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A Leash of Foxes

Pink Harzard

So majestic
Try to find the right moment to get your gun. Keep him busy until you see a moment of weakness. When you have the gun, shoot him.
(Not so peaceful guy now xD)
 
Wait, does that mean Charlie got eaten by a Requiem? That sucks.

Okay. Check to see if the Dusk stone is still there. If it is, great. If not... Not great.

Then, if it's still there, run in and sock that bastard in the face. Then go for the gun.
 

Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
Wait, does that mean Charlie got eaten by a requiem? That sucks.

You have been suppressing the urge to wonder what has become of Charlie, but for a moment your will falters. How can she have survived? It seems impossible – all that stone and earth, anathema to her fiery essence, on top of the boulders that the Lover threw at her …

No. You can't think of her now. You can look for her – and, if you must, if the unthinkable has happened, mourn her – later. Here, now, you must face hs.ang.


Check to see if the Dusk Stone is still there. If it is, great. If not ... not great.

Are you ready? You are. The unearthly cold of the Dusk Stone is still present at your throat. Hs.ang won't be able to grip you with their mind – but you must be careful; they can still reinforce their limbs with telekinesis, and fight far beyond the limits of human endurance. You recall what Dirge said about fighting Alakazam: even with their bodies utterly broken, the psychic fields they generate will linger, trying to reassemble the fragments. Qhamri, too, has warned you. Everything it has told you indicates that the foxes are agents of change, capable of using technologies you can only guess at to enact impossible alterations. This will be a hard fight – the hardest of all fights, perhaps.

You smile coldly. How could hs.ang possibly know that, you ask.

“Do you think scraps of information gleaned from an automaton count as knowledge?” they retort. “I do not presume to know your people. You should not presume to know mine.”


Then, if the Stone's still there, run in and sock that bastard in the face. Then go for the gun.

No warning: that's the way to do it. Almost before hs.ang has finished speaking, you lunge―

Their knife meets yours and turns it aside with a neat flick of their wrist. You jump back – just in time. You hardly saw hs.ang move, but you can feel the air stinging on a fresh cut on your abdomen.

The two of you stare at each other for a moment, surprised despite yourselves. You have never met anyone your match before – and, you suspect, neither has hs.ang. But you are the warriors fit to wield the gun; you should have known it would be close.

Unfortunately for you, hs.ang has the natural advantage. They only need to land one or two good hits to kill you, but as long as they have their psychic powers, it will take everything you have to stop them forcing themself back together.


Try to find the right moment to get your gun. Keep them busy until you see a moment of weakness. When you have the gun, shoot them.

The two of you begin to circle, both more cautious now. Hs.ang must know that your body, once broken, cannot jam itself back together by force of will, but it seems they do not want to be too badly wounded if they can help it – they are alone, after all, and close to a heavily fortified Orrene town in an area full of restless requiems. It isn't an ideal place to sustain serious injury.

As hs.ang comes around to the right, you feint to the left, and strike at their right side; they dodge, of course, but now they are moving leftwards, away from a position where they might see the gleam of the gun. You have to get close to it, but doing so will leave hs.ang able to see it, and if they notice it they can grab it with their mind. The opportunity will be slim―

Hs.ang
lunges, and you duck – bring your knife up sharply – they twist their head up and out of the way with preternatural speed, floating several inches off the ground and and coming to rest a foot further back. You start to counterattack, but suddenly they have closed the gap between you again, and you are forced to sidestep. Bone grates, steel flashes – and the two of you separate once again, both bleeding now.

Your enemy inspects their injured arm. There's not much blood – you felt the knife connect, but they are clamping the wound shut with a light psychic pressure. You, for your part, have widened the cut on your belly with the sudden movement, and it itches as the blood clots on your shirt.

“Well done,” they say, though as far as you can judge there is nothing celebratory in their voice. “Try again.”

They flick their free hand to one side – and your knife twitches in your hand. You, however, were expecting that; your grip stays firm, and the Dusk Stone's influence extends just far enough to keep hs.ang from disarming you.

“Truly?” they ask. “That is a powerful evil you have on your neck.”

Truly, you affirm, edging a little closer to the right. The gun is just a couple of yards away now, almost directly behind you: you're close, but you must stop hs.ang seeing it. You engage them furiously, another round of slash and stab and dodge passing between you in an instant, and this time as you break away you hurl your knife into their face.

You hear them cry out in surprise as you turn, but you do not stop to look, and now there is only a foot between you and the gun―

―your fingers close on cold stone―

―and you are up, soil flying from your hand, and the barrel of the seven-chambered revolver pointed squarely at the spot between hs.ang's eyes.

