Published: October 27, 2017
Chapter 20 - Everything Changes
"Left! Right! Right again! Dodge!"
Roxy was sweating bullets while she did her best to adhere to Taka's directions. She held the spear tightly in her paws, keeping it always at the ready so she could fend off anything that came her way. She blocked, slashed and dodged away from the imaginary enemies called out by Taka.
She let out a sigh of relief and relaxed. That had been tough, to be sure, but Roxy was smiling at the result. She had handled herself pretty well during that session.
"Good," Taka said. It was a compliment, even though it didn't really sound like one.
"Thanks, Taka," she said through her heavy panting. She sat down on a nearby log and fanned herself with her paw.
"Next round. Ready?"
Roxy shook her head. "No, no…Need to breathe…"
If Roxy had uttered such a response only a few short months ago, her teacher Taka would have berated her for being weak and forced her to get up and go anyway. Now, though, she didn't fear that at all. She said it with a tired but genuine smile on her face, because she knew that her training partner Taka wouldn't go faster than her own pace.
"Very well," he spoke, "Do not forget to stretch."
"You got it, coach."
Roxy sighed as she stretched her hind limbs out. It felt good to get up and move, even if it really tired her out. Spring was just around the corner, so the air was just cool enough to be pleasant. It had started to rain more often, though not terribly heavily yet. In some ways, it was nice to feel a shower of rain after a long day of training.
It was weird to think of how much she used to hate the rain.
Roxy had learned a lot over the past few weeks training alongside Taka. When he wasn't barking instructions, pushing her too far, and just being downright insulting, she could pick up quite a few things from him. She spent a lot of time just watching him train, and then afterwards trying to do what he did. Taka had commented initially that it was a poor way to learn, but Roxy seemed to be proving him wrong.
With every lesson, Roxy felt more and more capable of defending herself. She didn't put any effort into learning offense, because it wasn't a drive she felt the need to improve. It was more difficult to learn, more dangerous to put into practice, and really wasn't something she wanted to do. The incident with the Houndoom still haunted her a little.
She had, however, learned a multitude of ways to parry attacks with a spear, block with various weapons, strike back defensively so as to disorient or disable foes, as well as tons of dodging manoeuvres.
Roxy practiced what she wanted, and usually Taka obliged. It was a much better system, and Roxy suspected that even Taka was realizing that fact. The two didn't spend any time together outside of the training area, but Roxy didn't really care. They didn't share any common interests anyway.
After stretching some more and feeling a second wind, Roxy stood back up. She went to go pick up her spear, but Taka stopped her.
"Wait," he said, "If you are able, I would like to see your 'power' once more."
Roxy paused and looked at him. "My Grass Knot?"
"Uhhh…Okay, I guess." She shrugged and then walked over to the middle of the training area. She indicated for Taka to step back, and once he did she took a deep breath.
About a minute and a half of silence passed by as Roxy concentrated. She wondered if Taka was getting impatient with her, but he didn't say anything and she had her eyes closed. The energy needed for the Move was still difficult to find and slow to gather.
As always, a sudden peak of energy signalled that the Grass Knot was ready to go, so she immediately swept out her forepaws. A blooming flower-shape of thick grass spread out below her, standing out among the worn-down earthen floor of the training area.
With the move successfully initiated, she opened her eyes and gave Taka a quick little grin of satisfaction. She saw that he was watching her closely, studying her. So, she brought her paws up and drew the grass blades up and around her like a closed flower bud.
"Truly fascinating…" Taka murmured quietly.
"It's hard," she replied, "Even just doing this."
"Yeah…" she said, already feeling the strain begin to slowly build up.
Taka nodded thoughtfully. "And it always takes you that long to ready it?"
Roxy frowned. "If you're just gonna give me criticism, then I'm not gonna dance for you."
"My apologies," Taka said, holding up his forepaws, "I was merely trying to understand your current limitations. The key word is 'current', after all."
"Oh…Well then, yeah. I have to really, really concentrate in order to…um…'feel' around me. The Grass-Type energy is sorta concentrated throughout the ground below. I just have to…y'know…find some, and then draw it in. It takes a while."
She then chuckled. "I'm honestly surprised I was able to get enough energy to fight the Earth Tribe. It was kinda hard to concentrate, considering…"
Taka had moved closer, and was now reaching out one of his paws to softly touch one of the lengths of grass. Roxy simply watched him. His reaction indicated that he didn't feel anything more than normal grass.
