AN: Well. Updates concerning this appear to be very, very slow. Hopefully that won't remain so. Enjoy the next chapter!
"See anything yet?"
"Trees. Rocks. More trees. Honestly, Maribel, I'll be surprised if there's a single Pokémon living all the way out here. Maybe we should just go home."
It was hard to feel motivated, it really was. Nack and Maribel had been searching all day every day for a week on the outskirts of the forest, and so far, there had been nothing. Nack supposed that they had to be patient, and that expecting immediate results would be naïve, but Mary didn't agree with him at all.
She had been obsessively sniffing at the ground wherever she went, in hopes of tracking an abnormal scent. So far, she'd found a hidden Venipede nest, which resulted in her getting poisoned and having to take a day off the search. Nonetheless, Maribel was getting very, very impatient.
"We can't go home," said Maribel. "We still have about three hours of daylight left."
"Mary…" Nack pleaded.
The Lillipup growled. "No! I know there's something out there! I can feel it, Nack, I swear!"
Nack sighed. There was just no stopping Maribel when she was fixated on something even when she promised to quit it. Determined wasn't a strong enough word to describe her. And now, he was starting to wonder if this search would ever end…
Maribel roughly paced around, sniffing as much as she could. If she were any more aggressive, she'd probably be inhaling dirt. Nack gingerly followed behind her, his face in a frown. Oh boy.
Abruptly, Maribel stopped in her tracks and snapped her head up. Turning to Nack, she said, "Hey, smell right here."
Nack rolled his eyes. His nose was just as effective as Maribel's was, if not better, and nothing was catching his attention. Despite his reluctance, he gently lowered his face to the ground, taking in the scent. At first, he was merely met with the regular smell of the earthy soil and other normal things, but after a few seconds, he noticed something rather faint.
"Is that… blood, or something?" he asked.
"Maybe…" said Maribel.
"So…" mumbled Nack.
Maribel gestured in front of her. "Let's follow it."
Of course. "All right… but don't blame me if something bad happens."
He really didn't like this. Maribel had a rather fearless nature that motivated her to discover the unknown. She was probably the bravest Pokémon he knew. On the other hand, Nack himself was more reserved. When he smelled blood, he would get out of there as fast as he could, lest he be eaten by something. The smell was really faint though… It was possible that the attacker had moved on. In truth, that was the only reason he was currently following behind his friend.
Maribel, her nose still shoved into the ground, said, "Have you ever smelled this kind of blood before?" Her voice was muffled.
"No," Nack said. "But I don't usually go around smelling people's blood, Mary."
She snorted. "What I meant was, can you tell what kind of Pokémon this blood came from?" She gave him a quick, curious glance before stuffing her face into the earth again.
"It doesn't smell like anyone I've met," Nack noted, watching his feet. The soil was moist here, enough for his hooves to leave a trail. "Maybe there are footprints closer to the source?"
Maribel laughed in delight. "Ah! Nack, that's genius! I'll keep sniffing, and you look for prints, okay?"
Nack nodded, keeping his gaze downward. He had to admit; he thought they were doing a pretty good job today. They had a lead (for once) and Maribel was excited, which meant their efficiency was increased from normal. Yes, today would be the day they'd actually make some progress.
Nack yawned. Two hours later, and they were still trying to follow the blood trail and find footprints. He was getting anxious; they should have turned back ages ago. Now, it was unlikely that they'd get home before dark. Seeing as most carnivores hunted at night, it was worrying him that this night would be his last night alive.
"Mary?" he asked, his voice weary. "Let's go, please."
She shook her head. "Nack, I swear, we are two minutes from finding something. Just a little longer, okay?"
Nack groaned. "You said that a long time ago," Just like his mother had said, Maribel would be the death of him…
"I know I did! But have you smelled the air lately? Go on, smell it!" Maribel said, her eyes stern as she looked up.
He had been trying to ignore the increasingly vile odour, but Maribel's prodding had reflexively caused him to take in a deep breath instead. "Ugh…"
"Exactly. Somebody's hurt pretty badly. It would be irresponsible of us to leave now," the Lillipup assured him, her stance firm. There was just no arguing with Maribel.
