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Old July 28th, 2011, 06:40 AM
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
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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.

The Beastman


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...
--Lorelei Fletcher, Memoirs of an Ice Master (Unpublished)

*

“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, clever – 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.

And die, 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 click-pop 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.

Now 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 that's 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 me 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 those?

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 them? 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 that?”

I looked.

“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.”

“What?”

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.”

“O-O Chie—”

“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...

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

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.

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

Lightning burst from thin air a few metres to my left; it curled around and over itself, crackling and making the very air vibrate.

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

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.
--Lorelei Fletcher, Memoirs of an Ice Master (Unpublished)

*

Hum.

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, life – 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 – when am I?”

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?”

I did.

“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.”

“Pokémon?”

“Hasn't it been invented yet?” asked Lorelei. “When am I? What time is this?”

“What... time?”

“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.

“What's that?”

“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:

“Oh!”

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.”

“What?”

“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.”

“Describe.”

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. “They 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.”

“Trainer...?”

“I guess you would say Shaman.”

So she was 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 click 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 powerful 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 unchanged.”

“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, wonderful 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.

*

For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.

Last edited by Cutlerine; July 28th, 2011 at 03:13 PM.
  #2    
Old July 28th, 2011, 06:44 AM
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
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“The first thing you need to know,” Lorelei told me, swinging a long stick around and decapitating a shrub, “is that there are two kinds of creatures in this world. There are animals, which are like – like the birds, and the horses. Then there are Pokémon, which are like animals – but which can, if you train them properly, perform, uh, magic.”

We were walking in the forest, Lorelei leading; she had no real concept of where we were going, but seemed to be content with merely wandering west. She had told me she was going to teach me something, and, aware that this was a lesson that no one had ever heard before, I was listening very closely.

“How can you tell these creatures apart?” I asked.

“Good question. You can't. You just have to learn. Regular animals are usually scared of Pokémon, though – that can help. That rule kind of falls down with things like elephants and tigers, because they've adapted to deal with Pokémon and overcome their magical advantage, but as a general rule, it's good.” Lorelei paused, aware that she was leaving me mentally behind. “Sorry, I'll slow down.” She halted. “See that bird?”

“Yes?”

“That's a starling. It's just a bird. See that bird?”

“Yes?”

“That's a Pidgey. It's a Pokémon.”

I studied it. The starling was was certainly less striking than the Pidgey; the latter was bulkier, and shuffled along the branch with more of a swagger. At its approach, the starling twittered anxiously and flew away.

“See? It's afraid, because the Pidgey could kill it.”

We kept walking.

“Where are we going?” I asked, after a few more minutes.

“We're looking for more Pokémon,” Lorelei told me. “I have to show you something else.” After that, she lapsed into silence until we came upon a little clearing, where she raised a hand to stop me and whispered: “Ssh.”

“What is it?” I whispered back.

“Under the bush,” she said, pointing slowly. I looked, and I saw it: a male spikester, a vaguely rabbit-like creature with magenta skin and huge, pointed ears. Its back was studded with spikes, and a single, piercing horn grew from its forehead.

“Careful,” I cautioned. “Those are poisonous.”

“Just don't cuddle it and you'll be fine.” Lorelei made the shelltail she called Bubbles appear; the blue flash startled the spikester, but it stood its ground, poking its head out of the shrubbery and growling inquisitively. Lorelei and I both took a step back, into the trees; now, only Bubbles and the spikester were in the clearing.

“Bubbles, Water Pulse him, but be careful,” Lorelei commanded quietly. “I don't want him really badly hurt.”

The shell bit down hard on the tail, and Bubbles dutifully spat a strange blob of water from its mouth; it expanded into a levitating disc and washed over the spikester's body, flattening its ears against its body and forcing it back a step. I gaped; I had never seen what Lorelei would call a Pokémon move before, and it shocked me. To think that a humble river-lizard could create water from nothing, and in such a way that it could actually cause serious injury! If this was what a shelltail could do, I trembled to think what a Winter Wolf or a dragon, two creatures Lorelei had already identified as Pokémon, would be capable of.

“Stop, Bubbles.” The shelltail sat down and scratched its head with a stubby paw.

Lorelei took a step forward and prodded the spikester with her stick; it waved a claw weakly in her direction, and attempted a menacing snarl that came out as a rather pathetic growl.

“OK,” she said, “it's weak. Now it's your time to shine, Sirinian.”

“What?” I asked, confused, and she pressed a ball like the one that contained Bubbles into my hand. I stared at it. It was red on one side and white on the other, and had a button in the middle.

Then it hit me what I was supposed to do.

“No,” I gasped. “This can...?”

Lorelei grinned. It was a very pretty grin.

“Go on,” she said. “Give it a go. Just throw it.”

Nervously, I tossed the orb – a Poké Ball, I think Lorelei had called it – at the spikester, and it hit it on the head. It burst into the two coloured halves, and for a split second the spikester was surrounded by red light—

—and then it disappeared, and the Poké Ball was lying in the snow, vibrating slightly.

I stared at it for a long moment. The vibration stopped.

“Are you going to pick it up?” Lorelei asked diffidently.

“It – it went in,” I said slowly. “I – the spikester...”

“It's called a Nidorino,” Lorelei told me. “If you bring it to Mount Moon, the radiation from the stones will probably make it evolve.”

Her words were nonsensical, and anyway I was too surprised. I couldn't wrap my mind around it. This was incredible. Men could capture and control these animals, and I had already seen just a small taste of their power. What if they could do more? What would happen if a warrior tamed a dragon, and rode it through the sky? The possibilities were endless: I could see it now, an army of Winter Wolves storming across the land – no, a herd of Great Beasts! The tribe with this power would crush all others in its path. Nothing compared to it. The Tentoi could keep their special bows, the Nadeen could do as they wished with their metal weapons – none of it would matter if ever a tribe obtained the power contained in these machines.