For a moment, they pause – and then your knife, hovering before their face, flies back at you. You evade it easily, only to find that it was a feint: hs.ang is following after, claws outstretched. The gun clicks uselessly in your hand – of course they would unload it; why wouldn't they unload it; it wasn't as if they could fire it with their claws – and the Alakazam barrels into you with more force than seems possible for their slight body to withstand. You roll, clubbing their head, dust crunching, head ringing, teeth and dagger an indistinguishable blur of yellow ivory before your face―

One blow must have connected. You aren't sure how it happens, but the two of you separate, hs.ang with a yelp of pain and you with a wheezy gasp. They leap back a full yard, nursing a claw; you climb to your feet a little more slowly, painfully aware that they have broken at least one of your ribs.

Hs.ang glares at their right hand, bent out of shape, and an eerie force makes their fur shiver, pressing bones back together beneath the skin. They could do it faster than this, you know, but they are making a point – showing you what they can do, how they can hold themself together through pain and wound. With a grotesque slowness, they flex the broken hand, and summon their knife back into it.

“I removed the missiles when I took it from you,” they say. “They were too dangerous.” You are biting your lip against the pain, searching your belt and pockets for bullets. They watch, unconcerned. “And there are no Dark objects on you save that rock on your neck,” they add. “I would know if there were.”

They are right. Your belt pouches must have been torn loose in the fight, or when the requiem breached, and all you can find in your pockets are a few regular cartridges and a single houndtooth. Hs.ang must have faced whole fusillades of these before; they could stop them in their sleep. You load them anyway, out of a kind of desperation.

“You have fought as well as could be expected,” they tell you. “Too lucky, too strong. But you have no weapons now.”

Blam. The bullet stops a foot out of the barrel, and, calm as the sky, hs.ang tears it in half with their mind. You stare. You do not even know what to think, let alone what to say.

“And still you try to fight.” They hold out their hand. “It is over,” they say. “Give it to me. You deserve a swift death for your pains.”

How could you have been so foolish? You are a human being, and they are an Alakazam. Even as a hero, even with the Dusk Stone, you aren't hs.ang's match. They have an unstoppable force caged within their skull, and you – well, you have a broken rib and a useless gun. Unless you can somehow shut off their power, you are totally and utterly defenceless.

Hs.ang's eyes meet yours. They say nothing. They do not need to.
 
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Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
I see only one option - fight on pure instinct. There's no room for thinking, no room for mistakes. Try not to get killed, or injured. If you get close enough to hs.ang, would it be possible for you to use the Dusk Stone to inhibit their power somehow?

The Dusk Stone.

The Dusk Stone.

You reach up to your neck and begin to fiddle with its clasp. Does hs.ang take this for a gesture of surrender – a throwing off of your psychic armour? Perhaps they do. Certainly they do not attempt to stop you. The choker comes loose on the second attempt, and you take it from your neck, holding it tight in your right hand. It will keep you safe for a few moments longer.

“That is well,” says hs.ang. “You will not need that now.”

You let the gun dangle from your other hand, and holding it before you, walk towards them. The Stone is cold in your palm, a little shard of wintry night.

You hold out the gun, and put it into hs.ang's claw.

“Y―”

They never finish. You thrust the Dusk Stone into their face, and as they howl, as they lurch with dizziness and the pain of their wounds reopening – you click the choker shut around their neck.

The bones of hs.ang's hand pop out through the skin and blood begins to stream from the wound on their arm. They jab their knife into you, sticking it deep in your shoulder – and it hurts, yes, but the force is much less than before. There is only muscle behind that blow.

You crush their hand with yours, knocking the knife to the floor, and they tear loose with a savage growl. Still strong. But only as strong as you are, now.

Hs.ang screams a word that you cannot make out and leaps at you like a wolf, claws crooked and jaws gaping. Startled, you fall beneath them and their good claw digs into your bad shoulder, pinning you with the pain of it. Your head swims, and hs.ang's teeth blur before your eyes in a film of nausea as they plunge towards your throat―

At this close range, a fox's howl is deafening. One of your eardrums bursts with the sound, and you lie stunned for a moment as hs.ang rolls off you, snarling murder at some unknown enemy. You blink once – twice – and your head begins to clear; you sit up, and see six great gashes on the side of hs.ang's face, two of them carving straight through the spot where there ought to be an eye.
And you see qhamri, hs.ang's claws tangled in its ribcage, being smashed against the ground hard enough to loose chips of bone on impact.

At once, your mind comes unstuck, and you land a punch on hs.ang's mangled eye. They drop qhamri with a shriek and turn to you―

―just as you pick up the gun from where they had dropped it.

After that fight, the silence is deafening.

You climb to your feet. Slowly, their remaining eye fixed on the barrel of the gun, hs.ang climbs to theirs. With their good hand, they go for the choker. You let them. Its catch is small and elaborate, made for human fingers. Thick fox claws will never release it – as hs.ang realises a moment later.

