- Rocky Relations -
April 14th, 2034. Evening. Route 4, Kanto.
"All right, let's stop here for today."
Kierra collapsed to her knees with a loud whine. "I didn't think we'd ever get to rest again!"
Snivy sighed, offering his trainer a sympathetic pat on the back.
Skye glanced over, unamused as she slid her backpack off of her shoulder. "We stopped to take a break an hour ago."
"But it feels like it's been a hundred hours!"
After safely emerging from Mt. Moon, the three had been so exhausted that they crashed with ease. When morning came, Briar had suggested they make a pit stop in Carnelian Town, a five hour walk from their campground. The next closest Pokemon Center was in the town, and it would be a good place to recuperate before moving on to Cerulean.
But the hot sun beating down on them, along with the rocky terrain around the mountain, proved difficult for travel. Kierra had been especially affected, her moans and whines not going unheard by the other two. And, much to Skye's chagrin, Briar would always relent to them.
At this rate, it felt like they would never reach Carnelian.
"Jeeze, and we even stopped to take extra breaks for you," Skye commented. "You know, you can't keep slowing us down like this. We coulda already made it to Carnelian Town by now."
Kierra puffed her cheeks in retaliation, but Briar stepped in. "She's not used to traveling," he defended. "Give her time to adjust."
Skye sighed. "Whatever," she murmured, beginning to unpack her bag. "Let's just get started on camp, then."
Kierra grimaced, not particularly keen on the idea of spending another night on the rocky ground. "Camping again? Isn't there a rest stop or something nearby?"
"There would be if we were in Carnelian," Skye mumbled, already unrolling her sleeping bag.
Briar shot Skye a disapproving glance, but she ignored him and continued setting up her spot for the night. He sighed and looked to Kierra with a tired smile. "Unfortunately, there isn't anything like that around here, so camping will just have to do until we can reach a Pokemon Center."
Kierra's face fell, but before she got the chance to complain, Briar looked over to Skye, saying, "Skye, it's your turn to find us firewood. Sound good?"
Skye glanced over from fluffing her pillow. Deciding it best to let the ordeal go for now and instead focus on helping Briar, she let out a breath and rose to her feet. "Yeah," she replied, offering a playful salute. "Leave it to me!"
Briar pointed to himself. "I'll get started on dinner." He looked to Kierra with a smile. "And Kierra, why don't you go look for water?"
Kierra reeled back. "W-what?" she stammered, eyeing the black woods that stood ominously along the trail. She swallowed. "Just me…?"
"You have Snivy, don't you? You won't be alone," Briar reminded. "Besides, you can use its vines to dig into the earth to locate a water source."
Skye tapped her fist into her palm. "Oh! That's a great idea!"
Briar grinned at her. "Right? I learned that trick from a friend in the Hoenn region."
Kierra pursed her lips. "I guess so…" she hesitated, shifting her feet as Snivy looked up at her curiously. "But…"
Skye and Briar looked at her expectantly. Skye cocked a brow, looking Kierra up and down until she noticed the slightest tremble in her legs. She sighed and shook her head. "It's hopeless," she commented with a shrug. "Look at her—she's totally freaked out."
Kierra straightened herself out as her cheeks bloomed pink. "I am not!"
Skye rolled her eyes. "Sure," she scoffed, picking up her bag and tossing it over her shoulder. "Listen, I'll take care of the firewood and the water. Why don't you just hang back and help Briar with dinner?"
Briar frowned. "Maybe Skye's right," he agreed. "I mean, you said you were pretty tired anyways. I wouldn't want you to push yourself too much since you still aren't used to this sort of thing."
Kierra looked between the two, fisting her hands in her lap and then averting her gaze to the ground. Guilt was weighing down on her. These two had been kind enough to allow her to travel alongside them—the last thing she wanted to do was be a burden.
She lifted her head. "I'll go," she said with a firm expression.
Briar was taken aback. "You don't have to," he assured. "Seriously, I could use some help with dinner anyways." He thumbed to Skye, who seemed less than impressed with the scene that was unfolding. "And Skye's got enough energy in her to do a little extra physical labor for us both. It's no big deal."
Kierra stood up, dusting off her skirt as she did so. "No, no, I want to," she countered. "If I'm going to be part of this group, I want to be able to pull my own weight."
Briar hesitated, but seeing the sincerity in her eyes made him reconsider. "…Okay," he resigned. He pulled out a canteen from his bag and handed it to her. "But if you run into any trouble, don't hesitate to come back."
Kierra nodded, took the canteen, and slung it over her shoulder. "Right!" she affirmed, turning on her heel and marching toward the woods. "Let's go, Snivy!"
"Sni!" Snivy chirped, trotting after Kierra as she disappeared into the treeline.
Briar watched them until they faded out of sight. Even when Kierra was long gone, Briar could feel Skye's eyes on him. A part of him wondered if he had just sent the poor girl to her death.
"I'm sure she'll be fine..." he finally said, though he wasn't sure if he was reassuring himself or Skye.
Skye, seemingly unaffected, simply adjusted the straps on her backpack. "Yeah, well—let's just hope she remembers her way back to camp."
Despite her feigned indifference, the slight change in Skye's tone didn't go unnoticed by Briar. His expression turned cheeky. "You worried?"
"No," she retorted, beginning to make her own walk toward the woods, "I just don't wanna be considered a culprit in a missing persons case, is all."
Definitely worried, Briar thought.
Cupping his hands over his mouth, Briar called to her, "You're gonna have to learn to accept this sooner or later, you know!"
Skye said nothing in response, only offering him a wave of her hand.
Skye lifted a stick from off of the ground, examining it closely. After confirming it wasn't damp, she added it to her growing collection. Just a little more and she'd have enough to get a hearty fire going.
If the fire wasn't big enough, Kierra would probably complain about the cold, as if she had no idea temperatures dropped when the sun went down. And of course Kierra hadn't packed an extra blanket, so Skye would have to give her one of hers just to get her to shut up.
"Hm?" Skye's thoughts were broken. Squirtle was looking up at her with a bright smile, a perfectly red apple between his hands. Skye's face lit up as she took the fruit he offered to her. "Hey, an apple! Nice find!"
Squirtle put his hands on his hips and turned his chin up in pride. "Squirtle!"
Skye looked around to find the apple's source. She grinned when spotting the nearby and absolutely inviting apple tree. "I'll go get us some more," she said, placing the firewood and her backpack on the ground. "You guard the firewood."
Skye approached the tree, grabbing onto its bark and hoisting herself up. After making it a little ways up, she spotted a branch with a handful of ripe apples dangling off of it. She inched herself forward and plucked a few off.
"Hey Squirtle!" she called, looking down at her partner. "Catch!"
Squirtle blinked, stumbling a bit before catching the apple in his arms. He raised the apple victoriously. "Squirtle!"
Skye gave her Pokemon a thumbs up. "Good job!" She lifted up another two apples. "Think you can catch these, too?"
She tossed a couple of more apples down to Squirtle, who managed to catch each of them successfully. But just as she was about to throw the final one, something caught her eye. Furrowing her brows, she turned her attention toward the nearby stream.
In the distance, Skye could make out Kierra leaning over the stream, attempting to fill her canteen with water. She was leaning in just a little too far, struggling to keep her balance. Snivy rushed to her side and wrapped his vines around her as she nearly toppled into the water.
Skye hissed between her teeth at the sight. "Better go help her…" She jumped down from the branch, brushing herself off as she tossed the final apple into her bag. "C'mon Squirtle," she said, motioning for her Pokemon to follow as she slipped her backpack onto her shoulders. Squirtle gathered the firewood and chased after her.
As she approached, Skye could tell that Snivy was really struggling to keep a hold on Kierra with his Vine Whip the further his trainer reached into the river. Said trainer was so focused on the water that she didn't even notice Skye walking up behind her.
What if Skye had been a wild Pokemon? Then what? Seriously, this girl...
"You know, if you reach any further you'll wind up taking a bath in there."
Kierra squeaked in surprise, almost falling forward. Snivy gasped, tugging harder and pulling her onto the safety of the grass. She turned her head to see Skye and Squirtle. "O-oh! Skye!" For a second, Kierra thought she was done for. She breathed a sigh of relief. "It's just you…"
"Sorry," Skye apologized, holding up a hand. "Didn't mean to scare ya." Though she couldn't deny there was a little satisfaction in it.
"I wasn't scared!" Kierra protested. "You just surprised me, is all."
"Right," Skye responded, unconvinced. Her gaze flicked to Squirtle and Snivy, who were starting to make polite conversation. "Hey, why don't you guys go and collect some more firewood?" she asked, nodding her head at Kierra. "I've got things covered here."
Squirtle and Snivy exchanged looks before Squirtle put down the already collected wood and motioned for Snivy to follow him into the trees.
That was when Skye noticed the open canteen Kierra held between her hands. "Hey, hey," she snapped, snatching the canteen from her, "are you trying to get us all sick or something?"
Kierra raised a brow. "What are you talking about?"
"The water!" Skye exclaimed, holding up the canteen. "You can't just put dirty river water in the canteen like that. All the bacteria and stuff is gonna make us sick. Use your water purifier."
Kierra shrunk back. "My… what?"
Skye squinted at her disbelievingly. "And here I thought you were supposed to be some sort of super genius or something."
Skye faltered, not expecting Kierra to actually agree. With a murmur, she added, "Modest, too."
Skye held up her hands. "Nothing." She shrugged her backpack off of her shoulders and unzipped it. "Anyways," she started, digging her hand inside and pulling out a small, cylindrical object, "this is a water purifier."
She lifted the canteen and screwed the purifier onto the top. "You just screw it on top of the canteen and presto—clean water!" She bent down, dipping the canteen into the river. Water began to slowly enter through the filter's opening. "It takes a little longer to fill, but at least we won't be puking."
