(And let there be Nuzlocke. :3)

Chapter Two: First Step Forward; First Steps Back

Alright, so things changed up on me a bit that day. I arrived home in time to swipe up and crumple the letter i'd left for my mom to find explaining my runaway status, and while my mom did notice, I had a much nicer story for her that I could deliver in-person: I was going to be a pokemon trainer.

My mom was surprised to say the least, though she warmed quickly up to the idea; apparently she'd been expecting me to say something for some time, since a show she saw said that "all girls dream of travel." I let that one slide and just went on to negotiating my terms of leaving the house: I would call every day to tell her how I was doing, and while she was initially against it, I insisted that I send back a portion of my winnings from my travels so she could manage the house. I had a real reason to leave now, but that didn't mean my priorities had changed any.

After assuring my mom I wasn't leaving quite yet, as I still had to get my actual license, I shared a breakfast with Tyler, who had become my best friend in the course of two hours (not hard to do when you didn't have any friends to begin with) and left to pick up the package for Oak. I was looking forward to being able to really call Tyler my own pokemon.

Before I could even get to Viridian, however, I had to pass through Route 1, which was virtually idiot-proof but still very much in my way and lined with patches of tall grass up to my waist. One patch in particular blocked the road leading from Pallet, officially isolating anyone on foot from the rest of the world. Luckily for me, I had a pokemon now...not that it made me any less nervous, of course. But at least now it wasn't complete suicide.

I had Tyler against my chest by this point, gripping his scaly little body tight against me in a combination of protectiveness and insecurity; he was technically looking after me here, but he was still my responsibility to keep safe. "Okay," I said more to myself than Tyler, sinking one foot carefully, cautiously into the tall grass. Nothing bit it off or lunged out at my face, so I dared another step forward, creeping gradually into the route. "Nothing to be afraid of...just some Rattata and Pidgey. Nothing to be afraid of. Nothing to be-"

Something rustled up ahead, and I let out a sharp gasp, freezing in my tracks. I swear my blood ran cold as I stood there in agonizing stillness, incredibly vulnerable, senses alert and arms tight around my Bulbasaur-security blanket. Much to my relief, nothing - with snarling fangs or otherwise - came out of the grass.

We weren't out of there yet, though: I hadn't taken four steps forward, and I was already scared stiff. I released my grip a little on Tyler when he started to squirm a little bit. "...keep an eye out," I whispered, voice cracking. "O-okay?"

Tyler just looked up at me with his crimson eyes, flashing me a confident, toothy grin. "Saur."

I loved that guy. Seriously. In fact, I was just thinking about how lucky I was to have a cool pokemon like him for a starter when a shape appeared in front of me...and, of course, I screamed bloody murder.

The purple Rattata that had emerged ceased in its menacing glare to look at me like there was something seriously wrong with me. After that, its spine arched and it started clicking its teeth together, making little hissing noises.

It was about the size of a house cat, but it might as well have been a Gyarados. I practically dropped Tyler in a panic, who took up a defensive pose with a determined Growl, already repeating the battle strategy that had worked before with Geki. "Oh god, get it, Tyler!"

Naturally, Tyler kicked its furry Rattata ass. As it limped back into the grass after a barrage of Tackles, though, I couldn't help but feel embarrassed after the fact; there Tyler was, battling and totally confident, and I was over here losing my mind because something jumped out at me. Didn't that just make me feel incompetent; wasn't the trainer always supposed to keep a cool head in these situations? And it was just a Rattata, for Pete's sake! What was I going to do when I started meeting things really scary?

Regardless, I came up to Tyler and pat his head, murmuring my thanks with a blush of shame on my cheeks. I then picked him back up, forcing myself forward into the tall grass with my starter in my arms and a steely expression on my face. No more mister nice guy: time to get serious.

It was a relatively clear trip up the path, taking advantage of what open space was available while trudging carefully through the tall grass when necessary. Ledges and thick trees shepherded me along in a sort of semi-artificial, semi-natural path that really wasn't that hard to navigate. We found a guy in a PokeMart uniform who managed to get his bike jammed between two trees, which I helped him get un-stuck from. He rewarded me with a free Potion as his thanks before we continued on our way, still on the lookout and with one more canister of medical spray in my bag for future use. I already could tell those things were going to come in handy.

Just before we made it through the last bit of grass to Viridian, though, we startled a Pidgey as it preened itself in the reflection of a puddle on the side of the road. It seemed to consider taking off, hesitated, then returned the glare Tyler was sending it, opening its wings to make it look larger and more formidable. It was still just a Pidgey, though, so it wasn't very scary. It was more cute than anything.

Unlike with the Rattata, however, I wasn't afraid. I clenched my fists, taking up a position behind Tyler, then ordered, "Growl!"

It was a pretty basic strategy, but it seemed to work rather well. Whether it was q psychological effect or a result of some unseen stat change, the Pidgey seemed to hesitate, then threw itself forward and hit Tyler with a Tackle with less than full strength; it was just a little Pidgey, so it wouldn't have done much anyway, so it did next to nothing now. After that, it was merely a matter of spamming Tackles until the spirited yet underpowered Flying-type decided it'd be a better idea to take off after all and took to the sky, screeching bird-pokemon curses behind it, leaving a trail of discarded feathers in its wake.

