We had been stillborn. That is the only way I can describe it now, Rillie. The blood of our ancient Sciaenet ancestors had never dried in our veins, leaving us as useless to the colony as those strange ideas like love and freedom. We entered into this red vortex, not being red ourselves, and you and I both knew we were already weaker than the others. Our swords failed to strike first; our bloodlust was not as driven as the others. You knew it as well as I did. We both understood the weakness that suffocated our bodies, these cold steel shells that sprouted from our Hienet, already suffocated herself.
=Warrior,= the assistant nurse had said. So young we were, yet our memories are eternal, as if to punish us with the memory of our slain later on. =R-11: will be fit for battle after instruction.=
That had been you, Rillie. I saw you, and knew that I loved you. The dim light of the birthing well bathed you, as if in Heavenly intent. And there shined your warm amber eyes, your glossy shell. The swords arcing from your midway seemed majestic, as if a graceful glass art. The claws extending from your hands were the sharpest they had seen in decades, beautiful. You crawled out from our Hienet awkwardly already, making a stand in our hell with one leg slightly longer than the other. And there was the proud machete jutting from your forehead, the point the way our brethren would come to differentiate us.
Because I was deformed, they knew which was the stronger of us, the R brothers. Although I had been born ten seconds before you, I was nothing. =Warrior,= the same assistant had said. =R-00:….= She hesitated, taking me in. Whereas you had a graceful figure, with curves arched like scythes, I was little more than trash. I was too big. I don’t want to remember the pain I caused our Hienet. She suffered because of me. Too bulky, not suited for battle, not sharp. My left claw was nothing more than a stub. Most offensive of all, the machete atop my head was rounded. It would be my point of bullying for time to come, Rillie. You remember fighting them off.
=Not suited for battle,= the assistant had declared. The damp mustiness of the birthing well suffocated me with her words.
As if on cue, a monster of our breed approached me. He was what we were supposed to be modeled after: sharp, limitless, bloodthirsty. With his razor-sharp claws, he lunged at me -
=Wait!= our Hienet called. Still caught with one more Pawniard trying to tear its way from her womb, she stopped to defend me. She wanted to help the child she never knew. =He can become stronger! Don’t take him!= A ninety-year-old Bisharp, my mother had eyes like glorious orbs of fire. Now her eyes watered. All the life in her soul was drained as she cried. Over me.
=I won’t let you have him!= she screamed, her shrill voice the second sound I’d ever heard.
She did an amazing thing then, Rillie. What she did stayed in my head for life, a nightmare vision, a heroic hope I thus held onto. She stood up from the birthing counter, her steel boots digging into the wet dirt. With the dim light illuminating her, her steel stomach torn open like a fresh carcass, she moved to attack the assistant’s executioner. She was so lethargic, Rillie. But I remember the passion in her eyes, the dreaded, damned passion that came to empower me.
She knocked down the executioner, one claw thrust between the steel plates on his chest. Her claw sunk into that vulnerable fleshy spot. The blood drained out of the Pawniard, in the same place the blood drained from our Hienet. It was so much, Rillie. Her blood mixed in with his blood until nothing but red existed; the smell of molten steel assaulted our young senses, already perked by the idea of the kill.
When she let his lifeless body fall to the ground, Rillie, the assistant did nothing.
=Woman, R-13,= the assistant merely said as she helped our Hienet force out her third child. That had been enough for our Hienet. I imagine I did the most damage, being so horribly large. We didn’t need instruction to understand the damage bearing had done to our Hienet. Our brethren forced their way out of their Hienets with sharpened knives, cutting right through their chests. The woman body was designed so the children would just barely miss the eternal organs on the way out. But it made no difference, Rillie: a shiny, giant hole was cratered in her chest now, and there was no amount of healing or wishing that could ever close the abyss.
=Child,= our Hienet murmured. For the longest moment of my life, she stared at me. =Son,= she had murmured in a choked whisper. Her eyes were too dull now, seeing nothing but the flashes of her life, of servitude crafted by the colony. She died then, smeared with her own blood like it was a velvet blanket. I remember being frozen by the sound of our Hienet’s last breath.
I remember so little of our sister, the woman. She was slender; if she had to make it through the process our Hienet just went through, she would not manage to make it through her first child. Otherwise, she looked like a tiny version of us. That was all I remembered of her, for in that moment another Pawniard burst through the birthing well to usher our sister away. Rillie, do you remember all of this? It’s the story of how we were introduced to our hell. It’s our good-bye of our Hienet, of all the memories of this day that were stretched in the hands of childhood imagination.
Another assistant brethren came to escort us out of what was supposed to be a sanctuary, the birthing well. The sheets of blood caked on us from our Hienet’s body would be washed away, and then instruction would begin.
=FASTER!= our instructor’s voice had boomed into our ears. My lungs threatened to explode by now; the steel weighing down my soul had no business housing our heavy bodies. But still the instructors yelled at us as we jolted down the muddy practice field. This was a place inside the colony where the warriors were chosen for battle. There were many filters in the hierarchy: birth, before the hunt, and the hunt itself. Each proceeding filter’s drains enlarged, absorbing more and more of our brethren into the abysmal place called death.
=Brother, hurry,= I remember wheezing through choked breaths. A whole line of our brethren raced across the ten-mile, muddied track. Those who finished last would be filtered out, no chance to make it to the hunt. There was no light illuminating our way except for dim torches; my vision, marred by sweat and mud, was poor to me. Patches of mud shot onto my steel body, threatening to slow me down even more.
Yet still I looked for you, Rillie. You were falling behind: the slightly shorter left leg caused you to limp. You had already fallen three times by that point, huge clumps of mud sticking to your face and chest. You had pushed on like a machine, your breath catching, almost obsolete.
=FASTER!= the instructor yelled again. They were situated at posts on this great wall that barricaded us into the colony. I never dared look up at them, for I imagined them with huge weapons aiming right for the soft spot between our chest plates.
When they yelled that dreaded word once more, my body wanted to surge into an even faster sprint. We were nearing the eight-mile mark now; our brethren were beginning to become desperate. These are the sounds I never wanted to remember: the dry screech of sheer desperation, of our brethren latching onto each other. They shoved their dirtied swords into each other, killing the competition.
Rillie, I loved you.
I turned around in my stride, my legs threatening to buckle under the exertion. Moist mud clung onto my feet, but I was already racing towards you. Sensitive ears registered that the instructors shouted at me, wondering what I was doing. This was not the way of the Pawniard. The weakest had to go. But they had yet to realize that I was the weakest of all.
One of our own brethren readied himself to pounce on you. I remember that blurry moment as if it were happening now: the metamorphic, thrashing red-and-grey figure that wanted to destroy you. There was no time to think; our Sciaenet blood had awoken in me, willing me to use powers that weren’t warranted for destruction.
As I raced towards you, I unleashed this power: my voice box cranked open, so largely and painfully that I thought my throat would crack in two. A huge screen of screeching cut the damp, rainy air, aimed right towards the enemy. Months later, I would understand that it was called Metal Sound. Our betraying brethren skidded off into the mud.
But then again, he hadn’t betrayed us. He needed to do what he was about to do to survive. We’re all just trying to survive, Rillie. There is no justice. There was no justice when our instructor would behead the fallen Pawniard.
We had no time to think about that, back then. I was the bigger one, and I loved you. You scrambled onto my back, the weight of my world on my shoulders. With a huge gasp of air, everything in my lungs, I lifted myself off the mud once more. I sprinted towards the end, willing my legs not to fall off, as blood surged through my hurting heart. We managed to reach the end point by nary two seconds, barely reaching the cut off by then. The straggler, the loser, and all others after him fell to a fate called decapitation.
=Roger,= you murmured to me before our two-hour nap. Two hours until the next round of training. Two hours until the next filter.
These voices were nothing but mumbles, impossible to discern without a practiced ear. Being born without mouths meant that we were never meant to have a voice.
Our napping stations in the colony were cold. Everything in the colony was cold. Our whole personal space was no more than what we could stand in; thousands of mud-compacted stations were crammed into this wall of the colony. Above us was the terrifying mud ceiling that I swore would crush us all one day. Next to us on either side were only more stations for our brethren. Between that, sheer cold pressed its entity against us, making me swear against my own steel being.
=Brother?= I asked. My voice was nothing but the wisp of a whisper. Few whispers went around at this time of night; the instructors would berate us for not sleeping during our sleeping time. More frightening than that, I had noted that the whispers decreased each and every day for the past ten days of our existence. Our brethren were slowly dying. Only those strong enough for the hunt would remain.
=R-00, Roger. Our Hienet…she called you Son.= He paused for a moment. His station was right next to mine; my brother had bullied another out of that space so we would remain together. I did not look back on that moment with regret. There would come far greater offenses that I would commit myself on our brethren. But my brother and I needed to be with one another. The need for unity was foreign among our kind.
And there, in the musty air that clung to our tongues, you gave me my name. I played with the sounds in your name for what felt like hours. Your namesake would be crucial to me; I wanted to differentiate you from the branding the colony stamped onto you. We were intelligent then, too. Instruction was only for battle; the brilliant-rainbow rays of intelligence began shining through our blood-driven brains. Rillie, I hoped that that all our brethren were capable of this intelligence. I hoped we were capable of peace. Reason. Love, in my deepest dreams.
=Rillie,= I had whispered, and then felt incredibly dumb. You had said nothing in return; it felt like forever before you made a slight approving sound with your deep voice. And then the greatest event followed. I couldn’t see it, but our ears could perceive the sound of a pin dropping. I heard your arms move in the absolute darkness, following the swishes your body left in the still air. You held your hands up in two sharp and shiny parallel lines before crossing your arms together in an X and releasing them. It became my most important memory. Minutes later, your breath deepened. I leaned my head against the wall where you stood on the other side, sleeping with your eyes open, ready to battle, just like they had taught us.
Rillie, how do you mark our existence? Do you try, impossible as it was, to forget how long minutes and years lasted, like I? Or did you memorize our world with moments? Either way, Rillie, there was no way we could forget. The way we stuck to each other through every filtering, every beating. The way our fellow brethren almost clawed my rounded horn out – that bloody, sticky mess – the way you made me believe it was ok to go on after that. The way the instruction battered us all down until we were nothing but the same apathetic entity. Our awakening awaited in some distant place away from here.
At the cusp of one year into our existence, our desensitization, we were finally ready. We awoke as if it was any other day. Neither the cold air of our station that slapped us was new nor were the howls of the instructors as they commanded us to report to our place in the colony. The dull, perpetual darkness in the colony was normal as well as the mud that made up our existence. The stale air was a norm too. We were normal too – at least three feet taller now, five for me, Rillie. Our heads stabbed the tops of our stations with dull thuds as we made our way out, two of the remaining one-hundred Pawniard to do so.
=Brother, I am afraid.=
I understood you. Being born hunters, we came with the ability to ironically sense danger. Danger lurked in the air, twirling its dark tendrils towards where we were, ready to suffocate us. I patted you gently on the head, Rillie. Your perfect, steel form was cooling and comforting under the side of my claw. You had comforted me so many times in our brief existence, and I can never, not even now, repay you enough for what you provided me in those times.
=TURN LEFT, INTO THE RIGHT CORRIDOR.= Our instructors were particularly loud this morning. Coating their voices was something I didn’t understand. Their pitches were higher, almost lauding us as we trekked through the hallway we never saw before. My body tightened; my arms poised out. They had been notably creative with the filters in the past few months. And I was ready like I always was, ready to protect my brother, ready to protect all the progress we’d made in these brutal days.
A monstrosity assaulted my eyes! Here it was, the threat I was waiting for! Albeit I admit that it was like one I had never before imagined: the enemy this time burned my steel to the touch. I could feel my cold innards beginning to boil on the inside in an ubiquitous assault. Where was my enemy? My eyes strained to find him – a brilliant color flooded my vision, one I had never seen before, and I lashed out violently at the perpetrator.
=CALM, R-00. THAT IS SUNLIGHT,= a rough voice whispered to me. I had never before heard my birth name outside of the assistant nurse and my brother. I tore my gaze away from the assaulting attack, stupefied.
An instructor stood before me. His kind was the Bisharp, almighty and separated from our kind. His form was that of my Hienet – and for this, I immediately respected him. He towered over me, a slender mass of steel. The deep-set eyes in his rusted yellow face were slightly shielded by his helmet, demonstrating the look of cold authority. His metal plates were lower and stronger than my own. Two strong, red legs jutted from the cusp of his lower metal plate. And finally, there was the unmistakable aura of perfection whirling around him.
He was perfection to my kind. He existed in an exalted state we were all expected to strive for should we live to service our colony.
=I AM M-12, AND YOU WILL BE IN MY QUANAM.= M-12 did something uncharacteristic of our kind: he pressed a claw on my shoulder, sending shivers running through me. He left my brother and I then, motioning for us to continue in the way he had originally instructed us before.
The beast he named sunlight grew stronger and stronger in its assault. Three miles down our journey, and I was no longer sure if the material we stood on was mud. In fact, this new material pricked my steel feet. I glared down at it, shocked; the ground had never once attacked me! But the material was long, skinny, and green, stacked together in hordes until the whole ground grew under my touch. I grabbed Rillie and held him close, my body covering his like a shield.
=KEEP WALKING,= M-12 reported, yet not roughly. With your hand tucked into mine, we followed our path. You asked me what this was, where we were going - and I felt my heart drop as if we were to die. The green enemy multiplied rapidly before us, scratching our feet as we kept on. The air grew warmer with the so-called sunlight, until I knew we were walking into the sun itself.
Our brethren stopped abruptly. We stood in a giant cavern now, with this sunlight staring us down from the arched, thin mud ceiling up above. The design on the ceiling was intricate, as if it was written by someone even higher than our Bisharp forms. Twenty Bisharp, one for each Quanam, stood silently on the top of an enormous pedestal. They judged us from here. Choosing the five Pawniard for their Quanam, even now we would be filtered out once more.
=How many of us are left?= you asked in a hushed whisper. Our brethren crowded around us, silent, yet anxious as I. The tension could be felt in the air; already jaundiced eyes that had seen too much darted towards the weaker-looking of us, ready to pounce on another if that meant survival or the quickest way to reach the exit of this cavern. I felt their eyes landing on my rounded horn like twin bombs. This was nothing new.
=Maybe one-hundred,= I whispered back to him. There must have been thousands of us to start with when we had came into this world.
The grand pedestal our higher ones stood on began rising with a holy noise that filled the cavern like a heavenly breath. Without hesitation, I hunched forward, like all the others. Yet even that could not brace me for the divine presence that suddenly pushed me to my knees. My head wanted to explode with the overbearing need to submit, an emotion I had never experienced that wrapped around me, comforted me. It was as if somebody dumped all rational thought in my mind and replaced it with the need to give up my existence for some higher being I could not possibly comprehend. I fought against it as hard as I could. From the corner of my eye, I noticed my brother being forced to do the same. Trembling knees felt like they would fall off, for an omnipresent gravity had us all pushing our bodies to the ground in a serval bow.
When my eyes finally looked up once more, our exalted ones had risen. They stood together in a red circle that utterly frightened us and we had no choice but to listen. All together, they chanted, =WELCOME TO THE HUNT. WE LIVE TO FEED AND SERVE THE KING.=
We did not eat. Our grey organs inflated and deflated indefinitely, fueled only by our instinct to survive. These steel bodies came with a set amount of blood with a set amount of nutrients that multiply in proportions as we grow and suddenly stop: should we lose enough nutrients or blood through battle, there is no replacement. We simply die. And this is why I wondered who this King was, and how he ate. I did not live to serve him. I knew this in my heart, but before I had the chance to think about this with my brother, the Bisharp had lurched from their pedestal. With a speed alien to us, they rounded us up, five Pawniard for each Bisharp who led a Quanam. My world blurred before me in shades of red and grey as Bisharp rounded up their Quanam - and I lost sight of Rillie -
=QUANAM, PREPARE YOURSELF. WE HUNT FOR THE KING NOW,= M-12 suddenly boomed from behind me. I followed M-12 towards the shimmering portal that led us to the hunt. To the outside world.
There comes years where we do not live. We exist, but can not fully wrap our cold claws around the idea of life; and I understood now, as the giant crater closed behind us, as I left my life behind, as I lurched forward to something greater than I could ever know. The heat of the sun seared me to fuel that primitive desire to secure my kill - I bounded forward with my Quanam like a rusted comet. The grass became nothing but a green smudge against the blue overhead. The stimuli threatened to overload my senses, sounds and sights that I was only now experiencing, yet my mind honed in on the traces of our prey.
We were born.
=STAY IN FORMATION,= M-12 commanded over my thumping lungs. He ran, one step compared to my three, right to my left; to my right where four other brethren, some who had tried to kill me in the past. It mattered little any more. We were the colony and the colony was us; it was our job to take the kill to the King. This was our honor. So we ran in step for minutes that blurred into miles, burning through the grass behind us like wildfire.
=SENSE IT, MEMORIZE IT, TRACES OF LIFE,= he murmured. I sensed it before he announced it: the sudden, heady scent that wafted towards us. A strange sound followed, sneaking into my armor and bouncing around the hollow spaces in odd, pleasant vibrations. When I looked ahead, I saw two alien creatures in the distance. One, a brute of a beast, loomed over the other in a strange, protective way. I had never before seen creatures besides my species yet I could recognize something special in the manner the larger creature fawned over the younger one. They reminded me of Rillie and I in a vague way, but I could not place how.
=R-00! PAY ATTENTION! I’LL KILL YOU SHOULD YOU GIVE A SECOND’S MORE DELAY.= His voice had already faded by the time it hit me, like his sentence took a sharp bend in the other direction; and I looked, foolishly, to see that my Quanam had already split up and reared for the kill. Being a group of five, we naturally knew to form a pentagon shape in which each of us was ten meters away from our target. We existed for this moment, and I eagerly raced forward to take my place. Once settled, the world calmed and I analyzed my target.
