|Featuring the protagonists to my Pokémon story, Bonds of Eeveelution.|
My name's Michael. I'm a hobbyist writer and massive Pokémon fan.
I'm a motorcyclist who rides a Honda CBR400RR Fireblade.
Apart from work, I'm usually allergic to mornings. I spend most of my free time writing and playing shooters with my friends on my Xbox One.
I also love dinosaurs and prehistory.
“For some people, small, beautiful events are what life is all about!”
- The Fifth Doctor
Things I love:
Warm and sunny days
Things I dislike:
Insects and arachnids
In his hotel room, Fall lay on his back in bed, head half sunk in his pillow after so long, staring emptily at an oil painting of a cabin in some woods on the wall opposite him. The adult Shiny Flareon had woken a while ago in a state of sweat and gasps. So rarely did Fall sleep peacefully at night, even now at twenty-five years of age. It had been his hope maturity would erase the same, ceaseless nightmare . . . but the night of his mother’s murder . . . the worst night of his life . . . rooted itself forever in the back of his mind, resurging as clear as yesterday. If fifteen years of this memory had taught Fall anything it was to accept and live with it, and it had helped to a degree. Last night’s had taken him deeper than normal; ending after his savaging of the Toxicroak’s eyes . . .
Fall turned on his side, the mattress creaking under him, trying to dispel the eyeless, bloody face from his mind by concentrating on the bars of sunlight stretching in from both ends of the drawn curtains. He remembered feeling nothing for the Toxicroak at the time . . . no sympathy, no guilt, only a merciless desire to destroy his mother’s killer. And he immolated him. Fall looked at his, once blood-soaked, paws. He sickened himself. He hadn’t even considered the family he was supposed to be protecting . . . how terrified they were. . . .
More and more he found himself wondering who the real monster had been that night. Would anybody else have gone to those limits? Could any civilized Pokémon gouge out another’s eyes and commit murder, all in front of those they cared for . . . ?
Family, Fall started to think about as he rolled into his previous position, gazing at the ceiling. For so long had he and Glacia denied them their rights to know the truth. The fact was, though, it was complicated. If Fall were to put himself in Dawn, Simon, or Raina’s place this is what he would know: He had a mum and dad, he lived in a nice bungalow, life was good, and then — no parents, he was living in a two-storey house, being raised, along with his siblings, by a single foster parent; a kindly old Ivysaur named Ellen, whom he would come to know as “Mum” for five years.
It didn’t come as a shock to Fall or Glacia when the three eventually picked up on the “blank gap” in their memories and confronted them about it, suspecting their older siblings weren’t telling them something. Although Fall and Glacia always knew it was coming (both had overheard whispers and private conversations Dawn, Simon, and Raina would have on the matter), it wouldn’t be until Raina reached double digits that the three actually asked about it. It was a discussion Fall and Glacia had rehearsed and were prepared for, ready with a convincing lie that appeared to have worked.
What else were Fall and Glacia to do? Neither could bear to stand by while their siblings’ night terrors worsened. . . . Wiping their minds of that entire, dreadful night was to protect them . . . to spare them Acacia’s dying gasps echoing in their ears. . . .
Unlike Eclipse, Summer, and Rose, all of who were simply too young to remember anything, the three middle Eevees had soaked in much too much . . . the violence . . . the screaming . . . the blood . . . There was no forgetting. At least . . . not without special help.
The family had been living with their new mother a month when she offered Fall and Glacia an unexpected proposal. Widowed since before Fall was born, Ellen lived alone for many years, losing her only child to an illness a long time ago. Her husband had ensured money and general costs were taken care of indefinitely, nominating her to receive his personal pensions and leaving several high investment plans with her; she was rather a rich woman. But none of that mattered. A big house meant nothing if she had no one to share it with. . . . Neighbours, noticing her deteriorating health, called in a doctor who prescribed antidepressants, recommending to the few worried about her to spend time with her. Frequent visits kept Ellen taking the drugs, but even then she was fighting a losing battle against the loneliness killing her. . . .
And then, she rediscovered the joys of life in eight children needing a home. Her life had purpose again, and she was grateful to be alive for the first time in over ten years. They marked the end of Ellen’s depression, the Ivysaur adopting the five girls — one a Glaceon, the other four Eevees — and three boys — one Flareon and two more Eevees — raising them with no less love than she’d have given her own.
Fall and Glacia owed it to Ellen to give her the whole, heart-breaking story, for it was she who treated Fall’s poisoning and took in the family after saving them from a wild Noctowl. Tears streamed freely from Ellen and Glacia’s eyes throughout the Glaceon’s account while Fall had stared soberly down at Ellen’s bed, on which they sat. The pair had agreed to confide in Ellen everything late one night after Dawn and the others had been put to bed. Ellen could hardly hold herself together, choking on whimpers as often as Glacia gulped on her words. When Glacia finally finished, Ellen outstretched a vine, motioned her son and daughter in with her head, and embraced them with her vine as they fell on her, a single tear slipping down Fall’s cheek.
Before being told, Ellen had assumed Simon, Raina, and Dawn’s night terrors were because of problems adjusting to their new home and such, but now she knew the real reason why she had to help however she could. And, as it so happened, she knew exactly the person: a Hypno acquaintance specializing in psychology. Thoughts that this suggestion might have been a bit drastic were swept from her mind at Fall and Glacia’s approval, which came even as they sat there.
Ellen got in contact with the Hypno by telephone that following morning and arranged for him to call at her house around midnight, when the Eevees’ nightmares usually began, at his earliest convenience. When he came a few days later, Ellen, along with Glacia and Fall, showed him to Simon’s, Raina’s, and Dawn’s rooms, all of them tossing and turning in their sleep. In order for him to have helped, the Hypno needed to enter their minds and access the hippocampus (the part of the brain relating to memory, learning, and emotions), from there he would gain visual insight as to what they were experiencing. There was no guarantee the three would stay asleep, so the Psychic-type placed them under light hypnosis.
As Dawn was the eldest, it was likely she who’d retain the incident clearest. Deciding to start with her, the Hypno held the Eevee’s head in his fingers and thumbs and shut his eyes. . . .
Houses on fire . . . conflict with dangerous criminals . . . a Flareon mauling a Toxicroak . . . The Hypno broke away, his professionalism yielding to shock, which now plastered his face. He could scarcely bring himself to believe that a child underwent any one of those events . . . and there was yet more, he sensed, troubling her dreams . . . but he couldn’t watch a second longer. Hesitantly, he turned his gaze on Fall, the same Flareon, he was quite certain, he saw attacking that Toxicroak — Fall angled his head nervously toward the floor.
“Say you can help them . . . please,” said Ellen impassionedly.
When the Hypno doctor eventually spoke it was without his composure of a few minutes previously. “The youngest patient I’ve ever treated was a thirteen-year-old Vibrava, and she had the worst case of aviophobia I’ve seen. . . .” He shook his head subtly. “Ellen . . . if you know of what these children have been through, you must understand we’re possibly talking post-traumatic stress disorder . . .”
“What does that mean?” Glacia demanded in a snap of confused worry.
Not answering her question, the Hypno brought his eyes back to his fellow adult and said, “We’ll need to run some tests. Would this Thursday morning be all — ?”
“Don’t ignore her!” growled Fall, and the Hypno had to steady Dawn’s bedside light after bumping into the table.
“Young man,” Ellen rebuked him firmly, “we do not speak to guests that way.”
But Fall could have cared less about being rude.
“You’re a doctor,” he pressed exasperatedly, paying his Ivysaur mother no attention as he walked to the edge of Dawn’s bed from where he had been sitting with Ellen and Glacia; the Hypno swallowed as Fall neared him. “You’re supposed to make people better. Make Dawn better . . . Make them all better.”
Vines snaked around Fall’s chest area and lifted him back to Ellen’s side. He turned away, frustrated. A small part of him wondered if he was in trouble . . .
“There is . . . something I can do right here and now,” said the Hypno, and without further ado this sparked Fall’s interest. “Although I ask you to consider this very — carefully,” he stressed the words slowly and clearly, his voice abruptly stern, and looking each one of them directly in the eye, “because what may sound tempting is, in actuality, nonconventional and impugns my principles.”
“What is it?”
The Hypno returned the Flareon’s stare. “. . . Memory erasing. . . .”
I’m gonna tell them. At the thought, Fall sat upright.
He remembered how the argument he’d started with Glacia on the Grand Highway developed into a heart-to-heart between his family . . . “Perhaps . . . this is what your conscience needs. . . . To tell us the truth. . . .” Dawn had said then. Maybe she was right. For the best part of his childhood and all of his current adult life he had kept the past secret, would bringing it to light give him the closure he sought to move on? Admittedly, they were not children anymore . . . but would they understand?
Well, let’s see, Fall answered himself, standing up on the bed. He smiled. Right after . . . In all the excitement of Rose’s birthday yesterday he hadn’t the chance for the Leafeon’s “talk.”
Rose’s right ear quivered to the gentle snick of her hotel room door closing but she did not wake. Fall, who had just entered, silently leapt up onto his sister’s bed; his hotel key card permitted him access to his siblings’ rooms, and theirs functioned likewise. The wall clock read twenty-five minutes to seven, so Fall only expected her to be dozing. Deciding for the moment not to disturb her, he sat down and busied himself with morning grooming, licking his forepaw to clean his face. As small a noise he made, Rose soon stirred.
“Wah! Fall . . . you surprised me,” said the Leafeon breathlessly, bringing a paw to her chest.
“Yeah, sorry,” smiled Fall. “I did and didn’t wanna wake you.”
With a gaping yawn, Rose stated, “I dreamt I fell out of a roller coaster last night, and you know that weird feeling as you’re falling — I got that.” She pushed herself up against the headboard, wiping her eyes fully open. “So are you all right?”
Fall’s smile simply broadened, wordlessly admiring her. Leaning forwards, he laid a paw on hers.
“Look at you,” he spoke. “Rose. My baby sister . . . sixteen already. . . .” Love rising inside of him escaped through a tiny exiting sniff. “You truly are beautiful.”
A faint pink flushed her cheeks as she smiled bashfully at the quilt. “N-nah . . . I’m nothing special.”
Fall brought his paw to her chin and tilted her head back, wanting to see those soft, brown eyes.
“You are absolutely worth fighting for,” he breathed. “And any guy would be lucky to have you.” Reading the innocence in her eyes told Fall she had forgotten what . . . urges came with her maturing age. “Modesty and sweetness. They’re rare qualities to find together in people, but never let someone assume they can take advantage of you.”
“Gotcha,” Rose chirped with a nod, though Fall knew she hadn’t quite grasped the subject matter. “I’ll try not to.”
Fall decided to be blunt. “Sexually, I mean.” The colour in Rose’s cheeks intensified. The penny seemed to have dropped. “It’s nothing to feel embarrassed about,” Fall went on casually. “Sex is completely natural, and a lot more important than you know. And don’t bother kidding yourself you haven’t felt horny recently; that’s normal. When you’re alone, try not to suppress it.”
Abashed by the sensitive topic, Rose had her face shyly in her paws. She had been warned everybody’s mate talk came on their sixteenth birthday, but now she was actually having hers she couldn’t stop laughing.
“F — Fall!” she huffed, “Sto — stop! This is so embarrassing!”
“Not the first time I’ve been told that . . .” said Fall with a somewhat sad smile, “but it will be the last. . . .” He was about to mention consideration for other sleeping guests when Rose settled herself and focused on him. “Listen,” he told her, “this isn’t a lecture on using condoms (though you always should), or anything like that, unless you want it to be. Advice. That’s all I want to give you. Any questions you’ve got — ask away and I’ll answer as best I can.”
A slightly digressive question popped into Rose’s head: “Who was the hardest to talk to, when it was their turn?”
“Um.” Fall blew in thought. “Eclipse’s was definitely the most awkward. I mean, you can imagine what he was like. Uncomfortably quiet . . .” Fall said slowly, nodding with a wry smile. “I think he only asked me what we were having for dinner that night. Hardest though. . . . Had to be Simon. He’d already been like ‘whatevs, I’m chillin’ with me mates tonight, an’ I don’t need no stupid mate talk.’” Fall had put on his yobbo voice, imitating a sixteen-year-old Simon to the letter; Rose giggled.
“What was Glace like?” she asked.
“She was exempt hers. Mostly because she’s two years off me and she . . .” he hesitated, unsure whether or not it was his place to say this but did anyway, “done rumpy pumpy with that Absol tosspot of a boyfriend she was dating then.”
Rose was reminded of Glacia’s first boyfriend. She hadn’t liked him very much; he would get mad if ever she or anyone else accidentally walked in on him and Glacia, or for simply one other person being in the same room as them.
“What about Summer?”
“Ah,” said Fall. “Well her ‘taste’ is . . . quite a bit different. You know she’s gay, so she doesn’t have the same problems straight Pokémon face with sex.”
Later that morning, Fall spoke alone with Glacia in his room. Glacia knew from the minute he’d asked to speak with her in private it meant something important, although she had thought if it had anything to do with the talismans, everybody, including Lilah, should be in on it. What instead he wished to discuss came like a bolt out of the blue. After admitting to his nightmares getting more pronounced as of late, Glacia accepted there could be no more putting off the truth. Fall partly expected she would have needed persuading into lending her voice, given it was she who avoided telling their family last month on the Grand Highway. Surprisingly, he convinced her only after a small case, but he understood the immensity of what they were about to divulge demanded he and she do this together.
Summer was every bit as clueless as Raina as they took the elevator to the hotel’s third floor; they had been told by Eclipse to go to Fall’s room once they’d finished breakfast and nothing further. Both exchanged guesses as the elevator halted with a jounce, its door sliding open with a ding. They saw Fall’s room, chrome plates on the door reading 38, down the corridor and went silent.
Reaching the door, Summer glanced down at her hotel key card dangling from her neck in a card holder and used Psychic to withdraw it. Her intention was to swipe it through the card reader on the wall beside Fall’s door, but before she could, Raina, looking sideways at the Espeon, unostentatiously knocked on the door. Summer said nothing but cleared her throat whilst slotting her card back from whence it lived.
Dawn answered and the pair entered. The whole family were present now. Rose sat atop the room’s desk by the window, looking out on Cheritent Town. Eclipse was listening to a football prate he’d started Simon on, but really looked more like he was being subjected to a very boring Mass.
“. . . so I swiped the ball from right under his nose, passed it to the Monferno, shot up the pitch faster than you can say Feraligatr, he passed it back and I SCORED, BABY!” finished Simon explosively.
“Fascinating . . .” mumbled Eclipse, glaring at the grinning Jolteon as he rubbed his right ear.
Fall and Glacia were sitting on the bed, watching the Espeon and Vaporeon while Dawn closed the door behind them.
“Good, you’re all here,” said Fall.
“No Lilah?” Summer enquired of him.
“No,” Glacia answered, shaking her head. “This concerns family only.”
“So what’s this all about?” Dawn said, bemused.
Fall breathed in deeply and heaved. “We’ve . . . we have something to tell you.”
His words promptly made him the centre of attention, six of the Eeveelutions looking to him in mutual curiosity. He moved closer to the edge of the bed and gestured with a paw for them to foregather in the space below, between the bed and the door. Eclipse, Simon, and Rose joined Raina, Dawn, and Summer already there.
“Summer,” Fall addressed her, “you wanted to know how Mum died . . . our real mum, that is. . . .”
“Fall and I have talked about it,” said Glacia, sitting alongside the Flareon. They shared gazes, then Glacia continued, “We’re telling you everything. The whole truth. Who killed Mum, and how . . . Dad abandoned us . . .”
“Whaddya mean abandoned us?” frowned Simon.
“M-Mum was killed?” stammered Dawn, her baby blue eyes wide.
“Calm down and we can start at the beginning,” said Fall firmly, ending his siblings’ unrest before it got going. “It happened the night before we met Ellen. Our home used to be in Appleage Hamlet — quiet little place surrounded by miles of forest. The neighbours were some of the friendliest, and everyone knew each other . . .”
True to Glacia’s word, she and Fall left no detail out. Summer had no account of anything that pained her so much to hear. As she stared vacantly at the floor, her brooding mind worked to re-enact her Glaceon mother powerless to escape the dirty Toxicroak’s grasp. Her abdominal muscles tautened hard like a male Espeon’s at picturing the Toxicroak slitting Acacia’s throat . . . If she had been an Espeon then, she wouldn’t’ve let any of it happen. . . . She would have bashed him against the walls, forced his head through the ceiling before slamming him to the floor repeatedly like he was a living bouncy ball. And that would only be for starters. She’d have racked his brain with enough psychic energy to linger permanently, causing madness . . . she would have compelled him to feed himself mud with his own hands. . . .
Simon was another more angered than distressed, having stated Fall did the world a favour in ridding it of “that slimy piece of scum,” going on to say he deserved to be tied to a metal chair while Simon zapped him until his insides melted. Dawn, Raina, Rose, and even Eclipse shed tears for their mother’s murder, though Rose was affected greatest of all; Dawn cried with her in a squeezing hug.
Summer wasn’t sure what she was feeling regarding her father. His desertion had dismayed all of them but was overshadowed entirely by Acacia’s death subsequently. Summer could tell Eclipse meant what he said about their father being a gutless coward, and Raina even voiced the blame of their mother dying on Jayce. Yet, as Fall was revealing to Dawn, Simon, and Raina the reason behind their amnesia of that night, Summer found herself thinking fear and raw instinct to survive could have been the driving influences as to why he ran, not strictly because he did not care. Of course, she knew better in keeping this viewpoint to herself, although she wondered if any of them secretly thought the same. Her attention drifted back to the others as Dawn spoke.
“You . . . wiped our minds . . . ?” she asked huskily.
“It was the quickest fix,” Fall said.
“You used a doctor to steal away our memories — while we slept?” said Simon, and Summer could hear the stifled anger in his voice ticking down like a timed grenade. “Without our permission?”
“You have every right to be angry at us —”
“Damn straight we do!” Simon shouted at Glacia, cutting her off. “You lied to us! That’s all you’ve done is lie!”
Raina reached a paw out. “Si, calm dow — aah!” She pulled back at once, having received a weak electric shock. Simon appeared not to have noticed.
“We’re not lying to you now,” Fall told Simon in an apologetic tone.
“Whoo,” Simon jibed sarcastically. “And that makes up for years of bullshit, does it?”
Fall decided to let Simon’s swear pass this time, respecting how such deceit would inflame any one of them.
“No,” said Fall tonelessly, “but it is a beginning.”
Simon sniffed out, completely unamused.
“I bet we got no say in it. Thought never occurred to you, did it?” he grilled Glacia, her emotional vulnerability making her as irresistible as prey in distress for interrogation.
“You were suffering night terrors almost daily!” wept Glacia. Lacking Fall’s moral fibre, she choked up with tears when telling of Acacia’s death. “We . . . we didn’t know how else to help you. . . .” She snatched her third tissue from the small box of them beside her and scrunched it in her eyes. “After a month, none of you were getting better, so Mum . . . Ellen . . . rang an expert. I-it wasn’t our intention . . . but after he entered your dreams, Dawn. . . .” She turned to a heavy-looking Fall. “Like Fall said, it was an instant solution that the doctor could do in a single session.”
“So it was a spur of the moment thing,” growled Simon.
“You have to understand Fall and I were still kids!” said Glacia vehemently. “Yes — we didn’t think to ask you then, and sorry is all I can say now. . . .” She sucked in a refreshing breath with shut eyes. “It was stressing on us and we . . . it felt like the right thing to do . . .”
“‘The right thing,’” Simon repeated irritably to Dawn and Raina, something mordacious in his smile, which returned to a glower as he looked up at Glacia. “Do I look like I agree it was the right thing?”
