Chapter 27 - Battle Scars
Yesterday, nearly everyone in the Gaia Tribe had been watching a spectacle unfold. Everyone had been standing around, gathered together, and staring wide-eyed at what they saw. It was easy to say that many of them were shocked. Today, the exact same thing was happening.
Except this time, they were all staring at Roxy.
"…How?!" someone blurted out.
Roxy giggled as she waved some of the grass strands around in a showy manner. "Humans," she replied, deciding to oversimplify the answer.
A vast majority of the tribe was gathered in the middle of the patch, watching Roxy perform a Move that she figured most of them probably already knew. Even so, to them it was still fascinating to see a Pikachu capable of pulling it off. Roxy hated to admit she was starting to enjoy being a spectacle.
One of the Simisage lumbered over, and reached out his hand to grasp one of the strands. He seemed mystified by what he was seeing, or perhaps feeling.
"Taka!" Aro said, turning to look at the Pikachu in question, "Where did you find her??"
Taka seemed to be smirking in satisfaction. "She has passed the skill on to our entire tribe," he said, "She was the one who saved our village from an invasion of the Earth Tribe."
Roxy glanced over to Taka as well with a smile on her face. It was nice, and also a little strange, to hear genuine praise coming from him.
Suddenly Aro perked up with a look of understanding. "Ah! Yes, truly, I recall tell of your tribe's difficult relationship with your neighbours. They actually tried to invade?"
"It came outta nowhere," Roxy remarked, still feeling just the tiniest shiver when she remembered the event.
"The blame falls on their new, young leader," Taka added, "Thankfully, we have heard that he was deposed soon after and the Earth Tribe has sought to build peace with our tribe."
"Well, that sounds wonderful," Aro said.
"Many would have died and all would have been lost if not for Roxy. That is why she received her marks."
Roxy blushed a little from all the praise.
"You truly are a remarkable Pokémon, young one," Aro said, and then immediately shifted his gaze and shouted, "Kunari!! Stop fondling her grass!"
All eyes shifted to the Simisage, who awkwardly froze and looked incredibly embarrassed. Roxy hadn't even realized that he was still examining the grass strands.
"…Sorry," he muttered.
Roxy was a tad bashful at Aro's choice of language, but she found herself giggling at the Simisage, apparently named 'Kunari'. "It's fine," she said, "I know I'm basically a circus act out here."
"My apologies," he said, "I can perform this skill as well, and I was trying to see if it was similar to mine. It is nearly identical. I am at a loss for words."
"Yup!" Roxy replied, "It's the same Move!" She then dispelled the grass, as she was starting to feel tired.
"Would you be willing to demonstrate this again for me later?"
Roxy didn't answer right away. She glanced over at Taka. He simply shrugged, implying that it was her choice. A part of her did want to get a move on, since they still had a long way to go. She shrugged through and said, "Sure!" She decided that it would be nice to relax for a little bit longer.
"You seemed to take quite a long time before you could unleash this power," Kunari commented.
Roxy rubbed the back of her neck and said, "Yeah. It's still kinda hard. I've been practicing it, but…"
Kunari put a hand on his chin and gave her a contemplative look. "Perhaps I could help with that…"
"Ready to leave?"
"Hm…?" Roxy murmured somewhat lethargically as she rolled over onto her back to see who was talking to her.
The upside-down face of Taka looked down at her. "We should go."
Roxy groaned softly. "Just gimme like five minutes." After a pause, she added, "And a Leppa."
Taka nodded and sat down close by. "Did you learn anything from Kunari?"
"I did," she said, with a little tired smile on her muzzle, "He's a Grass-Type, so he's really in tune with the energy and stuff. He was able to explain the energy in a way that I could never hope to do, and I think it did help."
She sighed and closed her eyes. It almost certainly had helped her improve. She could execute her Grass Knot with much less charging up now. She had cut the wind-up time in half at least. Unfortunately, doing so had required that she practice. Doing so many Grass Knots in a row had left her feeling pretty drained.
"That is good," Taka commented, "We may still need that skill."
"I should be able to do it faster and keep it going longer now. I'll haveta wait an' see until I put it into practice, but I'm optimistic… Now the only thing left to improve is my thunder…"
She immediately regretted saying that, expecting Taka to berate her lack of skills. However, he simply turned towards her and shrugged. "That is merely your weak skill. Everyone has one."
This was almost enough to make Roxy bolt right up. Almost. One of the things she had promised to Taka that she would improve before leaving the village was her Electric-Type attacks, but that had sort of fallen to the wayside somehow. As it stood, she could still only really do a Thunder Jolt, though perhaps a little more powerful than before. She still hadn't learned even the basic Thunder Shock.
Taka saw her surprised look. "You cannot utilize your thunder? Well, I cannot utilize your grass magic."
Roxy blinked. "Who are you and what have you done with Taka?"
That earned her an odd look.
About fifteen minutes later, Roxy was back on her paws but was still feeling hungry. She and Taka made her way over to the Servine currently in charge of handling their food stocks, who was happy to provide her with a pair of Leppas. This was easily able to bring back the remainder of her lost strength.
It was just as she was finishing this meal that Aro approached them. "Is it time for you two to depart?" he asked once he got close to them.
"I am afraid we have dallied long enough," Taka replied, "The longer one rests, the harder it is for one to get going again."
