--Chapter 6: A Strange Reveal--
Cyndaquil slogged down the path towards the lake, brushing clumps of dirt out of her fur with a paw. Pausing for a second, she gave herself a quick inspection, and then let out a frustrated groan. Her entire body was covered with a thin layer of dust and bits of rock, and there was now a sizable bump growing on the top of her head. For Cyndaquil, it was just another painful reminder of her close encounter with that stupid beast, Houndoom.
Then again, considering that Houndoom nearly trampled her trying to catch Tomas, Cyndaquil had to count herself lucky to escape with just one lump. She gingerly touched the knot on her head again, and then wrenched her paw away with a pained yelp. "What was I thinking, jumping in front of that monster? I must've lost my wits, thinking that I could do anything to stop Houndoom!"
Cyndaquil stared at the ground, sighing distractedly as she started walking again. "This really hasn't been one of my better days," she thought aloud, "and I still don't know what's happened to Tomas." Considering how badly things turned out, she couldn't help but wonder if helping that confused little Umbreon had been such a good idea in the first place. She stopped in her tracks again, grumbling as she scratched the back of her sore head.
Why did she care so much about his safety? She'd only met Tomas earlier that day, and they hadn't had much time to talk before Houndoom showed up. Maybe it was out of pity for the poor creature...
"I really don't know why I care," Cyndaquil quickly reasoned to herself, "but I do know that I can't just stand by and watch while one of my friends gets hurt! I've gotta' do something!"
She blinked several times, and then shook her head with a huff. "Also, I should really stop talking to myself like this. It's not a very good habit to develop..."
The sound of laughter broke Cyndaquil from her external monologue, putting her on alert almost immediately as she scanned the area for any signs of a threat. The small Pokemon shrunk back when she spotted a human approaching from the beyond the wide bend in the path. 'Who's that? I need to hide!' Surrendering to her instincts, Cyndaquil made a frantic dash for the thick bushes lining the path and hid herself just as the trainer fully emerged onto view, barely avoiding detection. From her hiding place, she watched as a young female trainer strolled past, giggling to herself and holding an injured Umbreon tightly in her arms.
Cyndaquil gasped when she saw the embittered Pokemon in the trainer's clutches. 'Is that who I think it is?' she thought in disbelief, leaning a bit from her hiding spot to get a better look, 'Yeah, that's him, all right! That's Tomas! Thank Arceus he's okay!' Relieved at first, she started to call out to him, but then her words died in her throat, and she slumped a bit. 'I...I didn't know that he already had a trainer...' That sudden realization was followed by a sobering disappointment; a sinking feeling that seemed to swell up in her throat, choking away her thoughts before she could even begin to form them. And yet, at the same time, she was thankful...even happy...for Tomas's wellbeing. Very quickly, it became a strange mix of feelings that made it nearly impossible for Cyndaquil to tell how she really felt about this new revelation. 'I...' she finally added with some difficulty, '...at least he's okay.'
She retreated back into the shadows of the bushes when a large Typhlosion walked right past her hiding spot, frowning. "Uh, Sara?" it said with a bit of worry, "Maybe we should hurry back to that Pokemon Center...ah, quickly. I really don't think the Umbreon can take too many more of your hugs."
"Wow," Cyndaquil murmured, "I...didn't know that there was a Typhlosion in this area, too..." She watched in silence as the female trainer and her Pokemon, still unaware of their small observer, disappeared from view behind a row of bushes further down the path. Once she was absolutely sure that they were gone, she stepped away from her hiding spot, breathing a heavy sigh. 'I guess...this is it, huh? Goodbye, Tom--'
Cyndaquil almost had a heart attack when she heard the gruff voice rumble from somewhere behind her. She spun around with sharp gasp, and was met with a familiar, scowling muzzle. "H...Houndoom! It's you!"
"Of course it's me!" he replied with a scoff, "Who did you think it was?"
"How did--where did you come from?"
Houndoom snorted and gave her a toothy grin. "I ducked into these bushes when I saw those other guys right behind me! At first, I thought they were after me, but it turned out they weren't..." He jerked his head in the direction of the female trainer. "...they were after him, the little Umbreon with the big mouth. Same as me."
