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Among the Asphodel

Discussion in 'Creative Archive' started by Snapdragon, Aug 13, 2007.

  1. ((More stories from Snapdragon, yes. This one's a little different from Thierry, though. This is another POV experiment, this time switching viewpoints between the four main characters.))

    Chapter 1

    There's a wolf in my stomach. He's always there nowadays. I knew him when I was young, and I know him now. His name is Hunger, and he thrives in places like these. The dust is thick and heavy in the air, my clumsy feet stumble on the cracked asphalt and the rubble that used to be buildings. Long ago, this place had food. The buildings were whole and proud, and their insides were cool. The floor was smooth tile. There were fountains. Now everything was dry and broken, and anything that was useful had been taken ages ago. I feel strange when I think of how it used to be. I had friends around always, and my human took care of everything I could want. Things were so different now. Those memories may as well have belonged to a different Vaporeon. If it hadn't been for Amaryll, I never would have believed it had happened to me at all.

    Amaryll. Just thinking about him made the hunger-wolf turn to lead. The comfort of having a twin is feeling like you'll never be alone. The curse of having a twin is that it's a thousand times worse when you are. I sometimes think that loneliness is a wolf, too, and it tears up your insides even worse than Hunger does. Still, these feet keep going. What else is there to do? I shift through the rubble, hoping against hope that I'll find something to sustain me longer. Aonyx Trickshot isn't a quitter. Even if I have to scavenge and crawl, I'll survive.

    It was the same story today. I had found another ruined building to dig through. There were pieces of red shingle everywhere--buildings with red tops were Pokemon Centers, I remembered that. There had been an unpleasant, sterile smell in the air, but the Chansies were friendly and Pokemon Centers stopped the hurting. I remembered the computers that swallowed pokeballs into oblivion, then spat them out again whenever my human needed them. What had happened to the Pokemon that the computers ate? There weren't any machines to spit them back out again anymore. My paws shifted chunks of rubble automatically, not even sure there would be anything worthwhile underneath.

    Then I saw it.

    A glimpse of a grey release button, peeking out from beneath the debris. I doubled my efforts, frantically scraping away the ruined pieces burying it. I could hardly believe it. A pokeball, whole and undamaged. There was no way it was empty--whoever was inside could never have come free when it was underneath all that stuff, and I knew it wasn't a spare because it was covered in chipped, peeling paint. Splotches of red peeked out from beneath the flakes of black and neon green, and I could make out lettering, too. S... Sileo. My excitement had made me clumsy; I clamped my teeth around the pokeball to pull it out, but I dropped it as I was backing away. A burst of red light spilled out of it, then took the shape of an Umbreon.

    It had been so long since I had seen an Umbreon, I had almost forgotten what they were supposed to look like. His fur was dark, sleek and glossy; rings of bright green glowed faintly against the dusty haze in the air. His eyes were blue, and they looked angry and puzzled all at once. "H-hey--" My voice sounded strange, raspy and too quiet from lack of use. I cleared my throat and tried again. "Hey! You're lucky that I found you, or you probably would have spent forever stuck in stasis." My tail was wagging a mile a minute, and my tongue was trying to go just as fast. Finally, somebody to talk to! And he was like me, too. "You must have a whole lot of questions, huh? My name's Aonyx Trickshot. What's yours?"

    The Umbreon didn't say anything. He looked at me, then looked around. At the remains of the Pokemon Center, at the shattered city around him, at the sky that had been dyed red by a choking layer of dust. I repeated my question again, in case if he was in shock and hadn't heard me. This time, he just stared, still quiet as ever. I was too happy to have company to be bothered by that. "Not feeling too talkative, huh? Fine, I'll talk enough for the both of us. Your Pokeball... it said Sileo, didn't it? I betcha that's your name."

    The Umbreon nodded.

    "There, that wasn't so hard, was it?" I grinned, then flicked my tail fins at the mess all around us. "You're probably wondering what caused this, huh? To be honest... I don't really know, myself. One minute my human was taking our team into town to challenge a gym, and the next thing I knew, my brother Amaryll had opened my pokeball and we were all alone in this... this wreck. I, um... I don't know how to say this really, but... the humans are gone. All of them. I... don't know who your human is, but..." I scratched at the frill around my neck awkwardly, trying to break the news gently. I had spent ages searching for my human, and I didn't want Sileo to go through that too. "It's hard to believe, I know, but this is definitely for real. I've been living in this place for three years now. I used to have Amaryll with me, but... Ryll's not here anymore."

    Sileo cocked his head, still not saying anything. It was hard to tell what was going on in that head of his; this guy had a better poker face than Amaryll had ever shown. "Amaryll's my twin brother. We used to be identical, but now he's a Leafeon and I'm a Vaporeon. We..." I cleared my throat, settling down into a sitting position. "Back when this first happened, there were more Pokemon around. Some of them broke outta their pokeballs on their own, some of them were found by the escaped Pokemon and opened. We all lived in the city for a bit, but then it got harder to find food. Some of the others started whispering about a place that hadn't been ruined, a place where there was still trees and grass and flowers, and clear water and blue sky, and... and maybe even humans."

    I could tell Sileo was curious. Even so, I hesitated. Talking about Amaryll wasn't so easy, and my throat was dry and my voice still raspy. It had been a long time since I spoke this much. "A bunch of Pokemon decided they were gonna go find this place. Amaryll wanted to go with them, said there wasn't anything here for us anymore. I still wanted to find our human. If there were still Pokemon waiting under the rubble, why couldn't our human be too, huh? Amaryll... he left without me. I stayed behind, and more and more Pokemon left the city. I never saw Amaryll again, and now... now I think I'm the only one left." Even my laughter sounded weird, kind of half-hearted and high-strung.

    "But... but now you're here! I'm not the only one anymore! Oh, you have no idea how many times I regretted staying behind. Maybe Amaryll did find the green place, and meanwhile I'm... Sileo... where are you going?" As I had been talking, Sileo had stood up and started walking away. At my urgent question, he paused and glanced over his shoulder, as if to ask if I was coming too. I bounded to his side. Sileo may not have been one for small talk, but he staved off one of the wolves, so I was going to stick with him wherever he went. He started walking again, so I did too. "...Sileo... there's noplace worth going to. Everywhere's as dead as the city."

