The Path of Destiny
Chapter Twenty - Deception
“Still no sign of him?” Wildflame asked Snowcrystal as the growlithe returned to the clearing, looking defeated.
Snowcrystal shook her head. “I’ve looked everywhere around here,” she replied. “And all this mud and rain disguised his scent, so I couldn’t even follow that.” She was worried; they still hadn’t found Stormblade, and she would have thought that an injured scyther would be easy to track.
Wildflame nodded and was about to reply when Spark came stumbling back to the clearing, his spiky fur plastered with mud. “Thunder’s gone,” he stated rather simply before tiredly collapsing in a heap.
“What?” cried Snowcrystal, running over to him. “I thought you knew where she was!”
“I did,” Spark mumbled, lifting his head. “I knew where she was. I don’t know anymore.” He then lay his head down again.
“We’ll have to find both of them now!” Snowcrystal cried, running ahead. “Follow me…Spark! Show me where you saw her last-”
Snowcrystal stopped in her tracks, frozen in place by the sound of the gunshot, as she and the others looked around fearfully.
“Poachers,” Wildflame growled. “We need to get going…I’d bet there are poachers and traps everywhere!”
“We’re not leaving without Stormblade and Thunder!” Snowcrystal cried. “What if the poachers are attacking them?” Without waiting for a reply, she sprinted off towards the sound.
“NO!” Wildflame shouted, quickly intercepting her. “Do you want to get shot?” Seeing Snowcrystal’s panicked expression, she sighed. “Look, you would only get yourself killed. I’ll go check it out…I can hide better than you can. You two stay here, and I mean it!” Before Snowcrystal could object, Wildflame had run off.
It did not take Wildflame long to reach the area where the gun had fired. Sneaking ever so cautiously and using whatever cover she could find, the houndoom managed to get close enough to see two humans clearly. Both were holding guns, but there were no signs of any scyther. And in the slowly brightening dawn, they would have been easy to spot. Wildflame relaxed a bit; Thunder and Stormblade were not there.
As she peered closer, she noticed that one of the humans was holding the limp body of a small spearow. Figuring that the spearow was what the humans must have shot, she quietly turned around and headed back, careful not to make any unnecessary noise.
However, as she walked back towards the others, she could not get the image of the poachers out of her mind. They had guns…and it terrified her. She wanted to get away from this poacher trap-ridden place, far away, but they would never be able to leave until the two scyther were found. And even then, it would be slow going with Stormblade in tow. They were very lucky, she realized, to not have been captured yet. But that luck wouldn’t last long. The only relatively safe place anywhere near the area was the human city, and that was, in a way, almost as dangerous as the poachers. She wanted to get moving as fast as possible, far away from the human threats, where Snowcrystal could then possibly lead her to finding a clue about Articuno.
‘Articuno…’ Wildflame thought, a plan beginning to form in her mind. Blazefang had almost seemed like he’d wanted to get rid of her, and made her stay in Snowcrystal’s little group. But what if…what if she somehow managed to find Articuno first? She’d go straight to Firedash and receive her reward, maybe even a higher-ranking position within the tribe, while Blazefang either wandered aimlessly across unknown lands ruling his little ‘pack,’ or simply came in second place. It seemed possible; after all, the growlithe tribe did know a bit more about Articuno than the houndour tribe did. Maybe Snowcrystal actually did have some sort of clue she wasn’t telling anyone about. And after all, Blazefang had no idea of where he was leading the pack. If anything, he was just as lost as they were.
Speeding up now that she was out of both sight and hearing range of the poachers, Wildflame raced eagerly back toward Snowcrystal and Spark. She would somehow find a way to reach Articuno before Blazefang did, and reap the rewards herself. Blazefang didn’t deserve them. The biggest obstacle to her plan was, at the moment, Stormblade. She knew they’d be lucky to get half a mile in a whole day if they moved at his pace. And of course, there was still the threat of humans. They could be caught easily…and what if Stormblade and Thunder had already been caught while everyone else was looking for them? She narrowed her eyes, trying to imagine what Snowcrystal would do. She and Spark would set off to go free them before they could be taken away, or if they had, they might try and find them anyway, and end up getting themselves caught. Then Wildflame’s chance of finding out if the growlithe knew anything about Articuno would be completely ruined.
