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The Fall of a Leader (NaNoWriMo 2007)

Discussion in 'Completed Fics' started by Dragonfree, Dec 2, 2007.

  1. Dragonfree

    Dragonfree Just me

    Hello there, and welcome to the sequel to Scyther's Story, The Fall of a Leader. The title was the first thing that popped into my head when I got out of bed this morning, and while nothing particularly unique it is at least appropriate and not as facepalm-inducing as "Scyther's Story", so what the hell.

    Like the prequel, it is composed of a number of untitled, numbered "chapters" - forty-seven, to be exact - which tend to be too short for posting one at a time. However, it is also divided into seven "parts", each constituting a number of "chapters", and it is the parts that I will be posting one at a time. I will try to wait a few days in between posting chapters so that people have time to read the first ones.

    Is Scyther's Story required reading? What about The Quest for the Legends version ILCOE? I would say that it is more or less essential that you are familiar with at least one of the two. Note that version IALCOTN of the latter has not yet gotten to the relevant chapters, so having read that will not help you here. This story does give a bit of a reintroduction to those things that you may have forgotten since Scyther's Story or were not mentioned in The Quest for the Legends, but I think you would most likely be rather confused reading this if you had read neither of them, so I don't recommend it. Of course you are welcome to try anyway if you feel like it for some reason.

    IMPORTANT NOTE: Rated-freaking-R. No, seriously. I mean it this time. Scyther's Story was rated R to stay on the very safe side and rate it somewhat like the MPAA would. This one is rated R because parts of it would have disturbed the hell out of me a few years ago. Interestingly enough, The Fall of a Leader probably contains less violence and swearing than the prequel, not that I did any extensive analysis of that. Hmm, what does that leave to account for that rating?

    Before you ask, it's not NC-17 in disguise. I don't know or want to know how the mechanics of Scyther sex work, so it would be pretty hard for me to make it that graphic even if I wanted to, which I don't.


    Aaaanyway, now that I've got that out of the way, here's the first part. It's relatively short - the shortest of all of them, I think. To be exact, it's 3275 words, which would be roughly seven pages with no page breaks between "chapters". Which may tell you something about the length of the other parts, which are so much longer.

    ...okay, I counted for the hell of it. Part one is indeed the shortest. Parts two and three are some 5000, four is roughly 4000, five is around 8500, and six is... 20,000. Ooookay, I might have to split that one up when I post it. o_O And the last part, part seven, is something like 7000. So yeah, the first part is the shortest, but the others aren't really that horribly much longer, except part six which is just ridiculous.

    I have no idea why I just wrote all that. I'll just get to part one already.



    PART I: AFTER RAZOR LEFT

    I

    It had been three months since Razor’s departure from the swarm.

    Stormblade sat under the old oak, absent-mindedly chopping the petals off the nearby flowers while vaguely aware of the whipping sound of Shadowdart’s scythes as he practiced his slashes on the air. They had been friends for a while – they had first met two years before, when Shadowdart had been only a year-old Descith and Stormblade two years older than him. A duel with Shadowdart had helped him evolve. While they hadn’t talked much the first year, once Shadowdart evolved they had been – on a Scyther’s scale – on fairly friendly terms. But Stormblade had always been closer to one other Scyther, one he had known for a year longer, and it was to him that his thoughts were now wandering.

    What, he wondered, was his first friend doing now?

    He heard Shadowdart grunt as he swung his scythe powerfully. The blade cut smoothly through the bark of the tree, burying itself in the wood up to the evolutionary remnants of an arm that formed the blunt edge. The tree shook at the impact. Satisfied, Shadowdart pushed his clawed foot against the tree trunk and jerked his scythe out, sparing a look at Stormblade as he did so.

    “What’re you thinking?”

    Stormblade sighed, looking over the plains towards the forest of Ruxido. “I miss Razor,” he muttered.

    Shadowdart looked at him out of the corner of his eye. “I don’t.” He examined the scythe he had chopped into the tree with, stroked the blade with his other scythe and then swung it experimentally again.

    “Look, forget about Razor. I don’t get why you’re so upset.” There was a short pause as he looked at both of his scythes again. “I never liked him, anyway.”

    “I did,” Stormblade replied, looking at Shadowdart.

    “He was a weakling and a coward,” Shadowdart insisted while practicing a defensive position, looking in the other direction from Stormblade. “He was an insult to everything it means to be a Scyther. He was a Code-breaker. Stop remembering him.”

    Stormblade shook his head slowly to himself, beheading a dandelion with a careless swing of his scythe. “She was much stronger and more experienced. He never… he never stood a chance, really.”

    “Well, he shouldn’t have challenged her, then, should he?” Shadowdart said coldly, blocking the slash of an imaginary opponent. “And anyway, I don’t give much for her strength either. She didn’t even kill him afterwards.”

    Stormblade looked up at him. “I wouldn’t have done it if it had been me fighting him, either,” he said, his voice slightly shaky.

    Shadowdart stopped dead and turned his head, giving Stormblade one look of utmost disgust; then, without warning, he flew at him, knocked him backwards, pinned him to the ground in a series of quick moves and pushed his scythe tightly up against the older Scyther’s throat.

    “I would,” he whispered, staring straight into Stormblade’s eyes. “Without hesitation, I would. And if you wouldn’t, you don’t deserve to be called a Scyther. I still have respect for you, but only because those were only words, and I will assume in your favor that you merely underestimated yourself. Do you understand me?”

    He moved his scythe to allow Stormblade room to speak. “I suppose I did,” he muttered, and Shadowdart stood up, looking away; indeed, he looked in the direction of the Scyther swarm on the plains below, eying them with a distant mixture of determination and despair in the depths of his eyes. Stormblade crawled into a sitting position by the tree again, watching his friend. He sighed.

    “I was just wondering where Razor might be right now,” he said quietly.

    “It’s pretty easy to guess,” Shadowdart said, his voice filled with contempt. “Either he realized he was a disgrace to his species and killed himself, or he caught up with that female, they screwed, and once the fit of lust wore off and they returned to their senses, they killed themselves together – or each other, if you prefer.” He turned to face the older Scyther. “He’s dead, Stormblade! Either he’s dead, or assuming that he’s dead is the best thing you can do for his memory. Forget about him. Live in the present. Let’s have a friendly duel, all right?”

    Stormblade made a reluctant sigh of agreement and stood up. Perhaps Shadowdart was right – the sensible part of him fiercely argued this position – but his other side, the side that wondered what the clouds were really made of and that had spontaneously taken a liking to Shadowdart that fateful day when they had dueled, made him feel a stinging ache somewhere within him. He longed to have his friend back, and whether he had broken the Code seemed like an empty, meaningless question.

    Then again, the side of him that wondered and formed bonds had never done him a lot of good among the Scyther.

    The two mantids positioned themselves opposite one another with some distance between them and both prepared to strike or defend. Most duels between experienced Scyther began with a period of staring during which the duelers tested their focus and strength of will. The weaker would be first to become restless and eventually make the first move, allowing the other to defend and usually gain the upper hand.

    Shadowdart ignored all of this and simply dashed straight at Stormblade with his scythes raised.

    The older Scyther was caught off guard by the sudden deviation from the traditional procedure of a duel and only fast reflexes saved him from an embarrassingly quick defeat. He managed to meet Shadowdart’s blades with his own before they struck, throwing them to the side. In the moment that Shadowdart was turned, Stormblade quickly raised his scythes again to bring them down towards his opponent’s back, but Shadowdart rolled out of the way, leaping immediately to his feet with practiced skill. He positioned his scythes defensively in front of him, watching Stormblade turn around as he caught his breath.

    “You’ve gotten good,” Stormblade commented. “All that training has…”

    Shadowdart leapt at him again, swinging his left scythe and aiming towards Stormblade’s midsection. The older Scyther blocked it with his own, but the blow was more powerful than he expected and he was thrown off-balance and sent flying backwards. The wind was knocked out of him as he landed harshly on his back, and as he gasped for breath, he felt Shadowdart’s right scythe push up to his throat again.

    “You need to do some training yourself,” the young Scyther said, stepping off his friend and former mentor and turning back towards the tree while Stormblade stood up. “You should have leaned more forward to take my last slash. And you shouldn’t have talked in the middle of the duel.” He sighed. “You just won’t do, Stormblade. I need a stronger partner to train against. I’ve trained much more than you now. Why don’t you have more friendly duels for practice? I haven’t seen you duel anyone besides me since Razor left. You always had considerable dueling skills, but they could rust in place if you don’t exercise them.”

    Shadowdart wiped some grass blades off his dark green armor with his scythe, spent a second aiming and then drove it straight into the narrow rift in the tree trunk he had left before.

    Stormblade looked at him, walking up to the tree. “Maybe,” he sighed as he sat down. “I suppose you’re right. You usually are.”

    Shadowdart smiled for a moment, looking at the cut in the tree, but then turned around. “Well, I’m going to find somebody who can give me a challenge. I’ll be seeing you around, Stormblade.”

    And with those words, he flew down towards the rest of the swarm. Stormblade was left sitting by the tree, accompanied only by the strewn petals of ruined flowers.


    II

    Shadowdart had always been a bit pathetic.

    His unusually dark armor made him look odd – it was about the color that the females’ usually was, and although that difference was not particularly striking it was definitely noticeable to a Scyther – and it was this that had originally caused Stormblade to notice him. And Shadowdart, still a tiny little Descith, had asked him what he was staring at.

    Stubborn he had always been. And rather strong for his age, too. But never calm or fearless, and certainly no one’s idea of a role model as a Scyther. He had broken down as he was catching his First Prey, unable to bring himself to kill any of the first eight Pokémon he had caught. The ninth had been a measly Rattata, and he’d had to close his eyes before slitting its throat. He’d been the subject of rumours and ridicule, contempt and disdain throughout the swarm in the time that had passed since.

    If there was any Scyther Stormblade knew who feared death, it was Shadowdart. And fear of death, in the eyes of the Scyther, was a deadly sin. The first rule of the Moral Code, their ultimate rules of existence, was that death was not to be feared. If, they said, one feared one’s own death, it would be reflected in sympathy for one’s struggling prey.

    And of course it was. The sympathy was justified. What right does a being terrified of its own death have to inflict death upon another creature?

    But they were hunters, killers. They could not survive without eliminating their fear of death. And so that was what they tried to do. Some were better at it than others.

    Shadowdart had gotten better.

    It was as if the experience of his First Prey – and perhaps Razor’s departure, which had coincided with it – had changed him. Shadowdart had come back from the hunt miserable, lost and confused, having suddenly realized his own incompetence, but in the next few days he had begun to train with newfound rigor and determination. While the swarm whispered behind his back, he had ruthlessly taken out his anger on the oak tree and developed skills that had gradually replaced the insults with awe. Many believed he had the most precise aim of any Scyther in the swarm now, and his reflexes were becoming quite renowned as well among those he had dueled. Nobody spoke of the small, dark-colored Scyther who had let eight Pokémon go before managing to kill one anymore. Anyone could tell that Shadowdart was past that, and the Scyther never worried much about the past. He had become an idol to the young and admirable to the older. His focused efforts to improve his skills had earned him popularity and respect throughout the swarm in a remarkably short time.

    And in that same time, he and Stormblade had drifted apart. Shadowdart spent most of his time training now, and although he did not mind Stormblade’s presence while he did, the conversations were usually half-hearted and tended to quickly degenerate either into hostility or friendly duels, which Shadowdart won with increasingly less effort. By now they never had much to talk about, and thus were usually silent.

    This was why Stormblade found it rather unexpected one late autumn evening as he was standing in the pile of dry leaves under the oak tree, bent over the body of a Stantler he had caught, to see Shadowdart walk up to him and actually sit down beside him.

    Stormblade glanced at him in vague surprise and then gestured for his friend to take as he liked. Shadowdart nodded silently and ripped a strip of flesh from the Pokémon’s side.

    “Nice hunt,” he commented after swallowing.

    Stormblade shrugged, tearing some more meat from the carcass. “I got lucky.”

    They sat in silence for a while, eating.

    “Have you… have you ever felt… restless? Like you couldn’t stand the swarm and desperately wanted to change something in it? Like you didn’t have enough influence?”

    Stormblade stopped eating, licking the blood quickly from his mouth. He thought for a moment. “No,” he replied and resumed.

    “I’m tired of being an underling, Stormblade,” Shadowdart pressed. “Of being the young, stupid Scyther. Of being second. Our Leader… he…” He swallowed.

    “He what?”

    “He’s a hypocrite!” the younger Scyther blurted out. “He doesn’t kill his defeated challengers. He cuts a piece from their scythes to cripple them and let them live with the humiliation. He tortures his victims, he… he breaks the fifth law of the Moral Code, and nobody… nobody even notices it.” He looked away for a moment, like he was afraid that Stormblade would answer it harshly, but he didn’t. In fact, Stormblade had never really thought about it before. He had never been very interested in what the Leader did.

    Shadowdart looked back at him. “It’s not just that. He’s far too lenient. I look at the swarm, and half of them are weak cowards. They don’t break the Code explicitly, but the spirit is there. Nobody seems to take it seriously in what it is really saying. They just avoid doing anything direct. The whole swarm is corrupt. And the Leader does nothing about it. And of course he doesn’t, because the only reason he wants to be Leader is that he wants all the other Scyther to submit to him. He doesn’t care about any of it. He just wants to be considered important because he’s… he’s now the most powerful Scyther in the swarm.”

    “Well, the Leader is supposed to be the most powerful Scyther in the swarm.”

    “I know,” Shadowdart said quietly, looking away. He paused for a moment before continuing. “That’s why I’ve been training so much. He is not a good Leader. He doesn’t deserve the position. I’m going to challenge him and defeat him.”

    Stormblade looked at him. “I thought it was to prove yourself.”

    “They respect me already, but I keep going because I’m going to become Leader.” He swallowed and waited for a few moments. “I’m going to challenge him tomorrow.”

    Stormblade looked at him. Yes, he had come a long way, the small Descith that had once upon a time attacked him upon a joking invitation to a duel. But he could not see him as the Leader of the swarm.

    “Are you sure you’re ready for it?” he asked. “He isn’t considered the most powerful Scyther in the swarm for nothing.”

    “Even if I lose,” Shadowdart said quietly, “he won’t kill me.”

    Stormblade didn’t say anything for a while. He looked over the swarm, all the Scyther that Shadowdart seemed to find so immoral, and just couldn’t see it. He had never been overly fond of the Leader, perhaps, but hadn’t ever given it much thought.

    Finally, he replied with, “Weren’t you saying it was wrong of him not to do it?”

    “Sometimes you have to do something that is wrong so that you can do what is right in the future.”

    “But he’ll cut a piece out of your scythe!” Stormblade protested. “It will take years to grow back, and weaken you for further duels!”

    “I don’t care,” Shadowdart whispered. “I need to become Leader, even if he removes my left scythe and half of the right before I beat him. He’s at the peak of his strength, and will weaken as he ages now. I’m still young. I’ll only become more powerful. Even it if takes me ten years, I know I’ll beat him and then I’ll become a far better Leader than he ever was.”

    Stormblade stared at him. “Why are you so desperate to be Leader? Why does it bother you so much how the rest of the swarm behaves?”

    Shadowdart looked back at him in disappointment. “I knew you wouldn’t get it,” he muttered, shaking his head. “Thanks for the meal.”

    The younger Scyther stood up and walked aimlessly off towards the swarm.

    Stormblade looked after him and sighed.


    III

    In the end, they were very different, Shadowdart and him.

    As Stormblade watched his friend walk slow, nervous steps over to the Leader’s rock, he could, in a sense, understand why Shadowdart had told him he wouldn’t appreciate his presence at the site of the duel. Come to think of it, they had never really been the best of friends to begin with.

    They had met so spontaneously – and iconically, it had been only because he and Razor had been snickering at his coloration. And Shadowdart had been all too eager to prove himself to be powerful, then just as now. They had dueled, and although Stormblade’s size and experience had given him a definite advantage and allowed him to win, he had immediately realized that Shadowdart would be a powerful fighter.

    Stupidly, he had offered the young Descith he had barely known a name – something that was ordinarily a sign of great respect among the Scyther. He had been young and naïve, ready to trust that the Descith he had pinned down in a duel would be worthy of the name.

    It had worked in reverse – ordinarily, names were given because the Scyther in question were friends or respected one another already. They had become friends because he had given Shadowdart a name.

    And now, looking back, he realized that they never really should have.

    He and Razor had never really been the greatest of friends to Shadowdart. Stormblade had more or less shunned him after his First Prey, and meanwhile Razor had been making constant snide remarks at him. Dueling with Shadowdart to try to trigger his evolution had become a dutiful chore more than an act of any particular enthusiasm – why spend their time fooling around with a Descith when they could be together dueling someone their own size or discussing the beautiful scythes of whichever females they had their eyes on for the moment? And even after Shadowdart’s early evolution, they had always liked to be around one another more than around him, looking down on him for not having had his First Prey yet.

    Shadowdart’s whole life had been marked by the way they had treated him. He had never truly had a friend in them – he had been a loner with acquaintances that he had named as his friends without ever truly having experienced friendship. Looking back, Shadowdart and Razor had been closer to bitter rivals than friends, and Stormblade himself… it was first after Razor’s departure that he had begun to seek Shadowdart’s company to any degree. Only after the friend he preferred was gone had he ever truly looked at Shadowdart as his friend.

    Shadowdart had clung to him while he was ridiculed and despised. Now that he had earned himself respect, he simply didn’t need Stormblade anymore. And in fact, having Stormblade nearby probably simply made him nervous and lessened his focus. It certainly wouldn’t help him while fighting for Leadership – a fight that Stormblade, with his unconventional mind, could not even for the life of him fully understand why Shadowdart was taking on at all.

    It made him depressed, because he, in the end, was a loner as well. He had lost his one true friend, and the only replacement was drifting away from him. He felt horribly, terribly alone.

    To the Scyther, it was a virtue to be without personal relations, but Stormblade, like many other Scyther, found this demand impossible to meet. He had a natural need for sharing his feelings with someone, caring for someone and knowing they cared about him, loving someone and being loved back. He knew he couldn’t survive without friends, and wasn’t going to try. There was no meaning to life if its wonders couldn’t be shared with another being who could sympathize and provide his own input.

    There was nothing for him to do but to resolve to try to patch up his relationship with Shadowdart at first opportunity.

    At worst, he would end up an acquaintance of the Leader.
     
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2007
  2. Griff4815

    Griff4815 No. 1 Grovyle Fan

    Novel-worthy (Although, of course, since it was in NaNo that was the intention.) But you definately pulled it off. I wasn't familiar with either of the pre-sequel things but I didn't need to be (but now I want to be.)

    I wasn't even sure if I should have posted this since I couldn't find anything negative to complain about (except, initially I thought Razor was dead... and I got Stormblade and Shadowdart confused occasionally, but that was my own fault for not reading carefully.) Anyways the story hooked me and I will be here to read the rest of it (and hopefully make more constructive comments next time.)
     
  3. elyvorg

    elyvorg somewhat backwards.

    This part is titled "Innocence", for some reason, instead of "After Razor Left". Just a heads up.

    Congratulations on the 50,000 words; it must have been quite a sense of achievement. And I shall now try to review with as little gushing praise as possible, which I'm finding quite difficult as I really liked Scyther's Story and this is looking to be just as good, if not better.

    The double use of "quick" here makes the sentence sound repetetive and gives the impression of a small vocabulary. Something simple like swapping the first one for "fast" would stop this being noticeable.

    Similar thing here - finding himself "forced" by the "force" seems a little redundant, and a little word tweaking would make it sound less... weird.

    These two occasions where Shadowdart speaks without contractions (is that what you call them? :/) sound oddly formal especially as they're surrounded by speech where he does use contractions, and he never does this anywhere else. It just doesn't seem in character for him to talk like that, really. I can imagine him doing it when speaking to the Leader, but not to a "friend".