Cyndaquil took an uneasy step towards him, paws raised. "Why are you still after Tomas? Are you really that upset about what he said to you?"
"Not really," he growled indignantly, "as if I would hold a grudge with someone that scrawny and weak! It's because the master told me to catch him! That, and the fact that I owe him some payback!"
'But, isn't that holding a grudge?' Cyndaquil thought derisively, almost rolling her eyes at Houndoom's horrible grasp of logic. She stifled that impulse, and continued trying to reason with the dim bulb. "But, he has a trainer! Are you gonna' attack his trainer, too?"
"She's not his trainer!"
"You can't--" Cyndaquil froze and stared at him, digesting this new information for a second before sputtering, "...s...she's not?"
"Of course she's not! I can smell it."
Cyndaquil raised an eyebrow at that declaration. "You, uh...smell it?"
Houndoom placed a paw to his muzzle, as if to prove his point. "Of course I can! What do you take me floor?"
"Look," Houndoom rumbled, "if he were her Pokemon, then they would have similar scents, because they would've been around each other. But, what I'm getting..." he paused to sniff the air again, "...is two entirely different scents coming from their direction!"
"Uh, Houndoom?" Cyndaquil protested, eyebrows furrowed in confusion, "Is...is that really how scents work--"
"Of course it is! And, on top of that, I was hiding nearby when they crashed into each other! I specifically heard the human say that she 'found a new teammate.' That means that he isn't her Pokemon, yet!" The fanged brute crouched low, snarling as he continued, "All I need to do is take that Umbreon out before the trainer leaves the forest with him."
Cyndaquil once again tried to object to his poor reasoning skills, but this time, she never got the chance. With one final low howl, Houndoom ducked alongside the bushes, stalking after his prey silently, waiting for his chance to attack. Frowning, she could do nothing but watch the dumb, dangerous beast slink away, off to make yet another horrible mistake. 'By Arceus! He's going after Tomas again, and I can't stop him!' She paced back and forth restlessly, trying to rack her brain for an answer. She froze with realization, and then smacked herself on the forehead. 'Of course! I know someone who can stop him! That's it! I'll find Todd and ask him for help! Houndoom would have to listen to him!!'
And with that, Cyndaquil sprinted off into the forest, hoping to find her master before it was too late.
Tomas almost fell asleep. Almost.
The pain in his body was finally starting to subside, only to be replaced with a creeping drowsiness that seemed to drain away all of his strength. He was tired, completely worn out by everything that he'd been put though, and all he wanted now was to just sleep it all away. Like another crazy dream...
He leaned back against a pair of soft pillows, and let out a sleepy yawn. He was so tired, so exhausted...and he was already surrounded by a comforting warmth...
Nice, warm, pillows...
'Wait a minute.'
Tomas awoke with a start, eyes widened with uncertainty and fear, tail twitching anxiously as he looked around, trying to get his bearings. From the looks of it, he was still in the forest from that other dream, moving along the dirt path again...or above it. 'Oh, right...I'm still in that crazy girl's arms...damn it.' He pushed that sour thought from his mind, and after a moment's hesitation, turned to look back at the 'pillows' he'd been laying against. And then he blushed under his fur. Those weren't pillows...at least, not the type of pillows that he'd been thinking of.
Tomas felt his cheeks burning with embarrassment from the realization. 'Why'd I even think they were pillows?' he thought, utterly mortified, 'She was holding me in her arms!' After taking a moment to recover from the initial shock, he turned and looked at them a second time. They were actually a fairly modest size, fitting in nicely with the girl's slender frame. Then again, compared to how small he was at the moment, they--
the voice chimed again in his head, sounding even more energetic and cheerful than before. Which, of course, wasn't saying much.
"No," Tomas retorted, "just leave me alone."
'Sorry, can't do that. And, since you're already well..."in hand"--'
'--I think it's time to help you to get... "abreast" of the situation--'
"Damn it! Shut up!"
