There are many legends in this world…
A young sneasel sits at attention, wide awake as the other children have drifted on to sleep, entranced by his elder’s stories. Stories of a great bird, with wings of black and red, the ender of lives. A deity that grants them favor in the afterlife.
The sneasel looks up to the night sky before puffing out his chest, and proudly declares that one day, he’s going to be the one to find their god.
The elder gives him a warm chuckle and reminds him that he needs to rest if he wants to grow big and strong enough to find them.
Some share stories of power. Others provide comfort or promise safety.
A bidoof settles down to bed next to her younger brother. He asks their dad for a story in a chipper tone. Just one more, please?
Their father huffs, but settles down in the straw to share the legends of the mountain. Of the great beast that slumbers there. The mountain mover, continent tower, protector of the small. He tells of his father before him, who went up the mountain in search of the great god.
The big sister rolls her eyes and declares that those legends are for babies. But her brother’s eyes are full of stars. Her father insists the story is true, that one day, the king will reawaken, and that when he does, he’ll protect them all from the coming calamity.
Many of these stories are nothing more than that. Legends. But the gods? Oh, the gods are very real.
A proud ninetales sits with his mate, murmuring the stories his father used to tell him. Of a deity far to the north. A dragon that had lost its purpose. A dragon that was as empty inside as the people that followed it, that blew icy winds from the mountain tops and froze their hearts, so they might be strong enough to survive.
His mate tells him what a horribly sad story it is, and he gives her a grunt of agreement. He hopes that they’re only tall tales.
These gods… they may be useful to us. The life in this world is filthy, like vermin. We seek to cleanse it.
A bisharp stands in a clearing, the pelt of a slain mamoswine draped over her shoulders. She speaks to her fellow pokemon of the teachings of their deity, of the life-giver. Of their importance. For if the forest were to quit providing life to the prey mon, then surely they would perish as well.
She raises a hand into the air and asks for their deity's blessing.
For our people, we will do whatever it takes. We will find these gods. We will bend them to our will. We will use their power to reshape the world.
A litten takes his place in front of the sacred stones, sitting down between the two for his vigil, closing his eyes as he recalls the inscriptions.
We give thanks to the Sun Devourer. We give thanks to the Moon Bringer. We ask for their blessings and we pray for their safe returns.
He raises his head and lets out a mournful cry.
We must succeed. I will stop at nothing to make this world ours.
A tired torracat waits for his gods. A scarred bisharp commands her followers. A world-weary ninetales listens in horror. A stubborn bidoof gets in an argument. A terrified sneasel flees his kin, and the place he once called home.
A ship runs ashore in an underpopulated bay, teeming with activity as the pokemon on deck get to work, putting their plans into motion.
For me, there is no sacrifice too great.
Chapter 1: The Stranger
Haru’s morning routine typically started out with a slow stretch in front of her family’s hut, watching twigs and leaves float by in the river’s lazy current. She’d make her way to the water’s edge, lapping at the shallow pools created by the family dam, quenching her thirst after a long, restful night and contemplating the same old schedule she kept to every day.
Today as she exited the hut, she found herself blinking in the mid-morning light. One by one, she stretched her legs, sniffing at the air in hopes of catching a whiff of breakfast on the breeze. Her mother had brought bread home the day before and had planned to make fresh blukberry jam this morning, a break from the usual leafy greens and a treat she eagerly awaited. She could still smell the lingering scent of berries, despite her mother having got up early to finish it in the first place.
She continued on to the edge of the pool, slowly lapping at the water as she contemplated her day. After breakfast she would head out into the yard for her day’s work, helping her father by prepping the trees he had brought back the day before, chipping away at the branches and gnawing away at jagged cuts, cleaning the leaves from the wood and stripping the bark from the trunk. Perhaps she would head to the village around lunch time, trading her money for vegetables or a trinket or two as she listened in on the day’s news. Perhaps, if she was lucky, an expedition team would pass through, with news from some far-off village, with new stories that the village pokemon had yet to hear. Then, satisfied with her peek into the outside world, she would return home for the day to finish her chores and eat a well-earned dinner.
The life of a bidoof was hard work, certainly, but it went by at a slow and steady pace that would make many a pokemon jealous.
But unfortunately, for the last few months her days seemed far less normal than she would like.
“Is that Haru?”
“I assume so.”
“Hey! Hey Haru! Helloooo! Good mooorrrning!”
Haru let out a groan, tilting her head up, a scowl on her face. Of course, her morning would be interrupted by those two.
