Chapter 9: Trackers

Yumin held Bambi’s necklace in his hand. The beads hung off his fingers for Tygo to sniff. Tygo tilted his head to the side, looked cock-eyed at Yumin. Zakana watched the pair of them, sensed how uncomfortable they both were with the task. Early morning light seeped into the forest and slowly sucked the dew off the greenery around them. Zakana yawned, pulled out his Pokedex and pointed it at Tygo.

“Oodi. How is Tygo’s sense of smell?”

“Tyrogue has normal olfactory capabilities. It is not known for its tracking abilities.”

Zakana and Yumin exchanged glances, and something shifted behind Yumin’s eyes. His nostrils flared. “You have any better ideas? We need to find Bambi!”

Zakana threw his good arm up in protest. “I know, Yumin. I just don’t think we should waste any more time.”

“Any more time? You’re the one we rested so long for—you and your stupid shoulder.”

Zakana sensed the anger coming from his cousin. He knew it wasn’t a good idea to be clever when Bambi’s fate was unknown. Still, he felt better after they had found a safe place in the Academy to sleep for the night.

“We didn’t know where to go. You even agreed it was better to wait until today. You already searched the skies with Braviary when we had light yesterday and this morning. Now we have to search in here, where Braviary’s eyes can’t reach.”

Yumin didn’t look at Zakana. He rolled his sister’s necklace over in his hands as Tygo slumped over onto the ground. Both of them seethed quietly in their defeat. Suddenly, Yumin turned on Zakana. “I can’t get to my Pokémon! I don’t even know where they are being held. The esteemed Professor at my baby sister’s Academy died in my arms, and Bambi is missing. I don’t have my Arcanine to track her, and sending Braviary out again will just make it more tired. I don’t know when we’ll get to another Pokémon Center, Zakana. I feel helpless . . . and scared. I only have 6 Pokémon I can use and they aren’t even my best. What if we get into real trouble? What if the Viterals go for us just like they did the Professor?”

Zakana breathed deeply, saw the way his cousin needed him now. He thought for a moment, and then Yumin snapped again.

“If you had more than 2 Pokémon, you could help me! But again, your infinite immaturity rears its ugly head!” Yumin spat on the ground nearby Zakana. “You’re the one with a psychic Pokémon. Why don’t you do something?”

The last question came as a demand, a final suggestion. Yumin fell to the ground next to his Tygo. He lifted his head, but did not look up. Then he tapped the Pokeball in his hand against Tygo’s body, calling it back.

“Psychic Pokémon?” Zakana guessed that was his Slowpoke and not his Happiny. What could a psychic Pokémon do in this situation . . . especially a Pokémon like Slowpoke?

Zakana withdrew his Pokeball from his pack. “Go, Slowpoke!”

Slowpoke emerged and gave his usual dopey greeting.

Zakana walked over to Yumin, stared down at him. Yumin did not react, although Zakana knew he noticed his presence.

“If you want me to help you then give me the necklace.”

Yumin held his hand up, revealed the red-orange beads in his palm.

Zakana snatched it, walked over to Slowpoke. He dangled the necklace in front of his Slowpoke’s face, said. “Slowpoke. Um . . . could you um . . . use your powers to find the owner of this necklace?”

Slowpoke made a different motion with his head. It knew something different was being asked of it. Zakana studied Slowpoke, watched the way its rotund eyes tried to work something out. They closed.

“I think maybe . . . it’s working . . . Hey Yumin.” Zakana turned to call his cousin over, but he was already standing there.

For a few quiet moments, they both watched Slowpoke. Zakana felt hopeful. Maybe something he did would end up helping them.

Yumin held his foot forward, nudged the mass of pink. Slowpoke did not open its eyes. “It’s sleeping.”

Zakana peered up at his cousin. “What?”

“Sleeping.” Yumin sighed and moved away from the scene.

“Hey! Hey Slowpoke! I didn’t tell you to sleep. I told you to find Bambi!”

Yumin let out a loud cry. “This is so exhausting! I knew I shouldn’t have agreed to take you with me!”

Zakana stood up, turned to face Yumin. He knew they needed to find Bambi and not fight, but Yumin was making it very difficult to focus on the right thing. Screaming or sudden movements irritated his shoulder. Yumin stopped pacing, and looked at Zakana expectantly.

“You know, I’ve always been on your parents side when it comes to saying things nicely to you. I always thought Kirish was too harsh and unforgiving when it came to what happened, but I’m starting to think Kirish’s way is best!”

“Don’t start with that.” Zakana felt his jaw tighten. Why did it always have to go back to that?

“Your parents babied you into this soft, incapable man-boy. It’s infuriating that you don’t know anything about Pokémon!”

“Can we just move forward? I’m trying now, aren’t I?”

A squawk from above punctuated the silence now filling the forest. Zakana breathed in and out, deeply. Yumin did the same, and turned away.