"But what if they're dead already?" asked Nack, frowning. He really didn't want to find a dead person.
"Don't say that!" scolded Maribel. She sniffed, turned a bit to the left, and kept going. Nack sighed and continued to follow.
They rounded a tree and stopped dead in their tracks. There, right in front of them, was a strange creature, one of its appendages covered in blood. Growing from its head was a mass of hair roughly the same colour as Nack's body. It was crying, its face stained with tears as it wailed. It was a rather pitiful sight.
Maribel took a step backwards. "What kind of Pokémon is that?" she whispered.
"I have no idea," Nack replied quietly. He sniffed the air again, trying to ignore the smell of the red liquid. "I think it's a girl… about our age, Mary."
"Meat eater?" she asked.
"I don't think so."
They watched the female creature cry some more. Whatever it was, it seemed to be harmless. At the very least, it probably couldn't hurt them in the state it was in. Nack turned to Maribel. The Lillipup nodded.
Together, the two of them took slow, hesitant steps towards the creature. It was crying so much that it didn't even notice them at first. Finally, as they were about a foot away, the creature opened one bleary eye and choked, watching them back. It looked terrified.
"W-what are you?" the creature asked, drawing its body in protectively. It didn't take its eyes off of them.
Maribel tilted her head. "My name is Maribel, and I'm a Lillipup," she answered. She glanced at Nack.
"Um… I'm Nack, a Tepig," he said. He blinked in confusion. The way the creature had just spoken was very strange. It was still their language, but at the same time, it was made up of all sorts of different sounds. This creature probably attacked with sound moves, or something like that.
The creature sniffed, staring at them apprehensively. "You… you can't talk…"
Well, that was odd. Had he and Maribel not just spoken to her then? Maybe this creature had trouble hearing.
"I'M MARIBEL!" shouted Mary. She seemed to have come to the same conclusion.
The creature winced and recoiled, turning away and starting to cry again. "Ahh! Don't hurt me, please!" it whined.
Nack turned to Maribel. "Hey, don't scare it."
"I'm just trying to get it to understand me! What else am I supposed to do?" the Lillipup huffed, scowling at him.
The creature whimpered, looking at them again. "Are you going to hurt me…?" it asked quietly.
Maribel looked like she was going to if the thing couldn't hear her again, so Nack quickly shook his head. Thankfully, it seemed to understand his answer, smiling at him in relief.
"Good," it said, relaxing a bit. It smiled painfully. "My name is Elly. And you… You must be Pokémon!"
This surprised Maribel. "You mean, you're not a Pokémon?" She whipped her head around to Nack. "Nack! Do you think this thing's a Trainer?"
Nack's eyes widened. That would explain its strange speech patterns and appearance. He looked at Elly, considering it. "It's possible."
Elly smiled, continuing. "Oh, I'm so glad! I must be the luckiest girl in the world! None of my friends have ever seen a Pokémon, ever, and I found two!"
"You hardly found us," Maribel muttered, but the Trainer didn't hear her.
"Oh… but," Elly said, "I don't know how I'm going to find my way back home, with my leg like this." Nack looked at her leg, which had a deep gash in it, the source of the blood.
"You could get an Audino to patch you up," Maribel suggested. Nack nodded in agreement.
Elly frowned. "Huh? I wish I knew what you were saying…" she mumbled.
Nack narrowed his eyes. "Mary… something's wrong here. She can hear us, and she's speaking our language, but…"
"She can't understand a word we're saying, can she?"
The Trainer tilted her head. Yep, there was no doubt about it. Something was definitely weird.
Mary sighed in exasperation. "Okay, listen up. An Audino," She wiggled her ears (smart, Audino's ears were their most well known feature), "will help you," she pointed her nose at Elly, "fix up that," she waved a paw over Elly's bleeding leg.
Elly stared at her for a minute. "Ah… you're going to help me with my leg?"
Maribel nodded. "Yes, that's right."
