Chapter 24 - Parting Gift

Roxy stared at Taka, blinking a few times but not saying anything. Her jaw hung open just slightly. Finally, after Taka started raising an eyebrow at her odd reaction, she gave her head a little shake. "I'm sorry…What?"

Taka gave her an odd look. "I said 'We leave tonight.'"

"Y…Are you serious? It's…already 'tonight'!"

"Be there in 15 minutes or I might leave without you."

Roxy's eyes grew wider. "You…I- Y-you really mean…now? As in right now? We're…leaving?"

Taka nodded.

She felt her head spin just a little. "You're not kidding? You really want to leave with me…right now?"

"…Yes," Taka said, giving her an odd look, "How many times must I repeat myself?"

"But- The wise ones said it was okay?"

Taka shook his head. "No," he added, "I would suggest you take care that nobody sees you."

"But…Are we ready? What about my Electric attacks? I still can't do very much!"

"What skills you have and what skills I already possess will be enough."

Roxy gaped for a minute as she drank all of this information in. "You- So…" she muttered, trying and failing to form a sentence. She glanced off at the deepening sunset, and then turned around and looked the other way, in the direction of the village.

"…Oh," was what she finally settled on saying.

"Indeed. Grab a spear, and another weapon if you can handle one. In my hut there is a satchel you can take, and-"

"So you're doing it again?"

Upon being interrupted, Taka furrowed his brow at her. "Doing what?"

"You're leaving again," she said, a hint of sadness in her voice, "Just like last time, you're gonna leave the clan in the middle of the night without telling anybody."

He didn't answer right away. He shifted his jaw wordlessly for a few seconds before saying, "It is indeed 'just like last time'. They do not want me to go, and nothing is going to change their minds. They will stop me- stop us if they can, so we have to leave now."

Roxy slumped a little. She remembered hearing from Makari, Miri and many others how heartbroken and worried they had been when Taka had left last time. They had all felt abandoned by him. They had felt betrayed. So much animosity was still festering in the backs of their minds, and now Taka wanted to do it all over again.

"You want me to leave without saying goodbye to anyone…"

Taka sighed. "It is necessary. Word spreads quickly through the tribe."

Roxy squirmed a little, feeling conflicted. Hearing that she was finally, truly ready to go home should have filled her with unimaginable joy, but knowing that Taka was about to just run off into the night again sullied that joy. The fact that she had to do the same thing didn't help matters.

Makari had seemed so sad when he spoke of Taka's leaving, and Roxy couldn't blame him. She tried to imagine what she would feel like if her master just left in the middle of the night with no explanation. It was a terrible thing to do, especially to those one would consider friends and even loved ones. Taka wasn't the most popular member of the tribe, but everybody here still cared a lot about him. Roxy remembered the worry that had spread when Taka had disappeared following Makari's passing.

She could also see from the perspective of the wise ones. Taka was a valuable asset to the tribe, one way or another. He was an exceptional fighter, and she had always overheard praise for his performance on patrol duty. When the Earth Tribe had invaded, Taka had been the bravest one out of the whole tribe, marching right up to Tazoka and standing his ground. With Makari gone, Taka's skills would be even more needed.

At the same time, though, Roxy wondered if there really was a choice in the matter. It was true that it didn't seem like the wise ones' minds would be changed. They didn't want Taka to leave, so Taka wasn't going to leave unless he did sneak out. No-one else was willing to take her to the forest's edge, so she would have to sneak out with him. As upsetting as it seemed, it looked like her only option.

Yet, Roxy wondered if she could really bring herself to do that. Letting Taka run away was one thing, but doing it herself was something else entirely. She thought about all of the close friends she had made in this tribe. At this point, she probably had as many friends in the tribe as she did out of the tribe! If push came to shove, could she really make herself just abandon all of them without saying goodbye? To just cut off that many friendships, never to mend them again? What about well-wishes and words of advice? What about promises she had made?

Roxy slowly turned to look at Taka. She was silent for a moment, and then spoke her answer. "No."

Taka appeared utterly befuddled. "…Excuse me? What do you mean, 'no'?"

"No," she repeated, and then clarified, "I can't leave tonight just like that."

"And why not?" Taka barked back, growing a little testy, "Is this not what you wanted all this time?"

"It is…" she spoke softly, "But I can't." She then glanced away and paused for a moment, before a little smile tugged at her lips. "I can't go yet," she said, "I promised Adikai."

She could almost hear the gear slip in Taka's head. "What? Adikai…?"

"I promised I'd be there when Adikai got his name," she explained.

"…You're kidding," Taka deadpanned.

Roxy chuckled softly and then sighed. Taka wasn't wrong. She did want to go home more than anything in the world, and even though some paths would be hurtful to take she wouldn't balk at taking any of them. She had been waiting, hoping, and begging for this chance to come and now it was finally here. This was finally her chance to leave.

But, even though this was what she had hoped for, it didn't feel right. She had friends here, now. Friends much closer than even some Pokémon she knew back home. She had Pokémon here she cared about, and Pokémon here who cared about her.

Taka grunted in exasperation. "That is the Marking Ceremony…" he muttered, "That's still seven days away."

Roxy wore a bittersweet smile as she nodded. One more week couldn't hurt.

A period of uncomfortable silence passed between the two. Roxy had no doubt that Taka had already mentally and physically prepared himself on the belief that he would be setting out in a few minutes, rather than a few days. There was a tiny little fear in the back of her mind that, because she wasn't playing ball, he would just leave without her. She quashed that fear, though. She knew Taka enough to know more than that, right?

"…Fine," Taka grumbled.

Roxy smiled gratefully. "Thank you."

"We leave immediately after the ceremony. Not a day more."


There was another pause, and then Taka continued in a more serious tone. "You realize, of course, that this changes nothing else. We are still leaving in the middle of the night, and you are still telling no-one about this."

Roxy glanced at the sunset for a moment, and then heaved a heavy sigh before turning to look at him once more. "If we have to…" she said in a dismayed voice, "…then I will."

"Good," Taka said with a nod, "And, yes, we have to. Unless, through some miracle, the wise ones change their minds in the coming seven days, they will not allow us to leave and so we must leave without their knowing."

Roxy shook her head sadly. "I don't like it…I hate it…" She sighed once more. "…but I'll do anything to get home."

"Very well," Taka said as he shrugged. Then, without another word, he leapt down from the branch and climbed back down to the ground.

Roxy leaned against the tree's trunk and heaved an empty sigh. There was an ache in her heart, and it felt like it was sapping away all of her strength. She really didn't want to abandon any of the friends she'd made here. She would always choose going home over staying with them, of course, but she would want to see them all off with smiles, hugs and goodbyes.

