[SWC] The Beastman
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July 28th, 2011, 06:40 AM
Gone. May or may not return.
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
My entry for the 1011 Get-together Short Writing Competition, with a few edits. The prompt was 'cast aside', and I rate it 15 to be on the safe side, mostly because of Celebi, but also because there is some violence and swearing, in small but highly concentrated doses.
Why use Ice-types? That's a question I get asked a lot. Why do Gym Leaders, Elite Four members – why do we pick a type and stick to it so rigidly, when a mixed team is so much stronger?
Part of it is skill, of course. It's much more challenging to beat people when you're committed to only one type. But for me at least, there's more. I wanted to remember something amazing that happened to me a long time ago, just a couple of years after I’d started out as a Trainer. There was a plain of ice, and a boy who lived there...
Memoirs of an Ice Master
“I have to hand it to you, most people don't get this far.”
Two figures were facing each other, either side of a desk in a small wooden hut somewhere in a forest. Birdsong drifted in at the door, lingered for a moment to observe the proceedings and wandered out of the window.
“Well, I had some help.”
The shorter figure grimaced.
“You don't say... All right, then, let's get this over with.” She sighed. “I suppose I’d better draw up a contract. What exactly are you after?”
“I want to see the beginning,” replied her opposite. “I want to see how Pokémon Training began...”
There was a blizzard that night, and they said the mountain god was angry.
Around the hall, the wind howled and raged, hammering fists of ice on each wall and door; the snow piled up in great white drifts against each hut, as if trying to force entry through its own weight. Occasionally, the wind would die down for a moment, and silence would fall over the village – but then, when it saw no one was fooled into opening their door, the wind would explode in a fury again, and return to battering at the doors and screaming abuse.
I knew that there was a god in the mountains, a fearsome and short-tempered being whose foul temper waxed with the shortening days; nothing would stop him except the coming of spring, when, in accordance with the Law, he would be calmed by the waking of the spring goddess. I had heard the story a thousand times from the elders of the tribe, and on nights like this I knew it was true.
But tonight, as I lay in the children’s hut, freezing despite the fire, there was more than snow to think about. Tonight, I was afraid for my life.
You see, it was widely accepted amongst the tribe that I was to be the next Shaman. I was small, fast,
– I had already invented a new sort of knot, which had doubled the amount of time we could expect our axe-heads to remain attached to the haft. My life was set, my fortunes were good; I would be protected and fed by the tribe for as long as I lived, in return for the services only I could provide. I would be trained by Elesi, our current Shaman, and taught to talk with the spirits of our ancestors, and heal wounds, and all the other things a Shaman needed to do for their tribe.
But tomorrow, that could all disappear. My future could go up in smoke, cut off before it began on the point of a Great Beast's tusk, or between the scything blades of a chopperbug. Tomorrow, I had to prove myself, and progress from child to man; tomorrow, I had to go out with the other children of the tribe who were approaching their fourteenth summer, and kill a Winter Wolf.
And I knew that I was going to die doing it.
I wasn't a pessimist. I just knew what I could and couldn't do, and killing a Winter Wolf fell into the latter category. Winter Wolves were bigger than the Summer ones, pure white and almost invisible against the snow; they moved in ragged packs and could take down even Great Beasts. I had no doubt that, put in front of one and told to kill it, I would have ended up dead in less than five minutes.
Of course, I wasn't the only one who had concerns. Every year that a new Shaman-child was forced to take the test, there were those who asked what would happen if they died: who would stop other tribes' Shamans stealing our dreams? Who would tell us when the gods and the ancestors were angry, and who would help us appease them?
But their objections went unheard. As a Shaman-child, I was already essentially Elesi's property; the decision rested with her, and she had said firmly that I was to go and kill a Wolf, regardless of my physical suitability. I’m almost certain that her reasoning was rather skewed, and ran like this: she had had to suffer through the adulthood Hunt as a child, and so she would be damned if she wasn't going to make her apprentice suffer through it as well.
I sat up in the dark, and looked around at the other children. They were all asleep, wrapped in their furs and arranged around the central fire. Every one of them, girl and boy alike, was a head taller than I was, and I knew from experience that they were all both four times as strong and four times as stupid as me. Before I had been identified as a future Shaman, I had tried to talk about what the significance of the gods might be to one of them; my words went over their head, but their fist hit mine squarely, and with almost enough force to knock me out. No, they would be all right, they could all kill Winter Wolves. But as for me...
I shivered, and drew my furs more tightly around myself. The wind's howl seemed to morph into a mocking laugh, and I lay back down and closed my eyes, hoping that this wasn't a sign that the mountain god wanted me to fail.
, said a little voice at the back of my head.
Don't forget that. You'll be killed for certain...
“Shut up,” I hissed to myself. “I'm – I’m going to survive at least!”
My words rang hollowly in my ears. It was a long time before I managed to sleep that night.
“Looks all right,” said one of the men, looking around and sniffing. He wiped his nose on the back of his arm and went on: “Shall we bring them out, then?”
“Yes,” replied another. “Better get back.”
They were standing at the edge of the forest; in summer, it was a wholesome riot of life, but now, in midwinter, it was a giant thicket of skeletal brown hands, reaching up to scratch the sky. From here, the four men had been looking out at the plains that stretched out to the east, and the faint dark line of the northern forest; after the blizzard, the landscape was pure white, undisturbed except for the slow pacing of an ice-tusked Great Beast herd in the distance. It would be difficult going for the children, but the snowstorm had abated, and so it was decided the Hunt could take place.
It was about a mile into the forest that the Virid village was to be found, a set of concentric circles of huts surrounding a central fire that was never put out except by the fiercest storms. Just north of the ever-fire – now extinguished by the blizzard – was the long hall where the strongest warriors of the tribe gathered; mostly men, but some women too. This was the men's destination, and as they entered, they dropped to one knee, for the Chief was in attendance, as was the Shaman and the head Warrior.
“Get up, get up,” said the Chief irritably. “This is a waste of my time. All I want to know is if we can go ahead with the Hunt.”