Aro nodded. "An undeniable truth." He then turned to look at Roxy. "Well, it was wonderful to meet you, young one. Yours is a story that many of us will not forget for a long while." He punctuated his statement with a chuckle.
"Oh, it was so nice to meet all of you!" she replied, "Aside from the Thunder Clan, I'd only met mean, killer Pokémon in this forest so far, so this was a great change of pace!"
"And again, thank you very much for what you did for me during the arena match. Thank heavens for your quick thinking and human ingenuity."
"Aw, it was nothing. Just happy to help," she said with a humble smile, "Thank you for the Leppas!"
"Oh, feel free to take a couple more for your journey. It is better to have and not want."
"That's very kind of you, Aro," Taka said, "Thank you."
A bemused look appeared on Aro's face as Taka went to speak to the Servine once more, and Roxy giggled. "He's starting to talk like me."
"Really, now?" Aro replied, "You know, he always struck me as a wayward soul. A spirit lost in the forest with no real place to call home. Though he never said so directly, it is why I presumed he was on his initial journey in the first place…"
"Yeah, I kinda get what you mean."
Aro looked like he was in deep through for a few more minutes, but then clasped his paws together and said, "Well! The Gaia Tribe wishes the both of you the best of luck. I really do hope you find your way home, Roxy."
"That's so sweet of you, Aro. Thank you. It's all that matters to me. Even if there are a couple of really nice things in this forest, I just can't stop until I get out."
Aro chuckled once more. "Completely understandable."
Taka came back over, his satchel bulging with fruit, to talk to Aro once more. Roxy stepped back to give them some space. It was clear just from the way that the two interacted that they really were good friends. Taka had apparently 'changed' after his first journey, but Aro didn't seem to care very much. She got the feeling that the two of them wished they could see each other more often, despite how impossible such a desire was.
Then they shared a quick hug, and Taka turned and walked off.
"He never cared for goodbyes," Aro commented as she approached again.
"Aro, I know you're the leader of this tribe, and so I'm sorry for this terribly improper thing I am about to do."
Aro then yelped in surprise as Roxy leaned down and gripped the smaller Pokémon in a tight hug, actually lifting him up off of the ground a few feet. When she set him down again, he seemed a bit bewildered.
"What was that for…?" he muttered.
"Do you know how rare it is that something's smaller than a runt like me?" she asked playfully.
Aro crossed his forelimbs and gave her a look of mock seriousness.
"It was nice to meet you, Aro. I gotta go now. My master is waiting."
He nodded as the smile returned to his face. "Be careful out there, young one," he said, "Do not take unnecessary risks. The forest is full of hungry Pokémon."
She smiled and gave him a wave as she turned and started to head off in the direction Taka had gone. "Don't worry, we'll be careful!" she said, "It's actually been going really well, y'know? Our journey hasn't really been all that dangerous so far!"
Their journey had gotten a lot more dangerous.
Roxy was crouched in a bush, her heart in her throat, trying desperately to keep herself from shivering lest she shake the bush's branches. It was late twilight, and it was getting really hard to see anything. She gripped her spear as tightly as she could, but it honestly felt about as useful as a toothpick to her.
The Mightyena was out there somewhere.
Roxy huddled herself up into a little ball of stress and wished she could just become invisible. Ever since leaving the territory of the Gaia Tribe, it was as if a switch had been flipped. Now, the pair were encountering a predator or dangerous Pokémon of some kind at least once a day, often more. Not only that, but more predators were noticing them.
Their simple jaunt through the forest had come to an end. Now, every day suddenly felt like a fight for her life. Where before they had run because they wanted to get out of the forest as soon as possible, now they were usually running away from something chasing them. Roxy had pushed herself beyond exhaustion more times than she could count. Every time, it felt like this would be the time she would finally run out of steam and she would end up being caught.
Every time she waited all too eagerly to hear Taka's signal that they should start climbing a tree.
There were the times where they had been forced to fight. To defend their own lives weapons had been brandished and duels had been waged against other Pokémon with sharp teeth, sharp claws, and sometimes even more sharp things. Nothing yet had escalated to the point where Roxy needed to actively attack. So far, she had gotten away with defensive moves and dodges while letting Taka do most of the work.
It had been more than five days since leaving the Gaia Tribe, but it felt like only yesterday she had been in that safe haven. Now she was crouched in a bush, trying to keep herself from breathing, and terrified for her life. The predator was stalking her, and she had no idea where Taka was.
She started berating herself and asking why she ever left. She had been safe back there, just like she had been safe at the Thunder Clan. This wouldn't be happening if she had just stayed put.
These thoughts were coming to her more frequently, but they always died away a moment later. All she had to do was think of her master. Still, though, she was genuinely afraid that at the rate they were going, she wouldn't live long enough to see her again.
The tiniest little hint of movement caught her eye, and she instinctively looked right at it. The light was fading fast, but that large darkish blob was moving too much to be a rock or a tree. The Mightyena was prowling so close by. If it came any closer, she was sure she'd be able to smell its breath. It was only by hiding in this rather fragrant bush that kept her from being on the receiving end of the same thing.
The Mightyena started walking. It looked like it was moving towards her. Roxy's heart leapt right up her throat and out of her mouth. Had it seen her, or was it just ambling in this direction? Roxy didn't know, but she was anchored to the spot. Fear didn't usually cause her to freeze up anymore, but she was tired after a long day of running and her confidence had been shot since she'd been separated from Taka.