“Sirinian?” Lorelei's voice brought me back to the present. “Sirinian, are you OK?”

“Hm?”

“Are you all right? You seem... distant.”

I didn't answer, just bent down and picked up the ball. I held it between cold fingers and stared at it. A spikester – no, I would use Lorelei's word, since she was obviously the expert in this field. A Nidorino, and it was mine. I had seen what they grew up into – Forest Devils, we called them, and one had visited the village a few years ago. It had caused the single greatest loss of life the Virid had ever sustained in a single night.

“It – it's mine?” I asked eventually.

“Yeah. It's yours,” Lorelei said. “I think you need to sit down.”

I let her guide me down onto a tree stump.

“Can – does everyone do this, where you come from?” I asked. Lorelei paused for a moment, then sat on a log nearby and spoke.

“Not everyone is like me there,” she told me, “but a lot of them are. We are called Pokémon Trainers, because we train Pokémon.” She smiled. “We have competitions where we fight each other.”

Wars, then. I knew about wars. I was no good at them, I knew that without even trying – but I’d overpower the strongest warrior with a Forest Devil at my side. In Lorelei's land, Trainers must surely rank with Shamans as the most powerful people around.

“Lorelei,” I said, “teach me how to become a Pokémon Trainer.”

She grinned.

“Oh good,” she said, “you're over all that shock stuff. That's brilliant, because I wasn't sure how to deal with that. OK. To let your new Nidorino out, throw the ball on the ground.”

I did, and it – he – reappeared in a burst of blue light, looking very confused and somewhat belligerent.

“Tell him to attack Bubbles,” Lorelei said.

“Are you sure?”

“Trust me,” she said with a smile, “it'll be fine.”

“Ah – Nidorino? Attack that shelltail.”

“Slowbro.”

“Slowbro. Attack the Slowbro.”

The Nidorino looked up at me to see where the noise was coming from, shook water off his back and bit me hard on the leg.

*

“OK,” Lorelei said, “I think you've got that down now.”

For the last two days, we had been living in a forest camp we had set up together, using supplies looted from the cave. We had seen no Virid – but that was to be expected, because we hadn't left the area around our shelter. I had been spending my time trying to tame the Nidorino, and Lorelei had been doing her best to teach me how to do it.

I had decided that his name was Fernine, after the god of fire who was said to have flown over the forest once, many years ago. He was going to be something huge and frightening when he was an adult, and I wanted his name to reflect that. Now, after two days of training, he responded to the name more or less every time.

“The next thing is getting him to know how to attack,” Lorelei was saying, watching me cautiously pat Fernine on the head, avoiding the spike. Since our first meeting, he had warmed to me a little, accepting me as a reliable source of food and protection from bigger animals; after a few painful incidents that bore a striking resemblance to the one in the forest clearing, he had settled down and obeyed me as far as his simple mind could grasp my intent. I doubt he would have died for me, as Bubbles undoubtedly would have done for Lorelei – but it was a start.

“How do you mean?”

“Do you notice that every time I get Bubbles to do something, I say a specific phrase? Like Heal Pulse, Water Pulse, Zen Headbutt. Those are the names of moves. Water Pulse is a flat disc of water – a medium-power move that has a chance to confuse the target.”

I tried hard and thought I understood it.

“And different attacks do different things?”

“Yes.” Lorelei nodded. “But I won't teach you everything about them. I can't tell you everything. You'll have to figure most of it out yourself, and keep learning.”

“Why can't you do that?” I asked. I did a lot of asking around Lorelei; I felt like a little child asking why, why, why of his mother, over and over.

“Because if I remember the history of Pokémon Training right, no one works all of this out for at least five hundred years,” Lorelei replied. “No, it doesn't matter.” She sighed and looked away. “Forget it.”

“What's wrong?” Fernine jumped on top of Bubbles, who rolled over very slowly in an failed attempt to dislodge him.

“I miss having people around who I can talk to,” Lorelei said. “I'm sorry. I don't want to offend you, but... you can't understand me.”

I knew exactly how she felt. She was like me, amongst the dim-witted Virid; I saw myself through her eyes, a slow-witted, ugly creature, barely sentient in comparison to her. And yet she was labouring to teach me the biggest discovery in human history.

“I'm sorry,” I said quietly. “I'm nothing, aren't I?”

Lorelei looked hurt.

“No!” she said emphatically. “You're not! You're the most important person alive right now! It's just... I've never been so far away from home. And I miss the people who live there.”

I was quiet for a while.

“Where do you come from, Lorelei?”

“I come from somewhere unimaginable,” she answered simply. “I wish I could tell you. I really do. But you wouldn't understand.”

“I'm certain you're right,” I replied. Lorelei had to be right. She knew too much to be wrong.

“Well,” she said. “OK. Let's get to attacks. I’m going to show you how to teach them to him.” She stood up and snapped her fingers; out of habit, Bubbles looked up at her. “Sirinian, I want you to show Fernine what to do. It'll be hard the first time, but afterwards he'll understand you better. Let's start with Horn Attack...”

*

The days passed. By day, I learned Lorelei's wisdom and applied it to Fernine; by night, I cried, and dreamed of the Virid. No matter how much I wanted to hate them, no matter how much I wanted to destroy them for what they had done, I couldn't let go. I was a Shaman-child – fourteen and still not a man, I thought bitterly – and I thought too much to be able to commit myself to one cause. I hated them all, but I still loved them, too. I mentioned it to Lorelei one night, when I was feeling lonely. She told me I was very modern, whatever that meant, and gave me a hug.

Lorelei taught me how to work out what a Pokémon could and couldn't do; she taught me how to teach them new moves; she taught me about the way they matured, and I finally understood why so many of them were so vicious: they could only achieve full adulthood by fighting. When she said this, I told her about the Winter Wolf killed by the Great Beast, and she nodded.

“That's right,” she replied. “That one was probably close to full evolution from a Poochyena, and just needed a bit more to reach adulthood.”