When the world stopped spinning, the sun seemed lighter as it gently fell upon the gigantic iron heap and her child; spread the sun’s reflecting light off their grey bodies until they themselves glowed. They ignited the sun with their notions of affection, the larger creature cooing over the baby cradled in her tail. An enormous jaw cracked open, revealing five rows of teeth made to tear our bodies apart; yet it is between these teeth that a soft tongue lolled out of her mouth to wipe her baby’s body clean. Atop the mother’s head, a gigantic and spiked helmet, slightly cracked and indefinitely scarred, craned in closer to the child. Four mighty limbs, each the size of tree trunks, were wrapped in rings of impenetrable steel, ready to defend.
Time slowed. The seed of my eagerness spoiled so a weed sprouted in its wake, a mangled and pained truth that seized all my limbs and forced me to stop. Its roots found their way to my heart and squeezed until I bled internally: I could not kill.
Time knew no limits though my impatience seemed to anger it. Before my realization even hit, the other four of my Quanam already sprinted from the corners of the pentagon. Swaying across the grass in an ominous wind, they lurched forward without acknowledging my stupefied stopping. Comprehension all but left me as a cacophony of screams burst through my ears. I understood only this: the other Pawniard announced their battle cry as they sprinted towards their prize. The mother retaliated and shattered my heart with a roar that could break open the earth I had just begun to know. Worst of all was the scream of her child, who ducked into his mother’s iron tail.
=R-00,= he stated in a voice too horrifyingly calm for one about to murder, =YOU HESITATE. YOU HAVE NO PLACE IN OUR BATTLEFIELD OR OUR COLONY.=
His words sunk into me as his body flung into mine; then the world became a bifurcated orb of green and blue as I spun onto the grass. My training instincts took over as I steeled myself: in his daring yellow eyes I saw my death. Immediately, I bounced to my boots and flung my stubbed hand at him as hard as I could between the plates upon his chest. Baffled, his face became two parts rage and one part pity. It soiled me to my stomach and I threw my head back, hurling my body right in the middle of his with all my anger. Even in a time of crises I could not save myself because of my deformity!
Yet it is because of my deformity, a horribly large stature, that M-12 fell to the ground. His body skidded in the grass with a sizzling sound but I didn’t bother to heed to it; the two rings of blood left by his chest on mine burned through me, a warning. I let my gaze lower to the ground as I raced away from him, trembling legs betraying me as a killer.
Their target, the metal monstrosity, was making quick work of them. She propelled my brethren off her body like bugs, sending one soaring miles away. Her enraged roars were atavistic, the sounds the should have awoken my need to devour her; yet in this moment of destruction, her desperation shined through the muck until I knew what she felt. Strange as that sounds, my eyes connected with her eyes, deep galaxies swirling with hope, as she continued to scream and launch my brethren off her. She seemed to ask me, in that moment, if I could stop this madness. Something told me I could.
But it was either her or me. Now was my chance to redeem myself: from some distant corner of my detached sense I heard M-12 arise. He would surely kill me. If I left this world, I could not be certain that Rillie could defend himself. It was not mine but his life that I cared for.
I made my decision.
Throwing thought aside, I sprinted forward. My steps in the ground were heavy thuds that I would have to carry with me for a lifetime. And then my physical body surged onto her head, and I closed my eyes. I had to. I needed to. I hurt. I was hurting her. My soul and consciousness that I was cursed with fled my body before what I did next. Thrusting my sharp claw into her mouth I screamed with a voice that was not mine. The warm liquid, blood, sprayed onto me as I flung my arm back and forth. It was maniacal. I became a maniac. All sounds all but faded away: the cheers of my Pawniard brethren scratching my eardrums, the misery of the Aggron as she tried her hardest to dislodge me, her head thrown back in agony. Existing only, lasting forever in my memory, were her fading heartbeat and the murmuring of her child.
When I forced my eyes open, the pool of blood I’d created, that I’d extracted from her innocent body, lay before me. Her teeth became drenched and tainted in it. I felt like I was drowning but I couldn’t be sure, for the mother began to spin her body around at such a velocity I wanted to drown. My legs were flung about in the air, and it is only with my claw so plunged into her pink flesh that I held on. Closing my eyes again, my last sight was of that pink tongue that had caressed her baby only minutes before. The tornado of spinning stopped and the dropping of a solid sound anchored me to reality. I had sawwed her jaw completely off.
With this, my brethren scampered off her limbs. They drowned me in cheers that I could not hear. Falling next was the mother’s body, landing on top of her still-poised tail in an unnatural way. The blood created by my brutality soaked the ground in a stain I knew could never be purged.
=GOOD JOB R-00. YOU’VE EARNED YOUR PLACE ONCE MORE.= M-12’s voice was as clipped as when he had informed me of sunlight. He walked up to me, placing his claw on my shoulder so I had to relive that horrible moment. I wondered if this was how I had to live.
I collapsed to my knees. I would never be able to bear the weight of her life on my hands. 793 pounds compacted in a seven-foot body. Even heavier was her child, who crawled out from under his dead mother. He prodded at his mother’s still body with a blackness so empty in his huge eyes I would be lost in them forever. Forever.
I could not live after this. I did not watch as my brethren dismantled her body, cutting her up into pieces manageable enough to escort back to the colony. I did not hear the birds that cried overhead with misery over this tragedy. I did not smell the molten steel as they placed bits of her bleeding head atop my back without waiting for me to acquiesce. I did not feel the stabbing grass beneath my boots or the wind pressing me back as we ran back to the colony, as if making me retreat and atone for the sin. For all I know, my heartbeat stopped.
Her baby cried.
=Rogerson! Rogerson! They said you killed a huge one, all by yourself! Your Quanam talked about it all night!= Rillie’s excited voice droned on. I was lucky I could not see him in these mud-compacted quarters. The cold air and must of mud clung to me, and I felt as dirty as it smelled. Compared to the outside world, our prison truthfully spoke to me now as a hell.
I ignored what he said, but he continued on. =They say that you might even have what it takes to become a Bisharp! You should have seen the King devour your kill! I think he’s very pleased with you!= He had never spoken so much in our lives. I was horrified that his excitement brimmed from the destruction I had caused.
=Rillie? Were you ok on the hunt today?=
He seemed irked by something in my tone. =Yeah, I did ok! I helped take down an arm from a creature!= I could hear the grin in his voice.
=No,= I began, almost impatiently. =Were you ok with...what happened? What you saw?=
=Rogerson? What is it that you ask?=
=Brother...what does it mean to murder?=
Silence stretched between us as we stood there. The next hunt was hours away.
With an insanity I could not ignore or place, I bounded out of my quarters. It was not time for the next hunt; the whole colony hummed as the others rested. An odd naughtiness and sense of upset pervaded my senses as I broke the pattern of our lives. Yet I could find no rest. My legs willed me to move forward silently, using my training to sweep across the colony. The faint traces of the sun from earlier, my first meeting with the kind friend, guided me towards where the portal was in warm hints. I could not see the King. I could not focus on anything except for the ancient script scrawled across that ceiling. Briefly, I wondered if it was a foretelling of some kind. I wondered if it had my life’s fate scrawled somewhere among the miniscule and practiced font.
Like this, I crawled into the outside world. The sun too had gone to find solace. And it its wake, a twin counterpart guided my path: a white sphere cradled between clouds illuminated the grass in a pearly shine. In innocent excitement, I began running. I knew where I wanted to go, yet I had not the slightest idea of how to reach this destination; my mind told me to return on a number of occasions. But I still powered forwards. I enjoyed the instances of life that popped all around me in bubbles. All was well.
Where my feet took me immediately opened a fresh wound deep within me. I stared, stricken with my stupidity, at the clearing where I had decapitated the creature merely hours ago. The blood remaining, licked dry by other creatures, left splotches of dark shades in the purity of the grass. A glint caught my eye before I could force myself to run in the other direction, forget what I had done. This had only been my first hunt, that which I survived and beaten others down to get to. Yet I wanted no more of it.
I focused my eye on the glint before a pained realization came to haunt me. The glint belonged to a helmet, scarred with a lifetime of battling, that had belonged to the mother. I had no idea why my feet moved towards it. Bending down, I appreciated it. The jagged cracks, so rough under the stub of my claw, revealed that the mother had battled tougher enemies than me before. It was at least half my size, and the twin spikes extending from either end made it seem menacing even now. Luckily, the helmet retained not a drop of blood from the fight.
Shaking slightly, a soft murmur called from the confines of the helmet. I lifted it gingerly: there, the baby from earlier wriggled under my shocked expression. I could not hide my relief when I noticed that the blackness that invaded its eyes earlier was gone; in its place were twin oceans that swirled and scintillated under the moonlight. His body was too small: small enough for me to cup comfortably on my stub of a hand as I lifted him up. His four little legs wiggled while a spike atop his back suggested he could look as menacing as his mother one day. Perfect circles that spread across his body gave him a crafted look while his soft iron hide glimmered. He was perfect.
=Aggron.= A soft and distorted voice drew me out of my appreciation. The baby’s voice spoke from deep within the center of his body, booming with an omnipresence that invested my whole being. =Momma’s name is Aggron.=
A shiver jolted through me as I considered this. Rillie, Pawniard, M-12, Bisharp, King: these were the only names I knew. These had been the only living things I knew up until today. But then I learned the names of the sun, the grass, the wind...were they living too? Aggron. She had definitely lived.
=You’re not safe here.= I thought about the next hunt. I could not bear to imagine what would happen if mine or the other Quanams came this direction with the baby in plain sight. They had exempted him today in face of the larger kill, but if they spotted him now...
=Then take me home!= he replied with such an alacrity in his voice that I stopped to stare at him. His light eyes held onto something, a secret I didn’t want to know. But when I hesitated, he kept speaking. =My name is Aron! Yours?=
=Rogerson,= I replied, quirking my head.
=Ok Rogerson! I want to go home. I’m not supposed to tell your kind where home is, but I trust you. You’re not like the others. You’re nothing like the others.=
I had not the slightest understanding of what he meant. Words escaped me; I wanted to express my sorrow at what I had done to him and his mother. Yet a happiness bubbled up from him that contradicted what had happened. I could not even begin to wrap my head around his latter statement. It was as if he spoke in a language I could not understand while hiding more of his sentences behind the secret lost in his eyes. I thought there was only one way to communicate.
=Hurry up!= Aron commanded. Taking an order from a child, I bolted towards the direction he vaguely pointed at. I raced towards the moon and thought that if the sun burned me up close, the moon might freeze me. It was with this thought that I clutched Aron closer to me subconsciously. With the strange bouncing sound that he had made earlier with his mother, Aron looked up at me with a lively emotion jumping in his eyes. When I asked him about it, he called it laughter.
=I need to return soon,= I huffed through my sprints. I felt foolish as soon as the words vibrated through my armor. I did not stop. The scenery blurred before my eyes; the swaying grases grew drunk, so much that their elongated leaves knotted each other in clumps with the wet mud that splashed across my boots. Nestled in the mud were a thousand flowers, so varied in colors I learned in that moment what a rainbow was. I began to fear my surroundings as this mud gave way, making me slip hard on my face at least twice. Refreshing water met my armor and I continued on.
=But that’s it, I knew it!= Aron replied. He thumped against my chest, as if he wanted to give a victory jump. =You need to leave me, but you won’t. You just won’t. You hurt Momma, but you didn’t want to. I know you didn’t. You’re unhappy by what you did. I’m not ‘ascared of you. So I trust you!=
=What?= I instinctively replied back. Putting together the words he said still left me in a jumbled mess. But the second I wanted to question him, he beat me with more words.
=Roger, Roger! We made it!= he exclaimed, a bomb of energy. He rested his wiggling legs on the spot between my chest plates. I felt the soft vibrations upon my heart.
Where had we made it? My breathing picked up its pace as I beheld that before us: a colossal pink conch curved its way through the clouds and reached further still. Filling me with more questions, it baffled me with its rusted, golden glow. From the serene water it sat upon, clear as glass, a fire burned into the shell in a surreal mix of blue bubbles that exploded from somewhere at the top of the shell. Fog followed, partially obscuring this mystery until I memorized it, sure that it would disappear before my eyes. A pinkness from inside swirled into its many curves like a flower’s petals, though on the shell that rippled with a thousand sharp thorns was something more interesting. Some small font wound its way across the shell. I scrutinized it, immediately connecting it to the font at the colony’s -
=Rogerson?= a tiny voice asked. =You shouldn’t get so close.=
Catching my breath, I realized that my body was already two feet into the serene water. This movement sent waves through pool, disturbing its purity; off drifted clumps of dirt from my legs that settled to the smooth pebbles edging at my soles. I felt guilty for this action, and looked up.
At the lip of the conch stood even more creatures. A tiny alien, as big as Aron but taller with the shield upon his forehead, whimpered as it took in my image. Another alien, a huge red Bisharpanoid with two huge claws as either of its hands, roared when it saw me. The sound sent me backing away from the pool and it was not until I heard a whimpering in my arms that I stopped.
=It’s ok, Rogerson! I take it back! You can stay! You can meet us! You’re different! I’ll tell them!= Aron’s voice was filled with desperation and it struck me from every corner of my being. Without another second, I set Aron into the cool water and an emptiness filled my arms. I disregarded this. My heart spiked. My limbs felt like they were no longer attached to me, my torso aching as emotions incinerated my ribcage, straight to my heart.
=Goodbye, Aron,= I weakly said as I forced myself to run back to where I came from. This sprint was not jovial as others had been. Something ignited me. My legs tripped over each other time and time again until I knew this emotion was going to overcome me and my body was going to explode into a million pieces - no other way could describe this nonsensical feeling from this ludicrous place, though I tried. It hurt, knowing I somehow needed to go back: not only because of Aron, but because of that shield monster and the claw monster though they were ready to hurt me. Every monster in that conch needed me.
Purpose filled me for the first time in my life.
Fanatically, I made it back into my station with mere minutes to spare. Sparse breaths bounced across my armored walls but I tried my hardest not to heave. Everything jingled within me and I tried to focus on other things. The pattern life created by the colony had been perpetual for years; and as such, I expected the gentle rustling of steel upon steel next to me as my brother arose. I offered him a good morning and he did the same, like every day of our existence except for our birth date. He calmed me in that moment. Tucking the questions into the back of my mind, I smoothly walked out of my station and grasped my brother’s claw.
=Rogerson! I’m excited for the hunt today!= He bent his head towards mine in a sudden display of affection. His head rested in the nook created by my shoulder, in a way that his horn barely graced my figure. All the warmth of him seeped into my steel, tickling me. Emotions arose from within me: I realized I could do little but hold him. The one who fought for me when I needed him - the one who lived with me to see the day we’d make it to the hunt. My brother.
=I’m excited for every day! We’ve really done it now!= I inwardly cringed at this. We had lived to this day...but for what purpose? Dread overtook me in a cold sweat as I realized that I had no belonging here. It crushed me.
=Hurry, before we’re late, Rillie,= I tacked on in clipped voice. Rillie analyzed me for a minute, saying nothing more, as we headed towards the portal hand-in-hand. Growing tighter upon my stub of a claw was his grip. Guilt reared its ugly head. I could not explain what I had seen or how I had snuck out; I had inwardly promised this to Aron for his safety. I could explain what I felt when I murdered Aggron, but how would my brother react to this? A thousand scenarios ran through my head and I shook it to banish them. Fear - I could never tell him.
After we swore our oaths once more to the King, the Pawniard separated into their Quanams. I noticed that the serval need that had possessed me yesterday was not present today; my eyes were fixed upon the ceiling though I pretended. This small act of defiance empowered me. And I burned when I recognized that this was the same script present on the conch shell. How were they connected?...How was I connected with them?
=TODAY,= M-12 announced before we leapt out of the portal, =I WILL BATTLE R-00 FOR CONTROL OF THE QUANAM. IF HE KILLS ME, HE WILL BE YOUR NEW LEADER. IF I KILL HIM, OUR QUANAM WILL BE DEFICIENT ONE WARRIOR UNTIL AN ADEQUATE PAWNIARD IS BORN. THE KING HAS REQUESTED SUCH.
=THE REST OF YOU WILL KILL THE NEAREST PREY, LIKE NORMAL.=
He spoke in such a monotone that I did not register what he said until I caught the petrified look plastered upon my brother’s face. Rillie’s yellow eyes clouded with such a fury a mustard bomb could have been concocted in either eye at that moment. He snarled, a sound so vicious an obscure pride piked from within me.
=You are a Bisharp! He is only a Pawniard! What game do you play?!= he screamed.
The events following flashed by without a second to mark them. Rillie leapt towards M-12 and my heart went with him. A snarl. A crash. A fight. That was it - a fracturing fight where bodies are slung into the mud walls and fall without a soul left in the discarded steel. A fight was occurring to my brother right at this moment and my body was frozen to the spot. When I could register the first fact, my senses honed into the atrocious gargle of steel being torn into two. Sparks erupted through the air and for some reason, I thought of fire: that which devours all until we either die or become something more. The fire that I saw at the conch shell.
When I registered the second fact, it was too late.
I had done nothing for him.
The truth I cannot run away from. I cannot take away life. Never again. The second fact...
I would have let him die.
M-12 lurched over my brother’s fallen body, his elbow drawn dangerously back, rearing for the kill. Black blood dripped from his other bracer, the molten material seeping far into the ground I wanted to disappear into forever. A puncture wound, a hole big enough to fit my rounded horn through, sawwed through Rillie’s head as an eternal reminder of his defeat. Ripped steel stuck up through his head in jagged spikes, from which irreplaceable nutrients drained.
We do not have brains. No meaning exists for thinking. We do not have hearts. No purpose exists for happiness. We do not process love.
But the glare Rillie glued onto me burned into my memory and broke my heart forever and ever.
=COME. I WILL BATTLE YOU OUTSIDE WHILE THE OTHERS HUNT.= I had not the inkling of a thought as to what I could say. I wanted to scoop Rillie into my arms. To crack open my own head with twice as big as a wound so I could give him the nurtients he had lost from my own body, that was all I wanted. Then I could smooth down the spikes somehow, though his perfection had at that point been ruined for the rest of our lives. I wanted to somehow express why I stood there so stupidly while he was on the verge of death. No words existed for such.
No time remained as M-12 seized me and threw me out of the portal, leaping after me with a supernatural speed.