They shake their head, very slowly. Do they know how human it makes them look?

“This was not meant to happen,” they say. Every word is an effort. Qhamri's talons have taken a chunk from their lip.

At last you can agree with them.

No, it wasn't, you say. None of it.

“You are condemning my people to extinction,” hs.ang tells you. “You have won. I cannot stop you. But you have ruined everything.”

There are other ways. You are only just beginning to understand them, but they exist, and you will find them.

“There is no other language your people speak.” Your eye falls on qhamri – a sad bundle of black feathers and bleached bones now, utterly motionless. It seems much smaller than before.

Hs.ang seems more than fluent in it themself, you point out, and you step forwards, pressing the barrel of the gun against their forehead. You will hate yourself for it later, but something in you comes alive at the panic that flickers in their eye.

“I can help you,” they say, too fast. Their ears are twitching like nervous crickets. “I can give you back what was taken.”

Fear does not suit jinneerah hs.ang. Their eye is wide and ugly with it. They breathe as if afraid their lungs will give out.

“I know your name!” they cry, as your finger tightens on the trigger.

You look at them, and what they see in your eyes makes the light go out of theirs.

“I have no name,” you reply, finding your own true voice at last, and with one last bang the wasteland receives hs.ang for its own.

*

It is hot.

You sit beneath blank unfocused blue, the desert heat winding up around you.

It is so hot.

Qhamri seems beyond your assistance. Its ribcage is smashed, its skull chipped, and one of its talons has come away completely. Many of its feathers are broken, and the brain in its chest is scratched and lightless. You do not know if it can ever be repaired.

It is so very, very hot.

You gather the pieces and wrap them in what is left of your travelling cape. Did it ever feel anything at all, or was it, as hs.ang said, a mere automaton? You do not know, but it deserves your respect.

Up you get. Leave hs.ang here. They are a child of the desert; wherever they lie in this land, they will be at rest. What was it Dirge said about Alakazam? The desert loved him, but loved them still more. Yes, hs.ang is well enough now – and far be it from you to interfere. Your quarrel with them is over.

In matters of foxes, you think, and then break off. In matters of the Golden, you correct yourself, look always to love.

The hills of loose earth are hard to climb, especially with a broken rib and a hawk-of-heart's-desire weighing you down, but you manage. There is, after all, no rush. When you reach the top, you look around and for the first time see how far the devastation has gone. The breach tore up the land for a quarter-mile around; the place where the fox army was is now nothing but a colossal pit, and where the Lover and Charlie fought …

You see the great orange shape, still and silent, and close your eyes. You knew, really. You knew, but you had to kill hs.ang first.

Someone claps their hands behind you.

“Oh me,” he says. “Spectacular. Mr Stone will be very pleased with you.”

You turn, and see on the hill opposite yours a familiar face. Human, this time – at least in theory.

Elias Dirge leaps from his perch and floats over on wings of fire.

“You destroyed the fox invasion, recovered the gun and discovered a new kind of Mega Evolution all at once,” he says, landing a few feet away and letting his wings evaporate. “Perfect. I confess, when you ran off during the fight with Zavarat I was worried. I thought you might go to ground. But then I got to chasing you – don't look like that; it's easy enough to follow a two-ton dragon – and here you were, doing just the job we wanted. And what's more, you won. I was thinking about stepping in at the end there, when I thought that old fox might kill you, but – well. You sure are an exceptional individual.”

He steps forward and holds out a hand.

“Come on, then,” he says. “It's time to go home.”

There is steel beneath his cheer. As he sees it, you have no choice – and he's right, is he not? You would be angry, but you no longer have the energy. You got here. You escaped, you survived, you killed hs.ang, you lost qhamri and Charlie, you lost everything for the sake of the people of the East – and still, in the end, Stone's basalt fingers come down and enclose you.

You stare at Dirge, and though he is not hs.ang, he too sees something in your eyes that gives him pause for thought.

“What's that for?” he asks, genuinely puzzled. “We won. You and me and Mr Stone. Everyone is safe. You are safe. If you want to be.”
 
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teamVASIMR

Plasma Rocket
“It is over,” they say. “Give it to me. You deserve a swift death for your pains.”
ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ


“Come on, then,” he says. “It's time to go home.”

There is steel beneath his cheer. As he sees it, you have no choice
Who cares. Attempt resuscitation.



“What's that for?”
For watching the whole thing and not helping (I'm not sure if Mr. Stone would be very pleased with that)

(somehow get him to help in Fire-type CPR maybe)
 
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There is no "we".

You left because you would never work for Stone. All he would do is march to destroy the Foxes. You know that there's another way- you don't know what it is but it's there.

