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Thread: The Fall of a Leader (NaNoWriMo 2007)

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    Default The Fall of a Leader (NaNoWriMo 2007)

    Hello there, and welcome to the sequel to Scyther's Story, The Fall of a Leader. The title was the first thing that popped into my head when I got out of bed this morning, and while nothing particularly unique it is at least appropriate and not as facepalm-inducing as "Scyther's Story", so what the hell.

    Like the prequel, it is composed of a number of untitled, numbered "chapters" - forty-seven, to be exact - which tend to be too short for posting one at a time. However, it is also divided into seven "parts", each constituting a number of "chapters", and it is the parts that I will be posting one at a time. I will try to wait a few days in between posting chapters so that people have time to read the first ones.

    Is Scyther's Story required reading? What about The Quest for the Legends version ILCOE? I would say that it is more or less essential that you are familiar with at least one of the two. Note that version IALCOTN of the latter has not yet gotten to the relevant chapters, so having read that will not help you here. This story does give a bit of a reintroduction to those things that you may have forgotten since Scyther's Story or were not mentioned in The Quest for the Legends, but I think you would most likely be rather confused reading this if you had read neither of them, so I don't recommend it. Of course you are welcome to try anyway if you feel like it for some reason.

    IMPORTANT NOTE: Rated-freaking-R. No, seriously. I mean it this time. Scyther's Story was rated R to stay on the very safe side and rate it somewhat like the MPAA would. This one is rated R because parts of it would have disturbed the hell out of me a few years ago. Interestingly enough, The Fall of a Leader probably contains less violence and swearing than the prequel, not that I did any extensive analysis of that. Hmm, what does that leave to account for that rating?

    Before you ask, it's not NC-17 in disguise. I don't know or want to know how the mechanics of Scyther sex work, so it would be pretty hard for me to make it that graphic even if I wanted to, which I don't.


    Aaaanyway, now that I've got that out of the way, here's the first part. It's relatively short - the shortest of all of them, I think. To be exact, it's 3275 words, which would be roughly seven pages with no page breaks between "chapters". Which may tell you something about the length of the other parts, which are so much longer.

    ...okay, I counted for the hell of it. Part one is indeed the shortest. Parts two and three are some 5000, four is roughly 4000, five is around 8500, and six is... 20,000. Ooookay, I might have to split that one up when I post it. o_O And the last part, part seven, is something like 7000. So yeah, the first part is the shortest, but the others aren't really that horribly much longer, except part six which is just ridiculous.

    I have no idea why I just wrote all that. I'll just get to part one already.



    PART I: AFTER RAZOR LEFT

    I

    It had been three months since Razor’s departure from the swarm.

    Stormblade sat under the old oak, absent-mindedly chopping the petals off the nearby flowers while vaguely aware of the whipping sound of Shadowdart’s scythes as he practiced his slashes on the air. They had been friends for a while – they had first met two years before, when Shadowdart had been only a year-old Descith and Stormblade two years older than him. A duel with Shadowdart had helped him evolve. While they hadn’t talked much the first year, once Shadowdart evolved they had been – on a Scyther’s scale – on fairly friendly terms. But Stormblade had always been closer to one other Scyther, one he had known for a year longer, and it was to him that his thoughts were now wandering.

    What, he wondered, was his first friend doing now?

    He heard Shadowdart grunt as he swung his scythe powerfully. The blade cut smoothly through the bark of the tree, burying itself in the wood up to the evolutionary remnants of an arm that formed the blunt edge. The tree shook at the impact. Satisfied, Shadowdart pushed his clawed foot against the tree trunk and jerked his scythe out, sparing a look at Stormblade as he did so.

    “What’re you thinking?”

    Stormblade sighed, looking over the plains towards the forest of Ruxido. “I miss Razor,” he muttered.

    Shadowdart looked at him out of the corner of his eye. “I don’t.” He examined the scythe he had chopped into the tree with, stroked the blade with his other scythe and then swung it experimentally again.

    “Look, forget about Razor. I don’t get why you’re so upset.” There was a short pause as he looked at both of his scythes again. “I never liked him, anyway.”

    “I did,” Stormblade replied, looking at Shadowdart.

    “He was a weakling and a coward,” Shadowdart insisted while practicing a defensive position, looking in the other direction from Stormblade. “He was an insult to everything it means to be a Scyther. He was a Code-breaker. Stop remembering him.”

    Stormblade shook his head slowly to himself, beheading a dandelion with a careless swing of his scythe. “She was much stronger and more experienced. He never… he never stood a chance, really.”

    “Well, he shouldn’t have challenged her, then, should he?” Shadowdart said coldly, blocking the slash of an imaginary opponent. “And anyway, I don’t give much for her strength either. She didn’t even kill him afterwards.”

    Stormblade looked up at him. “I wouldn’t have done it if it had been me fighting him, either,” he said, his voice slightly shaky.

    Shadowdart stopped dead and turned his head, giving Stormblade one look of utmost disgust; then, without warning, he flew at him, knocked him backwards, pinned him to the ground in a series of quick moves and pushed his scythe tightly up against the older Scyther’s throat.

    “I would,” he whispered, staring straight into Stormblade’s eyes. “Without hesitation, I would. And if you wouldn’t, you don’t deserve to be called a Scyther. I still have respect for you, but only because those were only words, and I will assume in your favor that you merely underestimated yourself. Do you understand me?”

    He moved his scythe to allow Stormblade room to speak. “I suppose I did,” he muttered, and Shadowdart stood up, looking away; indeed, he looked in the direction of the Scyther swarm on the plains below, eying them with a distant mixture of determination and despair in the depths of his eyes. Stormblade crawled into a sitting position by the tree again, watching his friend. He sighed.

    “I was just wondering where Razor might be right now,” he said quietly.

    “It’s pretty easy to guess,” Shadowdart said, his voice filled with contempt. “Either he realized he was a disgrace to his species and killed himself, or he caught up with that female, they screwed, and once the fit of lust wore off and they returned to their senses, they killed themselves together – or each other, if you prefer.” He turned to face the older Scyther. “He’s dead, Stormblade! Either he’s dead, or assuming that he’s dead is the best thing you can do for his memory. Forget about him. Live in the present. Let’s have a friendly duel, all right?”

    Stormblade made a reluctant sigh of agreement and stood up. Perhaps Shadowdart was right – the sensible part of him fiercely argued this position – but his other side, the side that wondered what the clouds were really made of and that had spontaneously taken a liking to Shadowdart that fateful day when they had dueled, made him feel a stinging ache somewhere within him. He longed to have his friend back, and whether he had broken the Code seemed like an empty, meaningless question.

    Then again, the side of him that wondered and formed bonds had never done him a lot of good among the Scyther.

    The two mantids positioned themselves opposite one another with some distance between them and both prepared to strike or defend. Most duels between experienced Scyther began with a period of staring during which the duelers tested their focus and strength of will. The weaker would be first to become restless and eventually make the first move, allowing the other to defend and usually gain the upper hand.

    Shadowdart ignored all of this and simply dashed straight at Stormblade with his scythes raised.

    The older Scyther was caught off guard by the sudden deviation from the traditional procedure of a duel and only fast reflexes saved him from an embarrassingly quick defeat. He managed to meet Shadowdart’s blades with his own before they struck, throwing them to the side. In the moment that Shadowdart was turned, Stormblade quickly raised his scythes again to bring them down towards his opponent’s back, but Shadowdart rolled out of the way, leaping immediately to his feet with practiced skill. He positioned his scythes defensively in front of him, watching Stormblade turn around as he caught his breath.

    “You’ve gotten good,” Stormblade commented. “All that training has…”

    Shadowdart leapt at him again, swinging his left scythe and aiming towards Stormblade’s midsection. The older Scyther blocked it with his own, but the blow was more powerful than he expected and he was thrown off-balance and sent flying backwards. The wind was knocked out of him as he landed harshly on his back, and as he gasped for breath, he felt Shadowdart’s right scythe push up to his throat again.

    “You need to do some training yourself,” the young Scyther said, stepping off his friend and former mentor and turning back towards the tree while Stormblade stood up. “You should have leaned more forward to take my last slash. And you shouldn’t have talked in the middle of the duel.” He sighed. “You just won’t do, Stormblade. I need a stronger partner to train against. I’ve trained much more than you now. Why don’t you have more friendly duels for practice? I haven’t seen you duel anyone besides me since Razor left. You always had considerable dueling skills, but they could rust in place if you don’t exercise them.”

    Shadowdart wiped some grass blades off his dark green armor with his scythe, spent a second aiming and then drove it straight into the narrow rift in the tree trunk he had left before.

    Stormblade looked at him, walking up to the tree. “Maybe,” he sighed as he sat down. “I suppose you’re right. You usually are.”

    Shadowdart smiled for a moment, looking at the cut in the tree, but then turned around. “Well, I’m going to find somebody who can give me a challenge. I’ll be seeing you around, Stormblade.”

    And with those words, he flew down towards the rest of the swarm. Stormblade was left sitting by the tree, accompanied only by the strewn petals of ruined flowers.


    II

    Shadowdart had always been a bit pathetic.

    His unusually dark armor made him look odd – it was about the color that the females’ usually was, and although that difference was not particularly striking it was definitely noticeable to a Scyther – and it was this that had originally caused Stormblade to notice him. And Shadowdart, still a tiny little Descith, had asked him what he was staring at.

    Stubborn he had always been. And rather strong for his age, too. But never calm or fearless, and certainly no one’s idea of a role model as a Scyther. He had broken down as he was catching his First Prey, unable to bring himself to kill any of the first eight Pokémon he had caught. The ninth had been a measly Rattata, and he’d had to close his eyes before slitting its throat. He’d been the subject of rumours and ridicule, contempt and disdain throughout the swarm in the time that had passed since.

    If there was any Scyther Stormblade knew who feared death, it was Shadowdart. And fear of death, in the eyes of the Scyther, was a deadly sin. The first rule of the Moral Code, their ultimate rules of existence, was that death was not to be feared. If, they said, one feared one’s own death, it would be reflected in sympathy for one’s struggling prey.

    And of course it was. The sympathy was justified. What right does a being terrified of its own death have to inflict death upon another creature?

    But they were hunters, killers. They could not survive without eliminating their fear of death. And so that was what they tried to do. Some were better at it than others.

    Shadowdart had gotten better.

    It was as if the experience of his First Prey – and perhaps Razor’s departure, which had coincided with it – had changed him. Shadowdart had come back from the hunt miserable, lost and confused, having suddenly realized his own incompetence, but in the next few days he had begun to train with newfound rigor and determination. While the swarm whispered behind his back, he had ruthlessly taken out his anger on the oak tree and developed skills that had gradually replaced the insults with awe. Many believed he had the most precise aim of any Scyther in the swarm now, and his reflexes were becoming quite renowned as well among those he had dueled. Nobody spoke of the small, dark-colored Scyther who had let eight Pokémon go before managing to kill one anymore. Anyone could tell that Shadowdart was past that, and the Scyther never worried much about the past. He had become an idol to the young and admirable to the older. His focused efforts to improve his skills had earned him popularity and respect throughout the swarm in a remarkably short time.

    And in that same time, he and Stormblade had drifted apart. Shadowdart spent most of his time training now, and although he did not mind Stormblade’s presence while he did, the conversations were usually half-hearted and tended to quickly degenerate either into hostility or friendly duels, which Shadowdart won with increasingly less effort. By now they never had much to talk about, and thus were usually silent.

    This was why Stormblade found it rather unexpected one late autumn evening as he was standing in the pile of dry leaves under the oak tree, bent over the body of a Stantler he had caught, to see Shadowdart walk up to him and actually sit down beside him.

    Stormblade glanced at him in vague surprise and then gestured for his friend to take as he liked. Shadowdart nodded silently and ripped a strip of flesh from the Pokémon’s side.

    “Nice hunt,” he commented after swallowing.

    Stormblade shrugged, tearing some more meat from the carcass. “I got lucky.”

    They sat in silence for a while, eating.

    “Have you… have you ever felt… restless? Like you couldn’t stand the swarm and desperately wanted to change something in it? Like you didn’t have enough influence?”

    Stormblade stopped eating, licking the blood quickly from his mouth. He thought for a moment. “No,” he replied and resumed.

    “I’m tired of being an underling, Stormblade,” Shadowdart pressed. “Of being the young, stupid Scyther. Of being second. Our Leader… he…” He swallowed.

    “He what?”

    “He’s a hypocrite!” the younger Scyther blurted out. “He doesn’t kill his defeated challengers. He cuts a piece from their scythes to cripple them and let them live with the humiliation. He tortures his victims, he… he breaks the fifth law of the Moral Code, and nobody… nobody even notices it.” He looked away for a moment, like he was afraid that Stormblade would answer it harshly, but he didn’t. In fact, Stormblade had never really thought about it before. He had never been very interested in what the Leader did.

    Shadowdart looked back at him. “It’s not just that. He’s far too lenient. I look at the swarm, and half of them are weak cowards. They don’t break the Code explicitly, but the spirit is there. Nobody seems to take it seriously in what it is really saying. They just avoid doing anything direct. The whole swarm is corrupt. And the Leader does nothing about it. And of course he doesn’t, because the only reason he wants to be Leader is that he wants all the other Scyther to submit to him. He doesn’t care about any of it. He just wants to be considered important because he’s… he’s now the most powerful Scyther in the swarm.”

    “Well, the Leader is supposed to be the most powerful Scyther in the swarm.”

    “I know,” Shadowdart said quietly, looking away. He paused for a moment before continuing. “That’s why I’ve been training so much. He is not a good Leader. He doesn’t deserve the position. I’m going to challenge him and defeat him.”

    Stormblade looked at him. “I thought it was to prove yourself.”

    “They respect me already, but I keep going because I’m going to become Leader.” He swallowed and waited for a few moments. “I’m going to challenge him tomorrow.”

    Stormblade looked at him. Yes, he had come a long way, the small Descith that had once upon a time attacked him upon a joking invitation to a duel. But he could not see him as the Leader of the swarm.

    “Are you sure you’re ready for it?” he asked. “He isn’t considered the most powerful Scyther in the swarm for nothing.”

    “Even if I lose,” Shadowdart said quietly, “he won’t kill me.”

    Stormblade didn’t say anything for a while. He looked over the swarm, all the Scyther that Shadowdart seemed to find so immoral, and just couldn’t see it. He had never been overly fond of the Leader, perhaps, but hadn’t ever given it much thought.

    Finally, he replied with, “Weren’t you saying it was wrong of him not to do it?”

    “Sometimes you have to do something that is wrong so that you can do what is right in the future.”

    “But he’ll cut a piece out of your scythe!” Stormblade protested. “It will take years to grow back, and weaken you for further duels!”

    “I don’t care,” Shadowdart whispered. “I need to become Leader, even if he removes my left scythe and half of the right before I beat him. He’s at the peak of his strength, and will weaken as he ages now. I’m still young. I’ll only become more powerful. Even it if takes me ten years, I know I’ll beat him and then I’ll become a far better Leader than he ever was.”

    Stormblade stared at him. “Why are you so desperate to be Leader? Why does it bother you so much how the rest of the swarm behaves?”

    Shadowdart looked back at him in disappointment. “I knew you wouldn’t get it,” he muttered, shaking his head. “Thanks for the meal.”

    The younger Scyther stood up and walked aimlessly off towards the swarm.

    Stormblade looked after him and sighed.


    III

    In the end, they were very different, Shadowdart and him.

    As Stormblade watched his friend walk slow, nervous steps over to the Leader’s rock, he could, in a sense, understand why Shadowdart had told him he wouldn’t appreciate his presence at the site of the duel. Come to think of it, they had never really been the best of friends to begin with.

    They had met so spontaneously – and iconically, it had been only because he and Razor had been snickering at his coloration. And Shadowdart had been all too eager to prove himself to be powerful, then just as now. They had dueled, and although Stormblade’s size and experience had given him a definite advantage and allowed him to win, he had immediately realized that Shadowdart would be a powerful fighter.

    Stupidly, he had offered the young Descith he had barely known a name – something that was ordinarily a sign of great respect among the Scyther. He had been young and naïve, ready to trust that the Descith he had pinned down in a duel would be worthy of the name.

    It had worked in reverse – ordinarily, names were given because the Scyther in question were friends or respected one another already. They had become friends because he had given Shadowdart a name.

    And now, looking back, he realized that they never really should have.

    He and Razor had never really been the greatest of friends to Shadowdart. Stormblade had more or less shunned him after his First Prey, and meanwhile Razor had been making constant snide remarks at him. Dueling with Shadowdart to try to trigger his evolution had become a dutiful chore more than an act of any particular enthusiasm – why spend their time fooling around with a Descith when they could be together dueling someone their own size or discussing the beautiful scythes of whichever females they had their eyes on for the moment? And even after Shadowdart’s early evolution, they had always liked to be around one another more than around him, looking down on him for not having had his First Prey yet.

    Shadowdart’s whole life had been marked by the way they had treated him. He had never truly had a friend in them – he had been a loner with acquaintances that he had named as his friends without ever truly having experienced friendship. Looking back, Shadowdart and Razor had been closer to bitter rivals than friends, and Stormblade himself… it was first after Razor’s departure that he had begun to seek Shadowdart’s company to any degree. Only after the friend he preferred was gone had he ever truly looked at Shadowdart as his friend.

    Shadowdart had clung to him while he was ridiculed and despised. Now that he had earned himself respect, he simply didn’t need Stormblade anymore. And in fact, having Stormblade nearby probably simply made him nervous and lessened his focus. It certainly wouldn’t help him while fighting for Leadership – a fight that Stormblade, with his unconventional mind, could not even for the life of him fully understand why Shadowdart was taking on at all.

    It made him depressed, because he, in the end, was a loner as well. He had lost his one true friend, and the only replacement was drifting away from him. He felt horribly, terribly alone.

    To the Scyther, it was a virtue to be without personal relations, but Stormblade, like many other Scyther, found this demand impossible to meet. He had a natural need for sharing his feelings with someone, caring for someone and knowing they cared about him, loving someone and being loved back. He knew he couldn’t survive without friends, and wasn’t going to try. There was no meaning to life if its wonders couldn’t be shared with another being who could sympathize and provide his own input.

    There was nothing for him to do but to resolve to try to patch up his relationship with Shadowdart at first opportunity.

    At worst, he would end up an acquaintance of the Leader.
    Last edited by Dragonfree; 3rd December 2007 at 7:04 PM. Reason: Oops. Somehow managed to post the wrong title.

    Chapter 64: Hide and Seek
    The story of an ordinary boy on an impossible quest in a world that isn't as black and white as he always thought it was.
    (rough draft of the remaining chapters finished for NaNoWriMo; to be edited and posted)

    Morphic
    (completed, plus silly extras)
    A few scientists get drunk and start fiddling with gene splicing. Ten years later, they're taking care of eight half-Pokémon kids, each freakier than the next, while a religious fanatic plots to murder them all.

    Lengthy fanfiction reviewing guide / A more condensed version
    Read and I will be very happy for a large number of reasons.

  2. #2
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    Novel-worthy (Although, of course, since it was in NaNo that was the intention.) But you definately pulled it off. I wasn't familiar with either of the pre-sequel things but I didn't need to be (but now I want to be.)

    I wasn't even sure if I should have posted this since I couldn't find anything negative to complain about (except, initially I thought Razor was dead... and I got Stormblade and Shadowdart confused occasionally, but that was my own fault for not reading carefully.) Anyways the story hooked me and I will be here to read the rest of it (and hopefully make more constructive comments next time.)
    Claimed: Grovyle - November 10th, 2013
    Chapter 18 is up.

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    This part is titled "Innocence", for some reason, instead of "After Razor Left". Just a heads up.

    Congratulations on the 50,000 words; it must have been quite a sense of achievement. And I shall now try to review with as little gushing praise as possible, which I'm finding quite difficult as I really liked Scyther's Story and this is looking to be just as good, if not better.

    and only quick reflexes saved him from an embarrassingly quick defeat.
    The double use of "quick" here makes the sentence sound repetetive and gives the impression of a small vocabulary. Something simple like swapping the first one for "fast" would stop this being noticeable.

    but found himself forced down to the ground by the sheer force of the blow.
    Similar thing here - finding himself "forced" by the "force" seems a little redundant, and a little word tweaking would make it sound less... weird.

    And you should not have talked in the middle of the duel.
    He is not a good Leader.
    These two occasions where Shadowdart speaks without contractions (is that what you call them? :/) sound oddly formal especially as they're surrounded by speech where he does use contractions, and he never does this anywhere else. It just doesn't seem in character for him to talk like that, really. I can imagine him doing it when speaking to the Leader, but not to a "friend".

    Stormblade didn’t say anything for a while. Finally he replied with, “Weren’t you saying it was wrong of him not to do it?”
    I think that this should be drawn out a bit more, so that the reader gets a better feeling of the pause between this line of dialogue and the one before. As it stands, I read that he's not saying anything, then before I get the chance to imagine the pause in my mind, I'm reading his next line of dialogue. Perhaps a sentence or so of minor description just to fill in time would make this bit flow better.

    “No,” he then replied and resumed.
    “I knew you wouldn’t get it,” he then muttered, shaking his head.
    Don't see the need for the "then"s here, as it follows logically that one thing happens, then the next does, so there's no real need to point it out. Additionally, both of these happen after a brief moment of pause, which gives them even less of a "first this, then that" feeling, making the "then" sound more out of place.

    Tiny, tiny things I have pointed out. They barely detracted from the enjoyment of this as a whole. Something about your writing style makes your work so easy to read - it's not daunting, and once I start reading I simply want more until there's none left. If you'd posted the whole fic in one go, chances are I'd have sat here reading without a break until I'd finished it.

    “He’s a hypocrite!” the younger Scyther blurted out.
    xD. I'd been thinking about how much of a hypocrite the Leader seemed to be in the prequel, and I was quite happy to see Shadowdart, who I didn't even like that much, point it out. I love the way you portray Scyther society, so different from our own. But of course, all societies have their flaws, and the way in which Shadowdart pointed it all out so abruptly was rather amusing to read.

    Now, I said that I didn't like Shadowdart before and I didn't. That's purely personal taste - he was always a bit too cold and distant with a bit of an ego, and I never really liked that. But now that you've given us more of an insight into why he's like that - not even from his own POV, which makes me eagerly await his monologue which you mentioned on your blog - I can start to feel myself sympathise with him. And though his potential Leadership, if it ever happens, will likely be strict and a bit ruthless, I actually kinda sorta want him to overthrow the Leader, just because of the flaws he pointed out.

    Aaaand I really like Stormblade. :3 It's so nice to have, in a society which has so little free thought, a character who likes to dream and imagine. And I now have a better picture of how he enjoyed his life with Razor and how much they were friends - previously I didn't pick that up much as you skimmed over most of their post-First-Prey life until Nightmare came into it. So I really sympathise that his only proper friend has gone due to something he couldn't control, and now his only chance of friendship is an over-ambitious Scyther who he doesn't really get along with.

    I look forward to more of this.

    Edit: Hmm, I just noticed something. How come this is consistent with the TQftL ILCOE, yet Scyther's Story is only consistent with the IALCOTN?
    Last edited by elyvorg; 2nd December 2007 at 3:15 PM.
    .: Evolution is a battle .:. Something has to lose :.
    LOST EVOLUTION
    Chapter 33: Inside has been posted.


    Foregone Conclusion
    Spinoff/prequel/backstory/thingy to Lost Evolution, written for NaNoWriMo 2010

    Three Heads Are Better Than One

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    Thanks for reading.

    Quote Originally Posted by Griff4815
    except, initially I thought Razor was dead...
    Ah, that's one of those things you may get confused on if you haven't read any of the previous material. Scyther's Story is about Razor, and will show you that he is not dead; he also appears as a character in The Quest for the Legends, which also shows he is not dead. You may come to more spots like this where something is not explained sufficiently because it assumes you've read either of the two previous fics. I just hope you will get approximately what is going on anyway, and if there's anything you're completely lost on, just ask.

    It is rather easy to confuse Stormblade and Shadowdart. While I was writing the early chapters, I even got them confused myself while writing the dialogue tags, so don't think you're alone. It does get a lot easier to make the distinction between them after a while, though, so I hope this will not be a problem throughout the story.

    Quote Originally Posted by elyvorg
    This part is titled "Innocence", for some reason, instead of "After Razor Left". Just a heads up.
    Yeah, I noticed and fixed that just as you were posting. xP Just a mistake.

    Quote Originally Posted by elyvorg
    Congratulations on the 50,000 words; it must have been quite a sense of achievement.
    Thank you. It did feel pretty incredible to pass the 50,000 mark. Especially since I had been so sure I'd never make it for the longest time.

    Fixed all those wording mistakes you mentioned in my Word document. Thanks for the pointers. That quick-quick one was something that I'd noticed and made a mental note to fix when I edited it, but then that mental note managed to get buried somewhere where I forgot it. <<;

    Quote Originally Posted by elyvorg
    Now, I said that I didn't like Shadowdart before and I didn't. That's purely personal taste - he was always a bit too cold and distant with a bit of an ego, and I never really liked that. But now that you've given us more of an insight into why he's like that - not even from his own POV, which makes me eagerly await his monologue which you mentioned on your blog - I can start to feel myself sympathise with him.
    Heh, you'll get more than just one monologue, because (almost) the entire second half of the story (parts five, six and seven) is from Shadowdart's point of view. I've always loved writing him, and hopefully the story will succeed in making you understand him better and sympathize with him some more. Stormblade, of course, will get his fair share of focus too in the first four parts of the story and those chapters of part seven that are from his point of view. I hope you enjoy his parts, since you like his character.

    Quote Originally Posted by elyvorg
    Edit: Hmm, I just noticed something. How come this is consistent with the TQftL ILCOE, yet Scyther's Story is only consistent with the IALCOTN?
    Both Scyther's Story and The Fall of a Leader have points where they directly intersect with the storyline of The Quest for the Legends - chapter ten was retold in Scyther's Story, and chapter twenty-nine will be retold in this one. The IALCOTN has reached neither point, but when it gets there, chapter ten will be entirely rewritten and the storyline of the chapter changed, while chapter twenty-nine will merely be reworded (as it is more recent and was therefore better and in less need of complete revision). Essentially both of them are made to be consistent with the IALCOTN, but The Fall of a Leader is also consistent with the ILCOE while Scyther's Story is not.

    Thanks a lot for reviewing.

    Chapter 64: Hide and Seek
    The story of an ordinary boy on an impossible quest in a world that isn't as black and white as he always thought it was.
    (rough draft of the remaining chapters finished for NaNoWriMo; to be edited and posted)

    Morphic
    (completed, plus silly extras)
    A few scientists get drunk and start fiddling with gene splicing. Ten years later, they're taking care of eight half-Pokémon kids, each freakier than the next, while a religious fanatic plots to murder them all.

    Lengthy fanfiction reviewing guide / A more condensed version
    Read and I will be very happy for a large number of reasons.

  5. #5
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    Whoo, part two. Sorry for how soon it's posted, but I finished editing it and part one seemed to have extraordinary enough review-repellent abilities to make me doubt I was going to get any more of them anyway.


    PART II: PEARL

    IV

    Once long ago, it was said, there was a Scyther who was a bit too adventurous for his own good. He was the kind of Scyther who would spend his days raving endlessly with childlike wonder about the world – isn’t it amazing, he would say, that we have minds? Isn’t it amazing that there are all these living creatures, all these different Pokémon, and they are all alive just like us?

    And because life in the swarm bored him, he one day told his closest friends that he was going to leave forever and explore the world. They tried to tell him not to, but he refused to listen to them, and headed off the next morning.

    He traveled through a forest, and it was not long before he was lost after walking around aimlessly for a while. He saw a Pidgey, and before it flew away, he shouted to it, “Please stay! I will not eat you, for I have never liked to kill other creatures. Will you tell me the way out of the forest?”

    And the Pidgey, though wary, decided to do as he said, so it hopped between the highest branches of the trees, at a safe distance from the Scyther, to show him the way out. And soon enough the trees became more spread, and the Scyther walked out of the forest into the glorious sunlight, and as the Pidgey flew away in fear, the Scyther shouted, “Thank you!” because he had been telling the truth.

    And on the Scyther went, over the plains and over mountains, past lakes and past rivers, until he came to a body of water so large that he could not see the banks on the other side. And he tried to drink from it, for he was thirsty, but found that the water had a strange, salty taste that made it undrinkable. He realized that this was no ordinary lake, and with fascination, he flew over the water to look over it. Not far off the shore, he looked down, although he could not see very deep into the water elsewhere, and saw a curious object there, a large, round, whitish-pink shape that gave off a peculiar sheen that reminded him of a scythe.

    Enthralled, he flew back to the shore and sat there for a long time wondering what the object was. He was so captivated by it that he did not notice the pass of time, and only realized when it was already dark that he had not eaten anything for a while.

    He eyed a small orange Pokémon stepping up from the shore of the water a short distance away. It had not noticed him because he had been still and hidden behind a rock, and it was dark; but now he saw it, and realized fully how hungry he was.

    But his mind was so captivated by the object that rather than attack and eat the Pokémon, he revealed himself and swore a truce so that he could talk to it. The Pokémon introduced itself fearfully as a Buizel.

    “Do you live in this lake?” the Scyther asked, and the Buizel smiled in response.

    “This is no lake,” he said; “it is the sea. But I do hunt in it and spend my days there.”

    “Then can you tell me what the round, shining object that I saw a short distance off the shore was?” the Scyther begged him, because he knew that his mind could not rest until he found out what it was.

    “Oh, it must have been the pearl of a Clamperl that you saw,” the Buizel told him. “They only produce one in their lifetimes, when they evolve. The Spoink use them to focus their power.”

    “I must get it,” the Scyther told him. “Would you dive down and retrieve the pearl for me?”

    But the Buizel shook his head. “I cannot do that, Scyther; for I would need to risk my life to get it. The Spoink would be angry, and the mystical powers of the pearl are said to prevent anyone from getting it if they do not respect the pearl as the Spoink do.”

    And the Scyther thanked the Buizel with sadness, and as it left he went to sleep.

    But when he woke up in the morning, he spent the whole day searching for a Pokémon that would be willing to retrieve the pearl from him, offering all of them truce so that he could talk to them. And again he went to sleep hungry.

    The next day he found a Spoink in the forest, a gray creature that bounced regularly on a spring with a pearl on its head; but the pearl was not as beautiful as the one he had seen in the water. He begged the Spoink to retrieve the pearl for him, but the Spoink was disgusted by the suggestion and told him that no Pokémon but the Spoink were worthy of the pearls.

    And the Scyther spent several days in this way, eating nothing and thinking only about the pearl, until finally he was so hungry that he knew he would die if he continued to ask the Pokémon for assistance in getting the pearl. But he did not go and hunt, because he could not bear to kill a Pokémon that might have been the one that could have gotten the pearl for him. Instead, he flew over the water, eying the pearl, and then dove into the water to get it.

    But he was a Scyther and could not swim, and the bottom was further down than he thought, and the salt burned his eyes such that he could only barely make out the shape of the pearl below him. He managed to cut it loose from the seaweeds it was tangled in, but he could not bring it up to the surface.

    The Scyther drowned there, still desperately attempting to move his pearl out of the water. And, they said, he still lay there to this day, on the bottom of the sea, far away from the rest of his kind, his flesh rotted away and eaten by sea Pokémon, the pearl still lying with its deadly sheen just by the remains of his scythe.


    V

    Stormblade didn’t need to approach Shadowdart, because Shadowdart approached him first.

    In the evening he returned, and Stormblade could tell how the duel had ended before his friend was anything more than a silhouette whose long shadow stretched out over the plains as if longing to flee into the forest. Shadowdart was walking too slowly, too shamefully, for it to be a surprise when Stormblade could make out the large gap that had been cut into the smooth blade of his left scythe.

    Shadowdart sat wordlessly down beside Stormblade, stared at the setting sun and felt vaguely around the rough edges of the gap in his scythe with the other. Stormblade could see the other Scyther in the swarm look in their direction.

    “I lost,” Shadowdart muttered, looking down at the ruined scythe that he had been sharpening only hours earlier as if he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. It was horrible, even disgusting, and Stormblade could easily tell that Shadowdart himself thought it even more so. “He was so fast…”

    “He isn’t the Leader for nothing,” Stormblade said quietly. “Of course he’s fast.”

    “All those Scyther watched it,” Shadowdart said. “They saw him outspeed me. I could see the disappointment in their eyes when he had pinned me down. And then he… cut into my scythe…” He shivered. “It was terrible.”

    “Of course it was terrible,” Stormblade replied emptily.

    “But I’m going to beat him,” Shadowdart whispered, his voice shaking with anger. “No matter what it takes, I’m going to beat him and kill him, like a true Leader should. I’m going to train until my body has reached its limits. Nothing will stop me from beating him, I swear, nothing. No matter what he does to me… I’ll… I’ll…” He shook his head. “Nothing…”

    Stormblade looked at him. He did not understand Shadowdart’s feelings, and had it been him, he would have given up immediately. But he didn’t have to understand it. As long as Stormblade would talk to him. Be a friend. Better than they used to.

    “I support you,” he said. “I don’t know why you want to be Leader, but I hope you will succeed one day.”

    Shadowdart looked at him. “Why do you suddenly care?”

    “I suppose… because we never were very good friends to you, Razor and I. I want to make up for it.”

    Stormblade shook his head. “Friends. It’s not healthy to care too much about someone.”

    But he stayed at Stormblade’s side anyway, watching the sunset with bloodshot eyes.


    VI

    Shadowdart would have to train more. Much more.

    That, at least, was what he had told Stormblade in muttering tones the next morning, and what he had been gradually regaining his enthusiasm about as autumn slowly turned to winter. The Scyther had once again lost their respect for him after the humiliation of his defeat and the still-missing piece of his scythe that the Leader now held, but Shadowdart no longer cared. He did progressively less dueling and progressively more singular attacks on air or plants, although he had given the oak tree a break. He often spent long hours training in Ruxido, sometimes returning with prey that was ever larger on average.

    They talked when he returned, shared prey, discussed how his training was coming along, dueled, and even sometimes hunted together. But Shadowdart’s increasing tendency to train alone weighed against it, and Stormblade felt just as lonely as ever before.

    It was not, however, until he found himself trying to convince his stomach that he was hungry so that he could have an excuse to go out and hunt – hunting for fun, without the intention to eat the prey, was always immoral – that he realized how desperately he needed company.

    Stormblade stood up and sighed, looking over the swarm. Most of the Scyther – the ones who were not hunting – were engaging in duels, eating, or spending their time trying to slash the drifting snowflakes, but one caught his attention: a female sitting in the shadow of another lone tree, staring into space. Much like himself.

    He grew curious, stood up and began to walk towards her, and as he trudged through the layer of snow on the ground, he realized that she looked a little familiar.

    She seemed to have heard him, turned her head and looked at him, and he remembered where he had seen her before: she had been the female who was with Nightmare. The one she had called Sickle.

    “Hello,” he said, stopping in front of her.

    “Hello?” she responded hesitantly, and he realized from her expression that she didn’t recognize him.

    “You were… you were a friend of the one who left the swarm last spring,” he said awkwardly, adding at her blank look, “I was with the one who named her Nightmare.”

    Sickle looked down and shook her head. “Oh. You.”

    He stood there for a moment, not sure what to say. She looked back up at him.

    “What do you want?”

    What did he want indeed? He wasn’t sure. Why was he bothering her again?

    “You look lonely,” he finally said.

    She looked at him, dull disdain in her eyes. “Of course I am. I had one friend, and she made the mistake of sparing the life of some idiot. She told me afterwards she didn’t really know why she’d done it, that she’d just suddenly felt it would be a shame. And she had to leave the swarm. You and your friend left me alone in the world. Now leave me alone again.”

    “How do you think I feel?” he said quietly. “I lost my friend that day too.”

    There was silence.

    “So you did,” she admitted.

    Neither of them said anything for a few seconds. He just looked at her and her gaze wandered between the other Scyther of the swarm and occasionally to him.

    “I thought I remembered somebody else offering his First Prey to you that night,” she finally said.

    “Shadowdart is too busy training to be Leader these days. He already challenged him once.”

    Sickle snorted. “Him?”

    Stormblade nodded and then, without really knowing why, sat down beside her. She looked at him, but did not tell him to move.

    “He thinks the Leader is a hypocrite,” he explained. “He thinks he’ll be a better one with more respect for the Code in spirit as well as in word.”

    Sickle looked away. “The Code,” she muttered. “I could never take it that seriously.”

    “Me neither.”

    There was another short silence.

    “Why are you still here?” she asked, her voice more amused than annoyed.

    He shrugged. “I… don’t know. Why not?”

    As much as she was pretending she didn’t like having him there, she was silent and did not name any of the many reasons she could have used to make him go away. She enjoyed his presence after all. It made him feel a little warmer.

    She looked at him. “So… what do you like to do?”

    Before he had the opportunity to answer, however, he noticed a familiar Scyther coming out of Ruxido. A momentary twing of conflict struck his heart – he wanted to stay there and talk to the female – but his resolution to maintain his friendship with Shadowdart came out on top. They had such little time to talk to one another outside of the training sessions. He had to use it.

    “Shadowdart is returning,” he told her quickly. “I’m sorry. Maybe we will talk some other time.”

    She sighed. “I suppose so,” she said as he stood up and walked over to Shadowdart. It was obvious from her voice that she was not very optimistic on it ever happening, and when she bade him farewell, she said it as if they would never meet again.

    Stormblade knew better.


    VII

    The winter was cold that year.

    Oh, yes, it was freezing, biting cold, and that coupled with the snowstorms that followed throughout the winter made it difficult for Shadowdart to spend as much time training as in the summer and autumn. As a result, he had plenty of time to spend with Stormblade, and they made a habit of going out hunting together to increase their chances of success now that many of the wild Pokémon of Ruxido were in hiding.

    It was not until spring, when the snow had mostly melted and there was more prey around, that Shadowdart again began to seek solidarity for his training, and what he had rusted at during the winter quickly returned to him.

    “Duel?” Shadowdart asked once after a session of training. Stormblade had been watching him and could easily tell that Shadowdart was several leagues above him in skill level; in fact, he had a distinct feeling that Shadowdart was only being friendly when he wanted to duel him, because Stormblade could certainly not pose any sort of challenge to him.

