Beneath canopies of leaf and storm cloud, a Cyndaquil scurried along a worn forest path. He was alone.
Another old tree was struck by a bolt of lightning just off the forest trail. Two Taillow and a Pidgey tumbled down from the branches. Their wings twitched from the electric current, and they made small noises in their throats. A Pidgeotto flew out of the same tree with a squawk of surprise and jerky wing flaps.
The Cyndaquil scampered along the middle of the path. Due to the commotion and panic, he no longer knew how close he was to the wood's edge. Not too far, at any rate. Surely just a minute or two further. Karprest was close, so tantalizingly close after days on the road. He just had to endure the insanity of this forest and he'd finally be there.
A bend in the path. Ten steps ahead and off to the side, two Patrat were standing bolt upright by a tunnel beneath a surface root, heads rapidly swiveling to take in the forest's chaotic state. A third Patrat emerged from the tunnel as the Cyndaquil watched. One of them spotted him. Its tail-tip twitched, and the other two immediately pierced the Cyndaquil with their gazes.
"Oh no, oh no. No, no, no," the Cyndaquil squeaked as his steps slowed. Another lightning bolt struck nearby but out of sight, throwing a flash of shadows upon the scene. All four Pokémon started as a blast of thunder followed. Then the Patrat dashed at the Cyndaquil.
He gasped in a loud breath and continued along the path as fast as his four limbs would move. The first Patrat aimed an intercepting tackle, so the Cyndaquil planted his forelimbs and skidded to a messy stop. The Patrat grunted for the expected impact as it hurtled off the path and into a leafy bush.
The Cyndaquil started forward again, eying a thick tree root that draped over the path. The two pursuing Patrat weren't four steps behind. Their quick breathing sounded born of fear, not anger. The unnatural storm was the source of not only their fear, but of all the pandemonium in the forest. Where did the thick storm clouds come from? No way they could have formed so quickly, but the Cyndaquil had seen them with his own eyes. The clear blue skies had been transformed within half an hour. And why was there no rain? A thunderstorm without rain was like a Farfetch'd without its stalk.
He ran to the root, pressed his forelimbs and legs against the textured bark, and launched himself up, hoping the Patrat would be unable to stop themselves from running right underneath him. He smiled triumphantly, soaring five feet above the dirt, as he heard their dismayed growls. Then a furry head slammed into his belly. All of the Cyndaquil's balance and orientation was lost as he whirled through the air.
His back crashed into a tree, and he fell to the ground. Immediately, the Cyndaquil scrambled to his feet, located the path, and began to run to it. The Patrat's hit was a good one, but the Cyndaquil wasn't a baby anymore. He chanced a glance over his shoulder. The two Patrat were there, just past the thick root, but it seemed like they may not be chasing him anymore. Their aggressive instincts would dwindle once he left the vicinity of their home. The Cyndaquil would have sighed in relief if he wasn't panting. He was on this journey to become stronger, in part, but being attacked was just so unnerving. Why couldn't Pokémon become stronger by, say, thinking ferocious thoughts? Life wouldn't have to be so demanding. He wouldn't have to be on this stupid path in the first place.
Focusing his attention ahead once more, the Cyndaquil spotted a Caterpie crawling frantically back and forth on a tree branch above the path, raising its head and swinging it around every now and then anxiously. Another lightning bolt, another roar of thunder. As if on cue, a pair of Rattata darted into view far ahead, apparently seeking cover from the rainless thunderstorm. The Rattata ran along the dirt path toward him, just as the Caterpie noticed him and gurgled a wild cry of attack.
The Cyndaquil groaned.
Off the path to his left, there was a clearing in the trees filled with tall grasses. Maybe he could lose them there. He veered off the path and ran headfirst into the grasses, hoping that he could make it out of the forest in one piece.
Grass blades meeting in a breeze. That tranquil sound was the first he heard. The sound came and went, like the breeze that delivered it. Judging by the origin of the sound, he was nearly surrounded by grasses rising high above him. All brushing against one another in the breeze. Although, the breeze sounded more like gusts of wind. Felt like them too. So he opened his eyes.
