I released a noise of discomfort and fright as the event occurred, and I felt many prodding ends spike into my skin. I heard a troubled gasp and another flurry of rustling as whatever it was zoomed away before I could weave myself out of the bush and onto the ground properly again. I made haste as I collected myself and stood on all-fours, my chest protruding more than usual and my head high as I scanned for predators. Thankfully nobody was there, but I was on my guard for the next twenty or so seconds while keeping dead silent. I waited longer to make sure, and when I realised the only things I could hear were the buzz of crickets and whisper of trees, I began to breathe again.
“What on Earth...was that?” I asked myself. Whatever it was, it had gone. My best bet would be that it became frightened of how strong I looked and fled.
Reconsidering as I glanced to the bushes again, I gave a small smile. My imagination was amusing.
I was still puzzled by the strange semi-encounter with a creature. I decided to try to narrow it down. It had to be something light, perhaps, because it managed to creep up on me so silently, but it could’ve been anything to have scuttled away at the speed it did. Judging by how it sounded, it zipped away faster than I could run, but then again I hadn’t seen
it go—my face was buried somewhere deep within leaves and branches at the time. I hadn’t even had a look at it before I had my little accident, so in terms of appearance, I had nothing to go off. Even the creature’s colour had been undeterminable in the lack of light, let alone other sorts of detail.
I guessed that it didn’t matter all that much since it had come and gone without causing me harm. I just hoped it wasn’t going to come back for me...with its friends. But then again, how threatening could it really be? I could surely defeat it. Many of them if not all. I was totally strong enough to overcome a pokémon who escaped before I could get to my paws and fight it. ‘Coward,’
I thought sourly. ‘And if it was something small enough for me and Zhol to eat, I could’ve caught it for us!’
I padded through fluffy dirt, sure that I was reaching the site we were resting at. Grains of dirt flew as I kicked with each step, as they would with anyone’s movement, and pattered back down again harmlessly. I stretched my jaws open to yawn sleepily, involuntary and unexplained tears gathering as I repeated the process a number of times in a row. I had stopped exerting energy to support my tail, so the bushy bunch of fur was being dragged behind me. The sleepier I got...the more my thoughts cast me into solemn territory, where thoughts of things I otherwise resisted thinking of lurked in wait. With the tiniest spec of dread, I reminded myself of Izante.
‘I wonder what she’d be doing right now...’
I shook my head furiously, trying to force myself not to think of her in that moment...but it was so hard. To have this friend for years upon years...and to have her suddenly disappear like a flamethrower into the ocean? The mist of what once was? It tore me apart...and thinking about reasons she had to betray me like she did made my nostrils flare with the scrapings of sorrow.
Why did she do it? Wasn’t I her most treasured life-long friend? Wasn’t I the one she could count on until we both no longer drew breath? The progressing thoughts brought that worthless, arrogant persian she was glued to into the picture, and I snorted as soon as he entered my head. Losing my best friend to a disgusting pokémon like that was distasteful, unbelievable and...heartbreaking.
In the midst of my whirring thoughts, I had to drop the four stalks connected to berries that my teeth held in place and shake my head. I clenched my eyes and forced my clawed toes into the earth below. My ears straightened like spikes out of both sides of my head. My muscles locked up as I began to shiver and my nose fizzled. I let out a breath that had built up, the first of my tears following drip by drip.
I tried my hardest not to think about such things as I opened my eyes after having them closed and collected in my mouth the berries by their stalks. I pressed on, knowing that dwelling in my own sorrow wasn’t going to do me any good. ‘But...I don’t understand!’
I yelled silently. ‘Why would she leave if she seemed so at peace?! She could have told me what was wrong, and maybe I could’ve solved it! Friends talk to each other... They sort things out...’
I froze, releasing the fruit, and stared through the darkness. My eyes didn’t waver as I felt a tingle between my shoulder blades. “What if...what if I was never a good friend...?” The breeze drifted by, blowing my tuft lightly to the right. “What if...what if I was too unreliable to talk to about her problems?” I frowned, searching my mind for more answers. I blinked continuously, a frown etching itself onto my face. “Was I even...her friend...at all
Panic flooded me from the tip of my ears to the end of my tail, and I was rendered suddenly helpless. My body was still as my eyes began to quiver. They welled with more tears, my vision blurring as the light I could see from the corner of my eye stretched in fuzzy extensions. A droopy, worthless feeling began to stab me with its sharpened point. Maybe...maybe I deserved betrayal. Maybe it was a just punishment for some kind of heightened inadequacy.