    But he nodded anyway, and they positioned themselves a few steps away from one another.

    This time Shadowdart did not rush to start the duel immediately. After the first few duels, it had become predictable, and he had stopped doing it. Instead, he now liked to wait until the opponent’s concentration faltered for a second and use that opportunity to strike.

    And before Stormblade knew it, Shadowdart had noticed that his mind had wandered and was already coming at him with raised scythes.

    He was preparing for a high horizontal slash, so Stormblade ducked, but as soon as he did, Shadowdart changed the direction of his slash to hit straight down on Stormblade’s back. He was knocked down towards the ground, but managed to swing his scythe behind him as he fell to push Shadowdart out of the way and regain his balance quickly enough while Shadowdart recovered. Stormblade threw a slash towards him, but Shadowdart blocked it easily enough.

    The younger Scyther bent oddly forward. Stormblade was about to ask him if something was wrong when he sprang up and smashed his skull into Stormblade’s body. Stormblade gasped for breath as he was sent flying backwards into the ground, and Shadowdart flew right into him as he was falling, pinning him down fairly easily.

    He gave Stormblade a quick smile as he stood up. “I’m trying to develop a strategy to surprise him. Doing something… unconventional might increase my chances.” He took a deep breath. “I think I’ll be ready to challenge him again soon. Maybe tomorrow. I’m going to win this time.”

    Stormblade stood up too and sighed. “I hope you do.”

    Shadowdart glanced at his ruined left scythe and the horrible gap that had shrunk barely, if at all, since it had been inflicted. Stormblade knew what he was thinking, and he was thinking the same: if he lost, he would have another piece cut out. The scythe would practically be ruined.

    It was a fate worse than death.

    “I think I should go and train some in Ruxido,” Shadowdart said quietly. Stormblade nodded and watched him walk off, slowly, nervously, towards the forest.

    He sighed. He was alone again.

    And like an answer to the very thought of it, he noticed Sickle sitting on her own by her tree again, staring off into the distance.

    He walked to her, trying to look as if he were simply walking by. When he came to the tree, she turned her dull gaze over to him and said softly, “You came again.”

    He nodded and sat down.

    “Shadowdart is going to challenge the Leader again tomorrow,” he said emptily after a short silence. This time, Sickle did not mock him. She just nodded and continued to stare off into space.

    “I don’t know. He could win, but… if he loses… he’ll have another piece cut out of his scythe, and…” He shuddered. “It’s terrible, looking at it. I’m not sure it will ever grow back.”

    She raised one of her scythes vaguely in front of her eyes, apparently imagining a part of it cut out. He noticed that the blade had a particularly smooth, arching curve to it, and cringed at the thought of it being destroyed.

    He was glad she didn’t want to be Leader.

    “Why don’t you stop him?” she asked quietly, lowering her scythe slowly. “If he were my friend, I’d convince him not to do it. He’s not strong enough. He should wait until the Leader’s reflexes start faltering a few years from now. He’s the strongest Scyther to grace this swarm in living memory, I’ve been told. His Leadership isn’t meant to end until his body fails him.”

    Stormblade shook his head. “I’ve talked to him about that. He wants to prove that he’s truly more worthy by defeating him at his best if he possibly can. He wants the respect of every Scyther in the swarm when he becomes Leader. If everybody thought that the previous Leader had been stronger, they would not be as loyal to him.”

    Sickle sighed. “Competitive, isn’t he?”

    “Yes.”

    They were silent for a while. Two Scyther were dueling viciously not far off; one of them was gaining the upper hand and eventually brought the other down.

    “I like you,” Stormblade said suddenly, not quite sure why. “Can I give you a name?”

    She chuckled. “Bit quick to judge, are we? But go ahead if you like.”

    Something about her reminded him of a legend he had heard long ago, about an object called a pearl that had been so beautiful that a Scyther had fallen in love with it and driven himself to death trying to get to it. It had always been one of his favorite stories. He could only imagine what a pearl looked like, but something about her shape and form and the roundness of her scythes reminded him of that legend.

    “I name you Pearl,” he said, and knew it was the right name the moment he had said it. She smiled at him, and he wasn’t sure whether she had ever heard the story of the pearl, but she didn’t seem to dislike the name and that was all that was important.

    “Then I name you Loner,” she said. “Because no matter how often you tell me that you consider your Shadowdart a friend, he does not truly consider you one.”

    Was he, indeed, a loner? Was he only deluding himself? Did Shadowdart just not care about him? His stomach twitched uncomfortably. No, he didn’t want to believe that. They’d been getting along so much better recently.

    “Come on,” she suddenly said, standing up. “I’ll show you something I like to do.”


    VIII

    There was a gleam of excitement in her eye, in stark contrast with the previous dullness, as she led him in a dash towards the mountain in the south. He didn’t know why she wanted to take him there, but there was some wild excitement in keeping up with her, and he found himself enjoying himself more than he had doing anything in a long while.

    “Where are we going exactly?” he shouted, hoping she heard him through the wind.

    “Up,” she replied, and with that kicked off the ground, her glossy wings immediately beginning to buzz and carry her up over the steep slope. He followed her. The weather was cloudy, predicting coming rain, and for some reason he thought back to the day he had first met Razor and asked him what he thought the clouds were.

    She landed on a flat rock that stuck out of the mountain in the middle of the slope and sat down, and he sat down with her, still catching his breath after the flight. Scyther weren’t made for using their wings much, and even a short upwards flight like that could wear him out easily, although he couldn’t help noticing that she didn’t seem exhausted at all.

    “Isn’t this a great place?” she asked him quietly. “It makes you feel amazing, doesn’t it?”

    He looked down at the Scyther swarm in the distance, and felt it too: it was a curious sense of being above them, greater than them, in a special way of his own. A sense of knowing a secret that they didn’t. It made him feel jumpy and excited. He nodded.

    And as they sat there, he had a wild idea.

    “Pearl,” he whispered. “Have you ever gone higher up?”

    She nodded. “Once or twice. But this is my favorite place.”

    “Ever… flown somewhere from there? The top of the mountain?”

    She looked at him. “No. Why would I want to?”

    “It would be a nice start if you wanted to go higher…”

    She chuckled. “Why would I want to go higher? There’s nothing but sky up there.”

    “Not just sky,” Stormblade said excitedly. “Clouds. Haven’t you ever wanted to see for yourself what the clouds really are? They say they’re Pokémon, but I never believed it.”

    She looked unsurely at him. “I never really thought about it,” she said and shrugged.

    “Then let’s think about it now!” he said. “Let’s fly up and touch the clouds! Let’s see what they’re really made of!”

    She laughed, and it was a hearty, joyous laugh, not a mocking one. “You sound excited.”

    He smiled and then kicked off the ground, soaring up towards the top of the mountain, daring her to follow him with his eyes. She took swiftly off, catching up with him easily; he sped up, laughing all the while for some reason he didn’t quite understand. They stopped briefly on the highest peak of the mountain to rest, laughing madly in excitement, and then jumped to fly still farther up into the clouds above.

    He felt his heart beat faster than he had ever felt it beat before as he soared straight up into the air, towards a low, grayish-white cloud. Pearl was only inches behind him, and he drew ever nearer –

    And he entered the cloud, feeling suddenly as if he were caught in a horrible storm. The first thought that sprang to mind was that it was a defensive reaction on the cloud’s part to make it suddenly rain – and then he emerged at the top, soaked wet, and looked with amazement down at Pearl as she ascended out of the wispy form of the cloud. He reached down with his scythe and it was immediately soaked in cold wetness.

    He laughed crazily. “Water!” he shouted at nothing in particular. “The clouds are water!”

    She laughed with him, and for a moment they hovered there together, full of all the happiness in the world, ignoring their tired wing muscles, before it became too difficult for them to keep themselves airborne.

    “Let’s go down now,” he said and began to let himself fall, through the icy water in the cloud, down, down, down, past the peak of the mountain and Pearl’s favorite place in its slopes. He softened the last part of the fall with his wings and watched her land beside him a moment later. They were both shivering and panting, their wings aching from the effort – but every exhalation came out in an exhilarated laugh.

    They knew something the other Scyther didn’t.

    “Let’s not tell anybody,” she whispered. “It was our discovery and our moment. They don’t need to know. What does it matter to them?”

    He nodded, and knew that it was a memory he would treasure forever, that he would never forget, that would remain with him until his death…

    Shivering with cold and dripping wet, the two Scyther walked side by side back to the swarm.


    IX

    Shadowdart was already back when they returned and was watching them from underneath the oak tree.

    “I have to go see Shadowdart,” he said quietly to Pearl, true regret nagging him as he said it. He had enjoyed himself so much, more than he ever had in his life. He never wanted it to end.

    She sighed. “Why do you stay around him? He doesn’t care about you. He only cares about Leadership. Don’t give in to him.”

    Stormblade shook his head. “He’s a friend,” he just said. “I’ll come again. I promise.”

    And he turned around to approach Shadowdart, feeling lonely the moment he looked away from her. He resisted the overwhelming urge to turn back and walked decisively towards the oak. He sat down as he came up to it, finding his gaze traveling towards the other tree and the female who was now again sitting underneath it, looking back at him without moving.

    “Stormblade,” Shadowdart said shortly, his gaze following Stormblade’s line of sight. He didn’t say anything more.

    “Shadowdart,” Stormblade just greeted in return.

    There was a long silence while two voices fought inside Stormblade’s head: the one that wanted to remain loyal to Shadowdart and the one that wanted to go to Pearl. The former was stronger, but he didn’t really have any idea why anymore.

    “This is the second time you’ve been with that female, isn’t it?” Shadowdart said, his tone neutral.

    “Yes,” Stormblade replied without looking at him.

    “You shouldn’t be doing this,” Shadowdart replied. He waited a few seconds for an answer, but Stormblade didn’t give him one. Why was he still there, anyway?

    “If you get too emotionally attached to another individual, you begin to care for them more than the Code,” Shadowdart continued, reminding Stormblade uncomfortably much of the Leader. “You begin to dread their deaths. Your rationality gives way to feelings like protectiveness and fear. It is never a good thing to be consumed by fear of death. You should know that.”

    “What do you think you know about feelings?” Stormblade found himself saying.

    “It’s obvious, Stormblade!” Shadowdart said angrily, pacing back and forth behind him. “It’s a logical procession. If you don’t see it, you’re blinded already.”

    Stormblade sighed. “I suppose you’re right, in a way,” he muttered. He could see the connection. He just couldn’t see how it changed anything – it didn’t make him feel any different, at least.

    There was silence for a while.

    “Stormblade,” Shadowdart said. “I don’t think you should watch my duel tomorrow.”

    He had almost been expecting it, and didn’t really care. Why would he want to watch Shadowdart fail for the second time, anyway? He just nodded.

    “Personally,” Shadowdart went on after getting no reply, “I think you should spend that time rethinking what the Code means to you.”

    “I guess,” Stormblade just replied, the words empty.

    Shadowdart looked at him in silence. “One day you’ll thank me for this, Stormblade,” he said. “Just wait.”

    What does he know? Stormblade thought resentfully. I won’t. I’d never do that. I’m more true to myself than that. It’s none of his business.

    And in that confidence, he drifted to sleep.


    X

    When he awoke the next morning, Shadowdart was already gone.

    He noticed that a crowd had gathered near the Leader’s rock, though from the sound of it, it didn’t appear as if the duel had begun already. All of a sudden he was gripped with an urge to sneak down there and watch the duel, even though Shadowdart had told him not to, but it was quickly silenced by the sight of a female still sitting by her lonesome next to a tree.

    She was looking at him.

    And as if in a trance, he came over to her and greeted her quietly. She gave him a smile in return that made the walk worth it.

    “What do you want to do?” he asked her.

    “Let’s go to my favorite spot again,” she answered. He immediately realized that it was just where he wanted to go, too.

    “That sounds good,” he replied, and they walked together – slowly, since they had plenty of time – towards the mountain. Stormblade felt fuzzy just remembering the previous day.

    They flew up to the flat rock without speaking and sat down there, side by side. Far below, Stormblade could see the crowd of Scyther and vaguely that two of them were about to start a duel. He sighed.

    “Shadowdart is dueling the Leader for the second time, but he didn’t want me to watch,” he said. “I think I lessen his concentration somehow.”

    “Of course,” she replied spitefully. “He couldn’t care less about you if he tried.”

    Stormblade didn’t reply to that and instead continued: “Yesterday when I came back from you, he started warning me about getting too close to you.”

    She snorted.

    “He said that possessing strong feelings towards somebody leads to fear of death.”

    “Well, then he’d better have a good reason for why fear of death is so bad,” she answered.

    Stormblade, although he had never thought of the Code as quite the sacred thing that he was officially supposed to, couldn’t help feeling that the words stung a little. “The Code,” he replied. “When you fear your own death, or somebody else’s, but yet kill prey to eat, you’re a hypocrite.”

    “Aren’t we all hypocrites?” she asked quietly, staring down at the swarm. “It’s a part of life. Fighting back what makes you alive is not healthy.” She paused for a moment. “I can see where he’s coming from, but I mean… why is there such a thing as feelings if we’re meant to repress them?”

    He shrugged. The two Scyther below were dueling fiercely, but soon he saw one of them falter, and the other ruthlessly took advantage of it. It was only seconds before the former had been driven into the ground.

    He was definitely the darker of the two.

    Stormblade looked away, not wanting to witness Shadowdart’s humiliation in having his scythe mutilated a second time. Instead he stared off at the clouds, those wispy forms that were after all, as it turned out, just a form of water, and at the oak tree that he and Shadowdart had for so long taken refuge under and previously Razor as well, and somewhere in the middle of it all he couldn’t help noticing the beautiful, smooth curve of Pearl’s scythe, the metallic sheen of it, the slender wings: she was beautiful, oh, yes. And he couldn’t resist moving a little bit closer, where all of a sudden he began to feel strangely warm despite the harsh wind.

    He felt her position shift a little, moving closer to him as well, and the edge of her scythe stroked across his body in a manner that provoked all sorts of primitive but definitely pleasant feelings within him. He had the strangest of realizations about how much he really wanted to lick the elegantly pointed spikes on her head while she began to nibble at the edges of his scythes with her eyes closed. She shifted a little and moved her own blades rather too carelessly in the process. In fact it wasn’t long before he was fairly sure he was already bleeding in several places, but he was not in any state to care.

    Soon everything about Shadowdart, his mutilated left scythe and Leadership was entirely forgotten.
    Last edited by Dragonfree; 4th December 2007 at 9:03 PM. Reason: Fixed some mistakes

    Chapter 64: Hide and Seek
    The story of an ordinary boy on an impossible quest in a world that isn't as black and white as he always thought it was.
    (rough draft of the remaining chapters finished for NaNoWriMo; to be edited and posted)

    Morphic
    (completed, plus silly extras)
    A few scientists get drunk and start fiddling with gene splicing. Ten years later, they're taking care of eight half-Pokémon kids, each freakier than the next, while a religious fanatic plots to murder them all.

    Lengthy fanfiction reviewing guide / A more condensed version
    Read and I will be very happy for a large number of reasons.

  6. #6
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    The "VII" isn't bolded or properly spaced, by the way.

    Not far off the shore, he looked down, although he could not see very deep into the water elsewhere, and saw a curious object there, a large, round, whitish-pink shape that gave off a peculiar sheen that reminded him of a scythe.
    This sentence seems to be run on, and it's very over-comma'd. A rephrase might help, but at the very least the comma after "there" needs to be a colon.
    Instead he stared off at the clouds, those wispy forms that were after all, as it turned out, just a form of water, and at the oak tree that he and Shadowdart had for so long taken refuge under and previously Razor as well, and somewhere in the middle of it all he couldn’t help noticing the beautiful, smooth curve of Pearl’s scythe, the metallic sheen of it, the slender wings: she was beautiful, oh, yes.
    Very run on sentence here - the most suitable place to split it up seems to be around the word "somewhere". The "and previously Razor as well" also sounds like an afterthought, as if you were writing the sentence and suddenly decided to mention Razor so tagged it on the end without going back and putting it anywhere where it might have fit better.
    But he didn’t have to understand it. As long as Stormblade would talk to him. Be a friend. Better than they used to.
    Not sure here, but shouldn't that say Shadowdart?
    and what he had been slowly regaining his enthusiasm about as autumn slowly turned to winter.
    But Shadowdart’s increasing tendency to train alone weighed against it, and Stormblade felt just as alone as ever before.
    A couple of double-word thingies here.
    Oh, yes, it was biting, freezing cold,
    By having the adjectives in this order, this seems to lose some of its emphasis. "Freezing" is often used to describe cold, but "biting" is more unconventional and thus has a lot more power to it. Starting with a powerful adjective and following with one that is less so weakens the sentence somewhat.
    Stormblade had been watching him and had easily concluded from that that Shadowdart was several leagues above him in skill level;
    "From that that" sounds really awkward and unneeded, and removing "from that" barely changes the meaning of the sentence at all.
    He and sat down
    Minor typo.


    Aww, this chapter was so sweet. :3 Adding the legend at the start was a nice touch, as it gave more meaning to the moment when Stormblade gave Pearl a name. And seeing as I like Stormblade's character, him meeting another Scyther who thinks in a similar way to him was really great as it gave him someone to share all his doubts and wonderings with.

    And, omg, CLOUDS! Wondering what they're really made of is like what identifies Stormblade, and makes him different, and yay, he got to find out!

    That said, I felt that the mountain setting could have used more description. I don't think there was anything except that it was a mountain, and that it was steep. I found myself stumbling for something to picture in my head as the mountain and ended up settling for an extremely generic "default mountain image", if you like, which is probably far from what you have in your mind and want your readers to see. The sort of thing I'd like to know is whether it's grassy or rocky, whether the rocks are rough and jagged or smooth and flat, just the kind of atmosphere it has - you did mention that Stormblade and Pearl felt greater than the swarm as they were higher up, but that was fairly obvious and didn't really tell me much. It'd also help to have an idea of how big it is; I'm guessing that it wasn't too big as the two Scyther could fly to the summit rather quickly, but then again it also has to be quite close to a cloud, so... yeah. I'm really not sure how big it is, but I want to be sure.

    One thing I found great about Shadowdart's losses was how you managed to portray the horror of losing a piece of his scythe. I'm especially freaked out at the fact that apparently the Leader keeps these pieces? - considering how important scythes are to a Scyther, it seems a morbid thing to do.

    And also, Stormblade's confusion about whether he should be friends with Shadowdart or concentrate on Pearl was nice - I noticed how before the rematch, Stormblade was supporting his "friend", but later on he thought:
    Why would he want to watch Shadowdart fail for the second time, anyway?
    It seems that Stormblade's getting a little annoyed about being lectured on the Code now that he's found someone better to talk to.

    Ah, Stormblade and Pearl make such a cute couple. :3 Though for some reason I still prefer Razor and Nightmare, but that's (literally) another story.
    .: Evolution is a battle .:. Something has to lose :.
    LOST EVOLUTION
    Chapter 33: Inside has been posted.


    Foregone Conclusion
    Spinoff/prequel/backstory/thingy to Lost Evolution, written for NaNoWriMo 2010

    Three Heads Are Better Than One

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by elyvorg View Post
    Not far off the shore, he looked down, although he could not see very deep into the water elsewhere, and saw a curious object there, a large, round, whitish-pink shape that gave off a peculiar sheen that reminded him of a scythe.
    This sentence seems to be run on, and it's very over-comma'd. A rephrase might help, but at the very least the comma after "there" needs to be a colon.

    Instead he stared off at the clouds, those wispy forms that were after all, as it turned out, just a form of water, and at the oak tree that he and Shadowdart had for so long taken refuge under and previously Razor as well, and somewhere in the middle of it all he couldn’t help noticing the beautiful, smooth curve of Pearl’s scythe, the metallic sheen of it, the slender wings: she was beautiful, oh, yes.
    Very run on sentence here - the most suitable place to split it up seems to be around the word "somewhere". The "and previously Razor as well" also sounds like an afterthought, as if you were writing the sentence and suddenly decided to mention Razor so tagged it on the end without going back and putting it anywhere where it might have fit better.
    I'd just like to dispute both of these points... The first fitted the "telling a child a story" tone of the Scyther-pearl section very nicely, whilst the second cleverly imitated the flow of thought that would be going through Stormblade's head.

    In fact, throughout both chapters one of the things that really stood out to me was the clever use of sentence length and structure to help piece together a certain atmosphere for each part. I often found myself slipping into the same mood of your characters as a result. :P I will agree that in some places the description was a little sparse (I'd pictured the meeting place as shut off from the rest of it and went on to think that the Leader and Shadowdart would be dueling somewhere enclosed, then got a bit confuzzled when Pearl and Stormblade could see them, for example), but I love your choice of terminology when describing the characters, specifically their scythes.

    Enjoyed it immensely... your writing flows really well, and while I thought Shadowdart and Stormblade were verging on 2D in Scyther's Story due to the focus on Razor I'm enjoying the further exploration of their characters here. If there was one thing I could poke at it would be that so far it's been very peaceful, even the parts where Shadowdart is frustrated, with no real sign of any climax or increased pace surrounding an important event. But, eh... it didn't really bother me much. I'm quite happy to enjoy the relationships between characters and your interpretation of Scyther society for now. :P

    Awesome work! ^^
    ~Obsid.

    .:Touch my food, feel my fork:.

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    Quote Originally Posted by elyvorg
    The "VII" isn't bolded or properly spaced, by the way.
    Ack.

    Quote Originally Posted by elyvorg
    But he didn’t have to understand it. As long as Stormblade would talk to him. Be a friend. Better than they used to.
    Not sure here, but shouldn't that say Shadowdart?
    Double ACK. x.x; I told you I'd gotten the names confused a few times in the early chapters. Looks like I missed one spot during the editing. It's fixed now.

    Obsidian is right about what I was generally going for with those two run-on sentences: the fable at the beginning isn't meant to be particularly grammatical since it's designed as a piece of oral folklore that the Scyther have, and that sentence of Stormblade's is actually one of my favorite sentences in this entire story exactly because of the stream-of-consciousness feeling resulting from the run-on and the randomness of the things that go through his head while he looks at the things around him.

    Thanks for the other grammatical/word choice/typo pointers. :3 It's always good to have a thorough reader to notice things like that. When you're the author you're too familiar with your sentences to read them that carefully even when you're trying to. x.x

    Aww, this chapter was so sweet. :3 Adding the legend at the start was a nice touch, as it gave more meaning to the moment when Stormblade gave Pearl a name.
    Heh, you hit the nail on the head about that. Originally the full legend was not in the story and the part where he named her was awfully out of the blue, so while I was writing part three or four, I went back and added that in. I love how it came out. :3

    And, omg, CLOUDS! Wondering what they're really made of is like what identifies Stormblade, and makes him different, and yay, he got to find out!
    Indeed. The cloud scene also is one of my favorites scenes in this story.

    It seems that Stormblade's getting a little annoyed about being lectured on the Code now that he's found someone better to talk to.
    Heh, I loved that sentence. He is still pretty torn, and this more or less swings with his mood for the moment, but he is indeed leaning towards Pearl more and more by the moment...

    In fact, throughout both chapters one of the things that really stood out to me was the clever use of sentence length and structure to help piece together a certain atmosphere for each part. I often found myself slipping into the same mood of your characters as a result. :P
    :3 Thank you. I wasn't really consciously thinking about that much, but I think it stems from me being in the same mood as the characters while I'm writing it. :P

    If there was one thing I could poke at it would be that so far it's been very peaceful, even the parts where Shadowdart is frustrated, with no real sign of any climax or increased pace surrounding an important event.
    Ah, you won't have to worry about that for very long. Things start to heat up considerably in part three. The first two were more setup, really.

    I've never been good at describing landscapes, have I? xD I'll try to fit in something to give you a better idea of what everything basically looks like for the final version. Thanks for commenting on it, both of you, because this is one of the areas of writing I tend to be really terrible at. x3

    Thanks for reading and reviewing, and I hope you'll enjoy the parts to follow.

    Chapter 64: Hide and Seek
    The story of an ordinary boy on an impossible quest in a world that isn't as black and white as he always thought it was.
    (rough draft of the remaining chapters finished for NaNoWriMo; to be edited and posted)

    Morphic
    (completed, plus silly extras)
    A few scientists get drunk and start fiddling with gene splicing. Ten years later, they're taking care of eight half-Pokémon kids, each freakier than the next, while a religious fanatic plots to murder them all.

    Lengthy fanfiction reviewing guide / A more condensed version
    Read and I will be very happy for a large number of reasons.

  9. #9
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    Story time again!!!!
    Silverwing: *Headdesk.*

    Alright, you know how usually whenever I read anything of yours, its past midnight and on a day that I have some huge homework assignment due the next day?

    This time was different though! I found this thread during art class! ^^ So I clicked it. I skimmed some reviews. Then I read the cloud scene. So I just had to look at Chapter 1. But then we were supposed to get into groups for a critique--to which I confusedly replied "huh?" when I saw everyone gathering together.

    But then when I got back to my computer...I read some more. And then I was reading. And reading. And my teacher said some stuff. I didn't notice. Then she was in front of me, asking me to close my tablet. I looked around confusedly and everyone else had closed theirs a long time ago.

    Then I read more at lunch. I had ten minutes until class, so I was okay! But then the next time I looked at my watch, I was already late for Calculus. =(

    Damnit, Dragonfree, why is your writing so addicting?! xD


    I always loved Stormblade, and seeing how he was affected by Razor leaving was all the more interesting, and how the relations between the three of them has affected him and Shadowdart.

    And speaking of Shadowdart...he's not the weak misfit he was before, but I love how believable his change has been. It's easy to see how he's become so desperate and concerned with being the best. His goal to purge the swarm of "code-breakers" makes me like him that much more. I'm a sucker for characters working towards some revolutionary goal they see as noble (or maybe it's just from me watching way too much Death Note as of recent. That too.)

    I still like Stormblade way more, though. :3 Ever since he first got introduced as being more curious than other Pokemon. His desperation to hold onto some sort of a friendship with Shadowdart was sad as wall as his awkward first conversation with Sickle.

    And speaking of Sickle, I think it'll be easy to think of her as Pearl from now on, but as far as narration goes, will Stormblade be called Loner from now on? Or will it just be within dialogue?

    Can't wait to see the rest of this. ;3

    ~Chibi~


    Ever wondered what would happen if humans had the power to overthrow the Legendaries? To either use them for their own ends, or eliminate them altogether? One thing is for certain...the balance between human and Legendary is unstable.

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    8/30/12: CHAPTER 7: “Into the Fire” POSTED!!!
    Chapter 8 progress: 9/12 pages


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    Whoo, Chibi Pika is here. Thanks for taking that time to read despite being at school where you weren't supposed to be reading. Of course, I'm not supposed to encourage you... <.<

    I'm a sucker for characters working towards some revolutionary goal they see as noble (or maybe it's just from me watching way too much Death Note as of recent. That too.)
    Heh, then I think you'll like parts five and six, where Shadowdart's full ideology is greatly expanded upon. I got it to make so much sense in my head, in a twisted way, that I almost agreed with him. o.O

    And speaking of Sickle, I think it'll be easy to think of her as Pearl from now on, but as far as narration goes, will Stormblade be called Loner from now on? Or will it just be within dialogue?
    Stormblade will remain Stormblade, as to change it would both have been confusing and not really have been appropriate since he still feels more inclined to think of himself by that name. Besides that Shadowdart uses that name for him too, so it would make things awkward when it switched to Shadowdart's POV in the later parts.

    Hmm. I'm debating with myself on when to release part three. I've finished the editing already, but I don't want to post it too soon for fear of overwhelming readers with the amount of reading they have to catch up on. :/ What do you think?

    Chapter 64: Hide and Seek
    The story of an ordinary boy on an impossible quest in a world that isn't as black and white as he always thought it was.
    (rough draft of the remaining chapters finished for NaNoWriMo; to be edited and posted)

    Morphic
    (completed, plus silly extras)
    A few scientists get drunk and start fiddling with gene splicing. Ten years later, they're taking care of eight half-Pokémon kids, each freakier than the next, while a religious fanatic plots to murder them all.

    Lengthy fanfiction reviewing guide / A more condensed version
    Read and I will be very happy for a large number of reasons.

  11. #11
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    Part three. I hate most of the first half of it (I can NOT write romance), but I really like some of the last bits.




    PART III: LOVE

    XI

    It was evening when Stormblade finally returned to the old oak, filled with a fuzzy, warm sensation that made him feel oddly invincible.

    “What happened to you?” Shadowdart said, looking at him with suspicion as he came up to the tree. “You’re all cut.”

    Eying Shadowdart’s slightly more mangled left scythe, Stormblade sat down. “Nothing.”

    Shadowdart paused and looked over towards the other tree, sighing. “You were with that female again, weren’t you?”

    “So what if I was?”

    “Stormblade!” Shadowdart said angrily. “What did I tell you yesterday? You didn’t mate with her, did you?”

    “You’re just jealous because you’re not getting any,” Stormblade replied coolly without looking up. It surprised him how calm he sounded and he found himself smiling.

    Shadowdart snorted. “Jealous? Why would I be jealous? All I see is you being corrupted by a wandering female who you’re beginning to care about more than the Code itself. This is dangerous, Stormblade. Don’t let her ruin you.”

    “It’s none of your business.”

    “It will be once I’m Leader.”

    “Well, that will be a while from now,” Stormblade replied, again surprising himself with the cool malice in his voice. “I’m starting to doubt there will be anything left of your scythes by the time he gets weak enough to lose to anyone.”

    Shadowdart was silent. It had hit a little too close to home, and Stormblade was already regretting that he’d said it.

    “I’m sorry.”

    “Will you distance yourself from her?”

    “No!” Stormblade answered angrily, wishing Shadowdart would stop caring. Why did he have to be so concerned about who he was mating with?

    “You have to, Stormblade. You care too much about her already. This will all end badly.”

    “Why don’t you mind your own business?” Stormblade asked desperately. “You can’t control me. You may be trying, but you’re not the Leader. Leave me alone.”

    Shadowdart looked at him, anger at the open defiance flashing in his eyes. He opened his mouth to speak, but apparently changed his mind at the last moment, closed it and then simply walked to the other side of the tree and lay down to sleep.

    Stormblade got the message and lay silently down on his side. He felt strangely cold as he closed his eyes.


    XII

    Shadowdart woke up early the next morning – something he did usually, but not for this reason.

    Because now he was going to do something about the situation from the other side.

    Stormblade was blinded and unintimidated by Shadowdart – basically beyond help. The female, on the other hand, could perhaps be persuaded. After all, the entire Scyther swarm had gained some respect for Shadowdart, and although of course his reputation had been hurt by the two failed attempts to defeat the Leader, he had shown himself to be both determined and strong nonetheless – the Leader had never thought things far enough to realize fully why Leaders tended to kill the opponents they defeated. That way, they eliminated the competition before it could learn from its mistakes or become a hero idol to the swarm. While cutting a piece out of the scythe worked very well indeed to humiliate the challenger for the first time and discourage him while maintaining the size of the swarm, a challenger who was not discouraged could challenge again. And it was in the nature of sentient beings to be unable to help admiring the persistency of someone who took humiliation with dignity and refused to give up. Sure, he would be the epitome of failure if he continued to try without any success until the day he died – but he would do it the third time. He had already decided he would save the next Leader challenge to the next spring so that he would have plenty of time to train before it.

    But at least the female might have a little respect for him, and so he figured had a reasonable chance of accomplishing something as he walked over to the lone tree that the female slept under.

    “Hello,” he said to announce his arrival. She sleepily opened an eye.

    “What are you doing here?” she asked with annoyance as she recognized him. “You woke me from a dream. About your friend.”

    “I wanted to talk,” he said.

    She raised an eyebrow. “Talk, then.”

    “How close are the two of you?”

    She seemed surprised by the question; she blinked a few times and sat up. “Why do you ask?” she asked groggily.

    “Just answer me.”

    “We love each other,” she said coldly. “Do you have a problem with that?”

    “Yes. I want you to stay away from my friend.”

    She looked at him. “Well, that’s certainly an interesting stance on it. Why do you care?”

    “Because of the Code,” he said. “You are aware that it condemns relationships that become too deep, I expect?”

    “And I don’t give a damn,” she replied icily. “He’s told me all about you and your stupid quest for Leadership. You don’t care for him at all, just like your ideology orders, but he cares about you. He cares so much about you that he sleeps by your tree out of loyalty, even when offered to spend the night with someone who loves him back. You don’t deserve him.”

    “I do care,” Shadowdart said sharply. “Why else do you think I do this? Why else would I try to get you not to become too attached to one another? If you go on like this, you’ll become Code-breakers, and I don’t want that to happen because I care. I want to become Leader and guide the Scyther of the swarm more responsibly along the path of righteousness because I care. Do you think I enjoy telling him who he can screw for the hell of it? I’m a better Scyther than that.”

    “You aren’t half the Scyther he is,” she said, her voice a spiteful growl. “You aren’t worth his left wing. Go away and leave us alone.”

    He looked at her for a moment, surprised by the insult although he maintained his calmness. “I won’t,” he said at last. “You’re gravely misguided. I would never forgive myself if I allowed you to destroy yourselves in this way. I’m acting for your own good.”

    “You’re wrong,” she whispered, shaking her head. “You’re so wrong.”

    He merely gave her a cold smile and walked away.


    XIII

    Stormblade could tell that something was wrong the moment he came to see Pearl after waking up. Shadowdart had already left for training in Ruxido from the looks of it, but when he saw her was sitting motionless by her tree, staring out into nowhere, he could see that something was bothering her.

    “What’s wrong?” he asked as he sat down beside her. She shook her head.

    “Nothing.”

    “There is,” he insisted. “Tell me.”

    “Your friend came here. He wanted me to stay away from you.”

    Stormblade could feel the wind stroking his armor, the grass blades tickling at his clawed feet. “What did you say to him?” he asked quietly.

    “That I wouldn’t,” she said. “And that he should leave us alone.”

    “What did he say to that?”

    “That he was doing it for our own good,” she replied bitterly. “He’ll never let us live in peace. He is too convinced of his horrible ideals. He’s blinded – blinded by the Code.” She spat the last words with utmost contempt. Stormblade shook his head.

    “I don’t understand him sometimes,” he muttered. “I care about him, but we’re so different and I just… can’t really put myself in his place. He’s obsessed with something I’ve never even really thought about, and doesn’t seem to understand any of the things that I care about.”

    “He’s a jerk to you,” she said bluntly. “If he becomes Leader, I’m leaving this swarm.”

    He looked at her. Her wings moved gently in the wind as she looked back at him.

    “If you did,” he replied, taking a deep breath, “I think I would leave with you.”

    Her eyes glittered and he felt a little fuzzy looking at it. “Let’s leave now,” she said. “Let’s go away together and never come to this swarm again. I mean it.”

    Stormblade shook his head. “I… not yet,” he said. “I want to run away with you one day, but not now. Shadowdart isn’t Leader yet. He may grow out of it. Who knows?”

    “I don’t think so,” she said, but didn’t press it. She paused for a moment. “Then… we’ll remain here until a better time to leave, I suppose.”

    He nodded, feeling an odd tingle under his armor at the decision. He had never made major decisions in his life before, now that he thought about it. In his heart he’d defied the norm, but in action he had always gone with the swarm, done as he was told, followed the leader in whatever he did.

    But not anymore. Even now he couldn’t gather the will for defiance to leave immediately, perhaps – but he had made a decision to go in the future.

    It was something.

    “I’m going to talk to him,” Stormblade said. “I’ll make him leave us alone at the very least. I’ll do it tonight when he gets back from his training.”

    A smile flickered across her features. “Thank you, Loner.” She leaned up against him and he welcomed the gesture, leaning towards her as well. He nibbled at the beautifully formed spikes of her head.

    “No. Thank you,” he said softly. “I’ve been letting Shadowdart walk all over me, but I won’t take it anymore. I only did it because I wanted to stick with my only friend, but now I have you. I don’t need him anymore. I can stand up to him.”

    She nuzzled at his neck. “I’m not saying you need to cut yourself off from him, but you can’t let him control what you think and do or affect your better judgement. You don’t think of the Code the way he does. Don’t lie to yourself about that.”

    He nodded, and for the remainder of the day no one existed but them.


    XIV

    Stormblade was already there to meet him in the evening when Shadowdart came back. He felt unimaginably nervous, but great at the same time – better than he had felt in years, it seemed at the very least.

    “What are you doing standing around here?” Shadowdart said disinterestedly, looking at Stormblade out of the corner of his eye as he approached the oak. “Why aren’t you…” His voice became genuinely curious as he apparently remembered his conversation with Pearl that morning. “Why aren’t you running around with your female friend?”

    “So I could talk to you,” Stormblade replied, realizing that his voice was trembling.

    “Oh?” Shadowdart answered, unmoved. “What were you so desperate to talk to me about?”

    Shadowdart turned his back to him, turning his gaze over the swarm and looking for Pearl, and Stormblade found himself gripped with sudden hatred. With a roar, he leapt at Shadowdart’s back, taking him by surprise and managing to bring him down for the first time in many years. He jerked his scythe up to Shadowdart’s throat and held him so he couldn’t move.

    “She told me that you came to talk to her,” he growled. “Leave her alone.”

    Shadowdart coughed. “What are you doing, Stormblade?” he asked, his voice hoarse. “It is against the Code to kill another Scyther after attacking him from the back…”

    “I don’t give a damn about the Code,” Stormblade hissed, cutting him off. “Leave us alone. Stop trying to force us to conform to your standards. We’re not like you, and you have no right to dictate our lives.”

    Shadowdart glared at him, struggling to get himself free again. “Fine,” he snapped. “Get off me and I will let you destroy yourselves, since you seem so bent on it.”

    Stormblade paused for a moment and then released his friend, standing up. He was shaking. “You’re wrong,” he whispered and turned away. They were silent for a long while, the only sound their rapid breathing, the rustle of the wind in the tree, and the faint clang of some Scyther down in the swarm dueling.

    “I’ve realized I must train much harder,” Shadowdart said finally. “It’s been a year since I first began my training. I should wait at least another year before I fight him again. Next spring, I will be Leader. And then I will be the one with authority in this swarm.”

