Compared to the other buildings in Stonedust City, the long-term pokémon hospital the trainers had been talking about looked actually friendly, at least at a first glance. It was a massive white building with many windows and several large outside enclosures surrounding it. Snowcrystal saw a pond with a small waterfall, a rocky area with large boulders, and a place with several tall trees she thought must be there to represent a forest. There were others behind the building that she could not see well, but what she could see with her limited vision from Damian’s backpack looked peaceful and serene.
Yet as they got closer, there seemed to be a sense of foreboding and dread about the place that made Snowcrystal shudder. The pokémon in the enclosures were not playing happily, but limping slowly around their small spaces or lying unmoving. Several of them had missing limbs and many had bandages around their legs or heads and moved very slowly as they went for a drink of water from one of the pools or to one of the food bowls set out. Most looked too tired to move much at all. And these, she knew, were the healthier pokémon that were being kept there. The whole place had such a strong air of despairing misery about it that it made Snowcrystal feel depressed just looking at it. She could almost sense the pain and sickness and hopelessness coming from the pokémon unlucky enough to end up here.
As they passed the gate to the steps leading up to the front doors, an absol wobbled toward them on three legs from inside one of the enclosures. It had bandages around its head and looked unsteady, peering at them through glazed eyes. Damian stopped to look at it, but Snowcrystal couldn’t see his face. He looked at it for what felt like quite a while before Katie pulled him away and they walked up to the building’s front doors, the rest of Snowcrystal’s friends following in subdued silence, looking around nervously.
Katie pulled open the door and walked inside, while Damian held it open for the pokémon. “I don’t like this place!” Alex said loudly as she shuffled inside, peering around nervously.
“Quiet!” Blazefang growled her.
Katie walked up to the human near the front desk, and Snowcrystal ducked down further into the backpack (or as far as she could in such a small space) as another human walked over.
“Excuse me?” the human said rather rudely.
“Uh…what?” Damian replied, sounding startled.
“If you’re going to bring pokémon in here, keep them in their pokéballs! If you want to visit a pokémon here….since I’m sure that’s what you’re here for, considering that none of these pokémon look like they need to stay here…then you must realize that there are many sick and injured pokémon here and they do not
need any illnesses brought in by yours.”
“Oh…sorry…I’ll just…take them…back outside.” Damian hurriedly went back through the doors and the pokémon followed him, looking a bit confused.
“What do we do now?” Wildflame asked.
“I guess Katie will have to go see Stormblade herself,” Redclaw muttered, “though Rosie, you might want to think about letting these humans help you with your leg…”
“Are you crazy!?” Rosie shouted. “I’m not letting a human lock me up in a place like this! And I don’t need to be! I’m not ready to drop down dead like the rest of the pokémon in here!”
At Rosie’s words, Snowcrystal felt like she had been stabbed with a claw. Stormblade was one of the pokémon in there, and now that she thought of it, he could very well end up like she was sure some of the pokémon in this building did and would…that he would die in spite of all the help the humans tried to give him. She realized, for the first time, that this could be her last opportunity to see Stormblade at all.
“I have to get in that building,” she said in a determined voice, forcing open a large enough hole in the backpack’s zipper to stick her head out. “I need to see Stormblade…to tell him what happened.” She didn’t emphasize further than that.
“You really want to see him, don’t you?” Snowcrystal was surprised to hear Damian’s voice. She knew he couldn’t understand her, but her eagerness was obvious. She stared back at him, hoping he’d somehow understand how much this meant to her.
“I’m going to go back in,” he told the other pokémon, zipping the backpack mostly shut again. “Stay out here and wait, and don’t cause any trouble or bother the pokémon in the enclosures, all right?”
Redclaw looked back at him and made a happy barking noise, then sat down on his haunches by the rest of the pokémon, who after a moment’s hesitation gathered around him.
“We won’t be long,” Damian replied, “No one should bother you. I’ll be right back.”
He stepped into the doors again, and Snowcrystal caught a glimpse of her friends, Rosie, Wildflame, and Redclaw in particular, looking through the glass at her and wondered if they had wanted to see Stormblade as much as she had. She realized quickly that they had opted to stay behind and wait, without Damian’s protection, so she could have a chance. Even Blazefang looked calm and not at all aggressive as he peered back at her, though he didn’t seem like he really understood why this was so important to her.
The glass door which her friends were peering through vanished as Damian walked out of view of it and toward Katie, who was waiting for him uncertainly. “You sure this is a good idea?” she asked as they followed the human now leading them to Stormblade’s room. “Leaving the pokémon out there?”
“No one will bother them,” he replied. “Plenty of pokémon run errands for their trainers. People will think that they’re doing that and waiting for us.”
“I think I’ve already learned that I can’t trust you when you say everything’s going to be fine, you know,” Katie muttered back. Damian didn’t reply.
For a moment, things were silent until movement caught Snowcrystal’s eye and she peered out to see a young eevee racing down the hall excitedly. The eevee bumped into Damian’s leg and came to a halt. Snowcrystal looked down to see the little pokémon staring up at her, or what little he could see of her, with brown eyes.
