(New chapter! Sorry it's shorter than normal, but I ended up splitting this into two chapters. The next one's longer. XD)
The Path of Destiny
Chapter 48 - Separation
Morning came far sooner than expected, or at least, that was what Snowcrystal thought as she watched the sun slowly rising over the horizon, the growing light of sunrise doing nothing to brighten the dark thoughts that still filled her mind. There had been no sign of ‘Master’ all night, but Snowcrystal knew that he could still be lurking in the canyon, closer than any of the others thought, and yet they could not leave, not with Nightshade in such awful condition.
Everyone was edgy, nervous, and fearful, many of them wondering just when Master’s super-powered pokémon were going to ambush them. They all felt trapped and helpless, too worried even to hunt, the thought that there had been no sign of Master not exactly comforting.
Alex and Redclaw had tried to get food for Nightshade from some of the nearby trees, but the sap proved too difficult to collect and bring to him. Nightshade was growing weaker. As a pokémon that needed to eat often, he was certainly feeling the effects, made even worse by his injuries.
“It was Thunder…” Blazefang was muttering as Redclaw tried to give Nightshade a piece of bark with a few drops of tree sap on it. The houndour’s gaze was focused on the dirt in front of his paws. He was shaking, as though barely managing to suppress a steadily climbing panic. “Thunder did this. If it weren’t for her, we’d be out of here by now.”
“I think Master is more to blame than her,” Alex whispered quietly. Even the floatzel seemed worried and afraid, her usual carefree demeanor completely gone as she nervously smoothed down the fur of one of her tails that she held in her paws.
“If it weren’t for her
…” Blazefang growled in response, “we’d be able to get away from Master.”
Snowcrystal was only half listening as the others carried on whispered conversations. She glanced at Wildflame and Redclaw, who were currently keeping watch. The fact that they hadn’t spotted anything yet didn’t reassure her. As the day wore on, she and the others were only becoming more and more paranoid, acutely aware of just how vulnerable they were. Most of them looked like they wanted to leave anyway, but they were either too worried about Nightshade or too afraid to go off alone to leave the group.
Snowcrystal was crouched beside Nightshade, who was lying completely still. Alex and Blazefang’s conversation about Thunder reached her again, and she sighed. Wanting some sort of a distraction, and figuring that Nightshade would want one too, she looked at the heracross. “I don’t think you were wrong about Thunder,” she whispered. “She was just…well…”
“I don’t blame Thunder,” Nightshade replied, his voice sounding even weaker than before. “I blame her master for turning her into the pokémon that attacked me.”
And it was back to Master, the human that could be lurking anywhere in the canyon or the surrounding area. Why hadn’t he found them yet? Had he been distracted by the other pokémon in the canyon? The thought made her cringe. No, she told herself, the canyon pokémon were too well protected. They would be safe. They had to be. She couldn’t bring herself to reply to Nightshade; she didn’t want to talk about Master or Thunder anymore.
“We shouldn’t just be waiting here,” Rosie said at once, and Snowcrystal turned to listen, more to look for another distraction than actually wanting to hear what the ninetales was saying. “We have to do something. Maybe we can smell out the human, attack him from behind, and kill him before he has a chance to let out any of his pokémon.”
Snowcrystal, as well as most of the others, stared blankly at her. Blazefang was the first to speak. “Well, if you want to volunteer for that, go ahead. Let’s see you get past his typhlosion.”
“But we could all-”
“Forget it, Rosie,” Spark told her. “Those aren’t ordinary trainer pokémon. We’d never win if he had a chance to release them. And Volco’s a pokémon too. He’d smell us coming. That’s…that’s just a crazy idea.”
“What do you think we should do then?” Rosie hissed at him. “Sit here waiting until he comes and finds us?”
“No,” said another voice, and Wildflame turned from where she was surveying the land ahead. “We can’t wait here. It’s just as dangerous as walking out in the open, and it’s getting us nowhere. I think we’re going to have to risk moving Nightshade.”
The other pokémon exchanged glances with each other, but Rosie just kept staring, an almost manic look in her eyes.
“All right,” said a voice. It was Nightshade.
“You…you sure?” Alex asked tentatively. No one else said anything.
