“This seems like a good place to set up camp for the night, don’t you think Rio?”
“Rio-Rio-Riolu!” I laughed.
“Think I should bring out Chika and Sen, huh?” He nodded.
“Rio!” I grinned and unclipped two Pokéballs from my belt.
“Come on out! Chika! Sen!” The two Pokéballs opened and first Chika, then Sen, appeared.
“Chiko-Chikorita!” Chika said, happily running around in circles.
“Seennnnntrreeeet...” Sen yawned, stretched, and looked around sleepily.
“Okay you three, listen up.” I glanced around. “Sen, you scout out the area and bring back some firewood. Chika,” I turned to her as Sen wandered off, “go find a stream or pond somewhere, okay? Fresh, clean water.”
“Chiko!” Chika grinned and, after sniffing the air for a moment, ran off.
“Rio,” I looked down at my partner, who was looking expectantly up at me, “we’re gonna clean this area up. Okay?”
“Riolu!” Rio saluted me.
“Oh Rio.” I smiled as we began to work. “Our journey’s taken us this far. Let’s keep on going.”
“Hey Rio.” I glance over at Chika. Sen had fallen asleep a long time ago and Kristi was dozing off next to me. “I thought we were supposed to be at the Ruins of Alph tonight. I mean, I’m not complaining or anything! It’s just strange, because I remember Kristi saying we would be able to explore the ruins last night.”
“I know she said that.” I whisper back, so I don’t disturb Kristi. “Kristi decided that since we’re going to be in this area again when we pass through to get to Ecruteak City, she wanted a little more time to explore. We’re going to leave first thing tomorrow.”
“Oooohhhh. That explains it.” She nods, then yawns. “Well, I’m out. See you in the morning Rio.”
“G’night Chika.” I turn so I’m lying on my side and shut my eyes.
Ten minutes after Chika fell asleep, I still can’t fall asleep. I turn so I’m lying on my back and stare upward. The stars are so pretty. That’s something I love about camping. They’re so bright. Whenever there’re human lights around, the stars are muted. It’s so-
I sit up. I heard something. My ears flick. There. Again, but a little farther away. My eyes travel toward Kristi, who’s fast asleep, and at Chika and Sen, who are passed out on the other side of the campfire. Neither of them even twitched in their sleep.
A stick cracks in the distance. Sen turns over in his sleep, snorts, then goes back to snoring.
Probably only one Pokémon. I decided. And not heading toward us. But... I stand. I’m going to go check out anyway, just to be sure. But, I hesitate, what if Kristi wakes up and I’m gone? I glance at Kristi, who’s breathing gently. It won’t take long.
“I’ll be right back Kristi.” I whisper, then tiptoe into the forest.
It’s no wonder something doesn’t seem right tonight. There’s a human in the forest. And not just any human. A “Trainer”. A human who enslaves Pokémon. I saw the enslaved Pokémon. A Chikorita, Sentret, and, oddly enough, a Riolu. I got a glimpse of him. He was cute. My face turns red. Stantler would be laughing his head off if he heard me say that. I begin to wander toward my den.
I had heard the Riolu and Chikorita talking. They had said they were leaving the next day. So I don’t think I should tell Stantler, if he doesn’t know about them already.
But...why would they follow the human? The Chikorita and Sentret have almost no choice; they’re enslaved by those white and red balls. But...Riolu...he could just leave any time he wanted to. He was walking beside her. He could just...run off. Into the woods. Where I could meet him. My face turns red. He might like me and we could live- I don’t finish the thought. Instead, I slam my head into a tree. I can’t risk thinking that way, and just as I think that, someone clears their throat.
What is that Vulpix thinking, slamming her head into a tree? I mean, for no apparent reason, she stops walking and smashes her head. Unless she was using Headbutt. But that would be...weird.
“Oh Lugia.” She whispers, turning Cheri-red. “You saw that?”
I’M SUCH AN IDIOT!! I want to scream. And curse myself. And cry. I was thinking about meeting him and what I would say if he actually met me, and he comes up and catches me acting like a retard! He-He must think I’m a total looser! My eyes dart up. He’s not looking at me like I’m crazy. Instead, he looks worried. He-He’s worried? He’s actually worried about me? I swallow. I-I still have a chance! Come on Vulpix! Deep breaths! You can do this!
“I-I’m sorry.” The Vulpix swallows, taking deep breaths. “I-I just had to re-release some steam. So...s-sorry about m-making you worry.”
“You don’t have to apologize! It’s okay! I was just...worried?” I blink. I was...worried about her? I shake my head. “So...are you okay?” Her face turns red.
