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Pokémon Starfall [Oneshot]

Pen

the cat is mightier than the pen
Staff
Partners
  1. dratini
Summary:

“It’s a big one, Kabiyo. The biggest in centuries. Our chance, if we’re bold enough to take it.”

Sometimes, a god dies.
.
.
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Starfall

Farmer Tenlo squinted down the dirt road. The sun was setting flamewards, but looking waterwise he saw a flash of orange, growing brighter. The tangrowth waggled his vines uneasily, wondering if the intense light heralded a fast-moving wildfire. Should he—

But before his thought could progress into panic, the orange blur resolved into the shape of a running arcanine. His pace slowed to a gentle lope as he neared the orchard gate.

"Good evening!" he called out cheerily.

Farmer Tenlo responded with more ebullience than was his custom, relieved that neither his orchard nor his life was in danger. "Good evening to you, traveler!" He eyed the arcanine's bulky saddle bag. "Are you a messenger? The settlement's only a few plains onward. Keep going and you'll get there, oh, as fast as an arcanine can cross an open field."

The farmer chuckled to see his idiom brought to life. The arcanine cut a magnificent silhouette against the rapidly dimming evening. His lips curled back over shining white teeth.

"I'm not a messenger, no. Actually, I'm a sheriff from Farpeak Town, over the mountains. I'm here on official business. Tell me, have you seen a honchkrow in these parts? Large, dark-feathered, blind in one eye—"

"I knew that one was trouble!" the farmer exclaimed, cutting him off. His vines twisted in agitation. "Should have trusted my dirt. Yes, officer, not only have I seen that honchkrow, I've gone and employed her as night guard for my orchard. We have such trouble with thieves in these parts, well, I'm sure I don't need to tell you. Her look-out post's at the center of the orchard—if she hasn't already flown off with my valuables . . ."

"Don't worry, citizen," the arcanine said firmly. "I'll see to her. Please, don't trouble yourself."

It took several repetitions of this phrase, all spoken in the same authoritative tone, before the farmer lurched back towards his sleeping mound, still muttering to himself. The arcanine sat back on his haunches and sniffed the air: apple fragrance mixed with the dark pungency of fertilized soil. And then, like a cold mountain breeze that cut the still heat of a summer day, he caught the scent he was seeking.

The arcanine set off at a run, his paws passing nimbly over the tilled furrows of the orchard, his passage charring bark and leaves. The farmer would consider the damage a small price to pay for a dangerous ruffian being chased off, thought the arcanine, and let out a short bark of laughter.

At the center of the orchard the fruit trees subsided, and an oak tree, bulging and knotted with age, rose in the gap. A dark shape was just visible on the top.

"Hallooo!" the arcanine called up. His tail wagged.

"Oh, it's you," a hoarse voice answered, after a pause. "Been some time. What's the game today?"

"I'm a sheriff from Farpeak Town, beyond the mountain. I've been tracking you for weeks."

The honchkrow let out an amused shriek. "Is that so? Am I under arrest?"

"Indubitably. So lug yourself off that tree, and for your punishment, tonight you're treating me."

The honchkrow descended in a whirl of black and white feathers and the clanking of many hidden pouches. She was massive—as tall as the arcanine, and far wider when her wings hit their full span. But the wings themselves were ragged, with bare spots where feathers had come loose and not regrown. Beneath those feathers her body was thin.

The arcanine puffed out a surprised ember. "You've seen better days, Kabiyo. Maybe I should be treating you."

"You should. This is the first job I've had in half a moon, and that stingy tangrowth has refused to pay me a single coin until the work's done." Her good eye fell appraisingly on the arcanine. "Since you've turned up, I suspect I won't be seeing any coin at all."

"You're a dangerous criminal, Kabiyo, and anyone who looks at you can see that. Come on. I hear the settlement's close, even for a sluggard like you. And where there's a settlement, there's a pub."

He set off without looking back to see if the honchkrow had followed. They passed leisurely through the trees, stopping at intervals to snack on the riper fruits.

"My compensation," the honchkrow said as she swallowed an apple down her gullet in a single gulp. The arcanine shot her a sideways look at the remark, eyes dark and shaded, but he didn't share his thought.

The golden burn of sunset had been smothered by the night by the time they reached the settlement. The gates were shut, but a few friendly words from the arcanine won them entrance. The honchkrow shuffled behind him, drawing suspicious looks. At the pub, the arcanine lapped up his bluk wine in quick swipes, while the honchkrow bent over her platter of roasted nuts and seeds. Her beak moved quickly, until two piles formed. She eyed them with evident satisfaction and then started in on the seeds.

"What a ridiculous habit you have, to always save the best for last," said the arcanine. He watched the honchkrow eat with his eyes drooped lazily. "It's an admission of defeat. Eat the best first—then get more of it. That's my motto."

"You didn't come all this way just to comment on my eating habits," the honchkrow returned in a bored voice. "Don't be coy, Alu, it's unlike you."

"Coy? Never. It's just that when I tell you my news I'd prefer for you to faint from excitement, not hunger." The arcanine leaned forward until his muzzle was nearly flush with the honchkrow's beak. In a low voice, he murmured, "There's been a starfall. Only a few days' journey from here."

The honchkrow nabbed a large seed. She said nothing.

His voice took on a warm, coaxing tone. "It's a big one, Kabiyo. The biggest in generations. Our chance, if we're bold enough to take it."

"I quit that life, Alu."

"And for what!" The arcanine's face twisted into a snarl; sparks fell from his mouth. "Look at you! Skin and bones. Selling your skills to two-bit farmers? You deserve better, Kabiyo. You deserve a kingdom."

"That time is gone. It will not return, no matter how many crystal vials you fill and sell."

The arcanine shook his head. "You're thinking small. You're thinking seeds."

"And your thought is like a madly dancing flame. Your ideas shine prettily, but when they are through burning, the only result is smoke."

"Smoke, and warmth. That's not nothing. Won't you come with me, Kabiyo? One last journey. For friendship's sake, if for nothing else."

