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June 24th, 2010 (3:20 PM). Edited February 22nd, 2011 by Hitoshizuku.
Fast forward to a future where trainers are myth and humans are no longer in control. Everyone’s waiting for a hero to find the legendary bird of seven feathers. They’ll have to make do with thieves, visionaries, evil imaginary friends, and one terrified ten year old.
No, there aren’t any heroes here. But this is the stuff legends are made of.
The original premise of “Seven Feathers” was to take a classic journey fic template and warp the heck out of it…that, uh, largely failed, but I still like to think it’s a journey fic at heart. There’s already a chunk of this fic on ff.net, but I'm trying to make revisions, so any suggestions are most welcome!
All to Ashes
Long flames licked ravenously at the tops of the walls, forming a blazing beacon against the night sky. As the fire leapt from building to building, throwing embers helter-skelter into the wind, a pair of figures watched from outside the city gates. One, a boy barely out of his teens, had fixed his eyes on the gate bars. Each fiery flicker reflected in the metal seemed to draw him further in, as if tightening some hypnotic hold on his heart. Slowly, almost unconsciously, the youth took a step towards the gates. Thinking better of his action, he hastily backed away.
"They gotta make it out!" he whispered, hands clenching at his sides. "Maybe we should go back in! If they don't make it out…"
His companion, a Pikachu with scorched fur around its cheek pouches, shook its head. "Quiet!" it hissed. "With the fall of Viridian City, there is little chance any of us will escape now."
A snap of wood, followed by the groan of caving plaster, signified the collapse of another building. Biting his lip, the boy leaned forward, letting his long matted hair obscure his trembling jaw. Though he had no way of understanding his Pokémon's grim words, he knew as well as the Pikachu did what was about to happen.
In the distance, a sudden crimson blast illuminated the sky. The young human fell into a crouch against the wall's base; the Pikachu beside him stiffened into a battle stance.
A burst of air rushed over the rooftops, causing the flames to dance even higher. The youth heaved a relieved sigh. Staggering onto his feet, he grinned as a lone shadow rose above the walls, its furiously beating wings framed against the swelling conflagration.
"Yes!" he whooped as the emerging Charizard tucked its wings in for a landing. The Pokémon's clawed feet skid several yards upon its hasty touchdown, ripping up clumps of dried grass. Struggling to stay upright, it forced its body into a rapid about-face. Both boy and Pikachu watched anxiously as the Charizard ducked its head and placed its load –a basket overflowing with blankets– onto the ground.
"Got out right before the Gym went up in flames," the Charizard heaved. Its leathery hide of scales bore several scorch marks, courtesy of the inferno it had just escaped. "There's no time now," the Charizard rushed on. It cocked its snout in the youth's direction. "Hurry and get onto my back. We have to leave before–"
The shrill scream of a child splintered the air. The youth's head jerked about, jaw tightening. Though he could not translate the Charizard's rumbling speech, he knew what his Pokémon wanted.
"No! We have to stay and help the other trainers and their Pokémon!" he shouted, starting back towards the gates. "You need to take the Wing and get out of here!"
Quickly, before either the Pikachu or Charizard could protest, he knelt in front of the basket and tugged aside the blankets. Beneath them was curled a sleeping baby, its body rising and falling with each soft breath.
"Hey, don't worry, I'll find you again," the young trainer whispered, touching the baby's cool forehead. "And if I don't, well…" A short, ragged laugh issued up from his throat. "Then I guess you'll just have to be the one to save us all."
Straightening, he pulled a jangling ornament out from under his arm. About a hand-span in width and fashioned from cold metal, the object resembled the profile of a bird in flight. Where the wings should have been, however, hung seven rusted hooks.
Feathers swayed from three of the hooks. The last four were empty.
"Guard the Rainbow Wing with your life," the trainer instructed his Charizard as he tucked the metal object in front of the baby. "We'll get the rest of the feathers once this is all over. The professor's still got one. And there's this."
He produced a long, slender feather from his jacket pocket. It glittered briefly in the firelight before disappearing underneath the blankets. Without another moment of delay, the youth nodded to the Charizard, who hurriedly took the basket's handle back into its mouth.
More flames surged upward, casting wavering shadows below the wall. Woven above the crackling of the conflagration was a series of shouts, some strained in pain, others screaming with rage.
"Go, Charizard, go!" Giving his Pokémon a slap on its flank, the boy bounded backwards, followed hurriedly by the Pikachu. In a rush of air, the Charizard was off, its broad wings pumping up and down for all they were worth.
As the trainer and his Pikachu swerved back to face the wall, the metal gates burst open, releasing a second human and Pokémon pair. The two of them, a willowy woman shoulder-to-shoulder with a towering Arcanine, approached in long brisk strides. One of the woman's hands snaked out as she reached the youth, grabbing his collar and yanking him off his feet.
"Where is it!" the woman demanded, rattling the boy's body.
The young trainer delivered a swift kick to his captor's shins, causing the woman to lose her hold. "Little trainer brat," the woman muttered, rubbing her injured leg. "Kaijin!" she screamed as the boy ran to the gates, fumbling in his pockets. "Do something!"
The Arcanine's ears twitched. Without hesitation, he bounded forward and knocked the youth into the dirt. The PokéBall in the boy's hand went flying, unopened, into the darkness.
The boy gasped as Kaijin's large paws crushed his stomach. The Arcanine above him was an imposing sight, his black stripes so wide that that the orange between them could barely be discerned. The Pokémon's singed, bristling fur stank strongly of smoke. Gagging, the trapped human was not sure which stifled him more: the heavy paws pressing into his stomach or the unbearable stench clinging so close to his face.
"Give it up, trainer," the Arcanine growled, baring his canines. The human words rumbled brusquely in the back of the Pokémon's throat. "Viridian City, the last refuge of you and your wretched fellows, is burning to the ground as we speak. Give us the Rainbow Wing, or that will be your fate as well." He leaned forward, shifting even more of his weight onto the youth's body. Red-hot embers glowed between his cavernous jaws.
Despite the smoke filling his nostrils, and the crushing weight on his stomach, the boy began to laugh. It was a soft chuckle at first, one that quickly escalated into a choking, hysterical gasp for air. "You…you think it's s-so si-simple," he wheezed, straining for each and every word as spots began to dance before his eyes. "But if you…cut off the h-hair, the head d-do-doesn't…die…"
His voice broke as the Arcanine set a paw on his throat.
"You c-aah-can't…!" he rasped, eyes bulging with the effort. "You caa-n't…destroy…us! N-not when…th-the-ere'll be…others…other Poké…mon trainers…who…will…!"
Silently, the Arcanine extended his nails. The whites of the youth's eyes gleamed in his battered, soot-stained face.
"Kaijin, you idiot!" screeched the voice of the Arcanine's human comrade. "Behind you!"
The Arcanine jerked his head about, only to meet with a pair of small black eyes and sparking red cheeks.
"You really are an idiot," the Pikachu hissed, eyes narrowing.
The wall blew apart with a blast of streaking electricity and spiraling flame.
In the air above, the Charizard heard the enormous explosion. Not daring to look back, it tightened its grip on the basket and flew on. Wind buffeted the tired Pokémon as it struggled for altitude. The basket hanging from its jaws started to sway precariously, startling its tiny occupant out of slumber. Ignoring the infant's cries, the Charizard soared doggedly on. Its tail flame grew weaker with each labored flap of its wings, and its vision more and more blurry.
It was too late when the Charizard finally noticed the tilting of the basket. The infant screamed as its blankets spilled out, flapping through the air like limp, graceless birds. Jerking back to attention, the Pokémon hastily attempted to straighten its load. It was too slow, too clumsy.
A metallic clink sounded as the Rainbow Wing clattered forward, feathers fluttering out behind it. It ricocheted off the rim and plummeted into the darkness below.
Panicking, the Charizard fell into a headlong dive. Its claws groped wildly about as the Pokémon zipped first one way, then another, across the night sky. With every frenzied lunge, the baby's screams grew louder.
At last, wholly exhausted and fearful the infant's cries might attract pursuers, the Charizard wearily climbed back to its original altitude. The ball of fire at the tip of its tail had dwindled to little more than a lone ember. Summoning the last of its strength, the Charizard hugged the basket to its chest and surged forward through the night sky. Eventually, the baby's sobs grew hoarse and quieted.
Only minutes later, the Charizard noticed the infant had fallen completely silent. Glancing down, the bemused Pokémon saw the baby sitting upright in the basket. The child's eyes were fixated wonderingly on the object caught in its tiny fist.
It was the feather that had been hidden under the blankets. The Charizard was surprised, and relieved, that the feather had not fallen out along with the Rainbow Wing. It had that much to be thankful for.
As the Charizard's wings beat across a starless sky, the child clutched the feather and watched it glitter in a light that only it could imagine.
June 25th, 2010 (7:18 AM).
Even before I started reading, I thought the premise was really very good but didn't know if the writing could stand up to it. It did. You really have a talent for making things exciting - I was actually leaning forward in my seat as I read, and I haven't done that in a long time - and I found no syntax mess-ups. Unless you count the fact that the first part of the story was labeled 'Epilogue', but I'm thinking that's intentional. Though I'm assuming the owner of the Charizard and Pikachu was Red? (If so, you've got another reason for me to read right there.)
Bottom line: Props on the first entry! Keep going and I'll follow.
June 29th, 2010 (7:06 PM).
Coming of Age
A long, long time later...
At night, Verdant Forest was usually a tranquil place. The peaceful silence was occasionally broken by the chirp of a cricket or snarl of a midnight predator, but rarely much more. Tonight, however, excited shouts and ringing laughter rose up from one of the sheltered forest glades. Firelight danced on the tree trunks as a sprightly Cyndaquil, its back a blazing cauldron of flame, pranced about the clearing's center. More small fires, flickering atop tall piles of sticks, illuminated the area from all sides.
"Cynda! Cynda!" the Cyndaquil chimed, kicking up its black paws. Furrowing its forehead in concentration, it took a running leap and hurtled itself into the air. With a graceful flip, it cleared a broad stump and landed, paws upraised, before a cheering audience.
All around the triumphant Cyndaquil, a circle of human and Pokémon children laughed and clapped their hands or paws together in delight. "Again, do it again!" some cried out. Encouraged, the Cyndaquil launched into a flurry of backflips, somersaults, and cartwheels. As it attempted an especially ambitious flip over a tree branch, a chorus of awed "oohs!" issued up from the assembled children.
The young humans who lived in the forest had always loved parties like these, as did the many Pokémon that inhabited the woods. Though some of the wilder creatures had originally been wary of humans, most feelings of mistrust had evaporated over time. Now, the small group of forest children mingled with the forest animals so freely it was sometimes impossible to tell human from Pokémon.
Smiling benevolently at her youthful charges, a withered white-haired woman sat on a fallen log, slightly apart from the rest of the gathering. At her side roosted an equally elderly Pidgeot, its head crest of feathers streaked through with grey.
Also away from the others, a stout scowling girl was hoisting a heavy basket of berries into the air. One of the other forest children, a grubby-fingered boy, darted forward and snatched up a fistful of berries for himself.
"Ikimo!" screeched the girl, yanking the basket away. Half its contents went tumbling onto the ground as she did. "Now look what you've made me do!"
Shrugging, the boy knelt and scooped up handfuls of the ripe fruit. "It's only a couple of berries, Alouelle," he countered, stuffing the fruit into his mouth and crunching contently. Dark lines of juice oozed out from the corners of his mouth, trickling all the way down to his chin.
Grumbling, Alouelle shoved him to the side and gathered up the rest of the berries alone. "Help me, will you?" she told Ikimo, jerking her head towards the pile of baskets behind her. "I want to get the rest of the food out before the ceremony starts."
"Which won't be for a while," the boy retorted. "The ceremony can't start without the guest of honor. And where's tonight's guest of honor? Bet you she forgot! She's always like that!"
Alouelle's round face blanched. "She can't have forgotten!" she protested sharply. Quickly, she scanned the faces that filled the clearing. The joyous yells and applause of the other children were still going strong. No one, it seemed, had noticed the absence of the party's intended focus.
"She can't have forgotten!" Alouelle said again, shaking the basket for emphasis. "It's her coming of age celebration, the day she turns ten! How could anyone forget that!"
"You know Lynn. Always drifting around, never saying anything to anybody. Quiet as a Gastly. Creepy as one, too. I'm surprised we even remembered to throw a coming of age party for her." Ikimo laughed and grabbed a second handful of berries from Alouelle's basket. Angrily, she slapped his juice-covered fingers to the side.
"Don't you dare touch those berries!" she snapped as she set the basket down. "I'm going to get Lynn. Finish setting up, will you?"
With that, Alouelle dashed out of the clearing, her straw-colored braids flapping out behind her. As soon as she had disappeared between the trees, Ikimo reached forward and crammed some more berries into his mouth. Savoring the sweet juice, then wiping his hands on his tattered, already well-stained sweatshirt, he wandered off to join the festivities.
Far away from the rambunctious party, a hammock knit from strong vines and wiry grasses swayed between the limbs of a weathered oak. Its occupant, a lone girl, leaned back into the net's sturdy niche, closing her eyes as the hammock rocked soothingly back and forth.
Tucking her arms beneath her head, Lynnet, or Lynn to all of the forest children, breathed in the cool night air. She inhaled and exhaled several times more, until the rhythm of her breathing matched the rocking of the hammock. Then, she stilled her breath completely, closed her eyes, and listened to the sounds around her.
It was a game Lynn liked to play with herself, finding out how much more she could hear if she made absolutely no noise. The slight creak of the branches as the hammock swung reached her ears first, followed by the whisper of a breeze rushing over her face.
As Lynn's concentration intensified, a flood of other noises fell upon her in quick succession. The scuttle of a small animal sounded in some distant bushes. The shuddering of some tree leaves swept forth on a passing wind. And the muffled beating of her own heart thudded steadily through the darkness. For the slightest fraction of a moment, Lynn thought she could even hear the ancient trees swelling out against their bark and the plants below stretching towards the sky.
Then her mouth burst open, gasping for air, and the spell was broken.
Breathing hard, Lynn sat up in the middle of her hammock. Had the wind suddenly grown colder, or was it just her imagination? She tugged restlessly at the too-short sleeves of her wrinkled shirt. As usual, it was totally ineffective. Like most of the forest children, Lynn had worn her sole set of clothes until they had become so patched and frayed that they offered little protection against the cold. But the pant legs that stopped several inches above the ankle and the numerous tears in her sleeves did little to bother her. As for appearances, it had been a long time since Lynn had even cared enough to comb out the tangles of coarse dark hair hanging below her ears.
This dark hair fell over Lynn's face now, tickling her check as she pulled out a small haversack from by her side. Placing her fingers over the sturdy material, Lynn deposited the sack carefully in her lap. With a quick twist and pull, the tight knots came undone. Several leaf-wrapped packets of dried berries and nuts rested at the very top, with a standard assortment of bundled herbs and tools beneath them. Lynn dug her hand past these layers, right to the padded bottom of the pack. Gingerly, her fingers brushed against a smooth, needle-thin surface.
Sitting back, Lynn gave a satisfied sigh of relief. She worried, more often than not, about losing her most secret treasure. Sometimes, on nights like these when the anxiety grew too strong, she couldn't help but check she still had it with her. But whenever Lynn reached into the bottom of her sack, it was always there. She'd feel silly then, though this silliness would soon be overcome by a soothing wave of reassurance. Lynn had always liked to be completely sure of things. As sure as one could possibly become, at any rate.
Once more, Lynn reached into the pack and, this time, carefully extracted the precious item. Holding tightly onto the thin shaft, she turned it first one way, then the other.
The object was difficult to make out at first, but its surface soon caught several stray shafts of moonlight and reflected them in a gleaming wave. In broad daylight, this wave would be beautifully iridescent, a scintillating swirl of every possible color Lynn had ever cared to imagine. And the object's actual shape, that of a glossy elongated feather, would be clear as well.
At least, Lynn fancied the object to be a feather. She'd seen the feathers shed by the local Pidgey during molting season: scraggly limp things that looked nothing like the exquisite shaft of rainbow she held in her hand. But even when she was little, Lynn had never thought to seek a second opinion. Apart from Lynn herself, no one had ever seen her special feather at all.
Of course, there wasn't really much purpose in the feather itself, besides…well, just being able to own such a pretty thing. Though Lynn often wondered what kind of creature the feather could have come from. Nothing she'd seen in Verdant Forest could ever match up with it, and she'd decided long ago that the feather must have come from some faraway land…like the places old Mother Woodwort liked to talk about in her stories. Places with wonderfully strange names like Sapheron, Sinn-bar, or Inda-go Pla-toe.
Then again, Mother Woodwort's stories usually weren't true. Mother Woodwort herself had attested to this fact numerous times. Yet many of the forest children still gathered eagerly around whenever she started a tale about her favorite subject of all: Pokémon Trainers, a strange race of humans that had disappeared long ago.
"Once upon a time," Mother Woodwort would begin in her creaky old voice, "There was a renowned Pokémon Trainer king who had four young heirs. One day, the king took them aside and said, 'My heirs, I will give each of you a stalwart Pokémon companion, for you must now prove yourselves to be good and noble Pokémon Trainers and venture into the world.' "
"To the first heir, the king gave Squirtle, a Pokémon with mastery over the forces of water. To the second, the king gave Bulbasaur, a Pokémon skilled with the power of grass, and to the third, Charmander, a Pokémon proficient in the ways of fire. But the fourth heir, alas! There was no Pokémon left for him!"
"What happened to the fourth heir?" the children would cry, even though most of them already knew the story by heart. "What happened to him?"
Mother Woodwort would pause dramatically before going on. " 'Where is my Pokémon?' the fourth heir cried to the king."
"Where? Where?" the forest children would chime back.
"And the king felt sympathy for the fourth heir, who was brave and strong and had a heart of gold. So the king traveled to the dank dark dungeons of his palace and searched. He searched and searched until he came upon one last Pokémon, one that had been locked away for many years. The king took this Pokémon to the fourth heir and said, 'I have only one Pokémon left to give you. But there is a problem with this last one.' "
"The fourth heir, however, was not afraid. Boldly, he stepped forward and accepted the final Pokémon, a Pikachu. And the Pikachu, in its rage, called upon the forces of the storm and released a horrible torrent of lightning upon the land. But the fourth heir stayed strong. Battered and bruised, he and the surly Pikachu left on their journey. For now that the heir had come of age, he was expected to go out into the world and…"
Come of age? Come of age?!
"Lynn! What're you doing up there? I can't believe you forgot about tonight! How could you!"
Snapping guiltily out of her daydreamer's trance, Lynn nearly fell out of her hammock. Glancing down, she could see fair-haired, round-cheeked Alouelle, arms crossed and one foot tapping impatiently. "Everybody's been waiting for you so the ceremony can start!" Alouelle shouted up at her. "So hurry up! We've got to get back right away!"
