Let's Go Safari!
When they reached the park's gates, Katsuro was simmering with rage. Their stupid guide had insisted that they had to leave even though he hadn't tracked down his eevee yet. The only way that he could get it now was if he waited for months until the park was officially reopened and he paid for another safari. It was more than enough to make him see red.
Someone is going to pay for this!
Naruto stood at one of the computer terminals in the Pokémon Center and studied his list of stored pokémon. Now that all of his Safari Zone pokémon had been registered to his account they'd all ended up flashing away to storage since his team was full. He fingered a dusk-ball hanging from his belt and wondered what he should do next, since when he'd tried calling home earlier he'd only gotten the answering machine.
The night that he'd arrived outside of the Safari Zone, he'd swapped out Typhoon for Ginsu before going to bed. He'd intended to challenge Kiba to a fight in the morning to prove that he had an aerodactyl. But that morning the special safari had been announced and he'd completely forgotten his plans until his team had been returned to him and he saw the dusk-ball among his pokéball collection.
Should I go ahead and battle Kiba, or bring Typhoon back? Or should I shift my whole team around so I can try out some of my new monsters? Or…
"Isn't the piplup that I caught in the Safari Zone so cute?" a girl squealed as she and her friend took over the computer terminal next to his. "It's a shame that it has to evolve."
"It doesn't have to," her friend said. "If you give it an everstone it'll stay a piplup forever."
"But, everstones are so plain-looking," the first girl complained.
"I saw a shop here that sells all kinds of accessories for pokémon, including stylish collars with everstones set in them," the friend told her.
"Really?" The girl paused thoughtfully. "What shop is it?"
"Um…Haruka-chan's Pokémon Outfitters," the friend answered.
While the girls continued to talk about that shop and shopping in general, Naruto thought about the collars that had been mentioned. Everstones blocked all evolution so long as a pokémon was in contact with one, and a collar was a good way to secure the stone in place. The wife of Konoha Town's mayor had an everstone collar for her foul-tempered meowth, Tora-chan, because she found meowths infinitely cuter than persians.
Hmm…I think I need to go shopping, Naruto decided.
He made a few changes on the PC before logging off and strolling out the front doors of the Pokémon Center.
Demon sniffed around the little shop and eyed the wide variety of merchandise on display. There were all kinds of hold items for battle, props for contests, and some decorative items like jewelry that served no purpose other than to make a pokémon look pretty. He even found a rack of soothe bells hung from ribbons of all lengths and colors.
I remember my old bell…
Naruto was busy at a back table with the shop's owner. He'd brought both Vee and Eve in to be fitted with everstone collars. Vee was convinced that they were playing some sort of dress-up game and was very enthusiastic about it.
:More!: Vee cried. :Play more!:
Babies are so dumb, Demon sighed and poked one of the dangling silver bells with his paw. The gentle chime that the bell gave off brought his mind back to earlier days. And then an idea struck him. He studied all of the bells critically before plucking one hung from a black ribbon with his teeth and trotting back to where Naruto and the eevees were.
Eve had a pale pink collar around her neck, half-hidden by her long silky ruff of white fur. Vee was modeling a black leather collar with metallic studs set into the band along with the smooth gray everstone. Judging by the looks on the humans' faces, the selection process was complete.
"Fine choices, young man," the middle-aged woman remarked with a warm smile.
"Thanks." Naruto reached for his little frog money purse. "How much?"
"For both the collars it's 400 ryo," she said. "If you want the soothe bell, too, it's 550 ryo."
"Soothe bell?" Naruto blinked, and then he caught sight of what Demon had in his teeth. "You want that?"
:Not for me,: Demon muttered around clenched teeth as he shook his head.
Naruto furrowed his brow in confusion. "For…Kitsune?"
"That's a great idea!" Naruto turned back to the shopkeeper. "Yeah, I'll take that, too."
The woman nodded and led him over to the counter where the cash register was located. Naruto carefully counted out paper bills and metal coins to match the price that the woman had stated. She offered him a little bag for the bell, but he waved it off and tucked the item into his pocket instead.
"A pleasure doing business with you, young sir," the woman said with a wink.
"Thank you!" Naruto grinned and walked out of the shop with an eevee under each arm and Demon following close behind.
:…What happens now?: Eve asked softly.
:What do you mean?: Demon wondered.
