There are certain rules one must follow while traveling through Ilex Forest.
First, should you consider doing it, never stray from the path. Ever.
Before you looms the darkness of Ilex Forest. You've just earned your second badge in the Johto League, and you're already excited about getting your third. It doesn't strike you as odd that no one in Azalea Town told you much about the forest. It strikes you as a little odd that no one will tell you how to get through it. Nonetheless, you know from the map in the pokémon center that it stands between you and Goldenrod City, and you need to get to Goldenrod within a week. (There is, in reality, no reason why you absolutely need to be there within a week. You simply decided right after defeating Bugsy that you want to get your next badge right away.) So, you need to go through Ilex Forest.
You pass an elderly couple on your way through the pristine checkpoint. They stare at you for awhile before the old man turns to his wife.
Part of you swears you can hear him mutter, "You know we can't warn anyone, Muriel. Don't you remember what happened to the last kid we tried to tell the story to?"
Shuddering, you glance back at them for a second and then shrug it off. It's just your imagination, and you know it.
Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, there was a tiny village by the sea. Now, this village wasn't anything particularly special at first glance. It had its chieftain and its people and its traditions, just like any other village. What made it at all special was the fact that every year, just after the first harvest, all the women took baskets full of fruits and vegetables to the edge of the village and left them there. That was all there was to that ceremony. There were no words from the chieftain. There was no harvest festival. The villagers didn't even share the story behind their tradition unless asked. It was simply understood that the baskets were to be left, and the villagers must not look back as they left them there.
Second, should you stray from the path, never take your eyes off it. If you don't take your eyes off it, you will always be able to get back to it. However, the moment you look away, the trees around you will swallow it up.
Although it's noon when you start off, the forest canopy, with its lush spread of leaves overhead, quickly blocks out the sun to make it look like the dead of night. You're not scared. You've been through the Ruins of Alph already. You've seen gastly in Sprout Tower. You even faced Team Rocket in the depths of Slowpoke Well. Besides, you have pokémon with you — high-leveled ones, to be exact. After all, you just defeated Bugsy. Your team can face anything.
Not far into the forest, you come across a young boy. He's muttering to himself and pacing back and forth in front of a small tree. Blinking, you slowly approach him.
"Hey, are you all right?" you ask.
He looks up. His eyes are wide, and his face looks pale, even in the shadows.
"It's my boss," he says. "He's gonna kill me."
"What makes you say that?"
The boy wrings his hands. "I brought his farfetch'd in here to cut wood. But I don't have any badges, so they wouldn't listen to me and ran off into the forest! I can't get them back! Even if I knew where they were, they'll just run away from me." He hangs his head. "If my boss finds out I lost his farfetch'd..."
You smile. You know you have the badges to get pokémon to follow you, and you're always willing to help someone out. Besides, they're farfetch'd. They're no match for your team, and you know that, too.
"I can help you," you say.
Looking up, the boy gives you a strange look. "You-you can?"
"Sure! Just tell me which way they went. I'll get them back in no time!"
He grabs your hand and shakes it. "Oh, thank you! You don't know how much this means to me! They went that way!" He points to the left, down a narrow path. "And please hurry. If my boss realizes how long I've been gone, he'll come out here looking for me."
You nod and turn towards the path.
This, you think, will be easy.
As with all villages and towns and just about anywhere someone can name, the village by the sea was likewise filled with all kinds of people. The most beautiful and intelligent of them, it was said, was the chieftain's daughter. Her hair was golden like the sun. Her eyes were blue like the sea. Her skin was the color of the moon, and her voice was soft and sweet. All of the men in the village wanted to marry her, but each year, she turned away every suitor who came to her.
At the same time, the chieftain's daughter was curious. She always asked questions about everything, and she always demanded answers.
There was, of course, nothing wrong with curiosity, but the chieftain's daughter possessed a sense of such on levels that made the other villagers heavily uneasy. Namely, she insisted that the gods didn't exist.