Instead, it would be just her and Taka sneaking off into the night, leaving behind everybody to wonder what had happened to them. Some would be angry and some would be very upset, heartbroken even. Roxy considered leaving behind a note saying goodbye to them, but tossed that idea when she remembered that none of them would be able to read it.

She glanced up at the sun, nearly disappeared behind the horizon, and wondered to herself why things had to be like this. A moment later, though, a small smile tugged at her lips.

'Okay, correction…' she thought to herself, 'It will be just me, Taka and Makari sneaking off into the night…' Her eyes drifted higher up into the sky, looking for a pair of loving eyes looking back that she would never see.

It was a strange week.

To all outward appearances, it would seem like a very normal week to anyone in the tribe, Roxy or otherwise. To her, though, the looming thought that she was about to leave without any pomp or circumstance made even the simplest interactions feel strange. Roxy tried her best to act normal, but constantly felt self-conscious about herself and feared she was giving away their secret.

It was tough, though. She would often wonder if asking another villager for a piece of fruit would be the last time she ever spoke to that Pokémon in her whole life. How could one act normal with thoughts like that in one's head?

Roxy wanted to spend most of her time training so as to keep her mind off of things, but she also wanted to spend as much time as she could with all of these Pokémon she would soon be leaving behind. It left her quite conflicted, and more than once she was asked by someone else if she was feeling all right.

Outside of her own muddled little head, though, it was a perfectly normal week for the village. Nothing of note happened, good or bad, and everybody simply went about their days. Roxy tried her best to go with the flow.

Every time she was hanging out with Miri, she wanted so badly to tell her. She wanted to share her secret, knowing full well she could trust the Audino, just so that they could have a proper goodbye. Aside from Makari, Miri was the one she had grown the closest to. The most she could do, though, was say farewell to her each time with a warm hug. It was a good thing Miri loved hugs and didn't mind one bit.

Before Roxy knew it, seven days had passed. The sun was setting, and the others were setting up the Marking Ceremony. She found herself sitting on a log in a sort of trance. The day of her departure had arrived so suddenly, she almost couldn't believe it. She had been physically and mentally preparing herself for this day as much as she could, and yet she didn't feel prepared one bit. There was excitement bubbling in the pit of her stomach, fear of the dangers they would face gripping her heart, and dismay in her soul at what she was about to do to everybody.

Before she got too agitated, Roxy took a deep breath and reminded herself that all of that would come later. Now, it was time for a festival.

Taka was off helping with set-up, and Roxy wasn't at all sure why he agreed to do so considering that he was about to leave, so Roxy found a seat next to Miri. Roxy tried to strike up friendly conversations, but couldn't shake the feeling that the Audino would soon be simply gone from her life.

The sun set, and soon it was only the light of the torches keeping the darkness of night at bay. The drums were pounded and the ceremony was begun. Karizu addressed the crowd, as he usually did, and soon enough those who were being honoured were called up.

Roxy smiled and waved at the very excited-looking Adikai. Interestingly, there were eight Pokémon on the stage, but seven of them were Pikachu. Adikai was the odd 'mon out, as it were. He was also last in line. Two of the other Pikachu looked like they had just recently evolved, while the others were full grown adults.

The first Pikachu was called up and the true part of the ceremony started. He was fed the same spoken words that every Marking Ceremony featured, he accepted, and then Natoka applied the green paint. This Pikachu got one of his ears painted entirely green, much to Roxy's surprise. Miri leaned over and explained that it represented an astute ability to climb and hang off of branches. Roxy tried to make the connection between the mark and its meaning in her head, only for her head to start hurting.

Roxy watched the ceremony unfold, getting quite invested in it. Simply being here with nearly everybody in the tribe all gathered at once, celebrating the accomplishments of her tribemates, was something that really made her happy. That bittersweet feeling that came with the thought of leaving lost a bit of its sting as she sat there, applauding wildly once someone received their brand new mark.

One Pokémon was missing, though. Roxy glanced up at the stars.

While the last Pikachu before Adikai was getting his mark applied, Roxy glanced down at her own. Her eyes fell upon the swirls on her forelimb and the swish shape on her upper hip. She still sometimes forgot that they were even there, because it was so unbelievable that she had actually received them. Makari had told her that the paint was not permanent, but it did last a long time. This was a reminder that would stay with her long after she had made it home, if she had to guess.


Roxy glanced up with a start, and then grinned and applauded as the Shinx excitedly bounded forward. He sat down before the Raichu, trying his best to look dignified, but the star-struck look in his eyes and the goofy grin on his face put somewhat of a damper on that attempt.

"It is with great honour, responsibility, and congratulations…" Karizu spoke, "that we recognize your abilities and welcome you as a full-fledged member of this clan. We are all very proud to bestow upon you…your very first mark."

Natoka stepped forward, his paw dripping with green paint, and Roxy could see the Shinx focusing really hard on staying still. Natoka's paw moved as gracefully as a paintbrush, leaving two wavy lines of green across Adikai's chest. Roxy remembered him talking about getting good at pouncing, and wondered if the mark had anything to do with stealth.

"We believe," Karizu continued, "that you will accomplish great things. Congratulations, young one… From now on, we shall call you by your true name." After a dramatic pause, he announced, "Taki!"

The Shinx whooped with joy, then remembered himself and sat back down. He bowed his head to both Raichu in thanks, and then faced the applauding crowd. Roxy wasn't sure of the last time she had seen someone smile that brightly.

"Taki…" Miri mused softly next to her, "Yes, quite fitting." Upon Roxy's curious gaze, Miri clarified, "It means 'silent and nimble'."

"Ha!" Roxy couldn't help but laugh. "That little bundle of energy? He loves to make noise."

"Mmhmm, but have you seen him in practice?" Miri replied with a sidelong glance, "When it comes to combat or stealth, he becomes like an entirely different Shinx."

Roxy glanced up as the ceremony was concluded, and Karizu invited everyone to start dancing. She smiled and watched as most of the gathered Pokémon began to dance to the beat of the drums while the bonfire burned in the background. She didn't join in at first, and was just happy to remain on the sidelines.

It was Miri who convinced her to get up and join the fun. She found, rather inexplicably, that she just couldn't say no. The energy of the festival was contagious, and soon she was dancing along with all of the others with a big smile on her face. For a short but wonderful time, she forgot all about her stresses. It was just another wonderful festival.

After a few musical numbers, the dancers started to disperse with some of them continuing to dance while others moved aside to talk. Roxy was in the latter category. She had picked up a Leppa Berry from the veritable buffet that had been laid out on leaves, and was sitting there as she ate it.

