Published: March 13, 2018
Chapter 26 - Old Friends, New Ideas (Part 2)
With some time still left before the match, she found herself examining the various stones once more. There was a surprising amount of colour variance between them. There were green, blue, and even orange stones. She couldn't tell if they were naturally like that, or if they had been recoloured somehow.
About twenty minutes later, Taka returned to her. "Where did you get that?" he asked as he strode up.
Roxy lifted her gaze and gave him a nonplussed look. "Well, hello to you as well," she said flatly, "Aro gave it to me so I could get a closer look, but then he had to run off."
Roxy watched Taka shrug and then wander off to the side. She rolled her eyes, supposing that was the end of that conversation.
A short time later, the air was suddenly filled with a loud sound that sounded like a deep horn. Roxy straightened up in alarm and looked around in confusion.
"It is an instrument made out of a hollowed piece of wood," Taka explained before she could even ask her question, "Come. The match is to begin."
Roxy quickly slipped the necklace around her neck and stood up. "Really? They made their own horn?" she asked as she began to follow him across the glade, "Wow, this forest is just fascinating…"
She glanced around and saw almost the entire tribe were moving as well, slowly congregating in the same general direction. Only a few stayed behind, likely to remain on guard duty. Everyone looked rather jovial as they moved, speaking animatedly to each other. The cubs in particular all looked really excited.
"This looks like it's gonna be a lot of fun," Roxy said with a smile, "It's like going to a baseball game or a soccer game or something." She then giggled to herself. "I wish I had some popcorn!"
Taka groaned in front of her.
"What?" she asked, giving him a confused look.
He glanced back at her over his shoulder. "I happen to know what 'popcorn' is," he informed her in a flat tone, "Now you've gone and made me want some."
Roxy blinked and stared at him for a moment, then burst out in another fit of giggles. "Ah, don't worry Taka," she said as she stepped up to pat him on his shoulder, "I love popcorn too. I can probably get you some when we get to the city."
The two followed the flow of the crowd as they left the glade and moved through the trees for a fairly short distance. Soon enough, they began to pool around their destination. Roxy eagerly squeezed herself to the front of the crowd, and was astounded by what she saw.
In a small, very shallow valley, a vaguely circular arena had been carved out of the ground. Literally, the forest floor appeared to have been ripped out, along with several feet of dirt below it, to form what looked like an above-ground pool without the water. The walls of the shallow arena were smooth, and looked like they required constant upkeep. Splayed somewhat awkwardly overtop of the arena was a large fallen tree. It was mostly branchless, but a few odd limbs stuck out, and a few of them reached down to the bottom of the arena.
Taka stepped up next to her. "I will admit, it is rather impressive."
"Holy smokes…" she murmured, "What? Did they hire out Ground-Type contractors to dig this?"
"As far as I know, the Gaia Tribe created this themselves."
She looked over at Taka in disbelief, and then back at the arena itself. "That must have taken tons of work!"
Suddenly a voice rang out loudly. "Brethren of the Gaia Tribe, and honoured guests!"
Roxy turned to see that the Breloom from earlier had leapt up on top of the fallen tree and was addressing the crowd. She wondered what sort of status he held within the tribe.
"Welcome to this evening's arena match. Today, our mighty leader Aro is ready to face off once again against the mighty Zakata!"
A cheer erupted from the crowd, and Roxy saw the two named Pokémon step forward from the sea of villagers and hop down into the pit. Aro was on the side closest to her, while on the opposite end was a rather intimidating-looking Grovyle. There seemed to be an equal amount of body paint to scars covering his body, and the leaf on the top of his head had a massive rip in it. While he looked like a hardened warrior, though, he was smiling and acting like he hadn't seen an injury in his life.
"Featured today," the Breloom continued, "is unarmed combat with traditional victory rules. You all know how this goes, so I shall not waste any more time." He then made an impressive leap off of the tree and landed on the edge of the pit.
Down below, Aro and his foe gave each other determined and confident glares, though both still wore a half grin. The Grovyle, Zakata, had to be at least twice as tall as Aro, probably closer to three times as tall. Aro looked positively miniscule in comparison. It made Roxy feel a little worried. Though she couldn't see any malice in Zakata's expression, and figured that the two would fight fairly, she still couldn't imagine how the little Snivy could duel against such a larger opponent without getting really hurt.
