|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
Nothing could have prepared Fall for Raina’s sheer diving speed. Although the watery blackness rendered his eyesight useless, he was able to get a rough comprehension of their pace from the amount of resistance pushing against him as well as the howl-like rumbling flooding his ears. They were really shifting, way, way faster than he could ever swim. Certainly not wanting to let go, he repositioned his right forepaw, reaching it across Raina’s chest for a firmer hold. This didn’t seem to obstruct or slow the Vaporeon in any way.
For once, Fall welcomed this swap of leadership. Even before they had discovered the lake, it had been fairly obvious Raina had subconsciously stepped up to take charge of the group. So rarely did he allow himself to be reliant on others, and in any other circumstance he would have felt frustrated with himself. On this occasion, however, it was actually relieving — entrusting and leaving everything to Raina, at least until they got to the cave she mentioned.
Then, blurry and faint, Fall spotted the telltale blue of two crystals, aglow like guiding lights. Momentarily forgetting he could not talk underwater, he let out some bubbles of incoherent gurgling before sealing his mouth shut. Unlike the Flareon, Raina’s physiology did grant her the ability of speech here. Although . . .
“Almos air.” Her voice sounded comically distorted — trippy, Fall would go as far to say.
All the same, she was correct. Visible between the crystals was a dark crevice in the wall of rock that contained the very pool they were in.
She slowed her approach, coming to a floating halt in front of the crevice so as to smooth inside and avoid smacking her brother on every jut of rock; miscalculating the extra momentum of her passenger, she had to counteract with her tail in order to keep from somersaulting backwards. After balancing out, she eased forward, propelled by tail strokes.
As they negotiated the tight space, oxygen crept into Fall’s concern. It had to have been at least a minute since his last breath, and it appeared his heart was first to catch on, beats of panic a warning to breathe soon. Fortunately, he could already see a filter of blue light, and when they reached it Raina ascended with it, flashes of white dancing at the surface —
They broke the water with a plash, Fall’s only priority a replenishing gasp. As he worked to bring his breathing under control, his gaze roamed over the hidden chamber. Much like the space from which they came, the chamber was dome-shaped but considerably smaller. Flat rock served as solid ground, encircled by the same body of water Fall and Raina were in. He wasn’t surprised to find yet more crystals giving off light up on the ceiling . . . and then he laid eyes on the chamber’s two predominant features. Protruding at identical angles from opposite walls, the largest crystals he’d seen thus far pointed like markers toward a recess in the far wall. Their glow was focused, effectively functioning as spotlights.
Rose and Summer had been surveying the chamber from the relative dryness of the rock when Raina and Fall popped up.
“Wow, that was quick!” said Rose happily, jogging to greet the pair. Clearly, Rose’s and Summer’s tousled fur had resulted from the instinct to shake themselves off.
Keen to escape the water, Fall drifted to the rock edge and clambered up, his fur wringing wet. “Terrific,” he grumbled, barely giving notice to his sodden leg bandage that loosened with a splat onto the ground. “I’ve always wanted to feel like a sponge. . . .”
The act of shaking himself transformed Fall into a Catherine wheel display, only instead of sparks, countless droplets flew wildly; Rose scrunched her face. Resounding laughter filled the chamber after Summer failed to contain her glee at her brother’s new look.
“It’s feral Fall!” she laughed. “Watch out, they attack if provoked.”
Fall sneered at her. “Hilarious. Lilah teach you that one, did she?”
“Oh shut up and take a joke, Fall,” said Raina playfully, finally leaving the water.
“If you could see how silly you look,” said Rose with a titter, “you’d be laughing too.”
Perhaps it was his soft spot for the sweet Leafeon, but Fall could not help but perk up at her bright smile.
Raina upped her gaze to the dripping ceiling. “Wonder where we are . . .” she mused over the constant tapping. “Gotta be close to the middle.”
At this, a sudden horror grasped Fall and his attention darted upward.
“Y-you don’t think . . . it’ll collapse, do you?” If it wasn’t bad enough being under it, the very last place he wanted to be was in the middle of the lake, where the likelihood of drowning was practically assured, should disaster happen.
“No, I don’t see any reason why it would,” answered Raina, looking and sounding comfortable in her analysis. “Though I’d refrain from using ranged attacks, just to be on the safe side.”
“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that,” Summer joined in, now unsmiling.
“Then we should hurry and find that talisman, while it’s still quiet,” said Fall. “Summer,” he turned to the Espeon, “did either of you check that aperture?” He nodded toward the shadowy recess.
Summer shook her head. “We were waiting for you.”
Without hesitation, Fall crossed to the opposite edge of the rocky ground, his sisters following. The recess wasn’t level with the ground but around a metre higher, a hop across the loop of water standing between the Eeveelutions and it. Although too dark to see much of inside — even with the two crystals shining down directly — there was room ample for two of them.
“We said it might be a trick, didn’t we, Summer?” said Rose, and Summer nodded.
“Only one way of knowing,” Raina volunteered to investigate. “If I feel unsafe,” she told Fall, predicting he was about to object, “I’ll get straight out. It’ll be easier if I solo this. If you wanna help, make sure nothing gets the sneak on me.”
It seemed to demand rather more effort than even Raina first imagined but Fall heaved a defeated sigh. “Please be careful. . . .”
For a brief moment, Raina found herself wanting the aloof, hard brother she had known most of her life. It wasn’t that she did not appreciate his concern, but his cowardice was starting to annoy her now. “Old Fall” would never have shown his fear; he would brave through any challenge that presented itself, with steely determination.
Deciding not to express her feelings, she faced the wall’s recess and prepared to leap, front half bowing and hindquarters rising. She made the jump with minimal difficulty, a need to turn around and boast, “And that’s how it’s done.”
The Vaporeon proceeded, slowing once she passed the darkness barrier. Luckily, she had her hearing to resort to, following the nearby sound of water flowing.
“D’you find anything?” came Rose’s hopeful voice.
As Raina opened her mouth, a weak speck of pure blue light began in the end wall mere feet ahead. Highly likely it was another crystal, just of a deeper tone of blue compared with the others. Except, the glow was intensifying.
Raina couldn’t narrow down what it was, but she sensed a verve of unknown energy . . . energy that not many things tended to emanate. In her excitement she forgot about the others.
It turned out the trickling she had been hearing was glassy-fine water, spilling down the whole end wall — there it ran through a cranny spanning the ground where it met the wall. Whatever was glowing was lodged centrally in that wall. In order for her to reach it, Raina needed to stand on her hind legs; she held this position by pressing her forepaws against the rock.
“Come on, little friend . . .” she said as though enticing a Litten into a pet carrier. Trying to extract things when you didn’t have opposable thumbs was always a pain, but in this case it was doubly so. She could not afford to mess up and lose, potentially, the Elemental Talisman of Water. “Don’t be shy. . . .”
Back in the chamber, Fall’s worry was getting the better of him.
“I’m going in there,” he stated.
“Or,” Summer remarked bitingly, “you could simply call her. It’s not hard.”
Fall snapped something back, but Rose didn’t catch all of it; she turned to a splashing noise behind them.
“Er . . . guys?” she said, and the quarrelling pair silenced. The Leafeon was staring at something of a troubling nature. Fall and Summer turned around. . . .
They saw it at once. A small, red-shelled crayfish with three, rigid, sharp spikes protruding from its head and vicious, crocodile clip-like pincers. Fall recognized the creature as a Corphish. Found globally, this very hardy Pokémon owed its success to commendable resilience, capable of surviving in rivers and other bodies of water polluted by industrial development. It showed no fear of the mammals as it scuttled slowly onto the rock.
“It doesn’t look happy to see us,” Rose whispered. Fall took a step forward, wanting to clear up any misapprehension the Corphish might have had about them.
“Please forgive our intrusion,” he began. “We’re here in search of the Aqueous Talisman, maybe you know of it?”
The Corphish kept on glaring at him.
“I get the distinct impression that’s a feral,” said Summer uncomfortably. To make certain, she decided to ask it a simple question: “Who’s prime minister?”
Still the Corphish said nothing, its staring unrelenting. The three Eevees tensed as it inched closer, pincers opening threateningly.
“Look, pal, we don’t want any trouble here,” said Fall. “Give us a minute and we’ll leave, all right?”
But the crustacean continued nearer, wordlessly rejecting the Flareon’s request. “Fall . . .” Rose whimpered in growing concern.
It was the trigger he stood in need of. Anger overrode Fall’s mind and he crouched into a snarl. Irregardless of the foe — outnumbered or outmatched, it did not matter — so long as he drew breath, nobody threatened his family.
“I’m warning you — back off!” he growled at it. When the Corphish ignored him, he readied to spit fire but there quickly became no need. Neither he nor the Corphish anticipated the Psychic-type present to pause the situation in a single move, using Psychic to hold the surprised crustacean in the air.
Having to keep her glowing eyes on the Corphish, she said, addressing Fall, “This is all going so well. I vote we get out of here. Like sooner rather than later.” She could feel it resisting her. What had Summer unnerved was the fearlessness in the Corphish’s eyes, a drive to attack them against the odds.
Fall, in total agreement with her, nodded. “Raina,” he called out, “drop what you’re doing. We’re getting . . .”
Two more Corphish had surfaced either side behind the first. Instinctively wanting to look, Summer severed her mental influence over the Corphish and it fell, landing on all six. Fall, Summer, and Rose grouped closer as the newcomers joined their fellow, glares on the family. The first Corphish pointed a pincer straight at them.
“The intruders have come!” she cried. “Summon Ulric, don’t let enemies escape!”
Fear wrenched Fall’s eyelids back. It had happened . . . his horrible presentiment had been realized. At the time Lilah proposed they split into teams, Fall feared exactly this, yet still he went along with it. Even though he’d argued his view on keeping the group together it hadn’t been enough. He wished he had done more, nagged until they gave up, forced the stupid Ninetales to keep her cakehole shut. But Lilah wasn’t to blame here . . . he was. Although he hadn’t spoken about it, Simon’s words that day cut deep. Fall never expected the Jolteon to take the truth of their early childhood well, but his fury and disgust left Fall utterly demoralized. It was for everyone’s sake he agreed to separate the group . . . and now they had walked into a trap.