Yes, he was correct. Grass on all sides. The wild kind that grew where other plants did not. The grass was, on the whole, a healthy pale green. Rainfall must be common in this area. And it was so tall. It was the tallest grass he'd ever seen. There were trees, too. Tall, tall trees. The treetops rivaled the sky's gray clouds in their height. Why was everything so big around here? Or maybe...he was just small? Hm.
The world seemed distant to him. Like he was free to observe it at his leisure, and nothing would befall him. But he caught the feeling beginning to fade, just as he first became aware of it. He was in a forest, of course. The trees and other vegetation had clued him in. The sky was thick with dark clouds. A bolt of lightning flashed far away. A couple of breaths later, its sound rolled over him, borne on a gust of the storm's wind. The forest was dim from the clouds, but still well lit, meaning it must be daytime.
His body, still feeling rather distant from his awareness, felt like it was slumped on the ground in a sitting position. With a bit of effort, he rolled his head back, struck it softly against bark. He was propped up against a tree, as if the hand of some gentle giant had placed him there to rest. High above, broad green leaves shook in the wind on the tree's branches. They would protect him from the storm's rain. He peered over the grasses' tips and away from his tree's protection. But he could make out no curtain of rain. Strange, that.
What was he doing here, anyway? That feeling of detachment was quickly vanishing. Why was he alone in a forest filled with humongous plants? He leaned forward to get to his feet. His body felt alien to him as he did so. More compact, less lanky. And his center of gravity was off. He almost fell down, but caught himself with a well-placed foot. The dirt felt slightly moist, and cool. So he must be barefoot. He glanced down.
On the ground where his foot should have been was a strange appendage. It had taut blue skin, three splayed toes tipped with short claws, and vanished above the knee into a shell covered in the front with tan scutes. He stared at it. Bits of loose dirt peeked out between the toes. Then he recoiled in surprise, because the foreign leg was where his leg should have been. The short blue leg followed. He half-hopped, half-fell backward, trying to escape. His fall ended earlier than he expected as he collided with the tree, and his back made a sound that wasn't a THUD, but a TOK, a sound similar to two small stones being clanked together.
"Agh! What is this? Why is my leg a Squirtle leg? My chest is..." He patted his chest, felt warm and smooth scutes underneath his hands. "It's a shell!" Then he looked at his hands. They resembled his feet; his hands, too, had three short digits ending in pointy claws. "My hands...they're...what's happened to me?"
Turning his head, he studied what he could see of his back, now a smooth shell composed of large brown scutes. But then his eyes noticed something behind him that was blue like his skin and just above ground level. Was that...? He focused, tried to sense every inch of his body. And tensed some new muscles. The blue limb twitched. It was a tail.
He screamed. The new body was too much. His arms and legs were stubby and his torso was hard as a rock. Worse, he had claws. Claws. And five limbs. He was discovering new and distasteful sensations by the second. Why was he a Squirtle? How was he a Squirtle? Where was he? His screams were mostly contained by the waving grasses around him that grew to be twice his height. They echoed back upon him, encouraging the pounding within his skull and his racing heart. He clenched his eyes shut, trying to sort out the disturbing messages of his new body.
A new sound reached him. Not booming thunder, wind through grass, or the tapping of his shell. It was coming from beyond the grasses' edge, and it was coming fast. A harsh rustling, the sound of grass being roughly parted or broken as someone or something rushed through it. Any second the source of the noise would burst into his bubble, the area clear of grass at the base of his tree.
His body tensed, seemed to want to get low to the ground. Get on all fours, get stable. Preposterous, he thought, and pivoted his strange body toward the sound. And promptly fell onto his back. Due to his shell, his weight just wasn't where he thought it would be. Turning quickly threw too much weight outward, toppling him. He rocked back and forth on his back, flailing his extremities to right himself. But the chaotic movement did nothing but stabilize his position just where he didn't want to be. Despite his predicament, he couldn't help but smile wryly.
