Re: Ghost Road Blues
~”I found myself a place to call home
A place to rest my weary head
But then I had to go
Go so far from my home”
-Jerma, “Hearth-Side Song”
Fate can deal ya a bad hand one minute ‘n’ grant ya great fortune the next, ya know? Kamada was a good Pokemon, kind ‘n’ strong ‘n’ brave. She had three Cyndaquil kits who was just a few months old, not even able to spit embers yet. I came to think o’ ‘em all more like family than I had my own Tribe, even Momma. There had always been a submissive sort o’ quality in Momma that didn’t let ‘er openly show affection or love fer me, specially not in front o’ Pa. Kamada was different. She showed me unfalterin’ kindness ‘n’ compassion, no matter what was goin’ on. That’s not to say she wasn’t tough; oh, let me tell ya, she was as tough as a Lucario’s hide! But it was a lovin’ toughness, fueled by the desire to see ‘er loved ones excel.
Kamada taught me how to battle, ‘n’ she had me help ‘er train ‘er kits, too. We all learned together ‘n’ from each other. I spent many moons learnin’ ‘n’ gettin’ stronger, ‘n’ I never once regretted my choice to leave my Tribe. I was learnin’ more in months than I ever had in my first two years o’ life, ‘n’ I was loved ‘stead o’ feared ‘n’ loathed. It was good times.
But then my life was shook up all over ‘gain. I dunno iffin Fate were in a mean mood or iffin it were just bad luck, but my peaceful way o’ existence, ‘n’ ultimately my life, was ended all the same.
“Fate can be unkind
Or just downright cruel.”
-Jerma, “Ghost Road Blues”
I stayed with Mama Kamada ‘n’ ‘er kits ‘til I was three years old. In those twelve months I’d learned a great deal ‘n’ grown stronger than I ever thought I could be. My foster siblin’s were a big help, though I guess we all kinda supported each other. Anyways, I didn’t leave my new family willin’ly. It was a hell o' a crooked twist, a cold dose o' bitter irony, that saw me parted from the warmth ‘n’ comfort o’ the life I’d come to love.
One evenin’, I was out huntin’ fer ground-birds. They was called grouse, Mama Kamada had told me, ‘n’ they was always plentiful ‘mong the many cracks ‘n’ crannies in the mountainside. My li’l siblin’s had done evolved by now into rambunctious Quilava, ‘n’ they was needin’ food more ‘n’ more as they got bigger.
I couldn’t hunt like Mama Kamada could. She’d hunt at night, slinkin’ through the shadows o’ the rocks ‘n’ boulders, perfectly hidden by the dark blue fur coverin’ the top ‘n’ sides o’ ‘er body. She’d sneak right up on a nest ‘n’ flame those birds a’fore they knew death was on ‘em. No, I couldn’t hunt like that. Oh, I could move just as sneakily as she could, what with my pitch-black body. But I couldn’t blast out no flames to finish all the birds in a nest at once. I had to kill each bird one at a time, which was a hassle ‘cause they’d go runnin’ off soon after I made my presence known. Those damn birds can move, too, let me tell ya.
After a few months o’ runnin’ after fleein’ birds, I started perfectin’ a way o’ keepin’ the damn things from gettin’ ‘way all the cursed time. Durin’ my trainin’, Mama Kamada had realized I’d gained some unique moves from my Pa. Agility ‘n’ Vacuum Wave, they was called, ‘n’ they was moves Riolu ‘n’ Lucario don’t normally learn. Mama Kamada told me Pa must have belonged to humans at some point in life, or born from parents who had. Seemed these moves I knew could only be passed from father to son iffin the father knew ‘em ‘n’ the babe could learn ‘em. I didn’t know what to make o’ it. Pa had never talked ‘bout ‘is past or ‘is parents, ‘n’ I’d never learned how he came to be the leader o’ the Tribe.
Anyways, I started playin’ ‘round with my moves when I went huntin’. Eventually I picked up a good combo with those moves I’d inherited from Pa, ‘long with an attack called Screech. I’d find a nest ‘n’ let my entire body relax, makin’ my muscles loose ‘n’ capable o’ givin’ more speed. That was the Agility portion. Then I’d rush right into the middle o’ the nest ‘n’ suck in a deep breath a’fore releasin’ it in a loud Screech, which left the birds stunned. Once they was dazed, I’d form a li’l colorless ball o’ energy that sucked the air outta the area, then released it in a powerful wave o’ concentrated air that washed out in all directions. The force o’ it was enough to instantly break the birds’ necks ‘n’ just ‘bout all the other bones in they bodies, too.
