Papa told Ruri that she'd get lost, that the ley lines in the forest were shifting and mistfolk might be waiting to snatch pokémon who wander too long, but Ruri is far too clever for that. "Getting lost" just means not knowing how to find her way home; all she has to do, then, is make sure that she knows. The mistfolk can't catch her if she doesn't linger, and she can't linger if she isn't lost.
So the marill gathers up her satchel, takes the little loaf of bread Papa had baked and, when his paws are full kneading dough for the next, she bounces through the fields and into the cool, green shade of the treeline beyond. And then—this is the clever bit—every so often she plucks a smooth, white river-stone from the satchel and drops it to the forest floor behind her. (Stones rather than breadcrumbs, of course, because the birds would eat those up, and that wouldn't be very clever at all. It would also be a terrible waste of Papa's nanab bread.)
With the trail of pebbles leading straight back home, Ruri is free to marvel at the colors of the forest flowers, try to guess how far away the tops of the trees really are, chase shadows and butterflies around the roots and fallen trunks until she has to stop from laughing. As she takes a break and nibbles at the bread—and places another pebble, for she is far too clever to forget—she catches the whispering and burbling of water over stone. A stream! A little secret stream, running through a clearing just ahead!
Ruri springs forward, casts her things aside the moment she breaks through the trees, and rolls down the bank and into the stream. Now this is a discovery! A whole stream, all to herself, full of pretty speckled rocks and little silver fish that glitter every time they dart away from her splashing. She spins around, giggling with surprise, when a frog sings out from the shallows. Ruri doesn't get to see many frogs in the river by the village; the current runs too fast for them. Her eyes twinkle as she watches it. How far can this frog jump, she wonders? She puffs herself up, blue energy shimmers around her, and she blows a playful stream of bubbles in its direction—
—and stops, dead still, breath caught, eyes wide, the only sounds the murmuring stream and the pip-pip-pop of the last few bubbles. She shouldn't have done that, she remembers. The ley lines in the forest are shifting, the elders had warned. The magic flowing through the lines rises up to reach for the magic in pokémon and amplifies, changes, opens doors. It might be flowing right under her feet, right now.
Ruri whirls around again, and again, splashing frantic circles in the shallows as she scans the trees for signs of something wrong. Is she still alone? Still in the forest? Are there any bursts of power, any flowers sprouting up in rings, any signs of watching things that hadn't been there before? There's a sudden, dazzling flare somewhere off to her side. Ruri shrieks, but then relaxes. There's nothing there behind her but the stream, late-afternoon sunlight flashing on the water as a cloud scuds away.
Her gaze flits back and forth for a few moments longer, but the thunder of her racing heart is settling now. Were there even any ley lines here, in this clearing? Surely not, if nothing's different. The elders said the lines were shifting, but they could just as easily have shifted away, couldn't they? They didn't know for sure, not really. It wasn't like anyone was brave enough—or clever enough—to spend any time in the woods actually checking the specifics.
She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. Nothing has happened; nothing has changed. She is herself, Ruri, enjoying a cool, gold-tinged afternoon in a clearing with a chorus of frogs and the scent of fresh-baked nanab bread.
Ruri huffs and shakes her head, supposing that she's had enough adventure for one day. She really mustn't linger, after all. She finishes the little loaf, retrieves her satchel, and takes her leave of the clearing. A clever marill knows to head home while it's still light enough to see.
The trail of river-stones is just as she left it: bright white against the loam, spaced out just so, leading back through the roots and trunks and the tall, tall trees and the flowers slowly curling up to sleep, until at last she sees the sun setting behind the fields and the village rooftops. Her ears twitch at the sound of her father's distant voice, calling her name. There's a note of worry in it, as she'd sort of expected. He needn't be so concerned, of course. His daughter is very clever.
Papa is worried, whatever she may think, and he gives Ruri a thorough dressing-down as he shepherds her through the door. There'll be no wandering tomorrow, he insists; she won't have time for it with all the sweeping and scrubbing the bakery needs. Ruri pouts, and sighs, and yes-Papas, but as she cleans up for dinner she finds she isn't really that upset. At least she'll have the memory of her secret stream to keep her spirits high through all the chores. Her clever trail should still be there in a few days' time, anyway, ready to lead her back to another wondrous afternoon.
As she watches the stars from her window that night, imagining that their twinkling is just like the little silver fish, Ruri catches a rustling at the edges of the fields. Three shapes—dark, hazy blue, indistinct, as though their silhouettes are fading into curls of mist—emerge from the stalks, drawing closer and closer to the village's lantern lights. A huge, fishlike shape swims through the air, long whiskers snaking out toward houses as though reaching for them. A tangle of legs, too swift and erratic for Ruri to count, skitters off toward the village square. A four-legged shape, covered in waving fins from head to tail, lopes forward, nose to the ground like a rockruff with a scent, then stops. It raises its head, revealing blazing sapphire points of light where eyes should be. It fixes those points right on the bakery.
The fin-folk grins at Ruri, the edges of its smile curling back behind the blinking pinpricks in its head. It holds up a paw, as if to show her what it has. There, pinched between its long, webbed claws, a smooth, white river-stone winks cheerfully in the lantern light.