She turned to look up the path that led to their house. Headed down the dirt and gravel path was an absol, who looked calm and composed. On her back sat a much more cheerful looking kirlia, waving down at Haru from her vantage point. The kirlia’s long hair had been bound together by thick, pink bands on either side of her head. Seeing her, Haru considered returning to bed.
“Good morning, Shimmer, Muse,” the bidoof called out, holding back a sigh.
The absol, Muse, carefully made her way down the bank. “Good morning, Miss Haru,” she greeted with a dip of her head. “Shimmer was hoping that your brother might be home this morning.”
The bidoof stole a glance back towards the house. In truth, her brother was probably still asleep. And she was sure he would rather stay asleep than deal with Shimmer’s antics. “I’m afraid he’s a bit busy at the moment,” she lied.
“Aww, and I was really hoping we could talk to him!” Shimmer pouted, shaking her head. “It’s been foreeever since we got to talk!”
“Sorry to disappoint,” Haru responded perhaps a bit too bluntly. “Some of us have to make a day to day living. Besides, you talked to him just a couple days ago.”
If the kirlia realized the statement was meant to be passive aggressive remark, she did not show it. “Exactly! We had been hoping he’d come with us to pick wild herbs in the forest today.” She paused for a second before a realization seemed to hit her. “Oh! Why don’t you come with us instead then! It would be fun! Besides,” she added in a teasing voice, “you could really stand to get out more.”
“As nice as it sounds,” Haru began, trying to stay tactful, “I really have a lot of work to do. More important things.”
“What’s more important than spending time with your future in-law?”
“You do realize you’re not my brother’s mate, right?”
“You’re not even dating!” The bidoof let out an indignant huff and turned away. Why did every conversation with Shimmer seem to end up like this?
The kirlia waved a hand dismissively. “That’s beside the point. I’m sure we will eventually. So.” She paused to clasp her hands together. "Are you coming or not?”
Haru turned back to stare down the kirlia. “I just said-”
“I think you should go with them, dear.”
Everyone turned their attention towards the speaker, a bibarel that had lumbered out from the hut, stretching in the morning sun. Muse dipped her head in respect to the older pokemon. “Good morning, Mrs. Saku.”
“But Mom!” Haru began to protest.
“No buts!” the bibarel chided. “You’ve been so busy with work lately, I say you could use a day off. Besides, I could use some more dandelion crowns, if you can still find any this late in the summer. And it’s not safe to go into the forest alone, so why not go now, while the opportunity's there?”
“It’s not that dangerous in this part of the woods,” Haru argued. “I could take care of it myself if you really need them.”
“But why risk it? Besides, Anu stopped by this morning - on his way back from patrol - to say he spotted signs of a wildener kangaskhan nesting not far from here. You know how territorial they can be. None of you should be facing something like that alone, should things go wrong.”
Haru opened her mouth, but bit back a reply, and instead let out a groan. There was no winning with her mom when her mind was made up. She lowered her head. “Okay, Mom, fine.”
Behind her, Shimmer clapped her hands once. “Great! Muse and I already have our gathering supplies, so we’ll leave once you’re ready!”
“Just give me a moment to eat,” the bidoof responded sullenly, turning back to try to scoot past her mother by the door.
“Have you two ate?” the bibarel asked, turning her attention to her guests. “We have day old bread and fresh blukberry jam, if you’re hungry.”
Muse took a second to look towards her kirlia companion, who gave her an excited nod. She dipped her head to the bibarel. “We would appreciate it. Thank you for your hospitality.”
The absol followed behind their bibarel host, lowering her head to speak quietly into Haru’s ear as she passed by. “Sorry about this,” she mumbled. “But look at the bright side. There’s always something to find or something to do in the forest.”
“That’s exactly what I’m afraid of.”
Once their bellies were full of delicious bread and jam, and Muse’s back had been laden with satchels for herbs and a bundle of berries and sweets for an afternoon snack, the trio set off, following the path up the river towards the northern forest. Shimmer sat atop Muse’s back, softly stroking the absol’s mane and chatting about her plans for the evening and about her father’s plan for expanding the village daycare to add a separate, permanent nursery.
Haru brought up the rear, ignoring the conversation entirely. Instead, she found herself lost in thought about where she’d rather be: back at home helping her dad prepare trees for carpentry. Did she enjoy getting out and exploring from time to time, or taking long walks after a stressful day? Sure! Did that mean she wanted to be out here spending time with Shimmer and just wasting her time when there was work to do? Absolutely not!