I'd always heard of Squirtle getting stuck on their backs, especially younger ones, he thought, but I didn't believe it really happened until now.
The grasses shook and bent. A Pokémon the same size as him shot out of the grass and right into the Squirtle. It caught his outstretched leg and spun him around like a top.
"Waaaah!" he cried as the world revolved around him.
The newcomer gave a cry of its own as it tumbled into the tree-trunk and fell onto its side. It looked like a Cyndaquil.
"Urgh...I've had enough of trees for a lifetime." It spoke in a quiet male voice. Yet the voice was animated, and emphatic, in spite of its softness.
Once the Cyndaquil had recovered, he quickly reached out his forelimbs to stop the Squirtle's spin, and pulled him to his feet.
"Sorry, sorry! I didn't think there was anyone here, and I've been running, so I wasn't looking, and..." he tilted his head. "Hey...you're a Squirtle. Which means you're not from around here. I haven't seen any ponds or lakes nearby. So...you've got to be a traveler, like me!"
The crinkles that were his eyes crinkled even further, and the spiky flames on his back flared incrementally larger for a moment. It was hard to tell with certainty because of the Cyndaquil's long snout, but the Squirtle guessed that he was smiling.
But far more importantly, the Cyndaquil was talking. It wasn't squeaking, growling, or hissing. It was speaking intelligently. All the Squirtle could do was stare, eyes wide, at this anomaly. A talking Cyndaquil? It was unheard of.
"You don't look well, Squirtle." His voice was concerned, now. "What's wrong? Oh, did you get in a tough battle with the Pokémon here? You don't look beaten up..."
"You," he began, then cleared his throat and began again. "You're a talking Cyndaquil. You're speaking! That's incredible!"
In response, the Cyndaquil dropped to all fours and headbutted the Squirtle lightly. He stumbled back a couple of steps, but managed to stay balanced for once. "Hey, stop!" Why did the Cyndaquil do that?
"Come on, snap out of it." The Cyndaquil was striding forward, apparently trying to give him another shove. "Never heard of a Confused Pokémon talking nonsense, but I don't know much about Confusion to begin with."
The Squirtle danced away, beginning to get a feel for his balance and weight. "Stop, stop! I'm not Confused, I'm just surprised!"
He stopped. "Why would you be surprised? Everyone..." He froze. No part of him moved except the silent flames on his back. His head turned away. Had he heard something?
A flash of lightning broke the Cyndaquil out of his reverie. His voice was even quieter than before. "We need to get out of here. I think those two Rattata are coming, maybe others." He turned his head around, looking at the waving grasses and thick tree-trunk that surrounded them. "Do you know the way out of the forest, Squirtle?"
"No," he answered slowly. He couldn't hear anything. Nothing was amiss. "I don't even know-"
"No time!" hissed the Cyndaquil. "I'm sorry, but we have to go now. Trust me!" He bounded on all fours to the edge of the grass.
The Squirtle stood by the tree, uncertainly. Was he being tricked? Manipulated, for some purpose? He could neither hear nor see any other Pokémon coming. Granted, he wasn't used to the senses of a Squirtle, and maybe the Cyndaquil had sharper hearing, but the situation seemed set up. Convenient that the Cyndaquil had bumped into him, then immediately asked him to come along to who knows where. The odds that the Cyndaquil had fortuitously stumbled upon him just in time to lead him away from some danger were ludicrously low.
Logically, too, the Cyndaquil's actions did not make sense. The Cyndaquil had nothing obvious to gain from the Squirtle's company. He'd just proven to the Cyndaquil how "Confused" he was, how unaware of what was normal and what was unnatural. Why should the Cyndaquil risk his own welfare to protect some baggage like him?
"Aren't you coming? It's dangerous here." The Cyndaquil looked back with one forelimb raised and ready to step into the tall grass. Reading the Cyndaquil's facial expression was like trying to make sense of a cloud formation. It could be anything. His eyes, if they were even open, were hidden behind wrinkles of fine fur, and reading into the snout and mouth position was completely foreign to the Squirtle. What were his intentions? Did he mean well? Was he showing kindness, and for a total stranger? Or were his intentions malevolent, but hidden behind an innocent facade? There was no time to sit back and reason out the solution. No time to decide what to believe. But...