She started to pace slower, still thinking. ‘Well…what if they haven’t been captured? What if…what if…’ She stopped, and finished out loud, “What if they’ve been shot?” And suddenly another idea formed in her mind. Snowcrystal and Spark had both heard the gunshot, but they didn’t know it had been a spearow that the humans had shot. What if she didn’t tell them that? What if…what if she told them it had been Stormblade or Thunder?
With this new idea in mind, Wildflame ran off again, feeling that their traveling problems might just have been solved. With Thunder and Stormblade no longer in the picture, everything would go much faster.
Snowcrystal looked up anxiously as Wildflame bounded back into the rocky clearing. Spark sat up, looking just as worried. The look on Wildflame’s face only served to make them even more concerned.
“Wildflame, what happened?” Snowcrystal asked.
The houndoom turned as if to walk away. Wildflame stopped, and didn’t answer, her head held low. She was breathing hard; they figured she must have run a long way.
“Did…did you find them?” Spark asked uncertainly.
“Yes…” Wildflame replied. “But…” She stopped for a moment, looking up at Spark and Snowcrystal, whose expressions turned from hopeful to panicked. And then, for some reason she couldn’t explain, she couldn’t bring herself to lie to them about the two scyther being dead. ‘Captured…’ she thought, ‘I’ll just say they were captured…and far away by now…’ Looking back up at the others, she continued. “Poachers have captured them…their machine drove away just as I arrived. I couldn’t chase after them…they had guns…but I don’t think…I don’t think they actually managed to shoot Thunder or Stormblade. But they’re probably already miles away…and what’s worse…there are other poachers heading this way. We have to leave as soon as possible.”
She waited a moment, unsure of how Spark or Snowcrystal would react. For a moment, the two just stood silently, then Spark whispered in a confused voice, “They…got captured? But…but how! Wasn’t there anything you could have done?”
“No,” Wildflame replied, shaking her head, “I was too late…”
“But how could you just-” Spark shouted, but Wildflame interrupted him.
“You said so yourself, Spark,” the houndoom whispered quietly, “when poachers capture a pokémon, there’s nothing anyone can do but move on…and if we don’t leave now, they’ll get us too…do you think Stormblade would want that?”
Spark was silent again, while Snowcrystal just looked horrified, unsure if she could believe it all. After a moment, the jolteon shook his head. “No…” he answered. “But I don’t know how I’ll survive out here without Stormblade…he…he taught me how to hunt and all about the wild…”
“You still have us,” Wildflame told him, trying to sound comforting, “but not for long if we don’t leave. The poachers are coming, and the only thing we can do right now is to get out of here…we can’t stay here and worry, not while they’re coming…we have to leave, head to new lands away from poachers, and seek out Articuno once more. It’s what the others would have wanted, anyway.”
Spark nodded sadly and the three headed off through the trees, Wildflame in the lead. The houndoom urged them to go faster, and despite their shock, Snowcrystal and Spark could sense that urgency was needed. Snowcrystal could hardly believe that more of her friends had been taken away from them, probably forever. ‘Maybe…’ she thought, ‘maybe they’ll find Rosie…and find a way to escape…’ Just as the thought crossed her mind, she began to doubt it, wondering if it really was hopeless. ‘No…’ she thought, ‘it’s not hopeless…and when I find Articuno…I’ll find help… I’ll find a way to free them someday!’
Thunder was pretty sure there were two human vehicles, and that seemed strange. Knowing that any second they’d appear over one of the hills, she turned toward Stormblade, nudging him. He didn’t move. She nudged him again, but got no response. “Come on, wake up!” she growled, frustrated. She glanced toward a group of bushes, and not knowing what else to do, she grabbed one of his wings in her teeth and started dragging him through the mud and toward the bushes.
