Last time, on A Pokémon Trainer Is You:
What do you want to do tomorrow?
– Explore the deep forest.
Part of you wants to focus on getting to Pewter City so you can get that whole gym challenge thing back on track after your frustrating false start in Viridian City. On the other hand, though… this forest is fascinating to you. People in Viridian City called it a “natural maze” because of the way the vegetation swallows any artificial path that isn’t constantly maintained, leaving a tangled mess of Pokémon migration paths, treefall clearings and hill crests as the only real landmarks. No one alive really knows Viridian Forest, and even your new friends who’ve spent time here before are only truly familiar with a small part of the southern reaches. Still, with your scientific knowledge, their wilderness skills and a bit of luck, you’re confident you can map out a sector of the forest and gain some valuable data about the ecosystem – maybe even find a cool new Pokémon or some kind of, like, lost treasure or whatever. You all pack up your gear and set off northward, most of your Pokémon out of their balls and playing together as you move.
Things start off well. You show the group some of the same type of trees where you and Stacey found her new Ledyba yesterday, so they can use that as a starting point if they ever want to try hunting for their own. You take copious notes on the diverse vegetation of the deep forest, and show a fascinated Ellis how to take charcoal rubbings of leaves that you’ll be able to identify later with access to a reference library. Stacey spots a Pikachu, and although it won’t let any of the humans get close and darts into the bushes at the first hint of battle, Nancy the Negator is able to persuade it to show itself in the open for a short time, and you witness the two Electric Pokémon communicating in sparks and discharges, a form of language that you’ve read about but never seen in action. You can practically feel that this forest is teeming with Pokémon, just out of sight, but they’re unused to humans and not inclined to show themselves. This is pretty in line with your training in field survey work, and Abner confirms that it’s typical of his group’s experience too. When they’ve come here in the past, they’ve had to spend a lot of time “literally just vibing” (as he puts it) to allow the Pokémon to get used to them – that’s part of the reason they were all so impressed when you helped Stacey find those Ledyba before. Sometimes Abner likes to sing while they walk through the forest; he’s convinced it puts Pokémon at ease, but Ellis is sceptical.
You’re able to confirm some of what you already knew or suspected about the forest on the basis of tracks, chewed vegetation and occasional sightings. Bug-types – mainly Caterpie, Weedle and their evolved forms – are overwhelmingly the most common Pokémon here. Spearow don’t do well in dense forest, and instead Pidgey are the major predators (Abner has been collecting their dropped feathers for some time). You spot what you’re fairly certain are the leaves of Oddish, asleep beneath the ground during the day, and in a sudden moment of clarity identify some odd vein-like marks in the soil as the tracks of Bellsprout. Meanwhile, Scallion keeps looking up suddenly and doing double takes, like he’s picking up a sound that’s just outside the range of human hearing; he doesn’t seem worried, exactly, but the look on his face reminds you of yourself when you’re thinking about a problem you can’t quite solve. You don’t know what to make of it. You are certain you want to look at this area more systematically… but as soon as you try to plan that out, you realise that you are thoroughly lost. You’ve all been marking your path by snapping branches and dropping flags, but somehow none of you can find any of them when you try to backtrack, as if the forest is rearranging itself around you, or as if all of you are really $#!tty at navigation.
On Route 22 you must have covered almost as much ground as this, but back there all you had to do was climb the tallest hill you could see and look for the river, and you pretty much had some idea where you were and which direction you were moving in. In Viridian Forest, you can barely see 100 metres in any direction, you can’t even figure out where the sun is most of the time, and it’s difficult to keep going in a straight line without running into a thicket or having to clamber over the roots of a huge, ancient tree. Which, like, is cool in its own way, you have to admit; Dane is clearly having fun climbing and jumping and $#!t, and the other bug catchers are at least caught up in the wonder of it enough that being lost doesn’t frighten them. You have food, drinking water and Pokémon companions; you’ll be fine even if you can’t find your way back to a familiar trail by nightfall.
I mean, that’s what you tell yourselves; personally I refuse to condone this lunatic optimism.
Late in the afternoon, you stumble into a treefall clearing that seems like it might be a good place to camp for the night. Abner, Dane and Stacey begin to unpack as you and Ellis survey the perimeter with Scallion and Beedrill. All looks fine, until you clamber over to the other side of the massive fallen oak to take a look at the other side of the clearing. Propped up against the trunk is a big hiker’s backpack, apparently abandoned, but still full. You and Ellis exchange puzzled looks, then cautiously approach. You can tell from the way leaf litter has piled up around it that the backpack has been here, untouched, for a long time – maybe for months. You can see what looks like a name tag stitched into the fabric of the bag, but a patch of mould has grown over everything but a capital letter L. You reach out to touch the pack, and your hand comes away sticky; you realise it’s coated with a thin film of gluey slime. You frown and reach around to rummage in your own backpack, trying to think whether you have anything you could use to take a sample. Ellis remarks that it reminds him of the sticky coating of the raw silk produced by Bug Pokémon. Meanwhile, his Beedrill seems uninterested in the pack and flits around the air above it, jabbing its stingers around as if pointing at something. The two of you both realise with a start that Beedrill is pointing – it’s drawing your attention to lines of nearly-invisible silk hanging in the air, strung across gaps between trees, crossing and linking with other threads, forming elaborate designs, and…
Look, for what it’s worth, kid, I honestly assumed the dumb bastard probably just starved to death.
You hear a startled yelp from Dane, and you and Ellis both leap back over the tree trunk. The other bug catchers and their Pokémon are assuming a rough defensive formation as they stare down four- five- no, six big red-and-black Bug Pokémon, some crawling on the ground, others hanging by silken threads from tree branches.