“Yep. Nope. We have a problem.”
It was relatively late the next morning, and Gancena had spoken when she returned to Red hanging onto a short fence overlooking Route 17, Kanto’s Cycling Road. It was a long bridge over the sea, occupied exclusively by bicyclists. Exclusively. There was no pedestrian route. She had just asked the guard.
Red looked at her. “What is it, Gancena?”
“Red, this is Cycling Road. It’s the fastest way to Fuchsia City, but they’ll only let you on if you have a bike. I don’t know about you, but not only do I not have one, but even if I did, I don’t actually know how to ride one.”
“Oh. Wait, really? You don’t know how to ride a bike?”
“Yes,” said Gancena, glancing away. “I just… never did. I kept getting distracted with other stuff.”
“School and video games, mostly. I actually did better at school back then.”
“Are you still going to school?”
“Back home, yes, though we’re on a break. So at least I don’t have to think about that.”
“How do you do at school now?”
“Um… Well, I didn’t fail anything, but it wasn’t straight As like it used to be, either.”
“You’d get straight As!?”
“Yes. Well, until high school. Mostly the end of high school.” She briefly shook her head. “But, uh, can we not get too deep into that? It’s kind of a sour subject.”
“Okay. Sorry about that.”
“You’re fine. I was the one starting to overthink it. In the meantime, then, we need to figure out what we’re going to do. Do you have a bike?”
Red hopped off the fence and the two began walking. “I have a tiny one at home from a couple years ago, but I completely forgot about it when I was there. But the Chairman of the Pokémon Fan Club in Vermillion City gave me a voucher for a bike that I haven’t had a chance to use because after I got it, I beat Lieutenant Surge and then went home and met you.”
“I see. But the bike shop’s in Cerulean, isn’t it?”
“It is. Hopefully the Saffron entrances we need aren’t under construction, too… but I don’t think that solves you not knowing how to ride, and the voucher’s only for one bike.”
“Maybe you could go on ahead to Fuchsia and I could meet up with you somewhere.”
“Split up? I mean, I could figure out the Gym on my own if I had to, but what if there are Thoughtless around? I think my team and I could stop them, but I don’t think you’d like that.”
Gancena nearly answered, but then thought it over again. “You have a point. I mean, I think you’ve been doing very well against them whenever they’ve shown up, and I think you could even take a few on your own, but yeah, I don’t think I’d be okay with leaving you to do my job, essentially.”
“Pika pika pika chu.” Pikachu suggested.
“We could, but it’d take us at least a day. I think. I’m not sure.”
“Is this about the route east of Vermillion? The one with Silence Bridge?”
“I mean, I’m okay with going that way if you are.”
“Oh, okay.” Red paused. “I wasn’t sure how you’d feel about that. I mean, we’ve only been traveling together for a few days, and we’ve already been to a lot of places, but we haven’t found any clues about the Runestone, have we?”
Gancena’s heart jumped. He was right. “No, we haven’t… The Thoughtless have shown up, but they haven’t shown any signs about it, either. It’s possible they don’t know that the Runestone’s a thing that exists.”
“…Do you think they’d go after it if they did?”
“…I don’t think I’d put it past them. Selene didn’t say anything about it, so it’s possible she may not know for sure.”
“All the more reason to get going, then. Come on, Gancena!” Red shouted, starting to run.
“Hey, wait, wait!” Gancena called, following.
There was a pleasant surprise at the entrance to the Underground Route. “Erika!” Gancena called.
Erika was huddled with a few of her own Trainers. She looked when she heard her name. “Red! Gancena! I thought you were on your way to Fuchsia.”
“Cycling Road proved to be more of an obstacle than a streamline,” Gancena explained. “I’m kind of surprised there isn’t a pedestrian lane or anything.”
“So you’ll be taking the long route, then?”
“Yeah. We’re gonna cross back to Lavender and just head south from there.”
“Lavender’s exactly where we’re headed.” Erika looked at four Poké Balls that her Trainers held. “The Pokémon in these Poké Balls didn’t seem to have Trainers but wouldn’t go back to the wild, either. So we’re taking them to Mr. Fuji’s home.”
