--Chapter 5: An Unwitting Ally--
The strange observer was watching Tomas from behind a tree overlooking the path, its small body bobbing in the air as it giggled uncontrollably, eyes welling up with tears, only pausing for a moment to suck in a lungful of air before losing control again.
'I didn't even know that Umbreons could bounce like that!' it thought, doubling over from another fit of giggles, 'And that girl trainer? The look on her face when she face-planted into the dirt was so...utterly...priceless!'
The observer replayed the entire scene in its mind again, relishing in the sheer comedic timing of the events. It wasn't perfect, but still utter clockwork. And all it took was a little bit of distraction here and there, along with some very quick thinking and a few clever remarks, and the prank was set up perfectly. Panicked and exhausted, that cynical little ball of fuzz didn't stand a chance.
'Direct hit!' the observer added with glee, even as it struggled to regain its composure, 'That was, by far, one of the funniest things I've seen all decade! Definitely a moment to remember!' Feeling giddy, it whirled around several times in mid-air, almost crashing into the tree it was hiding behind. 'Oh, Tomas! You'll never, ever live this down! Not in a million years!'
"Hey, p-put me...down..." Tomas barely managed to sputter as the girl trainer pulled him closer to her chest, "Ow! T-that hurts, you--Ah!"
"Sara?" the Typhlosion said anxiously, "I don't think you're supposed to hug it that hard!"
From its hiding place in the trees, the observer calmed itself as best it could, clearing its throat in an attempt to curb another fit of laughter rising up. 'A-ah, right,' it thought with a final smirk, paws covering it mouth as it fought down another giggle, 'Okay...I've really got to focus for a minute. On...on the plan.'
When it had finally collected itself, the observer floated up to a tree branch hanging overhead and sat down, letting out an airy sigh. 'All right...time to get back to work.'
Even though these recent developments weren't according to the original plan, it was fairly obvious by now that the main objective would be completed; Tomas wasn't going to escape Sara's smothering embrace anytime soon. But, at the same time, the observer also knew that several other events just wouldn't work out as desired. For example, the fight it had planned between Tomas and Houndoom didn't happen. That dour little Umbreon wasn't supposed to run into the girl trainer until after he'd clashed with Houndoom for a little while. That was the whole reason so much effort had been put into bringing Houndoom and Tomas together...twice! Between Houndoom's explosive temper and Tomas' caustic cynicism, a fight was literally guaranteed to go down at some point.
'And here I was expecting an epic battle to take place!' it thought, eyebrows furrowed. 'I guess I overestimated Tomas again. He was supposed to fight back, not run away like a coward!'
The observer lifted off the branch and hovered in the air, watching Tomas struggle desperately in Sara's arms. 'Ah, well. If he's already in her grasp, then there's only one thing left for me to do!' A wide grin spread across its face, and it covered its mouth with a paw to stifle its laughter again. 'Time to move on to phase two of my plan! And I can't wait to pick on Tomas some more! He always has the funniest comebacks!'
Filled with mischievous intent, the strange observer began drifting from its hiding spot in the tree, inching closer to its unsuspecting victim. It was almost out of its cover when a small voice reached its ears from below, accompanied by quick footsteps and a childlike laugh. The observer ducked behind the tree again when the voice spoke up a second time:
"Mr. Umbreon! Come out and play! I wanna' play!"
'Huh? What in Arceus' name was that?'
The observer focused its mind and reached down to the ground telepathically, leaving its body hidden in the trees. From there, it swiftly traveled along the dirt path until it sensed the movements of four sentient beings: two Pokemon and two humans. They were all running on the path towards Tomas and the girl trainer, their thoughts muddled by adrenaline and exhaustion. Obviously, it had to be those trainers that were chasing Tomas before, along with their Pokemon, that hyperactive Pichu and the stoic Chimchar.
No sign of Houndoom on the path, though.
'On the other paw,' the observer thought as it returned to its body, 'maybe I can squeeze a bit more fun out of this plan of mine...' The observer turned its attention back to the girl trainer and the embittered Umbreon in her hands, grinning mischievously. 'Looks like it's time for Sara to take on a slightly more active role.'
And with that, it vanished with a small POP, the fading sounds of giggling echoing in the air, as it waited for the right opportunity to strike.