“Oh, I’m okay. I was just...um...practicing my Headbutt attack. Yeah.”
“But...didn’t you just say you needed to release steam?” I realize. Her whole face explode.
“N-n-never mind! I-I-I want to show you somewhere. Will you co-co-come with me?”
“Y-yes. Somewhere I kn-know. So, will you come?” Please say yes, her eyes seem to speak.
“I-I.” Kristi. She’s probably still asleep. So...it shouldn’t be a problem. “It won’t take long, will it?” I ask, just be sure. “Someone might get worried if they wake and find me missing.” The Vulpix’s eyes widen, then return to normal.
“N-no. It’s not far.” Not a trap. I decide, but am going to stay on guard.
“Then lead on. Oh!”
“Something wrong?” She asks, her eyes nervous.
“What’s your name? My name’s Rio.” I smile at the Vulpix and she blushes, causing my face to turn crimson.
“V-V-Vu...Vul...Vul...Vul-pix. Y-you can...call me Vulpix.”
“That works.” I simply nod. Vulpix turns away, leading me into the forest.
If this is a dream, I don’t want to wake up. I tell myself for the tenth time. But I need to stop stuttering! I tell myself for the thirteenth time. This...I sigh, ...is perfect. Twentieth time.
“Are you okay?” Riolu, Rio, asks. “You keep sighing a lot.”
“N-no. I’m okay.” I’m thankful Riol...Rio can’t see my face. It’s redder than a Red Apricorn. And stop stuttering! Fourteenth. We walk in silence.
Then something growls. Rio jumps in front of me, but I turn away in embarrassment. It growls again. Rio turns toward me, toward the noise, and I can’t meet his eyes.
“Is that...your stomach?”
“Uh......yes?” My face explodes. “I...haven’t eaten anything in two days.” I admit. “I can’t climb trees. Don’t laugh, please?”
“What’s in trees?” His head is tilted and he’s not laughing.
“Red Apricorns.” I mutter. “And sometimes...Blu and Blck Apricorns.”
“Oh? Are there any around here?” I meet his eyes, and then silently stare over his shoulder. In the moonlight, glistening, are at least half-a-dozen Red Apricorns. “I could get some. I don’t want my guide fainting from hunger before we reach where we’re going. Oh...um, this isn’t where we’re going, um, right?” His cheeks are slightly pink and I realize mine are too.
“No, no, no! Where we’re going, is nearby, really close. So...we can just go there right now.”
“Are you kidding?” Rio laughs as he springs up to the lowest branch. “That would be rude. Just wait down there, okay?” Then he disappears into the leafy branches.
I drop a Blue Apricorn to the ground and hop to the Black Apricorn tree.
“We have enough.” Vulpix calls to me, her brown eyes follow me as I land on the branch. I can tell she’s nervous about me jumping around. “I don’t want you falling down and getting hurt.”
“Who was slamming her head into a tree when I found her?” I grin even though I can’t see her. “Come’on Vul, relax. You’re the one who said you like Apricorns.”
“Sorry, but Vulpix seems like too common a name. Can I call you Vul?” There’s silence below, so I guess I offended her. I toss down a Black Apricorn.
“I guess YOU could call me Vul.” I stick my head out of the tree and grin. I had caught the emphasis.
“I can call you Vul? What about everyone else?” In the moonlight her eyes widen.
“GAAAAHHH!!” I yell, take a wrong step, and crash to the ground.
“Rio!” Vul rushes toward me. I push myself off the forest floor, brush the leaves out of my fur, and turn to look at the Pokémon who had fluttered to the ground.
“Who do you think you are, sneaking into my Apricorn tree in the middle of the night?” The Ledian advances on me. “I’ve never seen you around here before. So let me tell you about territory-hmm?” Ledian glances over my shoulder. “Vulpix? Is that you?”
“Ledian, I know Stantler’s told you before. No territory claims, especially on Apricorn trees and berry bushes.” Vul steps forward, standing next to me. “Only on dens and roosts.”
“This tree is MY roost. And who’s this?” Ledian sizes me up and I stare back at him. “Some new guy?”
“My name’s Rio.” I remember my manners and hold out my paw. When he doesn’t return the gesture, I pull back. “And I’m just passing through.” He glances at Vul, back at me, then at Vul again. Then his whole face breaks into a devilish smile.
“O-O-O-Ohhh. Flirting, are we Vulpix? You? Who’s nickname is Love Deterrence? Congratulations pal!” He reaches out, grasps my paw, and shakes it vigorously.
