1st November 2009, 03:21 PM
Imma chew on yo gibblies
The Limits of Kindness (PG-13)
Welp, now that the Serebii HG/SS contest embargo is up I can finally post this. The fact that I can unleash this upon all of you is a tragedy that diminishes us all.
Anyway, I present to you, my helpless fanfiction lab rats:
The Limits of Kindness
A Penultimate side story
I have heard others speak of “the invention of fire” with mockery, seeing no accomplishment in man learning to control what fire Pokemon were utilizing long before man came down from the trees. It is certainly easy to be amused by the thought of an ignorant, savage caveman so enthralled by a burning bush—perhaps one that had been hit with a Flamethrower or ignited by an electric Pokemon’s stray strike—that he touches the “pretty light” and burns himself, hooting and hollering at the strange phenomenon that has injured him yet strangely compelled to control it, attracted as he is by its warmth and heat.
Such imagery, however, ignores the more profound advancement in man’s quest to control fire: the knowledge that one can turn fuel into energy, and hence work. It is the realization (if not complete understanding) of this phenomenon that enabled nearly all of mankind’s advancement and innovation, and it is this fundamental building block of our collective knowledge that powers our society today. At times, this power has also been turned towards great destruction: the tactician Sun-Tzu dedicated a chapter of his great work to “attack by fire,” extolling the virtues of a weapon (though a dangerous one) that he regarded as a powerful force multiplier, a weapon lethal to fortification, man and morale alike.
This duality of flame—industrious yet destructive, comforting yet terrifying—has enthralled humanity since recorded history. For every culture there is a unique interpretation: one culture has a fire god as a benevolent, guiding protector, while another has a fire god as a malevolent, unpredictable force, a god that must be appeased rather than one who is loved. Still others are a mixture of these extremes, nurturing and destructive in varying measures.
The legend of Ho-Oh and his servant Entei from the Johto province provides an adequate example of the latter. Johto legends speak of Ho-Oh with an admiration and reverence usually reserved for monotheistic gods or the god kings of polytheistic pantheons. Ho-Oh is said to have made a pact with humanity and roosted for a time in Ecruteak (the details of this pact vary by account and the truth if such a pact even existed has been lost to time), nesting atop a great tower constructed as tribute to the mighty Pokemon, and the legends lionize him as benevolent, merciful and wise.
The origins of accounts of Entei do not appear in recorded history until after the estimated destruction of the Brass Tower (the ruins of which still lie within the forests surrounding Ecruteak). The destruction of the Brass Tower is spoken of as an ill omen, a time when humanity foolishly sundered its pact and incurred the wrath of Ho-Oh. Entei—in legends, a Pokemon said to have perished within the tower and resurrected by Ho-Oh for reasons that are unclear—is feared as a living manifestation of the great firebird’s vengeance. Many tales speak of those who committed great crimes burned to ash by Entei, the legendary beast wielding the same flames that burns across the wings of his master. He is called unyielding, merciless, and unstoppable in equal measure, a being who desires to see the sins against his master repaid with righteous fire.
Unlike many of my colleagues in the scientific community, I believe (though admittedly with little scientific proof) that Ho-Oh and Entei travel the Earth, their destinations and objectives a mystery to all but the great Ho-Oh itself. My feelings towards them, appropriately enough, mirror man’s towards flame: I dream that I may one day see them both with my own eyes, yet from what I have read I pray that I do not.
-Dr. Katsura Blaine, Wheel of Fire: How Technology Has Shaped Mythology Throughout History
A great conflagration raged in the distance. Ho-Oh watched it burn, sadness welling deep within the great Pokemon’s breast.
It was not a fire in the traditional sense, but Ho-Oh did not perceive the world as others did. The souls of all living things burned with a brilliant light visible only to the great Pokemon’s eyes, and as it sat brooding on its perch two great collections of soul light crashed against each other, hundreds of sparks of life extinguished in a moment with no more consideration than a man might blow out a candle.
It had been a mistake to sit idle. Ho-Oh had always been exceedingly reluctant to employ its terrifying power against humanity, and looking back the legendary Pokemon decided that it had been this reluctance that had caused it to have treated the first group of attackers as little more than opportunistic raiders: dangerous but petty and ultimately no threat to Ho-Oh’s great work. He had let their indiscretions slide, believing that would be the end of it.
But soon more had come, bringing death and misery with them. And as the various armies had converged on Ecruteak--looting and pillaging and despoiling the land when they weren’t occupied fighting each other—the true objective of each army’s general had become horrifyingly clear.
From its perch atop the Brass Tower, Ho-Oh watched as the flames of several armies whittled themselves down to cinders just outside the city gates. To the phoenix Pokemon it mattered not who won, and it was a grim irony to dwell on the fact that men and Pokemon alike were killing each other far below in pursuit of the same dream. At best, the fighting was a respite, delaying the hour of reckoning that would see the victor enter the city and finally force the great Pokemon to sit idle no longer.
The conflagration continued to burn.
The side path was weather-beaten, and the stones composing the steps revealed the passing of time and the wear of numerous feet. But for the girl sitting on one of the steps reading a guidebook, the lack of foot traffic and a quiet reading place were a blessing.
“Hey Stonewall, listen to this,” the girl said, “’the current Tin Tower is actually the second tower to have been built in Ecruteak, constructed to replace the original that was destroyed several hundred years ago.’”
The Raticate sitting at her feet picked at a crack in one of the bricks. “Uh huh,” it grunted.
Ecruteak was a beautiful city, a city that appeared to have grown up as naturally as any of the large, thick-coughed trees surrounding the city limits. Squat, beige-painted structures—many hundreds of years old--comprised most of the buildings of the city, and their modest construction only served to reinforce the image of a city living with nature as its partner rather than as its master. Indeed, the city’s only apparent indulgence was the large, ten-story tower that comprised the sole building in the Ecruteak skyline, a building of legend and prestige. It was, all in all, a city with a long, proud lineage but a quiet dignity.
And Stonewall hated every minute he spent in it.
They had originally come to Ecruteak to challenge the local gym leader, but he had been gone when they arrived and the apologetic gym attendants had informed his trainer that the gym leader would be back “any day now.”
He had been coming back “any day now” for two weeks.
His trainer—Alexis was her name—had taken it in stride: it had been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity just to come to this region to collect its badges, and she had decided to spend the unexpected windfall exploring the city and seeing all she could while she had a plausible excuse. Stonewall wished that she had asked for his opinion: for a Raticate human history is little more than a chronicle of who was laying out the mousetraps in any given period of time. Plus, people got irate if he tried to wear down his teeth on it.
In any event, Stonewall had spent the past two weeks doing little more than following Alexis around the city and pretending to be interested in whatever rock some ancient Ecruteak shit-farmer had carved into a picture, and he was approaching his limit. Chewing on a witless opponent would have been cathartic, but there were few to be had and Alexis had been too occupied fawning over old junk dug out of a field somewhere to accept any challenges.
“’According to legend, the first Brass Tower was built as a pact between humans and the legendary Pokemon Ho-Oh, and it was said that the great Pokemon roosted at the top of the tower,’” Alexis continued. “’Ho-Oh is said to have fled during a great battle that occurred near Ecruteak and destroyed the tower, and after its destruction a new tower was built in the hopes that Ho-Oh would return. To this day nearby monasteries maintain the tower, maintaining it for the day that Ho-Oh finally returns.’”
Alexis peered over the pages of her guidebook, suddenly aware that her Raticate was more interested in the masonry of the sidewalk than the words coming out of her mouth. She had named him Stonewall because he embodied many of the attributes of that legendary commander: ingenuity, craftiness, and an ability to anticipate her needs in battle before she was even aware of them were all skills that guaranteed him a permanent spot on her team. He was her first Pokemon, and many of the trainers she battled underestimated just how dangerous the otherwise unassuming Raticate was: most of them only began to appreciate the scope of their error once he had sent half their squad back to their Pokeballs unconscious.
But for the most part, she called him Stonewall because he really was as intractable and stubborn as a stone wall. He had been sulking about for the past two weeks, and it had finally begun to grind on her nerves. “You’re not listening to me, are you,” she asked in a deadpan tone.
Stonewall didn’t even look up. “Uh-huh.”
“There’s a female Furret in heat right over there. She says she’s been a dirty girl and she needs a hot, studly Raticate to give her what she needs.”
Alexis had learned early on that the key to dealing with Stonewall was to be even more intractable and stubborn than he was. She sometimes cringed at the memory of when her parents had told her that she was a natural at it. “If you say ‘uh-huh’ one more time I’m going to kick you down the stairs.”
One dose of tough love, several steps, and a painful landing later, Stonewall stared up at his trainer in surprised disbelief. “What the hell did you do that for?!”
Sparks watched as Stonewall paced impatiently back and forth across the tatami floor. “You know we’re here to relax, right?”
Stonewall stopped pacing only momentarily to shoot a glare at the Arcanine, before continuing his apparent quest to wear a hole in the straw flooring. Sparks had been Alexis’ second Pokemon, the family Growlithe that her parents had insisted accompany her on her Pokemon journey. While time and training had hardened him into a powerful fighter and a swift mount, at his core he remained a lazy house pet content to lounge in the sun if left to his own devices: Alexis had been known to call him “the strongest couch potato that ever lived.”
Their trainer had decided to splurge and spend a night in a ryokan near the city: unfortunately for her Pokemon most of the amenities aside from the roof over their heads were for humans only, which only fed Stonewall’s growing irritation. “I don’t call being cooped up in a room doing nothing…” Stonewall began, before realizing who he was talking to. “Ah, screw it.”
Sparks watched Stonewall make a couple more laps before laying his head back down on the floor with a soft snort. “Don’t see why you’re in such a hurry to get beat up,” he said, “but maybe you can get Alex to go back to that one place with the girls in the fancy dresses and the Eevees…”
Sparks paused and perked up his ears, attempting to hear what Stonewall had said, the Raticate’s mumbling nearly impossible to understand even with his keen canine hearing. “What was that?”
“I said I can’t show my face around there! You happy?” Stonewall said with an exasperated huff.
There was a pause as the Arcanine mulled over what had happened the last time they had visited, and an amused canine grin spread across his muzzle. “Oh, because of the thing that happened with you and the Espeon, right?”
“Ugh, don’t remind—“
“Not my fault that you didn’t make sure ‘she’ wasn’t a ‘he’—“
Sparks took the outburst in good humor: watching a teammate stew in their embarrassment was its own reward, especially when his teammate had the massive ego of Stonewall. “Too bad they won’t let you in those baths,” he noted, “Alex says they’re relaxing.” Stonewall grumbled under his breath again, and this time the Arcanine decided not to press the issue.
“I need some fresh air,” Stonewall declared. “You mind?” Sparks didn’t reply.
The window gave a slight sigh as it slid open. Stonewall clambered up onto the windowsill, hoping to at least catch a reprieve from his squadmate. The two Pokemon’s relationship was strained in the best of times and Stonewall would have happily taken any of Alexis’ other Pokemon as company, but the Arcanine already filled up most of the small room with his bulk and any more occupants would have made the room even more stifling. And his trainer was off doing…well, probably wallowing in the hot springs like a contented Grumpig, he guessed.
The Raticate stared out at Ecruteak city in the distance. The tops of buildings were nearly impossible to distinguish from the thick tree boughs in and surrounding the city, but Stonewall found his gaze drawn to the Tin Tower. “Ecruteak’s crown jewel” gleamed in the moonlight, and even after hundreds of years no other building in the city approached its looming height.
Stonewall couldn’t explain the sudden urge he felt: maybe it was the fresh air that enticed him, maybe it was the thrill of the unknown, or maybe it was just plain boredom. Whatever it was, he was suddenly very in the mood for an evening sabbatical.
