Chapter 32 - Beyond the Forest
"So, why are you so short, exactly?"
Roxy turned her head and gave Taka a look. "S'cuse me?"
Taka kept his gaze forward, but smirked as he did. "It must be because of what they feed you."
"Hey, I'm not that short!" Roxy replied somewhat indignantly, "I'm only a few inches shorter than the official Pokédex entry!"
Taka chuckled softly and shook his head, and then continued looking at their surroundings carefully.
The two were walking along the old dirt road, having successfully returned to the spot where the Seviper had attacked. The two had woken up in that tree without satchels, without food, and without either of their spears, as Roxy had dropped hers in panic once Taka had gotten poisoned. Literally the only thing they had left was Taka's boomerang. They'd had some more Pecha Berries for breakfast, despite Taka having grown sick of them after eating so many, but now they were truly on their own.
It had been a bit of a frightening journey back to the dirt road for Roxy. At first, she had spent too much time focusing on Taka's injury and watching him to see if it was worse than he said it was. True to his word, he was able to walk and even sprint, meaning they could travel at about the same pace as they had been doing for the entire journey. She did notice him wincing slightly every so often, though. Taka could travel, but she really started to worry about whether or not he would be okay if they got in another fight.
Thankfully, they had reached the dirt road okay. Taka had spied a few Zangoose off in the distance, but it had been easy to get past them undetected. As Roxy expected, the Seviper had been gone once they arrived back at the road's end. Taka had carefully surveyed the area, but found no Seviper hiding anywhere and waiting for round two.
Now, finally, they were following the dirt road and seeing where it took them. Taka and Roxy both continued to remain vigilant; the Seviper had shown them that predators still lurked even near this man-made road. However, it was clear that they were both excited to be on the final leg of their journey through the forest. Roxy could see that even Taka seemed to be in better spirits.
"How's your hip?" she asked, referring to his Seviper bite injury.
"It's fine," Taka replied. She glanced over at him and tried to get a look at the injury, but it was on the side opposite to her. He was walking fine though, as usual. The leaves she had applied were still stuck onto the wound, but Roxy hoped they could find some better bandaging once they reached the city.
Her heart fluttered. The city! They were almost there! Almost at the city! Roxy simply could not wait and her excitement started to bubble over, so she kept herself in check by paying attention to her current surroundings instead of her destination.
The further they went, the more firm and less overgrown the old road was. At no point did it ever look like it had been used any time in the last decade, but it did indicate that the forest was really starting to thin out. They were so close!!
"Not much longer, now…" Taka observed, as if reading her mind.
"I know!" Roxy replied giddily, "Gosh, it feels like I've been in this forest forever and ever!"
"I must admit, it is surprising that you have only been here about six months…It feels like much longer."
"Six months…Six whole months gone…" She frowned a little. "I wonder if they're still looking for me, or…"
"We've spent every single day together since I was born…and now I've been gone for six whole months…" She sighed softly. "It must have torn her apart so much…I wonder if she thought I died…Aw, master…I'm so sorry."
"Don't be silly, there is nothing to be sorry for. From what you have told me, it is clear that none of this was your fault."
"Yeah, I know…" she murmured, "When I see her again, I wanna hug her and never let go until the day I die…I never want to leave her side ever again!" She paused for a moment and then sighed again. "I don't even know what I'm gonna say to her…!"
"'Say'?" Taka piped up, giving her an odd look, "What do you mean? The humans do not speak our language…"
Roxy turned and looked at him as well, and after a moment a smile managed to return to her. "My master and I can understand each other," she said in a fond tone.
"Is that so…?"
She then glanced ahead once more. The trees were still too dense for her to be able to see any of the city beyond them, but she knew that would change in a very short time. "Right now, though," she commented, "What I'm most curious about is just where the hell I am! I know there's not a forest this big anywhere close to Vermillion City, so I could be anywhere…I wonder if I somehow ended up in Johto or something…"
"If I remember correctly," Taka interjected, "I believe there is a sign just outside the entrance. Perhaps that will tell you what you need to know?"
"Yeah…" The two lapsed into silence for quite a few minutes. All the while, they simply continued to run at a brisk pace along the road. It truly must have been an old, abandoned logging road because Roxy didn't see any old signs, markings or any sign of humanity besides the road itself. She took a moment to glance around, making sure that she couldn't hear or see anything that might have been watching them. "I just can't wait to get out of here…" she mused, "I'm so tired of fearing for my life…"
"Well!" Taka spoke up next to her, "I do not think you will have to spend much more time here!"
"Huh…?" she replied, turning her head to look ahead of her. What she saw managed to stop her in place completely, leaving her wide-eyed and jaw hanging in disbelief. She brought her forelimb up to rub her eyes and make sure she wasn't just seeing things, but it was still there afterwards.
Ahead of them, just around a small bend in the road, there was an old metal gate. Beyond it was something Roxy hadn't seen for six months; no trees.
"Is…Is that…?" she whispered in disbelief.
"That it is, Roxy," Taka replied as he stepped into her field of vision, "The edge of the forest."
It was right there. It was right there! It would take her little more than a minute or two to reach it. She couldn't believe it. It had to be some weird forest-mirage. Could it really be that her home, her own world, was just beyond that old gate?
"…Well?" Taka asked, giving her a raised eyebrow, "What are you waiting for?"
That was enough for Roxy to start running. She didn't say anything, and she didn't even smile yet. She didn't dare to smile until she saw it with her own eyes. As she started to run ahead, the gate got closer to her. Even this simple, basic fact of physics was enough to get her heart racing. With every second, she started to run even faster towards the bright shining light that was streaming in from behind the gate.
"Roxy! Hold on!" Taka called from behind her, "Remain vigilant!"
She heard his words, but they didn't register. There was only one single thing on her mind right now. She could have passed the world's largest Leppa Berry and wouldn't have even slowed down. The only thing Roxy knew was that she had to keep running, because it was the only way to reach that gate.
The sun was bright that day, and so Roxy wasn't able to see very much until she reached the gate itself. She quickly leapt up on top of it, took a quick moment to catch her breath, and then looked out at what was before her.
