Rated PG-13 for violence, innuendo, and bad words.
This got first place in the Serebii HG/SS one-shot contest despite not getting first place from any individual judge. Mediocrity sells, kids!
Anyway, I wrote this one-shot as a side story/prequel of sorts to Penultimate, a fact that I didn't tell the judges but I'm telling all of you. Why? Well...I figured it wouldn't help my entry's prospects to make the judges think they needed to complete 100-odd pages of supplemental reading to understand a 50-page "short story". In the end though, the story seems to have done well enough that you don't need to ever look at Penultimate to understand what's going on, which is a good thing because I might finish the next chapter of that fic around the time the Mayan calendar says we're all totally dead.
Okay, enough of that. Without further adieu:
The Limits of Kindness
A Penultimate side story
I have heard others speak of “the invention of fire” with mockery, seeing no accomplishment in man learning to control what fire Pokemon were utilizing long before man came down from the trees. It is certainly easy to be amused by the thought of an ignorant, savage caveman so enthralled by a burning bush—perhaps one that had been hit with a Flamethrower or ignited by an electric Pokemon’s stray strike—that he touches the “pretty light” and burns himself, hooting and hollering at the strange phenomenon that has injured him yet strangely compelled to control it, attracted as he is by its warmth and heat.
Such imagery, however, ignores the more profound advancement in man’s quest to control fire: the knowledge that one can turn fuel into energy, and hence work. It is the realization (if not complete understanding) of this phenomenon that enabled nearly all of mankind’s advancement and innovation, and it is this fundamental building block of our collective knowledge that powers our society today. At times, this power has also been turned towards great destruction: the tactician Sun-Tzu dedicated a chapter of his great work to “attack by fire,” extolling the virtues of a weapon (though a dangerous one) that he regarded as a powerful force multiplier, a weapon lethal to fortification, man and morale alike.
This duality of flame—industrious yet destructive, comforting yet terrifying—has enthralled humanity since recorded history. For every culture there is a unique interpretation: one culture has a fire god as a benevolent, guiding protector, while another has a fire god as a malevolent, unpredictable force, a god that must be appeased rather than one who is loved. Still others are a mixture of these extremes, nurturing and destructive in varying measures.
The legend of Ho-Oh and his servant Entei from the Johto province provides an adequate example of the latter. Johto legends speak of Ho-Oh with an admiration and reverence usually reserved for monotheistic gods or the god kings of polytheistic pantheons. Ho-Oh is said to have made a pact with humanity and roosted for a time in Ecruteak (the details of this pact vary by account and the truth if such a pact even existed has been lost to time), nesting atop a great tower constructed as tribute to the mighty Pokemon, and the legends lionize him as benevolent, merciful and wise.
The origins of accounts of Entei do not appear in recorded history until after the estimated destruction of the Brass Tower (the ruins of which still lie within the forests surrounding Ecruteak). The destruction of the Brass Tower is spoken of as an ill omen, a time when humanity foolishly sundered its pact and incurred the wrath of Ho-Oh. Entei—in legends, a Pokemon said to have perished within the tower and resurrected by Ho-Oh for reasons that are unclear—is feared as a living manifestation of the great firebird’s vengeance. Many tales speak of those who committed great crimes burned to ash by Entei, the legendary beast wielding the same flames that burns across the wings of his master. He is called unyielding, merciless, and unstoppable in equal measure, a being who desires to see the sins against his master repaid with righteous fire.
Unlike many of my colleagues in the scientific community, I believe (though admittedly with little scientific proof) that Ho-Oh and Entei travel the Earth, their destinations and objectives a mystery to all but the great Ho-Oh itself. My feelings towards them, appropriately enough, mirror man’s towards flame: I dream that I may one day see them both with my own eyes, yet from what I have read I pray that I do not.
-Dr. Katsura Blaine, Wheel of Fire: How Technology Has Shaped Mythology Throughout History
A great conflagration raged in the distance. Ho-Oh watched it burn, sadness welling deep within the great Pokemon’s breast.
It was not a fire in the traditional sense, but Ho-Oh did not perceive the world as others did. The souls of all living things burned with a brilliant light visible only to the great Pokemon’s eyes, and as it sat brooding on its perch two great collections of soul light crashed against each other, hundreds of sparks of life extinguished in a moment with no more consideration than a man might blow out a candle.
