Chapter 16: Diversions

Welcome back everyone! To clarify, “simulations” in this world are basicallyour world’s “Pokemon” games, from the handhelds to far more advanced versionsthat we don’t have access to due to lack of technology and Game Freak’sstrange aversion to all of my money. This world has video games too of course,but we often use the word “simulation” for a game that mimics something youcan do in the real world with an intent toward teaching, so why wouldn’tthey?

As always, feedback welcome, either here or on reddit’s /r/rational post.Enjoy!

Hundreds of hours in simulations prepared Blue for a lot of situations, butrunning through a forest at night was not one of them.

Foliage rakes at his clothes and skin as he weaves around trees and tallbushes. It’s hard to move fast and hold a flashlight straight, and he alsostruggles to keep the lightning rod from snagging every bush he passes. Hecontracted it to half its length, but it’s still over half as long as he istall.

Worst of all, even with the flashlight to spot the obvious roots, every otherstep seems to almost land on one. Anyone else would have a twisted ankle inless than a minute.

But Blue Oak, future Champion of Indigo, has the physical agility and reactiontime of a born pokemon master, and pokemon masters do not trip and eat dirt onthe way to a double rescue, even with no one around to see it.

Instead he begins to run in an odd hopping motion, feet not swinging at all ashe lands and pushes off with his whole foot. It’s tiring and probably looksridiculous, but it’s faster than walking would be, and lets him avoid afaceplant.

And after all, there’s no one’s around to see it.

Thankfully he also doesn’t trip over a pokemon every five feet like in thesims. He sees a few pikachu and raichu in the distance as he travels, but noneget close enough to be a threat. The frequency of wild pokemon encountersthere were always annoying, but he supposes it’s to make up for the otherchallenges trainers face, like hop-running through a dark forest until yourlungs burn and your legs feel like lead so you can stop a fire and get helpfor your friends before they die a horrible death.

Assuming there’s help available, that is. The glow of the fire above the treesseems to have intensified, and soon he begins to smell smoke. He pauses anddrops the lightning rod just long enough to tucks his phone between his kneesand put his facemask on. Then he picks it back up and keeps going, flashlightaimed at the ground to find safe spots for his feet. In the distance he hearsa voice, amplified by something as it shouts orders. He uses it as hisdirectional reference, figuring whoever is doing the shouting is probably incharge of stopping the fire.

Just as he’s beginning to see a glow between the trees, too steady to be thefire, a pikachu zags through the forest to his right and heads straight towardhim. Blue feels his adrenaline spike as he quickly jabs the rod into theground as hard as he can and jumps back, unclipping Shroomish’s ball beforehis feet hit the ground. A bolt of electricity strikes his rod, and hesidesteps to keep it between him and the pikachu as he throws, world narrowingdown as calm settles over him.

“Go, Shroomish.”

Even while moving and in the dark, he judges the angle right and feels thepokeball smack back into his palm as it returns. Blue feels a moment of fiercepride, which cuts off abruptly when his foot hits a root and topples him ontohis back.

“Leech seed!” Blue yells just before the fall knocks his wind out. Hescrambles to get his soles under him and shines the light forward so he cansee the fight.

His pokemon is shooting seeds up in an arc to land around the pikachu likehail. They’re faster than the powder, and Blue sees some manage to land on therodent, sticking to its fur and spreading thin tendrils around it. The pikachusends shocks at Shroomish again and again, but doesn’t seem to realize whynone of them are connecting.

But the electricity is still traveling through the ground, causing his pokemonto jump and cry out in pain. “Sleep powder!” Shroomish sends out clouds ofspores, and the pikachu begins to dodge, sending out erratic bolts here andthere as its glowing cheeks leave streaks of light through the air.

It’s hard to keep the phone’s flashlight on it, but even harder to get a lockwith a pokeball. Blue watches for an opening, a slight stumble, a slow turn-

The pikachu leaps forward and begins scratching at Shroomish, the two pokemontumbling over the grass. It seems to have given up on its electricity, ormaybe it ran out, but its claws and teeth are still dangerous enough to drawblood.