She managed to get him into the shelter of the bushes just as one of the human vehicles stopped a small distance away, closer to where Redclaw was. Thunder backed up further into the bushes, but not so far that she couldn’t see the humans through the branches. The second vehicle stopped not far away from the first, and Thunder stood completely still, hoping she wouldn’t be noticed.
Unfortunately, at about that moment, Stormblade started to stir. Fearing he might wake up and attract the attention of the humans, she sharply brought the dull side of her blade down on his head, and he fell still again. That being done, she turned her head in the direction of the humans, watching. After a moment, she began to realize that they probably weren’t poachers after all. For one, they had pokémon – pokémon that didn’t look battle-worthy - with them. Thunder was mildly surprised to see that these pokémon were growlithe, and there were about four or five of them. They looked healthy and well-fed, so she figured they must either be pets or had been recently captured.
Another pokémon appeared, and Thunder was surprised to recognize Sid, and not just Sid, but his trainer as well. Thunder stared at them in surprise. What was the human she and Wildflame had to fight off earlier doing here? To her surprise, Katie ran right up to Redclaw, kneeling beside the fallen arcanine. Thunder was just barely close enough to hear her words.
“The poachers must have heard us coming!” she cried to the others. “And it seems like they’ve hurt yet another pokémon…”
Another human stepped up to the girl, and though Thunder wasn’t sure, she thought he might belong to the police. The police were a group of humans Master had dealings with, sometimes to turn in what he considered ‘petty criminals.’ She wasn’t entirely sure what that meant. Needless to say, she wasn’t about to trust anyone – pokémon or human – that had any connection with Master.
The ‘police-human’ turned to another and shouted, “I’ll take some of the growlithe and see if we can track them down…and I’ll send one of them back if we find anything!” One of the growlithe barked eagerly. Thunder only caught a few of his words, and he and three other growlithe raced off, in search of Master or the poachers.
By now, one of the other humans was examining Redclaw, particularly his collar. “This one was probably caught by the poachers a long time ago…then escaped,” she was saying. “He’s alive, but just barely…by the looks of this collar, it must have been a very powerful shock that did this. I suppose the one who owned him decided he was worthless…” She gave the arcanine a sad look and turned to the last remaining police officer. “We need to get him to the Pokémon Center.”
Still confused and unsure of what was going on – and surprised that Redclaw was still alive – Thunder didn’t know whether to run and help the arcanine or stay put. Looking at the growlithe, she decided to stay put, knowing they’d be able to take her down very quickly if she had no way of surprising them. She had used up almost all of her strength.
“We can’t leave yet though,” Katie was saying, which brought Thunder’s attention back to her and the other humans rather than Redclaw. “We still haven’t found that scyther…the one the poachers must have attacked. He couldn’t have gotten far from the rock cave but we didn’t have much time to look.”
“But we heard the battle going on,” the police officer replied. “We had to come straight here, but for now, Nurse Joy is right…we have to take this arcanine back to the city.”
Thunder saw Sid’s trainer nodding understandingly, then focusing her attention on trying to keep her aipom from running off as the other humans prepared to leave. They were carefully working together to lift Redclaw into the back of one of their vehicles. Thunder wasn’t quite sure what to do; the humans sounded concerned for Redclaw, but she assumed they must have had a reason for it; maybe they would wait for him to recover and then force him to fight for them; a human wouldn’t just suddenly decide to go out of their way to help a wild pokémon.
As Thunder watched the remaining growlithe run towards the other human machine, she saw one of them stop. He lifted his nose to the air a few times and sniffed, before shouting to the humans in poké-talk, “There’s something over here!” He then started running…right in Thunder’s direction.
