That day, however, Snowcrystal was going to go with them. Doing nothing but waiting day after day had, for a while, been peaceful, but her old restlessness had soon returned, and she could no longer stand being unable to help. She wanted to do something, even if that something was just tagging along with the humans for a day, watching them try and find information. She hadn’t been able to go into the city with them much before, and she had only been able to see Stormblade one more time since she had last seen him. He wasn’t getting worse, but he wasn’t getting much better. But he was alive.
Today, the humans had a new idea. If it worked well, it might mean that she would be able to walk the city streets freely alongside them.
It had taken a few tries, but Damian, Katie, and Justin had managed to die her fur to match the color of an orange growlithe’s. It had at first been frustrating when Justin kept getting the wrong shade of orange, or the humans weren’t careful and messed up, but at last they had succeeded in making her look passably like, as Justin had said, “a normal growlithe”. Runty and with a few oddly shaped stripes, but pretty ‘normal’-looking overall.
“There,” Damian said as he and the others stood back and admired her. “No one will tell the difference.”
Justin frowned. “Some of the stripes look weird,” he pointed out. “And the cream color is a bit too dark.”
“No one’s going to be looking at people’s growlithe to see if they’re actually white,” Katie pointed out. “So she’s small and looks a bit odd. So what? Some pokémon look a little different. No one’s going to care.”
Justin just rolled his eyes and muttered, “fine”, and without further discussion they were soon on their way. Spark and Redclaw were accompanying them to the library that day, as well as Inferno the flareon and Todd the Elekid. Spark was used to the city, and it surprised Snowcrystal to see him walking down the sidewalk ahead of the humans, at complete ease with his surroundings. Seeing that Snowcrystal was nervous, he soon came back to join her.
“It’s not so bad, once you get used to it,” he told her.
“Then I wish I was used to it,” Snowcrystal muttered back, scurrying out of the way of a human passing them from the other direction. Even though she was still nervous about being discovered, the human didn’t give her a second glance.
“Just stick with me,” Spark replied cheerfully. “You’ll be fine.”
As they neared the library, Snowcrystal realized that she didn’t recognize anything. The place looked so different from the rain-slicked streets she had wandered through with Sid and Wildflame all that time ago. How long had it been? She wasn’t sure. It seemed like ages.
As they walked through the massive library’s front doors, Snowcrystal couldn’t suppress a feeling of fear as she remembered the last time she was here, running panicked through the halls as a human chased after her. Trying to ignore the feeling as best as she could, she walked in with the others, sticking close to Spark’s side.
Inside, the library was just as big and confusing as she remembered it being, though in the light of day and with the company of friends, it was a lot less scary. She paused to give the legendary pokémon portraits around the room a curious glance now that she could see them clearly in the light, then followed Damian and the others further into the room.
She wasn’t sure if this was the room Sid had led her into the first time she was here; she remembered there had been pictures of legendaries, but not what they looked like. She let her gaze travel across each one and suddenly remembered that there had been an articuno painting in the room she had first entered. There was no articuno here; this must be a different room.
She wondered which of the towering bookshelves they were going to look for information from, but the humans didn’t even stop to look at them. They passed through the room without a glance at any of the books, down a hallway and into a smaller room with crude, brightly colored art plastering the walls along with other cheerful decorations. There were a few human children reading from large, flat books while a mightyena dozed peacefully in the corner.
They walked through that room and down a few more hallways, until they came upon a sight that Snowcrystal did remember.
Ahead of her, on the wall in front of them by where the hallway split into two paths, was the large circular mural of the Forbidden Attacks. Strangely, in the now well-lit building, it still looked foreboding, and she noticed that the others, even Inferno and Todd, had stopped to give it a nervous glance before tearing their gaze away and continuing on down the right hallway. Snowcrystal stared at the strange mural a few seconds longer before following them. A random memory surfaced of her looking at the painting and hearing the human coming, then running down the left hallway, and she wondered what awaited them at the end of the right.