There would be hundreds of wild pokemon battles in the days to come, but regardless, the absolute feeling of victory was fresh and new to me, and I was overjoyed. I pumped a fist with a cheer, then grabbed up my Bulbasaur, doing a mini-victory dance with him swinging around in my arms like we hadn't a care in the world. Two pairs of delighted, victorious laughter echoed up and down the route as a warning to any other Pidgey that wanted to get their feathery butts kicked.

We hung out much longer than necessary on that route, sneaking up on unsuspecting Pidgey or totally annihilating the Rattata that foolishly threw themselves at us from their spots in the grass. Being a starter pokemon, Tyler was a notch above the other pokemon, which equaled to him being absolutely beast when it came to messing up wild pokemon. Growl, then Tackle once, Tackle twice, maybe three times if it was fast, and add another tally to the scoreboard for us. And do you want to know what the best part was? I watched him battle, and I could sit there and watch Tyler get stronger. He sprinted forward faster and more suddenly, slammed into pokemon harder, sent them flying back farther...it got to the point where we didn't even need to throw that Growl out there, because one hit was all it took to knock them flat on their asses. It was the most invigorating feeling I'd ever had. I'd never felt myself becoming so much more experienced and powerful in such unison with anyone before.

I don't know when it stopped being just cool and started being an addiction, but either way, I was hooked. If I wasn't sure I wanted to be a pokemon trainer before, I was now.

The afternoon appeared out of nowhere. I was just thinking to when the sun had gotten so high that I realized my only remaining Potion had just been spent on a panting, energized, and enthusiastic Bulbasaur that I could have sworn looked an inch or two bigger than before. Tyler could kick any wild pokemon's ass around these parts, but battle after battle was enough to wear out anyone. Satisfied and feeling oddly fulfilled, I smiled, picked up my starter, gave him a nice petting, and rained praises down on him the rest of the way it was to Viridian. We still had an errand to run.

Viridian City was a fair bit larger than Pallet...which, of course, wasn't hard to do. Therefore, it didn't necessarily mean much when I said the city was bigger than my hometown. In actuality, Viridian was rather pathetic as far as an actual city went; the only major differences were more buildings, wider roads, and more stores. That, and it had a Pokemon Center and an actual PokeMart, which was, like, my ultimate dream location. I had grown sick and tired of dollar stores when I realized that the only alternative to those in Pallet were the 99 cent-stores, the difference between them ranging one whole cent. Whoopty-frikken-doo. So a PokeMart to me was like a direct gift from God.

But Tyler was still looking a bit worn out, and I hated to try and drag him off on a shopping spree when he was covered in bruises and claw marks. I had pity on the little guy and stopped at the Pokemon Center, carefully setting him on the counter. "Hi, I'd-"

"Welcome to the Pokemon Center!" the nurse blurted obnoxiously at me like I was deaf. "We restore your pokemon to full health! Would you like to heal your pokemon?"

I paused for a full second. "...uh, yeah. Sure," I finally replied. Apparently whatever medication she was on didn't react well with a full pot of coffee.

The drug-induced nurse seemed delighted and scurried off with Tyler without a word. I stood there awkwardly, just thinking whether or not I should take a seat when I suddenly received a slightly shell-shocked Bulbasaur back. "Thank you for waiting, we've restored your pokemon to full health! We hope to see you again!"

...sure. Whatever you say, nursie. Cuz really, that wasn't creepy at all; just a hospital worker hoping she got to see us again, in a hospital, and oh GOD we got out of there so fast. "Okay, note to self: do not EVER come back to the Viridian Pokemon Center."

Tyler nodded in agreement. "Bulba."

Fortunately, the PokeMart was nearby, ready to ease my nerves with a promise of an immanent shopping spree. The second we walked in, however, the clerk that had apparently been waiting for us basically chucked a brown package at us, barely uttered a "K thanx by" in our direction, then stuffed his face back in his magazine, feet on the counter. It didn't look like I'd be doing any shopping today. "...goddammit."

Oh well. With both the parcel and Tyler in tow, I led the way back out of the store and out of Viridian towards Route 1 and Pallet. Rather than jumping the ledges to our right, Tyler and I took the scenic route to see how much more wildlife we could chew through. We managed to take out two Pidgey and decimate a Rattata before we actually made it back.

We came around to Oak's lab, entering through the front, parcel in hand. "Here you go, one random delivery."

"Ah, excellent!" Oak declared, accepting the package. "I had a feeling I could rely on you. How's my old pokemon doing?"

"He's awesome," I replied, gesturing to the smug Bulbasaur at my feet. "You should have seen him: he annihilated those pokemon. It was amazing! You said Grass-types were easier to raise, but you didn't tell me he was such a beast!"

Oak chuckled, watching a small blush of pride creep over his Bulbasaur's green face. "Well, he certainly seems to be growing more attached to you..." He seemed thoughtful for a moment before he looked up at me with a smile. "Well, you definitely seem to have what it takes, so I don't see a problem with asking-"

The door suddenly burst open, and none other than Arrogant Asshole himself waltzed in like he owned the place. He completely ignored me as he strolled up to Oak, who looked expectant. "Yo gramps, did that chick come back with the Pokedexes?"