‘But better yet...’
my mind began, and I listened quietly. ‘Maybe she only pretended to like you this whole time.’
A fake friendship. Only for it to end with me realising...how it felts to have been played...and eventually abandoned without hesitation. The game was won and I was not the winner.
I felt like I was taking a beating. A truth-awakening beating I should have had a long time ago. To have believed she was a true friend all these years was so foolish. It proved how blind I had been—how caught up in some wonderful adventure I was, only to run head-on into a wall and wake from the dream. And to seriously think that there would be someone who could take her place only ended with another assumption of an inevitable betrayal. Friends, enemies... I was beginning to doubt there was much a difference if the former could become the latter in the flick of an ear, or perhaps was for a long time...longer than anyone had known. And what was the point of a friend when you’re clearly not worthy, or when in the end they’re going to leave with no explanation, only for you to sit on the spot and blame yourself...?
I hung my head, listening to the many thoughts and theories convince me of the truth... I began to feel like something was eating away at me, as if I was some sort of enticing platter for negativity. I dropped onto the ground, weakened eyes gazing emptily at the soil...
...and just wept.
I felt ripples down my spine as I heard running water nearby. I hadn’t noticed it before, but there was the faint rushing of a current in the near distance. I suddenly felt cold – something I didn’t often feel – and I warily lifted my eyelids. The woods had become even quieter, and it seemed gloomier all of a sudden. I blinked a few times, noticing the stiffness of the fur under my eyes.
‘Did I...did I doze off?’
I questioned, my head rising to scan the area. I was in the same place I had broken down in, but this time it felt different thanks to the increased surrounding creepiness. I felt my tail keeping my back left leg company, and the berries I was taking back to Zhol were scattered around my muzzle. I couldn’t have dozed off for too long; it seemed like only minutes ago when I slumped down on the spot, and the berries could have been stolen if they were unattended for long—if anyone had the heart to steal from a hungry flareon, that was.
I hauled myself upwards, stretching my legs and feeling heavy afterwards. I lazily moved my head in the direction I sensed the river was in and began to follow my ears as soon as I had collected the fruit. It was an effort, but I managed to do so fairly easily. The wounds in my leg and ear had both become scabs, and I could no longer feel my leg muscles aching when I walked on it, which was good. And they were healing quickly, too.
I travelled for at least a few minutes before crossing paths with a wide and deep river snaking between trees and through the forest. The branches above were more spaced out, and I could see the sky, bluey black and dotted with stars. I set the food by my side and sat down. I lowered my head to the running water and began to lap it into my mouth. The iciness must have cooled my systems and put out some internal flames, and I had to stop drinking to allow my brain to unfreeze. My throat also ached, but I was too thirsty to stop straight away.
“Hi, there. Are you lost?”
I jumped out of my fur, literally almost toppling into the stream and onto the creature before me. I saved myself with a flareon’s agility, luckily, and my heart thumped like a speedy suicune in my chest. I almost let loose a stream of fire in someone’s half-submerged face, but I stopped myself before it left my jaws. At first I hadn’t the slightest idea of what this thing was, but the familiarity of the species hopped into my head. I stared as the creature’s face turned to a frown, and I took a moment to process the situation.
“What do you think you’re doing?” I questioned, rather incredulous. I knew my heart would need time to calm itself, and in the meantime, I planned to find out exactly what this pokémon wanted.
The water type smirked. “A fire type, ‘ey?” I blinked a few times, wondering what he meant. But by his unimpressed expression, he wasn’t too happy about the fact. “Alright, waddaya want?” His eyelids lowered to rest at half-mast, and he climbed out of the water easily despite the current. His whole figure was steel blue and arched, his eyes large with red irises. I watched as he stretched, the single blue curl sprouting from his head bouncing a little, and then hung over his face. His two red cheeks rose with amusement, making me narrow my eyes a little in response. His body appeared slimy and wet – which made sense – and I had to wonder if he was cold or not. Although I was a fire type, being in water for too long – or any cold place for that matter – was a terrible mistake.
“Uh,” I started, flicking my head once or so to rid myself of the sleepiness still lingering. “I was—I was just getting a drink.”
“From this river?” He shook his head. “You’ll be killed; this stuff’s deadly.”
Shivers erupted along my spine, and I couldn’t do anything but stare. I would... I would die? “W-what?!”
“Geez, you scare easy. I’m only pulling your leg!” he laughed. “Lemme cool you off.”