She followed the others down the hallway and past two wide open doors, and the room they arrived in next was the biggest one Snowcrystal had seen. It was truly massive, and the floor formed a round, even circle. The room had multiple stories, each story having rows upon rows of bookshelves around the circular edges of the room. The center of the bottom floor was a clear space with several chairs and sofas upon which a few humans and in some cases, their pokémon, were lounging upon. On the upper stories, this circular space was a massive hole, so Snowcrystal could see all the way to the ceiling far, far, above, the center of which was comprised of windows, which made up a sphere as big as the openings in the upper stories.
Up above, she could make out a few humans walking around by the rails lining the outside of the center of the higher stories, of which Snowcrystal counted four. She watched a flygon lift into the air from the second story to bring a book to his trainer on the third. Way, way up on the fifth story, a plusle and minun sat on the railing, peering downward and squealing something excitedly to one another. All along the walls on the bottom floor, and probably the upper ones too, were portraits, but in this room, they were not mainly of legendaries. Ordinary pokémon made up a lot of the subjects in the pictures here; she even saw one with a large group of stylized growlithe puppies playing in a field.
“See?” Spark said to her with a grin. “Us pokémon are welcome here! Though I sure hope that moron up there doesn’t fall off and get the humans all paranoid about us.” He narrowed his eyes at the tiny shape of the plusle leaning over the rail.
The place was so massive that Snowcrystal could begin to understand just why the search was taking so long. The humans would be meticulously studying any book with even a chance of having something relevant to the Forbidden Attacks for any clue it might offer them, and as they had long since looked through the obviously relevant books, the search was getting harder.
“All right, you two,” Inferno said in a cheerful voice. Snowcrystal knew that he always liked it when he got to accompany the humans. His fur fluffed up and his eyes were bright with enthusiasm as he looked around the room. “Let’s get started!”
Snowcrystal wasn’t sure what the pokémon could do, and she didn’t think they’d be able to do much other than offer the humans moral support, but that seemed to be enough of a job for Todd and Inferno. They eagerly helped Damian, Justin, and Katie put away books or jumped up to the higher shelves to retrieve one for them. They were on the second story, working their way up toward the fifth, Spark explained to her. This room was full of information about pokémon and the world they lived in. While they waited as the humans skimmed through the books, Spark told her of some of the things he had learned from the humans while being here. He told her that they lived in a region
called the Inari region. There were other regions too, places called things like Johto and Kanto, and they each had many human cities. Spark told her that by other regions’ standards, theirs was a strange one. It had very few species native only to itself, and was home to many species from all of the other regions. Snowcrystal found this interesting, and there were also many pokémon even Spark hadn’t seen that he’d found pictures of in books and excitedly showed Snowcrystal.
Snowcrystal found this fascinating, but at the same time, it worried her that this place was so rich in knowledge, yet they hadn’t been able to find any further information on the Forbidden Attacks outside of stories that were very likely fictional. Still, she did her best to help, which usually meant picking books up carefully in her mouth and plopping them back on the shelf, as the humans continued to look. Spark told her that none of the computers used to search for books had helped them, and they’d soon given up on that. He also told her that this was a very old and famous library that contained some very old books that may offer more insight than the more recent ones they had been searching through before.
It worried Snowcrystal how long this was taking, but at the same time, she knew that her friends needed the rest. Rosie’s leg was much better now, though she still had a limp, and everyone else was much happier and healthier, and very well fed. They now rarely needed to hunt. Katie was a good enough battler that between her battling tournament money and Damian and Justin doing random jobs for other humans with the help of their own pokémon, they had enough money to feed everyone, even the wild pokémon. Perhaps it was better if they waited for a while. At least here, they were likely getting closer to a discovery, and it would help them in the long run to take a long, peaceful rest.