It had been a mistake to sit idle. Ho-Oh had always been exceedingly reluctant to employ its terrifying power against humanity, and looking back the legendary Pokemon decided that it had been this reluctance that had caused it to have treated the first group of attackers as little more than opportunistic raiders: dangerous but petty and ultimately no threat to Ho-Oh’s great work. He had let their indiscretions slide, believing that would be the end of it.
But soon more had come, bringing death and misery with them. And as the various armies had converged on Ecruteak--looting and pillaging and despoiling the land when they weren’t occupied fighting each other—the true objective of each army’s general had become horrifyingly clear.
From its perch atop the Brass Tower, Ho-Oh watched as the flames of several armies whittled themselves down to cinders just outside the city gates. To the phoenix Pokemon it mattered not who won, and it was a grim irony to dwell on the fact that men and Pokemon alike were killing each other far below in pursuit of the same dream. At best, the fighting was a respite, delaying the hour of reckoning that would see the victor enter the city and finally force the great Pokemon to sit idle no longer.
The conflagration continued to burn.
The side path was weather-beaten, and the stones composing the steps revealed the passing of time and the wear of numerous feet. But for the girl sitting on one of the steps reading a guidebook, the lack of foot traffic and a quiet reading place were a blessing.
“Hey Stonewall, listen to this,” the girl said, “’the current Tin Tower is actually the second tower to have been built in Ecruteak, constructed to replace the original that was destroyed several hundred years ago.’”
The Raticate sitting at her feet picked at a crack in one of the bricks. “Uh huh,” it grunted.
Ecruteak was a beautiful city, a city that appeared to have grown up as naturally as any of the large, thick-coughed trees surrounding the city limits. Squat, beige-painted structures—many hundreds of years old--comprised most of the buildings of the city, and their modest construction only served to reinforce the image of a city living with nature as its partner rather than as its master. Indeed, the city’s only apparent indulgence was the large, ten-story tower that comprised the sole building in the Ecruteak skyline, a building of legend and prestige. It was, all in all, a city with a long, proud lineage but a quiet dignity.
And Stonewall hated every minute he spent in it.
They had originally come to Ecruteak to challenge the local gym leader, but he had been gone when they arrived and the apologetic gym attendants had informed his trainer that the gym leader would be back “any day now.”
He had been coming back “any day now” for two weeks.
His trainer—Alexis was her name—had taken it in stride: it had been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity just to come to this region to collect its badges, and she had decided to spend the unexpected windfall exploring the city and seeing all she could while she had a plausible excuse. Stonewall wished that she had asked for his opinion: for a Raticate human history is little more than a chronicle of who was laying out the mousetraps in any given period of time. Plus, people got irate if he tried to wear down his teeth on it.
In any event, Stonewall had spent the past two weeks doing little more than following Alexis around the city and pretending to be interested in whatever rock some ancient Ecruteak ****-farmer had carved into a picture, and he was approaching his limit. Chewing on a witless opponent would have been cathartic, but there were few to be had and Alexis had been too occupied fawning over old junk dug out of a field somewhere to accept any challenges.
“’According to legend, the first Brass Tower was built as a pact between humans and the legendary Pokemon Ho-Oh, and it was said that the great Pokemon roosted at the top of the tower,’” Alexis continued. “’Ho-Oh is said to have fled during a great battle that occurred near Ecruteak and destroyed the tower, and after its destruction a new tower was built in the hopes that Ho-Oh would return. To this day nearby monasteries maintain the tower, maintaining it for the day that Ho-Oh finally returns.’”
Alexis peered over the pages of her guidebook, suddenly aware that her Raticate was more interested in the masonry of the sidewalk than the words coming out of her mouth. She had named him Stonewall because he embodied many of the attributes of that legendary commander: ingenuity, craftiness, and an ability to anticipate her needs in battle before she was even aware of them were all skills that guaranteed him a permanent spot on her team. He was her first Pokemon, and many of the trainers she battled underestimated just how dangerous the otherwise unassuming Raticate was: most of them only began to appreciate the scope of their error once he had sent half their squad back to their Pokeballs unconscious.
But for the most part, she called him Stonewall because he really was as intractable and stubborn as a stone wall. He had been sulking about for the past two weeks, and it had finally begun to grind on her nerves. “You’re not listening to me, are you,” she asked in a deadpan tone.
Stonewall didn’t even look up. “Uh-huh.”