Sparks lifted his head towards the sound of Stonewall shifting his weight in the windowsill, the metal frame groaning slightly in response to the forty pounds of rodent it had never been meant to bear. “What are you doing?”
Stonewall gave a grunt of satisfaction as he leaned back inside: the room was above the first story but close enough for him to jump down to the ground without injury, and a nearby tree growing against the inn would allow him to climb back up again. “Heading out.”
The Arcanine knew it was futile to try and dissuade the Raticate after he had gotten something into his head, but he made a token effort for the purposes of plausible deniability. “Alex’ll get mad.”
Stonewall grunted. “You know how she’ll wallow for hours whenever she gets a chance at a warm bath,” he said. “I’ll be back before her and she’ll never know I was gone.”
“Well…” Sparks began, but found himself interrupted as the Raticate disappeared from the window and leapt into the night.
“EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEYAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!" came a female’s scream through the open window.
“Jesus lady, never seen a rat before?” came an incensed reply in Pokemon.
“Aw, fer fuck’s sake…”
Sparks shook his head and rolled onto his side, apparently seeking to fill as much of the room as was physically possible.
“Have fun,” he said to no one in particular, before drifting off into a deep sleep.
It had seemed like a good idea at the inn. Of course, all ideas seem like good ones until they have to go against the grindstone of reality.
The forest surrounding the Tin Tower had been cleared away for several dozen yards in every direction, leaving Stonewall no cover from the moment he left the treeline until he reached the tower itself. Not even the cover of darkness would do much good: several spotlights placed around the perimeter alternately illuminated the tower as well as the courtyard itself. And if the odds weren’t severely stacked against him already, several men in what the Raticate recognized as monk’s clothing patrolled the grounds, each carrying a thick wooden stave as equally suited to use as a walking stick or as a bludgeon. Some of the monks were accompanied by a Hoothoot perched on their shoulders, and had he not spent a long time observing Stonewall might have missed the Noctowl circling the perimeter, the flight of the large owl Pokemon eerily silent.
Stonewall had clearly not been the first to get the idea of scaling the tower in the dead of night in his head. Several of his predecessors had certainly gotten a thwack on theirs for it.
The Raticate huddled down in the bushes and considered his options. An open run across the courtyard and the inevitable fight that would ensue were definitely out: even in the unlikely chance that he won, Stonewall was fairly sure that there was no way that he could spin “I beat up a holy man” that wouldn’t cause Alexis to—at minimum—shove his own Pokeball down his throat. The only option left, then, was to Dig his way under the patrols and into the tower itself, but even that was no guarantee: there might still be monks in the tower itself, and he would be Digging blind and just as likely to pop up in front of a surprised monk as inside the tower itself.
Stonewall’s nose—after apparently having drawn sufficient amusement from the Raticate stewing in the dilemma before him for several minutes—decided to chime in. The thought process, if put in human language, roughly went like this: hey idiot, the answer’s literally been under yours truly the entire time. You know the smell of rat that’s hanging around here? Yeah, that’s not you.
It was such an obvious answer Stonewall would have kicked himself if he had been capable of kicking in the first place. The local Rattata—and there were Rattata, their smell was literally everywhere--had certainly been in the tower at some point as a place to take shelter from predators outside, and they probably had a tunnel that would let them cross the courtyard out of plain sight. Now he just had to find one and “convince” it to help him…
Turn around, moron!
Stonewall jerked around towards the sound of rustling behind him. A Rattata had unwittingly barged into his hiding spot, and the small Pokemon was staring at him with a look of utter surprise. That look of surprise quickly became one of fear as Stonewall’s grin turned from amused to predatory.
A great fire advanced towards Ecruteak, but that fact alone was not surprising. What made it eerie was the silence with which it came upon the city.
Surrounded by flat grasslands and (until recently) well-tilled fields and with no city walls, Ecruteak had never been built to weather a siege by one army, much less the several that had clashed over it in recent days like Houndoom fighting over a kill. A few of its citizens had taken up arms to defend their home, but faced with the magnitude of the threat they had either thrown away their arms and fled or died in futile sorties to bloody the massive armies besieging them. With no need for siegecraft and the only threat being their competitors for the same prize, the invading armies had settled down to the business of butchering one another instead.
And now only one army remained. Those armies that had fallen lay upon the muddy, churned fields that now surrounded Ecruteak, such a rich carrion banquet that even the Murkrow who had descended to feast on the carcasses could eat no more.
True, the army that now marched on Ecruteak had not escaped the battles unscathed: their current numbers were but a fraction of their original strength, and the wear and tear of battle showed in the organization and discipline of their ranks as much as on their armor, bows, and spears. But they had won, and now no one stood against them, not even the city’s pathetic, craven god.
The realization that the mighty Ho-Oh refused to even dare to come and face them in battle had energized the army’s flagging morale, and they marched on its roost with no fear in their hearts and a burning eagerness for the wealth and power that would soon be theirs. They eagerly followed the man riding a Rapidash at the head of their forces, the man who had brought them victory and soon much more: so great was their loyalty that every man would have thrown himself from a cliff at that moment had their general asked it of them.
The general stood out from his men, but not because of his steed or because of his ornate armor. His face bore a lattice of scars, evidence of the lessons of war that he had learned while only hinting at their terrible blood price. Cropped, graying hair framed his face, but the ease at which he carried his massive frame buried any doubts that age was beginning to take its toll. His stare was sharp, a gaze that gave human life no more consideration than any other creature and could have caused a Gyarados to hesitate. He sat in the saddle at ease, but not unaware: he seemed ready and able to draw his sword and behead a man with one swift motion at any moment.
As the tower grew ever closer, even the general found it hard to conceal his own predatory anticipation. His liege had sent him here, thinking his subordinate a mere pawn that would slavishly bring him the power of Ho-Oh without question: little did he know that his general had ambitions far beyond those of a mere lapdog. The general betrayed a small smile at the thought, but he quickly pushed it aside as he focused on the task at hand…and the woman who now stood in his way.
Initially he had thought it had been a trick his eyes were playing on him, but as the army approached he had realized that a single woman was standing on the main road between his army and the heart of Ecruteak city, staring at them with quiet defiance. The general stopped a stone’s throw away from her, his army following suit. Her eyes met his as she stared at him, but she did not back down.
The general could feel his soldiers watching him, waiting to see what he would do. He dismounted his horse and walked towards the woman without fear: he had killed far more dangerous creatures in his lifetime to be scared of this tiny, fragile creature. He slowly circled her, appraising her from every angle: a beautiful creature, albeit a foolish one. She did not follow him as he walked behind her, but turned her rapidly hardening stare against the army mere yards away instead.
Eventually the general finished his appraisal, taking pains to exaggeratedly look behind her as if he expected an ambush at any moment. His men laughed at the display, clearly thinking the situation just as absurd as he did. “What is this, woman?” the general asked, ensuring his voice was loud enough to carry to the back ranks, “are you planning on standing against us?”
Her voice was so low that the general could barely hear it, yet betrayed no lack of resolve. “I am.”
The general turned to his men, mock-terror on his face. “Did you hear that!?” he said, “Ho-Oh has sent his mightiest warrior to strike us all down!” The sound of their mocking laughter could be heard clearly even from Ho-Oh’s distant perch.
Moments later, the woman’s spark was extinguished.
The general wiped his blade with a cloth as his soldiers hooted and howled in support. He looked up, staring at the Brass Tower and the gigantic yet barely-visible avian figure atop it, obscured as it was by clouds and mist. The figure did not move.
“Now hear this, ‘mighty’ Ho-Oh!” the general shouted towards the figure, “Cower atop your precious tower, keeper of flame: we will be the ones to see that your only legacy is ash and ruin!”
The general pointed his sword towards Ecruteak, the blade gleaming blood red from the light of the setting sun. “Forward! Take what is yours! Let none survive!”
The fire advanced on Ecruteak even faster than before, trampling the woman’s body underfoot.
The Rattata looked up at the Raticate that had pinned her to the ground with his bulk. “Um…hi.”
“Need you to do something for me.”
The Rattata squirmed uncomfortably, and Stonewall could feel her tiny heartbeat begin to approach mach speed.
“Um, it’s not that I don’t think you’re cute,” she said, “but I don’t think it’s going to work out.”
Stonewall stared at her blankly.
“You know…mechanically,” she added.
Stonewall’s blank look continued unabated. “What the Hell are you talking abou—“
The smell that had been wafting off the Rattata had finally worked its way up to Stonewall’s nose, and his rodent brain identified it as the scent that said that the buffet was open, so to speak. “Oh,” he finished lamely.
Stonewall had unconsciously lifted his bulk enough after being caught off guard that the Rattata had been able to wiggle herself loose. “Well, if that’s all you wanted…” she began, trying her best to nonchalantly back away towards another nearby bush.
His claw pinned her tail on the ground with remarkable speed. “I didn’t say I was done with you.”
The Rattata turned to see Stonewall’s toothy smile returning her gaze. He hadn’t come looking for copulation and he wasn’t going to get it tonight, but being able to hold it over the Rattata’s head would serve as a consolation prize. “If you’re not going to help me scratch my itch, then you can at least show me how to get into the tower. I know you guys got a tunnel: where is it?”
Stonewall could tell that this sudden shift in the conversation confused her. “Um…why do you want to go in there?” she asked.
“Because it’s there.”
“No other reason, really.”
The Rattata’s expression shifted into one of growing terror. “We can’t go in there,” she said, beginning to shiver so noticeably that Stonewall could feel it through her tail, “it’s not safe at night.”
Stonewall snorted derisively. “Don’t tell me you’re scared of the dark.”
“It’s not that—“
Stonewall cut her off. “Look, it could maybe be dangerous in there, or it could be very dangerous out here for you, if you catch my drift.”
The Rattata looked back and forth between the tower and Stonewall, apparently trying to decide which was worse. Finally she said, “Okay, follow me. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“You were right to be afraid,” Stonewall noted. “Wooden beams and statues, very dangerous.” They were—as far as he could reckon—nearly to the top of the tower, a process that he had been able to considerably expedite once he began carrying the Rattata up the stairs in his teeth.
For all the monks patrolling outside and implying the existence of some sacred forbidden fruit by their presence, there wasn’t much to see inside the tower itself. Stonewall’s unauthorized tour had allowed him to see several floors worth of completely empty space periodically filled with support beams and a simple statue or two, if there was even anything at all: the builders had clearly been more focused on the height of the tower than doing anything with it once they had built it.
Stonewall’s constant taunting had managed to replace some of the Rattata’s fear with an irritated defiance. “Listen, it’s not tha—“
Stonewall cut her off yet again. “You got a name?”
“Getting tired of calling you ‘you’, is all.”
The Rattata paused, wondering if telling Stonewall might (figuratively or literally) come back to bite her. “Kochu.”
“That’s a dumb name,” Stonewall replied.
“What’s yours, then?”
“What kind of name is THAT?” she replied, trying to mimic Stonewall’s voice. Had the Raticate been female and inhaling large amounts of helium, it might have come off as accurate.
“Your name is just a couple of sounds, mine means…” Stonewall suddenly realized that his position was untenable, and quickly changed the subject. “Are we near the top yet?”
Stonewall watched Kochu count the floors in her head. “One more to go,” she replied.
Stonewall’s teeth lifted Kochu into the air. “Welf, alriaih ‘en,” Stonewall said, making sure he didn’t bite his unwilling guide in two.
Another set of stairs and a set of sliding paper doors later and the pair of rodents found themselves standing on the balcony that circled around the top floor of the tower. Ecruteak was visible in the distance far below, enough lights shining from the city to mark its location while at the same time being few enough in number not to overwhelm the stars in the sky.
Kochu’s nervousness seemed to have evaporated at the sight before her. “Wow, I’ve never been up here at night,” she said. “It’s so pretty.”