    I think that this should be drawn out a bit more, so that the reader gets a better feeling of the pause between this line of dialogue and the one before. As it stands, I read that he's not saying anything, then before I get the chance to imagine the pause in my mind, I'm reading his next line of dialogue. Perhaps a sentence or so of minor description just to fill in time would make this bit flow better.

    Don't see the need for the "then"s here, as it follows logically that one thing happens, then the next does, so there's no real need to point it out. Additionally, both of these happen after a brief moment of pause, which gives them even less of a "first this, then that" feeling, making the "then" sound more out of place.

    Tiny, tiny things I have pointed out. They barely detracted from the enjoyment of this as a whole. Something about your writing style makes your work so easy to read - it's not daunting, and once I start reading I simply want more until there's none left. If you'd posted the whole fic in one go, chances are I'd have sat here reading without a break until I'd finished it.

    xD. I'd been thinking about how much of a hypocrite the Leader seemed to be in the prequel, and I was quite happy to see Shadowdart, who I didn't even like that much, point it out. I love the way you portray Scyther society, so different from our own. But of course, all societies have their flaws, and the way in which Shadowdart pointed it all out so abruptly was rather amusing to read.

    Now, I said that I didn't like Shadowdart before and I didn't. That's purely personal taste - he was always a bit too cold and distant with a bit of an ego, and I never really liked that. But now that you've given us more of an insight into why he's like that - not even from his own POV, which makes me eagerly await his monologue which you mentioned on your blog - I can start to feel myself sympathise with him. And though his potential Leadership, if it ever happens, will likely be strict and a bit ruthless, I actually kinda sorta want him to overthrow the Leader, just because of the flaws he pointed out.

    Aaaand I really like Stormblade. :3 It's so nice to have, in a society which has so little free thought, a character who likes to dream and imagine. And I now have a better picture of how he enjoyed his life with Razor and how much they were friends - previously I didn't pick that up much as you skimmed over most of their post-First-Prey life until Nightmare came into it. So I really sympathise that his only proper friend has gone due to something he couldn't control, and now his only chance of friendship is an over-ambitious Scyther who he doesn't really get along with.

    I look forward to more of this.

    Edit: Hmm, I just noticed something. How come this is consistent with the TQftL ILCOE, yet Scyther's Story is only consistent with the IALCOTN?
     
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2007
  4. Dragonfree

    Dragonfree Just me

    Thanks for reading.

    Ah, that's one of those things you may get confused on if you haven't read any of the previous material. Scyther's Story is about Razor, and will show you that he is not dead; he also appears as a character in The Quest for the Legends, which also shows he is not dead. You may come to more spots like this where something is not explained sufficiently because it assumes you've read either of the two previous fics. I just hope you will get approximately what is going on anyway, and if there's anything you're completely lost on, just ask.

    It is rather easy to confuse Stormblade and Shadowdart. While I was writing the early chapters, I even got them confused myself while writing the dialogue tags, so don't think you're alone. It does get a lot easier to make the distinction between them after a while, though, so I hope this will not be a problem throughout the story.

    Yeah, I noticed and fixed that just as you were posting. xP Just a mistake.

    Thank you. It did feel pretty incredible to pass the 50,000 mark. Especially since I had been so sure I'd never make it for the longest time.

    Fixed all those wording mistakes you mentioned in my Word document. Thanks for the pointers. That quick-quick one was something that I'd noticed and made a mental note to fix when I edited it, but then that mental note managed to get buried somewhere where I forgot it. <<;

    Heh, you'll get more than just one monologue, because (almost) the entire second half of the story (parts five, six and seven) is from Shadowdart's point of view. I've always loved writing him, and hopefully the story will succeed in making you understand him better and sympathize with him some more. Stormblade, of course, will get his fair share of focus too in the first four parts of the story and those chapters of part seven that are from his point of view. I hope you enjoy his parts, since you like his character.

    Both Scyther's Story and The Fall of a Leader have points where they directly intersect with the storyline of The Quest for the Legends - chapter ten was retold in Scyther's Story, and chapter twenty-nine will be retold in this one. The IALCOTN has reached neither point, but when it gets there, chapter ten will be entirely rewritten and the storyline of the chapter changed, while chapter twenty-nine will merely be reworded (as it is more recent and was therefore better and in less need of complete revision). Essentially both of them are made to be consistent with the IALCOTN, but The Fall of a Leader is also consistent with the ILCOE while Scyther's Story is not.

    Thanks a lot for reviewing. :)
     
  5. Dragonfree

    Dragonfree Just me

    Whoo, part two. Sorry for how soon it's posted, but I finished editing it and part one seemed to have extraordinary enough review-repellent abilities to make me doubt I was going to get any more of them anyway.


    PART II: PEARL

    IV

    Once long ago, it was said, there was a Scyther who was a bit too adventurous for his own good. He was the kind of Scyther who would spend his days raving endlessly with childlike wonder about the world – isn’t it amazing, he would say, that we have minds? Isn’t it amazing that there are all these living creatures, all these different Pokémon, and they are all alive just like us?

    And because life in the swarm bored him, he one day told his closest friends that he was going to leave forever and explore the world. They tried to tell him not to, but he refused to listen to them, and headed off the next morning.

    He traveled through a forest, and it was not long before he was lost after walking around aimlessly for a while. He saw a Pidgey, and before it flew away, he shouted to it, “Please stay! I will not eat you, for I have never liked to kill other creatures. Will you tell me the way out of the forest?”

    And the Pidgey, though wary, decided to do as he said, so it hopped between the highest branches of the trees, at a safe distance from the Scyther, to show him the way out. And soon enough the trees became more spread, and the Scyther walked out of the forest into the glorious sunlight, and as the Pidgey flew away in fear, the Scyther shouted, “Thank you!” because he had been telling the truth.

    And on the Scyther went, over the plains and over mountains, past lakes and past rivers, until he came to a body of water so large that he could not see the banks on the other side. And he tried to drink from it, for he was thirsty, but found that the water had a strange, salty taste that made it undrinkable. He realized that this was no ordinary lake, and with fascination, he flew over the water to look over it. Not far off the shore, he looked down, although he could not see very deep into the water elsewhere, and saw a curious object there, a large, round, whitish-pink shape that gave off a peculiar sheen that reminded him of a scythe.

    Enthralled, he flew back to the shore and sat there for a long time wondering what the object was. He was so captivated by it that he did not notice the pass of time, and only realized when it was already dark that he had not eaten anything for a while.

    He eyed a small orange Pokémon stepping up from the shore of the water a short distance away. It had not noticed him because he had been still and hidden behind a rock, and it was dark; but now he saw it, and realized fully how hungry he was.

    But his mind was so captivated by the object that rather than attack and eat the Pokémon, he revealed himself and swore a truce so that he could talk to it. The Pokémon introduced itself fearfully as a Buizel.

    “Do you live in this lake?” the Scyther asked, and the Buizel smiled in response.

    “This is no lake,” he said; “it is the sea. But I do hunt in it and spend my days there.”

    “Then can you tell me what the round, shining object that I saw a short distance off the shore was?” the Scyther begged him, because he knew that his mind could not rest until he found out what it was.

    “Oh, it must have been the pearl of a Clamperl that you saw,” the Buizel told him. “They only produce one in their lifetimes, when they evolve. The Spoink use them to focus their power.”

    “I must get it,” the Scyther told him. “Would you dive down and retrieve the pearl for me?”

    But the Buizel shook his head. “I cannot do that, Scyther; for I would need to risk my life to get it. The Spoink would be angry, and the mystical powers of the pearl are said to prevent anyone from getting it if they do not respect the pearl as the Spoink do.”

    And the Scyther thanked the Buizel with sadness, and as it left he went to sleep.

    But when he woke up in the morning, he spent the whole day searching for a Pokémon that would be willing to retrieve the pearl from him, offering all of them truce so that he could talk to them. And again he went to sleep hungry.

    The next day he found a Spoink in the forest, a gray creature that bounced regularly on a spring with a pearl on its head; but the pearl was not as beautiful as the one he had seen in the water. He begged the Spoink to retrieve the pearl for him, but the Spoink was disgusted by the suggestion and told him that no Pokémon but the Spoink were worthy of the pearls.

    And the Scyther spent several days in this way, eating nothing and thinking only about the pearl, until finally he was so hungry that he knew he would die if he continued to ask the Pokémon for assistance in getting the pearl. But he did not go and hunt, because he could not bear to kill a Pokémon that might have been the one that could have gotten the pearl for him. Instead, he flew over the water, eying the pearl, and then dove into the water to get it.

    But he was a Scyther and could not swim, and the bottom was further down than he thought, and the salt burned his eyes such that he could only barely make out the shape of the pearl below him. He managed to cut it loose from the seaweeds it was tangled in, but he could not bring it up to the surface.

    The Scyther drowned there, still desperately attempting to move his pearl out of the water. And, they said, he still lay there to this day, on the bottom of the sea, far away from the rest of his kind, his flesh rotted away and eaten by sea Pokémon, the pearl still lying with its deadly sheen just by the remains of his scythe.


    V

    Stormblade didn’t need to approach Shadowdart, because Shadowdart approached him first.

    In the evening he returned, and Stormblade could tell how the duel had ended before his friend was anything more than a silhouette whose long shadow stretched out over the plains as if longing to flee into the forest. Shadowdart was walking too slowly, too shamefully, for it to be a surprise when Stormblade could make out the large gap that had been cut into the smooth blade of his left scythe.

    Shadowdart sat wordlessly down beside Stormblade, stared at the setting sun and felt vaguely around the rough edges of the gap in his scythe with the other. Stormblade could see the other Scyther in the swarm look in their direction.

    “I lost,” Shadowdart muttered, looking down at the ruined scythe that he had been sharpening only hours earlier as if he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. It was horrible, even disgusting, and Stormblade could easily tell that Shadowdart himself thought it even more so. “He was so fast…”

    “He isn’t the Leader for nothing,” Stormblade said quietly. “Of course he’s fast.”

    “All those Scyther watched it,” Shadowdart said. “They saw him outspeed me. I could see the disappointment in their eyes when he had pinned me down. And then he… cut into my scythe…” He shivered. “It was terrible.”

    “Of course it was terrible,” Stormblade replied emptily.

    “But I’m going to beat him,” Shadowdart whispered, his voice shaking with anger. “No matter what it takes, I’m going to beat him and kill him, like a true Leader should. I’m going to train until my body has reached its limits. Nothing will stop me from beating him, I swear, nothing. No matter what he does to me… I’ll… I’ll…” He shook his head. “Nothing…”

    Stormblade looked at him. He did not understand Shadowdart’s feelings, and had it been him, he would have given up immediately. But he didn’t have to understand it. As long as Stormblade would talk to him. Be a friend. Better than they used to.

    “I support you,” he said. “I don’t know why you want to be Leader, but I hope you will succeed one day.”

    Shadowdart looked at him. “Why do you suddenly care?”

    “I suppose… because we never were very good friends to you, Razor and I. I want to make up for it.”

    Stormblade shook his head. “Friends. It’s not healthy to care too much about someone.”

    But he stayed at Stormblade’s side anyway, watching the sunset with bloodshot eyes.


    VI

    Shadowdart would have to train more. Much more.

    That, at least, was what he had told Stormblade in muttering tones the next morning, and what he had been gradually regaining his enthusiasm about as autumn slowly turned to winter. The Scyther had once again lost their respect for him after the humiliation of his defeat and the still-missing piece of his scythe that the Leader now held, but Shadowdart no longer cared. He did progressively less dueling and progressively more singular attacks on air or plants, although he had given the oak tree a break. He often spent long hours training in Ruxido, sometimes returning with prey that was ever larger on average.

    They talked when he returned, shared prey, discussed how his training was coming along, dueled, and even sometimes hunted together. But Shadowdart’s increasing tendency to train alone weighed against it, and Stormblade felt just as lonely as ever before.

    It was not, however, until he found himself trying to convince his stomach that he was hungry so that he could have an excuse to go out and hunt – hunting for fun, without the intention to eat the prey, was always immoral – that he realized how desperately he needed company.

    Stormblade stood up and sighed, looking over the swarm. Most of the Scyther – the ones who were not hunting – were engaging in duels, eating, or spending their time trying to slash the drifting snowflakes, but one caught his attention: a female sitting in the shadow of another lone tree, staring into space. Much like himself.

    He grew curious, stood up and began to walk towards her, and as he trudged through the layer of snow on the ground, he realized that she looked a little familiar.

    She seemed to have heard him, turned her head and looked at him, and he remembered where he had seen her before: she had been the female who was with Nightmare. The one she had called Sickle.

    “Hello,” he said, stopping in front of her.

    “Hello?” she responded hesitantly, and he realized from her expression that she didn’t recognize him.

    “You were… you were a friend of the one who left the swarm last spring,” he said awkwardly, adding at her blank look, “I was with the one who named her Nightmare.”

    Sickle looked down and shook her head. “Oh. You.”

    He stood there for a moment, not sure what to say. She looked back up at him.

    “What do you want?”

    What did he want indeed? He wasn’t sure. Why was he bothering her again?

    “You look lonely,” he finally said.

    She looked at him, dull disdain in her eyes. “Of course I am. I had one friend, and she made the mistake of sparing the life of some idiot. She told me afterwards she didn’t really know why she’d done it, that she’d just suddenly felt it would be a shame. And she had to leave the swarm. You and your friend left me alone in the world. Now leave me alone again.”

    “How do you think I feel?” he said quietly. “I lost my friend that day too.”

    There was silence.

    “So you did,” she admitted.

    Neither of them said anything for a few seconds. He just looked at her and her gaze wandered between the other Scyther of the swarm and occasionally to him.

    “I thought I remembered somebody else offering his First Prey to you that night,” she finally said.

    “Shadowdart is too busy training to be Leader these days. He already challenged him once.”

    Sickle snorted. “Him?”

    Stormblade nodded and then, without really knowing why, sat down beside her. She looked at him, but did not tell him to move.

    “He thinks the Leader is a hypocrite,” he explained. “He thinks he’ll be a better one with more respect for the Code in spirit as well as in word.”

    Sickle looked away. “The Code,” she muttered. “I could never take it that seriously.”

    “Me neither.”

    There was another short silence.

    “Why are you still here?” she asked, her voice more amused than annoyed.

    He shrugged. “I… don’t know. Why not?”

    As much as she was pretending she didn’t like having him there, she was silent and did not name any of the many reasons she could have used to make him go away. She enjoyed his presence after all. It made him feel a little warmer.

    She looked at him. “So… what do you like to do?”

    Before he had the opportunity to answer, however, he noticed a familiar Scyther coming out of Ruxido. A momentary twing of conflict struck his heart – he wanted to stay there and talk to the female – but his resolution to maintain his friendship with Shadowdart came out on top. They had such little time to talk to one another outside of the training sessions. He had to use it.

    “Shadowdart is returning,” he told her quickly. “I’m sorry. Maybe we will talk some other time.”

    She sighed. “I suppose so,” she said as he stood up and walked over to Shadowdart. It was obvious from her voice that she was not very optimistic on it ever happening, and when she bade him farewell, she said it as if they would never meet again.

    Stormblade knew better.


    VII

    The winter was cold that year.

    Oh, yes, it was freezing, biting cold, and that coupled with the snowstorms that followed throughout the winter made it difficult for Shadowdart to spend as much time training as in the summer and autumn. As a result, he had plenty of time to spend with Stormblade, and they made a habit of going out hunting together to increase their chances of success now that many of the wild Pokémon of Ruxido were in hiding.

    It was not until spring, when the snow had mostly melted and there was more prey around, that Shadowdart again began to seek solidarity for his training, and what he had rusted at during the winter quickly returned to him.

    “Duel?” Shadowdart asked once after a session of training. Stormblade had been watching him and could easily tell that Shadowdart was several leagues above him in skill level; in fact, he had a distinct feeling that Shadowdart was only being friendly when he wanted to duel him, because Stormblade could certainly not pose any sort of challenge to him.

    But he nodded anyway, and they positioned themselves a few steps away from one another.

    This time Shadowdart did not rush to start the duel immediately. After the first few duels, it had become predictable, and he had stopped doing it. Instead, he now liked to wait until the opponent’s concentration faltered for a second and use that opportunity to strike.

    And before Stormblade knew it, Shadowdart had noticed that his mind had wandered and was already coming at him with raised scythes.

    He was preparing for a high horizontal slash, so Stormblade ducked, but as soon as he did, Shadowdart changed the direction of his slash to hit straight down on Stormblade’s back. He was knocked down towards the ground, but managed to swing his scythe behind him as he fell to push Shadowdart out of the way and regain his balance quickly enough while Shadowdart recovered. Stormblade threw a slash towards him, but Shadowdart blocked it easily enough.

    The younger Scyther bent oddly forward. Stormblade was about to ask him if something was wrong when he sprang up and smashed his skull into Stormblade’s body. Stormblade gasped for breath as he was sent flying backwards into the ground, and Shadowdart flew right into him as he was falling, pinning him down fairly easily.

    He gave Stormblade a quick smile as he stood up. “I’m trying to develop a strategy to surprise him. Doing something… unconventional might increase my chances.” He took a deep breath. “I think I’ll be ready to challenge him again soon. Maybe tomorrow. I’m going to win this time.”

    Stormblade stood up too and sighed. “I hope you do.”

    Shadowdart glanced at his ruined left scythe and the horrible gap that had shrunk barely, if at all, since it had been inflicted. Stormblade knew what he was thinking, and he was thinking the same: if he lost, he would have another piece cut out. The scythe would practically be ruined.

    It was a fate worse than death.

    “I think I should go and train some in Ruxido,” Shadowdart said quietly. Stormblade nodded and watched him walk off, slowly, nervously, towards the forest.

    He sighed. He was alone again.

    And like an answer to the very thought of it, he noticed Sickle sitting on her own by her tree again, staring off into the distance.

    He walked to her, trying to look as if he were simply walking by. When he came to the tree, she turned her dull gaze over to him and said softly, “You came again.”

    He nodded and sat down.

    “Shadowdart is going to challenge the Leader again tomorrow,” he said emptily after a short silence. This time, Sickle did not mock him. She just nodded and continued to stare off into space.

    “I don’t know. He could win, but… if he loses… he’ll have another piece cut out of his scythe, and…” He shuddered. “It’s terrible, looking at it. I’m not sure it will ever grow back.”

    She raised one of her scythes vaguely in front of her eyes, apparently imagining a part of it cut out. He noticed that the blade had a particularly smooth, arching curve to it, and cringed at the thought of it being destroyed.

    He was glad she didn’t want to be Leader.

    “Why don’t you stop him?” she asked quietly, lowering her scythe slowly. “If he were my friend, I’d convince him not to do it. He’s not strong enough. He should wait until the Leader’s reflexes start faltering a few years from now. He’s the strongest Scyther to grace this swarm in living memory, I’ve been told. His Leadership isn’t meant to end until his body fails him.”

    Stormblade shook his head. “I’ve talked to him about that. He wants to prove that he’s truly more worthy by defeating him at his best if he possibly can. He wants the respect of every Scyther in the swarm when he becomes Leader. If everybody thought that the previous Leader had been stronger, they would not be as loyal to him.”

    Sickle sighed. “Competitive, isn’t he?”

    “Yes.”

    They were silent for a while. Two Scyther were dueling viciously not far off; one of them was gaining the upper hand and eventually brought the other down.

    “I like you,” Stormblade said suddenly, not quite sure why. “Can I give you a name?”

    She chuckled. “Bit quick to judge, are we? But go ahead if you like.”

    Something about her reminded him of a legend he had heard long ago, about an object called a pearl that had been so beautiful that a Scyther had fallen in love with it and driven himself to death trying to get to it. It had always been one of his favorite stories. He could only imagine what a pearl looked like, but something about her shape and form and the roundness of her scythes reminded him of that legend.