“Absorb!” Blue yells as he steps around the pokemon to keep the lightning rodbetween him and the ‘chu, just in case. Motes of green light appear on hispokemon’s wounds as it absorbs the pikachu’s skin and blood and uses itsnutrients to regenerate itself. It’s enough to help his pokemon heal some ofthe damage it’s taking, but the pikachu has energy to spare, and doesn’t evenslow down as it leaps off and begins to jump in and out of range for hit andrun attacks, quick as a blink even while blood seeps down its fur from theeroded flesh.

“Headbutt!” Shroomish shoves forward with its feet to try and slam into therodent, but it misses and tumbles over the grass, torn and bloody from thescratches. It gets back up and tries again and again, but it’s just not fastenough to match the pikachu’s speed.

Thankfully it doesn’t have to. Blue feels a distant, savage satisfaction as hesees the pikachu stumble for the first time, finally beginning to feel itslosses. The leech seeds’ vines are now firmly wrapped around it and embeddedin its skin, growing fat off its blood. Most grass pokemon aren’t unusuallyfast or lethal, but if you can stall your opponent long enough, they’rechampions at endurance matches.

The pikachu starts to go wild as it feels its life being drained away by theplants, rolling along the ground and sending electricity through its own bodyas it tries to get the seeds off. Blue keeps trying to get a lock, but it’smoving too erratically. “Sleep powder!”

Shroomish sends out a cloud of spores, but the pikachu leaps away, tumblinginto a roll. As soon as it’s back on its feet, it suddenly dashes off into thedark forest.

Blue stands frozen for a second, torn in two by conflicting desires. Then hecurses, free hand moving in a flurry _minimize-pocket, unclip-return-reclip,yank _before he’s off after it, trying not to stumble as he holds the lightahead to keep the pikachu in sight and the rod up by his shoulder, ready tojam it into the ground the second the pikachu turns toward him.

Its energetic leaps are interrupted by constant tumbling along the grass, justhurt enough that he can keep up with it, but not enough to get close. Evenworse, it keeps scrambling between and under dense bushes that he has todetour around. He loses sight of it a few times, only able to stay on itstrail because of the occasional flashes of electricity.

_This is stupid, _he thinks as he run-hops, but he doesn’t stop. Even knowinghe might run into another ‘chu or some other pokemon at any moment, evenknowing that he’s running in the wrong direction from the fire, even knowingthat he left the others to get them help quicker, not catch a pikachu, hecan’t just let it get away. This is his best chance to get an electric pokemonanytime soon, and a rare one at that.

The pikachu finally starts to slow down enough for him to close the distance abit, and then his foot catches comes down on the side of a root. He hits theground face first, nose smacking into the plastic of his mask and sending abolt of pain through his head. It takes him a couple seconds to push himselfup and grab the lightning rod, then he’s off again, nose stinging with everybreath as he looks frantically around for the ‘chu.

Nothing. A bitter frustration wells up as he slows, chest heaving as heflashes the light around, then points it away over his shoulder. He’s wastingtime, he should be heading toward the fire… Come on, a spark… just onespark…

A flash to his left and he’s off again, hoping it’s not a different pikachu,hoping his nose isn’t broken, and hoping above all that he’s not endangeringhis friends with this mad chase.

The spark goes off one more time as he runs forward, and then there’s nothingbut the light bobbing along the ground in front of him. His eyes flick fromleft to right in case it turned in a different direction, but there’s nothing,and he starts to feel the despair again. It can’t have gotten far, not movingas slow as it was…

His side aches, his nose pulsing with every beat of his heart. He trips again,barely managing to keep his feet, and just as he’s about to slow and turn thelight away to look for more sparks, he sees something yellow in the distance,lying still.

Blue rushes forward in a surge of triumph, jabbing the rod down and pullingout a ball. An eternity passes before he hears the ping, and then he throws,hits, bounces, captures.

Yes!” He pumps a fist in the air, then falls to his knees as he clutches astitch in his side, breathing hard through his mouth and fogging his facemask.He lets himself drop onto his side and lie still until his pulse has sloweddown a bit, pulling his mask off so it rests on his head to prod his nosegently. No blood, so it’s probably fine. All worth it.

As soon as the stitch fades, he gets to his feet and goes to the ball with agrin. With a pikachu on his team he’s got a strong play against flying andwater types, which will make Cerulean Gym significantly easier. He takes outhis pokedex to register it, using the light of the screen to line up the theirlenses.

