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Foregone Conclusion

Discussion in 'Completed Fics' started by elyvorg, Feb 27, 2011.

  1. elyvorg

    elyvorg somewhat backwards.

    Welcome to my spinoff/prequel/backstory/thingy to Lost Evolution that I wrote for NaNoWriMo 2010. There is no need to feel put off if you haven’t read Lost Evolution, as this stands entirely on its own without it. Those who have read LE or even so much as glanced at its prologue will know how this story ends; said people should also not feel put off! As the title implies, that is kind of the point, and I hope I’ve managed to make this story suitably engaging even though the end result is a foregone conclusion to some of you.

    This fic is entirely a Pokémon POV, being set in prehistoric times before anyone even knew what a human was, and it prominently features a single species of Fakemon. It is rated PG-13 for various things including infrequent language and vague sexual references but mostly considerable amounts of violence and character death, albeit that which focuses more on the psychological side of it than the gory details. In general this is a very character-driven story, so don’t spend too long wondering if there’s supposed to be more of a plot at any point, because chances are there isn’t.

    If this sounds like the sort of thing you might like to read, then I hope you enjoy! If it doesn’t, well, I don’t really blame you; I decided to write this story because it happens to be full of the kind of stuff I like, which isn’t necessarily the kind of stuff anyone else likes. You’re still welcome to give it a go should you want to, though, by all means.

    Since I wrote this for NaNo and it is therefore all written already, my updates should be fairly frequent for once. The instalments will however be rather long (it ended up over 70,000 words, but I’m only splitting it into eight parts) so make yourselves comfortable before you read.

    Part One: Innocence

    Part Two: Ignorance

    Part One: Innocence


    From the moment her parents’ panicked voices woke her in the night, she knew they were going to die. She was still young and understood little about the world, but one thing her parents had stressed was that they wouldn’t be there forever. One day, they’d be taken from her. And that day was today.

    She saw the look of immense sadness in her mother’s eyes and clung desperately to her, wishing she could never let go. Her father was edging backwards across the branch until he was pressed up against the two of them. She felt him shiver as he gazed fearfully down through the foliage at the forest below.

    Four tall, angular figures could be seen skulking in the shadows, circling their tree.

    “It’s Them,” said her father, his voice so full of dread that he barely sounded anything like the Archopy she knew. Just hearing that word gave her a terrible feeling of finality. She knew who They were. They were the ones who would come to take her parents away. Now They were here, creeping around below, waiting for Their chance to strike.

    Her parents had tried to tell her to be ready for this, but how could she ever be ready? Surely this had to be some kind of fantasy or nightmare. This couldn’t be happening now – her parents couldn’t be about to…

    She clung even tighter to her mother, whimpering as she saw the figures below slink closer in the darkness.

    “Forsira,” her mother said softly, prizing her away to gaze into her daughter’s eyes. She was still the same Archopy she’d always been; she just looked incredibly sad. “You’ll be okay. You’ll find someone else who’ll look after you and you’ll have a great life without us.”

    Forsira blinked in incomprehension. “I don’t want someone else,” she said. She looked up at her mother and father, silhouetted against the branches and the starry sky, and saw the two people who’d always been there for her; how could she ever want someone else? “Don’t go.”

    Her mother closed her eyes. “I wish we didn’t have to.”

    “No, and we shouldn’t have to,” her father put in fervently, his gaze jerking around the treetops. “I’m not ready for this, Leathra. Why can’t we flee?”

    Leathra shook her head. “There’s four of Them. They’ve surrounded our tree already. We’d never stand a cha –”

    “We’d stand more of a chance than if we –”

    “Resten.” Leathra stared firmly at her mate. “You’re not helping.”

    “I don’t want to help!” protested Resten, his voice high and desperate. “I want to live!”

    Forsira flinched, pressing herself back into the trunk behind her and trembling. Below, the sounds of movement drew closer. She stared at Resten, finding that he terrified her more than anything else. She couldn’t bear to see this frightened shadow of himself that her father had become.

    It only took a pointed glance at their daughter from Leathra for Resten’s frantic gaze to drop. He drew in a shuddering breath and turned to Forsira, and her spirits rose the tiniest bit because he looked like her father again. “Sorry,” he whispered in a small voice. “You’ll be okay without us, won’t you, Forsira?”

    Forsira shook her head helplessly. Her father didn’t seem any surer than she was.

    But there was nothing she could do. She reached out in vain as Leathra began to move away from them, walking towards the end of her branch, further out into the open. Forsira could see the tips of her mother’s leaves shaking as she did so, but still she went, her head held high.

    Without warning, the night was lit up with a searing bright green as one of Them shot up from below, the blades on his arms shining with blinding light. In a flash, Leathra morphed the outermost of her own arm leaves into blades and brought them up to meet his, but he was faster and stronger, knocking her from the branch as she screamed in surprise and pain.

    Resten had been watching her go with helpless horror, but at this, something inside him seemed to snap. “Leathra!” he yelled, and with a sudden flash of grim determination in his eyes, he shot down to aid her, the leaves at the ends of his wings shining with green energy.

    Forsira was left on her own. She let out a soft cry of “No…” but knew that even if her parents could hear her, they wouldn’t have been able to come back. Down below, she could hear them fighting, feel the clashes of the blades, see the bright glow of their leaves light up the tree from beneath. A brief glimpse between the branches showed her father already brutally held down by two of the tall figures while her mother frantically blocked blows from the other two of Them, clearly hurt and tiring.

    Forsira instantly wished she hadn’t looked and turned away, clinging to a tree trunk and screwing her eyes shut, trying to forget that this was happening. The cries from below weren’t really the sound of her parents dying. That terribly bright green light that still found its way through her eyelids wasn’t the light from the weapons that were murdering them. If she stayed here long enough and kept her eyes shut, maybe it would all turn out to have been a bad dream.

    The sounds down below were getting quieter. Her parents’ voices were silent. All she could hear was Them muttering among themselves.

    The tree she was in rocked suddenly as something entered it. Forsira squeezed her eyes shut even tighter, huddling as small as she could against the tree trunk, hoping desperately that she wouldn’t be seen.

    “Hey,” came a voice that she knew was one of Them, so close that he must have been right behind her. “There’s their Treecko up here. Should I put it out of its misery?”

    She froze, barely able to even breathe.

    “No,” said another voice from down below. “You know how it goes. We don’t kill the children or the adolescents.”

    “But it’s just going to become –”

    “You know what Skorrhen said,” the second voice insisted. “Leave it.”

    There was a grumble from the first voice, then the tree shifted again as he leapt away. Before long, the sounds of all four of Them could be heard disappearing into the distance.

    Forsira remained clinging to the trunk, her mind so full of terror that she could barely comprehend what had just happened. Maybe it was her parents managing to protect her, even now they were…

    But though her parents always told her about how they wouldn’t be there for her forever, they’d never mentioned that They would come to kill her as well. So this… maybe this was supposed to happen, too.

    She didn’t know. She couldn’t think. Her parents – surely her parents couldn’t just be gone. She opened her eyes slowly and forced her shaking body to turn around and look down at where they’d all been fighting. Maybe, now that They had left, her parents would stop pretending and wake up?

    She peered through the branches and saw her father lying face up on the ground. His face was fixed in a glassy expression of terror, a pool of blood streaming from the gash across his throat.

    Forsira screamed and screwed her eyes shut, hoping that doing so would make the picture change, would make him suddenly all right. But when she opened them, he was still there exactly the same as before. She closed her eyes desperately again.

    Her mother… what about her mother? What if she was still…?

    Opening her eyes and making very sure not to look anywhere near where she knew her father was – the image of him like that appeared in her mind again and she tried desperately to ignore it – Forsira looked around for her mother.

    She was there a short distance away, blood pooling not just from her throat but from gashes all over her body. By a cruel twist of luck, her face was staring right at her daughter in the tree, her eyes cold and empty.

    Forsira let out a wail of terrible sadness and turned and ran. She leapt blindly into another tree, her eyes screwed shut in an effort to block out the horrible images in her mind, but they were still there against the back of her eyelids, a final memory of her mother and father. Unable to see, she nearly fell off the branch, so she started running with her eyes open instead, hoping that every tree and every branch and every leaf she saw as she fled past would push the picture of her dead parents out of her mind. She wanted to run so far from their deaths that they would never have happened, to run into another world where they were still alive.

    She ran for so long that her hands and feet ached with soreness and her body was so tired it stopped listening to her. A simple leap into the next tree turned into a wayward stumble, and she found herself plummeting to the ground, tumbling over and over in the undergrowth as she landed.

    Forcing herself up, she dragged her body to the base of the tree and curled up against it, kicking up some of the leaf litter to try and hide herself. Without her parents, nowhere felt safe anymore.

    She stared fixedly at the bark of the tree’s trunk, trying to take in every crinkle and detail of it in the hope that it would get the image of her parents’ bodies out of her head. But they were still there whenever she stopped concentrating for just a moment: the piercing gaze of her mother’s dead eyes, her father’s final look of terror at the stars above.

    Eventually, she drifted off into a fitful sleep, plagued with tall, angular figures creeping about in the shadows.

    - - -​

    She didn’t know how long she lay there, still staring dully at the tree trunk in front of her nose. It might have been days. She’d given up trying to get her parents’ bodies out of her head – no matter how hard she tried, it didn’t seem like it was going to happen. She wasn’t even sure if she wanted to forget those images, horrible as they were. It would almost be like forgetting her parents had ever been there.

    Her parents. Forsira screwed her eyes shut, trying to keep the latest of a long line of tears from escaping. Her parents would never be there, never give her food and protection, never teach her how to hunt when she was older, never make her laugh or smile or do anything for her ever again.

    They’d told her she’d find someone else. She didn’t want anyone else.

    Her stomach growled fiercely, but she ignored it. There wasn’t any way she could get food without her parents, after all. She wondered vaguely what would happen if she didn’t eat again, ever. Maybe she’d end up so thin she’d just disappear.

    There was a rustling in the tree above her, the sound of some Pokémon or other moving about up there. Dimly, without really caring what she saw, Forsira looked up into the boughs, spotting something small and bright green bounding about up there. Two thick, dark tails were visible for a moment between the branches.

    It was another Treecko, then. Forsira dully wondered what he was doing here, whether he had lost his parents to Them too.

    She jumped as the other Treecko noticed her and suddenly his bright yellow eyes were looking straight down at her, full of curiosity. The next thing she knew, he’d scampered down the tree trunk until he was right above her, his upside-down face grinning into hers. “Hi!” he said brightly.

    Forsira flinched and edged away, making herself smaller.

    The stranger seemed to realise he’d done something wrong and jumped down from the trunk to approach her slowly on all fours, his head cocked to one side. “It’s okay,” he said. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

    Forsira said nothing, still staring at him in confusion. She didn’t think he was going to hurt her – he was only a Treecko like her, after all – but…

    The other Treecko was smiling at her again. “I’m Zathern,” he told her, turning around to offer his tails to her as a way of greeting. “What’s your name?”

    She was rather taken aback by the sudden introduction – why was he even interested in her? – but she managed to make herself turn around and touch his tails with hers. “F… Forsira,” she mumbled quietly.

    “Hey, Forsira,” Zathern said, turning back around to face her. He looked like he was thinking for a moment. “No, that’s too long. I can’t say ‘Forsira’ all the time. I’ll call you Forse.” He brightened again. “So, what are you doing here, Forse?”

    Forsira shrunk and looked away, staring at the bark of the tree again, not wanting to look this stranger in the eyes. She didn’t think she wanted to talk about it.

    Zathern didn’t let up. He took a slow step towards her, still smiling that welcoming smile. “Aw, come on,” he said. “It can’t be that bad.”

    Something in his friendly, open manner made her feel slightly better about telling him, enough to just manage to get the words out. “My… my parents,” she mumbled. “They’re… they’re not here anymore.”

    “Oh.” Zathern sheepishly glanced at the ground. “Um. That… that is kinda bad, I guess. Sorry.” He looked back up at her again. “Was it Them?”

    Forsira nodded, shuddering as the memory of those tall figures in the darkness came back to her.

    “I don’t like Them,” Zathern said, nodding in agreement. “I don’t get why They want to kill all our parents. It’s stupid.”

    “I don’t get it either,” Forsira whispered quietly. She wasn’t sure if he heard her.

    Zathern suddenly brightened again. “Hey,” he said. “I could take you to see my mum. She’s great.”

    Forsira stared at him in dull confusion. Why was he saying that? Had he known what her own mother had said about finding someone else? But no, he couldn’t have known that. And she didn’t want anyone else. She wanted her parents.

    Again, Zathern seemed to realise his mistake and cocked his head, looking sort of concerned. “I mean, uh, she could give you some of our food? You look thin. Have you eaten anything since…?”

    Forsira glanced down at the ground. Her stomach rumbled again. She shook her head.

    “All right, then!” said Zathern. “Let’s go find my mum. Come on, Forse!” With that, he grabbed her by the arm and practically dragged her up the tree in his enthusiasm. Forsira managed to find her feet and scramble after him through her own power, even as she wondered what reason she had for following this Treecko other than hunger. She didn’t know if she wanted to see someone else’s mother and be reminded that hers wasn’t there anymore. But still she followed him.

    “Faster, slowcoach!” Zathern called back to her as he sped up, dashing away ahead of her from tree to tree. Something sparked in Forsira, and she put on a burst of speed, racing to catch up to him. She almost smiled – somehow this Treecko was letting her forget what had happened to her parents, just a little bit, and enjoy herself.

    “Where are we going?” she managed to ask as the two of them leapt from branch to branch.

    “I know where she’ll be,” Zathern called back to her. “Just follow me!”

    Forsira did so, realising she was feeling a flicker of something that might have been happiness beneath the pain of losing her parents. The sun’s rays fell onto her from between the leaves of the canopy above. This seemed worlds away from the dark night where tall, angular figures slunk through the shadows and took her parents from her.

    She saw ahead of her that Zathern had stopped at the end of a branch. Forsira ran up to join him and nearly fell out of the tree in awe at the view he was looking at.

    The forest thinned out in front of them, leaving a clearing which rolled gently downhill, decorated with crinkly outcrops of rock pushing their way out of the ground and a multitude of wild plants growing in between them. Beyond that was a long expanse of sand stretching from one side of her vision to the other – beyond the sand, there was only the sea, wide, flat and peacefully blue. The water glittered, catching the rays of the descending sun above, the sky behind tinged a pale yellow.

    Zathern was watching her reaction and grinning. “Haven’t you ever seen the sea before?”

    “Only through the trees,” Forsira murmured, taking in as much of the view as she could. “Not like this.” Her parents had told her what was meant by the fact that they were on an island, but she’d never realised the sea was so big.

    “It’ll be sunset soon,” Zathern said. “We can watch it from here. It’s beautiful.” Abruptly, he looked away from the horizon, his attention caught by something else. “Here she comes. Over here, Mum!”

    Forsira followed his gaze to see a huge winged shape gliding across the clearing towards where they were up on the slope, the setting sun glinting off the figure’s leafy wings and the crest of foliage that ran down her back. Seeing another Archopy alive and well gave Forsira a pang of sadness at the reminder that the two Archopy who had ever meant anything to her in this world were gone.

    A small, limp red shape hung from the newcomer’s mouth; as she alighted in front of them with a massive gust of air from her wings, Zathern jumped up and eagerly grabbed it off her with an excited cry of “Food!”

    “Calm down, Zathern,” the newcomer said in a soft, warm voice as she gave an amused glance to the Treecko, who was already tearing into the dead Wurmple. She nodded towards Forsira. “Who’s your friend?”

    Zathern suddenly seemed to remember she was there and looked abruptly up from the Wurmple. “Oh, right!” he said. “Mum, this is Forse. I mean, um, For-siih-ra,” he added, saying it like he’d almost forgotten what her full name was. “She, uh, she doesn’t have her parents anymore.” He lowered his gaze awkwardly. “Them, you know.”

    A huge sigh seemed to go through the Archopy as she closed her eyes in resigned sadness. “I see. Hello, Forsira,” she said, looking at the young Treecko with a warmth in her golden eyes that reminded Forsira of her own mother – but then, this stranger wasn’t her own mother. She didn’t know if she was happy to see somebody look at her like that again or not. Her mother had told her that she’d find someone else, but she still wasn’t sure if she wanted anyone else.

    “I’m sorry about what happened to you,” the Archopy continued, and Forsira could tell that she meant it. “My name is Azma. Zathern here is my son.” She glanced at the other Treecko, who had busied himself with the Wurmple again. “Sorry if he startled you; he doesn’t mean any harm by it. He’s just like that.” She smiled.

    “I don’t mind,” Forsira mumbled quietly. She still wasn’t sure what she was doing here, why she was with these two strangers when all she really wanted was her parents back.

    “You look starved,” Azma told her. “Would you like some of the Wurmple?”

    At this, Zathern’s head shot up from his meal again. “Oh, the food! Sorry, Forse, I forgot you were hungry! You should have reminded me.” He tossed the Wurmple carcass towards her. “Go on, have the rest.”

    Forsira looked at it; Zathern hadn’t even eaten half yet. “All the rest? But…”

    “No buts,” he said. “You need it more than I do. Go on.”

    Forsira still felt bad for depriving him of most of his meal, but she didn’t want to argue, so she tucked into the red, squidgy flesh. Wurmple meat had never been her favourite, but it was better than nothing. She really was starved.

    Azma sat herself down beside Forsira as she ate, facing out towards the horizon and the steadily descending sun. “So, Forsira,” she said kindly, “who were your parents, if you don’t mind me asking? If you don’t want to talk about them, I’ll understand.”

    Forsira didn’t respond for a while, focusing on tearing off mouthfuls of Wurmple flesh and gulping them down. Eventually, she stopped eating for a moment to mumble, “Dad was Resten. Mum was… Leathra.” She said nothing else, concentrating again on the food. Azma didn’t ask anything further, and she was grateful of it.

    “Leathra,” the Archopy said, almost to herself, a kind of wistful sadness in her voice. “Such a shame. I knew her, once…”

    They sat there in silence as Forsira finished off the Wurmple, tossing away the leftover head and stingers. Across the shrubby expanse of clearing before them, the sun had touched the edge of the sea and was beginning to slip below it, tingeing everything with a warm reddish-orange glow. The tiny humps and bumps of water on the sea’s surface glinted in the light, a constantly changing pattern of sparkles. Despite everything, Forsira found herself smiling a little. “It is beautiful,” she murmured, catching Zathern’s eye. He just grinned back at her.

    As the sun disappeared completely beneath the waves, Forsira felt glad that she had someone, at least, to share the sunset with.

    - - -​

    She slept on her own that night. Zathern and Azma had a tree on the edge of the clearing that they slept in, but although they had offered, Forsira hadn’t wanted to join them. As much as she appreciated someone being there for her, they weren’t her real family. She wanted to sleep with her parents, and if that never happened again, then she didn’t want to just replace them like they’d never existed.

    Azma had nonetheless insisted that Forsira sleep in a tree close to hers and Zathern’s, so that she could keep watch over her in case anything happened.

    Forsira’s dreams were plagued again with her parents’ final lifeless stares and the tall dark figures in the shadows that had taken them from her. She woke over and over, shivering miserably with the horror that the night brought back to her. If only her parents were still here, she’d have someone to comfort her and make the nightmares go away. She knew Azma was nearby, but it didn’t feel right going to her. Azma was kind, but she wasn’t her real mother. Forsira stared up at the stars through the branches of the canopy as she waited for sleep and the nightmares to reclaim her, wishing that none of this had happened, wishing she still had her parents.

    It wasn’t so bad in the daytime. Zathern’s company could keep her mind off things as he showed her around the parts of the forest that he knew, taking her up and down and all over the slopes of this side of the island. Forsira knew about how the island was like a hill, poking out of the sea, and that on the other side you could see the sun rising from beneath the waves in the morning just like you could see it set in the evening on this side. They never went over there, though; Zathern only seemed to know his way around places on the sunset side of the island. She didn’t blame him. Even if it was only half the world, it was still huge.

    He’d also taken it upon himself to introduce her to various people. A lot of them were Treecko around their age that Zathern was friends with – although he never stayed around the same one for long – while others were Archopy who knew him through his mother. Forsira found herself noticing that most of the Archopy seemed to have an air of nervousness about them, almost as if they were constantly looking over their shoulders. She wondered if her parents had been the same, but already her memories of them were beginning to fade. She could only recall certain moments with them now, times they’d reassured her and made the dangers go away, times they’d made her laugh – moments that really shone. She couldn’t imagine that they’d ever have been nervous like the others, except on that one terrible night. They were her parents, after all.

    Azma wasn’t like that, either. In fact, Azma seemed to be the most calm Archopy of all of them. Maybe it was just a parent thing.

    In between meeting new people and exploring the forest, Zathern also introduced Forsira to his favourite thing to do: battling.

    “Seriously?” he asked as the two of them sat up in a tree, looking down at the overgrown forest floor below with a clear view of anything that came by. “You’ve never battled before?”

    Forsira shook her head slowly. “I practiced pounding my tail with my… with my parents,” she muttered. “But never wild Pokémon. I thought they were just food.”

    “Nah,” Zathern said. “They’re only food when we want them to be. Come on! You have to battle lots if you want to get stronger and evolve. Don’t you want to be a Grovyle?”

    Forsira thought about the Grovyle form – she’d met quite a few of them on Zathern’s tours, too – the taller, sleeker shape, the leaves, the claws. It would be nice to be something other than a tiny little Treecko. She nodded slowly. “Yes.”

    “Then what are you waiting for?” Zathern scanned the undergrowth beneath them, eventually pointing at a small shape with brown, jagged fur, just visible as it rooted about underneath a fern. “Look! Zigzagoon!” With that, he dropped from the tree, rushed towards it and spun around, smacking it with his two thick tails to get its attention.

    The mammal turned to him with an indignant yelp, looking almost a little worried by him.

    “Hey,” Zathern said to it. “Battle?”

    The worry left the Zigzagoon immediately, and it grinned. “Sure,” it said in a strange, barking sort of voice. Forsira was startled; she hadn’t realised the wild Pokémon could talk.

    Zathern had obviously been used to it – at least, he wasn’t thrown off, dodging to the side as the Zigzagoon ran at him head on. He retaliated with another blow from his tails, this time to the Zigzagoon’s face.

    As Forsira watched the battle from above, she noticed another stripy brown Pokémon emerge from a nearby bush and begin to watch with interest. Apparently the Zigzagoon had been with a friend.

    “Get it, Forse!” Zathern called, having somehow managed to notice it even as he narrowly dodged a fast headbutt from his own Zigzagoon.

    Forsira stared hesitantly down at the second Zigzagoon below her, not entirely sure what she was meant to be doing. But after more prompting from Zathern, some kind of inner drive overtook her and she leapt out of the tree, falling towards her foe. She found herself flipping over in midair before she met it – somehow her body just knew what to do – and her tails slammed the Zigzagoon against the ground with all the power from her fall. She leapt away and landed, if a little unsteadily, on her feet nearby, panting but pleased with herself.

    “Nice hit, Forse!” Zathern called, smacking his own opponent with his tails, before adding, “She’s only battling, too!” seemingly for her Zigzagoon’s benefit. The apprehension that had been on the Zigzagoon’s face vanished and it rushed towards Forsira, catching her off guard with a fast tackle to the gut. She tried to retaliate but couldn’t get the proper momentum to spin and ended up barely tapping it with her tails.

    The Zigzagoon backed away a short distance and growled at her. Something in the noise made it more than just a normal growl, and Forsira shivered, not sure if she wanted to risk hitting this Pokémon as hard as she could. But at the same time, she didn’t like being growled at; she shot the Zigzagoon a look of disdain without thinking, somehow feeling twice as large as she did so. The mammal whined and shrunk back slightly, but then seemingly shook it off and rushed at her again.

    Forsira reacted faster than she thought she could, leaping upwards so that the Zigzagoon dashed past underneath her. It skidded to a confused halt, and she found herself landing clumsily on its back. Not sure what else to do, she was about to get off and resume attacking when a strange feeling overcame her. Instead of jumping away, she ended up grabbing tightly onto the Zigzagoon, wrapping herself in a green glow and simply… sucking some energy out of it? It felt incredibly strange, but somehow the aching in her gut from her opponent’s tackle had lessened a bit.

    Clearly not happy at having its energy drained, the Zigzagoon dashed forwards with her still on top of it and rammed her into a nearby tree. Forsira fell to the ground, dazed, not quite able to summon up the energy to get out of the way as she saw the Zigzagoon turn and rush straight at her, head on. She stared at it, frozen – what would happen if the blow was too powerful? The thought of her parents flashed through her mind. Would this kill her, too?

    The Zigzagoon was almost upon her when a green blur appeared from the left and smacked its tails into the charging Pokémon, sending it sprawling away. “Ha!” Zathern shouted in triumph as the Zigzagoon struggled and failed to rise. He turned to Forsira, a little sheepishly. “Sorry, Forse,” he said. “Didn’t mean to butt in, but I’d already finished mine, and you looked like you were in trouble, so…”

    Forsira shook her head. “It’s fine,” she mumbled. “Thanks.” She shook herself down and blinked a couple of times, realising she was panting. The Zigzagoon lay off to the side, not moving as she walked over to it. Its eyes were open, but they were glazed and unfocused. Forsira instantly knew that this wasn’t the same as the horrific, empty gazes of her parents. “It’s not dead, is it?” she asked Zathern.

    “Nope,” he said. “Just fainted. Mine, too. They’ll wake up in a while and be fine.” He laughed. “That’s all that was going to happen to you if it hit you, Forse. You looked so worried!”

    Forsira stared down at the ground, embarrassed. “I didn’t know,” she muttered. “And… my parents…”

    “Oh.” Zathern grimaced awkwardly. “Yeah. I guess. But still!” He perked up again, never down for long. “Battling is good, isn’t it?”

    Forsira nodded, hesitantly at first but then more strongly as she realised that yes, it really was. She hadn’t felt even the slightest pang of grief at her parents’ death while she’d been battling. She’d been so focused on her opponent that it had all just gone. It was back now, of course – the sadness was always lingering at the edge of her mind, even with Zathern at his cheeriest – but during the battle, it hadn’t been there at all.

    “Yes,” she agreed quietly. “Battling is good.”

    Zathern grinned. “So,” he said, “want to go against me?”

    Forsira looked at him, taken aback. He was obviously better at it than her, given that he’d knocked out his Zigzagoon without help. But then, she supposed, it wouldn’t hurt for her to practice against someone stronger; perhaps that was why he’d suggested it. She smiled a little. “Okay.”

    “Great!” With that, Zathern rushed forward before she could properly prepare for anything and pounded her with his tails. She yelped in surprise and skidded backwards. “Come on now, Forse,” he teased. “You gotta be quicker than that!”

    Forsira gritted her teeth, feeling the adrenaline of battle rush back to her. Never mind him telling her what to do – she’d show him something she’d learnt on her own. She leapt towards him and, much to his confusion, grabbed hold of his body, using that same green glow from before to drain his energy. It helped lessen the pain from his tails, but not as much as it had done with the Zigzagoon.

    “Oh, that,” Zathern said as she let go. “You don’t want to use that on me – it doesn’t work so well against another Treecko.” He charged at her again for another strike of his tails, but she jumped frantically out of the way, feeling embarrassed at her mistake. She was about to counter with an ordinary tail pounding, but as she turned, she caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of her eye, something that sent a shiver through her. The exhilaration of battle disappeared as quickly as it had arrived, leaving her with only a dull sense of dread.

    Zathern was rushing at her again, but then he skidded to a confused halt as she still paid him no attention. Forsira stared through the trees anxiously; she knew she’d seen something a little further up the slope, something that had made her stop battling. There it was: a tall, green figure, watching her through the branches with beady yellow eyes. It shifted, coming further into view, and Forsira recognised with horror the angular shape, the thin arms with sharp leaves jutting from them, the huge spiked tail.

    This was the creature that had plagued her nightmares for several nights now. It was one of Them. It had to be.

    Without another thought, she turned and fled up the nearest tree, speeding across its branches to leap into the next one, her heart racing in terror, desperate to put as much distance between herself and the creature as possible. She could hear Zathern behind her, calling out to her, but he sounded puzzled rather than as scared as he should be. “What’s the matter, Forse? Is this because of the Sceptile? It’s only Verdan – he won’t hurt you!”

    Forsira didn’t believe him. The memory of the dark figures circling her tree the night she’d lost her parents played vividly through her mind. This was a Sceptile – he had to be one of Them, surely. He could kill Forsira and even Zathern too if they didn’t get away.

    Racing through the treetops, Forsira realised dimly that she was headed towards where Azma usually was on the edge of the clearing – that in the absence of her real parents, she wanted Azma to comfort her and tell her everything would be okay.

    She came to a stop, exhausted, as the clearing came into view in front of her. Dropping from a tree, she crawled forwards along the ground towards where she could see Azma, perched on a rock and eating something while gazing out towards the sea.

    Zathern caught up with Forsira, panting almost as hard as she was. “It’s okay, Forse,” he insisted, touching her shaking tails with his to calm her down as he walked alongside her. “See, he hasn’t followed. He doesn’t mean us any harm.”

    Forsira still wasn’t convinced, but she walked the rest of the way towards Azma at a less panicked pace, even though instinctive warnings of danger still coursed through her mind. Azma lifted her head from a brown and stripy carcass as she heard them approach. “Hello, you two,” she said. “Have some of this Zigzagoon if you’re…” She broke off, frowning with concern at Forsira. “What’s wrong?”

    Zathern immediately reached for the Zigzagoon and tore off a strip of flesh. “Forse saw a Sceptile and got spooked,” he said with his mouth full.

    Azma looked half questioningly, half accusingly at Forsira. She shrank a little but still spoke. “He was the same as the ones that…” She closed her eyes and swallowed. “I thought… he must be one of Them, too…”

    Azma let out a long sigh, with a murmur of something that sounded like, “Of course.” She fixed Forsira with a firm, almost stern gaze. “Forsira,” she said. “It’s very important that you understand this. Not every Sceptile is one of Them. Yes, every one of Them is a Sceptile, but it doesn’t work the other way. There are many Sceptile living over on the sunrise side of the island, as many as there are Archopy on this side – more, even – and most of them are entirely peaceful, wish harm to nobody and do not deserve to be thought of in the same way as Them.”

    Forsira stared at her for a moment, taking it in. Part of her still thought it couldn’t possibly be that way, but the sensible side of her trusted Azma and believed she must have been telling the truth. “So…” she said, “that Sceptile I saw wasn’t bad?”

    “I told her he wouldn’t hurt her,” Zathern mumbled between mouthfuls of Zigzagoon. “It was only Verdan.”

    Azma nodded. “Most of the peaceful Sceptile stay over on the sunrise side nowadays, but some, like Verdan, come over here every so often. He says the hunting is better on this side. There’s no need to worry; he’s never hurt anyone.”

    “See, Forse?” Zathern said. “Told you it was fine. Come and have some Zigzagoon already.”

    Forsira dutifully moved forward and tore off a mouthful of flesh. She took in the Zigzagoon carcass as she ate, seeing an empty, half-eaten shell of the same species that she and Zathern had been battling for fun just a moment ago. It felt strange.

    “We just battled two Zigzagoon,” she muttered, not sure why she was saying it. “Now we’re eating one.”

    “Did you tell them you wanted to battle first?” asked Azma.

    “Zathern did,” said Forsira.

    “Then there is nothing wrong with that,” said Azma. “It’s less important when you’re a Treecko, as you don’t have any deadly weapons you can hunt and kill with, but once you are a Grovyle, it is vital when you’re not hunting that you make it clear to a wild Pokémon that you just want a friendly battle. That way, the Pokémon knows what it’s fighting for. Asking for a battle is like a promise that you’re not going to kill them. You should never break it.”

    Zathern had stayed engrossed in his meal while she’d been talking; it seemed like he’d already heard this from her before. It made sense now why he’d made sure to tell the Zigzagoon that they wanted to battle, and why the Zigzagoon had looked worried beforehand, even if he and Forsira were only Treecko.

    What Azma said made Forsira feel less uncomfortable about the fact that she was sat in front of a half-eaten Zigzagoon right now, so she pushed the worries out of her mind and focused on eating her fill. All the battling had made her hungry, after all.

    - - -​

    Forsira slept in Azma and Zathern’s tree that night. She still wasn’t too close to them, staying alone on one of the outermost branches, but nonetheless she found herself feeling safer if she had Azma watching over her, since she knew her parents would never be able to do that for her again. The nightmares still came, though. Having her friends nearby didn’t keep them away.

    She was lying awake, huddling small to try and offer herself some comfort as she stared up at the night sky, when she felt the branch beneath her shift with someone’s weight. Azma was making her way towards Forsira, coming to sit next to her on the branch and join her in watching the stars.

    “Nightmares of the past,” she said out of nowhere. “They don’t last forever. Over time, they begin to come less often. They fade.” She let out a long, tired sigh and looked sadly at Forsira. “It’s nightmares of the future you should worry about.”

    Forsira tilted her head in puzzlement. She wasn’t sure if that reassured her or made things worse. Azma didn’t say anything more on the matter.

    Forsira found herself edging a little closer to the Archopy nonetheless, feeling some of the anxiety leave her as she did. Maybe Azma really could make the nightmares go away.

    There was a long silence as the two of them continued to look up at the stars, interrupted only by Zathern’s snores behind them and the sounds of nocturnal Pokémon in the forest below.

    “Azma,” Forsira asked quietly after a while, “why do They want to kill us?”

    Azma gazed solemnly out towards the other side of the island. She didn’t answer for a moment. “They’re convinced that a Sceptile is better than an Archopy,” she said eventually.

    Forsira felt tears pricking at her eyes. It didn’t make any sense. Her parents had died because of that? “But then… why kill us?”

    Azma closed her eyes and shook her head. “Some people need no more reason than that.”

    The tears were beginning to overtake Forsira, and she was trembling again. “But… but…”

    “I know,” Azma agreed. The Archopy was crouching down to Forsira’s level, looking straight at her. She gave a small smile. “You shouldn’t let it worry you. They won’t kill you, at least not for a long time.”


    “You’re still a Treecko. The Sceptile evolve from Grovyle, just like Archopy do. Treecko and Grovyle are safe from Them because you’re exactly like Their own children.”

    Forsira stared, trying to take it all in; she hadn’t realised a Grovyle could evolve into Sceptile as well as Archopy. The thought that her parents had been killed not by a separate race of monsters but a species so closely related to them made it somehow even worse. “But… when I evolve…?”

    Azma shook her head firmly. “Don’t let it worry you. Forget what I said about nightmares of the future. You should do your best to enjoy the time you have now.”

    Something was beginning to click in Forsira’s head. “But… if they kill Archopy… what about you?” The thought was terrifying – to lose her new beacon of security so soon after losing her parents…

    “They won’t kill me,” said Azma darkly, in such a way that Forsira knew she utterly believed that. “Not for a long time.”


    Azma seemed uncomfortable, not quite meeting her eye. “I’m sorry,” she said after a strained pause. “I shouldn’t have said all this; I shouldn’t have made you worry. You should be with your parents, not me.” She shook her wings out awkwardly and retreated up the branch. “I’ll leave you to sleep. Good night, Forsira.”

    Forsira could only mumble a confused “Good night” back to Azma as she disappeared into the boughs of the tree from which Zathern’s snoring could still be heard. She was left watching the stars on her own, wondering why some of the Sceptile thought being better than Archopy meant They could kill them, wondering what was going on in Azma’s head.

    Adult minds made no sense.

    Last edited: Aug 12, 2011
  2. elyvorg

    elyvorg somewhat backwards.

    Learning [continued]


    Forsira sometimes thought about one of the last things her mother had said to her: that she’d find someone else and everything would be okay. She was increasingly realising that, without her really having noticed, this had somehow come true. While she would never, ever deliberately have tried to replace her parents, Azma and Zathern had just fallen into place in the hole they’d left. She still missed her parents – of course she did – but the thought that her mother might have been right after all made her feel a little bit warmer inside. It was no longer such a bad thing that she had to move on. She began trying to make the most of the time she had while she was still young and safe, just like Azma had said.

    And Azma had been right, too. Forsira’s nights were still restless, but the nightmares were beginning to fade, if only a little.

    With Zathern’s encouragement, she began battling more and more – it was one of the few things that let her completely forget the ache that her parents had left and simply enjoy herself. She and Zathern would spend all their time exploring the forests on the sunset side of the island, looking for wild Pokémon around their level of strength – or even a little higher – to fight, sometimes working together, sometimes battling one each to see who could win first. They always watched out for each other, too; Zathern had declared early on that whenever either of them fainted, the other would always forfeit their battle and wait for their friend to come around. Forsira had fainted a lot in the beginning, but it always cheered her up to wake up to Zathern’s grinning face.

    Zathern talked excitedly about evolution almost every day. While nowhere near as vocal, Forsira silently shared his enthusiasm about becoming a Grovyle someday soon.

    “So,” Zathern said brightly as they leapt across the treetops in an area they’d passed through but never properly explored before. “What d’you want to battle today, Forse?”

    Forsira mumbled in indifference, but then looked down at the tree they were currently in, seeing lots of small red Pokémon all over the lower branches. “Wurmple?” she suggested.

    Zathern looked at her like she was mad. “Wurmple? Seriously? We’re way too strong for Wurmple now.”

    Forsira almost gave in and admitted it had been a bad idea but then decided not to. “There’s a lot of them,” she pointed out.

    Zathern followed her gaze down, properly looking at them for the first time. The tree’s lower branches were practically covered in the caterpillar Pokémon. “True,” he admitted. “Two each, then? Go!” As soon as he’d said that, he dropped from where he was, spinning in midair as he fell past the Wurmple, his tails smacking into one and then another on the way down to fling them out of the tree.

    Smiling at his enthusiasm, Forsira followed suit. Pounding with her tails in midair had become second nature with the practice she’d had; it wasn’t hard to pinpoint two of the bugs and send them flying to the ground, squealing with indignation as they were knocked out of their homes. Forsira landed neatly on her feet as the two Wurmple wriggled themselves upright and rounded on her accusingly. “Battle?” she said, grinning.

