Season I: Gold
"We're wasting our time. They're expecting us back."
"No! I swear, I felt it! It was unmistakable."
In the waning sunlight of the early evening, two figures slashed their way through the overgrowth of Shamble Forest. One marched forward with determination, the other followed reluctantly behind.
"I swear! It came from this way. We need to investigate!"
The twosome foraged their way through shrubs and saplings as the sun slowly sank out of sight, filling the sky with hues of red. Soon, night would be upon them. The trailing figure cast a worried glance upward, knowing they'd soon be out of precious sunlight if he didn't get his stubborn partner to listen.
"Scythe, are you certain you're not just hearing things again?"
"I don't know. That's why I need to see for myself."
"Scythe… nothing lives in this forest except for some dumb Pidgey and Butterfree."
As the two emerged into a clearing, a startled flock of Pidgey scattered and hid themselves in the branches of nearby trees. The frustrated Sandslash grumbled in resentment, knowing inside it was all probably just a bad idea.
"Scythe, it's almost night, and we're still miles from the base. It's too late for this! If we don't head back now, the Watchers will catch us. Are you sure you're in a mood to fight with the Watchers?"
"And what if I'm right?!" the Scyther snapped as he turned to face his partner, causing the Sandslash to jump at the sudden reaction. "What if I'm right, and I did hear something coming from in there? If not, what's the worst that can happen? We get back a little late, and the team worries about us for a few extra hours? Somehow, that does not worry me. But Shander… what if the Call is here? Consider that. What if this is our only chance to capture the Call before our enemies do? We can't turn our back on this possibility."
"I know, I know," said the Sandslash. "But the time is not right for the Call. That's all I'm saying. We still have another three years, at the very least…"
"I know the time is not right," The Scyther grumbled. "It doesn't matter. This could be some kind of an anomaly. However, speaking as one of the only Pokémon sensitive enough to the Call to notice it, I feel obliged to look farther. And frankly, I'm growing frustrated that no one else seems to take this matter as seriously as I do."
The Sandslash shook its head. He knew it was hopeless. The same exchange had happened between them at least three times in the prior months, and it always ended the same way. The Scyther was stubborn in his obsession.
"If there is someone in there, we need to get to it before the Watchers do," the Scyther spoke, focusing on the path ahead. "We cannot afford to have it fall into the wrong hands. Shander… if you do not agree with me, you're free to return by yourself. I'll go on alone."
The Scyther smiled wryly to himself, knowing full well that the Sandslash was too much of a coward to part ways and venture back on his own. There was a reason the team followed a strict buddy system. It was difficult—in more than one way—to recount all of the Pokémon who had been defeated in dungeons or captured by the Watchers because they had gotten separated from the team, either by accident or by overconfidence.
"I'll go with you," the Sandslash replied with a sigh of resignation. "I trust you. Besides, I'm a bit rusty at fighting the Watchers. I could use the experience. But just one thing… It's been twenty-four years since the Call. Are you sure you remember what it sounds like?"
"It's not something one can easily forget," the Scyther said.
Bracing himself for the unexpected, the Sandslash followed his partner deeper into the woods.
It was nearly nightfall as a small Bulbasaur scampered through Shamble Forest all alone.
"No!" it cried to nobody in particular. "No! No! I won't! I won't! I won't do it!"
Deftly leaping over rocks and fallen logs, the Bulbasaur followed a path through the woods it knew well. As it ran, it seemed intent to violently share its anguish with every passing tree in eyeshot.
"No, no, NO!" it shouted, extending its vines and snapping away the twigs and drooping tree limbs that hung in the way. "I can't take it! I won't do it! I… I can't! You can't make me! You can't!"
The little Pokémon had long since reached the end of his patience. He dashed off the path and repeatedly whipped his vines against the nearest tree as hard as he could manage. With a scream, he put gash after gash into the tree's bark. After he'd done quite a bit of damage to the poor tree, he leaped to another and tackled it with all its might, barely even feeling the painful pulse it sent through his forehead. He wrapped his vines around the tree trunk and squeezed, pulling and constricting it violently, as tears trickled out from under his closed eyes.
"Why?! Why are you doing this to me?!" he cried in anguish at nobody but the setting sun. "By Dialga, why?! By Arceus, Why?!"