Stonewall grunted. “Eh, it’s not bad.”
A few minutes passed as both admired the view.
“Stonewall,” Kochu said, “I think this is the first time I ever got to look down at someone.”
“I kind of like it.”
The Raticate gave a low chortle. “It’s pretty nice when you can get it, I’ll admit.”
The silence that followed was broken only by the slight sound of the wind. Which was kind of odd, Stonewall thought, because he couldn’t feel any wind…
Survival instincts rocketed Stonewall into a roll to the side, scooping up Kochu with his forelimbs as he rolled along the floor. As he slid along the ground the Raticate managed to catch a glimpse of a dark purple sphere traveling through where the two had been sitting mere moments before, smashing the wooden banister in its path to splinters before continuing its flight into the night.
Stonewall landed and twisted to face the doorway, Kochu still in his grip. Darkness greeted him, but he knew by the way it twisted and undulated without any light that something was wrong. And normal darkness certainly didn’t have dozens of pairs of wicked eyes and several mocking Cheshire cat grins.
“Gastly,” Stonewall spoke with barely-restrained contempt.
Kochu realized that sometimes there was little comfort in being right. “Humans that come here at night…they have accidents.” Kochu had neglected to add that most of them were fatal.
The implication was not lost on Stonewall, however. “They have accidents, huh?” he asked rhetorically. “Let me guess, we’re looking at the ‘accidents’.” Kochu nodded.
The cloud of Gastly cackled, apparently enjoying the fact that their prey had become aware of their predicament: the massive cloud of ghost Pokemon stood between the Raticate and a stairwell that suddenly seemed very far away.
“This is where you tell me you know something that can hurt ghosts,” Stonewall said, looking down at the companion in his grasp.
Kochu did her best to avoid his gaze. “Well…no.”
The Gastly began to gibber excitedly amongst themselves, pleased by this turn of events. The cloud slowly rolled towards the rat Pokemon like a cat toying with its kill.
They didn’t notice the electrical energy gathering on Stonewall’s tail until it was too late.
“Looks like I have to do all the work myself,” Stonewall said.
Yamada felt the weight of his Hoho suddenly shift to look towards the top of the tower. Several years of working together caused him to unconsciously follow its lead.
A falling chunk of wood greeted him as it landed, impaling itself into the earth exactly where he had been standing several steps ago. It was followed by a sudden flash of light from the top of the tower and the startled cries of several Pokemon piercing the night air.
He had seen this enough to know what was happening. The Hoho took to the air without bidding as Yamada began to shout, gathering up his fellow monks. Someone was inside, and the Ghos were hunting.
Stonewall had never understood why Alexis had taught him Shock Wave. Sure, it was a move he could use, but she had taught him Thunderbolt too and he had grown to prefer the latter’s sheer stopping power over former’s superior accuracy: Stonewall always found the big guys to be the tough targets, and they were rarely hard to hit. Shock Wave admittedly could hit a large number of Pokemon at once, but how useful was that?
Charging through a cloud of Gastly that had been momentarily stunned by the attack, Kochu in mouth and in tow, Stonewall decided that he was going to thank Alexis for her foresight.
If he got out of this alive, anyway.
A group of Gastly emerged from the stairwell, seeking to prevent him from going down. He was expecting them, however: he had been sure the ghost Pokemon weren’t so cocky as to leave him an undefended exit that didn’t involve a 10-story drop and a messy landing.
“Stonewall stop stop stop stop st—“ Kochu began.
Stonewall jumped, landed on one rear leg, spun in place and opened his mouth. Kochu squeaked as she was sent flying through the air, through the cloud of Gastly too surprised by her sudden flight to do anything to stop her, and bouncing down the stairs. The cloud hissed and dispersed as Stonewall charged through them, electricity arcing off his tail indiscriminately and through ethereal essence. He felt a heavy sensation tug at him as he charged through the cloud of ghosts, but he ignored it.
The Raticate took the steps three at a time, pausing only to grab the disoriented Kochu at the bottom before making his break for the next stairway. More Gastly oozed up from underneath the floorboards and through the ceiling, several black bolts erupting from them as their bodies cleared the corporeal gap. Stonewall twisted as he ran, doing his best to avoid the rain of ghost energy, but against such a barrage even a few managed to find their mark. Stonewall grunted in pain as the Night Shades singed his fur and burned his skin, doing his best to make sure he didn’t involuntarily bite down on Kochu in response. Another Shock Wave scattered them and cleared the way, but the tugging feeling began to grow stronger and the Gastly had already begun to recover by the time he was starting to descend the stairs.
Stonewall had no time to ponder this. Instead, he wondered why he was able to pass through the next few floors without a ghost Pokemon in sight: had they all gathered at the top, not expecting him to break through the group on the top floor, much less the one below it? They couldn’t be that stupi--
Stonewall made it to the fourth floor and slid to a halt at the foot of the stairs, silently cursing himself for being correct. The Gastly had all gathered there, forming a cloud so thick it was impossible to see more than one foot through them.
“Daah,” Stonewall grunted through his teeth, charging yet another round of electricity in his tail. A sensation like a great weight slammed down on him, and the electricity sputtered and died.
Kochu fell out of his mouth as Stonewall began to pant, the simple act of breathing suddenly a painful struggle for the Raticate. The Gastly were Spiting him, using the infamous ghost technique to siphon away his energy and with it his ability to harm them. One ghost using Spite was a nuisance, no doubt the cause of the tugging he had felt earlier, but the number of Gastly using it on him now…Stonewall knew he was dead if he didn’t attack immediately.
Stonewall opened his mouth, an icy sphere forming in the center of the gap. The Gastly screamed in unison and the nascent Ice Beam disappeared almost as soon as it began to form, the ball of ice energy extinguished with no more thought than a man might blow out a candle as another wave of force slammed down on his body. The Raticate dropped to all fours as the Gastly continued to bear down on him, their incessant cackling becoming more gleeful by the moment. Kochu leapt at one, and it giggled as she passed through it harmlessly.
What a shitty way to die, he thought. Alexis’ll never believe it.
Then darkness came and erased all thought.
“I’m sorry, what?” A man’s voice. Tired. Knows that an argument is coming but at the same time would very much not like to have to fight it.
“I. Want. Him.” A girl’s voice. Speaking like she’s talking to the dumbest human being on the planet. Probably true.
“If you want a Raticate, you can just catch one. They’re not that hard to find.”
“But they wouldn’t be like him.”
“Yes, that’s the point.” The man’s becoming increasingly agitated. “They won’t be feral monsters that will as likely bite you as much as look as you, for starters.”
“But you said he was strong,” the girl replies.
The man seems to be struggling to see how anything he said earlier could have possibly been interpreted as a selling point. “He attacked several trainers, sent as many Pokemon to intensive care, and we can barely keep him contained in his own Pokeball for longer than a few hours. Why in God’s name would a girl like you want that…thing?”
“Because he’s strong.” The girl says this as if the man is overlooking the glaringly obvious.
“But there’s no way you could possibly control him. And even if you did manage to train him, he’d be something you would unleash rather than control. At best.”
“I can train him.”
The man sighs. “They all say that. How about a nice Totodile or Cyndaquil instead?”
The girl is incensed. “Don’t tell me what I can or can’t do,” she says. “I can train him. You’re just going to put him down if no one takes him, right?”
“And I can always just catch a Totodile or Cyndaquil. They’re not that hard to find, right?” Her sarcasm is palpable.
“That’s true, but…”
“I. Want. Him.” the girl says in a tone that suggests the discussion is over. “What part of that do you not understand?”
After all that had happened, the last thing Stonewall wanted to see when he opened his eyes was darkness. Unfortunately, that was precisely what he got.
Stonewall groaned as he came to, his head swimming and with something sharp sticking into his back. Many of his muscles groaned in protest as he brought himself up into some semblance of a sitting position. He was pretty sure he hadn’t survived, and he’d always thought Heaven would have been brighter and less painful, which left him with only one other conclusion.
“Great,” he muttered, “I thought I didn’t have a soul to go to Hell with.”
“Stonewall?” a voice asked. He recognized the voice as Kochu’s, but something about the sound of her voice seemed off.
“Kochu, you’re here too?” he replied. “Damn, what did you do to get sent down here?”
“…what are you talking about?”
“We’re dead, aren’t we? And now we’re in…well, the big fire below, I guess.” For all the talk of fire and brimstone, there wasn’t any to see: apparently Hell had been undergoing severe cost-cutting measures.
“We didn’t die, you just blacked out,” Kochu noted, although her voice suggested that the opposite result would have been perfectly fine by her.
Stonewall shook his head in an attempt to do away with some of his nausea. It didn’t help much. “So how are we not ghost food, again?”
Kochu didn’t say anything at first, too busy trying to piece together the chain of events in her head. After she had gotten a mental rough draft to her liking she said, “A bunch of Hoothoot flew in through the window and fired a bunch of red beams from their eyes, and the Gastly panicked.”
“You mean Foresight?” Stonewall knew that the attack had a strange, poorly-understood capability to force ghosts to manifest in a more corporeal—and hence, chewable—form.
“So, the Hoothoot attacked as the monks charged up the stairs, swinging their staffs and screaming loud enough to wake the dead. I managed to drag you down the stairs and back to the tunnel in the confusion.” Well, that probably explained the headache.
Stonewall had only a rudimentary grasp of physics, but he knew that a Rattata moving his unconscious bulk was a Herculean feat at best. “How the Hell did you do that?”
“I had to bite some of the Gastly to clear a path and…well…”
Stonewall felt his body return to a point close enough to normal for his tastes, and decided to bring a little light to the darkness. He concentrated, summoning the tiny chunk of electricity the Gastly hadn’t managed to siphon away to flow along his tail and act as a light source. It wasn’t very bright, but it was enough for a Raticate to see by.
The first thing he saw was another Raticate. It spoke with Kochu’s voice.
“…I evolved,” Kochu finished. She wasn’t a bad-looking Raticate, he considered.
Stonewall slowly swept the light coming from his tail across the room. They were in a simple chamber underground, and it appeared to have been long forgotten. It was filled with statues and other items that he vaguely recognized as being religious in nature, but since Stonewall was a creature whose religious knowledge was largely limited to an awareness that he was condemned to several different theological versions of eternal torment their purpose and meaning eluded him.
Except for that broken, pointy statue. That had served its purpose by breaking his fall in the most painful fashion possible.
“How’d we get in here?” he asked.
“Through the tunnel…sort of, when the bottom fell out,” Kochu replied. “I guess we burrowed over this place and never knew about it.”
That seemed reasonable to Stonewall. He had had to “enlarge” the tunnel that—until then—had been used exclusively by Rattata. Apparently it had been bad for the structural stability, and the combined weight of two Raticate had been enough to tip it over the edge.
Another thought crossed his mind. A man rat and a lady rat, alone in a place where no one would bother them…
Kochu managed to avoid his pounce and backed away warily, making sure to keep her hindquarters against a nearby wall. “I don’t want to.”
“Why not? You wanted it when I found you.”
“Because…I haven’t been ‘in the mood’ since I evolved.”
“And…the statues are watching.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?!”
“And I saved you, so we’re even.”
“So wha—okay, you got a point.” Stonewall grunted, disappointed. It was apparently his destiny to get no girly action.
“Anyway,” Kochu continued, “now that you’re awake, we should find a way out.”
Stonewall groaned. His muscles were less sore than before, but he wasn’t eager to go anywhere right away. “How long was I out?”
If Stonewall had been hairless, one could have watched the color drain out of his face. “What do you mean, ‘a while’?”
“Um…a long time?”
Before being interred, the statues had heard the countless prayers of the devout and pious. Now, one of the first voices they had heard in centuries was swearing in rodent at the top of his lungs.