Glacia lightly shook her head, downing her eyes.
“You’re not our parents,” Simon pressed through clenched teeth. “It was not your call to take a chunk out of my past!”
“What would you have done in our position, really, Simon?” Fall defended his side. “If Dawn were hurt, you’d try and help her. There’s no two ways about it.”
“Oh shut up, this isn’t the same thing,” snarled Simon.
“Then tell me how it’s not,” retorted Fall loudly.
“Errr, hello —” began Simon with all the eloquence required to converse with a dumb person, “slight difference between bandaging a cut and robbing someone’s selfhood!”
Whether it was the escalating tension or heat radiating off Fall, at the rate the air was condensing it would soon become unbreathable. Dawn, who had gone from uneasy to now worried, needed to put a stop to the arguing. She stood up and approached Simon side-on.
“Please, can we all just chill — out,” she implored, laying a feeler on each of his shoulders. Simon showed no sign of relenting his glaring at Fall. “Look, what’s done is done. Getting peeved and yelling about it isn’t going to help, or undo what happened.”
“You can’t possibly be okay with this!” Simon turned on her. “They knew all along but happily binned us off to lounge back and watch!” Disgusted, he looked sideways at Fall and Glacia. “S’pose lying’s lost whatever sick pleasure it gave you.”
“You’re wrong!” avowed Glacia. “Every day I hated myself for not telling you. . . . Nothing has been harder for me than keeping this secret from you, but I . . . we only wanted to protect you . . . Because each of you deserve an ordinary life of happiness. . . .”
With this outpouring happened something magical . . . a fantasy long forgotten to despair. The weight of beleaguering guilt, Glacia’s heart testified, actually lightened off her back!
“We aren’t expecting forgiveness . . .” Glacia resumed, “hopefully, someday, we’ll earn that. We were wrong not to have told you this years ago, and I understand you must feel . . . cheated . . .” She aimed this at Simon, seemingly immune to her confession. “But I don’t regret our final decision, because I was the best sister I could be. . . . And honestly, if I’d known then the price it’d cost me . . . I would have paid it ten times over for the family I love.”
“As would I,” Fall furthered.
Simon had no response, which welcomed a fleeting silence. Raina tried to unscramble her head by kneading her temples.
“One thing I don’t get. . . .” She looked at Fall. “The Hypno . . . how come he didn’t make your memories disappear too? He must have seen you two weren’t all right either. Plus there’s no way Ellen would’ve stood idly by; she would have said something to him.”
“I know why.”
Craving enlightenment, the family turned at Dawn’s quiet utterance. Being the sudden centre of attention did not daunt her as she looked to her Vaporeon sister.
“Oh it makes sense, doesn’t it?” the Sylveon concurred. “We forget — they forget . . . it’s as though nothing ever happened.” Raina opened her mouth, ready to agree when Dawn raised her gaze to Fall and Glacia on the bed. “If only it were that simple, right?”
“What’s she on about?” Eclipse weighed into Fall.
“Well?” Raina pressed on Dawn.
“It would have been an insult,” Dawn elucidated.
“An insult?” piped Rose, confused.
“To Mother. . . .” Dawn said. “We owe it as her children to remember she did not die in vain. . . . No . . . her death saved us, and so long as we live, so too does her memory. . . .”
Fall watched her mop a tear that had skimmed down her face. To his left, Glacia withheld further crying by taking a slow gulp. Each Eevee grieved in their own way, but Simon took to leering coldly at them.
“It was our choice,” spoke Fall softly.
Although he promised himself he would stay strong, a tear dripped free in the closing of his eyes.
“Believe me, we contemplated it. . . . A lot of times I wished I’d listened . . . wished I’d taken that doctor’s advice. You can’t begin to imagine how sheltered you’ve been . . . how jealous I’ve always been. . . . But I couldn’t be that lucky . . .”
Summer’s tissue had become soggy beyond comfort.
“R-remember . . . but never look back.” She understood now the real value of this old family saying — the importance it had served Fall and Glacia throughout the many years leading to this day. Fall simply nodded sadly at her.
“Fall I . . . I had no idea . . .” breathed Raina, realization of their burdens hitting at full impact. “I’m so . . . s-sorry. You should have told us ages ago . . .”
“Yeah, well, I’m not sorry,” growled Simon cantankerously. He got to his feet, and although he was wearing his eyepatch, Fall could feel his glare chewing through it. “All this is on you, and you’ve only yourselves to blame. You were right about one thing though, Glace: You can go jump for my forgiveness, ’cause I’m done —”
“Simon,” Dawn groaned as he flung around to leave.
“Oh no, wait, I am sorry . . . sorry you’re the fattest jerks alive!”
“Right, that’s going too far, Simon!” Raina raised her voice at him.
“Piss off is it,” said Simon stubbornly.
“You’re being bang out of order!”
“Oh really?” he sneered back. “Okay, then.” He looked up at his oldest siblings. “Gimme the truth. Would you ever have come clean if we weren’t on this Black Nex quest? Say it’s got nothing to do with it, and I’ll take it back.”
Everybody, Glacia included, fixated on Fall like Heracrosses drawn to honey. In the Flareon’s gap of hesitancy, he realized he couldn’t lie even if he’d wanted to.
“Yes,” he answered his Jolteon brother truthfully, “it did influence us. This was always coming though, regardless of Black Nex’s return. We had planned on telling you one-to-one . . . at some point; doing this all together, up until last month, would have been impossible!”
There was a quiet second or two before Simon muttered, “I fuckin’ knew it.”
For risk of getting electrocuted, no one tried to stop him as he turned again and, rearing onto his hind legs to open the door, flounced out the room.
Stupefied by the revelations of the previous hour, Summer rejected Glacia’s offer to discuss the events of that night in greater detail. She knew this was an act of support, and Dawn, Raina, and Rose had all gone with Glacia to her room where they would talk; Glacia saw Fall looked better off alone for a while. But Summer just needed to be away from them . . . needed to process everything and get her head together.
It was wishful thinking. Her watery, reddish eyes stung, she had a burning headache, and she wanted to be at home, in bed, drinking a cup of sweet tea, watching some light comedy on television. Oh how a taste of bland, ordinary life sounded good to her right about now. . . . Catching her depressed reflection in the elevator’s chrome control panel, she let out a plaintive sigh. She was taking the elevator to her room on the hotel’s second floor, grateful to be sharing the space with nobody else.
The door opened to the light green carpeting of the second floor’s corridor, different to the mauve scheme of the third floor. In a sudden change of mind, Summer found returning to her room most undesirable. She made no effort to get off, letting the elevator ding shut on her. Protocol for complicated instances such as this told her to seek the company of a friend . . . and she knew of one, her newest, two floors up.
As though Arceus Himself had read her mind, the button numbered 4 lit up white and away she was to the fourth floor . . .
“Oh. After you,” gestured a courteous male Kricketune.
Summer stepped out into the corridor, the carpet a burgundy colour on this level. She watched as the Kricketune entered the elevator and stabbed a button, the door promptly dinging across. Once the humming of the descending elevator muted, the corridor went noiseless as a graveyard; up and down it was completely deserted. Perhaps it was the being in an unfamiliar place, but something about the silence put her on edge.
Lilah’s in room forty-five . . . Summer reminded herself, interested only in the numerical plates of each door as she moved up. She very nearly walked into a table holding a fake fern plant placed by a left hand corner. Swerving around it, she spotted Lilah’s room — the first on the left — and hastened to knock at the door. She couldn’t help a small, relieving, sigh when the Ninetales answered; she would have hit her wits’ end had Lilah been out.
Immediately Lilah saw all wasn’t right with her, but before she could ask, the Espeon requested, “Can I come in?”
Lilah obliged, stepping aside to let her enter.
Lilah’s distinct, pleasant, scent was strong in here, and as the fox closed the door, Summer noticed the room’s bed quilt rumpled in a corner, two pillows left on the, otherwise, bare bed that didn’t seem to have been slept in. The curtains, bizarrely drawn together, swayed lazily to the outside breeze.
“You’ve been crying,” stated Lilah, coming alongside the smaller feline and looking down at her.
“Yeah,” said Summer, sniffing as she wiped her eyes on the back of a paw. “Sorry.”
“What’s the matter?” Lilah asked caringly, her voice sisterly tender.
Needless to say, Lilah could not have known Summer had come to her on the contrary — wanting a distraction from the lava-hot knowledge her mind was swimming in. And Summer hadn’t done herself any favours imposing herself on Lilah in this pitiable state. For some reason, she had been under the assumption Lilah already knew, feeling as though the truth of her family’s past had been broadcasted live around the world. It was stupid to believe she could ever be that important. Her story probably wasn’t all that special, or any more unique than other news reports concerning family tragedies. Not having a clue where to begin wasn’t a help either, and even if she was up for talking there would be much she couldn’t tell; only in the confidence of a close, old friend would she dare divulge Fall’s killing. Naturally, that trust was far from built between herself and Lilah, and she didn’t want to imagine what it would mean for her brother if Lilah took it the wrong way . . . Fall and Lilah were hardly on good terms.
“No, it’s nothing,” lied Summer. “How are you?” she asked awkwardly, in the hopes of rolling the conversation on.
“Dandy,” Lilah said, continuing to look at her with unchanging scepticism.
Summer turned her head back toward the unnecessary makeshift bed.
“Bit too hot last night?”
“You’re joking, ain’tcha!” laughed Lilah. “Nah,” she explained, passing Summer on her way to the quilt, “beds were for sick and elderly Pyralians; Pyralis Vulpix and Ninetales aren’t fussy when it comes to sleeping.”
Summer had forgotten Lilah was part of a tribe, a rare group of Pokémon branched somewhere between wild and civilized.
“That’s your tribe, right?”
Lilah went temporarily motionless, her gaze on the floor. “. . . Was,” she corrected Summer. “Anyway, I’ve something to show you,” she said, reaching to grab the folded talisman parchment that she had propped against a chest of drawers. Summer had not noticed the map from her angle. She approached Lilah, watching her spread open the bottom half of the large map. It put Lilah off her stroke having Summer standing there like a robot, so, frowning, she told her, “You can sit down, y’know.”
Summer repositioned her body abreast with Lilah and sat with her on the quilt. Lilah peered down Summer’s back. “Your fur’s growing back nicely,” she told the Espeon with a smile, and Summer raised a little one in return. Lilah then whipped out her glasses. “So I was thinking,” she continued, focusing on the age-old map, “there are two talismans about equal distance from this town — one south” (she set a toe on the criss-cross of a talisman) “the other north-east” (she moved the same toe up to another criss-cross) “both are roughly a day’s walk away. I done some reading. The one in the south —”
“Is underwater?” Summer cut in incredulously, suddenly aware of a body of blue surrounding the talisman’s location. “Sorry,” she swiftly apologized for her rudeness.
Lilah did not sound at all annoyed as she spoke. “It’s at Lake Blalock. From what I can gather, there’s supposed to be some kind of ingress or underground passage that goes underneath the lake itself. At an educated guess, I’d say that’s more likely than not where the Aqueous Talisman will be.”
Summer looked ill with dread.
“W-where was the other one?” she asked nervously.
“Ulmory Castle,” said Lilah. “They say no one’s lived there since the last owner was found stabbed to death in his bed forty years ago. I remember hearing through word of mouth that the authorities treated it as a murder case, only no arrests were made. No one ever came forward, and the killer was never found.”
Ice slithering up Summer’s spine spread into her veins, stimulating all-over goose bumps.
“So what really happened?” she asked, clearly not comprehending Lilah’s casual reminiscence of an event that had occurred more than two decades before she was born.
“Well, I don’t think the guy had any family, and the police were constantly harassed by press wanting their next front-page headline. In the end, they ruled it as unsolved. But d’you wanna hear my speculation?”
Reluctantly, Summer nodded.
“Ulmory Castle had once belonged to the Ulmory family, well-respected Aegislash, Doublade, and Honedge lords and ladies — money, fancy titles, heritage dating back hundreds of years, basically a lot of pompous bores. But after the only surviving heir ‘disappeared,’ the castle was auctioned off. Now suppose that Aegislash hadn’t disappeared at all. . . .” Lilah adopted a disturbing tone that perturbed Summer. “I just find it curious how the guy’s killed before he had a chance to settle . . . and by stab wounds . . . But hey,” she said cheerfully, “I’m no detective. For all we know the killer might still be out there, or they might not be. . . . No medals for guessing correctly the talisman type.”
Clicking her mouth, Lilah rewarded her a wink.
It wasn’t until later that evening Simon had cooled off enough to meet up with his family and Lilah in Summer’s room. The Espeon and Ninetales had gone around that afternoon informing the others of Lilah’s potential plan, requesting a group meet so a decision could be made. With Simon nowhere to be found in the hotel, Summer volunteered to go out and find him; she, eventually, found him sulking outside a café, stirring a cold, hardly-touched cup of coffee with a wooden stirring stick. She got off to a bad start from the minute she sat with him, idly staring at his coffee.
“What?” he had snarled at her. “Gonna accuse me of keeping more money?”
Summer knew the only way to talk with him was to convince him she was on his side, which unfortunately meant an earful of, what she thought was, unfair abuse about Fall and Glacia. Although she felt bad for pretending to agree, her nods and “uh-huhs” seemed to have satisfied Simon.
The Jolteon sat in a corner away from them, casting an occasional glare Fall’s and Glacia’s way as Lilah explained her plan. Taking into account the success the four of them had retrieving the Primeval Talisman, Lilah strongly recommended splitting the group up into two teams — four on one side, five on the other, and a Fire-type per team. In doing so, one team would travel to Lake Blalock for the Aqueous Talisman, the Elemental Talisman of Water, while the other would head for Ulmory Castle to acquire the Eldritch Talisman, the Elemental Talisman of Ghost. Summer agreed with and supported the fire vixen’s strategy to save as much time as possible.
Although Lilah had put in a convincing argument, Summer already knew doubt among the others was a cert. And sure enough Fall did not look confident. The idea of splitting up again was not appealing to him. Yes, he’d gone through with it once before, however it was only due to Glacia and Simon being unfit to travel at the time. He brought up the dangers he, Summer, Raina, Eclipse, and Lilah faced, making a valid point that possessed Keepers, and indeed lesser Pokémon, required teamwork to safely defeat; staying on the safety front, he won nods of agreement from Rose at the assertion himself and Lilah were the only ones capable of vanquishing Shadows and that it benefitted the safety of everyone by sticking together.
It wasn’t just the idea of breaking the group up for a second time that worried him. Even as Lilah argued the fact Black Nex would not be sparing a moment of his liberation on resting, Fall couldn’t shake his gut feeling warning him to steer clear of both places. Lake Blalock . . . Ulmory Castle. . . . Something in their names unnerved him . . . creeped him out. And it went deeper than his fear of water and the silly cliché of hauntings. Right now, he could best describe it as this foreboding of a trap.
Voicing this misgiving would have achieved nothing; in any case, they needed all eighteen talismans and the Shield of Elements for any hope of fighting the corrupt Origin God. The majority of the group were staring at the floor, and Fall read on their expressions minds labouring on what they should do.
“I get what you’re saying,” Lilah said with a suppressed air of frustration to Fall. “If we weren’t restricted on time — fine, I’d drop it. But count how many talismans we have. Three. Not even a quarter of them! It’s our best option, Hothead — open your bloomin’ eyes and see sense for once!”
“Call me that one more time —” Fall warned.
“How’s about you shut up and let the lady speak. Hothead,” growled Simon from his corner. Fall, utterly struck dumb, gawked at him, but Simon turned a blind eye to the brother he’d once admired, instead devoting his attention to Lilah, who seemed unsure what to think.
“. . . Simon —” began Fall weakly.
“Why don’t we have a vote?” declared Simon loudly, meeting the few undaunted eyes of his siblings, bar Fall’s and Glacia’s. “All those in favour of Lilah’s plan, raise your paw.”
Summer, half-heartedly, held up a paw. She had been fairly sure this was the right route to take mere seconds ago . . . but seeing Fall so despondent, it now felt wrong somehow. Eclipse lifted a paw next, followed, surprisingly, by Glacia; despite the needlessness of it, Lilah raised her paw as well. Rose, Dawn, Raina, and Fall kept their paws firmly on the floor: It was a stalemate.
With a smugness worthy of slapping, Simon flicked Fall a victorious half-smile, then shattered the stalemate with Lilah’s fifth vote. “Bring on the ghosts,” he said with a nonchalance Summer could only dream of; obviously, Ulmory Castle and the grim murder that Lilah had informed the group about did not scare him. “Maybe we’ll even find clues and solve the spooooky bed stalker mystery.” Eclipse wasn’t prepared for when Simon turned to him and asked, “Yeah, Eclipse?”
“Er — sure,” the Umbreon said, and Simon nodded approvingly.
“Sound like a plan to you, Dawn?” Simon invited his closest sister along.
Dawn gave a nervous chuckle. “Oh lovely . . . the dark, forsaken castle no doubt infested with creepy-crawlies. . . . Mm, can’t wait!” she said with hollow-hearted enthusiasm.
“Ah don’t be such a wuss,” said Simon dismissively.
“No way Jose am I going!” Summer made sure to say before Simon could drag her into going. Truth be told, neither talisman was up her street. She gladly would have sat both of them out, but out of the two possibilities she had, she decided she disliked the Aqueous Talisman least.
“Me neither!” seconded Rose.
“I’ll be in my element at Lake Blalock,” said Raina.
Glacia was much too mature to let a horror story deter her.
“I’m gonna go with you three,” she spoke calmly and confidently to Simon, who shrugged indifferently muttering, “Whatever.”
“Then it’s best you go with Glacia, Simon, Eclipse and Dawn to Ulmory Castle, and I go Lake Blalock with Summer, Rose and Raina; I’m not frightened of water,” Lilah summarized to Fall.
“Like hell’s that happening!” Simon immediately protested. “Nuh-uh, no,” he said, shaking his head at Fall. “Stick him with me and I walk.”
“Simon, please, give me five minutes to talk to you,” Fall implored, stepping toward his brother. “Man to man, somewhere private —”
He stopped. Simon had got to his feet, yellow electricity fizzling and snapping through his sharpened fur. He looked more furious than Fall had ever seen him.
“You had your chance to ‘talk,’” he spat at him. “But no, nearly sixteen years you hogged the truth from us. I have nothing to say to you, so save your repressed excuses for someone who gives a damn.”
The damage was instantly apparent. In a second, Raina had hurried to Fall’s side, offering her body as comfort by leaning into him. He felt strangely bloodless — weak — a lion who had lost his roar. His expression stayed flat as she gently bunted his cheek, not even registering her affections.
Despite appearing impassive, Lilah was secretly surprised at Simon’s aggression. Granted she hadn’t known the Jolteon very long, but he always came across as a fun-loving, carefree sort. She worked out that this kind of family feud was what had Summer upset about earlier.
“Maybe we should turn in,” she said softly. “We can discuss this more in the morning.”
“No . . . it’s all right,” Fall unexpectedly turned to her and said. “I’ll go to Lake Blalock . . .”
“Fall . . . are you certain that’s a good idea?” Raina asked him worriedly.
Saying nothing, Fall pulled away from the Vaporeon, walking over to the door. His eyes close to tears with regret, he looked again at Simon. “I’m sorry. . . .”And with this last apology, he took his leave.
Bonds of Eeveelution, its characters, and text are ©MorningSunEspeonPokémon and its creatures are ©The Pokémon Company ©Nintendo ©Game Freak Inc. ©Creatures Inc.
“Let him go,” said Vasco, who had done nothing the whole time to stop Jayce. “If the guilt don’t kill him he’s got a lifetime to live with it.”
“What about this lot?” muttered Nash, glancing at the Eevees huddled with Glacia.
