Chapter 11: Risk Assessment

So this chapter was meant to be done super quick to make up for leaving it ona cliffhanger. Like, record time quick. That was the intention. Promise.

But it just kept growing. An extension to the flashback here, an extraargument there, and before I knew it I’d written the longest chapter to dateinstead of a quick resolution to the cliffhanger.

Ah well. Some prolonged suspense now and then adds spice to life, right?Right.

To anyone who speaks Japanese, please excuse my wholesale butchering of yourlanguage. I spent an embarrassing amount of time trying to figure outtranslations for “I summon you” and “plant roots” (as a verb-noun rather thanthe noun-noun I kept seeing online), and if you’d like to offer bettertranslations, I would very much appreciate the corrections: I figured it wasbetter to ask for forgiveness than prolong publication another few dayslooking for someone that would translate for me.

Hope you guys enjoy the read, and all feedback welcome, as usual!

(Side note: I mentioned awhile back that I hadn’t read any pokemon fiction,and invited recommendations. The majority of suggestions were for Game ofChampions by L. Lamora, and I recently had the free time to check it out. Iswallowed it in two big gulps, and am still hungry for more. I can see now whyit came so highly recommended, and anyone who enjoys my fic should definitelygive it a read. It explores and expands the world of Pokemon with a creativityand passion I found admirable and immensely enjoyable.)


The forest was dark and full of monsters, but Red wasn’t afraid. The bravestman in the world sat across the fire, and Red knew nothing would happen to himwhile Tomio Verres was near.

“The most important thing to remember is that everything contains risk, Red.Everything.”

Red watched his father turn the spit over the bed of cinders. “You mean likehow you can choke while eating?”

Tomio smiled. “Exactly.” His other hand poured a packet of soy sauce on thepidgey meat. The fire hissed and snapped as the sauce dripped down with themeat’s juices, and the sharp scent filled the air, combating the damp, greensmells of the woods. “So tell me, what risks are we taking right now?”

Red thought it over as he carefully peeled the bark from a stick. His fatherhad given the dagger to him last night for his eighth birthday, and he’d beenitching to use it all day. He watched each peel of bark curl up, carefullyadjusting his grip if it became too thin or thick. “I guess just being hereinstead of staying at home is a risk. But the fire is the real problem, sinceit might bring pokemon. Also, the smell of the meat might attract predators.”As he spoke, he imagined sharp teethed pokemon circling the camp just out ofsight, slowly drawing in to pounce on his back. The back of his necktightened, but he resisted the urge to look behind him. His dad would see ifthere was a pokemon sneaking up on him, and Kage would alert them if any camenear.

The mightyena rested with its head on its forelimbs beside the fire, a shadowin the island of light. One eye was open, reflecting the fire as it watchedthe pidgey meat, nose twitching. Red checked his new spit for splinters, thenhanded it to his dad, who speared a pair of wings and legs onto it. “Whatabout if we had stayed home? It’s safe there. There are wards around town toalert us if dangerous pokemon come by, and others to help defend us.”

“Well. We might have fallen down the stairs at home.”

Red’s dad smiled and said nothing.

So Red considered some of the dangers back at Pallet Town. He could drown atthe beach, but the obvious answer was to just not swim. He could get run overby a car, but they’re so uncommon and easy to avoid that it’s not likely. Heeventually realized he was thinking in circles. Everything was too similar tofalling down the stairs to be what his dad had in mind. He tried to think ofunpredictable dangers like storms, and as a glimmer of understanding surfaced,he thought out loud. “Well… If I stayed home all the time, I wouldn’t learn asmuch. I could read about wilderness survival, but knowing how to gather foodor build a fire properly takes practice. And if I never left home, I’d neverget experience in training or defending against wild pokemon. Which might beokay, if I live my whole life at home or in a city. Or it might be deadly, ifsomething unexpected happens. I would basically be gambling that I wouldn’tneed that experience and knowledge later.”

“Put another way?”

“Put another way…” Red took his cap off and scratched his head, then left itoff so he could feel the wind in his sweaty hair. His mom had taught him towrite with as much breadth as possible before editing down to the basics,cutting the fat from the ideas until the core message stood stark andirrefutable. That’s what his dad wanted. “Put another way, if I stayed home Iwouldn’t be learning to manage risk. Letting others keep you safe is a risk initself, a gamble on the long run that you’ll always be protected.”

“Full marks.”

Pride warmed Red deeper than the fire reached. His dad took the first pidgeyoff the sticks holding it up, and after blowing on the meat a bit, slid it tothe end of its spit and offered it to Kage. His mightyena extended his neckwithout rising and chomped it off the spit, spilling half of the pidgey to thegrass. The dark canine began to feast, light bones cracking in his powerfuljaws.

“So what are we doing to mitigate our risk right now, Red?”

“Well. First we used some repel to mask our scent. We chose a dense part ofthe woods so the firelight doesn’t go far. And as a last resort, Kage is readyto defend us if anything comes by.”

Tomio nodded. “What else?”