“Hi!” he said happily, wagging his tail. Snowcrystal could see that he had what was once obviously a very nasty wound on his forehead as well as his shoulder, but they both looked nearly healed now.
Snowcrystal didn’t want to reply in case it gave her away. Luckily the eevee was distracted when Damian reached down to pet it. “I like your trainer!” he cried happily, giving a little bounce.
“Jake! What are you doing?” a human voice shouted from the other end of the hallway. A female human about Katie’s age, presumably there to help out with some of the simpler tasks for the pokémon, appeared around a corner and ran past the startled nurse and trainers and scooped the eevee up in her arms. “You aren’t well yet
!” she cried. “You need to rest more!”
“I don’t want to rest!” the eevee protested, struggling in the human’s arms.
Snowcrystal didn’t hear what the human said in response, for she was now carrying him back the way she’d come. Snowcrystal wondered if that was her eevee, or just one belonging to another trainer she had decided to help out. It made her feel a bit better about this place, for now she knew that for some pokémon, there was hope for healing. That eevee, apart from a few scars, would be a perfectly normal and happy, healthy pokémon once he was completely well and able to leave. However, she knew that there were many others who weren’t going to be so lucky.
They continued walking, not seeing any other humans and pokémon, just rows and rows of doors. “Here we are,” the nurse leading them told them, and opened one of the doors. They walked into another hallway, but unlike the one they had just come through, this one was much wider, and along the walls were little rooms with big windows taking the place of the doors that would have separated them from the hallway. In several of the small rooms were pokémon, each lying on a soft bed on the soft floor. Also in the rooms were food and water bowls and a small tray that Snowcrystal realized must be a place for the pokémon to relieve itself, seeing as they couldn’t go outside. They passed a vileplume that was obviously badly burned, with very little remaining of its petals, a mightyena whose back and hind legs were also severely burned, and several other pokémon with the same types of injuries. Snowcrystal even saw a forlorn looking growlithe, its back turned away from the window, also with severe burns. Looking at its orange shape, Snowcrystal wondered how a fire type like herself had gotten in that state. She thought, for one horrible fleeting moment, that it might have gotten injured when Shadowflare had burned the forest down, but as they passed it she got a closer look, and from what she could see, the more minor burns that were almost healed and weren’t covered by bandages were not Shadowflare wounds.
Snowcrystal understood that this was the place where the humans kept all the burned pokémon. None of them stirred as they walked by. Snowcrystal kept looking in each of the windows for Stormblade, but he didn’t seem to be in any of them. They reached the end of the hallway and Snowcrystal finally saw the room that was Stormblade’s. It was right near some large doors leading to some other place, which Snowcrystal thought might be where the humans kept their supplies, whatever they were, that would help the injured pokémon. Stormblade’s room was larger than most of the others, but he only occupied a small corner of it, the corner with the bed. He looked far too weak to move, and Snowcrystal wasn’t sure he could. His food and water had been placed right next to his head, but they looked untouched. What’s wrong with him?
She thought. Hadn’t Katie mentioned he’d been doing better?
“Can we go inside?” she heard Damian ask the strange human.
“Yes,” Katie answered for him, and Snowcrystal remembered that she had been there before.
Snowcrystal watched as the human who had led them there walked up to a place in the wall next to the room and pressed some buttons on an odd looking device, and the window-or what Snowcrystal had thought had been a window-flickered and vanished.
Snowcrystal could see the nurse human watching them as they walked inside, and she didn’t seem like she was going to leave. She saw Katie kneel down beside the bed, which was very low to the ground, and heard footsteps walking away. For some reason or other, the nurse human had left.
Damian set down the backpack and opened it before kneeling down as well. Snowcrystal freed herself from it and walked over to Stormblade. She noticed some strange tendrils made of some human-made stuff going into parts of Stormblade’s upper arm. She wondered if they were hurting him, but not knowing what they were for, she didn’t try to remove them, as much as she wanted to.
As soon as he realized the humans were there, Stormblade opened his eyes and looked up at Snowcrystal, a look of disbelief on his face. “S-Snowcrystal?” he whispered. “How did you get here?”
She could tell that it took him some effort to speak, and that he would have asked her more questions if he could. She looked at him and then glanced nervously back in the direction the human had been standing, and seeing her do this, Damian sat behind her, blocking her from view of the hallway. Not knowing how much time she had, she quickly told Stormblade some of the things that had happened since he’d left the group, about how she had found Articuno and what he had said, and what she had decided to do afterward. She also told him about how she and the others had met up with Damian, and how he was going to help them.
Stormblade listened but did not react much. Snowcrystal hoped that he simply believed her without finding everything too surprising and that he wasn’t simply too exhausted and weak for it to surprise him. When she had finished telling him the vastly shortened version of the story, he asked her a question. “What about Thunder?” he whispered. “Is she okay? With the humans? Is she getting better?”
Snowcrystal fell silent and avoided Stormblade’s gaze. She hadn’t wanted to talk about Thunder, but she knew as soon as he’d asked that he had a right to know. “Thunder…” she replied, thinking of what to say for a moment before she realized the human could come back at any minute, and she needed to tell him quickly. “Thunder got captured again…by her old master,” she said quietly.