Stuffing the feather back into her pack and slinging the entire thing over one shoulder, Lynn climbed out of her hammock and scrambled after Alouelle's already bounding form.
Thanks for reading, Giratina! Many, many cookies and hugs for you! ^_^ Yep, the "Epilogue" thing is intentional. The boy with the Pikachu and Charizard I originally based on Ash, but Red could work as well (since Ash is kinda based on Red anyway so...okay, yeah, I'm done).
July 4th, 2010 (1:17 PM).
First of all, I'd like to say that the epilogue was beautiful. Its description was highly visual to the point where I could picture each moment clearly in my mind. For that reason, it felt like I was right there, feeling the heat of the fire and watching Ash (or a character based on him) nearly get crushed by that Arcanine.
It also heightened suspense quite nicely. You have a lot of mystery going on here, and by starting off with a dynamic note – with action and a lot of carefully chosen detail – you gave us a reason to keep reading. Every action taken in this part jumped out and, as I've said above, made me feel like I was actually watching the scene unfold. As a result, I wanted to keep going because it was clear to me that something interesting was going to happen. Of course, if you start off with Viridian City burning to the ground and a baby getting rushed out with the Rainbow Wing, there's no doubt that it'll be interesting, but every last word in this installment made this even clearer.
Well, sort of. The only thing that felt like it was taking away from the action was the fact that Ash was always referred to as "the youth." It just felt repetitive, which lent a sense of dryness to your work. Perhaps it was intentional (as in, you were trying to state that this was actually his title), but if it wasn't, don't be afraid to use different phrases to refer to him. For example, you could try calling him "the trainer" or "the boy."
As is, for that matter, the entire story of Ash's beginnings as a trainer. I love how it's recognizable, but it's obviously been altered to the point where it seems more like a myth than what could have happened. It's always interesting to see people address the fact that Ash is famous, and it's even better when people pass around stories about him. (Admittedly, I've only seen a handful of fics that do this, but this is probably the best rendition I've seen so far.)
Overall, it's a very fascinating start. You begin on an intensely strong note, and you continue by building a fairly believable post-disaster world. Lynn actually sounds like an interesting character, a bit off-beat from the rest of her tribe but still following their traditions. (It sort of reminds me of certain Disney characters or even a little bit of Ferngully, only without the environmental preaching or imminent tearjerkers.)
As I've said earlier, your description really only supports an already interesting story. You understand that detail is at least partially meant to convey a tone, and you take advantage of it at every moment. (For example, the sound of the trees growing. That entire scene feels peaceful just because of the way you described it, and it should because of the way the content is.)
Most importantly, you take the time to make it clear that this isn't your average new trainer fic or chosen one shenanigans. You have something special happen on the main character's tenth birthday, but it's not the protagonist rushing off to a professor to get a new Pokémon. It's a coming of age festival, which builds the primitive setting Lynn is surrounded by. You acknowledge Pokémon trainers and Ash's (?) past, but it's done in a way that makes it feel like it's just a myth. These are more like the heroes of the ancient Greeks than actual people, and you even sort of acknowledge that the reason why this is would be because the person passing this information on to the younger generations is an unreliable narrator.
As for the story, you're leaving us to wonder about the feather, about the Rainbow Wing, about the disaster in the epilogue, and about Lynn herself. Several good mysteries to keep us reading and looking forward to more.
Which, incidentally, is what I'll be doing.
July 5th, 2010 (10:29 PM).
Thanks so much for your incredibly thoughtful and well-written review, JX Valentine! This is one of the few times I've seen someone take the time and effort to go through my stuff with such care, and that makes me extremely appreciative. Seriously, Internet cookies and hugs alone won't express how much reading your post made my day. ^_^
"The scuttle of a small animal sounded in some distant bushes, the shuddering of some tree leaves swept forth on a passing wind, and the muffled beating of her own heart thudded steadily through the darkness."
Maybe I should leave it like that instead of breaking it up? Is it incorrect/awkward to break that into separate sentences? (My grammar knowledge = what I think "sounds good," so any advice is appreciated!)
Huh, or maybe this would be better?
"The scuttle of a small animal sounded in some distant bushes. The shuddering of some tree leaves swept forth on a passing wind. The muffled beating of her own heart thudded steadily through the darkness...Lynn blah blah blah."
Hmm...ponder ponder. Sorry for going on and on about this part! ^^;
At any rate, thanks again for taking the time to read my fic - many, many more cookies for you! I can only hope you keep on reading and advising!
(hides because the next chapter hasn't been started isn't done quite yet!)
July 10th, 2010 (6:19 PM). Edited August 7th, 2010 by Hitoshizuku.
Rites of Passage
By the time the two girls had reached the clearing, the formerly boisterous grove had become surprisingly silent, save for a single speaker. Peering through a gap in the bushes, Lynn saw ancient Mother Woodwort seated on a log at the far end of the glade, her constant Pidgeot companion, Cloudguider, perched serenely at her side.
As Lynn could have guessed, the old woman was in the middle of another one of her popular yarns. Tonight, she seemed to be telling the tale of the fourth Pokémon Trainer heir and the Pikachu he had befriended, the very story Lynn had been reciting to herself back in the tree. This coincidence wasn't too surprising; the legend of the fourth heir was the classic coming-of-age story. Lynn had heard it so many times that she practically knew it by heart…though that somehow did not dull the tale's luster in the slightest.
"…as the pouring rain faded into a drizzle, and the black clouds lifted from the sky, the fourth heir opened his eyes and turned to the Pikachu, and the Pikachu opened its eyes and turned to the heir. And both boy and Pikachu smiled, for the storm was over and they had won. Above them, a rainbow spread across the now clear sky. And then, miracles upon miracles, the bird of the seven feathers came down from above the clouds. It flew right through the rainbow's arches and was bathed in many beautiful colors."
Alouelle started forward, but seeing Lynn hang back, decided to wait as well. Both girls lingered outside the clearing, not wanting to interrupt the elderly storyteller.
"The boy and the Pikachu saw the bird of the seven feathers," Mother Woodwort continued in a hushed voice. All around the circle of children and Pokémon surrounding her, attentive stares had fixed themselves upon the storyteller's weathered face, raptly soaking up her every word. Pausing to draw out the suspense, the old woman's cracked lips curved into a smile.
"It was then that the boy and the Pikachu knew they would be friends for as long as they lived," she went on at last. "And so they were, a human and a Pokémon, closest of friends until their dying day."
Cheers of approval rose from the audience as the story drew to a close. Mother Woodwort beamed benevolently as her young companions, human and Pokémon alike, eagerly demanded another tale. Each called out their own favorites; one Sentret leapt onto its striped tail with its strident cries ringing out above the rest.
"But wait!" Gesturing for everyone to quiet down, the old storyteller cleared her throat and waited patiently until the very last child was reseated. "Though the bird of the seven feathers no longer flies these skies," Mother Woodwort said in a dramatic whisper, "it is said that it will someday appear again to a destined soul, one who is pure of heart and has been chosen by the fates."
Lynn leaned forward, unconsciously mouthing the concluding words to herself.
"And that hero shall restore the balance of the world at long last, and there shall be harmony among all for the rest of time."
"She's done – let's go!" Alouelle hissed before the echo of Mother Woodwart's words had entirely faded. "You're late enough as it is!" Not bothering to wait for an answer, she grabbed Lynn by the arm and started pulling her into the clearing.
Lynn's first instinct was to resist, but, knowing Alouelle's stubborn nature all too well, she reluctantly let herself be dragged into view of the other children. Besides, mortifying as it was to be reprimanded yet again, Lynn was too lost in her own thoughts to register much embarrassment.
For some reason, this particular story of Mother Woodwort's had always struck a chord within her. Even now, ten years-old and supposedly above believing in such things (as Alouelle would've sternly scolded her), Lynn still remembered the legend of the fourth heir in vivid detail…though it was really the bird of the seven feathers, and not the heir himself, that most intrigued her. The mystical bird that had flown with rainbows and graced the pure of heart with its portentous presence had always reminded Lynn of her own rainbow feather.
Looking up at last, Mother Woodwort smiled at her. "Hello, Lynnet," she said in a warm voice. "We were waiting for you." Cloudguider, her Pidgeot companion, fluffed up its feathers and clucked disapprovingly.
Alouelle prodded Lynn in the arm amidst the muffled giggles of the other forest children. Face growing hot, Lynn had a fleeting urge to shrink away and skip her coming of age ceremony all together. But Mother's Woodwort's bony fingers encircled her wrist before she could act, pulling Lynn to the very center of the glade.
"Let's begin, shall we?" the old women said briskly, positioning Lynn in front of a small circle strangely barren of all undergrowth. "Now, Lynnet, all you have to do is answer the questions I ask with a simple 'yes' or 'no.' Is that clear?"
Lynn nodded, gulping, and felt her throat go very, very dry.
Planting her gnarled wooden cane onto the ground before her, Mother Woodwort began to speak in a clear, carefully enunciating voice. "This is the coming of age ceremony of Lynnet, a child of the Verdant Forest. Tonight, Lynnet has turned ten years-old."
"Um, y-yes," Lynn stuttered out nervously.
A ripple of giggles cut her off as soon as the words escaped her mouth.
"Not yet, dear," Mother Woodwort corrected gently. "You don't say anything until the next part."
More giggling. Dumbly, Lynn nodded, praying she'd keep herself from making any more mistakes.
Clearing her throat, Mother Woodwort resumed in a louder voice. "Are you Lynnet of the Verdant Forest?"
"Y-yes," Lynn said, swallowing hard.
Mother Woodwort kindly nodded her encouragement. "Now that you are ten, you have the choice to leave your home and journey into the outside world. Is this the choice you have made?"
"Do you promise to journey unfettered by fear? Untarnished by spite? Unyielding to irresolution?"
Flashing a crooked-toothed, but benign smile at the nervous girl, the withered old woman slowly stepped forward. "Asphodel?" she called out, not turning around. "Please do the honors."
"Saauuurr!" intoned a booming voice in the distance. It was followed immediately by the grind of dry leaves under large, ponderous weights. Exclaiming in anticipation, several of the children quickly scampered back from the clearing's edges. From her position at its center, Lynn's dark brown eyes widened first in alarm, then unmasked wonderment.
All along the far boundary of the glade, plants and trees were bending to the sides of a newly-forming gap, the rustling of their leaves and creaking of their stems and trunks rapidly filling the awed silence. From the leafiest giant to the slenderest seedling, the entire wall of vegetation was pushed apart by some invisible hand, clearing a wide entrance into the previously isolated glade.
Beyond this dark gap, a pair of thick green vines emerged, writhing about like Ekans' tongues tasting the air. Branches groaned loudly, bowing even further towards the earth.
"Venusaauuurr," rumbled the voice again. The ground shook as an enormous head materialized from the shadows, followed by a lumbering pair of scaly blue feet. The delicate fronds atop the Pokémon's back trembled with each deliberate step, as did the elaborate flower resting between them. Once a vibrant magenta speckled with bright gold, the flower's colors had faded long ago into soft rose and pastel yellow, while the petals themselves had grown dry and crinkled over time. But the wilting blossom and limp leaves did little to detract from the Venusaur's unblinking scarlet eyes. Unlike the colors of the flower, these eyes had only sharpened with age.
Once Asphodel's gargantuan body had completely entered the clearing, pushing most of its occupants up against the opposite side, Mother Woodwort bent towards the ground. Standing beside her, Lynn caught a glimpse of something glittering between the old woman's thin wrinkled fingers. When Mother Woodwort had straightened, Lynn saw a ripe Gold Berry lying on the barren patch of dirt before her.
Slowly, the giant Venusaur took first one step, then another, towards the Berry. Its vine whips twisted forcefully about as it walked, as if struggling to wrench some unseen object from thin air. "Sauurr…" Asphodel growled as its whips thrashed and yanked, growing increasingly frenzied as the Venasaur came closer and closer to the center of the clearing.
Lynn's breath hitched in her throat as a small crack sounded. At her feet, the tough skin of the Gold Berry had split neatly down the middle. With a sharp snap, the fruit fell into two halves, pushed apart by a slender emerging sprout. Gradually, the metallic sheen of the Berry's shed shell dimmed. Simultaneously, a golden radiance began to pulse about the shoot's rapidly rising form.
Asphodel's vine whips had relaxed by this point. Instead of lashing wildly around, they were now pulling at the air in fluid, graceful motions. Lynn watched in rapt fascination as the shoot continued to grow and grow, becoming a strong sapling in a matter of seconds. Golden leaves unfurled atop said sapling's supple, burgeoning twigs. Before Lynn's eyes, those twigs extended into shining branches, while the young plant's base thickened into a smooth, sturdy trunk. Glancing down, Lynn could see the bulging form of roots spreading out underneath the soil, then rippling forcefully across the entire length of the forest floor.
Soon, the small tree had reached Lynn's height. Moments later, it had surpassed it. With every inch that the gilded branches stretched skyward, the tree's radiant form grew brighter and brighter, until everyone, including Lynn, was forced to shield their eyes.
A loud crunch sounded as the highest branches of the tree slammed into the forest canopy. Leaves rained down upon Lynn's motionless body, showering her hair and shoulders. Cringing, she squeezed her eyes shut tighter than ever. Only when the last leaf had fluttered down, landing with a soft rustle at her feet, did she finally venture a peek at her surroundings.
Inhaling sharply, Lynn found the dirt of the forest floor strewn with glittering leaves and twigs. At the clearing's center stood a majestic metallic trunk, its surface pulsating gently with some strange, glimmering internal energy. Each of the tree's branches was heavily adorned with leaves surrounding clusters of ripe Gold Berries.
From the edge of the clearing, Asphodel released a grunting sigh. Then, without a word, it turned and trudged back into the gap through which it had come. The previously restrained trees and plants snapped back into place with an audible whip, concealing the former opening completely.
For several moments, Lynn gazed wordlessly upward at the many luminous leaves, glittering as they shuddered in a passing breeze. The top of the Gold Berry tree had shoved a new hole into the canopy above, which was now letting in a shaft of moonlight to bathe the clearing in a soft glow.
Now clearing her throat to break the silence, Mother Woodwort hobbled over to the Berry tree's base. In perfect tandem, Cloudguider the Pidgeot spread its wings and launched itself into the air. Lynn's eyes followed the bird Pokémon as it shot upwards, coming to hover directly before the tree's lowest branches.
With a quick peck, Cloudguider broke off a cluster of Gold Berries, then, with a flash of its broad wings, swooped down and caught it before it fell too far. Holding the gleaming fruits gingerly in its beak, the Pidgeot returned to earth and dutifully presented them to Mother Woodwort. In turn, the old woman plucked each of the Berries from the sprig they clung to. One by one, she folded the golden fruits into a piece of cloth.
Each Berry flashed between her fingers as she set it in place. Lynn counted ten of them in total.
"Like that first Gold Berry," Mother Woodwort said softly, pressing the bundle of fruit into Lynn's hands, "your first step is to break out of your shell. Once that is accomplished, the bounties of success and happiness will follow with time. We give you our blessings, Lynnet of the Verdant Forest. May the spirit of the bird of the seven feathers, and your own strength of heart, forever guide you."
Clutching the Gold Berries tightly against her collarbone, Lynn hastily bowed her head first to the old woman, then to the gray-winged Pidgeot beside her.
She wasn't sure what to do next. As her prior nervousness rapidly resurfaced, all memory of previous coming-of-age ceremonies abruptly fled Lynn's mind. Could she sit down now? Or should she make a speech? Perhaps just say thank you?
There was an uneasy minute of silence as Lynn just stood there, body frozen in mid-motion, heart pounding in confused anxiety.
Then came the snickers, soft and stifled at first, but quickly growing in force. Seized by cold terror, Lynn's eyes darted over the other children's faces. Some remained politely solemn, but many more were twisted in open mirth. Mortified, Lynn averted her gaze, but not before catching sight of one girl whispering into the ear of another.
Mother Woodwort came forward and tried to place a comforting hand on her shoulder. Stomach wrenching, Lynn slipped away before the old storyteller could make matters even worse.
Acutely aware of the other children's stares, she hurriedly muttered some excuse about being tired and walked away with her eyes fixed intently on the ground. It was not until all the others were safely out of range that she began to run.
What Lynn wanted wasn't a wild party, where everybody else was having too much fun to pay any attention to her. It was to be back in her snug hammock, counting Mareep, listening to the night wrap itself soothingly around her…
As soon as the sound of Lynn's footsteps faded away, the party originally thrown in her honor started up again in full force.
July 11th, 2010 (9:30 PM).
I just wanted to jump in and say that I've thoroughly enjoyed this story so far, and I've subscribed so I won't miss a chapter I really like how it's a trainer story, but in a more fantastic and alternate setting.
The only thing that I really feel like possibly calling out would be the more exotic word choices. I don't think it's bad, and in fact I enjoy it, but it does set the style apart in a distinct way that others may not appreciate as much. Then again, that could just be me imagining the worst.
Anyway, fine work!
August 4th, 2010 (7:42 PM). Edited September 7th, 2010 by Hitoshizuku.
Rays of sunlight were already trickling through the leafy canopy by the time Lynn awoke. She stayed still for another minute or two, face upturned, watching the flickering patterns of light made by the leaves above fluttering in the wind. As she did, the lilting song of a Togetic wove through the woods, its melodic strains drifting over to where Lynn lay.
"To-geeiii! To-geeiiiii!" the wild Pokémon trilled. To Lynn, its cries sounded an awful lot like "Today! Todaaay!"
Today was the day, all right. A yawn dissolving her sudden smile, Lynn slid from her hammock, swaying a bit groggily as she planted her feet on the ground. She felt little grief or apprehension about departing from her childhood home. True, she had no idea where she was going to go after she left Verdant Forest. But Lynn was now ten years-old. According to the tradition of the forest children, she was now considered on her own and encouraged, if she so chose, to seek her fortune in the outside world.
That was exactly what Lynn wanted most. She'd been waiting and waiting for her chance to travel the world alone, far before she could remember having any other dreams. Where the journey led made little difference. Lynn was fairly sure she'd manage just fine, as long as she didn't have to struggle out a pained, awkward existence among other people. Traveling by herself, she'd have no companions save for the wind and clouds, who wouldn't snap at what she might say, or snicker if she didn't say anything at all. Being alone was always what Lynn had liked best.
As she slung her pack over her shoulder, however, she paused. Despite her long-held yearning to leave it all behind, Lynn definitely knew things she'd miss about Verdant Forest, the old climbing trees, the familiar noises at night, Alouelle's sharp but affectionate nagging, and Mother Woodwort's wonderful stories among them. Lynn wouldn't have terribly minded sticking around and saying goodbye to Mother Woodwort and Alouelle, at least. But what good would come out of that? Better to start out while the day's still new, Lynn assured herself. She'd forget all about home once she was underneath the open sky.