    Sileo looked at me again, one eyeridge raised slightly.

    "Sileo... are you going to the green place?"

    A nod.


    Another look.

    "I'm coming with you, okay?"

    The corners of Sileo's mouth lifted into a tiny smile. I smiled back, then looked to the road ahead. Goodbye, arthritic ruins, we were going someplace alive. Side by side, the two of us started walking.
  2. Chapter Two

    I know you're with me, Mom. The smooth whiteness of your skull kisses my face each and every day. Both you and Dad lent me your bones, so that I could have your strength. You're my shield, my angel, my strength. You've always kept me from reaching the breaking point. No matter how bad it gets, that very worst thing never quite happens. You always send me something to keep me going, so I never quite reach the edge of despair.

    When you and Dad had to leave, you sent me a human to help me be strong.

    When my human had to leave, you sent me Lucasta Lionheart.

    I don't know what I would ever do without Lucasta. I don't know what it's like having a sister, but I think it feels like it does when I'm with her. It doesn't matter that I'm a Cubone and she's a Riolu. It doesn't matter that I'm a Twinblade and she's a Lionheart, that my eyes are blue and hers are green, that I have two bones to fight with and she only has her paws. It just matters that the two of us are Tayzel and Lucasta. It's hard sometimes, Mom. We can never seem to find enough to eat, and the days are so hot. We fight sometimes, but we know we'd be lost if we ever split up. And even if I do sometimes fight with Lucasta, I really do like her. I love the way the silver bell around her neck jingles when she moves, and I like that her ears and her tail have white tips, even if she says it looks stupid.

    Today, though... today I didn't care what Lucasta's ears looked like. The day was hotter than usual, and that made both of us bad-tempered. The sun beat down like a Magmar's tail and everything was dry and dust. Even the ground itself was uncomfortably warm on our bare feet. It was a good thing Lucasta found a nice, shady, cave, or I think I would have lost it. We decided we'd be better off checking out the inside of the cave, since travelling out in the sun really wasn't working. It was nice and cool once you went in a little ways, but it was very dark, so Lucasta took one of my clubs and we held hands. I could tell that Lucasta was starting to get scared, and truth be told, I was scared too. But Marowaks are brave. Mom and Dad, you were brave. I wasn't a Marowak, but I wanted to be brave too. I lead the way and made sure Lucasta held on to my hand tightly. We couldn't see any light in front of us or behind us, but we could hear something dripping. We were both thirsty, and dripping meant water, so we agreed we'd look for the source of the noise.

    It started getting scarier the farther we went. Lucasta thought she felt a hand on her shoulder, so she screamed. That made me all nervous, so then I started imagining things too. I was certain that I could hear something that wasn't our footsteps or the dripping sound we were following. It sounded like... something skittering. I held Lucasta's paw tighter after that. I wasn't so sure that I was just imagining things, though. The sound didn't go away. In fact... I was positive it was getting louder. "Lucasta... d'you hear that?" I whispered. I don't know why I was whispering, but it made me feel better to be quieter.

    "Y-yeah." Lucasta whispered right back. The two of us stopped walking. It was too dark to see anything, but we still peered around anxiously, trying to catch a glimpse of... something. I didn't even know what.

    The noise stopped.

    "...D'you think it's gone away?" I ventured cautiously.

    "I think so." Lucasta nodded. The two of us both let go of the breaths we'd been holding, then took a step forward together.


    That wasn't me.

    That wasn't Lucasta.

    That was something right behind us.

    The two of us turned around. It was a monster! It had wide, glowing blue eyes, and rows of sharp, pointy teeth, and grabby claws. I wanted to be brave, really I did, but when we saw that thing... both me and Lucasta screamed, and we ran as fast as we could. We were too scared to look behind us to see if we were being followed, but we could see a dim light up ahead. "Lucasta! Look!" I shouted, pointing wildly with my club. The two of us just kept sprinting as the light got closer and closer. Monsters don't come in the light, we would be safe as long as we reached it, right?

    It wasn't until we were right up close that we realized what the light was. We'd found a huge underground chamber. A small hole in the roof let a single shaft of light filter in, and that light was being reflected and bounced around by a large lake in the middle of the room. Both me and Lucasta tried to stop, but we plowed right over the edge and hit the water with a splash. I didn't even have time to think before I felt something grabbing onto the end of my club and pulling upwards. I held on tight and the thing yanked me right out of the water. I scrambled onto the shore to see that Lucasta was hanging onto my other club, coughing and gasping like a beached Feebas. "Tayzel... you saved me? I didn't think you could swim." She sputtered, then gave her coat a good shake. Water droplets went flying, and most of them landed on me.

    "Hmph... I can't. I thought you saved me." I snatched back my club from her. My heart was still pounding from the scare we'd had, and I felt safer with both my weapons.

    "No... that'd be me." There was that voice again! I screamed and swung out with a club, and I was rewarded with a loud thunk. I looked behind me, and there was a Sableye, sitting on the ground with both hands over his forehead. ...Oops. "Ow! Whew, quite a nasty swing you've got there, little girl. I know I shouldn't have played tricks on you, but you could be a little more gentle, y'know? I kinda saved you from drowning and all."

    "Sorry, Sableye. We thought you were a monster." I was blushing like crazy underneath the skull I wore. Well... honest mistake, right? "Um... my name is Tayzel Twinblade, and this is Lucasta Lionheart. We came here because we thought we could find water, and... uh, I guess we found it."

    "No kidding." The Sableye grinned, baring his nightmarish teeth. Even if we had light now, I still shivered. Sableye didn't seem to notice, though. "It's nice to meet the two of you. I'm Paracelsus Killorglin."