“Wildflame is right,” the heracross said with what seemed like a great effort. “We can’t stay here. I’m willing to take the risk.”
There was silence for a moment. “Okay,” Blazefang said, standing up. “Let’s go. Now.”
The rest of the pokémon seemed to reach an unspoken agreement at the houndour’s words and got to their feet or paced around restlessly, waiting. Redclaw lay down on his belly beside Nightshade, and Alex helped the heracross climb onto his back. Redclaw stood up carefully, Nightshade clinging on feebly to the arcanine’s mane with his claws. For a moment he looked as if he was about to slide off, but he managed to hold on. Redclaw led the way, a small dry bush cracking beneath his paws.
Snowcrystal trotted after him, realizing that the others expressed obvious discomfort at the slow pace they were being forced to walk due to Redclaw and Nightshade. Redclaw seemed to notice this too. He stopped, and a conflicted expression crossed his face before he muttered, “the rest of you go on ahead. I’ll follow your scent.”
Blazefang, Wildflame, and Rosie broke into a trot and ran on ahead without hesitation, but the others paused. “Go,” Redclaw told them. Alex and Spark looked at each other, but to Snowcrystal’s surprise, did not argue, and instead nervously followed the others. Redclaw’s looked down at Snowcrystal.
“I want to stay,” she said stubbornly. “I-”
Redclaw simply nodded. “All right,” he agreed, “but if I tell you to run, run.”
Snowcrystal nodded wordlessly as she walked at the arcanine’s side. Far to their right, the cliff edge of the canyon stretched across the dry ground ominously, and she couldn’t help glancing at it often, expecting Master, or that strange human she had seen during the night, to appear out of it at any time. But no one came. She told herself not to worry; the human had probably gone, seeing as they hadn’t been attacked yet.
The two walked on in silence; Snowcrystal was wondering when they would reach the beginning of the canyon and the cave entrance they had come out of before, when Redclaw stopped suddenly, his muzzle lifted to the air.
“It’s Master,” he whispered. “He’s close.”
Snowcrystal had been so focused on convincing herself that she was being too paranoid that she didn’t quite believe the news at first. But it quickly dawned on her that Redclaw wasn’t lying. He couldn’t be. “Where?” she asked in a panic.
Redclaw’s muzzle was pointed toward the canyon a ways behind them. “Run!” he yelled at Snowcrystal without answering her question.
It took Snowcrystal a moment to will her legs to work, and as she did, she also caught the faint scent over the wind. She heard the scramble of paws and saw Redclaw trotting-as fast as he dared-over to a group of rocks away from the canyon. Looking away, she raced across the ground in the direction her friends had gone.
She wasn’t sure where Redclaw had gone to, and a group of trees up ahead prevented her from seeing her friends, but when she saw movement to her right, she knew instantly that something was wrong.
Climbing over a pile of rocks near the canyon’s edge, not far away from where she was, was Volco. The two fire types’ eyes locked together for an instant-both looked equally surprised to see the other-and then Snowcrystal turned and bolted in the opposite direction.
Volco shot after her; she could hear his paws pounding the ground. Even though she was used to running, Volco was much bigger than her, and from the sound of it, he was gaining. If I can just run long enough for him to tire out…just keep going and find the others…
A heavy weight cannoned into her from behind, sending her crashing muzzle-first into the dirt. Her paws slipped out from under her and she rolled onto her side, gasping for breath. Volco’s claws dug into her filthy white fur as he hauled her closer to him, dragging her along the ground and not seeming affected at all by her struggling.
“A nice surprise,” he muttered simply, a gleam of triumph in his single eye.
Snowcrystal tried to turn her head around to bite him, but he only pushed her to the ground harder. She stared up at his face, trying not to focus on the unnerving sight of his scarred, empty eye socket, and thought frantically about what other attacks she knew. Only fire attacks, she thought, which wouldn’t do her much good. Still, it was the only thing she could do.
She readied a flame wheel attack, but Volco saw what she was doing and slammed her head roughly into the dirt; the beginnings of the flame wheel flickered out and died. Snowcrystal scanned the area desperately for any sign of help, but neither Redclaw nor the others were anywhere to be seen. She wasn’t even sure if any of them knew she was in danger.
