Chapter 10: Avoidance

Hey all, welcome back! This chapter was a lot of fun to write, so I hope youenjoy it. I’m very glad the recent Pokemon games changed the whole “poisonhurts pokemon in their pokeballs” thing, because while it created many tensemoments of gameplay, it never really made any sense. If they could die topoison while in a pokeball, why wouldn’t they be able to die to burns? Orbleed out? That would have been a headache to try to rationalize.

Thanks for reading, and all feedback appreciated!


In general, travel through Viridian Forest is safe in groups. While the moreterritorial or aggressive pokemon like weedle or mankey might choose fightover flight, lone pokemon that are willing to face down three humans, evenadolescents, are the exception rather than the rule. It’s the primary reasonpeople are encouraged to travel in groups, but it does pose an issue fortrainers who are actively seeking out new pokemon.

Red, Blue and Leaf quickly conclude that sticking to the main road through theforest wouldn’t let them encounter many pokemon, while tromping through theforest together would only scare most off. Knowing how foolhardy it would beto go off in separate directions, they compromise with a variation of thetactic Rangers use to sweep an area.

Red checks the map on his phone as he walks through the underbrush. The screenshows an aerial view of the forest overlaid with a grid. The two dotsrepresenting Blue and Leaf’s phones form a rough triangle with his own, allwithin a hundred meters of each other. If someone goes too far from the othertwo, the phones would alert everyone. In the meantime they have enoughpersonal space to find and catch pokemon without fighting over each one theysee, and are still within safe distance of each other for emergencies.

Red smiles and puts his phone away, mentally patting himself on the back.They’ve only been in the forest for half an hour, and have at most anotherfull hour of daylight left. After approximating their distance traveled so farwith how much forest is left to the north before Pewter City, Red is confidenthis “competition” will keep them busy for at least a couple days. Hopefullythat’ll be long enough to miss the storm if it continues south, but worst casescenario, Zapdos attacks after they arrive when at least one of them has afull belt of pokemon. And if any help requests pop up nearby meanwhile, itmight take even longer before they get to Pewter, giving them an excuse tomiss it entirely without bruising Blue’s ego.

Not that he doesn’t intend to try and win their little competition, of course.There are a number of pokemon in the area he wants, and a free dinner is afree dinner.

Red breathes in the earthy smell of the forest, mostly filtered by his gasmask. He’d put it on as soon as they split up, and has an empty pokeball readyin one hand so he can try for a quick capture if he spots a wild pokemon. Buteven walking alone, he’s big enough to scare away most pokemon in the area.Poking his head in every bush or tree trunk looking for those that are hidingis a great way to get a cloud of poison or stinger to the face, and while hismask will protect him from the former, he doesn’t want to test the latter.

Which leaves using his pokemon to flush wild ones out. He wants to keepcharmander fresh, so he puts away his empty ball and unclips his rattata’s tosummon it for the first time. “Rattata, go,” he says with a toss, then putshis wrist together to catch the ball on its recoil.

It sails forward into a relatively clear patch of grass and disgorges hisrattata in a flash of light before rocketing back toward Red. Realizing in asplit second that he threw it with a downward arc, he reaches above his headand snatches it out of the air with both hands cupped together.

“Yes!” Red pumps his fist up with a grin, then looks around. Unfortunately (orfortunately), no one had been around to see it.

No one except his rattata, who seems surprised at the outburst. She stands onher hindlegs and peers around the forest, nose twitching in the air.

Red approaches and kneels to scratch the fur along her back. “Hey there littlelady. Nice to see you again,” he says, wanting her to get used to his voice inthe real world. He puts her ball away and takes out some dried berries andnuts for her to eat.

His rattata’s whiskers twitch over his cupped palm, then her front paws beginscooping the food into her mouth, munching quickly at each mouthful beforegrabbing more. Standing on her hindlegs she’s as tall as his knee, and whenshe finishes feeding she drops back down to all fours and rubs against hisankle.