"I'm no child, and I'm certainly not simple like so many other people in this village!" she would say. "I refuse to believe those silly stories! Tell me why the sky is really blue and why the sun sets in the west and why the moon changes every month!"
And the chieftain would sigh and say nothing, for he had nothing to tell her. How could he explain things to her when it had always been a given that things were the way they were?
Third, if you lose sight of the path, you will not be able to find it again for some time. Do not panic. If you flee in any direction, you will only go deeper and deeper into the bowels of the forest until nothing would be able to guide you home.
It doesn't take you long to find the first farfetch'd. There it sits, rooting through a patch of wild onions. Licking your lips, you pluck the first poké ball from your belt and creep forward. It doesn't even notice you're there.
That is, it doesn't notice until you accidentally step on a branch.
The wood snaps beneath your weight, and although the forest isn't silent, the sound echoes louder than anything else you can hear. For a brief second, everything falls still and quiet. You don't even notice. The reason why you don't notice is because the farfetch'd is looking directly at you. You straighten up and extend a hand.
"It's okay," you whisper. "Just stay there. I'm here to—"
The farfetch'd bolts into the woods.
"No! NO! Augh!"
Without thinking about it, you bolt into the underbrush after it. You're not entirely aware of where you're going, and for that reason, it doesn't take you long to lose sight of the path.
The one thing the chieftain's daughter was the most curious about was the basket ritual. She knew that it had to be done, and of course, she did it along with the other girls who were of age. Each year, she would take a basket full of fruits and vegetables to the edge of the village, and there, she would place it beside the others. Then, she would retreat back into the village with the other women without looking back. The baskets would stay where all the women left them until the next morning. When the villagers would go back to the village edge, there, they would find the baskets, completely and utterly empty.
"Why do we do this?" she asked her father one year.
"Because if we refused, our crops would never survive, my child," her father answered.
"But why?" she said. "What makes the baskets so special?"
The chieftain smiled, but it was a forced smile because he knew that if he told his daughter the truth, she would demand another answer. Nonetheless, the truth was all he could offer because he, more than anyone else in the village, was an honest man.
"Because, daughter, many years ago, this place was completely barren," he said. "Nothing would grow, no matter how hard we tried. One day, a witch came to our village and said, 'I can see that your children are hungry, and I would like to help you. If each woman in this village leaves me a basket full of the best of your harvest at the edge of the village every year, I will bless this place for another season, and you will have more crops than you can imagine.'"
"Is that so?" the daughter replied. "How quaint! Why, then, do we not look back at the baskets when we leave them?"
"Because, daughter," the chieftain said, "the witch comes to the edge of the village each year and does her magic there. We cannot watch her do so, for if we do, the blessing will turn into a curse."
"Is that so?" she asked.
And much to the chieftain's surprise, she said nothing more.
Fourth, if you travel through the forest calmly, you will eventually come across a place in the forest where no light shines through the trees and no pokémon can be heard. At this place will be a shrine — not the one most people pass on their way to Goldenrod City. Rather, this shrine is an old one made of stone, covered by vines. Should you come across it, you must leave an offering. The offering can be anything. Food, jewelry, anything you value at that point in time.
This is an important rule. You must leave something, or you will never be able to find your way back.
After awhile, you lose sight of the farfetch'd. If you were old enough to curse, you would have done so right about now.
Looking back, you realize belatedly that you lost track of the path, too.
"Nice," you say to yourself. "Real nice."
Huffing, you continue in what you think would be the best direction: forward. After all, the forest can't possibly go on forever.
One year, the chieftain's daughter came across a handsome young hunter. He, like many others in the village, was enchanted by the daughter's sunlight hair and ocean eyes and wispy voice. As such, he wanted nothing more than to take her as his wife.
So, one day, the day the women left baskets on the edge of the village, he approached her and grasped her moon-white hand.
"My lady," he said, "I pledge to you that I will do anything that would make you happy if you give me your hand in marriage in return."
