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February 19th, 2008 (6:31 PM). Edited April 8th, 2008 by Saffire Persian.
Feline of Light and Shadow
Here's the next installment. Feel free to point out any mistakes. Comments, critique, and criticism are also welcomed. Also, keep in mind that while Orre's army's ranking system is based off the United States, there are a few things that are going to be
different, mostly to do with the number of men in a squad, etc. Also, some of the Orre-Sinnoh stuff brought up in this chapter are not necessarily cannon, game-wise, though it has the potential to be. Just keep that in mind.
Chapter 1: Ante Bellum
There were times of justice and peace
Or was it just a dream?
Golden ages – joyful and free
So far away it seems
But the sound of laughter –
Still ringing in their ears
If there’s no here after –
Time will turn a page
And Seal it with a tear –
– Fair Warning
Three Years Ago
The morning came much sooner than expected. The Dodrio’s bugle call rang across the military camp at exactly 0400 hours, rousing the entire military platoon from their cots, forcing them to greet the morning that had yet to rise. Having had training like this for a good six years prior, Staff Sergeant Edward Lawson had long since gotten used to the early-morning routine and got up without complaint and began to dress. The other men who Edward shared his tent with also began to rise—all save one:
Corporal Francis Zev.
Edward barely managed to suppress a groan. The corporal was a fledgling recruit, fresh and bright-eyed from the military academy in Diatreme, an army-run city about forty miles from Gateon Port. This was his first time out on the field. The sergeant didn’t quite know how he had gotten stuck with such a doe-eyed recruit in the first place. Edward certainly hadn’t requested anyone new to be added to his squad; he had enough people to look after already. Being a staff sergeant, he had to check periodically on the other squads as well as keep tabs on his own. Adding this blond one to the mix displeased him.
How the boy had even gotten to his present rank with his current attitude and behavior in such a short time frame, Edward could only guess. Corporal Zev did not, in Edward’s opinion, possess the qualities needed for someone of his rank. Zev was supposed to be an example of a well-trained officer, not a half-trained idiot. If Edward had been a betting man, he would have placed all the money he owned upon the boy’s parents for his success. Somebody with money or a good deal of influence had to be pulling the military’s invisible strings.
Edward knew very little about the Zev family. He hadn’t put in much effort to find out, nor did he really care to know. What he
know, however, was that Corporal Zev came from a family hailing from Gateon Port, a bustling city known for its opulence. Just living there entailed that you likely had a higher standard of living than a good percentage of Orre’s general population. Gateon was the prime place for commerce, and it got a lot of traffic, especially from Hoenn. Business was always booming there, and it was a favorite vacation spot for tourists—one of the
vacation spots Orre had to offer besides Agate—unless, of course, you were interested in seeing the old coliseum ruins scattered about Orre. The coliseums were a lasting “tribute” to Orre’s violent past, and, if you believed the legends, the origin of Orre’s curse.
Even had that bit of information of Zev’s home being in Gateon been a mere rumor, Edward would have swallowed the idea that he came from a well-to-do family easily. His parents
to be rich, if the Luxio that was currently laying on the boy’s chest was any indication. Pokémon were expensive enough as it was. What kind and how many you owned were as much of a status symbol of wealth and power in Orre as how big of a house you owned was. The Luxray-line itself was an especially rare commodity. Importing those beasts were expensive, even as Shinx. The military would want her more than it would want Zev.
In fact, the Military contract that Zev had signed had probably included a clause that stated the beast was to become the military's exclusive property if Zev ever had the misfortune of dying, along with any other pokémon he currently owned at the time of his passing. Edward highly doubted the Corporal would even bother to read the fine print.
“Can’t you wake him up?” Edward asked the Luxio, christened Storm, resting on Zev’s chest. She stared at him. Her sharp looks always had the tendency to be somewhat unnerving. They reminded him of Miranda – a woman whom he had known since his childhood days. Their resemblance to one another was uncanny.
The Luxio yawned, her yawn quickly morphing into a sly half-grin as she buried her muzzle back into her paws.
Private Tyrus Reed merely rolled his eyes as he buttoned up his uniform. “They’re both just a pair of damn lazy--"
“Just ignore him,” Private Adam Pryce cut in with a snort, quickly throwing his shirt on his well-muscled body, the light from the lamps bright. “He’ll realize we’re leaving once we collapse the tent on him. If that doesn’t work, he and his damn cat will suffocate and all our problems will be taken care of.”
