Disclaimer: I don't own Pokémon or have any rights to it.
Vander and Firebrand hugged the mountains that bisected Kanto. The land on the other side was called Western Kanto. Some considered it a different region. Firebrand had little trouble defeating the many geodude and occasional onix that had challenged them. Most trainers they encountered were weak and inexperienced. The toughest challenge came from a teenage diglett trainer.
The diglett kept retreating underground.
Vander bit his lip. Firebrand couldn't hit it. Jumping around would drain her energy.
Firebrand felt the ground vibrate. It was heading towards her. She stood still. Her eyes were shut.
Vander noticed a disturbance in the soil. "You need to move Firebrand!"
She shook her head, waiting. Her tail began glowing. She jumped and brought it down on Diglett's head as it came up.
Its head swayed, as if it were drunk.
Firebrand spewed flames from her mouth. Her blast engulfed Diglett in a flaming vortex.
The teen frowned. "Retreat underground." He watched his diglett withdraw into the holes. Then he suddenly smiled. A bright light had lit up his diglett's tunnels.
Vander's eyes widened. "It's evolving!" He was too late. The newly evolved dugtrio had resurfaced behind Firebrand
She was too slow. The blow to her back sent her flying. She landed in one of the holes.
"Get out of there with Flamethrower!"
The teen clenched his fists. "Finish it off with Earthquake! Hurry!"
Firebrand was still winded. When the ground started vibrating all around her, it made her flame shrivel. She couldn't focus. After a few seconds, she gave up and slumped against a wall of earth.
Vander recalled her.
His opponent approached with a smile. "Good job. Your charmeleon was pretty resourceful. No wonder Diglett evolved." They shook hands. "I think you should consider letting it evolve into charizard soon."
Those parting words stayed on Vander's mind through the next day. He and Firebrand were having lunch in the shade of a small tree when he brought it up. "Hey Firebrand. What do you think about evolving?"
Firebrand looked up from her meal.
"You'll be able to fly and use Earthquake. That could've helped against that dugtrio yesterday." He finished his last berry. "What do you think? Are you ready to evolve yet?"
She ripped off and swallowed another chunk of meat before shrugging. Her tail began tracing the spot on her back where her wings would emerge.
Vander smiled and reached out to scratch her chin. "I guess it depends on what we find at Mt. Miyazaki." He pulled out a notepad and flipped to a page with notes on the mountain. "The onix are bigger, stronger and have tougher hides, but they still fight like regular onix."
She could handle an onix. Yet the memory of the pictures she had seen made flying sound more appealing.
"Evolving will make you more vulnerable to rock type attacks though. Even a Rock Throw from one of them could knock you out."
Firebrand felt impartial again. She just resumed her meal.
Vander stood and stretched. "We can talk about this later." He began cleaning up their campsite. "Let's get a look at those onix first."
She nodded as her head leaned back and she swallowed the last chunk of meat.
They made steady progress even after leaving normal routes. More large shrubs grew between the trees. The pair eventually reached a ridge over which they could see the peak of Mt. Miyazaki. It was notably larger than the surrounding mountains.
Firebrand smiled and eyed the peak. Perhaps they could see Pallet Town from up there. It would be funny if they spotted her parents doing their morning flight.
"It's probably less than a day's walk from here. I think we should camp out there," Vander pointed to the base of the mountain. "Let's get a full night's sleep before we go up."
Night had crept across the sky when they made camp. Firebrand stood guard while Vander foraged for berries and weeds. Their camp was in a small clearing between two trees and two bushes. Firebrand had used her claws to make a small entrance through one of the shrubs.
Vander returned, arms laden with small berries "It was too easy." He dropped them in their empty cooking pot. "There are too many berries in these trees. It's like the pokémon aren't eating any of them." Peeling a small chunk off one, he pressed it to his tongue, paused, and then swallowed it. "It's not poisoned."
Firebrand stopped eating and glanced around. Her flame grew slightly. Her senses were as sharp as ever and she would snap in the direction of any sound.
Vander had also been glancing around. "That's weird." He gave up after one last look around before grabbing a berry. "We saw plenty of pokémon just a mile ago. Could the onix have scared them off?"
Firebrand stood up and inspected the camp's perimeter. She poked her head out the entrance, but didn't see anything.