"Oh, thank you so much!" she exclaimed, clapping her hands together. "You're really nice, you know? I'm gonna call you Lilly!"
Maribel's jaw dropped a little. "What?"
"You like it?" she asked. Elly turned to Nack. "And you… you're Piggy! Okay?"
No, Nack was definitely not okay. "Piggy" was probably the worst thing anyone had ever called him… even worse than "Nicky".
"This thing is completely crazy," said Maribel, her voice deadpan. Nack silently agreed. The Lillipup sighed, pivoting around, and started to head off back they way they'd come. "Come on, Elly, let's get you back to some civilization, all right?"
The two of them took a couple of steps, waiting for Elly to start following. The Trainer stared after them for a few seconds before getting the idea, and tentatively stood up. Her leg threatened to give out, so she quickly took hold of the tree she'd been leaning on, steadying herself. Boy, this was going to be a long, long walk.
Though the darkness that settled in sometime during their walk wasn't helpful, Nack and his two companions had managed to get back into the main segment of White Forest without too much trouble. Maribel had to fight off a couple of weak Purrloin who had fooled themselves into thinking they could take her, but other than them nobody had bothered the group at all. It was weird; Nack thought the smell of Elly's blood (which was really quite strong, especially now that they were walking together) would lure somebody hungry, but he guessed they just got lucky.
Now, their main problem was finding an Audino up at this hour that would be kind enough to help Elly, as well as a place for the Trainer to sleep for the night.
Disgruntled, Maribel lead the two of them to her dwelling, a small burrow she shared with her three siblings and parents. Before she went in, she turned to Nack, frowning.
"Well, this is the end of the line. For me, anyway. Nack, you're gonna have to find someplace for her to stay, okay?"
Nack frowned back at her. "Huh? You know she can't stay with me, I have enough problems letting you stay over!"
The Lillipup looked over her shoulder. "My parents wouldn't be too thrilled either… besides, do you really think she can fit in the burrow?"
Nack groaned. Maribel was right, the large Stoutland that was her father didn't approve of the various other things Mary had brought home with her over the years, like her collections of weird rocks and stuff, and those things were inanimate. Bringing home a Trainer would be a bit much. Yet, if Nack's father saw Elly… he shuddered to think what would happen.
Elly frowned at the two of them. "Hey, is there something wrong?" she asked. Completely clueless, as usual. Nack wondered if she'd been hit by a weird move that ruined her hearing or something.
Maribel began to descend into her burrow. "I'm really sorry, Nack, but I can't let her stay. I know you can't either, but maybe you can find an Audino and they'll let her stay there? I think that's the best thing to do at this point."
"Fine," Nack said, "but you owe me, Mary. Got that?"
She smirked. "I'll pay you back someday."
He grinned and watched her delve deeper into the tunnel before she disappeared. His glance didn't linger as he turned to Elly. "So."
Elly stared at him.
Nack looked at her in pity. "Uh… how about we try looking for an Audino over this way, okay?" He was treating her kind of like a baby, he noticed, but he didn't know what else he could do. She could barely understand him, and even then…
He started walking again, making sure Elly was following close behind. He was getting really nervous; the darkness easily hid anyone who wanted to go hunting, and he'd never been up this late before. Adding to that, he didn't really know where any Audino lived. Sure, he had seen some around and stuff, but he had no idea where they made their homes.
Elly herself was getting quite weak. She had most definitely lost more blood than what was healthy, and with walking forever and a day on top of it all, she looked as if she would faint any minute.
Nack stopped, watching her take the moment to lean herself against a tree. There was no way she'd be able to keep going any longer. He sighed, conceding defeat, and nudged her foot gently.
"I live just over there, okay? Just a bit farther," He hoped that his parents were asleep. Maybe he could hide her behind a bush and they wouldn't notice.
Elly feebly followed him the last few minutes before falling over right in front of the tiny clearing Nack called home. He frowned grimly, attempting to nudge her somewhere that didn't leave her open to predators. She smiled faintly, patting him on the head when he'd finished.
"Thanks Piggy…" she whispered before falling asleep. Nack sighed.
Maribel owed him a lot.