Even as he wondered how it was possible for some random wilders to know they were coming, one of the newcomers hurried back into the water. Summer and Rose looked as panicked as he.
“W-wait!” said Summer pleadingly. “I’m sorry for what I just did. Please . . . we’re not your enemies. If it’s something we’ve —”
“Attack!” wailed the female Corphish. In an instant, she’d aimed an open pincer at Fall and fired a spray of large, blue-coloured bubbles.
The Shiny Flareon blenched, knowing the incoming Bubble Beam was far from harmless, not like the suds in a bath or play bubbles blown by children with bubble blowers. But a rocket-launched Hydro Pump from over his head countered the attack before it made contact; the superior water attack hardly slowed, ploughing through the Bubble Beam (some bubbles strayed and popped) until nailing the hostile Corphish, whom got blasted into the water shrieking.
Fall and his sisters spun around. Raina had returned from inside the recess, standing at the edge with confusion and worry conflicting her expression. Rose’s mouth fell agape, she, Fall, and Summer dumbstruck and staring. On Raina’s chest, stuck and glowing, was the Aqueous Talisman. The esoteric stone bore perfect resemblance in size and cut to the three other talismans they’d secured, distinguished by its marking and colouring. Summer noticed its shade of blue, darker than that of the Hiemal Talisman — the Elemental Talisman of Ice — whenever its freezing power was activated. Again, the old parchment of talisman locations had been accurate.
“Behind you!” Raina shouted.
Fall turned quickest. The last Corphish was charging them at startling speed. Water was secreting out its right pincer like it was some kind of fountain, the entire pincer coated and dripping. Reaching Fall, it swung its Crabhammer attack in a roundhouse fashion but Fall ducked it. The Flareon retaliated with a headbutt that stunned him as much as it did the crustacean, the Corphish’s shell solid as a brick wall. Shaking the pain from his head, Fall reared back, grabbed the Corphish’s outer head spikes, and slammed its face into the ground; Rose flinched at this. Getting around the dazed Corphish so his back was to it, Fall booted it into the water with a strong kick of his hind legs.
“What’s going on?” Raina asked, jumping down to them. “Why are they attacking?”
“They’re wilders,” Fall hurriedly explained. “But I don’t think they’re protecting the talisman . . . They’re after us.”
“Us?” repeated Raina, her heart drumming harder. “How can they be after us?”
“They said ‘the intruders have come . . .’” said Fall fearfully. “Somehow they knew we were coming. We need to get out of here.”
Raina still looked perplexed. It made sense that these ferals would attack if they were helping to guard the talisman, but even then she would have thought they would have been more tolerant, enough to at least let them explain why they needed the talisman. Whatever the reason behind their aggression, Fall was right. They were in danger here.
“There may be other ways out, but we’d best double back to be safe,” Raina recommended.
Summer swiftly scanned the chamber, her agitation nearing its peak.
“Where did we come in from?” she said exasperatedly.
“Over there!” said Rose, a paw pointed right of the recovering female Corphish afloat in the water. “Yeah, I remember that big puddle being real close when we climbed out.”
“Good job,” smiled Raina, grasping her sister’s upper foreleg. “Let’s hurry!”
They had run halfway across when, from both sides, two pairs of Corphish cannoned out the water, momentarily airborne before landing and forming a barrier in front of the Eeveelutions. Her leafy ears flattening, Rose automatically tried to back up, only Raina grabbed a firm hold on her foreleg.
“We have to fight them!”
Rose read a message in Raina’s eyes, one of regret and urgency. She thought she had accepted that, sooner or later on this journey, violence would be necessary of her in order to defend herself and her family. The test was now. Time to prove she really could change. Strength Rose was unfamiliar with seized her body, a frown of resolve crossing her face.
“Rose,” cried Fall, “Razor Leaf! Just like we practiced!”
Rose fought against her hesitance as she crouched, channelling energy into her head leaf to make it glow a pale green. With a horizontal swing, a row of spinning, flesh-cutting leaves fired from the glowing leaf.
The slowest Corphish could only widen its eyes in reaction, receiving body blows with a wail of hurt; some leaves had split gashes in its shell and were stuck tight. One Corphish Hardened itself for the best counter measure, toughening its armour and blocking the Razor Leaf using its claws; the attack done little physical damage. And the other two evaded backward, exhibiting agility that challenged the mammals’.
On Raina’s chest, the Aqueous Talisman came alive. It was its own harbinger, the glow warning of a Water-type move on the way. Although scared she might scald her lips, Raina braved the unknown to shoot a boiling stream at the Corphish who’d deflected Rose’s Razor Leaf. It had not appealed to her to teach herself the attack Scald — in careless paws it was a dangerous move, and one easily capable of inflicting harm on children. Possession of the Aqueous Talisman, however, meant she needn’t go through the lengthy process of learning a new water-related move ever again, no starting from scratch, no more spending hours practicing. The talisman nulled this, essentially cheating nature to grant its user a shortcut.
To her surprise the water only felt warm as it left her mouth, but she immediately realized she had done the attack correctly; steam made it hard to aim, and she heard the Corphish screaming. Against her awareness these Pokémon were out to get them, Raina couldn’t bear hurting anyone like this. She stopped, the talisman lost its glow. As she watched the steaming Corphish beat a hasty retreat to the cool water, Fall shouted, “Close your eyes!”
Less than a second later, intense orange as a powerful Flamethrower raced at the other Corphish pair. Throughout Raina’s own offensive, Summer had utilized her psychic influence to send back Bubble Beams fired at her and Fall — having stunned the Corphishes, she was then able to restrain them as she’d done with the female Corphish. Raina averted her gaze slightly, scrunching her eyes to the fiery attack as it engulfed their enemies. The four Eevees knew fire-based attacks worked less well against Water types in terms of bodily damage, however that did not mean immunity to the pain. Though doubtful he’d hurt them much, Fall’s attack was enough to drive away the Corphishes, both disappearing beneath the water.
“Quickly!” Fall barked, “Before more show — AAAARGH!”
Underestimating his foe cost an agonizing price. The Corphish he had slammed did not need long to recover. It had snuck out of the water and now had Fall’s right hind leg clamped in its deadly pincer.
Terror instantly found his sisters’ faces. Seeing an escape of blood, Rose let out a piercing scream. “Fall!” she screeched.
So great was the Corphish’s grip, Fall could do nothing but holler. Summer and Raina acted together, the Espeon pouncing on the Corphish’s back while the Vaporeon tried to prise open its pincers using her paws. “Let — him — GO — !” Summer shrieked at it, clawing at its eyes.
But hardened eyelids shielded it, meanwhile all of Raina’s might was no match for its pincer’s strength and crushing power. Summer felt horribly powerless, her strength waning rapidly as she trembled. Fall was unaware of his sisters’ efforts to help him. He screamed louder, claws cutting into bone . . .
“Get back!” Rose yelled in warning, her head leaf arcing as it glowed this time. Seeing she planned to Leaf Blade the Corphish, Raina and Summer got clear: Rose did not hesitate, throwing back her head to diagonally lacerate its shell, exposing pinkish-white flesh.
The Corphish promptly surrendered its grasp with a wail. As it too fled for the water, Fall’s legs gave way from under him and he collapsed on his left side, hissing breaths through gritted teeth and face screwed up.
Their hearts pounding out panic, Summer, Raina, and Rose looked over their brother’s injury. The Corphish had sliced clean through skin — fur was matted with blood — two deep lacerations where its upper serrated claw had pierced and two longer lacerations from its lower, smooth claw. Rose turned away, holding back vomit with every breath. Summer feared the damage might have been unrepairable. Raina’s legs went weak, tears leaking from her eyes as she brought a paw to her mouth. She looked at a complete loss of what to do.
After a few moments she stammered, “W-we’ve got to b-bandage this f-fast! B-bro, I’m sorry, but . . . y-you’ll have to try and stand.”
“I know,” wheezed Fall, not opening his eyes. Groaning, he heaved himself up, unsteady on only three paws; Raina positioned abreast with him on his right, letting him lean into her. For support he wrapped his foreleg around her neck, behind her frill.
It was only another six or so metres to the water. Once Raina got Fall there, swimming him through the passage to safety would be easy. Unfortunately, right now, they could only go as fast as Fall could hobble. Raina panted words of encouragement as they went. Slowly but surely they were getting there —
Four more Corphishes gave no warning, surging out the water from in front of them. But it was what emerged afterwards that ripped the worry from the Eeveelutions’ faces, slapping on fear alternatively. . . .
A Crawdaunt, larger than the average size, came up behind his underlings . . . and raised his face. There was nothing normal about his eyes, the colour red dominating them while the pupils weren’t at all two black dots, but yellow slits glowing malevolently. . . .
“Leaving so soon?” he growled, a dark laugh taunting them.
“No . . .” whispered Summer.
“Are we killing intruders now, Ulric?” asked a Corphish, looking back at the Crawdaunt.
“As I have explained to you cretins,” began Ulric impatiently, throwing his nightmarish stare down, “none of you is to kill them.” He brought his gaze back up to the family. “Their fates do not rest here with us. . . .”
The situation could not have been more deadly. Summer guessed Ulric had to be the Aqueous Talisman’s Keeper, and that he perhaps ruled over these Corphish as their leader. A small part of her wanted to know if, like the Corphishes, he was feral also, but that hardly mattered; even if he was, being possessed by one of Black Nex’s Shadows made him more dangerous than he could ever normally be. Now, he had their escape cut off. . . .
Among the dreaded thoughts of what Ulric had planned for her family — visions of harrowing torture racing through her mind — Summer realized something about the Corphish. That they weren’t possessed. They were acting of their own accord, obeying Ulric’s commands as though nothing was wrong. Did they not notice anything . . . strange about him? Surely any feral with half a brain could have figured out something crazy was going on!
Ulric gave another low, dark chuckle.
