Chapter 7 - A Dangerous Game
The first thing I noticed when I woke up was the cold. If you’ve ever been camping, you know what mornings are like: chilly, brisk air, a fresh coating of dew, a thin layer of fog that hadn’t quite burned off yet lingering along the ground. A mound of cold charcoal from our campfire lay nearby, the tiny fire having smothered itself out sometime during the night. Yawning, I sat up and stretched; if I was going to be traveling like this more, I needed to get accustomed to sleeping out in the wilderness rather than in a nice soft bed.
“G’morning, time to get up,” I murmured sleepily. In the corner of the hollow, Flaaffy still lay dozing, curled up into a tight ball next to the extinguished fire. I quietly crept over to double-check the bandages I had applied, just to make sure everything was healing properly.
“Looks good, you shouldn’t need these much longer.” At that point my stomach gave a rather noticeable growl, and I realized I hadn’t eaten anything since the previous day’s lunch. With a sigh, I started to rummage through my pack for some food. “You hungry, Pyro?”
I turned to quickly scan the surrounding glade. Besides Flaaffy and myself, the clearing was completely empty, no sign of Pyro. A small depression of leaves lay in the corner where he had settled in for the night, now empty. A chilling feeling of dread crept into my mind. No... this isn’t happening... After our experience last night, I had begun to realize just how dangerous this forest was.
And now I was totally unprotected.
I slipped a peek at the surrounding forest, for any signs of where Pyro had headed. The woods appeared calm for now, no signs of any nearby pokémon. The sun wasn’t high enough in the sky to peek through the foliage overhead, but it was definitely brighter than it had been in the early evening. Off to the side, I spotted an unusually-shaped marking on a tree trunk and bent down to investigate. Around knee-height, three deep gouges dug into the thick bark, the edges surrounded with ashen burnt wood. A few yards away, another scarred tree, leading away from our camp.
A path! Thank god Pyro didn’t forget completely about me, at least leaving a way to follow him. I quickly ducked back into our little campsite and began packing. Damn, why’d he leave me behind like that? I thought I had made it very clear that I couldn’t physically do any more good for the rest of the night, that I also needed him with me. Regardless, what was done was done, and I needed to catch up with him fast.
As I turned to leave our little hollow, I stopped to decide what to do with Flaaffy. On one hand, I could leave her there, sheltered and hidden until she woke up and made her own way. On the other, I needed at least a modicum of protection against the wild forest inhabitants, and I would much rather have Flaaffy accompany me than head out alone. Cautiously, I reached over and tapped her on the shoulder to wake her up, trying to not make any sudden moves; I definitely didn’t want to get shocked by accident.
“Come on, wake up.”
After few more shakes she began to stir. A single eye opened slightly, then suddenly shot wide open. “Flaaaaffy!” The pink lamb bolted upright and instinctively retracted into a tight ball in alarm. I heard the soft crackling of static, and the hairs on my arms suddenly stood on end.
“Ahh, no, it’s me!” I cried as I backed off.
She eyed me for a few more moments as more static energy built up in the air, then finally relaxed when she remembered who I was. Sighing with relief, I poked out a plump dark blue berry from my pack that I had picked yesterday and offered it to Flaaffy. She looked up from examining the bandages I had applied earlier and accepted it, gobbling the sweet fruit down in a few quick bites. I smiled and gave her another, and as she ate I laid out my proposal.
“So, Flaaffy, if you haven’t noticed already, Pyro, my quilava, kinda ran off without me. I really need to find the rest of my team.” She gave me a quizzical look and like I had scanned our campsite for my companions, then thoughtfully returned to munching on her food.
“Please. I don’t want to leave them out there alone. I know you’re wild and all, but I really could use your help.” I pleaded.
She finished up her meal and looked at me, then at the forest behind me, then back to me. I offered her a hand up, commenting, “Y’know, I have more berries...”
“Flaaffy!” Deciding that it was worth the trouble to accompany me, she nodded and stood up ready to go. However, after a few steps she stumbled and I had to help her back up. “I guess you’re not fully healed yet.” I ended up carrying her gently in my arms so she could rest some more as we ventured out of our shelter and followed Pyro’s markers through the dense undergrowth.
We trudged through the woods for at least an hour or two; apparently Pyro had quite a head start when I had woken up. By then Flaaffy had gotten fed up with the bumpy ride over tree roots and the like and felt rested enough to slowly walk by herself. She trailed behind me, careful not to overexert her injuries. The terrain wasn’t too treacherous for us, as Pyro too had to weave through the tangle in his meandering search. I admired his dedication to placing markers every few yards or so without fail. Not just for my benefit, of course; if Mira happened to stumble across the path, with her keen sense of smell she would no doubt figure out to follow it as well.