"It couldn't be the onix."
She looked back at her trainer and raised an eyebrow ridge.
Vander was looking at his notes. "They're supposed to be kind and friendly if you don't bother them." He drew a pen from its slot in the notebook's spine and began taking notes.
Firebrand lay on her belly, head facing the entrance. After a few minutes she felt the fire die down. The tongues of her flame began to settle.
"You should get some sleep too," Vander said as he smothered the stray embers. "If something comes while we're sleeping, it'll probably wake you up anyway." He lay down, his feet barely missing the trunk of one of the trees. "I mean it," he said a little more forcefully when he saw Firebrand's head still up.
She sighed and flattened out completely, uncurling her tail so her flame was where their fire had been. Deep breaths calmed her and shrank her flame.
Vander awoke and saw Firebrand still sleeping. He promptly filled the cooking pot with wild berries and weeds. Then he roused Firebrand.
Silence prevailed during their hike up the mountain.
The sun was a comfort to Firebrand. Now she could see a would-be attacker.
"Look." They both stopped as Vander pointed out a pidgey perched on a branch.
The bird was preening itself. Its head suddenly darted in their direction. It looked almost relieved to see them, like it been expecting something else.
Vander tried to approach it. "Hey little guy." It was no use. The bird had bolted into the air when it saw him move. Vander crossed his arms and frowned. "Wonder what's wrong?" Then he noticed Firebrand glancing around. "See anything?"
She shook her head.
They had similar luck with two other pokémon. The pair soon reached a stream.
Vander immediately noticed a set of familiar grayish boulders behind some low-lying shrubs on the other side. After leaping across he crept around the bushes and froze at the sight of a massive onix head. "Its huge!" Vander took a step back.
They were fixated on its head. Minus the crest, it was around Vander's height. Then they realized that it wasn't moving. Its eyes were still open.
"It's not sleeping…" Vander slowly approached the head and knocked on it. There was no response. He investigated the other segments and gasped when he reached the middle one. "It's…broken...how?"
Firebrand's flame began yellowing. This looked impossible to her. Even her parents would have trouble doing this.
"Something killed it." Vander began writing in his notebook. "It was a punch or some other strong attack, Hyper Beam maybe? Shattered it in one blow." What went unspoken was the flesh beneath the rocky hide and the dark bloody patch surrounding the injury.
Firebrand hissed and pointed to a trench in a mass of flesh. Something had scooped it out. Then she her gaze drifted downwards to the patch of soil-colored blood.
"With this much blood we should find footprints." Vander soon found the bloody track way. "Should we follow it?" He turned to Firebrand and took note of her more yellow flame. He could sympathize, but curiosity beckoned.
Firebrand glanced at the footprints and her flame normalized. The prints were dry. Hopefully they wouldn't find the killer.
They resumed walking. Both silent and nervously listening for any indication they were being stalked. The dried bloody footprints eventually faded into the earth.
"I guess that's it." Vander circled back to examine the tracks. "They look like Jeb's but a bit bigger."
Firebrand sniffed at them. She looked up at him and shook her head. The scent had faded.
Vander took a deep breath. "Alright…Let's try to find an onix." He put his ear to the ground and closed his eyes. A frown slowly appeared. "Nothing." He stood after a few minutes. "How about you?"
Firebrand flattened her body against the ground. She got up after a minute and shook her head. No onix moving in the area.
Vander let out a deep exasperated sigh. "Guess we'll save the great ball for something else." Then he paused as if remembering something. "We still have a lot of mountain left to search. Maybe we can also recruit whatever killed that onix to help us."
Firebrand's flame grew slightly and turned bright yellow.
He walked up to her and began scratching her chin. "I won't make you fight it if you don't feel up to it." He waited until he saw her flame return to its normal orange. "Let's focus on finding an onix. We'll go on from there."
The ground suddenly started rumbling.
Firebrand tensed and her flame doubled in size.
The rumbling got closer and more intense. Then there was a pause.
They covered their faces. The ground in front of them exploded moments later. A tower of rocks rose up accompanied by a deep growl. "Iwark!"
"Ready Firebrand?" Vander was now shaking a little. Their opponent was huge.