The sight of so many of her friends looking so happy kept the smile on her face, but the bittersweet feeling started to return. There were so many Pokémon that she should be saying goodbye to, and she couldn't say it to any of them. She wanted to try and stay optimistic, but little by little her smile began to disappear.

That's when she was suddenly pounced from behind. "Haha!" a very happy and excited Shinx proclaimed.

"Wah!" Roxy shouted in surprise, but quickly turned to laughter when she saw who it was. "You got me!"

"Look! Look, it is my first mark!"

"I know," she said as she nodded in approval, "It looks great on you! You should be very proud of yourself, Adikai." She then held a paw up to her mouth. "Oops…I guess I need to call you 'Taki' now."

"Yes!" Taki exclaimed with a big, toothy grin, "It feels like I have been waiting forever, but now I have my own name! I love it so much!"

Roxy smiled as she gazed down at the excitable little cub. He had literally grown a couple of inches since she had first met him, and she wondered if it wouldn't be long before he evolved into a Luxio. He had smiled at her when he had first met her, without a single hesitation, even though she had been a stranger to him. His willingness to befriend her so quickly was a product of his age, but Roxy appreciated it nonetheless. She had seen him and spoken to him so many times that it would be difficult for her to remember that he wasn't called 'Adikai' anymore.

Or rather, it would be a problem if she wasn't going to leave.

Taki squeaked in surprise as Roxy suddenly scooped him up in a hug. He chuckled a little awkwardly, obviously not the biggest fan of hugs, but he hugged her back nonetheless.

"I'm proud of you," Roxy said, "You're going to become an amazing warrior for this tribe. I know you'll do your very best to protect everyone that lives here. Right?"

"Yeah!" Taki proclaimed, "Mother is going to start bringing me to the training area every day, and father tells me that I have to spar with him every full moon."

Roxy released him from the hug and sat him back down on the ground. "You're gonna be amazing. I just know it."

For a moment, Taki's exuberance seemed to die down a little bit, but his smile remained just as big. "Thank you, Roxy," he said, "I am glad that I got to meet you. It has been so much fun hearing about the human world."

"Yeah, I'm glad I met you too," Roxy said with a nod.

Taki glanced over his shoulder and saw that some of his friends were calling him over. He turned back to Roxy and gave her an apologetic sort of half smile.

Roxy giggled and waved him off. "Go on," she said, "And congratulations once again…Taki."

The Shinx nodded and gave her a wave of his paw before turning and running off.

"He is the perfect image of his father, and that is a wonderful thing."

Roxy glanced behind her to see who was talking. "Oh, Bamaka. Hello!"

The older Pikachu warrior smiled down at her. "Hello to you as well. I hope you are enjoying tonight's festivities."

"Yes! Absolutely!" She paused for a moment, holding back a sigh. "I definitely am enjoying it…"

Bamaka chuckled. "I still remember when you got your first mark. You looked so befuddled."

Roxy blushed at the slightly embarrassing memory. "Y-yeah…I didn't know what was goin' on."

"You truly have come such a long way since I, and many others, first met you. It really is remarkable, and I am not just saying that."

She paused for a moment as she looked at him, considering his words. Roxy still remembered when she had met Bamaka. He had been the first member of the tribe, aside from Makari and the wise ones, to accept her and come forth to welcome her. Among a crowd of strangers who looked at her like an alien that had dropped out of the sky, Bamaka had been the first to realize that she was just a Pikachu like they were. That willingness to accept her, even from just a single Pokémon, had meant a lot to her back then.

"It's, ah…It's been a wild ride," was all she could think of saying.

"You know…" Bamaka said, briefly gazing away in thought, "Having seen what you have managed to accomplish, I get the feeling that if life were to be unfortunate enough to force you to remain here for your entire life, you would end up doing just fine. Given enough time, you could even become a respected warrior. I fear that at times you do not give yourself enough credit."

Upon seeing the conflicted look on her face, he added, "Of course, that is merely hypothetical. I am no stranger to your goals, Roxy. Whenever the day may come, soon or not so soon, I will always wish you luck on your journey home. When that day comes that you leave us, just remember that you will have the support of every one of us."

Roxy stared up at him for a moment. "R…Really…?" she murmured.

Bamaka smiled warmly and nodded. "Of course."

A smile grew on her face as a warm feeling started to spread within her. "I…Thanks, Bamaka. That…actually means a lot to me," she said, trying to fight back tears.

"We are your friends, and we all want the best for you." Something caught his eye, and he shifted his glance to behind her. "Is that not right?"

Roxy turned around, curious as to what he was looking at, and saw a group of other Pikachu approaching her. All of them clan members she had grown close to, all of them friends. They started to join in the conversation, each one giving her the same praises and promises as Bamaka. The group even started to grow, until Roxy found herself surrounded by her friends. It made her head spin to hear such kindness from so many different Pokémon at once. She hadn't realized just how many members of the tribe had considered themselves proud of her.

Roxy was smiling wide and hugging as many of them as she could. After all, as the group around her grew, so too did the number of Pokémon she realized she wouldn't ever see again. They were all smiling and laughing and patting her on the back, and not a single one of them knew that it would be the last time they spoke to her.

She was about to excuse herself so she could go cry for a little bit, but she ended up running into Kiga and Adi. "Oh! Oh, hey," she said, and then took a moment to steady her mind.

"Greetings, young one," Kiga said to her, smiling. Adi stood next to her silently.

"Um…Congratulations to your son. You two must be very proud."

They shared a glance, and then it was Adi who spoke up. "It is a reason to be proud, yes, I suppose."

Kiga promptly whacked him in the backside with her tail.

Adi turned to glare at her, but she just had a somewhat derisive look on her face. Adi cleared his throat. "Definitely…a reason to be proud."

Roxy stifled a giggle and nodded. "I haven't had much of a chance to see him in action, unfortunately."

"Our son is learning the ways of the warrior quite well," Kiga replied, "He may not be the strongest, but his ability to sneak up on his foes undetected is quite remarkable."

"Soon, he will be standing guard on patrol," Adi added, "hiding from view, even to the most observant enemy, waiting to strike. A moment, barely a sound, and his foe drops to the ground dead."

Roxy stood there in silence for a moment, just looking at the massive Luxray. It was a strange moment to realize it, but Roxy started to consider the fact that she was having a friendly conversation with a huge Luxray. A wild, predatory Luxray. This was something she would not have even imagined when she had been back home. No Pokémon she had ever gotten to know had been any taller than Cédric the Furfrou.

