Chapter One – Friends in Extraordinary Places
"I'm not entirely sure I should…"
"You'll go in or we'll have to… uh…"
"Just go in there and get my crystals or we'll go and trash your hotel room!" This last comment really made Squirtle push on into the depths of the cave. He did have a lot to live for and his hotel room was his own little sanctuary where he felt most happy. Yes, there was always his house, but ever since his parents passed he hadn't gathered enough courage to go back there. The bodies were long gone but a sinister aura still hung around the whole place. Even when Xatu visited he picked up on it. He said that it was almost as if they had some unfinished business amongst the world of Pokémon and they wouldn't leave until justice had been served. Although it was unintentional, Xatu scared Squirtle enough to not want to return to his own home.
It was lucky that Litleo understood enough to let him have a room for free until Squirtle got over it. At the time he probably thought it would be for a few days or maybe a week, yet after the first year Litleo decided to gift it to Squirtle in case he never wanted to leave the room. It soon became a source of embarrassment for Squirtle – something that Venipede and his goons quickly caught on to. Since then they constantly took advantage of him and his can-do attitude. On this particular occasion they wanted Squirtle to go to the bottom of Tidal Cave and collect them some valuable crystals. At the time it had sounded like a good idea – venture into a cave, receive crystals, become popular. Now inside Tidal Cave, Squirtle remembered the cave from the last time he had been playing on the beach. He remembered all the sharp crystals that hacked at his feet with every step he took. He remembered fumbling in darkness trying to get out again whilst avoiding the venomous population of Zubat's. He couldn't turn back now – Honedge had been left on guard duty on the beach. His fiery temper meant that Squirtle wouldn't last long against him.
After a few minutes, it dawned on Squirtle that he hadn't gone in all that far last time. Alone on the second floor below the surface, Squirtle began to panic. Perhaps he wouldn't escape alive? Maybe the Zubat would ambush him and eat him! Squirtle let out a small squeal to himself. Remain calm, he thought. It was hard to stay to calm in the dark. That said, the path was lit by a few crystals that lined the walls. From the outside they looked as though they were mere decoration however in pitch black they served as a weak yet helpful light source. He wished he could pick one up and take it with him… in fact what was stopping him from doing so? A quick browse of the wall revealed a dislodged light crystal that he could use. Now reassured by his crystal (a comparison to a night light crossed his mind) Squirtle felt the urge to press on and reach the deepest part of the cavern.
It soon became apparent that it was a good idea to pick up one of those crystals: further on there was less and less light for him to go by. The other little relief was the lack of Zubat he had met. At one point he was certain he had heard wings beating above his head but other than that he was pretty safe. Squirtle plodded on through the darkness whistling a tune to himself.
Before too long his crystal was the only source of light within the cave. He had lost count of how many floors had been and gone yet he was certain that he was nearing the bottom. Moreover he hoped he was nearing the end for he wasn't sure how much further his feet would carry him. Unlike his previous quest within the cave there weren't many crystal fragments on the ground to scar his feet, although it would have helped to have them there to provide some precious light.
"You defeated Team Flare Grunt!" called out a voice from deeper within the cave – a husky feminine voice echoing from a deeper floor. It sliced through the bitter silence like a knife through butter. Again, a few wing beats echoed above his head. It must be rare to have a noise like that this far down, let alone one so loud and piercing. Squirtle stopped in his tracks. Who or what was that? Suddenly curious, he picked up the pace a little. Ambling past rocks that had fallen into the past, adrenaline started to pump through his blood in the rush of the moment. It was rather unlike him to lose his cool over something so trivial. He didn't even consider the notion that it might be a trap by a Zubat.
"I must be nearing the top by now!" said the voice again. Perhaps it was someone who had also been dared to reach the bottom and was on their way back up!
"You've still got a way to go yet!" Squirtle replied into the dark. There was silence. Maybe they hadn't heard him that time. Squirtle broke into a sprint. Now he wanted to make sure the Pokémon was safe – Squirtle was first aid trained if that could help in any way. It would be quite easy to get injured in amongst the sharp rocks and crystals so it was fairly plausible that they might be in trouble.
"So this is how it ends, is it? I'll have to bring you down with me then." Squirtle shivered. Was she talking to him, or was there yet another Pokémon down there with her causing her trouble? This voice was also significantly louder. Squirtle knew the sooner he found the stairway the sooner he could find the answers. He groped around with his feet until he felt a definite dip in the ground.
"Don't worry, I'm coming!" hollered Squirtle, running so fast down the stairs he almost tripped. To his surprise, only a Fennekin lay fast asleep in the deepest cavern. More of a relief than a surprise but Squirtle had never been too good at getting his emotions across when he was speaking.
"No… you can't do this!" screamed the Fennekin suddenly, causing Squirtle to jump almost out of his shell. He didn't want to be rude and wake her up but she was visibly struggling against some unseen force. He was worried that she could be in awful pain as her expression suggested. To be safe, Squirtle took an Awakening out of his bag and sprayed it on to the Fennekin. Slowly it picked itself off the floor yet Fennekin was still shaking violently.
"Where am I?" asked the Fennekin.
"You're at the bottom of a cave! Are you alright?" replied Squirtle kindly.