Onix lowered its head and started growling.
Vander glanced at Firebrand and saw her slowly relax. Looking between the two, he realized they were talking. The conversation lasted a few minutes. He watched it silently without a clue.
Onix had glanced around periodically as if keeping watch. The conversation ended with onix tunneling into the ground.
Firebrand beckoned Vander to follow before she jumped in.
The tunnel's width was a testament to its creator's size. Vander saw a few side tunnels, but Firebrand ignored them. They continued on a straight path with her leading the way and eventually reached an expansive cavern.
There were lights strung up on the walls, between the entrances. Vander soon spotted what looked like a camp. There was a tent, a log bench and the ashen remains of a fire.
A man with a graying hairline emerged from the tent and waved to the pair. "Hello," he said in a friendly tone. "We don't get guests down here. How are you two?"
"We're fine." Vander's pulse had quickened. He had seen horror movies starting out like this. "Why aren't you camping up there?" He pointed to the ceiling.
The man raised an eyebrow. "Didn't you notice something strange going on? It's a dangerous place."
"Why?" The image of the dead onix flashed into his mind. "Something's killing the onix?"
The man nodded. "A monster. At least that's how that onix you met describes it. My wife and I never saw it." He sat down on the bench and invited Vander to take a seat next to him.
Firebrand started exploring the cavern. She made sure to stay within earshot of the conversation.
"I'm Earl. My wife, Marsha, and I came here to study the giant onix. After a few years we became friends with the one you just met."
"How do you know the one we met is the one you're talking about?"
"It's the only one left. The others are dead or have abandoned the mountain." Earl took a deep breath. "It came a few months ago and started killing everything. Onix sensed what was coming and brought us down here. Over time we saw fewer and fewer onix. Now our friend is the only one left and he only goes to the surface to gather food for us. You're lucky he found you." He took another deep breath. "So what's your name?"
"I'm Vander," he then pointed to Firebrand. "She's Firebrand."
Earl nodded smiling and waving at her. Then his expression darkened as he turned back to Vander. "Do you have any more pokémon? I assume you came here for a giant onix."
Vander shook his head. "She's my only pokémon." He sensed a reprimand coming. "We weren't going to fight them if she wasn't up to it. We just wanted to get the best one we could." He showed Earl his Boulder Badge.
The man nodded. "Fair enough, but I strongly suggest you leave as soon as possible. Onix can take you back when he returns."
"Why don't you come with us? If it's so dangerous, shouldn't we all go?"
Earl shook his head. "My wife and I discovered a large clutch of eggs in one of the underground chambers. There are too many for us to carry and they're too fragile for Onix to take them. We're not going to leave until they hatch or we die. Onix agreed to take care of us."
"Are they onix eggs?"
Earl shook his head. "We don't know what laid them and they look different from any egg we've seen."
Firebrand noticed a glow coming from a passage. She pointed it out.
Earl smiled and stood up. "Ah, it's Marsha. She was out checking on the eggs."
Vander and Firebrand followed him.
Marsha, a woman about Earl's age with the same graying hairline met them at the entrance. "Oh we have guests?"
They were soon introduced and Onix joined them several minutes later.
Vander glanced around the chamber as they ate. "So what did the onix use this place for?"
"The onix here have built a network of tunnels and large chambers," Earl said. "I knew they were social, but only discovered the extent of it when we befriended him." Earl gestured toward Onix.
Onix mustered a smile. He lay coiled a significant distance from the group.
"The tunnels change from time to time as the onix feed on the soil, but the chambers generally stay the same. The onix used to sleep or socialize in them."
"There are even bigger spaces as well," Marsha said. "The mountain is really big, but the onix live and move in three dimensions, not just across the surface." She smiled wistfully. "Family units would live in these spaces and there was a much larger space deeper inside where they would get together and celebrate their holidays."
Onix turned away. His eyes moistened.
Earl got up and walked over to him and began rubbing his head.
Vander watched them for a moment before turning back to Marsha. "What kind of holidays did they celebrate?"
"As far as we know they gathered during the summer and winter solstice." She sighed. "If only that creature hadn't shown up. We might have seen one of those celebrations and Onix would still be happy."