Then, to her confusion, he stood still and closed his eyes. A minute went past, and he didn't say a word.
"Uhh…Taka? What're you doing?"
He didn't answer.
Then, she frowned. "Taka, are you trying to feel the energy?"
A curt nod was all she got.
Roxy shook her head, even though he couldn't see her. "I don't think you can. The TM's supposed to put the knowledge in my head, or whatever it does. Otherwise it's so tiny that no-one could ever pick up on it."
After another couple of moments of silence, Taka opened his eyes and sighed in frustration. "You are right…I cannot discern anything specific."
"You'd need the TM."
"Evidently," he grumbled.
Roxy frowned and brought her paws back down. The grass blades 'bloomed' out and curled down to the ground, forming a shallow sort of platform around her.
After a moment, Taka said, "I trust that you know the reason why I wish to learn more about this skill?"
"Yeah…" Roxy glanced to the side. "In case they…come back."
Taka nodded. "If you could teach one, just one of us, it would prove to be invaluable."
Roxy called off the Move and let the grass sink to the ground, then she rubbed her forelimb with her paw, frowning. "I, uh…That's a lot of pressure…" she said, "I really don't think I'd be able to…"
"There is no sense in not trying."
"…Yeah. I guess you're right."
Taka clapped his forepaws together, recapturing her full attention. "Do it again," he instructed her, "but this time, tell me out loud everything that you're doing. Describe everything as much as you can."
She skewed her lips. "It'll be hard to concentrate if I do that…"
"If it takes longer, that is fine. That is not the purpose of the exercise."
Shrugging, she replied, "All right…"
Roxy took just a few moments to regain a bit of her strength, and then closed her eyes once more. "I'm…shutting out the rest of the world. I don't wanna see anything or feel anything, and I don't pay attention to anything I hear…"
Certainly, this was not the first time she had been asked to demonstrate her Grass Knot, nor the first time someone in the tribe had tried to learn it. Her answer was always the same. If she herself didn't even know how she had learned it, then she couldn't very well teach the Move to others. Still, she did understand the value in passing the move on somehow, so she continued to engage Taka's curiosities.
"I, uh…um…" She faltered a little. It seemed like it would be impossible to describe everything that happened during the Grass Knot. "It's like…my hind paws are on the ground…I can sorta feel, like, the ground underneath…and stuff." She frowned, not liking the way her explanation was coming out.
This continued for a few minutes as she tried to explain what was going on. Eventually, this culminated in her unleashing the Move once again, but Taka could only shake his head in frustration.
"Sorry…" she murmured, letting the grass fall once again, "I guess I'm not a good teacher."
"It is not your fault…" Taka replied, though it was clear he was a little irritated.
"TM's are weird. I'm not the only one I know who says that…"
Roxy went and sat on a nearby log, allowing herself to recover from using the Move twice in a row. She didn't feel tired, but it did leave her feeling rather drained.
"Well, I am not giving up on this," Taka stated, "What you have is a skill that would prove useful to our tribe for generations upon generations. It is a counter to our only shared weakness."
She frowned. "I know, I know…" Roxy then sighed and gave the problem some thought, but it didn't seem like there was a solution. "I don't think I can teach a TM move to someone else…"
"There must be a way to learn it…"
Roxy put her brain to work and thought back to everything she had read about TMs in the encyclopedia, which didn't amount to much that she had been able to understand. "TMs are usually used to teach Pokémon Moves that they wouldn't normally be able to learn, but not every TM works with every Pokémon. There still has to be some sort of compatibility. If the Move can't be learned naturally, or by Move Tutor, then a TM is probably the only way that Pokémon can learn the move."
She paused and thought back a bit more to what she had read. "Well, except…If the Pokémon that learned the TM move has a child, and the child would be compatible with the TM, then the child usually grows up to learn it naturally, even without the TM."
Roxy sighed and frowned, still not seeing a solution to the problem. Without the TM in their paws, much less without a human-made device to actually use it, then Grass Knot would probably stay inside of her head and her head only.
When she turned to look at Taka, he had a contemplative look on his face. "What?" she asked. When he didn't answer, she furrowed her brow and pressed further. "What??"
Taka glanced up and made eye contact with her, a paw on his chin. He looked like he was considering something, as if he had an idea.
"What? What is it?" Roxy said, starting to get a little exasperated, "Was it something I said?"
Of course, being Taka, he still refused to just open his mouth and say what was on his mind. Roxy gave a huff of frustration and replayed what she had just said in her mind, trying to figure out what he had latched onto.
