When Bamaka nodded in response, Roxy sighed and slumped her shoulders. "Don't worry about it," she told him, "You gave it a try."
Her old friend Bamaka was just one in a long line of Thunder Clan brethren who had tried and failed to learn the Grass Knot. As she had expected none of them could manage to pick up on the subtle energy that was needed to perform the move. It was just something she herself was familiar with and couldn't share.
"I will not give up," Bamaka told her, "I will try again later."
Roxy just groaned softly in frustration. This wasn't going as planned. No-one had even taken a step forward in learning the move. She was running out of Pokémon to try it on! Someone had to learn this, but she wasn't sure if anyone could.
It was at least a week, probably more, since Taka stated his intention to lead her to the forest's edge. Upon his request, she hadn't yet told anyone about the plan. Taka's departure last time hadn't gone over so well with the others, and he didn't want anybody jumping the gun this time until they were closer to actual departure.
But now Roxy was getting genuinely worried if that departure would come at all.
Roxy had been working hard. Since that day, she had spent literally almost every single waking minute in the training area. Leisure was pretty much a thing of the past. The real, tangible promise of being taken out of the forest had turned out to be the perfect motivator. Now, more than ever, Roxy was focused on learning as many fighting skills as she could. She was already making vast improvements, and could pull off a number of moves without thinking too much about doing so.
Yet, gaining more skills was only one of the requirements she had to meet. Taka had said that they couldn't leave until someone else learned Grass Knot. If that didn't happen, then Roxy couldn't leave, and this made her feel really nervous.
"Get up. Time to spar."
Roxy rolled her eyes and let out a huff of breath before turning to look at the approaching Taka. Despite all that had changed about him since she had first met him, his bluntness was still the same.
"What's the matter with you?" he said as he came to a stop just behind her.
"I…" She paused mid-sentence, blinked, and gave him a confused look. Then she shook her head softly and continued. "I am finding it difficult, as I have told you before, to teach Grass Knot to someone."
"Ah. Troubling indeed," he replied, emotionlessly as always. That was apparently the end of the conversation, as he picked up a spear and started stretching.
Roxy just sighed and walked over to pick up a spear of her own. At least this part was going well enough. Of course, it didn't matter if the proverbial radio was built if there were no radio waves to pick up.
"Ready?" he asked her.
"I have a headache."
"Well, that may be so, but your-"
"My enemy doesn't care if I have a headache," Roxy interjected, completing Taka's sentence, "I know, I know…"
"Sit down then. We will begin."
Without further protest, Roxy made her way to the middle of the training area and sat down facing away from Taka. This was a training exercise that he had devised as a way to start off their sparring matches. The rules were that she wasn't allowed to move until she heard him, usually marked by a quiet grunt. This was to help train her reflexes in case a predator snuck up behind her. Sometimes, Taka would wait up to 10 whole minutes before making his move, so she was teaching herself not to let her guard down.
Roxy's personal goal was to improve her self-defence skills to a point where she would no longer feel nervous when facing an enemy. She needed to feel confident in her ability to defend herself from attacks. She didn't need to be perfect, since Taka would be there alongside her, but she also couldn't freeze up and require that he do all of the fighting. After that, she planned to learn as many ways as she could to nonlethally incapacitate her foes.
Taka had suggested she learn how to kill. One mention of the Houndoom incident had quieted this idea. Even Taka knew how much she had been traumatized by that.
A soft grunt.
Roxy darted forward as if she were spring loaded, half-rolled and turned herself around, and then brought up her spear into a block. Taka's own weapon connected with it mere seconds later. She held strong and placed her paws in a better position as she continued to face down her opponent. Then, Taka quickly broke away and slashed towards her from the right. Roxy saw him moving to the right and adjusted her stance accordingly. Taka's strike was successfully blocked.
In the brief pause that followed, she took a moment to give Taka a confident smirk.
A couple of weeks later, Roxy was leaning against a tree next to the training area. She was worn out and resting, enjoying the cool breeze of early spring. At the moment, she found herself reflecting on things.
Roxy had proven herself very capable of blocking strikes. It was something she had been taught right from the get-go, and it was one of the first things that she had really picked up on. Now, if she were facing her foe, she could confidently use a spear or a similar weapon to block incoming strikes, be they from a weapon, a limb, a tail, or even claws. She'd had no idea that the Thunder Clan had made 'practice claws' out of tree bark.
After countless hours training with Taka, and then countless more hours training with Taka, Roxy could feel something change inside of her. It was as if a door had been unlocked in her mind and she was finally shifting towards the mind of a combatant. It wasn't as if fighting was now fun or enjoyable to her, but she found herself with a bit more focus than before. There was less of that paralyzing sense of fear that tended to attack her during combat situations, and she was now able to focus as much as she could on analyzing her opponent and deciding where the next strike would come from.
Admittedly, she had only been fighting Taka, but he was a frightening enough opponent on his own sometimes.
On the flipside of the Poké Ball, that was the only thing that she could say she was now adept at. She was still having a lot of trouble when it came to counterattacks and ways to disable or disarm her opponent. She didn't have much of the strength required to force her foe off-balance, or to create distance between the two of them. She was also still struggling just as much as before with her electric attacks. Taka had told her that said attacks were vital for her, since she didn't possess the 'Spark'.
It was a process. It was a routine that she was following. It had been many weeks since his promise to take her to the edge of the forest. She had expected this to make her feel jumpy or impatient, but she felt neither of those things. Things were strangely calm, if a little tense at times. Perhaps it was because she had a clear goal, and a way to work towards it.
"Look what I found, Roxy."
The Pikachu's ears perked up upon hearing the familiar voice. She glanced over at the newcomer and said, "Miri?" Then, her eyes widened and she gasped.
Miri smiled sweetly. "Do you know anybody who would want these?"
"Meee! Mememememe!!" Roxy exclaimed, giggling as she beheld the pile of Leppa Berries in Miri's paws. Her stomach chose that moment to growl, reminding her that she hadn't eaten since breakfast.