He released the tree from his grasp and tumbled to the ground. Lashing out with a vine, he grasped a nearby rock and flung it at a different tree, and then threw another rock, then a twig, then whatever else he could find within reach, grunting loudly with each projectile he launched.
"I don't care what they say," he seethed as he felt the weariness set in. "They're not going to make me do it. I'll never go! I'll… I'll hold my ground, and… if they try to make me go, I'll… I'll run away. Yeah! I'll run away! And I'll stay away!"
When the Bulbasaur had spent nearly all his strength, he stood in the dimming light of the woods, gasping for air and trying to endure the throbbing pain from his self-induced headache. It took him a moment to realize how deeply his rampage had taken him into the forest, a place he loved and treasured. Tonight, these woods seemed like the only place he belonged; he felt a measure of happiness knowing he was so far away from his home. At the moment, his home was the last place he wanted to be.
The environment calmed him. As his furious heart returned to normal, he could feel his rage slowly fading, turning into misery. He knew there was nothing he could do. He knew he would have to accept the fate that was decided for him—or suffer the consequences. He wondered how it could have happened like this, that this beautiful forest, and everything else he ever knew and loved, was about to be taken away. That his free will was about to be taken away…
Looking up at the sky, he caught a glimpse of the first star of the night.
"Oh, great Pokémon of legend…" he whispered in prayer, just as he was taught to do from childhood, "Great and immortal Arceus, please... if you find it within yourself to help one of us, the Pokémon of the earth… Please… do something!"
Soon, many more stars appeared in the sky. A Noctowl fluttered down from somewhere and landed on a nearby branch. It stared oddly at the little seed-creature on the forest floor below, as if to ask it what it was doing out at such an hour.
"Night…" the Bulbasaur suddenly realized, wide-eyed. "I have to get somewhere safe! The Watchers are coming!"
The Bulbasaur knew that, at night, legions of ghostly Pokémon known as "the Watchers" rose up from beneath the surface of the earth. For as long as any Pokémon could recount, the Watchers surfaced each and every night as soon as the last of the sunlight faded away. They were wild spirits, lacking the intelligence of the sentient Pokémon or the ability to understand speech. To every Pokémon, children and adults alike, only one thing was certain about them: if they caught you, they did unspeakable, horrifying things to you. Accounts told of Pokémon captured by the Watchers getting cursed, losing their memories or their intellect, being kidnapped and pulled down into the Earth, or being cast into a nightmare from which they would never awaken…
In the dim rays of the remaining sunlight, the Bulbasaur found the path he'd taken deep into the forest, and started to follow it back toward home.
"No…" he realized, stopping in his tracks. "I can't go back home. I might not make it back… I have to go the other way. I have to get to the cave."
The full moon was high in the sky as Bulbasaur found the place he sought. He thanked Cresselia for blessing him with the moonlight, a bright beacon which kept the Watchers at bay for perhaps an extra hour, and turned his attention to a solid rock cliff-face which marked the outer boundary of Shamble Forest. By tradition, he glanced all around to make sure nobody was watching. When he was satisfied that he wouldn't be seen, he extended his vines to wrap a medium-sized rock. Clutching it tightly, Bulbasaur yanked, pulling the rock to the side and revealing a cave entrance.
It was Bulbasaur's secret clubhouse, a place which only he and a select few others knew about. It was the place Bulbasaur would always come when he just wanted to be alone. Tonight, nothing would make him happier than simply being alone.
After waiting impatiently for a few Zubat to swarm out of the cave, the little Pokémon crawled inside. Using his vines, he pulled the rock back into place for privacy.
Comfortable and content in his newfound solitude, and weary from his anger, Bulbasaur laid itself down on the gravel-covered cave floor to sleep. He knew in the back of his mind that his family would be furious about him going missing overnight, but somehow, he didn't care about them anymore. At least, not for tonight.
They can spend all night looking for me if they want, Bulbasaur told itself. Serves them right.
Soon, the wind began to pick up outside, making strange whistles and howls as it found its way through cracks in the door-stone. A light storm was brewing. It was early spring, after all, and storms were common around the time of year. Bulbasaur took even greater comfort in the fact that he had found shelter from the rain—if dark clouds covered the moon, the Watchers would most certainly be out in full force.