"Oh," Kierra said slowly, not liking the feeling of not knowing something, "I guess I didn't realize these types of things existed."
"C'mon, this is survival 101," Skye scoffed, pulling the canteen out of the river and slipping it into her backpack. "Didn't you learn about it in your survival courses?"
Kierra shook her head. "I never took a course like that." She had never seen the point. As a future researcher, she always envisioned herself in libraries full of books, not the great outdoors.
Skye looked to Kierra ludicrously. "What? But they're something every kid takes."
"Not me." Kierra closed her eyes and held up a finger. "I only took classes on important things—like Pokemon evolution and anatomy." She waved a hand dismissively. "I didn't have time for stuff like that."
"Survival is important," Skye corrected. "I mean, I hated school, but even I made sure to pay attention in those classes." She crossed her arms. "In fact, one time we were talking about what to do if you got stuck in a Dugtrio cavern and I—"
Kierra paused. "Wait, what did you just say?"
"That I paid attention in my survival courses," Skye repeated, not appreciating being interrupted. "You know, to keep me from getting killed by drinking dirty water."
"No, no, before that," Kierra pressed, leaning in toward Skye. "Did you say you hated school?"
Skye leaned back. Kierra had no concept of personal space. "Uh… yes?"
That was apparently the worst thing Skye could have said. "What!?" Kierra gasped. "But school is amazing!" Her blue eyes sparkled dreamily. "There's so much to learn! So many books to read! How can you even hate such a thing?"
"Because it's boring," Skye said flatly. "I'd rather be out on my own, learning stuff firsthand through experience. Some things you can't learn from a stupid book."
Kierra puffed her cheeks. "Well, I think that's silly. Books aren't stupid! They're like fountains of endless knowledge! There's so much you can learn from them!"
"Pass," Skye rejected, holding up a hand. "Reading gives me headaches."
"Maybe you just haven't tried reading enough!"
"Trust me, that's not it."
Kierra crossed her arms, not having it. "I just don't get how someone can hate learning so much!"
"It's not like I hate learning," Skye corrected. She was already tired of this conversation. She was also hungry. "I just hate school and books and stuff."
"But those are the best tools for learning!"
Skye could feel the time bomb inside of her starting to tick. She barely knew this girl, and yet Kierra was pushing just about every button she had. "Okay, well if your school and books are so great, then how come you don't even know basic survival skills?"
"I thought you said you learned about those in school," Kierra shot back, not missing a beat.
The time bomb began to tick more rapidly, and Skye did everything in her power to keep herself from blowing. She pursed her lips into a hard line, finally spitting, "Whatever." She might have grumbled something else under her breath, but Kierra didn't catch it.
It was then a rustling noise cut the tension like a knife. Skye quickly looked down to see something moving inside of her backpack. A thick, yellow tail poked out of the open hole.
Skye fumbled to pounce on the little thief. "Hey! Get out of there!"
Her backpack rustled again, and this time a Sandshrew poked its head out. "Shrew?"
"It's a Sandshrew!" Kierra gasped, clapping her hands together.
Skye stopped mid-pounce to dig into her back pocket and pull out her Pokedex. The screen came to life, a picture of the Pokemon appearing at its center. "Sandshrew, the Mouse Pokémon. Disliking water, it lives in deep burrows in arid areas. This Pokémon curls up to protect itself from its enemies."
Skye looked from her Pokedex to the Sandshrew. "If it dislikes water so much, then what's it doing here by the river?"
Sandshrew crawled its way out of the bag, and Kierra took notice of the apples that rolled out after it. She put a finger to her chin in thought. "I guess it smelled the food in your backpack?"
Skye's eyes trailed to the apples on the ground. "Huh. Well, in that case…" She bent over, picked up one of the apples, and handed it to Sandshrew with a crooked smile. "Here. You could've just asked, ya know?"
Sandshrew blinked a few times before greedily snatching the apple away. "Sand!"
"You're really just gonna hand it over like that?" Kierra gawked.
"Sure. Why not?" Skye watched a little fondly as the Sandshrew happily munched away at the fruit. "It's hungry, isn't it?"
"Yeah, but you shouldn't feed wild Pokemon," Kierra informed, pointing a finger at the Sandshrew. "Sandshrew especially are known for being pack Pokemon. It might alert its friends, and then suddenly you're swarmed by a whole bunch of them wanting food!" She pulled a notebook out of her bag and flipped through it. "Furthermore—"
The moment was ruined. "Enough, enough. I get it," Skye groaned, looking back to the Sandshrew as it tossed away the apple core. "It'll be fine. It's just an apple. It's not like I gave it a buffet."
Kierra looked unconvinced.
Sandshrew perked its ears up at the sound of Skye's Squirtle and Kierra's Snivy approaching the riverbed. Clearly startled, it scampered off, disappearing into the bushes. Skye turned her attention back to her own Pokemon.
Squirtle and Snivy both carried a decent number of sticks in their arms, and Skye decided to take their return as an opportunity to break away from her conversation with Kierra.
"Just in time," Skye said, giving Squirtle a pat on the head and shifting her gaze to Kierra, who was scribbling something or other in that dumb notebook of hers. Skye chose to ignore it. "C'mon. Let's head back to camp."
The heavy scent of cream and vegetables filled the air. Briar poured a serving of diced onions into the bubbling pot and gave the broth a slow stir. His eyes shifted to Skye, who was eagerly chopping away at a carrot beside him.
"You'd better be careful with that thing," Briar warned, watching as Skye pushed the cubed carrots aside and rapidly began cutting another. He could feel his heart rate increase every time he saw the knife get dangerously close to her fingers.
"I'm always careful," Skye assured, narrowly avoiding chopping off her own thumb for the third time that evening.
Kierra glanced up from the book she was reading. Snivy was off in the distance, working alongside Charmeleon, Squirtle, and a few of the other Pokemon to help set the dinner table. She looked back to Briar and Skye working on the stew over the fire. Suddenly, she felt a little guilty for sitting around.
She shut the book and rose to her feet. "Is there anything I can do to help?"
"I think we're all set here," Briar assured, looking at Skye. "Once Skye is done with the vegetables, the stew will just need to finish cooking."
Skye didn't look up from her cutting board. "Yeah, so just go back to reading, or whatever."
Kierre's fists curled at her sides. "I wanna do my part! There has to be something I can do to help."
Briar hesitated, lulling his head from side to side. "Well…" he started slowly, "I guess the tents still need pitching…"
"I can do that!"
"Have you ever even pitched a tent before?" Skye scoffed, looking up from her carrots. "It's not exactly simple."
"No," Kierra shrugged. "But it can't be that hard."
"It can be if you don't know what you're doing," Skye countered.
"Skye's got a point," Briar agreed tentatively. "If you've never pitched a tent before then maybe you should hang back and wait for us to finish dinner. We can teach you."
"No, no, really!" Kierra waved her hands in front of her. "I can do it! If I get stuck I'll look up instructions on my Xtransceiver!" She pulled the device out of her pocket, looking at them both with pleading eyes. "Please?"
Briar and Skye exchanged skeptical glances before Briar looked back to Kierra with a hesitant, "...All right."
Skye gawked at her friend disbelievingly as Kierra's face lit up. Briar continued with, "It's supposed to rain tonight, so I moved the supplies under the treeline so we can stay dry." He pointed to the treeline in the distance where Kierra could make out their bags and camping supplies laid out across the ground.
Kierra nodded. With a confident smile, she put a hand to her chest. "Perfect! I'll have them up in no time!"
She spun on her heel and made a dash toward the supplies. Snivy seemed to take notice, hopping off of the table and frantically chasing after.
Skye sighed and returned to chopping her carrots. "You're gonna regret this."
Briar continued to stir the stew. "C'mon, Skye. We have to at least give her a chance."
"Briar, she couldn't even get us clean water," Skye jeered, pointing the knife at him. "You really think she's gonna know how to pitch a tent? This girl doesn't know the first thing about living outdoors."
Briar's face twisted, carefully pushing the knife away. "She's learning. You just need to be more patient with her."
"Yeah, well," Skye started, glancing bitterly in Kierra's direction as she began to pitch the tents, "let's see how patient you are with her when you're sleeping out in the rain cause she wrecked your tent."
"Knock it off," Briar chided. "Why're you being like this?"
"I'm not 'being like' anything," Skye defended. "I just don't think we should have to babysit her, is all. She's holding us up." She lifted the cutting board, dumping the last of the diced carrots into the pot. "I say when we get to Carnelian we just drop her. Let her find her own way to Cinnabar."
"We can't just drop her, Skye."
Briar shook his head. "Look, how about you just focus on the celery next, all right?" Attempting to lighten the mood, he playfully gave Skye's head a small shove. "Maybe getting some food in you will cure your grumpiness."
Skye scowled, pushing his hand away and grabbing the first stick of celery out of the pile.
As Briar and Skye continued to make preparations to the stew, Kierra struggled with her own tent preparations.
"Okay, so… This goes here…" Kierra murmured to herself, attempting to attach one rod to another. "And this goes…"
But just as she snapped one piece into place, the tent shook, collapsing on top of her. Snivy gasped and lifted up the fabric that was now covering his trainer's face.
Kierra whined loudly and threw her hands up. "That's the fourth time! I could have sworn I had it!"
Snivy was already picking up the fallen tent pieces. Kierra slouched and hung her head. No matter what she tried, everything she did just seemed to get messed up. She'd never faced problems like this back in school. She was beginning to wonder if maybe Skye was right about taking those survival courses. She was useless without them.