When she found it, her eyes grew wide. "What?!" she suddenly burst out.
"Are you serious right now?!"
"I was merely-"
"Look, I'm all for making sure the Thunder Clan is secure and safe, but some things are just a step too far."
Taka sighed softly and shook his head. "It would work, though?"
Roxy, now blushing furiously for a whole variety of reasons, gave him a pout. "Sure. Maybe. But that's not the point. Did you really think I would agree to something like that?!"
"I never asked-"
Roxy crossed her forepaws with a huff. "I'm not gonna have a baby just so you can get Grass Knot."
"Never mind. Forget I brought it up."
"I wish I could."
"…Are you s-"
"YES!!" Roxy shouted, feeling like the top of her head had just exploded like a volcano. She shook her head furiously, trying to shake off the heat and embarrassment she was getting from this ridiculous conversation.
She then took a deep breath and sighed heavily. "…I can't, anyway."
Taka turned to look at her with an arched eyebrow. "What?"
"I'm a pet," she said simply, "I'm spayed."
"What does that mean?"
She pinched the bridge of her muzzle in mild irritation. "It means the humans made it so that I can't have cubs. It's a medical thing. Most pets have it done."
What followed was perhaps the most awkward silence that had ever been suffered between the two of them. Possibly, the most awkward in Roxy's whole life. Quite a few minutes went past with neither one looking at each other or saying anything.
"I need to run an errand," Taka said finally, breaking the silence, "I will be back shortly."
She glanced up to regard Taka and gave him a nod. "Okay," she replied, and then watched as he dashed off.
With a wistful sigh, she walked over towards where she'd dropped her spear. Along the way, she eyed the other training weapons leaning against the nearby trees and paused. Her gaze was drawn to a boomerang.
She felt a touch of curiosity. Unlike all the other weapons, Roxy had never even touched a boomerang before. It hadn't looked easy, and no-one had bothered trying to teach it to her. Now that she thought about it, Taka was the only one she had ever seen use a boomerang.
Roxy picked it up and felt its weight. It felt really light in her paws, and was very smooth. She swung it around a few times, and felt how smoothly it cut through the air. It felt rather natural in her paws. She walked over to a target on the ground and hit it with the boomerang. It felt like a lightweight club, but still made a painful sounding thunk against the wood.
"Huh…" she remarked to herself.
She then set her sights on one of the targets hanging from the trees, usually used for archery practice. She didn't think she'd be able to hit it but decided to try anyway. Roxy set her paws firmly and tried to remember the stance Taka took before throwing it. She reached back like she thought she was supposed to, then swung her foreleg forward and let the wooden projectile fly.
It sailed in a low arch, tumbling over itself, and clattered lamely to the ground halfway to the target. Roxy frowned and groaned at her rather unsuccessful attempt.
She decided to try again, and so walked over to pick the boomerang up. She then returned to her starting position and got ready once more. Roxy figured that the reason her first throw hadn't gone so well was due to her form. The idea was for the boomerang to 'carve' through the air, so the arc of her swing needed to be just right.
The intrepid Pikachu set her paws once more, focused on her form and technique and tried to aim the weapon as best she could. When she thought she was ready, she reared back and let the boomerang fly.
She ended up overcompensating her angle, and the boomerang went flying up high into the air. It did, however, look like it was making a much smoother flight, even if her aim had been horrible. In fact, it looked like the boomerang was cresting and turning around.
It was coming back to her, like it was supposed to.
Really really quickly…!
Roxy yelped and ducked her head down just in time to avoid getting hit right between the eyes. The boomerang sailed over her head, touching some of the fur on top, before whizzing past behind her.
She had ducked her head down at the perfect angle to catch a glimpse of Taka standing behind her, who effortlessly held up one of his paws and caught the boomerang.
"Aah…" Roxy uttered in relief as she fell back onto her rear-end, "Wow…"
Taka simply tossed the boomerang off to the side, where it clattered to the ground.
"That didn't go as well as I'd hoped," Roxy commented, "Wow, though. You didn't even flinch! You didn't even throw that one, and you're still the master of those things!"
He didn't reply. He simply stood there with a frown on his face.
She studied him, noting how much his demeanour had changed. He looked morose, like something bad had just happened.
"What…?" she asked, starting to feel anxious, "What is it?" When he didn't reply right away, she added, "Taka, tell me!"
Taka glanced to the side, remained silent for a moment, and then walked over to one of the logs lying nearby and sat upon it. He stared straight ahead, not looking at her.