The honchkrow answered in her hoarse, cracking voice. "For friendship's sake, then. For nothing else."

*​

They left before dawn broke, down the dirt and brush road. Alu supplied the chatter. Kabiyo kept silent, but every so often she spoke up with a dryly-phrased insult, and Alu's laughter rang out loudly on the road. Twice they passed other travelers, who stopped to admire Alu's resplendent coat and listen attentively as he explained their urgent quest. The first time, it involved tracking down a missing child, dearly-beloved; the second, bringing life-saving medicine to an isolated mountain town.

Where the road forked, they took the steeper path. It led up the side of a broad canyon, the stone a muddy red and the scrub scattered. On the third morning of their travel, they woke to a silver mist that hung low to the ground but did not feel wet.

"We're getting close," Alu said, and Kabiyo nodded.

The morning sun had grown harsh when a sudden voice called, "Halt!"

Blue light wrapped around Alu and Kabiyo, holding them in place like sticking sap. Two lucario emerged from the mist. The fur on their foreheads had been stained to show the insignia of a star.

"This path is forbidden," the shorter of the two said in a clipped voice. "Turn back."

"Good day to you," Alu replied brightly. "Have you been on duty long?"

"Only since last evenfall," the other lucario answered. She blinked, as if unsure what had compelled her to speak.

"Evenfall." Alu's face became a picture of deep thought. "He probably made it through before you got here, then. I'm sure it wasn't your fault."

"What?" said the second lucario.

"Clarify your meaning," the first added sharply.

Alu's lips pulled back over his white teeth. "My name is Sheriff Akio. I specialize in hunting down those nasty and slippery folks who think they can take whatever they want, with no concern at all for broader society. I'm afraid rumor of the starfall spread quickly as a brush-fire in the plains below. I followed the tracks of a very notorious explorer up this canyon—and the scent leads on from here. He's certainly made it inside."

The lucarios' reaction rippled through the air like a physical blow. They dipped their heads and fell into an urgent exchange of whispers. Alu watched them with an air of polite restraint, but when the lucarios' voices began to rise—"We can't leave our posts. And by the time reinforcements come, it may be too late!"—he stepped forward.

"Friends, don't trouble yourselves. That's what I'm here for. You keep out any new interlopers; my partner and I will hunt down this explorer before he gets any further."

This comment set off another round of troubled back and forth. Kabiyo examined the lucario's foreheads, where the red dye was still vivid. New initiates and inexperienced, she decided. Beside her, Alu waited patiently, his tail swishing gently from side to side. The sunlight filtered through the mist and set his fur gleaming gold.

"You may go on," the lucario said at last. "But please, be careful. The explorer won't be the only danger. The area around a starfall is dangerously unstable. They say paths change. And other, stranger things . . ."

"Don't worry about us," Alu said. As the lucario stepped aside for him, he added, "Oh, but perhaps you can tell me. Which one fell?"

The lucario froze. In unison, they clasped their paws to their hearts and bowed in the three directions, and lastly towards the sky.

"The Lord of Earthly Fire," one whispered, when the gesture was complete.

Only Kabiyo saw the satisfaction flash through Alu's eyes.

"Terrible," he murmured. "Well, shall we be on our way, Kabiyo?"

They walked in silence until the lucario were well out of hearing range. Then Kabiyo said, "They were children. We could have easily dealt with them."

"What, with you all skin and bones?" Alu laughed when Kabiyo cuffed him sharply with her wing. "My way is easier—and more fun."

"Hmph. You weren't surprised to hear it was Entei."

"No, I wasn't surprised."

Kabiyo stared hard at him, but Alu didn't elaborate. The mist was thickening. Seen from below, the path had seemed to lead straight for many plains with no turns or deviations, but ahead the road unexpectedly forked. They stood for some time at this crossroads.

"Ready?" Alu murmured.

"No one is ever ready," Kabiyo spat back. She extended her wings and gave a brisk flap that scattered the mist for a brief second before it reformed, thicker than before. "No one is ever ready. So what are we waiting for?"

*​

The first phantasm wore the face and form of a steelix. It shot suddenly from the ground like a silver geyser bursting. Kabiyo fluttered back as the air filled with sharp-edged stones; she collided with a sheer rock-face that hadn't been there a moment before. Alu charged forward, already a roaring blitz of flame. The air trembled when he hit the steelix; the phantasm splintered. Mist swirled back to fill its place.

"That was reckless," Kabiyo said, watching Alu pant. "You shouldn't expend so much energy this early."

"I think what you meant to say was, 'Thanks for saving feathery behind, Alu.'"

"No." Kabiyo's single-eyed gaze was unblinking. "I am serious. If you will not be serious, I will turn around now. I've never seen a phantasm spawn so early. This starfall is different."

Alu's tail thumped the hard ground. "Of course it's different. It's fresh. Can't you feel it, Kabiyo? The power in the air? Raw energy, surging all around us. Past starfalls—that was just nibbling at already rotted corpses. This one—the blood's still warm."

"All the more reason not to over-exert. Leave the next one to me."

As if they had crossed an invisible border, after the steelix phantasm the attacks came without pause. Graveler pelted them from the sky; sandslash sprouted from the earth. Kabiyo's dark pulse hissed through the silver haze, darkening the cramped passage until Alu's fire lit it again.

"We need to rest soon," Kabiyo said, when the latest wave of phantasms had returned to the mist.

Alu bared his teeth. "Nonsense, we've hardly made any progress at all."

"If we push ourselves into exhaustion, progress will not matter. These phantasms are strong. Calm yourself, Alu. You're letting your flame think for you."

There was a tense silence, and then the arcanine laughed, spilling fizzling embers over the rock. "You're right, as you always are. We'll rest as long as you say. But I'll expect you to keep me entertained."

They took refuge in the center of the cavern, shunning the appealing alcove that curved out just ahead. Walls were more dangerous than open space—they had a tendency to move. Alu flopped on the ground, closing his eyes as Kabiyo worked open his saddlebags with her beak. She fussed for some time through his possessions, before saying in surprise, "You brought licorice root."