Red racked his brain to think of what he’d missed. “Our clothes? Nothingbright green or yellow, nothing tan or purple.”

“Yes. Nothing that resembles prey in the area. What else?”

Red frowned. He picked up a third stick and began to peel it. The minutescrawled by, and when he realized he was focusing more on how much time waspassing than finding the answer, he shook his head.

“Where are we?” his dad asked.

“About eight kilometers west of Pallet Town.”

“What’s nearby us?”

Red blinked. “Uh… besides Pallet Town… the beach is about two kilometerssouth… the southern shore, I mean. The western shore is another seven…”

His dad waited silently, still turning the meat as he pours soy sauce on thesecond pidgey. Eventually he said, “You can check your map.”

Red did so, brow furrowed. His dad rarely told him straight out how he waswrong, instead letting him flail about and find out himself. It was far moreembarrassing than the way they taught in school, where the hammer fell quicklyat least. But then, there’s less of an audience with his dad than there was inschool, especially when Blue wasn’t with them.

Red expanded the map until he saw it. “There’s a Ranger outpost twokilometers up from us. North, I mean.” Now that he saw it, he remembered therebeing one to the northwest of Pallet. He hadn’t realized it was so close.

“That’s right. To further minimize our risk in camping out, we chose to spendthe night near a Ranger outpost. Being constantly aware of your location helpsyou not get lost, but what if you were in trouble? What if your phone wasbroken, or your pokeballs were running low on power? You might have tried togo all the way back to Pallet, when there’s help much closer.”

Red put his phone away, cheeks burning. The words were spoken without rebuke,but Red hated missing obvious things. He bit his tongue, pushing down theexcuses that tried to bubble up. Whether he’d been lazy or just forgetfuldidn’t matter. “So why aren’t we spending the night with them?”

“Because I wanted to spend some alone time with my birthday boy.”

Red looked up and saw his dad’s smile. His frustration melted away, and Redfinished peeling the stick with a smile before handing it to him.

“So would you say the risk has been properly negated?” Tomio said as he tookthe spit and speared more meat onto it.

“I guess so, yeah.”

“What else could we do to be safer, other than camping closer to theoutpost?”

“I could have my own pokemon,” Red said automatically.

_Tomio laughed, and Red grinned. He knew his dad wouldn’t break the licensingregulations, but he hadn’t given up on the loophole that allowed kids to usepokemon registered to their parents. He wanted a pokemon of his own so badthat just looking at his dad’s full belt made his fingers itch to touch thecold spheres. _

“I don’t know that a budew or azurill would be of much use for keeping ussafe.”

“I could get a riolu, or a tyrogue.”

Red’s dad shook his head, still grinning. “I’d rather not come home one dayand find you with a cracked rib because your training got a bit out of hand.What else could we do?”

Red let it go while his dad was still in a good mood. “You could bring outanother pokemon.” He knew his dad was more than capable of commanding two atonce in combat.

Tom nodded, face serious again. “I could. Who would you suggest?”

“Kaze could fly around and let us know if something’s coming from the air.Nintai could go underground in case of tunneling pokemon.”

“In a forest?”

Red shrugs. “Kūfuku could use roots…”

His dad smiled and stood. He took out a pokeball and aimed it one handed atthe ground far from the fire. “Kūfuku, _kimi ni maneita!”_

The flash lit up the night for a split second, and then a victreebel was withthem, its long vine immediately digging into the ground as it flexed itsleaves and opened its wide mouth to the sky. Its eyes rolled to take in itssurroundings, and it relaxed as it found itself at home. Tomio ran a hand overthe plant pokemon’s bulbous body and dug a pokeblock out of his pocket withthe other. He murmured a greeting as he dropped the pokeblock into its gapingmouth, then stood back.

“Kūfuku, ne wo orose,__” he said, and his pokemon began extending rootsthrough the soil.

Tomio sat back down and carefully placed the second stick of meat on a smallplate before handing it to Red. “Why those pokemon?”

Red accepted the plate with thanks, and began blowing on a wing, bellyrumbling. “Kage’s nose is strong enough to warn us of most things approaching,but there would be no scent if it comes from underground, or dives fromabove.”

“Good. So why did I bring out Kūfuku and not Kaze?”

Red hesitated. “Because there are no pokemon native to this area that dive toattack their foes,” he said, trying to sound confident.

“Was that a guess?”

“It… an informed guess. Yes.”

His father nodded. “A good guess.” Red relaxed. “Spearow and Fearow do, butthey do not fly by night. So in total our risk-”

“Dad? There’s something else we could do.’

“Such as?”

“We could light other fires.”

Tomio’s hands paused while seasoning his food, face thoughtful. “As decoys.”

“Yeah.”

“Do you think we should do that?”

“Not really.”

“Why not?”

“Because leaving unattended fires can be dangerous, even if we build themcarefully.”

“So why bring it up?”

“Because it’s an option, even if a dangerous one. It could be worth the risk.If I were here alone I might do it.”