Her heart nearly stopped right there. Tears immediately welled up in her eyes at what she saw. Spread out before her in a beautiful, brilliant vista was a large city. A human city, with houses and buildings and a few skyscrapers as well. It sat at the bottom of the fairly large hill she currently found herself at the top of, connected to where she sat by an old paved road that curved down the hill. Even from there, Roxy could see cars and busses driving along the city's streets, an airplane flying high above the city, and many types of boats arriving at the large port that bordered the sea. To the left of the city, the sparkling blue waters of the ocean spread out as far as she could see.
The glass windows of the tall buildings sparkled in the late morning sun. There were only a few clouds in the sky, allowing the sun to light up the city in a beautiful display of shapes and colours. The ocean danced and sparkled as if it were part of a professional photograph, reflecting the deep blue of the sky. Ultimately, as a city, it was nothing particularly special.
To Roxy, though, it was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.
The gate wavered slightly as Taka hopped up next to her. He let out a sigh of satisfaction. "At last…" he spoke softly, "We made it."
Roxy couldn't speak. It almost felt like she couldn't breathe. It had been so long since she had seen any of this, and she had never been certain that she would ever get to see any of it again. The massive, seemingly endless forest had finally ended. It was now behind her, in a place where Roxy never had to look back again. A place where Roxy had never truly managed to fit in, and she had finally made it out.
She had made it back to her world.
"Yes, this is the same city I…we made it to last time," Taka commented, "Whatever my opinion of humans may be, I will never be able to deny that the view from up here is spectacular. Would you not agree?"
When Roxy didn't answer, he looked over at her with a raised eyebrow. "Roxy?"
Then, she screamed. She clenched her paws into fists, raised her head to the heavens, and let all of her joy explode outwards at once. She squee'd like a little cub but she didn't care. It was a miracle that she managed to stay balanced on the gate. She had never felt this happy before in her whole life, and it was nearly overwhelming.
"Good heavens, Roxy. Remember to breathe…"
Roxy took a deep breath, but then went right back to screaming. "I made it!!" she shouted, "We made it!! Taka, we made it!!! I'm free!!"
"Yes…Yes, we did…"
Taka yelped in protest when Roxy suddenly darted over and wrapped him up in a tight hug. Before he could say anything, though, Roxy cut him off by planting a big kiss right on his lips. He let out a muffled sound of surprise and gave her a completely bewildered look with his eyes.
"Yayy!! Wahoo!!" she cheered afterwards, shaking Taka vigorously as she did, "I thought I'd never get out of there!! Oh my gosh, I'm so happy!! Taka, I'm so happy!!"
"I, uh…" Taka murmured.
Roxy squealed in joy once more and released Taka from the death grip that had been disguised as a hug. She couldn't wait any longer, and promptly hopped off of the gate onto the paved road below. A strange jolt ran through her from the familiar feel under her paws that she hadn't felt in six months. It didn't feel real, almost as if she'd forgotten what walking on roads felt like. She got down on all fours and reveled in the feeling for a moment, and then quickly dashed off towards the city.
Roxy's brain was positively overflowing with happiness. She couldn't tell if she was crying tears of joy again, but knew that she probably was. Her heart hammered against her ribcage, overstimulated with excitement and immense relief. She was truly out of the forest now. Her paws were on human ground now and she never had to leave it again. The dangers of the wilderness were gone. The nightmare was finally over!!
She ran as fast as she could down the old, paved road, her sights set only on the fairly large city before her. In her mind, she couldn't get to it fast enough. It wasn't Vermillion City, but it was the closest she had ever been to home by far. There were no cars on the road, as it looked like the road was very seldom used since the gate from before didn't look like it opened, allowing her to simply run free.
After a couple yards, she passed by a rather large sign next to the road that was facing away from the forest. A small part of her brain that had remained rational spoke up loudly enough to get her to stop and read it, so she skidded to a halt and hopped over to investigate it.
Taka was not far behind her, and she heard him scurry up beside her. "Roxy!!" he called as he approached her, "Roxy, wait!" When he came to a stop beside her, she saw him give her a somewhat incensed look out of the corner of her eye. "What was that?!" he demanded, "I know you're excited, but what in the world has gotten into you?"
Once again, Roxy didn't respond. She didn't even move. She just sat there, looking up at the sign.
When he didn't get a response this time, Taka followed her gaze and looked up at the sign as well. "What?" he asked, "What does it say?"
Roxy had probably re-read the sign at least 50 times already, but she still couldn't believe what it said. She could only sit there with a baffled look on her face, her jaw hanging open once more, while her brain completely short-circuited.
The sign above them read "ASPERTIA CITY PRIVATE POKÉMON RESERVE. NO ENTRY"
Taka was looking at her once more. "What??" he half-shouted.
"I…" she murmured, and then shook her head.
"What is it? What's wrong with you?"
"I'm in Unova?!" she spat out in disbelief, "How the hell did I get to Unova?!?!"
Roxy practically bounced on springs as she made her way down the winding road to the city proper, Taka following behind her the whole way. It had initially been quite shocking to discover that she had somehow ended up on an entirely different continent, and her head had spun for a couple of minutes. Then, though, the excitement of exiting the forest overtook her once again and she became a happy bouncing ball of energy.
She kept her eyes on the city the entire way down. She had worked so long to get there that she didn't want to let it out of her sight. All Roxy knew about Aspertia City came from encyclopaedias, as she had never been there and didn't know anyone who had ever been there. She knew that there was a Pokémon Gym here as well as a Trainer's School, and that Castelia City was only a boat ride away.
As she neared the bottom of the hill, she saw where the long road intersected with another one, and then continued forward into the city. A fair distance beyond the intersection, the road started to be dotted by houses. As she approached the intersection itself, she spotted three cars passing by on the perpendicular road. It was only once she was a few metres away from one of the crosswalks that she finally slowed down, and then she quickly slipped into the nearby bushes.
Taka followed her in. Seeing that she had finally stopped moving, he spoke up. "All right, Roxy," he said, "Now, are you going to-?"
"Okay, first things first," Roxy said, cutting him off, "We're out of the woods…Heh, literally…but we still have to be careful." She faced Taka and put on a determined expression, though her smile still tried to break through at times. "I know that last time you were here you managed to avoid getting captured, but I'd rather not take any chances."
Taka didn't answer. He simply blinked once.