Go to check on Charlie.
 

Pink Harzard

So majestic
Check out Charlie. Please let her be alive. :(
 

Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
Attempt resuscitation.

Tell Dirge to go away, eloquently. Make sure Charlie is actually dead.

If she is, mourn.

There is no "we". You left because you would never work for Stone. All he would do is march to destroy the foxes. You know that there's another way – you don't know what it is, but it's there.

Go to check on Charlie.

Check out Charlie. Please let her be alive.


No. No commands now: you do as you please.

Be bold, be bold, but not too bold
Lest that your heart's blood run cold.


Those old familiar words come back to you, and at last, almost without noticing, you identify them. It is the refrain from the old story of Mr Fox, who kills those he marries and is in turn killed when his latest wife-to-be discovers where he keeps the bodies. The desert is certainly rife with Mr Foxes; but you are no longer a bride to the slaughter. You are finished with being manipulated. You will be bold, as bold as you like, even too bold, and let your heart's blood be damned.

You stand there for a long time, looking Dirge in the eye, until he gets the message.

“Really.” He does not seem impressed. “You might have missed the fact that I wasn't giving you a choice.”

You walk past him, heading for Charlie. That surprises him, even now; you suspect that, petty god that he is here, Dirge isn't used to being disobeyed.

“Come on,” he says, talking to your retreating back. “Do you really think this can end without you coming with me?” You make no answer. “Is it because you killed the fox? They're tough, yes, but you got lucky. There's no magic stone you can stick on me to turn my fire off.”

Footsteps crunch behind you. Dirge is following you, back down into the crater and up the other side. Charlie is close now: just a few yards beyond this next rise.

“Listen,” says Dirge, and now his voice, like Zavarat's on the roof, seems to come from just behind your ear. You feel a heat that cannot be mere sunlight on your back. “We only need you to activate the stone, you know. I don't have to bring you back intact. I'm being – God damn it, I'm being kind, and djinn aren't kind. I've been kind to you so far because I enjoy your company and because, technically, I suppose you're a hero. But if there's one thing I'm not and can never be, it's patient. Come back, or I come and get you.”

A figure shifts up ahead, and the pair of you freeze for a moment – but it soon becomes clear that there's no threat. An ancient Alakazam, fur silvering with age, raises themself effortfully up on one elbow. You stare. It's the High Lover, and somehow they are not dead.

They raise a hand weakly and the air shimmers; you turn and see Dirge, alight with inner fire, stumble slightly as the dirt shifts beneath his feet. Waves of heat roll from his mouth as he speaks.

“Is that it? Is this the best defence you have to offer?” He raises one hand, and you see the lines of his palm glowing red like cracks in the skin of a volcano. Look, they say, what Dirge can do to you. “Last chance.”

EARTH, the Lover whispers, their voice filling your head like the atmosphere of a desert ruin. THE EARTH.

You realise.

“What?” says Dirge, and you shoot five times into the dirt at his feet.

He stares.

“Do you feel better having got that out of your system?” he asks, walking briskly forwards. “Come on―”

He is just reaching out to take hold of you when the ground shivers.

Dirge meets your eyes in a blind panic.

“No,” he says. “No, once was already too many―”

He leaps into the air, becoming in a flash some indefinable mass too bright to see – but you have no desire to see it; you are turning, scrambling up the hill as fast as you can, slipping on soil that gives way beneath you, jolted almost off your feet with every coming tremor―

The ground bursts behind you, and as you tumble forwards to join the Lover on the other side you look back and see the living wall of stone and steel coursing straight up into the air with a rumble and the smell of damp. It was too big to make out any details – but damn detail: the important thing is that it was close enough, after the chaos earlier, to feel the vibration of the bullets hitting the ground. And now you see, as the spark of light flits higher, the top of the impossible creature splitting open – and those stones as long as you are must be teeth – and that thing like a vertical road must be a tongue – and suddenly the whole requiem comes into focus, and you realise with a kind of hysteria that this really is alive, one monstrously, obscenely vast creature and still not fully grown

If Dirge screams, you never hear him. The snap of the requiem's jaws is too loud: one air-cracking boom, like a thunderclap in a clear blue sky. You see the fire though, bursting in coils of light and smoke from atop the pillar of living earth – and then nothing. The requiem sinks, sliding back down its breach hole in the base of the crater, and whatever embers are left of Dirge's fire sink with it into the depths of the earth.

Water, you recall grimly, is not the only way to put out a fire.

Once the requiem has dived and the soil slid down to fill in its hole, you feel better. The giant Aggron are abominations of mass; humans, it seems, are not well equipped to conceive of life on such a scale. The tremors persist for a little while, but they are fainter now, and easier to ignore.