“A manageable risk, to reduce a risk you have no control over.”

“Right.”

“Good.” Red’s dad finished cooking his meal, then joined Red on his side ofthe firebed. He placed a hand on Red’s hair, then bent to kiss his head. “Yokudekimashita, Red.”

Red leaned against his father’s side, eating his dinner and feeling warmedfrom the inside and out.

Remember, nothing is without risk, but risk is manageable. Risk is thebalance between the danger of an action, and what the actor is capable of. Asmart trainer keeps risk in mind at all times, and stays alive. A smart and_skilled _trainer can reduce risk enough to do the impossible. Where such menand women go, legends bloom like flowers in their wake.”


As soon as Red gets over his shock, he whips his bag around one shoulder andscrambles for the zipper along the side. “Repel,” he hisses to Blue. “Now!” Hepulls out the canister, pops the top, and sprays himself liberally, breathingdeep to recover from the sprint through the woods and to keep himself frompanicking.

The body is too far to see clearly through the grass and flowers, but thetallish figure and short hair makes it appear to be a young man. There are redblotches on his clothes, but not enough to tell if they’re dead. Red tries tohold onto that hope, though it makes him anxiously aware of every passingsecond the venom might be creeping through their veins…

_Risk = Magnitude of loss x Probability that loss will occur. M is death forall of us, and P is almost certain. So that’s bad. _

“Shiiit,” Blue says, quietly but with feeling as he pants for breath andsprays himself with repel. “How long-”

“Less than a minute ago,” Leaf murmurs, barely audible over the buzzing. Heoffers his canister to her, but she shakes her head and holds up her own emptycan. “I followed one of the beedrill here, and saw it… him… already lyingthere.”

Easiest variable to reduce is M, which means leveraging our pokemon’s safety.P needs to go down either way. What are our tools?

Blue already has his hand on a pokeball. “We need to watch their pattern, waitfor an opening. Two of us can provide cover while the third goes to help him.”

Wait, Red mouths soundlessly as his mind races. Half a meter per second,sustained for up to 40 seconds-no good-which way is the wind blowing?

Leaf is nodding as Red sucks on a finger and holds it up. “A distraction. Red,you taught charmander smokescreen, it’s perfect to keep them away. Bulbasaurcould use his sleep powder on any that get through.”

“You’ve trained him in sleep powder?” Blue asks her.

“Yeah, we caught a ledyba with it before I found this place.”

“Wait,” Red whispers as yet another beedrill join the swarm. Moderate wind tothe west, won’t work. __Spinarak isn’t trained, can’t use web, beedrill coulddive through sleep powder and sting before being affected-

“Then I’ll start with Zephyr and whip the smoke into them. You and Bulbasaur-

Wait.

They both look at him.

“We need to wait. The nearest ranger outpost is kilometers away. They’ll behere in eight minutes at most from when you sent your alert, Leaf. This swarmis too big to handle on our own.”

Blue looks at him in disgust. “We can’t just sit here while they could bedying out there!”

“Keep your voice down,” Red says. “This isn’t a cartoon. Against six beedrill,we might stand a chance. At least we could try to get away if things go bad.Against nine, we would need to each personally take down three beedrill, whichnone of our pokemon are capable of. But even nine would be better odds thanthis. There are over a dozen beedrill out there-”

“I’m not saying we need to beat them all, but if we’re careful we can at leastdistract them long enough to check if that guy’s alive.”

Red shakes his head, still breathing hard from the run as he tries to put histhoughts in order. “My charmander’s smokescreen covers half a square meter persecond, and double that vertically. It could hide one person moving slowly,but I wouldn’t be able to see anything from inside it, which means I wouldn’tbe able to check for and treat wounds.” Red’s voice cracks, and he takesanother deep breath to steady his voice, fists clenched against the ground.“Blowing the smoke into the field won’t work either, the wind will disperse ittoo quickly.”

“So we try to draw them a bit at a time,” Leaf says.

Blue shakes his head with a frown. “They attack in swarms. Pull one and youusually pull others. But we don’t have to hold them long, eight minutes-”

“Eight minutes with at least four on each of us,” Red says. “Maybe more. Noneof our pokemon can protect us from all of them, and we can’t outrun them.Zephyr and Crimson can handle at least a couple each, but unless you’re payingclose attention you won’t be able to withdraw them at a safe time. And youwon’t be paying attention, because the rest will be on you. The repel willmask our scent, but it’ll do nothing once they see us.”

“We could bring out all of our pokemon,” Blue says. “They can hold them offlong enough to check-”

Red meets Blue’s gaze. “No bluster, Blue. No bragging. Think before youanswer, because you’re gambling with your pokemons’ lives, and ours. Are youreally that confident you could command four at once? Two you just caught?”

Blue’s eyes are dark and deep as the sea in a storm, no longer the sparklingblue of his grandfather’s. “Yes,” he says after at least ten seconds, which isstill longer than Red had expected. “Maybe not the caterpie. He wouldn’t domuch against them anyway, but the others, yeah. I’ve watched gramps. I’ve seena hundred vids. I’ve practiced in VR sims. It wouldn’t be perfect, but I cando it.”

