Hero - Part Two
*Crazy Absol Noises*
“You all know why you’re here.”
Hydreigon drifted back and forth above the snow-covered ground before his troops, teams formed of assassins, soldiers and aerial warriors. Enigma watched him from beside Kera, mirroring everyone else as they turned their heads left and right to follow the hulking dragon.
“You are all fighting to make this world a better place,” Hydreigon went on. “Never have dark- or dragon-types been accepted in this world. The other pokemon fear us. They see us as pokemon that live in darkness, hiding in caves. Huge predators that wouldn’t blink an eye at snatching away their hatchlings.
“Predators. Shadowy murderers. Omens. That’s how they see us. For centuries we’ve been persecuted! Driven away under accusations of bringing doom and disaster. Accused of harming those who fear what they don’t understand! No dark-type or dragon-type has lived peaceably with other pokemon. They don’t trust us. As soon as they see us they are quick to act, calling it ‘self defence’. But me? I say it’s nothing more than murder!”
Enigma bit back a scoff and cast a quick glance to the sky. Any sound he would have made would have been drowned out by the shouts and cries of agreement around him, anyway.
“I think I speak for all of us when I say how tired I am of their resentment. Like you, I’ve never grown up in a world that understands us. Centuries ago all dark- and dragon-types were driven to the Shadow Lands. Only recently has it begun to spread its reign across Estellis in a bid for freedom. But do the Outcasts want us to have that freedom?”
The troops replied as one voice, their cry of ‘no’ rending the air like thunder.
“I can assure you, we will get that freedom!” Hydreigon roared. ”No longer will we stand for resentment. We will show those Outcasts that we won’t take these accusations lying down! We’ll take back this world, and if they fear us then we’ll give them something to truly fear! You will fight for our freedom! You will fight to spread my reign across Estellis! We will drive the Outcasts to extinction just like they tried to do to us centuries ago! Tried, and failed! We will show them how to finish a job! From this day forth, the dark- and dragon-types will rule Estellis!”
Roars, howls and cheers filled the courtyard, and Kera leapt into the air, punching her fist towards the sky. Flamethrowers erupted from those that could breath fire, lighting up the night sky. Enigma did a twirl in the air beside his friend, but no words left his mouth. He didn’t agree with Hydreigon, but he feared if he did nothing to ‘show support’ then the Darkness would turn on him.
Hydreigon said no more. The large dragon flew back towards his castle, tailed by Yurlik his honchkrow officer. The troops dispersed to return to their respective barracks and training grounds, their paws crunching over the freshly fallen snow.
Enigma gave one glance back towards Hydreigon then zipped after Kera.
“Riveting, huh?” Kera flashed Enigma a grin.
The shuppet shrugged. “Same as always.”
“Well sure, it’s the same speech, but it always gets me so pumped!” Kera bounced on her toes and swiped at the air before her. “I’m gonna train extra hard today.”
Enigma gave a noncommittal reply and looked over at the rest of the trainee assassins. They were all engaged in energetic conversation as they made their way back to the barracks.
“Come on,” Kera told him. “Ya never seem all that pumped after a rally.”
Enigma shrugged again. “Why should I be? He never includes ghost-types in it.”
“Yeah, but ya workin’ for him, aintcha?” When Enigma didn’t reply, Kera chuckled and nudged him with an elbow. “C’mon, little ghost dude. Let’s go train, eh? Maybe that’ll getcha blood pumpin’.”
A small smile spread across Enigma’s face, which Kera returned with a beaming grin. “All right, sure.”
Enigma followed her along the familiar trail towards the barracks’ training grounds, Hydreigon’s rally echoing around his head. For the past three seasons every day had felt the same, and each one of Hydreigon’s speeches blended into the next. Training with Kera had become the highlight of his day, and as soon as night fell he’d zip into her room to greet her. Unless he actually managed to sleep, in which case it was the other way around. Enigma had lost count of the times he’d been woken up by the excitable sneasel bouncing off his stomach.
The shuppet didn’t draw attention from the other assassins anymore. They’d grown used to having a ghost-type around, whether or not they were happy about it. After his previous mishap, Jex and Niana had arranged it so that Kera and Enigma were paired together, but on the odd occasion Enigma had found himself sparring with a couple of the other trainees. It had surprised him how much he’d enjoyed training with the nickit, Vixen; and a burly krokorok had surprised Enigma with his speed. The krokorok was much more experienced and had only been involved in training since a lot of the younger trainees were struck down with a bout of sickness for a couple of days. What had surprised Enigma was that a krokorok was an assassin in the first place, since a lot of the larger and more bulky dark- and dragon-types were recruited into soldiers, lacking the light-footed agility required of an assassin.
A flurry of ice shards appeared in Enigma’s vision, and he jerked to the side to avoid them. A couple of them clipped his side and he let out a hiss as he righted himself in the air. He narrowed a glare at Kera who was bouncing on her toes a few feet away.
“I wasn’t ready!” Enigma scolded.
She shrugged. “Woke ya up, didn’t it?”