“There’s a female Furret in heat right over there. She says she’s been a dirty girl and she needs a hot, studly Raticate to give her what she needs.”
Alexis had learned early on that the key to dealing with Stonewall was to be even more intractable and stubborn than he was. She sometimes cringed at the memory of when her parents had told her that she was a natural at it. “If you say ‘uh-huh’ one more time I’m going to kick you down the stairs.”
One dose of tough love, several steps, and a painful landing later, Stonewall stared up at his trainer in surprised disbelief. “What the hell did you do that for?!”
Sparks watched as Stonewall paced impatiently back and forth across the tatami floor. “You know we’re here to relax, right?”
Stonewall stopped pacing only momentarily to shoot a glare at the Arcanine, before continuing his apparent quest to wear a hole in the straw flooring. Sparks had been Alexis’ second Pokemon, the family Growlithe that her parents had insisted accompany her on her Pokemon journey. While time and training had hardened him into a powerful fighter and a swift mount, at his core he remained a lazy house pet content to lounge in the sun if left to his own devices: Alexis had been known to call him “the strongest couch potato that ever lived.”
Their trainer had decided to splurge and spend a night in a ryokan near the city: unfortunately for her Pokemon most of the amenities aside from the roof over their heads were for humans only, which only fed Stonewall’s growing irritation. “I don’t call being cooped up in a room doing nothing…” Stonewall began, before realizing who he was talking to. “Ah, screw it.”
Sparks watched Stonewall make a couple more laps before laying his head back down on the floor with a soft snort. “Don’t see why you’re in such a hurry to get beat up,” he said, “but maybe you can get Alex to go back to that one place with the girls in the fancy dresses and the Eevees…”
Sparks paused and perked up his ears, attempting to hear what Stonewall had said, the Raticate’s mumbling nearly impossible to understand even with his keen canine hearing. “What was that?”
“I said I can’t show my face around there! You happy?” Stonewall said with an exasperated huff.
There was a pause as the Arcanine mulled over what had happened the last time they had visited, and an amused canine grin spread across his muzzle. “Oh, because of the thing that happened with you and the Espeon, right?”
“Ugh, don’t remind—“
“Not my fault that you didn’t make sure ‘she’ wasn’t a ‘he’—“
Sparks took the outburst in good humor: watching a teammate stew in their embarrassment was its own reward, especially when his teammate had the massive ego of Stonewall. “Too bad they won’t let you in those baths,” he noted, “Alex says they’re relaxing.” Stonewall grumbled under his breath again, and this time the Arcanine decided not to press the issue.
“I need some fresh air,” Stonewall declared. “You mind?” Sparks didn’t reply.
The window gave a slight sigh as it slid open. Stonewall clambered up onto the windowsill, hoping to at least catch a reprieve from his squadmate. The two Pokemon’s relationship was strained in the best of times and Stonewall would have happily taken any of Alexis’ other Pokemon as company, but the Arcanine already filled up most of the small room with his bulk and any more occupants would have made the room even more stifling. And his trainer was off doing…well, probably wallowing in the hot springs like a contented Grumpig, he guessed.
The Raticate stared out at Ecruteak city in the distance. The tops of buildings were nearly impossible to distinguish from the thick tree boughs in and surrounding the city, but Stonewall found his gaze drawn to the Tin Tower. “Ecruteak’s crown jewel” gleamed in the moonlight, and even after hundreds of years no other building in the city approached its looming height.
Stonewall couldn’t explain the sudden urge he felt: maybe it was the fresh air that enticed him, maybe it was the thrill of the unknown, or maybe it was just plain boredom. Whatever it was, he was suddenly very in the mood for an evening sabbatical.
Sparks lifted his head towards the sound of Stonewall shifting his weight in the windowsill, the metal frame groaning slightly in response to the forty pounds of rodent it had never been meant to bear. “What are you doing?”
Stonewall gave a grunt of satisfaction as he leaned back inside: the room was above the first story but close enough for him to jump down to the ground without injury, and a nearby tree growing against the inn would allow him to climb back up again. “Heading out.”
The Arcanine knew it was futile to try and dissuade the Raticate after he had gotten something into his head, but he made a token effort for the purposes of plausible deniability. “Alex’ll get mad.”
Stonewall grunted. “You know how she’ll wallow for hours whenever she gets a chance at a warm bath,” he said. “I’ll be back before her and she’ll never know I was gone.”