He plays with her a bit, letting her get the scent of his hands and scratchingher white belly. He tries to stroke her tail, and smiles as she squirms, thentwists it away from his hand. “Okay, no tail touching. Got it.”

Red finds some rocks and hefts them to ensure they weigh a solid amount. Oncehe has a dozen in his pocket, he begins walking forward again with one in eachhand. His rattata follows at his heels, occasionally running to the sides orahead briefly to sniff at some moss or munch on a fallen acorn.

Red stops when they near a particularly large clump of bushes, turning one ofthe stones over and over between his fingers. He doesn’t want to go rootingthrough the bushes for pokemon, and he doesn’t want his rattata to stick hernose into potential danger either…

“Rattata, ready,” he says, and the rodent dashes in front of him, planting itsfeet and staring forward, long tail curled up above it. Feeling his pulsebegin to speed up, he prepares himself for a fight, then cocks his arm backand throws the rock into the bushes.

The round stone swishes through the leaves and rustles some branches as ithits something with a dull thud. Red waits, body tense, not blinking as thebush sits still… silent…

Eventually he realizes his lungs ache, and lets out his breath. “Rattata,follow,” he says, and they continue onward.

The next bush is smaller than the last, and when he throws the rock it sailsstraight through it. Red waits with his heart in his throat, but nothingemerges, and he walks on, checking every group of bushes big or dense enoughto hide a pokemon.

On his fifth throw, a pidgey flies out of the bush with a startled flap of itswings. Red is aiming an empty pokeball at it before it’s out of sight, butit’s already too far for the lens to get a lock. He frowns as it flies up andaway through the tree branches. Rattata hisses at a feather that floats downat them before pouncing on it, and Red laughs, frustration draining away.

He tries another two bushes with no result. Just as he’s about to throw at thethird one, his phone chimes, causing him to jump and drop his rock. Blushingfuriously, he takes his phone out and checks the screen.

3 to 2. Have I mentioned how much I love tentacool soup?

Red returns his phone to his pocket without replying. He’s dying to know whatpokemon Blue had caught, and how, but that’s why Blue hadn’t mentioned it, andasking would just waste more time.

Throwing rocks into bushes and hoping a pokemon would pop out and fight hisrattata may be the safest way to go, but it could take hours, and thedaylight’s fading. It’s time to put some of his riskier ideas to the test.

He needs a flying pokemon, but hoothoot and noctowl won’t be up and aboutuntil it’s full dark. He could try to find one’s roost, but that would involvea lot of tree climbing, and without a flying pokemon of his own he’d be at amajor disadvantage if he angers one.

Against anything but other flyers though, his charmander gives him a hugeadvantage over the local flora and fauna. One on one, the fire lizard couldtake down practically any pokemon in the forest, as most are bug or planttypes.

But being the strongest thing around isn’t going to attract contenders. Heneeds to seem like the weakest.

Red takes his pokedex out and opens its audio folders. In them are recordedthe cries of every pokemon ever captured and studied, most with a number ofdifferent entries: anger, playfulness, fear, challenge, affection, and pain.

It’s the last one that interests him at the moment.

In every ecology, there exists a food chain. It’s rarely a straightforwardline, but rather a shifting mess of predators and prey. Viridian Forest hasover a dozen species of pokemon with almost three dozen different forms thathave lived amongst each other for thousands of generations, each fillingdifferent niches in the environment and adapting to one-another’s strengthsand weaknesses.

Caterpie are without doubt the weakest pokemon in the forest. The only thingthat keeps their species going is their incredibly short juvenile period,usually lasting no more than a few days before they “evolve” into metapods,which themselves only take a week or two before metamorphing again intobutterfree.

In any other environment, a pokemon like butterfree might stay near the bottomof the food chain. It has no sharp claws or mandibles, and its poisonousspores are slow acting. Encountering any predator should spell a quick doom.