    It's a good thing I've got you watching over me, Mom.
  3. Chapter Three

    Ever since I was an Eevee, I've believed that we've been put on this planet as a test. People talk of the afterlife? They're half-right. It's not that we're waiting for the afterlife, it's that we're living the prelife. Something up there throws innumerable hardships into our path, then sits back to see what we do. There's no point in trying to escape it; running from a challenge means that they'll throw five more into your face. All you can do is play along. It's a thought I've adhered to most of my life, and there have been times where it's been my saving grace. Without a doubt, I have to admit that today is one such day. It's... a little jarring. One moment I was told I was going to be healed. Now I find myself in a destroyed shadow of the city, being told that all humanity was wiped out.

    I could refuse to believe it.

    That would be foolishness itself. I could see the ruins all around me. I could taste the dust that hung thickly in the air. And I could hear Aonyx, the one who'd brought me into this nightmare. His voice was weak and sandpapery, and the desperation behind it made my fur stand on end. He was pale, for a Vaporeon, and deathly-thin; his skin had lost its luster and his eyes were wide and watery. At first, I thought he was mad. The more he spoke, though, the more I saw. He wasn't insane. Just lonely. He'd lost everything he had, and for three years, he'd had nothing to distract him from that fact. No wonder he was so ridculously happy to see me.

    I could crawl back into my pokeball.

    That was safe. There was no destruction in there, no wild-eyed Vaporeons that ranted about green places and regrets. There was only the peaceful oblivion of stasis. I could throw myself to that nothing-state, hope that Aonyx went away and this broken place went with him, that the next time I was pulled back to reality everything would be normal again. That would be cowardly of me. This was only another test. No matter how overwhelming it was, my actions were being judged. I couldn't let this trial crush me. I couldn't submit. My path was clear to me.

    I started walking.

    Aonyx followed of course, though he took some time to catch on. When he finally grasped that we were going to this green place together, the smile he gave me was dazzling. This was to be my test. A Vaporeon who was being devoured by his own loneliness, and his hungry longing for this green place his brother had left to find. I didn't know anything about it, other than what Aonyx's ranting had let on. In truth, I didn't really think it existed. Aonyx didn't strike me as the most stable of characters to begin with, and this magical green place of his struck me as a delusion. A coping method, and little else. In my mind, the two of us were just walking for the sake of walking.

    Aonyx was absolutely overjoyed to be coming with me on this fool's errand. He more than made up for my silence with his pratting. I did my best to be patient, but his hoarse rasp of a voice was grating at best. I reminded myself that he was bound to lose his voice sooner or later, but that really wasn't all that much of a comfort. "I wonder how far away the green place is? I can't wait. I hope that there's a really big lake there. I don't mind the ocean's salt water and all, but I like fresh water better and I'm so thirsty... I'm hungry, too. I would give my fins for a nice bowl of homemade Pokechow. I mean, just about anything will taste good if you're starving, but it's just not the same. I wouldn't mind a tasty fish, either. There aren't any of those in the city, though. I guess it's a good thing we're almost out. Maybe we'll find a stream outside city limits."

    Finally, Aonyx stopped talking. It was only because he lapsed into a sudden fit of coughing, sure, but at least it shut him up a while. I would have been more sympathetic, but he was just wearing himself out with this blathering. He didn't get the hint, either--once the coughs had subsided, he just cleared his throat and went right back on to straining his vocal chords into oblivion. "Hey... Sileo? How come you're so quiet all the time? It's not because you don't want to talk to me, do you?"

    Oh, for crying out loud. I resisted the urge to roll my eyes and simply shook my head.

    "Well, then how come? Shock stole your voice away? You're some kind of sceptic monk who took a vow of silence? You were just born a mute?"

    ...Sceptic monk? I shot Aonyx an exasperated look.

    "Ohh. I getcha. It's a touchy subject, isn't it? Well, don't worry, Sileo. I respect that. Consider the topic dropped. I don't want to be nosy."

    Not quite what I'd been trying to say, but I'd take it.

    Our feet had carried us out to the fringes of the city. The crumbled buildings had given way to fields of tall grass, all turned an unpleasant yellow shade by drought. A long straight highway stretched into the distance, its uniform blackness disrupted by irregular cracks where the wilted grass struggled to reclaim the land. Not even a whisper of wind disturbed the scene, making it seem more like somebody had stretched a big painting over the horizon than any actual part of nature. I drew to a halt, and I saw Aonyx follow suit from out of the corner of my eye.

    It should have been peaceful, by all rights. But the stillness was somehow more oppressive out here than it had been inside the city. There were no more spectres of humanity here, save for the road that sprawled ahead of us, but there was nothing truly alive, either. I waited, not entirely sure what I was waiting to see. A dry rustle caught my attention, and I went tense. In a sudden jolt of motion, a Farfetch'd shot out of the dry grass and into the sky. From where I was, I could see that even the onion in its beak was withering. I simply watched it, glad to see something alive.

    At my side, Aonyx tensed, then shot into a frantic sprint. Grass cracked and rustled in some sort of helter-skelter pseudo-rhythm, further disturbed by the blast of water he shot out. Direct hit. The Farfetch'd dropped its onion and spiralled out of the sky. More rustling, and Aonyx reappeared a moment later, the slain duck held tightly in his mouth. He spat it out and shrugged. "What's that look for, Sileo? Don't worry, I was gonna share with you, honest. Well... don't be shy, buddy. Lunch is served!"

    I suppose I should have been grateful. Things were different now; our meals weren't coming from cans anymore. Aonyx was right to act when prey appeared. I gave my head a little shake, then strode forward to join the Vaporeon. There was no room for waxing poetic in this wasteland, and I'd make better use of my time eating while I had the chance.
  4. Chapter Four

    Lucasta Lionheart.