“Well…” Sparks began, but found himself interrupted as the Raticate disappeared from the window and leapt into the night.
“EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEYAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!” came a female’s scream through the open window.
“Jesus lady, never seen a rat before?” came an incensed reply in Pokemon.
“Aw, fer ****’s sake…”
Sparks shook his head and rolled onto his side, apparently seeking to fill as much of the room as was physically possible.
“Have fun,” he said to no one in particular, before drifting off into a deep sleep.
It had seemed like a good idea at the inn. Of course, all ideas seem like good ones until they have to go against the grindstone of reality.
The forest surrounding the Tin Tower had been cleared away for several dozen yards in every direction, leaving Stonewall no cover from the moment he left the treeline until he reached the tower itself. Not even the cover of darkness would do much good: several spotlights placed around the perimeter alternately illuminated the tower as well as the courtyard itself. And if the odds weren’t severely stacked against him already, several men in what the Raticate recognized as monk’s clothing patrolled the grounds, each carrying a thick wooden stave as equally suited to use as a walking stick or as a bludgeon. Some of the monks were accompanied by a Hoothoot perched on their shoulders, and had he not spent a long time observing Stonewall might have missed the Noctowl circling the perimeter, the flight of the large owl Pokemon eerily silent.
Stonewall had clearly not been the first to get the idea of scaling the tower in the dead of night in his head. Several of his predecessors had certainly gotten a thwack on theirs for it.
The Raticate huddled down in the bushes and considered his options. An open run across the courtyard and the inevitable fight that would ensue were definitely out: even in the unlikely chance that he won, Stonewall was fairly sure that there was no way that he could spin “I beat up a holy man” that wouldn’t cause Alexis to—at minimum—shove his own Pokeball down his throat. The only option left, then, was to Dig his way under the patrols and into the tower itself, but even that was no guarantee: there might still be monks in the tower itself, and he would be Digging blind and just as likely to pop up in front of a surprised monk as inside the tower itself.
Stonewall’s nose—after apparently having drawn sufficient amusement from the Raticate stewing in the dilemma before him for several minutes—decided to chime in. The thought process, if put in human language, roughly went like this: hey idiot, the answer’s literally been under yours truly the entire time. You know the smell of rat that’s hanging around here? Yeah, that’s not you.
It was such an obvious answer Stonewall would have kicked himself if he had been capable of kicking in the first place. The local Rattata—and there were Rattata, their smell was literally everywhere--had certainly been in the tower at some point as a place to take shelter from predators outside, and they probably had a tunnel that would let them cross the courtyard out of plain sight. Now he just had to find one and “convince” it to help him…
Turn around, moron!
Stonewall jerked around towards the sound of rustling behind him. A Rattata had unwittingly barged into his hiding spot, and the small Pokemon was staring at him with a look of utter surprise. That look of surprise quickly became one of fear as Stonewall’s grin turned from amused to predatory.
A great fire advanced towards Ecruteak, but that fact alone was not surprising. What made it eerie was the silence with which it came upon the city.
Surrounded by flat grasslands and (until recently) well-tilled fields and with no city walls, Ecruteak had never been built to weather a siege by one army, much less the several that had clashed over it in recent days like Houndoom fighting over a kill. A few of its citizens had taken up arms to defend their home, but faced with the magnitude of the threat they had either thrown away their arms and fled or died in futile sorties to bloody the massive armies besieging them. With no need for siegecraft and the only threat being their competitors for the same prize, the invading armies had settled down to the business of butchering one another instead.
And now only one army remained. Those armies that had fallen lay upon the muddy, churned fields that now surrounded Ecruteak, such a rich carrion banquet that even the Murkrow who had descended to feast on the carcasses could eat no more.
True, the army that now marched on Ecruteak had not escaped the battles unscathed: their current numbers were but a fraction of their original strength, and the wear and tear of battle showed in the organization and discipline of their ranks as much as on their armor, bows, and spears. But they had won, and now no one stood against them, not even the city’s pathetic, craven god.
The realization that the mighty Ho-Oh refused to even dare to come and face them in battle had energized the army’s flagging morale, and they marched on its roost with no fear in their hearts and a burning eagerness for the wealth and power that would soon be theirs. They eagerly followed the man riding a Rapidash at the head of their forces, the man who had brought them victory and soon much more: so great was their loyalty that every man would have thrown himself from a cliff at that moment had their general asked it of them.