"We have to get into the city itself, so I'll rely on you and your sneaking skills to lead us there. Once we're past the residential areas, then our first mission will be to get you a collar."
It looked as if Taka had just been slapped across the face. "I beg your pardon?!" he shouted indignantly, "What kind of nonsense are you talking about? Absolutely not! What would make you think I would want to wear human branding??"
"Because," Roxy replied calmly, "You're a wild Pokémon. If Pokémon Trainers see you, then they're going to try to capture you. I know you're good in battle, but as we just saw yesterday you're not perfect. And Poké Balls are getting more powerful every day. They won't even have to knock you out to successfully capture you, and then that'll be it!"
Roxy could see Taka's fur bristle. "Remind me again why you want to go back to these creatures…?" he asked in a dark tone.
"But here's the thing," Roxy continued, and then lifted up her own collar with her paw to emphasize her point. "Once you're caught, you can't be caught again. You're registered with the Poké Ball, whether you're a trained Pokémon or a pet. Even if I walk out there all alone in the middle of a group of excitable Pokémon Trainers, none of them are going to try to fight or capture me." She tapped the tag with her name on it. "They see this collar and they know that I'm somebody's pet, so they'd just be wasting their time. In fact, some cities even have laws against fighting already-owned Pokémon unless it's a Trainer battle."
Taka still looked quite incensed, but Roxy could see recognition filling his gaze. "So, you're saying…"
Roxy gave him a wink and a grin. "If you wear a collar, they'll think you're a pet too and no-one's gonna try to capture you!"
The glower on Taka's face could have turned the brightest summer day into a dreary rainstorm. "I think I will take my chances…" he said flatly.
"Hey!" Roxy said in a serious tone, holding up her forepaw for emphasis, "I spent the last six months listening to your every word and following all of your instructions. I did that because the forest was your home. It was your world; the place you were intimately familiar with. No matter what, I trusted what you said because I knew that if I didn't, then I might end up dead."
She then gave him another grin. "But we're in my world now, Taka. It's your turn to listen to me."
For a while Taka just stared at her, blinking intermittently. "Huh…" he remarked after a fair bit of silence, "I must admit…It is surprising to see you so…" He paused as he searched for the right word. "…assertive."
Roxy chuckled. "Heh, really? Is that what I sound like? I don't really feel assertive. There's still a hundred things than can go wrong before I actually get home and I'm still nervous… It's just that there's less 'unknown' out here for me."
Taka crossed his forelimbs. "I'm not wearing a collar."
"You're wearing a collar," Roxy retorted, waving her paw dismissively, "It's not going to hurt you."
"Tell that to my pride."
"Oh come on, Taka, no-one knows you out here, and it's not gonna change how much of a butt-kicking warrior I think you are."
Taka still didn't look convinced, but Roxy just gave him her best confident look. He turned his head a moment later and looked through the branches towards the city in the distance. Then, after a minute or so, turned back to look at her once more.
"Trust me, Taka," she said, "Can you do that?"
He took in a deep breath and let it out as a slow sigh. Then, finally, he put his forelimbs on his hips and said, "Fine…"
Roxy beamed. "Great! Don't worry, Taka. This is something I've seen other wild Pokémon do. This is the best way to keep you safe from Pokémon Trainers. I'm already owned so Poké Balls wouldn't work on me anyway, but this'll be a big help for you."
Taka's expression then became quizzical. "Are you certain about that?"
She tilted her head. "What d'you mean? I'm an 'owned' Pokémon since birth. I'm registered with my Poké Ball, so other Poké Balls detect that and they don't work."
"But I thought you said your Poké Ball was destroyed."
Roxy opened her mouth to reply, but then shut it as she realized she didn't have an answer. "…Oh," she said after a moment, a concerned look slowly developing on her face.
"If your Poké Ball is gone, are you still…'owned'?"
"That's…a good question. I actually have no idea…" A little hint of fear started to creep over her. Poké Balls were tied to the Pokémon they housed, forming a registration that prevents other Poké Balls from functioning on them. If her Poké Ball was broken, did that mean she was technically a wild Pokémon now, as if she had been Released? Or was her registration saved in cloud storage somewhere or something? She honestly didn't know, but the thought that she might be able to be captured by someone else was a terrifying notion.
"W-well…" she spoke, "It's a good thing I still have my collar, then…"
The two of them then moved to the edge of the bush and looked at the road intersection once more. There was a single car stopped at the stop sign, and Roxy could see a middle-aged human woman sitting in the driver's seat. She briefly felt a rush of excitement simply upon seeing her. Roxy hadn't seen a human being in the last six months.
"Okay," Roxy said, "We gotta get down that street and keep going until we're in the city, and then find a pet store." She turned to regard Taka and said, "Can you do that?"
Taka paused for a moment, but then smirked at her.
She nodded. "Right… Just pretend the humans are predators."
They waited for the coast to be clear, and then Taka quickly took off with Roxy in pursuit. They crossed the street and started their journey down the residential road. Taka led her from bush to bush, tree to tree, always keeping the two of them out of sight from curious eyes.
It was hard for Roxy to focus as she watched her surroundings passing by. It was a real live human neighbourhood on the edge of a human city. All of the little things that she had once taken for granted felt amazing to see once more. The manicured lawns, the little decorations on front porches, the bright flashing televisions that she could see through some open windows. Her heart swelled with every step forward. Every minute, every second, that she was out of that forest was an amazing experience.
At one point, they passed by a human washing his car with a garden hose, and Roxy spent a moment just watching the sudsy water as it ran down the curb and poured into a roadside drain. Ridiculous as the notion was, it was the one of the most wonderful things she had ever laid eyes on.
They passed about five blocks without being seen, and Roxy once again found herself thankful for Taka's amazing skills. Even when it seemed like there was no hiding place on a particular house's front lawn, Taka would somehow find one. Roxy knew it wouldn't be the worst thing if someone saw them. She had her collar on, and not a lot of actual Pokémon Trainers spent their time in homely neighbourhoods like this. Still, though, there were Pokémon-Control officers whose job it was to keep wild Pokémon from causing a nuisance, and she didn't want to risk them catching sight of Taka.