"I planned to mention that, if friendship didn't do the trick."

The honchkrow's caws of laughter echoed loudly off the rocky walls. She tossed Alu his rations and set to work at the long, wiry strip of root. Alu finished his food in a few gulps. He crossed his paws and blew idle embers.

"Tell me a story, Kabiyo."

"No," the honchkrow said. She cocked her head. "What kind of story?"

"The story of the mountain. The way it was before."

"You know that story."

"Doesn't matter. I want to hear it again."

For several moments, only the suck and tug of Kabiyo's beak on the root filled the silence. Then the honchkrow spoke in her rasping voice.

"On a mountain tall enough to see the whole world, I sat and I saw. Everything on the mountain belonged to me."

From where he lay, Alu let out a satisfied grunt.

"Nut and seed, root and berry, the food of the find, the find of the forage, the work of the earth and the gift of the sky. They brought it to me, and I made portions. The portions were three: one to return, one in trust, and one in gratitude. This was the way of my mother and her mother, and mothers past the generations that can be named." Kabiyo blinked slowly. "That way is ended now."

Alu lifted his head and whined in displeasure. "You've shortened it."

"I am humoring you enough already. I do not need to wear out my voice as well as my wings."

"Don't you miss it, Kabiyo?"

The honchkrow sucked at her root and did not answer.

"I miss it. My people were once as gods to the plain-dwellers. They left us tribute and counted themselves blessed if our passage burned their homes to ash. The freedom of that time! To run, to truly run, without a care for these ridiculous cultivated fields. To get your due without lowering yourself to the whims of petty merchants and their endless trading."

"But trading is what brings us here, is it not, Alu?" Kabiyo said, studying the arcanine with her single eye. "You did not bring many vials along. This labor of ours will yield poor profit."

"You're thinking seeds again," Alu said dismissively. He snorted, covering his face with his paws. Soon his heavy snores filled the cavern.

For some time Kabiyo watched him, still tugging on her root. Her dark eye churned like stormclouds on a mountain.

*​

Rock gave way to thick underbrush, and for some time Alu burned their path through hoards of sunkern, hoppip, and oddish. The oddish's noxious powder clung to Alu's fur and Kabiyo's feathers, setting them coughing and staggering their steps. At last the underbrush thinned out into low, dry grass. Ponyta cantered through the mist, snorting and bellowing, and fearow cawed harshly overhead.

An arcanine twice Alu's size leaped out at them, fur blazing. While Alu stood stunned, Kabiyo cut through the air with the black edge of her wing. The first blow wasn't enough to dispel the phantasm. It turned on Kabiyo, teeth bared, and spat a firestorm that she only narrowly dodged. At last she broke the phantasm with a gust of powerful wind.

"That must have been one of my ancestors," Alu whispered, staring at the spot the arcanine had vanished. "So bold. So proud. We must be getting close."

"You sound confident."

"With reason."

"That would be new."

"Don't scoff. I've been busy since we last met. I charmed a priest, a xatu learned in lore. You should have seen the fool I made of myself, japing about, praising her plumage to the high heavens. In the end, she told me all her secrets. Tell me, Kabiyo, what is a starfall?"

The honchkrow tilted her head. "The death of a god."

"Oh yes. And we explorers, remorseless corpse-peckers, siphon off their fading energy for our own miserable ends. But there's more to it than that, Kabiyo. A starfall is a death—and a birth."

The soil was soft and gray now. Kabiyo's talons sank in deeply. The ground climbed beneath them, and the air had turned hot, parching.

"Do you smell that?" Alu exclaimed, inhaling deeply. "Iron and magnesium. This is volcanic soil. We're almost at the beginning."

"A volcano," Kabiyo said quietly. "The place of Entei's birth."

"A god's birth."

"What do you intend, Alu?"

The arcanine didn't answer.

Around them, silver mist swirled like the eddies of a turbulent ocean. Flames lashed out suddenly from the path ahead. Dark red forms converged, pressing their attack in plumes of smoke and fire. Alu seemed senseless to the attack. He stared forward, unflinching, even as a wave of fire broke over him.

When the last magmar had shattered, Kabiyo turned. Her beak was open; her throat fluttered against the unrelenting heat.

"Alu," she said again, hitting him sharply with her wing, "what do you intend?"

He blinked, but no longer seemed to see her.

"We're so close," he murmured in a low, drunken voice.

The mountain ahead lay shrouded in silver mist, shrouded in the depths of the past. On the peak, a light was growing.

*​

Lava trickled from the smoking mouth of the volcano, slow and bright, like a sunrise. Alu pranced towards the crater, baying with atavistic joy.

"Look, Kabiyo!"

She had closed her eye against the heat. Now she forced it open. Inside the crater, shoots of white light sprang up, each bending towards the center like trees moving in obedience to an invisible, circling wind.

"It's just like she said. Every death's a birth. The power's all here, waiting to re-form. If I can take it—if I can host it—"

"What then?"

Her voice sobered him. He ceased his capering and faced her, eyes a molten amber of passion.

"Don't you see?" Behind him, the crater groaned and the white light intensified. "I'm going to bring it back. The old world. The old ways. Before the weak realized that together they were strong. I will burn their orchards. I will burn their towns and their pathetic huts. Their markets. Their bridges. Their gates. And when all of that is gone, the plains will once again be open. And I will run, Kabiyo. I will run as I have never run before. They will watch, fear mingling into awe. And they will worship me."

An egg, she realized, as the shoots of light curved into a towering, ovular shape.

"I'll bring it back. Everything you lost, when they drove you from the mountain. The ones who spat on you will burn. The smoke will turn the sky dark, and they will tremble when you return, their triumphant queen . . !"

Lost in the fit of fantasy, he cast his eyes up. The light tangled with his fur, burnished it.

"Alu," she said, in a croak so dry the air stole the sound away. "Alu, you would make a very bad god."