Roxy didn't have any more time to think about it, because the duel commenced like a gunshot. She blinked and Aro was gone from his starting point, and it took her a moment to find him again. Taka hadn't been lying; Aro was fast! He ran full tilt, with his head almost touching the ground and his leafy tail held out parallel behind him, and he zipped from spot to spot without ever going the same direction twice.
Zakata stood his ground and kept a careful eye on Aro. It looked like he was no stranger to Aro's movements and wasn't about to let himself get caught off guard. He looked like a tensed coil, ready to spring at any minute.
Aro struck first, and what happened next went by so fast that Roxy almost missed it. Aro had quickly leapt up from the ground, snaking through the air like a missile, aimed directly for Zakata's head. The Grovyle had retaliated just in the nick of time, bringing up his forelimb and whacking Aro away like a pesky Bug-Type. She watched the Snivy tumble off to the side.
A moment later, Roxy realized she was wrong. Aro hadn't been struck. He had managed to bound off of Zakata's limb as if it were a platform and was now sailing through the air in the opposite direction. Before a second could even pass, vines sprouted from behind Aro's shoulders and shot directly towards the fallen tree. They gripped onto one of the branches and then tightened, letting Aro use it to swing himself back around towards Zakata. His momentum now increased even more, Zakata could not block Aro's strike in time.
Aro landed on the ground behind Zakata, skidding to a stop with a triumphant grin on his face. Though Zakata had been struck right in the side of the head, he did not waste any time in lashing out at the Snivy a mere millisecond later. Aro darted to the side and dodged this.
It seemed Zakata had been expecting this, and was already diving through the air in mid-pounce, aimed directly for where Aro was standing. Before the Grovyle could make contact, though, Aro did something else spectacular. He sprouted his vines once more and pressed them straight down to the ground. Then, he used them to push himself straight up as if they were a set of really long legs, and Zakata passed right through the empty space below.
All of this happened in the span of a few seconds, leaving Roxy's head spinning.
She watched the two combatants move about, and was constantly surprised by Aro's grace. He moved through the air like water, never sitting still for more than a second. He was frequently making liberal use of his vines, almost as if they were the wires used by human performers on stage when they were meant to 'fly'.
Both of them eventually managed to land a few hits on each other, which never amounted to more than a striking blow with a limb or a vine. Zakata had tried to grab hold of Aro a few times, but hadn't been successful. In some ways it was similar to a Pokémon Battle, but in a lot of ways it was not. For one thing, they were not using very many official Moves.
"Aro's tactic is to exhaust his opponent," Taka commented, drawing her gaze for a moment, "At least, in combat such as this."
"Aro is forcing his opponent to lash out, but is able to evade almost every strike. Eventually, his opponent will tire simply due to their larger body mass, while Aro will have kept his own stamina carefully under control."
She glanced back down. As she did, she barely managed to catch a glimpse of Aro sliding along the ground like a baserunner in baseball, with one vine hooked onto a tree branch. When the vine became taut, he used the bungee-like momentum to lift himself back up and speeding off in the other direction. His Tackle then landed directly in Zakata's midsection, causing the Grovyle to stumble back a little.
"One of the ways to end combat like this is to pin one's opponent down," Taka continued, "but this is not usually an option for Aro."
Roxy nodded in understanding. It was obvious, considering his size.
"On the other paw, one can win by completely incapacitating their opponent. That is where his exceptional control over his vines becomes his advantage."
She then gave Taka a sidelong glance. "You seem to know quite a lot about how Aro fights."
Taka subtly shrugged. "Aro is an experienced and skilled fighter. Even I did not expect to win against him when I entered the arena."
Roxy gave him a brief surprised glance. Now that was a story she needed to hear at some point.
The match continued on for a couple more exciting minutes. The gathered crowd did not cheer, seeming to remain relatively quiet so that the combatants could focus. There was plenty of excited murmuring however, and many encouraging smiles and gestures.
Roxy started to notice that Zakata was starting to breathe a little more heavily. She thought about what Taka had told her about Aro exhausting his opponents.
A moment later, Aro struck. Nearly as fast as a bullet, Aro slammed right into Zakata's belly. Then, before the Grovyle could react, Aro quickly wrapped his vines around the wrists on Zakata's forelimbs. Using his forward momentum, Aro slid between Zakata's hind legs and ended up behind him, and then pulled hard with his vines. Zakata's forelimbs were yanked down between his own legs, causing him to easily topple forward onto his face.
