Let's Go Safari!
Naruto sighed as he sat on the edge of the table and dangled his feet. Sakura sat on the opposite end and fiddled with the strap on her bag. Sasuke leaned his shoulder against the wall and almost looked like he was sleeping with his eyes open. The rest of the main room of the lodge was empty except for them. All the other trainers had left on their special safaris. But they were still waiting because their guide hadn't shown up yet.
"Where is this guy?" Naruto groaned.
Shikamaru, Chouji, and Ino had managed to group themselves together and had been one of the first parties to leave. They'd been assigned a grim-faced man with light brown hair tied up in a topknot-like ponytail. His pale eyes had left Naruto wondering if he was some distant relative of Hinata's or that Shion girl from Demon Country.
"It could be a girl," Sakura pointed out.
The guide that Hinata, Kiba, and Shino had ended up with had been a woman. She'd been pretty, if a bit ordinary, with brown eyes and brown hair pulled back in a short ponytail. And she was probably a member of some family that had a tradition of wearing face paint or facial tattoos as she had purple rectangles on her cheeks.
"Hn," Sasuke grunted, proving that he was awake.
Shifting his position on the table, Naruto pulled his pack into his lap. He'd been allowed to keep his egg with him as it was so close to hatching, and a single pokéball to contain the mystery creature. And he'd been able to keep the old collapsible fishing pole his mother had given him so that he could fish up pokémon in whatever lakes or ponds he came across. But all his pokémon and all his other pokéballs had been collected by the Safari Zone staff and safely locked away, to be returned after his safari was over.
Naruto looked at the wall clock and sighed again.
"It's been an hour since the last group left!" he fumed. "Where's our guide?"
As if his frustrated yell had been a cue, a door opened and a final game warden was led inside by a staff member who normally ran the front desk.
Their tardy guide was a man with spiky black hair, a carved walking stick, and a clear limp. In fact, his entire right side looked
off somehow. His right arm moved stiffly and looked less muscular than his left and it appeared as if he was missing a finger or two. It was impossible to tell what color eyes he had because of the orange mirrored lenses of his sunglasses, and his otherwise standard khaki uniform was brightened up by an orange handkerchief tied around his neck.
"Sorry I'm late!" the man said as he limped over to them. "I was getting caught up with my e-mails and totally lost track of time."
"Liar," the other staffer grumbled. "You were asleep in the break room."
The dark-haired man tossed a glare over his shoulder at the other man before flashing the young trainers a smile.
"Well, let's get this show on the road, shall we?"
He hustled them into a small room and handed them each two bags. One bag contained pink, sweet-smelling cubes and the other was filled with shrunk pokéballs that bore a green camouflage pattern. Then he led them outside and along a path between various buildings towards a set of large iron gates.
"You each have twenty safari-balls to use while we're out there," he explained as they walked. "Normally we'd key them all up to your account so your catches would go straight into storage. But since this is a special event they won't be registered to you until after the safari is concluded. That way you can get your commemorative picture with all your new monsters, and you can easily give them away as gifts to friends or family if you want, too!"
They had to wait for a moment for the gates to be opened, and then their guide limped on through and continued his explanations.
"The other bag contains bait. Feel free to use it to tempt pokémon to come closer and stay longer. You're also allowed to throw rocks and mud at pokémon. Sometimes it makes them easier to catch, sometimes it makes them run away, and sometimes it pisses them off enough to make them attack you."
"Attack us?" Sakura squeaked. "Shouldn't we have been allowed to keep our pokémon for protection?"
"Don't worry!" the man laughed. "I have my own pokémon with me, and if anything wild tries to mess with you I'll take care of them. That's part of the reason that you all have guides. In fact, I'll let a few of them out right now!"
He paused and rested his walking stick against his shoulder so that he could use both hands to release two of his six creatures. The first monster to appear was a fierce-looking houndoom, and the second was a rapidash wearing a saddle. The fire horse immediately lay down and their guide awkwardly moved to settle himself on the creature's back.
"How come you're going to ride while we walk?" Sasuke asked with a frown.
"Because I am disabled," the man replied and lifted his right pant leg so that they could see the metal pole of his prosthetic leg. "And we will be doing a lot of walking."
With a light touch to the rapidash's neck he started off down a broad dirt trail with his houndoom trotting beside him and beckoned them to follow.
"Hey, what's your name?" Naruto asked curiously.
"Ah, I forgot to introduce myself!" their guide laughed. "Sorry! My name's Obito Uchiha. Nice to meet you all!"
"Rin-san, is there not a free shuttle train service that transports patrons to the remote corners of the park?" Shino asked their guide politely.