    One of the Wurmple rolled its eyes and shot a spray of silk at her, which she took as a yes. Dodging out of the way put her in the path of the other as it rammed into her, but she moved with it, using the momentum of the blow to spin herself around and slam it with her tails in retaliation.

    The first Wurmple looked as though it was about to fire off some more silk; before it could, Forsira summoned up the inner speed that she’d learned to harness recently and rushed towards it faster than it could react, tackling it. Having learnt from experience that the absorbing attack of hers didn’t work too well on bugs like Wurmple either, she followed up with a fast blow from her tails, and the Wurmple squeaked in pain and gave in, slumping to the ground.

    She almost let her guard down at the premature victory, but remembered just in time that this wasn’t over and managed to duck a dart shot at her from the stingers on the second Wurmple’s back end. Before it could fire off another one, she zoomed at it with the same speed from before, tackling it so hard it was sent flying into a nearby tree. It, too, didn’t get up again.

    Maybe Zathern was right. That had been a bit too easy.

    A loud “Ow!” from her friend caught Forsira’s attention, and she looked towards him to see him struggling with one of his Wurmple. His feet were caught up in the sticky silk, slowing him down as he tried to duck and dodge the stingers that the caterpillar was jabbing at him, all the while grimacing in pain. Wanting to help, Forsira sped forwards to ram the Wurmple away from him across the ground, delivering a strike with her tails for good measure. Satisfied that it had fainted, she turned back to Zathern.

    “Oi,” he said jokingly, still looking like he was in pain. “Spoilsport. I could have – ow – done that myself.”

    Forsira approached to help untangle the sticky thread around his feet. As she did so, she noticed a nasty-looking purple tinge in the skin surrounding a puncture mark on his stomach. “You’re poisoned,” she said.

    He grinned, although it came out looking like a grimace. “Yeah,” he said. “Stupid stingers. ’S the only reason you beat me; it’s not that you’re – ow – better than me or anything.” Despite her anxiety, Forsira couldn’t help but smile; Zathern had to be his competitive self, even when poisoned. “Don’t look so worried, Forse,” he told her. “It was only a battle; it’s not going to kill me.” He tried to smile again and winced in pain. “I just need a –”

    “I know this one,” Forsira said. “Stay here.” She left him where he was and scampered off across the ground, looking up at the different types of trees around her. There were so many things her parents hadn’t had the time to teach her before they’d passed away, things she’d had to be told about by Zathern or Azma instead; it felt good to be needed for something she already knew by herself. It didn’t take her long to spot a tree with long, blue-green leaves and pinkish, fleshy fruits hanging from it. She climbed up to knock one of the berries off with her tails before carrying it back to Zathern.

    “Pecha berry,” he said, biting into it and already beginning to relax. “Thanks, Forse.”

    She just smiled at him, and together they made their way up into a nearby Wurmple-free tree where Zathern could finish his berry without risk of being stung again.

    As they sat in companionable silence – the silence was unusual, but Zathern had his mouth full, and that had been known to keep him quiet on occasion – Forsira watched the four Wurmple they’d defeated slowly begin to stir. The one closest to them, one of the ones Forsira had beaten, lifted its head to spray its silk around itself and suddenly burst out in a white glow as it did so.

    “Look, Forse!” Zathern said, pointing dramatically and accidentally flinging the remnants of his berry away as he did so. “They’re evolving!”

    Forsira simply nodded quietly, watching with interest as another of the four Wurmple, this time one of Zathern’s, also began to cocoon itself in its own thread and shine with a bright light.

    “That is so not fair!” Zathern complained as the glows faded from the two bug Pokémon. “How come they get to evolve from that battle and not us, even though we won?”

    Forsira didn’t answer, too busy observing the two oval-shaped cocoon Pokémon that now sat on the ground. They seemed slightly different from each other; one was a greyish white and had an extra tuft of silk above its eyes, while the other was a more purple shade, its eyes large and beady as it stared up at them in the tree in what might have been an amused look of thanks. “They evolved into different things,” she said.

    “Oh, yeah,” Zathern said. “That one’s called a Silcoon, I think –” he pointed to the one Forsira had helped to evolve – “and the other one’s a Cascoon. Mum told me about how Wurmple can evolve into two different things. Kinda like how Grovyle can.”

    Forsira looked at Zathern with curiosity. She’d never really thought too hard about it until now, but the knowledge that Grovyle could evolve into either Sceptile or Archopy had been nagging at her since that conversation with Azma. “How do they choose?”

    “Mum says they don’t. Apparently they don’t get a choice and it’s fixed for each Wurmple as soon as they’re born.”

    “Is it the same for Grovyle?” Forsira asked.

    Zathern looked unsure for a moment. “I… think so,” he said eventually. “At least, Mum’s always been sure about what I’m going to evolve into after Grovyle.”

    A sense of foreboding crept over Forsira. She wasn’t sure if she wanted the answer, but something still made her ask. “Which?”

    “Sceptile,” he said, grinning.

    Forsira tried to keep the disappointment out of her eyes. She believed what Azma had told her about not all Sceptile being Them, but still, the thought of Zathern turning into one made her uneasy. But she didn’t want to upset her friend, so she said nothing except, “How does she know?”

    Zathern shrugged. “She’s my mum.”

    Forsira nodded numbly and stared back down at the Wurmple they’d beaten, only to see that her other opponent had also become a Silcoon while they’d been talking, with the white glow fading from the fourth one to reveal a Cascoon. She thought of evolving into a Sceptile herself one day and shuddered. “I hope I’ll be an Archopy,” she muttered.

    “I hope you will, too!” Zathern agreed, surprisingly brightly. “Go for it, Forse. Then at least one of us gets to fly. Sceptile’ll be cool and all, but it’s a shame I won’t ever be able to fly around like Mum does.”

    Despite nodding her agreement, Forsira couldn’t help feeling a little apprehensive. What if she and Zathern really did have no choice but to evolve into different species? Would they still be friends even if he was a Sceptile and she was an Archopy? She didn’t want to lose him as a friend.

    Before those thoughts could sink in, Forsira reminded herself of Azma’s advice not to worry about the future. She should be making the most of the here and now.

    “Come on,” Zathern said all of a sudden, standing up. “Let’s go find something else to battle.”

    Last edited: Mar 27, 2011
  3. Dragonfree

    Dragonfree Just me

    Nice opening line! Captures the reader's attention right off the bat and sets the tone for what is to come.

    I still feel like the capitalized They feels a little awkward when used repeatedly, but it would also seem sort of weird and inconsistent if you flipped between capitalizing and not capitalizing, so yeah.

    What I immediately don't understand is why Leathra thinks they can't flee and at least try to save themselves. She glances at Forsira like staying and fighting is the only way to save her, but she doesn't need saving; They don't kill Treecko anyway. Even if she meant that Forsira couldn't run as fast, they could have simply left her behind - not a nice thing to do to her, no, but better than making her watch them die.

    I also thought of the possibility of an explanation such as Them making it known that if the Archopy flee, their children actually will be killed - but if something like that is going on, you need to at least hint at that in the text, such as by having the Sceptile say "We don't kill the children or the adolescents if their parents stay and fight", or something of the like. If some other completely different explanation is coming later, that would also probably be better to hint at earlier, because as it is this really bugs me; I read about them dying and can't stop thinking why are they staying and fighting when Forsira is safe either way? Yes, Leathra says they wouldn't stand a chance either way, but not taking the only option that could potentially save you is, well, just silly. Yes, Forsira is frightened by seeing her father scared and wanting to flee, but that really, really pales in comparison to how she feels when she sees him on the ground with his throat slit - hell, running and getting killed further away just to spare her that sight would be worth it. I really don't see what they're gaining by playing heroes unless there's some unseen "stay or we kill your kids" clause or the like going on.

    Anyway, rant over. Also Resten is adorable and needs a hug.

    Since you didn't mention any particular something before this point, I assume that "the" shouldn't be there.

    ...should I find that thought adorable?

    The switch from him being "it" to "him" is a bit jarring; there's no apparent indicator that she notices his sex in between, so it seems random for the switch to happen just like that.

    Ffff. WHY SO ADORABLE. Knowing what's going to happen, that's just cruel. D:

    Only half the world. Ahaha. Adorable! :3

    Awww. Seriously, stop with the adorable! ;_;

    I enjoy your descriptions of moves like Growl and Leer. It's just fun seeing them described from the user's perspective without the actual names.

    Something just bugs me about the prospect of Pokémon of predator and prey species cheerfully battling one another - even if there's a highly-regarded promise in asking for a battle, it just seems so easy for a predator to claim to be there for a battle in order to catch prey off-guard and then kill them when they've fainted, and surely, knowing this, the prey species would never trust them. Plus, even with friendly battling, to risk fainting and being left lying around unconscious in the open is just a generally terrible idea - there are oodles of opportunistic predators who'd simply pick you off the ground as easy meat. I can't possibly see this working in the wild. Same species (or at least species that don't eat one another) battling controlledly where they're not in danger, sure, but I can't really buy it specifically between predators and their own prey.

    This whole making friends and battling to evolve sooner bit is really reminding me of Scyther's Story, though. x3

    I enjoy the quiet, understated implication here that she's had some past nightmares of her own.

    Why is Zathern so adorable even when he's just snoring somewhere in the background? D:

    ...I'm getting the most horrible feeling now. D: Or rather, I'm hoping she's just referring to the somewhat-less-horrible thing we LE readers know, but I have this creeping dread that there's something much more horrible and that would be aaaa.

    Adorable count++.


    Using Wurmple as a lead-in to a conversation about Grovyle's split evolution was clever.

    This is adorable and yet aaaaaaaa. D:

    Post the next part sooooon. D: You can't leave me like this!
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2012
  4. elyvorg

    elyvorg somewhat backwards.

    Dragonfree - Thank you for the awesome review. Keep doing this. :3

    Your problem with the opening scene is entirely justified now that I think about it. For some reason I always had in mind tha Forsira was there when her parents were killed, yet I also wanted to briefly get to know her parents beforehand in order for their deaths to possibly have a bit more emotional impact, so I couldn't have them suddenly killed before they knew what was happening. Which resulted in this paradoxical logicfaily situation. I am good at logicfail! I'm fairly sure that the original version of this scene before I pretty much rewrote the whole first half of it was even more logicfaily than this, though, so, uh, at least be glad you're not reading that?

    I dunno. Your concerns are noted, but I don't know what I can do about it now so I'll just leave it as it is and hope it doesn't put off too many prospective readers. I'll keep it in mind if I ever do somehow decide to rewrite this, though.

    (I should also clarify that no, They don't have any kind of policy along the lines of the one you suggested. They just don't kill the children or the adolescents at all.)

    And yes, I found Resten adorable as well. x3

    Then I'm glad that you found everything else that you did adorable, too. Your comments make me eee. I enjoyed using a lot of child-logic in these early parts - "only half the world", "She's my mum" being a perfectly good justification for anything - and I guess I also had fun putting in stuff that would be painful for people who know what's going to happen. =P And Zathern is completely adorable when he's a kid, yes. :3 Also it's good that I seem to have got you interested in Azma - I rather love her too, for reasons I can't go into quite yet - so I hope you enjoy her storyline when it comes to light.

    As for the battling thing, killing someone you've challenged to a battle really is a complete taboo that every Pokémon on the island knows about and which has been going on for countless generations. Not killing and eating a fainted Pokémon would also come into it, presumably. There is always the question of opportunistic predators taking advantage of this, I guess, but I imagine that if it this had ever been the case, the unspoken agreement would have broken down as soon as someone realised it had happened, and then predator species would never have been able to have a friendly battle wih prey species again. Which... I guess Pokémon love battling so much that none of them would want to give up the opportunity to have such a wide range of opponents?

    But then again, it is entirely possible that I just suck at worldbuilding! I can understand how you might be kind of sceptical with this concept, but I hope you'll at least be able to tolerate it, because it is vagely important a couple of times further down the road. It also might seem a little less off once I post the next part, which introduces how the Treecko line deals with the issue of having to kill other sentient species for food. Or it might not, but.

    Anyway, thanks again. Hope you enjoy the rest of the story.

    moonlightning - Eee, thanks for reading! Dragonfree and I had started to wonder if she'd be the only person to comment on this. x3 I'm also flattered to hear that you apparently chose to read this because you'd heard my name around. ^^;

    I'm glad you like the premise and that the way it could seem kind of biased against Sceptile doesn't bother you. I wouldn't exactly call it a "primal instinct" of the Sceptile's, though - as Azma said, most of the Sceptile are perfectly peaceful and have no part in any of it. For the ones who do, it's more of a prejudice thing.

    Forsira I will admit is not the most fascinating character around for a main character - having lost her parents at such a young age has kind of made her passive and dependent like that. But she will continue to grow some; hopefully you'll be able to appreciate her more as the story goes on.

    Regarding the sunrise/sunset side, I knew I wanted a way to differentiate the two sides of the island, but I figured prehistoric Pokémon wouldn't have a concept of compass directions, so, yeah, that was what I came up with. Glad you like it. And the battling pact thing.

    Thanks again for reading, and I hope you continue to comment! It'll be interesting to see the reactions of someone who doesn't already know roughly what's going to happen. :3

    I will try to get the next instalment up by tomorrow or sometime soon. I say "try" with great uncertainity because my unopened copy of Pokémon Black is sitting next to me right now, ready to be opened as soon as I post this. 8D
  5. elyvorg

    elyvorg somewhat backwards.


    So Black is incredibly fun, and therefore Sunday became Wednesday. Sorry about that. ^^; Hope you enjoy.

    < previous


    Forsira never asked Azma what she would evolve into after Grovyle. It wasn’t that she didn’t think Azma would know – adults knew everything, especially her – it was that she didn’t want to be told that she’d be a Sceptile. She wanted to hold onto the hope of being an Archopy for as long as possible, even if it might never come true.

    She had an instinctive kind of feeling that she’d become an Archopy, anyway; she couldn’t imagine that her body would betray her and turn into the species that had murdered her parents. She didn’t need an adult to tell her that.

    But there was no need to worry about her second evolution for a while; she and Zathern still had to become Grovyle first. They were getting closer, she knew – both of them were beginning to feel it, almost as if their bodies were impatient to change. It was with Grovyle on her mind, darting through the treetops beside Zathern as she listened to him talk excitedly for the umpteenth time about how cool it would be to have claws and blades, that Forsira noticed the figure of a Grovyle slumped on the ground below.

    She managed to get Zathern’s attention by tugging on his arm and pointing down at the Grovyle. Zathern stopped his stream of words with a brief “Whoa,” and the two of them dropped down to take a closer look.

    Zathern peered closely at the Grovyle’s face. “I think we know him,” he said after a pause. “It kinda looks like Raphyn. Remember him? He must have evolved since we last saw him.” He didn’t even try to hide his envy at that last part.

    Forsira could vaguely remember the name Raphyn as being among one of the many Treecko that Zathern had introduced her to in his whirlwind tour of his life. He’d been fairly friendly from what she could recall – it was kind of unnerving seeing him spread-eagled limply on the ground like this, not moving. “Is he…?”

    “’Course not,” said Zathern. “He’s just fainted. Totally normal. You worry too much, Forse.” He began waving his tails in front of the unconscious Grovyle’s face, sending gusts of air wafting over him. “Hey! Raphyn!” he yelled. “Wake up!”

    The Grovyle began to stir, groaning as his eyes grew less unfocused. “Knew I shouldn’t have taken on that Swellow,” Raphyn muttered groggily as he pushed himself up off the ground and looked down at the two Treecko in front of him. “Hey, Zathern,” he said. “And… Forse, was it?”

    “Forsira…” she said quietly.

    “Forsira.” He nodded, then glanced awkwardly between the two of them. “Um, thanks for waking me up and everything, but you didn’t have to, you know. I’d have got up on my own eventually.”

    “Yeah, but,” Zathern said with an envious look at Raphyn’s larger, sleeker form and the long, thin leaves that adorned it. “You’ve evolved – that’s awesome!”

    Raphyn smiled, lifting one of his arms to peer at the foliage coming from his wrist. “Yeah. I guess it is.”

    “I’m close to evolving too!” Zathern said, practically bouncing in excitement. “Let me battle you!”

    Raphyn laughed and shook his head. “No way – you’d win. I only just fainted, remember?” He looked between the two Treecko again and grinned. “Nah, I’ve got a better idea. You two battle each other. Then Forsira might evolve as well.”

    Zathern seemed to notice Forsira properly for the first time since Raphyn had woken up. He grinned at her. “Okay! You in, Forse?”

    Forsira nodded, returning his smile. She wanted to evolve, too.

    “All right then,” Raphyn said, retreating to a short distance to give them space. “Ready? Go!”

    Forsira knew Zathern well enough to know that he’d charge straight in for the first strike, and indeed he did, zooming towards her with speedy bright light trailing behind him. Having expected it, she managed to leap to the side and smack him with a blow of her tails as he ran past. Zathern stumbled and skidded to an ungainly halt, shooting her a look of indignation.

    She grinned and leered at him, using the ability she had of feeling twice as large as she looked down on him – not that she ever genuinely felt that way towards her friend, but it was a trick she’d been experimenting with that seemed to make her opponents let their guards down. It clearly did the trick on Zathern; he rushed at her head on again, never mind that it hadn’t worked the last time.

    Forsira dodged to the side, summoning up her own inner speediness to race towards a nearby tree, Zathern hot on her heels. They both scampered up the tree trunk – but midway up, Forsira leapt backwards and fell, spinning in midair as she dropped past Zathern to smack him with her tails and send him sprawling off to the side.

    “Oi!” protested Zathern, scrambling back up as Forsira landed neatly on her feet. He looked a little tired, and rather frustrated to boot. “How did you…?”

    Forsira saw Raphyn catch her eye off to the side of the battling space, giving her a nod of appreciation for that last move. She grinned. She liked the feeling of being good at something.

    The next thing she knew, Zathern had slammed into her again at high speed, taking advantage of her distraction. She yelped, tumbling away across the ground, but she managed to find her feet and speed somewhat lopsidedly back at Zathern for a counterattack. He copied exactly what she’d done earlier, leaping to the side and striking her with his tails as she ran past. The blow sent her skidding away, crashing into the base of a tree before she could stop herself.

    She pulled herself to her feet shakily, feeling bruised and tired, but above all that, exhilarated, the adrenaline pumping through her faster than it had ever done before. Zathern faced her from a distance, the glint in his eyes showing much the same feeling. He dropped down onto all fours and began to race towards her at high speed.

    Instead of dodging like she might normally have done, something made Forsira do the same and dash straight at Zathern. The two of them collided blindingly fast in a tangle of limbs, and she tumbled wildly away, not sure which way was up as the world spun around her. She ended up spread-eagled on the ground, but somehow her body wasn’t exhausted at all and made her stand up again and look across to Zathern. He was sprawled some distance away, struggling to stand.

    Forsira wanted to go across and help him, but her body wasn’t listening to her, hormones pumping so fast through her she felt like she might explode. A blinding white glow burst out around her – she literally felt the light erupt from her body, and it began to grow taller, to change. She knew with a rush of euphoria that this was it: she was evolving.

    “What?” she heard Zathern splutter in indignation through the brilliant white light that had consumed her. His voice still sounded very much like a Treecko’s. “But… I was…!”

    Part of Forsira wanted to say something to him, but she couldn’t speak; her body had control, lengthening her fingers and toes to turn them into claws, her head becoming flatter and longer. Her tails shrank away into nothing, and she felt creepily empty without them until two leaves grew in their place, joined by another extending from the back of her head and a cluster of three emerging from each wrist, each of them instantly feeling as much like a part of her as her tails had once been. With what seemed like a huge sigh of exertion from her body, the blinding light faded and she could see again.

    She let out a brief, excited sort of laugh, looking down at herself, seeing the darker shade of green on her skin, the pinkish-red stomach with a green band across it, the claws, the leaves. She was a Grovyle.

    Raphyn caught her eye – she didn’t have to look up at him any more, she realised – and grinned. “Congratulations, Forsira,” he said.

    “That is so not fair!” came Zathern’s mortified voice. Forsira turned to see the Treecko glaring up at her, his face flushed. “How come you get to evolve before I do?”

    Forsira giggled. She couldn’t help it. She hadn’t expected to evolve before Zathern, after all. And he looked so small now, and that coupled with the perfectly indignant look on his face was just priceless. She stifled her laughter as soon as she could, though – she didn’t want to laugh at her friend, and he really did look genuinely upset. “Sorry, Zathern,” she said, still smiling a little.

    “Hey, maybe next time?” Raphyn added in what was probably an attempt to be optimistic.

    Zathern, still looking comically so much smaller than she’d been used to seeing him, huffed and stared at the ground for a moment, before shaking his head. “No!” he said, rushing at Forsira and leaping into the air to strike her with his tails. “Keep the battle going – I’ll evolve too, you wait!”

    The sudden smack of tails in her face startled Forsira, but she didn’t see why not; she might as well get used to battling as a Grovyle. Something instinctive stirred inside her new body, and she found herself channelling natural energy into the leaves on her wrists, watching them glow bright green as they morphed into long, curved blades. Without really thinking about what she was doing, she ran with the instinct and leapt forwards, swiping at the Treecko in front of her. Zathern cried out in pain as he was sent flying backwards, tumbling over and over in the undergrowth and landing still.

    Raphyn chuckled. “That one’s always a fun one to use.”

    Forsira barely heard him, the energy fizzling out of her leaves, her enthusiasm dead on the spot. Zathern lay unmoving in the bushes ahead of her. She stared numbly at him. She’d never properly thought about the Grovyle’s ‘blades’ that Zathern had kept talking about, never thought to connect it with…

    “That was…” she whispered with growing dread, “that was what They…” The memory of that terrible night played through her mind again, bright curved blades flashing in the darkness, taking her parents from her. Then the images faded, leaving only Zathern’s limp form. He still hadn’t got up. Her heart dropped into her stomach. “No…”

    “Heyyy,” Raphyn said soothingly, approaching her. “It’s okay. You were only in a battle. It’s like a switch in your head – when you’re in battle mode, they won’t be sharp enough to draw blood. He’ll be fine.”

    Forsira tore her gaze away from Zathern to look into Raphyn’s eyes. “Really?”

    He nodded. “Really. He’s probably just fainted. Not surprising, considering you’re evolved now and you were winning beforehand anyway.”

    “I’m… not… fainted!” came Zathern’s protesting voice as the Treecko finally managed to force himself up from the ground. “And she wasn’t winning beforehand,” he added in a mumble under his breath.

    Forsira didn’t care about arguing that point; she just wanted to be sure he was okay. Hurrying across to him, she crouched down to his level, but apart from being tired and bruised he mostly looked incredibly put out. “Sorry,” she said. “I didn’t realise how strong I was. Are you okay?”

    Zathern looked up at her. For a moment it seemed as though he was about to break into one of his trademark grins, but then his expression hardened and he gave her a jealous, almost resentful look. “No,” he said, quietly but determinedly. “And I won’t be until I’m a Grovyle too.” With that, he turned and bounded away through the forest, his tails bobbing behind him. He clearly didn’t want her to follow.

    Forsira felt a pang somewhere inside her as she watched him go. It wasn’t her fault she’d happened to evolve first, was it? She really, desperately hoped this hadn’t ruined their friendship, but – what was she supposed to do?

    Raphyn came up behind her and patted her reassuringly on the back. “Just leave him be for a while,” he said. “Give him some time. He’ll bounce back – you know him, he always does.” He moved round into her view, facing her, and smiled. “Besides, isn’t there anyone you want to tell about your evolution? I know…” He lowered his gaze slightly. “I know about your parents, but…” Raphyn glanced off in the direction Zathern had gone. “What about his mum?”

    Forsira thought for a moment and realised that she did indeed want to tell Azma. The Archopy almost felt like a mother to her by now – and what surprised her more, though not necessarily unpleasantly, was the realisation that she didn’t actually mind. “Yeah,” she said to Raphyn. “I will. Thanks.”

    Turning in the opposite direction to Zathern’s, Forsira raced off through the forest, feeling faster than she ever had before.

    - - -​

    Azma was half-heartedly picking at a Linoone carcass at the edge of the clearing when Forsira reached her. She turned as she heard Forsira approach, a faint smile appearing on her face. “You evolved, then,” she said distantly. “Congratulations.”

    Forsira sensed that something was wrong; while Azma was a very composed person, she’d expected the Archopy to be a little more enthusiastic than this, at least. She tilted her head in puzzlement.

    Azma heaved a sigh. “Sorry,” she said. “I just heard the news of another death. Someone else I knew once.” She smiled again, and it managed to reach her eyes this time. “Really, it’s wonderful that you’ve evolved, Forsira. Where’s Zathern?”

    Forsira looked guiltily at the ground. “He… didn’t evolve. Not yet.”

    Azma gave a soft chuckle. “I see. He’ll be back soon enough, I expect.” Forsira nodded distantly; her worry over whether Zathern would return had more or less faded. Of course he’d be back. He was Zathern, after all.

    The rustling sound of someone entering the tree behind them snapped her out of her thoughts. Azma looked at Forsira. “There’s someone I need to talk to,” she said. “Go ahead and finish off the Linoone; I’m not sure I could eat the rest of it anyway.” Forsira caught a glimpse of that sadness again in Azma’s gaze before the Archopy leapt up and disappeared into the boughs of the tree.

    Forsira stared unseeingly at the half-eaten Linoone for a moment. Having lost her own parents, she could understand how Azma felt, in a way, but at the same time something about it seemed foreign. A world where friends were suddenly gone – it didn’t feel like the same world as the one she lived in with Zathern, all battling and fun.

    She shook her head to try and clear those thoughts and tore off a huge mouthful of Linoone. The task was surprisingly easier with her new, sharper teeth, and the taste itself was somehow more meaty.

    Above her, Azma and what sounded like a Grovyle were holding a conversation in lowered voices. Forsira didn’t expect to be able to make anything out at first, but apparently her hearing had become sharper through evolution, as she caught her mother’s name being mentioned.

    “First Leathra, then Woorn and now Syggdra,” the Grovyle was saying. “They’re killing off all of your old gang, aren’t They?”

    Forsira tried to busy herself with eating, but part of her couldn’t help paying attention to the conversation regardless.

    “I know They are, Germane,” Azma said tiredly. “And don’t give me that look; I know exactly why They haven’t killed me yet, and so do you.”

    The Grovyle – Germane, apparently – chuckled. “You got yourself into far too much trouble before, Az,” he said, a hint of amusement in his voice.

    “While all you do is spy on Them,” Azma replied drily. “That won’t get you into trouble at all.”

    “Ah, but you and I both know They won’t kill me either,” Germane said, sounding somehow smug. “And the reason for that one’s much simpler.”

    Forsira heard Azma heave a heavy sigh. “Look, Germane, did you just come here to tell me what I already knew, or do you actually have any information?”

    “Would I ever waste your time?” asked Germane. There was a pause. “Don’t answer that. But yes, I do. I’ve heard talk – it seems pretty likely that Verdan is one of Them. Perhaps some of the others that hang around the sunset side, too.”

    “Verdan?” Azma said. “But I’m certain he’s never taken part in any of the killings. He can’t be. Are you sure?”

    “Pretty sure,” Germane replied. Azma was silent for a while.

    Forsira had almost finished the Linoone by now. What she was hearing puzzled her – she was sure Germane’s voice was a Grovyle’s, but why was an adolescent talking to Azma about what sounded like very adult business? On any other day, she might have stayed where she was and left herself wondering, but her evolution had given her a newfound spark of confidence, enough to make her leave the remnants of her meal and dart up the tree behind her to see what was going on. The two of them seemed to have finished their conversation, anyway.

    Poking her head up through the branches, she saw that Germane was indeed a Grovyle, and giving her a somewhat disdainful look as she joined them. It sent a small flare of indignation through her – she’d sometimes had Grovyle look at her like that when she’d been a Treecko, but surely he had no right now that she was a Grovyle, too?

    “Who’s this?” Germane asked, dismissing her to ask Azma instead.

    “This is Forsira,” Azma said evenly. “She’s Leathra’s daughter. I… I suppose you could say I’ve taken her in.”

    Germane smirked. “Ever the saint, aren’t you, Az? Even now.” Forsira had imagined that teasing voice of his to be matched by a playful glint in his eyes, but there wasn’t one.

    “Germane,” Azma said warningly. “Unless you have anything else to tell me…”

    Germane tossed his head in mock indignation. “Fine, fine,” he said. “I’ll go.” He turned and darted away to the next tree, quickly disappearing from view. Azma shook her head wearily as she watched him go.

    “That Grovyle,” Forsira said, trying to get words around why he confused her. “He’s a… isn’t he still…?”

    Azma somehow seemed to understand what she meant. “Oh, no,” she said. “Germane’s an adult. He should have evolved into Archopy a long time ago, but he stops his body from doing so. He thinks that way he’ll be safe from Them.”

    Forsira was surprised; she hadn’t realised it was possible to stop yourself from evolving. “And he’s still alive,” she said, almost thoughtfully.

    “I have to give him that. It’s worked for him so far. He’s in less danger than the rest of us, so he sometimes goes across to the sunrise side to see if he can find out anything about what They are planning.” She looked wistfully down through the branches. “I can’t say it’s being that much help, though.”

    Something about Azma’s disappointed gaze connected with one of the other confusing things from the conversation that had been jostling for Forsira’s attention. “He said… you got into trouble?”

    Azma closed her eyes and nodded sadly. “I was one of the most active in directly opposing Them. I don’t know if I really believed it would help, but… I tried.”

    “Why not any more?”

    Azma shivered and looked away, avoiding Forsira’s gaze. “I… I had Zathern.”

    Forsira frowned. It seemed to make sense; Azma would never put her son in danger, but…

    “Hey, Forse!”

    The voice came from beneath the tree. It sounded like Zathern – of course it was Zathern – but it also sounded like a Grovyle’s voice. Forsira grinned and turned to look through the branches. A Grovyle that she’d never seen before but knew absolutely was Zathern was looking up, grinning back at her. “Told ya I’d evolve soon!”

    Forsira leapt out of the tree to join him without a second thought. It was a relief to escape the adult affairs, the talk of Them and promises of death that unnerved her so much – even Azma seemed to be glad that she was leaving.

    She landed on the ground in front of Zathern, surveying his new form from close up. He was just a little bit taller than her again.

    Straight away, she remembered how she’d been unable to help laughing at him earlier, when he’d been so small and indignant. Guiltily, she shrank a little. “Sorry about before,” she said.

    “Nah,” Zathern said, shaking his head. She didn’t respond, and he lowered his head a little to look straight at her. “No, really, Forse, I’m sorry. I acted like a bit of an idiot, didn’t I? Of course it’s great that you managed to evolve first.” He held the almost-sincere gaze for a moment before standing up to his full height again with a competitive grin. “But I’m totally going to beat you to our next evolution!”

    Forsira half-heartedly attempted to mirror his grin, but inside she couldn’t bring herself to feel enthusiastic about Zathern evolving again. She really didn’t want him to become a Sceptile. But she said nothing, because he was her friend, and she had no right to try and force him not to evolve if that was what he wanted to do. Even though she knew now that evolutions could be halted, she also knew that Zathern of all people would never want to take that option.

    There was a huge gust of air as Azma descended from the tree, spreading her wings out wide – they didn’t look so huge any more, Forsira realised, although she still envied them – so that she practically floated to the ground. She smiled at her son as she landed. “Congratulations, Zathern,” she said, then looked between him and Forsira. “I suppose this means I’ll have to teach the two of you to hunt soon.”

    Zathern’s eyes lit up, and he grinned. “Yeah!”

    Forsira didn’t even try to echo his excitement this time. Learning how to hunt meant learning how to kill. She knew it was essential for survival, but even so it was never a prospect she could get herself to feel good about.

    - - -​

    Before she could begin teaching them, Azma gave Forsira and Zathern several days to get used to their new bodies, to practice rushing through the forest at the much faster speeds a Grovyle could reach and to hone their skills with the non-lethal versions of their newfound blades. Forsira spent those days racing with Zathern until she felt like she could outrun anything in the treetops, battling him or other wild Pokémon until her blade strikes landed exactly where she wanted them to. She felt ready in all the skills that hunting involved. Apart from killing.

    Azma took them to an area that they’d come to recognise as one of the richest areas in young wild Pokémon on the sunset side. The three of them came to a halt in a treetop, hidden from the other forest-dwelling Pokémon by the dense mass of branches.

    “The easiest way to teach you will be for me to demonstrate it to you first,” Azma said to them. “Follow me and watch what I do, but keep your distance and don’t distract me.”

    Zathern was grinning. “I’ve never watched Mum hunt before!” he said. “This’ll be great.”

    Forsira gave him a brief glance, not sharing his enthusiasm. The only species she’d ever witnessed killing anything was Sceptile, and she didn’t enjoy the prospect of adding Archopy to that list.

    Azma closed her eyes and drew in a deep breath. When she opened her eyes, it was almost like she’d become a different person. Her gaze held none of the motherly warmth Forsira was used to; it was cold, calculating, the gaze of a predator. The Archopy avoided the two Grovyle’s eyes, looking around the surrounding forest with sharp jerks of her head, scanning for prey.

    It didn’t take her long to lock onto a large, dark blue bird perched on a branch a few trees away, oblivious to their presence. With frightening speed and precision, the Archopy leapt from her tree, spreading her wings wide to glide swiftly and near-silently towards the Swellow. She was barely a wingspan away by the time her prey noticed her; with a terrified squawk, it darted off its branch and zoomed away with frantic flaps of its wings as the predator gave chase.

    Forsira shared an astonished glance with Zathern – even he seemed lost for words for once – before the two of them remembered they were supposed to be following and made for the next tree, trying to keep the airborne chase in sight. The Archopy was gaining on the Swellow; it was almost within her reach. The frontmost leaves on her wings suddenly glowed and morphed into long, sharp blades, and with a vicious midair swipe, she struck at the unfortunate bird, sending it careering towards the ground in a spray of blood.

    Forsira and Zathern raced to catch up as the Archopy dropped onto the struggling Swellow, holding it down with one arm even as it pecked frantically at her wing leaves and bringing the other, blade still lit, to its throat. Forsira watched in fascinated horror; there was no emotion in the predator’s eyes except hunger as she silenced the bird’s terrified squawks forever.

    “Whoa,” Zathern murmured under his breath. “I didn’t know Mum could be so scary.”

    Extinguishing her blade and standing up off the dead body of the Swellow, the Archopy blinked and shook her head as if waking up. Suddenly it was Azma standing there again, giving a brief, sorrowful glance to the Swellow before looking around the nearby trees for Forsira and Zathern. She caught their eye and nodded for them to come and join her on the ground.

    “That,” Azma said as they landed in the undergrowth before her, “was not me. I hope you noticed that.”

    “Wait, what?” Zathern asked. Forsira was still at a loss for words.

    “The point of the demonstration wasn’t to teach you how to catch prey,” Azma explained. “You already know how to do that from your instincts and the practice you’ve been doing – besides which this would have been a useless demonstration, as Swellow are difficult prey for beginners and the two of you can’t fly… yet,” she added, giving the tiniest glance to Forsira. “The point was to show you the state of mind you need to be in when you hunt. If you kill while you are still yourself, the guilt you would feel from ending another sentient creature’s life would build up each time and destroy you from the inside. You have to distance yourself from everything that makes you you and call upon the… ah… predator within. It’s a natural part of all of us.”

    “The… predator within me?” Zathern still sounded confused. “I don’t have a predator in me. Do I?”

    “As much as I’m afraid to admit it, you do,” Azma said. “Both of you. Haven’t you felt something in the back of your mind since you evolved, some tiny, dark voice that when you look at a wild Pokémon sees fresh meat? It’s not there when you’re Treecko, because the only thing that’s food to a Treecko is something already dead, but now that you’re physically able to hunt…”

    Zathern nodded slowly, frowning. Forsira thought about it and realised that she, too, might just have had the same thing somewhere in her mind after all. It felt like it had always been there since her evolution, and now was simply the first time she’d noticed it. Some small part of her had been egging the terrifying predator-Azma on, even though the rest of her had been too horrified to notice or let that voice have a say. Forsira shuddered. She didn’t like the idea of something like that being inside her.

    Azma had obviously noticed her anxiety, giving both her and Zathern a sympathetic gaze. “We don’t like it,” she said quietly. “Of course we don’t. But we are carnivores; we survive by killing other creatures for food, so it has to be there in all of us or we’d starve. We only need to let it out while hunting. The rest of the time, the best way to live is to forget we even have it. Don’t ever lose what makes you you.” Her gaze lingered on Zathern for a moment, before she suddenly blinked and looked away.

    “So… how do we let it out?” Zathern asked, still looking puzzled.

    Forsira didn’t think she ever wanted to let her inner predator out.

    Azma glanced around at the forest for a moment as if thinking of a way to put it. “It’s like when you ask a wild Pokémon to battle,” she said eventually. “You know what I’ve already told you about that – you would never, ever do that to a Pokémon you intended to kill. So it subconsciously puts you in a friendly state; you know this is just for fun, your blades become blunter so they won’t draw blood, and your inner predator can’t get out. To hunt, you need to put yourself in the opposite state of mind.” She sighed. “I don’t know how much sense that made. I think the best thing would be for you to try it.” She glanced down at the dead Swellow that was still at her feet. “I’ll take this and eat it while I watch the two of you. I’m sure you can find some wild Pokémon fairly easily around here. Choose whatever you want, and remember: this is not a battle.” Picking up the Swellow carcass in her jaws, she clambered awkwardly up the trunk of a nearby tree.

    Once she’d disappeared from view, Forsira and Zathern shared a glance with each other. “Gotta admit,” Zathern said, some of his usual enthusiasm notably absent. “This isn’t what I was expecting.”

    Forsira shook her head. “Me neither,” she said quietly.

    “Don’t know if I’ll like this,” Zathern muttered. “I don’t want to learn to become not-me. And I don’t really want to kill anything, I guess, but if it’s not really ‘me’ that does it… I dunno.” He shook his head distractedly, sounding unsure of himself for once.

