Within an instant, we were both firing flamethrowers directly toward the ground, a little ways from the entrance as we stood side-on. I felt my breath quickly escaping; I hadn’t taken a large enough breath before I’d started, and that was always the loser’s undoing. Determined, I continued to push out a stream of flames, feeling the control for my breathing slipping away; I felt like a deflating balloon, and soon enough, stress in my shoulder muscles became apparent. My fire was weakening, as was the houndoom’s, but it was clear who was to be the victor.
I forced it from my jaws at a steady pace until I could provide it with life no longer, every inch of me screaming for air, and as I cut it off, it felt like an eternity before I drew my next breath. My chest expanded with the welcoming of oxygen, and I could relax, focusing on giving myself air for the next few seconds. I had lost, but the satisfaction came onto the winner’s face when the loser made eye contact. I tried to resist, but as he said nothing, I rolled my eyes and averted them, seeing his smugness as he shrugged, as if he hardly cared about his win. I knew otherwise, however, and whirled around to come face to face with the gaping entrance to the tunnels again. I huffed reluctantly as I continued to regain my breath.
The impending darkness was somewhat daunting after being so used to light surrounding me, even during night hours, when the moon showed its friendly face and lit my way. This, however, was more like some kind of mouth. We would travel down the endless oesophagus and become permanently swallowed food, ripe for digestion in whatever foul liquids happened to impede our way. Anything could have been down there. Reasoning with myself, however, I concluded that the houndoom would not lead me into a death trap. He may have been a tool and an idiot, but I was fairly certain he wasn’t a murderer. Or suicidal.
“Come on,” he urged, trying to hurry me along.
I blew a puff of smoke from my nostrils, waiting another few moments before I sprouted a flame.
Trees leisurely sped by as hurried legs powered on. Two lone figures ran through the woods, their statures extremely different to each other as they both avoided uprooted themselves on fallen logs and roots that periodically threatened to block their ways. One, a quadruped, wad reasonably faster than the other, and a more urgent drive pushed the figure through, occasional growls and complaints spilling from the creature’s mouth. The other, quite content with running on two legs as a pair of arms flapped about in a useless accompaniment, was slower and less hurried, giving a strong sense of contrast to the duo.
As they continued on, the tiredness they had accumulated during the night they had barely slept through in an effort to reach their goal increasing, the quadruped narrowed her eyes and continued her focus. The blue fur covering her body shimmered somewhat each time the sunlight caught glimpses of her through the canopy, and highlighted the darker coloured patches patterning her back.
“And then I find out she’s staying with us? I mean, at that point, I didn’t think things could get any worse, and yet...” The pokémon trailed off, clearly conflicted about something. She eyed the ground, barely able to define the details of any leaf or stone that whizzed by, and then looked up to the quagsire beside her, stretched out and tilted like some sort of running weasel. His face held a smile without further complication, his simple eyes set on the road ahead. Not once did he show a sign of response. “Ugh...never mind,” the glaceon growled, turning her gaze back to the road.
It wasn’t long after she had caught wind of that troublesome flareon, who she had been unfortunately sent after to travel with and see safely to the mountains. She had been highly unimpressed with the fact that she had left, as confirmed by the teddiursa child, hours before the assigned time, going directly against the colony leader’s orders. In consequence, the ice type was forced to pursue her and keep a regularly speedy pace, all the while tracking her movements. She was glad she managed to follow the right trail, but what was strange about it was the second scent, which indicated another that had been with her, and likely still was. She knew the scent. She was quite confident about whose it was, yet constantly denied it, trying to pinpoint any sort of reason that houndoom would have for travelling with Dusty but unable to come up with feasible results.
It was not a minute later that an unusual sight popped into view. Distorted undergrowth and blackened trunks made up a small area that was obviously the result of a battle or some kind of disagreement. She hardly found it odd. She was well aware of how annoying that houndoom could get, and figured that if it was
him, which she did not find herself doubting – especially due to the strong scent that, she found, was unmistakably his – then it was no surprise that the flareon would have launched into an assault. There had been times when the glaceon herself lost control of her temper, and in almost all situations that he had been in her presence, it was his snide remarks and overall provocative nature that had caused it.