"Really? You like Leppa Berries?" Miri asked teasingly.
Roxy stuck out her tongue and playfully snatched a berry from the bunch. She wasted no time in chowing down on the delectable fruit. "Mmmm!!" She smiled at the wonderful taste.
"How have you been?" Miri asked, taking a seat next to her, "I have not seen you for a couple of days."
Roxy swallowed her mouthful of berry before answering. "Pretty good, I suppose…ish…" She shrugged. "Y'know how it is."
"Well, even 'good-ish' is something to be happy about, is it not?"
"Yeah," Roxy nodded. "I've been spending a lot of time here…"
"I had heard. You are continuing to train with Taka? I had thought that requirement no longer applied to you."
"Yeah, but…It's actually going well this time. I'm getting better. Not just with fighting, but, like, in my head too. Things are different now. Taka's become a much better teacher."
Miri smiled and patted her on the back. "I still remember that first week. You hobbled over to my hut, one bruise away from being completely beaten up, all from Taka's teaching…" She sighed. "Have you ever taken a step back and looked at how far you have come?"
"I have…" Roxy glanced off in thought for a moment. "It is a lot, but in some ways I'm still exactly the same. Sometimes, it's even a little scary to think about how much different I am now. I sometimes get this weird worry that I'm changing and I won't be the same Roxy anymore."
"Oh, that is silly," Miri said with a lighthearted chuckle, "No matter what happens or how much you change, nothing can change the very essence of you. You are Roxy, and you will always be Roxy, unless you choose to stop being Roxy."
The young Pikachu smiled a little.
"You love Leppa Berries, so you must still be the same Roxy!"
A giggle slipped past Roxy's lips.
"Where is this renewed interest coming from, though?"
"I…" Roxy paused briefly. Taka still wanted her to keep their plans under wraps for the time being. "…I guess so much has happened to me, that I just want to stop being a victim, y'know? I'm really pestering Taka into focusing as much as possible on self-defence. I never wanted to become a 'warrior' and I still don't."
"That is understandable," Miri said with a nod, "I do think that certain members of this clan, in the early days, saw you as something they could mold. Besides myself, no-one in this village has ever not been a warrior. But also, it was always your intention to go home someday, was it not? I think some of us forgot to listen to that fact."
"…" Roxy stared at the ground for a moment. "Y-yeah…" she murmured quietly. She then gasped softly as Miri suddenly reached a paw over and gave her a hug.
"You will get home someday," she said, "I know you will."
Roxy was about to smile and agree, but pessimism chose that moment to cloud over her mind. She was still faced with a seemingly impossible obstacle to overcome before she would be permitted to go home with Taka. Someone still had to learn Grass Knot.
"…What's it like when you use Heal Pulse?"
The Audino didn't reply right away. "You mean my healing waves? Hmm…" Roxy glanced back and saw that she had her paw to her chin in thought. "Goodness, young one. You seem to have asked an impossible question."
Roxy's ears fell. "Really…?"
"It is something that I have been able to do since I was but a young cub. The energy that I use and control is something that I am…innately familiar with. I do not think I could explain it to someone else, no matter how hard I tried."
Slumping down a little, Roxy let out a sigh.
"Why? Have I upset you somehow?" Miri asked, sounding a little worried.
"It's the same with my Grass Knot. It's something I just can't explain to others…"
"Ah…" Miri replied in understanding, "Yes, I had also heard that others were trying to learn your powers. I take it their attempts are still unsuccessful?"
Roxy nodded. "It's…super important that somebody else learns it."
"Quite so. It is an invaluable defence."
It's also important to me for other reasons, Roxy said to herself.
"Well, do not let it get you down, Roxy. I am sure someone will be able to grasp it sooner or later."
Roxy tsked in frustration. "I wish you could learn it," she muttered, "S'probably easier for you since you already know about energy and stuff…" She then furrowed her brow. Could Audino learn Grass Knot? She didn't think so, but then again there were so many different Moves and so many different Pokémon, it was so hard to keep track of them all. The listing in the encyclopaedia had been a huge table in tiny print that still took up about 15 pages.
"I will consider the problem," Miri told her, "I will try to think of a way to explain my own powers, and perhaps that will help you."
"I dunno if it's gonna happen," Roxy said pessimistically, "I think everyone in the village has tried to learn from me…Almost everyone, anyway…"
"Really?" Miri spoke, slightly incredulous.
"Taka, Bamaka, Roma'a…even Karizu tried his best and couldn't get it."
She sighed again. "Makari was so smart…He woulda gotten it in a jiffy…" she muttered darkly.
Miri reached over and patted her on the back. "Come now, Roxy. Cheer up. Enjoy the Leppa Berries! Your favourite treat will lift your spirits."
Roxy glanced at the Leppas that Miri was still holding. Her mouth watered and she already felt some of her cares start to drift away. "I can have another?" she asked.
"Oh, no, no. These are all for you!" Miri said cheerfully, holding out all five of the remaining berries to her.
"Of course! They are your favourite, after all."
Roxy gratefully accepted the berries, and by the time she had eaten them all she was feeling a lot better. In the meantime, Roxy and Miri talked about a lot of things and enjoyed one another's company. The conversation moved towards much nicer topics that didn't make Roxy stress out.
She was once more smiling and laughing by the end.
"Well," Miri said after the last berry had disappeared into Roxy's mouth, "I should not keep you any longer."
"Yeah," Roxy nodded, "Thanks for that. I promised Taka that I would practice my Grass Knot."
"Uh huh. My biggest problem with it is endurance. It's a huge drain on my energy, and I'd like to be able to keep it going for longer if I can."
"I see, I see. Well, a full belly is sure to give you plenty of energy."
Roxy laughed. "You're right! This should be a piece of cake!"
"A piece of what?"
She turned to look at the Audino, baffled for a moment before she realized just who she was talking to. Instead, she laughed once more. "Nothing. Never mind. I'll talk to you later, okay?"