"I'm right here, asshole," I growled. "And what's a Pokedex? Is that one of those pokemon computers-things?"

"Pokedex," Oak stated, pulling the box open that I'd given him; he retrieved a small pair of red mini-booklets from the wrapping within. "As in, 'pokemon index.' An index that, as you encounter pokemon, will become more and more filled with data the farther along you go. It's an excellent record for trainers to have as a reference."

"Hell yes!" Geki crowed, snatching one of the devices up in his hand. "You watch, gramps: I'm going to fill this whole thing up from top to bottom! Hehehe!"

My jaw practically hit the floor. "We have to catch all of them? Dude! Do you have any idea how many pokemon there are?"

"Approximately 700," Oak replied. There was probably a clang from when my jaw slammed onto the floor. "But no, catching every single pokemon isn't a requirement, though it is a nice challenge some people take up. A more popular challenge is for them to earn each of the eight gym badges in the region and to challenge the Indigo League for a shot at championship. Some of the most powerful trainers and pokemon in the world partake in the Indigo League."

Now that sounded more my style. "Indigo League, huh," I muttered, tapping my chin. "Sounds pretty interesting...might have to do that."

Tyler nodded with a "Bulba!" of agreement, already looking poised and ready to roll.

"That too!" Geki declared smugly with a smirk. "I'll catch all the pokemon and beat the Indigo League before you!"

I let out a laugh. "Ha! In your dreams: Tyler here can kick any pokemon's ass, anytime, anywhere. Just ask your Charmander - which is a Fire-type, I might add. And you lost to a Grass-type. That's just sad."

Geki scoffed, flicking his hair with a confident wave of the hand. "Beginner's luck," he dismissed. "I just got sloppy because you were a rookie. Next time, I won't go easy."

I was ready to deck that guy. Oak must have seen it, too, because he hurriedly separated us, gave us five empty pokeballs to start us, and provided me with my very own personalized Trainer's license with my own smiling face on the picture (how the hell'd he get my picture?). Geki departed about this time with his usually snide "Smell you later!", though not before he made some wise-crack about making sure his sister didn't give me a town map. "Don't even bother coming to my place after this!"

So naturally, the first thing I did: I went over to say hi to Daisy, who was probably the only living human being I'd even think about considering my friend. And after hearing what I was planning, she was overjoyed to lend me a town map, being the good Samaritan that she is. "That's wonderful news!" she said happily, usually softspoken voice lined with excitement. "I'm so happy for you! Be sure to visit every so often, okay? I'd love to see what new friends you've made!"

Ah, Daisy. How such a sweet girl like her ended up being a sibling to a prick like Geki, I'll never know.

It was about dinner time by the time Tyler and I returned home, where my mother was waiting anxiously, our arrival timed perfectly with the completion of dinner, which was prepared especially for me and Tyler, whom she was absolutely swooning over. I practically had to yank him away from her; otherwise, I might not have a pokemon to battle with tomorrow!

Bellies full and bodies weary from a full day, I went to bed early that night with Tyler, who curled up on my chest under the covers, asleep almost instantly. I had a smile on my face the whole night until physical awareness slipped away from me, and images of hundreds of pokemon - nameless battles and innumerable victories - danced across the back of my eyelids.

It was a wonderful day that day, and I was looking forward to my first real day as a trainer. Little did I know the difficult times and harsh challenges that would follow...and if I did, would I have been so eager to meet them..?

I couldn't wait for morning, even in my dreams. The second my alarm clock rang, I shot up, nearly sent Tyler flying, and fervently apologized for waking him so abruptly, though the nice breakfast probably made up for it. But hey, at least he was alert, right?

"My my," my mother said from the table, my plate on the floor - still being licked clean by Tyler. She was still taking a few bites from her pancakes, watching me dart back and forth throughout different rooms in the house with an undoubtedly amused expression. I couldn't tell; I was moving too fast to notice. "I never saw you so active in the morning when you had school. Curious why that is..."

"School, shmool," I dismissed, still scrambling around...goddammit, I thought for sure I had everything I needed the day before! I couldn't believe this - I was freaking out. I was supposed to be gone by now! "This is different, and AARGH I can't find my phone! Where is it? Oh god, I could have sworn that I had it-"

My mother cleared her throat.

I stopped, turned to face her, saw what she was holding: "-at the table!"

My mom chuckled, then caught me in mid-glomp, giving me a good squeeze, since she knew I was ready to go. "I want to hear all about it," she told me. "Every day, seven days a week. I want to know how my babygirl's doing."

I heard Tyler snicker from somewhere on the floor, and I tried to shove my head further into my hat so it was swallowed up. "Mooooom, I'm not a kiiiiiid," I whined. "You promised you wouldn't call me thaaaaaat..."

"Get used to it, darlin': it's my job to embarrass you and remind you you'll aaaaaalways be a little girl to me." She winked, then laughed when I snatched up my phone and pokemon in one swift motion. "Have fun - and don't get eaten by Caterpie!"