“Yes, O Chief,” replied one of the men.
“Good. Go and sit near the fire.” The Chief liked to get straight to the point, but he wasn't harsh by any means; a tribesman with the cold-rot was no use at all, and with five deaths already this winter, he didn't want to lose any more. “What do you think, Elesi?”
The Shaman was thirty-four, ancient by the standards of the time, and she was one of those people who were soured by old age rather than mellowed. Like Sirinian, she was irritated by the low intellect of those around her; unlike Sirinian, she tended to terrorise those people with her prodigious intelligence.
“I think we should get this over with,” she snapped. “If they have any brains at all, they'll be able to avoid the cold-rot.”
“What,” asked the Warrior, a broad-shouldered man by the name of Fet, “of the Shaman-child?”
For the briefest of moments, Elesi paused, then she shrugged.
“He's bright. He'll pull through.”
Fet raised bushy eyebrows, but said nothing.
“It's all decided, then?” asked the Chief, returning to his favourite topic, practical matters. “The Hunt is to go ahead today?”
“Yes, yes,” said Elesi, waving a hand. “Fine. Can I leave now? We've been here all night, and I need to relight the ever-fire.”
“I also say yes,” Fet added.
“Good. You can leave, Elesi. Fet, go and start the Hunt.”
Elesi stamped off through the snow, muttering to herself about wastes of her time and interesting new curses, and Fet gathered the warriors around him and headed for the children's hut.
The Chief gave an almighty sigh and went back to his hut. It was cold, and, if possible, he didn't want to leave his bed today.
I’m a light sleeper, and so are all the others, so they must have done it very carefully; I guess it was probably the most experienced woodsmen of the tribe, the ones who can move completely silently through even an autumn forest, who moved us.
For when I and the other children awoke, we were no longer in the children's hut. We were at the edge of the forest, in a lean-to shelter built up against one of the trees, and there was no one else around. That was how it went: we could not start from the village proper, since that would imply we were already adults, with the right to hunt from it. The method of avoiding this law had been devised a long time ago, and would remain unchanged forever: the children of the tribe were moved away and left in a temporary shelter, there to depart on the Hunt by themselves.
I was the first to wake, and for a long moment I sat there, heart racing. This was it. I had to leave now, and try to survive the winter cold and the wolves' teeth. Out of the doorway, I could see the snowfields stretching out ahead of me, a long expanse of perfect, silent white. Beyond them were the blue-grey silhouettes of the mountains, where the blizzard had come from. Everything seemed unnaturally still and calm; it was either my tension meddling with my senses, or the snow had killed off the ambient wildlife.
Someone stirred on the other side of the shelter, and I looked over towards them. It was a boy called Joam, who was a particular flavour of idiot that very few of the others could match – the sort of moron who would happily engage a dragon in a wrestling contest. Consequently, he was praised throughout the the tribe for his bravery.
“What the hell?” Joam said, looking around. “Where am I?”
“It's the Hunt,” I replied tiredly. “Look, there are spears in the corner.”
Joam glanced up at me, and his lips curled into something halfway between a smile and a sneer.
“Sirinian,” he said, almost laughing. “You're going to die.”
He got to his feet, grabbed a spear and headed out without a second word.
“Good morning to you too,” I muttered after his retreating back. “I like how, out of every combination of words possible, you picked the least witty one you could.” I stood up myself; I didn't want to be here when the others woke up, because then I'd have to listen to the same uninspired jibes over and over again. I grabbed a spear, and slunk out of the shelter.
The snow wasn't too deep, and my boots, fashioned from the hide of a Great Beast, were almost entirely waterproof, which kept the worst of it out. The furs I was wearing were more or less adequate insulation and so, since I was fairly well protected from the weather, all I needed to worry about was the actual process of killing a Winter Wolf.
Needless to say, I chose not to think about it.
“I mean, you could have said something much better,” I said to no one, continuing my muttered rant at Joam. “You might have chosen to say: 'Good luck, Sirinian' and then pause, and then say: 'You'll need it.'” I stopped for a moment to congratulate myself. That was quite a good one. “Or you could have said: 'Sirinian, take this spear. You're going to have to kill yourself so the wolves don't get you.' Actually, no. That one's not nearly as good.”
I walked on and thought harder, but it seemed to be a slow morning, and I couldn't think of anything else witty that Joam might have said.
“I suppose you could even have said: 'Good luck, Sirinian, and I hope you survive and bring back a wolf', if you wanted to be nice. Not that you do, of course, but there is always hope.”
Having run out of alternative responses for Joam, I was forced to turn my attention to the matter of killing a Winter Wolf, and came to a disconsolate halt in the middle of the snowfield.
“All right,” I said. I often spoke to myself; it came of there being only one other person around who was really clever enough to be worth speaking to, and that person being about as likeable as a rabid Mountain Beast. “The Winter Wolves usually live near the mountains. The quickest way to the foothills is to the north-east. Therefore...”
I set off north-east, acutely aware that I was walking to my doom but choosing not to think about it. Since the snow deepened as the plain sloped downwards, it was quite difficult to move – but even if I wasn't the strongest, I was still a member of the Virid tribe. I was still strong enough to walk. It was just that I was the worst at it.
Throughout the morning, I saw a few other children, distant dots on the snow; we all seemed to have chosen slightly different routes, wanting to be alone. I wouldn't have minded the help of someone stronger than myself, but no one else would have joined me: they all wanted the glory of killing a wolf by themselves.
It was several hours later, when the weak, watery sun was high in the sky, that I caught my first glimpse of any animals: a lone Terror Bird, hungry from the long winter, circling high above the plains. It must have measured six cubits from wingtip to wingtip, and it carried its beak pointing downwards, a razor-edged cone that could split open a man's skull in a second. When the bird pointed that beak at you, you were dead; only the very fastest archers could kill the Bird in time to escape it as it fell towards you like a stone, beak outstretched and spinning like a top...