The gust caught him in the side, flung him back against the lava-stained crag. As he lay there, stunned, a mouth of shadow opened beneath him. Dark tendrils curled from the ground. Kabiyo brought down her wings, and the tendrils tightened.

The stasis only held for a breath. Alu's body dissolved into a spinning flame. Kabiyo winged upwards, but the column of fire followed her. A rope of flame lashed her back, and Kabiyo screamed. She fought for altitude, except the sky seemed to be sinking, shedding clouds and color like strips of dead bark. The ash clogged her wings, her mouth, her eyes, and the burn on her back tore away any sense of time or progression, until she was back on the mountain, perched alone on that far-seeing peak. They stood before her in a disordered assembly, some still bowing their heads, others staring at her openly, brightly.

Who do you speak for? she had thundered, in a voice that made the sky shake loose with rain.

A murmur rippled through the crowd, and then a small figure hopped forward. He answered in a voice both meek and entirely unyielding: We speak for the mountain . . .

She was at the very edge now, and the silver sky splintered into blue. From the vantage of the starfall, she looked out and saw the world again, the green of forests and orchards, veined with the blue of rivers and the brown of budding roads.

And she saw the mountain. She saw it as if from an impossible distance, and yet every detail, every face was distinct. Most of the faces were new to her. The few she recognized were wrinkled and shrunken like preserved fruits. As if in a trance, her wings ceased to beat, but the air held her aloft.

They are making portions. She watched as the stores were dug, the nuts gathered, the fruits dried and distilled. They are making portions without me.

The wind shifted. The mist rolled back in; the vision rippled and broke. Heat returned, heavy on her wings, and pain throbbed stickily, fervently.

Kabiyo turned and plunged back into the mist. The wind seemed to lend her its swiftness. She hurtled through the air, one wing-beat blurring into the next. The peak came back into view. The egg had fully formed—it glowed pearly-white, and its heat squeezed the air. Alu stood before it, one paw extended.

She slammed into him just as he made contact. There was a hoarse scream—her own, she registered dimly, as she ripped him from the energy's embrace. He yelled curses, obscenities, all dissolving into a wordless howl and a flare of scouring fire. The pain was incredible, but she did not let go. Her beak stabbed blindly into his side, drawing blood. He bucked, flamed, but none of it touched her.

"Damn you, Kabiyo," he groaned as she pinned him to the rock, bore down on him with her full weight. "Damn you, why?"

"All this time, and you've never understood. The mountain was only ever mine in trust," she said, though maybe she only said the words in her mind. He twisted under her; the last of the white light bled out from his body. "The only gods that live are those that serve."

At that moment, two things happened. Alu went limp under her. And the world blazed white.

*​

Miku smelled the stranger before she saw her. The wind blew flamewards, carrying the scent of ash and blood. It was a warm evening, and the sky glowed a dim red.

She was just levitating in the last of the berry barrels, when she looked up to see a monstrous silhouette bearing down on her. She lost her hold on the barrel and fluttered frantically backward until she hit her wooden stall. An outlaw. I'm being robbed. I'm being murdered. I'm so sorry, Mother. I should have listened to you. The thoughts sped through her mind in one continuous current. Her terror was so complete that when the shape spoke, the words didn't register.

"W-what?" she whispered.

"I said," croaked the shape, "one bowl of bluk wine. The strongest you've got."

The light shifted, and Miku made out her outlaw-turned-customer. Her plumage might have been impressive once, but it had all been charred away. Burnt black feathers clung to her skin like the remnants of a deathly cocoon. One of her eyes had been gouged out, but as if to make up for it, the other shone startlingly sharp and bright.

"I don't have coin," she continued, in her terrible rasp, "but I can pay in labor."

"Of course," managed Miku, who didn't want to die. She fluttered shakily off towards her storeroom. When she returned, levitating a bowl filled to the brim with purple liquid, the stranger had closed her eyes. Her breathing came slow and unsteady.

"Are you well?" Miku blurted out. She regretted the question the moment the honchkrow's eye snapped open. Of course she's not well, web-for-brains, she berated herself shrilly. Miku had never seen anybody less well in her life.

But all the honchkrow said was, "The wine?"

She drank it down like streamwater. At once her neck drooped and her breathing eased. She didn't ask, but Miku brought another bowl, and she drank that one down too.

"You run this place alone?"

Each word was hoarse and spoken only with obvious effort.

Miku fiddled her antenna, wondering how to respond. Wondering if the honchkrow would be dead by morning. She looked half-way there already.

"Yes, I . . . it's lonely sometimes, but it's what I always wanted. My family didn't like it, they said the world is still too dangerous. Only, the roads are really very safe these days. Not like it was before. Or how they say it was. I'm not old enough to remember."

"I am," said the honchkrow, plunging into a fit of jagged coughing—at least, that was what Miku took it for, until she spotted the mirth in the honchkrow's eye, and belatedly identified laughter. "You've not done badly here. But you need to top your barrels off. Otherwise the sour taste gets in."

Miku stared. She fumbled for words and couldn't find them. She tried again. "You know something about distilling?"

Another disturbing fit of laughter burst from the honchkrow. "Child, I know everything about distilling. Everything about storing, keeping, and preserving. They used to bring it all to me, and I made portions. No more, though. No more."

Her words were slurring. Her beak sank down into her chest and her eye slipped shut. Miku listened to her rattling breath until she was sure that the honchkrow was asleep. Then she retrieved a silk-weave blanket and draped it over her battered body.

That night Miku slept fitfully. She woke before dawn, feeling a stiffness in her wings. She shook them out drowsily and then, remembering the night before, rushed to the tree where she had left the honchkrow, half-expecting her to have vanished like a ghost or a nightmare. But she was still there, the blanket crumpled where it had fallen from her wings. Huddled in the predawn gray, she looked more pitiable than fearsome.

A hot wind stirred up, ruffling Miku's wings. She looked down the road in confusion.