"…Ozu is dead."
Roxy clasped her paws to her mouth and gasped in shock. "Wh-What…?!" she said, sounding muffled through her paws, "What d'you mean…?"
"His injuries claimed his life. Miri did all that she could."
If she hadn't already been sitting down, Roxy was sure she would have tumbled over. Even so, the world began to spin around her and made her feel nauseous. She kept her paws up to her muzzle, afraid to move a muscle, and stared at Taka with wide eyes. The reality of what Taka had told her began to sink in, slowly and agonizingly.
"B-but…" she murmured, "I…I just saw him…a few days ago…He said he was getting better…"
"Well, he got worse," Taka said tersely.
"Oh…Oh, heavens…" Roxy's wide-eyed gaze drifted off until she was simply staring into space. Her stomach felt unwell, sick as if it were literally trying to digest this awful news. Ozu, her friend, one of the wise ones and leaders of the tribe, dead. She didn't want to believe it.
A familiar feeling of hurt began to course through her veins until it reached her heart. That same awful feeling of despair that came with the death of someone else, just as bad as it had always been. Another Pokémon that she had gotten to know quite well…Gone, never to speak to her again.
Roxy closed her eyes and grimaced. There was a reason that she didn't look back upon that battle with the Earth Tribe fondly, even though it had ended in victory. This was that reason. To think that lives were lost, now including Ozu's, simply because a group of Pokémon started to get greedy. If Roxy hadn't driven them off, they might've killed the whole tribe. However, she hadn't been able to save everyone.
Suddenly, Roxy swore rather loudly, even catching Taka by surprise a little. "It's so stupid…" she then murmured, "So awful, so dumb…" A horribly wistful sigh escaped her lips. "Why did it have to be like this…?"
"That is the way of the wild," Taka responded emotionlessly, "We live, we fight, we survive…and we die."
"It's not fair…"
"If you think anything is fair, pet, then I am sorry to say you are deluded."
Roxy flinched a little upon hearing his derogatory nickname once more. Though he may not have been outwardly showing it, Roxy knew this was a sign that Taka was also shaken by this turn of events.
"Why did they even attack…?" Roxy muttered.
"Because they are bloodthirsty savages."
She frowned. "But they weren't like that before. They were mean and rude, but they followed the agreement, right? That's what everyone told me,"
"Why suddenly change?" she continued to wonder, skewing her lip as she gave it some thought, "To just go from one month of being content, to the next where…Ozu is dead." She choked up a little on those last words.
There was a moment of silence that permeated the area, which was broken by a short sigh from Taka. "That is when he saw you."
She turned towards him. "What?"
"That last trade meeting," he explained, "was when he saw you. He seemed to take a…particular interest in you."
Roxy glanced away and shivered at the memory of Tazoka approaching her and talking to her in that icky sly way of speaking.
"I think, perhaps," Taka continued, "he saw you with us…living with us…still wearing your collar. He probably saw that we had taken you in and thought that we had gone soft or something."
Slowly, Roxy lifted her head up as Taka's words registered in her brain. She turned to look at Taka so that she could answer him, only to find that Taka had already walked off. Instead, Roxy was left to sit there alone, thinking about the death of one of her friends and what Taka had just said.
She didn't move from that spot for hours. She didn't move at all until someone came up to her who was worried.
Then, she silently made her way through the village. Her paws twiddled nervously as she walked slowly, a frown on her face. There was a definite sombre atmosphere to the entire village, and nobody seemed to want to talk to anybody else. It was as if more than just one of their leaders had died.
The trees opened up into a familiar glade with a mound of earth in the centre. Sitting upon it were two very downcast Raichu, both sitting there in silence. Their ears twitched when she stepped into the glade, and the two Raichu turned to look down at her.
Roxy stopped at the base of the mound and looked back up at them, tears in her eyes, cheek fur stained from tears already shed, and her lip quivering.
"Is…" she spoke in a trembling, vulnerable voice, "…Is this my fault…?"
The funeral was a sombre, tragic affair. Roxy cried the whole time, and still couldn't bring herself to keep her eyes on the pyre.
Despite everyone's reassurance that the invasion was not her fault at all, Roxy still found herself carrying a heavy amount of guilt. She reasoned that the Earth Tribe wouldn't have attacked if she hadn't been there, but many including the wise ones disagreed, saying that they would have attacked sooner or later. They noted that the cause for upsetting the balance of peace was Tazoka, not her.