Firebrand had been listening to Marsha's story while she watched Onix. He looked upset. There was clearly something on his mind. She remembered Vander being like that, it was a little over a year ago. That was when they had started training together.
Vander's focus had shifted to Marsha. "Did Onix live here with his family?"
Marsha nodded. "Onix has all the passages memorized. He has an excellent memory."
"Why didn't the onix all stay down here?"
"The soil they prefer is usually up top here," Earl replied, returning to them. "Most decided to move out. Many challenged the creature and failed while some were just unlucky. Onix knows better though."
Vander nodded. "Do you know what the creature looks like?"
"We haven't seen it," Earl replied as he rejoined them. "Onix carved some drawings for us when we asked him about it."
On cue, Onix raised his tail segments and carved an image into the ground. When finished it looked like a stick figure, but with four arms instead of two.
The bulky four-armed creature crept through the forest under the glare of the afternoon sun. It had nothing to fear from anything on the mountain. What prey remained could fly away, hence the need for stealth. It spotted a target.
A small flock of pidgey perched in one of the trees.
They looked familiar. It remembered killing their pidgeotto parents.
The largest and oldest one was preening while the others fed on the now copious amounts of berries.
It grinned and moved behind another tree, out of their line of sight. Then its eyes glowed. Small stones silently rose from the soil. A ring of floating stones was soon circling it. Its heart raced with excitement as it raised a finger and pointed to the oblivious flock.
The stones shot out in a straight line at the trees. There was almost no warning.
Several fell to the ground, and a few managed to fly away.
The largest dodged the attack and soon spotted the cause. He dove at it, beak glowing. Memories of his dead parents were burned into him.
The creature grinned and blocked with a forearm. The damaged was negligible. One slap sent the bird sprawling on the ground.
There was fluttering. The flock was airborne. Their leaders cry made them retreat.
It grabbed the pidgey by the neck, ignoring the others. The creature held the wriggling bird until a glow enveloped its body. It grinned and waited until the pidgey had finished growing. Then its grip tightened.
The newly evolved pidgeotto went limp.
The plucking began. It had onlt plucked off a few feathers when it saw something else and smiled. The elusive last onix had surfaced a distance away, oblivious to its presence. Placing its ear to the ground, it grinned upon hearing the rumbling. Throwing the partially plucked pidgeotto to the ground, it began tracking.
The three humans and Firebrand looked over the figure Onix had carved into the ground.
Vander nodded. "There's only one pokémon I know that looks like that-"
Something slammed into the ground above them. Successive hits shook the cavern and created a small shower of soil from the ceiling.
Firebrand was thrown off balance and her swollen flame turned bright yellow. She remembered this situation.
Vander managed to sway and keep balance. "Something's using Earthquake!"
"It's here!" Earl quickly grabbed a lantern. "We have to check on the eggs!" He stumbled down the tunnel that Marsha had come from earlier.
The shaking stopped moments later and Marsha turned to Onix with wide eyes. "Can you lead us out of here?"
Onix nodded. He waited patiently as they gathered their supplies.
Once Firebrand donned Earl's backpack Onix started leading them through one of the tunnels.
Firebrand felt claustrophobic. Onix took up most of the space in front of them. Without him they would all be trapped underground. Her flame and Marsha's lantern were their only light sources.
Vander wished he had packed a flashlight.
The shaking started up again. It was directly above them.
Onix halted and flinched as the entire passage shook.
Marsha was panting and her heart raced as she willed herself to stand. It was a futile effort while the shaking persisted. "How does it know?"
"Must be tracking Onix," Vander exclaimed as he struggled to stand. "It must know how to track them underground."
"That's…terrible!" She gave up trying to stand and looked to the onix. He couldn't turn around, but she read his mannerisms. "Onix? What are you planning?"
He let out a low growl, mainly meant for Firebrand. Then he dug into the tunnel's right wall and slithered down the newly created passage.
Marsha felt her eyes watering.
The shaking stopped after another minute and the three were able to stand.
Firebrand stood first and beckoned the humans to follow. She began leading them down a side tunnel. Onix had told her it led to the egg chamber.
It pressed its ear to the ground. Off course the onix was still moving. Trees and bushes gave way as it barreled across the mountain to follow.
Bird pokémon scattered as it passed them.