    Stormblade said nothing. He didn’t want to tell Shadowdart that he intended to leave the swarm if he were ever to become Leader. He shivered at the thought and realized with dread that he was becoming slightly afraid of his former friend.

    And yet, some odd loyalty made him stay there and not want to leave. For now.

    He went to sleep, feeling somehow suffocated. He wished in the cold night that he had Pearl by his side.


    XV

    The summer passed, and Shadowdart kept his word. He no longer criticized Stormblade and Pearl’s relationship.

    However, he continued to give Stormblade the same dark glare when he returned from her with small cuts that announced recent mating decorating his body in wild patterns, and shook his head when he saw them go together up into the mountains to talk on their favorite rock or into the forest of Ruxido to hunt. And he distanced himself more and more from Stormblade, training longer, talking less and entirely ceasing to ask him to hunt with him or share prey. Stormblade now only slept near Shadowdart’s oak tree as a formality, as a last shred of their tattered friendship.

    “Why don’t you just sleep with me?” Pearl asked him quietly one day in the winter as they sat on their rock in the side of the mountain. “It’s cold these days. Haven’t you ever longed for another body to curl up against?”

    Stormblade shook his head, doubt nonetheless nagging at his mind. “If I did that… then I would be telling Shadowdart I don’t want anything to do with him anymore.”

    “He doesn’t want anything to do with you,” she pointed out. “He wouldn’t care, Loner. If you want to sleep elsewhere, don’t cling to him out of tradition or loyalty. It won’t do you any good. Please think about what you really want.”

    He sighed. “I want to sleep with you,” he muttered. “But I don’t want to sever the ties with Shadowdart. It’s the last thing we have. He’s distant, but… he’s a friend. He’ll remain a friend.”

    She looked away, listening to the sound of the gnawing wind. “I think I’ll be laying an egg in the spring,” she said quietly.

    Stormblade stared at her, all sorts of emotions flaring up within him. “You… you think so? An egg?”

    She nodded. “I feel… strange. Nauseous. I’ve never had an egg before, but somehow I can tell. And… it would make sense, considering we’ve been…” She blushed slightly.

    He inched nearer to her and gave her a reassuring nuzzle. “That changes things.” He took a deep breath. “When you lay the egg, I will have to be with you. We will be hatching the egg and raising the Descith together. There is no other option.”

    She smiled and nuzzled him back. “Thank you, Loner,” she said softly. “I’m glad you’ll help me.”

    He stared into space, stroking her body absent-mindedly with the blunt edge of his scythe. He would be a father. He had created new life. He felt a little dizzy thinking about it. Now what would he do about Shadowdart? He needed to stay with her. When the bond between them had established itself so physically, it didn’t feel right to make her sleep alone anymore.

    “I will tell Shadowdart that I will be staying with you from now on,” Stormblade murmured. “I love you. It’s more important.”

    He gave her another nuzzle and then stood up. “I’ll be back,” he said and jumped down to take flight. It took him only seconds to descend all the way down to their hill, where Shadowdart was practicing dueling techniques on the tree again. His slashes had now become much faster than they ever had been, and that was saying something, but now he was using almost exclusively his whole right scythe, leaving the mutilated left one as a way to keep the balance while he attacked.

    Stormblade shook his head and had a sudden, striking feeling that Shadowdart would probably never manage to become Leader. He was a cripple; he had rushed too much into the first challenge, and the weakening when his scythe was cut was outweighing the careful training he’d been doing. Stormblade shook his head slowly again as he approached the tree.

    Shadowdart stopped momentarily and noticed him. “What are you doing here?” he just asked.

    “I… I won’t be sleeping around the tree anymore,” Stormblade told him.

    Shadowdart looked at him. “Oh? And why is that?”

    Stormblade came up and sat down against the tree, trying to word it in his mind. Shadowdart did not sit down with him.

    “She… she’s going to have an egg,” Stormblade finally said, warmth spreading through his body as he finished the sentence. Saying it made it so much more powerful. It was real. It was happening.

    But Shadowdart merely looked at him. “So what?”

    “I’m going to stay with her. We’ll hatch the egg together and raise it together. So I want to be with her now.”

    Stormblade looked at him and then aimed at the tree to slash at it. “Only the weak raise their young in families,” he said as his scythe chopped into the oak. Stormblade twitched at the words, feeling almost as if the slash had hit him instead of the tree.

    “Many of the Scyther in the swarm do,” he countered, his voice trembling.

    “Yes, I’m glad you noticed,” Shadowdart said coldly. “For how long have I been telling you that most of the swarm is pathetic and weak? There are too many of them. Don’t you go become one of them too, even if you go around being romantic with some female.”

    “I thought I told you to leave our relationship alone,” Stormblade growled.

    “Well, it’s not your relationship I’m commenting on, is it? It’s what you’re planning to do with your kid.”

    Stormblade didn’t answer. He just stood up, turned away and headed back for the mountain, to the one person who cared about him.


    XVI

    The short-lived winter was the happiest in Stormblade’s life, and indeed he wondered why it had taken him so long to pull away from Shadowdart. He didn’t need him anymore; at times he even felt a bit guilty for how little he missed Shadowdart’s presence. Time passed quickly and with the approaching arrival of spring, the couple was expecting the egg soon. Stormblade vaguely heard of Shadowdart being about to challenge the Leader again, but he didn’t even feel any longing to watch the duel.

    So when Stormblade woke up one morning by Pearl’s side, saw Shadowdart walk down from the oak tree towards the Leader’s rock and realized it was that day, it only brought up unhappy memories and made him want to get as far away from the swarm as possible.

    He woke her up with a gentle prod. “Are you hungry?” he asked her with a whisper.

    “Mmm,” was her reply as she sleepily opened one eye. “Hunting?”

    He smiled. “I’d love to, if you want.”

    She rose up and stretched. The weather was nice and warm, only a few clouds drifting across the blue sky, a light breeze keeping the air fresh. “That would be nice,” she agreed, and they dashed together towards the forest.

    “Let’s get something big,” she said excitedly as they entered Ruxido. “Something we’ll be eating for a while, until the day I lay the egg.”

    He nodded, and they hid. They had become practiced enough at hunting together to think like one being on the hunt: they would hide at the same moment, move at the same moment, strike at the same moment; it was almost a game. They would wait for a few tense seconds, looking silently around in two different directions, and then move swiftly further into the forest. It wasn’t long before Pearl, crouching behind a bush, raised her scythe and motioned slowly for him to move closer. He snuck quickly to a nearby tree that he hid himself behind and then took a careful look.

    There was a Letaligon just ahead – a Letaligon alone without its herd. The silver blades on its head gleamed in the sunlight as a warning sign that the creature could defend itself – but alone against two Scyther, it should go down easily. He looked at her, and she looked back at him. They had their prey.

    They knew without further communication when to leap forward and attack. Stormblade darted out from behind the tree, aiming his scythe to strike the creature’s front leg, hoping to prevent it from running. He could see Pearl leap out of her bush, her blade raised in line with its neck.

    The Letaligon let out a cry of alarm, and in the moment before they struck, the beast chose to block Pearl. Swinging its bladed head, the Letaligon slashed at her body and managed to knock her away and into the nearest tree before her scythe ever made contact. Stormblade’s heart jumped and he found his gaze drawn to her, but didn’t lose sight of his own target and slashed powerfully at the Letaligon’s shoulder. It roared in pain as crimson blood sprayed out of the wound, but Stormblade used the time he had bought himself to move over to Pearl’s side. She was unconscious, lying awkwardly against the tree in an almost sitting position. He quickly leant closer to her, his heartbeat speeding up, but felt faint breathing that confirmed that she was definitely alive.

    He looked quickly back at the Letaligon, which seemed to have realized it was unable to run and had instead opted to defend itself to the last drop. It had limped forward with rage in its eyes and now swung its blade at him.

    Stormblade could have dodged and dealt the final blow, but he didn’t – because on the other side of him was Pearl, unconscious and vulnerable. Instead, he leapt up to take the slash, shielding his head with his left scythe.

    The scythe blocked the Letaligon’s top blade, but he had neglected to factor in the other two, and Stormblade felt a searing sting in his left eye as one of them slashed across the side of his face. He screamed in pain, slashing blindly, and heard the Letaligon roar; as he opened his other eye, he saw that he had hit the Letaligon’s other front leg, nearly slicing through it, and it was losing its balance. It made another attempt to swing its blades at him as it fell, but missed.

    Stormblade hurried back to Pearl. “Are you hurt? Are you all right?” he asked quietly and -gave her body a push. “Come on, wake up…”

    He felt blood leaking from the remains of his left eye, into the corner of his mouth and then onto her body and tried to close the dull, throbbing pain in his eye socket away from his conscious mind. He had better things to worry about. He prodded her gently again.

    And she moved her head and her eyes began to open. He felt a smile break out on his face, but his joy was cut off by a roar.

    He looked quickly up, back towards the fallen Letaligon, and was met with a white blast of energy – a Hyper Beam that he had foolishly allowed the Pokémon to charge while he was thinking about Pearl.

    And because he had looked up, it narrowly missed him. Instead, it blasted straight into Pearl’s body, crushing her into the tree with earth-shaking force. He saw her eyes open wide in shock and her mouth in a silent scream.

    The Hyper Beam faded, and Stormblade saw in horror that her entire upper body had been crushed. Her eyes pointed to him, looking unfocused, and a strangled sound escaped her mouth before she simply stopped being alive. He could see the way the life faded from her eyes as he watched.

    Stormblade realized that something warm was leaking down from his right eye as well, but it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered. Nothing except her death and the creature that had killed her.

    He turned to the half-dead Letaligon that had collapsed onto the ground, his mind burning with rage and despair, and raised both of his trembling scythes with a roar of hatred.


    XVII

    Stormblade returned, covered with a crust of dry, red blood, to find Shadowdart sitting by the oak tree yet again with a new piece cut out of his scythe. He felt lost, confused and blindly, terrifyingly angry, and needed somebody to talk to – and he couldn’t think of anywhere to go but to Shadowdart.

    “You,” Shadowdart said shortly in acknowledgement as he sat down at the tree to stare blankly into space. A second passed before the younger Scyther actually looked at him.

    “What happened to your eye?” Shadowdart asked. “And what’s with all the blood?”

    “She’s dead,” Stormblade said hoarsely. “She’s… she’s dead. And the egg. Killed by a Letaligon while we were out hunting.”

    Shadowdart looked at him. “What?

    “We attacked it together and it slashed at her… took my eye too… and then Hyper Beamed her while I was trying to see if she was all right. I’d brought it down, I’d prevented it from running, but I wasn’t thinking to kill it before it…” His voice broke and he took a few deep breaths, trying to calm himself down with little success. This wasn’t what he wanted to tell Shadowdart. He knew he wouldn’t care.

    “I tore it apart,” he whispered, his voice shaking with anger. “Limb for limb. Piece for piece. It screamed until I’d torn its lungs apart. And I liked it. It felt so damned good to hurt it, that murderous…”

    “Listen to yourself!” Shadowdart said with disgust in his voice, cutting Stormblade off abruptly. “Can’t you see what you’ve become? A hypocrite! A Code-breaker! You set out on a hunt, intending to kill and eat a Pokémon, but look at what you did when one of your own was killed! Look at yourself saying that the prey deserved to be tortured for doing the very thing you do every day to survive!”

    Stormblade looked at him with his one eye and said nothing. He had known it, in a way. Known what Shadowdart would say. Even known, deep down, that he had done something sick and wrong.

    “This is what I’ve been telling you all along!” Shadowdart went on. “Look at what happens to you when you let yourself care too much about someone. It’s a direct path to hypocrisy, nothing more. Look at yourself. You tortured prey, Stormblade. Did you even eat it?”

    He hadn’t. Stormblade stared down at the ground.

    “You disgust me,” Shadowdart said and shook his head. “Look what your precious love did to you! Give it up, Stormblade. You have to see now why I’ve been telling you all along not to become so attached to her. Can’t you see now that I was only trying to help you?”

    And he was right. Of course he was right. Stormblade realized with a sinking feeling that he had even disgusted himself with what he had done. He had tortured the Letaligon. He had let his love for her lead him to do something so horrible that even he agreed it was a just commandment of the Code. What had he been thinking?

    “You’re right,” he whispered. “I was blinded…”

    “Go wash that blood off,” Shadowdart said, sounding repulsed. “And if I were you, I’d spend some time thinking seriously about myself and whether I was truly worth being a part of this swarm anymore.”

    Stormblade nodded, stood up and headed with slow steps down towards the stream.


    XVIII

    He had loved her, truly loved her, and he still did – but it had taken him too far. It had made him into someone he wasn’t and didn’t want to be. Now she was gone and he had to leave the past behind – leave the horrible creature that had mutilated his prey out of pure lust for revenge behind.

    He wanted to remember her forever, but he did not want to remember himself.

    As he walked shakily to the bank of the small river, he wanted to believe he could live with it, but there was guilt nagging him that refused to go away. The image of her crushed and dead and of the Letaligon’s ripped and bloodied corpse had etched itself into his mind, and for the first time in his life he felt like he had done something horribly, horribly sick and twisted. Something utterly wrong, Code or not Code.

    He stepped into the stream, letting the cold water wash flakes of dried blood off his feet and claws. He dipped his scythes in as well and saw the water take on a reddish hue before flowing on and disappearing. The steady flow was calming and soothing, and he found himself to be trembling a little bit less, even though the water was freezing.

    He submerged his head and felt stinging, pulsing pain in his left eye socket again as the water enveloped the remains of his eye. He knew he would never see with it again, but he had given it for her – and although he hadn’t managed to save her, he didn’t regret having done it. He would never have forgiven himself if he hadn’t.

    He rose up and studied his reflection. A large, ugly cut ran along the side of his face, down through the bloodied left eye socket, but otherwise he was mostly clean. He shivered with cold, stepped out of the stream and decided that the right place to think over things would be Pearl’s favorite spot, the rock in the side of the mountain. He shook his body to dry it somewhat and then kicked off the ground to fly, realizing bitterly that in the end, he and Pearl had probably flown better than almost any other Scyther in the swarm – as much as Shadowdart had been training, he didn’t believe he had ever particularly trained his flight. Scyther just didn’t fly very much unless it was necessary, and flying during a duel was more or less unheard of.

    He sat down on the rock, letting the cool wind stroke his outstretched wings, and now that he was there he realized how terribly lonely he was to be there without her. Living the rest of his life without her, living the rest of his life with Shadowdart as his only company – he dreaded the thought. Especially because he was now a Code-breaker. He had tortured his prey and even neglected to eat it, to give its death a purpose. He had committed an act of pure bloodlust in an emotional rage. The only friend he had left, Shadowdart, despised him for what he had done.

    And he was no longer about to become a father.

    He felt a sinking feeling in his stomach at the thought, and all of a sudden no longer really wanted to bother. There was only one ethical response to breaking the Moral Code, after all.

    He raised his scythe slowly and looked at it, but the thought of turning it on himself was too horrifying, too painful. He lowered it again. Suicide through action was something he didn’t see himself being able to do, but suicide through inaction…

    He stood up and walked over to the edge of the rock. It was a long way down on one side. If he just kept his wings folded on the way down, he wouldn’t survive the fall.

    He took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and walked forward. His foot found solid ground. He moved his other foot, and again it came down on the hard surface of the rock.

    Next he stepped into thin air, lost his balance in a fleeting second and began to plunge down towards the rocky ground, memories flashing before his eyes.

    And one memory stuck.

    He saw Razor, called up to the Leader’s rock, instructed to commit suicide – but he hadn’t. Razor had stood up to the Code. Why did Stormblade, who had never been too preoccupied with the Code, not have that kind of courage? Why was he falling like any pathetic prey to a death that would render his entire life a tragic failure?

    She wouldn’t have wanted him to. She’d have wanted him to move on and try to find happiness in the rest of his life. She’d have wanted him to defy those pointless laws of the Code.

    He opened his eyes and, with a sudden rush of adrenaline, spread his wings far out and began to flap them with increasing speed to work against the speed at which he was already falling. In the second before he hit the ground, he managed to slow himself down enough to manage to land in a roll, tumble down the gentle slope down the rest of the mountain and come to a rest with only a few bruises.

    He stood up slowly, feeling oddly renewed, and headed back to the swarm.
    Last edited by Dragonfree; 20th December 2007 at 2:37 AM.

    Chapter 64: Hide and Seek
    The story of an ordinary boy on an impossible quest in a world that isn't as black and white as he always thought it was.
    (rough draft of the remaining chapters finished for NaNoWriMo; to be edited and posted)

    Morphic
    (completed, plus silly extras)
    A few scientists get drunk and start fiddling with gene splicing. Ten years later, they're taking care of eight half-Pokémon kids, each freakier than the next, while a religious fanatic plots to murder them all.

    Lengthy fanfiction reviewing guide / A more condensed version
    Read and I will be very happy for a large number of reasons.

  12. #12
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    I will admit that the romantic parts are perhaps lacking from what they could have been, but seeing as I have little to no experience in reading or writing romance, I can safely say that A, it didn't bother me much, and B, I haven't a clue how to improve it.

    the Leader had never thought things far enough
    This should say "thought things through", I think.
    that Pearl slept under.
    Seeing as this part was from Shadowdart's POV (which was a nice "yay" moment when I realised as I wasn't expecting any until part 5), the use of her name seems out of place as I doubt Shadowdart would think of her as Pearl. For that matter, he doesn't even know she's called Pearl o.o
    He shivered and the thought
    at the thought
    “Only the weak raise their young in families,” he then said,
    Another of those weird, pointless uses of "then".
    a little guilty for how little
    "little" repetition.
    hide at the same moment, move at the same moment, strike at the same moment. It was almost a game. They waited for a few moments,
    After all the "moment, moment, moment" of the last sentence (which was nicely done, by the way), using "moments" again so soon kinda... kills it.
    Stormblade went for its right side but Pearl for the left. She aimed at its long, white neck, he at the right front leg with the aim of preventing it from escaping.
    Can't help feeling that this bit could have been given a bit more of a tense, actiony sort of feel. Simple words like "went" and "aimed" don't really help in that regard, and the sentences in general sound a bit like lists. Something such as "dashed", "darted", "slashed", "struck", etc. would give a better idea of the speed and the power of a pair of Scyther on a hunt.
    he slashed powerfully at the Letaligon’s shoulder, but while it roared in pain and blood sprayed out of the wound, he quickly moved over to Pearl’s side.
    With the use of "but while" here, I got the feeling that the last clause of the sentence was going to contradict the roaring in pain and spraying blood... but then it was something totally unrelated, which threw me off a little. Perhaps a little word change would help it make more sense?
    the water take on a reddish hue before flowing on and disappearing. The water was calming and soothing, and he found himself to be trembling a little bit less, even though the water was freezing.
    Repetition of "the water".

    As I have said, loved the Shadowdart POV, as I already get a good feel for his emotionless, driven frame of mind. Only problem I had with it was that nearly every sentence with Pearl as the subject seemed to start "She [past tense verb]..." which got a bit dull after the first few times, whereas more varied sentence structures would sound fresher.

    And now I will most likely gush about how I like Stormblade/am upset about Pearl for the rest of this review. :3 One bit I particularly liked was when he made the decision to leave if Shadowdart ever won - the point made about how he'd always been different in thought but never in action kinda sums him up, in a blunt way.

    I like how you left the Letaligon scene without fully detailing what happened - not only did it give my active-enough-without-full-description imagination a break, it also actually had me thinking something along the lines of "Yes, Stormblade, you KILL that thing! >:O" until I found out what he'd really done, at which point I was a dutifully thrown by his sudden outburst of violence. Oh, and "It screamed until I'd torn its lungs apart" is a really, REALLY gruesome image. o.o

    And talking about that scene reminds me of a problem I had with it. From what I know about Letaligon's anatomy, I thought that the central horn goes straight up while the other two sort of point backwards - so how did one manage to slash Stormblade's eye if the central one was being blocked by his scythes? It just sort of doesn't seem to work, seeing as I imagine the two side horns would be pointing in the completely wrong direction to do so...

    Back to Stormblade-gushing. Loved the scene with his guilt, especially how he felt he'd done something wrong, Code or no Code.
    He wanted to remember her forever, but he did not want to remember himself.
    This line in particular was REALLY powerful. x.x

    And it was such a nice touch how memories of Razor refusing to kill himself stopped Stormblade from doing the same thing. Seems like he still misses his old friend even what, three years on?

    Which leads me onto a random wondering I have on whether this is structured so that it contains one year and one challenge for Leadership in each part.

    And finally:
    It’s a direct path to hypocrisy, nothing more.
    Yes, Shadowdart. Because being a hypocrite is the absolute WORST crime someone could EVER commit! xD
    .: Evolution is a battle .:. Something has to lose :.
    LOST EVOLUTION
    Chapter 33: Inside has been posted.


    Foregone Conclusion
    Spinoff/prequel/backstory/thingy to Lost Evolution, written for NaNoWriMo 2010

    Three Heads Are Better Than One

  13. #13
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    This should say "thought things through", I think.
    Hmm, well, the "enough" part (which is necessary to make the point I was trying to make) made me feel more inclined to word it like that. "Thought things through enough" sounds a little odd. o.O Then again, I've had confident feelings about how something should be worded in English that ended up being completely wrong before, so I wouldn't necessarily be surprised if it were the other way around.

    Seeing as this part was from Shadowdart's POV (which was a nice "yay" moment when I realised as I wasn't expecting any until part 5), the use of her name seems out of place as I doubt Shadowdart would think of her as Pearl. For that matter, he doesn't even know she's called Pearl o.o
    Oops. x.x And I thought I'd been very careful to make Shadowdart invariably refer to her as "that female"... Will fix.

    at the thought
    Ack. Proofreading really should have caught that. <.<

    I hated the beginning of the hunting scene; it all came out forced and weird. You're probably right about the word usage there; I'll look into that.

    *takes a break from writing this post and rewrites many parts of that scene*

    Oh, and "It screamed until I'd torn its lungs apart" is a really, REALLY gruesome image. o.o
    I loved that part. It was one of those bits of inspiration that came to me in the editing. I felt it wasn't powerful enough the way it was before and intended to edit it, and then when I was reading over it again, that sentence just seemed so right to describe it. It's just horrifying enough for the effect I wanted. :3

    And talking about that scene reminds me of a problem I had with it. From what I know about Letaligon's anatomy, I thought that the central horn goes straight up while the other two sort of point backwards - so how did one manage to slash Stormblade's eye if the central one was being blocked by his scythes? It just sort of doesn't seem to work, seeing as I imagine the two side horns would be pointing in the completely wrong direction to do so...
    Ah, I figured that would be problematic to imagine. What cut across Stormblade's face was one of the small blades that point upwards out of the main side blades just behind Letaligon's eyes. Stormblade's scythe blocks the way of the top blade, but the power of the slash instead both runs along the scythe and pushes it closer to his face - leaving the scythe still between his face and the top blade, of course, as Stormblade had intended, but that little upwards-pointing spike is just on the other side of the scythe, and from there it manages to stab Stormblade's eye out. Now, in the scene I had no time to explain it in that kind of detail, so I opted to just hope readers could at least assume it happened somehow.

    Which leads me onto a random wondering I have on whether this is structured so that it contains one year and one challenge for Leadership in each part.
    One year, no. But one challenge for Leadership, yes. Heh, I'm glad somebody noticed. x3

    Yes, Shadowdart. Because being a hypocrite is the absolute WORST crime someone could EVER commit! xD
    Ah, but that's exactly it. Shadowdart's whole ideology revolves around the idea that hypocrisy is the ultimate sin. And it makes sense, really - after all, no matter what kind of moral belief system you have, the fundamental rule of having any such belief system at all is that the same rules apply to everyone, and hypocrisy is simply to break this one fundamental rule of morality. If hypocrisy isn't wrong, there is no such thing as morals to begin with.

    But you'll see more about Shadowdart's ideology in parts five and six. Thanks for the review, and have I mentioned yet how useful it is to get your reviews pointing out word repetition and stuff like that? Most reviewers don't bother to keep a tally of things like that. I really appreciate that you take the time to point out such things. Thank you.

    Chapter 64: Hide and Seek
    The story of an ordinary boy on an impossible quest in a world that isn't as black and white as he always thought it was.
    (rough draft of the remaining chapters finished for NaNoWriMo; to be edited and posted)

    Morphic
    (completed, plus silly extras)
    A few scientists get drunk and start fiddling with gene splicing. Ten years later, they're taking care of eight half-Pokémon kids, each freakier than the next, while a religious fanatic plots to murder them all.

    Lengthy fanfiction reviewing guide / A more condensed version
    Read and I will be very happy for a large number of reasons.

  14. #14
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    Ugh, this is my least favorite part. ><; Well, I do like chapter XX (one of my favorites in this story, actually), but as always it feels odd to rewrite a part of The Quest for the Legends from another POV. At least I think Part V is my very favorite, so look forward to that.

    I also edited Part III, if for some reason you feel like rereading it.




    PART IV: RAZOR

    XIX

    When Stormblade returned to the oak tree, Shadowdart was still sitting there, staring into space with an inscrutable expression on his face. The younger Scyther looked dully at the older as he approached and asked, in a mildly surprised tone, “You’re back?”

    Stormblade nodded. “I thought things over. Let’s have a friendly duel.”

    He knew that the suggestion was odd in the situation. Shadowdart looked at him, his expression suspicious; he was clearly surprised at the idea, especially since Stormblade hadn’t initiated a duel in many years, but took a position a few steps across from him anyway, eying him warily.

    Stormblade smiled and then kicked off the ground to fly.

    Shadowdart looked up and frowned at him. “What are you doing up there?”

    “Flying,” Stormblade replied.

    “Why flying?”

    “Well, it’s a strange thing, isn’t it?” Stormblade answered, his tone musing. “Scyther can fly, but they never really use it. Come on and let’s try some airdueling.”

    Shadowdart shook his head and seemed to think it was a stupid idea, but took off anyway and, without warning, zoomed at Stormblade.

    Stormblade almost laughed – Shadowdart’s flight, in comparison to Pearl’s, was very clumsy. He swooped easily out of the way, and Shadowdart swore as he missed.

    “This is stupid,” he said, landing to rest a little. “Come down and let’s duel properly.”

    “I like it in the air,” Stormblade insisted, zooming a little back and forth as a playful taunt. Shadowdart glared at him and then took off again.

    This time Stormblade went in for an attack. He flew forward and Shadowdart dodged out of the way, but turning in the air was much easier than on the ground – Stormblade managed to follow him and get a powerful slash in across his chest. Shadowdart fell back to the ground.

    “I can’t keep my balance up there while using my scythes,” he grumbled as he stood up. “Why are you insisting on being in the air?”

    Stormblade actually laughed this time. “Can’t you see? You’ve been training every other skill in the world, but not your flight. Go train your wings and your movement in the air, and see if you can surprise the Leader with it next time you challenge him.” He landed and smiled, having finished making his point and not being overly interested in continuing. It felt oddly exhilarating to have managed to actually teach Shadowdart something again. It brought him back to the old days when Shadowdart was still a Descith.

    Shadowdart looked at him in silence for a few seconds. “Good one,” he then admitted, sitting down while Stormblade did the same. “Thank you.”

    It was as Stormblade has thought. Giving Shadowdart some reason to respect him and need him again made him ready to turn a blind eye to his breaking of the Code. Shadowdart would be willing to give him a second chance. And he needed that, because he was giving himself a second chance. None of the other Scyther would ever know that it happened. He was going to make an example of Razor and live with himself despite having broken the Code, and to live with himself he needed Shadowdart’s company.

    “You seem a lot more confident all of a sudden,” Shadowdart said, turning to him. “More enthusiastic. Less depressed. What gives?”

    I thought about Razor and was inspired to go on. No, he could never say that. Shadowdart had hated Razor. He would immediately lose that respect. And probably not train his flight, either.

    “I just thought things over while I was washing,” he said instead. “And I realized I should put it all behind me. Forget it ever happened. It’s not who I really am.”

    Shadowdart nodded distantly, and it occurred to him that of course Shadowdart would have his own experience of putting the past behind him and improving himself.

    He would treasure the memory of Pearl. She had taught him many things. But himself during that period… he just wanted to leave that behind. Start anew. Remember Razor, who had given himself another chance at life. But Razor had used his second chance to be an outcast from the swarm. Stormblade would use his to reconcile himself with the swarm after a period of isolation from it. And especially with the only friend he had left.

    Perhaps he would even be able to have some positive influence on Shadowdart – being rebellious, after all, had never made Shadowdart more inclined to listen to him.

    The future was beginning to look brighter.


    XX

    Stormblade had left the body in the forest. The Scyther could not dig to bury their dead, nor could they burn them, and in fact they did not believe there was any reason to destroy the body of a dead Scyther so that scavengers could not feed on them.

    A dead body had no meaning to them. A dead body had no purpose. A dead body was simply food – not food that the Scyther themselves would eat, as they always killed their own prey and preferred not to eat other carnivores, but food for countless other Pokémon nonetheless – and the act of preventing other Pokémon from getting that food was something they would have had a hard time seeing as anything other than an act of pointless malice. When a Scyther died in the swarm, they would move the body into the forest where the scavengers might feast on it away from the swarm, but when one died in the forest, there was no need to move the body from the place where it had died.

    They did, however, prefer not to leave the bodies lying in awkward positions that did not dignify the dead, and thus Stormblade had laid her on her back on the ground – a rather messy affair for a Scyther, as he could not grab any part of her with his arms – and then, with considerable emotional difficulty, cut her throat. To do this was ancient tradition: they did not consider a creature to be truly, spiritually dead unless its throat had been opened, and until then, it was merely a trapped mind suffering in an irreversibly dead, decomposing body.

    It was nonetheless very difficult, as Stormblade had discovered, to actually cut the throat of someone he loved, and he had been unable to shake off the eerie feeling that she was somehow still alive, that she could yet be saved but he was the one murdering her. It had fleetingly occurred to him as he knelt over her body, taking deep breaths to calm himself down, that he understood well where the notion that an intact throat left the spirit of the deceased still alive, trapped in the body, came from. He had felt like he could hear her scream for help, all the way until he had gathered the courage to silence her with his scythe.

    When he returned to the site that evening, he could nearly hear her scream again, and was for a moment not sure if he had actually cut her throat correctly, but no, it was open, and blood was still leaking out of the wound to dry on the ground beside her. Some small scavenger Pokémon that had heard him coming and ran for it before he arrived had apparently found her body, because her eyes had already been torn out and eaten. The sight horrified him somehow, despite how used he was to seeing half-eaten corpses. It was just so much worse when he had known the corpse so well in life. So odd to see it no longer the living, thinking being it had once been. No longer the being he had loved so much.

    “I’m sorry I didn’t manage to protect you,” he said quietly to the body, knowing full well she couldn’t hear him. “And I’m sorry I… did that to the Letaligon. You probably wouldn’t have liked it.” He took a deep breath. “But now I’ve become wiser. I’m moving on. I’m going to be a Scyther you would be proud of if you were still here. Goodbye.”

    Then he wet his scythe in her blood, took a last look at what had once been Pearl, and turned away to fly back to the swarm.

    He had told the Leader about her death, leaving out the part where he had tortured the Letaligon – that was a story for him and Shadowdart alone to know. And because he had needed to wash the blood from his body previously – and it had mostly been the Letaligon’s blood anyway – he had needed to return to the forest to retrieve the ritual blood that ordinarily, in the case of hunting deaths, was what came onto the scythe when the throat of the dead was cut.

    The Leader had already called for a death acknowledgement ceremony, and the swarm had gathered by the stream by the time Stormblade returned with her blood. The Leader nodded as he came down to his side, just by the water’s edge.

    “Tonight,” said the Leader in a calm but powerful voice, “we commemorate a Scyther who has left our ranks.”

    Stormblade silently raised his scythe up into the air so that the bluish-black liquid on it was illuminated by the moonlight. A glistening drop fell from the blade into the stream, dissolving in a mere moment.

    “She died on a hunt,” the Leader continued. “She was killed by a Letaligon she had intended to prey upon. She remained cool with her fate to the end. May she be an example to all Scyther from here on. Death is not to be feared, for it is the only thing that we all have in common.”

    “Death is not to be feared,” said the swarm in unison.

    “May her true spirit live on and her loss be put behind us.”

    And Stormblade lowered his scythe into the water, letting the stream quickly wash off the blood and carry it away, put it behind them, prevent them from dwelling on it. Symbolically, she herself had been carried away from the swarm to bother the living no more.

    It was a simple ritual; they could not set the dead off with mass mourning or elaborate ceremonies that might make a death seem like too significant an event. It was less to commemorate the dead than it was to remind the living not to dwell on their death. But that it did well, and as Stormblade raised his scythe out of the stream, he felt ready to move on.

    She would live on in his memory, but not trouble him. He would make a new life for himself as a better Scyther.


    XXI

    In the next few weeks, Stormblade and Shadowdart’s relationship blossomed to better than it had been in years. Stormblade would advise him on flying techniques, something even Shadowdart had admitted to himself Stormblade had mastered much better than he had, and meanwhile Shadowdart taught him techniques for ground duelling so that they could more easily duel one another. Stormblade was still nowhere near Shadowdart’s general skill level, but Shadowdart mastered flying quickly and they would entertain themselves with air duels in between going on joint hunts.

    “Where did you learn all this flying stuff anyway?” Shadowdart asked him one day after a session of flight training.

    “With her,” Stormblade replied, even now feeling a light sting in his heart as he thought of her. “We flew a lot. Her favorite place was up in the mountain.”

    Shadowdart just nodded, looking up to the mountains.

    “We… we once flew up. To the clouds,” Stormblade began, not sure why he was telling Shadowdart about it. It had always been their secret, but now she was gone and he supposed he had to tell somebody.

    “Why?” Shadowdart asked.

    “To see what the clouds really were. We…” His stomach fluttered as he thought of it. “You know how they say that the clouds are Pokémon? That the rain is their blood?”

    Shadowdart looked disinterestedly at him. “Yes?”

    “It’s not true,” Stormblade said, feeling almost the same excitement as when they had first discovered it. “The clouds are just water. Tiny little drops of water. We flew through one and it wasn’t like touching anything. We just got wet.”

    Shadowdart looked blankly at him. “That’s ridiculous. How would the water stay aloft? Why doesn’t it look like water? Why does it change color? What causes it to suddenly fall down, if it can stay airborne? Water doesn’t do any of that.”

    “I don’t know, but it’s true anyway. We went there and felt it. It was amazing.”

    Shadowdart shrugged. “What’s so amazing about it? It doesn’t matter to anyone down on the ground what the clouds are made of. A Scyther has no need to think about the clouds. Even if flying is a neat thing with some untapped potential to it, we won’t ever need to fly that high. Why does it matter so much to you?”

    Stormblade thought about it. He was right – the clouds didn’t matter. Then why did he care what they were made of, whether they were Pokémon or just water? Why was he curious?

    He didn’t know. But he didn’t think it was a bad thing. He had felt genuine joy in the discovery, and no one could take that joy away from him.

    “I don’t know why it matters to me,” he said quietly. “But it does.”

    Shadowdart shrugged. “Well, you’ve always been weird. Just don’t let yourself worry about it too much. Stick to things that are real and around you.”

    Stormblade sighed. “I suppose.”

    They still had their disagreements, but he had learned to just not bring them up.


    XXII

    Despite their improving relations, Shadowdart requested that Stormblade was not present during his fourth duel with the Leader that autumn. He said it improved his concentration when he didn’t feel compelled to look at one of the watching Scyther and could focus on the Leader. Stormblade didn’t know if he was being truthful when he said it, but didn’t particularly care. He felt that he was no longer clinging to Shadowdart in the way he had before. They were better friends now when they were together, and thus he didn’t feel as much of a need for them to be always together.

    Pearl had always disliked what she’d seen of their relationship, and he could see why. They had a much healthier friendship now – in fact, their differences had never before seemed so small.

    And yet, he still wondered what his life would have been like if he had raised a family with her.

    A family…

    Perhaps Razor had a family with Nightmare now, if he had caught up with her. Perhaps she had had an egg and they were happy somewhere off alone raising a Descith or two together.

    The thought made him bitter. He sighed, stood up from the tree, glanced once towards the Leader’s rock – the small crowd that had gathered around him prevented him from seeing the duel – and decided to go hunting, just to get his mind onto something else.

    And by a miraculous coincidence, just as he reached the edge of Ruxido, another Scyther with distantly familiar features was also nearing the forest for a hunt.

    It took him only a moment to realize that it was a particularly strong-looking, tall Scyther that Razor had pointed out to him a few times in the swarm – Razor’s father.

    Curiosity got the better of Stormblade, and he turned to stop the approaching Scyther.

    “What is it?” Razor’s father asked, looking Stormblade up and down with a blank expression.

    “You don’t know me, but I was a friend of your son’s,” he said awkwardly.

    Razor’s father got an odd, distant gleam in his eye for a second, and then turned around. “I don’t have a son,” he said coldly, motioning to enter Ruxido.

    “Yes, you do,” Stormblade pressed him. “He left the swarm.”

    “He is no son of mine,” the older Scyther repeated. “It was a big mistake, all of it.”

    “You’re being ridiculous,” Stormblade said, his temper flaring. “Of course he’s still your son. Having broken the Code or left the swarm doesn’t change that. Being your son is a matter of blood. You’re the one who screwed his mother, and that’s the end of it.”

    Razor’s father turned around and looked at him, his expression mildly surprised at Stormblade’s bluntness. “Fine, I had a son,” he said. “Had. He’s dead.”

    “How do you know that?”

    “If he’s not dead, then I hope he is, or I will never forgive myself for having been responsible for bringing him into the world,” Razor’s father snapped. “Leave me alone now. I have prey to kill.”

    Stormblade sighed and watched the older Scyther dash off towards the forest. He was the same as Shadowdart, then – putting the Code before life. Code before friends and family. He would rather have them dead in accordance with the Code than alive having broken it.

    If he knew what Stormblade had done – yet again he felt a sting of guilt in his heart – he would despise him.

    Stormblade turned. He didn’t feel like hunting anymore. He could vaguely remember Razor telling him that once upon a time, his parents had been in love, just like he and Pearl. Then they had drifted apart. They had been a family, but no longer were.

    He wanted to find Razor’s mother now.