“What’s wrong?” Kochu asked: in such a confined space Stonewall’s sudden panic was infectious.
“Alexis’ll kill me!”
Stonewall was too busy carelessly digging through and mistreating holy relics to give much of an answer. “Trainer!”
“You have a trainer?!” Kochu asked, stunned by this revelation. She decided, however, to ask a more pressing question as well. “What are you doing?”
“If I find her something,” that candle holder couldn’t have been that important, “then she might look past it. Else,” so much for that lamp, “I’ll wish the Gastly had killed me.” What kind of religion has a fat man for a holy figure anyway?
“Just take something,” Kochu said. “Or, why not just show her this?”
Stonewall stopped in mid-rampage so that he could give Kochu a nonplussed look. “I have to find her something that she’ll like but won’t think I stole,” he noted. “And how could I show her this? How do you think the guys up there would take it?” Stonewall followed with his best Alexis impression: “’excuse me, Mr. Monk, can you let me and my Raticate dig around on your holy ground for a collection of your sacred knick-knacks?’”
Kochu didn’t think his trainer or the monks would want the ruined, twisted havoc Stonewall was leaving in his wake, and decided to give him a hand before he turned everything into a hundred-piece 3D jigsaw puzzle. “Well, how about that?”
Stonewall followed Kochu’s gaze to an amulet around the neck of one of the larger statues. In the dark it had been easy to mistake it for a piece of the statue, but as Stonewall got a closer look he realized that the two hadn’t even been carved from the same type of stone. The statue was a very plain gray, almost mundane in its sheer grayness: the amulet, by contrast, seemed to make even gray a bright and cheerful color, and Stonewall could have sworn that it seemed to change colors even as he looked at it (although that could have been because the only light source was the electricity along his tail, he realized). The amulet itself was a simple flat round disk, but was artfully covered in so many runes and characters that it stood out like a sore thumb compared to the plainly attired and detailed statue around whose neck it hung.
Stonewall approached the statue and grabbed the amulet in one paw, bringing it closer to his face for a better look. The amulet was smooth and felt warm to the touch, even in the cool darkness. Stonewall felt a surge of joy in his breast: it was simple but beautiful, and most importantly did not look remotely expensive.
It was perfect.
Kochu watched as Stonewall scampered up the statue, removed the amulet and came down with it hanging off him like a collar, his expression triumphant.
“It’ll work,” Stonewall said.
The tower burned.
A Pokemon staggered through the blaze, coughing heavily. The smoke was thickening quickly, the flames eagerly feeding upon the many wooden columns that had been required to support the tower’s great height and weight. Already the sound of licking flames was punctuated by the increasingly frequent sounds of groaning timber.
The ominous sounds, putrid air and red-tinged darkness was causing the Pokemon to panic. It had been preparing for a nap in a forgotten corner of the tower when everything around it had exploded with little warning. Ash stung its eyes and it yelped as it accidentally ran face-first into an open flame, severely burning its nose and singing most of the hair off its muzzle before it had the presence of mind to back away.
Where was the exit? The Pokemon knew that there was a way out, but as it staggered through the inferno its own recollections of the tower’s layout betrayed it, leading it into fallen columns and raging flames, each misstep causing considerable pain and a further loss of direction.
Just then the Pokemon saw a bright light, distinct from that of the flames around it even in the Pokemon’s own blurry, unfaithful eyes. Even so, the Pokemon hesitated: was the light salvation, or a fiery death?
The timbers groaned heavily. The Pokemon didn’t know what that sound meant, only that it boded ill.
The Pokemon bolted for the light.
The timbers finally gave way, showering flaming debris down upon it.
The Pokemon ran towards the light with all its might. I want to live I want to live I want to live I want to li—
The light disappeared.
Few humans came to this clearing anymore, and for that Entei was grateful.
It was difficult to even imagine that a tower had once stood there, one as proud and majestic as its younger brother that even now stood watch over Ecruteak. Only part of the tower’s first floor still stood, and those beams and walls that somehow remained after all these years still bore the horrific scars of the great fire that had consumed the building hundreds of years before. The following centuries of neglect and abandonment had resulted in nature’s nearly total reclamation of the site: plants grew around, on, and in the few defiant pieces of the ruin that had not fallen to time and weather, and in a few short decades it would be impossible to tell that such a building had even existed at this site at all.
Entei blinked and turned away. His bearing betrayed nothing, but the site always brought back peculiar feelings and even long centuries after he had accepted his fate in his rational mind they still came as strong as before.
He could not even say what force had brought him here now. It had been years since he had heard from the Master, and the long isolation had almost given him too much time to think. Perhaps he had come here to remind himself of his duty…or, perhaps, to reflect upon himself?
The fire Pokemon suddenly jerked to attention, his reminiscence interrupted by a mental sensation roughly akin to a ripple of water brushing against his legs. It was weak, and he had nearly been too occupied to feel it. But what had truly drawn his attention was the fact that he should not have felt it. Not here.
An observer would have noticed Entei standing stone-still, eyes fixated on something far away.
“Impossible,” came a whisper that sounded like the low crackle of an open flame.
In the next moment he was gone, a patch of charred grass and dying cinders the only evidence of his passing.
“I thought you were in a hurry,” Kochu asked, watching Stonewall prance down the path with a gait that would put a show pony to shame.
“Relax,” he replied without missing a step. “As long as I got this baby I could wander back tomorrow and she’d forgive me.” Stonewall did a swift turn and stood on his hind legs with his chest puffed out to emphasize the amulet hanging around what was (probably, it was difficult to tell) his neck.
Kochu couldn’t help but shoot him a quizzical look. “You seemed pretty scared before.”
“I wasn’t scared.” Stonewall’s expression and turned from jubilant to a scowl, apparently displeased that his companion had pointed out a masculinity malfunction. “Just cautious.”
Kochu considered bringing up the fact that nothing he had done since they had met remotely suggested any sense of self-preservation, but decided it wasn’t a battle worth fighting. She tried a different approach. “Are you sure it’s going to work?”
A dismissive wave of the claw. “Sure of it. She’s a stubborn bossy bitch that acts like a boy, but she’s also a girly girl deep down. Just gotta know what buttons to push.”
They continued walking for several minutes until Stonewall thought something was off. “Huh, you’re quiet.”
“Oh, well…” Kochu began, “I always wondered what it would be like…to have a trainer.”
“I guess you don’t like yours very much, do you?”
Stonewall stopped in his tracks, fur bristling. His back was turned to her, and for a moment Kochu wondered if she had said something wrong. It took her a moment to realize that the forest was eerily silent: not even the Kricketot were chirping.
To a rodent, the silence was far too quiet.
That’s when they saw the great beast coming up the path. It was a massive, lion-like creature with a proud bearing accentuated by the long grey mane along its neck and back that undulated and pulsed like smoke from a volcano. Red and gold bony growths accentuated its face and muzzle, giving it both a regal and imposing appearance. His eyes fixated on them as it approached: there was no doubt who his chosen prey were.
“Entei,” Kochu squeaked in barely-restrained panic. She backed away, trying to ignore the fact that there was no chance that she’d ever be able to escape if it came down to it. Stonewall puffed himself up as large as his body would pretend to go, but even then he was shorter than the length of one of Entei’s legs.
Entei stopped before them, looking upon the pair of Raticate—one cowering, one glaring at him and puffed out like a rooster trying to impress a hen—with a bemused but unconcerned expression. That look almost turned to genuine surprise as he saw the amulet dangling from Stonewall: the sensation he felt looking upon it and the sensation he had felt earlier left no doubt.
“Whaddya want?” Stonewall hissed. Any wonder he might have felt at seeing a legendary Pokemon with his own eyes was being drowned out by the nagging feeling that he was in very deep shit.
The great beast paid him no mind. “A Raticate discovering what has eluded us for hundreds of years,” he said. “Remarkable.”
“Hey, shag carpet! I’m talking to you!” Stonewall didn’t take being ignored well. Kochu, meanwhile, was attempting to will herself into disappearing with little apparent success.
Entei’s gaze matched Stonewall’s, finally deigning to acknowledge the Raticate that the amulet happened to be connected to. “That amulet,” he said, his voice rumbling like a simmering volcano, “belongs in the talons of my master. Give it to me.” The great beast’s words carried a tone of authority that the written word is helpless to replicate.
What transpired next is probably easier to understand in the context of both participants. Entei was a creature of immense power, blessed by Ho-Oh himself: he was used to giving commands and used to having them obeyed, usually with the commandees alternately begging and/or pleading for his blessings and/or to spare them his wrath. Stonewall, by contrast, considered most authority figures to be “bloated self-important jackasses,” assuming he chose to be that charitable in the first place. The events that followed might have taken a very different course had Stonewall gone against his inner nature, but Stonewall did not “disappoint.”
Entei’s mood darkened, though he did his best not to betray it to the Raticate. "I am Entei, servant of the great Ho-Oh. By the authority of my Master you will give that amulet to me.”
“And I’m Stonewall, servant of the myself and by my authority you can fuck right off.”
Kochu’s heart was beating so fast that it was beginning to bend time and space.
Entei found himself in unfamiliar territory. He decided to stick to what he knew with more menace added: “you will give it to me. I will not ask again.” The air suddenly felt much hotter, and Entei’s voice carried the barely contained threat of a wildfire.
Like scratching a nagging itch, bringing more authority to bear on Stonewall simply made him more intractable. “If your turkey of a boss wants one so bad, tell him to send you out for one like a good little doggie. This one’s for my trainer. Finders keepers.”
The two exchanged glares for what seemed like a long moment. “If that’s all you want, get out of my face,” Stonewall added.
Entei was the first to break the gaze, though it appeared he did so with great reluctance: it appeared that he would have to resort to more severe measures. He turned to leave, stopping only to address Stonewall over his shoulder.
“So be it. Those closest to you will pay the price for your insolence.”
And then the beast was gone, as silently as he had come. Stonewall watched him leave before turning to look at Kochu, the female Raticate’s panic finally beginning to fade.
“What’s the matter with you?” Stonewall asked.
“Are you insane?” she replied in between deep breaths.
“Hmm…probably,” he replied. If he had had shoulders he would have shrugged. “But guys like that only talk tough.”
“That’s because he’s Entei! He is tough!”
Stonewall snorted in derision. “That’s why he attacked me, right?” Seeing her confused stare, he continued. “Guys like that are used to everyone kissing their ass and getting their way: they don’t know what to do if you tell them their shit stinks like everybody else’s.
“He never thought a Raticate would call him out on his bullshit. Fun seeing how he couldn’t handle it.” Stonewall couldn’t help but suppress a smile.
Kochu seemed more skeptical. “He’s one of Ho-Oh’s chosen, do you think he’s going to give up that easily? And what did he mean when he said ‘those closest to you’?”
“You worry a lot.” Stonewall said. “Besides, if he doesn’t have the sack to attack me, who’s he going to go after? My trai—“
Sudden realization came to Stonewall like a kick in the gut. Kochu watched his expression change from jubilant to horrified in an instant. “Stonewall?”
Stonewall’s expression changed from horrified to one of righteous anger. “That son of a bitch. Come on, hurry!” he said, running down the path.
“But you said—“
“Just shut up and run!”
Entei looked at the building before him and sniffed the air. There was no doubt about it.
The screaming began moments later.
There were two signs that things were not right at the ryokan. The first sign was the number of people milling about in front in the dead of night, wearing robes and slippers and talking amongst themselves in awed and terrified whispers that were slowly growing into panicked shouting. The second sign was the giant hole that had been burned into the side of the building. Stonewall realized with growing dread that Alexis’ room was one of the many that now had free access to the open air.