“Why wouldn’t they?” asked Red.
“Most of them are very young and far from home. They didn’t want to go into unfamiliar territory. So being in the company of caring humans might help them.”
Gancena asked, “Should we all go together, then? I think it’d be nice to tell Mr. Fuji personally that we were able to confirm what he’d heard.”
“Actually—“ one of Erika’s Trainers started.
“Yes?” Erika prompted.
“I was just thinking that we could reopen the Gym earlier if we sent them with the Pokémon, but it’s not really my place to decide that.”
Erika thought it over. “That would be good.” She looked at Gancena and Red. “But how do our friends feel about it?”
“We wouldn’t want to keep you if you really should go back soon,” Gancena said. “Regardless, we’d be happy to escort them to Mr. Fuji’s.”
“Yeah. We can handle it,” said Red. “I’m sure there are other Trainers who’ll want to challenge you real soon!”
Erika smiled. “Thank you so much.”
Erika’s Trainers handed over the Poke Balls they carried. Red put his on his belt, a distance away from his own Pokémons’. Gancena tucked hers in a side pocket on her backpack.
“There we go,” said Gancena, patting the pocket. “All secure.”
“Thank you again,” said Erika, bowing slightly. “Have a safe journey, Gancena. Red.”
“Bye, Erika!” said Red.
“Goodbye, Erika,” said Gancena.
A few steps later, Gancena realized something with a start. With the chaos at the very end of the Game Corner raid, she’d been so preoccupied that she’d neglected to mention an important piece of information.
“Red, wait for me a second,” she said, gently lifting Ash off her shoulder. “Stay here, Ashie.”
Gancena turned and ran towards Erika. “Erika! Hold on a second!”
Erika turned around as Gancena slowed to a stop before her. “I didn’t mention something yesterday… I was caught up in the moment, but it’s about the Rocket Boss.”
Erika waved for the Trainers to return to the Gym, and asked, “What about him?”
“I admit that I don’t have proof for this other than my word, but I think Sabrina and Blaine can vouch for my honesty. It’s Giovanni. Giovanni is the leader of Team Rocket.”
“Giovanni?” Erika paused, stunned, and glanced away. Then she continued. “Gancena, I hope you realize this is a serious accusation. Why would a Gym Leader and protectorate lead anyone to invade hallowed ground and steal Pokémon?”
“I don’t remember… but isn’t a position of Gym Leader a perfect post to do it from? It’s just as you said: why would someone in such an important position and with such great responsibility do anything so horrible?” She remembered something else. “He hasn’t been to his Gym in a while, has he?”
Gancena wrung her hands. “Why?”
“He said he was developing methods of training…”
“Are you sure?”
Erika glanced at the ground.
Gancena bit the inside of her lip. “I know it’s hard to believe, so let me tell you this: there will be one more major attack by the Rockets on the Silph Corporation. I’m not sure exactly when, but given how things have been working out lately, Red and I should be there to help out again. Warn Sabrina.”
Erika sighed. “I know what Blaine said when he told us about you and the Thoughtless. You’ve been honest and trustworthy so far. But… I don’t know if I want to believe that Giovanni would do things like this.”
“Warn Sabrina, please,” Gancena pleaded. “Then just… focus on your duties. This’ll all work out somehow, I promise.”
Erika eventually nodded. “Okay. Be careful out there, Gancena.”
“You, too, Erika.”
Gancena turned, glanced back once more, and returned to Red.
Erika watched them go.
At the same time, Shiimeji Haunter floated before the altar at the top of the Pokémon Tower and put his hands together.
“I ask any who will listen for their friendly advice and guidance,” he began. “As some of you know, Team Rocket’s Game Corner operation was shut down the very day we buried Marowak and Raticate, which is good. However, there were Thoughtless there, too. Though Gancena and her friends were present to vanquish them, I’m concerned. Where else in Kanto might they be? What should we do?”
He paused and listened for a sound, a whisper, anything. Then came a quiet voice. “You could go help them.”