Picking up one of the tent rods again, she frowned. "Maybe I should just give up…"
Snivy sat down beside her, putting a hand on her lap reassuringly. "Sni!"
Kierra looked down at her Pokemon, who was staring at her with firm eyes. Snivy wasn't ready to call it quits just yet.
"...No!" Kierra said, slapping herself on the cheeks. "You're right! I've got this!" She picked up the plastic rods once more, looking between them. "I just need to think of it like a puzzle, and all of these rods and stuff are the pieces, right?"
Snivy pepped up and jumped to his feet. "Vy!"
Kierra took a long moment to look between all of the different pieces. Then she looked at Snivy, laughing nervously and pulling out her Xtransciever. "And maybe let's see what PokeTube has to say about tent pitching, too?"
Four PokeTube videos about tent pitching and many misplaced rods later, three brightly colored tents finally stood before them.
"I think we did it!" Kierra exulted, clapping her hands together.
Snivy placed his hands to his hips triumphantly. "Sni sni!"
"Come on, let's go tell the others!" Kierra said excitedly, turning on her heel and running back to their main campsite. Snivy trailed closely behind.
"Guess who got the tents pitched?" Kierra sang as she approached.
Skye glanced over her shoulder. "How broken are they?"
Kierra's cheeks flushed. "They're not broken! They're perfectly intact!"
"That's great, Kierra. Thanks for the help," Briar praised, picking a bowl up from off of the table and handing it to her. "And you're just in time for dinner, too."
Kierra happily accepted the bowl. All three helped themselves to servings of the stew and began to dig in. Squirtle and the other Pokemon ate their share of Pokemon food on the ground below.
The group made it through dinner without much issue. Skye and Kierra even managed to make (what Briar considered to be) halfway decent conversation with each other. But when Briar pointed out that the clouds were beginning to roll in, the trainers and their Pokemon quickly wrapped up their meals and began to pack everything away.
"All right, that should do it," Briar said, folding the last corner of the table cloth. "Since it's about to start raining anyways, why don't we get settled in for the night?" He turned to Kierra. "Kierra, do you mind taking the pots to the tents while Skye and I get the Pokemon back into their Poke Balls?"
Kierra perked up. "Sure! No problem!"
Collecting the handful of pots sitting on the ground, Kierra made her way over to the spot where she had previously set up the tents. However, as she drew closer, her face turned white at the approaching sight.
"Oh no!" she gasped, rushing to the tents. She could now clearly tell that Skye's tent had collapsed to the ground. She fell to her knees and began picking up the pieces. The rods were bent, and some of the fabric appeared to be torn. "Oh no…" she winced. "What do I do?"
She attempted to put the pieces back together and get the tent into a somewhat presentable state, but it was useless. The tent fell apart once more and Kierra bit her lip.
"What's up?" Skye's voice came from behind her, and Kierra felt her stomach fall. She turned around just in time to see the realization spreading across Skye's face. "My tent! What did you do!?"
Briar, who was right behind Skye, braced himself for the inevitable fight.
Kierra watched helplessly as Skye got to her knees and picked up the pieces of her destroyed tent. "I-I didn't do anything!" she defended. "It was already like this when I got here! I was only trying to put it back together again! It was fine before dinner!"
"The poles are all bent! It's totally unusable now," Skye complained, giving Kierra a malicious look. "This is what happens when you know nothing about being out on your own."
"Hey! The other tents are fine, aren't they?" Kierra argued. "Something must've happened while we were eating. It's not my fault!"
"Oh, yeah? Like what?"
"Like anything! The wind, maybe!"
"There isn't any wind!"
"Guys, chill out!" Briar interjected, stepping between them. "It's just a tent." He focused his attention onto Skye with a frown. "Skye, we can get you a new one when we reach Carnelian tomorrow."
Skye tossed aside the broken parts with force. "Yeah, some help that'll do while it's raining tonight."
Briar crossed his arms, looking between his companions and what used to be Skye's tent. She was right, they couldn't just expect her to sleep out in the rain. But there was no way they'd be able to get her tent back together, either.
That was when an idea popped into Briar's head, and he almost bit his tongue to shut himself up before actually saying it out loud. "Why don't you share Kierra's tent?"
"What!?" both Kierra and Skye spat.
Briar reeled back. "My tent is too small, and sleeping under the trees won't do you much good," he tried to reason as Skye turned her head away stubbornly. "What other option do you have?"
"I'd rather soak."
Briar's eye twitched in irritation before he let out a breath and held his hands up in defeat. "Fine," he conceded, making his way to his own tent. "Let's see how long you'll last sleeping out in the rain, then. I'm not risking getting wet out here, so figure it out yourself."
An awkward silence fell between Skye and Kierra as Briar zipped himself up in his tent for the night. Skye was refusing to meet Kierra's gaze and Kierra huffed in annoyance.
"I like having my space anyways," Kierra declared, crawling into her own tent and zipping it shut aggressively.
"Whatever," Skye grumbled, pulling her sleeping bag out from the remainder of her tent. "Who needs a stupid tent? I'll be fine right here."
Just as she said that, Skye could feel the first drop of water land on her nose. She shook it off, dragging her sleeping bag further into the trees in hopes of staying at least somewhat dry. Her efforts proved to be useless, however, as the rain began coming down far quicker than she anticipated. It only took minutes for her to be soaked from head to toe, the trees doing little to keep her dry.
Before long, Skye knew she didn't have much choice in the matter. If she didn't want to catch a cold she had to get out of the rain, and if she wanted to get out of the rain…
Skye groaned, collecting her sleeping bag and dragging it back over to Kierra's tent. She could see a light dimly shining through the fabric. For a moment, Skye felt the urge to turn on her heel and retreat back into the trees, but the cold rain pounding against her back forced her to suck in her pride.
Kierra jumped in alarm at the sound of her tent being unzipped, and readied herself with her book as a weapon. She breathed a sigh of relief when realizing the intruder wasn't a murderer or kidnapper, but a dripping wet Skye Ketchum.
Skye's lips were pressed in a hard line, and after a moment she finally admitted, "It might be raining a little harder than I expected…"
"Astute observation," Skye remarked, looking anywhere but Kierra. "So… can I…" she spoke as if her teeth were being pulled, "crash here?"
Kierra slowly lowered her book. She turned her head away, as if in deep thought on the matter. "...Maybe," she teased, eyeing Skye with a sly smile. "What's the magic word?"
Skye tensed. The rain was starting to sound pretty good right about now. "...Please?"
Kierra snickered. "Then, I guess so," she said, scooting over to make room. Then she paused, scrunching her face and digging through her stuff. "But…" she pulled out a towel, tossing it in Skye's direction, "towel up first. I don't want you getting my stuff all wet."
"Yeah, yeah," Skye drawled, catching the towel. "Thanks."
A silence fell between them as Skye began to dry her hair with Kierra's towel. Kierra picked her book back up and opened to the page where she left off. As Skye finished drying herself off and began to get comfortable, Kierra glanced over, a frown tugging at the corners of her mouth.
"...Hey, uh…" she started, shifting her sleeping bag. "About your tent…"
"The one that you destroyed?"
Any guilt that Kierra felt vanished as her face flushed with anger. "I told you! I didn't destroy it!"
Skye turned onto her side away from Kierra. "Sure you didn't."
Kierra puffed her cheeks. "...Forget it! I'm going to sleep!" she snapped, rolling onto her side as well, flicking the light off. "Good night."
April 15th, 2034. Morning. Route 4, Kanto.
Neither Skye nor Kierra had slept well that night. Over breakfast the next morning, Skye complained that Kierra had been sprawling herself out all over the place, leaving little room for her in the tent. Kierra, on the other hand, claimed that Skye's snoring had been so loud that she needed to place a pillow over her ears to drown it out.
Briar had broken up the argument before it could turn ugly, insisting that they should all just finish off their breakfast so they could make their way to Carnelian. Fortunately, Skye and Kierra spent the remainder of the morning ignoring each other while they packed up camp and continued their trek down Route 4.
The storm from the night before had left the foliage that lined Route 4 coated in specs of dew. Squirtle, who seemed to be enjoying the slight dampness that still hung in the air, bounced along in front of Skye and the others.
He came to a sudden stop when noticing the split in the road. Unsure of where to go, he looked back at the group of trainers.
Briar raised a brow. "It looks like the road forks here."
"Guess so," Skye noted, looking between the two different pathways. Alongside the left path, a sign was staked into the ground, reading, 'Carnelian Town, 15 miles'. The road had been paved, compared to the path on the right which appeared to be rough, rocky, and leading into the mountains.
Skye began to walk down the left road. "C'mon. Let's stick to the trainer path."
"Hang on!" Kierra called.
Skye stopped, looking back at Kierra over her shoulder. "Hm? What?"
Kierra, whose eyes were glued to her phone, pointed down the mountain path. "This way might be faster."
Briar exchanged uncertain looks with Skye, asking, "Through the mountainside? Are you sure?"
"Yeah! My Xtransciever is saying it's a shortcut," Kierra explained, holding the phone screen out for them to see the map on it. "We can save almost two hours by going that way."
Briar took a moment to ponder this information. "If we can get to Carnelian two hours early, then I can spend some time training for the contest in Cerulean..." Well, that settled that. "Okay. Let's—"
"Nu-uh," Skye interrupted. "We should stick to the trainer path."
Briar and Kierra looked at each other in surprise. "What?" Briar asked. "But the mountainside is a shortcut."
"And shortcuts are a good way of getting lost," Skye said, her tone snippy. "Without signs or anything they just turn into longcuts. I don't wanna spend another night stuck in the wilderness." She very noticeably looked at Kierra. "Besides, do you really think she can manage a hike on terrain like that? We should stick to the trainer path."
"I can handle myself!" Kierra retorted.