Sara couldn't believe her luck. There was an Umbreon in her hands, and not just a stuffed toy plushie, like the one in her room back at her father's mansion, but a real Umbreon, made of flesh and blood!
It was all too surreal for Sara, and for a brief moment, she'd almost thought that she was dreaming. That moment came to an abrupt end when she pinched herself hard in the arm, wincing sharply. Nope, she definitely wasn't dreaming.
'I got an Umbreon!' she thought with a giddy squeal, 'And it's real!'
And a bit on the heavy side, too.
Her arms strained under its weight when she held the small Pokemon away from her body to examine its trembling form. Judging from how dirty and disheveled it looked, she decided that the Umbreon didn't belong to anyone. After all, no trainer in their right mind would allow their Pokemon--especially one this rare--to run around looking so...wretched. Was there a miserable, homeless trainer camping out nearby?
"Um...Umbre..." the poor creature muttered from between clenched teeth. Its face was a literal portrait of discomfort, its eyes tightly shut, long ears twitching, and muzzle contorted in a pained grimace. As Sara studied the Umbreon's face, she found herself becoming almost entranced by the golden ring emblazoned into the fur on its forehead. And when she touched the soft, light-colored fur with a finger, it seemed to emit its own unnatural glow.
"Oh, wow," Sara murmured, pulling the Umbreon close again. "Well, you look like you've been hurt pretty badly."
Jane stared at the injured Pokemon and shook her head. "Typhlo, Ty Ty."
The Umbreon could only manage a faint whimper before slumping back into her arms again, tail twitching restlessly.
"You poor thing," Sara said as she slowly shifted its weight onto one arm for a few seconds, and offered what little sympathy she could in the form of a gentle pat on its head. "I guess I've finally found someone with worse luck than me..."
Sara's heart skipped a beat when the Umbreon didn't respond at all to her touch. Maybe it was just resting...that had to be it, right? It was only resting...
...because it would really suck if the poor little creature died in her arms. What if it did die in her arms? Did it still have a pulse? Was it dead?
No, wait! There it was! Sara breathed a sigh of relief when the Umbreon shifted again, trying to get comfortable in her arms. She could feel its heart pounding against her chest, slightly erratic, but still pretty strong.
'I guess...' Sara thought with an uneasy smile, '...it really was resting.'
'Or possibly just ignoring you,' a small voice echoed in Sara's head, almost indiscernible from her own.
Well, that was also possible. Despite that, the Umbreon wasn't in any immediate danger, and as long as Sara got it to the Pokemon Center in Twinleaf Town, everything should be okay.
'Well, if you say so, kid.'
As Sara prepared for the short walk back into town, a dozen questions popped into her head about the strange Umbreon: Where did it come from? Does it belong to someone else? Why was it running, and what was it running from? What happened to it that would leave it so frail and beaten up?
Why in Arceus' name was it so freaking heavy?
'Wait a minute,' Sara thought in realization, 'is this Umbreon connected to that Thundershock attack I saw earlier? It was running from that direction when it knocked me over, right?' She stared up into the sky as she gradually began to piece together the truth. 'But if that's the case, then it would mean that this Umbreon is being hunted, right? So, then, maybe it really doesn't belong to any--'
Sara froze when she felt a small tugging on the leg of her jeans. Warily at first, she bent forward to see over the injured Pokemon in her arms, craning her neck awkwardly to one side, until she was able to look at the ground near her legs. To the young trainer's surprise, there was a Pichu staring back at her, a wide grin spread across its adorable, yellow face. It yanked on her pants leg a second time, and then shifted its gaze expectantly to the Umbreon. "Pichu! Pi!"
'That's a Pichu!' she thought, returning the smile, 'Isn't that cute--wait, a Pichu?' Sara looked at the Umbreon in her arms, and then back at the Pichu. 'Oh! I think this explains that Thundershock attack I saw earlier!'
The sound of shuffling nearby startled Sara from her thoughts, and she jolted upright, meeting the eyes of a Chimchar sitting on the path a few feet in front of her. The small Pokemon crossed its arms and stared at the Umbreon in her grasp, and then focused its harsh gaze on her, frowning.