That was just one conversation Lorelei had with me; I remember them all like they were yesterday. It is a Shaman's job to remember the history of the tribe, and consequently I had had some lessons in memorising from Elesi. There was nothing more important to remember than Lorelei's lessons – and so I committed every one to memory. Perhaps I half-knew then that one day I would be passing them on to someone else. I don't remember thinking that, but it sounds right.

Lorelei took me once deep into the caves of the mountain she called Moon, and showed me a deposit of pale white rock that seemed to glow with an inner light; she made me hold Fernine away from it, and told me that when, and only when, both he and I were truly ready for it, I should take one of these stones and leave it in Fernine's presence to mature him fully. She explained that some Pokémon, Nidorino included, needed more than battle to achieve adulthood; these rare stones were one way to get to it.

Lorelei also told me that every Pokémon had at least one, and sometimes two, of seventeen elements in their nature. It seemed to me that they were divided up amongst the gods: heavy, rocky beasts like mountainbreakers and Stone Snakes belonged to the mountain god; creatures like the firehorse and the dragons were the brethren of the fire god. Different elements were weak or strong against each other, and again this made sense: piling sand or dropping water on a fire, after all, did put it out. It was only natural that the water Pokémon should have an advantage over the fire ones.

I learned so much, and at times I almost forgot I had been cast out.

After eight days of Lorelei, I felt halfway to a god. My mind had broadened, opened up like a new flower; I understood more than half of what Lorelei said now. Looking back, I see she was a pioneer. It was she who started the Kantan people, as we now call ourselves, on the long road to true civilisation. If it had not been for Lorelei, would I have thought of farming? Would I have thought of bringing the tribes together? No, I think not. Lorelei had reached back from wherever she came from and wound the key of a new world – even that metaphor is one of hers, now I think about it. I have no idea what a key is, or why anyone would wind it. But Lorelei said it once, and so I use it here.

Anyway, after that tuition period, I felt like I must surely number among the greatest Shamans who ever lived in this land; the knowledge of Lorelei's people burned hot in my brain like a flaming torch. Lorelei taught me how to take down a Terror Bird in a reliable way (Bubbles could shoot them down during the death-fall with a beam of cold light; Fernine could spray them with poisonous darts that threw their aim, and then beat them senseless when they crashed). She taught me how to combat Winter Wolves: they were all led by one wolf, and if that one could be injured severely enough, the whole would turn tail and flee, for fear of losing a skilled leader. It wasn't easy – the leaders usually always had a lower-ranking wolf between their foes and themselves – but it was possible.

That first time we did it was incredible. I took Lorelei out to the foothills of the mountains at her command, unable to shake off the fear of the wolves despite the presence of both Fernine and Bubbles. We walked around for about half a day, all the while hearing the snow-muffled howls of distant wolves, and eventually we came across a large copse of pine trees, almost big enough to be a proper forest, and here we found several fresh-killed treedeer, which surprised Lorelei quite a lot.

“Sawsbuck?” she queried. “They don't live here... but then again, neither do Mightyena. In fact, there aren't any giant white Mightyena anywhere. I guess they all become extinct later.”

“There will be wolves near,” I said nervously. “They don't leave their prey for long.”

“Good,” replied Lorelei. “We'll wait for them to come back.”

So we sat and waited while I grew more and more anxious. At one point, I almost got up and walked off – but then I looked at Lorelei, and saw how calm she was. She wasn't a warrior; she was a Shaman like me. She shared my physical weakness – in fact, I was stronger than her. And yet she had faith in her power, and was unafraid. A little ashamed of myself, I resolved to stay, and wait with her to see how to chase off wolves.

At length, the pack returned, bringing with them another treedeer to add to their stock. I took in the huge paws, big as my head, and the savage eyes – but I didn't move. I forced myself not to tremble.

“Fascinating,” was all Lorelei said. “They have a kind of larder going. I don't think modern Mightyena do that...”

Then, of course, the wolves noticed us. We weren't even trying to hide. Their hackles rose, and they lowered their great craggy heads close to the ground, growling. The message was clear: this was their land, and they didn't want us nearby.

“Stand up, Sirinian,” Lorelei said quietly, getting up herself, and I did. “Get out Fernine.”

With trembling hands, I tossed the ball into the snow; Lorelei's followed, and Bubbles and Fernine appeared in a double flash of light. The flare seemed to startle the wolves, because they backed off a little, yapping, but it was only temporary: we stood there, silent, and they regained their confidence, creeping forwards and then suddenly they were bounding towards us, barking commands at each other in booming voices—

“Bubbles! Water Pulse!”

The disc of water caught one wolf full in the face, arresting its leap and knocking it to the floor; the one directly behind it stumbled over it and the two fell into an undignified tangle of snapping jaws and tangled limbs. The other wolves slowed, concerned; fast as lightning, growls passed between them, a discussion about what they should do next.

“Sirinian, move!”

Lorelei shoved me aside as a lupine head whipped through the space where my head had been a moment ago; we rolled over in the snow and sprang up and apart a few paces away.

“You can't stand still in a fight!” Lorelei shouted, snapping her fingers and leaping to one side as Bubbles slammed her heavy tail into the side of another wolf, the spiked shell drawing blood and snapping ribs. “Keep moving and fight back!”

The wolves drew back warily, regrouping closer to their little pine forest. The injured wolf moved slowly, its breath laboured.

“Dark Pokémon like Mightyena take Fighting moves badly,” Lorelei said rapidly. “What Bubbles used on it was Brick Break, a medium-power Fighting move. That's why it's so pained. That one.”

“What?”

“Use your eyes, Sirinian.” Lorelei took three steps back, and I followed. “The one in the centre of the group, giving the orders. That's the alpha, the leader of the pack.”

I looked, and I realised she was right.

“Hurt him, and they'll run off to hide,” Lorelei went on. “Mightyena are cowardly at heart, and without good leadership they can't go on. Walk back with me, we'll make them attack again.”