Or it would, if not for a peculiar adaptation.

As far as official classifications go, there are no “psychic bugs” on record.It’s theorized that none are intelligent enough for the true breadth of mentalpowers psychics are capable of. And psychics do have a harder time defendingthemselves against bug pokemon, lending some merit to the idea that theirminds are too simple, or just too different, for psychics to interact with theway they normally would.

Nevertheless, some bug pokemon like butterfree and venomoth seem capable oflow intensity bursts of psychic energy to ward off predators, disorientingthem long enough for an escape. There’s debate in academic circles whetherit’s a truly psychic attack, or some low frequency sound or vibration the bugsuse that just have similar effects; trainers with psychic and dark minds can’tseem to come to a consensus, which leads Red to think that the answer might beboth. The bottom line is that butterfree are able to stay near the top of thefood chain, despite not actually being a predator to any other pokemon. Evenspinarak and ariados, with their own mental attacks, can’t keep butterfree intheir webs. As a result, butterfree populations introduced to new habitats canquickly explode in number.

Which is where hoothoot and noctowl come in. Another non-psychic pokemon withrudimentary psychic powers, their mental defenses are strong enough to resistbutterfree’s disorienting attacks, allowing them to swoop in for a kill.Lacking the weaknesses of the more powerfully psychic birds like xatu, noctowlare the perfect predator to butterfree.

Unfortunately, it’s still light out, which means playing the distress soundsof an injured butterfree isn’t likely to bring any noctowl or hoothoot to him.But if there’s one pokemon that will catch the attention of any nearbypredators, it’s caterpie.

Red goes to the tenth entry in the pokedex and turns the volume all the wayup. He briefly considers switching Rattata out for Charmander, but the rodentis much faster than the fire lizard, and if some predators come charging outof the trees at him, he’s going to need Rattata’s speed to intercept them.

Red checks to make sure Rattata is at attention, then wipes his sweating palmson his jeans before he holds the pokedex up and presses the button.

A pained, warbling cry fills the quiet forest air. It only lasts couple fewseconds, and then the hushed rustle of leaves returns. Rattata whips its headaround, nose twitching as it tries to locate the source of the sound, and Redstands tensely still, ears straining for the sound of wings or rustlingunderbrush to alert him of incoming pokemon.

After a few seconds pass, Red presses the button again. When nothingapproaches, he begins to press it repeatedly, waiting two to five secondsbetween repetitions as he starts walking forward. His rattata follows, stilllooking puzzled as she tries to see or smell the injured caterpie she hears.

His arms begin to get tired holding the pokedex above his head, so he lowersit to chest level with the speakers pointed outward, occasionally shifting itsdirection. Red’s spine feels like a coiled spring, and he keeps one eye on theforest around him while the other watches the ground for roots or stones toensure he doesn’t trip in the dense underbru-

A line of silk shoots down and nabs the pokedex, tugging it out of Red’sgrasp. For a second he simply gapes upward as it floats away to a tree branchabove. Then he throws himself at the tree with a cry of horror, scrambling upthe rough bark. “Rattata, climb!”

He lifts himself onto the lowest branch before checking to confirm that hispokemon is following, then looks up. There! Now Red can make out the spinarakhanging from the underside of the branch, drawing the pokedex up with itsforelimbs.