"Oh...uh, you just kind of popped up out of nowhere, didn't you?" Sara murmured, attempting to avoid agitating the Chimchar. 'Well, at least my luck with finding Pokemon has gotten better...I think,' she added in thought. Fortunately for Sara, she had read about similar encounters in the official Pokemon Trainer's Guide--a book that her father had forced her to study--so she already knew that panicking wouldn't do her any good. Also, with the heavy Umbreon in her arms, attempting to run away was probably a bad idea as well. 'And I probably wouldn't even have enough time to get a Pokeball for it, either. Guess that only leaves one option.'
"Jane," she whispered to the Typhlosion, careful not to take her eyes off the Chimchar, "Get ready!"
If the Chimchar had any clue of Sara's plans, it certainly didn't act like it. The small Pokemon sat motionless in the dirt, its flame flickering in the breeze while it stared blankly into the young trainer's eyes. As Sara scrutinized it, she felt a small shiver travel through her body, and her grip on the Umbreon begin to loosen. 'Okay...that's kind of weird.' She stumbled back a bit when another, stronger shudder went up her spine. 'Wait a min--is it using Leer on me?' Sara turned away sharply, trying her best to avoid the Chimchar's watchful, disarming eyes.
At that, the Typhlosion leapt into a defensive position next to her trainer and shot a warning glare of her own at the smaller Pokemon. "Typlos..."
The Chimchar simply ignored her and kept its attention on Sara, eyes glowing fiercely. It placed its hands firmly on the ground, the flame on its backside flaring up in anticipation for a battle. Sara stepped away from the now obviously hostile Pokemon, gripping the Umbreon tightly. "On my signal, Jane...be ready. Also, don't look into its eyes."
"Ty!" Jane growled in response as she moved between Sara and her impending attacker, prepared for a fight. "Typhlosion!"
Meanwhile, the Pichu watched, with some confusion, while the two Pokemon stood frozen, each waiting for the other to make the first move. "Pi? Pichu?"
"Now!" Sara called out, "Jane! Use Flamethro--"
"Hey, over there! The Umbreon went that way!"
"I'm coming! I'm coming!"
Sara stopped mid-command when she heard voices approaching from further down the path. She and the Pokemon all turned to watch while two trainers, a teen with a green bandana and a blond-haired youth, trudged around the bend in the path, breathing heavily, their eyes scouring the ground and bushes as they moved.
"I don't see it, man!"
"Keep looking! It had to have gone this way!"
"Hey, look! There's my Pichu!"
Sara glanced down at the Pichu again, and blinked twice. 'Oh, now it all makes sense!'
"Chimchar, there you are!" the green-bandana teen said, frowning at the mute chimp, "Why did you stop here? Did you find that--" He froze mid-sentence when he noticed Sara, and the injured Umbreon in her arms. After taking a moment to connect the dots, he started towards her, jabbing a finger in her direction. "Hey, you! I was just about to catch that Umbreon!"
The Umbreon jolted against Sara's body at the trainer's mention of it, and she again felt sympathy for the poor thing. And as she tried to console it, she gradually became aware of another feeling as well; something stuck in the back of her mind that gently pulled at her heart, speaking to her, urging her to take action. The voice she heard was strange, almost alien in her head, yet spoke with such an overwhelming sense of reassurance that it felt like the voice had always been there, had always been a part of her. Without even thinking, she found herself listening intently to its every word.
'The nerve of those jerks!' the voice echoed in her head, suddenly filling her with an unusual confidence. 'Yeah!' Sara thought angrily, 'The nerve of these jerks! How could they chase and torture this little defenseless Pokemon!'
'It's so weak, they could've easily captured it ages ago! Why did they let it run through the forest like this?'
As weak as it was, those trainers should've caught it a long time ago, instead of making it run around in such poor condition. That makes them nothing more than bullies!
'There's no way you can give this Umbreon to them!'
Obviously, there was no chance of Sara handing this poor Umbreon over to those guys, just so they could mistreat it some more. But what could she do to stop them from taking it?
'Oh, that's an easy one.' Sara looked at the frail Pokemon hunched over in her arms...and caught a flash of wicked inspiration. She took several deep breaths to calm her nerves, and then took a big step forward, speaking with a newfound courage. "Oh, you mean this Umbreon? This one right here?"
The trainer with the green bandana blinked, clearly surprised by her sudden upsurge in bravado. "Uh, yeah! That one!"
"Really? So, I guess that means that I can blame you for hurting my Pokemon then?" The Umbreon shifted restlessly in Sara's arms, and she gave it a gentle head rub until it relaxed again with a resigned snort.