"Lynn, hey! Wait up! Wait!"
Turning, Lynn saw a stout form struggling through the undergrowth, flaxen braids swinging out with every loping leap. It was Alouelle, hair messily bound and face flushed with exertion.
"Hey," Alouelle panted, bending nearly double. Lynn waited quietly as the younger girl gulped for air. Straightening at last, Alouelle looked Lynn straight in the eye and positioned her hands indignantly on her hips. "Were you really just going to leave without telling anyone?" she demanded, furiously flipping back her straw-colored hair.
Before Lynn could stutter out an answer, Alouelle was pulling a frayed cloth ribbon from one of her braids. "Well, before you go," Alouelle said as she shook out her long hair, "take this, alright?"
Lynn glanced down at the other girl's outstretched palm and at the pale blue ribbon dangling from it. Then, she looked hesitantly up at Alouelle's round face, one side framed by wavy pale tresses, the other sporting her usual thick braid.
"Just take it," Alouelle growled, shoving the ribbon at Lynn. "Your hair's even worse than mine, and you'll need something to keep it out of the way when you're walking."
Shyly, Lynn accepted the ribbon. Then, as Alouelle watched on impatiently, she pulled back her coarse dark hair and tied it in place with fumbling fingers. "Th-thanks, Alouelle," Lynn said once she finished, tentatively shaking her head to make sure the ribbon was secure.
"Don't mention it. Now, you'd better hurry up and go before it gets too late!"
Lynn watched as Alouelle hurried back the way she'd come, disappearing between a cluster of tree trunks. "Bye, Alouelle," Lynn whispered under her breath. And she started walking.
Ancient, gnarled monsters of trees dominated most of the Verdant Forest. To a distant observer, these trees might have looked like giant skeletal toothpicks, shooting so far up that they gave barely a thought to growing out. But upon closer examination, it would become staggeringly apparent that ten stretching and straining Dragonair, linked mouth to tail, could not completely encircle the enormous trunks. Even bulkier than said trunks were the lush green treetops far, far above, shrouded in wispy white clouds.
Little sunlight filtered past the leafy masses and branching limbs; only through the rarest of gaps did shafts of light ever find their way to the forest floor. It was underneath one of these gaps that Lynn found herself that afternoon, sitting cross-legged on smooth patch of dirt and unpacking the day's lunch. She was just finishing off a small cake of ground Apricorn meal when she realized she was not alone.
Something was beating out a soft "pat-pat-pat" against the ground. Looking up from her crumbs, Lynn saw a small furry Pokémon sitting no more than a few feet away, its bushy brown tail slapping the ground with every eager wag.
With long cocked ears and white tufts of fur encircling its neck, the Pokémon was definitely an Eevee. Lynn had seen one of these rather scarce forest Pokémon only once before, and the curiosity of this one intrigued her.
"Hello," she said softly, taking out another cake. "Are you hungry?"
The Eevee hesitantly lifted one paw, as if to take a step towards her. It did look rather thin, with all that fur hanging so loosely on its small frame.
"I've got other food, too," Lynn added quickly as she rummaged through her pack. The Eevee did not react as she waved first a dried green fruit, then a handful of peeled nuts in front of it. Trying her best to recall what an Eevee might normally eat, Lynn reached back into her haversack. This time, her fingers closed around a small cloth package.
She'd nearly forgotten about the ceremony last night, not to mention the gift she had received from Asphodel and Mother Woodwort. Opening the bundle, Lynn carefully tipped out several Gold Berries. Three of the precious fruits glinted in her open palm, their metallic skins reflecting the sunlight in three blinding auras.
"Ah...would you like some of these?"
Slowly, the Pokémon trotted forward, black nose twitching. Then, indecision abandoned, it dashed into the circle of sunlight with its luxuriant tail bobbing behind it.
Lynn smiled reassuringly and held the Gold Berries closer.
The Eevee skidded to a stop in front of her and, bowing its head, delicately took all three of the Berries. To Lynn's amusement, it did not swallow them. Instead, the Eevee simply stored them in its mouth, causing its cheeks to puff out with fruit.
"Saving them for later?" Lynn asked, even though she knew the Pokémon couldn't answer. "Or are you taking them to a friend?"
Cheeks still bulging, the Eevee looked innocently up into Lynn's gaze.
Lynn's cry caught in her throat, leaving her to gape soundlessly at the Pokémon's furry face. She had no idea how she could have ever missed something so glaringly obvious.
The Eevee's gaze was as strikingly golden as the Gold Berries it had just taken. Even now, they were glinting with the same metallic sheen as the Berries' tough shells, pulsing with the same gentle aura as the bark of a Gold Berry tree.
The golden eyes blinked, and before Lynn could react, the Eevee had snatched the entire package of Berries from her hand. With a swish of its tail, it was tumbling back out of the sunlight, racing away from Lynn at top speed.
"Wait!" Lynn shouted, bolting up. "You can't have all of those!"
The Eevee ran faster. Hiking her pack over a shoulder, Lynn dashed after it. Staggering through a clump of bushes and leaping over a maze of naked roots, she caught sight of the golden-eyed Eevee darting between two tree trunks. As she reached the trees and eased through, however, the ground dropped out abruptly from under her right foot.
Yelping in surprise, Lynn half-fell, half-skid down the unexpected slope. Her feet twisted under her body as she hit bottom in a cloud of dust. She gasped as her head spun for one nauseous moment, disoriented by both the sudden fall and ensuring debris. As her mind slid back into focus, she became sharply aware of her bare elbows, scraped raw from the rough pebbles and stinging with pain. Grimacing, Lynn scrambled back onto her feet, gingerly rubbing her arms and peering around.
She had fallen into a deep ditch, one that had been almost entirely concealed by the heavy overgrowth above. The Eevee was nowhere in sight, and her ankle was beginning to throb slightly.
Cautiously, Lynn made her way forward, surprised at the spongy feel of the ground beneath her toes. Turning her gaze downward, she saw that the soil was carpeted not in grass, but a fine layer of emerald moss. Is there water nearby? she mused. It wouldn't be a bad idea to refill her canteen before leaving. Now if she could only find the stream...but then, she could worry about that later.
Listening intently for the soft footfalls of the golden-eyed Eevee, Lynn started across the mossy blanket. Ahead, she spotted an opening carved into one of the steep earthen walls surrounding the ditch. Squinting, Lynn could just glimpse a pinprick of light shining through from the other side.
Seeing as it had to be the only way out, she stepped into the cavernous passage. The heels of her feet clapped against the ground, the sound of each footstep amplified several times over in the dark cave. It was eerie at first, and Lynn did her best to rush straight ahead. A minute later, she was bursting into blinding sunlight, stumbling across the grass at the other end.
As if it had been waiting there all along, the Eevee crouched less than a yard away from the cavern's mouth. Its liquid-bright eyes locked onto Lynn's own. Slowly, and ever so deliberately, the Eevee set down the cloth bundle it had stolen. Then, as if it hadn't a care in the world, it trotted nonchalantly off, tail waving behind it like a jaunty flag.
Heaving a sigh, Lynn knelt by the bundle, taking it in her hands and unwrapping it carefully. A pile of Gold Berries tumbled into her palms. Counting them once, then once again, Lynn was relieved to find all seven remaining Berries still there. Resolving not to let something like that happen again, she shakily rose to her feet.
"Sorry about that."
Head jerking up, Lynn almost dropped her Gold Berries. Sitting cross-legged on a rock, a couple yards in the distance, was a boy only slighter older than Lynn herself. He had positioned himself strategically underneath a gap in the canopy, one of the few places where the streams of light from above came in virtually unrestricted.
Judging by his incredibly pallid complexion, however, Lynn would have guessed that this boy rarely sat out in the sun, preferring instead to skulk about the darker, deeper portions of the forest. But then, his skin wasn't the only thing that was too pale about him. Perhaps it was just an aftereffect of being illuminated in a light too blinding, but everything, from the boy's longish brown hair to his wrinkled old jacket, had an oddly washed-out appearance, as if Lynn was merely viewing his reflection in a too-shallow pool.
"Hey," the boy called out when Lynn didn't respond. "Sorry my friend here took off with your stuff like that. Eon gets funny like that sometimes. Don't you, Eon?"
From behind the boy's back, the Eevee poked out its furry head, golden eyes glittering unreadably.
"Oh, um...it's okay, I-I..." Feeling the eyes of both the boy and Eevee boring into her, Lynn found herself at a loss for further words.
The boy gave a short, glib laugh at this. "Hear that, Eon?" he asked the golden-eyed Eevee with feigned incredulity. "She's decided to let you off easy this time. The least you could do is thank the poor little girl."
The Eevee remained immobile and, judging by its unblinking gaze, apparently unruffled.
"Call me Wreander," the boy said to Lynn, sticking out a gloved hand. To Lynn's unease, the tips of his glove were spiked with long silver claws. Friendly as Wreander's grin looked, Lynn kept her hand firmly at her side. She also kept a fair distance away from the boy's rock.
"Polite, aren't you?" Wreander laughed, taking the point and retracting his hand. "I don't bite, you know. Not usually. Though sometimes I foam at the mouth."
He sighed with exaggerated heaviness when Lynn still hesitated to answer. "Not only polite, but a great conversationalist as well," he commented, mouth curving into what looked unfortunately like a smirk. "Well, Lynnet of the Verdant Forest, I guess you'll be wanting some compensation for those three Berries Eon ate."
He gave the Eevee a teasing nudge, and the Pokémon licked its lips in recollection of its tasty meal.
"H-how...how do you know who I am?" Lynn asked Wreander uneasily.
"Oh, I have my ways. Seriously? Look." He gestured to the cloth-swathed Berries in Lynn's hand. "It says your name right on there. The package Eon swiped."
Squinting anxiously, Lynn brought the cloth to her face and scrutinized it. There were some strange black strains on the cloth, but she'd assumed they'd been inked there by Mother Woodwort for decoration.
Wreander's eyes narrowed as Lynn nervously examined the alien marks. "You can't read, can you?" he asked her. "Or write, then."
"Oh, nothing." Sighing, Wreander ran a hand through his scruffy light brown hair. "It'll probably come back to haunt you later, but that's not my problem. The thing is, Lynn, you gave Eon three of your Gold Berries. Now, we owe you three choices."
Lynn shook her head and hurriedly started to back up. Before she could get very far, however, Wreander spoke again. His voice was filled with mirth. "It's been a while, you know, since a ten year-old starting out a journey has gotten three choices. Consider it an honor, Lynnet of Verdant Forest. A very big honor."
"Ch-choices?" Lynn whispered finally, curiosity carrying the words out from between her trembling lips.
Wreander's dark eyes blinked in surprise, then shone with contained laughter. "First, the legalities," he informed her. "You only get one choice. You choose something, then realize you don't like it, too bad. I could care less, so you'd better have enough caution for two. Good so far?"
Though far from comprehending Wreander's true purpose, Lynn nodded to urge him on.
"First choice. You can live your entire existence in peaceful monotony. You'll never do anything that can be considered great, or be remembered by anyone after you've left this world. But you'll also be guaranteed a long secure life and painless death of natural causes."
"What? But you c-can't..." Lynn started to argue. Her voice wavered as Wreander continued, unperturbed by her outburst.
"Second choice. You can become a blazing star. Your life will be one short, dazzling burst of glory. People will remember you as a hero for generations to come. They'll also remember how tragically you died, your young life snuffed out before you ever had a chance to grow up."
His mouth twitched amusedly at Lynn's widening eyes. "Beginning to get the gist of things now?"
Lynn shook her head dizzily, dark ponytail swishing from side to side. "B-but there's no way for you t-to...to change my life like that," she remonstrated in a faint voice. "Isn't that...impossible?"
Wreander snapped his fingers nonchalantly. Instantly, a translucent ring of pale blue fire sprang up around him. Wisps of sapphire light flickered over the boy's bare feet and forearms, wrapping his body in a shifting ghostly fog. Lynn could hear Eon yipping as Wreander, engulfed by that shimmering shroud, rose slowly into the air.
The boy began to float towards her, his skin no longer white, but tinted an eerie bloodless blue. With a strangled gasp, Lynn took a hurried step back and tripped over a rock in the dirt. Feet twisting underneath her body, she lurched onto the ground with a heavy thud.
"I, for one," Wreander said in a wry voice, dark eyes glimmering in his wraithlike face, "don't usually start off so cynically. I prefer to believe that things are possible, until proven impossible. Still, if you want to challenge me, go right ahead and choose..." His lips curled into what was, this time, an unmistakably malevolent smirk.
Hands shaking as she struggled to sit up, Lynn spoke softly, straining vainly to stifle the trembling in her voice. "B-but then...then what's the third choice?" she asked Wreander slowly, quietly. As rationally as she could possibly manage to sound, which by this point wasn't very much at all. "Didn't you...y-you said there were three of them."
"Oh, so she can count!" The boy closed his eyes for a brief moment, during which Lynn hastily bolted onto her feet. "The third choice, Lynnet of Verdant Forest?" Wreander said, eyes snapping back open as soon as Lynn moved. "You walk away from here of your own volition. Leaving without picking either of the other two choices."
Uneasy silence hung between the two of them. Lynn bit her lip and lowered her eyes, while Wreander watched her brow furrow with unconcealed amusement. "Made up your mind yet?" he prodded, crossing his arms across the front of his faded jacket. "I don't have all century, you know. Not this time." With another snap of the fingers, he was lowering his body onto the ground to face Lynn directly.
Lynn, eyes fixed downward, saw only bare feet sinking into the moss as the boy walked forward. They had become pearly pale once more, a marked contrast to the vibrant, yielding emerald below. "I-I guess what I don't understand," she said at last, still staring closely at the ground, "is why you're giving these choices to me. I just gave some Berries to that Eevee. That...it wasn't very special or important. W-was it?"
"Do you think it was, Lynn?" Wreander challenged. "Whatever you think, now that's what makes the difference. You understand?"
Lynn flinched as a flare of intense blue light rippled across the ground right before her eyes. When the spots cleared from her vision, Wreander's pale face was inches from her own. "When people are talking to you," he informed Lynn sarcastically, "you're supposed to look them in the face."
From its position on the boy's glowing blue shoulder, the golden-eyed Eevee was staring pointedly at her.
Lynn's hand tightened around the Gold Berries she was still clutching, as if seeking reassurance from the glowing forms underneath the cloth. "I guess I've chosen, then," she mumbled.
"Say that again, louder this time."
Taking a deep breath, Lynn scrunched up her eyes and summoned her final reserves of courage. "I-I've chosen!" she managed to screech out.
And the boy could object, she was racing across the moss and towards the tunnel she'd come from, heart palpitating furiously all the while. She half-expected Wreander to stop her, to grab her by the arm or force her to freeze with his strange powers. But as Lynn's feet pounded down the dark passage, all she heard was the sound of his laughter echoing in the clearing behind her.
"Think you'll beat out both of the other two choices, Lynnet of the Verdant Forest?" Wreander jeered after her. "Maybe you'll live a long, prosperous life, and become a legend while you're at it. Then again, you might die young and be forgotten as well. Do you think so, Lynn? Remember, it's what you think that matters in the end!"
Lynn only ran faster. As she burst out of the earthen tunnel to meet the blinding sunlight, the world itself rushed up to meet her. Lynn felt herself lurching forward, feet kicking at the air, hands grasping for something, anything to keep herself from falling. The packet of Gold Berries was slipping out from between her fingers; brilliant metallic sparkles were bursting before her eyes...
The last things Lynn saw were the tendrils of a vaporous blue mist, wrapping themselves over her terrified face. Wreander's mocking words sounded above her, bearing rapidly down as she struggled not to scream, then not to suffocate.
Beginning to get the gist of things now? Remember, it's what you think that matters in the end!
Light was pressing on Lynn’s eyelids when she came to at last. Putting a hand to her painfully pounding forehead and struggling into a sitting position, she became aware of hard dirt below pressing into her back. Looking up, she could see a blue patch of sky, shining through a wide gap in the tree branches.
This was the same spot where Lynn had eaten her lunch, before she’d seen the Eevee and gone running off after it. With an unpleasant start, Lynn recalled Wreander’s smirking face and unearthly powers. The strange boy and Eevee, and the equally cryptic choices they’d offered her, made as little sense now as ever. Had they been no more than figures from a bad dream, twisted figments of her own tired mind?
The cloth holding the Gold Berries, Lynn noticed suddenly, was resting on the ground beside her. Biting her lip, she took it in her hands and unwrapped it.
Seven sparkling Berries lay heaped there. Lynn anxiously counted them once again just to be completely, utterly sure. A sickening chill creeping up her skin, she folded the cloth back up and tucked the whole thing into her pack with trembling fingers.
Shivering, she got to her feet, her cramped legs groaning as she did. After shaking them to relieve the pins-and-needles sensation, Lynn swiftly set off again. She was determined to put as much distance between herself and this part of the forest as possible.
Out of the corner of her eye, she thought she saw a wisp of silvery blue haze materializing from the sunlight. Heart jolting in trepidation, Lynn spun about and met face-to-face with…
Scolding herself for being so paranoid, she turned away and, determined not to let her imagination run out of control, started walking.
Still, despite her efforts to erase it, Wreander’s laugh still echoed ever-so-faintly in her mind.
fissionessence, thanks so much for reading - I'm really happy you've enjoyed it so far! Hopefully you're still reading even though I took so long to update, haha. Feel free to let me know if you notice any weird or out-of-place sounding words - I wouldn't be surprised if there are, heh.
August 19th, 2010 (8:59 PM). Edited September 7th, 2010 by Hitoshizuku.
Through Sun and Storm
Ironically enough, the day had begun auspiciously. Lynn had spent the night before dozing on the outskirts of Verdant Forest, having set up her hammock between two sturdy oaks just as dusk fell. After a quick drink of water the next morning, she'd packed up her things and set off once more. After an hour or so of walking, she glimpsed a stretch of meadow from between some craggy tree trunks. Easing out from behind a gnarled prickly bush, the weary ten year-old could barely keep a grin from spreading across her face. Despite her scrapes and sore feet, she'd made it out of the forest at last!
The trip through the field was a welcome change for Lynn, who'd so far spent most of her journey picking her way through tangled undergrowth. Now, she sprang lightheartedly through the tall grass, pack bouncing against one shoulder. A breeze tickled her cheek and ruffled at her hair as she bounded happily on. True, she didn't really have a direction in which to go, or a destination at which to be. But Lynn ran anyway, exuberant with the sheer joy of just that: running.
Soon enough, she spotted a strip of brown dirt in the distance. Slowing to a walk, Lynn approached it with a mixture of curiosity and apprehension. As she neared the bare sweep of soil, however, she realized that the part she'd noticed before was only a fraction of the thing's entire length. The stretch of naked land wound like a ribbon through the field for what must've been miles and miles, much farther than her eye could see.