Miri tilted her head a little, but then smiled as well. "Okay! Good luck with your training, Roxy."
Roxy waved to Miri as she walked off towards the village, and then she giggled. Of course Miri wouldn't know what a 'cake' was. Human figures of speech didn't really work here.
She sighed in contentment from her fresh meal and stood up. After a quick stretch, she made her way to the middle of the training area and got ready for some Grass Knot training.
"…Now I want cake…"
Roxy's adrenaline had reached 11 out of 10!
She was panting heavily, eyes wide open and alert, and paws gripped tightly around the spear she held. She kept herself light on her paws, ready to move at a moment's notice. She was sweating profusely, but tried her best to ignore it. She had more important things to focus on.
Taka darted forward and swung. Roxy held up her spear horizontally just in time for his attack to glance off, but this didn't stop the warrior. He immediately slid to the side to attack again. Roxy shifted her body weight just enough so that she could block this strike as well.
Taka then began to circle around her, trying to get in a strike wherever he could. She was carrying a practice spear with a dulled tip, though she wasn't focusing on using it as a weapon at all. Roxy was just focused on staying alive, figuratively speaking. While Taka only carried a simple stick without any spear attached to it, Roxy knew that it still stung quite a bit when he got in a hit.
Roxy closed her eyes, grit her teeth, and pushed forward with her own weapon. Taka's momentum was turned back against him, forcing him to take a step back so as not to fall over. Roxy used this time to adjust her stance and get more distance between the two of them. She watched him closely, breathing quietly but quickly, not letting her gaze leave him for a second.
Taka was the predator. Taka wanted to kill her, and she needed to stop him.
Her heart felt like it was going to pop, or that it was going to never stop beating this hard. She could feel herself being pushed to her limits, but she ignored this too. All that mattered was blocking Taka's next strike. She took a step back and batted away his short jumping strike, causing his weapon to hit a tree nearby instead. Taka then twirled around and brought his stick around to strike her on the opposite side, but Roxy was ready for this strike too.
The forest air was filled with the clacks and whacks of their weapons connecting, like an asynchronous drum beat. It was the only sound that could be heard. Roxy couldn't afford to waste any breath on any kind of sound. Taka was relentless in his attacks, just like he always was.
More dodges, more blocking. Roxy twisted herself this way and that to be able to intercept his strikes as best she could, making sure to always bring her weapon back into a ready state. She knew the follies of successfully blocking an attack, only to be unprepared for the next one. Until the target's guard was down, the dance of spears would not end.
Minutes passed as Roxy's stamina slowly but surely depleted. She grit her teeth, trying to expend as much effort as she could out of those last few drops of adrenaline. She had to keep going. She knew she couldn't stop.
Finally, with one more shove of her own weapon against his, Roxy forced Taka back and the two stopped moving. Taka regarded her while she breathed heavily, trying to catch her lost breath. But she didn't leave her guard down. Taka would sometimes trick her by only pretending that their practice session was over.
"Quite impressive," he said, smiling as he stood up straight.
Roxy stood up straight as well, but gave him a cautious eye.
Taka, however, tossed the weapon over his shoulder and it clattered to the ground a fair distance away. That was more of a sign that the session was over.
She let out a big sigh of relief and held a paw to her chest. She could feel her heart hammering against her ribs, and it felt like nothing would ever get her breath back.
"That was definitely quite remarkable," Taka commented, "You have indeed come a long way."
"Thanks…" she said through her heavy panting, unable to say much more.
Taka looked at her with a curious expression for a moment. "You do realize what just happened, don't you?"
Finally having caught at least half of her breath, Roxy tilted her head at him and replied, "No, what?"
"That was the first time you were able to avoid getting hit…entirely."
Roxy blinked once, a surprised expression on her face as she thought back to the match that had just taken place. It was mostly all a blur but, now that she thought about it, she couldn't recall Taka managing to get any hits in. She certainly didn't have any bruises to represent any.
"…Really?" she asked, just for confirmation.
She grinned excitedly. "Oh my gosh, wow!" she cheered. Over the past couple of weeks, Taka had been routinely testing her like this. He certainly wasn't using his full skillset, otherwise she'd have no chance. However, he was using the same general set of moves against her, if ordered randomly each time. To be able to have fully blocked each and every strike was something that amazed her.
"You are improving."
"I…I'm improving," she said with a smile.
"Perhaps this won't turn out as difficult as I had envisioned."
Roxy jumped up a few times in excitement.
"Do not let it get to your head," he immediately cautioned her, "You still need to improve your thunder skills, your special skill, and your counterattacks."
"I know…I know, but I'm just excited! I should go treat myself! I passed one of my courses!"
Taka looked at her in confusion. "You what now?"
Roxy snickered. "Never mind. Don't worry about it."
Taka just furrowed his brows at her, then rolled his eyes as she ran off.
"All right…" Taka said in a slightly frustrated tone, pinching the bridge of his muzzle, "This is clearly your weak point."
Roxy frowned. "Gee, y'think?"
"This is…not normal."
Roxy was sitting on the ground, forelimbs crossed, and her ears still twitching a bit from the leftover electricity. She would have liked to say she had been practicing to learn Thundershock, but a more apt description would be to say she was just shocking herself.
"It may not be a nice thing to hear," Taka continued, "but it is the truth. Some Pichu and Pikachu are slower to learn how to wield their thunder, but by your age they can all at least master the basic moves." He then held up his paw. "Before you say anything, I know you are trying very hard. You are doing your best, but the results simply are not what should be expected."
Roxy glanced away.
"If you could only learn the simplest move…" he said, which Roxy knew referred to Thundershock, "…then that would be fine, but you cannot even reach that. The fact is that you will be unable to cause actual damage to anything besides…I don't know, a Caterpie perhaps."
Sighing, Roxy turned to look at him once more. "What should I do? Is there, like, some kind of super training to juice up the electricity in me? I think I saw that on some kid's show once, and that Pikachu beat an Onix."
"Perhaps you should speak with Miri."