Before Enigma could respond, the sneasel flicked her claws, sending more shards his way. Enigma shot towards the ground, vanishing into the shadows. Kera twisted on the spot, raising her claws to catch him in a throat chop. Enigma had calculated this and leapt up behind her, jabbing his horn into her back.
The sneasel yelped and twisted towards him, sweeping her left paw through the air. Frost peppered Enigma’s body, biting through his fur.
Kera chuckled and wiped a claw across her nose. “Is that all ya’ve got?”
Enigma stuck his tongue out at her and did a somersault in the air. His eyes widened as he glimpsed the grinning face of the sneasel, and he looked down at himself in confusion.
“Will-o-wisp ain’t gonna work now, little ghost dude.” Kera raised her claws in the air again and lunged at him.
The shuppet thought fast, zipping towards the ground. The frost bit at his flesh making his movements sluggish, but he reached the shadows just as her claws clipped his long fur. She let out a shout, leaping around to greet him. Enigma emerged from the floor with a jingle, aiming his horn at her chest. He yelped with surprise as he instead collided with the sneasel’s claws. She flicked him away from her, sending the young shuppet soaring across the training grounds.
He corrected himself in the air, ready to soar back towards her. But Kera wiped her claws on her chest, laughing as she panted to catch her breath.
“Caught me off guard there,” she said as Enigma returned to her side. “Ya definitely gettin’ faster.”
“You taunted me,” he said flatly.
“Yep! After yesterday I thought I’d keep that ace up my sleeve.” She folded her arms and smirked at him. “Wanna get some breakfast now? I’m starvin’!”
Enigma’s answer came as a loud rumble from his stomach. Kera chuckled and Enigma felt his face heat up.
“C’mon then!” she said as she skipped back towards the barracks. “Yanno, ya might be even faster once ya get legs!”
Enigma mused over that statement as he followed the sneasel back to the barracks. She stopped by a small room just next to the entrance. A gabite stood behind a long table handing out small packages of brown paper with that morning’s rations, each one catered to specific diets. Although most of the pokemon in the Shadow Lands were carnivores. Enigma glanced the rota on the wall as he came in, noting the name of the trainee on duty that day - Ranthan. Of course, none of the trainees in his bracket were on there. Enigma’s mornings were taken up by reading and writing lessons (the latter of which was almost impossible for him) and Hydreigon’s rallies.
Kera grabbed two bags and motioned for Enigma to follow her while the rest of the trainees crowded in. Enigma hovered over their heads while Kera slipped through the rowdy crowd. She was nattering to him the whole time, but it fell on deaf ears. He watched her carrying the packages effortlessly in one paw, swinging them at her side by the string as she gestured with the other. He’d found himself observing her a lot recently, tuning out to her conversation as he just watched her instead. He barely paid attention to where he was going, drifting along on auto pilot. As he expected, she continued on towards the back exit to their usual spot by the lake.
Kera flopped to the ground beneath a willow and unwrapped one of the packages, spreading it out before her. An assortment of berries tumbled out over strips of dried jerky, the brown kind that suggested it definitely wasn’t fish. Enigma drifted down opposite her as she unwrapped the second package for him. He snapped up one of the berries with his tongue and shuffled into the damp grass.
“I don’t know about you,” she said, “but I wanna take my time with this before we head back to the grind.”
“That’s not like you,” said Enigma. “You’re always so keen to get back to training.”
“Eh!” Kera shrugged and leant back on her paws. “I feel like takin’ it easy a bit today.”
Enigma swallowed his mouthful of jerky and met her eyes. “You’re not still sick are you?”
“Nah! I’m as right as rain now. I just wanna have fun for a change. I mean, by the time the Warming Season hits I’ll be classed as an adult and I’ll be moved into the next class. It gets real strict there, yanno. Lots more trainin’, and way less reading lessons.”
Enigma snorted and looked away from her. Mainly because he didn’t want her to see his disappointment. Did that mean he’d have an entire two seasons without Kera? Who would he be paired up with?
“What? Ya jealous or somethin’?”
Enigma met Kera’s eye again and his cheeks heated up at her playful smile. “No! Just… you’re older than me, that’s all. And I don’t get along with any of the other trainees.”
“Ya were fine with Vixen,” said Kera. “Although… she’s gonna be movin’ up soon, too. Ah well, they’ll find someone for ya. Besides! Ya not meant to ‘get along’ with anyone. We’re not meant to have attachments here, yanno. Ya know that already.”
“Really?” Enigma felt his heart sink. “I thought we were friends?”
“C’mon, little ghost dude! Everyone here’s gotta talk to someone or we’d all go mad! That’d make us pretty bad at our jobs.”
Enigma’s heart sank further but he didn’t look away from her face. “So… you’re saying you’re not my friend?”
Kera closed her eyes and smiled, letting a silence draw out before them that for Enigma felt like an eternity he didn’t want to be in.
The sneasel gave a dry chuckle and tossed an oran berry pip in his direction. “Of course we’re friends.”