Blue’s grin slowly fades as his pokemon doesn’t appear on the screen. Insteadthere’s just text listing the mass and atomic makeup of the contents, alongwith other basic information. No… it wasn’t that long, just a few seconds…He pulls the ball away, then realigns it. Again the pokedex treats it like aContainer rather than a pokeball. The DNA of the leech plants and pikachu arelisted, but there’s no brain activity, which means…

Blue’s hand trembles, and the lens unaligns briefly, causing the text to wipeand reappear. Not a pokemon, as far as the ‘dex is concerned. Just atoms ofmeat, and some plant. The seeds took too much blood, or maybe their vinesentered its skull. A pokecenter could heal almost anything else, but not that.A damaged brain is unrecoverable. Dead.

Blue screams, throwing the ball at a tree. It bounces off and rolls back, andhe kicks it against a bush where it comes to rest. His heart is pounding againas scalding tears gather at the corners of his eyes, and he rubs them awaywith his palms, chest burning as his anger roars through him.

“It’s not my fault. You ran, you stupid rat, you had the leech seeds on youand you… you attacked me, I didn’t… you made me waste all this time!

Blue clamps his lips shut as his yell rings through the forest. I’m talkingto a ball. A dead pokemon in a ball. He focuses on breathing until the angeris back under control, then wipes at his face again and pulls his mask backdown, tucking the pokedex away. He picks up the ball and braces his arm torelease its contents, then unclips Shroomish’s ball.

“Go, Shroomish,” he says, just loud enough to be heard as he tosses itforward, arm catching it reflexively.

His pokemon is moderately hurt, but he doesn’t want to waste potions that theymight need later. Instead he kneels down and picks his shroomish up, placingit by the body without looking directly at it. Some of the leech seeds felloff in its mad dash, but there are a few left, swollen and cracked. Shroomishwaddles closer and begins to pick the seeds off with its teeth, crunching thesoft shells to get to juicy innards.

Blue looks away, feeling his stomach churn. Within moments his pokemon’swounds begin to glow green, body using the nutrients to repair itself.

There’s a flash of light to his side, and Blue turns to see another pikachurunning through the forest, cheeks glowing like angry eyes. He watches it runoff, then withdraws his pokemon after it finishes and goes to picks up thelightning rod. He turns to the body of the pokemon that was almost his. Hislips tremble briefly with something fighting to come out, and he’s not sure ifit’s going to be more anger or some pointless apology-

Another flash of electricity on his other side, closer. Blue takes a deepbreath, then turns to the glow of the fire above the distant trees and jogstoward it, gaze ahead.

As Blue approaches the light he saw earlier, too steady and white to be thefire, this time he sees the lanterns hung here and there from the trees.Around them is a thin haze of white smoke, and as Blue gets closer he beginsto see it in the beam of his phone’s light. Soon it’s thick enough to seearound him like fog, and by then there’s enough light to put his phone away.Once it gets noticeably warmer, he finds the first trainers and pokemonworking to contain the blaze beyond.

Blue stands and watches for a moment, panting for breath and slipping thelightning rod snug between his bag and his back along his spine so he has bothhands free. Ahead and to the right, a sandslash is digging along the side of atrench to widen it, tearing up the grass and bushes in its way. A sudden crackmakes him turn to toward a falling branch, and he sees a primeape jumping fromtree to tree above with its trainer. Others on the ground quickly drag awayany uprooted or broken plants to keep the firebreak clear of anything thatmight burn. Some of them, especially the rangers, have bright orange firesuits on, but everyone has some kind of breath mask.

He’s close enough for him to make out the words of the person with themegaphone he heard, their voice made strange and alien by a facemask and theamplification. “Second squad, flare up to the east!” they yell, loud enoughto cut through the distant roar of the fire and various other shouts oftrainers to each other and their pokemon. Blue follows its tone of command toa Ranger standing beside a fallen log with a megaphone in one hand a tablet inthe other. When he gets closer, he sees she’s an older woman, greying hair cutshort beneath her Ranger cap.

She glances at him as he approaches, then looks back to the screen. “Pokemon?”

“Squirtle, pidgey, shroo-”

“Phone.” He offers it to her, and she opens the map and sets a marker on itbefore handing it back. “Head west, find Ranger Malcolm.”

