Yeah...I'm afraid I update so flippin' slow that it's hard to keep up with anyway. Dx Sorry 'bout that...
Originally Posted by Sheepat
Crap haven't been on in like a year and forget nearly everything. Gotta get back into this I guess
WELL. After months with no chapters...I finally produced one. c: I did NOT want it to take this long. So I will make sure it doesn't happen again.
Chapter Twenty-Three: Separate Paths
I was hardly aware or mindful of the noise the rustling would have produced as I seared across the forest floor. I may have been startling nearby sleeping pokémon for the second I was in their presence and arousing trees, but their desires were not prominent on my list. My thoughts raced as my legs followed, dodging trees as I mulled over my brisk decision to blurt out something that could harm that child forever.
However, the information was absolutely necessary. Holding in such a terrible secret for much longer could have driven me insane, and, as I realised, it was more important that I not keep such a thing to myself... Bottling it up only caused things to continue turning sour, and I certainly wasn’t winning myself any points of wisdom. The realisation was a shocking one; at first I thought that because the secret was my burden, I mattered the most...that I was most affected. But keeping a secret to myself, one that should be shared with the entire colony to sooth their concerns, seemed newly absurd.
The sick feeling of selfishness seeped through my skin, soaking my flesh and snaking along my veins. I tried to shed the layer of guilt as I leapt through the brush, stamping the soil flat, only to have its grass spring back up after I passed through. My leg muscles buzzed as I galloped between trunks and my tail fluttered uncomfortably through the air as the difference between a normal tail and half a tail surprised me again, as it did each time I noticed. Progressively my throat became drier, and dampening it was the only solution.
Deciding to focus my attention on finding a stream of water, I switched on my directional senses and slowed to a jog. My jaws eased into separation to allow a circulation of air to cool my internals. It wasn’t difficult to detect any site of importance, as the wind flowed in my direction during the time in which I scented it, so after a short minute, I stumbled upon a stream. Coming to the edge of the river, I monitored my paws, ensuring that they didn’t slip on the bank’s mud. When my toes squelched in the mud and my eyes had fixed themselves warily to the calm body of water, my mind was cast back to the minutes before I had been apprehended weeks ago by the armaldo.
I ruffled my mane in an effort to feel the light breeze weave between its many strands of fur and leaned down. My muzzle submerged and I sealed my eyelids, gulping water by the mouthfuls. I raised my head and parted my jaws to inhale wisps of oxygen between drinks, and returned thoughtlessly to the stream. My vision trailed across slimy rocks, focusing on the occasional one that jutted from the bottom and intersected the flow, the light catching the sparkling liquid and highlighting rises in the current. Separately were the stones that protruded and exposed their surfaces to the air. They quietly reminded me of fins of pokémon that wanted to feel the steady breeze stroke their skin—something they were deprived of underwater. I reminded myself that I was thankful for a life on land.
As my vision rolled over the rocks, pinpointing the reeds poking from the stream, it stopped at a set of irregular black shapes appearing at the left of my body. I knew I would encounter them, however, and it was clear whose paws they were. The houndoom stayed himself, my eyes still and out of view of his face, before I noticed his elbows flex. A chest pointed with orange lowered, a muzzle of the same orange dipping into the water. His eyes were closed, as mine had been, and it was a moment before he opened them directly on me, mine on his. He retracted his head as I remained still; I didn’t follow him up, instead looking away when his face was out of sight.
“What was that all about?” he finally questioned, his voice as casual as I had expected. His legs were unmoving; I knew he meant for me to answer. It was probably a confusing sight for him to witness. I had thought that, judging by my silence, it was obvious I intended not to provide him with a clear response. He didn’t seem to understand. “Hey. Flair.” He ducked his head, eying me from the side.
As I failed to move, aside from the infrequent blink and my heaving chest, he rose and sprung, clearing the narrow stream with a meagre shred of effort. From the other side, he was able to lean over the rushing water and draw my eyes. Somehow the temptation worked, and I pulled my line of sight further up. With the clench of my jaw, I pushed on my paws into a stand, took off and followed the stream upriver.
It was nearly immediately that the fragmentation of leaves and snapping of twigs from the opposite side reached my ears, and with a scowl I turned my head away from the houndoom, or ‘Idiot.’ He hardly, if at all, deserved anything more dignifying.
“Come on, Flair! You can’t just run away,” he called, apparently keen on changing my mind. His efforts would be wasted.
“I beg to differ!” I shouted, but blinked sharply in response. I hadn’t meant to speak aloud.
My nose twisted in irritation as I imagined his satisfied smirk. He definitely understood that I was not intent on discussing it. Given the situation, he would be proud, or just smug, to have gotten me to talk.
We ran a little longer before my ears twitched to the sound of the undergrowth’s disturbance hastening; he was increasing his pace. Within a number of seconds, the dark type had gained the appropriate ground to leap across the stream, and I wasn’t sure where he had planned to land, but in the split second before we collided, I knew he had miscalculated.