    “I name you Pearl,” he said, and knew it was the right name the moment he had said it. She smiled at him, and he wasn’t sure whether she had ever heard the story of the pearl, but she didn’t seem to dislike the name and that was all that was important.

    “Then I name you Loner,” she said. “Because no matter how often you tell me that you consider your Shadowdart a friend, he does not truly consider you one.”

    Was he, indeed, a loner? Was he only deluding himself? Did Shadowdart just not care about him? His stomach twitched uncomfortably. No, he didn’t want to believe that. They’d been getting along so much better recently.

    “Come on,” she suddenly said, standing up. “I’ll show you something I like to do.”


    VIII

    There was a gleam of excitement in her eye, in stark contrast with the previous dullness, as she led him in a dash towards the mountain in the south. He didn’t know why she wanted to take him there, but there was some wild excitement in keeping up with her, and he found himself enjoying himself more than he had doing anything in a long while.

    “Where are we going exactly?” he shouted, hoping she heard him through the wind.

    “Up,” she replied, and with that kicked off the ground, her glossy wings immediately beginning to buzz and carry her up over the steep slope. He followed her. The weather was cloudy, predicting coming rain, and for some reason he thought back to the day he had first met Razor and asked him what he thought the clouds were.

    She landed on a flat rock that stuck out of the mountain in the middle of the slope and sat down, and he sat down with her, still catching his breath after the flight. Scyther weren’t made for using their wings much, and even a short upwards flight like that could wear him out easily, although he couldn’t help noticing that she didn’t seem exhausted at all.

    “Isn’t this a great place?” she asked him quietly. “It makes you feel amazing, doesn’t it?”

    He looked down at the Scyther swarm in the distance, and felt it too: it was a curious sense of being above them, greater than them, in a special way of his own. A sense of knowing a secret that they didn’t. It made him feel jumpy and excited. He nodded.

    And as they sat there, he had a wild idea.

    “Pearl,” he whispered. “Have you ever gone higher up?”

    She nodded. “Once or twice. But this is my favorite place.”

    “Ever… flown somewhere from there? The top of the mountain?”

    She looked at him. “No. Why would I want to?”

    “It would be a nice start if you wanted to go higher…”

    She chuckled. “Why would I want to go higher? There’s nothing but sky up there.”

    “Not just sky,” Stormblade said excitedly. “Clouds. Haven’t you ever wanted to see for yourself what the clouds really are? They say they’re Pokémon, but I never believed it.”

    She looked unsurely at him. “I never really thought about it,” she said and shrugged.

    “Then let’s think about it now!” he said. “Let’s fly up and touch the clouds! Let’s see what they’re really made of!”

    She laughed, and it was a hearty, joyous laugh, not a mocking one. “You sound excited.”

    He smiled and then kicked off the ground, soaring up towards the top of the mountain, daring her to follow him with his eyes. She took swiftly off, catching up with him easily; he sped up, laughing all the while for some reason he didn’t quite understand. They stopped briefly on the highest peak of the mountain to rest, laughing madly in excitement, and then jumped to fly still farther up into the clouds above.

    He felt his heart beat faster than he had ever felt it beat before as he soared straight up into the air, towards a low, grayish-white cloud. Pearl was only inches behind him, and he drew ever nearer –

    And he entered the cloud, feeling suddenly as if he were caught in a horrible storm. The first thought that sprang to mind was that it was a defensive reaction on the cloud’s part to make it suddenly rain – and then he emerged at the top, soaked wet, and looked with amazement down at Pearl as she ascended out of the wispy form of the cloud. He reached down with his scythe and it was immediately soaked in cold wetness.

    He laughed crazily. “Water!” he shouted at nothing in particular. “The clouds are water!”

    She laughed with him, and for a moment they hovered there together, full of all the happiness in the world, ignoring their tired wing muscles, before it became too difficult for them to keep themselves airborne.

    “Let’s go down now,” he said and began to let himself fall, through the icy water in the cloud, down, down, down, past the peak of the mountain and Pearl’s favorite place in its slopes. He softened the last part of the fall with his wings and watched her land beside him a moment later. They were both shivering and panting, their wings aching from the effort – but every exhalation came out in an exhilarated laugh.

    They knew something the other Scyther didn’t.

    “Let’s not tell anybody,” she whispered. “It was our discovery and our moment. They don’t need to know. What does it matter to them?”

    He nodded, and knew that it was a memory he would treasure forever, that he would never forget, that would remain with him until his death…

    Shivering with cold and dripping wet, the two Scyther walked side by side back to the swarm.


    IX

    Shadowdart was already back when they returned and was watching them from underneath the oak tree.

    “I have to go see Shadowdart,” he said quietly to Pearl, true regret nagging him as he said it. He had enjoyed himself so much, more than he ever had in his life. He never wanted it to end.

    She sighed. “Why do you stay around him? He doesn’t care about you. He only cares about Leadership. Don’t give in to him.”

    Stormblade shook his head. “He’s a friend,” he just said. “I’ll come again. I promise.”

    And he turned around to approach Shadowdart, feeling lonely the moment he looked away from her. He resisted the overwhelming urge to turn back and walked decisively towards the oak. He sat down as he came up to it, finding his gaze traveling towards the other tree and the female who was now again sitting underneath it, looking back at him without moving.

    “Stormblade,” Shadowdart said shortly, his gaze following Stormblade’s line of sight. He didn’t say anything more.

    “Shadowdart,” Stormblade just greeted in return.

    There was a long silence while two voices fought inside Stormblade’s head: the one that wanted to remain loyal to Shadowdart and the one that wanted to go to Pearl. The former was stronger, but he didn’t really have any idea why anymore.

    “This is the second time you’ve been with that female, isn’t it?” Shadowdart said, his tone neutral.

    “Yes,” Stormblade replied without looking at him.

    “You shouldn’t be doing this,” Shadowdart replied. He waited a few seconds for an answer, but Stormblade didn’t give him one. Why was he still there, anyway?

    “If you get too emotionally attached to another individual, you begin to care for them more than the Code,” Shadowdart continued, reminding Stormblade uncomfortably much of the Leader. “You begin to dread their deaths. Your rationality gives way to feelings like protectiveness and fear. It is never a good thing to be consumed by fear of death. You should know that.”

    “What do you think you know about feelings?” Stormblade found himself saying.

    “It’s obvious, Stormblade!” Shadowdart said angrily, pacing back and forth behind him. “It’s a logical procession. If you don’t see it, you’re blinded already.”

    Stormblade sighed. “I suppose you’re right, in a way,” he muttered. He could see the connection. He just couldn’t see how it changed anything – it didn’t make him feel any different, at least.

    There was silence for a while.

    “Stormblade,” Shadowdart said. “I don’t think you should watch my duel tomorrow.”

    He had almost been expecting it, and didn’t really care. Why would he want to watch Shadowdart fail for the second time, anyway? He just nodded.

    “Personally,” Shadowdart went on after getting no reply, “I think you should spend that time rethinking what the Code means to you.”

    “I guess,” Stormblade just replied, the words empty.

    Shadowdart looked at him in silence. “One day you’ll thank me for this, Stormblade,” he said. “Just wait.”

    What does he know? Stormblade thought resentfully. I won’t. I’d never do that. I’m more true to myself than that. It’s none of his business.

    And in that confidence, he drifted to sleep.


    X

    When he awoke the next morning, Shadowdart was already gone.

    He noticed that a crowd had gathered near the Leader’s rock, though from the sound of it, it didn’t appear as if the duel had begun already. All of a sudden he was gripped with an urge to sneak down there and watch the duel, even though Shadowdart had told him not to, but it was quickly silenced by the sight of a female still sitting by her lonesome next to a tree.

    She was looking at him.

    And as if in a trance, he came over to her and greeted her quietly. She gave him a smile in return that made the walk worth it.

    “What do you want to do?” he asked her.

    “Let’s go to my favorite spot again,” she answered. He immediately realized that it was just where he wanted to go, too.

    “That sounds good,” he replied, and they walked together – slowly, since they had plenty of time – towards the mountain. Stormblade felt fuzzy just remembering the previous day.

    They flew up to the flat rock without speaking and sat down there, side by side. Far below, Stormblade could see the crowd of Scyther and vaguely that two of them were about to start a duel. He sighed.

    “Shadowdart is dueling the Leader for the second time, but he didn’t want me to watch,” he said. “I think I lessen his concentration somehow.”

    “Of course,” she replied spitefully. “He couldn’t care less about you if he tried.”

    Stormblade didn’t reply to that and instead continued: “Yesterday when I came back from you, he started warning me about getting too close to you.”

    She snorted.

    “He said that possessing strong feelings towards somebody leads to fear of death.”

    “Well, then he’d better have a good reason for why fear of death is so bad,” she answered.

    Stormblade, although he had never thought of the Code as quite the sacred thing that he was officially supposed to, couldn’t help feeling that the words stung a little. “The Code,” he replied. “When you fear your own death, or somebody else’s, but yet kill prey to eat, you’re a hypocrite.”

    “Aren’t we all hypocrites?” she asked quietly, staring down at the swarm. “It’s a part of life. Fighting back what makes you alive is not healthy.” She paused for a moment. “I can see where he’s coming from, but I mean… why is there such a thing as feelings if we’re meant to repress them?”

    He shrugged. The two Scyther below were dueling fiercely, but soon he saw one of them falter, and the other ruthlessly took advantage of it. It was only seconds before the former had been driven into the ground.

    He was definitely the darker of the two.

    Stormblade looked away, not wanting to witness Shadowdart’s humiliation in having his scythe mutilated a second time. Instead he stared off at the clouds, those wispy forms that were after all, as it turned out, just a form of water, and at the oak tree that he and Shadowdart had for so long taken refuge under and previously Razor as well, and somewhere in the middle of it all he couldn’t help noticing the beautiful, smooth curve of Pearl’s scythe, the metallic sheen of it, the slender wings: she was beautiful, oh, yes. And he couldn’t resist moving a little bit closer, where all of a sudden he began to feel strangely warm despite the harsh wind.

    He felt her position shift a little, moving closer to him as well, and the edge of her scythe stroked across his body in a manner that provoked all sorts of primitive but definitely pleasant feelings within him. He had the strangest of realizations about how much he really wanted to lick the elegantly pointed spikes on her head while she began to nibble at the edges of his scythes with her eyes closed. She shifted a little and moved her own blades rather too carelessly in the process. In fact it wasn’t long before he was fairly sure he was already bleeding in several places, but he was not in any state to care.

    Soon everything about Shadowdart, his mutilated left scythe and Leadership was entirely forgotten.
     
    Last edited: Dec 4, 2007
  6. elyvorg

    elyvorg somewhat backwards.

    The "VII" isn't bolded or properly spaced, by the way.

    This sentence seems to be run on, and it's very over-comma'd. A rephrase might help, but at the very least the comma after "there" needs to be a colon.
    Very run on sentence here - the most suitable place to split it up seems to be around the word "somewhere". The "and previously Razor as well" also sounds like an afterthought, as if you were writing the sentence and suddenly decided to mention Razor so tagged it on the end without going back and putting it anywhere where it might have fit better.
    Not sure here, but shouldn't that say Shadowdart?
    A couple of double-word thingies here.
    By having the adjectives in this order, this seems to lose some of its emphasis. "Freezing" is often used to describe cold, but "biting" is more unconventional and thus has a lot more power to it. Starting with a powerful adjective and following with one that is less so weakens the sentence somewhat.
    "From that that" sounds really awkward and unneeded, and removing "from that" barely changes the meaning of the sentence at all.
    Minor typo.


    Aww, this chapter was so sweet. :3 Adding the legend at the start was a nice touch, as it gave more meaning to the moment when Stormblade gave Pearl a name. And seeing as I like Stormblade's character, him meeting another Scyther who thinks in a similar way to him was really great as it gave him someone to share all his doubts and wonderings with.

    And, omg, CLOUDS! Wondering what they're really made of is like what identifies Stormblade, and makes him different, and yay, he got to find out!

    That said, I felt that the mountain setting could have used more description. I don't think there was anything except that it was a mountain, and that it was steep. I found myself stumbling for something to picture in my head as the mountain and ended up settling for an extremely generic "default mountain image", if you like, which is probably far from what you have in your mind and want your readers to see. The sort of thing I'd like to know is whether it's grassy or rocky, whether the rocks are rough and jagged or smooth and flat, just the kind of atmosphere it has - you did mention that Stormblade and Pearl felt greater than the swarm as they were higher up, but that was fairly obvious and didn't really tell me much. It'd also help to have an idea of how big it is; I'm guessing that it wasn't too big as the two Scyther could fly to the summit rather quickly, but then again it also has to be quite close to a cloud, so... yeah. I'm really not sure how big it is, but I want to be sure.

    One thing I found great about Shadowdart's losses was how you managed to portray the horror of losing a piece of his scythe. I'm especially freaked out at the fact that apparently the Leader keeps these pieces? - considering how important scythes are to a Scyther, it seems a morbid thing to do.

    And also, Stormblade's confusion about whether he should be friends with Shadowdart or concentrate on Pearl was nice - I noticed how before the rematch, Stormblade was supporting his "friend", but later on he thought:
    It seems that Stormblade's getting a little annoyed about being lectured on the Code now that he's found someone better to talk to.

    Ah, Stormblade and Pearl make such a cute couple. :3 Though for some reason I still prefer Razor and Nightmare, but that's (literally) another story.
     
  7. Obsidian Blade

    Obsidian Blade Happily omnipotent

    I'd just like to dispute both of these points... The first fitted the "telling a child a story" tone of the Scyther-pearl section very nicely, whilst the second cleverly imitated the flow of thought that would be going through Stormblade's head.

    In fact, throughout both chapters one of the things that really stood out to me was the clever use of sentence length and structure to help piece together a certain atmosphere for each part. I often found myself slipping into the same mood of your characters as a result. :p I will agree that in some places the description was a little sparse (I'd pictured the meeting place as shut off from the rest of it and went on to think that the Leader and Shadowdart would be dueling somewhere enclosed, then got a bit confuzzled when Pearl and Stormblade could see them, for example), but I love your choice of terminology when describing the characters, specifically their scythes.

    Enjoyed it immensely... your writing flows really well, and while I thought Shadowdart and Stormblade were verging on 2D in Scyther's Story due to the focus on Razor I'm enjoying the further exploration of their characters here. If there was one thing I could poke at it would be that so far it's been very peaceful, even the parts where Shadowdart is frustrated, with no real sign of any climax or increased pace surrounding an important event. But, eh... it didn't really bother me much. I'm quite happy to enjoy the relationships between characters and your interpretation of Scyther society for now. :p

    Awesome work! ^^
    ~Obsid.
     
  8. Dragonfree

    Dragonfree Just me

    Ack.

    Double ACK. x.x; I told you I'd gotten the names confused a few times in the early chapters. Looks like I missed one spot during the editing. It's fixed now.

    Obsidian is right about what I was generally going for with those two run-on sentences: the fable at the beginning isn't meant to be particularly grammatical since it's designed as a piece of oral folklore that the Scyther have, and that sentence of Stormblade's is actually one of my favorite sentences in this entire story exactly because of the stream-of-consciousness feeling resulting from the run-on and the randomness of the things that go through his head while he looks at the things around him.

    Thanks for the other grammatical/word choice/typo pointers. :3 It's always good to have a thorough reader to notice things like that. When you're the author you're too familiar with your sentences to read them that carefully even when you're trying to. x.x

    Heh, you hit the nail on the head about that. Originally the full legend was not in the story and the part where he named her was awfully out of the blue, so while I was writing part three or four, I went back and added that in. I love how it came out. :3

    Indeed. The cloud scene also is one of my favorites scenes in this story.

    Heh, I loved that sentence. He is still pretty torn, and this more or less swings with his mood for the moment, but he is indeed leaning towards Pearl more and more by the moment...

    :3 Thank you. I wasn't really consciously thinking about that much, but I think it stems from me being in the same mood as the characters while I'm writing it. :p

    Ah, you won't have to worry about that for very long. Things start to heat up considerably in part three. The first two were more setup, really.

    I've never been good at describing landscapes, have I? xD I'll try to fit in something to give you a better idea of what everything basically looks like for the final version. Thanks for commenting on it, both of you, because this is one of the areas of writing I tend to be really terrible at. x3

    Thanks for reading and reviewing, and I hope you'll enjoy the parts to follow.
     
  9. Chibi Pika

    Chibi Pika Stay positive

    Story time again!!!!
    Silverwing;249;: *Headdesk.*

    Alright, you know how usually whenever I read anything of yours, its past midnight and on a day that I have some huge homework assignment due the next day?

    This time was different though! I found this thread during art class! ^^ So I clicked it. I skimmed some reviews. Then I read the cloud scene. So I just had to look at Chapter 1. But then we were supposed to get into groups for a critique--to which I confusedly replied "huh?" when I saw everyone gathering together.

    But then when I got back to my computer...I read some more. And then I was reading. And reading. And my teacher said some stuff. I didn't notice. Then she was in front of me, asking me to close my tablet. I looked around confusedly and everyone else had closed theirs a long time ago.

    Then I read more at lunch. I had ten minutes until class, so I was okay! But then the next time I looked at my watch, I was already late for Calculus. =(

    Damnit, Dragonfree, why is your writing so addicting?! xD


    I always loved Stormblade, and seeing how he was affected by Razor leaving was all the more interesting, and how the relations between the three of them has affected him and Shadowdart.

    And speaking of Shadowdart...he's not the weak misfit he was before, but I love how believable his change has been. It's easy to see how he's become so desperate and concerned with being the best. His goal to purge the swarm of "code-breakers" makes me like him that much more. I'm a sucker for characters working towards some revolutionary goal they see as noble (or maybe it's just from me watching way too much Death Note as of recent. That too.)

    I still like Stormblade way more, though. :3 Ever since he first got introduced as being more curious than other Pokemon. His desperation to hold onto some sort of a friendship with Shadowdart was sad as wall as his awkward first conversation with Sickle.

    And speaking of Sickle, I think it'll be easy to think of her as Pearl from now on, but as far as narration goes, will Stormblade be called Loner from now on? Or will it just be within dialogue?

    Can't wait to see the rest of this. ;3

    ~Chibi~;249;;448;
     
  10. Dragonfree

    Dragonfree Just me

    Whoo, Chibi Pika is here. :D Thanks for taking that time to read despite being at school where you weren't supposed to be reading. Of course, I'm not supposed to encourage you... <.<

    Heh, then I think you'll like parts five and six, where Shadowdart's full ideology is greatly expanded upon. I got it to make so much sense in my head, in a twisted way, that I almost agreed with him. o_O

    Stormblade will remain Stormblade, as to change it would both have been confusing and not really have been appropriate since he still feels more inclined to think of himself by that name. Besides that Shadowdart uses that name for him too, so it would make things awkward when it switched to Shadowdart's POV in the later parts.

    Hmm. I'm debating with myself on when to release part three. I've finished the editing already, but I don't want to post it too soon for fear of overwhelming readers with the amount of reading they have to catch up on. :/ What do you think?
     
  11. Dragonfree

    Dragonfree Just me

    Part three. I hate most of the first half of it (I can NOT write romance), but I really like some of the last bits.




    PART III: LOVE

    XI

    It was evening when Stormblade finally returned to the old oak, filled with a fuzzy, warm sensation that made him feel oddly invincible.

    “What happened to you?” Shadowdart said, looking at him with suspicion as he came up to the tree. “You’re all cut.”

    Eying Shadowdart’s slightly more mangled left scythe, Stormblade sat down. “Nothing.”

    Shadowdart paused and looked over towards the other tree, sighing. “You were with that female again, weren’t you?”

    “So what if I was?”

    “Stormblade!” Shadowdart said angrily. “What did I tell you yesterday? You didn’t mate with her, did you?”