"Oh really?" Skye pressed. "Then what was with all the complaining you did yesterday?"
"I made it through Mt. Moon, didn't I?"
"Right. And how many days were you lost for before we got you out?"
"Guys, c'mon. Stop fighting," Briar chastised, stepping between them. "This is getting ridiculous."
Kierra and Skye both turned their heads away and Briar sighed. "Look, let's take the mountainside path. The best case scenario, we get to Carnelian early. Worst case scenario, we get a little side-tracked."
Briar could feel Skye's eyes drilling holes into him. "But who knows?" he added. "There might be a lot of cool mountain Pokemon we can run into along the way. You do wanna catch more Pokemon, don't you?"
Skye seemed to falter at that suggestion, pressing her lips into a hard line. Briar smirked before glancing up in feigned confusion. "How many did Lizzie say she had again? Four?" Briar looked down at his hand, counting on his fingers. "And you only have—"
"Fine!" Skye interjected, beginning to march forward on the mountain path. "But when we get lost, don't say I didn't warn you."
As Briar and Kierra followed after Skye, the three began to make their way along the mountain path. For the most part, Kierra had little complaining to do about the terrain, and Skye kept any snarky remarks she had to herself. Briar had never felt so grateful for awkward silence.
Not long into their hike, Briar stopped short. "Hold up."
Squirtle bumped into the backs of Briar's legs and looked up at the trainer curiously. Briar pointed down the trail. "It looks like the path up ahead gets pretty narrow," he noted, and Skye peeked over his shoulder at the path.
Sure enough, the path ahead looked far thinner than the one they had been walking on. While the drop on the edge of the path didn't appear to be steep, it was still definitely a long way down if one of them fell. Briar looked back to his companions. "We should probably take it one person at a time." He thumbed to himself. "I'll go first."
The group then began their walk across the narrow path one by one with Briar at the front and Kierra in the back. Snivy, who sat atop Kierra's head, whimpered nervously and hid himself beneath her hat.
"It's okay, Snivy," Kierra assured. "It's really not that steep!"
Briar glanced back at the two with a small smile, then focused his attention onto Skye who had her eyes averted to the ground. She was definitely still annoyed by their choice of paths.
"Hey, maybe once we get to Carnelian, I'll let you battle me," Briar suggested playfully.
The mention of battling seemed to get Skye to perk up. She lifted her head to look at Briar, a small smirk forming. "Oh? Did my battle in Pewter City impress you so much that you're willing to give me a chance now?"
"Don't let it get to your head," Briar scoffed. "Charmeleon and I just need to get some training in before—"
"Oh my gosh!"
The sound of Kierra's yelling made both Briar and Skye jump in alarm. Squirtle nearly tripped and slid down the mountain side, needing to hold onto Skye's leg for support.
"W-what is it?" Skye sputtered, facing Kierra. "What's wrong?"
But Kierra didn't appear to be frightened or upset—in fact, Skye would have thought she looked positively elated. Her eyes were shining, and she was leaning forward, as if she was trying to look at something along the edge.
"It's a Fire Stone!" she squealed.
"A Fire Stone?" Briar blinked. "Like, the ones Pokemon use to evolve?"
Upon closer inspection, Briar and Skye could make out a decently sized, shining rock sitting a few feet below them on the slope. Its core seemed to be burning with flames, but it looked different than how Fire Stones appeared in pictures.
"Yeah, but not like what you're thinking of!" Kierra bubbled, practically bouncing on her heels as Snivy peeked out from beneath her hat to see what was going on. "These bigger stones are where the smaller ones that trainers use come from! And some of them are thousands of years old!"
"So…" Skye started, unimpressed. "It's a really old rock."
"Exactly! Isn't that exciting?!" Kierra beamed. She inched her way closer to the ledge and Snivy let out a panicked breath. "I need to get a closer look!"
"Kierra!" Briar called, a bad feeling twisting in his gut. "That's probably not safe!"
"I'll be fine!" Kierra insisted, stepping onto the slope and sliding down a few feet nearer to the ledge where the Fire Stone sat. "I only want to get a little closer!"
"What are you doing, you bonehead!?" Skye yelled, stepping toward her. "Get back here!"
"Stop worrying!" Kierra assured. "It's only a few feet down. I can climb right back up." She inched her way closer to the stone and Snivy gripped onto her head for dear life. "Now, let's see about getting a sample…"
But just as Kierra stepped foot onto the ledge with the Fire Stone, she could feel the earth begin to shift beneath her feet. She blinked, looking down, only to gasp when she saw the ground was beginning to split.
Hearing the crack of rock, Briar immediately called, "Kierra!"
"Crap!" Skye scowled, leaping forward in an attempt to grab Keirra's hand before the earth totally gave way.
Kierra reached her hand out, grasping onto Skye's as tightly as she could. But the ground crumbled beneath her and she yelped as she started to slide down the cliffside. Skye inhaled sharply, tumbling forward as Kierra's weight jerked her down with her, sending her sliding down as well. Squirtle let out a cry of alarm, leaping into his shell and spinning down the cliff after his trainer.
"Skye! Kierra!" Briar yelled, stepping forward and looking over the ledge.
The tumble down the cliffside was rough, Snivy screaming at the top of his lungs the entire time. Luckily, the mountain's slope was enough to keep them from falling straight to the bottom. Skye managed to slide to the ground first, with Kierra making a rougher crash-landing on top of her just moments later. Squirtle slid after them, leaping out of his shell to check on his trainer as soon as he reached her.
"Are you guys okay!?" Briar called from above them.
Skye and Kierra both groaned in pain as Kierra climbed off of Skye's back. Snivy looked as if he had just seen his life flash before his eyes as he panted and continued to cling onto the top of Kierra's head.
Skye winced, rising to her feet and rubbing her back. "Yeah, we're fine!" she called back to Briar.
Looking up, she saw just how far they had fallen. The mountainside itself wasn't all that steep, but climbing back up would still be difficult. Skye thought that she might be able to pull it off, but she had her doubts about Kierra.
"I… I-I'll make my way down to you, okay!?"
"No! Stay there! It's too dangerous!" Skye responded. "We'll try to get back up to where you are! Just stay put for now so we don't lose you!"
"All right!" Briar conceded. "Just be careful!"
Skye sighed, brushing the dirt off of her tank top. She looked down at her Pokemon with a frown and gave him a pat on the head. "Are you okay, Squirtle?" she asked, looking him over for injuries. "You didn't need to chase us like that…"
Squirtle gave her a confident smile, pounding his fist against the hard surface of his shell. "Squirt!"
Skye let out a relieved breath. Kierra slowly rose to her own feet with a wince and Skye glanced at her, unamused. "Well, this stinks…"
Kierra frowned, picking up Snivy from off of her head and cradling him in her arms as he collected himself from his panic attack. "What do you think we should do?"
"We need to find a way back up, obviously."
"I know that," Kierra retorted. "I meant how? Do you think we could climb it?""
"I doubt that," Skye muttered, giving Kierra a once over.
Kierra flushed bright red. "Why are you looking at me that way!?"
"No reason," Skye dismissed, turning away. "Let's just try to find a way around."
With that, the two began to walk, staying close to the mountain wall in hopes of finding an easier path back up to Briar. The walk remained mostly silent aside from the few remarks Kierra made about their surroundings.
Skye was doing her best to keep her bubbling anger over the situation at bay, but each word Kierra spoke made the task more difficult. Squirtle could sense the tension, nervously glancing up at his trainer every now and then, as if expecting some sort of explosion. But Skye kept her thoughts to herself.
At least, she did until Kierra asked, "Hey, can we stop for a bit?"
Skye stopped dead in her tracks. "Why?" she asked, not turning to face her companion. "We have to keep moving so we can get back to Briar."
Kierra winced, sensing the tension. She exchanged nervous glances with Snivy before hesitantly saying, "My leg is a little sore, that's all. I think I may have twisted it a bit back when we fell."
Kierra glanced down at the leg in question. Her deep blue tights covered her skin from eyeview, but she was sure that a nasty bruise was beginning to form around her knee. She had done her best to keep quiet about it, but the throbbing sensation was starting to slow her down.
Skye waved a hand dismissively. "If it's not broken then you're fine." She continued her trek forward. Clenching the straps of her backpack, she murmured, "We wouldn't have even fallen in the first place if you'd just listened to me and Briar."
Kierra shifted her attention from her leg back to Skye. "What was that?"
"I said," Skye started aggresively, turning on her heel to face Kierra, "we wouldn't have fallen down that stupid slope to begin with if you'd just listened to us and stayed off of that ledge."
"I was only trying to—!"
"Trying to what?" Skye spat. "Be selfish? Get yourself killed?"
"Of course not!"
"Well, that's not how I saw it."
Kierra avoided Skye's gaze, unsure of what to say. Skye let out a frustrated breath, continuing, "Look, if you're gonna be traveling with us then you need to have some common sense and listen to the people who know what they're talking about. I don't care how smart you think you are, the real world is different than what you'll find in any book." She pointed a finger at Kierra accusingly, and Kierra pressed her lips into a hard line.
The bubbling anger inside of Skye had boiled over. Deep down, she knew that scolding Kierra for what had happened wasn't going to do them any good. However, she couldn't stop herself as she heatedly continued on with, "Briar and I could have been halfway to Cerulean City right now if you hadn't been holding us up for the past three days. At this rate we'll never get there."
Skye turned her back on Kierra, continuing to walk forward. "If you can't handle traveling then just take a plane to Cinnabar and stop burdening us."
Kierra stood still, her hands shaking just the slightest. Skye's words cut deep. It wasn't like she didn't know she had held them up a bit, but she didn't realize Skye felt she was that much of a hindrance. Snivy stared at Skye in astonishment before looking to his own trainer sympathetically.