The general stood out from his men, but not because of his steed or because of his ornate armor. His face bore a lattice of scars, evidence of the lessons of war that he had learned while only hinting at their terrible blood price. Cropped, graying hair framed his face, but the ease at which he carried his massive frame buried any doubts that age was beginning to take its toll. His stare was sharp, a gaze that gave human life no more consideration than any other creature and could have caused a Gyarados to hesitate. He sat in the saddle at ease, but not unaware: he seemed ready and able to draw his sword and behead a man with one swift motion at any moment.
As the tower grew ever closer, even the general found it hard to conceal his own predatory anticipation. His liege had sent him here, thinking his subordinate a mere pawn that would slavishly bring him the power of Ho-Oh without question: little did he know that his general had ambitions far beyond those of a mere lapdog. The general betrayed a small smile at the thought, but he quickly pushed it aside as he focused on the task at hand…and the woman who now stood in his way.
Initially he had thought it had been a trick his eyes were playing on him, but as the army approached he had realized that a single woman was standing on the main road between his army and the heart of Ecruteak city, staring at them with quiet defiance. The general stopped a stone’s throw away from her, his army following suit. Her eyes met his as she stared at him, but she did not back down.
The general could feel his soldiers watching him, waiting to see what he would do. He dismounted his horse and walked towards the woman without fear: he had killed far more dangerous creatures in his lifetime to be scared of this tiny, fragile creature. He slowly circled her, appraising her from every angle: a beautiful creature, albeit a foolish one. She did not follow him as he walked behind her, but turned her rapidly hardening stare against the army mere yards away instead.
Eventually the general finished his appraisal, taking pains to exaggeratedly look behind her as if he expected an ambush at any moment. His men laughed at the display, clearly thinking the situation just as absurd as he did. “What is this, woman?” the general asked, ensuring his voice was loud enough to carry to the back ranks, “are you planning on standing against us?”
Her voice was so low that the general could barely hear it, yet betrayed no lack of resolve. “I am.”
The general turned to his men, mock-terror on his face. “Did you hear that!?” he said, “Ho-Oh has sent his mightiest warrior to strike us all down!” The sound of their mocking laughter could be heard clearly even from Ho-Oh’s distant perch.
Moments later, the woman’s spark was extinguished.
The general wiped his blade with a cloth as his soldiers hooted and howled in support. He looked up, staring at the Brass Tower and the gigantic yet barely-visible avian figure atop it, obscured as it was by clouds and mist. The figure did not move.
“Now hear this, ‘mighty’ Ho-Oh!” the general shouted towards the figure, “Cower atop your precious tower, keeper of flame: we will be the ones to see that your only legacy is ash and ruin!”
The general pointed his sword towards Ecruteak, the blade gleaming blood red from the light of the setting sun. “Forward! Take what is yours! Let none survive!”
The fire advanced on Ecruteak even faster than before, trampling the woman’s body underfoot.
The Rattata looked up at the Raticate that had pinned her to the ground with his bulk. “Um…hi.”
“Need you to do something for me.”
The Rattata squirmed uncomfortably, and Stonewall could feel her tiny heartbeat begin to approach mach speed.
“Um, it’s not that I don’t think you’re cute,” she said, “but I don’t think it’s going to work out.”
Stonewall stared at her blankly.
“You know…mechanically,” she added.
Stonewall’s blank look continued unabated. “What the Hell are you talking abou—“
The smell that had been wafting off the Rattata had finally worked its way up to Stonewall’s nose, and his rodent brain identified it as the scent that said that the buffet was open, so to speak. “Oh,” he finished lamely.
Stonewall had unconsciously lifted his bulk enough after being caught off guard that the Rattata had been able to wiggle herself loose. “Well, if that’s all you wanted…” she began, trying her best to nonchalantly back away towards another nearby bush.
His claw pinned her tail on the ground with remarkable speed. “I didn’t say I was done with you.”
The Rattata turned to see Stonewall’s toothy smile returning her gaze. He hadn’t come looking for copulation and he wasn’t going to get it tonight, but being able to hold it over the Rattata’s head would serve as a consolation prize. “If you’re not going to help me scratch my itch, then you can at least show me how to get into the tower. I know you guys got a tunnel: where is it?”
Stonewall could tell that this sudden shift in the conversation confused her. “Um…why do you want to go in there?” she asked.