“If you think this sucks, man oh man just you wait!” Excitement hungered in his cruel grin. “This is your doing. You made the mistake, chose wrongly. Such wasted potential. To think, anything and everything . . . you could have had whatever desire the flesh craves. All that had you sided with us. Now you will suffer the consequences of your actions . . . Bring them down,” he ordered the Corphishes, all of who advanced slowly.
“Don’t listen to him!” Summer implored the four. By some miracle, one stopped, triggering the others to as well. “That’s not what he wants,” she continued, trying to think up as simple an explanation as possible. “He’s been taken over — controlled to say all this. Please, we can prove it!”
“Nice try, Summer,” said Ulric quietly, “but they won’t turn on me. You see, brothers and sisters,” he announced in a rallying voice, “the intruders tell you lies, just as I said they would. Remind yourselves, who is your protector?”
“ULRIC,” cheered the Corphish together.
“I am my father’s blood,” boomed Ulric. “His vows and duties are my own, this I pledged by his deathbed. Now who do you fight for?”
Crying, “ULRIC!” the Corphishes each pointed a pincer at the family to unleash a controlled fury of bubbles and boiling water.
Four attacks in the same instant disorientated Summer, the Espeon fumbling to pick one out and stop with her Psychic; her eyes weren’t even aglow. She knew her mistake had cost her the opportunity to use all their attacks against them, though such a performance, she would admit, seemed unlikely, considering the strain she would be putting on her psychokinetic powers. Fall and Rose could do nothing but blench, defenceless against the onrushing attacks —
Disregardful of the talisman, Raina was about to learn of a whole new trick up her metaphorical sleeve. With a bright flash that made her gasp, the Corphishes’ attacks simultaneously diverted on her like she was some type of powerful attractive force. Although her species’ intrinsic ability, Water Absorb, safeguarded her from offensive Water-type moves, Raina still braced, expecting the impact to mow her down —
Nothing. Shaky legs still held her. After several seconds she opened her eyes, astonished by what was happening.
The Bubble Beam and Scald attacks, somehow, were filing into the talisman, shrinking unnaturally at the last moment. Temporarily overcome by surprise, Raina found her thoughts drifting back to the talk she and her family had had with Kadence, Petalflo City’s undisclosed Keeper. The Togekiss done her best to educate them about the talismans — explaining how only Pokémon were able to draw out their powers (animals non-Pokémon could not), as well as the basics of using them — but if Raina was being honest, an awful lot of it had gone over her head. She much preferred getting hands-on when it came to learning something new. One thing she did remember Kadence saying, though, was that, “like a vast ocean,” only through exploration could one hope to disinter the secrets.
And precisely that had happened, but she was positive it wasn’t because of her; the talisman seemed to have taken charge, acting independently in an effort to help its user. In any case, it did not matter. Thanks to her it was one less mystery to uncover — and although this power would need to be better understood, absorption of enemy attacks wasn’t something to turn their noses up at.
Summer watched in wonderment as a second flash emitted a pulse of blue-coloured energy, the Corphishes’ attacks literally being erased from existence as it sped outwards. The shock wave hit the Corphishes and they flinched, however it was no more harmful than a light breeze; Ulric didn’t so much as twitch. Whatever had just happened left both sides confused, each Corphish either gawping at its claw or turning to their protector, stumped at having their attacks shut down.
A slight grin tugged at the corner of Ulric’s lip. “Sly. . . .” he droned.
Another Corphish pair spouted together off to Summer’s right and landed by their fellows. This made it seven against four, Fall’s strained groan a grim reminder of his state. Summer shrank back into Fall’s side, fear making another push for control over her body; Rose pressed herself against Raina.
“There is no getting out of this,” Ulric said, and Summer, who was searching for an escape, knew this statement was directed at her . . . she could see those burning eyes on her wherever she looked. Involuntarily turning to them sickened her visibly. “Why not ease things . . . ?” he continued smoothly. “Accept your demise. Who knows . . . Come willingly and there may yet be mercy for you. . . .”
Sparkles above the Crawdaunt then caught Summer’s attention and she lifted her eyes to the ceiling. A bluish pattern of refracted water was flowing over a bulge of rock, mirroring off several crystals, of which an armful were embedded. If she destroyed it, she thought recklessly, immediate chaos would ensue . . . enough to buy them escape time. . . . Either they took a chance and died here, or they signed their own death warrants. And Summer was most certainly not about to give Ulric that satisfaction!
“Go to hell!” she spat at him.
None of the Pokémon were prepared for when she readied a triple Shadow Ball, three dwarfed, deep purple and black orbs taking shape in a row —
“Summer, WAIT!” yelled Raina.
But too late. At full force, Summer fired her attack up at the rock, a rapid succession of bangs quaking the chamber. Already weakened by erosion, a large chunk of the rock disintegrated to hail down on Ulric and the Corphishes; water gushed freely out a narrow hole in the now molar-shaped rock. Ulric cowered, throwing his fearsome claws above his head.
“Now’s our chance!” Summer told Raina. “Hurry and get Fall out of here — Rose and I’ll distract ’em!”
When Rose went to nod she hesitated, but said nonetheless, “R-right!”
The Leafeon let fly a single chain of Razor Leaf leaves, committing to the rash decision before Raina could oppose. Raina looked about to do exactly that however did not, obviously realizing this was their best hope of escaping, and that she couldn’t afford a second to hesitate. Fuelled by adrenaline, she lugged her brother around and made for the encirclement of water, their pace torturously slower than she wanted —
Rose never noticed them go. She was staring, left open-mouthed at what she had seen. Whilst watching one of her Razor Leaves (which had been on track to strike Ulric), a Corphish, unexpectedly, sprang to take the hit, defending him like a bodyguard. Such loyalty was . . . so unlike what Rose had grown to believe about ferals. These “recusants of society” were meant to be simple, illiterate, their hierarchies maintained under the rule of the strongest, often most brutish Pokémon known to be ranked as alphas. It should not have been in a feral’s interest to risk injury for no personal gain. And yet, one willingly did so. Had the civilized world, for so many centuries, underestimated the intellect of its other half . . . ?
More of the ceiling rock broke away, losing under the immense pressure of water now cascading in. Not as speedy as his subordinates, Ulric didn’t bother trying to get away and was quickly swamped. Upon his slow emergence, Summer seized the opportunity for a super effective Signal Beam, the Espeon hoping to muddle the Crawdaunt’s senses, occasionally an after-effect of said attack. Her red gem flashed a white sheen immediately before she fired, but just as with Rose, a Corphish leapt into the pinkish beam’s path, taking the punishment for Ulric; it cried out as it dropped to the ground on its back, defeated.
Summer showed her teeth in frustration. After his two lifelines Ulric had collected himself, now glaring furiously at the sisters . . . their optimal attack window had closed. . . .
Water continued to flood in and was filling the chamber at a rapid pace; already Summer’s paws were half-submerged. Being in no risk of drowning, Ulric and the four standing Corphish were untroubled by this. For Summer and Rose, however, that danger was very real. Everything seemed to be in fast forward, stress and panic mounting when, suddenly, Summer had a stroke of genius.
Dazzling Gleam, she remembered, was an unfocused attack that scattered Fairy energy like countless shards of glass to affect multiple targets at close quarters, becoming less damaging at range. On top of this, the move dealt Fairy type damage, meaning regardless of how tough he was — and whether the Corphishes all jumped to his defence — Ulric was going to get hit and it was going to hurt. Although she didn’t know the attack herself, all Summer needed was a quick Razor Leaf distraction from Rose in order to pull out the Angelic Talisman and use. . . .
Her heart sank. The Angelic and Hiemal talismans were in her backpack. The same backpack she’d left in the previous chamber . . .
“Don’t just stand there!” Ulric bawled at the smaller Water types. He pointed a pincer to Fall and Raina, both nearing the edge. “Stop — theeem!”
Even as he shouted, two Corphishes hastened for the pair. “No! Look out behind you!” Rose screamed, her warning deadened by the thunderous downpour.
Raina and Fall turned their heads, spotting the aggressors pursuing them. A fast apology was all Raina could spare Fall as she pulled out from under him to face the Corphishes. Fall faltered but managed to hold himself upright on three legs, his injured one bleeding scarlet clouds in the water. Looking at her, he saw a fury like nothing he had ever seen in his sister’s eyes before . . . the strengthening glow of the Aqueous Talisman almost in reflection . . .
Things took a turn for the strange, as water began to flow inwards, collecting in a building “wave” behind Raina like some sort of giant invisible vacuum cleaner was sucking up all the water. Ground was exposed again as the water behaved like it was receding after washing ashore on a beach, and though water continued to pour in it only helped feed Raina’s attack. The Corphishes stopped, frightened gazes on the imposing wave; even Ulric’s eyes widened.
Horrified, Fall watched as the amorphous mass lurched forward, curving into a perfect wave that overshadowed the Flareon and Vaporeon — he closed his eyes tight and braced —
A loud WHOOSH and rush of wet cold told Fall he’d been hit. And yet, he wasn’t being thrown around like a rag doll as he should have been right now. Unless he was somehow imagining it, his feet were still touching the ground. He would come to discover that a blue force field (not a Protect) had encompassed him — along with Raina, Summer, and Rose — granting near invulnerability against the Surf.
Unfortunately for Ulric and the Corphishes, the same couldn’t be said. They were instantly swept away by the ferocious wave, entirely at its mercy as it crashed into the wall, further weakening the ceiling; water hissed through large cracks which raced out from the hole . . . It was close to crumbling.
After colliding with the wall, the Surf diminished, returning the water it used to drastically raise the water level. As sudden as they’d appeared, the mysterious force fields faded around the Eevees. Beyond knowing these had been the talisman’s doing, Raina was as much in the dark as her siblings were. It felt to her as though the talisman had . . . read her mind . . . understood who her allies were and who weren’t. If the Elemental Talismans could discern friend from foe, in the right hands they were a far greater force for good than she had come to believe.
With alarm, she realized the water had crept halfway up her legs. “Guys, come on!” she shouted to Rose and Summer, snapping them and Fall out of their baffled states.