"Yes. Yes, I'm coming." Given the circumstances, the Squirtle thought it best to follow the Cyndaquil. Better to travel with someone who had a chance of being genuine than to fend for himself in the middle of an unknown forest. Something else pushed him to say yes, too. His gut instinct, or perhaps the body he was inhabiting. It wanted to go with the Cyndaquil. This gut feeling was certainly something he should not become accustomed to trusting, but it was alright in this case. He had nothing else to go on.
The Squirtle tried to jog forward on his two new legs, but ended up almost waddling instead. Movement was going to be awkward for a while. Side by side with the Cyndaquil, he prepared to push through the grasses. The vegetation was so thick that he could barely see five arm-lengths into it.
His companion took a deep breath and muttered, "We can do this."
The Squirtle was unsure whether or not the Cyndaquil was addressing him, or just steeling himself. He replied, just in case. "Right, no problem."
Together, the Squirtle and Cyndaquil stepped forward.
The two Pokémon pushed through the brush. In seconds, they could see nothing but grass every which way. Like swimming in cloudy water, any direction was as good as the other. Initially, the Squirtle stayed close to the Cyndaquil, allowing his companion a slight lead. But he fell behind quickly. His steps were small, like his new legs, and he still felt uncoordinated. The Cyndaquil seemed to take the Squirtle's falling behind to mean that he should lead, and took on the brunt of the trail-blazing without complaint.
The only sounds the pair made were from their bodies brushing past the sturdy grass. The Squirtle was surprised to realize he had not begun panting. Yet this was hard work. He used his arms to push past the grass on either side of him, and his legs to step around or push through the tall blades that were in his way. He was exerting himself, no doubt. But his body was barely more tired than when the two had first started out. The Squirtle did not relish the physical challenge of pushing through the brush. He merely found his new body's energy to be interesting. Were all Pokémon this strong? Maybe he was an exceptionally fit Squirtle. Then again, the Cyndaquil did not seem to be tiring either.
Deprived of sights and sounds besides the grass, the Squirtle's thoughts turned inward. So many questions had been forming in his mind. And some over-arching worry nagged at him like an itchy patch of skin. No time for thinking though. Remaining focused on the here and now was essential to staying safe. The Squirtle did his best to store the questions away in his mind for later.
This time, the Squirtle heard the Rattata, if that is what they were. Loud rustlings in the grass, coming from somewhere behind them. The Squirtle and Cyndaquil's passage was far from silent, which would give away their location to any Pokémon in the vicinity.
"I hope we'll end up closer to the edge of the forest, and not deeper in it," the Cyndaquil muttered as he quickened his pace. The relative dimness of the tall grass lessened as the grass thinned out. They were leaving the grass cover. But they had to keep moving, or whatever was chasing them would catch up in a matter of seconds.
With an accompanying blast of thunder, they were out of the grass. The winds were stronger here. The Squirtle could only imagine what the storm's force would be like outside of the shelter of the forest. Although storm winds swept through the forest, the Squirtle was correct in his earlier observation: no rain fell. Tall trees bearing broad leaves grew in plenty, but even their cover would not be able to block out all rainfall. The air did not feel or smell moist, either. It could not be raining, not without that damp in the air. The Squirtle knew next to nothing about this forest or the local weather patterns, but surely a violent thunderstorm that completely lacked any rain was remarkably strange. Especially considering the region ordinarily saw frequent rainfall, as evidenced by the flourishing plant life. He resolved to ask the Cyndaquil about it.
"What luck! There's the path!" The Cyndaquil said in his softly energetic voice. He raised his forelimb and pointed to a dirt path that meandered around trees, bushes, and slopes. Surface roots from the older and larger trees lay across the path at a few points, as if the trees themselves were raising their arms to protect the delicate path from harm. The pair headed towards it.