It was hard to convince herself, though. All she could think about was what Taka had said. It seemed like a correct assumption. She remembered the smirk Tazoka had gotten upon seeing her for the first time. Looking back, she could almost see the treacherous gears turning in his head as he sized her up.
Ozu's funeral had a very large crowd, and lasted quite long. His was the death of a prominent member of the tribe, as well as one of their leaders. Roxy had asked Miri, who was sitting next to her, if another Pikachu would be given the Thunder Stone now, but Miri didn't know. Only Karizu and Natoka could decide that.
The wise ones had always seemed invincible to her. She had never seen them fight before the invasion, and yet she had still viewed them as powerful and unstoppable. Raichu were big and scary in her eyes. She had never met any pleasant ones before coming here.
But Ozu had been struck down.
He had tried to hold on, but his strength had given out.
Now he was gone.
Just like Makari.
A few hours later found Roxy lying in her hut, not upon her bedding, just staring blankly at the ceiling. It was dark outside so she couldn't even see the ceiling, but that wasn't an important detail. Sleep was but a distant hope at this point.
Ozu's death was saddening and frightening, and there was a pain in her chest that didn't go away. She hadn't been as close to Ozu as she had been to Makari, though, and her tears were more for a different reason.
No matter what everyone else said, she felt like this was her fault. The more she dwelled on it, she started to feel like a lot of things were her fault, simply by her being there. Life in the village had changed, one way or another, all because she had dropped out of the sky.
Maybe Makari's death was her fault too.
After crying for nearly a half hour and trying to rid herself of that horrible thought, she laid her head back and groaned in despair. Nothing felt right. Everything was wrong.
Her anxiety was starting to take control of her. She had read about anxiety once with her master, and she knew that when things started going wrong, anxiety latches onto it and tries to make things worse and worse. When one worry pops up, suddenly everything is worrisome and scary.
Roxy knew this, but she didn't feel like she had the strength to fight it. Anything positive about the present, or of the past few days and weeks, was just emptiness in her mind. All she could think about was how awful things were.
Ozu was dead…
Makari was dead…
Her master was…
Roxy shook her head wildly. "No!" she said to herself, "You're not going to think about that. Stop it." She then rolled over on her side, letting out a heavy sigh. "Just stop it…" she muttered, "Stop it, please…"
Roxy tossed and turned for hours. Sleep was simply impossible at this point. There was just too much hurt. Like before, all of the strength and defence she had built up had crumbled instantly the moment things had turned bad. She felt so cold, and so lonely.
She was scared. She was hopeless. The dangers of the wild were rearing their ugly heads once more, and she couldn't do much more than cry.
She didn't belong here…
Roxy may very well have been a lifeless doll when Taka found her.
She heard him climb up the tree, swift as he always was. Then, she heard him pause once he was close enough to catch sight of her. The sight of her sitting on the branch near the top of the tall tree, body slumped and leaning limply against the tree's trunk. Her head resting on the bark, the only thing keeping her sitting upright, and her eyes just staring out at the vast expanse of nothingness.
It was probably a bit of an unnerving sight.
She didn't move a muscle, not even when he hopped up onto the branch and stood next to her.
"The others are worried about you."
"Mmm…" she groaned.
"You have been up here for hours."
Roxy simply closed her eyes. She felt too tired to deal with this. Her energy reserves were completely empty, and she couldn't even feel the muscles in her own body. She was, for all intents and purposes, just a lump on the tree.
The branch jostled a little when Taka sat down next to her. He wasn't right next to her, but a respectable distance away. She expected him to then say something, but he kept his mouth shut. He just sat there in silence as she did the same.
Time passed. Whether it was ten minutes or two hours, Roxy did not know. Taka continued to sit there the whole time, not saying a single word.
Roxy herself was a little surprised by her own voice. She hadn't really planned on saying anything, but Taka's silent presence had somehow drawn it out.
"Mm?" was all he gave in response.
"I…" She closed her eyes for a moment, feeling the heavy feeling of lethargy coursing through her whole body. It felt like even just speaking was too difficult. "I tried…to live out here."
She saw Taka turn and look at her.
"I did try, y'know… I didn't wanna die, so I had to try…and it was hard and it hurt so much, but I gave it everything I had and I still tried…I tried my best."
Taka's surprisingly quiet and empathetic response caught her off guard. "I…I did!"
"I know that you did. No-one can say you did not."
"Ngh…" She shook her head softly. "I…H-He's gone…We won the battle, I did things I never thought I could do, and he's still gone."
