Chapter 19 - Waking Up
Roxy didn't want to wake up. She was just too tired. Must not have gotten enough sleep last night. She felt like a flat lump of pudding, completely incapable of movement. Would staying in bed forever really be that bad?
She was exhausted, she felt weak, and she had a terrible headache. All she wanted was for that blissful sleep to come back to her. She didn't want to wake up. Just five more minutes, or maybe five more hours. Laying down just felt so nice, and she wasn't entirely convinced that her muscles were functioning.
Roxy had to get up, though. Master didn't like it when Roxy was late for breakfast.
After she scrunched up her face in distress and groaned softly, Roxy cracked open one of her eyes. She then immediately decided that the waking world was too bright for her, and that she would rather sleep forever. Then she sighed and called herself ridiculous.
After squinting and blinking her eyes for a bit, the world became visible, but the light still felt harsh. Didn't the bright lights know that she had the worst headache ever? How inconsiderate…
Roxy didn't know where she was. This wasn't her Master's bedroom. Had she fallen asleep in a tree again or something? It certainly wasn't her comfy little Pokémon bed. She slowly tilted her head and tried to see more.
Ow. Ow! Head hurts. Eyes hurt. Body non-functional. Zero energy.
Isn't this what happened to those silly humans on TV when they drank too much "beer"? Could Pokémon even get drunk? Thinking hurt Roxy's brain. Again, Roxy considered the possibility of going back to sleep, but she was already starting to wake up now and so it didn't make sense to stop. She grimaced and then tried to focus her vision on her surroundings.
Grassy walls, and a grassy roof. The inside of a rural hut.
Roxy finally managed to shake herself out of her half-dreaming state and realize where she was. She was in the same village that she had been trapped in for about four months now. She cynically wondered how she could even remember her real home. Then she sighed, having thoroughly depressed herself.
So now she knew where she was, but she didn't know why she felt like this. Come on, brain. Remember…stuff. Everything was still a fog in her head, and she couldn't use Defog because her brain hurt so much. Also, she didn't know it. Also, also, she couldn't know it.
She wanted to sit up or roll over, but she just couldn't. Every muscle in her body felt useless. She moaned louder in discomfort and pain. At least her eyes were fully open now. That was an accomplishment, right?
"You have awakened!"
Roxy grimaced as her ears splayed back. He was speaking in a soft voice, but it still made her head throb like crazy. Groaning some more, she forced her weary muscles to move just a little bit, and she rolled over onto her side so she could see who was talking.
It was Taka. He was sitting on the ground not too far away from her, leaning his back against the hut's wall. There was a stiff but genuine smile on his face. "That is good to see," he continued to speak, "We were beginning to get worried about you. Are you feeling all right?"
Roxy didn't answer. Her eyes had drifted downwards and rested upon Taka's hind leg. It was bandaged up tightly with leaves, and a lightly coloured circle of red had stained them right in the middle. His injured leg…
…Where Tazoka had stabbed him.
Oh heavens. Suddenly, Roxy remembered everything.
Her first instinct was to panic, but that only made her head hurt even more. She moaned louder and brought her aching forepaws up and held them against her skull. Forced to remain calm so she did not keep driving that ice pick into her brain, she reflected on the memory of the fight that had just happened. The fight that she had taken part in! Turns out it hadn't been a nightmare.
"Are you well?" Taka was asking, his usual gruff voice a little softer, "Miri should be back soon."
"Taka…?" she spoke, barely above a whisper as it was all she could manage without making her head throb.
"Yes, I am here. You are safe. All is well."
Roxy blinked. Was Taka trying to reassure her? It sounded weird coming from him, she couldn't deny. "Wh'happ'n?" she slurred.
As if on cue, the vines in the doorway parted and Miri stepped in. She gasped quietly when she saw that Roxy was awake, and immediately stepped over to the opposite side of the hut where Roxy couldn't see. A moment later, Miri was suddenly right beside her.
"Eat," Miri instructed, holding a Persim Berry right up to her muzzle.
Roxy whined softly. "But I dun…"
"No arguing," Miri cut her off, "Eat." She gently tapped the berry against Roxy's lips.
The Pikachu grimaced, only partially from her headache. Roxy really hated Persim Berries. They tasted weird and had an unappealing texture. Besides that, though, she didn't feel very hungry. However, Miri was being insistent, and so Roxy gave in and took a bite of the detestable fruit. She cringed a little when she swallowed, only to have Miri insist she take another bite.
"You are very weak," Miri spoke to her in a soft but firm voice, "You lost a ton of energy, and eating this will help bring it back. Once you eat it all, I promise you'll feel good enough to sit up. Okay?"
Roxy wasn't really listening. Every word from the Audino felt like a bullet through the middle of her poor head. She just kept eating the berry in hopes that Miri would go away and let her go back to sleep. It did not taste very good at all, and it did nothing to help her appetite, but she did manage to finish the whole thing. Miri then walked off elsewhere.
The Pikachu lay there for a moment, groaning softly. Taka said something at some point, but Miri apparently told him to shut up. For the present, Roxy just focused on keeping her skull from imploding.
After what felt like an hour but could really have just been a couple of minutes, she felt mobility starting to return to her muscles. The feeling of fatigue started to lift, leaving her feeling a bit restless. With a grumble and a lot of slow movements, Roxy finally pulled herself up into a sitting position. She let out a long breath. The tiredness may have been gone, but all of the pains and aches were still there.
Finally, she slowly turned her head over towards where the other Pikachu was sitting. "…Taka?"
"Yes," he replied with a nod, "I am thankful to see that you have recovered."
She closed her eyes and held a paw to her forehead. "Did we win…?"
First she heard Taka give a short half-chuckle, and then he said, "We did. We won, thanks to you."