Vasco shrugged heartlessly. A sudden wave of anger burned over Nash. . . . His brother was gone . . . he had lost the only family he ever cared for . . .
One slash sliced open Acacia’s throat, blood spilling onto the cream carpet —
“MUUUUM!” cried Fall. Glacia screamed hysterically; rushing in front of her terror-stricken siblings, she blocked off their view standing sideways and wailed at them, “DON’T LOOK!”
Nash let Acacia hit the floor, hyperventilating in her immediate oncome of shock. Fall pressed both his paws over the slit . . . he knew he had to stop the bleeding. . . . But blood leaked through his toes . . . the carotid arteries had been severed. . . . All Acacia could hear was her children crying. She looked up at her firstborn son. Long lines of darkened fur streaked down his cheeks, but he tried to keep a brave face. Her heart slowed, a strange calm easing her breathing. . . . She felt so relaxed, like sunbathing on a deserted beach . . . the sand golden and warm . . . the breeze perfect . . . the sky pure blue . . . the ocean gently lulling her to sleep. . . .
“M-M-Mum . . . ?”
Acacia remained still. “M-Mum . . . w-wake up . . .” Fall lifted her head with his muzzle but she would not respond to his increasingly desperate cries. “Wake up . . . p-please, Mum — wake up!”
A huge, clawed foot stamped into Fall’s view and he cricked his neck to meet Vasco’s glare, finding himself hardly afraid.
“She’s dead, boy,” the Tyranitar said pitilessly. “Accept it.”
Fall looked at the lifeless body of his mother.
Thunder rumbled over the storm-clouded wasteland that was his world.
Everything poured out of him, suffering, tears, snot. . . . A big part of him did not believe any of this was real — how could it be? Things like this only happened in films, TV shows, and books, not in real life . . . it couldn’t happen to him. . . . There would be no waking from this torment . . . he was trapped in reality’s compassionless tendrils. . . .
Almost not able to walk, he gave himself to Glacia, brother and sister crying out their souls in each other’s embrace.
Vasco watched Nash close in on the family like they were prey. “Don’t,” he said strictly, and Nash stopped, looking at him in irritated confusion.
“‘Don’t’?” repeated Nash. “Whaddya mean don’t? A sec ago you didn’t give a —”
“A sec ago they had a mother,” Vasco retorted, shooting his callous reputation out of the sky. “You stole that from them. You’re not taking their lives as well.”
Nash stared at him like he was bonkers.
“Have you gone shit soft?”
Vasco took a step forward. “Be very careful . . .” he said dangerously.
Nash averted his gaze. He noticed the Flareon giving him a death stare, his eyes shining with tears.
“I never knew my parents,” Vasco disclosed to Fall, reclaiming his attention. “Such loss is an affliction I cannot comprehend. . . .”
Fall said nothing, staring fiercely into Vasco’s eyes. He could feel Glacia shaking while they continued to hold each other. Behind him, his brothers and sisters were whimpering. Vasco seemed to be ruminating on something. . . .
A subtle head flick struck Fall like a comet of disbelief, leaving him totally nonplussed. “Go,” Vasco confirmed the Flareon’s thoughts . . . He was letting them go. . . .
Fall and Glacia looked at each other in equal shock. Without thinking, the two tried to embolden their younger siblings into leaving. Except for Dawn and Simon, none of the Eevees would stand. Fall crouched down to them, urging them onto his back — Raina and Eclipse had barely gripped his mane when he sprung to his feet; Summer clambered onto Glacia’s back as Glacia took Rose by the scruff of her neck.
Fall instructed Simon and Dawn to follow at Glacia’s side and to keep looking straight ahead. They done exactly as they were told and passed their dead mother on the other side of Glacia without seeing, though they could not stop themselves gazing up at the monstrous Tyranitar, ears flattening and lowering to a creep under his stature. Summer kept her eyes scrunched up, the side of her head laid against Glacia, and her paws squeezed around her neck. Glacia paused to wait for Fall as Simon and Dawn disappeared around the damaged wall, insulation layers exposed from within.
Like Glacia, Fall subconsciously looked a final time at his mother going past, but unlike Glacia he loured Nash with a desire to avenge . . . a taste for murder . . .
“Boy,” Vasco called to him just as he joined Glacia in the hallway. “Know how you survive in a cruel world . . . ? You be crueller . . . Give as much mercy as you get. . . .”
Fall’s throat was too dry and sore for speech even if he had any words. He failed to notice the restlessness of his family until Simon tugged at his foreleg and worriedly hurried him along. Together, they broke into a run down the corridor, escaping out where the front door used to stand prior to Vasco’s entry.
Fall led them into the forest, having no idea which direction they were headed. He didn’t know anywhere to go; his grandparents on his mother’s side had died some years back, and the rest of her family lived in Sinnoh; Acacia’s parents had sailed with her to Tavolous from Sinnoh in her early teens. And Jayce hadn’t spoken to any of his family in fifteen years, so Fall knew no one on his father’s side. No . . . that man was not his father. He meant nothing to Fall now — a worthless coward who valued his own skin above a loving family, glad to abandon them in order to save it. . . . This furious thought bubbled and stewed like boiling water in his mind, drowning out the yelps and whines of the others being swatted by brushwood.
“Where are we going?” Dawn puffed.
Fall carried on running, oblivious to his sister and most of the forest attacking him. They emerged into a clearing under the white moon where Glacia, bearing a mouthful of Rose’s scruff, mumbled Fall to stop. Finally, the Flareon did, no less out of breath than the others. Glacia set Rose down.
For a moment they rested, Simon and Dawn cuddling up with Rose by Glacia’s feet, their combined fur and warmth comforting the littlest Eevee. Summer looked set to cling to Glacia for life, and Eclipse and Raina didn’t seem sure of staying on Fall’s back or not.
Fall was first to break the snivelled silence. “We’ve got to keep moving,” he said grimly. “Get out of the forest.”
“Then where?” said Glacia in a tenuous voice. “We can’t survive without money or adults . . . Who’d take care of us?”
“We’ll go to the police,” said Fall, unwavering. “They can help —”
“Police, police, police . . .” droned the voice of Acacia’s killer. Glacia spun around with a gasp. Fall felt his siblings’ grip on his fur tighten . . . Nash stepped out of the trees where they had come. “That’s everybody’s answer to everything — the police. So where are they when you need ’em, eh?” he said, holding out his arms and mockingly looking around as he walked nearer. “Oh, nowhere to be found. . . .” This sentence waned into a dark chuckle.
Glacia picked Rose up again and backed away with Dawn and Simon, grouping together with Fall. Nash stopped, Flareon and Toxicroak locked in baleful glares.
“I reckon there’s something between me and you we ought to settle. . . .” grinned Nash.
“Get off me . . .” breathed Fall. The Eevees slid from his back as he stepped forward, but Glacia grabbed a pawful of his side.
“Fall . . . don’t do this . . .” she implored, trying to meet his eyes. There was a powerful, frightening, resolve unbefitting such blue eyes . . . Fall didn’t seem to have heard his sister at all. “He’ll kill you!”
“Not if I kill him first,” said Fall, fixing that unsettling stare on her. “I can’t run away . . . but you can. . . . Take the others — find safety . . .”
“We are NOT leaving you!”
“I’m not asking!” Fall snapped at her. She shrunk back. “Just . . . promise me you’ll look after them. . . .” He glanced around at his brothers and sisters.
Nash gave a sibilant, derisive laugh as Fall moved closer, accepting his challenge.
“You got balls, I’ll give ya that,” he sneered, but fell silent at what he then saw.
Glacia took a place at Fall’s side, staring down Nash with as much purpose as Fall, who himself wasn’t expecting this of her.
“What’re you doing?” he hissed at her, sounding both furious and worried.
“Looking after my family,” Glacia answered calmly.
Fall was about to object when Nash huffed, “Whatever” and shot off a Dark Pulse from his palm; Fall barged Glacia clear of the whorling attack, which blew up bits of earth that rained over the six Eevees; they blenched and bunched closer together but were otherwise unharmed. “Don’t bother me how many of you I kill.”
Fall thought back to all the hours he had spent play fighting with his siblings, all that time strengthening his muscles, unknowingly honing his predatory and combat prowess. He had practiced his Flamethrowers in this very forest for months. He knew he had been getting good: He had accuracy, control — not starting any fires since that extra-dry week last summer — but lacked power.
Taking a gulp of air, Fall fired a hate-fuelled stream of flame at Nash, who made a mockery of the Flareon by turning where he stood and avoiding the attack with a slight bend of the spine. Fall’s problem had been his intake, Nash easily predicting his attack before it had even left his mouth.
“Well this won’t take long . . .” croaked Nash, raising an assured smirk.
Fall played right into his hands. In the time he filled his lungs with air, Nash’s body became cloaked in shadows, as though retreating into shade, and he demonstrated incredible agility, closing the gap between himself and Fall to kick him in the chin, sending him temporarily airborne. Fall had never experienced a Pokémon’s Sucker Punch attack before, such startling speed packing one hell of a wallop.
The attack made Glacia shriek, but she got herself together and blew a chilly wind of blue sparkles at Nash, who endured the Icy Wind grunting uncomfortably. Frost found a grip in places, and Glacia could see he was shivering. But the attack was beginning to strain on her, and shortly she was forced to rest, stealing back her breath heavily.
Numb with cold, Nash’s hand glowed a brilliant white and he charged the Glaceon — he brought the Brick Break down but ended up striking Fall across the back, the Flareon diving to protect his sister. He yelled out and crashed to the ground.
Glacia faced Nash with a snarl and Tackled him, ramming her head into his stomach. Winded, Nash clobbered her on the back with an elbow. He grabbed her forelegs and used the centripetal force of his one eighty to throw her.
Nash spun around to a Flamethrower he could not evade this time. He roared in pain and rage as the flames seared his face; although less strong and intense compared with an adult Flareon’s, Fall’s Flamethrower very much harmed Nash’s thin skin. Fall followed up this effective move using a turn of pre-evolution speed, Quick Attacking Nash in the chest.
Enraged, Nash bellowed, “PLAYTIME’S OVER!” He shot Dark Pulse after Dark Pulse at his running enemy, knocking him off his feet by aiming the first of two more Dark Pulses ahead of him, the explosion of which bringing Fall to a halt and the second one scoring a hurtful hit to his ribs. Glacia took a jumping Tackle at Nash, slamming into the back of his head and making him lurch forward as though about to fall; he recovered faster than she could process, whirling about to grab her by the throat.
Her hind paws flailed uselessly as he lifted her up. She felt her claws slicing into his wrist, but this didn’t seem to be deterring Nash in the least. He hawked a sticky sludge in her eyes to which she instinctively closed, screaming in distress. “I’ll deal with you in a minute . . .” she heard Nash whisper in her ear, then was chucked to the ground.
Shakily, Fall returned to his feet. Nash could tell from the Flareon’s fatigue this fight was entering its final phase.
“Try not to faint on me, junior,” Nash sneered. “I want you struggling when I kill you . . .”
Bellowing, Fall catapulted himself into a Quick Attack. It was the move Nash most expected and was ready for, swing kicking Fall in mid leap. Fall didn’t get up but did resort to firing an Ember, hundreds of red-orange embers dancing like fireflies in a small stream of heat — Nash sprang backwards, out of the way, and spat Sludge Bomb at Fall, the ball of foul muck landing a direct hit to his head and concealing him in the black smoke of its explosion.
Dawn and Simon, the only two yet to bury their faces in another Eevee’s fur, cried out for their eldest brother.
Nash confidently walked up to the thinning smoke amidst where Fall lay. A strong purple flush ran above Fall’s muzzle, and he was baring his teeth in groans of pain; Nash recognized the symptoms of poison; whatever energy the Flareon had left the poison would gradually sap away. Whereas poisoning from moves such as Sludge Bomb could not compare with the potency of pure venoms, for instance neurotoxins and atracotoxins, a Pokémon would still suffer pernicious effects for up to a month unless cured; and it wasn’t unheard of for Pokémon, even fit and strong ones, to succumb to poisoning. . . .
Nash took him in a choking hold and pressed him into the ground, enjoying the Flareon’s squirms.
“Disappointing,” Nash droned, lightly shaking his head. “Perhaps Vasco just pities the weak — that’s why he let you go. But I’m not him. . . . So, which way d’you wanna go? Same as your bitch mother . . . or claw through the heart like I’ll do with her?” He looked to a blinded Glacia, wiping uselessly at the thick, sticky substance.
Everything went red. Fall was gone. He was something else entirely.
Rage controlled him, a storm of strength seeing him tear Nash’s hand from his throat. Pain much worse than claws piercing to bone immediately engulfed Nash’s whole face, yet his screams were overwhelmed by the roar escaping with fire from Fall’s mouth.
Nash stumbled backward, flames clinging to his face; Fall pounced him to the ground, his claws puncturing the frog’s vocal sac as he stood over him. Like a crazed beast, Fall clawed at Nash’s eyes, stabbing them . . . ripping them . . . the Toxicroak’s screams for mercy going unanswered . . . Fall never even heard Dawn’s horror-stricken scream, ending his mauling at bleeding eye sockets. . . .
Nash’s helpless sobs did nothing to move Fall, who yelled, “DIIIEEE!” blasting another Flamethrower in his face. So long as Nash wailed, Fall blazed and scorched him, to the point he smelt cooking meat. . . . Flames swam into Nash’s mouth, silencing him. Finally, his twitching limbs relaxed and became motionless. . . .
Virtually moribund with exhaustion, Fall collapsed to the ground. Calmness flowed in with every breath as he lay there beside the dead Toxicroak, his mind blank, watching heat shimmer off what remained of Nash’s face.
“F-Fall . . . ?” said a timid voice, but Fall did not acknowledge. A dark blue paw reached for him, however he got up before Glacia could touch him.
“That was for Mum. . . .” Fall whispered, his cold stare still on his first kill.
Glacia avoided the roasted face when looking at the body. Though she had wiped her eyes thoroughly, much sludge clogged her vision and was starting to sting. She averted her head with a fearful whimper, catching an unpreventable glimpse of Nash’s grisly countenance. Fall hadn’t so much as cringed at the repulsive sight — a child, disturbingly, dark with hate: He turned to his sister and raised a paw to her eyes, wiping each clearer of gunk but smearing her with blood.
“Don’t be scared,” he said gently.
Glacia reopened her eyes, looking nothing but scared. “You . . . y-you killed him!” she blurted.
“And he’s burning in Hell, exactly where he belongs. . . .” Fall did not take his sister inching back a step as a hint he was worrying her. “I’d do it again to save you . . . and you’d do the same for —” He bared his teeth, face screwed up, and moaning in suffering.
Glacia’s instincts to help overcame her.
“Fall!” she yelped, supporting him as he sat down. “W-what is it? What’s wrong?”
“. . . Poisoned . . .” he rasped, his breathing laboured.
The Glaceon stiffened, forgetting about her brother’s unsettling behaviour completely. “Q-quick — tell me how I help!”
“Pecha berries don’t grow in this forest. . . . I . . . I need a doctor . . .”
“What about herbs?” Glacia gibbered. “Are there any kinds of plants that — ?”
“I’ll last until the next town!” Fall growled, making her flinch as he returned to his feet. “Christ, I was poisoned a few minutes ago, not hours!”
Glacia lowered her head in shame. “S-sorry . . .” she said quietly.
“Well come on, then,” said Fall impatiently, getting back on the move; Glacia quickly followed him, certainly not wanting to be alone with the corpse. “The sooner we’re out the better.”
The Eevee siblings closed up like their Flareon brother was a scary stranger; he passed them without sparing a glance, vanishing in the forest’s gloom. Glacia tried to get them along, but it wasn’t happening. They were frightened, confused, and distraught; Rose was crying again, and Glacia suspected she needed feeding, Dawn and Simon were competing for Glacia’s attention, their panicked questions melding in all the bedlam . . . Summer just wanted her mummy . . .
“Hurry it up!” Fall suddenly barked, re-emerging from the trees. Silence sealed everyone’s lips as they turned to the frowning Flareon. He walked over to them. “Do I have to carry you?” he demanded of Dawn, his heavy breaths out of fatigue more than frustration. The Eevee pulled back, timidly shaking her head. “So stand up, and get the lead out. Summer, Raina, on my back,” he ordered, stamping down some discipline. “Glacia will carry Eclipse. Simon and Dawn, you’re to stay with her or myself at all times — absolutely no straying.”
Nothing could have been further from the Eevees’ minds. All they wanted was an end . . . to be safe, indoors, warm, and if Fall could bring about that comfort by God they were going to listen.
Nervously, Raina and Summer climbed onto Fall’s back, Summer small enough to nestle herself in his fluffy mane. After Glacia crouched down to let Eclipse on, she opened her mouth to tell Fall they had no way of feeding Rose, but he said, “Follow me,” and then grabbed the Eevee cub’s scruff. She settled a little, not crying as loudly. Fall plainly wasn’t concerning himself with Rose’s needs, ignoring her as he headed back into the forest. Glacia hesitated a moment, her sad gaze falling on Dawn and Simon before trudging after him.
Night ticked by, none of the family knowing the current time, or how long they had spent wandering this forest. Their pace had been slow and steady, minimizing the risk of sustaining any more injuries, though stepping on fallen tree branches or tripping on vines was virtually unavoidable. Fall would have preferred to go faster than they were, but it was his own physical condition holding them up. Not that anyone else minded, much rather keeping the going easy and not disagreeing the few times Fall suggested they rest.
The constant surrounding movements and noises of the forest left everyone on high alert. Often they would never see the creatures rustling in bushes, or find the hooting Hoothoot in its tree. These Pokémon, Fall guessed, were likely wild, but he couldn’t be certain of dangerous species living in this part of the forest; this far from Appleage the possibility was very real. If there were, nocturnal predators might well be on the prowl for their next meal . . . young Eevees easy pickings.
Wild Pokémon lived off instinct, sharing a predator and prey relation with each other — no morals, laws, remorse — killing was simply a part of daily life, living the way nature intended. And long before the first communities were founded and Pokémon came together in mutual collaboration, you were born “wild,” knowing nothing better than the survival of yourself and reproduction. Today, of course, it was a choice, the greater side of Tavolous’s population choosing a civilized life, the swinging point for this post the War of Life’s Defiance over a thousand years ago, when, according to history, a Weavile named Tarquin commanded a huge army to seize the region but fell against a Dragonite by the name of Georgios. From the time records in Tavolous began, no other war was as long and bloody, the number of deceased, horribly, exceeding one million over five decades.
Tarquin viewed the growing liaison between natural enemies as an abominable contravention to the purpose of carnivore and herbivore, despising the advances in agriculture and science. He wasn’t alone in this, but he had the mind to put an end to it. Beginning with little more than a few hundred followers, Tarquin attacked and destroyed smaller settlements, killing the inhabitants to send society a message its new world was at war. Tarquin’s numbers increased with each attack, more and more wild Pokémon committing themselves to his cause; some Pokémon were even radicalized, turning feral and faithfully serving under the Weavile’s command.
In the space of a few years, Tarquin went from leader of a terrorizing horde to commander of a formidable army. Although wild Pokémon made up the bulk, renegades also came to Tarquin, criminals of society on the run for their acts. Some had made the journey from different regions.
The fate of society hung in the balance. Verculum, Tavolous’s biggest populace, stood as the last hope and stronghold, Tarquin crushing all other resistance. Six mayors who had escaped during their town or city’s destruction made up Verculum’s defence tactics, the city’s own mayor, Georgios, elected to govern operations. Tarquin knew taking Verculum meant risking great loss on his side, even with the amount of Pokémon he had; the city was excellently fortified to withstand aerial and ground assaults. Furthermore, his enemies had two advantages: Starving the city was a strategy he could not draw on like he’d done with some other cities, for Verculum sustained itself through growing fruit and vegetables behind the safety of its four, impregnable stone walls, water sourced out of wells and hand watering pumps. The carnivorous Pokémon were given permission to exit the city and hunt at their own risk, a process of giving their names to city guards (who would write them down on paper lists) when leaving and then confirming their identification upon returning.