“S-Shut up Ledian! I’m not flirting! I’m just showing him somewhere!” Vul’s face is bright red and mine is stained pink.
“Su-u-u-ure. Gotta tell you something.” He pulls me aside. “She’s a virgin.” He whispers into my ear.
“G-G-Go away!” I yell and push away, my face exploding. I grab the Apricorns I’ve collected and run away, Vul next to me.
“Have fun you two!” Ledian is wheezing in laughter as we race into the woods.
“Sorry about Ledian.” I mutter, my breathing finally returning to normal. “H-He can be...” Difficult? Perverted? Strange? None of those terms would describe my embarrassment. “...weird.”
“It’s okay.” Rio says, even though his face is as red as mine still probably is. “At least we still have the Apricorns. Here.” He passes me a Red one and I bite into it.
“Thanks.” I say gratefully. My eyes wander and I realize we’re only minutes from where I want to go. “Oh!”
“Something wrong?” Rio glances up at me, his mouth stained blue from the Apricorn.
“We’re almost there!” I hop excitedly. “This way Rio!”
“Hey! Wait!” He calls out and then races after me. “Vul, I can’t hold all these Apricorns!”
“It doesn’t matter!” I yell back. “Just come on!” My feet hit the ground and I loose myself in thought. Rio’s such a nice guy. He’s sweet and was worried about me. He...is so nice. I catch myself smiling. I-I wish...no, it’s foolish. No, it’s not. I wish...I wish that...we...
“Wow...” That’s the only way to describe this place. The entire hilltop is grassy and the trees stopped growing halfway down the hill, so the entire forest is visible. I squint and see, to the west, the very tip of the Sprout Tower. To the south seem to be some sort of ruins. The Ruins of Alph? No way. In the east, lights cut through the darkness. And from the north, the way the wind is blowing from, comes the sound of...bells?
“Over here.” Vul calls out, heading toward the stump of what must have been a giant tree. As I draw closer, I see a small den with a grass mat under the stump.
“Um, Vul? We won’t get in trouble when the owner comes and finds us here, right?” She giggles.
“The owner isn’t mad! Silly!” It takes me to realize what she means.
“You?” I gape. “This is YOUR den?”
“Yep!” Vul begins to climb the stump, using some niches gnawed into the wood. She motions to me. “Come up here!”
“What’s here?” I ask, scrambling up to join her. She smiles.
The sky is filled with stars, each of them glistening and twinkling like a gym badge. I can only stare and it takes me a long time to be able to take in the whole beauty of it.
“Beautiful...” Is all I can say.
“I know.” Vul smiles, her eyes reflect the stars. “This is why I love living here. When I can’t sleep, I come up here and just...watch.”
“They’re so bright...” I whisper.
“True.” Vul says, but there’s a touch of bitterness in her voice. Then she sighs. “But they could be brighter. Stantler may be our leader, but Ledian is the oldest Pokémon in this area. For all his faults-,“ being perverted, weird, and possessive, “-he can recall almost everything that’s happened during his lifetime. When I was little,” she stares up at the stars, “he used to tell me stories about the forest and the world. According to him, there used to be a time when there were no humans for miles around. When the stars were so bright, the entire forest would be lit up.” She sighed. “He said those were good time, but he didn’t realize they might not last.” Her gaze cuts to me. “So what about you? I’ve been wanting to ask. How did a nice guy like you get enslaved by a human?” I laugh.
“Well, for one thing, I’m not enslaved. But I guess my adventures started when my egg hatched in New Bark Town in the middle of a thunderstorm...”
“...and that’s my life story.” I finish. Vul is silent next to me. I glance at her and realize her eyes are closed. “Please don’t tell me you fell asleep.” I grumble, more exasperated than annoyed.
“I’m not asleep.” She mutters, one eye opening. “I was just...thinking. This Kristi, the human, sounds nice, but...why do you live under a Pokémon...” she seems to consider her words, “...trainer? Why not just...live free?”
“She’s not exactly a trainer. Well, she is, but that’s not the title she has for herself.” I explain. “She’s a Relationship Observer.”
“She watches and records the relationships between people and their Pokémon, people and people, Pokémon and each other, people and the environment, Pokémon and the environment around them, and other relationships like that.” I turn my head so I’m looking at Vul. “So what about you? What’s your story?”
“...” I put a paw on her shoulder.
“You can tell me. I won’t judge you.”