Roxy smiled. "Yaaaay…" she murmured lethargically.
Miri returned to view and gave her a smile, though she looked rather strained. "You should be fine in a few hours," she said, "I am needed elsewhere. Yell if you need me." Then she promptly rushed back out the door of her hut.
Taka then continued. "The Earth Tribe has fled from our territory, and no-one has seen them since."
Opening her eyes to look at him once more, Roxy said, "Good…I'm just glad you're all right." Her eyes drifted down towards his wound.
Taka saw this and explained. "Miri has been healing me. I should be able to walk by tomorrow's sunrise. His claws went deep but, well…It could have been so much worse."
Roxy grimaced. Despite it being a victory in their favour, she still found the memories of that battle gruesome and distressing.
"You saved my life," Taka spoke in an uncharacteristically quiet voice, "You saved the lives of so many others here, but it was your bravery that allowed you to stand before me when I had been defeated." He paused and bowed his head slightly. "You have my deepest gratitude."
"I…couldn't just stand there and let you get killed. I had to do something…" she murmured.
"Without you, we never would have defeated our foes," Taka commented, "It is thanks to you that we still have our lives, and we still have a home." He paused once more and looked right into her eyes. "You," he said, "are a hero."
Roxy immediately began to feel flustered and looked away. "Don't be silly…" she muttered, "I'm not a 'hero'."
"I must ask you…"
She turned back to look at him, and saw an expression that she had never seen him wear before. He was looking at her with a sense of reverence. Awe, perhaps. There wasn't a single trace of any of the hatred, malice or prejudice he'd had for her before. "…How?" was all he said.
Roxy blinked and grimaced. Her brain still hurt too much to think. "How what…?"
"How is it possible? How were you able to…to do all of that?? I…There are no other words to describe it. I am baffled. The entire tribe is baffled. All anyone has been talking about is the…impossible things that you did."
"You mean my Grass Knot?"
He studied her for a moment. "Somehow…" he spoke, barely above a whisper, "you were able to call upon the power that is wielded by Pokémon that are not our kind. You summoned the energy that is commanded by those, such as the Nature Tribe."
Roxy presumed that to be a tribe of Grass-types. "Yeah. I dunno what you call it, but to me it's a Move called 'Grass Knot'," she muttered. Her head was still swimming.
"It was incredible…impossible…Even now, I find it hard to believe that what I have seen was true. Please tell me. How could you do that?"
"My master taught me," she replied with a sweet smile.
Taka furrowed his brow. "Your…human master?"
She nodded again. Taka didn't say anything after that, and simply turned his gaze away. He looked to be deep in thought about what she had just said, so she decided to elaborate.
"Humans invented these…things called 'Technical Machines', or TM's. They, uh…" She paused and faltered. "Well, I don't really know how they work, to be honest. I didn't really get it. But they, like, contain information or knowledge or something, and it helps Pokémon learn new Moves. My master got the Grass Knot TM as a gift and taught it to me. Suddenly, I knew how to do all of…that."
Taka was looking at her, but still not saying anything.
She reached up and rubbed the back of her neck. "Gosh, I never expected that I would ever use it to fight…Mostly I would just do it to show off. I had no idea if I would be able to do it well enough, and…I guess luckily I did. They were weak against it, so…"
Taka still wasn't saying anything.
"Taka?" she prodded.
He let out a breath and skewed his lips. "Regardless of anything else," he spoke, "It was this talent of yours that saved this whole village. You did something that…none of us are able to do."
Roxy glanced away bashfully and smiled softly. "Well, I, y'know…I'm just glad…" Something then occurred to her and she looked back at him. "Is…everyone all right?"
Taka's expression became neutral. "Thanks to you, the battle was won with much less bloodshed than what could have been. Only three brave warriors lost their lives."
She felt her heart sink into her stomach and her ears fell. "Wh-what…?"
"They shared a pyre together and have gone to the everafter. We have thanked them for their sacrifice."
Something else occurred to her. "Wait…" she muttered, "How long was I out?"
"We battled as the sun rose, and then you collapsed," Taka replied, "The sun has since set and risen, and is now close to setting once more."
Roxy was shocked to hear this news. That meant she had been unconscious for at least 30 hours! That was certainly a frightening prospect.
However, she was more focused on the awful fact that three warriors had died. In the span of a few waking hours, three Pokémon would never again walk through the village. Had she known any of them? Roxy asked for their names, and Taka provided them. They sounded familiar, but not anyone she had particularly gotten to know.
"Oh heavens…" she murmured with her head downcast, "That's horrible…That's so sad…" She grimaced, trying to fight against the tears. "I'm…s-so sorry…" she said as she felt herself begin to tremble.
"Sorry?" Taka replied, "Sorry for what?"
"I…I don't know…"
"Young one, if you had not defeated the Earth Tribe, they would have slaughtered us. I would have died. Many others would have died. Ozu would have died. Many more of us would have died after fleeing from our home into enemy territory. The loss of life is saddening, yes, but it could have been so much worse." He paused for a moment, and then continued in a softer voice. "I am sure that if you spoke to the families of the deceased, they too would be singing your praises."
Roxy let out a heavy sigh, her shoulders slumping a little. "Yeah, I guess you're right…But still…" She closed her eyes and shook her head, trying to focus on the positive. "It's still horrible…Those awful, horrible Ground-types…"
They were both silent for a minute. The deaths of those three Pikachu hit Roxy hard in the pit of her heart, but definitely not as hard as before. She hadn't really known them, and may not have even talked to them before. She knew that she would be okay, but right now she was just feeling the shock of it all.
"Ozu," she spoke after a while, "Why did you mention Ozu specifically? Is he okay?"
Taka neither smiled nor frowned. "He was seriously hurt during the fight, but he is alive. Miri has been treating him. That is where she has run off to."