At last, once the Bulbasaur calmed his thoughts, he felt himself pulled down into the dark hallows of sleep…
But something caught his attention.
It was a tiny annoyance, something so minor that only the most perceptive of senses would have noticed it. Truth was, Bulbasaur had spent the night here in this very cave many times before (when he'd lied to his parents that he was staying with his brothers in Sitrus City), and he had grown accustomed to the cave's feel. Tonight, something was different than usual—something he couldn't quite place.
Feeling irritated, Bulbasaur's eyes snapped open. He glanced around at the cave's walls for a few moments before realizing what it was that bugged him.
I can see?
Except for when he'd intentionally leave the cave door open, the cave was normally pitch-black—the kind of absolute black where it doesn't matter whether or not your eyes are open. He was used to finding the way around the cave's interior by feel with his vines. But not today; today, he could dimly see the rocky cave walls which surrounded him. It was such a faint sight, like the image that stays on the back of the eyelid after closing it, but there was no mistaking it: there was light coming from somewhere.
Bulbasaur checked the cave door. The door only responded with dull roar of thunder as the storm edged closer to the forest. It was sealed shut, as usual. That much was clear to see.
The light, Bulbasaur realized, it must be coming from deeper inside the cave. But… I can't go too far in. Just one step too far, and… I'd be lost. Maybe even for good.
Gritting his teeth, he warily prowled into the depths of the cave, hoping to find the source of the light before he reached the point which he'd resolved never to cross. As well as he knew the cave, he knew that it held certain secrets deeper down that he wouldn't be wise to try exploring on his own.
His search didn't last very long. He turned the corner… and he saw it.
There, propped up against a rock, with its tail crushed beneath its body weight and burning faintly, was a Charmander. The flame upon its tail cast a faint, dancing light upon the cave walls.
"Whoa!" Bulbasaur croaked in disbelief. "A… Charmander! It… it can't be! There aren't supposed to be any Charmander living around here!"
Indeed, a Charmander was such a rare sight around Bulbasaur's corner of the world, he couldn't even remember the last time he'd seen one.
As Bulbasaur approached the intruder, countless questions danced around in his head. Who is this? Is it wild? Or is it intelligent? Should I wake it up? Is it… dead? No, it can't be dead, its fire is still burning. Where did it come from? How young is it? Has it been running from the Watchers?
Bulbasaur's eyes widened as he approached the intruder. It looked pained, like it had just sustained a major headache. Extending both vines very gently, Bulbasaur tried to roll the Charmander on its side and off its tail flame. But his anxiety got the better of him; he flinched and slipped, accidentally touching the fire with the end of a vine.
"Owww! Youch!" he hissed, whipping his vine against the wall to put out the burn.
Once the pain subsided, Bulbasaur stepped forward to nudge the little Charmander with his forehead, taking great care not to collide with its flame again.
"Hey," Bulbasaur whispered. "Hey, wake up! Are you okay? Wake up!"
There was no response.
"C'mon, wake up!" Bulbasaur pleaded further, whispering a little louder into the red lizard's ear.
Bulbasaur looked again at the tail flame, which was mostly smothered below the Charmander's belly as it slept in such an awkward position. He imagined how painful it must have been for the sleeper, and wondered if that were the reason for the unpleasant expression on its unconscious face. Mustering his courage once more, Bulbasaur set his forehead against the Carmander's shoulder and pushed until the tail was free and the sleeper lay on its side.
With a heavy gasp, the Charmander suddenly jumped up, slamming its head into a long rock which protruded from the wall.
"Aiahh!" Bulbasaur responded, jumping back. "S-sorry! I was just… You were… Are you okay?"
"Ugh…" the Charmander groaned, slumping back down to the floor. "Ugh… my head…"
"Who are you?" Bulbasaur asked impatiently. "There aren't supposed to be any Charmander around here. How did you get here? How did you find my cave?"
"Ch-charmander?" the Charmander moaned, barely paying any attention. "W…what do you mean? A Charmander's a… Pokémon."
"You… didn't hit your head too hard, did you?" Bulbasaur said, tilting his head oddly at the statement.
"I… I think I hit it pretty hard," the Charmander admitted, rubbing its forehead. "I don't even know where I am. But you… WAAH!"
Once again, the Charmander leapt up in surprise, banging its head against the same rock. It cringed for a second at the pain, then stared speechlessly at its companion with a sort of horrified astonishment.