Just five or six days ago, she had been sleeping soundly surrounded by protective Grass-Types.
No! Stop thinking like that!
A shiver ran up her spine and she stifled a moan of despair. Whether she liked it or not, this was what she had to get through if she wanted to see her master again. If she had to run and hide from this thing until she was safe to continue, she would do so. If she had to fight it off until it left her alone, she would do so.
If she had to kill it…
Something suddenly wrapped around Roxy's midsection, pinning her forelimbs to her sides. A second something slapped onto her muzzle and covered her mouth before she could scream. She took in a surprised gasp, mostly through her nostrils, and was about to scream anyway. She realized, though, that whatever was grasping her was much too small to be Mightyena paws. This hardly abated her fears, but it did give her pause long enough to turn to the side and see what had assaulted her.
She let out a tremendous sigh of relief when she saw Taka standing there, a stern look on his face. When he saw that she had recognized him, he removed his paw from her muzzle and allowed her to breathe properly once again. Taka had just scared the living daylights out of her, but she understood that he had done it so she didn't scream and give away their position.
A moment later, the two had swiftly made it up to the top branches of a nearby tree. It didn't seem like the Mightyena had noticed their escape, judging by the sounds from below. At the same time, though, it didn't sound like the predator was ready to leave the area just yet. As it was still there, the two of them couldn't make a sound.
Taka motioned for Roxy to lay down on the branch and go to sleep. As usual, he would take the first four hours' watch.
Roxy looked at him like he was insane.
Taka pointed to his own eyes, and then pointed down in the general direction of the Mightyena. Roxy read this as 'I'll be watching him'.
She wanted to retort back and exclaim how impossible it would be for her to get any sleep in a situation like this, but gave up when she figured how hard it would be to say it with sign language. She laid down on the branch and tried to get comfortable, but all she could think about was the deadly creature stalking around down there. How was she supposed to relax?
She stole a quick glance up at Taka. He was already standing hear the tip of the branch, still hidden by the tree's leaves, and looking down vigilantly at the forest floor.
I'll have to trust him…
That was what this whole journey boiled down to. Almost everything they would encounter, and everything they would do, would all come back to the same idea. Roxy needed to trust Taka, because without him she would be sunk. Taka would keep a heedful watch, just like he always did. He would wake her up at the first sign of danger. Now was the time to get some sleep, otherwise she'd be too exhausted to face the dangers of tomorrow.
Still, though, how was she ever going to get any sleep at this rate?
Roxy cast a weary glance at the other Pikachu that was dashing in front of her. It was not the first time he had stopped to let her catch up. It was not even the tenth or twentieth time.
"I'm tired, Taka," she replied in a bit of a biting tone, "Sorry, not sorry."
Taka just stood there, his forelimbs crossed and one of his hind paws tapping impatiently. Who did he think he was, the White Buneary from Alice in Wonderland?
When she finally caught up to him, she was immediately worried that he would just dash off again and the cycle would repeat itself. As she stood there lightly panting, however, Taka remained still. She lifted her head and saw that he was giving her a contemplative gaze. His face was halfway to a scowl, but not quite there yet.
Roxy gave him a confused look. "'Fine' what?"
"We will rest," he said before turning and sauntering off. He walked over to a nearby tree, where he promptly sat down with his back leaning against it. He shot her a look and said, "Though you do realize this means our journey will take longer."
"Wh…" she muttered, looking at him somewhat in disbelief. "What're you talking about? No! I don't wanna stop, let's keep going!"
He arched an eyebrow at her.
Roxy crossed her forelimbs and pouted. "Don't be like this, Taka. You said it yourself. We have a long way to go, so let's go!"
Taka simply continued to look at her, and she wasn't sure if he was upset at her or surprised by what she was saying.
Truth be told, she was a little bit surprised in herself. She was tired enough to be panting and she felt a distinct weakness in her joints that demanded she take a moment and rest. Yet, as soon as Taka sat down and announced his intention to stop their journey, it was like none of that mattered. All signs pointed forward and she quite easily became frustrated that they weren't moving in that direction.
Seeing Taka sitting there and not moving was like an insult to her. It was a travesty. Her master was waiting for her, and here Taka was holding them back! "C'mon! Get up."
"No. You're tired. Sit down."
"Taka, really. I'm fine. I might be a little slower today, but we gotta keep moving right? The less time spent in this forest, the better. Right?"
Yet another silent lack of a response from Taka.
"…What, do you wanna rest?" she asked.
"Absolutely not," he said with a shake of his head.
"Then let's go already!"
He then gave her a confused and irritated look. "You're actually serious right now?" he said, "You do know that I am actually willing to stop and rest just for you, right? That is why I am sitting down right now. I know you assume that I am just going to drag you to your paws the moment you start to relax."
Roxy was quite taken aback. "Taka, what…?" she muttered incomprehensibly.
Taka pinched the bridge of his muzzle. "Just sit down."
"No," she said, starting to get cross.
"Fine then, have it your way!" he said testily as he quickly hopped back up onto his paws, "Do not come whining to me when you are too tired to walk. Or properly defend yourself. It is no fault of mine if you end up getting killed because of this; you will only have your own self to blame."