A Butterfree fluttered into view up ahead just as two Rattata emerged from the brush behind them. The Squirtle spun around, once again feeling a bodily urge to drop to all fours and do something about the Rattata. But he stood on his two legs and quickly sized up the Rattata. Their bright red eyes contrasted sharply with the purple of their fur. Each one's tail was rigid and upright, and each looked hyper-alert. They were frightened, and agitated, at least as much as the Squirtle.
One of them shouted to the Cyndaquil and Squirtle in a high-pitched squeak, "Get out, get out!" Then the two Rattata started toward them, aggressively.
"What do we do, what do we do?!" whispered the Squirtle frantically at the same time that the Cyndaquil cried, "Run, let's go!"
The pair fled from the Rattata, and were soon hurrying along the path. Questions burst into the Squirtle's mind one after the other, in rapid succession. Why are the Pokémon attacking us? Can't we just talk to them? What if they catch me? How do I protect myself? Can I fight? Can you fight? But there was no time to talk, no time to even think about anything other than running.
The first tree root covering the path was not an issue. The Cyndaquil leaped it one bound. The Squirtle swung his legs over on the right while pressing against it with his left hand. A sloppy maneuver, but his coordination was improving. He heard no claws scraping against bark behind him, so the Rattata must have jumped it easily. They were evidently pursuing though. The sound of fast breathing was gaining. The Squirtle's speed was no match for that of either the Rattata or the Cyndaquil. Why were they chasing the Squirtle and Cyndaquil; what had they done? How long would they chase?
Meanwhile, the Butterfree had taken to flapping up above them, over the path, and traveling the same direction. The path was clear of trees, so the air was likewise empty for the Butterfree to fly through. Every few seconds, a gust of wind would roll through the forest. The Butterfree's wing-beats were forceful and irregular as it tried to adapt to the wild winds. It glanced down, and appeared to first notice the commotion and chase happening only ten feet below it. Its course abruptly changed and it veered away. But as it did so, the Butterfree gave a shrill cry and its whole body shuddered. A dense cloud of yellow-green powder poured out of its body from near the base of the wings. The wind quickly scattered the cloud into a descending blanket.
"Run, just run!" the Cyndaquil shouted. The Squirtle ran. He heard the two Rattata squeak, and chanced a glance back. The Rattata were off the path, running for the cover of the nearest tree's branches as the powder descended. Again, the Squirtle marveled at how large the trees were from his new perspective.
The next root was an especially thick one, and neither would be able to circumvent it before the powder landed. The Cyndaquil jumped and swiftly scrambled over the root and out of sight. The Squirtle, breathing hard now from the chase, gathered his strength and leaped. Surprising himself, he managed to land all four limbs most of the way up the root. The recoil from the impact threatened to make him fall backward, so before he knew consciously what he was doing, he had curled his fingers and toes to dig his short claws into the bark for purchase. And froze. How very bestial that was. Digging his claws in like that. Only a Pokémon would even think of doing that.
He hung there for a couple of seconds, his face surprised with a hint of disgust. He wasn't a Pokémon! The action felt natural, and the claws worked very well. But thinking about it made him feel profane, like he'd said something taboo in front of a crowd.
"Squirtle!" he heard the Cyndaquil call from beyond the thick root. He glanced up. The colorful powder had arrived. This root marked the edge of the blanket, where the powder thinned away into nothing, but even so there was no escape from it. With one last effort, the Squirtle scrambled over the root and landed roughly on the dirt path. He could feel little particles settling on his skin and shell as he did so. Once he was safely on the ground, the Squirtle examined his arms and legs. The yellow-green powder was fading as he watched. He peered closely. No, not fading. The dots of color were being absorbed. He tried to brush them off, but the powder was already strongly adhered to him. In a moment it had all been absorbed by his skin and shell.
"I don't know what that was, but only a little bit landed on you, Squirtle. Let's go, the exit is right there!" The Cyndaquil pointed his forelimb along the path. Sure enough, the path led to an opening in the trees. Beyond that point, it seemed brighter and more spacious.