A fire. No, it had legs, running. An arcanine. But it wasn't that either, because the legs found their footing on empty air. The shape was brown and red and gray, and the brown was like a strong and watchful mountain; the red like gentle fire on a frozen morning; the gray like a rolling cloud. He ran with a speed that baffled the eye, but somehow each footfall was clear. Suddenly, his head swung in her direction. He had eyes of dark, endless amber; in them blazed the lifetime of the world.

A slow, terrible clarity spread through Miku as she met his eyes. Each blade of grass burned a radiant white. The full-leafed trees shone like sudden constellations. It was too much, too sharp, too bright. She tore her gaze away, gasping. Something warm wrapped around her and pulled her close.

"Hush," a voice rasped. "You're safe."

When Miku at last dared to look up, the figure was gone. In his place, the morning sun was rising.

"You just saw a god." The honchkrow spoke in a harsh sing-song. "You saw a god and still your orchard stands."

Miku looked at her and saw her eye was wet. With the fading remnants of that painful clarity, Miku decided that the honchkrow didn't smell of ash.

She smelled of grief.

"The barrels," Miku murmured. "I should check them. W-will you help me?"

"I said I would. Labor for wine. I keep my word."

Miku brought her antenna together.

"And tomorrow?" she asked, in the silk-thin voice that she had always hated for its weakness. "Will you help me tomorrow, too?"

A terrible silence stretched out.

"As many tomorrows as it takes," the honchkrow said.
 
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canisaries

voted most likely to be edgy
Location
the middle of nowhere
Pronouns
she/her
Partners
  1. custom/inkay-shirlee
Wow. This was honestly such a beautiful, breathtaking read that it's been tough for me to find the words for commentary. But I'll try!

I really thought the narrative here was wonderfully crafted. The first scene sets up a situation completely untrue, but as it's our first exposure to Alu, we have no way of knowing he's lying. His charring of the leaves is only some innocent fun at this point, though it already brings into question his legitimacy as the lawman he claims to be. The conversation with Kabiyo lets us know there's more history between the two, though still in a way that could plausibly serve the initial fake narrative, so we keep thinking this Alu fella must be a real stand-up guy. Boy are we wrong.

Crumbs of information keep dropping to us, and the theories keep ever shifting, each time getting a bit closer to the truth. We learn these two have been gods - or only thought of as gods, which their scheming seems to point towards - in the past, and wonder how this came to an end. And the juicy bit is that we keep wondering. Ambiguity can be infuriating, but it's an emotion we know we want to have, as it keeps our imagination spinning and makes us appreciate the story for longer. Although it's embarrassing when you fail to realize something pretty obvious on the first read, but then you forgive yourself because you were pretty tired when you read it the first time and not at full brain capacity. Anyway yeah that Entei probably wasn't Alu but a new one. And Kabiyo was a booze baron until people realized how to make it by themselves. That's my game theory.

Alright, then for some details.

Naming directions with elements (flamewards, waterwise) is clever, although I'm still unsure if they correspond to cardinal directions or are simply referring to relative position to locations like bodies of water or volcanoes (not sure if the volcano the leads travelled to was already in a volcanic area, or if Entei's death caused it to happen just now). In any case, it's quite fitting for a society of elemental-powered pokémon.

Speaking of pokémon, I have a nitpick I've also given someone else in the past - certain characters (the farmer and Miku) have ambiguous species, which makes visualization somewhat difficult. We can sort of guess one for each (tangrowth, vivillon?), but it's always uncertain and makes one expect to have to rewrite the visualization in the likely case their guess is later proven wrong. People may scoff at epithets in writing, but in this particular medium of writing about creatures we know are bound to look a certain way, it brings much more benefit than harm in my eyes.

Lastly, I have to say... I expected a story named Starfall that is about "starfalls" to... have a little bit more to do with stars? I was expecting some lore to be given about how stars have to do with legendaries and them dropping off the sky meant a legend's death, but none came, so I was left wondering if it either would've had space to be elaborated on or been possible to replace it with something more thematically coherent. But it's not as if this is a big gripe, considering how easily I came to that lore already. It was just somewhat odd.

In any case, a fantastic read. I already recommended it to a friend that isn't even a Pokémon fan, and I think I'll recommend it a lot more to people that are likely to read it. Sorry about the review being late, but I really didn't know how to form my thoughts before this. Great work, and be seeing you!
 
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Reactions: Pen

WildBoots

Don’t underestimate seeds.
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. custom/moka-mark
  2. solrock
I’m not sure I have a ton to say about this one except that I really liked it! Let’s start with my tiny handful of line reactions:


They passed leisurely through the trees, stopping at intervals to snack on the riper fruits.
I wasn’t sure if both of them were participating or not, given Alu’s reaction. I could see it either way—on the one hand, he’s well-fed. On the other ... he’s a jerk.

What a ridiculous habit you have, to always save the best for last," said the arcanine. He watched the honchkrow eat with his eyes drooped lazily. "It's an admission of defeat. Eat the best first—then get more of it. That's my motto."
This is a great character moment.

every so often she spoke up with a dryly-phrased insult,
Why not just “a dry insult”?

Mike looked at her and saw her eye was wet.
Get outta here, Mike. You’re not in this story.

Here’s my takeaway: these two represent two ideas of survival. Alu wants to survive in a way that is personal—he wants his body, his health, his power, and his lifestyle to survive. He wants personal freedom to take what he wants and doesn’t care if others have freedom. Kabiyo wants knowledge, traditions, and maybe even the mountain to survive ... even if she personally doesn’t.

I picture their former glory just as giant, more powerful versions of themselves—I don’t think Alu has ever been an entei. I liked Canis’s read that Kabiyo’s “however many it takes” is about the distillery. I hadn’t quite caught that. I thought it was totally clear that the entei was a new one, allowed to live because Alu was stopped from taking it. Magic is leaving the world because of greed—oof, hello, #PenThemes. Kabiyo was more ambiguous. I was on board with where she drew the line with Alu’s behavior. I wanted a little more clarity on how she felt about being left behind though. I thought she was genuinely upset that people were making portions without her, but maybe she was resigned to it much earlier than I thought? Maybe I just need to read again with fresh eyes.