He started to storm off, prompting Roxy to quickly fall into step behind him. "Taka, what the hell's gotten into you?"
He didn't reply.
"Such a sourpuss, I swear… What, you eat a bad Pomeg for breakfast?"
"You should be thankful that I am making reservations for your…"
She nearly stopped in place just to stare at him. "For my what?" she snapped.
"Arceus above, Taka…I am thankful for you stopping so we can rest. I just don't need it, and I don't want it. I want to go home, Taka, but I also want to get out of this forest!"
Again with the silent treatment.
"You knew full well of my 'limitations' when you decided to do this, anyway," she quipped irritatedly, "I do my best, y'know."
"Your 'best'…" he grumbled.
"Now what's that supposed to mean?"
The two continued to argue about trivial things for the next ten minutes, though Roxy never really figured out what exactly it was they were fighting about. To her, it just seemed like Taka had woken up on the wrong side of the bed or something. He was far from the friendliest Pokémon she had ever met, but still.
"I have to perform all of the thunder attacks," Taka shot back at her. They were quite a ways further into the forest from where they had been before, but were still taking shots at one another.
"Yeah, I know. What about it?"
Taka sighed in frustration. "Nothing. Forget it."
"You coulda said that like five minutes ago, then we both could've shut up. I had a feeling something like this would happen sooner or later, but ugh…"
Taka turned and gave her a quick glare. "Don't make me leave you here."
"Oh gee, that's nice. Y'know, scientists say that Pichu evolve once they're really happy and friendly. It's a wonder you ever became a Pikachu."
Taka stopped in his tracks, causing Roxy to almost collide with him. He stood there for a moment, staring straight ahead.
"What now? Did I offend you or something? Sheesh, you can-"
Her words died on her lips, however, when Taka turned around with the most focused and intense stare on his face. He wasn't looking at her, though. He was looking behind her.
She didn't need to be told a third time. Roxy scrambled and started running as fast as she could. She barely slipped past Taka without running him over, and caught a brief glimpse of him tossing his boomerang back before also turning to run.
An exclamation of pain sounded from behind them. It only spurred her to run even faster.
Taka pulled ahead of her, and then Roxy bore witness to an astounding sight. Without even looking back, Taka somehow knew when his boomerang was going to return to him. With perfect timing, he leapt up into the air and twisted his body around into a full spin. As he did, he expertly caught the boomerang, brought it to his mouth so he could bite down on it, and then seamlessly landed on all fours and continued to run. He hadn't slowed down in the slightest.
Her marveling only lasted a couple of seconds before she was reminded that they were being chased. Roxy poured on the steam and pushed herself as hard as she could to keep up with Taka. The two of them dodged trees as they fled, but managed to stay close to one another. When they reached a section where they could run straight for a few uninterrupted seconds, Roxy decided to chance a look over her shoulder.
It was another Ursaring.
A big Ursaring.
A big, big, big Ursaring!
Roxy screamed inside of her own head and forced herself to tear her eyes off of the terrifying sight so she could focus on avoiding trees. That thing was huge! It had to be almost twice the height of an average Ursaring. How did it even manage to fit between the trees?!
"This way!" Taka called, signalling a sudden change in direction. Roxy bumped into a tree as she turned, but still managed to keep up.
"What do we do??"
Taka didn't answer. She couldn't see his face, but he seemed like he was trying to think while he ran. Roxy's brain was going into overdrive, mostly with barely contained panic. Taka was fast and she had gotten pretty fast over her time in the forest, but Ursaring could run almost as fast as trains. If it weren't for the dense tree cover, Roxy was sure they would have been caught already.
"Shut up! I'm thinking!"
She tried to help. She tried her best to think of a solution to this problem, but nothing came to mind. The only thing she could think of was to keep running, and that was a plan that wouldn't last very long. She glanced over her shoulder briefly once more, and saw the ravenous, hungry look on the Ursaring's very angry face. This was a huge problem.
Ursaring could climb trees.
Roxy felt her lungs burn as she pushed herself to dash even faster through the trees. Her heart was hammering in her chest but she couldn't hear it. All she could hear was the heavy, unnerving sound of the Ursaring panting as it gave chase.
Her earlier tiredness meant nothing to her. She ran at full speed, giving all of her available energy to keep her away from the sharp teeth of the predator behind her. Of course, it was up in the air as to how long that would last. One way or another, she knew she was eventually going to collapse.
Roxy had been keeping her eyes trained on Taka as she ran, so she could follow his amazingly swift movement between the trees and the bushes. When he shouted, she could see that he was looking off to the side. She figured he must have spotted somewhere they could hide or escape somehow.
Taka made a sharp turn that almost defied physics. Roxy was not quite as graceful, bumping roughly into the side of another tree as she tried to follow suit, but was able to make the turn without slowing down too much. Luck was on their side, as the turn was too sharp for the Ursaring to follow properly, leading it to stumble into some trees.
They continued to run, and Roxy knew it wouldn't be long before the Ursaring was on their tails once more. Her lungs burned like they were filled with fire and her joints ached and begged her for rest, but she just kept on following Taka.
Finally, after a while, she was able to see what Taka had spotted. There was a small but steep hill, or mound of earth. Part of a large hollowed tree trunk was partially embedded into the mound itself, looking as if it fell a very long time ago. The end of the log faced outwards from the hill, looking almost exactly like a pipe sticking out the side of a building. From what she could see, there didn't seem to be any obstructions inside the trunk. If they could both fit inside of it, they would hopefully be safe. It was much too small for the Ursaring to fit inside of.