We didn’t encounter any strong pokémon, but the few smaller species like Rattata knew enough to avoid any direct confrontations with Flaaffy. Good thing too, as I didn’t know how reliable she would be in battle.
When the scorch marks began to feel warm to the touch, I knew we were closing in on Pyro. Sure enough, a few minutes later as we rounded some boulders, I heard a faint whimper ahead. We rushed forward, and my eyes finally fell on Pyro. The quilava lay at the base of a medium-sized oak, reaching up and trying to gouge into the bark with a feeble paw. I knew he was desperately trying to keep up his search, but his lack of food, sleep and overwhelming anxiety was definitely starting to take its toll.
“Pyro!” I cried out.
His head turned to look in our direction. I think I spied a relieved smile before he willingly collapsed, unable to continue. Rushing over, I sat down and cradled Pyro in a warm hug. Tears were welling up in his eyes as he gazed back at me apologetically. “Shh, it’s alright, everything’s gonna be okay.”
Flaaffy edged closer to examine Pyro, the object of our search. Looking up at me, she gave me an annoyed look, as if to say We’ve been walking all morning just to find this? She prodded me gently for another berry.
I sighed. Fishing out yet another snack, I tossed it to Flaaffy and pulled out some food and a bottle of water for Pyro. He hadn’t had anything to eat or drink since last night, as we hadn’t passed any streams on our search. Pyro gratefully took a drink and nibbled on his meal as he peered curiously at Flaaffy. “Lava?” He inquired.
“I was so worried when you left, I asked her to help me find you.” At this, Pyro avoided my gaze, eating quietly to himself. I softly stroked the dark blue fur behind his pointy ears, “I know that you care a lot for Mira, and I completely understand why you left to search. I don’t blame you at all.” A thin smile crept across his face, and he resumed his meal with renewed energy.
We sat and rested for a while, letting Pyro recuperate while Flaaffy wandered around and explored the surrounding forest. I was beginning to wonder why she was hanging out with us even after I had found Pyro; maybe for the food? We had passed a few berry bushes along the way that I had gladly picked, so it couldn’t be just that. We did save her from Grovyle and his gang, so maybe she was thankful for our help.
I quickly shelved my curiosity; not something I needed to worry about at the moment. Caring for Pyro and finding Mira was much more important. After Pyro rested a bit, we’d resume our search in earnest.
“All right, everyone, let’s head out.”
We set out much earlier in the morning than I would’ve liked. The woods were just beginning to brighten, and even though I really wanted to rejoin Pyro and Mark as soon as possible, I was sick and tired of this forest. I just wanted to get out of the creeping shadows that lined every nook and cranny. As I reached the edge of the campsite I stopped and watched Ashley and Chikorita set off into the trees, unsure if I wanted to follow.
A comforting blue paw rested on my shoulder. “No need to worry, Mira, we’ve travelled through this forest several times before, and there’s nothing we can’t handle,” a level voice reassured me. Kai strutted past, then beckoned for me to follow, “Unless you’d rather stay behind, of course.”
With a muffled, “Eek”, I followed their lead, plowing off into the unknown depths of the forest.
You would think that I would feel at home clambering over roots and around tree trunks. And normally you’d be right, if it were a familiar setting. I’d spent months in my home valley forest, but every place is new and strange and different, one of the reasons I first wanted to travel. But now that I thought about it, exploring unknown places might not be my thing. This area was so much thicker and darker than my home forest, I just couldn’t get out of my mind that some big, scary pokémon could be lurking behind every corner. Ashley must have noticed my lack of confidence, striking up a conversation in the meantime.
“So I guess you’re not from this area, huh?” she guessed, seeing me carefully observing my surroundings for danger as we walked. Knowing she couldn’t understand my speech, I merely shook my head, and tried to tell myself that we were perfectly safe. I had battled firsthand against Chikorita, who was leading our little party, and so was confident in her battling abilities. Furthermore, Kai was stronger in battle than even Pyro. But, try as I might, that creepy feeling just wouldn’t go away.
“Don’t be afraid, I’ll make sure you get back to Mark safe and sound,” she tried to reassure me. I felt a little better, and as the day got brighter hopefully my mood would improve.
