Fiery pain all over is what woke a battered Zangoose. His white fur was matted with blood and dirt while two deep holes in his back showed where a pair of long fangs barely missed puncturing his lung. Cringing from the effort, Sage rolled onto his back. He crossed a paw over his chest to a wide gash that began on his left shoulder and ended just before that same hip. Though it was deep, some would think him lucky. Only an inch or two further and he would not have an arm. As it was, Sage did not consider himself very lucky at all. The strike was meant for his head, but a dodge that saved his life, was not fast enough to avoid the toxic blade which still ripped through him. His body was fighting against poison from the attack, causing the whole left side to burn fiercely.
After a few minutes, he finally ventured to sit up against the tree where he fell. A soft cry escaped him as all his muscles screamed in protest, everything from the chest down terribly bruised after nearly having the life squeezed out of him. Wondering how he was still alive, the Zangoose simply sat there until regaining some control over his breathing. He slit one eye to look around and was slightly shocked by the scene. Discarded leaves on the forest floor had been churned up, leaving blood-flecked grass and deep gouges in the earth.
Both eyes snapped open as his gaze fell on a Seviper and instinct nearly drove him to his feet despite exhaustion. At least, that was until the smell of death assailed his nose. The serpent’s body was just as battered as the Zangoose, dark wounds crossing many of the once brightly-colored warning marks. Blood- Sage’s blood- had begun to dry on the blade-like tail after being slashed across the Zangoose. Bite marks on the back of its skull were torn, ragged after a failed attempt to shake off the determined Sage. A crimson pool had gathered under the still head, from its slashed throat. Sage dealt the death strike with his lethal claws, but not before the Seviper’s thrashing body scored one last blow by throwing him into a tree and ultimately, unconsciousness. Now, staring at the Seviper, he knew his enemy was dead, but could not shake away the tension.
At last, Sage forced himself to look away. “I need to get away from here.” His voice was dry and rasping, but it felt good to break the silence. One ear flicked at the sound of water behind him. Turning carefully, he could see a shallow stream was close. “Now that looks promising.”
Crossing the few yards on all fours, while favoring his left side, was painfully slow. He dared not stop to steady his shaking or to catch his breath, afraid that he would collapse and be unable to rise again. Somehow, the exhausted Zangoose managed to wade into the water before lying on his back. Biting cold from the mountain stream sank deep into his wounded body, but he welcomed the feeling over the fiery burn of poison. The flowing water began to numb his senses as dry blood and grit was washed away downstream. Sage sighed deeply, thankful for such a simple blessing after everything else. His mind shifted back to the fight and the dead Seviper. “How did it come to that?”
He was unsure how long he laid there before a sound nearby caught his attention. Sage knew there was no way he could defend himself and did not bother to move, but there would be no need to worry. He heard a slight gasp before a familiar, dark face appeared over his.
“Sage! Wh-what happened?”
He chuckled painfully at the Umbreon standing over him. “You don’t know how good it is to see you Breeze.”
The look he received from the dark Pokemon was halfway between a glare and concern. “This doesn’t seem funny to me. I almost didn’t think you were alive when I saw you laying there.” Breeze started to pull him out of the water, but Sage raised a paw to stop her.
“Please, it took all my energy to get over here, and it feels so nice right now. Let me be for a bit.” Nodding slowly, Breeze backed up and sat beside him. Sage sighed again. “I’m always the level-headed Pokemon that everyone comes to for advice. I wish I knew what happened here. Never have I taken a life needlessly.”
Breeze glanced at the lifeless Seviper among the trees then looked back at Sage. “There was no choice. You were defending yourself.”
The Zangoose let out a sad chuckle. “That was not defense. That was not even defeat. There were many times that I could have fled, but didn’t.” He thought over his encounter with the Seviper. He had not wanted to fight, but… “I had no need to pursue a battle, even though I did. Every Zangoose knows of the deep rivalry with Seviper. That’s why I’ve always tried to avoid them, but when he appeared before me, I felt as if something was urging me to attack. The same thing was happening to him. I could see it, and yet, my common sense was being drowned by a much louder voice.” Shaking his head sadly, Sage looked up at his friend. “Instinct is a terrible thing to lose one’s self in. I can only pray that it never happens again.”
The flowing stream had washed away most of the dry blood and dirt from the Zangoose, revealing the wounds that would leave terrible scars. The long slash down Sage’s side would probably bother him for the rest of his life. Breeze took all this in as she listened. The Zangoose lay watching the leaves above him, while the soothing mountain stream put his body and soul at ease. “Next time, I’ll be sure to walk away.”
Breeze smiled sadly. Sage was one of the wisest Pokemon she knew, and even as he said this, the Umbreon could see it in his eyes. The battered Pokemon did not believe his own words. Still… “Of course Sage, I’m sure you will.” Breeze had heard the same thing from other Zangoose, Seviper too, and had yet to hear of one following through with that declaration. She stayed with Sage while the cool water, coupled with exhaustion, lulled him to sleep. The Umbreon’s eyes shone as she watched light dance through the leafy canopy. “I wish it could be as simple as you want it to be my friend.”