"Are you okay to move? Not feeling strange?"
"I'm alright," he said, but knew right after that he was not. "Wait." A tingling, as of electric current, was spreading swiftly through his body. His leg felt rigid as he tried to step forward with the Cyndaquil. The muscles were tight, almost locked. He could not move! Abruptly he was aware of his heartbeat as panic began to set in.
"Uh-oh. That Butterfree must have released...what do you call it? My mother mentioned it once. They're spores, or something like that."
"How do you...stop it?" the Squirtle grated out as even his jaw tightened slightly.
"Oh!" The Cyndaquil rose up on his legs and studied the nearby bushes. "These red berries, Cheri Berries, they've got something in them that reverses Paralysis. But...I can't see any. Krow's luck. None growing around here. Sorry, Squirtle."
The Squirtle couldn't help but wonder why the Cyndaquil, whom he had just met, was sticking around for him when safety was finally within reach. "Thanks, but never mind. How long does it last?" he said. With great physical effort, he could walk slowly forward. He could not have managed a more unnatural stride even if he had tried before the powder had struck.
"I'm not sure. I was Paralyzed once; this Mareep was drinking from the stream near..." he stopped himself. "Sorry. What I mean is it never lasts long - maybe a minute? A minute and a half?" Something behind the Squirtle caught his attention, but the Squirtle could not easily turn his head to see.
"What is it?" the Squirtle asked.
"That Paras has the wild in its eyes. It'll attack for sure. Urgh, fantastic." He was silent for a second. The Squirtle could not decipher his expression. "We have to go. But...but you're Paralyzed!" He groaned quietly.
Now the Squirtle felt embarrassed. This Cyndaquil was too much. Why was his companion showing such consideration for him? He'd done nothing but slow them down. He was worse than helpful. So he wasn't about to let the Cyndaquil fall in harm's way if he could help it.
"Go, just go. Don't wait for me. I'll...I'll catch up." The unpleasant tingling was lessening by the second, in fact, but he felt he would not be able to move at his previous pace for a good minute.
"What, no! We've almost made it out. I'm not going to just...just leave you here, okay?" He hesitated, searching for words. "I'm not good at motivating, riling Pokémon up – any of that. But...well, we're getting you out of here, alright?"
The Squirtle wasn't sure what to say to that. He was afraid to say "Thank you," because that would be accepting the Cyndaquil's offer. And allowing the Cyndaquil to remain in this dangerous forest for him was embarrassing. The thought made him feel guilty. So he said nothing, and focused on fighting his unruly body. His gait was becoming smoother, less twitchy.
"No!" the Cyndaquil yelped. "Here it comes!"
Desperately, the Squirtle said, "Can't you breathe fire, or shoot it from your back? You're on fire after all!"
"Erm...yes, I can. I mean, probably. But...not here." He backed up on all fours next to the struggling Squirtle, presumably facing the Paras.
As hope seemed lost, the effects of the Paralysis rapidly began to diminish. With a spasm, the Squirtle regained almost full control of his muscles. Recalling what the Cyndaquil had said, he attributed the short duration to the low amount of exposure he had received.
"Okay!" he said triumphantly, and pushed onward. The Cyndaquil spun back to face the exit and ran along beside him.
The Squirtle could vaguely tell that yet again, a Pokémon was giving chase, but only for a few seconds. Compared to his Paralyzed state, he felt like the wind. In no time, the Cyndaquil and Squirtle were leaving the forest. They scrambled over one more root as another thunderclap sounded, continued past a frightened and distracted Ledyba, breezed by the last few trees at the forest's edge, and left the forest behind.
The Cyndaquil and the Squirtle slowed their flight and finally stopped. Standing still at last, they caught their breath. Squirtle checked behind them. No Pokémon were in pursuit. They were safe. Facing away from the forest, he observed the scenery.
"Wow," the Cyndaquil remarked. "Beautiful! Isn't it?"