"Oh," she said with a nod, "Well, that's good. I hope he'll get better soon."
Taka paused for almost a full minute before he spoke again. "Did your human really teach you those impossible techniques?"
Roxy blinked once, then nodded and said, "She did."
"That is…very interesting."
That was as far as their conversation got before Miri suddenly returned. Roxy could tell that Miri was working really hard and probably treating more patients than just herself, Taka and Ozu. She had no time for formalities. From somewhere nearby, she fished out a pair of Oran Berries and handed them to Roxy.
"Do you feel better?" she asked as she indicated for Roxy to eat.
Luckily, Roxy's appetite was beginning to return and she didn't hesitate to bite into the fruit. Since her mouth was full, she nodded in reply.
"Good," Miri said with a strained smile, "Eat those, and then come take a walk with me outside. The fresh air should help, and you should move your muscles."
Roxy swallowed her mouthful and then said, "Okay." Taka and Miri then allowed her to eat the two berries without bothering her with conversation. Roxy suddenly realized that she hadn't eaten in a whole day, and was quite relieved when she satisfied that hunger.
Finally, Miri stepped over and helped her get up. She was a little woozy on her feet, so she was thankful for being able to lean on Miri's side. The Audino helped her over to the door, where they both paused. Roxy turned and looked back at Taka, still seated in the same spot. The village obviously didn't have crutches or wheelchairs, so Taka was stuck in Miri's hut until his leg healed.
"I'm glad you're safe," she said to him, "I…I don't think I could've handled it if you died-" Her voice caught in her throat for a moment before she could choke out the last word. "…too."
"Thanks to you, I merely lack mobility for a few days," he replied with a nod, "I will find a way to repay you for your bravery, I promise." Then, with a small but genuine smile, he added, "Thank you."
She smiled back at him.
"We will talk later, okay?"
"Okay," she replied.
Then, Miri was helping her out the door and into the slightly chilly air outside. By this point, Roxy felt okay enough to walk on her own, but she stayed near Miri just to be safe. She couldn't remember the last time she had felt this tired and weak, if ever.
It wasn't long before the other villagers were alerted to her presence. It was only thanks to Miri that she didn't get completely swarmed. Everyone nearby who had seen her had immediately run over, and the commotion had drawn out further villagers until nearly the whole village was around her.
They were all smiling and cheering, each one giving her praise. Many called her a hero, some all but demanded to know how she had performed her Grass Knot, but almost all of them at least gave her their thanks.
At first, she tried her best to be modest. All of this attention at once was not something she found particularly enjoyable. Multiple times she tried to claim that she was not a hero, but her protests were always drowned out.
Eventually, though, she began to focus instead on the smiling faces of those around her. Maybe she wasn't a hero, but she was responsible for what she was seeing. It slowly became real to her that if she hadn't done what she had done, none of these smiling faces would be here. It was something to be proud of, which made her smile as well.
It was also something to be thankful for, which made her smile even more.
It finally dawned on her that she had managed to reach a happy ending. Her story was still being told, but this smaller book in her history had come to a close with a bright finish. It was something, at last, to feel truly happy about, and everyone else seemed well aware of this fact. She was hugged more times that she could count, and soon all of the praise and thanks melded together until it was just happy cheers.
"Gather together everyone! Give a cheer for Roxy!"
The sun had almost set, and Roxy had returned to Makari's hut. Even though she had spent most of the day sleeping, she still felt exhausted. Speaking figuratively, it had been a very long day. Now that everything was done, she just wanted to lay down in the hut and go to sleep.
Makari's hut. The hut that still stood, and was still there for her. In the village that was still there, with all of her friends whom were still there. Thank the heavens. She shivered when she thought about what could have happened instead.
For the moment, she sat down just outside the doorway of the hut. She found herself gazing up at the sky, seeing the first few stars twinkle into view as the sun disappeared. Everything felt so calm and safe, more than things had felt in a long time.
Everyone was happy and content. She had briefly explained the origin of her Grass Knot to Karizu and Natoka, and promised to go into more detail later. Some of the cubs had begged her to show it off again, but Miri had insisted that she not exert herself. She had also gone to see Ozu, who was resting weakly but with a smile in his own hut, as well as the families of the Pikachu who had died. Even they were smiling, relieved that things had not gotten any worse.
"Did you see me, Makari…?"
Roxy's whisper caught on the gentle breeze. She stared up at the sky, wondering if one of those particularly bright stars was looking down on her, listening to her words.
"Did I do good?" she continued, "Are you…proud of me?"
She wished more than anything that she could hear a reply, but she did not.
"I wish you were here…I wish you had been there." She sighed. "I'm just glad Taka's safe," she muttered in a melancholy tone, "I wish you had been in that battle…so I could've saved you too…"
"He would have been very proud."
Roxy nearly fell over. She turned her head in surprise towards the source of the voice. "Taka…"
The warrior was slowly walking towards her, a noticeable limp in his step. He still wore the bandages around his thigh.
"Taka, what're you doing up?"
He came to a stop on the opposite side of the door, where he sat down on the ground. "Miri let me go so long as I promised to check back tomorrow morning."
She glanced over at him, wondering if he had just come to talk, but found that the other Pikachu was simply gazing up at the darkening sky. After a moment of silence, she followed his gaze.
"He was right about you."
Roxy's ear twitched and she turned to look at him again. "Huh?"
"My brother," he said as he turned to look back at her, "He told me, many moons ago, that there was something special about you. I can see now that he was right."
"He…did?" Roxy muttered, feeling a mix of emotions rush through her.
"You are still so unlike us. You are very different from anyone else in this tribe. In some ways, that is a weakness, but it is clearly also your strength." Taka sighed and shook his head a little. "I must apologize, young one."