    “You’re just jealous because you’re not getting any,” Stormblade replied coolly without looking up. It surprised him how calm he sounded and he found himself smiling.

    Shadowdart snorted. “Jealous? Why would I be jealous? All I see is you being corrupted by a wandering female who you’re beginning to care about more than the Code itself. This is dangerous, Stormblade. Don’t let her ruin you.”

    “It’s none of your business.”

    “It will be once I’m Leader.”

    “Well, that will be a while from now,” Stormblade replied, again surprising himself with the cool malice in his voice. “I’m starting to doubt there will be anything left of your scythes by the time he gets weak enough to lose to anyone.”

    Shadowdart was silent. It had hit a little too close to home, and Stormblade was already regretting that he’d said it.

    “I’m sorry.”

    “Will you distance yourself from her?”

    “No!” Stormblade answered angrily, wishing Shadowdart would stop caring. Why did he have to be so concerned about who he was mating with?

    “You have to, Stormblade. You care too much about her already. This will all end badly.”

    “Why don’t you mind your own business?” Stormblade asked desperately. “You can’t control me. You may be trying, but you’re not the Leader. Leave me alone.”

    Shadowdart looked at him, anger at the open defiance flashing in his eyes. He opened his mouth to speak, but apparently changed his mind at the last moment, closed it and then simply walked to the other side of the tree and lay down to sleep.

    Stormblade got the message and lay silently down on his side. He felt strangely cold as he closed his eyes.


    XII

    Shadowdart woke up early the next morning – something he did usually, but not for this reason.

    Because now he was going to do something about the situation from the other side.

    Stormblade was blinded and unintimidated by Shadowdart – basically beyond help. The female, on the other hand, could perhaps be persuaded. After all, the entire Scyther swarm had gained some respect for Shadowdart, and although of course his reputation had been hurt by the two failed attempts to defeat the Leader, he had shown himself to be both determined and strong nonetheless – the Leader had never thought things far enough to realize fully why Leaders tended to kill the opponents they defeated. That way, they eliminated the competition before it could learn from its mistakes or become a hero idol to the swarm. While cutting a piece out of the scythe worked very well indeed to humiliate the challenger for the first time and discourage him while maintaining the size of the swarm, a challenger who was not discouraged could challenge again. And it was in the nature of sentient beings to be unable to help admiring the persistency of someone who took humiliation with dignity and refused to give up. Sure, he would be the epitome of failure if he continued to try without any success until the day he died – but he would do it the third time. He had already decided he would save the next Leader challenge to the next spring so that he would have plenty of time to train before it.

    But at least the female might have a little respect for him, and so he figured had a reasonable chance of accomplishing something as he walked over to the lone tree that the female slept under.

    “Hello,” he said to announce his arrival. She sleepily opened an eye.

    “What are you doing here?” she asked with annoyance as she recognized him. “You woke me from a dream. About your friend.”

    “I wanted to talk,” he said.

    She raised an eyebrow. “Talk, then.”

    “How close are the two of you?”

    She seemed surprised by the question; she blinked a few times and sat up. “Why do you ask?” she asked groggily.

    “Just answer me.”

    “We love each other,” she said coldly. “Do you have a problem with that?”

    “Yes. I want you to stay away from my friend.”

    She looked at him. “Well, that’s certainly an interesting stance on it. Why do you care?”

    “Because of the Code,” he said. “You are aware that it condemns relationships that become too deep, I expect?”

    “And I don’t give a damn,” she replied icily. “He’s told me all about you and your stupid quest for Leadership. You don’t care for him at all, just like your ideology orders, but he cares about you. He cares so much about you that he sleeps by your tree out of loyalty, even when offered to spend the night with someone who loves him back. You don’t deserve him.”

    “I do care,” Shadowdart said sharply. “Why else do you think I do this? Why else would I try to get you not to become too attached to one another? If you go on like this, you’ll become Code-breakers, and I don’t want that to happen because I care. I want to become Leader and guide the Scyther of the swarm more responsibly along the path of righteousness because I care. Do you think I enjoy telling him who he can screw for the hell of it? I’m a better Scyther than that.”

    “You aren’t half the Scyther he is,” she said, her voice a spiteful growl. “You aren’t worth his left wing. Go away and leave us alone.”

    He looked at her for a moment, surprised by the insult although he maintained his calmness. “I won’t,” he said at last. “You’re gravely misguided. I would never forgive myself if I allowed you to destroy yourselves in this way. I’m acting for your own good.”

    “You’re wrong,” she whispered, shaking her head. “You’re so wrong.”

    He merely gave her a cold smile and walked away.


    XIII

    Stormblade could tell that something was wrong the moment he came to see Pearl after waking up. Shadowdart had already left for training in Ruxido from the looks of it, but when he saw her was sitting motionless by her tree, staring out into nowhere, he could see that something was bothering her.

    “What’s wrong?” he asked as he sat down beside her. She shook her head.

    “Nothing.”

    “There is,” he insisted. “Tell me.”

    “Your friend came here. He wanted me to stay away from you.”

    Stormblade could feel the wind stroking his armor, the grass blades tickling at his clawed feet. “What did you say to him?” he asked quietly.

    “That I wouldn’t,” she said. “And that he should leave us alone.”

    “What did he say to that?”

    “That he was doing it for our own good,” she replied bitterly. “He’ll never let us live in peace. He is too convinced of his horrible ideals. He’s blinded – blinded by the Code.” She spat the last words with utmost contempt. Stormblade shook his head.

    “I don’t understand him sometimes,” he muttered. “I care about him, but we’re so different and I just… can’t really put myself in his place. He’s obsessed with something I’ve never even really thought about, and doesn’t seem to understand any of the things that I care about.”

    “He’s a jerk to you,” she said bluntly. “If he becomes Leader, I’m leaving this swarm.”

    He looked at her. Her wings moved gently in the wind as she looked back at him.

    “If you did,” he replied, taking a deep breath, “I think I would leave with you.”

    Her eyes glittered and he felt a little fuzzy looking at it. “Let’s leave now,” she said. “Let’s go away together and never come to this swarm again. I mean it.”

    Stormblade shook his head. “I… not yet,” he said. “I want to run away with you one day, but not now. Shadowdart isn’t Leader yet. He may grow out of it. Who knows?”

    “I don’t think so,” she said, but didn’t press it. She paused for a moment. “Then… we’ll remain here until a better time to leave, I suppose.”

    He nodded, feeling an odd tingle under his armor at the decision. He had never made major decisions in his life before, now that he thought about it. In his heart he’d defied the norm, but in action he had always gone with the swarm, done as he was told, followed the leader in whatever he did.

    But not anymore. Even now he couldn’t gather the will for defiance to leave immediately, perhaps – but he had made a decision to go in the future.

    It was something.

    “I’m going to talk to him,” Stormblade said. “I’ll make him leave us alone at the very least. I’ll do it tonight when he gets back from his training.”

    A smile flickered across her features. “Thank you, Loner.” She leaned up against him and he welcomed the gesture, leaning towards her as well. He nibbled at the beautifully formed spikes of her head.

    “No. Thank you,” he said softly. “I’ve been letting Shadowdart walk all over me, but I won’t take it anymore. I only did it because I wanted to stick with my only friend, but now I have you. I don’t need him anymore. I can stand up to him.”

    She nuzzled at his neck. “I’m not saying you need to cut yourself off from him, but you can’t let him control what you think and do or affect your better judgement. You don’t think of the Code the way he does. Don’t lie to yourself about that.”

    He nodded, and for the remainder of the day no one existed but them.


    XIV

    Stormblade was already there to meet him in the evening when Shadowdart came back. He felt unimaginably nervous, but great at the same time – better than he had felt in years, it seemed at the very least.

    “What are you doing standing around here?” Shadowdart said disinterestedly, looking at Stormblade out of the corner of his eye as he approached the oak. “Why aren’t you…” His voice became genuinely curious as he apparently remembered his conversation with Pearl that morning. “Why aren’t you running around with your female friend?”

    “So I could talk to you,” Stormblade replied, realizing that his voice was trembling.

    “Oh?” Shadowdart answered, unmoved. “What were you so desperate to talk to me about?”

    Shadowdart turned his back to him, turning his gaze over the swarm and looking for Pearl, and Stormblade found himself gripped with sudden hatred. With a roar, he leapt at Shadowdart’s back, taking him by surprise and managing to bring him down for the first time in many years. He jerked his scythe up to Shadowdart’s throat and held him so he couldn’t move.

    “She told me that you came to talk to her,” he growled. “Leave her alone.”

    Shadowdart coughed. “What are you doing, Stormblade?” he asked, his voice hoarse. “It is against the Code to kill another Scyther after attacking him from the back…”

    “I don’t give a damn about the Code,” Stormblade hissed, cutting him off. “Leave us alone. Stop trying to force us to conform to your standards. We’re not like you, and you have no right to dictate our lives.”

    Shadowdart glared at him, struggling to get himself free again. “Fine,” he snapped. “Get off me and I will let you destroy yourselves, since you seem so bent on it.”

    Stormblade paused for a moment and then released his friend, standing up. He was shaking. “You’re wrong,” he whispered and turned away. They were silent for a long while, the only sound their rapid breathing, the rustle of the wind in the tree, and the faint clang of some Scyther down in the swarm dueling.

    “I’ve realized I must train much harder,” Shadowdart said finally. “It’s been a year since I first began my training. I should wait at least another year before I fight him again. Next spring, I will be Leader. And then I will be the one with authority in this swarm.”

    Stormblade said nothing. He didn’t want to tell Shadowdart that he intended to leave the swarm if he were ever to become Leader. He shivered at the thought and realized with dread that he was becoming slightly afraid of his former friend.

    And yet, some odd loyalty made him stay there and not want to leave. For now.

    He went to sleep, feeling somehow suffocated. He wished in the cold night that he had Pearl by his side.


    XV

    The summer passed, and Shadowdart kept his word. He no longer criticized Stormblade and Pearl’s relationship.

    However, he continued to give Stormblade the same dark glare when he returned from her with small cuts that announced recent mating decorating his body in wild patterns, and shook his head when he saw them go together up into the mountains to talk on their favorite rock or into the forest of Ruxido to hunt. And he distanced himself more and more from Stormblade, training longer, talking less and entirely ceasing to ask him to hunt with him or share prey. Stormblade now only slept near Shadowdart’s oak tree as a formality, as a last shred of their tattered friendship.

    “Why don’t you just sleep with me?” Pearl asked him quietly one day in the winter as they sat on their rock in the side of the mountain. “It’s cold these days. Haven’t you ever longed for another body to curl up against?”

    Stormblade shook his head, doubt nonetheless nagging at his mind. “If I did that… then I would be telling Shadowdart I don’t want anything to do with him anymore.”

    “He doesn’t want anything to do with you,” she pointed out. “He wouldn’t care, Loner. If you want to sleep elsewhere, don’t cling to him out of tradition or loyalty. It won’t do you any good. Please think about what you really want.”

    He sighed. “I want to sleep with you,” he muttered. “But I don’t want to sever the ties with Shadowdart. It’s the last thing we have. He’s distant, but… he’s a friend. He’ll remain a friend.”

    She looked away, listening to the sound of the gnawing wind. “I think I’ll be laying an egg in the spring,” she said quietly.

    Stormblade stared at her, all sorts of emotions flaring up within him. “You… you think so? An egg?”

    She nodded. “I feel… strange. Nauseous. I’ve never had an egg before, but somehow I can tell. And… it would make sense, considering we’ve been…” She blushed slightly.

    He inched nearer to her and gave her a reassuring nuzzle. “That changes things.” He took a deep breath. “When you lay the egg, I will have to be with you. We will be hatching the egg and raising the Descith together. There is no other option.”

    She smiled and nuzzled him back. “Thank you, Loner,” she said softly. “I’m glad you’ll help me.”

    He stared into space, stroking her body absent-mindedly with the blunt edge of his scythe. He would be a father. He had created new life. He felt a little dizzy thinking about it. Now what would he do about Shadowdart? He needed to stay with her. When the bond between them had established itself so physically, it didn’t feel right to make her sleep alone anymore.

    “I will tell Shadowdart that I will be staying with you from now on,” Stormblade murmured. “I love you. It’s more important.”

    He gave her another nuzzle and then stood up. “I’ll be back,” he said and jumped down to take flight. It took him only seconds to descend all the way down to their hill, where Shadowdart was practicing dueling techniques on the tree again. His slashes had now become much faster than they ever had been, and that was saying something, but now he was using almost exclusively his whole right scythe, leaving the mutilated left one as a way to keep the balance while he attacked.

    Stormblade shook his head and had a sudden, striking feeling that Shadowdart would probably never manage to become Leader. He was a cripple; he had rushed too much into the first challenge, and the weakening when his scythe was cut was outweighing the careful training he’d been doing. Stormblade shook his head slowly again as he approached the tree.

    Shadowdart stopped momentarily and noticed him. “What are you doing here?” he just asked.

    “I… I won’t be sleeping around the tree anymore,” Stormblade told him.

    Shadowdart looked at him. “Oh? And why is that?”

    Stormblade came up and sat down against the tree, trying to word it in his mind. Shadowdart did not sit down with him.

    “She… she’s going to have an egg,” Stormblade finally said, warmth spreading through his body as he finished the sentence. Saying it made it so much more powerful. It was real. It was happening.

    But Shadowdart merely looked at him. “So what?”

    “I’m going to stay with her. We’ll hatch the egg together and raise it together. So I want to be with her now.”

    Stormblade looked at him and then aimed at the tree to slash at it. “Only the weak raise their young in families,” he said as his scythe chopped into the oak. Stormblade twitched at the words, feeling almost as if the slash had hit him instead of the tree.

    “Many of the Scyther in the swarm do,” he countered, his voice trembling.

    “Yes, I’m glad you noticed,” Shadowdart said coldly. “For how long have I been telling you that most of the swarm is pathetic and weak? There are too many of them. Don’t you go become one of them too, even if you go around being romantic with some female.”

    “I thought I told you to leave our relationship alone,” Stormblade growled.

    “Well, it’s not your relationship I’m commenting on, is it? It’s what you’re planning to do with your kid.”

    Stormblade didn’t answer. He just stood up, turned away and headed back for the mountain, to the one person who cared about him.


    XVI

    The short-lived winter was the happiest in Stormblade’s life, and indeed he wondered why it had taken him so long to pull away from Shadowdart. He didn’t need him anymore; at times he even felt a bit guilty for how little he missed Shadowdart’s presence. Time passed quickly and with the approaching arrival of spring, the couple was expecting the egg soon. Stormblade vaguely heard of Shadowdart being about to challenge the Leader again, but he didn’t even feel any longing to watch the duel.

    So when Stormblade woke up one morning by Pearl’s side, saw Shadowdart walk down from the oak tree towards the Leader’s rock and realized it was that day, it only brought up unhappy memories and made him want to get as far away from the swarm as possible.

    He woke her up with a gentle prod. “Are you hungry?” he asked her with a whisper.

    “Mmm,” was her reply as she sleepily opened one eye. “Hunting?”

    He smiled. “I’d love to, if you want.”

    She rose up and stretched. The weather was nice and warm, only a few clouds drifting across the blue sky, a light breeze keeping the air fresh. “That would be nice,” she agreed, and they dashed together towards the forest.

    “Let’s get something big,” she said excitedly as they entered Ruxido. “Something we’ll be eating for a while, until the day I lay the egg.”

    He nodded, and they hid. They had become practiced enough at hunting together to think like one being on the hunt: they would hide at the same moment, move at the same moment, strike at the same moment; it was almost a game. They would wait for a few tense seconds, looking silently around in two different directions, and then move swiftly further into the forest. It wasn’t long before Pearl, crouching behind a bush, raised her scythe and motioned slowly for him to move closer. He snuck quickly to a nearby tree that he hid himself behind and then took a careful look.

    There was a Letaligon just ahead – a Letaligon alone without its herd. The silver blades on its head gleamed in the sunlight as a warning sign that the creature could defend itself – but alone against two Scyther, it should go down easily. He looked at her, and she looked back at him. They had their prey.

    They knew without further communication when to leap forward and attack. Stormblade darted out from behind the tree, aiming his scythe to strike the creature’s front leg, hoping to prevent it from running. He could see Pearl leap out of her bush, her blade raised in line with its neck.

    The Letaligon let out a cry of alarm, and in the moment before they struck, the beast chose to block Pearl. Swinging its bladed head, the Letaligon slashed at her body and managed to knock her away and into the nearest tree before her scythe ever made contact. Stormblade’s heart jumped and he found his gaze drawn to her, but didn’t lose sight of his own target and slashed powerfully at the Letaligon’s shoulder. It roared in pain as crimson blood sprayed out of the wound, but Stormblade used the time he had bought himself to move over to Pearl’s side. She was unconscious, lying awkwardly against the tree in an almost sitting position. He quickly leant closer to her, his heartbeat speeding up, but felt faint breathing that confirmed that she was definitely alive.

    He looked quickly back at the Letaligon, which seemed to have realized it was unable to run and had instead opted to defend itself to the last drop. It had limped forward with rage in its eyes and now swung its blade at him.

    Stormblade could have dodged and dealt the final blow, but he didn’t – because on the other side of him was Pearl, unconscious and vulnerable. Instead, he leapt up to take the slash, shielding his head with his left scythe.

    The scythe blocked the Letaligon’s top blade, but he had neglected to factor in the other two, and Stormblade felt a searing sting in his left eye as one of them slashed across the side of his face. He screamed in pain, slashing blindly, and heard the Letaligon roar; as he opened his other eye, he saw that he had hit the Letaligon’s other front leg, nearly slicing through it, and it was losing its balance. It made another attempt to swing its blades at him as it fell, but missed.

    Stormblade hurried back to Pearl. “Are you hurt? Are you all right?” he asked quietly and -gave her body a push. “Come on, wake up…”

    He felt blood leaking from the remains of his left eye, into the corner of his mouth and then onto her body and tried to close the dull, throbbing pain in his eye socket away from his conscious mind. He had better things to worry about. He prodded her gently again.

    And she moved her head and her eyes began to open. He felt a smile break out on his face, but his joy was cut off by a roar.

    He looked quickly up, back towards the fallen Letaligon, and was met with a white blast of energy – a Hyper Beam that he had foolishly allowed the Pokémon to charge while he was thinking about Pearl.

    And because he had looked up, it narrowly missed him. Instead, it blasted straight into Pearl’s body, crushing her into the tree with earth-shaking force. He saw her eyes open wide in shock and her mouth in a silent scream.

    The Hyper Beam faded, and Stormblade saw in horror that her entire upper body had been crushed. Her eyes pointed to him, looking unfocused, and a strangled sound escaped her mouth before she simply stopped being alive. He could see the way the life faded from her eyes as he watched.

    Stormblade realized that something warm was leaking down from his right eye as well, but it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered. Nothing except her death and the creature that had killed her.

    He turned to the half-dead Letaligon that had collapsed onto the ground, his mind burning with rage and despair, and raised both of his trembling scythes with a roar of hatred.


    XVII

    Stormblade returned, covered with a crust of dry, red blood, to find Shadowdart sitting by the oak tree yet again with a new piece cut out of his scythe. He felt lost, confused and blindly, terrifyingly angry, and needed somebody to talk to – and he couldn’t think of anywhere to go but to Shadowdart.

    “You,” Shadowdart said shortly in acknowledgement as he sat down at the tree to stare blankly into space. A second passed before the younger Scyther actually looked at him.

    “What happened to your eye?” Shadowdart asked. “And what’s with all the blood?”

    “She’s dead,” Stormblade said hoarsely. “She’s… she’s dead. And the egg. Killed by a Letaligon while we were out hunting.”

    Shadowdart looked at him. “What?

    “We attacked it together and it slashed at her… took my eye too… and then Hyper Beamed her while I was trying to see if she was all right. I’d brought it down, I’d prevented it from running, but I wasn’t thinking to kill it before it…” His voice broke and he took a few deep breaths, trying to calm himself down with little success. This wasn’t what he wanted to tell Shadowdart. He knew he wouldn’t care.