“My friend has a broken arm, he needs help-”

“Is he alone?”

Blue pauses, irritated. “No, there’s someone with-”

“Then they’re as safe as they’ll get until this fire is under control. Checkif their distress call came through.” She tilts the screen to him.

Blue’s anger and frustration almost erupt, but one look at the map on thetablet makes him swallow them. The fire is a mass of thermal colors in theotherwise dark forest, with pinpricks of light showing people and pokemon. Ariver runs from northeast to southwest, creating a natural barrier for thefire on that side, while the Rangers and trainers spread out over a long,uneven half circle to contain it in the other directions.

The outpost is gone, lost somewhere in the middle of that bloom of color.

“Is this live?”

“Mostly. The pikachu and raichu knocked out the local tower, and it’s hard toget a steady signal.”

A graphic overlay shows different colored pings over various spots, and aftera moment Blue finds their location, then traces his finger over the screen inthe direction he came. “That one,” he says, pointing to the distress signalthat marks where they made camp. So many… His friends’ red marker is justone among dozens blinking in and out of existence, crying for attention. Hecan see some pinpricks light there though, so assuming it updated recently, atleast he knows they’re still okay.

“We have their location then. They’ll get help when we can spare it.” Amessage pops up on the screen beside one of the lights to the east side of thefire, and she raises the megaphone. “Squad five, raichu attack to the east!”She lowers it and continues watching the screen. “Head back to them if youhave to, or go find Malcolm. Either way, get moving trainer.”

Blue stares at her grim face for another moment, her attention wholly on thescreen in front of her, and turns away with a sick feeling in his stomach ashe begins to run toward Malcolm. He wanted to argue with her, maybe even headback as she suggested, but he’d come this far, and others here might need himtoo.

The closer he gets to the fire, the thicker the smoke that hangs in the air,illumination tinged with yellow and red as the lamps grow less frequent andthe fire’s light grows closer. It makes visibility a bit difficult again, lackof light replaced with too much smoke and shadow.

As he runs he catches glimpses of others around him, some widening thefirebreak, others nursing burned pokemon. The earth trembles beneath his feet,and he sees a rhyhorn emerge from the smoke. A Ranger sits on its back, herhands tapping the ridges of it shoulders to direct it toward the fire. Twotrainers walk out of the smoke to his right with with their arms around athird’s shoulders, the middle trainer’s legs burned through his pants. Bluelooks away quickly and checks his phone to adjust his course a bit fartherfrom the fire, breath loud in the facemask as he pushes himself to movefaster.

When he hears a new amplified voice shouting “_Tree coming down!” _he turnstoward it and jogs around a particularly dense clump of bushes in time to seea pinsir finish wrenching a tree out of the ground, its huge horns digginginto the bark. Its trainer gives a whistle, and it releases the tree and stepsback to let the whole thing fall.

The crash is enormous, but as soon as the tree settles a handful pokemon andtheir trainers set at it, hacking the branches off and carrying them away. Thetrees here are dense enough to stop the firebreak from continuing, but they’vebrought down about a dozen so far, and the pinsir is already moving on toanother.

Blue jogs over to the coordinating Ranger and waits until he finishes speakingwith a pair of others. Blue realizes he can see the smoke in the air movingsubtly. They’re downwind, though thankfully it’s not a strong breeze.

The two trainers run off, and Blue steps up to the Ranger. “Ranger Malcolm?”

“Yes. Haru send you?”

“No, a woman, I didn’t get her na-”

“That’s fine. What’ve you got?”

“Squirtle, pidgey, shroomish, caterpie, beedrill.”

He frowns and looks at the tablet for a moment before shaking his head.“Squirtle might be useful, but it can’t hold enough for what we need. Can yourpidgey create a whirlwind?”

“Not yet.”

“Have you got a firecoat?”


“Any ultraballs?”


“Ever fight a fire before?”

Blue just shakes his head, frowning.

“Well, we could use more hands to keep the firebreak clear. Just head overto-”

“Hang on, you want me to carry branches?”

The Ranger’s gaze flicks up from his tablet, eyes cool. “Is that a problem,trainer?”

“I left my friends to stop the fire and get help to them quicker, not fetchand carry.”

