t h e a t o n e r ' s h a n d b o o k
When you find yourself possessing nothing, you take things from those who do.So I figured that since this is a one-shot, and that it's completed anyway, I ought to post it here. Feel free to move if I botched that up somehow.
It’s a simple concept, really.
People had been employing the ‘take from the needless, give to the needy’ concept for generations. And now with Orre having a severely indecisive climate shoved down its throat (thanks primarily to the Hell unleashed upon it by Hoenn’s difficulties a few years back), the Needy category had increased dramatically in number. So much so, in fact, that the heroes of the world, those brave men and women who still had some faith in humanity, have pretty much given up on helping the world.
That was their mistake.
When they gave in, so did the rest of the humans. They began to fall, because they were waiting for themselves to fall, and power over the world fell to the only species left.
That would be the Cacturne, i.e. me.
Sand flows through our veins as blood does, so when the sky decides that oh, it doesn’t need to be scorching hot anymore and that it can rain instead, the Cacturne soak up and absorb all the moisture that it brings. And when the sun comes out again, the water in our bodies and the wide-brimmed leaf covering our face makes the days bearable.
For the nights, well, we’re Cacturne. We’ve never had any problems with those.
The desert region of Orre has been sapped entirely of human life – many said ‘screw this’ to the insane climate changes and wisely went to move to a more normal location, like the recovered land of Hoenn. Of course, some didn’t, and they were the ones who got dried up and washed out. Perhaps they thought they could actually live here, with all of their precious Electric-type powers sucked out of them.
We very much wander the country now, knowing that the harsh sun won’t last long enough to dry us up completely before the rains start again. It’s very much a regular cycle, and you do get into the pattern of it.
The sun was sinking low in the sky now, and the temperature was decreasing rapidly. For this I was grateful. Even though it’s hardly necessary with the cooler rainy parts, I’m fairly sure that almost all Cacturne still breathe a mental sigh of relief when the hot day is done. Perhaps it’s instinct, knowing that the beautiful cold is coming, and that you don’t need to walk through more stifling muck trailing water with your footprints.
I looked around.
This was a human settlement here; from past experience I knew it had never been one of the most well-off cities, but now the place looked downright eroded. The sign shoved into the ground declared, in lettering which could be called a form of Unown rune if you squinted and turned your head, declared that this was ‘PIRATE TOWN’.*
The ground was covered either with tightly-packed dirt or a strange type of stone with colored lines spiraling around it. The stone was now cracking, and I figured that it would probably be a better idea to remain on the dirt anyway. Some of the stone pieces had broken off by other scuffles, leaving a few parts sharp and jagged. My feet were accustomed to traveling lightly over unstable sand dunes, not pointy rocks.
Speaking of sand dunes, the rain almost immediately dried up.
I jumped, realizing that I hadn’t set any energy towards collecting moisture. Rapidly I dropped to the stone ground and began tapping my hands in various puddles; even if the water was warm, it was still water, which was better than the dry, cold night ahead.
Truth be told, I shouldn’t have been traveling during the day at all. It was against my nocturnal nature. To be perfectly honest, it was worth it. I would have paid any lack of sleep to get out of the place where I had been before.
Said place was another rock shelter, also abandoned by the previous owners… but for longer than most of the other buildings in the Region. When the human occupants had finally left, a large and tyrannical gang of Pokémon moved in. The few Pokémon who remained in the desert outside of their group were either ‘hired’ or merely killed off; the former method was the way I was pulled in. I figured that with all the stronghold qualities it had, this must be their base; the monsters were most certainly an organization, and they intelligently decided to name themselves after the previous residents – and so was born the Cypher*.
I suddenly became aware that I was not alone.
There was no need to look around, for I could see my stalkers almost immediately; two round Pokémon with beady eyes and rough skin, otherwise known as Sandshrews, were peering out from beside a wall. I regarded them with a little flick of the head, and as if on cue they both gave little squeaks of alarm and dashed back into the shadows.
I disregarded the small, yellow Pokémon and went on my way. No doubt those children had been told sixty times over that strange new Pokémon coming into the city only wanted harm, especially those ferocious Cacturne who will come and stalk you in the night if you don’t be careful.
Not a problem for me – there were nowhere near enough Pokémon to fill in every dark corner of this city, so I could just wander around for the night and take one of those when day comes again. Hate to further mess up my Nincadian rhythm, after all.
The Sandshrews, however, had different plans.
Not much later, I was standing in what looked to be the center of the settlement, surrounded by jeering Sandslashes.
One of them stood closer than the others, his scythes and back-scales long and sharpened to points. His face was covered with scars, and despite myself I thought it was a small miracle he still had working eyes. But he obviously did, as a few seconds later he said, “You.”