Haunter’s ears twitched. He hadn’t expected to hear that voice tonight. So if she was here…“Rin?”
A faint apparition of a human woman appeared above the altar and continued. “You all worked well together. You’d make a good team.”
“Go and help them, though? On one hand, you know I don’t like the idea of leaving Lavender and Minoru alone at a time like this. But if it’s you saying that…”
The apparition appeared to nod. “The Rockets and the Thoughtless are connected. The defeat of one will disempower the other. The object Gancena seeks is very powerful – powerful enough to seal the Thoughtless out of the entire world.
“At the same time, Shiimeji, this is clearly just the beginning of a long and difficult journey. It could potentially turn bloody at any time. You are called Shiimeji because you allow living mourners to cope with the separations caused by death. You show the living that death is not something to fear. And outside of your duties to the people and the spirits, you have a light-hearted temperament and a unique sense of humor. It would be good for our friends to have you with them.”
“Rin, are you really suggesting that I join Gancena against the Thoughtless beyond what happens here in Kanto?”
“I am. The two of you could easily forge a strong friendship.”
“And what of Minoru? He’ll say he’ll be fine, but we know that we’ll miss each other dearly. It’s different from you and I… here in Kanto, at least, we may easily meet again.”
“No matter what, you will always meet Minoru again, just as easily. Because Lavender Town will always be your home, and you will always be welcomed back.”
Haunter paused, thinking it over. He had no doubt that he would discuss the matter with Mr. Fuji first, but even then…
“If I see Gancena again, I’ll volunteer my services. Because that, surely, would be fate.”
The journey underground didn’t feel as long as before, though Gancena and Red still found themselves wanting to rest at one point. Afterwards, they trekked straight back into Lavender Town and towards Mr. Fuji’s home, Poké Balls in tow.
“This should be a pleasant surprise,” Gancena remarked as Red knocked on the door.
When Mr. Fuji opened the door, he grinned. “Why, if it isn’t Red and Gancena! Back so soon?”
“Yeah, we had to take a detour,” Gancena chuckled. “And since we were heading this way, we brought something from Erika.”
“Ah, so she’s sent them with you? Come in, come in,” he said, gesturing the two inside.
“We saw them just as they were about to leave,” Gancena explained. “Since we were coming here, Erika decided to have them go with us so she could reopen the Gym.”
“I see. I’ll have to arrange to see her again some other time. In the meantime, let our newest residents see the house.”
Red and Gancena gathered the Poké Balls, holding one in each hand. They were all lightly tossed at the same time, and out came a Clefairy, an Eevee, and two Porygon, pink and blue-tipped Pokémon which resembled early computer-generated models.
“Whoa, what are they?” Red asked.
“They’re Porygon,” Gancena answered. “These Pokémon were actually generated by computers, making them one of the few man-made Pokémon in existence.”
Mr. Fuji chuckled. “It was a monumental day when Porygon was first revealed to the world. Nowadays, there are some rumors that corporations like Silph may be attempting to program an upgrade that would allow Porygon to evolve.”
“I’m pretty sure that’s true,” Gancena remarked. “Give it no more than three years.”
One Porygon lightly pushed itself forward, taking in the look of the house. The other did so from where it was. The Clefairy immediately wandered towards the sound of other Pokémon, but the Eevee went next to Mr. Fuji and crouched.
Ash jumped off Gancena’s shoulder and went over to Eevee.
The two began to converse as the door opened. “Minoru, tadaima—“
Everyone looked and saw Haunter at the door, paused and staring. A second later, he pushed the door closed.
“Okaeri, Shiimeji,” Mr. Fuji said. “Gancena and Red brought the Pokémon from the Game Corner.”
“What a surprise,” Haunter whispered, floating forward. “I was literally just wondering if I might see you again.”
Mr. Fuji’s brows rose. “May I ask why, Shiimeji?”
“Of course. In fact, it’s something that I would like to speak to you about myself, if we may.”
“Of course, of course,” said Mr. Fuji. “Please excuse us. Feel free to interact with the Pokémon. Your company is very welcome here.”