As Rose and Summer waded across with everything they had, Raina helped her Shiny brother to the deep water’s edge. Time running out, she launched herself into the deeper section, Fall clung to her throughout. Not hesitating had been the right play on her part, for she had felt him resist. Raina loved Fall dearly, but the very last thing on her mind now was his phobia.
She did not need to instruct him: He promptly grabbed hold of her, piggybacked as she rotated to face Summer and Rose. The girls had almost caught up when, on the opposite side of the chamber, an enraged Ulric geysered to the surface roaring.
Not slowing, Summer and Rose looked around. They saw him fire a double Dark Pulse at them, the difference in power compared with the Corphishes’ attacks immediately apparent, travelling at unavoidable velocity. Or at least, it would have been unavoidable had a large chunk of ceiling not collapsed right then. The entire chamber shook violently as rocks the size of Gravelers slammed down, jolting Ulric off his aim; one Dark Pulse went to waste on the wall left of him, while the other skimmed Summer’s back crosswise, pain equivalent to a paper cut causing the Espeon to shriek. Residual energy in the form of a blackish shimmering — distortion similar to that of a heat haze — was briefly visible where the attack made contact, an occurrence of Dark and Psychic matter reacting.
Summer would have thought she were perilously close to a large waterfall. She carried on, her mind focused on staying alive. Moments later, she and Rose were swimming straight at Raina and Fall, the Vaporeon waiting on tenterhooks.
“Hurry and grab on!” she cried at them as they swum.
Rose and Summer came alongside the two. With nothing of the Vaporeon to hold onto, Rose and Summer coiled their forelegs around Fall’s sopping mane, Rose on one side and Summer the other. Summer was worried. Raina was a proficient swimmer, none of her family could question that, but Summer had to wonder how bad a hindrance two whole extra people would be.
In the limited time she had to look, Summer could not see Ulric anywhere. “Deep breaths, all of you!” Raina barked over her shoulder, and she heard a unison of sudden gasps.
The dive was her toughest yet. Starting sluggish, Raina picked up momentum with each stroke of her tail, all the while heading down. It wasn’t so much the three’s weight making swimming difficult as it was their drag and buoyancy; she might as well have strapped on a parachute.
The commotion above surface had stirred the waters, clouding them a murky grey. Thankfully, it wasn’t so bad Raina couldn’t make out the wall of rock a few metres to her left. She kept her forelegs flat against her body for what little it was worth. When the bottom came into view she levelled off, seeking the passage connecting to the larger cavern and their eventual freedom. Raina’s heart nearly gave out when she bumped into a body drifting limp through the watery silence, a large bubble and smothered scream escaping in her sudden shock. It was an unconscious Corphish, most probably a victim of her Surf attack, she figured. She had no time to spare any pity; if she wanted to avoid returning to the surface and risk confronting Ulric, she needed to hurry and find the way out. . . .
With a strong downstroke she slipped beneath the red crustacean, leaving it behind as she scanned below for the aperture. Half a minute of luckless searching riled Raina to the point she wanted to yell. Right now, her siblings’ evolution choices made them about as helpful as a chocolate teapot. The blame, however, could not be on them. She had taken their lives into her paws . . . had rushed them into an impetuous course of action.
Assuming them to need oxygen shortly, Raina came to a vertical stop, ready for a fast trip up. “Mmm!” Fall had shook her by the shoulder, plainly alerted to something she had not seen. He pointed a paw right at it: the dark aperture from which they’d come.
No sooner than she’d seen it was Raina on a beeline there, going at full pelt, consideration for her family forgotten about. The Vaporeon’s mastery of swimming showed as she stopped, allowing their momentum to carry them down while she repositioned for as smooth an entry as she could achieve. Although a tight squeeze, she made it look easy. She descended the first five metres carefully, her eyes narrowed against the grey sediment filtering in from the Aqueous Talisman’s former dwelling.
Lacking the brightness to pierce far, the chamber’s blue glow wasn’t enough and darkness seemed to spread like an eager infection. Before she felt herself clearing the grittier water all she could see was the colour black. As though sensing its user’s panicked heartrate, the Aqueous Talisman jumped to Raina’s aid once more, illuminating itself to become the world’s most valuable flashlight. Calmed by this, Raina sped on with confidence, swiftly reaching the deepest point and continuing along the horizontal stretch. Then, an inky blue light in the distance, brightening steadily . . . they were going to make it out alive, Black Nex had lost again . . .
Fall’s hold tightened both uncomfortably and unexpectedly, his forelegs crossing over her chest to enclasp her. Raina saw no reason for this; they were hardly going Sharpedo speeds. She glanced around — and saw his face . . . strained, battling to stop himself inhaling assured death. . . . Horror surged through her — she had kept them under long enough already. Worse still, there were no air pockets overhead either.
It was nobody’s time. Raina would bear a hundred Banette curses before she lost a sibling to her own negligence.
She summoned every ounce of strength into a mad race out, praying Fall and her sisters could hold on for a short while longer. She did not slow for the narrow gap, taking it straight through the middle; Summer and Rose tucked in but were still clipped by pointed rocks. Raina ascended at once, a barrier of darkness between her and the surface. The four disappeared from sight . . . followed closely by two fresh Corphishes lying in wait all this while.
A cool blue becoming of the chill lifted the darkness, the promise of air finally in view. Summer pressed a paw over her mouth, her lungs starved. She did a double take after casting a glance at the depths below. They had not yet shaken their enemies, two more of them coming for blood —
In the space of just moments the four were at the surface, all bar Raina wrestling to get their breath back.
“You all okay?” shouted Raina.
Summer knew they soon weren’t to be, if the Corphishes had anything to do with it. In her haste to warn them she choked on her words and went into a state of coughs that scratched her throat.
“They’re coming!” she gasped, her eyes scrunched up. “— Two of them!”
“I’ll handle it!” said Raina, breaking away from them; Fall promptly threw himself onto Summer, his injured leg strengthless. “Don’t wait for me —” And she was gone with a splash.
“Raina!” cried Rose.
“We need to get out quickly!” Summer barked, having difficulty keeping their heads above water. Fall saw her concentrating on him and met her eyes; as he watched them travel up — glowing now — he himself was lifted into the air, his waterlogged mane and tail dribbling like taps.
As Summer swam doggy-paddle for the submerged rock path that carried on a short distance beyond the crystal-embellished tunnel, she maintained her Psychic attack to keep Fall ahead of her, being careful to only control him and not hurt him. An advanced and layered move, Psychic’s potential depended on diligence. Pokémon with a basic knowledge of the attack — those having newly learnt it, or those who had lived with the power for perhaps years but never concerned themselves with refining it — would be restricted to using it offensively, unable to immobilize a Pokémon or influence them the way Summer currently was.
Fall’s leg appeared to have stopped bleeding, and Summer instinctively knew it was down to the cold water. Still, it had done nothing for his wounds, which somehow looked worse cleaned up. Fortunately, they had surfaced quite near the path, both Summer and Rose reaching and scrabbling onto it, Summer doing so after she’d set Fall down.
The whole cavern was silent but for their laboured breathing.
“Raina!” coughed Fall, his eyes scanning the sheeny surface furiously. “I can’t see her — Raina!” He took no notice of his Espeon sister, her forepaw hooked around his foreleg and tugging to get him along.
“We aren’t safe here,” Summer hissed in his ear. “Fall, your leg! We’ve got to go —”
“Then go!” Fall rounded on her, “I’m not leaving without Raina.”
But before Summer could argue the point, their Vaporeon sister arose unaccompanied. On spotting them she swam their way, rebuking, “Didn’t I tell you not to wait for me.”
“Raina!” smiled Fall, relieved. “. . . You had me worried a sec then.”
“They didn’t hurt you?” asked Summer sceptically, offering Raina a paw.
She ignored this and pulled herself up. “Helps when you’re more agile,” she said impatiently. “Now can we hurry the hell out!”
Exactly how Raina had faced off against two Corphishes and beaten them without any hint of a struggle, Summer would have to ask another time. She followed Raina as she whipped around and waded toward the tunnel, glowing sky blue with its hundreds of crystals. Fall brought up the rear limping, no room for his sisters to support him.
“Rose?” said Raina, coming alongside the Leafeon, “What is it?”
Rose stood on the wider section of the path immediately outside the tunnel. She was staring down it . . . more specifically, at the rock they’d left their backpacks on top of.
“. . . It’s . . . Fall’s pack,” began Rose quietly. “It’s . . . gone. . . .”
Fall froze. At once he noticed she was right; his backpack wasn’t there. From where he was, he could see it hadn’t simply fallen down during their absence — something had taken it. But . . . why should anyone want to take his only? Surely, if this was the Corphishes’ doing, it would have made more sense to steal Raina’s, Summer’s, and Rose’s as well. . . .
The apparently random theft had them confused. And then, Summer’s eyes went wide. She fought time itself to spin around, clapping eyes with her brother for what felt like an age until —
Off to Fall’s right, behind him, the water exploded as the menacing bulk of Ulric erupted, roaring with rage. It happened quicker than the girls could process. Ulric lurched forward, threw his huge claws around the startled Flareon, and retreated down under.
“FAAAALL!” screamed Raina, darting into pursuit but was pounced by Summer — “Raina no!” — and brought down before she made the water.
Raina struggled hard; Summer redoubled her hold around Raina’s waist, grunting with the effort of restraining her. More than once Raina nearly got to her feet. Rose could do nothing but look on, tail between her legs, ears lowered, and trembling wholly.
“GET — OFF — FALL!” Raina cried desperately, dragging herself forward several inches.
“Listen to me —” shouted Summer.
“I CAN SAVE HIM — GET HIM BACK!”
“You’ll get yourself killed if you go!”
Raina stopped resisting and broke down in tears, sobbing at her own wavy reflection in the pool.Summer retained a firm grip as she caught her breath. “. . . There’s nothing we can do . . . We have to go.”
Bonds of Eeveelution, its characters, and text are ©MorningSunEspeonPokémon and its creatures are ©The Pokémon Company ©Nintendo ©Game Freak Inc. ©Creatures Inc.