"Hey, Umbreon! What's wrong with you?" the Typhlosion asked, walking alongside her trainer. She leaned in close and stared Tomas right in the face, eyebrow raised. "Are you some kind of weirdo?"
'Hah! I totally called that one!'
"That's great, Jane!" the girl trainer said, grinning, "It's really good to see the two of you bonding! Keep it up!"
Tomas groaned at her words. She obviously hadn't realized that 'Jane' had just insulted him. He cursed and shut his eyes, attempting to ignore the Typhlosion's persistent questions about his mental health and level of intelligence, and then focused solely on the voice in his head. 'Okay, you stupid voice,' he thought angrily, 'What's going on? When will this idiotic dream finally end?'
'Dream?' the voice replied derisively, 'You still think this is a dream? Even after everything you've experienced so far? Wow, you're really deluded.'
'With dreams this intense, I wouldn't be surprised,' Tomas replied, wrinkling his muzzle. It was fairly obvious by now that this 'voice' wasn't taking him seriously. He took in a long, deep breath to calm himself, and then continued. 'You're a manipulative little jerk, but you seem to know a lot about what's happening to me. You also said earlier that you were trying to save my life.'
'I did say that, didn't I?' The voice paused for a moment, and then giggled. 'Are you finally starting to believe that this is real?'
Tomas scoffed at that question. 'Yeah, right. I'll decide that for myself.' He shifted in his captor's arms, wincing from a sudden jolt in his hind leg. With everything that he'd been through, Tomas had almost forgotten about the cramp that developed back when he was still running for his life. 'Ah, o...okay, how's about we start with the easy questions. Like, for example, who exactly are you?'
That brought another giggle from his invisible tormentor. 'So, you want to see who I am, do you? Okay, give me a minute.'
Tomas waited impatiently while the voice in his head went mercifully silent. And as he sat there, in the warm embrace of this girl trainer, with his limbs beginning to throb once again from overexertion...he began to feel a strange sort of realization wash over him. In spite of his past claims, he really had no clue what to make of this dream...if it was, in fact, a dream. Maybe this was real...and maybe he was an Umbreon. But, if that was the case, then how? How is it possible for these things to happen to him? And more importantly, what would life be like if he had to spend the rest of it as a Pokemon? As someone's pet?
He opened his eyes and stared up into the huge forest surrounding him, and then flinched from the sunlight shining in his face. That...hurt his eyes a bit. Just like the pain he'd felt before, when he first woke up. He'd ignored it at the time, but...it was real, and it actually hurt. Slowly, he moved his injured hind leg again, and winced. That hurt, too...but it didn't seem possible. It couldn't be. 'Is...is this really real? Maybe...'
Starting to hyperventilate, he brought a paw to his muzzle, tapping it against the tip of his nose, and shivering from the touch. 'It all feels...much too real to be a dream...so maybe...I really did--'
'Okay, I'm ready,' the voice said, interrupting the bemused Umbreon's thoughts. 'Look to your left, up in the trees.'
Tomas turned and stared up into the trees lining the left side of the dirt path, squinting as he attempted to see something there. It was difficult for him to make out anything distinct while the girl trainer kept holding him so close as she walked; the rise and fall of her footsteps preventing him from being able to focus on any single target. As a result, he could only recognize the familiar, distorted visage of the same swaying tree branches and thick bunches of leaves that he'd seen all day. But then, he caught a glimpse of a sudden, blurred movement in the trees, just above his peripheral vision. Movement and...
...a flash of pink.
'Did you see me? Did ya?' the voice chimed again in his head, 'I know you did! I can tell! So, do you know who am I now?'
Tomas slumped sullenly in the girl trainer's arms, and answered, '...Mew. You're a Mew.'
That brought on another excited giggle echoing into his mind. 'Yep! You got me!'
'Well, it's not like there's a lot of other small, pink, floating Pokemon with psychic abilities that I can think of in this world. Which, to be honest, answers at least one of my questions.'
'Oh, really? Which one?'
'Well, now I know for sure that none of this is real,' he replied with a huff, 'This is just another one of your tricks, isn't it? Let me out of this hallucination, you pink lunatic!'
