[Catch up on the story so far here!]
Last time, on A Pokémon Trainer Is You:
After receiving a mysterious “mission” from some potentially hostile Pokémon, what do you want to do?
– Honour the agreement and investigate
…you really don’t know what’s good for you, do you, kiddo?
You’ve always been a curious kid, and there’s no way you can just let this go. A bunch of wild Pokémon, apparently asking you to… eliminate(???) another human in their territory? Who? And why? You don’t see how it can hurt to check it out; you can decide what to do about it once you know what “it” is. Besides, as you point out to persuade Dane, the Ariados could be watching to see if you’ll do as you’ve been told, and they can probably move faster than you through the dense forest. Before you leave, you take several more photos of the dirt-scratch map from a couple of different angles, just to make sure you’ll be able to find your way (and hey, if you have more images to show Professor Oak later, that’s just gravy). You notice that, quite close to the spiderweb symbol marking the Ariados’ nest, the map has another scratchy little glyph resembling a human caught in a web, which you realise is probably the campsite you just left, where most of your stuff is. If you hurry, you can get back before dark.
Fortunately, you make it back without incident. Once the bug catchers have had a chance to examine the map and Dane has figured out what its markings and patterns mean in terms of terrain and vegetation, it turns out to be a good deal more useful than most human-drawn maps of Viridian Forest. It doesn’t show literal trails, but paths of least resistance through the densest areas, which take you pretty quickly back to your campsite. It looks like a few wild Pokémon have rummaged around in your bags and half-pitched tents, but lost interest when they couldn’t get into your food, which is mostly canned. Exhausted from the day’s travel and still a little shaken, you all let your Pokémon back out, build a campfire, heat up some tins of soup and try to decompress. Scallion seems pretty hard to ruffle; his confidence and even the fact of his presence are comforting. They don’t give out Bulbasaur as starter Pokémon for nothing, you guess. Satisfied that he’s fine, you take stock of your human companions. Abner is absolutely wired – he’s fully aware of the insanity of what just happened to you and struggling to deal, but so fascinated at meeting such an intelligent Bug Pokémon that it was totally worth it to him. Ellis is quiet. You think he’s just like that, honestly. Bit of a hard guy to read. The others don’t seem worried, so you decide to leave it. Stacey, on the other hand, is talking constantly, alternately trying to unpack your last encounter and just chattering to you about their school life in Viridian City. The conversation feels slightly artificial, and you eventually realise that she’s trying to make her brother feel better as much as herself. Dane’s been running on adrenaline this whole time, trying to keep his friends safe now and ask questions later. He’s not an experienced Pokémon trainer and seems frustrated, even angry at himself, that his more developed wilderness skills weren’t more useful. Wordlessly, you place Aura in his lap, where she starts making contented humming noises. That seems to help, and eventually, you all drift off to sleep.
The next morning, you quickly pack your things, filled with the vigour of being on a “mission,” and set off eastward. You’re deep in the forest, and pretty far off the established trails. You’re lucky to have the bug catchers with you, especially Dane, who still has misgivings but cheers up a lot when presented with the challenge of navigating using the scratchy spider-map. Again, you find that you make surprisingly good time following the route marked for you by the purple Ariados.
Early in the afternoon, you hear some shouts and clanging sounds coming from up ahead of you. You hold up one hand to signal to your companions, then slow your pace and begin to move carefully from tree to tree, glancing around you. With the exception of Scallion and Stacey’s Ledyba, all of your Pokémon are in their balls at the moment, which hopefully makes your group a bit less obvious. You come to the edge of a clearing with a floor of mud and patchy grass. To the left, you see a big tent made of glossy black fabric, a recently extinguished campfire and a pile of what look like boxes of food. To the right-
You stifle a gasp. To the right you see a stack of steel mesh cages, not much bigger than shopping baskets. Most of them have Pokémon stuffed inside; some even have two. You can see a lot of Caterpie and Weedle, and you can tell there are other species too, but can’t identify them without getting closer. Abner starts to rush forward into the clearing, but Stacey catches his arm and holds him back. You hear voices again, and all of you quickly step back and crouch behind the nearest trees.
Peeking out from your hiding places, you see three men – no, two men and a woman, probably in their late teens or early twenties – dressed all in black, with shorts, t-shirts, high boots and flat caps. They’ve just entered the clearing from the opposite side, and are chatting easily with one another.
“-telling you, they’re not even really siblings.”
“This again? Who even cares who any of us really are? I don’t even know your real name.”
“What? Yeah you do.”
“Wait, you mean that’s really-? Ugh, you’re such a dumbass.”
“Hey! That’s not-”
“Look, from now on your name’s Kevin. No real names! Now shut up and help me check the locks.”
One of the men ducks into the tent. The other two people head for the stack of cages and start to shake each one in turn and rattle the locks. The woman gives one of the cages a sharp kick, and you feel Abner wince. ‘Kevin’ half-heartedly kicks one too. As they get closer, you notice a big scarlet letter R on each of their t-shirts. You feel like you’ve seen that logo before somewhere, maybe on the news, but you can’t quite place it.
With a wave of your hand, you signal to the others to pull back further into the trees. Hunkering between the roots of one of Viridian Forest’s massive oaks, you try to take stock of what you’ve seen.
“Poachers?” Abner whispers.
“Looks like…” Ellis replies. “But what are they after? They can’t just be here for a bunch of Caterpie and Weedle.”
“We gotta stop ‘em,” Dane says. “There’s three of them and five of us.” Scallion grunts in agreement, scrunching up the tips of his vines like fists for emphasis.
“Yeah, but we don’t know what kind of Pokémon they have,” Abner points out. “What if they have some really strong stolen Pokémon like a Rhydon or something?”
“If they were any good, they wouldn’t have to steal Pokémon to get ahead,” Dane responds.
“Yeah, but there’s no reason we can’t still try to be smart about this…” Stacey says thoughtfully. “What about a trap? If we can take them by surprise, we’ll have the advantage.”
“That’s right!” Abner agrees, before being frantically shushed by everyone else. “That’s right,” he says again, more quietly. “Or we could try to draw them away somehow, make ‘em chase one or two of us through the forest while the others free all those Pokémon.”
“Whatever we decide, you and I should take point,” Ellis says to you. “What do you think?”