I had never seen Lorelei like this; she was a brilliant strategist. She knew her foe and her whole mind was focused on using their weaknesses to her advantage. Awed and not a little envious, I followed her as we retreated, keeping our eyes on the wolves. Emboldened by the fact that we appeared to be leaving, they came for us again – but this time, I was ready. Lorelei and I rushed them; nothing ever actually chased a charging Winter Wolf, and so the big animals paused for a moment, confused. The moment's hesitation was all we needed; I recalled that Fernine had a Fighting move, and, skirting a wolf that had come too close, I cried out:

“Double Kick!”

The command had been well learned. Fernine snarled and bounded towards the leader wolf; it stared down at him, not believing that a tiny spikester would dare attack a wolf – and then he kicked it twice in the foreleg, and broke it with a resounding crack.

The effects came as swiftly and violently as lightning: the leader wolf yowled in pain, and immediately the other wolves turned and rushed to it. One snapped at Fernine, an ill-advised move, and came away with a few toxic spines lodged in its mouth. As the Nidorino retreated, the alpha wolf barked out a pained command, and its pack moved away, one wolf pressed against its bad leg to help it walk. They growled insults at us, and more than one made a half-hearted attempt to snap at us as it passed – but, true to Lorelei's prediction, they fled.

I stared after them.

“They ran away,” I said, hardly daring to believe it. “They – they ran away!”

Fernine pressed a non-spiked part of his head against my leg, wanting rewards for his daring achievement, and I reached down absently to pat him.

“Lorelei,” I went on. “The Winter Wolves... we beat them.”

“We did,” she agreed, amused at my reaction. “Sirinian, does everything we do surprise you?”

“Without fail,” I replied seriously.

“Oh,” Lorelei said. “That... wasn't the answer I was expecting.” She smiled. “Come on, Sirinian. I don't think we want to stay out here after dark.”

That night, we feasted on the treedeer the wolves had stored up in their larder. Lorelei congratulated me, and told me something about how Pokémon's power could increase – but for once, I wasn't listening. I was caught up in the memory of the big leader wolf, leg broken, limping pathetically away from the battlefield. It was a major victory; a mere quarter-moon ago, there had been no way on earth that I could possibly defeat a Winter Wolf in combat – and now, with Fernine's strength and Lorelei's wisdom, it had been nothing.

The next day, at the height of my jubilant celebration, Lorelei left.

*

I think I invented Pokémon Training. It was so strange. I always wondered how it could happen, how someone could one day figure out that Pokémon could be trained to become more than just savage beasts, or think that today they would hollow out an apricorn and try to stuff a Nidorino in it. And then I found out the answer: no one ever did. It was me recycling an idea, when I went back. I know it sounds arrogant to claim the whole thing as mine, but it's true. I brought the idea from 1985 back to the Stone Age, and whenever I think about it, I just remember how happy it made the boy I taught – the first ever Pokémon Trainer...
--Lorelei Fletcher, Memoirs of an Ice Master (Unpublished)

*

She told me at dawn, when we got up. Or rather, she didn't – but I knew something was afoot. She was so quiet, where she had previously always been chattering on; she lay on the floor and stared at the sky for a while, where she used to leap up, eager to get teaching.

“What is it?” I asked, straight away.

Lorelei sighed.

“Sirinian,” she said, “I need you to take me back to the spot where you first met me. Can you do that?”

“Yes, but...” I trailed off and my eyes widened as I worked out what would happen. “No! You can't!”

“I have to,” Lorelei replied. “This isn't my world. Celebi made me sign a contract; everything is really tightly controlled. Eleven days here, and then back to present-day Floe Island.”

“Is that the name of the land where you live? I’m a Trainer now, I could go there with—”

“No,” said Lorelei flatly. “There are rules about this; there is one open slot for a person in the space-time continuum back there. Only one person can go there.”

“Then stay,” I pleaded. “I'm not finished—”

“You'll never be finished learning,” Lorelei said gently, sitting up and putting a cool hand on my cheek. “I've left so much for you to discover yourself.” She stood up and let her hand drop. “Take me back to the place, Sirinian.”

I couldn't deny her; I couldn't deny Lorelei anything. I got up slowly, and began to walk away through the woods, without so much as another word.

As we walked, I thought. Lorelei, gone! I suppose I must have always known, deep down, that she could not stay forever. She was so obviously alien that it was a wonder she was even here. But still, I wanted her with me. I wanted to learn from her. I wanted to ask her so many questions. I wanted – I wanted to look at her beautiful face every day until I died...

We reached the spot a short while before noon; Lorelei leaned against a tree and folded her arms.

“Celebi will be here at midday,” she said sadly. “Is – is there anything final you want to ask me? Before I go?”

“I...” I thought of everything I could ask. Would you stay if you could? What do you truly think of me? How do I know when it is time to make Fernine evolve? What, when, how, why?

I took a deep breath and steadied myself.

“What is that device you wear on your face?” I asked. Lorelei looked startled for a moment, and then burst out laughing. Despite myself, I found my mouth twitching, and after a second I had joined in, though I didn't know what the joke was.

“Oh, Sirinian,” Lorelei gasped, removing the thing from her face and wiping tears of laughter from her eyes, “these are my glasses. Spectacles, that's their proper name.” She straightened up and held them out for me to see. “I have very bad eyesight,” she said. “If I don't wear these, I can't see.”

Another piece of wizardry from Lorelei's people. I studied the glasses for a moment, wondering at the fineness of the metal components, and the strange transparent material in the front, and then handed them back. Lorelei put them on and smiled.

“I'm glad we can end on a laugh,” she said. “Sad goodbyes are just so... sad.”

I agreed that this was so. In common with most other sad things, sad goodbyes were indeed sad.

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

I flinched as the world began to hum and pulse; I turned and saw that tongues of lightning were curling out of midair again.

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

“It looks pretty scary when you're not the one doing it, doesn't it?” Lorelei said nervously.

