Far above the ground, two people in funny white uniforms cackled evilly. At their feet, a Meowth rubbed his paws together, laughing in the same way. Yes, it was indeed, Team Rocket, and they couldn't believe their good luck.
"The twerp never even saw it coming!" Jessie cackled.
"We managed to nab that Pikachu before he even got out of that house!" James added.
In the center of the hot air balloon's basket, a rather annoyed yellow Pokémon moped inside of a big glass cylinder. Every so often, he would aim a vicious look at Meowth, but for the most part, Pikachu remained still, preferring not to give Team Rocket the satisfaction of seeing him struggle. He wasn't particularly worried – Ash would eventually save him, and then he could send the annoying dweebs far, far away. Until then, however…
"How far away are they?" Jessie asked.
"About a mile, I should say," James told her, peering through the lenses of a hot pink pair of binoculars. "They haven't even reached the forest yet!"
Team Rocket shared another evil laugh, only this time Meowth had to stop halfway through. He looked as though he were going to spit up a hairball… although, to be honest, Pikachu had never seen the talking Pokémon groom himself, so how would he get fuzz in his stomach in the first place? At any rate, he looked as though he had swallowed a bug or something, and he was forced to lean against the side of the basket in order to support himself.
"Meowth, are you okay?" James asked, suddenly noticing his partner's wheezing.
"Peachy…" the Normal-type coughed out.
Jessie fiddled around in a box attached to the side of the basket. "Hang on, there's a bottle of water around here somewhere…" There was a strange clicking sound, followed by Jessie softly saying, "Oh crap."
Then the bottom of the basket opened up, sending all four of its passengers falling to the forest floor twenty feet below.
Pikachu's container slammed into a sizeable rock, shattering the glass and allowing him to dart off in what he sincerely hoped was Ash's general direction. Behind him, the three members of Team Rocket groaned and pulled themselves out of the enormous pit of mud that they had just fallen into. All three of them looked longingly after the disappearing Pikachu, too weak to give chase.
At the edge of the forest…
"Team Rocket!" Ash screamed at the top of his lungs. "I am going to get you guys and… um…" The boy looked thoughtful for a moment, considering his options. "I will take you to Hoenn and make you eat May's cooking!" Satisfied with his threat, the boy continued to pace back and forth with an evil glare on his face.
"I don't get it," Dawn muttered from atop a nearby boulder. "Why can't we just chase after them?"
In way of response, Brock pointed to a nearby sign hammered into the side of a nearby tree.
KEEP OUT OF WOODS! DANGER!
THESE WOODS ARE CURSED! ENTER AT YOUR OWN PERIL!
"Ah. Good to know."
"That's it! I've had it! Pikachu, I'm coming!" Ash suddenly darted into the woods, leaving his friends dumbfounded.
"We've only been here for five minutes!" Brock shouted after his friend. "Pikachu will be back in just a bit!"
"We already saw the balloon fall!" Dawn protested. "It must have gotten away already!"
Ash ran back to the edge of the woods, fixing his friends with an evil gaze. The two other trainers sighed and followed the young boy into the "cursed" woods.
"We should split up and search on our own. That way, we'll find Pikachu much faster!" Brock offered helpfully. "There's a cave over there, so I'll go search in there."
Piplup poked his head out of Dawn's bag, where he had been taking a quick nap. "Lup!" he chirped, pointing to a nearby pond. "Good idea, Piplup!" Dawn gushed. "We'll check over by the pond!"
"What about you, A-" Brock started, only to realize that the younger boy had already darted off in the two seconds that his friends had taken their eyes off of him. "Well, so much for my plan," Brock sighed. "Hey! Ash! If you can hear this, meet us back here if anything happens!" A muffled call rang off from a ways away, probably the younger boy answering back. Then again, it could have been a Pokémon call. "Dawn, don't wander off too far from here. If all of us get separated, things will only get worse."
"Sure thing!" she replied in a bubbly voice.
Little did the two trainers know that things were going to get very, very bad no matter what they did while in the forest…
"Pikachu!" Ash called out, cupping his hands around his mouth and shouting loud enough for all the forest to hear. "Where are you?" Something rustled in the bushes next to him, but when the trainer went to look, it was only a Weedle, giving him a curious look. "Oh! Have you seen a Pikachu around here?" The Weedle shook its head and waddled away. "Thanks anyway!" Ash called after it. It wasn't until it had already walked back into the bushes that he realized it had answered him. That was sort of strange – most wild Pokémon were too timid to answer back. Then again, people probably didn't go into the forest very often, seeing as how it was "cursed," so maybe the Pokémon just thought of humans as strange new playmates rather than any danger.
Thinking back to the "curse," Ash laughed. How could the forest be cursed if all of the Pokémon lived in it? They all seemed happy, he thought. Families of Pidgey would play in the dust, Bug-types would eat the bushes, and Water-types would swim in the ponds. There didn't seem to be anything that set this forest apart from any of the other forests that the boy had even see! What could possibly make the forest so dangerous if all of the Pokémon lived there in peace?
No sooner had the idea entered his mind than Ash suddenly collapsed to his knees with the wind knocked out of him. What had happened? Had he been attacked by an angry Pokémon? Maybe the Weedle's mom was chasing him away from her baby. He looked around wildly for any sign of an attacking Pokémon. Nothing in front of him, nothing above him, nothing to the left, nothing to the right…
"Ow!" A sudden, sharp pain jabbed him in the back, then went away just as quickly as it had come. Ash whirled around, bracing himself for another attack from the angry Pokémon. It never came. Instead, a strange feeling came over him. He could feel something poking him in the back, but at the same time, he could feel something else entirely. It was like…
His heart racing, Ash looked behind him to see a strange thunderbolt-shaped thing shivering behind him. He grabbed the yellow thing with both hands. His worst fears were confirmed – he could feel himself grabbing it.
He had a tail.