Infuriation arrived so late; it was only by the time the wind whipped past me and my boots sunk into the cold ground that agony struck. Every nerve ending within me tingled, telling me to clutch M-12 by the neck and beat him down until he knew a fraction of the pain he caused Rillie. However, when we landed outside, he ran. The murderer would not stop when my screams soared from me. Punching midair afforded me nothing but exhaustion; the maniac merely ran on as he dodged my every move. A thick, red haze fell over my mind as the only thing left was the need to take away what he had done. Yet he ran on, breezing past the billowing leaves that sparkled like emeralds with the sun’s reflection. M-12 could not be caught. I could not catch him.
=Why,= I finally squeezed out, =do you run? Why do you not fight me?= Rillie had fallen because of me. This was the battle he had sacrificed himself for, and I would not let his blood go to waste. So I kept sprinting after M-12, unable to understand why he would not fight me. Why did he run? He had wanted this; he was another clone like the rest of our brethren, bred to either fight or procreate. Was this a fight in terms of endurance?
Traditionally, this was not what we had learned during instruction. A Quanam’s leader, a Bisharp, was replaced when a Pawniard killed him. This too was another filter. A Bisharp that fell at a Pawniard’s strike proved blatantly too weak to carry out the leadership role of leading the hunt. These fights were rumoured to last days at a time. If the advancing Pawniard claimed victory, he would be transformed to his higher state to serve the colony. If the former Bisharp were to win, the Pawniard advancer would die. Neither were remembered.
Throbbed my lungs against my armor. It set a sound thumping through my casing as I discerned the crackle of a stream nearby, birds calling overhead. Mud splashed upon me in splatters, all the way to my chest but I continued, allowing myself to concentrate on the calming vines that draped down above us. Flowers dotted my blurred vision in pretty specks as the air became more refreshing. A maudlin sentiment suddenly overtook me over my exhaustion and I knew where we would end up in minutes.
=Stop!= I wheezed.
=I KNEW YOU LEFT THE COLONY YESTERDAY. YOU WERE HEADING IN THIS DIRECTION.= His voice sliced through me as sharply as a razor’s wind. Worry racked my body from head to toe; desperation blended into fury until my steel forehead bended together in a snarl. I could not betray Aron. I knew so little of the creature, yet I needed to protect him. I needed to safeguard the existence of all those aliens I saw at the conch. This atavistic purpose drove me as hard as the need to protect Rillie, so I opened my voice box as far as it could bear. Funneling into my throat was a furious wind that left me dry; yet an energy began building, the same energy I used to save Rillie all those months ago.
Before I could unleash my Metal Sound, a chained hand fell upon my jaw and cranked it shut. Like that, the energy died within me as I flipped over with the sudden impact of the stop. A whoosing filled my ears and I landed on my behind, sore but scrambling to my feet to finish this fight.
=WHY DID YOU NOT KILL ME?=
M-12 looked upon me. No sign of exhaustion betrayed him; his lauded form, polished, glistened as it caught the kissing reflection of the sun above. It almost seemed to set him afire, and I guarded my eyes like a weak new born.
=I HAD YOUR BROTHER, THE ONE YOU NAMED RILLIE, READY TO KILL. YET YOU DIDN’T EVEN MOVE TO ATTACK ME,= he pressed on. I ascertained a curiosity in his voice I had never known; gone was the exterior level of cold dominance, replaced by a warmer wondering. I heaved, my chest plates rising and falling in an uneven pattern that my mind played upon.
I didn’t answer him. The shame radiating off me was enough to burn the vines teasing my feet to a crisp.
=AT THE HUNT, YOU HESITATED TO KILL YOUR PREY. YOU WERE IN GREAT PAIN TO DO SO. AND THEN WHEN I ATTACKED YOU, YOU DIDN’T MOVE TO KILL ME: YOU FORGOT ABOUT MY ASSAULT WHEN OTHERS WOULD HAVE FOUGHT ME BACK IN THE SAME INSTANT. WHY?=
Sprinting forward, a yell ripped from my throat as I launched myself towards him! No more questions; this shame-game was a ploy to reduce my defenses. I landed on top of M-12, sending his limp body to the mud below in a full sploosh. It is now that I realized how truthfully thin M-12 was, my body seeming bigger than his with me on top of him. A snarl tore my face in two as I aimed my claw towards his neck. My heart drummed in my chest: this was the moment!
=LOOK AT ME AND KILL ME!= he screamed, no tremble in his voice. My eyes oscillated wildly from either of his chest plates. Their shine sliced my eyes. So beautiful.
My claw dropped. This was not me.
His cold breath cooled my face. I rolled off of him, withdrawing my claw and rubbing it. These shameful eyes were still averted. Only the gentle nestling of undergrowth alerted me to the fact that M-12 had risen.
=Look at me,= a voice sang to me.
Shocked, I clutched at the soft rounded hole where my heart must have been. The voice reminded me of those simple words I had ever heard my own mother utter. So light and crystal, it would have shattered in my memory had I not relieved that moment every day. Though I tried to hide it, I found comfort in it. Yet why had I imagined her voice to me now? These were not the words she had spoken to me.
=Rogerson.= Spinning around spun my whole world around. M-12 had spoken, and it was impossible to match the light tone of voice when I had known only dominance from his apathetic yet acerbic tone. When I looked into his eyes, however, the cold yellow seemed to have melted. All that remained were warm pools of amber that cautiously watched my every step.
M-12 took off his helmet. Inside, a much thinner and curvier helmet took its place. The molds had fallen over each other, yet this new head was shaped perfectly whereas the last one had seemed awfully large. And it finally clicked: the skinny figure, the faster response, the unwarranted mercy. Every known emotion to me, happiness and love and hatred and anger and loathing and belonging and pride and purpose, took me down with a small glint of recognition.
=You’ve finally proven to me,= she said as she edged closer to me, =that you are indeed nothing like the rest of that colony. The Sciaenet blood still runs strongly through you, and it took me all this time to determine that fact. But now that I have...you are here, my brother, you are here,= she finished, her voice falling up and down in heavy intonations.
=R-13?= This brain had been left in a heaving, greying mass as it tried to absorb all the missing pieces. =How?...Why? Why had you almost killed my brother?!= This vehement accusation left me dry-mouthed as guilt overtook me at the same time.
For all my anger and confusion, I could do nothing more then race up to my sister and encase her in my arms. It is with her head against mine, the warmth running through our closed-off bodies, my machete gently nudging her bigger one, that I forgot my accusation. Nothing but love existed; this was my sister, who sprouted from the same Hienet, who had likely been so lonely in this world where I had my Rillie to protect. With her arms wrapped around mine, she dropped the helmet she used to disguise herself as M-12.
=I regret that, but it was necessary. What would you do to protect the one you loved most? I needed to see that you truthfully did regret the first incident with Aggron. I needed to know.= Her sincerity dripped through every heavy word. Releasing me, she stared off into the sun. To announce its setting, the sun had spread its orange and pink rays all throughout our world like a parting gift. I too enjoyed this moment until my sister picked up her helmet and spoke again.
=Come, we must get to Zeroianha before the other Quanams or Bisharp find us. And then you must return before the following morning.= Zeroianha. I tasted the name on my tongue, already accustomed to it. Curiously, I quirked my head at her as we began to run in the direction of the conch shell. She slowed down her once maddening pace, but I needed not her direction to reach the conch shell. My boots seemed to move there on their own, as if magnetically attracted.
With worry still on my mind, I asked, =What happens if the other Quanams find us? They will follow us and lead us straight there!=
She laughed, a sound so alien to our brethren, before answering. =The one named Metagross is a creature of great psychic fortitude. He keeps a perpetual force field over Zeroianha that allows only certain metals to enter. The metals, or nutrients, inside all of our bodies are slightly different. He keeps track of these metals and chooses who he lets in. If the metals don’t match, Metagross keeps the shield up. Should they ever near this place, they will neither see nor feel nothing.=
Stupefied, I looked at her. I had so many questions, still not entirely believing that the Bisharp who had forced me to murder, almost murdered my brother, was my sister. And that she had regretted all those actions as much or maybe more than I wanted her to. There was no time for these, however, as I saw the beginning of the conch shell peek out from behind a swarth of heavy overgrowth. The refreshing scent filled my body with such a vivaciy I sped forward, surprising my sister who tried to emulate my excitement.
=You truthfully belong here,= she spoke. I passed her a glance and noted the odd shimmer in her eye. What was it that she saw in my own eyes?
The pool that filled our vision sent the sun’s rays ricocheting back, casting an auburn light that bathed the shell in orange-pink. Sizzled the fire below it, blending in with the noises of the creatures who came out of the conch to heed our arrival. There was the claw creature from yesterday with Aron snuggled in his arms - Aron! The tiny critter bounded out of those red pincers with a yelp, pawing his way through the water while keeping his enormous head over its crystal surface. An emotion called happiness brewed in me; I quickened my pace as I bounded into the water that restored my exhausted limbs.
=Aron!= I shouted as he lept into my open arms.
=I knew it! Rena, you’ve brought him back to us!= Aron squealed as he spread his stubs across my chest in a hugging fashion. =I missed you! And I knew you’d come back and now you’re here and you’ll stay here forever!=
=Come now, little Aron,= my sister said as she gently pried the baby from my arms. He squirmed in mock defiance. =He must meet the others.=
My stomach quivered at the thought of this. To stare into the eyes of the red beast was a death sentence in itself, being caught in two horrifying vortexes of surprise and sensation that knew no end. Not breaking my eye contact with him, I had finally crossed the edge of the water. He towered over my small frame, easily thrice as big as me and ten times as strong. I could vaguely imagine what those pincers did to his foes; I wondered how many he had stabbed with the three crowning points of his magnificent head that had no mouth, just like me. The four wings on his back, translucently reflecting the brilliant blood that shined in him, told me the tales of great flight this one must have taken. Triangular patterns of black and red marked the red shell scarred with a thousand battles.
=Rogerson,= I weakly offered. He stood there with a stillness that could boil my blood. Only a slight movement in his eyes betrayed him.
=You are truthfully your mother’s child,= he sorrowfully said. His voice seemed dissected by hordes of insects within him, chopping his words apart at every letter. The sensation terrified me and I knew this was not a creature from this world. =Rosa,= he murmured, =you would be proud of him.=
The one who called me son! =My Hienet! What do you know of her?= My desperate voice surprised me. I told myself that she meant nothing to me, only giving me my life in this world.
=No more of that colony-branded nonsense, ‘Hienet’. Mother. Hero. Warrior. That is what you refer to her as,= the creature replied with cold definity. =Forget everything the colony has taught you. You are her son. Rena is her daughter. Your mother’s name was Rosa.=
A misery I hoped to never experience darkened his features. He struggled through an eternal battle as he clenched his claw, finally bursting open his eyes to look at me. Raising his voice, he yelled, =Celebrate! The last of the Sciaenet has returned to us!=
I had never felt so small. With approval from their leader, creatures five times bigger than the red beast crawled out from their hiding places. A seadweller, a huge hunk of blue and black metal, crashed a huge wave across the ground as he rose from his hiding place with an orange crest that glistened. Clusters of magnets with an eye twirled out from the top of the conch, moving in a rhythmic pattern as they neared me. The shield beast from just yesterday nervously looked out from the red creature’s hide, passing me a shy smile. Too terrified to smile back by the gargantuan vibrations that shook the earth at the moment, my eyes wildly looked for the source. A creature with a head big enough to swallow me whole funneled out of the ground, smiling with cracked teeth that lined his rock head. There seemed to be no ostensible end to his body in sight! I fell to my knees with the mass trepidations.
The others laughed, the heavenly jangling of bells, as if the world wasn’t ending with the beast who tore the earth apart. My sister, named Rena, put a claw upon my neck. =It’s ok, Rogerson! That’s just Steelix. And our Excadrill family!= I scrambled to my feet, holding onto her as the earth finally stopped shaking. Steelix, so high into the sky, craned his grinning head towards us and blocked the whole of the sunset for all of us with his gargantuan body. On either side of him, mole creatures stood in a splatter of disloged ground. Two mud-encrusted drills created either of their hands, making me wonder what great depths they had traveled to. These creatures too smiled at me, their button noses wiggling. And this only seemed to be a fraction of the aliens who continued to surround me with their surprised smiles.
=Come now! Yer not trying to scare the boy off, are ye?= An ancient voice boomed over all the sound, from above yet somehow inside my head as well. Looking alarmed, I searched my surroundings for the voice’s owner. Aron laughed at me now, crawling his way from Rena’s grasp.
He jumped up and down, hollering, =Metagross! Look! See, see? I told you he was good!=
=Yes, yes you did, child.= Dull thuds sounded like hammers hitting metal above and I looked up. There, on the roof of the conch shell, a mammoth of metal clambered towards us with a stupendous speed. Each of his four legs, each at least a ton in weight, were spiked by four claws. A polished slab of blue metal constructed his main body, and an enormous X branded his face where deep set, red eyes looked out. He dropped to the ground in front of me and flipped his body without a second’s notice.
=Why, Scizor! Ye haven’t even invited him into our home yet!= Speechless. =Yer brother’s not much of a talker, is he, Rena? Bah, that’s ok!= Metagross tossed me onto the top of his head with a quick sweep of his leg, casually looking up at me to make sure I was ok. Begging, wiggling, murmuring, Aron made a fuss as he watched me from down below. The enormous metal alien merely gurgled before tossing Aron up too, who nestled against my side with a sleepy sound. When Metagross saw this, he motioned to the other aliens to return to the conch shell at the same time. They filed all around us like some otherworldly brigade.
=Can it with the aliens talk, sunny!= Metagross boomed from underneath me. =Geez, it’s a shame you’ve never seen yer own kind before.=
Abashed, I looked upon him with wonder. How had he...? He blinked at me, apparently still knowing my thoughts!
=He’s got a long way.= A fact from Scizor broke through the silence. =Maybe he’ll never make it the whole way.=
Hearing this, I leapt off Metagross with Aron in my arms. I did not know these aliens or their world, but I would not be so damned. I held onto my pride. But the sounds and sights of the inside of the conch broke through my defiance, revealing me and all my ignorance. If this was understanding only the first part of the journey, then he was right; I wouldn’t make it the whole way.
The lip of the conch shell rounded into a bowl supported by huge columns. They were made from a gem I had never seen, translucent enough to reveal the pastel energy caressing their ribbed exterior. So surprised, I breathed in; the energy felt like a breath of life that expanded my lungs to allow me to accomplish the supernatural and I backed away. As if on cue, the columns rotated and the bowl shifted to another bowl big enough to carry all of us. There were at leat five of these bowls lining the grandeur ceiling marked by the font from the colony. The outside light shined through a small parting point on the conch, illuminating the ethereal words.
Too shocked to speak, I followed the others as they stepped onto the bowl. With a humming noise that overcame the crackling of the fire down below, the bowl moved! It rose, with all of us on it, to a platform near the top of the shell. We stopped there, yet I could only continue staring at that which I could not fathom.
=Sunny. Err, Rogerson, ye gotta understand that the colony is not all there is to this world. There’s more than we can ever imagine - it was our dream to expand upon this world, to see for our own eyes what secrets this planet held for us. Bah! Scizor’s our leader here, and as such I’ll allow him to explain to ye what it is...that ya’ve never known before.= An odd expression, a mix of joy and sorrow, built upon Metagross’ mighty brow before he turned to the others who still stared at me.
=Come on, now! Y’all have seen a fine Pawniard before! The boy’s overwhelmed as is!= Metagross exclaimed, leading away the ones who he said were my kind.
Like this, the sound in Zeroianha bubbled down to a gentle murmur. It was not like the colony; here, life still spoke in vivacious bursts. Faintly, I heard the sounds of my kind laughing, and the calming buzz of the magnet creatures as they moved past. This sanctuary hummed with activity, and with the refreshing air that my lungs gulped in, I could not fathom how I could ever be forced to leave this place. Only one thing remained for me at the colony: Rillie.
=The world we came from was called Earth,= Scizor said. I was now alone with Scizor, who concentrated on the shield creature in the distance with a distance in his eyes. =It was a habitable planet, filled with more of our kind. But there was more to it than just us, Rogerson. Our bodies are infused with the strongest metal known to man, Steel. But there were other creatures like us whose bodies were infused with fire, water, some creatures who had incredible psychic prowess that emulated the strength of our Metagross. Collectively, we were the Pokemon race. And there were other beings called humans.= He breathed in deeply.
=I am over ninety-nine-years-old, Rogerson,= he admitted. A heaviness hung in his words. =I was a child when the humans and Pokemon first began fighting. I don’t remember what for or why; nobody did after all the pointless bloodshed. But it is fear that turns into anxiety, anxiety that turns into action, and action that turns into destruction. Within years, the Pokemon species all but decimated the human race. But they took a toll, too. Kinds of Pokemon altogether disappeared; the Fire-types were all extinguished, the Ghost-types dissipated, the Fairy-types supposedly hid away until a peace would resurface. But the Steel-type is strong. We would not wait for our own salvation.
=With all of our kind that we could gather, we took shelter under an incredibly powerful Pokemon. We considered him a god. He brought this conch shell to us, wrestling it from another god called Lugia, and imprinted our history upon the shell so we would never forget. Then, with his divine strength, he transported us to this new world and named this shell Zeroianha, the first of what was supposed to be many legendary namesakes in a brand new world.=
He snapped his head towards mine. Boiling deep within him was an agony that frightened me beyond words. =There were many roles for the Steel-types before we arrived, as the King deemed necessary for our survival,= he managed to grit out. The dissection of his words grew angrier and angrier as if a hundred parasites had already taken control of him, using the remnants of what must have been a friendly voice to convey this horrible message from beyond and I wanted to run and scream- =One of them was the Sciaenet, which meant ‘Defenders’. The Sciaenett were constituted of the strongest Steel-types, the Bisharp and Pawniard.=
Scizor smacked a claw upon a table, his body fully thrusted, his face contorted in a horrid rage. I lept to my feet. Run, run! Splattering across the ground like a thousand diamonds was the table yet Scizor only shook his hand, snarling a horrible sawwing sound from inside him-
=But when we arrived to this planet, everything went wrong -= he slammed his other claw into a wall, blowing a hole big enough to fit my body with a horrible explosion - =The god forced the Sciaenet to hunt and devour the other Steel-types like it was a game! This sick joke! The devil brought us to this solitary planet only to watch us kill each other for his own twisted enjoyment!=
Thrashed his claws into the ground - over and over again, the bloody beat of his body against the ground drummed in my heart and I swore it would explode. This self mutilation seared me from the inside and I raced as fast as I could to Scizor’s side. Completely unsure of what to do, I placed a claw upon his back. A deranged visage met my effort as he growled at me, slapping me back with the force an energy I had never known; it is only my instincts, kicking in and skidding to a stop, that avoided me being blasted through the wall. A burn left on my chest from his touch sizzled but I ignored it. I would be burned a million more times before experiencing a slice of the pain he felt.