“Thanks!” Red exclaimed as Pikachu jumped down from his shoulder.
“Thank you, sir,” said Gancena.
Mr. Fuji led the way towards his room. Haunter glanced back in time to see Red’s Pikachu talking to the Porygon still in the room and Gancena crouching down to Eevee’s level, cooing greetings. He smiled, turned back, and followed.
Mr. Fuji sat on his bed. “Go on.”
Haunter cleared his throat. “I was thinking about the fact that there are more Thoughtless than those that invaded the Tower… so I consulted the others about what to do, and, well… your ancestor spoke to me. She suggested that I lend Gancena my power. Not just here in Kanto, but anywhere she might go.”
Mr. Fuji paused. “And will you?”
“I wanted to speak with you about it, but I decided that if I saw Gancena and Red again, that it might just be a sign that I should go.”
“How long would you be gone?”
“That’s just it. I don’t know.”
There was a long pause, and Haunter worried that the news wasn’t being received as well as he’d thought, but then Mr. Fuji stood up and walked toward Haunter. “Shiimeji, you’ve always done what you’ve believed is best for everyone. If you think joining Gancena on her journey is what would be best, then don’t let me stop you. I will miss you when you’re gone, but I know that you’ll come back. And I’ll welcome you home the same as I always have.”
“Minoru…” Haunter’s eyes visibly watered, and he closed the distance between them, swinging his hands twice around Mr. Fuji again. “You’ll be all right, then? You won’t be lonely?”
“I will miss you, but I’ve never been lonely, Shiimeji.”
“I’ll miss you, too…”
They remained for several moments until Haunter untangled himself and patted his eyes dry.
“We should tell Gancena the news, then,” said Mr. Fuji, stroking Haunter’s ear. “In the meantime, I think I should prepare a few things just for you.”
“It’ll remind you of home when you need the reminder.”
Just as Haunter and Mr. Fuji returned to the living room, there was a tiny, rapid knock at the door.
Haunter called, “Hello?”
The ends of brown wings became visible in the window beside the door, and the knock repeated.
“Pichu ka?” Ash called.
“Coming, coming.” Haunter opened the door to a Fearow with an envelope in its beak.
Haunter held out his hand, and Fearow dropped the envelope in it. He examined it from all sides. “It’s from the Chairman over in Vermillion…”
“Go ahead and read it,” said Mr. Fuji.
Haunter ripped the top open with one finger and slipped the letter out with care. He read the first page aloud. “This letter is in two parts of different subjects due to circumstances. All right.” He opened the second page and began to read. “He sends his regards for recent events… sorry he couldn’t attend, though he sincerely tried…” Haunter flipped the page and perused the text. “Again!? And now!?”
“What’s wrong?” Gancena asked.
“Nothing I can’t solve in less than an hour. Minoru, I’ll need to borrow the Poke Flute again. For the usual reasons. Again.”
Mr. Fuji chuckled. “Go ahead.”
Haunter turned to the Fearow. “Tell him I got the message and that I’ll take care of it immediately. We’ll send a proper reply later.” Fearow turned and flew away.
Then Haunter looked at Gancena and Red again. “There’s a wild Snorlax that lives near the Rock Tunnel who likes to fall asleep near Vermillion City. Trouble is, this is the fifth time he’s chosen to use the exit as his bed. So I need to wake him up and get him to move.”
“It’s exactly as ridiculous as it sounds. You’re very welcome to come along, though I intend to come back straight after.” Haunter floated away to some other part of the house and came back with a yellow flute, knob decorated to look like a Poké Ball, in hand. “All right, let’s go.”
They left town the same way Gancena and Red had come in during the Tower attack, crossing over Silence Bridge and crossing back into Route 11, where the Vermillion end of Diglett’s Cave was.
And the moment the travelers stepped onto the path, they saw the big blue and white lump blocking the road just past Diglett’s Cave. “There he is…” Haunter sighed.
“Is that a Pokémon? It’s huge!” Red exclaimed.
