(Overdue update is overdue. o_o)

Chapter 8: Rock and Tumble

Three badges down, five to go. Our journey was nearing its halfway mark. I think we were all feeling pretty excited about that.

I got another half-decent night's sleep, once again crediting Jade's ability to eat dreams and her willingness to rid me of the unpleasant ones I'd been cursed with for a while. I felt a little guilty about it, really - they looked like they tasted terrible. I told her she didn't have to, but she just smiled and told me, "Drow," which I guessed meant "It's alright, I don't mind." I smiled appreciatively and pat her head in thanks.

We all took advantage of the Pokemon Center's showers - a luxury this Pokemon Center in particular possessed - to ease our knotted muscles and to wash off the grime and sweat that had been building up on us over the last few days, including that god-awful stench of garbage from Surge's gym. It then occurred to me how long it'd been since I'd last had a shower, plus how much I'd been through since then - brownish water went down the drain the entire time until I'd scrubbed every last inch of my body, then got to soak in the glorious warm water until I sucked it dry. Sweet, sweet warmth. I swore to Arceus I'd never take a hot shower for granted again.

My pokemon grabbed a shower, too - it was the funniest thing, when I stopped and thought about it. My mom was right: I really did treat my pokemon like they were actual people, and everyone else found it a bit odd. The fact that I kept them all out gave an impression that I was looking for a fight, hence why people tended to clear out when I approached unless they were trainers too. I seemed to hold my pokemon in higher esteem than as just playmates or pets or team members - they were my friends. Family, even, and they deserved a lot of things, at the very least included a hot shower. I saw too much humanity in them and loved them too much to stick them in a tub and scrub them like dogs or pets. They could handle that themselves. They certainly didn't seem to mind the extra freedom. Who would?

Then, of course, came the added amusement that went with watching people respond to these very much human-acting pokemon taking up the shower stalls. A passing man gave the Ivysaur that walked casually out of the bathroom with a towel on his head and bulb the strangest look, not to mention the expressions of the people in the woman's bathroom as Jade hummed to herself while patting herself dry with a levitating towel. Keith was busy in one stall trying to smell all the shampoos, the fragrances reminding him of flowers his past hive used to pollinate - an unfortunate girl shrieked in terror and ran for dear life from the giant killer bee she had stumbled upon in nothing but a towel. The four of us were in stitches for a good long while after that.

After breakfast and the usual antics that went on to make the meal more enjoyable, the gang and I left Vermilion and headed north, taking the winding path that made its way through the tall grass of the route. I remembered my previous obligations and called my mom to let her know what the plan was. "We've got the Cascade and Thunder badges, so we're going north again towards Cerulean," I told her, glancing around briefly. Keith had the lookout position and was keeping a close eye out for anything that might get in our way, so I didn't have to worry. Even so, I liked to know where my pokemon were. Not that they wandered far. "The north and south gates of Saffron are always cut off - no clue why - so we'll try the east gate. If we can get through there, we'll cut through Saffron and make it over to Celadon City for my fourth badge. Keith ought to dominate in that one. Right, buddy?"

Keith nodded his head with a, "Beedrill!" as he buzzed his wings, banging his arm-lances together with a metallic clash. I'd take that as a "yes."

My mom chuckled, having heard the noises and took them for what they were. "He certainly sounds eager enough. I bet he's a pretty fearsome fighter!"

"You bet he is," I confirmed, patting the side of Keith's head; the little purring buzz he emitted wasn't exactly "fearsome," but every brutal warrior ought to have a softer side. Y'know, for us gals. "I sure know I wouldn't want to face off against him."

"And what about the rest of your team, hon? Have you expanded yet?"

"No, not yet. I tried to get a Diglett, but it was like a game of Whack-A-Mole. I think we'll just try our luck over by Rock Tunnel, see if we can't get anything in the grass around there."

"Rock Tunnel? Oh, I hear that's a bear to travel, even with guides. If I remember correctly, you had a bit of trouble with Mt. Moon, yes?"

"True. But not only have I stocked up on Super Potions, I've got a flashlight." I reached into my pocket and pulled out the handheld device, thumbing the switch absently. "We are not getting lost in this cave too, y'here? We got enough of that last time. Not fun."

Tyler and Keith shuddered and muttered in agreement. Jade didn't have to have past experiences to know getting lost wasn't a good idea.