"It is the sad truth. Victory never comes without a cost."
"I…just don't think I can try anymore."
There was a moment's pause before Taka spoke once more. "Of course you can."
"Doesn' feel like it…"
Roxy let out the heaviest of sighs, slumping even more against the tree's trunk. Taka's words didn't exactly have a reassuring tone to them, but she could tell he was at least a little concerned for her. It didn't matter much, though.
She felt empty inside. Dead but for the fact she was walking. Over the course of her stay here, she had managed to find many silver linings. Now, they were all covered under a thick layer of dark, heavy, depressing tar.
"You have improved…vastly," Taka spoke quietly, "I do hope you realize that."
"The pet who couldn't swing a stick or swipe her tail, now you are advancing in skill bit by bit every day, learning to use new weapons, and have stood up and won against the Earth Tribe. You are always saying 'I can't' or 'I'm not able to' or 'I give up'…Yet, you have done nothing but take steps forward since you got here."
Roxy closed her eyes wearily as she listened to him talk.
"You are letting this get into your head," he continued, "Despite your bad mood, do you think that Ozu's death has somehow made you worse at combat? Has his passing made you less able to survive out here?"
At that statement, she opened her eyes. She sat up a little straighter, even to her own surprise. Then, she turned and looked Taka straight in the eye.
He furrowed his brow and said, "Right?"
She stared at him.
Taka arched an eyebrow. "…What?"
"Say it again…" she said in such a quiet voice that she barely even heard herself.
"What you just said."
He looked perplexed for a brief moment, then skewed his lips. "I was merely saying that the sadness will pass, and yet you will still have all of the skills you have gained to live in this forest and survive out here."
"But I don't want to live in this forest!!!"
Bird Pokémon from miles around took to the sky in fright from her loud shout. Even Taka looked a little startled, and had readjusted his grip on the branch as if he had been about to fall off. He stared at her with wide eyes.
Her rage lasted only seconds, and then she was crying again. "Taka, I don't wanna get better at surviving! I wanna go home!!"
She let out a few painful wails before she was able to speak again. "I…can't…do this…anymore! I can't stay out here! I need to go home! I want out! I want out!!" She clenched her paws up tight and held them up against her forehead. "Don't you get it?! No matter how good I get at fighting, no matter how good I get at surviving, and no matter how close I get to all of you, I'm never gonna be happy until I can go back home!"
A very tense, awkward silence permeated the air for a few minutes.
"…I don't belong here, Taka. I never will," Roxy said, having calmed down a little but still sounding very sorrowful.
Taka sighed. "Roxy, listen…It is not that none of us understands what you are going through. We are not blind to the way you feel. All of us knew that you wouldn't be happy while you were here, but the fact is that you are here. The wise ones, our brethren, Makari…even I tried to make things a little better for you."
"Thank you for that…"
"My brother…would say to me that he was always thinking…always trying to figure out a way to get you home, whether he would be able to go with you or not."
Roxy turned to look at Taka. Hearing that Makari had not only been trying to help her, but had actually considered going home with her, made her feel shocked and even a little uplifted. Before she could say anything, though, she saw the troubled expression on Taka's face, and she deflated a little.
Makari's passing was still hitting the both of them hard. It had been a long time since they had lost him, and Roxy had somehow managed to find the strength to try and move on. Her days were slowly getting a little brighter, and she was able to mention his name without bursting into tears, but his memory still caused a little stab of despair every now and again. It was probably affecting Taka just as much. Perhaps even worse, but he was so good at hiding his emotions.
"Taka…" she said after more silence had passed, "Thanks for all that you've done. Really, I mean it. I know we're not friends, but you've still done a lot for me." She sighed heavily. "I just…don't know how much more I can take. You could turn me into the greatest warrior in the forest, but inside I'm still a Vermillion City Pikachu pet who loves and misses her master so very much…"
"I can understand that."
"I need to keep giving myself a reason to wake up in the morning. I feel like if I stay here much longer, and watch more Pokémon that I care about die, I might run out."
"Roxy, you are just having a bad day. Like all bad things in this world, this will pass."
Roxy just frowned and shook her head.
"I have known you for quite a few moons at this point. You are a very sensitive Pokémon, and you too easily let things get you down. I would even go so far as to call you 'fragile'. When something bad happens, all the good in your life becomes impossible to see."
"Gee, thanks…" she said, giving him a flat look.