    He could remember that she was more of a frail little thing, someone who wouldn’t stand out from a crowd. He looked briefly over the Scyther that he passed on his way back, but none of them was her. Either she was hunting, she was watching the duel, or she was drinking by the river.

    Drinking sounded like a good idea in any case.

    He walked down to the stream, and there was indeed a small female there, slowly lapping up the fresh water. He came closer. Yes, it was definitely her.

    “Hello,” he said, having bent down beside her to reach down into the water himself. “I knew your son.”

    She looked quickly at him and then shook her head. “I… I don’t want to talk about him. I’m sorry.”

    But she sat down in the grass beside the stream anyway, looking up at the sky and the occasional clouds drifting past. Stormblade didn’t want to pressure her, but something made him want to talk to her anyway.

    “Did you know,” he said as he stood up, looking into the sky with her, “that the clouds aren’t really Pokémon?”

    She looked at him. “Oh?”

    “They’re water,” Stormblade explained, his heart again twitching in odd excitement as he said it. “They’re not even solid. I flew through a cloud, and there was no resistance. I just got wet. I don’t know how they stay in the air or why it only rains sometimes, but they’re just water.”

    She smiled. There was some warmth in it that made it seem sincere. “That’s interesting. I’d never really thought about it before.”

    Of course she hadn’t. Stormblade and Pearl seemed to be the only Scyther in the world ever to have even wondered. A minute of silence passed. He sighed and stood up to leave.

    “I still love him,” she suddenly muttered without looking at him. “I know he broke the Code. But I can’t help loving him anyway. I hatched him. How could I not?”

    “Do you think he’s alive?” Stormblade asked quietly, turning back to her.

    She shook her head. “I don’t know. But I hope so. I hope I’ll see him again one day.”

    Stormblade smiled. “I hope so too,” he said before turning to walk back to the swarm.


    XXIII

    Shadowdart didn’t win that time either. He came back cut and bruised yet again, with a new piece cut out of his scythe, and swore that the next time, in the spring, he would win. The winter went into rigorous flight training, enthusiastic duels, and strategic planning. Shadowdart would occasionally practice the techniques they had been planning while they hunted, and it was on just such a hunt one day in the late spring, when they were in the forest looking for prey, that Stormblade stopped dead at the sound of an all-too-familiar voice.

    “Shadowdart, listen,” he whispered, and Shadowdart stayed and waited. They heard a faint voice from some distance away – a Scyther’s voice.

    “Razor,” Shadowdart realized, his expression darkening. “So he isn’t dead.”

    “We have to go follow the sound,” Stormblade said excitedly. “We should go talk to him, shouldn’t we?”

    “Yes,” Shadowdart said coldly. “I have much to say to him.”

    They forgot all about keeping quiet and took off to fly between the trees, partly for practice and partly for speed. Stormblade’s stomach fluttered at the thought of meeting Razor again. He couldn’t wait to tell him all about Pearl, and maybe of what had inspired him to live on…

    Finally they caught a glimpse of him between the trees, and realized that he wasn’t alone.

    He was on the Ruxido road, walking beside a human boy and apparently engaged in friendly conversation with him. Two other human kids were walking a little ahead of him, seemingly unalarmed by his presence.

    Humans.

    Razor was with humans.

    And just as Stormblade realized it, Razor stopped in his tracks and stared right at him.

    “Come on, let’s hurry,” Stormblade said quickly and they sped up, avoiding a few more trees before finally landing in front of Razor on the road. The human boy he was walking with flinched; the others turned around in surprise.

    “Razor… we never expected to see you again,” Stormblade said, looking the Scyther in front of him up and down to make sure it was really his old friend – he could hardly believe it. Razor looked healthy and strong after those three years. Where had he been?

    Razor looked awkwardly at them, his face betraying slight revulsion as he eyed Stormblade’s empty eye socket. “Stormblade,” he finally said with a small nod of acknowledgement. “Shadowdart…”

    Stormblade saw Razor fix his gaze in surprise at the remains of Shadowdart’s left scythe. Shadowdart, however, was already looking at the boy in suspicion.

    “What is the human doing here?” he asked sharply, narrowing his eyes at Razor and the boy. Razor’s hesitation confirmed what Stormblade had deduced already, that he had been caught…

    “He’s… my friend,” Razor muttered uncertainly, his gaze shifting between Stormblade and Shadowdart.

    “Your ‘friend’?” Shadowdart spat. “Since when did you make human friends?”

    Stormblade knew he was thinking of Razor’s First Prey, a human boy who couldn’t have been much older than the one he was standing with now. And it surprised him, too; who would have thought Razor would be the one of them to be caught?

    “That’s none of your business,” Razor replied quietly, the pain of the situation evident in his voice. What had changed in those three years? Just what had Razor been through? Stormblade found himself suddenly realizing that perhaps Razor had been far worse off than he had been.

    “Well,” he said as he sensed Shadowdart was about to say something, “did you ever find Nightmare?”

    Razor nodded, but his expression already told him something was wrong, that it hadn’t turned out right. “So how did it go?” he pressed.

    Razor swallowed, nervousness evident in his eyes. “She…” he began hoarsely. “She got caught…”

    “Caught?” Shadowdart sneered.

    “How did that happen?” Stormblade asked in disbelief, the fateful duel still fresh in his memory. “She was one of the fastest I’ve ever seen…”

    Oh, yes, she had been fast. How had a human caught her – a mere human, on two clumsy legs?

    “He caught her in her sleep,” Razor replied bitterly, and Stormblade found himself nodding. Yes, it was the only way that the humans could catch a Scyther, by such low methods as attacking them while sleeping…

    But something rang wrong with this, a pang in his chest told him. He looked sharply back at Razor. “How would you know? Were you there?”

    He saw Razor sigh, nod, look down at the ground – how could he? How could he have watched her be caught without helping her and then stand there healthy and happy? How could he, when Stormblade had given his eye to protect the female he had loved?

    “Then you didn’t do anything… you just watched…” he asked quietly, getting a sinking feeling in his stomach as he realized that of course Razor wasn’t the idol of defiance that he had been thinking of him as for the past year: he was just a Scyther, just a lost, confused, flawed Scyther.

    But oh, so much more flawed than he had been the last time they had met!

    He had stopped clinging to Pearl, but only begun to cling to Razor instead. He should have stood up for himself. He should have known better.

    “I thought I knew you,” he muttered and shook his head. “I never thought you’d…”

    “Screw that,” Shadowdart interrupted. “What are you doing with the human?”

    There was a short silence during which Razor’s eyes flicked between Stormblade, Shadowdart and the boy. “He’s my trainer,” he finally said, and Stormblade couldn’t help feeling another little sting at the verbal confirmation.

    Shadowdart snorted, his expression turning to one of somehow triumphant mockery. “You let a human stuff you into a ball? I thought you had some dignity…” He paused. “Then it’s probably true what they all say, that you begged for your life, too…”

    “Don’t,” Stormblade said quickly, even though he wasn’t sure anymore that he should be defending Razor at all. “You didn’t watch the duel. I did.”

    “Fine,” Shadowdart spat, still smiling poisonously. “Then she was just weak. I bet both of you just sit there with your trainers now doing whatever you’re told, like little slaves under their…”

    “NO!” Razor shouted, leaping at Shadowdart and swinging his scythe at his face. Shadowdart had of course trained his reflexes to the point of easily expecting it and blocking it with his own. Razor attacked with hateful ferocity and more speed than Stormblade had ever seen in him; he repeatedly slashed with both of his scythes, only to have Shadowdart block each attack with an almost lazy lack of effort. It was occurring to Stormblade now just how powerful Shadowdart was.

    Finally Razor let out a cry of hate, slashing forward with both of his scythes parallel, and Shadowdart blocked with his own. They strained against one another for a few tense seconds during which neither seemed to have an advantage: while Shadowdart was very skilled, they were about equal in the sheer force of their muscles.

    They had realized it as well, and both leapt backwards, keeping their scythes upright and defensive for a second before lowering them in momentary truce.

    “All right,” Shadowdart said. “Fine. Be a slave. You’re not worth duelling.” He looked at the boy, who was still standing there, pale and silent. “And your so-called trainer isn’t worth killing, either.”

    Without waiting for Stormblade, Shadowdart kicked off the ground and flew back into the forest. Stormblade took a last regretful look at Razor, who had only days ago been such an inspiration to him – his first friend’s expression looked confused, pained and apologetic – but then took off to fly after Shadowdart. Part of him hoped that Razor would follow.

    He didn’t.

    Chapter 64: Hide and Seek
    The story of an ordinary boy on an impossible quest in a world that isn't as black and white as he always thought it was.
    (rough draft of the remaining chapters finished for NaNoWriMo; to be edited and posted)

    Morphic
    (completed, plus silly extras)
    A few scientists get drunk and start fiddling with gene splicing. Ten years later, they're taking care of eight half-Pokémon kids, each freakier than the next, while a religious fanatic plots to murder them all.

    Lengthy fanfiction reviewing guide / A more condensed version
    Read and I will be very happy for a large number of reasons.

  15. #15
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    First of all, I want to mention how cool it was to read about a Scyther-style funeral. ^^ It was fascinating, just as all of the Scyther rituals we've gotten to read about in this story and its predecessor have been, and the nature of it fit in perfectly with the beliefs of their culture regarding death.

    I also found the ways that Stormblade's relationships with and attitudes of other characters evolved there in that part to be pretty interesting, such as his new, healthier friendship with Shadowdart and Stormblade's newfound disappointment in Razor. Speaking of the former, the way that Stormblade chose to get his foot back in the door of his friendship with Shadowdart was pretty clever. ^^

    Other highlights:

    Stormblade smiled and then kicked off the ground to fly.

    Shadowdart looked up and frowned at him. “What are you doing up there?”

    “Flying,” Stormblade replied.
    I love Stormblade's response there. XD

    “You’re being ridiculous,” Stormblade said, his temper flaring. “Of course he’s still your son. Having broken the Code or left the swarm doesn’t change that. Being your son is a matter of blood. You’re the one who screwed his mother, and that’s the end of it.”
    A quote I don't think I'll forget anytime soon, especially that last line. XP


    Great work once again, and I'll be back to read the next installment. ^^
    DON'T CALL IT A COMEBACK
    (Or do. I don't actually mind.)
    The Origin of Storms | Communication

  16. #16
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    “Good one,” he then admitted,
    Another one of those weird little "then"s after dialogue that never fail to bug me when I notice them.
    It was as Stormblade has thought.
    had thought
    Shadowdart nodded distantly, and it occurred to him that of course Shadowdart
    Because Stormblade's name was last mentioned several paragraphs before this point, I initially took the "him" in question to be Shadowdart before my common sense kicked in and told me that it was not. Changing the "him" to "Stormblade" and the second "Shadowdart" to "he" might help, as Shadowdart is still the subject of the sentence.

    In the next few weeks, Stormblade and Shadowdart’s relationship blossomed to better than it had been in years. Stormblade would advise him on flying techniques, something even Shadowdart had admitted to himself Stormblade had mastered much better than he had, and meanwhile Shadowdart taught him techniques for ground duelling so that they could more easily duel one another. Stormblade was still nowhere near Shadowdart’s general skill level, but Shadowdart mastered flying quickly and they would entertain themselves with air duels in between going on joint hunts.
    The overuse of their names here gets a little bit jerky and slightly confusing. Alternatives such as "the older/younger Scyther" or even just "his friend" should smoothen things out.
    and thus he didn’t feel as much of a need for them to be always together.

    Pearl had always disliked
    Cross-paragraph repetition of always - nonetheless still slightly jarring.
    Razor’s father got an odd, distant gleam in his eye for a second
    "got a gleam in his eye" sounds really awkward and clunky thanks to the use of "got" in this context. I'd recommend changing it to a less basic verb or simply rewording the sentence.

    The funeral was an especially nice touch to this part - it's interesting to see how Scyther do have some kind of spiritual belief despite them having a very different view on death to that of humans. The idea of the blood flowing away from them in the water is a nice image symbolising how the swarm should move on, and it seems to act as extra "Death is not to be feared" propaganda. This also made me wonder - do Scyther who are killed in a duel get such a death ceremony?

    ...Which leads me onto a sudden random bit of speculation about whether or not Shadowdart would perform such a ceremony if he ever does kill the Leader in a duel. I know how you like reader speculation. =P

    I liked the scene with Stormblade's flying, as the way he teased his friend was amusing to read, and it was fun to see Shadowdart getting owned by Stormblade for once.

    Razor's parents were well portrayed, enough so that I could actually relate their attitudes towards the brief glimpses of them we saw in Scyther's Story.

    Don't have as much to randomly talk about this time as less really happened in the chapter. That said, I'm eagerly looking forward to the Shadowdartness of the last three parts, and what he thinks about Razor's capture, and well, everything.
    .: Evolution is a battle .:. Something has to lose :.
    LOST EVOLUTION
    Chapter 33: Inside has been posted.


    Foregone Conclusion
    Spinoff/prequel/backstory/thingy to Lost Evolution, written for NaNoWriMo 2010

    Three Heads Are Better Than One

  17. #17
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    This also made me wonder - do Scyther who are killed in a duel get such a death ceremony?
    Yes, but then the Leader doesn't go on about their positive qualities and exemplary deaths. :P The ceremony is, after all, less a sign of respect for the dead and more of a "Forget about him" thing, which applies if anything even more when the dead isn't anyone to be respected much.

    Anyway, thanks a lot for reviewing, you two. :3 The character limit refuses to let me post part five in this post, but it comes in the next...

    Chapter 64: Hide and Seek
    The story of an ordinary boy on an impossible quest in a world that isn't as black and white as he always thought it was.
    (rough draft of the remaining chapters finished for NaNoWriMo; to be edited and posted)

    Morphic
    (completed, plus silly extras)
    A few scientists get drunk and start fiddling with gene splicing. Ten years later, they're taking care of eight half-Pokémon kids, each freakier than the next, while a religious fanatic plots to murder them all.

    Lengthy fanfiction reviewing guide / A more condensed version
    Read and I will be very happy for a large number of reasons.

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    (Finally the page loaded... <_<)


    PART V: LEADER

    XXIV

    Eleven years before, a then-five-year-old Scyther, already rumoured to be the strongest Scyther to grace the swarm in living memory, had defeated the Leader of the time and acquired the position for himself.

    He had always been somewhat of a wonder child: he had hatched already with the first traces of forming scythes; he had evolved early, in the middle of the winter, when most Descith evolved in the spring; and he had easily killed the very first Pokémon he’d caught during his First Prey – a Pidgeotto. Immediately after that graceful confirmation of his adulthood, he had begun to train for Leadership, having been told multiple times already that his natural talent was unmatched. He had won the fateful duel with remarkable ease considering his youth, but when it came to killing the fallen Leader, he had hesitated. It was just such a waste. Were they not taught to treat death as a part of life? A defeated Leader ought to suffer, be humiliated. He was all for allowing the Leader to avoid being challenged multiple times by the same Scyther until the challenger won by sheer luck, but there were other ways to do that – such as crippling defeated Leaders and challengers. He had always been very fond of his spontaneous idea to cut a piece out of the Leader’s scythe. It was visible and obvious, showing every Scyther who cared to look that they were looking at a failure. Most of them didn’t want to live with it and killed themselves anyway – the old Leader had – but not before having their weakness demonstrated for all to see. The collection of scythe pieces that lay in a neat pile by the Leader’s rock had to him been a symbol of his power, a cheerful reminder that there were none who could pose a threat to him.

    But in the past couple of years there had been a challenger who was different. The Leader remembered that Scyther’s First Prey like it had happened yesterday; he had taken nine tries before killing a Rattata. Never had the Leader imagined that this seemingly pathetic little runt would ever have the kind of guts needed to attempt to make a reality of his desire for Leadership - but something was different about him, and it had given the Leader quite a surprise.

    The young Scyther had trained with vicious rigor, even to the point where the swarm began to believe that his aim was even better than that of the Leader himself. He had begun to be wary at that point, but the time of his first challenge had still managed to surprise him.

    And he’d been strong. Of course it had been a fairly easy defeat – they all were, and he had made so awfully many technical mistakes – but he’d been the most talented challenger the Leader had faced in all of his years of power. It had given him… a scare. And scares weren’t something the Leader experienced very often. He had defeated him, actually feeling thankful that the young one had been so rash to challenge him, and cut from his scythe, thinking he’d be rid of him.

    But he wasn’t. The young Scyther had come back later for another challenge, despite his mutilated scythe, and this had been when the Leader had truly begun to fear that if he continued to be so persistent, he might one day lose his Leadership to him. It had been quite a consciousness-raiser to realize that he was not quite as invincible as the previous eleven years had led him to believe. And even though he had defeated the young challenger again, he had later begun to train a little for himself, something he had never felt the need to do before to any significant extent – the hunts had always maintained his shape well enough for him to feel satisfied that his skills weren’t rusting.

    And the young Scyther had come a third time, which had finally convinced the Leader that he would not give up. For the first time it seriously struck him that perhaps he should kill him after the duel after all – but what kind of message would that send to the swarm? That he was afraid of the challenger? He could not do that. And anyway, if he cut a further piece from his left scythe, it would become difficult to utilize in the way a Scyther would normally use it, which would surely discourage him from further challenges.

    But no, yet again that strange young Scyther had challenged him, and although he couldn’t use his left scythe much offensively, he had employed it well in defense. And the Leader’s victory had been much too narrow for his standards – so narrow that he had for a moment in the duel been honestly afraid that there was a chance he would lose. But eventually he had succeeded and cut a further piece from the challenger’s scythe so that it was close to unusable.

    The swarm had lost faith in the young Scyther. While initially they had supported him and thought he would perhaps even be able to win, they had now been convinced that he would never succeed, and that he would die before ever managing to become Leader – surely the biggest humiliation of them all.

    The Leader, however, did not delude himself by assuming that the challenger considered himself beaten. No, he would come again. He had such persistence that the Leader could tell that no matter what happened, this Scyther would never give up.

    And this thought scared the Leader very much indeed, because he knew that if the challenger remained so persistent, he would eventually succeed. The challenger was young, but the Leader was in the upper years of his prime now at sixteen years of age, and if the young Scyther – seven years old now, if his memory didn’t fail him – maintained his shape for a few more years, he would be sure to win eventually simply on account of the Leader’s aging.

    He was faced with a great dilemma: should he retract his former policy and kill the young one after the next challenge to stay on the safe side, or should he simply hope that he died in some other way first? On a hunt, perhaps, or in a true duel over a personal dispute? And what if, after all, the challenger was ready – what if he was strong enough to win on his fifth try? Then the Leader would suffer a humiliating defeat, and he had no means of preventing it before the fifth duel but to rely on sheer dumb luck getting the challenger out of the way before then.

    Except murder.

    Murder. To kill an unprepared Scyther, like any other prey, sneaking up on him and cutting his throat without giving him the opportunity to defend himself, perhaps even while he was sleeping. It was one of the most abhorrent actions a Scyther could commit, and to find that it had even crossed his mind made the Leader shiver with conditioned disgust at himself.

    And yet, it was so terribly tempting, to just get rid of him. He could do it in such a way that no one would ever know, no one would ever suspect him, no one would ever despise him for it. He could do it at night, cut his throat in his sleep, and no one would find out. Unless he woke up. And no, he could not risk that, even if it were not such a wrong thing to do.

    The Leader sighed to himself. Never before had a challenger occupied his mind for any longer than the duel itself. Never before had he felt such an obsession with one individual. He had never fallen in love and never understood the concept; he had never had friends, never kept in contact with his family, never been anything more than simply one individual Scyther who incidentally was the most powerful Scyther in the swarm.

    And now he was terrified that perhaps he wasn’t anymore.


    XXV

    Shadowdart sighed to himself, leaning against the oak tree with his scythes crossed. He was alone. Stormblade was upset and had gone hunting alone in Ruxido, ‘to clear his mind’.

    Stormblade was just so terribly, awfully misguided. He was a nice enough person, a decent friend, certainly not a sickening hypocrite-and-proud-of-it like the Leader was. But he had been misled by all sorts of careless ideals that were dangerously close to sending him sliding down the slippery slope of hypocrisy and immorality. To be misled wasn’t to be integrally bad. Shadowdart didn’t believe in suicide of guilt unless one had decent reason to feel guilty. He hadn’t had a decent reason to feel guilty after his dismal failure at his own First Prey. He had been confused, clingy, stupid, not taught well enough. The Leader’s lessons had been awful. He had never explained the morality he was instilling in them in a way that made any effort to make actual sense. The Leader had thrown insults at them, called them pathetic, broken them down, all in all told them they were unworthy, instead of teaching them.

    It was obvious to whoever cared to look at it that the Leader was deathly afraid of his own fall from power. The reluctance with which he declared a new adult to be eligible to challenge him for Leadership; the obvious disgust to his expression when he saw a Descith or Scyther who seemed to defy the norm; the delightful glee in his eyes when he had first destroyed Shadowdart’s scythe that had faded as he had realized Shadowdart would eventually beat him; it all made it only too obvious what the Leader was truly thinking. He was a hypocrite through and through, a pathetic, selfish creature blessed with natural power that he had never had to work for and never had the integrity to stop taking for granted.

    So who was he to teach morality and integrity to young and impressionable Scyther? Who was he to teach them not to fear death, when he himself essentially feared it as well – feared his drop from power, from the position he had acquired through the sheer luck of the qualities he had been born with? It was not literal death, but it was the same concept. One who is not ready to die himself has no right to kill. One who is not ready to be dethroned by one more worthy than himself has no right to dethrone the one before him. To be a Scyther was about compassion: to recognize that what one inflicted on others could be inflicted upon oneself as well and to be ready to face that possibility. The Leader had none of this basic compassion. He was cruel exactly because he knew that he would need to be subjected to his own cruelties. He delighted in his own superiority, in the knowledge that he was in a position to do to others just what he feared could be done to himself.

    This made the Leader despicable, and it was he who, if he had any integrity at all, was the one Scyther in the swarm who truly ought to commit suicide of guilt. Stormblade, on the other hand, was not despicable. He was misled, just how Shadowdart had been in his younger days, by the Leader’s incompetence. No one had taught Stormblade when he was young why caring too much for the female would bring about his moral downfall, and because of this he had been unable to understand Shadowdart’s warnings until it was too late, until he had been burned by the fact. It was a shame that this should happen to him, but it did not change his moral integrity. Shadowdart could honestly not blame any of the Scyther for behaving in such a blatantly Code-defying way – not those who had been taught by this Leader, anyway. And he was fairly sure that included most of the ones that pained him so much to see dominating the general moral ideology of the swarm.

    Shadowdart had learned what he knew on his own. During his First Prey, he had still been terrified of death, having picked up from the Leader – like all the others, he supposed – his true feelings more than his words. He hadn’t understood the true philosophy of not fearing death. It had been no more than an arbitrary rule, something he was meant to accept at face value and was knocked into his head with reasons he was never properly made to understand. Reasons that were just words. There had been no power to them, no belief, no passion. No generalization of what the rule was meant to be: a principle of life using death as an example. It was not death that they all had in common, as the Leader had told them. It was the fear of death, the hypocrisy, the instinct of desire for survival that overrode everything else. And, more importantly, the fact it was shared by both predators and prey. The prey you kill fears it too, and yet you kill it, because you have won the battle for survival. Death was a fact of life. Death was an ultimate truth. Death was not to be feared, because you inflicted it on others. Because they feared it too. Because you, too, would one day die, just like the prey that struggled with shining, begging eyes against your deadly scythe.

    He had realized that after his First Prey. He had realized as he held the dead Rattata in his mouth, its neck split open, that it could so easily have been him, had the situation been different. That he had killed the creature anyway. That, despite what a terrible thought it was to imagine himself as the victim, the murder had happened. That if his mind remained convinced that his own death was wrong, bad, evil, his murder – because what was hunting other than murder? – of that Rattata was no less than a despicable act.

    And that same day, by a miraculous coincidence, Razor had left.

    Ah, Razor. He came nowhere near the Leader in pure hypocrisy and cruelty, but he was pathetic and not to mention a general jerk. Like Stormblade, he had been misled, but unlike him, he had been arrogant about it. Razor had treated Shadowdart like dirt, mocked him, terrorized him, indeed been part of the reason Shadowdart had been beaten down into that mindless, unideological acceptance of the Leader. Razor had been older and his insults had given Shadowdart the constant feeling that he was inadequate and pathetic. Razor had, essentially, violated the Fourth and Fifth Rules of the Moral Code: he had manipulated and he had tortured, if not in a physical manner. And throughout all of it he had been a hypocrite. He had broken down in shame after realizing that he was infinitely more pathetic himself, but instead of realizing his mistake and vowed not to repeat it as Stormblade had done, he had brushed it off and simply thrown Shadowdart another insult for a much lesser crime.

    And then there was the scene at the ritual that night… oh, the irony of the suicide of guilt! Only those who deserved the second chance would ever do it. Only those who did not deserve it would fail to do so. And Razor had, predictably, placed himself firmly in the latter group by making a rebel of himself and running away to find his female. He had stubbornly stuck with his Code-defiance through every reason to leave it behind, and even three years later he had still not realized his wrongdoing: he had cleanly broken the other laws of the Moral Code and left himself under a human’s control, seemingly happy about it.

    There was some shred of hope in him – there had been visible embarrassment to his manner as he had responded to his former friends’ questions and seemingly at least asked himself why he was doing what he was doing. But he had blocked out the voice of sensibility, risen to defend himself and the female he had never been anything other than a nuisance to, and thus established himself as irredeemable. Razor was a rebel through and through. He did not understand the philosophy of the Scyther. He did not belong among the true Scyther of the swarm.

    Shadowdart knew that Stormblade had always liked Razor. He even suspected that Stormblade had liked Razor steadily up until now when they had met and he had realized what a worthless being his former friend had become. It was presumably the reason Stormblade was now in such distress. He assumed that the reason Stormblade had liked him had simply been that Stormblade had never been present for most of the times Razor had shown himself for the manipulative jerk that he truly was. Or perhaps it was just that they had, after all, been friends – and Stormblade had always been big on friends. Shadowdart hadn’t; he had realized the shallow nature of friendship right as he had realized that Razor was a ******* – the time he had returned from his First Prey to a Razor upset by the moral suicide awaiting him and been received with an insult. It had been a moment of revelation for Shadowdart; he had looked at the Rattata and realized the true meaning of the Code, and just that had at the same time allowed him to see what Razor truly was.

    In a way, no Scyther had ever been as profoundly affected by his First Prey. No Scyther could as truly call himself an adult after the experience. No Scyther had understood so much after the experiences of just one day. And that day he had realized who the Leader truly was, as well. That day he had decided that he would become the strongest Scyther in the swarm, and nothing would stop him from becoming Leader. That day had defined who he was now.

    And he, Shadowdart, once he became the Leader, was going to make sure that their First Prey would be an equally enlightening experience for every young Scyther to grow up in his swarm for generations to come.


    XXVI

    Stormblade returned that evening and looked like he had calmed himself down. Shadowdart had yet again been practicing his aim on the flowers growing around the oak, and strewn petals littered the ground at his feet.

    “I admired him,” Stormblade said quietly as he sat down. “I admired his defiance. And now I’ve realized he was… nothing but a worthless hypocrite all along.” He paused. “I gave my eye for her, Shadowdart,” he said bitterly. “Although I took it too far, I gave my eye to protect a Scyther in need. And here Razor comes along and… watched the one he claimed he loved get caught. And then got caught himself, and seems perfectly friendly with the human… It’s like I never knew him.”

    “It didn’t surprise me,” Shadowdart just said, and they sat in silence for a while.

    “I don’t know. I knew how he treated you, and I knew he could be a jerk at times. I just… I didn’t think he’d ever be anything worse than that. A jerk. Not a… human slave.” Stormblade spat the last words. “I don’t get it. He killed a human for his First Prey. A human took his Nightmare away from him. How can he be so friendly with them now?”

    “There is a chain of events resulting from repeated breaking of the Code,” Shadowdart said. “You start doing it and then keep going down the slope of hypocrisy and moral indecency. You escaped from it in time, but he didn’t and ended up where he is now. You could have ended up like him, if she hadn’t died and you hadn’t tortured the Letaligon. It made you realize what you were.”

    Stormblade shook his head. “It’s not right. He was never like that before. He couldn’t have turned into… into that.”

    “He did,” Shadowdart said. “It happened. You saw it. It started with being a jerk, went on into refusing to admit he did anything wrong or even stupid by challenging that female, then on to leaving the swarm to chase her despite that she wanted nothing to do with him, then on to realizing this only when realizing how furious she would be if she saw he was following her, then to not daring to risk that and watching her get caught instead, then on to getting caught himself and eventually accepting it, probably figuring he’s broken the rest of the Code already and left the swarm anyway so it doesn’t matter anymore. It all leads to corruption in the end.”

    Stormblade was silent. “It makes sense, I suppose. But… he was my friend. It’s hard to see it happen to him. I thought he was better than that.”

    “He wasn’t,” Shadowdart said, and that was the end of it. Stormblade didn’t deny that. Razor had, after all, proven himself not to be better than that. He had proven himself to have sunk well below what any self-respecting Scyther would have committed suicide of guilt for without actually doing so. From the looks of it, there was no hope for him.

    Forget about Razor. The best thing you can do for his memory is to assume he’s dead.

    But he wasn’t. He was alive, which was exactly what permanently poisoned his memory. Now, more than ever, was it a time to forget about Razor.

    “I’m going to challenge the Leader again tomorrow,” said Shadowdart to change the subject. He chopped at a daisy that was still standing, slicing the petals neatly off. “And you can watch,” he added after a short silence.

    Stormblade looked at him. “Why? I thought I distracted you from the duel.”

    And it was true, somewhat. Shadowdart had been afraid that his gaze would be drawn to Stormblade, that his concentration would fade, that he would lose the duel thanks to Stormblade’s presence. But he had also deep down always worried that he would lose, and he hadn’t wanted Stormblade to witness the humiliation of having his scythe mutilated. Some remnants of his childhood, with Stormblade the older, wiser one, had kept him from wanting Stormblade to see him humiliated. But he had thought about this now and realized it, and he had to face it. And he did not want Stormblade to remain the kind of friend he had to fear, at any level at all. It was not a good mindset for a future Leader.

    “I have more confidence now,” Shadowdart said. “I think I will win this time. You won’t have to watch him cut my scythe now. Not if I can help it. I’ve practiced my flight.”

    He took a deep breath. “I didn’t use flight in the fourth duel. I haven’t been using any of the techniques I’ve been practicing with you. I’ve been duelling as if I were just another Scyther. Using traditional techniques. I wanted to lull him into a false sense of security, make him think he knew what to expect of me, but then at some point unleash everything I had at once. Play it clever. I think the time to do that has come.”

    Stormblade stared at him, his eyes wide. “So all the duels until now have been… practice? Preparation? You never intended to win?”

    Shadowdart shrugged. “I intended to win, of course. The first time I thought I could win that way, and the second I just didn’t want to risk it, thinking it could end up putting me at a disadvantage. But then I began to realize he was far too strong for that. I need to surprise him. Do something he couldn’t do. And then I couldn’t waste all I had on one duel. I had to wait until I had enough, and still challenge him regularly so he wouldn’t think I was up to something. Now I’m going to surprise him with all I’ve got. Make it sudden. And I’ve made him nervous, too. He’s getting afraid of me. He’s starting to realize I’ll win eventually, and it’s breaking him down. I know I’ll do it this time. All this time I’ve been figuring him out, but meanwhile he’s been uselessly chopping away at my left scythe without even an inkling of the things I have in store for him. I don’t need my left scythe to beat him.”

    Stormblade was still looking at him as if he’d only just realized that Shadowdart had a brain. He chuckled. A Scyther could mature much in three years. Shadowdart had been confused, scared and aggressive, but developed into a cold, calculating strategist who was about to give the Leader of the swarm a nasty surprise. Sometimes he amazed even himself.

    He would kill the Leader, that disgusting failure of a Scyther. He would look the Leader in the eye, see the fear shine from his pupils – because he knew there would be fear; there were few things more predictable than that the Leader would be deathly afraid in his last moments – and then draw his scythe across his throat, putting him out of his misery.

    Because he didn’t humiliate fallen Leaders, no matter how disgraceful to their species they had been. He was better than that.


    XXVII

    That night, Shadowdart lay awake. He kept his eyes closed, his body still, his breathing slow, but his mind was racing too fast for him to be able to sleep. He was planning out the battle, the reactions he expected of the Leader – he had become predictable after four duels, after all – and how he would counter those reactions, how the Leader might perhaps pack some surprises as well – although he didn’t expect it – and how he would react to that. And living the imaginary moment he longed for, the moment he had brought the Leader down, looked him in the eye, and killed him, taking the Leadership.

    At the same time, he listened to the wind rustle the leaves of the oak tree above him, the faint sound of the hoots of the Noctowl in Ruxido, Stormblade’s content breathing and slow heartbeat as he slept on the other side of the tree. He felt the grass blades lightly touch his armor by the ground, almost stroking him. It was all very soothing, and had he been in a different state of mind, he would probably have been unable to keep himself awake.

    He would definitely not have noticed the quiet footsteps in the grass that were drawing nearer, the nervous, heavy breathing that came all too close, the distinct heartbeat that was far too fast to be Stormblade’s.

    He flicked his eyes open and saw the tall form of the Leader standing above him, staring down at him, a dangerous gleam in his eyes, fear in his expression.

    He sprang up before the Leader managed to realize that he was awake. “What are you doing here?” Shadowdart asked in a quiet hiss, raising his scythes defensively. “What do you want?”

    The Leader stood there for a fraction of a second, looking into his eyes, his gaze wild, fearful, staring. Mad. Then it vanished; he slipped into the authoritative look he had had plenty of practice with over the years and said in a smooth, calm voice, “I heard that you were planning to challenge me again tomorrow.”

    “Yes,” Shadowdart told him, watching him carefully. “I will challenge you tomorrow. And I will become Leader.”

    The Leader shook his head, and the fake confidence in his eyes was remarkably convincing. “You will not. You do not have the makings of a Leader.” He looked at Shadowdart’s left scythe, and a cocky grin spread over his features. “You are a cripple. A worthless freak. Would they want you as their Leader, even if you won?”

    And it occurred to Shadowdart with a sudden, sinking feeling that perhaps he had been had; perhaps the Scyther would reject him; perhaps his victory would mean nothing.

    Except the death of the current Leader.

    And Shadowdart realized just then that it was worth it. If he killed the Scyther standing in front of him, it would be worth it. Because he was a sickening monster, a terrible creature that never should have been born, and he hated him, oh, how he hated him.

    It would be worth it.

    “I don’t care whether they’d want me,” he said in a low growl. “And you won’t care either, because you’ll be dead.”

    He could see something in the Leader’s expression flinch at the words, at the confirmation that Shadowdart would not keep up the Leader’s personal habit of humiliating the fallen. The Leader was still terrified of his own death, and had merely separated himself so thoroughly from everyone else in his mind that it did not affect his view of the death of others. Because in his mind he was higher, better, stronger, faster, superior. More important. With a greater right to live.

    Shadowdart grinned twistedly in the moonlight. “Oh, yes. You will be dead. Because I understand the law that you blindly picked up from the Leader before you without ever knowing what it meant. Because I believe in it. Because I do have the makings of a Leader, and know what a violation it is to humiliate a fallen opponent instead of granting him the dignity of death.”

    The Leader’s gaze flickered to the sleeping Scyther all around, and he took a step backwards. He was scared. He was going to leave. He was nervous. He knew he was going to lose.

    “Oh, but you don’t find much consolation in being allowed to die when I’ve beaten you, do you?” Shadowdart continued in a quiet, silky voice. “Because you never believed in it. You believe that your own death is to be feared, that it is a terrible thing and must not happen, but that the death of any other creature at your own scythe is insignificant. You don’t even find it interesting enough to do to the ones you defeat, because to you their fear of death is trivial but your own is justified. Because you, ultimately, are the most selfish, disgusting, unethical piece of unworthy Rattata **** to be born into this swarm in living memory…”

    The words shot out of his mouth like needles, each and every one of them striking the Leader’s face and the suppressed terror hiding in the depths of his eyes. He relished the opportunity to tell the Leader what he really was, to tell him that he had been exposed, to explain the ideology – because he would not be making any speeches tomorrow. Tomorrow he would duel to kill. Tomorrow would be the Leader’s worst nightmare, one of ultimately self-induced torture, as he would struggle feebly to defend himself. He had been humiliated in private, humiliated by his own self, made to be despised not by a biased swarm but by his very own better side.

    The Leader turned around and hurried back to his rock. Shadowdart looked after him to make sure he was not returning, and then lay back down under the oak.

    Shadowdart had already won. Tomorrow the Leader would merely be stripped of the last shred of dignity that he had. He would die knowing his guilt in his heart. He would die knowing that he had approached a challenger to murder him – yes, to murder him, because Shadowdart was not stupid and knew well that there was no other reason the Leader had approached him unannounced in the middle of the night with a rapidly beating heart – out of fear that he would lose.

    And Shadowdart would be crowned Leader of the swarm, and he would set things right.

    Because he believed. He cared.


    XXVIII

    And the next day, after Shadowdart had told Stormblade about the events of the previous night, they walked together up to the Leader’s rock.

    “Leader!” Shadowdart called, his voice calm but powerful. “I challenge you to a duel for the Leadership of this swarm!”

    The Leader stepped forth in silence. There was no such thing as not accepting a challenge. A Leader always had to be ready. Even if he had been injured on a hunt, he was not exempt from the duty to accept every challenge: if he was severely injured enough to lose a duel, he was simply no longer the strongest Scyther in the swarm.

    Shadowdart could tell that the Leader was still afraid, but he contained himself with dignity now that it was daylight and a fair number of Scyther had gathered to watch the duel. Most of the onlookers from the first duels had come to the conclusion Shadowdart would never win, but many of them thought it amusing anyway to watch it and see if there was anything at all left of Shadowdart’s scythe that could be cut out.

    “I accept your challenge,” said the Leader slowly, walking down onto level ground to face Shadowdart as Stormblade and the rest of the spectators made room for the duel. Shadowdart looked into the Leader’s eyes. There was cold determination in them now, with only a hint of despair in the icy depths of the slitlike pupils. The Leader had clearly meditated a little on his position, convinced himself he could win, that he would be okay, that he was still in the right.

