Crowds never appreciate the return of a defeated warrior. If it was up to the masses, each battle would end in an execution. For that reason, I decided it would probably be best if I left for the next town rather than wait for the arena to open again.* * * * *
Metagross and I strode slowly through the streets, my armor in a pack on my back, looking for the Battler’s Guild building. Inside we would find maps, information, and hopefully enough supplies to last us to the nearest city with an arena. I had visited the town’s Guild when we had first arrived two weeks before, but I spent more time training than walking around and so had forgotten the way.
A light rain fell from the dreary gray sky and pattered softly on the cobblestone road. As Metagross and I edged to the side of the street to make room for a man leading a rather rotund Miltank, I looked upwards and sighed. My bandaged hand still throbbed painfully, but the bleeding had stopped. At least, I thought it did. Wielding my hammer would feel strange without an index finger, but I was sure that I could figure it out. After all, I would have plenty of time for training as I traveled.
It was almost noon when a friendly trader finally managed to point me towards the Guild building. The rain had ceased, but it was replaced by an increasingly ferocious wind.
Leaving Metagross at the pens outside, I stepped into the building. As were most of the other Guild buildings I had been in, this one looked to be a repurposed hotel. Many people bustled up and down the wooden staircase across from the doorway. Upstairs would be the dorm rooms, where battlers were allowed to stay the night. When I had arrived, the rooms had been full so I was forced to go to the tavern.
Under the stairway was an open door that looked out into a covered area outside. From there I could hear the metallic pounding of hammer and anvil as armor and weapons were built or repaired. I looked around halfheartedly for the green warrior, but he was nowhere to be seen.
Suddenly, I was rudely brushed aside by a tall warrior in light leather armor, followed by a Lucario. I glared at him. Lucario owners were always so arrogant. I had battled one before that had wielded an array of kunai. He had been just as pompous, so I had felt little regret in ending his career forever.
Minutes later I retrieved Metagross with my arms and pack full of supplies. He looked at me skeptically as I lay out the things on the wet ground in front of the building.
“I know we don’t travel much,” I said, “but it’s going to happen from time to time, so you better get used to it.”
Searching through the bottom of my pack, I fished out a bundle of leather straps and bags. Metagross would have to carry his own weight, as it were. Gently, I wrapped the straps around the Pokémon’s body, careful not to obstruct his mouth or legs. Into the bags went a portion of the food and some pieces of my armor. There weren’t enough rations to get us all of the way, so some hunting would be necessary, but I was fine with that. Any self-respecting traveler was trained with and carried a bow, I was no exception.
Taking out the map I had picked up, I slowly knelt and sat on the ground. I was incredibly stiff and sore from the previous day’s excitement. As I spread the map out on the ground, Metagross peered forward. He seemed to appreciate me putting myself on his level. That was what made us such good partners, we respected each other.
“You know that mountain ridge we had to pass over on our way here?” I asked the Pokémon. “The fellow inside said that the nearest town with an arena is actually inside of it.” I pointed to a small dot, nestled between the inked mountains that split the map in half. In cramped writing was the label “Azurefell.”
“It’s supposed to be smaller than this place, but it’ll do. You ready?”
Metagross gave a loud huff of anticipation and nodded in agreement.
I swiftly rolled up the map and stood, “Well let’s go then.”
The Pidgey’s body twitched slightly as I removed the arrow from its breast. The bird was of decent size, but I would need to get another if I was to sate Metagross’s appetite as well as mine. We had been trekking hard for two whole days, and were making very good time despite the intimidating elevation gain.
It was very difficult to use the bow without my index finger, but after a little bit of practice I got good enough with using my middle and ring fingers above and below the nock respectively. I doubted I would ever be as good of a shot as I used to be, but that was just another consequence of being a battler. At least the pay was good.
Tying the feet of the bird and swinging it over my back, I looked around. The Pidgey’s pre-death squawk seemed to have frightened off any other game. Nocking an arrow, I slowly stood and walked towards a nearby clearing. Maybe I would be able to see something from there.