The characterization of these two was wonderful though! Alu reminds me of Midnight Silk but without learning his lesson.

I also really appreciated the use of phantasms as almost Madoka labyrinth-like projections resulting from the star/egg’s energy surge. Nice way to dodge the thing that squicks me out about feral fanon, the implication that some pokémon matter more than others. These ones aren’t really pokemon at all! All the same, the danger felt real, and there was a wonderful sense of motion throughout. The fight sequence was really compelling.

(Looks like I had something to say after all, lol.)

Gold star. 🌟
 
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Reactions: Pen

Flaze

Don't stop, keep walking
Location
Chile
Pronouns
he/him
Partners
  1. infernape
I'm gonna be honest and say that reading this oneshot was both really entertaining and also a little tiring, not your fault, just I decided to read it with like five hours of sleep and a tired mind. But, I liked it. I think what stood out the most to me was your prose, not just cause it's really well done and evocative but also because you handle set-up and payoff masterfully, setting up things that will pay off later in just a sentence or two or through simple, natural dialogue. It's a good fit, especially later on when the story gets more sombre and subtle, but I'll talk bout that a little later.

On the characters, you introduce us and give us a good idea of who both Alu and Kabiyo are from the first scene, from Alu's charismatic personality and mesmerizing appearance to Kabiyo's serious, subdued and withdrawn demeanor. I think what's interesting is how you handled their chemistry, where you can tell that the two of them have a lot of history together and technically get well along with one another...but they're also such polar opposites that said relationship is a breath away from crumbling. I will say that of the two Alu was the one that I took more of a liking towards and I'm sure that was on purpose, the way he weaves through any conversation, as if gears are running in his head to try and see what he can get out of it. I love calculative characters, what can I say.

Another thing I liked, and this is a very small thing I didn't notice till after halfway through the story, is how you conveyed a mystery dungeon. The characters never actively call it that, but what you're giving us throughout the one-shot is basically the two of them going through a Mystery Dungeon, with the wild pokemon you find in the game being spectres of the past trying to protect the starfall as it's reborn, it's an interesting take and one that flips the concept of exploring a mystery dungeon on its head, because now it feels like you're transgressing on holy land in search of treasure. The concept of the starfall itself is never properly explained but the few clues you give allows one to fully expect what's gonna happen before it does, which isn't so bad since that gives us a clue of our couple's eventually break up.

The climax of the story is where I did get a little confused. At first I thought that Alu and Kabiyo used to be gods themselves and maybe they'd fallen as well, now I guess they were just pokemon that were a little higher on the social chain because of the abilities granted by their species. It is a little weird to interpret, not bad, but I think I could've used a bit more detail to understand more what exactly it is they'd lost in the past. Their confrontation at the end also happens a little too quickly and at times the prose feels like it gets a little busy, so it's hard to follow the flow. I was able to properly understand it all after reading through it again though, so maybe that was just me not paying enough attention. Outside of that, I liked how you juxtaposed Alu's and Kabiyo's point of views in regards to the changing times, they'd both want things to go back to how they were of course, but Kabiyo understands that forcing others to serve her again for her selfish desires wouldn't make her a good ruler and that any good ruler should learn when to accept that their time has passed, unlike Alu who just wants to impose his own views and ideas onto the world.

Ironically those warring viewpoints have kind of affected the way they handle themselves. Alu continues to behave like he's above everyone and that gives him the confidence to live as he wishes and sway others, while Kabiyo tries to live with the times and that causes her to be ignored and cast aside. It's sad yet poetic in a way.

As for the ending, I do hope Kabiyo survived, even if she's worse for wear. But if she's truly able to find a new place for herself and have a proper life that would be great, she just wants to settle down and feel useful. I did wonder if maybe Alu had turned into Entei after all, which you left vague for good reason. Is it some other pokemon that was able to make it to the starfall? or does a new god just pop out if you leave it along for long enough? I'll probably never know.

Anyways, it was a great read and I think there's a lot of things I can learn from it in regards to conveying emotion and setting up characters and events.

Oh, one little tidbit I noticed.

"I think what you meant to say was, 'Thanks for saving feathery behind, Alu.'"

Shouldn't that be "Thanks for saving my feathery behind, Alu." ?
 
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Reactions: Pen

Starlight Aurate

Ad Jesum per Mariam
Location
Route 123
Partners
  1. mightyena
Heya! I'm here for your Blacklight prize review!

You certainly know how to craft an attention-grabbing title; the name alone of this piece made me think it would be something grand which the premise also promised! This turned out to be a story that made me think and had more of an impact on me a while after I finished reading it and thought more about it

I'll mostly pick out stuff as I see it and provide the bulk of my review at the end.

I think it's interesting how you start with referring to different directions by elements such as "fire" or "water." I also really appreciate the details given about the scents Arcanine picks up--I always enjoy seeing through the lenses of different Pokemon and their abilities.

The arcanine set off at a run, his paws passing nimbly over the tilled furrows of the orchard, his passage charring bark and leaves. The farmer would consider the damage a small price to pay for a dangerous ruffian being chased off, thought the arcanine, and let out a short bark of laughter.
The imagery here makes me think of Arcanine as appearing as a fireball as he charges through the orchard--which, considering his later disregard for those he considers lower than himself, fits pretty well.

The appearance of the Honchkrow makes me think of Macha from the film Song of the Sea (if only because she's a freaking huge owl who sounds like an old lady).

"No," the honchkrow said. She cocked her head. "What kind of story?"
Ha, what a quick 180.

Her dark eye churned like stormclouds on a mountain.
Might just be me, but this sentence reads odd. An eye "churning" sounds... kinda gross and painful. Though I expect it refers to some special power she has.

Just a side note: I really like your diverse vocabulary. I'm definitely learning new words! I can't seem to use big words without it coming across oddly, but you manage to incorporate them so smoothly!