    Shadowdart had expected that. He had observed the Leader’s personality too well to believe he would simply realize his hypocrisy and repent.

    The moment they had positioned themselves opposite one another, Shadowdart rushed forward to strike.

    This technique, this bit of unconventional strategy that he had practiced on Stormblade nearly three years ago, he had never used on the Leader before, and thus the older Scyther was taken by surprise, just as planned. He hesitated for a second, not having managed to prepare – Shadowdart was dimly aware of the intrigued expressions of the Scyther observing the duel as he darted towards the Leader with his right scythe aloft – but the Leader had fast enough reflexes to raise both of his scythes to block.

    Shadowdart had enough momentum to knock him ever so slightly backwards, but what the Leader did best was to stay focused and balanced, remain on his feet, and push back with raw physical force. And that he did, pushing Shadowdart harshly back.

    Shadowdart realized that regaining his balance on his feet might be a fatal mistake because the Leader was larger and bulkier and had recovered quicker, so instead he stretched out his wings and darted up into the air before he fell. The Leader did not seem particularly amazed until he realized that Shadowdart was ascending, staying in the air…

    “What?” Shadowdart taunted. “Can’t you fly?”

    “You make a mockery of duelling,” the Leader said with disgust, remaining firmly on the ground. “What sort of Leader would you make?”

    But he kicked off the ground anyway – surprisingly quick to catch on, Shadowdart discovered with a pang of dread – and zoomed straight towards him. Had he had any less experience, Shadowdart would have been too distracted by the words to get away in time, but he was better trained than to stop expecting an attack while they were speaking. He darted to the left and kept going, but the Leader did not follow him, instead stopping abruptly in mid-air to turn around.

    Shadowdart grinned triumphantly to himself. So there was something the Leader didn’t know.

    He zoomed through the air at the highest speed he could manage, straight towards the Leader, and he dodged out of the way, but Stormblade and Shadowdart had spent months perfecting the skill to follow a dodging opponent in the air, and he turned smoothly towards his opponent again.

    The Leader’s reflexes were still quick. He saw what Shadowdart was doing in a split second after stopping and pressed his wings to zoom away from him, but not until Shadowdart was right on his heels.

    Shadowdart growled, slashing with his right scythe while maintaining his speed and managing to place a sharp cut across the back of the Leader’s leg. He hoped that the pain would cause him to falter somewhat in his flight, but he didn’t. The Leader was a better flier than Shadowdart had thought.

    Better than he had thought, perhaps, but certainly not as good as he was. The Leader couldn’t have practiced flight with as much dedication as he had.

    So he kept going in a straight line after the Leader, assuming that he had more endurance in flight and would be able to keep up the speed for longer to catch fully up with him.

    The Leader realized what he was thinking and began to dive in a spiral towards the ground, and Shadowdart followed. As the Leader landed, Shadowdart slashed horizontally at him while preparing for his own landing, but the older Scyther blocked it with unexpected force using both of his powerful scythes. While the Leader had ground to support him, Shadowdart was in the air, and he was thrown helplessly backwards as his oppontent leapt after him in the air with both of his scythes raised high.

    While Shadowdart tried to change his direction of movement, the Leader slashed – not at the parts of his body he was preparing to block a blow to, but at his wings. Shadowdart felt sharp pain as the vulnerable wing membrane was shredded, but was quick to slash in retaliation at the Leader’s currently vulnerable body. He felt his right scythe slice into the Leader’s upper body while his left moved to fend the Leader’s away.

    The Leader cried out in pain, shaking himself off Shadowdart’s scythe and landing on his feet on the ground while Shadowdart landed on his back. His torn wings still stung uncomfortably, but he had given the first major bodily wounds of the battle, which was something. He saw dark blood where the Leader’s right foot touched the ground, as well as leaking down from the deep cut in his side. While Shadowdart was standing up, the Leader winced in pain, catching his breath, and gave him a dark glare. Shadowdart could see that the Scyther around them were getting excited. The Leader was wounded, but Shadowdart could no longer fly. The Leader was worse off for the moment, but how long would it take for him to turn the tables now that he had the advantage of flight and Shadowdart did not?

    Shadowdart decided the best solution would be not to let him use his flight to his advantage too much, and dashed towards him.

    The Leader was obviously still in pain and would have a more difficult time dodging, but his scythes were as powerful and deadly as ever. As Shadowdart slashed with his right scythe, his attack was blocked with both of the Leader’s, their combined power easily shoving his one away.

    And he used the opportunity to slash at the Leader’s middle joint with his left.

    The jagged edges of the tiny remains of the blade cut into the soft tissue, causing the Leader to gasp momentarily in pain, but he was more skilled than to simply freeze in such a situation, and immediately drove his left scythe into Shadowdart’s abdomen while the right jerked Shadowdart’s mutilated one out of his body.

    The pain was searing, biting, but the Leader made the mistake of grinning in triumph for a fraction of a second while he watched Shadowdart’s eyes widen, and he used the opportunity to raise his right scythe again and slash at the Leader’s left shoulder with all the power he could muster.

    The Leader jerked his scythe out, and both of them staggered backwards, blood trickling down from their injuries. The Leader’s left arm was limp, seemingly immobile.

    He stared at Shadowdart, his eyes manic and vengeful, and let out a roar as he kicked off the ground and dove straight at him.

    Shadowdart had no time to dodge, nor was he in any physical state to do so. Duels tended to start off being all about agility and avoiding being hurt at all, but they turned more physical once the injuries had appeared and they no longer had the energy or strength to dance around the opponent’s attacks, and this was no exception. He raised both of his scythes to block.

    Shadowdart liked to block with the remains of his left scythe. Every time he did it he was shoving in the Leader’s face what a futile method he used to cripple his challengers, how aside from blatantly breaking the Code it didn’t even work, and he relished the implication that the Leader himself, to have thought this would get in a determined challenger’s way, clearly lacked inventiveness and foresight.

    But now the Leader’s left arm seemed to be out of the picture, and Shadowdart saw him raise only his right – and then realized that he was nonetheless aiming not at the side closest to him, but at Shadowdart’s right side.

    When the Leader knocked him down into the ground, Shadowdart met his flying right scythe with his own and tried to curl himself into such a position as to provide the most possible potential for rolling, but he miscalculated his location and was knocked into the slope of a small hill he hadn’t realized was behind him. The Leader landed on top of him, his more powerful right scythe slowly forcing Shadowdart’s backwards as a manic, triumphant grin filled the older Scyther’s features.

    And Shadowdart almost laughed despite how his trembling, struggling right scythe was being pushed backwards by a clearly much stronger force and he would be dead within moments – because the Leader, in his arrogance, had carefully chosen to force him to block with his right on the assumption that his left was non-functional.

    Shadowdart jerked his maimed left scythe upwards, to his opponent’s throat, and whispered with confident mockery: “So long, Leader.”

    And for that split second where the eyes of the Scyther that had so nearly defeated him widened in shocked realization, it was no longer the Leader whose throat his scythe seemed to be threatening, but himself, his expression shocked and terrified in what he knew to be the last moments of his life.

    Death is not to be feared.

    Death is not to be feared.

    Death is not to be feared.

    And with the power of his faith in those words, the small and seemingly insignificant movement of his scythe that they inspired turned the face in front of him back into the Leader’s as his body stiffened and the pupils of his eyes diluted to circles. Dark blood splattered onto Shadowdart’s face as he felt the Leader’s body become limp and the life faded from his eyes. He jerked his scythe out of the dying Scyther’s neck and pushed the limp body off his own before standing up, slowly, and looking at his fallen opponent. The former Leader had landed on his back, his dying gaze fixed on the sky and his mouth slightly open, perhaps in surprise and perhaps in pain. One of his scythes twitched. Then he did not move any more.

    Shadowdart looked around at the observing Scyther, who simply stood there in silence, looking at their defeated Leader. He realized that most of them had never known a different one; most of them had been born within the eleven years of his reign and probably found it almost impossible to think that he was dead…

    In a way, it was impossible for Shadowdart, too. He took another look at the fallen Leader’s body and realized dimly that no, he was not even the fallen Leader: he was a nobody, a Scyther with no identity and no name. And he, Shadowdart… was the Leader.

    Leader.

    The Scyther looked nervously at one another – and then Stormblade bent down in a bow, looking at the ground, supporting his weight with his scythes.

    And slowly, one by one, each of the observing Scyther all around Shadowdart bowed to him as well. He looked at them and all of a sudden felt powerful. He felt great. He felt right.

    “Let’s dispose of him,” were the new Leader’s first words as he raised his bloodied, ruined left scythe and pointed his right disdainfully at his predecessor’s blood-stained corpse.


    XXIX

    Shadowdart had never killed a Scyther before.

    Therefore, part of the exhilaration of the strange freedom that he felt as he led a group of volunteer Scyther that were awkwardly holding the former Leader’s body into Ruxido came from the knowledge that he had now faced the ultimate test of fear of death. Killing prey, he had figured out already, inevitably had to feel quite different from killing one of his own species, and it had been the primary matter to make him nervous before the duel. And for a moment he had been afraid he would break down just like during his First Prey and be unable to do it.

    But he hadn’t. He had not only killed the Leader, but also his own imaginary self that was momentarily reflected in him. He had faced his fear, and he felt a strange relief in it afterwards – deep down he had been nervous and afraid that he wouldn’t be able to.

    But he had, and that was the end of it.

    The other part, of course, came from the knowledge that he was now Leader, which he was still getting used to. It felt strange to have all sorts of Scyther he barely knew address him as Leader – but good. Very good. He was already enjoying the role.

    Well. Technically he was not formally Leader yet. But he would be that evening.

    “Let’s just leave him here,” he said, stopping in a dark and damp part of the forest as they were passing through. The Scyther carrying the body lowered their scythes down in a matter not all to synchronized, and the former Leader fell awkwardly to the ground. Shadowdart looked at him for a moment and then shook his head.

    “We have nothing more to do here. You can return to the swarm.”

    The ones who had carried the corpse seemed relieved, took off and left. Only Stormblade was left by Shadowdart’s side. The new Leader looked with distaste upon his predecessor’s body on the ground.

    “Old *******,” he muttered. “I hope the Rattata like the taste of him.”

    “Are you going to tell any of them about last night?” Stormblade asked him quietly. “About him trying to murder you?”

    “Why would I?” Shadowdart asked back. “It would only rouse suspicion if I started spreading slander.”

    Stormblade shrugged. “It’s the truth.”

    “A lot of things are true that nobody will benefit from knowing,” Shadowdart just said. “Let’s just hurry back for the ceremony.”

    Stormblade did not reply. The two Scyther flew up and zoomed between the trees back out of the forest.

    “I’m surprised, actually,” Stormblade murmured, continuing their earlier exchange as they landed and walked towards the stream. “I didn’t really want to tell them, but… I thought you might.” He paused. “You said you hated him. It made me think you’d want to tell them what you thought he was.”

    “What he was, and no. I don’t humiliate fallen opponents.”

    Stormblade was silent for a few moments again. “So you don’t want to… ‘expose’ him?”

    “Why?” Shadowdart just said. “I know what he was, and he’s dead now, and that’s enough. Why would I care what they think?”

    Stormblade looked at him, but said nothing as they approached the stream. The swarm had gathered there already, all eyes on the two of them.

    “Today,” Shadowdart said, taking a position on the bank, “our old Leader was defeated in battle and killed.”

    He raised his left scythe, still crusted with dark blood, and felt momentary anger flash in his mind. “Death is not to be feared!” he shouted, startling some of the Scyther standing nearest to him with the volume of his voice. “He never knew what that meant. Neither do most of you. I plan to change this.”

    Some of the Scyther looked unsurely at one another. A few of them eyed his mangled scythe and started whispering.

    “Death is not to be feared, because if any one of you allows himself to fear death, he is a hypocrite. We survive only by hunting other Pokémon, and those Pokémon, too, fear death.”

    He looked over the swarm, realizing that he had been waiting to make this speech for almost three years. “What right do you have to inflict upon another being what you fear most will be inflicted upon yourself? None! None at all! To be worthy of killing another creature, one must be ready to be killed at the hands of another creature, too. To be worthy of killing another creature, one must be ready to accept it when the prey kills others. Do not grow so close to another Scyther that his death will strike you as an injustice. You may and should help a Scyther in need, but should he die, that is that. Do not kill without calmly realizing and accepting that one day it will be you who is killed. Do not seek to humiliate or to hurt, because all of us know that you do not wish for the same to be done to you.”

    The Scyther looked stunned and watched him in silence. Again, glances drifted to his left scythe, still raised above the stream.

    “Let us put our former Leader behind us. Now is the rise of a new era.” Shadowdart lowered his scythe slowly into the water, letting it wash the blood from his scythe and carry the last remains of the old Leader away from the swarm. He felt a shiver of warmth at the thought that the Leader was now gone forever.

    “Having been the one to defeat him,” Shadowdart said, his voice again louder, “I hereby declare myself the new Leader of this swarm. Until a stronger Scyther rises to challenge and kill me, you shall follow my guidance and obey my commands. You shall learn from me the Code. You shall respect me as you did my predecessor without personal bias. You shall reserve the name of Leader to me and me only, unless you know me already by a name.” Here he glanced at Stormblade.

    “The Descith that evolve this spring should attend lessons with me, where I shall educate them in the details of our rituals and customs and the true philosophy of the Code.” He glanced at some of the nearby Descith, who looked as if they might be close to evolution. They were staring at him with particular admiration and none of the fear and confusion he could see in some of the faces of the adult Scyther – those old enough to have learned the Code from the previous Leader, but too young to have known the one before him. He gave the new generation of soon-to-be-Scyther a slight nod of approval.

    He took a deep breath, raising up his whole scythe so that it gleamed in the light of the setting sun. He held his left scythe forward and placed his right by the joint on the arm. “Finally, I swear by the blood of my scythe to protect the swarm from assault; to maintain the swarm’s unity; to keep it from corruption; to wisely guide the young on their path to adult life; to set an example and an ideal for the youth to follow; to lead the swarm to new locations should this one prove unsafe or a less than ideal place to live; to accept a duel with any Scyther who wishes to challenge my Leadership; to lead our traditional rituals. I swear to refrain from bias and personal commitment. I swear to father a new generation of Scyther to inherit the qualities that have granted me Leadership.”

    He pressed his right scythe down on the soft joint tissue and opened a cut in it. It was deeper than he would need for most rituals in the future, but the sharpness of the blade minimized the pain. He felt the bluish-black liquid drip down from his arm, into the grass. The swarm watched it in silence for a few moments before Shadowdart lowered his scythe.

    And each and every Scyther and Descith of the swarm bowed to him, heads drooped low. “Hail the new Leader,” they murmured in unison. Shadowdart felt a tingling, fluttery feeling in his stomach as he looked over them. It was his swarm now.

    As the Scyther swarm stood up to return to their daily lives, Shadowdart looked at Stormblade. “Thank you,” he said quietly.

    Stormblade gave him a smile, a slightly troubled one, but a smile nonetheless. “Congratulations, Shadowdart.”

    Shadowdart thought of the old Leader, and realized that no matter what a Leader had to swear about personal commitment, he was glad that he did, after all, have someone willing to refer to him by a real name.

    Chapter 64: Hide and Seek
    The story of an ordinary boy on an impossible quest in a world that isn't as black and white as he always thought it was.
    (rough draft of the remaining chapters finished for NaNoWriMo; to be edited and posted)

    Morphic
    (completed, plus silly extras)
    A few scientists get drunk and start fiddling with gene splicing. Ten years later, they're taking care of eight half-Pokémon kids, each freakier than the next, while a religious fanatic plots to murder them all.

    Lengthy fanfiction reviewing guide / A more condensed version
    Read and I will be very happy for a large number of reasons.

  19. #19
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    It was great to get such a good look into the characters of the Leader and Shadowdart. Both are fascinating characters, and I feel like I can understand them now more than ever, especially Shadowdart.

    I also loved that the duel between those two in that part wasn't ridiculously one-sided or anything like that. The fact that it was more of an even match made the duel much more interesting and exciting to read--I really couldn't tell until the end if Shadowdart was going to succeed that time or if it'd end up being another loss for him.

        Spoiler:- " ":


    The Leader sighed to himself. Never before had a challenger occupied his mind for any longer than the duel itself. Never before had he felt such an obsession with one individual. He had never fallen in love and never understood the concept; he had never had friends, never kept in contact with his family, never been anything more than simply one individual Scyther who incidentally was the most powerful Scyther in the swarm.

    And now he was terrified that perhaps he wasn’t anymore.
    I thought you did an excellent job of illustrating just what drove the Leader to try to murder Shadowdart, especially with that part there.

    No one had taught Stormblade when he was young why caring too much for the female would bring about his moral downfall, and because of this he had been unable to understand Shadowdart’s warnings until it was too late, until he had been burned by the fact.
    "Burned by the fact". Nice choice of words. ^^

    Death was a fact of life. Death was an ultimate truth. Death was not to be feared, because you inflicted it on others. Because they feared it too. Because you, too, would one day die, just like the prey that struggled with shining, begging eyes against your deadly scythe.
    Wow. o.o That's another one of those quotes that I'm not likely to forget anytime soon.


    I enjoyed reading this part, and look forward to the next. ^^
    Last edited by Sike Saner; 2nd January 2008 at 12:44 PM.
    DON'T CALL IT A COMEBACK
    (Or do. I don't actually mind.)
    The Origin of Storms | Communication

  20. #20
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    but instead of realizing his mistake and vowed not to repeat it
    "vowed" should be "vowing".
    Forget about Razor. The best thing you can do for his memory is to assume he’s dead.
    Seeing as this isn't speech, it should probably be in third person past tense.
    Now, more than ever, was it a time to forget about Razor.
    Should be "it was", as if you remove the "more than ever", you have "Now was it a time..." which sounds more like a question than a statement.
    He zoomed through the air at the highest speed he could manage, straight towards the Leader, and he dodged out of the way,
    The bolded "he" seems to be referring to Shadowdart but isn't. "towards the Leader, who dodged out of the way," would fix this confusion.
    He saw what Shadowdart was doing in a split second after stopping
    Doesn't need the "in".
    While the Leader had ground to support him, Shadowdart was in the air, and he was thrown helplessly backwards as his oppontent leapt after him in the air with both of his scythes raised high.

    While Shadowdart tried to change his direction of movement, the Leader slashed – not at the parts of his body he was preparing to block a blow to, but at his wings.
    Bolded a typo, and two sentences in a row start with "while" which is jarring.

    the Leader’s currently vulnerable body. He felt his right scythe slice into the Leader’s upper body
    Repetition of "body", though it might be difficult to reword.
    And for that split second where the eyes of the Scyther that had so nearly defeated him widened in shocked realization, it was no longer the Leader whose throat his scythe seemed to be threatening, but himself, his expression shocked and terrified in what he knew to be the last moments of his life.
    Repetition of "shocked" in an otherwise awesome sentence.
    Then he did not move any more.
    Can't help thinking that this wording is a tad long and awkward for such a dramatic, final statement. "Then he moved no more" is shorter and would sound better.
    in a matter not all to synchronized,
    Too, not to.

    Now, something which confused me a little here was what Shadowdart's left scythe looked like. I'd always imagined it to simply have one rather large notch cut into it, as that's how it was described in TQftL, but the word "jagged" and the fact that there's barely any scythe material left make me wonder whether all the notches are seperate, leaving it as a kind of saw-blade shape. Doesn't really change how the duel would have ended up, but I'd like to know if I'm imagining it right.

    And something else which is probably my inattentiveness: the Leader's monologue mentions that he never felt love for another Scyther, but I vaguely remember Razor mentioning something in TQftL about the swarm having a leader pair, or some other similar statement which implied that the Leader had a mate. I'm probably wrong, or Razor was making a generalisation for all swarms, but yeah.

    Okay, so other than those tiny things, I seriously liked this part, especially the way you built up the atmosphere for the duel. You made it seem almost inevitable that Shadowdart would win and the Leader would meet his downfall, then in the actual duel itself, it could have gone either way. Shadowdart's revelation about his strategy was also good; I especially like this sentence:
    Stormblade was still looking at him as if he’d only just realized that Shadowdart had a brain.
    as it's kind of amusing but still gets across the whole "Wow, he's actually really good," feeling brilliantly.

    And the other thing I loved about this part which I'm just going to gush about for a bit is how well you convey different views in the narrative so flawlessly that it almost seems like the truth. I was eagerly looking forward to Shadowdart's POV, and you did not disappoint; in fact, I'm pretty much convinced by him. Out of interest, is chapter XXV the monologue you mentioned in the blog? The [old] Leader's section was also a nice insight into why he cut pieces from fallen challengers' scythes, as well as doing a great job of building the tension.

    So yeah. Really, really looking forward to the next part because it's going to be long and Shadowdarty and will likely have loads of awesome stuff happen in it.
    .: Evolution is a battle .:. Something has to lose :.
    LOST EVOLUTION
    Chapter 33: Inside has been posted.


    Foregone Conclusion
    Spinoff/prequel/backstory/thingy to Lost Evolution, written for NaNoWriMo 2010

    Three Heads Are Better Than One

  21. #21
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    Sike Saner:
    I also loved that the duel between those two in that part wasn't ridiculously one-sided or anything like that.
    I'm glad you think so. It's one of the things I was a bit worried about, whether I had made it too obvious Shadowdart would win.

    Wow. o.o That's another one of those quotes that I'm not likely to forget anytime soon.
    Heh, it was one of my favorite lines as well.

    Thanks a lot for reviewing, and I hope you like part VI.


    elyvorg:
    Thanks for pointing out those mistakes - I haven't gotten around to fixing them yet, unfortunately, but I will.

    Seeing as this isn't speech, it should probably be in third person past tense.
    Technically, he's recalling what Shadowdart said to him in the first chapter of this fic and what Razor's father said in part four. I was unsure what to do with it, but since it's technically a reworded quote it should definitely not be changed to third person. Maybe italicized...

    Too, not to.
    Argh. v.v I have no idea how that happened, because I know perfectly which one goes where, and still manage to screw it up on occasion without noticing it when I proofread.

    Now, something which confused me a little here was what Shadowdart's left scythe looked like. I'd always imagined it to simply have one rather large notch cut into it, as that's how it was described in TQftL, but the word "jagged" and the fact that there's barely any scythe material left make me wonder whether all the notches are seperate, leaving it as a kind of saw-blade shape. Doesn't really change how the duel would have ended up, but I'd like to know if I'm imagining it right.
    Picture time! Shadowdart's left scythe looks approximately like this. Obviously that's a pretty rough drawing, but it gives a basic idea of the general shape.

    And something else which is probably my inattentiveness: the Leader's monologue mentions that he never felt love for another Scyther, but I vaguely remember Razor mentioning something in TQftL about the swarm having a leader pair, or some other similar statement which implied that the Leader had a mate. I'm probably wrong, or Razor was making a generalisation for all swarms, but yeah.
    I'm afraid the actual reason is simply that it was a detail that was changed (gasp). At the time I wrote that I had no idea I would eventually look so far into the Scyther social structure, and the one leader simply worked out much better. (If there were really a leader pair, why would they follow the one that didn't actually defeat the previous leader? If they were both equal, which of them would a new challenger duel? Why on Earth would they disapprove of love relationships while having a leader couple as a rule?)

    It boggles my mind that you could call yourself inattentive, because I had completely forgotten that was still in there.

    I was eagerly looking forward to Shadowdart's POV, and you did not disappoint; in fact, I'm pretty much convinced by him.
    Imagine what it was like to write him. He has so much of a point, in a twisted way, that it's scary. o_O

    Out of interest, is chapter XXV the monologue you mentioned in the blog?
    No. That would be chapter XXXVI in part six, which has got to be the most amazing experience I've had as a writer. When actually editing it, it doesn't seem like an overly remarkable chapter at all, but I was so insanely in-character while I was writing it that I honestly felt like I had just uncovered the meaning of life.

    So yeah. Really, really looking forward to the next part because it's going to be long and Shadowdarty and will likely have loads of awesome stuff happen in it.
    Oh, yes, it's long and Shadowdarty and has loads of stuff happen in it. But the stuff is probably more creepy than awesome. Well, see for yourself. Thanks for reviewing, again.

    Right. So I finished part six, with thanks to opaltiger for giving some opinions on a few things. This part is the reason I rated this fic R (no, not that little scene in part two), so don't say I didn't warn you if you find its content disturbing.

    As I said, it's over 20,000 words and 40 pages long, so by all means reserve enough time before reading it. I really didn't want to split it up because the overarching storyline of this part really takes over the entirety of it and can't be broken down much.

    Also, because it's so awfully long, there is quite a bit of time difference between my editing of the first chapters and the last ones, and I think you'll be likelier to find mistakes in it because of that. Then again, I did more or less edit the entire thing twice and proofread it once before that.



    PART VI: STALKER

    XXX

    Shadowdart did not sleep with Stormblade under the oak tree that night, because the Leader was expected to be available at the Leader’s rock at all times when he was not hunting.

    The Leader’s rock was simply a large, flat rock, maybe the height of one Scyther across and half of one’s height where it was tallest, that stuck out of some slightly higher ground by its lonesome near the edge of the swarm’s general hangout area so that the taller end of its gently sloping upper surface faced towards the swarm and the lower in the direction of Ruxido. The Leader slept by the side of the rock as a rule, where he was essentially in the forefront should it come to a large-scale attack on the swarm from the forest, in an easily recognizable place, and in a particularly convenient spot for some of the various rituals he would have to perform.

    Shadowdart had no plans for attempting to defy this law and knew that he should keep Stormblade at some reasonable distance anyway even if they remained on friendly terms, so he simply reminded his friend of it as they walked back from the river, and the two Scyther split up. Stormblade headed back to the familiar tree, and Shadowdart walked to the rock, looking at it closely from behind for the first time. It was a strange feeling to stand there at the other end after the times he had been one of the Scyther standing below and looking in awe up at the Leader (awe at the position, of course, and not at the Leader himself, who deserved no such feelings). Then he had felt small. Now, as he looked over the entire swarm from this sacred location, he felt the biggest he had ever felt.

    He held out his left arm above the rock, letting a drop of the blood still trickling out of the wound from the earlier ritual fall upon the surface. It formed an irregular splatter of dark that maintained its form instead of simply sinking into the ground as it did when blood dripped into grass. This was more permanent. Something that would not be washed away until the next rain. In fact, it hadn’t rained for a few days, and when Shadowdart squinted – in the rapidly fading daylight, it was a little harder to see – he realized that the rock was still covered with splotches of dried blood from an acceptance ritual that had been a couple of days before. He would most likely soon have to mix his blood with that of some parents of the swarm – his swarm – and the prey they caught to baptize their newly-hatched Descith with the liquid of life. He absent-mindedly stroked his right scythe over the surface of the rock, smudging the splatter of his own blood. It was his rock now.

    Leader. He, Shadowdart, was finally Leader.

    He smiled to himself and walked in a circle around the rock, examining it from every angle to familiarize himself with it. Near the far side of the rock lay a small pile of whitish-metallic discs that Shadowdart didn’t recognize at first and squinted at them in the dark. They resembled scythes.

    He recoiled in disgust. So this was where the Leader kept the pieces that he cut out of his challengers’ blades. He spread the pieces out on the ground with his right scythe and instantly recognized a few bits with an awfully familiar sheen and shape to them. Parts of his own mutilated left scythe, lying right before his eyes. He felt anger flare up within him.

    “You sick *******,” he muttered. “Those are going the same way you did.”

    He looked at the pieces for a moment, easily coming to the conclusion that he couldn’t exactly move them with his scythes. Nothing to do but use his mouth, then. One at a time.

    He picked up piece by excruciating piece and carried each of them hatefully towards the river and dropped them in, feeling better with each disc that was carried away by the current. First his own left scythe and then those of the challengers before him were disposed of as if they’d never existed. They were nothing but symbols of the reign of a corrupt Leader, and would only bring up bad memories. As he dropped the last scythe from his mouth and swallowed the blood from his cut tongue, he sighed and closed his eyes in relief. No more. There was nothing left of the former Leader now.

    He began the slow walk back to the Leader’s rock.

    Soon he would have to do what he had looked most forward to but also been the most nervous about, namely to teach the Code to young, newly-evolved Scyther. This would be where his ability to reach his ultimate goal as Leader would be put to the test, and he did not intend to screw it up. Indeed, he wanted to make it something different, and didn’t especially like the idea of simply doing what the previous Leader had – beating the laws into their heads to make them learn it all by heart, like mindless drones. No, he wanted to make it a truly eye-opening experience for them. Something that would not just make them follow the Code, but understand it, agree with it. Make them follow it as an ideal that they believed in, not simply because they were told to.

    To do that, he realized, he needed to do something special.

    And, he thought as he looked over at the oak tree, where Stormblade was lying down to sleep, he knew just the one who could help.


    XXXI

    “Stormblade?”

    Shadowdart lightly prodded his friend with his scythe in the first hours of daylight. Stormblade mumbled something in his sleep and then opened his eyes. “Oh. Shadowdart.” He blinked, shook his head and rolled over onto his belly so he could stand up. “What is it?”

    “You always liked old stories and legends, didn’t you? I remember one you loved that was the one about the pearl.”

    Stormblade looked painfully away before turning back to him. “Yes.”

    “Do you think you could make some up for me?”

    Stormblade rose up, his expression skeptical. “What? Lies?”

    “Not lies,” Shadowdart said. “I wouldn’t claim they really happened. I’d use them to teach. The First Prey lessons will be starting before long, and I’ve been thinking about it. They’d symbolize a moral lesson for the young, just like the old ones do, but more deliberately with more focus. There are old stories – like that one about the pearl – that I could use too, but they only tell them about some things. You’ve always… you’ve always done things like that. I think if anybody could make a new story, it is you.”

    Stormblade looked at him strangely. “I’ve never done anything like that.”

    “Well, at least I think you could,” Shadowdart stressed. “I think they would learn better from it. At least try. I can’t be with you as much now that I’m Leader, but while you’re alone you can think about it.”

    Stormblade sighed. “I suppose,” he said, and Shadowdart smiled.

    “Thank you, Stormblade. I appreciate it.”

    It was just that evening that Shadowdart had to perform his first acceptance ritual as Leader of the swarm. He could see in the faces of the Scyther, now as he stood behind the rock and the swarm had gathered below him, that they were still skeptical about their new Leader.

    But they wouldn’t for very long. Shadowdart was determined to show them to respect him soon enough.

    A young female Descith, staring wide-eyed at the world with curious playfulness, was sitting on the rock in front of him, looking around with innocence that only a child yet oblivious of the existence of grief, pain and death could have. The mother of the hatchling stood warily by Shadowdart’s left side and the father by his right, holding a bleeding, feebly struggling Murkrow mercilessly in his jaws.

    “A new member of our swarm has hatched today,” Shadowdart began, managing fairly well to make his voice loud but calm as the former Leader had done so masterfully. He looked briefly over the swarm for signs of approval or disapproval, but the Scyther were still waiting to be able to judge him more accurately.

    “Let this young Descith be a valuable member of our swarm until the day of her eventual return to the soil,” he continued. “Let her grow and blossom into a Scyther and develop scythes and wings as the rest of us. Let her respect the Code and fulfill her duties.” He looked down for a moment and met the little one’s eyes, so big and innocent, the unconditionally happy smile of an infant filling her face at the eye contact.

    He looked back up. “Let her be honoured tonight!” he said loudly, raising his left scythe to hold it forward. He eyed a couple of Scyther that cringed in disgust at the sight of the mutilated limb and for a moment couldn’t really blame them.

    “By the blood of the Leader,” he said and made a sharp cut across the arm joint with his right scythe, ripping up the wound from the day before. Blood dripped down onto the infant’s forehead and she looked curiously up at the droplets, catching some in her mouth and seemingly judging the taste to be decent.

    “The Mother,” Shadowdart went on, and he turned to the female beside him, whose right scythe she had extended calmly. He made a cut in her arm as well, letting her blood drip onto the Descith as well and then blend with his own on the rock.

    “And the Fresh Prey,” Shadowdart finished in a quieter voice, turning to the male by his right side. The Murkrow had been injured enough to only eye him dully, pleadingly, as if it wanted him to put it out of its misery.

    He did. One cut across its throat, and red blood mixed with the bluish-black on the rock, spraying over the newborn. This time the sudden rain of warm liquid seemed to frighten her slightly, and she let out a shriek, but quickly calmed down again.

    The father dropped the Murkrow onto the rock, and the little Descith immediately attacked it, sensing that it was food. She ripped out black feathers, quickly finding the tender flesh and biting into it. The Scyther were already leaving and turning back to what they had been doing previously, as the young one’s eating of the parent’s prey was not a part of the public ritual. It tended to take too long. The parents remained silently by Shadowdart’s side, no more than glancing at him every now and then as they watched their daughter eat her first meal. She made fairly short work of the Murkrow and the parents prepared to leave; the Descith squealed in protest and began to walk awkwardly using her bladeless scythe-shaped arms as extra legs to keep her balance. When she came to the end of the rock she tumbled gracelessly to the ground but stood easily up again. The mother, looking back at her, betrayed a smile. “Come on,” she said softly, and the Descith followed clumsily.

    Shadowdart could see the blunt edge of the father’s scythe stroke across the mother’s back, and felt himself momentarily angered. Yet another pair of Scyther in love who weren’t lucky enough to have realized the danger of it the way Stormblade had.

    When he’d get to teach the newly-evolved Scyther, he would give them a few lessons on love.


    XXXII

    It was not far into Shadowdart’s reign as Leader when the last three-year-old Descith finally evolved. He had done his fair share of preparation for his lessons by now: while Stormblade had apparently still not thought of any stories, Shadowdart had spent most of his waking time deciding what to say to the next generation of Scyther. The day of the first lesson, he therefore found himself rather calm and prepared. He sat down by his rock as he woke up and recited his planned speech in his head while he waited for the pupils to arrive. There were five, he had gathered.

    The first one to get there was a large and bulky male who simply approached him and sat down with an expression of vaguely interested indifference. Second to arrive was a taller but leaner female with some alertness to her that made him like her despite the air of faint arrogance that she carried. Two other smaller, more nervous females followed, and then a still smaller male who seemed uncomfortable to be there. That made five.

    Shadowdart looked properly up at them for the first time, causing the small male to jump a little.

    “Hello,” he said to them. “Welcome. I am your Leader, as I hope you know.”

    He looked over the group, and saw the two smaller females looking to his left. He followed their gaze.

    “Is my scythe so interesting?” he asked, holding the mangled blade lazily forward. He saw the biggest male flinch at the sight of it.

    “This,” he said loudly, waving the remains of his left scythe at them, “will not happen to you. Because I’m the Leader now, and if you ever lose to me you will simply be killed. The reasons for that, as well as many other things, are what I plan to tell you about this summer.”

    The young Scyther watched him, absorbing his words. At least he had their attention for now.

    “You,” he said, “are now evolved Scyther. Or rather, you are adolescent Scyther, and as you will learn, there is a far greater difference between being an adolescent or an adult than between being a Descith or an adolescent. Do not overestimate your current status. You feel like adults, I’m sure, but you have far more things yet to learn than your evolution gave you. Among those things it did give you, as you may or may not be aware, is physical maturity and fertility. In other words, the ability to mate.”

    The five young Scyther exchanged some glances. It was to be expected. Evolution did plenty of things to the brain, too, to plant the willingness to mate and plenty of interest in the subject. Shadowdart vaguely remembered himself during the previous Leader’s rant on mating. Like most other things the Leader had said, it had been shallow and worthless.

    “As I’m sure you have learned already and find most disappointing, you are not allowed to mate yet. This, like everything else, has its reasons. Mating can lead to offspring, and while you may not be held particularly responsible for your own so it may not personally matter to you – especially the males – you have not yet proven yourselves worthy of descendants.”

    They looked puzzled, all of them. It was just as he had thought: no one had ever bothered to tell them the whys of the rules. He shook his head to himself. “When you mate, your offspring will inherit some of your qualities. If two weak Scyther mate, their offspring will be weak, and vice versa if they are strong. Before you reproduce, you need to prove that the qualities you will be passing on to future generations are qualities we want in the swarm. Primarily, if you have not proven that you can catch prey, you may not reproduce. The later you start doing it, the better for the swarm, in fact, since those strong enough to live to an older age are those most worthy of fathering the next generation. But we all know it’s impossible to keep any creature away from sex for that long, don’t we?” He looked around, keeping his expression neutral and calm. A couple of the young Scyther snickered nonetheless.

    “But that brings us to the primary subject of these lessons: your First Prey, when you will be recognized as adults and be allowed all of the privileges of a full-grown Scyther. It is a ritual taking place next spring – yes, nearly a year from now – that should and will be the most important event in your lives. It is when you go from adolescents to adults. You probably know already how it goes. Two witnesses, a male and a female, are randomly picked from the swarm, and you go into the forest in the morning, getting a full day to catch and kill your first prey.”

    The pupils nodded absent-mindedly. They knew what it was about. Of course.

    “You probably think that it will be easy,” Shadowdart said shortly. “Don’t.”

    He looked at them, and they looked with puzzlement back at him. The bulkier male blinked.

    “No, it’s not easy,” he repeated, glaring them down. “You won’t understand until you are there, pinning down some small Pokémon, how hard it is to kill for the first time. You are sentient creatures capable of sympathy, and you will sympathize with your prey. This is natural. In fact, I would go so far as to call it necessary.”

    They were confused. He could see in their eyes that it was not what they had been expecting. And that, as far as he was concerned, was a good thing. It would make them listen better than if they had managed to slip into such a state of mind that they thought he would only be repeating what they already knew.