"You are also strong, intelligent, a fast learner, and brave when you need to be. You are kind and caring, and very devoted to those you truly care about." Taka then glanced away. "I did not initially react well when you and my brother got…close…but I can look back on it now and see how happy you made him. Though he cared for you so much, you cared about him as well. You were worried about him. There is no way I could fault anybody for that."
Roxy sniffled, feeling the tears starting to return. "I cared about him so much…Did…Did he really say that he might've gone home with me?"
Taka nodded, and Roxy wasn't sure how to feel about that. She felt both a warm and happy feeling from the idea that he would be that caring and dedicated to her, but also a cold and sorrowful feeling from knowing that it would never happen now.
She sat there for a moment and thought about this. In the end, though, her defences were down and the latter feeling won. As the sensation of heaviness returned to her whole body, she slumped against the tree trunk once more and let out a sigh that was partly a whine.
A really long period of silence passed. Roxy at times wondered if Taka was going to say anything else or just up and leave, but neither happened. She didn't pay too much mind though, as she just felt too depressed to care about much of anything.
"You truly believe that things will not get better for you, no matter how much time is given?"
She shook her head.
"I know that separation from your human is difficult, but do you not believe that you will eventually adapt and find new life here?"
She shook her head again.
Taka paused before speaking again. "Do you believe that, even after years and years of staying here, that you will never stop trying to find a way home? No matter if it takes your whole life?"
Roxy clenched her eyes shut. "I would…" she croaked, "I…No matter how long it takes…"
"Okay. I just needed to know for sure."
She opened her eyes again and sat up straight, turning to look at him. "…What?"
"You are right, in everything you have said. You do not belong here. You are not safe here. You need to go home." With a soft sigh, he extended one of his forepaws towards her, palm upwards. Then, he said one more thing. Roxy almost didn't register it, for how unbelievable it was.
"I will take you to the forest's edge."
Roxy, still as a statue, could do no more than blink for a few seconds. She gazed down at his paw, gestured to her as if he wanted her to take it so that he could lead her somewhere.
"…Don't joke about that, Taka," she said quietly, "If this is a joke, it isn't funny."
"This is no joke."
"Ruh…" Her heart began to thump against her ribs. "…Really…?"
She gulped. "I'm serious, Taka. Don't say that unless you really mean it! You…Y-you really…"
He closed his eyes and held his other forepaw to his chest. "I truly mean it," he said. Then, as if to seal the deal, there appeared a tiny little smile directed at her.
Roxy's loud squeal of joy frightened off any bird Pokémon that hadn't already flown away. Pokémon miles away on the horizon could have probably heard her. She immediately lunged forward and glomped Taka with a hug, nearly sending the both of them careening off of the branch.
"Hey…!" Taka protested.
"Thank you!!" she exclaimed, "Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!!!" She gave him the biggest squeeze she could muster, not caring if her fresh tears of joy stained his fur.
"Aah…!" Roxy released him and sat back up straight. "You really mean it? You're super duper serious?"
Taka brushed himself off before nodding.
"Oh my gosh! I can't believe it! I…you're gonna…it's…" She closed her eyes and held back another loud squeal. "I'm going home!!" A warm sense of elation flooded through her, erasing every single negative thought that she had. She felt like she was going to swell up and explode! Never before had she experienced this much happiness and excitement all at once. She didn't know how to contain it all!
"Now, hold on," Taka said, holding up his forepaws, "Do not get overly excited just yet. This does not mean that we will be setting out come the following dawn. There are certain things that need to be done first."
Roxy wrangled her excitement down enough so that she could respond, but she could still feel it bubbling up inside of her. No matter what Taka was about to say, that feeling of overwhelming excitement wasn't going away. "Y-yeah! Yeah, okay. What?"
"First," he said, holding up a single digit, "there is more that you must learn. You have come a long way, but if I am going to lead you through dangerous territory, then there are defensive and offensive skills that you need to know, otherwise you will never make it.
"Second, we must take enough time to ensure that the village is still safe. There is still the possibility that the Earth Tribe may counterattack, and so we must ensure that the conflict has ended."
Roxy nodded. "Yeah, yeah. Okay." She chuckled to herself, still feeling just as much excitement bubbling up within her. "That might take a while I guess, but hey…I waited this long, I can wait a couple more weeks…right?"
Taka wasn't done, though. "Third," he said, "and this is the most important. You must teach someone in this tribe to use your grass power."
That managed to put a little dent in her excitement. "Yeah…?"