Ha. The only eating that would be done would be by Tyler as he ate his way clear through the competition. It had been awesome the first time, and the sight of my own pokemon sending wild Pidgey and Rattata flying in single blows continued to amuse me and filled me with pride. After all, it had been I that had gotten him that strong!

Before we did anything else, though, as soon as Tyler and I made it to Viridian, we made a detour and turned left, going down the road until it turned back to dirt and grass, then turned back into cool, decorated brick in an organized walkway leading off to a structure in the distance that towered overhead.

"There it is," I said quietly, staring intently at the virtual fortress that was the Pokemon League. "The Indigo Plateau."

If ever there was a sight to warrant admiration and awe, it was the castle-like Pokemon League that everyone could see in the distance and that only a few had ever dared to set forth into. No one went in or out - all the champions and Elite Four lived inside. The stories and folklore that floated out from within the eight massive walls were as awe-inspiring as the larger-than-life images of the people themselves:

Lance, the legendary Dragon Knight, who had single-handedly quelled a stampede of raging Gyarados and saved thousands of lives. Agatha, the woman whose past went parallel with some of the most famous scientists in the world, but then turned to pure power and held her title even into her old age. The ominous, almost mute Bruno, the graceful Lorelei...and then the faceless, nameless trainer that was known only to the world as "Red." No one had heard or seen him since he went into the Plateau one day and tore through the Elite Four like they were nothing, then sealed his own spot in history from within its impregnable walls. No one had heard or seen him after that day, but rumors that he was still the current champion were as alive as the people who spoke them.

All idols, all larger than life, and all living legends. The most powerful people in the world. I had never dreamed that I'd even have a remote chance of meeting them.

Until today, that is. We couldn't take them now - hell, maybe not for a long, long time - but now it was possible. It was possible that I could speak with the ice goddess Lorelei...that I could get a word out of Bruno, that I could learn from Agatha's age-old wisdom, that I could bear witness to Lance's power, that I could shake hands with the mysterious figure known as Red...it was all a possibility now. And I was in awe.

I'd never realized how much of a dream all of this had been to me until I was standing there at the Plateau's gates, unable to enter but looking forward to the day that I could.

"That's where we'll be," I told Tyler quietly, jaw set in steely determination. "We'll be there one day. We'll go in there, we'll knock everyone up, and we'll beat every single one of them."

Tyler stopped staring in awe to look up at me, as if shocked that we'd ever be allowed to enter such a place. "Bulba?" Really?

I nodded without hesitation. "You bet your bulb we will. But we've got a long way to go until then." I looked down to my partner now, blood pumping to the beat of my enthusiasm. "So let's start training today and never stop until we're the best bunch of badasses in Kanto!"

Childish awe turned to fire as heat lit up in my Bulbasaur's eyes, crimson pupils set aflame with passion. "Bulba, saur!" Yes! Let's do it!

It was a long way from where we were, but we'd get there someday. Someday, we'd be strong. Someday, we'd be the best.

...if we made it, that is.

We left the Plateau from there and shot straight over to the PokeMart, where I went on a shopping spree for a more practical repertoire of items than I'd usually go on a spending spree for: eight Potions and six pokeballs to add to my stock. I spent every penny I had on them, but it'd be worth it. The more supplies we had, the better.

Turns out that I made my first major mistake around that time, but I wouldn't find out later what the consequences would be.

Now stocked up with not a dollar to our names, Tyler and I left the PokeMart and headed north, where a guy was ranting furious, unfriendly things at some Bug Pokemon in the grass for spilling his coffee. Tyler and I both wagered how long it'd be until the pokemon finally had it and either Poison Stung him or bound his legs together with String Shot. We snickered quietly together as we walked off, leaving Viridian behind as we walked up the short route that was Route 2.

Route 1 was idiot-proof, but Route 2 was just ridiculous. If you got lost there, you were pathetic. Go to the left to walk around one ledge, go to the right, go through some grass, and bam: big entrance to the forest. Impossible to miss or screw up on.

Unless you tripped, which I did, and I landed directly on top of something solid, feathery, and very pissed off. I got a few slaps in the face by thrashing wings a few times before I could righten myself and face the annoyed, murderous-looking Pidgey I'd discovered. Tyler leaped into place to take the heat for me. "Tyler, Tackle!"

That would have been enough to end the battle any other time, but surprisingly, he missed. The little bird dove aside at the last second, then twirled around with a flutter and crashed into Tyler while he was still digging his feet in to stop, sending the green dinosaur tumbling. He got back up more annoyed than hurt, though the Pidgey looked rather smug.

I ordered another Tackle, and what really surprised me: it did the very same thing again, then followed up with a swipe across the ground with its wing, sending a burst of sand into Tyler's face, which made him yelp and scratch at his eyes. He received a second Tackle head-on because he didn't see the attack coming.

I grunted in annoyance, digging my feet in. "It's right in front of you, Tyler: Tackle it fast!"