:The houndoom said that this boy was a good human, but…I don't know much of what humans do. All I know is that they capture pokémon and take them away.: Eve's ears drooped in misery. :I surrendered myself because I wanted to help this poor baby, and while nothing bad has happened to me yet I can't help but worry that I've made a mistake…:
:Do you really think that, or are you just upset about what Sasuke's eevee said to you about 'wasting his sacrifice'?: Demon snorted.
:I don't know,: Eve murmured.
Vee was oblivious to the worried mood of his companion. He was utterly fascinated by all the storefronts that they passed. And even if he had been listening to their conversation it was unlikely that he would've understood Eve's concerns.
:Well I wouldn't worry too much,: Demon shrugged. :Naruto's not the smartest kid around, but he'd not mean or stupid. Whatever he decides to do it won't be anything bad.:
:I suppose so,: Eve said. :He's much better than that cruel boy that claimed to own me even though he didn't catch me, and took my oldest friend away.:
Any further conversation was interrupted by the arrival of Sasuke. The dark-haired boy stepped out of the shadow of a tiny restaurant and brought Naruto to a halt. The other boy's dark gaze lingered on the pale eevee before he looked up and spoke.
"So have you thought about it?"
"I don't like your pawniard," Naruto answered.
"How about the snivy, then?" Sasuke countered.
Naruto shifted uneasily as he thought. "I don't know…"
"Either you want it, or you don't," Sasuke glowered.
"If you're going to be a bastard about it, then no," Naruto replied stubbornly.
Tension spiked around them and Demon found the fur along his spine standing up. Eve tried to shrink into Naruto's coat and Vee finally caught onto the mood of the situation. They were all so focused on the staring contest between the two boys that they never saw it coming.
"You dirty little thief!"
They turned as one towards the shout just as a meaty fist pounded into Naruto's jaw, knocking the blond onto his butt and splitting his lip.
"You stole my eevee!"
Naruto sat on the ground with a faint ringing in his ear and a coppery taste in his mouth. His jaw throbbed with pain and when his fingers brushed against his chin they came away wet and red. He blinked up at the bully that had knocked him down and blinked owlishly.
"You heard me!" Katsuro roared.
Demon leapt between him and the bully and sprayed embers at Katsuro's feet, forcing the bigger boy to dance backwards with an angry howl. Eve was hiding herself behind Naruto's back and shivering uncontrollably. Vee sat frozen by Naruto's knee and stared at his bleeding lip with horrified fascination.
"You steal that ninetales, too?" Katsuro demanded as he slapped out a smoldering spot on his left pant leg.
"I didn't steal anythin'," Naruto said, lisping slightly.
"Liar!" Katsuro spat. "You stole my damn eevee!"
"He didn't steal that," Sasuke spoke up. "I watched him catch that eevee."
"That eevee is mine!" Katsuro insisted. "Give it back to me right now, or—"
"Hey, what the heck's going on?" Kiba called as he and Akamaru jogged over to the scene. "Who're you?"
"Buzz off, punk!" Katsuro sneered at the Inuzuka. "This doesn't concern you." He shifted his glare to Sasuke. "Or you."
"It concerns me when some stranger is yelling at a friend of mine who's bleeding on the ground," Kiba barked back.
"He thinks that Naruto stole an eevee from him," Sasuke snorted. "But I watched that eevee get captured; it wasn't stolen."
"That. Eevee. Is. Mine!" Katsuro bit out each word with an ugly expression on his face. "I'll go through all three of you lousy pipsqueaks of that's what it takes to get it back."
"Who're you calling a 'pipsqueak'?" Kiba snapped and Akamaru growled threateningly.
"So you're ready to steal someone else's pokémon because you can't accept that you didn't catch it yourself?" Sasuke snorted.
"Who's stealing pokémon?" Chouji asked as he and Shikamaru joined the knot of Naruto's friends.
"That guy wants to steal one of Naruto's eevees," Kiba told them. "The jerk already hit him!"
"How many times do I have to tell you morons that that eevee is mine?" Katsuro bellowed.
"Naruto would never take a pokémon that belonged to someone else," Chouji frowned.
"You sound like a sore loser to me," Shikamaru remarked.
Katsuro looked like he was about to explode and he ripped a pokéball off his belt. "That's it! I'm through being nice! Give that eevee back to me now before I take—"
The bully's two followers appeared from around a tent-like temporary market stall. The thin hawk-faced teen was visibly nervous as he took in the scene and didn't come any closer. But the other boy with the red-brown hair stalked right up to the bully.