Having those resources enabled them to wait for as long as need be, giving Tarquin little choice but to bring the fight to their doorstep — a move that could cost his undoing. If he attacked head-on his enemies would have the cover and protection of the city; likely they’d hit him with long-ranged attacks, injuring and killing many of his people before he breached their defences. Tarquin considered a possible sneak attack underground, but every day he spent planning with his advisors he was losing bodies.
It was the second advantage society had.
Tarquin’s army consisted of carnivores, herbivores, and omnivores — most of them wild. Sure, they were following Tarquin for shared reasons, even fought alongside one another, however a hungry predator still had to eat . . . war didn’t change that. Separate camps meant nothing with rule-free movement, no restrictions keeping the Pokémon in check.
Research any book of Verculum City’s history and they’ll all tell of the Battle of Verculum, where Georgios pulled his people through Tarquin’s surprise attack on the night of March eighth, claiming a crucial victory in the war his rebellion would, ultimately, win almost forty years after his death.
Nowadays, most historians dismissed the legend of darker forces — specifically, Black Nex — being the true cause of the war. Much older books, some dating back five hundred years, told otherwise, each with a different view on why the Origin God of Justice turned on society and why he contacted Tarquin, but more or less arrived at the same end: shaping the world to his will.
Fall halted, inspecting his surroundings cautiously, ears vertical and rotating. Satisfied the area was safe, he put Rose, now asleep, down and let his knackered body lie.
“. . . It’s all right . . .” he told his family between breaths, shutting his eyes. “We can rest here for a bit . . .”
The family were grateful to have quenched their thirsts at a hidden glade they stumbled across during their last break. There had been multiple waterholes of varying sizes, possibly they were made by burrowing Pokémon. Fortunately, no predators had been around, just some drinking Ledyba that got spooked when the Eevees approached for a drink and an Oddish pair. With difficulty, Glacia washed most of the sludge off, small blobs of it stubbornly stuck in her dangles of hair; Fall cleaned the blood out of his paws. Here, the encirclement of bushes bore the first berries they had found, hundreds and hundreds of the red things waiting for consumption. Simon had been eager to eat some, but Fall stopped him, the Flareon sure they were inedible and possibly poisonous. When Fall made the call to keep going, they left even hungrier than when they had arrived.
Glacia whispered to Eclipse on her back, waking him up. The Eevee’s eyes closed up again as he yawned and slid off her, freeing her to sit down. Using his sense of touch, Eclipse found and curled against her, continuing to sleep as though nothing had interrupted him. For him, Raina, and Summer, the bumpy, unending travelling depleted their little batteries. Both girls slept in maximum comfort, now and when riding on their fluffy Flareon brother.
“Glace, I’m hungry . . .” whined Simon.
Right then, a twisting pain in Glacia’s stomach reminded her she was running on empty also. Nobody had eaten anything in hours, but Glacia chose to ignore this problem a little while longer, worried more about Fall’s condition.
“Is there no end to this stinking forest?” she said hopelessly, staring hatefully up at the foliage.
Fall did not answer, chin laid flat and snuffles stirring dust, a dried leaf rhythmically rocking in place inches from his nose.
“What kind of useless forest can’t even grow Pecha berries, anyway!” Glacia snapped. “Dawn, come here this instant!” she scolded her Eevee sister, whom was sniffing the air around some bushes after picking up a faint food scent.
“I can smell something sweet,” said Dawn, a paw raised cutely as she looked around at Glacia. She pointed with her nose. “That way.”
“Is it berries?” asked Simon enthusiastically, running to her, his tail like a feather duster in an attic of cobwebs.
Glacia went over to smell for herself, Eclipse moaning ever so weakly at losing his shelter source. Dawn was right, a sweet scent was wafting downwind through the bushes.
“Come on — !” chirped Simon, intending to spring into a run but hit the ground (“Oof!”) as Glacia brought a paw down on his bushy tail.
“No, Simon,” Glacia reprimanded him. “Both of you wait here. I’ll go and check it out.”
Dawn looked worried.
“Don’t,” she urged. “Not by yourself.”
“The scent isn’t far, and I’ll be careful.” Glacia’s resolve didn’t seem to allay her sister’s concerns, but she did not challenge the Glaceon’s decision further. Saying nothing more, Glacia padded off, Dawn sitting down anxiously after her rhombus-like tail disappeared around the bush.
The undergrowth swamped the air with a hotchpotch of smells, making tracking the aroma hard. Regardless, Glacia trusted her nose, letting it guide her through the semi-darkness whilst being mindful of her surroundings. She tried to keep her path as direct as could be; occasionally she would set a paw on a tree trunk and freeze a small bit of it, the blocks of shining ice a trail if she lost her way. The scent grew gradually stronger, as did Glacia’s hopes. Ahead, a large, moss-covered log blocked her way. Whatever it was she was smelling, it was coming from beyond this obstacle. Jumping over it did not appeal to her . . . then again, nor did muscling through dense, thorny bushes either. She sighed and crouched.
With some pre-jump head bobs, she leapt straight over the log — into a pool of mud.
“Yyyuuuck! Ugh . . .” she groaned, heaving herself onto dry soil.
Her paws and legs were caked in rank mud, dots splattered on her face, along her underside, and her tail. Cleansing promptly began, shaking and wiping the mud off until she noticed her mother’s necklace mud-spattered. Dejection pushed cares about how filthy she was to the back of her mind. She sat cleaning the snowflake necklace on her chest fur when she broke into tears, the whole night’s excruciation burning like wildfire in her head.
It took the bereaved Glaceon a few seconds to hear the rustling being made by another forest Pokémon nearby. Sniffling, she spotted what, at first, she thought was an Eevee, but soon realized it wasn’t. Whatever it was it was smaller than her, so she moved closer for a better look. The creature had the same brown and cream colour fur as an Eevee but looked nowhere near as silken, rather spiny and coarse with a most bizarre zigzagging pattern. From what she could see of its face, black fur spanning its eyes reminded her of masked bandits in an episode of her favourite TV show. Glacia was certain it was aware of her presence, yet it continued to feed on dark purple berries growing closest to the ground on a bush. Glacia recognized the drupels of Bluk berries, having shopped with her mother enough times to know the fruit was edible; she liked their sweetness and succulence.
Seeing as there was plenty to go around, she approached the shrub, leaving a sizable gap between her and the Zigzagoon. As fast as an Arbok’s strike, the raccoon turned to her with a vicious snarl, running across in zigzags and cutting her off. Glacia stopped in her tracks, shocked and confused at his flick knife aggression.
“Back off!” he spat, further shocking her. She had no idea wild Pokémon were capable of speech, assuming, going by what her parents and some of the other adults in Appleage had told her, all of them to be primitives with unpredictable behaviour. “This here’s all mine,” he growled. “Find someplace else to eat.”
“You . . . know how to talk?” Glacia had to ask him, but the Zigzagoon only seemed more annoyed. His fur tautened.
“I’m gonna count to five, and if you’re not gone by then. . . . One . . .” counted the Zigzagoon.
“Hold on, that’s not fair!” protested Glacia.
“. . . two . . .”
“What about the ones you can’t reach? Can I at least —”
“— three . . .”
“You’re being totally selfish! Even Snorlax aren’t this greedy!”
“. . . four . . .”
“All right, all right, I’m going!” submitted Glacia, turning and walking away, muttering a rude comment. When she reached the mud she’d landed in, she glanced around to see the Zigzagoon already eating. Now that she had found an abundance of food she and the others needed badly, there was no way she was giving it up . . . she’d return. . . .
“She went where?!”
Dawn and Simon cowered to the ground at Fall’s outburst. The world was full of many terrors to be scared of . . . but family . . . Dawn could not imagine for a single moment ever feeling scared of a relation. Sadly, she didn’t need to imagine it.
“T-t-to go l-look for f-food. . . .” she faltered, actually shaking.
“By herself?” Fall exclaimed. “There could be anything lurking around here!”
“F-Fall, I’m s-sorry . . .” said Dawn fretfully. “I-I should’ve stopped her.”
Fall sighed and breathed, “Jesus . . .” whilst looking in the direction of forest Glacia had gone. “Okay,” he said to the Eevees. “Stick with me and do not call for her. Last thing we want is a predator hearing us . . . do you understand?”
Nervously, they nodded.
Fall approached the sleeping forms of Raina, Eclipse, Summer, and Rose, cosily bundled together. He opened his mouth to wake them when his ears alerted him to footsteps. Despite his poor health, a tiny surge of adrenaline told Fall he had some fight left. Showing his teeth, he bent down defensively . . .
“Guys?” came Glacia’s voice, the Glaceon herself rounding the thicket.
“Glace!” chirped Simon and Dawn, bolting to her as Fall relaxed. “How did you get all dirty?” Simon questioned, rubbing the thin layer of mud up Glacia’s foreleg.
“Never mind that,” said Glacia distractedly. “I need your help. There’s a —”
“What in blazes were you thinking!” said Fall, nearing her. Simon and Dawn repositioned on either side of their sister. “Thought you’d ignore everything I said about the dangers? Anything could’ve happened!”
“Yes, I know,” Glacia returned irritably. “I shouldn’t’ve and I’m sorry, but I found some Bluk berries like real close.”
“Really?” beamed Simon.
“Thing is, a wilder’s hogging them all to itself.”
“Figures,” muttered Fall with a roll of his eyes.
“It isn’t gonna back down without a fight,” Glacia added, a hint of regret in her voice.
Dawn had a suggestion. “C-can’t we just share?”
“Tried that approach.” Glacia shook her head. “Wasn’t interested.”
“Sounds about right,” shrugged Fall. “Ferals look out for number one — everyone else is either competition or predator.”
Simon’s tummy grumbled audibly.
“I’m so hungry it hurts!” he complained, eyes screwed up. “Where’s the food?”
“Easy, pal, we’re going,” said Fall. “Glacia, reckon you can carry Summer as well this time?”
The Glaceon agreed, figuring the poison was beginning to weaken him. Raina and Summer woke without fuss, Fall coaxing Raina onto his back and Glacia doing the same with Summer; Fall grabbed Rose’s scruff, grateful she stayed sound. Eclipse, however, stubbornly refused to unfold himself, growling as Glacia nudged him.
“Oh, Eclipse, please don’t get like this . . .” moaned Glacia. “Come on, you must be hungry. Just climb on and we’ll —”
“I wanna go home!” cried Eclipse.
Glacia embraced her sobbing brother, resisting tears of her own, wanting to stay strong for her family.
“We can’t,” she whispered. She set a paw under his chin and tilted his head so their gazes met. “I know it’s hard to understand, but you’ve got to be brave . . . we all must. . . .”
It was definitely for the best the Eevees not know the truth . . . what Glacia and Fall witnessed. The six younger siblings had been too frightened at that moment Acacia was fatally wounded to watch, Glacia ensuring none of them saw their Glaceon mother bleeding to death thereupon. Glacia’s biggest concern lay with Dawn and Simon. Although they had not seen what happened, they were, however, old enough to comprehend their mother was dead, and that their father abandoned them.
After talking Eclipse around, Glacia led on to the Bluk bush, melting ice on a couple of trees helping to guide the family. Before long a log obstructed further progress.
“The berries are just over this log,” said Glacia, keeping her voice down. “But don’t jump right over it; there’s a lot of mud on the other side, I found that out for myself . . .”
The smallest flicker of a smile tweaked at Dawn’s lips.
Glacia told Eclipse and Summer to hold on tight, advising Raina to do the same since Fall couldn’t speak carrying Rose. Glacia hopped up first, then Fall, followed by Simon and lastly Dawn. A part of Glacia was glad the Zigzagoon hadn’t gone; there was a dark satisfaction in her grin as the raccoon spun around to look at her.
“How’s the weather down there, shorty?” Glacia jibed. “What’s wrong?” She leapt clear of the mud patch, the others quickly joining her. The Zigzagoon stepped back. “Yeah, not so hard when you’re outnumbered.”
Fall freed Rose from his jaws.
“Our family is hungry, and there’s more berries here than you can eat,” he said to the wild Zigzagoon, who made his thoughts on the matter plain in a nervous growl. “I don’t want to fight you for them,” Fall went on, hoping in some way to appeal to the Zigzagoon’s better nature, but chose to end on a threatening note to assert himself, “but if that’s what it takes I will.”
At this point, the Zigzagoon seemed torn between fight and flight. Despite his potential adversary’s size, Fall knew tangling with an adult wild Pokémon was highly dangerous. Possibly this one understood the Flareon’s purple flush was a sign of poisoning, a bad handicap to bring into battle. If Fall were in good trim he’d be attacking now, not inwardly hoping numbers would intimidate the Zigzagoon into a retreat.
All of a sudden, the Zigzagoon’s eyes widened, his attention shooting skyward. Fall had moved forward a second earlier but he didn’t think that was cause for the Zigzagoon’s alarm. On top of that . . . why was he scanning the trees for . . . ? Fall’s stomach sunk, realizing only one thing could agitate a feral this way.
“We’re exposed . . .” he whispered fearfully, raking his stare slowly through the trees. Glacia seemed at sea. Turning to her, Fall said, “We need to get —”
He caught a sweeping motion above him and turned to see a huge owl dive-bombing the Zigzagoon, who noticed too late. The Zigzagoon bolted like a rocket; he almost made it to the undergrowth and safety when the Noctowl’s talons skewered flesh, piercing between its prey’s ribs for maximum hold. The family watched in horror — almost all of them screaming — while the Noctowl pecked a hole in the back of the Zigzagoon’s neck, blood splashed up with some strikes.
“RUN!” Fall yelled at his family, snatching up Rose and sprinting past the predatory bird. It had no interest in hunting anymore, fanning its wings and effortlessly transporting its lifeless meal to a thick tree branch. There it de-furred the Zigzagoon, removing clumps of fur with its beak prior to eating.
Fortune had favoured the family on this occasion . . . But what they didn’t know was another Noctowl in the vicinity was on the look for a final kill before the new day’s light, eyes glowing red using Foresight to track them. . . .
Fear for their lives drove the family on. They tore through the forest in a straight line, caution thrown to the wind, even Fall disregarding how much noise they were making; grabbing Rose so rashly had set her off crying again. Raina scrunched up her eyes and flattened herself as Fall ran under a slumping tree trunk. They twisted in and out of trees, bounding over taller plant tuffets, Glacia and Fall finding it increasingly demanding and soon simply ploughed through instead, harsh leaves smarting their faces; Fall would raise Rose to the best height he could, though sometimes plants snagged her tail and got knotted. It was when the trees began to space apart the undergrowth receded. Rainwater collected in mud puddles, leaving the soil damp at best and sludgy at worst.
Glacia, Dawn, and Simon had all been dropping further behind Fall, and when the bog did nothing to slow his pace, Glacia called out.
“Fall! This is far enough — !”
She jammed on the brakes to a scream and slosh behind her. Fall too had heard the commotion and whipped around, finding Dawn in a heap. The Eevee must have slipped, unfortunately into the dirtiest bath she’d yet taken.
“Are you okay?” said Glacia in a motherly tone, helping her sister up with a paw. Glacia saw tears building in her eyes, but, admirably, she just sniffed and nodded, humming, “Mm-hmm.”
Taking a minute to regain their breath, Simon noticed a dull, grey-blue wall of light, beyond which he could not see. Wait . . . that was . . . sunlight, he realized. Positivity re-energized him and he stood up, tail wagging. Looking back at his less-observant brothers and sisters, he started, “Glace, lookie! C’mon, let’s hur —”
What then happened made Glacia jump. In the perpetuity of a split second, she watched in a stupor the horror taking place mere feet away. A giant Noctowl had Simon in its razor-sharp claws, pressing the panicked Eevee into the mud, pecking at his dirty mane . . . a repeat of the other Noctowl’s killing technique. The bird ignored Glacia’s piercing scream and Dawn’s cry of “SIMON!” Full paralysis gripped Glacia’s body, too shocked to act —
The apex predator released Simon with a squawk, wings flailing as it stumbled backwards out of range of Fall’s short, explosive, blast of flame. Simon got to his feet, wide-eyed and gasping fast, physically and mentally examining himself for injuries. To his relief, excepting shaking like mad, he could feel nothing wrong.
“MOVE!” bellowed Fall. For the umpteenth time, he grabbed a mouthful of Rose’s scruff and forced his legs, screaming with ache, into run mode; Glacia had to bump Simon up the backside to get him to run.
Staying together, they hurried for the heavenly light promising freedom from this accursed forest, slippery mud no match for their wills. The light seemed to be taking an age to reach: Fall’s vision blurred and he felt his brain switch off, now running unthinkingly. None of them gambled speed for a glance back, even the three Eevees riding aboard Fall and Glacia daring not.
Their paws adjusted automatically to the hardening ground. Puffing and panting, the gleam in their eyes brightened growingly, white light reeling them in until they disappeared. . . .
A cool, early morning breeze riffled their fur. Barely out of the forest, Fall tripped over his own feet — Rose gave a sharp mewl as Fall bit down unintentionally — and crashed on his side; Raina was flung into a roll off of him. Fall dropped his crying baby sister with a hurting grunt. Although he had hurt Rose it was the lesser of two evils, very easily the total opposite could have happened and she would have been sent hurling, ending up like Raina and worse off.
They’d made it to the edge of a small town. Strong orange bloomed above the horizon, blending with the dreary sky; sunrise was minutes away.
Half-asleep, Ellen thought she could hear the distinctive sound of a baby crying. The old Ivysaur’s eyes opened and she pointed her head in the direction of her bedroom windows. Waking up at this time wasn’t unusual for Ellen, but what was unusual was being woken up. The Ivysaur got to her feet and walked to the edge of her empty, king sized bed. To cross the gap between the bed and an ottoman set by the curtained windows, she extended from the pale pink bud on her back two, dark green vines (one either side), pressed them to the floor, and used them to sail onto the ottoman. After using them to draw the curtains, she pulled in her vines and peered out the window.
The view from her bedroom overlooked the trees of the adjoining forest. It was a sight she was so familiar with that inappreciable differences to anyone else were as significant as a new colour scheme to her, so when she saw a group of distraught children her mouth fell open. Was she seeing this right?
“What’re —” she instinctively called to them, lifting a paw to the window and realizing at once they would never hear her.
Turning herself around, she tentatively descended the ottoman and trotted at the highest speed her old bones granted these days out the room.
“Raina!” cried Glacia, hurrying to the still Eevee’s side. “You’re gonna be fine.” It saddened Glacia these words and a quick rub of Raina’s cheek were all the comfort she could give her sister, now looking up at her with lost, brown eyes.
At Glacia’s instructions, Dawn sat cuddling Rose, shushes and head strokes gradually calming the littler Eevee, who was sobbing into Dawn’s chest.
Accompanied by Raina, Glacia jogged over to Fall. He lay where he’d landed, Simon, Summer, and Eclipse gathered around him. The first thing to grab Glacia’s attention was the Flareon’s shallowed breathing. She guessed overexertion had sped up the poison’s effects to take a drastic toll . . . She needed to find him a doctor — fast.
The tornado of panic in her head gained strength in the form of a bird screech. Six heads flew to the same Noctowl that had moments ago attacked them. It glared down on them through shrewd, narrowed eyes as it hovered, frustration in every wingbeat.
