Snowcrystal heard another pokémon walk forward, and to her surprise, it was Blazefang. “Not that my opinion means anything to you pokémon,” the houndour began, “but...I think you should do what he says. If he wants to be alone, I don't see why you shouldn't grant him that wish. It's the least you could do.” He shrugged, glancing around at the others.
“I…I think Blazefang’s right,” Spark began slowly, looking down at Stormblade. The shock that the jolteon was actually agreeing with Blazefang barely even registered to Snowcrystal. “Either way…” he continued, looking sadly at the friend he had traveled with for so long, “he still can’t come with us…and if it’ll bring him peace…it’s probably for the better…”
Stormblade lifted his head a little, trying his best to look at all of them better. “Do it...please?”
Snowcrystal glanced back at the others-Wildflame just nodded in silence, Spark and Nightshade glanced sadly at Stormblade, Redclaw looked unsure, Rosie seemed devastated, and Blazefang simply looked on nonchalantly.
“We don’t have to leave right away,” Nightshade reminded him. “We can find him a safe place near water, and I can find some of those herbs. Maybe Darkfang could come to make sure he was all right…”
Stormblade said nothing, but Snowcrystal could tell that he knew that he would probably not need any of those things for long, and though she hated to admit it, he was right, and leaving Stormblade wasn’t exactly a choice. Looking at him sadly, she nodded her head. “All right, Stormblade.”
By that night, everyone had traveled through the rest of the forest. They had faced a few hostile pokémon, but Redclaw and Wildflame had managed to intimidate them enough for the forest pokémon to allow them to go by unharmed. Now at the forest’s edge, Snowcrystal could see the gigantic mountain looming ahead of them in the distance. Its topmost peak was covered in white snow, which gave Snowcrystal a fleeting feeling of hope. Or it could just be snow left there from winter…
she reminded herself bitterly.
They had found a stream surrounded by tall trees which provided shelter from the wind. This, Stormblade had told them, was the place he wanted to stay.
Snowcrystal, however, felt a bit calmer now, though that wasn’t saying much, as she knew that there was no way they were going to leave Stormblade without some sort of help, no matter what he said. Nightshade had managed to convince Darkfang, one of the only scyther who seemed to care enough about helping other members of his species, even if they were outsiders, to bring Stormblade food. If Articuno really was on that mountain, then after they found him, they could come back and help Stormblade. That is…if he was still alive when they got there.
For the rest of the night, Snowcrystal, as well as many of the others, lay awake thinking, and when morning finally came, Snowcrystal briefly wondered if it would be better to wait longer until they started the journey. Almost instantly, she knew they could not-she had been gone for too long already, and who knew what was going on back at her home. And if they stayed, it would make no difference to Stormblade’s health. It was time to leave.
“Are you sure you want to go through with this?” Snowcrystal asked Rosie, who was sitting nearby. “This isn’t your journey, and you still need the rest…”
“Of course!” Rosie replied, sounding rather offended. “I wouldn’t have said I was going to go if I didn’t want to!”
“Sorry,” Snowcrystal replied, taken aback. “It’s just…”
“Look, I know you’re worried about everyone, Snowcrystal,” Redclaw began as he walked up to her. “Stormblade especially, but Stormblade’s better off here than he is coming with us, or back at the swarm if he really didn’t want to be there. I don’t know if we’ll see him again, but…you’re doing the best thing. If we’re going to start following Articuno, we need to start now.”
Snowcrystal nodded slowly and glanced over at Stormblade, who lay still beneath one of the trees closest to the stream. Honestly, she did not think he would last until they found Articuno and came back. This was probably the last she’d ever see of him.
All around her, the other pokémon were getting ready for the journey, all looking as if they each felt differently about it. Most of them-or at least those who wanted to-had already spoken to Stormblade, and although she had as well, she wanted to give him one last good bye.
“Stormblade?” she whispered, slowly approaching him.
He turned his gaze to her in response. “I thought you were leaving already,” he said in a hoarse whisper.
“We’re…we’re going to…” she began.
“Then don’t waste time for me,” he replied, his gaze flicking away from her.
Despite all that had happened, Snowcrystal felt stunned-she wasn’t used to seeing Stormblade look like this, and even though she knew that he just wanted her to get started on what was bound to be a hard journey, she hated to hear him say something like that. “I…I really don’t think…I mean, I really don’t want to leave you here…”
Stormblade sighed. “Didn’t you promise me that you would do this one thing for me? It’s best for both of us that I stay here. It’s all I want, and it’s all I’m asking you to do.”
“Yes, but…” she paused, seeing the pleading expression on Stormblade’s face. “I know…”
“Snowcrystal?” she heard Wildflame call from up ahead. The others were ready to go, and it seemed to Snowcrystal like it was far too soon.
“Good bye, Stormblade…” Snowcrystal whispered, looking at him one last time before heading after the others, barely hearing his voice as she walked away.
Even with the mountain ahead of them, Snowcrystal still felt as if her journey was leading her nowhere. Wasn’t it her journey, she realized, that had made Blazefang come after them? Wasn’t it her journey that had gotten Stormblade injured in the first place? She couldn’t help feeling that somehow, it had all been her fault.