After quickly darting across a street that had been much busier than previous ones, the two found themselves in a tiny little green area at the corner of an intersection. It was only a few metres squared, but it featured two benches, a small decorative statue with a dedication plaque on it, and a thin but tall tree. Taka pointed at the tree and then swiftly leapt up into its branches. Roxy followed suit.
When the two of them were sitting on a high branch, it gave them a better view of what was ahead. Roxy saw that they were leaving the residential area behind, and before them was a few blocks dedicated to small businesses. Roxy saw a few familiar fast food chains, which only brought on another wave of warm nostalgia. She could see plenty of humans ambling about, but also no shortage of Pokémon. There were plenty of people with Pokémon such as Eevee, Emolga or Pidove sitting on their shoulders, and others were walking with Lillipup and Herdier. From the looks of their owners alone, Roxy knew that many of them were Trainers.
Feeling curious, Roxy glanced over her shoulder at the way they had come. She saw the long winding road that led up the hill, but at the top of it she could only see a few trees before the topography of the land prevented her from seeing any further. That massive forest that had taken her so long to get out of, and now she could barely even see it anymore.
She couldn't help but let out another happy sigh.
"Okay, watch my back. I'm goin' in!"
Taka nodded and then ducked behind the small fence, where he could get a covert lookout of the street and sidewalk. After a short search, the pair had found a store that sold Pokémon supplies. It looked like it was run by a 'mom and pop', as it were, and seemed to be geared more towards Pokémon pets. Fortunately, this meant that they sold collars, and a display rack full of collars was sitting just outside of the front door, presumably as a way to attract window shoppers.
Roxy's plan was to dart over, grab a collar as quickly as she could, and then return to hiding before anyone noticed her. She did feel guilty about the fact that she was going to steal something, and promised herself repeatedly that she would apologize to her master for this behaviour, but Roxy felt like she had to do it. It was just one collar, after all. It's not like she was robbing a bank.
She eyed the display stand as she sat hidden in the shadows beneath the fence. It wasn't a particularly busy street, and most of the traffic was in cars as opposed to pedestrians. Anyone driving by wouldn't see her long enough to really see what she was doing, so Roxy reasoned she just had to wait for this young couple to pass her by and she could make her move. Roxy had certainly been in this position before, hiding from predators. It felt really odd to be doing it because of humans.
The pair of humans passed her, too engrossed in their own conversation to notice her, and in the blink of an eye she was gone. She zipped over to the stand and grabbed the collar that was closest to her. She yanked on it but it didn't budge, and she was momentarily afraid that it was tied down or attached somehow. After giving it a stronger pull, though, it popped loose revealing that the buckle had merely gotten caught. This, unfortunately, caused a loud rattling noise as the collar was pulled loose from the stand. Roxy didn't even think and simply darted back to where Taka was hiding before anyone could see her.
Once she was behind the fence, she pressed herself up against it and held a paw to her chest as she heaved. A huge rush of endorphins filled her from head to tail. That had been really nerve-wracking, but it also filled her with an odd sense of excitement, which only grew once she realized that she had pulled it off without a hitch.
When Roxy could breathe again, she gave Taka a look and laughed softly. "Whoa! Whew…That went well!"
Taka didn't answer. He was busy eyeing the prize Roxy had just absconded with. She lifted it up with her paw and gave it a look as well. It was a garishly bright shade of purple, like the skin of a Nidorino if it were infused with radiation. It attached with a simple buckle, like one might find on a backpack, instead of the nice-looking metal hooks that hers attached with. While hers was made of imitation leather, this one looked to be made out of polyester or nylon or something.
"Light the pyre for my dignity…" Taka grumbled.
"Oh come on. It'll look great on you! Here, you want me to help you put it on?"
"I changed my mind. I will take my chances."
"Ah, shaddup and c'mere."
After struggling with Taka like he was a disobedient cub, including lots of fiddling, griping, pulling and complaining, she eventually managed to get the collar around his neck. She grinned once the deed was done and took a step back to admire her handiwork.
Taka stood there, a scowl on his face, using one of his forepaws to fiddle with the loop of fabric. It was a very odd look, to be sure. The human-made collar completely clashed with the tribal markings he wore and the boomerang still strapped to his back. Roxy belatedly realized that her collar probably clashed with her own markings as well.
"Well? How's it feel?" she asked him.
"Like an Ekans is trying to choke me."
"Oh don't be dramatic, I didn't make it that tight."
Taka let out a frustrated sigh and shook his head in resignation. "All right," he spoke slowly, "Now that that is out of the way, what do you plan to do?"
Roxy stood there for a moment and gave it some thought. Taka looked at her expectantly with a cocked eyebrow. Slowly, her expression changed into a warm smile, and then she held out her paw towards him. Taka eyed it in confusion.
"Let me show you my world," she said.
For a while, Taka just stood there and blinked. He seemed confused by her proposition, even perplexed. He then turned his head and glanced out at what he could see beyond the fence. All that was visible was the sidewalk, the road, and the storefront on the other side, but when he turned back to her his expression had softened a little.
Then, he reached out his own paw towards hers and let her grasp it. "Sure…"
Roxy grinned and nodded somewhat excitedly. Then, she dropped down on all fours, told him to follow her, and darted out onto the sidewalk. Only her ears told her that Taka was following.
It was a wonderfully liberating moment. Roxy had spent so much of her time in the past months hiding and sneaking everywhere. Now that Taka had a collar, the two of them could waltz out into broad daylight and not care who saw them. For the first time in what felt like forever, she was in a place where she didn't feel like she had to be afraid.
So she ran. She ran like the wind with a smile on her face two miles wide. She dashed along the sidewalks while dodging between humans' legs, darted across the crosswalks, and ran along the many paths of the city. It was a place she had never been to before, but it still felt like home. It felt like she knew every inch of this city, in some strange mystical way.
It felt good. It felt so amazing.
Roxy was finally free.
"…and that, over there, that's the Pokémon Center."
"I saw that large building when I was here, but I could never figure out its purpose."
Roxy giggled and nodded. "There's one in almost every city in the whole world. The Pokémon Center is like a hospital for Pokémon!"
Taka gave her a look that said she hadn't done a very good job explaining.
"It's a place for injured and sick Pokémon to get better. They have vets and nurses there to treat Pokémon, cure their wounds, or even perform life-saving surgery. And, for smaller injuries, they've even invented this machine that interacts with Poké Balls and heals Pokémon while they're inside!"