I shivered. I'd seen a woman killed by a Terror Bird once. She might have been my mother, I’m not sure; no child of the Virid knows their parents, but I liked her enough that she could have been. The Bird had fallen down, and its beak had drilled into her head. Someone killed the monster soon afterwards – I remembered the brown ruff around its breast, full of arrows – but they never found enough pieces of her head to bury them all.
I snapped myself out of my reverie and crept on, hoping the Bird would miss me. A well-thrown spear would take it down, but only when it was low in the sky, and if it was low in the sky it was already falling. Besides, I wasn't strong enough to seriously harm the Bird. No, my best defence against it was being bony and a poor choice of meal. If it could see the ground from that high up, I guessed it must have good enough eyesight to tell I wasn't worth eating.
During the fourth hour after noon, the Terror Bird found something and spiralled down out of sight; I waited with bated breath, hoping it wasn't a human, and was rewarded with an agonized whinny: it had struck a treedeer or something. No one deserved to die under the beak of the Terror Bird. Not even Joam, though knowing him, he'd probably throw himself into the air to try and beat it up mid-dive.
When the sky started to darken, I stopped for the night; the others might be confident enough to carry on through the dark, but I was too afraid of the beasts that came out to hunt then to dare to do so. Most of them were afraid of fire, so I dug through the snow to find sticks, dried them as best as I could and lit one with the fire sac that Elesi had given me to mark my recognition as the future Shaman. It had been harvested from a baby dragon – only the foolhardy or the rare Shaman-Warriors dared to hunt adult dragons – and produced a little tongue of flame when squeezed hard. I cleared as wide an area of snow as I could, put some over the fire to melt for water, and sat down on the wet grass next to my little fire. The silence of the day was broken; I could hear the shrieks of trailfeathers retiring for the night, the distant rumble of a Mountain Beast venturing out of its cave to stalk the mountains' foothills, and even the ominous
of a pincerbug, prowling the snowy fields in pursuit of slow, weak prey like myself.
“Pincerbugs are scared of fire,” I told myself, but it didn't comfort me. Mountain Beasts weren't; their thick hides resisted flames to such an extent that they sometimes hunted dragons. “Mountain Beasts don't come into the plains.” I still didn't feel safe; my hand gripped the spear tightly. Then I was afraid I might snap it in half, so I loosened my grip – but then I didn't feel safe enough, and gripped it tightly again.
The moon was high in the sky before I managed to fall asleep, and even then I only slept fitfully, tossing and turning and waking up every few minutes to check that I still had all my limbs, that nothing was watching me from the darkness beyond the ring of firelight.
I started moving again as soon as dawn came, too scared to remain in one place any longer. I was afraid of the wolves I was heading towards, yes – but I was equally afraid of the beasts that might be intelligent enough to see my campfire and realise that it was the work of humans, the easiest prey on the plains.
As I walked, I became aware of how hungry I was. I felt like one of the nuts that the beetles laid their eggs in, the ones where the grub slowly gnaws away the innards until it is fat and bloated, and ready to burst out; the hunger inside me seemed to be running out of guts to eat.
“You're going to have to kill something,” I told myself. “It shouldn't be too hard. You've killed treedeer before, haven't you? There are bound to be some of them around. If not here, then in the foothills, where there are a few more trees.”
I kept talking to myself, half because I needed to talk and half because I was trying to distract myself from the hunger-grub in my belly. I only stopped talking an hour or so before noon, when I entered the foothills; here, the mountains loomed large and foggy in front of me and to my right, and there were small, scattered stands of pine trees dotted about the place.
The first herd I saw was thin and few in number, their white winter ruffs drooping listlessly and their tails hanging low. They were scraping at the snow with their antlers, trying to uncover some grass or shrubs, but they were having little luck.
I took a deep breath. Treedeer were peaceful on the whole – if they weren't male, they ran rather than charged you, and the males were weak in winter, having expended their energy at the autumnal rut – but they could be nasty. Those antlers were at their sharpest in winter, when the plants that grew on them were dead and gone, and there was nothing to cushion to blow; they could also deliver a bone-shattering kick, if cornered from behind.
“Stop worrying,” I whispered to myself. “You need to eat.”
The wind was in my direction, which was a blessing, and I carefully made myself as inconspicuous as possible. It is the first trick every Shaman-child learns: you fade away, become less noticeable, a mere shadow on the breeze. It works well on humans and on treedeer, with their limited eyesight; it fails when applied to Terror Birds or wolves, who have good eyes and noses respectively.
I crept closer, hugging the slope of the hill behind them; at the top was a stand of trees, and I slipped in between the pines. From here, I had a clear shot. The treedeer were moving from this hill to the next; all I had to do was take three steps forwards, arm back, bring my hand forwards and let go—
The deer caught the sudden movement and bolted, but, weak from the hard winter, they didn't move fast enough. One was spit through the hind leg by the spear, and it fell hard with the same anguished cry the Terror Bird had wrangled from one yesterday. The others were gone, galloping away over the hills, but I didn't care: I'd done it! I'd brought one down!
You need to kill it first
, a little voice reminded me, and I snapped my fingers.
“First things first,” I agreed, and hurried down to the fallen deer.
It was still thrashing, so I stood back until it had exhausted itself. It only took a few minutes, and then I was able to pull the spear free and slide it into the neck, pointing downwards towards the big veins and the heart. The treedeer made one last choking noise, kicked weakly at thin air, and lay still.
I could celebrate: I raised my hands in the air and did a little victory dance, which I’m glad no one was there to see. I’d done it! I’d actually killed something!
“It's only a treedeer,” I reminded myself as I got out my little stone knife and began to strip away the skin from the flank. “You've got a Winter Wolf to get next, and
a tough proposition.”
Soon, I had cut a generous portion of the deer's side out, and had built another fire to cook it over. I made sure to cook it in small pieces, so it wouldn't take too long; the longer I stayed here, the more time any predators out there had to notice the scent of blood and come for it. I washed the charred venison down with melted snow, and weighed up the pros and cons of staying here and ambushing a wolf when it came to investigate the dead deer. In the end, I had to decide against it: there was no guarantee that it would be a Winter Wolf that came, and even if it was, the wolf would probably be wary, realising that it would be stealing another predator's kill, and that the original hunter might not have gone far. No, it would be better to keep going, and try and pick up a lupine trail somewhere.
