1 requires familiarity with Pokémon and a distant awareness of Digimon.
John drives Shelley out of the city. The bridge is clogged with cars.
“You’d think, ” she says, “that we’d be able to plan bridge traffic better.”
“Humans are weak against bridges,” he says.
“It’s a systemic weakness. Someday we’ll evolve into creatures who are strong against bridges, and then we won’t have this problem. We’ll also have powerful mental abilities like Psybeam.”
Shelley leans back in her seat. She thinks about this. “Cool,” she says.
John drives her to the woods. He parks.
“Thanks,” she says.
“Do you want me to wait?” he asks.
She shakes her head.
He drives away. She hikes into the woods. She finds the old shaman’s tent. He doesn’t say anything. He just sits her down and starts the fire. It’s mostly wood, but there are some ally plants in it.
“I’m scared,” she admits.
The smoke fills her senses. Shelley can feel something impending, something gathering in the air like the coming storm.
“But it’s time,” she says.
Her world shivers. The old shaman beside her nods. He grins at her toothlessly. The air swims.
“I’m going to be a shaman.”
The other world descends upon her like a bolt of lightning. Her body trembles. She screams. There’s a wrenching, tearing sensation. Then she finds herself sprawled on the ground of a black and marshy place. There’s thick grime soaking its way into her clothing; pressing clammily against her face; weighing down her hair.
She looks up.
There is no tent. There is no shaman. The sky is full of clouds.
“I will find my spirit animal,” she says.
She pulls herself to her feet. She looks around. The marsh gives way to forest, not far away. There are mountains in the distance. A few great boulders stand, solemnly, beside her. There is—
There’s a glimpse of motion in the corner of her eye. Her gaze snaps back to the trees. She scans the forestline.
It comes again. Something running. Such Agility, she thinks. She can’t focus on it. She only sees a glimpse of yellow and black.
“A tiger?” she says. But it seems too small.
She’s lost track of it. She scans the trees again.
It blurs past, behind her. She finds herself spinning around. She falls helplessly into the grime. She shrieks. One hand comes out to break her fall. It scrapes on a deep-buried rock and begins, slowly, to bleed.
She lays there for a moment, stunned. Then, slowly, she looks up.
On the high boulder’s surface, looking down at her with ancient dignity, she sees what might have been a squirrel or a great and terrible rat. Its fur is sleek. Its eyes are black. Its tail is strangely twisted. It stinks of musk. Its body is striped yellow and black.
“Pika,” her spirit animal informs her.
“Pikapi?” it asks.
“Oh, God,” she says. She rises slowly. She stretches out a hand. Her spirit animal sniffs at it.
Shelley cannot resist. She has to say it. “I realize that my people are not deeply attuned to the natural world,” she says. “But I had . . . somehow expected . . .”
Her voice falters.
It cocks its head to the side. It looks at her with eyes more wise and more deadly than any human’s.
“Could I have a real animal?” she asks, plaintively.
“PIKA!” thunders the spirit. The skies shout out their answer. Lightning strikes her. Her hair frizzes. Pain spreads to every corner of her skin. She falls down. Her world whirls. She is stunned.
After an unknown time, she realizes that her totem is licking her face. It nudges her, trying to rouse her. Finally, reluctantly, she stands.
“Pika,” it says, satisfiedly. It blurs, and it is standing fifteen feet away. It blurs again, and that distance is fifteen yards. There it pauses. It looks back at her.
“I’m sorry,” she says, as she trudges through the mire.
“Chu,” it says, dismissively. Its anger has passed.
“My teacher said to discard my expectations,” she says. “It’s just hard. It’s too easy to see the world as I expect it to be.”
The creature zips forward again, then stops. It sits down. Its tongue lolls out the side of its mouth. It pants. She trudges.
“But I’m still willing,” she says. “I’m willing to get eaten by spirits. I’m willing to cross the bridge of knives to the land of the dead.”
“Kachu,” it says companionably.
“Good,” she says.
It zips forward, once, twice, thrice. At the edge of her vision it stands, waiting. She can see that the mire is giving way to grassland. As she approaches she can hear music, endlessly complex. Layers of sound rise and fall. The melody is sweet, but it is no human song. This is cicada music. This is grasshopper music. This is the song of the insect world.
She is attacked.
It is like the moon, pulled from the sky: a green crescent, some strange beast’s pod, with a rippled edge and large and stunning eyes. It hovers in the air before her.
“I know you,” she says.
Its surface ripples. It Hardens, she thinks.
“I fought you in the Gold GameBoy version,” she says. “You were in the woods.”
Its surface ripples.
“You never actually attacked,” she says. “You just built up your defense. The most fearsome risk, when we fought, was exhaustion.”
It blinks at her. “Pod,” it says. It sways forward. It tries to bite her leg. The angle is all wrong, and it has no teeth. Its surface ripples.
She looks around. She points at her spirit animal. “Go! I choose you!”
It looks at her. Elaborately, it walks in a small circle and lays itself down. It leans its head on its paws. It seems to be laughing at her.
“Use your Thunderbolt?” she asks, hopefully.
Her spirit animal closes its eyes. It falls asleep.
“Oh,” she says.
The green crescent moon attempts to bite her again. This remains unsuccessful. She looks at it helplessly. Finally, she shoves it away. It rolls backwards through the air, thumps against a tree, and falls to the ground below. It looks at her reproachfully. It evolves with a glittering special effect into a butterfly and flies away.
“Its third stage evolution was pretty,” Shelley says. “But I hope I find some spirits who are more effective at eating my limbs and organs.”
Her spirit animal yawns, showing yellow teeth. It stretches lankily. It stands. “Pikapi,” it says. In a burst of speed, it zips onwards.
She leaves the place of the green crescent moon behind. She walks on through the grass. She hears a rustling in the grass. She has just enough time to realize how ominous it sounds.
Then they’re upon her.
One is a pink and bulbous floating head. It has bunny ears, red eyes, and fangs. Another resembles nothing so much as a four-legged anthropomorphic onion. Its jaws gape wide. There are many others.
“Wait,” she says. She can’t help flailing an arm, sending a green head-bubble reeling away. The onion’s teeth tear a chunk off her leg.
“Wait,” she says, again. “You’re digital monsters.”
Something bites into her head, severing a chunk of scalp, skull, and brain alike. Shock begins to set in.
Such distinctions, she hears, are a thing of the mortal world, and not the other.
“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” she tells it.
Then there is only sacrifice.
After a while, she gets to her feet again. She feels very light. Most of her is missing. She wipes the blood repeatedly from her remaining eye with a three-fingered hand.
“Pika?” asks her spirit animal.
“I’m all right,” she says.
It nudges her with its nose. She sways, but does not fall. Her spirit animal bobs its head cheerfully. Then it leads her onwards to the bridge of knives.
“I can’t cross that,” she says. “It’s too sharp.”
She sits down with a thump. There’s a sick despair on her face. She stares at the bridge.
“It’s cutting me from here,” she says. “Don’t you understand? Humans are weak against bridges.”
Evolve, her spirit animal says.
“Oh,” she says.
“Oh, of course.”