Still blind with watering eyes, Tyler leaped to his feet and charged with speed that was considerable even for him, slamming head-first into the Pidgey and carrying it right out of the tall grass and straight into a tree. The collision left both pokemon dazed and in a heap, leaves raining down on them from above. I thought for sure it might tip over from how hard they hit it.

Seeing as this fight was getting nowhere, I looked for an alternative, and I delightfully discovered the empty pokeballs in my pocket. I'd never caught a pokemon before, but it looked pretty straightforward on TV: enlarge, throw, pray. If they could do it, so could I. "Alright, here it goes!"

The pokeball went flying, bounced off the tree, and landed perfectly onto the Pidgey, sucking it up in a beam of light and leaving Tyler alone to wipe the sand out of his eyes. The sphere tilted and vibrated as its contents struggled, stilled, and let out a small, pleasant little chime to let it know that the pokemon had been caught.

"Yes!" I cheered, rushing up to grab Tyler and squeeze him in a hug. "We did it, buddy! Our first new teammate - my first caught pokemon! We did it!"

Tyler's eyes were still red and watering, but a little cleaning up fixed him up nicely so he could show his enthusiasm, too, namely in the form of a backflip. He failed epically because of the bulb on his back, but I laughed and pat his head anyway, even as he chuckled sheepishly. He was such a show-off.

"Now then...what to call you." I held out the pokeball containing my new Pidgey, mind spinning to come up with a name. I was still pretty excited, though, so it wasn't easy to think. "Uh...was it a boy or a girl?"

Tyler stared at me blankly, then held out both his paws in the general "I don't know" gesture.

I facepalmed. "Great." As it turned out, I actually had to release the pokemon and ask it myself. "Okay, uh, give me one chirp if you're a boy, and two if you're a girl."

The little plume of brown and white looked irritated, but chirped, "Pidge."

"Boy," I said to myself, nodding. "Okay. Let's see...how about..." I thought for a long moment, then finally offered, "Harper. How's that sound?"

The Pidgey glanced up as it thought about it, then shrugged with its wings, chirping what I guess equaled out to "it'll do." Tyler nodded enthusiastically, apparently approving as well.

"Awesome!" I said happily, extending a hand to my new feathery partner. "Harper the Pidgey, welcome to the team. Glad to have you aboard!"

The Pidgey eyed my hand for a minute, then extended one wing into it, which I took as a makeshift handshake. Despite his obvious unsureness about the whole idea, I could tell he was pleased by the way he looked up at me, and what little of his mouth wasn't attached to his beak curled upward, making it look like he had a smile.

It may have been just a Pidgey, but he was my Pidgey. In my eyes, that set him above all the rest. He was perfect.

Tyler, Harper, and Rein: our team was growing. It wouldn't be long before we were full of battle-hardened, iron-witted pokemon not even the strongest of trainers could beat. An intense Venusaur, a noble Pidgeot...the picture in my mind was getting more and more complete. An already awesome situation was looking even better.

I should have suspected something was about to happen by then, but I was too blinded with excitement to see it until it was too late.

We went into Viridian Forest as a trio: me leading the way, Tyler marching proud beside me, Harper perched neatly on my arm. We were a dream team, even though none of us had met all that long ago. It's amazing how fast people can bond with pokemon. They're so easy to bond with...I wonder what makes them like that. You know, what makes them so awesome and all.

As per its reputation (and my mother's playful warning before I left, referring to an incident when I was little), Viridian Forest was teeming with slithering, crawling, and snaking little insects, all cleverly hidden from plain sight up until you turned your head the wrong way or set foot into their territory, at which point half the hive came bursting out of cover to make you sorry you were there. Hell, I was sorry already, and I had barely arrived yet.

At a first glance, the place looked pretty daunting: a labyrinth of trees and grass with no end in sight. After a little observation, though, I could pick up a pattern to the way the forest was set up, and soon we were on the move again, trudging through trees and hiking through tall grass like it was nobody's business. You'd hardly be able to tell I was scared stiff to go forward not a full day before.

"I want to get some training in here before we head to Pewter, plus maybe catch a few pokemon while we're at it," I explained to my team, who listened mildly, eyes mostly on their surroundings. I rolled my wrist once to get Harper to adjust his talons, which he did, thankfully; dang things were sharp. "I hear there are Pikachu in these woods, and we could really use an Electric-type on our team; Electric-types are pretty rare. Oh, and we'll definitely get some good training in here for you, Harper: there are tons of Bug Catchers and Bug-pokemon in here, and you should be able to tear through them no problem. Heck, by the end of the day-"

I didn't get to finish. Namely because a particularly conniving little Bug-pokemon hooked its tail to a branch, swung down like a gymnastic, and landed splat - right in my face. "Weedle."


I shrieked like a little girl, immediately bringing my arms up to get its furry self off my face, only to have Harper's talons scrape the flesh of my arm as he struggled to either hang on or take off. Tyler, not expecting the sudden halt or my backing up, walked right into the back of my leg, and we all ended up in a big pile or flailing limbs and irritated cries, trying to untangle ourselves from the tall grass we'd unknowingly walked into. We must have been quite a sight to see; like something out of a slapstick comic. I could hear the little fucker on my face laughing its measly little head off.