Lynn frowned at the sight, wondering if some plague or ravenous plant-eating Pokémon had stripped away all the vegetation. But one of Mother Woodwort's stories soon rang a bell in her mind. Outside Verdant Forest, Mother Woodwort had said, human hands had cleared long tracts of land long ago. These tracts were called "roads" and had been created to make traveling easier.
"In the days of the Pokémon Trainers," Mother Woodwort's voice came back to Lynn now, "people used roads to get to important places called cities or gyms. If a Pokémon Trainer ever got lost, all they had to do was follow a road."
Lynn wasn't exactly lost, but she was curious to see if there was any truth in Mother Woodwort's stories. Not to mention that strange words like "cities" and "gyms" intrigued her. Telling herself that she had nothing to lose, she trotted readily down the dirt path.
For the first few hours, the going was relatively easy. The flat, uncluttered road presented little difficulty to a spry young traveler. And though Lynn disliked the clouds of dust that swirled up from its cracked surface and tickled her eyes and nose, she had to admit it was easier on her feet than the hidden thorns and dried twigs of the meadowland.
But as several hours in the indolently humid air crept by, she found herself slowing to a weary trudge. The sun had climbed high overhead by now, to where it beat mercilessly down on her dark hair. The farther she walked, the more her head seemed to throb in the heat. Lynn stopped several times to wipe her face and take a sip of water from her canteen. Within minutes, however, the sweat would be running down her face as freely as ever, and her desiccated throat would force her to fumble for another drink.
Dragging to a halt for the umpteenth time, Lynn found herself longing for the shade of the trees in Verdant Forest once more. Shade would definitely be good. Anything that could clear away the scorching heat and muggy air would be good!
That wish was fulfilled before the afternoon was half-spent.
With her head hanging down, jerking carelessly with each labored step, it took Lynn a while to notice how dark the sky had grown…as well as the ominous mass of clouds that had gathered over the sun, concealing it from view.
A rumble in the distance made Lynn look up at last. By this point, the afternoon sky was swathed in threatening gray layers of storm clouds. The humid heat had vanished, leaving only crisp cold air and a meandering breeze to sweep across her face. Her previous complaints about the heat completely forgotten, Lynn hugged her bare arms to her body and shivered. The wind seemed to have frozen all her sticky sweat into clinging ice. Peering nervously into the sky, she forced her strides to lengthen.
A fork of lightning cleaved the heavens in two, followed by a resounding crash of thunder. Lynn ran faster as the first drops of rain began to fall, hitting her skin and splattering down in chilly runnels. As a second bolt of lightning illuminated the sky, she felt herself slipping into a rapidly growing puddle. Yelping, her arms wind-milling wildly about, the terrified girl fought to keep herself upright…
Thunder tore through the air again, so close that the ground itself seemed to quiver.
Gasping, Lynn went down with water splashing in all directions. The rain came in torrents now, turning the dry dust of the road into treacherous channels of swirling mud. Trembling with both cold and fear, Lynn struggled to her feet, rainwater pouring from her clothes in heavy streams. She almost fell again, but planted one foot over the side of the road just in time, where rough grass provided enough traction to stand.
Rain and streaks of dirt mingled freely over Lynn's face, blinding her eyes as soon as she tried to open them. Swiping at her face only smeared the mud into a more hopeless mess. Lynn gave up quickly. Head turned to the ground and shoulders braced against the wind, she ran headlong against the violent downpour without daring to pause, for fear of being washed away if she did.
This fear was not unfounded. As Lynn struggled doggedly on, she saw that the chances of being swept away had become very, very real. Pebbles flew from the road in a cacophonous hail, while the wind yanked out prairie weeds by the roots and viciously tossed them into the downpour. Lynn even thought she glimpsed a young tree, branches flailing wildly as it went spiraling into the murky sky.
The wind abruptly shifted direction, and now Lynn found herself buffeted backwards. Cold drops of rain battered her exposed skin, throwing globs of dirt and ripped grass against her body. As one particularly strong gust blasted past, Lynn found herself reeling back, unable to take another step into the oncoming wind.
Suddenly, a black shadow shot out of the storm, coming so quickly that it could've only been hurtled on the wings of the squall itself. Lynn tried to duck, but was nowhere near fast enough. The dark object slammed right across her face, knocking her onto her side and throwing her through the mud.
Spitting dirt from between her bruised lips, Lynn moved shakily onto her knees. The storm tore at her hair, wrenching the blue ribbon from her hair.
"No!" Lynn cried as Alouelle's gift went fluttering into the watery whirlwind. She might have even leapt after the ribbon, risky as it was, if a hoarse groan hadn't distracted her.
"S-someone there?" Lynn yelled, peering futilely through the storm. Her words were swallowed by the wind as soon as they left her throat. "Anyone?" she shouted more desperately.
Out of the storm's deafening roar arose a faint, straining response.
Shielding her face from the rain, Lynn stumbled clumsily towards the sound.
Only to trip over a large, sodden body.
Gasping in shock, Lynn fell to her knees. Though it was impossible to see anything through the raging downpour, she remained kneeling there, panting raggedly and blinking rainwater from her eyes. Slowly, the outline of a feathered mass grew clear before her bleary eyes.
That croak of a call confirmed the Pokémon's identity for sure. Lynn had seen Fearow before: large, fierce bird Pokémon who fought constantly with the Pidgeot of the Verdant Forest. But this Fearow was in no condition to be fighting anything. As a flare of lightning illuminated the sky, Lynn saw that the bird Pokémon's wings were flopped uselessly to the sides.
In a burst of commiseration, she reached out to help the fallen Fearow to its feet. Her outstretched fingers brushed the Pokémon's side, briefly touching the strange white powder coating the Fearow's body.
Snow? Lynn thought in disbelief, reflexively yanking back her hand. Rain swept the cold substance away before she could even try to wipe it off herself.
"Fe'raaae row! Fe'raae! Row!" The large bird Pokémon raised its head, wild eyes locking onto Lynn's terrified stare. Then, as the last of its energy dissipated, the head fell back into the mud with a splash.
Reaching into her pack, Lynn fumbled clumsily around. Trembling, she finally withdrew the packet of Gold Berries. Her slippery fingers and chattering teeth made it hard to concentrate on picking one out, but after several misses and near-drops, Lynn extracted one of the fruits and managed to crack open its tough, glittering shell.
Scooping out the Berry's innards with a finger, she approached the Fearow cautiously, unsure of what to do next. Gold Berries were known for, among other things, their remarkable restorative powers. If she could get the Fearow to swallow some, there was a chance it might recover…
As if sensing Lynn's predicament, the Fearow soundlessly parted its long beak. Swiftly, before said beak could close again, Lynn darted forward and dropped the Berry pulp into the Pokémon's mouth. It snapped back shut, just as another growl of thunder grumbled in the distance.
Now free of its ribbon, Lynn's dark hair fell over her face in a matted curtain. Gulping, she shoved it away and started to search for a second Gold Berry. Suddenly, the Fearow's drenched body gave a spastic jerk.
"Rain," it rasped, falling back to the ground with a shudder.
Lynn gaped. Never in her entire life had she ever heard of a Pokémon using human speech! It was as impossible as words issuing up from a rock or a tree. But yet here a Pokémon was, pronouncing unmistakably human words in front of her!
"Rain," the Fearow said again, its voice stronger than before. Its wings gave a small twitch as the Pokémon struggled to rise.
"Rain," Lynn repeated numbly as the aforementioned thing cascaded down about them in bone-chilling sheets. "Y-yeah," she said awkwardly, hoping, despite her gawking stare and crazily pounding heart, to somehow comfort the injured Pokémon. "I guess there's a lot…of r-rain."
The Fearow's head jerked slightly in her direction. In a brief flash of lightning, Lynn saw the bird's panic-stricken eyes, bulging as they darted back and forth. And in the crash of thunder that promptly ensued, the Fearow shook its long neck with equal frenzy. "Rain…" it croaked once more. "Rain…bow. Feather."
"Rainbow feather," Lynn echoed faintly. Automatically, her right hand fluttered to her pack, where her precious feather had been hidden.
Finally, the bird Pokémon's wild eyes seemed to settle on Lynn's drenched face. "Child," it implored in that same hoarse voice. "Forest child. Take the rain…bow-ack!" Once more, its sodden body convulsed. A clatter of metal rang out over the roar of the storm, followed by the splash of something plopping into the watery mud below.
Whatever it was hit Lynn sharply in the knee. As she fished it out of the mire, that metallic clash sounded again, though dulled a bit by clinging mud. The rain washed the object's surface clean swiftly enough, and by lightning's next blaze, she could dimly make out what the thing was.
It was made entirely of a smooth cold metal that glinted even in that fleeting burst of light. Though she had only a little time to discern the details, Lynn could catch glimpses of a graceful neck, a fearsomely curved beak, a single eye set in polished stone…
Something clinked as Lynn twisted the strange vessel around. Four bare metal hooks dangled from the object's side, clanging together every time Lynn moved. As her eyes shot above the hooks, Lynn saw something that stunned her even more than the talking Fearow.
Feathers. Three long, shimmering feathers, protruding from the figurine's back.
In a heartbeat, Lynn knew that these feathers were identical to her own.
"Take the Rainbow Wing," the Fearow commanded, voice stronger now that its spasms had momentarily subsided. "You know what you must do."
Somehow, Lynn did know. Or, at least, some part of her subconscious did. As if in a trance, she began to reach back. Her fingers were halfway to her pack when she suddenly caught herself and snapped out of the dreamlike state. She sat there gasping, shivering, wet, and overwhelmingly confused as the rain crashed down around her.
"Feeaar!" the Fearow gasped, wings sending sheets of muddy water rushing over Lynn's shaking knees. "Be strong, child! You must be the bearer of the Rainbow Wing now. You must finish it. Swear you will guard the Wing with your life! Under no circumstances must it fall into the hands of another! Feeaar! No! Not until it has been finished!"
Its crazed voice suddenly grew lucid and calm. "Not until it has been finished, and the bird of the seven feathers returns once more," the Fearow said in hushed tones, lightning clarifying its now clear, focused eyes. "Do this, child. Do it, or you shall bring destruction upon us all."
"The legendary b-bird of the seven feathers?" Lynn whispered disbelievingly, eyes growing wide in remembrance of Mother Woodwort's coming of age story.
Though the bird of the seven feathers no longer flies these skies, it is said that it will someday appear again to a destined soul, one who is pure of heart and has been chosen by the fates. And that hero shall restore the balance of the world at long last, and there shall be harmony among all for the rest of time.
Some part of Lynn wanted to shake this memory off with a shrug, dismissing it as a story, and just a story. A silly little tale that couldn't possibly harbor any scraps of truth.
As if sensing her vacillation, the Fearow raised its long beak, sticking it inches from Lynn's nose. "All legends are rooted in fact, child," it croaked out.
That could be perfectly true. But it didn't have to be.
Trembling so badly that she set off a chain of ripples in the puddles around her, Lynn tried to shake her head. Still shaking it, she started backing away.
"Please, go to Verdant Stadium," the Fearow said weakly. Its movements were becoming stiffer now, its body growing clumsy and rigid. "You'll find help there. But you must be quick and brave. Go to the city and find the other feathers! Now hurry! Feeaar! Hurry, child, before you're caught…before…FEEAAAAARRRRR!"
The Pokémon's wild scream pierced the tempestuous sky, breaking over the roar of the rain and the deafening thunder that followed.
"C-caught?" Lynn squeaked as the shriek faded. Rain, or perhaps it was tears of frustration, blurred her eyes and burned her face with their chill. "Please," she pleaded, trying to sound composed and brave and all the other things she knew she never was. "I'm s-sorry, but I don't understand! What do you mean by caught…who's after me? And…and I've never heard of Verdant Stadium! You have to find somebody else…I…I'll…"
A shudder ran through Lynn as she realized the Fearow was dead. With one last crack, its body had frozen grotesquely in place. Now, the Pokémon's bulging yellow eyes lay hauntingly open, even as torrents of rain poured down onto their upturned surfaces, even as water pooled in the bird's feathers and slightly open beak.
"No," Lynn whimpered in horror, scrambling away from the Pokémon's corpse. She had a sudden urge to fling the Rainbow Wing, despite what the Fearow had said, into the mud and run as fast away as her legs could carry her. But she could not get her trembling limbs to work at all.
The Fearow's dying screech and ominous words rang in her ears, sending a sickening terror coursing through her body. Oblivious to the rain gushing down from the heavens, as well as the lightning flashing repeatedly in the turbulent sky above, Lynn could only dazedly crouch there, clutching the Rainbow Wing to her body as the storm raged around her,
Be strong, child! the dead Fearow's command echoed in her mind. You must be the bearer of the Rainbow Wing now! You must finish it. Do this, child. Do it, or you shall bring destruction upon us all.
"But how!" Lynn found herself choking out. "How can it destroy us? I don't know what to…I can't do this! I know it must've been important to you, but…but…"
But, as she gulped down her tears, Lynn knew this wasn't true. There was something she could do for the dead Fearow. She could do it right now, in fact, if she'd stop blabbering to its corpse.
Gritting her teeth, she guided her numb fingers to her pack and groped about its contents. It was difficult at first; her hand was so cold and wet she could barely feel a thing.
But after several painstaking minutes of searching, Lynn finally pulled out her precious rainbow feather. Holding up her feather to the three others already attached to the Rainbow Wing, she was relieved to find that they were nearly the same shape and size. This part, at least, she might not mess up. Or…
Should I put this thing on a hook like the others? Lynn thought confusedly. Do I just stick it on, or do I have to wrap the hook around it? Seeing as she could barely see the hooks at all, this thought alone was nearly enough to overwhelm her.
But just as before, her fingers unconsciously knew what to do. Lynn watched in amazement as her hand leapt up of its own accord, grasping the feather by its quill. In one precise, decisive motion, it had pierced the quill's thin spine with a free hook. Lynn gasped as a burst of iridescent light exploded before her. The force of the blast sent her skidding and sliding back in the mud. Squeezing her eyes shut, she doggedly gripped the Rainbow Wing as it grew first burning hot, then unbearably cold.
When Lynn fearfully opened her eyes once more, her feather was attached to the Rainbow Wing as firmly as the other three. She felt a tiny surge of triumph at this success, pathetically small as it was. Clutching the Wing in one hand, and using the other hand to prop herself up, the badly shaken girl rose slowly to her feet.
The storm seemed to be calming now. The lightning had dimmed, fading slowly but surely into the distance, and the thunder no longer sounded as menacingly close overhead.
Looking back, though, Lynn saw that the Fearow's body had turned a glossy blue-white. That strange pale substance had seeped its way through the Pokémon's feathers, freezing into what looked eerily like solid ice. Lynn's fingers, the ones that had brushed the Fearow's side before, seemed to tingle with an ominous chill.
Hugging her hand to her body, the forest girl turned hastily away.
She'd seen Pokémon die before, from old age or wounds gained in territorial fights. But never from anything as strange as a sudden spreading freeze that turned your entire body into ice.
Still, despite her growing fear, Lynn couldn't help but feel a prick of sadness at the Fearow's death. She'd been the last one to see the Pokémon alive, and hadn't acted kindly towards it at all. But what was done, Lynn also reasoned, was done. As always, she had to move on.
Especially if staying meant risking the Fearow's unlucky fate.
Heaving a ragged sigh, Lynn shoved her hair behind one ear and shouldered her pack. She'd figure out what to do about this Rainbow Wing and Verdant Stadium business later, when she was warm and dry and not trying to outrun the rain. She did owe the dead Pokémon that much, she knew miserably.
Not even somewhat reassured by this decision, she moved out onto the rougher grass.
Deciding it was just the wind playing tricks on her, Lynn shrugged the strange noise off. The rain had become much lighter now, no more than a drizzle, really. It wouldn't wash off the filth off her mud-caked clothes, but it wouldn't hinder travel so much, either.
Lynn decided to be thankful for that. The sudden mist that had sprung up about the field, she noted anxiously, would be all the hindrance she could handle.
[Lynn, where are you going?]
That was definitely not her imagination. Was it? Lynn's head jerked about, squinting through the fog for a speaker. When she found none, she mentally chastised herself and steeled her mind against any more distractions.
[Do not leave, Lynn. I have come to help you.]
Lynn walked on, determined not to pay any mind to the crazy whispers in her head. What she saw next, however, unwittingly froze her in her tracks.
A pale blue ribbon was rippling in the wind, approaching in a stately glide through the mist. Was it Alouelle's gift ribbon, the one she'd lost in the storm? Lynn took a step forward, marveling at such an impossible recovery. But as the ribbon drifted closer, Lynn saw it was far too long to be any hair ornament.
To her wonderment, a second, identical ribbon floated into view after the first. The twin bands wove a mesmerizing dance before Lynn's eyes, disappearing into the thick fog one moment and materializing in a pulsing azure aura the next. Transfixed, Lynn took another step towards them.
Just as a pair of glowing ruby eyes came forward to meet her.
A sleek head emerged from the mist, a head with a delicate ivory muzzle and piercing red eyes. A shimmering cobalt crown covered the creature's forehead; from the brief glimmers of light that sprang about it, it looked to be carved from some enormous crystal. Behind this luminous headpiece floated masses and masses of luxurious lavender mane, undulating in the same soft wind as the ribbons trailing before it.
[Lynn,] the creature with the ruby eyes intoned. The mist faded, revealing a lithe furred body shining with the same sapphire radiance as the ribbons. In fact, Lynn realized as the creature approached, those ribbons weren't really blue at all. They were as white as newly fallen snow and had only been bathed in the color of the creature's glowing coat.
Glancing back, she saw that these pure white ribbons actually formed the creature's long flowing tail, a tail that wound and floated far in front of the rest of the body.
"H-how did you know my name?" the astonished forest girl squeaked out at last. And how can you speak like that…with no words out loud. Just in my mind?
The creature threw back its head in a silent chuckle. [What does it matter?] it said gently. Lifting one of its four nimble paws, it took another graceful stride towards the girl. [What is that you are holding, Lynn?] it said in that same soothing voice. [Perhaps you would grant me a look. Just a single glance. Surely that would not be too much to ask?]
It was as if Lynn had forgotten everything up until this point. Looking down, and seeing the Rainbow Wing gripped tightly in her hand, gave her mind a rough shake. Suddenly, she was no longer fixated by the creature's gentle voice or its unearthly beauty. Clutching the Rainbow Wing tighter than ever, she began to back away. Undeterred, the creature steadily advanced.
[It is the Rainbow Wing, Lynn, is it not? Given to you by the previous bearer, Aeolus the Fearow.] The creature's voice melted into the sweetness of wild honey, falling to little more than a purr. [You need not hold onto the Rainbow Wing anymore, Lynn. Entrust it to me; I will take it off your hands. Aeolus was a friend of mine, and I can take care of everything for you. All you have to do is give me the Rainbow Wing.]