She continued, “I can tell you and Mark haven’t been training together very long.” I nodded timidly, unsure where she was going with this. “But from what I’ve seen, you have a lot of potential. Don’t let our match the other day leave a bad impression on battling.” Glancing at Kai, who was bringing up the rear of our party, she smiled. “Especially once you evolve, you’d become quite the formidable fighter.”
I screeched to a halt. Evolve? To be honest, I hadn’t really thought about it a lot. There really wasn’t any need in back at home, being secluded from most other dangerous pokémon and relatively sparsely populated. Plus, I usually could count on Pyro whenever we both got into trouble. Of course while growing up, my mom and dad, an umbreon and a leafeon, had educated me about pokémon evolution, and my choices of form. They kept saying how it was one of the most important and permanent choices you could make in life, not to be made lightly. I was never one for making hard decisions; if the time came, hopefully I would know in my heart what the right choice was.
We resumed walking for a while, myself silently deep in thought. To be honest, I hadn’t met any other eeveelutions since I parted company with my parents, and so was pleasantly surprised when I first met Kai. Perhaps he could give me some experienced insight on what to do.
I fell back and timidly nudged Kai. “Hey, Kai? I was wondering if I could ask you something.”
The vaporeon raised his eyebrows, “Sure, I guess. What’s on your mind?”
“You were an eevee once, like me,” I replied. “How did you know when you were ready to evolve, and that you wanted to be a Vaporeon?”
Kai smiled, staring off into the distance as we walked. “Ah, the age-old question. First of all, keep in mind that it’s your choice to make, and yours alone. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. As for me, that was quite a long time ago... yet it seems like it was only yesterday.” He paused, as if trying to figure out how best to answer. “I’m not quite sure when I actually decided, but I know that I’ve always felt comfortable around water. When I was a little Eevee, Ashley used to take me to this lake by her house all the time to swim and play around. I guess the water just felt natural to me, so when we finally started our journey, I already had my mind set.
“Ashley’s parents actually gave me my water stone as a parting gift.” He motioned to the necklace bouncing gently against the white frill around his neck. A blue tear-shaped gem hung from it, shining brightly in the scattered beams of sunlight. It felt as if it was radiating some sort of energy, like a nice warm glowing aura. “At that moment, I knew in my heart that I was ready,” he concluded. We walked in silence for a moment.
“Thanks for sharing, Kai,” I said, even though I wasn’t sure how much his response helped.
“Don’t worry too much about it. When the time is right, you’ll know. Come on, let’s catch up with the others.”
We hurried forward; Ashley and Chikorita had already turned around a large tangle of twisting roots ahead of us, we were lagging so far behind. However, something caught my eye as we passed the bramble: an unusually-shaped fire scar at the base. Although not common, many trees had scars like these, especially in areas that had experienced a mild forest fire in the recent past. This one, though, was shaped almost like a claw mark, as if a fire-type pokémon had carved it there on purpose. I paused to give it a sniff, trying to identify who might be the culprit... a quilava... but not just any one...
With a high-pitched squeal, I called for Ashley and Chikorita to backtrack. “Hey! Come check this out!”
Some rustling on the other side, then Chikorita poked her head over the mass of roots. “Whatcha find?” she asked, her leaf twitching slightly as she gazed down at me.
Ashley circled back around as I pointed out the burn to everyone. “Pyro passed through here! And...” I sniffed the air, searching for any other scents. A few dissipating smells, then I caught wind of a familiar one. A faint memory rose up, of Mark hugging me tightly after our incident with Mudkip. “And Mark too!”
Ashley bent down to examine it closer, tracing her fingers over the burnt bark. “You can smell your friend, can’t you?” I nodded vigorously. She stood up and peered around for any other signs, finally stopping to point at the trees off on our left. “Over there, there’s another one. They’re marking a path for us! Let’s go.”
Now with a clear heading, Chikorita resumed her position at the front of our group, the rest of us trailing behind single-file in the dense undergrowth. My heart was pounding rapidly in my chest, excitement and relief almost overcoming me. We’re almost there!
I ended up convincing Pyro to rest in his pokéball while Flaaffy and I continued to meander through the woods. Luckily, I had packed a pocketknife with the rest of my camping gear, and with Flaaffy’s help I was able to replicate Pyro’s markers, for if and when Mira found the trail. The electrical scorches weren’t exactly the same as with fire, but I think after some knife gouges in the bark they managed to do the job, at least from a purely visual perspective.