"No, that can't be right. One minute I was in Team Flare's Headquarters and the next I'm here talking to a Pokémon… wait! How are you talking to me?" panicked the Fennekin suddenly, a small bead of sweat dribbling down her fur.
"Why? Haven't you spoken to anyone before?" asked Squirtle. He wondered how long she could have been down here and whether she actually remembered the last time she was speaking to someone. And what was Team Flare?
"I have, but not to a Pokémon. Humans and Pokémon don't talk to each other where I'm from."
"There aren't any humans here," Squirtle said knowingly, checking the area just to make certain she wasn't talking to someone else.
"Well excuse me, but can't you see that I'm a human!?" screeched Fennekin.
"You're just a Fennekin," said Squirtle. All the colour rushed out of the Fennekin's face. Even the sweat stopped still on the edge of its fur. Her legs started to wobble like jelly but she didn't even utter a word. "Are you okay?" Squirtle asked. The Fennekin shook its head.
"You say I'm… a Fennekin?" the Fennekin said breathily. It scampered over to a puddle on the floor (strange place to find a puddle, thought Squirtle) and gazed into her reflections eyes. Tears slowly started to roll out from her eyes and fell into the puddle creating a series of ornate ripples that distorted her face. "I can't… but Fennekin…"
"I know there's not a lot I can do, but I do know someone who might know what to do!" said Squirtle happily, running over to try and comfort the Fennekin.
"Would you… take me to them?" the distraught Fennekin asked through her tears.
"Sure, they're just in the next town along. Come on!" Squirtle ushered her up the stairs hoping that the Zubat's would stay at bay – the last thing this Fennekin needed was to be attacked by a rogue Pokémon.
Making his way through the cave with a sobbing Fennekin was a lot harder than fumbling through the darkness had been before. Squirtle guessed night was drawing in because the crystals were growing brighter like they usually did in the early evening. When they reached the top level of the cave it became apparent the real reason why Venipede had sent him down there: not to collect some crystals but because he knew there would be no way out. The sea was now lapping across the stony floor making it impossible to pass through to the beach.
"Ah, we have a slight problem," said Squirtle coolly, running from the sea water. Despite being water Pokémon his parents had never taken the time to teach him to swim nor had he ever found a TM to help; moreover water and fire type Pokémon didn't mix and Squirtle did not intend to find out why any time soon.
"What are we going to do?" asked Fennekin feebly.
"I'm not sure. We might have to wait in here for the tide to go out again but I have some apples and some light crystals so…"
"Squirtle – is it Squirtle? Yes? – I don't really want to be here all night," the Fennekin said so quietly her companion didn't hear her.
"And I don't think the Zubat will hurt us if we're careful!" Squirtle concluded. He looked proudly at the Fennekin but she clearly didn't approve. "Or I'm sure there's another way out…"
"Indeed there is!" came a malevolent voice from the darkness above them.
"Zubat! Run!" shouted Squirtle, powering towards the stair case down a level with the Fennekin in tow.
"No! Please!" shouted the voice again, swooping down to reveal itself to be an especially small Zubat. "I only want to help you escape before (he lowered his voice) Crobat finds you here."
"CROBAT? WHO'S THAT!" shouted Squirtle bashfully. The Fennekin and Zubat looked at him disapprovingly. He whispered the phrase again which went down a lot better.
"He's my brother and, unlike me, he will eat you on sight."
"Yikes," the Fennekin said, looking at Zubat. Squirtle had only heard stories about Crobat but never imagined that such a foul Pokémon could ever exist. For everything the Zubat's had done chances were Crobat had done something ten time worse. Rumour had it that once a flock of Mareep had found themselves lost in the cave (not dissimilarly to Squirtle) and Crobat had eaten them all one-by-one. Squirtle had vowed never to be as stupid as to stroll into a similar situation.
"Do you know a way that isn't blocked?" asked Squirtle.
"Yep just follow me!" replied Zubat, gliding off down a pitch black passage that Squirtle hadn't even noticed before. Squirtle looked at the Fennekin who nodded back at him. It certainly was their best chance at survival.
The path that Zubat showed them made the path they followed earlier look relatively straight forward and flat. Squirtle thought there would be no end to the constant dipping and rising. Sharp crystals jutted out from the walls meaning that as well as navigate the lumps and bumps they had to weave through all the sharp edges. The walls slowly got narrower and narrower as they got further and further in.
"What are your names by the way?" asked Zubat in an attempt to break the awkward silence.
"Squirtle!" said Squirtle brightly. The Fennekin and Zubat were slowly getting annoyed by his overly can-do attitude.
"Sylvie," said the Fennekin.
"Sylvie? Isn't that a strange name?"
"Believe me, it's not meant for Pokémon." There was yet another awkward silence that wasn't caused by Squirtle making a stark comment for a change. They continued like this until they reached a pool of light. From there Zubat started fly up the hole that lead to the surface completely forgetting that his companions didn't have wings. Sylvie rolled her eyes at the seemingly never ending string of obstacles. Being always prepared Squirtle whipped out an escape rope and threw it up the shaft. It latched onto the ground above them and, Sylvie clinging onto him for dear life, Squirtle began to climb the rope up to the distant light that slowly grew larger and larger still.
"Thank you… so much," mumbled Sylvie as they hauled themselves up. "I'll stick around until I can make it up to you. I promise."