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

The lightning-ball curled up and collapsed in on itself – and then exploded into a little green creature, all head and eyes, that floated unsupported about four cubits from the forest floor. I shrank back; this beast had to be the one Lorelei described as Celebi, and I had no doubt that it must be a god.

“At least you're on time,” it said, in the same strange dialect of the language that Lorelei used. I wasn't surprised that it should speak; it was, after all, a god – or goddess, to judge by the voice. “Bloody nightmare getting here. Dialga was moving from the sixteenth to twenty-fifth centuries, and the big bastard takes up all seven lanes...” The goddess Celebi trailed off as she saw me. “Who's this?” she asked suspiciously. “Not a pet, I hope? You can't take anything back with you.”

“No,” replied Lorelei. “He's just a friend. The first Trainer.”

Celebi snapped her stubby fingers.

“I knew it!” she crowed. “I knew you humans couldn't just invent something like that—”

“Celebi, shut up a minute,” Lorelei said. “I want to say goodbye.”

“All right, whatever.” Celebi waved a hand and drifted a few cubits away.

Lorelei turned to me.

“Goodbye, Sirinian,” she said simply. “I hope – I hope I've given you enough to pick your life up again.”

“You've given me more than anyone on this world has ever had,” I replied. My tongue felt thick in my mouth; it was hard to speak. “I... I can survive...” I felt tears pricking at my eyes, and blinked them back furiously. I had known Lorelei for just eleven days. How could I have become this attached to her?

“OK.” Lorelei looked about as happy as I felt, but I knew she would forget her sorrow soon; she was returning to a paradise land, where everyone was like her. A land for beautiful people with white teeth that did not rot, and pale skin and colourful hair. “Sirinian... yeah, goodbye. I won't forget you. I'll write it down, and everyone will remember you.”

I didn't know what writing was back then, but I understood that this was something important.

“Thank you,” I replied. “Good – goodbye.”

“Done?” asked Celebi, floating over towards us. I saw that she possessed wings, though they were tiny and she did not seem to beat them. “Come on. I haven't got all day. Actually, I have, I've got the entire life of the universe, but I’m impatient and don't like waiting.”

“All right,” Lorelei said, and stepped back towards Celebi. Lightning forked from the goddess's onion-shaped head, and started to coil around the pair of them. I stared, but not out of astonishment: now I just felt like I was losing some rare and precious thing that could never be regained.

“OK, Lorelei,” Celebi said. “We're sending you... back to the future!” The goddess fell about laughing as the lightning formed a sphere around Lorelei and herself; I decided to hate her, and see where that got me.

“Sirinian!” cried Lorelei. “I hope—!”

I never heard the end. The ball of lightning imploded, taking Celebi and Lorelei with it, and air rushed in to fill the gap where they had been. After that, there was silence.

The forest was very quiet that day.

*

I did not give up. Lorelei was gone, and that hurt, though I couldn't work out why – but I had to continue. There was nothing to be gained from standing still.

I worked at Training. I spent a year in the forest with Fernine, trying to create the same bond that existed between Lorelei and Bubbles. It was hard to say who grew fastest. We were able to hunt and gather so much between us that every day seemed a feast-day, and I think it was all of this food that made me grow so much. It wasn't long until I was tall, nearly as tall as Lorelei had been, and strong and sinewy like a Storm Cat. For his part, Fernine grew to to the size of a young Summer Wolf on the back of the battles he won.

In the autumn, when I thought he was big and strong enough to handle a sudden change in size and shape, I went into the mountain caves and came back with one of the Moon rocks that Lorelei had pointed out to me. I put it in the shelter I’d built for Fernine to sleep in – I eschewed the Poké Ball now; I found it was only really necessary with new-caught Pokémon, who didn't trust you – and gradually, over the next few nights, the Nidorino's shape began to change. He would walk more on his hind legs, dropping onto all fours only for bursts of speed; the proportions of his body changed, shifting into something almost human; his tail lengthened and broadened into a long, flexible pack of muscle. Before a week was out, I had a Forest Devil.

I had been waiting for this. Once the evolution was done, I threw away the Moon rock, packed up my meagre possessions, and travelled.

Two weeks north, I encountered the Putar tribe, who tried to kill me, only to find that I was not killable. There were no arrows strong enough to penetrate Fernine's hide, and his sharp reflexes and strong arms let him pound spears out of the air or smash axes and knives without so much as nicking himself. I forced my way into the centre of their village, and told them of a secret I had discovered, a way to make the predators that hunted us the comrades of man.

That was when I got my first apprentice.

I had no Poké Balls, of course, but I used Fernine's speed and strength to catch a boulderbeast – the kind with arms that snatch at the legs of passers-by – and with my aid, my apprentice managed to tame it. I stayed with the Putar for a few weeks more, and then, satisfied that the boy now had the basics of Training set deep in his mind, I declined thank-you gifts and set off east.

This path took me through the mountains, and on the other side I found the Seruly tribe. They lived by the water, which gave me an idea. I peeled a Razor Star from the rocks there, since they could float with a mysterious power and seemed to be able to survive in air, and gave it to my second apprentice, a Shaman-girl who was also the Seruly's most talented fisher. Again, I stayed a couple of weeks to teach her, and left.

And so it went: three years of wandering across the land, teaching the Shaman-children of each tribe the necessary skills to work with Pokémon. After a while, I found that people rejoiced when Fernine and I came to their villages instead of fleeing in fear. It first happened when I came to the Iavendr people, and I asked their Shaman why the people weren't afraid.

“They know why you're here,” he told me, grinning. “You're the Beastman, the Trainer. Everyone has heard of you and the miracles you work.”