“Because it’s there.”
“No other reason, really.”
The Rattata’s expression shifted into one of growing terror. “We can’t go in there,” she said, beginning to shiver so noticeably that Stonewall could feel it through her tail, “it’s not safe at night.”
Stonewall snorted derisively. “Don’t tell me you’re scared of the dark.”
“It’s not that—“
Stonewall cut her off. “Look, it could maybe be dangerous in there, or it could be very dangerous out here for you, if you catch my drift.”
The Rattata looked back and forth between the tower and Stonewall, apparently trying to decide which was worse. Finally she said, “Okay, follow me. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“You were right to be afraid,” Stonewall noted. “Wooden beams and statues, very dangerous.” They were—as far as he could reckon—nearly to the top of the tower, a process that he had been able to considerably expedite once he began carrying the Rattata up the stairs in his teeth.
For all the monks patrolling outside and implying the existence of some sacred forbidden fruit by their presence, there wasn’t much to see inside the tower itself. Stonewall’s unauthorized tour had allowed him to see several floors worth of completely empty space periodically filled with support beams and a simple statue or two, if there was even anything at all: the builders had clearly been more focused on the height of the tower than doing anything with it once they had built it.
Stonewall’s constant taunting had managed to replace some of the Rattata’s fear with an irritated defiance. “Listen, it’s not tha—“
Stonewall cut her off yet again. “You got a name?”
“Getting tired of calling you ‘you’, is all.”
The Rattata paused, wondering if telling Stonewall might (figuratively or literally) come back to bite her. “Kochu.”
“That’s a dumb name,” Stonewall replied.
“What’s yours, then?”
“What kind of name is THAT?” she replied, trying to mimic Stonewall’s voice. Had the Raticate been female and inhaling large amounts of helium, it might have come off as accurate.
“Your name is just a couple of sounds, mine means…” Stonewall suddenly realized that his position was untenable, and quickly changed the subject. “Are we near the top yet?”
Stonewall watched Kochu count the floors in her head. “One more to go,” she replied.
Stonewall’s teeth lifted Kochu into the air. “Welf, alriaih ‘en,” Stonewall said, making sure he didn’t bite his unwilling guide in two.
Another set of stairs and a set of sliding paper doors later and the pair of rodents found themselves standing on the balcony that circled around the top floor of the tower. Ecruteak was visible in the distance far below, enough lights shining from the city to mark its location while at the same time being few enough in number not to overwhelm the stars in the sky.
Kochu’s nervousness seemed to have evaporated at the sight before her. “Wow, I’ve never been up here at night,” she said. “It’s so pretty.”
Stonewall grunted. “Eh, it’s not bad.”
A few minutes passed as both admired the view.
“Stonewall,” Kochu said, “I think this is the first time I ever got to look down at someone.”
“I kind of like it.”
The Raticate gave a low chortle. “It’s pretty nice when you can get it, I’ll admit.”
The silence that followed was broken only by the slight sound of the wind. Which was kind of odd, Stonewall thought, because he couldn’t feel any wind…
Survival instincts rocketed Stonewall into a roll to the side, scooping up Kochu with his forelimbs as he rolled along the floor. As he slid along the ground the Raticate managed to catch a glimpse of a dark purple sphere traveling through where the two had been sitting mere moments before, smashing the wooden banister in its path to splinters before continuing its flight into the night.
Stonewall landed and twisted to face the doorway, Kochu still in his grip. Darkness greeted him, but he knew by the way it twisted and undulated without any light that something was wrong. And normal darkness certainly didn’t have dozens of pairs of wicked eyes and several mocking Cheshire cat grins.
“Gastly,” Stonewall spoke with barely-restrained contempt.
Kochu realized that sometimes there was little comfort in being right. “Humans that come here at night…they have accidents.” Kochu had neglected to add that most of them were fatal.
The implication was not lost on Stonewall, however. “They have accidents, huh?” he asked rhetorically. “Let me guess, we’re looking at the ‘accidents’.” Kochu nodded.
The cloud of Gastly cackled, apparently enjoying the fact that their prey had become aware of their predicament: the massive cloud of ghost Pokemon stood between the Raticate and a stairwell that suddenly seemed very far away.
“This is where you tell me you know something that can hurt ghosts,” Stonewall said, looking down at the companion in his grasp.
Kochu did her best to avoid his gaze. “Well…no.”