Roxy tilted her head. "Miri? Why?"
"I think she might be able to find the problem."
At first she was confused by what he meant. What could Miri know that an actual Electric-type didn't? Then, however, she realized what he was implying. "What?" she blurted out, "You think something's wrong with me? Like I've got some kind of…some kind of…medical problem?"
"At this point, I would not rule it out."
Roxy felt a bit incensed. "You think I've got a disability, like I'm some kind of cripple. Gee, thanks a lot Taka…"
The moment after those words left her mouth, though, she frowned and glanced down at the ground. She began to wonder if it really was true. Maybe she was just born with something that was preventing her from using Electric Moves, or maybe it was something because of her upbringing that she couldn't change now.
A long period of silence floated between the two. Neither one of them looked at the other.
"Well…" Roxy spoke finally in a tiny voice, "What if I do…?"
Taka didn't reply right away.
"Does that mean…I can't go home?" She mentally braced herself, dreading the answer.
Another couple of tense minutes passed before Taka finally let out a sigh. "No…It does not mean that."
Roxy let out a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding, feeling a wave of relief wash over her.
"It would make the journey more dangerous, though. You are already at a disadvantage without the Spark."
"I can do my best to keep you safe, but I am not perfect…"
Roxy whimpered quietly, staring down at the ground. She needed another handicap like she needed a hole in her head. It was going to be hard enough to get through the forest without being able to use Electric attacks. Did she really have some sort of shortcoming? Was that even medically possible?
"Um…" she spoke up, "I don't mean this to be rude or anything, but how good are you?" She glanced up at Taka to hear his answer.
Taka half-rolled his eyes. "I have mastered all of the techniques. It is just that I usually do not need them."
"So you can do Thunder?"
He gave her an inquisitive look.
"Uhh…The move where lightning comes straight down from the sky?"
"Ah. Yes, of course."
Roxy nodded. That was good. At least Taka knew one of the more powerful Electric-type Moves. Still, though, what would it mean for the future if training electric attacks was getting her nowhere? If she couldn't do anything more than a measly little Thunder Jolt, did she have a chance out there?
Roxy was focused. She was more determined than ever before.
She was in a ready position, holding the blunted spear in her paws. Taka stood facing her, ready to begin the day's lesson. As usual, he had that same impassive look on his face. It was Roxy who had fire in her eyes.
The trip to Miri's a few days ago hadn't exactly told her anything conclusive. Miri was a healer, not a veterinarian. She did do her best to examine Roxy, though, and watched her do a Thunder Jolt. Miri had noted that the inside of her body didn't feel the same as others in the tribe. Furthermore, Miri had heard tell of a Water Pokémon living near her original tribe who couldn't perform Water Moves, so it was possible for the same to happen to Roxy.
Inconclusive results, though they may have been, the most likely conclusion was that Roxy wouldn't be able to learn Thundershock, Thunderbolt, Thunder, or anything useful.
That was why she was so determined. She stared down Taka, her teacher and her opponent, ready to put 150% into whatever he was going to teach her. Roxy had decided that if she was going to have a handicap, then she was going to do whatever she could to compensate for it.
"Counterattacks," Taka announced, "They are an important skill to learn. No matter how good you are at defending, if you cannot counterattack, then you will simply be stuck defending endlessly until you run out of strength and die."
That was Taka, blunt as always.
"Even if your counterattack does not connect," Taka continued, "It will often be enough to throw off your opponent's rhythm or upset their balance, giving you enough time to escape, press attacks, or wait for help to arrive."
She nodded. "Right."
"So, we will begin with a sudden jab forward with the shaft of your weapon, using the paw that is already holding it up to block. I will come at you with a series of repetitive moves. Block at least three of them, then choose your moment to strike back at me."
Roxy's ears perked up. "Strike?" she repeated.
"Yes. Strike at me like this," he said, and then demonstrated the jab that she was to perform.
"Uhh…" Roxy muttered, "I, uh…Are you sure? You really want me to…jab you like that? I don't wanna hurt you, Taka."
Taka turned his head and gave her an odd look with a raised eyebrow. "…Seriously?"
"Roxy, trust me. If you can manage to hurt me, then you will be able to walk to the forest's edge on your own." After a moment, he punctuated his statement with a little smirk.
She gave him a nonplussed look. "I've hit you before in training…"
"Obviously because I let you."
"Right, sure," she muttered with a roll of her eyes.
"Do you want to learn to counterattack or not?"
Roxy sighed and held up her weapon. "Fine, fine. Let's just do this."
Taka nodded and stepped towards her. Once he was close enough, he rose his weapon and made a rather slow swing towards her right shoulder. Roxy held up her spear to block it. He then did the same but to her left side, and she blocked that easily as well. Then he went back to the right, which she blocked, and continued this pattern while picking up speed. Roxy soon understood what he meant by repetitive moves. It was at least nice that Taka was employing teaching methods that started her out slow and easy.
The sound of wood clacking against wood repeatedly rung out through the air as Roxy focused on blocking the same two repeating strikes over and over again. Her next step was to block one of the strikes, then push her paw forward to jab one end of the spear towards Taka. She realized that if she did it right, she could end up hitting him right in the muzzle.
She briefly hesitated, fearing that she would injure her instructor. However, he had insisted that she do it anyway. After a few more strikes, Roxy chose an opening and suddenly jabbed the lowered end of the weapon forward.
It would have struck Taka in the cheek. Instead, it merely struck air after Taka swiftly moved his head just a few inches to the side.
"Not bad for your first try," he commented.
"Whoa…How did you do that? It's like you knew when it was coming!"
"Instinct, training, knowing my opponent…Take your pick."
Roxy skewed her lips. It was sometimes easy to forget just how good Taka could be when he wanted to.
"Next time," he continued, "Do not wait so long after your opponent has struck. The moment your weapons connect, strike back."
"…Right," she murmured unconfidently.
"Something troubling you?"
"I don't know if I can react that fast."
