It was a small island, covered in orchids and little shrubs. Seemingly taken over by nature, vines and long grass provided copious trip hazards. The shrubs ought to have been small enough for Waluigi to step over. He tried, pricked himself in the groin, and didn’t try again.
The Surf had gone smoothly enough. The toes of his shoes dipped into the water: otherwise he remained dry. The mosquitos were paying close attention, but Waluigi had never been very biteable, and Slowpoke seemed immune. Having Surfed on her, this was probably because of her rubbery skin. Not the tastiest meal, he imagined.
If she’d heard him thinking that, she didn’t show it. She seemed… preoccupied.
Now, as they trekked up the quiet island, she seemed more so. Eyes shut, ears down, nostrils flared. The steps seemed to be a struggle.
‘You okay?’ said Waluigi, as a tree branch tried to steal his sombrero.
‘Stay close,’ was the only reply.
So he did, and Slowpoke was added to the potential trip hazards. He managed not to step on her, but fell over twice in the process. Being Waluigi, he had a long way to fall.
It had been a very expensive poncho.
Eventually, the long grass became shorter. Waluigi felt like he had half the island’s soil on him, mostly down his front. He also felt like something, or someone, was following them.
Then he saw the thing in the middle of the clearing.
‘Is that it?’ he said. ‘Is that what we’ve come for?’
It was an unimpressive looking rock, small enough to fit in Waluigi’s hand.
‘Yes…’ She was struggling for breath. ‘Could you… please…?’
The noise came from behind him. Waluigi span around.
From behind him again.
They came, out of the long grass. An army of Slowpoke, crawling on their bellies towards the rock, spitting water. No police here.
Waluigi backed away to the centre of the clearing, and the rock. Looking behind, he saw his own Slowpoke, unmoving apart from shivers, eyes shut. Her psychic powers had made her sensitive to being around human thoughts: what were the thoughts of fellow psychics doing to her?
He ran back, picked her up, and took his position in the centre of the clearing, waiting for them to come.
* * *
About five minutes later, he was still waiting, and they were still coming. Imminent terror had become boredom.
Slowpoke, his Slowpoke, still seemed to be in pain, but she seemed to get slightly better when he held her. It was almost sweet, if Waluigi was into sweet things. He definitely was not. Also, he still felt like they were being followed.
He had, however, picked out the leader of the group. It was the Slowpoke on its hind legs, with a massive spiky grey thing on its back. It kept saying ‘bro’. The others didn’t.
‘That’s because… I’m a Slowbro… cretin.’
Waluigi jumped. ‘Wah!’
‘Because I… bother… to fish,’ it thought, continuing to stagger over. ‘Unlike… the traitor… in your arms.’
Waluigi continued not to understand anything that was going on. The Slowbro rolled its eyes. Again, it was a long process.
‘Our tails… are tasty. We fish… using our tails. When… strong enough… we catch… Shellder. When… they bite… they make… us stronger. Understand?’
Waluigi didn’t, but nodded anyway.
‘Don’t… lie. My… psychic powers… are strong… enough…’
This from the Slowpoke in his arms. The lumbering Slowbro kept lumbering forwards.
‘You… had… your chance. To live… with us.’
‘I tried. You hurt! Your thoughts hurt!’
‘And now… you want… to steal… our rock?’
Waluigi was still holding the rock, in that he was holding Slowpoke and had balanced the rock on her. It looked like a crown.
‘She thinks… she is better… than us,’ thought the ever-encroaching Slowbro. ‘Because… she was bred… by a human. Never… wild. She… is wrong. As she… will soon… find out.’
‘Hey buddy,’ said Waluigi, because the Slowbro was moving faster than its quadrupedal family, ‘I think we got off on the wrong foot here. You want this rock back? Sure, we don’t need this rock, right Slowey?’
He picked it up and waved it above her head.
The Slowbro, perhaps a metre away now, chuckled. ‘It is… a bit… too late… for…’
The Slowbro flinched. The Slowpokes were pushed back, almost as far as they’d advanced in the last five minutes. Waluigi felt like he’d been shoved away, throwing his Slowpoke and the crown-shaped rock into the air.
The noise had come from inside Slowpoke’s head. It was a cross between a scream, a very loud creak, and a car being crushed in half.