At that point, the sun broke the horizon and the owl, whom was facing it, glowed like a living beacon, marks of singed feathers on its front suddenly highlighted. Powerless to help, Fall watched as Glacia, wordlessly, took his role as protector and stepped forward, willing to lay down her life to defend her family . . . “N — n-no . . .” whispered Fall desperately.
To Fall’s horror, he saw Glacia flinch as the Noctowl launched itself into a beak-dive at her. It threw out its feet, talons wide for the kill —
Without warning, an orange blanket of sparkling powder was blown into the Noctowl’s path. The bird inhaled a lungful of the substance as it passed through in a fluster: Its wings locked up and it fell to earth with a thump.
“Children!” shouted a woman’s voice. The family promptly looked around to see their rescuer had been an aged Ivysaur. Two telltale signs of her age, Glacia noted, rested in her pink bud — much paler in value when mentally compared with most other Ivysaur Glacia had seen — and in her fronds growing outwards around the bud, all of which were shrivelled and drained of vibrancy. “My house,” the old Pokémon said with a hurried glance back at her brick home, “you’ll be safe in there.” And without waiting for their acceptance, she extended two vines, wrapped them around Fall, picked him up, and pulled him in.As his blurry world darkened, Fall heard the Ivysaur holding him say something about the senselessness of fighting when they could run, then felt himself being carried off wherever, the seven shapes of his siblings following. . . .
Bonds of Eeveelution, its characters, and text are ©MorningSunEspeonPokémon and its creatures are ©The Pokémon Company ©Nintendo ©Game Freak Inc. ©Creatures Inc.
After dinner, Jayce insisted Acacia go put her paws up in the living room and that he’d tuck the kids into bed. It didn’t come as a surprise that the Glaceon immediately stated on doing the washing up. Having none of it, Jayce made it an order she relax in front of the TV or read a book, anything provided the only necessary movement involved a comfort shift or needing a drink or snack. Reluctant to obey her Meowstic husband, Acacia at least had the task of feeding Rose before her bedtime to do, the Eevee still suckling off her mother and something Jayce could not interfere with.
As Acacia left the backroom, making for her and her husband’s bedroom where Rose slept in her cot, Jayce jumped down from his chair at the dinner table; Fall, Glacia, Dawn, Simon, and Raina all did so too, scarpering out the room in a playful clamour.
“Don’t get carried away, you guys!” Jayce called after them. “It’s already past your bedtime!”
Very suddenly, his Shiny Flareon son made a reappearance, plainly galled about something his father had just said.
“But you said I could stay up until nine o’clock now!” complained the Flareon.
“And if you take that tone with me again, young man, I’ll see to it you’re back on eight o’clock bedtimes with Glacia starting tonight,” Jayce returned strictly, and with a flinty stare.
The impact of this rebuke was immediate, for Fall’s ears flattened a little and he lowered his head. There looked to be a battle going on in his Yale Blue eyes, a battle of bitterness restrained by an instinctual deference for his father. Left feeling frustrated and foolish as Jayce turned his back on him to attend to Summer and Eclipse still in their high chairs, Fall took off in a strop for his bedroom.
With Psychic, Jayce carefully raised his Eevee son and daughter from their high chairs, levitating the pint-sized pair into his arms, Summer on his left, whom quickly snuggled against the Meowstic’s white collar of fur around his neck, and Eclipse on his right, proving to be much more of a handful than his sister, trying to climb over his father’s shoulder. At the ages of three and two, Eclipse and Summer wore nappies along with Rose; it would not be until they turned four and passed potty training they could say goodbye to wearing the cumbersome things; only the other month, Acacia passed Raina with “flying colours.”
“Right, then — sleepy time again. . . .” said Jayce softly, leaving the backroom. On his way down the hall, Eclipse kept stretching for something behind Jayce, groaning endearingly each try. Jayce looked in the corner of his eye at Eclipse and grinned; he knew his son was reaching for either of his two tails. For the remaining walk, Jayce played with Eclipse by flicking up his tails, always brushing the Eevee’s paws.
Summer and Eclipse’s bedroom door was already open when Jayce got there, but the main light was switched off, the small room partially lit by the hallway lights. Bending his left elbow, Jayce managed to flick the light switch.
“Marvellous. . . .” he mumbled, for nothing happened no matter how many times he tried the switch. “That,” he told Summer, pointing his eyes to the light shade, “is why you never buy bulbs from Daddy’s shop. Lousy cheap quality . . .” he added under his breath.
Deciding to address the problem tomorrow, the Meowstic dad again took hold of Summer with a gentle Psychic. He was about midway to settling her onto her toddler bed alongside Eclipse’s when Eclipse himself clamped a tail between his paws.
“Bad tail!” pouted the Eevee, biting the tip of his dad’s tail hard.
“Youch!” yelped Jayce, accidentally releasing Summer in his loss of focus. “AAH —”
Performing a dive he never thought possible of himself, Jayce caught Summer on his back, his landing about as lovely as being punched in the stomach by a Machop. Fully unharmed, Summer stood up.
“Dada go owie?” the little Eevee asked with an adorable tilt of the head. With a sigh, her father confirmed, “Dada went owie. . . .”
Eclipse was not hurt in the dive, Jayce’s tail pulling him over his back when he dived. He did not seem to have even noticed, busy tearing into the fluff of Jayce’s tail with puppy-like growls.
Summer slipped off Jayce’s back, but her brother’s parting was less dignified, somersaulting onto his backside as his father returned to his feet. Evidently ruffled, Jayce stroked his tail — mostly to rub the pain, rather than to groom it — then gave putting his kids to bed a second attempt, nothing interrupting his psychic powers this time and seeing him successful.
“Now,” said Jayce, an exhausted smile fitting his voice. He approached the wall socket between Eclipse’s and Summer’s beds. “Nightlight on.” He flipped the switch, and a mollifying white light helped illuminate the room. Hopping up onto Eclipse’s bed with a small grunt of effort, he said, “Goodnight kiss,” and planted a kiss on his son’s forehead.
“Goodnight, Dad,” the Eevee said, letting his head go limp and shutting his eyes.
Jayce jumped across to Summer’s bed and gave her a kiss also. “Sleep tight, precious. . . .” he murmured to a drowsy yawn of his daughter.
“’Night, Dada. . . .”
With that, Jayce dropped to the floor, mentally drew the curtains — the edges glowed a light blue — which shut together in synchronization with his closing paws, and left the room, leaving the door ajar.
When Jayce finally stored the last plate away it was nearing ten o’clock. He could hardly believe how long it had taken to put his children to bed. Granted Fall no longer needed tucking in — and would surely rebuff any offer Jayce made to do so, if the Flareon’s current mood was anything to go by — and Rose had already been sorted by Acacia, it didn’t make the job of doing six other children any less harder. Not even to mention having to read Dawn and Simon a bedtime story!
Throwing the damp tea towel down onto the worktop, Jayce puffed a loud breath and leapt down onto the kitchen floor, turning off the light on his way out. Acacia was lying on the three seater sofa in the living room, leaning back against a large cushion, wedged between the sofa back and an armrest, while she watched a movie on TV: She was on a romance scene between the Nidoking protagonist and his Nidoqueen love interest when the entrance of her, rather weary, Meowstic husband captured her attention. He shuffled across to her, climbed onto the sofa, and laid back between her sprawled hind legs, the back of his head resting on her tummy. Unknowingly lying on the Glaceon’s tail, Acacia snuck a paw under him to move it; she then set the same paw on his white tuft of head fur and began stroking him, both adults watching the movie.
“You put everything away properly?” Acacia asked casually.
“Yes,” said Jayce lazily, but then his eyes shot to the ceiling in a frown. “No . . . Maybe. . . . Oh it’s away, what does it matter. . . . And is there any movie that guy hasn’t been in yet?” he demanded, scowling at the television, but Acacia knew it was out of nervousness to change the subject.
“What guy?” she asked, continuing to run her paw toes through his head fur.
“Him! What’s his face — Jam Jolley . . . ?”
“Jan Judd, dear.”
“Yeah ’im! ’E’s full of himself — more in love with his muscles than he is with her. Honestly, what do women see in him?”
“A reckless studmuffin who doesn’t live by the rules . . .” said Acacia dreamily, though Jayce was too immersed in his rant to hear her.
“Pfft, he ain’t so tough,” Jayce was scoffing. “Yeah,” he said, throwing his paws out as though punching an invisible punching bag, “I could ’ave him. Give ’im the ole hook and jab . . .”
Acacia rolled her eyes. “Sure you could, hun. . . .”
“See!” said Jayce, pointing a paw at the television. “This is what I can’t stand about his movies.” The Nidoqueen had wrapped her arms around the Nidoking and was pulling him toward a huge canopy bed, snogging, Jayce thought, outrageously. “As if any woman would behave that way!”
“Oh I don’t know . . .” said Acacia slowly, her smile and tone hinting suggestively. She stretched her limbs, taking in and expelling a noseful of air. “How er . . . how tired are you?”
“Hmm?” said Jayce, giving her a glance over his shoulder. “Oh, very,” he answered, obviously not thinking much of her question, for he was already back to the screen.
Acacia wasn’t very impressed with this reply.
“Let me ask that again,” she said irritably. “How . . .” she began, slipping a paw to the Meowstic’s tummy and rubbing there in a circular motion, “tired are you?”
Jayce’s eyes fell to his wife’s paw, then he glanced again at her, recognizing the desire in her sly smile.
“Y’know all of a sudden . . .” he said, turning on his front and sliding up so they were face-to-face with each other, Jayce lying on top of her. “I feel wide awake.”
“Care to prove it . . . ?” enticed Acacia.
She had been ready to kiss him as he inched closer, but he feinted below her, instead kissing her neck; progressing to her chest, Acacia had to restrain soft moans to breathe, “Not here . . . The kids might hear us. . . .”
Moving up, Jayce kissed her passionately on the lips. “Bed?” he asked, his heart thumping as heavily as Acacia’s. She nodded.
The dark and quiet of midnight reigned over Appleage, the only source of light coming from porch lights left on by some of the hamlet’s residents — Mrs. Valenti’s a given to be left on until sunup — and the only noise that of the forest’s rustling leaves. All were snoozing in the McNeil household. All . . . save for one girl. . . .
The creaking of the master bedroom door temporarily broke the silence, a shadowy figure creeping inside.
“Mum?” came a soft whisper. “Mummy?”
Acacia stirred with a groan, groggily opening her eyes. “Mummy?” repeated the voice of Glacia.
“What is it, honey?” said the mother Glaceon concernedly, tiredness causing her to yawn.
“I had a bad dream . . .” Glacia whimpered. “Can . . . can I sleep with you and Dad tonight?”
“Of course you can, sweetheart. Just keep it down; Rose is sleeping.”
Being careful not to wake her sister asleep in her cot, Glacia jumped onto her parents’ double bed, stepped over Acacia, and got under the duvet between her parents, poking her head up from it a second or so later. The commotion had awoken Jayce.
“What are you doing?” he groaned, turning on his side to look at the two Glaceons.
“Glacia’s had a nightmare,” Acacia explained, spooned with her daughter underneath the duvet and hugging her. Jayce just rubbed his eyes.
“I’m getting a drink. . . .” he yawned. Turning away from them, he lifted up the duvet and dropped out of bed.
“Bring us back some orange squash, please, babe,” requested Acacia, and Jayce stopped at the door, placing a paw on the doorframe in annoyance.
“Dad, can you get me a glass of water?” Glacia asked before he could even complete another step; Jayce’s answer was a loud, frustrated sniff and expelling of air. “Dad’s mad at me, isn’t he?” she fretted once sure he was out of earshot.
“Now don’t be silly,” said Acacia consolingly, kissing her on the head. “Dad’s just grumpy because he’s gotta be up in six hours. So what’d you have nightmares about?”
Jayce stood on the kitchen worktop, staring at his tired reflection made in the black window. Not thinking of very much, he finished his glass of water and set about making up the Glaceons’ drinks. He was filling up a glass of squash with water when, without the faintest whisper of a warning, an explosion sounding close startled him; he dropped the glass, which smashed in the ceramic sink.
“What in the world. . . .” His voice trailed off. Peering into the darkness, he saw a strange, orange radiance not that far away; the radiance seemed to be trapped or blocked behind something, for a large, black, triangular shape obscured Jayce’s view of the orange glow’s source. But only a moment later, that source revealed itself. . . . Fire spread around the black shape, which Jayce could now see was actually the Tompkins family’s home, flames rapidly engulfing it. . . .
But the flames also revealed something else: Three Pokémon Jayce did not know were walking up the forest path into the hamlet, the trees behind them a menacing sight, bathed in orange and shadows. He saw the three stop off to the right of the Tompkins’ bungalow, just within range of the fire’s light. The biggest appeared to be conveying something to his fellows —
“Keep attacking until that cop shows himself,” Vasco instructed Sven and Nash, his expression cold and dogged. “If he doesn’t, start killing. Compel him.”
Screaming inside the bungalow turned the Tyranitar’s and Toxicroak brothers’ heads. There was a sudden smashing of a window on the other side of the bungalow, followed by a male’s panicked yell: “Jump, boys! Claire, you too, hurry!”
Two adult Manectrics rounded the bungalow with their two Electrike sons, stopping fifty yards away, the Electric types gasping wildly. “Are you both all right?” the Manectric dad asked his sons, lowering to their levels.
The Electrikes nodded timorously; although heavily shaken up, they were otherwise fine. Then sobbing. Their Manectric mother held a paw to her mouth, tears sparkling at the heart-wrenching sight of her family’s burning home.
“O-o-our . . . h-h-home. . . .” she choked, very near the point of hysteria.
Fury flashed in her Manectric partner’s eyes and he glared at the three strangers, always aware they had been present.
“DID YOU DO THIS?” he roared at them, breathing hard through his mouth. None answered his demand, and when he stepped forward — hackles high and sparks of electricity fizzling — threatening them verbally, Vasco returned the step, silently daring the Manectric to give it his best shot.
“Pearce . . .” came his wife’s weak, wholly frightened voice. “Pearce, please . . . let’s just run. . . .”
“I’d listen to the lady if I were you,” sneered Nash, smirking confidently.
It seemed to take all of his will but Pearce backed up snarling; ripping his glare from the strangers, he hastened for the path out of Appleage with his family.
By now, occupants of the closest bungalows had massed by windows to see what was happening. Vasco saw heads duck or shift aside on inspecting, the species he sought eluding him.
“Find that Scyther,” he told Nash and Sven. “When you do, kill him.” Directing his attention to the flaming bungalow, he fired a ground-shaking Hyper Beam, brick, glass, and flame hurled in all directions from the resultant explosion; Nash and Sven threw their arms up to shield their faces, but Vasco kept collected; a window of the nearest bungalow smashed inwards and a terrified scream rung into the air. The Tyranitar clomped off in search of the Scyther. “Tonight the law will know whose name not to fuck with. . . .”
Still recovering from the explosion that was much too close for comfort, Nash and Sven watched him go. Nash was first to compose himself.
“Well you heard him,” he said to his brother. “Take the south side,” he instructed, holding out his left arm, “I’ll cover west. Move it!”
Jayce hadn’t the smallest clue what these strangers wanted here. All he knew was they were dangerous individuals . . . dangerous individuals apparently on the hunt for something . . . or someone. . . . Whatever it might be, it was bringing the Toxicroak Nash this way. . . .
He flattened himself back against the wall and used Psychic to switch off the light, his breathing beyond control. This had to be some kind of horrible nightmare — it had to be! But the horrifying coils of reality tightened further around his chest at Rose’s crying. . . .
“Dad!” said an alarmed voice, and Jayce tilted his head to see Fall standing just outside the kitchen. “What’s happening?”
Jayce’s legs were trembling so badly he felt weak. “We’re . . . we’re under attack . . .” he breathed.
Fall started hyperventilating, a child’s worst terror alive in his eyes. “Wha — what . . . ?”
Jayce very tentatively dropped to the tiled floor, his legs failing under him. He crawled a few feet toward his son before minimum strength in his legs let him stand up and shamble. Leaning into the hallway wall he flicked the switch for the lights, his every instinct telling him to hide in the dark.
“One’s coming this way . . .” panted Jayce. He seized the Flareon’s left foreleg, and Fall’s breathing eased slightly as he looked his father in the eye. “Listen to me and help get Dawn and Simon into our room. . . .”
“C-can’t we run?”
The hearts of both father and son jumped a single beat harder than all before it, for a second explosion quaked the floor; utensils hung up in the kitchen chimed, but none fell; a plant on the hallway windowsill rocked precariously. There was a loud thump from the living room and Jayce guessed the television had fallen down. Wails of muffled terror percolated through the walls — more neighbours were fleeing.
“It’s safer if we hide,” Jayce told Fall. “Lay low in our bedroom and hope they think no one’s in . . .”
“I’m going to try and find Officer Sutton for help,” Jayce pressed. Truthfully, the idea had only just come to him. Right now he needed Fall’s cooperation, and at once the false reassurance made him that less hesitant about hiding. “Please . . . will you give me a paw with the others?”
“. . . Okay,” Fall nodded after a moment.
In semi-darkness Jayce and Fall worked to move the Eevees to their mother and sisters in the master bedroom. When Fall arrived at Simon and Dawn’s room, the Eevees were standing on their hind paws at the window, their heads hidden behind the curtains, watching helplessly as fire slowly destroyed their home.
“Get down from the window!” hissed Fall, darting to them and yanking Simon away by his tail, doing so with his mouth. Dawn glanced over her left shoulder and peeped her head under the curtains to look at Fall before dropping down.
“Fall . . . what’s . . . ?” she whispered fearfully.
“Bad men are attacking us!” Fall explained.
“B-bad men . . . ?” repeated the girl Eevee, her little body shaking.
“Wh-what are they g-gonna do to us . . . ?”
Fall looked at Simon. The brother he saw before him, trembling and scared, was a complete shadow of his usual perky self.
“Nothing if I can help it, little brother,” Fall answered his question, setting a paw on his cheek. “Come on. We need to get to Mum and Dad’s room. . . .”
Jayce did not find Raina in her and Glacia’s room like expected, instead finding her huddled together with Eclipse and Summer in the corner furthest from the window of their room.
“P-please don’t cry. . . .” Jayce tried feebly to calm them, a loveless embrace dispelling zero fear. He very quickly abandoned this approach, saving as much time as he could by moving them with Psychic.
Upon releasing Raina, Eclipse, and Summer onto the carpet of his bedroom, Jayce immediately closed the door and turned the lights off. The whole family was now here. Crying for their mother, the Eevees Jayce brought in hurried to Acacia, who was sitting down and cradling a crying Rose in her forelegs.
“Shh, shh, shh, babies . . .” Acacia whispered. “As long as I’m here I’m not going to let anything happen to you. . . . Jayce — Jayce, we can’t stay here . . .”
“We are not going out there!” Jayce suddenly snarled at her, silencing his children. Whether it was out of paranoia, he went back to listening for movement in the house, his left ear pressed to the door. “It’s too dangerous. . . .” he said quietly.
“Mummy, I’m scared . . .” snivelled Raina.
“Be brave, sweetheart,” Acacia told her, worry intensifying on the mother Glaceon’s face. “Jayce . . .” she persisted, “if those men are destroying Appleage we’re sitting ducks here!”
Jayce’s eyes sunk to the dark floor in fleeting contemplation.
“Can’t you shut her up?” he growled as he concentrated again on listening, sounding increasingly desperate. Rose’s bawling was bound to betray their whereabouts with that Toxicroak skulking close by, but without Acacia covering the Eevee cub’s mouth she would not quieten.
Fall frowned angrily at this. He was about to bring up something when his mother said, “Fall, can you get Rose’s dummy from my bedside table?”