On the night my life changed, I was searchin’ lower down the mountain than I’d ever gone a’fore. Mama Kamada had warned me ‘bout goin’ to close to the mountain’s base, since we’d been seein’ humans trekkin’ ‘round there lately. We didn’t know how long it’d take ‘em to start movin’ higher up the mountain, but so long as we didn’t go too low, we’d be fine fer a while.
Mama Kamada’s warnin’ was strong in my mind, but I hadn’t had no luck where I’d been huntin’ earlier. I weren’t thinkin’ too clearly, I’ll be honest. I never once thought ‘bout searchin’ higher up the mountain, ‘n’ it never occurred to me that humans might be huntin’ the same prey I was. I was only concerned with findin’ some food fer the lot o’ us. So down the mountain I went, with the night sky over my head ‘n’ the half-moon shinin’ to light my way.
When I finally found a nest nestled in a large crevice, I was too happy to notice the figure sitting on a big boulder a few yards ‘way. But when I dashed into the nest ‘n’ Screeched, I ended up grabbin’ the figure’s attention. They’d been sittin’ with they back to me, but the minute I used my Screech, they was on they feet ‘n’ hurrin’ over ‘n’ shoutin’ all the time.
“What the heck? What’s going on? Is someone there?” I was so startled that I completely forgot ‘bout the birds ‘n’ scurried backwards, growlin’ as I felt my hackles risin’. The figure was a human ‘n’ had the male-scent all over ‘im. He had on the strange cloth-hide that all humans cover ‘emselves with, as well as the funny things they wore over they feet. This human’s cloth-hide was white on the top ‘n’ left ‘is furless arms bare from the shoulders. From ‘is waist down to ‘is knees the cloth-hide was dark brown, leavin’ the rest o’ ‘is equally furless legs as bare as ‘is arms. The things on ‘is feet was black with white trim ‘round the edges.
“Stay back!” I barked at the human, who looked like he was still pretty young. Kamada had said humans what looked like this one was called teenagers. “Leave me be!” O’ course he couldn’t understand me, but my voice must have surprised ‘im ‘cause he slid to a stop a few feet ‘way from me. I backed up ‘way from ‘im ‘til my back hit a boulder, which I jumped up on to give myself a bit o’ an advantage.
“A black Riolu?” the human asked, soundin’ shocked. “I’ve never heard of anything like you before!” He slowly raised ‘is hands, the universal sign fer “I ain’t got no weapons ‘n’ I ain’t gonna hurt ya”. “Man, this is so cool! I heard there were Riolu and Lucario living in the forest, but I didn’t think any lived this far down the mountain.”
“Just go ‘way,” I snapped, ‘n’ even though he couldn’t understand my words, he seemed to understand the heat in my voice.
“Hey, calm down,” he said with a frown. “I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m just taking a break from training and looking for Pokemon is all. Me and my pals will leave as soon as morning comes and we can see where we’re going.”
“Pals?” I repeated, my eyes narrowin’ as I scanned where he’d been sittin’. I didn’t see any other humans, ‘n’ the teenager in front o’ me must have realized what I was lookin’ for.
“Not other humans. I mean my Pokemon,” he said. I froze, starin’ at the kid with wide eyes. He was one o’ ‘em humans who made Pokemon into slaves! I’d been nervous a’fore, but now I was startin’ to feel fearful, too. I was stronger than I’d been a year ago, but I suddenly doubted I was anywhere near ready to defend myself from a human who had several Pokemon slaves at ‘is command. Heck, I could barely hold off Mama Kamada, even after twelve months! Then ‘gain, maybe this human’s Pokemon were weak, or maybe he only had a few…
“Go ‘way,” I said ‘gain, but this time my tone was weaker ‘n’ didn’t carry any authority. The teenager noticed my change in demeanor ‘n’ took a slow step forward, scowlin’ more.
“Hey, are you okay? You don’t have to worry, my Pokemon won’t bother you.” I stared at the young human male ‘n’ he stared back, still holdin’ ‘is hands up as we watched each other. When he didn’t make any other moves, I allowed myself to relax, just a li’l. I felt my hackles lower as I pointed at the kid, then waved my paw around to indicate the mountain.