She blinked. "For what?'
Taka glanced away in silence for a moment before he answered. "I have…treated you wrong, and regarded you poorly, because you associate with humans."
Roxy chuckled. "That's, uh, nothing new. It's okay, really…"
Taka shook his head more vigorously. "No, it is not okay. Humans…" He paused and considered something. "Or rather, your human…your master…has given you a strength that I could not have ever imagined. I had considered you weak because of your affection and longing for your master, but…clearly I was wrong."
Thoughts of her master came flooding back, bringing on a heavy wave of homesickness. Roxy bit back the bitter tears. "It's okay, Taka," she answered, "I forgive you. It didn't really bother me that much."
Taka was still glancing away, a troubled look on his face.
"Taka?" she spoke, "You don't seem very happy that I forgave you…"
"I do appreciate your forgiveness," he replied, "It is just…difficult for me."
Roxy tilted her head, not quite understanding.
"It matters not," Taka said, "In a way, your human friend is also partly responsible for the salvation of our tribe, so we all owe her our thanks as well."
While these were nice words to hear, Roxy's lips were still skewed. "Taka?"
"Why do you hate humans?"
That struck a chord of silence between the two of them. Taka didn't answer right away, but Roxy didn't push him.
He looked over at her with cold, hardened eyes. It was the gaze she was used to seeing from him. Taka had become decidedly more amicable recently, but underneath there was still a very cold heart beating in his chest. Sometimes, it made her shiver to remember.
"…Please?" she asked. A couple of silent minutes passed by, and it seemed like he wasn't going to answer at all. Roxy sighed quietly and glanced away.
"I left our village because I wanted to see what lay beyond the forest."
She looked at him once more, giving him her full attention.
"I detested what I found."
Her heart sank. "Oh…"
"When I turned around and began the journey home, I promised myself that I would never return to that world or have anything to do with it ever again." He gave her a glance. "Unfortunately, you fell into that distinction."
That hurt a little, but Roxy knew that it was in the past now. "So, did you just end up in, like, a bad city? Or did you just not like, uh, y'know…modern stuff? Or…Did something happen?"
He didn't answer, but his silence told Roxy which answer was more likely to be true.
Unfortunately, she also got the feeling that he wouldn't want to talk about it any further.
"I recognize now that I misjudged you, and…perhaps your master as well," he spoke, "But I cannot claim that my distrust of humans has gone."
Roxy shook her head. "No, of course not," she replied empathetically, "And, y'know…I'm not gonna sit here and pretend that there aren't some really bad humans out there…"
"That is true, logically," Taka replied.
The two fell into silence for a few minutes, having reached an impasse in the conversation.
"Please tell me about your grass power," Taka asked, breaking the silence.
Roxy half-heartedly chuckled. "Everyone's been asking me that all day. I-"
"Could you teach it?"
She gave him a look. "Teach…my Grass Knot?"
"I dunno," Roxy frowned, "I'm not even sure how I learned it. It was all the TM. I don't think Pokémon learn TM Moves without…the, um, the TM."
Taka scowled a little. "So, it is a secret of the humans then…"
"…Maybe?" Roxy answered with a Mareepish shrug.
"Can you not explain it?"
She skewed her lips. "Kinda…It's like…Well, there's this energy. I know from reading books that Grass-type Pokémon-" At Taka's look, she clarified, "Pokémon like Snivy and, um…Pansage, they can control the energy. They use it to move plant life. As far as I know, it's not perceptible to other Pokémon types, or at least not to Pokémon that can't learn a Grass-type Move naturally."
Taka did not have a very comprehending look on his face, so Roxy backpedaled. "Pokémon like us, like Pikachu, can't feel this energy…but after the TM, I could. I know it's there now, and I know how to focus so I can grab onto it. It's still really difficult for me, and I have to focus for quite a while just to connect to the energy. It's hard enough to perform, and it's hard enough to explain, I don't think I'd ever be able to teach someone…"
"…I see," Taka said, letting his gaze drift away, "That is disappointing to hear."
Roxy slumped a little. "Sorry…"
Taka sighed. "It is not your fault." Then, shaking his head, he sat up straighter. "The important thing is that you can perform this skill."
"You are very unique," he continued, "You do not possess the skills that are intrinsic to a Pikachu. You were not born with the same abilities as we all were…but you do have a strength. A fantastic, almost magical skill, and I would be remiss if I did not recognize this."
She smiled softly. "Well, thank you."
"You have my respect, Roxy…I am sorry I could not give it earlier."
Roxy then stared at the other Pikachu for a long while, and eventually Taka gave her an odd look in response. When she saw this, she smiled and shook her head. "Taka, I think that might be the first time you've ever called me by my name that I can remember."
Taka smirked, but said nothing.
"Well, thanks Taka. I, uh…I hope…" She fell silent for a moment, gazing up at the stars that were starting to appear. "I hope we can be friends now."
After a pause, Taka gave a simple reply. "Perhaps…"
Taka then began to stand back up, grunting a little from his injury. Roxy immediately hopped over to his side and began to help him up. At first he resisted, as if he wanted to show he could get up on his own, but it didn't last long. Once he was standing, Roxy gazed down at his bandaged wound. It still made her shiver a little when she recalled what had caused it.
"Karizu wanted me to tell you," Taka spoke, "that he has called for a Marking Ceremony tomorrow night. There will be a festival as well, and you are of course welcome to come."
"Oh, really?" she replied, "Cool! Yeah, I'll be there." She then gave him a little nudge. "Are you maybe gonna get a new green stripe?"
Taka gave her an unamused glance. "No," he replied blatantly, "I fell in battle."