As they walked, Snowcrystal kept glancing behind her at the place where they had left Stormblade. Redclaw quickly noticed this.
“We may see him again,” he told her, though he didn’t sound like he was sure he believed it.
“But we might not…” Snowcrystal added bitterly, and then looked up at the arcanine standing beside her. “Redclaw, can I go back? Just to see Stormblade again? I won’t be long, and it won’t be hard for me to catch up, I just…please?”
Redclaw looked surprised, and Blazefang snorted. “You just saw him!” the houndour growled. “What, do you think his wounds were that pretty to look at?”
Surprisingly, no one replied to his comment, and Redclaw thought a moment before nodding. “All right…but be quick.” Then he turned to Spark, who everyone knew had been Stormblade’s friend for longer than the rest of them. “Do you want to go as well?”
Spark merely shook his head numbly.
Snowcrystal turned and began walking back in the direction of Stormblade. “I’ll be back,” she told the others sadly before darting off back toward the stream.
“Can we stop now?” Justin growled. They had been traveling since the previous night, after Katie had found what she thought were growlithe paw prints on the outskirts of the forest. The past day had been spent exploring said forest, but the amount of wild pokémon had quickly tired out Katie’s four healthy battling pokémon, and they’d had to resort to going around it.
“Those paw prints were fresh, Justin,” Katie responded, sounding annoyed. “And I thought you were the one who wanted me to find that growlithe in the first place.”
“It could have been a normal growlithe who made those paw prints,” Justin muttered, sitting down on the grass.
“Fine,” Katie muttered, “stay here without any of my pokémon to protect you.” She turned and walked away. Justin just shrugged and stayed where he was. Rolling her eyes, Katie kept walking. She only wanted to go a little further, anyway.
She felt confused. Over the past little while during their exploration, Justin seemed to be losing hope, and not just about the growlithe either. Still, Katie felt that she was close, and maybe catching it could make Justin a lot happier.
Hearing the trickle of a stream nearby, Katie was reminded that they were low on water. Walking toward it, she approached a group of trees, stepping over a few fallen branches as the edge of the stream came in sight. And at the same time, so did something else. For a second, Katie thought it must have been a hallucination or something of the sort, but a scyther was lying nearby…the same one who had supposedly died in the pokémon center explosion…for surely Team Rocket would never had taken such an injured pokémon?
Katie stood completely still, as if frozen. How on earth had Justin’s scyther managed to get here
? Or even anywhere near where they were? Was it someone else’s pokémon now, tracking down the growlithe as well? No, she thought, that was absurd. It was injured. There was no way that could be it. Still, seeing that same scyther lying before her was simply too eerie.
Cautiously, she approached it, noticing that not only had its wounds failed to heal, but that it had new ones as well. Despite knowing the horrible thing it had done in the past, she still felt sorry for it.
Carefully, she knelt down beside it, noting that its eyes were closed and it made no indication that it even knew she was there. “You’re still alive…” she whispered in disbelief, knowing that it couldn’t hear her-it looked to her as if it had recently slipped into unconsciousness. Maybe, she thought to herself, she could do something to help. She had brought plenty of supplies before leaving Stonedust City, and although she only knew basic healing techniques, she still had the medicine that could really help injured pokémon. And no pokémon, no matter what they did, deserved something like this…
Katie thought for a moment, and then took out a poké ball from her backpack. She had been saving the last spot on her team for the growlithe, but… Suddenly she stopped herself. Was catching this scyther now really wise, when if she had caught another pokémon first, it would have been sent back to the pokémon ranch? Looking around her, Katie couldn’t see any other pokémon nearby, and hers were already worn out from the battling the previous day. She looked at the poké ball in her hand and then back at the scyther. Catching it, she knew, would mean that it would not get to a pokémon center for a long time. Yet, while her pokémon were so weak, she didn’t want to battle unless she had to, and the pokémon around here were far from weak. But if she caught it now, at least she’d be able to help it…
Looking at the poké ball she was holding, she sighed and placed it back in her backpack, and then took out another. This one was a luxury ball, a type of poké ball she only had a few of and had never really used, but if there was any time to use it, it was now. She tapped it lightly against the scyther’s blade, which at the moment seemed to her to be the only part of its body that didn’t have some sort of injury. The pokémon dissolved in a beam of red light and vanished into the small sphere. The poké ball didn’t even shake once before the red light on the button went out with a ‘ping.’
Picking it up, Katie stared at the stream as she wondered if what she had just done had really been a good thing. Was it cruel to keep pokémon away from a pokémon center when they needed it for so long? She wasn’t anywhere near one, and until pidgeot recovered, there was no way of getting back. And even still…she did not think she could allow herself to go back until she had caught the growlithe, and Justin certainly wouldn’t allow her…
With a sickening feeling, Katie realized that she would have a lot of explaining to do once Justin found out what she’d done. Looking at the luxury ball, she turned around and walked back, wondering whether she had just made a horrible, horrible mistake.
And as she walked, she didn’t notice the eyes of the snow white growlithe staring at her from the bushes, before it turned and ran away.
To be continued...