With no warning other than the ambiguous words which sprouted from his mouth, a jet of chilly mud pushed through the air and onto my face, and I cringed and drew back as soon as it hit. I yelped in objection, scrambling backwards and holding up a foreleg in front of my face in some poor attempt to protect it. “Stl-l-l-l-l-l-lpp!” I gurgled through the sloppy grit. The attack was called off, and I spluttered and forced up a hunk of mud, beginning a coughing fit and keeping my eyes squeezed shut. I could imagine him stifling his cruel laughs as I stumbled to the river without opening my eyes, dipping a paw in brusquely to make sure it was there.
I went to slam my face into the water, only to discover rocks just below the surface, and a splitting pain erupted in my head after a collision with one. I let out a loud screech underwater, but unfortunately that used up my breath and I had to rise out of the despicable substance. I sucked in a breath with a wide-open mouth, releasing a cry afterward which was louder than the sound of the river itself. Knowing I still had mud on my face, I dunked it back in carefully
this time, and shook it from side to side with the hopes of it washing away.
After what seemed like minutes, I pulled myself from the stream and slumped by its edge, panting repeatedly. I could hear chuckling nearby, and as soon as I had swallowed in mid-pant, I threw my head is his direction, glaring with annoyance. “You idiot!” I roared, but suddenly my anger paused, drawn to something nearby.
“What the hell was he thinking?!” chirped a shoulder flareon—the black one with a blood red mane, horns and little wings. She suddenly appeared hovering to my left, her anger directed at the politoed before me. I was surprised; I hadn’t seen her in a while besides the momentary encounter back on the ship. She always happened to show up, as well as the angelic one, after a bump to the head. Not that THAT affected anything at all!
“He was only trying to help,” insisted the white and gold one with little wings and a halo above her head. She floated by my right, looking at me with an innocent but matured expression.
“Help?! Hah!” spat the demon-like one. “I didn’t know you were so funny!”
“It wasn’t a joke, you simple-minded, rage-driven flareon.” The angel-like one just sat in mid air, her anger controlled if not absent. The other growled, her head lowering and her fur puffing up.
“Uhh...” I butted in, and the two looked at me. I moved my head to each of them at a time. I didn’t really know what to say...so I didn’t.
“What?” insisted the one to my left, but I just shrugged.
“You must have a view of your own,” the angelic one mentioned.
“Well...I do have to agree with you,” I decided, pointing my muzzle at the demonic flareon.
“HAH!” she yelled, crossing to the other one. “She agrees with me and not you.”
“Dusty,” the other one spoke, coming out in front of my muzzle with the other one following. “Don’t let Miss Grumpy here dictate your thoughts. She doesn’t set a good example for anyone to follow.” By this point, the demonic one was fuming again. “Letting scorn control you like you’re its puppet is not the way to go.”
“Hatred is powerful! More powerful than your stupid ‘calm and happiness’ crap.” While speaking part of the sentence, the black and red one danced around and used a silly voice to show her disapproval. “Oh, look at me, Miss I-Know-Everything! Don’t be angry! Don’t seek revenge! Don’t do anything that could possibly hurt anyone.”
The calm shoulder-flareon sighed. “You are so immature...”
“You’re not seriously going to listen
to her drabble, are you?” the ash-coloured one questioned.
“Uh—uhh... Well, you gotta be angry and seek revenge some
times. Bottling up the anger isn’t going to cure anyone,” I admitted.
“Hah! Told ya. My way’s better,” jeered the darker one, reclaiming the left shoulder again with a smug grin and a flaunty gait.
“Dusty, just please don’t make a fool of yourself like my negative counterpart here. Remember to see things from others’ points of view. It’s important for success.” She slowly faded away until she was but nothing. The other one had her tongue poking out as her opposite vanished, but shortly after, she too began to disappear. She had a grin on her face, and as she was seated, her tail flicked back and forth beside her as it rested against the non-existent ground. She still held the naughty smile as she faded completely, and afterwards I took a breath.
I turned to the politoed, noting his perplexed face. It was essentially a frown with an open mouth and confused eyes. “Uhh...are you okay?” he asked with caution. I snorted in a laughing fashion, knowing it wouldn’t make sense to him even if I explained.
I shifted my paws around and paced backwards, then bent my neck down to collect the berries. I glanced back over my shoulder with the stalks through my teeth before I padded away, following the river back through the forest. I imagined he would have sat there for about twenty or so seconds before deciding to splash into the water – as that’s what I heard not too long after – and thankfully he didn’t follow.