"So anyway, we're set on that. I've gotta hang up now cuz we're coming up on the Underground Path, and the phone won't work underground. I'll call you after we're in Lavender Town, alright?"

"Alright. Stay safe, honey. I love you!"

"Bye, mom."

We hiked our way through the cavernous Underground Path - our dictated alternate path on account of mister Thirsty Guard - and climbed up the hill to Cerulean, where Tyler made wondrous use of the Cut HM we'd acquired to clear the way through the thick bushes. It was actually pretty clever how he did it: he took a single Razor Leaf from his bulb, fit it on the end of one of his vines, then started to hack and slash at the brush with the razor-sharp edge like a machete. We then went up through town so we could come around the side and cut through a little bit of shrubbery that stood between us and Route 9. There was one little patch of grass up on some ledges, but all I saw were a bunch of Spearow bobbing around, so I didn't bother. I hadn't had the best of luck with Spearow as of late. That, and they were kind of obnoxious.

The hike up the route wasn't so bad as far as random pokemon encounters because of how little grass there was. There were plenty of trainers, though - Bug Catchers trying to nab a Venonat or stray Metapod, Picnickers enjoying the outing and fresh air, Hikers looking to grab a battle before they tried to scale the mountain. They weren't much contest for us, considering most of them didn't even have their second badge yet. Kinda sad, really.

There was one Bug Catcher, though, who was really getting on my nerves. He was one of those kids who were a living personification of a yippy little kick-me mutt: loud, brazen, and not worth the effort. I tried to brush him off, but he came up around in front of me to cut me off, talking big and acting tough. He was just a munchgin, but apparently the fact that he was half my height didn't faze him, cuz he just kept talking...and talking...and talking...and talking, trying to get a rise out of me, trying to get under my skin-

Clenching my fists, I abruptly stopped and snapped my head around to look at Keith: "One more word out of that guy and I'll let you Twinneedle his face out. Got it?"

Keith nodded eagerly, clacking his arm-lances together with noted enthusiasm. Rather than be intimidated, the Bug Catcher seemed indignant. "You think you're so tough because you have a Beedrill? Well, I have two, and they're way better than yours!"

So that explained his arrogance, then. "Well geez, why didn't you say so?" I asked, turning to face him. "I can get away with kicking their asses. You gonna battle or what?"

Judging by the kid's smirk, he must have been feeling pretty confident as he let his pokeball fly - one crack and a flash if light later, a second Beedrill was out hovering in front of him, looking exactly like mine, albeit somewhat smaller. "You're gonna regret that offer, lady. Beedrill, use-"

The kid never did get to finish his command. One yellow streak and a flash of an arm lance later, the opposing Beedrill was twitching on the ground, a massive gouge in its chest. Keith hovered just over it with a bored expression, smiling at the kid. "Drill bee?"

The kid seemed pretty stunned, so I elucidated for him: "He wants to know if you'll send out the other one for him."

Too shocked to answer, the Bug Catcher just threw out his only other remaining ball, summoning a second Beedrill identical to the first - without the gouge in its chest, of course. One blur and an aerial uppercut from Keith fixed that problem, however: now they were a bloody matching pair.

The kid was speechless. "H-h...how did...you..."

I shrugged and said, "Aerial Ace," standing still a moment so Keith could latch onto my back again, nuzzling his head against my neck. I smiled and rubbed his arm as I turned around and walked away. The Bug Catcher didn't let out a peep as I did so. Not that he needed to; we both knew my Beedrill dominated.

We continued to climb up Route 9, stopping occasionally to let Tyler swat aside some Hikers' Geodude or Jade to telekinetically send a Camper's Oddish or Bellsprout flying. Keith didn't have to intervene much, which I was fine with, although I would have liked him to pitch in some so he and Jade could stay even with Tyler, who seemed to be sucking up a lot of the experience these days. I was as fine with him being the heavyweight as he was, but I'd really like to keep an even team so we didn't run into any problems with training later on. I mentioned this to Tyler, who nodded and stepped down, letting Jade clear the way. Keith agreed to take the lead when we got into the cave.

The rugged terrain smoothed out after a while and stopped to make way for the Cerulean River near the end of the route. A lone Pokemon Center sat near the entrance to Rock Tunnel, providing travelers and their pokemon one last pit stop before they ventured out into the dark. It'd serve its use to us as well, but first I wanted to try my luck in the tall grass nearby; we'd been stuck at three on the team for long enough. Just as long as it wasn't a Spearow or a Poison-type, I'd be happy.