Somehow disregarding lying on harsh, itchy, red-brown ground carpeted with countless sticks and pine-like needles, as well as the incessant caws of nuisance Spearows, Summer had dozed off in an afternoon catnap. Although tired after walking all day, she hadn’t got much sleep the previous night, the backwoods she now found herself trekking through astir with the calls and activities of nocturnal animals.
Yesterday morning saw an emotional parting of the group. No pair were affected greater than Glacia and Rose, Summer saw it in their goodbye hug. Initially, Summer had thought it going overboard when her Leafeon sister fought to hold in her tears, but then it occurred to her neither Rose nor Glacia were used to being distant from each other, and certainly not for longer than half a day. Rose viewed Glacia as her best friend, yet Summer couldn’t lie about her. Rose was dependent and almost neurotic. Still, if there was one thing her naturalness could do it was to evoke Summer’s maternal responsibilities, the Espeon hugging and reassuring her.
Simon’s unwillingness, or more accurately downright refusal, to travel with Fall meant they had to adhere to the teams originally discussed. On Summer’s team were Rose, Raina, and Fall, whom had been appointed their leader, meanwhile her siblings on Lilah’s team (the side she stupidly denied herself joining) included: Eclipse, Simon, Dawn, and Glacia.
It didn’t make sense to Summer why Simon could tolerate travelling with Glacia but not Fall; his beef should have been with both of them as they were equally responsible for the wiping of his, Dawn’s, and Raina’s minds. One possible reason she had narrowed it down to was a betrayal of brotherly trust. Okay, so Simon may not have idolized Fall or really shared anything in common — his evolution choice, Jolteon, a brazen example. Simon was happily his own man with his own interests, yet Summer sensed something more meaningful. It was the same connection she felt to Glacia, a sense of admiration, respect, credits only an eldest sister could merit. Whatever the relationship was, Simon and Fall’s had hit a rough patch that Simon was clearly determined to stay on.
As much as it annoyed her, Summer couldn’t really call it petty. The entire truth was a massive deal to her, and she had to think how Simon, Dawn, and Raina all must’ve felt after Fall and Glacia’s confession. Fall claimed at the time she, Eclipse, and Rose were too young to have any recollection of that night, and although they suffered from night terrors as Simon, Dawn, and Raina did, within a few weeks their nightmares stopped and they were able to enjoy the rest of their childhood without needing the professional help their older siblings required. Summer could only take Fall’s word for it. Either way, he was right; searching her memory as far back as it went yielded no such event.
Appreciating Fall and Glacia’s reasons but also not gainsaying Simon’s belligerence put her slap bang in the middle. If it were her instead of Simon, Summer would not have known how to react. Probably not with Simon’s short-fused temperament. She would be angry, yes, but doubted doing worse than swearing at them, never mind raging and causing them the same hurt Simon had. Most likely she would have been more forceful than Raina and Dawn, personally thinking the pair had been too forbearing.
Maybe this separation was exactly what they needed during this family crisis. However, distance and the relaxed atmosphere of journeying with three of her siblings didn’t remove the niggle on Summer’s mind reminding her the troubles were simply on hiatus and would not be sorted until they all met up again in a week’s time at Verculum City, possibly longer than that, even. Summer hated knowing this tension was there. Brothers and sisters should have meant the few people to be fully natural around, not being afraid to do or share things that could otherwise be embarrassing in a friend’s company. Since the truth, Summer felt weirdly uncomfortable around them, as though they were someone else’s family. Simon’s absence helped slightly, but it was apparent Fall, Raina, and Rose were undergoing the same tribulation as she. Summer only hoped Glacia and the others could somehow talk Simon round before Verculum.
Deduced from rough calculations, Lilah recommended one week to convene in the region’s capital. Nobody had challenged her. To the contrary, most of them passively cooperated. Although the Ninetales seemed to have thought it through and knew what she was talking about, Summer believed Lilah understood none of them particularly cared; with everything going on at once it was much easier to just roll with the flow.
At a sudden yell, Summer snapped awake, lifting her head in search of the sufferer. She found it to be Fall, standing not far away and looking down at a bleeding, horizontal slash across the front of his left foreleg.
“Oh my God — Fall, are you okay?!” cried Rose, sprinting up to the Shiny Flareon. “Sorry!” she apologized desperately, her eyes wide as she stared at the cut, “I-I didn’t mean to . . .”
Summer remembered watching the two train together, not so much the part when she had nodded off. She noticed Rose seemed to have gained a fair level of confidence since the fight against the mercenaries, Hunter and Marcelo, in Azure Town, much less hesitant of attacking in self-defence. Summer had to give Glacia kudos. Clearly during her group’s mission to recover the Primeval Talisman, Glacia managed a persuasive talk with Rose. What caught Glacia by surprise was Rose’s untypical readiness to try. The Leafeon’s biggest influence, she admitted, was a desire for change come her birthday, wanting herself to say yes more, to step out of her comfort zone, even be a little daring.
Rose’s can-do attitude deeply impressed Fall. It amazed him how much she had improved virtually overnight, yet there was more potential too valuable to go to waste. As a speedy Grass-type, Rose boasted powerful offensive capabilities extremely useful for where the four were headed; the assumption the Aqueous Talisman’s Keeper would be a Water-type was a safe one. Her resilience to water attacks gave her that edge over Simon, making her ideally suited for this talisman. Although Simon, an Electric-type, matched Rose on type advantage and exceeded her on power, the thought of sticking, essentially, lightning on legs near a lake sounded about as unwise as asking a Charmeleon to fetch fireworks from confined storage. The danger of accidental electrocution would have been too great, so Simon would have to settle on being second best to Rose on this occasion.
Fall hoped their expedition would not come to fighting, praying for the same peaceful interaction they’d had with their first Keeper both for his group and Glacia’s. Sadly, prayer wasn’t going to sweeten the bitter truth their journey was fraught with peril, and Fall knew his family’s safety, ultimately, depended on their combat competence. Capitalizing on Rose’s newfound enthusiasm, he offered her exclusive training sessions to help sharpen her abilities whilst inculcating her inner bellicose. Tied with Rock types on most weaknesses, there could be little room for pacifism, and Rose was embracing this reality well, because she’d apparently gotten a little carried away, if the cut her Leaf Blade delivered was anything to go by.
Summer stood up, bits of forest floor clinging to her underside. Although she could see the laceration wasn’t bad, she began her way over to the two, her main intention to help calm her alarmed sister. Midway into her second step, Fall boomed out in hearty laughter, causing Summer to stop there, her left forepaw suspended in the air as she rethought the necessity of involving herself.
“Don’t be silly!” an overjoyed Fall told Rose, and Summer set her paw down, satisfied all would be fine. “It’s a flesh wound; it’ll heal. Besides, I’m proud of you!” Fall held up his right paw as though taking an oath of truth before a court. “No word of a lie, I was proper trying to dodge you then.”
“L-let me bandage that up,” Rose offered shakily, the concern not budging from her face. With an about-turn, she jogged the distance to where Fall’s backpack had been leant against a big tree trunk covered in scabs of dried moss and splits in the bark; its distressed, weather-hardened appearance was shared in every one of its neighbours.
Summer knew Rose was after the medical kit Dawn had provided her group with. Watching as Rose retracted her head out of the backpack clenching a small, square, red bag in her teeth, the absence of Dawn and Lilah struck Summer completely. The group’s two medics were on the same team — potentially very bad news for her team if any of them sustained serious injury. It never seemed a big deal to her when Dawn voiced this exact issue whilst they were still together, but saying that, she couldn’t take all the blame for this negligence; the others weren’t in any frame of mind to bother much either. Much to Dawn’s discontent, Fall closed the matter by promising he wouldn’t allow harm to befall his sisters.
Realizing what it paid to be cautious, Summer took in a quick breath and said, “Please try and be caref —”
Ear-piercing squawks overpowered the rest of her warning. A showering of twigs rained down on her, one scratching her eye. “Argh, you — !” She closed her eyes at once, pressing the back of a forepaw into the irritated one; she heard the taking off of flapping wings, which soon faded to leave behind a single bird’s cawing.
Blinking the pain from her teary eye, Summer leaned back and pointed her nose to the treetops. The apparent culprit was a Spearow — obviously a “wilder” — victorious in chasing off some competition and being loud about it.
“It’s gone already!” Summer angrily shouted at the small predatory bird. She was ignored by it, the antagonistic-looking Pokémon glaring in the direction its rival had fled. Her temper rising, she shouted, “Are you dense or something? Right, if you don’t shut up, I’m going to eat you.”
She was not bluffing. Any consideration for Rose, whom was a vegetarian and tended to disapprove of family hunts, became lost in the emergence of her inner carnivore, craving for the taste of meat. A Rattata very nearly fell victim to the Espeon not all that long ago, Rose stepping in to prevent her feline sister killing at the last moment. Only, Summer’s prey would have no saviour this time, as Rose was currently distracted dressing a length of bandage around Fall’s wound, unaware of her surroundings; Fall himself had only cast Summer a cursory glance before assisting Rose.
Swift as a shooting star, the Spearow went silent, its attention darting earthward to the lilac cat agitatedly swinging her tail side to side, looking on the verge of racing up for the kill. The peace lasted a whole second, after which Summer’s threat backfired, the Spearow screeching defensive caws at her. At the pestiferous noise, Summer’s sensitive ears quivered and she scrunched her eyes. Inaudible over the bird, Summer slowly reopened her eyes with a low, dangerous growl, her mouth shut all the while. This was the final straw, but she could hardly use Psychic and bring her quarry to within striking range in proximity to Rose.
Glancing around, a small thicket of bushes fortunate enough to be lounging in a shaft of greyed sunlight between a generous spacing of trees gave Summer an idea. Shooting the Spearow another venomous glare, she started a stiff gait toward the bushes; her harasser, still cawing, jumped into flight, keeping its distance as it followed her.
Summer hunkered through a dark gap into the greenery, her colourful form vanishing at once. Lacking a visual on the Espeon quickly fazed the minor predator, which ceased its raucous cries, now hovering on the spot and scanning hard for any trace of the Psychic-type. It flew higher, the improved view showing up nothing. And then —
“Spear! Spear!” it wailed in panic as a light blue radiance bound its body absolutely, preventing the bird from thrashing and leaving it levitating there. Feeling itself entering a descent, it called desperately for any sort of help. But no aid was coming.