    Forsira frowned. After what she’d seen happen to her parents, she just didn’t want to kill anything, whether it was ‘her’ doing the killing or not.

    “So,” Zathern said eventually, breaking the awkward silence that had ensued. “Let’s go find some prey, I guess?”

    Mumbling her agreement, Forsira followed Zathern up another tree, and the two of them darted through the treetops, scouring the ground below. It wasn’t long before Zathern spotted and pointed out a small brown shape – a Zigzagoon, rooting around in the undergrowth.

    Forsira was uncomfortably reminded of the first ever battle she’d had as a Treecko.

    “D’you think we should… you know… get into predator mode now?” whispered Zathern.

    Forsira felt as unsure as Zathern sounded, but it did seem like a good idea to do so before they caught it. She eyed the Zigzagoon below, trying to think of it as nothing but an incidentally living source of food, trying to call on the tiny voice in the back of her mind that wanted nothing but to kill it and eat it. But when she looked at it she remembered her first battle, slamming her tails powerfully into a Zigzagoon, realising that battling could be exhilarating and fun. She didn’t want to listen to the predator inside her. She didn’t want to kill it.

    This was a lot harder than Azma had made it look.

    “I can’t do it,” she muttered, turning to Zathern for support. His gaze was still fixed on the Zigzagoon, and although it looked slightly more distant than she was used to from him, the Zathern she knew was still in there. He hadn’t managed it either.

    He blinked, snapping himself out of it and turning to her. “No, me neither. Harder than it looks, isn’t it?” He paused. “Maybe we’re distracting each other. I’ll leave you with this Zigzagoon and go find something by myself, yeah?”

    Before she could agree, he’d leapt from the tree. The slight rustling noise of it made the Zigzagoon below freeze momentarily, cocking its head. Then it apparently decided it had been nothing and carried on snuffling around in the undergrowth.

    It had no idea what was above it. It had no idea that its life was quite possibly about to end. Forsira felt kind of sick.

    She tried her best to push that feeling out of her mind, to glare at it with the coldest, hungriest gaze she could give it. This was what Azma had told her – to not feel bad about it, to remove herself from her conscience while she killed her prey because otherwise the guilt would drive her mad. But she couldn’t do it.

    Tense with impatience, Forsira found herself shooting off the branch regardless, speeding towards the Zigzagoon and pinning it down with her whole weight as it let out a terrified squeal. Unable to help feeling sorry for it, she forced energy into the leaves on one arm and brought her blade up to its throat, but somehow she knew that her leaves weren’t lethally sharp as they were meant to be.

    Closing her eyes to avoid looking at the hapless creature’s face, Forsira tried to block out the petrified screams that were still piercing into her and think of the Pokémon squirming and struggling beneath her as nothing more than food. Living food. If she wanted to eat, she had to kill it. This was not a battle for fun. This was life or death.

    Something in the back of her mind agreed and surged forwards, taking control of her blades. She could almost feel the edges sharpening to become deadly. Then she opened her eyes to stare at the Zigzagoon, and somewhere through her hungry gaze saw a poor, terrified creature that could have been the same one she’d had her first battle against. A sudden pang of pity forced the predator to the back of her mind again as her blades grew blunter.

    This wasn’t going to work.

    Forsira sighed and stepped off the Zigzagoon, letting it go free. With a final frightened squeak, it scrambled away, so desperate to get away from her it wasn’t even looking where it was going –

    – and a Grovyle leapt out of cover in the undergrowth as it ran past, pinning it to the ground, one of his blades already glowing. He looked into his prey with a predator’s cold eyes for an endless moment before drawing the blade across the Zigzagoon’s throat, ending its life.

    The Grovyle leapt back from his prey, shook himself down and became Zathern again, standing there looking somewhat stunned. He glanced over towards Forsira and gave a vague wave of acknowledgement. “Hey, Forse.” He looked back at the dead Zigzagoon as she came over to join him. “That… it… you know, it wasn’t actually too bad,” he said eventually, sounding as though he was struggling to get words around it. “I mean, I feel bad now, but… I don’t think I did when I was killing it. It works just like Mum said. Worst part was becoming the… the predator thing, but if it gets me food… good to know I can do it, right?” He looked unsurely at Forsira as if asking for agreement.

    She nodded vaguely, and, satisfied, Zathern tore a piece of flesh off the dead Zigzagoon. “Have some, Forse,” he said as he ate. “You can share mine until you can do it yourself.”

    Forsira inched towards the Zigzagoon, but wasn’t feeling particularly hungry after all this. “You did it first time,” she murmured quietly, not sure if she was envious or slightly appalled.

    Zathern nodded slowly. “Yeah, but I probably had it easier than you. I was watching the whole time you had it pinned down – I had all that time to get into the zone.” He grimaced awkwardly. “And you… well, your parents, you know. It’s not surprising you find it hard to kill.”

    Forsira mumbled in what might have been agreement and half-heartedly took a bite from the carcass in front of her.

    There was a whoosh of air as Azma glided down towards them and landed in a rather ungainly manner due to the half-eaten Swellow corpse she still carried in her mouth. She dropped it on the ground in front of her then glanced hesitantly between the two Grovyle. “I suppose I should say congratulations,” she said after a moment, looking at Zathern, her usual warmth lost behind an anxious frown. “But learning to kill isn’t really something to congratulate, is it?”

    Zathern stared at her in confusion. “What are you on about, Mum?”

    Azma busied herself with tearing off and eating another piece of Swellow flesh and didn’t answer until she’d finished it. “Nothing,” she said eventually. “Just the ramblings of an old girl. Well done, Zathern, really.” The look of anxiety came back. “Just remember to only let the predator out while hunting, and never at any other time. Please.”

    Zathern still looked puzzled. “Yeah, of course.”

    Azma turned to Forsira, regaining some of her warmth. “And don’t worry, Forsira. Most don’t manage it on their first try. It took me several tries, myself. You’ll get it eventually.”

    Forsira nodded. Part of her still never wanted to get the hang of killing, but she supposed Zathern couldn’t share his prey with her forever. She’d just have to keep trying.

    Last edited: Mar 10, 2011
  6. elyvorg

    elyvorg somewhat backwards.

    Growing [continued]


    It seemed like it would be long while later before Forsira was finally able to fully let out her inner predator. Grovyle only needed to eat once every few days, and Azma had stressed that hunting when they weren’t hungry and wouldn’t eat the prey was one of the most wrong things it was possible to do. So Forsira wasn’t able to practice often. Every time she did, Zathern would let her take the lead in a hunt to weaken and pin down the prey, then he’d step in if – when – she inevitably couldn’t bring herself to ignore her conscience and kill it.

    But each time, she felt like her inner predator was getting slightly closer to the surface.

    It was about a month after that first failed attempt with the Zigzagoon that Forsira found herself clinging to a branch, staring intently at a perched Taillow opposite her that Zathern had pointed out before dashing off to become her invisible support in the undergrowth. She watched the bird closely, managing to block out everything in the way it moved that indicated it was a living, thinking creature just like her. It was nothing but food, she told herself – moving food, but food that was soon to be a lifeless carcass just like all the others she’d eaten throughout her life. Her stomach rumbled impatiently. Something inside her clicked.

    Lighting her blades to lethal sharpness, she shot forwards off the branch at the Taillow. Its terrified squawk almost snapped her back to her senses, but she pushed the real her out of her mind as she gave chase, darting across branches, rising higher as the bird tried to escape her clutches by flying all the way up through the canopy and into the sky. It weaved and bobbed madly about in the treetops, but her gaze remained focused on it.

    With a burst of energy from her powerful legs, she propelled herself off a branch with incredible speed, slamming her scythe into the Taillow and sending it sprawling down to the ground below. Not missing a beat, she dropped after it, landing beside the injured, feebly struggling bird and raising her blade to its throat. She didn’t let herself hesitate this time, putting it out of its misery before she could have second thoughts.

    Her blades extinguished themselves as she stepped back from the body, staring at it in numb shock at what she’d just done. It was just food, Forsira told herself. She shouldn’t be thinking about how she’d just ended the Taillow’s life, how it had just moments ago been a terrified living creature whom she might have enjoyed battling on any other day. Her inner predator was supposed to block out all of those thoughts so that she didn’t have to be plagued by them. It helped a little, knowing that she hadn’t been herself when she’d delivered the killing blow, but it was still hard.

    She was suddenly aware of Zathern emerging from a nearby bush with a sympathetic smile. “Well done, Forse,” he said. “Not fun, is it?”

    Forsira shook her head emphatically. It would never be fun.

    After a pause, he pointed at the dead Taillow. “You going to eat it, then? It helps to remind yourself why you needed to kill it.”

    Forsira mumbled her agreement and began yanking mouthfuls of feathers off the bird’s body. She sort of wished her first kill had been something different; plucking feathers was annoying, but it was a job Azma had usually done the majority of when the kills had been hers. Finally she made her way through to the meat, savouring the succulent taste of it. Part of her was proud that she’d managed to get such a meal for herself at last; the rest of her wondered anxiously if that small part felt perhaps too proud.

    Zathern came to stand next to her. “It gets easier, you know,” he said. “You get used to it. Mind if I have some too?”

    Forsira shook her head and moved over to let him get at the Taillow. As the two of them ate, Zathern mused out loud about what to do next.

    “We could go and tell Mum that you’ve managed it at last,” he said indistinctly through a mouthful of food. “Then again… Nah.”

    The two of them had been spending less time with Azma recently; now that they were able to hunt food for themselves, they’d been growing more independent. Forsira was sure she’d let the Archopy know at some point, but she didn’t feel any pressing need to tell her right away.

    Zathern glanced at her out of the corner of his eye before taking another bite out of the Taillow. “You look down,” he mumbled before swallowing. “Hey, tell you what we could do. A battle or two would cheer you up, right? Help you forget all this doom and gloom and killing? Life doesn’t have to stop being fun and games just because we need to hunt as well now!”

    There was that trademark enthusiastic gleam in his eyes, and Forsira couldn’t help but smile a little. She nodded. “Yeah, I suppose.”

    “All right!” Zathern took one last mouthful of Taillow before leaping up from the ground. “Come on then, Forse!” he said, spraying bits of meat everywhere. “Let’s go find something to battle!” He darted off along the forest floor, Forsira dumping the carcass and hurrying to catch up. The two of them scampered through the woods, looking around for signs of wild Pokémon, until Zathern suddenly stopped, pointing up into the boughs of a tree. “There!” he said excitedly. “Taillow!”

    Forsira’s heart sank as she looked up and saw the dark blue bird, eyeing them warily as all wild Pokémon had tended to do ever since they’d become Grovyle. She couldn’t help but be uneasy about battling a Taillow so soon after killing one. For all she knew, this one could have been a friend of the one she’d just eaten. It felt wrong.

    Zathern caught her expression, and his face fell. “Aww, come on, Forse,” he protested. “You can’t avoid battling something that’s the same as what you just killed, or you’ll never battle anything again! You need to separate survival from fun. That’s what Mum was trying to teach us, wasn’t it?”

    Forsira nodded miserably, but she knew that she still couldn’t bring herself to challenge that Taillow to a friendly battle. What if her inner predator took over again? “I still don’t want to,” she said quietly. “Not yet, anyway.”

    Zathern looked disappointed. “Fine,” he said eventually. “I’ll battle it, then – hunting’s not going to stop me reaching my next evolution!” He was grinning again.

    The mention of Zathern evolving brought up that same pang of anxiety inside her again. “But you only just evolved once,” she muttered.

    He nodded emphatically. “Which means I’ve still got a long way to go until my next one. All the more reason to battle lots, right?” He turned to the Taillow in the tree and called “Hey! Battle?” up to it. It hesitated for a moment, but then nodded in agreement and swooped down towards him, beak first.

    Forsira sighed as Zathern leapt out of the way and swiped at it with his leaf blades. She didn’t feel like being so close to the battle, so she turned to climb up a nearby tree and watch from the branches as her friend zoomed at the Taillow, tackling it at high speed.

    After only a few more blows, she felt the branch she was on sag with someone else’s weight as she was joined in the treetops. “Hi, Forsira,” came a voice. It was Raphyn.

    Forsira glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. “Hello,” she said quietly.

    Raphyn eyed the battle between Grovyle and Taillow down below. “Looks like Zathern evolved, then,” he said, grinning a little.

    Forsira nodded. “Didn’t take him long.”

    “Not joining him in the battle today?”

    She frowned and lowered her gaze, absently poking the branch she was on with her claws. “Just killed a Taillow,” she muttered. “I thought… my inner predator might…”

    “Inner predator?” Raphyn sounded curious. “Is that what you call it? My parents just called it ‘the monster inside’.”

    Forsira shivered.

    Raphyn chuckled and patted her on the back. “Hey, don’t worry,” he said. “I’ve done it for a while now. It won’t take you over so long as you don’t want it to.” He gave her a small smile. “And I know that you of all people wouldn’t want it to, right? You’ll be fine.”

    Nodding, Forsira smiled in thanks.

    They were distracted from any further conversation by the sound of a triumphant “Ha!” as Zathern delivered a final blunt leaf swipe to the Taillow, sending it crashing to the ground, unconscious. He looked around below, seemingly surprised that Forsira wasn’t down there with him, before pinpointing her in the treetops and leaping up to join her.

    “Hey, Forse,” he said. “Knew you wouldn’t have gone far.” He seemed about to add something else when he noticed the other Grovyle with her. “Oh, hi, Raphyn!” He grinned widely. “Told you I’d evolve soon enough, didn’t I?”

    Raphyn nodded, looking amused. “I hear it didn’t take long.”


    Raphyn waved a claw impatiently. “That’s not what I came here to talk to you for, though,” he said. “I had a great idea of something to do, only I don’t want to do it on my own, so I thought you two might like to come with me.”

    “Yeah? To do what?” Zathern asked.

    “Have you ever been,” said Raphyn, his eyes twinkling, “to the sunrise side of the island?”

    A sense of dread crept up Forsira’s spine.

    “The side with all the Sceptile?” Zathern looked puzzled. “No. Why?”

    Raphyn gave a sly grin. “Well, my parents keep telling me about how dangerous it might be and how I must never go there,” he said. “But then I thought – I don’t see them as much now that I can hunt for myself. So what’s to stop me?”

    “My mum said it’s exactly the same as this side, but with Sceptile instead of Archopy,” Zathern muttered, not looking as eager as Forsira had come to expect from him. “What’s the big deal?”

    “Exactly,” Raphyn said. “My parents were probably lying about it being dangerous! They’re parents; they’ll lie about anything if they think it’ll keep us safer. A whole half of the island that we’ve never even seen! Come on!” He paused, looking between the two of them. “Well, anyway,” he said eventually, drawing himself up to his full height. “I’m going, even if you’re not.”

    “No!” Zathern suddenly burst out. “I’ll come too! I’m not a coward!”

    Raphyn grinned. “I never said you were. What about you, Forsira?”

    Forsira looked mutely down at her clawed feet. She really didn’t want to go to the Sceptile side, coward or not. But at the same time she didn’t want to be left here on her own without Zathern’s company. She nodded slowly.

    “Great!” said Raphyn. “Come on, then!”

    The three of them set off, heading up the forested slope of the hill that split the island across the middle. Forsira trailed behind the other two with growing apprehension in her heart.

    - - -​

    “This is it,” came Raphyn’s voice from above her. “The ridge.”

    Forsira and Zathern clambered their way up the last few branches to emerge through the canopy beside Raphyn. Stifling a gasp, Forsira had to cling onto her branch to avoid being disoriented. There was nothing but open air around them in all directions. Usually even at the top of a tree, the island’s slope meant there was always another higher treetop not too far away, but here the canopies rolled downwards on either side all the way to the sea. It was like being on top of the world, a world surrounded by water, endlessly flat and blue.

    “Whoa,” Zathern said. He almost seemed at a loss for words – but then he promptly found some more, grinning up at Raphyn. “Nice. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea to come.”

    “And over that side,” said Raphyn, gazing ahead of them, “is where the Sceptile live.”

    Forsira felt her anxiety creep its way back to her. Regardless of how beautiful the view was, she still didn’t want to go anywhere near a colony of Sceptile. But she said nothing, because she knew the other two wouldn’t listen.

    “Come on,” Raphyn said. “Let’s go see what it’s like over there.” With that, he leapt from his branch, spreading his leaves wide to catch the wind and glide. Zathern followed suit, and after a moment’s hesitation Forsira did too, descending gently down into the next tree. The feeling of gliding made her long for the days when she’d be an Archopy and could turn such glides into full-on flight. She took a brief glance behind her, seeing the distant shapes of Archopy soaring around above the canopies before she fell too low and her view of the sunset side was blocked by the trees on the ridge. They were in Sceptile territory now.

    Raphyn took them further down, below the canopies and back into the heart of the forest, having figured that since Sceptile couldn’t fly they’d be more likely to show up here. He and Zathern seemed to be looking around eagerly for any sign of a Sceptile as they moved through the trees. Forsira ignored her surroundings as much as she could and focused simply on following them.

    It didn’t take long for them to start noticing Sceptile; in fact, it seemed that there were a lot more of them on this side than there were Archopy on the other side. Some of them seemed to be hunting or battling; a lot of them were basking in the patches of sunlight that made its way through gaps in the canopy, allowing the rays to fall onto their huge, spiked tails; Forsira even thought she saw one sharing its meal with a Treecko, reminding her of herself and Azma when she was younger. It all seemed rather… ordinary. At least, that was what the sensible part of Forsira’s mind told her. Seeing a Sceptile, she still couldn’t help getting a slight shiver up her spine as memories of the tall shapes that had stolen her parents’ lives in the darkness flashed through her mind.

    “This is a bit boring,” Raphyn admitted eventually as the three of them came to a stop in a treetop, at a loss. Another basking Sceptile below was eyeing them lazily but barely seemed to care that they were there. “I thought it’d be… I dunno, creepier.”

    Forsira forced herself to take a closer look at the Sceptile below and found herself shuddering a little. The image of a Sceptile was creepy enough for her, even if their community was perfectly fine.

    “See, I told you Mum said it was exactly the same,” Zathern said. “Sceptile are probably just like Archopy. The ones who aren’t Them, anyway. They just… lie around in the sun all day instead of flying, that’s all.” The Sceptile below seemed to catch those words and raised an eyebrow.

    “Bah,” Raphyn said. “Come on. Let’s try this way; the forest’s thicker over here.” He darted off, Zathern following, Forsira hurrying to catch up as the sudden departure had taken her by surprise. The Sceptile’s gaze followed them as they went; despite trying to insist to herself that he meant no harm, Forsira couldn’t help but feel a little anxious. This only sent her mind into further paranoia – she could feel her body tense every time they passed a Sceptile that gave them so much as a glance, and with this and Raphyn and Zathern racing so far ahead in their eagerness to reach wherever they were headed first, the gap between them and Forsira was widening.

    Forsira was about to call out to them when a madly squawking Swellow flapped across her vision, pursued by a Sceptile that zoomed past frighteningly fast, its lethally sharp blades coming within a leaf’s width of Forsira’s nose. She yelped and nearly jumped out of her skin, stumbling in the leap she’d meant to do and crashing down towards the forest floor. Zathern and Raphyn didn’t seem to have noticed; they were already too far ahead, and with the forest becoming thicker as it was, they had disappeared from sight within moments.

    Forsira lay where she was, shaking from the shock of the Sceptile rushing by so quickly. There was no way she could deny it; however much she believed Azma’s words that it wasn’t the whole species’ fault, and however unlikely it was that the Sceptile just now was one of Them, the fact was that the species of Sceptile terrified her. And now here she was, lost in the middle of Sceptile territory without Zathern or Raphyn to make her feel safe. She looked around warily, the thicker mass of trees blocking out the sunlight, making the forest seem darker. Maybe it was creepier on this side of the island after all.

    She began to wish that she’d never come here, or that she’d had the guts to persuade Raphyn not to.

    But wishing that wouldn’t get her anywhere. Forsira stood herself up shakily, wondering if she should try and find Zathern – but then again, Zathern might have realised she was missing and come back and find her, and then wouldn’t it be better for her to stay where she was? She didn’t really know.

    Miserably, she sat herself back down at the base of a tree, hoping Zathern and Raphyn were coming for her.

    In the time she waited there, several different Sceptile passed by where she was sitting, barely giving her a second glance as they went about their own business. Forsira felt increasingly vulnerable every time one walked past. She tried to remind herself of what Azma had told her, that They didn’t hurt the Treecko and the Grovyle. She looked exactly like the child of a Sceptile to the eyes of anyone over here. No-one was going to hurt her even if any of the passers-by were part of Them.

    But still she felt uneasy, and Zathern still hadn’t come.

    “Hello there. I don’t think I’ve seen you around here. Are you lost?”

    Forsira flinched at the voice – the only other time in her life she’d heard a Sceptile’s voice was the night her parents had been killed, and the sound of it still sent shivers through her – but then she pulled herself together and told herself she was being jumpy. This voice sounded almost soft and maternal compared to the one that had haunted her memories all this time. Forsira turned to see a Sceptile looking down at her with concern in her eyes. “You’re lost, aren’t you?”

    Forsira nodded miserably.

    The Sceptile frowned as if working something out. “You’re not from the sunset side, are you?”

    Forsira nodded again.

    “Oh.” The Sceptile hesitated. “You, uh… you shouldn’t really be here, should you?”

    No, admitted Forsira silently, but something about the way the Sceptile had said it made her want to ask. “Why not?”

    “Well, it’s not really the place for someone of Archopy blood, is it?” She paused, then hastily added, “Not safe, you know.”

    “I’m safe enough,” Forsira pointed out quietly. “They don’t kill Grovyle, do They?”

    The Sceptile looked like she was about to laugh and then thought better of it. “Them? Is that what you call them?”

    “What do you call Them?” Forsira asked.

    The Sceptile seemed puzzled. “We don’t call them anything. They’re just… some of our number who kill the Archopy. The rest of us don’t agree with them, of course. It’s horrific, what they do.”

    “If you think that,” Forsira said slowly, “why don’t you stop Them?”

    Affronted, the Sceptile didn’t quite meet her eye. “How could we?” she said. “They're a lot better at killing than any of us. If we tried to stop them, we’d just be killed too.”

    “So you just let Them do it?” Forsira could feel herself becoming more riled up and passionate than she’d ever remembered being in her life. “You know what They do, and you let Them kill us?”

    The Sceptile took a step back, looking down at her as if she were mad. “What goes on on the other side of the island in the middle of the night has nothing to do with the rest of us,” she said firmly. “It’s not our fight.”

    Feeling surprisingly enraged, Forsira stood up, staring up at the Sceptile for a moment, part of her wanting to leap and attack to try and make her see sense. But somehow she knew the Sceptile would never listen, and that infuriated her. In the end, she found herself turning and running in a sudden burst of decisiveness. She wanted to find Zathern and Raphyn and get off this side of the island as fast as possible.

    Forsira spent a while speeding aimlessly through the treetops, trying to work off her anger by putting extra power into her leaps. The emotion made her feel almost dirty. She imagined it must have been the sort of thing that went through Their minds when They took it upon themselves to kill her parents, and she wanted to stop feeling it as soon as she could.

    Beginning to calm down, she tried to focus on finding Zathern. She called out his name, but the sound seemed to get swallowed up by the thicker forest, and she had no idea if Zathern would have been within normal earshot anyway. She called a few more times nonetheless, but with less power each time, knowing it was probably hopeless. The purposeful burst of energy her anger had given her had all but faded.

    She was about to slump in defeat when she heard branches rustling behind her and a cry of “Hey, Forse!” ringing out through the trees. Relief flowed through her as she turned around to see Zathern rushing towards her, grinning madly, Raphyn following not quite as overenthusiastically in his wake.

    “Forse! This place is awesome! Well, not this whole place, but we met this Sceptile called Tharann and he was great! We really got on – he seemed really interested about the Archopy side, asked me loads of questions about my mum and stuff. And he took us to see the sea on this side of the island. They don’t have beaches over here, you know – they have cliffs, these huge great rocky shapes just dropping straight down into the ocean, and they look amazing! I wish we could –”

    “One word at a time, Zathern,” Raphyn managed to interrupt, holding his arm leaves in front of Zathern’s face so he got the message and shut up for a moment. Raphyn turned to Forsira sheepishly. “Sorry we didn’t come and find you earlier – I sort of wanted to, but Zathern said you’d be fine on your own for a bit – he was having so much fun, and the cliffs really were great. There’s nothing like them on our side.” He lowered his head to frown at her. “You were okay on your own, weren’t you?”

    Forsira looked between the two of them and shook her head.

    Zathern’s face fell. He suddenly looked really guilty. “Oh, Forse, I’m so sorry! I didn’t think – I was too busy talking to – but your parents – I should have thought – you should have said something, Forse!” He fidgeted on the branch. “You really seemed fine earlier, before we got split up. A bit nervous, maybe, but I thought you were just… I’m sorry. Let’s just go back, shall we?”

    Forsira nodded emphatically. “Thanks,” she murmured.

    Zathern shook his head, and the three of them set off through the trees. It was fairly easy to figure out the way back simply by heading uphill – sooner or later, they’d end up at the ridge again.

    “Don’t tell anyone about this, will you?” Raphyn said anxiously as they neared the highest point. “If my parents found out I was over here, they’d kill me.”

    “Sure,” Zathern said, grinning at him. “It can be our secret.”

    They reached the ridge not long after that. Forsira felt a huge weight lift from her as they made their way back down into the Archopy side of the island.

    Last edited: Mar 19, 2011
  7. Dragonfree

    Dragonfree Just me

    This time I actually read the whole chapter before reskimming it for the review. Just so you won't get confused when I comment on parts I haven't gotten to "yet".

    (By the way, moonlightning and anybody else reading this who hasn't read Lost Evolution, please don't read my reviews. Because I already know what happens, a lot of my comments reflect that, but I'd rather not spoil the whole thing for you.)

    Hee. :3

    I can't help but wonder a little why she hasn't thought about it and realized that if there is such a thing as an Archopy side of the island and a Sceptile side of the island it's highly likely that she, being from the Archopy side, will be an Archopy... but there are a lot of obvious things kids don't really think about.

    Should be either "It was with Grovyle on her mind that she darted..." or "She had Grovyle on her mind as she darted..."

    Oh, dear. I'd forgotten about that myself until you said it. Nice moment.

    Heh. I believe Alan in TQftL words this exactly the same. Of course, your actual implementation of it is different, but it still amused me, especially when I was first reading it and hadn't gotten to that part.

    He's always himself. Heh.

    Zathern's tiny little moments of darkness are all too foreboding. D: First getting all jealous over her evolution, then killing on his first try...

    I like this bit; we're getting the sense that Forsira is moving on, even if she retains a lot of scarring after her parents' death.

    I'm really fascinated my Azma; I hope she's not fading out of the story now that Forsira and Zathern are Grovyle and can fend for themselves.


    I like Germane; it's nice to see somebody actually use the don't-evolve strategy, what with it seeming like a very sensible thing to do in the situation. His inclusion also introduces the concept of stopping evolution nicely.

    I'm a bit puzzled Forsira doesn't react more to the news that Verdan is one of Them - surely it ought to unnerve her that the Sceptile she met the other day, who Zathern cheerfully described as coming there all the time and trusted perfectly, is one of those who killed her parents, even if he hasn't been involved with the killings per se. I wouldn't think she'd forget about that experience - her shock at seeing another Sceptile was pretty great, after all.


    D: D: D: Aaaaaaa.

    The evolving and hunting and reservations about killing and taking many tries because it's hard is reminding me so, so much of Scyther's Story. x3 The inner predator thing is a very different interpretation, but interesting. I like that you address the battling/hunting dissonance.




    I love how awkward and nervous he is. It's adorable.

    Aww. :< Poor Zigzagoon.

    You're missing a closing quote here.


    Forsira's first kill feels a little abrupt - you don't really build up to it much and you jump straight from after the first attempt to the success, making the reader not get to feel much of how she overcomes her reservations. It's just "something inside her clicked" and then it happens fairly straightforwardly - it felt a little anticlimactic to me.

    I really liked this for some reason - partly his concern, partly just that touch of how that might help.

    Really, really liked this - different individuals having different names for it, and 'the monster inside' is just pretty chilling, more so than 'inner predator'.

    This bugs me. Surely the whole point of going to a forbidden place like the sunrise side of the island is that it is dangerous; he'd probably assume his parents exaggerated, but it makes no sense to think they'd lie altogether about something being dangerous to keep somebody safe - why would it make them safer if it weren't actually dangerous at all?

    I enjoyed the way all the Sceptile are just lounging around and Raphyn thinks it's boring. Heh.

    So it's an audible capitalization, then?

    This seemed a little awkwardly worded to me - "They train more than any of us when it comes to killing"? I think it'd be smoother to reword it, especially since I'm not sure if she's saying they practice killing specifically or just that their excessive training in general makes them good at killing.

    I like the Sceptile just feeling it's none of their business - it's sadly how most individuals actually end up viewing something like this.

    Aaaa. D: He's so small and oblivious! Or at least I'm pretty sure you're implying stuff here that's completely flying over his head. If not, never mind.

    I'm really interested in the next part; I have a feeling it'll have more Azma and Zathern and be heartwrenching. And then... you-know-who. :3 So get on with it!
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2012
  8. elyvorg

    elyvorg somewhat backwards.

    Dragonfree - Thanks for reviewing again! :3

    Actually, the "that" is way later on in the sentence (something like: "It was with Grovyle on her mind as she blah de blah, that she saw a Grovyle lying on the ground..."), but, yeah, this is a rather confusing sentence. I've reworded it and hopefully it is now less so.

    Not quite yet, although she does then fade out to the point that she isn't heard from for considerable amounts of Part Two, but then one of the later instalments of Part Two gives her quite a bit of focus and you will finally learn what's going on with her. I really hope you enjoy it when you find out and that you don't find it logicfaily; part of me is really paranoid that you will. D:

    Bah, yeah, you're right. Completely failed to cross my mind while I was writing. >.< Although Forsira always was pretty creeped out by Verdan even when her sensible side told her he meant no harm, so this wouldn't overly be a surprise to her... but then I suppose she could have had a sort of "I knew he was bad" type reaction. Mmm.

    Heh. It was reminding me of Scyther's Story too when I was thinking about how I'd deal with the issue of sentient creatures killing other sentient creatures for food, so much that I remember making a conscious effort not to give them too similar a solution to the one your Scyther have. So I came up with the inner predator thing fairly on-the-spot, and it promptly turned out to be an incredibly useful concept later on in the fic, so much so that I'm not sure if parts of the story would actually have worked without it. Oh, the joys of NaNo. :3 I'm glad you like it and that it seems to have at least somewhat alleviated your botheredness with the battling thing from last time.

    Hmm, yeah, now that I think about it it kind of is. I guess it comes down to the fact that for a large amount of the early stuff in these first two instalments, I kind of just wanted to get through it so that I could get onto the more fun stuff, both in the third instalment of Part One and a certain someone in Part Two. So, yeah, I suppose it is kinda rushed. Something to keep in mind for the unlikely event that I ever rewrite this?

    Heehee. There is a very specific reason why they call it different things which never actually gets brought up and I so want to explain but it has to do with Azma so I can't yet and aaa.

    Teenager logic! I'm fairly sure Raphyn is just trying to justify his urge to disobey his parents so he doesn't feel bad about it and isn't thinking too hard about whether what he's saying actually makes sense.

    Uhhh, I guess? Now that you mention it it does seem a little bit silly, but I do sometimes describe there being "loaded meaning" or such behind the word "Them", so I guess it would be kind of audible, yeah.

    I am! And I want to ramble about stuff that was going on behind the scenes there but you aren't far enough in the story yet so I can't. D:

    I'm glad that you liked this part, and watching you D:-ing over the stuff to do with Zathern and Azma is fun. Next part is indeed hopefully heartwrenching and with lots of Zathern and... well, some Azma, at least. And then yes!

    moonlightning - Thanks for continuing to read and comment. It gives me warmfuzzies to hear that my story managed to immerse you and cheer you up when you were feeling down. :3

    I'm glad you like all the various little things like the inner predator and the split between battling and hunting. I don't claim to be all that great at worldbuilding, but nonetheless there are still things I'm fond of in this world I've made, so it's good to see other people like them too.

    It is a shame that the Archopy aren't on the side with the cliffs even though they'd be able to make the most of them more than the Sceptile could, isn't it?

    Revolution against Verdan, you mean? Well, some kind of a revolution is always a possibility, but why specifically against one Sceptile who, while apparently one of Them, also apparently hasn't ever actually killed anyone? :s

    Do keep commenting. :3 Your thoughts as someone who doesn't know what happens are interesting, and I'm sure they will continue to be even more so as the story goes on.
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2012
  9. elyvorg

    elyvorg somewhat backwards.


    When I started posting this, I told myself I would try to update weekly. I am not good at sticking to my plans. Week-and-a-halfly, at least?



    Meeting Raphyn must have reminded Zathern that there was a lot more than one Grovyle around that he counted as a friend. He met up with Raphyn again several times after that, for practice battles or joint hunts, as well as with many other part-time friends of his that he’d at one point seemed to know little more than the names of. It started to feel to Forsira that he was friends with just about every Grovyle on the sunset side – although none of them anywhere near as closely as with her. She stuck by him, of course, wherever he went, and he was always happy for her to do so.

    She slowly got better at hunting – while she still never enjoyed it, it was no longer as difficult to let the inner predator out, and she no longer felt as guilty about what she’d done afterwards. Most of the time, at least. Sometimes she’d still turn down the prospect of a battle after having just made a kill because it didn’t feel right.

    Zathern never did. He seemed to have perfectly mastered the split between fun and survival, and he threw himself into each and every battle with more gusto than the last, be it against wild Pokémon or fellow Grovyle. He even challenged some of the Archopy to battles, though they rarely accepted, and when they did, he never won. And amongst all this, inevitably, Zathern started to talk excitedly of evolution again.

    The rainy season began. Huge dark clouds rolled in regularly over the island, sending massive downpours falling onto the forest below. It didn’t bother the Grovyle much, as the water would just slide harmlessly off their scales, although the sudden lack of the sun’s rays on their leaves made Forsira, at least, feel a little less energetic than normal. It wasn’t going to stop Zathern, though.

    He’d taken Forsira to an area of the island that they’d never properly explored before. The rain over here felt faster and heavier because there was so much more space between the trees, allowing it to just fall straight on them from above. The ground, too, consisted of a lot less undergrowth and a lot more bare, soggy earth. The reason soon became clear as the two of them went further in and came across a whole herd of huge green-and-brown dinosaurian creatures, all of them huddling together, keeping their heads underneath the long, wing-like leaves on their backs to stay dry.

    “Tropius!” Zathern exclaimed gleefully, looking up at the nearest one that still towered over him even with its long neck lowered. Forsira could see it eyeing the two of them warily from underneath the makeshift shelter of its own leaves. She nodded, confused; she’d heard of Tropius, although she’d never actually seen one up close before, and she wasn’t sure what Zathern was getting at.

    “I thought we could battle one,” he said, grinning.

    Forsira stared at him. “Battle? But they’re huge.”

    “And?” Zathern replied. “There’s two of us, and we’ve got a lot stronger recently. We’re probably close to evolving! At least, I know I am.”

    Forsira felt that same pang of anxiety that came every time Zathern mentioned his nearing evolution, but as ever, she said nothing.

    “You two seriously want to battle?” came a low, rumbling voice that Forsira realised was from the nearest Tropius. “In this weather?” It glanced pointedly up at the huge dark clouds raining down on them.

    “So?” Zathern argued. “If you’re trying to complain that you prefer the sun, so do we, so it’s perfectly fair. Come on! It’s better than sitting around getting rained on!”

    The Tropius in front of them grumbled and shook its head, keeping it under the cover of its leaves. Zathern huffed disappointedly, but then the herd shifted as another Tropius lumbered its way out of the mass of its fellows and caught Zathern’s eye with a glint in its own. Zathern grinned in response, and he and Forsira followed the huge Pokémon out into open space, away from the herd.

    “Go on then,” the Tropius said. “You’re right – more fun to battle than to sit and get wet.”

    With a brief glance at Forsira, Zathern lit his blades and leapt at the Tropius. It was flapping its wing leaves before he could reach it, sending a massive gust of air and raindrops towards the two Grovyle, pushing Zathern back. He growled in frustration as the Tropius chuckled.

    Forsira was being forced backwards too, but then she suddenly had a thought and summoned up her inner speed. She shot forward so fast that the wind didn’t have time to stop her and slammed into the Tropius’s front. It didn’t seem to hurt it much, barely knocking the huge creature back at all, but it threw off its concentration for the gust of wind long enough for Zathern to dart forward and deliver the swipe of his blades that he’d had ready.

    Zathern grinned at Forsira in thanks, narrowly dodging out of the way as the Tropius’s huge raised foot stomped down at him. Leaping backwards out of the fray, Forsira opened her mouth to let out a high-pitched garble of noise directed at the Tropius. As it cringed and lowered its head in discomfort, she grinned; this was something she’d been able to do for a while now that seemed to make the target more susceptible to attacks. It certainly worked this time, as Zathern darted around the Tropius, delivering blow after blow to it with his blades while it stood there grimacing from the sound, nowhere near agile enough to dodge.

    The Tropius roared in frustration, flapping its huge leaves again. Forsira braced herself for another gust of air but was met instead by a flurry of smaller, sharpened foliage slicing towards her through the rain, the spread of them so wide that they caught Zathern as well. She winced as the leaves cut into her, vaguely wondering if it only hurt as little as it did because she was so used to her own kind of sharpened leaves, which she promptly lit in order to jump towards the Tropius and deliver a blow to its chest while Zathern dodged around the back to hit it from behind.

    Angrily, the Tropius grunted in pain, eyed Forsira for a moment, and then simply fell forwards onto her, its huge weight crushing her against the muddy ground. She would have screamed if she’d had the breath to do so. She knew that in a friendly battle all Pokémon would instinctively keep their attacks from being fatal, but that didn’t stop her from panicking as she lay pinned under the Tropius’s massive body, struggling to breathe.