Snowcrystal spent the day helping the humans put away books, watching them as they turned the pages to reveal colorful pictures, or lying down and looking up at all the flying pokémon that occasionally crossed the open space in the middle of the tall room. Then sunset came, filtering through the windows and tinting the room a faint orange. It was time to leave.
After Damian’s assurance that tomorrow would probably be the day they found something (which Spark told her that he said every day), they got up and followed the last lingering trainers through the hallways and towards the exit of the building.
“You were a great help,” Spark told Snowcrystal as they made their way through one of the hallways. “Aren’t you glad you got to come along this time?”
Snowcrystal knew he was just trying to make her feel better, but she nodded.
They walked into the small room where they had seen the human children reading before. Now there were no children, just a few adult humans putting away books and talking in a corner, and the mightyena from before, no longer snoozing but alert and awake with the coming of night.
As they walked through the room, the mightyena saw them and froze.
Snowcrystal paused, and so did the other pokémon, as the dark type walked over to them. She didn’t bother to give them a greeting, but walked straight up to Redclaw with a look of concern in her eyes. “That collar…” she whispered. “You…you were there too?”
“What?” Redclaw stuttered, looking completely confused.
“The poachers,” the mightyena continued, giving Redclaw a worried look. “The ones that took us from the forest?”
“You mean Mas-” Redclaw paused. “Wait…no. Poachers? Uh…you must be thinking about someone different. You’re talking about a group of humans, right?”
“Yes…” the mightyena replied. “So you weren’t one of us?” She eyed his collar, and Snowcrystal could tell that she longed to ask him about it, but thought better of it. “The humans can remove that, you know,” she continued after a moment’s hesitation. “It’s difficult, but they found a way to do it without setting it off. If yours has an electrical device, I mean. Go to the pokémon center and they’ll tell your trainer who to look for.” She looked over at Katie, Damian, and Justin, who had all stopped to wait while Redclaw talked to the mightyena. “You see,” she went on, “the police rescued us from the poachers who captured us. I have a new trainer now. He works here. He’s very kind. The first thing he did was take me to the humans who got rid of that awful collar. It was so nice to finally be rid of….” Her voice trailed off as her eyes wandered toward Snowcrystal. She stared at her a moment, and Snowcrystal shrank back. The mightyena kept on staring, her eyes narrowed slightly. “You’re not a normal growlithe,” she whispered.
Snowcrystal’s fur stood on end. “W-what? What do you mean?” Had Justin been right about the fur dye?
“Your fur is dyed,” the mightyena continued. “I recognize that sort of dye. The poachers used it to color pelts sometimes…to trick other humans into thinking they were the pelts of shiny pokémon. But it’s okay,” she added quickly, seeing Snowcrystal’s worry, “if you don’t want anyone to know, it’s not that noticeable. I probably wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t been around that sort of stuff. But are you…are you normally white?”
Snowcrystal wasn’t sure why, but she nodded. No use trying to lie now.
The mightyena’s eyes widened. “Rosie…” she whispered. “I knew Rosie. She said she knew a growlithe with white fur. Snowcrystal was her name. Is your name Snowcrystal?”
Numbly, Snowcrystal nodded.
“Where is Rosie?” the mightyena asked, a worried look clouding her face. “Did she…did she make it? Did she find you again?”
“Yes,” Snowcrystal replied. “She’s safe.” Seeing the relief on the mightyena’s face made her forget her worries of being discovered by other pokémon.
From the other side of a room, a human called to the mightyena. “I have to go,” the dark type whispered. “When you see Rosie, tell her that Nightcloud is no longer with the poachers…that I found a new home.”
Snowcrystal nodded. “I will.”
Nightcloud returned to her trainer and Snowcrystal’s group turned to leave. All the way back she thought about Nightcloud, and remembered a joyful Rosie, upon being reunited with her and Wildflame and Spark, telling her a story of how a mightyena named Nightcloud had helped her, but had been unable to escape herself. So Nightcloud had at last found freedom and peace here in Stonedust City. She would make sure to tell Rosie everything when she got back.