Kierra bit her lip. "I'll find my own way, then!" she retorted a little louder than she had anticipated. "You can get out of here by yourself!"
She spun around, and despite the throbbing ache in her knee, she ran away as quickly as her legs would carry her.
"Squir!" Squirtle called after her.
Skye blinked in alarm, turning around to see Kierra disappearing into the trees. "H-hey! Where are you—!?" But before she could press any further, Kierra was gone.
Skye did nothing but stand in shock for a moment until she finally let out a scowl, kicking the dirt at her feet. "...Fine! No skin off my back! Let her get lost!" Skye fumed, turning back around to continue her march forward. "Let's go, Squirtle!"
Squirtle hesitated, looking to the trees that Kierra had gone through before frowning and following after Skye.
As the two continued to walk in strained silence, Skye began to huff and puff. "Find her own way… Yeah, that's a good one," she grumbled, getting Squirtle's attention. "I give her five minutes before she's lost and two days before she's on a plane back to Unova!"
"Squirtle…" the Pokemon frowned, hanging his head.
Skye glanced down at her Pokemon. "What are you so glum for? Forget her! We don't need her!" She placed a hand to her chest. "We're Team Pallet, remember? Not Team Pallet plus some Fossil Nerd."
Squirtle said nothing, simply looking at his trainer with sad eyes. Skye sighed, rubbing the back of her head as she looked behind her. "Hopefully she doesn't go too deep into the mountains, though," she mused. "Someone as clueless as her could get stuck for days."
Skye could easily picture Kierra getting trapped in some cave or winding up lost among the maze of trees. She reckoned Kierra was totally helpless without her and Briar there to guide her. She bit the inside of her cheek, the slightest bit of guilt beginning to creep its way into her mind.
"... What do I care!?" Skye questioned, shaking the thought away as she rustled her hair angrily. "If she's so smart then she can figure it out herself! Now come on! Let's find Briar!"
Before Skye could take another step forward, a low growl was emitted from her stomach. Squirtle looked up at her with concern before looking down at his own stomach. With everything that had happened since they fell, the fact that lunch rolled around had completely slipped Skye's mind. She hadn't realized just how hungry she had gotten.
"... I guess maybe we could use a small break," she conceded, sliding her backpack from off of her shoulders and taking a seat on a nearby log.
Normally Briar was the one to hang onto all of their food and cooking supplies, so Skye supposed she and Squirtle would need to make do with whatever she could scrounge up from the inside of her backpack.
Remembering the apples from the day before, Skye eagerly unzipped the front pocket of her bag where she had placed them. Her face fell upon looking inside.
"Huh!? Where'd they all go!?" she sputtered, reaching her hand into the depths of her bag. She and Squirtle had picked almost a dozen of them, but now only three remained. She sneered, frustrated. "I'll bet Kierra ate them while I was asleep. I thought I saw apple cores around the tents!"
Squirtle looked unfazed by the ridiculous accusation. "Squirtle…"
"Whatever…" Skye sighed, letting it go as she took a single apple from the bag. "I guess we should make them last just in case." Twisting the fruit in her hands, she broke it in half, handing a piece to Squirtle. "Here. We'll share."
Squirtle began to happily munch on the fruit in his hands as Skye took a bite herself. She wondered if Kierra had actually packed any food in her own bag for herself and Snivy. She glanced down at the two shining red apples sitting at the bottom of her bag. Guilt washed over her once more.
'If you can't handle traveling then just take a plane to Cinnabar and stop burdening us.'
Kierra chewed at her bottom lip as she marched through the mountainside with Snivy trailing behind her. Skye's words had continued to echo through her head since she had run off. They stung down to her very core.
"Who does she think she is, anyways!?" Kierra ranted, tightening her grip on her backpack straps. "I've been nothing but nice this whole time! I'm not a burden!"
Something inside of Kierra stirred, remembering exactly how many times they had stopped to take breaks after her complaints the day before. The possibility that they could have been leaving Carnelian by now if they hadn't was one that she couldn't shake from her mind.
"But… I guess I have been holding them up a little…" Kierra frowned, remembering the way Skye had reached out to grab her back on the cliff. "And maybe I should have listened to them about the Fire Stone." She looked back at Snivy. "Do you think it's really my fault that this is happening, Snivy?"
Snivy perked up, quickly shaking his head. "Sni sni!"
Kierra sighed, closing her eyes. "Sometimes I just—!"
Kierra's train of thought was cut short as she felt her foot catch on something. She gasped, tumbling forward and landing flat on her face.
She winced, sitting up and rubbing her nose. "Ow, ow, ow!"
Snivy ran to his trainer's side. "Snivy!"
Kierra hissed, pulling her hand away from her nose to check for blood. When there was nothing, she sighed in relief. "I'm okay…" she assured, giving Sniy a pat on the head. "I probably should have watched where I was going."
Snivy frowned, unconvinced as he continued to check her over for any sign of injury. The throbbing that Kierra had felt in her knee before came back and she gritted her teeth, rubbing the spot in an attempt to soothe it. She had gotten so caught up in thinking about what Skye had said that the pain had managed to shift to the back of her mind.
Now it hurt worse than before due to her own carelessness. She had ran away from Skye in the first place to prove that she could find her own way back—but now she wondered if she would be able to get there at all.
Maybe Skye was right.
Kierra's frown deepened, and she lowered her voice, "Hey, Snivy? Do you think that maybe… we should go back to Unova after all?"
Snivy blinked, looking at her in surprise. Kierra wrapped her arms around her knees, hugging them close to her chest. "I mean, it's not like I really need to go through all this trouble doing something I'm not even cut out for… I could just… keep taking classes like before, you know?" She looked to her Pokemon, offering him a small, sad smile. "It'd probably be better that way."
Snivy frowned, putting a hand to her leg. "Sni…"
It would be so easy. All she would need to do was call her parents and tell them she was returning. They would be more than happy to have her home again, and she would get to be back in the library at Professor Juniper's lab where she belonged.
She wouldn't tire herself out feeling like she had something to prove. She wouldn't talk the ears off of people who really didn't care to listen. She wouldn't burden anyone. It would just be her and her books, like it had always been.
Skye and Briar would move on and forget about her. She wouldn't drag them down anymore. Likewise, she would move on and forget about them. She would be too wrapped up in her studies to worry about silly things like traveling.
Everyone would be happier that way. She would be happier that way.
Kierra was pulled from her thoughts, shifting her attention onto Snivy. He was poking his head into a hole that had been dug in the ground. She quickly put together that must have been what caused her to trip. Upon closer inspection, she saw that it wasn't the only one. There were dozens of holes in the ground and along the mountain walls just like it.
"...Huh?" Kierra blinked, looking around. "What… is all this?"
"Sni?" Snivy lifted his head out of the hole, looking back to Kierra.
"There's so many of them," she noted, putting a hand to her chin. "It's no wonder I tripped…" She scrunched her face in confusion. "But… what are they all doing here?"
"Vy?" Snivy tilted his head, looking around the area. He suddenly perked up, rushing over to a set of tracks on the ground and pointing to them for Kierra to see. "Snivy, sni!"
Kierra raised her brows, carefully shifting her weight to crawl over to where Snivy stood. She shook off her bag, digging inside to pull out a magnifying glass.
"Hm… These look like…" she mused, leaning in to get a closer look. She lit up. "Oh! I know! They're tracks from Sandshrew and Sandslash!"
Snivy smiled, pleased that his observation seemed to have lifted his trainer's spirits. Kierra put her magnifying glass away, taking out her notebook to jot down what they had found. "This must be their migration route! I guess it makes sense—Kanto is beginning to enter its wet season. They must be moving further inland to dryer land."
Snivy gaped in awe. "Snivy…"
"I guess we got pretty lucky. It looks like we just missed their pack." Kierra closed her notebook, placing it back inside of her bag. "The dampness can make them pretty irritable and aggressive during their migration season." She looked around the area. "I wonder how many of them are moving through here?"
If one pack had passed through the area, Kierra was sure that others must have been nearby. If that was the case, it was likely the different packs would fight each other for the driest territory. She knew it would be for the best if she and Snivy got out of the mountains as soon as they could.
That was when a thought struck her.
Kierra bit nervously at the tip of her thumb. "...I… I hope that Briar and Skye will be all right. I'd hate to think of what would happen if they ran into one of these packs…"
Snivy blinked. "Vy?"
Kierra had a feeling that even if Briar did encounter one of the packs, that he would be able to hold his own. He seemed to have enough experience as a lone traveler and trainer to handle himself. It was possible he had even encountered similar situations in the past.
Skye was a different story.
Survival courses or not, Skye hadn't been on the road much longer than Kierra had. And even if Skye loved to boast, Squirtle and Nidoran weren't exactly experienced battlers. A pack of angry Sandshrew and Sandslash would cause Skye far more trouble than they would for Briar.
She pressed her lips into a hard line. The logical part of Kierra was screaming at her to let it go. If Skye claimed to know so much about survival, then she should be able to get herself out of whatever situation she got stuck petty part of her simply wanted to let Skye find her own way, while she and Snivy looked out for themselves.
But another part of her was louder. As angry as she felt, the thought of leaving Skye alone in the mountains to a pack of territorial Pokemon didn't sit right with her. If Skye somehow found herself in danger because she wasn't aware of the threats around her, Kierra knew she wouldn't be able to forgive herself.
Snivy was watching her with sympathetic eyes, and she groaned inwardly.
"I can be mad at her later!" Kierra whined, looking at her Pokemon. "I should at least warn her and make sure she gets out of here okay, right?"
"Snivy!" Snivy chirped, offering her a determined nod.