Aro wasted no time. He deftly hopped onto Zakata's back and stood there, still holding his vines taut. With his forelimbs being pulled through his hind legs, Zakata was pretty effectively pretzeled. With no way to counterbalance his overturned body weight, Zakata was left with no option to push himself back up into a standing position.
Zakata did struggle as best he could. He thrashed with his hind legs, and even tried to hit Aro with a Razor Leaf attack from the leaf on his head. It didn't matter, though. Aro held strong and seemed to have effectively immobilized the Grovyle. A blow of the horn a few seconds later confirmed it; Aro had won.
The moment the sound of the horn resonated through the air, Aro retracted all of his vines and hopped off of Zakata. The Grovyle stood up, a defeated but humble look on his face, and dusted himself off. The two combatants faced each other, stood in silence for a moment, and then shared a simple pawshake.
Aro then turned to address the crowd and raised up his forelimbs in victory. Still there was no cheering from the crowd, like Roxy would have expected after a fight. Instead there was applause and a few impressed words shared between the villagers. It was like Aro had won a chess match instead of a rigorous battle against a strong foe, but Aro seemed to appreciate it just as much. Roxy happily joined in with the applause.
The tree cover was thick in this area, but a few stray beams of sunshine managed to force their way through. One of them must have been shining down on Aro, because he looked like he was simply glowing with triumph. Obviously winning this match meant a lot to him.
Roxy was thoroughly impressed. Size difference was usually not something that solely decided who would win a match, as some Pokémon species remained small even when fully evolved. Still, Snivy were very small, tiny creatures who didn't exactly project an image of strength. To take on a fully-grown Grovyle so much bigger than he was, and to make the victory look so easy, was simply astounding to her.
The murmurs in the crowd began to grow louder in volume, and Roxy noted a moment later that they almost sounded concerned. She glanced around, and saw that many of them were pointing down into the arena. Curious, Roxy turned and looked down as well, but all she saw was Aro and Zakata.
Her brow furrowed as she leaned in a little bit, looking at Aro. At first she wasn't sure if her eyes were playing tricks on her, but it became clear once Zakata let out a startled yelp when he saw it. Aro was glowing with much more than a sense of victory.
His whole body was beginning to glow white. Aro seemed confused for a moment when he saw all the concerned gazes being directed at him, but he caught a glimpse of his own paw a moment later and gasped. He frantically started inspecting his whole body, which was very slowly glowing brighter and brighter.
"Ah!" he gasped out, and then fell down onto all fours. Zakata stepped forward to help him, but hesitated.
At first Roxy was concerned, and then she went back to being confused. It took her a bit longer than she would have liked to realize what was happening, and she only really clued in once the other villagers started to shout it.
"He's…evolving!" she muttered in a stupefied voice.
"He is…!" Taka confirmed, equally as stupefied.
The murmurs of the villagers around them rose to a higher pitch, running the gambit of emotions. Many were confused, some still seemed concerned, but some others were starting to express joy and fascination. It wasn't long before everybody was atwitter about the dimly glowing Snivy down in the arena.
"Oh my gosh, this is really happening isn't it?" Roxy asked, starting to feel a little excitement of her own.
"It does seem that way," Taka replied, "but…How? Why?"
"Oh, he must be so excited! It's finally happening!" Roxy was grinning brightly. A few of the audience members started to applaud once more, and Roxy happily joined in. She couldn't imagine the feeling of finally getting to evolve after years of being denied it.
Aro was still on all fours. His back was arched, looking like he was ready to either pounce or throw up. The bright glow enveloping his body was slowly growing brighter, and was now starting to obscure the green colour in his skin.
Roxy hesitated in her applause when she saw his face, though. He had his teeth grit and his eyes clenched shut. When she looked a little closer, she thought she could see his digits squeezing and clawing at the dirt under him.
"Is he okay?" she asked.
"I am not so sure…" Taka answered, uncertainty in his tone.
She frowned. "Gosh, it looks like he's in pain." She turned to look at Taka. "Evolution's not supposed to be painful. It feels really weird, but it doesn't hurt," she said, speaking from experience.
"No, it does not…" Taka said in agreement.
Roxy regarded the Snivy once more. "Maybe it hurts because it's been put off for so long? I've never heard of anything like that, but he's been a Snivy for a long time, so maybe? I hope that's all it is, because a little pain will be worth it when he becomes a Servine, right?"
