The Lights in the Tunnel
The passage through Mount Moon was nothing like the Onix’s cave that they’d passed through on their way to Cerulean City. That tunnel had been rough, and they’d come through it with Heather’s Charmander’s tail as their only light source. This one had either been worked smooth with tools, or worn smooth by generations of Pokémon trainers passing through, and was lit by subtle, dim lights mounted along the walls of the main passage. Those lights took a while to get used to; something about them was different both from daylight and from the harsh fluorescent lights Darren had grown up under. But when their eyes got used to it, the lights were bright enough to see their way by.
“The first time my parents went through here, Team Rocket had tried to light up the cave,” Heather told him as they walked. “It really upset the wild Pokémon. But since this is the fastest way between Cerulean and Pewter, Professor Oak and some other scientists worked on a way to light the path without disturbing them too much. These lights glow pretty cold, so they don’t risk drying out the environment like those big lights Team Rocket put in did, and something about the color of the lights keeps them from agitating the Zubats and other nocturnal Pokémon.”
Darren twisted uncomfortably in his uniform. It wasn’t nearly as obvious that that was what it was, now that he’d taken the jacket part off, but he still felt awkward hearing about the crimes of the organization that had raised him — not that he held any affection for them. “Could we change the subject? I know just as well as anyone else what kind of crooks created me.”
“Sorry.” Heather paused and looked down a side corridor, or as far down it as she could see before the darkness got too dense. “I wish we had time to stop and look for wild Pokémon.”
“You’ve got Fluffy already,” Darren pointed out. “And I’m not really sure I’m comfortable with capturing wild Pokémon like that, even if I had empty Pokéballs.”
Heather chuckled. “Softie. I’ve never met a Pokémon that wasn’t happy with its trainer.” At Darren’s dark look, she hastened to add, “At least none that had a trainer worth the name.”
“I guess. The grunt who was supposed to be my trainer had a Raticate just as nasty and sadistic as himself.” Darren shook his head. “It still feels weird to me. I don’t want to force anything on them, even if they’d eventually grow to like it. What if I’d eventually have grown to like him?”
Heather didn’t have a good answer for that, so they walked on in silence, following the lights that marked the maintained, safe, path through the mountain. Over the course of their journey, Darren found himself getting uncomfortable. The tunnel was lined with Pokémon statues at regular intervals, and he kept twisting his head around, expecting to catch one of them staring at him. It made no sense to him why they’d have lined a passage that was supposed to be safe with such menacing artwork. It baffled him even more that Heather seemed indifferent to their presence, and even paused to admire one of them, depicting a grand bird with its short, songbird-like beak open as if singing (or, Darren thought with a shudder, attacking) and its wings spread.
He didn’t speak up about it, however, though he did note that Tiger had stopped straying away from his trainer around the same time Fox had retured to his Pokéball. Nothing said that was related to the creepy statues; Fox might just have gotten tired of walking, and of course Heather’s Pikachu would be less inclined to run around playing when his playmate was no longer around.
They stopped for lunch at Heather’s suggestion, and ate in silence; Darren wasn’t much inclined to start conversation, and Heather seemed to guess at his dark mood even if she might not know what had caused it. They didn’t remain in place for very long, though; after making short work of another serving of the food Heather’s aunts had packed for them, they packed up their things in silence and kept moving.
By the time they stepped out of the cave, the sun was fairly low, but nowhere near setting yet. Darren paused, then, blinking against the light and breathing in the fresh air, feeling as though a weight had been lifted off his shoulders when they’d exited the perpetual twilight of the Mount Moon caves. Below them, he could see another city. Their destination.
It was far enough, especially if they took the path, that it’d take them another couple of hours to get there, but having seen it was enough for Darren to decide, in his heart, that another leg of their journey was definitely over. The next one, from Mount Moon to Pewter Gym, just happened to be a much shorter one than any distance they’d traveled so far.