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PC Get-Together 2009 Small Writing Contest: 3rd place
Welcome, readers. This is my second work submitted here at Serebii, and my first One-Shot ever. It was developed over the course of three weeks as an entry for the writing contest held at PokéCommunity on Aug. 2009, essentially because the prompt made a particular plot bunny in my head go all hyperventilated.
I'm proud of this work since even through it was a lot of first-times for me (first one-shot, first subjective POV, etc...) it also earned me the Third Place in said contest. This is a piece I'm proud of.
In this little story I try to paint as many concepts and meanings of the word "time" as I could muster. Not only is the measurement of time, but the concept of lapse and the ideas about perception and memory that surround them. Only you my readers can decide how well did this end up.
I have decided to post this story in its undedited state, exactly as I did back at PC, so that you can see exactly what the judges saw. Eventually I'll edit here to correct the mistakes and post the original as an attachment for archival purposes (or I'll copy it to ff.net, I'd guess no one is going to notice...).
Thanks to Hydro_King for the banner he made for me here.
No more words then. I hope you all enjoy this short story.
Far and near, calm and threatening, harsh and gentle at the same time, and most importantly, sudden. Such was the surprising sensation that filled the meadow.
It started with a strange motion across the ground, that grew to a sequence of clear thuds, far ago in the eastern horizon, gentle enough that for those Pokémon whose live was the ground it seemed like a feather dropping to the ground; harsh enough however, that for the Pokémon whose live was the hunt, a sudden need to stop and watch carefully arose.
Growing bigger, coming closer with each beat. In seconds invading what took Nature eras to populate.
Rattatas and Nidorans stiffened their ears, their small bodies well hidden by the lively grass, and instinctively ran to their parents, who were already calling them to their nests and preparing to either flee or battle. Atop a rocky formation on the ground a lone Furret stood guard besides a giant crack on the rock, and decisively scouted the threatening sound; then, another Furret popped out of the den only to be quickly commanded back to the safety of the hole. Fearows who were circling the skies above the trees, looking for a potential meal, quickly turned around and strained their gaze to evaluate the incoming danger, with this act giving enough time to the swarms of Ariados and Beedrills hidden beneath the trees to make an escape.
All of this because the merciless beats were quickly, very quickly, getting closer.
What kind of image could have formed in the minds of the Pokémon who sensed this intrusion? There were soft and gentle beats of strong legs, barely touching the ground at each step as if a bird's they were; there were also the hard and furious beats of powerful hooves, propelling their owner forwards with incredible, unstoppable strength at every step.
One two three, one two three, to the meadow the threat came.
The Fearows and the Beedrills watching the eastern plains could only see a burst of red and orange light, a flame that appeared in the horizon and moved almost in a straight line towards the valley, leaving behind a faint trail of flames. The light quickly reached the edge of the meadow, when all the Pokémon had already hidden. Only those who had to look could continue to do so.
All of this because the merciless beats had quickly, very quickly, arrived to the meadow.
Yet their stay lasted only an instant. Between a blink and a heartbeat they were gone.
The Fearows and Beedrills turned heads so suddenly that some of them could have their necks easily snapped, and the Furret followed the trail of flames with its jaw dropped and almost fell back to its den out of surprise. As quickly as the rampaging demons had come, they had disappeared, heading to the mountains of the west and the blue sea hidden beyond.
The creatures standing guard only managed to catch a glimpse and a very simple understanding of what had happened before they were hit and pushed back by the shockwave generated by those two demons and their flaming bodies, the air heated and pierced so suddenly. But as a good watcher Furret managed to claw itself to the wall of the den, and opened its eyes again to watch the beautiful straight-line trail of flames that was scorching the grass close to the river shoreline, its cracking sound and livid orange sparks threatening to expand and consume the valley.
Nothing happened, however, and the fire fizzled very quickly, leaving only a narrow trail of ashes that, unknown to all the Pokémon there, would stretch so long by the end of the day that it would have split the whole continent in two, had it been anything more serious... anything but a game.
No, for the Pokémon living in the valley it was all just a temporary scare, an accident, a threat that was now gone following the path of the Sun. But earlier that day and from the same direction the fire had come, several valleys, mountains, lakes and even a newly built human city had went through the same “scare”.
Later that day, somewhere in the sandy coasts of the west, the Pokémon there watched the Sun's underside gently brush the border between the seas and the skies far away. The day was about to end, and the night to awake.