"I'll bring it back. Everything you lost, when they drove you from the mountain. The ones who spat on you will burn. The smoke will turn the sky dark, and they will tremble when you return, their triumphant queen . . !"
I think you need another period before the exclamation point for a full ellipsis.

I like the glimpse we get into Kabiyo's world of when she was a queen again, though I did have to go back and reread as the scene changes confused me the first time. They weren't totally clear, but I'm not sure you would want to make them explicit since the beauty of this lies in the description. It might just be more of a me-thing.

"The only gods that live are those that serve."
Mmmm. Beautiful.

"Of course," managed Miku, who didn't want to die. She fluttered shakily off towards her storeroom. When she returned, levitating a bowl filled to the brim with purple liquid, the stranger had closed her eyes.
Shouldn't it be eye, if she only has one?

"And tomorrow?" she asked, in the silk-thin voice that she had always hated for its weakness. "Will you help me tomorrow, too?"

A terrible silence stretched out.

"As many tomorrows as it takes," the honchkrow said.
Awwwww

(Also, I might be an idiot, but I couldn't figure out what Pokemon Miku was. When you mentioned psychic power, I thought of Kirlia for whatever reason, but when you mentioned wings and antenna I had no idea what she was until I looked at the tags ^_^;)

The characters are definitely interesting, and Kabiyo especially was for me, partly due to the aforementioned association I made with Macha. In Song of the Sea, Macha is an owl who has good intentions, but these intentions manifest in the form of stealing away people's sadness and pain--which turns them into emotionless blocks of stone (literally). Macha has been sealing away her own emotions and she's slowly turning to stone, too, and it isn't until her emotions are returned to her that she realizes the error of her ways. While Kabiyo's ways didn't seem to be in error and it didn't look to me like she had any particular fault in any of this, she grows in realizing that things are fine they way they are without her ruling over people and "sorting" them. For Macha, by allowing emotions to flow naturally, the supernatural creatures on earth could all return to Tir na nOg and the world could move on. Here, it looks that, by stopping Alu from reclaiming his ancestral status as a 'god' and doing whatever he wants, Kabiyo allows this world to move on, as well. Maybe I'm really stretching or reaching with this analogy, especially as I was thinking as I typed, but I don't think it's that far-off. I realize it might be completely unintentional on your part, but it definitely connects back to myths that exist in our world.

And since OSJ mentioned that a theme you bring up is magic leaving the world, I feel even more resolute about this comparison. Especially since you expressed familiarity with Irish faery tales in my one-shot. Have you seen Song of the Sea? If not, I highly recommend.

As for Alu: he made a convincing sheriff at first, for me. It wasn't until he and Kabiyo were on the road and he was making up different stories that I finally realized he was lying about everything. The magnitude of his lies alluded to how big of an event the Starfall was. He's quite a silvertongue: convincing the Tangrowth farmer, the Pokemon they met on the road, the two lucarios, and even getting through to Kabiyo a bit. And while I do believe he truly held some sort of affection for Kabiyo, perhaps due to their past friendship, I wouldn't be surprised if the real reason he brought her along was so he could get to the Starfall. His comments about how she "needed to eat more" and was nothing but "skin and bones" sell that point for me, and she certainly ends up saving his skin a few times when they come up against the phantasms.

Side note: did you have any particular language(s) in mind when choosing these names? Kabiyo sounds Japanese, but Alu sounds like it could be anything.

On the whole, I like you this was tied into the greater mythology of the world. Entei's appearance to Miku was beautiful. Tbh I didn't even realize we were supposed to consider the possibility that it was Alu--I took it for granted that Alu did not take the Starfall and that it was a "new" Entei, or at least one reborn (giving me some major phoenix vibes, here). Love the line about how only those who serve should be considered gods. Really gives a solid feel to the worldbuilding and religion/faith in this.

There were a lot of aspects of the plot that I wonder about (how do Pokemon know about Starfalls? Why is the death of a 'god' referred to as a 'Starfall'? What is Alu's and Kabiyo's past?) that I don't think this one-shot is set up to address, nor do I think it necessarily should address those. I think the setting you give us works well and having two characters who are already 'friends' or at least have a history is a good scene.

I will echo canisaries' comment in that I don't think mentioning Pokemon species early would hurt--I was imagining the farmer as a human before you said it was a Tangrowth, and I had no idea Miku was a Butterfree.

That nitpick aside, I think this was a really enjoyable read. I learn a lot from your writing, and this was a pleasure! In general, I love those that dip into mythology and religion--I have a lot of Tolkein-ish things I could say about it (and magic leaving the world is a recurring theme for you stuff??), but I'll leave that for another day. Thanks so much for writing and posting this!
 

love

Memento mori
Pronouns
he/him/it
Partners
  1. leafeon
One quick suggestion... I wonder if you couldn't have started the story at the bar scene. Personally, I didn't feel like the preceeding bit was necessary.

I will also say that the climax was very difficult for me to follow. That's not necessarily bad, but in this case I do think it hampered my enjoyment a bit. I probably would have cordoned off the flashbacky bits into their own section(s) to make it a little clearer, but that's just me.

They stood before her in a disordered assembly, some still bowing their heads, others staring at her openly, brightly.

I wonder if it would be worth describing who these pokemon are, just to help form a mental image. Not really a huge deal, but it's something I would consider.

The egg had fully formed—it glowed pearly-white, and its heat squeezed the air.

The "squeezed the air" bit is kind of lost on me

Heat returned, heavy on her wings, and pain throbbed stickily, fervently.

I don't know about "stickily..." maybe that's just me

Anyway, the prose was good overall. Particularly, I liked the description of the god:

The shape was brown and red and gray, and the brown was like a strong and watchful mountain; the red like gentle fire on a frozen morning; the gray like a rolling cloud. He ran with a speed that baffled the eye, but somehow each footfall was clear. Suddenly, his head swung in her direction. He had eyes of dark, endless amber; in them blazed the lifetime of the world.

And also this bit:

Each blade of grass burned a radiant white. The full-leafed trees shone like sudden constellations.