A short while after I’d set off again, I found exactly what I was looking for: a mess of pawprints, too large to be anything but those of Winter Wolves. My heart rate soared, but I drew on the confidence derived from my successful kill earlier that day and started to follow them.
The trail led north for a while, and north-east again; eventually, I crested a hill, and knew I’d found what the pack that made it was following.
In the valley beyond, about seven Great Beasts were lumbering along in their slow, stately way; their large pink noses were snuffling at the air, seeking out tubers to dig out of the snow with their tusks. To my astonishment, one of them had not brown fur, but a light shade of green: perhaps this was age, because he seemed to be the oldest and biggest of the herd, at nearly eight cubits high at the shoulder. One of his tusks was snapped off halfway along its length, and he looked like he had driven off more predators than I had ever even seen.
I knew that the Great Beasts' eyesight was bad, and there was no way they could have spotted the wolf pack – it took
a good minute to find them, and I have better eyesight than most. I started shaking uncontrollably; the spearhead wavered back and forth between my eyes. The Winter Wolves were right there. They were crouched on the hillside, just a few metres ahead of me, and I took five trembling steps back. Three cubits tall at the shoulder – taller than me, counting the head – they were huge, bulky beasts, almost invisible against the snow except for their blood-red eyes, squeezed almost closed for maximum camouflage. Their ears were flat against their heads, and the wide strip of thicker fur on their back emulated perfectly the wind-sculpted roughness of the snowdrifts.
“Oh gods,” I whispered to myself. “Oh gods oh gods oh gods...”
As if my muffled blasphemy had been a secret signal, the wolves sprang: with a flurry of barks and snarls, they burst from their hiding-place and threw themselves upon the smallest of the Great Beast herd. The Beasts swayed and bellowed in surprise, and they swung around to bring their giant tusks into play; the old green one charged with surprising speed and slammed his broken tusk into one wolf's neck before I could blink. It arced high through the air and crashed down a few paces before me, head lolling grotesquely.
By the time I’d torn my eyes away from the dead Winter Wolf, the battle was over: the wolves, routed, were fleeing to the south; I had no doubts that they would return, though, for the Great Beast they had attacked was on its side, breathing heavily and moaning softly. The old green Beast was standing by it, running its whole tusk gently over its side; at length, he seemed to decide that there was nothing to be done about the matter, and, raising his head, bellowed mournfully to the others. With just one backward glance, the remaining Great Beasts began to move away, eager to put as much distance between the wolves and themselves as they could.
I stood there for what seemed like an age, electrified with fear and shock. One thought kept playing through my mind, over and over again:
I have to kill
It wasn't possible. No, I couldn't do it. I would have to turn around right now and go back home, and perhaps I could make them see sense. There was no way I, a frail little Shaman-child, could ever hope to kill a Winter Wolf—
And then I had the idea.
It came to me in a blinding flash of genius, my first true taste of a Shaman's divine inspiration – or it might just have been relief mixing with my shock and reacting to create some strange, mind-shaking sensation of brilliance. Either way, it was clear to me that it was the best way out of the situation. I would have a Wolf, I would become a man, I would be able to return to the tribe with my head held high.
I would take the Wolf that the green Great Beast had killed for my own.
After all, it had been killed by a miraculous creature. I had never seen a green Great Beast before – in fact, I don't think anyone had. It must be a gift from the gods, who, seeing that here was a Shaman-child, one of their own, had been close to losing his life, had decided to intervene. They had chosen a divine beast to carry out their task to let me know that this was their doing.
“Yes,” I said aloud, “this is definitely what I’m supposed to do. Maybe... I expect it happens to all the Shaman-children like me.”
I knelt by the Winter Wolf's side, trying not to catch its eyes. They held a sort of savage fire even in death, and it put the wind up me. It looked young and thin, and its inexperience had probably been the cause of its death. In fact, I began to feel a sort of kinship with it; we were both rather overwhelmed youths trying to accomplish a task well outside our abilities. I even imagined it and the other wolves discussing their forthcoming hunt:
“So, what are we going after?” I thought the wolf might say.
“A Great Beast. Nothing major,” his friend could have replied nonchalantly.
“Oh. That's all right, then.”
Then they would have got to the scene, and the young wolf would have said:
“Oh. No. No. You expect me to kill one of
? Are you out of your minds?”
Yes, I knew this wolf well. I patted him on the head.
“Ah, friend,” I said. “I know how you feel, so... sorry about this.”
I drove the spear into his neck where the Great Beast's tusk had entered, making the hole more spear-shaped, and snapped the wooden shaft over my knee – no one would believe that I’d killed him without a struggle. To that end, I also gritted my teeth and scratched my hands and arms with the broken end of the spear, and then hit myself with it until I raised a few bruises.
“Ouch,” I said, striking myself on the cheek. “Still, you can't complain, Sirinian. Would you like to be bruised or be dead? All right,” I admitted, “I'd rather be bruised.” A few lines later, I got confused about which me was currently speaking, decided that I’d been beating myself for long enough and stood up. I threw away the now-useless spear shaft, leaving the head in the Winter Wolf's neck, and grabbed him by the legs. Pulling tentatively, I found his youth and leanness worked in my favour, and he slid easily over the snow.
I started to follow the trail of the wolves back towards the dead treedeer, half-hoping there'd still be some left for a victory feast; about an hour after I’d begun, it started to snow again, and I doubled my pace, trying to reach the end of the trail before it was entirely obscured. Luckily, I just about managed it, and from here I could see a few of my own footprints and the stand of pine trees from where I’d slain the deer. I made my way back, and as dusk was preparing to give way to night, I made camp under the shelter of the pine trees. Something big had picked over the dead deer fairly thoroughly, but there was a little meat left if you knew where to look, and I had myself a celebratory meal. I almost cried in relief: I had a dead Wolf, ostensibly killed by me; I had my life; I had all my limbs, and they were still attached to my body. Life was, for the time being, good.