I closed my eyes as I stepped into the field and listened intently. Off in the distance was the roar of the river that Metagross and I had crossed earlier that day. But other than that, I heard nothing but the wind in the trees and the rustle of grass. A cool breeze brushed against my face, a faint reminder of the approaching twilight.
But when my eyes flicked open, I did see something. A brown dot, growing bigger, flew just above the trees off ahead of me. At last, some luck. Dropping the Pidgey I was carrying, I pulled back the string of my bow and waited for my target to come to me.
But after a second, I realized two things. The dot was much larger than a Pidgey, just farther away, and it was traveling incredibly fast. I slowly lowered my bow and squinted. It was coming from the west, the direction of the setting sun, which caused a nondescript silhouette. What was that?
Mere seconds later, my question was answered. With a flurry of feathered wings and dust, a proud looking Pidgeot landed in the grass not ten meters in front of me. Even more surprising though, was the figure that leaped off its back.
With short brown hair and an athletic figure, she was both young and beautiful, which was surprising as everything else about her appearance hinted that she was a warrior like me. She was clad in hardened leather armor like that of the Lucario owner, but with light metal plates on her chest, back, and arms. She was armed with an exquisitely crafted recurve bow that put my homemade yew weapon to shame. The arrows in the quiver on her back looked to be fletched with Swanna feathers. On the breast of her Pidgeot was a steel plate of armor and on its back was a saddle laden with supplies.
I just stared with my mouth hanging slightly open. There was so much wrong with that picture. She was too young to be a warrior, she was a woman warrior, which is rare, she wielded a bow, which would get her destroyed in a battle unless she rode upon her Pokémon. And that was the last thing. I had never seen anyone tame a flying Pokémon before. As far as I knew, it was completely unheard of.
Luckily, she spoke first. “Are you lost?”
I blinked. To be honest, I had half expected her to challenge me to a battle. “Umm… no. Just hunting. I’m… travelling to…” I paused a second as I tried to recall the name of the town that was my destination. “Azurefell, that’s it.”
“Well, you aren’t far.” She gestured to the mountain behind her. “It’s up there, make it over the next ridge and you’ll see it. Two days if you’re slow.”
“Thanks.” I shifted uneasily on my feet. “What are you, some sort of ranger?”
Before she could answer, we were interrupted by a roar from behind me. With lightning fast reflexes, the girl nocked and loosed an arrow at whatever it was as her Pidgeot gave a cry and flared its wings. I whipped around to see what was attacking us.
“NO!” I screamed. Luckily, the arrow bounced harmlessly off Metagross’ armor-like skin without doing any damage. Seeing a Metagross gallop, or otherwise attempt to move with any sort of haste, is actually quite a humorous sight. At least it is if said Metagross isn’t overly protective and incredibly pissed off, which it probably will be, as there’s little other reason for a Pokémon of that size to move quickly.
“Wait!” I jumped in front of the blue beast and waved my arms. “I’m fine, she’s no threat!”
With a loud huff and deep, throaty growl, Metagross skidded to a halt in front of me. I whipped around to face the Pidgeot rider.
“What the hell did you do that for? Don’t you think?” I yelled.
She looked panicked. Her beautifully crafted bow had been dropped to the ground and she had fallen to her knees.
“Oh my Arceus. I am so sorry. It’s my reflexes, you have my deepest and most profound apology.” But she wasn’t looking at me; she was looking straight at Metagross. This day just kept getting weirder and weirder.
I stood, dumbfounded, as Metagross brushed by me and slowly approached the girl. The Pidgeot fidgeted slightly as my Pokémon moved closer until his deep red eyes were inches from her dull green ones. The girl didn’t flinch. She looked incredibly regretful, but also uneager to show any sort of fear.
We stood for what felt like minutes as the two of them had their staring contest; neither one appeared to blink. Suddenly, Metagross let out one of his loud huffs. The abrupt sound caused the girl to twitch slightly and jerk backward. Confident that he had successfully intimidated his opponent, Metagross retreated to my side rather smugly. I laid a calming hand on his head.
The girl got to her feet and stepped backward next to her Pidgeot. “I have some food if you’d like to join me,” she offered.
I looked down at the ruffled bird that lay in the dirt at my feet and picked it up. “Why not?” I said with a shrug, “thank you.” Metagross growled quietly. I kicked him in the leg.