    That's what they call me. The Lionheart is pretty obvious. Lucasta, protect the weak. Smile at the lonely, Lucasta. Take that oh-so-cliche road less travelled, Lucasta, and don't you dare ever falter. Well, here's a bit of a newsflash: I'm one of the weak, everybody who's left is lonely, and all the roads are equally untravelled because everybody who would use them died. I'm just a puppy, what do you expect from me? There aren't any evil tyrants or fire-breathing dragons that are singlehandedly responsible for making the world what it is. There's no singular, dreaded enemy that must be vanquished, and even if there was, beating the tar outta him wouldn't put the world back the way it was. Everything that was responsible for this has been wiped out years ago, anyhow. Karma got to them long before some Riolu could.

    So yeah, the Lionheart part... doesn't really mean a thing. I'm about as lionhearted as a Skitty, and I'm not afraid to admit it.

    Lucasta... that's a bit more subtle. You'd think it's just light, right? Nope. I had a human once. The same human who gave me the silver bell around my neck and the name that hangs over my shoulders. To explain Lucasta, I first gotta explain Lovelace. There was this guy who lived a real long time ago, a poet. Unlike certain Lionhearts, he lived up to his name: he wrote some real touching love poems to a lady he called Lucasta. That's where my name comes from. Some dead guy's Venus. For all I know, the real Lucasta was just some made-up ideal of beauty. I'm not even pretty, let alone beautiful. I have a big nose and spindly limbs and there's ugly white patches on my ears and the end of my tail, and they make me look bald.

    Not that it matters, I guess. Nobody to impress but Tayzel Twinblade.

    Tayzel... it's hard to explain where we stand. We're best friends, that's for sure. I can't even remember if she found me or I found her, just that we've been together for a really long time. At first, she made me feel really important. She was so sad and scared and alone, and even if I wasn't brave or hopeful or strong, I was moreso than her. She made me feel important, like there was a point to me being here when everything else had been wiped out. The early days of this new world were a terrible time, but feeling like I was being the big sister made it easier.

    But then Tayzel grew up. I mean... we're not adults or anything. I guess it's weird to talk about her like that when she's only a little younger than me. But I mean she wasn't so scared or sad or lonely. I stayed the same I always was, but the new world turned Tayzel tough. Somewhere along the way, she became the big sister. Just look at how it was when we met Paracelsus. She was taking the lead, she was the one to lash out at the enemy, even if he wasn't really an enemy. What did I do in the meantime? Sit there stinking like wet dog. Yeah, real noble, Lucasta. A role model to canines everywhere.

    At least the scare was over. We weren't thirsty anymore either, thanks to the huge lake we'd belly-flopped into earlier. Tayzel, Paracelsus, and me were all seated on the cool stone at the water's edge. We had explained our story to the Sableye, about how we'd found each other ages ago and just kind of wandered since. No humans meant no place for us to go... and no place worth staying in, either. "...So we decided we'd get out of the sun and explore this cave, and... well, you know how it goes from there." Tayzel finished with a nod.

    Paracelsus tilted his head. I really didn't like the gleam of his flat, gemlike eyes, even if we were past that whole "monster trying to eat us" phase. "Really? So you two have just been kinda doing the nomad thing, huh...?" Although... the more I thought about it, the more I realized Paracelsus wasn't much older than us. That made him less creepy, but not by much. He stood up and dusted off his kneecaps with those freakishly long arms of his. "Tell you what. Tayzel, Lucasta... come with me, okay?"

    "Come with you where?" I barked. I didn't budge. I was perfectly happy being by the little bit of sunlight, and tramping off into the darkness with Teethy McChompsalot there really didn't float my peaches.

    ...Float my peaches...?

    "You'll see. Just trust me, okay?" Paracelsus smiled at us, which really wasn't that comforting, considering that he had teeth like a Sharpedo. I would have recited every single way I knew how to say "no way in hell," but then Tayzel stood up and nodded.

    "Alright, we'll go with you. Not like we've got anywhere else to be. You coming, Lucasta?" Well, no way I was gonna sit here all alone. Anywhere Tayzel went, I went too, even if she was crazy for following a sketchbag of a Sableye. I nodded sullenly and got up onto my paws. Tayzel was gonna owe me for playing along with this. Paracelsus waved for us to follow, then skittered off down one of the many dark passages leading out of the chamber. Tayzel glanced at me, and I caught a glimpse of a grin beneath her skull helmet before she started running too. I tried to keep a scowl, but somehow a smile found its way out of that grumpy look.

    Hmph. Stupid Tayzel. Only she could get me to skip off into oblivion with a grin on my face.

    It was hard keeping up to Paracelsus. We could hardly see where we were going in the dark tunnels, and he certainly wasn't in the mood to take it slow and easy. I tried to keep track of our path, so when he inevitably turned on us and tried to feast on our hearts, I could lead Tayzel back to safety, but the passageways were twisty and we took way more detours than I thought ought to have been necessary. Eventually, I just gave up and admitted that I had no clue where we were going. That made the trip a little bit easier. Only a little, though.

    After what felt like forever, we could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel--literally. A warm orange glow beckoned invitingly up ahead, broken only by the silhouettes of Paracelsus and Tayzel. We stepped out into another large chamber--no... this wasn't just some room. It was an entire village, all hidden underground and illuminated by torchlight. Crude, lopsided huts and tents, some little more than blanket forts, littered the large space helter-skelter. Up ahead I could see a big, flat rock, raised above the rest of the room. An impressive hut sat in the center of it... well, impressive for a hut, anyway. It wasn't as shoddy-looking as the other ones, I guess. Paracelsus lead us through the maze of huts, paying no mind whatsoever to our amazement. I stuck close to Tayzel, eyes not on the destination, but the surroundings. Some of the shelters had inhabitants--they were staring at us just as obviously as I was staring at them--but I couldn't help noticing that most of them were empty and neglected.

    "Alright, we're here." We'd arrived in front of the big rock plateau that held the really nice-looking hut. Paracelsus skittered up, then leered down at us with. "Listen up. You guys gotta make sure to mind your manners, okay? I'm taking you to our leader, and he's a pretty fierce guy. Not the kind you wanna mess with. Be respectful when you address him, and only speak when spoken to, got it? If you play your cards right, you might just have a home by the end of the day."