    “I tore it apart,” he whispered, his voice shaking with anger. “Limb for limb. Piece for piece. It screamed until I’d torn its lungs apart. And I liked it. It felt so damned good to hurt it, that murderous…”

    “Listen to yourself!” Shadowdart said with disgust in his voice, cutting Stormblade off abruptly. “Can’t you see what you’ve become? A hypocrite! A Code-breaker! You set out on a hunt, intending to kill and eat a Pokémon, but look at what you did when one of your own was killed! Look at yourself saying that the prey deserved to be tortured for doing the very thing you do every day to survive!”

    Stormblade looked at him with his one eye and said nothing. He had known it, in a way. Known what Shadowdart would say. Even known, deep down, that he had done something sick and wrong.

    “This is what I’ve been telling you all along!” Shadowdart went on. “Look at what happens to you when you let yourself care too much about someone. It’s a direct path to hypocrisy, nothing more. Look at yourself. You tortured prey, Stormblade. Did you even eat it?”

    He hadn’t. Stormblade stared down at the ground.

    “You disgust me,” Shadowdart said and shook his head. “Look what your precious love did to you! Give it up, Stormblade. You have to see now why I’ve been telling you all along not to become so attached to her. Can’t you see now that I was only trying to help you?”

    And he was right. Of course he was right. Stormblade realized with a sinking feeling that he had even disgusted himself with what he had done. He had tortured the Letaligon. He had let his love for her lead him to do something so horrible that even he agreed it was a just commandment of the Code. What had he been thinking?

    “You’re right,” he whispered. “I was blinded…”

    “Go wash that blood off,” Shadowdart said, sounding repulsed. “And if I were you, I’d spend some time thinking seriously about myself and whether I was truly worth being a part of this swarm anymore.”

    Stormblade nodded, stood up and headed with slow steps down towards the stream.


    XVIII

    He had loved her, truly loved her, and he still did – but it had taken him too far. It had made him into someone he wasn’t and didn’t want to be. Now she was gone and he had to leave the past behind – leave the horrible creature that had mutilated his prey out of pure lust for revenge behind.

    He wanted to remember her forever, but he did not want to remember himself.

    As he walked shakily to the bank of the small river, he wanted to believe he could live with it, but there was guilt nagging him that refused to go away. The image of her crushed and dead and of the Letaligon’s ripped and bloodied corpse had etched itself into his mind, and for the first time in his life he felt like he had done something horribly, horribly sick and twisted. Something utterly wrong, Code or not Code.

    He stepped into the stream, letting the cold water wash flakes of dried blood off his feet and claws. He dipped his scythes in as well and saw the water take on a reddish hue before flowing on and disappearing. The steady flow was calming and soothing, and he found himself to be trembling a little bit less, even though the water was freezing.

    He submerged his head and felt stinging, pulsing pain in his left eye socket again as the water enveloped the remains of his eye. He knew he would never see with it again, but he had given it for her – and although he hadn’t managed to save her, he didn’t regret having done it. He would never have forgiven himself if he hadn’t.

    He rose up and studied his reflection. A large, ugly cut ran along the side of his face, down through the bloodied left eye socket, but otherwise he was mostly clean. He shivered with cold, stepped out of the stream and decided that the right place to think over things would be Pearl’s favorite spot, the rock in the side of the mountain. He shook his body to dry it somewhat and then kicked off the ground to fly, realizing bitterly that in the end, he and Pearl had probably flown better than almost any other Scyther in the swarm – as much as Shadowdart had been training, he didn’t believe he had ever particularly trained his flight. Scyther just didn’t fly very much unless it was necessary, and flying during a duel was more or less unheard of.

    He sat down on the rock, letting the cool wind stroke his outstretched wings, and now that he was there he realized how terribly lonely he was to be there without her. Living the rest of his life without her, living the rest of his life with Shadowdart as his only company – he dreaded the thought. Especially because he was now a Code-breaker. He had tortured his prey and even neglected to eat it, to give its death a purpose. He had committed an act of pure bloodlust in an emotional rage. The only friend he had left, Shadowdart, despised him for what he had done.

    And he was no longer about to become a father.

    He felt a sinking feeling in his stomach at the thought, and all of a sudden no longer really wanted to bother. There was only one ethical response to breaking the Moral Code, after all.

    He raised his scythe slowly and looked at it, but the thought of turning it on himself was too horrifying, too painful. He lowered it again. Suicide through action was something he didn’t see himself being able to do, but suicide through inaction…

    He stood up and walked over to the edge of the rock. It was a long way down on one side. If he just kept his wings folded on the way down, he wouldn’t survive the fall.

    He took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and walked forward. His foot found solid ground. He moved his other foot, and again it came down on the hard surface of the rock.

    Next he stepped into thin air, lost his balance in a fleeting second and began to plunge down towards the rocky ground, memories flashing before his eyes.

    And one memory stuck.

    He saw Razor, called up to the Leader’s rock, instructed to commit suicide – but he hadn’t. Razor had stood up to the Code. Why did Stormblade, who had never been too preoccupied with the Code, not have that kind of courage? Why was he falling like any pathetic prey to a death that would render his entire life a tragic failure?

    She wouldn’t have wanted him to. She’d have wanted him to move on and try to find happiness in the rest of his life. She’d have wanted him to defy those pointless laws of the Code.

    He opened his eyes and, with a sudden rush of adrenaline, spread his wings far out and began to flap them with increasing speed to work against the speed at which he was already falling. In the second before he hit the ground, he managed to slow himself down enough to manage to land in a roll, tumble down the gentle slope down the rest of the mountain and come to a rest with only a few bruises.

    He stood up slowly, feeling oddly renewed, and headed back to the swarm.
     
    Last edited: Dec 20, 2007
  12. elyvorg

    elyvorg somewhat backwards.

    I will admit that the romantic parts are perhaps lacking from what they could have been, but seeing as I have little to no experience in reading or writing romance, I can safely say that A, it didn't bother me much, and B, I haven't a clue how to improve it.

    This should say "thought things through", I think.
    Seeing as this part was from Shadowdart's POV (which was a nice "yay" moment when I realised as I wasn't expecting any until part 5), the use of her name seems out of place as I doubt Shadowdart would think of her as Pearl. For that matter, he doesn't even know she's called Pearl o.o
    at the thought
    Another of those weird, pointless uses of "then".
    "little" repetition.
    After all the "moment, moment, moment" of the last sentence (which was nicely done, by the way), using "moments" again so soon kinda... kills it.
    Can't help feeling that this bit could have been given a bit more of a tense, actiony sort of feel. Simple words like "went" and "aimed" don't really help in that regard, and the sentences in general sound a bit like lists. Something such as "dashed", "darted", "slashed", "struck", etc. would give a better idea of the speed and the power of a pair of Scyther on a hunt.
    With the use of "but while" here, I got the feeling that the last clause of the sentence was going to contradict the roaring in pain and spraying blood... but then it was something totally unrelated, which threw me off a little. Perhaps a little word change would help it make more sense?
    Repetition of "the water".

    As I have said, loved the Shadowdart POV, as I already get a good feel for his emotionless, driven frame of mind. Only problem I had with it was that nearly every sentence with Pearl as the subject seemed to start "She [past tense verb]..." which got a bit dull after the first few times, whereas more varied sentence structures would sound fresher.

    And now I will most likely gush about how I like Stormblade/am upset about Pearl for the rest of this review. :3 One bit I particularly liked was when he made the decision to leave if Shadowdart ever won - the point made about how he'd always been different in thought but never in action kinda sums him up, in a blunt way.

    I like how you left the Letaligon scene without fully detailing what happened - not only did it give my active-enough-without-full-description imagination a break, it also actually had me thinking something along the lines of "Yes, Stormblade, you KILL that thing! >:O" until I found out what he'd really done, at which point I was a dutifully thrown by his sudden outburst of violence. Oh, and "It screamed until I'd torn its lungs apart" is a really, REALLY gruesome image. o.o

    And talking about that scene reminds me of a problem I had with it. From what I know about Letaligon's anatomy, I thought that the central horn goes straight up while the other two sort of point backwards - so how did one manage to slash Stormblade's eye if the central one was being blocked by his scythes? It just sort of doesn't seem to work, seeing as I imagine the two side horns would be pointing in the completely wrong direction to do so...

    Back to Stormblade-gushing. Loved the scene with his guilt, especially how he felt he'd done something wrong, Code or no Code.
    This line in particular was REALLY powerful. x.x

    And it was such a nice touch how memories of Razor refusing to kill himself stopped Stormblade from doing the same thing. Seems like he still misses his old friend even what, three years on?

    Which leads me onto a random wondering I have on whether this is structured so that it contains one year and one challenge for Leadership in each part.

    And finally:
    Yes, Shadowdart. Because being a hypocrite is the absolute WORST crime someone could EVER commit! xD
     
  13. Dragonfree

    Dragonfree Just me

    Hmm, well, the "enough" part (which is necessary to make the point I was trying to make) made me feel more inclined to word it like that. "Thought things through enough" sounds a little odd. o_O Then again, I've had confident feelings about how something should be worded in English that ended up being completely wrong before, so I wouldn't necessarily be surprised if it were the other way around.

    Oops. x.x And I thought I'd been very careful to make Shadowdart invariably refer to her as "that female"... Will fix.

    Ack. Proofreading really should have caught that. <.<

    I hated the beginning of the hunting scene; it all came out forced and weird. You're probably right about the word usage there; I'll look into that.

    *takes a break from writing this post and rewrites many parts of that scene*

    I loved that part. It was one of those bits of inspiration that came to me in the editing. I felt it wasn't powerful enough the way it was before and intended to edit it, and then when I was reading over it again, that sentence just seemed so right to describe it. It's just horrifying enough for the effect I wanted. :3

    Ah, I figured that would be problematic to imagine. What cut across Stormblade's face was one of the small blades that point upwards out of the main side blades just behind Letaligon's eyes. Stormblade's scythe blocks the way of the top blade, but the power of the slash instead both runs along the scythe and pushes it closer to his face - leaving the scythe still between his face and the top blade, of course, as Stormblade had intended, but that little upwards-pointing spike is just on the other side of the scythe, and from there it manages to stab Stormblade's eye out. Now, in the scene I had no time to explain it in that kind of detail, so I opted to just hope readers could at least assume it happened somehow.

    One year, no. But one challenge for Leadership, yes. Heh, I'm glad somebody noticed. x3

    Ah, but that's exactly it. Shadowdart's whole ideology revolves around the idea that hypocrisy is the ultimate sin. And it makes sense, really - after all, no matter what kind of moral belief system you have, the fundamental rule of having any such belief system at all is that the same rules apply to everyone, and hypocrisy is simply to break this one fundamental rule of morality. If hypocrisy isn't wrong, there is no such thing as morals to begin with.

    But you'll see more about Shadowdart's ideology in parts five and six. Thanks for the review, and have I mentioned yet how useful it is to get your reviews pointing out word repetition and stuff like that? Most reviewers don't bother to keep a tally of things like that. I really appreciate that you take the time to point out such things. Thank you.
     
  14. Dragonfree

    Dragonfree Just me

    Ugh, this is my least favorite part. ><; Well, I do like chapter XX (one of my favorites in this story, actually), but as always it feels odd to rewrite a part of The Quest for the Legends from another POV. At least I think Part V is my very favorite, so look forward to that.

    I also edited Part III, if for some reason you feel like rereading it.




    PART IV: RAZOR

    XIX

    When Stormblade returned to the oak tree, Shadowdart was still sitting there, staring into space with an inscrutable expression on his face. The younger Scyther looked dully at the older as he approached and asked, in a mildly surprised tone, “You’re back?”

    Stormblade nodded. “I thought things over. Let’s have a friendly duel.”

    He knew that the suggestion was odd in the situation. Shadowdart looked at him, his expression suspicious; he was clearly surprised at the idea, especially since Stormblade hadn’t initiated a duel in many years, but took a position a few steps across from him anyway, eying him warily.

    Stormblade smiled and then kicked off the ground to fly.

    Shadowdart looked up and frowned at him. “What are you doing up there?”

    “Flying,” Stormblade replied.

    “Why flying?”

    “Well, it’s a strange thing, isn’t it?” Stormblade answered, his tone musing. “Scyther can fly, but they never really use it. Come on and let’s try some airdueling.”

    Shadowdart shook his head and seemed to think it was a stupid idea, but took off anyway and, without warning, zoomed at Stormblade.

    Stormblade almost laughed – Shadowdart’s flight, in comparison to Pearl’s, was very clumsy. He swooped easily out of the way, and Shadowdart swore as he missed.

    “This is stupid,” he said, landing to rest a little. “Come down and let’s duel properly.”

    “I like it in the air,” Stormblade insisted, zooming a little back and forth as a playful taunt. Shadowdart glared at him and then took off again.

    This time Stormblade went in for an attack. He flew forward and Shadowdart dodged out of the way, but turning in the air was much easier than on the ground – Stormblade managed to follow him and get a powerful slash in across his chest. Shadowdart fell back to the ground.

    “I can’t keep my balance up there while using my scythes,” he grumbled as he stood up. “Why are you insisting on being in the air?”

    Stormblade actually laughed this time. “Can’t you see? You’ve been training every other skill in the world, but not your flight. Go train your wings and your movement in the air, and see if you can surprise the Leader with it next time you challenge him.” He landed and smiled, having finished making his point and not being overly interested in continuing. It felt oddly exhilarating to have managed to actually teach Shadowdart something again. It brought him back to the old days when Shadowdart was still a Descith.

    Shadowdart looked at him in silence for a few seconds. “Good one,” he then admitted, sitting down while Stormblade did the same. “Thank you.”

    It was as Stormblade has thought. Giving Shadowdart some reason to respect him and need him again made him ready to turn a blind eye to his breaking of the Code. Shadowdart would be willing to give him a second chance. And he needed that, because he was giving himself a second chance. None of the other Scyther would ever know that it happened. He was going to make an example of Razor and live with himself despite having broken the Code, and to live with himself he needed Shadowdart’s company.

    “You seem a lot more confident all of a sudden,” Shadowdart said, turning to him. “More enthusiastic. Less depressed. What gives?”

    I thought about Razor and was inspired to go on. No, he could never say that. Shadowdart had hated Razor. He would immediately lose that respect. And probably not train his flight, either.

    “I just thought things over while I was washing,” he said instead. “And I realized I should put it all behind me. Forget it ever happened. It’s not who I really am.”

    Shadowdart nodded distantly, and it occurred to him that of course Shadowdart would have his own experience of putting the past behind him and improving himself.

    He would treasure the memory of Pearl. She had taught him many things. But himself during that period… he just wanted to leave that behind. Start anew. Remember Razor, who had given himself another chance at life. But Razor had used his second chance to be an outcast from the swarm. Stormblade would use his to reconcile himself with the swarm after a period of isolation from it. And especially with the only friend he had left.

    Perhaps he would even be able to have some positive influence on Shadowdart – being rebellious, after all, had never made Shadowdart more inclined to listen to him.

    The future was beginning to look brighter.


    XX

    Stormblade had left the body in the forest. The Scyther could not dig to bury their dead, nor could they burn them, and in fact they did not believe there was any reason to destroy the body of a dead Scyther so that scavengers could not feed on them.

    A dead body had no meaning to them. A dead body had no purpose. A dead body was simply food – not food that the Scyther themselves would eat, as they always killed their own prey and preferred not to eat other carnivores, but food for countless other Pokémon nonetheless – and the act of preventing other Pokémon from getting that food was something they would have had a hard time seeing as anything other than an act of pointless malice. When a Scyther died in the swarm, they would move the body into the forest where the scavengers might feast on it away from the swarm, but when one died in the forest, there was no need to move the body from the place where it had died.

    They did, however, prefer not to leave the bodies lying in awkward positions that did not dignify the dead, and thus Stormblade had laid her on her back on the ground – a rather messy affair for a Scyther, as he could not grab any part of her with his arms – and then, with considerable emotional difficulty, cut her throat. To do this was ancient tradition: they did not consider a creature to be truly, spiritually dead unless its throat had been opened, and until then, it was merely a trapped mind suffering in an irreversibly dead, decomposing body.

    It was nonetheless very difficult, as Stormblade had discovered, to actually cut the throat of someone he loved, and he had been unable to shake off the eerie feeling that she was somehow still alive, that she could yet be saved but he was the one murdering her. It had fleetingly occurred to him as he knelt over her body, taking deep breaths to calm himself down, that he understood well where the notion that an intact throat left the spirit of the deceased still alive, trapped in the body, came from. He had felt like he could hear her scream for help, all the way until he had gathered the courage to silence her with his scythe.

    When he returned to the site that evening, he could nearly hear her scream again, and was for a moment not sure if he had actually cut her throat correctly, but no, it was open, and blood was still leaking out of the wound to dry on the ground beside her. Some small scavenger Pokémon that had heard him coming and ran for it before he arrived had apparently found her body, because her eyes had already been torn out and eaten. The sight horrified him somehow, despite how used he was to seeing half-eaten corpses. It was just so much worse when he had known the corpse so well in life. So odd to see it no longer the living, thinking being it had once been. No longer the being he had loved so much.

    “I’m sorry I didn’t manage to protect you,” he said quietly to the body, knowing full well she couldn’t hear him. “And I’m sorry I… did that to the Letaligon. You probably wouldn’t have liked it.” He took a deep breath. “But now I’ve become wiser. I’m moving on. I’m going to be a Scyther you would be proud of if you were still here. Goodbye.”

    Then he wet his scythe in her blood, took a last look at what had once been Pearl, and turned away to fly back to the swarm.

    He had told the Leader about her death, leaving out the part where he had tortured the Letaligon – that was a story for him and Shadowdart alone to know. And because he had needed to wash the blood from his body previously – and it had mostly been the Letaligon’s blood anyway – he had needed to return to the forest to retrieve the ritual blood that ordinarily, in the case of hunting deaths, was what came onto the scythe when the throat of the dead was cut.

    The Leader had already called for a death acknowledgement ceremony, and the swarm had gathered by the stream by the time Stormblade returned with her blood. The Leader nodded as he came down to his side, just by the water’s edge.

    “Tonight,” said the Leader in a calm but powerful voice, “we commemorate a Scyther who has left our ranks.”

    Stormblade silently raised his scythe up into the air so that the bluish-black liquid on it was illuminated by the moonlight. A glistening drop fell from the blade into the stream, dissolving in a mere moment.

    “She died on a hunt,” the Leader continued. “She was killed by a Letaligon she had intended to prey upon. She remained cool with her fate to the end. May she be an example to all Scyther from here on. Death is not to be feared, for it is the only thing that we all have in common.”

    “Death is not to be feared,” said the swarm in unison.

    “May her true spirit live on and her loss be put behind us.”

    And Stormblade lowered his scythe into the water, letting the stream quickly wash off the blood and carry it away, put it behind them, prevent them from dwelling on it. Symbolically, she herself had been carried away from the swarm to bother the living no more.

    It was a simple ritual; they could not set the dead off with mass mourning or elaborate ceremonies that might make a death seem like too significant an event. It was less to commemorate the dead than it was to remind the living not to dwell on their death. But that it did well, and as Stormblade raised his scythe out of the stream, he felt ready to move on.

    She would live on in his memory, but not trouble him. He would make a new life for himself as a better Scyther.


    XXI

    In the next few weeks, Stormblade and Shadowdart’s relationship blossomed to better than it had been in years. Stormblade would advise him on flying techniques, something even Shadowdart had admitted to himself Stormblade had mastered much better than he had, and meanwhile Shadowdart taught him techniques for ground duelling so that they could more easily duel one another. Stormblade was still nowhere near Shadowdart’s general skill level, but Shadowdart mastered flying quickly and they would entertain themselves with air duels in between going on joint hunts.