He shook his head. "That is why you do not counterattack immediately upon blocking the first strike. Parry with your opponent a few times and pay attention for the perfect time to strike."
"Oh…" Roxy said with a thoughtful expression, "Yeah, I guess that makes more sense."
"Good. Now try it again."
Roxy was nervous.
It wasn't because she was facing off against Taka, who was coming at her like a crazy wild Pokémon, nor was it because this was a test for her that involved a full-on, fight to the end, sparring match. It also wasn't because Taka wasn't holding back as much and had managed to get a number of good hits on her.
No, Roxy was nervous because they had drawn a crowd. A large crowd.
Apparently Roxy had shown enough of an increase in her skills that it was now considered a spectacle to see. A large group of villagers was standing just outside of the training area and watching the two of them fight. Among the crowd were both wise ones, Miri, Bamaka, Adi and his family.
With so many Pokémon watching her fight, she was developing quite a case of stage fright. However, she had been in a good mood when the match had started, so the mix of emotions was somewhat balancing her out. Taka had told her that it had been much more than a month since the Earth Tribe's invasion and it looked like they weren't coming back, neither to attack nor for their promised berries. Basically, it meant that one of her three requirements for going home was now officially checked off.
Now, however, she was trying to prove that a second checkmark could be placed, both to Taka and to herself. This wasn't so much a final exam, but it was a chance to prove how much she had learned. It was hard to believe, and even harder to admit, but Roxy had become a competent fighter.
Or, at least she did when it came to defence.
Taka circled around her, crawling on three paws while the fourth held his boomerang ready. He had his back arched and his tail high to the sky, ready to pounce on her or use his weapon. Roxy stayed steady on her hind paws, keeping a close eye on him. He had given her quite a few cuts and bruises already, but nothing enough to slow her down.
Taka, of course, was spotless. That wasn't the point of the fight, though.
He suddenly pounced, bringing the back end of his boomerang swinging forward as he brought it down towards her like a blunt weapon. The moment his paws left the ground, she adjusted her own stance and got ready to dodge to the side if needed. Before that happened, though, she quickly brought up her spear horizontal-wise to intercept his attack. Then she tilted her spear to deflect the attack away from her.
Without missing a beat, Roxy carried the momentum of her block forward and used it to bring her spear around for a jab. Taka saw this and was forced to dodge backwards, away from her. That was a point in her favour.
They had been fighting like this for quite a while, much longer than any of their previous training sessions. She was starting to get quite winded, but she figured that Taka was secretly testing her endurance as well. She knew she would need plenty of stamina to make it through the thick, untamed forest and to run away from foes.
No-one in the crowd made a single sound. None of them dared to create distraction more than what their mere presence already caused. When Roxy caught glimpses of them, though, she could see many wide eyes and impressed looks. A few even seemed to be in disbelief.
This is really happening, she thought, I'm…becoming a fighter…and I'm actually doing it!
A moment later, she quickly scolded herself for getting distracted, even just a little bit. She paid for it a moment later as Taka's boomerang came sailing through the air in an arc, whacking her in the back of her head before returning to its owner.
She growled with determination. She had come too far to leave this fight with her tail between her legs. When Taka then tried to capitalize after his boomerang strike, she was immediately ready for him.
Taka had leapt towards her, ready to swing his boomerang at her like a club some more. Over the course of Taka's lessons, Roxy had come to realize that sometimes, in order to be victorious, one needs to take risks. So, instead of falling back into a defensive position like usual, she took a step forward and met his weapon head-on with her own. There was a resounding clack as the two weapons collided.
Roxy took another step forward, pushing against Taka's boomerang with her spear and forcing him to rebalance his stance. This was something the two of them had done before in training, and Roxy was meant to force Taka's weight off to the side so that he would roll right past her. She had done it multiple times and had eventually gotten somewhat good at it.
Instead, Roxy feigned doing said move, but instead suddenly ducked her head down. Less than a second later, she pulled her spear down as well so that nothing was holding back Taka's boomerang. Before this sudden upset in their little war of attrition could even affect him, Roxy pounced forward and tackled Taka to the ground by wrapping her paws around his midsection. The shock from his Static stung quite a bit, but she ignored it.
Taka took about two seconds to react to being forced onto his back. While not a long period of time, in respect to Taka it was noticeably long. Roxy briefly grinned in satisfaction that she had taken him by surprise, and was then tossed off of him like a ragdoll.
She rolled across the ground and stood up as quickly as she could, shooting the crowd a quick grin. They had all audibly gasped when she had pulled off that move, which was yet another small victory point in her favour.
"Not bad," Taka commented as he sprinted towards her, "Not bad at all!" Taka then leapt into the air, spun around, and aimed a tail swipe directly at her face.
She could have deflected this with her weapon, but she ducked instead. This caused his tail to nick her ears slightly, giving her an interesting buzzing sensation as his Static touched them, but it put her in prime position to jab forward with her own weapon. If her opponent hadn't been Taka, she probably would have hit them.
The crowd was murmuring by now. Another point in her favour. They were all seeing what she could do now. What had changed. With the motivation of truly going home, she had forced herself to learn and to learn well. All of her little worries and anxieties, like not wanting to become a fighter, had been washed away. She had simply told herself, day after day, to learn this stuff.
Sometimes, she didn't even notice how much she had learned. Some of it had started becoming second nature to her. A lot of fighting moves were like weird dances. Watching and practicing over and over again allowed her to see the steps and learn how to do them herself. And, with repetition and constant training, her strength, stamina, dexterity and even reaction time all improved. Practice truly did make perfect.
Now she was holding her own against Taka. She could fight against Taka and not immediately lose! Not even two months ago, she would have thought this completely impossible. Just a few short moons ago, she hadn't been a fighter at all. Now though, with her mind focused on a goal that was so real and so, so close, the transformation was happening.
If she could last this long against Taka, the best fighter in the whole tribe, then things were starting to look a lot brighter in her future.
Her future had clouds in it.