Luck seemed to be with me today, and as the first pokemon I saw rolled into sight, I grinned: Electric-type. I'd definitely need one of these. "Awesome. Jade, Confusion."

An invisible hand reached out and bitch-slapped the Voltorb, sending it rolling backwards towards the river. Rather than hesitate like a normal pokemon would, the Voltorb slowed to a stop and came flying back towards us, only to be held in place by Jade's telekinesis. It was a spunky little thing, that's for sure.

It seemed appropriate, so I dug around for a pokeball before chucking it at the Voltorb, who was sucked into the capsule in a flash of red. Two or three jerks later, the ball fell still, and I released the Voltorb so I could address it. "Hello there," I greeted, dropping to a knee to be closer to its eye level. "My name's Rein. Welcome to the team."

The Voltorb glowered up at me, expressionless face permanently contorted in a scowl. It replied, "Voltorb," in a synthetic voice, staring blankly at me like it couldn't even hear me. The left half of its face spasm'd once, and I realized how jerky and fidgety the robot-like pokemon was.

"Twitch," I decided, nodding to myself. "I'll call you Twitch."

The Voltorb didn't reply, just twitched again as it stared at me blankly, devoid of emotion or feeling. It was actually kinda creepy, but I didn't mind. At least, not too badly.

I wanted to grind Twitch after a stop to the Pokemon Center, but this was harder than it sounded. Despite being an Electric-type, Twitch didn't know any Electric-type moves. All he knew was Tackle, Screech, Sonicboom, and Charge, which made fighting really annoying, especially since all the wild pokemon were Spearow that were practically begging to get zapped. Too bad he couldn't cuz he didn't know any, y'know, Electric moves. Ugh.

As much as I loved pummeling wildlife for hours, we had to get moving. That cave wasn't going to clear itself. After another brief stop to the Pokemon Center, it was off to Rock Tunnel...though not before thumping some kid who thought it'd be funny to jump the next person who decided to try to pass. Hehe.

The second we passed by the entrance of the cave, I could tell why it'd be dark: there was a ladder going down that we had to go through. That meant the rest of the cave would be underground - ergo, pitch-black. Absolute darkness that came with being under solid rock. Definitely a travel hazard. And I had my flashlight, not to mention the red glow from Keith's compound eyes, but compared to the absolute darkness we were going to face, I couldn't help but feel tragically unprepared...

A peculiar noise caught my attention - I turned towards the entrance to see a small shape flopping around on the ground, little wings flailing as it let out a weak squealing noise I guessed came from pain. Closer observation revealed it to be a Zubat as thin as a rail, a wound in its neck contributing to its strange cry. It appeared to be disoriented and in a panic because of it.

"Uh oh," I said, coming over to quell the little creature - I made sure to hold it under its wings to avoid its snapping little teeth; Zubat bites meant an unpleasant assortment of shots for us frail rabies-prone humans. "Easy there, easy...I'm not gonna hurt you. Just calm down, okay?"

The Zubat had to be terrified, but the soothing tone of my voice and the assuring rubbing on the back of its head served to gradually calm the scared little Zubat. It curled its wings up so it could fold into a little ball, its frail body quivering in my hands. It looked so helpless.

I had no love for Zubat, but I felt my heart go out for the creature. "Poor little guy," I cooed, cradling it against my chest; it seemed kind of cold, and I could understand why, what with it laying around on the cool stone floor. The wound in its throat must have done something to its echolocation, because it didn't make any of the quiet, high-pitched sighing noises I'd heard countless other Zubat make at all times. That would make it impossible to tell where it was, not to mention return to its colony...how long had it been like this? Cold and alone and scared, waiting to get eaten by some predator in this cave or to be put out of its misery by passing trainers...unless it'd been so heartlessly ignored this entire time? Could people that came through here really just leave this little creature out here to die all alone, frightened and disoriented? Could people really do that - even to a dime-a-dozen Pokemon like a Zubat?

With that possibility looming over my head, there was no way I could just turn my back and move on. I had to get this little fella some help. The nearby Pokemon Center would work perfectly for that.