Together his foolish plunge had sent us rolling to my left, and in a mingle of legs and paws, we scuffed along pointed sticks and gravelly ground. Several of my muscles were battered, as well as my left cheek, the bone having clobbered a stone and taken the impact. I tried my best to keep my legs drawn and my head tucked, but the force of the collision launched us at such a velocity that it was difficult to keep track of any voluntary action. My vision was nothing but a muck of blurs when the foliage smudged by, and momentary darkness as I became downturned to the soil and sealed my eyelids together. I emitted yelps of protest and anger as we tumbled, and finally we slowed, body parts folding over each other before we came to a heaving halt. The ordeal had provoked the resurrection of my fury, and traces of my guilt and worry slowly slipped from my grasp.
“What the hell
were you THINKING?!” I cried, snapping my limbs away from him and rising to my paws.
With a half-heated chuckle, the houndoom pressed his front paws against the ground, the rest of his body limp against the ground. “Didn’t work out as planned.”
,” I snapped bitterly, fur risen and pupils tiny with derision. I began to notice the small spots of pain bleeding through my muscles. They would only show as tiny bruises later, but for the moment they pulsed in assorted places. My face was going to bruise as well, even if the purple colouration wouldn’t show up through my fur.
“You don’t have to be so mad,” he suggested, tone raised in a mildly bemused but bewildered manner.
“Stay out of my way,” I barked, claws puncturing the earth as I turned and fled again, nearly stumbling at first. I regained my stature and trudged on, speeding through the forest as I had done so many times before.
I had no idea where I was headed, but I needed to run. Running occupied my mind; the more twigs that jabbed my paw pads and the many grains of dirt wedging between my toes to help with distraction, the better. Yet I knew such futile attempts to rid myself of the sad reality of my lies and the truth were no less than excuses to lead me astray from what I had to face. It was my fault that I withheld vital information so selfishly, and in doing so, I should have realised that I endangered, even just mentally, the ones who suffered in turn. I had failed to see that I was not the only one on the end of the tipping scales; others were beginning to teeter and fall because of the imbalance I instigated, and yet I only sought solitude for myself.
‘That poor baby teddiursa...’
Sourly my mind walked the figurative path of destruction I had torn in my wake and encountered Wynore, distraught beyond what I had previously considered. The ursaring had lost her mate, her lifelong friend, and duty to provide her with some closure was assigned to me, but I had been too cowardly. Slouched beside her was Shard, the loyal and caring support who had propped the ursaring up since they had met. His eyes were still with shame, his spine curved and head dangling above the unearthed soil.
Further up the path, a mangy teddiursa – Bibi – wailed silently, mouth gaping and eyes frantic with fear. Her fur was matted and tangled; she was desperately deprived of a loving touch, and could perceive only confusion and loss. Along the path were countless pokémon lined in a row either side of the road, each one oblivious to another’s presence. They too had suffered at my paws, and it was that very thought which gnawed at the rawest section of my mixed mind.
I had only one flareon to blame, and so did they.
Cloud-like wings sliced the air with long strokes, the white fluffiness resting atop the current as if the wind ignored its presence and treated it as kin. Each wing beat steadied the blue pokémon increasingly each time, and her small eyes scanned the treetops as she surveyed the lands from far above. The sunlight pulsed onto her head in a warm wave and pleasantly rolled down her back; had her wings been darker, the sun would have soaked her with heat that would lead to sweat. The thickness of her feathers compensated for the whiteness, however, and heated her unnecessarily anyway.
She tossed her head about, observing as the tall family of frosty mountains in the near distance seemed to grow in size with each passing metre. She would have to return again with the same answer; Derino’s pestering did not alter the course before them, and neither did the impatience in his stride or the frequency of which he persisted she check. Her gaze seemed to flicker back and forth as she tried to mentally gather the distance to relay to the travelling party.
She blinked a few times in succession and then wheeled around, retracing her figurative steps as she began to return to the party. She once more assessed the upcoming scenery as she flew back, and began a steep descent to the treetops within a matter of minutes. She weaved through branches and avoided trunks before she exposed her talons and drove her legs into the soil. She came to a halt after a few paces and gazed about, spotting the party further ahead as she twisted her neck.
Heaving a sigh, she picked herself up and glided to catch up with them, landing beside a cream figure with a green helmet that curled to a point just below his forehead. Two red prongs, one each side of the scalp, complimented the single button of the same colour on the pokémon’s otherwise green chest.
He whirled to face her, raising one of his green arms. “News, Fluffy?” he teased, legs shrouded with what looked like cream pants walking him sideways.
“It’s not news that I’ll dragonbreath your face off if you persist with that stupid nickname,” she snapped, her small, rounded beak hardly threatening. “But I’ll still do it.”
The krinar shrugged, pretending his words were not to be taken offensively. “Your choice if you don’t wanna play along.” He turned back around and whispered something inaudible to the pokémon of similar form beside him. Her cream dress-like attire, frilling at the bottom where it reached her thin thighs, swayed calmly as she walked. Never did her heels touch the soil.