“Why are you wasting my time then? By all means, stop the fire.” He turns backto his tablet.

Blue grits his teeth. “Look, I know my pokemon aren’t the best for this, butI’m telling you, you’d be wasting me on pick up duty. I can give cover toothers, stop ‘chu-”

“I’m not here to appease your ego, kid,” the Ranger says without looking up.“I’ve got over sixty-” He stops as Blue feels the wind pick up. Malcolm raiseshis megaphone. “Southwest breeze,__ fire line at five hundred meters andclosing! Forward squads, fall back!”

“I want to help,” Blue insists after it’s lowered.

“It’s not about what you want, it’s about what we need. You don’t have theskills or pokemon to do what’s needed, which means you do what you can. If youdon’t like it, you can go play hero somewhere else.” He turns as anotherRanger approaches, and the two begin analyzing wind patterns.

Blue stomps away, half intending to head back to Red and Leaf and halfdeciding to find another coordinating Ranger to offer his help to. He can’tjust run around helping at random. For one thing he might do more harm thangood. For another, he needs to be officially recognized to get any prestigefrom this.

Most Champions are barely known before they reach the League, and are littlemore than figureheads once they gain the title. Instead of leading, of pushingsociety to the next step, the Championship title is treated like just anotherbadge. A footnote in what they do after. Even those like gramps and Giovanniare known more for what they did after they relinquished their title.

It’s worse than pathetic. It’s a damned waste.

Gym Leaders can do more than just protect their lands and train others. Theycan change the face of entire cities with the power of their personality andvision of the future. When they’re loved and trusted by their people, theydeserve their title: not “Protector,” or “Teacher.” Leader.

Blue isn’t going to be a figurehead. He’s going to be lead Kanto and Johtointo a new age. An age without fear. Without calamity. An age of action,rather than reaction.

An age without the Storm Gods.

And to bring the people with him, to make them _want _to go with him, he needsto be the kind of person they’re willing to follow into a storm’s very heart,so they can rip it out.

And that starts here, helping however he can. Who’s he to demand a moreimportant task? He hasn’t earned their trust yet.

He can’t even catch a pikachu without killing the damn thing.

Blue takes a deep breath, then lets it out. When he feels a bit calmer, heturns to walk back toward the Ranger. As he does, two women jog over to themthrough the smoke, one tall and willowy under her windbreaker, the othermuscular and dressed in a judogi. The Ranger looks up as they approach. “Riverside?”

“Secure,” the taller one says, voice heavily muffled. She’s wearing a mouthfilter and goggles instead of a full face mask, making it hard to tell herage. “But we had some trouble with raichu that came by.”

“What happened to Pam and Derek? They were supposed to give you cover.”

“They never showed up.”

“What? I sent them to you 20 minutes ago.” The ranger runs a hand through hishair beneath his cap. “Are you alright?”

“Fine,” the woman in the judogi says. “But my pokemon are hurt, and we’realmost out of potions. I don’t know if I’ll be able to fend off many more.”

“Hey,” Blue says as he reaches them. “Here, takes this.” He pulls thelightning rod out from where it’s wedged between his back and bag.

They look at him in surprise, but the trainer takes it, relief plain in hereyes as she extends the rod and practices sticking it in the ground. “This’llhelp. Thanks kid.”

“I’m Blue. Blue Oak.”

Her eyes widen behind her mask. “Thanks, Oak. I’ll get it back to you after.”

“Sure.” He turns to the Ranger. “I’ll help clear the firebreak. Tell me whereyou need me.”

The first thing the fire teaches Blue is to fear the wind.

He walks the firebreak with Luis and Sarah, a pair of trainer siblings intheir late teens. The three work together to drag fallen branches and uprootedbushes out of the firebreak, sweaty, exhausting work made worse by theoppressive heat all around them. But the occasional brush of air against hisskin brings danger rather than relief, causing them all to stop what they’redoing to look around, waiting, listening for the sound or sight of the fireracing toward them, of a warning called. The last stiff breeze had come in anunexpected direction had sent the fire a hundred meters in seconds, trapping atrainer and almost killing him. It had taught them all to be wary.

The trench is wide enough to stop the fire when it goes too far in anydirection, but that means they end up walking a stone throw away from the firein some areas.