It took an agonizingly long time to cover the remaining distance to the hill and the log, and Roxy could hear that the Ursaring was close behind once again. If she were to trip at any point, then it would be game over. She just needed to get to that log. Nothing else mattered, not even how exhausted she felt.
"Get in!!" was all Taka shouted once they had finally reached the mound. Taka, who was in front, made a decidedly graceful dive towards the log and slid right through the opening as if it had been oiled. He was gone from view in the blink of an eye.
Roxy was only a few steps behind him and tried to follow suit, but was a little less elegant. Instead of doing a dive, which she figured she probably wouldn't be able to do, she made a snap decision to play it safe. She reached the log's opening and crouched down low, then scrambled with her paws to squeeze into the small opening as quickly as she could.
Her body blocked most of the light from entering the log, but just before her vision was blinded, she saw that there was more to this log than meets the eye. It was, in fact, really short. However, it opened up to a surprisingly roomy grotto, as if the log was a doorway. Roxy mentally cheered, spurred on by the fact that this would provide them even more safety, and quickly pawed at the ground to pull herself the rest of the way in.
Roxy screamed as a bolt of pain ran right up her spine. A fraction of a second later, she started to move backwards out of the log. Judging by where the excruciating pain was coming from, Roxy figured what was happening, and it made her blood run cold.
The Ursaring had reached into the log with its claw and grabbed a hold of her tail. Now, it was trying to drag her back out.
Taka immediately dove forward and grabbed both of her paws. He tried to pull her into the grotto, but only succeeded in halting her progress in either direction. She couldn't see his face, but from the way he was breathing she imagined him to be struggling.
It was hard to imagine anything, though. The pain in her tail and her lower back was agonising. With Taka now on the other end, the Ursaring started to tug even harder. It felt like her whole tail was going to be ripped right off of her body.
Tears streamed from her eyes as she cried out in both pain and panic once more. She tried to dig at the ground with her hind paws while Taka continued to keep pulling, but it was still a stalemate. That is, until she started sliding a few inches backwards.
"Let go of me!!" Her loud plea escaped her muzzle before she even thought about what she was doing. "Stop it!! Please!!"
The Ursaring was continuing to slowly pull her out of the log. Its claws were digging painfully into her tail. Taka was holding on as much as he could, but his paws were sliding along the ground too as they fought this losing battle.
"Taka!" she exclaimed, "Don't let me go! Please don't let me go!!"
Too focused to answer, Taka only growled in determination. Roxy could feel it, though. His grip was slipping. Slowly but surely, Roxy was sliding back into the open maw of the Ursaring. She was a few seconds away from being dinner.
The only upside was that the pain was so unbearable, she felt like she was going to black out before that happened.
Her eyes snapped back open, even though she couldn't see very much. Taka sounded like he could barely get the words out.
The Ursaring's grip on her tail was just as strong, as was the pain, but she grit her teeth and nodded. It looked like this was her only option, so she had to take it. As she closed her eyes and tried to build up as much electricity as she could, she braced herself for what was about to come.
This was going to hurt.
The Ursaring growled outside. Could he hear what they were saying? "Give…up…" he growled in a low voice.
Roxy unleashed the most powerful Thunder Jolt she could manage. It wasn't much, but it would do a little more damage because the Ursaring was in direct contact with her.
That didn't matter, though, because a split second later Roxy cried out once again as Taka's much more powerful electricity shot through her body. It felt like she had been tossed into a pit of fire and it made her whole body hurt and feel weird. She was an Electric-type Pokémon, but it still hurt a lot! That was just how powerful Taka's electricity was.
She was already being used as a tug-o-war rope, so why not use herself as a conduit too?
Taka's plan seemed to work, because the Ursaring let out a loud, stuttering yelp as their combined electricity reached his own body. Taka didn't waste any time. As soon as he heard the yelp, he dug his hind paws into the ground and started to pull even harder. Now, on top of everything else, it felt like her forelimbs were going to be ripped out of their sockets as well. Roxy let out another agonizing cry.
Then, after far too many stressful seconds, something finally gave. Roxy's eyes bugged out of her head and she let out an ear piercing scream as she was sent hurtling into the tiny cave by all of the built-up momentum. She tumbled all the way to the back wall, where she collapsed in a heap.
Roxy inched open one of her eyes, and found she was facing towards the cave's log opening, but everything was blurry. Her pain receptors were off the charts. It felt like her whole body was in agony, even though she knew it was focused on her lower back and especially on her tail.
Through her fuzzy vision, she saw a large claw reach into the cave and desperately grasp around. Taka, who Roxy could see now thanks to the light streaming in from the small hole, wasted no time in stabbing the paw with his spear. Roxy heard the Ursaring cry out in pain.
Taka shouted something, and the Ursaring shouted something back. Her head was swimming too much, trying to deal with the hurt, to understand what they said. Taka sounded angry and defiant. He was still shoving his spear into the log opening, no doubt stabbing at the paw that kept trying to reach them. Sparks danced from Taka's cheeks as he shouted something else, briefly lighting up the cave.
Then, the Ursaring said one more thing in a relatively low voice, and she heard the loud steps that signified he was walking away. When silence reigned a few seconds later, she dared to believe that they had finally been left alone.