The green bandana trainer took a step forward with both hands raised. "Wait, your Pokemon?"
Sara furrowed her brow, put on the angriest face she could muster, and then took a quick stride towards the trainer. "Yes, my Pokemon! Why do you think that it's letting me hold it, you idiots?"
'Whoa...' she thought, surprised by her own bluntness, 'where did that come from?'
To Sara's great satisfaction, both trainers cringed visibly from her words. And then, as if to validate her claims, the Umbreon shifted in her arms and glowered at them, mumbling something that she could only assume was a direct insult. Seeing their reactions almost made Sara burst out laughing, but she forced herself to keep up the facade. 'Ha! It may not like me very much, but I guess it hates them a lot more. Not that I blame it.'
The young trainer studied the Umbreon, eyebrow raised. "So, you've already...captured it?" With a Pokeball?"
Sara shot a scornful glance at the young trainer, and scoffed. "What do you think?"
"But, why did you let it run around the forest by itself?"
"Well, it is a forest," she replied, brushing a strand of hair from her face, "I let my Pokemon wander around a bit, to get some fresh air. They always find their way back to me." She lifted the Umbreon up a bit, to prove her point.
"Okay, but you can't get angry at us for trying to catch it!" the young trainer argued, "I mean, how in the world were we supposed to know that the Umbreon was yours?"
"Honestly?" Sara retorted, trying her best to keep a straight face, "how often do you see a wild Umbreon running around in this forest, or anywhere in Sinnoh, for that matter? They're pretty common, right?"
The young trainer thought about it for a minute, and then stuffed his hands into his pockets, looking away. "I...I guess not."
Neither trainer could argue with her logic. The green-bandana trainer looked at the injured Umbreon for a second, and then pulled his bandana off. "Oh, geez...we're really sorry, miss," he said, scratching the back of his head, "I didn't know that it already belonged to someone."
'Well,' Sara thought derisively, 'he sure changed his tune in a hurry. Probably thinks I'll call the cops on him now. Everyone knows that trying to catch another trainer's Pokemon is illegal.'
The younger trainer looked indifferent at first, but quickly put on a remorseful face when the green-bandana trainer delivered a swift elbow to his side. "Y-yeah, I'm sorry too."
"Don't say it to me. Tell it to my Umbreon."
The two trainers stared at Sara, not entirely sure if she was joking or not. When her expression didn't change, they reluctantly mumbled half-hearted apologizes to the bitter Pokemon in her arms. The Umbreon muttered something in response that definitely sounded like a direct insult, even if Sara didn't understand a word of it.
The next couple of minutes were particularly awkward. Sara tried her absolute best to maintain her 'angry face' while she stared down the two trainers, who were trying not to look nervous in front of her. Even the Pichu seemed a bit scared, as it had already retreated to a bush next to the dirt path to peek out timidly at Sara. The Chimchar just watched silently, taking in the entire scene with bemusement.
'And now, for the finale.' Sara's eyes darted quickly between the two trainers while they exchanged uncomfortable looks with one another, until finally she gave a dour nod and trudged past them. Sara made sure to give the trainer with the green bandana one final, sidelong glare right as she passed, making him flinch. Jane followed close behind her, sauntering past the trainers with an unsympathetic, "Typhlos."
As Sara walked down the path towards the town, her feigned anger drained away, and she found it increasingly difficult to contain a fit of laughter that rose up in its place, tickling the back of her throat. 'Wow, that's...new,' she thought, a grin slowly creeping over her face, 'I don't know what came over me, but it worked! And it was actually...kind of fun!' The Umbreon grumbled bitterly in her hands, obviously agitated by this new turn of events, and Sara gave it another gentle pat on the head. 'I guess it does belong to me, now. If nothing else, this Umbreon will be safer in my hands than in theirs.'
When she reached the wide bend in the path, she heard the trainers talking about her.
"Wow, that girl was really pissed off! I thought she was going to call Office Jenny on us!"
"Yeah, that was kinda' scary! I hope we don't run into her again..."
"That's for sure."
At that, Sara could no longer contain her laughter, and giggled to herself as she walked away, tightly grasping her new Umbreon in hand. And, just for a moment, when she disappeared around the bend in the path, it almost sounded like someone else was giggling quietly with her.