"It does not matter who. Obviously it cannot be myself, as I will be leaving with you. As long as you can teach someone the very basics of this skill, enough that they will be able to practice it and learn on their own, that will be sufficient."
Roxy glanced away, now feeling a bit conflicted. She had just earlier been considering such a task and had considered it impossible. With the excitement of going home, though, it didn't seem quite as impossible. Still, though, it was daunting.
"You understand why this is necessary, yes?"
"Uh…yeah," she said with a nod, "I guess I sorta became the one you all depended on to deal with Ground-types, and you want to keep that defence after I'm gone." She chuckled again. "Isn't that a crazy thought? The tribe depending on me…"
"If one of our brethren can at least grasp the skill, they will be able to share it with others, and soon the whole tribe will be able to wield it. Our greatest vulnerability will be sealed."
She gulped, feeling a little intimidated by this task. However, there was still enough bubbly excitement to overpower it and allow her smile to return. It couldn't be impossible after all.
"Is that agreeable?" Taka asked.
"Yes! Yes, totally!" she said, her smile fully returned, "Aaaah! I'm so excited! I'm so happy! Thank you again, Taka. You…it just…y-you don't know just how much this means to me. I…" Roxy then fell quiet for a moment as she turned to gaze at Taka. "Hey," she said in a more calm voice, "Not that I'm not super grateful and all, but…where is this suddenly coming from?"
Taka eyed her for a moment, then closed his eyes and sighed. "I have been thinking of leaving for a while now," he answered.
"Leaving? Leaving the village? You mean like forever, or…?"
"No," he said as he shook his head, "Simply to go on a journey. Just like before. I feel like it is something that I need to do. I feel as if this is not where I am meant to be right now."
Taka then gazed out at the horizon. "I am no longer happy here. Ever since…the loss of my brother…this place has felt less and less like my home. It is, of course, no fault of the rest of the clan. They are wonderful Pokémon and I cherish each and every one of them…but Makari has moved on, and I feel like I need to as well." He paused and then added, "I am certain I will return again. You are not the only one prone to homesickness, after all."
Roxy gazed at him as he spoke. She had been so focused on the idea of being able to go home that she hadn't even considered the fact that Taka would be leaving the Thunder Clan behind as well. He had done so once before, and that had been a journey that had not ended well. Makari had once told her that the journey had changed Taka and he had never been the same since. Now he wanted to do so again?
"Is that really true?" she asked, "You're not just saying that so I won't feel bad about making you do such a big thing for me?"
"It is true," he replied, "but, honestly, if I were not planning on leaving already, I still might have considered it." He gave her a little smirking grin. "Really, how could I not? I promised him that I would keep you happy."
Roxy blinked and stared at him for a moment. She smiled soon after. "You…You're really…?"
"I gave him my word," he continued, "I look back upon things now, and…I know that doing this would make him happy. I want my brother to be happy, wherever he is now."
Roxy was grinning. She hadn't realized that Taka had actually said yes to Makari's last words. What's more, it didn't sound like Taka was just begrudgingly following Makari's request because he felt obligated to. It was a nice sentiment to hear. In a way, it felt like Taka was channeling Makari's own kindness; something that she had dearly missed.
"I can't thank you enough for offering to do this for me. I'll work extra-super hard to do all of those things you need me to do. But…you also have to do something for me, okay?"
He turned and gave her a look with an arched eyebrow. "And what would that be?"
She gave him a gentle smile and said, "You have to tell me what happened on your first journey."
Taka's look immediately soured, but he didn't look away.
a"I know it hurts to think about, whatever it is that hurt you…but I think this is important. You only have to tell me, and I promise that I won't tell anybody else." She glanced away. "Just…Whatever happened to you out there, I want to help make sure it doesn't happen again…"
Taka spent a long time just sitting there, looking at her. Roxy began to wonder if she had overstepped her boundaries. She was about to raise her head and take back what she had asked of him when he answered.
"I will," he said with a nod, "Not right now, but I promise to tell you before we leave."
"Really…?" she said with a smile.
"You are right…This is something I have kept buried inside for years and years now. It has been on my mind as I have considered this journey, and if you are to accompany me, then it is only fair to let you know."
Roxy nodded and grinned at him. Then, her excitement started to bubble over again, causing her to squeal softly and give him another friendly hug. "This is so awesome! Oh my gosh, I can't wait! Master, I'm coming home!!" She shut her eyes, trying to keep herself from crying yet again.
"One more thing you need to do," Taka spoke.
"Stop hugging me!"