Mew paused for a moment, apparently taken aback by his response. 'You know, that's the third time I've been called that in my entire life.'
'You know, I'm not all that surprised.'
'You probably wouldn't be,' Mew retorted, 'Also, sorry to disappoint, but this isn't a hallucination. Stop acting so--'
'Of course it's a hallucination!' Tomas thought, scowling, 'You're doing this to me with some sort of telepathic ability, right? What, did I accidentally fall asleep under your favorite tree or something? Is that it? Is this some sort of karmic punishment from above?'
Tomas caught another flash of pink from out the corner of his eye, swiftly moving between two large tree branches. Of course, by the time he'd looked up, it was already gone. His cheerful captor and her Typhlosion didn't seem to notice, which only frustrated Tomas more.
'Well, you certainly seem all fired up again!' Mew echoed in his head, 'Tell you what; if you make it back to town, I'll see if I can help you sort things out!'
The Umbreon snorted derisively. 'Sort things out? What--'
'And on a more cheerful note, it looks like you've adapted to walking like an Umbreon pretty well. I'm actually impressed!'
Tomas recoiled at Mew's statement, and then glanced down at his paws. He hadn't even realized how quickly he'd gotten the hang of moving on four legs--most likely because of his preoccupation with escaping threats. Simply put, he'd run so much that he actually failed to grasp that he had learned how to run. 'That's your new instincts kicking in, fuzzy,' Mew added, 'You should probably get used to them.'
Ignoring the psychic for now, Tomas moved each paw experimentally, and then flinched from the stabbing pain in his hind leg again. 'Crap, I forgot about that leg! It still hurts.'
'Also, while we're on the subject, here's a bit of free advice,' Mew stated, suddenly serious. It was the first time that Tomas had ever heard the pink telepath speak with any hint of authority...and frankly, it both surprised and scared him a bit. 'Pokemon language and human language aren't so different from each other.'
'Sure, there may be a restriction or two on what syllables Pokemon are capable of using, but those restrictions can eventually be broken with enough practice. It's kind of like how humans can learn different languages by focusing on syllable sounds, and then connecting them to form spoken words with meanings. Of course, for most Pokemon there's usually a price that has to be paid for accomplishing this feat.'
Tomas furrowed his eyebrows in confusion. 'What are you talking about? And why are you telling me this?'
'Simple,' Mew replied bluntly, 'because you won't be as useful to me without the ability to communicate effectively with your new trainer.'
'Wha...?' Tomas found himself at a loss for words after hearing that. Unable to do much else, he tried to come up with a proper response; something witty, astute, and sarcastic that would properly express his confusion and anger at the Mew. Instead, all he could muster was, 'Wh...y...you! I...wha...what are you up to?'
He heard the Mew giggle again, apparently back to it's normal, giddy self. 'Silly Umbreon, don't you remember? I said that I'd tell you once you made it back to town.'
'L...leave me alone!'
'Sorry, can't help you there! Now, get ready!'
Tomas felt his blood run cold at its cryptic words, and was almost too afraid to ask. 'Uh...ready for what?' His heart skipped a beat when the Mew went completely mute in his head, leaving him to his own isolated thoughts. 'Mew?' There was still no answer from the psychic Pokemon, and after a few seconds of unnerving silence, it dawned on the Umbreon that an answer would never come.
Sara was starting to get tired. Very tired.
It didn't take her long to realize that she had made a serious miscalculation with her new Pokemon. She didn't want to admit it, but it felt like the Umbreon was actually getting...heavier as she held it. Judging from its size in her arms, Sara had guessed that it couldn't be tall enough to reach her knees when standing on all fours...and that placed it at no more than about 2 feet in height. 'I just don't get it,' Sara thought, her smile fading, 'How can something this small weigh so much? It's such a scrawny little thing, so where's this weight coming from?'
Several times Sara had considered using a Pokeball to make the pint-sized fuzzball easier to carry, but each time, she decided against it. The Umbreon wasn't that badly hurt, and offering comfort to it now could prove worthwhile in the future. This kind of stuff was covered in her Pokemon Trainer's Guide, so she knew that getting a Pokemon to feel comfortable around their new trainer--especially early in their relationship--would be very important when it came to developing trust and establishing a strong bond with them.
