Trek Along Route 4
Darren sat in the grass at the top of the steep slope, Fox and Tiger on either side of him, watching Heather lose her footing and slide back down in a small cascade of sand and gravel for the third time. “Are you still sure you don’t want a hand?”
“I can climb a stupid slope by myself!” the girl replied, sounding like she was biting the words off. “I don’t need your help.”
“I’m not saying you can’t, just-”
“Just shut up!” Heather had taken several steps back, away from the slope, and was now looking at it with pinched eyebrows. Then she took a running start, and got most of the way up before the dirt started slipping loose under her feet.
Darren quickly leaned down and grasped her wrist, keeping her from sliding all the way back down. “That’s close enough. We’ll never get there if you spend all day at it.”
“I was going to make it next try,” the girl muttered as her traveling companion hauled her up. She was still scowling as she brushed most of the sand off her clothing.
Darren just shook his head, turning his face away to hide his smile. Heather might be stubborn and confrontative, but it warmed his heart that she argued with him; no one he had ever met would have taken the time to argue with a Pokémon. Not that way. If anything, the people in his past would have ordered him to take them up that slope before he could suggest it. In his mind, that meant she considered him a person like herself, and that, of course, was just what he wanted.
“We might not make it through Mt. Moon before nightfall,” Heather said as she started down the path ahead of him, as if she hadn’t been the cause of the delay herself. “But we’ll get to the entrance, and then we’ll see how late it’s gotten.”
Darren shrugged. “You’re going to be tired before I am. We’ll stop when you need it.”
“I can go at least as long as you can!”
Again Darren had to look away, hoping that Heather hadn’t learned to read his moods from the curl of his antennae yet. “If you say so.”
Their walk was uneventful as they went; while they saw some wild Pokémon, there was nothing on par with their encounter with the wild Onix in the tunnel, and Fox and Tiger raced to run any wildlife that came too close off. Even then, they never saw anything larger than an Ekans, which slithered off when Fox casually grew into an Espeon and glared at it for a few seconds. Once he was convinced the snake was gone and staying that way, however, he returned to his usual smaller, fluffier, brown-furred self.
“Why does he do that?” Heather asked, gesturing in the Eevee’s general direction.
“I’d imagine an Espeon is more intimidating than an Eevee.” Darren shrugged. “He’s got a pretty good grasp of what’s going to be effective against a given opponent.”
“No, I mean, why does he turn back? He didn’t do that at my aunts’.”
“Oh. Well… It’s kind of complicated. I told you he’s had to hide his ability to evolve like that all his life. He’s more comfortable as an Eevee, and a lot easier to carry, so he usually stays that way. At the Cerulean Gym, he’d already evolved when your aunts showed up, so he stayed that way rather than let on something is particularly unusual about him.”
“What’s the worst that could happen?”
“You didn’t grow up around Team Rocket. I’ve learned never to ask myself questions like that — chances are I won’t like the answer. If they’d known… he’d have been a tool to them, nothing more.”
Heather grimaced and waved her Pikachu over, scooping the orange-furred electric mouse Pokémon up in her arms and squeezing him tightly against her chest. Darren couldn’t blame her for that reaction; he still felt similarly, and he’d had most of his life to get used to it.
“How far are we?” he asked, in a feeble attempt to take her mind off of it.
She looked up, and around them. “I’m… not sure.”
Darren raised an eyebrow. “Been a while since you came this way?”
“Well… sort of.” Heather twisted uncomfortably. “I’m not sure I’ve come this way, specifically, before. We must’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere.”
“But that big thing is Mount Moon, right?” Darren pointed up over the sparse trees, at the mountain rising high above them. “Long as we head towards it, we’ll be heading in the right direction.”
“I suppose… But we might meet more wild Pokémon, walking off the path like this…”
“I haven’t seen anything out here that Tiger or Fox couldn’t handle on their own,” Darren replied, keeping his voice calm and level. “Much less anything that could stand up to them together, especially with me to back them up. We’ll be fine.”
“I suppose…” Heather hedged again.
“If it makes you feel better, I’ll ask Fox to take a bird’s eye view of things.”
The girl hesitated for a few moments, then shook her head. “No, that’s alright. You’re right, there’s nothing here to be worried about. It’d be worse to get lost inside the mountain, but thankfully that path at least is clearly marked.”
The landscape they were moving through was hilly, featuring both steep sandy slopes like the one that had slowed them down in the first place, and more moderate inclines. Heather had apparently decided to put her pride aside for the time being, as she accepted Darren’s offer of help when they reached the next slope, letting him carry her up as Fox helped her Pokémon. Even when they reached similar slopes leading down (which both Pokémon and trainers simply half-jumped, half-slid down), Darren got the distinct impression that on the whole, this hilly landscape was taking him upwards.
They stopped to eat a lunch of cold meat sandwiches packed by Heather’s aunts when the sun stood high in the sky, finding shade under a small copse of trees. Clusters of flowers peeked up through the grass here and there around them, and their Pokémon — Fox, Tiger, Fluffy, and Amber, as Darren’s Starlit still didn’t want to come out of her Pokéball — showed every sign of enjoying their meal at least as much as the trainers enjoyed theirs.
After they finished eating, the pair lingered for a while, enjoying the peaceful nature around them as their Pokémon frolicked in the grass. It didn’t take many moments for Heather to decide that she didn’t really need to recall any of them to their Pokéballs, so when they started moving again, there were another two pairs of eyes to watch out for wild Pokémon threats. At least in theory; in practise, Fluffy was much too concerned with cuddling up in Heather’s arms and nuzzling at her chest and neck to pay much of any attention to their surroundings.
Having the Pokémon out like that probably slowed them down a little, though Heather’s steps started to get noticeably shorter as their shadows grew longer. Out of courtesy, Darren didn’t remark on it, but simply checked his pace and looked up towards the mountain that was their goal, noticing it looming significantly closer.
The sun hadn’t gone down when the mouth of a cave leading into the mountain came into view, but Heather still declared it too late to start the trek through the tunnels, and headed towards a sturdy lean-to that had been constructed out of the way, opposite the tunnel entrance.
“They put this up as a camping spot a couple of years ago — it wasn’t here when my parents went on their Pokémon journeys. It’s pretty nice to not be left entirely at the mercy of the elements, though. We’ll spend the night here, and head through the mountain in the morning. If we make decent time we should get to Pewter Gym in time for a late dinner tomorrow night.”
Darren blinked. “Dinner?”
“The Gym Leader, Brock Stone, is an old friend of my parents’. I called him last night to let him know we’d be coming.”
“Oh. Um… does he know about, um… me?”
Heather laughed and patted his shoulder. “I told him a little. He can’t wait to meet the trainer who can talk with Pokémon.”