Sharp teeth met in her scruff and she was hauled roughly off her feet. Desperate, she fired a whirlwind of flame from her mouth that shot into the sky, but Volco didn’t even act like he had noticed. Running at the canyon and not caring if Snowcrystal got jostled against the rocks, he leapt over the cliff and down onto a narrow ledge that ran along its side. Snowcrystal stopped her fire attacks, both because she was too tired and because she did not want to set the canyon pokémon’s home on fire. Instead, she flailed wildly, trying to make Volco lose his grip or cause some damage with her claws and teeth. Nothing seemed effective; every time tooth or claw made contact, Volco ran on as if nothing had happened. Snowcrystal couldn’t tell where she was, but she knew they were getting further and further away from her friends. She knew her friends would talk about her, and then just like they decided with Thunder they would come to the conclusion that she wasn’t worth saving…
Snowcrystal felt like she was going to black out from the pain of being half carried, half dragged across the canyon ledge when Volco came to a stop. He did not release his grip, and Snowcrystal tried to touch her back legs to the ground to lesson the pressure on her neck and shoulders. When she had succeeded with this, she noticed a disturbing scent in the air. Blood.
And a lot of it. Her gaze wandered around the area Volco had stopped in, a small clearing surrounded by trees and bushes in the middle of a wide ledge with a rock wall and higher ledges on one side, then she saw it.
Moonlight, the umbreon who had helped them convince Scytheclaw not to fight Cyclone, who had stood up against the scizor at great risk to himself, was lying awkwardly on his side at the other end of the clearing. A pool of blood had formed around him and his red eyes stared wide open in a sightless gaze toward the sky.
Staring in horror, Snowcrystal realized that it wasn’t just him. There were other patches of blood in the clearing and nearby, from different pokémon, but there were no other bodies. At one end of the clearing, half-hidden by bushes, was what looked like a tent. That could only mean one thing. Then Snowcrystal understood. Somehow, Master had managed to find and capture some of the canyon pokémon…and Moonlight must have died fighting him.
Some low hanging branches near the tent shook, and Master himself stepped out of it. Snowcrystal wasn’t accustomed to seeing humans, but there was something about the way Master looked that she didn’t like. She knew enough about him to despise him already, but there was something very threatening about his appearance now that she saw him up close. He did not look like the trainer that had captured Stormblade, or the other humans she had seen in Stonedust City. They had all looked rather vulnerable and out of place outside their human dwellings, but this human did not. He looked as if he had no trouble surviving here, and no fear of the pokémon either. He looked as if he had no reason to be, and he knew it. He seemed bigger and stronger than any of the humans she had seen, and as he stepped closer, she noticed a bloodied bandage around his left arm. It looked like the wound was fresh. She wondered distantly if Moonlight had done it and then pondered whether it was worth risking a fire attack. She couldn’t, she realized quickly, while Volco was holding her. If she injured his master, he would probably kill her.
Master seemed to understand this in some way, because he showed no fear as he approached Volco and Snowcrystal. On his way, he paused at Moonlight’s body and gave the umbreon a small kick. Snowcrystal saw a gaping red wound in his stomach that looked almost like something Thunder could have done, but the wound wasn’t clean enough to have been made by a scythe. Master looked over the umbreon’s body, seemed satisfied with something, and walked over to Snowcrystal, stopping just in front of her and Volco.
“Drop her,” he told Volco.
Volco’s mouth opened and Snowcrystal hit the ground; she tried to remain on her paws but found they wouldn’t support her. Master’s hand reached out and grabbed a handful of her neck fur. He lifted her up, more painfully than Volco had done, until the two of them were eye to eye. Snowcrystal felt an overwhelming urge to fire a flame wheel in his face and let Volco do whatever he wanted to her, but she knew she couldn’t. She couldn’t just give up and not try to escape and find her friends; if she did, they would come looking for her and likely meet the same fate, and she would never reach Stonedust City or find out what the legendaries so desperately needed to know about the Forbidden Attacks.