When the skies had acquired a more reddish shade, a heat wave burst hit the rocks above the shore and a Pokémon appeared there. A large and bulky quadrupedal shape slowly approached the border, exposing his orange-coloured body and large patches of cream-coloured fur on its chest and head to the welcoming seabreeze. The Pokémon opened his mouth wide, gasping for air to fill his lungs, and his pointy ears flickered back and forth. After a brief moment the dog-like Pokémon moved closer to the border, to leave room for another heat wave that exploded nearby: the form of another Pokémon emerged.
The newcomer was quadrupedal too, but with a slender build instead of the dog Pokémon's bulky one. His cream-coloured torso moved forwards, supported by his thin legs and dark-brown hooves. The back, tail, ankles and head mane of the newcomer were waving with a fire which calmed down slowly as the Pokémon came to a stop besides his partner. The horse-like Pokémon approached the dog-like one, his forehead horn pointing to the seas beyond.
Rapidash assumed a more relaxed posture, although still gasping for air, and neighed an apology of sorts: “I guess I am... the second again, Arcanine.”
The dog Pokémon answered by tilting his head and then turning his face to the sea. “Just a... couple of seconds behind, it's not bad.”
A longer gasp for air followed. “Second, still.”
Both Pokémon took as much as they could from the revitalizing air of the seashore to their lungs, their chests going up and down quickly and noticeably evidencing the extenuating effort both Pokémon had undergone. While their hearts pounded against their bodies, attempting to capture every bit of life from the air into the blood, the two contestant smiled peacefully. Neither of the two Pokémon showed their tiredness and pain, however, but stood instead in princely poses looking at the horizon from atop their rock. The striking, joyful smiles drawn in their muzzles the only gesture that betrayed such dignified poses.
They knew they had arrived in time, once again, to watch the Sun depart. Just like last year.
Not only that, but several hours ago they had stood at the very opposite end of the landmass the humans called “continent”, watching the Sun appear above the horizon. For every single and minute measure of time up to now they had been literally chasing the Sun... as both a game and a test of prowess.
“Rapidash...” inquired the dog Pokémon suddenly.
“You've been... living”, a gasp, “with humans for very long,” continued Rapidash's interlocutor, with a low and hesitating voice while still breathing hard.
The fire horse Pokémon remained impassive, but turned his sight to watch his partner with interest. “What is your point?”
“Well, I was thinking...” ventured Arcanine, still unsure, “that maybe they taught you about this 'hour' thing?”
Rapidash smiled and pawed the ground with his front hooves. “Humans have a complicate way of keeping track of time,” he explained. “It is useless to us.”
“But,” continued the dog Pokémon, looking back at the horse Pokémon and raising one of his paws to point to the horizon, “do you think that they understand this facet of time?”
“Facet?” retorted Rapidash between breaths.
Arcanine returned his sight to the horizon and barked in a more ceremoniously tone: “This day.”
Rapidash followed his partner's gaze. It was a beautiful sight to say the least. The Sun was almost completely gone behind the eternal curtain of water, and the very few clouds in the sky close to the horizon had acquired a particular colouration, a dark red with prominent shadows, because of this. Every single rock, patch of grass and even the bodies of the two Pokémon cast long, eerie shadows that faded several metres behind them, to the east.
From an unknown place beyond the horizon, incessant waves were coming, growing in strength as they approached the coast, merging in crescent-like moving barriers of water that crashed against the rocks and the sandy shoreline, releasing copious amounts of froth and a calming, soothing sound. All in all it was a sight like that of any other day.
But this one day was special.
Only once every year, in a specific day, sunlight would last longer and by the end of the day when the Sun would finally be gone, most creatures would know that from that point onwards and for a good portion of the year, the sunlight would last shorter and be gradually overcome by the spreading mantle of the night, every passing day.
“We do,” Rapidash answered. “Otherwise we wouldn't be racing today.”
To that Arcanine smiled. “It only makes sense, you know.” He sat down on his hind legs and shook his creamy mane, and then he added, essentially talking to no one: “What other day can we stand a chance chasing the Sun, except for the solstice?”
The last rays of sunlight were very faint now. Soon the land would be covered in darkness until the next sunrise.
Arcanine and Rapidash had moved to the sand bank close to the rocks, to drink, eat and calm themselves down. Such activities were carried in absolute silence while the shadows cast by their bodies became longer and fainter. Only when the Sun was about to be completely hidden by the seas they took a moment to watch as the star fell, conceding to the elements of night. The countless stars in the sky slowly became more visible.