Though she'd broken out of the creature's spell, Lynn had to admit its proposal was tempting. You were worrying what to do with this thing just before, she thought. Give it to someone who actually knows what to do. They'd fulfill that Fearow's last wish much better than someone like you. Just open your mouth and tell them they can have it. Come on, say it!
Lynn's lips parted, but the words that came out were completely different from what she'd intended. "B-but the Fearow gave the Rainbow Wing to me," she heard herself saying nervously. "It told me not to give it to anyone else. It told me," she gulped, throat suddenly very dry, "to guard the Rainbow Wing with my life. It seemed very serious about that before it…I-I'm sorry, but I…I shouldn't…"
[Perhaps you do not understand,] the creature said impatiently, its syrupy tone evaporating. [Aeolus was old, tottering about on its last brittle wings. Its wits were nearly gone when it found you, and it had no idea what it was doing when it gave you those ridiculous instructions. Now give me the Rainbow Wing, Lynn. Give it to me before it is too late!]
Shivering in the suddenly gelid air, Lynn hugged her arms to her sides, the Rainbow Wing along with them. "I'm sorry, b-but I can't!"
[Do as I say, girl! Now give me the Rainbow Wing, or I shall take it from you!]
A frigid blast of wind slammed into Lynn's face. "No!" the girl screamed, clutching at the metal Wing even as its surface became coated in frost and her knuckles turned a bloodless white. "No, please no! Please leave m-me alone!"
With a snarl, the creature with the red eyes lunged forward, a swirling ball of energy coalescing between its open jaws. Lynn felt the Rainbow Wing's free hooks cutting into her palm as she tightened her fists. A blow to the stomach sent her sprawling back, and as Lynn looked up, the creature's arctic breath sent particles of ice creeping across her face.
[Aeolus chose poorly,] it scoffed, eyes glittering murderously. Then, lips curling, it released the blazing ball of energy from its mouth.
Lynn wasn't sure what happened next. All she remembered was screaming as the creature's attack hurtled her way, filling her entire vision with dazzling blue light. Reflexively, she threw up her hands to protect her face. It was a gesture made only in panic, a last-minute defense that should have been useless against any attack. The ball of light crashed into her hands, knocking her violently against the ground.
But the next thing she knew, a gasping howl rang through the air. Dazedly raising her spinning head, Lynn saw the red-eyed creature lying on its side, its sleek hide scorched and marred with burns. Around its body, a newly formed crater was still smoking.
Springing to her feet, Lynn was off at a panicked run. She didn't dare to look back as she raced across the waterlogged field, splattering its muddy contents in her hasty wake. In her hand, the Rainbow Wing was smoking just as the crater had, its ordinarily cool metal near scorching to the touch.
When she'd thrown up her hands, Lynn had thrown up the resilient metal ornament along with them. It had been the Rainbow Wing itself, she'd numbly realize later, that had reflected the attack.
But Lynn didn't care about any of this now. Her frenzied mind had enough sense left for only one thing: to run. So Lynn ran and ran, never noticing as afternoon darkened into evening and evening into black, all-consuming dusk.
August 20th, 2010 (5:10 PM).
I just wanted to say that, yes, I am still reading . . . and thoroughly enjoying The story's taken some unexpected early twists and turns, but I like where it's going. I was expecting more of a slower pace in the beginning with some basic trainer stories, but set in a wilder setting, but the fantasy epic quest version is very exciting as well
August 21st, 2010 (6:51 PM).
Happy to hear you're still following! (hands out cookies) I guess it's a bit misleading of me to advertise this as a new trainer fic, since...well, you'll see. I like to think that the themes and overarching structure are similar to those of a basic journey fic, though.
September 6th, 2010 (8:16 PM). Edited September 25th, 2010 by Hitoshizuku.
Road to Verdant City
To look at, Null Allegard admittedly wasn't very much. Anyone who happened to glance at his grimy face and perpetually cockeyed cap rarely bothered with a second look. Null's customarily cocky swagger belied a frame so slight, bony, and malnourished that most people mistook him for a child or runty adolescent, rather than a youth actually finishing up his late teens.
Of course, those who had their dealings with Null Allegard could care less about his appearance, age, or rather dubious methods. These feelings were mutual; Null made his living ferreting out miscellaneous hard-to-get items for any and all customers without bias…as long as said patrons could pay a handsome price for what they wanted. Null was morally opposed to doing anything that did not ensure personal gain. Theoretically speaking.
But skipping along the road, hands hidden within his oversized sleeves and lips pursed in a lilting whistle, Null was the perfect picture of juvenile innocence. A Butterfree tending her nectar garden fluttered a wing in greeting as the boy passed. Null smiled back impishly, continuing down the dirt path and out of town.
The ground was still damp from yesterday's sudden cloudburst, and the limpid, rain-cleansed air felt fresh and cool. Prancing clear of any lingering puddles, Null made his way past the stretch of fields that graced the city's outskirts. A grove of trees clustered together just above the horizon, marking the border between the edge of Mercury City and the northernmost fringes of the ancient Verdant Forest.
Weaving expertly through these trees, Null kept his eyes trained on the leafy boughs. Here and there, spots of vibrant color could be glimpsed in the thick foliage above: bright reds, pale yellows, delicate pinks, and deep rich blues among them. Today's color nut fest would be a bountiful one.
Pulling out an empty burlap bag from inside his sweatshirt and slinging it over one shoulder, Null grabbed some low-lying branches and hoisted himself into the tree. Long leaflets, hanging in star-shaped clusters and wet with dew, tickled his face as he began to climb. Null ignored them without much trouble; he had been using the same foot and handholds for the past year and had long grown dispassionately expert at his job.
The color nuts dangled from the higher branches, suspended by their resilient caps. Some appeared a bit cracked or misshapen, but the majority were perfectly molded spheres with smooth gleaming shells. Null selected a choice few of each color. Taking the fist-sized nuts and snapping them off their branches was easy work. Not too long later, Null was climbing down the trees with a full sack.
A grinding noise caught the attention of his sharp ears. Twisting about, Null's cat-like green eyes darted from the branches above and back to the ground.
A young girl was huddled at the base of a nearby tree, hunched over a rock and a blue color nut. Save for the constant grind of the nutshell against the stone, she made no noise whatsoever. A badly-tangled mess of dark hair fell over her face, concealing it from view.
"Hey, kid!" Null yelled, striding over and spouting off a chain of easy lies. "Hands off the nut! Those trees're private property. Specifically my property! You're trespassing right now, ya know?"
The girl's hair went flying over her shoulder as she swerved about, revealing a wide-eyed face wholly drained of blood. A strangled cry burst out of her throat as she bolted up, dropping the nut in her haste. She stumbled backwards, groping wildly for something in her front pocket, before colliding with the tree behind her. Momentarily stunned, the girl stared at Null for several tense seconds, then slowly blinked. "S-sorry," she squeaked out guiltily, rubbing at the dark bags beneath her bloodshot eyes.
Sorry, just like that? No protests, accusations, or words said in self-defense? Whoever this girl was, she sure was compliant, not to mention easily spooked. The way her face had blanched, you'd think she'd seen a ghost. Or had somehow been expecting one.
"Whatcha doing with the nut?" Null inquired in a mixture of suspicion and curiosity.
"The…the Apricorn?" Anxiously ducking her head towards the ground, the girl scrambled forward to retrieve the blue nut. "I-I'm m-making Apricorn meal, for… uh…cakes."
"Ya can eat that stuff?"
Brow furrowing in confusion, the girl glanced at the bulging sack of color nuts slung over Null's shoulder. "You…y-you don't eat them?"
Null paused a bit at this. Every week for the last year, he had come to the same spot and picked the same number of color nuts. After packaging the lot, he would ship them by Pidgey Express to a special client in Verdant City. For all he knew, the nuts could have been ground up and served there. However, the whole arrangement seemed like far too much trouble for such an unappetizing-sounding meal.
From her spot under the Apricorn tree, Lynn nervously watched the strange boy wrinkle his nose and make a grotesque face. Should she just try to sneak away? This boy didn't look as if he'd be able to follow her, not without being severely discommoded every step of the way. Though he seemed to move easily enough, the boy had the baggiest ensemble of clothes Lynn had everset eyes on. A voluminous gray sweatshirt hung nearly to his knees, its folds of dingy drapery concealing the youth's actual build. Lynn couldn't even distinguish the boy's feet underneath his equally oversized pants. A sharp knee poked out of a hole in one pant leg, while a crudely sewn patch covered the knee of the other.
"Whatcha staring at?" the boy demanded Lynn sharply, crossing his arms and upturning his nose in a rather cavalier manner. The tips of his fingers didn't even escape his floppy sleeves. When Lynn hesitated to answer, his mouth curled into a sneer. "Eating color nuts, just like that?" he snorted. "Bet you're not from Mercury, are ya, kid? Heck, you're probably not even from this region!"
"What's M-Mer…curie?" Lynn said, tentatively trying the word out for herself.
"Mercury City, kid! Huge city? Big lights? Geez, it's right down that road over there. How could ya miss it?"
Lynn thought it was rather high of him to be calling her a "kid" when he was probably still a teenager himself, but knew better than to voice such opinions. "Wh-what about Ver…Verdant City?" she asked instead, sidestepping the boy's earlier question. "Do you know where Verdant City…uh, or Stadium…is?"
The boy snorted at Lynn's ignorance. "This here's Verdant Forest, Slowpoke brain," he replied, gesturing to the trees around them. As if Lynn didn't already know that. "Verdant City'd be all the way over on the other side of the forest. And the Stadium's in the city, obviously."
Lynn stared out at the forest miserably, heart sinking. More than anything, she had hoped to find Verdant Stadium, figure out what to do with the Rainbow Wing, and fulfill the poor Fearow's dying wish as quickly as possible. Once that was finished, she would be absolved of this strange and terrifying matter for good. But the Verdant Forest was enormous. Even having lived in it her entire life, she'd never ventured through its entirety. She'd have to start now if she hoped to reach Verdant Stadium by…by next week? Next month? Next year, even?
The boy was fiddling with his hat now, Lynn noticed out of the corner of her eye. It was a large puffy hat and, as with most of the boy's attire, far too big for its owner. Several objects rained down from its sizable confines as he yanked it off – a pocket mirror, wadded-up tissues, and a pack of playing cards among them. In a seemingly desultory manner, the boy shoved each of the objects into different pockets in his shirt and pants. Then, without hesitation, he jammed his sack of Apricorns into the hat…and placed the entire thing back onto his head! As if by magic, the bag seemed to vanish completely!
Despite her previous misgivings, Lynn found this strange trick made the boy look almost comical. The symbol on the hat's front, a circle with a slash drawn through its center, did remind her of an Apricorn with a crack down its middle.
"Hey," she called, courage trickling back. "Er…uh, s-sorry. But is there a faster way to get to Verdant City than, um…through the forest, I mean?"
"More questions, Slowpoke brain?" the boy sneered. "I ain't runnin' a charity here. What'll ya give me if I tell ya?"
After a moment of anxious inner debate, Lynn extracted a glittering fruit from her rapidly diminishing supply of Gold Berries. "I-is this okay?" she asked, extending the Berry towards the boy. As Lynn had hoped, his sharp green eyes glinted greedily. Lynn tipped the Berry so that it caught the light and cast a golden radiance across her palm and the boy's scrutinizing face. "Can you please tell me how to get to Verdant Stadium?" she asked again.
With a grunt, the boy reached into his capacious sleeves and pulled out a flimsy white stub. Handing him the Gold Berry, Lynn took the small strip and brought it close to her eyes.
"That's a train pass," the boy explained as he pocketed the Berry. "The Magnet Train leaves Mercury Station in 'bout an hour. Got it?"
Lynn didn't "get it." A brisk run-through of finding the "station," boarding the "train," and getting off at the appropriate "stop" (most of which Lynn struggled to understand) was all the instruction that the impatient boy was willing to offer. Lynn watched him exit the forest grove with a feeling of anxiety bubbling in the pit of her stomach. Not wanting to linger here alone, she packed her things without finishing breakfast. The train pass she put in her shirt pocket, along with the Rainbow Wing. That, Lynn had decided, was the probably safest place to keep the strange vessel. Not just for the Rainbow Wing's own safety, but for her own as well.
If the demon with the red eyes should return, she'd hate to be without her only weapon close at hand.
The boy, thankfully, had been true to his word. Less than an hour of walking in the direction he'd indicated brought Lynn to the edge of the field. Just a little ways off sat a small wooden lean-to, the shade offered by its long shadow an enticing sight in the afternoon sun. Lynn headed towards it purposefully, the relief of having made it to the "train station" that the boy had described putting a bit of spring back into her weary step.
There was a board hanging above the shelter's roof, blown slantwise by yesterday's storm. Lynn cocked her head and frowned at the bold block markings on the board's surface.
Mercury City Magnet Train, Outpost Station. Train departs at 10:30 AM and 2:00 PM. Please have your ticket ready before boarding.
Of course, just as with the marks on her Gold Berry cloth, Lynn had no idea what it meant. But at this point, she was too tired to care. Setting down her pack, she took a seat in the shadow of the deserted shelter, thankful that she had at least arrived without any more major mishaps.
Gazing out beyond the lean-to, Lynn could see a broad strip of bare ground, crisscrossed with spaced-out slats of corroded metal. This road went straight past the building, cut through the grass, and disappeared well into the distance. Lynn almost fancied it a rust-striped Ekans, stretching itself so taut that neither its head nor tail could be seen.
"Now those metal rail things," the Apricorn boy had informed her earlier, "they'd be the train tracks." Voice dripping with condescension, he had added, "Ya know? Tracks for trains. Don't get to close, 'kay? Or a train'll come along and squash ya real nice and flat."
Lynn wasn't sure what a train was, but if it would help her reach the Verdant Stadium and figure out the next piece of the Fearow's puzzle, it was fine by her. Overcome by a sudden yawn, she stretched out her arms and planted her elbows in the grass. As she leaned into her aching back, Lynn vaguely felt her eyelids slipping into place. It wasn't wise to let down her guard, but she honestly didn't think she could keep it up much longer. After her nightmarish night in the storm, Lynn had run for hours and hours, fueled by pure fear. Even when her body had been too weak run anymore, her thoughts had been too plagued by apprehension to permit any sleep. Now, however, her exhausted mind finally seemed to be shutting down…
A jarring clatter had her bolting onto her feet only a minute later. Stifling an shriek and looking frantically around, Lynn saw nothing. The clattering continued, becoming louder with each passing second. Hand darting automatically to the Rainbow Wing in her shirt pocket, she stepped cautiously forward. Surely that wasn't supposed to be the train?
Lynn gaped as a pillar of scintillating light ascended from the ground on the other side of the tracks. Appearing, it seemed, from the earth itself! Perhaps she was more sleep-deprived than she'd first thought.
"Oof! Ugh! Almost there…" came a groan. The pillar wobbled, but continued to rise.
Lynn blinked as the glittering column neared, its outline becoming clear as it moved into the shade. Instead of a stream of pure light, the blinding mass was actually a towering pile of shiny silver and gold boxes. Unfortunately, the boxes were teetering dangerously, their contents rattling noisily as they began to tip over. Without thinking, she dashed onto the metal train tracks, catching the boxes and pushing them back into place before they fell.
"Thanks," came the same voice as before, half-muffled underneath the tower it carried. It continued over the tracks to the train station, leaving Lynn to lick her lips nervously. Looking in the direction the boxes and their carrier had arrived from, she realized they had not risen from the ground at all.
The train station had been built on a hill, and it was down this grassy knoll that Lynn was now gazing. She could pick out the beginnings of a dirt path, winding its way from the base of the hill and disappearing into the overgrown fields beyond. But even further in the distance…Lynn's breath caught suddenly in her throat.
Gargantuan gray structures towered above the distant skyline, some hunkering together in tightly-knit groups, others looming commandingly above their fellows. Each of these massive monuments appeared to be formed from giant cliffs of cold stone, and all were perfectly symmetrical and rectangular; the entire congregation surely would've taken any human or Pokémon eons of time and limitless reserves of strength and precision to carve. At the very center stood the most breathtaking sight of all: a colossal shining dome as impossibly rounded and sleek as a newly-polished Berry shell. For several minutes, all Lynn could do was stare, drinking in the enormity of the scene before her.
"Gah, watch out! Get off those tracks!"
Finally wrenching her head away, Lynn felt crackles of static prickling her legs as the voice frantically yelled at her to move again. It was drowned out a split second later by a deafening whoosh! of streamlined body against air.
October 22nd, 2010 (8:04 PM).
Throwing herself towards the station, Lynn hit the grass with wind roaring in her ears. As she pulled herself up, wincing at the pain in the arm she'd fallen against, she couldn't help but gasp. Humming steadily, an enormous furless monster was hovering above the tracks she'd been standing on only moments ago. White, vein-like sparks raced erratically over the metal slats, weaving a flickering platform for the lengthy beast mere inches above them. The beast itself, which Lynn guessed to be the train, gleamed an eye-blinding silver, save for a jagged stripe of white rimmed in blue streaked down its sides. Numerous transparent circles were set directly above this stripe; to Lynn, they looked like an array of glistening eyes, glaring down as if to revile her very presence.
Gulping, the girl scrambled to her feet and started nervously forward. She was forced to waver, however, at the sight of the train's sleek metal surface. There was no ladder or anything of the like. How was she supposed to "get onto" the train as the Apricorn boy had instructed?
"Don't forget to show it your ticket!" advised the carrier of the boxes, hoisting his heavy ware up from the ground. "The trains are awfully picky about that."
His voice nearly made Lynn jump; she'd completely forgotten that there was another person there! As a result, it took several more seconds for his actual words to sink in. "P-Picky…?" Lynn started confusedly. "The train…it's not mad at me, is it?"
"Mad?" Her companion chuckled at this. "Heh, well, I guess it could be! Some people do say the trains've been feeding on the electricity for so long that they've practically come to life."
Reaching into her pocket, Lynn pulled out the "train pass" the Apricorn boy had traded her before. Feeling extremely awkward, she held the thin slip towards the colossal floating creature.
Wondering if she somehow had a defective pass, or if the train was still mad at her for being slow, Lynn uneasily pocketed the strip.
Instantly, an opening in the train's previously unblemished surface appeared with a whoosh! of air. Eyes widening, Lynn could only stare in amazement. What kind of animal had a mouth positioned on the side of its body like that? She had a fleeting impulse to flee before the strange monster could lunge forward and swallow her whole.
"Oh, good, it finally opened!" the box carrier said cheerfully, as if what had just transpired wasn't anything out of the ordinary. When Lynn still didn't move, he tentatively added, "Er…want to go in and get a seat?"