Master slowly moved her so that she was facing away from him; he seemed to want to take a close look at the pale gray stripes on her back. He ran the fingers of his other hand through the white tuft of fur on her head, then turned her to face him again, staring into her eyes with a strange fascination. “You did well, Volco,” he said smoothly. “The white growlithe. I thought she might be an albino, but her eyes are blue. She could be something else entirely.” His hand moved toward her crystal amulet and he held the crystal itself in his hand, peering at it for a closer look. “Think she belongs to a trainer?” he asked Volco, who tilted his head and gave him a look of feigned innocence. The typhlosion then seemed to lose interest a bit, and went over to sniff hopefully at Moonlight’s carcass; Snowcrystal realized that the umbreon’s body would probably end up as food for Master’s pokémon.
“We’ll see,” Master began. He now held her at arm’s length, still dangling painfully from her scruff. Her eyes kept darting around the bloodied grass of the clearing, wondering what had happened to the other canyon pokémon. When she looked back at Master, he was holding a red and white sphere in his hand. Whatever hopes she had had left plummeted.
He tapped the sphere against her head and suddenly a chilling sensation swept over her. She felt different than she had ever felt in her life; the scenery shimmered before her eyes, confusing her for a second before she was drawn into blackness. However, she could feel, in some way she didn’t quite understand, that she was not captured yet. With all her might she fought against the strange energy consuming her, feeling her strength wane even more. But there was no way she was going to give up. She had nothing to loose now, and she couldn’t let herself get caught…
Just when she thought she would black out from the effort, light flooded her vision and her body reformed normally on the ground next to Master, the energy she had struggled against releasing her. The pokéball dropped uselessly to the ground. Master bent to pick it up and at the same time grabbed her scruff again, twisting her head so her muzzle was pointed upward at the sky as if he was suddenly worried she would try to use an attack on him, then pulled out another small sphere from his pocket; this one looked different than the one he had used before. Master pushed the small button in the sphere’s center and it grew to be the size the previous pokéball had been.
Snowcrystal struggled wildly, and by some stroke of bizarre luck that surprised even her, managed to slip out of Master’s grasp. She hit the ground roughly and took off, only to be stopped by Volco as the typhlosion knocked her to the ground. Trapped, she looked in a panic at Master, only to realize that it hadn’t been bizarre luck that she’d escaped at all.
Master had been distracted by something moving on a rock ledge on the canyon wall not far above them. But it wasn’t one of Snowcrystal’s friends. It wasn’t even a pokémon.
It was another human.
This human, Snowcrystal realized, was much like the ones she had seen before, a young, not quite full grown human who looked out of place so far from a city. This human, though young, looked taller and older than the one who had captured Stormblade. He was much scrawnier than Volco’s trainer, and the fur (or whatever it was) on his head was a darker brown. He was standing with the most surprising nonchalant look on his face, not seeming surprised at all at the scene that lay before him. Snowcrystal wondered if this human had been watching them, and for how long.
“What are you doing here?” Master shouted at him, looking furious. Snowcrystal noticed that he was still holding the differently-colored pokéball. Volco, meanwhile, looked at the newcomer with surprise; Snowcrystal wondered how the human had managed to get this close without the typhlosion noticing him.
The scrawny human did not answer. He simply stared back. Then Snowcrystal realized it; the human she had seen during the night had looked like he did. At least, from what she could tell, he had. He had certainly been tall and thin, that was for sure. The human’s gaze wavered around the clearing before focusing once again on Master. “Let those pokémon go,” he said, his voice sounding rather quiet compared to Master’s booming yell.
Master didn’t reply but cast a knowing glance at Volco, who threw back his head and shot a billowing column of flame at the human standing on the cliff. Something moved in a blur in front of the oncoming fire attack, and Snowcrystal saw the human duck down as a pokémon came to a stop in front of him, lifting its arms, in which it held two strange objects, and forming a shimmering, almost transparent barrier in front of the fire. Despite this, Volco kept up the attack, and the pokémon behind the barrier strained harder, while the trainer, flinching from the heat, backed up against the rock wall.
Snowcrystal felt teeth in her scruff again, and looked around in panic, only to see the dark blue and white face of another pokémon before it began hauling her out of Master’s line of sight into the trees.
(Continued in next post...)