Knowing all of this, Sara simply gave a soft groan, and forced herself to endure.
The Umbreon started trembling again, growling as it shifted restlessly in her arms. "It's okay, little fellow," she said tenderly, giving it another gentle pat on the head, "I'm not going to hurt you. Just relax." The injured Pokemon just gave her a resigned "Umbre" in response, and then stared at the ground near her feet, frowning.
'Well,' Sara thought with a sigh, 'at least it's not trying to jump out of my arms anymore.' Which was a miracle in itself, considering how hard it was to ignore the Umbreon's weight when it wasn't struggling in her arms. By now, her limbs were just starting to burn from exhaustion, and even her fingers were beginning to throb a bit. 'Maybe I should just think about something else besides the weight...'
With some effort, Sara cleared her mind and focused on her future with this rare Pokemon on her team. She envisioned falling asleep each night under the comforting glow from the Umbreon's rings, and then waking up each morning to the cheerful, affectionate calls of her personal 'family' of Pokemon, all of whom would love her unconditionally. 'Oh, it's all so perfect,' Sara added in thought, grinning once more, 'and I know that Jane, Leddy, and Star will happily accept my new Umbreon into the family!'
Her mind then drifted to the epic battles she would fight with this new addition to her group. The Umbreon, with proper training, could give her team exactly the edge they need to finally defeat the Oreburgh and Veilstone City gyms. She blushed at the thought of collecting her last two badges and finally completing the Sinnoh region. And then, maybe...
...just maybe, she could make her father proud. And it would all happen because of...this unnamed Umbreon. Sara blinked at the thought, and glanced down to her new Pokemon. 'Oh, I forgot about that! What should I name the little guy? Harold? Jason? Fred? Nah, not Fred...'
Jane's call awoke Sara from her thoughts, and she looked around...breathing a sigh of relief. She could finally see the end of the dirt path, leading out of the chaotic forest and back into the relative comfort of Twinleaf Town. After a long day of walking, running, and falling on her face, she had made it back to the forest entrance. Sara would've actually jumped for joy if the Umbreon hadn't been weighing her down, and if her fingers didn't start to ache again. "Ah! Ow!"
Jane tapped her trainer on the shoulder anxiously. "Typhlos?"
"No, I'm okay. This little guy is a heavy one." She awkwardly shifted the Umbreon's weight to one arm so that she could inspect her hands. The skin on her fingers was beginning to turn a purplish-blue color, and hurt every time she moved them. 'Ow...maybe that fall hurt me a bit more than I thought...' She turned to her concerned Typhlosion, sporting a comforting smile. "Oh, don't worry about me! Come on, let's hurry up and get back to the town. After we stop by the Pokemon Center to take care of the Umbreon, I think I'm going to just sleep for the rest of the day."
Jane stopped behind Sara, her ears perking up. "Ty?"
"Yep, we'll finally be out of this crazy forest, Jane!"
"Typhlosion? Ty, typhlos!"
"Ah? What's up, Jane?" Sara started to laugh, but froze when she heard shuffling in the bushes ahead of her, followed by a low, rumbling growl. Before the young trainer could even react, the Typhlosion slid in front of her, paws raised as she growled ferociously at her newest opponent. 'What's...happening now? Is it another attack?' After a moment's hesitation, Sara leaned to one side, glancing around her Pokemon's body to see this new threat...and then gasped.
There was a Houndoom standing in front of the forest entrance, crouched low in a battle stance. It affixed its eyes on Sara, and another, louder growl rumbled from its throat. Smoke was billowing from its muzzle, filling the air with the thick smell of ashes and molten rock.
Obviously, it wasn't going to let them leave the forest without a fight.
"HOUN, HOUNDOOM!" it roared at the young trainer, making her cringe with dread.
Sara took an uneasy step back, holding the Umbreon tighter. "Oh...guess I spoke too soon."
Snarling, the Houndoom bared its fangs, and stalked closer to its prey.