“What?” Stormblade’s reply was weak but shocked. “What do you mean?”
“He found us by the canyon where…where Moonlight lived…she tried to attack him, but before she got a chance, he returned her…he still had her pokéball. We haven’t seen her since.” She didn’t say anything else. She couldn’t bring herself to look at the expression of alarm and horror on Stormblade’s face any longer. She knew how he felt about Thunder. He knew more than anyone, apart from possibly Nightshade, what her life with her old trainer was like…what her life was going to be like again. Snowcrystal looked back at Stormblade, and seeing the hurt and disbelief in his eyes, she didn’t have the heart to tell him what Thunder had done before she had been captured.
After a moment Stormblade looked away from her and closed his eyes. “Stormblade?” she whispered, but he didn’t try to reply. Somehow she knew that he wasn’t going to try and talk any longer.
“I think so,” she heard Katie reply. She had just barely noticed that Katie and Damian had been talking. “The nurses were saying that the infection’s getting stronger and that’s why…well, he’s worse now. I did what I could when I was away from the cities, and it seemed like it was working for a while…but I guess the medicine wasn’t strong enough…”
Damian didn’t reply, but kept looking at Stormblade. He slowly moved the bowl of water toward Stormblade’s mouth, but the scyther didn’t attempt to drink out of it. After a moment, Damian gave up and set the bowl back down, looking helpless. Snowcrystal thought he looked just as sad as she felt, even though he didn’t even know Stormblade. Maybe it wasn’t just Stormblade, but all the injured pokémon he was thinking about, she thought. The whole place seemed enough to make anyone-human or pokémon-depressed. Katie, however, didn’t seem nearly as affected by it. She regarded Stormblade with concern, but didn’t seem overly worried about him. Of course…
Snowcrystal thought. She still thinks he’s a murderer…
Snowcrystal’s ears pricked as she heard the sound of footsteps approaching. Quickly she got back into the backpack and Damian closed it as the human approached. This time, as they walked back through the hallways, Snowcrystal did not try to look through the opening in the backpack at her surroundings. She did not want to see the place anymore.
When they reached the doors that led outside and to the other pokémon, Snowcrystal was surprised when no one asked her questions. She figured that someone, maybe Redclaw, had told them not to until they got back to the camp the humans had set up.
To her relief, there were no incidents with humans during the journey back to the city. They made it back to the camp safely, and Damian told Todd and Inferno to watch the camp and left with Katie to go to the library, promising the two once again that they would get a turn to go next time.
“Shouldn’t we…have stayed with them to be closer to the library?” Alex asked. “So we can hear any news faster?”
“No…” Wildflame replied. “I’ve had enough of that human city for one day.”
“What did Stormblade say to you?” Rosie asked Snowcrystal, who really did not want to answer.
“She’ll tell us later,” Redclaw interrupted. “Now get some rest. You could use some after all that traveling. We all could.”
Grateful not to have to answer questions for the moment, Snowcrystal wandered to just outside the camp, alone but not too far from the others. She couldn’t help but feel that she was partially responsible for what had happened to Stormblade. If she hadn’t agreed to join up with him and Spark…if she hadn’t met him at all, this wouldn’t have happened. He would be healthy and probably would have found a better home by now. And it wasn’t just him. Other pokémon had suffered because they had wanted to help her. Nightshade and Rosie…even Thunder, though whether she had ever wanted to help or not, Snowcrystal wasn’t sure. They had all been in danger many times because of the mess she’d brought them into, willingly or not. And now she wasn’t even sure if this was something they could really make a difference in or not. They were just ordinary pokémon, searching for something the legendary Articuno did not even know. And how many more pokémon would suffer trying to find it? Cyclone wanted Blazefang’s Forbidden Attack, and even though he had to be far away by now and there was little chance he knew where Blazefang was, she couldn’t shake the feeling of terror she got when she thought of him, like she was prey hiding in a forest, desperately hoping not to be scented, followed, and found. She didn’t think Cyclone would simply give up. He was out there, undoubtedly searching for other Forbidden Attacks, other attacks that would affect the lives of many pokémon, near and far.
She now understood, really understood, why Scytheclaw had refused to try and heal Stormblade. He wanted no part in all this, and she couldn’t blame him. But despite that, she still wanted to try and convince him, for Stormblade’s sake, because no matter how Scytheclaw, or she, felt about it, Stormblade deserved some sort of hope. And this was the only possible hope he had. She just hoped that somehow, she would be able to help make things right…not just for Stormblade, but for everyone whose lives her quest had changed.
To be continued...
(Jake the eevee was another reference to one of my old stories. An eevee named Jake was a character in a story I wrote in November 2006. Also, the part with Stormblade at the end was written when I was really sad about something, so I guess that was a good scene to write then. I'm going to try and write this and Mind Whisperer more often so there isn't such a huge gap in the chapters again. ^^; Hopefully I'll have better luck with the next chapter. )