In the aftermath, you turn to the High Lover, and thank them.

I OWE YOU MORE THAN THAT, they reply. They are much smaller and frailer than hs.ang; if they ever have been to war, it has not been for many, many years. How long do the Golden live, anyway? There is still so much you do not know – that you will have to discover, if you are to learn enough to find a way of dividing the land without war.

You offer them a hand and they pull themself up on their feet. They wince, but their injuries do not seem too serious. Perhaps their telekinesis shielded them from the worst of the first breach.

THANK YOU.

“Yes,” says a familiar dry voice. “Thank you.”

You turn, and see without surprise that Zavarat is hanging in the sky above the crater. She looks a little younger than before, and less solid – but it is definitely her.

“You took your gun back,” she says. “I considered it, as I told you, a victory. Not a big one, but perhaps the gateway to something greater.” She indicates the destruction below her. “And I wasn't wrong. Dirge is dead, and I am free.”

She descends a little, her edges merging hazily with the air around her.

“And Stone has nothing left to put between himself and me,” she continues with satisfaction. “Did Dirge tell you I'm hunting him? I suppose he did. He always loved to talk.” She waves a hand as if it might ward off digressions. “But enough of that. You and I share foes: we'll take one each. That's fair, isn't it? You've had Dirge. I'll take Stone, and gladly. I've long wanted to put him in his place.”

You nod. It seems fair; Stone will be in very capable hands indeed, and besides, you are tired of murdering people. You are a killer, of course, and perhaps you always will be – but now you are becoming something else well, and this new self is more interested in secrets than swordplay.

“I won't be staying here once I'm done with him,” Zavarat informs you. “But I hope you will come south one day. Humans like you are hard to come by, and the Amirate has its own problems to be solved.”

That is all. No goodbye – although Zavarat never was one for unnecessary talk, you recall. She simply rises up, dissolving into light and smoke, and arcs away to the west.

YOU HAVE POWERFUL FRIENDS, notes the Lover. If they are confused, they don't show it – or perhaps they do. You wouldn't know: you are no longer paying attention. Now that Zavarat is gone, Charlie has returned to fill your head, and you drift down the hillside towards her. You see her wounds; with a lurch your insides seem to disappear and leave you a walking skin, as hollow and fragile as a blown egg.

You look for the flame at the end of Charlie's tail, and find only orange scales and a little heap of cinders.

BRAVE CREATURE, says the Lover, joining you. KE HAS SUFFERED MUCH. I HOPE KE WILL NOT AGAIN.

They are holding something – a glassy rock veined with amber and amethyst that can only be the Alakazam Mega Stone. As you watch, it lights up, not with the ferocious glare of Mega Evolution, but with a warm glimmer like a dormant fire being stirred back into life.

EVOLUTION IS OUR TOOL, the Lover says. YOU, ONE-SHAPED, HAVE NEVER TRULY UNDERSTOOD IT, BUT WE – WE HAVE PLUMBED ITS DEPTHS.

A quick movement of their free hand and Charlie's Mega Stone floats free of the wrecked saddle, drifting into the Lover's palm.

MY POWER, MAGNIFIED. The Lover holds up their Stone. THE POSSIBILITY OF CHANGE IN A DRAGON. They hold up the other. WITH THE CORRECT TOOLS, ALL CHANGE IS REVERSIBLE.

Charlie stirs―

LIFE IS AN ACCIDENT OF MATTER.

―and her tail fire sparks―

WE MAKE BIRDS FROM BONES.

―and with a puff of smoke the flames catch, crackling merrily as if they had never gone out.

The Lover sinks to their knees, exhausted.

AND, SOMETIMES, WE CAN QUICKEN THE DEAD.

Charlie opens her eyes.

She is home.

And so are you.

*​

Well, kid. What can I say? You did it. You made it right through the whole damn thing. Longer than even I thought – harder, too. So much happened that none of us were looking for.

But you did it. And for that, I think you deserve to hear how it ends.
 
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Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
CODA

You and the High Lover sit by the oasis, watching the reflection of the stars in the night-black water. All around, the desert is calm and quiet.

You are a short flight away from Rustwell, just far enough that no soldiers can arrive to molest you tonight, and you are utterly at peace.

By their side, the Lover has spread out the pieces of qhamri on the ground. Occasionally, two chips of bone will leap back together, or a clump of feathers reattach itself. The Lover does not seem to be paying attention, but you suspect that a whole chunk of their vast mind is focused on the task, while the rest of it enjoys the silence of the night. They did the same earlier, when they used their mastery of bone to knit your ribs back together.

Behind you, Charlie stirs in her sleep, gusting warm air in your direction. Death, it seems, is a tiring process, and her initial burst of energy on returning to life faded not long after taking flight.