“.........my egg hatched in this forest. I was raised by Arcanine, my Dad. My mother...she was never around. And Dad...even though he didn’t talk about her, he...was heartbroken. I heard, though once, from Ledian, that she went out to collect Apricorns and...” her voice begins to crack, “...and never came back. Someone caught her.” Vul bit back a sob. “Then, one night, D-Dad vanished. St-Stantler said that h-he went looking for her. I-I’ve b-been all alone since I w-was three. A-A-All a-a-al-alone...” Then she burst into tears.
“Shhh...” I squeeze her gently. “It’s okay. You’re okay. You’re okay...” I let herself cry in my arms.
I cry. All the emotions I’ve been holding in all these years come pouring out. The sadness, rage, agony, misery, and anger. It all comes out. I can feel Rio’s arms wrapped around me. Even though I’m in a moment of weakness, even though my heart is wide open, I’m happy in the midst of all my sadness. The emotions that have filled my heart for so long are welling over, leaving an emptiness in my heart, and that’s when I realize the truth.
I love Rio.
Vul’s better now. All her tears have dried and she can talk clearly now. We’re lying on the top of the stump, and I have one arm over her shoulder. We’re staring at the stars when something shoots across the sky, and Vul gasps.
“A shooting star!” She exclaims.
“Make a wish.” I grin.
“Okay! Uh,” her eyes shut, “I wish...” There’s a moment of silence, then her eyes open back up. “Your turn, now. Make a wish!”
“Me? Um...okay. Let’s see,” I stare up at the stars, “I wish...I wish...” I don’t know what to wish for. I realize. I want to wish that Kristi continues to have a safe journey, but I also want to wish for something for Vul. That’s when I remember something. Kristi said we were leaving in the morning. But that would mean I will have to leave Vul! I-I don’t want to do that. Because I-I...I love her. My whole face turns red. I love Vul, but...Kristi...I have to decide. Dawn is only a few hours away. Whichever one I choose, though, I know I’m going to regret not choosing the other one. Why did this have to happen? I don’t regret meeting Vul, but I don’t regret traveling with Kristi. I feel like crying. Why me? Why do I have to be faced with this decision...?
“Riolu.” I spun around.
“RIO!” Chika and Sen also had similar reactions.
“CHI!” “SEN!” They dog-piled him and I let them have their fun. Then I hugged him and looked my partner dead in the eye.
“Do you know how worried I’ve been?!” His head hung guiltily.
“Rio-Riolu.” I just shake my head.
“This isn’t like you Rio! I woke up and you were gone! Where were you?!” Rio took a deep breath.
“Ri...Riolu-Rio-Ri-Riolu-lu. Rio-Rio. Rio-Ri-olu. Rio-Riolu-lu-lu. Riolu.”
“What has gotten into you two?!” I yelled, turning to Chika and Sen, but they weren’t paying attention. They were both yelling at Rio, who was backing away. “QUIET!!” I roared at them and they shut up, but continued to stare at Rio with huge eyes. “Rio,” I turned to him, “was it serious?” He nodded yes. “Did it involve another Pokémon?” Again, he nodded yes. “Are you hurt?”
“Sen-Sen-Sentret.” I rounded on Sen, who had been smacked with Chika’s leaf.
“What did you say?” I growled at him.
“Thought so.” I pulled out his Pokéball and he vanished. “What about you?” I stared at Chika, but she was looking at Rio with...sadness?
“Rio.” He muttered. I could only guess what was being said.
“Chiiii...” She sighed, then nudged her Pokéball and vanished.
I had almost entered the gate that led to the Ruins of Alph before I realized Rio wasn’t with me. I turned around and saw him. He was staring into the forest, a strange, sad look on his face.
“Rio?” I called to him.
“...Riolu.” He said, but he wasn’t talking to me. He was gazing at a particularly dense patch of trees. “Ri-Riolu? Riiii? Ri-olu-Riolu?” There was a minute of silence and his head dropped. “Rio. Rio-Ri...Riolu...”
“You okay Rio?” I asked.
“Riiiii...” He muttered, not even glancing up at me.
“What happened Rio?” I whispered, following him through the gate.
Three Months Later...
“Bay, you’re in charge of finding water.”
“Nida, go find some stones for a fire pit, okay?”
“Flaa, help me clear this area of grass so we can safely light a fire.”
“Fur, you know what to do. Go scout the area.”
“And don’t let someone catch you napping.” I warned him, then turned to Rio, who was sulking as usual. “Rio,” I began, “do you think you could find some Apricorns? Nida’s been threatening to go crazy if we don’t have Aprijuice soon.” I said jokingly.
“Rioooluuu...” He went off without much enthusiasm and I stared at him as he left. He’s been like this for three months. Something happened that night in this very forest. I don’t know what happened that night and probably never will.