"…Oh. Um…" Roxy glanced away and rubbed the back of her neck, feeling completely awkward. Obviously he wouldn't be receiving any awards. "S-sorry…"
He shook his head. "Yesterday was a loss. A loss is simply a lesson to be learned, and the doorway to further victories." He gave her a confident gaze. "There may be more marks for me, but they shall be in the future. Time will show."
"Right. Yeah. I guess that's a good way to look at it…" Roxy scuffed her paws a little, thankful that he wasn't taking her faux pas too seriously.
Taka nodded. "I must rest. I shall return to my hut now. I bid you goodnight, Roxy."
Roxy looked at him for a moment, and didn't immediately respond. "Taka…?" she finally spoke up.
"…Will you promise to tell me more one day? About…what happened out there?"
Taka closed his eyes. "I will not promise anything," he replied, "but…perhaps." Then, with a friendly nod farewell, Taka turned and slowly limped his way back to his hut. Roxy stood there and watched him go, wondering if she should've been helping him walk. She reasoned that he probably didn't want to be coddled, and there was probably something about getting stronger through pain or something too.
Roxy turned her gaze up to the moon that had now appeared in the sky above the trees.
"A festival tomorrow, hm…?"
The next day was wonderful. It was quite warm for the time of year, the sun had broken through the clouds as much as it could, and everyone was feeling rather upbeat. There was a happy sensation that seemed to permeate through the village, infecting everyone it touched. The bloody memories of the battle with the Earth Tribe seemed faded and distant.
Everyone was working, getting ready for the festival if they were not on patrol. In between all of this, many of them still wanted to talk to Roxy about her amazing new powers. This turned out to be a little difficult, however.
Roxy was out and about. She was on the move with a purpose in mind.
Others occasionally caught her moving through the village, or just before she entered her hut. They would see her carrying some things, but most were too focused on her Grass Knot to ask what she was up to. Roxy held polite conversations where she could, but she mostly kept inside of her hut.
By midday, Taka was back on his paws. The bandage had been removed and the wound had been healed. This was accompanied by a very exhausted Miri who was content to just take a nap before the Festival arrived, but she was happy that her patient was healed.
Roxy had caught him in passing and had made him promise not to look into her hut until the Festival. Taka was rightfully confused, but agreed.
Finally, the day began to wind down. Once the light of the sun began to disappear, the torches were lit to signal that the festivities were not far off. Everyone began to gather in the central clearing, and there was a big cheer once the bonfire was lit. It wasn't long before everyone who wasn't on patrol had gathered there.
Roxy watched this, or as much as she could from the doorway of her hut. A thought occurred to her as she realized that she was now calling it 'her hut', instead of 'Makari's old hut'. She sighed softly. Technically it was her hut, since the wise ones had given it to her, but it still made her feel a touch wistful.
She felt nervous, though she didn't know why. She had been to one of these festivals before, and she both knew and trusted all of these Pokémon. She had been working through the day, making sure things were just perfect. She wasn't sure where the whim had come from, and now she was wondering if she should have followed it or not.
"Stop being silly," she said to herself under her breath, "You just fought off an army of Ground-types. This is nothing."
With a slow, calming breath, she stepped out of the hut and began to walk towards the party. She put on a sweet smile, carried her head and her tail up high, and walked with slow and graceful paw-steps.
Just like master had taught her.
Though the ceremony hadn't begun yet, the Thunder Clan members were already dancing wildly to the music of the drums. It seemed that spirits were higher this time around, and Roxy knew the reason why. They were all moving and swinging about in their wild, unchained ways.
Roxy approached the group, still with a smile on her face, and everyone stopped and stared at her. She felt a twinge of anxiety, a sudden spike of stage fright, but she fought it off. Instead, she simply moved herself forward into the crowd and sat down on the ground.
"Roxy…" one of them spoke up. She turned to look and saw that it was her old friend Bamaka. He was looking at her as if trying and failing to decide what to say.
"Greetings, Bamaka," she said with a bow of her head, "And hello to you all as well. Thank you so much for inviting me to the festivities."
Some of them smiled and nodded back, but a few were giving each other looks.
"Ah, Taka!" she spoke up, picking him out of the crowd, "How lovely to see you here."
Taka stepped forward, giving her a dubious expression that showed off his classic uncensored self. "Roxy, what…What is all of this…?" he asked, gesturing to her.
Roxy glanced back with a smile. The flower behind her ear was gone, sitting safely back at the hut. Instead, tied around one of her ears was a long green ribbon. It was done up in a large bow, with two long flowing strands hanging down her back. Roxy had carefully crafted the ribbon out of leaves, and it had taken her quite a while to get them just right. Tied around the base of her tail was another, smaller bow with the same ribbon.
She smiled shyly, standing up on her hind paws and twiddling her forepaws. "Well, uh…" she murmured, feeling just a little silly, "You've all welcomed me here…and you showed me your ways and your customs." She indicated the ribbon on her ear. "I thought, maybe tonight, I would show you all a little of my world."
That gained her a few understanding nods from her audience. Most still looked rather curious, though. "Oh, I see…" Taka said, studying her adornments with a somewhat critical eye.
"It looks very nice," Karizu commented as he suddenly strode up next to Taka.
"Thanks," Roxy said with a little grin.
"It is different, but in my opinion it is rather appealing," he added.
"Is this what Pokémon pets wear?" Taka asked. Roxy noticed that in this case, he didn't spit 'pet' like it was a curse word.
"Ah heheh…" she glanced away, flushing just a little in embarrassment, "No, not really. This is how we dress up…when we want to look, um…pretty." She sighed wistfully. "This is what I wore to my master's graduation…"
"Interesting," Karizu commented, "Thank you for sharing with us."
"Do humans really make these…?" Miri asked from the side.
"Well, they don't make them out of leaves," she clarified, "I had to improvise. I think ribbons are made out of cloth, or some kind of thread. They're human manufactured in any case."
