After a long, very long delay, Path of Destiny is back. And I hope I have much better luck with future chapters.
The Path of Destiny
Chapter 52 – Secrets of Stonedust
Despite her worries, Snowcrystal found herself enjoying her time with Damian and the others. It was a peaceful life compared to what they had recently been living while on their journey, and seeing her friends grow healthier by the day brought Snowcrystal much joy. Stormblade’s Forbidden Attack wounds had not gotten worse, and some of the injuries not caused by Shadowflare were slowly healing. Rosie had been overjoyed to hear that Nightcloud finally had found a peaceful life, and despite not being much closer to finding the information they needed, the ninetales seemed much happier, especially after being able to meet and talk with the mightyena again herself.
It had now been almost two months since they had arrived at Stonedust City, and although Snowcrystal was worried that they were taking too much time to find out more about the Forbidden Attacks, the humans continued to search for information, even though they had probably searched every book in the Stonedust City library. Without wanting to leave for another location without any leads on where to find anything about the Forbidden Attacks, Damian, Justin, and Katie diligently searched over books they had already read or skimmed through, hoping to find some detail they’d missed, or searched other sources, such as the library’s computers or even stories from other humans. They weren’t willing to give up on Stonedust just yet, and neither was she.
Snowcrystal had come to be quite used to looking like an orange growlithe. Damian, Katie, and Justin had perfected the look, and Justin had proudly told her that she looked exactly like a normal orange growlithe.
As Nightcloud had suggested, Redclaw had gotten his collar removed, and luckily there were no questions asked as to why Redclaw wasn’t in a poké ball at the time. Free of the constant reminder of Master, Redclaw had grown to be happier than Snowcrystal had ever seen him.
Rosie, after much persuasion, and insistence that Nightcloud herself had gotten help from humans and trusted them, had gotten treatment for her leg. Her limp was much better now, and she was a much better fighter, too. During the time they were waiting while the humans went to search for information or buy food or battle, the pokémon trained with some of Damian and Katie’s pokémon, learning new techniques from the much more battle-savvy trainer’s pokémon. Damian had bought Rosie some new TMs, allowing her to use moves like flamethrower and fire blast, which she normally wouldn’t have been able to learn after her evolution. They passed a lot of their time in practice battles, sometimes alone and sometimes with one of the trainers directing them, talking with each other or simply just relaxing and enjoying a time when they did not have to worry about traveling or about where their next meal would come from.
Arien and Damian had still been unable to make Justin understand Stormblade’s story, and whenever they brought it up, he refused to talk to them about it and sometimes threatened to leave. They eventually gave it up, although Katie, who had often listened while they tried to explain it, seemed to believe it, or at least was rethinking the idea of Stormblade being a murderer.
There had also been no luck convincing Scytheclaw to heal Stormblade, but there was no more trouble with him attacking the other pokémon. Everyone made a great effort to be as nice to him as possible, and brought food to him even though his wounds were nearly healed, but he still largely ignored them, obviously knowing they were just being kind to try and get him to agree to heal Stormblade, but in Snowcrystal’s case, the kindness was genuine. Scytheclaw showed none of the unfair and cruel leader he had once been; even the arrogance and anger he had constantly displayed toward them in the first few days they had teamed up with the humans seemed to be dwindling. Though he still made no effort to be friendly toward the other pokémon, he showed kindness to Damian and, sometimes, his pokémon team, and he really acted as if he did want to put his old life behind him and start anew. He continued to ignore Snowcrystal and her friends, but he never went out of his way to be mean or hostile toward them, not even Nightshade.
And that was the best part. Nightshade was back.
The heracross was nearly fully healed; he only had a slight limp now. He had been able to go back to them a while before, when his wounds had still been healing, but he had been well enough to live outside with the other pokémon as long as he slept in a clean place in Damian’s tent and came to the newly-built pokémon center for more medicine and check ups to ensure his wounds had been healing correctly. When he had first arrived, it had still shocked the others all over again that Thunder had done so much damage, but Nightshade insisted that a lot of the damage had already been there (he didn’t mention Scytheclaw by name), and though Snowcrystal knew the worst of the damage by far had been done by Thunder, she was glad Nightshade was trying not to encourage the others’ negative thoughts about her.