I began to clear the area with Flaa. Nida rolled stones to the center of the clearing and I set them into a fire ring-
“RIOOOOLLLUUUU!!” I jerked up.
“Rio!” I shouted and began to run. “Flaa! Nida! Hurry!”
“Rio! Where are you?!”
‘It’s almost dawn.’ I said, watching the horizon.
‘That’s hard to believe.’ Vul yawned. She was curled up next to me. You need to tell her, I thought to myself.
‘Vul...’ I began.
‘Hm?’ She wasn’t paying much attention. I took a deep breath.
‘I need to go soon.’ She sat up, very awake now.
‘Why? Is something wrong?’
‘I...need to go back. Kristi...will be worried about me.’
‘K-Kristi...I owe her so much. I...just can’t...leave her, no matter what my heart...is saying.’
‘What’s your heart saying?’ Her voice is shattering, just like before. And my own heart is starting the break.
‘This doesn’t have to be goodbye Vul.’ It felt like my heart was trying to climb out of my chest. ‘You could come with me.’
She didn’t. She chose to stay wild, which broke my heart. But that wasn’t the worst part. Right before I got to the Ruins of Alph, I sensed her and asked, no...begged her one last time. There had been no reply.
Before I had made my choice, I knew that no matter which one I chose, I would regret not picking the other. But I didn’t realize how bad it would be, and I was still paying the price. Vul’s face kept on appearing in my mind; sometimes smiling, but most of the time shattered, with a broken look in her eyes.
I glance up. I’ve found some Apricorn trees, but I pause. This clearing...impossible. It can’t be! This is the same clearing with the Apricorn trees where I met Ledian! But... I think a moment and connect the landscape with my memory. Red, blue, and black Apricorn trees. A boulder wedged in between the roots of a tree. And leading into the trees, a path I had run down once.
“No way...” I whisper, but a stick snaps behind me and I spin around. Crunching through the underbrush is a giant Pokémon; a Stantler.
“Um...hello?” I say hesitantly, because the Stantler is staring at me with no emotion.
“It’s rare to see...a Riolu in these woods.” He finally says after a long, awkward silence. “And you being in these woods cannot be coincidental. Tell me,” his gave never wavered, “what is your name and what are you doing in these woods?”
“I’m going to Ecruteak City with my trainer-“
“Kristi?” The Stantler’s gaze has turned fierce. “Tell me Rio, how have you been these past few months? Been feeling any regret?”
“How do you know who I am?” I demand, the my blood turns cold with realization. Stantler slams me into a tree without warning. “What the-?” I yell, the freeze. Stantler’s eyes have become furious, possibly on the verge of murderous.
“You deserve this Rio.” He snarls. “You have no idea what a mess you left behind three months ago.”
“Heeelllpp!” I scream. Stantler’s horns catch me, throw me, and I crumple at the base of a Red Apricorn tree.
“You broke Vulpix’s heart.” He glares down at me. “You broke her fragile heart. Do you have any idea what you did?! She never knew her mother, her father vanished, and then you come along! Her heart could’ve healed. But instead you shattered it completely! She wouldn’t eat for three days! Wouldn’t come out of her den for five! Wouldn’t say a single word for over a week! And she still cries! Do you feel any responsibility at all?!”
“Yes...” I whisper. “But I had no idea...”
“Liar!” I’m flung at another tree. “If you cared, you would’ve stayed. You don’t care, you just-“
“Poison Sting!” “Thundershock!” Stantler backs away, startled by the double attack.
“Enough!” Stantler shook off the weak electricity and charges Kristi, but Flaa and Nida stand their ground, and suffer when Stantler’s horns glow and the two of them collapse from the Hypnosis attack. Kristi screams as Stantler looms over her, but he turns after a Focus Blast nails him in the back of his head.
“Your fight’s with me, remember?” I glare at him. I can’t let them suffer for me. Stantler wheels around and charges, but just as he’s about to trample me, something small and cinnamon-colored shoots between us, blasting Stantler with fire. My strength is dwindling, from being thrown around.
“Vulpix? What are you doing?!” Stantler is backing away, covered in burns.
“Don’t hurt him!” She hisses. “Don’t! Hurt! HIM!!” A massive Flamethrower erupts from her mouth, following Stantler as he ran back into the forest. Vul...?
My eyes open. It’s...morning? The sun is just coming over the tree.
“What...?” I groan. The last thing I can remember is Stantler charging me and...Vul. I sit up. In a sleeping bag nearby is Kristi, and everyone else is sprawled out nearby. Except there’s an extra body, and her brown eyes are watching me.