After some time, and noticing more Pokémon emerging from the sea to carry on their night life, Arcanine and Rapidash darted back to their spot above the rocks.
Arcanine took the highest spot available, swiftly climbing up. He looked down at his partner, who remained silent with the gazed fixated at the horizon and the last remains of the day. After a while, Arcanine raised one of his paws and started shaking and licking it, trying to get rid of the sand. “This is the only part of this game I don't like,” he mumbled.
Rapidash's ears picked the ranting and the fire horse turned his head to see his partner. “How delicate,” he teased between breaths. “You behave like a Contest Pokémon or something.”
“Careful... what you say!” growled Arcanine as he switched paws to continue cleaning himself. “I have left my mighty pawprint on volcanoes you know.”
“I have, too...” answered Rapidash. His gaze returned to the horizon and his voice acquired a tone of nostalgia. “Long ago.”
The two Pokémon remained in their place in silence, one cleaning himself and the other apparently doing nothing. They both listened to the waves crashing a couple of steps beyond them, however. Their chests still beat quite strongly, their nostrils opened to allow them to fully extract life from the air around them. And every once in a while, their eyes scrutinized the horizon taking note of the last moments of the day, with the Sun long gone, while the darkness of the night sky and the sparkling of countless blue-white stars became more prominent.
Rapidash had been moving his ears for a while, as if trying to listen something particular. He suddenly cocked his head and retreated slowly from his position. “The tide is to rise,” he neighed.
“Good!” yelled Arcanine as he jumped down from the rocks and positioned himself close to Rapidash again. “The day is almost completely gone.”
Both Pokémon locked their sights at the horizon, straining themselves as far as they could to distinguish the faint red-orange tendrils of light that were slowly disappearing behind the curtains of the sky and the sea. As the waves crashed closer and closer and the sand bank to the side was slowly submerged under the rising tide, both Pokémon watched solemnly, as if they were watching an old friend or family figure depart. In their ears and feet (or hooves) they noticed they were not the only ones to appreciate this phenomenon. This was a particular day: countless sea Pokémon emerged to the surface to take a last look at the sunlight as flocks of flying Pokémon roosted on the rock tops around the beach.
And they all watched, in silence, as the last tendril of sunlight was covered by the night and disappeared, leaving only the faint moonlight reflected in the sea for them to notice in the horizon. At that moment, countless pupils had to adjust to the variation in the intensity of light.
The longest day of the year had gone away. In its place stood now the shortest night.
Most Pokémon stayed in their places and talked to each other about the particular moment. Arcanine did not pay attention to whatever conversation they had: he had noticed that Rapidash was no longer at his side and decided to turn back and check for him. Rapidash had reached the first patches of grass when Arcanine ran up to him, cutting his path short.
“Say,” inquired the dog Pokémon, “what if we up the ante a bit?”
Rapidash frowned. “You want to race again? You know we are short of time...”
“Well,” barked Arcanine as he backed and turned around, gazing at the path both Pokémon had come from. “We are always short of time... we should make the most of the time we have.”
“Which is exactly”, interrupted Rapidash, “why we should return, pal.” He moved closer to Arcanine and used one of his forelegs to gently push Arcanine to the side. “I have a race this weekend and a pregnant mate to attend. You now serve the Flame Emperor, that is saying enough.”
“Well, yes, but I thought,” continued the dog Pokémon, watching Rapidash walk slowly ahead, “that we could race back, just because.”
A disapproving “not interested” sort of neigh was all that came from Rapidash.
Arcanine didn't budge, however. He assumed the most adventurous pose he could and said, as if it was nothing of importance: “Come on, it will be fun racing at night. All the way back to the starting point...”
“You're kidding, right?” yelled Rapidash while his head circled around, followed more slowly by the rest of his body. “I mean, look at that!” he cried while pointing to the seas with his horn. “It takes us the longest day to chase the Sun from one side of the land to the other. Tomorrow there will be―”
“You're chickening on me?” teased Arcanine, changing his posture to a more smug one and softly pawing the ground.
Rapidash swung his horn. “I chicken out to no Pokémon!” he claimed, not letting his gaze leave Arcanine. “I have crushed a Swampert and a Drowzee together in battle!”
Arcanine's smug was so blatant that it almost crossed the barrier of plain insult, and he was well aware of it as he raised a paw and looked at it with a burly frown: “Servant of the Fire Emperor here. I'm not impressed.”
