She pondered for a moment before confessing, “It’s special to me. I wanted to show you this place.” With a hesitant breath, her gaze on me, she added, “I trust you.” To that I grew a responsive smile, and she averted her eyes, seemingly embarrassed to reveal a feeling rare for her to encounter.
“Trust is good,” I replied happily. “I trust you too. In fact...you’re a really good friend.”
Presumably before we dwelled too much on the details of friendship she wasn’t accustomed to experiencing, she slipped in, “I also imagined you would want to distance yourself from the Usster Colony until you felt as though you could reveal the...undesirable truth.”
I wave of intensity washed through me, but diminished quickly, as I knew I had taken another step towards fulfilling the promise to do so. I only knew I wouldn’t get a chance to tell them before I left for the mountains to catch up with the party. “By the way, Zhol. I, uh...” My brows came together and she watched emotionlessly, waiting for a continuation. “Well, I’m gonna be leaving to catch up with the party venturing into the mountains, as per Habib’s request.”
Her head bowed without haste, and she lifted her eyelids slowly, seeming to be involved in thought. In response she met my gaze and her cheek flickered with the trace of an understanding smile. The action made me smile, and accordingly, my spirits lifted. After brushing through her reaction, I only hoped her acceptance was genuine.
After settling to the point of relaxation, we chatted – well, I blabbered – for a good fifteen or so minutes. After securing myself in the right position, I spent time retelling her about my life with Izante and our humans. I filled her in on some of the many adventures we had together...the assorted events we pulled each other through. Such as the time I tackled her master out the way of an oncoming car in a town we skipped through, or when Izante slipped on a fish at a market and fell flat on her belly...and about all those times I thought I could truly count on her. Back when I couldn’t imagine my life without such a supportive best friend. “...Then again, she was never really that supportive,” I muttered, rolling my eyes as my mouth formed a half-hearted sarcastic smile. “But, you know... She was still a close friend to me. It meant a lot that I could spend so long with her.” I blew through my nose in an effortless chuckle, my gaze slipping and thumping into the earth in the rummaging of my memories. Silence finally wedged between us, and I was quite happy to sit in my spot and feel the thoughts blow around inside my mind.
“If you were to ask me,” Zhol began hesitantly, as if she felt like she didn’t have the right to input, “I would advise that you...not keep thinking about this. It seems it only pains you.” Although slightly forlorn, she was also practical.
I lowered my eyebrows, contemplating her suggestion. I enjoyed reminiscing, and it did give me a pleasant set of memories to remember the leafeon by...but maybe she was right. I didn’t want to abandon the thoughts I held so fondly to my heart, but bringing up the topic with unresting repetition surely couldn’t benefit me. After all, listening to Zhol was—
“Zhol!” yelled a voice into the chilled evening air.
I saw the dark and ice type’s ears draw close to one another, the longer one flickering beforehand. I frowned.
“Aemara wants you back at the clinic!” exclaimed the same pokémon, and although I wasn’t sure who it was, it was obvious that it was someone from the colony.
“Expect me soon,” the sneasel called with cupped paws, straightening her legs awkwardly as she rose to her feet. She rotated her head back to me. “I’ve...got to go.”
“Are you right to go by yourself?” I asked, rising to my paws. At first she appeared puzzled, but after I glanced quickly to her mangled foot, she seemed to rediscover a friend in comprehension.
“Yes. I’ll be fine,” she affirmed with a light smile, nodding once before crawling back through the entrance.
Once her last feather-like tail vanished through the rocks, I hung my head, disappointed she had to leave so suddenly. At the same time, since there was not another pokémon around, I was able to have more me time. It was a plan to sleep for a time before sunup, allowing me a few hours of rest before my journey to catch up with the party would commence. So, after stretching with a long string of oxygen to fill my chest, I lay back down and felt my tail encase my legs in its furry depths...as best it could as a petty half. “Goodbye, nighttime. Hello, naptime.”
My eyelids lifted with weary fuzziness as grumbling, muffled scrapes slid through my ears. Immediately I made a note of the endless darkness soaking the land, remembering my place in the small enclosure walled off by tall, trusty stones. However, upon the twitch of my ear as the grinding continued, my nostrils identified an unfamiliar scent strong enough to knock the leaves off a tree. A slim tail flicked only a pace in front of me.