=They tried to fight back,= a voice from the edge of the room softly spoke. Rena arrived, a troubled expression marring her serene face. =The Sciaenet who avoided the god, who named himself a King, were eaten by him. All communication to the Steel-types was quickly cut off by the Sciaenet and their siblings. The King went further, threatening the whole existence of the Sciaenet if they chose not to acquiesce with his wishes. The Bisharp, who once had incredible lifespans, began dying young out of the new stress and brutality of the colony's environment. With them, they took the knowledge of our arrival to this world. After so many years, the new generation of Sciaenet had no way of knowing their birthright - they saw other Steel-types as a natural enemy. The generations of hunting created the terrible instincts of blood lust within each new Pawniard.=
=Your mother.= Murmuring under his breath, Scizor shook his head back and forth like he could finally force the memories out of his tortured head. He could never. =Your father was a brother to me, but I loved Rosa more than everything I ever loved and would love in my whole life.= Rena wrapped an arm around the creature in such a tender embrace I felt like I violated the scene with my presence. He craned into her touch and trembled, trepidations rocking his figure.
And I knew why her presence alone had calmed him. Her voice, her look - she reminded him of my mother.
She lifted her eyes towards mine and spoke with a tight voice. =Come, Rogerson. Nightfall has arrived, and it’s now time you return to the colony.= All of the emotions that branded her as a living creature had disappeared and apathy had crawled into her cold shell. This was the same apathy in which M-12’s persona had been created. I would never understand how she could bottle herself up like this just to live.
=You must never tell anyone of what you learned here today,= Scizor commanded. His voice had returned to the low rumble that turned my steel inside-out. =I’ve taken it upon myself to rescue every last one of Rosa’s children, and once I ascertain that your brother is pure of heart, we’ll rescue him. The others cannot be restored; generations of murder have annihilated any sense of the kind they once were. Now they are worth nothing more than the monster who forced them to be this way.=
I stared upon him with fear battering my whole being.
=Once we take your brother, we’ll kill every last Bisharp and Pawniard. Next will be the King. Only then can we live, unafraid, the masters of our own fate like we were meant to be.=
Rena snatched my claw and escorted me out of Zeroianha before my anger would beat Scizor’s body into two bleeding, bruising bits unrecognizable.
The refreshing snap of leaves under my soles soothed me. My senses focused only on this and the fresh air that wrapped around me in a cocoon of warm night air as we ran towards the colony. I could not keep up with the questions that flew through my brain; whenever I had grounded one with what I thought was an answer, another five would soar up from that spot and continue to wrack me with what I did not know. I breathed in deeply, setting a scuttling sound within my hollow body. Everything within me filled to the top with knowledge yet a deeper depth within me was left empty by what I now knew. It terrified me and I instead asked something of the woman warrior next to me, my sister.
She gritted her teeth and seemed to contemplate her answer. =When I was seperated from you and Rillie at birth,= she said, tasting his name on her tongue with a yearning, =I knew I was not meant for battle. I was too thin; I would never make it through a child. So I…=
Breathing in deeply, she shielded her eyes from me. =I killed a Bisharp, tearing his helmet from his body to take his place in the colony. This was the only way I could guarantee my own survival and I thought this type of action was what our kind was meant to do. Yet a deep agony sent me spiraling into the outside world, unable to cope with what I’d done.=
I nodded; she paralleled the action I had taken only a night ago. Seeing this, she seemed relieved by my understanding and explained, =It was then that I met Scizor. He took me home to Zeroianha, where I evolved into a Bisharp. For months, I worked as a spy for the Steel-types. I would report to the colony as M-12, noting that our kind had indeed deteriorated past a reasoning point. Those who we captured on the hunt had sacrificed themselves from Zeroianha out of not being able to stand the tension of our world anymore. I mercy killed them.= My gut wrenched with her words, but I said nothing. The way she pronounced home and mercy, those funny words, set my mind afloat.
=Then I would report to Zeroianha and allow myself to be Rena...they named me this to differentiate me from the other Bisharp. When I learned that you and Rillie gave yourselves your own names…= She looked at me with such a whimsically profound expression that I knew she loved me. No confirmation of such was needed. =I had to wait until the King announced that the Pawniard were ready for the hunt before I could see you both again. The wait hurts me today…=
Mid-way through the journey, she stopped. I recognized the shine of a shell meters away; Aggron’s helmet sat in the grass, and the wind whistled through it and into me.
=Brother, I love you.= Rena’s confession left me in a muddled pool of emotions. She reached for me in a hug, a moment so sweet I wished time could stop so we could enjoy being in each other’s safety for eternity. But time would not answer to me. Instead, Rena let go of me to scoop mud from the ground with her hands. She smiled shyly before covering me in the material, so wet and sticky on my steel. I only watched as she scraped my chest and forehead so lightly that she grimaced at her own action. Understanding what she was doing, I took it upon myself to tarnish my body too.
=Perfect!= she exclaimed after a few more careful scrapes and scratches. I felt none of these; her claws were so light upon my body that it tickled. I could have buffered them out easily with one or two rubs. Yet to the observing eye, the cuts looked deep enough to slice through my steel.
Finally, Rena slid M-12’s helmet off her head. There was her horn that absorbed the moonlight and reflected in in a blinding beacon, her curved head and full eyes. She was a reincarnation of our mother.
She did something then that I could not believe. She stared at me, boring into my eyes with a sensation I had only felt one other time. Slowly, she lifted both of her arms in two parallel lines and crossed them in a tight X I knew by heart. I mimicked her action, knowing this was somehow a sign of our mutual understanding. And then, so painfully, I bounded away from our sister with M-12’s helmet in my hand and my body scarred.
Rillie, I had so much to tell you in that moment. I wanted you to know everything about our kind and the journey in which we arrived here. I aimed to warn the others about their death sentences at the hands of the Steel-types. I needed to sort through this situation with you at my side. We had always been together and I swore that we always would be together. It was my job to protect you. And my heart burst with love for you, for our sister, for the fact that our lives meant something more than ceaseless violence. I devoured the remaining ten miles towards the colony, invigorated by the need to be with you once more.
When I struggled to hoist myself into the colony, I made a show of being injured. I limped, clutching my left side where Rena had sludged the most mud on me. Wheezing unnaturally, I blinked as I all but collapsed onto the moist ground of the colony. After a second’s decision, I did this, too; a thunking sound reverberated through the thick walls as I fell. M-12’s helmet rolled dramatically a few meters away from me. Patches of mud were caked on, dried, where my claw had let go of the helmet whose owner had passed so many months ago.
Closing my eyes, I allowed a hurricane of whispers and shouts to rampage all around me. My brethren had awoken from their stations. Now they surrounded me, yelling to each other about how I was to evolve now. They avoided touching my still form, choosing to form a ring around me as if anything within a one-meter radius of me was dangerous. I continued to squeeze my eyes shut. Nervous shock coursed through my body as I realized that my return meant I had to evolve. I had not considered this truth earlier, but now that I did, a fright encompassed me as the reality of evolution sat right before me.
With this shock, my eyes burst open. In front of me was a faceless crowd I had grown up with, yet never truly known. Vaguely recognizing the four other Pawniard who formed my Quanam, I stared into their frightened and surprised eyes. They shot looks at each other before bowing to me. An odd feeling left my stomach in knots as I realized they had no other choice but to accept me as their new leader.
=Rogerson!= Rillie’s voice pierced through the steel crowd. I surged to my feet instantly, not caring about the show I had put on earlier. My brother! My love! Only a moment passed where I was able to ascertain that he was not in fatal condition from the attack of our sister earlier. She had been clever in this too, seemingly avoiding a deep cut that would have drained a large amount of his life force. The spikes sticking out from his helmet still unnerved my body with a queasy feeling and I rushed out to him - before time seemed to stop.
For a second’s duration revealed that the queen was now present. The petrified look upon my brother’s worn-out face, shaded with darkness, smoothed into a neutral line. The other Pawniard, so excited merely a moment ago, followed this same action. As one connected red line, they marched out of the cavern. An unnatural stillness followed by silence left me gasping for air, for it felt like all life had been sucked out of the colony.
I had not the slightest understanding of what happened next. As if a vacuum had sealed off my contact with the living sphere, the vacuum imploded on itself and left my senses in a dazed jumble of confusion. My ears bled as a sound screamed from all around me; I twirled immediately, the mud falling off my body. I could spot nothing though my vision began blurring into black and grey. A burned odor cloaked me and suffocated me - what was this treacherous feeling that I could not pin? Clutching onto my last grasp of reality, I noted wings weaving through my vision.
Instantly, the sun soared and crashed into the cavern in a blazing swirl of unbearable heat. The words atop the ceiling burned with such a speed that the ceiling began to drip down in molten chunks that I avoided as my veins were on the verge of exploding in my body; I could not begin to fight off the heat that seared through me! Shielding my eyes, I could do little more than scream above the cremating sizzle of fire. These chunks landed atop of me, each a bomb that scattered my limbs, all afire, into directions unseen. My toes burned upon the scorching ground. This brain knew no more as it melted too. Pain. Agony. No escaping - death wretching its incinerating fingers around my body, twisting me until I was nothing more than a charred remnant -
-a sudden sensation filled me and arched my head backwards. It felt like the embodiment of fury, so fervent that I became enraged with my predicament and my inability to help myself. It squeezed me, cutting me in two!
My scream reached a pitch I had not known myself capable of. I deafened my own ears, screaming senseless words as if any word would be enough to stop this. These last thoughts scattered in a million directions as I coughed through the thick smoke burning my vision. Rillie. Rena. Aron. My hopes sizzled into smoke like the dreams I had of protecting my brother for eternity. I knew nothing more because I was nothing; yet even so, I would not allow myself to die without -
Rillie, can you hear me?
I love you.
Love is no more.
Blacked cloaked the world. When I closed the door upon life, my last cognizant thoughts were that of immediate confusion. I did not think that this was the type of afterlife our brethren had abound in. I did not think at all; I felt nothing. My body became a statue of black ash, and when I blew upon it my arm dispersed into a hundred stars that twinkled against the darkness. These faded. But I did not care. Where I was or how I got here in the first place...my body, soul, and mind blurred into the black.
Seconds passed. Hours followed. Days and months collapsed into an infinity I would forever be encased in. My steel body had all blown away in the expanse, yet I knew that an odd and rounded horn held something of myself together. It was the last thing I could call mine though I didn’t understand it. But somehow, because of this horn, a glimmer of light reflected that which my soul stood on: a slab, crushed and cracked in many places, with ancient markings upon it. Without thought or emotion, I analyzed the text which a detached part of me felt familiar. I rummaged through my scattered consciousness, to no avail. So I merely existed, finding a small bump to interrupt the strand of time I’d been stranded upon.
Text. Words.Thoughts. The expansive, illegible font curled into each other like an ornate picture that must be observed from afar to understand. I put these pictures together and scenes flashed before me.
The sun headed towards a planet in flaming pandamonium. A creature moved to stop the sun, but instead absorbed its power and gave its body to absorb the brunt of the attack. The creature, who from then saw itself as a Destroyer, did all it could as it burst into the planet’s crust. With the Destroyer’s sacrifice, the world could have survived and flourished. Yet the two inhabitants of that pained world began arguing as they blamed their impending doom upon each other; one side blamed the Destroyer for causing so much pain to their planet while the other side blamed the humanoids for summoning the sun with their selfish actions. Visions of hurt and annihilation barraged me and all I could do was observe.
Reading the slab still, I saw that the Destroyer temporarily lapsed in its action. It hurt as it stole, from another creature, something huge like a sacred sanctuary. Using this, the Destroyer begged for the surviving life forms to board into the sanctuary. Something stabbed me from deep within as I regarded the Destroyer beg its brother, the Lifegiver, to board the sanctuary with it. The Lifegiver had done everything it could to flourish the chaotic planet and chose to pass with it. In this agony, the Lifegiver forced the Destroyer to leave with the few souls it could save. It gifted its brother a seed before seeing him off and dying with the planet.
The Destroyer changed with his brother’s loss. Agony penetrated his every fiber. Acknowledging his inner deterioration, the Destroyer set up a group of creatures, peacekeepers that were to watch over the other creatures, naming them the Defenders. Yet, the Destroyer could not foresee how far he would fall; and, in mere days, the loss of the only one he had ever loved had driven him to insanity. It did not help that the creatures he rescued took on the traits of the delusional war monsters from the previous planet. They demanded their own ability to explore, to experience, and in their selfish pride they attacked the Defenders. The Destroyer had no choice but to separate the two groups, creating an underground colony for the Defenders and allowing the other creatures to live in the sanctuary that was supposed to house all. However, the Destroyer could not fathom at the time that the underground space was not enough to house all of the Defenders. He encouraged them to kill each other.
Responsibility kept the Destroyer from taking away all that he had given for both the Defenders and the other creatures. He forced himself to carry on, but grew twisted with his turmoil. He decided to consume one of these creatures, sending the message that his word was infallible to those below him. Yet the other creatures retaliated; the Destroyer could not see the mistake he’d made by that point in his deterioration. He ordered the Defenders to hunt down the other creatures so he could keep on consuming them in the deranged hope that they would one day understand his message. That day passed. Months petrified the situation into the ordinary. Years of his pursuit left him drowned in his pain. He burrowed into the colony, never to arise, never to see his sacrifice worth anything, never to live again after his own brother’s life had ended.
The new world had been no better than the one from which they’d all escaped.
There is nothing left but destruction. I have done all I can. I have defied death. I have defied purpose. I have defied life itself.
The thoughts spoke straight into me from the slab. I craned my horn, listening. Quiet.
They forget of the life that they have taken and the life I have taken from them. No more purpose exists without that for which to love. In love’s place, only misery can maintain its force. Misery is a question I have filled with an infinity of replies to end this pain. But misery cannot be ended or satiated. There is no answer for this conundrum we have all entangled ourselves in.
The slab turned over noiselessly. Underneath the slab, a tortured soul furiously wrote upon it. Four gargantuan claws scribbled scenes into the material as they bled and cracked. The creature’s own blood, pulsating with the fire from the sun, smeared into words as it seemed tormented by the thoughts that assaulted it. This was the Destroyer, who now illustrated our deaths. I saw mine now: claws plunging straight into me, piercing my chest, puncturing my heart until I fell, unable to withstand the world for any longer.
Our End nears.
Turning towards me, the Destroyer, in all his agony, revealed himself. His body burned with too many cracks and riffs, the heat of the sun still raging through his form. Jagged lines crisscrossed down his chest and three wings, from which lava poured out and built upon him in coughing, combusting crusts. There were shackles that disabled his movement as his wing edged towards me. The back of his body, blackened as mine, had taken the searing pain of the sun all those years ago for the one he loved. A wild growth of barbaric hair sprouted from his neck as if it was a choker to stop the sun from decapitating his neck. From this neck, his head, once graceful and elongated, craned with an unnatural energy. Two horns arched from the top, strong enough to create a black hole between their empty points. Below were his eyes.
And in his bare, blue eyes, each the size of what I knew to be my physical body, I found myself once more. Rational thought poured into me; my memories, my feelings, my love, brewed something within the Destroyer’s eyes and he looked away.
He lifted me and crushed me with his wing.
I crumbled into nothing.
Awakening from that deep slumber was torture. My senses, all vacant for what felt like years, crashed down upon me in a mass of sensations. Dried synapses sprung to life and brought the world swirling up to me - the dried must of the earth, the rotten feel of the ground below me, the minimal moonlight shining through the portal. And above me was the giant slab from which I watched the Destroyer illustrate our deaths. The font bursted towards me, having already known what it meant though it looked alien now, and I rushed to my feet with recognition.
This action left me swaying and I heaved. The whole of me weighed more and the ground seemed farther away than I remembered. Stretching out a claw to ease myself, I snapped it back when I realized that the claws I called hands were no more; in their replacement, bracers strong enough to withstand steel created my forearms. From these, serrated claws arched nearly back to my chest plates, now stronger and sharper than I could ever imagine. On my left arm, this claw stopped shorter than my other arm. I took comfort in this fact, for that was the only way I knew this body belonged to me.
Uneasily, I reached towards my helmet. My eyes were now shielded by the cusp of its steel presence yet they were sharpened, catching everything, missing no sign of movement. There was my horn: a crescent that jutted from my head, rounded and cooled to the touch. I breathed in a sigh of relief. This little breath of air sent brought me back to life; energy jumped through me, from my broad shoulder pads to the triple layers of red armor coating my legs, resting at the forked boots that brought an incredible speed to me. This was evolution.
And evolution meant more than a physical change; it was a revolution to my thought patterns. Purpose and pride of the King, the Destroyer, left me in a saccharine daze of love for this place I knew I hated. These thoughts I brushed out of my mind. I trusted what the Destroyer spoke to me of, the betrayal of the Steel-types, yet his thoughts had no home in my head. Wheezing, shaking my helmet, puffing my chest, I rose to my full height with confidence. As I was taller than most Pawniard, I was too tall for a Bisharp. My horn scratched the surface of the slab and I hissed as I made my way away from this sacred cavern.
My movements were so light. It was a stupid thought, thinking I could fly away any moment, but I wanted to run at that point because nothing could stop me. I shook these giddy thoughts from my head. Everything seemed much smaller as if the colony had shrunk. I easily worked my way through these endless labyrinths, each step filled with more speed; beyond just this bend, my sleeping station stood - and next to mine was my brother’s! The thought empowered me like only Rillie could and I raced forward.
=Rillie!= An octave deeper, my voice boomed, resonating with a dominance Rillie slightly trembled at. His body deliberately turned towards mine. I had always been taller, but due to my evolution I was now fully twice as large and tall as he was. Towering over him, I cast the strongest smile I could bear. It failed. The sight of the torn steel upon his head killed me, not as much as the empty expression he flung my way.