“That’s a Snorlax, one of the biggest Pokémon – probably the heaviest Kanto native, for sure. In the wild, all it really does is eat and sleep,” said Gancena.
Haunter added, “Most Snorlax live in the mountains, in areas only a few people make the effort to get to. But sometimes, this particular one comes all the way down here just to sleep.”
“Just this one?”
“Well, he’s not the first, but I’ve had to deal with him coming to this exact spot a few times now.”
As they approached Snorlax, they could hear him snoring in rhythm. “Snooooor… laaaaaaax… Snoooooor… laaaaax…”
Haunter held the Poké Flute in position and muttered to himself. “A dose of ‘The Sunrise Song’ followed by ‘Morning Rhythm’ if necessary should do it…”
Haunter took a breath and began to play. Gancena immediately recognized the melody, one she’d played often herself, so to speak, in Pokémon Snap, rather than the usual Poké Flute melody. When he reached the end of it, he seamlessly continued onto another melody from that same game, which was even more spirited than the first.
By then, Snorlax’s breathing hitched and the massive Pokémon began to groan and slowly stretch his limbs.
When Haunter stopped playing, Snorlax pushed itself halfway off the ground with one arm. He spoke slowly and in a deep voice. “(Who’s…? Oh… it’s you again.)”
“Yes, it’s me. I think you know why I’m here.”
“(You woke me up…)”
“Of course I did. Do you know why? You’re sleeping in the road that humans use! Again! I’ve told you four times—“
With a sigh, Snorlax began to lie back.
“No, no, no, don’t you dare lie back down!” Haunter scolded, pointing at him.
Snorlax paused, but said, “(I’m not falling asleep yet. I didn’t want my arm to get tired.)”
“It’d help if you sat up straight while I’m talking to you so I know you’re listening.”
Snorlax gave another deep sigh, shifted his weight, and slowly sat up, slumping forward.
“I just don’t get it. Why do you keep coming back here?”
“…I mean why do you come back here to sleep? There’s an entire field of grass here and a forest right there!”
“Speak up, please.”
“(It’s flaaat!)” Snorlax groaned loudly. “(It’s flatter than any other place I’ve ever slept in, and sometimes I just feel like sleeping on a perfectly flat place.)”
“Aren’t there flat spaces on the mountains?”
“(Not this flat.)”
“You’re in the </i>road!</i> Wild Pokémon could easily climb over you just to get across, and humans aren’t exactly fond of squeezing past others.”
“(They wouldn’t disturb me.)”
“But you’re disturbing them! Most humans literally can’t get past you!”
“(Oh… can they wait?”)
“They’re not meant to wait for a road to be unblocked unless there’s a clear alternate route!” Haunter sighed, briefly tilting his face all the way to the ground. He paused, pursing his mouth pensively.
Snorlax scooted so his back was against a small fence and a tree. He let himself yawn and lean back. The fence clearly cracked and the tree began to bend.
“Oh my God, he’s gonna fall right over!” Gancena exclaimed.
Haunter snapped his gaze back up and floated closer, flailing and yelling. “No, no, no! Don’t you dare!”
Snorlax groaned again. “(But I’m not in the road anymore.)”
“You’re about to break things with your weight!”
“(I just want to sleep… geez…)”
“You can sleep at home! Just… not where people can’t move one way or another.”
Snorlax slumped forward again and didn’t respond.
“Look. Do you see my friends with me?”
“(Yes… I just thought they asked you to wake me.)”
“Not them, no. Someone else. But my point is that I’m usually the one to wake you when you fall asleep here, right?”
“(I didn’t ask for it.)”
“Well, they’re going to be my new traveling companions. I’m joining them on an important journey. I’ll be gone for… for a long time. I literally don’t know when I’ll be back. So let me tell you something to remember while I’m gone.” Haunter turned his head backwards. “Can either of you spare a Poke Ball?”
Gancena took Ash’s Great Ball out from its place. “Here you go.”