“Hey.” Vul says, not moving.
“Um, hey.” I say back. “What are you doing here?”
“I was worried.” She admits. She was worried about me? After all I put her through?
“Vul...” I begin, unsure of what to say.
“Don’t.” She shakes her head.
“I have to.” I say stubbornly, going over and sitting down next to her. “Vul, I’m sorry. That night, I...didn’t have my priorities straight. I didn’t choose what I really wanted. I know I’ll probably never be able to make it up to you for stopping Stantler. Or for leaving you. But, what I want to know is, will you forgive me?”
“I...” Vul swallows. “I forgive you. But...will you do something for me?”
“Um, sure. Anything.”
“Promise.” She took a deep breath.
“I want to fight you. One-on-one. This morning.”
“Wait. What?” Is all he can say after the shock passes.
“You versus me. Your trainer versus me. This morning. A battle.”
“Vul, I can’t-“
“You promised.” I say stubbornly. He swallows nervously.
“F-fine.” This is my last chance to stop. But I made my choice last night. I’m no turning back.
“One more thing.” I say after gathering my strength. “I want a wager.”
“Am I going to regret this?” Rio asks cautiously.
“If I win, I’ll let K-K-Kristi catch me.” It took all my courage to say that.
“And if I lose?” I can see caution in his eyes. I smile despite my fears.
“I’ll tell you if you lose. Deal?” I hold out my paw.
“Deal.” He says after a long silence, and shook my paw.
“Well, this will be entertaining.” I turn and see Nida, Bay, Flaa, and Fur sitting nearby. They must have woken up while we were talking and we didn’t notice. My face flushes red and so does Rio’s. Nida grins. “I hope Rio wins. It’d be cool to travel with you.”
“Rio?” All of us turn. It’s Kristi. “What’s going on?”
“The Apricorn Tree clearing in one hour.” I turn to go into the forest. I’ve made my choice. I...have to say some goodbyes.
How did I agree to do this? I can’t fight Vul! It’s not that I can’t, it’s I don’t want to! I might permanently hurt her! Even if I do win, I don’t want to make her lose her freedom! She loves her freedom more than anything! I’m standing on one end of the clearing, with Kristi behind me. Bay, Fur, Nida, and Flaa are on the outskirts, ready to cheer for us.
“We can go anywhere in the clearing.” Vul says, outlining the boundaries. “The first Pokémon to faint, leave this area, or surrender loses.”
“Got it.” I mutter without much enthusiasm. Vul comes up to me.
“Fight like you have nothing to lose, please. I want this to be a good fight.”
“But you have nothing to lose but your life.” I argue. “I have everything to lose: Kristi, my friends, my life, but...most importantly, you.”
“You’re sweet.” She licks my cheek. I can hear Flaa whistling from the sideline. “But you don’t know what happens if you lose.”
“Is that a threat?” I yell to her as she walks away. She turns toward me, a mischievous grin on her face.
“Maybe.” I swallow nervously and turn to Kristi. She has had no idea about what’s going on because she can’t understand us. I had to practically drag her here, and all she knows is there’s going to be a fight.
“Ready?” I ask. She doesn’t understand what I’m saying, but she knows it’s time.
“Ready, Rio?” I nod. “Alright, Rio, go!” I charge at Vul, who’s patiently waiting. “Focus Blast!” The ball of energy is hurled at Vul and she dodges using Quick Attack. I forget my fears. ‘Fight like you have nothing to lose.’ I forget most of my feelings for everyone. Vul wanted it this way. Right now, I’m seeing her as an enemy Pokémon I have to beat.
“Nice try! Take this!” She readied a Flamethrower.
“Rio! Pause!” I know what she’s thinking, so I grit my teeth as the flames engulf me.
“Ow-Ow-Ow-Ow! Okay, THAT hurt!” I yell, putting out the small fires around and on me.
“Then why didn’t you dodge?!” She yells back, but I’m ready when Kristi gives me the order.
“Now! Reversal!” Vul’s eyes widen, but there’s nothing she can do. The attack slams into her.
“Tricky!” She laughs. “Watch this!” Her eyes glow bright white, captivating mine, and I don’t pay attention to the beam of light that snaking towards me.
I come to it leaning against a tree with a large bump on my head and quite a bit of burned fur.
“He’s up!” Flaa yells. “That was Confuse Ray! Look away next time!”
“This is their battle!” Nida yells at him. “Stay out of it Flaa!” I look at Kristi, who’s biting her lip.