    “My goal is not to make you stop sympathizing with the Pokémon you capture. Former Leaders have done that, but they were quite simply wrong. Your sympathy is the core of the greatest virtue of consistency, and likewise the greatest offense of hypocrisy follows from beating down your sympathy and thinking yourselves to matter more than other creatures. Do not forget this. When you sympathize with your prey, you can imagine yourselves in the same position – overpowered and about to die. And the point of the First Prey is not to brush it off with the knowledge that it is not really you who is about to die. It is to realize even better that the situation could indeed be reversed. It is to realize what kind of crime you are committing against the Pokémon that you kill, and know that one day you, too, will die – and that when you die, it will not be an unfairness or some terrible atrocity, but merely the way of life. Your initial reaction when you capture a Pokémon and sympathize with it is that you don’t want to kill it, and this is a result of your natural attitude about death – fear of it, a desperate longing to live forever, that you project upon the Pokémon you have caught. The goal is to change your attitude about death. If you are ready to be killed by another Pokémon, you yourselves can kill and feel justified. You will realize that you only happened to come out on top and that one day you will not. When you do this, and only then, you can be considered adults.”

    Shadowdart knew it was a lot for them to wrap their heads around, but he would explain it better in time. Eventually they would understand.

    “My own First Prey,” he went on, “was a life-changing experience. I had not been taught well enough, and my fear of death consumed me as I was on the hunt. I am not ashamed to say that it took me nine Pokémon to manage to face my fear and kill one, and only afterwards did I realize what I was telling you just now. I will not let you be like me, stumbling in the woods capturing Pokémon after Pokémon that escapes from your grasp only because of your hesitation, because you feel sorry for it for one moment and can’t stand the thought of ending its life. This is not how a predator should think. It will lead to hypocrisy. There are many Pokémon that can live their entire lives without killing anything at all, but we cannot. We need meat to survive, and to be justified in killing the Pokémon that provide the meat, we cannot think of our own deaths as something terrible – because that would make us hypocrites. Death is not to be feared, for it is the only thing that we all have in common – that is the first law of the Moral Code. Recognize that we will all die, you included, and then and only then you can stop fearing it.”

    The five Scyther watched him in silence.

    “And that brings us to the Moral Code, a set of five very important laws that you will need to learn. I have already told you the first, but the second says, ‘Do not disgrace the swarm with your life if you are not worth it.’ This law is commonly applied as referring only to the so-called suicide of guilt, when a Scyther who has broken the Code or otherwise disgraced himself repents by slitting his own throat. The suicide of guilt is a means of admitting your shame. However, the irony of the suicide of guilt is that any Scyther ready to commit it is, so to speak, already changed for the better, while one who truly disgraces the swarm will fail to perform it. The emphasis should not be on taking your own life if you aren’t worth it, but on making yourself worth it so that you won’t need to. The most disgraceful thing you can do is to leave the swarm to escape from the consequences of your actions and then continue to sink ever deeper into the quicksand of Code-breaking.” Shadowdart finished the words with a note of spite, thinking of his meeting with Razor. What a waste of a Scyther his previous ‘friend’ had been!

    “Therefore, if you do ever find yourselves coming to your senses after having broken the Code, I am not of the opinion that you simply need to kill yourselves. If you have come to your senses at all, chances are you will be even more worth it and have a deeper understanding of the wrong you did afterwards than those Scyther who were never tempted to break the Code at all. Of course, if you do not come to your senses, you will not have the sense to commit the suicide of guilt at all, and this is why I plan to begin to intervene in Code-breaking. In the future, I may sentence you to death by your scythe or else mine if I feel that you are beyond help. Consider yourselves warned.”

    Yes, he wanted to intervene. It was impossible to control respect for the Code in the swarm otherwise than by intervening. The Scyther who truly needed to die could not be trusted to handle it themselves without intervention. Of course there were not many of those Scyther – or so he hoped at the very least. He would only intervene when the doer was like Razor, oblivious to his own crimes.

    “The third law of the Moral Code,” he went on, “is that if a Scyther is in danger, it is your duty to assist. The swarm cannot persist if its members do not help one another in need. If you go on a hunt with a partner and the other is attacked by a powerful Pokémon, you should as a matter of principle do your best to prevent the Pokémon from hurting him. However, this only goes so far. The most important part of this is to prevent the murder of a Scyther – murder, as I hope you know, is when a Scyther is approached and killed without being given the chance of a fair fight. In accordance with the First Law, do not become angry at the Pokémon that attempts the murder. When you kill prey, it is in its essence murder. We only look down upon it when a Scyther murders another Scyther out of being too cowardly to challenge him to a duel. When hunting, on the other hand, there is no killing on principle, but for survival, and then anything is fair play – so if you sense the swarm may be about to lose one of its unwary members, by all means do warn him. We work together.”

    Even as he said it there was some doubt in his mind; some little feeling that there was something wrong with it. Why did they, on one hand, work together, warn one another to save their lives, but on the other hand emphasize how the unworthy did not deserve to survive? What if the unworthy had a partner with them for protection? Shadowdart would have to think more about this law, which was bothering him increasingly more with every time it passed through his mind. He was thinking things too well through for this to stay as it was.

    But it could remain for now. For now. The young ones needed the first day to respect him as an authority figure more than they needed it to learn, and it would not give a good impression to seem unsure about parts of the Moral Code. He could always elaborate and correct himself later when he had figured it out better.

    “The fourth law,” he continued. “Every individual to his own: Do not manipulate or be manipulated, control or be controlled. You will take orders from no one. It’s as simple as that. Every Scyther is to think for himself. To manipulate or control another Scyther to do your bidding is a lowly act of cowardice, and likewise it is a sign of weakness to allow another to control and manipulate oneself. Of course, this applies not only to Scyther, and to be manipulated by another species is equally distasteful. The most prime example of this, of course, is that of the humans calling themselves ‘Pokémon trainers’, who travel around the world capturing Pokémon in small balls and forcing them to fight one another for their amusement. Some Pokémon species paint this as fun or exciting and even openly encourage fighting trainers by their rules and letting oneself be captured. We, however, will not serve the will of any being in accordance with this law, and especially not one as measly as a human.”

    “What about you?” asked the tall female, her voice smooth and devoid of fear. “Should we serve the will of the Leader?”

    She was challenging him, trying to point out flaws in his logic. Shadowdart looked at her in mild surprise at her daring and couldn’t resist smiling slightly. He liked her. In fact, thus far she was probably the single most likable female he had come across in his entire life, not that he’d talked much to very many of them.

    “No,” he replied. “The Leader does not have the power to tell you to do his bidding. If I came to you and told you to mate with me, you would be as free to deny as you would to deny any other male, and in fact you would be breaking the Code if you accepted against your will. My purpose is to educate and advise you in matters of morality, and morality and manipulation are two very different things. I cannot dictate your behaviour, but the Code can and should.”

    She gave him a sly smile. “Fair enough,” she said. “Go on.”

    She was making herself into the one in control. Pretending to give him the authority to continue. She was sure daring.

    “The fifth rule,” Shadowdart said, ignoring her, “is to sharpen your scythes, for while death is inevitable, pain is unnecessary. This law is very vital, and therefore should in my opinion be a higher number than the fifth. Again, the most important part is less that you should sharpen your scythes and more the law against the infliction of pain. When you kill, whether it is an opponent at the end of a true duel or prey that you have caught on a hunt, it is your responsibility to do so cleanly and painlessly. Torture is the vilest action in existence. Death is not to be feared, as it is a natural and necessary thing, but pain is anything but. Pain is never necessary and causes nothing but suffering. Do not, no matter what your situation, act with the intention of causing unnecessary pain or suffering to another creature, and this applies to both physical and emotional pain.” He looked briefly over the group. “Snide insults and mocking can cause as much agony as the most painful of wounds. Keep this in mind.”

    He took a deep breath. “Now, the part about sharpening your scythes is, of course, not to be disregarded, even though it is not the main point. A cut from a blunt blade inflicts more pain than a cut from a sharp one. To keep your scythes sharpened at all times is a natural extension of the commandment not to inflict unnecessary pain. You are expected to do so, and will be very much frowned upon if you are known to do otherwise. Sharpen your scythes every day.”

    He stood up, observing the sitting Scyther in front of him. They looked up at him, their eyes dull. He hadn’t given them many surprises in a while, and they were becoming bored and tired.

    “That brief introduction to the Code will do for now,” Shadowdart said shortly, looking at them as they stood up as well and prepared to leave. “You will return here in five days’ time for the next lesson. And I want your scythes well sharpened by that time.”

    They left, all of them except the tall female, who lingered behind for a second longer. “Why do the lessons take so long?” she asked him when they were gone, the tone of her voice difficult to read anything out of. “Why not have one every day and finish them earlier, so that we can have our First Prey within a couple of months?”

    “You need the time to learn the necessary skills before your First Prey,” he replied simply. “Every young Scyther needs practice cutting grass before gaining the full precision that he will need in a hunt.”

    “I could learn that in a couple of months.”

    Heh. She reminded Shadowdart of himself.

    “It is also best if the First Prey is in the spring, when the Pokémon of Ruxido have young and more vulnerable newborns with them, both easy prey themselves and slowing the mothers down.”

    “I could catch something that’s not young and vulnerable,” she replied stubbornly, but with an air of mature confidence that Shadowdart had decidedly lacked back when he had thought in much the same way. He smiled.

    “I’m sure you could, but I’m the one who has to prepare for the lessons and decide what to teach you.”

    “If you need that much time to do that, you’re not a very good Leader, are you?”

    The nerve of that female made Shadowdart smile again. “Who knows,” he said. “I might one day reconsider the precise interval between the lessons, but as it happens I, unlike you, have to do my own hunting and don’t entirely have the time to plan lessons for young, stupid adolescents for every day.”

    She glared at him with unconvincing anger and a smile flickered momentarily across her features as well. “Fair enough,” she said. “But it’s awfully frustrating, don’t you think, being kept from mating for so long.”

    And with that she turned and walked away.

    Shadowdart looked after her, mildly amused, not sure whether the implications of that were intentional.


    XXXIII

    It had been a few introductory lessons now, and Shadowdart had decided that the next lesson would be about love. He did not need Stormblade to make up a story for this one; to demonstrate his point about love he only needed the story of the pearl, but nonetheless he was glad to find an opportunity to go hunting with his friend one day.

    “How goes being Leader?” Stormblade asked him as they dragged the corpse of a Ponyta through the forest, back to the swarm.

    “Well enough,” Shadowdart answered. “I’m still looking forward to getting to perform a First Prey ritual, but at least the lessons are a start.” He paused. “One of the young ones suggested to me after the first lesson that I should have them every day and make the rituals earlier. I’m almost tempted to do it. She doesn’t know I’m anticipating the rituals even more than they are.”

    “It’s a she?” Stormblade asked with a smile of good-natured fun. “Well, that explains why you’re looking forward to them.”

    Shadowdart didn’t smile back. “That’s more appropriate than you think. Not on my end, but on hers.”

    Stormblade snorted in disbelief. “She wants to mate with you after spending one lesson listening to you? Whatever your secret is, I want it.”

    “She’s an adolescent,” Shadowdart reminded him dully, tugging particularly harshly on the Ponyta.

    Stormblade laughed, clearly enjoying the conversation immensely. “What, you would you do it if she weren’t?”

    Shadowdart chuckled. “Isn’t it one of the Leader’s duties to father some descendants to inherit his superior strength?”

    “But would you actually pick her?” Stormblade asked, now genuinely curious.

    Shadowdart shrugged. “Why not?” And why be evasive? he scolded himself. It was just Stormblade, after all. “Well, I like her. She’s got guts.” He paused to think. “She’s not afraid of me. She questioned my abilities as a Leader to my face. Openly defiant and obviously very intelligent. The whole… flirting thing was all very precise and deliberate, if kind of disturbing. In a way it makes me wary of her.” He sighed. “But she’s just an adolescent, still growing up. Still hasn’t hunted. Still thinks she’s immortal because she hasn’t seen death with her own eyes. She probably wouldn’t be able to manipulate anyone, I suppose, but if she does… well, I’m not going to be her victim.”

    Shadowdart shivered and momentarily stood up to stretch and shake his tired muscles. “I’m worrying too much about her, aren’t I?”

    Stormblade looked away. “You can never be too careful, I suppose,” he said quietly after a short silence.

    “She’s got well-shaped scythes,” Shadowdart muttered, again awkwardly getting his scythes around the dead Ponyta’s body. They were about to reach the forest’s exit. “And as I said, her attitude makes me like her. I really wouldn’t mind, if…”

    But now he fell silent, because this in particular was something he really did not want to admit to himself. While the Scyther generally did not much care about one another’s sex lives, they took the matter of not mating until full adulthood very seriously, and now Shadowdart had found himself actually having the fleeting thought that technically that rule only applied because mating before proving one’s worth could result in weak offspring, and since he was the Leader, the strongest Scyther in the swarm, and she was so decidedly mature and intelligent already, to follow the rule would be missing its point…

    No.

    He mustn’t think that.

    He was letting himself be controlled by a silly urge.

    Yes, he would have to mention that to them when he tackled the fourth law of the Moral Code in detail; that not letting oneself be controlled included urges of all sorts, urges to mate, to get revenge, to challenge another Scyther to a duel on a whim…

    As they dragged the Ponyta towards the Leader’s rock, where Shadowdart had invited Stormblade to eat with him, Shadowdart was busily occupying his mind with what he would say in the next lesson.

    Chapter 64: Hide and Seek
    The story of an ordinary boy on an impossible quest in a world that isn't as black and white as he always thought it was.
    (rough draft of the remaining chapters finished for NaNoWriMo; to be edited and posted)

    Morphic
    (completed, plus silly extras)
    A few scientists get drunk and start fiddling with gene splicing. Ten years later, they're taking care of eight half-Pokémon kids, each freakier than the next, while a religious fanatic plots to murder them all.

    Lengthy fanfiction reviewing guide / A more condensed version
    Read and I will be very happy for a large number of reasons.

  22. #22
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    XXXIV

    “Love. Love is… a feeling. It’s a feeling of intense affection towards another creature, generally another Scyther although there is always the occasional weirdo who falls in love with some other Pokémon, and it generally manifests itself in the relationship of a male and a female who have taken up a habit of mating only with one another out of some feeling of commitment. They will tend to defend one another more fiercely than otherwise and spend more time around one another than friends would.”

    The two smaller females snickered and Shadowdart silenced them with a glare. “No matter what you think of this technical definition, you probably know approximately what love is already. Some of you may even have been raised by parents who considered themselves to be in love.” He did his best to keep the disgust mostly out of his voice, but wasn’t sure how well he succeeded.

    “Love,” he continued, his words harsh and merciless, “is dangerous. Those afflicted by it don’t think so, and in fact will probably regard it as a positive thing. It is not. To commit yourself too closely to another creature, to care for them more than you care for yourself, makes you fear death. There is no such thing as love without fearing death. It may not be your own death that you fear anymore, but fearing the death of another is no better if not worse. When their death occurs – remember that death is inevitable – it will give rise to a whole host of emotions you would rather be without that will lead you straight down the slippery slope of Code-breaking.”

    They were surprised now, the pupils – all of them except the tall female, who sat there nodding absent-mindedly in implied agreement, a smile of satisfaction on her face. It didn’t surprise him much that she agreed. He hadn’t expected her to be the type for love or committed relationships.

    “I will tell you a story,” Shadowdart went on, trying not to make it evident that he had been looking at her longer than the others. “It is an old story that Scyther have passed down the generations for as long as we can remember. It is called the story of the pearl.”

    He thought he could see her smile a little wider as he glanced at her again. He quickly looked at the small male, who was sitting nervously on the grass, chopping absent-mindedly at it with his scythes.

    “Once upon a time, long ago,” he said, “there was a Scyther. An adventurous Scyther. He had only lived in the swarm for a year after his First Prey when he grew restless and decided that he would leave the swarm – and he did, despite his friends’ warnings not to. He traveled for a long, long time, and was becoming hungry in the forest he was going through when he saw a Pidgey. But instead of killing it, he asked it for the way out of the forest, and it agreed, although it kept at a safe distance from him.

    “And finally he came to a body of water, so vast that its far bank could not even be seen. When he drank from it, he found that it was salty and undrinkable, and he decided to try flying over it. And as he flew over it, he happened to look down into its depths and see a round, whitish-pink object that shone like the most beautiful scythe. He flew to the shore and found a Pokémon, and desperately called to it to stay and tell him what the object had been, in exchange for not being eaten. And the Pokémon, one called a Buizel, told him that it was a pearl produced by a Pokémon named Clamperl, which the Pokémon named Spoink would retrieve one day when they needed it.

    “The Scyther asked the Buizel if he would dive down and get the pearl for him, because he felt he could not live without it, but the Buizel refused, because he said he would be risking his life if he got the pearl; the Spoink would be angry, and the pearl had powers of its own.

    “And so passed many days, and the Scyther offered every Pokémon he saw truce so that he might ask it to retrieve the pearl for him. But the Pokémon all refused, and eventually the Scyther was so desperate and hungry that he flew over the sea and dived down to get the pearl.

    “But he could not swim, and he could not move the pearl to the surface, so he drowned there and was never seen again.”

    Shadowdart looked over the group of pupils. Their faces were blank with lack of understanding; or no, they understood the story, but not its relevance. Even the tall female wore a skeptical expression.

    “How is that story about love?” she asked at last, breaking the silence.

    “It is comparable to it,” Shadowdart said patiently. “The Scyther became so fascinated by the pearl that he stopped eating, and even when he was dying of hunger, instead of killing some prey, he essentially committed suicide. The pearl dragged him to his death.”

    “But love doesn’t make you stop eating,” muttered the large male. The smaller male was looking down at the grass, chopping idly at it.

    Shadowdart sighed in irritation. “Fine. I will put it in more literal terms. Once upon a time there was a Scyther who liked to ask unnecessary questions. He fell in love with a female and began spending more and more of his time with her, even as his friend warned him to be careful and not start to care too much for her. He ignored his friend and always loved the female more and more, increasingly depending on her for his sanity and happiness. One day they were out hunting when the Letaligon they had meant to kill managed to knock her unconscious. He was so preoccupied with making sure that she was all right that he let the Letaligon charge a Hyper Beam which it then fired and killed her. When he realized that she was dead, he was thrown into murderous rage and, with his scythes, tore the Letaligon apart, relishing in its screams of pain, because he felt that it deserved it for killing her.”

    Now, this was something they could understand. He saw the two smaller females’ eyes widen and the nervous male look up with anxiety in his expression. Even the tall female now seemed to have been surprised by his move, and he smiled momentarily in satisfaction at the thought of outdoing her.

    “That Scyther,” Shadowdart spat after a moment’s silence, “is my friend. It is only fortunate that I managed to make him return to his senses afterwards, and now he realizes what kind of a twisted path love had led him. Learn from his story, because if you were taken that far, I don’t know if there would be any bringing you back to full sanity.”

    There was a long silence after this, and even she, the tall female, seemed visibly unnerved by Stormblade’s story. And of course, she should be. Stories didn’t get a lot more unnerving than the true story of a Scyther led off the path of righteousness in such a brutal manner by something as innocent-seeming as love.

    “So you see, I hope,” Shadowdart said quietly, “why love is a dangerous emotion. It is in your nature to desire company, and it follows that you will begin to care for some individuals, but love is this taken too far. Let the story of the Scyther who tortured a creature as a result of his love for another Scyther be a warning to you not to do as he did, not to take it too far.”

    He saw her smile out of the corner of his eye. She liked his speech.

    “That’s enough for today,” Shadowdart sighed. “You can leave.”

    Again, the tall female stayed behind, looking at him with observant interest in her eyes and an all-too-alluring sense of femininity to her posture. He looked at her in a manner he hoped implied he wanted her to leave.

    “You should make a name for me,” she said. “I like calling you Leader. But I don’t know what you’re calling me in your mind.”

    The tall female. He almost laughed; she was probably hoping it was something a little more interesting, wasn’t she?

    And all the same, Shadowdart couldn’t help thinking he wouldn’t mind having something else to identify her by. Nothing that would encourage her, of course, but something.

    “Stalker,” was the first thing that came up in his head, and it was perfect.

    She grinned widely. “Stalk you, do I?” she purred. “I suppose that means you want me to stop.”

    “You distract me,” Shadowdart replied warily, looking away from her.

    He heard her use the opportunity to approach him from the back and flicked his eyes to steal a look at her from over his shoulder. There was swift grace to the smooth flexing of her joints as she crept closer. “What’s so bad about being distracted?” she murmured and he felt himself jump a little as one of her scythes stroked slowly along his back.

    “You’re an adolescent,” he said sharply, turning back around. “Come back after your First Prey and we can talk. Until then, sex is off-limits for you, and if you are unable to understand that, I may need to begin to employ my power to intervene as I’ve been telling you about.”

    She stopped, standing in front of him, her expression one of mild disappointment. “So I’m inadequate? Probably too weak to have offspring, huh?”

    Shadowdart’s heart jerked painfully for some reason. “No,” he said. “I like you. Don’t make me do anything I don’t want to.”

    “Ah,” she said, “but then you would be letting yourself be manipulated, wouldn’t you? Allowing me to affect you in such a way that you do something you don’t want?” She tilted her head, the enjoyment of the mind game showing clearly through the false expression of thoughtfulness that she put on. Shadowdart glared at her.

    “I hope you’re aware that manipulation is what you’re doing right now.”

    “Why?” she simply responded, that sly smile still on her face. “What have I said that was manipulative? I merely suggested you gave me a name, which you did without objections, and asked you questions. If any manipulation is going on, it’s you letting yourself be manipulated by your own desires. Not allowing oneself to be manipulated by desires has to be included in the law, hasn’t it?”

    Damn it. She was right, in a way. And she’d come up with the part about controlling urges on her own, too, just like that. Why did she have to be so darned smart?

    “Go away,” he asked her in exasperation, turning away from her yet again. The Leader’s rock stood in front of him like a reminder that he could not be the one to retreat away from her.

    “But I like it here,” she said, the tone of her voice heavy with fabricated innocence. Shadowdart was beginning to feel slightly nauseous. “Didn’t you say that even the Leader had no right to tell another Scyther what to do?”

    Shadowdart felt his irritation melt away into helplessness, even fear, coupled with the uncomfortable, distracting background noise whose existence he was still firmly trying to deny. He was the Leader. Some adolescent shouldn’t be able to make him feel this way.

    “Please,” he said finally without looking at her. “You’re causing me a lot of discomfort right now. Please leave.”

    He could almost hear and taste her smile of triumph as he, the Leader, was reduced to begging, knowing painfully well that if she were any other Scyther, he would have done something, fought her off, forced her to stop by one means or another. But her…

    She chuckled softly, and the sound rang like a mocking scream of humiliation and defeat in his ears. “As you wish, Leader.”

    And then he heard her turn and walk away. He could sense the cunning smile she would be wearing, and the mere mental image of it made him shudder.

    He didn’t dare to turn around until he was sure that she would no longer be in sight when he did.


    XXXV

    “Do not manipulate or be manipulated, control or be controlled. The wording of the law does not say anything about who or what it is that controls or manipulates you, and indeed there can be more than just other Scyther who might manipulate you to some extent. Love is manipulative, as I talked about last time. Prey can be manipulative – many of the more clever species of Pokémon will attempt to appeal to your emotions at some level to make you release them. And most definitely not least importantly, your own feelings can be manipulative.”

    The pupils had learned not to expect his lessons to be merely stating the obvious, so despite the dull beginning they remained interested. Shadowdart noticed uncomfortably that he kept looking back at Stalker to see her reactions, and decidedly more at her than at the other females or at the males for that matter. Currently she was wearing a smile that implied she remembered well having mentioned manipulation by urges to him and thought it quite possible that he had simply picked it up from her. A flash of irritation struck him and he wanted to tell her he had been intending to talk about it all along, but then again, it had been her who had inspired him for it anyway, even if it had been before she ever said a word about it…

    “You have all sorts of instincts and emotions, and it is an unfortunate fact that those can be troublesome to young Scyther who may act upon them more than upon their rational will. First and foremost…” He glanced at Stalker again, saw her smile back at him and quickly jerked his head away. “First and foremost, you have the urge to mate. It is strong. It is what you are naturally made to do, and it is understandable that the longing to do it will become strong at times, especially so in the late autumn when the females are fertile.” Again he found himself looking uncomfortably at her, seeing her smile widen slightly. Of course both of them were thinking it. She was smart enough. Of course she was thinking it too. Why was he thinking it? He shouldn’t be thinking it. He should be teaching.

    “The urge to mate,” he forced himself to say, shaking his head to clear it, “may cause you to be easily manipulated. You may find a part of you – of varying size – wanting to sacrifice something that would ordinarily be important to you, such as the Code, for the opportunity for sex. The key, of course, is not to give in. Keep yourself aware of the manipulative power being deployed against your better judgement, and use that awareness to resist it, to catch it in the act before it takes over.”

    He looked briefly over the group again now, decidedly avoiding Stalker’s gaze. “This can be very difficult, but fight it as best you can, and should you be tempted to give in, try to reinforce your defenses as soon as your mind is clearer, as this is very much a thing that becomes harder the more often you give in to it. It’s best never to let yourself be taken in by temptation at all.”

    He could see her watching him with interest, observing his reactions, and tried to focus on being normal. He searched for the next thing to say and was filled with dread as he realized what he would have to tell them now, in front of her, in front of himself, because of his duty to teach the young…

    “Should…” he began quietly, his voice dying at the end. He cleared his throat. “Should you give in to manipulation once or twice, it is not something that ought to drive you to suicide of guilt. None of us can help letting ourselves be controlled by one means or another at one point or another. The key moral of this law is not to let it take over you, not to have another Scyther, or an urge, or a human, or anything else capable of manipulation, controlling your every move like a mindless slave. You are Scyther; you are predators at the top of the food chain. What is most important is that you realize that you can only be virtuous by having will of your own. As long as you retain your sense of identity and do not let yourselves sink past the point of no return, to allow oneself to be controlled once or twice is not essentially a breaking of the Code, but merely a warning sign that should make you more wary.”

    And she gave him one of her sly smiles, one that said she was still thinking the same as he was, and that she knew he was still thinking it too. That he had a point. That there was no harm in doing it once. Surely he, the Leader of the swarm, was a strong enough individual to maintain his identity even if he mated once with some female…

    But mentally, he saw himself tearing viciously at that train of thought with his scythes, fighting it firmly down with the knowledge that mating with an adolescent was always wrong, and managed to look straight into her eyes as he continued.

    “Let’s talk about mating some more, shall we?” he said sharply. “I have already told you that if adolescents could mate, the swarm overall would be gradually weakened, but it is not the only reason it is forbidden. As adolescents who have not yet developed the sense of yourselves that you will during your First Prey, you are much more easily manipulated than adult Scyther into doing something that you do not truly want. This is especially important with regards to mating. It is an urge you have no outlet for in the first year after you begin to feel it, and this gives it enough time to develop and build up for you to potentially become… quite desperate. You can ask any adult and they will know the feeling. You are especially likely to do something you will later regret in this one year of adolescence, and therefore you are more restricted now – for your own good.”

    “If we were allowed to mate in the first place, we wouldn’t have a year without an outlet for the urge to mate, would we?” Stalker pointed out calmly just as he said the last word. Her expression throughout this speech had been unimpressed, bored, faintly disappointed, and it disturbed him how much he cared.

    “You are still young and inexperienced. You do not yet know how to control your urges as an adult can, a year without an outlet or not. It could get you started down the slippery slope.” Essentially he was thinking of all this on the spot – but what sense it made! He would teach this to every batch of young Scyther from then on, he decided with satisfaction. “And once you’ve started, it may be too late once you’ve had your First Prey. You might become an adult only after already having become a slave to your own sex drive. You will never have gotten to live as yourself and make independent decisions. It is better to try to prevent you from being manipulated by it to begin with until you have gained the ability to resist it and had plenty of time to train it.”

    She looked at him and finally nodded slightly, conceding the point with visible reluctance. He felt far more triumphant over having made his point to her than he knew he ought to, and couldn’t deny that he felt immensely relieved, like he could now finally look at her again. And it made sense to him, too, inspiring him with confidence in the righteousness of keeping away from her. In a burst of sudden enthusiasm, he realized how much he had unsaid on mating in general, and immediately went on:

    “Do not mate with the weak. We have already discussed this. Although you are not expressly forbidden to do so by the Code, you should simply not do it. A weak Scyther has weak offspring, and again the swarm on the whole will be weakened. When you pick a potential mate, most of you will already have noticed the pure appeal of clean, well-shaped, sharpened scythes, as well as of impressive speed. These are the most important features that you have as Scyther. Your scythes are the mirrors of your soul, and your speed the reflection of your determination. But you should go further than that. Try a friendly duel with whoever you are interested in, and see how well they know how to use their scythes and their speed. Go hunting with them and observe their technique when they attack their prey. Observe how well they follow the Code. Make sure that a potential mate is healthy, fast, powerful, intelligent, and has generally desirable qualities – and, of course, I must stress that you are not to manipulate them into mating. Mating is a mutual act. When it gets intense, you may walk away more severely cut than you would after most duels.” The two smaller females were starting to snicker, and for some reason he only found this encouraging. “Mating is not to be taken as lightly as you think when you are so young. You weaken yourselves before a potential mate, and that is something quite serious. When you mate you might regret it. Yes, it feels damned good,” – there were more snickers – “but you will have to consider yourselves very lucky if you do it entirely without hurting yourselves. Having scythes is not always convenient, remember. There are examples of Scyther who have literally cut off one another’s heads in the heat of the moment. This is greatly less likely to happen if you are sufficiently relaxed beforehand, but that will simply not be the case if both partners are not willing.”

    The pupils blinked in disbelief. Shadowdart realized he was starting to laugh. No, the older Scyther didn’t tell them that when telling them about the wonders of sex. Of course. They preferred not to think about it themselves.

    “When you mate, you generally want to do it someplace quiet and a little secluded where the whole swarm isn’t watching. It is not recommended to make it too obvious who you’re mating with, because all kinds of jealousy might ensue and depending on the individuals involved you might get in somebody else’s way or inadvertently hurt someone. But if you want to let some other Pokémon watch you going at it, be my guest.” Even Stalker wore a bemused grin by now. Shadowdart had a feeling this was going to be their favorite lesson.

    “Otherwise nobody cares much what you do when mating, as long as both partners are happy. You will be laughed at if you end up dead or with embarrassing injuries, however. After mating you may do whatever you like, but do keep in mind my warning about love. Don’t start to care too much about whoever you mate with, or it can end badly.” He looked at the group. “I think you can go now. I wasn’t even planning to say half of what I’ve been telling you. I hope it becomes useful to you.”

    He had to admit it. Now that he’d gotten Stalker out of the way, it was his favorite lesson too. Even the nervous little male seemed slightly more confident, eying the two female friends shyly while they stood up and walked away in a chat. The bulky male just left the rock with a grin.

    Which left Stalker. She looked at him for a long while, her expression still amused, and finally turned around to leave without words. No objections. No disturbing suggestions.

    Shadowdart felt like the Leader again for the first time in what felt like years.


    XXXVI

    Shadowdart had decided that he had to start making sense of the third law of the Moral Code, so he sat down in the shade of the Leader’s rock on one day in the autumn to think. The coolness of the shadow felt refreshing after a long hunt in the blazing sunlight that still dominated the warm autumn.

    Recently, in fact ever since that lesson about mating, Stalker had left him relatively alone, which Shadowdart was grateful for, and while some occasional glances of hers during lessons seemed to suggest that she had not entirely gotten over him, he allowed himself to hope and assume that she would simply not bother him anymore. He was able to focus much better on planning out his lessons, and almost managed to forget that he had ever been so close to allowing another Scyther to manipulate him into Code-breaking. That was in the past now. He would never let it happen again.

    So there he sat, his eyes closed, his mind focused, and thought about the Code.

    According to the first law of the Moral Code, Scyther were not to fear death. They were to have the right to kill only if they had overcome their own fear of death, if they could picture themselves in the situation of the prey without it causing them doubt and making them hesitate.

    According to the second law of the Moral Code, having ejected one’s fear of death far enough to literally turn one’s scythe on oneself was a way of repenting for breaking the Code. That had to be the idea behind the suicide of guilt, because to make death itself into punishment contradicted the idea that death was not to be feared. Shadowdart was planning to implement forced suicide, but the idea of that was not that it would punish the doer for their misdeeds.
    No, the idea of forced suicide was to make the Code-breaker face his fear of death, make him gain the last possible redemption before his death – since after all, Shadowdart was only planning to use it if the Scyther was beyond any other help, sunken too deep to be dragged to the surface by anything but suicide – which, as an unfortunate side-effect, required him to die in the process. And if he were still unable to commit the suicide of guilt – such as Razor had been – then the most merciful thing he could do to that Scyther would be to kill him himself before he sunk any deeper than he already had.

    Death was not to be feared. Why would killing or forcing the suicide of a Scyther who would not do anything he could be proud of for the rest of his life if he were to live it be wrong?

    Which brought him to why exactly the murder of a Scyther was wrong.

    The murder of a creature, provided it was without pain, had various consequences that lay in the death itself. Firstly that creature did no longer exist in the perception of those who still lived (Shadowdart felt himself getting a headache trying to imagine this properly and kept the thought to words in his head, leaving the matter of his own eventual death entirely out of it for convenience’s sake). Those who cared for whoever it was that was killed would mourn their death to some extent. Of course, the virtuous Scyther should put the death of another behind him and live life onwards, as the Leader would remind them of during the death acknowledgement ceremony, so this was not – or rather, should not be – a problem for the Scyther.

    Secondly, that creature would no longer be able to do anything. His plans would never be acted out; he would never produce more offspring, never redeem himself if he had died guilty. This was, at first glance at least, the primary reason to believe that the murder of a Scyther in cold blood was wrong. A Scyther who participated in a duel did so in acknowledged awareness, knowing that he took the risk of never doing anything again. And if he lost the duel and was killed, he was weak and his death was merely nature’s way of seeing to that a weak Scyther would not reproduce. But murder was another thing entirely. When a Scyther was murdered from the back or in his sleep, he could be the strongest Scyther in the swarm but die anyway without descendants to inherit his strength (and, as Shadowdart remembered uncomfortably, that very thing had nearly happened to him). He could have had plans – such as plans to challenge the Leader – that would never be executed, or he could have been guilty of Code-breaking but with plenty of hope left to him – such as if Stormblade had been murdered while he was still seeing that female of his. Opportunities would be lost.

    But if the Scyther who was killed cared about opportunities being lost if he died, was he not fearing death? Shadowdart shuddered. And how, then, could they justify the killing of another Pokémon as prey – a Pokémon with just as many opportunities and plans whose species perhaps even structured its society in families, where the individual would be sorely missed as if nothing were more natural?

    No, it could not be contradictory. The key, he thought, the key was most likely in the motivation for the killing. The Scyther needed to kill prey, or they would die, and the prey that defended itself needed to do so or it would die. A Scyther murdering a Scyther would not eat his victim or directly survive as a consequence of his death. That was where the moral difference lay. And of course, they had always been told not to kill prey for fun or if they were not hungry. Yes, of course this was what it meant. In a way he had known it already. In hindsight, this was just about what he had said to the young Scyther when he had been talking about the third law of the Moral Code.

    But then again, had the Leader not been intending to murder Shadowdart so that he himself might survive? Had Shadowdart really been much more, from the Leader’s point of view (he found this rather difficult to think about as well), than simply a predator that the Leader had meant to defend himself against?

    Shadowdart thought hard. No. It couldn’t be right. Shadowdart was not a predator in the situation, because he was not trying to fight the Leader for survival. It was Code procedure that the Leader had to accept any challenge from any Scyther. To attempt to murder that Scyther was to directly break that rule.

    And anyway, the duel Shadowdart had been about to challenge him to had been an organized act of fair fight.

    Yes, Shadowdart thought, and a light seemed to come on in his head as he found himself smiling triumphantly: the difference actually lay in the expectations of the victim. The prey in the forest expected to be hunted, and the predators expected the prey to defend itself. This was how it had always been and would always be – the strongest would survive in a perfect balance of natural selection. Whoever was clever, powerful or camouflaged enough to survive in the forest would, and it was an unwritten law of which they were all aware.

    But the Scyther swarm was different. Within it there were different rules. A Scyther sleeping in the swarm did not expect to be murdered, or he would be more wary – no sane Scyther would go soundly to sleep alone in the middle of the forest, and likewise with the prey. But in the swarm, they did not expect attacks. In the swarm, the rules were different. In the swarm, the Leader kept watch by sleeping loosely so that he could alert the swarm of danger, and all the other Scyther assumed they could sleep safely. In the swarm, the Scyther did not watch their backs, because they assumed that any Scyther wishing to kill them was ready to challenge them to a duel face to face.

    In the swarm, in other words, they expected one another to play by the rules. Anyone who didn’t, anyone who played by different rules, disrupted the peace of the swarm by giving himself an unfair advantage. And this, he realized with excitement, was what murder was. This was why murder was wrong. When hunting in the forest, there were no rules about the interactions between predators and prey, and precisely that made the hunt fair, too. Fair was when everyone played by the same rules – and here it came right down to hypocrisy again, because that was precisely what hypocrisy was: somebody playing by different rules than he expected everyone else to. It all fit miraculously together.

    Shadowdart was beginning to feel dizzy at the sheer magnitude of the realization. Now it was easy to explain the third law of the Moral Code: in the forest, the rules were that the predators were all on the same side and the prey all on the same side, at least in the sense that they didn’t kill one another, for as long as there was prey for all the predators and plants for all the prey. And likewise it was in those generally accepted rules that two Scyther were obliged to help one another. Everyone was aware of it. Everyone assumed it. It was fair.

    And of course, in the swarm, where they played by still other rules, each individual Scyther was to alert the whole swarm of any danger because then they all expected that. It all worked out. Fairness was when every fatal mistake was a result of the individual’s own physical or intellectual weakness, nothing else.

    Everything was complete. Everything made sense. Everything fit together. What a fool he had been to have worried that the Code contradicted itself. Of course it didn’t.

    He felt free, amazed and enlightened. He stood suddenly up from his shadow and stepped onto the rock, looking over his swarm – all those Scyther who hadn’t yet realized what he had!

    Overcome with emotion, filled with tingling warmth that had nothing to do with the bright light of the sun that still shone off his dark armor, Shadowdart took off to fly down to the river and calm himself down in the water.


    XXXVII

    Shadowdart was shaking with excitement as he waited for the five young Scyther to show up. He had not told Stormblade about his realization yet. It was more important to teach the young, to pass on the knowledge to those who did not know anything yet, who would better understand the Code when this was how he explained it, than to tell it to a Scyther who, he was at least reasonably sure, would probably never break the Code again.