She chuckled as she thought about it. Roxy had been running away from predators in the forest when she had first found this sanctuary. She remembered how she had reacted upon learning there was a predator inside as well! She could still clearly remember her first meeting with Adi and his family. She recalled how they had all sniffed her vigorously, so as to remember her scent and register her as a 'friend'.

She had really learned a lot while out here. Even basic survival in the wilderness was complicated and full of exceptions.

"I just realized," Roxy said, "I never thanked you for your help earlier, Adi."

He gave her a confused look. "Help?"

"Yeah…When you painted yourself black and tried to kill me?"

"Ah…" Adi said, and then he chuckled at the way she had phrased it. Roxy laughed right along with him.

"It really did help me prepare for…well, y'know. I think it's going to help a lot for when I go home."

He nodded. "I do not doubt it. You reacted to the presence of a predator perfectly. It may have been myself in disguise, but that matters not. Simply keep those same skills and reactions in mind, and I have no doubt that you will make it safely to the forest's edge."

Roxy blinked, not used to hearing praise from the Luxray. "Wow…Gee, uh…Thanks!"

Kiga stepped forward. "Thank you, as well, for being our son's friend," she said. Adi rolled his eyes, but she ignored him and continued. "Though some do not agree with me, I know how important it is to have fun in life. Taki really enjoyed listening to you talk and playing games with him." She paused for a moment. "Some of the other cubs hesitated to interact with him, but you were not afraid."


Kiga nodded. "Because he is a Shinx."

"Oh…?" A moment later, the realization hit her. "…Oh."

Now that she gave it some thought, she hadn't even considered the fact that Taki had been a predator. She had looked at his parents and seen predators, but not him. Roxy supposed it must have been because he was just too adorable to be one, but apparently some of the other cubs must have. A moment later, she started to think about the fact that Taki had eaten meat and was going to continue to do so.

Roxy sighed, suppressing a shiver. It was just a reminder that, no matter how many friends she had out here, no matter how well she had adjusted to life in the forest, and no matter how happy she seemed and how sad she felt to leave, she still did not belong here. There were still some aspects of life in the wild with this tribe that she looked upon with the same timid, frightened eyes she'd had when she had first arrived.

She realized she had been silent for a while, and so turned her head up to give the two a friendly smile. Even she could tell that it felt forced.

"Well," Kiga said, glancing off, "I think our son has a moment of free time. We would like to go and speak with him now."

"Yeah. Yeah, okay," Roxy said.

Kiga smiled warmly, gave a friendly nod of her head, and then began to walk off. Adi stuck around for a moment, gazing down at her with those icy eyes that he always seemed to have. It was the kind of gaze that said 'I could kill you, and yet I will never raise my voice.'

Adi then stuck out one of his paws. Roxy, to her own credit, didn't flinch. She stared at it in confusion for a while before realizing what he was doing. She reached out her own paw and placed it atop his.

"Tribemate," Adi said, bowing his head just slightly.

Roxy blinked, looking up at the creature that dwarfed her size at least ten times over, and then smiled. "Tribemate," she repeated. She could have sworn that he half-grinned, just a tiny bit and for a brief second, before he walked off.

She stood there for a moment, feeling weird. There was a sick feeling growing in her stomach, and it took her a moment to realize that it was the feeling of something imminent. It was getting really late, and Taka had told her that they needed to leave during the festival, not after it, because then more tribe members would be distracted. Roxy started to let her eyes wander across all of the Pokémon she had just shared kind words with. All of the Pokémon she was probably looking at for the last time.

She didn't see Taka anywhere, but she knew he would be nearby waiting for her. Like an aimless ghost, she found herself drifting towards the edge of the festivities, standing next to the last torch before darkness surrounded the area like a black dome. She knew she should probably take the initiative, but she really didn't want to. She wanted to spend just a few more minutes, even just a few more seconds, in the company of the Thunder Clan. She closed her eyes and let out an empty sigh. She didn't want it to be this way, and she wished there could be any other way. The desire to forget about her goals and stay with these wonderful Pokémon was so incredibly strong that it was dizzying.

It was just that her desire to go home was even stronger.

Someone tapped her on the shoulder, and Roxy felt a sinking feeling in her stomach immediately. The time had come it seemed. It was time to run away. Roxy told herself to savour those last few seconds of seeing the Thunder Clan, and then she solemnly turned around.

To both her surprise and relief, it wasn't Taka standing there. Instead, it was a warmly smiling Audino holding a Leppa Berry. "For you!" Miri said cheerfully, offering the berry to her.

"O-Oh…" Roxy gingerly reached up and took the berry from Miri.

Miri was smiling from ear to ear. "It was the last one at the food spread. I nabbed it for you because I know how much you love them."

"Really?" Once again, Roxy simply stood there for a moment and looked up into the eyes of her friend. She wanted to force herself to just smile and pretend things were normal, but her poor exhausted brain was getting overwhelmed with emotions. When Miri nodded in answer to her question, Roxy hastily bit into the berry so she could buy time.

The delectable taste of the berry almost washed away all of her worries.

Miri giggled softly. "I always like to see a smile on your face."

Roxy gulped down what was in her mouth and again looked up at Miri. She was about to open her mouth and thank her for both the berry and the compliment. Instead, though, he ended up half-collapsing forwards into a hug.

Miri stumbled slightly as she caught her. "Ah! Goodness, Roxy. You are quite welcome," she said, giggling once more.

"You're my bestest friend out here, Miri," Roxy mumbled into her fur.

"Aw, Roxy. Such sweet words…"

"I wish you could come with me when…when I leave…"

She felt Miri patting her on the head. "I know, child… While I would indeed enjoy the thrill of seeing the human world, I am needed here."

"I know…" Roxy mumbled.

"You are a strong warrior now," Miri commented, "When the time comes for you to leave, you will have no need of a silly old Audino who cannot fight. I know you will be fine."

Roxy stifled a sniffle and gave Miri a warm squeeze.

"Come now, Roxy. Eat your berry before you drop it."

Finally, Roxy released the Audino and gave her a Mareepish little grin. "Sorry…" she muttered, "It's been a…long day."

Miri put on that same, sugar-sweet smile that she always seemed to have and shook her head. "There is no need to apologize for a surprise hug. Those are my favourite, after all."

Roxy sighed softly as she stood there and faced Miri. Behind the Audino, there was nobody and nothing else except the darkness of the forest. As it stood, Miri was quite literally the last thing standing in her way from leaving. Roxy could feel every single fracture as her heart shattered into pieces.

"I'm gonna miss you when I'm gone," she spoke.

"I will as well," Miri replied, "but I will always remember you. I know that you will never forget myself, or anyone in this tribe for that matter. It has only been a couple of seasons, but many of us feel like we have known you for years."