Was it just her, or did the sparks beneath the train seem to flare up a little more brightly, as if chortling in anticipation of the impending meal? Lynn could only blanch at the thought of walking into the creature's immense stomach. The casualness of her companion's comment, however, suggested such an action should not be unusual in the slightest.
Head spinning, Lynn finally stepped into the monster's awaiting mouth.
The air in the train’s belly was not moist and rancid as she’d expected. Instead, it was magically cooler than outside and smelt faintly of sweet Bellossom pollen. Brow wrinkling, Lynn saw that the compartment was lined with rows of benches covered in thick cushions –odd things for any beast, no matter how large, to swallow! The box carrier, apparently her only companion, came after her without hesitation, dropping several of his packages as he did.
"Should've had them mailed by Pidgey Express," he muttered ruefully as more boxes rained down into the adjacent benches. "Ah, but I wouldn't want them to get there before me!" Still mumbling to himself, he deposited a good portion of the shiny boxes onto various seats. Then, taking the remainder, he plopped onto one of the cushioned benches, sighing in relief as he sat down.
Not knowing what else to do besides copy his actions, Lynn tentatively took the seat across the aisle. An odd hole in the train's side, right next to her, caught her attention. As Lynn curiously tried to reach through the hole, however, her fingers smacked into a hard surface. She retracted her hand with a start, fearful that the train would be angry again. When nothing happened, she cautiously sidled back towards the invisible pane.
Gazing out, she could make out the same view she'd been mesmerized by back on the hill. Leaning forward on the edge of her seat, Lynn narrowed her eyes for a better look at the massive stone edifices, rising from the horizon in all their sleek, polished glory.
"Thanks for helping me before! You from Mercury City?"
Startled, Lynn turned back towards the box carrier. Though he was carrying a much shorter stack now, the boxes he held were still tall enough to completely conceal his body. From the pitch of his voice and the easy friendliness of his tone, not to mention the fact that a stack so low could completely dwarf him, Lynn figured he must be a child like herself.
"Mer…Mercury City?" she echoed now, trying to remember where she'd heard the name before.
"Oh, you didn't know? Mercury's right over there - you can see it out your window! Yeah, right out there!"
Lynn could only gaze dumbly. So that was a city! It was even larger than she'd imagined from the stories. But with all those stone cliffs, squeezed in so tightly together, it would be a real wonder if anyone could climb onto the cliff tops…not to mention the thousands and thousands of people Mother Woodwort always claimed dwelled in cities. Perhaps they nestled together within holes in the side of the rocks…
"Oops, completely forgot! Where are you headed for?"
Shaken from her thoughts, Lynn took several moments to reply. "Oh! Um…Verdant City," she said almost inaudibly.
"Verdant, huh? Well, that's convenient; it's where I'm going, too!" Clearing his throat, the box carrier called out in a loud, clear voice, "Two to Verdant City, please! Fast as possible, if you don't mind."
Rumbling to life, the Magnet Train immediately lurched forward. Lynn almost slammed into the front of her seat as the train threw itself headlong down the track. As she hung onto the edge of the cushion for dear life, more boxes from the other seats clattered to the ground.
"Sorry about all my Festival presents cluttering up the place," the voice from behind the boxes said apologetically. "I have a lot of relatives, and I feel bad when I leave anybody out. Gah, right! Better introduce myself!" he added abruptly. "Name's Feldspar. Feldspar of Midnight Mesa. You?"
"Oh! Um, I-I'm Lynn. From…uh, Verdant."
"Nice to meet you, Lynn. I'd shake, but…" The boxes shifted pointedly. "You visiting family in Verdant City, too, by any chance?"
Moving uneasily back against the side of the train, Lynn wondered how to answer. The story echoing in her mind seemed a bit too complicated, and far too fantastical, to voice to a stranger. "Er…I…I-I'm going to the Verdant Stadium," she said at last, settling for just the bare bones of her journey's objectives. "Do you…um, would you maybe know how I could find it?"
"Oh, that should be easy. Verdant Stadium's huge. It's really big and white, with arches on the sides and this…uh, big arena in the middle. Tons of folks go there, every day. Just…tons. Are you going to a Stadium match, then?" The question superficially sounded offhand, but Lynn could hear thinly concealed disdain creeping into Feldspar's voice.
"What's a…?" she started to ask, before breaking off. "Well, no." Lynn gulped before venturing, "Um, what are…"
She winced as a box went flying off Feldspar's lap, hitting the side of the train and rebounding with a sharp crack.
"Only the most horrible and pointless things in the entire world!" Feldspar cried. "My cousin, Mica, was all like 'Oh, just go to one of the matches, Feldspar. Just once and you'll enjoy it!' How anyone could enjoy that is completely beyond me! I swear, they're all sick! I mean, why would anyone want to watch a…"
With a loud clatter, half of the boxes Feldspar was still holding went crashing to the ground. "Oops," he said sheepishly. "Sorry about that! I get carried away about things real easy. Oh, don't worry about those boxes! Just leave them on the ground; I'll pick them all up when we get off the train."
But Lynn wasn't staring at the fallen boxes because she wanted to pick them up. Now that half of Feldspar's pile had disappeared, the boxes in front of him were stacked no higher than the top of the seat. And still, she couldn't even see the top of his head. Just how short could a person be?
"Um, s-sorry…but…" she started awkwardly. As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she was at a complete loss as how to go on. Luckily, Feldspar chose that exact moment to cry out in delight.
"Wow! Lynn, take a look outside! We must be hundreds of feet off the ground!"
Meekly, Lynn slid to the other side of her seat and peered outside. She found herself looking down upon a sea of vibrant green treetops. It seemed to stretch for miles in every direction, marred only by a stripe of metal supported by columns rising from the canopy. Lynn's stomach turned as she realized that this thin stripe was what the train was racing across now and that one misstep could send them all crashing into the forest below.
Leaves below rippled in the wake of the passing train. Some tore themselves away from their branches and spiraled close to the window. One airborne form, however, was definitely not a leaf. Wings spread and beak open in a soundless call, a plumed Pidgeot dipped past, the tip of its wing just brushing the outside of the train.
"Cloudguider?" Lynn whispered, putting a hand against the transparent barrier that separated them.
With a deft tilt of its wing, the Pidgeot soared over the train and out of sight.
"Friend of yours?" came Feldspar's voice. Lynn started up in surprise before realizing that he was only joking. "Sorry I interrupted you before," Feldspar apologized hastily, sounding truly sincere. "What were you saying?"
Lynn didn't recall dozing off, though it admittedly wasn't much of a surprise given her sleepless last night. The next thing she knew, the train had drawn to a stop and Feldspar's excited voice was urging her to wake up. Jerking her head off her shoulder, and wiping a string of drool from her mouth, Lynn chanced a glance outside. Enormous grey structures similar to the ones she'd seen from Mercury City shot up to meet her. Feeling faint, Lynn turned away, grabbed her pack, and slid into the aisle.
Once again, there was no exit in sight.
"Don't wait for me!" came Feldspar's voice. "It's gonna be a while before I can get all my stuff together." The stack of boxes shifted a little, and Feldspar accidentally dropped several more onto the seat. "Oops. You'd better leave without me. Just ask the train to let you out."
Gulping, Lynn moved to the train's smooth side and stationed herself a good foot back from it. "S-sorry, but I…um, I need to get out," she started awkwardly. "So…so if you could…p-please..."
The wall before her remained impassively solid.
From the back, Feldspar gave a small giggle. "It's only playing with you. "You have to be more forceful. Really yell at it!"
"Let me out!" Lynn tried desperately. "Please!"
With a swish of air, the slick surface drew back on itself, creating a wide gap in the middle of the train's side. Sighing in relief, Lynn stepped out into the blinding afternoon sunlight. As she went, the train gave a little buck, sending her tumbling onto the hard platform outside.
"Thank you," Lynn muttered, rubbing her sore leg. Back inside the train, she could hear Feldspar giggling again. Groaning, but feeling rather good all the same about making it this far, Lynn got to her feet. And froze in an overwhelming wave of astonishment and incredulity.
All around her, humans and Pokémon were mingling together and milling about as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Some were strolling down the numerous grey walkways, while others were walking into and out of the towering stone structures that Lynn had noticed before. That alone might not have been so much of a shock. What really hit Lynn was that there was absolutely no sound of any Pokémon cries anywhere.
Every single being in the entire city was clearly using human speech, just like the Fearow from the storm.
Lynn could only gawk as she caught sight of a middle-aged woman and a stout Jynx walking side-by-side, discussing beauty tips. On a nearby corner, a Tropius vendor was announcing its wares, fresh fruit, in a deep ringing voice. And in the shade of a nearby building wall, a gang of children accompanied by a Flaaffy, a Marill, and a Bagon, were laughing loudly over a crude joke.
"Are you lost, sweetheart?" asked a kindly looking Donphan as it plodded past Lynn, carrying a bulky bag in its trunk.
Lynn quickly swerved away and bumped into a burly Machamp who was passing by. "Hey, watch where you're goin', kid!" the Pokémon snapped, shaking three of its four fists in the girl's direction.
Heart throwing itself frantically against her ribs, Lynn stumbled backwards. She fell back against the train with a thud.
"You okay, Lynn?" came Feldspar's concerned-sounding voice. Lynn twisted about just in time to see Feldspar abandon all his gifts and rush worriedly towards her.
Now she could see why the pile of boxes had always managed to dwarf her fellow passenger. Feldspar stood no more than two feet high at his tallest point, a stubby horn on the top of his head. Covered in rocky skin marked with black diamonds, and sporting a rosy-toned stomach, fan-shaped tail, and chubby paws, Feldspar was a Larvitar.
A tiny little Larvitar, just like the ones who snapped at Lynn's heels whenever she ventured too close to their burrow by the cliffs.
"Lynn? What's the matter?" Feldspar asked, his rocky brow furrowing. Noticing her wide-eyed stare, the Larvitar glanced down at himself confusedly. "What, do I have a piece of granite stuck in my teeth from breakfast?"
Trying to get her legs to stop trembling, Lynn dropped her gaze to the ground. "Y-you talk," she gulped. "All of you t-talk, just like p-people."
"Well, of course," Feldspar said confusedly. "We're all people here, aren't we?"
Lynn's head reeled as the unreality of this new world flooded it in a dizzying rush. Pokémon shouldn't be able to talk. Lynn had sometimes supposed that the rearranged syllables they often uttered could be some kind of language. But before setting off on her coming-of-age journey, the idea of Pokémon using human speech, or acting in any kind of human role, had been absolutely absurd.
The talking Fearow and red-eyed demon had certainly begun to shatter these conceptions, but at least they'd hit her in short, isolated incidents. Now surrounded by walking impossibilities on all sides, Lynn felt as if her overloaded mind was melting down at last.
"S-sorry, I've got to g-go!" Lynn managed finally. "I…I need to find that St-stadium."
"Oh. Well, it's right down the street and to your left," Feldspar instructed as Lynn started shakily away. "Remember, it's the big one made of white marble!"
He raised his voice when the girl failed to respond. "Good luck, Lynn!" he yelled after her retreating form. "Bye!" Still perplexed, the Larvitar watched for a moment as the girl made her way precariously down the street, hugging her arms to her body and flinching whenever another pedestrian brushed past.
"Wonder why she didn't say goodbye," Feldspar mused, scratching at his head with one stubby claw. "Gotta remember to floss more often."
There was a noisy clatter from behind. Feldspar turned to see the Magnet Train disdainfully ejecting every one of his foil-wrapped gift boxes. The glittering gold and silver presents flew through the air and landed roughly on the waiting curb, burying the small Larvitar under an enormous heap.
"I was just about to get them myself!" Feldspar grumbled from beneath the boxes.
With a derisive crackle of static, the train sped off down the track.
Thanks to JX Valentine for some awesome betaing!
January 11th, 2011 (8:47 PM).
***"PokéBlocks! Freshly made PokéBlocks! Specially blended to bring out the best in you!"
"Miracleberries, sold by the bushel! Cures everything from headaches to burns!"
"Step right up to the Haircut Booth! Don't be shy, and you could come away with a whole new look!"
Lynn had wondered before how so many people could live in a single city. But back then, she apparently hadn't taken into account how much said people could endure. Yelling, cursing, and grabbing over each other's heads didn't seem to be above anybody. Neither was haphazardly shoving, rushing, and dodging all along the narrow lanes. The passive Lynn was knocked down several times; each time, the individual who'd crashed into her didn't even pause long enough to notice.
Bit by bit, Lynn wormed her way through the teeming crowd, across the walkways, and past the towering black structures that shot up from all sides. Hugging her pack protectively again her chest, she winced whenever another person or Pokémon roughly buffeted past.
Take heart, Lynn told herself repeatedly. You always wanted to visit the cities in Mother Woodwort's stories. You knew things in cities were bound to be more…exotic. Aren't you lucky to finally be here?
Those words were easy enough to chant in her head. At that moment, however, Lynn would’ve much preferred to be sitting in a circle around the bonfire, listening to Mother Woodwort’s stories about brave heroes in faraway lands…much more so than futilely trying to be one of those heroes herself. Just go to the Stadium like the Fearow asked you to, Lynn reminded herself, feeling the weight of the Rainbow Wing in her pocket. That's all. Then its soul can rest in peace, and you'll be free for good.
In the end, Feldspar proved to be right. The Verdant City Stadium was easy to find – Lynn spotted it right after she turned the corner. It was getting into the Stadium that was going to be ridiculously difficult. Like Feldspar had told her, the Stadium was an enormous cylindrical structure crafted entirely from gleaming white stone. Numerous archways around its curved sides provided entrances to an inner area…all of which were currently clogged with masses of humans and Pokémon alike.
Still clutching her pack with both arms, Lynn stared at the veritable flood of people moving beneath the arches. The crowds stretched all the way across her line of sight, winding off into the far distance. To make matters even worse, what looked to be gruff guards stood at every one of the Stadium's many entrances.
Creeping timidly through the crowd, Lynn watched one guard, a scowling Rhydon, shove back a small Totodile.
"The ticket booth is at the other side of the building!" the Rhydon growled irritably. "Now get out of my face!"
The little gator Pokémon fell back, whining loudly. "I know I bought a ticket just last week!" it yelled indignantly at the guard. "Just give me five more minutes and I swear I'll find it!"
The Rhydon ignored the Totodile's cries. As it turned back to the next individual in line, a tawny-haired human boy, Lynn saw a thin red slip pass from boy to guard.
"Hey, the end of the line's back there!" snapped a tall girl standing behind Lynn. Jerking around with a jolt, then murmuring an inaudible apology, Lynn moved hastily away. Unable to see where she was going, however, she bumped into someone else as she backed up.
"Sorry!" Lynn gulped out for the umpteenth time, recoiling and trying to move in a different direction. The crush of the surrounding crowd, however, was too heavy for her to escape. As she tried squirming through a small opening between two quarreling Psyduck, Lynn inadvertently lost her footing. With a yelp, she found herself tripping forward, knocking over a small girl as she fell.
"S-sorry," Lynn squeaked again as she picked herself off the ground. The girl she had knocked over, a slight, fragile-boned child nearly a head shorter, looked up through wispy purplish bangs.
"S'okay," the little girl said in a soft, lilting voice. Her large eyes closed briefly as she smiled, and the next thing Lynn knew, the other girl was on her feet and weaving her way expertly through the crowd. Surprisingly, no one seemed to take notice as she passed through. They certainly didn't yell at or tell her to move to the back of the line.
Curious, Lynn followed the other girl through the crowd. Not as nearly as adept, she lost sight of her bobbing head several times. Breaking past a cluster of chortling Spinda, Lynn caught a glimpse of the small girl walking past a guard and through a nearby archway. Summoning all her nerve, Lynn scurried in after her.
"Hey, what do you think you're doing?" the guard, a brawny Typhlosion, demanded, grabbing Lynn by the shoulder. "We don't appreciate brats like you trying to sneak in!"
Heart racing in panic, Lynn hurriedly tried to blurt out an apology.
"S'okay, Firrell," came that same soft voice. Lynn's head jerked about to see the little girl standing just inside the entrance, eyes closed and mouth curved into that same mild smile. "She's coming with me. You can let her through."
Still eying Lynn distrustfully, the Typhlosion released her with a rough shove. "Are you sure about this one, Eppie?" the fire Pokémon growled. "It looks awfully flighty. Not to be trusted."
"S'okay, Firrell," the girl, Eppie, repeated. Turning back to Lynn, she gestured for her to move forward. "C'mon," she said, eyes still closed. "I'll take you to my brother. He'll wanna see you."
Feeling the suspicious glare of the guard still fixed on the back of her neck, Lynn gulped and ducked her head. Not knowing what to say, she mutely hurried through after Eppie. She was just in time to see the other girl vanishing down a set of stairs half-hidden in the shadows between two arches.
Biting nervously at her lip, Lynn made her way down the steps as well.
The stone floor of the underground hall felt numbingly cold beneath Lynn's bare feet. Though small flaming torches had been affixed to the walls at regular intervals, their tiny fires weren't nearly enough to warm the frigid air. Nor could they illuminate the passage well enough to dispel the elongated shadows flickering across the walls.
Above the ceiling, Lynn could hear the faint sounds of metal clashing against metal, echoed by rambunctious cries and laughter. She wanted to pause and listen more closely, but her guide showed no sign of stopping. As she glimpsed Eppie disappearing around a dark corner ahead, Lynn had no choice but to dash after her.
For more several minutes, the two girls traveled down a wide marble hallway, the slap of their bare feet echoing in the enclosed space. Lynn kept her eyes on the white cloth of Eppie's sleeveless shirt and pants, the only part of the other girl that was readily visible in the progressively darkening passage. Eppie, for her part, didn't seem to need any sort of guiding light. She marched down the corridor with easy confidence, arms swinging and feet clearly well accustomed to the path they took.
Just when Lynn had just about lost all sense of time and direction in the nearly complete darkness, Eppie, footsteps as regular as clockwork, came to a halt. "We're going up now," her disembodied voice rose out of the shadows. "Better watch the first step."
Nodding, even though Eppie probably couldn't see her, Lynn tested the lowest stair with her toes before sliding one foot, then the other, onto its surface. Focusing all her concentration into the next step, then the next, she continued in this halting fashion the rest of the way up.
She bumped into Eppie as she neared the top stair. Hurriedly withdrawing to the side, Lynn slowly realized that the smaller girl was straining to push against something in the ceiling of the passage. She'd been trying, perhaps for quite some while, without much success. Slowly, Lynn inched forward, just as Eppie began to pound at the ceiling. The steps were wide enough for two people, and Lynn's free hand soon found the cold smooth surface of what seemed to be a metal door. "Ah, maybe we should…I mean, d-do you want to try it together?" she suggested tentatively.
Though she couldn't see much on the dark stairway, Lynn instantly pictured Eppie shaking her bangs out of her eyes and smiling. Sure," the other girl said agreeably. "Count of three?"