So it was that I passed into legend. I would come across cave-shrines and see images of a figure with a Forest Devil at his side daubed on the walls, amongst the pictures of the gods. Perhaps the tribes thought I was a god. Perhaps not. Whatever they believed, I kept travelling, kept teaching, all the while wondering what I was meant to be doing. Was this what Lorelei wanted me to do? What had she been going to say when she told me 'I hope—'? I wandered on, and with time I missed her less – but I always did miss her. It was stupid, really; as I've already said, I only knew her for eleven days. In that time, though, I was more thoroughly captivated than I had by anything before; my mind was broadened, my soul opened up. Lorelei was a warm spring, and I was a flower that had opened early; now I had hardened into my autumn as some ripe fruit, and the novice Trainers that I left scattered across the land were seeds who would one day grow into trees themselves.

Fernine helped. He was an old friend now. I didn't know how long Forest Devils lived, but I had a feeling it was a long time, and I was glad of it. He might not have understood what I said, but it was good to have someone to talk to other than the occasional hunter I met in the forest.

Someone to talk to.

That was what was missing in my life: home. Other people. It occurred to me as I was crossing the bridge out of the Fussi Village and heading north again, to seek the Tulai. A thirst for revenge flared once again in my breast, and I resolved then and there to return to the Virid. I had a score to settle with the Chief, and I would not be denied.

*

I always wondered what happened to him, in the end. I hope he was happy. He was a sad-eyed boy. All those things that had happened to him... well, they weren't kind to his heart.

I hope he managed to be happy.
--Lorelei Fletcher, Memoirs of an Ice Master (Unpublished)

*

The Virid village could never have stopped me. Not all the warriors of the tribe had been able to take down a wild Forest Devil – and Fernine, with the strength of a Shaman's mind and Lorelei's tactics behind him, wouldn't have been halted by an army of giants.

I was sure to kill no one, and injuries were light; most people, having heard of the Beastman's benevolence, were expecting a friendly visit and were thus caught by surprise when Fernine showed up and demolished a section of the village wall with his tail.

It took us about four minutes to smash our way to the ever-fire, and a further two seconds for Fernine to stave in the front of the village hall. With him standing guard outside to scare off any zealous warriors, I stepped in to confront the Chief.

He was old now, over thirty, but he stood erect in the hall, and waited for me as a man ready for anything. Alone of all the people in the village he seemed to recognise me straight away.

“Sirinian,” he said. “I knew you'd be back. Though I have to say, I didn't expect quite such a dramatic entry.”

“You cast me out,” I told him. There was a strange cold fury in my veins; it was like my blood had turned to steel. I was utterly calm and consumed with anger all at once.

“I did,” he agreed. “Because it's the Law. And I slashed your arm” – he indicated the scar – “because it's the Law. And I pretended to be very angry, because I knew that if I was angry enough, you would hate us so much that you would stay alive, just so you could take your revenge.”

I was stunned; the Chief's words seemed to ring in my ears like the echo of a drumbeat. This wasn't how it was meant to happen. I was supposed to come here, he would be furious, I would kill him...

“You're not a killer, Sirinian,” said the Chief gently. “You're a Shaman. And the Beastman, it seems. You've made it good for yourself.”

“Shut up!” I roared, and made as if to hit him; at the last minute, however, something stayed my hand.

“You see?” The Chief threw up his hands. “You won't kill me. You don't want to kill me.” He sighed. “I was bad to you, but I had to be, or you would have given up and died.”

“It wasn't you,” I growled. “It was Lorelei.”

But was it? I recalled hearing Lorelei's words, that first time in the clearing – and I remembered thinking that they were the perfect skills to learn in order to exact revenge. The Chief saw my face, and nodded.

“I don't know this Lorelei,” he said, “but you've realised it was vengeance that kept you alive, I see. I didn't want to kill one of my own, Sirinian, much less a Shaman-child. It's an abomination to the gods. So is not exiling you, though – so I made a compromise.”

The world was spinning slightly, drifting and shaking as though it had become detached from its anchors. I felt lightheaded and turned, swaying a little, to the doorway and Fernine's broad, spiked back.

“Sirinian?” asked the Chief. “Sirinian?”

“I'm not here to kill you,” I said, half to myself. “I'm – I’m looking for Lorelei.”

I stumbled out into the sunlight, and led Fernine away through the trail of wrecked huts and back into the forest. It was a clear summer afternoon, and as I stared upwards I could see a beautiful blue sky between the leaves.

It wasn't vengeance I needed, I knew. It was a home, and that was what Lorelei had been: a friend in a world that had cast me aside because I was not strong, because I could not kill a Winter Wolf, because I was not them. She was a point of solidarity, a solid rock that my new life could build upon – only now that the rock was gone and the hut was tall, everything felt unsafe, as if it could come crashing down at any moment...

I walked off, veering off the trail and recalling Fernine to the Poké Ball. I wanted to be alone for a while. I wanted to wallow in despair, and maybe try and kill myself again. After a day or two of wandering, full of self-pity, I came to the dark woods where the black Summer Wolves, smaller than their white counterparts but faster, dwelt. I saw their pawprints, and followed them to a clearing full of bones; here, I thought, I would wait, and if they chose to eat me when they returned, I would raise no objections.

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

The world kicked and buzzed; I swung around and looked around wildly for the lightning, despondence traded in an instant for excitement.

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

Who would it be? Some new traveller? Lorelei?

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

The lightning-ball, I saw, was to my left; it collapsed, and Celebi appeared, looking annoyed.

“Now listen here, you little monkey bastard,” she said crossly. “I'm not playing silly buggers here. It isn't a mistake that Lorelei appeared here.”

“Celebi, what do you want?” I said. My gloom had returned when I saw it was not Lorelei who had come back.

“What do I want? What do I want?” she shrieked. “Bloody hell, you're thick. I want you to stop acting like a bloody emo and pull yourself together! Don't have a home? Make a home, you daft bastard! Miss Lorelei? Find a nice monkey-girl and get laid!” Celebi paused to draw breath; she hadn't breathed for quite a while. “Look, you're important. Lorelei told you that and all – the most important person alive right now, she said.” The little goddess sighed and, folding her arms, leaned forwards. “What I’m saying is, don't give up.” She sounded quite calm and serious now. “It doesn't matter if you're an outlaw, someone will take you in. You're the Beastman. Even if they don't, you can make your own home, tell students to come to you. Set up a Pokémon Academy.” Celebi's face twisted into a wry smile at that, and then dissolved back into its habitual look of mild revulsion. “But under no circumstances kill yourself, you stupid bugger. You're too important for that.”