Stormblade longed to see the forest and trees again. He wished he could go outside to feel the sunshine, and the cool breeze he knew would be blowing at this time of day. And what a lovely spring day it was. From what he could tell.
He was tired of lying there, helpless in the hospital, either in a daze or too bothered by the pain to sleep. Of course, it was much more bearable now, not like his days traveling while injured, which were all one pain-filled blur to him now. But he still felt some of the pain.
And the loneliness, which was much worse.
Stormblade wasn’t used to being so alone for so long. He was a scyther, a pokémon meant to live in groups, meant to hunt and travel with others. Sure, the nurses and doctors and their pokémon came in multiple times a day, but only to treat his wounds, then move onto the next pokémon. They never had much time to talk to him because of the sheer number of pokémon in the hospital, and the volunteer trainers were only allowed to work with the healthier pokémon. And Stormblade greatly missed his friends.
Snowcrystal had only been able to sneak back in once, and he hadn’t been able to see any of the others. Snowcrystal insisted they were all fine and doing better, but he wished he could see them himself. And Thunder…he could never stop worrying about her. It was terrible, not knowing what was happening to her but knowing that it was something horrible. And there was nothing that any of them could do about it.
He hated this helplessness. Hated that he needed help just to eat, that he had such a large room but he couldn’t even move freely in it. He knew how hard it was for them to care for him, and he was grateful to the humans and the pokémon here for their help, and everything they did for him, yet at the same time, it deeply saddened him that he needed to have help with these things at all. He was a scyther. He was a fierce apex predator, a strong and noble warrior. Or at least, he used to be.
He wasn’t any of those things anymore.
Though he knew there was nothing he could do, he couldn’t help wishing that he could go back, before the battle with Blazefang’s pack that resulted in his injuries from the Forbidden Attack. Or even back further, so he never would have found that girl and ruined Justin’s dream of being a great pokémon trainer, or maybe still further, so he had never been captured.
And he had made many mistakes even before those ones. In the hospital, he was often alone, simply with his own thoughts. Maybe it was his longing to be wild and free again, or even just to go outside, for a little bit, but his thoughts, when they weren’t focused on Thunder and what could be happening to her at that moment, often drifted back toward his days in the wild with Spark…or his swarm days.
Stormblade had tried to put his swarm life behind him. Even when being sent back into the wild after Justin lost his trainer’s license, he hadn’t tried to join another swarm. It was partly because Spark needed him at the time, partly because it would be hard to find a strong swarm with a good leader, as the way scyther swarms were run tended to vary depending on who the leader was and the tradition of the swarm itself, and partly because he didn’t want to relive the memories.
Though now, there wasn’t much else to do, apart from thinking of Thunder, but relive them.
Stormblade’s own swarm had been a very good one for the majority of the time he was a member of it. He was one of many scyther born there, but unlike the other young ones, who were strong and healthy from the start, he had been very sickly when he had hatched. Many swarm leaders would have had him abandoned in the forest, and the kinder ones would have killed him first, but not Bloodscythe. Though many of the swarm scyther believed that a sickly young one would either die soon, and therefore wouldn’t be worth taking care of, or would only weaken the swarm by using up food resources while being unable to hunt himself, the leader refused to have him sent away.
Instead, Bloodscythe himself assisted in bringing Stormblade food, encouraging him to try and overcome the sickness. It was Bloodscythe’s belief that abandoning the weak was a foolish and cowardly thing to do, and that made the swarm weaker rather than stronger. ‘If we cannot rely on each other in times of hardship,’ he had said, ‘then why are we a swarm at all?’ And the weak, Bloodscythe took care to remind the other scyther frequently, would become strong, and serve the swarm diligently when they became so. How could the swarm throw that potential away because of weaknesses such as illness or injury which would most likely be temporary? Scyther were brave hunters and warriors. Abandoning the weak was not something a warrior did.
(Continued in next post...)