“Rio! Get up higher! Now!” Up a tree. That would work. I could use Focus Blast. I spring up, grabbing a branch to pull myself up. I keep on climbing until I’m out of range of Vul’s Flamethrower. Then I hurl a Focus Blast at her, which misses. I need to distract her.
“You’re pretty good at fighting!” I yell. “Where’d you learn it from?”
“This isn’t my first versus human battle!” She yells up at me. A Black Apricorn catches my eye. I grab it, aim, and throw it at her. She can’t get out of the way.
“That was unfair!” She yells, trying to get the juice out of her eyes.
“All’s fair in love and war!” I yell back.
“Who’s that in my Apricorn tree?” It’s Ledian, flying toward me. An evil grin spreads over my face and I grab another Black Apricorn, nailing him in the face. I have pretty good aim, if I do say so myself.
“Rio! Spiraling Force Palm!” I brace myself and jump down, spiraling toward Vul. Dead hit.
“Why didn’t you dodge?”
“Shut up!!” Swarms of embers chase me and I run. Vul’s chasing me now. I’m a lot faster than she is, but’s she’s using Quick Attack to gain on me.
“Rio! Trap Feint!” I come to an abrupt stop, turning.
“Gottcha’ Vul.” I grin.
“Who’s got who?” A solid column of fire is coming straight at me. Uh oh...
“I win.” Vul’s voice comes out of the darkness.
“Aww...” I groan. She holds out a Rawst Berry and I silently accept it.
“You okay Rio?” I glance at Kristi, who’s kneeling next to me.
“Now I am.” I turn to Vul. “I lost. What happens?”
“Rio, do you remember what I said would happen if you won?”
“You would let Kristi catch you.” I’m confused. “But that has nothing to do with-“
“What would happen if you lost would be,” Vul cut through me, “is...that I would let Kristi catch me. I-I love you, and I want to be with you...forever. I’ll...follow you anywhere.”
‘Bayleaf, will Rio be okay?’ I glanced at Rio, who was still asleep on the bright blue blanket.
‘Please, call me Bay.’ She smiled warmly. ‘And yes, Rio will fine, once he gets some sleep.’
‘He hasn’t taken a beating like that in a while.’ Fur, a Furret, yawned. ‘Your friend sure is strong.’
‘He’s my leader. And,’ I admitted, ‘he probably hates me now. At least I got there in time, thanks to Nida and Flaa.’
‘Call me Mar.’ Flaa glared at the fire. ‘Or Amp. I can’t wait ‘til I evolve. I hate being called ‘Flaa’. It’s too childish.’
‘Fur deals with it.’ Nida argued.
‘Fur doesn’t care about anything.’ He argued back.
‘Hey...’ The three of them began to argue.
‘So, you’re the one Rio met that night?” Bay asked, a curious gleam in her eyes.
‘Um...I met Rio...at night?” I’m clueless what’s going on. The arguing stopped and knowing glances are shared around the small fire I had lit. ‘What?’
‘After he came back that morning, Rio was different.’ Bay said in a hushed voice. They all turned toward Rio. ‘He rarely smiled. He didn’t laugh. He was always either depressed or sulking. It was like he was...heartbroken.’
I couldn’t say anything. Rio... I thought. My heart had snapped in two when he left. I couldn’t live with myself. But...it had never occurred to me for a moment that Rio had been feeling the same way.
My eyes drifted to the sleeping Rio. I hadn’t seen him for so long, but once I saw him, even though he was on the verge of fainting, it had felt like my heart had resealed. I realized something.
I love Rio. Even more...than my freedom.
Whatever the Vulpix said must’ve been so shocking that Rio had trouble responding to it. When he did recover, he was stuttering. They seemed to argue back and forth, but it was obvious, even to me, that Rio was losing. Finally, he sighed, and said something to Bay, who ran off in the direction of the camp.
“Rio, what’s going on?”
“I did not understand that.” Bay ran back into the clearing, a Pokéball clutched in her mouth. She walked up to Rio, who took it from her and handed it...to me? I glanced at it. The Pokéball was my only empty one. What is going on?
“Stantler. Stan-Stan-tler.” I turned to see a Stantler looking at the Vulpix and Rio. And not just any Stantler. This was the Stantler that had attacked Rio yesterday.
“Stantler?” I turn. I can’t believe my ears, or my eyes, but he’s standing there.
“Vulpix, you don’t have to leave.” He repeats.
“Vul, you don’t have to listen to him.” Rio says, glaring.
“Stantler. I don’t have to go. I WANT to go.” I preparing for a fight. “And you can’t make me stay.”
“It’s her choice.” Bay steps forward.
“I’ll fight you again.” Flaa is glaring also. “You can’t take me down this time.”