Tarla ignored the obnoxious psychic type and ducked ahead, appearing by the side of the pokémon apparently leading the four. Before she could manage anything, the lilac figure had flicked his head at her and opened his wide maw. “How far?” he demanded, his tone harbouring little patience.
“The mountains don’t move,” Tarla muttered. “I don’t see why I have to keep checking.”
“Because I want to know how far away we are,” he grumbled, eyes pressed upon by heavy brows. “It doesn’t inconvenience you to check!”
“Derino, we know
it’ll take three to four days to get there. There’s no point in checking if we know the path and know the time it will take,” she protested, agitation scattered across her face.
“I don’t care. I want to know when I want to know, and you’re the only one that can fly ahead to check.” His gruff voice aided the unreasonable effects that Tarla deemed one of the normal type’s less redeeming qualities.
“And they’re my wings,” she concluded, and, grumbling under her breath, took wing and rested in a high branch nearby. She began preening some wing fluff as she ignored the three below her who passed in no time, and reasoned to herself that she could catch up at any time of her choosing.
With lingering annoyance drifting to the back of her mind, the altaria looked up, admiring a sight she not often had the privilege to witness. The darkness surrounding her which was blotched with spotlights felt more embracive than stifling. The autumn colours of gold and ochre mingled across the forest floor were highlighted in patches by the breaks in the canopy, and trunks stretched far above ground level, their great branches spanning across overhead to sprout forest green sheets of leaves. Each tree stood a measured distance from its neighbours; it was patterned that way for leagues in each direction, creating a comfortable, organised environment. One would feel protected from aerial predators scouring the forest for prey above the treetops, although walking along the ground presented an openness many would consider overexposure. There was nowhere to conceal oneself, as shrubs and bushes were not overly abundant. The warmth encasing the surrounding area was comforting, however, and often detracted from any negative qualities. That was the feel of Torqueal Forest.
She sighed as she marvelled at the sight before her, noting that their journey through this part was to be a short one; by nightfall they would be well away from the beautiful trees as they neared the enormous mountains. Their frostiness stretched across rocky terrain as a slope built up to flat ground and dipped into a valley. She knew the valley’s paths split into several directions through the mountains and was home to many caves and rough routes.
With a spacey gaze, she envisioned an event long ago involving those mountains. She remembered the bitter sting that the wind forced upon her face, prioritising endurance and shelter and minimising such feelings as emotion.
The chill weaved through even her thick wings and seemed to freeze up her bones as it surged past. She once again reminded herself that her small, round body was less than adequate for surviving such a demanding climate, yet the choice to do so was evidently not hers. She heavily resented what had happened back with her flock... They made a foolish decision, and although she was glad she was away and far distanced from them before she was forced into anything she didn’t have a want for. The thought shook her confidence and scraped at her beacon of understanding. It was difficult to comprehend why they would make such a decision. It made no sense.
“You are a part of this flock,”
they had told her, eyes perfectly rounded as they loomed over her small body. “You are one of us. You will comply with the flock’s wishes.”
She imagined their cruel presence in her mind, their great wings nearly camouflaging with the troublesome blanket of thick, whipped snow coating the grounds their feet sank into—the same snow they sought to avoid every year at the same time. It was their season to migrate, and yet this time...the flock had decided against tradition, but more importantly, against reason.
“To participate in actions separate to ours would be abandonment; traitorous.”
Her eyes glared directly in front, through the fall of sporadic snowflakes. Her beak pressed tighter together. “You will be banished!”
The last words stabbed her way were followed by harsh attacks designed to frighten; she was only small, and the four altaria driving her back were beyond intimidating. She shook in her feathers at their brisk snaps and flutter of their wings. She knew the cloud-like arrangement of feathers appeared inoffensive, but to an experienced reciprocator, they were large, suffocating and dangerous. She had needed to flee. The risk was growing, and in the rapidity of their threats and accompanying actions, she was driven back, nearing one of the many cliff edges defining their territory. She was aware that it was an act of condemnation rather than a means to injure her. And even though she knew no physical harm could come from her fall off the cliff, she was horrified that she understood plainly what it meant, and what its purpose was.
It was how they banished traitors.
Knowing she would be forced off the edge without first having a chance to turn and spare herself the shame by flittering away, she had tumbled and rolled, their nips evolving to clamps and the sting of their dragonbreaths beginning a more focused assault. She hurried her backward pace every time she was able to make it to her feet before she was knocked down again.
As her wings cut through the drifting snow, she cringed. She had been driven over the edge. She was unable to salvage even a trace of dignity as she had spiralled down, the wind rushing against her face. A single elder dropped down after her in rapid pursuit. After a swift struggle to capture the wind, she had taken flight and escaped the diving altaria with a timed roll, and flapped furiously away, eager to jam at least a few mountains between her and the flock. She knew she was the one who had betrayed them by opposing their wishes and adhering to hers before theirs, but...she couldn’t help feeling it was her that was betrayed, and that her flock was the traitor.
Continued in next post...