"Y-yeah…Heh, that's a good way to put it for me too…"

Roxy then remembered the Leppa she was still holding and brought it up to take another bite. It was going to be hard to leave all of these Pokémon behind, but Miri would definitely be the hardest. She was such a kind, sweet, caring soul. Roxy couldn't bear the thought of just abandoning her and making her sad. Miri had been friendly to her since day one, and had always been there to tend to her wounds, be they wounds of the flesh or ones that cut deeper.

Roxy took one last bite of the Leppa and, fittingly enough, glanced up to take one last look at Miri. She had been something special. Roxy had felt safe when in her company, even in this frightening forest. While she was obviously going to miss Miri a lot once she left, she was also going to miss that sensation of security while traveling through the woods.

"I…don't think I ever truly thanked you for everything you've done for me," Roxy said, "So, I might as well do it now."

"Oh, there is no need to thank me for anything," Miri replied with a wave of her paw, "I only did what anyone else would have done…"

Roxy shook her head. "You did the most amazing thing, Miri. You…" Roxy trailed off and fidgeted or a moment. "…You helped me get through my most difficult moment."

"Oh, Roxy…"

"I…" A few tears started to form. "When I lost him…I…"

Then, Roxy suddenly found herself wrapped up in yet another hug. She wanted to clench her eyes shut, lay her head down, and relive those horrible moments from her past all over again. Instead, though, she managed to smile and give Miri a friendly nuzzle.

"Thanks for bein' a shoulder to cry on," Roxy mumbled.

"Of course, Roxy…Any time…"

The two continued to embrace for a while longer. Roxy felt like she didn't want to let go. She felt like once she let go, that would be the moment that she would leave everybody. After a minute or so had passed, she lifted her head and looked over Miri's shoulder.

There was Taka, standing by the trees and shrouded by the darkness. He jerked his head to the side, silently saying to her, 'Time to go.'

With a heavy heart, Roxy pulled herself away from the hug. She glanced up at Miri, and found herself at a loss for words. How does one say goodbye to someone without actually saying 'goodbye'?

It was Miri's patient, caring smile that allowed her to get over her hesitations. "Well…" she said with a regretful smile, "My, uh…I'm gonna…" She glanced to the side. "I'm gonna go to sleep now…I feel totally worn out."

It wasn't a complete lie. She was emotionally worn out.

Roxy had expected Miri to be concerned, or to try and convince her to stay for a while longer. Instead, simply nodded once and said, "Okay."

"…Okay." After saying that, now was the point when she was supposed to walk off. Roxy found that she couldn't quite do it. Something else needed to be said, right? This would be the last thing she ever said to the Thunder Clan, after all. A couple moments of indecisive hovering later, Roxy let out a sigh.

"Go and get some rest," Miri said, "It is okay, Roxy. You look tired."

Roxy half chuckled. "I am…" she murmured.

"Go on, then. The rest of us will still be here tomorrow when you wake up, safe and sound."

At first, that statement felt like a knife right in her heart as it reminded her that when she woke up, she would be gone. After a moment, though, Roxy realized that it had a second meaning. Sure, she was going to be leaving all of her friends behind, but they would still be there tomorrow and they would all be safe. The Earth Tribe was gone, Natoka knew Grass Knot, and many young cubs like Taki were soon to become the clan's new warriors.

Roxy smiled softly and nodded. "Thanks, Miri," she said, "I'll, uh…I'll see you…around…"

Miri simply nodded and stood there with that perfect smile on her face. It looked like she didn't have a care in the world, and everything around her was always sunshine and rainbows. Roxy didn't want to think about what Miri's expression would be in the morning, but it was nice to see such a wonderful smile as she said goodbye.

Roxy smiled too, unable to keep the sad look out of her eyes, and weakly waved her paw. She stole a glance behind Miri at the rest of the tribe, still dancing the night away. Even though none of them could see her, she waved at them as well.

Then, before she could change her mind, she turned around.

No sooner had she done so that Taka had grabbed her paw and was now quickly leading her through the pitch blackness. Without the light of the torches or the bonfire, they were in near pitch darkness. The few stars whose light was able to penetrate the canopy overhead were not nearly sufficient enough for her to see. She was basically running blind, and Taka was definitely not moving at a slow pace.

She was too depressed to care, though. She found herself looking over her shoulder at the slowly diminishing orange glow of the bonfire. She felt like half of her heart had remained at the festival and the rest of her had been torn off. Logically she should have been afraid that she was going to smack right into something, but she didn't have the energy to care.

It was done. She had abandoned all of her friends.

Once they had been running for a sufficient amount of time, Taka stopped and let go of her paw. She heard him fiddling with something, but she couldn't see him. A moment later, Taka's cheek pouches sparked to life and he shot a small bolt of electricity towards the ground. The torch he had laid there caught fire and he quickly picked it up.

After her eyes adjusted to the sudden brightness, she was finally able to see Taka and her surroundings. A quick glance around confirmed that they had already left the village behind. Taka was standing there with that classic neutral-yet-somehow-displeased look on his face. She could see things strapped to his back, including his boomerang, a spear and some more torches. Hanging from both of his shoulders were leaf-woven satchels, like the one that Makari used to wear.

Taka took one of the satchels off and handed it to her. "Here."

Roxy took it wordlessly, feeling that it was a bit heavy but not too bad. She glanced inside and saw that it was mostly full of berries, but there were a few stones inside as well for some reason and maybe some other stuff underneath.

"Food. Tool-sharpening. Water-rich leaves," Taka said, somehow reading her mind. He then reached down and picked up a spear, which he held out for her to take.

That was all he had brought. Two bags of food and meager supplies, a few torches, and three weapons. The nervousness about her dangerous journey finally began to start catching up with her. She stifled a whimper and took the spear from him.

"We should not travel at night," Taka explained, "but for tonight, it is necessary. I will explain more once we leave Thunder Clan territory."

He looked down at her as if he was expecting her to say something. Roxy tried to form words on her tongue, but found that her insides were all twisted up. She was worried, scared and guilty all at the same time. She glanced over her shoulder once more, but she couldn't see the bonfire anymore.

"Understand?" Taka said, somewhat forcefully.

Roxy gulped. "Y-yeah…"

He jerked his head off to the side. "Then come. I know how to get past the patrols without being seen. Stay close to me, and do not stop."

"Okay…" she murmured gloomily.

Taka set off at a rather brisk pace, considering he was on two feet and holding up the torch. Roxy kept up and followed behind him. She tried to clear her mind, put what she'd done behind her, and focus on the fact that she was starting her journey home. It was meant to be exciting, but it would also be something that would require a lot of her focus. Once they left Thunder Clan territory, she knew she would have to keep vigil for approaching predators.