“Why are ya here?” I asked, but it was clear the teenager didn’t understand what I was tryin’ to ask. He dropped ‘is hands ‘n’ just stared at me with a funny look. I sighed ‘n’ shook my head, then jumped with a startled yelp when another voice spoke from where the kid had been sittin’.
“We were exploring some of the caves further down. Keichi was looking for Cleffa, since we’d heard some lived there,” the voice said, ‘n’ I glared into the darkness o’ the night as I tried to find what had answered me. Then I saw it; a large, dark violet swirl with several bright green spots scattered around it. There were two larger emerald holes in the swirl, ‘n’ a longer jagged one a few inches a’neath those. Eyes ‘n’ a mouth, obviously. There was a li’l gray-brown stone hoverin’ at the bottom o’ the purple swirl.
“Oh, that’s just Tobias, my Spiritomb. He looks scary but he’s really not,” the human named Keichi said when he heard the Pokemon’s voice, turning to see what I was lookin’ at. “You’re really jumpy, you know that? You should calm down. We’re not gonna hurt you.”
“It’s as he says,” Tobias affirmed, hoverin’ near ‘is human’s side now as he stared at me. “We just came looking for Cleffa, but we didn’t find any. It was too dark to try going back down the mountain, though, so we climbed up a bit higher and found this flat little area. We’re going to camp here tonight.”
“Well, just don’t come any higher up,” I said, my voice soundin’ sharper than I meant. I swallowed a few times as I regained my composure. “Mama Kamada’s den is up about thirty yards, ‘n’ she won’t think twice ‘bout attackin’ ya iffin ya come too close.”
“Kamada?” Tobias inquired, ‘is entire body tiltin’ to one side. “I’ve heard that name. The she-Typhlosion, correct?”
“Yeah, that’s ‘er.”
“The Pokemon in the caves spoke of a fierce she-Typhlosion that lives on the mountain. They also spoke of the odd black Riolu she took in a year ago, who was named Jerma. That must be you.” I simply nodded, ‘n’ Tobias gave an eerie smile. “We won’t be moving anywhere until morning, when we’re going to head back down and be on our way. Which you should be, too. Your adoptive mother might be missing you.”
“But I can’t go back empty-pawed,” I replied, glancin’ ‘round fer any sign o’ the birds I’d been huntin’. They’d come back to they senses at some point, which was clear ‘cause they was gone. They would have scattered the second they could think clear enough to do so. “All the birds done run off…”
“I saw where a few of them went,” Tobias said while he floated over to a large, jagged rock several paces ‘way. He hovered ‘bout a foot over it as he spun in a slow circle. “Three or four fled under this stone.”
“Oh,” I said, cautiously slidin’ from the boulder I was standin’ on ‘n’ trottin’ ‘round Keichi. He watched me with a kind but confused smile; it was clear he had no idea what was goin’ on. I skittered over to the giant gray rock, bleached white by the liquidy light o’ the moon, ‘n’ got a Vacuum Wave ready a’fore droppin’ down on one knee ‘n’ shovin’ my paws into the thick blackness that the birds was hidin’ in. I felt the air under the stone get sucked into the ball o’ energy a’tween my paws, stoppin’ the suction power o’ the invisible orb when it started suckin’ air from around me ‘n’ not just from under the stone. After givin’ it a moment to a’come concentrated, I slapped my paws together to pop the energy ball ‘n’ release the air inside. It was freed with a dull rushin’ noise, like the sound o’ a waterfall in the distance. The force o’ the returnin’ air filled the space under the stone, ‘n’ I felt the backlash ruffle my fur as it settled back to its normal state.
I quickly shimmied under the stone, pattin’ ‘round in the darkness as I searched fer my quarry. A second later, one o’ my paws came down on a limp, warm feathery body. I grinned ‘n’ dragged the bird to myself, leavin’ it by my side as I felt fer the others. There wasn’t as much space under the stone as there first seemed, so I found the other three fowl relatively quickly. Holdin’ two in each paw, I wiggled my body ‘til I was out from under the boulder.