"Truly? So…like what Miri does?"
"Yeah, except it's a machine that does all the small stuff."
Roxy and Taka had spent the whole day exploring the city, with Roxy talking almost nonstop. Taka had seen most of this before, but Roxy now had an opportunity to explain to him what most of it was. She had told him what traffic lights were and what they meant. They had visited the Pokémon Gym and she had explained the rules of challenging the leader. They had passed by the PokéMart and Roxy had spent almost an hour just talking about products and consumables that humans made. It had taken her more than 10 minutes just to describe all the different kinds of Poké Balls! They had even spent some time in a city park, where they watched humans going about their daily lives and Roxy told Taka about just what went on in a human's daily life.
Every time she saw another human, which was almost every second, it brought a smile to her face. These were her 'people', so to speak, and she had missed them so much. A few friendly humans had passed by them in the park and had given her a friendly pat on the head. Taka, of course, had bristled at their mere approach.
Furthermore, her plan was working. Everyone who saw them barely gave them a second glance because of the collars they wore. Well, they did give them a second look because of their markings and Taka's weapon, but that was all. Even some young punk-looking Pokémon Trainers who specifically looked like they were on the hunt for new Pokémon passed them by without any hesitation.
The highlight of the day, though, had been when they passed by a concession stand selling Poké Puffs. The lovely woman running the stand had immediately gushed at how cute the two of them looked, and had even picked up Roxy to give her a quick hug. Then, to Roxy's disbelief, she gave the both of them a free Poké Puff. The moment Roxy had taken her first bite into the delectable pastry, it was like she was tasting it for the first time. After months and months of berries and not much else, it was one of the best things she had ever eaten. Her taste buds had practically burst with joy.
Taka had disliked it, but Roxy had expected that.
The two were presently standing on the roof of a two-storey building, looking over at the somewhat imposing structure of the Pokémon Center. Roxy was trying to explain the intricacies of what went on inside of it, but Taka looked like all of her words were going in one ear and right out the other.
Instead, she turned her head to the side, looking for something else to show off. "Ah!" she said once she had found it, "Look over there, Taka! That's the Pokémon Trainers' School."
Taka turned his head to look at where she was pointing.
"That's where young humans who just have just started out as Pokémon Trainers go to learn the ropes! From what I hear, they're supposed to be really fun! I dunno, though, I've only ever seen them on TV."
She turned to regard Taka, but he didn't answer. There was a muted expression on his face as he gazed out into the distance.
"Taka?" she spoke up, but still he didn't respond. It took her a moment to realize that he wasn't actually looking in the direction of the school, but off to the east somewhere.
"That's it…" he said in a low voice.
"Huh? What's it?" she asked, trying to follow the direction of his gaze.
Taka helped her out by holding up a paw and pointing. "That building," he spoke, "The large white and grey one with only a few windows."
Roxy scanned the city streets for a moment before she saw what he was indicating. "Oh! That warehouse over there?" It was a fairly large, nondescript building off towards the edge of the city. It was surrounded by others that looked somewhat similar, indicating that it was simply a warehouse for some industrial business.
"What about it?"
Taka turned to her and gave her a hard look. "That is where they killed Izuki."
Roxy felt her blood run cold. "Wh…What…?"
Turning his gaze back in the direction of the warehouse, Taka didn't say anything else. Roxy remembered the story Taka had told about the gang who had killed his mate. It had been a horrifying, chilling story, but now Roxy was being reminded that it took place in this very city. Now, Taka was saying the building where it all happened was right over there, only a few short blocks away?
She was then startled by Taka suddenly darting to the edge of the roof and hopping down to an awning below. "Taka!" she shouted, but he was already gone.
Roxy had no other option but to give chase, and so she quickly hopped off of the roof as well. She was just barely able to catch a glimpse of Taka's tail disappearing around the corner of a building. Luckily, Roxy had a pretty good idea of where he was headed so she simply made her way there as quickly as she could.
Soon enough, Roxy rounded the corner and saw the warehouse standing tall on the next city block. It sat at the top of a small hill, but was otherwise remarkably plain. The only other thing Roxy noticed now that she was closer, was that the building was very old and was starting to fall into disrepair.
Taka was running right up to the building at a determined pace. A jolt of fear ran up Roxy's spine as she quickly followed after him, afraid of what he might do. Rather, she was afraid of who or what might still be inside of the building.
Thankfully, Taka still seemed to have a clear head even in this agitated state, as he ran towards a window instead of the front doors. He quickly clambered up onto the windowsill and looked through the glass at what lied within.
A few seconds later, Roxy joined him on the windowsill. She was panting heavily as she turned to him and said, "What're you doing…?" When Taka didn't answer, she turned and looked inside of the building as well.
The interior of the warehouse was dim and unlit, with only the light of the sun enabling her to see anything at all. There wasn't much inside besides a wide open cement floor that was almost totally barren. There seemed to be a few odd pieces of furniture like tables and chairs, but they were all strewn haphazardly against the walls, covered in dust and in a state of decay. There were a few small piles of rubble in places, as if a wall or two had been torn down.
All in all, it looked like the warehouse hadn't been visited by a single soul in a long time.
Roxy slowly turned her gaze towards Taka, and she was stunned by what she saw. Taka was leaning against the glass with his forepaws, resting his forehead against the thick panes. There was a strange, unsettling look in his eyes. They somehow looked both shaken and empty at the same time. He looked emotionally beaten down, something Roxy had never seen him look like ever before. She wasn't sure, but she swore that she could see a few small tears gathering at the corner of his eye.
"…Taka?" she spoke in a soft, comforting voice, "Are you sure this…is the right building?"
She wasn't sure if he was going to reply, but he did lift his head slightly and nod softly.
Roxy frowned and glanced away. She couldn't imagine what was going through her friend's mind. She herself had gone through the death of a loved one, but it hadn't been nearly as traumatic as what had happened in this very building. Taka's entire personality had been changed by events that took place here.
As she continued to glance around, she saw that the grounds near the warehouse were unkempt and overgrown. There were thorny bushes everywhere and the pavement was all cracked. The main entrance, just off to their right, looked almost like it was completely rusted shut. There was some old, tattered yellow tape with human writing on it hanging from the doors and outer walls.