I did worry a little that the tribe might see through the deception – but that was unthinkable, when I thought about it properly. None of them were half as clever as me, not even Elesi; there just wasn't anyone who could even conceive of someone doing as I had done, and cheating the Hunt. I was a Shaman-child, and I was smart. I clung to that like a drowning man clutches at the grass on the riverbank, and it seemed a good enough anchor-rope.
That night, I slept better. The area stank of Winter Wolf; there weren't many animals that would dare go after what smelled like wolves.
The following day was spent returning to the village. It was harder going this way, since I was travelling up the incline of the plains, and I was dragging a large dead weight behind me, but I managed to reach the edge of the forest by late afternoon. I was damned if I was going to spend another night outside the comfort and safety of the village, and so I pressed on. The forest was level, and the snow wasn't as thick; I reached the wall of wooden spikes that marked the outer limits of the village, and circled around to find an entrance point. The two men on guard had a strange mixture of relief and amusement on their faces when they saw me.
“Sirinian!” cried one. “You're back.”
“Yes.” There was no denying it: I was indeed back. “I am.”
“Ah, it's good,” he went on. “I don't like the idea of not having a Shaman.” He shivered. “It would be a dark time.”
The other guard made me feel less welcome.
“I'm not being funny,” he said, “but what do you call
“It's a dead Winter Wolf,” I told him, truthfully.
“And you're all covered in bruises, too,” he said, shaking his head. “Gods, that's pathetic. That's got to be the smallest Winter Wolf I’d ever seen.”
“I felt we had something in common,” I said coldly, and walked past him into the village proper.
The people who saw me paused in their business to watch; they looked alternately glad and pitying as they saw me and my prize.
“At least he's back,” I heard from one tribeswoman.
By the time I reached the ever-fire, I had worked out that I had been the last child back, which was embarrassing but not unexpected. I put the matter to one side and went to knock on the door of the village hall.
“Who is it?” came an irritable voice from within. “If this isn't about those Ice Bear claws—”
“O Chief,” I said, in my best ceremonial voice, “it is I, Sirinian the Shaman-child, returned from the Hunt.”
The door opened abruptly, and the Chief came out. He was quite old, in his late twenties, and he was tall and wiry, like one of the firehorses that came from the west in summer. He looked like he'd very recently been asleep, and he blinked at me in vague surprise.
“Couldn't get back any sooner, eh?” he asked.
“O Chief, I—”
“Never mind, you're here now. You look bad.”
“O Chief, I—”
“Well, get on with it. Show me the wolf.”
I dispensed with talk and slung the dead Winter Wolf onto the earth at his feet. He bent down and examined it, and suddenly I was gripped by a terrible fear that he would see the trick—
“All right,” he said. “I guess you're a man.”
I sighed softly in relief, and there was some scattered applause from those members of the tribe who'd come to watch.
“You!” the Chief snapped at a passing boy. “Go and fetch Elesi and Fet. They need to be here for this one.”
That was right, Shaman-children got the full treatment: all three of the tribe's leaders.
The Shaman and the Warrior arrived presently, and I smiled at each of them in turn, feeling pretty smug; I got a smile back from Fet, but Elesi stared at me as if I’d just offered her a handful of poisonous berries.
“Let's see the wolf,” Elesi muttered darkly, and she knelt to investigate. She pulled out the spearhead and scrutinised it, then shrugged and stood up. “Looks like you managed it,” she said begrudgingly.
“Excellent.” The Chief clapped his hands for attention. “Sirinian, future Shaman of the Virid—”
“Wait,” said Fet softly. “Not yet.”
My blood froze.
Oh no. No. Not now...
I couldn't move a muscle save for my eyes; they followed Fet as he bent down, as he picked up the spear and hauled the Wolf up to peer at the hole.
“Why,” asked Fet in a quiet, dangerous voice, “is this hole so wide and ragged?”
“I... the wolf struggled,” I managed. My heart was in my mouth, beating loud as a drum; it made it difficult to speak or breathe.
“I see. That would explain how it managed to break its neck.” Fet nodded, and I felt a wave of relief rush through me. My legs went wobbly, and I had to fight to stand up. “But,” he added, and I immediately locked up again, caught in an agony of suspense, “that doesn't tell me why it has also got a broken leg, and a broken spine.”
I felt every eye in attendance lock onto me, and sweat pricked my brow despite the cold.
“I – he was thrashing a lot, and we got caught between some trees—”
“Right,” Fet said. “Of course, as a hunter of some nine years' experience I would say he was caught in the neck by a Great Beast tusk and thrown, but evidently you know better.”
Time seemed to slow down as the Chief bent down to examine the corpse; he twisted the back of the wolf around, and it rotated fairly freely, disconnected from both head and hind legs.
“It's true,” the Chief said, and there was such darkness in his voice that even frozen as I was, I trembled. “Sirinian, you have cheated the tribe.” He looked at me, and I shrank back before his gaze. “Get out.”
“Get out!” he roared. “You are no longer a member of the Virid! Get out!”
“Chief—” began one of the warriors; it was the guard who had been glad of my return.
“Silence!” thundered the Chief. “Get out of the village, Sirinian!”
The stone knife moved from his belt to my left arm faster than I could fully comprehend; a long red line appeared from elbow to wrist, and I cried out, staggering backwards and almost falling into the fire.
“Get out of here,” the Chief said. His voice was quiet now, and infinitely more frightening. “Get out of here, and never return.”
There was nothing more to say. I turned, and I ran.
“How did he look?” asked the Chief. His face was expressionless.
“When? What do you mean?” the guard asked in return. He had been called from the northern gate shortly after Sirinian had left.
“When he left. How did he look?”
“Afraid,” replied the warrior. “Angry.”
The Chief closed his eyes.
“Good,” he said, and went inside.
I was screaming as I ran. I don't know what I screamed. If there were words, they were from somewhere deep inside me, in some primal language that had resided unspoken in my breast for years. I wasn't thinking – I couldn't think. There was no room in my head for anything except anger.