Stonewall saw some groups of people mulling over fallen Pokemon that he recognized as his teammates, whispering amongst themselves and seemingly terrified to touch them lest they somehow earn Entei’s wrath. Tyrant the Gyarados hung limply halfway inside the inn and halfway into the open night: painful burns were visible on his scales, and there was an ominous creaking sound as the floor holding him threatened to give way. Beep the Ampharos was hanging from a tree, and given the electric Pokemon’s fear of heights and the similar burns covering her body Stonewall didn’t have to guess that she hadn’t climbed up there herself. The tail poking out of one crowd indicated that it might be Smaug the Dragonair, but Stonewall couldn’t see well enough to make sure. Likewise, he could barely see Mendel: the Venusaur’s flowery growth towered over the people surrounding it, but half the petals were missing and the lack of movement wasn’t a good sign.
Kochu watched the scene unfold with growing horror. “Stonewall, what have you done?”
Stonewall was under enough strain as it was and didn’t feel the need for his companion to donate more. “Shaddup,” he snapped. He noticed that he hadn’t accounted for one other Pokemon. “Sparks!” he yelled as loud as his rodent vocal chords would allow, “Where the Hell are you?”
An answer came as one group of people broke up in surprise, making way for the Arcanine that unsteadily clambered to its feet. Sparks—bloodied and limping heavily but still in the best shape of Alexis’ Pokemon that Stonewall could see—finally caught sight of the pair of Raticate and limped over with some effort, looking at Stonewall like he had just swallowed something unpleasant.
“What did you do?” Sparks asked with a mix of awe and fear. The crowd watched the two Pokemon with apprehension.
“What was I doing?! What were you guys doing?! Good job on the defense, slack-ass!” Stonewall replied indignantly, accepting the blame internally while not yet willing to demonstrate contrition outwardly. “Where’s Alexis?”
“Entei took her,” Sparks replied, his pride as a guard dog clearly wounded. “He didn’t attack me too much…said he wanted me to tell you to go look for him.”
“And where is he now?”
“Some place called the ‘Burned tower.’ I don’t know where that is!”
“Then sniff him out!”
“I can’t! He doesn’t smell like anything!”
That’s right, Stonewall’s nose chimed in. You didn’t notice? Even the ryokan—the ground itself bearing burn marks from where the legendary beast had fought his trainer—didn’t smell any different than the typical results of burned masonry. Stonewall had heard offhand that Ho-Oh’s chosen were impossible to find if they did not wish to be found: he was starting to learn how true that really was.
Stonewall cursed the uselessness of both his own nose and his knowledge of Ecruteak. “Damnit, if I knew I was going to be quizzed about this stupid city I would have actually paid attention. Kochu?”
“I’ve heard of it,” Kochu said, face falling. “But I don’t know where it is.”
A portly, middle-aged woman that Stonewall vaguely recognized as the manager of the inn had emerged from the crowd, apparently deciding that the best way to establish control of the situation was to stride towards them, waving her arms wildly and screaming at them in a language neither the male Raticate nor the Arcanine understood. “Kochu, what the Hell is this bitch’s malfunction?” Stonewall asked, the woman’s voice starting to grate on his currently tenuous self-control.
Kochu had been around enough people in Ecruteak to know the language, but right now she didn’t consider that much of a blessing. “She’s angry…we’re bad luck…” Kochu said, pausing to hear more of the woman’s one-sided diatribe before continuing, “we’re demon-spawned monsters…that sort of thing.”
“Great,” Stonewall replied, “I can work with that.”
Sparks knew by the sudden thoughtful expression on Stonewall’s face where this was going. “Stonewall, don’t—“
The woman’s rant was cut short as Stonewall pounced, giving a pained yelp as she landed roughly on her back, followed by Stonewall using her stomach to cushion his fall. He crawled up her body until he was staring her down, making sure that she was able to see how his incisors were mere inches from her neck.
The crowd that had been watching the spectacle went deathly silent. Stonewall spared them only a momentary glance before turning his attention to the woman, voice low so that only she could hear.
“Shut up, bitch.”
The woman suddenly seemed more surprised that a Raticate had spoken to her in English than the fact that a legendary creature had burned a hole in her inn. “You talk?”
“You talk, and you don’t look all that smart,” Stonewall replied, silently thanking whatever power that was watching that they at least spoke one language in common. “Entei took my trainer to the Burned Tower: where is it?”
“Burned…tower?” the woman asked. “…Yaketatou?”
Stonewall applied slightly more pressure. “Yeah. Where is it?” The woman responded by frantically gesturing to somewhere in the distance.
“Huh, is that so?” Stonewall replied. It wasn’t a lot to go on, but he was sure if he got close enough he’d be able to track where Entei went by his own trainer’s scent. “Listen lady, I’ve got business to take care of. You take care of my friends and make sure no idiots decide to follow us.” Stonewall made sure that the woman glanced at his injured teammates to make sure she understood. “If you don’t…well…”
“Yes, yes!” the woman responded, “Just leave!”
“Thank you,” Stonewall said with more than a hint of sarcasm, clambering off her body and turning back to his companions. “Sparks, keep an eye out on our buddies. Kochu, you come with me.”
Entei regarded Alexis passively as the girl returned his stare with venom that could have poisoned an Arbok. When he had first smelled her scent on the Raticate he had thought it impossible that any human would keep-- much less attempt to control--such a cantankerous creature. Encountering her had been an…educational experience, in that respect.
Certainly, she had been surprised when he attacked her, obliterating the wall with one mighty gout of flame and catching her in nothing but an evening robe. She had recovered remarkably quickly, sending out her Pokemon and showing no sign of panic even as he effortlessly defeated each one with the same fire that had killed him so long ago. At the end of the battle he had stood before her in his full glory, a background of her Pokemon shattered and burned the testament to his awesome power. He had thought this display of force would have been enough to cow her.
He had been wrong.
She had fought him the entire way to the Burned Tower, kicking, screaming, punching, and even biting him on the nose when he had tried to carry her in his jaws after she had proven unwilling to stay on his back. Even now—huddling against one of the few walls still standing, pulling her ripped and damaged robe tightly around her to ward off the night’s chill—Entei sensed that she had not been defeated so much as she was waiting for a sign of weakness in order to start round two.
In different circumstances he might have admired her tenacity and will to fight. Currently it was an aggravation he would have rather gone without. “This stubbornness…did he get it from you?” Entei asked.
The glare continued.
The great beast shook his head and decided to look towards the treeline, waiting for the Raticate to arrive. Keeping an eye on the girl was unnecessary, he decided: she’d likely try to bite his hindquarters before attempting to run anyway.
“Why are you doing this?” Alexis finally asked, breaking the silence. “What do you want with Stonewall?”
Entei chose not to look back in acknowledgement, likely to avoid yet another staring match: he had gotten enough in one evening to last him another century or so. “You will understand soon enough.”
“What kind of answer is that?”
Her question hung in the air, ignored, as Entei was too focused on the rustling of underbrush to answer. He was coming.
The pair of Raticate traveled through the forest towards the Burned Tower, Alexis’ scent growing stronger by the minute. The growing number of ruined buildings that were now almost unrecognizable from their original function due to the amount of foliage covering them helped confirm that they were traveling in the right direction. “You’re insane,” Kochu said.
Stonewall grunted. “Everybody says that. Hell, you said that already.”
“Well maybe they’re on to something,” Kochu said, her voice barely concealing the strain she felt. “How can you nearly die once and still be so eager to face a creature that defeated your teammates like they were nothing?”
Stonewall couldn’t help but smirk. “Death hasn’t had the sack to take me yet, which is more than Entei can say.” The smirk dissolved into a much more businesslike expression. “Plus, I have a bargaining chip.”
Stonewall nodded. “He went through all this to get it, but if he wants it so bad why didn’t he just take it when he had the chance? Why all this song ‘n dance?”
Given the information presented, Kochu found herself coming to the same conclusion as Stonewall. “He’s scared of it.”
“Exactly. I play this right and it could all blow over without a fight. But if it doesn’t…”
Stonewall stopped. Kochu jumped back, expecting another ambush, but noticed that Stonewall was deep in thought. “What’s wrong?”
“Kochu, I need a favor.”
“I don’t care if you’re going to fight Entei, I’m still not going to have sex with you.”
“What? No!” Stonewall hadn’t seen that one coming. “Is that all you think I am: a crazy sex-freak?”
“Yes.” Nothing in Kochu’s posture or voice suggested that she was kidding.
“Well…okay...yeah…that’s not the point though!” Once Stonewall had regained his composure he spoke again. “If things go bad, take Alexis and get out of here. Do whatever it takes.”
Kochu worried about the “whatever it takes” part, but at this point she knew that her life was in danger no matter what she did. She decided to hedge. “Only if you tell me why you’re doing so much for a trainer you hate.”
Stonewall looked at her, genuinely baffled. “What?”
“You snuck away without her knowing, you said terrible things about her to me…why not just take this chance and run away? Why do you want to help such a terrible person?”
“Say that. One. More. Time.”
Kochu didn’t grasp the subtext. “I said she sounds like a terrible person—“
Kochu wasn’t sure what happened next. All she remembered was that Stonewall disappeared in a blur of motion, and that a moment later he had managed to lift and pin her against a tree trunk: it was no small feat for a Raticate to lift its own body weight in the air with its forelimbs.
“Stonewall, what are you doing?” The sudden feral look in his eyes made Kochu almost sure that Stonewall had truly gone insane.
“You’ve never had a trainer, so I’m being real nice and cutting you some slack,” he began, the menace slicing at Kochu like a knife. “She’s my trainer: I talk shit about her, doesn’t mean you can. If I ever, EVER, EVER hear you say something bad about her again, I will bite off your tail and shove it down your throat. Got it?”
Kochu didn’t have the presence of mind to do anything else but nod. She was rewarded by being roughly dropped back on the ground. She eventually gathered up the courage to speak again. “I’m sorry.”
Stonewall stared at her for a moment, and his expression gradually softened to what Kochu assumed was as close as apologetic as Stonewall got. “It’s fine, you didn’t know,” he replied. “Alexis and me, it’s… complicated.”
He shook his head as if it attempting to clear his thoughts. “We got bigger things to worry about right now. Let’s not keep the bastard waiting.”
“So, you came.”
Stonewall looked around the clearing: it was a dump even by the low standards of Raticate. He made a deliberate show of ignoring the legendary Pokemon, instead focusing on finding what he had come for. Kochu stood behind him, doing her best to make herself as inconspicuous as possible.
“Stonewall!” Alexis emerged from behind Entei, worry, gratitude and confusion crossing her face in equal measure. Trainer and Pokemon alike might have run to embrace one another had Entei’s posture not suggested that such an action might be hazardous to their health.
“Hey boss,” Stonewall replied.
“Stonewall, what did you do this time?” Alexis expression had changed to concerned and accusatory.
Stonewall blanched. “Why does everybody say that?”
“Because of your track record,” Alexis replied. “Remember that one time with the pool?”
“How was I supposed to know it was sacred?”
“And the time you stole food from the Rattata at that temple?”
“I didn’t know they were somebody’s reincarnated ancestors!”
“And the thing with the Espeon?”
“For the last time, I DIDN’T KNOW SHE WAS A MAN!”
Entei’s voice travelled through the air like a thunderclap, silencing both Pokemon and trainer’s argument as well as most of the forest’s inhabitants. He took turns glaring at Stonewall and Alexis in turn. “I did not bring you here to listen to you prattle like milkmaids!”
Alexis’ expression hardened, and she returned to the problem at hand. “Why did you attack us?” she asked. “What do you want with my Raticate? Why does a servant of Ho-Oh even care about my Raticate?”
“Your Raticate—“ Entei began.
“Hey, I have a name!” Stonewall protested.
“Your Raticate,” Entei said, ignoring him, “is unimportant. What he has stumbled upon, however, is of great interest to my master.”