As soon as the Nurses got hold of it, it was very clear that the unfortunate Zubat was completely blind - even more so than the average Zubat. Like I'd suspected, the blue bat was unable to use its echolocation due to the injury in its throat, which had severed something important to its echolocation mechanism and changed its cry to a frequency that it couldn't hear, thereby blinding it completely. The Nurses were able to fix the wound and patch it up nicely, but the damage remained: the Zubat couldn't use echolocation. This would make it impossible for it to navigate caves, identify predators, or locate food, thereby dooming the unfortunate pokemon to death in its original habitat. If it went back out into those caves, the Zubat would die. It wasn't able to look after itself anymore. Someone had to take care of it.

The Nurse Joy in charge of the Pokemon Center offered to take it into custody herself to send it to a pokemon sanctuary, I decided to ask the Zubat myself. "What do you think, little one?" I asked her - the Nurses said she was female. "Do you want to go somewhere where people can take care of you?"

The Zubat shook her head vigorously, letting out a hoarse squeak as she pressed her head into my chest, burrowing into my shirt slightly. She seemed to take a liking to me.

I smiled and stroked her ears. "Do you want to stay with me?"

She nodded again, emitting a pair of squeaks that - to me, at least - sounded like confirmation. I glanced up to the Nurse, who was still looking at the way I was cradling the little Zubat, then smiled at me. "I guess a caring soul is all that matters here," she said. "Do you have a pokeball?"

I did. One tap on the noggin and a brief jerking later, and the pokeball chimed to indicate a successful capture. I released her just as quickly as I'd captured her, cradling the little blue bat in my arms like a teddy bear. "I think I'll call you Rika. How's that sound?"

Rika squeaked with a nod, forming her wide mouth into a toothy little smile. I danced my fingers over her smooth blue belly, causing her to shriek and thrash her wings in what equaled to her giggles and laughter. I fell in love with that little winged squeaky toy immediately.

My team felt like a full family again: Tyler and I were the parents, Jade and Keith were brother and sister, Twitch was...well...Twitch, and Rika was the new baby girl. Standing there with my squeaking Zubat in my arms, Jade and Keith beside me, Tyler's vine wrapped snugly around my hand...I was the mother. They were all my family. Twitch didn't really fit in, seeming more like a distant adopted son that was just sort of there, but I was sure he'd warm up to me one day. I'm sure somewhere deep in that weird, electric brain of his was the heart of a little lover boy...or a robot. Either way, he'd settle in with the group later. They always did.

But enough of all those weird, poetry-esque thoughts; we had a cave to get through, and it wasn't going to clear itself. Time to get exploring.

Easier said than done, of course. Even with a flashlight, navigating the pitch-black interior of the rocky cavern was almost as difficult as going in completely blind. A cloud of Zubat shrieked overhead, causing me to duck my head and Keith to grip around my neck with one arm, the other raised and pointed at the blind Pokemon in warning, highlighting them with his crimson stare. Whether it was in heed of his threat or because they had no idea we were there, they passed by without incident, and I sighed. I could already tell this was going to be a challenge.

Which it was. Have you ever tried navigating a room at night when you just got done looking at something really bright, then stumble around over every single object possible? That's kind of how we went about Rock Tunnel. It was tense walking: every other stone was alive and pumping its fists at us, every inch of air was a possible path for an intercepting Zubat to take to bite me right in the face, and the distant, deep bellowing that seemed to come from the earth itself indicated the presence of wild Onix - which, in this dark and tight environment, would be a nightmare to face off against. It was one thing to fight them - it was another if you were getting jumped by them. A standard battle and an ambush were two very, very different scenarios. Of course, we had my flashlight, but what good was a beam of light if it only highlighted the things that were practically in our faces anyway?

Keith handled everything that came at us with aplomb. Wild Mankey, Geodude, Zubat, the occasional Graveler and Sandshrew...none of them lasted more than one or two turns before my proud Beedrill warrior came buzzing back up to me, perching on my back with his head on my shoulder with a satisfied purr, glowing eyes searching the darkness for something else to brutalize. I couldn't have been more proud if I tried. It felt good to have something so powerful and caring as my own personal bodyguard.

Jade and Tyler didn't have to come out much, but we would occasionally get jumped by a few Zubat or a particularly feisty Mankey, at which point they would take turns swatting the violent wildlife aside like pins in a bowling alley. As soon as Keith had gotten his fill, they both worked together to help clear the way, using excellent tag-team moves and bone-jarring strikes to knock out whatever came at us, regardless of type or stature. Those guys were a regular two-Pokemon wrecking crew.