Finally I managed to get up, shove Tyler off me, and yank the obnoxious little Wheedle off my face, disgusted by the moist feeling where its suction cup-like feet had stuck to my face. It continued to laugh its squeaky laugh...that is, until it realized its predicament: it was staring down a pissed off human as it dangled by its tail, followed up by a growling Bulbasaur and a particularly hungry-looking Pidgey, all of whom were larger than it and giving it their meanest combined death-glare. "Dle wee..."

"'Oh shit' is right," I informed it; what else was it going to say in a situation like that? I then pulled back my arm, chucked the annoying little bugger back into the grass, turned around in a huff to leave-

-and got a String Shot glob stuck to my foot, which ended up tripping me and landing me on Tyler...again. "Son of a bitch!" I shrieked vehemently. I stabbed a finger at the laughing patch of grass, then ordered, "Harper, fuck its shit up!"

Harper crowed an enthusiastic "Pidge-y!" (and I swear to god he licked his lips) before taking flight and doing a dive-bomb straight into the tangle of grass, leaving me to try and get the shit off my foot as I listened to the ensuring bug-like shriek of terror and sounds of commotion. I thought for sure it was dead.

Apparently not, however, as no sooner did Tyler and I untangle my foot from the String Shot did Harper come scrambling back out of the grass, thrashing his wings furiously as he took to the air again. As he did, the small form of a Weedle scuttled slowly forward in a classic self-defense stance: head to the ground, horn angled up, tail taut and pulled back like that of a scorpion, stinger throbbing as poison pumped into it. It looked like it was done fooling around.

Good, because so was I. That little bug was really pissing me off. "Alright, let's go, Harper! Tackle!"

Harper didn't look enthusiastic, but I could see him backing up in order to give the blow his all before he rushed in beak-first, dive-bombing the little thing like a suicide bomber.

Maybe not the best idea: the Weedle's tail snapped forward and stuck Harper perfectly between the eyes with an unpleasant crack sound, not enough to stop him but enough to slow him down and dole out some hurt while it was at it. Harper veered off and let out a shrieking noise as he was jabbed in the side with the Weedle's larger, head-mounted horn. Both toxic barbs had a spot of red on the ends of them.

I swore under my breath. "Annoying as...Harper, do you know Gust?"

I saw the Pidgey shake his head.

Well, so much for our advantage. "Damn. Well, just hang in there: you're the bird, and you're on top of the food chain! Show it who's boss!"

Harper chirped, but I could tell by looking at him he wasn't looking forward to betting closer to those twin barbs again. I didn't blame him.

The battle was pretty much a stalemate; Harper couldn't go in and score any major hits, and the Weedle's strength was purely one of defense. Other than spit out a String Shot glob here and there, it did nothing but fend off Harper and fill its supposed predator full of little holes from repeated jabs with its stingers. For a worm up against a bird, it was doing pretty well at holding its own.

Eventually Harper was ready to throw in the towel, and I didn't see any point in continuing this pointless fight. Rather than run away, though, I relieved Harper of his combat stance, patting his head. "You did really good, Harper. Good work."

Harper chirped once, then resumed panting, wings draped out at his sides. His feathers were rustled, he had blood coming through where he got a good jab...he looked miserable.

The Weedle was faring better, but not by much: it had several bruises and cuts from Harper's Tackles and talons, and it, too, was panting rather hard. Crafty or not, it was still a little guy, and it had its limits - the extent of which seemed to be growing closer every minute.

The Weedle pointed its tail at me as I stepped forward; Tyler instinctively took up a spot between us, but I waved them down. "Truce."

Tyler hesitated, then relaxed after a moment, sitting patiently on his haunches for another order. The Weedle looked suspicious but had relaxed slightly as well, tail angling down away from my head. I had its attention.

I lowered down to my knees, thoughtfully examining the little creature. "You know what, I'm impressed. I don't know a whole lot about Bug pokemon, but I figure not a whole lot of them can fend off a Bird pokemon bigger than them." I gestured to Harper, who had started preening blood off his feathers. "We could really use a fighter like you on our team. Would you like to join?"

The little Weedle tilted its head inquisitively as it considered the offer. It looked between a battered and preening Harper, a determined-looking Tyler, and a smiling me with its beady black eyes, then slowly, unsurely at first but more and more confident, nodded.

I grinned, then retrieved a pokeball from my pocket and tapped the Weedle lightly on the nose with it, who was sucked up in a beam of red light. It rattled once, but it fell still quickly and let out a small click as the central button stopped glowing. I released him shortly after to address our new team member. "Welcome to the team, little guy. How's Keith sound?"

Keith the Weedle nodded eagerly, and his fate was sealed: he was one of us now.

The picture in my head expanded to show a fearsome, vigorous Beedrill hovering beside us...three out of six. Things were really looking up.

I applied a Potion to both Keith and Harper, who I decided was going to learn Gust today, and turned us back the was we'd been headed, this time with a Bulbasaur beside me, a Pidgey perched on my arm, and a Weedle clinging to my shoulder. I felt invincible.