It seemed like some of the other villagers had noticed his distress as well. The applause had stopped, and some of the Pokémon were making their way down into the arena and heading out to aid him. She was too far away to hear him, but the way his face was twisted up made it look like he was groaning in pain. It almost looked like he was bracing himself on the ground, as if holding on against a powerful gust of wind. Roxy became increasingly worried, as well as confused.
"He doesn't want to…"
Roxy turned towards Taka, and saw that he looked as if a lightbulb had appeared over his head. "What?" she asked.
"He is trying to stop it," Taka clarified, "He is trying to keep the Evolution from happening. He is trying to stay as a Snivy!"
"What?!" Roxy blurted out, "Why??"
"How should I know? I am not psychic!"
She turned and looked at Aro once more, who was glowing almost too brightly to see. Now that she got another look at the way he was behaving, it did look like he was straining against something. Roxy had heard stories of Pokémon trying to stop their own Evolution, and it was always described as a nearly-impossible struggle. If that was the case, then it might be even more difficult if Evolution had been postponed for this long.
"Are you sure??" she asked.
She squinted and tried to see past the bright glow. The process would be over in only a few short seconds. Though it was hard to see much of anything, Roxy was just barely able to see one thing. Aro was shaking his head, as if saying 'no'.
He was trying to stop the Evolution.
Roxy's heart suddenly doubled its speed as she leapt up onto her paws. Aro was going to become a Servine faster than she could say 'Viridian City' if someone didn't do something. "Aro!!" she shouted as loudly as she could.
It looked like Aro could barely move, but he did wrench open one of his eyes and look up at her.
Roxy grabbed the necklace that she was still wearing and frantically yanked it up over her head. "Catch!!" she shouted before reeling back and tossing the necklace towards Aro as hard as she could.
The necklace tumbled awkwardly through the air, and Roxy had a brief moment of panic that she hadn't thrown it far enough. Her fears were assuaged when the necklace sailed flawlessly towards the downed Snivy in a perfect arc. Aro lifted up a single paw and caught it.
"Put it on!" she shouted.
Aro quickly slipped it over his rather large head, and then collapsed forward onto all fours again. For a moment, everybody silently waited. Ten tense seconds passed with no change. Aro continued to glow just as brightly.
Then, slowly but surely, the glow began to fade. The stress levels visible on Aro's face receded with it, and he took in a few heavy breaths. His glowing body grew dimmer and dimmer. Roxy could see some of the villagers in the arena giving each other perplexed looks, but she focused on Aro completely.
A few more tense, silent seconds passed by. Aro remained on all fours, staring ahead and simply panting as the glow receded from his body. Then, at last, his body stopped glowing completely and it looked as if nothing had happened to him in the first place. Aro promptly collapsed onto his stomach as he let out a haggard breath of relief. The other villagers immediately went to his aid.
Roxy, meanwhile, sighed in relief and sat back down. Her heart still thumped wildly in her chest from all of the excitement. She cocked her head to the side and saw that Taka was giving her a look that could only be called 'befuddled'.
She just offered him a smile and winked.
"I had a sneaking suspicion, but it turned out I was right!"
Roxy was seated back in the patch where she had been sitting before the arena match, with Aro and Taka sitting before her. They were both listening to her every word, as were about 75 percent of the rest of the village who had gathered around in a circle.
Aro was looking fine. He had been pretty exhausted after the ordeal, but after a few berries was none the worse for wear. Though he did his best to mask it, Roxy could tell he was still a little shaken by what had happened.
"A suspicion of what?" Taka asked, prodding her to explain further.
Roxy leaned forward and pointed to Aro's necklace. "One of these must be an Everstone."
Aro and Taka shared a perplexed look. "A what?" Aro replied.
She giggled softly. "It's a rare kind of stone that has unique properties," she explained, recalling what she had read in her master's books, "They are very valuable to humans, mostly because they are so hard to find."
The confused looks that remained on their faces told her that neither had ever heard of an Everstone before. "What does this…Everstone do?" Aro asked.
"If an Everstone is held by a Pokémon and kept in close contact with their body, it keeps them from Evolving. So long as a Pokémon holds one, they will never Evolve."
Now she heard a few gasps ring out through her audience. Aro had gasped as well, and then he glanced down at the necklace. "…Truly?" he asked in a quiet voice.