"One, two, and three…"
Both girls shoved with their combined strength at the heavy door. Lynn grit her teeth as a crack of light began to appear at its base. Bracing her legs against the top step, she thrust her shoulder under the metal and shoved…
With a stubborn groan, the door creaked open, revealing an illuminated opening so bright that Lynn automatically winced and looked away. Eppie, however, cried out joyfully upon being rid of the darkness at last. Before Lynn could even move, the other girl was through the door and out of sight. Lynn finally followed more hesitantly, one hand held up against the blinding light.
The sounds of scuffling and clunking were louder up here. Taking the final step out of the passageway, Lynn blinked. She was standing on the raised edge of a small courtyard flooded with sunlight. Lingering a bit, Lynn looked up at the sweeping stone walls that surrounded the enclosure, then towards the cloudless blue sky stretched high above it.
Slowly, Lynn loosened her grasp on her pack, then spread her arms to meet the caress of the sun. The fresh breeze whisking through her hair was a welcome relief from the musty underground, and the sun-warmed stones below seemed to thaw the soles of her numb feet. She certainly wouldn’t have minded standing here for several moments more, basking contentedly in the light.
But realizing that Eppie was nowhere in sight, Lynn reluctantly forced herself back to attention. Debating whether or not to call out for the other girl, she walked down another flight of steps into the lowered center of the courtyard…
And met with the edge of a silver blade.
"I wouldn't come any closer if I were you."
Trying to force her throbbing heart out of her throat, Lynn hastily opened her mouth. The metal flashed as the sword drew closer, reducing what was left of her composure to a ragged, shaking mess. "I-I didn't mean to d-do anything wrong!" she choked out in frightened protest. "I-I…"
"She's telling the truth, big brother!" Eppie's voice cried out from the side. "Don't hurt her!"
The boy with the sword did not take his eyes off Lynn. "Eppie, move back," he commanded in a ringing voice.
"Move back before you get hurt!" the boy barked.
Though Eppie had called him brother, Lynn could see little resemblance between the two. Eppie, who could be deemed small and frail at best, was downright pathetic standing next to this bristling boy. With his muscled arms, flying black hair, and piercing dark eyes, he towered well over a foot above Lynn and would have made an imposing sight even without a sword in hand.
"Please, don't hurt her!" Eppie tried again. "You can't!"
Lynn gasped as the small girl hurtled forward, grabbing her by the hand and staring desperately back at the boy. "Please, big brother, listen to me," Eppie pleaded. "I brought her here to meet you…"
The sword flashed again and Lynn squeezed her eyes shut in terror. When she opened them, the metal blade was a fraction of a finger's length from her throat.
"I send you out for a practice sword, and you bring back this pathetic excuse for a Human?" The boy's voice was now quieter and more controlled, but still verging on a growl. "We have no use for strays like this, Eppie."
"Big brother, please." Eppie's voice trembled in an attempt to hold back tears. "Put down that sword." Her bony fingers tightened around Lynn's wrist, nearly cutting off her circulation with their surprising strength.
"She's right, you know," rang a clear masculine voice through the air. Lynn's eyes darted about in search of the speaker, but the boy's intense gaze never wavered from its target.
"Cro, we all know you're not permitted a real weapon out of battle," came the voice again, just as even as before. "Would you have a Master stumble in right now and see you waving that around?"
Lips tightening to suppress a snarl, the boy slowly withdrew the sword. Nerves severely frazzled, Lynn fell to her feet, Eppie's frail hand still clutching at her own. From the side, the shaken forest girl glimpsed a flicker of movement.
Jagged yellow tail bobbing out behind it, Lynn's rescuer leapt into the center of the stone arena, its attentive black eyes still fixed on Cro.
"Thank you," the wiry Pikachu said, nodding to the boy as he sheathed the sword. Turning to Lynn and Eppie, it (or was "it" a "he"? Lynn wondered numbly, not knowing how to address her sudden savior) inclined his head in greeting. “My name is Sparkacus,” the Pikachu told Lynn, extending his tail towards the girl. “What brings you to the Stadium?”
Lynn shook the offered tail with a still trembling hand. “I-I..I’m Lynn. From V-verdant,” she said. Despite trying as hard as she could to keep her voice from quavering, she predictably failed miserably. “And I came here b-because…because…"
"Coz I brought her," Eppie broke in, releasing Lynn's arm at last.
An irritated groan escaped the nearby Cro. "And why, Eppie, why?" the boy demanded, slapping the flat of his palm against the stone side of the courtyard. "Don't we have enough to deal with already?"
The small girl was not intimidated. Drawing herself up to her pitifully small height, Eppie moved in front of Lynn. "She told me to, big brother," the little girl said in a clear, proud voice.
Lynn blanched at this statement. But before she could object, Eppie continued. "Epiphany told me to bring her here after we saw her. So I did. Just like Epiphany asked me to."
"Epiphany again?" Cro snapped incredulously. "Honestly, Eppie, how many times do I have to say this? Epiphany's your real name! She's you, not some stupid imaginary friend who's got a hobby of getting you into trouble all the time!"
"I'm not Epiphany," Eppie stated unwaveringly.
"Oh, please. Why do you keep denying it?"
"Because I'm not," Eppie said, voice softer, but no less firm, than before. Head thrust back, she stared unfalteringly back at the angry boy. "Epiphany knows so many things that I don't," Eppie went on, voice dwindling into little more than a whisper. "Epiphany told me that, today, the last heir will finally arrive."
From where Lynn knelt, she could only see the back of Eppie's head, where her wispy purple hair was pulled back into a thin tuft of a ponytail. That lackluster lavender was a strange color for hair, one that reminded Lynn of wild Rattata fur. Eppie herself might have been no more than a small forest Rattata, claws dug into the ground and scrawny body braced for a blow. Cro, with his flashing eyes and sweeping black hair, should have been the swiftly attacking Sneasel.
Should have been.
To Lynn's disbelief, Cro's narrowed eyes were widening, the enraged snarl on his lips slackening into an open gape of surprise. "The last heir has finally arrived?" he repeated disbelievingly. His face contorted with anger once more. "What on earth are you blathering on about now!"
A slap of wood and squeak of rubber on stone sounded. Eppie had pulled out a practice sword and let it fall onto the ground. Without a word, she rushed to the stairs at the edge of the courtyard. Lynn caught a glimpse of Eppie's face as she passed. The girl's eyes were bright with contained tears.
"Eppie, wait!" Cro yelled after her. "For Martyr's sake, don't…!" He broke off, groaning in frustration, as the small girl disappeared down the steps. The slam of the falling metal door echoed after her.
From his crouch against the side of the courtyard, Sparkacus the Pikachu shook his yellow-furred head. "You can talk to her later," he called over to Cro. "But now that she's brought the sword, we had better practice."
"Screw practice, Spark! Don't you think I should get this straightened out first?" Cro shot back, voice so loud and furious that Lynn automatically tried to efface herself against the courtyard walls.
Summoning the last of her strength as Cro and Sparkacus continued to argue, she staggered onto her wobbly legs and hurried towards the trapdoor Eppie had left through before. Trying to reopen the door alone, however, proved to be an impossible task. Jaw clenched, Lynn clasped her fingers around the door's metal ring of a handle and strained with all her might.
The door did not budge one inch. Stomach writhing in dread, Lynn could only turn back to the courtyard and its two quarrelling occupants.
"Eppie may be upset now, Cro," Sparkacus was saying, "but how would she feel if you got yourself killed today? Now calm down and pick up the sword. Let's get in at least one practice round before this evening."
Breathing heavily, the boy bent and swiped the practice weapon into his hand. Faster than Lynn's eye could track, he leapt forward with a wild scream, forcing the Pikachu to dodge to the side. Sparkacus clenched his paws and countered with a streaking bolt of electricity from his ruddy cheeks. The scintillating attack branched out in Cro's direction, far too fast and wide to evade.
Lynn watched in fascinated horror as the electric stream arched towards the boy. Regaining total equanimity at last, Cro held up his sword and absorbed each lightning bolt with rapid turns of the rubber-coated weapon. The streaks of electricity became smaller and more numerous, forcing the boy to work his blade into a blur.
As Sparkacus's attack broke at last, Cro shot forward with his weapon raised. But though temporarily drained of electricity, the Pikachu was far from being out of energy. Cro's falling sword hit nothing but stone – Sparkacus had darted away from the attack with room to spare. Cro's eyes flitted about as an entire ring of lifelike Pikachu copies sprang up around the small arena.
Copies? I've seen that before, Lynn mused to herself. With the forest Pikachu playing by the Berry trees.
"Your Double Team technique's gotten better," Cro called out loudly. But if he was hoping to provoke an answer from Sparkacus, his cries were in vain. Brows knitting in concentration, Cro pivoted about on the ball of his foot. Without warning, he struck out at one of the Pikachu images. It disintegrated into nothingness as soon as the sword made contact. Again Cro made a stab at one of the many Pikachu. It too disappeared with a brief flash.
Frustrated, Cro swept his weapon through an entire row of the bobbing clones. They vanished, and with a flicker of light, more Pikachu copies materialized around the arena. Lynn stifled a squeak of surprise as one appeared only a foot away from her.
A deft sword stroke dispelled this false copy only seconds after it had appeared. Looking apprehensively upward, Lynn saw Cro's flushed face twitch into a scowl.
"And why are you still here?" he asked her. More of Sparkacus's Double Team clones shifted into view around them; Cro dispatched them all with a swipe of the blade.
Embarrassed, Lynn gestured to the closed trapdoor. "S-sorry, I t-tried to open it before…" she began awkwardly.
Before she could even finish, Cro had broken in with a sigh. Batting away more Pikachu copies with his practice sword, he extended his free hand and clasped it around the ring handle. "Here," he grunted, effortlessly hoisting up the trapdoor and indicating the exit with a jerk of his head. "Well, what's wrong now?" he demanded as Lynn hesitated.
"Um…er, well…I d-don't know my way around down there," she admitted, looking at her knees. "I can wait until you finish…uh, and follow you out. If that's okay with you," she added hastily. "S-sorry for the trouble."
Cro didn't answer. With a cry, he lunged forward and struck at a seemingly random Pikachu. In a flash, all the clones had vanished, leaving only one reeling Pikachu: the real Sparkacus. Without hesitation, Cro brought his sword to the Pokémon's head.
"Don't!" Lynn cried in horror.
Ignoring her, the boy smacked the flat of the blade against Sparkacus's skull.
The Pikachu slumped to the ground.
"No!" Lynn yelped, leaping onto her feet. She started forward, faltering as she remembered how Cro had threatened her before. But the boy even wasn't looking in her direction; he was more preoccupied with Sparkacus. The Pikachu was struggling into a semi-sitting position, Lynn saw with relief, one paw gingerly examining the bump swelling under his scalp.
"You're getting slow, Spark," Cro said wryly, leaning back on his sword.
"Speak for yourself, my friend. It certainly took you long enough to get past my Double Team attack."
"That was only because the sun was behind the clouds at the start of the match! Once I saw your shadow, Spark, I knew which one you were. But when I attacked, you should've at least tried to move! Unless…" Cro grinned and nudged the Pikachu teasingly with his toe, "…you really are getting slow. Honestly, you had more than enough time to launch a Thunderbolt or something when I was busy helping Miss Incapable over there." He jerked a thumb in Lynn's direction.
Sparkacus wrinkled his nose at this suggestion. "And run the risk of injuring our guest?" Trotting on all fours past the black-haired boy and up the courtyard steps, the Pikachu took a perch on a nearby stone block. "Please excuse my teammate," he told Lynn apologetically. "Cro often forgets the definition of courtesy. Try not to take him seriously."
Lynn, who'd been cringing at Cro's offhanded insult, couldn't help but appreciate this small kindness.
"No one asked you to," Cro said rather harshly before Lynn could reply. "Here at the Stadium, we could care less about you, Lynn of Viridian."
"Actually, it's… it's V-Verdant," Lynn corrected all-too-timidly. She hated how weak her voice sounded.
Cro's coal black eyes flashed in triumph. "Well, there's no way you're the last heir," he announced. "It doesn't matter what Eppie said. You can't even get the name of your own town right, and I'll bet you don't even know the names of the other cities in this region."
"Um…" Lynn racked her brains for even a remotely acceptable answer. "I know M-mer…curie," she said at last.
"Its name is Pewter City, not Mercury," Cro shot back sharply. "Some last heir you'd be, using those revolting Master names left and right. It's Pewter and Viridian, not Mercury and Verdant. For Martyr's sake, don't you have any pride at all?"
Ignorance may not have been a crime, yet the way Cro's face had contorted, he seemed apt to murder Lynn on the spot.
"Pride in WHAT?" he roared in Lynn's face. The girl backed hastily away as Cro's voice escalated into a thunderous yell. "It's bad enough that you just barge in here for no reason at all!" he shouted, eyes blazing. "And somehow Eppie's gotten it into her head that you're the last heir! How stupid is that? You've deserted us long ago, Lynn of Viridian! There's no way you're going to be the one to save us all now!"
"Cro, please," Sparkacus entreated. "It's clear the poor girl has no idea what you're talking about."
"Wait," Lynn started hesitantly. In fact, she was finally beginning to have some idea about what Cro meant after all.
But her timorous voice was drowned out by Cro's coarse laugh. "And why would she need explanations?" the black-eyed boy demanded, his shout simmering into a mocking hiss. "She's just another stray off the street. All she'll be to us is trouble, Spark. Heck, we'll probably have to clean up the whole mess when her Master finds out she's gone. She's obviously not capable of anything other than whining!"
His callous words stung badly. Lynn wanted to protest his accusations, exclaim that they were completely wrong. But to her uttermost humiliation, she felt hot tears welling up at the corner of her eyes, ready to spill out at a moment's notice. "I-I don't know what you m-mean," she said finally, bowing her head towards the ground so that Cro and Sparkacus wouldn't see her face.
"Even forgotten your Master's name, have you?" Cro snapped. "Isn't there anything you can do by yourself?"
That was it. The dam burst, sending fat tears streaming down Lynn's face. Hating herself for being so easily broken, Lynn kept her face lowered in hopes that no one would notice. "I don't have a Master," she said, struggling to keep her voice even. "I d-don't even know what that is!"
Cro saw the tears, all right. When his voice came again, it wasn't nearly as harsh as before. "Look, it's okay," he said quietly, having finally realized he'd gone too far. "Spark and I won't get you into any trouble. We can help you get back to your Master. Just…just stop crying, okay? "
The Pikachu cleared his throat abruptly. "And remember to excuse Cro for being a jerk," he finished for his friend. "That's just the way he is, I'm afraid."
"Listen to Spark," Cro agreed. Then, after a moment's pause- "Hey!"
Lynn managed a shaky smile. Pulling back tangled hair from her wet face, she slowly looked up at Sparkacus's kindly face and Cro's dark eyes…
Which were rapidly widening as Lynn looked him in the face for the first time. "You…you were telling the truth!" Cro cried in disbelief. "About not having a Master. And if you don't have a Master, then you must be a Master yourself." In a flash, his eyes had grown hard. It was Lynn's turn to gasp in surprise as she found herself at swordpoint, for the second time that day.
But at least this time it was only a wooden practice weapon, not the glittering metal blade that had instilled so much terror before. Spots dancing before her eyes, she forced herself not to turn away and make herself look even more guilty. "I-I don't know what you mean by Master," Lynn found herself saying at last. "I d-don't understand how you can tell if I'm one of them or n-not." Overcome by a mixture of fear and indignation, something in her finally snapped. "But I haven't done anything to you!" she cried, several more tears slipping down her face. "S-so…so stop threatening me!"
Behind her, she could hear Sparkacus thumping his tail in approval. Cro himself looked as surprised as Lynn now felt at her sudden outburst. Slowly, he retracted his weapon. But the suspicion was still there, caught in the furrows of his tanned forehead.
"It may be a stupid decision on my part," he said finally, frown deepening. "But maybe I'll give you one chance. But only one."
Cro's hand tightened around the hilt of his wooden sword. "Rest assured, Lynn of Viridian, that if you really are a Master, then you've already done something I won't forgive. And I'll be happy to go a heck of a lot further than just threatening you."
Stepping into the sunlight, Cro's free hand rose to his neck, indicating a thin black band that Lynn hadn't thought to take note of before. Glancing back at Sparkacus, Lynn saw that the Pikachu had a similar band fastened around his own neck.
"You have no Ring," Cro told the puzzled girl. "I didn't notice it before with all your hair in the way, not until you pushed it back just then. You know what that means, don't you?"
Lynn shook her head in confusion.
"Centuries ago, my people fought the ancestors of the Masters in this very city," the boy said, coal-black eyes blazing. "The ancestors of the Masters were made up of Pokémon rebels and the Human traitors who joined them. They defeated my people and the Pokémon who'd stayed loyal. And they Ringed us, forever marking us as slaves. Today, we're no better off. Some of us Ringed are servants or pets for the wealthy. Others, like me and Sparkacus, fight in Pokémon-Human battles at Stadiums to entertain Masters."
Cro's lip curled at this statement. "They probably thought that was funny," he snarled. "Making us fight the battles. It would have been funny to them, in a sick and twisted way. The ultimate irony."
And Lynn knew why.
"Your people," she blurted out before she could stop herself. "Your people were the Pokémon Trainers."
Whee, back! Thanks again to my awesome beta, JX Valentine!
January 12th, 2011 (7:44 PM).
Wow, this story is awesome! Although Chapter 6 reminds me of Samurai Jack in a way... :o
Altogether, it's an amazing piece. The storyline is amazing. (Wonder what that red-eyed demon in chapter four is... can't say I recognize it...)
I can't wait for the next chapter!
January 14th, 2011 (1:10 PM).
I'm always happy when I get my subscription email for this thread
I hope the story doesn't disappear or drop off any time soon!
January 17th, 2011 (5:34 PM).
Oh my goodness, readers! (hugs you both very tightly) Thanks a bunch for stopping by!
Aw, thank you - it makes me super happy to hear you're enjoying it! I've never seen Samurai Jack before, so I hope the comparison there is favorable.
As for the demon with the red eyes, if you want to know, it is:
Yay, you're still reading! (showers you with many, many cookies) I apologize for my terrible update schedule, but don't worry - I won't be dropping this story. I've got a good deal of it written out, so I'm pretty sure it will eventually be finished.
(scuttles off to edit the next chapter)
February 22nd, 2011 (8:23 PM).
A Conundrum for Corundum
Though it had stopped raining well before midday, droplets of rain still clung to the office window. Beyond the glass panes, the fields of the Verdant City Park gleamed a lush emerald. Once dying dried grass now shone in thick green waves, as if magically revitalized by last night's storm.