Presently, Zakana moved to Yumin’s bag, unzipped the zipper, reached inside. He pulled out a stack of papers—the same papers his mother had entrusted him with. He leafed through them, scanned them for the information he was looking for. He knew he wasn’t as useless as Yumin made him out to be.

Yumin noticed the sound of the papers, faced Zakana. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“I’m reading my father’s papers. My father’s . . . not yours.”

Yumin pounced, landed in front of Zakana in a crouch, grabbed for them.

“I’m reading!” Zakana pulled away, bounced up with surprising agility. “You think I’m so useless but I saved these papers. If you already have the information you need from them, then why not destroy them?”

Yumin’s eyes widened. Slowly, he narrowed them. Zakana saw how his words had affected him. How he was beginning to catch on.

“It’s because they haven’t served their purpose yet. If I hadn’t taken the papers, those Pokémon back in Pallet would have destroyed them. I did something good, Yumin. Admit it.”

Yumin sighed, rolled his eyes. “You want a trophy for it? Geez, Zakana. How hard is it to protect some papers?”

All of the clues fell together, gathered at the bottom of the funnel, and began to fill Zakana’s brain to the brim. Yumin tugged at the bottom of his jacket. He inched his way toward Zakana, as though there was something he didn’t want him to know. The longer Zakana held the papers, the more Yumin tightened. The question Zakana wanted to ask long ago surfaced again. He saw the red circle on one of the pages with the R inside. He flashed the paper in front of Yumin. “Explain this!”

Yumin grabbed at the paper, and again missed.

Zakana tripped over his Slowpoke, fell backward, landed on his butt.

“Slowpoke!” said his Pokémon, now awake.

“This is the symbol for Team Rocket! What kind of work do you do with my dad anyway?” Zakana flew to his feet, squared up with his cousin.

Yumin’s face flushed red. He opened his mouth to speak, then looked into the thicket.

Zakana looked too. Something, or someone walked toward them.

Yumin crossed to Zakana, hissed, “put it away!”

Zakana slid the stack of papers inside his jacket.

As the figure approached, another shape appeared behind it. Two male figures walked through the misty haze of sea green. They had no Pokémon, or no Pokémon Zakana could see. Yumin’s hand moved toward his belt. He fidgeted with the balls there, decided on one.

“Other travelers,” said the first boy as soon as he cleared the final line of trees. He stepped into the more open area, cleared the branches and thorns from his sweatshirt.

The second boy emerged, almost identical in stature, age, and facial expression to the first. Their eyes spun in their heads, then focused on Yumin and Zakana.

The first boy stepped forward. He noticed the way Yumin and Zakana stood at attention. “Are you guys okay?”

“Yumin?” The second boy stepped ahead of the first, and immediately Zakana knew he was the leader of the two. The way he glided silently across the forest floor, the way the second boy ducked behind him. There was power in his words, and somehow he knew Yumin.

Yumin didn’t move. His eyes grazed over the boy whom he recognized, then focused on the boy behind. Yumin studied him, Zakana knew, because he wasn’t familiar with him. “What are you doing here, Lyres?” Yumin’s voice was cold and stiff.

Zakana and the boy who had gone silent studied one another, both searching for clues about their counterparts and how they knew one another. Zakana had no idea and by the startled look on the boy’s face, he didn’t either.

Lyres wore dark clothes that pressed against his body, showed his slenderness. His hair, dark like cedar, clung to his forehead, beads of sweat trickled between the strands. He heaved a sigh of release, seemed to think that he was safe.

Yumin lessened his grip on his Pokeball of choice. “Why are you here, Lyres?”

Lyres pulled his partner forward, dragged his wrist so he stood alongside him. “Isaque and I are on a mission, not that it’s any of your business.” Lyres relaxed presently, while Isaque massaged where Lyres had grabbed him. “What happened to you anyway? Last I heard, you were being held up at the Viterals Headquarters with Papa Hayline.”

Zakana felt his upper lip curl when Lyres mentioned his father—when he referred to him like that. Especially since no one knew if he was all right.

Yumin nudged Zakana in the small of his back. Then he led with: “this is my friend, Zach. We’re looking for my sister.” Yumin’s voice softened and there was a hint of trust in his voice when he said, “they’re out of control, Lyres. They attacked the Academy in Celadon. Pokémon Centers are falling apart.”

Lyres sighed deeply. “Team Rocket foresaw some of those attacks. Unfortunately we didn’t know they could go after the reserve systems. They’re saying its permanent.”

“You mean . . . the Viterals took them for good?” Yumin’s voice cracked. “We can’t get them back?”

Lyres nodded, and Zakana saw the truth there.

He looked at Yumin. He had lost over 90 Pokémon if that was the case. Pokémon he had since he was 10 years old—all gone. Without any warning, snatched away from him, like life itself. Zakana imagined this was happening to trainers all over Kanto. He and Isaque exchanged a meaningful glance. Isaque coughed, trembled as his eyes hung on Zakana.

