Story by Jack Bumby
This is part 2 of a story. If you’ve not yet read part 1, click here.
The journey down the river was short, but it had its moments of beauty. I’ve seen lots of very memorable sights in my lifetime, but nothing compares to the two days I spent heading into that dark place.
On the first day, I saw very little aside from the usual small fishing villages you see dotted all around Kanto. But once we moved out of the region, and further up river, it was unforgettable. On my first night I saw a school of Horsea and Seadra, all following a lone Kingdra. I don’t think those proud creatures even knew we were there, despite Growlithe’s continued attempts to bite and roar at them from the side of the boat. She was loyal, and well-trained, but was still a slave to her animal instincts.
I also witnessed the ship’s (albeit minimalist) crew in the heat of an argument. I’d never even imagined what a quarrel between a Mr Mime and a Machamp would look like, but it was as surreal as you’d expect. After a few minutes, and more than a few heated shouts, the First Mate retired below decks to continue shovelling coal. From what I could tell, he was suggesting they turn back. The Captain had managed to mime that it was “their job”, and that had shut the First Mate up. But I don’t think it was anger that started that argument. As First Mate Machamp retreated to the engine room, it looked like fear.
On the second day, the boat ran aground. The river had gotten very shallow around the edges, and despite the best efforts of the Captain, she ended up on the bank. The relief in First Mate’s Machamp’s eyes was easy to miss, but I saw it as he poked his head from inside the bowels of the ship. But it was to be short-lived. I’d stepped off to assess the damage, which appeared minimal, but we were well and truly stuck. I considered my next move. Should I walk? Surely the forest would be far too perilous for just Growlithe and myself. As if in agreement, a deep rumbling sound emerged from the forest. Having read up on the dangers in this part of the world, I swiftly re-boarded the boat. But Growlithe stood her ground.
“Get on the boat, girl!” I shouted but she paid me no mind. The rumble was close now, and I could see the trees in front of her wobbling and swaying. There was a dry crack as one collapsed. Growlithe assumed an attack stance. I ran to her. Out of the treeline, a Dugtrio emerged. They were followed by another, and then another, and then another. The line continued until it disappeared into the depths of the forest. They descended on the boat.
“There girl, take it easy.” I stroked her fur. It was easy to forget, but she was still a pup. The Dugtrio got to the boat and began moving it back into the river. I saw Mr Mime grab the wheel to keep himself steady as the ship jerked and bounced back into the water. They surrounded it until they were underneath the entire hull. With this many, the ship was soon back into the water, bobbing on a gentle current – seemingly unaware of how close the journey came to disaster. The Dugtrio then headed back into the forest. Growlithe calmed.
“C’mon girl. Back on the ship.”
Reflecting on the events of the day, I lay awake that evening. The Dugtrio didn’t attack, they weren’t crossing the river, and they came out of their safety to help us – even risking their lives in the water. We were in their home, and they aided our journey. This led me back to the Venusaur. Who was I to capture it? With this dreaded thought circling my mind, I fell into a sporadic and unpleasant sleep.
There were four hard knocks at my door, each from a different muscled fist. The First Mate was telling me it was time. I could see from the small window that it was barely dawn. The light outside was grey and thick with the petrichor of a wet night. I put my hat on and swung the door open. The First Mate was stood outside and it appeared he’d been crying.
“Are we here?” I asked. He looked at the ground, nodded, and pointed his finger to the front of the boat. I beckoned for Growlithe to follow me and I headed to the bow of the ship. I’ll never forget what I saw in that dismal place, so far from the rest of humanity. We’d pulled into a small port. Down the jetty was a rudimentary town. There were a few buildings that might pass for living quarters, and a makeshift Pokémon Center. There was a despondent-looking Pokémon Nurse stationed there. Stood around were men and women dressed in black, holding lanterns like out-of-focus extras in a gothic horror film. Besides the town was a steep and muddy hill. Slowly trudging their way down this was the gloomiest group of Pokémon I’d ever laid my eyes on. It was mainly made up of Machamp, with a few Machoke, and even a small number of Machop. Tired was an understatement for these poor creatures, they looked on the verge of fainting. They began heading into the small living quarters, until the last of them closed the doors. Appalled, I approached one of the men at the end of the jetty.
“What’s going on?” I demanded. “What in the devil are you doing with those Pokémon?”
“Those?” He sneered. “They’re building.”
“What on earth would you want to build all the way out here?” I lifted my arms, gesturing to the wet trees around us, the air ripe with the putrid petrichor of the previous night.
“Our new digs,” he smiled. “You’re looking at the future site of Team Rocket’s newest underground laboratory.”
“We’ve rebranded.” He looked me up and down. “Say, are you the guy they sent down from head office? The one who’s supposed to catch our Venusaur?”
“Well watch out. He’s been destroying our buildings, freeing the Pokémon. He’s no ordinary Venusaur.”
“He’s freeing them?” I spluttered.
“Yeah. Big guy too. Must be as old as the forest.” As if the forest had overheard the conversation, and I was beginning to think that place had an impeccable sense of timing, the floor shook beneath us.
“Is that him?” I asked, readying myself. But there was no time for the man to respond. From the depths of the labyrinth around us I heard a cry that froze my blood in its veins.