<-- The Tale of Popolo: Part 4 ll The Tale of Popolo: Part 6 -->

We reached Cherrygrove near nightfall. It stood in the center of a large clearing in the midst of a ring of trees, close to the seashore. I couldn’t see much else about it by starlight. Oil lamps and candles lit up the windows of tiny cottages and shacks. Besides this light, the cottages were simply shapes darker than the sky, and although a few of them leaned slightly, I could not see whatever it was that Zebulon said would take the wind out of my sails. A soft breeze blew behind us, towards the sea. The only sound was the lapping of small waves, and the occasional lowing of cattle, from somewhere within the ring.

The houses were arranged in a tight circle, windows facing outward. A slightly taller building stood in the middle.1

I looked around. “Well, Koosh,” I said, “How are we going to figure out which house belongs to Mr. Pokémon?”

Koosh trilled, and bright flame spouted from his back.

            “What if his house doesn’t have a number we can check?” I looked around at the buildings. Their shapes were quite similar, and in any case Elm had never told us which one was his.

We walked around the ring of buildings. That was odd — every time we passed by a house, the lights in its windows went out. I looked down at Koosh, still spouting merry flames. “Can you put that out?” I said. “I bet we look like a pair of demons.”

WE walked around the ring, until we came to the shore. A few rocks stood far from shore. On one of them, the tallest one, I fancied I could see a humanoid figure.2 “How about that,” I said, “Another spirit like us. I wonder if they watch over these people.”

One house,  a slightly leaning one that faced the sea directly, had its door swinging open.

No sound came from within.

            “What do you think, Koosh,” I said, “Shall we go in? Maybe we’ll find another demon in there to talk to. These people don’t seem receptive to strangers.” Koosh shivered, but made no sound. We walked in through the open doorway. “Hello?” I whispered. “Is anyone there?”

            No answer.

I walked over to the bed, faintly visible in the starlight. No one was in it, although it was unmade. I felt for the table. A notebook was on it. Useless in this light. Koosh trilled. “No, don’t,” I whispered. “We can look at this place in the morning. I don’t want people to know we’re in here. They already think we’re dangerous.” I flopped down on the bed. Koosh hissed. “What? It’s not like I’m rummaging in their drawers and stealing their money, or anything. It’s just for one night. Sheesh.”

I dropped off to sleep, Koosh perched atop me.



 I awoke before sunrise, amidst the false dawn. Koosh was sleeping by my head. Grey light illuminated the window. It also filled the doorway, which I had forgotten to close last night. “Whoops,” I said, “aren’t I forgetful.”

Then I looked down and saw the streak of dried blood on the floor.

             “Whoops,” I said, “aren’t we…um…oh dear.” I shook Koosh. “Wake up. We need to get out of here.”

Koosh shook his head, but did not rise.

            “Open your eyes, dammit! Look at the floor!”

Koosh opened his eyes, and saw the bloodstain. He shrieked. Flame burst from his back, igniting the pillow. He shrieked again. I screamed, and smothered the flame with my blanket.

            “What’s all this racket?” Said a big female voice from out the house. Uh oh.

The voice spoke up again. “Hey, Molly! Get over here! We’ve got someone in John’s house!”

            “In his house?” said a youngish female voice. “They must be demons! They must be evil spirits, come to collect the remains of his soul, or to possess his belongings! We won’t be able to get them out of there!”

            “You’re always going on about demons.”

            “Am I ever wrong?”


I had the feeling she was always wrong, since I’d never actually seen a demon. But we must have looked like demons last night. I grabbed the notebook from off the table, shoved it in my bag, and stepped out before the older lady decided to drag me out.

I ran right into the older lady. She was a stocky brown woman4, about as tall as me, clad in tan pants, a brown shirt, and white waist-apron that matched her wavy long hair. Her mouth was set in that particular frown that adults get when they get old, the droop of years, and her face was lined deeply. Her sleeves were rolled up to the elbows, exposing skin that was covered in a dark substance.

Molly, for her part, was taller, skinnier,  and much younger as well as darker in every respect, although her apron was a faded red. Her black hair fell around her face, framing a bright gaze. I couldn’t tell if she was looking at me or through me. Maybe both.

           “Well,” said the older woman, “does she look like a demon to you? Do you see any horns, or double shadows, or clawed feet? Maybe a tail?”