“Figures,” she whispered to herself, hardly pausing as the tiny battlefield showed itself before she left it in her wake, and continued on, the quagsire without a single implication of stopping. “I don’t know why Habib wanted to let her join,” she growled, digging through her mind for answers.
Every time she decided to say something negative about the fire type, however, she was constantly reminded of the one thing that caused her guilt. It was true that she may have been frustrating and possibly not trustworthy, but she had initiative. The glaceon was willing to admit that much, at least, as well as the fact that she had courage. She was unsure if she would have had the gall to do what Dusty had done, especially when it came to the lone act that looped in her mind.
The flareon threw herself into me, forcing a cry of shock to ring from my throat as we soared for a moment before hitting the deck, her body falling onto mine. I had no idea what had happened until I angled my head, spotting the nearby human with a raised gun, clearly after just firing. For a second I felt a pang of panic wash through me as I visited the possibility that she had been shot.
“MOVE!” she shouted, my legs suddenly finding cause to work. I shuffled from underneath her, my mouth agape in the shock of realisation. Had she just pushed me out the way of a bullet? One that was meant for me? I wasn’t sure, but as another gunshot exploded in the air, a second bullet flew directly past one of her ears and claimed a nick.
The shock took me by surprise, holding me in place as I stared after getting to my paws, disbelieving of what had just happened. I wanted to deny that this flareon, someone who I was sure I had established a mutual dislike with, had just saved my life in possible exchange for hers. I knew she was not mortally wounded, or so my mind told me as I saw no fatal injury or extensive blood. My mind presented strong bewilderment; such an act was in need of repayment. The sheer surprise of the situation was what captured me in its astounding embrace, and as a result, I found myself staring at her, eyes perceiving her in a new light. As someone...possibly trustworthy, and perhaps even capable of earning the title, upon earning it formally, friend.
“Why are you—” she hissed, and paused to moan in discomfort, “—just standing there?!” The question was a good one, but I found myself unable to answer as she sneered and barked, “Get away!”
The severity of the situation caused me to listen to her, and without thinking, I flashed a look of all that bewilderment tangled with very subtle gratefulness, turned and ran, bounding away from what I realised could quite possibly have been the act leading to her demise.
Immediately I regretting fleeing, but it had obviously been what she had wanted, and returning would only cause problems. Instead I quickly came upon Luck, who I had definitely been surprised to see with the flareon when she made the announcement in the crate. I had been entirely oblivious to his capture until that point.
Coming into his view as he swatted a ninjask from the air, I shouted at him, gaining his attention. “It’s Dusty; she’s in trouble! Human, gun; that way,” I panted, jerking my head in the direction I had come. Very quickly he nodded, uttering thanks for my assistance, obviously intending to end the human’s pitiful life. I watched solemnly as he thudded hurriedly away, and hoped with regret for a bundle of things that the flareon would be saved. Although she had initially been an annoyance, this act alone had proven that she was of some worth.
It made me question myself, wondering if I would have done the same if I was in her situation. As painful as it was, each time the question rang throughout my mind, the answer was always no.
Azure shook her head violently as she and Splash continued, reluctant to admit that she was undoubtedly in debt. What the flareon had done for her – to give her a second chance – was something she had never been taught. Not from the moment her clan rejected her for the odd patterning of her back. They had deemed her some sort of outcast, different, even for something as meagre as different markings. Some believed it was a sign from the Underworld, the mark of something devilish and sinister. For a time, Azure had believed them.
She shook the past from her mind and blinked out any visions clouding her sight, making the decision to focus ahead. Hopefully they would come upon Dusty and her dark type companion soon, but she was willing to bet that they still had a little ways to travel.