Naturally, things started going downhill. Bug pokemon, I'd found out, were incredibly zealous fighters, and a pokemon like Keith fending off a larger predator like Harper wasn't an unusual scenario. A kid we passed by told us it was Beedrill mating season, and all the members of its evolutionary line were naturally agitated and looking for a fight. Therefore, it wasn't a surprise that all we came across were hordes and hordes of Weedle. It was a good thing I caught Keith when I did, because after seeing all the Bug pokemon that would come out, there was no way I would have wanted to catch one. There just seemed to be no end of them!

I tried my best to get some training in for Harper, but he was getting tired, and no amount of Potions seemed to regenerate his stamina like it did the others. The first Bug Catcher we fought was only after we'd clawed our way through the jungle of grass and stingers and fucking Weedle, and poor Harper wasn't faring well. I made him take a breather, even as the Bug Catcher threw out a pokeball that opened and contained a Caterpie: a godsend in response to the hundreds of Weedle we'd encountered.

I sent out Keith, who was looking anxious for a fight himself, no doubt because of watching Tyler decimate other members of his kind. He wanted to prove himself. "Alright, Keith: Poison Sting!"

My Weedle started to scuttle forward, body working like a snake's as he rushed in horn-first towards his opponent. Keith wasn't fast, but then again neither was the Caterpie, and Keith didn't have any problem scuttling in and stabbing the green insect in the side with his horn, then again with his stinger for good measure. The stinger looked like it hurt more.

In a panic, the Bug Catcher ordered String Shot to slow Keith down, who was slow anyway, so that'd mean it might stop him completely, right? Wrong: String Shot reduced speed, not eliminated it. So all he really did was give Keith a white, silky scarf, and annoy him. "Poison Sting again - keep Poison Stinging!"

I could bore you with the details, but I'll just leave it at the fact that the kid was a wuss, and so was his Caterpie. To compensate, he threw out a second pokemon: Metapod. Which was even more useless than its pre-evolved form. All it could do was Harden and stare at you. How pathetic was that?

I laughed, then called back Keith, gesturing to Tyler. "Okay Tyler, use Leech Seed and just-"

To my surprise, Harper rushed forward, cooing a "Pidge!" despite the way he panted.

Frowning, I shook my head. "No, Harper, you're not well. You need to rest, and then you can-"

Harper shook his head adamantly, chirping sharply with a fervent flap of his wings. No no, apparently sitting back and waiting wasn't on his "to do" list so far. He came in here looking forward to own some bugs, and by god, he was going to own some bugs.

I couldn't help but admire that kind of determination, and I gave in. "...alright. But just be careful...well, not like you need to. It's just a Metapod. Go get 'im, tiger!"

Harper crowed once, then took to the air, already backing up to begin dive-bombing the enemy - hey, he knew the drill. And it's not like the enemy could attack him anyway.

Actually, it didn't really have to: Metapod had high Defense anyway, and Harden only increased its Defense further, and it kept on Hardening and Hardening until I swear to god the damn thing was bullet proof. Harper gave it his all, but the damn thing was just too Hardened for us to beat it. It was like a tank without a gun: totally useless, but unbeatable at the same time. And it was annoying as hell.

Harper kept trying and trying, though, and it wasn't until his head was bloody from where he'd been slamming into this thing and he didn't have the strength to keep flying that I relieved him, waving forward to Tyler. "Okay, fuck this. Leech Seed that thing, would you kindly?"

And suddenly, the waiting game was turned against the Metapod: it kept trying to fortify its defenses, but with its stamina steadily being drained, there was nothing it could do and nothing for us to do but wait for the inevitable. After it flopped onto its side and its trainer let out a groan, I cheered: "Haha! My second-ever trainer battle! Good work, team!"

Tyler cheered with me; Keith snickered happily. Harper remained where he was, wings dropped and panting hard.

I saw this and frowned, coming up to my Pidgey with increasing concern. "...Harper, are you okay? You don't look so good..." I reached out to him, but stopped when he started to cough. "...Harper?"

Harper didn't reply - he couldn't. His chest heaved once, then twice, and then he vomited all over the grass. All that leaked out of his beak was blood.

Oh shit.

I didn't even stop to accept my prize money from the annoying Bug Catcher: I returned Keith and Tyler, snatched up Harper, and took off like my life depended on it out of that forest. More Weedle jumped out to challenge me, but I left their hormone-ridden asses behind. I had more important things to tend to than help them impress the ladies.

I practically bowled over the people standing by the entrance to the forest, dashing past them and vaulting over the ledges that made up Route 2. Everything passed by in a blur, and I didn't stop - I couldn't. My heart was going, my blood was hammering against the insides of my ears, and I was scared. Harper wasn't responding now - he was either passed out, or...or...

No, I snapped silently. Don't think about that. That's not going to happen - not to him. Not to the first pokemon you ever caught. Not your friend..!

"Fuck," I cursed under my breath, ignoring the traffic lights of Viridian and nearly getting flattened by a car as it blasted its horn at me. Everyone that saw me tried to get out of my way, or I made them move myself. "Fuck, fuck, fuck..."