As usual, however, Stadium Master Corundum Earthshaker was too busy to even glance outside. As the esteemed manager of the equally reputable Verdant City Stadium and governor of Verdant City itself, Corundum rarely ever had a moment to spare. And when he did, it was most certainly not for something as trifling as the scenery.
Leaning back in his spacious swivel chair, the middle-aged Tyranitar clacked his claws impatiently together. His sharp black eyes were focused on the monitor screen in front of him, where the image of a stony-faced Dragonite was currently displayed.
"Patrols found the Fearow's body on the route outside Mercury," the Dragonite was saying now, head bowed so deeply that only her slender antennae were visible. "It was frozen solid to the ground. Aeolus had his share of enemies while he was still living in Verdant City, I'm assuming."
Still twiddling his claws, Corundum gave a tired laugh similar to sandpaper scraping against cement. "Aeolus was a zealot," the Tyranitar said shortly. "And a rather annoying one. Someone clearly saw fit to put him in his place, though whether or not that someone was a Verdant citizen can't be told. At any rate, it's not our problem. Aeolus and his little escapades have been taken care of, and that's the end of that."
The Dragonite's pale golden forehead furrowed into a disapproving frown. "Your fellow Stadium Masters, including myself," Tiamat said sharply, "think the Fearow posed a much greater threat than that. Don't you have any idea of the talk floating around these days? Stories about an ancient race of Humans called the Pokémon Trainers. And a legend about a young man known as the Martyr…"
"…who reportedly led a Trainer and Pokémon army against the Masters long ago. And lost," Corundum finished for her. He sighed and rubbed his rocky-hided temples with the flats of his broad paws. "I fail to see how these little fairy tales concern me, Tiamat. If you'll excuse me…"
"Legend also has it that this Human, the Martyr, left behind a sacred object known as the Rainbow Wing," the Dragonite broke in, undeterred. "This object was to be used to revive and summon a Legendary Pokémon, one that would be an extraordinary weapon in the hands of an individual they call the 'last heir' of the Martyr. This 'heir' would be the savior of the Ringed, one who would return freedom and harmony to all…or something banally predictable like that."
"I'm sure those tales have a lot of appeal for the Ringed masses," Corundum replied with a sigh. "But we all know there's no proven record of the Pokémon Trainers anywhere. And frankly, the idea of Humans enslaving Pokémon is absurd. No more than a ridiculous fantasy concocted by the Ringed Human factions."
"Whether it is fantasy or fact," Tiamat said, her intent gaze darkening into a glower, "the matter still remains that many of the Ringed believe it nonetheless. And the number of believers is growing rapidly. If an individual such as this legendary 'last heir' did appear, we could have an enormous revolt on our hands."
Her dark eyes smoldered at the thought. "When he was still alive," she went on, "Aeolus was a threat because he possessed something very powerful indeed. He had alleged proof that the Pokémon Trainers once walked this world. He had the remains of the legendary Rainbow Wing."
Corundum's face scrunched up in skepticism. "And some bits of feather and dust can incite rebellion?"
By this point, Tiamat's eyes had become mere pools of inky black, her leathery forehead a furrowed map of wrinkles. "As you've said, the legend of the last heir has much appeal to the Ringed," she replied delicately, expression clouded and unreadable. "Many even claim descent from the Pokémon Trainers and their Pokémon. And once a bond that tangible has been fixed in their stubborn little heads…"
She sighed again, growing tired of beating the subject. "The point is that the remains of the Rainbow Wing were not found with Aeolus's body. The Wing was taken beforehand by some unknown party."
"So we'll send someone out to find it. I have just the individual in mind."
"That is fortunate, Master Earthshaker," the Dragonite replied stiffly. "See that you do that. In the meantime, I have a small gift for you. Something which, if needed, will provide the perfect bait for this Wing snatcher. I've sent it from Midnight Mesa with a special messenger. Watch for it."
"Bait?" Corundum grumbled. "What do you mean by that?"
But the monitor screen blinked out before Tiamat had a chance to respond.
Suppressing a yawn, Corundum leaned back against the chair and rubbed his stony eyelids with a paw. He had enough to worry about already, what with it being Festival Week and all. Verdant Stadium would be holding special tournaments and events every single night, and, as Stadium Master, Corundum was expected to oversee each and every one of them. It was enough of a headache without having to get all riled up about some lunatic running around with a bunch of shiny feathers.
Forcing himself back to attention, Corundum checked the clock on the far wall, then reached for one of the many stacks of papers on his desk. He still had ten minutes before he had to meet the fire marshal to discuss new fireworks regulations. If he was lucky, he could review some of the vendor permit applications he'd been trying to finish before Tiamat's call had thrown everything off schedule…
Corundum bolted about a foot off his seat. "What the…!" the Tyranitar roared, extended paw dropping onto the chair arm. The shout was instantly followed by the strident blowing of a kazoo and the tossing of colored confetti.
"Happy Festival, Dad!" came a merry voice from in front of the open door.
Eyes darting downward, Corundum caught sight of a young Larvitar standing on the carpeted floor, a red kazoo in one paw and a handful of confetti in the other. Somehow, he had managed to ease open the door while Corundum had been distracted on the phone.
"Feldspar? What are you doing here? You could have at least knocked!" the Tyranitar informed his only child sternly.
As he flung the remainder of his confetti into Corundum's face, Feldspar grinned. "Aw, Dad! That's no fun!" he protested in a mock pout. "But don't you remember? I wrote you a letter just last week about how I was coming over today!"
Corundum did recall some kind of letter from Feldspar. It was still sitting next to his desk in a growing mound of yet-to-be opened mail. "Must have gotten lost by the Pidgey Express," the Stadium Master replied quickly. "Aren't you supposed to be in school at the Midnight Mesa?"
"We're on holiday for the Eight Days of Festival!" Feldspar explained happily. "Oh, gimme just a second! I need to go and get something…"
Corundum sighed as the Larvitar ducked back into the hallway. He quickly checked the clock again. Two minutes of precious time had already passed. Well, Feldspar always meant well, that much could be said. The little Larvitar was a good student, a spirited young Pokémon, and shaping up to be a decent successor to the title of Verdant Stadium Master. Still, Corundum could not help but feel burdened by his son's sudden arrival. His busy plans had not included catering to Feldspar, certainly not during the Stadium's most frenetic time of year.
"Oops! Sorry about that!" Feldspar's voice floated up from the hall. "Uh oh! Be careful with…!" There was a loud clatter as twenty some boxes all hit the floor at once.
Poking his head out the door, Corundum saw his son, as well as a silver-furred Eevee wearing a red ribbon, half-buried underneath a landslide of gaudily wrapped presents.
"Hi, Dad," Feldspar said sheepishly from under a golden package nearly as large as he was. "Sorry about the mess. I'll clean it up as soon as I…ouch!"
As the Larvitar struggled out from the pile, raining boxes in every direction, the little silver Eevee smacked him on the head. "Don't leave your stuff lying in the hall like that!" she scolded, shaking a paw at Feldspar. "Else someone could get really hurt. Someone like you, you, you!" She giggled, causing Feldspar to turn as red as a polished ruby.
"Hello, Himeka," Corundum wearily greeted the young Eevee Master. "Here to register your Ringed team in the match tonight?"
Himeka's grin illuminated every feature of her round little face. "Yep! You didn't think I'd forget, did you? Better not have! Better not, not, not!"
Though Himeka was infamous for forgetting to register until the last possible moment, Corundum didn't bother pointing this out. Her father Gruff Madison, after all, was the city's Chief of Security, Corundum's foremost colleague, and one of the richest Masters in the entire region. Gruff's little Eevee daughter had grown up with all sorts of toys and servants to carry out her every whim. Corundum had never thought it wise to raise children in this manner; Feldspar, for example, had never been allowed such pampering.
But when Himeka had gotten interested in the Ringed battling business several years ago, back when it had started to become a popular fad among the youngsters, Himeka's father had bought his daughter some of the best Ringed fighters in the entire region. Consequently, Himeka had quickly become one of most successful competitions at the Verdant Stadium, consistently winning battle after battle with a bare minimum of training. Rumor had it that all of the young Eevee's Ringed team were free to roam the city and practice at whim.
Himeka had always been immensely proud of her Ringed battlers. She made a point to enter every single competition at the Stadium. And despite the strain this must have put on Himeka's Ringed, they still usually managed to put on a good show.
Corundum had watched Himeka's Ringed many times in the arena before. One, a black-haired Human boy who went by the name of Cro, often made Corundum uneasy with his piercing stare and imperious disposition. That was another way in which Corundum disapproved of Himeka's loose training methods. Leave the Ringed to their own devices, and you never knew what they might be plotting.
Oh, sure, they were obedient enough. Most had to be, if they wanted to survive. But Ringed like Cro always stayed unnervingly aloof, never caring to form bonds with their superiors. They did not fight for their Masters out of love or loyalty, only to hone their own abilities until the time came to break away. And this obvious lack of devotion could not be worth even the sharpest fighting skills.
The Tyranitar figured Cro was one Ringed who would not remain satisfied with his condition much longer. If she had any sense at all, Himeka would have any fighters like that boy put down immediately.
Of course, the little Eevee was far too proud for that. Or perhaps Himeka was just plain thickheaded; Corundum wasn't really sure which.
"Just give us a minute," Corundum informed the Eevee, trying his best not to let his rapidly mounting irritation creep into his voice. "I need to have a small talk with my son." He waited for Feldspar to choose the appropriate presents before heading back into the office. Feldspar followed as best he could, staggering a bit under the weight of his boxes. Himeka padded in as well, even though she had clearly not been invited.
"Here's your Festival present, Dad!" Feldspar said proudly, standing on the tips of his paws and placing a box onto Corundum's desk. "I made them all by myself, and they're really good! Well, at least, I hope they are."
"I'm sure they're wonderful, Feldspar," Corundum assured his son. "But listen. While you were at school at the Midnight Mesa, did the Stadium Master there give you something to bring me?"
Feldspar nodded and stacked a second box on top of the first. This one was not wrapped in metallic paper and bore the official seal of the Midnight Mesa as its only decoration. Without a word, Corundum took the box and pried it open underneath his desk.
Inside was a long colorful feather resting atop a cushion of black velvet.
This is supposed the perfect bait for the Rainbow Wing thief? Corundum mused, staring down at the iridescent piece of plumage. Tiamat did say that Aeolus only possessed remnants of the Rainbow Wing.
A half-smile twisted the rocky features of Corundum's weathered face. It seems that we have parts of the Wing as well.
"Open it!" Feldspar burst out eagerly. Himeka, who had been climbing onto the desk for a better look at the gift, lost her grip and fell off with a yelp.
Startled, Corundum looked down at his son. Ah, of course.
Taking Feldspar's present in his claws, he ripped off the careful wrapping. "It's wonderful," the Tyranitar declared as a decorated metal tin was revealed. "Thanks, Feldspar. It's just what I needed. A wonderful little box. Extremely useful; I can keep my pens in it."
"Oh, Dad! That's just the tin!" Feldspar laughed. "The real present's inside!"
Corundum pulled off the lid and set it aside. The smell of fresh granite shavings filled his nostrils as he peered down. Homemade rock cookies filled the box to the brim, all cut into fanciful shapes such as stars and crescent moons. "Very nice," the Tyranitar said, moving to put the lid back on.
Feldspar beamed. "Go ahead and try one!" he urged. "I made sure not to put any burnt ones in."
"That's okay, son. I think I'll save them for tonight's dessert. And speaking of tonight…" Corundum pushed the cookie tin to the side of his desk. "Feldspar, the Eight Days of Festival is one of the busiest times of the year, especially for the Stadium. I'm afraid I won't be able to spend much time with you today. How about tomorrow? We can go to the park together; how about that?"
The Larvitar's usually bright face dimmed a notch or two. "Oh," Feldspar said, trying his best to hide his all-too-obvious disappointment. "It's nice of you to offer, Dad. But tomorrow I have to leave. Uncle Obsidian invited me to his Festival party and I promised I'd be there. Maybe…maybe I could just hang around with you tonight?"
Corundum chanced another glance at the clock. Now he had less than three minutes left before his meeting with the fire marshal. "Look, Feldspar," he said with as much kindly patience as he could muster, "I've got a Stadium to run, and, right now, I frankly can't handle any distractions. It's been wonderful to see you again, and I'm sorry that this had to come up. But look on the bright side." Corundum leaned forward and put a claw underneath his son's bowed chin. "You can use the extra time to study for your finals."
"Finals?" Feldspar repeated numbly.
"Yes, the school finals you're taking after holiday," Corundum replied. "Want to make sure you study hard and get good grades. Verdant City doesn't want an academy dropout as its next Stadium Master!"
At this comment, Feldspar's already glum face darkened even more. "I…I've been meaning to talk to you about that, Dad," the Larvitar gulped. "You see, I've been thinking a lot. And…well…" He gulped again, obviously floundering with how to finish the statement.
Only one minute left. Sighing, Corundum tore his gaze away from the clock and tried to smile encouragingly at his son. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Himeka carelessly smacking a stack of folders off the desk as she tried to reach for a cookie. "Let's talk about this some other time, Feldspar," Corundum said tryingly, wincing as the papers tumbled down in the background. The beginnings of a long-suppressed migraine were beginning to throb beneath the Tyranitar's temples. "Give you some time to think and…"
"No, I've thought about it!" Feldspar interjected hurriedly. "I've thought about it a lot! And after all that thinking, I decided that…well, maybe I don't want to take over as the Verdant Stadium Master when I grow up."
Corundum's stony brow furrowed at his son's declaration. "You don't want to be Stadium Master?" he echoed incredulously. "You can't seriously be thinking that…"
"It's not just that I don't want to do it!" Feldspar babbled on, flailing his paws. "I don't think I'd…what I'm trying to say is…well, you know…I'm…er….just not the person for the job."
"Serving as Stadium Master is an extreme honor," Corundum replied edgily. "More than that, it's your duty." The pain in his head was coming in swift, unrelenting waves now. It was only exacerbated by the sound of the phone ringing in the background, accompanied by the crash of Himeka knocking over a half-filled mug of coffee as she scurried back towards the door. "You know there is no other person for the job, Feldspar," the Tyranitar growled, the irritation he'd worked so hard to conceal finally seeping into his voice. "Please don't argue with me."
"But Dad, you know how I feel about those Stadium matches!" Feldspar whined on in protest. "And I was thinking of…oh, I don't know exactly what I want to be yet…but…but being a Stadium Master, I know for sure that's definitely not what I want to do, and I don't see why you keep forcing me to…"
The last of Corundum's reserves of patience finally wore through. "Enough!" the Tyranitar snapped, slamming his hefty paws into the desk. One made a large crack in wooden surface. The other sent Feldspar's metal tin of cookies crashing against the wall. "Do not argue with me, Feldspar!" the Tyranitar roared, black eyes blazing. "YOU are going to become the Verdant Stadium Master whether you like it or not! Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes, Dad," Feldspar muttered, avoiding both Corundum's gaze and the sight of the spilled cookies.
"What was that?" his father barked.
"Yes, sir!" the Larvitar blurted out.
"Thank you, Feldspar. You may go now."
As Feldspar trudged dejectedly out of the office, Himeka pranced forward from her hiding place by the door. "Are you really, really the Stadium Master's son?" she asked the Larvitar, eyes wide in innocent curiosity. "I didn't even know he had a son! Really, really!"
Feldspar didn't look up.
Making a face at the retreating Larvitar, Himeka scampered back, large black eyes now turning to the tin by the wall. Her petite paw eagerly scooped up one of the rock cookies that had fallen out. Smacking her lips in relish, the Eevee chomped down on the treat's corner.
And dropped it a split-second later, howling and clutching at her mouth in agony.
Eep, sorry this took so long! School is owning me, haha. Hopefully the next chapter will be faster.
February 25th, 2011 (9:07 PM).
I still owe you a VM, I just realized. Baw. I'm horrible.
Yours is a story I randomly decided to review for my last one needed for the Reviewing Challenge. And I have to say that I picked an very good one. I'm berating myself for having to stop at chapter five because my eyes are so tired.
I love the world that you have built up. The way that everything has changed. The stories that built up about the past. It almost seems like a post-apocalyptic world now, with the past being nothing more but myths and people carving out places to live where they can. It also shows how the world changed by Lynn having a coming-of-age party that just sent her out into the world without protection than what we're used to for Pokemon trainers.
This is a journey fic, by the way. Stories that fit the journey fic formula (that is, having a character leave on a journey and grow and change along the way) happens outside this fandom even. This isn't really an original trainer fic since there are no trainers in its world. But a journey fic? Yes indeed.
Lynn is such a great character. She's not ready for role. She doesn't even seem to want it. But she'll take her task on and do whatever she can to at least try. I'm looking forward to seeing how this journey changes her, what she learns, how she grows.
I'm also going to be waiting to see how Wreander's choices will come into play on her journey and how they affect her. What a creepy character he was, with that golden-eyed Eevee.
The symbolism between the seven Gold Berries left for Lynn after Eon took three and the fact that she has to find seven feathers in total was a great touch. (Also the fact that Eon took three, and three were already found before Lynn added hers...!) It's things like this that make the story even more enjoyable as I spot these.
But I have to say that my favorite part definitely is the world. It has such a sense of history that I would love to see more of. Especially to find out exactly why what happened in the epilogue happened.
Really, this is an impressive fic. I'm going to continue to read it to catch up, and then I'll keep up-to-date with the new chapters as they come out.
February 26th, 2011 (1:16 PM).
I just read the epilogue and first three chapters, and wow. Though the epilogue was interesting enough and had some fairly visceral description, what really got me hooked was Lynn's introduction, especially the passage when she closes her eyes and mouth and just listens. It's easy for an author to just up and say "Lynn was very in tune with nature," but you went the extra mile and showed us something about her in an elegant and spellbinding manner. Equally spellbinding was the description of the feather. It's clear why it's so special to Lynn.
There were just so many things in these first few chapters that left me absolutely enchanted. The description of Venusaur's entrance, the growth of the Gold Berry tree and the leaves that fall from it, and perhaps most of all Wreander's whole spiel. His mannerisms and strange abilities land on just the right intersection between friendly, unsettling, and supernatural. I particularly liked the three choices he offered her. They touch upon a very old (but under-represented in fanfiction, I would say) theme, and it's displayed with appropriate poignancy. I'm really looking forward to how it ties in with the rest of the story.
The writing flowed nicely, and any trip-ups I noticed were few and far between. I think Jax is right about that one sentence "And the muffled beating of her own heart thudded steadily through the darkness." If you're going for a list, they should probably all be one sentence, but that wouldn't work either because it'd be simple list without a predicate part of the sentence. At any rate, it's one awkward word in an otherwise top-notch paragraph. I'm not sure what you should do with it.
One other thing that I thought could have been handled better:
I'd love to read more right now, but I'm pressed for time and was just itching to get my thoughts down, which doesn't usually happen. You can bet I'll get caught up as soon as I can!