Including the width of its six legs, the green and black arachnoid is as wideas Red’s torso, half again as big as his rattata. It finishes pulling up thepokedex, but seems confused by what’s clearly not a caterpie. Red’s veins fillwith ice as the pokemon scuttles onto the top of the branch and away, pokedexstill attached by some string hanging from the end of its abdomen. The slimred device tips this way and that under the branch, and Red begins to climb tothe next branch up. Don’t fall don’t fall don’t fall…

To say his pokedex prototype is priceless would be a bit of an overstatement,but to Red it might as well be. Even older models that act as little more thanindexes cost hundreds of dollars, and Red’s is by far the most valuable thinghe’s ever owned. Part of what had made Red work so hard the past year was thesacred trust Professor Oak would be putting in him: the only other person he’dgiven his personally designed, off-the-market software to was his grandson.Breaking it would be bad enough, but if the spinarak gets away and someoneelse finds it…

Red pulls himself onto the second branch and stands, legs only shaking alittle. The third is another head above him, almost parallel to his own. Hetakes out an empty pokeball and points its lens up at what he can see of thebug pokemon. He waits for the ping with his heart in his throat, but theline of sight isn’t clear enough.

“Shit!” Rattata climbs up the trunk beside him, claws still hooked in thebark, and Red points to the retreating spinarak. “Rattata, Bite!”

Rattata follows the direction of his finger and gives a high pitched growlbefore leaping onto the branch and giving chase. Red places his feet carefullyand follows on his own, feeling the whole thing bend and sway beneath him ashe watches her attack. The spinarak turns just before she reaches it, andrears onto its hind legs, hissing and aiming the stinger on its forehead tobreak her charge.

Rattata stops herself short of being impaled, head darting in for a nip hereand there. Spinarak retreats with its hind legs to avoid the bites while itsforward claws draw blood along rattata’s forehead and stomach. All the while,the pokedex bobs and spins on the end of its string under the branch, out ofRed’s reach.

Red grits his teeth as his rattata squeals in pain. Rattata’s greateststrength is her speed: on the narrow branch, the spinarak has home advantagethat completely nullifies her maneuverability. Red pulls out his remainingstones and tries to chuck some at the bug. He nearly loses his balance on thethird attempt, and his shots all go too high or bounce off the branch. Hearthammering, Red watches helplessly as Rattata over commits and gets stung, onlymanaging a light bite in response.

I need to even the playing field. The only way he can think to do that is toget them off the branch. Just gotta avoid landing on my head. Or my neck. Ormy back. “Fuck it,” Red whispers. “Time for heroics.” He shucks off hisbackpack and lets it fall before he bounces on the branch once, twice, thenjumps to the one above, hands reaching.

His fingers scramble at the bark, digging in as his body hangs six meters offthe ground. He feels the whole thing bend with his weight, and for a momentthinks it’s going to crack. That would be one way to do it. The wood holdsthough, and he begins to pull himself toward the pokemon, arms burning andbreath coming in short pants. His eyes are fixed on his pokedex, bobbingcloser with every hand. Come on… three more… two… there… He reaches out withone hand, fingers on his other screaming with his whole weight as he snatchesthe pokedex.

As soon as he has it in his grip and pulls, the spinarak scuttles under thebranch, following it down as the webbing stretches. It points its stinger athis hand and dashes at him. Red gives a heroic yelp and lets go. “Rattata,down!”

He only has a heartbeat of weightlessness to curl protectively around thepokedex and lift his head before he hits the grass. He’d turned onto his sidea bit while falling, and a knobby root sends a bolt of pain up his knee. Whenhe looks up, he sees the pokedex is still attached by its damn string, nowstretched long and thin. Red instinctively rolls just as the spinarak leapsdown at him.

Completely unfazed by its fall, it dashes for him again, stinger forward. Redholds the pokedex tight as he whips his arm up and spins his whole body, usinghis uninjured knee as a pivot the way Hamato had.

The spinarak is lifted into the air, and finally releases the web rather thansmash into the tree. It lands on its feet and leaps for Red again just as hisrattata falls on it in a clawing, squealing fury.

Red forces himself to his feet and stuffs the pokedex in his pocket as heshouts, “Rattata, quick attack!”

His pokemon immediately disengages, then dashes in for a bite, running pastthe spinarak before it can retaliate. She’s breathing hard and bleeding from anumber of wounds, but now so is the bug, its green and black abdomen leakingpale fluid.