"There is," the woman nodded. "But the Safari Zone has been expanded and until the rails leading to the new area have been completed the trains won't be running."
"So we have to walk everywhere," Kiba grumbled. "Great."
"Cheer up!" Rin smiled. "Yes, we'll have to walk a long way to get to the new area where all the new stock is concentrated, but while we hike through the older areas you'll have the chance at capturing more familiar creatures."
Kiba's scowl didn't abate.
I wish they didn't make Kiba-kun leave Akamaru behind, Hinata fretted and shoved her hands into her coat pockets to minimize her nervous fidgeting. It's making it hard for him to enjoy this place. And I would feel better if Akamaru was here, too.
Actually, she would feel a lot better if she'd been allowed to bring one of her own pokémon with her. She'd gotten used to having them by her side, able to spring to her defense at a moment's notice. Their presence gave her a little boost to her confidence, and without them she felt unprotected, almost naked.
I know that Rin-san's pokémon will protect us if anything goes wrong, but
Up ahead some bushes rustled and then a green creature emerged onto the path. It was a four-legged grass pokémon with an enormous single leaf sprouting for the top of its head. When it caught sight of them, it froze.
"A chikorita," Rin said quietly. "Does anyone want to try for it?"
Kiba and Shino shook their heads, but after a moment's hesitation Hinata shuffled to the fore with an active safari-ball in her hand.
I can do this
She inched forward until the chikorita moved to flee. With shaking fingers she tossed a bait cube at the monster's feet. The chikorita hesitated, sniffed at the treat, and then gobbled it up, eyes closed in a moment of bliss. In that instant, Hinata made her throw.
I don't like playing dirty tricks, but this is better than beating it up to catch it, she told herself as she watched the sphere twitch and wobble with bated breath.
For a minute she feared that the ball would burst and she would fail, but then the red light winked out and the capsule was still.
"Congratulations!" Rin said brightly. "Success on your first try!"
Hinata flushed and snatched up the safari-ball from the ground.
This is a good sign, right?
Naruto kept shooting glances at their guide as they followed the trail through an open grassy area of the Safari Zone.
Is he seriously an Uchiha?
All the Uchiha that Naruto knew were all serious, even grim, and never seemed to smile. Sasuke's mom was the friendliest Uchiha by far and Naruto figured that was because she's married into the family. But this Obito guy acted less Uchiha-like than even her. He was cheerful, friendly, and he spoke in multi-word sentences all the time.
"Sasuke, have you heard of this guy before?" Naruto asked.
"No," was Sasuke's short reply.
Obito overheard them and peered over his shoulder curiously.
Ha, man I'm really scatter-brained today!" he chuckled nervously. "I didn't get any of your names."
"I'm Sakura Haruno," the pink-haired girl piped up, then kicked Sasuke's ankle when he stayed sullenly silent.
"Sasuke Uchiha," the black-haired boy muttered.
"Hey, a relative!" Obito beamed. "Who's in your immediate family?"
"My father is Fugaku, my mother is Mikoto, and my brother is Itachi," Sasuke answered reluctantly.
"Oh, oh I know them!" Obito nodded. "The last time I saw them was a really long time ago, though. Itachi was just a little brat
and you were a tiny baby."
"Hn," Sasuke grunted and stared off over the field of tall waving grass.
"Heh, you're definitely an Uchiha," Obito sighed and shifted his gaze to Naruto. "And what about you?"
"I'm Naruto Uzumaki," the blond boy announced.
Obito stiffened and his rapidash came to a halt. With a twitch of the reins he angled his burning horse so that he wasn't craning his neck to see the children he was guiding. Then he slowly pushed his sunglasses up to rest on the top of his head, revealing that his right eye was covered by a black patch.
"Uzumaki?" he repeated with a raised eyebrow. "You wouldn't happen to know a Kushina Uzumaki, would you?"
"That's my mom's name," Naruto replied with a prickle of dread. Is he someone that knew my parents? I thought that I met all those people already!
"Your mom?" Obito surprised expression quickly melted into a gleeful grin. "Ha! Hahaha! Awesome!"
Naruto grinned weakly. Aw man
"You know Naruto's mother?" Sakura asked.
"Oh yeah! I"
Obito clamped his mouth shut and looked at his houndoom, which was frozen with its nose pointing off the left side of the trail.
"Found something, Ash?" their guide asked quietly. When the demonic looking canine nodded, Obito smirked and urged his rapidash off the trail. "C'mon, let's go seequietly now!"