Red looks at Leaf. “You?”

She shrugs. “Bulbasaur and Crimson, probably.”

“So let’s say I try with Charmander and my rattata. We’re still outnumberedover two to one.”

“We took on bad odds with the rattata cluster.”

“We ran from that rattata cluster. Beedrill are faster, and won’t give up aseasily. Not to mention the whole point is to help the guy out there, which wecan’t do while all of us are focusing on the beedrill.”

“Squirtle can-” Blue whips his head around, and Red hears it a moment later:buzzing approaching from their side instead of the din in the field.

They all get to their feet, pokeballs in hand, but the three insects pass bythem without slowing and join the others in the flower field. Up close, thepokemon’s forelimb stingers look wickedly sharp, their yellow and black bodieslean and deadly.

Red crouches down again, legs shaking at the near miss, and Leaf leans againstthe tree with a relieved sigh. Blue pounds a fist into the grass as the threejoin the rest of the swarm, along with yet another from the other side of theclearing, bringing the total upwards of twenty.

Red looks back at the man in the field, searching for any twitch or sign oflife. “There’s too many. Fighting on mostly instinct and outnumbered, ourpokemon will die. We probably would too. If we know that guy out there isalive, maybe it would be worth the risk, but…” Red’s distantly aware that hislegs are still trembling, as are his arms. He forces his gaze away from the…body. “It’s not. You understand? It’s not worth the risk. We’d most likelyjust get ourselves and our pokemon killed for nothing. That’s not whatresponsible trainers do. We need to be ready to assist the rangers when theyarrive. If there are only a couple they might need our help, but until then weneed to-” His voice breaks, and he closes his eyes as they start to burn.Something, there has to be something we can do… “-stay safe. Whoever’s outthere… is probably already d-dead…” Like dad, dead even though he understoodthe risks, dead because at the end of the day he chose to put himself at riskto protect others, I’m sorry dad, I can’t…

There’s a hand on his shoulder. Left hand, right shoulder, Leaf. A momentlater Blue’s is on his left, and together they wait, the air filled with thebuzzing of the swarm.

Bulbasaur can send powder up and have Zephyr blow it into field: should getsome of them, but the rest will notice us… we can try to lure some here andset up a smokescreen to keep the rest from following, taking them out a few ata time, but if any go around the smokescreen we’ll be overwhelmed… Squirtlecan draw their attention and stay in her shell to stay safe, but Blue has tobe nearby to give commands…

Nothing. There’s nothing they can do. Red takes another minute to finishinternalizing that, then takes a deep breath and raises his head, feeling abit more in control of himself. He wipes at his face, then nods his thanks tothe other two and stands. “Be on the lookout for the rangers, they’ll probablybe coming from the east across the clearing.”

“Let’s circle around then,” Leaf says, and leads the way through the trees.Red follows Blue after her and tries to keep an eye on the beedrill. A fewleave the swarm as they walk, but to the northwest. Red quickly takes out hisphone and draws a cone on his map in that direction, estimating where theirhive might be so he can avoid it in the future. He can look up foraging rangesto make a better estimation later.

Thankfully the repel seems to be keeping them safe while the beedrill arebusy. Red watches another one finish drinking its fill of nectar before flyingoff for home, its lower limbs coated in pollen. He wonders if the person inthe field had been resting there when the swarm arrived, or if they had beenfoolish enough to try to capture a beedrill while they were foraging. Perhapsonly one had been here at first, and the others had taken him by surprise.Either way, where’s his pokemon_?_ As far as Red can tell, the body is alone.

They reach the eastern side of the clearing a few minutes before the Rangersappear through the trees. As Red had guessed there’s two of them, aninvestigative pair comprised of a senior riding a meganium and a junior on theback of an ursaring. Red doesn’t recognize either of them, and for a moment hefeels homesick for the familiar, competent presence of the Rangers aroundPallet Town. Then the two are dismounting and withdrawing their pokemon, andRed takes a step forward.

“Sitrep, one civ down, possibly trainer, surrounded by fifteen to twentypassive beedrill. Aid is one charmander, squirtle, bulbasaur, two rattata, twopidgey. Trained suppression skills are smokescreen and sleep powder.” Hedoesn’t mention their new captures: even if he considered them reliable, theRangers wouldn’t.

The junior Ranger’s brow rises, but the senior doesn’t blink as he sizes thethree up. His eyes linger a moment on Red’s clothes: the red and white of hisjacket and black of his shirt makes him match the Ranger uniform color scheme.“You were right to alert us. All three of you are willing to assist?” Theyconfirm, and he nods. “Pokeball count?”

“I have six.” Red glances at the others.

“Five,” Leaf says, while Blue holds up five fingers.

“Good. I’m Ranger Akio, this is Ranger Metis. Please stand by while we assessthe situation.”