            “No,” said Molly, looking down. “I’d have expected this girl to be a purple cloud of gas5, if she really was – ” She looked up and fixed her eyes on me. “But what were you doing in John’s house? Sneaking into a dead man’s house in the middle of the night? What was I supposed to think? After all we’ve been through?”

            “I’d say thieves,” said the older lady. “An empty house is easy pickings, after all. What did you take, young miss?”

            “Nothing!” I said. “There was nothing of value left in there!”

Molly glared at me. Those eyes! I gave in, and brought the book out of my bag. “This notebook,” I said, “I found it on the table. Was it his?”

            “His all right,” said the older lady, “and not yours.” She took it out of my hands. “You’re not doing anything to improve your reputation. In fact…given what’s been going on here lately, and the strange light that was circling the village last night, there are probably many people who want to see you well on your way.”

Koosh walked out of the house.

            “You’ve even got an exotic Pokémon with you!” said the older lady. “Most people don’t trust that sort of thing either. Not since the last fellow came through with such a thing.”

Him again?

             “We can keep her in the Pokécenter,"6 said Molly. “There’s room for her there.”

The old lady grabbed me, and led me between the houses, towards the central building.

In turning toward the houses, I was able to see what had been hidden last night. They were painted in bright colors, blue, yellow, red, and green, with polished wood lining. At the same time, the paint was chipped and cracked, and many windows were shuttered. Many houses had a pen for a cow, but only a few were in good condition.

The building that stood central, an octagonal stone tower, was painted in three stories of white, with magenta window frames. The pointed roof was bright red. Likewise the thick wooden door, which slammed heavily as we stepped inside.

 Inside, the walls were pale yellow. A blue counter full of jars stood at one end of the room. Another counter, on the right side, had dozens of rolls of bandages. A third counter between the other two stood below a set of white cabinets. There was a telephone on the wall near the blue counter. Three or four Rattata lay on benches, some with a few scratches, some heavily bandaged. Molly went over to them as the old lady led me up the white stairs that curved along the wall.

We continued up past the second floor, which was occupied by long tables full of jars, bunches of herbs and berries, and piles of dead bugs and dried moss.

The third floor was more open than the other two, due to the pointiness of the roof, which was supported from the inside by an exposed framework. Many cots and couches stood here, occupied by a few people and many Rattata.

            “Sit yourself down here,” said the old lady, pointing to a green stool. She put the notebook down on an empty couch. “And why don’t you tell me your name?”

            “Popolo,” I said, as I sat. “This is Koosh.” I nodded to my Pokémon. “We’re here on business.”

            “What sort of business?” said a Rattata close to me.7 “I can’t imagine what sort of business you’d have in a village like this, unless you were fixing to rob us, or kill us. Is that why you’re here, Ms. Grace? Did you catch a thief?”

            “I might have,” said Ms. Grace, “but I’ve got the feeling this is more complicated than a simple matter of thievery. You come in here wearing odd clothing, with a strange device on your wrist, an exotic Pokémon by your side, and you sleep in a dead man’s house, but all you steal from it is a notebook. What do you mean by it? What’s your business here? Who sent you?

            “I’m here on behalf of Mr. Elm” – there was an intake of breath from everyone in the room – “to look for Mr. Pokémon.”8 Everyone sighed and shook their heads. “What?” I said.

            “That was his house you slept in last night,” said Ms. Grace. “He disappeared from his house a night ago, and we haven't seen him since. When we entered his house, all that was left was the notebook and the streak of blood on the floor. We would have cleaned it up, but Molly wouldn't let us — said it was disrespectful to the spirit of the house, or something.”

            “You said the house belonged to a man named John.”

            “That was his first name. But he made us all call him Mr. Pokémon. Sometimes we did. He was a blowhard, everyone knew, but – ”

            “Blowhard?” said the Rattata. “Didn’t he think of this place? Didn’t he get everyone to build it? Didn't he insist we install a telephone? I’d say he was blowing in the right direction!”

            “That is true,” said a man on another cot. “He was always full of ideas, he was. Travelled often with Mr. Elm to far lands before bandits and grass closed the road.9 He was always saying this was how they did it in this place or that place.”

            “I’m talking!” said Ms. Grace. “Yeah, he was blowing in the right direction. But wasn’t he the one that made us uproot all our old houses and build them in a ring? Didn’t he have us build this thing on the spot where the old shrine was? I’d have been happy mixing potions and finding mushrooms if it weren’t for him. And aren’t we still taking losses?”

            “Not as many as before,” said the Rattata.