Why was Yumin lying about Zakana’s identity?

Probably because no one knew he existed and Yumin wanted to keep it that way. Zakana watched the way Lyres and Yumin conversed, wondered how deep their history was. Then he remembered the comment about Team Rocket—how Lyres had referred to them as “we.”

“If you’re looking for Bambi, we can help. I have a Tracker.”

Lyres revealed a yellow colored ball with a black mid-strip and two black spots that looked like eyes.

“Go, Ursaring!”

Ursaring emerged from the ball, reared to its full height, 1.5 times the size of the boys, roared its bear-like roar. It finger-length claws scratched at its chest, then the golden ring covering its stomach.

“Give me the thing you want Ursaring to track.”

Yumin did not hesitate. He held the necklace in front of Lyres, who took it, and showed it to Ursaring. “Ursaring. Find this scent. Find the little girl who owns this necklace!”

There was a passion in Lyres that reminded Zakana of Yumin. Had they been friends before? Or was there an ulterior motive here? Again, Isaque’s eyes swept over Zakana, studied him like he was a species of Pokémon. Did he know that Yumin was lying? Could his possession of a Slowpoke link him back to what happened in Pallet with the Abomasnow? That was where Zakana’s mind was headed now. He was determined to think things out, to anticipate them before they happened. He was at least good at that.

Ursaring inhaled the scent from the beads, breathed them in so strongly that they moved in Lyres’ hand.

“Get ready to run.”

Ursaring’s ears peeled back, its nose twitched involuntarily.

Zakana adjusted his arm sling, returned Slowpoke. Yumin and Isaque watched the great bear Pokémon with intentness. Then all at once, Ursaring lowered itself, went on all fours, and sped off, deeper into the thicket.

“Let’s go!” Lyres had done this before, Zakana knew, by the way he followed with such fluid accuracy.

Ursaring ducked, flew above stones, below branches. Its claws and long, furry arms were like wings. Lyres was an extension of his bear Pokemon, which cut through trees and pathways that were too narrow for it, while Lyres kept pace just behind.

Yumin knew something of this chase. He had tracked before. Isaque seemed new and timid, and if it weren’t for Zakana’s shoulder he could have passed him. But he stayed back, moved his legs with steady rhythm, and kept his arm close to his body. This was a typical exercise in Zakana’s training course. Training the body to match the quickness of the mind was of utmost importance for aspiring astronauts. As Zakana lunged forward he knew his dream would still be there when this was all over. He wiped the sweat from his dripping brow, sealed away his thoughts.

Lyres called something but Zakana couldn’t hear exactly what. Isaque’ right boot nicked a rather obvious stone and he tumbled. His shoulder instinctively curled inward, caught the brunt of the fall. He somersaulted, came to his knees.

“You okay?” Zakana put a hand on Isaque’ back. He felt the hesitation there.

The boy quivered, suddenly startled by the unfamiliar touch. He mumbled something and took off again.

Zakana did the same. The way Ursaring ran meant that Bambi could be found. The scent had been recognized. But how far did they need to run like this?

A pool of sweat formed below Zakana’s neck, at the crown of his chest. It felt cold in the spring air.

Yumin’s voice sounded from ahead. “What is it?”

How Zakana would hug Bambi when he saw her. He would hug her and ask her questions. He would find out everything about her new life. He would talk about Pokémon and never let her go.

Lyres cursed.

The forest opened, revealed a canyon, a crack in the earth. Yumin, Lyres and Ursaring stopped at the edge, peered over the side, hands and paws on their knees. Zakana heard faint sounds of rushing water. Isaque stopped dead, peered back at Zakana. Zakana heaved forward. He looked past Isaque, to the other side of the canyon.

“You have a flyer?” Yumin asked.

“Yeah. Ursaring return!”

“What is it?” Zakana confronted Isaque. “Why do you keep giving me a weird look?”

They stood alone there. Isaque gasped, coughed.

“I noticed by the way you talked, how you asked me if I was okay . . . who you were.”

Lead pulled Zakana’s heart into his stomach. He had been found out. Identified as one of the Haylines.

Isaque’ eyes watered at the edges. “No one heard from you after what happened. I don’t blame you of course, but it was hard to adjust after that. For everyone. I can’t imagine what it was like for you.”

Blood pumped into Zakana’s heart too quickly. Something clogged it. He felt the shift in the conversation, the way Isaque looked at him like he knew him, his past.

“What are you talking about?” Zakana felt the weakness in his voice.

Isaque’s voice became stronger, more focused. He leaned in, tried to make eye contact.

“You really don’t remember me do you?” Isaque repeated the question, this time said a name that hadn’t been spoken yet. “Do you, Zakana?”