"WHAT?!" demanded Bulbasaur. "What?! What is it?"
"Y-you're a—Pokémon!" the Charmander yelped. "And you talk! You're a… talking Bulbasaur!"
"Well, you talk, too!" Bulbasaur said. "And you're a Charmander! What's wrong?"
"I'm not a Charmander!" it yelped. "I'm… I'm a human!"
"A human?!" Bulbasaur yelped back. "You look like a perfectly normal Charmander to me! Your head must be hurt pretty bad… Maybe I should try to get you some help. Hold on a second, I think I have some oran berries stashed back here… well, if the Rattatas haven't gotten to them yet…"
As Bulbasaur started to walk away, feeling around in the crannies of the cave with his vines, the Charmander cried out once again.
"No, you don't understand!" the Charmander insisted. "I'm a human! I just—"
"Look at yourself!" Bulbasaur pleaded, turning back around to face him. "Look at your claws, your body, your tail! It's in the middle of the night and you're in a cave. Wonder how you can see me? It's because your tail's on fire! You're a Charmander!"
Reluctantly, the Charmander did as instructed. He looked at his hands, his legs…
"It's true!" he cried in disbelief, testing his arms and legs awkwardly. "I—I've been turned into a Charmander! But how… how can this be?! I… I was just…"
"Here, have this," Bulbasaur said, returning to offer him a large blue berry in his mouth. "It'll make you feel better."
"How am I a Charmander?" he wondered again, trying to grasp the idea. "I was a human! I know it! I was turned into a Pokémon! I—"
Bulbasaur gazed oddly at the confused little Charmander, pondering for a second what it would mean if he were telling the truth.
"If you were a human, then let me ask you something that only a human would know," Bulbasaur challenged. "How does a Poké Ball work? How is it possible to keep a Pokémon of any size in such a tiny little thing? No Pokémon has ever been able to figure that out. Humans invented them. They would know how they work. What about the TM Machines? How do they teach techniques to a Pokémon so… efficiently? Without them, it takes years and years of practice…"
"I don't know," the Charmander admitted. "I was never a Pokémon trainer, I… I think."
"Oh," Bulbasaur said in disappointment.
For a few moments, Bulbasaur said nothing further. The Charmander bit into the berry.
"I'm Saura," the Bulbasaur said. "What's your name?"
"My… name…" the Charmander repeated, racking his thoughts for the answer as he turned the blue berry over in his hands, enjoying the strong but bittersweet taste it provided. "I don't know what my name is."
His eyes widened.
"I don't remember!" he gasped, dropping the berry on the ground. He couldn't even believe his own words. "I can't remember my own name!"
"Calm down for a second," Saura said. "Do you… remember anything about being a human? Anything at all?"
"No, I don't… not anything." The Charmander fretted. "Here I am… as a Pokémon… stuck in this cave I've never seen before in my life… And I can't even remember how I got here?!"
"It's okay," Saura said in a comforting voice. "Eat your berry. It will make you feel better."
The Charmander immediately felt it when the oran berry began to take effect. His body tingled, leaving behind a relaxing, strengthening sensation. His headache faded away a little bit, and his thoughts started to form orderly patterns. The flame on his tail flared up, giving a little more light to the room than when he had first awakened.
"My name…" he fretted, tossing the oran berry seed onto the ground. "I have a name. I know I do! I just… can't believe I… I can't remember it."
"It's okay," Saura said. "Mind if I call you Char?"
"Char?" The Charmander repeated, finding the name to be demeaning somehow. "Isn't that name a little… silly?"
"Well, that is what we call Charmanders when we meet them," he explained. "It's polite to call a Pokémon by the name of their species, or part of it, unless they otherwise have a nickname. We use nicknames if there's more than one of the same kind of Pokémon and you have to tell them apart. It's etiquette. Actually, we got that tradition from the way human Pokémon trainers raise their Pokémon. "
"Fine, call me Char," The Charmander said reluctantly. "But only until I remember what my name was."
"Whatever you want," Saura said, a smile forming on his face. "You're the human."
"You believe me? You really believe that I was turned into a Pokémon?" Char asked again, still not able to fathom the Bulbasaur's faith. "If I were a human running around trying to tell other humans that I was once a Pokémon, they'd write me off as crazy."