Fall obeyed, jumping onto the bed to take the dummy in his mouth. He jumped down beside her and Acacia took it from him with a free paw. To Jayce’s relief, Rose quickly settled, sucking innocently on her dummy.
“What about Officer Sutton?” Fall asserted, frowning at Jayce.
The Meowstic went stock-still, eyes widening slightly with dread. He saw heads rounding his way but dared not meet them.
“You said you were getting help,” the Flareon continued, and there was an accusatory growl present in his voice.
“Jayce . . . ?” said Acacia, when he didn’t reply.
“Y-yeah,” Jayce said, struggling for confidence, at last turning to acknowledge his family.
Acacia’s lips flickered in a hopeful smile. If there was one person in this world she could rely body and soul — a single friend to trust her faith in — it would only ever be her true love . . . the Meowstic she married. . . . She knew she could always count on her husband to protect her and their children. . . .
“Be . . . be careful, all right?” she breathed worriedly. “If something happens we’ll get to town and wait for you . . .”
“I’ll go with Dad,” said Fall resolutely, stepping forward.
“Fall McNeil,” admonished Acacia, “you will stay put.”
“But, Mum, I can help!” he stated. “I’m big enough. You can’t stop me —”
“Do as your mother says, Fall,” Jayce interposed. Fall did not argue further, sullenly averting his head. “Keep quiet and hang tight . . . I won’t be long. . . .”
“I love you,” Acacia told him as he opened the door.
“I love you too . . .” Jayce said back. “All of you. . . .”
Closing the door, Jayce streaked across the hallway as silently as he could, net curtains aglow from the spreading fires and providing sufficient lighting. He hurried past the front door with no intention of using it; he would sneak out the kitchen’s back door. It was after getting a couple of feet into the kitchen he stopped, a realization hitting him. He did not have to go out there and endanger himself. If he waited long enough here how would his family know different? And anyway, Officer Sutton was one Scyther — to fight three dangerous Pokémon alone would be practically suicide. . . . Furthermore, he was a family man who had a wife and kid to protect . . . chances were, if he hadn’t already, he would cut his losses and flee with them to safety. . . .
Yes, he told himself, he would give himself ten or so minutes and then return to Acacia. That ought to be adequate time to convince her he could not find Douglas —
A trying of the door handle startled him out of his thoughts. He felt his heart dip — splinters exploded at him with a sharp bash as a long, red claw stabbed through the thick wooden door between the handle and the latch, making him jump out of his skin. The door began to creak as the claw twisted, a harsh force wrenching to open it though the lock was holding . . . for now.
Hardly able to mute his breathing, Jayce crept into a careful retreat, spinning around into a run on reaching the hallway. Controlled by panic, he ripped open a storage cupboard, disappeared inside of it, and shut himself away. He strained his ears to the same sound of wood groaning — then a snap that told him the lock had been broken. This fear was confirmed when he heard the kitchen door ease open. . . . They were in. . . .
“Head to town!” Douglas was instructing a terrified resident. “Inform Sergeant Keegan at the police station Appleage is under siege. She’ll send reinforcements.” His neighbour gave a nervous nod then scarpered into the trees.
Douglas’s home rested on the southernmost edge of the hamlet, so far avoiding fire and destruction. Other houses blocked off view of the main fire (started by Vasco’s original attack) from here, however an immense red-orange glow climbed high above the roofs, a roaring blaze on the night’s wind, and smoke drowning the air. He did not know who was behind this atrocious attack, or what possible motive they could have had for wanting to destroy a community that had bothered nobody. Gazing at the warm radiance, he was determined to get some answers.
“Douglas . . . ?” said his Scyther wife, laying flat the tip of her left scythe on his right shoulder to grab his attention. She was a few inches shorter than her mate, her abdomen size a keen eye’s clue she was a female; the abdomen of a female Scyther — together with its evolution, Scizor — was more pronounced than that of a male’s. Hugging the back of her leg was her young Scyther son, his head resting on her thigh. His exoskeleton was a lighter shade of green through preadolescence and not as hardened like his parents’. “There’s nothing else you can do,” the mother Scyther went on in an agitated plea.
She glanced around, her nerves scarcely, if at all, calmed at finding no immediate danger. “Doug, for God’s sake we need to go!”
“All right, listen,” said Douglas, turning around to his small family. “I want you to go ahead of me . . .”
His words hadn’t left his mouth two seconds before his wife started shaking her head, her expression suddenly grim and unblinking. “No. No, you’re not doing this to us. . . .”
“Whoever’s doing this could be long gone before the lads get here,” Douglas contended. “Even a glimpse of them would help greatly. And you know without any evidence I can’t make any arrests.”
“Can’t you forget you’re a policeman and come with us? Please . . . ?” asked the little Scyther naïvely.
Douglas shook his head sadly.
“It’s not as simple as that,” he told him gently. “I have a duty to uphold the law . . . some day you will understand. . . . I promise I’m gonna be right behind you,” he told his wife, looking into her teary, defeated eyes. “Five minutes tops . . .”
“I wouldn’t count on it,” came a low, croaky voice, and the Scyther family turned to see a Toxicroak stepping around the corner of a neighbour’s house. He stopped and stared at them, the red vocal sac below his chin slowly inflating and deflating. “See, the dead tend to rot in graves, Officer Sutton. . . .”
“Go,” Douglas whispered to his family, not taking his sights off Sven, “get out of here — now!”
“D-Dad . . .” he heard his son choke; her voice unrecognizably weak with anguish, his wife encouraged him along and the pair’s paced footsteps diminished in a rustling of bushes.
Douglas and Sven moved toward the open space between the bungalows, striding in a wide circle as they sized the other up.
“You should never have meddled in our business, cop,” said Sven disdainfully.
“Don’t make me do anything you’ll regret,” Douglas said calmly. “Surrender now and no harm will come to yourself or your associates, this I give you my word.”
Sven gave a dark chuckle.
“Not the same without your backup buddies, is it?” he derided. Making a V-sign with two fingers, he continued, “Two weeks you locked my brother up. . . . Two weeks I had to let him suffer. . . .”
Douglas recalled earlier in the week an attack on the police station in the city he and his undercover team had prevented a jewellery heist. That was three weeks ago, and the operation went anything but smoothly. Up until mere hours prior to moving in on the criminals, their species remained unknown: had a Tyranitar not been among them Douglas would have made the call to intervene without doubt. But there was, and the pressure of time required him to act post-haste. In the end his final decision came down to favourable numbers — his six to their three. That wasn’t enough to stop Vasco and Sven escaping — the Tyranitar’s Hyper Beam causing thousands in damage — although Douglas did manage to bring Nash into custody. But now the Toxicroak had been broken out of his prison cell at the station, apparently by Sven and Vasco.
“So that’s what this is about,” said Douglas as they looped tensely. “Revenge. Your brother never spoke, but I suspect you three are behind every jewellery heist the past couple of years. What I did was nothing personal. It is my duty to protect the decent, hard-working Pokémon of Tavolous from lowlife scum who don’t give a damn about how much hurt they cause, so long as they get what they want.”
Sven stopped and so did Douglas.
“Let’s see what colour bug blood is. . . .” muttered Sven with a homicidal grin.
Like swords scraping, Douglas raised his sharp, fearsome scythes and took up a battle position. Sven charged with lightning-quick speed, swinging and stabbing his tough knuckle claws as though wielding daggers, Douglas using his scythes defensively to block each attack, a metallic clang every time claw met scythe. Right now, Sven had the advantage, pushing Douglas back and not leaving an opening in which Douglas could use to make some breathing space or retaliate.
Crossing his scythes to protect an eye being poked out, Douglas left his body defenceless and was jarred in the stomach by a kick that sent him stumbling back. Sven spat a blob of disgusting, brown-coloured sludge at him, which he ducked under; the Sludge Bomb hit the ground nearby and exploded. As though underarming something, Douglas swung his left scythe and shied a spinning saw disc of pure white energy at his foe; the momentum of hurling another, more powerful Air Slash with his right scythe carried him all the way upright. Sven completely underestimated the speed of the second Air Slash, which overtook the first he had been focusing on, diverting his attention in a blunder that cost a painful double Air Slash price.
Holding out his hands, dark purple whorls fired as beams from Sven’s palms. The Dark Pulse struck Douglas on the cheek as he turned to dodge and he staggered. Sven was already following his attack up, keeping low as he dashed at Douglas, a hand claw glowing purple. Douglas saw him coming and raised a scythe, ready to bring down and slice the Toxicroak’s head in two but he flinched — he roared in agony as Sven thrust his Poison Jab claw into his chest, enough force puncturing his rigid exoskeletal armour and red blood spilling down the back of Sven’s hand. Douglas lugged his left scythe around in a heavy roundhouse, but Sven drew clear of the deadly weapon.
The size of the wound was not as concerning as how deeply it had pierced. You didn’t need to be an expert on Toxicroaks to know they were a highly venomous species. Douglas remembered reading somewhere the smallest scratch from their claws could result in excruciating pain for days, and that the venom if injected directly into the bloodstream, via a stab wound exactly like this, was potent enough to kill a Pokémon of Douglas’s size in as little as one hour. . . .
But clearly that was too long a wait, because Sven ran at Douglas again, engaging him in another fierce claw-to-scythe fight. Occasionally, Sven would land a hit, cutting at Douglas’s exposed abdomen enough times to split the armour and hack at the vulnerable flesh, blood dotting the ground. In the unrelenting assault, Douglas was beginning to feel light-headed; sustained swift movements demanded a racing heart, therefore pumping the venom even faster throughout his body. . . . He had to end this . . . now.
In a sudden reversal, Douglas had dug his foot claws into the ground and swung a scythe down — Sven made an X with his claws, only just able to resist the impact; the scythe sliced halfway through the claw of solid bone and got stuck. Before Sven could pull free, Douglas whumped him in the head with a turning kick; he pitched and hit the dirt hard. Next second Sven glanced over his shoulder at Douglas, saliva foaming in an aggressive, threatening growl. Scrambling wildly to his feet, Sven pelted at full tilt for the Scyther, bellowing in rage. Their weapons clashed together like a sword fight to the death. Sven’s damaged claw snapped off in his frenzied attack but it didn’t stop him, lobbing punches alternatively while still using his left claw to stab and slash with —
Parrying another slash with his left scythe, Douglas seized the strike opportunity and swung his right scythe down, chopping Sven’s claw hand clean off. Sven screamed out but was quickly silenced as Douglas stabbed his left scythe through his stomach, piercing out his back. Douglas watched regretfully as Sven spluttered blood, life ebbing from his eyes . . .
Sven dropped to his knees. Douglas, gravely injured and gasping, withdrew his blood-soaked scythe with a slow, sickening squelch — Sven collapsed on his side and breathed his last, eyes staring.
Douglas staggered toward his house, leaving the Toxicroak’s body in a growing pool of his own blood. He got a few feet before pain impossible to describe brought him down, he dug his scythes — completely covered in scratches — into the soil with a groan of exhaustion. But he would not give up on himself . . . not when he had two things in this world to live for. He willed his legs to move on.
Reaching the outside wall of his house, he sunk his scythes into the brickwork, making a gentle clinking as he followed it round to the front side of the house. Facing the wall and taking no notice of his surroundings, Douglas found the front door. He had just set a scythe on it to open it when a noise behind him made him turn with a gasp —
A weighty, rock-hard, swinging tail whammed him across the face with such force he was sent flying, slamming onto his chest on the cold hard ground. For a moment he just lay there, nothing working, everything spinning. He felt more than one thing loose in his mouth and spat out three teeth sticky with blood and saliva, seeing them as a blur. His head pounded worse than any migraine. Vibrations in the ground caused by stomps warned Douglas whoever attacked him was approaching . . .
Aching all over, he rolled away in the nick of time, Vasco’s foot crushing his teeth instead of his head. Douglas struggled to his feet, real fear crossing his face as he looked up at the Tyranitar giant. Vasco closed in, limiting Douglas to a single, horrifying option. There would be no talking it out with him, there was nowhere to hide, and Douglas hadn’t the energy to outrun him . . . He’d have to fight for his life . . . no matter how bleak his chances. . . .
Charging with all the strength he could muster, Douglas swung both his scythes into Vasco’s side. It barely made a scrape in his armour. Vasco simply glared down at him, empty of emotion. Then, he grabbed the Scyther in a strangling hold, lifting him effortlessly to face height. Douglas immediately began kicking him in the stomach, his claws bending inwards or breaking against Vasco’s indestructible body.
“Pathetic,” sneered Vasco.
Lashing out at a speed Vasco carelessly misconstrued, Douglas slashed his tormentor straight across the face, proving to be far less protected. Vasco roared in pain as flesh split apart across his mouth; he released Douglas, whose legs crumpled upon hitting the ground.
Now was Douglas’s chance. Getting to his feet, he limped off toward the trees as fast as his drained body would allow — a barrage of pointed rocks jabbed him in the back, bringing him down again. No fight left in him, he turned on his back, choking on gasps as he watched Vasco approach. Vasco raised a foot and Douglas could not even complete a scream before he crushed the Scyther’s face, adding pressure until the bug’s head splattered in a stomach-churning goo of blood and brains. . . .
Acacia inherited her grandmother’s necklace when she passed almost twenty years ago. From her Eevee days she wore and cherished it, never letting it get dirty if she could help it. Her mother had told her when she was a cub on her grandmother’s visits she liked to play with the necklace, swiping at it like a kitten with a dangling toy. It was part of her . . . rivalled only by her wedding ring.
“Here . . .” she said to Glacia, who watched her lift the necklace above her head. “I was going to give you this on your tenth birthday . . . but in case anything happens. . . .”
She needed no further words for Glacia to understand, slipping the beautiful snowflake necklace over her daughter’s head. The smaller Glaceon did not know what to say.
“My grandma,” Acacia said, “used to tell me when we miss someone to ‘remember, but never look back. . . .’”
A noise inside the house put the whole family on high alert.
“Was that Dad?” whispered Glacia fearfully, as her younger siblings huddled right up to their mum.
Sure, Acacia thought, it could very well have been Jayce, but a whine of panic in her head told her to hide.
“Quickly!” she whispered to them, “Everyone inside the closet!”
Fall opened the closet, which was built into the wall Acacia and Jayce’s bed faced away from and was big enough for the whole family. The Eevees and Glacia hurried inside; Acacia followed carrying Rose by the scruff, the Eevee still sucking on her dummy. Fall stepped in too and pulled the door shut, grey stripes of light flowing in through the door louvres.
Acacia encouraged her children to quieten their breathing. She didn’t know how much time passed in silence, every unchanging second making her more and more anxious. Then, terror feasted itself on her heart . . . She heard the bedroom door open. . . .
Nash entered cautiously. For a moment he seemed ready to go, but for whatever reason he switched the light on; the room was just as empty lit as it was dark, yet he made it his business to walk around scrutinizing. . . .
The Eevee family kept very quiet, not even fidgeting. If Lady Luck was smiling on them the intruder would be satisfied nobody was here and leave. But she wasn’t. In an instant of misfortune, Rose dropped her dummy, letting out an upset cry . . .
Nearly tearing the door off its hinges, Nash uncovered the scared family.
“Well, well . . .” he grinned, “what have we here?”
Fall got between his family and the Toxicroak and crouched down, hackles and tail raised to look as big and threatening as possible. “L-leave us alone!” he growled, wishing his body would stop shaking.
Nash chuckled derisively at the young Flareon.
“Play grown-ups elsewhere, junior,” he said nastily, toe taps to Fall’s face shunting him away.
“Get off him — !” began Acacia furiously, but yelped as a backhand stung her cheek. Some of the Eevees cried for their mother in terrified concern.
“Fucking shut up!” Nash roared at them, setting Rose off bawling.
Summer, Dawn, and Eclipse bunched together behind the forelegs of their sitting Glaceon sister, her body offering solace while they snivelled helplessly; Raina and Simon hid behind Fall’s hind legs, looking up at Nash also through watery eyes. Scooping Rose up in her forepaws, Glacia calmed her baby sister by giving her back her dummy, cradling her as Acacia would. Already scared enough, she noticed the Toxicroak eyeing her new necklace and tried to avoid his disturbing gaze.
“Please . . .” breathed Acacia, “d-don’t hurt my babies. . . .”
Nash knelt down to her, his face a foot from hers.
“Talk out of turn again and she’ll,” he nodded to Glacia, “be next. . . . Now that we understand each other, there’s a copper who lives around here — a Scyther. Tell me where he is and I won’t have to hurt you.”
Movement at the bedroom door behind Nash caught Acacia’s eye: Jayce brought a paw to his mouth before sneaking into the room, creeping up on the Toxicroak . . .
She blenched when a knuckle claw lightly touched her cheek, returning her attention to Nash. “Bitch, where — is — he?” demanded Nash impatiently.
“Wh-what do you w-want with Douglas?” stammered Acacia, stalling dangerously for time; she was punished by another, harder, backhand, her lip now bleeding.
“Keep going and you won’t recognize yourself in the mirror,” said Nash. “I’ll ask one more — ARGH!”
Someone had leapt onto his back and was clawing at his face.
“Get away from my wife, you bastard!” Jayce yelled.
Nash staggered backwards, eyes shut for protection whilst trying to grab the Meowstic. Acacia and her children rushed out of the closet just when Nash found a grip on Jayce’s paw, he threw him into a wall, Jayce banging the back of his head and dropping to the floor groaning.
“No!” Acacia fired an Ice Beam at Nash, the attack like an ice-cold kick in the ribs. Infuriated, Nash grabbed her by the throat and slammed her against the wall; the girls screamed, none of the young Pokémon strong enough to help their parents.
“Slut, that’s it!” spat Nash. He turned away from the wall and slammed her onto the floor. Within full sight of Jayce and her children, Nash held Acacia’s forepaws down and said, “You like spreading your legs, right? Well I gotta big ‘treat’ for ya . . .”
“PLEASE, NO!” begged Acacia, tears coursing down her face. “Not in front of my kids!”
“Tough,” he remorselessly forced, slinking to her midriff and running a horrible tongue over her.
She grimaced; a finger went in somewhere it shouldn’t’ve, violating her. “Don’t look, sweethearts!” she sobbed, and her kids closed their eyes at once, looking away or burying their faces in their paws, confused and crying.
Jayce tried to press himself up, but tiny white dots flew randomly across his vision. In his dizzied state he could do nothing more than watch this Toxicroak sexually abuse his wife. . . .
A crunching of brickwork inside the house stunned the whole group of Pokémon, all of them looking towards the door as though their lives were in danger. Nash had a good idea whom it was making the floor tremor, and the rasping of the ceiling all but confirmed his suspicion. Vasco appeared outside the door, his right foot claws smeared with blood. Too large to fit through, he stooped under the door frame and forced his way in, shattering plasterboard as though it wasn’t even there; the door, taking half the frame and some wall with it, fell with a whomp, blowing a draught in Jayce’s face. The large spike protruding out the back of Vasco’s head didn’t clear the ceiling as he straightened to full and overawing height.
“Not interrupting, am I?” he said, glaring at Nash, ignorant of the afeard stares.
“What — what happened to you?” Nash asked, getting off Acacia to stand up.
The Shiny Glaceon rolled onto her side, facing her children. Her eyes were robbed entirely of emotion, staring at the carpet, left damaged and shaking. She felt defiled . . . used . . . weak . . . her body a plaything for the lusts of men such as Nash. . . . Fall hoped his warm, soft embrace would somehow make his mother better, but he might as well be a Ghost-type for all the comfort he was.
Vasco wiped a runnel of blood from the diagonal laceration covering his mouth.
“The Scyther’s brains are worm food,” he said uncaringly, and Acacia flipped over to look up at him, horror quick to return to her.