They cautiously pushed their way through the chest high grass until they came to an area where it had been trampled flat. A handful of pink and blue creatures clustered there, chirping to each other in tones that sounded electronic. Their bodies were blocky and full of artificially straight lines, like they were made up of polygonal blocks.
"Porygon," Obito almost whispered. "Who wants to try for one?"
Naruto chewed the idea over, Sasuke looked completely disinterested, but Sakura stepped forward with a determined glint in her green eyes. She marched out into clear view and hurled a safari-ball at the nearest porygon. Spooked by her sudden appearance and the attack on their friend, the other porygon disappeared into the tall grass with shrill computerized whistles of fright.
The camouflage-patterned ball wriggled
The sphere disintegrated into shards of plastic and metal as the porygon burst free.
"Oh no you don't!" Sakura snapped as the disoriented creature started to flee, and she hurled another ball.
"You're not getting away!"
A third ball whizzed through the air.
Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle
"Gotcha!" Sakura cheered, pumping her fist.
"Great!" Obito smiled. "But be careful with how many balls you use. We still have a ways to go before we reach the new part of the park and all the best monsters. You don't want to run out of balls before we get there."
"Right," Sakura nodded, her excitement quickly fizzling into embarrassment. "I got a little carried away. I always thought I'd have to get into gambling to get my hands on a porygon."
"Well let's get back on the trail," the adult chuckled as his rapidash turned to retrace its steps. "We still have plenty of territory to cover
"Ugh, if I'd known there'd be so much walking I would've bought hiking boots," Ino groaned and eased herself down on a boulder to rest.
"Is it lunch time yet, Hohetu-san?" Chouji asked their guide hopefully.
"It's still two hours until noon," the pale-eyed man replied. "But if we keep this pace up, it'll be three hours before we reach the rest house where we'll be eating."
"What a troublesome place this is," Shikamaru sighed.
"I wish the trains still worked," Ino complained. "I think I'm getting blisters."
"You three rest here for ten minutes," Hohetu told them as he released a lucario and a noctowl from his small collection of pokéballs. "Anubis will wait with you while I scout the surroundings with Nighthawk. If I don't find anything interesting, we'll move on."
The lucario crouched down and closed its eyes while the noctowl flew above the tree tops and their guide slipped off the left side of the trail.
Why did I think this was a good idea? Ino wondered to herself as she pulled off her right shoe to massage her foot. We haven't seen anything but common pokémon that have snuck into the park. Pidgeys and rattatas and sentrets aren't worth getting blisters over!
They'd taken the shortest path through the initial grassland area of the Safari Zone and had made it deep into a forested area. There were all sorts of environments within the fences of the park, from lakes and sandy beaches, to rocky dry ground, to marshy ponds, to dense forests, to open grasslands, to cool caves. Ino started to daydream about laying out on some lakeside beach and soaking up the warm sunshine.
I wish I brought my bikini with me
The lucario's eyes snapped open and it suddenly stood up and stared down the path the way that they'd come. Ino opened her mouth to ask what was wrong when an eevee slipped out of the brush and into view. And then another emerged from the undergrowth, and another, and another, and another
Ino slipped her shoe back on and drew a safari-ball. I've always wanted a leafeon
The seventh eevee that stepped into view wasn't brown, it was a pale gray.
I want it!
The blonde girl was immediately on her feet and she aimed her throw right at the oddly colored creature. Luck was with her and she hit her target, but it stayed contained for barely a second before the eevee broke free, destroying the safari-ball. The pack of eevees immediately swarmed in a panic, the common-colored ones swirling around the uncommon one, making it nearly impossible to hit.
"Argh!" Ino growled. "Shikamaru, Chouji, help me!"
Without waiting to see if the boys were doing as she asked, she frantically tossed more safari-balls at the mass of eevees, hoping to catch her target before the group scattered and fled. She managed six throws before the fluffy creatures dispersed. One toss was a complete miss, three resulted in broken balls, and two caught ordinary eevees.
But the gray one had gotten away from her.
"Darn it!" Ino pouted as she collected her two catches, the shards of her broken balls, and the one safari-ball that hadn't hit anything. "Did either of you get it?"
"I got an eevee on my second try!" Chouji grinned.
"I got one, too," Shikamaru said in his usual bored tone of voice.
"But did you get the gray one?" Ino demanded. If they caught it, I can borrow it from them for contests!
"Gray one?" Chouji frowned, puzzled. "But eevees are always brown."
Shikamaru just shook his head.
"Shoot!" Ino's pout deepened into a scowl. "I almost had it! Let's go after it."
"We can't," Shikamaru snorted. "If we ditch our guide we'll get kicked out of the park and lose our chance at being the first to see the new section of the Safari Zone. Do you want to give that up for a chance at some gray eevee?"