Passing through those are the worst, the heat almost unbearable as they widenthe firebreak at its far edge. Blue watches with a hand on squirtle’s ballincase any embers are blown across. The smoke is so thick that it’s likewalking through a red cloud.

“I don’t think we can move this one!” Sarah half shouts over the roar of thefire, tugging at a branch that’s twice as long as she is tall. “Any of you gota strong pokemon?”

Blue shakes his head, wiping sweat from his neck. “Nothing that can cut it,either!”

“I’ve got one that might!” Luis unclips his pokeball and braces his arm. “Go,Jaws!”

A raticate flashes into existence, the muscular rodent immediately coweringfrom the light and heat. Luis kneels down and strokes it, murmuring something,then guiding it toward the middle of the tree branch. He stands it and pointsstraight at the wood.


The raticate begins to chomp at the bark, oversized teeth sinking into it witha crunch and jerking it off to spit to the side. It grips and chews andspits again and again while the trainers watch, and eventually it manages tobore through the branch and snap it in half with its final bite as it crawlsthrough to the other side.

“Good girl!” Luis feeds and withdraws it as Blue and Sarah grab a half andbegin to drag it away. Once they have both pieces a good distance from thefirebreak, they continue walking again, breathing hard and occasionallystopping to clear other things off.

The break curves away from the fire for a bit, and they take a break to drinksome water and rest in the lower heat. A dugrio approaches and passes themfrom behind, its trainer following the three bobbing heads as they widen thefirebreak by another few meters, barely visible claws sending grass flying asit burrows up an down. Blue and the others quickly scoop up the clumps ofgrass and toss them to the safe side of the break.

“Where were you guys, when this all started?” Blue asks as they set off again.

“To the west, across the river,” Sarah says, loosening her dark hair from itsmessy ponytail and rebinding it tighter. “One second we were asleep, the nextthere were pikachu everywhere. One of them ran right over our friend, gotcaught in her sleeping bag.” She grimaces and looks away.

Blue looks at her, then Luis. “Is she…”

“We fought them off and got her to the Outpost, but by then it was alreadyablaze. They stabilized her, but…” He shakes his head, eyes angry anddesolate. “One of the Rangers strapped her to his pidgeot and took off forPewter. They’re worried there might be permanent nerve damage.”

Blue doesn’t know what to say to that, so he says nothing, fighting the fearfor Red and Leaf that rises up in him. Even if he gets help to them, he has noidea how bad Red’s arm is. What if it doesn’t heal right? A one armed traineris at a serious disadvantage, and far more vulnerable in the wild. Would hisjourney be over already? Over before it really began?

The thought makes him cold, even in the stifling heat around them. He alwaysfigured Red would end his journey as soon as he got his Researcher’s license:he’s a good trainer, but he’s not, well, Blue. He’s better suited in a lab orwriting books. He’ll probably even become a Professor some day. But experiencein the field is essential to be a researcher, and if he gets crippled thisyoung…

Blue chases the fear away with anger. Red would be fine, and one day he’d paythe Storm God back for this. But his strongest rage seems so insignificantagainst the blaze nearby them, a charmander throwing embers at the sun, and hecan’t shake the niggling fear for his friends.

Blue feels the wind pick up again, and the three of them immediately tense,watching the fire and preparing to run.

“Shit.” Luis points. “It’s headed toward the break, that way.”

He’s right. Blue can feel the direction in the caresses of air, stoking thefire and blowing burning debris in that direction. They begin to run along thetrench, listening to the fire crackle and roar as it spreads through thetrees.

Then the fire is visible again, a glowing light through the smoke. Blue beginsto hear a faint popping sound, and looks around with a hand at his belt. Itdoesn’t sound like the electricity from earlier… “What is that? It sounds likeit’s coming from the fire.”

“It’s… nothing dangerous.” Luis shakes his head. “We heard it earlier. Metapodhanging in the trees…”

Oh. Blue’s glad Leaf isn’t around to hear it. She cares about pokemon somuch that it surprises him how competent she is in a fight. Even coordinatorslike Daisy don’t treat pokemon the way Leaf does. Unovans are strange.

Blue pulls out his phone for any messages that might have gotten through tohim from the others, but the screen’s illumination makes it hard to make outdetails through the smoke. He puts his phone away and shoves his worries awayagain. “Another branch up ahead.”