"Anything?" she asked.
"Anything," he told her.
And the chieftain's daughter smiled, for she knew immediately that this hunter was just as simple as the other villagers. She, however, was smart and cunning, and already, she knew exactly what she had to do.
Thus, for the second time in her life, the chieftain's daughter did not demand another answer.
Fifth, if you fail to leave something at the shrine and if you walk far enough away that you can no longer see the vine-covered stones that make up its face, you will eventually come across an old, wooden house with a blood-red door. There will be smoke coming from the chimney. The air around it will smell like roasted duck and exotic spices. Even if you have eaten less than an hour ago, you will feel hungrier than you have ever felt in your life.
Under no circumstances should you approach this house.
You don't know how long you've been walking by the time you see something other than trees. Eventually, you realize that the further you go into the forest, the darker it gets. Overhead, the canopy closes over you, blotting out the sun and submerging the rest of the forest in pitch darkness. You feel a slight chill, but you ignore it and press onward. After all, you have two badges and six pokémon so far. You can face anything.
After some time, you come across a pile of stones nestled between the trees. Upon closer inspection, you realize it's a shrine. Your feet climb onto its stone base, and your hand clears off some of the ivy on its square, stone face. Even after some of the ivy is gone, you can't quite tell which old god the shrine might be dedicated to. The inscriptions across its flat surface are worn and in a language you can't recognize. You only realize it's a shrine because it resembles the small, squat ones you learned about in school and because you can still see a small pile of offerings — a doll, a few coins, small animal bones — at your feet.
You shrug and walk away. It's an old shrine. Nothing special, you decide. It's not like anyone believes in the god it might have been for these days, right?
This will be your second mistake.
One year passed since the hunter's proposal.
Each day for one full year, the chieftain's daughter would encounter her suitor. On each of those days, she would invent new tasks for him to complete, and without fail, he would obey her every whim. As the year wore on, the tasks grew more and more difficult.
"I want you to collect for me the moon's reflection," she said one day.
That night, her suitor took his silver bowl to the edge of the sea and filled it with water. Once not a drop more could fit within it, he hurried to the chieftain's daughter and showed her its surface. There, she saw the moon's reflection shimmering on the calm water. She wasn't satisfied.
"Go into the prairie and find the biggest tauros. Bring its hide to me," she said another day.
Her suitor went that afternoon and chased down a massive tauros whose hooves made the earth shake whenever it ran. With his bow and arrow, the suitor shot down the beast, and with his knife, he cut away its skin. This he brought to the chieftain's daughter. She still wasn't satisfied.
"Bring to me the winter wind," she said a third day.
So, her suitor went to the highest mountain and found for her a snorunt. Using his fishing net, he ensnared the creature and brought it down to the village to show the chieftain's daughter. From its mouth, it blew the coldest wind, covering the houses of the village in a fine frost. She still wasn't satisfied.
Each day, she gave him challenges like these, responding to each one with, "Well, my love, your feat was impressive, but I am still not made happy."
And every day, the suitor would simply nod and smile and promise to come back the next day to try again until the chieftain's daughter would finally agree to marry him.
When the crops began to grow ripe and the time to harvest them approached, the chieftain's daughter remembered the tradition. She had waited all year for that time to come, and soon, she would have her chance to prove to everyone in the village that the stories weren't true.
The night before the offering, she told her suitor, "My love, your feat was impressive, but I am still not made happy."
Her suitor replied, "I understand, my lady. I will do anything to make you happy if it means you would give me your hand in marriage."
"Anything?" the chieftain's daughter asked.
"Anything," the suitor said.
"Then, I want your net," she told him, for she knew he would never agree to capturing the witch himself.
At first, he was surprised to hear her request. "My net, lady?"
"Your net," she said. "If you let me use your net tomorrow afternoon after all the women place their baskets by the edge of the village, I will gladly become your wife."
"But my lady," the hunter protested, "what ever would you want to use my net for?"