An hour or so later, we sat around a fire finishing what had actually been a much more filling meal than I had expected. It was now dark and neither I nor the girl, whose name I still didn’t know, had said a word. Our Pokémon just glared at each other over the flames.
Setting down a bone that I had just gnawed clean, I looked at the girl in the flickering firelight. Going out on a limb, I tried to make things a little formal. “Tell me, what’s your story?”
It was a question that held heavy customary significance. Traditionally, that was a question asked only when you were genuinely interested in the answer. Typically it wasn’t something you asked strangers, but I was very curious. Although it may be a bit of a breach of privacy, it was considered very rude not to answer. In return I would have to tell her my story, which wasn’t something I was too worried about. I was a normal person, after all, not some shady character with a mysterious past.
She looked into my eyes, her hands playing absentmindedly with the intricate designs on her unstrung bow.
“Let’s start with names. I’m Matthian,” I said in an attempt to make things a little less awkward.
After a long pause, she started to talk. And once she started she didn’t stop, like she had wanted to talk for a long time but never had the chance. “I’m Avis. I was raised… my brother and I were raised by our father. He was never… is not a particularly pleasant person. Sometimes I think that all he cares about is the money. You see, he raised us to be warriors. At first it was just Vito, my brother. It was harsh training, and my father was unforgiving. I didn’t like listening to the sounds of them battling, so I would go out into the woods. One day I took Vito’s knife with me and started carving. Every day I would carve a new figure of some Pokémon. They were crude at first, but slowly improved. Eventually I found a nice yew branch and carved this bow.” She raised the weapon. “I had always liked archery, but my father refused to let me really learn. He said it was cowardly to fight from a distance and said that I would get torn apart in battle.”
I nodded slightly.
“But I didn’t want to learn so that I could fight. I just enjoyed it.
“So once I finished the bow, I brought a string and strung it. Every day I practiced, until I was very good.”
She paused briefly here and took a deep breath. “Then came Vito’s eighteenth birthday. My father let him compete in his first battle.” Another pause, this one accompanied by a glistening in her eyes. Not a happy glistening. “He lost, and his life was taken.”
I let out a breath, but she continued before I could offer any sort of condolence.
“My father was furious. Not at the opponent, not at the system, not at himself, but at Vito. He said my brother was weak. He said my brother was incapable. He said my brother was… a waste of time. But in his anger, I saw something. Or at least I thought I did. I saw desperation. I saw a man that wanted a legacy, a man that wanted children to support him when he aged.
“I wanted to do something for him. I promised that I would replace Vito and become an expert battler. But he just scoffed and said I would never win, not with my weapon of choice. Maybe he’s right, but that’s when I began working my way toward proving him wrong. The day after Vito’s death, I went out into the forest where I had always sat and carved. There I found Pidgeot.
“I don’t know why, but he trusted me. I did the impossible and befriended a flying Pokémon. I love Pokémon, all of them. They’re so innocent and non-judgmental. They are as pure as creatures can be.
“That’s my story. It’s been years, though. My father has reentered the battling circuit and is very successful. I travel with him, training all the time. Maybe, just maybe, I can prove him wrong.”
I was a bit taken aback. “Where is your father now?”
“Around,” she said, gently stroking Pidgeot. “Possibly getting ready to participate in the upcoming battles in Azurefell. I assume that’s where you’re headed.”
“Then hope that you don’t run into him.”
“How will I know who he is?”
“I think you will know. He’s the one with a heart and mind as cold and sharp as steel.”
She never asked me my story.
* * * * *
Exactly one day later I stood ankle deep in snow, gazing over a frozen lake and up a ridge at the moonlit palisade of Azurefell, where it lay nestled beside the cold belly of the mountain. I was freezing, and Metagross didn’t seem to be doing much better. I contemplated whether we should stop there or hike through the night until we arrived. A thought struck me, and I smiled to myself. “You know what mother would say, Metagross? ‘It’ll still be there in the morning.’ Then father would shake his head and say, ‘Then again, it might not.’” I decided not to take the chance.
* * * * *
Chapter word count: 2,718