The Luxio’s star-tufted tail twitched, her eyes narrowing.
Edward quickly grabbed the pokéball that contained his Growlithe off the collapsible table, clipping it onto his belt. The other two men followed suite – Pryce clipped two, while Reed clipped six.
“That sounds all well and good,” Edward replied after making sure the pokéball was secure, “but unlike you, I have my reputation to worry about.”
wake him up,” Reed mumbled, walking towards Zev’s cot. Storm spat and hissed in warning, but Reed’s mind was already made up. With a well-placed kick, Reed sent the cot and its occupants tumbling onto the floor with a metallic crash.
Storm yowled, flickers of electricity lighting up the patches of dark, while Corporeal Zev stirred, groaning. It wasn’t long before he sat up, trying to tame his fly-away hair with one hand, while trying to restrain the yowling Storm with the other. He still looked groggy.
“Hey... What was that for?”
The Luxio bared her fangs. “Rrrio!”
Reed sneered. “Wouldn’t want you to miss breakfast.”
“Ah…” Zev’s eyes lit up a little. Storm continued to hiss and spit. “Well, thanks, man.”
Reed’s sneer deepened, brows creasing in disgust as he walked out of the tent, shaking his head, Pryce quick on his heels. "Whatever.”
Edward sighed, watching Zev tip his cot back up with his unoccupied hand. “You have five minutes,” he said, walking out of the tent.
The outside of the camp was a maelstrom of activity. It took only minutes after the Dodrio’s summoning call for the camp to come alive. It was like a Beedrill hive: a mix of chaos and order. A few late stragglers filtered out of their tents at random intervals, while a plethora of pokémon darted to-and fro between their legs. Edward held his place in the breakfast line, plastic tray and metal utensils in hand. Eating wasn’t really a pleasure anymore, just another necessity. It was the same routine every day, over and over and over. The food itself rarely seemed to change. He could smell the sizzling bacon, eggs, and hash browns.
Same as usual.
He moved through the line on auto-pilot, food quickly slapped on his tray as he moved on. The cooks had a whole platoon to serve and a limited time-frame in which to do it, making it little more than an assembly line. That didn’t annoy Edward much; he could play the role of a near-mindless drone, allowing his mind instead to wander over the things that were far more important than how big his serving of hash browns was.
They would be at the very edge of Orre’s desert by late afternoon. The next day, Edward would be eating sand with his squad for the next two weeks. That troubled him. Most of the new recruits didn’t know what was coming, but the more seasoned soldiers did: it was the annual training mission through the Orrean desert with only barely adequate supplies, a map, compass, and your squad. The goal – if you could call it that – was simple: get to your destination as quickly as possible.
It was harder than it sounded.
The desert had been Edward’s acquaintance for five years now. He knew it well. He could live and travel within it for a good deal of time with the right supplies. The desert and its many secrets didn’t worry him, the men who made up his squad did. Somehow, the brass had decided to load him with a handful of new soldiers who hadn’t even been in the desert once—and if those recruits were a handful in normal circumstances, then they would be even more troublesome in a desert that wasn’t kind to those who weren’t adequately prepared. Even in May, the desert was always blazing in the afternoon and cold in the evenings.
Grabbing a box of orange juice as the final ingredient to his meal, Edward walked to one of the aluminum tables in the far corner of cafeteria tent, sitting down while trying to block out the unimportant background noise—the ceaseless chatter, the clattering of plates, the miffed complaints of soldiers that hadn’t gotten as much as they wanted to eat –
“Sir.” Edward barely raised his head to look up. He recognized the voice immediately. Corporal Catherine Mae. Part of his squad. One of the only two members of the female sex under his immediate command.
“Mind if I sit down?”
Edward nodded once. Just another part of the routine. “Feel free.”
“We’ll be arriving at the edge of the desert today.”
He swallowed a forkful of his hash browns, grimacing. They tasted like sand already. “I know.”
The corporal bit her lip, using her knife and fork to cut up the hash browns and eggs into perfect, equal-sized pieces. “Well...”
“Something troubling you?”
“I don’t think Valery’s ready.”