=You are a Bisharp,= he dryly stated. Understanding that I was now too big for my sleeping station, I looked at him from the side of it. Disgust emitted from him. I did not know how to respond, so he kept talking.
Gathering more emotion, he spat, =You asked me what it meant to murder the other day but you...you are now meant for murder.= His face cringed; a horror scuttled through me and I reached out to touch him, but he slapped my hand away. Cold. It could have left a scald mark.
=Why do you play this game with me! You murder, you took down the biggest prey the colony has seen for so long! But you didn’t even move to protect me in face of the other Bisharp! Was that too a part of your plan to become one?=
A rancid concoction of rage and regret brewed within me, stirring me to my feet. Mustering all the control I could, I replied, =Rillie. You must listen to me. There’s so much I need to tell you.= My heart twinged on every word. This was a line of destiny that he and I now needed to cross.
But Rillie only glared at me. A demented darkness overtook his features that the shadows twisted; scarier were the spikes that jutted from him, the claws that were always bigger than mine seemingly stretched out in the station. With my senses, I saw what was happening next seconds before Rillie knew what he was doing. I did not move to stop him.
He pushed me down, shouting into my face. I felt nothing as I crashed into the mud ground, physically too strong to feel the impact, emotionally too distraught to process this action. Now we were on the same level. But a gap had torn its way between us and it seemed that nothing could fill it so I could cross it, never be with him again.
=No, I need to tell you!= Rillie screamed now, his voice distorted by the trill of emotions hurdling through him. =I need to tell you that I can’t kill! I need to tell you,= he cried, =that what I did on the first hunt was only because I wanted you to be proud of me.=
Aching numbness glued me to the spot. =We had always been different, Rogerson, and because of that...you always protected me. But you wouldn’t that time. You won’t when you command your Quanam. You...you left me.=
=So leave.= His final words faded into me from a faraway place. Every word was true; I did not protect him. I didn’t force myself to turn around, attend to his pain. I was scum. Scooping myself up, my muddled mind attempted to form words. Something, anything. Nothing could express my sorrow towards him and why I did what I did. I wanted to tell him about how I couldn’t kill either, but at the moment I prepared to say this, he fully turned his back to me. Sleep overtook him in seconds. His body as a Pawniard needed more rest than mine did. Open eyes glazed over, a sadness quelling the expression that had been furious only seconds ago.
Sadness steeped into my every step. I was no good to Rillie right now. I had no right staying in these sleeping stations. His brutal bashing took a biological tole on me and I slowed down. To ease this pain, I allowed the Destroyer’s thoughts to flood into my mind once more. The colony. I belonged here. I needed to protect the colony. I didn’t need a sense of family. I only needed my Quanam and the King to survive. I would bring the message home to the Steel-types. I would serve my King.
These thoughts led me once more into the cavern. Tiny sparkles shimmied in the corner and I looked towards it without moving my head. There, perched on a hidden ledge, the Bisharp leaders stared at me as if asking me to join them like I should. They were not sleeping. Bisharp did not sleep. They had been there the whole time, guarding the portal, unbeknownst to my dull, past Pawniard senses. Curiosity began to overwhelm me; why hadn’t they stopped me before? The portal was forbidden to anyone without a direct order of the king to hunt. Rubbing my bracer uncomfortably, I dropped this thought and put on an air of confidence. I bounded to the outside world without their permission.
I now understood why I loved the outside world so much. The Destroyer had not intended for us to live afraid underground. This world was to be ours, with the tickling grass enough for all of us, the clouds gently parting above at a foot an hour. A soft wind licked at my body and I sighed so contentedly. Being a Bisharp enhanced my senses to the point where I perceived every blade of grass, distinct and damp, under my boots as I began jogging. Flowers on the edge of their bloom radiated a sweet smell that wafted towards me, and I could not help but be refreshed. Maybe we would all reach our bloom one day. We were all meant for so much more.
My body reached for Zeroianha yet my mind went back to the colony; and then there was my soul, which was stuck with Rillie. I tried to clear all these forces from my head. I did not belong to the monsters who wanted to destroy my whole race in a mad genocide. I did not belong to the Destroyer who consumed creatures to send a long-lost message. I did not belong to the brother who now hated me. My belonging, like me, seemed misplaced, as if my birth was a mere anachronism in time. Time slowed as I surpassed miles of nature. Before I could arrive at a solution to our problems, a gentle rustling caught my eyes. With my senses on high-alert, I raced towards the sound, only a scratch in the night’s black canvas.
Upon inspection, surprise hit me as I watched Aggron’s helmet move in the night. The rustling came from the bottom of the tremendous piece being dragged against the thick grass, seemingly one inch per minute. Dark skids, two wet and brown lines, stretched on for what seemed like miles. Confused, I ran up to the helmet and watched further, not sure if I should prepare for battle or not. A sense of possessiveness fell over me. This helmet belonged to Aron’s mother, the last trace of the woman, and I would not allow a thief to take it.
=Rogerson!= a happy voice bubbled out of the helmet’s contents as I lifted it. And there was Aron, so small, nestled inside the warmth of his mother’s helmet. The headgear fell over his own huge head in such a way, a whimsical happiness flooded me. I dropped to my knees, laughing too as the tiny baby jumped into my arms.
=Geez, you’re a giant now!= Aron exclaimed, huffing from the exertion of the helmet. I nuzzled his ironhide, strangely warm through the cold steel.
=Aron!= His presence was a balm to the past few days. I could not contain my happiness! =What are you doing? Why are you here?=
The nook in between my two chest plates was now a perfect size for the creature. He cooed, craning into my chest, shutting his eyelids. His breathing deepened. I could not help but smile. Lifting Aggron’s helmet as if it was the world’s most precious treasure, I used my other arm to cradle Aron easier. The only safety I could seek for the little critter would be in the shell, so I would make my way there as soon as he was fast asleep. I began walking up a hill so large, I could not see what lied beyond. This slow pace was a change from what I was inured to, and I took deliberate steps, enjoying every second of this stroll. When I thought Aron fell into a deep sleep, he surprised me by speaking up.
=I was taking Momma to where we used to play together.= Regret stabbed me in the darkness once more. =You know, Rogerson,= Aron slowly said, on the outskirts of snoozing, =my mom raised me mostly outside of Zeroianha. She didn’t like...she didn’t like the madness in Scizor. She said he was a good guy, but had all the wrong intentions.=
Nodding gently, I nuzzled him closer to my chest so the wind would not bother him. Slowly, I began cradling the little one to sleep. A sense of devotion fell over me...I closed my eyes too. =She knows...she knows that not all the Steel-type feel the same way about the Sciaenet as he does. She had a dream about being with the Sciaenet one day. She wanted me to grow up...with them and the Steel-types. So she often took me outside and that was when…=
=Sleep, Aron,= I said to the creature. He lazily flicked his eyes open only to smile at me.
=My mother always thought that...somebody like you would make that day come.=
At this, my eyes opened. Curled up to me, Aron was fast asleep, yet it looked like this night was only beginning for me. I had reached the place where Aron and his mother would play. Shock overtook me as I took in a huge thicket, a tortuous and thorny bush that towered far above me. Curious, I respected the roots that crawled out from under the thicket belonging to the tree that stretched far into the sky. A gathering of branches swirled from this aged and amber tree, sleek and strong to the touch. An odd energy flowed through the tree, accentuated by the ethereal leaves that swished in the slight wind. I looked down at little Aron, and then up again at this massive tree, the only one of its kind. Both Aron and this magnificent tree were similar in those aspects.
=Why here?= I asked. This tree, so surreal, had no business of standing in a sea of grass. I wondered how these thickets sprouted or how these mighty roots survived in their lonesome. Why would this tree stand here, all by itself? And how would such a thing sprout in the first place? I had never before seen such a beautiful work of nature outside of the shell. This curiosity moved me to action.
Cautiously, I placed one steel boot down in the thicket, a thick moat surrounding the tree. The spiny roots and bushes sprang to life, moving and searching my boots. Unafraid, I made no move as they moved against me with a tickling, itching feel. Nature alive, with a mind of its own, did something so strange then: one root at a time, the thicket parted the wall of green that blocked me from the tree. Dangling bushes and twisting thorns stood up on their own, wriggling in the moonlight like spiny white fingers. Staring in agog, my eyes captured two events come straight out of imagination. Underneath the thicket, a polished and cobblestone walkway invited me. My boots rapped upon this fine stone. as I slowly made my way across it with either side of thicket creating a canopy overhead. And there, in the moonlight, hidden by the thicket, a triangular doorway was carved perfectly into the base of a tree.
Ducking my head as I made my way into the tree, I did not panic as the thicket behind me fell back into place. In here, we were protected from anything of the outside world. Now I felt like we were in a new world; the air flowing through the tree, sweet cinammon roasting, flowed through me too and I wanted to do nothing but study the oak engravings covering this tree. Pictures of the other engravings from the colony’s ceiling and the shell rushed to me too. The twisted cobblestone staircase that led up to the top of the tree captured my curiosity first though. Windows, clandestinly located in small triangles throughout the tree, set patches of light through it, allowing the whole home to shine like a prism.
Home. This was home. As I began to climb up the spiral staircase, I re-registered what Aron had said to me; his mother wanted him to grow up away from the hatred of the Steel-types and the madness of the Destroyer. He needed a home like this that she must have so lavishly decorated with stone. But the engravings, pricking my fingers as I ran my hands over the meticulous font, could belong to none other than the Destroyer. Why had he kept this from us, and what did it all mean to Aggron?
Perhaps she had foreseen something greater than what I could have ever grasped. Even in her beyond, she prepared me and her son for this world. I thought about this as my feet slowly took me to the top of the staircase Here, the floor leveled out, so strong my boots only duly thudded against it. Against the wall of this tree’s room, a plethora of cobblestones laid in the corner. Had Aggron been building something more?
Finding it right, I nestled her helmet in the midst of these cobblestones. Together, they caught the radiating moonshine and shimmied like diamonds. Satisfied, I made my way to the tree’s final window. Below, the ground seemed miles away, only a green blur to even my senses. Immediately outside, an enormous tree branch served as a perch from the window. So carefully, I made my way there, testing its strength by pushing down with all my force. The tree made no budge or noise; I thought it indestructible in that moment.
Curling like a crescent, the tree top blanketed us in leaves that caught the night air. I laid a leg out and stretched my back against the window. Here, I could see the sprawling meadows of grass that rolled like ocean waves in the midnight. To one side, this green growth slowly swamped into the hiding location of the shell. I could see its faint pink horns pop up from here, as if the psychic barrier could not keep me from knowing the truth. And on the other end, I inhaled as I saw the slight shimmer of the portal to the colony. Right in the middle, so many miles down below, was where I had killed Aggron.
With her child on my chest, I found peace. I would protect him, if I could do nothing else; even if I could not save the Sciaenet or stop the Destroyer, I would save the next generation. His mother’s wish was good and I promised in that moment to save his generation from the wrath of madness that had overtaken our new world. This was my true purpose.
The clouds overhead joined hands as they became pink-and-orange ribbons that welcomed the rising sun.
Yesterday, I had experienced my evolution. Today, I would help the world evolve into everything it was meant to be.
After several more hours, I returned to the colony. Aron, sleeping soundly, I left in the bed formed by his mother’s cobblestones. A gut feeling told me that he would be safe here, that no regular force could penetrate that hardened thicket. The tree would stand like a sentinel for the creatures who needed its sanctuary. And so I bounded away from it, memorizing every step through the swaying grasses. When I ran back into the portal, the other Bisharp continued to stare at me. They formed a wall of red steel that stood atop a pedestal. Falling into formation, the last in the line, I stared them straight in their eyes. Curiosity piked in their vision but they said nothing to me as their Quanams began filling the cavern..
I felt uncomfortable standing above my brethren. But it served as neat vantage point as I was able to ascertain the faces of the Pawniward and, more so, their expressions of apathy. A small ripple through the crowd alerted me to my brother: his broken steel helmet would now forever bar him as weaker than the rest. Attempting to make eye-contact with him, anguish twisted me as his eyes never moved, dead, hollow holes facing only in front of him.
=The King is my existence,= my voice automatically spoke as we swore our oaths. =I live to serve him.= Bowing down with the other Bisharp, I allowed this sense of purpose wash over me like the wave of murmurs as we all spoke. I did not find solace in the words; I found comfort in the fact that we were one, even if our intentions were not good. Perhaps this was the same comfort the Steel-types found being under Scizor. Now I knew why everyone would bend to his twisted leadership: he was the only one who could bring them together in chaos.
Once our oaths were over, I looked up to the scuttlng that scratched my ears. Looking up, it took me a full moment to realize that the four Pawniard standing obediently before me composed my Quanam. They were only half my size and as they peered up at me with their slanted yellow eyes, I thought of them being as young as Aron. Could I change the direction of their generation too? It was a silly thought as I knew they were probably my age.
=Come,= I boomed, allowing my voice to take on the mask of authority my sister’s had developed, =we have work to do today.=
My Quanam merely followed me out of the portal like lifeless red dolls. Glancing at each of them from the corner of my eye, I perceived the slightest twitch of a muscle or quirk of their faces towards me, quickly snapped away. I realized that they were afraid as I had been two days ago. Hesitation meant death and no one wanted to die. I felt more empowered in leading these Pawniard through the morning. Where the sun smiled upon us in warmth, our steps became quicker and quicker; they struggled to keep up with me, I realized, but none of these acquaintances complained of the situation. I tucked this information in the back of my mind.
It was an odd feeling, knowing exactly where all the Steel-types on this world hid at. It was an even odder feeling knowing that I was running as far from them as my legs would take me. The sprawling grasses gently rescinded into hilly mountains that cracked under our footsteps. Huge valleys jolted upwards as rocks and debris drifted from their enormity. Dried heat fell over us but I continued on. Rivers and water had all disappeared at this point, but we would need neither for this mission. At a crevice between two mountains tipped with the white whipp of cloud, I stopped. The Pawniard hid their panting as best as they could, almost choking as they did so; even with their lungs afire, they would betray no sign of weakness to me or each other. It did not have to be this way.
=Where’s our prey?= one of them asked. I took him in, defying what we learned and concentrating on his specific, distinct features. With a claw pressed to the mountain, this Pawniard trembled with an aged look in his eyes. His claws, slightly longer than the others’, would make fine weapons as a Bisharp one day. Another Pawniard, the one with a larger horn than the others, sharpened his claws against each other in the mean time. Slash slash slash, the sounds grated the morning air. The last two Pawniard I also commited to memory.They were all different though we had been forced to be the same.
=What are your names?= I asked. My voice echoed with dominance and they replied, throwing strange sets of numbers combined with letters towards me. I nodded.
To shock them further, I merely surveyed our surroundings with a nonchalance. This seemed to throw my Quanam off, who grew increasingly fidgety with every moment we were inactive. I occasionally shot looks at all of them, making them squirm under my curious gaze. Unease bothered them at what they did not know from experience or expectation.
After a long pause, I simply said, =There is no prey.=
I had led them away from the other Quanams and Bisharp to talk. This notion seemed less alien to me as it did them; bombs almost seemed to implode from within them as they tried to process whether this was a new filter or not. The very idea of a filter disgusted me now.
=He is a traitor! He wastes time by not hunting!= J-5, the one with the large horn, blurted out. His outburst ended with him flinging a claw in my direction. Easily, I seized his claw with fluid movement. Yelping, he swung his leg up to crash into my head with the spikes on his feet. This I avoided, bending while pummeling the Pawniard with my free hand. He burst towards the wall, his claw twisted as he flew through the air, injured but never in danger.
J-5 riled up a small dust cloud as he tried to scoot away from me. The others watched, E-11, O-3, and I-0 as I walked towards J-5. With their eyes glued onto me, I stretched a hand for J-5 to grab onto. The bewildered surprise upon his expression told me everything I needed to know, and I pulled him up with an eagerness to change what he knew about our race. This action too shocked him, and I patted his claw to make sure he knew his injury was minor at best.
=....What are you?= J-5 questioned.
=I am a Sciaenet. You are too.=
I watched as they tasted that name on their tongues. A latent understanding awoken in them like they had remembered the most important memory in their life. Now they looked at me, their bodies trembling with so many questions. It felt strange being on the opposite side of the knowledge spectrum, the one who knew the answers for once. Grinning, I took off in the opposite direction with the promise of telling them everything they wanted to know about that simple word. Their birth right, their existence, our meaning and purpose packed all into one word - they responded to it the same way I did when I had first heard of it, and that and J-5’s reaction was all I needed to know that my assumptions this morning were correct.
From these jagged hills, we crossed a large river that smoothered us in fresh water to refresh our bodies. To reach the tree, we would need to cover more miles over this endless expanse, only a fraction of what this world truly held for us; and in that time, I narrated the tale of both the Destroyer and the Sciaenet to my new friends. I tried, with all my might, to describe Zeroianha though I knew they needed to see it to truly grasp its beauty. Finally, I watched their faces turn from shock to disbelief to understanding to that of pure wonder. Whether they believed me or not, I hoped that the tree and its contents would make them understand who they truly were supposed to be. Choosing not to take them to Zeroianha because they were banded as betrayers to the rest of the Steel-types, I hoped that this would allow them to understand with their own worn eyes.
=Bisharp, what is this?= I-0 asked, cautiously, as we began rounding the steel hill where the tree stood.
=Rogerson,= I gently corrected. =That is my name. And I know as well as you do what this tree is.=
That comment arose a challenge in each of them as they fought unknown with instinct. They watched me to emulate my example as I stamped one foot down into that huge thicket. Together, we parted that iron sea. When we began winding our way through the ancient staircase, an odd sense of belonging overtook each of them; and I watched, hope in my heart, as they touched the words carved into the tree. Their eyes widened and cleared: it must have felt to them like the world was becoming clearer all together. I-0, the wonderer, questioned me about what was marked upon these walls. I could only shake my head, as I had no knowledge of it either. Whether they were more confused by me or by the tree, I could not be sure, but I could ascertain that this was a step in the right direction for the Sciaenet.