"We're not in Whirlpool Country anymore," Ken-Ichi said. "You can't get away with pushing kids around like you can back home."
"Shut your mouth, Ken-Ichi. That kid has my eevee and I'm going to get it back," Katsuro growled and leveled an angry finger in Naruto's direction.
"That gray eevee? You never caught it, not even briefly," Ken-Ichi retorted. "You caught this eevee," he set loose an ordinary brown eevee with a scar on its forehead just over its left eye, "and you threw it away."
"An ordinary eevee with an ugly scar is no good," Katsuro replied. "It's more suited to a loser like you. What that little thief took from me, however, is worth something. Now get out of my way before I beat you down, too."
"If you steal that eevee, you'll get arrested. Your family name means nothing out here," Ken-Ichi warned.
Katsuro scowled at him, then grabbed him by the collar of his shirt and shoved him aside with enough force for Ken-Ichi to trip and fall. He popped open the pokéball in his hand and released the charizard that was inside. The dragon-like fire pokémon was big and mean and Naruto's clump of friends edged backwards nervously.
"Char, get that gray eevee for me," Katsuro commanded. "Don't let anything get in your way."
The charizard blasted a puff of smoke from its nostrils and started forward, only to be knocked backwards by Demon's extrasensory attack. As soon as the charizard had regained its footing it surged forward and knocked the ninetales aside with a wing attack before Demon could strike again. In the next second the charizard hit Akamaru with another wing attack before the growlithe could become a problem.
Sasuke, Kiba, Chouji, and Shikamaru scrambled out of the huge monster's way and Kiba headed for Akamaru while the others fumbled with their own pokéballs. Naruto scrabbled backwards, still on his butt, but he didn't get far before he was caught. The charizard grabbed the front of his coat to lift him and reach behind him for Eve…
Naruto's brain seized up. It was like he was back at the fringes of Oto City and the exploud was charging down the slope at him. He couldn't move, he couldn't think, he couldn't do anything—
"Vee!" the baby eevee shrieked and latched onto the charizard's arm with his tiny teeth in a feeble bite attack.
With how weak and inexperienced Vee was, the attack did nothing more than irritate the charizard. Snarling contemptuously the pseudo-dragon let go of Naruto's jacket and flailed his arm until Vee was tossed loose. The little eevee bounced once on the dirt "street" and laid stunned where he landed.
"You jerk!" Naruto screamed.
He somehow managed to scoop up Eve with one arm, stagger upright, and set free another of his monsters with his free hand. There wasn't much space between Naruto and the charizard so as the newcomer reformed and solidified the fire pokémon was forced to take a few steps back. And when the charizard saw what it was, it moved back even more.
"Holy crap, he really does have an aerodactyl!" Kiba hissed.
Ginsu spread his wings wide and hissed threateningly as the charizard started to sweat. Naruto stumbled over to where Vee was and knelt down beside him. Demon interposed himself between Naruto and the bully and his charizard, and for a moment it seemed like it was a stand-off.
"…I don't know how you got that pokémon, but it's not going to save you," Katsuro declared. "Char, don't be a chicken, use metal claw!"
The charizard regained its composure and drew back its arm for a slash with its talons taking on a metallic sheen—
A horse's neigh and the sound of pounding hooves heralded the speedy arrival of a rapidash and its rider. The burning horse almost bowled Katsuro over and very effectively distracted the charizard from its attack. The rider glowered down at the older teen and held his walking stick like he was thinking of hitting Katsuro with it.
"No fighting allowed in the marketplace outside of the Safari Zone," Obito said coldly. "So either knock it off or move it out into the grasslands where there's no chance for property damage. If you persist, we'll lock you up in a shed and call the cops from Kusa City to come and arrest you."
Katsuro almost argued, but then Rin caught up to Obito with a sturdy miltank at her side. And just behind her jogged a white-faced Hinata with her riolu at her heels. The bully looked over the forces arrayed against him and with obvious reluctance recalled his charizard back to its pokéball.
"That brat stole my eevee," Katsuro complained with an angry wave in Naruto's direction. "That gray eevee is mine, damn it!"
"I watched him catch that eevee," Obito replied. "It's Naruto's free and clear."