            “True.” Ms. Grace turned to me. “So you’ve come for a dead man, eh? Hard luck.”

            “Not just a dead man,” I said. “I was told to go out and learn about Pokémon. Maybe like Mr. Pokémon did. And I was supposed to tell him about a young boy with long red hair and a reptile and – you said another person came through with an exotic Pokémon? Was it a blue reptile?”

            “Sure was,” said Ms. Grace.

            “With a red crest?”


            “And the person with him, did they have long red hair?”

            “Sure did.”

            “Well, I don’t know him –”

            “What kind of joke is that?”

            “Let me finish. I don’t know him because I never met him before he ran off with his blue reptile, which had been Mr. Elm’s before. He’s a thief.”

            “Thief?” said the Rattata. “How do you know the reptile didn’t run off with him?”10

            “Well, I – Hmm.” Mr. Elm hadn’t said anything about the circumstances of the boy’s departure.

            “He’s got a Pokémon by his side,” said Ms. Grace, “So he’s dangerous in any case. God knows we’ve had enough trouble with Pokémon attacking us in the past few years.”

            “Why have they been attacking? What did you do?”

            “Sat there being easy pickings, is what! 11 Sat there being a village far away from everyone who might help! Look outside, girl!” She led me over to the window. Through the glass, I could see just over the tops of the trees in the distance, beyond the fields; the trees stretched in a green carpet far away into the blue mountains.

I picked my way through the cots to another window, which looked out onto the sea. There were the high rocks, tall enough that their tops would never be reached by the waves. The shadowed figure stood atop the tallest one. At this distance, I couldn’t be sure, but it looked human. Far beyond the rocks lay another coast, which lay in front of a low set of mountains, all of it blue in the midst of the distant horizon.

I went over to another window. Beyond the fields of turnip and squash, there was a road, stretching into the distance, hemmed in by trees, much like the one I’d trod, only with even more tall grass. Far beyond the trees, to the left of the road, there was a wooden tower.12 To the right, a high mountain range.

            “We’re kind of stuck here,” said Ms. Grace. “Bandits on one road, and all we have is New Bark, and the only reason anyone cares about that place is because it’s where Mr. Elm decided to settle. Of all places, he chose to settle at the edge of the known world, a place where we don't dare to venture. I don't know what he meant by it. Why did he send a young lady out do do what he should have? Why didn't he send his son?"

           “His son ran off to adventure,” I said. “I’m supposed to find him as well.”

            “Oh,” said Ms. Grace. “Did he hear tales of grand quests and decide to do one of his own?”

            “He had the chance," I said. "I heard the same stories, but I didn’t get to go on an adventure until Dad ran off. All the men in my life are disappearing, and now that I get to go on adventure, I have to go and find the silly fellows instead of doing my own thing.”

            “Did Mr. Elm tell you to find your father?”


            “So you just want to find him. Isn’t that your own thing?”

            “I can desire to run after a disobedient child, but only because I have to, not because I want to be doing it.”

            “What do you want to do, then, without direction from anyone?”


            “You’ve no idea, do you?”


            “You’re young,” said Ms. Grace. “You’ll figure out what you want to do, soon enough. For now, it’s helpful to have definable goals. Find your father. Find Ethan. Find the boy with the Red hair.”

            “I’m supposed to be observing Pokémon as well,” I said, taking my notepad out of my bag. “I have to check their actual behavior against the legends and anecdotes. Categorize them. Mr. Elm said that we’re prisoners of Pokémon, but not if we organize our response.”

            “Prisoners?” said the Rattata, walking over to me. “Aren’t Humans the ones who built these fancy buildings, and painted them bright colors? Aren’t humans the clever ones?”

            “It’s a pretty cage,” said Ms. Grace.

            “And it’s a hard life for wild Pokémon,” said the Rattata. “We die more often than you realize. Easier than you realize. Why, without this Pokécenter, how many of us Rattata would you have left?”

            “By now?” said Ms. Grace. “Few.” She sighed. “Molly and I keep this place running. But the work’s getting to us. She’s beginning to see demons everywhere, and I’m getting tougher and neither of us likes what’s happening to us. You come in here, Popolo, looking for something and finding nothing.”

I walked over to the couch, and picked up the notebook. I flipped through it. The book was thin, but the pages were thin, and there were far more than I expected. And on each page, a color illustration,13 The first of which was something that looked like Koosh. “This looks useful,", I said. "Maybe I don’t have to write things down after all.” I brought the book over to Ms. Grace, and showed her the pages. “Did you know he was an illustrator?”