If she was going to be out and about, she would much rather take a trip to one of the neighboring settlements, helping spread her parents’ business. Her dad’s lumber work – both felling and the finer art of carpentry – was the finest in the village (though, to be fair, her family were the only lumberjacks in the village.) And her mother’s wooden sculptures were uniquely beautiful – not that her lumberjacking was subpar. Oh, if only she could spend all day working away at processing lumber, it would make her a very happy bidoof!
But no, she just had to be out here with one of the few pokemon she couldn’t stand to be around. Maybe her brother could try to ignore it and be nice for civility's sake, but Shimmer drove her nuts! At least Muse was nowhere near so bad. In fact, as they made their way deeper into the woods, Muse at least made an effort to try and keep the conversation away from Shimmer cooing about her brother.
Muse had always been an interesting case, in Haru’s opinion. She had never known the details about Muse’s early life, only that she had been working and living alone in the mayor’s – Shimmer’s father’s – estate. At a younger age, she served just as a friend and companion for the kirlia. But as they grew older, she also took up the mantle of bodyguard, especially when the two ventured to a neighboring village or into the surrounding forest.
Haru did not envy her one bit.
“Hey Haru! What would your brother think about these flowers?”
The bidoof snapped out of her thoughts just a little too late, accidently bumping into Muse’s legs. After a hasty apology, she turned her attention to the kirlia, only to close her eyes and take a deep breath after giving the patch of flowers a quick glance-over. “Well, I think they're nice, but the flowers won't matter to Toshi because he doesn't-”
“-Care about the kind of flowers, he cares about me? Aw, that's so sweet of him!”
Haru considered snapping back that no, she meant that he doesn't care about her. Not like that at least. But she held her tongue. They had been over this dozens of times the last several months, but it never did any good. Shimmer’s long-standing crush had always been annoying, but lately it had been the cause of most of the stress in her life.
“Sure,” she finally grumbled with an edge of sarcasm. “That’s definitely why.”
She turned away as the kirlia bent down to begin gathering up flowers, fuming. She could hear Shimmer and Muse talking behind her as Shimmer put the flowers in one of the baskets on Muse’s back. Wasn’t this trip supposed to be for gathering wild herbs and other edible plants, not the cutest flowers for a love bouquet?
In desperate need of a distraction, she took a moment to look out for trouble, sniffing at the air. The wind carried the scents of the forest. Moist earth, wild herbs, the smell of a rattata that had ventured from its burrow. The rancid scent of some long-dead pokemon. And some scent that seemed familiar, and yet a little odd at the same time. Perhaps someone from another village had passed through recently? Nothing too out of the ordinary.
Satisfied with her assessment for the moment, she closed her eyes and settled down in the grass to wait for the other two girls to finish what they were doing, listening to the sound of the forest around her.
Then she heard it.
Her head jerked up in alarm as a fierce screech sounded from somewhere beyond the trees. And a roar. The sounds of a battle raging nearby. At once she was on her feet in a defensive stance, should the combatants come barging in their direction. Muse had taken notice too, now on edge and standing in front of the kirlia. Even Shimmer, despite not having as good of hearing as her two four-legged companions, had stood up apprehensively, able to hear the ruckus in the distance. Haru shivered as her mother’s earlier warning about a kangaskhan rang in her ears.
An anguished cry. A victorious roar. Then silence. Slowly, the sound of wildener pokemon around them returned to normal, as if nothing had happened at all. Life continued on.
Shimmer immediately turned to her companions. “I’m going to check that out,” she announced.
“Shimmer,” Muse responded, shaking out her fur. “I cannot advise that. It is not our place to interfere in the affairs of wildeners. The survivor may be something very territorial as well.”
“But what if the other pokemon survived?” Haru pointed out uneasily, trying to relax as she turned to look at the absol and kirlia. “And beyond that, what if they’re not a wildener? What if they’re just some unfortunate traveler?”
The absol seemed to consider Haru’s explanation for a moment, before finally conceding with a sigh. “Very well. We will go look. If they’re alive, we can take them back for medical attention, should they allow us to. And if they’re not… well, I’m sure Mandi will know what to do.”
With the decision made, the trio began to move as quietly as possible through the underbrush. Muse took the lead, nearly crouching as she walked, pausing to sniff the air every once in a while. Shimmer and Haru followed closely behind on either side, Shimmer allowing her psychic powers to focus and branch out, keeping an eye out for danger from behind.