    “Where did you learn all this flying stuff anyway?” Shadowdart asked him one day after a session of flight training.

    “With her,” Stormblade replied, even now feeling a light sting in his heart as he thought of her. “We flew a lot. Her favorite place was up in the mountain.”

    Shadowdart just nodded, looking up to the mountains.

    “We… we once flew up. To the clouds,” Stormblade began, not sure why he was telling Shadowdart about it. It had always been their secret, but now she was gone and he supposed he had to tell somebody.

    “Why?” Shadowdart asked.

    “To see what the clouds really were. We…” His stomach fluttered as he thought of it. “You know how they say that the clouds are Pokémon? That the rain is their blood?”

    Shadowdart looked disinterestedly at him. “Yes?”

    “It’s not true,” Stormblade said, feeling almost the same excitement as when they had first discovered it. “The clouds are just water. Tiny little drops of water. We flew through one and it wasn’t like touching anything. We just got wet.”

    Shadowdart looked blankly at him. “That’s ridiculous. How would the water stay aloft? Why doesn’t it look like water? Why does it change color? What causes it to suddenly fall down, if it can stay airborne? Water doesn’t do any of that.”

    “I don’t know, but it’s true anyway. We went there and felt it. It was amazing.”

    Shadowdart shrugged. “What’s so amazing about it? It doesn’t matter to anyone down on the ground what the clouds are made of. A Scyther has no need to think about the clouds. Even if flying is a neat thing with some untapped potential to it, we won’t ever need to fly that high. Why does it matter so much to you?”

    Stormblade thought about it. He was right – the clouds didn’t matter. Then why did he care what they were made of, whether they were Pokémon or just water? Why was he curious?

    He didn’t know. But he didn’t think it was a bad thing. He had felt genuine joy in the discovery, and no one could take that joy away from him.

    “I don’t know why it matters to me,” he said quietly. “But it does.”

    Shadowdart shrugged. “Well, you’ve always been weird. Just don’t let yourself worry about it too much. Stick to things that are real and around you.”

    Stormblade sighed. “I suppose.”

    They still had their disagreements, but he had learned to just not bring them up.


    XXII

    Despite their improving relations, Shadowdart requested that Stormblade was not present during his fourth duel with the Leader that autumn. He said it improved his concentration when he didn’t feel compelled to look at one of the watching Scyther and could focus on the Leader. Stormblade didn’t know if he was being truthful when he said it, but didn’t particularly care. He felt that he was no longer clinging to Shadowdart in the way he had before. They were better friends now when they were together, and thus he didn’t feel as much of a need for them to be always together.

    Pearl had always disliked what she’d seen of their relationship, and he could see why. They had a much healthier friendship now – in fact, their differences had never before seemed so small.

    And yet, he still wondered what his life would have been like if he had raised a family with her.

    A family…

    Perhaps Razor had a family with Nightmare now, if he had caught up with her. Perhaps she had had an egg and they were happy somewhere off alone raising a Descith or two together.

    The thought made him bitter. He sighed, stood up from the tree, glanced once towards the Leader’s rock – the small crowd that had gathered around him prevented him from seeing the duel – and decided to go hunting, just to get his mind onto something else.

    And by a miraculous coincidence, just as he reached the edge of Ruxido, another Scyther with distantly familiar features was also nearing the forest for a hunt.

    It took him only a moment to realize that it was a particularly strong-looking, tall Scyther that Razor had pointed out to him a few times in the swarm – Razor’s father.

    Curiosity got the better of Stormblade, and he turned to stop the approaching Scyther.

    “What is it?” Razor’s father asked, looking Stormblade up and down with a blank expression.

    “You don’t know me, but I was a friend of your son’s,” he said awkwardly.

    Razor’s father got an odd, distant gleam in his eye for a second, and then turned around. “I don’t have a son,” he said coldly, motioning to enter Ruxido.

    “Yes, you do,” Stormblade pressed him. “He left the swarm.”

    “He is no son of mine,” the older Scyther repeated. “It was a big mistake, all of it.”

    “You’re being ridiculous,” Stormblade said, his temper flaring. “Of course he’s still your son. Having broken the Code or left the swarm doesn’t change that. Being your son is a matter of blood. You’re the one who screwed his mother, and that’s the end of it.”

    Razor’s father turned around and looked at him, his expression mildly surprised at Stormblade’s bluntness. “Fine, I had a son,” he said. “Had. He’s dead.”

    “How do you know that?”

    “If he’s not dead, then I hope he is, or I will never forgive myself for having been responsible for bringing him into the world,” Razor’s father snapped. “Leave me alone now. I have prey to kill.”

    Stormblade sighed and watched the older Scyther dash off towards the forest. He was the same as Shadowdart, then – putting the Code before life. Code before friends and family. He would rather have them dead in accordance with the Code than alive having broken it.

    If he knew what Stormblade had done – yet again he felt a sting of guilt in his heart – he would despise him.

    Stormblade turned. He didn’t feel like hunting anymore. He could vaguely remember Razor telling him that once upon a time, his parents had been in love, just like he and Pearl. Then they had drifted apart. They had been a family, but no longer were.

    He wanted to find Razor’s mother now.

    He could remember that she was more of a frail little thing, someone who wouldn’t stand out from a crowd. He looked briefly over the Scyther that he passed on his way back, but none of them was her. Either she was hunting, she was watching the duel, or she was drinking by the river.

    Drinking sounded like a good idea in any case.

    He walked down to the stream, and there was indeed a small female there, slowly lapping up the fresh water. He came closer. Yes, it was definitely her.

    “Hello,” he said, having bent down beside her to reach down into the water himself. “I knew your son.”

    She looked quickly at him and then shook her head. “I… I don’t want to talk about him. I’m sorry.”

    But she sat down in the grass beside the stream anyway, looking up at the sky and the occasional clouds drifting past. Stormblade didn’t want to pressure her, but something made him want to talk to her anyway.

    “Did you know,” he said as he stood up, looking into the sky with her, “that the clouds aren’t really Pokémon?”

    She looked at him. “Oh?”

    “They’re water,” Stormblade explained, his heart again twitching in odd excitement as he said it. “They’re not even solid. I flew through a cloud, and there was no resistance. I just got wet. I don’t know how they stay in the air or why it only rains sometimes, but they’re just water.”

    She smiled. There was some warmth in it that made it seem sincere. “That’s interesting. I’d never really thought about it before.”

    Of course she hadn’t. Stormblade and Pearl seemed to be the only Scyther in the world ever to have even wondered. A minute of silence passed. He sighed and stood up to leave.

    “I still love him,” she suddenly muttered without looking at him. “I know he broke the Code. But I can’t help loving him anyway. I hatched him. How could I not?”

    “Do you think he’s alive?” Stormblade asked quietly, turning back to her.

    She shook her head. “I don’t know. But I hope so. I hope I’ll see him again one day.”

    Stormblade smiled. “I hope so too,” he said before turning to walk back to the swarm.


    XXIII

    Shadowdart didn’t win that time either. He came back cut and bruised yet again, with a new piece cut out of his scythe, and swore that the next time, in the spring, he would win. The winter went into rigorous flight training, enthusiastic duels, and strategic planning. Shadowdart would occasionally practice the techniques they had been planning while they hunted, and it was on just such a hunt one day in the late spring, when they were in the forest looking for prey, that Stormblade stopped dead at the sound of an all-too-familiar voice.

    “Shadowdart, listen,” he whispered, and Shadowdart stayed and waited. They heard a faint voice from some distance away – a Scyther’s voice.

    “Razor,” Shadowdart realized, his expression darkening. “So he isn’t dead.”

    “We have to go follow the sound,” Stormblade said excitedly. “We should go talk to him, shouldn’t we?”

    “Yes,” Shadowdart said coldly. “I have much to say to him.”

    They forgot all about keeping quiet and took off to fly between the trees, partly for practice and partly for speed. Stormblade’s stomach fluttered at the thought of meeting Razor again. He couldn’t wait to tell him all about Pearl, and maybe of what had inspired him to live on…

    Finally they caught a glimpse of him between the trees, and realized that he wasn’t alone.

    He was on the Ruxido road, walking beside a human boy and apparently engaged in friendly conversation with him. Two other human kids were walking a little ahead of him, seemingly unalarmed by his presence.

    Humans.

    Razor was with humans.

    And just as Stormblade realized it, Razor stopped in his tracks and stared right at him.

    “Come on, let’s hurry,” Stormblade said quickly and they sped up, avoiding a few more trees before finally landing in front of Razor on the road. The human boy he was walking with flinched; the others turned around in surprise.

    “Razor… we never expected to see you again,” Stormblade said, looking the Scyther in front of him up and down to make sure it was really his old friend – he could hardly believe it. Razor looked healthy and strong after those three years. Where had he been?

    Razor looked awkwardly at them, his face betraying slight revulsion as he eyed Stormblade’s empty eye socket. “Stormblade,” he finally said with a small nod of acknowledgement. “Shadowdart…”

    Stormblade saw Razor fix his gaze in surprise at the remains of Shadowdart’s left scythe. Shadowdart, however, was already looking at the boy in suspicion.

    “What is the human doing here?” he asked sharply, narrowing his eyes at Razor and the boy. Razor’s hesitation confirmed what Stormblade had deduced already, that he had been caught…

    “He’s… my friend,” Razor muttered uncertainly, his gaze shifting between Stormblade and Shadowdart.

    “Your ‘friend’?” Shadowdart spat. “Since when did you make human friends?”

    Stormblade knew he was thinking of Razor’s First Prey, a human boy who couldn’t have been much older than the one he was standing with now. And it surprised him, too; who would have thought Razor would be the one of them to be caught?

    “That’s none of your business,” Razor replied quietly, the pain of the situation evident in his voice. What had changed in those three years? Just what had Razor been through? Stormblade found himself suddenly realizing that perhaps Razor had been far worse off than he had been.

    “Well,” he said as he sensed Shadowdart was about to say something, “did you ever find Nightmare?”

    Razor nodded, but his expression already told him something was wrong, that it hadn’t turned out right. “So how did it go?” he pressed.

    Razor swallowed, nervousness evident in his eyes. “She…” he began hoarsely. “She got caught…”

    “Caught?” Shadowdart sneered.

    “How did that happen?” Stormblade asked in disbelief, the fateful duel still fresh in his memory. “She was one of the fastest I’ve ever seen…”

    Oh, yes, she had been fast. How had a human caught her – a mere human, on two clumsy legs?

    “He caught her in her sleep,” Razor replied bitterly, and Stormblade found himself nodding. Yes, it was the only way that the humans could catch a Scyther, by such low methods as attacking them while sleeping…

    But something rang wrong with this, a pang in his chest told him. He looked sharply back at Razor. “How would you know? Were you there?”

    He saw Razor sigh, nod, look down at the ground – how could he? How could he have watched her be caught without helping her and then stand there healthy and happy? How could he, when Stormblade had given his eye to protect the female he had loved?

    “Then you didn’t do anything… you just watched…” he asked quietly, getting a sinking feeling in his stomach as he realized that of course Razor wasn’t the idol of defiance that he had been thinking of him as for the past year: he was just a Scyther, just a lost, confused, flawed Scyther.

    But oh, so much more flawed than he had been the last time they had met!

    He had stopped clinging to Pearl, but only begun to cling to Razor instead. He should have stood up for himself. He should have known better.

    “I thought I knew you,” he muttered and shook his head. “I never thought you’d…”

    “Screw that,” Shadowdart interrupted. “What are you doing with the human?”

    There was a short silence during which Razor’s eyes flicked between Stormblade, Shadowdart and the boy. “He’s my trainer,” he finally said, and Stormblade couldn’t help feeling another little sting at the verbal confirmation.

    Shadowdart snorted, his expression turning to one of somehow triumphant mockery. “You let a human stuff you into a ball? I thought you had some dignity…” He paused. “Then it’s probably true what they all say, that you begged for your life, too…”

    “Don’t,” Stormblade said quickly, even though he wasn’t sure anymore that he should be defending Razor at all. “You didn’t watch the duel. I did.”

    “Fine,” Shadowdart spat, still smiling poisonously. “Then she was just weak. I bet both of you just sit there with your trainers now doing whatever you’re told, like little slaves under their…”

    “NO!” Razor shouted, leaping at Shadowdart and swinging his scythe at his face. Shadowdart had of course trained his reflexes to the point of easily expecting it and blocking it with his own. Razor attacked with hateful ferocity and more speed than Stormblade had ever seen in him; he repeatedly slashed with both of his scythes, only to have Shadowdart block each attack with an almost lazy lack of effort. It was occurring to Stormblade now just how powerful Shadowdart was.

    Finally Razor let out a cry of hate, slashing forward with both of his scythes parallel, and Shadowdart blocked with his own. They strained against one another for a few tense seconds during which neither seemed to have an advantage: while Shadowdart was very skilled, they were about equal in the sheer force of their muscles.

    They had realized it as well, and both leapt backwards, keeping their scythes upright and defensive for a second before lowering them in momentary truce.

    “All right,” Shadowdart said. “Fine. Be a slave. You’re not worth duelling.” He looked at the boy, who was still standing there, pale and silent. “And your so-called trainer isn’t worth killing, either.”

    Without waiting for Stormblade, Shadowdart kicked off the ground and flew back into the forest. Stormblade took a last regretful look at Razor, who had only days ago been such an inspiration to him – his first friend’s expression looked confused, pained and apologetic – but then took off to fly after Shadowdart. Part of him hoped that Razor would follow.

    He didn’t.
     
  15. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    First of all, I want to mention how cool it was to read about a Scyther-style funeral. ^^ It was fascinating, just as all of the Scyther rituals we've gotten to read about in this story and its predecessor have been, and the nature of it fit in perfectly with the beliefs of their culture regarding death.

    I also found the ways that Stormblade's relationships with and attitudes of other characters evolved there in that part to be pretty interesting, such as his new, healthier friendship with Shadowdart and Stormblade's newfound disappointment in Razor. Speaking of the former, the way that Stormblade chose to get his foot back in the door of his friendship with Shadowdart was pretty clever. ^^

    Other highlights:

    I love Stormblade's response there. XD

    A quote I don't think I'll forget anytime soon, especially that last line. XP


    Great work once again, and I'll be back to read the next installment. ^^
     
  16. elyvorg

    elyvorg somewhat backwards.

    Another one of those weird little "then"s after dialogue that never fail to bug me when I notice them.
    had thought
    Because Stormblade's name was last mentioned several paragraphs before this point, I initially took the "him" in question to be Shadowdart before my common sense kicked in and told me that it was not. Changing the "him" to "Stormblade" and the second "Shadowdart" to "he" might help, as Shadowdart is still the subject of the sentence.

    The overuse of their names here gets a little bit jerky and slightly confusing. Alternatives such as "the older/younger Scyther" or even just "his friend" should smoothen things out.
    Cross-paragraph repetition of always - nonetheless still slightly jarring.
    "got a gleam in his eye" sounds really awkward and clunky thanks to the use of "got" in this context. I'd recommend changing it to a less basic verb or simply rewording the sentence.

    The funeral was an especially nice touch to this part - it's interesting to see how Scyther do have some kind of spiritual belief despite them having a very different view on death to that of humans. The idea of the blood flowing away from them in the water is a nice image symbolising how the swarm should move on, and it seems to act as extra "Death is not to be feared" propaganda. This also made me wonder - do Scyther who are killed in a duel get such a death ceremony?

    ...Which leads me onto a sudden random bit of speculation about whether or not Shadowdart would perform such a ceremony if he ever does kill the Leader in a duel. I know how you like reader speculation. =P

    I liked the scene with Stormblade's flying, as the way he teased his friend was amusing to read, and it was fun to see Shadowdart getting owned by Stormblade for once.

    Razor's parents were well portrayed, enough so that I could actually relate their attitudes towards the brief glimpses of them we saw in Scyther's Story.

    Don't have as much to randomly talk about this time as less really happened in the chapter. That said, I'm eagerly looking forward to the Shadowdartness of the last three parts, and what he thinks about Razor's capture, and well, everything.
     
  17. Dragonfree

    Dragonfree Just me

    Yes, but then the Leader doesn't go on about their positive qualities and exemplary deaths. :p The ceremony is, after all, less a sign of respect for the dead and more of a "Forget about him" thing, which applies if anything even more when the dead isn't anyone to be respected much.

    Anyway, thanks a lot for reviewing, you two. :3 The character limit refuses to let me post part five in this post, but it comes in the next...
     
  18. Dragonfree

    Dragonfree Just me

    (Finally the page loaded... <_<)


    PART V: LEADER

    XXIV

    Eleven years before, a then-five-year-old Scyther, already rumoured to be the strongest Scyther to grace the swarm in living memory, had defeated the Leader of the time and acquired the position for himself.

    He had always been somewhat of a wonder child: he had hatched already with the first traces of forming scythes; he had evolved early, in the middle of the winter, when most Descith evolved in the spring; and he had easily killed the very first Pokémon he’d caught during his First Prey – a Pidgeotto. Immediately after that graceful confirmation of his adulthood, he had begun to train for Leadership, having been told multiple times already that his natural talent was unmatched. He had won the fateful duel with remarkable ease considering his youth, but when it came to killing the fallen Leader, he had hesitated. It was just such a waste. Were they not taught to treat death as a part of life? A defeated Leader ought to suffer, be humiliated. He was all for allowing the Leader to avoid being challenged multiple times by the same Scyther until the challenger won by sheer luck, but there were other ways to do that – such as crippling defeated Leaders and challengers. He had always been very fond of his spontaneous idea to cut a piece out of the Leader’s scythe. It was visible and obvious, showing every Scyther who cared to look that they were looking at a failure. Most of them didn’t want to live with it and killed themselves anyway – the old Leader had – but not before having their weakness demonstrated for all to see. The collection of scythe pieces that lay in a neat pile by the Leader’s rock had to him been a symbol of his power, a cheerful reminder that there were none who could pose a threat to him.

    But in the past couple of years there had been a challenger who was different. The Leader remembered that Scyther’s First Prey like it had happened yesterday; he had taken nine tries before killing a Rattata. Never had the Leader imagined that this seemingly pathetic little runt would ever have the kind of guts needed to attempt to make a reality of his desire for Leadership - but something was different about him, and it had given the Leader quite a surprise.

    The young Scyther had trained with vicious rigor, even to the point where the swarm began to believe that his aim was even better than that of the Leader himself. He had begun to be wary at that point, but the time of his first challenge had still managed to surprise him.

    And he’d been strong. Of course it had been a fairly easy defeat – they all were, and he had made so awfully many technical mistakes – but he’d been the most talented challenger the Leader had faced in all of his years of power. It had given him… a scare. And scares weren’t something the Leader experienced very often. He had defeated him, actually feeling thankful that the young one had been so rash to challenge him, and cut from his scythe, thinking he’d be rid of him.

    But he wasn’t. The young Scyther had come back later for another challenge, despite his mutilated scythe, and this had been when the Leader had truly begun to fear that if he continued to be so persistent, he might one day lose his Leadership to him. It had been quite a consciousness-raiser to realize that he was not quite as invincible as the previous eleven years had led him to believe. And even though he had defeated the young challenger again, he had later begun to train a little for himself, something he had never felt the need to do before to any significant extent – the hunts had always maintained his shape well enough for him to feel satisfied that his skills weren’t rusting.

    And the young Scyther had come a third time, which had finally convinced the Leader that he would not give up. For the first time it seriously struck him that perhaps he should kill him after the duel after all – but what kind of message would that send to the swarm? That he was afraid of the challenger? He could not do that. And anyway, if he cut a further piece from his left scythe, it would become difficult to utilize in the way a Scyther would normally use it, which would surely discourage him from further challenges.