During the time Snowcrystal wasn’t going with the humans to the library or practice battling with the others, she often went off alone into the forest with Nightshade. It was partly because she suspected he was lonely; Thunder may have been rude and awful to him at times even before she attacked him, but she knew Nightshade still considered her a friend, something Snowcrystal wasn’t sure she would be able to do in his position. She also knew he had talked with Thunder about things he hadn’t told anyone else, though what those things were, she had no idea. He had to have been close to her, in some way. Another reason she spent time with him more was because she wanted to talk to him. He was the sort of pokémon she could tell anything to, about how she missed her home, some random, silly things she did as a puppy, the stories she was told by flying pokémon visiting the mountain, or even more serious things such as how she was worried about Stormblade. Nightshade had even told her how much he worried about Thunder, caught by that horrible human again. She had known he would be worried, but she hadn’t known he’d be worried this much. Then again, it did make sense. Nightshade knew of the horrors Thunder had gone through more than anyone else, even Redclaw, and it helped both of them to have someone to talk to. She and Nightshade had spent much of their time together, and were quickly becoming close friends.
He was also, she knew, becoming close friends with Damian as well, and before the constant searching for information had taken its toll on the trainer and what little time he had was usually spent resting or battling for money, he had also talked often with Nightshade. However, now that he was becoming so busy and exhausted, Nightshade’s loneliness had seemed far stronger, so Snowcrystal had decided to help him, in whatever small way she could.
During their aimless wanderings together, they often went somewhat far from the group, confident enough in Snowcrystal’s new trainer-taught fighting techniques, and the fact that Nightshade was old and experienced enough to be a skilled fighter even without the humans’ training, that they didn’t worry about the wild pokémon. Most of them in this area weren’t very strong, and those that were weren’t aggressive. The poacher traps had long been cleared out, so they explored the forest in peace, Nightshade sometimes pointing out certain herbs or flowers or berries to her and telling her what they were.
On one such day, when they had walked further than usual, they reached a strange place near the city that looked odd and out of place compared to everything else. It took Snowcrystal a moment to realize why it struck her as so odd. The trees were lined up in a very unnatural way; only a human could have planted them like that. The grass and other plants looked unnaturally placed as well, and there were odd looking human made things scattered about the area. They were a little more than twice her height, and they had strange openings in the top. She could smell a delicious smell coming from the nearest one, and was about to move closer to investigate, when she noticed that Nightshade was acting strange.
“Come on,” the heracross told her in a voice that faltered a bit, “let’s go.” He quickly guided her away from it, urging her to move toward a different area. She asked him if there was danger, but he did not reply. As they walked away, Snowcrystal looked back at the area, noting how serene and pleasant it looked, even in the shadow of Stonedust City’s buildings. But she trusted Nightshade and tore her gaze away; if he suspected there was something sinister about it, there probably was.
A few days later, as Snowcrystal sat with the group on a warm night lit by hundreds of stars, she watched Wildflame and Spark play fighting at the edge of the clearing while the rest of the pokémon sat around a small fire in its center where Damian was cooking some sort of human treat; cooking was one of the many strange human things she’d learned about since being here. Justin and Katie had already left, but Spark had stayed behind with them for the night. A few of Damian’s pokémon were talking excitedly with Redclaw, and Blazefang was muttering to Dusk the absol; the two of them had seemed to become friends, or at least as close to being friends as Blazefang would allow, over the past few weeks. Scytheclaw just watched the fire with a forlorn look in his eyes.
Snowcrystal looked past the others and noticed Nightshade by the edge of the clearing, looking up at the stars. It was too early to sleep, and Snowcrystal was feeling restless, so she got up and walked over to him. “Want to walk around the forest?” she asked him.
She was expecting him to say no; he hadn’t wanted to explore the forest near the edge of Stonedust City much at all lately, and they rarely walked through it at night, but to her surprise, he nodded, and they set off through the trees.