While suspended a couple of feet above the ground, it had to fight against the forceful influence simply to turn its head left. This proved a terrible last decision, as all the bird could do was stare fearfully into the glowing eyes of sprinting death, the scarf-wearing Espeon producing minimal sound. It watched her pounce, curved claws unsheathed and fangs primed — everything blackened, the Spearow’s screech extinguished. . . .
Hurriedly masking her urine by kicking up earth, Raina jogged around the relative privacy of a sizable tree, doubling back to where she’d left Fall and Rose training. She had to dodge several trees before she regained sight of her siblings sixty yards away. Upon seeing the two untroubled, the Vaporeon’s urgency melted and she eased to a stop. She frowned in confusion. Although glad Fall and Rose were safe in each other’s company, she definitely heard the distressed cries of a Pokémon toward this direction. So what had the kerfuffle been about?
Fall and Rose weren’t looking at the blue-skinned Eon: Rose bit across the bandage strip, using her teeth as scissors to cut off excess; she finished up planting an apologetic kiss on his injury. Raina could not make out what Fall said in response but guessed it was something on the lines of appreciation or forgiveness, maybe, because Rose vaulted her forelegs around his warm mane, the feeling of softness against her chest a welcome comfort as she rubbed cheeks, her eyes shut and smiling. Raina was about to call to them when a scent turned her head. She was smelling the odour of fresh blood coming from some bushes nearby.
She stood still a moment, her desire to investigate in conflict with perturbation. According to Lilah, whom had studied up on the species of wild Pokémon roaming the trees around Lake Blalock, no apex predators lived in the area. And it wasn’t hard to see why. No foliage grew overhead, only an erratic network of branches with enough layers to block out even a high noon sun on a clear day, leaving an ominous, near-perfect darkness looming, though one could see well enough during the day. As to be expected, such an absence of light meant a cooler environment unsuitable for any type of uplifting plant life. In spite of the tough conditions, some hardy animals, like the “rat” and “fox,” called this place home, as did Pokémon like Morelull and Yungoos; dangerous Pokémon such as Ursaring and Mightyena packs required large prey to sustain themselves.
The thought to inform her siblings slipped Raina’s mind when she approached a clue in the form of a bestrewn of feathers a few feet from the bushes. Although the scene comprised of three differently-coloured feathers — pinkish-red, cream, and light brown — Raina knew they belonged to the same bird. The evidence pointed to a nasty struggle, Raina noting some feathers spritzed with blood. Certain this had a connection with the earlier cries, Raina lifted her head and let her nose guide her around the bushes, becoming hidden from Fall and Rose’s view.
At first sight of her, everything added up. Hugging the thicket sat Summer, her back to Raina and bending over what was most probably the Pokémon Raina heard shrieking. The Espeon was currently de-feathering her kill, each jerk of her head ripping out a mouthful of Spearow feathers. Raina smirked.
“Why am I not surprised?” she announced her presence, and Summer swiftly glanced around, her eyes wide. Summer’s startled face, coupled with the short feather sticking out her mouth, was comedy gold. In containing her laughter, Raina pulled a rather silly face of her own. “I dunno,” the Vaporeon went on in joked disappointment, shaking her head at Summer, whom twisted herself around as she stood up, now facing Raina and stepping backwards so the Spearow was between them. “Just no self-restraint these days.”
Summer, along with her siblings, had been born into a registered family of society, thus benefited in an educated upbringing, her intellect nurtured from the beginning of her days. As part of the proclaimed “superior” class of Pokémon, Summer had boundaries to abide by. Law and order maintained the harmonious coexistence between any and all species, and the Tavolous region took pride in the fair treatment of its people, regardless of age, religious belief, disability, or sexuality. Crucially, the killing of any civilized Pokémon committed by another, whether for food or some other motive, was punishable by law. Summer understood this well and had long since learnt to restrain herself when around prey. Yet none of this altered the fact she was a hardwired ambush predator, her cuteness hiding an adept huntress. Outside of civilization, good behaviour and respecting others’ rights mattered not; it was every man for himself. What communities feared most was knowing just beyond their sheltered homes of comfort and technology existed a world of survival of the fittest.
“It was pestering me, for your information,” retorted Summer, blowing away the feather and speaking with dignity. “But as it’s dead, it’d be a waste of effort not to eat it. So yeah, go ahead and squeal to Rose — see if I care.”
Raina watched her sister sit back down, pressing her forepaws down on her meal’s wings to hold it in place as she sank her teeth into bare belly, blood staining her mouth and chin while she feasted on flesh. The wild act didn’t seem to bother Raina, whose teasing smile remained firm.
“You know I’m only playin’,” she said as she neared Summer. It became quickly apparent to her how much Summer was enjoying her taste of meat. The best substitute Summer and the other meat eaters of the family tended to get these days was fish caught by Raina. Back home in Lavender Forest, dinner was often whatever she could catch at the lake. Raina herself was not picky, just so long as she had something to eat, although it had to be said she wasn’t one to pass up an opportunity for a red/white meat dinner. “Never had Spearow before. Is it all right, is it?”
Summer paused, keeping crouched as she raised her eyes to meet Raina’s. To answer her question, she simpered with small, quick nods. Summer paid her no further attention, tucking properly into her catch.
Sadly, this didn’t last. At a call for the pair, Summer straightened, throwing a wary look over her shoulder and whispering a cuss at the repeating voice of Rose. She could hear Fall calling out as well and knew that her lunch had just been cut short.
“We’re over here, guys!” Raina called back to them.
When Rose replied, “Where ‘over here’?” Summer growled at Raina, “Good going, idiot. Thanks a lot.”
Raina frowned, only comprehending Summer’s exasperation when she grabbed a mouthful of wing and flung her half-eaten meal into the bushes.
“Thought you didn’t care?” smirked Raina.
Summer adopted a false smile to handle her sister’s mockery. “Kindly do me one of two favours,” she began with all the sweetness of acidic treacle. “Either help me” — she suddenly dropped her act, unsmiling and surly in tone — “or shut up.”
“Help you how?” asked Raina perplexedly.
Summer’s pointed ears functioned like radar, rotating back in response to Fall’s announcement. “Wrong way, Rose,” the Flareon informed, and Summer realized he had pinpointed their location by sound.
With her discovery imminent, Summer brought a paw to her blood-coated mouth and hissed, “This! Wash it out.”
Raina knew she could afford to tease her so raised a sly grin. “What’s the magic word . . . ?”
Through gritted teeth, Summer aimed a groan of frustration up at the leafless branches. “Pleeeease.”
“You might wanna close your eyes,” Raina advised, and Summer was given an inadequate split second to ready herself while Raina inhaled all the breath she needed. Summer could not have been less prepared, a weak jet of blue water shovelling comically into her open mouth; gurgling, she turned her head away and spewed water; Summer blocked the cold rush hitting her face with a foreleg, looking the very definition of hate.
“Quit it already!” she yelled.
Fall and Rose rounded the bushes from behind Summer, catching the end of their sisters’ antics. Beaming at a dripping wet and disgruntled Summer, Raina told her, “There you are, clean as a whistle.” She anticipated getting pounced, Summer’s growling foreshadowing it.
“What’re you two doing?” questioned Rose.
Eyes widening, Summer spun around.
“Er . . .” she faltered.
“Oh you know,” said Raina, poised as she came alongside the tense Espeon. “You go out of your way to help Miss Ungracious here clean off some dirt and all you get is attitude.”
Summer glowered sideways at her, but Raina merely laid her head against hers, smiling at the unamused cat. Rose took in sniffs of air.
“I smell blood . . .” she said before eyeing Summer, who attempted an innocent expression.
“Fall’ll dry you off,” Raina added cheerfully, deliberately steering conversation off of the suspicious scent. She looked from Summer to Fall. “Won’t you, Fall?”
“Sure,” he said, frowning slightly. He motioned Summer closer with his head and she approached, turning abreast with him on the side opposite Rose and touching bodies. She felt him heating up, warmth enveloping her wholly; shutting her eyes and smiling blissfully, she wrapped her tail around his. Rose, finding the allure of the radiance irresistible, pressed herself against Fall also.
Raina could understand why Fall’s pyrogenic abilities made him a magnet for Summer and Rose. As an Espeon, Summer owed her evolution to the influence of the sun. Daylight had blessed her with this body, awakening a hidden link between her and the distant fire giant patrolling Earth twenty-four seven; she was strongest during the day. Meanwhile warmth and light was a daily must-have in order for Rose to keep in good health. Rose’s biological make-up, uniquely, consisted of the same cellular anatomy found in plants, granting her the ability to photosynthesize. Eating in the regular fashion wasn’t strictly necessary for a Leafeon; Rose could just as easily absorb nutrients from available soil — the richer the better — to sustain herself. Rose often refrained doing so, primarily because it was a very time-consuming process which limited her to a single spot; she much preferred eating the way everyone else did.
“Anyway,” said Raina, “you were calling us?”
“Rose and I had a quick look at the map,” explained Fall.
“We’ve gotta be nearly there now surely. . . .” whinged Summer. To her relief, Fall nodded.
“Couple more kilometres to the south-west. Which is . . .” he added slowly, rummaging through his mane. He extracted a cheap, plastic, black-coloured compass he had purchased along with a modern map of Tavolous the previous morning in Cheritent Town; both their best compass and the old map of talisman locations were with Lilah and the others. To help compensate for this advantage, Fall’s team were given two of the three Elemental Talismans: Angelic and Hiemal. “In that direction,” he concluded with a nod to where the compass indicated south-west.
“You gonna be all right to keep going on that?” Raina asked him, looking at his leg bandage.
Fall’s muzzle curved in a smug grin. “I’ll kick my own ass if I let a cut stop me.”