    With a cry of “Forse!”, Zathern leapt desperately at the Tropius again, his claws cloaked in a murky green aura to slash at it. Still pinning Forsira down, the Pokémon roared and sent a flurry of multi-coloured, glowing leaves flying straight into Zathern. He bore the onslaught and then leapt to slash again with the same attack, this time making the Tropius grunt in pain. An even fiercer slice from his claws and it lifted up off Forsira slightly; finally able to draw in a breath, she did the first thing she could think of and let out another huge screech, aiming it right at the Tropius’s head just above her.

    Wincing from the noise, the Tropius shuddered in pain as Zathern hit it with his strongest swipe yet, shortly following up with another, so powerful that the Tropius, massive as it was, began to topple over, roaring feebly in defeat. There was a huge thud as it landed heavily on the forest floor, and Forsira stood up shakily, letting herself be reminded what a good feeling it was to be able to breathe.

    “Yeah!” Zathern said, leaping up on the spot and pointing dramatically at the fallen Tropius. “That’ll teach you to do that to Forse!” He grinned widely at Forsira, and despite her ordeal, she couldn’t help but grin back at him, heart pumping from the energy of the battle and the simple elation of the fact that she had a friend who watched out for her like he did.

    Zathern looked like he was about to say something else, but then he suddenly froze, eyes wide and staring straight ahead as a white glow overtook him.

    Forsira’s joy instantly descended into horror. This couldn’t be happening now; her friend couldn’t be turning into a Sceptile already. What if he was never the same? What if this was the end of their friendship?

    She watched helplessly as the white shape that had been Zathern grew taller and more angular, realising far too late that she needed to act. “No!” she cried desperately. “Please! Stop! I don’t want you to evolve!”

    But it was too late to go back. The old leaves retreated back into his body, two longer, pointier leaves taking their place on each arm while a huge tail formed behind him, the spikes growing out of it as she watched. It was already done; there was nothing Forsira could do to change it.

    The glow faded, leaving the Sceptile that was Zathern looking back at her in confusion and what might have been sadness.

    “Forse?” he said, and Forsira tried not to shudder at his new voice; it sounded absolutely like Zathern, but it also sounded like a Sceptile, and she couldn’t help but be unnerved by it. “You… you didn’t want me to evolve?”

    Forsira shook her head numbly, unable to take her eyes off his new form.

    “Why…?” he asked. “Well, your parents, I guess, but… why didn’t you tell me, Forse? You’re a great friend and all, but… you never say anything. If you’d just…” He broke off, averting his eyes to focus on uselessly shaking the raindrops off his new arm leaves.

    “If I’d told you,” Forsira asked, her voice quiet but surprisingly strong, “would you have stayed a Grovyle?”

    “I…” Zathern looked back at her but then hesitated, like the words he’d been about to say had caught in his throat. “I don’t know,” he said eventually. He looked down at himself, waving his new tail a little, pumping some energy into his leaves – the new blades were much longer and straighter, and Forsira couldn’t bring herself to look directly at them – and giving them an experimental swipe. “I like this form,” he admitted. “But if you’d said, I… I just don’t know, Forse.” He sighed and looked at the ground. “I’m sorry.”

    Forsira shook her head, almost automatically. She might not have liked him like this, but if Zathern evolving made him happy then he shouldn’t be feeling sorry about it just because it hadn’t made her happy too.

    They stood there in silence for a while as the rain fell around them. Zathern didn’t seem to know what else to say.

    Eventually, he glanced back up at Forsira, giving half a smile. “Shall we go on a hunt to… I dunno, take your mind off things?” he asked. “All that evolving’s made me hungry.”

    Forsira gave a mumble of indifference. She hadn’t eaten in a few days, either, so although part of her felt uneasy around Zathern now, she followed him as he darted away. He was a lot faster than he had been as a Grovyle; she was struggling to keep sight of his spiked tail weaving its way through the branches ahead of her.

    As she strained to force more speed into her body, still aching from being crushed under the Tropius, Forsira tried to insist to herself that things were going to be fine. Zathern hadn’t suddenly lost interest in her or turned on her or done anything other than act like a more mature version of his usual self. If she wanted their friendship to last, she needed to stop worrying so much. It was still Zathern inside, no matter what the outside looked like.

    Suddenly, he came to an abrupt halt, and she almost cannoned into the back of him. He was poised on a branch, staring intently at a Dustox that was fluttering around under the rain, oblivious to their presence.

    The predator’s gaze in the Sceptile’s eyes made Forsira shiver.

    Without warning, he flared into action, lighting his blades so brightly and shooting off the branch so fast that Forsira flinched, barely managing to stay in the tree. She watched in horror as the Sceptile struck the Dustox in midair, flinging it towards the earth and pinning it down with a savagery that gave Forsira flashbacks to a dark night, shining blades slicing through the air as tall figures leapt upwards, knocking her mother to the ground.

    The Dustox let out a horribly pathetic buzzing sort of noise, its eyes glowing feebly, but the Sceptile atop it just stared a moment longer with that terrifying, cold gaze before silencing it.

    Forsira edged backwards, away from him. She wasn’t sure she could stay with Zathern any more.

    “Sorry!” Zathern called up to her, suddenly back to his usual self, although after what she’d just seen and the memories it had evoked Forsira couldn’t help but shudder at the sound of a Sceptile’s voice. “I know Dustox don’t taste that great, but I was hungry and I wanted to get something quick and it was there, so…” He broke off, frowning in concern. “What’s wrong, Forse?”

    Forsira shakily dropped down from the treetops to stand on a level with him – or rather, look up at him, as his newfound size made him seem uncomfortably imposing. “You…” she began, her voice dying in her throat. “You looked like one of Them.”

    Zathern sighed, half guiltily, half sounding almost impatient. “Oh, Forse,” he said. “Yeah, your parents. I should have thought. But… I can’t change what I am now, you know? I’m a Sceptile; you’re just going to have to live with it. It won’t be so bad once you’re an Archopy and we’re the same size again and all, right?”

    Forsira frowned and stared unseeingly away through the rain. Even then, the thought of watching Zathern hunt again was not a comfortable one. The inner predator had to have been how They were capable of murdering Archopy without remorse. It chilled her to think that the capacity to do so lay within her friend, too, even if she knew he’d never let it out.

    Zathern sighed again. “Okay, look,” he said. “I’ll try not to hunt while you’re around if it really creeps you out that much, okay? Please, Forse, look at me.” Forsira made herself look at Zathern’s Sceptile face, trying to focus on seeing her friend on the inside and not the creature on the outside. “I’m sorry I screwed things up for you,” he said with a sympathetic half-smile. “I just want things to be like they were when we were younger, but… I don’t suppose they ever will be, now.” He lowered his gaze and began pulling the wings off the body of the moth that lay at his feet. “Come and have some of this Dustox, at least. You are hungry too, right?”

    Forsira nodded – seeing Zathern hunt had made her forget anything to do with eating, but now that he was himself again and trying to make things up to her, she remembered that she was in fact hungry and came to share the Dustox. His newfound size was even more noticeable with him sitting right next to her; he would have cast her into shadow if there’d been any rays of sunlight coming through the dark clouds above.

    She wasn’t used to the two of them being different sizes, different species. Even regardless of all her instinctive reservations about Sceptile, something about their friendship just didn’t feel quite the same.

    - - -​

    In the days following his evolution, Zathern eagerly showed off his new form to any and all of the Grovyle he knew that he happened to come across. The reaction was mixed – only a small few had been envious, and many were just indifferent or perhaps slightly uncomfortable, as they had never known a Sceptile to live permanently on the sunset side before. Some of the Grovyle were Archopy by now and argued that they preferred their form because they could fly; there were other Archopy who said they wished they could have become a Sceptile to avoid being targets for Them. And then there were those who seemed wholly unnerved by the sight of Zathern as a Sceptile. Forsira imagined they too must have lost their parents or witnessed one of the killings at some point in their lives.

    Azma’s reaction had been to smile, calmly congratulate her son and then excuse herself and leave because she hadn’t eaten in days and needed to hunt.

    Though Forsira still accompanied Zathern on all these visits in an attempt to force herself to get comfortable with his new form, she was beginning to think it was never going to work. She’d been trying to focus as much as possible on Zathern’s personality to assure herself it was still him inside, but in doing so she’d noticed that, with reactions ranging from indifferent to creeped out at something he’d originally thought was awesome, his usual energy and enthusiasm had been seeping away from him, bit by bit. She wondered if he really was going to stay the Zathern she’d known for much longer.

    “You know who we haven’t shown yet?” Zathern said to Forsira as she followed him through the treetops, trying to avoid the drips of rainwater that liked to fly from the tips of his tail spikes as he ran. At least it hadn’t taken him long to learn to slow his new pace so that she could keep up without too much trouble. “Raphyn. I bet he’ll think it’s pretty cool, don’t you?”

    Forsira wasn’t so sure, but Raphyn had always seemed open to most things, and he still had his parents, so she at least didn’t think he’d be one of the ones to find Zathern’s new form disturbing. She nodded vaguely.

    “Yeah,” Zathern agreed. “Haven’t seen him in a while, but I think his parents’ sleeping tree was somewhere around here. Worth a try.”

    They continued to search, Zathern scanning the treetops while Forsira kept her eyes on the ground, partly so she didn’t have to look so closely at Zathern. After a while, she caught sight of a dark green shape as large as he was, sprawled on the ground below, raindrops running down the huge teal-coloured leaves that were splayed out at all angles along its arms and back. She got Zathern’s attention by tentatively tugging on his arm while trying to avoid his arm leaves and pointing down at the Archopy. It reminded her of the first time they’d seen Raphyn as a Grovyle. Though they couldn’t see his face from here, she had a feeling this Archopy was him.

    With a grin from Zathern, the two of them dropped to the ground behind the Archopy and approached. From closer up, Forsira could tell from the shape of his face that this must have been Raphyn, even without getting a proper look at his eyes.

    Zathern poked Raphyn in the back with his claws. “Hey, Raphyn,” he said, grinning. “Wakey wakey. Been battling too hard again?”

    Raphyn’s form remained limp, not so much as stirring.

    Forsira began to sense something was wrong. Now that she took a proper look, the ground beneath where the Archopy lay seemed to be wet from something other than the rain – something darker and thicker.

    A knot of horror tightened in her chest. She walked slowly around the front of the Archopy to confirm her fears and almost wished she hadn’t. The glassy gaze of terror in his eyes brought back all too vividly the memories of her parents’ final fixed expressions as they lay with blood pouring from their throats.

    Raphyn hadn’t fainted. He was dead.

    “Zathern,” she said slowly and tugged on his arm, trying to bring him around to see what she was looking at while still not taking her eyes off Raphyn’s face.

    Zathern didn’t budge. He poked his friend’s body more insistently. “Come on, Raphyn! Whatever you battled can’t have beaten you that badly!” The grin on his face was becoming more and more fixed. “You’re an Archopy now! You’re…” His voice died in his throat, and he swallowed.

    “Zathern,” Forsira said again, carefully. “He’s…”

    Zathern shook his head quickly. “No,” he whispered, his voice uncharacteristically shaky and frantic. “He can’t be. This is just like when we found him as a Grovyle and he was fainted and why should this be any different?” He looked at Forsira almost pleadingly for a moment before beginning to pace up and down, staying decidedly around the back of the fallen Archopy, keeping well away from Raphyn’s gaze. “His parents!” Zathern said suddenly. “They’d be around here somewhere, right? They’d never let anything happen to their…” He trailed off, his stare fixed on something in the distance.

    Forsira followed his gaze. A few trees away, she could see a leafy wing hanging limply down off one of the branches, the body it belonged to unmoving. The implication was all too clear.

    An anguished sort of moan escaped Zathern, and then he just slumped, his legs buckling underneath him. He gazed unseeingly around the rain-soaked forest, anywhere but at his friend’s body, looking somehow so much younger and more vulnerable than a Sceptile was supposed to look. For the first time since he’d evolved, Forsira was able to see completely past what Zathern was. He didn’t look at all like the monsters who’d taken her parents. All she was reminded of was the way she’d felt when she’d lost them, learning for the first time that life was cruel.

    Without a word, she came over and sat down beside him, laying her claws on his shoulder in the hope she could provide some kind of reassurance. He didn’t acknowledge her, screwing his eyes shut and dropping his head into his hands.

    Forsira sighed uneasily, gazing over at the fallen Archopy before them. She’d liked Raphyn. He was one of the few of Zathern’s other friends who actually properly paid attention to her, to the quiet one who was always following the excitable Zathern around. He’d been a good person. To see him gone – it hurt, but after losing her parents she’d always known, deep down, that they wouldn’t be the last loss she’d suffer, and so perhaps Raphyn’s death wasn’t as painful to her as it might have been. For Zathern, though…

    “I admired him, you know,” Zathern said out of nowhere, lifting his head up, his voice so flat and devoid of his usual enthusiasm that it barely sounded like his. “When I saw that he’d evolved into Grovyle before we had. It made me look up to him. I thought he was awesome.” He sighed, almost angrily. “Stupid of me, really. I should have known that happening to be a little older than us so he evolved first didn’t automatically make him stronger, or better. It didn’t make him invincible.”

    He drew in a sudden breath, standing up so quickly that it nearly made Forsira flinch and backing away from her. There was an uncertainty in his gaze that looked almost like fear. “None of you are,” he said slowly as if he was only just realising it. “You, and my mum, and… and everyone. No-one’s invincible. You’re all going to be killed.” He backed away a little further, shaking his head, his eyes wide. “I don’t know if I can do this.”

    Forsira realised what he was about to do, the thought of it jolting painfully inside her. She stood up to face him, suddenly urgent. “No,” she pleaded. “You can’t leave…”

    “Look at me, Forsira,” Zathern said, surprising her with the sudden force in his voice – or perhaps it was the sudden lack of the nickname he’d always, always used for her. She made herself take in every detail of the Sceptile before her, never seeing quite how different her friend was from an Archopy more than now.

    “I’m not like him,” Zathern said, pointing at Raphyn’s body, his arm shaking, “or like them –” he indicated Raphyn’s dead parents – “or like you’ll be when you evolve. And don’t try and tell me you don’t know what you’ll evolve into until it happens. You’ve always known you’ll be an Archopy, I can tell. So has everyone else on this side of the island. You’re all going to become Archopy, and you’re all going to die, and I’m not.” The hard edge to his voice had begun to crack towards the end, and he turned away from her shakily, averting his eyes. “I can’t do this.”

    Feeling her despair mounting, Forsira stepped forwards desperately, not knowing what to do. Sceptile or not, Zathern was her only real friend, and she didn’t want to lose him. “Please, don’t,” she begged, her own voice almost breaking. “I don’t want you to leave.”

    Zathern still didn’t meet her eye. “You didn’t want me to evolve, either, Forsira,” he said grimly. “But I still did.” He turned around completely. “Enjoy the rest of your life.” Without even a last look at her, he darted off through the forest, calling on the full speed of a Sceptile that a Grovyle could never hope to catch up with.

    Forsira could only stand beside Raphyn’s lifeless body and watch as her best friend ran away from her and disappeared among the trees.

    - - -​

    The Zigzagoon squealed as she slammed it mercilessly against the trunk of a tree, holding its struggling body still against the wet, slippery bark. It looked at her with wide eyes, but if it was pleading with her, she didn’t notice. Lighting one of her blades to deadly sharpness, she slit its throat, dark red blood seeping into its already waterlogged fur.

    Forsira stepped away from the dead Zigzagoon and shook herself, taking deep breaths, forcing the inner predator back to the corners of her mind. She’d hoped the hunt would take her mind off Zathern leaving; she’d been hungry anyway, the last thing she’d eaten having been that Dustox they’d shared soon after he’d evolved.

    This had been the easiest kill she’d ever made. It seemed the inner predator came out more readily when the real her had something to run away from, wanted someone else to take over. Forsira shuddered, hoping she wasn’t going to make a habit of this.

    She gazed forlornly at the body of the Zigzagoon, trying to bring the real her back more firmly, however much it hurt. She remembered the first ever battle that Zathern had got her into, against a Zigzagoon, back when they’d both been Treecko and things had felt like they would only ever get better. She wondered dully if the dead Zigzagoon at her feet was the same one she’d battled back then.

    Sighing, Forsira sat down on the muddy ground and began to eat her kill. She’d never eaten on her own before; it felt almost wrong without Zathern there, talking indistinctly through mouthfuls of food about anything and everything. It was too quiet now, the sound of the rain all that kept her company as she ate. The only time she could remember feeling lonelier than this was when she’d just lost her parents.

    At least, she reasoned, trying to raise her spirits a little, she wasn’t completely alone this time. She still had Azma. It occurred to her, as she swallowed one mouthful and started on another, that she should talk to the Archopy – no, that she wanted to, more so than she had in a long while. And Azma would want to know where her son had gone, too. Decisively, Forsira stood up, having eaten enough of the Zigzagoon to keep back her hunger – the rest could be scavenged, perhaps by orphaned Treecko – and headed back towards the clearing by the sea.

    Azma wasn’t there in her usual tree when she arrived, so Forsira made herself comfortable on a branch and gazed out at the sea. It was nothing like the calm, peaceful view it had been when Zathern had first shown it to her. With the sun hidden behind dark clouds and the rain hammering down on the water’s surface, the ocean seemed restless, turbulent.

    It grew steadily darker as Forsira waited. By the time she finally saw the shape of an Archopy gliding straight towards the tree, there was so little light left that Forsira imagined it would have been sunset if she’d been able to see the sun.

    “Were you looking for me?” Azma asked as she alighted on a branch next to Forsira, raindrops dripping from her leaves. “Sorry. I was out hunting to clear my mind.”

    “So was I,” Forsira murmured vaguely, not really meaning for her to hear. She turned to the Archopy urgently. “Azma,” she said, “it’s Zathern, he…”

    “I know. He’s gone,” Azma said before she could finish. There was a hint of strain in the Archopy’s usually calm voice. “He came and told me everything.”

    Forsira studied Azma’s sorrowful gaze, hard though it was to make out in the fading light. “You don’t sound surprised,” she said.

    Azma closed her eyes and drew in a breath. “I’m not,” she said. “I always feared this would happen. I hoped it never would, of course, but… hope has never got me anywhere in this world, as often as I may have indulged in it.”

    The word ‘feared’ made Forsira uneasy. This was Azma. Zathern’s mother. She was strong, calm, reassuring. She wasn’t supposed to be frightened of anything.

    “It’s all going wrong, Forsira,” Azma said, with what might have been a waver in her voice. “Everything’s falling apart.”

    Looking up at the Archopy, Forsira saw something in her eyes that suddenly made her sure of it: behind the air of calmness, Azma really was incredibly afraid.

    Forsira shivered and looked away.

    Azma took a deep breath and then turned to Forsira with a stern kind of urgency. “You can’t stay with me,” she said. “For both our sakes. As soon as you’re an Archopy, you need to leave. Find another tree to sleep in. Act like you know me no better than any other Archopy. Please.”

    Forsira shrank under the Archopy’s gaze. It almost felt like a stab in the heart. She’d only just lost Zathern; she couldn’t lose Azma as well. “But… why?” she asked desperately. “I don’t want to leave you!”

    “Please, Forsira,” Azma said, her voice shaking slightly again as she didn’t quite meet her eye, “do me this one kindness and do not ask why. Just be assured that I would never ask this of you unless I honestly knew it would be better for both of us this way.”

    Her gaze dropping, Forsira duly didn’t pry any more. However much she didn’t want this, she trusted Azma. “You want me to leave now?” she asked in a small, quiet voice.

    “Not now,” Azma said. “Once you evolve. But not yet.” Azma moved towards Forsira on the branch, wrapping one of her wings around her. The warm, comforting leafiness of it brought up hazy memories of her own parents doing the same to her when she’d been a tiny Treecko, and she leaned gratefully into Azma, feeling the Archopy trembling slightly. “Not yet.”

    Forsira didn’t want to let go of her as the last of the daylight faded away and left them in darkness.

    - - -​

    Despite all the trouble that evolving from a Grovyle seemed to bring, Forsira wasn’t going to let it stop her. She’d always wanted to become an Archopy. They may have taken her parents from her, driven away her best friend and even made Azma want to break ties with her – because she was sure Azma’s fears must have led back to Them somehow – but she wasn’t going to let Them control her life entirely. She wanted to evolve, to fly above the world and leave all the heartbreak and despair on the ground.

    It was with this drive that she leapt towards a Bellossom in the rain, her claws cloaked with a murky green aura as she slashed fiercely at it. Battling was a means of escape just as hunting was; she could barely even feel the aches and pains from her opponent’s earlier attacks as the adrenaline pumped through her, powering her at the Bellossom to slash again. She knew it had to be just as worn down as she was by now – she knew she could win this.

    Grimacing from her slashes, the Bellossom shook itself and backed out of her immediate reach. Forsira eyed it warily, ready for anything; the little flower Pokémon had already hit her with several cheap shots, and she wasn’t going to underestimate it any more. Her foe winked at her and began swishing its skirt of leaves from side to side. By the time it had finished its little dance, a flurry of multi-coloured, glowing foliage was zooming Forsira’s way.

    Having expected something of the sort, Forsira darted clear of the attack with plenty of time to spare, only to be caught by surprise as the leaves simply veered around in midair and slammed straight into her regardless. Gritting her teeth in frustration, the green aura still infusing her claws, she rushed forward to rake them across the Bellossom’s body even harder than before.

    Once its squeal of pain had died down, the Bellossom shot her what might have been an indignant look, backing away again and throwing a cloud of golden sparkles into the air. Wary that this might be some kind of distraction, Forsira watched the tiny pinpricks of light rise up, turning the raindrops to steam as they touched, floating higher and higher until they reached above the canopy and into the clouds. The rain around the battlers petered out, the clouds above dissolving as they came into contact with the sparkles, and suddenly the sun’s rays were beating down on them through the gaps in the trees.

    Forsira shot a confused look at the Bellossom, who just smiled sweetly at her. She shrugged and began to dash towards it again for another strike – if it wanted to hang around giving her chances to attack even though it knew how fast she was, then she might as well –

    A huge beam of golden light hit her square in the chest, shoving her backwards across the muddy ground and making her gasp in pain and surprise. Reeling even as the beam died down, she stared incredulously at the Bellossom, who still wore that same innocent smile, the flowers on its head already beginning to glow again with power.

    Of course; the sun. Feeling her frustration peak, Forsira charged at the Bellossom with a roar, slashing it so hard with her claws that it flew backwards and slammed into a tree at just the moment it fired its attack. The beam was knocked off course, scorching leaves and branches as it shot diagonally off into the skies, allowing Forsira to duck underneath it and rush right in towards her foe.

    This time there was no cheeky smile, just a look of sudden panic from the Bellossom as Forsira gave it a fifth and final taste of her claws. The bark of the tree behind it cracked as it was slammed against it, and it slumped, unconscious at last.

    The sun still shining brightly on her as she stood over her fallen opponent, heart pumping madly, grinning in triumph – she’d deserved that win – Forsira felt something inside her go over the edge it had been yearning to get to. Her vision exploded into pure white light as evolution took over.

    Somewhere underneath her incredible euphoria, part of Forsira felt a tiny pang of anxiety. There could be no going back for her after this.

    It almost tickled as an extra layer of scales formed over her face, her body growing taller and sleeker all the while. Her old leaves shrunk away, to be replaced by a mass of new foliage, a line of long, slightly curved leaves emerging along her arms to form her wings while a crest of them grew from her forehead all the way down her back. She felt her spine lengthen, elongating into an elegant tail with its own cluster of leaves at the tip.

    As her new body completed itself, the glow faded. She’d gone and done it now.

    Forsira looked down at herself, seeing her skin an even darker shade of green than before, except for the new mask of scales on her face which she knew was much lighter. The dark green band across her red stomach was now in the outline of a diamond, the whole thing framed by the pale bluish-green of her wing leaves. She admired the newfound wings on her arms, giving them an experimental flap and sending a satisfying gust of air rolling across the forest floor.

    Time to try out flying, then.

    From observing older Archopy, she knew that it wasn’t simply a case of flapping her wings fast enough to take off like the Taillow and Swellow could do. Archopy weren’t quite such natural fliers – but what they could do well was glide. That required either a high takeoff point or a long run up.

    Forsira looked around at the woods, still illuminated by the sun’s rays, seeing them slope down as they always did. She was glad she’d been battling the Bellossom in a fairly spacious part of the forest.

    Heart pumping with anticipation of her first flight and the tail end of the high from her evolution, Forsira shot off across the forest floor, spreading her wings wide, feeling them catch the air beneath them. She gave them a huge flap and yelped in surprise as it lifted her slightly, her foot claws barely just scraping the ground for a moment. Running even faster, pointing herself a little downhill, Forsira flapped again and this time felt herself take off completely, tucking her feet in under her as she soared through the air. The slope took the ground further away beneath her with each passing moment, and more slow, steady beats of her wings lifted her higher and higher through the gaps in the trees. It wasn’t long before she cleared the canopy and was out in the open sky with nothing else around her, freer than she’d ever felt in her whole life.

    Forsira laughed to herself and then let out a wordless whoop of unadulterated joy.

    The sunlight from between the clouds glinted off her wing leaves as she tested out banking, wheeling around in circles and quickly getting the hang of turning. This was natural. This was easy. This was how everything in life should have been.

    She could practically see the whole island from up here. It almost looked small beneath her, surrounded by the unfathomably huge ocean that seemed to go on forever. Being so high up like this, all the problems and the strife on the island below felt far away and insignificant. Everything was good in her isolated shaft of sunlight as she soared above the world, the rainstorm pouring down everywhere else, but not on her. That time that Raphyn had taken her and Zathern to the island’s ridge was nothing compared to this.

    Thunder rumbled above. The sun’s rays on her back faded as dark clouds rolled in to fill the gap that had been there, and cold rain began to splash down on her new crest of leaves.

    Thinking of her two former friends reminded Forsira uncomfortably that fully-evolved life was not all joy and freedom, as much as she might have liked it to be. Raphyn had been killed by Them simply because he was an Archopy. And now she was one too.

    Her exhilaration suddenly dampened and all but gone, Forsira sullenly wheeled around and pointed herself downwards, back towards the island and reality waiting for her below. She folded her wings as she dropped through the canopy, landing with an ungainly skid, and looked around at the familiar array of trees. They’d always felt so safe to her and still did on an instinctive level, but she knew that nowhere would ever be completely safe again.

    She was a target for Them now. She would find out first-hand how her parents had felt so long ago, knowing they could be killed at any time – that they would be killed, eventually. She’d have to leave Azma, the figure of protection who’d always been there ever since her parents had gone, because how could even Azma protect her now? Her life would be one of constant running and hiding and looking over her shoulder – that nervous, fleeting existence that she’d seen in other Archopy when she’d been younger, never really grasping that it was going to be hers too one day. But now it was.

    Everything was going to change.

    End of Part One

    Last edited: Sep 3, 2013
  10. Dragonfree

    Dragonfree Just me

    Aww, the scene where he's evolving and she's all nuuu and he's all D: is heartbreaking.

    Hee. "All that evolving." I love Zathern's way of wording things.

    I get him, I really do; much as he cares about Forsira, it must be terribly frustrating that she keeps likening him to the monsters that killed her parents and he can't seem to do anything without hurting her. I enjoyed that little touch of "almost impatient"; it adds dimension to him here and is delightfully in character.


    Azmaaaa. I can't wait to hear more about her, seriously.

    Aww and D: at Zathern running around being all excited showing everybody his evolved form and getting all these unenthusiastic reactions.

    Nice detail there.

    ;_; Very chilling. Really like the callback to when they found him fainted before; it makes the "think he's only unconscious" thing work better than otherwise.

    Aaaaaaa. Zathern! Stop being tragically adorable! D:

    I want to hug him so bad. D: (Also, well written paragraph; gave me goosebumps.)

    Heartbreaking as Zathern leaving is, something seems off to me about his lack of... grief, I suppose. He realizes all the Archopy are going to die and isn't sure he can take being there caring about them when they're all doomed to be torn away from him, so it makes sense for him to want to leave and distance himself from the Archopy... but his words in that final scene, both the coldness of his final words to Forsira and the ease with which "you'll all die and I won't" can be interpreted as gloating (he clearly isn't gloating, thanks to his hard tone breaking - another nice detail - but it's an unfortunate choice of words), make it feel almost like he's simply abandoning a sinking ship, so to speak, which I don't think is what you meant to imply here. There are characters I could really see expressing feelings like that in such a manner, but Zathern is usually quite frank and upfront about his emotions, so I'd really expect him to act at least somewhat sad in this scene, even if he's confused and bitter and desperate. But eh, I don't know. Primarily, his "Enjoy the rest of your life" just feels really disdainful and that seems wildly out of sync with his character in general, at least the way I understand him.


    This seems a little repetitive, since just two paragraphs earlier you were discussing the idea of Azma being frightened. You might want to rearrange the information here a little or just reword things so that Azma being afraid is only stated once.

    Azmaaaaa count ++.

    This whole scene is quite powerful; it has a real sense of foreboding and the way Forsira seems so small and lonely again helps to underline how lost she is after losing Zathern.

    I really like Forsira's added viciousness in the battle against the Bellossom when she evolves - she's not playful and having fun anymore, just frustrated and angry, and it shows.


    Repetition of "far".

    Looking massively forward to part two and you-know-who and more Azma! :3 Don't take so long this time!
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2012
  11. elyvorg

    elyvorg somewhat backwards.

    Dragonfree -

    Eee! You noticed! Do keep noticing things like this, won't you? :3

    I'm glad you found it so. I wasn't entirely sure how much of a shock that moment would come across as, since I was always aware that Raphyn existed mostly for the purpose of his death here having this effect on Zathern, so when I was writing this, I... didn't feel like I was writing something unexpected, if that makes any sense. It's good that them finding him fainted earlier helped it; I think I did included the earlier fainting partly for that reason and partly as some vague attempt at foreshadowing, or something, with the way it unnerved Forsira but Zathern was all "It's fine! He's just fainted! You worry too much, Forse!".

    Eee, I'm happy you like that paragraph; it's one of my favourites in this part, too. (Also if you want to hug Zathern you'll have to join the queue. D: )

    Hmm. About Zathern's reaction... I'm fairly sure it still is in character for him. Sure, he is usually quite upfront about his emotions, but here, the realisation that everyone he cares about will be killed hurts too much, more than he can bring himself to admit, so he hides from it. Under lesser circumstances he might have tried to cover it up with cheeriness (like he did those times he accidentally upset Forsira, for example), but here that would just be wildly inappropriate and probably not enough, so turning uncharacteristically cold is the only other way he can do it. Him leaving the sunset side is just an extension of the running and hiding from his emotions that he's already started doing in this scene.

    You might have a point about the "Enjoy the rest of your life", though. I think it was supposed to be him hoping Forsira manages okay without him, but it doesn't really come across like that now that I look at it. I might see what I can do to change that sometime.

    But argh, I don't know. You may be right in general. Zathern was always the hardest character in this to write; I never fully understood him like I understand you-know-who. The rest of Zathern's development in Part Two continues on from here; I really hope this hasn't screwed up his whole storyline for you. D:

    You are probably right, and I should fix that. Unfortunately, right now, I can't think of any way I could rearrange it to keep things sounding basically the same while only mentioning that once, but I will see what I can do.

    Hee. That was the intended point of that scene, so, yay, success. Also watching you Azmaaaaa and D: as much as you do is fun.

    Hm? Now that you mention it, yeah, I guess she is. I don't think I was ever consciously going for it when I wrote that scene (then again, I started writing the original version of that scene when I was on a train, and in general I just wanted to get it over with so I could start on Part Two already, so I probably wasn't thinking too hard about it), but it does make sense for her to be like that. So, uh, I'm glad that it somehow accidentally came out that way!

    Part Two is coming soon! Ish. I'd say later today, but you know what I'm like with self-imposed deadlines.
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2012
  12. elyvorg

    elyvorg somewhat backwards.


    And lo and behold, it was later today, because Dragonfree is good at poking. We're finally onto Part Two! This is where the fun starts. :3


    Part Two: Ignorance


    Tefiren let out a whoop of triumph as he drove one of his blades at a Tropius’s flank in just the right place to knock it off balance and send the huge beast staggering sideways. The Tropius glared at him and flapped its wing leaves, producing a flurry of sharpened foliage that spread out wide and shot towards him.

    Tefiren grinned at his enemy’s mistake – it had aimed far too high! – and flattened himself against the ground, giving the Tropius a mischievous glance through the leaves sailing harmlessly past above his head. Some of them tickled his crest leaf as they whooshed by.

    Just before he leapt back into action, Tefiren’s attention was caught by a figure in the corner of his eye. He glanced over, seeing a Sceptile leaning against a nearby tree to shelter from the rain, apparently watching his battle with some interest. It was one he’d seen around the sunset side a few times, although he couldn’t quite put a name to the face – Vorden? Varden? – but then there weren’t many faces he could put names to, anyway. And even if this was one of Them, what did it matter to him?

    He felt a shadow fall over him and zipped instinctively out of the spot he was in without stopping to check what it was. The sound of something huge and heavy thudding against bare ground behind him reached his ears. “Missed again!” he called to the Tropius.

    He could hear the Tropius’s roar of frustration, feel it begin to summon a gust with its wings. Tefiren locked his sights on a tree in front of him, letting the wind from behind power him towards the trunk, and then sprang back off it with both the speed from his approach and his own inner swiftness, slamming into the Tropius’s front at lightning-fast pace.

    The Tropius reeled backwards, losing the momentum for its gust as Tefiren landed neatly a safe distance away. He grinned up at its infuriated face for a moment before reaching inside him for an even greater well of speed and beginning to zoom around it in tight loops, faster than its eye could follow. The Tropius’s head jerked wildly around as Tefiren ran in faster and faster circles before it simply sighed in frustration and flapped its wings again, sending another flurry of razor-sharp leaves out in all directions.

    Tefiren couldn’t help but laugh to himself – this Tropius was making it too easy! With the speed at which he was going by now, he could practically have dodged raindrops, never mind the leaves that almost seemed to be coming at him in slow motion. It was child’s play to duck and weave around the oncoming barrage of foliage, avoiding every single leaf one by one.

    As the onslaught of leaves petered out, Tefiren came to a standstill in front of the Tropius, his limbs still zippier than ever even though he wasn’t moving. He felt a spark of amusement as he looked up at the huge Pokémon and saw the sheer frustration in its eyes; that dodging just now must have really annoyed it.

    “Dammit,” growled the Tropius. “C’mere, you.” It began to waft its wings in a slower, more gentle way, and after a moment Tefiren felt a beautiful smell reach his nostrils, a soothing scent that filled his mind with an irresistible urge to stop avoiding the Tropius and come closer.

    Well. If it wanted him to come to it, that was what he’d do.

    Its long neck was hanging there temptingly, almost like a tree branch. Still at lightning speed, Tefiren shot up at it, lifting an arm to grab hold and swing. The Tropius had barely had time to yelp in surprise before he’d let go, his momentum sending him flying upwards. At the top of his arc, he hung there weightless for a moment – just a taste of what it’d be like once he evolved – and then lit his blades as he descended, slamming one of them into the back of the Tropius’s head.

    As it screeched in pain, Tefiren landed on top of its neck and decided to cling onto it, digging his claws in. The Tropius went berserk, flailing its head around in a desperate bid to dislodge him as he held on for dear life, laughing madly at the top of his voice. The wild ride subsided all too quickly, the Tropius huffing, seeming to collect itself. With another flap of its wing leaves, it sent up another flurry of foliage, this one flying uselessly away behind it.

    But these glowing, multi-coloured leaves were different in that they wheeled around in midair and headed straight for Tefiren. His eyes widened for a moment; the Tropius might just have outsmarted him this time.

    Then the moment was gone as he looked at his opponent’s smugly grinning face below him and suddenly knew that that wasn’t the case at all.

    With the slew of multi-coloured leaves gaining speed behind him, Tefiren loosened his grip a little and leant to the side so that he swung around and ended up dangling from the underside of the Tropius’s neck. Slippery from the rain and bowed low with his weight as it was, he slid down it until he was hanging onto the Tropius’s head, grinning into its face from close range. Just past it, he could see the magical leaves zooming towards him, clearly not caring what got in their way.

    The Tropius’s sly smile turned into an astonished gape.

    “Boo,” said Tefiren.

    He braced himself as the leaves slammed into the back of the Tropius’s head, the impact throwing him off and sending him skidding backwards across the muddy ground. But as he got up and shook himself down, Tefiren knew that he’d definitely come out on top there. That had been the first thing he’d taken so far in this battle that could even loosely be called a hit. The Tropius, on the other hand…

    Well, that question was answered for him as it let out a final groan of pain and frustration and toppled over onto its side with a heavy thud.

    Tefiren stood there in the rain, panting and laughing to himself, a mad grin all over his face. He gave another glance to the Sceptile watching him from a distance; he could almost have sworn the guy looked impressed.

    Impressing a Sceptile – he couldn’t imagine there were even many Archopy on the sunset side that had ever managed that, let alone a Grovyle.

    That extra spark of satisfaction might have been what pushed him over the edge, made the exhilaration that had powered him through the battle reach a peak inside him. A white glow exploded across his vision as his body surged with energy, growing taller and stronger. Finally! He’d had plenty of fun as a Grovyle; it was about time to see just how much more he could have as an Archopy. Mind whirling in excitement, Tefiren urged his body to change faster, mentally waving goodbye to his old leaves as newer, better ones grew in their place.

    Then it was over. Tefiren looked down at his new self and whooped in delight.

    He caught a glimpse of movement off to the side and turned to look; the Sceptile had shifted, no longer leaning lazily against the tree, now eyeing him with… with something different, something new. The look unnerved Tefiren somehow, but it took him a moment to realise why: it was almost like the look he’d seen in other people’s eyes when they’d been looking at prey.

    It all clicked horrifyingly into place. Tefiren was an Archopy now. This Sceptile must have been one of Them. He was going to kill him.