    Whoa, since when had I agreed to anything like that? I had no interest in underground realtors. Still, Tayzel was the first one to take action. She took one of her clubs in her mouth, using her free hand to climb up onto the rock ledge, and of course, I followed her up. Now that we were on level ground, I could see that the hut was guarded by a Lombre and a Nuzleaf, both clutching crude stone-tipped spears. They frowned at us, but Paracelsus muttered something to them and they nodded. The Lombre shuffled into the hut, leaving us standing around. He reappeared a few minutes later and nodded. "Enter. Chief Tavi will see you now."

    Chief? Oh, give me a break. Paracelsus ushered the both of us through the door, nodding to the Nuzleaf and Lombre as he went. The inside of the hut... wasn't all that shabby, actually. A cheery fire in the middle of the floor lit the place up. Over to one side were some shelves filled with food and some random kicknacks, and the opposite side held a comfy-looking pile of straw lined with bits of down and fluff. Opposite us was a fancy-looking chair--sorry, probably a throne for the almighty chief--and in it... a Furret. He had a pair of bright red feathers affixed behind one ear, and one of his paws clutched what looked like a spear-y sword thing or some other kinda polearm. The blade looked kinda... familiar, somehow, but that was pretty unlikely.

    "Chief, I bring outsiders. These are Lucasta Lionheart and Tayzel Twinblade." Paracelsus dropped down to one knee, then looked over his shoulder and hissed. Well, that was a pretty good sign that we were to bow too, I guess. The two of us followed suit.

    The Furret tilted his head arrogantly, smirking down at us. "Good job, Paracelsus. We could use some fresh meat around here." Ooh, now he was trying to intimidate us. Like I was gonna be scared of a brown puffball. I couldn't resist rolling my eyes.

    "They don't look like much, that's for sure. They seem to think otherwise, though. You. Lucasta. I am Tavi Tailswipe, chief of the Grievers. You got something you wanna say to me, or are you gonna keep those eyeballs of yours fixed on the ground, like a good little girl?"

    Oh, come on. I may not be a Lionheart, but I'm not a Barbie either. "I don't care if you're a Mewtwo covered in dryer lint, you listen to me--" I only half-rose before the Furret moved. In a heartbeat, he had circled around the fire and stopped in front of me, the blade of his strange weapon pointed right between my eyes. From that close, I could see where I had recognized it from.

    It was the tail of a Seviper.

    "I'd hold my tongue if I were you, Lucasta. The title chief means something around here." Tavi moved the blade forward. I could feel the point pressing into my fur. "I've got a few other titles around here. Slayer of Nagaina Falsetongue, for one. The serpent that slew a thousand Zangeese fell to a Furret. Now she's less of a Nagaina and more of a naginata, but she's still pretty good at reminding cheeky little brats to hold their tongues. Now, let's try this again. You got something you wanna say to me?"

    Yeah, I could think of a few things, all right. But I'm sure you remember all that stuff I said regarding me and acts of bravery. This time around, I held my tongue.

    "That's more like it." Tavi purred and lowered his blade, backing off. "I have a feeling we're gonna be good friends, Lucasta Lionheart."
  5. Chapter Five

    Finally, the wolves were silent.

    It's been a long time since I felt that happy. I had food in my stomach and I had a friend at my side and we were going to find the green place where Amaryll waited. Finding Sileo's pokeball was the best thing that could have happened to me. Just having him there had brought about so much change! He really was inspiring, in a way. These three long years had taken their toll on me, and I knew it. I was dusty and dry and probably way too thin, but Sileo... he was fresh and glossy and bright. His fur was smooth and his head was high. Being by his side made me walk a little prouder, too. I didn't even mind that he was so untalkative.

    Probably because I more than made up for his silence. After years of having nobody to talk to, I had so much to say that I just couldn't keep it in. I probably should have tried to pace myself, considering how rusty my voice was; by the time the city and its skeletal buildings had faded from sight, my voice was pretty much shot. From that point on, it was pretty much dead quiet. There wasn't a breath of wind, and that Farfetch'd we'd chowed on was the only sign of life we'd caught the whole time. Something in the back of my mind told me that it was a bad sign if you couldn't see anything moving in the miles upon miles of flat grassland sprawling in every direction. Still, the road was there, wasn't it? So the two of us kept going. I felt a lot more energetic than I had in a long time, so it was easy for me to match Sileo's steady lope.

    And y'know what? The silence wasn't necessarily so bad. It was kinda nice, in its own way. Just you and a buddy and the steady thumping of paws on asphalt, and you can zone out and think about whatever you like. I got into this spacey frame of mind thinking about this time I battled a Linoone--see, because we were running on a road, and the road was straight, and Linoones are really fast when they run in straight lines--and anyway, I was so out of it that I didn't even notice Sileo stop, or that the road was getting rougher, or even that the path took a sudden dip. Of course, you have to be pretty thick not to notice when the scenery up ahead goes from "flat smooth grassland" to "holy crap that's a huge crater" at one point or another. I caught on and skidded to a halt just a few feet away from the ledge.

    Whew. I moved forward to peer down the slope. The road was completely demolished, but I could see it picking up again at the opposite end of the massive valley. The tall grass thinned out once you got near the slope--the crater itself was nothing more than dry dust and chunks of rock. There seemed to be a pile of large stones in the middle of the indent; they must have ended up there after whatever had made this huge pit in the ground had... well, made that huge pit in the ground. I glanced over to Sileo. It seemed safe enough, but climbing back up the walls of the crater would be a huge pain. It would probably be easier to go around, even if the thing was pretty massive. The green place would wait, and it wouldn't take all that long to...

    Whoops, never mind. Sileo leaped down into the valley, paws braced as he slid against the loose dirt. I tried to protest, but my voice could only manage a weird little wheezy noise, which Sileo didn't even hear. Great. I heaved a sigh, shrugged, and jumped down. I didn't quite manage it as gracefully as Sileo, though. The dirt was all loose and crumbly; I trotted for maybe two steps before I lost my footing and ended up sliding down the incline on my belly. Oof. Good thing Sileo was the only one around to see that. I could see the amused little glint in his eyes once he finally managed to tiptoe his way to the bottom, so I stuck out my tongue at him. Cheeky.