Before long, they came across damage to the underbrush, signs of a fierce battle, of a larger pokemon coming through without care of what they destroyed. The odd smell she had noticed earlier was growing stronger, Haru realized, along with the hair-raising smell of fresh blood. They were moving along at barely a crawl now, all senses peeled for danger.
Muse stopped in front, raising a paw to stop the other two from advancing, and sniffed at the air. A few seconds later, she lowered herself onto her belly and continued forward at almost a crawl. The two behind her did the same. Or at least, as similar as they could; neither of them were built for sneaking around the forest, after all.
The absol tilted her head back and motioned for silence as she crawled under a bush, poking through with her nose low to the ground. Haru took note of a streak of blood on the leaves.
Suddenly, the leader stopped, backing out of the bush with an unreadable expression. Her attention turned to the bidoof.
“Haru, listen,” she started quietly and firmly. “There’s someone back there. They’re bloodied and unconscious, but still breathing. But… they need medical attention. Fast. I need you to go in there and bring them out. Understand?”
Though hesitant, Haru responded by dipping her head before moving in front of the absol, who stood up straight at attention and sniffed the air, watching for danger. The bidoof crouched low to the ground and shimmied her way inside, following a trail of blood droplets past the bush and through a small thicket of thorns.
At the far end, almost as deep as they could have gone, was the unfortunate victim. They were a sneasel, albeit smaller than the ones she usually saw around the area. And they were an absolute mess.
She took only a second to make the assumption that he was a male, based on the size of his ear feather. Speaking of the feather, it looked as if it had been torn to shreds, and his tail feathers were not in much better shape. The tip of his ear had been sliced away, it and another nick on the side of the ear oozing blood. A nasty bite wound decorated his upper leg, the marks jagged, as if his attacker had thrown him around. And right in the middle of his back was a nasty burn. The scent of singed fur combined with the smell of blood nearly overwhelmed the poor bidoof. Several other small cuts marked him as well, though they were not nearly as bad as the bite or the burn.
The sneasel’s breathing was labored and shallow. Haru set to work crawling through the brambles until she was right up next to him, angling her head underneath his stomach to roll him onto her back as carefully as possible. Even with him being small for a sneasel, he was still quite a bit bigger than her, his feet and front claws scraping along the ground as she practically dragged herself and the injured sneasel out into the open.
She heard Shimmer let out a gasp as she emerged with the injured pokemon on her back before she felt him lifted up from above. As soon as the weight was off her, she stood up on her hind legs, carefully helping position him so that he was straddled across Muse’s back.
With the stranger now set, the trio began to make their way back to the main forest path, speaking in hushed voices.
“I’ve never seen a sneasel like him,” Shimmer whispered first, her eyes darting to the unconscious dark type.
Now that she mentioned it, Haru realized Shimmer had a point. The sneasel’s colors were a bit off. Although his fur was fairly close to the grey she was used to - though perhaps with a bit of a more brown undertone – his bent and broken feathers were more of a mint color.
“Neither have I,” Haru agreed. “He doesn’t smell like any of the nearby villages. Where do you think he’s from? Seadra’s Tail Island? He doesn’t smell like Ruffle though.”
“Maybe,” Muse muttered. “Ruffle hasn’t lived in Seashoal village for a long time, so she doesn’t have as distinct of a smell. There’s a whole world beyond the Great Misty Canyon; there’s always a chance he came from there. If he survives, maybe we can find out.”
If. That one word managed to sober the trio even more. They were back on the open path now. The absol gave one last wary look back and forth, checking for any danger on their route, then took off at a sprint, bounding into the lead.
“I’m going on ahead,” she called back to her companions. “Shimmer, you stay with Haru and go get back to the village together. Watch each other’s backs. I want to get him back as soon as possible though, okay?”
Haru set her face with determination and uttered a sound of agreement. She would set aside her complaints about Shimmer. For the moment. The kirlia seemed to hesitate though, running to try and catch up. “But I could teleport back and let them know what’s going on!”
“And that would leave Haru alone in the woods,” Muse pointed out.
“I can take care of myself, you know,” Haru interjected.
“I’m sure you can usually, but whoever - whatever did this could still be nearby. None of us should really be alone here right now.”
“What if I were to teleport him back?”
“You know you still have trouble taking companions along. Just trust me, please. We have little time.”
The kirlia hesitated again, before giving a sullen nod. “Fine, you win,” she grumbled. “But I’m so going to chew you out when we get back.”
The absol slowly blinked back to Shimmer but said nothing more, darting off down the path.
Haru gave the kirlia an unamused look at her response before continuing at a slower pace. Hoping, for once in her life praying that Muse would make it back in time.