“Whatever...” Rapidash buffed. “I am simply reminding you that we are too busy.”
Those words made their dent in Arcanine's posture. His semblance turned more serious and, to a point, repentant. Arcanine lowered his head a bit and moved closer. “If not now, when, then?” he asked. “You said it yourself. Mates. Emperors. Work. All these things take time.” He let his eyes wander around and looked around Rapidash and towards the seas again. “The year will come when we won't be able to race again.”
Rapidash's ears flicked at the comment. He wouldn't admit it, but it was true that he grew more busy in the recent years. Once he returned to the land of his Trainer the next morning, he wouldn't have spare time to share with his mate until very late in the autumn: in the worst case, he may even miss the birth of his own offspring. As for Arcanine, he would be busy relaying messages and jewels between the Emperor and his comrades for quite some time; he hadn't visited his homeland in at least two years already.
As if to remind both Pokémon of the time swiftly leaving them behind, a cold breeze from the sea waved their manes. Rapidash took a look back at the sea and another forward to the road, noticing how dark the road looked ahead with the sunlight now gone. After a moment of apprehension, he let out a breath and raised his head to a more regal posture.
“Fine, then,” he offered. “Just this once.”
Arcanine smiled for a moment and then moved forwards in two quick leaps. He lured his sports partner for a while until Rapidash trotted up to him as well, and the two Pokémon started pawing the ground around them, close to the point where they had first arrived.
“Let's do it for real,” proposed Arcanine. “What only flying creatures and Divine Beings can do, we will achieve before dawn.”
Rapidash sniffed the air, taking the time to enjoy the particular breeze of the sea: full of energy and reminiscent of a call to adventure and the joys of youth. Then leaned towards his partner. “It's not a fair comparison you know?” He righted himself and stood almost immobile. “Flying creatures... fly. The Gods are Gods, it's their sort of thing.”
“But,” Arcanine retorted, lowering his head and pushing his hind legs firmly against the ground. “Deities are intended to. It is their existence, their duty, to watch the universe, unroll it or twist it around. For us it is different.”
Rapidash awaited for a moment and after taking position besides Arcanine and cocking his head a couple of times, he asked: “Different how?”
For an answer, he received a brief leer from his partner. Arcanine muttered: “We do this for fun.”
Rapidash gave a half-hearted laugh at the thought; his seriousness quickly returned and he immediately locked his sight at the lands now ahead. He hadn't had fun, real fun, for quite a while. Worthy opponents in the racetrack were becoming scarcer every year. His rider, his human partner, was also becoming older.
This could easily be the last time he would feel the joyful sensation of unleashing his muscles' strength to the most. The last time he would see his race partner. The last time Arcanine would be allowed to run free of rush or commandment across the valleys.
Rapidash felt a pain and a fear in his heart. With his voice he tried to overcome it. “Let's do this then.”
“Yes.” Arcanine's ear moved slightly. If he acknowledged the pain in his friend's voice, he did or said nothing to reveal it.
“For eternal honour as well.”
“Eternal?” This time Arcanine's ears did move, and the dog Pokémon blinked once before letting himself gaze at his friend for a moment. “What do you mean exactly?”
“Well, think about this...” answered Rapidash, eyes and ears fixated in the infinite ahead, only his voice returning his partner's attention. “If we can do this, in the shortest night of the year, we will really be the best ones.”
“But we already are the best,” answered Arcanine with a burly tone in his voice, “or didn't you notice the world blurring out back there?”
“No, I mean something superlative. Let's beat the Sun.” Rapidash turned his sight to see a glimpse of surprise in Arcanine's eyes. Rapidash explained: “If in the shortest night we are able to beat the Sun of all things, we will be the first ungodly walkers to bid a farewell to the Sun and welcome it to the next day. Even if others may imitate our feat,” he added with a proud and regal tone, “no one will ever be able to surpass it.”
Arcanine's eyes gleamed for a moment at the idea of having his pawprint leave his mark in history. “Future warriors will have to compare against our feat...” A faint smile drew in his face as his eyes scouted the sky, and his mane flustered for a moment, before he brought himself back to his dignified stance.
“This is why they have legends about us.”
Rapidash looked at Arcanine's eyes and found himself amused. “Who? Humans?”
Arcanine nodded and cocked his head, proceeding to explain: “They say the first humans were afraid of fire, of how it emerged from thunderstorms and consumed their dens and food, leaving them defenseless against other wild creatures.” Arcanine smiled just a bit enough that the sharpness of his fangs was clearly distinguishable because of the shadow it cast.