I probably would have smashed the Pokemon Center's door down if someone hadn't been standing there, just before they jumped aside to make room for the girl with the unconscious Pidgey oozing blood onto her shirt. I got up to the counter, didn't even care who was there - this was more important than some checkup - and blurted, "Help! My Pidgey-"

"On it," the Nurse finished; I couldn't tell if she was the psychedelic one from before or not, but I didn't care. I handed Harper carefully off to her, then watched with increasing anxiety as a second Nurse and a Chansey emerged from the back and rushed him away on a stretcher. The nurse that remained then had to calm me down - which was harder than it sounded, considering I was nearing a nervous breakdown from frantic worry - and guided me to a seat in the waiting room.

Thus began the most painful period of waiting I'd ever done in my entire life.

I called out Tyler from his pokeball, then scooped him up like a falcon would its prey (oh god, bad metaphor) and squeezed him tight, tears leaking out of my eyes. "Never again," I whimpered, holding him close. "Never again."

I don't know if he knew what I meant then - hell, even I didn't - but he didn't say anything but let me hug him and squeeze him like a security blanket. He was stronger than I could ever hope to be.

I don't know how long we sat there, just waiting for our friend's fate. Keith came out a little after Tyler, and he coiled up on my lap with an anxious expression, staring off into space. I didn't even mind his moist little feet on my bare legs; I was far too worried to mind that.

Poison, I remember deciding: it had to be poison. He got poisoned, and it widdled away at his insides until he was vomiting blood...which would make me the guilty one. I was a trainer: I should have recognized the signs. I should have been prepared. Should have been better equipped...I'd blown all my money off on Potions and Pokeballs, and I didn't bother with the Antidotes when we went into a forest full of toxic bugs...dammit, even if I had seen the signs, I might not have even been able to help him anyway. I was so stupid.

Please be okay, I prayed, holding Tyler and Keith close. Please be okay. Please be okay...please...

My cellphone's cool speaker pressed against my ear - ironically cool, since it'd been in my pocket the whole time, and I felt so hot. My eyes were red and puffy as I listened to the ringtone. Tyler was quiet and still, offering support with his presence.

The call was answered relatively quickly, and my mother's cheerfulvoice rang pleasantly, "Hello~?"

"Hi, mom," I croaked, throat sore and dry; it felt like I hadn't spoken in ages. "I made it to Viridian..."

All traces of enthusiasm vaporized from my mother's voice when she heard me. "...Rein? Oh my god, Rein, what happened? Are you okay?"

I sniffled once, smiling weakly to myself; it was kind of nice to hear her so worried about me. "I'm okay, mom," I told her, hugging Tyler a little. "I've got my pokemon with me. I'll be okay."

No doubt she was relieved to hear I was okay, but she was definitely still worried. "What happened, baby?"

So I told her everything: about my trek from home up to the tumble I had with the first pokemon I ever caught, then to the obstacle that was Viridian Forest. "We were doing really good," I told her, wiping my eyes; I pat Keith's head as my hand was by my shoulder. "We beat a trainer in there, and we were going to go on, but...Harper got poisoned." I took a shaky breath, then blurted, "I blew all my money on Potions...I couldn't help him. He didn't make it."

My mother was silent for several seconds - perfect time to find somewhere to sit. "...I'm sorry, Rein," she said quietly at last. "I'm so sorry."

I shook my head sadly. "There's nothing you could have done, either," I said. "Your cooking's good, but I don't think you could have cured poisoning with some hot soup and breakfast in bed."

"Well, you never know!" my mom teased. "I thought for sure you were going to die yourself, when you were young. That secret chicken noodle soup recipe never let me down yet!"

I managed to laugh at that. "Yeah...you moms have a way with these things, huh?"

"Of course!" my mom replied with a giggle. When she stopped, though, her voice was more gentle. "Are you going to be okay, honey? Do you want me to come get you..?"

I shook my head, momentarily forgetting she couldn't see me. "I promised we would be the best," I said, looking down to Tyler, who smiled sadly up at me. "We aren't the best yet...we've still got a long way to go. And hey, at...at least we're together, right? We've still got each other..."

Tyler chuckled, pressing his head into my chest. Keith let out a small cooing noise and nuzzled my cheek, tickling me slightly with his little furs and bristles. His clammy wet feet felt comforting, somehow.

My mother sighed. "...alright, baby. You promise you'll be alright?"

I smiled a little and nodded. "I promise." I looked to my pokemon. "...for all of us."

The conversation ended shortly thereafter. The sun was starting to go down outside, and amber light filtered across Kanto. I sat down with Tyler and Keith in my lap, patting each of them. The ashen gray pokeball on my belt - as lifeless as its contents - weighed heavily down on my hip.

Pokemon journeys weren't all fun and games; I was just discovering that now. Everyone wanted to get stronger, and the world was just as rough as it always was. There was going to be hardship - pain that came with our gain. If we were going to be strong, we were going to have to earn it...and survive. Survival of the fittest; the weak died, and the strong went on. Didn't just want to get strong: we needed to get stronger. If we were going to make it in this world, becoming strong was a must. The desire was only optional.

Maybe I hadn't known what I was getting into when I left home that day. But I did, and here we were. Now all we had to do was stay strong...if nothing else, because our lives depended on it.