That was the last time I saw Celebi. She vanished in another electrical storm without waiting for an answer, and all links to whatever strange land Lorelei came from were finally severed.

I stood completely still for about half an hour after she'd left. I was thinking of Lorelei.

The most important person alive right now...

I let Fernine out of the ball; he tilted his great head down to look inquisitively at mine.

“It was nothing,” I told him, patting the horny beak that covered his upper lip. “I'm better now.”

We walked away. I didn't care that I was an outlaw. I didn't care that Lorelei had left.

I had Fernine, and there were people out there I needed to teach, and that was enough for now.

*

“Lorelei!”

She looked up from the typewriter at the young man in the doorway.

“It's time,” said Brock, out of breath. “The meeting is starting.”

“Thanks,” Lorelei replied distractedly; Brock, perhaps taking offence at the coolness of her tone, left in something of a huff.

Lorelei looked at the stack of papers next to the typewriter and paused. It was her memoirs, three hundred pages of an extraordinary life – and the last surviving record of the man who had once been known across Kanto as the Beastman. She pulled the last sheet of paper from the typewriter.

“Lorelei!”

Another insistent voice; Lorelei sighed and set the page aside, on top of the stack on the desk.

“Coming!” she called back, and left her office. Sirinian had been dead for a little more than four thousand years. He could wait a day longer.

For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.

Last edited by Cutlerine; July 30th, 2011 at 11:47 AM.
  #3    
Old July 28th, 2011, 10:19 AM
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icomeanon6
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Before I say anything else, I want to say that you seriously deserve some kind of prize for writing such an astoundingly long story in such a short amount of time. I've only completed one chaptered fic before; it took me almost a solid year and it was shorter than this. You pretty much nailed the big three: quality, length, and time, which is damn near impossible. Kudos much!

As for the story itself, I'm a real sucker for pre-understanding-of-pokemon kind of stories, and your depiction of them absolutely didn't disappoint. You did a great job of making the initial hunt suspenseful; the danger involved was nice and palpable, and the "animals" in the forest were well defined despite the handicap that you can't use a Pokemon name to describe them. A lot of Pokemon writers use the fact that everyone knows about the Pokemon as a crutch, and you do more than fine without that crutch. My only real critique as far as the depiction of the Pokemon was that I felt that Fernine's evolution was kind of glossed over. I feel terrible for saying that any part of this story should have been longer, but after experiencing so much exquisite detail in the original hunt I guess I was expecting something a little more fleshed out.

I think my favorite element of the story might have been Sirinian's characterization. He was generally a pretty good person, but he had some definite flaws as well and chose to do some pretty bad things (when he decided to claim the young, dead wolf as his own, I was saying to myself "He'd better not get away with this"). On the whole, you did a good job of making him flawed but also sympathetic, so the reader still likes him. His arrogance could get on my nerves, but I could understand his isolation, and I was glad to see later that he knows how to be humble as well.

Only one mistake really stuck out to me, and that was how first Sirinian had been told about the gods from his mother, and later it turns out that the Virid children don't know their parents. A lot of good details can come to you as you write, but it's important to make sure they're all consistent. Just out of curiosity, which is correct? Or was the woman who told him about the mountain god a thousand times the woman he thought might be his mother?

One more thing is that I wasn't big on the ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZs used when Celebi is approaching. At first I thought Sirinian had just fallen asleep, and it took me a few lines to figure it out.

In a nutshell, this is an epic, fascinating one-shot, and I enjoyed it very much. Congratulations on getting third place! And congratulations again on making this whole thing hold together despite the immense length and the time restriction. In that sense, you've dwarfed the competition. ;D

My chapter fics:
Kanto: The Disputed Frontier - 14 chapters, indefinite hiatus. Gary Stu's Unpredictable Adventure - 8 chapters, completed. Digimon Campaign - 7 chapters, ongoing

One-shots:
There's Always Tomorrow (SWC 2009), A Matter of Stubbornness (SWC 2010), Left by the Roadside
(SWC 2011 1st place),
Giovanni Destroys the World and Everything in It (2012), By What Right? (SWC 2013 1st place), Back in the Day (SWC 2014 1st place) (New!)


Family (kind of?): Strange person who calls me strange names

If the pen is mightier than the sword, the keyboard is mightier than the ICBM.
  #4    
Old July 28th, 2011, 11:55 AM
Cutlerine
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Gah! Removing that early reference to Sirinian's mother was one of the edits that I thought I'd made in between getting the results and posting it here. Thanks for telling me I'd forgotten it.

Yes, there are quite a few inconsistencies in the story. It's my fault, for making it up as I went along and then writing it all in twenty-four hours (somehow, I completely missed the competition until the Tuesday). Anyway, praise is high indeed when it comes from the winner. I've read your story, and would like to take the opportunity here to tell you exactly how good it is, and that the best, in this case, definitely won.

Once again, thank you for stopping by and for your kind praise.

For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.

Last edited by Cutlerine; July 31st, 2011 at 01:31 AM.
  #5    
Old July 28th, 2011, 02:33 PM
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Daydream
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It's amazing the level of detail you managed to put into this, in such a short time. A well-deserving member of the SWC's top three, for sure.

I feel Sirinian was a well developed character and the way his mindset changes from beginning to end is very smooth, as opposed to him suddenly changing. I love the way you characterised Celebi (had me giggling, especially the part where she complained about Dialga). I also liked how you dealt with the culture clash, making it seem somewhat more realistic than Lorelei and Sirinian totally understanding each other at once.