Nash cursed, livid he played no part in killing the cop who imprisoned him. “What’s the bet that dolt’s still lookin’ for ’im?” he scoffed casually, referring to his brother. “He is all right, yeah . . . ?” he asked with uncertainty, when Vasco did not reply.
Nash’s insides started to sink, for, maybe the first time since meeting him, a scruple of sadness evinced itself on Vasco’s expression.
“Got himself killed,” Vasco said far from sympathetically. “Scythe clean through the gut . . .” He lightly shook his head. “Nothing I could’ve done. . . .”
While Vasco was explaining, Jayce carefully used Psychic on the bedroom window to unlatch it, getting ready to push it open when he made his escape. With the Tyranitar’s back to him and the Toxicroak staring blankly at the floor, neither noticed the window handle move on its own . . . but Acacia and Fall did . . .
Directing all his efforts on freedom a room’s length away, Jayce scrambled to his feet, jumped over Vasco’s tail, and, ignoring Nash’s yell of “Oi!” leapt onto the windowsill. Devastated at what they were seeing, his wife and son watched him. It was only when Acacia screamed the Meowstic looked round to see her being manhandled; Fall scratched at every part of Nash he could reach, his cuts merely stinging the frog’s leg. Kicking him into submission, Nash clasped the back of Acacia’s head and dragged her back into his control, constraining any resistance by pressing a knuckle claw to her throat.
“You step out that window, and I kill her. . . .” threatened Nash, those evil yellow eyes flicking from Jayce to Acacia.
Jayce looked Acacia deep in her sapphire eyes, a pleading in them. Time itself slowed unendurably while he swept his children a last, ashamed look, his heart drubbing furiously against his ribs. He couldn’t help them . . . his family were good as dead. . . . At least he could save himself . . .It did not matter how fast he pushed open the window and jumped — regret stabbed at his conscience. He ran. Underbrush twigs whipped him, bristly plants and sticks pricked his feet like needles, and harsh bushes caught scratches of him. Swiftly, the forest devoured Appleage, the pain of countless daggers hurting so badly he wished them on any other part of his body . . . just not his heart. . . .
Bonds of Eeveelution, its characters, and text are ©MorningSunEspeonPokémon and its creatures are ©The Pokémon Company ©Nintendo ©Game Freak Inc. ©Creatures Inc.
Apart from the lads — Fall and Eclipse also doing their own things around the leisure centre — everyone was enjoying the swimming pools. Even Summer, who wasn’t the biggest fan of water, braved constant dips to stay with Lilah, who, in total contrast with Fall, liked water and swimming.
Nearing two hours of swim time, Summer and Lilah were talking at the edge of the main pool, the girls’ bodies submerged, staying afloat by laying their forelegs flat on the tiled flooring. Lilah grinned, almost not conscious to Summer speaking, a mischievousness in her urging to pull a prank on the Espeon . . .
“Look,” the Ninetales said, nodding to something behind Summer. “Another Vaporeon.”
Summer spun her head around. Indeed there was another Vaporeon, a male, going by their slightly bigger frame compared with Raina’s, happily jumping into the same pool as herself.
“Guess it’s rare to see two in one day,” she had to say loudly amid the noisy murmurings filling the stuffy air.
Eevee and its evolutions weren’t native to Tavolous, meaning crossing any one of the species in the street was not very likely.
When Summer looked back her Ninetales friend had vanished. “Lilah?” She felt someone grab her feet, then, before she could gasp fully, got pulled under —
Water resonated a low rumbling in her ears straight away. It stung Summer’s eyes to open them, but through squinting she saw Lilah’s blurry face grinning at her. The friends surfaced together, Lilah in a small fit of laughter, Summer gulping recovery breaths.
“Sorry,” Lilah tittered, her smile losing little vigour. “I couldn’t help myself. . . .”
Summer wanted to retort the vixen wasn’t nearly as sorry as she was going to be after a quick dunking. . . . But the gap between imagining and actually doing it was more like a yawning chasm. She didn’t feel as though she knew Lilah enough to do something like that — obviously Lilah had more confidence than she did to have pulled her prank. Summer just smiled at her.
“So this is where you two have been,” said Glacia’s voice, and Summer and Lilah turned their heads to look up at the Glaceon, who was standing on the tiled flooring along with Rose, their fur dripping wet. Glacia had no problem keeping her glass snowflake necklace on whilst swimming. “We’re gonna have one more go down the tower slides then start making a move.”
“You wanna come with us?” Rose asked brightly.
“Where are Dawn and Raina?” Summer enquired with a swift glance around the large pool.
“Err . . .” said Rose thoughtfully. “They might be in the hot tubs, that’s where I saw them heading like ten minutes ago.”
“Sure,” said Lilah cheerfully, “I’ll give ‘Deep Darer’ another go —”
And as Lilah heaved herself out of the water, Summer hurriedly said, “Me too!” and also climbed out.
How the tower slides worked was two large tube slides were attended by one member of the leisure centre’s staff each, in this shift’s case two Floatzels — a male and a female — on duty, defined with yellow polo shirts tailored to fit them, the word Staff stitched in red on the front and back. In one of the tower’s top corners was a small TV monitor showing live images of the pool in which both slides ended at. The Floatzels’ primary job was to ensure said pool was clear before sending the next Pokémon down their respective slides.
When Summer, Lilah, Rose, and Glacia climbed the wide tower stairs they met a queue three quarters of the way up; this was the centre’s most popular feature swimming-wise. Summer and Rose shivered through the wait, water clinging to their fur. Fortunately the line moved decently, conversation among the four mostly distracting the Espeon and Leafeon from the cold. Almost at the top with only a wait of two Pokémon ahead of them, Rose contemplated on which slide to go down: the blue one titled Shallow Swimmer on a sign above the tube, or the red one called Deep Darer. Both slides were designed for Pokémon of average size — quadrupeds, ophidians, and other non-bipedal species were allowed, granted they could swim freely — able to take weights up to one hundred and thirty kilograms. She settled on her preferred slide, Shallow Swimmer, which was smoother than its neighbour, and when the Patrat waiting to go was given the okay nod from the female Floatzel attendant she gestured Rose over.
Before the slide started there was a half-tube section with a short, level straight, serving as a waiting zone which flowed into the enclosing tube and down into an immediate left. Rose stepped into the groove and sat down, water gushing from two holes behind her.
“Excuse me, miss?”
The Floatzel pulled her gaze down from the TV monitor, raising her eyebrows inquisitively at the Leafeon. “I was wondering, is it okay if my sister went too?” Rose asked.
“Well . . .” began the Water-type, “usually only parent and child ride together . . .”
“Oh pretty please?” Rose implored with her big, starry brown eyes, her persuasive cuteness very much staying a part of her charm at sixteen.
“I’m sure it’ll be fine,” smiled the Floatzel. “Which one’s coming?” she asked, her eyes flicking from the Espeon to the Glaceon still in the queue.
“The Glaceon, please.”
Unsure why the Floatzel was gesturing her, Glacia made her way over to the blue slide. “Hop in, Glace,” said Rose, smiling up at her.
“Is that all right?” Glacia asked the Floatzel, who nodded.
As the Floatzel returned her attention to the monitor, Glacia slipped into the groove behind Rose and sat down; Rose’s insides fluttered with excitement.
“You ready?” Glacia asked her, white water spurting past them all the while.
“Mm-hmm,” nodded Rose.
A few seconds later and the Floatzel watched the Patrat zoom from the tube into the end pool. “Lie flat, please,” she told the sisters.
They did so, the back of Rose’s head resting on Glacia’s tummy. Finally, the Floatzel gave Glacia a gentle push, sending them on their way; Summer could hear their cheers echoing down the slide. Although she was standing side by side with Lilah, Summer let her go ahead when Deep Darer freed up. The male Floatzel waved Lilah over. She positioned herself in the red groove, and very shortly her Floatzel instructed the same as his female counterpart had with Rose and Glacia. Laying flat on her back, she received a push then disappeared from Summer’s view.
The Deep Darer’s Floatzel barely had his paw up a second when Summer approached and sat within the groove. She couldn’t put her paw on what was making her restless sitting here . . . waiting. Ordinarily, she would gladly wait her turn to go . . . but an uncharacteristic confliction within her wanted to surprise Lilah, to ride down with her. . . . Giving in to this cheeky temptation, Summer looked up at the Floatzel and committed herself by asking, “D’you have the time?”
“Sure,” the Floatzel obliged, checking his black, waterproof, digital wristwatch strapped around his left arm’s blue, pointed fin. “It’s quarter past — hey!” Summer had lurched forward, lying flat as the flow of water carried her into the sharp right turn and away. . . .
Red was the only colour inside the water slide, encompassing the rider from wind, rain, and harsh sunlight while it coiled and weaved outside; sunlight still shone through the sturdy PVC. Summer swooped around a long, calming left corner that suddenly straightened into a fast drop. Her stomach tickled as she graced through a serpentine-like part. Exiting another corner she saw Lilah half way down the slide’s longest straight, which, remembering from her two earlier goes, curved into a pitch-black section. . . .
Lilah never anticipated dainty paws appearing on either side of her head . . . “Huh?” She leant her head back so that her sopping tuft flowed through the stream of water and she caught a view of Summer smiling at her over her lissom body.
“Lonely?” said the lilac-furred cat casually.
Lilah laughed. “Not anymore — hold on!” she said, grabbing both of Summer’s hind paws and pulling her nearer. Summer blushed as Lilah laid her head against her tummy, not letting go of her paws.
Into darkness they went, the lack of sight heightening their tactility as they began spiralling. They left the spiral into a tight serpentine, then one last right turn. The blackness lifted and, with a finishing cheer each, the friends were ejected from the red tube, splashing together in the isolated pool.
An elderly Simisage sat on a bench outside the leisure centre, reviewing some of his photos taken on his instant print camera strapped around his neck. A Simisage’s age and vitality could be determined by their fur, which would typically be rich green in colour and wiry in healthy Simisages. This Simisage’s fur however was greying, most visibly at the tip of his bush-like crest growing from his head, as well as his bushy eyebrows.
Taking photographs of the day-to-day goings-on in his home town was the Simisage’s favourite hobby, if it were of Pokémon, trees, flowers, the buildings, old and new, or the marketplace. Today he had been photographing streets and was currently preoccupied comparing the differences in atmospheres between quiet Market Street and busy Williams Street. Minding his own business, he couldn’t help but raise his eyes at a quarrelling pair leaving the leisure centre, seven others following them.
“. . . because it’s all utter rubbish, Hothead,” the Ninetales was saying exasperatedly to an odd-coloured Flareon.
“Oh yeah?” he sneered back. “Hang out with Legendaries on a regular basis to know that, huh?”
“I’m not even bothering if you’re gonna get stupid about it . . . Then again, you are stupid enough to believe Legendaries have no gender. . . .”
“What about Magnemites and other Pokémon like that, then?” Fall carried on his argument. “If they don’t have those bits maybe Legendaries don’t either. And anyway, there’s science behind it . . .”
Lilah rolled her eyes.
“Okay, firstly,” she said, “Pokémon like Magnemite are inorganic life forms. How they reproduce is something I frankly don’t give a toss about. Legendaries, on the other paw, are exactly like me and . . .” she dropped her voice to a mumble, “this is debatable . . . you. They’re born flesh and blood from a mother, with beating hearts, real desires, emotions, sensitivity . . . respect for their fellow Pokémon. . . .”
Fall narrowed his eyes at the grinning vixen, having caught on her dig at him.
“How’s about we agree to disagree?” negotiated Glacia, coming alongside them and smiling.
“Sure,” said Lilah, “if the only agreeing is I’m factually correct, or that Hothead’s an idiot who still believes ‘science’ so outdated kiddies in school point and laugh at it.”
Eclipse, Simon, Dawn, and Summer laughed.
“I can’t imagine birds like Moltres without genders, Fall,” said Raina, with a non-judgemental smile at him.
“I always thought Legendaries didn’t have genders. . . .” Rose meekly admitted, but no one seemed to have heard her.
“Don’t look at me,” Glacia said when Fall rounded on her. “I used to believe it when we were kids . . .”
“My, my,” laughed an ambling Simisage, his hunched form causing his camera to sway. “What an exotic young bunch!” he stated upon reaching the group, casting his sights through them.
“Can we help you . . . ?” said Glacia slowly.
“Mm?” smiled the Simisage, turning to her. “Oh. Forgive me for being forward, but might I take some pleasure in photographing you youths?”
“Why would you want to take our photos?” Fall asked him, a slight wariness in his question.
“Oh no, no, no,” said the Simisage quickly, shaking his head. “You misunderstand. The one photograph of all of you is my request, with your consent, and if you deem the moment appropriate.”
Lilah gave a soft snort of levity. “Appropriate?” she mocked.
“Can you not feel it?” the Simisage suddenly exclaimed, his smile broadening with blissful ignorance at Lilah’s mockery. The Ninetales and a few of the others had jumped a little in surprise. “Yes!” he said, clutching his hand into a fist and staring at it, “A perfect shot’s been waiting here, I know it! This is the right time, the right weather, the moods you are all in right now define your own unique personalities — I simply must be allowed to capture this moment!” Passion coursed like hot blood through the simian’s veins, inspiration twinkling in his old eyes.
“Nutjooob,” Eclipse said to Glacia out the corner of his mouth, leaning sideward all the while keeping view of the Simisage. He heard Glacia throat a snicker.
“You must really like taking pictures, huh, mister?” piped Rose with her sweet smile.
“Oh, anyone can take pictures, my sweet,” the Simisage said, taking his camera in his hands and walking next to her. Rose’s attention was directed to the camera’s digital screen as the Simisage shared professional-level pictures with her, the Leafeon engrossed as he flicked through them; he stopped on one of an incomplete structure of sorts. “What do you see here?” he asked her.
“Well . . .” started Rose, “a building site, I guess.”
“Do you want to know what I see?” he said, their gazes meeting. “A beginning. . . .” He looked back at the image. “Here I see more than a frozen instance in time . . . I see a tale of an exhausted, but altogether, determined workforce on a whistle-stop schedule. It’s been a long and sticky morning, but lunch hour is almost upon them . . . the hopes of quenching their thirst, above everything else, so very near now.”
Gaining a better appreciation for how sunny it was in the photograph, Rose noticed the Machoke builders were sweating, a clear fatigue in their expressions she previously overlooked.
“Photographs capture memories we hold and cherish dearly . . .” the Simisage continued quietly. “A remembrance of what was. . . .” He took a step forward, turned to face the group, and crossed sights with the lot of them with a single sweep of the head. “Friendship is a powerful magic that connects us, no matter the distance . . . And should hard times test this bond, one only need remember what is always there. . . .”
He smiled and held up his camera expectantly. Rose turned and beamed at Glacia.
“Do we even have a family photo?” the Glaceon asked Fall.
“No,” Fall replied. “Not since. . . .” His voice briefly failed him.
The time of their previous family photo whisked him to their old home in Appleage Hamlet. . . . It was the same week as his whole family’s photo, his mother and father included, when the serene settlement came under attack . . . Acacia’s life cut short protecting her children. . . .
“Erm . . .” Fall’s voice quavered but he pushed himself to summon enough inner strength to outrun the pain catching up with him. “Not since Mum was alive.”
“Then let’s change that!” exhorted Dawn.
“Totally,” Simon agreed a keen nod. He sat down and brought a paw to his eyepatch. “But I’m not wearing this —”
Already fleshy pink, the gouges were healing well; at best, Simon could squinch for a short period. Enthusiastic chatter started amongst the majority of the group; Summer was telling Lilah to be in it with them, jokingly trying to coax her into wearing her “smart” glasses; the Espeon was gratified when Lilah slipped out and put on her eyewear, happy to be photoed.
“All right,” Glacia told the Simisage, speaking for the group. “Where d’you want us?”
“There ya go!” said the Simisage, irrefutably pleased. “Right — hush, hush, now,” he quietened them, frowning in search of a suitable background. “Marvellous!” He spotted a still path leading into a densely-packed group of trees, a short distance away from the leisure centre building. “Would everybody be good enough to reposition there?” he requested, pointing to the path.
Other Pokémon’s talks deadened as they strode toward the trees.
“More to the left,” fussed the Simisage. “Get those in the middle central with that footpath, beneath where the trees overhang. . . .”
Black lamp posts stood dutiful at intervals along the path, awaiting to combat dusk; a pair of these lamp posts were also situated on either side in front of the first trees, the leaves of which touching to create a sort of natural archway.
Jabber resumed as the group shifted, bunching together in a disorderly arrangement with the exception of Summer, who sat pertinaciously beside Lilah. Mellow sunlight dappled through the swaying canopies, the afternoon air warm and lazy. Not any of them were camera-ready, much too engaged with each other —
“Everybody ready?” announced the Simisage, capturing the eight Eeveelutions and lone Ninetales in his camera screen, finger squeezing the button.
An overwhelming itch behind Simon’s ear compelled him to scratch it, Raina recoiling in distaste. Meanwhile Rose was too busy wrestling Fall to notice, her forelegs hugged around Fall’s mane and using her weight to try and bring him down; he easily withstood her playful attempts, grinning smugly. Eclipse, Dawn, and Glacia did turn to the Simisage’s forewarning, but only Glacia smiled like you normally would: Dawn posed flirtatiously, as though for a profile picture she intended to use on a dating site; Eclipse, absolutely embarrassed, flared pink and slapped his muzzle, slanting his head in disregard. “Say Chespin!” said the Simisage, and only Dawn and Glacia did so as he took the snap.
Dark ivory clouds loomed above Appleage Hamlet, the evening sky a variegate of beautiful oranges. Enveloping the tiny community was a forest alive with birdsong, isolation making it a place of tranquillity. Outsiders largely walked Appleage by, most not bothering to look twice at the wooden signpost pointing up the half-mile dirt path that led to it. Not that there was much to see or do here, literally a few bungalows scattered hither and thither, having a population of twenty-nine. Residents who weren’t retired commuted to their places of work in the closest town eight miles east, going there also to shop and socialize.
Appleage prided itself on being a changeless, tight-knit community, neighbours regarding each other as family, new faces a rarity. Mrs. Valenti, Appleage’s oldest resident, recalled last year’s newest arrivals, a Meowstic and Glaceon husband and wife couple and their seven adorable children, the Glaceon pregnant with their eighth cub. Such a considerable number of incomers initially unsettled the locals, all of whose worries revolved around the “racket” and disturbances so many kids would surely make. That might very well have been the case had both parents not respected the welfare of others, raising their kids to be mindful whenever they played outdoors.
Another ordinary day in a young Flareon’s life was reaching its end. Hours of playtime spent running around, hiding and seeking in the airing cupboard, and fending off his brothers and sisters in an all-against-one attack sure tuckered him out. He had collapsed head first into a cushion on the family sofa in the living room, looking fixedly at a family photo standing on a side table when an irritating, tuneful voice called his name.
Fall pressed his face into the cushion and muffled, “Give me strength . . .”
“Mum asks can we watch our sister while she checks on dinner.”
Fall turned on his back. His recently-evolved Glaceon sister was standing in the doorway, beaming at him. “Which one?” he asked flatly.
“Rose, duh!” jeered Glacia.
“Isn’t Dad — ?”
“Working late,” Glacia cut-off her brother’s moan, her cyan eyes inspecting the ceiling.
Sighing in defeat, Fall slowly sat up, mumbling his annoyance. (“‘Fall do this, Fall do that . . .’”)
“Plus I think she needs changing nappies,” Glacia casually informed him, now on their way to their parents’ bedroom.
“Better not!” said Fall, alarmed.
Glacia rolled her eyes.
“Don’t worry,” she reassured, “it’s only a number one.”