“One day, a group of starving Arcanine walked up to the remains of a human settlement and let out a roar that scared the serpents and dragons attacking the humans. As a show of gratitude, the humans shared the few food they had salvaged with them, and since then Arcanine roamed around the human settlements to ward off monsters and prevent the fire from spreading.” Arcanine puffed his chest. “They say Arcanine is a symbol of loyalty and grace and is the cause humans lost their fear to fire.”
“Grace, yeah right”, offered Rapidash, letting out a childish laugh but not hiding his interest in the story. His brown eyes darted to the shadows his own body was casting. “What about Rapidash?”
“This one is interesting,” answered Arcanine, poking Rapidash's side with one if his paws. “They say that at the very dawn of life, the Sun was still in the sky. Its light was so bright and powerful that it burnt every patch of grass that tried to survive, and none of the Deities could do something to help. One day The One decided that with the eternal engine of His creation even He would need help: knowing the unfaltering presence of the fire was the main problem, He casted His own blood into four strings, attached them to His golden wheel and the other end He handed to the four best Rapidash of all creation. He then grabbed the Sun with His thousand arms and ordered the four Rapidash to pull Him and the Sun across the sky.” Arcanine let a quick glance to the sea behind him. “And this is how the day and the night were born.”
“Rapidash galloping across the sky?” murmured the horse-like Pokémon apparently taken aback by the surprise. His amused stare quickly returned however. “That must have been incredible.” He cocked his head. “How did you learnt all of this?”
“I heard the Fire Emperor talking about it to the Water Monarch. They were laughing at it between meals as if it was something of no importance, but I think they were serious.”
Rapidash nodded and remained in silence, savouring the new information.
Both Pokémon gathered their power. The air around them began to swirl, first slowly but then wildly as it became more and more heated by the Pokémon's internal heat ready to burst out again. Arcanine and Rapidash lowered their heads and readied their bodies, muscles and fur stiffened. With everything around them becoming darker, the only close source of light was from Rapidash's mane, that cast strange shadows and auras around both Pokémon because how close they were. They ignored everything around them except for each other's presence, and the sound of waves crashing behind them, a mark of the inexorable passing of time.
Rapidash snickered, noticing the night was becoming even darker, took a look at his partner and let out a mumble: “There's the little detail...”
“What are you thinking?”
Rapidash snorted. “If we manage to beat the Sun, we still have to return to our homes, before the Sun awakens the humans and the Emperor.”
Arcanine's tail waved around a couple of times. “Darn I had forgot-- You know how to up the ante, pal.”
Both Pokémon slowly let out their internal fire, more manifest in the case of Rapidash's mane.
“What's our cue?” Rapidash inquired.
“The third wave, if that's okay with you.”
Arcanine smiled and moved one ear to the right, checking the sea, perceiving the first wave crashing against the rocks behind them.
The power emanating from both creatures was now stronger, the air around them hot enough that it took on a faint orange aura that surrounded them both. Rapidash gazed back for a brief instant, and welcomed the second wave that crashed against the rocks.
Down the rocks, a Krabby that had arrived to bid a farewell to the sunlight tried to pick a small shell, probably from a Shellder, that had been carried by the waves.
The muscles of both Pokémon built up energy, the eyes of both Pokémon locked in the road ahead as if under the effect of a trance. Their breath halted for just an instant, both Pokémon expecting the sound that would allow them to, again, to scorch the soil under their feet.
Krabby managed to pick up the shell with one of his pincers, and pulled up to the top of the rocks just as the third wave approached and crashed against the rock, almost taking the Pokémon and its prize away. The water brushed the surface of the rock while the froth arose for an instant before being pushed away by a tremendous burst of wind that came from the land followed by a thunderous sound and a force shaking the ground. A bit scared, Krabby put up the shell as a shield and took a quick glance to the patches of grass to see the place where the wind burst had originated from.
There only two pairs of small holes remained, both of them surrounded by a portion of scorched soil and smoking grass, any fire there quickly subdued by the humidity of the sea breeze.
Krabby had carried his small prize down the rock to a small shelter behind a fallen palm trunk. Before checking his place, however, he took a leap on top of the trunk and inquisitively gazed to the east.
Far in the horizon, right in the eternal border between the land and the skies, two intense flames could be seen.
They were so far away already, that at times they seemed to merge into one.
Just a moment after, they faded away...
...Maybe until next year?
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