    With both my pride and my stomach feeling a teensy bit sore, I stuck my nose in the air and made my way over to the large rock pile that marked the center of the crater. Which was, for what it's worth, a longer walk that I thought it would be. Sileo caught up with me about halfway, grinning like an Aipom the whole time. How is it even possible for somebody to make fun of you without saying anything, anyway? Augh. I decided to just ignore him and keep trying to salvage what was left of my ego.

    Then I noticed something. A glimpse of yellow amidst the rocks up ahead. That gave me something to distract myself with, so I broke into a run and scrambled up the uneven pile. Up near the top, shaded by a large stone that jutted out at an angle... it was an Abra. It lay stomach-down on the flat rock, and for a second, I thought it might have been dead. I crept a little closer, and that was about when I noticed its scrawny torso rising and falling steadily. Breathing--so it was only asleep, huh? Yeah, I'd heard that all Abras ever did was snooze. Even so, they still knew to Teleport away the second anybody got close to them. So why hadn't this one blinked away yet?

    The sound of shifting rock to my left alerted me that Sileo had caught up. He studied the Abra for a second, too, then glanced over to me. What was he looking at me for, anyway? He wasn't expecting me to say hi, was he? Because with my voice totally shot, that wasn't happening. Well... I figured I'd just get it to Teleport, then our problem would be solved. I slowly approached, waiting for it to poof away in a cloud of smoke or whatever teleportation was supposed to look like.

    It just sat there.

    Finally, I got close enough to extend one of my forelegs and give the Abra a good, hard poke to the head. It didn't poof away, but the minute I touched it, a sudden idea came to me. Or... not an idea, really. Just a word: kajortoq. Which was... really weird. Because I'm pretty sure kajortoq isn't a word. Not one I've ever heard of, anyway. I shook it off and decided to poke the Abra again. Poke. Kajortoq. There I went again, thinking up some nonsense word. Um... unless that wasn't me at all? Abras were psychic Pokemon, right? Maybe that was telepathy in action. I glanced over my shoulder at Sileo, but he just stared impatiently. Obviously he wasn't thinking "kajortoq" over and over. If it was telepathy, then, it looked like I was the only one this thing was talking to.

    And for what it was worth, that was some crappy telepathy. I would have figured it to be an echoing voice in your head, but this wasn't any different than thinking. Except this Abra was thinking for me. I guess. If that made any sense. But still... kajortoq? What kind of language was that? This time, I lowered my paw and nuzzled the Abra curiously, seeing if that would net me anything else.



    Okay, this wasn't getting me anywhere. I looked over at Sileo again. He cocked his head and rolled his eyes. Obviously he was wondering when I was going to finish fooling around and get going again. He probably figured I was going to make this Abra into a nice little snack--one Farfetch'd between two fully-evolved Pokemon isn't exactly a feast. But even so, I wasn't feeling all that hungry. One duck might not have been much for a starving Vaporeon, but it felt more like I'd eaten a Dodrio than a Farfetch'd. I wasn't poking away at this thing because I was feeling peckish.

    So what was I doing, then? The whole "kajortoq" thing wasn't all that amusing. Just confusing as all get-out. May as well just ditch the Abra and keep going, right? But... I couldn't help wondering why it didn't Teleport. That was all Abras were good for, aside from napping. Maybe it was too tired to Teleport? Maybe it just didn't know how. Wow... that would be the ultimate failure among all Abras. I looked over at Sileo one more time, then bent down and nosed under the Abra, carefully sliding it onto my back. It laid there like a sack of potatoes, but it wasn't all that heavy.

    And, of course, my efforts earned me another hearty kajortoq.

    With that, I carefully made my way down the rock heap, Sileo following suit. He shot me a puzzled look as we headed for the opposite side of the crater, but I just shrugged. The best I could, anyway, while walking with an Abra squishing the fin running down my spine. It's not that easy. Try it sometime.

    Well, at any rate, the Abra made three. Go figure we'd pick up another silent friend. Unless making you think "kajortoq" counted as conversation, of course. Still, silence wasn't so bad when you had company. Being only Aonyx wasn't half as nice as being Aonyx, Sileo, and...

    What was the Abra's name?

    I lifted my head in an attempt to look at the little thing, which is kinda hard when you have a big neck frill in the way. My frill brushed against Abra's cheek, though, and--you guessed it--the thought came again.



    Okay, being only Aonyx wasn't half as nice as being Aonyx, Sileo, and Kajortoq.
  6. Chapter Six
    Blue, Green, and Grey

    It's been a long time since we've spoken, Mom.

    Too long, I think. It's hard to judge the passing of time. The sun goes up, the sun goes down, it repeats forever and ever. I don't know how long ago it was that Lucasta and I joined the Grievers, but it must have been a long time. The days have been getting colder. Lucasta hopes for snow. Part of me wouldn't mind it either, really. It hasn't snowed ever since the day the sky fell and took you and Dad away. If it ever really does get cold enough for snow, then... maybe it's a sign that the world is getting better. That's what I think, but Tavi says that if the weather turns frigid, that will drive everything into hiding. The withering sun is bad enough, but he says the snow is worse. Prey will turn scarce. He talks like he leads a wolf pack, mother, not a bunch of misfit children.

    That's all the Grievers are, mother. You were always too smart for me to fool you, so there's no use denying it. We've done some growing up since the day Paracelsus first brought us to Tavi, and we like to think we're all independent and mature, but the fact still stands. Did you know Paracelsus is the oldest one out of all of us, Mom? I bet if he reached out with both arms he could barely scratch adulthood with his fingertips. Sometimes I think the rest of the Grievers annoy him. He gives good advice, but nobody ever seems to follow it. The only place his wisdom ever gets acknowledged is when we're planning a raid. Even then, Tavi always gets the final say.