“There doesn’t seem to be much hope left for that library anymore,” Nightshade said as they began walking. “Sooner or later we’re going to have to find out where we want to go next.”
He seemed distracted, and Snowcrystal had a feeling that wasn’t what he wanted to talk about at all. “Are you worried about Thunder?” Snowcrystal asked as they walked under the starlight with only the sound of crunching leaves beneath their feet.
“Yes…” Nightshade sighed, obviously not caring to bring up the subject of the library again. “I don’t know what’s happening to her now, but…unfortunately, I have a good idea.”
“Do you think we could get her back somehow?”
Nightshade looked back at her with a sorrowful expression. “…I don’t know.”
Snowcrystal didn’t know either. It would take a miracle for Thunder to escape again, especially since Master would be extra careful not to let her. And even if they could bring her back, with the others allow her to stay? Would she be in an even worse state…and would she attack any of the others? They walked on for a while, Snowcrystal lost in her own thoughts while Nightshade stayed alert and watchful.
“Nightshade,” Snowcrystal began after a little while longer, “do you think the humans could do something? About Master, I mean.”
“I’m not sure,” Nightshade replied. “We don’t even know his name. I’m not sure the humans will be able to get help from the police if they don’t even know that nor have any idea where he is. Even if we did, he’s not bound to stay there for long. Master has to be smart to have avoided them for so long.”
“I wish Thunder never tried to attack Master,” Snowcrystal said uselessly. “I wish she never attacked you.” Nightshade didn’t reply, and she continued, “I know some of the others hate her, or at least they act like it, but I don’t think they all do. Rosie saw her rescue Stormblade from the mud. She must remember that. And Redclaw knows some of what she’s been through. And Wildflame…” She paused, for Nightshade had stopped walking. “What’s wrong?” she asked.
Nightshade was staring straight ahead, unmoving.
Snowcrystal walked forward and peered into the dark, but she couldn’t see anything that would have made Nightshade stop. She was looking about wildly when she noticed lights above the tree tops. A building. “We’re really close to Stonedust,” she pointed out. Slowly she took a few steps forward, and when Nightshade made no move to stop her, she passed a group of trees and came upon, once again, that eerily perfect area with the all-too-straight rows of trees. She hadn’t noticed it up ahead in the darkness. With a jolt of surprise she quickly backed up until she stood beside Nightshade again.
“Nightshade…” she asked, “what is that place? Why is it bad? Is it dangerous?”
“It could be,” Nightshade replied quietly, “but I don’t think so. At least not now.”
“Then what is it?” she asked, smelling the sweet smell coming from the human made things, but no longer having the desire to go closer to them.
“It is a protected area,” Nightshade told her. “A pokémon sanctuary. Trainers are not allowed to come here. I heard some trainers talking about it while in the pokémon center. It’s mostly used for helping to bring back species of plants and pokémon that have become uncommon in these parts of the region. But…that isn’t all I heard. That is a dark place, Snowcrystal.” He didn’t elaborate, and she didn’t question him.
Snowcrystal realized, not for the first time, that this part of the wilderness around Stonedust was much more lush and full of the signs of pokémon having recently passed through than the other parts of it. The place where Damian and the others had set up camp didn’t have nearly as many trees and plants as this area did. And the place didn’t seem as rocky, either, as if all the rocks had long since been cleared away. “Oh…” she replied quietly. “It must seem peaceful to the pokémon here, though. They must know that the people from Stonedust are in charge of the area.” She looked at Nightshade. “Are you sure it’s not dangerous here? Maybe we should warn some of the pokémon if it is…” She glanced back at the moonlit area, her gaze fixated on several massive trees, that looked quite out of place in a long line next to the smaller, more spindly ones that grew in random places near them.
“I don’t believe they’re in any danger now. And even if they were, there’s not much we can do,” Nightshade replied. “Most wouldn’t leave…some simply can’t. For some species, their only suitable food source is grown right here. And any pokémon who has been put here by the city will not likely have much to worry about. Those who travel here, should be wise enough to not rest here long. But yes…” he added after a moment, “it is safe now.”