I didn't notice anything wrong with it and really enjoyed it - the premise of the story is interesting and you executed it very well. No complaints here!
Whatever a spider can.
  #6    
Old July 30th, 2011, 11:41 AM
Cutlerine
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Thank you, Daydream. Might I take this opportunity to tell you how much I enjoyed your piece, too? I was going to tell you in your own thread, but I'm afraid to say I couldn't muster the energy for a proper review. My commiserations for not placing higher; the competition was very fierce.

I quite liked Celebi, too. If I ever have need of her again in a story, you can rest assured she'll be coming back with the same personality.

Sirinian is probably, as Clarissa would have it, the world's most complicated simpleton; he's a sort of Neolithic Holden Caulfield, in that nobody understands him and he gets on my nerves. I'm glad I succeeded in making his character change natural; I'm aware that often that sort of thing can come across as contrived and sudden in short stories.

F.A.B. (Oh my God, I'm such a nerd and I really need to stop signing off like this.)

For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.
  #7    
Old July 30th, 2011, 02:21 PM
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Spikey-Eared Pichu
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Oh. My. God.

That was seriously one of the most amazing fanfictions I've ever read. I LOVED it! Oh, and kudos on the unique names of the tribes

Your description of the Pokemon prior to Lorelei appearing was fantastic and I was searching like crazy for what Pokemon the Winter Wolf was before Lorelei came around xD

If you have any plans or inklings to continue this, PLEASE do! It's purely amazing!


If you feel like battling, send me a message (: I do use hacked Pokemon and am not afraid to admit it. If you have an restriction (No DW Pokemon, no legendaries, etc.) I'd be happy to oblige by those rules.
  #8    
Old July 30th, 2011, 04:46 PM
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Send a message via Windows Live Messenger to Mizan de la Plume Kuro
If anyone's wondering, I'm not reviewing the SWC entries based on their rankings --I have my own messed up priorities.

In any case, I have to say that I shouldn't be (considering your past exploits in the fiction arena), but I am, amazed at how you managed to write such a long story in the limited amount of time that we were allowed for the competition. It's a remarkable accomplishment for anyone and for that I commend you.

As for the piece itself, I can't really bring myself to do a complete breakdown because I want to do some other stuff tonight, but I can point out the bits that I liked, the bits that I really liked, the stuff that was amazing, and the stuff that made little sense, i.e the logical inconsistencies that I would find easy to chock up to a willing suspension of disbelief but won't because then I won't have much to say by way of critique. Anyway, I quite like stories that fill in the holes left by canon, especially the ones which weren't quite holes to begin with, and this was certainly no exception. The plot was amazingly well thought out because, usually, I'm not one for stories involving tribes and rituals, but this managed to stand out because of how you managed to make Sirinian's mind quite the modern one despite being raised among Neanderthals, a bit like an early Cro-Magnon. I guess it's because Sirinian didn't give off the kind of primal vibe that you usually associate with primeval stories like this. He was more the lost kid in the forest type who had a sense of sarcasm, something that I also love and find oddly out-of-place at the same time. Yeah, the slight sarcasm did add to his character, but, like Celebi, it felt slightly misplaced with the tone of the rest of the story. On that note, I did quite like Celebi and her references to the space-time continuum, even though it was awkward with everyone else being so serious.

Besides that, gotta love how you chose to depict Lorelei as the big-sister type, though I her willingness to tamper with time does bother me to an extent. I mean, it wasn't that hard to figure out that training hadn't been invented yet, since she was transported to when it began and all, so I was kind of hoping for her to be the silent observer type who would interact with the boy but would be unwilling to help him before realising that she was the one who started all of it. But no. Instead, she took an active role in shaping the course of human history without any deliberation for mucking up the timelines. Of course, this does say something for her strong-willed character, but it does indicate that she's a bit foolhardy with regards to her journeying. Otherwise, she knew that history worked as a closed time loop or Celebi pretty much hand waved the 'do not interfere' policy. In any case, her active interference pretty much cemented the foolhardy thing in my mind, but it didn't change the fact that I enjoyed how you showed her teaching Sirinian immensely.

Finally, I'm a bit iffy about the whole 'revenge' bit. It doesn't seem that satisfying to be honest, and I believe the interaction between Sirinian and the chief could've been handled a bit more tactfully, not like it was rushed. The whole encounter had the potential to be a bit more dramatic in my opinion.

Regardless, it was a splendid story and I loved it to bits. You've managed to combine quality with length and I'm disappointed that you didn't place higher despite the effort that must've gone into this. Amazing.
.F i c t i o N.
Havisham
"Break his heart, Estella. Break
his heart..." - Cutlerine
---

.F a n f i c t i o N.
The Promise I Made to You

SWC 2012 Second Place
  #9    
Old July 31st, 2011, 01:30 AM
Cutlerine
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@Mizan: Actually, Mizan, there wasn't too much effort placed into The Beastman - hence the weaknesses you've pointed out. I didn't realise there was a competition until far too late, rushed it massively for completion, and made the whole thing up as I went along. Hence the mistakes. I actually have a weird relationship with the story; I think I like the idea, but am uncertain about the execution; all I can say is that it was an experiment, and (I think) it turned out mostly all right.

Regardless, I accept both your criticisms and your praise. I think Celebi's mindset and Sirinian's sarcasm invaded the story from The Thinking Man's Guide to Destroying the World; I've been writing that for so long now that I found it very difficult not to make jokes and references while writing The Beastman. The worst of it is that writing them felt the most natural, which means that - worryingly - I'm getting stuck in the comedy genre. I'm going to have to do something about that.

What was I talking about? Oh yeah, thanks for stopping by. I realise that you're doing this for all the SWC entries, but it's still nice.

@Spikey-Eared Pichu: Thank you, but this story is done now. Forever. I'm not even going to bother editing it. I stopped because the words ran out.

For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.

Last edited by Cutlerine; December 18th, 2011 at 03:38 PM.
 
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