“I'd like to learn more,” you say at last, and the Lover inclines their head, nodding as if they did not already know.

YOU ARE A RARE CREATURE, they reply. I CONFESS I DO NOT UNDERSTAND YOU. YOUR THOUGHTS ARE SHINING FROM YOUR HEAD, BUT WHAT THEY MEAN …

The Lover's whiskers twitch in a gesture that, you know from the thoughts they are broadcasting, is among the Golden similar to a human shrug.

I CAN TEACH YOU, they continue, IF YOU WILL TEACH ME.

“Of course.”

There is another long silence. Three shapes stump silently past on the other side of the oasis: Cacturne on the prowl. When they see you sitting there with a dragon at your back, they turn and flee into the night.

A leg attaches itself to qhamri's body with a click, and with a sudden rustle of feathers, it rights itself.

“I am well,” it says, with the slightest hint of surprise. Then, noting the Lover's presence: “And we have succeeded.”

Yes, you have certainly done that. This isn't over, not by a long chalk – but no one can possibly deny that you have succeeded. What follows next will be a new chapter, a new story in your life and that of the wasteland.

“We did,” you answer. “We did.”

You lose yourselves in the nocturnal peace again. Overhead, the stars inch imperceptibly along. Somewhere, you think, the curator of stones is unearthing a diamond the size of a chicken's egg; somewhere, Rose of Sharon Malmort is on the commercial train west; somewhere, Commandant ben Arous and the others who survived the attack see at long last the lights of a friendly city after the long march back from the fort; somewhere, Verne and Grant are taking the night coach out of Lazar's Spit.

Somewhere, Lily and Gryngolet are stopped by a campfire, watching the night just as you are.

Somewhere, close by the little town of Galvan Bluff, a trader named Rosalind is enjoying a drink with a woman who she has known for years but has never before had the confidence to speak to.

Somewhere, unfathomably far into the unknown east, seven hawks are circling the spires of a temple, watching and waiting for the eighth to come home.

Somewhere, everywhere, lives are in progress, tracing intricate circles around one another as the stars around the pole.

Where will your revolution take you now?

You turn to the Lover, alight with curiosity.

“Where do you live?” you ask.

Their mouth opens without showing teeth: a Golden smile.

COME AND SEE IT FOR YOURSELF, they say. CALL IT A DIPLOMATIC MISSION. END THE WAR ON YOUR WAY.

A joke. A fairly poor one, but a joke – probably the first ever shared between Golden and human. If that's not a good omen, you have no idea what is. And besides, hs.ang is gone, and the Stone empire's collapse will almost certainly destabilise the Orrene offensive. Add to that an Alakazam and a human who are trying to learn about each other, then – well, the High Lover's words aren't quite as ridiculous as they seem.

You glance at Charlie, wings shivering in her sleep as she dreams of thermals, and smile.

“You know,” you reply, “I think we might do just that.”




And that, quite literally, is all she wrote. Thank you so much to everyone who joined in and made this possible. See you later, and, as the old games have it: YOU WIN.
 
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teamVASIMR

Plasma Rocket
I recall someone else had asked about something along the lines of a debriefing... before somebody locks the thread a la Petroleum I have some questions.

1. Was Charlie likely going to be a thing at first? Or was it like most of the other characters (Rosalind et al)?

2. Any pre-planned (i.e. Zavarat) content we missed? I thought she was another bad guy...

3. (Not a question:)
I CAN TEACH YOU, they continue, IF YOU WILL TEACH ME
Placement and impact and stuff. Awesome. Touching.

Great story, thanks for writing!!!
 

Pink Harzard

So majestic
Wow what a ride. Thanks a lot Cutlerine for this amazing story.
How did you get the idea's for the Kadabra culture? I was truly amazed by that.
 

Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
I recall someone else had asked about something along the lines of a debriefing... before somebody locks the thread a la Petroleum I have some questions.
Sure. I haven't done much real response during this story, so I'm happy to take questions for a while before the thread locks.

1. Was Charlie likely going to be a thing at first? Or was it like most of the other characters (Rosalind et al)?
She was always going to be an exhibit in the middle of Scourston, and I thought I might have her break out at some point -- hence why I started early with the Charizard references and the burnt-down city. But it only occurred to me that you could free her and ride her off into the sunset when I sat down to write the bit where you try to get away from your pursuers in Scourston. And, well, once you have an idea like that, you don't give it up. It was actually very convenient, in the end. It gave our hero a way of covering vast distances very quickly, and made the Mega Evolution plotline much smoother. You didn't have to go hunting for an Aggron or a Blastoise.