I don't think I was afraid at that point; my fear had dissolved into fury as I ran, and it hadn't yet crystallised back again. I was purely angry, and I was screaming my anger at the sky, at the snow, at the trees. Branches whipped my arms and legs, adding to my stock of bruises, but I didn't care; I just wanted to be away, to put as much distance between myself and those miserable, moronic strongmen as possible.
I stopped suddenly, and sent a few startled trailfeathers, too young to have grown the feathers they were named for, clattering into the sky.
“Oh gods,” I whispered. “I'll die without them.”
I couldn't defend myself, I couldn't handle the materials to build a decent shelter, I could barely survive a day or two in the snow. My anger faded and a horrible numb feeling settled over me. I had thought I was going to die on the Hunt. Now I knew better: I was to die here, alone, frozen to death. No one was going to help me. I sat down in the snow, ignoring the freezing water that soaked into my furs. This was it. My time was up.
I lay back, and felt the cold sink into me. I couldn't survive a day out here, and there was no reason to; the wound on my arm marked me out as an outlaw, and there was no tribe that could have taken me in without bringing the wrath of the gods down on their heads. It was best to cut things short now. I knew how the cold worked; in a few minutes, the fear would disappear, and warmth would spread through me. Then, a little while later, I would fall asleep, and all of this would be over...
My eyes had been drifting shut, but they jerked open now as all of my teeth rattled in their sockets. I started to get up, but my limbs wouldn't quite work.
Lightning burst from thin air a few metres to my left; it curled around and over itself, crackling and making the very air vibrate.
I stared, mouth open; I struggled to my feet, but it didn't matter now. They were warm and leaden, like fresh-cut meat.
The electrical storm collapsed in on itself to form a sphere; it pulsed in midair, and then, all at once, it exploded, and there was a woman standing there. There was something else too, some strange green animal, but everything had gone out of focus and something was roaring softly in my ears and someone was shouting and I was smiling and then...
People always said I was cold. They said I wouldn't connect with them, that I was wrapped up in battle calculations. Sure, I was a strategist – but that was just my battle style, I was just one of those Trainers who like to think things through. The idea that I was cold and distant – that I was arrogant and aloof – that wasn't true, and that hurt. It was just that I was always thinking of someone else, someone I met a long time ago and who had left no space in my mind for anyone else.
Memoirs of an Ice Master
With the soft noise came a burst of energy; I sat up straight, gasping for breath and wondering at the strange sensation of – of, well,
– that was flooding through my system.
“Oh, thank God,” said an unfamiliar voice in an unfamiliar dialect. “You're OK.”
“What – who?”
I leaped to my feet, whipping my knife from my belt – and then starting in awe.
Before me stood the woman from the electrical storm. She was tall, close to four cubits, and dressed in clothes I’d never seen before. They weren't made of fur, or of any hide I knew; they were far too thin to protect her from the cold, and yet they seemed to do so. Her hair was red – and not red like the red of the Manta tribe, but red like blood.
But strangest of all was her face. I had never seen anyone without tanned, weather-beaten skin; hers was pale. There was no real beauty amongst the people I knew – we were not a becoming race – and yet she was different. She was the first truly beautiful person I’d ever seen, and she was self-evidently the strongest Shaman I’d ever seen.
I dropped the knife, and fell on one knee, bowing my head.
“Apologies,” I said hastily. “I did not mean to offend you, O Shaman.”
“You speak Kantan,” she said, surprised. “Wow... No, wait, she said she'd make it so I could understand... Where –
I said nothing and kept my head bowed; all thoughts of the Virid and my exile had vanished from my head.
A shelltail crept into my field of view, its thick pink body dragging over the snow. The deformed shell on its tail blinked angrily at me, but I did not react. I knew how dangerous shelltails could be; they could heal their own wounds instantly, making killing them difficult.
“Um... you can get up,” the Shaman said. “I don't know who you think I am, but I’m pretty sure you shouldn't be bowing to me.”
I got to my feet slowly.
“That's better,” she said, smiling. “Now, what's your name?”
“I am Sirinian, O Shaman,” I informed her.
“OK. I’m Lorelei,” she replied. “How old are you?”
I studied her. She looked like she was fifteen or sixteen, a grown woman.
“I have seen fourteen summers and am a Shaman-child, O Shaman,” I told her. “But I urge you to leave me.” I felt a black pit of self-pity open up beneath me, and fell in willingly. “I have been exiled. Consorting with me will only anger the gods—”
The Shaman – Lorelei – frowned.
“I don't think I got all that,” she said. “Can you repeat it for me? Slower?”
“Oh. You've been... exiled?” I nodded. “You're a Shaman-child? What's that?”
“How can you not know?” I asked, puzzled. “You are a Shaman yourself. You have a shelltail serving you, though I know not how.”
Lorelei glanced down at the shelltail, which was shivering against her leg.
“Oh! She's cold.” She did something with a ball she was holding, and the shelltail vanished in a pulse of red light. I jumped back, afraid; whatever that thing was, it was self-evidently a potent weapon. “I needed her Heal Pulse to fix you up,” Lorelei told me. She adjusted the strange contraption she wore on her face. “I forgot how cold it is here. It's lucky it's winter back home, too, or I wouldn't be wearing such warm clothes.” She took a step towards me. “Sirinian?”
“Yes, O Shaman?”
“Why do you look so afraid?”
“I don't want to disappear,” I said, and as I said it I realised it was true. I didn't want to disappear, I didn't want to die; if I died I could never come back to show the Virid the Shaman they had missed out on; if I never came back, the Virid would never regret what they'd done to me. Yes, I wanted to live! Cold steel floated to the top of my suicidal thought and locked it down tightly: I had a mission now. I had to become a great Shaman, and I had to prove that killing a wolf was meaningless. If the gods opposed me, I would work under my own power; this Shaman, Lorelei, seemed to count me as a friend, and if she would teach me I knew I could do anything.
