--Chapter 4: A Fateful Encounter--
Sara was so done with this forest. Not meeting a single Pokemon was bad enough for any trainer, but being led on a wild goose chase by some manic Turtwig with a big, stupid grin? Now that was just wrong. And, as if to embarrass her further, Sara could've sworn that she'd heard...giggling...in the distance. Was some trainer out there watching her be made a fool of by a Pokemon, or was that Turtwig just having a laugh at her expense?
'I might've just been hearing things,' Sara thought as she stepped back onto the dirt path, 'I mean, Pokemon can't even laugh like that, right?'
She glanced at her Typhlosion and tried to imagine her giggling like a young girl. The image of Jane laughing and talking like a human flashed in Sara's mind, and a warm smile spread across her weary face. When Jane noticed the sudden change in her trainer's mood, she responded with a broad grin of her own. "Typhlo!"
Sara chuckled and patted Jane on the head gently. "It's a good thing we're so used to this type of bad luck. Otherwise, I'd probably be upset right now."
Sara breathed in a heavy sigh, and then glanced around the dirt path, checking for movement. Aside from a slight swaying in the wind, the whole forest seemed still, almost abandoned. Naturally, Sara wasn't surprised by this. She wasn't naïve enough to believe that her luck with finding Pokemon would change any time soon, especially after everything that's happened thus far. She simply gave a dismissive shrug and continued down the path toward the lake.
"Wait a minute..." Sara slowed her pace, and then looked around again. Something was different. The usual sounds of Poke-chatter in the air were gone. The forest seemed to be eerily silent, devoid of all sound except for the rustling of leaves and the low howling of wind.
'Well, that's kind of creepy,' Sara thought with growing concern, 'Where did all the Pokemon go?' The young trainer shuddered for a moment, and pulled her jacket closer. "Come on, Jane. Let's hurry up and hit the--"
In an instant, the air behind her was ignited with a sudden burst of flickering light. The sharp crackle of electricity immediately followed, assaulting Sara's ears and cutting her off mid-sentence. Startled, she tried to turn around in a single, awkward jolt, which only succeeded in throwing her wildly off-balance. "Wah!"
Arms flailing for balance, she stumbled backwards for several steps before bouncing hard on her butt amidst a cloud of dust and flying pebbles. Ignoring the pain in her backside, she sat upright and stared while the last wisps of voltage shank away behind the row of bushes further down the curved trail, leaving a plume of swirling smoke in its wake. Sara had been too far away to see the source of the electricity, but it didn't take a genius to figure out what had just happened.
"Was that...a Thundershock attack?"
Jane leapt in front of her trainer, paws spread and fangs bared defensively. "Typhlosion! Ty, Typhlos Ty!"
"Ah, that wasn't very far from here!" Sara groaned as she stood up again, rubbing her sore bottom, "Ugh. It might be a Pikachu or something!"
Jane looked back at her trainer questioningly. "Ty?"
"Yeah, it probably already belongs to a trainer. But...if it's attacking, then there might be some other Pokemon to catch, right?"
"And there might be one we can catch, too! What do you think, Jane?"
The Typhlosion stared at her trainer for a few seconds, as if contemplating the question. She quickly answered with a broad grin and an enthusiastic nod of her head. "Ty!"
"Okay, then!" Sara said, brushing the dirt from her back, "I guess the lake can wait until next time. Let's check it out!"
Cyndaquil sat up on her haunches, frowning as Houndoom kept talking.
"...and then the Crobats said, 'Houndoom is the best at using human phases!' That's what they said, honest truth! Even the master said it!"
"Really?" Cyndaquil asked, barely masking her skepticism, "Todd said that?"
"Of course! What, you don't believe me? Why, I remember back when he..."
Cyndaquil stared blankly at Houndoom as he continued chattering on. Sure, she was happy that the violent, murderous beast became relatively docile whenever he started on another one of his self-obsessed rants--it was safer for her, at least. Unfortunately, whenever Houndoom began talking about himself, there was really no telling when it would end.