Private Valery Salem. Black-haired, green-eyed, pale-faced. The one who insisted on having those red-painted fingernails. That woman. She was one of the new additions to his squad. “No one’s ready for the desert their first time.”
“I know, Sir.” The food was in even more finely cut pieces now. “But I still don’t think she’s ready. She’s only here because her father made her. She doesn’t want to displease him, but…” A disapproving glint shone in the corporal’s eyes before vanishing. “She shouldn’t be here, Sir.”
“She’s seems to do well, regardless,” Edward said. “And we’re not in the middle of a war.”
Catherine grimaced and made an odd face.
“You’re not going to offend me by whatever it is you’re thinking of saying, you should know that by now.”
He and Catherine had known each other for years, ever since he graduated from the military training academy at twenty-one. They had been equal in rank not too long ago, and had fought together at the Orre-Sinnoh border before the treaty had been signed two years ago.
“Then with all due respect, Sir,” Catherine replied, meeting his eyes and holding his gaze, “you don’t share a tent with her.”
“You’re suggesting I find a way to excuse her from her position then?”
She continued to maintain eye contact, but didn’t respond. Her eyes were answer enough.
Edward sighed. “If she worries you that much, I’ll see what I can do. I’m sure I can talk with Lieutenant Thurston before we’re Teleported tomorrow...”
Catherine nodded her head, a relieved look entering into her blue eyes now. “Tha—“
“Ed! Cat! Hey!”
Now that voice he could recognize even if it were hidden in a crowd of millions. Edward’s face immediately contorted into a half-grimace as Corporal Zev made his merry way towards their table, his Luxio trailing just behind. He shot Catherine a look.
him call you that?”
She gave him a long, hard stare. “No. Do
Edward continued to watch the Corporal out of the corner of his eyes. “Not within earshot I don’t.”
“Hey, I thought I’d find you here, Edward!” Zev said, now appearing to be fully alert. His hair was still a bit of a mess, but a more tame than it had been. “You always sit at a corner table…”
And Edward had a very good reason for doing so.
“I’d prefer you not address me or Corporal Mae so casually.” Edward kept his voice firmly level. “It’s disrespectful.”
“But it makes it sounds like we’re so distant…” Zev replied. “It’s weird.”
Edward sighed. It was probably better he not pursue the topic.
“I’m surprised you’re not with Private Pryce and Private Reed, Corporal…” Edward began in as casual of a tone as he could, grudgingly making room for Zev to slide in beside him. The Luxio quickly jumped onto Zev’s lap, eying the bacon with more than just a passing interest. “I’m sure they would have enjoyed your company.”
“Wasn’ room,” Zev replied through a mouthful of food. “Ty said I should just go ‘n sit by you guys instead.”
The Luxio tilted her head upward, her nose brushing the Corporal’s chin as he leaned over his tray. “Liooo.”
The bacon on Zev’s plate immediately disappeared into Storm’s gaping mouth.
“Shouldn’t your Luxio be with the other pokémon?” Edward said, not bothering to conceal his irritation as he jerked his head toward the East side of camp, where all the other pokémon were being fed the standard fare. Edward was quite sure he could hear Ami’s barks as she badgered the other Growlithe into giving her their share of food. “Or has she actually eaten already?”
“Storm doesn’t like whatever it is they’re feeding the other pokémon. She won’t eat it,” Zev explained. Storm growled in agreement, her growl accentuated by the crunching sound of bacon. “And I’ve run out of the food my parents sent for her. She refuses eat anything else, so I figured I’d just let her have some of mine, right? She likes it and I did it all the time at home.” Zev blinked up at Edward. “That’s okay… isn’t it?”
“There’s nothing against it,” Edward admitted, wishing there were, “but we’re covering a bit of terrain today to get to the rendezvous point. You can’t get seconds.”
“I know,” Zev answered, voice muffled, “But we’ll be back at the base soon...” The young man looked up at Edward again. “…Right?”
Every time Edward had the good fortune of talking with Zev, he always felt like he was needlessly repeating himself. “Not anytime soon.”
The Luxio was now eying the eggs with her greedy yellow eyes, and it wasn’t long before they too disappeared.