2. Any pre-planned (i.e. Zavarat) content we missed? I thought she was another bad guy...
Nope, I think you got most of it, except for the 'side with Zavarat' content. If you'd done that, you'd have explained what was going on to her, taken control of the Requiem with Adam and broken into Stone's facility in the Sinklands to get yourself a Mega Stone and a Pokémon. Dirge would have caught up with you as you were engaging hs.ang's forces, and he and Zavarat would have both been destroyed by the requiem breach, leaving you alone to fight hs.ang. In the end, the High Lover would have pointed you in Charlie's direction, and you would have been briefly torn between chasing the weakened Stone or going east into the unknown before deciding that the people of the frontier still need you. You would have found your true voice fighting hs.ang, as in this version. The coda would have shown you and Charlie flying west.

Since I'm on the subject, and I think someone asked about it, things would also have been different if you'd sided with Stone and killed Adam. With an Aggron and a fair few Dusk Stones from the Sinklands base, you would have taken the Requiem back south, where it would have been mostly wrecked by the High Lover before you could even get off -- the vibrations of which would have drawn the restless requiem to the surface to finish it off. The requiem would have engaged the Mega Aggron in a territorial conflict that would have left you defenceless. You'd have been fighting hs.ang while the Lover took on Stone's forces, and when you'd won and taken the gun the Lover would have turned on hs.ang's people. Once they'd been driven off and the Mega Aggron conclusively thrashed by the requiem, Dirge would have swooped in to pick you all up with the Lover as prisoner -- but of course, in this scenario you would only have sided with Stone because you shared a goal. When Stone came to congratulate you, Zavarat would have turned up and you'd have taken advantage of the distraction to kill him and escape with the Lover. Zavarat's surviving Scourston agents would have helped you leave the city undetected. They would be lost and alone, knowing that with Stone gone Dirge will leave again, and if Dirge leaves Zavarat will follow him. Looking to you for guidance, some would have followed you and the Lover in search of Charlie. The coda would have shown the reunion, and the formation of the first diplomatic mission to Qara.Qhouroum from five humans, a Charizard and an Alakazam.

If you hadn't been so nice, I wouldn't have made the hero so understanding, and none of these endings would have occurred. Other options were: you succeeding Stone; you forming an army to lead into the east; you finishing your own personal story and going south, leaving the frontier to fester; you learning about your past, and going in search of the people and places you now remember once more.

From the Orrene perspective, I guess Zavarat is a bad guy. Really, though, I just think she's a bad fit with humans. She and Orre will both be better off if she goes away to live in the middle of the desert like she used to -- and that's exactly what she will do, once she's dealt with Stone. Which, given that he is probably right now expecting Dirge back with you and the Key Stone and not expecting a djinni through the window, will probably not take her all that long.

Great story, thanks for writing!!!
Thank you for reading and responding.

Wow what a ride. Thanks a lot Cutlerine for this amazing story.
How did you get the ideas for the Kadabra culture? I was truly amazed by that.
Thanks! I got them mostly by taking an idea I've been thinking about a lot lately -- that consciously or not, even the most rational of us creates 'mythologies' with the help of which we navigate and create meaning in the world -- and making it literal. The Golden literally made their god-idol by creating meaning to fill a harsh and essentially meaningless world. From there, the idea of them as agents of alteration, of making things out of thought and more tangible things, came. Hence twisturne, bone-charms, qhamri. Thematically, all of these objects tie into their philosophy of making meaning out of the world they live in. They literally make their temple guardians (the hawks-of-heart's-desire) out of the fabric of the wasteland, for instance. It's sort of why I kept writing about the desert as some kind of living creature in itself, about aspects of it that seemed to convey meaning, and about the hero's misunderstanding of its magic as a trick that brings something from nothing. In reality, the desert is animated and given meaning by those who live in and think about it: it's marked by centuries of topsy-turvy Golden theology.
 
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Deadly.Braviary

Well-Known Member
Wow. Well, that's a nice way to wrap things up.

Since you seem to be taking questions ... here're some of my own.

1. Who is 'you', really? What's the protagonist's past? It was always hinted and touched upon, but never delved into properly.
2. This is set a century or two before your other 'modern day' stories, right? Assuming they're all in some sort of shared Cutlerine-verse?
3. What's next? Will we can see something new anytime soon? Or are you working on getting something original published (because I remember seeing you mention something like that, somewhere, once, but I haven't a clue where)?

~Deadly
 

Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
1. Who is 'you', really? What's the protagonist's past? It was always hinted and touched upon, but never delved into properly.
It's easier to say who they could be ...