The eighteen-year-old looked about ready to explode in fresh fury, but he held himself back and a nasty smirk slowly blossomed on his face. "…Naruto? That's that little brat's name? How lame! What, is his mother some stupid soup fanatic?"
"You shut up about my mom, you jerk!" Naruto yelled, rubbing his sleeve over his lip and smearing it with blood.
"What's your name?" Rin demanded.
"Katsuro Kurohi," the bully replied. "Why'd you want to know?"
"I'm going to go to Boss Chikara and argue for you to be banned from the premises for as long as I can," Rin replied. "We don't appreciate sore losers; they're bad for business."
"Go right on ahead," Katsuro sneered. "Traveling all the way to this dump was the worst idea ever."
"You only say that because you were barely able to catch anything," Ken-Ichi muttered as he dusted off his pants. "Man, I can't wait to get back home and away from you, Katsuro."
"I can't wait to get away from you either, Ken-Ichi," Katsuro shot back. "I'm tired of listening to you whine. All you Uzumakis are so lame."
Naruto blinked in confusion. Eh?
"Uzumaki?" Obito pushed his orange mirrored shades up to rest on the top of his head and gazed down at Ken-Ichi with his one eye. "You're an Uzumaki?"
"Yeah," Ken-Ichi nodded slowly.
"Is he a relative of yours, Naruto?" Kiba asked.
Naruto shrugged, feeling even more dazed than he had just after he'd been punched.
Almost as one, Ken-Ichi, Katsuro, and Hayato turned their heads to stare at Naruto.
"He's an Uzumaki?" Hayato sputtered from his safe spot on the sidelines.
"Bullshit," Katsuro laughed harshly. "All Uzumakis live in the Land of Whirlpools and none of them have blond hair!"
"Well I'm an Uzumaki and I live in the Land of Fire," Naruto scowled. "Check my trainer information on my pokédex if you don't believe me."
"I've met pretty much all of my living relatives just once," Ken-Ichi said slowly. "But…my Aunt Kushina I've only seen a few pictures of. No one ever really talks about her and I just thought that she was dead…"
"My mom's not dead," Naruto frowned.
"Ah, the Uzumaki Runaway," Katsuro chuckled. "I remember hearing a little about that from my family. So, Ramen—"
"My name's Naruto!"
"—you're the spawn of that joke," Katsuro said. "How funny!"
"My mom's not a joke!" Naruto snarled and was almost mad enough to charge at the bigger, older boy and try to pummel him with his own fists.
"Of course she is," Katsuro said nastily. "But I'm done talking to you, little thief. I'm going home. Come on Hayato!" The teenage bully stalked off, pushing past Demon to bump Naruto as he walked on down the street. "Don't think that I'm going to forget about this," he growled lowly.
"Hey, wait up!" Hayato whined as he loped after his leader. "Weren't going to get something to eat first?"
"Well, that was…interesting," Obito muttered and looked down at Hinata. "Thanks for warning us about this situation."
The Hyuuga girl flushed and dropped her eyes to the dirt ground in embarrassment.
Naruto glared after the two boys until he felt Eve licking some of the blood off his chin. The gray eevee looked so sad when he gazed into her eyes and he sighed as his angry tension started draining away. When a gentle hand touched his shoulder he flinched a bit in surprise and found Rin standing next to him.
"Come on," the brown-haired woman said. "Let's go get you cleaned up."
Demon lounged on the carpet of the Pokémon Center floor while Naruto glared at the video phone screen. Ash the houndoom sat nearby his master, who was chatting with the other Safari Zone guide as they sat on a couch. And Ken-Ichi, Naruto's mysterious relative, lingered against a nearby wall and watched the blond boy be frustrated.
"The answering machine again!" Naruto huffed. "She should be home by now… I'm calling Professor Sarutobi's lab to see if the old man knows where she is."
:I hate this bell!: Kitsune whined as she pawed at the black ribbon fastened around her neck, jingling the silver bell. :It'll ruin all my illusions with its ringing. How am I supposed to escape now?:
:You're not going to,: Demon snorted. :I used to try and do that all the time and it never worked out for me. Nowadays I wonder why I even bothered. Hanging out with Naruto is much better than scrounging for a living out in the wilds.:
:Shut up!: Kitsune snapped and bristled. :I'm going to escape and I'm going to go home! I'll never accept life as a human's slave.:
:You're going to go home?: Demon repeated dubiously. :Do you know the way back to this home of yours?:
:Not exactly… But it can't be too far! I was only stuck in that crate for two days. All I have to do is keep walking until I find familiar landmarks. I'll be home in no time,: she declared smugly. :Maybe I'll even find another tribe of my kind that I can get directions from! I'll be home even faster then.:
:Will you now?: the houndoom drawled as he approached them. :Silly pup, I don't think you realize how far away from home you really are.:
:What do you know?: Kitsune jeered.