Sighing, the glaceon and the accompanying quagsire exchanged not another word for around another hour, by which time she had come to the end of the forest and looked out upon the ranges before the mountain. She disliked the thought of crossing the expanse of multiple terrains, and turned her sights elsewhere, discovering the familiar ditch that she had encountered in the past. She wondered if the houndoom had chosen to take the underground route, and determined by the scorched ground near the entrance that he must have.
In the time that she had known he was with Dusty, she knew that he was doing so in the absence of hostility. Although she probably showed it to him, he had no such intentions, which posed the question: what exactly did he want? He knew he wasn’t welcome within the colony, and Azure in particular condemned him for her own reasons. She knew that showing unnecessary contempt in Dusty’s presence was unwise, however, and came to the conclusion that she and the houndoom would remain silent about private affairs. Hopefully he would agree to the same policy. After all, he probably lacked any desire, as did she, to expose such matters to the flareon. If he wanted to remain friends with Dusty – if they were even that – then he wished to save both himself and the ice type a large portion of strife, he would keep his smart trap sealed. If he would, she would.
Casting the thought momentarily aside, the glaceon slid down the rim of the crumbly wall before pushing off and landing gracefully onto the packed soil. She turned to see the quagsire lie on his side and stretch his arms up before he began rolling down the wall.
Azure scoffed, averting her eyes with embarrassment and hoped that nobody had seen. She cleared her throat and looked back to him as he stood upright once more, a look of placidity gracing his oblivious face. She felt like face-pawing as she heaved a gruff sigh and stalked toward the entrance to the cave, unsure how she would have any hope of seeing in the wretched darkness.
Thinking quietly, she snatched a long branch suitable to be carried in her maw, making sure to angle it to fit as she and her temporary companion slipped inside, hoping soon enough to meet with the two fire types.
We had been padding for a short time in silence, my mouth providing the flame and therefore disabling speech, when the houndoom spoke. “Dusty...” It got my attention, but I didn’t turn in case I disturbed the fire. “Who were you fighting back there?”
He presumably saw the frown upon my face as I recoiled a little, unsure what he meant. ‘What kind of a question is that?’
“Back there, when you attacked me.” At this I was not any less confused. He could tell what kind of question I itched to ask and its enhancing tone, and decided to clarify. “You were firing attacks at me
, yes, but...you weren’t fighting me. Your mind was elsewhere.”
I blinked, wishing to swallow, but unsure if it would put out the fire or not. ‘Who is he to assume that? He can’t just decide what I’m thinking and what I’m not. He can’t know anything for sure.’
For a moment I wondered why the fire was not yet out; the tiny flame I had spurted wavered weakly in the darkness, as it took constant breath to keep it going, and I quickly reminded myself that it was lucky I could breathe in while, instead of breathing out, simply pushing my cheeks to empty the air already filling my mouth. It lased but a moment, and required concentration, but I was able to maintain an appropriate and much-needed cycle. I wasn’t sure how it would go without this knowledge; perhaps the uselessness of it all would require me to extinguish the flame for a temporary time, and the thought seemed tedious—lighting and then relighting flames was annoying, especially ones that feed only off the heat one provides and the air one pumps into it. It took more effort than one would think. But that was the element of fire in a nutshell. Unpredictable.
He tilted his head, his mouth open as if to say something, his eyes in place and scanning the ground as we walked. “I wonder...who it was that you were fighting. If not me, then someone else that annoys you,” he guessed, and I wanted to cease the fire to tell him that he was pretty much the only one that ground my nerves. Sure, Tarla and Azure, as well as Cupborn, were all variations of irritating, but in their case it was somewhat minor and part of who they were. This pokémon annoyed others on purpose.
‘Who cares who I was “fighting” anyway? I don’t get why this is something he needs to get his precious little tail in a knot over.’
The frown on my face remained as I realised that I didn’t have a way to tell him any of this accurately.
“Maybe it was someone who you’re mad at,” he mused, bringing up his head to walk more casually as he moulded his face into expressions I wasn’t even sure that houndoom could make. “Someone that wronged you horribly.”