“Quick attack! Quick attack!”

Rattata dashes at the arachnoid again and again, taking a quick nip out of itwith each pass. The spinarak occasionally tries to leap at it, but rattata istoo fast on the open grass, juking from side to side before speeding in foranother bite.

But Red can see his pokemon getting slower from the blood loss and poison. Thetime between attacks grows longer, and her exhaustion is palpable as shetumbles over the grass after a close dodge. The spinarak curls its abdomen andshoots a string of web at Rattata as she scrambles to her feet.

Red already has Charmander’s pokeball in one hand and Rattata’s in the other.He points it at her and yells “Rattata, return!” In the space of a blink, ared beam shoots out and reverts his pokemon to a glowing mass that’s suckedback into the open pokeball. The web is left behind, and Red feels a surge ofrelief. Rattata would be safe in her ball, wounds suspended until he couldtreat her. “Charmand-”

The spinarak leaps for him. Red rolls to the side, dropping Rattata’s pokeballas he tries to clip it back to his belt. He throws Charmander’s ballhaphazardly as he comes up hard against a tree. “Charmander, go!”

The ball explodes with light and sound before shooting back into some bushesto Red’s side. He doesn’t spare it a glance, eyes on the fire lizard as ittakes a bewildered moment to look around and orient itself to its newsurroundings.

“Charmander, battle!”

Charmander snaps into a combat stance and focuses on the only other pokemonpresent. The spinarak’s forward charge slows. Maybe it thinks the rattata isstill around somewhere, or maybe it’s the open flame at the tip ofCharmander’s tail, but the spinarak begins to back away, its abdomen rising toshoot web at the branches above.

“Charmander, scratch!” He doesn’t dare use ember: bugs are easily killed orcrippled by fire, and now that he has his pokedex back, his priority is tocapture it.

The spinarak is forced to leap aside as the lizard claws at it, arching itsback and raising its body upright above its head, hissing. The black dots andstripe on its abdomen look like a frowning fa-

Freezing, empty night, no light or warmth, not cold but simple absence ofheat, a vacuum of sensation or sound that unhinges his mind-

Red gasps, pain radiating from his chest. He’s lying face down in the grass,nose pressed against his breath mask with no memory of when he’d fallen. WasI poisoned? He can’t recall being stung, but a wave of nausea almost makeshim hurl when he tries to remember the last thing he’d seen. Red raises hishead and spots Charmander weaving erratically toward spinarak, as if he can’tget his balance right. Instead of pressing the advantage, the spinarak turnsand begins to scuttle away.

“No… you… don’t,” Red wheezes. He forces himself up and pulls an empty ballfrom his pocket, holding it outstretched and bracing it on his uninjured knee.The max distance a pokeball beam will work is roughly ten meters, and the bugis almost out of range when he hears the _ping _of its lock. Heart in histhroat, he throws…

…and misses, the ball bouncing on the grass to the right of the spinarak.

“Charmander, scratch!”

The fire lizard leaps forward, stumbling onto all fours as he tries to recoverfrom whatever had happened. His first claw attack misses, but his flaming tailkeeps the spinarak from retaliating so he can get another attack in. This timehis claws rake the spinarak’s body, drawing more clear ichor. The arachnoidhisses and jabs its stinger forward, barely missing as charmander jumps away.

Tossing dignity aside, Red crawls forward until he can aim another pokeball,focusing it on the spinarak as it rears up and shoots web at Charmander,sticking his legs together.

Just as it turns to run again, Red throws. The ball nails the spinarak in thethorax, and it vanishes with a flash.

Red collapses back onto his stomach. He still feels queasy, and takes deepbreaths until his stomach settles a bit. Charmander struggles to free its legsfrom the webbing, then curls its tail around to burn the stuff off. Afterwardhe approaches Red with a chirp and curls up beside him, tail flame warmingRed’s arm to just the edge of comfort. He checks to make sure Charmander isn’tinjured, then reaches out to rub his smooth head. “Good boy Charmander. Youdid great.”