“Disappear...?” Lorelei stared at me, and then at the ball she held in her hand. Then, all at once, she began to laugh. “Disappear! Oh, you think this is...” She reined herself in with a visible effort. “Sirinian, this isn't a weapon,” she said, suppressing further laughter. “This is a Poké Ball. A device for – for capturing and storing Pokémon.”
“Hasn't it been invented yet?” asked Lorelei. “When am I? What time is this?”
“A long time ago,” concluded Lorelei. My head was starting to spin; I had no idea what she was talking about. “Before they invented Training... Wow.” She looked around and shivered. “I hope she comes back when she says she would.”
“O Shaman,” I began, but Lorelei cut me off.
“You should call me Lorelei,” she said. “I'm not a Shaman. Whatever that is.”
“Lorelei,” I said uncertainly. “May I ask you a question?”
“Sure,” she replied brightly. I didn't understand, and said so. “I mean, yes.”
“I realise this is presumptuous of me, and I would fully understand if you refused, but...” I hesitated.
“Go on?” It was Lorelei's turn to look confused.
“Will you teach me?” I asked, returning to my knees. “Will you teach me the work of the Shaman? I am but an exile, and no tribe will have me. Will you train me?”
Lorelei looked startled, and unconsciously started fiddling with a strand of her long hair.
“Um, I... I really don't know what to say,” she said uncertainly. “What – what do you mean?”
“Teach me the ways of the Shaman!” I implored. Lorelei was my only chance of survival and subsequent vengeance; I had to make her agree!
“I'm not a Shaman,” she said, slowly and carefully. “I don't know what a Shaman is.”
“If this is a test, I admit that I fail it,” I replied. “I don't understand what you mean, or why you deny what you are. But I beg of you, O Sha— Lorelei, teach me! You appear from nowhere, you command the wild beasts – you can make them disappear with a gesture. You have shown me more magic in a minute than I have ever seen my Shaman perform, and I beg you to show me how it is done.”
“Here, get up,” Lorelei said, offering me a hand. “I have no idea what you mean, but you look pretty rough. You could probably use another Heal Pulse, but I don't know if you can take two so close together... I know! I'll warm you up.”
She started snapping twigs off the trees.
“What are you doing?” I asked her.
“I'm going to light a fire.” She snapped another.
“But this is green wood,” I said, puzzled at her ignorance. “It won't burn.”
“It won't?” Lorelei looked dismayed. “Oh. What would you do, then?”
“Look under the snow for deadwood,” I replied, and did so. Lorelei helped, and soon we had a pile of soaking wet twigs and small branches. I pulled out my fire sac – it burned hot enough that the water didn't matter – and lit them; Lorelei looked fascinated.
“It's the fire sac from a baby dragon,” I replied, clearing the snow away from where we were to sit, and thinking that perhaps Lorelei's mind was so full of Shamanic lore that the ordinary knowledge had been pushed out of it.
“A dragon?” She looked startled. “Oh! Are they big and orange, with blue wings? Their tails are on fire?”
I looked at her oddly.
“Yes,” I replied. “A dragon.”
“A Charizard,” she muttered to herself. “So that's... that's from a Charmander. Whoa, this is heavy. I think I've gone Stone Age here.”
I did not understand, and was about to sit down when Lorelei exclaimed:
She seemed to say this a lot, I reflected, and I had no idea what she meant by it.
“Wait,” she went on, “I'll dry off the ground.”
She dropped the ball she was holding, and the shelltail appeared again with a blue flash; she told it to get rid of the water, and, after a couple of seconds to think about what that meant – shelltails were very dim – it shivered, and the water from the grass drew together into streams that ran into its mouth. I stared, open-mouthed. There could be no doubt now. The shelltail obeyed Lorelei's every command.
“Good girl,” she said to it, and it vanished in another burst of red light. Then she looked up at me. “We can sit down now,” she said. “It's dry.”
Somewhat stunned, I did so, and Lorelei smiled at me from the other side of the flames.
“Right,” she said, suddenly businesslike, “tell me about the world.”
“I'm from, uh, very far away. That lightning storm you saw? It comes from a Poké— a creature called Celebi, which can, um, move people around instantly. I... had an agreement with her. Which I’m hoping she'll honour.” Lorelei shivered. “Anyway, the point is, I come from far away and don't know anything about this land. So” – here, she spread her arms wide – “tell me about the world.”
So I told her. I told her about the tribes, and about the forest and the plains and the mountains. I told her about the gods, and about the animals. I told her about shroombugs and Great Beasts, Terror Birds and the ice women. I told her about Winter Wolves, and how I hadn't killed one and I wasn't a man and they had driven me out and slashed open my arm...
I cut myself short as I realised I was beginning to rant, and close to tears. Lorelei looked concerned, very concerned, and she shuffled around the fire and put an arm around me.
“Hey,” she said. “Don't worry. Nobody's perfect. Look at me. I’m really bad at Chemistry.” I didn't understand, but I got the general sentiment. “And that wound on your arm is healing really nicely after that Heal Pulse...” She trailed off as she realised I was crying, and the next few minutes were a blur of comforting and tears. It was bizarre. This wasn't how things were done; tears were something to be ashamed of, a blemish on one's virility to be concealed at all costs. And yet here was Lorelei, not shouting at me but hugging me, and saying something soothing that I couldn't hear or really understand, and something locked inside of me was filling up and breaking loose in a flood of emotion that swept all rational thought away and left me outside myself, a wondrous observer shaking his head and staring in amazement at the strange scene before him.
“There,” Lorelei said, leaning away from me and pushing me upright again. “Better?”
“I – I think so,” I said, wiping my eyes. “I'm so sorry, Lorelei, I shouldn't—”
“Nothing to be ashamed of,” she said adamantly. “Hell, if all that had happened to me I’d probably have had a breakdown by now. You must be really tough. It's just that the rest of your tribe are kind of tougher.”
“I – I see...”
“It's no reason to cast you aside like that. Especially when you'd be so useful to them.” Lorelei sighed. “OK, Sirinian – cool name, by the way – let's talk about night time here. What danger are we in?”