Roxy was sitting against one of the trees in the village, paws crossed and rather frustrated.
"I apologize, Roxy," Baza spoke, "I have tried my best…"
She waved her paw. "I know, I know. I'm not mad at you…" she said with a sigh, "Thanks for trying, Baza."
The Pikachu warrior gave her an apologetic shrug before walking off.
Roxy groaned softly and whacked the tree's trunk with her paw in frustration. "What does it matter?" she muttered, "So what if I'm learning to fight and getting better…I'm gonna be stuck here until someone can learn freaking Grass Knot…"
She let out a heavy sigh. She was pretty certain that every single member of the tribe had attempted Grass Knot with her by this point. Even the young cubs who didn't even have a name had tried. No matter how hard they tried, no matter how few distractions there were, no-one could pick up on the natural energy needed to perform the move. It was imperceptible to them.
A heavy feeling of futility was starting to grow within her. All of her accomplishments in combat were starting to feel meaningless in light of this failure. She could see victory and almost reach out and grab it, but without this final step she would never reach it. So, she wondered if it was worth climbing up in the first place.
"Cheer up, Roxy…"
She raised her head and saw Miri approaching her with a gentle smile. The Audino was running her paws through the fur on her head, which was noticeably damp. Along with the direction she was coming from, Roxy surmised that Miri had just been bathing in the river.
"It can't be done," Roxy said, "I'm certain of it. You just can't teach TM Moves…"
Miri reached up with her paws and grasped one of her fluffy ears, carefully but firmly wringing out the excess water. "Look on the bright side," she commented, "The Earth Tribe seems to be long gone, and you have become an excellent fighter, considering where you started from. I know that you do not wish to be here, but things certainly are going rather well for you here at the moment."
Yet another sigh. "I guess…"
"You never know. Perhaps a traveling Pokémon from another tribe will stop by who can learn your technique."
Roxy scoffed. "That'd be my luck. They'd be able to learn the Move, and then they wouldn't stick around."
Miri frowned, wringing out her other ear. "Aw, come now…There is no need to be so sour…"
"Ugh…" Roxy felt like she had every right to be sour. However, she couldn't tell Miri the real reason why. Only she herself knew just how important it was to teach somebody else Grass Knot. If she could accomplish that, she felt like her and Taka's departure could come in only a few days. It felt so close and yet so far.
"Come on. Irritated is not a good look for you."
Roxy flinched as Miri suddenly patted her on the head.
"Would you like a berry? I think I still have one or two with me."
Glancing up at the Audino and her kind, selfless face made Roxy's anger simmer a little. She let out one more sigh and tried her best to put a smile on her face. "Yeah. Sure, I'd love one."
"Great!" Miri said with a smile. She then reached down with one of her paws, but frowned a moment later. She patted her stomach and sides a few times, getting a rather bewildered look on her face.
"Miri?" Roxy spoke up, "What's wrong?"
"Oh, for heaven's sake…" Miri murmured before turning her head and giving Roxy an apologetic look. She then said, "I must have left my satchel down by the river. It had all the berries in it…"
"Oh. Oh dear…" Roxy replied.
Miri chuckled in embarrassment and rubbed the back of her neck. "Sorry about that. Dear me. I shall go retrieve it, and then you can have a berry. I hope that is agreeable?"
Roxy smiled. "No problem. If you want, I-"
She was cut off however when the two were interrupted by an approaching Pikachu who looked rather worried. "Miri!" he exclaimed.
"Yaga? What is it?" Miri asked.
"Bamaka was sparring in the training area and he's been hurt. We need you!"
Roxy got to her paws and gasped. "Oh no! Is he okay?" she asked, "Nothing serious I hope…"
"It is not serious, thank heavens," Yaga replied, "but he does require your attention, Miri."
"Of course, of course. I will be right there," Miri replied, and then Yaga nodded and dashed off. Miri then turned to regard Roxy. "I am so sorry, but would you mind doing me a favour?"
"You want me to go pick up your satchel?" Roxy replied, anticipating the request, "Sure. Absolutely. Just go and make sure he's okay."
Miri nodded. "Thank you." She then offered Roxy a reassuring smile. "I am sure he will be fine, but tending to injuries sooner rather than later is important."
"Yeah, it's no problem. I'll go get it."
"Okay. I will see you soon, young one."
The two gave each other a quick wave, and then Miri turned and ran off. Roxy watched her for a moment. She felt a little twinge of worry about the wellbeing of one of her friends, but neither of the two had sounded all that worried about him. Miri would just be there to make sure things went swimmingly.
Speaking of swimming, Roxy nodded to herself and picked up her spear. She then quickly dashed off, heading for the bathing spot at the river. She had come to develop a rather keen sense of direction when it came to the village and what surrounded it, and could easily determine which direction was the right way.
She felt the spear, attached to her backside with a couple of vines and easily within her reach. Most of the villagers walked around while carrying weapons, even within the safety of the village, and so Roxy had begun to adopt that trait. Even now, going to a place where she had once been attacked, she didn't even spare a single thought towards having to use it. It was just important to have it there, and she knew this.
Admittedly, one of the things Roxy still struggled with was running at full speed with a piece of wood and rock strapped to her back. She was doing her best to get better at it.
In no time at all, she had reached the bathing area. This had been the very first place that she had ever felt comfortable being alone in besides the village centre or her hut. Not a single incident had occurred here since the Mightyena that had attacked her, not to her or to anybody else.
Roxy approached the water's edge and came to a stop. She glanced around for a bit before finally spotting the satchel sitting a few yards away. She quickly padded over and picked it up, and then slung it over her shoulder.
As she turned around to head back, she found herself pausing once she was facing the water's edge. She stepped closer and leaned forward, looking down at her reflection in the gently flowing water. Roxy was a little surprised to see herself. She looked a lot different than before. There were tribal markings on her fur, a leaf-woven satchel around her neck, and a spear strapped to her back. She even looked more fit than before.
Her ears twitched.