His mask is beginning to hurt as it’s pressed against his face, and he flipshimself onto his back with a sigh. After a minute he feels a bit moregrounded, but he still can’t think of what had happened without intensediscomfort. He groans in frustration, removing his face mask and pressing hispalms to his eyes. It’s like there’s a part of his brain that’s broken, amemory scooped out to leave a raw wound that he keeps brushing up against.

The spinarak had hit Charmander with something, and Red, standing behind him,had been evidently hit much harder. It can only be a psychic attack of somekind, but spinarak’s mental attacks are supposed to be weak, only capable ofminor manipulations of emotion that are usually classified as ghost attacks…

Chill fingers brush his spine. He’d never experienced a psychic attack before,but he’d also never experienced a ghost attack. He doesn’t know which it hadbeen… but the fact that it was so strong pointed to two possibilities. Eitherhis mind is incredibly vulnerable to all forms of psychic attack, or… he’spsychic himself, and the attack had been a “ghost” one that turned his ownmental powers against him.

But I’m not a psychic. He underwent the tests last year. They aren’t 100%accurate, a lot of psychics’ powers only manifest when they encounter others,but he tried all the practice techniques he could find just in case he was oneof the rare few. What kid doesn’t dream of having special powers?

But now the thought of enduring things like… that… again makes Red reconsiderthe various advantages of even mild psychic abilities.

His thoughts are interrupted by his phone ringing, and he suddenly realizeshe’s been holding still for awhile. Had he dropped behind the others’positions? He takes his phone out and sees that Blue’s calling him.

“Hello?”

“Red! Chasing a caterpie right at you! Cut it off!” Blue sounds like he’srunning.

Red blinks, then scrambles to his feet, ignoring the cry of protest from hisknee. “What?! From where?” He looks around and realizes his pokemon are allscattered. He pulls his mask back on and hobbles forward to grab Rattata’sball.

“Northeast! I’ll be on you in ten seconds! Catchers keepers, but just stop itfrom getting away!”

Blue hangs up, and Red stuffs his phone away and runs over to grab his newspinarak, attaching it to his belt and cursing his weakness. He’d wasted timehe could have used to register his spinarak or heal Rattata. But a caterpieshouldn’t be hard to deal with, and all he has to do is stop it from running.

“Charmander, battle!” The lizard was watching him curiously as he dashedabout, and now drops back into an aggressive stance. S_hit, where’s his ball?_It went somewhere in those bushes…

He hears Blue before he sees him, crashing through the underbrush like astampeding tauros. Once he runs out from between some foliage, Red spots thecaterpie bounding ahead of him. About as thick as blue’s leg and half as long,its green segmented body blends in with the grass and leaves around it, wholebody scrunching up to propel itself forward in a leap. It hops from grass totree to bush. When it spots Red and charmander waiting for it ahead, it aimsits body straight up and flings itself up to a tree branch, sticky feetallowing it to start climbing.

“Not again,” Red mutters as he runs forward to meet Blue at the base of thetree. “Where’s Zephyr?”

“I was afraid he’d eat it,” Blue pants. “Can you send up your rattata?”

“She’s hurt.” Red looks at Charmander and hesitates for just a moment. “GetSquirtle out, I don’t want to start a forest fire. Charmander, ember!” Hepoints just ahead of the caterpie as Blue summons the water turtle.

Charmander looks up, then drops onto all fours. His tail relaxes downwardbefore flicking sharply up, and the glob of fire hits the tree just in frontof caterpie. It immediately curls up and shies away from the heat, falling tothe grass.

Red and Blue have their pokeballs out and ready, both pinging almostsimultaneously. The balls collide mid-air and bounce away from each other, andRed sees Blue’s hand move in a blur, already replacing Squirtle’s ball andgrabbing another empty one. Red is still aiming his second when Blue’s newball locks, and a moment later the caterpie’s gone in a flash.