    Tavi Tailswipe... he's really something, I'll give him that much. When we first met him, we were sure that he was way older than we were. Furrets grow up quickly, though. Really... he can't have more than a couple years on Lucasta and me. Even so, he could make a full-grown Pokemon shake. Tavi's a born leader if there ever was one. When he means business, he's all sparks and steel. He could wrestle a Metagross into submission and trick a Gengar. He's a little rough in his ways, but it suits him. Tavi's like the world itself. Dust-colored and drab and merciless. He has to be; he's got thirty orphaned children under his care. Thirty very tough children, mind; we don't call ourselves the Grievers because we sit around and grieve all day.

    I wonder if you'd be proud of me for this. I'm certain that you didn't raise me to be little more than a savage bandit, but the world is harsh when you're only two Pokemon. Once you learn how to navigate them, the underground tunnels are a godsend. You can strike from out of nowhere and be gone just as quickly. Tavi thinks that the tunnels used to be Dugtrio colonies long ago, but now they're the easiest way for thirty growing children to keep their bellies full. There are a few openings that lead to popular routes, Mom. All we have to do is wait and sooner or later something comes by. I asked Tavi why so many Pokemon always came by those routes, but he didn't really seem to want to answer me.

    "They're looking for someplace," he tells me.

    "Well, what's this place they're looking for?"

    "A nice grave, that's what." He gives the same answer every time, then stalks off to glower at somebody else for a while. Lucasta has such a way with Tavi; she'd get the story from him for sure. I've asked her to bring it up, but she always tells me that she doesn't care why the Pokemon follow those routes, as long as they keep coming. If I didn't know better, I'd say she just doesn't want to upset Tavi.

    In the end, I just wound up doing something I should have done from the start. I asked Paracelsus. We were sitting by the edge of the big underground lake, sharing a bag of dried fruit. The two of us sat next to each other, but we were both watching the lake. An Azurill and a Shellder had joined the Grievers a little while ago, but they always hid whenever somebody came by the lake. Considering how rare freshwater Pokemon are in this dry world, they spent a lot of time hiding. We were kind of hoping we might catch a glimpse or at least get in a hello or two. Not much luck, so you couldn't really blame me for wandering to the topic of the migrating Pokemon we victimized.

    "You don't know, Tayzel? Huh... I guess you're too old for bedtime stories, anyway."

    "Oh, come on. Beneath this skull rests the face of a tender, innocent child." I gave Paracelsus a friendly nudge, then snatched up another piece of dried fruit.

    "That's funny. I thought there'd be a flesh-devouring death god under there."

    "Ha ha, Paracelsus. It is to laugh. Now are you going to tell me or not?"

    "Eh... fine. But only because the watery ones might be listening." Paracelsus absently tossed a hunk of fruit into the water. I thought I saw a brief glimpse of a fin beneath the surface, snatching the tasty snack away. "They're going to the green place, Tayzel. Arceus isn't so cruel that he'd stand by and watch the whole world fall to bits. When everything was destroyed, he made sure one place remained totally untouched. There's no dust in the green place, just blue sky and fresh air and soft grass. Flower fields and tall trees to go climbing in and enough clean running water for everyone to live in or drink or... just splash around in. Nobody in the green place has to go hungry or worry about watching their backs. Even the Sevipers and Zangeese get along in the green place, that's what they say."

    Sevipers and Zangeese? I couldn't help taking that with a grain of salt. Still... it did sound nice. I wonder... is wherever you are anything like this green place, Mom? "So how come all the Pokemon follow the same road? How do they know that leads to the green place?"

    Paracelsus shrugged, razor teeth dismantling another bit of fruit. "Mmm... y'got me. If there's a surefire map to the green place, then I've never heard of it. The best I can venture is that it's just instinct. Like Seaking heading upriver in the fall, or Clefairy gathering under the full moon. Even the most human-spoiled Purugly has a part of them that's been kicking around since the days of the Relicanths. The skyfall was just a wakeup call for that voice, I guess."

    Huh. Made sense, right? I had to wonder how Paracelsus had managed to become so smart. There were no trainers to teach Pokemon things in this world, and nobody was old enough to be like his big brother or sister. Maybe Sableyes were just born clever. "Hey, Paracelsus... how come Tavi's never taken us towards the green place?"

    "How come...?" Paracelsus echoed. He was quiet for a minute, then he offered up his answer. "I don't think Tavi believes the green place exists. Besides, we've kind of got a green place of our own down here, don't we? The dust doesn't really reach this far down, and we've got all the water we'll ever need. No Griever is alone, and as long as there are Pokemon to ambush, we have enough to eat, too."

    I didn't say anything to that. It was true that we always had our basic needs covered here, and both Lucasta and I had made plenty of friends in the time we had spent among the Grievers. Underground wasn't all that much different from above, though. The only green things here were the Pokemon, and even when you memorize the tunnels, it's hard to ignore the dark. I looked down at the endless depths of the lake. For a second--only a second--I locked eyes with the Shellder. Then that purple shell snapped shut... right on its tongue. It reopened enough for the tongue to vanish within the shell, then snapped right back shut again.

    A moment later, and the Shellder slipped from sight, ducking into the safety of the murky blue.
  7. Chapter Seven
    And the Abra Makes Three

    The purpose of life is to bend.

    It's hard to keep track of the days; I can't say for certain how long I've walked with Aonyx and Kajortoq. Part of me feels like I've spent a lifetime putting one weary paw in front of the other, but when I think back on it, it seems more like we've somehow covered so much distance in a single week. The journey's changed us. It's been a gradual process, but we've bent under the heavy hand of this strange new world. When our search began, I was new and sleek and unlearned. Aonyx was everything dusty and withered. Having spent so long in a lonely world had turned him bitter and gnawed on his sanity. Now, though... either Aonyx was doing better or I was doing worse. Maybe we've met in the middle. I know my fur has lost the groomed gloss it used to have, and now the harsh black is dimmed by a light layer of dust. I must be thinner. We aren't exactly starving, though it isn't always easy to find enough game for three Pokemon. Aonyx looks a lot better. He's not quite so skinny anymore, even if he still is thin. He looks a lot happier, and that's done more for him than any amount of food ever could. It makes me glad to see him smile. When he's smiling, he's usually not talking. Aonyx hasn't got any less annoying, but he's still grown on me. Blame it on some weird post-apocalyptic form of Stockholm Syndrome, I suppose. I'd be much worse off without him and that Abra with me.