And I think I had a strong sense of the characters pretty much from the get-go, too. The way Alu teases Kabiyo, and her curt responses. The way Alu tricks the lucario.

The ending has a kind of sad, dismal feeling to me. Kabiyo did the right thing, but it's hard to feel very happy about it, because she gave up so much in doing so. But that the god spared the orchard at least gave me a vague sense of hope.
 
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kintsugi

golden scars
Location
waiting for the fog to roll out
Pronouns
she/her
Partners
  1. silvally-grass
  2. lapras
  3. golurk
This is a story that has stuck with me for a while, and I've never really been able to write out coherent thoughts beyond "gud fic upd8 more", but here we are.
"All this time, and you've never understood. The mountain was only ever mine in trust," she said, though maybe she only said the words in her mind. He twisted under her; the last of the white light bled out from his body. "The only gods that live are those that serve."
I think pokefic has a lot of untapped potential re: "what would we do if gods are provably real" and like we didn't have to rely on making up arbitrary power designators to decide who gets to sit on the beeg mountain and who must live below. But the progression here feels really natural and sobering--the answer is still that we eventually stop believing in magic, that greed and power corrupt.

At first I thought that Alu succeeded, but that he was bound by the truth Kabiyo had known the whole time--that the only gods that live are those who serve--and as such he was reincarnated but was unable to inflict harm at the end--Entei is basically arcanine with extra steps. But I think on second read I prefer the ending where Kabiyo chooses to leave the power be so that a new Entei could be born; there's something much more powerful about characters being able to make the good but hard choices instead of being bound by them, and that ending seems much more Pen-brand I think? watch me be entirely wrong on this one lol There's a little glimmer of hope; Kabiyo knows the old ways are dying but not yet gone.

In light of Alu's later words about how the weak together realize they are strong, I think this idea that the only gods that live are those that serve takes on a really powerful meaning as well--belief lends strength, but belief often only comes when there is benefit. People worshipped rain when it watered their crops; they cursed it when it flooded them. The old ways have a sense of utility and partnership around them that slowly fell apart--at the end of the day, power is nothing more than a title everyone else agrees you can have.

I like the characterization of mystery dungeons here as well--very Madoka vibes, spooky af. The wild pokemon as projections of the dungeon rather than inhabitants is an excellent touch. There's some really delicious background details in here like non-compass rose directions, the red markings on the lucario that designate them as initiates, crows loving licorice root.

The character work was my favorite though. You show Kabiyo's mounting unease, Alu's ambition, in ways that are all very mounting/conflicting but at the same time realistic and human relatable. It's such a good balance in a story with enormous stakes and the potential for limitless/god-tier power, and I left with the sense of both the tangible impact this story had on the world and the comparatively smaller (but to me equally important) impact that this had on this pair.

The prose really works here. I see why you prefer myth stories; you can make certain things feel epic and exaggerate specific moments to lend a ton of weight to what's being said. Gorgeous work.

And then, like a cold mountain breeze that cut the still heat of a summer day, he caught the scent he was seeking.
tiny quibble; the dangling participle here irked me

The farmer would consider the damage a small price to pay for a dangerous ruffian being chased off, thought the arcanine, and let out a short bark of laughter.
I think I'll be using this as my go-to example for successful third omniscient in fanfic, honestly. I love how seamless the transition is here, how the tone changes as the story escalates. The intro is calm and methodical with the focus on the farmer; as we center around Alu we get some light-heartedness and trickery; for Kabiyo's segment, where the full weight of the past comes to bear, we get beautifully wrought sentences. And then concluding with Miku makes for a nice bookend, and we get to once again see how the day-to-day lives intersect with the consequences of what came to pass here.

At the pub, the arcanine lapped up his bluk wine in quick swipes, while the honchkrow bent over her platter of roasted nuts and seeds. Her beak moved quickly, until two piles formed. She eyed them with evident satisfaction and then started in on the seeds.
I thought this was a very good character quirk to start with, and then when it gets revealed that normally she separates the portions I was like :o
also, it's excellent setup for best line:
"You're thinking small. You're thinking seeds."
you're underestimating--

"Friends, don't trouble yourselves. That's what I'm here for. You keep out any new interlopers; my partner and I will hunt down this explorer before he gets any further."
Likewise, very on-brand but I love how you turn the idea of bounties on their head here. It is horrifying to live in a world where child vigilantes could just go off and arrest people, and therefore it's both accepted and commonplace for anyone to feel deputized to take justice into their own hands, isn't it? but i mean arguably compared to how we currently--

"Nut and seed, root and berry, the food of the find, the find of the forage, the work of the earth and the gift of the sky.
I was a little lost about the parallels here--how roots are work of the earth, why berries are gift of the sky more than nuts--but also I like the idea that there's a lot of cultural significance here that got lost in translation/to time.

"Don't you see?" Behind him, the crater groaned and the white light intensified. "I'm going to bring it back. The old world. The old ways. Before the weak realized that together they were strong. I will burn their orchards. I will burn their towns and their pathetic huts. Their markets. Their bridges. Their gates. And when all of that is gone, the plains will once again be open. And I will run, Kabiyo. I will run as I have never run before. They will watch, fear mingling into awe. And they will worship me."
"I'll bring it back. Everything you lost, when they drove you from the mountain. The ones who spat on you will burn. The smoke will turn the sky dark, and they will tremble when you return, their triumphant queen . . !"
I thought it was very beautiful how you humanize Alu's desire here--it is certainly just a blind power grab, but there's a reason behind it, albeit a shitty one. "before the weak realized that together they were strong" is such a good line that takes on such a sinister bend when it's being said by someone who wants to reverse that.

And honestly I thought he was going to sacrifice Kabiyo or something, that he'd brought her along for a means to an end, but he does think of her. The easy solution would be for him to have done this selfishly, but there's a tiny glimmer of him still wanting to help his own that makes the subsequent battle a lot more emotionally weighty imo--Kabiyo has to willingly reject the temptation offered, and having that choice makes her actions here much more powerful.

big old dark queen galadriel vibes here
 
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