“Me,” I replied. “What do you want?”
“You know very well what we want, Rast,” growled one of the other Sandslash.
“Silence!” barked the head Sandslash. He watched silently as the outspoken one sunk back into his imaginary hole before turning back to me. I remained unimpressed by his undoubted mastery over a bunch of spineless rodents. “We know who you are. Don’t try to hide.”
The surprise must have showed on my face, for the Sandslash continued to speak. “Yes, that’s right. You remember us now, do you? …Or don’t you? Oh, for shame, Rast, for shame. Just a few days and you’ve discarded all the memories you’ve ever shared?” He was coming forward again, taking big and lurching steps just to make himself seem more imposing. It worked.
“Ah, there we go,” he said with wicked amusement. “Coming back to you now? That’s right, there we go. Raids… promotions… companions… and Carra…”
As he said the last word, a scythe tore across my chest.
I wasn’t sure which one hurt more.
“Hit a vein?” hissed the Sandslash, reveling in the gash across my midsection. “Touched a nerve?” His clean scythe rose, tapping my lightly on the neck. One tap, then two, knocking against my mostly hollow body. And then, on the third rap, it stayed there. Pressing against my neck, it was made entirely clear what could happen next.
“We all danced in fire,” said Sandslash. He had never asked for a name, not in all of the time we had known one another. “It saddens me that you couldn’t remember until now, Rast… we were such a pair together…”
“We… we were not,” I spluttered, trying to swallow the sand that had trickled into my mouth. The scythe pressed harder.
“Ah, but we were!” said Sandslash, his eyes widening. “There was nothing we couldn’t do. Sandslash and Rast, the Desert Horrors. Those who could fail no mission, the highest goal for everyone who was ever identified with the Cypher. We worked in perfect, perfect tandem. We. Were. Oneeeeeeeeck—”
Unfortunately, his ultimatum was cut short by a green-and-purple object slamming into his gut.
I pulled back my arm from the Sucker Punch, bringing them up to protect my chest and moving one leg backwards. “I see that you haven’t changed a bit,” I told Sandslash, who was now trying to get himself up. He had succeeded only in getting off of his spines and onto his stomach.
“You’re talking like I made some sort of mistake, getting out of that place. Perhaps I did. Perhaps your total lack of a heart made it quite clear that those creatures are the perfect companions for you.” It was now my turn to step forward, holding out an arm that was already charged with a Pin Missile. “But sadly, I’m one of those rare, rare Pokémon who do seem to care about things past their claws. This nature tells me that I made the right choice, no matter how many swipes you take at me…”
He stood up again and stared at me, teeth bared. “Liar!”
“Why are you here now?” I asked, still with my arm loaded. “I’m sure you’re still with those disgusting… things, if you have so many followers now.” I looked around, staring at all of the other Sandslash, who merely stood there like onlookers in a fight. And then I realized suddenly – they were onlookers, because this was a fight. He attacked me, and I attacked him.
Well, we couldn’t disappoint the audience, now could we?
Sandslash’s eyes widened in surprise and amusement. “Rast!” he gasped.
“Surely you must know!” Sandslash waved his claws in some sort of unusual gesture. “Or have you been wandering in the desert for so long that you’ve lost all touch with reality? The Cypher is here! And has been here for years! We’re not just restricted to the area around the base, you know… that was just an outpost! Just as this is another one!”
“I have seen nothing else of their ferocity anywhere in my travels.”
“And have you been in a human city before?”
“So then you’d have no way of knowing!” laughed Sandslash. “You naïve little creature, you had no idea all along! You amaze me with your thickness, you know, Rast. You always did. So willing to believe that the worst was over… that was you.” He stepped closer again. “But guess what? The worst is here. You set foot into our territory after what you did, and your optimism comes crashing down. What happens next, then?” He held his scythes forward again. “Then, just as you realize your mistake… you realize that you’ve been lying to yourself.”
He backed away again, crouched on the ground for some unfathomable reason. “You’re no saint, Rast. You lied to yourself to keep going, to get just to that next city or out of that last dune, and now when it comes to crunch time… well, breezy promises and weak defenses, they come crumbling down!”
“I don’t lie,” I said, swinging my heavy arm in an attempt to knock away his soaring claw. “In my eyes, I am speaking the greatest truth there is!”
He hopped to the ground again, having not landed a blow on me but escaped otherwise unharmed. He stood up there, looking at me solemnly. “I see what happened,” he said in a calmer and more sober tone.
“You do! Good.” I lowered my arms. “So we can—”
“I see what happened,” repeated Sandslash. “You’ve grown delusional in your wanderings across Orre. The weather has worn you down, and now when you’re faced with normalcy you’re beginning to crack! I expected better than that in you, Rast!”