As we began winding our way up, Aron’s soft murmuring lilted from above. A dread began curling its way down to my very core; had I made the wrong decision by bringing all of them here? I had swore to protect Aron, but had I been too naive in my jurisdiction only moments ago? The waves of tension that rolled off J-5 next to me answered my question as he lurched forward.
=This has been a test! Our prey!= J-5 screeched as he raced forward. This was it: a sense of stupidity slapped me! With the others trailing behind me, I bounded ahead of J-5. There sat Aron, a grey blur atop his mother’s stones, as J-5 poised his claw out-
=Hey! Don’t you touch him!= came the scream of Aron a moment later. He wriggled threateningly. In my arms.
A trail of nutrients wound its way across my serrated arm, dripping in grey dots to the bark below. Managing to block J-5’s attack with my body, I had thrust out my left arm in the nick of time. With the utmost control, I concentrated my face into something calm. When I looked up, J-5’s expression had shifted into that of stupid surprise.
When he said this, my anger could be contained no longer. Fury boiled from withim me; if I could have seen myself from another perspective, I’m sure steam would have riled its way from my ears! All objects were bathed in shades of red as I lept forward, bashing J-5’s head with mine. Maybe I had been enraged, for my attack had sent him yelling into some other direction.
My control had broken. And J-5 was tossed out of the last window, hollering as he was flung down from the heavens.
=Correct,= I gritted out with a voice suggesting fact. =They’re alive, like you or me. All of them, just like all of us.=
=Whoa! Iron Head!= Aron’s words settled into an isolated part of me. Red still surged through me.
=What...what are we? What are you?= an extremely passive voice whispered. Where the red had coated my vision, the trembling figures of Pawniard gently came back into view. The owner of this voice, O-3, oscillated his vision from me to the window, with his claw on the bark for support.
=Sciaenet,= I reassured him, =the ones who defend. You can choose to defend or not. You can choose to do anything you like.= These words summoned a serenity from inside. Although I regretted my action, I did not regret saving Aron. Nor did I regret showing these Pawniard what they truly were...at least I had to prove myself I was not the only Sciaenet of my kind.
They contemplated this fact as if I told them the sky was red. It might as well have been, for this simple fact was as earth-defying as anything the colony could have ever taught us. With Aron cradled in my arms still, I made my way towards the tree’s window. The sun sunk into the sky, leaving its remnants in orange and red rays that shot through the clouds. The time for my new friends to return had come. They seemed to understand this too, for they now concentrated on me. A sense of respect radiated from them, and with this I understood why Bisharp fought so hard to maintain their positions. It made us somewhat different from the rest of them, another rung up the ladder.
=It’s time to return,= I told them, swiftly setting Aron down upon the stones. The critter stared back at me with defiance, challening my right to leave. I couldn’t help but chuckle and add, =I’ll be back soon.=
=But what about the prey? You’ll get in trouble!= a slightly higher voice called now. E-11, who was taller and skinnier than the rest, I recognizied from that faithful filter so many months ago. He was the one who saw my Metal Sound and ran away from me while the others tackled each other on that muddied track. I ackowledged the same hope in his gleaming eyes as when he had stared at me. It was true; my kind was among me!
A voice tacked on, =We have not yet secured prey! You will die as our leader!= O-3 spoke with an exasperation that shocked me.
An effervescent joy bubbled through me as I realized that these Pawniard were concerned for my safety. This feeling had not pervaded me outside of anybody but my mother, Rille, Aron, and now Rena. It was this feeling that would save both sides from sheer destruction. I knew it had to be.
=Do not worry over me,= I said as calmly as I could, =but tell all of our brethren! Do not be caught by the Destroyer - and when the time is right, return here.=
O-3, E-11 and I-0 approved of my wish with quick nods. Beaming, I led the way out of the tree. As we swirled through the staircase, each step like a new level of understanding, I ruminated over how I would face the Destroyer. Not bringing prey back to the colony was the biggest mistake a Bisharp could commit, rewarded by death from what I understood. The wind zipped through us now as we cut across the land; and an epiphany came to me. If other Bisharp had not brought prey back before, it meant that others before me understood the mistake of murder. And if they had not killed either, then that meant that our race was nothing except for what it had been forced to be! I would correct this or give my life in return!
=Rogerson.= I-0’s words whipped through the wind. =How do we know that you are truthful?=
At this, the others stared at me too. Bending my head, closing my eyes, relaxing my body, I let down the arms that served as bracers to the wind. Lifting them up in two parallel lines, I crossed them in a sharp X and let my arms fall. This too awoke some sense in my friends. The grass seemed to become softer, the tropical flowers more vibrant in color, the stretches of water vivid blue lines of life. They nodded. We knew this by instinct, an ancient knowledge that overwhelmed the newer instinct to kill: this was the symbol of the Sciaenet, the Defenders.
Soon we entered the colony. A flurry of whispers and eyes showered us, as if our steel bodies had all rusted to a crisp. My friends, surprised as I was, looking around axiously as other Pawniard ran as far away from us as they could, bumping into one another and falling. Holding up my left arm in an attempt to halt this madness, I was surprised to find that two Bisharp held me down on either side!
=That’s the one!= a familiar voice yelled from the wall. =That’s the one who hates the King! That’s the one who lied to us the whole day!=
The glare I shot J-5 all but melted him, and his once strong voice cowered into a mere whimper. But still he persisted, flapping his arms and pointing his finger in my direction, causing chaos and panic and everything in between. Enraged, I pulled away from the steel arms that clamped me down. The resulting two Bisharp reached for me so I pushed them aside with a war cry -
=We are not meant to kill,= I whispered as a third Bisharp crushed my throat. The strain, unbearable, brought liquid to my eyes. A force ignited me and I kicked these three off of me. Death must wait.
=What?= a Bisharp asked.
I repeated what I said and a wave of silence weaved through the colony. It tied a knot of knowledge with that single sentence.
In this surreal setting, I raised myself up. The Bisharp stared at me in agog. And beyond them were the remaining one-hundred of my brethren, a hundred faces attached to souls and names and purposes and dreams. One day.
=We are meant for much more. We are the Sciaenet, the Defenders.= My voice boomed, bouncing the words off of these huge, empty cavern walls. =I will kill no longer. And I will no longer serve a King who exists to kill.=
Silence solidified the crowd. My own rushed breathing was the only sound I could perceive, my nerves on a million ends from standing in front of so many. They continued to stare at me, and in each of them I recognized that the thin film of exhaustion fell from their eyes. Replacing it was something much more vivacious. So we had lived. And in this life, we needed love. Kindness and love were the only ways to connect us, and it is with this thought that I raised my two arms up. Crossing them, I released them up for all to see. Even though my arms were disproportionate, happiness flooded me as I witnessed the colony all imitate my movement, from my Quanum to the Bisharp and everyone in between, one wave of latent understanding weaving through us.
Rillie, do you see me?
We’re going to make it. I promise.
Rillie did not raise his arms to me. The only one in the colony to not do so, he merely nudged his way out from the crowd. And agony struck as I somehow understood that this was his way of saying good-bye to me.
No time remained to consider this. Instead, a flaring sun ball descended into the cavern at that moment. Furious red light splayed onto the walls, flames lapping the stone in horrid tendrils of smoke and ash. This was not evolution; this was murder! Innocent Pawniard, avoiding the spewing flames that shot from the huge mass of fire, cowered only to be shot with spurts of fire. A yell ripped from my throat as I jumped into a line of Pawniard, covering them from the twisting leaks of fire. With my back to them, I stiffled a scream as searing heat flooded my back side.
=GO!= Haze fell over my vision, blurring everything into a red mass. Lines wobbled in front of me, with bigger lines over them: the Bisharp leaders were taking the Pawniard to safety! It is only this thought that made me move. Pain. Smoke. Burning. Burning were my Pawniard friends and I would not live to watch them die - I sprinted forward, each step across the blazing ground burning my soles to ash - and forced them into the labyrinths. The fire continued to strike me; I would not submit to it! The wound from earlier continued to bleed like a fuel that the fire caught onto and raced into my inside, lighting everything up from within -
Why do you not submit? Your brother hates you. Your love is no more.
Black and red draped over the world, sucking away everything that remained. The screams boiled down into a low hiss of bodies being crushed; the scents of baked ground burning my nostrils disappeared. In their places was lifelessness in a void I had already once visited. The thought of being here once more disgusted me, and I fought as hard as I could to escape the Destroyer’s grip on my life-
You will not succeed. It is ludicrous to try.
=Don’t you ever,= I growled out, my voice a hundred miles away, =speak about my brother!=
Your end is here.
Fighting the Destroyer left my breathless because his every thought- protecting the Pawniard - providing for the Bisharp - dug into me to tear me limb from limb. Then I pictured his bloody claws - all four of those monstrosities - closing the doorway of this void. But I would not let him! With a strand of my consciousness left, I remember how he faltered the first time I met him. So I barraged him, gathering my strengths, with a million thoughts of love - of Aron, of my sister, of my mother, of Scizor who went mad with love - and I reminded him of his own brother, the Lifegiver.
His terrifying screech broke through the void in a swift rip, spilling the colors and images of the real world. The cavern flooded my vision, with the black seeping into its corners. Gone was the Destroyer, who must have hid behind his slab. But a searing pain remained, and when all my senses had returned to me once more, I realized that the fireball was as real as it could get. The cavern swelled up in overbearing heat that would have killed any of the Pawniard; a dull relief hit me as I realized that I was the only being left here. The other Bisharp and Pawniard left me here to die as I passed out to be a part of the Destroyer’s astral plane. I did not care about their negligence of me. What mattered now was extinguishing this punishment that I had brought upon them!
Defend! With this thought, my body emitted an ominous glow. Cool draped over me next as a chrome crept over my whole body, covering my face and eyes, leaving me with a sharpened view of the fire before me. Time seemed to slow with my Iron Defense as I did this: with no last thought, I rushed right into the fray of the fire. Knowing I would be protected for only a moment, I did not care - a moment was all I needed.
Spinning around, the fire twirled with me until I had attracted all of it. My whole body was cooked from the outside as I lept out of the portal, away from the Pawniard, away from the Bisharp, away from my new friends who knew the truth. Away from the Destroyer and Rillie too.
This moment of cognizant thought burnt to a crisp as I finally reached the outside world. The Iron Defense coating melted off of me with the fire and now it combusted every corner of my being and I was hurting and there were no more sounds and sights and my eyes burst open and my screams must have frightened Aron and I could smell my scorched steel, my burnt up body, as I was burned alive and Rillie hated me-
I looked for peace. I must find peace. I died looking for it.
Look at that huge, pink conch shell. They call it Zeroianha. It’s from the world we used to live on...yes brother, it really is quite strange. They fit all of us in there, and it’s so big on the inside that there are five different columns and bowls in it. There’s a fire in it that evolves the Steel-types without hurting them. I heard it’s the best sensation ever that anybody could feel-
Yeah, Rillie? Oh, that’s Rena. Rillie, she’s our sister! Our mother’s name was Rosa. And it’s not Hienet - Scizor hates when I say that. Rillie, Scizor and our mother were in love. You should see how he talks about her and how much pride and spirit he has for her -
Brother, you have to meet this little guy called Aron! even at his age, he understands that this killing is wrong! He’s just like us brother, and he probably wants to meet you-
Oh, yes, being a Bisharp is not so fun. But it is fun meeting new friends. What? No, evolving is awful - Rillie, I hope you won’t ever have to experience it -
Yeah, these three days have really changed my life, and the only way I know I was living before this was because I had you-
Rilie, I can’t hear you - what? Can you repeat that?
Brother, where have you gone?
Brother, I’m inching closer and closer to your voice! I can’t see you though - but I can almost feel you here, right next to me. There’s a warmth that only you can give off, brother. And it’s nothing like the horrible burning feeling from the evolution or the Destroyer’s punishment. Your warmth settles deep into my heart and illuminates everything deep within me. My hope, my identity, my purpose. I am Rogerson, son of Rosa, and I was made to protect you. As soon as I can find you, Rillie, I’ll come right to you. I’m closer to you every day.
Rillie, keep speaking to me! I can hear more and more beside your voice. There’s rustling all around you. It must be you inspiring our brethren like you inspired me. I can almost see you sitting next to me, brother, protecting me while the others move around us. You always protected me. Even now, you stand by me as the shadows move in the background while the vivid colors of sunrise bleed through my eyelids...
R-11? That is a poor name for such an individual like him. Like my brother. And now I can feel your claw stroking my helmet, peacefully so I know that everything will be ok. I know you’re a genuine soul that hasn’t been destroyed by the Destroyer - you have feelings, emotions, and you’re hurt because of me...I’m sorry, Rillie, I’m so deeply sorry for everything...
My eyes opened. Everything invaded my perception too quickly - the glaring light of morning, the silencing shush of quiet, the buzzing energy of excitement. Unsure of these surroundings, I sat from the lying position I was in. Rocks rumbled underneath me, but an even bigger gem sat in my lap. Happily, I looked down to find Aron fast asleep. The bed I had slept on had consisted of his mother’s cobblestones, accentuated by jewels that caught the light in rainbows. Next to me, Aggron’s helmet rested, as victorious and powerful as that woman once was. To the other side of me...
=Are you alright?= the voice asked once more. Blinking, I looked up to find Rena leaning over me, analyzing my health. The voice that had been my brother’s softened, curving into a higher tone that brought me back to reality.
=S-sister,= I stuttered. My voice sounded alien to me, like it hadn’t been used for years. She seemed shocked too. The expressions flashed before her face: shock, regret, and happiness before she tackled me with the biggest hug I had ever known.
=He’s come back to us! Rogerson!= her muffled voice shouted in happiness. An explosion of applause erupted from all around me; where was this sudden happiness coming from? I held my sister in my arms as the little one at my stomach awoke.
=Rogerson!= Aron yelped, burying his face into my chest once more. I cooed to the little one, caressing his hide with my hand. He seemed dirtier than usual, with crusts of dried ground sticking to him. A thin layer of grime was smudged onto his shell. Absent to the world, I kept reassuring the distraught Aron with little circles of my thumb. I kept rubbing, but every time I thought the dirt had finally gone, a new layer of mess was stacked onto him. But then a strange sheen of gold appeared under the last layer of dirt, which was not Aron’s beautiful dove color. Mesmerized, I vaguely realized that this was not his hide, but my hand. And when I snapped back into reality, everything clicked - burning, dying, knowing I was burning to death -
=GO! Get to safety, now!= I shouted, scrambling to my feet and falling. With Aron jumping out of my hands, I held both of them up to my face. Trembling, I turned them over in the morning light streaming in from the window. My hands were made out of what appeared to be gold, with their edges a rusted orange color. So polished this gold constituting my chest plates, hands, and feet were, I felt like I had been reborn. And I stood, slowly, disconnectedly understanding that my whole body was now a darker and shinier shade that what it had been before. The pouch upon my arm where J-5 had attacked me was sealed in a scar that ran its way down my arm. This too glowed, as if something flowed in my body that was not just nutrients.
=You lost nutrients fast,= a voice replied as it read my mind. =That was the first injury we had to attend to.=
Recognizing J-5’s voice, I lurched forward. I was restrained by my sister’s arms, but I wanted to hurt him for betraying my kind and attempting to hurt Aron-
Then, I remembered that this was what I would have done too in his place. And it was foolish of me to hurt him. I calmed down, already calmed by J-5’s regretful expression.
=J-5 patched up your arm all by yourself! He really is a good surgeon!= Aron exclaimed from down below.
Picking Aron up, I remembered that we were not alone. J-5, Rena, and at least twenty other Pawniard roamed through this room. Some stared at me, some smiled, while others attended to the brethren down below in the tree. A strange humming of life flowed through me at the sounds of my kind freely moving. Wonder began to whirl through me; why was everyone here? How...how could I be alive and be here?
=Thanks, Aron! Look at Rogerson. He’s still dumbfounded! He should be! We must have went through twenty different substances trying to find a replacement for your steel. We went through diamond, topaz, pearl, all of that useless stuff,= J-5 replied once more.
Rena giggled as she placed a hand on my shoulder. =But we really had no need for it. Aron buried you in something called a Mud-Slap. He slept with you underground, and when we uncovered you both a week later you looked like...well, this.=
Aron pouted. =Not sure why you turned up gold and I didn’t!=
Not fully understanding, I nodded at them. I pushed my way past my brethren at that moment, absently replying to all of their greetings. Walking to the staircase of the giant tree, I found even more of my brethren studying the ancient text upon the wall. They held out their hands, their bodies sometimes glowing with movement. My senses were detached as I duly noted that one coated himself in an Iron Defense like I had the other day; a screeching followed as a different one opened his voice to unleash a Metal Sound. They chuckled at each other, in such a carefree way that I did not believe what I was watching. Then they returned to the ancient text, studying it to learn more.
=It’s covered, you know, in the ways of the Sciaenet. I know what these moves are because Momma told me. She said she saw a deer in her dreams who taught her, and then she taught me!= Aron grinned with pride over this fact.
Dumbfounded, I only stared at Aron. I turned my attention back to Rena and J-5, who both watched me in turn carefully. It all connected so slowly. Part of my believed I had died in that fire, being consumed wholly by the Destroyer’s pain. But another part of me believed that this was all a very strange dream, from arriving at Zeroianha to meeting my sister to evolving in fire. It was then that my sister sat me down, guiding my way with her gentle tug. Reiterating how Aron had saved my by slapping mud onto me, she delved further into my recovery as she told me of the Pawniard who left the colony to come to the tree. She told me about how my message had hit clear, and even how a rebellion had started within the colony. She told me about how she snuck into the colony, to check on me, and helped my brothers as they fought each other to escape.
=You’ve begun something greater than you thought possible,= she gently whispered as she clung to my arm. =Now, there are those who are still controlled by the King, and those who managed to break free of his reign. And there are those back at Zeroianha who have no idea about any of this.=
Searching the beautiful blue specks in her eyes, I was lost. What had I begun? I had meant to save us all from the wrath of the Steel-types and the Destroyer, not to incite a war among our own kind -
=Brother,= she spoke up louder, =I will stay with you! I have no immediate connection to Scizor or these Sciaenet. I will follow you because I want to. You come first.=
Shocked by this confession, I had no time to react as the staccato of steel boots into the grass alerted me. I lurched to my feet before dashing to the window. Outside, the twenty other Bisharp leaders came to the tree’s thicket in an iron tide. Trailing behind them were what remained of their Quanams, Pawniards with scorch marks and minor injuries. The tree buzzed with activity now as everyone tried to see what was happening outside. Fear seized me, so I set Aron down and jumped down the staircase.