Thunder backed away, realizing that they’d just been discovered. Sid’s trainer and one of the other humans – the police officer – got out of the machine and started following the growlithe, who was now quickly nearing her hiding place. “Well…” the scyther muttered bitterly, mentally preparing herself for another battle. “Here we go again…”
Just as the growlithe was close enough, Thunder sprang from the bushes, taking the canine pokémon completely by surprise and knocking him clear off his feet. The growlithe then stood up shakily; a large but shallow cut across his fluffy white chest. Katie screamed; Thunder’s sudden appearance had taken her by surprise. The police officer’s growlithe opened his mouth to fire a flamethrower, but at a shout from his trainer, stopped, and dodged Thunder’s next attack instead. As Thunder turned towards him, she caught movement out of the corner of her eye, and turned briefly to see another human holding a strange type of gun. Before she could panic, the human fired the gun, and whatever was inside it struck her in the shoulder, but it wasn’t a bullet and it wasn’t killing her, so she ignored it and ran toward the growlithe again.
To her annoyance, the growlithe seemed to do nothing but dodge her attacks and run in random directions, trying to throw her off. It was making her dizzy, and it probably wasn’t wise for her to be running while she had such serious wounds. She felt something small and sharp strike her in the back, much like what she had felt before, but it hardly hurt. She was sure the humans must be crazy if they thought that was going to take her down.
Then suddenly, for seemingly no reason at all, she collapsed, her vision starting to fade into darkness. Unwilling to give in so easily, she tried to stand up and fight, but her body didn’t seem to want to move anymore. For a couple moments she struggled to stand again, but she was starting to lose consciousness. The last thing she saw before everything faded completely was one of the humans walking up to her…
Hesitantly, Katie approached the unconscious scyther with Nurse Joy and a pokémon ranger, the one who’d fired the tranquilizer gun, beside her. “Is this the scyther you were telling me about?” Joy asked Katie, giving her a worried look.
“N-no…” Katie whispered, shaking her head and looking over Thunder’s thin body. “The other one didn’t have a collar. And this one…” she looked closer and stepped back, horrified. “This one looks like it’s been shot…and it must have belonged to the poachers for a long time, from the look of it. I don’t know how it was even able to stand, let alone fight!”
Katie didn’t wait for the others’ responses. She walked away, while Nurse Joy and the others went to help get the scyther into the pokémon ranger’s truck where the arcanine was still lying. She had seen enough injured pokémon for one night, and she had never liked having to see a pokémon hurt. It was partly for this reason that she had decided to go back after she had left Justin’s scyther by the rocks, and bring help.
She did believe what Justin had said about the scyther; there was no way he would lie to her about something like that. Maybe about the reasons as to why he quit pokémon training, but not something like that. Yet, she had still thought that no matter what a pokémon had done, no pokémon deserved to be in that much pain.
However, when they’d brought help and found the place where she’d seen the scyther before, he had already left, and the rain had washed away his scent, so the police growlithe couldn’t follow. At that point, Katie had given some thought as to why the scyther might have been injured in the first place. She had realized that since there were no fire types powerful enough to have caused such damage anywhere nearby, the culprits must have been poachers. The police had agreed with her.
It hadn’t been long before they’d heard the distant sounds of a battle, but by the time they had arrived, the poachers had left, and all that they found was an injured arcanine and a different scyther. With a sudden surge of anger she realized that the growlithe probably wouldn’t be able to track down the poachers who were responsible. Everything was too wet and muddy, and it was starting to rain again.
A sudden excited barking from one of the growlithe caught her attention, and she saw the police officer parting the branches of a group of bushes, revealing the still form of a second scyther…Justin’s.
Katie realized, after a moment of surprise, that the female scyther must have been protecting him. She watched the others bringing Justin’s scyther to the ranger’s truck as well, before climbing into it herself. Her shinx stood up as she stepped inside, happily jumping on her lap. She knew it was better to leave with the rangers and the nurse now; there was nothing she could do to help the police catch the poachers.
She also wanted to see if the pokémon would be all right, and it was important that they got to the Pokémon Center as soon as possible. As Nurse Joy got in the truck, Katie heard what sounded like muffled whimpering, and turned to the back section of the truck, realizing that the arcanine was beginning to come around. Reaching her arm over the back of the seat, she softly petted the fire pokémon’s head, trying to calm him as the vehicle drove off, back toward the city.