Once Taka was sure their pursuers had truly left, he quickly rushed over to Roxy's side. Roxy had been moaning and groaning in pure agony the whole time. He grasped her firmly with his paws and rolled her over so that she was on her side.
"Roxy, I'm here. Stay calm," he said in an uncharacteristically fast-paced voice, "Try to stay awake."
He gave her a quick once-over, swearing under his breath the whole time. Roxy barely had the strength to move. Pain clouded over everything else. She grit her teeth and tried to focus on her breathing, but it didn't help much. Roxy had never felt anything hurt this bad in her whole life, and she had once broken her leg. She was pretty sure that damp, warm feeling all over her hind paws and her lower half was blood.
"Tell me your name."
Roxy groaned in confusion at the strange question.
"Come on. Tell me what your name is."
"R…Roxy…" she slurred.
"Okay, and what is my name?"
"Okay…" He let out a quick breath of air. "Just stay still. Do not try to sit up."
Roxy's whole face twisted up in pain and she let out a loud cry of torture. It just hurt too much. She tried to move her paws back so she could hold it.
"Hey!" Taka said, pushing her paws back, "I said don't move."
"Just relax," he said, in a tone that would not help anybody relax, "Let me help."
Roxy just whined and let her forepaws fall limply to the ground. She laid there, enduring the thousand nails of pain being shoved into various parts of her body. Her head was pounding and her tail was throbbing like crazy.
Taka started doing some stuff, but she couldn't really pay attention. "T-Taka…?" she muttered, sounding like a frightened cub. Even in her current state, she grimaced at how vulnerable she sounded.
"He got you really good…" Taka bemoaned.
She just sat there for a couple of minutes, her eyes clenched shut as she took in quick breaths through her gritted teeth. The world was spinning around her and she really, really felt like she was going to vomit. She managed to keep the contents of her stomach inside of her, though. She simply focused on the pain, because there wasn't much else to focus on.
"Aah!" She yelped when Taka grabbed onto her tail, making everything feel even worse.
"Sorry," he immediately apologized, "I need to do this, though. You are just going to have to endure it."
Roxy started to cry. She couldn't help it. The way she figured, even the strongest and toughest Pokémon would start to cry when given the right amount of pain and suffering. She didn't think Taka would blame her, and she didn't care if he did anyway. Her sobs came out as pathetic whines, and she writhed in agony. Every so often, she would let out another sharp yelp as Taka touched her tail.
After some nebulous amount of time, Roxy managed to wrench open her eyes. The pain was still astronomical, but she managed to focus her vision enough so she could see properly. The log that formed the entrance of this tiny grotto functioned as a funnel for the light, casting a bright enough beam that she could see Taka while also cloaking much of him in long shadows. He was moving back and forth, and every time he disappeared from view to her left she would let out another shrill yelp.
Something else caught her eye, and it took her a minute to work through the torture to understand what she was looking at. Strewn all over the cave floor were berries and small leaves. Taka reappeared in her field of vision once more, and he picked up about five of the leaves off the ground before disappearing once more.
"Taka…?" she murmured.
Why were there leaves and berries everywhere? Where did they come from? Confusion was not helpful for her overly-addled brain right now, so she sought out the answer. She found it lying off to the side. After a moment's observation, she realized that it was Taka's satchel.
Or, at least, what was left of Taka's satchel.
"What're you doing…?" she spoke up once more.
Taka returned to grab a few more of them. "The leaves we use to weave these satchels," he explained, "also have medicinal properties. We just hardly use them in the tribe, since we had Miri." He disappeared off to her left once more, but continued talking. "If you apply enough of them, they dull the pain and help the wound close up faster."
Now that she thought about it, she did realize that she didn't quite feel as much pain. It still hurt way worse than when she had broken her leg, but it had at least abated enough to let her focus.
Another yelp escaped her maw, and this time she twitched involuntarily. Taka kept touching her tail, right on the part that was hurting. She decided to crane her neck over so she could see what he was doing. Unfortunately, her awkward position on the ground didn't let her see very much. She could just barely see him in the corner of her vision where things started to get fuzzy. He was crouching down, holding her tail, and sticking the leaves onto it.
"Ow!" she squealed as he stuck another one on. She couldn't really see very well, but it looked like he was covering the wound with leaves like one would do so with a bandage. She wondered how he was getting them to stay, but got her answer a moment later when Taka gave one of the leaves a long lick.
"Stop that," he instructed her, "You will hurt your neck. Just relax until I finish."
"O-okay…" She heeded his instructions and returned her head to a more natural position. She closed her eyes and let out a pained sigh. There were still tears streaming from her eyes, and she continued to twitch and yelp every time he touched her tender tail.
"H-how bad is it…?" she asked.
Taka simply focused on applying more of the leaves, leaving her to yip once more. The two lapsed into relative silence for a short while. Roxy ended up lying her head down in front of her, gazing blankly at the parts of the cavern she could see. She whined and whimpered as time went on, but she didn't even try to stop herself.
The satchel was completely dismantled by this point. More than half had been torn off the bottom, leaving only the 'strap' and a little bit left on the top. At first she got a fright as she wondered just how big the wound had to be if he needed that many leaves, but she calmed down when she realized that it wasn't about covering the wound, but how many leaves were necessary to give her the full medicinal treatment. Taka was probably applying multiple layers.