“Oh, you were catching food,” Keichi said upon seein’ the birds I was clutchin’. “I guess Tobias was showing you where they went after I interrupted you. Sorry about that.” He gave a somewhat sheepish laugh, ‘n’ I couldn’t help but feel that I liked ‘im. I could tell, now that I wasn’t so surprised ‘n’ nervous, that he was a good guy. I focused on ‘im a bit as the Aura sacs on the sides o’ my vibrated ever so slightly. A second later, I saw a whirl o’ soft colors pop to life ‘round ‘im. They was gentle, bright colors o’ a kind, carin’ person, someone who would be a good friend, someone ya could trust with yer deepest secrets ‘n’ even yer very life. Pastel pink ‘n’ baby blue radiated from ‘im, shot through with cheery streaks o’ bright lime green ‘n’ rich silver. The most strikin’ color was the pulsin’ gold orb that was floatin’ over ‘is heart. That was the sign o’ a virtuous bein’.
“I should get goin’ now,” I said, turnin’ back to where Tobias was. I lifted a paw at ‘im to show my gratitude as my activated Aura sacs let me see the muted bronze -which was threaded through with wispy strands o’ black- that surrounded ‘im. The Spiritomb was steadfast ‘n’ loyal, with a hint o’ darkness in ‘im. That didn’t make ‘im bad, though. I could sense that this darkness was just the Aura manifestation o’ ‘is typin’. He was part-Ghost, part-Dark, so the smoky tendrils o’ black where completely natural fer ‘im. I blinked once, deactivatin’ my Aura sacs. They instantly fell still ‘n’ the whorl o’ color ‘round Tobias immediately vanished. “Thanks fer pointin’ out where these li’l critters was hidin’.”
“You’re more than welcome,” Tobias answered, goin’ over to hover near Keichi. “Goodnight, little Riolu. May good fortune smile on you and yours.”
I nodded ‘n’ turned, leapin’ ‘way as I headed back to the den. I felt good ‘bout the encounter I’d just had, even iffin I had been worried at first. Keichi had turned out to be a nice human, not at all like the ones Mama Kamada had told me ‘bout over the months. Not only that, but Tobias had seemed to genuinely enjoy ‘is human’s company. He hadn’t acted like he resented bein’ a slave or anythin’. That made me pause in thought, mindless o’ the loose stone shards slidin’ a’neath my footpaws as I came to a sudden halt. Tobias sure hadn’t acted like no slave…were Pokemon really prisoners when they belonged to a human? Maybe Tobias ‘n’ Keichi was the exception, but there was a part o’ me that didn’t believe that.
I started walkin’ ‘gain, thinkin’ the whole way. Mama Kamada had told me that humans would capture me iffin they set eyes on me, but Keichi had never even mentioned catchin’ me. He’d never acted like he wanted to, neither. ‘N’ Tobias…I just didn’t believe a creature would stay with someone iffin they didn’t like the life they was livin’. I wished I’d thought to ask the Spiritomb what he thought ‘bout being a human’s Pokemon when I’d had the chance; it was too late to go back fer chattin’.
When I returned to the den, Mama Kamada came bustlin’ out. I could scent the worry clingin’ to ‘er like wet fur, ‘n’ she rushed over to me with chuffin’ noises as I waved my catch at ‘er.
“Sorry I took so long,” I said when she reached me, snufflin’ at me anxiously. After satisfyin’ ‘erself that I was all right, she smiled at me ‘n’ reached down to tousle the fur a’tween my ears.
“Thank heavens you’re all right!” she said, ‘er voice holdin’ a note o’ distress. I noticed that ‘er skin was jumpin’ under ‘er fur ‘n’ realized just how worried she’d been fer me. I’d been gone quite a bit longer than usual, ‘n’ what with the humans we’d been seein’ lately, there was li’l doubt she’d been troubled by my absence. She’d probably been ‘fraid that I’d been captured or somethin’ “What took so long?”
“I went a li’l further down the mountain,” I mumbled, suddenly feelin’ very shamed with myself. I looked ‘way a’fore I could see the disapproval in Mama Kamada’s eyes, usin’ the claws o’ my footpaw to dig at the loose flakes o’ stone that covered the mountain. “I couldn’t find no birds ‘round where I usually hunt, so I went down a bit more to look. I found a nest…” I lifted the birds I was carryin’ without liftin’ my head.
“Smells like you found a human, too,” Mama Kamada said, ‘n’ the tone o’ ‘er voice surprised me. She didn’t sound angry or upset, but proud. I blinked ‘n’ I looked up to see ‘er grinnin’ like a fool.
“I…uh, yeah…there was this human kid…”
“What happened?” the kindly Typhlosion prompted when I trailed off.