Roxy froze as her heart dropped like a rock. Worry and panic immediately tried to assert themselves. Everything was now focused entirely on what she had just heard.
Something was behind her.
There was a perfectly good chance that it was just someone from the Thunder Tribe approaching behind her. Raichu especially could be very light on their paws. However, something in her gut told her that this wasn't the case. Something else was behind her.
She tensed up, but focused on keeping herself from locking up completely. An overwhelming sense of dread and panic was there on the horizon, slowly slipping into her. It was happening again. Something was about to attack her at the river again, in the very same spot.
The sound of a pair of paws on the grass, more noticeable this time.
Roxy made a snap decision. She reached up with one paw, gripped her spear, and then turned completely around whilst drawing it.
Not a millisecond passed between her turning to face her foe, and just barely being able to bring her spear up in time to block. She intercepted the pair of paws that were pouncing at her, stopping them from reaching her but knocking her off balance. She staggered back a few steps as her foe righted itself on the ground.
Time caught up with her and she immediately panicked for a brief moment over what she had just done. If she hadn't blocked, then she would've been slammed to the ground under her foe's heavy weight and sharp claws.
A second wave of panic flowed through her as she got a good look at her opponent, her pupils shrinking to dots. "What the hell?!" she exclaimed, taking a cautious step back.
A large, quadrupedal Pokémon was standing before her. It had strong-looking limbs, a long tail, and fluffy fur that got particularly thick around its neck. It was also completely coloured black from head to tail, like something had just been covered in crude oil. It looked nothing at all like any of the seven hundred plus known Pokémon that Roxy knew about.
It quickly became apparent that none of that was important. What she needed to focus on was the Pokémon's razor-sharp claws, razor-sharp teeth, and very hungry look in its eyes.
Time slowed down as Roxy suddenly found herself back in that same old nightmare that she had faced many times before. Something that wanted her dead was standing a few feet away and staring right at her. Whatever this Pokémon was, it looked like it was stronger, faster and bigger than she was by far. She could feel panic and spikes of anxiety consuming her entire body, freezing her on the spot. Her heart thumped like wild against her chest and she could barely breathe.
The Pokémon pounced, landed just before her, and took a swipe at her with its paw.
Roxy took a step back and lowered herself slightly, swiftly bringing her spear up lengthwise to catch the paw before it could connect with her. The impact sent a jolt through her whole body, but the attack was blocked.
The Pokémon attacked with its other paw, but Roxy quickly shifted herself around so she could properly block that strike as well.
A horrible, tense, feeling was running right up her spine. Her eyes were wide, sweat was dripping from her, and she couldn't help but let out a few panicked whines. No-one was there. No Pokémon was coming to help her. She was all alone against this deadly beast, whatever it was.
There was no time to think about that. It was pouncing. It was going to bite her head right off. She quickly ducked herself down and held up her spear horizontally. It caught the creature right between its teeth, allowing her to give a push forward and shove it off to the side. While it tried to regain its balance, she gave a quick jab with the handle of the spear towards its face, not hitting it but causing it to flinch.
Hey…I'm doing it…
Roxy jumped just in time to avoid a paw swipe. A second swipe, higher up, nearly connected with her before she could stumble back. The fur on her chest tickled from the rush of air and it sent chills down her spine.
Roxy was still terrified.
As she took a few more steps back to distance herself from her foe, she vaguely realized that she had been crying. Her cheeks were soaking wet from her tears. Taka's words rang through her head, though. She knew that she was terrified and it was okay to be, but it couldn't control her. The moment she let her fear get control, she would be dead.
She circled back a little bit, getting further from the river. The beast prowled along after her, keeping her in its vicious sight. It quickly jumped a few feet forward and then raised its paw to strike down on her.
Roxy screamed in terror. She also swung her spear and batted the paw away. Sweat ran down her trembling body as she took a daring step forwards and jabbed the spear right towards its other paw. The creature was forced to retreat to avoid getting punctured.
Where was everybody? Why wasn't anyone on patrol coming to help her?
She jumped high in the air to avoid another claw swipe from the jet black predator. Fear had a vice grip on her heart, causing an almost painful sensation in her chest, but she tried as much as she could to stay focused. She had learned how to deal with this. She had spent days and days learning this stuff.
Another successful block. Roxy's mind began to race. Her Electric Moves still weren't good enough. She didn't know what type this strange Pokémon was, so her Grass Knot probably wouldn't be very useful. What she wouldn't give to have someone, anyone here to help her fend this thing off.
Roxy was close to hyperventilating by now, but she couldn't let that defeat her either. The Pokémon darted forward and made another vicious swipe at her, but she ducked down and blocked this as well. She made a jab to counterattack, but it missed her foe entirely. She was barely able to bring her spear back to block the next strike.
This thing was a lot bigger and stronger than her. She had to end this now, or it would end her.
As she continued to warily circle around the Pokémon, she saw what was probably her only chance. When the Pokémon made to attack her again, she chose to block with a swinging strike instead of holding her spear up. This forced the Pokémon to step back so it wouldn't be hit by the sharp point of her spear.
That's when Roxy took her daring move. Before her opponent could try anything else she quickly leapt forward right towards it. Her panic spiked while she was in the air, and her mind told her that she had just killed herself. A terrified scream escaped her throat, but she was still able to deliver a kick right into the Pokémon's muzzle. It cried out in pain, flinching back and holding a paw up to its nose. When Roxy landed, she then performed one of the most recent moves she had learned from Taka. With a quick jump and a twist of her body, she backflipped in the air and whacked the Pokémon under its chin with her tail.
She deftly landed just in time to see the creature rear up on its hind legs, grasping at its injured muzzle. On the one paw, this made it significantly larger than her, giving her a moment of feeling small and powerless. She shook that off though, because she knew she only needed to do one more thing right to end this.
While the Pokémon was still unbalanced, Roxy struck. She let out a shout that was somewhere between a war cry and a panicked scream, dashed forward, and jabbed the butt end of her spear right into the Pokémon's stomach.