The night drags on, an unending journey through smoke and heat. Anothersandslash, or maybe it’s the one from earlier, eventually comes by to widenthe break another few meters. A few minutes later they find a tree that thesandslash dug around, and wait for a trainer with a pokemon that can knock itdown it to come by so they can help clear it. In the meantime, they drag ahuge bush that was uprooted off the firebreak and onto the grass. Blue’smuscle protest as his breath catches in his throat, and when Luis shouts thatthey’re clear, lets it go with a gasp, arms burning.

He leans his hands on his knees to catch his breath, closing his eyes againstsudden dizziness. A hand touches his shoulder and looks up to see Sarahholding a water bottle.

“Go,” she says and points away from the fire. “Get away from the heat and resta bit. We’re waiting here anyway.”

He wants to argue that he’s alright, but she and her brother didn’t treatedhim as less than them just because he’s younger, and he can tell she’s notdoing so now. Besides, the sight of her water bottle makes him realize howparched his throat his. “I’ve got my own. Thanks.” Blue stumbles away untilthe heat is a more bearable, near the outer edges of the lamp light. He putshis back to a tree and slides down to the grass, one hand digging his waterbottle out of his bag.

Blue lifts his mask and taking a long drink. After the first swallow histhroat seems to open up, warm water pouring down it almost faster than he canswallow. When his lungs start to burn for air he stops and secures his maskagain. He pours the rest of the water over his hair before resting his headagainst the trunk and closing his eyes. His interrupted sleep is starting tocatch up to him after laboring in the heat, and he struggles not to doze offas he lets his muscles rest.

He hears the crunch of footsteps approaching, and waits for Luis or Sarah tosay something. Their steps are slow, almost awkward. When he hears them infront of him they still don’t say anything, Blue opens his eyes. He seesnothing at first, nothing but the white and brown and green of smoke andtrees, and then he feels his heart stutter in his chest.

A shiftry stands before him, over two meters tall hunched over, taller eventhan gramps. Its white mane of fur fades into the smoke perfectly, drawing hiseyes to a bark covered humanoid body nearly as thick as the tree he’s sittingagainst. The branches that make up its arms are extended outward, fanning theair around it as it hop-steps delicately from one T shaped foot to the next,leaves rustling.

The leaves’ razor sharp edges are stained red, blood smeared across theirstems.

Blue’s hand inches toward his pokeball pocket, heart pounding as the pokemontakes another step closer to him. He doesn’t know what sense it used to findhim, but just as the smoke gives it incredible camouflage, it doesn’t seem tobe able to see well in it.

Shiftry, Dark/Grass. Known as the ‘sinister pokemon,’ they excel at pickingenemies who are weakened or at a disadvantage. Low defenses, but agile anddeadly, capable of brute force mental attacks…

The shiftry balances from one foot to the next, legs moving with an awkwardgrace that reminds Blue suddenly of the way he’d run through the forest. As ithops a bit closer, the razor sharp edges of its leaves slice through thesmoke, first one way then the other in sweeping gestures that buffets him witha gust of air.

Blue wonders if it’s trying to fan away the smoke to see better. His fingerstrace over his pokeballs, plucking one out and expanding it with this thumb.Can a pokeball catch a shiftry? Some of the smaller ones, maybe, but this onelooks too big. Either way, it would buy him time to get a pokemon out.Squirtle, shroomish or caterpie wouldn’t stand a chance. Zephyr could distractit and do some damage, but not enough.

That leaves one choice, risky as it is. Pokeballs train even the most viciouspokemon to not see people as targets, but it’s not a sure thing, and thatdoesn’t mean they’ll follow orders well.

Suddenly there’s the sound of voices, and the shiftry goes still, turningtoward them. Panic blooms in Blue’s chest, and he barely stops himself fromcalling out a warning. It might kill them in seconds if they walk near itunsuspecting, but it would kill him for sure if he makes a sudden noise. Heturns the ball’s lens to face it, other hand putting down the water bottle andgoing to his belt… the ball isn’t pinging. _Smoke is causing too muchinterference. _ He holds it up a bit, putting it closer…

“Blue, you ready?”