    Kajortoq... I don't know what to make of that thing. Aonyx positively adores it, though I can't for the life of me see why. The little beast is just a burden. All it does is sit on Aonyx's back, cling to his frill, and doze all day. We'd be better off ditching it; food is scarce enough with two mouths to feed, let alone three. Still, I can't exactly talk it over with Aonyx, and he seems happy enough carting dead weight around on his back all the time. He says that Kaj must have been in very bad shape when we found the nuisance. Apparently, Kaj sleeps less and speaks more, though I've never heard it breathe a word. Kaj speaks using telepathy, which automatically means I won't be having many deep discussions with it. Not that I particularly mind. I kind of enjoy the immunity to psychics that being a dark-type grants me; I've never been fond of having my brain picked.

    My immunity to Kajortoq has yet to deter Aonyx in the slightest, though. He never failed to let me in on the wonders of dragging along a useless, lazy Abra. "Oh, I wish you could hear it, Sileo! When Kaj first started, it wasn't like talking at all. Just like... ideas popping up in my brain all on their own. But now... it's just amazing. I can hear a whole other voice now, and there's other sounds and images and... it's like a movie in my brain. Kaj knows so much, too. It's really useful to have info about stuff, y'know? I mean, there's no way you could know anything I don't know, and I only really know about the city we left. Even if you did no more, Sileo, you couldn't really clue me in, could you?"

    No, I don't suppose I could. I flicked an ear in response, not taking my eyes off the road. Even after all this walking, that cracked expanse of asphalt still guided us forward. Aonyx, as usual, ignored any irritation my vague gesture had betrayed. "I didn't think so. I feel sorry for you, y'know that? Well, don't you worry. Any time Kaj lets me in on something important, I'll be sure to clue you in. Did you know that she's a wild Pokemon?" She, it, whatever. I still failed to find anything remotely interesting about that thing. "She was alive when the skyfall happened. She didn't have a trainer, or a pokeball to keep her safe. She lived, Sil, all by herself she managed to survive the same thing that wiped the humans out. Isn't that something?"

    Well, that caught my focus. My head snapped sharply to face Aonyx. His eyes were wide and alight with wonder. Behind the cover of his frill, Kaj watched me out of squinted eyes. Or... I think so, anyway. It was annoying, the way this thing never opened her eyes. It put me on edge. "Hah, I got your attention now, don't I?" Aonyx teased me, once again completely failing to get the big picture. My eyes widened and I bared my teeth, breaking my pace to give Aonyx a good, hard shove. What a twit! If Kajortoq had lived through the event that killed my human, then obviously she knew what had taken place! If he had half a brain he would have that irksome Abra singing like a Swablu about just what had happened.

    "Oww... hey! Careful, you just about knocked me over, pal." Aonyx grumbled under his breath. He'd gotten better at figuring out my silent cues, but sometimes his obliviousness lead me to desperate rounds of charades. I kept on badgering him with nudges, nips, and pointed stares, but still he failed to get the hint. To make it worse, Kajortoq kept watching me the whole time, half-hidden by that moronic Vaporeon's neck-frill. To call it vexing was an understatement. By the time I gave up, I was thoroughly frustrated and Aonyx was sore and unhappy. I could have been more gentle in conveying the importance of my question, but really... I sometimes thought I would have to forcibly pound some sense through that thick skull of his.

    Night came too soon. The dry plains that marked the first steps of our journey had given way to hills, but the sheltering tall grass was gone too. The earth was almost entirely empty, disrupted by a sparse patch of struggling plant life and the occasional twisted, barren tree. We had chosen one such tree, not too far from the road, to rest beneath for the night. Aonyx immediately went for a spot between two protruding roots. He carefully slid Kajortoq off his back, then curled up around her. His broad tail blocked his face from my sight--a sure sign he had no urge whatsoever to talk to me. My temper still burned too brightly for me to attempt an apology, so instead I stalked off to go look for some dinner.

    Hunting did little to ease my mood. There was almost no cover to speak of; on the off chance I spotted something moving, it'd be long gone by the time I got close enough to pounce. I kept up the search for at least an hour with no luck. Finally, though, fortune smiled down on me. Up ahead, sitting out in plain sight... a single Taillow was sitting at the top of a small hill, pecking and pulling at a Wurmple whose corpse had obviously seen better days. I crouched down low, barely daring to even breathe as I slowly crept forward. Farther... farther... the Taillow fluttered its wings abruptly. I froze. False alarm; the bird returned to trying to scavenge the dead worm. I poised myself, tensed.... pounced.

    Dead on.

    The Taillow squirmed and screeched beneath my forelegs. I tried to clamp down on the back of its throat, but a wing to the nose took me by surprise. "Hey, stop! What are you doing? Let me go right now, you punk! I'll peck your eyes out and shove them up your nose!" Well, the squirt got points for creativity, but threats weren't exactly persuading me to let go of supper. I wrinkled my sore nose, then steeled myself for another attempt. Taillow refused to give up, though. "Mama! Anyone! Help, he's gonna eat me! Show this brute who's boss of the skies!!"

    Mama? Well, that was a whole can of Weedles right there. A Swellow and a Taillow would be enough to feed not only me, but Aonyx and that leech Kajortoq. I lifted one of my forelegs and swatted the Taillow in the back of its head. Not enough to kill quite yet, but I needed to put it out of commission quickly while I waited for mumsy dearest to put on an appearance. A flailing little birdie was one thing, but a full-grown Swellow was another. Besides, mother would fight all that much harder if her child was still alive. Another swipe of my paw knocked the unconscious Taillow out of the way. All that was left was to wait.

    Off in the distance, I could hear the steady sound of wingbeats.

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