Summer’s overall mood improved little throughout the last leg of their journey to Lake Blalock, although she could not deny how gladdening the peace was now, not a Spearow in sight. For the first time since they’d arrived, the joyless forest lay still without fracas. Of the four, Summer had been last to notice this. The Espeon seemed distracted, deep in thought while she walked . . .
“So Simon was telling me he’s gonna ask Lilah out.”
Exactly as Raina imagined, Summer snapped to attention, an instant mix of dismay and anger on her face as she turned to Raina beside her.
“That’s funny, I never knew you had selective hearing,” said Raina puckishly, smirking at her.
“Wait —” hesitated Summer, “were you joshing me or being serious?”
Raina shook her head. “Honestly, you’re gullible. Mind you,” she added thoughtfully, “I’d fancy Lilah if I was Simon; she’s hot . . . literally! So have you made a move yet?”
Summer’s cheeks blushed the same shade as her scarf. With a nervous smile, she lowered her head and returned forwards, stammering, “I — I can’t . . .”
Ahead of them, Fall and Rose were engaged in talk of their own. Summer was not listening to what the two were saying but knew from Rose’s abrupt burst of laughter their discussion was a lot less personal.
“Can’t or won’t?” Raina persisted, genuine curiosity in her teasing tone.
“Oh how can I?” Summer blurted out, looking back at Raina. She looked torn. Truth be told, more and more so she had found herself wanting this conversation (preferably with one of her sisters), yet now the right set of circumstances had arisen, she suddenly didn’t mind holding it off for the foreseeable future. “. . . It’s . . . it’s awkward for me.”
“Only because you make it awkward for yourself,” said Raina, sounding solemn.
“I appreciate you trying, but you’re not . . . like me. You’ll never get it. People’s faces after I tell them . . . friends who I thought understood me. . . . Unnatural, disgusting . . . I’ve actually heard people say that about . . . us lot. And it hurts me, Raina.”
“Homophobes,” growled Raina, angered. “Who cares if it’s not natural! It doesn’t affect them in any way, so why don’t people keep their damn opinions to themselves!”
Summer, heartened at her sister’s defence, tried to smile.
“Let people think what they want,” Raina went on, a grin broadening between her words, “they can’t stop you snogging a glamour girl if you were determined. Look, Fall knows you like Lilah, Rose knows you do — there’s barely been a waking moment any of us haven’t seen you with her. What I’m saying is, you don’t ask you don’t get. There’s every possibility Lilah’s into ‘lady company,’ so go for broke, girl! Do you miss her?”
Summer nodded, Raina’s infectious positivity giving her a boost.
“Tell her! When we get together again, say how you feel about her. So what you’ve only known her a month; some people hook up after five minutes. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain, and if Lilah’s straight then at least you’ll have no regrets.”
Summer came to a stop with a grateful smile on her face. Raina stopped too, turning her body toward Summer. Sitting down, Summer embraced her.
“I’m sorry I called you an idiot before. . . .”
Breaks of light in the dark distance halted the four’s progression, reason being it was the best indication they could have hoped for, an exit matter-of-factly dead ahead.
“I reckon that’s it,” said Raina, holding out a paw unnecessarily. “Lake Blalock must be beyond there. What does the compass say?” she asked, looking to Fall.
Fall had referred to the device enough times to know they were on the right path, but all the same, he withdrew his compass from his mane, letting it settle on the pads of his paw a moment. . . . Anxiety he’d kept silent since leaving Cheritent welled up inside of him. His stomach sank, where he felt himself tingling he sweated involuntarily.
When he failed to take his unblinking eyes off the compass, Raina set a paw on his shoulder and asked worriedly, “Hey, what’s troubling you?”
Her answer could be found in what the Flareon was holding. That light was coming from the south-west, the compass confirmed it. The Aqueous Talisman awaited. They’d reached point of no return.
Raina’s eyes fell on the low-tech gadget.
“You don’t have to be afraid . . .” she told him gently, and he slowly looked at her sideways. Although they didn’t say anything, Fall could see Summer and Rose were every bit as concerned for him as Raina. “I can’t guarantee nothing will happen to us,” the Vaporeon furthered, “but one thing you can be sure of is that I’ve got your back.”
Fall wanted to let this reassure him. Sniffing in a helping of air, he pictured a simple scene of finding the talisman, snatching it, then making an immediate getaway — minimal time, and minimal water. Imagining them in this forest, out of the water’s reach and talisman in custody helped calm his nerves.
With each step the white-grey shafts expanded in size and numbers, gradually fading to reveal a stretch of sand washed lightly by lake water; the quiet allowed them to hear it before they saw it. They emerged from the trees into a significant opening clearly none of them envisioned to find.
Although Lake Blalock broke no records for surface area, its depths were worthy of credit, going as far down as one hundred metres, or an impressive three hundred and thirty feet. A beige sandbar contained its surprisingly glassy waters, giving the impression of a sunbather’s paradise. But it wasn’t just the overcast sky which put Fall off the thought. Everywhere he looked, a mob of bare, forbidding trees had the area boxed in . . . He swallowed.
There wasn’t another living thing in sight, just them and the gentle swashing of water. Although clear by the shore, blackness instantly restricted further vision of the lake from a few metres onwards. Fall was sure the gradient had to have been nearly completely vertical for this to be possible. And as he looked out over the dark waters, he had to wonder what manner of monsters lurked below. . . .
Raina moved forward, mouth slightly open while she scanned her gaze across the lake.
“This place is . . . incredible,” she breathed. Abnormal worry made Fall want to shout a warning as he watched her stop just shy of the water’s edge. Unsurprisingly, nothing happened as she crouched down for a drink, lapping up the water using her tongue.
“And there’s nobody here,” Rose stated with a smile, leaving Summer’s side to better survey her surroundings. She had not strayed more than ten feet when she turned around asking, “I’m still confused — there’s a way under the lake?”
“So Lilah says,” Raina replied before Summer could speak. Keeping her back to the three, she slowly examined the lake from right to left. “Trouble is I’m not seeing a borehole or anything . . .”
“Then obviously we need to go look,” said Summer shortly. “I trust Lilah. She wouldn’t’ve told us unless she was certain of it —”
“All right,” Raina snapped back, swinging around, “quit jumping down my throat. I’m not doubting Lilah, Summer . . . but I do think that’s what we’ll have to do.”
“What’s up with that big rock?”
Raina, Summer, and Fall turned to see Rose pointing at a large, mound-like, flint-coloured boulderstone a fair walk from where they stood. Adjoined with the shore, the back half of the rock sloped underwater, effectively hiding its full bulk. Only now, in giving it longer than a glance, did Raina think a boulderstone of such proportions look out of place here; she would have expected to find lots this sort of size around mountainous areas.
“I don’t know,” she said in the end. “It must’ve formed ages ago.”
“Might be worth checking out,” said Summer.
“You guys can if you want to,” said Raina, uninterested in a land search. “It shouldn’t take me that long to find something if I swim.”
At this proposal, Fall looked to her in alarm.
“Why ever not?” frowned Raina.
“. . . Seriously . . . please don’t. . . .” The Flareon looked deeply unsettled, more so than Raina had ever known him to be about anything.
Although it frustrated her, she heaved a sigh and said, “Okay, Fall, I won’t . . . But, you know, sooner or later, we’re all gonna have to get our feet wet.”
Fall chose not to voice the worry in his head impelling him to keep his group together. Giving Raina a tentative nod, he led on to the triangular-shaped pillar of rock, his sisters following.
After a five minute walk, they reached the bizarre rock formation. Up close, it was even taller than they first realized. Scaling either side was made difficult thanks to its steep and relatively-smooth surface, providing few spots in which to gain a foothold, although one could very easily reach the top by climbing up the back, the incline into the water a lot more gradual. The increased height would have rewarded a far better view of the area, however, it was the discovery of an alcove in the face of the rock that interested the splinter group.
The opening reminded Summer of a fissure. It was wide and went high enough for them to enter easily in single file. Peering past the darkness, Summer made out a faint glow, though what the source was she could only guess.
“If I didn’t know any better,” Raina broke the silence, “I’d say that’ll lead us somewhere.”
“You can’t be serious!” said Fall at once. “There could be anything living down there! And besides, it might be dangerous.”
“Dangerous how?” Summer questioned.
“W-well I dunno . . .” Fall flustered. “It might cave in or something. Oh what does it matter — we’re not going in there, end of!”
“Then what do you suggest we do?” Raina asked him moodily.
Fall had no suitable response lined up.
“Face it, Fall, we cannot avoid this,” said the water Eevee pragmatically. “We’ve already put in too much effort to leave with nothing to show for it. Listen . . . I get you’re afraid, but trust me when I say everything will be all right. Come on,” she encouraged with a smile, stepping forwards while looking back at him over her shoulder, “one paw in front of the other. . . .”
He watched her slip from sight into the crevice, his heart thumping hard in suspense . . .
“All clear!” Raina’s voice reverberated. To Fall’s relief, she sounded fine. “Come on, there’s plenty of room!”
Rose and Summer exchanged curious looks before entering. After some hesitance, Fall forced himself inside.
A chill in the shadows stole over the Flareon, causing him to shudder. Disturbingly, nothing about the cold rush could be put down to temperature; capable of reaching bodily temperatures around nine hundred degrees Celsius, Fall’s species benefited in total immunity to the coldest of environments. No. That coldness had been purely him . . . fear finding a chink in his armour right off the bat.
Reassured in the knowledge their exit was a few steps backwards, Fall examined the dank cavern. Immediately beyond its entrance the natural tunnel opened up, allowing the space for them to continue in pairs if they so chose. Daylight failed to penetrate far into the tunnel, but, as Fall soon noticed, it did not have to. Exactly as he predicted, the tunnel was on a direct course down, and from his position farthest back he could see Raina from above Rose and Summer inspecting a cluster of phosphorus crystals embedded in the wall. They were giving off a light-blue glow bright as a flaming torch.
“Weird. . . .” mused the Vaporeon, soft blue gleaming in her purple eyes as she touched the pretty gems.
“How’re they glowing like that?” Summer asked no one in particular, moving in for a closer look.
Rose hadn’t the answer, but said nonetheless, “There’s some more.”