Red barely steps aside in time to avoid being shoved as they pass. The twoRangers stand at the edge of the clearing and begin to confer in low voices.Red’s gas mask is strong enough to mute the repel he used on himself, but thestrength of the Rangers’ repellent still goes through his air filters. Theiruniforms are smudged and stained by what seems like a rough few days in thewoods, and they stand with the steady confidence of professionals.

The knot of tension in Red’s chest has eased somewhat seeing them. Theauthorities are here now, and he can relax a bit. The three trainers waittogether quietly, ready to act on the Ranger’s command.

But after a couple minutes pass, Red feels his impatience begin to return. Herealizes he’s rocking back and forth on his heels, and reminds himself thathe’s the one that insisted on waiting for their judgement and assistance.

Blue eventually begins to pace, both hands spinning pokeballs and swappingthem with those at his belt with a speed and skill that’s mesmerizing towatch. Red tears his gaze away and sees Leaf watching the Rangers as theymurmur to each other, the senior pointing at the far end of the field. Sheseems more patient than he and Blue, though there’s a crease between her brow.

“So. A ledyba, huh?”

Leaf glances at him.

He smiles crookedly and shrugs. “I could use some distraction, and you seempretty calm.”

She lets out a breath of amusement through her nose and nods, turning awayfrom the field. “Wish I felt calmer. Yeah, I got the ledyba about half an hourin. It was caught in a spinarak web. I couldn’t get a lock on it, so I hadbulbasaur prep some sleep powder, then cut it out with razor leaves.”

“Razor leaves too, huh? You’ve been busy.”

She smiles. “What about you?”

“I got a spinarak, actually. Wonder if you stole its dinner.”

“Wow. Spinarak’s a nice catch.”

“Yeah, ledyba too. Lots of support and impairment.”

She nods, and then they’re silent again. The quiet is filled with the distantbuzzing of the swarm and the mutters of the Rangers. Red’s knee continues toache, and he bends down a bit to rub it gently. After a moment he straightenswith a sigh. “Want to know how big an ass I am?” he asks quietly. “There’ssomeone lying out there either dying or dead, and I feel slighted because I’mnot being included in the discussion on how to help them.”

“I know. I feel like my mom sent me out of the room so she could discuss‘adult things.’ What do you think is taking so long?”

“Their main priority is protecting people, but they’re also guardians of wildpokemon and the environment. Since we don’t know if that guy’s alive, my guessis they’re trying to minimize collateral damage. Something heavy handed couldhave repercussions that harm a lot of others.”

“Like what?”

“Beedrill keep a lot of the plants in the forest spreading, and cull a lot ofpokemon that move into their turf. This looks like a big chunk of a colony: ifthey’re all taken out, it could be enough to shift the ecology of this part ofthe forest in ways that are hard to predict.” Talking helps calm Red’simpatience, and he lets out a breath, stretching his arms behind his head. “Orif it’s part of a huge colony, the rest might go on a feeding frenzy to makeup their losses. They might even migrate as a swarm. If the Rangers have acouple fully evolved fire pokemon, they could burn all the beedrill up inseconds, but that would be a last resort. Coming up with safe alternatives isharder.”

“Well, I’m happy to help however I can. But being kept out of discussing aplan that will involve my pokemon feels shitty.”

“Yeah. It’s probably because of how young we are. If we had a badge or two toflash around-”

“It’s insulting, is what it is,” Blue says, not keeping his voice as low astheirs. “Treating us like civs. If they knew who we are…”

Red rolls his eyes, though he’s smiling. “Who _we _are? That pretty generousof you.”

Leaf laughs. “Yeah, I don’t think ‘Juniper’ carries much weight around here.”

“You might be surprised,” Red says. “Your grandfather is pretty wellrespected, and some people even know of your mom’s work.”

“By ‘some people,’ he means the eggheads at the lab,” Blue says to Leaf.

“Bit of a biased reference pool, then.”

“Still,” Red says. “Unless these guys knew my dad, being the son of a Rangerand journalist doesn’t inspire much awe.”

Blue frowns at him. “Hey, you may not be an Oak by blood, but gramps doesn’tsend just anyone out in the world with his babies. And no, I’m not talkingabout me,” he says as Leaf opens her mouth, and she covers her grin with ahand.

Red shrugs. “I think others would just call it nepotism.”

“Ahh, that’s crap.” Blue hooks an arm around Red’s neck. “Give it a few yearsand I bet ‘Verres’ will be a household Kanto name.”

Red flushes a bit at the unexpected compliment, trying to think of a replywhen Blue knocks his hat off and begins grinding his knuckles in his hair.“After all, someone’s going to have to write my biography, ya know? Who betterthan the kid who watched the legend begin?”

Red curses and grabs for his hat, which leaves him defenseless to the noogie.Leaf leans against a nearby tree as she tries to muffle her giggles, and Bluespins in place so Red’s punches only graze his ribs.

Suddenly Leaf stands straight, face serious. The boys disengage and turn tosee the Rangers approaching. Ranger Metis is frowning at them, but Akio merelywatches impassively as they straighten their clothing and stand at attention.“We have a plan. Are you still interested in assisting?”