“AAHHH!” I squealed, leaping abruptly in response to a dark figure filling my view. In the process of my sudden fright, I thumped against a giant rock behind me, bashing my head and dropping like a...well, a stone until I met the rough ground. I didn’t forget the new pokémon, however, and scrambled upright whilst new injuries thudded.
“Awake, are we?” the pokémon teased, his muzzle becoming visible as he rotated his head, which was facing the entrance. He had ceased his clumsy chewing to address me, and before I could adjust my eyes to my newfound dim surroundings, I stared with an open mouth, panting heavily. A section of my spine whinged with pain.
“Y...you,” I growled, my voice hushed and my eyes narrowed. I recognised this male fire type.
“Yep, me. And you too, Flair,” he stated casually, waiting a moment before turning back to his bone.
My eyes fired up and I strengthened my pose, curling my lips into a snarl. “By Arceus,” I shouted incredulously, “it was YOU! Wasn’t it?!”
With a light furrow of the brow, the houndoom rose to his paws, turning around to face me. It was only then when I realised he was reasonably larger than I was, and I was secretly tempted to cower in his shadow. “Yep,” he responded coolly, eyelids resting lazily on his eyeballs as he flashed his teeth. “I told those bibarel that you’d be willing to help them.”
?” I questioned with indignation coating each syllable. In a fit of rage, my muzzle twitched, loosing a line of flames onto the houndoom’s pelt. I hoped it would singe his fur until he smoked like a hairless rattata on a spit, but half his element was fire, unfortunately acting as a barrier against attacks such as flamethrower.
As the stream of heated energy dissolved into mere cinders, the houndoom stood, almost unfazed. He revealed his eyes once more and stared with question and calmness. However, I didn’t think I got my point across.
After a measured brewing of acid forming somewhere in my torso, I vomited a sickly toxic paste which so graciously blanketed the unsuspecting houndoom, following which was a shadow ball composed not of the materials required to injure a dark type. When my ordeal neared its end, I eyed him off and snorted, “Stuff you.”
“...You finished?” he murmured through the coating of purple liquid, coughing as he shook off and rubbed against the wall. It seemed none of my attacks had left a mark or even an emotional effect, provoking my agitation and warranting a sneer. He reeked of patronisation.
“Yeah...” I growled with reluctance, fluffing myself up and averting my vengeful glare. Remembering my reason for anger, I turned back to him. “Do you know how annoying it was to have to stay there and be forced to help?”
He chuckled, hardly aware of the measly after-effects of the poison. “What was so bad about it? You learned something, didn’t you, Flair?”
My cheek flickered with frustration. “Yeah. That I hate houndoom.” Holding his gaze firmly to jab his game in its gut, I hissed, “And don’t call me that!”
“You know that was me who saved you when you nearly fell into the river there, right?” A smile licked his face.
“You...” My face melted from a detailed frown to a lacking look of curiosity, and I burrowed into the memories of the other day to uncover truth to his words. The recollection of the forgettable event rolled into my mind, and I momentarily wondered why I didn’t scent him at the time. However, the rushing river off the cliff I nearly tumbled over would have masked any additional smell that would not normally have avoided detection. As angry as I was at him, he did save me from an unfortunate tumble, so to speak. That river could have carried me anywhere.
“That river could have carried you anywhere,” he reinstated, mirroring my thoughts with scary likeliness. “Provided I didn’t come to your gallant rescue, that is.”
“Don’t think that makes us even,” I snapped, enraged once more. A smirk formed across his jaws. “And if you were so gallant, why didn’t you show yourself till now? You sound more cowardly than fearless.”
“Every houndoom has to look out for himself, right?” He shrugged, helping his tail to dance. “Told you your perfect nickname is Flair,” he chuckled, disappearing with a playful scamper through the exit.