For the moment, though, she was just running through the dark and following a moving flame. It was a relatively mindless task that allowed her thoughts to wander. Regret began to form in her mind, and a couple of times she seriously considered going back and just telling them that she was leaving. Damn the consequences.

Perhaps it had been a mistake to leave during the festival. It was such a happy time for all of them, and she would be the reason that so many would be sad immediately following it. That was basically the pinnacle of being a 'downer'.

She thought back to all of those wonderful, smiling faces that she had now officially seen for the last time. The truth hit her like a ton of bricks. She had been thinking it nonstop, but now she had actually, truly seen all of them for the last time. Unless she gave up and turned around, she would never see the Thunder Clan again.

That was certainly a depressing thought that only made her sigh even harder. If it hadn't been for the Thunder Clan, she wouldn't even be alive right now. She had so much to thank them for. So many kind, selfless Pokémon that had come together, one way or another, to make sure she was safe and cared for. Roxy felt like she had made a positive impression on all of them, which only made it harder to tear herself away from them.

They had all been so kind and thoughtful at the festival. Every one of them had nothing but kind and uplifting things to say to her. She couldn't count the number of hugs she had received. Many of them had mentioned how much they believed in her and had expressed confidence that she would make it home alright. It had been such a warm, heartfelt moment with all of them. In a way, it almost had been a goodbye.

Roxy nearly stopped in her tracks. Had they all…?

"We are nearing the edge of our territory."

Nearly jumping out of her skin, Roxy suddenly remembered that she wasn't alone out here in the dark. Taka hadn't spoken a word until now, and so it had easily caught her off guard. "Oh! Um, okay… Good?"

She realized a moment later that she had subconsciously started readying her spear.

"Patrol does not often venture this far."

Roxy gulped, but nodded. "Right…" She realized that this meant they had already gotten past the patrols. That had seemed rather easy. "Where are we?" she then asked, "Are we near the bathing spot."

"No. Opposite direction."

She knew where the bathing area was in relation to the village. Based on the way the sun moved, she knew that this meant they were traveling almost due north.

"In a few minutes, we will come to a shallow river. That marks the edge of our territory."


Roxy understood that they were getting to the really important parts now, so she told herself to shut up both verbally and mentally, and simply focused on following him. After a bit more running, she found herself glancing around and realized just how dark it was. Aside from Taka and anything within paw's reach of him, she couldn't see anything.

A few moments later, though, she realized that she could hear running water. They must have been getting close. Taka simply continued forward with a resolute look on his face, and Roxy just stayed close behind him. The torch's fire didn't illuminate very much, but she thought she started seeing the edge of a river bank.

One of Taka's ears twitched. A moment later, he used one paw to roughly shove her to the side as he stepped in front of her. With his other paw, he tossed the torch into the first one, then used it to draw and fling his boomerang, all in the span of about a tenth of a second. Roxy didn't even have time to gasp until after the fact.

Taka stood still for a moment, facing the direction they had come from and using his body to shield her. Roxy was more confused than anything. What had he heard? What was out there? She hadn't heard a thing. His boomerang hadn't come back, though.

"You can be so predictable sometimes, Taka…"

Roxy gasped again. She knew that voice. That wasn't the voice of an enemy. Taka realized this as well and relaxed his posture. He then stepped forward, holding the torch in front of him so that they could see their unexpected guest.

"…Karizu!" Roxy quietly exclaimed.

The Raichu was standing there, half hidden behind a tree. One of his paws was fully extended outwards, having caught Taka's boomerang effortlessly. He has a smirk on his face, but Roxy didn't think it looked antagonistic at all.

"This was where you went last time," Karizu spoke as he stepped out from behind the tree, "This was as far as we could track you before your scent disappeared. I had a feeling that you would pass through here again."

Taka just stood there, not speaking a single word. Roxy wasn't sure how to describe his expression, but she was leaning towards 'grumpy'.

Karizu glanced at her, causing her to flinch back slightly, and then he calmly walked over and gave Taka back his boomerang. Taka took it wordlessly, not breaking eye contact with the Raichu once.

Roxy really wasn't sure what to make of this. She was happy to see one of the Pokémon she thought she would have never seen again, but they had also just been caught red-pawed trying to run away.

"So," Karizu spoke up, almost sounding conversational, "You decided to make off in the middle of the night when no-one could see you? You have taken your charge on this journey of yours, despite the wishes and demands of many others?"

Taka still didn't move or say anything. His body looked tense. A brief jolt of fear ran up Roxy's spine as she wondered if Taka was considering getting violent.

Karizu then glanced over at her, but didn't say anything. She shrank back a bit again, feeling like a cub who had just been caught with her paws in the cookie jar. "Uhh…Hi," she said lamely.

"Good evening, young one," he replied, "I hope Taka has not been too rough with you."

She frowned and fiddled with the spear in her paws. The tension in the air was too much for her to take, and so she decided to just break the ice entirely.

"Do we have to go back now…?" she asked in a very quiet voice.

Karizu looked down at her for what felt like an eternity without saying anything. Roxy found herself sweating all over. Karizu's answer had always been that Taka couldn't leave, so why would it change now? The jig was up.

The Raichu then let out a soft sigh and instead turned to face Taka. "Tell me something…" he said.

Taka raised an eyebrow.

"Is your mind truly set?" Karizu asked, "Is this the decision you have come to…that you are certain you want to fulfill? At the end of the day, no matter what, you will still wish to leave the forest and bring this young one home?"

Roxy glanced at Taka as well, both nervous and curious to hear what his answer would be.

Taka stood still for a moment with a tiny frown on his face. Roxy figured if he wasn't holding two things, he'd be standing with his forelimbs crossed. After another achingly long awkward silence, Taka nodded subtly and said, "It is."

Yet another lapse of silence between the two, and then Karizu smiled. He didn't look particularly happy; it was more of a sad smile. He closed his eyes, shook his head, and gave a little shrug of his shoulders. "That is the way it is, then…" he said.

Roxy tilted her head slightly in confusion, and Taka knotted his brow.

"You are well known to me, Taka…and to everyone in our tribe. The simple truth is that once you have your mind set on something, that is something you will do. If your decision has been made, then what is the point of trying to change it?"

His words reached her brain, but it took her a minute to fully process them. She blinked a couple of times to make sure she wasn't just hearing things. "Y…You mean…?" she ventured.

Karizu glanced away, though he still had that sad smile on his face. "It does not make me happy…and there are a number of others who would share my sentiment…but, Taka, it seems like there is no point in stopping you, is there?"