    The two female friends arrived, sitting down in front of him and seemingly noticing that his smile was wider and his expression tenser than usual. Well, usually he put some effort into remaining calm and expressionless, in fact. They most likely realized that something had to be up. He didn’t really care.

    The nervous male came next, followed by the bulky one. They both sat down and took the occasional glance at Shadowdart, clearly also realizing that he wasn’t how he usually was. But Stalker was nowhere to be seen.

    He was gripped by sudden anger: she, even with all her devilishness, would not ruin the enlightenment he was feeling, the elation of having knowledge that none other had. No matter how long she intended to keep him waiting, he would not. Why would he cater to her petty needs – and why was he calling them needs, when she certainly would only be trying to get to him with them, anyway? – when he had just realized the true meaning of the Code, when he could be teaching it to the next generation? He was about to open his mouth and just begin the lesson anyway when he saw the tall female’s form walking towards the rock.

    She walked slowly, and he could almost see her smirk. She relished the ability to restrain him, didn’t she? To keep him from beginning to talk for as long as she could without it becoming too obviously deliberate…

    Shadowdart stopped this train of thought before it got too long. She was no longer bothering him. She had no idea about his realization. She was simply walking there, simply not hurrying, because what reason would she have to hurry? She knew nothing yet.

    Shadowdart forced himself to calm down again, and the feeling of elation returned while Stalker approached and sat down. She looked at him and she, too, noticed that he was different. With a somewhat amused expression, she asked him, “Why the goofy grin?”
    He looked up, took a deep breath and straightened his expression to be serious, although flickers of excitement made the muscles in his face twitch. “Today, you will learn about the Code,” he said, his voice surprisingly calm. “I have already tackled each law of the Moral Code separately and told you about love and mating, but now you will see the greater context. The Code, in the end, is not a set of a few laws, but one single internally consistent system of thought that tells us how to live a virtuous life. The division of its infinite complexity into several separate laws is an oversimplification. From now on, you should only think of the Code in terms of this bigger picture, because only then will you fully understand it.”

    The bulky male looked at him with obvious interest. The small, nervous one seemed doubtful. The two female friends paid reluctant attention. Meanwhile, Stalker folded her arms in one of her striking, challenging postures, one that said, ‘Oh, really?’ One that dared him to continue and be wrong. He would show her true, deep meaning, ultimate morals, final truth. He would show her.

    “Fairness,” he said, his voice trembling slightly with the sheer weight of all the words that he was forcibly holding inside and were trying to break out at unintelligible speed, “is when everyone involved in a situation plays by the same rules. Each individual can to some extent predict what the other individuals in the situation may do and what they simply will not do. In the forest, when hunting, these basic rules say that any means of survival is allowed. The rules tell us that if the predators are strong enough to catch prey, they may do so, and if the prey are strong enough to kill predators, they may do so. The first law of the Moral Code tells us not to fear death exactly because of this. We are even. There is no unfairness to it if one of us is killed, no more than when prey is killed. It is also a rule of the forest that when food is plentiful for all, the prey and predators do not fight internally. The species of each group leave one another alone, avoiding inner conflict, for at least as long as there is prey in the forest for all of us and plants for all of them. It is part of the rules. It is likewise part of the rules that individual members of some species, such as Scyther, should actively help one another, and hence we have the third law of the Moral Code.”

    “And how is this following the same rules for everyone?” Stalker asked him skeptically. “From what I can tell, you are saying that we are to help out other Scyther, but not Pokémon of other species. Why?”

    Shadowdart had thought it through and didn’t need to think to know the answer. “For the same reason as why we hunt prey and not other predators,” he said. “It is part of the rules that Scyther stick together. The rules are informal, but they exist, and it is what is expected. A Scyther who is hunting in the forest with a partner expects to be defended and alerted of danger if the other sees it first, and vice versa. Unfairness is when somebody expects someone else to follow the rules but they don’t.”

    “But why is it the rule at all that Scyther should help one another?” she argued. “Something else could as well be the rule. You can’t tell me this is somehow a given.”

    “That doesn’t matter,” Shadowdart replied firmly. “The truly important thing about the rules is that they are what everyone accepts. The murder of a Scyther by another Scyther in cold blood is wrong because he does not expect it. A Scyther will thoughtlessly turn his back to another member of his species precisely because he has accepted the rule that Scyther do not murder one another. If a Nidorina thoughtlessly turns her back to a Scyther in the forest, she is simply stupid and her near-inevitable death will only see to that she will never have offspring to inherit that stupidity. The Scyther’s death is unfair but not hers because his death was a result of his playing by different rules, through no fault of his own self. He could have been the strongest, cleverest Scyther in the entire swarm and still die simply because he was playing by different rules – and that is unfairness in its essence. If we already expected everyone in the swarm to be perfectly entitled attempt to murder us at any time, this Scyther would never have let his guard down in the first place.”

    “True,” she admitted, “but why not change the rules, then, since what makes the rules the rules is their wide acceptance and not their content?”

    “Because the rules are built into the Code to be consistent with one another. That is what I’ve been saying in this lesson. I have already showed you how the first and third laws of the Moral Code tell us the rules. The second tells us that we need to conform to the rules if we wish to live in Scyther society, that a Scyther who cannot follow the Code must no longer disgrace his swarm, but either die or submit to them. The fourth says that every individual is to be his own master and make his independent decisions, because a Scyther who is only slave to another is not following the rules for the right reasons. And the fifth says that pain is to be avoided: it is a negative thing that is never necessary for survival and undesirable by its very nature, making you a hypocrite if you do it. Even if some particular Scyther decided to change the rules he goes by, it would first sprout a period of unfairness where the others still expect him to follow the previous rules.”

    “But doesn’t following the rules make you weaker?” Stalker asked, and there was honest skepticism in her tone, something that told him she genuinely meant it. “If by following the rules we render ourselves vulnerable, why should we? Why be fair?”

    Why fair? Shadowdart racked his brain for a proper way to explain it, but all reason seemed to melt away in his mind and dissolve into the statement that fairness was simply right. Why, indeed, play fair? Was there any real reason that made fairness something good? Hypocrisy wrong?

    “I suppose it’s all built on weak foundations, then,” she said slyly when he didn’t reply, smiling with that triumphant gleam of defiance in her eyes. The other Scyther were now watching her more than him with those eyes of admiration, buying every word from her lips…

    “No!” Shadowdart shouted in frustration. “You can’t tell me that you don’t simply know that fairness is right. It is obvious that fairness is right. It is self-evident.”

    She smiled deviously, clearly enjoying every opportunity to stand against the rules. “Why does it have to be?”

    And that was what drove him over the edge and made him scream at her about the forced suicide that he was going to implement and how after she had her First Prey she would clearly be planning to land herself there on the Leader’s rock, slitting her own throat in front of the swarm so that they could see the climax of all her horrifying crimes against the Code and Scytherkind. Shadowdart did not think he had ever in his life felt as terrifyingly angry, and yet all the while she maintained an expression of unspoken superiority, superiority that she seemed to think ought to be obvious. What if the other young ones believed her? What if they let her influence them and make them into a generation of Code-breakers?

    He stopped and took a few deep breaths to calm himself down. “You’re dismissed,” he said. “Please leave. All of you. I will see you in the next lesson.”

    Stalker made no attempt to speak to him while the others left – but she did give him one of her glances and sly smiles as she walked off.

    Shadowdart was left breathing at an exaggerated tempo, alone by the Leader’s rock, doubt nagging at the back of his mind.

    Chapter 64: Hide and Seek
    The story of an ordinary boy on an impossible quest in a world that isn't as black and white as he always thought it was.
    (rough draft of the remaining chapters finished for NaNoWriMo; to be edited and posted)

    Morphic
    (completed, plus silly extras)
    A few scientists get drunk and start fiddling with gene splicing. Ten years later, they're taking care of eight half-Pokémon kids, each freakier than the next, while a religious fanatic plots to murder them all.

    Lengthy fanfiction reviewing guide / A more condensed version
    Read and I will be very happy for a large number of reasons.

  23. #23
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    Jan 2004
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    XXXVIII

    It was not until the next day that Shadowdart had finally calmed down to a reasonable enough level to feel able to talk to Stormblade. He had taken out his anger by hunting and had managed to catch a Girafarig, so he was not particularly hungry, but when Stormblade invited him on a partnered hunt, he accepted the offer anyway. It would be nice, he figured, to get out into the forest where they could talk in relative private.

    They just snuck around in silence at first, the unwritten rule of partnered hunting being that the hunting would come first and the talking later when they had caught some prey. It made more sense, since if they headed into the forest talking, they would give away their location and have to start from scratch once they actually did start stalking after prey.

    Even aside from that, Shadowdart was glad to have something to distract him at first. It did not take them long to find a group of still-sleeping Swellow that their trained flying maneuvers helped them isolate and kill one weaker individual from. It wasn’t the largest prey around, but Shadowdart simply declined the offer of getting a share of it for himself, leaving Stormblade to begin to rip into the bird’s flesh on the forest floor.

    “I was preparing for yesterday’s lesson the day before it,” Shadowdart began. “I was going to get to the bottom of some of the things that bothered me in the Code – things that seemed to be inconsistent.”

    Stormblade looked up at him with a flicker of something passing through his eyes. “And?” he replied, and Shadowdart got the vibe he was trying to seem less interested than he was.

    “And I thought about it and I realized how… how great it all is. How much sense it makes. How perfectly it all fits.” He felt a tingle of that elated feeling trickle through his body again. “It all came together.”

    He had a hard time reading into Stormblade’s expression in reaction to this. Somehow his friend seemed vaguely disappointed and definitely not particularly impressed. Shadowdart, who had been about to continue, decided to wait for him to reply.

    “Shadowdart…” Stormblade eventually sighed. “I… I realize now that I took love too far. That I should have listened to you and obeyed the Code. But that doesn’t mean… I just… I don’t believe in the Code the way you do. In my mind it’s just a set of arbitrary rules. I don’t think like you. I can’t just… sit somewhere making up stories to illustrate a set of rules I don’t even agree with.”

    The words stung, and Shadowdart felt anger flaring up in him: he could show Stormblade how he had found out the Code was not arbitrary at all, that it was simply a simplification, put in words, of the true rules of life, and that no truth was more worth illustrating in words than this, and that Stormblade had promised to help…

    But he was not in the mood to begin to argue at all, and the rush of anger faded quickly into dull gloom. He saw Stormblade look at him with concern.

    “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to…”

    “Only the words are arbitrary,” Shadowdart just said. “The Code is much more than just the words.”

    “I guess.”

    Shadowdart knew Stormblade wasn’t entirely convinced, but he didn’t care. Stormblade lived by the same rules now, really. He just didn’t like to call them the Code. Was there any reason to argue over what to call the rules?

    “That’s not the point, though,” Shadowdart said, struggling to word what the point really was. “I lectured them on this yesterday, and… the female, Stalker… she…”

    He shivered with discomfort. She scared him. She scared him out of his wits. It was difficult to talk about her.

    “She what?”

    “She started arguing.” Shadowdart paused. “I had told them how the Code was about fairness, everyone playing by the same rules. If you know what I mean. I can explain it if you…”

    “No, I think I get what you mean,” Stormblade replied quickly. “What did she argue about?”

    Shadowdart didn’t think Stormblade really got it, but he continued anyway. He didn’t feel like explaining it again.

    “At first she argued about the Code, the way I had expected them to ask. I could answer that. But then she just asked why we had to be fair at all, and…” He felt himself shivering again. “I didn’t know.”

    Stormblade looked at him, puzzled. “Fairness? Isn’t it… obvious? Fairness is a good thing by definition.”

    “It is to me,” Shadowdart said quietly. “But not to her. She meant it, about why we needed to be fair. I could tell that she meant it. And if she doesn’t think of it as a good thing in that way, I don’t think I can actually explain why.”

    “So in a way, she is shaking the foundations of your beliefs,” Stormblade said before tearing another piece of flesh off the dead Swellow.

    Shadowdart stopped to think. “Well, yes. I still believe in the foundations, but she’s made me realize that maybe they’re not as obvious as I think they are.”

    “Well, there can hardly be that many Scyther who can’t understand the value of fairness, can there?” Stormblade asked and shrugged. “Do you need to concern yourself with her opinion?”

    No, he didn’t. Not at all. There was no reason for him to care what she thought of fairness. And yet he cared, far too much for it to be reasonable by any stretch of the imagination. He didn’t care who else did or did not understand it, but she had to understand. The idea that she, of all the Scyther in the swarm, didn’t understand fairness pained him immensely. And even more painfully, there was no sensible reason why it should.

    “I think she is going to grow up to be a Code-breaker,” he said finally. “And I’m going to implement forced suicide in extreme cases of being irredeemable. I think she will be irredeemable. How can she be redeemed if she doesn’t even understand fairness? It’s the whole point of the Code.”

    Stormblade was silent. “Forced suicide?” he asked at last. “Why?”

    “Because those who are ready to commit voluntary suicide of guilt are exactly those who still have hope of returning to society and repenting for their crimes against the Code. The ones that need to die so that they won’t sink any deeper and ruin themselves further are those already too far gone to realize the wrong of their actions on their own. They’re like Razor. If they even refuse to do it themselves after the order and don’t realize the urgency of it, I will do it.”

    Stormblade stared at him in disbelief and shook his head. “Why are you doing this? Are you just trying to get back at Razor by making everything so that Razor would be killed if he were still here?”

    Fury blazed up in Shadowdart again, and this time it didn’t dissolve. “This is for the good of the swarm, all of it!” he spat. “Isn’t death not to be feared? What’s so bad about preventing those who are already spiralling towards their own moral demise from getting any further along that line than they already are?”

    “So you’re going to kill some young Scyther who don’t know any better?” Stormblade responded heatedly, standing up from the corpse of the Swellow. “Are you perhaps going to kill the Scyther who take too many tries catching their First Prey, too?”

    “You think death is unfair?” Shadowdart snapped. “You still fear death, don’t you?”

    Stormblade looked at him with an expression so wounded and betrayed that for a moment Shadowdart wanted to calm down and apologize – but before he had any chance to do anything of the sort even if the urge wouldn’t have been blocked by his better judgement, Stormblade had already taken off in flight, past the treetops, flying in the direction of the mountains, without looking back. The half-eaten Swellow was left on the ground in front of Shadowdart.

    Anger gripped him with such power that without really deciding to do so, he raised his scythe and cut the head off the dead Swellow with a cry of frustration. It felt strangely good. He chopped violently into the bird’s corpse a few more times and then felt himself shiver as he turned away from it.

    Stormblade didn’t understand the Code anyway – and of course he still feared death. Stormblade had always feared death. Who had he been kidding all this time? Himself? It had been obvious all along, and he’d denied it, just out of some stupid fear of losing some Code-breaker he talked to once a month.

    As he walked with slow, heavy steps back towards the Leader’s rock, he swore that he would never again submit himself to such a feeble, manipulative thing as friendship.


    XXXIX

    The season finally began to grow cold.

    “Duels,” Shadowdart said to the five young Scyther in the next lesson, around sunset on a cool, windy day. “You will need to learn all about duels. You have most likely already had some so-called mock duels. The one who first manages to pin the other down so that he can no longer move is the winner, and if either party becomes wounded he may resign from the duel and give up. Nobody should die or be seriously injured in a mock duel, and it is the only kind of duel you may practice before your First Prey. The reason for this is simple: you should be perfectly healthy during your First Prey, and accidental injuries during duels should be avoided. You have all tried some mock duels, I presume?”

    The pupils nodded and murmured some words of agreement.

    “Good. Then you know the approximate procedures for it. They are not very set in stone. You simply attack someone and the other retaliates until a winner has been found. The mock duel is as much practice for your upcoming hunting and First Prey as it is for future duels. Keep this in mind. By all means mock duel a lot.” Shadowdart’s mind wandered to his old mock duels with Stormblade and Razor, and felt pained to remember them. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath and cleared his mind before continuing.

    “The friendly duel is the mock duel’s replacement after your First Prey. You no longer need to practice your reflexes and ability to respond quickly to surprise attacks, because you can do that while you hunt. However, it is still practice where you can try out the various skills you may then use in true duels later in your lives. A friendly duel is for practice and enjoyment, and is most often conducted, as its name indicates, between friends, more so than the mock duel.”

    Friends. Shadowdart’s gaze flicked over to the deserted oak tree. Stormblade had never returned to it after that time he had flown off towards the mountains. But that didn’t matter.

    “During a friendly duel, you begin to have duel procedures, mostly consisting of the important rule that first a challenge is issued and then accepted or declined. To start a friendly duel you do not simply leap up and attack. If the challenge is accepted, you must then position yourselves at a certain distance from one another.” He indicated the bulky male with his scythe. “Come over here.”

    The male stood up and walked towards Shadowdart. Shadowdart stopped him and then took several steps backwards to show the preferred distance between the duelers. “You do not need to be particularly precise. You mostly need to make sure that there is enough distance between the two of you for both to be well out of the other’s immediate reach. Once you have done this, you may begin the duel. Most commonly, the duel begins with a period during which both fighters wait and measure one another out while remaining alert and ready to counter whichever one of them makes the first move. This has tended to give beginning the duel a bad reputation as being what the weaker Scyther does, but I won the Leadership of this swarm in a duel that I started, so personally I would not say that this bad reputation is based in much factual evidence.”

    They looked at him with curious admiration – even Stalker looked vaguely impressed, although he tried his best not to look at her too much. He looked quickly back at the bulky male, who still standing a short distance in front of him, and indicated with his scythe that he could sit down again.

    “Once the duel has begun, a friendly duel still, like the mock duel, revolves around bringing the opponent down so that he cannot move. However, if either party sustains a serious injury, he may again call the duel off by giving up before that happens. For this, he needs to have been injured to such an extent that he has been put at a disadvantage too great for him to reasonably assume he can win the duel. Giving up as a means of chickening out after accepting the duel is frowned upon.”

    Shadowdart looked over the group while decidedly avoiding Stalker’s gaze. The small, nervous male looked more nervous than usual. He could only hope that one would manage his First Prey. Throughout the lessons, he had always looked scared and pathetic and no matter how many enlightening speeches on the Code and how death was not to be feared, he never looked one bit less so. The adolescent noticed his glare and seemed to flinch slightly at the sight of it. No, there wasn’t a lot of hope left for this one.

    “The true duel is the third type of duel and the most important. It is a duel of life and death, and when the Leader is challenged, the ensuing duel is always a true duel. It is also used as a means of settling personal conflict between Scyther, but keep in mind that both parties must accept. You can not walk up to an inexperienced Scyther and think you can simply challenge and slaughter him. If he does not deem his chance of winning reasonable enough to accept the challenge, there is nothing you can do about it. However, if a Scyther is known to repeatedly decline challenges from Scyther not obviously more experienced than himself, it will certainly rouse suspicions that he may be declining due to fear of death.”

    He could see mild contempt in the bulky male’s eyes and smiled in satisfaction to himself. They should have contempt for those who feared death. It made them less likely to fall trap to the same during their First Prey.

    “In the true duel, you position yourselves like in the friendly duel before it begins, and the procedure during the duel works quite the same, except that here you may not call the duel off no matter how injured you get. The duel is not over until at least one of the duelers is dead. The previous Leader incidentally felt he could disregard this and merely cut into the scythe of those he defeated. This is not how a true duel, which a duel for Leadership is, should be conducted. If you have pinned down your opponent, you should kill him, and if you do not, it will be taken as a sign that you fear death. Incidentally, if you are defeated and your opponent fails to kill you, you do not simply consider yourselves lucky. You nonetheless rightfully lost a true duel and ought to be dead; the fact you are not should be corrected with suicide. This should not be confused with suicide of guilt, because you are not guilty after losing the duel. You are, however, if you fail to rightfully kill yourselves afterwards, and again, I plan to take measures in that case.”

    He narrowed his eyes at the group, and they gave him a quick nod to indicate their understanding.

    “As I said, a Leadership duel is a true duel. At any time after your First Prey, you are eligible to challenge the Leader – me – to a true duel. Its procedures are the same as those of an ordinary true duel, except that as Leader and therefore the most powerful Scyther in the swarm, I am obliged to accept any challenge given to me. This is regardless of whatever injuries I may have already or how I feel about the upcoming duel, as if the Leader is at any point too weak to duel, he must also be too weak to protect the swarm according to his duty.”

    He said it calmly and surely. Were he to be injured too severely to defend the swarm from incoming danger, he would not be fit to be Leader anymore, and had no inclination to want to remain so anyway. Why would he?

    “That being said,” he said, putting emphasis on the words, “dueling the Leader is something you should not take lightly. The Leader is by definition the strongest Scyther in the swarm, and you should not let him kill you before you could perhaps have been capable of defeating him. It is foolish to rush into challenging the Leader when perhaps you would one day have been stronger than him. I dared to challenge the Leader too soon because I knew he would not kill me and that I would be able to challenge him again. This is not the case with me, so do not challenge me for Leadership unless you mean it. It would sadden me to kill a talented young Scyther that I could perhaps have been proud of being replaced by in the future.”

    He could see a glint in the bulky male’s eyes that told him he could expect to be challenged by him at some point, and indeed he found himself hoping it would not be too soon.

    “Should one of you defeat me, or perhaps one of my successors in the event I am defeated before you are at the height of your strength, you shall kill the former Leader and take the Leadership for yourselves. First the body of the old Leader must be disposed of in the forest, as I have already discussed when I spoke of death to you. Finally, the next night, there will be a ceremony by the stream where you are formally made Leader. First and foremost you must, as with any other death, wash the blood of the former Leader from the scythe that you killed him with in order to have his reign carried away and put behind us. Then you shall declare yourself Leader; this you do simply by stating that as the one who defeated the previous one, you assume the role instead. Next it is traditional to remind the swarm of its duties to the Leader: that until your replacement they are obligated to follow your guidance and obey your orders provided they remain compatible with the Code, that future generations are to learn of the Code from you by attending lessons such as these, that they are to respect you, and that they shall call you and only you by the name of Leader.”

    He took a deep breath. In his own declaration of Leadership, he had added a clause stating that those who knew him by a more personal name should continue to call him that – but what did that achieve but pain? Was not the Leader, anyway, to be without such personal ties?

    “Finally you must swear by the blood of your left scythe that you will take on the duties of Leadership. You will hold your arm out and prepare to cut it with your right scythe, and declare that you will protect the swarm from danger, preserve its unity, keep it from corruption, guide the young to their adulthood, set a positive example for them, be prepared to relocate the swarm if its current living space becomes unsafe or lacking in prey, accept every challenge to your Leadership, lead the rituals described by the Code that I have been teaching you about, refrain from personal ties to other Scyther, and to, before your death, father or bear a number of descendants to inherit your superior strength. All of this you must remember. The memory may fade, but before planning to challenge the Leader you should ask an older Scyther or even the Leader himself and memorize this, as it will give a greatly negative impression if the new Leader has not even cared to learn of what his role will entail. After you have sworn to respect all of these duties, you will cut your arm and let some of your blood fall onto the ground to seal your oath. When you have done this, you are the new Leader, and the swarm should bow to accept you.”

    To describe the ritual so gave him flashbacks to his own declaration of Leadership, where he had sworn all those duties himself. It seemed so much longer ago than merely since the late spring. Even though he had not yet even performed a First Prey ritual, he felt as if he had always been Leader, and the memory of his oath seemed hazy and ancient.

    “What would happen if the Leader were to die hunting or of old age, without having been defeated by a potential successor?” he heard one of the females ask.

    “Those willing to replacing him would determine the strongest in a series of duels,” Shadowdart answered. “But they would be friendly duels. If they were to be true duels, too many of the strongest Scyther of the swarm would be killed within too short a timespan, and the swarm might be severely weakened by their loss. It would be impossible to have all of them killed but the one who stands left. However, such a Leader will not be as accepted as a Leader who has truly defeated the one before him. He will only gain the full respect of the swarm by remaining Leader for a long time, through defeating formidable challengers in true duels for Leadership.”

    He thought about what else he could bring up concerning duels and Leadership, but was there truly anything more than what he had said already? He sighed and looked down at the ground.

    “You may leave now. I hope that you will memorize the oath of the Leader, because even if you do not plan to challenge him, it will teach you much about Codal values.”

    And they stood up and left, all of them. Even Stalker had disappeared by the time he looked back up. Somehow he found himself vaguely disappointed, in an empty manner, but wasn’t sure why – he had after all only been glad to be rid of her constant harassment when she had left him alone recently.

    He looked over at the oak tree. Stormblade was still nowhere to be seen. He wasn’t sure how long he sat there staring at that tree and the wind rustling its branches as the sun slowly sank below the horizon. All he really realized was that when a sharp gust of wind snapped him out of his trance, darkness was already looming over the plains of Ruxido.

    Sighing to himself, the Leader decided to clear his mind by going the forest to hunt.


    XL

    The autumn night was cold.

    Shadowdart shivered slightly as he came to the entrance of the forest and looked into its dark depths. It was a little too dark to be hunting, really. Then again, that was what the prey assumed. They wouldn’t expect a Scyther. They’d be watching out for the Sneasel for sure, but none of them would assume there would be a Scyther stalking about. Of course it was as good a time to hunt as any. Wasn’t he all about being surprising and unconventional? Hadn’t he become Leader through being surprising and unconventional?

    He forced his legs to take him into the forest and was about to hide and look for prey when he got the uncanny feeling that someone was nearby.

    He turned sharply around to see Stalker standing by the entrance to the forest, wearing one of her smiles. It was the smell, he realized dimly in the back of his mind, that had alerted him of her presence.

    “Going out to hunt this late?” she asked.

    Shadowdart hesitated to answer, the question somehow drawing out a chuckle. Again he was starting to feel silly about being out hunting at this time. The smell continued to waft through his nostrils, growing a little stronger, and he realized with a chilling feeling that it was no ordinary smell: it was autumn, when the females were fertile.

    “Why are you doing this?” he asked her finally.

    “Doing what?”

    “Following me. Being after me. Trying to seduce me. Releasing your pheromones at me when we’re alone. What’s the point? What do you get out of it?”

    She laughed. “Oh, come on, now,” she said, her voice silky and smooth. “It’s not as if I can control when I feel the urge to mate.”

    He shivered. She was right about that, of course; the pheromones would obey only the command of her subconscious sex drive. But that it should see fit to release them at just this time said quite something. It was not yet the height of the fertility season. The only thing that could make a female smell so strongly this early was if she was very much in the mood – something she could, of course, technically not control either, but if it was his presence that induced it, she was certainly doing nothing to avoid his presence.

    “I mean it,” he said, looking in the other direction, shutting out all the lovely ideas that his brain was coming up with by the second. “Why are you doing this? Why me?”

    She paused to think and he heard her approach him. He walked a little further from her, too, although he tried not to make the intention of getting further away from her be too obvious. What sort of Leader, after all, needed to flee before an adolescent female?

    But that smell. That sickening yet heavenly smell that he simultaneously wished to smell for the rest of his life and never smell again – it was assaulting his brain like thousands of tiny little needles, each trying to inject him with all sorts of ideas he should not be getting. It hit him, painfully, bitingly, that he had not mated in a very, very long time – unbearably long. Hadn’t he sworn, he thought crazily and hated himself for it, to father descendants to inherit his strength?

    “Why?” she responded at last. “Because I watched your duel with the former Leader, and I was impressed. You’re strong and intelligent. You have guts. And, after all, you are the Leader…”

    He felt that she was very close to him, that the edge of her scythe was stroking lightly along his back, sending little shivers of warmth spreading all through his body. He could feel her hot, excited breathing on the back of his own neck as he still steadfastly refused to look at her.

    “You’re powerful…” she went on, “inventive… unconventional… everything that makes a Scyther admirable. Everything that males a male attractive.”

    No.

    It was wrong.

    It was disgusting.

    “Please go away,” he said and heard his voice shake. “I’m glad you think so highly of me, but you’re young and confused. This is wrong and I don’t want it. Just stop this.”

    “Am I not desirable enough to bear powerful descendants to even the Leader himself?” she asked quietly, and there was all too much naïve honesty to the question behind its rhetorical presentation. He shook his head.

    “If any female were to bear my descendants, it would be you,” he found himself saying, very softly. He wasn’t even sure why. She was sick; she was twisted; seductive; amoral. Why did he cling to those features of her that had initially charmed him, latch on to them as if they made up for all the rest?

    “Then why do I need to have my First Prey to prove it?” she whispered, again stroking her scythe along his back. She was very close to him now and the smell was strong and distinct. “Do you find me immature and unable to make decisions?”

    Her tongue touched the side of his head and he felt himself twitch in sudden panic. He let out an odd yelp, a frightened sound he hadn’t even known he could make, turning suddenly and shaking her off him. “Go!” he screamed. “Leave me alone!”

    She backed off and looked at him, and they stared into each other’s eyes for a few long seconds. A mixture of emotions touched her circular pupils, some arrogant amusement, some of that slyness she had always maintained, and he thought he could also see some confusion and insecurity flicker in them for a second. But only for a second.

    She sent him one of her grins as she turned around. “If you like, Leader.”

    And just then, as she was about to walk off and her sweet smell was starting to recede from the air that Shadowdart breathed, the need blazed up in him with reinforced power. All the reasons why it was wrong had turned hazy in the mist of feminine scent that his body now screamed in agony from having lost.

    Suddenly nothing existed except him, the heavenly smell, her beautiful form, the insatiable urge for reproduction. His legs kicked off the ground and his scythes rose to knock her down as she turned around in sudden fear and surprise, just before he pinned her harshly to the ground. His self and morality drowned in an endless sea of red, blazing lust, and suddenly it ceased to make any difference whether her wide eyes were begging him to continue or to stop while struggling scythes moved blindly, breathless voices cried into the empty darkness and salty tears blurred desperate eyes.

    The autumn night was biting, searing cold.


    XLI

    Damn it.

    It was so wrong.

    Shadowdart sat by his rock, absent-mindedly sweeping his scythe horizontally over the grass to shred each straw into tiny pieces. An inkling of warm, orange light touched the eastern horizon. The Scyther would soon be waking up.

    Except him. He hadn’t gone to sleep in the first place.

    He shivered as his mind flashed back to the events of the evening. What had he done? She was an adolescent, and not just an adolescent. She had struggled. Screamed. The sly seductiveness had been long gone from her eyes – of course, because what had it been all along other than the elaborate act of a naïve mind confused by its own urges and blinded by its admiration for power? – and he had done it anyway. It was terrible. It was a crime. It was deplorable. How could he have done it, he, Shadowdart, the Leader, who had so carefully elaborated an argument on its wrongness only months before? He who had on the grounds of hypocritical immorality despised and replaced the previous Leader? He who had once, long ago, been puzzled by the notion of why anyone would want to spend his time looking at females?

    Well, of course, he realized suddenly, stopping and looking up, a flare of anger flashing through his head. Because she had manipulated him, that was why.

    Yes, she had been seducing him all along, asking for it, begging for it, even as he refused – was it his fault if she turned out not to have truly wanted it to begin with? Heck, she must have wanted it. Why else would she have been asking for it all this time? She had admired him, had a deep-rooted crush on him all along, and there was no way to fake the scent of an aroused female that had practically been dribbling all over him from her: she had wanted it, and wanted it badly. It was obvious. Was it his fault if she had changed her mind at the last second?

    He’d done everything in his power to prevent it from happening. She had dragged him on to do it. He hadn’t been able to stop it. He had fought it for as long as he could. How could he be blamed for it?

    She had been asking for it.

    He felt himself suddenly, heatedly, driving the blade of his right scythe into the ground, where it sank slightly into the soil. “She was asking for it, damn it,” he repeated aloud.

    But it didn’t change her age, and it didn’t change that she had struggled away from him, shaking, and fled into the forest as soon as he had finished and was momentarily weakened by involuntary muscle contractions. He had been left panting, lying alone, bleeding and pathetic on the ground while he had slowly regained his senses and come to the full realization of what he had done. And eventually, to complete his humiliation, he had walked slowly back to the swarm, bearing his cuts as physical evidence of the deed, and sat down for a night of fixated staring into space and the bitter beheading of the flowers foolish enough to grow in his path.

    He looked down and suddenly realized that in the remains of the grass there was a gleaming piece of a blade, in fact from his own, half-sunken into the soil, that he had apparently missed when he’d carried all the scythe-pieces away. He sat there and stared dully at it for a moment and then absent-mindedly raked some of the grass blades lying beside it on top of the piece so it would be overlooked by a casual observer. He had better things to worry about for the moment.

    The cuts. What would he do about them? They wouldn’t in themselves tell anyone any more than that he had been mating, but being that he was the Leader, they would be interested in who it might have been, and any Scyther willing to ask around and able to add two and two would realize that it had been her even if he could get her to keep it secret. She might even lay an egg that spring that would confirm it. And what would he do then? The swarm would never accept a Leader who had mated with an adolescent. They had been able to look past the old Leader’s hypocrisy, but never this. It was just too terrible a thing to do, a violation of something too sacred for comfort. What sort of Leader would he be if he just started to excuse himself, tell them it had been her fault? Not a good one.

    He could tell them he had been on a hunt. It was the only way out. Yes, even though the injuries from hunting were generally easily recognizable as different from those of mating, he had to pass them off as wounds from a hunt. He could hunt and get himself a little more injured, so that the larger, deeper scratches would be more noticeable. Perhaps. But then he would have to leave immediately, before the other Scyther discovered him.

    Shadowdart stood up and dashed towards the forest, hoping that none of the Scyther who were already awake had managed to get a good look at him. He didn’t stop until he’d gotten deep enough in for it to be virtually impossible that any other Scyther who might also decide it was a good day to hunt would come across his path.

    The easiest way for him to get himself hurt would be to find a Letaligon, but it was rather more dangerous than finding most other Pokémon. For one thing it was generally difficult to find them alone, and if there were many of them together it would be suicidal to attack them. Secondly they were some of the best counterattackers of any of the prey of Ruxido, so even one Letaligon was a formidable foe even for a Scyther. They knew how to use the blades on their heads, and when they hit they hit hard. When Scyther did kill Letaligon for prey, it lay in the strategy of trying to surprise the Letaligon and kill it before it had the opportunity to counterattack – and since he was planning to get injured, that strategy would not work. Attacking a Letaligon, letting it strike him and hoping he survived its attacks would be far too risky, even in the unlikely case he managed to find one at all.

    So he would have to find some other prey that would injure him with cuts – but what? How many clawed Pokémon were there that the Scyther ate?

    He looked in every direction for possibilities, left, right, back, and up.

    Up. And he realized suddenly that not only did Pidgeot have claws – they would not inflict injuries much bigger than what he had now. Yes, it would in fact be believable if he simply said he had killed a particularly agile Pidgeot that had perhaps had the benefit of some Pidgey or Pidgeotto distractions working with it that had allowed it to scratch him so much.

    They would still look like the cuts from a mating, of course – but he was the Leader; who would accuse him of lying if his story could be true? He was starting to believe it would all work out right and closed his eyes, tuning his other senses to make sure there were no Scyther around.

    His eyes snapped back open. He’d smelled blood – and no ordinary blood, either. Scyther blood. He looked around quickly, seeing nothing, and then closed his eyes again to focus on the faint odor and let his sense of smell lead him on. It grew gradually stronger until the direction of it was easy to follow even without focusing, and soon he could see a dark green form lying motionless against a tree stump in front of him and sped over to it.

    His stomach lurched and tied itself into a knot.

    It was Stalker, and she was dead.

    Her green form lay there peacefully, her left scythe lying by her side, her right still lodged in her throat, splattered with a crust of dark, dried blood. Her eyes were open, staring upwards in a frozen expression of despair and fear, her back supported by the stump of a dead tree whose thick trunk lay uselessly on the ground beside it.

    It was the saddest sight Shadowdart had ever seen.

    “Why?” he whispered, the sorrow he could hear in his own voice worrying him.

    He stared at her dead face, trying to make out exactly why she had done it. The knowledge that it might have been his doing crept up his back and made the back of his neck shiver uncomfortably.

    Then again, perhaps it had merely been suicide of guilt – perhaps she had realized the extent to which she had manipulated him, repented for it and realized that she was incapable of moral thinking according to the Code because she lacked the fundamental understanding of fairness.

    Then he was maybe even glad that she had done it herself so that he wouldn’t have to do it to her one day.

    He shivered and looked away. She was dead. That meant no egg and no witness. Nobody would ever have to know now.

    He looked back at her body, that beautiful body that should have grown to mature so much further, and decided that the position she had died in looked dignifying enough. She was somehow defiant, proud, the fear in her expression something very far from fear of death. He made a cut to her arm to wet his scythe with some of her blood, and then turned away from her. For a moment he hesitated and took a deep breath, wanting to look back – but then he took off, flew up through the canopy, and headed back towards the swarm to declare her death.

    The first drops of rain were falling upon the ground below.


    XLII

    After calling out from the Leader’s rock, it did not take Shadowdart long to gather all the Scyther by the stream. Cold, heavy raindrops hit the green armor of dozens of Scyther as Shadowdart tried to shield the smears of blood on his scythe from the raindrops.

    “Today,” he said, firmly keeping the shakiness out of his voice, “we commemorate a Scyther who has left our ranks.”

    Every one of the adult swarm members had the blank look of a person being told about the death of someone he only ever knew distantly. The four young Scyther that had taken First Prey lessons with her stood silently with vague emotion flickering in their expressions. Her parents were probably either dead or had long since stopped watching their daughter’s progress through life, having no idea it was her who was dead. It was all distanced and unemotional, and suddenly Shadowdart was struck with an overwhelming feeling of pointlessness: why was he even setting her off in a ceremony when the swarm hardly knew who she had been?

    But he was the Leader, and this was the way things were done and had always been.

    “She never managed to reach adulthood. The autumn before she would have caught her First Prey, she ended her life by suicide of guilt. I cannot say exactly what it was that made her choose to die.” He stopped to swallow and take a few breaths, and became dimly aware of the eyes on the cuts covering his body, whispering voices behind his words that he wanted to scream down in rage and kill, every last one of them, if they couldn’t even show the respect to be silent when the death of a fellow Scyther was acknowledged.

    “I only found her body in the forest by chance after an exhausting battle with a Pidgeot brought me to the spot where she was. She still had her scythe lodged in her throat. We can only assume that for her to have committed the suicide of guilt, she must have been guilty of something. This is a good time to remember that ultimately she did the right thing.”

