to generate electricity, I swiftly circle around him, ready to dodge any bolts he may fling my way before going in for the kill. Both humans seem content at this point to simply watch how we each act of our own accord.
Pikachu's cheeks flash white and a magnetic wave rushes over me. I recognize the tingling feeling through my bones this signature produces, but the blast is too wide for me to escape in time. I'm cstunned and the world goes black for a moment as I am paralyzed from the shock. My numbed body gradually gains feeling, and I slowly struggle to prop myself up with my quivering arms. My sight is restored to witness Pikachu prying the last embers from his fur. My muscles tense as I force energy into them, but my legs are still not awake.
As I strain to get back on my feet, I can feel a tugging on my left shin. I look down to see a bruised, burned face viciously gnawing at my leg - feeling hasn't yet returned to that part of my body but I can sense his teeth pressing in and tugging. As he bites away at me like a manic mouse infected with rabies, I send a quick prayer to the Monster Gods for granting me scales at birth, then puff out my chest as I intake a sharp breath before blasting a concentrated burst of flames through the electric beast. He screeches in agony, having not anticipated my recovery, and reels back, rolling across the dirt to put out the flames.
"Pikachu, are you OK?" worries the young man in Pikachu's corner as I limp to my feet. I sigh out gray fumes as I loathe seeing my worthy adversary being belittled like a toddler. Indeed, Pikachu is 'OK' in the sense that he has no need for his human companion's support, still on his feet, battered as he is. Pain has returned to my body in full force now, the paralysis peeling away. My My right ribs ache, my left leg pulses, my knuckles sting, my joints are tired. But there is still work to be done.
We both circle one another for a few moments, meters apart, two wounded warriors faltering around, teeth bared, eyes locked. He wants to win this. I want to win this more. My afflictions awaken the crusading passion within, the drive for victory. It has been weeks since I have had to work this hard for my triumph. I am reminded of how I was built for this task: to slash and burn. My desires engulf my body, and I feel my adrenaline flow, the blazing tip of my tail igniting with rage and anticipation. I thrust forth on my right leg, and Pikachu flinches, though I've hardly moved. Based on the twinkle in his eyes, his reaction is not from fear but reflex. Clearly, I am not finished here. I see him straining to gather energy into his cheeks, and I hop and shift my feet, arms up to block any incoming attack.
Then the lightning storm begins. Tiny shocks burst out from his cheeks, and I weave around them, retreating toward the edge of the forest's path behind me as my opponent inches in pursuit between bursts. My motions are like a dragon's ballet, my focus building as my body pushes itself to be faster, stronger, anything it takes to win. I am so intent on calibrating my form to peak condition that I fail to notice the small boulder I've just wandered into. I quickly scramble over it, feeling it quiver as a bolt connects its surface. I slide down the other side, my feet finding a brief moment of reprieve in the soft grass off the path. I quickly prop my head above it for just a second to see Pikachu jogging my way. I duck behind the rock and squirt a concentrated flame against the boulder, turning its center to magma.
I wait, and I listen. Just as I hear the gentle shuffling of grass under his light feet, I act. I slam my left fist into the molten spot of rock, smashing it into pieces that shotgun through the air, stunting his assault.
I follow through with a stream of fire, only to see it disperse in midair just before it strikes in a flash of light, halted by a screen of magnetism exerted from the damned rodent's face. I'm tempted to rush in and insert some blunt trauma into his plump grimace, but I remember Plan Number Five and concede to its previous successes. Pikachu is clearly utilizing his own second wind as he emits a massive discharge. I am overwhelmed, the attack seemingly unavoidable, and am struck by a stray bolt in the chest. Everything flashes for a second, and when I come to, I am on the ground beside the remains of the stone I recently split apart. Climbing to my feet is becoming exceptionally more difficult each time, but my rival is fortunately too weak to try assailing me as I rise, and I know it will take him some time to recover from such a massive exertion of power. He rolled the dice with a major gamble on that last one, likely a decision made in panicked haste. He may have stunned me, but he's already cost himself this match with the time he's generously granted me.
I dust my knees off and calm my breathing as best I can. I muster heat from my bowels, a volcano trying to erupt. I focus my thoughts on the situation before me as I savor the flavor of smoke billowing out through my mouth.
I am ready. I am a dragon in a can.