“What, this thing?” Stonewall said, gesturing with one forelimb to the amulet hanging around his neck. “Does your boss have interests we don’t know about? Does he like to dress up and feel pretty?”
Entei was a patient creature by human standards: as an immortal, he viewed time as a resource that was nearly as unlimited as air and gave it roughly as much consideration. Even so, he was beginning to wonder if the mercy he had shown the Raticate had been a wasted, fruitless gesture. He decided to focus his attention on the Raticate’s trainer, as at least she seemed amenable to dialogue. “You have heard of my master’s pact with humanity, correct?”
Alexis nodded. “I’ve read about it, but I’ve never heard what the pact was actually about.”
Entei’s eyes looked beyond her to stare into the distance, as if he could see the past play out before his eyes. “My master has always dreamed of a world of peace, a world where man and Pokemon alike might live in harmony with one another. He found in the people of Johto those amenable to making this dream a reality, and in their pact they promised to work together to achieve peace and prosperity. For generations Johto was a land of harmony: in time, it might have spread to other lands, and ultimately perhaps the world.”
Entei’s voice had gotten more wistful as he had spoken, but it was soon replaced with a bitter edge. “Then the pillagers came with their armies, seeking my master’s power and wealth, destroying all in their path. The work of generations…undone in mere months by man’s pettiness and greed.”
Entei’s eyes bored into Alexis, and for the first time this evening she began to feel a glimmer of fear. “Look around you, human. This is your forebears’ legacy.”
Clap. Clap. Clap. Kochu began to back away from Stonewall as subtly as she could, having decided that the great beast’s temper and her companion’s apparent disdain made being near him a dangerous prospect for her health.
Entei turned towards Stonewall, his anger barely restrained behind an impassive look. “Does my story amuse you, vermin?”
Stonewall stopped clapping and met Entei’s gaze. “So your boss created his little utopian ant farm and the mean old humans broke it and knocked over his precious tower. Boo-hoo, how sad, let’s all have a good cry about it. What the Hell does it have to do with us?”
Entei stared at Stonewall, and then did something completely unexpected.
It was a strange laugh, and not only because Entei’s laughter sounded like a gurgling volcano: the beast clearly saw the absurdity in whatever it was he was laughing about, but no humor in it.
Stonewall wasn’t sure how to take this new development. “What’s so funny?”
“Humans? You think humans destroyed the tower?”
A cry went up amongst the soldiers as they saw the great avian form spread its wings and take flight, the mist surrounding it blown away like a pair of curtains covering an open window. It came towards them, gaining speed and altitude as it flew.
“Scatter!” the general shouted to his men. “Archers, prepare to fire!” The general had fought enough flying Pokemon in his lengthy career to know that soldiers grouped together were easy prey, and he had come too far to not treat the legendary Pokemon’s power with a healthy dose of respect. His men ran in all directions as fast as they could go, the spearmen taking what refuge they could find against the flat, tilled earth while the archers drew their arrows, keeping Ho-Oh within their sights.
Ho-Oh came faster, flames beginning to trail off its brilliant plumage. It gave an ear-piercing cry.
Arrows erupted from the scattered arches like an angry swarm, flying from the ground towards Ho-Oh with breathtaking speed. None found their mark: those that were in range found their aim foiled by a great stroke of the legendary Pokemon’s wings, the wind generated causing the arrows to fly far off target if they were not stopped completely.
Ho-Oh passed overhead as the general shouted at his men, trying to regain control of his scattered troops and exhorting his archers to ready another volley. He had lost no men in the first path, and this baffled him: Ho-Oh had plenty of opportunity to strafe them, so why did he refuse to attack? Was he running away?
The general had no time to consider this as he watched Ho-Oh glide into a turn, the legendary Pokemon readying itself for another pass. It came towards them, faster and higher than before and…
The general ordered his archers to hold fire as Ho-Oh flew above and past them a second time, well out of their range and apparently unconcerned with the humans below. The fires coming off the mighty Pokemon were now raging so hot that they could feel the heat from the ground, the flames leaving brilliant contrails in the sky.
The general was at a total loss. Ho-Oh had made two passes and had not attacked, yet was clearly preparing for a mighty strike. What else was there to attack?
The general’s eyes followed Ho-Oh as it flew towards the tower, now so covered in flames that it was impossible to tell that a giant avian was at the center of the conflagration.
The pieces came together in his mind, screaming at the top of their lungs.
“Men, to me! Forward, forw—“
The general’s orders were drowned out by Ho-Oh’s keening screech and the terrible roar of flame. A massive tendril of flame erupted from Ho-Oh’s flaming body, straight towards the tower itself.
The general and his men could only watch stupefied as the Brass Tower was engulfed in flames.
Alexis was stunned. “Impossible.”
Entei regarded her, and shook his head. “It is the truth. I cannot lie.”
“But, the legends—“
“Legends say many things,” Entei replied with barely restrained contempt. “Your species’ collective memory is…wanting.”
“But why would Ho-Oh destroy his own tower?” Alexis asked. “What was there to gain?”
Entei began to pace back and forth slowly, as if it helped him recall the facts from the depths of his lengthy memory. “Word of the pact spread, and soon many came to Ecruteak, bringing tribute and hoping to curry the favor of my master. Gold, jewels, a treasure trove that you can scarcely imagine…all was brought here, to this tower.” Entei looked up, looking at the great height of a building that now stood, at its best spots, barely up to his shoulders.
“A dragon’s hoard, huh?” Stonewall asked.
Entei paused for a moment, expecting a snarky retort from the Raticate. When he received none, he continued. “Yes, but even that wealth paled next to the greatest treasures of my master. Among the tribute were numerous artifacts, items of power from ages known to history and empires long forgotten, items that could turn man and Pokemon alike into gods unto themselves.”
Alexis was suddenly beginning to see how it all came together. “Then, when you said ‘your master’s power’, you meant…”
Entei nodded. “Correct. The invaders did not come seeking only conquest: the tower was the true prize. By the time the invaders stood at the outskirts of Ecruteak the pact had been destroyed beyond any hope of recovery: in the eyes of my master it was better to destroy an empty symbol than let them gain power beyond reckoning and further plunge the world into darkness.
“But despite my master’s efforts, some of those artifacts survived the destruction: some hidden before the destruction of the tower, some taken from among the ruins, others spreading across the earth in ways we still do not fully understand. I was tasked with hunting them down and empowered to ensure they did not fall into the wrong hands by any means necessary.”
“Then those legends of you as ‘Ho-Oh’s wrath’…” Alexis said, trailing off.
“Yes. Those men thought they could defy me, and therefore defy Ho-Oh. They died as all fools do.” Entei fixed his gaze on Stonewall. “You need not join them. Give the amulet to me, and I will let you and your trainer go.”
“Then what’s all this shit?” Stonewall asked. “You wanted the amulet, so you attack my trainer to get it? Why, to prove how big your balls are?”
Entei shook his head, and his mane mirrored his movements like ripples in a pool. “I have no interest in your life, as undeserving as you are of it. It was the most expedient solution available.”
“This I gotta hear.”
Entei said nothing, apparently debating how much about the amulet the Raticate should know. He soon decided what he was about to reveal carried little risk. “That amulet carries an enchantment: so long as its wearer lives, no one can remove it but the wearer himself. That leaves two ways of resolving this: the first is that you cooperate and give the amulet to me of your own free will.”
Stonewall arched an eyebrow. “And the second?”
“I take it from your corpse.”
“Can’t say I like either of those,” Stonewall replied.
Entei’s temper was simmering to the surface like a volcano about to rain destruction on those below. “I did not bring you here to ask you what you would like, I brought you here to demonstrate that you are not beyond my grasp: you have your life now only because I have not yet chosen to take it. Give the amulet to me: I will not ask you again.”
Stonewall spared a glance over Entei’s shoulder at Alexis: the look on her face told him that she was wondering about the same thing he was. “So assuming I do give this amulet to you, so what? How does this make the world a better place?” he asked. “Humans seem to do a pretty good job killing each other without it.”
“It will not,” Entei admitted. He took a hidden pleasure in the shocked silence that followed, mostly because Stonewall seemed too surprised by the response to have a pithy retort.
“My master and I…disagree on this matter,” Entei continued. “Perhaps this is the reason that I am not favored.”
“Disagree? Favor?” Stonewall asked. “What the Hell are you talking about?”
“My master believes that humanity should be protected,” Entei said, shaking his head in exasperation, “but why? They are no more worthy of consideration than any other creature beyond their sheer numbers, yet so long as they live true peace is impossible.”
“That’s not true!” Alexis protested.
“Is it?” Entei asked. He gave her an empty smile. “For all your supposed enlightment, you are no better than beasts. You fight, you crave power, you hate. Your conflicts engulf the world and ensure that it shares in your suffering. Why should we struggle to protect you? If anything, we should stand aside and let events follow their natural course.”
Alexis stared at him, scarcely believing what she was hearing. “Do you really believe that? Don’t you have any humanity?”
Entei scoffed. “Humanity? I was never human, girl. I see the truth untainted by nostalgia: alas, if only my master did.”
Clap. Clap. Clap. “Wow,” Stonewall said, “I thought I was a rat bastard.”
Entei pretended to ignore him, but it was readily obvious that his patience was wearing thin. “In the end, it is not my place to decide, only to obey. You have been given your choices, vermin: I will have the amulet in the end no matter what.”
Alexis and Stonewall exchanged glances. Stonewall shot Entei an apprasing look.
“We’re not that different, I guess,” Stonewall began. “We both have bosses that we have to listen to, even if we don’t agree with ‘em. Sucks sometimes, but that’s life.”
Entei regarded him silently.
“Fortunately for me,” Stonewall continued, “looks like me and my boss are on the same page on this one.”
Stonewall spared another glance at Alexis. She nodded.
“We both think you’re full of shit.”
It was the dead of night, but as Entei’s anger began to rise the clearing became as hot as high noon in the middle of the summer. Stonewall puffed himself out in an attempt to mimic the intimidating gesture, but fell short. He pressed on, undaunted. “I was out minding my own business and happened to stumble upon a knick-knack your boss wasn’t smart enough to keep track of: hey, I might even have given it to you if you’d played nice, that’s the kind of rat I am. But no, you come along acting like a jackass, insult me to my face, attack my friends, attack my trainer…on a normal day that’d be more than enough to chew your face off so bad that you’d spend the rest of your life eating through your ass. But that’s not good enough for you, is it? “
The plants underneath Entei’s feet were rapidly turning to ash.
“I’m the one who has the amulet: I’m the one who has the scary power that can’t be in mortal hands. And you’re the one acting like you hold all the cards? Don’t make me laugh.”
Entei response came in a tide of flame.
Kochu squealed and dived for cover, desperate to avoid being drawn into the battle between Raticate and beast. The flames tore through the underbrush before burning themselves out a dozen yards away, turning everything they touched to cinders.
Entei observed his handiwork. Nothing but blackened, charred ground remained, and that was the problem. Where did the Raticate go?
He felt clods of dirt thrown against his lower abdomen moments before he felt a large pair of incisors grip him from underneath. The beast roared and began to thrash about, slamming his body against the ground in an effort to dislodge the Raticate that had attacked him by Digging from below. It was several long moments before Entei managed to slam Stonewall between his body and a nearby rock, momentarily stunning the Raticate and causing him to lose his grip, falling to the ground with a large chunk of Entei’s fur in his mouth.
“Stonewall, Quick Attack!” Alexis shouted. Her voice shook Stonewall out of his daze, and he summoned up an unnatural burst of speed, passing through Entei’s legs and under a Flamethrower that expended its fury against the spot he had been standing a mere instant before.
Stonewall gave a wicked smile as Entei turned to face him, the fire type clearly having underestimated his opponent. He decided to rub it in. “This all you got, chump?”