Waluigi watched as Slowpoke, wearing the rock on her head and continuing to scream, hovered in the air.
Then he heard the other scream.
It was high-pitched, tortured, and rapidly getting closer.
Waluigi didn’t know who shouted it, but he hit the dirt. In accordance with the general direction of the rest of his life, the dirt his face hit had been through a Pokémon. It smelled fishy.
He looked up, nonetheless, through the pink lumps. He looked up just in time to see the source of the screaming.
It was a small purple clam shell. It was travelling very quickly through the air towards them, slicing branches and vines apart with the shell’s sharp edges. Two bug eyes and a flapping tongue stretched out of the shell, waving frantically.
It was heading directly for Slowpoke’s head.
Waluigi tried to warn her, but it was too late. By the time he’d opened his mouth, the shell had hit her, eyes and tongue first.
It stuck there.
It stuck there on her head.
‘No!’ thought-yelled the Slowbro.
‘No!’ actually yelled Waluigi.
‘Yes,’ thought Slowpoke, very quietly.
The shell was still stuck there.
‘You stole… how dare…’
‘Would somebody tell Waluigi what in the name of Waluigi is going on?’ shouted Waluigi.
The shell seemed not only to be stuck there, but to be sticking itself onto there. At some point it had grown teeth. It was fusing together at the seams. It was losing its purple colour (a shame, Waluigi thought) and going grey.
Waluigi struggled up and grabbed the Slowbro by the ear.
‘Waluigi has had it up to here with you all,’ he said. ‘What’s happening?’
‘She… is… becoming… a…’
The Slowbro paused. It continued to gape vacantly. Then it shut its eyes, and raised its stubby arms to its ears.
Waluigi looked at the massive spiky grey thing on its back. It looked distinctly shell-like, and it was digging into its host’s tail with its teeth. Very much like a purple shell that had changed shape.
The sentence finished. ‘…Slowking.’
‘That’s Slowqueen, thank you very much.’
* * *
They sat by a campfire, eating roasted Magikarp. Slowqueen tried to ignore Waluigi’s table manners.
The influxes of Shellder venom were hard to predict and control. This was a problem, because whenever one hit it caused a surge of knowledge and psychic power. The power had bowled Waluigi over a few times now.
Still, she felt she was getting the hang of it. She was using her enhanced intellect to work on the problem of how the non-poisonous Shellder had developed a venomous bite, among other things.
She looked up at the horizon. That was the Mushroom Kingdom ahead, Waluigi’s home. More pertinently, home of the famous hero, Mario; the famous regent, Princess Peach; and the famous would-be tyrant, Bowser. An area of great political instability.
Waluigi was looking at her, holding a half-eaten Magikarp. She was instantly filled with dread.
She’d spent hours explaining the process of her evolution. How she’d carried the Shellder, telekinetically, behind them from the pool. How it had clamped down on the King’s Rock when she’d reeled it in. How it, at the same time as enhancing her psychic powers with its venom, had twisted into a crown shape. (Okay, she’d waffled and paw-waved that one a bit.) It had been one of the most singularly infuriating experiences of her entire life.
She could see this new question coming, as if it was floating around his head. She’d have rather gone through the entire Slowpoke-Shellder biology thing again than answer it.
‘Creator rest his soul.’
‘…said you were bred by a human… that true?’
She wasn’t ready to talk about it. Then again, she hadn’t been ready to talk about it for twenty or so years.
‘Yes. I was.’
‘Did you run away?’
She waited for him to work out how stupid asking if a Slowpoke had run away was. It didn’t happen.
‘No. I was released.’
‘You mean, they didn’t want you?’
‘Would it kill you to have a little sensitivity now and then?’
‘Sorry. You mean, they decided you were no longer needed?’
Another mystery to add to the list: which phrasing was worse.
‘They were breeding for the best Slowpoke for competitive battling. I only had three perfect IVs, so I was deemed surplus to requirements and let go.’
‘What’s an IV?’
‘Exactly. Are we done?’
‘Let me rephrase that. We are done. Good night, Waluigi.’
‘Oh, okay. G’night Slowey.’
The Shellder bit down again. She let Waluigi be carried by her psychic power, far into the distance.
As it turned out, she had been ready to talk – she just hadn’t been ready to talk to him.