Red’s cheeks are hot as he nods along with the others. “Sorry sir, justnerves.” If you don’t want to seem like a feckless kid, stop acting likeone. “We’re ready. What do you need us to do?”


Even through his mask filters, the air is cloyingly sweet.

Red breathes through his mouth as he watches the meganium’s petals flap up anddown, wafting more and more of its sweet scent into the air. They hadseparated the group, with Akio and Blue to the southeast of the clearing whileRed, Leaf and Metis stay on the eastern side. Red can’t see Ranger Akio’sexpression from this far, but sitting on the pokemon’s back, so close to thepetals, the smell must be overwhelming. He’s probably used to it by now.

Blue on the other hand clearly isn’t, and even from a distance Red can seethat his friend’s face is a grimace of disgust. He stands ready though,pokeball in one hand and flute in the other. After another few moments, whenthe scent feels tangible as cotton candy against Red’s tongue, Akio gives Bluethe signal.

“Zephyr, go!” Blue’s pokeball flashes mid-air, and Zephyr swoops out, taking amoment to orient itself in the unfamiliar trees. Blue catches his pokeballwith one hand and sticks his flute between his lips with the other, thenpoints and blows a quick pair of notes.

The bird comes up behind Blue and hovers in the air as it begins to flap,small body bounding up and down mid air with every powerful sweep of itswings. Stronger and stronger gusts blow into the clearing, and it doesn’t takelong for the beedrill to stop foraging and turn as one toward the source ofthe scent.

The buzzing of the field reaches a frenzied pitch, and Red feels a thrill offear in his guts as the swarm suddenly dives toward Akio and his meganium.Blue has already withdrawn Zephyr and is running toward Red, Leaf and Metis.

Ranger Akio waits to ensure the trainer is clear, then slaps his pokemon’sside with a “Ha!”

The meganium leaps into the trees, swiftly disappearing through the foliage onits four powerful legs. Plant pokemon are not particularly known for speed,but meganium is one of the faster among them, and just barely outspeeds theaverage beedrill. The Ranger’s is no doubt also trained to be quick, and aslong as their luck holds out, Akio should be able to keep the majority of theswarm focused on him until they’re far enough to cut the scent trail.

Meanwhile, Metis has already bounded off into the field with his ursaring.They decided not to stay in the clearing, even with the added risk of movingthe body, incase any beedrill return or don’t follow Ranger Akio.

As indeed some haven’t. Red watches from the treeline as the powerful ursineswats a beedrill out of the air when it dives at him. The bug hits the groundand stays down, stunned or too hurt to fly again, but there are another fouron the outskirts that suddenly turn their focus on Ranger Metis. Red tears hisgaze away to crouch beside Charmander.

“Ok buddy, just like we practiced. Smokescreen. Charmander, smokescreen.”

Charmander’s head snaps up to Red, then he shivers a bit, eyes closing. Athick, heavy smog begins to pour from his tail, spreading and rising under thetree branch like a curtain between the field and the rest of the forest.

“Good job. Good boy,” he says, stroking his pokemon’s smooth head. “More,smokescreen.” He looks at the field as the smoke rises around him, starting toobscure his vision. Faster, faster…

The last thing he sees is Ranger Metis carefully placing the body on theursaring’s back before hopping back on and running toward him, the fourbeedrill in pursuit.

Then the smoke is everywhere, and Red can only crouch still so he doesn’t getbarreled over. Ursaring aren’t nearly as fast as meganium, and the beedrillwould swiftly close the distance. His heart hammers in his throat as he waits,keeping his hand on charmander so he knows where he is.

A few moments later the ursaring dashes through the smoke to Red’s right, adark mass of furred muscle that takes some of the smoke with it. Then twobeedrill zoom over him, more smoke dislodged in their wake. He hears the twobeyond the smokescreen veer off, and says “Charmander, stop.” He picks hispokemon up and walks back through the smoke until it clears.

When it does, he sees the two beedrill lying on the grass a dozen feet away.They’d flown straight into the cloud of sleep powder that bulbasaur is rainingdown from a branch in a nearby tree. Leaf is beside him with a small bucketthat they’d filled with sleep spores beforehand.

“All clear!” he says. “The other two turned back.” Red puts charmander downand waits, listening for any newly approaching buzz as the smoke slowly fades.He hears Leaf withdraw bulbasaur, and by the time she gets down from the tree,the smoke is diffuse enough for them to see the field again. The remaining twobeedrill return to drinking nectar, taking no mind of them. A newcomer hasalready joined them, and the one that had been knocked down by the ursaringslowly rises back into the air.

Red lets a breath out and turns to see Blue jogging over, Zephyr on hisshoulder. “Nice job. That was perfect timing with that powder, Leaf.”

“Thanks. You guys did great too.”

Red shrugs. He’d performed a simple task with minimal risk. Leaf approachesthe unconscious beedrill warily and dumps her bucket of powder onto them. Thenthe three trainers go to Ranger Metis, who’s crouched beside the body.