One of Entei’s sides was missing a large chunk of hair, but he was more surprised than hurt. The surprise had not mellowed his rage, however, and he released another massive but clumsy gout of flame that Stonewall was easily available to avoid. The Raticate dashed, getting inside the beast’s legs and managing a few quick bites before Entei’s kicks and short bursts of fire forced him away again.
Despite his taunting Stonewall had no illusions: he knew that the longer the fight took, the more serious Entei would begin to take him and the less likely that he would survive. The amulet was a wild card in his favor, however.
Too bad he wasn’t sure how it worked.
Entei’s mouth filled with flames as he prepared another attack. Stonewall dived to the right, but the flames suddenly disappeared as Entei slammed the ground with his front legs: the Flamethrower had been a feint. The ground responded to Entei’s summons, hurling several large rocks at an off-balance Stonewall. He barely twisted in time, evading most except for one: the rock that found purchase managed only to graze his side, but it was enough to knock him further off his footing and send him stumbling back several steps. Stonewall leapt to his feet just in time to avoid the Fire Spin Entei sent twisting his way, the fiery tornado slamming into an ancient remnant of wall and causing the aging masonry to collapse with a sigh.
Closer, he had to get closer. His electric and ice energy was still depleted from the fight with the Gastly hours before, leaving him no way to fight back at range. Stonewall summoned another burst of speed, rapidly closing the distance. Entei’s mouth opened again, full of flame…
Entei let out a startled yelp as a piece of masonry made contact with his head, shattering on impact. The fire died as he turned to see Alexis duck behind a nearby wall.
It had only been a momentary distraction, but it had been enough. Entei howled as he Stonewall bit hard into his rear left leg, fangs tearing at tendon and bone. Stonewall struggled to stay underneath Entei as he continued to dig into the leg, seemingly safe from Entei’s attacks and seeking to do as much damage as possible.
Entei’s body gave off a sickening gurgling sound, as if lava was about to erupt from his skin at any moment. Stonewall felt the beast’s body heat rise so dramatically and quickly that it burned his tongue, causing the Raticate to let go in surprise. Entei’s body gave another great shudder.
And then the world exploded into fire.
Alexis dived towards the strongest and farthest wall she could find, covering her head with her hands as wave upon wave of heat and flame flowed freely from Entei’s body, the Eruption slamming against the wall like a tidal wave against the shore and causing the wall to groan ominously. She could hear Stonewall’s inarticulate screams as he got the worst of it, followed by an even more terrifying silence.
She only summoned the courage to look from behind her cover when the heat fell as quickly as it had come. Much of the clearing now looked like the site of a meteor impact with Entei at the center, rear leg held slightly in the air and bleeding profusely. The sheer force of the attack had knocked Stonewall several feet away, and Alexis watched with mixed relief as a translucent sphere of energy around Stonewall sputtered and died, revealing a badly burned Raticate beneath: it had taken him several precious moments to summon the Protective sphere as the Eruption had washed over him, and even then the Protect had barely been able to absorb even part of Entei’s attack. He had been able to take out one of the beast’s legs in exchange, but to Alexis’ seasoned eye there was little doubt that her Pokemon had gotten the worst of it.
Entei turned to face Stonewall as the Raticate staggered to his feet.
“Come on,” the Raticate hissed through a burned mouth, “is that all you got?” Contrary to Entei’s expectations, the severe burns that now covered several parts of the Raticate’s body seemed to have done little to dampen the Raticate’s fighting spirit: indeed, his posture and glare suggested that he was even more bloodthirsty and eager to fight than before.
Stonewall began to circle Entei, taking advantage of the fact that the beast’s injured limbs limited how quickly the fire type could turn to face him. Entei watched him circle warily: he knew that the Raticate was seeking another easy way in, hoping to take out another leg until he had crippled the great beast. This had to end now.
Entei’s posture loosened, the beast dropping its guard. In normal circumstances, Stonewall would have taken this sudden development with a grain of salt, but these were hardly normal circumstances: Stonewall was fighting an injured immortal creature and wearing an item of power, and the sheer thrum of adrenaline running through every fiber of his being drowned out all rational thought.
Stonewall circled towards Entei’s uninjured side and charged, emboldened by the fact that Entei made no move to avoid him or even counterattack. His mind roared with triumph as he neared Entei’s flank, ready to sink his jaws deep inside…
A wave of psychic force slammed into Stonewall mid-jump. The Extrasensory caught Stonewall by surprise, and he yelped in pain as he did a cartwheel through the air, hitting the ground head first just inches from Entei’s body. Stonewall’s vision swam as he tried to fight through his haze, trying to regain his footing, trying to get back into the fight…
He felt a great weight press down upon him. He struggled to look up, and saw that Entei had pinned him to the ground with one thick leg.
“You have lost,” Entei stated, no longer bothering to conceal the rage that ran through his very blood. “Surrender.”
“Fuck you,” Stonewall spat. “Not giving up…not while I haven’t even used my trump card…”
Entei followed Stonewall’s gaze as he looked at the amulet hanging around his neck, the stone disk somehow not having been pinned underneath the Raticate’s body when he hit the ground. It had survived the Eruption without any damage, still gleaming as brightly as the day it had been carved. Stonewall grabbed it with his free forelimb, holding it out in front of him like one would present a cross to a vampire. He grunted in concentration, apparently trying to summon forth the amulet’s unknown power.
Much to Stonewall’s despair, it didn’t seem to be working.
Entei’s temper grew even hotter. “You threaten me with an artifact you do not even understand!? The powers of that amulet cannot be wielded by a Pokemon, you pathetic fool!”
“You lie!” Stonewall spat, not willing to accept that his “trump card” had been the one with the rules printed on it.
“You dare to call me a liar?” Entei roared, any thoughts of mercy driven far from its mind in its terrible rage. “Let me clear your misconception!”
Alexis began to yell at Entei, begging him to yield, but the Eruption forced her to take refuge behind the wall once again. Stonewall’s howls filled the night, helpless to do anything but endure the terrible fires washing over him.
Alexis felt a tugging on her robe. She hazarded a look and saw Kochu staring at her, her eyes pleading for the pair of them to escape.
“I’m not leaving him,” Alexis said. Kochu gave a squeak in protest as Alexis bolted to a standing position, full of worry for the fate of her Pokemon.
From what she could see, it was a grim one.
“Stonewall…no…” she whispered. Entei stood triumphantly over the Raticate’s body, though after the battle it was hard to tell that Stonewall had even been a Raticate: nearly all his hair had been burned away, and that flesh that was visible was an ugly sea of black and red burns. Tiny stubs remained where his ears had once been, most of the cartilage incinerated by the Eruption.
Stonewall twitched. Entei stared at the sudden movement, and jumped back in surprise when the body returned his stare with even greater hatred. The beast could do little but watch in fascinated horror as Stonewall began to claw his way across the battered earth towards him, wheezing painfully for every inch gained, unable to stand and dragging his body forward with only his forelimbs.
The great beast could hardly believe his eyes. It had been ages since he had been forced to expend himself this greatly against an opponent, and yet his foe—a Raticate, no less!—not only still lived, but was still refusing to give up the fight, even though his body lied shattered and broken. Despite himself, Entei wondered if it was somehow the amulet’s power at work, because the only other logical conclusion was even more fantastic and unbelievable: that such a creature could summon such tremendous endurance simply through sheer determination.
“Stonewall, are you okay!?”
Caught off guard by his advesary’s signs of life, Entei had been too surprised to do anything but watch as Alexis ran over to her Pokemon, interposing herself between Stonewall and Entei. She knelt down to him, wanting to hold him in her arms yet afraid that touching his burns might hurt him even more.
He looked at her with reddening eyes, the very act of blinking apparently causing him great pain. “Get outta…the way…” he gurgled, every syllable a great strain.
Tears were welling in Alexis’ eyes. “Stonewall…it’s over…please stop…”
The sight of his trainer beginning to cry seemed to finally sap the Raticate of his resolve. “So…over then, huh…” he managed to choke out, “Had a good run…”
“Please don’t say that,” Alexis protested, “I’ll take you to the Pokemon center, everything’s going to be okay…”
Stonewall gave a weak, hoarse laugh. “You always…shitty liar…” He pawed weakly at the rope securing the amulet to his neck. “Here…”
Alexis looked over her shoulder at Entei. The beast stared at them impassively, waiting for Stonewall to pass on so that he could finally complete his duty.
Alexis turned back to Stonewall. Her hand guided his paw as he pulled the string over his head. Entei could do little but look on in horror as Alexis slipped the amulet around her own neck.
Stonewall smiled as much as his burned face would allow. “Like…it?”
“Yes, it’s beautiful.” Alexis did her best to hold back a sob.
Stonewall’s forelimbs finally gave out, and he collapsed onto the ground. Alexis bowed her head, hunched over his body.
She did not react as Entei approached. “Give the amulet to me,” the great beast demanded, his anger not gone but merely banished beneath the surface.
Alexis leaned down, and whispered something into Stonewall’s ear that Entei could not hear. She stood up and faced him. Her robe was in tatters, her hair matted from sweat, and her face was covered in ash with only small tracks of clear skin running down from her eyes, but her stare was as defiant as her Pokemon’s had been in his final moments.
“Kill me, then,” she said. Long ago the pair had promised each other that they would rise together and that they would fall together. Alexis refused to abandon that promise.
“Enough of this!”
Neither Alexis’ voice nor posture conveyed even a hint of fear. “You think humans are all dirt anyway. Why should my life matter to you?”
“Are you so eager to die?” Entei was incredulous. “Are you truly so foolish—“
Entei stopped short and tilted his head, as if listening to a voice only he could hear. His eyes widened.
“Master? Here?” He looked to the sky, and Alexis followed him, suddenly shocked to alertness by the call of a giant bird shattering the quiet, a beautiful, sonorous cry that she had never heard.
And then Ho-Oh appeared above the clearing. The massive bird hovered briefly high above the clearing, as if looking for something. It soon gave a great cry and began to descend to earth slowly, each slow, deliberate flap of its wings shaking the trees all around it with powerful surges of wind.
Alexis was enraptured by the way the giant bird seemed to glow with its own inner light, yet at the same time she found herself terrified by the gigantic hooked beak nearly as long as she was tall and the giant Pokemon’s piercing, all-knowing stare. Even though she had accepted her coming death, she remained standing only because her knees had locked themselves rigid in fear.
Ho-Oh landed in the clearing gracefully, those few pieces of the Burned Tower that had survived the battle finally collapsing under either the wind of Ho-Oh’s wings or its great weight pressing down upon them. The bird’s gaze swiveled across a once verdant field that now resembled a desert wasteland, as if retracing the battle that had just occurred in its own mind.
Entei kneeled to Ho-Oh far as its injured leg would allow. “It has been so long, my master. I beg your apologies that our reunion has been tainted by the impudence of these mortals. Please permit me to deal with them and I shall—“
Ho-Oh’s head swiveled towards Entei with surprising speed, the great bird staring down its beak at its servant. There were no words—at least, none that could be heard through the mundane expediency of sound—but Entei shuddered and cowered, as if Ho-Oh had somehow struck him with a mighty blow.
It turned back to Alexis and said nothing, yet Alexis somehow felt compelled to speak for reasons that not even she understood. She swallowed, trying hard not to think about how Ho-Oh could easily snuff out her own life, if she even merited that much personal attention.
She lifted the amulet to Ho-Oh, holding it in the palm of her hand. “This is what you came for. You want this, right?”
Ho-Oh was silent, but Alexis somehow got the feeling that she was both right and wrong.
Ho-Oh careened its neck slightly to look behind her, and as she looked back with it she realized that it was looking at Stonewall. She could barely make out the movement of her Raticate’s unconscious body rising and falling as Stonewall struggled against death itself, but his breathing was ragged and uneven. “They were going to destroy him, you know,” she explained. “The guy said I was crazy to take him…Hell, even my mom and dad thought I was crazy. And he was hard to live with at first.”