Ino kept scowling for a minute longer before sighing in defeat. "No
The blonde girl returned to her seat on the small boulder and sulked until their guide returned.
"All I saw were a few fleeing eevee," Hohetu said as his noctowl landed on a nearby tree branch. "They were moving fast so there isn't much hope that we could catch them."
"We already got some," Chouji cheerfully informed him and held up his used safari-ball.
"Did you?" the man blinked in surprise. When his lucario nodded in confirmation, he shrugged. "Well, good! Now that you've had a little time off your feet, let us continue
"Hey, Obito, is there a bathroom around here?" Naruto asked, squirming a bit.
"There are bathrooms in the rest houses," Obito answered. "But if you just have to pee, go behind a bush. We'll wait for you."
"Okay," Naruto nodded and jogged off the path. "I'll be right back!"
"Don't go too far!" Obito warned.
They'd left the grassland area behind a half hour ago and now where in a forested area that was dotted with occasional flower-filled meadows. Naruto went a few yards off the trail and slipped through some bushes to have maximum privacy. If the party had just consisted of himself, Sasuke, and Obito he would've gone only half as far, but with Sakura around he wanted to make sure that he had plenty of cover.
"Ah," he sighed as he answered nature's call. That feels better!
When he finished he zipped back up and turned back towards the path
Naruto glanced deeper into the woods to see what had stepped on a twig
and saw a little girl staring back at him.
She looked to be about five years old or so and was dressed in a dark gray dress with a black satin ribbon tied around her waist. Her black hair was done up with a red ribbon, she had red plastic bracelets on her wrists, and there were shiny red shoes on her feet. Her eyes were blue and sharp.
"What are you doing here?" Naruto blurted out in shock. She's too young to be running around here all by herself!
The little girl gasped and ran deeper into the forest.
"Hey, wait!" Naruto yelped and gave chase. "Come back!"
The girl was fast and agile. She darted around trees and scampered over logs, easily opening a wide gap between him and her. Naruto kept up the chase, determined to catch the wayward child and bring her to the safety of the group. The girl dove into a large dense clump of bushes, and he followed
The bushes ended and so did the level ground, and Naruto found himself sliding down a steep bank and staggering into the shallows of a broad stream.
little girl?" Naruto looked around frantically, but he didn't see any sign of her. "Where'd she go?"
The boy jumped and looked downstream to see a blue crocodilian perched on a rotten tree stump and snapping its jaws threateningly at him.
"A totodile," Naruto said to himself and crouched down to feel around the mud for some stones. "Cool!"
The totodile snarled, hopped off the tree stump, and charged him, intent for whatever reason to drive the boy away. Naruto came up with a pair of small river stones and put them to good use. One stone socked the little crocodile in the gut and made it stumble and the second pebble bounced off its skull, leaving the creature stunned and dizzy. And then Naruto whipped out a safari-ball.
"Gotcha!" Naruto crowed when the red light winked out. A totodile of my very own!
Sounds of splashing drew his attention back to the stream where he saw a dozen more totodiles and twice as many mudkips surfacing with glares and bared teeth.
There were far too many to catchnot that he wanted that many of themand he doubted that he could persuade his fresh catch to help him out. He slowly started to back up, but the steep bank made it almost impossible to do walking backwards. The angry water pokémon converged on the shoreline where he was standing
The startling roar sent the water pokémon diving under the surface for cover. Naruto spun around and found Obito's houndoom looming over him. The devilish dog helped pull him back up the bank, but then caught his sleeve with its teeth and dragged him all the way back to the trail, where the others were waiting.
"Where were you?" Obito demanded, suddenly a very stern and serious adult. "What were you thinking?"
"I saw a little girl," Naruto hurriedly explained. "She ran away and I chased her, but I lost her."
"A little girl?" Sakura repeated dubiously. "How little?"
"She looked like she was five years old," Naruto answered.
"Was she wearing a dark dress?" Obito asked. "Did she have dark hair?"
"Yeah," Naruto nodded. "Do you know who she is?"
"No idea," Obito shrugged. "No one knows who she is."
"How can that be?" Sakura demanded.
"She showed up sometime after we started renovating the park and she's robbed the gift shop and the café's kitchens every few nights for over a month now. We caught her picture on the security cameras, but she doesn't match any missing person's report that we've looked at. Night security has been tightened twice but they haven't been able to stop her or catch her. The boss even brought in some growlithes that were specially trained to sniff out lost humans, but they couldn't find her." Obito shrugged again. "It's like she's a ghost."
A chill crawled over Naruto's skin.
A real human ghost?