"That is why I…The whole reason why I could not Evolve was because…"
Roxy smiled sympathetically and leaned forward to pat Aro on the shoulder. "I'm afraid so."
She expected him to sigh or lament this unfortunate fact, but she did not expect him to burst out chuckling all of a sudden. "Oh dear heavens…" he muttered through his laughter, "That is ridiculous. Of all the things…"
"I guess one of the first stones on there was the Everstone. I don't know how to tell them apart, so I couldn't show you which one was the Everstone if you were to ask me…"
Aro's laughter died down. "What are the odds, hm?"
"What I don't get, though…" Roxy said with a curious frown, "…is why you wanted it to stop. I thought you'd be happy to become a Servine at last. I thought you'd be over the moon, and yet you're still a Snivy."
He gave her a grin as he replied. "Because a Snivy is who I am." At her perplexed look, he chuckled and continued speaking. "If this Everstone had been discovered many years ago, then you would be right. I would have happily embraced the Evolution that had been kept from me for so long. But, as I told you before, I learned how to accept my fate. I have embraced being a Snivy for far more than a decade at this point… I would not want that to change now."
"Really?" Roxy said, slightly in disbelief, "So you really want to be a Snivy forever, even though you don't have to now?"
He nodded, and then chuckled once more. "Perhaps when I am on my deathbed…I will do it just to see what it is like."
A wave of laughter spread through the gathered audience.
Aro reached down and gently grasped the necklace in one of his paws. "If this is what will keep me as a Snivy, then I shall never part with it." A smile appeared on his face, and to Roxy it looked as if it contained a thousand different emotions.
She was silent for a moment, but then smiled and said, "Well, I'm happy for you, then. Glad to have the mystery solved at least, right?"
Taka then leaned in and finally contributed to the conversation. "I am happy for you as well, Aro. When I first met you, you had already accepted your fate and I was happy to see that this had not changed when I returned. I feel like this is the right decision. You know yourself, and you have gotten to know yourself for a great many years by now."
Roxy giggled and added, "As they say, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it!'"
The two at first gave her an odd look, but Aro joined in with her laughter a moment later. Roxy looked at him, and she saw how genuine his smile was. She had felt so sorry for Aro at first, thinking that he was beset with a handicap. Now, seeing just how happy he was even after being offered a chance to fix the issue, made her believe as well that he shouldn't change. She'd only known him for less than a day, but one thing was plainly obvious to her by this point.
Aro was a very strong, wise and skilled Snivy.
Evening fell, and most of the village prepared to go to sleep. Roxy knew that most Grass-Types preferred to only be active when the sun was out because of their physiology, and indeed it seemed like sundown was definitely 'lights out' around this village. She and Taka were settling themselves into the two separate grassy beds they had been provided.
He stopped what he was doing and looked over at her. "Hm?"
"You've been giving me weird looks all afternoon. Something you wanna say?"
"I have most certainly not been giving you 'weird' looks."
Roxy chuckled softly and shook her head.
A moment later, Taka spoke up. "I simply feel that I must say…Your knowledge from the human world was quite useful today. Certainly if it had not been for this knowledge, Aro's life would have been drastically changed."
She gave him a cheeky grin. "Thank you, Taka. You're too kind."
Taka sat down on his bedding. "I do not think very many Pokémon in this forest, if any at all, have ever heard of this stone. It makes me wonder if anyone else has been stricken with this 'affliction'."
"Well," Roxy replied, "Now that Aro and the Gaia Tribe know, they can help spread the word! You said they get a lot of visitors through here, didn't you?"
"That is true…"
Roxy shrugged and sat down on her own bedding. "I'm just glad I could throw the necklace to him in time. It all turned out good. Right now, I'm just stoked to get a whole night's sleep."
Taka looked like was going to say something, but hesitated.
"What?" she said, giving him a look.
"I suppose…I should learn to trust your viewpoints a little more often."
Roxy swelled with pride, and perhaps a touch of a sense of victory, upon hearing him say that. "Thank you, Taka," she said, more sincerely this time.
Taka then promptly laid down on his bedding, facing away from her. "Enough talk," he said, "We have been given safe shelter and should capitalize on this. Go to sleep."
For a moment, Roxy just sat there and looked at him. She considered saying something else, but shrugged it off and just chuckled to herself. She knew that he was right about getting some sleep. It had been a rather exciting day, but she had no doubts that she would be asleep as soon as her head hit the bedding.
So, that is exactly what happened.