"...and then, the master turned and said to me, 'Look, Houndoom, I respect your power...'"
'I think I liked it better when I was terrified of him,' she thought with a sigh, 'This could take all day.' But, in spite of herself, whenever Cyndaquil gazed down the dirt path, she couldn't help but crack a smile. Tomas had probably made it into town by now, where she knew Houndoom wouldn't follow. And even if Todd had allowed them to enter the town, as long as Tomas kept running, it'd be all but impossible for Houndoom to track him down.
So, it was a given, then. Tomas would get away, and Houndoom would no longer be a threat. An immediate threat, in any case. To Cyndaquil, it seemed that things were finally starting to improve...
'Don't count on it, kiddo!'
Cyndaquil jolted upright and looked around. "Um, Houndoom? Did you hear that...?"
Houndoom broke from his self-obsessed rant to glare at her, grumbling, "Hear what? What are you going on about, now?"
"I...uh, never mind." She was about to dismiss it as her imagination when the muffled sound of rapidly approaching footsteps reached her ears, accompanied by a very familiar voice: "What?"
Cyndaquil spun around and stared at a row of bushes next to her, in the direction of the voice. That definitely wasn't her imagination! But, it couldn't be...
"Pichu, use Thundershock!"
Suddenly, one of the bushes in front of Cyndaquil burst into flames when a powerful bolt of electricity stuck the area right behind it, filling the air above her with dancing threads of voltage that twisted around each other like a mesh of blinding light. She stumbled backward with a yelp, frantically struggling to protect her ears from the sharp crackling sound while she took cover behind Houndoom's crouched form. He jerked his head away from the light, eyes clenched shut, and yelled something at her that was barely audible over the deafening sounds.
'By Arceus! What's happening now?!' Cyndaquil shouted out in her mind. The electricity crackled in the air for a few more seconds before fading away, leaving a shrill ringing in her ears and the pungent odor of burning wood in her nose. It took another minute for her eyes to recover enough to see more than fuzzy, moving shapes.
While rubbing her eyes with her paws, Cyndaquil almost didn't notice the injured Umbreon as it sailed through the smoldering remains of the bush and rolled onto the dirt path, panting and trembling with fatigue. The Umbreon's fur stood on end as sparks of electricity peeled off its body, making sharp buzzing noises as they floated to the ground around its shaky paws.
'It couldn't be!' Cyndaquil thought, incredulous, 'Tomas should've been long gone! That can't be the same Umbreon!'
The Umbreon glared at the burnt bush, and cursed. "T-t-that almost killed me! How the hell is that Pichu so freaking powerful?"
'Okay,' she corrected bitterly, 'it's definitely him.'
Another flash of electricity arced through the burning remains of the bush, just barely missing Tomas but still causing him to stumble back with surprise. His attacker, an energetic little Pichu, leapt over the crumpled ashes and slid onto the path in front of the stunned Umbreon, pinning him between itself and the other two surprised Pokemon.
"Ha, gotcha' now!" the Pichu exclaimed, clapping its paws together in excitement.
Tomas stood upright, wincing at the static electricity passing through his fur. "Ah, damn it. I thought I'd lost yo--" His words fell short when he finally noticed two other spectators gawking at him from the path, "--uh, um..."
Houndoom, Tomas, Cyndaquil, and Pichu all froze as they stared at each other for what seemed for an eternity of awkward silence. Cyndaquil tried her best to find something decent to say, anything to break this painful impasse, to defuse this situation before it became predictably violent. Nothing came to mind. In truth, even as the thoughts formed in her mind, she knew better. There wasn't anything she could say or do that would change the outcome of this unfortunate turn of events. The only option available to Cyndaquil...was simply to stand by and watch the inevitable chaos unfold.
'Oh...this isn't going to end well,' she thought with a cringe.