Kierra slowly rose to her feet. Her leg was throbbing, but she knew she would have to grit through the pain if she wanted to reach Skye before anything happened. Snivy seemed to take notice and wrapped his vines around her leg to give her some support.
Kierra let out a small sigh of relief, giving him a smile. "Thank you. That helps."
Snivy beamed up at her, and Kierra slung her backpack over her shoulder with new determination.
"Let's find Skye!"
Skye stared at the chewed up applecore in her hand. She and Squirtle had ended up being hungrier than she thought and had gone through another apple. Now only a single one was left sitting in her bag. As her stomach growled, she inwardly cursed herself for allowing Briar to be the one to carry all of their food supplies.
She wondered if Kierra and Snivy were getting as hungry as she was.
Skye looked down to see Squirtle tugging on… something that had stuffed itself inside of her backpack.
"Hey!" Skye rose to her feet. "Get outta there!"
After a moment, the backpack rustled and a Sandshrew poked its head out from inside. "Sand?"
Skye blinked. "A Sandshrew?" Something about the Pokemon seemed familiar. She narrowed her eyes. "Wait a second… Are you the same one from yesterday?"
Sandshrew grinned with a nod. "Shrew!"
"Uh-huh," Skye intoned, putting her hands on her hips. "So, you've been following us, then."
Sandshrew tilted his head, and Skye merely sighed. "Sorry, bud. We're running pretty low, so—!" But just as Skye reached out to take her backpack, Sandshrew suddenly grabbed the strap in its mouth and began to make a run for it.
Skye gasped, stumbling forward. "Hey! That's my backpack!"
Sandshrew ignored her, sprinting on ahead—backpack and all.
Skye scowled and made a mad dash for the little thief. "Get back here!"
Squirtle loyally followed after his trainer. "Squirt!"
Sandshrew bolted on ahead, and Skye watched helplessly as it made a dive into a burrow in the earth. She dove after it, sliding along the ground and jamming her arms into the hole. "You stupid, little—!" Skye barked as Sandshrew crawled deep out of reach.
Squirtle finally caught up to Skye, panting as he approached her side. Skye rose to her feet, dusting off her shorts as she looked down at her partner. "Looks like we'll have to draw him out with an attack," she decided, pointing into the hole. "Squirtle! Use Water Gun!"
Squirtle nodded obediently. "Squirtle!" He took a deep breath, breathing out a blast of water into the depths of the burrow. "Squir!"
There was no response from the Sandshrew. Skye tapped her foot impatiently. "Come back here and fight me, you coward!"
Squirtle watched the hole with baited breath, readying himself for his next attack. However, when he began to feel small tremors from beneath his feet, he paused. Blinking, he looked around and froze with horror upon what he saw next.
Skye took no notice of the tremors or Squirtle's change in expression. Instead, she squatted down, yelling into the hole, "I'm not letting you get away, thief!"
Squirtle grabbed Skye's arm and gave it a shake. "Squirt!"
"Squirtle!" Skye chastised, yanking her arm away. "C'mon, help me ou—!"
But she froze as her gaze followed Squirtle's. Just a few yards away, over a dozen Sandshrew and Sandslash had poked their head out from holes scattered all over the ground. They appeared to be far less than happy, low growls coming from each one of them.
Skye lept back, rubbing her neck with a nervous laugh. "Oh. U-uh. Hey, guys!" She waved a hand toward the hole she had been examining. "Your pal here took my stuff, so I was just—!"
A Sandslash leapt forward, using his claws to kick up a gust of sand, aiming it directly at Skye and Squirtle.
Squirtle yelped, jumping behind Skye as she winced, putting a hand over her eyes to shield it from the Sand Attack. "Augh! Hey!"
"Sandslash!" Sandshlash barked, stomping its foot against the ground.
"Fine!" Skye retorted. "That's how you wanna play?" She looked down at Squirtle. "Squirtle, Water Gun!"
Squirtle nodded, jumping forward and blasting the Sandslash with a burst of water. "Squirtle!"
Sandslash jumped out of the way, dodging the attack as it soaked a couple of Sandshrew who stood in wait behind their companion. The Pokemon cried out in pain, wiping down their faces with their paws. The Sandshrew and Sandslash that stood around them all fixated their gazes on Skye and Squirtle, their growling from before growing louder.
Skye flinched, swallowing as she took a step backward. "They… don't look happy, do they?"
"Sand!" one of the Sandslash cried out, its claws glowing as it made a charge for Skye and Squirtle—the other Pokemon following close behind it.
Skye gasped, stumbling backward. "F-forget the backpack!" she managed, turning on her heel to run in the opposite direction. "Let's get out of here!"
"Squirtle!" Squirtle cried in agreement, following behind her.
The pair tore through the mountainside as quickly as their legs would carry them. Skye heaved heavy breaths, feeling the earth beneath her rumble as the Sandshrew and Sandslash started to gain on them.
"We've gotta lose 'em! We've gotta lose 'em! We've gotta lose 'em!" Skye panicked, charging forward without much thought as to where she was actually going or what her plan would be once she got there.
Squirtle suddenly skidded to a stop behind her, gasping sharply and crying out, "Squir!"
Skye continued on running, but turned her head to look at her Pokemon. "W-why are you—!?"
But Squirtle's reason for stopping suddenly struck Skye as she felt the ground under her feet start to give way. She looked down and gasped, seeing how close she had run to the cliff's edge. Her heel slipped, and all she could do was yell as she began to fall.
Skye must have fallen for no more than a second before she felt a strong grip and a tug at her wrist, keeping her hanging in mid-air.
Skye snapped her head up, gaping at what she saw.
Kierra hung onto Skye's wrist for dear life, gritting her teeth as she attempted to pull her to safety. A bead of sweat trickled down her forehead. "Just… Just hang on!"
Skye continued to stare at her with wide eyes, only briefly looking down to see the pebbles toppling off of the cliffside beneath her feet, falling to the ground far below. If Kierra couldn't get her up, there was a chance they could both fall.
"W-what are you doing!?" Skye sputtered, feeling her wrist begin to slip out of Kierra's grasp.
"You can thank me later!" Kierra responded, turning her head to look at the Pokemon standing beside her. "Snivy! Squirtle! Help!"
Squirtle and Snivy nodded.
Squirtle wrapped his arms around Kierra's waist as Snivy wrapped his vines around Skye's stomach, both helping Kierra lift Skye's weight and bring her back onto the cliff's edge.
Once Skye was back on land, she collapsed to her knees, panting in heavy breaths as she composed herself. "Oh man…" she breathed, lifting her head to see the dust cloud that was rapidly approaching them in the distance. "What is wrong with these guys!?"
"It's their migration season. This is when Sandshrew and Sandslash are the most aggressive," Kierra quickly explained, catching her own breath. "I-I saw the holes and came back to warn you. But it looks like I wasn't fast enough."
"Perfect." Skye growled, jumping to her feet. "C'mon! We have to get out of here!"
Kierra nodded. "R-ri—!" Pain shot through her leg as she attempted to stand. She winced, falling back to the ground and putting a hand to her injured knee. "My leg…"
Skye's breath caught, eyes widening as she looked from Kierra to the Sandshrew and Sandslash who were now just yards away. "Crap." She stood her ground. "We'll just have to battle them, then."
"W-what?!" Kierra gasped, exchanging looks with Snivy and shaking her head. "But Snivy and I have never been in a battle before!"
"Well, there's a first time for everything!" Skye dismissed, pointing a finger toward the oncoming Pokemon. "Squirtle, Water Gun!"
Squirtle leapt forward without hesitation. "Squirtle!"
Following his trainer's orders, Squirtle inhaled, letting loose the strongest blast of water that he could muster. He dosed the Sandslash that led the way, bringing it to a skidding stop as it tried to block the water with his claws.
The other Pokemon came to a halt behind their leader as it lowered its claws, shaking off whatever water it could and readying itself for battle.
Skye pushed her palm forward. "Rapid Spin!"
Squirtle leapt into his shell, spinning across the ground and directly into the hoard of Sandshrew and Sandslash—sweeping several of them off of their feet and knocking them to the ground.
Kierra watched from her spot on the ground as Squirtle and Skye continued on battling the enraged Pokemon. Squirtle had done a decent job holding its own at first, but it was still outnumbered and visibly growing tired quickly. His bursts of water came slower, some missing entirely as it attempted to dodge attacks coming from all sides.
All Kierra could do was watch with wide eyes. A feeling of uselessness washed over her. Skye and Squirtle were giving it their all in the battle, but she couldn't even call out a single attack for Snivy. Doubt flooded her mind, as she inwardly wondered if trying to help would just result in making things worse yet again.
She bit her lip, trembling fingers clutching at her skirt.
"Sni!" Snivy piped up, pulling Kierra from her thoughts.
He was watching her with firm eyes. Kierra froze. Despite everything, Snivy wanted to try his best to help out how he could—his lack of experience didn't matter. It was at least worth a shot. Doing their best would be better than sitting by and doing nothing at all.
As Squirtle honed in on one of the Sandshrew with a Tackle attack, the leader Sandslash jumped out from ground below, hovering above Squirtle from behind.
"Oh no!" Skye gasped, eyes widening. "Squirtle, look out!"
Squirtle skidded to a stop, turning his head to lock his eyes with Sandslash. "Squirt!?"
There was no time to think about it. She needed to stand on her own two feet and act. Skye was counting on her. Kierra wasn't about to let her down.
"S-Snivy…!" Kierra started, pointing forward. "Use Vine Whip!"
Snivy was quick to follow orders, jumping into the fight. "Snivy!"
Two long vines shot forward from Snivy's neck, striking Sandslash in the side. Sandslash was knocked to the ground before it could leave a mark on Squirtle. Snivy puffed out his chest triumphantly. Squirtle lit up, running to stand beside Snivy.