The desert certainly brought back memories, most of which Edward would rather forget. They weren’t at its heart yet, not even at its edge, but Edward had been down this particular road many times before, and he knew they were getting close. He moved at an even, steady pace, walking just off to the side of his five-man squad, keeping as casual tab on them as they consorted with the men and woman from the other squads. Given that the circumstances were less than formal, and the road was as desolate and empty as the rest of the desert was bound to be, the fifty-or-so-manned platoon looked less like a company of professional soldiers and more like a group of school children on a field trip, talking and having as good of a time as they could in the slowly emerging morning light.
The lack of organization annoyed Edward somewhat. Granted, they weren’t in any real danger of being attacked, so everyone being so carefree and careless would hardly bring about the apocalypse, but the lack of structure always made it seem like no one was taking their job seriously, and their profession – if one could call it that – was not something to be taken lightly. There was no war, as there had been when Edward first joined the military, but there would be. The relations between Sinnoh and Orre were shaky; the treaty that kept the two armies apart was less of a string that bound them together in mutual goodwill, and more like an elastic waiting to snap. As such, war was not a matter of if – at least not to Edward – but when. He didn’t want any of the men and women he was given charge over to be unprepared for what lay ahead in the near future.
If Edward had it his way, they would all be marching in a perfect line, like a proper army, but his superior officer who presided over the whole platoon, Second Lieutenant Clarissa Thurston, was far more lenient than he over such matters. The lieutenant was a large woman with broad shoulders who reminded him of a Glalie. It used to be a common joke that the lieutenant was a descendant from the ice-raiders from the northern-most part of Sinnoh until the men in question realized that it might very well be true. Still, beneath her hardened exterior, Clarissa Thurston was a woman who knew morale was important factor to those she had command over, and thus let them have their fun when the situation permitted it.
Edward grimaced, catching Corporal Zev trying to mingle with a few soldiers from Sergeant Evan’s squad while Storm weaved through the mess of people trying not to get her tail stepped on. Edward pitied the man who did. The soldiers gave Zev roughly the same reception as the men from his own team did.
He turned to Corporal Catherine, one of the few individuals who did not insist of making a party out of the whole occasion. She was quietly talking to Private Salem, however. “Keep watch over them, will you?” he said, catching her attention. “I have some business to attend to with Lieutenant Thurston.”
She met his eyes, nodding, looking both pleased and relieved. “Yes, sir.”
He nodded back to her once, before picking up his pace. As always, Thurston was at the head of the platoon, just off to the side, keeping a casual, but nevertheless careful watch.
“Lieutenant Thurston,” he finally voiced as he came within earshot. She turned, eying him briefly as he fell into pace beside her. “I wondered if I could have a word.”
“If this is about how you feel about our method of traveling, Lawson,”—the lieutenant rolled her eyes—“I’d prefer you keep your feelings about it to yourself. They’re about to get stuck in the desert for weeks, Sergeant, let them enjoy themselves while they can. I’ll have them marching like ants before we get to the rendezvous point.”
“My business has nothing to do with that particular matter,” he replied, grinning despite himself. “Though the thought
come to mind.”
A faint smile tugged at the corners the Lieutenant’s lips. “Well then, let’s hear your concerns.”
He would be blunt and to the point. No reason to do anything less. “Are you familiar with Valery Salem?”
The Lieutenant barely moved her head, keeping her eyes trained on the road in front of her. “The old general’s daughter? Of course. The higher-ups are hoping she inherited her father’s military genius.”
“Whether she did or not, I don’t believe she’s cut out to a soldier.”
If the lieutenant was surprised, she didn’t show it. “Really? What makes you say that?”
“She’s only here because of her father,” Edward said, recalling all the things Catherine had told him, most of which was left unsaid, but hinted at. “There’s nothing wrong with her physically that I’ve noticed, but…”
“She’s not happy here?”
“I wondered…” Clarissa began, hesitating. “I did wonder about the her reasons for joining. I was under the assumption that the girl probably just had the same passion for the military as her father.”
“He made her enlist”—Edward frowned—“or at least manipulated her into doing so, I believe. She said she didn’t want to displease him—”
you that?” the Lieutenant cut in, her voice rising from its normally low pitch. “I haven’t really spent time with the girl, but when I interviewed her when she was put into my platoon, she seemed like she was the type of person to keep things to herself, not the type to divulge much of anything.” She paused, giving him a brief, penetrating glance. “And forgive me for saying so, but you’re also not the type to ask, Lawson. Did she come to you?”