"How do they taste…?" she asked in a weak tone. She was actually starting to feel better. The pain was receding and wasn't quite as dizzying anymore.
"Horrible," Taka replied dryly.
A soft giggle actually managed to bubble up from within her. Roxy found that she could actually breathe properly now, and took in a deep breath followed by a long sigh. The agony was dulling bit by bit, becoming ever so surely more tolerable. She was pleasantly surprised. These magic leaves were actually working.
"You took apart your whole bag…" she observed.
"Necessary," he commented, "We will have to make do with only one for the rest of the way."
"Oh gosh…Are you sure? Is that gonna be enough food…?"
Taka paused while he was in her line of sight and gave her a look. "My two choices were to cut our food supply in half, or let you bleed to death." Without another word, he got back to his work.
Roxy shivered upon hearing that sobering thought.
Before long, Roxy found that she was no longer twitching or making any noise when he touched her tail. The horrible pain had regressed down to a dull ache. She could vaguely feel her tail throbbing, a similar feeling to stubbing her toe, but it was definitely within the realms of bearable.
Taka wiped the sweat from his brow once he was finally finished with his work. "Right," he said as he stepped closer to her upper half and grasped her forepaws, "Sit up. Come on, now."
Roxy allowed herself to be pulled up into a sitting position, and ended up with her back resting against the 'wall' of the grotto. She let out a big sigh of relief. That had been more pain than she had ever imagined she would ever go through, and she was surprised and relieved that she was able to get through it.
"Here," Taka said as he gave her a Sitrus Berry, "You did lose some blood, so eat this."
Roxy gulped and tried to shove the image of her own blood on the floor out of her head. "Right…" she said, and took the berry.
Taka too let out a sigh of relief, and sat down on the floor nearby. While she ate the berry, she noticed him looking at all the fruit strewn on the floor. There was a tiny pang of guilt as Roxy realized this was all food they would have to leave behind.
Once the last bite of the berry was down in her stomach, Roxy mentally steeled herself. It was time to get it over with. She took a few calming breaths, and tried to relax herself as best she could. She then reached back and gently grabbed her tail, bringing it in front of her so she could see it.
The forlorn tone of her voice seemed to be amplified by the cave, reflecting the feeling she felt as she looked at what was left of her tail. The pretty little heart shape at the end was gone; completely torn off. All that remained was an unsightly jagged shape, like a piece of torn paper or a broken cracker. Nothing below the topmost 'curve' in her tail had been lost, but her most distinctive natural feature as a female Pikachu was simply gone now.
All along the torn edge were the leaves that Taka had pasted on, and it seemed like they were staying in place rather well. It almost looked like the end of her tail had been dipped in green paint. There was no blood to be seen, no wound visible under the leaves, but the fur on the rest of her tail was tinted red ever so slightly.
She turned to look at Taka. He was giving her a hard look, but also seemed like he was at a loss as to what to say.
"Am I gonna be okay?" she asked.
He glanced at her tail briefly. "Most likely," he commented, "Like I said before, these leaves help the wound to close up faster. In a couple of days we can take them off and the open wound will be gone. It might ache a bit for a few more days…" He trailed off for a moment. "The rest of your tail, though…"
Roxy realized she had been staring at her mangled tail for a while now and forced herself to tear her eyes away.
"I know you are probably very upset," Taka continued to say, "but you must remain calm. You know as well as I do what dangers lurk in these woods. Relatively speaking, something like this is-"
"So, Taka," she interrupted him as she gazed around the cave, "What…is our plan now? Am I okay to keep going, or should we stay here for a bit? Are we safe in here?"
"If I'm not at risk for getting a bad infection, or whatever, then we should probably keep moving. That Ursaring might come back, right?"
She continued to consider their current situation for a few more moments. When she realized that Taka wasn't answering, she looked over at him to find him giving her a look that she dared to call 'flabbergasted'. "What?" she asked.
"Ah…Nothing," Taka murmured.
Roxy furrowed her brow. "What? Seriously, what?"
Taka gave her a scrutinizing gaze for a moment before answering. "I…am just a touch surprised, that is all. I did not quite expect this…reaction."
"Given how you have responded in the past towards…certain troubling situations…"
Roxy blinked as she finally realized what he meant. "You're surprised because I'm not bawling my eyes out…"
Taka didn't answer, but he didn't deny the statement either.
Shaking her head, Roxy let out a sigh. "I mean…It sucks. It really sucks, Taka. I'm certainly not happy about it. I didn't wanna lose a third of my tail, and yeah it's gonna make me upset for a while." She then folded her forelimbs. "But I can still keep going. A torn tail isn't going to stop this journey or force me to turn around. That's all I care about, Taka. I want to go home." She closed her eyes and let out another soft sigh. "If going home…If seeing master again means some jerk has to yank my tail off, then whatever…"
"…Ah," was all Taka had to say.
Roxy gave him a smirk.
He then cleared his throat. "Well, to answer your question, we should not stay in here. There is only one way out, after all. However, we should find a tree to stay in for the rest of the day…just in case your injury worsens somehow."
She had no reason to argue. The two then spent the next few minutes picking up berries and trying to fit as many as they could into Roxy's satchel, which Taka then took to wear himself. Then, Taka exited the grotto and scouted the surroundings briefly. He came back a couple of minutes later, indicating that he saw no danger, and Roxy scurried out after him.