Slowly, Snowcrystal ventured out onto the smooth grass. It was odd, planted in blocks, and even though it was overgrown and wild looking, she could still see that it had been put in specific places. Some of it looked recent too, as if the humans had decided the grass was too wild and torn it out, then planted new grass in its place, in that same strange, orderly way. Why a human would do that, she couldn’t begin to guess. She walked up to one of the blocky human things with the sweet smell, and stretched up on her hind legs to try and look inside. She was too short, but the smell was familiar. It was poké blocks, a human treat she had seen Justin giving to Spark sometimes. Damian had even offered them to her once, but she preferred the normal pokémon food, or, on the occasions the humans brought some back from the city, fresh meat.
She noticed that she couldn’t hear much of any other pokémon, except for a quiet scampering in the tops of the large trees. She turned around to look and noticed Nightshade staring at them, but unwilling to go closer.
“Nightshade?” she asked, walking closer to him. “Is something wrong?” She glanced around quickly to see if any sort of threat had come near, but detected nothing. “Maybe we should leave this place,” she stated in a whisper. “You’re right, there’s something wrong with it…I’m really sorry. We shouldn’t have come. I know you didn’t want to…”
“No,” Nightshade replied. “I did want to come here. I just didn’t expect to come across it tonight.” She noticed that he was staring at one large tree in particular.
“Nightshade…?” Snowcrystal whispered nervously.
“There is no danger, Snowcrystal,” he told her calmly. He paused for a moment. “Do you want me to tell you something?” he asked her, his look calm but serious, with a hint of some other emotion she wasn’t quite sure of. She nodded. “This place…is where I once lived.”
“You used to live by Stonedust?” Snowcrystal asked, surprised. “How long ago?” she questioned, having a bad feeling that whatever Nightshade remembered about this place wasn’t good.
“Many years ago,” he replied. “When I was a lot younger. It’s funny, but it hasn’t changed much since then. It’s as if Stonedust City wanted to keep it looking exactly like a neat and clean human’s park all this time. I hadn’t lived here long, but I still remember what it looked like.”
“Why did you leave?” Snowcrystal couldn’t help asking, but something in the pained look Nightshade gave her told her that she probably shouldn’t have asked.
Nightshade, however, just sighed. “We had to,” he replied. “Those of us who were left. The rest of our group…” His voice gained a more serious tone. “The humans killed them.”
Snowcrystal’s eyes widened in horror. The humans in Stonedust City…the city that had helped her friends so much…had slaughtered innocent pokémon? That had to have changed by now; it was so long ago. Surely the humans were no longer a threat! “What?” Snowcrystal cried, astonished. “How? Why?”
Nightshade looked away, looking as if he was trying to decide whether or not to tell her. He started to walk away from the tree.
“You can tell me,” Snowcrystal told him. “I mean…if…if you want to.” After she said that, she had the horrible feeling that she’d made things worse.
“The humans chose to do it,” Nightshade replied after a moment, his voice icily cold. “No, they were not the sort of humans who want to destroy wildlife for their own gain, they…well, I didn’t find this out until later, but they attacked our group of heracross because…because there were too many of us in one area. We were destroying the trees.”
Snowcrystal listened with wide eyes, wanting to say something, but thinking that she shouldn’t interrupt in case Nightshade wanted to say more. She had a feeling that she had been very wrong to ask that question, and was all the more wishing she hadn’t. But Nightshade didn’t seem angry or very upset, just lost in memory. Whatever had happened, it had happened long ago, and she had a feeling that Nightshade didn’t often dwell on this part of his memories.
“We didn’t know we were destroying the trees,” Nightshade continued, his calm tone suddenly vanishing as his voice started to shake, and Snowcrystal thought she saw the hint of tears in his eyes, but he looked away before she could be sure. “We just came here because it looked like a better home than the one we’d left. There was plenty of food, or at least…we thought there was. But the humans…they knew we were disrupting the balance in their newly-built reserve…we weren’t supposed to be here, especially in great numbers. So they…they poisoned us.
(Continued in next post...)