Everyone began to comment on her ribbons, and most of the Pokémon there seemed to like them. A few even mentioned that they might try making some on their own. Taka never gave her more than a raised eyebrow, but she didn't take offense. She figured that his prejudice against pets ran deep and wouldn't just go away overnight.
Soon, Roxy was smiling brightly. It was the biggest smile she had worn in many days. This had started out as a random idea to show off some of her own culture, but now she found she was enjoying herself. The reason was fairly simple.
She felt pretty.
Roxy had made the ribbons with a lot of care, and tied them up just like her master used to do. She had also bathed in the river and spent a good hour trying to comb her fur down with just her paws, all in an effort to make herself presentable. She felt clean and pretty. She felt like she was her old, cute self once more. It made her feel good inside, and it clearly showed on the outside.
Before long, the drummers played their final number and everybody was seated. Roxy found a log and sat down upon it neatly, sitting up straight and pretending she was on one of those Pokémon Contests. She was dressed to impress after all, and she giggled a little at the thought.
Karizu and Natoka both stepped up to the head of the crowd, standing before the drummers and the bonfire. Roxy noticed with dismay that Ozu was still absent, and she hoped that he would get better soon.
"Brethren of the Thunder Clan…" Karizu spoke once the crowd had fallen silent, "Welcome everyone! Today is a wondrous, glorious day. Only a couple short days ago, our very way of life was threatened. The odds were against us, but not a single one backed down without a fight. The heavens shone upon us brightly that day, my friends, and the battle was won!"
A humongous cheer roared through the audience.
"So many of you displayed courage, bravery and determination in the face of almost certain defeat, and we have gathered here to honour you."
There was another cheer. Roxy joined in wholeheartedly.
"As these are slightly different circumstances," Natoka then went on to say, "We will simply call out your name, then you will come to the stage to have a new mark bestowed upon you."
From there, the ceremony began. One by one, the wise ones called out the name of someone in the tribe. They would make their way to the stage amidst applause and cheering, where Kaziru would congratulate them and spoke the oral rite that was spoken before all of the previous recipients. Natoka would then dip his paw in the green substance and apply their new mark.
This time, Karizu also explained out loud what each mark was for, which was probably because the ceremony was impromptu. It made the ceremony that much more interesting to watch. She was always sure to give a loud cheer whenever the new mark was complete.
The ceremony went on for hours, and it seemed like almost every single member of the tribe was getting a new mark of some kind. At some point, Karizu and Natoka even granted new marks to each other, which was interesting to watch. They even promised the crowd that Ozu would receive a new mark once he was on his paws.
When it seemed like the ceremony was finally wearing down, Roxy had to guess that it was pretty close to midnight. Food had been passed around while the long ceremony took place, so she wasn't hungry, and she hadn't gotten tired because she didn't want to fall asleep again like last time.
As she sat there, watching the last few Pikachu receive a new mark, a soft sigh escaped her lips. It was a wonderful ceremony, just as engaging to watch as the last few, and it felt so good watching these brave warriors get recognition for their accomplishments.
It wasn't the same, though, without Makari. She had no-one to lean her head against.
Karizu stepped forward and faced the crowd. He waited until the Pikachu that had just gone up was seated once more, and a hush fell over the crowd. It seemed like that Pikachu had been the last one, and the ceremony would wrap up. It was getting really late, but Roxy felt like she still had enough energy to dance for a bit.
"My friends," Karizu spoke, "My brethren…You should feel proud of the new marks you wear on your fur. We have been tested in a way that we have not been tested before, but we all worked together to come out on top. If not for the combined teamwork of this entire tribe, victory would have been but a faint dream."
Roxy smiled and nodded softly, silently agreeing with him. It had been a really frightening battle, but it was teamwork in the end that had earned them success.
"…We have one more mark to bestow."
Roxy's eyebrows raised a little. She had thought the ceremony was over, but apparently there was still one more Thunder Clan member left. While she didn't know everyone in the tribe personally, she was finding it hard to think of anyone who hadn't gone up yet. Who was left?
Why was he looking at her?
Karizu extended his paw in her direction, inviting her to stand up and join him. Roxy just sat there frozen in place for a moment with a confused look on her face, which changed to one of nervousness when she saw that everybody was looking at her.
The Raichu was still beckoning her, and he had the most encouraging smile. He was serious. This wasn't a prank.
"…Really?" she murmured, probably not even loud enough for Karizu to hear.
A few of the Pokémon around her began gesturing towards Karizu with their paws, urging her to go. A few of them said some encouraging words. Roxy glanced around, but she couldn't see a single villager who was upset by this. Everyone seemed to be on board.
"Come, Roxy," Miri said, patting her on the back and causing her to jump in surprise. She hadn't even noticed the Audino's approach. With a nod and a smile from Miri, Roxy stood up on her hind paws. She slowly but surely made her way up to the Raichu standing there waiting for her.
Everyone was still looking. They were all staring at her. She could tell even though she could only see Karizu. She was now centre stage, the main attraction, and all eyes were on her. They could see her stupid bows. Why did you put on the stupid bows?!
"Roxy," Karizu said, snapping Roxy out of her mild panic.
"Ah! Um…y-yeah?" she asked, then mentally face-pawed. That's a real formal word, "yeah"…
"You have been with us for more than three moons, soon to be four. In that time, we have all gotten to know you, and consider you a part of this family." He gestured with his paw to the assembled crowd. "We know that you are different, and that you come from a different world. Things are not the same where you come from.
"Two days ago, however, none of that mattered. At a time where no-one expected anything from you, and no-one would have blamed you for doing nothing, you stood up against the leader of the Earth Tribe. Many of us agree that this is one of the bravest things any of us have ever seen."