    But no, yet again that strange young Scyther had challenged him, and although he couldn’t use his left scythe much offensively, he had employed it well in defense. And the Leader’s victory had been much too narrow for his standards – so narrow that he had for a moment in the duel been honestly afraid that there was a chance he would lose. But eventually he had succeeded and cut a further piece from the challenger’s scythe so that it was close to unusable.

    The swarm had lost faith in the young Scyther. While initially they had supported him and thought he would perhaps even be able to win, they had now been convinced that he would never succeed, and that he would die before ever managing to become Leader – surely the biggest humiliation of them all.

    The Leader, however, did not delude himself by assuming that the challenger considered himself beaten. No, he would come again. He had such persistence that the Leader could tell that no matter what happened, this Scyther would never give up.

    And this thought scared the Leader very much indeed, because he knew that if the challenger remained so persistent, he would eventually succeed. The challenger was young, but the Leader was in the upper years of his prime now at sixteen years of age, and if the young Scyther – seven years old now, if his memory didn’t fail him – maintained his shape for a few more years, he would be sure to win eventually simply on account of the Leader’s aging.

    He was faced with a great dilemma: should he retract his former policy and kill the young one after the next challenge to stay on the safe side, or should he simply hope that he died in some other way first? On a hunt, perhaps, or in a true duel over a personal dispute? And what if, after all, the challenger was ready – what if he was strong enough to win on his fifth try? Then the Leader would suffer a humiliating defeat, and he had no means of preventing it before the fifth duel but to rely on sheer dumb luck getting the challenger out of the way before then.

    Except murder.

    Murder. To kill an unprepared Scyther, like any other prey, sneaking up on him and cutting his throat without giving him the opportunity to defend himself, perhaps even while he was sleeping. It was one of the most abhorrent actions a Scyther could commit, and to find that it had even crossed his mind made the Leader shiver with conditioned disgust at himself.

    And yet, it was so terribly tempting, to just get rid of him. He could do it in such a way that no one would ever know, no one would ever suspect him, no one would ever despise him for it. He could do it at night, cut his throat in his sleep, and no one would find out. Unless he woke up. And no, he could not risk that, even if it were not such a wrong thing to do.

    The Leader sighed to himself. Never before had a challenger occupied his mind for any longer than the duel itself. Never before had he felt such an obsession with one individual. He had never fallen in love and never understood the concept; he had never had friends, never kept in contact with his family, never been anything more than simply one individual Scyther who incidentally was the most powerful Scyther in the swarm.

    And now he was terrified that perhaps he wasn’t anymore.


    XXV

    Shadowdart sighed to himself, leaning against the oak tree with his scythes crossed. He was alone. Stormblade was upset and had gone hunting alone in Ruxido, ‘to clear his mind’.

    Stormblade was just so terribly, awfully misguided. He was a nice enough person, a decent friend, certainly not a sickening hypocrite-and-proud-of-it like the Leader was. But he had been misled by all sorts of careless ideals that were dangerously close to sending him sliding down the slippery slope of hypocrisy and immorality. To be misled wasn’t to be integrally bad. Shadowdart didn’t believe in suicide of guilt unless one had decent reason to feel guilty. He hadn’t had a decent reason to feel guilty after his dismal failure at his own First Prey. He had been confused, clingy, stupid, not taught well enough. The Leader’s lessons had been awful. He had never explained the morality he was instilling in them in a way that made any effort to make actual sense. The Leader had thrown insults at them, called them pathetic, broken them down, all in all told them they were unworthy, instead of teaching them.

    It was obvious to whoever cared to look at it that the Leader was deathly afraid of his own fall from power. The reluctance with which he declared a new adult to be eligible to challenge him for Leadership; the obvious disgust to his expression when he saw a Descith or Scyther who seemed to defy the norm; the delightful glee in his eyes when he had first destroyed Shadowdart’s scythe that had faded as he had realized Shadowdart would eventually beat him; it all made it only too obvious what the Leader was truly thinking. He was a hypocrite through and through, a pathetic, selfish creature blessed with natural power that he had never had to work for and never had the integrity to stop taking for granted.

    So who was he to teach morality and integrity to young and impressionable Scyther? Who was he to teach them not to fear death, when he himself essentially feared it as well – feared his drop from power, from the position he had acquired through the sheer luck of the qualities he had been born with? It was not literal death, but it was the same concept. One who is not ready to die himself has no right to kill. One who is not ready to be dethroned by one more worthy than himself has no right to dethrone the one before him. To be a Scyther was about compassion: to recognize that what one inflicted on others could be inflicted upon oneself as well and to be ready to face that possibility. The Leader had none of this basic compassion. He was cruel exactly because he knew that he would need to be subjected to his own cruelties. He delighted in his own superiority, in the knowledge that he was in a position to do to others just what he feared could be done to himself.

    This made the Leader despicable, and it was he who, if he had any integrity at all, was the one Scyther in the swarm who truly ought to commit suicide of guilt. Stormblade, on the other hand, was not despicable. He was misled, just how Shadowdart had been in his younger days, by the Leader’s incompetence. No one had taught Stormblade when he was young why caring too much for the female would bring about his moral downfall, and because of this he had been unable to understand Shadowdart’s warnings until it was too late, until he had been burned by the fact. It was a shame that this should happen to him, but it did not change his moral integrity. Shadowdart could honestly not blame any of the Scyther for behaving in such a blatantly Code-defying way – not those who had been taught by this Leader, anyway. And he was fairly sure that included most of the ones that pained him so much to see dominating the general moral ideology of the swarm.

    Shadowdart had learned what he knew on his own. During his First Prey, he had still been terrified of death, having picked up from the Leader – like all the others, he supposed – his true feelings more than his words. He hadn’t understood the true philosophy of not fearing death. It had been no more than an arbitrary rule, something he was meant to accept at face value and was knocked into his head with reasons he was never properly made to understand. Reasons that were just words. There had been no power to them, no belief, no passion. No generalization of what the rule was meant to be: a principle of life using death as an example. It was not death that they all had in common, as the Leader had told them. It was the fear of death, the hypocrisy, the instinct of desire for survival that overrode everything else. And, more importantly, the fact it was shared by both predators and prey. The prey you kill fears it too, and yet you kill it, because you have won the battle for survival. Death was a fact of life. Death was an ultimate truth. Death was not to be feared, because you inflicted it on others. Because they feared it too. Because you, too, would one day die, just like the prey that struggled with shining, begging eyes against your deadly scythe.

    He had realized that after his First Prey. He had realized as he held the dead Rattata in his mouth, its neck split open, that it could so easily have been him, had the situation been different. That he had killed the creature anyway. That, despite what a terrible thought it was to imagine himself as the victim, the murder had happened. That if his mind remained convinced that his own death was wrong, bad, evil, his murder – because what was hunting other than murder? – of that Rattata was no less than a despicable act.

    And that same day, by a miraculous coincidence, Razor had left.

    Ah, Razor. He came nowhere near the Leader in pure hypocrisy and cruelty, but he was pathetic and not to mention a general jerk. Like Stormblade, he had been misled, but unlike him, he had been arrogant about it. Razor had treated Shadowdart like dirt, mocked him, terrorized him, indeed been part of the reason Shadowdart had been beaten down into that mindless, unideological acceptance of the Leader. Razor had been older and his insults had given Shadowdart the constant feeling that he was inadequate and pathetic. Razor had, essentially, violated the Fourth and Fifth Rules of the Moral Code: he had manipulated and he had tortured, if not in a physical manner. And throughout all of it he had been a hypocrite. He had broken down in shame after realizing that he was infinitely more pathetic himself, but instead of realizing his mistake and vowed not to repeat it as Stormblade had done, he had brushed it off and simply thrown Shadowdart another insult for a much lesser crime.

    And then there was the scene at the ritual that night… oh, the irony of the suicide of guilt! Only those who deserved the second chance would ever do it. Only those who did not deserve it would fail to do so. And Razor had, predictably, placed himself firmly in the latter group by making a rebel of himself and running away to find his female. He had stubbornly stuck with his Code-defiance through every reason to leave it behind, and even three years later he had still not realized his wrongdoing: he had cleanly broken the other laws of the Moral Code and left himself under a human’s control, seemingly happy about it.

    There was some shred of hope in him – there had been visible embarrassment to his manner as he had responded to his former friends’ questions and seemingly at least asked himself why he was doing what he was doing. But he had blocked out the voice of sensibility, risen to defend himself and the female he had never been anything other than a nuisance to, and thus established himself as irredeemable. Razor was a rebel through and through. He did not understand the philosophy of the Scyther. He did not belong among the true Scyther of the swarm.

    Shadowdart knew that Stormblade had always liked Razor. He even suspected that Stormblade had liked Razor steadily up until now when they had met and he had realized what a worthless being his former friend had become. It was presumably the reason Stormblade was now in such distress. He assumed that the reason Stormblade had liked him had simply been that Stormblade had never been present for most of the times Razor had shown himself for the manipulative jerk that he truly was. Or perhaps it was just that they had, after all, been friends – and Stormblade had always been big on friends. Shadowdart hadn’t; he had realized the shallow nature of friendship right as he had realized that Razor was a ******* – the time he had returned from his First Prey to a Razor upset by the moral suicide awaiting him and been received with an insult. It had been a moment of revelation for Shadowdart; he had looked at the Rattata and realized the true meaning of the Code, and just that had at the same time allowed him to see what Razor truly was.

    In a way, no Scyther had ever been as profoundly affected by his First Prey. No Scyther could as truly call himself an adult after the experience. No Scyther had understood so much after the experiences of just one day. And that day he had realized who the Leader truly was, as well. That day he had decided that he would become the strongest Scyther in the swarm, and nothing would stop him from becoming Leader. That day had defined who he was now.

    And he, Shadowdart, once he became the Leader, was going to make sure that their First Prey would be an equally enlightening experience for every young Scyther to grow up in his swarm for generations to come.


    XXVI

    Stormblade returned that evening and looked like he had calmed himself down. Shadowdart had yet again been practicing his aim on the flowers growing around the oak, and strewn petals littered the ground at his feet.

    “I admired him,” Stormblade said quietly as he sat down. “I admired his defiance. And now I’ve realized he was… nothing but a worthless hypocrite all along.” He paused. “I gave my eye for her, Shadowdart,” he said bitterly. “Although I took it too far, I gave my eye to protect a Scyther in need. And here Razor comes along and… watched the one he claimed he loved get caught. And then got caught himself, and seems perfectly friendly with the human… It’s like I never knew him.”

    “It didn’t surprise me,” Shadowdart just said, and they sat in silence for a while.

    “I don’t know. I knew how he treated you, and I knew he could be a jerk at times. I just… I didn’t think he’d ever be anything worse than that. A jerk. Not a… human slave.” Stormblade spat the last words. “I don’t get it. He killed a human for his First Prey. A human took his Nightmare away from him. How can he be so friendly with them now?”

    “There is a chain of events resulting from repeated breaking of the Code,” Shadowdart said. “You start doing it and then keep going down the slope of hypocrisy and moral indecency. You escaped from it in time, but he didn’t and ended up where he is now. You could have ended up like him, if she hadn’t died and you hadn’t tortured the Letaligon. It made you realize what you were.”

    Stormblade shook his head. “It’s not right. He was never like that before. He couldn’t have turned into… into that.”

    “He did,” Shadowdart said. “It happened. You saw it. It started with being a jerk, went on into refusing to admit he did anything wrong or even stupid by challenging that female, then on to leaving the swarm to chase her despite that she wanted nothing to do with him, then on to realizing this only when realizing how furious she would be if she saw he was following her, then to not daring to risk that and watching her get caught instead, then on to getting caught himself and eventually accepting it, probably figuring he’s broken the rest of the Code already and left the swarm anyway so it doesn’t matter anymore. It all leads to corruption in the end.”

    Stormblade was silent. “It makes sense, I suppose. But… he was my friend. It’s hard to see it happen to him. I thought he was better than that.”

    “He wasn’t,” Shadowdart said, and that was the end of it. Stormblade didn’t deny that. Razor had, after all, proven himself not to be better than that. He had proven himself to have sunk well below what any self-respecting Scyther would have committed suicide of guilt for without actually doing so. From the looks of it, there was no hope for him.

    Forget about Razor. The best thing you can do for his memory is to assume he’s dead.

    But he wasn’t. He was alive, which was exactly what permanently poisoned his memory. Now, more than ever, was it a time to forget about Razor.

    “I’m going to challenge the Leader again tomorrow,” said Shadowdart to change the subject. He chopped at a daisy that was still standing, slicing the petals neatly off. “And you can watch,” he added after a short silence.

    Stormblade looked at him. “Why? I thought I distracted you from the duel.”

    And it was true, somewhat. Shadowdart had been afraid that his gaze would be drawn to Stormblade, that his concentration would fade, that he would lose the duel thanks to Stormblade’s presence. But he had also deep down always worried that he would lose, and he hadn’t wanted Stormblade to witness the humiliation of having his scythe mutilated. Some remnants of his childhood, with Stormblade the older, wiser one, had kept him from wanting Stormblade to see him humiliated. But he had thought about this now and realized it, and he had to face it. And he did not want Stormblade to remain the kind of friend he had to fear, at any level at all. It was not a good mindset for a future Leader.

    “I have more confidence now,” Shadowdart said. “I think I will win this time. You won’t have to watch him cut my scythe now. Not if I can help it. I’ve practiced my flight.”

    He took a deep breath. “I didn’t use flight in the fourth duel. I haven’t been using any of the techniques I’ve been practicing with you. I’ve been duelling as if I were just another Scyther. Using traditional techniques. I wanted to lull him into a false sense of security, make him think he knew what to expect of me, but then at some point unleash everything I had at once. Play it clever. I think the time to do that has come.”

    Stormblade stared at him, his eyes wide. “So all the duels until now have been… practice? Preparation? You never intended to win?”

    Shadowdart shrugged. “I intended to win, of course. The first time I thought I could win that way, and the second I just didn’t want to risk it, thinking it could end up putting me at a disadvantage. But then I began to realize he was far too strong for that. I need to surprise him. Do something he couldn’t do. And then I couldn’t waste all I had on one duel. I had to wait until I had enough, and still challenge him regularly so he wouldn’t think I was up to something. Now I’m going to surprise him with all I’ve got. Make it sudden. And I’ve made him nervous, too. He’s getting afraid of me. He’s starting to realize I’ll win eventually, and it’s breaking him down. I know I’ll do it this time. All this time I’ve been figuring him out, but meanwhile he’s been uselessly chopping away at my left scythe without even an inkling of the things I have in store for him. I don’t need my left scythe to beat him.”

    Stormblade was still looking at him as if he’d only just realized that Shadowdart had a brain. He chuckled. A Scyther could mature much in three years. Shadowdart had been confused, scared and aggressive, but developed into a cold, calculating strategist who was about to give the Leader of the swarm a nasty surprise. Sometimes he amazed even himself.

    He would kill the Leader, that disgusting failure of a Scyther. He would look the Leader in the eye, see the fear shine from his pupils – because he knew there would be fear; there were few things more predictable than that the Leader would be deathly afraid in his last moments – and then draw his scythe across his throat, putting him out of his misery.

    Because he didn’t humiliate fallen Leaders, no matter how disgraceful to their species they had been. He was better than that.


    XXVII

    That night, Shadowdart lay awake. He kept his eyes closed, his body still, his breathing slow, but his mind was racing too fast for him to be able to sleep. He was planning out the battle, the reactions he expected of the Leader – he had become predictable after four duels, after all – and how he would counter those reactions, how the Leader might perhaps pack some surprises as well – although he didn’t expect it – and how he would react to that. And living the imaginary moment he longed for, the moment he had brought the Leader down, looked him in the eye, and killed him, taking the Leadership.

    At the same time, he listened to the wind rustle the leaves of the oak tree above him, the faint sound of the hoots of the Noctowl in Ruxido, Stormblade’s content breathing and slow heartbeat as he slept on the other side of the tree. He felt the grass blades lightly touch his armor by the ground, almost stroking him. It was all very soothing, and had he been in a different state of mind, he would probably have been unable to keep himself awake.

    He would definitely not have noticed the quiet footsteps in the grass that were drawing nearer, the nervous, heavy breathing that came all too close, the distinct heartbeat that was far too fast to be Stormblade’s.

    He flicked his eyes open and saw the tall form of the Leader standing above him, staring down at him, a dangerous gleam in his eyes, fear in his expression.

    He sprang up before the Leader managed to realize that he was awake. “What are you doing here?” Shadowdart asked in a quiet hiss, raising his scythes defensively. “What do you want?”

    The Leader stood there for a fraction of a second, looking into his eyes, his gaze wild, fearful, staring. Mad. Then it vanished; he slipped into the authoritative look he had had plenty of practice with over the years and said in a smooth, calm voice, “I heard that you were planning to challenge me again tomorrow.”

    “Yes,” Shadowdart told him, watching him carefully. “I will challenge you tomorrow. And I will become Leader.”

    The Leader shook his head, and the fake confidence in his eyes was remarkably convincing. “You will not. You do not have the makings of a Leader.” He looked at Shadowdart’s left scythe, and a cocky grin spread over his features. “You are a cripple. A worthless freak. Would they want you as their Leader, even if you won?”

    And it occurred to Shadowdart with a sudden, sinking feeling that perhaps he had been had; perhaps the Scyther would reject him; perhaps his victory would mean nothing.

    Except the death of the current Leader.

    And Shadowdart realized just then that it was worth it. If he killed the Scyther standing in front of him, it would be worth it. Because he was a sickening monster, a terrible creature that never should have been born, and he hated him, oh, how he hated him.

    It would be worth it.

    “I don’t care whether they’d want me,” he said in a low growl. “And you won’t care either, because you’ll be dead.”

    He could see something in the Leader’s expression flinch at the words, at the confirmation that Shadowdart would not keep up the Leader’s personal habit of humiliating the fallen. The Leader was still terrified of his own death, and had merely separated himself so thoroughly from everyone else in his mind that it did not affect his view of the death of others. Because in his mind he was higher, better, stronger, faster, superior. More important. With a greater right to live.

    Shadowdart grinned twistedly in the moonlight. “Oh, yes. You will be dead. Because I understand the law that you blindly picked up from the Leader before you without ever knowing what it meant. Because I believe in it. Because I do have the makings of a Leader, and know what a violation it is to humiliate a fallen opponent instead of granting him the dignity of death.”

    The Leader’s gaze flickered to the sleeping Scyther all around, and he took a step backwards. He was scared. He was going to leave. He was nervous. He knew he was going to lose.

    “Oh, but you don’t find much consolation in being allowed to die when I’ve beaten you, do you?” Shadowdart continued in a quiet, silky voice. “Because you never believed in it. You believe that your own death is to be feared, that it is a terrible thing and must not happen, but that the death of any other creature at your own scythe is insignificant. You don’t even find it interesting enough to do to the ones you defeat, because to you their fear of death is trivial but your own is justified. Because you, ultimately, are the most selfish, disgusting, unethical piece of unworthy Rattata **** to be born into this swarm in living memory…”

    The words shot out of his mouth like needles, each and every one of them striking the Leader’s face and the suppressed terror hiding in the depths of his eyes. He relished the opportunity to tell the Leader what he really was, to tell him that he had been exposed, to explain the ideology – because he would not be making any speeches tomorrow. Tomorrow he would duel to kill. Tomorrow would be the Leader’s worst nightmare, one of ultimately self-induced torture, as he would struggle feebly to defend himself. He had been humiliated in private, humiliated by his own self, made to be despised not by a biased swarm but by his very own better side.

    The Leader turned around and hurried back to his rock. Shadowdart looked after him to make sure he was not returning, and then lay back down under the oak.

    Shadowdart had already won. Tomorrow the Leader would merely be stripped of the last shred of dignity that he had. He would die knowing his guilt in his heart. He would die knowing that he had approached a challenger to murder him – yes, to murder him, because Shadowdart was not stupid and knew well that there was no other reason the Leader had approached him unannounced in the middle of the night with a rapidly beating heart – out of fear that he would lose.