"Why, to catch something, of course," she answered. "Something that will please the witch of the prairie."
And the hunter, who was so very in love with the beautiful daughter of the chieftain, could only smile and give her his net, for he had no idea she didn't believe in the witch of the prairie at all.
Sixth, should you ignore all of the warnings above and approach the house, an old woman will emerge from the house. Her hair will be as silver as the moon, her eyes will be as black as the ocean depths, and her voice will be like the moaning winds. She will invite you inside to have dinner with her, and she will do it using the nicest words anyone has ever said to you.
Once again, you find yourself wandering through the darkness of the forest. A nagging worry starts to overtake you. While you're pretty sure it's impossible for a place to go on forever, you start to wonder if you have enough food and water to make it back to civilization. It occurs to you that you have no idea how big Ilex Forest actually is, so you don't even know if you have enough supplies to get to someplace safe. Sure, you know how to forage, but there just doesn't seem to be anything edible in the brush. There don't even seem to be pokémon to hunt if all else fails.
That's when you realize something that really disturbs you: there aren't any pokémon. You can't hear the cries of zubat or hoothoot in the trees above you, there aren't any rattata or paras scrambling through the underbrush, and even the trunks of the trees are completely devoid of insect pokémon. As far as you can tell, you are completely alone.
Your heart beats quickly when you realize this fact, and it takes all of your willpower to keep walking slowly through the woods. It would be a bad thing if you suddenly burst into a run when you're lost in a forest. This is one of the basic things you learned before setting out on your journey. You'd get yourself even more lost, and even worse, you'd end up exhausting yourself faster. So, taking a deep breath, you confine your sudden bout of fear to uncontrollable shaking as you pass through another thatch of trees and underbrush.
On the other side, you suddenly come to a clearing, and in the middle of it is a stone house. It should be noted that you came to this suddenly because just a second ago, it looked to you like the wall of trees was unending. Nonetheless, you blink and thank the legendaries that there's a sign of civilization right in front of you. Even better, smoke is curling from the chimney, and the air smells like cooking meat and spices. That tells you two things. First, it means that you might get something to eat (because you just now realize that you're intensely hungry), and second, it means that there are people inside who might give you directions out of the forest.
By this point, you abandon all hope of finding the farfetch'd. Instead, you run towards the red door.
As if by magic, it swings open, and from the inside of the house, you hear a low, female voice.
"Hello, dear," it tells you. "What might a nice child be doing all the way out here? You must be such a strong trainer. Perhaps the champion?"
You blush. "Well, uh, I have two badges..."
"Ah!" the woman says. "You must be very strong indeed. Come inside. Doubtless, you want some time to rest, and I haven't had much company lately. Come sit by the fire and tell me all about your adventures."
How could you say no?
The chieftain's daughter was happier than usual that year. She even sang as she gathered the most fruits and vegetables than any other villager to put into her basket. With the load in her arms, she trotted up to the edge of the village and placed her basket right next to the others with as much enthusiasm as she could muster. Then, without saying a word to the other townspeople, she walked away, still humming that tune.
When everyone by the edge of the village was gone, the chieftain's daughter crept back to the baskets and waited. There, she waited all day, hidden among the baskets and watching for anything to come. Even as she heard the rest of the village shout and sing in the fields, she never moved an inch from where she was. Eventually, she began to doze, head drooping inch by inch downward until she heard a rustle.
Looking up, she saw a shadow looming over the baskets and a pair of arms reach down towards one. Before she got a good look at the stranger, she flung her suitor's net into the air to catch the shadow.
"Ah-ha!" she exclaimed. "You're mine at last!"
And when she ran to the net, she found in it the most beautiful woman she had ever seen.
Seventh, if you, like many others, have been lured into the house, do not take any food or drink that the woman gives you and take any opportunity you can to get out of the house as quickly as possible.