Taka looked like he was about to say something, but Roxy didn't let him. She had beaten him to the punch by tackling Karizu into as big a hug as she could muster. "Thank you!" she quietly exclaimed, "Oh, thank you! Thank you so much!"

Karizu seemed caught off guard for a moment, but then relented and hugged her back. "I know, young one…I know…"

"You really mean it?" she asked incredulously, "Taka- he- I-…We can go?!"

The Raichu sighed softly and nodded, making Roxy quietly squeal with joy once more. It took her another minute or so to recognize how much of a scene she was making and finally backed off.

Taka had barely moved an inch, but Roxy could see, standing beside him, that the look in his eyes had changed. Taka often carried with him a lot of darkness and loathing, even among the ones he loved. Roxy could see that a lot of it had been drained out.

"…Truly?" was all he said.

Karizu nodded. "It is clear to me, now…" he said, and then trailed off for a moment. He scratched his chin and then picked up his train of thought once more. "All of us have a place in this world, every one of us. It has taken me far too long to see, Taka, that yours is simply not here." His expression became regretful. "You were born here, you were raised here, and you are loved here," he said in a quieter voice, "This place shall always be your home, but your place in this world is somewhere else. There is no point in keeping you here."

He then turned to face her and his expression brightened a little. "Besides," he said with a chuckle, "At least this time, you are doing this for a noble cause."

Roxy turned and gave Taka a smile. He shifted his gaze and regarded her for a moment, before looking back up at Karizu.

"Are you sure about this?" he said.

Karizu actually laughed at that. "No!", he replied, "Of course I am not sure about this. One can never be sure of anything in life, after all." He chuckled and shook his head. "It matters not," he continued, "Our tribe survived before you were born, so we will manage to push on without you. You are our strongest warrior, and it is a heavy burden to lose you, but…I think many of us have been overlooking the skills of others."

"Yeah!" Roxy piped up, "You got Adik- I mean Taki, and Natoka knows Grass Knot now, and… Well, you're all just so awesome. I was impressed with every one of you from the moment I met you. You all do amazing things!"

"No-one wishes to view you as a tool, Taka," Karizu said, "If your heart is telling you that happiness lies elsewhere, then find it." He sighed softly. "I think you deserve it, after all."

Taka paused for a moment as he considered this, and then he nodded his head towards the Raichu. "Very well, then," he spoke, "You have my gratitude, Karizu. Please extend my thanks to the rest of the tribe."

Roxy perked up suddenly as a thought hit her. "Oh! Gosh, um…We should probably, uh… go back and say goodbye to everybody, right? Now that it's not a secret, or…?"

It was Karizu who shook his head at this. "There is no need," he spoke, "I will give both of your well wishes to the entire tribe. You have already started your journey, and it is not advisable to turn back now. Keeping your eyes on your goal is important."

Mixed emotions filled her upon hearing this. "Really?" she asked. She gave it a bit of thought and, truth be told, she did actually want to keep going and not have to turn back. Leaving the village had gotten her momentum started.

"But…" she murmured, "What about our friends…? I…"

Karizu stepped forward and put a paw on her shoulder, causing her to look up into his eyes. "Roxy," he spoke, "When we lose a member of the tribe, the way we remember them is through silence. There is no need to repeat the virtues of their lives, because they have already lived them."

Roxy was quiet as she listened to his reassuring words. Those were the same customs associated with the tribe's funerals. She thought about and realized, in a way, both cases involved saying goodbye to somebody.

"So…" she ventured, "No-one will be mad if we just leave without saying goodbye?"

Karizu chuckled softly. "Well, not to put it so bluntly. So long as I explain where you have gone, no-one will be upset. So long as no-one has been left behind on bad terms…right?"

Roxy shook her head. "No. No-one at all." Then, after a few moments of thought, she decided to ask what she had been wondering for the past little while. "Um…Karizu? Did, uh…Did everybody already know? It sorta, kinda, maybe seemed like everyone was using the festival as a way to kind of say goodbye to me anyway…sorta." Roxy frowned at her own muddled words.

The Raichu looked confused for a moment, then chuckled once more and said, "If anybody else knew, they did not tell me. However, I would not be surprised."

Glancing away for a moment, Roxy thought about this. She really wasn't sure if she was right about this or not. No-one had really given away any really obvious hints, but at the same time, everything they had all said was stuff one might say at a goodbye party.

Smiling to herself, Roxy decided to believe that they had, in fact, all known.

"Tell them they're all wonderful, okay?" she said to the Raichu, "And make them all promise to keep being wonderful. Arceus forbid anyone else having to go through what I did, but if they find another pet lost in the forest…Well, I'm sure you will all do the right thing."

"Of course," Karizu said with a nod.

Roxy smiled warmly for the first time in a while. It felt like a weight had been taken off of her mind. She glanced over at Taka, whose mood also seemed to have brightened just a bit, and then at the torch. She realized that it wouldn't burn forever.

"Well, uh…" she said, "I guess we should get moving, right Taka?"

"Indeed," he replied.

"We've got a long way to go… Gosh, this is kinda harder." She chuckled to herself. "Well, thanks again, Karizu. Thanks for everything, and thanks to the Thunder Clan for everything they've done for me. I literally owe them my life."

"It is no trouble, Roxy," he spoke, "We were just glad to have met you."

Roxy nodded. "Me too. I'll never forget any of you." She then glanced over at Taka, hoping he would take the charge and take those first few steps away, because she couldn't quite make herself do it.

"Wait," Karizu spoke up, "Before you go, I have one last parting gift for you…"

Both Roxy and Taka turned and gave the Raichu an intrigued look. At his beckoning, they both took a few steps closer. Karizu reached into his own leaf satchel and fished around for a moment with his paw, before eventually pulling something out of it. He carried it gingerly in both paws and held it out towards them.

Roxy's eyes grew wide as she stared down at the Thunder Stone. It gave off a faint greenish glow that helped illuminate the immediate area. Like before, Roxy could feel the rush of energy from simply being near one of them.

Taka was also looking at it with wide eyes. He stared at it for a while, and then turned his gaze upwards. "What…?"

Karizu sighed. "This was to be your brother's."

Roxy felt a sting in her heart upon hearing that fact again. Makari's lost chance to become a Raichu was still something that pained her to this very day, and it started to cloud her mind with dark thoughts. She quickly shooed them away.

"It…was?" Taka spoke softly. Roxy could see a mix of emotions going through the usually-stoic Pikachu. She saw a flash of grief, and then a few moments of anger, until finally he closed his eyes with what looked like cold acceptance.

"He would have been a fine choice," Taka said.

Karizu nodded. Then, after a few moments of silence, he held the stone out a bit closer to him.