    Tefiren’s heart dropped down into his stomach, a shiver running over him like he’d never felt in his life. He didn’t want to die.

    He gazed frantically around the forest for some kind of escape, finding only the rain and the trees, and how could they help? But then he looked down at himself, and he noticed his new wings properly for the first time.

    The feeling of dread vanished as quickly as it had come. Everything rearranged itself inside his head, clicking into a new order. He could fly now. The Sceptile couldn’t. What on earth was he worried about?

    Tefiren glanced over his shoulder, seeing the Sceptile beginning to stalk towards him. A new wave of exhilaration was already overtaking him, greater than any he’d felt before. He looked the approaching Sceptile straight in the eye and chuckled.

    “Catch me if you can,” he said.

    The Sceptile roared and lunged for him, but he was already gone, running across the ground with speed like he’d never known. He spread his wings, his new means of escape, feeling the air catch beneath them as he beat them to take him up and away. The first flap did nothing, and neither did the second, but on the third he felt his feet lift off the ground, pedalling through thin air, and a brief, wild laugh broke free from somewhere within him. This was actually working.

    It wasn’t enough to put off the Sceptile; Tefiren could still hear his pursuer behind him, branches rustling as Varden took to the trees to stay level with him. It almost made Tefiren chuckle – never mind the trees; he could fly so much higher than that! With huge beats of his new wings, he did so, rising up through the branches, his heart racing with some indescribable thrill at hearing his pursuer growing ever closer while knowing he’d never get close enough. He could feel Varden make a grab for him, barely a leaf’s length away, but at that same moment he broke through the canopy and into the sky with a whoop of sheer triumph, leaving the Sceptile on the ground.

    Suddenly it didn’t matter how narrow his escape had been. It never had. There was nothing in the world that could catch him up here.

    Thunder rumbled in the clouds above, rain cascading down onto the island in sheets, but Tefiren barely noticed as he wheeled madly and aimlessly through the skies, consumed with gleeful, uncontrollable laughter. Never mind all the battles against wild Pokémon; this was the most exciting thing he’d ever done.

    He’d like to see any of Them try and catch him now.

    - - -​

    “Who is it? Let me see…”

    “You don’t want to see…”

    “I was in the area where they found the body just this morning; he wasn’t there then…”

    The clamour of nervous voices reached Forsira from a group of Archopy, and some Grovyle, too, who had gathered as they’d noticed two more Archopy dragging something limp and green across the clearing. Forsira lingered half-heartedly at the back of the group; with the sight of her parents’ and then Raphyn’s dead bodies etched irreversibly into her memory, she didn’t need to see another unfortunate victim’s final gaze.

    “I think…” came the voice of one who was standing near the front of the group, watching the body being dragged past, “I mean, I didn’t know him all that well, but I think his name was Bryken.” The speaker paused awkwardly. “If that… helps…”

    There were mumbles from the rest of the group, but no-one else seemed to have known him. Forsira felt an empty kind of sadness for the fallen stranger. He’d been taken from this world, and yet if someone hadn’t happened upon his body, no-one would even have noticed he was gone.

    “Everyone,” came a strong, calm voice that Forsira recognised so well as Azma’s, as the Archopy came gliding down from higher up on the clearing. “That’s quite enough staring. He deserves more respect than that. Now give these two some space to take him to the place of rest.”

    The two Archopy who were dragging Bryken’s body across the ferny ground gave Azma a grateful nod as the members of the crowd backed away guiltily, letting them through and into the woods on the other side of the clearing. More and more deaths had been happening recently; the ‘place of rest’ was a secluded area that they’d begun to take the bodies to if they could, to try and make things a little less grim by minimising the chances of anyone suddenly happening across the decomposing body of a fellow Archopy. Taking someone there wasn’t a pleasant job, though. Forsira didn’t envy the two Archopy who’d volunteered to do it this time.

    “Bryken…” the Archopy who had spoken before muttered. “I seem to remember he was raising a Treecko on his own after he lost his mate. I don’t suppose anyone knows where it…?”

    Forsira felt a horrible pang that hit her deep. She only hoped the Treecko would be okay, wherever it was.

    “And if it does turn up, who’ll look after it?” he went on, looking around imploringly at the other Archopy. They all glanced nervously at each other or at their feet, no-one volunteering anything. Forsira couldn’t help noticing that the speaker, despite being the only one to show concern for the Treecko, wasn’t offering to take it in either. But she didn’t point this out. After all, neither was she.

    There was a long, awkward silence. Eventually, Azma gave a huge sigh and then spoke. “If anyone sees it, bring it to this clearing,” she said. “I’ll… I can keep an eye on it and make sure it’s safe, at least.”

    She caught Forsira’s eye for a moment and then broke away, glancing around the other Archopy. Forsira had done as she’d asked and pretended not to know her once she’d evolved, the two of them appearing like strangers to the outside observer. She still didn’t know why Azma had wanted her to do that, but she got the impression that the older Archopy was grateful.

    “The killings are becoming more frequent,” Azma said, raising her voice to catch the attention of everyone in the clearing, some of whom had begun to lose interest and wander their separate ways. “Anyone who wishes is welcome to come to this clearing for their safety. It’s out in the open so an ambush is less likely, and it’s easy to take off from the top of this slope. And the more of us there are in one place, the safer we are. They have not yet grown brave enough to attack us in large groups.”

    Some of the gathered Archopy nodded their agreement; others looked sceptical. “What if we want to stay where we normally live?” one asked.

    “I’m not forcing anyone,” Azma said calmly. “You are all free to weigh up the risks for yourselves. I’m simply saying that I believe it is safer for us to stay together, and that anyone who wishes to live here is welcome.” She eyed a pair of Archopy who had a Grovyle stood between them that looked young, barely just evolved. “Although I would urge those with children, at least, to come here, so that their child has somewhere to go if it ever loses its parents.” Azma gazed sorrowfully at the young Grovyle, who looked up at his parents with a sort of naïve confusion in his eyes. It reminded Forsira of an almost-forgotten time when she’d been incredibly young, not able to get her head around the fact that her parents would one day not be there.

    Azma glanced ever so briefly at Forsira again as the crowd of Archopy began to disperse, going about their own business. In a way, Forsira felt proud on behalf of her former surrogate mother. Azma had talked a long time ago about how she had once vigorously opposed Them; although those days were clearly over, it seemed fitting that she was the one taking the biggest charge of things here as everything threatened to descend into panic and chaos.

    A vaguely familiar Grovyle appeared at Azma’s side. Forsira remembered meeting him that time that Azma had talked of her old fight; he was the Grovyle who kept himself from evolving so that he could stay safe and spy on Them for Azma.

    “So,” she heard him say, “They’ve started killing you lot in daylight now.”

    Azma gave a tired sigh. “Yes,” she said. “I’d noticed that, Germane.”

    Forsira turned away, not wanting to listen to the rest of the conversation. She’d rather not know about anything They might have been planning. She dashed a short distance, spread her wings and took off – the open space and slope of the clearing meant that this was one of the easiest places to take flight from, just as Azma had said. Forsira wasn’t going particularly far; she just glided down to the beach and landed, sitting herself down in the wet sand and looking out at the rain-churned sea ahead of her. She felt like being alone for a while.

    Another Archopy was by himself a little further down the beach from her, someone else who must have felt like being alone. He seemed vaguely familiar – one of the Archopy she’d seen around a couple of times when she’d still been a Grovyle, perhaps – but she wasn’t sure she’d ever known what his name was. It didn’t really matter in the end, Forsira supposed. She would have let him be, but as he noticed her, he got up of his own accord and came to sit beside her without a word. Forsira didn’t particularly mind one way or another, and the two of them gazed silently at the sea.

    “It’s sad, really,” the other Archopy said eventually. “That Archopy that just died and no-one even knew him.”

    Forsira mumbled her agreement dully.

    “We shouldn’t be living like this,” the stranger went on. “The deaths are just making us keep our distance from everyone so it’ll hurt less when someone is killed. Everyone’s so scared of their own deaths that they don’t want to be scared of someone else’s, too. That female spoke of sticking together to stay safe, but does she really mean all of us working together to protect each other, or just individuals hiding in a crowd in the hope that they won’t be the next to die?”

    He was talking about Azma there, she knew. But she of all people would have meant it in terms of working together, surely? Forsira nearly spoke up to defend her, but then she remembered that she wasn’t supposed to know Azma anymore and miserably remained silent.

    “No-one really knows anyone anymore,” the Archopy muttered, his words landing painfully close to what she’d just been thinking. He gave a sigh that sounded almost frustrated. “It’s just all so… empty.”

    Forsira turned to look dully at him. “I don’t know who you are,” she pointed out.

    “Exactly,” he said, looking at her, but not quite in the eye. “And no, don’t tell me your name. I don’t want your death to hurt. As much as I hate it like this, I can see why everyone’s doing it.” He shook his head dismissively. “I’m sorry I suddenly threw this on you. I just needed to let it out.”

    Without another word, the nameless Archopy turned from Forsira and walked away up the beach.

    Forsira was left on her own, raindrops falling onto her as she sat in the wet sand. The Archopy had a point, really. Her life felt horribly lonely and dull like this, doing nothing but trying to avoid her death for as long as possible – because she knew in her heart, and so did all the others, that they’d never escape it forever. She missed the days in her childhood when she’d explore and battle and enjoy herself with her best friend, not a worry in the world about what might be around the corner.

    She missed Zathern.

    - - -​

    “Hey,” Zathern said, extending an arm to the fallen Sceptile in front of him who’d just come around. “Nice battle.”

    The Sceptile groggily reached forward and grabbed Zathern’s arm to help pull himself up off the ground. He glanced at Zathern briefly. “Thanks,” he muttered vaguely, staring around the rest of the forest.

    “So,” Zathern said, trying to put a smile into his voice. “I’m Zathern. I didn’t catch your name.”

    “It doesn’t matter,” the other Sceptile said, waving a clawed hand dismissively, still staring through the forest like Zathern wasn’t really there. “I have to go meet one of my friends now.”

    “Well, I could come with you to meet him, if you like,” Zathern said, refusing to let up.

    “Her,” the other corrected, “and no, really, it’s fine.” He turned to dart away, calling back, “Thanks for the battle, anyway,” before he was gone.

    Zathern sighed and sat heavily down on the forest floor. This wasn’t working.

    Ever since he’d come over to the sunrise side to live with those who were the same as him, Zathern had been trying constantly to make new friends. It had happened so easily for him on the sunset side when he’d been a Treecko; he hadn’t expected it to be any harder over here. But the excitement and enthusiasm of his that had gained him attention when he’d been younger seemed to have largely left him. Life wasn’t always awesome, as much as he’d have liked it to be, and that undeniable knowledge had dampened his spirit.

    Even so, he’d kept trying, determined – almost desperate – to find somebody new so that he could forget about his old life and put it behind him. But his efforts never seemed to earn him more than fleeting attention from anyone. There were a lot of Sceptile here, far more than there had been Archopy on the sunset side, and from what Zathern could tell, everyone already knew everyone else. They had no interest in a newcomer.

    There were no Sceptile here who were alone and in need of a friend. There was nothing cool on this side he could show anyone like the sunset, no-one special he could introduce anybody to like his mother – nothing and no-one that everyone else didn’t already know better than him, anyway. No-one needed him, and because of that, no-one could be bothered to get to know him. Life for him over here had begun to feel kind of empty.

    He missed Forsira.

    He wished he didn’t. He really, really wished he didn’t, because Forsira was going to die someday whether he missed her or not, and that knowledge would have been so much easier to handle if he could just stop caring about her and move on. Same with his mother – oh, sure, she seemed pretty certain that she wasn’t going to die any time soon, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t going to die ever, did it?

    Zathern shook his head and stood up, beginning to pace aimlessly through the forest in the hope that he could work off some of the emotion he was feeling. This was exactly why he’d needed to come over to this side of the island, exactly why he needed to keep trying to make new friends. The pain of knowing that his old friends were all going to die had been lessened a little by him distancing himself, but it hadn’t gone away completely, as much as he really, desperately wanted it to. So he had to keep trying. He had to find a new life, so that he could forget his old one, so that he would stop feeling like this.

    There was one particular Sceptile he’d been hoping to run into again, the one he’d met when he’d come over this side as a Grovyle with… with two others. He remembered the Sceptile, Tharann, asking him questions and seeming interested in him even though he’d just been a Grovyle from the sunset side, showing him the cliffs of the sunrise side as though he thought Zathern worthy of seeing them. By now, Tharann seemed like the only Sceptile that Zathern stood any chance of getting to know.

    Except that for as long as he’d been on the sunrise side, Zathern hadn’t come across him again.

    As he wandered through the rain, Zathern noticed a Sceptile in a tree nearby look at him with interest and then jump down to join him. He almost thought for a moment that it might have been Tharann, but that hope was quickly squashed – it had been too much to hope, anyway – as he saw that this Sceptile was a female.

    “You’re the one who came over from the sunset side, aren’t you?” she asked him.

    Zathern nodded.

    The female nodded too, as if in satisfaction. “Good for you,” she said. “You’re where you belong now.”

    Zathern almost laughed. He’d thought that too, when he’d first come here, but now… “Am I?”

    “Of course you are. Did you see any of us other than you while you were over on that side? Or, for that matter, do you see any of that lot on this side?”

    The way she put it made Zathern frown; did she really have to call the Archopy “that lot”?

    “They’re all going to be killed,” he mumbled eventually, trying not to think about how many of them he’d known personally; he had to forget about that. “It’s a good thing they stay away from us.”

    “Well, exactly,” the Sceptile said. “They shouldn’t mix with us.”

    “Wait… so…” It suddenly occurred to Zathern that this didn’t ring right with the way he understood things, and that it never had – if what a Grovyle evolved into was meant to be random, why were the Sceptile and Archopy so neatly separated? “So… all the Grovyle from this side that evolve into Archopy have to leave as soon as they’ve evolved? But…”

    The female Sceptile began to laugh. “Oh, no!” she said. “The children of a Sceptile never evolve into an Archopy. That would be ridiculous.”

    Zathern frowned. “So… it depends on your parents? But… my mother is – was – an Archopy. Why am I a…?”

    “Oh, it depends on both the parents for that lot,” she said. “If one’s an Archopy but the other one’s a Sceptile, the kid’ll be a Sceptile. Always.” Something of a smirk passed fleetingly across her face. “That’s why we’re winning.”

    “Winning? What? But…” Zathern shook his head, trying to focus on the mass of new thoughts that were clamouring for attention in his mind. “So, my mother, she must have…”

    The female laughed again. “Oh, I dunno what your mother thought she was doing, but she must have got around a bit when she was younger. You’re a Sceptile – that means your dad’s a Sceptile too.”

    All of Zathern’s confusion faded as any other questions he might have had simply stopped mattering. “She never told me,” he said quietly. “I asked her about my father once; she said she didn’t want to talk about him. I just thought he must have been killed by Them and it still hurt her too much to bring him up. I never thought…” He began to pace again.

    The female Sceptile caught his eye. “That’s that lot for you,” she said. “I suppose they just can’t help lying sometimes.”

    Zathern stared at her for a moment, almost accusing. Did she really think his mother would have lied to him? But then he dropped the hostility, made himself nod. “Yes, she must have lied,” he said as firmly as he could in the hope that he’d start believing it. If he could think that, he might be able to stop caring about her and put her behind him already. And liar or not, she’d still kept it from him; why had she never thought to let him know what his father was? “So if he wasn’t killed by Them,” he went on, thinking out loud as he saw another opportunity take shape, “and if he was really a Sceptile, then that means… That means he’s…”

    That meant his father was in all likelihood still alive, still living somewhere on this side of the island.

    The female grinned. “See?” she said. “Told you you belonged here.”

    Zathern nodded numbly. “Maybe I do,” he murmured.

    He looked properly at the female Sceptile, giving her a small smile. “Thanks for telling me this,” he said. Then he turned, picked a promising-looking direction at random and darted away through the forest of the sunrise side, filled with a new purpose.

    - - -​

    Forsira’s heart raced faster than it ever had before as she pelted through the forest, trees zooming by on either side in the corners of her vision. The sounds of pursuit thundered in her ears; she glanced over her shoulder to see the angular figures of Sceptile – three? Four? Five? – darting from tree to tree towards her, their blades lit and sharpened, nothing but the hungry predator’s gaze in their eyes.

    Forcing herself to run faster still, Forsira spread her wings and beat them desperately to try and lift off the ground, but to little avail. They were chasing her uphill, and she knew that was no accident; the slope made it near-impossible for her to take flight. She could feel Them gaining on her from behind – slowly, yes, but if she never managed to take off then They would catch her in the end. It seemed inescapable. She was sure she was going to die.

    It would almost have been the easiest thing to do to just give up and surrender herself to Them, but her frantic, terrified mind wouldn’t listen to reason. The life she’d been living recently suddenly didn’t seem so bad compared to the alternative, and some primal spark within her refused to let go of it no matter what. It was this that kept her running, kept her burning muscles working flat out even as she knew it was pointless, hearing death grow ever closer behind her.

    There, ahead of her, she caught sight of a fallen tree with a build-up of branches and vegetation and loose earth behind it – enough that she could possibly fit underneath and hide if she made herself small. It wasn’t much, but if anything could shield her, could delay her inevitable fate for even a few more moments, she’d take it.

    She practically threw herself at the pile of debris, folding in her wings and scrabbling desperately at the opening to squirm inside, clinging to some ridiculous hope that They might not have seen her enter and would be distracted for a moment trying to find her. But as she shoved her way inside, covered in dirt and fallen leaves, she felt herself collide with something large and warm. There was another Archopy in here, apparently already using this as a hiding place. He stared at her in astonishment.

    “It’s Them,” she panted desperately between heavy breaths. “They’re after me.”

    Somehow, to her complete bewilderment, the stranger’s face lit up in a massive grin, as though this was the most exciting thing in the world.

    “Follow me,” he said.

    And he leapt up, exploding through the earth and branches above him, swiping at the air with his wings. Forsira hadn’t a clue what he’d done, but she heard at least one of Them roar in pain behind her.

    The stranger swiped at nothing again, sending up another yell from a Sceptile, before staring down at Forsira, who was still frozen to the spot. “Don’t just sit there!” he said, as though she was mad, and then darted away up the slope.

    Her limbs suddenly remembering how to move, Forsira hurriedly dashed after him, desperate to keep the mysterious Archopy in sight ahead of her. She could hear the sounds of Them regaining pace behind her, but through her fresh wave of dread, one thing was clear: if there was any way for her to survive this, it was by following this stranger.

    He’d taken to the trees, beginning to leap from one to another, practically springing off the trunks to give himself more speed. He was almost zigzagging between them – and that made him a harder target, she realised. Marvelling at the stranger for being able to think clearly amidst the terror of life or death, Forsira copied his actions, leaping at a tree trunk and then pushing herself off it just as he’d done, following his erratic path through the forest.

    It wasn’t enough; They were still too close. One of Them had almost drawn level with her even as she zigzagged. Looking to her lifeline, she saw the Archopy jump and rebound off a tree ahead of her, and she desperately made for the same tree – but the Sceptile on her tail was expecting it and lunged for her as she leapt, only missing by a leaf’s breadth. Shrieking, she somehow still managed to reach the tree and push off it again, her limbs shaking so much she barely made the next one.

    “Don’t copy me!” the stranger admonished from ahead, almost as if this were a friendly game. “Be unpredictable!” And he suddenly back-flipped off his current tree, landing on a trunk behind him, and then zipped off to the right, making one of his pursuing Sceptile skid to a halt in confusion and take a moment to reorient itself.

    Forsira tried to follow his advice, ignoring the urge to copy exactly what he’d just done – but the only thing her frantic mind could think of was to leave it a moment, leap ahead a few more trees before spontaneously doubling back just like he had. She stifled another shriek as suddenly she was face to face with one of Them, seeing it pause, its terrible hungry gaze flickering with surprise for the briefest of moments. Before it could snap out of it, and before she froze completely in terror, the thought of the stranger spurred her to dart off to the right after him. She wasn’t going to let the lifeline that was this Archopy out of her sight.

    He was still there ahead of her, running across the ground now, beating his wings. His little bit of unpredictable jumping had turned them around, she realised, putting them on a path that no longer sloped upwards. Forsira bizarrely found herself grinning at the thought that he’d outsmarted Them as she spread her own wings and began to flap with fresh vigour, already feeling her feet begin to lift off the ground with the sheer speed at which she was running. The Sceptile had turned by now, closing in behind her, but if she could just take off and gain enough height before They reached her, she might actually survive this.

    Forsira let out a short, rather hysterical laugh. She’d been sure she was going to die, and now here she was, possibly about to escape Their clutches.

    “Now for the fun part!” came the stranger’s voice. Part of Forsira wondered how on earth he could call any of this ‘fun’, while another, crazy part knew exactly what he meant. She saw him nod at a long, overhanging branch in their path ahead. “See that branch up there?” he called. “Fast as you can!”

    And with that, he leapt up and zipped towards the branch at incomprehensible speed, somehow managing to swing off it and send himself shooting straight up through the canopy.

    Still gliding along the forest floor, beating her wings as hard as she could to try and gain height as They drew closer on either side of her, Forsira gaped. How on earth did he expect her to do that, to be that fast and accurate?

    But as she caught the eye of one of the Sceptile, almost running level with her, its blades shining into being, she knew it was either that or death. Summoning up as much of her inner speed as she could, she zoomed towards the branch, flailing her arms in a wild bid to grab onto it. Her claws found wood, and she clung desperately, only remembering as her speed sent her swinging the whole way around, an upside-down glimpse of a leaping Sceptile flashing past her vision, that she wasn’t meant to hold on forever. She hadn’t a clue how to time it, but the stranger’s shout of “Now!” from above was enough to make her let go.

    The world stopped spinning as she zoomed upwards, crashing through the canopy, suddenly remembering she needed to spread her wings before she fell out of the sky. The other Archopy was already soaring in circles around her, whooping with glee at the top of his voice. He’d got the timing perfect for her. He’d saved her. He was amazing at this.

    Feeling a wave of exhilaration overtake her, Forsira joined him in whooping madly as they wheeled around together underneath the rain. She hadn’t felt this overjoyed since her first flight.

    “We’re not done yet!” he called to her. He sounded as though he was enjoying this twice as much as she was.

    “What?” she managed to yell back through the pouring rain and the rumble of thunder from a nearby cloud. “But haven’t we…”

    “You really think They’ll just give up?” the stranger asked, a cheeky twinkle in his eye as he circled around in front of her. “Oh, no. They’ll be watching us from below. If we want to win, we have to lose Them.”

    Forsira looked around at the rain surrounding them and the trees below them. She didn’t see how any of it could help them lose their pursuers. “But… how?”

    A flash of lightning made her blink, and thunder rumbled again, even more loudly. The stranger was looking straight upwards, his sights on the offending thundercloud that hung not unreachably far above them. “Through there!” he declared gleefully.

    Forsira almost faltered in her flight as she stared at him. “You’re crazy!” she yelled, and yet somehow couldn’t keep the approval out of her voice.

    He laughed wildly. “I probably am!” Still cackling, he began beating his wings furiously to gain height, circling higher and higher, his sights set on the dark cloud above him.

    Shaking her head in disbelief, not fully understanding why she was following this madman, Forsira began to rise after him, spiralling upwards and watching him disappear into the cloud.

    Following him into it, Forsira yelped in surprise as suddenly she was soaking wet, far more so than she’d been just flying under the rain. She looked around for the other Archopy, just about managing to spot him ahead of her through the thick vapour. Without warning, he twisted in midair and rolled to the side as bolt of lightning flashed from the top of the cloud to the bottom, missing him by a leaf’s length. Forsira gaped, startled. She’d never imagined lightning could strike inside clouds. This escape ploy was even more crazily dangerous than she’d thought.

    And yet, right now, she didn’t want to be anywhere else.

    He wheeled back around towards her, shaking his head to send water droplets flying at her from his long crest leaves. “Had enough fun yet?” he called, managing to make himself heard over another angry rumble from the cloud.

    A small but fervent voice inside Forsira told her that she could never, ever have enough of this kind of fun with him, but nonetheless she nodded, still grinning a huge grin.

    He practically looked indignant at that, but he turned ahead again, leading her along in a low glide near the bottom of the cloud. She followed him, her heart still racing with excitement, shrieking in surprise as a lightning bolt struck barely a wingspan away from her. He just cackled in response and folded his wings to drop through the bottom of the cloud.

    Forsira descended after him, blinking to reorient herself as suddenly the murky vapour was gone and the whole world was there beneath her. The stranger had practically reached the trees already; apparently his idea of landing was less slow descent and more simply dropping out of the sky. Too eager to just let him beat her to the ground, she folded her wings and shot down after him, nose first, streamlining herself as much as she could. They were neck and neck when they crashed through the canopy, before the sight of the fast-approaching ground reminded Forsira that she needed to slow herself down. She frantically spread her wings as the stranger did the same, the two of them colliding with tree branches and each other, landing in a heaped muddle of limbs and leaves on the forest floor.

    Forsira untangled herself from him and stepped shakily away, soaking wet, short bursts of hysterical laughter still escaping from her as she looked at him. He was laughing too, shaking the water off him in all directions but not quite looking her in the eye.

    “That was…” Forsira began breathlessly as she sensed he wasn’t about to say anything. “That was the most fun I’ve ever had since I evolved. That was amazing. You’re amazing.” She looked imploringly at the Archopy, and he gave her a sidelong glance. “Who are you?”

    He paused, almost looking puzzled.

    “Me?” he said at last. “I’m Tefiren.” He glanced at her again, a flicker of amusement in his eyes. “You know, this was fun and all, but it works best when there’s just me.”

    “What?” She stepped towards him urgently as the full implication of his words hit her. “No, you can’t go! Please! I want to have more times like this – let me stay with you.”

    Tefiren chuckled. “I can’t do that,” he said, as though it was that simple. “That’s not how the game works. I can’t just go giving Them an advantage over me.”

    The game? Forsira stared, shaking her head in wonder. She wished she could think of the terrifying life-or-death struggle as a game, too. If she could join him, live like him, then –

    But Tefiren clearly wasn’t about to change his mind. He’d already turned away from her, dashing down the nearest slope and beating his wings to take off. Forsira wanted to follow regardless, to chase after him, but she knew it would be hopeless – if he could escape like that from the clutches of Them, he could certainly escape from her. She was left standing there as the one Archopy who’d let her enjoy life again took to the skies and flew out of her reach.

    - - -​

    The rain was beginning to peter out as Forsira glided above the canopies towards Azma’s clearing, her limbs still shaking from lingering excitement despite the disappointment of Tefiren leaving. She felt fresh, alive, all the dull resignation that had been with her only a day ago completely gone. There was so much more to life than sitting around in one place hoping to be killed later rather than sooner. And none of the other Archopy had any idea. She wanted to tell them, she decided as she spotted the clearing ahead of her and began to descend. She wanted them to learn that it was possible not just to survive, but to live.

    As she landed rather clumsily among the ferny plants, Forsira felt the first ray of sunlight on her back in what felt like ages. The clouds above were beginning to thin out, the sun poking through them. The rainy season was coming to an end. Things were looking up.

    Forsira glanced around the clearing, seeing a number of Archopy just sitting vacantly, their eyes dull and miserable – they didn’t know what they were missing! She caught sight of Azma eating something just beneath her usual tree and instinctively wanted to go and tell her first before reminding herself that she shouldn’t.

    Forsira sighed, but then she remembered a conversation she’d had a few days ago – suddenly she knew exactly which Archopy she wanted to tell first. Dashing across the ground to take off briefly, she glided down to the beach, the sea beyond it finally beginning to look calmer in the absence of the endless rain. Sure enough, the Archopy she’d spoken to before was sitting on his own, gazing out at the waters. Forsira dropped down to land beside him, sending up a spray of sand as she did so.

    He turned. “Oh. It’s you.” There was a pause, and he smiled a little. “You know, we shouldn’t really be making a habit of talking to each other if we really are going to live like everyone else is doing.” Despite saying this, he hadn’t moved away.

    Forsira broke into a grin. “But that’s just it! We don’t have to live like that!” she told him. “None of us have to.”

    He frowned a little. “What do you mean?”

    “I met this Archopy,” she said excitedly. “No, more than met. They were after me, I thought I was going to die, and then I just ran into him. And we escaped Them. The things he could do – he was amazing. It was more than running for my life; it was fun, the most fun I’ve ever had. If everyone could just think like him, we wouldn’t be living like this.” She paused for breath, having surprised herself with how much she’d said all in one go. “We don’t have to separate survival and fun,” she went on. “They can be the same thing.”

    Despite all she was saying, the stranger’s frown had only grown larger. “This Archopy you met,” he said slowly. “I think I know who you’re talking about. I came across him once. He’s a sick bastard.”

    Forsira felt like she’d been physically struck in the chest.

    She shook her head, staring at him. “No,” she said quietly, firmly. “You’re wrong.”

    “I’m not,” the Archopy said. “You met him – you must have seen. The way he treats this whole thing like a game. Archopy are dying nearly every day and he doesn’t even notice. He just carries on pretending like it’s some big friendly battle between him and Them, never mind that everyone else around him is being killed.” He nodded up towards the various Archopy mulling around in the clearing. “He’s even worse than that lot.”

    Forsira continued to shake her head resentfully. It couldn’t be true; that wasn’t the Tefiren she’d met. There was no way that finding excitement and fun in this situation could be any worse than sitting around and waiting to die.

    “At least Tefiren told me his name,” she growled.

    The other Archopy raised an eyebrow. “And did he ask for yours?”

    She faltered. He hadn’t.

    “He didn’t give a damn about you,” the Archopy said. “You could turn up dead in front of him tomorrow, and even if he realised it was you, he’d just laugh and carry on his little game without even blinking.”

    No. He couldn’t be right. Tefiren wasn’t like that. The incredible exhilaration she’d felt in the chase – they’d both felt it together. It couldn’t just be meaningless.

    “You’re wrong,” she said again to the stranger, turning to walk determinedly away up the beach.

    “My name is Draern!” he called to her as she walked away. “But when you’re living like this Tefiren and you hear that I’m dead, you still won’t feel a thing!”

    Forsira tried not to listen, speeding up across the clearing and leaping into an unoccupied tree to give herself some space, feeling her claws dig more deeply into the bark than usual. She breathed heavily a few times, trying to calm her anger.

    What if Draern was right, though, and Tefiren really hadn’t cared about her, just seeing her as a hanger-on in this round of his game? It would explain why he’d left so hastily the moment it was over.

    But at the same time, he’d still saved her life. There could be no denying that. He must have cared, surely? And that amazing feeling of euphoria as they’d managed to escape… Forsira felt a remembered remnant of it rush back to her and almost laughed again. There was nothing sick or wrong about that. She couldn’t blame Tefiren at all for wanting to live his life this way.

    And she wanted to live it too, whatever Draern said. It was so much better than just spending her days in this one clearing, feeling afraid every time she left the safety of it to hunt or battle, simply waiting for her inevitable death.

    There was nothing for it but for her to go looking for Tefiren. Never mind turning up dead in front of him – if she turned up alive in front of him, then he definitely wouldn’t be able to just ignore her, and she could convince him to let her stay. She could try, at least; she’d barely tried at all after the chase just now. It still seemed like a long shot – even managing to find him again seemed like that – but it was something. And if her death caught up to her before she ever saw him again, then at least she would die doing something with herself.

    Filled with new purpose, Forsira spread her wings and glided off the tree she was in, heading away from the clearing.

    Last edited: Apr 9, 2011
  13. Dragonfree

    Dragonfree Just me

    Nice character introduction in the first scene - you immediately show Tefiren as somebody who loves to battle, is good at it, knows he is and is kind of cocky about it, and whose strategy relies on being very fast and dodging most everything - all quite relevant to who he becomes later.

    Nice little detail, showing him relishing the idea of evolving.

    The use of "the moment" here is a little awkward because you didn't refer to it as a moment before; it would feel more connected and obvious what you're talking about if you'd said "For a moment his eyes widened as it occurred to him that the Tropius might just have outsmarted him this time," or something in that direction.

    I love this combination of arrogance and sheer funlovingness you show in him immediately. It's delightful. :3

    Again, just a delightful insight into his worldview.

    I can't help but read things into the fact he speaks of other people's eyes, like he doesn't look like that (or doesn't think he does) when he looks at prey. But he might just be referring to the fact he obviously doesn't have any mirrors to see it in his own, so I may be wildly on the wrong track here.

    Delightful as it is that he's terrified, I can't help but think it seems a little weird for this to be clicking into place now. He'd already noticed the Sceptile earlier and known that he was only safe from him because he was still a Grovyle; surely he can't have been completely mentally unprepared for the fact that once he evolved They would be after him. If you want to keep the moment of realization I'd suggest either not having him notice Verdan at all until after his evolution or having him notice him only in passing, without specifically thinking about the fact he's safe because he's still a Grovyle; then it would be more believable that he hasn't been truly thinking of the danger he will be in when he evolves until he faces the reality of it. (Plus, though I don't completely know his character yet, it seems like it would fit, what with involving refusing to think about the horrors happening to the Archopy in favor of concentrating fiercely on life being just a game and evolution just being when you gain wings and can fly and being killed by Them is something that happens to other Archopy!) It would also make it make more sense that he hasn't already thought completely through how he's going to survive after his evolution. When you have him specifically mention that being a Grovyle is what makes him safe, it really seems like it ought to mean that he's thought about the fact Archopy get killed and evolution will leave him vulnerable.

    This is such a delightful realization. (Oh, dear, 'delightful' is becoming the new 'adorable', isn't it?)

    Hee. He's censoring his own subconscious fear! :3

    I really like the atmosphere in the second scene; all those Archopy just hopelessly there, gathered around and watching and murmuring but in a completely dead way. They're not being especially desperate at this very moment, but you can feel the despair hanging over them anyway. You also manage to get across a real sense that they're a small, diminishing, dying tribe; in the earlier parts it felt like Archopy were abundant, but here you've managed to make them suddenly seem like just this little group. Everything is smaller and lonelier, somehow.


    'You lot'. Hm. I'm not sure if I should be reading as much into this as I am.

    I like Draern. He's pretty insightful and he's just so sad. D:

    Awww. D: Zathern needs a huuuug.

    Also D: at his "must meet Tharann!" Because if Tharann is who I think he is, and I'm pretty sure he is, that's DDD:

    Still really like how you wrote that female Sceptile. She doesn't feel evil, just honestly, through-and-through racist. She doesn't approve of murder - she just thinks it's for the best that Archopy stay away from Sceptile because of course they shouldn't mix with that primitive lot, and of course it's simply ridiculous that a Sceptile's children could just magically become Archopy! Ha ha.

    I loved reading this line, just knowing he was finally going to realize this. :D


    I just really like how you handled the revelation in general. I'm not even quite sure why.

    This is the one bit of her I don't quite like - "Liars, the lot of them" seems a little extreme, and otherwise she quite nicely avoids being extreme. Just "That's that lot for you" would do nicely to convey the same point - it implies that keeping truths like this secret is something she considers typical Archopy behaviour, like she thinks they're primitive and uncivilized or have no sense of honour, without explicitly generalizing all Archopy as "liars".

    And that's the bit where I went "Now, this is Tefiren! 8D"

    The action scene is quite well done - intense and continues to display Tefiren's apparent confidence in contrast to Forsira's fear and confusion. You make the admiration she comes to feel for him immediately believable, which is nice, but I can't help thinking you may be overemphasizing it a little; yes, Forsira is completely smitten by his crazy enthusiasm and talent for escaping Them, but you may have just a few too many "this mysterious Archopy"/"this amazing stranger"/"this mysterious, amazing Archopy"/"the most wonderful Archopy she had ever met" in there - it starts to feel a little heavy-handed, like you're trying to beat the reader over the head with how awesome he is, not just portraying Forsira's feelings.

    It might help in this regard if you focused more on her actual experience here than on him as an individual - yes, she's developed a crush, but seeing as they've just met, I'd think most of the excitement and elation she's feeling would be at the rediscovery of joy and fun in her life, rather than at the mere fact he exists. She does have serious clinginess issues and does tend to latch onto others as people, so it definitely fits for there to be some element of clingy hero-worship to it, but for instance the last sentence of this scene - "She was left standing there as the most wonderful Archopy she’d ever met took to the skies and flew out of her reach" - would work better and have more impact, to me, if it just treated Tefiren as the embodiment of the first time she's rediscovered what it is like to really live for a long time, rather than just making about her infatuation with him per se. (So, for instance, "She was left standing there as the one who had made her live again took to the skies and flew out of her reach," or something in that direction.) This comes through a lot better in the subsequent scene where she's telling Draern about it, but it would still work better in my opinion if you did more of it here.

    Hee. :3

    His crazy glee about the whole thing is generally fun, as is how it infects Forsira.

    Somebody really, really doesn't want to get attached. It's fun how this whole thing ties in with what Draern was talking about.

    Like I mentioned on MSN, she's gone "DDD: DON'T LEAVE ME" at pretty much every other major character by now. :p Somebody else also has attachment issues. In the opposite direction.

    I must say I loved this part. Forsira had been fawning so much over Tefiren by now and it was nice to see that no, this guy she met might not quite be the second coming after all.

    *points to attachment issues comment* :3

    I like how this presents a nice little parallel between Tefiren and Zathern, because really, their problems are exactly the same - the Archopy are all going to die and they feel like that means they can't allow themselves to care about them, so instead they just run away from it all, in their own two very different ways.

    I do wish Forsira had a bit more in the way of thoughts about his actual concerns here - she sort of dodges the issue by thinking "Yeah, but what about the excitement and fun?" but it would have been nice to see her try to internally justify or deny Draern's observations about Tefiren's motives right off the bat. Like, "But he helped me! He must have cared!" or whatever.

    Hello there, foreshadowing!

    I'm really looking forward to seeing this actually happen. Because I get the feeling that Forsira is going to get completely taken in with Tefiren's attitude about things and that seeing Draern dead is going to shock her out of it and probably cause some sort of an argument between them and Tefiren is sure to be very adorable as he tries to justify not concerning himself with all those other Archopy who are dying.