It stopped preiodically and put its ear to the ground. The onix was moving faster than before. Why couldn't it catch up? It listened again.
Onix was burrowing deeper underground. He was now too deep to flush out.
It wanted to fist the ground in frustration until something clicked. Onix had changed direction so quickly. All four of its fists clenched tightly as it let out a mighty yell. Turning back it retraced its steps and soon found the spot.
The ground was still distorted from the impact its attack had made.
Fists began glowing bright red and it was soon pounding the ground with all four. It focused on one spot. The hole deepened and widened with each strike.
They reached Earl in twenty minutes.
He was in a chamber large enough for only one giant onix. It had a large pit at its center in which there were at least fifty eggs. In the light of his lantern they looked black with purple patches.
He looked surprised to see them. "What happened? Where's Onix?"
Marsha answered him. "He decided to lead it away from us. It was tracking his movements underground."
Earl put an arm around his wife. "It was bound to happen sometime I guess. He was always the smart one. I'm sure he'll figure something out."
Vander looked over the clutch. "They don't look like any eggs I've seen." He'd seen quite a few, including Firebrand's.
"They might not even be native to Eastern or Western Kanto," Earl said as he and Marsha broke apart. "He knelt beside Vander and rubbed one of the shells. "They feel warm, but I think they might take a long time to hatch under these conditions." He picked one and gave it to Vander. "Here."
Vander took it. He needed both hands to hold it. "Are you sure?" He looked at Earl and Marsha.
They were smiling at him.
"I think it'll most likely hatch if you take it," Earl said before gesturing towards the nest. "There are so many eggs there. Even if this is the wrong choice it's still worth the risk. The ones down here won't be better or worse off."
Firebrand gave Earl his backpack to him. She joined Vander in inspecting the egg.
All heads turned.
Earl and Marsha paled. "It's down here," they both exclaimed.
They were soon running with Firebrand leading.
Earl and Marsha's lanterns provided ample light, and Vander was grateful. Carrying the egg took both arms. He couldn't run at full speed, though he still kept pace with the adults.
They heard footsteps.
Something else was now running through the passages. It stopped often and the sound varied. It may or may not have been gaining on them. It was clearly not sure of its destination.
Both Earl and Marsha were starting to pant. While in shape they weren't used to sustained jogging.
Vander was also breathing more heavily and his heart was racing. At least it was cooler underground. However, it was also stuffy, canceling out the cooling effect.
The pattering seemed to get louder. It was getting closer. This time there was a steady increase in sound.
Their hearts thundered, and not just from the effort.
Firebrand felt the pressure mounting. The others were following her. Onix had trusted her. Now the creature was gaining on them. She kept her eyes pealed for the landmarks Onix had told her to look out for. Light from her swollen flame made seeing a non-issue.
The patter of footsteps behind them got even louder.
She spotted a landmark and turned right. The ground sloped. According to Onix this would lead them to a thinner layer of soil that she could blast through.
Vander's eyes widened at the apparent dead end. He calmed a little when he saw Firebrand confidence.
She clenched her fists, blocking out the pattering. Her tail flame swelled and she expelled a large fireball. It created a molten circle in the soil. Then she smashed open a hole with her claws.
There was soon a passage large enough to walk through. They were near a cliff that overlooked a sloping wasteland.
"We're at the western edge," Earl said. "The base of the mountain is still a few hundred feet down."
Vander looked back and heard the pattering. "We should get going now!"
Thus began a scramble along the side of the cliff. There were few trees here to hide them, and no easy way down.
"Hold on." Earl stopped. "Give us a minute." Both he and Marsha stood panting.
Firebrand wasn't exhausted yet, but she noticed Vander's fatigue. She suddenly tensed up. Her flame turned more violent. Her eyes darted to the hole she blasted.
A figure leapt from where they had come. Its momentum carried it over them.
Their escape route was blocked.
Vander clutched his egg tightly as he stared into the face of his new enemy. "Machamp!" It towered over all of them, and he took special note of its lack of a belt. A chill ran through him and he stepped back.
Machamp grinned. The onix had escaped, but here were four new targets. It flexed all four arms. Its muscles bulged.
Firebrand took a deep breath and stepped forward. It was imposing, but she had to stop it.