She turned to look at Taka once more, only to find that he was now hanging his head in defeat. She didn't know what he hoped to accomplish by returning to this building, but it was clear that it was impossible at this point.
"Taka…?" she spoke softly, "Taka, are you all right?"
He didn't reply.
Roxy fidgeted with her paws for a moment, and then spoke up once more. "Taka… There's one more thing I want to show you."
Taka slowly rotated his head so that he could look at her with one eye, and the glower that he gave her said that he was in no mood for any more sightseeing.
"Please?" she asked him imploringly.
At first, Taka turned back to look inside the window once more and didn't answer. After a few full minutes of silence, he heaved a deep sigh and stood back up straight. He then turned to regard her, his expression stony, and jerked his head to the side as if to say, 'Fine. Show me.'
Roxy nodded and hopped off the windowsill. "It's this way…"
It didn't take long for the two of them to reach the spot where Roxy wanted to go. She led Taka up onto the roof of an adjoining building, which gave them a good view of the somewhat large structure before them.
Roxy glanced over at Taka to make sure he was present and listening, and then gestured towards the building with her paw. "Taka…This is a police station."
He regarded her for a moment but didn't reply.
"This is where human policemen and women work. The human world lives by a set of laws, or rules that everybody must follow. It's a structured set of rules set up by the leaders of the human world so that everybody can live a peaceful and happy life. Like any society, though, there are those who will break the rules."
Roxy pointed down towards a window on the front of the building, where a pair of humans in blue uniforms could be seen inside. "The police force exists to uphold these rules and punish those who break them. These are humans who dedicate everything to making sure that everyone lives fairly and follows the rules…even if it costs them their own life. When someone breaks the rules, they're called a 'criminal', and the police do everything they can to stop them."
She then directed his attention to a larger but shorter building situated behind the police station. "Back there, Taka…That's a prison. I know you can't see much from the outside, but the prison is where humans who break the rules are kept. When the police capture criminals, they lock them in sealed rooms inside of the prison, so that they won't be able to break the rules again. If the criminals are dangerous or violent, and especially if they've taken the innocent life of someone else, then they go to a bigger prison with harsher punishment and more humans watching them to make sure they learn their lesson."
Roxy turned to look at Taka, and he in turn looked at her as well. He seemed interested in what she was saying, but his expression also showed that he was wondering where she was going with all of this.
"Taka, I saw police tape on that warehouse. It was old, so that meant it was put up a long while ago." At his raised eyebrow, she elaborated. "When police find criminals, or a place where criminals have been, they put that tape up so regular people stay away while they do their police work, and to keep everyone safe.
"So…Taka, I think that the gang that was using that building to do…whatever…They were probably caught, Taka. The police probably found them and shut down that horrible experiment they were doing, and they were all thrown in jail."
She gave him a reassuring smile. She wasn't telling the entire truth to him, as she didn't know if the police raided the building while they were using it, or found the base of operations after the gang had already left it behind. It didn't matter at the moment, though, because she just wanted to cheer Taka up.
Taka glanced over his shoulder at the prison.
"If I remember correctly," Roxy added, "'Cruelty to Pokémon' is a five-year sentence, and whoever was in charge of the whole thing probably spent even more time in prison."
Taka turned so he was fully facing away from her, and he stood there in silence for a few minutes. He simply stared in the general direction of the police station and the prison.
Finally, she heard him heave another big sigh. "It matters not…" he said in a low tone, though he didn't sound particularly upset.
"No matter what I do, no matter what happens to those humans, it is not going to bring him back…"
Roxy hesitated for a moment, but then said, "That's true…"
"I could have hunted through the whole forest, dedicating my entire life to finding the predator that took my brother away from me…but that would not have brought him back either."
Upon hearing the mention of Makari, Roxy bit her lip and frowned.
Then, Taka finally turned back around and faced her once more. He was not smiling, but he didn't look troubled anymore. His expression had returned to his classic 'neutral' state. "Thank you for showing me this," he said to her.
"You're welcome, Taka…" She glanced off to the side and sighed softly. "I was so excited to finally get back to the human world, that…Well, I forgot what happened to you in this city. I'm sorry for that…"
Taka shook his head. "I knew we would be returning to this city. In fact, I was leading you here. It is not your fault."
"I'm just happy to see that it's not still happening in there, y'know?"
"Absolutely. No Pokémon deserves to go through that…"
Roxy nodded, and then the two spent a moment in silence. Roxy couldn't deny that her mood had been soured. She hadn't even met Izuki, but it was still a thorn in her heart when she thought about what had happened to him. Roxy had never considered it before, but she and her human family were very lucky to have never been the target of any gang attacks.
"Well," Taka spoke up, "Speaking of you returning to the human world…"
Roxy turned to look at him once more. He still wasn't smiling, but had put on a determined look.
"What is your plan now?" he asked, "I know this is not the city where you live, so how do you plan to get back home?"
She gazed at him for a moment, still concerned about his mental state, but smiled softly when it looked like he had gotten things back under control. "Ah, well…" she said, "There's a couple of options."
Taka nodded. "Okay?"
"First things first, though," she said, and gazed off at a particular building in the distance, "I wanna get a map."
It had been a big relief to find out that the Aspertia City Public Library allowed Pokémon inside, so long as they were with a trainer. By casually walking inside with their collars on, they had been able to fool the attendants into thinking that their 'owners' were inside already.
Roxy smiled at Taka's wide-eyed look, and she reasoned that he had probably never been inside of a human building before, except for that particular one.
"This is the library," she whispered to him. She was amused to see his ears twitch, after which he gave her a quick and serious look. Taka had been conditioned for most of his life to associate whispering with the need to hide from something dangerous. "It's rude to talk loudly inside of one," she clarified for him.
"Oh…" he replied, and Roxy was thankful that he was whispering as well.
"The library has tons and tons of books inside of it, and humans are allowed to borrow them for free as long as they bring them back." Roxy paused. "Do you know what a book is?"
"I think so…" he answered, "They hold…stories, right?"
"For the most part, yes, but some of them hold information about the world around us instead. That's what I'm looking for today."