Outside, the light of the morning scattered my gold shine in all directions. The Bisharp leaders showed no reaction to this as they marched, in time, one entity of authority. This was it: they were here to capture me for the Destroyer. I stood my ground, fear running through me, bravery overcoming it. My sister, Rena, and all the Pawniard were in here and I would not allow these Bisharps to touch a single one.
=Rogerson,= an ominous voice reverberated from a steel helmet. This Bisharp, with the largest horn I’d ever seen, turned around to face the rest. =He is alive!=
Another explosion of applause followed, but all I could do was force a smile. I turned my body this way and that, sharpening my vision against the glint of this sparkling sea. I needed to see Rillie; I needed to know he was here-I did not process the claws that passing Pawniard placed on my shoulder. I heard, but did not listen, to the words of the Bisharp leaders as they surrounded me like a red brigade. And I did not feel the hugs of the surviving Pawniards who had managed to turn their backs on the King, nor their joy at their defiance. With every second, every swish of a Pawniard through the crowd that I moved through, I thought I saw Rillie’s face. His subtle limp turned out to be a simple rock or a stick out of place. But when I made my way through the whole procession, I did not find Rillie.
=We as a Bisharp force have been trying to escape the mentality of the King for years. Everything we did we knew was wrong, but only you had the power to actually defy him and his mindset. And that’s what gave us power,= a third Bisharp said as he congratulated me.
=Where is R-11, Rillie?= I asked. My voice was no longer with me.
=And that’s how we stayed behind until the Pawniard who could be salvaged escaped. Ask your sister more, she planned the whole thing with a tactical genius unheard of in centuries,= a Bisharp finished narrating. I hadn’t been listening. =The last Pawniard we rescued tell us that R-11 became a Bisharp on the fifth day of your sleep. We do not yet know the status of the Pawniard and Bisharp who remain at the colony. Speaking of your sister-!=
I turned so swiftly to face him that he poised in defense. Feeling foolish, I could not find words in that moment. Another Bisharp leader took over, naturally, guiding the Pawniard into the tree where they would receive medical attention. This news of Rillie crashed down upon me over and over again, and when we had been standing there for over a minute, the Bisharp leader helped me inside. Yet another Bisharp leader, an obedient and strong one that I recognized from instruction, began sorting the Pawniard into smooth lines so everybody could learn the ancient Sciaenet defenses. But I sat on this cobblestone bed, Aron on my head with Rillie on my mind, unsure what to think or do anymore.
Months passed. Every time I thought the world would end, the sun arose and the day began anew; off the Bisharp leaders would go, instructing the younger ones as they learned faster. Then the Pawniard would mimic their movement, learning and laughing so much that I knew they were now alive. In the middle of the day, the Pawniard would talk about their dreams or the Pawniard they missed the most from the colony. They would talk just to hear their own voices, sealed off for so long. The Bisharp and the Pawniard would form rounds together, running just for the sake of enjoying the world. At nights, everybody would choose a place to sleep within or outside the tree. These mighty branches formed nooks and crannies for naps, now unlimited.
The Pawniard themselves looked stronger. Color blushed through their steel bodies, their faces lighter, their eyes dancing with happiness. They wondered if they could ever evolve. To answer that question, they needed to return to Zeroianha once more. This was the only way they could evolve besides being subjected to the Destroyer’s wrath.
Attempting to venture there multiple times on my own, I was always stopped by my sister. I would only venture there to pick a fight with Scizor. She knew this as well as I did; in rational thought, it was ridiculous to consider confronting Scizor. I would fight him for no reason, as Scizor had not the slightest whereabouts of my brother. He could have easily sent a new spy, but he choose not to. Moreover, we had not witnessed a Bisharp hunting pack ever since the rebellion began. From his perspective, for all I knew, the Sciaenet were no longer betrayers. It seemed as if the world had finally earned its peace. Nobody complained here, and nobody returned to the colony ever again. Nobody killed anybody. Everybody was happy now.
They called me the Golden One. From leading the Bisharp to teaching the Pawniard, it was my job to provide a central sense of leadership. I was looked towards as the leader, silent but strong, the one who had defied the King. They would ask me to retell my story of apparent bravery as I lept out of the portal by myself the first time. Then a Bisharp would cut in, chuckling and adding how strange I looked to them. Then I would continue, narrating my tale of how apparently exciting it was to see Zeroianha in person. The Pawniard would make wonder noises. I would act for them, wilting away on the inside each time I had to portray an expression that had died within me so long ago.
They would not let me go back to the colony. I did not really care. Rena said that my brother was no longer the same Pawniard I knew. She said the King must have taken over his mind the minute the rebellion began. She said she was sorry for that. I did not care about anything. I stopped questioning why Rillie hated me months ago. I quit thinking about what I did that would make him feel that way. He would never return. Over now. Everybody was happy. That was what I was fighting for, right? All that time ago? I wanted peace. This was peace.
When my sister finally stopped subtly guarding me at nights some weeks ago, I did nothing. I lay on the same windowsill, Aron in my arms, thinking about nothing. At one time I was afraid to think; perhaps if I thought too much, the King’s thoughts would come pouring back into my mind. Or maybe I had stopped reflecting on life because it had reminded me of Rillie. Possibly, I had reflected upon that too much, and now there was nothing left to think about. Either way, I would only absently watch the steady rise and fall of Aron’s chest. The mornings came and every day was the same.
After one endless day, I snuck into the night. I had no motivation for such or inkling of a thought as to why I would do this. Lately, I had been traumatized with horrifying memories of fire. Perhaps the grass I ran into would erupt into searing waves of fire-no, don’t come back-I was frightened of this new golden body. Gold had always been softer than steel, weaker, just like I had been to my own kind. The miracle of Aron’s Mud-Slap could only go so far, right? A soul could only be so lucky. But my golden body held up as I raced away from Aggronius, the giant tree named by Aron in homage to his mother. Stealthier I became, my boots making almost no noise as I desperately tried to run from everything. I wheezed with the sweet air, the sound of birds overhead thundering around me. Everything became so cloyingly pleasant that I panicked.
=Scizor? SCIZOR!= Without anyone’s permission, I burst into the psychic barrier created by Metagross. I could almost feel it now; a cooling feeling that fell over me as soon as I passed through it. This could not stop my fury as I bounded through Zeroianha’s lake, wanting to all but fling myself into the fire and be done with everything-
Sloppy. Loud. Angry. In a moment, two freezing pincers clamped onto either of my shoulders. A metallic sound like a chainsaw followed, and then the land left my feet as I was carried away. A hard-coated body held my close, but dropped me as soon as we were in a secure bowl. A loud clasping sound followed and the chain saw being turned to me. We were alone once more. I had wanted to destroy Scizor in this very spot.
=Rogerson,= he greeted me before nodding.
I gritted my teeth, a terrible twisting sound that Scizor never flinched at. =Don’t you even dare come attack the Sciaenet race,= I managed to pump out, =or I’ll murder you myself. My friends are fine, and there’s no need for violence.=
=I saw. Good work. You’ve really saved the majority of the Sciaenet and the Steel-types.= His tone had not changed. He bowed his head now, as genuinely as could be. =Thank you, Rogerson. You’ve really saved us all.=
=No I haven’t! The King has kept at least half of the Pawniard to himself. Who knows how he tortures them. And then you! You agree with me, but you haven’t even moved to integrate the races. Liar.=
=They’re there at the colony on their own terms, Rogerson.= Scizor folded his pincers in a cross. =It takes a lot to integrate our species. I have let the Steel-types know about your feats; they look forward to meeting the Sciaenet. The majority of them, at least. It takes time to process this new event.=
He analyzed me with his eyes softening. Unhappiness fell upon his face in uneven lines. =A rebellion that started seven months ago cannot upheave decades of oppression. But you...you have lived three life times in three days.=
=The King is plotting something - I know he is. Why else would he never hunt again? But you stand by, locked away in Zeroianha, the place that rightfully belongs to all of us. You coward! You don’t even know the story from the Destroyer’s perspective-=
=He could be. Or maybe he’s dead.=
When Scizor said this, my mouth wavered. I oscillated from yelling at him to accusing him again for no reason. At this, my stupidity finally caught up to me. What an awful individual I was. I fell to the floor, never caring what Scizor thought of me or never caring that I lost everything. I never cared at all, so why was I shaking to my very core? I rolled on the pink flesh of the conch, nothing more than a heaving heap of pathetic. Two insanely warm arms wrapped around me, pulling me close to a warm center. Quiet. Peace. My thrashing stopped, and I closed my eyes. Everything hurt still. What hurt me?
=When your mother left to fight for the Sciaenet,= Scizor gently stated, =she did so at the cost of leaving me. She had greater responsibilities than love. Like learning when to back away from an unwinnable battle...Like creating both of you.=
I listened intently. The drone of his dissected voice no longer frightened me.
=You must understand that love extinguishes loneliness. Memory fights off misery. That is the only way we make it through.=
=You and the Sciaenet, Rogerson, are always welcome here. Don’t wake up any of the sleeping Pokemon on the way out if you choose to leave.= Scizor meant every word. I sobbed quietly in his embrace before leaving.
On the eve of Scizor’s 105th year of existence, the Sciaenet and the Steel-types rejoiced as they were finally united. I watched this strange event from afar: the Steel-types moved as one, an iron tide against the grass as they slowly rolled over to the Sciaenet waiting outside Aggronius. Scizor naturally led the procession, marching with his shoulders high. Metagross directly followed behind him, and then Steelix to his other side. The Pokemon leveled out in triangles that reminded me of those mesmerizing patterns atop Scizor’s chest. The Sciaenet stood, posed, outside of Aggronius with the Bisharp squaring their polished shoulders. The Pawniard stood behind them, their eyes shaded by the glint of the morning. For a split second, I mistook the event for two armies meeting in the middle of war. It hurt to admit, deep down, that I wanted this to happen.
I had been expecting Scizor to betray the Sciaenet, holding his words from the day I first met him close to my heart. I was a terrible being to believe he would betray us like this. I had become distrustful for no reason as I now had an eternity to reflect on the actions of my brethren. The harder I thought, the more I deconstructed everything before me until even my existence was scattered in a thousand pieces. Here - I watched Rena embrace Scizor in a moment followed by a shockwave of applause and I could only think about how she muddied Rillie’s perfection forever. And I watched the other Steel-types greet the Sciaenet for the first time with the only thought in my head revolving around how they all wanted to kill each other at one point. I looked at my own brethren and did not feel like a part of them now. But I remembered how even those joyous Pawniard had tried to kill me all those years back. I thought about how I felt ready to end any of them for Rillie’s life.
Even sitting up here, away from the loud laughter that mingled among those down below, at the top of Aggronius, beneath everything, the memory of Aggron’s mother brutally assaulted me. My body trembled as that terrible moment coursed through my being. I had murdered her - stabbed my claw through her mouth though she did nothing to me - completely taken her whole jaw off - When I finally stopped shaking, the sun had fallen beneath the endless hills for the millionth time. With worn eyes, I looked below to observe the energy that bombinated from the Steel-types and Sciaenet finally becoming one. Random Pawniard walked to and from the direction of Zeroianha, seeing it for the first time in their lives. The differing voices of the Steel-types rocked the tree as they explored Aggronius for the first time, their voices booming with excitement. I muted their voices and faded out again.
I did not sleep yet still nightmares wracked me. When I thought I had escaped the agony everyday carried with it, I thought I was finally at peace. I thought Aron’s body weighed me down so my body would not fly away forever into the endless night. Yet this thought was wrong. When I thought I had reached a tranquil moment devoid of thought or distrust, visions of the sun streamed through my eyes and burned me. When I could see no longer, Aggron’s scream deafened my ears and then came the burn of the Destroyer until I lost all of my senses and no longer had a reason to live -
And so I grew frightful of the rising sun that reminded me of the one the Destroyer burnt into his back. Then I was tired of seeing the commotion down below with our two races mixing. And finally I feared the visions that returned to relentlessly assault me all through the night.
I decided to visit the colony. My mind’s thoughts took random paths these days and my new impulsiveness drew me towards the place I had not visited for six years. It had become anathema to both the Sciaenet and the Steel-types; neither race spoke of that dark cavern, as if we could forget it from our past. It could have been possible, since both the Sciaenet and the Steel-types had completely forgotten about the Pawniard that remained with the Destroyer. They now had better things to do, their lives freed for them. This revolted me more than my own twisted thoughts. I was no better, though - paralyzed by inaction, I had let myself drift in an apathetic stream. But I needed to see something for myself and leapt down from the top of Aggronius, for the first time in weeks. I raced towards it, loosening my stiff muscles that ached wildly with all of the new exertion. I ran faster and faster as if I could run into the future and see the madman waiting for me - myself - reflected in the shimmering portal of the colony.
When I finally reached it, nostalgia flooded me. A sense of unease came next as I finally understood what a madman I was. I rejected Scizor’s claim of the Pawniard leftover being here on their own terms; the Destroyer must have been using his power to keep them prisoner. And if I entered here like this I was surely handing over my life. But there was a chance, small as a speck in our sky, that Rillie remained here. And so I dove right on in, my senses not prepared for a battle. This was the epitome of foolishness. I posed in defence as the mustiness of the colony overcame me and with it a barrage of memories -
I thrust my arms through the air, fighting an invisible enemy. The dust of the place wandered into my body and made me feel as dead as the emptiness surrounding me.
Not a soul or sound remained. A surreal silence had me whirling around, on guard for a threat. Understanding that no threat existed here, or anything at all, I aimlessly began wandering through my old prison. The labyrinths seemed much smaller, but I remembered every twist and turn as I could never forget. Here, I used my Metal Sound for the first time; there, long-lost brothers tried to pry my horn out when I was barely a year old. If I looked closely enough, I could spot the slightly kicked up patches of dirt where Rena’s stolen helmet hit the ground before my evolution. This occurred lifetimes ago.
Naturally, I stopped at the sleeping stations. Ducking my head lowly, I hissed as a chill crept through me. The edge of my horn graced the top of the sleeping stations. The deeper I went, the more the ceiling shrunk and the more I felt I would burst through the whole colony. My breath became short and I wheezed feeling so enclosed - on all fours, I closed my eyes as I moved forward. Instinct stopped me at two tiny sleeping stations, right on the curve of a hallway. Satisfied, I opened my eyes and regarded the sleeping stations Rillie and I spent the first year of our life in, talking, wondering where the rest of our lives would end up. Dangerous words and actions slipped across these two stations. I held my arms up in two parallel lines, crossing them, clutching my chest in the memory.
We lived so little of our lives here, Rillie. I know you live on somewhere out there under the Destroyer. I know you hate me and I can never repay you for what I did or tell you how sorry I feel. Years drag on and the memories of being colony-bound cling to me every moment. I wonder how you carry on through your life and if I remain a part of it as you do in mine. ...This is a dark thought, Rillie, but I wonder if I made the right decision in upsetting all of our lives like this. I should have stuck to the wall like you did and I would not have this overwhelming wall pressing down upon me every day of my life. I see the happiness in others yet I feel like I have returned to where we both started, unborn, never meant to see the light of a greater beyond.
Misery seized me. I wandered on, the pain of Rillie’s absence fresh in my heart. When I reached the room of the portal again, I shuddered at the blackened walls that had been left when I carried out the fire. Now I wished that it had consumed me entirely at that point; then, the Sciaenet would have had their happiness and I would not have had to live in absent hours, wondering where Rillie was and when he would return. My breath came in angry, short bursts that popped throughout this vacuum left behind. I wanted to see the Destroyer now to end him. My anger with a mind of its own moved without me; without thinking, I focused all my extra weight into my leg, that from being so large, that from the hate of the Destroyer weighing down my heart, that from the weight of everyday. I spun in the air and kicked the slab so hard in my Low Kick that the enormous piece cracked in half, crashing down so quickly I barely avoided being crushed by my own stupidity.
Where I expected the Destroyer to stand, only the vast sky looked down at me. I yelled in frustration so potent I could implode.
=You know Rogerson….= a voice gently called out. =You’re my hero.=
The tender voice sunk into me. I turned around slowly, my wide eyes taking in the form of Aron before me. He stood atop the rubble I caused, a diamond among dirt.
=You saved us! And we’re all safe now, including you.= He paused for a painful moment. When his voice returned, it came with cracks that broke me open and I swore to never again break his heart like this. =You don’t have to do this anymore to yourself.=
With huge, welling eyes, he crawled into my lap and lay there. I had been selfish. I had taken away his mother and he had no one else like him in this world. With the greatest care, I cradled the creature, promising to never let go again. If he could make it, I had to make it. For him.
=Rogerson,= he whispered, =I’m going to evolve. I think...I think it’s time. I think it’s what Momma would have wanted.= The depth of his maturity hit me and I felt oddly old.
=Evolution is a terrible thing,= I impulsively replied, slowly rocking him back and forth in my arms. A strange concoction of misery and pride built in me until I collapsed. I held onto Aron while I still could.
A year later, Aron evolved into Lairon. I celebrated this with the strangest sadness and hope for him. All at once, his evolution brought to him a leadership that he properly earned with all of his bravery and goodwill. He became the center of leadership for our mixed races, proudly leading this strange new world with Scizor at his side. I saw him less and less. He spent his days bettering this shared world, working always towards integrating both the Sciaenet and the Steel-types. He existed within both spheres while creating a sphere where they could all seek sanctuary in each other. He had accomplished what his mother hoped for all this time. In the idle of nights, when Aron used to sleep across my chest, I stopped waiting for Lairon to return. Occasionally sliding my claw over Agron’s helmet, I lay awake in this endless twilight. I stopped living in Aggronius and went off to explore the world on my own.