    Here again I feel like you're overemphasizing her purely individual infatuation with him while sidestepping the larger issue - surely she shouldn't be whining that maybe he didn't care about her when it's being suggested that he's outright sociopathic and doesn't care about anyone. Her strange choice of an issue to focus on makes her sound kind of selfish and hopelessly lovestruck, which I don't think you were going for.

    I would wonder why it doesn't cross Forsira's mind to just start living like Tefiren on her own, but as we all know she is clingier than a Klingon, so I doubt she'd ever want to just go enjoy life alone.

    Anyway, looking forward to the continuation as always! Hoping for more Azma and Tefiren's attachment issues.
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2012
  14. elyvorg

    elyvorg somewhat backwards.

    moonlightning - "Fighting the Varden"? You seem to have got the wrong idea here somehow. Verdan (not Varden) is just one Sceptile. The group of Sceptile who are killing the Archopy is known to the Archopy collectively as "Them"; I'm assuming it's Them that you're referring to a potential upcoming fight against. Verdan, meanwhile, is merely a Sceptile who sometimes hangs around on the sunset side because he claims the hunting is better there and who, according to Germane, somehow actually is one of Them even though he's never taken part in any of the killings as far as anyone on the sunset side knows.

    It kind of worries me that my writing somehow gave you the wrong impression here - is there anything I could have done to make it clearer, perhaps? D:

    As for your what-if thought about how Zathern could potentially have been helpful in fighting Them: what makes you think that the Archopy having a Sceptile on their side would be any more advantageous than just having an extra Archopy? =P

    I wouldn't call Forsira's behaviour upon evolving "reckless", precisely. Essentially she did think both the things you said: first "let's have fun!" upon trying out flight for the first time, and then "a group of Sceptile will be slashing me to pieces of I'm not careful" once the elation of flight had started to wear off and it sunk in that, yeah, she's a target now. The latter is a sensible frame of mind to take; after all, she'll want to avoid being killed for as long as possible, so it makes sense for her to be cautious now, doesn't it?

    Glad you're still enjoying the story! Thanks, and do keep commenting. :3

    Dragonfree - Thanks for another awesome review! It was by no means nitpicky; all of your concerns are perfectly valid.

    Hee! Yes. I'd hoped to establish how good at being tricky and cunning and dodging things he was so that when he showed up again later it was believable that he could do all the stuff that he does, so, yeah. Glad it worked. :3

    Heh. Mostly I think I phrased it like that just because he sees other people so differently to how he sees himself (see his attachment issues and him convincing himself that although everyone else is being killed, he's totally never going to be!), but now that you mention it, there is a little more to it than that, which you'll see later.

    His fear clicking into place as suddenly as it does is very deliberate of me, as he indeed hadn't ever properly thought about the dangers of Them while he was a Treecko or Grovyle - so thanks for alerting me to the fact that that earlier paragraph actually gives the wrong impression there! I've gone and fiddled around with it - I had to remove the direct mention that he's a Grovyle and hope that the implication of it is enough - so it should give a more accurate impression of Tefiren's mindset now.

    Eee! He is! :3

    It is? Heh, then I'm happy I managed to do that. I don't ever remember really consciously going for it in that scene - the scene generally just isn't one of my favourites apart from the brief chat with Draern - so, um, it's good that it somehow came across like that anyway! (Currently there are a good few more Archopy than just that little group, but any kind of impression of diminishing numbers that I managed to get across is good.)

    Ha ha haa. *is saying nothing*

    I enjoyed writing him too. He was a pretty spontaneous addition back in November, but he allowed me to say some fun things about the situation in general and about Tefiren, so. :3

    Heehee. I don't know precisely who you think Tharann is, but I can guess, and if I'm right, then yeah. Him meeting Zathern again is not a good idea, is it? :O

    Mmm, you have a point there. I couldn't just get rid of the mention of lying altogether since the next paragraph has Zathern go on to react to the implication that his mother lied to him, which is something that keeps popping up every now and then throughout his character arc, and while I probably could remove it without changing anything too significantly it would be awkward to do now. So I've just reworded the female Sceptile's line, and hopefully it's more in line with how obliviously racist she's meant to be now.

    You are probably right about your niggle with the second Tefiren scene. Throughout November I was aware that the fact that Tefiren is my favourite character of mine ever could bias my writing slightly, so I was careful to have him simply do the stuff he does and leave the readers to decide how awesome they find him, and to try and keep all subjectivity limited to Forsira's and other character's opinions of him... but it is entirely possible that a little bit of my own squee may have managed to seep through there! x3 I've gone and trimmed down a few of the extraneous things that you mentioned. But I'm pleased you liked the scene in general and that it made Forsira's crazy admiration of him believable; that's what I was going for, after all. =D

    Ha, I never really considered that Forsira has attachment issues of her own that are basically the complete opposite of Tefiren's. x3 That's quite an amusing thought.

    xD. I enjoyed writing Draern's attitude towards Tefiren. Nothing he says about him is wrong, precisely; he just doesn't realise why Tefiren acts like this. (also I loved writing Draern's line about "if you turned up dead in front of him, he'd just laugh and carry on his little game" because then I thought about things and realised that actually, yes, that's exactly what Tefiren would do. :3 But there would be so much delightfulness going on under the surface in his mind and... goddammit I need to stop giving myself ideas for AU stuff with him.)

    Yes! Yesyesyes. :3 They are so similar fundamentally and most of Part Two is pretty much about these two individuals and their different but parallel ways of dealing with this and you noticed and eee. If he'd been born Archopy-gened, Zathern would probably have turned out a lot like Tefiren.

    Hmm. She might be sidestepping the issue because she's subconsciously worried that if she thinks about it too hard she'll realise that Draern is actually right? Or something.

    At the very least, her narration does go on to mention the fact that he did save her life after all, so I added a sentence in there to the effect of "He must have cared!", since now that you mention it that is an entirely in-character thing for her to think.

    You'll just have to see, won't you? :3

    Hmm. I think she could be subconsciously trying to avoid thinking about the issue that Tefiren might be outright sociopathic here. She doesn't really hold herself in much of a high regard, so the thought that maybe Tefiren didn't care about her specifically is not one she has a problem considering, whereas the thought that her new hero might actually be a complete sociopath really isn't something she'd like to think about. So in order to not have to think too hard about the latter, she focuses on the former instead.

    Or something. Okay, so that was all overanalysis done on the spot, but I'm fairly sure that's what's going on inside Forsira's head there. I wasn't precisely "going for" anything, just letting Forsira's thoughts do whatever they wanted to do - you know how NaNo is - so if that's how they came out then that's probably how they're meant to sound. (She really kind of is hopelessly lovestruck, at least. xP)

    Heh, yeah. Her clinginess is one factor, but other than that it's just kind of difficult to live like Tefiren and manage to avoid Them every time and have all these creative and fun escape tactics unless you're, well, Tefiren. Forsira knows this; she's pretty sure that she wouldn't stand a chance out there without Tefiren's direct guidance. (This issue is touched upon in the next instalment; I should really just shut up and wait until you read that.)

    So yes, the next part is coming... uh, sometime. You should keep poking me! Like I said, there will unfortunately not be any more Azma yet, but there will be more of Tefiren's attachment issues! And also lots of Zathern.
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2012
  15. elyvorg

    elyvorg somewhat backwards.


    Ah, good to see I hadn't confused you about Them after all.

    You'd think that the Archopy might well stand a chance if all of them just tried to fight back, wouldn't you? Shame there don't seem to be any Archopy left with enough guts to suggest it... And even if someone did, they'd probably be hard pressed to get the rest of the Archopy to join them, given that a lot of the Archopy who take part in any potential battle will likely die right then rather than at some unspecified time in the future, and that's a pretty frightening thought for most.

    As it happens, Archopy can learn Air Slash (as you'll see soon); however, it's in the same position as Night Slash on Sceptile's movelist - in other words, only accessible through a Heart Scale move tutor. Seeing as there aren't exactly any move tutors around during this fic, very few Archopy ever learn the attack even though they're physically capable of doing so.

    Yeah, Archopy aren't the most natural fliers in the world. They're based off the archaeopteryx, that prehistoric half-dinosaur, half-bird creature, which, if it even could fly in the first place, definitely wasn't all that great at it.

    As for what Lost Evolution's about? I... probably shouldn't tell you, actually, since it'll spoil part of the ending to this story. Lost Evolution's storyline has very little to do with this one, however; the main link is that they both involve Archopy.

    Hee, yes, there is something a little bit... off about Tefiren treating everything like a game, isn't there?

    I'm flattered to see this story is motivating you to get back into writing. :3 Thanks for enjoying as always, and I hope you enjoy this part too!


    Apologies for the slightly longer wait; I will try not to make a habit of it. The next instalment! It has lots of Zathern.



    The Sceptile leapt and spun in midair, smacking an airborne Swellow with his spiked tail and sending it crashing to the ground. Before it could struggle up and get away, he landed on top of it, its piercing squawks barely registering with him as he lit one of his lethal blades and ended its life.

    As Zathern stepped off the Swellow, watching his prey twitch one final time and then stop moving, he could still feel a hint of that glazed, distant sensation that the inner predator gave him. He shook his head firmly, forcing it to the back of his mind. He’d never struggled to let the predator out before, but if anything it had become even easier since he’d run away onto this side – which made sense, he supposed, since hiding behind his inner predator was just another form of escape. He just hoped the predator wasn’t going to make a habit of sticking around longer than it was welcome. He didn’t want to lose himself entirely.

    Feeling a little uneasy, Zathern looked away from his fallen prey to gaze over the nearby cliffs towards the ocean.

    “Nice kill,” came a voice. “Mind if I share?”

    Something about it was familiar to Zathern; with sudden excitement, he turned to see the one Sceptile he’d been looking for all this time. “Tharann!” he exclaimed, grinning. “Yeah, sure, go ahead.”

    The older Sceptile crouched down beside the Swellow and began to help Zathern in the laborious task of pulling all the feathers off. “You’re the one I met once before when you were a Grovyle, aren’t you?” he said between mouthfuls of plumage. “Zathern, right?”

    The fact that Tharann had remembered him gave Zathern a glowing feeling of pride. He nodded eagerly.

    They’d finally got through to the flesh, and Tharann tore off a strip and swallowed. “I was watching your hunt,” he said. “Good skills. You’re a natural.”

    Zathern’s grin grew wider at the compliment. He’d always felt he was particularly good at hunting, and although he’d never really brought it up in front of his former friends on the sunset side, something about Tharann made Zathern want to impress him. “I got the hang of it on my first try,” he said, his mouth full of Swellow.

    At this, Tharann grinned as well. “Nice one,” he said. “Azma taught you?”

    Of course. Zathern remembered Tharann being interested in his mother when they’d met before. He swallowed his mouthful and nodded.

    Tharann snorted. It sounded like he’d only just stopped himself from laughing. Zathern frowned at him. “What’s funny about that?” he asked.

    “Oh, uh,” Tharann began, “difference in upbringing on the two sides of the island, probably. Over here, we just figure out how to do it ourselves – we don’t get our parents to teach us.” He grinned apologetically. “Shouldn’t have laughed. Sorry.”

    Zathern forced down the spark of indignation. Tharann might still have seen him as different, as an outsider, but at least he was apologising and trying to look past that. It was more of an effort than any of the other Sceptile had bothered to make.

    They continued eating in silence for a while, uncomfortable thoughts swirling around Zathern’s head. Tharann bringing up his mother had made him think about her again, reminded him that she was still there, on the sunset side, still going to be killed someday. His jaws clenched harder on the Swellow meat as he tore more forcefully at its carcass. He wished he could just stop feeling like this every time he remembered her.

    “She lied to me, you know,” he told Tharann suddenly as he finished a mouthful, still staring down at the Swellow. “My mother.”

    Tharann stopped eating and looked at him, interested.

    “She never told me that my father was a Sceptile,” Zathern went on, trying to make himself feel angry, but the closest thing he could hear in his voice was merely disappointment. “She told me that I’d evolve into one – it’s not like she could have hidden that – but she never properly explained why that was. And… I mean, if she really did care about me, why would she hide who my father is? Why would she lie to her son?” He sighed and shook his head. “Maybe it’s not such a bad thing she’s going to be killed eventually.”

    Tharann nodded. “That’s the trouble with that lot, with the Archopy,” he said, tearing off another piece of flesh and swallowing it before he continued. “Hypocrites. They were all right when there was more of them, looking down on us because we looked different and we couldn’t fly. But now that we’re winning, can they take it as well as dish it out? Doesn’t look like it.”

    Zathern stopped in the middle of taking another bite; this was news to him. “There used to be more Archopy than Sceptile?”

    “Oh, yeah,” Tharann said. “Long time ago. Before living memory, but talk gets passed down. But then, well – with the way the breeding works, it’s not hard to see how we’d overtake them, back when the two species were apparently mixed together all over the island.” He paused. “Then more recently there’s been… something else cutting down their numbers.”

    Zathern nodded; Tharann must have meant Them. But if the numbers of Archopy had been falling anyway, didn’t that make what They were doing slightly less wrong? Just slightly? Zathern almost shuddered to think that he might be beginning to agree with Them, but then again… since one lone Sceptile could hardly stop Them, did it really matter what he made himself think in order to keep the inevitable deaths of his old friends from hurting? It wasn’t as if he was going to hurt anyone else just by thinking that way.

    Zathern shook himself, trying to get those thoughts out of his mind. It was better to simply not dwell on things at all – and he’d hopefully find that easier now that he’d met someone on this side who actually wanted to know him. And if he could just find his father as well…

    “Finding him is harder than I thought, you know,” he said to Tharann. “My father, I mean.” Zathern didn’t quite know why he was telling him; he guessed it was just that Tharann felt like the only person on this side he could actually talk to. “I’ve tried, but… it’s not as if I can just go up to every male and ask, ‘Hey, I don’t suppose you happen to have mated with an Archopy named Azma at some point, have you?’” He shook his head. “It just… wouldn’t work.”

    Tharann chuckled. “I doubt you’ll ever find him,” he said. “Admitting to mating with an Archopy? No-one’s going to do that, even if it’s true. You’re probably best off just giving up.”

    Zathern had been starting to think that himself, but that would never change the fact that he still wanted to know who his father was.

    “What’s so bad about having mated with an Archopy, anyway?” he asked.

    Tharann gave a snort of laughter. “Oh, come off it!” he said incredulously. “They’re just… they’re so different. And their wings, and… they’re not like us at all. Added to which they’re all going to die, of course, so that just makes it kind of creepy, don’t you think? Whoever screwed your mother was probably kicking himself the moment he’d done it.”

    Zathern stared at him for a moment, dumbfounded, but then he made himself nod. He didn’t want to start a disagreement with Tharann when he’d only just met him again, when this was his once chance of getting a proper friend over here. The other Sceptile’s opinion on mating with an Archopy may have seemed odd to him, but in the end, it didn’t matter, so long as he’d found someone to talk to.

    Tharann looked down at the Swellow again; they’d just about finished it by now. He stood up.

    “Come on,” he said. “I’ll take you to meet some friends of mine.”

    - - -​

    Tharann had a lot more friends than Zathern had anticipated. The older Sceptile had taken him to a part of the sunrise side he’d never really been to before and introduced him to Sceptile after Sceptile, so many that Zathern didn’t think he’d be able to remember all their names. Nonetheless, they’d each been welcoming and accepting in their own way, clearly used to seeing new faces. It made Zathern glad to have run into Tharann again – perhaps he’d finally found a new start on this side of the island.

    “So,” said a large, authoritative male whom Tharann had introduced as Skorrhen. “Zathern, is it? Good to see you at last. Tharann’s told me a lot about you.”

    “He has?” Zathern asked, grinning; did Tharann really think that much of him? “What sort of things?”

    “Oh, about your mother, you know,” Skorrhen said casually. “Good for you, getting away from those unfortunate origins and moving over here where you belong.”

    Zathern’s grin froze in place a little. What was it with Tharann and his friends having some kind of problem with his mother being an Archopy?

    But it didn’t matter anymore, he told himself, not now that he had a fresh start and could move on from her – he couldn’t let that slip away because he was dwelling on the past. He nodded at Skorrhen. “Yeah. It feels good to be away from it all.”

    “I’m sure it does,” the larger Sceptile agreed. “Can’t imagine what it must have been like living over there.”

    “Mmm,” said Zathern vaguely. He didn’t want to imagine what it would have been like if he’d stayed there, either.

    “Don’t worry,” Skorrhen said, patting him on the back and smiling. “You’re one of us now.”

    One of us. Zathern felt a warm glow spread through him. It felt good to be part of something again.

    Skorrhen had already moved away to talk in hushed tones with Tharann, so Zathern looked around the group of gathered Sceptile to find someone else to get to know. Most of the others looked quite a bit older than him too – he didn’t know if he’d be able to find much to talk about with any of them. But off to the side, looking a little awkward and out of place, was a female who seemed around his age. She was one of only a few females there.

    As she caught him looking in her direction, she grinned and walked over to him. “Hey,” she said. “So you’re the new new guy.”

    “New… new?” Zathern asked.

    “Yeah,” she said. “I used to be the new guy before you turned up. So now it’s you.”

    “I guess,” Zathern muttered. He tried to recall what Tharann had introduced her as; being one of the few female names, hers wasn’t lost among the horde of new names to remember. “Karsa, wasn’t it?”

    She nodded.

    Zathern looked around at the rest of the group, realising that they must take in ‘new guys’ fairly often – maybe this was the place where all Sceptile who had nowhere else to go ended up. “How did you get here then?” he asked Karsa. “Did Tharann bring you too?”

    “Skorrhen, actually,” she said. “He’s very persuasive. I couldn’t resist.”

    Zathern glanced over to the big Sceptile, still in conversation with Tharann. He couldn’t deny that Skorrhen had managed to make him feel at home very quickly.

    “I have to admit,” Zathern said, turning back to Karsa, “I’ve never been part of a group this big before.” Of course he hadn’t; most people on the sunset side didn’t forge a lot of friendships because they didn’t want a lot of broken hearts. It’d been foolish of him to get to know practically everyone his age over there when every single one of them was going to be killed.

    He shook those thoughts out of his mind. After all, he had the chance to find out what such large groups of friends were like now, without any downsides. “What do you lot spend your time doing, anyway?” he asked.

    Karsa hesitated briefly before answering. “Well, we battle a lot,” she said. “Against each other, to train and get stronger. And we…” She paused again, her gaze flickering across to Tharann for the tiniest moment before looking back at him. “We hunt. It’s easier in larger groups, and it…” She glanced at her feet awkwardly. “Well, it makes me feel like a part of something, you know? Important.”

    Zathern nodded, knowing exactly what she meant. He’d always liked feeling like he was worth something.

    “I felt like that once before,” he said, not sure why he was telling Karsa this. “I had a friend, back when I lived on the sunset side. She’d lost her parents, and I… I think I made her life worth living again. It felt really good to be there for her.” He sighed in frustration, trying to force down that ache of loss that was creeping back to him. “But she’s going to die, obviously, so… I couldn’t…” He trailed off, shaking his head. “And she practically hated me as soon as I evolved into a Sceptile, anyway, so I had to leave.”

    That wasn’t technically true, he knew. But pretending it was made it easier.

    Karsa nodded sympathetically. “That’s the trouble with the… with the winged lot,” she said. “Always looking down on us because they think we look strange and we can’t fly. They have no right to do that.” Her face was drawn into anger, something about the way she said the words sounding like she’d heard and said them many times before. “Still,” she muttered, her mouth curling into a grin. “We show them.”

    Zathern sensed that the “we” was more specific than just the species of Sceptile in general. A slight feeling of unease slid over him. “Show them how?”

    Karsa suddenly looked up, eyes wide as if she’d just realised he was there. “Oh, just in the hunts,” she said quickly. Her gaze flickered ever so fleetingly towards Tharann again. “We sometimes hunt on the sunset side, you know, steal some of their prey and such. The hunting’s much better on that side of the island – why should they get it all?”

    Zathern was a little sceptical, but then he remembered Verdan and some of the other Sceptile who’d occasionally been known to wander harmlessly around over on the sunset side – they’d said the hunting was better there too, hadn’t they?

    Something still didn’t quite feel right, but Zathern knew it would be easier if he didn’t think too hard about it, so he didn’t.

    “These hunts of yours,” he said. “I don’t suppose I could come on one sometime?”

    “Oh, pretty soon, I expect. Tharann’s probably deciding exactly when with Skorrhen right now,” she said, glancing over to the two older Sceptile. “He’s really fond of you, you know.” Her eyes met Zathern’s again, and she gave him a small smile.

    He nodded vaguely. “Yeah, I know,” he said, still proud that Tharann thought so much of him. “I think I’ll go ask him about it now. It was nice talking to you, Karsa.”

    “See you, Zath,” she said, grinning and watching him go as he moved away to talk to Tharann.

    - - -​

    Gliding above the canopies with the sun warming the backs of her wings, Forsira had her sights fixed on one particular Archopy she could see in the distance. Among all the other Archopy visible in the skies right now, this one was unique, flying around in mad, twisting, looping paths that defied all logic; he looked by rights like he should have fallen out of the sky at least three times by now. He was clearly having a whale of a time. Even though he was far too far away for her to make out his face, there was only one Archopy this could have been.

    Forsira had been searching all over the sunset side in everywhere that she could think of as a hiding place for days on end with no sign of him until now. Tefiren was without a doubt the most elusive Archopy on the island.

    That had only made Forsira all the more determined to find him.

    As Tefiren folded his wings and dropped like a stone through the canopy, Forsira put on a burst of speed to head towards where he’d been, keeping her sights locked on the gap in the trees that he’d vanished through. Her heart rose in anticipation as she approached, pushing aside the doubts she had and reminding her that, no matter what might go wrong, this was the one real chance she had of a life worth living again.

    At last she reached where she’d been headed, gliding down through the gap in the trees and flapping her wings carefully to slow her descent. She landed, looking around at the trees: Tefiren was nowhere to be seen. Of course he wasn’t. Forsira couldn’t imagine that he’d stay put for long while out in the open. Finding him was still going to be a challenge, but at least this gave her somewhere to start from.

    Glancing around the forest again, she felt a little less sure of herself. Tefiren could have gone off almost anywhere in the time it had taken her to reach here.

    Forsira was distracted from further doubts as the long, stripy shape of a Linoone shot past her through the undergrowth. Two facts about Linoone occurred to her as she watched it zoom away into the distance: they always ran in straight lines, and they lived in burrows.

    Smiling to herself, she turned in the direction the Linoone had come from. It was as good a direction to start searching in as any.

    It wasn’t too long before she came upon what did indeed look like a burrow – but this one had a much wider, messier entrance than most, almost as if something larger than a Linoone had scratched away at it to make space for itself. This had to be it.

    Forsira paused for a moment in front of the burrow. She could barely believe that she’d found him, that this uncatchable Archopy was right there, in a hole merely a wingspan away from her, and as far as she could tell, he hadn’t even noticed her approach.

    It fleetingly crossed her mind that it could just as easily have been one of Them standing here instead of her, but she shook the thought away before it could lodge anywhere and crawled forward into the hole.

    Tefiren looked at her from the depths of the burrow as she entered, a mixture of curiosity and alarm in his eyes that was quickly replaced by sudden glee.

    “Them again?” he asked, his voice filled with that enthusiasm she remembered so well from last time they’d met.

    Forsira frowned and shook her head slowly. Tefiren’s excitement fell away almost as abruptly as it had arrived.

    “Oh.” He regarded her in the dim light that made its way in from the outside, looking thoroughly puzzled. “Then what are you doing here?”

    “Looking for you,” Forsira said, already beginning to feel a little uneasy.

    “You were looking…” Something seemed to occur to Tefiren. “And you found me. That’s not supposed to happen. How did you find me?”

    “I…” Forsira almost trailed off, but in the dim light Tefiren’s gaze looked oddly urgent, as if the answer was incredibly important. “I saw you flying, then I followed a Linoone.” She tilted her head in an unspoken question of why it mattered so much.

    Tefiren ignored it, nodding to himself. “Flying. Linoone. Right.” Eventually he looked back up at her, something like appreciation in his eyes. “You’re good. It is you from before, isn’t it?”

    Forsira nodded.

    He gave a mystified chuckle, as if she were more of a fascinating puzzle than he was. “So why did you go looking for me?”

    “Because I want to live like you,” she told him. “Like I said before. I still do.”

    “And I said no.”

    “But that hasn’t changed how I feel!” Forsira insisted, getting more riled up and passionate. “I can’t just go back to living like the rest of the Archopy do, just sitting around waiting to be killed. Not now I’ve seen how you do it.”

    “Well, then, don’t!” Tefiren said as if it was that simple. “Go off and live like this on your own! But you can’t stay with me.”

    “Why not?”

    “I told you before!” He was beginning to sound exasperated. “Isn’t it obvious? It’s too risky. Two Archopy together are twice as likely to be caught as one.”

    “Two Archopy are twice as likely to see Them coming, too,” Forsira countered, refusing to let herself give up so easily.

    Tefiren gave a laugh. “I’m good enough at that on my own,” he said, grinning a wide grin.

    Forsira found herself agreeing almost automatically; of course Tefiren would be the best at seeing Them coming in time – but then…

    She lowered her voice. “What if I were one of Them, in here right now?” she asked. “You didn’t see me coming. How would you have escaped?”

    Tefiren stared at her with something implacable in his gaze for a moment, then the grin was suddenly back in full force, his eyes gleaming in the dim light as he laughed again. “Maybe you’re not as good as I thought. You think I’d hide in a dead end and not have a backup plan?” Wriggling around to face the wall behind him, he slashed away at it, his claws moving surprisingly fast. Within moments, he’d excavated a hollow in the wall as large as himself, which he slunk back into, putting some distance between himself and Forsira before he looked back at her.

    “Digging’s not that hard to figure out how to do,” he said slyly. “But I bet They’re not as practiced at it as I am.”

    Forsira stared, wondering why she’d ever underestimated him. Of course he had a backup plan.

    “Bet you’re not as good at it, either,” Tefiren added.

    His tone was mischievous, but there was an unspoken implication in his words. “So why don’t you just dig away from me right now?” she asked quietly.

    Tefiren frowned for a moment. “Because you’re not trying to kill me,” he said.

    Forsira shook her head, brushing aside his joking. “Really, though?”

    They held each other’s steadfast gazes across the gloom for a moment. Then Tefiren blinked and glanced away.

    “Look… whoever you are,” he said. “I’m flattered that you think my life is so great, but I don’t get what your problem is. If you like what I do, you can go off and live like this on your own, surely?” He looked back at her. “It’s not that hard.”

    Something in that last comment made Forsira crack, a burst of humourless laughter exploding out of her before she could stop herself. “You have no idea!” she managed to splutter, staring at him with wide eyes. “‘Not that hard’? Have you seen yourself?”

    In the gloom, she caught a flash of something in his expression, like he’d just been stung. She calmed herself down and fixed him with an imploring gaze.

    “Really, Tefiren. You’re amazing. No other Archopy on the island could live like you do. I wouldn’t last a day out there without your help. Please. I can’t just go back to my old life. I need you.”

    Whatever had been in Tefiren’s eyes before had faded entirely; he was staring at her now with something close to wonder, yet at the same time shaking his head before she’d even finished. “No,” he said fervently. “No, if I hang around with someone too many times, sooner or later They’ll find a way to exploit that against me. There’s a reason I never do the same thing twice. It’s too risky.”

    “But it’s not!” Forsira insisted, her heart sinking as she felt her chance slipping away from her. “Not for you, it wouldn’t be. You like being unpredictable; you must adapt to new things all the time – like, there aren’t any more thunderstorms to hide in, are there?” She kept up the urgent, almost desperate stare. “I know you’d be able to adapt to having me around, too. It wouldn’t be a problem. If there’s any Archopy least likely to be killed by Them, it’s you – with or without someone else there. Please, Tefiren.”

    There was a long, long moment in which Tefiren wouldn’t quite meet her eye, looking almost uncomfortable, unsure of himself. Then it passed, as all at once he filled with energy, flashing her a grin that seemed to light up the whole burrow. “Fine, then, if you insist. You’re in.” His eyes twinkled. “Catch me if you can.”

    Before Forsira could react, he’d shoved her playfully against the side wall, giving himself enough space to scramble past her and into the open light. With an indignant yelp, Forsira fumbled to get her feet beneath her and follow him out, part of her irrationally worried he was just trying to run away from her again. But she knew that wouldn’t have been the case. The way he’d smiled at her just now – he meant it, he must have done.

    Her heart rose in her chest as she re-emerged into the forest and saw Tefiren already running ahead of her, spreading his wings for a takeoff. She ran faster, beating her own wings, rising into the air only moments after him, and as the usual euphoria of flight swept through her, some simple joy in the fact that she was not just flying but flying with Tefiren amplified it into an unrestrained whoop of glee.

    Tefiren faltered in his flight and shot a glance at her behind him. As they rose through the canopies, he circled around to give her a pointed look.

    “Really?” he said, almost admonishingly. “I know flying’s fun and all, but you don’t just make that much noise whenever you like. You just told every one of Them within earshot exactly where you are. If you want to get yourself killed before we’ve even got started, be my guest, but…”

    Forsira knew that any of Them being nearby was unlikely – They didn’t kill that often – but she still felt sheepish. “Sorry.”

    Up in the open sky now, Tefiren wheeled around again, this time grinning at her. “Besides,” he added. “Taking off’s always most fun when you’re leaving Them on the ground behind you. Save the whooping for then, okay?”

    She couldn’t help but laugh a little. “Okay.”

    “So,” he said as they circled each other. The two of them weren’t heading anywhere in particular; apparently he’d just wanted her in the air. “If you’re really going to be sticking around, you need to be able to –”

    “Wait,” she interjected. “If I’m going to be sticking around, don’t you need to know my name?”

    Tefiren’s eyes widened for a moment, before he chuckled. “Well, I could just go on thinking of you as ‘her’ for the rest of time, but you have a point. Your name first, then?”


    He grinned. “Right then, Forse…”

    She felt her insides do a sudden, painful jerk. “Don’t call me that,” she murmured. “Please.”

    Tefiren frowned at her briefly but didn’t ask. “Fine then,” he said. “Sira.”

    She gave him a look.

    “What?” he said, mock-baffled. “‘Forsira’s such a mouthful – I have to shorten it to something.”

    Zathern had said the same about her name when they’d first met. Now that she thought about it, Tefiren wasn’t all too unlike her old friend. She wasn’t sure whether she felt right about finding a new Zathern for herself – but then she shook those doubts away. Tefiren was his own person, not a replacement for Zathern. She hadn’t let him call her Forse.

    “My name’s not that long,” she muttered indignantly. “Yours isn’t any shorter.” She leaned over and poked him playfully with the tip of her outermost wing leaf. “Tefi.”

    He stared at her for a moment, but then shook his head, making his long crest leaves rustle. “Anyway, Sira,” he said. “If you’re going to be sticking around, you’ll need to know my favourite trick. You saw me do it on Them last time.”

    Had she? She couldn’t think which particular trick he was talking about. Nearly everything he’d done last time had amazed her.

    Tefiren grinned at her and made a rapid swiping motion with his wings in front of him. Forsira remembered seeing that before, but she still had no idea what he’d actually done – apart from the topmost leaves of a tree below him rustling slightly, nothing seemed to have happened.

    “What?” she said vaguely.

    His grin grew wider as he circled around to come nearer. “Look again,” he said. “More closely.” This time, as Forsira peered carefully at the swiping of his wings, she thought she saw the air shimmer as something barely visible shot away from him – like a gust of air, only more concentrated. Sharper.

    “See?” he asked, and she nodded. “I call them air blades. Works a treat on Them – hits from a distance and seems to be especially painful for a Sceptile.”

    Forsira smiled to herself. “Have you ever tried them on anything else?”

    “No,” he said, like the thought of him doing so was absurd. “But they work well on Them. That’s what counts.”

    “But how did you learn to do it?” Forsira asked. Most new abilities she learnt just came on their own eventually, but she’d never known herself to be able to do anything like that.

    “How? I knew I wanted something ranged that worked against Them, so I just… figured it out.” He sounded like he’d found that an odd question. “But I bet any Archopy can learn to do it. I mean, all Archopy have sharp leaves and can fly, can’t they?” He banked to curve around in front of her, grinning at her sideways. “Go on. Give it a go.”

    Forsira looked at her wing leaves. She hadn’t a clue how she was supposed to just suddenly produce sharpened air out of them. “What? But…”

    “Just try it!” Tefiren insisted.

    Feeling incredibly foolish, Forsira raised her wings up a little and then flailed them in front of her. Nothing happened apart from her completely messing up her flight balance, and she tumbled clumsily through the air for a panicked moment before she managed to straighten herself out.

    Tefiren was above her, chuckling. She glared up at him.

    “You did that so you could laugh at me, didn’t you?”

    “Maybe I did,” he admitted, descending to her level. “You’re probably best getting the hang of it on the ground first before you try it in flight.” He grinned infuriatingly at her. “Should have worked that out earlier, shouldn’t I?”

    Smiling at his cheek, Forsira followed her new friend as he dropped down to land among the forest below.

    - - -​

    They spent the day practicing Forsira’s air blades safely on solid ground. It took a while for her to get it – part of it was due to Tefiren’s tendency to freeze and glance around the forest at the slightest noise, which, while she understood his insistence that it was necessary if he wanted to be sure of avoiding Them, kept throwing off her concentration. Apart from that, though, Tefiren just wasn’t the best of teachers, seemingly struggling to put himself in her skin in order to explain exactly what she needed to do; it almost felt like she was figuring it out on her own. But in the end, she began to get the hang of it. By the time the sun was setting far away through the trees, she could consistently produce a decent blade of air by swiping her wings just right.

    Tefiren had insisted on choosing the best tree to sleep in, one which gave them as much cover as possible, since they hadn’t had time to find another proper hiding place like the Linoone burrow. Perched next to Tefiren in one of the densest boughs she’d ever seen, Forsira watched the last of the light fade away beneath the horizon through the mass of branches. As she began to drift off to sleep, she wondered how many Archopy had been watching the sunset back in Azma’s clearing, whether any of them would never see it rise again the next day.

    The next thing she knew, she was suddenly awake in the darkness, something having jolted her out of her sleep – some kind of rustling noise, close by. Instantly alert, she glanced around the rest of the tree and saw that Tefiren wasn’t there.

    Forsira’s heart lurched as she looked around frantically for him. Had he been taken by one of Them? But no – if he’d spotted Them coming, surely he’d have woken her, otherwise she’d be dead by now as he fled. Calming herself with the conviction that if anyone was least likely to have been suddenly killed by Them, it was Tefiren, she dropped out of the tree to get a better look around where there weren’t dense branches obscuring her view.

    Through the darkness she could just about make out an Archopy off in the distance, gliding away from the tree, close enough to the ground that he’d probably only just taken off.

    The sight of it stabbed painfully inside Forsira. Tefiren was running away. He hadn’t really meant it about letting her stay with him; he’d just been waiting for his opportunity to up and leave when she wouldn’t notice. Of course he didn’t care about being with her.

    But she couldn’t just let him go like that. He was too far away by now for her to have any hope of catching up with him, but if she could just…

    She focused, remembering all her practice from earlier, trying to imagine sharpness in her front-most wing leaves. Aiming carefully, she slashed at the space in front of her, feeling that satisfying swish of a blade of air shooting its way out of her wings.

    The fleeing Archopy up ahead jerked and cried out in pain before faltering in his still-low flight and crashing to the ground.

    Forsira suddenly felt incredibly guilty. She hadn’t meant to hurt Tefiren; she’d just been in too much of a hurry to stop him leaving to think…

    Tefiren was gritting his teeth and pushing himself up off the ground as she rushed across to him. He glanced at her over his shoulder.

    “Looks like it works well on Archopy too,” he said, managing a smile.

    “Are you okay?” Forsira asked worriedly as he stood up. “I didn’t mean to…”

    “I’m fine,” Tefiren said, shaking his leaves down and grinning. “Takes more than one air blade to stop Them in their tracks; it’s not going to stop me, either.”

    There was silence as the two of them glanced awkwardly at each other, the unspoken implication of what exactly she’d tried to stop him doing hanging in the air.

    “You were running away,” Forsira said at last.

    “Of course I wasn’t,” came the immediate reply.

    “Even after you said I could stay with you,” she went on.

    “No, really!” Tefiren insisted, a hint of franticness in his eyes. “I wasn’t running away! I was testing you.”


    “To see if you could hear me leaving even in your sleep, to see if you could hit me with an air blade from that distance.” His face lit up. “Congrats, Sira! You did well.”

    “You really weren’t running away?” Forsira asked.

    “Nope. ‘Course not. I just wanted to see if you were a light sleeper.” They began to creep back towards the tree they’d been sleeping in, Tefiren’s eyes darting constantly around the darkened forest as he kept low. “Second most important thing after the air blades – actually, probably the first, but I couldn’t exactly teach it during the day – is to be a light sleeper.”

    “Of course I’m a light sleeper,” she said. “Every Archopy needs to be a light sleeper if they want to live.”

    “Well, exactly! And you’re definitely a very light one, so be proud, Sira.”

    Forsira couldn’t help but chuckle.

    “I bet I’m lighter than you, though,” Tefiren added cheekily.

    She grinned and nudged him. “No chance, Tefi.”

    Of course Tefiren hadn’t been running away from her. What reason would he have had?

    They came to a stop at the bottom of the tree. Tefiren was peering up into its branches thoughtfully.

    “You know, I don’t actually feel like going back to sleep,” he said after a pause. “I’m not all that tired. What about you?”

    Forsira had been feeling surprisingly alert despite it being night time, but she could tell it was beginning to wear off. “A little bit,” she said. “I wouldn’t mind going back to…”

    She stopped as Tefiren suddenly froze, tense, staring off into the distance with a mixture of anxiety and excitement in his eyes. She assumed it was just another one of his false alarms, but then he shot upwards and vanished into the tree without a word.