After another hour or so of slow progress we stumbled across a wide open rock shelf next to a narrow river. A sheer rocky cliff towered on the other side of the flowing water and further downstream the rapids culminated in what appeared to be a small waterfall. With the lack of trees on the riverside, I could finally see the sun above us clearly, and what a welcome sight it was!
It seemed like a good time to stop for lunch, or at least take a small break. I certainly didn’t want to dawdle for too long, as there was no telling what could befall Mira in the meantime, but the beautiful scenery and peaceful gurgling of the water was too good to pass up. I released Pyro, who blinked a few times in the bright sunlight before stretching his legs.
“Come on, we should eat some lunch.”
I began rummaging for the pokémon food in my pack, and something to eat for me. Flaaffy emerged cautiously from the treeline to join us on the rocky outcrop, her keen nose sniffing the air for food. She would have to deal with Mira’s normal-type diet for now, as that was all I had, and the few berries I still carried probably wasn’t enough for an entire meal.
Pyro and I ate mostly in silence, Pyro clearly still concerned, although glad for the food. Flaaffy, however, after consuming her portion in the blink of an eye, began trying to start up a conversation with Pyro. Although he was clearly annoyed and didn’t really want to talk, Flaaffy still kept pestering him instead of me; I guess from her point of view, I wasn’t the best conversation holder. My guess, she was trying to find out more about the two of us and Mira, if she was going to follow us for the time being.
A rustling sound emanated from behind us, and I turned to peer at the bushes behind us. Hidden in the leaves, a huge black snake lay coiled, eyeing us with bright red eyes. Yellow diamonds marked the length of its body, culminating in a bladed blood-red tail. I think it was the same species as the unidentified serpent I had seen last night, but under cover of darkness I couldn’t be sure.
Noticing that its position had been given away, the 3-meter python uncoiled and slithered towards us blindingly fast, a surprising speed for such a large body.
“Ahh, Pyro, attack!” I yelled frantically, backing away from the treeline and towards the river. Pyro looked up from his food in alarm, while Flaaffy shyed away from the advancing snake, quivering slightly.
The quilava turned to face our adversary, fire sizzling and ready for battle. With a few wide glides, the snake closed the gap and bared its crimson fangs with a loud hiss. It lunged to take a bite out of my arm, but was intercepted by a blazing hot flamethrower from Pyro. Burned and angry, the snake swung around to engage him.
“Seviper!” With a intimidating hiss, it lashed out with its tail. The blade glowed purple as it sliced through the air, jabbing right at Pyro’s face. The nimble quilava jumped back to dodge, then with a battle cry retaliated with a heavy-hitting quick attack. The serpent angled its coils away from the hit, and the blow glanced off its tough scales with a resounding smack, throwing Pyro off balance and tumbling into the bushes.
Flaaffy gave a sharp cry at this and began sparking at the collar, slowly straightening up into a defiant pose. She raised her arms and released a giant bolt of electricity, probably a thunderbolt judging by its size. With a snarl of pain the snake cringed under the onslaught of electricity. The attack faded, leaving its hide smoking visibly. However, it merely gave an angry hiss and rapidly uncoiled to engage Flaaffy. Either its scales gave it more electrical resistance, or Flaaffy just wasn’t very strong. With a direct glare at Flaaffy, a bright yellow light flashed from its eyes. The same light also enveloped Flaaffy’s outline for a moment, then faded. The snake then casually circled around Flaaffy to strike from a different angle.
“Shock him again!” I called, hoping she would listen to me.
Flaaffy tried to turn and face the advancing serpent, but cried out when she realized she couldn’t move one of her legs. The yellow glow must have been a paralyzing attack! She stumbled and fell to the ground with a thud, an easy target. The snake reared back to deliver the final strike.
Quickly, I picked up a smooth river stone laying nearby and threw it at the snake’s head. My aim was a bit off, striking it further down its body, but it had the intended effect. It immediately shifted its attention to me, and I frowned when I saw what I interpreted as a menacing smirk. Unfortunately, only then did I realized that I, too, was just as defenseless. I couldn’t back up any further, already at the river’s edge. The snake raised its bladed tail, then lashed at me with the purple tip.
I ducked and dove to the side, the tip barely grazing me on the arm. I hit the ground with a thud as it reared back to strike again, this time with blood-red fangs. There was no way I could dodge this one.
Out of the corner of my eye, I spied Pyro charging, flames spinning around him with a flame wheel attack. Thankfully the serpent didn’t notice, and Pyro struck it dead-center on the head. It cried out in anguish, Pyro having left some heavy burns on its face.