Roxy was blushing furiously from the praise. She smiled nervously and tried to think of something to say, but came up empty.
"You are different," Karizu continued, "You come from a different world. Yet, you have become a part of us. You have leant to this tribe a powerful skill that is yours and yours alone, and we are eternally thankful for what you have done."
He then closed his eyes and bowed his head slightly. "For your contributions to our tribe, and harmony with our brethren…" There was a slight pause. "Though these may not be your customs, and though…though we know that you do not intend to stay with us forever…"
Roxy's smile faltered a little, but she didn't interrupt him. It was the truth after all.
"…we would like to bestow upon you, these two marks."
Her eyes shot open wide. She had figured that they wanted to give her her very own mark, but to actually hear it being said was still a shock. It was something she had not expected, nor something she had even considered before. In a lot of ways she was still an outsider, and they wanted to give her one of their special marks that belonged only on the fur of Thunder Clan members?
And they were going to give her two!! In every past ceremony, Roxy had only ever seen recipients receive a single mark. The reaction of some villagers in the crowd confirmed to her that this was something highly unusual.
Karizu was looking at her. She was supposed to say something now, right? Roxy hesitated for a moment, though. She wanted to ask him, 'Really?' She wanted to ask, 'Are you sure? Do you really want to give one to me?' Plus, she wanted to speak up and yet again claim that she wasn't a hero. It still made her squirm in embarrassment when someone called her a hero.
After a moment of silence, though, Roxy smiled. "I…accept," she said. When Karizu then nodded and stepped to the side to reveal Natoka with the bowl of paint, Roxy got Butterfree in her stomach. This was really happening, and it was happening to her. She had never really thought about wanting a mark before, but now she found herself both nervous and really excited. It was as if something in her mind had finally clicked and she knew that this was an honour to receive. An honour they were giving to her. Her!
Natoka sat down quite close to her, which would have been really uncomfortable if Roxy hadn't known the reason. He dipped one of his paws into the bowl of naturally-made body paint. She could still smell the berries that it was made from.
Once his paw was no longer dripping, he then faced her. "This," he spoke to both her and to the crowd, "is the mark of a special skill. Something unique you can do that no other can."
Roxy grinned and nodded demurely. There was no question as to what he was referring to.
The Raichu indicated for Roxy to raise her right forepaw up, and she had a brief moment of panic that she would get ticklish and ruin the design. Natoka was careful, though, and very gently pressed his paw into the fur just above her hips. It hurt her neck to watch him while he worked, so she simply focused on the crowd and all of the smiling faces out there. She saw Miri, Bamaka, Baza, and Adi, Kiga and their son. Suddenly that stage fright didn't seem to be there anymore. These were all Pokémon she knew now. Pokémon she trusted. They were all happy that she was receiving this, with not a single objection.
Natoka finished much faster than Roxy would have expected. When he stepped back, Roxy twisted her body a little so that she could look down at herself. She gasped when she saw it. Now emblazoned on her fur was a green stripe that curved around from her back to her front, ending at a point just to the side of her tummy. It reminded her of an Arcanine stripe. It was quite large, much like the marks on others' abdomens. It would be easily visible from a distance, but no so garish as to make her easier to spot if she were trying to hide.
It was incredible. It was just paint on her fur, but it was incredible. Her very own mark, and she had earned it with her Grass Knot skills. This wasn't some meaningless little gift to make her fit in. She had earned this.
"Wow…" she whispered.
No-one in the audience was applauding, and at first Roxy was confused. Then, however, she noticed Natoka dipping his paw into the bowl once more. She remembered that she was still going to get another one!
"And this," Natoka spoke, "represents courage, bravery and selflessness in the face of not only certain death, but crushing fear." He paused for a moment before continuing. "None of us can know what it was like to cast everything aside and stand up against Tazoka like that. We can only imagine."
A thousand emotions were running through her mind, so she simply nodded.
Natoka then took hold of her left paw, on the opposite side of her body from her other mark. About halfway down the limb, just above the joint, he began to paint her second mark. This time, she could watch him as he worked. Again, she marvelled at the way his paw moved so deliberately, showing a great amount of artistic skill and yet not needing ages to make it perfect. With a flourish of his paw, he was able to draw the paint into a single point, as if the edges had been drawn with a pen.
In no time at all, he stepped back and her mark was finished. Roxy held up her paw and gazed down at it in wonder. She had been given a green 'band' of paint that went all the way around the limb. On the front facing side, though, the two ends came together as a pair of interlocking but unconnected 'hooks'. It sort of resembled the yin yang symbol.
Natoka then stepped back and washed his paws in the bowl of water. It was done. Roxy now had two marks. After giving the one on her forelimb a good look, she dropped her paws down to her side. She ended up accidentally brushing against the mark on her left, but found that the paint on her fur was already dry.
It was then that the crowd burst into applause and cheers. Roxy turned to face them fully, a smile reaching from cheek to cheek. She felt pride welling within her, as if her accomplishments had suddenly become real. All of these Pokémon were happy for her. They were cheering for her. There was no-one out there to be afraid of. No-one to be uncomfortable around.
She glanced down once more at the green marks on her body, just to see if they were real. The applause was continuing, and so she raised her head up again. They looked really excited for her, maybe even proud of her. She even saw Taka, sitting somewhere near the back. He wasn't smiling, as per usual with him, but he was clapping his paws right along with everyone else.
Roxy choked up and almost began to cry.
Concerned, Karizu stepped up and put a paw on her back. "Roxy?" he asked quietly, "Is something wrong?"
She sniffled and wiped away the couple of tears in her eyes. "Sorry," she murmured, "I'm sorry. I-It's fine." Roxy glanced up and gave a wave to the crowd. "Thank you," she said to them, "Thank you all so much. I…I don't know what to say…"
"There is no need to say anything, Roxy," Karizu said to her with a smile, "New marks speak for themselves."