Ho-Oh said nothing.
“But…he really has a good heart, even if he doesn’t like to show it. He taught me things about myself that I never knew, and we went through so many things together. My life wouldn’t have been the same without him.” She turned back to Ho-Oh.
“I know that, in the grand scheme of things, neither of us are lives are worth much if it means a peaceful world. Why should they be?”
Ho-Oh watched silently as Alexis dropped the amulet, the artifact returning to where it had been loosely hanging around her neck before. “I won’t say I know more than you, Ho-Oh: if this amulet is so dangerous that no one can have it, I won’t fight you or say you’re wrong. If it’s the price for a better world, so be it.”
She fell to one knee and began to gently stroke Stonewall. He did not respond to her touch.
“But if it’s a world where Stonewall has to die, I don’t want to live in it,” she said. She turned to Ho-Oh, prostrated before the great Pokemon on one knee. “Whatever you decide, please do it quickly…he’s suffering.”
Ho-Oh glanced at Entei, but the beast looked away to avoid his master’s gaze. He turned back to the two souls before him, one blazing with its own life, one a rapidly fading cinder.
Ho-Oh exhaled, and the clearing was consumed by fire.
“No,” the general whispered, unaware that the word had escaped his mouth.
An experienced leader of men, the general felt his army’s morale drop as if had been weighted down with a great bolder and hurled into the sea. They were beginning to cautiously gather back into one mass, murmuring worriedly amongst each other as the tower continued to burn, the heat of the conflagration tangible even this far from the center of the city.
“No!” the general said, kneeling and punching the ground in frustration. The hoard of a god—the very thing they had fought and died and struggled for—was burning right before their eyes.
They had failed.
“Sir!” one of the general’s seconds shouted, pointing to the sky. He looked up to see Ho-Oh flying high above Ecruteak, burning so brightly that the evening was as bright as day and the setting sun in the distance looked dim in comparison.
The general found himself at a complete loss, unable to fathom what Ho-Oh was doing. “What in the world?”
As if in response a mighty scream erupted from Ho-Oh, so powerful and primal that it rattled in the bones of all who heard it. Great curtains of flame erupted from its body, falling towards the earth below. The general dove to the ground, seeking the safety of the cool earth and a patch with little flammable material as his army’s morale disintegrated, each man fleeing as they sought to avoid the apocalypse falling upon them.
It was several long moments before the general was able to convince himself that it was both over and that he was alive. He hazarded a glance at Ecruteak, expecting the city to have been wiped off the map in a torrent of flame, and was stunned to see that the only building burning was the Brass Tower: the buildings composing the city had somehow been left untouched, none so much as grazed by a tongue of flame.
The smell of singed flesh assaulted his nostrils, and he looked over his shoulder, expecting to see his men turned to ashes all around him. What he found was his scattered army spooked but unharmed, not a hair on their heads even singed.
This was a cold comfort, as the corpses around Ecruteak were all aflame, the bodies so thick from the fighting that their funeral pyre completely encircled the city. Then the fire receded as quickly as it came, the corpses consumed by Ho-Oh’s flames with unnatural speed.
The men looked at the fields of ash, their worried murmurs growing in pitch. They had heard of signs from the gods, and they knew what they saw before them had to be one: however, its meaning escaped them, and that lack of knowledge filled them with great fear. The ground suddenly lurched and buckled, as if concealing a great beast beneath the surface. Those men who had had the presence of mind not to throw aside their weapons pointed them at the ground uncertainly.
The ground erupted, but not in fire and death. Massive trunks ripped through the surface, greenery sprouting across lengthening branches even as the trees sped towards the sky with a speed that would have put kudzu to shame. Any hope of organization was cut short as the newborn forest continued to emerge from the ashes, scattering men in every direction.
Not that there was any organization to be had. The sight of an entire forest sprouting before their eyes had completely shattered the army’s resolve. The forest echoed with the screams of men fleeing through the trees, desperate to escape a Pokemon who stood in defiance of life and death.
The general found himself alone in the middle of the forest as the sound of screams faded. His Rapidash was gone, the horse Pokemon likely having already panicked and fled. Though he had not been crushed in battle, he felt the sting of defeat even harder than if he had bled out his last on the fields of Ecruteak. Ho-Oh had taken not a single life, yet the general found himself without his army, his ambitions burned away.
The forest echoed with his screams, the general denigrating Ho-Oh with every breath. So busy was he cursing the great Pokemon and his bitter fate that he had not noticed that one corpse continued to burn. The woman’s body had been forgotten in the chaos, but it had not been reduced to ash like the others: rather, her remains seemed to gain mass with each crackle and hiss, its limbs and torso growing and lengthening as it turned into something other.
The fire grew so large that even the general could soon hear it over the sound of his ranting. His curses stopped as he stared, slack-jawed and unable to comprehend the sight before him.
He shielded his eyes as the fire exploded outward with a great sigh. But the sight that awaited him when he looked again was more incredible still. An azure beast stood where the woman’s body had fallen and burned. It was a creature the general had never seen, a beast equal parts lupine and feline. Its purple mane and twin, ribbon-like tails flowing like water even though the air was still.
His sword was in his hand before he had realized he had drawn it. He charged at the newcomer, his battlecry multiplying into a cacophony as it echoed through the woods…
A great torrent of water erupted from nowhere and slammed him into a nearby tree, knocking the air out of his lungs and causing him to drop his sword. He watched as the beast approached him, his eyes betraying only the slightest hint of fear.
She stared at him. He stared back at her, the fear growing in his eyes.
And then suddenly the fear was gone, and he laughed. He stopped only when the pain in his chest from the impact threatened to overwhelm him, and he took smug joy in the sudden confusion that crossed the great beast’s face.
“I lost, but you did not win,” he said, answering the unspoken question. “Your god denied us his power, but at what price? His worshippers’ lands lie in ruins, his pact in tatters. Perhaps Ecruteak will remain loyal, but what of those other cities that were sacked and despoiled while he sat idle? If any were left alive, that is.”
Another fit of laughter until a sudden surge of pain cut it short. “Word will spread. Warlords will descend upon this land, eager to carve it apart and add it to their own holdings. Your god’s people will suffer and die, and he will do nothing. Nothing!”
The general took joy in her hardening expression. He had no doubt that he would die here, but it no longer mattered: no better fate awaited him back home.
“Your god,” he had used the phrase with increasing contempt as he spoke, and now spat it out as if it were an insult, “is a dreamer and a fool. There can be no peace in this world, not so long as all living things must end the lives of others to live. But he wouldn’t know this, would he? No, he doesn’t need to live by our petty rules just to survive…doesn’t understand…no, doesn’t want to understand.”
He gave her a wicked smile as she began to comprehend the magnitude of his words. “Your god has the power to create a true world of peace, but not the will to accept the truth of that peace.” The beast scowled at him, and the wind began to pick up as if stirred by her mood.
“And now you,” he pointed directly at her, “are bound to the will of that same god: a pathetic, spineless whelp of a god. Tell me, does it fill you with regret to know that your old life has been destroyed? Does it fill you with despair to be cursed to an eternity of fruitless servitude?”
Suicune’s voice shook the forest like a gale-force hurricane, causing leaves to fall from their branches and scattering those few bird Pokemon who had been brave enough to land on the nascent branches.
“My master does not accept your vile words,” Suicune said, her voice like the tide lapping against the shore. “And I reject them. There is no absolute path: there is always another way.”
The general stared at her, amused. “Do you think your god able to defy the nature of the world itself?” he asked.
She returned his stare. “That I stand before you is proof enough, is it not?” she replied.
He shrugged as if only partially conceding the point. “That your master can conquer but one barrier is meaningless,” he countered. “The road to peace is winding and treacherous, and the obstacles are far greater than saving a mere life. You follow a dream that will only lead you to despair.”
“Perhaps,” she admitted. “There are no guarantees, even for my master. It may be centuries, even millennia before our efforts bear fruit, if ever.”
Suicune looked towards the sky, her master far above. “But so long as there are those who strive for peace, those who are pure of heart, those who struggle because it is a dream worth fighting for…we will never give up. We will lend them our strength, for all our sakes.”
The general looked deeply into her eyes, and found that her words came not only from her master, but her very soul as well. “So be it,” he said after a long time. “We shall see who history proves correct.”
The general staggered to his feet, recovering his sword to use as an improvised walking stick. He exchanged one more look with her, but said nothing. He limped through the underbrush, and then he was gone.
Suicune stared at the path that he had taken for a long while, and then turned towards Ecruteak, feeling the sensation of her master and two other souls that burned with his flames just as hers now did. She called upon the wind as naturally as others took in breath, willing it to take her to Ecruteak. There was work to be done.
Alexis finally opened her eyes. Was she dead?
A part of her hoped not. If she was, Heaven’s decorator clearly suffered from a lack of imagination.
Alexis found herself in the clearing, the only difference from several seconds ago being that Ho-Oh and Entei were nowhere to be seen. Not only that, but it was as green and as verdant before: there was no longer any way to tell that Entei and Stonewall had ever clashed in mortal combat. What surprised her more was that she was still alive, and completely unharmed. She pulled back one of her sleeves, not yet willing to believe that she had not been hideously scarred by Ho-Oh’s fire. She was only slightly disappointed to find her assumption incorrect.
Alexis whipped around so quickly she nearly did a full rotation in place by mistake. Stonewall was lying on the ground, suffering a painful headache but with all his fur and not a single burn to be seen anywhere on his body: he was as whole as he had been when he had set out from the ryokan.
“Stonewall!” cried a relieved Kochu as she bounced out of her hiding spot. “I thought you were dead!”
“Dead?” Stonewall asked, trying to rub his temples but foiled by the short length of his forelimbs. “Why would I be dead?”
“You fought Entei! I saw you get burned alive!” Kochu said, apparently panicking well after the fact.
Stonewall squinted, as if trying to seize a memory just beyond his reach. “Yeah, I remember fighting him, but it’s fuzzy…he didn’t get the amulet, did he?”
He looked up at Alexis, noticing that the amulet he had brought her was around her neck. “Awesome, he didn’t. Looks good on you, boss!”
Despite his gift, Stonewall watched her expression: he wondered when she was going to give him a smack upside the head for wandering off and causing…well, a lot of trouble was putting it very mildly.
Alexis fell to her knees hugged him tightly. He was at a loss.
“Glad you like it,” he said, not sure how to react. “Boss…are you crying?”
The events of that night remained largely a mystery in Ecruteak. Despite several eyewitness accounts the authorities rejected the assertion that the legendary Pokemon Entei had ever attacked the ryokan, theorizing that the incident had been either a random attack by a feral Arcanine or a freak act of God (in the latter case they were closer than they realized). Nothing of note was ever found at the site of the Burned Tower, and the trainer alleged to have been there said nothing about the events that may or may not have transpired. The trainer’s Raticate was similarly taciturn, looking mildly confused at anyone who suggested that it spoke a human language.
Ecruteak’s gym leader returned a few days later, and the female trainer was his first opponent after his hiatus. She departed Ecruteak a day later, Fog Badge in hand, and the events of that night slowly faded from the collective consciousness of Ecruteak and into the footnotes of the city’s history.
Some time later, archaeologists would discover the Brass Tower’s ancient keystone, a large stone block that had spent quiet centuries in the clearing as a silent monument to what had been. More exciting than the keystone itself was the inscription upon it, apparently burned onto the surface mere months before yet somehow covered in centuries of dirt and detritus:
Children of men
Those of pure heart
So long as thou shalt strive
So strive shall I
Last edited by Blastoise; 1st November 2009 at 03:37 PM.
Reason: Maybe the whole story will show up in the post now