“Well, no,” Edward admitted. “She didn’t tell
anything. Whatever she told, she told to Corporal Mae. It was the corporal herself who, in turn, reported her concerns to me. The corporal mentioned that she didn’t think Private Salem fit in with this lifestyle, that she shouldn’t be here, and the subject was worrying her greatly.”
“Ah, so it was Corporal Mae.” The Lieutenant nodded her head twice in quick succession. “That makes more sense. She’d be one to notice those types of things now, wouldn’t she? I probably would have thought the girl was just discontent—it takes a while for anyone to get used to this sort of lifestyle— but the Corporal’s got some good eyes on her now.” The lieutenant’s blue eyes softened. “Probably wants to save the girl before another war starts.”
Edward grunted. “Probably.” Over to the left, one of the men roared in laughter over some joke.
” Clarissa sighed a few moments later, pulling a string of blonde hair back behind her shoulders as she continued to walk. “Well, if it worries her that much then I suppose I had better look into it… By the way,”—she was giving him her full attention now— “after the corporal had finished telling you this, did you take the time to talk to the girl yourself?”
Edward shook his head, watching the sun as it continued to ascend into the cloudless sky. “No, Ma’am.”
The lieutenant closed her eyes, face angled downwards as she shook her head, a quiet half-laugh coming from her. “I understand you hold Corporal Mae’s judgment in very high regard, Lawson, but you can’t rely on her or anyone else to always see and report things that are going on right in front of your eyes—and in your own squad, especially—nor should you. You need to ascertain these things for yourself before you report them to your superior officers. You’ve got a good head on your shoulders, Lawson, and goodness knows you’re more experienced in this field of work than most of them, but your job isn’t to only keep them calm when you’ve got bullets flying at you. You understand me, Lawson?”
He nodded, only once.
“I’m relieved to hear that,” she said, a thin smile flitting across her face, as she waved her hand dismissively. “With that out of the way, I will give some consideration to the matter, as I said previously, but I want you to talk to the girl yourself and see if you can get anything else out of her. If being here really is causing her problems, I’ll see if I can do something to remove her to a more fitting location. I can’t just discharge her from the military over something like this after she signed the contract; however, I could probably assign her to some job within the military that wouldn’t require her to be on the field. I’m sure that would appease her father as well, if he is the source of the problem. But I don’t want to do this hastily, Lawson,”—She fixed him with another of her hard stares— “so you make
you talk to her tonight and set thing straight. Tell her about the sort of job I’m offering her as well. Let her know what she’d be getting into.”
“Good.” She exhaled the breath she had been holding. “Now, Lawson, perhaps there’s something you can do for me in return.”
He squinted at the coming sunlight. “Oh?”
“I have a certain private that goes by the name of Morgan Audrey who needs to be transferred to another squad. She’s currently under Sergeant Howe’s command, and her current arrangements just won’t do.”
“She doesn’t get along with her teammates?”
“Not exactly, no. Audrey is a very amicable girl, resourceful, experienced, intelligent—you wouldn’t have to deal with another new recruit in your squad if you took her, Sergeant.” They exchanged knowing glances. “Useful as she is, it seems like her squad has a hard time dealing with the fact that the she’s female. I can imagine you can see where I’m going with this?” A nod. “Because of that, Audrey has to put up with some of the most
comments I have ever heard—all of them coming from a bunch of imbeciles who think they can score a night with her. And I for one won’t stand for it—not while they’re under my command.”
Both Edward and Thurston wore identical grimaces. Edward had known quite a few men like that in his time and he hadn’t enjoyed working with them as much as he enjoyed complaining about them. Edward grinned inwardly. He could see Miranda’s face already. She had a particularly unique way of referring to men like them. “I see.”
“Would you be willing to take the girl?”
Edward nodded in assent. “I don’t have any objections to the matter.”
“Good.” The Lieutenant sped up her pace. “Then I’ll inform her of the transfer and bring her around to your camp tonight once everything gets set-up. Make absolutely sure you talk to that Salem girl before I arrive, Lawson. You can inform me of your opinions on that matter then, and I’ll remove her from your squad if need be.”
He bowed his head. “Ma’am.”
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