Her eyes were on the ceiling deeper into the tunnel, and when Summer and Raina turned to her she nodded to show them. Indeed a scattering of glowing crystals adorned the jagged ceiling, another blur of light (this time higher up on the right wall) beyond that.
“Come on,” said Raina quietly, the padding of her paws loud as she progressed. “Let’s see where this leads.”
Rose hurried to Summer’s side the second the Espeon moved off, leaving Fall standing where he was. He threw a short look over his shoulder, the only movement that of the lifeless trees swaying in the breeze. In no time, he’d disappeared into the waiting darkness.
And then, the shape of a small creature’s head poked around the opening, spying on the Eeveelutions as they descended. . . .
The four stuck together in a diamond formation, their way all but constantly lit from the glowing crystals. As they went, drips of water pattered down from the ceiling. It started out inappreciable to everyone except Fall, but now water was beginning to leak in through the walls, sliding down the sloped ground and glistening in the blue light. Very suddenly, Fall understood fully what Eclipse had experienced during their cave trek on Winterbreath Mountains.
What Fall saw next stopped him in his tracks. Ahead, the tunnel levelled out into a shallow waterway. Despite not seeing any, he knew there had to be a great deal of those crystals for the water to be glowing as strongly as it was. Worse still, he heard more than water bickering; the stuff sounded to be trickling down.
Raina reached the stream. “Wait here,” she told Summer and Rose.
As she ducked below some jutting rock, Summer lost her footing and was sent zooming into the chilly water.
“What happened?” shouted Raina, her head appearing between the gap she’d just gone through.
Summer quickly got to her feet and shook herself, hindered by her backpack. “Fudge me, that’s cold!”
“Summer slipped and — well, the rest is history,” giggled Rose, whom had carefully worked her way to the bottom, dignity intact.
“I’m glad you could find my misfortune humorous,” Summer said caustically to Rose.
“You’re okay, stop moaning,” smiled Raina. She pulled her head away to inspect the new section, and in that time Fall joined his sisters, although he kept clear of the transparent, blue-glowing water.
“Guys . . . guys, I really don’t like this . . .” he murmured nervously, but the two could only look back at him before —
“You have got to come see.” Raina’s voice buzzed with excitement. She was peering through the gap again. “Don’t worry, there’s headroom enough to jump. Where is . . . I can’t see Fall,” she added, tilting her head.
If either Summer or Rose were about to mention his unease, Fall did not let them: He stepped into the paw-high liquid, making light splashes as he approached Raina. He hoped his expression was more neutral than it felt.
Smiling, Raina outstretched an upturned paw and Fall laid his own on top. Gripping her brother’s, she slowly pulled him in, leaving him no choice but to slip under the low rock, snagging his backpack in the process.
“Look,” she said breathlessly.
Many more of the same crystals covered the walls and ceiling, almost as though one giant crystal had exploded from the inside to launch shards all over the place except into the ground, which was crystal-free. Marginally bigger than in the other tunnel, only the smallest crystals were bunched in clusters. And unlike with the other tunnel, visibility was not restricted, the way ahead permanently lit a strong blue.
From behind him, Fall heard Rose breathe, “Wow!” as the Leafeon and Espeon emerged together.
“Neat, huh?” said Raina.
“I’ll say,” agreed Summer, impressed at the size of a crystal she was admiring low on the wall. “These must fetch for a decent price.”
“Maybe,” said Raina, “but we didn’t come here to get rich.”
“I know, I know,” said Summer.
“This is exciting!” Rose chirped. “Let’s see what’s down there.”
“The Aqueous Talisman sitting on a rock, with any luck,” Summer muttered less-enthusiastically.
“I can’t figure those things out,” Raina voiced her thoughts as they started down the stream. “The Angelic Talisman — that had two defences; them sequencey torches and that pink gem, whatever it was. The Primeval Talisman was in Donovan’s safe. When we started this journey, I thought the talismans were all gonna be like the Hiemal, y’know? At their own altars where they’re worshipped like some sort of holy relic.”
“Yeah, I thought that as well,” Rose said. She watched Fall speed up under a steady leak in the ceiling, wasting no time in shaking himself. She guessed he had done it out of agitation, because unless he heated up his surroundings to dangerous temperatures, he was getting wet; their fur was dripping and that wasn’t about to change. Another thing Rose noticed was the water level. It was on the rise.
The water had reached a quarter of the way up the Eeveelutions’ legs when the tunnel ended. It ran into a dome-shaped cavern consumed in virtual darkness. The space had no crystal glow, illuminated only from what the tunnel lighting could manage.
Stopping by a flat-headed projection of rock at the edge of the tunnel, the group looked over the cavern. The high ceiling was drizzling water, collecting in the underground reservoir before them; the sharp plashing was non-stop. Raina wondered for a moment on how it was the cavern hadn’t flooded already but figured an outlet source from below regulated the water level.
A small grin curved Fall’s lips. “Oh darn,” he said, “dead end. Guess we oughta head back and think up a new plan.”
“Don’t be silly,” said Raina dismissively. “That pool looks like it’s deep. I’m not going anywhere until I’ve checked it out first.”
She strode a few metres forward and gazed down into the black depths. Even though she could easily swim with it on, Raina didn’t fancy a drowned backpack so sat down and swung the cumbersome thing around.
“Throw this on the rock, Rose, please.” She flung it at the sitting Leafeon, who caught it in her forelegs. “Ta. See you in a sec —” And in she dove.
There was nothing more for the three to do but wait. For Fall, it felt like it was taking an eternity for Raina to return. This time it was Rose that comforted him, offering gentle words of encouragement and pressing herself against him. Within a couple of minutes Raina surfaced with a soft gasp.
“I think I’ve found where to go,” she told them, and Fall stiffened. “You’ll wanna lose your packs; there’s a cave at the bottom, ’bout a thirty-forty second swim.”
“Raina,” began Summer, sounding annoyed, “it’s pitch-black. How are we meant to see? Magical Luxray vision?”
“Har har,” Raina retorted. “No. Halfway down more of those crystals are glowing. Don’t ask me why we can’t see them ’cause I dunno. The water here’s . . . strange.”
“Great,” smiled Summer in cheerful sarcasm. “D’you hear that, Fall — water’s freaky, just to top it off.”
“Don’t do that,” Rose defended her brother, but the Flareon continued to stare at the shimmering pool.
“Fall,” Raina called to him, redirecting his attention, “it’s really not that bad. A few minutes and the whole thing will be over and done with. We’ll get the talisman and leave right away.”
Fall said nothing but acknowledged with a timorous nod.
Heeding their Vaporeon sister, the three removed their backpacks and stowed them atop the rock with Raina’s. It cleared the stream and no water dripped above it, making it the driest spot on which to leave items.
“Mind the edges,” Raina cautioned Summer and Rose as they left the vibrant-blue tunnel; the narrow path was still submerged and became increasingly difficult to see away from the light.
Rose looked hesitant about getting in.
“How should we do this?” she asked Summer. “Slowly? Count to three then jump in?”
“Mmm . . .” grinned Summer. “I was thinking more along the lines of —” she threw her forelegs around her unsuspecting sister, “gotcha!” She dropped into the water, her weight bringing Rose with her.
Rose, wide-eyed and catching her breath, grabbed onto the rock path.
Summer let out a bracing “Whoa!” as the full impact of the cold seized her. “T-that’s c-chilly.”
Rose very much looked like she was about to swear. “W-what’s g-gotten into y-you?” she settled on demanding, all the while shivering.
“You’re so cute when you get angry,” Summer had to confess. Her sister’s cheeks turned slightly rosy.
“Summer, knock it off,” said Raina. “Whenever you’re ready, take a deep breath and go. You can’t miss the crystals, that’s where we’re going. Does everyone feel comfortable with this?”
Summer and Rose both nodded, however Raina’s eyes were on Fall, now standing where Summer and Rose had. He was scanning the water, wary.
“Can . . . can I have a minute?” he requested.
“’Course,” said Raina, raising a supportive smile. “In that case,” she added, looking to her sisters, “I might as well show you. Follow me —”
Fall watched Summer and Rose take in a lungful of air each before going under after Raina. Now alone, Fall tried to calm his heart through long, deep breaths of the mouth.
“It’s only water . . . you drink it all the time . . .” he murmured to himself. “Are you seriously going to destroy monsters but be beaten by a pool? Game face, Fall, game fa —”
He turned his head in the direction of the tunnel at once. In the instant before, he had heard the scurrying of something approaching, but only glimpsed a splash in the pool when he looked.
A moment later, Raina resurfaced. “What is it?” she asked, recognizing something other than the water had him agitated.
“There’s something in here. . . .” he said quietly, looking hard for any sign of the creature.
Perturbed, Raina glanced around. “Let’s hurry, before it gets bored of hiding.”
Fall turned to his sister. Knowing it’d take too long to coax himself, Fall scrunched his eyes and chucked himself forward —
“Well done, big bro!” Raina was praising him, although the shocked Flareon didn’t even seem aware of her right in front of him. His eyes were wide, he was hyperventilating, and he was floundering as though fearful he would sink if he stopped. “You’re all right,” Raina said gently. She turned her back to him. “Grab on.”
Fall’s eyes snapped onto her and he quickly reached for her, setting his forepaws on her shoulders. Feeling his weight pressing down on her greatly calmed his nerves. It was then he realized how effortlessly she was keeping them afloat; he was ashamed to admit he never truly appreciated the strength of her muscular tail, how adept a swimmer she was. Fall might very well have been the strongest in terms of brawn, but this was Raina’s domain. The water was her ally. Here, the roles of strength were reversed. Here, she could very easily run rings around him.
“Be sure to take a deep breath when I say,” she instructed.
“I plan to.”
“Right, then — hold tight!”She felt herself being pulled into sleek, flowing fur as Fall tightened his hold on her. Once she heard him take in a helping of air, she plunged with incredible power.
Bonds of Eeveelution, its characters, and text are ©MorningSunEspeonPokémon and its creatures are ©The Pokémon Company ©Nintendo ©Game Freak Inc. ©Creatures Inc.
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.