You are the son of a farmer who fell into a life of crime. You are a society lady who learned to use a gun after her elopement went bad. You are a caravan guard who lost their way in a sandstorm. You are a Britomart questing for your Artegal. You are a scholar from the Amirate, come north to investigate the curious tales you have been told of the Golden. You are a master thief. You are a princess in exile. You are a secretive assassin, known by reputation but not by sight. You are a Scourston ranger who was captured and abandoned by bandits. You are the scion of a long-dead god. You are a reader's waking dream.

... but I don't think we need to.

In all honesty, it feels like it doesn't matter any more -- not with the path you chose. Together, you made a new life for our hero, and I think they finally rejected the idea of yearning for some ideal past when they told hs.ang that they had no name. Besides, I think the story works well with them as an outsider, and in the end, the story itself is more important than anything I, a very biased reader, have to say about it.

2. This is set a century or two before your other 'modern day' stories, right? Assuming they're all in some sort of shared Cutlerine-verse?
This is set in the 1860s. It isn't part of the same universe as my other stories. I was going to make it so, but I wanted to develop the Abra family in a different and frankly better way than I did before. That means that this and those stories are probably quite inconsistent when it comes to how Kadabra and Alakazam work.

3. What's next? Will we can see something new anytime soon? Or are you working on getting something original published (because I remember seeing you mention something like that, somewhere, once, but I haven't a clue where)?
I haven't stopped writing original fiction. I do it alongside fanfic, because apparently I don't know when enough is enough. I'm currently working on some short story collections and editing a novel, but you can expect to see a new and more conventionally novelistic fic from me sometime in the next few weeks, assuming I find the time to write it. We'll be leaping about six hundred years forward in time from 1860, to the startling city of Tethys and the Museum of the Forgotten. There will be ghosts, philosophy, water, monsters, tyranny, pirates, water, mystery, ancient abominations, modern abominations, water, and water.

It's pretty much the exact opposite of the frontier's desert with regard to moisture.
 
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And it's over. Good ride (If sometimes a little confusing before more information was revealed), and a good place for it to finish.

All the questions I had were wrapped up in the story, so I'll just take the opportunity to say thanks for the trip. I'll be looking forward to whatever you write next.
 

Sike Saner

Peace to the Mountain
Hs.ang glares at their right hand, bent out of shape, and an eerie force makes their fur shiver, pressing bones back together beneath the skin. They could do it faster than this, you know, but they are making a point – showing you what they can do, how they can hold themself together through pain and wound. With a grotesque slowness, they flex the broken hand, and summon their knife back into it.
Well. That's quite the image. And I'm sure it just sounded lovely as all get-out, too.

The bones of hs.ang's hand pop out through the skin and blood begins to stream from the wound on their arm. They jab their knife into you, sticking it deep in your shoulder – and it hurts, yes, but the force is much less than before. There is only muscle behind that blow.
skjdfds SEE ABOVE

Your eye falls on qhamri – a sad bundle of black feathers and bleached bones now, utterly motionless. It seems much smaller than before.
Awww. Poor biobirdbotthing.

You see the great orange shape, still and silent, and close your eyes.
Awwwwww... for now.

Charlie opens her eyes.

She is home.

And so are you.
:D

A leg attaches itself to qhamri's body with a click, and with a sudden rustle of feathers, it rights itself.

“I am well,” it says, with the slightest hint of surprise. Then, noting the Lover's presence: “And we have succeeded.”
:D :D :D




I'm very glad I chose to read this. ****, even if it hadn't revolved around one of my favorite pokémon species ever, I enjoyed the setting and the element of reader participation enough that I think this would've made it onto my favorites list regardless. Thanks for sharing this story. It's been great. :D
 

Cutlerine

Gone. Not coming back.
And it's over. Good ride (If sometimes a little confusing before more information was revealed), and a good place for it to finish.

All the questions I had were wrapped up in the story, so I'll just take the opportunity to say thanks for the trip. I'll be looking forward to whatever you write next.
I'm very glad I chose to read this. ****, even if it hadn't revolved around one of my favorite pokémon species ever, I enjoyed the setting and the element of reader participation enough that I think this would've made it onto my favorites list regardless. Thanks for sharing this story. It's been great. :D
Thank you and thank you! I hope the confusion you experienced, scizorstrike, added to the experience -- this was meant to be a world that you figured out the rules to as you went along, rather than trying to understand everything in one go. If I didn't manage that quite right, well, I suppose I'll just have to try again next time.

This was a fun setting to write in. Pokémon steampunk spaghetti western! How could you go wrong with such a mix? It'll be a tough act for my next setting to follow, even if it does have pirates and the shadow of Laurence Sterne.

I'm so pleased that everyone enjoyed reading and occasionally writing along. It was ... quite an experience for me, writing lots of short updates in quick bursts, and while I'll be glad to go back to writing longer chapters at a slower pace, I think I can safely say I enjoyed the reader participation as much as anyone else.
 
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