Roxy led him down the aisles of bookshelves, looking up at the signs to see where the atlases would be stored. Taka stayed close behind her, and the two moved at a slow, respectful pace. They were both still getting some odd looks because of their body paint, but no-one was bothering them.
"Ah! Over here."
She had spotted the 'geography' section of the library and happily made her way over. After scanning the shelves for a short time, she found a world atlas and had Taka help her pull it off of the shelf since it was very thick. She then opened it and flipped forward a few pages, and was greeted by a full map of the world spread out over two pages.
"What is this…?" Taka whispered.
Roxy flashed him a grin. "This is the whole world," she said, "Our entire planet."
Taka didn't reply to that, but she was sure she'd caught a moment of pure awe in his expression.
"Now, let's see…" she said, finding Unova on the map and locating Aspertia City. "Okay! This is where we are right now," she said, pointing at the little dot that represented the city.
"Now, this…" she continued, moving her paw down to a large solid green shape located to the south of the city, "This green here? This is the forest we just came from. This is…Well, your home, I guess."
"Is that so?" he said, a touch of interest seeping into his tone.
"Aaaaand…" she said, drawing out the word until she found what she was looking for. "Ah! This, right here…This is my home." She lifted her paw and brought it all the way over to Kanto, and pointed at Vermillion City.
Out of the corner of her eye, Roxy saw Taka's own eyes nearly bulge out of his head. Taka's home forest was just a green blob on the rather large landmass that made up Unova, and Vermillion was on another landmass separated by a huge empty ocean. It was thousands of times further than they had traveled to get to Aspertia from the Thunder Clan.
"Ah…" he murmured, having started to say something but then ended up trailing off.
Roxy giggled softly. "That's a lot farther than you've ever gone in your entire life, huh?"
He then turned and gave her a perplexed look. "So…How in the world are you going to get there?" he asked, "It took us weeks just to get out of the forest. You will be a few years from death by the time you get there…"
Roxy stood up from the book, crossed her forelimbs, and gave Taka a rather condescending look. "Taka…" she gently berated, "Now how do you think I got here in the first place?"
Taka opened his mouth to reply, but then closed it and furrowed his brow in thought. "Point."
"Humans have tons of ways to travel long distances. I dunno which one brought me here, but I gotta take one to get back."
Before Taka could say anything else, she darted off and turned around the corner into another aisle. After a couple minutes of searching, she returned to Taka and the opened atlas with a new book in her paws. This one was called 'Pocket Guide to Transportation'. She had mostly grabbed it as a visual aid for Taka.
"Now," she said as she opened the book and flipped through a few of the pages, "Basically I gotta pretend I'm a human tourist who wants to visit Vermillion."
"Nothing." She stopped on a page depicting a large commercial airplane. "This is what my Poké Ball was on before…whatever happened to me and I woke up in the forest. It's a big thing that flies through the air and carries people really far in a really short time."
Taka was studying the image with a perplexed look.
"Taking one back would be the obvious choice, but…Well, airport security has gotten stupid strict in the last few years. If I successfully snuck on board one of those, I'd probably end up on the news, so I probably shouldn't."
She flipped forward a few more pages. Taka looked like he hadn't gotten a single word of what she'd said.
"There's a train. That would work, if it wasn't for the ocean. See the tracks? It only runs on land."
Once again, she started flipping through more pages.
"Roxy…" Taka interjected, "I…admit to not knowing how things work around here, but have you considered…asking for help?"
Roxy stopped and turned to look at him. "You're suggesting I ask humans for help? But you don't trust humans!"
"I know, but you do. Could you ask a…flying-machine-driver to take you back home? Or what about that Pokémon Center thing? I thought you said it's where Pokémon go when they need help?"
Roxy sighed and replied, "I've thought about it Taka. On paper, it does sound like a good idea. But I keep thinking about what you said…About my Poké Ball being destroyed. I might show up in databases or whatever as a wild Pokémon. Communicating with unfamiliar humans is difficult enough, but if they think I'm a wild Pokémon they're either gonna toss me out or, worse, try to catch me. It might be easier, sure, but…I think I need to rely on myself in this case."
She turned and gave him a smile and added, "And you, of course."
"Makes sense, I suppose…"
"It's too bad my home address isn't listed on my tag. I guess my master never really thought I'd need it, since I always stayed so close to her all the time…"
Taka gave her another perplexed look.
"So!" Roxy said as she flipped a few more pages, and then smiled when she found the right one. "I've got an ocean to cross and I can't take an airplane, so that's what I need." She pointed her paw towards the large picture of a passenger boat on the pages.
While Taka studied it for a moment, Roxy returned her attention to the atlas.
"There's a port here, but I think it's just for shipping," she murmured, mostly to herself, "But…This bad boy is right next door practically. There's sure to be a ship to Vermillion there somewhere!"
When Taka glanced back over in her direction, Roxy pointed at a nearby spot on the map. "What is that?" he asked.
Roxy grinned and replied, "Castelia City! The largest human city in all of Unova, and one of the largest in the whole world!"
She could almost see a few gears shift inside of his head. "Larger…than this?"
"Oh, waaaaay larger."
Taka blinked. "…Way larger…?"
It was raining. Not a very heavy downpour, but rather a light springtime shower. Half a year ago, Roxy would have been freaking out and looking for shelter. Now, she barely noticed it. It actually felt kind of nice to feel the gentle streams of water run down her fur as she sat on top of the bus stop. The sun had risen about an hour ago, dawning a new day on Aspertia City.
"I'm glad you decided to come with me to Castelia, Taka," she said to her companion sitting beside her, "I think you're gonna like it!"
Taka shrugged. "I want to explore, and this is not terribly far away from the forest's edge. If nothing else, I just want to get away from this particular place."
Roxy nodded sympathetically. "Yeah. Bad memories here…"
"So…Remind me again what we are waiting for?"
"It's called a bus," Roxy explained, "It's a vehicle they use to transport a bunch of humans at a time who are all going to the same place. They're big and box-shaped so it'll be easy to hitch a ride on the roof."
"And this will take us to…the larger city?"
"If we get on the right one. Don't worry, Taka. I know what I'm doing."
For a few tranquil moments, there was silence but for the sound of the falling rain. Like always, even in her old life, Roxy did enjoy listening to the rain. Inside or outside, the sound was very soothing and mesmerizing. It made things seem better than they may have been, like she didn't have a care in the world.