It immediately recoiled in pain from having such a tender spot struck. It teetered back for a moment on its hind paws, let out a short, distressed cry, and then a moment later it lost its balance. The Pokémon fell over backwards and splashed down hard into the river.
Run. Run! Run!! This was the moment when she was supposed to run, but Roxy found she couldn't. Her paws were frozen, thanks to a deep-seeded fear of turning her back on the Pokémon, even while it was submerged under the river. It took her far too long to convince herself to finally move, and even then she just ended up walking backwards somewhat quickly.
The Pokémon resurfaced a moment later, letting out a gasp of air. It shook its head, flinging water off of its fur in every direction.
As well as its black colour.
Dumbfounded, Roxy stopped moving. She watched as the Pokémon sat there in the river, all of the black colour draining off of its fur and making a trail of black that swam down the river. Underneath, the Pokémon's grey, blue and yellow fur was revealed. Including its spiky mane and distinctive star-shaped tail.
The Luxray, now fully revealed, shot her a grin. "Not bad," he commented, "I can honestly say I did not expect that."
Roxy's brain was broken. She could tell. On the computer screen in her mind, there was nothing but a blue screen with garbled text. She blinked her eyes a ridiculous amount of times, but the inexplicable image remained in front of her. That terrifying, horrifying Pokémon had somehow traded places with Adi while under the water.
She then nearly jumped right out of her skin as an uproarious applause suddenly filled the forest air. She whipped her head around behind her, finding a huge group of Thunder Clan villagers stepping out from behind the trees, all of them clapping their paws. All of her close friends were there, Taka was there, the wise ones were there.
"Congratulations, Roxy!" Miri said with a big smile on her face, "Well done!"
Roxy, only getting more confused by the second, shifted her gaze between all of the applauding Pokémon. They all had happy smiles on their faces. She, meanwhile, was still stuck holding her spear in a defensive position.
"I am impressed," Taka said as he stepped forward and gave her a single pat on the back. There was a splashing noise as Adi climbed out of the river and shook off the rest of the water on his fur.
"Wuh…" Roxy shook her head and then shouted, "What's going on?!"
A few of the villagers laughed at her reaction, only confusing her even more.
"This was a test, Roxy," Miri said, "and you performed wonderfully!"
"You have been doing very well in your training," Taka said, causing her to shift her attention back to him, "You have learned a lot and improved your skills. You have even performed well in battle against myself and others in this tribe." He then held up his paw and a single digit. "However," he continued, "I needed to see if you had yet reached a point where you could still use these skills in an unexpected and stressful situation."
"We all worked together with Taka to set this whole thing up," Karizu spoke, "You were never in any real danger."
"I left my satchel here on purpose," Miri added, "and the others pretended there was a medical problem."
Roxy stared off into space for a moment, trying to shift gears and process this properly. She slowly glanced over at Adi, who was now completely free of his black pigment. "That was…Adi…the whole time?" Roxy murmured in disbelief.
Adi nodded and gestured towards the water, still tainted black slightly. "It is the same paint as our marks, but with a different colour," he explained.
"And more water in the mixture, so that it would wash off easier," Karizu added.
That terrifying, horrible black-coloured Pokémon had been Adi? Roxy thought back to her encounter, and even still she couldn't connect the two. She hadn't recognized the Luxray even in the slightest.
Miri patted her on the back, jolting her out of her stupor. "You passed, Roxy! You performed well beyond our expectations."
"I…did?" she asked. Then, she thought back to the fight she'd just had against the disguised Adi. It was a fight she had won. She had been utterly terrified and suffering from an overload of anxiety the whole time, but she had still managed to overcome that and use all of the skills she had learned. "I…I did!" she repeated, this time with more certainty.
"Well done, Roxy," Taka said simply.
She started smiling brightly. "I did it!!" she exclaimed, "I can't believe it! I did it!!"
The crowd erupted into applause once more, and Roxy couldn't stop herself from throwing her paws into the air and jumping around excitedly. She whooped in delight, more proud of herself than she had ever been before.
This was it. This was the next checkmark. True, the whole thing had been staged, but Roxy had completely believed that this encounter had been real. If an actual wild Pokémon had attacked, Roxy would have reacted in the same way.
And she had won!
"You have come such a long way, Roxy!" Miri cheered, hopping over to give her a hug.
"Yaaaay!!" she yelled, "This is so awesome!!"
All along the way, even when Roxy had been doing well, she'd always had doubts about herself. No matter how good she got at fighting, some part of her brain always said that she would never be good enough to go home. Today was the biggest blow she had ever dealt against that anxious part of herself. She had faced off against one of the toughest and strongest members of the clan. She doubted Adi would have actually hurt her, but she hadn't even gotten touched by his paws at all. She had done it all by herself, and even in spite of that, she knew that she would have Taka with her on the journey through the forest. Roxy's optimism went through the roof.
"Wooo!! Taka!!" she exclaimed, bounding over and giving the stoic Pikachu a huge hug against his will.
"Hey! Stop it, pet…"
Roxy released him and jumped up excitedly a few more times. "Oh my gosh," she gushed, "We can totally do it, Taka! We can make it all the way through the forest now. I know it!"
A moment later, a hush fell over most of the crowd. Cheers and applause turned into confused murmuring. It took Roxy a second to realize what she had just said. She gasped, eyes wide open, and clasped her paws over her mouth.
Her eyes slowly roamed the crowd. She saw many of the Thunder Clan members glancing at one another with concerned looks, most of them muttering things to one another. She saw Karizu and Natoka, looking at her in shock and disbelief. She then turned her head back and looked at Taka, who had his paw pressed up against his face in exasperation.
Roxy the Pikachu is not part of a Pokémon Trainer's team. She does not take part in Pokémon battles. No, she is happy to spend her days relaxing at home and enjoying the company of her loving human master.
So when Roxy somehow ends up in the middle of the wilderness, surrounded by dangerous wild Pokémon, suffice to say her entire world is flipped upside-down.