“That’s even better! Thank you, my girl.” Haunter took it and then floated closer to Snorlax’s face as he continued. “If a Trainer finds you, you know what’ll happen?” He held out the Great Ball for emphasis. “You’ll get caught. And if that happens, that Trainer’s going to call you out to do stuff. And you’ll be awake most of the times they throw that Poké Ball. Meaning less time to sleep. Did you think about that at all?”
Snorlax jerked up. “(No, sir! Heck no at all!)” He paused and slumped just a bit. “(But I have to go all the way back home just to finish my nap?)”
“Baby steps, Snorlax. Just try to get out of the route first. Then when you wake up, go home and please, please, try to stay there.”
“(…Oh, all right.)”
Snorlax shifted his weight again and stood up, one foot at a time. With a great, slow yawn, he turned and began walking in the direction of the mountains, mumbling all the while. “(So long, though… so tired… sleepy… just wanna sleep…)”
As Snorlax slowly vanished into the forest, cracking tree branches as he went, Haunter returned to Red and Gancena’s level and dusted off his hands. “That takes care of that, I hope. Now, I’d like to go back so we can… so we can finish our goodbyes.”
Mr. Fuji waited for them back at the entrance of Lavender Town, his hands behind his back. “How was it?”
“I convinced him to go back successfully. Maybe he’ll even stay in the mountains this time.” He held out the Poké Flute. “There we go.”
Mr. Fuji took it and said, “Thank you. Now, for you.” He held out a small pouch. “This is the first of three things I’m giving you to take with you.”
Haunter took it and slipped it open. His eyes widened and his ears pricked. “Wait, why are you giving this to me now?”
“To take with you. Even if you never find out how to use it, it will at least serve as a reminder of home.”
“B-But—“ Haunter floated closer to whisper. “The Secret Stone is a Fuji family treasure! Shouldn’t it stay with where most of the family is?”
“Yes, and I’m telling you to take it with you. You’re part of the family.”
Haunter reached into the pouch and gently picked up the round lavender stone. “Red. Gancena. Could you come here a moment?”
The two approached, and both of the Pikachu made awed sounds upon seeing it. Up close, the two curved stripes, one blue and one red, were more visible.
“What is that?” Red asked.
“This was discovered by one of Mr. Fuji’s ancestors when Lavender Town was first established. It was said to have fallen from the sky. We’re not quite sure what it does, actually, but… we’ve held on to it ever since.” He moved it around in his hand. The light caught it multiple times, showing different images in its center: first the silhouette of a Gengar, then a visualization of a strand of DNA.
Gancena was stunned. She’d never seen anything like this before. She doubted it was an evolutionary stone, since those didn’t carry an image of a specific Pokémon. No, it had to be different somehow.
“It’s beautiful,” Gancena finally said. “I can see why it’d be so treasured.”
“Thank you…” Haunter looked up at Mr. Fuji. “Minoru…”
Mr. Fuji pulled an envelope from his belt. “And these. Just in case.”
Haunter put the Secret Stone back in its place, took the envelope, and opened it, and it was full of white amulets with black and red text. “Cleanse Tags… Minoru, there are enough for the others, yes?”
“Of course,” Mr. Fuji assured. “Besides the Thoughtless, there may very well be other spirits in all those worlds that yearn to rest.” Then he pulled from his belt what looked like a Poké Ball, but looked more like a hollowed-out white fruit with a mechanized knob on it. “And the third item, I think, would be best in Gancena’s hands.”
Gancena perked. “Me?”
“You’re the leader of the fight against the Thoughtless. This is Shiimeji’s Poké Ball. If things get dire and you need to recall him, please do.”
Gancena stared at the Ball, then glanced at Haunter. Smiling, Haunter nodded. “It will be my pleasure to protect the worlds under your banner, Gancena.”
Gancena smiled, and took the Ball in her hand. Then she looked at Mr. Fuji. “Haunter will be safe with us. Thank you.”
“Thank you, too, for caring for us, even when we were strangers,” said Mr. Fuji.
Haunter smiled sadly, laughed, and hugged Mr. Fuji one more time.
Mr. Fuji did the same, saying, “And thank you for caring for me, Shiimeji, all throughout my life.”