My shattered body marches onward, thriving on the pain coursing through every extremity. I am intent on the idea that I shall overcome, relaxing my mind to pay heed to only one thing: the bloodied, burned beast before me. My gutsy opponent. My fellow monster. I blowtorch my right fist again, masochistic in my pleasure of the distress, conceited at the idea of this final blow hurting much worse than my wrist is.
As soon as I feel I am within striking distance, I pause.
I wait, and I listen.
He growls out in disdain and frustration.
The can opens. The dragon is released.
With a brief explosion of agility, I dash across the grass, swinging around the thunderous, booming pillar of electricity that smacks into the ground just ahead of me. In the juncture that makes the difference, I am blinded by its flash, deafened by its crashing roar, the swelter of the yellow current washing over my face, inches away. He has missed. After I have bound past the galvanized beam of decimation, I erupt a pyre through the air like a close-range rocket. It hits, and Pikachu flies to the blackened dirt between the two humans. I relish another opportunity properly utilized, though I know this isn't over. This combatant is too stubborn. Even now, he stumbles to his shaky feet, limbs trembling just to maintain balance. He will not give up, even in the face of my destruction as I shamble toward his imminent demise. He glares up at me, and those damned cheeks glow yet again, threatening to counter. I clench my scorching fist, snorting out a puff of smog.
There is still work to be done.
All of my built focus is condensed into one punch that decimates any remaining hope Pikachu had for victory. I show no mercy as my hand impacts the side of his face with brute force, pushing him back to the ground with a bold crack. Smoke floating through my nostrils, I shut my eyes, opening my hand to release my grip against myself. I meditate for a few moments on what has just transpired and let my lungs exert all the soot from my system. When I open my eyes, my jaws are no longer locked, my stance is not tense, my fists are not tightened. I don't ruminate on the pain I am in, trying my best to respect the pain I have just delivered and acknowledge that its severity trumps my own. The tips of his ears are singed, his fur is blackened in patches, traces of blood smeared over burns and bruises and cuts.
It is a total knockout. I have a won.
"Wow," mutters my escort in bewilderment as he approaches. The other human scoops up his fallen friend, a bottle of medicinal gel at the ready, and sprays my poor victim's wounds. My partner nods at me, impressed. "That...sure was something," he states, at a loss.
"No kidding," mumbles the shaggy-haired young man with the wounded mouse in tow. "Your Charmander is...intense."
"He sure is," my accomplice agrees. He bends down on one knee to deliver a congratulatory slap on my back. I flinch from the pain that trickles across my body, no longer ironclad in my tolerance of my physical misery. "I don't think I've seen you work that hard in some time, Bud." I nod my head slowly to concur, still surveying the details of the damage I have wrought. "Your Pikachu is no slouch."
"Heh, he sure is stubborn." The rough-faced scrub with the Pikachu in his arms wipes at the burnt fur of his comrade. Ashes stick to his fingertips.
"Well..." The dark-skinned boy extends his arm out, and the other grabs it with his bike-gloved hand. "That was a good fight."
They share a firm handshake. I notice the mutual flicker in their eyes. It is that same ambition that was fueling my actions mere moments before: a drive to be the best. Yet there is something lamentable and melancholic that happens as their hands break off. I know that they share a similar admittance in that moment: they are not the "Masters" they had once sought to become. Such a notion was idealism they clung to as children, and they know it. An unattainable holy grail pushing them forward. And yet, despite that grail crumbling to dust somewhere along the way, here we all are, fighting onward despite the dead dream.
As the two humans bid each other farewell, I am left to ruminate on my own instincts brought to the surface by the day's gruesome battle. I sigh steam, my body exhausted from all its maladies. These humans - they travel to see the world, to seek their loved ones, to accomplish their goals. Why do I travel, then? What is my goal anymore? I have left behind my friends, my wishes, my dreams of old, for I could not keep them. I have dismissed my childhood flights of fancy. I have become a tool of destruction, a rampaging harbinger of carnage, all of my own accord, yet my human consort follows me, letting me exude my rage against all comers. I consider that he may be misguided by some hope that I will change, that this is merely some "phase" I am to outgrow before returning to a life of laid back peace.
I now fight simply for the sake of fighting. It is what I am best at. The very best. I am too powerful to rely on others anymore. I refuse to reside in any man's pocket.
Through and through, I am a Monster.