Rika was still frail and trembling, so she got a special spot with me, nice and safe in the little cradle I made for her with my arms. She was so cute and vulnerable, I didn't have the heart to send her out into battle yet, even against the most feeble of Zubat. She could hear their echolocation, so she'd know where they were, but she was still blind to her own signals, which would be more than crippling...no, Rika wasn't a fighter yet. Maybe sometime in the future, but for now she was just my cuddle buddy as we dredged through the darkness of the cavern. She was being especially brave - she didn't even flinch anymore when she heard the sounds of combat, merely perking her ears to hear what she could and gauge who was winning. Maybe she was tiny, but Rika wasn't without her share of courage as well.

Twitch, however, was another story. Not to say that he was cowardly - in fact, he didn't know what fear was. That may sound great, as some of the most fearless Pokemon in the world don't need fear since they're so powerful, but your average Voltorb that I just caught that didn't have any Electric-type moves? THAT was something that needed fear. Unfortunately, Twitch had none: every battle was met with the same reckless charge and poker face, just as every attack was countered and retaliated against without a second thought, just as likely to charge forward to his immanent doom as he was to dole out the finishing blow. Tyler had stepped in more than once to pull the reckless Voltorb out of harm's way before the little berserker could get himself killed. We didn't need any more deaths - especially not pointless ones.

That didn't mean Twitch didn't need some of his own training, however, and I didn't have much choice but to put him back in front as we continued along. He was going to have to get stronger if he was going to stand a chance, and the only way to do that was to battle. Fortunately, Sonicboom was still a useful move. All I had to do was run damage control while he gradually split the enemy's health down in chunks before victory was ours. Now if only he didn't get so damn much damage done to himself in the meantime...

One of the sets of footsteps behind me stopped, and I paused as well, shining the light back to see who had stopped. "Jade? What's up?"

My Drowzee didn't say anything, just raised a finger, looking off into the darkness with a distant expression, as if listening for something. The rest of us stopped and listened as well, trying to figure out what it was when she suddenly ran straight at me, shoving me as hard as she could. "Drowzee!" Look out!

Not a second later, the entire wall to my left exploded into dust and rubble, sending boulders the size of my head flying every which way. I cried in alarm and lost my balance, tumbling to the ground, careful with my grip to not let Rika get hurt or pinned. Jade scrambled off me and whirled around, cupping a cloud of telekinetic energy between her hands. Tyler and Keith were up as well, blades up and vines extended, ready to fight.

I heard it before I saw it, but once I did, it was impossible to miss: a mighty Onix reared up its head and bellowed its war cry, knocking chips out of the ceiling and causing hundreds of Zubat around us to squeal in alarm and take to the air, creating a storm of thrashing wings and pained screeches around the stone behemoth like a thunderstorm. All it needed was bolts of lightning and some rain and it'd be a scene right out of one of those adventurous sea movies. Heck, it was practically just a Gyarados made out of stone, so it wasn't hard to imagine myself in the midst of a great storm, the wind howling around me...

But I didn't follow that train of thought, my mind instead going into tactical mode. Onix were big, but we'd handled them before, and Tyler had gotten good at dismissing the rocky snakes before they could even dole a blow - their heads were their weak point. We could brush this monster aside and keep going without a second thought. On the other hand, these things brought out experience in buckets, and it could be just what we needed to jump-start some of our new recruit's training. For all its size and fearsome appearance, when handled correctly, Onix were no more a challenge than a stray Geodude.

Feeling confident and deciding to take a risk, I called out over the screams of frightened Zubat, "Twitch, use Sonicboom!"

My Voltorb droned a reply without hesitating and rolled forward, spinning rapidly in place to generate a large wave of crescent-shape energy, which split the air in two as it launched forward and collided with the Onix's stony hide. The giant roared in pain as a large line was carved into its body, whirling around and bring its tail about to smash my Pokemon into dust - and nearly us along with it.

I didn't have much choice but to move in unison with my Pokemon, lest we all be pounded into nothing by the gargantuan rock snake, but I didn't miss a beat, scanning the area with my flashlight to make sure Twitch was okay - the dust made it hard, but fortunately he was bright red. That made it a little easier. "Nice shot, Twitch! Hit it with another one!"