Skye gawked at the sight before her, looking between Kierra in Snivy. But she quickly shook it off, offering Kierra a thumbs up. "Nice save! Thank you!"
Kierra gave Skye a small smile in return, nodding before her attention focused back on the opposing Pokemon. She pressed a knuckle to her mouth, knitting her brows together. "But… it looks like there are too many of them for Snivy and Squirtle to handle on their own…"
Skye let out a huff. "Y-yeah. If I had my backpack I could use Nidoran." She shook the thought away. "I guess we just need to keep giving it everything we've got and hope for the best."
Kierra's eyes scanned over the Pokemon in front of her, her gaze shifting onto Snivy and Squirtle. She paused, her eyes widening. "Wait! I think I have an idea!"
Kierra nodded. "There's nothing Sandshrew and Sandslash hate more than the rain—that's the whole reason they're migrating to begin with." She tapped her fist into her palm. "So what if we made it rain?"
"Huh?" Skye cocked a brow. "What are you talking about?"
Kierra pointed to Squirtle. "If your Squirtle combines Water Gun and Rapid Spin while it's in the air, the water will sprinkle all over them!" She lifted her finger to point into the air. "That might make them retreat back to the burrows!"
Skye flinched, watching as Squirtle tackled into one of the Sandshrew. "T-that's a great idea and all, but Squirtle can't fly!"
"Snivy can help with that!"
Skye watched on as Snivy assisted Squirtle with a dodge using its Vine Whip. Her expression lit up as she put the pieces together. "I get it!" she bursted, looking at her Pokemon. "Squirtle! Did you catch all that!?"
Squirtle glanced back at her with a confident nod. "Squirtle!"
Skye grinned. "Then let's give it a shot!"
Kierra let out a breath. They could do this. "Snivy, throw Squirtle into the air with your Vine Whip attack!"
"And Squirtle, once you're up there, combine your Water Gun and Rapid Spin!" Skye added.
"Sni!" Snivy chirped, wrapping his vines around Squirtle's shell.
"Squirtle!" Squirtle called, looking back to Snivy, giving him a thumbs up to let him know he was ready to go.
Snivy grinned, and with a slight strain, lifted his vines and tossed Squirtle high into the air.
Once Squirtle had reached his maximum height, Skye called out, "Go, Squirtle!"
Following his trainer's command, Squirtle slipped into his shell and began to spin at a rapid pace. Moments later, water shot out of his head hole and rained down onto the ground below.
The Sandshrew and Sandslash halted their charge on Snivy, skidding to a stop as they looked to the sky above. Many of them began to wince, covering their heads in an attempt to protect themselves from the drops of water.
The leader Sandslash scowled, looking around as many of its comrades began to curl up and roll away to safety. Gritting its teeth, the Sandslash was soon to follow, jumping into the air as it burrowed underground and out of sight.
The Sandshrew and Sandslash that remained took that as their cue to follow suit, jumping into the air and digging into the ground, or rolling away to follow the others. Soon enough, all of them had turned their backs on the group to retreat.
"It worked!" Skye beamed. "They're leaving!"
Kierra laughed, clapping her hands together. "We really did it!"
As Squirtle began his fall, Snivy caught him using his Vine Whip, gently lowering him. Squirtle popped out of his shell with a grin, leaping into the air as he and Snivy high fived each other.
Skye crouched down to their level with a grin. "Snivy, thanks for your help." She looked to her own Pokemon. "You were great too, Squirtle."
The two Pokemon exchanged grins once more, slapping their tails against each other. Skye's smile softened as she watched. But after a beat, something began to nag at her in her gut. She inhaled through her nose, standing up straight and turning to face Kierra.
"For someone who's never battled before, you didn't do half bad." Skye put her hands on her hips. "That was a real game plan you came up with."
Kierra blinked. "O-oh. Well, it was nothing special," she dismissed, her cheeks dusting pink as she waved Skye off. "I just considered their basic ecology, that's all!"
As Kierra rambled on, guilt continued to gnaw away at Skye's insides. Despite everything she had said and done, and despite Kierra's injured leg, she had still come back and tried to warn her about the Sandshrew. She still wanted to help. The crummy feeling it left her with made her stomach churn.
She had been a jerk.
Skye averted her gaze, rubbing at her forearm. "Hey, uh, look…" she started sheepishly, shifting her weight between her feet. "About before—!"
But Kierra wasn't paying attention. Instead, she raised a brow. "What's that?"
Skye blinked, following Kierra's gaze. A few feet away, something yellow and round was poking out from one of the holes in the ground. Moments later, a Sandshrew popped its head out—Skye's backpack strap wrapped around it.
Skye gasped, pointing a finger accusingly. "It's the one that stole my backpack!"
Skye growled, ruffling her hair with her hands. "It's that Sandshrew that was hanging around our camp yesterday! It's been following us and it stole my stuff!"
"What? Really?" Kierra questioned, scrunching her face in confusion. "I wonder if it's because of the food you gave it…" She paused, eyes widening as she gasped. "Hey! I bet it was the one who ruined your tent!"
The image of the eaten apple cores scattered around the tents that Skye had noticed that morning suddenly popped into her mind. She took in a sharp breath. "The apple cores!" She shook with rage. "That's it! We've got a score to settle once and for all!" She reached into her pocket, pulling out an empty Poke Ball and enlarging it. "Squirtle! Offense!"
Squirtle leapt in front of Sandshrew. "Squirt!"
"Are you going to catch it?!"
"You bet I am! Once it's my Pokemon I'll teach it a thing or two about manners!" Skye assured, pointing at the Sandshrew who was climbing its way out of the hole. "Squirtle, Water Gun!"
"Squirtle!" Squirtle cried, following his trainer's orders as he unleashed a jet of water onto the Sandshrew.
Sandshrew attempted to jump out of the way, but it was too slow with the added weight of the backpack and got doused in water insead.
Skye snapped her fingers. "Piece of cake!"
But while Skye was distracted with basking in her hit, Sandshrew shook off the backpack. Leaping into the air, he fired a Swift attack in Squirtle's direction.
Kierra's eyes widened. "Skye! Watch out!"
"Huh?" Skye blinked, focusing her attention back onto Sandshrew. Her jaw slacked as she saw the bright stars hurtling toward Squirtle. "S-Squirtle, dodge!"
Squirtle jumped into the air, the stars narrowly avoiding the bottoms of his feet and, instead, crashing into a boulder behind them.
"Oh man," Skye sighed, looking to Kierra with a smile. "Thank you." Kierra smiled back as Skye pressed on with, "Squirtle, get in close with a Rapid Spin!"
"Squirt!" Squirtle withdrew himself into his shell. As he began to spin, he moved forward and closed in on Sandshrew.
"Sand!?" Sandshrew's eyes widened, looking left and right for a way to escape. "Shrew! Shrew!"
Skye grinned, clenching her fist. "Now use Water Gun!"
Water poured out from Squirtle's shell as he spun and made direct contact with Sandshrew. The critical hit of water and sheer force sent Sandshrew flying backward.
"Sand!" the Pokemon cried as it roughly hit the ground below. It winced, attempting to rise back to its feet.
"Okay, Poke Ball, go!" Skye called, throwing the Poke Ball at Sandshrew.
'Excellent!' the Poke Ball chimed as it made contact.
Sandshrew looked up at the ball as he became encased in a red light. The glow swallowed up his figure, and in the blink of an eye he was inside the ball. The ball hit the ground with a soft 'thump'.
Skye and Kierra waited with baited breath as the ball rocked from side to side on the ground. After three shakes, the ball stopped, letting out a soft 'ding' to signify that the capture had been a success.
Skye beamed from ear to ear, rushing over to the Poke Ball and lifting it into the air with pride. "We did it! We just recruited a Sandshrew to Team Skye!"
Squirtle jumped up beside her, pumping his fist. "Squirtle squirt!"
"That's great, Skye!" Kierra enthused. "I'm sure Sandshrew will be an excellent Pokemon!"
Snivy nodded eagerly. "Sni sni!"
Skye grinned, looking down at her new capture. "I know it will!"
But as Skye stared down at her own reflection on the Poke Ball's surface, her smile began to fade. Lifting her gaze, she met eyes with Kierra.
"Um, listen…" Skye started, crouching down to Kierra's level. "About what I was trying to say earlier." Kierra perked up with a tilt of her head, and Skye glanced to the ground. "I just wanted to say thank you for saving my butt back there. I might've been a goner if you hadn't shown up."
Kierra laughed lightly, waving a dismissive hand. "I guess you could call us even?" She shrugged. "I mean, you tried to help me when I was messing around with that Fire Stone." She frowned as her shoulders slumped. "I… probably should have listened to you and Briar. I'm sorry."
Skye knew it would be so easy to say, 'I told you so' or 'Yeah, you should have'. An hour earlier, she probably would have relished in doing so. But now just the thought of saying something like that left a sour taste in her mouth.
Letting out a long breath, Skye shook her head. "No. Don't be. I'm the one who should be apologizing." She pressed her lips into a hard line, tensing her shoulders. "I've been kind of a jerk since you joined up with us. I know you're not used to this sort of thing. I should have been more patient."
Looking back on it now, her gut twisted. She had been acting no differently than she had with Squirtle and Nidoran after they lost to Forrest. She thought she had learned something that night on Mt. Moon, but obviously it wasn't that simple. She still had learning to do.
Kierra frowned as Skye continued on with, "I guess maybe I was just really looking forward to being Team Pallet with Briar, so adding someone else to that threw me off my game." She shook her head. "But… I know that's not cool to you and Snivy, so…" She looked at Kierra, frowning. "I'm sorry."