"So," Taka spoke up, "Are you going to explain why you randomly kissed me back there?"
Roxy turned and gave him a glance, then faced forward again and said, "…Oh."
When she didn't answer right away, he prodded her to speak. "Well?"
"I dunno" she said with a shrug, "I got excited. I was so happy to finally be out of the forest I just sorta did things without thinking." She glanced at him again and gave him a little smirk. "What, you didn't enjoy it?" she said, and then stuck out her tongue.
Taka gave her a vexed look in return. "Because…Well, I am sure you know good and well that I-"
"Oh, don't give me the whole song and dance," Roxy interrupted with a wave of her paw, "Miri already told me you go both ways."
At first he was confused, but then when he realized what she had meant he started to look flustered. "Th-that is not what I was going to say!"
Roxy actually ended up bursting out in laughter from that response. At first, Taka was taken aback by this. Then, he grumbled and crossed his forelimbs, giving Roxy a cold stare until she stopped laughing.
"Are you done?" he asked her in a flat voice.
"Can I have the serious answer, now?"
Roxy then sighed and shook her head. "I already gave it to you. I was so overjoyed I just acted without thinking, and I didn't even realize I'd done it until a couple minutes later. I'm sorry if it upset you or anything, Taka. I didn't mean to cross any boundaries."
Taka rolled his eyes. "Fine then…If it is something you did that you now regret, I will not bring it up again."
The pair then sat in silence for a few moments as the rain continued to gently fall around them.
"Well…" Roxy spoke up once more, "I didn't say that…"
Taka turned and gave her a confused look. "Pardon?"
"I didn't mean to do it and I wasn't thinking about it, but…I don't really think I regret doing it." She punctuated her explanation with a shrug.
Taka stared at her. Once again, she could see the gears turning in his head. "What…? Are you saying you are attracted to me?"
"No, no…" Roxy replied with a wave of her paw, "Or, well…Not 'no' exactly, but…I mean…y'know…"
Crossing his forelimbs once more, Taka gave her a hard stare as anger started creeping into his expression. "Then tell me what you mean," he half-shouted.
Roxy then sighed and closed her eyes as she gathered her thoughts for a moment. The sound of the rain helped her to see her own thoughts in a little more clarity.
She then turned to look at Taka fully and smiled comfortingly. "I like you, Taka. We've come a long way since we first met, and I really do think of you as a good friend now. You're always looking out for me…Keeping me safe. Even on the very, very first day you met me, you saved me from that Zangoose."
Though his gaze had softened quite a bit, Taka still did not say anything and simply continued to look at her.
"I guess the point is…" Roxy said slowly, "I'm not saying 'yes', but…I'm also not saying 'no'."
Taka blinked once, but otherwise his expression did not betray his reaction to what she had said.
Roxy's gaze then fell and she frowned. "A part of me wishes we didn't have to go our separate ways, so we could…see?" She sighed in frustration. "I dunno…I'm jumping, like, way ahead here. I'm not even close to that sort of point in my life, if that's the way I want it to go in the first place, even."
"I see…" Taka said slowly, "…What about Makari?"
Her head lifted up to look at him, but she answered in a calm and collected voice. "I love Makari. I love him so deeply with all of my heart, and I always will. Even though he's…gone now…I will still always love him." Her face screwed up in emotional pain for a moment, but she got past it. "No matter what happens, I will always love Makari," she then said, "but…Well…" Roxy sighed, shook her head, and put on a bittersweet smile. "I think there's room in my heart for another…"
Taka just sat there after she had finished, an unreadable expression on his face.
Roxy chuckled softly. "Above everything else, Makari always wanted me to be happy…" she said in a melancholy tone, "He's watching me now, silently urging me towards the things that will make me happier… If I find another Pokémon to love, so long as they understand that I will also love Makari, I think it will work."
With that, the conversation died out and was replaced with a very uncomfortable silence. While it was true that Roxy had started to feel better and better about the idea of looking for love again, that was all in the future once she was back home. She hadn't actively considered Taka, or anyone she knew for that matter, but her mind wandered sometimes and all she knew was that she wasn't opposed to the idea.
Either way, Roxy wanted to talk about something else. "So, tell me about your plans? What're you gonna do once I set sail for Kanto?"
Taka took a few moments to reply. "I think I will stay within a few days travel of the forest for quite some time. There is a lot of this world to explore, and no need to reach the ends of the earth right at the start. I have absolutely no inclinations to return home, but I cannot see the future. I feel like it is in my best interest to not cut ties so quickly."
Roxy smiled and nodded. "That's smart thinking."
"Do not worry, though, I will still help you sneak aboard the water…thing, if necessary."
"It's called a boat," Roxy replied, giggling, "Are you gonna keep wearing the collar?"
She snickered. "Well, it was nice knowin' ya."
"If this city we are going to is as big as you say…Well, I spent weeks exploring just this city and never got bored."
"Oh, there's tons to see in Castelia. I've never been there, but it's such a famous place. If you can figure out a way to get one, then get a Casteliacone."
Taka gave her an odd look. "A what?"
"It's food. They sell them from little carts on the streets. Trust me, eat one."
"…All right, I suppose…I tried human food once. I am surprised Izuki still wanted me after how sick I got."
Roxy laughed. "Oh my gosh, what did you have?"
"You expect me to remember? With what it did to me, I hope to never think of it again…"
She then glanced at him for a moment in thought. "Taka?" she said. When he looked at her, she gave him an encouraging smile. "I hope…you might think of Izuki in the same way. I never met him, obviously, but…I know he wants you to be happy too."
Taka's gaze softened, then hardened into a frown, and softened once more. He shut his eyes and looked away from her, but then eventually let out a cleansing sigh. "If I can…" he said quietly.
"Don't worry, Taka… I know you can." Roxy reached over and gave him a comforting pat on the back.
Roxy then took a moment to glance over her shoulder. It still gave her a thrill to see buildings and skyscrapers back there instead of an endless sea of trees. It felt like she would never stop being amazed at the fact that she had made it. The fact that she was no longer in that forest.
She smiled to herself as hope and excitement welled up in her.
The fact that she was on her way home.