“Lavaa!” Skidding to a stop between us, Pyro growled a fierce warning. Smoke dribbled out of the corner of his mouth, and his head and rear flames blazed full power. Through the heat rippling the air, I saw the snake stare at Pyro, then at Flaaffy recovering from her paralysis, then at me, sitting up and clutching my arm. With one final hiss, it slithered back into the brush, disappearing completely in a matter of seconds.
I breathed a sigh of relief, “Whew, thank goodness that’s over with. Good work, you two.” As I started to get up, a sudden wave of dizziness swept over me. The world appeared to be spinning around me and the next thing I knew, I was on my back staring up at the sky, feeling incredibly tired and weak. A dull pain throbbed on my arm where I had been grazed by the snake’s tail, but it felt like it was quickly fading. I looked at the cut, and was scared to see thin, web-like filaments of dark purple slowly seeping from the wound, deep under the skin. With each passing second, a numbing sensation slowly crept up and down the rest of my arm.
I tried to crawl over to my knapsack a few yards away, but the weakness quickly spread from my arm to envelop my entire body. I collapsed onto the ground a yard short, my arm stretched out but unable to reach the bag. The dark fuzzy silhouettes of Pyro and Flaaffy entered the edges my vision as everything began to blur together.
“My bag... antidote...” I gasped, suddenly finding it difficult to breathe.
Pyro retreated to search the backpack, while Flaaffy looked over me in confusion; being a while pokémon, she probably didn’t know what I was talking about. To be honest, I didn’t expect either of them to be able to operate the needle-like medicine if I lost consciousness.
Pyro kept searching for a few minutes as the numbness seeped into every corner of my body. My vision grew darker and darker, and I tried with all my willpower to keep myself awake, but to no avail. The last thing I could hear was Pyro scrambling around frantically on the rocky ground, before everything faded to silence.
Around late morning, we stumbled across a small clearing, the surrounding trees and bushes teeming with Pyro’s scent. I could even pick up the more unfamiliar scent of Mark, so it appeared that they were at least together and safe. They had stopped here for a while before moving on, so we had to be getting close. By now, Kai and Chikorita too had recognized Pyro’s smell enough to conclude the same. Running forward and back past the line of markers, I tried to urge the rest of the party to hurry up. I wanted to reach them as soon as possible, so we could finally get out of this unexpectedly rough forest.
“Woah, slow down and try to stay quiet,” Ashley cautioned, “We don’t want to attract unwanted attention.” Reluctantly, I slowed my pace and fell back in line as Chikorita resumed the lead. I obviously didn’t want to encounter any other scary pokémon like Grovyle, so for now I figured it would be best to listen to Ashley. At least she, Kai and Chikorita seemed to confidently know what they were doing.
Again, we set off through the trees following the trail. However, I began to notice that the markers weren’t exactly the same; masking them was a new unknown scent, although it did seem strangely familiar. I couldn’t recall where I’d smelled it before, but being with the group I wasn’t too worried.
The trees began thinning as the midday sun passed overhead, letting scattered beams of sunlight reach the forest floor. As we walked, I noticed that the markers were beginning to feel warm, some even smoking faintly. We must be getting close! I dashed forward around the next corner, my heart beating rapidly with excitement.
Dazed, I stumbled back and look up at whatever I had run headlong into. Immediately, my blood chilled; looming over me was a huge black pokémon, with red fangs and an enormous elongated body and tail. With an angry snarl and a flick of his forked tongue, he hissed, “Ssstay out of way, runt.”
I almost tripped over my own feet as I backed away as quick as I could. Kai, Chikorita and Ashley rounded the corner behind me and abruptly stopped in surprise. “Move along, and don’t think about causing any trouble,” warned Kai.
The serpent’s eyes narrowed, then slowly slithered around us to pass. He gave me one last glare and I noticed a few light burns all over its face. In a low voice, he muttered to himself, “They won’t last long anyways... like that other human...”
“Wait! What do you know about Mark?” I cried out.
I could almost swear he was smirking as the rest of his tail vanished into the undergrowth. Terrified, I rushed forward along the trail as fast as I could. Behind me, I ignored the cries of “Come back!” and “Wait up!”, too preoccupied with worrying about what could have happened to Pyro and Mark. Ahead of me there appeared to be some sort of break in the trees, with bright light streaming down from the sky and the sound of water crashing in the background.
Hold on, I’m coming!