    Her heart suddenly beating uncomfortably quickly, Forsira dashed up there after him.

    She knew better than to ask him what he’d sensed; she knew better than to so much as move, crouched among the branches, her leaves spread out as much as she could in the hope she’d blend in with the tree around her in the darkness. Tefiren was right next to her, not even breathing, his eyes fixed intensely on something that was approaching across the forest floor.

    The night was suddenly lit up a blazing green as four Sceptile shot past directly below the tree, filled with deadly speed and purpose, making Forsira’s heart lurch in terror. In the corner of her eye, Tefiren’s gaze never left Them as They rushed by. The edges of his mouth almost seemed to be curling up into a smile. How did he do that? She wished she could be smiling at a time like this.

    As soon as the Sceptile were well and truly out of sight and earshot, Tefiren suddenly burst out in loud, barking laughter.

    “They didn’t even see us!” he chortled, looking at Forsira and grinning all over his face. “Did you see that? Whoosh, right past the tree, not even noticing!” He managed to breathe a bit as his laughter died down. “Oh, I thought I might have to step up my game, what with you finding me and all, but perhaps I shouldn’t be worrying so much.” He giggled again. “They make me laugh sometimes.”

    A tiny part of Forsira wanted to point out that it really was rather difficult to see them in the tree while rushing past at blinding speeds, and that They would probably have preferred an oblivious, sleeping target, even if They had noticed the two of them leap up there. But the rest of her didn’t think it mattered – what mattered was that they were still alive, and above it all she couldn’t help but marvel at Tefiren’s carefree attitude, wishing she could treat everything that lightly too. He was unbelievable.

    “So, then,” he said, still grinning at her. “Still feeling a little bit tired?”

    She smiled and shook her head.

    “Right then. Let’s go and do something.” Tefiren glanced around and up at the night sky. “Uh, I’ve got nothing, so… whatever you want to do? Not talking, though,” he added quickly. “Talking’s boring. Something fun.”

    Apart from battling, which would be tricky at night time and risk gaining Their attention, there was one other thing Forsira could think of that was fun. “Flying?”

    Tefiren nodded enthusiastically. “Flying sounds good to me.” He made to leap out of the tree into a glide, but then stopped and looked back at her. “And take off quietly this time, okay?”

    She smiled sheepishly and nodded. Satisfied, Tefiren threw himself from the tree, spreading his wings and beating them powerfully to send him upwards straight away. Forsira followed his lead, flying higher with him, and the two of them rose blindly through the branches until they broke the canopy, soaring out into the endless night sky.

    Forsira had never been flying at night before. It was a surreal experience, as though she was in the middle of nothing – nothing below her, nothing around her and only the stars above her as she wheeled through the air, freer than ever, following Tefiren’s lead as he flew in twisted, wild paths underneath the starlight.

    Despite the fun she was having, beneath it all Forsira felt a pang of guilt for the unknown Archopy whose life she knew was ending tonight.

    - - -​

    The night sky overhead was dark enough that Zathern was having a hard time seeing the three Sceptile in front of him as he followed them up towards the ridge. It had only been a few days since he’d met Tharann and his group of friends, but here he was, already coming on one of their hunts. He felt privileged – apparently it usually took a new guy a lot longer to get to join one for the first time.

    Skorrhen, Tharann, Karsa and himself came to a stop as they reached the ridge, pausing to survey what little of the sunset side they could see through the night. Zathern caught Karsa’s eye next to him; beneath the excitement and confidence she exuded, something about her almost looked nervous.

    “Why are we doing this at night?” he asked in a whispered voice. “We’re day predators. We’re not made for darkness.”

    “Neither are our prey,” Karsa whispered back, eyeing the older two Sceptile warily, but they didn’t seem to be paying any notice. “It works better this way. Besides, it’s Skorrhen’s decision.”

    “Come on,” came Skorrhen’s voice as the big Sceptile glanced back at the rest of them. “This way.”

    It was hard to tell in the dim light from the stars, but it didn’t really seem like he and Tharann were excited about this hunt at all. In the darkness, they merely looked intimidating.

    Zathern shook those thoughts out of his mind and hurried to stay level with Karsa as she followed the two larger Sceptile through the forest. She wasn’t looking at him, staring straight ahead in a fixed, intent sort of way as she ran. After a moment, she blinked, shook her head and turned to him. “Hey,” she hissed. “It’s easier if you let out the monster inside now rather than later.”

    “What?” Her words unnerved him for a moment before he realised that she must have meant the inner predator. “Oh, that. But… there aren’t any prey yet.”

    “I know!” Karsa glanced at Skorrhen and Tharann up ahead, both darting around, scanning the trees, their eyes utterly cold and emotionless even though they clearly didn’t have a target. “It’s better this way. Trust me.” With that, she took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and when they opened again it wasn’t really Karsa anymore. The female Sceptile stared at him for a moment before jumping ahead to join the two others.

    Despite his growing unease about this whole thing, Zathern trusted Karsa – at least, he wanted to trust her. So he did as she said and reached for the predator inside. It didn’t take him long. While he imagined most people would have struggled to do it without prey around, Zathern had never had much trouble pushing his real self into a corner at the back of his mind, and recently it had been easier than ever to let the predator take over.

    He raced up to join the others. They’d set off after something, travelling swiftly through the forest, clearly having sensed prey somewhere ahead. The only thing he himself could sense from being here was memories of his childhood and people he’d once known – but he didn’t care about that any more. That was over, and he had other things to do right now. The only thing he was here for was the prey.

    He caught a flashed glimpse of something darting into a tree up ahead – it was hard to make it out in the darkness – but whatever it was, they paid it no attention, shooting straight past as they lit their blades, the weapons extending into deadly sharpness. It felt good, hunting as part of a group, all four of them moving as one, feeling the adrenaline and focus together.

    Silently, they raced up to the base of another tree, and there they paused for an infinitely long moment as three of the Sceptile gazed up into the branches at their sleeping, oblivious prey above.

    The fourth Sceptile recoiled, the inner predator forced to the back of his mind as the real Zathern clawed his way forward in horror.


    Their prey was an Archopy.

    Before Zathern could say or do anything, Skorrhen had already leapt up, blades still lit, slashing at his target in the branches. With a spray of blood and a screech of pain and terror, the Archopy leapt blindly out of the tree, colliding with Zathern in its desperation to get away.

    He just stood there numbly, frozen, letting it scramble past him – but in a flash of bright green, Tharann darted around him frighteningly fast, leaping onto the Archopy and digging his claws into its back to bring it down. The female Sceptile that should have been Karsa joined him in subduing the Archopy’s wild struggles and pinning it to the ground, a hiss of satisfaction escaping beneath her cold predator’s air.

    As Zathern watched, still unable to get himself to do anything, Skorrhen walked calmly around to the front of the wretched person they held trapped.

    “Please,” she begged – her voice, broken and sobbing, was clearly female. Zathern felt a horrible pang as thoughts of his mother and Forsira sprung up unbidden, and he desperately shoved them further to the back of his mind than he’d ever managed to do before. This Archopy sounded different. She wasn’t either of them. And so… and so she didn’t matter?

    “Please, let me go…”

    She sounded terrified. She was going to die. Why wasn’t he doing anything?

    Zathern could see some kind of gleam in Tharann’s eyes as he held his victim down. It must have been the reflection from the light of Skorrhen’s blades – it had to be – because it almost seemed that Tharann’s inner predator was not in control at all right now, and yet that he was somehow enjoying this.

    Shuddering, Zathern closed his eyes and looked away as Skorrhen delivered the killing blow and another Archopy’s life was ended.

    Last edited: Apr 16, 2011
  16. elyvorg

    elyvorg somewhat backwards.

    Accepting [continued]


    “We’re leaving now? After only one?”

    “Yes, Tharann, we are. Your little, ah, new recruit has seen enough. One more tonight and we might not be able to keep him. You wouldn’t want that, would you?”

    There was a grumble from Tharann.

    “I don’t know why you were so insistent to bring him on a hunt so early,” Skorrhen went on. “It was too risky. We might have lost him already.”

    “We won’t,” Tharann snarled. “I’ll make sure of it.”

    The words made their way to Zathern’s ears, but his mind wasn’t in any state to process what they meant. Nothing really registered at all. He was vaguely aware of Karsa, herself again, glancing worriedly at him every now and then in the edge of his vision, but he didn’t react. He didn’t want to be here. He didn’t want to have seen what he’d just seen. He didn’t want to be a part of any of it.

    Yet still he followed the three murderers through the darkness towards the sunrise side and what was meant to be his home. He didn’t have anywhere else to go.

    As soon as they were well and truly over the ridge, with everything that he’d just witnessed far behind him, Zathern stopped running and sat heavily on the ground. He was shaking. The beginnings of dawn were starting to show through the trees; it always got lighter over here earlier than it had on the sunset side.

    After a brief whispered exchange with Skorrhen, Tharann walked up to him awkwardly.

    Zathern didn’t even look at him. “You’re Them,” he said hollowly. “All of you.”

    “Well, if you want to put it the way the winged freaks do…” Tharann began.

    “It doesn’t matter how I put it,” Zathern spat, suddenly gripped by the anger and disgust that had been searching for a way out ever since he’d witnessed the Archopy’s murder. He rose up from the ground, his glare burning into Tharann. “It doesn’t change the fact that you spend your time murdering Archopy. That’s what your ‘hunts’ are, isn’t it? That’s what you do.”

    Tharann sighed, looking little more than bored by the whole thing. “Well, yes. And it’s also what you came along and joined in with, isn’t it?”

    “I didn’t join in,” Zathern said shakily, staring back down at the ground. “If I’d known, I’d never have come.”

    “You almost joined in though, didn’t you, Zathern? That, ah, ‘inner predator’ of yours was doing a great job up until the last moment.” Tharann smiled thinly. “I did say you were a natural.”

    Zathern recoiled from him, suddenly realising. “That’s why you brought me here? Because you thought I’d be a good hunter?”

    “You are a good hunter, believe me,” Tharann said. “You just need to get over the jitters. And the way you talked about your mother, and the fact that you left the sunset side and came over here… you clearly don’t give a damn about the winged freaks. I don’t know what your problem was, really.”

    Zathern shook his head in appalled disbelief. “I don’t… you can’t… you just recruited me?” He steeled himself and said more firmly, “You’re wrong. I do care about the Archopy.”

    Tharann snorted. “Really? Then why aren’t you still over that side of the island, trying to help them? Why were you over here looking for your father when your mother’s still there if you wanted her?” He took a step closer. “Why didn’t you stop us killing that one just now? Face it, Zathern. You’re just like the rest of us.”

    Zathern backed away, lost for words. He hadn’t tried to do anything for the Archopy at all. They were dying; someone should be helping them – and yet there he was, fleeing over to the other side of the island and trying to convince himself it wasn’t his problem. And he knew that if he was given the choice again, he’d still choose to run away. What if Tharann was right about him?

    No. Even if he didn’t care – and he did, he told himself fervently – it didn’t suddenly make him into one of Them.

    “You’re wrong,” Zathern said again, putting as much confidence as he could into his voice. It came out shaking. “I don’t want this. I never did. Why didn’t you tell me about this beforehand?” He suddenly looked over to Karsa, who’d been standing awkwardly on the outskirts, listening to the whole thing. “Karsa, you told me about the hunts. Why didn’t you tell me the truth?”

    Karsa’s gaze flickered towards Tharann for a moment before she stared guiltily down at her feet. “I’m sorry,” she muttered. “Tharann really wanted to recruit you, and he said we shouldn’t make it obvious what we did straight away or you’d never want to stay.”

    “I’m glad he got something about me right,” Zathern hissed resentfully. “Guess what, Tharann? I still don’t want to stay.” He turned to leave.

    “Really?” came Tharann’s voice, silky and smug, stopping him in his tracks. “I noticed something else about you, Zathern. You’ve got nowhere else to go. Sure, you could go back to live with a bunch of winged freaks who are going to die – would you like that? Or you could hang around on your own on this side where no-one else cares about you. We’re the only people you’ve got.”

    The words hit Zathern hard. As much as he hated to admit it, Tharann and the others really were the only people who seemed to remotely care about him anymore. This was the only semblance of a new start he’d been able to find – and he needed a new start. There wasn’t anywhere else.


    “No,” he said. “You’re not. Not if I can find my father.”

    Tharann snorted. It sounded like he was trying to hold in a huge gale of laughter. Zathern turned back to him in confusion; he was shaking all over with repressed mirth.

    “I really, really wouldn’t bother if I were you,” he said eventually between breaths, his voice sounding unnervingly amused. “Your father’s standing right where I am.”

    Zathern’s eyes widened. It took him a moment to realise what Tharann meant.


    It seemed bizarre at first, but the more he thought about it, the more sense it made. That was why Tharann had been so friendly to him, why he’d been so eager to recruit him. His father. He’d been right there all along.

    And that automatically fixed everything?

    “So on top of everything else,” Zathern growled under his breath, “you lied to me about that?”

    “Nope,” Tharann said. “I never said I wasn’t your father. For that matter, I never said we didn’t kill winged freaks in our spare time. I never lied, as such – I just didn’t tell you the whole truth.”

    “No.” Zathern shook his head slowly. “No. When we talked about my father, you said whoever it was would be too ashamed to mention it. You didn’t…”

    “Of course I was ashamed about what I did with your mother!” Tharann said, sounding exasperated. “Seriously, look at me. Do you really think I wouldn’t be? I was young, I was foolish; I was wandering around over on the sunset side and it just sort of happened before I realised what I was doing.”

    Zathern stared. “What, so instead of killing her, you just…”

    Tharann seemed to double take for a moment. “No, no, this was before I met Skorrhen and got into this. Probably helped me along the way to it, though.”

    Zathern stood there for a moment, shaking his head, at a loss for what to make of everything. “So you just wanted me to… to follow in your footsteps?”

    His father shrugged. “Something like that.”

    Zathern began to back away again. There was a tiny voice in the back of his mind that wanted to make his father proud, no matter what a monster he was, and it frightened him. “No,” he said. “No, this doesn’t change anything. I won’t help you murder the Archopy. I can’t do what you want me to, even if you are my father.”

    “But that’s just the thing, Zathern,” came another smooth voice. It took him a moment to realise it was Skorrhen, who’d been standing quietly behind Tharann this whole time and had only now begun to slink around towards him. “You can. Tharann’s told me what a hunter you are. You’re one of the best at letting out the monster inside, aren’t you? You must get it from him. And when the monster’s in control, killing doesn’t hurt, does it? You wouldn’t have to feel a thing.”

    Skorrhen had come so close now that he was barely a leaf’s width away from Zathern’s face. Zathern shuddered. He remembered his mother telling him that the inner predator existed so that the guilt of ending other sentient creatures’ lives wouldn’t destroy them every time they hunted. He knew that first hand – that was why he’d never had a problem with hunting as soon as he’d done it for the first time. Because it didn’t hurt that way, no matter what the prey was.

    Zathern was beginning to realise with a sick dread that joining Them wasn’t something far beneath him that he was incapable of. He could do it, all right.

    “No,” he whispered, his voice wavering. “I don’t want to. You shouldn’t be killing them at all.”

    “Shouldn’t we?” Skorrhen replied evenly, his voice level and calm. “Nature’s already decided. The way we breed – one Archopy, one Sceptile, and the child is always a Sceptile. You’re living proof of that. We’re the winning species. We were already wiping them out just by breeding with them. If we hadn’t started speeding things up, they’d still be living among us – and soon there’d be none left anyway. They’ve already lost. We’re simply finishing Nature’s job for her.”

    He remembered how Tharann had told him that Archopy numbers had already been dwindling, how it’d made him think, just for a moment, that maybe what They were doing wasn’t such a bad thing. And it had helped ease the pain of his old friends’ inevitable deaths, just a little, to think that the species of Archopy had been doomed to die anyway. It made things ever so slightly easier. Thinking that way didn’t hurt anyone. But…

    “No,” Zathern repeated, louder, in the hope that he could shut out the doubts in his mind. He forced himself to look up into Skorrhen’s eyes and realised that he’d started shaking again. “I don’t want to.”

    Skorrhen smiled. It was the most unsettling thing Zathern had ever seen. “Well, you specifically don’t want to kill anyone. I can see that. But staying with us? That you do want, Zathern. There’s no reason you’d have come here with Tharann in the first place if you didn’t. You want to escape all the fear and the pain and the injustice of what’s happening to your friends on the sunset side, don’t you? But you don’t need to forget that it’s happening; you just need to forget how much it hurts. If you join us, we can give you that, more than anyone else ever could.”

    Zathern was shaking his head frantically. Skorrhen was far too frighteningly right.

    Something desperate inside him snapped, and with a cry of “No!”, he shoved the larger Sceptile away from him and ran.

    “We both know you’ll be back, Zathern!” Skorrhen called after him. “This is exactly what you’ve been looking for!”

    Zathern tried to shut out his voice as he fled, not caring where he was running to so long as it was somewhere he wouldn’t be able to listen to Skorrhen. The other Sceptile wasn’t trying to follow him. Somewhere in the depths of Zathern’s mind lay the miserable knowledge that he probably wouldn’t need to.

    - - -​

    He didn’t stop running until he reached the cliffs at the very edge of the sunrise side. With no more land to flee across, Zathern sighed and slumped to the ground, breathing hard, gazing out over the sea. The sun had just begun to emerge from beneath the waves, tinting the sky behind it a golden yellow. It seemed a world away from the darkness and the killing that had been only last night.

    Zathern sat miserably, watching the sunrise from atop the cliff. He’d seen it a lot of times before on this side, but never like this, with such a wide, open view of the steadily brightening sky. It reminded him of the time Forsira had watched her first sunset back when they were Treecko.

    Forsira. He snorted mirthlessly, wondering if he’d left for her sake rather than his, in the end. She was probably better off without him.

    The sun had almost cleared the waves when he heard movement behind him. He turned to see Karsa walking towards him, looking concerned. She sat herself next to him without a word.

    Zathern wished he could have seen her as the murderous female Sceptile who’d hissed in satisfaction as she held down their victim last night. Anything to remind him of the savagery of it all, to convince him to stay as far away from Them as possible. But he couldn’t. All he saw was the only proper friend he had any more.

    This was all wrong. Members of Them were supposed to be creatures that slunk in the shadows, monsters from horror stories of the worst kind. They weren’t supposed to be ordinary people, like Tharann had been when they’d met, like Karsa was right now – like him. Life was meant to be more black and white than this; it should have been easy to choose.

    Zathern sighed. “I see what you mean about Skorrhen,” he said ruefully.

    Karsa gave a slow nod. “He is very persuasive.”

    “He’s terrifying.”

    She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye. “That too.”

    Zathern sighed again, almost angrily. “I hate what they’re doing. I hate that they feel they have to kill all the Archopy. I really do. But… I can’t stop them, can I? There isn’t a thing I could do to change their minds. And I could just go and leave and live among the rest of the Sceptile here, but that wouldn’t be any better. I’d still be trying so hard every day not to think about what the Archopy are going through. And that –” it sounded stupid, but it was also most likely true – “that would be easier if I stayed here.” He shook his head. “It’s not just that. It’s what you said, about feeling like you’re a part of something. I…” Zathern turned to Karsa tentatively. “I really want to feel like that again. I know I shouldn’t, but…”

    “Feeling like part of something isn’t a bad thing to want,” Karsa said quietly. “I was nothing before I joined. People know who I am now. The hunts let me be in control of things, for once. It’s not hard to forget what they’re really about.”

    “That’s exactly the thing,” Zathern said, his voice pained. “It wouldn’t be hard for me. I know I could do it.” He looked intently at her. “All those things you said before, about Archopy. Do you really believe any of it?”

    Karsa’s eyes widened, a hint of insecurity flickering behind her usually-confident gaze. “I don’t know,” she said. “Sometimes. It’s better when I do. It makes it easier.” She frowned at his accusing glare. “Look, Zath, what I’m doing is beside the point. They’re all going to die sooner or later anyway. My contribution isn’t going to make a difference one way or another. Neither would yours.”

    “I know that!” Zathern exclaimed in frustration. “That’s exactly it! I know that it wouldn’t matter! I keep telling myself it’s wrong, but I could so easily shut that voice up like you have. I could be like you, Karsa. It would be so easy.” He broke off and shuddered, wishing he hadn’t just said that out loud, allowed himself to think about how easy it would be – but he couldn’t deny it.

    “Then why don’t you?” Karsa asked softly.

    Zathern shut his eyes and looked away from her. “I shouldn’t,” he said. “I want to be part of something, I want to be with you, I want to be with my father.” And it was true; there was a small voice inside him to which the fact that Tharann was a murderer was completely irrelevant next to the fact that he was his father. It simply overrode everything else about him. “But I shouldn’t. I know I shouldn’t.”

    “Why shouldn’t you? It’s not going to –”

    “Stop it!” Zathern jumped to his feet, turning his back on Karsa. “You’re trying to bring me back, I know you are. Did Tharann ask you to do this, too? Or Skorrhen?”

    He heard her stand up and approach him from behind. He took a step away, shaking.

    “What if I’m not here because anyone told me to?” she said. “What if I just wanted to help you, Zath?”

    “No.” Zathern shook his head, still not looking at her. He took another step away. This one was smaller.

    “You’re so confused,” Karsa said. Her voice sounded genuinely concerned for him. He really wished it didn’t; he wished he could tell himself she was trying to trick him. “If you go and live among the rest of the Sceptile, things will just get worse. They did for me. Everything made sense once I joined; everything got easier. You’ll forget all those worries.” She was close to him now, her arms comfortingly on his shoulders from behind.

    “I don’t want to forget…” he tried to insist, but his voice came out small and feeble.

    What was he saying? Hadn’t he been trying desperately to forget ever since he’d come here?

    “You do, Zath,” said Karsa simply. “You’d never have left the sunset side if you didn’t want to forget. Stop struggling and let go. It’ll be so much easier.”

    Zathern remained tense and defiant for a moment longer, but then he just let the fight drain out of him. It would have been so hard to keep resisting forever.

    With a miserable sigh, he turned around to face Karsa. “Where’s my father, then?”

    Smiling sadly at him, Karsa turned and began to lead him away through the forest.

    Last edited: Apr 16, 2011
  17. Dragonfree

    Dragonfree Just me

    Aaaa Zathern is all ":D Tharann is paying attention to me!" D:

    I liked this; it feels very right for Zathern and at the same time aaaa.

    Hee. :3 Ambiguity! Sceptile feeling genuinely justified and formerly oppressed!

    Mm, I'm not sure how much I like that you're using justified here; it seems way, way too much of a stretch to think that this justifies what They do. I get what you're going for - that it makes it seem to matter less from a certain point of view - but speaking of it as justification doesn't feel right.

    Really like this too; it just seems like a pretty natural attitude to have about it. It strikes me as somewhat odd that Zathern finds himself explicitly disagreeing with it, though - he's really been thinking much the same thing about how getting close to Archopy is no good, so out of everything Tharann has said I'd kind of have expected this to be what he could most easily relate to. If Tharann had been expressing active disgust at the idea of getting intimate with an Archopy I'd understand better, but he's really not here, per se.

    Heh. Nice job subtly changing the subject, Zathern.


    Really, really interesting thought here - these Sceptile just having nowhere else to turn would make it easy to manipulate them into participating in pretty much anything, wouldn't it?


    Oh, man, all those poor Sceptile. I want to give them all a hug now. Especially Karsa. (Well, not all, just the young lost pressured ones. D:)

    Hee. :3

    Really enjoyed this for some reason.

    You've got a missing quotation mark at the end there. But otherwise, this is delightful. :3

    Ha, he finds that so frightening, doesn't he?

    You're missing a period there in the middle.

    I love how he's reaching for any excuse to get her to just go away.



    Missing a period there.

    I'm sure he'd love to think it's really easy and it's the other Archopy's own fault if they can't do it, really, wouldn't he? :3


    He is adorable.

    Oh, lovestruck Forsira.

    Stop making me want to quote everything he says, damn you.

    I can almost hear his mind going "ahh I can't learn her name because then I might start to care! D:"

    Ouch. Nice moment.

    Why so adorable.

    Haha, he grins infuriatingly. x3

    Heeeee. :3

    I like that Tefiren's not a good teacher; he tries so hard not to relate to anyone that it must be hard for him to try to do something that requires just that.

    Ha, he tries to run off in the night. :3

    asdf that is so adorably pathetic and ridiculous.

    Oh, Forsira, you have no idea.

    And he's covering up just how deathly afraid he was that they really would find them! :D

    I really like the writing in these paragraphs; there's a lot of atmosphere and tension and that last biting touch of guilt.

    It seems weird to imply the blackness is being cast onto the forest; darkness is just the absence of light, not something that can be cast in itself. I'd reword this if I were you.

    D: Karsaaa.


    D: Zatheeeern!




    Nice job with the horror in this scene; it's not like it wasn't obvious from the beginning who this group of Sceptile he'd just joined was, but of course he's too deep in denial to realize it until it's too late and you just make the entire thing feel so wrong and horrible.

    Aaaaaaaaaaaaaa Tharann knows him too well. D:

    Oh, Zathern.

    Aaand I was right! :D I was pretty sure the moment you mentioned that the Sceptile Zathern met on the sunrise side had been very interested in his mother.

    You evil, evil, evil Sceptile. D: Azmaaaa.

    This stuff chills to the bone, seriously. D:

    D: Zatherrrn. This is so utterly sad!

    D: D: D:


    Zathern! ;_;

    I feel like a paragraph break before "With a miserable sigh..." would help make it sink in how he gives up better here.

    Anyway. THIS IS THE MOST TRAGIC THING IN THE WORLD. D: Stop breaking my heart. By which I mean don't stop because this is chilling and heartwrenching in just the right ways. This may be the best part yet, especially because making Zathern's conversion convincing was probably the most difficult task at hand in this whole fic and I at least thought you handled it masterfully. Villains who manage to be completely, monstrously evil while avoiding being cheesy or flat are not to be taken for granted and both Tharann and Skorrhen pass the test with flying colors, while Zathern resists for so long under so much pressure that instead of his Face Heel Turn just destroying the reader's sympathy for him, it is heartbreakingly easy to follow along with his thought process and understanding why he does what he does at the same time as we're horrified by it. (A very important part of this, I feel, is the emphasis you place in the final scene on how he can't stop them - they're going to kill all those Archopy with or without him and the only thing he'd accomplish by not joining them is throwing away his only chance for acceptance and company.)

    Keep it up, hats off for your ever-awesome character writing, and I can't wait for the next part.
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2012
  18. elyvorg

    elyvorg somewhat backwards.

    Dragonfree - Thanks yet again for another very awesome review! It is always fun watching you react to everything like you do. :3

    Yes, they were. Shame that although that was quite a while ago and definitely doesn't happen any more, certain Sceptile can still use it as an excuse for what they're doing now.

    So do I! I'm pleased that I managed to get across this impression in such a small space, since after all it is how an awful lot of Them ended up there. Karsa's definitely a prime example of that; you'll be seeing a good bit more of her. She was the character that just sort of popped up out of nowhere in November and wrote herself, which was a really fun experience. :3

    I can't believe I managed to overlook that many missing full stops or quotation marks in that first Tefiren scene. Clearly I was just fangirling over him too much every single time I read through it to notice such insignificant things! Yes.

    Haha. As much as that's a delightful and Tefiren-like thought, that's not actually it, and neither is that other suggestion you made on MSN that he's remembering the times it actually has been hard for him to escape. His Tefirenlogic is fixed enough that he still genuinely doesn't think it's that hard, even as Forsira tries to tell him it really is (and any difficult escapes in which he just barely survived would have been quickly rationalised away as having been as easy as anything the moment he was away and safe). In this instance it's not that part of his defence mechanisms she managed to shake for a moment (he'd just be kind of confused and think that she's strange for finding it hard, as is any other Archopy). The reason he looks stung actually specifically has to do with Forsira's "Have you seen yourself?", because for a moment it seems to him like she thinks he's a sociopathic freak. And then as you rightly guessed on MSN, his wonder a moment later is because, wait, she doesn't think he's a freak at all; she actually likes what he does!

    I'm fairly sure review replies are not supposed to contain such detailed explanations of a character's defence mechanisms, but shush.

    Forsira, Forsira, Forsira. Stop interpreting Tefiren's defence mechanisms as flirting! (Then again maybe we should be blaming Tefiren for having defence mechanisms that seem so much like flirting in the first place.)

    Indeed! Although consciously, what's going on in his mind as his eyes widen is more along the lines of "oh right I completely forgot; other people have names, don't they?"

    Also note the way he instantly starts using a shortened nickname for her - because if it's not really her name that he uses, then it's not really her that he's running the risk of getting close to, right?

    Because it's Forsira and Tefiren and they are adorable together. :3 Much as Tefiren might prefer them not to be.

    But of course he was testing her! That makes perfect sense, right? x3

    Yeesssss. He is! And the fact that he does so by bursting into a gleeful giggling fit of all things is a prime example of why I love him so much. :3

    Eeee! Thank you! I am so, so glad I managed to pull this off; I always knew Zathern's conversion was going to be the hardest part. At the beginning of November I had very little clue at all as to how he'd change sides, so I mostly just dove in and desperately hoped it would make sense somehow, but even once I'd written it I still was not completely sure if I'd done it all that convincingly, so whoo! Also yay for Skorrhen and Tharann being real-feeling yet completely evil villains.

    Next part is hopefully going to go up sometime later today! If it doesn't, poke me.
    Last edited: Jan 17, 2012
  19. elyvorg

    elyvorg somewhat backwards.


    So, next instalment! This is one of my favourite parts of the fic. Mostly because it contains large amounts of Tefiren, but shush.



    “I said I was a lighter sleeper than you!” Tefiren called over his shoulder as the two of them pelted between the trees.

    “Okay!” Forsira screeched at him. “I believe you!”

    Now was really not the time to be discussing this. Not when a Sceptile was pursuing them at top speed, its blades lighting up the night in shining green. She’d been jolted suddenly out of her sleep by Tefiren, and the next thing she knew, they were running for their lives.

    Tefiren, naturally, had treated this like it was the best midnight surprise ever.

    Heart pounding with every impact of her feet against the ground, beating her wings in a desperate attempt to take off, Forsira shot a glance at the Sceptile behind her. His eyes – at least, she was fairly sure it was a he – were empty, devoid of all emotion but an unnerving predatory hunger as he stared right through her. To him, she wasn’t a person. She wasn’t anyone. She was just prey.

    Forsira shivered and broke the gaze. No Sceptile should have been able to look at an Archopy like that.

    She kept running, focusing on keeping herself alive. Tefiren was ahead of her, his feet beginning to lift off from the ground, but only slightly. “Is it just the one?” she called to him, her voice coming out far higher and more frantic than it usually did.

    Tefiren sounded the same as ever. “Just one?” He let out a cackle. “Of course not! There’s never just one.” He suddenly lowered his head, fixed intently on something only he could see ahead of him – and then he leapt and swiped a wing at nothing, shooting an air blade into the boughs of a tree they’d been headed towards. From within the branches, a Sceptile hollered in pain.

    Tefiren was smirking as Forsira almost cannoned into the back of him. “You call that a hiding place?” he crowed, before dashing off again, swerving in a path that took them far out of the way of the second Sceptile. It didn’t seem deterred; Forsira could hear it joining their first pursuer in the chase. The light in the darkness grew brighter still as a second pair of blades was lit.

    “Blades, blades, it’s all about blades with Them, isn’t it?” Tefiren said as he ran; Forsira was almost sure she could hear him tutting. “Well, why don’t we join in, Sira?” The front leaves on his wings shone, growing longer and straighter.

    Her breath racing in her ears, Forsira managed to find some extra strength that her legs weren’t already using and pushed energy into her leaves, feeling a tingle of sharpness from their edges. “What for?” she called to Tefiren. He must have had a plan with this. He always seemed to.

    “I have no idea!” he called back, laughing. “Might come in handy, though! We can see where we’re going now, at least!”

    Forsira stared incredulously at the back of him, fleetingly wondering why she’d chosen to stay with this madman. But there was no need to wonder – she’d always known the answer.

    They really could see better now, too. The forest ahead was becoming more open – but she also saw with a heavy heart that it was sloping uphill. They were trying to stop Their prey from taking off again.

    Hearing the footfalls from behind her grow closer, Forsira desperately beat her glowing wings again and found they moved with with sudden, surprising strength, almost as if the energy in the front leaves gave the whole wing-beat more power. She gave a laugh of surprise as her feet left the ground for a moment, despite the slope. Ahead, she could see Tefiren rising up and up, flapping his wings rapidly with obvious glee and giggling like this was the best discovery he’d ever made.

    “See!” he called to her cheekily. “Told you it would help!”

    Forsira laughed. Yet again, Tefiren was managing to turn a chase for their lives into an exhilarating game. Of course she’d chosen to stay with him.

    Claws scratched at her tail leaves without warning, almost making her heart stop. A short glance back told her that the first Sceptile was almost upon her. Suddenly Tefiren’s discovery meant nothing – there was no time for her to fly high enough and clear the canopy before she was caught, even with the newfound power in her wings.

    “Tefiren!” she screeched. “Behind me!”

    Tefiren’s eyes flickered towards her as he ran, still beating his wings speedily to rise away from the ground up the slope. He seemed to think for a moment. “Grab onto my tail!” he yelled.

    Forsira was so incredulous that in any other circumstances she would have stopped running. “What?”

    Tefiren descended and slowed his pace just a tiny bit so that he could reach to tickle her nose with his tail leaves. “Grab on!” he said again as if it was the most obvious course of action in the world.

    Somewhere between terror and disbelief as death rushed up behind her and madness hung in front of her, Forsira shook her head and clamped her jaws down onto Tefiren’s tail. If anyone could get her out of this, it was him. She trusted him.

    Clinging on for dear life, Forsira was practically dragged by Tefiren as he rushed onwards, fixated on a tree up ahead that it seemed he would barely avoid crashing into at this rate. At the last moment, he reached out an arm and grabbed onto its trunk, swinging around the outside of it – and yanking Forsira along behind him.

    The world spun crazily. Tefiren let out a loud yell of pain; Forsira joined in with a muffled shriek as it felt like her teeth were being pulled out of her mouth. Still she clung to his tail with all her might – he’d told her to hold on, so she would hold on. In amongst it all she was vaguely aware of the Sceptile shooting away from them in a straight line, caught by surprise.

    The next thing she knew, her grip had broken, flinging her through the air, down the slope and straight at the second Sceptile. It yelped in surprise as she crashed into it in a whirl of leaves and blades.

    Forsira scrambled desperately up and away, seeing blood that wasn’t hers on the Sceptile and realising that she’d somehow managed to keep her own blades lit through the whole thing. She’d never known they could still be lethally sharp even if she wasn’t the one doing the hunting.

    The Sceptile pushed itself up, its hungry gaze fixing on her again – but before it could move, it was shoved back by a slice of air from behind her. Forsira looked towards Tefiren, who was already firing a second air blade towards the Sceptile approaching from his other side, making it reel back as well. He shot Forsira the briefest of grins, and that was all she needed to get herself up and running. She followed him as he dashed off to the right, across ground that was no longer sloping upwards. Yet again, Tefiren had turned things around.

    He was chuckling. “Always liked that one as a Treecko,” he said, almost conversationally. “Just needed a bigger tail this time.”

    Forsira nearly stopped flapping, choking out a strangled laugh. She’d been his tail?

    “You’re crazy!” she yelled.

    “We’ve established that!” he called back to her, already rising from the ground.

    Forsira found herself continuing to laugh, almost uncontrollably. And yet, it had worked, hadn’t it? He’d saved her life – and not only that, a quick glance behind her showed that there was a lot more distance between them and the Sceptile than there had been a moment ago. “Thanks, Tefiren,” she murmured quietly, although under the pounding of feet and the rustling of leaves, she wasn’t sure if he heard.

    With a few more beats of her empowered wings, she managed to follow his lead and take flight, but they were still gliding underneath the branches, a long way from the canopy and freedom. In the light from her and Tefiren’s leaves she could see a clearing ahead – a good sign, she knew, since They couldn’t chase the two of them upwards with no trees for Them to climb, but at the same time, open space made them easy to spot even if they extinguished their leaves. The night sky overhead was clear, the stars bright; it wouldn’t be hard for Them to keep track of their progress even once they were up there.

    “How are we going to lose them?” she asked Tefiren breathlessly as they rose higher, the branches beginning to thin out.

    “I’ll think of something!” he called back to her.

    The clearing was growing closer, but despite how well she could see it in the glowing light, it still didn’t look all that familiar to Forsira. As she caught sight of what looked like huge flowers on the ground, she understood why. The Archopy largely avoided this clearing because it tended to be filled with Vileplume, especially at night, and while they weren’t precisely dangerous they’d defend themselves if they felt threatened. Suddenly Forsira wasn’t sure if fleeing across here was the best idea.

    She looked ahead at Tefiren. “Are you sure we should –” she began to call out, but broke off as she saw that he was grinning.

    “I’ve just thought of something!”

    Forsira stared at him, not sure whether to shake her head in disbelief or laugh.

    “Follow me and hold your breath!” Tefiren called to her. With that, he extinguished his wing leaves, flung himself down at the nearest Vileplume on the edge of the clearing, and bounced off the flower on its head.

    Forsira hurriedly drew in a breath just before the alarmed Vileplume began to spew a cloud of sparkling silver powder into the air.

    With a brief glance behind her – the two Sceptile must have still been approaching through the treetops; she couldn’t see them anywhere – Forsira threw herself in after Tefiren, trying her best not to breathe in as she folded her wings to land heavily on top of another Vileplume. Jumping hastily away from the purple cloud of dust it produced, she managed to pinpoint Tefiren ahead of her. He was already well into the field of Vileplume, gleefully bouncing off one huge flower after another, his eyes wild and gleaming.

    The sound of spluttering started up somewhere behind Forsira as she leapt further into the cloud of spores and dust, jumping on another couple of Vileplume and struggling not to breathe in as she did so. Through the haze, she could see that Tefiren had come to a halt in the middle of it all and begun to flap his wings, blowing the powders towards her – no, not towards her, past her, right at the two Sceptile that she could hear coughing and wheezing behind her.