In the master bedroom, a young, attractive, Shiny Glaceon mother was currently tasked the job of changing her Eevee daughter, Rose’s endearing fidgeting, excitable smile, and cute babbling, as was inevitable, melting her heart — she could not tame her affections any length of time longer and rushed a full-scale tickle offensive on Rose’s fluffy tummy.
She had set Rose on a changing mat on top of the room’s desk, Acacia herself standing on her hind legs on a chair, looking over the Eevee cub.
“. . . I got the tum tum! Mummy’s got the tum tum!” Acacia was cooing in a silly voice, baby Rose in a fit of adorable giggles. “Tickle-tickle-tickle —” She bent headlong into Rose’s midriff and blew raspberries, Rose helpless to resist her ultimate weakness.
“Mum?” the voice of Acacia’s eldest daughter reached the mother Glaceon’s ears.
Acacia stopped and glanced over her shoulder; Rose quickly recovered from the tickling and went back to looking about, limbs twitching randomly. Smiling, Acacia turned and sprung from the chair, approaching her son and daughter.
Next to Glacia, who was eight-years-old, the adult Glaceon was a fair amount bigger as well as taller. And unlike Glacia, she wore items of jewellery: a glass, pale-blue snowflake necklace attached to black, waxed cotton cord, and a gold wedding ring on her left forepaw’s middle toe.
“Right,” she began, “Rose only needs to be powdered before she’s changed — talcum powder and a fresh nappy are on the desk. Mwah, mwah” — she gave Fall and Glacia a quick, grateful kiss on the cheek each — “thank you, sweethearts —”
Fall wiped his cheek as his mother dashed out the room, kisses plainly gross to him. Glacia had already jumped onto the desk chair and was smiling brightly at her baby sister, both forepaws pressing down on the desk for support.
“Rose, cutie,” she said excitedly, because Rose was facing the wall. The Eevee’s right ear flickered and she found the source of the noise, forepaws outstretched and giggling to grab her sister. “Well hello there, stinky,” teased Glacia, touching paws with her. “Can you say ‘Glace’? Say ‘Glace’?”
Rose seemed to have found the slight seriousness in Glacia’s expression funny, for she gave a full laugh.
“She’s not even a year old yet,” lectured Fall, bumping Glacia aside as he joined her on the chair, Rose’s cuteness not triggering the same smiling response like with Glacia. Glacia threw her hip into him.
“I’m trying to teach her,” she growled.
“You’re wasting your breath,” Fall retorted. “Wait ’til she’s a bit older.”
His gaze fell on Rose. She bared a blotchy, cream-coloured birthmark uniquely resembling a love heart on her tummy. A soul of pure innocence glittered behind every blink of those sweet, chocolatey eyes . . . surely Arceus could not have blessed them with a healthier or more perfect cub Eevee. Fall knew Rose had a bright future ahead of her.
“Fall, you’re such an old fart!” Glacia ruined his pleasant contemplation. “Stop putting a downer on everything. Oh whatever —” she added, silencing his retaliation, “hand me the talcum powder.”
“’S’ all right, I’ll do it,” Fall mumbled.
He took the bottle in his paw, turned the cap, but then stopped, looking from Rose to the bottle then back to Rose. “Er . . .” he dithered. “D’you put it on her or the nappy?”
“Give it here,” grumbled Glacia, snatching the bottle from him with a bitter glare. “She’ll wanna be flipped over.”
Gently, Fall rolled her on her tummy, Rose giggling at him doing so. In this position Glacia applied a small amount of powder to Rose’s bottom.
“Mum usually does it this way . . .” she explained. With that task accomplished, she set the bottle down. “Pass us the nappy, then.”
“Hold your Ponytas.” Fall slid the nappy across the desk and Glacia took it.
The nappy’s design had a hole in it to allow a quadruped’s tail, even ones as bushy as an Eevee’s, to slip through for a comfortable fit. Fall watched in quiet amazement as Glacia expertly donned Rose into the nappy.
Jayce, Fall and Glacia’s Meowstic father, made it home shortly after half past six, apologizing profusely as he entered through the back door into the kitchen, closing it shut behind him.
“Manic day,” he panted, shaking his head and dumping his brief case against the nearest wall. “Absolute manic. Twenty minutes past seven,” he said, raising his left paw and patting his right onto it, “Julie phones in sick. Fine, no worries — means I’ll need to ask about if anyone wants overtime. Managed to get Kim on ’til five — happy days. So there I am eating my lunch, aaand,” he patted paws again, “Stuart’s ‘a little poorly.’ So ’e buggers off home and — grrr!” He growled at the floor. “Manic.”
“Well my day’s not exactly been a cake walk,” Acacia commented grumpily. “What with the housework, eight children to mind, no husband to help . . .”
Jayce gave a small sigh, as if just realizing his wife might very well have had her own paws full. “Sorry, babe,” he said, planting an apologetic kiss on her lips. He held her by the shoulders, lovingly rubbing her left one. “I’m gonna make it up to you . . . All of you, I promise. . . .”
How was Acacia supposed to stay cross at that lovable, sorry face? Jayce worked as a manager for one of the region’s most successful supermarket retailers, Goodwin’s; the family owed living here, in Appleage, to his promotion of last year. The Meowstic had worked his way up the ranks from scratch, beginning out as a shelf stacker for a number of years, hard work and commitment sailing him through to the position of team leader, then eventually manager over the course of fourteen years.
Acacia and Jayce had first met in Jayce’s third year at the store on a blustery October day. Acacia, eighteen back then and the envy of virtually every girl around her age group, had moved into town with some childhood friends, dreams of taking acting classes at the local college and making a name for themselves in the world of acting. Finding herself having to do the shopping alone one day, Acacia strolled into the closest supermarket to where she lived, carrying with her a shopping list and an empty backpack. Most supermarket policies offered staff shopping assistance for Pokémon who requested it, appealing greatly to the elderly and quadrupedal Pokémon for obvious reasons.
Typically, Acacia wouldn’t trouble anybody for help shopping, but being on her own compelled her to request so. Spotting a Meowstic employee working down an aisle, she decided to go and ask him. Right off the bat, the Meowstic found her wordlessly beautiful, swallowing slightly wide-eyed and almost not able to stutter “Y-yes” when she asked if he could help her with her shopping. As they shopped, the Meowstic’s shyness barrier became apparent; Jayce’s failure to return his name after Acacia introduced herself meant she needed to resort to his work vest’s name badge. Fortunately for him, Acacia adored shyness in guys, and after a short while she had charmed some personal details from him, learning he was nineteen and living by himself in a small flat.
With his psychic powers, Jayce had a shopping basket follow them around; milk, bread, and other such groceries floated from the shelves into the basket, delighting Acacia. It saddened her she could only make a short shop, her backpack space limiting her to the basics she and her friends needed. But Jayce insisted he fetch a shopping cart, help the Shiny Glaceon do her full shop, and even escort it to her home . . . Well, she was hardly able to decline such a selfless offer, now was she?
“Well you can start,” Acacia told him, smiling as she sat down to loosen her husband’s tie, “by laying out the table. Then you can call your children for dinner, do the washing and drying up afterwards, tuck Simon and Dawn in, then read them a bedtime story before they go to bed. And if you play your cards right . . .” she continued, lifting the tie over Jayce’s head and throwing it into the open washing machine to her right. She leaned forwards, closer to him. “I might let you give me one of those amazing backrubs later. . . .”
“Lucky me,” cheeked Jayce.
Their lips came together, sharing in tender kisses. Jayce had begun caressing the back of Acacia’s head with a paw when revolted child voices chorused, “Ewww!”
The adults faced the door leading through to the hallway. Two of their Eevee children, Dawn and Simon, stood in the kitchen doorway, both pulling those classic sickened faces.
“They were kissing!” Dawn wailed at Simon.
“Yuck — gross!” cried Simon.
“Ah, come ’ere, ya little scamps!” said Jayce unabashedly, holding his arms out wide — and with a charge of “Daddy!” Dawn and Simon pounced him to the floor, tails wagging. He groaned under their weight. “You lot get heavier every day. . . .”
Using Psychic, much to the Eevees’ enjoyment, he lifted them up, setting them down as he got to his feet. “So what have you guys been up to today?” he asked, a spin of zing in his tone.
“We played hide and seek!” chirped Simon.
“Fall hid first, he was really —”
“Fall was really good!” Simon interrupted Dawn, earning him a glare. “We were seeking for ages, but I,” the Eevee placed a proud emphasis on the word, his smile turning smug, “found him in the airy cupboard.”
“No you did not!” shrilled Dawn. “I saw his tail sticking under the door!”
“Yeah but I actually found him,” Simon argued back.
“Only because of me — !”
“Now, now,” said Jayce firmly, foreseeing an argument, “let’s not fight.”
Dawn and Simon shifted as they stared each other down. Then, Dawn threw on her innocent face and pottered up to her father.
“Sorry, Daddy . . .” she apologized in, what she knew was, her cutest manner. Simon watched his dad give her a hug, but wasn’t remotely fooled by her “sorry” act; she cast him an inconspicuous glance over her shoulder and stuck out her tongue.
“Dinner smells good. What’ve we got?” Jayce enquired.
“Beef, mash, and veg,” answered Acacia from the worktop, concentrating on stirring gravy in a measuring jug; she had poured piping hot kettle water into a quarter jug of gravy granules, not having the time to make proper gravy.
“Be a good girl and call your brothers and sisters for dinner, yeah?” Jayce told Dawn.
The Eevee seemed only too happy to help, her mouth opening in a smile and tail wagging. She zoomed into the hallway, making for the living room where her remaining siblings were —
“I’ll help!” said Simon brightly, rushing to the small stall near the worktop. However, before he could hop atop it, a light blue glow defined his body and he hovered backwards.
“Why don’tcha go on and wait in the backroom,” Jayce lightly suggested, his eyes reverting to their normal spring green after freeing his son.
“Fine!” Simon suddenly snapped. “Who wants stupid Simon’s help anyway?”
He shot out the kitchen, Jayce left stupefied and at a loss of what to do.
“What was all that about?” he asked of Acacia, his voice quite a lot higher.
“He’s five, dear,” Acacia said, and Jayce recognized that distinctive tone of irritability. “Maybe if you spent more time with him you’d know Simon’s much more sensitive than he’d have you believe.”
Her words had come over him like a stray ocean wave over a dried out sea shell, washing over him.
“You’re right. . . .” he softly admitted, continuing to gaze down the hall where Simon had ran. Acacia turned to him. “Tomorrow,” he told her with a strength sounding very obdurate, “I’m going straight to Roger Creel and telling him I’m taking two weeks off to spend with my family starting Monday.”
“Oh he’ll never give you two weeks on such short notice,” Acacia muttered, being realistic.
“Won’t he?” said Jayce, grinning. “Bloke owes me for putting off my holiday before Easter to help ’em out. And our sales forecast only predicted a forty thousand pound profit for this week, so it’s not exactly like the store’s gonna be heaving. If he says no after that —” he shrugged, “he can find someone else to tread on.”
“Jayce . . .” breathed Acacia.
“You and the kids are my everything, and for too long I’ve neglected the responsibilities of being a parent. That all changes today — beginning with making it up with Simon. . . . And you know something else?” he added as he started down the hall, turning to look at his Glaceon wife whilst taking slow steps backwards, his voice ringing vigorous potency. “We’re having a proper family holiday too. Get the ole laptop out tonight and see what’s about.”
In all the twelve years she’d known him, Acacia had never before felt as attracted to Jayce as she did this very moment. This wasn’t the kind of attitude she had become accustomed, and as her Meowstic husband marched confidently after his son she found him incredibly sexy.
A still, warm night fell around Appleage, birds now asleep among the tree branches, black canopies rustling under a white moon otherwise obscured by roving clouds.
A mighty, bipedal, dinosaurian Pokémon’s footfalls pounded the dried, muddy ground. Appleage lie between two towns roughly thirty miles apart, adjoined together by a wide dirt path in the heart of a forest. The path itself had been forged and maintained through the forest resultant of decades’ worth of commuting Pokémon; it was often travelled by during the day.
Walking behind on either side of the lumbering giant were a pair of shorter, far less bulky, identical figures. They appeared to be hunching; the virtual darkness made it difficult to tell. A streak of moonlight was allowed to illuminate the path in a cloud’s passing, helping to identify the trio.
The following Pokémon were Toxicroaks, dark blue, bipedal frogs armed with a deadly, venom-coated red claw on the back of their hands. The Pokémon leading was a Tyranitar, a fierce carnivore heavily armoured by osteoderms as tough as rock. The dark green Rock-type towered above the Poison types, standing more than two metres tall. There was something of a cold, almost degenerate, tenacity in his eyes, each step taken with clear purpose.
“Is it much further, Vasco?” grunted the Toxicroak following on the Tyranitar’s right.
Vasco did not respond straight away. “We’re close. . . .” he said in a deep, unfeeling voice, his sights not deviating from ahead.
“Good . . .” droned the Toxicroak who asked, a twisted grin shaping his mouth. “Can’t wait to shed blood. . . .”
“That cop will soon regret ever arresting my brother,” said the other Toxicroak darkly. “Hey, Vasco? You ever kill a Scyther before?”
Again, Vasco’s response came delayed. “First time. . . .”
Though relatively youthful and without a scar to spoil his appearance, there could be no mistaking this Tyranitar for any other but the future destroyer of Kesgea Village. In this time, Vasco’s body had yet to sustain the injuries his older self bared: None of his back or tail spikes were broken off or damaged. His claws were still sharp to stab, and his upper and lower set of canines were countable whenever he spoke.
“And you’re sure that Scyther lives in Appleage, Sven?” the first Toxicroak asked his twin brother.
Sven rotated his head to face his brother, his sinisterly yellow eyes almost aglow in the gloom.
“Nash,” he said with threatening calm, “nobody ruins our biggest heist to date then locks my brother behind bars and gets away scot-free. . . .” Grinning, he added, “Oh I’m positive. . . .”
Together, Vasco, Nash, and Sven made a living in the crime of robbing jewellers all around the region. Each heist would be meticulously planned beforehand. The first step involved a three-way scout of a new town or city, regrouping at a prearranged place after their sweeps to report their findings. If more than a single jeweller was found they would go by previous experience to eliminate whichever they assumed carried the greatest risk, taking into account such factors as security and location. Before commitment could enter the equation, it was necessary for the three to better inspect their target, inside and out, typically having one of the Toxicroak brothers pose as a browsing customer while in actual fact taking note of internal security, e.g. cameras.
Usually, there was no job they could not pull, operating at night when the shops were closed and other Pokémon in bed. But you’d likely be wondering Vasco’s role in their undertakings; a two hundred kilogram Tyranitar in a jewellery shop occupied by expensive necklaces and watches in glass displays would certainly result in a smashingly bad time. No, Vasco served more like an insurance policy in case anything went wrong, ready with his formidable attack power should legal resistance interfere. For more than twenty heists his strength proved unneeded, the criminals getting away with hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of jewellery over a period of just a few years. Unneeded . . . that was up until their previous attempted heist three weeks earlier.
Of course, the three didn’t manage to get away with their crimes for many months without cunning, laying low after each heist — using the time to sell on their goods to interested traffickers — and moving to a new destination where the authorities would not suspect them. Even so, records of their every robbery were stored on the police’s database, and it was through this police were finally able to make a breakthrough.
Police Constable Douglas Sutton, a Scyther officer of six years’ service, was on break one morning with a friend Gothitelle call taker when they were discussing the region’s jewellers’ robberies. Never expecting to uncover anything, Douglas asked her to bring up the records on her computer, basically a weighty box with a tiny glass screen and slow processing speeds in these days. To begin with, they could find no connection between earlier robberies, jewellers apparently targeted at random with large, inconsistent time gaps between each one. But then, whilst analysing the four latest robberies, Douglas spotted something, a pattern progressing south-east down the region, the gaps closing to as short as a few weeks.
Using this discovery, the Scyther and Gothitelle speculated the nearest city to be the criminals’ next target. And despite only going off a supposition made by sketchy deductions, Douglas’s superior granted him command over a team of undercover police officers, permitting him a full month to carry out an investigation within the suspected city. It pained Douglas having to leave his wife and son in this month, but he knew he had to do his duty.
Three uneventful weeks in the city turned up nothing the Scyther and his team were hoping for; the closest thing being attempted theft of a woman’s purse, one of Douglas’s undercover officers fortunately nearby at the time and able to apprehend the wrongdoer. But on the fourth and final week, just as the Scyther was ready to admit defeat, a leap forward! An officer had reported a group of males — specifically, a Tyranitar and a Toxicroak duo — behaving “oddly” . . . seeming particularly interested in a jewellery dealer’s. . . .
When night fell on that day, Douglas and his squad suited up, their portable law enforcement radios tuned and on standby, and their uniforms kitted out with melee-resistant vests. They had to endure a gruelling five hour stake-out of the jeweller’s until Vasco, Nash, and Sven made an appearance in the very early hours of the morning. Everything was in place — they merely had to wait for the three to force entry in order to make the arrests.
It impressed Douglas how the Toxicroaks dealt with the outside surveillance cameras by splatting them with a nasty sludge shot from their mouths. With the cameras an issue no longer, the Tyranitar approached the shop and let one of the Toxic Mouth Pokémon climb up his back; the increased height allowed the frog to jump onto the shop’s roof. The Toxicroak disappeared for a few minutes before emerging out the back door. Swinging his black empty backpack around to open its main compartment, he signalled his brother into the shop. Readying to cram his backpack also, the second brother looked up with a start when a voice yelled “Freeze!” and a half-dozen figures sprung from various hiding places.
“You’re all under arrest for —” Douglas began but suddenly had to fling himself into a dive to avoid the Tyranitar’s destructive Hyper Beam, which lit the immediate area with the strength of a dawning sun briefly before striking a building and exploding in a blast of dust and brick. Douglas caught himself with a clanging of his scythes as the tips met block paving.
Looking around, he saw chunks of brick and mortar dropping from a crater made in one of the build’s corners; he heard someone swear, and a blue glow enveloped the crater to hold other pieces of loose debris in place. It was costing the Girafarig officer of Douglas’s team to do this. In the confusion, Vasco had called a retreat, shaking the ground as he tore toward a backstreet only blocked by a single Krookodile officer, who was roughly thrown over Vasco’s back — Sven followed, stopping for an instant to wave his brother over with a yell of urgency. Determined not to let Nash get away, Douglas raced after him, his clear wings beating so fast they became a blur, propelling him with such speed his foot claws barely touched the ground —
The Scyther rammed hard enough into the Toxicroak’s back he knocked him down, pinning him with the dull flat side of his right scythe.
“Let them go!” Douglas called to the Krookodile, whom was on his feet again and in pursuit of Vasco and Sven; the crocodilian stopped before getting far, a mix of confusion and anger on his face as he turned to Douglas. “We haven’t the manpower to subdue that Tyranitar,” Douglas rationalized, all the while wrestling to keep the Toxicroak down.
Fortunately, Douglas managed to convince his squad their safety was his top priority, and that letting the Tyranitar escape was a guaranteed way of insuring that; he refused to put any of their lives at risk in a dangerous confrontation. And at least they had one of the criminals in custody. Maybe if Douglas were to coerce him — strike a deal to lessen his punishment — he’d even be willing to assist the police. . . .
Vasco, Nash, and Sven had not long been walking in silence when a shape on the path ahead emerged from the shadows.
“Is that a sign?” asked Nash, frowning as they neared the vertical shape indeed looking more and more like a signpost.It was the wooden signpost directing to Appleage Hamlet, a short walk up a dirt path standing between them and that Scyther cop. . . .
Bonds of Eeveelution, its characters, and text are ©MorningSunEspeonPokémon and its creatures are ©The Pokémon Company ©Nintendo ©Game Freak Inc. ©Creatures Inc.