As expected, Houndoom was the first one to snap. A low growl rumbled from his muzzle, and he crouched in a battle stance, literally trembling with rage as he glared at the Umbreon. "YOU!"
"You?!" Tomas replied, utterly horrified.
"I-It's you!" Cyndaquil blurted out.
"Him?" Pichu asked, pointing to Tomas, "or me?"
"You..." Houndoom muttered between gritted teeth, "...are going to be in so much pain! You pi--"
"Haha! That was funny!" Pichu interrupted, giggling, "Let's do it again!"
"Okay, look Houndoom," Tomas said, inching away slowly, "I think that we may have gotten off on the wrong foot...er, paw here! Can't we talk about this?"
The Umbreon shrunk back, wincing visibly, and muttered, "Well, when you say it like that--" The sound of shuffling and footsteps approaching from beyond the bushes made Tomas freeze mid-sentence, his long ears perking up instinctively at the sound of an accompanying voice:
"I think that Umbreon went this way! Go get it, Chimchar!"
"Oh, for the love of--!" Tomas cried out. He turned and dashed down the dirt path again, past the surprised Pichu, just as the Chimchar burst through the bushes and landed on the trail. It glared at Houndoom and Cyndaquil for several seconds, and then sped off in hot pursuit of Tomas without a single word.
"Hey, back off!" Houndoom howled at the Chimchar, "That Umbreon's hide is MINE!"
Cyndaquil jumped in front of Houndoom, paws cupped over her mouth. "Tomas! Keep running!"
"Wait!" Pichu called out as it followed the Chimchar, "I think I'm supposed to chase him, too!"
Seething, Houndoom charged after the Umbreon, barreling into Cyndaquil and sending her tumbling over his head with a yelp. "LITTLE RUNT! I'LL TEACH YOU A LESSON YOU'LL NEVER FORGET!"
By now, the two Pokemon trainers had carefully climbed over the smoldering ashes, and were stepping onto the path. The green-bandana teen scanned the area quickly before turning to point at Tomas' retreating form further down the trail. "Look there! The Umbreon's getting away! It's heading back towards the lake!"
"Let me catch it, please! Please? I need a Umbreon for my team!"
"No way, kid! Just sit back and watch an experienced trainer in action!"
And they too gave chase, sprinting right past Cyndaquil, who was lying on her stomach just a few feet away, groaning and rubbing the top of her head.
"No! Leave me alone, you lunatics!"
"Hahaha! This is a fun chase!"
"Go catch 'em, Pichu!"
"Lay off, man! That Umbreon's not for you!"
As the cacophony of yells, squeals, and footsteps faded in the distance, Cyndaquil was once again left in the dust, coughing from her less-than-glamorous position in the dirt.
"T-that Tomas..." Cyndaquil sputtered between choking gasps, "...he lives a very active life."
Tomas wasn't having a good day. His body was really hurting now, sore from the multiple shocks and worn out from the physical and emotional strain that he had been put through repeatedly. The usual tactic of running away didn't help in the slightest, and every time it seemed that he had finally escaped a threat, he would inexplicably run into another one. Even now, he could hear his pursuers shouting as they kept up the chase, the fear of what would happen if they caught up bearing down on him like a heavy yoke, crushing the air from his lungs. And, with his deteriorating condition, he knew that the pursuit wouldn't last for much longer. How would he get out of this one? Why couldn't they just leave him alone?
Tomas slipped on a small pebble while running down the path, yelping in pain even as he forced himself to keep moving on tender paws.
And then, there were the doubts that kept popping up in his head. Tomas was no longer sure that this was a dream. It felt much too real to be in his imagination. The pain, the exhaustion, the adrenaline; it wasn't something that someone would feel while asleep, no matter how intense the dream was. Could all this be really be happening? And if so, what was the cause? Was he dead?
Did he die and go to hell? That was it, wasn't it? He was in hell, right?