There it went.
Had there still been blood in my body, it would have been boiling; regardless, he had crossed the line now. He had gotten close with Carra – dear, sweet Carra, who had been killed for daring to love another, who had given her own life to save mine from the wrath of the Cypher – but here, here, was it.
The sky gave an almighty roar and almost immediately rain began attacking my head in giant, vicious globs. Let it rain. Let it pester, let it attack. Let it do anything it wanted, because it could try all it could and – guess what? – I’d be too preoccupied to notice. Sandslash hissed again. “Regardless of what I expected, you’re still here. And that is unforgivable…”
And he pounced.
I fired the Pin Missile I had been holding all this time, which met him in the chest. Sandslash chose to ignore it and latch onto my shoulders, scrabbling at my open wound with his hind paws – and they were almost as sharp as his front ones. I bellowed in pain and tossed him to the ground, where he skidded in the dirt and got back up. The other Sandslash cleared a way for him; they knew their reckless leader was going up against his equally reckless rival.
And somehow, I didn’t care about being called reckless.
I lunged forward, another Sucker Punch charged and ready, but he deflected my blow with his rough hide and spun around to slash my arm. By now, sand was tricking slowly out of the gash in my stomach, and if I ran out of that…
There was no time to dwell on what I would do, for almost immediately Sandslash was up again, and in his eyes was the painfully familiar flash of battle. I dropped into a defensive crouch of my own and glared back, entirely unaware of the same glint in my own. He dove for me and landed a jab in my shoulder before I slammed him away with a Needle Arm, which connected perfectly with his soft underbelly.
Once again, he pounced; didn’t he understand that if he kept using that same strategy he would be knocked down every time? Regardless, like a fool, he did it anyway. But this time, instead of diving halfway through to take a whack at my chest or arms, he leaped up higher and delivered a ferociously quick gash to the head-leaf that protected me from the sun. Not willing to take this, I simply reached upward with another Sucker Punch and he was sent flying.
The Pokémon roared angrily as it dropped to the ground. However, he then got up, evidently ready for another attack. He looked at me, with sadness for half a second that I figured I must have imagined; could Sandslash feel emotion anymore?
…Apparently not, judging by his next words. “Attack!”
Immediately the Sandslash woke from their observational state, having been called on to do something actually important instead of sit around and laugh. The group of Ground-types worked as one, as they immediately dropped to their claws and the world became a twirling sea of brown and tan spikes. I tried to hold my ground against them, and even succeeded in knocking a few away; but where their bodies landed, the others moved out of the way to let them through, and they were always on their feet again.
They were soon snapping and scrabbling at my open wounds, only making the sand filter out faster. This wasn’t a good thing. I stared at Sandslash, who was ripping away like all the others.
I croaked, “Why?”
Sandslash looked up at my face, stopping his assault on my leg for just a few heartbeats. Then he turned to his horde and shouted, “Pin him down!” The monsters complied, and almost immediately I was tackled in the face by one of the vicious Pokémon. Naturally, I lost my balance and went tumbling down, where sixty or so pairs of claws held me fast to the hard-packed dirt below. I tried to lash out and get them off of me, but the loss of sand was obviously taking its toll – and besides, I had done enough fighting already.
Sandslash stood on my stomach, right below the gash.
“Rast,” he said. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but for a long time now – since the Separated Seasons came, actually – there have been many needy Pokémon fighting for moral value among us. They have been mostly Trainer’s Pokémon left abandoned in the desert, so used to the just world of the human beings that we must come across as… as beasts, lower life forms than they are.” He paused to let the crowd yell angrily, and then continued. “You are not one of those Pokémon; this I know.”
I nodded, finding myself unable to speak for multiple reasons.
“However, what you must understand is that those foolish Pokémon who still had some faith in their radiant world… they eventually stopped trying quite so hard to transform us into humans with claws and tails. That was their saving grace. When they gave up on changing us, we gave up on changing them, and power fell to whoever managed to live longer. That was the wild Pokémon; i.e., us.”
He paused to let the words sink in.
“You started off well, Rast. But I see that the time alone has changed you, that you have adopted some of the glorified ways of the Trainer’s Pokémon… and when you come barging in and threaten my branch with your preaching and your deceit, there’s only one thing for me to do as a leader.”
He nodded solemnly, and stepped off of my chest. Without his shadow the sun was shining straight into my eyes, but I could make out a vaguely Sandslash-shaped blob looking around and speaking to his horde. I heard what he said, though, and the Sandslash soldiers complied. They leaped forward again.
I wisely decided to take a breath, a final and concluding breath, before the sun was blotted out.
* While they can get the general gist of English lettering from the Unown runes, some of the translations end up with minor errors. But who's there to tell them that?