Not long afterwards, they had found a large and secure tree and were up in its branches. Roxy was already pretty worn out from what they had gone through today, and so was silently thankful that Taka had elected to take the rest of the day off.
She slumped down onto a branch, letting her tail hang down below her. There was a tiny pang in her heart, which she felt every single time she thought of her tail. Roxy knew she would probably get more little pangs for quite a long while, but that's all they were. It was something bad that had happened, and she had escaped with her life and her more important limbs intact. She chose to see this as a blessing.
After some quiet time, Roxy idly glanced over at Taka who was leaning against the trunk like he usually did.
He met her gaze. "Are you sure you are all right?" he asked.
Roxy smiled and nodded. "I'll be fine. I can cry about it when I get home."
Taka then averted his gaze, a troubled look on his face. "I…am sorry this had to happen to you…"
"What d'you mean?"
"It was my fault that the Ursaring was alerted to our presence. I was being…far too loud."
"Oh, don't be stupid," Roxy replied with a reassuring smile, "I was making just as much noise as you were."
"Don't…make this all your fault, okay?" Roxy said as her smile faltered a little, "I'm not gonna, like, hold you responsible for mangling my tail up. Just forget it. Your job is to help he escape this forest, and I trust that you're gonna keep doing that. Right?"
Finally, he returned his gaze to her. "Yes," he replied with a nod, "Of course."
"I don't even remember what we were arguing about, so let's just forget it."
"That is fine with me."
A moment of silence passed between them before Roxy spoke up again. "Are you…okay, though?" she asked, mirroring his initial question to her.
"What do you mean?"
Roxy chuckled to herself at the symmetry. "I dunno," she said, "It just seemed like you woke up on the wrong side of the bed or something today. Is something bugging you?"
Taka lowered his gaze, crossed his forepaws, and turned his head away again. At first, Roxy took this as a sign that he didn't want to elaborate and that their conversation was now over. Shrugging to herself, she laid her head down on her forepaws and tried to relax.
"…I was thinking about Izuki."
She lifted her head back up and gave him a sympathetic frown. "Oh, really…?"
Taka nodded, though his eyes were drawn to the horizon. "Hiding in a tree in the middle of the night while a predator lurked below…It reminded me of how we first met."
"Oh… Yeah, I remember you said that you rescued him."
"Izuki had not been on my mind so…relentlessly for a great many moons…" He sighed, almost sounding defeated. "It caught me off guard."
Roxy bit her lip. "I hope we're not digging up old wounds by doing this…"
Taka half-chuckled. "Well…That, I believe, is unavoidable. I knew this before we departed, though."
Roxy then opened her mouth to say something else, but closed it and second-guessed herself. She wasn't sure if it was a very tactful thing to say or not. In the end, though, her curiosity won her over. "They said…you were very different when you came home. You were more quiet and secluded."
She wasn't sure, but she thought she heard him grumble something under his breath.
Quickly, she backpedaled. "Never mind. I was just going to say that maybe it's a good thing to get out here and do this. Y'know, face your demons and all that…?"
After an uncomfortable moment of silence, Taka replied in a flat voice, "Perhaps."
A light breeze rustled through the leaves and the branches of the nearby trees. Its gentle sound only served to further highlight the complete silence that could otherwise be heard. Neither of them had anything more to say on the subject, or so it seemed to Roxy at least. For a short while, neither of them even looked at each other.
"Hey, uh…You never told me how you lost part of your ears," she said. She hoped to clear away some of the uncomfortableness with a topic change.
"Ah…" Taka said with a shrug, "I don't remember. Just some fight with some predator. I hardly even noticed when they got torn off. I cannot even remember if I lost them both at the same time or not."
"Really? Wow…" Roxy said, and then turned over her shoulder to regard her hanging tail, "I think I'm gonna remember this one forever…"
After another pregnant pause, Taka spoke up. "I am sorry for losing my temper today."
Roxy lifted her head and glanced back at him. She gave him a friendly smile and said, "Don't worry about it."
"I snapped at you when there was no reason to," he continued, "We are in this together, from start to end. We will either succeed together, or fail together, and I should have known better."
"Taka, stop it. It's fine, okay? The danger's gone for now, and we can move on tomorrow!"
He scrutinized her for a moment. "My, your newfound optimism is…surprising."
Now it was Roxy's turn to shrug. "This is worth fighting for…"
Taka nodded. "That is a good attitude to take." After one more moment of silence, he glanced down at her tail. "Keep those leaves from falling off, at least until the sun rises tomorrow."
"Does it still hurt?"
She frowned. "It throbs…Like a bruise."
"That will pass. Just tell me if it gets worse, and try not to touch it."
Roxy nodded at him. A few moments passed, and then she smiled gratefully at him. "Thank you for taking care of me today."
Taka closed his eyes and leaned against the trunk even more. "No need to mention it…"
Smiling to herself and sighing, Roxy then laid her head down on her forepaws and closed her eyes. It wasn't time to sleep yet, but she was just trying to relax and remain totally calm. Today had presented her with a very daunting obstacle, and here she was on the other side of it. Her rational side figured that she should be upset, terrified or even traumatized.
That couldn't be farther from the truth. Roxy felt like she was more revved up to go than ever before.