    Every word he was saying felt like a blade slashing through his heart, but he continued all the same, the rain beating on his armor. “Those who break the Code are liable to do it again. A Code-breaker may be sent spiralling down the path to immorality at such a speed that he can no longer stop himself. She could foresee it and put an end to it before it was too late. She repented for her actions but realized that she might be led still further if she remained alive. Let us all consider her example and let it be a reminder to us as we put her death behind us.” He took a deep breath and raised his bloodied scythe, raindrops rapidly dissolving the streaks of blood. “Death is not to be feared, for it is the only thing that we all have in common.”

    “Death is not to be feared,” the swarm droned, emotionlessly, monotonously, without even understanding what it meant. They were fools, all of them. He hated them.

    “May her true spirit live on among us and her death be accepted.”

    And he lowered his scythe into the stream with the little blood that was left on it and let the water wash the red color away. It was all that was left of her, and now it was gone, leaving her body in the forest as no more than a reflection of what had once been that would slowly decay and disappear.

    Chapter 64: Hide and Seek
    The story of an ordinary boy on an impossible quest in a world that isn't as black and white as he always thought it was.
    (rough draft of the remaining chapters finished for NaNoWriMo; to be edited and posted)

    Morphic
    (completed, plus silly extras)
    A few scientists get drunk and start fiddling with gene splicing. Ten years later, they're taking care of eight half-Pokémon kids, each freakier than the next, while a religious fanatic plots to murder them all.

    Lengthy fanfiction reviewing guide / A more condensed version
    Read and I will be very happy for a large number of reasons.

  24. #24
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    ...And again, I find myself saying holy ****. o.o Well, I can't speak for anyone else, of course, but I'm of the opinion that that was the best part of the story to date.

    First of all, I think that part did an especially good job of exploring the morals of the Scyther. I loved watching Shadowdart ponder them and seek a deeper understanding of them, and I also really enjoyed the debates about them between Stalker and Shadowdart. Both of those things provided a look at those morals from interesting new angles.

        Spoiler:- :


    Other highlights:

    There are examples of Scyther who have literally cut off one another’s heads in the heat of the moment.
    That... damn, that warrants both a "O___O" and a "XDDDD". XP

    “What would happen if the Leader were to die hunting or of old age, without having been defeated by a potential successor?” he heard one of the females ask.

    “Those willing to replacing him would determine the strongest in a series of duels,” Shadowdart answered. “But they would be friendly duels. If they were to be true duels, too many of the strongest Scyther of the swarm would be killed within too short a timespan, and the swarm might be severely weakened by their loss. It would be impossible to have all of them killed but the one who stands left. However, such a Leader will not be as accepted as a Leader who has truly defeated the one before him. He will only gain the full respect of the swarm by remaining Leader for a long time, through defeating formidable challengers in true duels for Leadership.”
    I'm glad you included that part there--I'd wondered what they did in the event that the Leader died of a cause other than being defeated by a challenger.

    But that smell. That sickening yet heavenly smell that he simultaneously wished to smell for the rest of his life and never smell again – it was assaulting his brain like thousands of tiny little needles, each trying to inject him with all sorts of ideas he should not be getting.
    Nicely worded.

    And eventually, to complete his humiliation, he had walked slowly back to the swarm, bearing his cuts as physical evidence of the deed, and sat down for a night of fixated staring into space and the bitter beheading of the flowers foolish enough to grow in his path.
    That little part there made me smile. XD

    The first drops of rain were falling upon the ground below.
    Something about the fact that that line occurred where it did, that it followed what it did, gave it this incredible emotional impact, which I loved.
    DON'T CALL IT A COMEBACK
    (Or do. I don't actually mind.)
    The Origin of Storms | Communication

  25. #25
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    Sike Saner: Thanks for reviewing, and I'm glad you liked part six. I liked it more when I edited it, too, so it's probably my favorite as well.

    So here's the end, finally. Closet readers, this is the time to come out and review, since there will be no more chapters. Enjoy.


    PART VII: DOWNFALL

    XLIII

    Winter settled gradually into the land, carrying northern winds and freezing cold. The old oak on the hill was still deserted, standing alone as a looming reminder of Shadowdart’s lost friend.

    Yes, he was alone now, the ultimate Leader, devoid of personal ties. He knew no one in the swarm better than another, and no one knew him better than another. He was their neutral symbol of unity, one without attachment, one without bias. Just as a Leader ought to be.

    Shadowdart didn’t trouble himself with his loss of friends. He felt more focused than ever, better than ever, stronger than ever. His abilities as Leader had won the respect and support of every Scyther in the swarm. The young looked to him for guidance. The older recognized his superior knowledge of moral matters. The adolescents he was teaching learned more and more about the Code and its greater context.

    And in between, Shadowdart had been meditating on his plans for the future, which were now at last finalized. On this cold day, he stepped up onto the Leader’s rock and announced an important swarmwide meeting.

    The Scyther below looked at him in surprise. Most rituals and ceremonies were only attended by whatever portion of the swarm happened to be there when they were announced – but this was a swarmwide one, one that required those present to go out and seek those they knew that were not. One by one, the Scyther moved, either to gather below the Leader’s rock or to look for their absent friends.

    It took a while for them all to return, but Shadowdart had plenty of time.

    Before he had challenged the Leader, he had told Stormblade that he intended to change things in the swarm. He had not done so yet – he had taught new things to the adolescents, sure, but he had not actively changed anything. He had had it planned all along, and made no secret of it to his pupils – but it was only now that he would announce it to the swarm.

    He waited. He could wait. He would rather have all of the swarm present when he had such a major announcement to make, something that would affect all of them. If they had no friends to tell him of the new laws, how would they ever know until they were faced with them? And that would not be fair. Everyone had to play by the same rules if they were to be fair.

    “Is everyone here?” Shadowdart asked over the whispers of speculation as two Scyther at last returned from Ruxido. His voice immediately silenced the swarm and he now commanded the attention of every pair of eyes in front of him. “Do you know of any member of this swarm who is not yet here?”

    The Scyther looked at one another, but there was no objection.

    “Today,” Shadowdart said, speaking loudly enough for those farthest away from him to hear him clearly, “I have a very important announcement to make. Make careful note of it, because it may affect all of you.”

    He allowed the words to sink in. All the setup had created electric tension in the air. He could almost hear their brains creaking as they wondered what he had called this meeting for.

    “Code-breaking runs rampant in this swarm,” he said, his words cold and harsh as he looked over the Scyther. “There are many among you who have been led astray by your instincts and urges into the moral quicksand known as love. There are many among you who fear death but think that if you hide it well enough from the surface, you are exempt from its consequences. This is not true. The Code is a thing of perfection, of ultimate fairness, something that describes how to live your lives righteously without hypocrisy, and yet many of you do not seem to understand the importance of living your lives in such a way.”

    He could see the shifting gazes and nervous glances being exchanged, the sudden fear in the eyes of more than half of the group; it angered him to look at how pathetic they were, his swarm, his swarm that should have been the most moral of them all because they had the most moral Leader of them all.

    “The suicide of guilt,” he said, “is awfully uncommon. This, in itself, is not a bad thing. Some Scyther can be redeemed after they have realized the wrong they have done, and then what use is it for them to die? However, this is unfortunately not the reason that it is uncommon. The real reason for the decline of the suicide of guilt is simple moral decay. Those who are guilty refuse to admit that they have done anything wrong and proceed to move ever more rapidly on to increasing corruption and immorality that could so easily be stopped if they realized their hopeless situation earlier and put an end to it. But they don’t – of course they don’t, because it follows from the moral decline they have already been through that they will not repent for their actions. It is a very brave thing indeed to pull out of the vicious cycle of Code-breaking to commit the suicide of guilt before sinking any lower – but it is a feat achieved by only a few.”

    A sting of pain, a flash of memory, seared through his mind for a fraction of a second: a beautiful young female with her scythe lodged in her throat, him only hours earlier holding her down while she whimpered and struggled – but he pushed it away and maintained his cool expression. It was in the past. There was no use dwelling on the past.

    “I have therefore judged it to be necessary for preserving this swarm’s morality that I should have the power to order forced suicide as a means of helping those individuals who are too far gone to come to their senses on their own.”

    He could see the surprise flickering through the swarm’s eyes as they looked blankly at one another. He could see how quickly it was replaced by fury and outrage.

    “What?”

    “How can he even suggest that?”

    “Has the Leader turned insane?”

    Shadowdart had been expecting the swarm to take such a change with hostility, and made a gesture with the remains of his left scythe that quickly silenced the cries of protest, some because of the sheer authority of the movement, some out of fear of the threat implied, and some out of pure disgust as their attention was drawn to the horribly mangled limb. No matter the situation, raising that scythe had proven itself to be quick to silence a chaotic crowd: the mutilated scythe had in only a matter of months become a symbol of authority, of the Leader himself, rather than one of humiliation and defeat. It was one of Shadowdart’s many achievements in his short period of Leadership.

    “This is necessary,” he repeated. “If you object to this new law, I can only take it as a sign that you fear death enough to consider it worse for a Scyther to die than to spiral ever on towards ever more moral depravity until such a time that some other incidence causes his death.”

    He could see the confusion and nervousness entering their eyes now as they looked at one another in silence. The accusation had hit close to home in most of them. Of course. They had most been taught by the Leader before him, that hypocrite who had expected them not to defeat their fear of death but to bury it somewhere deep within their minds and pretend it did not exist. This was a test that showed them for what they are – nearly all of them found it preposterous that a Scyther be killed, but not that he would otherwise only die a still more pathetic creature than he had already become.

    “I hope you have not forgotten that death is inevitable,” he said, his tone of voice harsh but quieter than before. “They will all die regardless of my intervention, by one means or another. The difference between dying sooner or later is only our actions in the meantime, and I plan to employ this strictly for individuals who have sunk deep enough already for it to be clear that their actions in the meantime will only pull them deeper into the pit of immorality.”

    The Scyther were silent and stared at him in disbelief, as if they expected him to suddenly change his mind. Shadowdart stood his ground, giving no indication that he was about to do so.

    “From now on,” he said, “any one of you may approach me at any time here at the Leader’s rock to inform me of a Scyther you believe to be beyond help in moral matters. I will also do more of making note of specific individuals when I observe any Code-breaking myself. And this, I should emphasize, includes all Code-breaking. It includes your so-called love. It includes not sharpening your scythes sufficiently. Of course everything will be done to help every Scyther with a chance of recovering from their immoral tendencies to do so – but in extreme cases, we will have a measure to take. That is all it means. You will have five days’ warning from today before any forced suicide will take place, but after that there will be regular evening gatherings where I will call those unfortunate serial Code-breakers up to the rock and let them die either by their own scythe or mine. Unless you have any comments, this meeting is hereby disbanded.”

    He could see in their eyes that many of them wanted to comment, but none did.

    One by one, the Scyther turned away and returned to their former activities, more aware than ever of Shadowdart’s watchful eye.


    XLIV

    Stormblade was much farther away than any Scyther still belonging to the swarm had ever been.

    Yes, while they had hunted all around Ruxido, even flown up into the mountains and explored the general area near the swarm, he was far enough away that he had no idea what the place was at all. There was seemingly endless tall grass, and there was quite the abundance of prey. Human routes lay not too far away, but at this time of the year there was not much traffic around them. He had not managed to gather much else about the place, but it was nice – more or less a Scyther’s paradise.

    Aside from the distinct lack of other Scyther, of course.

    Most would not have admitted it to themselves, but Stormblade had long since realized that the loneliness was killing him. He found himself increasingly tempted to turn to other species, even to prey, as company, but the wild Pokémon fled when they saw him and fought to the last drop when they realized they couldn’t escape. Back on the Ruxido plains, all the wild Pokémon had been somewhat used to the Scyther. Here, he was quite simply the single most fearsome predator in the area for as long as any living Pokémon could remember, and trying to yell at them as they disappeared from sight that he was just misunderstood was certainly no recipe for success.

    That didn’t stop him trying.

    “Rattata?” he whispered into a small hole in the ground. “I just want to… talk.”

    He realized how silly it sounded – but that was a small price to pay for that chance he might succeed in having a conversation.

    “Don’t come near me!” he heard a terrified voice squeak from inside the hole. “I’m only flesh and bones, I’m tiny, you don’t want to eat me, please…”

    “Just talk,” Stormblade repeated, holding his scythes back in as nonthreatening a manner as he could manage as he crouched down to the ground and tried to bring his eye down to the level of the hole. “Please?”

    But there was no more of a reply except for the Rattata’s terrified breathing, which was disappointing even for his previous results; he had sometimes at least managed to get into a brief debate about the possible honesty of his intentions. He sighed and stood up, his stomach immediately assaulting him with a dull feeling of emptiness. Part of him considered digging up the Rattata from the hole and eating it – it would be easy prey – but the thought of killing a creature he had only moments earlier willingly attempted to converse with was rather too awkward, and the Rattata was probably right about its nutritional value, anyway.

    He wished, as he had so often, that he were only back in the swarm with Shadowdart, but shook the thought off. Shadowdart had changed. He’d become too preoccupied with his power, with the Code, with keeping the swarm within his own paranoid moral restrictions, that he had in the process lost all traces of morality that he himself had ever had. He was not just the Leader, the Scyther who was responsible for their traditional knowledge and for the defense of the swarm: he had made himself a tyrannical ruler.

    The Shadowdart he had been friends on and off with – he was gone. And it had only been on and off, anyway, and to Shadowdart it had always come second to those endless ponderings about the perfection of the Code. What Stormblade had realized that day he had left the swarm had been that not only had he and Razor never been the best of friends to him: Shadowdart had never been the best of friends to them, either. Perhaps it was their fault – perhaps Shadowdart just didn’t understand friendship because he had never experienced it. The idea of truly caring for someone else, and not only because they were company to him – did he comprehend it at all as anything more than one more violation of his precious Code?

    What Razor had done still disgusted Stormblade – but not for the same reasons as it disgusted Shadowdart. Stormblade was appalled that Razor had not cared enough to risk himself for Nightmare. Shadowdart merely hated Razor out of spite that he had arbitrarily justified with his numerous breakings of the Code – numerous, numbers, something clearly defined. Everything was clearly defined in Shadowdart’s mind.

    Stormblade, on the other hand, couldn’t think in terms of things that were clearly defined. He could tell whether someone had done something wrong by instinct without all that careful step-by-step evaluation. If Shadowdart preferred to think that his method worked better, that was fine – but when he was forcing his moral judgement on everyone in the swarm with something like forced suicide, he was just overstepping the line, and forced suicide itself was one of the most morally abhorrent ideas he had ever heard of. At least by Stormblade’s instinctual evaluation of the idea, which was what he preferred to trust. Shadowdart managed to make it sound good in principle when he spoke of it, but something about the idea made Stormblade cringe. Well, what the hell did he know? At least that day had made him realize that he and Stormblade just did not think in the same terms, and it would be impossible for him to stay in the swarm and look upon him use his power in that way. He’d had to go. He had promised Pearl he would leave the swarm if Shadowdart ever became Leader – it had been more than time for him to actually make it reality.

    He heard movement in the grass and was quick to react, his empty stomach shooting down any plans for further conversation attempts before he could even begin to formulate them. A brown ferret Pokémon let out a squeak of surprise that was cut short as Stormblade’s scythe severed its windpipe. Quick and painless. Just how the Code liked it.

    He snorted to himself, not without some shred of guilty sympathy for the Furret he had just killed, and started to wolf down its flesh.

    The rustle indicating a creature in too much of a hurry to care about being heard made him look up in the direction of the human road in the distance. He could see movement in the grass ahead, growing ever nearer while grass blades flew in all directions from the source of it.

    A Scyther, he immediately thought, his heart taking a leap. He very nearly left his half-eaten Furret where it was, but he was just a bit too hungry to risk some scavenger stealing his prey. He picked it quickly up in his mouth and took off the ground, zooming towards the movement in excitement. It took him only a couple of seconds to get near enough to see the creature from above.

    A red, metallic body, useless paper-thin wings and arms ending in jagged pincers that furiously cut away at the grass assaulted his senses all at once, causing him to twitch in horror.

    Not a Scyther. A Scizor.

    In his shock at the discovery, Stormblade quite simply forgot to fly. He crashed into the grass and hit his head awkwardly on just about the only rock to be found in the grass field, the limp Furret falling out of his jaws just in front of the Scizor as it stopped abruptly.

    It looked at him, seemingly no less taken aback at the sight of him than he was. “Are you hurt?” it asked hesitantly after a moment, the voice sounding more feminine than masculine although Stormblade did not have any experience with detecting the sex of Scizor through their voices and was rather too alarmed and revolted to care. He stood up and began to back away, feeling the muscles of his face twitch with repulsion as his gaze again found the pincers on the creature’s arms.

    He had heard stories about Scizor when he was young, terrible stories about Scyther who were captured by humans and evolved into this monstrous freak species to lose their speed and scythes and be turned into slaves. To see one with his own eyes only made the lack of scythes all the more grotesque; the first thing that came to mind was that a Scyther with a mutilated scythe like Shadowdart was bad enough, but one with both of his scythes replaced with… those…

    The Scizor saw him cringing and he thought he could detect bitter sorrow in her eyes, as if maybe she wanted to say that she found it every bit as horrifying as he did. It made him linger behind instead of running away as he would have preferred, but he averted his eyes from her body and instead looked firmly down at the grass.

    “Do I… do I know you?” the Scizor asked slowly.

    Part of Stormblade, the part that was still repulsed and wanted to leave as soon as possible, wanted to tell her no and end the conversation. The other pointed out that just earlier he had been voluntarily attempting to talk to a Rattata – this was at least a former Scyther, and she was talking to him willingly. Any company had to be better than nothing.

    He forced himself to look up and winced, finally managing to look into her eyes while making sure that her arms did not come within his line of sight. “I can’t say I remember you,” he said, the words sounding spiky and forced.

    She looked at him for a long while. “No, I’m sure it was you,” she said finally. “I duelled your friend the day I left my swarm. You were there.”

    Nightmare.

    It was Nightmare.

    Stormblade stared at her in disbelief. Nightmare. That beautiful, fast Scyther that Razor had gone off chasing after that fateful day nearly four years earlier. She was standing in front of him. And she was a Scizor. What a dreadful waste of a Scyther. And Razor had let it happen. Razor had stood and watched while it had happened. While this abomination happened to her. The one he was supposedly so in love with that he had left the swarm to find her.

    “I’m sorry that it happened to you,” he said quietly, looking down again. “Razor told me… I saw him again, I mean, and he was still alive, and he told me he’d just… stood there and watched you be caught.”

    “Did he?” she asked faintly, and Stormblade remembered that she had supposedly been asleep at the time. He looked awkwardly up at her. “Yes. Or so he said.” He paused. “He seemed to regret it,” he added.

    “He’d better,” she replied with a slight hint of distaste to her voice but no more. There was a short silence.

    “We’re far away from the Ruxido plains, aren’t we?” she asked quietly at last.

    Stormblade nodded.

    “What are you doing here, then?”

    “I left the swarm,” he said and decided after a moment of hesitation not to elaborate unless she asked. She didn’t.

    “When?” she asked instead.

    “Not that long ago. A few months.”

    “How has the swarm been since I left?”

    Stormblade shrugged, although painful memories were digging their way around his brain. “The Leader was defeated,” he responded at last.

    “Oh.” She paused for a moment. “Who replaced him?”

    “Another friend of mine.”

    The mention of friends seemed to stir something within her. “I don’t expect you know how Sickle has been at all, have you? The one who was with me that day?”

    Stormblade’s heart writhed in agony and he was silent for a long while, staring into the grass by their feet. “She… she’s dead,” he finally said, his voice a barely audible whisper.

    She looked into his eyes for a few seconds with the distanced gaze of someone who has seen and experienced so many unfamiliar and alien things in such a short time that to hear that time had passed and things changed in the swarm as well, the static reference point that she had taken for granted throughout all of it, seemed downright absurd and unreal.

    It suddenly occurred to Stormblade for just how long she’d been gone.

    “Oh,” she said finally, the tone of her voice the empty kind that implied she wasn’t sure what she could say.

    “How did you get away from the human?” Stormblade asked her, realizing that Pearl was a very uncomfortable subject for both of them.

    “He released me. He said he was going to quit training.”

    There was a silence, and he could see her gaze shift in discomfort, although she said nothing.

    “Humans aren’t as bad as they say,” she murmured after a while. Stormblade stared at her in disbelief as she looked up, still decidedly averting his eyes from those horrible pincers, which she must have noticed. “He evolved me, yes, but when I told him what Scyther think of being evolved, he said he was sorry. He never made me fight without first asking me if I felt up to it.” She paused briefly. “I participated in this… this tournament where the Pokémon could fight alone. And… I fought him. The one you call Razor.”

    Stormblade stared, his brain desperately trying to piece things together. “You fought him? As a Scizor?”

    She nodded, wincing at his use of the word ‘Scizor’. “I didn’t recognize him at first, since I was too focused on trying to beat him and wasn’t paying much attention to his features. But he… he was faster and still had his scythes,” she spat bitterly. “He beat me and was about to kill me. And my trainer tried to make the organizers call off the duel then so that I wouldn’t be killed.”

    Stormblade regarded her in silence. “Did they?”

    She shook her head. “No. But then I recognized him, and he recognized me. He let me go.” She paused for a moment, looking absent-mindedly at the grass all around. “Just like I did the day we left the swarm,” she added quietly.

    Stormblade nodded and suddenly realized that the dead Furret was still lying in front of him. “Are you hungry?” he asked, indicating it. She nodded gratefully and, without words, they began to eat.

    It was Nightmare. She was back. It still hadn’t quite registered in Stormblade’s brain. He forced himself to look at her pincers, wincing ever so slightly less than he had when he had seen them for the first time.

    So humans weren’t so bad after all, not all evil creatures who replaced the scythes of innocent Scyther with useless pincers and robbed Pokémon of their free will. It did explain things about Razor; while it had never been what had bothered him most when he had met him, he could now plausibly see how Razor could have come to accept life with the humans who had been with him. But nonetheless…

    “Why didn’t you just ask him to release you before?” he asked, again wincing a little less when his gaze passed her pincers. “If he never made you do anything unless you wanted it… why did you ever want it?”

    She swallowed slowly and took a while to think about it. “I suppose,” she said finally, “I just didn’t know what else I was meant to do.”

    Stormblade considered this for a moment, but didn’t say anything.

    “It’s strange,” she went on. “I wanted to get away the moment he let me out of that ball. But I couldn’t even fly in my new body, and well, after the initial shock, I realized that now that I was a Scizor I would never be able to integrate into Scyther society again. I didn’t even know how I’d hunt with these things.” She raised her pincers uselessly and Stormblade managed to keep his disgust more or less off his face this time. “So really, why wouldn’t I stay? At least he gave me food and seemed more considerate than I’d been told humans were, and if I agreed to battle for him on occasion I would at least have something to live for and some other Pokémon around my skill level willing to duel.” She shook her head. “I really have become sickening to your eyes, haven’t I?”

    Stormblade made himself look her up and down. “I’d be lying if I said no. Physically, anyway.”

    “Morally?” She looked at him, and he thought about it.

    He didn’t feel anything at all. No disgust at her actions, no disdain for her thoughts, nothing.

    “No,” he said. “Not to me. But I don’t think the Leader would agree.” It felt strange to speak of Shadowdart as the Leader. He had gotten used to the idea, but he had never attached the name properly to him. In fact, the Leader and Shadowdart seemed like two distinctly different characters.

    She turned away. “Thought so.”

    She had changed. The day she had duelled Razor she had been confident and sarcastic. Now she seemed so dull somehow, like the life had been sucked out of her. Like she had lost her purpose and didn’t know what to do with herself and was only keeping up a conversation with him because he was there. It saddened him.

    “Why did you leave the swarm, anyway?” she suddenly asked, turning back to him.

    “Disputes with the Leader,” Stormblade replied and sighed. “He told me he wanted to force the suicide of repeated Code-breakers that he thinks are beyond help.”

    He could see her cringe at the idea and felt a little warmer to know that he was not alone.

    “He’s all about morals and righteousness and the Code,” Stormblade said. “And everything he says kind of makes sense, I suppose, but it disgusts me anyway.”

    She snorted spitefully. “I believed in the Code back when I was in the swarm, but now that I’ve got more experience with the world, I’ve realized it’s nothing but a set of arbitrary rules designed to make everyone affected by them as unhappy as possible. It says one should not let oneself be manipulated, and yet it’s the most deceptively manipulative pile of ******** ever devised by Scytherkind. As soon as you’ve spent any time at all in a more sensible society, you can’t help noticing the irony of it.”

    Stormblade stared at her in a vague blend of disbelief and admiration. He’d never dared to word it that bluntly even privately to himself. What was more, she seemed to have cheered up to some extent, because she was returning to her old mocking self that he warmly recognized from the day Razor had left. He smiled.

    “I wish somebody could tell Shadowdart that.”

    She nodded absent-mindedly, took another bite of the Furret, and then suddenly turned to him. “You know what? Let’s do it. Go back to the swarm and put an end to all that crap. I’ve got nothing better to do now anyway, and I think I have a lot of things to say that would be healthy for all the morons back there to hear.”

    He stared at her. “What? Now? With you… like this?” He gestured vaguely at her pincers, the sight of which still bothered him a little.

    “Why not? It’s not as if they’re going to magically change back into scythes if we wait. Besides, I’d love to see the looks on their faces.” She smiled with a mischievous glitter of glee in her eyes. “Come on. We have nothing to lose. If you’re not coming with me, I’ll go alone.”

    Well. She was right, in a way. If he stayed behind, he’d continue to be devoid of company for some indefinite amount of time. If he went with her, he’d at least have her, even though they would make permanent enemies of the whole swarm. And the thought of standing up to Shadowdart in his presence suddenly seemed awfully irresistible.

    He stood up, ripping a last strip of meat from the Furret, and told her, “Let’s go, then.”


    XLV

    The swarm had changed – for the better, as far as Shadowdart was concerned. And that night, another slow step towards change would be taken.

    “I am told that one of you has entertained the thought of murdering me,” he said over the swarm on that evening’s gathering. The bulky male adolescent who had alerted him of it immediately pointed out a smaller Scyther in the crowd below, whose eyes widened as he tried to fight his way past the neighbouring Scyther and escape. They blocked his way and pushed him roughly up towards the Leader’s rock, where Shadowdart smiled grimly.

    “So is it true?” he asked the young Scyther, narrowing his eyes. “Is it true that you have been guilty of planning murder?”

    He didn’t even admit his guilt. There was fear shining from those eyes as the guilty Scyther raised his scythe to his throat. The young one didn’t close them before he did it.

    Dark blood splattered into the yellowed grass as the Code-breaker’s dying body collapsed onto the ground. Shadowdart looked on it with a wild gleam of triumph in his eyes: there were few things that gave him happiness anymore, since his enjoyment of the First Prey preparation lessons had mostly faded, being Leader was a concept he had gotten used to by now and mating was more procedure than anything else, but seeing the laws he had put into place being effective at what they were meant to do made him feel very satisfied indeed.

    If he had not made that Scyther commit suicide, he would perhaps have been killed that night. And the young Scyther would have been guilty of murdering the Leader. Now he was still alive, and the other Scyther had died innocent of everything but the malicious intent. Both of them were better off. He was starting to see the swarm realizing this slowly, one by one. More dared to report Code-breakers than at the beginning. The Scyther were getting used to the law.

    “Remove him,” he told the swarm, and a few of the nearby Scyther united their efforts to move the body into the forest. “This meeting is disbanded.”

    He had soon stopped having death acknowledgement rituals for the executed Code-breakers. Why show them the respect? The whole swarm had already seen them die, after all, and they all knew that their deaths were something to be put behind them. He could maybe make a little speech when he himself had been the one to kill the accused and had to wash his scythe anyway, but it just seemed like a waste of time when they did it themselves. He watched the Scyther walk quietly away to sleep, and ran his ever-vigilant eye over the plains as he always did to scan it for anything out of the ordinary.

    His gaze stopped at the oak tree on the hill.

    There was someone there – no, there were two Scyther there. Who could it be? Stormblade could have returned, but then why would there be another one with him? Or were they just rogue youngsters who thought they could sleep in a place the Leader still considered his own?

    He walked over towards the tree. In the dark he couldn’t see them very well, but he thought there was something odd about one of them… and now he disappeared behind the tree…

    “Hello, Shadowdart,” said Stormblade quietly as he came nearer. The one who was with him was still hidden.

    “Stormblade?” Shadowdart asked faintly and stopped in front of his former friend. “What are you doing here?”

    “I came back to see how you were doing,” Stormblade responded and paused for a moment. “I saw your First Prey lesson earlier. And the Scyther you just killed.”

    “He killed himself,” Shadowdart replied spitefully.

    “Because you’d have done it otherwise,” Stormblade spat. “What did he do wrong? Think?”

    “I prevented him from actually committing the murder.”

    “That doesn’t matter!” Stormblade cried out, slashing at the ground in frustration. “You don’t even know if he would really have done it! You don’t even know if he regretted it as soon as he’d said it!”

    “He shouldn’t have said it in the first place,” Shadowdart said coldly.

    “And another thing. Where’s Stalker?”

    Stalker. Shadowdart’s heart took a painful twinge. Memories best forgotten. He hesitated, and it drove Stormblade further on.

    “There were only four adolescents at the First Prey lesson, and none of them fit the description,” Stormblade repeated. “Where is she?”

    “She’s dead.” Shadowdart looked uncomfortably away.

    “Dead how?”

    Shadowdart could hear Stormblade’s voice shaking with anger, anger like he hadn’t assumed him capable of. It frightened him to see Stormblade like that. “Suicide of guilt,” he replied.

    “What, suicide like that Scyther earlier committed suicide?”

    “Voluntary,” Shadowdart said loudly, looking into his old friend’s eyes. “I found her in the forest and she was already dead. I don’t know why she did it. What does she have to do with anything?”

    And Shadowdart could tell that at that moment, Stormblade realized that she had everything to do with everything. His friend’s face contorted in disgust, and it seemed terribly wrong. Stormblade wasn’t supposed to be able to look that angry.

    “What did you do to her?” he whispered, approaching Shadowdart. “Why did she commit suicide?”

    Shadowdart’s gaze shifted and he found himself backing away, despising himself for it. “I mated with her,” he said at last.

    Stormblade stopped in his tracks.

    “She’d been begging me,” Shadowdart said defensively. “She was getting her smell out all over me and… what was I supposed to do? You can only stand it for so long.”

    The older Scyther stared at him with horrified pity in his eyes, shaking his head slowly.

    “I thought she’d like it, what with all the begging and seducing,” Shadowdart went angrily on. “How was I supposed to know she’d change her mind all of a sudden?”

    “You’re sick,” Stormblade whispered, still shaking his head and looking into Shadowdart’s eyes. “You forced her?”

    Shadowdart fumbled for an answer but didn’t find one. Of course he didn’t want to call it that, but he was not at all sure what else he could call it. He just looked at Stormblade as he took on an expression of sorrowful disgust and turned away.

    “Come on,” Stormblade said, looking at his partner behind the tree, his voice shaking. “We should tell the swarm who their Leader really is.”

    And a real, living Scizor stepped into sight, its arms mutilated into grotesque, jagged pincers, wings rendered small and useless, armor metallic and red. Shadowdart flinched in surprise and disgust; the Scizor took a long look at him and then followed Stormblade. They were heading to the Leader’s rock.

    Shadowdart stared after the pair of them and suddenly realized that he didn’t want to stop them.


    XLVI

    “Swarm!” Stormblade roared as he stood on the top of the Leader’s rock, his heart clenched in despair. “Come on and hear us!”

    He saw some Scyther look up in surprise, clearly wondering why he, not the Leader, was standing there summoning them – and for a moment he didn’t think they would come. But then, one by one, the members of the swarm walked up to the rock, and some of them woke their already sleeping friends and got them to come along – in a matter of minutes, nearly all the Scyther stood there frozenly, looking at Stormblade in an almost pleading manner.

    He realized all of a sudden that they were hoping he had somehow become the new Leader, that Shadowdart’s reign was over. His heart wrenched painfully again. He looked slowly over at Nightmare.

    The Scizor stepped up onto the rock, displaying that horrible, mutilated body to the swarm.

    The crowd flinched in disgust at the sight of her pincers. Some of them hissed threats. She just stood there calmly, waiting for them all to take a good, long look at her.

    Some looked away. Others gave her nervous glances. Still others forced themselves to take in every detail of her grotesque form. But none of them dashed up to attack her. As much hatred as they had all spewed about the species of Scizor when they had attended the Leader’s lessons about evolution, as much as the mere utterance of the word ‘Scizor’ was considered profane, they all realized to at least some extent, now that they stood in front of one, that she was a Scyther just like them who had lost her scythes through a process forced upon her. That she couldn’t be blamed for what had happened to her. And so they were eventually still and just waited for either of them to talk.

    “Your Leader,” Nightmare began, saving Stormblade the task, “is a filthy hypocrite.”

    Stormblade was glad that she was using the name Leader, because it was really not Shadowdart who had done any of it, after all, just that wretched Leader who was much worse even than the one before him.

    The swarm below was silent.

    “Your Leader,” she repeated, “has himself forced an adolescent to mate with him, driven her to suicide, lied about it, and now takes pleasure in the ability to bring about the suicides of other young Scyther through nothing but the very kind of manipulation that the Code, which he pretends to follow so dearly, condemns.”

    And they were still silent, though some of them winced or looked at one another. Stormblade could tell that it did not really come as a surprise to many of them to hear it. None of them objected or asked them for proof. Not one. It almost saddened him.

    “Come on,” Nightmare said viciously. “Raise your scythes, all of you, if you thought he was a good Leader. If you looked at the murder of that young Scyther earlier and still thought he was a good Leader.”

    A few, maybe two or three, raised their scythes up nervously. One of them was the bulky young male who had nominated the one who had committed suicide that evening, the young Scyther whose blood still was splattered on the ground below the Leader’s rock.

    Nightmare shook her head in disdain. “Why, if none of you thought he was a good Leader, did you just let him do it? He may have been the strongest Scyther in the swarm, but what could he honestly have done against all of you? Have you all forgotten that the Leader’s role is to protect the swarm from harm and keep peace and unity within it? Why did you put up with him? And now that you know what he did – are you going to let him get away with it still?”

    The Scyther looked guiltily downwards and muttered something. Some looked lost and confused. Some even betrayed. But again, none of them protested or voiced their agreement. Nightmare was about to open her mouth again when suddenly the crowd began to part.

    Shadowdart walked slowly through the group of Scyther, all eyes trained on him. The swarm was eerily silent as their Leader looked at the ones on either side and watched them flinch under his gaze.

    He climbed to the top of the rock and looked at Stormblade, and for a moment the older Scyther could see that little dark-colored adolescent who had taken nine tries to kill his First Prey shining, begging in the back of Shadowdart’s eyes –

    – and then the Leader turned around, jerked his head up towards the shimmering stars of the cloudless night, raised his mutilated left scythe and buried the jagged remains of the blade in his exposed neck.

    Dark blood flowed onto the scythe and under it, streaming down his neck and chest as his eyes glazed over, wide and staring and full of sorrow and despair. The scythe was lowered back to his side, and then his legs gave way to the weight of his body and he fell forward into the unoccupied space in front of the swarm, his bluish blood blending with that of the young Scyther who had also ended his life earlier that same evening. The Scyther regarded the body in guilty silence, but none of them came near it.

    Stormblade looked down at his friend. A cold gust of wind swept past his wings and he shivered.

    Perhaps it had been for the best – perhaps Shadowdart, who had so devoutly believed that it was better to be dead than to find oneself sinking ever further into the quicksand of immorality for the rest of one’s life, was happier this way. But he could not shake off the feeling that Shadowdart had died lost, confused and horrified by himself, knowing that the entire swarm despised what he had done and even Stormblade had turned against him.

    Shadowdart had died alone.

    And perhaps there was no other way it could have happened.


    XLVII

    “Tonight, we commemorate two Scyther who have left our ranks,” Stormblade said shakily, holding up a scythe wet with the blood of both Shadowdart and the young one who had died earlier in that evening. “They both died by their own scythes, but in the end it was only one of them, the Leader, who killed them both. And that Scyther – the Leader – he used to be my friend once.”

    The swarm looked at him in silence. Nightmare stood by his side, watching the flow of the river.

    “He was always nervous but stubborn as a Descith. He evolved early but took nine tries to capture his First Prey. After that he developed an obsession with Leadership and the Code, and this obsession that started out as an honest longing to do some good eventually poisoned his mind. I don’t know what he was thinking when he died, but I’d like to think he died the person he used to be – Shadowdart. I don’t believe the person he had become, the Leader who forced a young Scyther to commit suicide for no crime but to think about breaking the Code, would have looked at me the way that he did before he did it. I think it was my friend who was so horrified of becoming that Leader again that he slit his own throat to prevent it. And if it was him, as I hope, then the Leader killed two innocent Scyther tonight.”

    Stormblade took a deep breath and saw his scythe trembling. Everyone was gone. Razor, Pearl, Shadowdart…

    Nightmare was the only one left.

    And she understood him the moment that he looked at her.

    “What’s done is done,” she said, looking over the silent Scyther. “They’re gone, and they’ll never come back. All we can do is think about what happened to them and learn from it. The new Leader can look back and think of the fate of his predecessor when he makes his decisions. We live on and the future is ours to make better than the past. Their lives shouldn’t need to have been for nothing.”

    And he knelt down and lowered his scythe into the flowing water, letting the blood wash off the blade and vanish in the stream.

    Chapter 64: Hide and Seek
    The story of an ordinary boy on an impossible quest in a world that isn't as black and white as he always thought it was.
    (rough draft of the remaining chapters finished for NaNoWriMo; to be edited and posted)

    Morphic
    (completed, plus silly extras)
    A few scientists get drunk and start fiddling with gene splicing. Ten years later, they're taking care of eight half-Pokémon kids, each freakier than the next, while a religious fanatic plots to murder them all.

    Lengthy fanfiction reviewing guide / A more condensed version
    Read and I will be very happy for a large number of reasons.

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