Everyone is silent, an air of tension making the forest seem oddly quiet andstill. Or maybe that’s just the much quieter buzz of the remaining beedrill.

The body lies limp, mouth slightly parted and eyes closed. The Ranger has twofingers pressed to the young man’s neck, face impassive as he waits for apulse. Impassive, but not indifferent: it’s an expression of control Red hasseen on his father’s face. An expression of enduring.

The trainer’s wounds are hard to make out clearly. The back of his blue jacketis caked with blood where it pooled, but since he’s lying on it again it’seasy to look elsewhere. There are punctures along his torso, though it’s hardtell how many due to the spread of blood. Lacerations run along one arm and uphis neck and jaw, leaving the rest of his face relatively unblemished. Red cansee the Ranger’s potion and antidote bottles sitting on the grass, thedroplets of their spray still glistening on the visible wounds. Theirhypercoagulant properties have stopped any blood flow, but no new skin isgrowing over the wounds.

“Revive capsule?” Leaf says, voice hollow.

Ranger Metis shakes his head, once. “No swallow reflex.” He removes hisfingers. “He’s gone. Lost too much blood, and the venom…”

A horrible weight is slowly pressing in Red’s stomach as he looks at the youngman’s face. Blonde, with a round chin and a few days of beard growth. In deathhe looks barely older than Red. “How long…”

“Hard to tell without taking a temperature reading. He’s not stiff yet, soprobably no more than a few hours.” Ranger Metis lets out a breath and rises,leaning against his ursaring’s neck and scratching its ear as he turns hisface away.

Blue mutters something that gets lost in his face mask and stomps off, whileLeaf walks to a nearby tree and sinks to the ground with her back against it,eyes closed.

Red continues to stand where he is, staring at the young man’s face. He’sdimly aware of his pulse speeding up, breath becoming faster and more shallow.He wants to ask if there’s any chance they could have saved him, if actingsooner would have helped… but he already knows there’s no answer. The trainermight have bled out before Leaf found him, or he might have died a few minutesafter. Past that, it’s unlikely he’d have survived such blood loss.

This isn’t my fault. I can’t blame myself for making the right choice. Herepeats it to himself as the world grows a bit fuzzy around the edges,distantly aware that he’s close to hyperventilating in his mask. He tears itoff and takes deep breaths, willing himself to calm down. Not my fault. Notmy fault…

The ursaring makes a chuffing noise and sits, Metis still rubbing its head.Now that Red notices the pokemon’s proximity, its size is intimidating. Hemeets its solid brown eyes and sees none of the razor focus of TrainerDonovan’s skarmory. Instead, the ursaring’s gaze is the very definition ofneutral. It simply watches him, waiting. If he leaves it alone, it’ll leavehim alone. If he attacks, it’ll snap his neck with one swipe. Things could goone way or the other, and the ursaring simply doesn’t care.

It looks away from him, gaze moving over the body, then off into the trees asits jaw gapes in a yawn. Unimpressed. Despite everything, Red’s lips twitchbriefly with the ghost of a smile. The ursaring’s utter disinterest isgrounding, in a way, and his breathing begins to even out. For the vastmajority of the world and its inhabitants, life will go on. In the grandscheme of things, the web of tragedy and heartbreaks that will spread fromthis death are relatively minimal.

As soon as he thinks that, an echo of soul-cracking despair makes Red shudder,and he sways on his feet. Minimal. Right. He suddenly wants to call hismother. Hear her voice. He forces himself to remember the ursaring’sindifference, and after a moment the ache numbs a bit.

Ranger Metis finishes drawing comfort from his pokemon and steps away towithdraw it. He clips its pokeball to his belt slowly, then turns to considerthe body, face once again a mask. “I’m going to identify him and record hisdeath, then make preparations to transport him. There’s no need for you to bearound for all that.” He turns to Red, and the other two as they approachagain. “You did well. As thanks, please capture those two beedrill before theyawaken. Then I suggest you find a safe place to camp. It will be dark soon.”

“If it’s alright,” Leaf says, “I would like to know who he was.”

Metis looks at her a moment. “Knowing will make it harder.”

“I’d also like to know,” Blue says, and Red nods. We owe him that much, atleast.

Metis meets each of their gazes. His face softens a bit, and he turns away.“Alright. On the condition that you will keep it to yourselves until afterwe’ve had a chance to inform his family.”

They agree, and watch as Metis respectfully begins to pat the young man’spockets down. He finds the wallet in his jacket, and extracts it to pull outthe Trainer ID.

“Luke Koyama, Age 26. Home, Cremini Town. License issued March 3rd, 1492.”

There’s a moment of quiet as Ranger Metis puts the ID back. Red’s eyes aredrawn to Luke’s pokeball belt, where four balls rest. “Was there a pokemon orpokeball out there with him?”

Metis pauses. “No. Not that I saw. I’ll double check before the swarm getsback. Now go catch those beedrill before they wake.”