“In the open forest?” I asked. “Quite a lot. Winter Wolves and Terror Birds don't come in here, and the snakes are asleep through the winter, but there might be chopperbugs or pincerbugs, and there will definitely be some Storm Cats. All of them will be very hungry; it's been a hard winter.”
I described all three to her, and she fitted different names to them.
“Scyther, Pinsir, Electabuzz,” she said to herself. “OK, I can probably scare off any Scyther or Pinsir that come near, but Electabuzz would be a problem.” She looked up at me. “I only have a Dewgong and a Slowbro, and the Dewgong's no good on land,” she said apologetically. “I was hunting for something to add to my team, but I... ended up in the middle of something.”
I had no idea what she was talking about, but nodded understandingly.
“You don't know what I mean, do you?” Lorelei asked.
I shook my head mutely.
“Never mind. Let's move on.” Lorelei looked left and right. “Can we move to a safer location?”
“No one goes out after dark!” I cried. “Especially not me.”
“Well, we are out after dark,” Lorelei pointed out. “Could you lead us to a safe place?”
“I think we are to the north of the village,” I told her. “If we are, I know the way to a supply cave we...” I trailed off. “
keep stocked up, in the foothills of the mountains.”
“Where is it?”
“North-east... we're definitely still in Kanto, because you're speaking weird Kantan, so I wonder where that is?” Lorelei shrugged. “Oh well. I guess it doesn't matter. Come on then, Sirinian, show me the way.”
She stood up and kicked at the fire; I leaped up and cried out:
“Have you lost your wits? We can't go anywhere—”
“We'll be fine,” said Lorelei authoritatively. “Trust me, I’m a Trainer. I do stuff like this all the time.”
“I guess you would say Shaman.”
a Shaman. This was all very confusing.
“If we must go,” I said, sighing, “we should take torches.”
I selected a branch, snapped it off and strapped kindling to one end with a flexible twig; I coaxed a few embers onto the end – just enough to start it glowing. It would burn slowly, if I had done it right, and ought to last us half an hour at least.
“That's very impressive,” Lorelei said, clapping, “but it's not necessary.” She reached into the bag strapped to her back and pulled out a short, heavy-looking black stick. I couldn't tell what it was made of, only that it was no material known to the Virid. She did something to it, and with a
like a pincerbug, a ray of brilliant light shot out of one end.
I cried out and jumped backwards, astounded.
“I – what – you are a
Shaman,” I said shakily. Lorelei laughed.
“This is my torch,” she said, kicking out the fire. “Come on, let's go.”
Nothing bothered us on the way there; I don't think any creature in the forest had ever seen anything half so bright as that magical torch. They must have fled its beam in fear, thinking it was the forerunner to the searing breath of a dragon, or the lightning-bolt fury of a Storm Cat.
After an indeterminate time – Lorelei consulted some sort of talisman on her wrist and said it was three-quarters of an hour, though how she could tell I never knew – we arrived on the north-eastern edge of the forest, from where it was just a short journey across a field and a sandy, snow-covered slope until we reached the cave, a blank dark hole punched into the side of the sheer wall of the mountain.
“I know this place,” said Lorelei, staring. “This is part of Mount Moon.” She laughed incredulously. “Wow... I – oh my God. It's so – so
“Um... the cave is over here.” I pointed, and Lorelei's torch beam swung around to follow me. By this time, my torch had gone out, and we were navigating solely by her light.
“OK,” she said. “Lead on.”
We went inside, Lorelei muttering all the way about something called 'Route 2', and occasionally 'Viridian Forest'. It wasn't much – a little block of air inside the mountain, ten cubits deep and four tall. Sometimes the ceiling was low enough that Lorelei had to duck her head. At the back was a pile of sacks, and a few wooden boxes.
“This is cosy,” Lorelei remarked. I didn't know what the word meant, but it seemed to be positive. “OK, can we light a fire?”
I looked in the sacks and pulled out some firewood; there was a little kindling in one of the boxes, and I used that to start the fire going in a ring of stones that had been laid in the centre of the cave for that very purpose.
“Oh, it's nice in here,” Lorelei said. “Nicer than the forest. Any chance of some food?”
“I'm sorry, I don't under—”
“Is there any food in the sacks?”
“Oh. There should be.”
I searched, and there was: dried fruits from the autumn; some strips of meat, preserved by the cold and by salt; and a few battered nuts. We had what was by my standards a feast, and what by Lorelei's standards was something to make her pull a face.
“We should sleep,” I told her, after we'd eaten. “Do you want to take the first watch?”
“Bubbles will,” Lorelei told me; there was a blue flash and the shelltail appeared again. It looked up at her with dim eyes. “Bubbles,” Lorelei said, kneeling in front of it, “if anything tries to come in, attack them and wake me up, OK?”
The shelltail blinked slowly. I don't think it understood, but the shell that was biting its tail made a little growling sound; suddenly, I realised why shelltails could sometimes act so intelligently when they were so stupid: the spiral shell was the brains, and the lizard-thing was the brawn.
“OK,” said Lorelei. “I'll take over in a bit, OK? And Sirinian after that.”
The shelltail made a little gulping noise, and wandered over to the cave entrance. It was amazing, I thought; it really did do everything Lorelei commanded it to.
“Goodnight, Sirinian,” Lorelei said to me, stretching out next to the fire. She arranged her bag as a pillow. “I'll see you in the morning.”
“Goodnight, Lorelei,” I replied, lying down. It wasn't difficult to sleep; it had been a strange, terrible,
day, and I was tired. I drifted off swiftly, and dreamed of Winter Wolves that followed Lorelei through the hills and vanished in a burst of lightning.
The Thinking Man's Guide to Destroying the World
The Rocket Case
The Rocket Revival
Neither Here Nor There
Coriolanus Rowland's Guide to Pokémon Husbandry
Robin Goodfellow's Christmas Carol
Stranger Than Fiction
My Trip to the End of Time, by Pearl Gideon
A Smell of Petroleum Pervades Throughout
For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click
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