            “I’d seen some of his work,” said Ms. Grace, “but I never realized he was making a book. How about that.”

            “Can I keep it?

            “That’s really Mr. Pokémon’s decision, isn’t it? It’s his book.”

            I raised my eyebrow.

            “But, assuming it isn’t full of demonic spirit or anything, you can keep it. It’s not like he’s around to claim it anyway. Just don’t go  blundering into people’s houses and taking their things, alright? That’s quite rude. I don’t know where you got that idea.”

            I hung my head. “I’m sorry.”

            “As long as you apologize,” said Ms. Grace. “Do you mean to continue on the road, then? Keep on with your adventure?”

            “It wouldn’t be one without a few setbacks,” I said.

            “You might have more than a few.”

            “Dozens of setbacks?”

            “It’s a tough world. The only merchants we get are the sort that survive. They come through with huge Pokémon, all bright blue and purple and spouting flame and snorting, and if Pokémon weren’t sentient I would be worried for our safety. And you’re going to be travelling that road full of bandits. Well, maybe only the foolhardy get anywhere in a place like this.”

            “I’ll have Koosh to protect me.” Koosh walked over, and I gathered him into my arms.

            “You think he’s up to the challenge?”

            “He’s eager for it.”

            Koosh chirped and smiled.

1: Recent excavations west of the probable location of New Bark have discovered the foundations for a stone tower of medium height, as well as bits of rusted metal, potsherds, and bits of glass in a wide ring around the stones (Venerable Lau, “Excavations in Southeast Johto,” Proceedings of the Kanto Archeological Conference. Kanto Archeological Federation. October 8, 3394.) There was a village here. Whether or not it was called Cherrygrove is anyone’s guess; that name was first applied to it by The Venerable Smee’s 21st-century translation, and has since stuck,as the village was previously unnamed. A set of carefully-arranged boulders set a distance from the ring might be the burial grounds. Or it might simply be a memorial. These stones are arranged in a small ring, nearly the same dimensions as the foundations of the tower, and carved all around with twisting Occam patterns. One could imagine people being buried within this ring if it weren’t for the fact that stones are placed leading to the center in a spoke pattern, as if to represent a wheel. Perhaps it was meant as the local equivalent of a mausoleum. Similar rings of stones have been found in New Bark and Mahogany valley, leading Dr. Yun of the University at Saffron to assert that “The villages of New Bark and Cherrygrove were simply coastal outposts of a civilization that ruled the land from the coast all the way to Mahogany Town” (Prehistoric Johto, Saffron City, University at Saffron Press, Pp.53). Indeed, heaps of pre-dynastic potsherds belonging to the Occam Group have been found in locations all up and down the Mahogany valley. To call it a civilization is jumping to conclusions, but certainly it was a culture, or set of cultures with more in common to each other than to places like Violet Valley and Ilex.

2: This is the only annotation I have chosen to preserve from Geet’s edition: “The Watcher on the waves is…oh, who am I kidding? I don’t know who they are. Nobody does. Whenever there are rocks standing far out to shore, there’s some shadowy figure standing atop them, and then when you finally swim out to the rock nobody’s there but you can swear you hear a faint giggling. I ask you.” (The Tale of Popolo, Ed. M. Lee Geet. 3376. Viridian City: Coffeebean Press.)

3: Ancient Johotovian uses the word Yabahoo to denote non-human sentient creatures (M. Lee Geet, Translations from the Ancient Johtovian, 3378, Viridian City, Coffeebean Press). This is a word distinct from Pokémon, although certain early texts of the early Argent dynasty conflate the two words. Ever since Smee did his translation, Yabahoo has been translated as “Demons,” complete with the connotations of same. So Molly’s belief in “demons” as opposed to “Yabahoo” makes her seem unstable. This has changed all later portrayals of her character, from a competent nurse to a crazy weirdo.

4: We Kantonese are mostly pale of skin and hair, but that’s because we’re mostly descended from peoples that swept into the region in the seventeenth century. The people of ancient Johto, based on mitpchindria-DNA comparisons to the people of the Indigo Plateau, were mostly variations of darker shades – that includes Popolo, in case you were wondering. I bet you weren’t wondering. I bet you thought Popolo was pale like me. Such a thing to assume! Whenever a character’s skin color isn’t specified everyone assumes they’re pale like modern Kantonese, even if it’s a story from thousands of years ago.