    Feeling as though she was about to explode from lack of air, Forsira forced herself to leap forward and join Tefiren. Beneath the mad grin he flashed her, she could see a hint of strain in his eyes. He was still struggling to hold his breath, she realised; he couldn’t keep away the spores coming from behind – so instead of blowing more of their impromptu weapon back at their pursuers, Forsira moved behind Tefiren and began to flap in the opposite direction. The combined gust from their leafy wings was enough to clear the air around them, even as the whole field of Vileplume furiously spewed out sparkling powders, and the two of them gratefully let out their breaths, a hysterical kind of wheezing laughter escaping them as they got their breathing back to normal.

    “Ha! Bet you wish you had wings now!” Tefiren called out in between giggles, still working to keep the powders away.

    “They’ve gone?” Forsira asked, unable to actually look around and see for herself as she covered his back.

    “’Course They have. Told you I could lose Them.” He stopped beating his wings so fast to chuckle reflectively. “Maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea having two of us together, Sira,” he admitted. “No way this one would have worked on my own.”

    Tefiren suddenly broke off, coughing. Forsira kept beating her wings, forcing down the urge to turn around and see what was wrong. “Don’t stop flapping!” she said desperately.

    The sound of his wing-beats had already sped up to even faster than before. “Who stops flapping?” Tefiren said quickly. “I haven’t stopped flapping. Have you stopped flapping, Sira?”

    She wondered how long it would be before one of them did stop flapping; they were keeping the powders away for now, but the Vileplume around them just kept producing more, their small faces filled with what might have been some kind of determination. Despite the adrenaline running through her, Forsira could tell her wings were beginning to tire. They couldn’t keep this up forever – and the Vileplume knew that.

    “Um, Tefiren?” she asked. “How were you planning to get us out of this?”

    There was a pause.

    “Good question!” came the reply. “I didn’t think that far ahe – agh!”

    Forsira almost froze but hastily reminded herself to keep flapping with her aching wings. She had to know what was wrong with Tefiren – he must have inhaled one of the powders, maybe – but she couldn’t do that without getting them out of here, or at least making the Vileplume stop. Looking helplessly down at them, this time she noticed something else in their faces behind the determination. They were afraid of her and Tefiren.

    Now it made sense.

    “We’re just battling!” she called out, loud enough that she hoped the whole field of Vileplume could hear. “Well, okay, we’re not actually battling, but we’re not trying to kill you. You know what I mean.” She looked down at the nearest of the flower Pokémon a little desperately, hoping this would still be seen as a promise not to kill them. “Please?”

    The Vileplume eyed her with suspicion for a moment, but then it relaxed, the stream of golden sparkles from its flower dissipating into nothing. The wave of calm seemed to pass through the whole field, each of them letting up on the powders in turn. Much of the dust remained, hanging in the air, but it didn’t take a lot more flapping from her and Tefiren to blow all of it away and let it float harmlessly to the ground far from the two of them.

    Forsira sighed in relief and slumped, giving her tired wings a rest. She turned to Tefiren at last. He looked similarly tired, something about his face seeming pained, but he was still grinning nonetheless.

    “Well, that was fun,” he said, his eyes twinkling. Forsira’s smile froze as he suddenly tensed up and grimaced.

    The moment was over in an instant, the grin back on his face. “Don’t look so worried, Sira!” Tefiren said cheerily. “I’m only poisoned. I’ve had it before – I’ll just faint from it then wake up. We’ll be fine if we stay in here – I doubt They’ll think to tell the Vileplume they’re just battling, do you?” He raised his eyebrows appreciatively. “Nice thinking with that one, Sira. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea having you around.”

    He broke off and grimaced again, for longer this time. Forsira tensed, instinctively wanting to help him somehow. “You need a –”

    “I’m fine, really,” Tefiren insisted, his grin beginning to look a little forced. “What about that thing with our blades, though?” he said eagerly. “Who’d have thought it’d make our wing-beats more powerful? I’m going to have to test that out some more sometime.”

    Forsira smiled. This was probably how Tefiren figured out most of his tactics – a lucky guess followed by experimentation.

    Tefiren nodded. “Yeah, see, I wonder if lighting all of our blades would –”

    Before he could finish, he let out a gasp of pain and doubled over. Forsira half-expected him to get back up and brush it off again, but he didn’t. He didn’t even look at her.

    “Sira,” he said, his voice hoarse and completely devoid of his usual enthusiasm. It almost made her shudder; Tefiren wasn’t supposed to sound like this. “Those Vileplume didn’t know we were just battling when they were attacking us, did they? They thought it was life or death.” Not waiting for an answer, he spat out a short, humourless chuckle that sounded more like a cough. “I think this poison’s going to kill me.”

    Forsira’s heart lurched horribly in her chest. “No,” she said instantly. She rounded accusingly on the nearest Vileplume. “Is this true?”

    The Pokémon shrugged. “Not our problem,” it said, turning to wander away into the masses of its kind.

    “No,” Forsira said again, turning back to Tefiren, desperate to help him. He was still doubled over, still not looking at her. “You need a Pecha berry,” she said. “I know where there’s a tree near here. I can go and find one…”

    Tefiren suddenly lifted his head to stare at her like she was mad. “You can’t,” he said as if it were obvious. “They might still be out there. You’d be going exactly where They wanted. That’s…”

    Forsira couldn’t quite believe he was saying that. Did he really not want her to save his life? “They might not be there,” she said firmly, fixing him with an intense gaze. “I don’t care. I’m not letting you die, Tefiren.”

    She saw something that could have been surprise, or wonder, or even condescension in his eyes. Then he shuddered, doubling over again. “Then go, if you must,” he growled weakly.

    It was practically a relief to hear that – he hadn’t gone insane; he did want to live. Tearing her gaze away from him, Forsira glanced at the trees on the edge of the clearing, quickly spotting those she knew led to the location of a Pecha tree that she’d lodged in her memory and dashing towards them. At the back of her mind, doubt still lingered about the way Tefiren had acted just now – if she’d been the one to get poisoned instead, would he have refused to fetch a berry because it was too great a risk?

    No, she told herself as she reached the Pecha tree and climbed it to look for the fruits. Tefiren’s ways might have mystified her sometimes, but he’d always saved her life when she’d needed him to. It was only right that she should repay the favours and save him in turn, instead of doubting him like this.

    As she plucked a Pecha berry from the branch, Forsira gave an almost uneasy chuckle. There was something fundamentally off about the fact that Tefiren needed saving in the first place. Even when he was fleeing from Them, he never once acted like his life was in danger, and from the way he talked about them, his escape plans were supposed to be flawless.

    Gliding back towards the field of Vileplume with the berry clutched in her claws, Forsira was only glad that she’d been here to cover his back the one time something had gone wrong.

    Tefiren was curled tightly in on himself as she landed in front of him, his breathing coming in heavy, ragged gasps. Trying to ignore how much it tore at her heart to see him like this, Forsira dropped the berry in front of him and gave him some space. He grabbed it instantly and took a huge bite, his body already beginning to relax. Forsira watched with increasing relief as he ate the rest of it and seemed to regain his strength, his breathing returning to normal.

    He stood up slowly with his back to her, taking a deep breath, and something about his manner made her ask, “Are you okay?”

    Tefiren whirled around to face her, his usual grin lighting up his face, the lingering pain in his eyes barely visible. “I’m fine,” he said, as if there had never been any question of it.

    Forsira felt herself smile. He was back to his old self again.

    “Thanks, Sira,” he said, chuckling. “You know, you really are going out of your way to prove you were right about me needing you.”

    She couldn’t help but feel a tiny bit stung by that, even though she knew he meant it in a joking way. “That’s not what I was doing,” she said quietly.

    He paused for a moment, giving her that strangely puzzled look of his, before shaking his head. “No, I guess it wasn’t,” he said. With a long sigh, he settled himself down on the ground, resting his head on the grass and closing his eyes as his tiredness seemingly – finally – got the better of him. “You were right,” he murmured.

    Smiling softly, Forsira lay down beside him, feeling his warmth spread into her as she gazed up at the night sky. There was no canopy of trees this time to block her view of the stars while she waited for sleep to come to her.

    - - -​

    “Gotcha. I win. You’re dead.”

    Zathern chuckled as best he could with the weight of another Sceptile on top of him, a perfectly blunt blade held above his throat. He looked up into the eyes of the older Sceptile, Brack – Zathern could never remember his rather long full name, but all his friends called him by the shortened version anyway – and saw a triumphant grin on his face.

    “Okay, yeah, you win,” admitted Zathern. “Come on, get off me.”

    His harmless blades fizzling away into even more harmless leaves, Brack got up off Zathern and held out an arm towards him. “Nice battle, Zath,” he said as he helped him up from the ground. “Seriously, you’re getting good at this. You almost beat me that time.”

    Zathern grinned a little. “One day,” he said.

    He caught Karsa’s eye – she’d been standing on the sidelines, watching the battle. She raised an eyebrow at him. “Still one of the new guys, eh?” she teased.

    “There’s been a bunch more new guys since I joined,” he muttered, before brightening. “Besides, I beat you the other day, didn’t I?”

    “Once,” she said slyly. “Out of… how many times has it been now?”

    Zathern mock-glared at her.

    Brack tapped him on the shoulder to regain his attention. “Hey, Zath. Skorrhen’s letting me on tonight’s hunt, and you know what it’s like, the more the better, so… I was wondering if you wanted to come too?”

    Zathern tensed, staring fixedly over Brack’s shoulder. Then he shivered, pushing certain feelings to the back of his mind. “Nah,” he said, looking up at the older Sceptile. “Skorrhen probably won’t want me if he hasn’t asked for me himself. It’d be better if I didn’t.”

    Brack paused for a moment then nodded grudgingly. “Yeah, you’re right. I should go off and train some more for it, actually. Battle you again soon, all right?”

    “Yeah,” Zathern replied distantly as Brack turned and darted away through the forest. Zathern didn’t watch him go. He didn’t want to think too hard about what his friend would be doing tonight. It was easier that way.

    “See, Zath?” Karsa said, coming up behind him and resting a hand on his shoulder. “You’re really getting to be part of the group now. I said it wasn’t so bad.”

    He sighed. “I guess it isn’t.”

    Glancing aimlessly through the forest, Zathern noticed his father up on a branch a few trees away and decided to make his way over there. After a moment, Karsa joined him, the two of them sitting down at the base of the tree.

    “Zathern,” Tharann acknowledged, grinning at his son from his spot in the boughs. “I was watching your battle. That’s some great strength you’ve got.”

    “I lost,” Zathern pointed out.

    “I know, but still. You’re good for your age.” Tharann’s grin grew a little wider. “You obviously take after me.”

    Zathern wasn’t sure what to say to that, so he simply muttered, “Thanks, Tharann.” Despite their relation, it still felt strange to call him ‘Father’ or ‘Dad’.

    Karsa caught his eye and smiled at him. She was right, after all. It really wasn’t so bad here, with his friends, with his father, with her. He had a good time; it felt like the others knew him and cared about him. As for what they did on the hunts… well, it was easy to gloss over that. He’d known it would be. It didn’t change the fact that he belonged here.

    There was a rustle of someone entering the tree above him. “Ah, Germane,” Tharann said, his voice taking on the tone he used when he was talking to anyone other than Zathern. “I suppose you have something to tell me, then?”

    Zathern frowned as he recognised the name and craned his neck up to see who was in the tree with Tharann. There was no mistaking that the newcomer was a Grovyle, even if he couldn’t quite make out the face. He hadn’t misheard, then; this must have been the same Germane that Zathern remembered from his childhood, the adult Grovyle who used to meet with his… with someone else he’d known back then. Zathern had never been allowed to listen to their conversations – not that he’d ever been that interested in the first place.

    But what was Germane doing here?

    “Well, yes,” Germane was saying. “I don’t have anything new, as such, but I recently remembered something about Azma that you may find… relevant.”

    His mother. Zathern froze, desperately trying to shove painful thoughts and memories that had just sprung up firmly to the back of his mind.

    “Go on,” Tharann said.

    “There wasn’t just her son. There was another one, a female that she took in because some of you lot killed her parents. Forsira, her name is. Azma was really rather fond of her. Almost like she was her own daughter.”

    Zathern could feel himself beginning to tremble. His mother and Forsira; something was going to…

    He forced the worries down, silenced them, told himself, as he had done so many times now, that those were people from a long time ago who didn’t matter to him anymore. There was nothing he could do for them. He had his new friends now. They didn’t matter.

    As he took heavy breaths to calm himself, Zathern felt Karsa’s hand on his shoulder, steadying him. “Hey, Zath,” she said softly. “Remember what I said. Forget. It’s easier.” The way she smiled at him helped, and he smiled tentatively back at her. He had Karsa; he didn’t need to think about his old best friend.

    “I’m not actually sure where she is right now,” Germane was saying above them, a little nervously. “She doesn’t hang around the clearing any more. I heard she ran off with some male – possibly that one your lot is having such trouble catching.”

    There. Forsira had someone else now, too. Zathern didn’t have to worry about her one bit.

    “So you’re saying we’re going to have trouble catching her now?” Zathern heard Tharann sigh through gritted teeth. “Well, thank you, Germane. I’m sure that will be incredibly helpful. If you have nothing else to tell me, you may go.”

    Germane seemed to get the hint from the impatient emphasis in Tharann’s voice, as he could be heard hastily vacating the tree.

    “Wait!” Zathern found himself saying. He glanced at Karsa, motioned for her to stay where she was and then darted off after the Grovyle. It wasn’t hard to catch up. “Germane! I want to talk to you.”

    It was true. He wasn’t really sure why. Maybe it was because Germane had clearly changed sides too, just like he had, and he wanted to see if they had anything else in common now.

    The Grovyle turned, his face breaking into a sly grin as he saw who it was. “Zathern!” he said appreciatively. “What a surprise seeing you here.”

    Zathern gave a tentative smile. “Same to you.”

    Germane leapt forwards a couple of branches to lessen the gap between them, ending up only slightly above Zathern’s eye level as he leaned down. “So. What did you want me for?”

    Zathern paused. “I was just wondering,” he said eventually. “You’ve changed sides, right? You’re spying for Tharann now instead of… who you used to spy for.”

    “Yep,” Germane said simply. “So?”

    “What made you change your mind?” asked Zathern, trying to make it sound as though he was curious, not accusing.

    The Grovyle snorted. “Oh, the fact that I was on the losing side. It wasn’t a hard choice to make. I mean, they’re all going to die. Nothing I was doing was helping, not since your mum gave up fighting properly.”

    Zathern twitched, but mostly managed to rein in the flickers of doubt.

    “So I thought I’d contribute my skills in a more useful way,” Germane finished.

    Zathern nodded. He supposed that was… not exactly too far out from his own reasons for changing sides. But still, for Germane at least, it didn’t quite seem right. “Aren’t you still basically one of that lot, though?”

    Germane rolled his eyes, spreading what were very much the arms of a Grovyle. “Do you see wings on me, kid?”

    “I know, but if you did evolve, then you’d be…”

    “But I don’t.” Germane smirked. “And that’s the important part. With you and your friends it’s all ‘winged freaks’ this, ‘flying abominations’ that. ‘Cause I’m just a Grovyle, they don’t give a damn about me. I’m not going to die. Which rather sets me apart from our old friends, since inevitably dying kind of defines an Archopy these days. So really, I might just as well be a Sceptile, as far as your new friends are concerned.”

    What he said summed it up, really. Zathern wasn’t going to die; he wasn’t the same as the Archopy at all. And if Germane had given up on the Archopy even though he was almost one himself, then they really must have been a lost cause. It was just like Zathern had thought when he'd left.

    “You’re not a Sceptile, though,” he said eventually, not sure why he was pointing out the obvious.

    Something flashed in Germane’s eyes. “Well, no,” he said, beginning to sound irritated. “But it’s not as if there’s some huge obvious difference like there would be if I had wings, is there?” He waved his wing-free arms a couple more times for emphasis.

    Zathern shrugged. “I suppose not.” In the end, it didn’t really matter what Germane thought he was now.

    “Never mind me, though – I bet I can guess what got you to switch sides, Zathy boy,” Germane said. That smirk was back on his face; before Zathern could respond, he continued. “Bribery, persuasion, and the sudden discovery of your long-lost father.” His last few words had a mockingly-sweet tone to them.

    Zathern began to nod – it had been something like that, after all – but then…

    “Wait,” he said. The way Germane put it, it almost sounded like he’d always known about Zathern’s father, even long before he’d switched sides. “How did you…?”

    “Whoops!” Germane said, leaping up towards another tree branch. “Gotta dash! See you around, ‘Zath’!” And with that, he darted away, disappearing through the trees.

    Zathern could easily have followed him and caught up, found out what he was talking about, what was going on. But he didn’t want to, he realised. Whatever it was that Germane wasn’t telling him, he’d rather not know.

    He sighed. Forget. Forget about all those worries. Karsa always told him that, and that was the one thing keeping him happy now.

    Turning to where he’d come from, Zathern headed back towards Karsa. She was waiting for him, after all.

    - - -​

    “This one!” declared Tefiren gleefully. “Gotta be this one, I’m telling you.”

    Forsira craned her neck to see him circling around above her. His wings looked decidedly odd – every other leaf was long, straight and glowing, while the ones in between kept their usual wider curved shape. He gave them a huge, surprisingly powerful flap before soaring down to descend to her level, a massive grin on his face.

    “See? I still get power from half the leaves, but this way there’s also enough area that it’s basically like a normal wingspan.”

    Forsira rolled her eyes but couldn’t help smiling. Not long after the Vileplume escape, Tefiren had tested out his discovery by trying to take off with energy in every one of his leaves, but despite it making his wings immensely powerful, the blades had been too long and thin to catch enough air. For several days since then, he’d been experimenting relentlessly with different combinations of blades and leaves, determined to find one which offered him as fast a takeoff as possible. Apparently, this was the one he’d been looking for.

    He dipped from side to side in the air in front of her, seemingly for the sheer fun of it. “Go on, Sira,” he said. “You should try it.”

    “But I can’t get my wings to do that,” she pointed out. It took a lot of concentration and co-ordination to get only every other wing leaf to fill with energy. She still couldn’t do any better than charging them up one after another in a row.

    “Well, you should have practiced more when I was!” Tefiren complained. “What were you doing the whole time I was practicing on that beach? Staring out at the sea.”

    Forsira flapped her wings indignantly. The sea had been peaceful and serene, a welcome distraction from the constant glowing and flickering of Tefiren’s wing leaves next to her, which even the most patient Archopy wouldn’t have been able to tolerate for long until it drove them crazy.

    “Honestly, Sira,” Tefiren said, shaking his head in mock-admonishment. “It’s like you want to get caught by Them.”

    She smiled. “If I did, I’d have done a very bad job of it by coming with you, Tefi,” she said teasingly. “With you around, They’re never going to catch me.”

    “That may be true,” Tefiren admitted, now circling below her. He finally let the power out of his blades, his wings returning to their normal shape. “Does take quite a bit of energy, that,” he said. “I’m hungry. Want to go get something to eat?”

    Forsira nodded. “If you like.” She folded her wings and began to drop speedily through the sky after Tefiren, mimicking his favourite landing technique of falling as fast as possible then spreading his wings at the last moment to break his fall. She crashed messily through the branches, skidding across the forest floor, not having quite figured out how Tefiren ever managed to do this neatly.

    Already on the ground, Tefiren raised a cheeky eyebrow at her before turning and dashing off through the forest, looking for prey. She followed him, but it wasn’t long before he came to a stop, peering up at something on the trunk of a tree. On closer inspection, Forsira saw that there was a red zigzag visible against the bark. She’d never have noticed that herself while passing by.

    Tefiren smirked. “You’ll have to hide better than that,” he muttered under his breath before shooting upwards and slicing a blade in the general area of the zigzag. With a strangled wailing noise, the Kecleon fell from the tree, its body becoming visible as the camouflage on its skin drained a sickly white in terror. It gazed pleadingly up at Tefiren as it struggled feebly under his claws. He simply shrugged and shook his head before drawing his blade across its throat.

    Forsira took a step backwards. This wasn’t the first time she’d seen Tefiren hunt. Each time he had, he hadn’t bothered to call upon the inner predator before he made the kill. He was still himself. It was almost more unnerving than the cold gaze that she’d become used to by now.

    “Why do you do that?” she asked him, finally deciding to voice her unease.

    He gave her a puzzled look as he dragged the Kecleon’s body towards her by its tail. “Do what?”

    “Not use your inner predator to hunt with.”

    Tefiren frowned. “My inner what…? Oh, you mean the monster inside.”

    Forsira shuddered inwardly. She didn’t think she’d ever get used to that term for it.

    “Nah,” Tefiren said, apparently not quite getting the gravity of the question. “I just… don’t like letting it out much. I prefer to be me.”

    “And you can kill like that?” Forsira asked.

    He shrugged, still seeming confused. “Well, yeah.”

    There was an awkward silence as she stared at him.

    “Are you just going to stand there or are you going to have some food?” Tefiren said eventually, gesturing at the Kecleon in front of him.

    Forsira sighed and settled down to eat the carcass, pushing those doubts out of her mind. It wasn’t as if Tefiren was doing something utterly taboo like breaking a promise of only battling. This wasn’t so bad, precisely; he clearly just had a different way of doing things.

    They hadn’t got far into the meal when Tefiren tensed, jolting up and looking around, alerted by the sound of something large approaching through the forest. Forsira followed his gaze but relaxed as she saw that it was just another Archopy, peering closely at the two of them as she drew nearer.

    “Are you Tefiren?” she asked him.

    He looked puzzled. “That’s me.”

    The stranger nodded then immediately turned to Forsira. “You,” she said. “I wanted to talk to you.”

    Forsira frowned, gesturing vaguely at Tefiren. “But you just said…”

    “Only because I don’t know your name. It’s you I’ve been looking for,” said the other female. “I’m Arkesra, if that helps.”

    “Forsira,” she told her, still confused. “What do you…”

    “I just want to talk to you, Forsira,” Arkesra said. She glanced coldly at Tefiren. “He can listen in, if he wants, although I doubt he does.”

    Tefiren looked between the two of them. “Go ahead, Sira,” he said indifferently, turning back to the Kecleon. “I’ll save some for you.”

    Arkesra sighed as Forsira got up and moved away a little with her so they could talk on their own. “What is this about?” Forsira asked.

    “I’ll get to the point. I’m a friend of Draern. You spoke to him a couple of times, didn’t you?”

    Forsira thought back, remembering the Archopy who’d shared his feelings about the emptiness of his life with her. He’d told her that Tefiren was a sick individual and that she shouldn’t go after him. “Yes,” she said, frowning. “But why…?”

    Arkesra nodded, and for the first time Forsira saw the pain she was hiding behind her stoic gaze. “He’s dead.”

    Forsira met Arkesra’s eyes for a moment and then broke away, staring off vaguely through the trees. She thought about Draern, the conversations she’d had with that Archopy on the beach, back at Azma’s clearing – somehow it all felt so distant, so long ago. To think that he wasn’t there any more gave her some semblance of loss, but it was as if the loss wasn’t hers. It just seemed so separate from the life of fun and excitement she was living with Tefiren right here and now, so much that as she turned back to Arkesra, she wasn’t sure how she was meant to be reacting.

    “Oh,” she said.

    A huge, angry sigh seemed to go through Arkesra. “Then he was right about you.” She glanced across to where Tefiren was obliviously working his way through the Kecleon, paying no attention to them. “And about him.”

    “What?” said Forsira. But she didn’t need an answer; she remembered now what Arkesra must have meant. Draern had been convinced that her becoming like Tefiren would lead to her feeling nothing upon the news of his death. Her reaction to it just now surely wasn’t one most Archopy would have given.

    She stared towards Tefiren, not sure what to make of it. Had he really changed her that much?

    And if he had, another part of her mind argued, leaping up to defend him, was there even anything precisely bad about that? Her life was worth living now, so much more so than it had been before. She would probably never have spoken to Draern again, anyway; did it matter than much if she, personally, wasn’t terribly affected by his death?

    “Draern was my mate,” Arkesra said bitterly, her gaze fixed on the ground. “He got talking to me about how our life is so empty because no-one makes any bonds, and I agreed with him. So we forged that bond, despite the pain it would bring.” She looked up at Forsira, her eyes full of grief and resentment. “He told me about you. He said he thought he might have been beginning to form a bond with you, but then you came to him again talking about this Tefiren. And now you don’t even care that he’s gone.”

    Forsira backed away a little, shaking her head, not sure what to say. She did care, in a certain way, but –

    Arkesra sighed coldly. “I specifically made sure to tell you my name,” she said. “But even then I don’t suppose you’ll give a damn when I’m d –”

    Out of nowhere, a tall green figure grabbed her from behind and drew a glowing blade across her throat. Forsira froze, staring in horror at Arkesra’s final fixed gaze of surprise as her body slumped lifelessly to the ground.

    She was snapped out of it by a frantic cry of “Sira, move!”

    Forsira moved, turning and forcing her legs into action as fast as she could, hearing the Sceptile roar in pain from what was probably an air blade. Tefiren was there, running ahead of her, his wings glowing in that striped pattern of his as he beat them hard for a takeoff. Pushing energy into the front two of her leaves, Forsira did her best to follow him up, but without his trick she wasn’t going to be leaving the ground anywhere near as fast. She could hear the Sceptile growing closer; the air blade hadn’t put it off for long. Claws swiped at her tail leaves, sending a shiver up her spine. It was a horrible feeling, knowing death was right behind her.

    “Tefiren!” she cried, hoping desperately for another of his sudden mad ideas.

    “Gotcha!” he called back, and with a complicated flick of his extra-powerful wings, he wheeled straight upwards and over, swiping a wing to fire off an air blade at the top of his loop with no apparent regard to the fact that he was upside-down at the time. Forsira couldn’t imagine how he’d managed to aim like that, but a roar of pain from the pursuing Sceptile told her it’d somehow hit the mark.

    She let out a laugh of relief, beating her wings a couple of times to rise a little further off the ground. Tefiren came down from his loop beside her, grinning madly, already beginning to power himself upwards again.

    “Just the one?” he called out mockingly to their pursuer. “Really? I expected better of you, Varden!”

    The name sounded familiar to Forsira – did he mean Verdan, the one who’d used to hang around apparently harmlessly on the sunset side? But it didn’t matter, she reminded herself, concentrating on making sure whoever it was couldn’t catch her as she beat her wings to rise higher after Tefiren. “I thought you said there’s never only one?” she asked him.

    “Oh, there probably isn’t,” he replied offhandedly, his gaze still darting all around them as it always did, scanning for a potential ambush. “But still, this guy has a thing against me. I wouldn’t put it past him to try it alone.”

    Smirking at the thought of why on earth one of Them would ever have a thing against Tefiren, Forsira nonetheless realised something – They normally hunted in groups of at least three or four. “If there’s just one of him and two of us,” she said breathlessly between frantic wing-beats, hearing Verdan take to the trees to climb up after her, “couldn’t we just fight him?”

    Fight him?” Tefiren stared down at her with the most astonished look she’d ever seen him use. “Are you insane?” He gave another flap of his wings, shooting forwards away from her. “She wants to fight him,” she heard him mutter to himself. “She’s insane.”

    Forsira flapped hastily to draw level underneath him again. “I didn’t want to fight him!” she called up. “I was just suggesting! We don’t have to!”

    “Good!” he called back down. “You had me worried there, Sira!”

    The sounds of movement through the trees grew louder behind her; glancing back, Forsira saw that Verdan had climbed to her level now and was closing in. The canopy and freedom up above still seemed a long way away, at least for her.

    “Hey, guess what!” Tefiren suddenly piped up as Forsira strained to fly higher and faster, her heart pounding madly in her throat. “I’ve thought of something again! You know where we are?”

    Marvelling at how he managed to pay attention to his surroundings while they fled for their lives, Forsira made herself take in the trees they were flying between. The space between them seemed to be getting wider, more open; in fact, yes, she remembered this place from when Zathern had –

    “Tropius country!” Tefiren declared triumphantly. “Come on, Sira, I’ll need your help with this.”

    Even as her wings worked flat-out, knowing that Tefiren needed her gave Forsira that little bit of strength push even more speed into them. She shot forward to join him, soaring above a herd of Tropius that were minding their own business on the ground below.

    “Hello down there!” Tefiren shouted at them with great gusto. A number of the Tropius noticed him, craning their necks up to look at this sudden intruder. “We are most definitely not battling!” And with that, he began to swipe at the air, sending air blade after air blade down into the herd, whooping and hollering as he did so.

    Panic erupted among the Tropius. The air quickly became filled with the huge brown creatures as most of them hastily took flight on their huge leaves, while those who didn’t have the space to take off simply ran for it across the ground, all of them doing everything they could to get away from the apparent predator in their midst as fast as possible. Hurriedly making her way to Tefiren’s side before she was crushed by the mass of bodies, Forsira joined in with several precisely-aimed air blades, having realised exactly what he was doing – driving the stampede straight towards Verdan.

    Through the crowd, Forsira could just about see the inner predator drop away from the Sceptile’s eyes, replaced by sudden panic as he crashed to a halt in the treetops. Stirred up into a terrified frenzy, the Tropius barely seemed to notice where they were going, charging towards him at all heights and leaving no possible way through to the two Archopy he was after. Not that Verdan tried; although her view was blocked entirely by the storm of frantic Tropius for a moment, the next time Forsira caught a glimpse of bright green among the mass of brown, it was definitely moving away.

    Tefiren was wheeling around in tight circles, laughing like crazy. “Better luck next time, Varden!” he called out in a giggling sort of way, sending another swipe of air at a lagging Tropius’s rear end before folding his wings and dropping to the ground, still chortling.

    Forsira descended after him, unable to help joining in with his infectious mirth as the two of them hit the forest floor. “Oh, Varden makes me laugh,” he said between chuckles. “He was the first one I escaped from, right after I evolved. I think it annoyed him.” Tefiren giggled again, as if the thought of his escaping antics annoying any of Them was hilarious.

    Her breathing slowly returning to normal now they were on the ground and safe for the time being, Forsira looked around and noticed that one Tropius hadn’t fled and was standing not too far from them. It was staring intently at Tefiren in a resentful sort of way.

    Spotting it, Tefiren’s eyes widened in glee. “Oh, it’s you!” he exclaimed. “It is you, isn’t it?” He grinned at the massive Pokémon. “But I said I wasn’t battling. No rematch for you. Go away.”

    “You’re not hunting, though, are you?” the Tropius replied through what might have been gritted teeth.

    “Maybe I am, maybe I’m not,” Tefiren said. “But I’m still not battling.” He waved an arm dismissively at it. “Go on. Wing it.”

    The Tropius growled and then began to flap its long leaves, taking off to follow the rest of its herd.

    Forsira gave Tefiren a questioning look.

    “I don’t think it likes me,” he said by way of explanation. He sounded incredibly amused.

    Letting out a huge breath, Tefiren flopped onto the ground, still grinning. “You know, it was that thing you did with the Vileplume that gave me the idea for this, Sira,” he said. “Telling them you were just battling even though you technically weren’t. I thought it might work backwards, sort of.”

    Forsira had been pleased with her idea before, but she couldn’t feel quite so enthusiastic about it the other way around. “They thought you wanted to kill them,” she said. “Even though you didn’t.” She knew first-hand the terror of running for her life – while Tefiren managed to make it exciting, it wouldn’t have been that way for these Tropius. It seemed a little cruel.

    Tefiren shrugged. “I never actually told them I wanted to kill them. It’s not my fault they saw it that way. And it worked, didn’t it?”

    Forsira sighed, feeling a little uneasy. “That Archopy that was killed just now,” she began. “Arkesra.”

    Tefiren looked at her with that curious gaze of his. “What about her?”

    For some reason it struck Forsira that she didn’t want to pursue this any further. “Never mind.” She glanced around at the open forest. “We should get away from here. Those Tropius might come back. I don’t think they’ll be pleased.”

    Tefiren seemed to think for a moment, still half-grinning. “You’re right,” he admitted. He spread his wings, forming them into that glowing, striped pattern again. “Come on then, Sira. Let’s find somewhere better to hide.”

    Last edited: Apr 28, 2011
  20. elyvorg

    elyvorg somewhat backwards.

    Doubting [continued]


    “So, Germane. You said you’d tell us how many of the winged freaks are left now.”

    Germane looked down on Skorrhen and Tharann from the higher branch he’d chosen to perch on, trying to smother the feeling of intimidation that always rose up whenever he faced these two Sceptile. He didn’t even know why he felt anxious around them. They were never actually going to kill him, after all.

    He smirked. “Not very many,” he said. “Most of them hang around in that clearing of Azma’s these days – even then, there’s less in there than there used to be. I’m starting to think there’s more kids running around that clearing than Archopy – half of them orphaned, of course, thanks to you.”

    Skorrhen narrowed his eyes. “But are there less of the Archopy than there are of us?”

    Germane chuckled. “Less than Sceptile in general? Oh, of course – you know there has been for –”

    He was unable to stifle a yelp as Tharann reached up to grab the branch he was on, dragging it down to his eye level. “Don’t fuck with us, Grovyle,” he hissed, his face glaring into Germane from an uncomfortably short distance. “You know exactly what he meant.”

    He let go of the branch, giving Germane time to compose himself again while it swung up and down before it fell still. “Yes, sorry, of course,” he said hurriedly. “I do believe there are less than you now, if I’m not very much mistaken about just how many recruits you have these days.”

    He saw Skorrhen smile slightly. “Then we’re ready.”

    “Ready? Wait, what does this have to do with the Azma plan?” Germane asked. “I thought you couldn’t find Forsira…”

    “Who says this is about Azma?” said Skorrhen smoothly.

    Tharann took a step towards Germane. “Does Azma know you’ve been betraying her, little Grovyle?”

    “Of course she doesn’t,” Germane replied. If Tharann was trying to guilt him about what he was doing, it wasn’t going to work. Azma had been stupid enough to let herself evolve into an Archopy even when she knew that would make her a target. And then she’d been even stupider and tried to actively fight Them. Everything that had happened and would soon happen to her was entirely her own fault. It didn’t concern Germane at all.

    Tharann began to chuckle. “You really don’t care about her, do you?” he said. “It’s almost a shame about your heritage. You could have made a good recruit, you know, if you’d been born on the other side.”

    Germane gave a sly smile. “Well, I wasn’t born here, but wouldn’t you say I’m on your side now?”

    The two Sceptile shared a glance.

    “Of course you are, Germane,” Skorrhen said, his voice surprisingly soft as he turned back to him. “In fact, since you’re on our side, do you want to know about the other plan, the one that’s ready now?”

    Germane shrugged. “If you want to tell me, go ahead.”

    Skorrhen gave a tiny, dangerous smile. “It starts with your death.”

    Something jerked horribly inside Germane. “No,” he said instantly. He choked out a laugh. “No, you’ve got to be kidding. You are, right?”

    “Really, Germane?” Skorrhen said, still in that frighteningly soft, quiet voice. “Did you really think we were just going to leave the Treecko and Grovyle forever? We’d never manage to completely wipe them out like that. They’d just keep breeding.”

    “But…” Germane gabbled. A terrible cold shiver had descended over him. “But… you don’t kill the children. You never kill the children, because they look just like your own children.”

    Tharann laughed. “And you think we care that they look the same? They’re not the same at all. They’re still winged freaks. Just small, wingless winged freaks.” He was staring at Germane with what should have been a smile but couldn’t have been further from one. On Tharann’s face, it just looked sinister. Hungry. “That’s all you are too, little Grovyle.”

    Germane shuddered, moving to a branch further back. “You don’t know that, though!” he suddenly exclaimed, his voice high and shaking. “You don’t know that I’m one of that lot because unless I evolve you can’t tell what I’m going to evolve into! You can’t kill me!” He grinned wildly, giving a brief, desperate chuckle.

    “Oh, but we do know,” Skorrhen said silkily. “We can tell from the parents, can’t we? We know every child on this island who will evolve into an Archopy. What did you think Verdan and the others were doing on the sunset side if they never took part in any of the killings? They’ve been watching the children.”

    “No…” Germane said, shaking his head as he stared at them, barely able to grasp the reality of what they were saying. There was no way out. They really were going to kill him. He was going to die. “No!” he cried, turning to flee through the treetops, not knowing or caring where he was going as long as it was away.

    The two Sceptile leapt instantly into action behind him. Germane knew with increasing horror that they were so much faster than him, that they’d be on him in an instant. If he weren’t a measly Grovyle…

    But he’d thought this would protect him. He’d thought that staying in this form meant he would never be a target. This wasn’t supposed to be happening to him, just like it did to all the other Archopy. He was meant to be invincible.

    Trees blurred past in the sides of his vision as he almost blindly leapt between branches, desperate to somehow stop himself from dying. The thought of finally letting himself evolve flitted through his head, but even if he could remember how to with his mind gibbering in terror like this, how would that help?

    Something huge and heavy grabbed Germane from behind, and he screamed uselessly as he was dragged to the ground. Shoved over onto his back, he found himself staring up at Tharann, who held him down effortlessly with one clawed hand, the other arm bringing a blade up to his exposed throat. The Sceptile’s face twisted in a sick smile as Skorrhen looked on from the sidelines, unmoved.

    The sharp scythe edge tickled the vulnerable skin on Germane’s throat, sending a chilling shiver down his spine. It was the most horrible thing he’d ever felt.

    “Please,” he choked out desperately, shaming himself with how pathetic and broken he sounded. “Please, don’t. I don’t want to die…”

    “None of them ever do, Germane,” Skorrhen said simply. “You’re not special. You’re just a coward who thought he could prevent the inevitable.”

    Germane wanted to disagree, but even if his mouth wasn’t suddenly too dry to speak, he couldn’t have denied it. He knew with a sick, final despair that Skorrhen’s words were true.

    The last thing he saw was the twisted gleam in Tharann’s eyes.

    Last edited: May 13, 2011

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