“Squirtle, bubblebeam!” A jet of wet foam splatters against the tree and putsout the fire. Blue rubs the turtle’s head, then withdraws her.

Red does the same with Charmander after retrieving his ball from the bushes,trying not to feel disappointed as they gather up the pokeballs that missed.“Nice catch.”

Blue smirks and bows in the foreign style their generation uses mockingly, onearm across his stomach and the other to the side with one heel plantedforward. “Thanks for the assist. That’s four to two now.” Blue takes out hispokedex and registers his new caterpie, beginning its virtual training.

“Four to three, actually,” Red says as he does the same with his new pokemon.

“Oh right, you said Rattata’s hurt. Whatcha get?”

“Spinarak.”

“Shit, that’s a good one. I got a shroomish.”

“With Squirtle?”

“Yeah, she’s pretty drained. It kept running through bushes so Zephyr couldn’tgrab it, and I couldn’t get a clear throw. Got scratched to hell chasing it.”

“Tell me about it. This damn bug nearly made me break my neck…”

They exchange stories as they heal up their pokemon. Red doesn’t mention thepsychic attack, still not quite sure what to make of it. It would sound likebragging if he emphasizes the possibility that he’s psychic. And what if he’swrong? He would just sound weak. I need to do some research first. Heconsiders writing a note to remind himself, then realizes he’s not likely toforget the event. He shudders slightly just thinking about it.

Red looks over his medical supplies once he finishes spraying Rattata’s woundswith some antivenom and a healing potion. He has six more potions, three moreantidotes, and two each of paralyze and burn heals. Red watches Blue spray abit of his own anti-burn medicine on his new caterpie, while Red uses one ofhis potions to heal his spinarak’s wounds.

It’s hard to look at the arachnoid’s green and black abdomen, expectinganother burst of psychic torment at any second. But nothing happens, and Redstrokes his new pokemon tentatively after feeding it some berries. After hewithdraws it, he checks the pokedex entry:

Spinarak is a patient hunter that can wait motionlessly for several days forunsuspecting prey. Even juvenile specimen can spin webbing as strong as iron,and have been known to spin strands five times as strong as an equal weight ofsteel. The patterns on their backs are used to project some forms of mentalattacks on those who see them, and the venom in its forehead stinger can meltflesh into a nutrient-rich soup within their cocoons.

His seems to fall within the averages for weight and size. Red begins to lookfor more details on their mental attacks when his phone chimes. A momentlater, both his and Blue’s phones chime at the same time.

They look at each other and say “Leaf!” before pulling their phones out. Redflushes as he realizes he’d forgotten to tell her that they’d stopped moving.It had been just Blue and him for so long that he’d forgotten… if she was hurtbecause of their negligence…

“_Come quick as you can!” _had been the second message. The first had been aCoRRNet alert… with Leaf as the author.

“This way!” Red takes off through the trees quick as he dares, keeping one eyeon his phone’s map and the other on the ground for roots or ditches. Thewilderness training he’d gone through, first in class as a kid and then withBlue over the past year, had taught him how dangerous running through forestscan be, especially with low light, and he tries desperately not to twist hisankle as he hurries to Leaf’s location, the pain from his knee getting worsewith every step. Leaf didn’t press her panic button, taking the time to writeout a ticket on CoRRNet instead, so what-

They find Leaf just before reaching a clearing. She’s crouched around the sideof a tree, and puts her finger over her lips as soon as she turns and seesthem.

“Quiet. Look.” She points.

Still catching their breath, Red and Blue look past her. It takes a moment forRed to realize what he’s seeing.

The clearing is full of flowers. Above them, a swarm of at least a dozenbeedrill fly from one to the other, collecting pollen.

And lying on the ground in the middle of the field is a body.


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