"Pokémon aren't like humans very much," Saura said, still smiling. "And, yes, I believe you. You don't seem like the deceitful kind of Pokémon. And besides, I wanted to believe your story from the beginning. These are the kinds of things that are written in the human legend-books. Who knows? You could have been the world's greatest Pokémon trainer, or the President, and here I am, just chatting with you! It's pretty cool just thinking about it."
"Heh, I guess," Char replied. "But I don't think I was anyone too special…"
A few more moments passed in silence. Saura brought out another oran berry and offered it to Char, but he refused. Saura began munching on it himself. Char clutched his tail and fiddled with the flame, amused at how his hands seemed completely fireproof as he passed them through it. He didn't feel the slightest inkling of a burn. Instead, the fire provided his claw with a surprisingly intense comfort, as though it was a refreshingly warm stream of water. He wondered if jumping headfirst into a blazing fire would feel roughly like taking a nice warm bath.
"So, your nickname is Saura?" Char asked, still playing with his tail. "Does that mean... are there other Bulbasaur where you live?"
"Yeah, I have a whole family," Saura replied, a note of disdain entering his voice. "Seven brothers and two sisters. We all have slightly different names… Although, my oldest brother became an Ivysaur last year, and he moved away into the city…"
"What's wrong?" Char asked, noticing his tone of voice. "Is something wrong with your family?"
"My family is stupid," Saura complained, whipping his oran berry seed away. "They want me to—"
Char glanced up from his floor-bound gaze, wondering why Saura had stopped in mid-sentence. His face had suddenly turned full of worry, his gaze quickly shifting in all directions.
"Sshh!" Saura quickly warned. "I heard… something…"
"What? Is someone coming?"
"Quick! Cover up your tail!"
Reluctantly, Char held onto the flame-spout of his tail with both hands. Again, it surprised him that he felt no pain from such an action, but he found that he couldn't keep all of the flames covered up. They found their own ways through, much like what happens when one tries to cover up a running water current with bare hands.
"That's the best I can do!" Char said.
"Good enough…" Saura hissed. "Now, listen… I think I hear something…"
Except for the tiny sound of Char's fire, and the ominous but barely-audible rumbles of thunder from the outside, the cave became completely quiet.
… For a few moments, at least.
It came: the distinctive sound of… talking.
Although only a few fragments of a few words had escaped to their ears, Saura silently gasped in fright.
The voices became louder. A lump formed in Saura's throat.
"… here…" … "in here…" … "find them! They're in here! I swear!"
"No!" Saura gasped. "No! Char, I thought this cave was secret, but… I think someone found it!"
"Who would it be? Should we run? Should we hide?"
"I don't know," Saura said through worried gasps of breath. "But whoever they are… if they can brave the Watchers, they're nobody I'd like to be around. They might even be…"
"Watchers? What are the Watchers?"
But Char received no reply. Instead, Saura's seemed frozen in fear. The Bulbasaur choked on his last words, wishing to Arceus that they couldn't be true.
"They could be… them!"
There was no time to answer. Without warning, the echo from a horrifying rumble tore through the cave. It was the sound of the door-stone being shoved aside.
"We've found them! Go! Get them! Now!"
"Char…" Saura choked in the tiniest, most petrified whisper possible, "We have to run. It's them… the Master's soldiers… They're going to kidnap us!"
Char wanted to ask for clarification, but figured there just wasn't time.
"I know you didn't!" yelled one of the voices from the front of the cave. "We came here because of you. We followed them here. Now find them! Don't let them escape, after all this!"
"Char… You have to trust me," Saura creaked silently. "Please… You have to follow me, and trust me. We've got to go deeper into the cave."
"Do you know the way?" Char asked carefully.
"Nobody knows the way…" Saura answered gravely, extending a vine to him. "It's impossible for anyone to know the way. Hold onto my vine, and don't let go. Char… if we go just a little bit deeper into the tunnels… We might be able to lose them… "
Char obeyed, letting go of his tail with one hand and taking Saura's vine in the other. However, something about the Bulbasaur's reply didn't make sense to him.
"What do you mean, impossible for anyone to know the way?" he asked.
"Char…" Saura said as he began to retreat into the cavern's rear tunnel, "This place… this cave… is a mystery dungeon."