I suddenly realised something. He was intentionally saying all this with a mock-curious voice, indicating that he had figured it out a considerable time ago, but didn’t bother to let me know. Instead he played mind games and spoke with a tone making me wonder about his conclusion to the situation. ‘There is NO DOUBT he is the most annoying pokémon ever to enter my life.’
“Someone...that graced the days of your childhood but now haunts the nights in your sleep?”
The words caught me off guard, and I felt a horrible pain in my stomach, as if a beedrill had just shoved a jagged forearm into my gut and twisted. ‘He...he means...’
“Someone you thought you trusted, but doesn’t even reach the title of friend anymore.” His face grew somewhat solemn, still holding that element of playfulness I wasn’t sure was necessary at that moment.
‘Why...do I have to be reminded of this?’
my mind questioned, and my expression hardened, as if a permanent engraving of sadness would forever be carved onto my face. I found it hard to shake the feeling, my expression constantly returning to what it had been not a second before.
“Someone who you thought you were over.”
I suffered a metaphorical blow to the chest and felt my head lower as a reflex, my eyes scraping the soil that approached underneath. “Stop it,” I commanded, more weakness to my voice that strength. Immediately the surrounding area lost its glow, and we were absorbed by the darkness.
Neither of us moved as I remained still, my shoulders up by the sides of my head, my mane failing to provide its usual comfort; I recognised it as prickly and intrusive. My tail only felt wrong, the weight not nearly enough as it pathetically sagged from my rear end. We both stayed in silence as the thoughts hung heavily in the air, invading my mind and probably resting harmlessly on his.
“Don’t...not again.” I kept my gaze fixed on the ground, regardless of whether or not I could actually see anything. “Do you know...how hard
I have tried...to forget that? How much I have denied its actuality—how I have been forced to pretend like she never did exist?” I waited a number of seconds, the answer not reaching my ears. I doubted that he was even thinking about it. “But you know what? ...It doesn’t work. There’s nothing to suggest that she never was; I have no proof in my mind
that she never entered my life. Every day I live with these memories...” I fought to keep myself calm, but the rising emotion was making it increasingly difficult. “You wouldn’t understand. Nobody
could understand unless they’d been through the same thing. Yes, I can remember those good times...and yes, I wish with my entire being
that she was once again beside me, helping me through things as I helped her.” I breathed out in a despondent chuckle, shaking my head with a slowness that surely branded my position as a hopeless one. I didn’t care that he couldn’t see; he could probably hear it in my voice.
“Betrayal is rough,” he began, and I was momentarily surprised by his evident showing of sincerity. “Trust me; I know.” I was aware he was about to follow with ‘but.’ “But you’re taking this really badly.”
“I don’t need a lecture from you
,” I snarled, hearing the disdain in my voice swell.
“No, Dusty. Listen to me.” Again with my name. “Look...you can see how this is affecting you.”
“What’s your point?”
“My point is...I think you need to find a way to deal with this. You’re clearly not coping.” I could hear him shuffle closer, and I fought the feeling of dejectedness; I had to be strong. I had to replace it with anger. Even in knowing so, it faltered as I once again realised that anger was an inefficient protection mechanism against sorrow. They complimented each other. One led to the other, and it worked the other way around just as easily.
“I’m warning you,” I growled, biting down on the inside of my cheek as I recognised the lingering frailty. ‘No.’
“The way you attacked me back there was a prime example. You couldn’t physically reach the problem, so you went for the nearest thing that you could sink your teeth into. You exploded with anger at one mention of this pokémon’s name. You’re unstable.”
“I KNOW!” I boomed, and immediately silenced myself, despite my wishes to continue. I closed off my connection with sight as I sealed my eyes.
He took another step. “Then why don’t you address it?”
“I don’t know HOW
,” I explained with an increasing hint of desperation to my shuddering voice.
“Why don’t you just...get over it?”
My eyes snapped open.
Continued in the next post...