I forced an elongated string of air from my nose and pouted my lips, following. Once I greeted the night air, I observed the many dozing trees and plants and stretched my limbs, finally allowed the everlasting space. I craned my neck at the Moon and her sleeping children who dotted the inky sky, remembering the task I had wanted to awake around this time to commence. “Oi,” I began, gaining the houndoom’s attention as he nibbled at presumable flees or something alike on a section of his back. “What are you even doing here?” Realising he had appeared on more than a few occasions in the same spot as me in recent time, I hardened my glare. “Are you stalking me?” An alarming thought paired itself with the question: what if he was a Rocket or Rokont – whichever – spy told to follow me and gather information on the culprit of the recently sunken ship? The possibility dawned on me, and for a moment he was no longer friend, but foe.
“Aren’t I allowed to tail a fellow fire type in a bore-induced endeavour?” he asked, swishing his tail in such a way that made my claws twitch. He was clearly enjoying himself.
I narrowed my eyes, however, and kept my glare on the bones hugging his back. His untamed gaze lay upon my face, waiting for me to make a move. Understanding his game, I shifted my head to the treetops, pretending to act somewhat entranced. He turned back to his pelt and nibbled. Catching his act from the corner of my attention, I seized the chance to escape. Swiftly I moved through the undergrowth, crunching leaves in the process, and dodged the thick obscuring tree trunks and their more subtle roots. Within no more than thirty seconds, my breath was quickening as I exercised my limbs, and my heart pounded to drive me forward. Due to swift movements and a steady pace, I reached the colony grounds in approximately five minutes.
I initiated my abrupt stop before passing onto their soil, and I scanned the area. Habib’s den was to my left a fair way up, and the arrangement of logs and a bonfire lay out in the field close to the lake that governed the southwest corner. I was not far from it, observing form the lower west, contemplating my array of selectable actions. I kept low and concealed myself behind a bush while noting the few pokémon still roaming, often in pairs, who had not retreated from the dark to their homes. I saw Krinn and Yukra, with a sleeping Mosst attached to the larger heracross’ shell, exchanging hushed chatter near the logs, and a female floatzel who I had yet to meet hovering on the surface of the lake. I knew I had to be careful and quiet if I was to make it across their grounds without being spotted, but I had the darkness to hide me and knowledge of stealth. Well...I liked to think so, anyway. I had always managed to creep up on Izante and give her frights without her noticing, and usually she was rather alert. Crossing the territory was probably easier than it sounded, especially considering I could fabricate a reason for my night wandering if I was caught. Some flareon (presumably the non-trainer types) were nocturnal, and for all they knew, I too followed that habit.
After distant rustling and suppressed paw pattering, I lowered my brow into an impatient frown. “So, what are we looking at?” the houndoom inquired, sliding his intruding head over my mane whilst radiating excitement.
With a violent shrug, I rolled my shoulder and stepped to the left, screwing my nose into a display of my irritation. “Leave me alone,” I muttered, spelling out each word in the hopes that they would somehow squelch through his head and into his brain—or pickle. Whatever the substitute for the organ was.
“C’mon, Flair,” he whined in his husky, restless tone. “Take me for a run.”
“Screw. You,” I retorted, monitoring my volume to avoid detection. In an effort to be rid of the haughty dark type, I exposed myself and scuttled up the border, my awareness set on Yukra and Krinn, and finally stepped onto the soft grass in varied spots between Habib’s house and Den Row’s outer hut. Sure enough, the houndoom pursued me. As reluctant as I was to acknowledge it, he was perhaps even more surreptitious than me, but there was no way those words would exit my mouth on a direct path to his – Arceus knows where they are – ears.
“Tell me your plan,” he insisted, each of his words provoking my agitation.
“Shut up, will you?” Looking back to the bug type and the electric type, I assessed the situation. If I moved further up and crossed Den Row, I could stick close to Aemara’s clinic and slip by unnoticed. If this burdensome stalker would unlatch himself, that was. “Why are you even here?” I growled, throwing my glower at his face while keeping my crouched position. I could feel my tail brushing the ground.
“I was bored, and we never got a chance to meet properly,” he shrugged, apparently immune to my scorn.