She laughed softly, a smile returning to her face. When Karizu gestured, she walked back down to her place in the crowd. Many of the villagers she passed gave her a pat on the back.
"With that," Karizu announced, "the ceremony is concluded. The night is late, but if you still have the energy, your company is most welcome!"
The drummers started to play an upbeat song not a moment later. Many of the villagers began to dance, though a few tiredly walked off. Roxy found herself so full of positive energy that she needed no coercing to dance. It was as if all of her inhibitions had vanished. Roxy began to dance like she had never danced before.
After three songs, Roxy took a break. She was sitting on a log, watching everyone else dance the night away.
Or rather, that's what she had been doing before getting distracted by the green paint on her forelimb. Yet again, she was staring at it and trying to convince herself that it was actually there. Just a few short months ago, she had been freaking out about being separated from the life she knew and all of the comforts that came with it. Now, she was a bona fide member of a wild Pokémon tribe, and had the look to prove it.
Roxy almost fell right off the log. She caught her balance and then shot the Pikachu a look. "Good heavens, Taka! Do you just not make noise? Is that your special power?"
Taka chuckled without smiling. That alone nearly made her roll her eyes. "I do mean it, though," Taka went on to say, "You have my congratulations. No-one has ever received two marks at once before."
She could already feel the embarrassed blush coming back. The high of the ceremony was beginning to wear off. "S'just 'cus I had none…" she murmured.
Taka then stepped over the log and sat down next to her. Roxy hadn't quite expected that, but she didn't really mind. The days were long gone from when she had found Taka unpleasant to be in the company of. Her show of skill, and the revelation that it was all thanks to her master, had earned his approval. In some ways, that may have been a little petty, but Roxy was just glad they were approaching something that might be called 'friendship'.
"Why were there tears?"
Roxy glanced up at him, frowning at his question. "I, uh…" she stammered softly. Taka was looking at her, awaiting an answer, so she sighed and gave one.
"It…just all became so real when I was standing up there. I had won a fight. I was being called a hero. I was being invited to stand in front of everybody in the tribe to receive…" She held out one of her forelimbs. "…these. It was such an honour. I was just so happy and proud of myself and…" She sniffled a little. "…and Makari wasn't there to see me."
She then hung her head. "It's just not fair. I mean…Look at all the things I've done. Things I never thought I would be able to do. I fought an Excadrill! I've never even fought before! Makari, he…he was taken away…before he could see. My accomplishments. Everything that he saw in me that I didn't believe was possible." Roxy closed her eyes. "I just wanted to see his proud smile…"
"You know he was watching you," Taka replied, "You have said it yourself in the past."
"I know…" she murmured, "But it's…different…"
"He was watching you while you fought, giving you strength."
"I wanted to hug him…I wanted to tell him how far I'd come…"
There was silence between the two of them for a moment, so Roxy opened her eyes and glanced over to him. Taka had his own eyes closed, and looked like he was deep in thought.
"But, I know," she said to him, "I know that I didn't need to cry. I told myself that up there, and I shook it off. This is a time to be happy. It's a time to be proud, and…" She gazed downwards for a moment. "I still can't believe this green paint is on me…"
"It suits you."
She gave him an odd look. "What…?"
"In a way."
The two lapsed into silence once more. Roxy sat there and idly pawed at the ribbon hanging from her ear. The slowly dwindling group of villagers continued to dance before the magnificent bonfire.
"For what it's worth," she said at last, breaking the silence, "I think you should've gotten a mark."
"I already told you-" he started to say.
"That's baloney, though," she interjected, "Before you were knocked down, you were the one who…y'know, led the charge. It looked like the tribe as a whole didn't know what to do when the invasion came, but you stepped forward and you stood your ground."
"Even with their best efforts, not everyone can win…"
He still didn't respond, and it looked like she wasn't going to get much more conversation out of him. Roxy sat there for a while with the enigmatic Pikachu. There was still so much about him that she didn't know, and that he wouldn't tell. After a while, she decided to leave him be and get in a few more dances before bedtime.
Roxy paused and turned back to look at him. "Hm?"
"Will you be in the training area tomorrow?"
She blinked and furrowed her brow. "Uhh…I guess so?" She hadn't exactly been planning on it, but before the Earth Tribe raid she had previously been visiting the training area once a day. Now that the mayhem was over, she supposed it was time to get back to doing it again. She had no idea if it was doing her any good in a physical or technical sense, but it was still quite therapeutic for her.
"Good," Taka replied, and then gave her an inquiring look.
"Why?" Roxy asked with a tilt of her head.
"Would you mind if I joined you?"
Her eyes widened a fraction. "Wha…? You mean-?"
"Not like before. I promise."
Taka shrugged and gave her a bit of a half smile. "I hear that you have been training there on your own. That is certainly commendable, wanting to improve your skills and such. I do believe, however, that it would be much more beneficial if you had…someone experienced on your side."
"You want to teach me again…?" she asked with a frown.
"'Teach' is a poor choice of word," he replied, "How about 'train'? You have potential in you, Roxy. It just needs to find a way to come out." He paused for a moment before adding, "I believe…my brother was right about you in that way."
"Really…?" Roxy muttered. She gave him an unsure look. Taka really was starting to see her in a different light after all. She had been practicing in the training area mostly to take her mind off of more depressing matters, but maybe Taka could actually help her this time. If he had this new respect for her, maybe she could actually learn how to fight from him. And then, maybe…
"Sure," she said with a pleasant smile, "I'll see you there."
Taka gave her a nod, and then she happily turned around and returned to the dance floor. There was no doubt about it. This was definitely the second-best day she had ever had in this damned forest.