    And Shadowdart would be crowned Leader of the swarm, and he would set things right.

    Because he believed. He cared.


    XXVIII

    And the next day, after Shadowdart had told Stormblade about the events of the previous night, they walked together up to the Leader’s rock.

    “Leader!” Shadowdart called, his voice calm but powerful. “I challenge you to a duel for the Leadership of this swarm!”

    The Leader stepped forth in silence. There was no such thing as not accepting a challenge. A Leader always had to be ready. Even if he had been injured on a hunt, he was not exempt from the duty to accept every challenge: if he was severely injured enough to lose a duel, he was simply no longer the strongest Scyther in the swarm.

    Shadowdart could tell that the Leader was still afraid, but he contained himself with dignity now that it was daylight and a fair number of Scyther had gathered to watch the duel. Most of the onlookers from the first duels had come to the conclusion Shadowdart would never win, but many of them thought it amusing anyway to watch it and see if there was anything at all left of Shadowdart’s scythe that could be cut out.

    “I accept your challenge,” said the Leader slowly, walking down onto level ground to face Shadowdart as Stormblade and the rest of the spectators made room for the duel. Shadowdart looked into the Leader’s eyes. There was cold determination in them now, with only a hint of despair in the icy depths of the slitlike pupils. The Leader had clearly meditated a little on his position, convinced himself he could win, that he would be okay, that he was still in the right.

    Shadowdart had expected that. He had observed the Leader’s personality too well to believe he would simply realize his hypocrisy and repent.

    The moment they had positioned themselves opposite one another, Shadowdart rushed forward to strike.

    This technique, this bit of unconventional strategy that he had practiced on Stormblade nearly three years ago, he had never used on the Leader before, and thus the older Scyther was taken by surprise, just as planned. He hesitated for a second, not having managed to prepare – Shadowdart was dimly aware of the intrigued expressions of the Scyther observing the duel as he darted towards the Leader with his right scythe aloft – but the Leader had fast enough reflexes to raise both of his scythes to block.

    Shadowdart had enough momentum to knock him ever so slightly backwards, but what the Leader did best was to stay focused and balanced, remain on his feet, and push back with raw physical force. And that he did, pushing Shadowdart harshly back.

    Shadowdart realized that regaining his balance on his feet might be a fatal mistake because the Leader was larger and bulkier and had recovered quicker, so instead he stretched out his wings and darted up into the air before he fell. The Leader did not seem particularly amazed until he realized that Shadowdart was ascending, staying in the air…

    “What?” Shadowdart taunted. “Can’t you fly?”

    “You make a mockery of duelling,” the Leader said with disgust, remaining firmly on the ground. “What sort of Leader would you make?”

    But he kicked off the ground anyway – surprisingly quick to catch on, Shadowdart discovered with a pang of dread – and zoomed straight towards him. Had he had any less experience, Shadowdart would have been too distracted by the words to get away in time, but he was better trained than to stop expecting an attack while they were speaking. He darted to the left and kept going, but the Leader did not follow him, instead stopping abruptly in mid-air to turn around.

    Shadowdart grinned triumphantly to himself. So there was something the Leader didn’t know.

    He zoomed through the air at the highest speed he could manage, straight towards the Leader, and he dodged out of the way, but Stormblade and Shadowdart had spent months perfecting the skill to follow a dodging opponent in the air, and he turned smoothly towards his opponent again.

    The Leader’s reflexes were still quick. He saw what Shadowdart was doing in a split second after stopping and pressed his wings to zoom away from him, but not until Shadowdart was right on his heels.

    Shadowdart growled, slashing with his right scythe while maintaining his speed and managing to place a sharp cut across the back of the Leader’s leg. He hoped that the pain would cause him to falter somewhat in his flight, but he didn’t. The Leader was a better flier than Shadowdart had thought.

    Better than he had thought, perhaps, but certainly not as good as he was. The Leader couldn’t have practiced flight with as much dedication as he had.

    So he kept going in a straight line after the Leader, assuming that he had more endurance in flight and would be able to keep up the speed for longer to catch fully up with him.

    The Leader realized what he was thinking and began to dive in a spiral towards the ground, and Shadowdart followed. As the Leader landed, Shadowdart slashed horizontally at him while preparing for his own landing, but the older Scyther blocked it with unexpected force using both of his powerful scythes. While the Leader had ground to support him, Shadowdart was in the air, and he was thrown helplessly backwards as his oppontent leapt after him in the air with both of his scythes raised high.

    While Shadowdart tried to change his direction of movement, the Leader slashed – not at the parts of his body he was preparing to block a blow to, but at his wings. Shadowdart felt sharp pain as the vulnerable wing membrane was shredded, but was quick to slash in retaliation at the Leader’s currently vulnerable body. He felt his right scythe slice into the Leader’s upper body while his left moved to fend the Leader’s away.

    The Leader cried out in pain, shaking himself off Shadowdart’s scythe and landing on his feet on the ground while Shadowdart landed on his back. His torn wings still stung uncomfortably, but he had given the first major bodily wounds of the battle, which was something. He saw dark blood where the Leader’s right foot touched the ground, as well as leaking down from the deep cut in his side. While Shadowdart was standing up, the Leader winced in pain, catching his breath, and gave him a dark glare. Shadowdart could see that the Scyther around them were getting excited. The Leader was wounded, but Shadowdart could no longer fly. The Leader was worse off for the moment, but how long would it take for him to turn the tables now that he had the advantage of flight and Shadowdart did not?

    Shadowdart decided the best solution would be not to let him use his flight to his advantage too much, and dashed towards him.

    The Leader was obviously still in pain and would have a more difficult time dodging, but his scythes were as powerful and deadly as ever. As Shadowdart slashed with his right scythe, his attack was blocked with both of the Leader’s, their combined power easily shoving his one away.

    And he used the opportunity to slash at the Leader’s middle joint with his left.

    The jagged edges of the tiny remains of the blade cut into the soft tissue, causing the Leader to gasp momentarily in pain, but he was more skilled than to simply freeze in such a situation, and immediately drove his left scythe into Shadowdart’s abdomen while the right jerked Shadowdart’s mutilated one out of his body.

    The pain was searing, biting, but the Leader made the mistake of grinning in triumph for a fraction of a second while he watched Shadowdart’s eyes widen, and he used the opportunity to raise his right scythe again and slash at the Leader’s left shoulder with all the power he could muster.

    The Leader jerked his scythe out, and both of them staggered backwards, blood trickling down from their injuries. The Leader’s left arm was limp, seemingly immobile.

    He stared at Shadowdart, his eyes manic and vengeful, and let out a roar as he kicked off the ground and dove straight at him.

    Shadowdart had no time to dodge, nor was he in any physical state to do so. Duels tended to start off being all about agility and avoiding being hurt at all, but they turned more physical once the injuries had appeared and they no longer had the energy or strength to dance around the opponent’s attacks, and this was no exception. He raised both of his scythes to block.

    Shadowdart liked to block with the remains of his left scythe. Every time he did it he was shoving in the Leader’s face what a futile method he used to cripple his challengers, how aside from blatantly breaking the Code it didn’t even work, and he relished the implication that the Leader himself, to have thought this would get in a determined challenger’s way, clearly lacked inventiveness and foresight.

    But now the Leader’s left arm seemed to be out of the picture, and Shadowdart saw him raise only his right – and then realized that he was nonetheless aiming not at the side closest to him, but at Shadowdart’s right side.

    When the Leader knocked him down into the ground, Shadowdart met his flying right scythe with his own and tried to curl himself into such a position as to provide the most possible potential for rolling, but he miscalculated his location and was knocked into the slope of a small hill he hadn’t realized was behind him. The Leader landed on top of him, his more powerful right scythe slowly forcing Shadowdart’s backwards as a manic, triumphant grin filled the older Scyther’s features.

    And Shadowdart almost laughed despite how his trembling, struggling right scythe was being pushed backwards by a clearly much stronger force and he would be dead within moments – because the Leader, in his arrogance, had carefully chosen to force him to block with his right on the assumption that his left was non-functional.

    Shadowdart jerked his maimed left scythe upwards, to his opponent’s throat, and whispered with confident mockery: “So long, Leader.”

    And for that split second where the eyes of the Scyther that had so nearly defeated him widened in shocked realization, it was no longer the Leader whose throat his scythe seemed to be threatening, but himself, his expression shocked and terrified in what he knew to be the last moments of his life.

    Death is not to be feared.

    Death is not to be feared.

    Death is not to be feared.

    And with the power of his faith in those words, the small and seemingly insignificant movement of his scythe that they inspired turned the face in front of him back into the Leader’s as his body stiffened and the pupils of his eyes diluted to circles. Dark blood splattered onto Shadowdart’s face as he felt the Leader’s body become limp and the life faded from his eyes. He jerked his scythe out of the dying Scyther’s neck and pushed the limp body off his own before standing up, slowly, and looking at his fallen opponent. The former Leader had landed on his back, his dying gaze fixed on the sky and his mouth slightly open, perhaps in surprise and perhaps in pain. One of his scythes twitched. Then he did not move any more.

    Shadowdart looked around at the observing Scyther, who simply stood there in silence, looking at their defeated Leader. He realized that most of them had never known a different one; most of them had been born within the eleven years of his reign and probably found it almost impossible to think that he was dead…

    In a way, it was impossible for Shadowdart, too. He took another look at the fallen Leader’s body and realized dimly that no, he was not even the fallen Leader: he was a nobody, a Scyther with no identity and no name. And he, Shadowdart… was the Leader.

    Leader.

    The Scyther looked nervously at one another – and then Stormblade bent down in a bow, looking at the ground, supporting his weight with his scythes.

    And slowly, one by one, each of the observing Scyther all around Shadowdart bowed to him as well. He looked at them and all of a sudden felt powerful. He felt great. He felt right.

    “Let’s dispose of him,” were the new Leader’s first words as he raised his bloodied, ruined left scythe and pointed his right disdainfully at his predecessor’s blood-stained corpse.


    XXIX

    Shadowdart had never killed a Scyther before.

    Therefore, part of the exhilaration of the strange freedom that he felt as he led a group of volunteer Scyther that were awkwardly holding the former Leader’s body into Ruxido came from the knowledge that he had now faced the ultimate test of fear of death. Killing prey, he had figured out already, inevitably had to feel quite different from killing one of his own species, and it had been the primary matter to make him nervous before the duel. And for a moment he had been afraid he would break down just like during his First Prey and be unable to do it.

    But he hadn’t. He had not only killed the Leader, but also his own imaginary self that was momentarily reflected in him. He had faced his fear, and he felt a strange relief in it afterwards – deep down he had been nervous and afraid that he wouldn’t be able to.

    But he had, and that was the end of it.

    The other part, of course, came from the knowledge that he was now Leader, which he was still getting used to. It felt strange to have all sorts of Scyther he barely knew address him as Leader – but good. Very good. He was already enjoying the role.

    Well. Technically he was not formally Leader yet. But he would be that evening.

    “Let’s just leave him here,” he said, stopping in a dark and damp part of the forest as they were passing through. The Scyther carrying the body lowered their scythes down in a matter not all to synchronized, and the former Leader fell awkwardly to the ground. Shadowdart looked at him for a moment and then shook his head.

    “We have nothing more to do here. You can return to the swarm.”

    The ones who had carried the corpse seemed relieved, took off and left. Only Stormblade was left by Shadowdart’s side. The new Leader looked with distaste upon his predecessor’s body on the ground.

    “Old *******,” he muttered. “I hope the Rattata like the taste of him.”

    “Are you going to tell any of them about last night?” Stormblade asked him quietly. “About him trying to murder you?”

    “Why would I?” Shadowdart asked back. “It would only rouse suspicion if I started spreading slander.”

    Stormblade shrugged. “It’s the truth.”

    “A lot of things are true that nobody will benefit from knowing,” Shadowdart just said. “Let’s just hurry back for the ceremony.”

    Stormblade did not reply. The two Scyther flew up and zoomed between the trees back out of the forest.

    “I’m surprised, actually,” Stormblade murmured, continuing their earlier exchange as they landed and walked towards the stream. “I didn’t really want to tell them, but… I thought you might.” He paused. “You said you hated him. It made me think you’d want to tell them what you thought he was.”

    “What he was, and no. I don’t humiliate fallen opponents.”

    Stormblade was silent for a few moments again. “So you don’t want to… ‘expose’ him?”

    “Why?” Shadowdart just said. “I know what he was, and he’s dead now, and that’s enough. Why would I care what they think?”

    Stormblade looked at him, but said nothing as they approached the stream. The swarm had gathered there already, all eyes on the two of them.

    “Today,” Shadowdart said, taking a position on the bank, “our old Leader was defeated in battle and killed.”

    He raised his left scythe, still crusted with dark blood, and felt momentary anger flash in his mind. “Death is not to be feared!” he shouted, startling some of the Scyther standing nearest to him with the volume of his voice. “He never knew what that meant. Neither do most of you. I plan to change this.”

    Some of the Scyther looked unsurely at one another. A few of them eyed his mangled scythe and started whispering.

    “Death is not to be feared, because if any one of you allows himself to fear death, he is a hypocrite. We survive only by hunting other Pokémon, and those Pokémon, too, fear death.”

    He looked over the swarm, realizing that he had been waiting to make this speech for almost three years. “What right do you have to inflict upon another being what you fear most will be inflicted upon yourself? None! None at all! To be worthy of killing another creature, one must be ready to be killed at the hands of another creature, too. To be worthy of killing another creature, one must be ready to accept it when the prey kills others. Do not grow so close to another Scyther that his death will strike you as an injustice. You may and should help a Scyther in need, but should he die, that is that. Do not kill without calmly realizing and accepting that one day it will be you who is killed. Do not seek to humiliate or to hurt, because all of us know that you do not wish for the same to be done to you.”

    The Scyther looked stunned and watched him in silence. Again, glances drifted to his left scythe, still raised above the stream.

    “Let us put our former Leader behind us. Now is the rise of a new era.” Shadowdart lowered his scythe slowly into the water, letting it wash the blood from his scythe and carry the last remains of the old Leader away from the swarm. He felt a shiver of warmth at the thought that the Leader was now gone forever.

    “Having been the one to defeat him,” Shadowdart said, his voice again louder, “I hereby declare myself the new Leader of this swarm. Until a stronger Scyther rises to challenge and kill me, you shall follow my guidance and obey my commands. You shall learn from me the Code. You shall respect me as you did my predecessor without personal bias. You shall reserve the name of Leader to me and me only, unless you know me already by a name.” Here he glanced at Stormblade.

    “The Descith that evolve this spring should attend lessons with me, where I shall educate them in the details of our rituals and customs and the true philosophy of the Code.” He glanced at some of the nearby Descith, who looked as if they might be close to evolution. They were staring at him with particular admiration and none of the fear and confusion he could see in some of the faces of the adult Scyther – those old enough to have learned the Code from the previous Leader, but too young to have known the one before him. He gave the new generation of soon-to-be-Scyther a slight nod of approval.

    He took a deep breath, raising up his whole scythe so that it gleamed in the light of the setting sun. He held his left scythe forward and placed his right by the joint on the arm. “Finally, I swear by the blood of my scythe to protect the swarm from assault; to maintain the swarm’s unity; to keep it from corruption; to wisely guide the young on their path to adult life; to set an example and an ideal for the youth to follow; to lead the swarm to new locations should this one prove unsafe or a less than ideal place to live; to accept a duel with any Scyther who wishes to challenge my Leadership; to lead our traditional rituals. I swear to refrain from bias and personal commitment. I swear to father a new generation of Scyther to inherit the qualities that have granted me Leadership.”

    He pressed his right scythe down on the soft joint tissue and opened a cut in it. It was deeper than he would need for most rituals in the future, but the sharpness of the blade minimized the pain. He felt the bluish-black liquid drip down from his arm, into the grass. The swarm watched it in silence for a few moments before Shadowdart lowered his scythe.

    And each and every Scyther and Descith of the swarm bowed to him, heads drooped low. “Hail the new Leader,” they murmured in unison. Shadowdart felt a tingling, fluttery feeling in his stomach as he looked over them. It was his swarm now.

    As the Scyther swarm stood up to return to their daily lives, Shadowdart looked at Stormblade. “Thank you,” he said quietly.

    Stormblade gave him a smile, a slightly troubled one, but a smile nonetheless. “Congratulations, Shadowdart.”

    Shadowdart thought of the old Leader, and realized that no matter what a Leader had to swear about personal commitment, he was glad that he did, after all, have someone willing to refer to him by a real name.
     
  19. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    It was great to get such a good look into the characters of the Leader and Shadowdart. Both are fascinating characters, and I feel like I can understand them now more than ever, especially Shadowdart.

    I also loved that the duel between those two in that part wasn't ridiculously one-sided or anything like that. The fact that it was more of an even match made the duel much more interesting and exciting to read--I really couldn't tell until the end if Shadowdart was going to succeed that time or if it'd end up being another loss for him.

    And the ending of said duel was amazing--especially when Shadowdart saw himself for a moment in the face of the Leader just before killing him. o.o That was quite the memorable moment there.

    I thought you did an excellent job of illustrating just what drove the Leader to try to murder Shadowdart, especially with that part there.

    "Burned by the fact". Nice choice of words. ^^

    Wow. o.o That's another one of those quotes that I'm not likely to forget anytime soon.


    I enjoyed reading this part, and look forward to the next. ^^
     
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2008
  20. elyvorg

    elyvorg somewhat backwards.

    "vowed" should be "vowing".
    Seeing as this isn't speech, it should probably be in third person past tense.
    Should be "it was", as if you remove the "more than ever", you have "Now was it a time..." which sounds more like a question than a statement.
    The bolded "he" seems to be referring to Shadowdart but isn't. "towards the Leader, who dodged out of the way," would fix this confusion.
    Doesn't need the "in".
    Bolded a typo, and two sentences in a row start with "while" which is jarring.

    Repetition of "body", though it might be difficult to reword.
    Repetition of "shocked" in an otherwise awesome sentence.
    Can't help thinking that this wording is a tad long and awkward for such a dramatic, final statement. "Then he moved no more" is shorter and would sound better.
    Too, not to.

    Now, something which confused me a little here was what Shadowdart's left scythe looked like. I'd always imagined it to simply have one rather large notch cut into it, as that's how it was described in TQftL, but the word "jagged" and the fact that there's barely any scythe material left make me wonder whether all the notches are seperate, leaving it as a kind of saw-blade shape. Doesn't really change how the duel would have ended up, but I'd like to know if I'm imagining it right.

    And something else which is probably my inattentiveness: the Leader's monologue mentions that he never felt love for another Scyther, but I vaguely remember Razor mentioning something in TQftL about the swarm having a leader pair, or some other similar statement which implied that the Leader had a mate. I'm probably wrong, or Razor was making a generalisation for all swarms, but yeah.

    Okay, so other than those tiny things, I seriously liked this part, especially the way you built up the atmosphere for the duel. You made it seem almost inevitable that Shadowdart would win and the Leader would meet his downfall, then in the actual duel itself, it could have gone either way. Shadowdart's revelation about his strategy was also good; I especially like this sentence:
    as it's kind of amusing but still gets across the whole "Wow, he's actually really good," feeling brilliantly.

    And the other thing I loved about this part which I'm just going to gush about for a bit is how well you convey different views in the narrative so flawlessly that it almost seems like the truth. I was eagerly looking forward to Shadowdart's POV, and you did not disappoint; in fact, I'm pretty much convinced by him. Out of interest, is chapter XXV the monologue you mentioned in the blog? The [old] Leader's section was also a nice insight into why he cut pieces from fallen challengers' scythes, as well as doing a great job of building the tension.

    So yeah. Really, really looking forward to the next part because it's going to be long and Shadowdarty and will likely have loads of awesome stuff happen in it.
     

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