The Gastly began to gibber excitedly amongst themselves, pleased by this turn of events. The cloud slowly rolled towards the rat Pokemon like a cat toying with its kill.
They didn’t notice the electrical energy gathering on Stonewall’s tail until it was too late.
“Looks like I have to do all the work myself,” Stonewall said.
Yamada felt the weight of his Hoho suddenly shift to look towards the top of the tower. Several years of working together caused him to unconsciously follow its lead.
A falling chunk of wood greeted him as it landed, impaling itself into the earth exactly where he had been standing several steps ago. It was followed by a sudden flash of light from the top of the tower and the startled cries of several Pokemon piercing the night air.
He had seen this enough to know what was happening. The Hoho took to the air without bidding as Yamada began to shout, gathering up his fellow monks. Someone was inside, and the Ghos were hunting.
Stonewall had never understood why Alexis had taught him Shock Wave. Sure, it was a move he could use, but she had taught him Thunderbolt too and he had grown to prefer the latter’s sheer stopping power over former’s superior accuracy: Stonewall always found the big guys to be the tough targets, and they were rarely hard to hit. Shock Wave admittedly could hit a large number of Pokemon at once, but how useful was that?
Charging through a cloud of Gastly that had been momentarily stunned by the attack, Kochu in mouth and in tow, Stonewall decided that he was going to thank Alexis for her foresight.
If he got out of this alive, anyway.
A group of Gastly emerged from the stairwell, seeking to prevent him from going down. He was expecting them, however: he had been sure the ghost Pokemon weren’t so cocky as to leave him an undefended exit that didn’t involve a 10-story drop and a messy landing.
“Stonewall stop stop stop stop st—“ Kochu began.
Stonewall jumped, landed on one rear leg, spun in place and opened his mouth. Kochu squeaked as she was sent flying through the air, through the cloud of Gastly too surprised by her sudden flight to do anything to stop her, and bouncing down the stairs. The cloud hissed and dispersed as Stonewall charged through them, electricity arcing off his tail indiscriminately and through ethereal essence. He felt a heavy sensation tug at him as he charged through the cloud of ghosts, but he ignored it.
The Raticate took the steps three at a time, pausing only to grab the disoriented Kochu at the bottom before making his break for the next stairway. More Gastly oozed up from underneath the floorboards and through the ceiling, several black bolts erupting from them as their bodies cleared the corporeal gap. Stonewall twisted as he ran, doing his best to avoid the rain of ghost energy, but against such a barrage even a few managed to find their mark. Stonewall grunted in pain as the Night Shades singed his fur and burned his skin, doing his best to make sure he didn’t involuntarily bite down on Kochu in response. Another Shock Wave scattered them and cleared the way, but the tugging feeling began to grow stronger and the Gastly had already begun to recover by the time he was starting to descend the stairs.
Stonewall had no time to ponder this. Instead, he wondered why he was able to pass through the next few floors without a ghost Pokemon in sight: had they all gathered at the top, not expecting him to break through the group on the top floor, much less the one below it? They couldn’t be that stupi--
Stonewall made it to the fourth floor and slid to a halt at the foot of the stairs, silently cursing himself for being correct. The Gastly had all gathered there, forming a cloud so thick it was impossible to see more than one foot through them.
“Daah,” Stonewall grunted through his teeth, charging yet another round of electricity in his tail. A sensation like a great weight slammed down on him, and the electricity sputtered and died.
Kochu fell out of his mouth as Stonewall began to pant, the simple act of breathing suddenly a painful struggle for the Raticate. The Gastly were Spiting him, using the infamous ghost technique to siphon away his energy and with it his ability to harm them. One ghost using Spite was a nuisance, no doubt the cause of the tugging he had felt earlier, but the number of Gastly using it on him now…Stonewall knew he was dead if he didn’t attack immediately.
Stonewall opened his mouth, an icy sphere forming in the center of the gap. The Gastly screamed in unison and the nascent Ice Beam disappeared almost as soon as it began to form, the ball of ice energy extinguished with no more thought than a man might blow out a candle as another wave of force slammed down on his body. The Raticate dropped to all fours as the Gastly continued to bear down on him, their incessant cackling becoming more gleeful by the moment. Kochu leapt at one, and it giggled as she passed through it harmlessly.
What a shitty way to die, he thought. Alexis’ll never believe it.
Then darkness came and erased all thought.