My Voltorb twitched once and fired a second wave of sonic energy at the Onix, splitting the air and a bit of the creature's hide with the swift attack, and even though it was a glancing blow, it didn't cause the creature any less pain, nor did it inflict less damage. Feeling lucky, I had Twitch fire another shot, only to have my luck run out and watch as the move fired off and landed harmlessly into the wall, gouging a rut into it. Having been on the move up until now and using the creature's pain to cover up his vulnerable position, Twitch was now a sitting target out in the open, practically asking to get hit. "Twitch, look out!"

He went to move, but he was still feeling as confident as I had before, and he didn't move quite as quickly as he should have or could have - the Onix's tail swept across the battle field once again, catching the comparatively tiny Voltorb in its grasp as it swung its tail around in a swift motion to coil itself in a ball, the prone form of a Voltorb buried somewhere in the center. The sound of grinding stone against stone met my ears, and my pulse quickened - Bind. Even if it wasn't a particularly strong move stat-wise, let's face it: a giant snake squeezing something is what it is. There's no way to get around how deadly the dreaded Bind move an Onix can dole out really is. I could only imagine the sound of bones breaking somewhere inside that big cluster of rock and living boulders...

"Twitch!" I cried, calm broken. If he could reply, I didn't hear it. My entire team sprung into motion at that point: vines from Tyler thrashed and flailed, pounding the Onix's hide like a drum. Jade used her telekinesis to reach out and pull the Onix's body apart, trying to ease up the pressure and free Twitch while Keith flew up at the Onix's face, karate chopping its head with the steely lengths of his blade-arms, trying to split its skull in two. Despite the joint effort, nothing seemed to work: the Onix wouldn't release its victim, and all my cries for Twitch remained unanswered. It looked like he was trapped...and the legendary death grip that an Onix held over its prey wasn't just a rumor. I only wish I could have found out some other way. "Twitch!"

Without warning, a bomb went off. An ear-splitting explosion blasted through the length of the cave, rebounding off the walls and playing again to further damage the hearing of whoever heard it. Shockwaves smashed the Onix's hide and sent pieces of it flying through the air like shrapnel as fire rolled out and billowed into the air, forming a mini-mushroom cloud. The power of the explosion split the Onix in two, sending its head flying off in some other direction while its lower half slammed to the ground, twitching occasionally as the intense heat baked the stony exterior of the mammoth Rock-type's hide.

It was a spectacular show, although the fact that I knew my Voltorb was the cause of that explosion took away any thrill I might have had at such a sight. "No! Twitch!"

The panicked Zubat of the cave eventually thinned out, dispersing to their own dark corners to tend to their probably bleeding ears. When the roar of the explosion finally stopped echoing off the walls of the cave, an eerie silence descending in its place. The shock of the blast must have been enough to fracture just a little bit of the ceiling overhead, as a single sliver of light dropped down from the top of the cave to its stony floor, perfectly aligned with a single trickle of wispy smoke that wafted up in a narrow little path, curl near the top, and fade out of existence. There was a black spot near where it originated, and it was almost perfectly spherical in shape...was it the body of my deceased Voltorb, smoldering lightly after the catastrophic explosion that signified his death? Or was it just the spot where Twitch had been squeeze that kept the Onix's body just barely pulled apart enough so the flames could scorch a spot on the ground, marking the place where his life had ended?

In the end, it didn't really matter, and I didn't care. Picking up my flashlight, I returned Rika to her pokeball - a place I knew for sure that she would be safe - and started to slowly walk away from the battle zone. "Come on, you guys," I said just above a whisper - why, then, did my voice echo so much when I spoke? It was almost like it was mocking me...or maybe that was the cave itself? "We have to keep going."

My teammates gave the site of their fallen comrade one last look before turning back and heading after me. The rest of the trek through the cave went by in a solemn silence.

I pushed the shame out of my mind for the time being, forcing away the self-loathing so I could concentrate completely on getting out of this god-forsaken cave. We didn't run into any more Onix, and while the Zubat had been driven off by the commotion, the Mankey were even more frenzied than ever and made up for the otherwise notable lack in activity throughout the cave. Tyler just swatted them aside with his vines and cleared the way for us as we continued silently on.