Eighth, if you fail to do this, the woman will ask you to stay with her for the night. Whatever you do, do not answer her with a yes or a no. If you answer her with a yes, you will be trapped within that cottage until the next visitor comes.
May Celebi have mercy on you if you say no.
You decide that the chicken — you assume it was chicken, but you can't quite tell — was the tastiest piece of meat that had ever crossed your lips. The water must have been the sweetest from the freshest spring ever created, and you had nothing but praise to offer for the steamed vegetables and berry pie that the woman offered afterwards.
All the while, you tell her all about your adventures. You start by telling her you were one child of three who were given a starter pokémon by Professor Elm in New Bark Town. You continue by telling her about your battle against Falkner (shot down by your starter) and Bugsy (stomped by the first pokémon you caught). You detail the way you captured all five of the other pokémon with you, even going into detail about their individual personalities. You even tell her about your battles against the sages in Sprout Tower and Team Rocket in Slowpoke Well. The woman says nothing, but she smiles and looks impressed at appropriate moments. You don't even notice that she's not eating anything.
After everything is said and after the old woman clears the dishes off the table, she finally speaks.
"What incredible stories," she tells you. "My, you're quite an accomplished trainer. What might you be doing this far into Ilex Forest, though? Are you heading to Goldenrod City?"
You shrug. "Well, I was, but there's this guy who lost a farfetch'd somewhere in here. I was trying to get it back, but I got lost."
She sighs. "Oh, you poor dear! Don't you worry. The farfetch'd surely got back to its master by now. They usually do. But you must have gotten exhausted, chasing after that bird. Why don't you spend the night here to rest? I can give you directions back to Azalea Town or to Goldenrod, whichever you'd like."
Although her offer is generous, something about it doesn't sit right with you. You can't quite explain what it is, but something sends a shiver down your spine. Smiling, you stand.
"That sounds really nice, ma'am, but I really should be going. If you could just tell me which way is Goldenrod, I'll just be on my way."
The old woman's expression blanks, and she reaches out to grab your wrist. Right then, you shiver again, but this time, it's because you notice that her hand is stone-cold.
Right then, the chieftain's daughter gasped. The stranger in her net stood tall, dressed in fine, green silks. Her eyes were bright blue and deep, like they had seen more than the chieftain's daughter could ever hope to see. All around her, long, green hair floated, as if it hung in a breeze of its own.
The woman reached out, stretching an arm with skin as pale as the snow towards the daughter.
"Princess," she said, "why in the world did you throw a net over me?"
"Are you the witch of the prairie?" the chieftain's daughter asked.
The woman smiled sweetly. "Some people call me that, I suppose. And I know you are the daughter of this village's leader. I have been watching you for some time, but I cannot understand why you would want to capture me in a net."
"You say you've been watching me, but you don't know?" the daughter asked. Her voice was trembling only because the witch knew who she was without asking. "It's all very simple. I want to show everyone in this village that you're no witch."
"But why?" the witch asked.
"Because I know what you really are," the daughter said. "The stories about witches are silly little things, but I figured it out all on my own. You're not a witch. You're a thief, are you not? You steal from this village every year because you got everyone to think you can cast a spell to make our crops grow. Is that not the truth?"
The witch listened patiently, and when the chieftain's daughter finished, she smiled just as sweetly as she had before the girl began. Then, she grabbed hold of the net and ripped it in two.
"It is true that I am not a witch," the woman in green told her. "However, I am something else. My brothers and sisters would eat your eyes and burn you alive if you said to them what you just said to me."
The daughter laughed. "I'm not afraid of you."
"I hardly expect you to be," the woman in green replied. "But I will tell you this. I am also not my brothers and sisters. I will let you live, but I will show you what I am. You scoff at this village and its beliefs, so I will bless you by taking it away. Watch."
Ninth, remember always that Celebi is with you. This is as far as I can take you.
"H-hey!" you exclaim. "Let me go!"
The old woman's grip on your wrist tightens. "I'm sorry, child. She made me do this."