The police officer watched as his group of growlithe came back, panting and exhausted. He could tell from their looks that the poachers had not been found. He sighed. “It’s all right,” he told them, petting the fluffy pokémon. “I’m afraid we won’t be able to track anything in this weather. All we can do is go back and see if there’s anything left we can find.”
Regretfully, he and the pokémon turned and headed back to the site of the battle.
By the afternoon, Rosie was exhausted. Battered, weakened, and alone, the vulpix lay curled up against the bars in her cage, without even Nightcloud to keep her company. The humans had rotated the pokémon guards, and she didn’t feel like talking to the granbull who kept giving her angry glares.
Throughout the day, it had been one battle after another, and Rosie had only once been allowed to have a drink of water. The humans had also given her a small amount of food, the hard brown pellets that most trainer pokémon ate. It had tasted vile, as if it was starting to go bad, but she had been too famished to care. The battles she had fought had been difficult, and from what she could tell, the humans were disappointed in her, and according to the other pokémon, that was not a good thing.
Rosie jumped, startled, as the door opened and a human walked in, stepping beside her cage. Some of the other pokémon in the room gave her worried looks; obviously it wasn’t good if the humans approached a pokémon’s cage at a random time after that pokémon had repeatedly failed them. Solemnly, the human unlocked her cage, activating the shock collar briefly to stun her before dragging her out and onto the floor. However, just as Rosie was preparing to fight her hardest to get away, she realized that the human didn’t seem intent on punishing her. Instead, he reached into his pocket.
“If you aren’t a good battler,” he was saying, more to himself than to her, “you’ll still fetch a high price from collectors.” Rosie stared as he brought the object out of his pocket. It was a fire stone.
The human pointed the device that activated the collar’s shock at her, threatening her into staying still as he loosened the collar. Before Rosie could even try to free herself of it, the man pressed the fire stone against the top of her head.
At once, both stone and vulpix began to glow. Involuntarily, Rosie closed her eyes as the surprisingly warm object was pressed against her fur. She felt a sudden, odd sensation, and with a flicker of excitement, despite her current situation, she realized…she was evolving… The strange sensation grew stronger, and she could feel her tails lengthening, and three more like them growing in place. At the same time, she could feel herself growing at a seemingly impossible rate; her legs becoming longer, sleeker, her muzzle lengthening and becoming more pointed, and her fur growing thicker.
And for a reason she could not understand, she felt older…wiser. She also no longer felt weak or exhausted. She felt as if she could run for miles, defeat any opponent, do anything…
Rosie’s eyes flew open. The transformation was complete. Feeling the loosened collar still tight around her neck, Rosie twisted away from the human and reached up with a forepaw, feeling her claws snag on the collar as she pulled, enjoying the satisfaction that came with the resulting snap as it fell to the ground. With a growl, she turned on her captor, racing forward towards him.
However, it was at that moment that another human appeared from the doorway, and before Rosie could take notice of what he was doing, he had thrown a rope around her neck. The ninetales was yanked back, shocked and wondering if the poachers had anticipated an attack. She struggled on the floor, seeking to free the rope from her neck.
But the human only pulled tighter, and with shocking alarm, Rosie felt her windpipe being forced closed. Coughing and struggling, she thrashed about on the floor, until her struggles grew weak enough that the other human could fit a spare collar around her neck. Only then did he loosen and remove the rope, and by that time, Rosie was weak and still gasping for breath, unable to resist.
As she lay still, trying to recover, she thought bitterly about how much she wished she could place a curse on both of the poachers…no, all of them. But there was no way a young, barely evolved ninetales could accomplish that feat, and she had no real idea of how it was done. In fact, she didn’t even know how to use flamethrower.
Through a haze of pain she felt one of the poachers stroking her long, thick fur, and wished she had the strength to turn and bite him. At least, she thought, this would mean an end to the battles…now they would just try and sell her to a collector. If anything, maybe they’d try to make her appear as healthy and strong as possible, and at least give her a decent meal.
Yet all the same, as she was dragged back forcefully into her cage by both of the humans, she couldn’t help but wonder…if her troubles had only just begun.
To be continued…