Maybe he was dead, and now he's being tortured by some horrible, disgusting demon!
What kind of demon from hell was torturing him?
'Oh, don't be so melodramatic!' the voice in Tomas' head chimed, 'You should be having fun, like me! I mean, did you see the look on that Cyndaquil's face when you popped out of that bush? Priceless! By Arceus, I haven't been involved in a chase this exciting in such a long time! Ah, it brings back fond memories...'
The faint sound of mischievous giggling that followed brought a growl to the Umbreon's muzzle. "Damn you, stupid voice! You led me back to that psycho on purpose, didn't you?"
'Hey, I'm just spicing things up a bit while I save your life! By the way, how resistant are you to molten rock and electricity?'
'I'm sorry. I'm just curious to know.'
"W...wait! Are you mocking me?"
Tomas was interrupted again when he swerved around a large bend in the path, almost falling over from a sudden cramp in his hind leg. Cursing, he clenched his eyes shut as he fought back the pain and exhaustion, and charged blindly forward. He wasn't about to lay down and let them catch him!
Tomas slammed headfirst into two long legs, toppling their owner like a bowling ball striking a pin. He heard the impact and a pained shout when his unwitting victim hit the ground behind him, and felt their legs brush against his back as he tumbled through the air under them, unable to do anything to stop himself. The world spun wildly before his eyes as he fell head-over-heels, just barely catching a fleeting glimpse of a pair of jeans with an auburn handkerchief hastily stuffed into a back pocket. Finally, Tomas bounced off the ground several times before his own momentum sent him sliding to a painful stop in the middle of the path.
'Ugh...wha...what just happened?' he thought groggily, 'What just hit me?' With a low groan, he tried desperately to stand up as two long, warm arms wrapped around him and lifted his body off the ground. Tomas looked up unsteadily, and was met with a pair of deep hazel eyes. 'Oh...okay,' he added, answering his own question, 'It's...it's a girl.'
Dazed and slightly confused, it took him several seconds to realize that he'd just fallen into the lap of another trainer.
"Sara! Are you okay?" a Typhlosion asked, already moving to defend her master, "Hey, Umbreon! Get away from Sara!"
As dizzy as Tomas was at the moment, she might as well have talking to a small basket of hammers. "Huh? I...don't...uh..."
"Wow, it's...an Umbreon!" Sara exclaimed, "Wow, a Umbreon just came out of nowhere, and ran right into me! Look, Jane! We've found our new teammate!"
"Wait, what?" Jane yelled in reply, staring at the bedraggled Pokemon in her trainer's arms.
"W...wait...what?" Tomas mumbled as he struggled weakly in her grasp. It was no use. He was just too exhausted and stunned to put up a fight against this new trainer.
'No!' Tomas thought, cursing himself for not being more careful, 'D...damn!' What was the point of everything he had just went through to keep from being captured? Was it all in vain? 'It's...not fair, damn it!'
"I was right, Jane!" Sara bragged, hugging her new prize triumphantly, "There was a Pokemon for us to catch over here!"
'Let...me go!' Tomas pleaded mentally, 'This...can't be happening...'
After feebly pushing against her in vain for a few more seconds, Tomas finally slumped despairingly in her arms. It was all over for him. By now, he could hear the sounds of his pursuers approaching from just beyond the next bend in the path. Even if he could break free, he most certainly wouldn't have the strength to outrun them again.
"Sara, I'm not sure about this," Jane said from somewhere behind him, "He looks kind of sickly. Is he about to die?"
'I think that Typhlosion's talking about you, Tomas!'
the voice chimed in his head again, 'Maybe you should twitch or something. You know, let 'em see that you're still kicking!'
Tomas mumbled something between ragged breaths, and then shut his eyes, trying his best to ignore the throbbing pain in his body, and the faint giggles from his unseen tormentor.
'Oh, that's not a nice thing to say, Tomas!'