Your joints feel stiff. At first, you think it's just fear, but looking down, you notice something weird: your skin has turned rough and brown, and small twigs are starting to grow from your arms.
You want to scream, but you just can't. Your mouth is open, but no sound is coming from it.
The old woman guides you outside. You can feel the chill wind all around you, but it passes right through your clothes and your skin and directly into your bones. Your insides feel hot, like they're trying to boil up against your skin. Groaning, you writhe and try to break away from the old woman, but she simply guides you to a spot near the house.
Your feet break out of your sneakers. Your toes thrust into the ground. You can feel the moist earth beneath you, but your mind, by then, breaks.
Eventually, you can't think straight as your body stretches and thickens. Your legs fuse together into a single trunk, and all of a sudden, you realize in your last fit of consciousness that you never felt a single bit of pain. Discomfort, yes, but no pain. It was almost as if it was natural for this to happen.
Looking down at the old woman, you notice another creature standing beside her. At first, you think it's a lady dressed in green, but at second glance, you notice that it's a small, pixie-like pokémon with large, blue eyes turned towards you.
"Another offering," the old woman says wearily. "Are you satisfied now?"
The creature nods. She doesn't say anything.
Panicked by the green woman's threat, the chieftain's daughter ran into the village. There, she saw the strangest sight she had ever seen: people everywhere turning into trees. She watched helplessly as her father's arms grew into branches, as his face disappeared into bark, as his legs thrust into the ground where he stood. She watched her suitor drop his quiver and grow leaves around his head. She watched as the children froze where they were, their eyes wide and terrified as they, too, became trees.
After a while, the chieftain's daughter screamed and ran into one of the houses. The lady in green followed her, breaking down the red door without even touching it. There, as the chieftain's daughter sat on the floor and cried, the lady in green knelt next to her and touched her on the head.
"There, there," she said. "You will not be alone. All around you, the people of this village will always stand around this house. And, if that is not enough, I will always be with you. I have even given you a gift. You will not know how to use it until much later, of course, but I will have time to teach you some other day."
She stood. The chieftain's daughter still said nothing. Instead, she could only glare at the woman in green.
"Someday," the witch said, "you will come to love the people of the village as they are, and you will come to love me. Until that day, use the gift I have given you to bring me your offerings. It will be the way you can work to earn my forgiveness."
The woman flashed one more smile — one more toothy grin, and for the first time, the chieftain's daughter felt afraid of the green woman.
But the witch did nothing else except leave. Eventually, the buildings of Ilex Village would crumble except for the one the chieftain's daughter would grow old in — always old but never dead. Her hair turned from sunlight golden to a pale silver, her eyes lost the beautiful sapphire blue that once attracted the sorry hunter, and her moon-colored skin grew as cold as her heart, but she would never die.
Instead, she built a stone shrine to her mistress, and there, she used the magic that the witch of the prairie had given her – the same magic that she had witnessed herself – to offer countless lost children to the green woman, the creature who became the Voice of the Forest.
I'm so sorry.
In the heart of Ilex Forest, where the trees are so thick they block out the sun, a sapling stands, surrounded by hundreds of tall, old trees. At its base are six poké balls that gather dirt and dust as the seasons pass. You know they contain pokémon. High-leveled ones, to be exact. They once defeated Bugsy. But you can't reach them.
You can hear them now – the trees, that is. All around you, they're weeping and moaning. They can't sleep. They can't rest. They can't scream. All they can do is stand around the cottage of their chieftain's daughter, watching as the old witch turns another helpless child into a gift for the Voice of the Forest. Eventually, you find yourself joining them, yearning to warn each new trainer that came by.
But you can't.
You can't move.
You can't scream.
You can't sleep.
You can only watch.
They say that if one traveled the wrong way through the trees that stand where the village once was, they might hear the Voice of the Forest, kindly reminding each and every passerby to remember her and her brothers and sisters.
For if there's one thing the old gods do not like, it's to be forgotten.