“Vulpix, I’ve come to apologize. And to you too, Rio.”
“What?!” We both say. He takes a deep breath.
“Vulpix, you’ve been like a daughter to me these past years. When I saw you broken, I overreacted. Rio, I apologize for attacking you. Vulpix, I’m sorry for acting on your feeling. I should have let you handle your own...emotions. For both of these things, I am truly sorry.”
“Stantler...” I don’t know what to say.
“Vulpix, if you ever want to come back, you can. Rio, the same goes for you. And all of you.”
“Thanks Stantler.” I say shyly. “But...I’ve found who I want to be with. And...I’ve never been outside the forest. Now is a good time to see the world. With him.” I know Rio’s next to me, but I don’t feel any embarrassment by saying those words. “I’ll be under a human, but...that’ll be okay. I...want to be able to forgive. Kristi...didn’t take Mom...or make Dad vanish. I...NEED to be able to let go. So, thank you. For caring for me all these years. Tell everyone “thank you” from me. Some already know, so...just...thank you.”
“You’ve grown so much. And...I respect your choice.” Stantler nodded. “Just be safe.” He begins to leave. “Oh, and Rio,” he turned, “don’t cause her anymore pain. Or I’ll track you down myself. Understand?”
“Yes sir.” Rio squeezes my paw.
“I hope you do. And good luck to both of you.” He kept on going until he was out of sight. “You’ll need it...”
“Rio, what just happened?” Kristi asks. Rio turns, but I continue to stare down the path. Down that path, there was a hill. At the top of that hill, there was a tree stump. Under that tree stump, there was a den. Someone new would live there now. At the top of that stump, you could easily see the stars at night. Someone else would be there eventually. And as time went on, the name “Vulpix” would become a distant memory of the forest, and would eventually be forgotten altogether.
But...I don’t mind. I have a new future ahead of me. And I’m with Rio, so I’m not worried about what the world might throw at me.
“Ready?” I ask. Vul nods and, her paw shaking, touches the Pokéball. It activates, opens, and the red light comes out, washing over Vul. Her eyes turn panicky, but I try to reassure her with my eyes. The light, and Vul, vanishes, and the Pokéball snaps shut. I hold my breath as the ball shakes, even though I know Vul is okay. The light glows once. Vul and I are now together, under Kristi.
“Okay! Come out!” Kristi yells, throwing the ball into the air. It opens and Vul appears, looking slightly shaken. I give her a big hug.
“I hate it in there.” She says when I let go. “I’m only going in there when I have to.” Why do you think I walk? I want to say, but don’t.
“Come here.” Kristi says. She gently pets Vul’s head. “I’m going to give you a nickname, okay? How about...let’s see, you’re a Vulpix, so how about...Vul?”
“NO!” She exclaims, pulling away. “Vulpix! Rio’s the only one who can call me Vul.” I hear Flaa whistling and Nida smacking him. I’m actually surprised she remembers what she said that night.
“Just Vulpix? Or...how about Val? Short for Valerie. No. Valerie. How about that? Do you like that?”
“If I have to have one, I guess so.” She nods. Bay comes up to her.
“Welcome to the team Valerie.”
“Just call me Vulpix, please?”
“Okay. Vulpix, it’s glad to meet you.” Everyone does their formal introductions, then Kristi leads them back to finish tearing down camp.
“To Ecreuteak City then.” I grin. I’m all alone with Vul. She gently licks my cheek. I kiss her.
“Bring it on.” She says, and we go join everyone else.
That was only the beginning of everything. True to her word, Vul rarely went into her Pokéball. And she would always cause mischief for everyone but Rio.
Kristi went on to gain her final five badges and challenge the Pokémon league. She won, becoming that year’s champion. She also became a Relationship Observer, mainly for Pokémon’s relationships with each other and people’s relationships with their Pokémon. And at age thirty-two, she became a Pokémon Professor.
Bay, Nida, Fur, and Flaa would eventually reach Level 100 and their final evolution phases. They would help Kristi with her observations and develop their own relationships.
As for Rio and Vul, they too would reach Level 100 and become a Lucario and Ninetales. Their relationship only grew stronger as they became older. The good luck Stantler had given them never vanished, even though it would seem to be gone. And they needed all the good luck they could get, because they faced numerous challenges in their journey with Kristi and later on in life.
And at age twenty-one, Rio proposed to Vul. Obviously, she accepted, and she and Rio thought they were the luckiest Pokémon ever, to be with each other for the rest of their lives.
All this started with a Riolu wandering into the woods to investigate some sounds he heard.