Rena checked on me occasionally. My sister poured over me with the greatest worry that easily bested any mother’s love. If only to appease her, I tried harder to appear to my fellow brethren as a workable member of our new society. They chuckled, that strange gurgling noise, as they joked that the Golden One had returned from the clutches of the past. They talked about how I was obsessed over the now-mythical Destroyer and could find purpose in nothing else, like a fanatic lost in his ravings. I did not understand these claims though they twisted and tore me up inside. Before long, they make sensual imitations of any wisdom I could give or any conversation I tried to make with my disconnected voice. I eventually stopped in the need to not embarrass my sister or Lairon, who I doubted still regarded me as his hero. I clambered along, being unsure of where I should be and unable to do anything I could have done.
Three years following, Lairon evolved into Aggron. I lost him.
Scizor and Rena became disturbingly close. It felt like a natural occurrence for everyone involved, like a good ending to a story. I could not fathom it. I had lost both of them.
You only now know of the agony I felt when my brother left me.
It had been the only voice that had spoken to me in over a year. I could not seem to remember where I heard it first though I know our memories are infallible. I had blocked off every other memory besides my first one, when a Bisharp called me Son.
I let the darkness in.
I live for the King.
He beats his life purpose into me; and, with every stride against the long-grass that cannot slice me as I race past, I know that his purpose is my purpose all along. Every move I make, from my arm flinging into this traitor Pawniard to my roar as I slam into another Pawniard, is a move the King destined for me to take. He planned for the bloody sunrise that soaks its red fury across this spoiled sky. He is my true destiny and I do not deny Him. Together, we can only succeed in His almighty plan to eradicate this madness these inferior beings have set upon His land.
His strength infuses into me.
He drips a drop of the sunshine he absorbed onto his back onto me. And this is what gives me the power to launch three of the Bisharp off of me though they scream as they try to hold me. He gave us all this power so long ago, but we had foolishly refused his blessing. It is this blessing I receive as I battle my way through the huge moat of greenery that tries its hardest to prevent me from entering the tree. Stabbing me with sharpened branches like claws, it hisses as it wraps its spiny roots around my boots and forces me down. The little thorns sting my steel and I want to cry, but He sees no reason for me to have a voice. I cut off the roots and ignore the squeal that sizzles from the undergrowth.
His mission is my mission.
The King had been waiting for me. He assured me that I was the final piece in His greatest plan. He claimed that I was His greatest warrior and therefore simultaneously His greatest threat. He said I had been fearfully made, so strong, so meant to serve Him for my entire life. And I understood now. I could not remember anything from before the day the King rescued me. From that point onwards, my memory consisted of watching the King write our life fates on His psychic slab. I am meant to die today, for Him. Strange deja vu coursed through me, yet I disregarded this.
She looked strangely like me -
But no, this is a ridiculous idea. I am modeled after the King’s perfection. We all are. But those who have broken from His ideal image must be broken down. I chanted this to myself as I slammed into the female warrior next, my rounded-claw boring into her with one of the King’s special moves. The horrified scream ripping from her voice box never left me mind, nor did her retaliation, too lethargic, too late. These betrayers had become weak without the strength of our King. It was now time for all of us to return to His Kingdom. I thoughtly solely this as my burning claw ripped into her shoulder and her scream echoed throughout my body.
The King did not wish for me to stop. Without a second thought, I crashed into the red-claw enemy with all of my strength and the strength of a thousand suns. My opponent must have been a specially-crafted war machine created by Him, for the extraordinary speed and strength of the red beast left me heaving. With only one claw, he lifted my whole being and hurled me towards the outside. Crashing into the wall of the tree I recognized from some distant memory, I noticed that I did not scream as I plummeted to the ground below. The clouds wrapped me as I fell towards the ground, as if preparing me for burial. I wanted to scream, but He did not design me with a voice.
And He loves me. So He did not leave me alone in His grandmaster plan.
The others pour from his Heaven in a black wave. I watch them through my swimming vision that weaves in and out as gravity brings my body to the ground. First, I see the gargantuan black wound scarring the sky. The edges of it shimmer like the edges to some portal somewhere faraway. In the murky depths, fifty more of my perfect brethren jump into the sky, their claws poised for the kill. A wave of gasps washes over the betrayers to the Destroyers, and this split second fades as complete chaos consumes the silence. Cries arch this battlefield created by the betrayers as my brethren seek to kill every last one. Thinking I too could die now, I closed my eyes as I knew the ground seeked to swallow me whole. The King had told me I would die today, and I do not fight His law.
Something stops me from hitting the ground, defying Him! Where I should have landed, two grey legs made miniature depressions in the ground instead of my body. A matching pair of arms, more like chained gauntlets, trapped my insignifiant body in the sea of grey. I looked up, seeing the face of an ancient warrior. Tears swirled in his massive blue eyes that streamed downwards as he looked upon me. I could not gather the power to release myself from his hold.
Buzzing somewhere from the sky, my head snapped up just in time to see the red-claw creature hurling something towards me with his his enormous claws! Pure curiosity unbefitting of the King’s speed glued me to the spot. For some reason, I could not leave the arms of the creature who held me, nor could I seek my escape from imminent death. White light glowed from the inside of the helmet, making it seem as if only the cosmic object and I existed within that crystal-ball moment and not the pandemonium caused by the war among my brethren. A well-scarred helmet created a great, grey blur in the sky that I barely fathomed as it grew increasingly larger in my vision. I felt an enormous burst of pain on my head before all went white.
Green. ...A daisy gently landed upon my body like a faraway kiss from a loved one. Blinding light filled my vision when I finally opened my sensitive eyes. A black-and-red blur smudged the horizon.
I squinted my eyes. The blur sharpened a little, but I needed to see it better. That little splatter of color against this peaceful background seemed important to my heart, though I could not place why. My little feet made their way through the soft grasses like rolling waves, ready to see the blur for myself - and before I knew it, my feet ran towards the wonderful source of excitement. Every step closer seemed to set a new pace within my beating heart and I wanted to see it - I really needed to see him -
I called out some inane nonsense to the figure, who I ascertained looked like me. On closer inspection, it moved in a gently jagged way. One leg was a little shorter than the other, but I thought this being looked perfect. He turned around to face me, two huge eyes widening as they saw me too in some extraordinary light. Unable to control the ecstasy that bubbled between us, we leapt into each other in a hug that opened our hearts up. We laughed and smiled again; we knew somehow that we loved each other, though we could not place how or why.
Rolling onto the gregarious grasses that whistled and giggled when the wind touched it, we began talking with voices we did not know we had. The incredible sunshine that illuminated our glinting bodies in the glorious day never fell from us. We had so much in common! We talked about the beauty of the grass, the wonder of the sunshine, the green hills in the great distant. But at some point, we knew that we needed to part from each other. Maybe it was because we needed to continue growing to talk more, to see more and to meet in the middle with our different experiences. Embracing again, we knew right there that we would never forget each other.
I held onto his petite shoulders and he hugged my middle section with a tender touch. Ready to go now, we placed our arms together in two parallel lines. We crisscrossed them in a big X, perhaps a symbol for love, and then let our arms fall. Above us, where we had created this wondrous symbol, a green orb of energy sizzled and glowed. We watched as it grew larger and larger: two huge antlers gently cut open the ball, spotted and bejeweled with a rainbow of shining colors. These antlers bore the same X as the one we created with our arms. A body that defined grace followed, with four limbs patched by purple and pearl white. A fine fur coated its body, but its face! It smiled upon us, the greatest fortune we could wish for, even as it towered so many feet above us.
We called him the Lifegiver. Natural as a mother’s love, he nudged us with a button nose. We giggled as we leapt a little bit back, grinning uncontrollably as he knelt down to let us ride his antlers. And like that, we were flying in air on his antlers! The Lifegiver began running gently through the fields; we squealed and held on tighter. I looked to the being next to me, his face alive with excitement, and held his hand in mine. The Lifegiver continued on to some great point in a distance we could not see in our present states.
He stopped against an enormous tree. I had never seen one like it before! It called to me with the huge crescent at the top of it, the sweet smells of cinnamon radiating from it. Thick moats of undergrowth surrounded it - and my friend and I watched, inspired, as the Lifegiver split the moat when he walked through it! He ducked his huge head into a triangular doorway and entered. With a voice of clarity, he told us about how he sprouted this tree from a seed no bigger than the palm of our hands. It made us wonder how big we could grow one day, too. He then told us the story of how he watched his brother write upon the tree, an act of love for the brother he missed. We nodded our little heads.
Inside, the Lifegiver entertained us with flashing lights from his antlers. He twirled so the brilliance reflected off the walls of the wondrous tree. Touching a piece of the bark, the Lifegiver grew flowers on it! They draped towards us on thick vines, curling over us as we played with them. The Lifegiver smiled upon us before a look of hurt crossed his face. The emotion brewed strange memories within me, as if they didn’t belong to me, and the world slowly started coming back into place.
When I looked next to me, the being I loved, named Rillie, had disappeared. The Lifegiver told me to save him.
And then light illuminated darkness, love fought off loneliness, memory defeated misery; I remembered that I was Son of Rosa, Brother of Rillie, Defender of Zeroianha.
Like this, my soul drifted back into the body the Destroyer had seized from me. I exploded to life! My senses tuned into every detail; the bloody crash of claw versus claw sounded all around me; the putrid odor of spilled nutrients stained the air; the whole field a collage of glinting bodies slicing into each other. Wildly jumping from Aggron’s arms, I turned and embraced him in the heaviest hug in my life before bounding out into the field. My brethren! The Destroyer had contaminated their minds just as he had mine! Bloody anger powered my every move, from deflecting the punch of a Bisharp to flinging my body over the shield-headed creature and defending him. The rabid chantings of the possessed Bisharp popped from their mouths like explosives and it sickened me to the very core.
=Iron Claw, then Dual Chop!= I commanded over the fray to a fellow who struggled against two opponents. Turning around just in time, I kicked another posessed brethren with a leg muscled by a thousand trips to Zeroianha and the colony, everything in between. The possessed Bisharp arched through the air before landing unconscious, beaten yet not dead.
Another Bisharp twirled over me smooth as a dazzling flag in the sky. We would hold our land, the peaceful sanctuary the Destroyer had originally intended for us! =Golden One,= the Bisharp ackowledged me. It was the big-horned Bisharp, who I recognized from my first conscious day after the rebellion. =It’s good to have you again, brother!= He sped off before I could inform him of how much his sincereity honored me. To honor him back, I too raced back into the battle and tackled the nearest Bisharp controlled by the Destroyer. I impaled him with my rounded clw, never meant to kill, until he fainted and the black glow lifted from him. The possessed swirled with the unnatural black cloud that twisted their shadows upon our stained ground.
At some point in battle, the layers of possesed brethren filtered out on the field. Steel-types simultaneously battled while moving their freed Sciaenet friends from harm’s way; they carried them atop their massive bodies, Steelix and Metagross sliding through the waves of battle to escort the passed-out to the fringes of the field. At this point, I looked down to observe the silver chest and shoulder plates coating my body. Strange engravings glittered from white light within, and I knew this to be Aggron’s helmet fashioned into armor. How the Lifegiver managed to create armor out of Aggron’s helmet, I had not one idea. But it was his light, his thought of love, that had freed me in the first place. Love made miracles. I ran faster to knock down the Bisharp that approached my favorite chainsaw creature.
=Rogerson,= Scizor said to me, calm as ever. The felled Bisharp hit the ground in a thud as Scizor nodded at me in thanks. The perpetual batter of his wings patterned a war drum throughout the battle field.
=Scizor,= I replied back. =I’m sorry for everything.= He nodded off my apology in acceptance before hauling the Bisharp behind me into the air. He loved me too!
As their bodies flew through the sky, I watched as the black vortex in the sky swirled with a new energy. Little sparkles drifted into the darkness, now devoid of all of our possesed Sciaenet brethren. Focusing, I saw the little shimmy surrounding the blackness shimmer with new colors. Two beings, the biggest of us all and beyond, arose from their sleeping states to look each other head on. We all stopped to watch the Lifegiver run towards the Destroyer, from beyond our physical realm!
The Lifegiver rammed into the Destroyer with his enormous horns. That mighty silhoutte of his horns spilled open the sun buried into the Destroyer’s back! A huge explosion bathed even us, tiny figures on a different plane compared to these gods, in such heavenly light that we all averted our eyes. The Destroyer’s astral plane had been illuminated, revealing the void space that held only his shriveling figure in face of the light. A scream broke from his voice and he dropped his slab, breaking into a thousand pieces somewhere beyond our mortal sight. The lava running down his body dried, falling off him in chunks that revealed the fresh fur underneath. The brilliant blue in his eyes shined as calmly as the sea he took the shell of Zeroianha from. The Lifegiver approached his brother as the Destroyer inched closer to him too. With a victorious roar, the Destroyer shook off the final traces of darkness from his fur and embraced his brother in the mightiest display of love our world would ever witness. Our Sciaenet brethren had been freed!
We watched their consciousness sink into their brains and their memories snuggle back into their hearts. The instructors had been lied to all those years ago; we possessed heads and hearts and we were more than hollow bodies with sticky nutrients stored in them. And we were really the same all along, all of the Sciaenet and the Steel-types. Leaning against Aggron, I watched Metagross lift Bisharp in pain to medical attention, provided by the more gifted Steel-types. Excadrill and his friends made quick work of those lying on the ground, burying their way through well-crafted tunnels to grab injured friends and transport them to safety. And then Sciaenet assisted Steel-types, using their special Defender skills to buffer dents to bodies, seal open wounds. I thought this was our happy ending.
=Rogerson. Stop this madness. Become the new King with me, brother.=
My mind reeled as I heard his voice. The crystal-clear clarity cut through the whole battlefield to enter my eardrums, descend, and die in the soft spot of my heart. Every nerve within me tingled, living and dying with the knowledge of who stood on the same plane as me yet remained possessed with the Destroyer’s insanity. Time seemed distorted as I turned so slowly. The moment I had waited for in the span of years lay before me. This was not how we were meant to meet.
He seethed with anticipation. It was a horrid to see my brother as a Bisharp, for the first and final time. I saw myself in him: though the spikes jetting from his head were still there and his left boot was slightly shorter than his right, I saw my eyes and my chest plate and my blood boiling in him. He arched forward. He would not regret killing me. He wanted to kill me.
Not a second passed before he leapt forward, mauling me into the ground with the remnants of the Destroyer’s twisted strength. Dark tendrils of insanity twirled around me, threatening to suck me back in with their red energy - but I wrestled my brother, knowing every aspect of the physical dynamic between him and I. Only the awful power of the Destroyer in him left me struggling to place what was my brother’s new strength or the Destroyer’s. Rillie’s incredible new speed plunged a claw deep into my shoulder, past Aggron’s armor, and I shrieked; a rivlet of nutrients flooded from the injury.
Defend! Memories running rampant in my mind, I readied my awakened voice box. Waves of crescendoing sonic booms left my mouth, hitting Rillie in the Metal Sound. It was the same attack that had awoken my Sciaenet ability, but more importantly, the first move I used to save Rillie with. He seemed to remember that memory as if our minds were one; startled, his true eyes looked about wildly and then at me, sorrowfully, before a black film fell over his eyes returned him to his crazed version.
He attacked and I retaliated until we drowned in a river of red. I needed to bring his soul back to the surface. I knew the only way to do this. My heart twisted and turned while I thought about it; and as I thought about it, Rillie barraged me in more brutal beatings. I nearly gave up the fight, preferring his attacking me to the alternative - the one and only fact: the only way to stop Rillie was to -
I began seeing black again, edging back into the eternal darkness, but then Arggron’s voice called to me.
I promised to be here for him. I defied our submission to the Destroyer so I could swear to defend.
To power up the final Sciaenet ability, I focused and forgot all. I did it with the numbness I experienced from my years in solitude, pushing all thoughts and memories in all directions away from me. I had to. I needed to. Pulsating with dark matter cultivated from the Destroyer’s astral plane, my arms grew huge swords upon them. To defend others, we needed to stop those who hurt for only the joy of pain. This move was the ultimate hurt...and I felt my body hurting, evolving, coursing with the energy, sprinting towards Rillie with arms outstretched. This was it. I flew upwards, a mile into the air, spinning and crashing into Rillie while creating an enormous X with my swords. I crashed into him and the ground with an explosion that left a crater. This was Guillotine. When I asked you all that long ago what it meant to kill, brother...I already knew. I just hoped you would never understand it like I did.
The black cloud suffocating him dispersed into the sky above.
=Rogerson. I-I’m sorry.=
My tears blurred my last vision of him. He mouthed three tiny words to me before the soft yellow hues gently lining his eyes darkened to grey. He stopped breathing. It sucked the breath out of me. I held him.
Scizor’s claws draped over my shoulders and held me close. Above, the black distortion that bled from the Destroyer’s astral plane seamed itself close from the inside. It had no more reason for existence, and for this reason disappeared forever. In its place, a rainbow fell over the sanctuary we called our world. The rainbow glittered with a glint of darkness and I knew the Destroyer had reunited with the Lifegiver on the other side. A true, genuine peace I had not felt for years blanketed our land. This would be the last peace I would know and I rejoiced in it, holding my sister close, Scizor embracing me, and behind him my Aggron.
The Destroyer met his end.
I knew I now needed to meet my end too. I learned from the Destroyer what agony did to our kind and knew, on the inside, that we were no different. The Lifegiver met the Destroyer on the other side as I would meet my Rillie. My lifeless eyes looked up. Rena trembled, tears gathering in her own eyes as she understood exactly what I felt. She held me for all those years of agony I felt, for my disappearance, for the brothers she loved and mourned. Her conviction brought me to the flashback of my mother all that time ago; I relived how she had saved my life and thanked her and Rena for changing my life like they did.
Aggron’s armor broke apart on me, falling to little grey crumbles down below. Burst the gold shine from my body that shot into the rainbow, setting sky. I stood up and gently pushed everyone’s arms from me. I stood up in front of them all, like I had when I taught them what Sciaenet meant that very long time ago. When I stood, the gold light illuminating me, every one of my close brethren bowed to me. Bisharp I had fought years ago, Bisharp we had rescued, Bisharp who had become my friends and family. All of the Steel-types who embraced our world. Rena, Scizor, Aggron.
Rillie, I know for sure that you see me this time! I know this because I can see you too.
I’m coming, brother! I never left and I’ll always be here for you!
I thrust both claws through my chest and met the light at the end that Rillie lit for me.