Blue turns away, and Red and Leaf follow. They approach the sleeping pokemonwithout getting too close. One of them is still as stone, but the other’swings are slowly flexing.

Each of the beedrill is about as tall as Red, their forelimb blades as long ashis arms. The idea of applying human morality to barely sentient beings shouldbe silly, but beedrill had always struck Red as an evil species, vicious ina way even the most commonly feared ghost and dark type pokemon are often not._No sense getting mad at a pokemon for acting in its nature, _his father hadtold him once, but he can’t help but study their blades, trying to spot anysigns of blood…

“You guys take them,” Blue says just as Red opens his mouth. “You took biggerrisks.”

Leaf frowns at him. “What? You practically bathed in that beedrill bait. I wasscared stiff thinking half of them would go after you.”

“Zephyr blew most of it away, and the beedrill knew the meganium was thesource. If a few more had gone after you and Red-”

“I don’t want one.”

They both look at him. He shrugs a shoulder, keeping his gaze on the onestarting to wake. “I don’t want one. They don’t really interest me, from aresearch perspective. So you guys should take them.” He walks away before theycan reply, staring out in the direction Ranger Akio had gone.

You’re being irrational, Future Red mutters in the more distant recesses ofhis mind.

There are two of them and three of us. If someone has to go without, it mightas well be me.

Rationalize it all you want, but you took us out of the running for purelyemotional reasons. It feels good to you now, but I might need a beedrillsomeday.

So catch one then. They’re not rare.

_Would that have made a difference? What if you come across a dragonair thathad killed someone? Excuse me, that _might _have killed someone. _

Is it so bad to not want a pokemon that might have killed a person?

_The point of catching pokemon is to _stop _them from killing people. One ofthe points, anyway. _

There are a pair of flashes and twin explosions of sound behind Red that lightup the forest briefly. He looks up, noticing for the first time how dark it’sgetting. Well, it’s moot now.

You’ll have to deal with it again eventually.

Technically, _you _will. Then you might not find it so easy to castjudgement.

His prospective mental voice grumbles a bit, but quiets down. Blue and Leafapproach, and Red turns to them.

“We’re not counting these as part of our catches,” Blue says. “So you’re stillonly one behind us.”

Red blinks at him, then smiles. The expression feels odd, but good. “Right.Thanks.”

“Not that you’ll be able to catch us before we get to Pewter anyway.” Leafwinks.

Red’s smile widens. “We’ll see about that. I woke up pretty late today: Imight catch another three tonight while you guys are sleeping.”

Blue’s about to respond when Red spies a flash of color in the trees. “Akio’sback!”

They turn to see the Ranger approaching from the northeast riding an arcanine.Blue makes an appreciative sound at the sight of the majestic pokemon. Redwonders how far Ranger Akio had run before switching mounts.

After checking with Ranger Metis, Akio dismounts and examines the body forhimself before approaching the trainers. The older man is sweating slightly,but otherwise seems fine. All trace of the meganium’s sweet scent are replacedby the hot fumes of the arcanine’s fur.

“It’s good to see you’re all alright. Thank you for your help here today.”

“No prob,” Blue says. “Just doing our duty.”

Ranger Akio’s smile is brief, but genuine. If he’s bothered by Luke’s death,he doesn’t show it. Perhaps he’d already taken it as a given. “Yes. Today youthree repaid the trust the public has placed in you and all trainers. If youdon’t mind, I would like your names, so that when we return Mr. Koyama and hispokemon to his family, they will know that you helped recover them.” He nodsat Leaf. “Yours we have from the ticket you made, Miss Juniper.” He looks atthe other two expectantly.

“Red Verres.”

“Blue Oak.”

Ranger Akio’s brow twitches briefly at Blue’s surname. “A pleasure to meetyou. May your travels be swift and safe.” He salutes them, one arm crossedbehind his back and the other across his waist as he bows slightly.

Red and the others return it, then gather their things. Leaf cleans her bucketout carefully before collapsing it and putting it back in her bag, and Redputs his gas mask back on. Before leaving, Red approaches the Rangers.

“Could you do me a favor? I’m very curious to know what happened out heretoday,” Red says. “How Luke was killed. What he was doing in the field. I knowit’s not likely we’ll get any answers, but…”

Ranger Metis glances at his superior, who studies Red for a moment. “Itdoesn’t do to obsess over these things. Trust me, I know. Sometimes mistakesare made. Accidents happen. People die. The why isn’t always known, or evenhelpful.”

Red doesn’t agree with that last bit, but he merely says, “I understand. Idon’t intend to dwell on it. I just meant, if you do learn anything, I wouldappreciate knowing. I think it would help me put it out of my mind.”

Ranger Akio nods. “If we learn anything, I’ll pass it along. You have myword.”

Red salutes him again, bowing deep. “Arigatō, Akio-san.” Red rejoins Blueand Leaf, and, looking back at Luke Koyama one more time in the darkeningtwilight, leaves the buzz of the remaining beedrill behind.


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