By the tone of her voice and the look in her eyes, Kierra could tell Skye's apology was a genuine one. Her chest felt a little lighter and she gave Skye a small smile.
"It's okay, Skye. I get it, really," Kierra conceded. She put a hand to Snivy's head. "But you don't have to worry about me anymore. I think Snivy and I really would be better off going back home."
Skye blinked. "Huh? What are you talking about?"
"It's just… I don't know that we're really cut out for this lifestyle." Kierra shrugged, looking down at her injured leg. "I mean, before we came to Kanto, the two of us always sat in Professor Juniper's library reading books all day." She wrung her hands together. "That and… I know I've been kind of a pain to you and Briar."
Every stop they had made, every complaint that had left her mouth, every mess up she had caused ran through Kierra's mind. While Skye had made her frustrations aparent, Briar had kept any he felt to himself—but she was sure he must have been feeling it, too. One part of her wondered if she would have even made it out of Mt. Moon if she hadn't ran into them.
Kierra curled her fists in her lap as she continued with, "Like you said, if it hadn't been for me, you might be halfway to Cerulean City already." She glanced away, letting out a dry laugh. "And right now I can hardly even walk. You two would be better off without me holding you back"
Skye stayed quiet for a long moment, letting Kierra's words sink in. Kierra felt like a burden, and Skye knew that was her fault. In reality, she was the one who should have been more patient. If today had shown Skye anything, it was that Kierra was more than capable of handling herself, she just needed a push in the right direction.
Skye sighed, holding up her hands. "Okay, first of all, I think you guys are more cut out for this than you think. If it hadn't been for you and Snivy, Squirtle and I would have really been in a pickle."
Squirtle nodded as Skye waved a hand to Snivy. "Snivy held his own really well in battle—your sprinkler idea saved all of us."
Snivy puffed out his chest and Kierra scratched under his chin.
Skye lulled her head from side to side. "And, yeah, maybe we got a little… sidetracked… but that's all a part of going on adventures, right?" She smiled, lifting up Sandshrew's Poke Ball. "I mean, if we hadn't, I wouldn't have caught this Sandshrew!"
"I know." Kierra frowned. "But I still don't know the first thing about traveling or survival. And I'm sure you and Briar don't want someone like that holding you up all the time." She glanced away. "I'm sure I'd be nothing more than a burden."
It was obvious that Kierra had taken everything Skye said to heart, and she wanted to do what she could to make it right.
That was when an idea came to her.
"You said you like learning and stuff, didn't you? Well, think of this all as an experience to learn something new." She gave a sheepish smile. "I… know I have a lot of things I still need to learn, too. So…" she shrugged, "maybe we could help each other out?"
Kierra paused. "Help each other out?"
"Yeah! Briar and I could help you learn about traveling, and you could help us learn more about Pokemon," Skye offered. "And I… could probably learn a thing or two about practicing my patience, too."
Skye was avoiding meeting Kierra's eye, but she had a faint shade of pink dusting her cheeks. It was different from the Skye Kierra had gotten to know thus far. She may not have been used to talking like this, but Kierra could tell she was genuinely trying.
"So then," Kierra started, glancing at Skye carefully, "you're saying that you really want me to stay? Even after… everything that happened?"
"Yeah. I guess I'd…" Skye trailed off, trying to find the right words. Then it clicked for her and her smile brightened. "I guess I'd like to start over, if you'd like to—y'know, press the reset button on all this. Put everything behind us and…" she hesitated, scratching her cheek, "maybe try to be friends?"
A warmth spread throughout Kierra's chest as any sadness she felt melted away. While things weren't guaranteed to be perfect right away, it was a start—and she was more than willing to give it a try.
"I…" Kierra started, her smile slowly growing, "think I'd like that."
"Okay, then. Let's start over." Skye grinned, holding out a hand. "Do you wanna join our team, Kierra?"
Kierra lit up, placing her hand in Skye's and giving it a shake. "Gladly."
The churning feeling in Skye's gut seemed to dissipate entirely as Kierra took her hand. She would do her best to get it right this time. If Kierra was going to give it her all, then she wanted to, too. Plus, she was certain Briar would appreciate the reduced whining and arguing.
She paused, suddenly remembering that Briar was probably worried sick still waiting for them—it had been over an hour since they left. If they didn't get back soon she was sure he'd start trying to search for them himself.
"We should probably find our way back to Briar," Skye suggested, rising to her feet. "I'm sure he's a nervous wreck right about now."
"You're probably right," Kierra agreed, shifting her weight to stand. However, pain shot through her knee once more and she collapsed. "Ow…"
Skye's brows shot up as she crouched back down. "Hey, you all right?"
"Yeah, I'm fine," Kierra assured with a wince. "But I think I really did a number on my leg."
Skye frowned, looking to Kierra's leg. She put a hand to her chin in thought. "Well, then… I guess there's only one thing to do."
Briar sat alone on the mountainside. It had been almost two hours, with no Skye or Kierra in sight. He had thought about going after them, but he was afraid that the three might miss each other completely along the way. He settled instead on sending his Pidgeotto to search from the sky.
Fishing out his Poke Gear, he looked down to check the signal bars once again. No dice. It seemed getting a signal all the way up here was impossible. With a sigh, he pocketed the gear and slumped along the rocky wall. He supposed this is what happened when you didn't take the trainer path.
Briar quickly lifted his head to see Pidgeotto flying toward him. "Pidgeotto!" He jumped to his feet as he saw two figures limping on the mountain path below his Pokemon.
All his worry instantly washed away into a relieved grin, and he broke out into a jog to meet them.
Skye had her arm around Kierra's waist, supporting her weight. Kierra had an arm slung over Skye's shoulder, limping pathetically beside her. Snivy had wrapped his vines around Kierra's leg and Squirtle hobbled beside him. All four of them were caked in a layer of dirt.
"B-Briar…" Skye managed between heavy pants, "we're… back…"
Briar fumbled to wrap a supporting arm around Kierra to relieve some of the weight. "What happened—are you guys okay?!"
Skye and Kierra exchanged looks, both realizing just how awful they must have appeared. Explaining everything to Briar would certainly be one heck of a story.
After a moment, they both broke out laughing.
Briar gave the two a puzzled look. "What's so funny?"
"It's nothing," Skye assured with a laugh. She grinned at Kierra. "We're cool."
"Yeah," Kierra agreed, winking. "Everything's fine."
Briar said nothing, startled by the sudden shift in mood between the two girls. But the sight of the two so friendly with each other caused his chest to lighten. For the first time, he dared to think that maybe this would work out after all.
He would just need to ask Skye for the story later.
Briar helped Skye get Kierra to a safe location where they could sit and recollect themselves, and Briar had taken it upon himself to examine Kierra's leg. A large bruise had started to form around her knee, all three of them grimacing at the sight of it.
Briar frowned. "With an injury like this, we might need to stop and rest for the day." He sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. "Some progress we made, huh?"
"I'm sorry," Kierra apologized guiltily. "It's my fault."
Before Briar had the chance to respond, Skye stepped in. "Don't be. We'll just rest up and hit the road tomorrow," she assured. "Besides, this area is perfect to train for my upcoming gym battle!" She looked at Squirtle with burning determination. "Right, Squirtle?"
Squirtle nodded. "Squirtle!"
Briar raised a brow. "Oh? Funny. I thought you were the one who was so set on getting to Cerulean as quickly as possible."
Skye spun to face him. "Well, maybe I changed my mind!"
"Did you now?" Briar hummed, skeptical.
Skye gasped, ignoring Briar as realization suddenly hit her. "Oh! That reminds me! We need a new team name!"
"What?" Briar's face scrunched with confusion. "How is that related at all?"
"I'm…" Kierra blinked, "just as lost."
"Isn't it obvious?" Skye pointed at Kierra. "We can't be Team Pallet anymore if one of us isn't from Pallet Town." Her expression turned into something that Briar recognized as being some sort of smug pride she felt before saying something stupid. "So here's what I'm thinking: Kierra's from the Unova region, and we're from the Kanto region." She pounded a fist to her chest. "So, from this day forward, we can be Team U-KAN!"
Ah. There it was.
Briar's expression turned sour. "What? No way." He crossed his arms. "That's so lame."
Skye faltered. "Lame!?" she choked, taken back. "It's not lame! It's cool!"
"It's really lame," Briar decided. "The Triple Threat Rangers would be way cooler." He grinned. "Let's do that!"
"What!?" Skye squinted disbelievingly. "No! That's lame!" Dropping her voice to a murmur, she added, "Team U-KAN is so much cooler..."
Kierra surprised Skye and Briar both when she chirped up, "I like it!"
For a moment, Skye almost thought that she misheard. Briar seemed to be thinking the same as his expression quickly shifted from smug to gawking. "Really?"
"Sure!" Kierra beamed. "U-KAN? It's like saying you can do anything, right? It's inspiring!"
"I-it's not inspiring!" Briar sputtered. "It's one of her stupid puns!"
But Skye ignored him, her eyes sparkling with excitement. "Yeah! That's totally right!" she enthused. "I knew you were smart!"
Kierra puffed her chest out in pride. "Of course I am!"
Skye snickered and shot Briar a smug look. "So if I like it and Kierra likes it," she mused, "that means…"
Kierra sing-songed, "It's two against one!"
Briar flinched. "Now, wait a second—!"
"Majority rule!" Skye threw her fists into the air. "We're Team U-KAN!"
Skye and Kierra laughed alongside one another as Briar heaved a long, tired sigh. Even then, a small smile still tugged at his lips. Maybe the road ahead wouldn't always be smooth, but if the three of them could laugh away their hardships, maybe they would all be okay.
...And the journey continues!