5: Molly is thinking of “Demon” in the modern sense, not in the yabahoo sense. Probably an insert by Kameha. The demons of that time period, judging by the stories collected in Malés Pokéficarum, were mostly associated with Gastly. That book and Kameha’s translation of The Tale of Popolo helped to turn everyone against Gastly, which led to it being hunted into near extinction. See Xiao Balesworth’s edition of the Malés Pokéficarum (3376. Cinnabar Island: Ember Press).

6: Modern healthcare for humans and Pokémon is free or inexpensive, depending on where you live. Healthcare for Pokémon in Popolo’s time wasn’t much more than what is mentioned in this tale. The presence of Pokécenters in Popolo’s tale is probably an insert by Kameha or Willow, as the concept of government-subsidized healthcare for Pokémon was developed around that time. Such healthcare led to a drastic decrease in Pokémon mortality, of course, which meant that people needed fewer Pokémon in order to travel, and the ancient feudal states came to an end as communities no longer needed strongmen to keep them safe. The number of deaths Popolo endures points to a part of history we all would rather forget: that Pokémon used to die, often for us, all the time. Perhaps Popolo’s role in this tale, then, is as a scapegoat, one who bears the sins of the people and is sacrificed so that those sins might be collectively forgiven.

7: Well, it’s taken this long. Finally we get to hear a Pokémon speak, instead of just hammering at the idea that they’re sentient. Unfortunately, this is mostly a convention of mythology; real-world Pokémon understand human speech but do not have the vocal chords and mouth shapes to be able to respond with human language. Certain extremely rare Pokémon are able to get around this problem by telepathy. Unfortunately, the concepts communicated by this method are just that – concepts – they are frequently abstract, usually purely visual, sometimes musical. Pokémon are sentient, and sapient, but that doesn’t mean they think like us.

8: Mr. Pokémon is a real historical figure, now mostly a footnote. Born John Vriibotier, he was one of the first to advocate the use of Pokécenters; he travelled through 24th-century Kanto calling for socialized medicine. His message was not well received everywhere, especially among the feudal lords. Eventually he fled to Johto, where no mentions of him are found. Popolo’s story posits one explanation for his disappearance. See The Rise of Pokécenters, by K. Queen (Cerulean: Wave Press, 3341).

9: History does not progress in a straight line from disorder to order; order and disorder follow each other as civilizations rise and fall. Even our own era will not last forever, but will end in disunity, confusion, and the destruction of public records. The phrase noted here – “bandits and grass closed the road” – stays the same in every translation. It is from the earliest extant copy of the Tale of Popolo, a 9th-century scroll copy by Grisly. If these are the exact words of the Gate Guardians, what were they hinting at? Were they referring to the turmoil of the founding of the Rojo dynasty? Or was there a period of order and civilization even before Popolo’s time? In the Song of Popolo, the narrator tells of a lost golden age full of wonders and magic, which has given way to the rust and smeared dirt of the modern world.

10: The strongest bonds between Pokémon and human are formed by choice. In contrast, all the stories about Question Mark involve him gathering Pokémon to his side by trickery.

11: The ruins of Violet City are about twenty kilometers away from the Cherrygrove site, as the Spearow flies. That’s about 16 K as the crow flies. Spearow, for some reason, follow roads the way moths take to flame.

12: Known as Bellsprout Tower, for all the potsherds found in the dig site whose artistic motif invariably involves Bellsprouts. This tower has given its name to the culture surrounding the remains of Violet City, for similar potsherds have been found all along the bay shore opposite the Cherrygrove site (Huang Wei, “Excavations beyond the Violet site,” Proceedings of the Kanto Archeological Conference. Kanto Archeological Federation. October 8, 3394).

13: The Pokémon Index, more commonly known as the Pokédex, is a text dating to around the same time as Mr. Pokémon, and often attributed to him, although more likely he commissioned it from some group of scribes and illustrators and then took all the credit. It must be another insert from Kameha. It has been published in one format or another ever since Mr. Pokémon’s time. Unfortunately, by this point it’s woefully out of date, as many of the Pokémon it describes are extinct, and hundreds of other species have been discovered. Furthermore, the book makes no distinction between real and fictional species, so you can have Rattata and gigantic fish that turn into dragons in the same book, and even the real species have fanciful descriptions. See Liu Pang’s Annotated Pokédex (Indigo City: Peak Publishing, 3354)for a more sober reading of this document.

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