:I know that you arrived in a shipment of foreign pokémon imported from across the ocean—a body of water vaster than any of us can imagine. The only way that you're going to get back home is aboard a human boat or airplane.: Ash tossed his horned head. :Furthermore, you were brought here on accident. The Safari Zone didn't order any zorua like you. So not only are you far from home, you're the only one of your kind here.:
Kitsune was struck dumb for a full minute.
:…No. You're lying. I don't believe you!: The little black fox tossed her head angrily. :You just want me to give up hope and succumb to that stupid boy's will!:
:No, I just want you to understand the reality of your situation,: Ash snorted. :Whether or not you decide to obey your trainer is entirely up to you.:
The zorua panted with rage but couldn't seem to put together any response.
:Calm down,: Demon sighed. :I don't see why you're so upset about falling into the hands of a human. I didn't like it much either, but—:
"Where did you send my mom?" Naruto asked whoever was on the other end of the video phone's screen incredulously. "Where the heck is Uzu Town?"
"It's in Whirlpool Country," Ken-Ichi said. "It's where most of my family lives. I can take you there if you want."
Demon watched Naruto poke at the scab on his swollen lip and internally debate what he wanted to do. The boy quietly asked the person on the phone how long his mother would be away and the answer made him frown more. And then he sighed and nodded.
"Could you, please?" Naruto asked the older boy.
Our next adventure, Demon thought. Joy…
In a small town near the western-most border of the Land of Fire, the black-haired boy known as Sai accepted a voice-only call in the local Pokémon Center. He had worked hard to gain experience and train the monsters he had carefully collected and those that he had been given. He hoped that his performance so far would please his benefactor.
"Uncle Danzou?" he said politely.
"Your progress thus far has been more than acceptable," the old man's voice rasped. "And it is time to reward you. I have deposited a new pokémon into your account. Make good use of it."
"I will," the boy promised, and the connection was cut.
Sai hung up the phone and moved to a computer terminal. He traced his hands over the six pokéballs attached to his belt before selecting one and feeding it into the slot. Then he looked up what his "uncle" had left for him and withdrew it.
The pokémon that appeared from the basic pokéball was black with red markings and blue eyes. It was small, scruffy, and fox-like. He flipped open his pokédex and thoroughly researched the creature while it studied him from its seat on the computer console.
"…I believe that you should serve me well," he remarked as he snapped the electronic device shut. "I will call you…Ink."
It stared at him intensely for a moment before activating its unique ability and wrapping itself in the guise of its new trainer, with a smirk being the only feature different between them.
Sai almost smiled.
"Yes, you will serve me well."
Naruto: eevee (Eve; shiny), joltik (Mushi (insect)), tympole (Gamatatsu), litwick (Onibi (jack-o-lantern)), totodile (Gator), riolu (Rasen), snorunt (Flurry), zorua (Kitsune), ducklett
Sasuke: tynamo, purrloin, deino, pawniard, snivy, meinfoo, blitzle, eevee
Sakura: porygon, torchic, axew, solosis, cottonee, audino, blitzle, alomomola (Alo)
Kiba: eevee, riolu, smeargle, lillipup (x6)
Shino: eevee, venonat, dwebble, durant, sewaddle, venipede, joltik, karablast, shelmet, larvesta
Hinata: eevee, chikorita, pidove (female), minccino, emolga, audino, ducklett, woobat
Shikamaru: eevee, litwick, yamask (Osiris), deerling (x8; summer form)
Chouji: eevee, trubbish, vanillite, cubchoo, roggenrola, sandile, golett
Ino: eevee (x2), munna (x3), tepig, sigilyth, maractus, petilil, gothita
Katsuro: deino (Hellraiser), patrat, timburr, nidorino
Hayato: snivy, ferroseed, patrat, treecko, purrloin
Ken-Ichi: oshawott, frillish (male), panpour, mudkip, stunfisk, basculin (red), basculin (blue), eevee