"Take it," he said.

Roxy's eyes opened even wider, as did Taka's. They both stared down at the glowing stone and then, almost in unison, looked back up at Karizu in confusion and disbelief.

"What?" Taka spoke, bewildered.

Karizu smiled softly. "Take it," he repeated, "Use its power. Become stronger, so that you may keep her safe and guide her home."

Roxy's jaw was falling open slightly. She was floored by what she had just heard Karizu say. He was offering their Thunder Stone, the rarest and most precious thing to the entire tribe, to Taka? Just like that? Roxy was literally speechless.

Taka's eyes shifted back and forth between Karizu and the stone. Slowly, his brow knotted and he started to look a little skeptical. "Are…you serious?" he asked, "You…really want me to have this?"

Karizu nodded. "It is dangerous out there. You will face many hardships, some much worse than you may have faced on your first journey." He smiled softly and glanced over at Roxy. "There is no-one in the whole tribe who does not wish to see this young one home safely. We want to make sure that can happen."

Taka was just staring at the stone now, as if entranced. Roxy watched him, still not quite believing what was happening. She tried to imagine what Taka might look like as a Raichu, but she just couldn't. She'd known him as a Pikachu for too long.

It felt like the air around them had grown still, like the fire on the torch was still burning but the flames were not moving. Karizu continued to offer the stone to Taka, not showing a hint of regret or second-guessing. Taka neither reached for the stone, nor pushed it away. It looked like a thousand thoughts were silently running through his mind.

"Take it," Karizu urged one more time, "I promise you, it is okay. What you are doing is bold and gallant, and we want to help out however we can."

Taka continued to gaze down at the stone as Karizu spoke. It looked like there was some indecision in his expression. This was, after all, the stone that had meant to be given to his brother. It seemed like Taka was wondering if it was okay in his mind, or in his brother's mind, if he were to take it for himself. Besides, he wasn't being offered a position as a 'Wise One', which is what the stones usually signified. This was merely a gift so that he could be a more powerful Pokémon that would be able to keep Roxy safe. It was an extremely generous offer, and it certainly was tempting.

Then, Taka dropped his boomerang and ever so slowly began to lift his paw. With his eyes still glued to the glowing stone, he slowly raised his paw, held it still in the air for a moment, and then began to reach towards the stone. There was a strange look in his eyes. There was no excitement or sense of pride. There was still a look of hesitation and indecision, but it was masked by a sense of determination. His paw drifted closer, until it was hovering so close to the stone that the glow was painting his paw a muddled green colour. One could almost see the strands of his fur standing straight up.

Before he could touch it, though, Roxy stepped in front of him. She grasped Karizu's paws with her own, careful not to touch the stone, and curled his digits back around it.

"Keep it."

Both Karizu and Taka looked at her, confused. "Roxy…?" Karizu said.

She smiled at him. It was a hesitant, nervous sort of smile, but it was genuine. "Keep it," she said solemnly, "Someone here needs it more than we do."

Karizu looked back at her in bewilderment for a moment, then glanced down at his own paws closed around the stone. Taka, meanwhile, had been staring at her in disbelief. When she turned to give him a reassuring grin, he pulled his paw back in close to his body and looked at it in a weird way. He almost looked like he was thankful it was still attached to his body.

"Roxy, are…are you sure?" Karizu asked her, "This is our gift to you. You may have it."

She turned back to him and nodded. "I know. Thank you very much for the thought, but…" She gave Taka a sidelong glance for a moment before continuing. "I trust Taka. He's an amazing Pokémon. He's really strong, and he's the most amazing fighter I've ever seen in my life. I know the stone would probably help, but…I don't think we need it."

"…I see," Karizu said.

Her smile softened. "Karizu…you and Natoka have an important job. You are the glue that holds that tribe together. Everybody looks up to you. And, well…" Her gaze shifted down to the ground. "Now that you've lost Ozu…"

Karizu's expression fell and he glanced away.

Roxy spent a few moments looking at the stone in Karizu's paws, but then said, "Don't worry about us. I think we'll be fine." She then turned to look at Taka. "Right?"

Taka looked at her, then at the stone, then back at her and, after a pause, smiled just a little bit and nodded once. He then promptly reached down and picked his boomerang back up and secure it on his back.

Roxy grinned, glad to see that her sentiments were shared. A small part of her did want to let Taka take the stone so that she would have a strong and powerful Raichu on her side, even if Raichu still discomforted her a tad. Mostly, though, it just didn't feel right. Knowing the purpose of the stones within the tribe and their rarity, she knew she couldn't just take it. It wasn't like one could go buy five at a nearby department store.

Karizu still seemed a bit thrown by this turn of events, but a moment later he simply shook his head and laughed softly. He put the Thunder Stone back into his pouch and then regarded her with a smile. She smiled back, and then he took a step closer to her and rested a paw on her shoulder.

"Young Ra-ka-si…" he half-whispered, "Small, brave warrior…and hero of our tribe…"

Roxy blushed a little as she looked up at him and smiled from the praise. "I-I'm no hero…" she murmured, "I'm just me…"

Karizu spent a few silent moments just looking at her. Then, he turned his gaze up to look at Taka. "Keep her safe, okay?" he said to him, "Guide her home in one piece. We all have faith in you, Taka, whether you believe it or not." He then raised his paw and gave her a few friendly pats on the head. "She deserves all the happiness in the world after what she has gone through."

Roxy turned and glanced over her shoulder at Taka. She saw him nod at Karizu confidently.

He then eyed the torch in his paws, and Roxy realized that they had already spent quite a lot of time dawdling. "We…We should go…" she said.

The whole spiel of taking that one last look, and saying that one last goodbye, was all happening again. She felt that same bittersweet heartbreak as she stepped away from Karizu and moved back to Taka's side. The Raichu watched them with a fond smile on his face.

"Goodbye, Karizu," Roxy said, "Thanks again for everything."

He bowed his head to her. "Safe journey, Roxy. To you as well, Taka."

Taka was silent for a moment, but then bowed his head as well. Even still, he didn't say a word. Roxy wasn't upset by this, and it looked like Karizu wasn't either. They both knew that was just how Taka operated.

Almost a whole minute of silence passed, with neither side looking like they wanted to take the first step in the opposite direction.

Then, without warning, Taka tapped her on her shoulder with his free paw. She barely had time to turn her head before she saw him toss the torch into the air, letting it tumble ninety degrees so it was horizontal before expertly catching it between his teeth. He then set down on all fours and took off running.

Roxy had no choice but to quickly take off after him, lest she be left alone in the dark.

All she got was one last glimpse over her shoulder.