The shiftry turns its back on him and Blue shoves himself forward, holding theball straight out toward it. It pings just as the shiftry leaps away, and theball strikes it in the back and snatches it out of the air.

Blue rolls away before it even hits the ground, drawing his beedrill’spokeball and getting to his feet to watch as the shiftry’s rolls to a stop. Hehas a brief moment of hope, and then the ball shudders and wiggles. Ahshit-!

“Blue!” Luis and Sarah materialize in the smoke, pokeballs in hand.

“Get back! Shiftry in the ball!”

“What b-”

The shiftry explodes back out of the ball in a flash of light and an unusuallyloud bang that hurts Blue’s ears, the emergency rematerialization blowing thetwo halves of the pokeball apart. It stumbles on its awkwardly shaped feet,seeming disoriented from the sudden change.

“Go, Beedrill!” Blue yells as he throws the ball high up. It opens with aflash, and as he catches the pokeball, his pokemon falls to the ground in alimp heap, wings moving slowly. Blue stares at it in horror. I forgot, thesleep powder…

“Go, Prince!” Luis shouts.

“Go, Rafflesia!”

The shiftry focuses on the nidorino and gloom that suddenly appear beside it,leaves fanning out. as the trainers catch their balls and yell simultaneously“Poison Sting!” and “Acid!”

Blue rushes to his beedrill as the fight begins. He opens the pouch in theside of his bag and pulls out bottles until he finds the awakening potion,shoving the rest back in and spraying the beedrill. Its delicate wings beat abit faster, arms and legs twitching as it struggles toward consciousness. Bluecan see some spores still covering it, and begins to carefully brush themaway, not sure if an awakening potion would work while it’s still covered inthe stuff. How do insects breathe? Should he be focusing on the head? He’sabout to ask Red when he remembers he’s not here, and his hands brush faster,ignoring the unnerving feel of the bug’s chitinous body under his hands.

There’s a grinding roar, like the sound of bark twisting against itselfbellowed out of a mouth. Blue looks up and sees the shiftry swing at Luis’snidorino, leaves drawing bloody furrows along its hide. The shiftry isn’tlooking good, mane and skin covered in dark patches where the gloom’s acid hasburned it. Sarah’s pokemon shoots stream after stream of the caustic liquidout, each one hissing and bubbling as it lands.

“Double Kick!” Luis yells. His nidorino leaps and spins in the air to slamboth hindlegs into the shiftry’s knee. It roars as its hard skin cracks andbuckles, and its retaliatory swipe misses the nidorino as Luis’s pokemon leapsaway. Another spurt of acid hits the shiftry’s leaves, almost dissolving oneof them completely.

From all appearances, they’re winning. They pokemon they chose are well suitedto the fight, and strong as it is, they have it outnumbered.

So why is Blue still so tense?

Because shiftry are called the “sinister pokemon” for a reason. They targetthe helpless, and don’t fight fair.

“Horn attack!”

Why isn’t it using its a mental attacks?

Blue’s heart races faster and faster as the shiftry spits seeds toward thegloom at an incredible speed, the hard shells striking it without much effect.

“Poison powder!”

Blue’s hands are paused above his beedrill, heart beating faster and faster.They’re missing something. What? What?

Why is it staying to fight when it’s so outnumbered?

“Oh, hell,” Blue whispers, and turns slowly around in a circle. He seesnothing but smoke and trees.

Nothing but smoke and trees.

The ball is already in his hand, already cocked back, already sailing out.“Go, Zephyr!” _Blue yells, and as soon as he materializes, “_Gust!”

His pokemon loops haphazardly midair so that he’s behind Blue, then begins toflap faster and faster, thinning the smoke in front of them as he blows itaway.

The whiteness sticks in one spot ahead of him, and a second later his eyesadjust to see it for what it is: the mane of another shiftry. Anothersolidifies to Sarah’s right, and a third closer to Luis, like opticalillusions made real. Three… four… Blue spins around. Now that he’s looking,he can see the shiftry that was creeping up on him through the smoke.


Six shiftry against three of them, and his only pokemon that can stand againstthem is asleep. Luis and Sarah stare in shock as the trap is revealed, andthen step back to back, hands going down to their belts.

The revealed pokemon seem to realize their cover is gone, and then the forestrings with their coughing roars as they close in from all sides.

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