I moved past Habib’s house and was crossing a gap between homes when I stopped to address him. “Well you’ve named me ‘Flair’, and I know you as ‘Idiot’. I think we’re set.” I eyed the two male colony members as their conversation continued, Yukra’s arms flailing about as he explained an inaudible situation. I was suddenly reminded of my master. I whirled back ‘round to the dual type. “So scram.”
He merely chuckled, however, lifting a paw in response as his brow raised. The familiar smug smile stretched the length of his muzzle, and he emitted a mocking, “Ooh.” It was obvious he didn’t possess any degree of maturity.
“Take me seriously!” I demanded, perhaps a fraction too loudly as Krinn slapped a finger to his mouth.
His suspicious gaze scanned the campus as we ducked in an effort to remain hidden, but it wasn’t exactly the easiest thing to do when moving would mean more sound, and holding our positions with little cover meant risk of our sighting. However, the houndoom practiced no hesitation to creep almost soundlessly to my right side, becoming stationary as he obscured any pokémon’s view of me from Krinn’s angle with his black body. As handy as I found it, I grunted with displeasure upon the realisation that I had nearly given myself away due to a careless outburst.
As the electric pokémon reconsidered his previous evaluation, my ears relaxed and I released a bottled sigh. He and his friend must have decided to split as they separated and went their separate ways to their homes, during which time I copped an expectant, self-assured expression from the pokémon still elongated alongside me.
“What?” I grumbled, dropping the word like a solid rock.
“You’re welcome,” he replied, his eyes following the heracross and his niece until they disappeared from view.
My eyes rolled in their sockets and I recommenced my watchful paces, eventually reaching Aemara’s house and the adjoined clinic. Not a pokémon in sight, we crept behind the waterhole and past Mynk’s house adjacent to the cluster of trees which separated Den Row from the daycare. The dark and fire type’s steps didn’t lessen as I whispered continual threats and minor insults to him, and merely let them slide from his pelt as if he had a downing like a ducklett.
Approaching the northeast exit of the colony grounds, the path I walked when Zhol and Shard took me hunting, something large captured my attention. Whipping my head to the right, in the direction of the daycare, my eyes seemed to distinguish a house from a pokémon, which soon morphed into an ursaring. The pains in my stomach returned, and I felt my cheek tingle with the great sensation of the impact from an ursaring’s paw. The shame repainted itself across my chest and dotted sections of my face, flaunting its quantity with blatant immodesty.
Wynore was excavating outside her home by scooping armfuls of soil and stacking it onto the mound she had created, repeating the process as the hole expanded in size. Her reasons for doing something like that were either not apparent or flew straight between my ears, because I wasn’t able to fathom, in the short time I watched her from the back, why she would spend time transferring dirt. My initial guess sprung to my mind as a grave, which pushed chills down my spine as I questioned whose grave it would be.
“Flair,” the houndoom whispered with a gravelly edge. I expected him to continue, but when he didn’t, I reallocated my gaze and ensured I was crouching. Just outside the border, the houndour evolution stood side-on, but his focus was not on me. Instead, his attention was in the arms of a small honey-brown pokémon, her forehead’s crescent moon pattern emanating a dim glow of light.
“Bibi,” I mumbled, the word falling from my mouth as I recalled the several mentions of her name. Shooting one last gaze to Wynore, I moved off the open field and across the border, my limbs tingling with the allurement of rebellion. I sealed the gap between the three of us, excited and attempting to produce a smile, but unsure of myself and guilty that I was leaving the teddiursa and her mother without a proper answer. I could assume that Shard may tell them, but I couldn’t know for certain.
“Where’s my daddy?” the small pokémon inquired, her words high pitched like a typical youngling, but heavy with concern and uncertainty.
My eyes enlarged and my lips withdrew into the care of my teeth, and I felt my front legs twitch. I flashed my attentive glance at the more settled houndoom, noticing my frantic mannerisms, and let it rest on the teddiursa once more. “Your father...” Holding my tongue but finding no reason to induce fantasies in the child’s mind, I decided she earned the truth. “Your father’s not coming back. I’m...I’m sorry.”
Taking no further chances, I tore myself from the normal type, raced past the houndoom and fled through the forest with my half-tail rippling in my wake.