Nobody said anything. We didn't have to. I knew that they knew it was my fault Twitch had died, and I wasn't about to say anything otherwise. As long as I had the guilt, that meant they could all sleep with a clear conscience, and that was good enough for me. I could handle the weight of another death on my shoulders. Just as long as it wasn't something they had to deal with. Better me than them.

We walked around in darkness and silence for another hour before I finally saw light - sweet, glorious light. The second I saw it, I returned Tyler, returned Jade, and while I couldn't find Keith, I knew he wouldn't be far, instead keeping his empty pokeball in my hands as I walked out into the glorious whiteness, savoring the sting that came with my eyes suddenly having to adjust, inhaling a deep breath-

The darkness came back suddenly as something came down over my head and hands grabbed me from behind. I cried out and struggled, but I heard male voices outside of the coarse fabric of the bag they'd bound me with, and I knew I was no match - not against two fully grown men. I was alone in the mountains, I'd been foolish enough to return all of my Pokemon, and now I was completely at their mercy, doomed to whatever fate they had in store for me-

The hands released me just as quickly as they grabbed me, and I took advantage of the sudden confusion by dropping to the ground, yanking the bag off my head and tucking into a ball, reaching out to kick whatever presence I felt nearby. To my surprise, I heard cries of pain and alarm, and when I looked up to see who had revved a chainsaw, my heart suddenly lifted up in relief and joy. "Keith!"

My guardian Beedrill was in the midst of complete rage. The two men that had grabbed me - a tall lanky one and a stocky, muscle-thick man in a Hiker's uniform - scrambled away from the black and yellow visage of death, fearing for their lives as Keith hissed a deep, reverberating buzzing noise not unlike that of a boat starting up, skin glowing red from a recently used Focus Energy. One man chucked out a Pokeball, which opened up and let loose a wild-looking Primape. The creature barely had a time to emit a noise when Keith had struck it with an Aerial Ace - it only took a split second for his blade-arm to punch into its nose, erupt out the other side of its head coated in crimson brains, and kill it instantly, then a second longer for Keith to yank his blade free, heft the lifeless Primape over his head, and chuck it back at my assailants, knocking the one man clear off his feet from the impact. Fearing for their lives and knowing their Pokemon wouldn't stand a chance against my Beedrill's fury, the two men turned tail and fled, crying out screams of terror and pain as Keith charged after them, planting stings across every inch of body that he could find and encouraging them to run faster, if they didn't want to suffer a similar fate.

I watched the scene with a smug feeling of satisfaction, and the second I felt vulnerable that my protector wasn't there, he returned, as if summoned by the very sensation. I reached out and hugged my guardian Beedrill, squeezing him as tight as I could, rubbing my cheek against the bristles of his firm exoskeleton. Whether it was me or because of the exertion, he felt particularly warm to my touch, only making me want to embrace him further. "Thank you," I murmured, burying my face in the crook of his scrawny neck. "Thank you."

Keith's violent demeanor had done a perfect 180 by now, transforming the bloody killer into the image of my hero in an instant - he let out a quiet, low buzzing that sounded more like a purr to my ears, and I inhaled slow, deep breaths as his scrawny, bloody arms fell around my shoulders, antennae tickling my neck. His mandibles brushed against my ear as he lightly said, "Drill. Bee." Even if it was in a tongue I couldn't understand, I heard the words crystal clear: I'm right here. It's okay.

Shaken and vulnerable, that was exactly what I'd needed to hear. I allowed my composure to crumble away in my Beedrill's grasp, and I started to sob - cried from the fright, the tension, and the guilt I felt from the recent death that had fallen on my hands. Even in my most fragile state, even when I didn't deserve him, Keith was right there for me, ready to chase the bad guys away and protect me from the hurt and the grief. He'd always be there for me - my loyal guardian bee. My knight in shining armor. The warrior who would split a hundred skulls before he'd let anyone touch a single hair on my body.

No matter what I did or how unworthy I was, my Pokemon would always be there for me, ready to protect me and shield me from darkness, just like I'd protect them. Their love was unconditional. They would always be there for me.

And maybe that was the real reason that I broke down and cried.


Poor Twitch. I hardly knew yee...rest in peace. x'(

I feel bad about the time it took to get this up, guys. I can't promise anything, since it took this long to begin with, but I CAN say that I'll try better to get the next chapter up faster next time. Not that that's necessarily saying much, but still.

Happy grinding, everyone. x3