Enigma rolled his eyes to mask the flood of relief that washed through him and returned to his meal. But he couldn’t help thinking over what she’d said. Two seasons without someone fun to train with seemed like such a daunting idea. A wall he couldn’t see past. What if he encountered another situation like the gible, Tannen, and found himself on the receiving end of another beating? He might be a lot stronger than he was when he first arrived in the Shadow Lands, but he was still a hatchling. Still a shuppet with a limited means to defend himself.
He watched as Kera sliced up a pecha berry with her claws and expertly removed the stone. She tossed half of the fruit Enigma’s way, but it landed in the grass beside the long fur that covered his small, limbless body. The sneasel’s muzzle creased as she assessed him, and she took a bite of her pecha slice.
“Somethin’ wrong?” she asked.
He shrugged his shoulders and looked out at the lake.
“Well… we’ve got a long day ahead of us,” she went on. “I know! What d’ya wanna do after trainin’?”
“I want to evolve.”
The words surprised even him, and Kera thumped her chest as she choked on her mouthful. After a moment she gave him a wide-eyed look.
“Ya wanna what?” Her voice wheezed and she coughed a few more times.
Enigma blinked as he rolled his own words around in his head. Had he actually said that? But… the more he thought about it, the more it set a fire inside him. If he evolved, then he’d definitely stand more of a chance at defending himself once Kera left their group. Not only that, he’d be able to keep up with her when they sparred. He’d also be able to do a lot more, like carry his own ration packets, or read a book without needing Kera to turn the pages for him.
Maybe… he wouldn’t need her anymore.
His heart clenched at that thought, and he looked away from her back towards the barracks. “I want to evolve.”
“Are ya serious?” She crawled towards him, drawing his eye back to her dainty face. “Ya like… way too young for that.”
“Am I?” he asked. “I’m sure pokemon have evolved from training at my age.”
“Yeah, but… yer all new here ‘n’ stuff. Ya’ve only been trainin’ for what? Two seasons?”
“Ta-may-to, ta-mah-to.” Kera shrugged. “It’s still, like, a seriously small amount of time. How d’ya expect to evolve in one night?”
“I don’t,” he said. “But you never know. If I train-”
“We’ll be trainin’ all day!” Kera laughed. “When I asked what ya wanna do I was expectin’ ya to say ‘chess’ or somethin’, not evolution.”
“Well I want limbs,” said Enigma. “I want to be able to hold my own, and do things by myself. Is that too much to ask?”
Kera sank back on her hindquarters and scratched behind her feathery ear. A long sigh left her chest but her eyes sparkled as they met his, making a funny feeling bubble inside him.
“All right!” she grinned. “I’ll help ya! I like havin’ a good scrap anyway.”
A smile spread across Enigma’s face and his tongue poked out almost on it’s own. It drew a tinkling laugh from the sneasel and she smacked her knee.
“Ya so adorable! Stop it.”
Enigma gave her a playful smirk and returned to his breakfast. With the thought of evolution to look forward to, the rest of the day seemed to go by a lot faster. Before Enigma knew it, they were finishing up their final meal for the day and heading to the indoor training room.
The room was dusty, and the smell of stale sweat assaulted him as they entered. It wasn’t a room that was used often, usually reserved for days when the weather made training outdoors a nigh impossible task. Some pokemon used it in the middle of the day when they couldn’t sleep, but that was a rare occurrence. Most of the time, if a trainee couldn’t sleep, they’d entertain themselves with games until they finally drifted off or the sun set, forcing them into the next day’s routine.
Kera stopped in the middle of the room and stretched one arm behind her back with the other. “So… where d’ya wanna start?”
“What do you recommend?” Enigma asked.
“I dunno, I ain’t evolved yet.” She shrugged. “I’ve always heard buildin’ on ya weakest moves might help. And if it doesn’t, then at least we’ve got some value from this.”
“Then… I guess I’ve got to hone shadow ball?”
“Sure thing!” Kera clapped her paws together and took a step back. “Throw ‘em at me!”
Enigma wasted no time. He curled into the air and flipped forwards, sending a shadowy ball of energy right at the sneasel. She leapt aside, dodging it with her phenomenal agility. Enigma muttered under his breath and tried again, sending one at her opposite side. Again, the sneasel leapt aside, chuckling at the frustration on his face.
“Ya tryin’ to hard!” she said.
“Well if I don’t I’m not going to get anywhere, am I?” Enigma snapped.
“Ooh, the little ghost’s showin’ attitude!” Kera folded her arms and smirked. “Chill! We’ve only just started, and we’ve got plenty of time!”
“No I’ve not! You’re about to move up in the ranks, leaving me here like this!” Enigma wriggled his tiny body, and Kera lowered her face into her paw.
“All right,” she said quietly. “I see what this is about.”
“Nobody else here lacks limbs!” Enigma went on. “I’m… useless…”
“No ya not.” Kera moved over to him and offered a paw, but Enigma shrugged it off. “Look, we’ll get ya trained up and if ya don’t evolve before I leave your class, ya will soon enough! Okay?”
“I’m just worried,” he explained, “that when you leave, someone will start picking on me again. I’m not strong.”
“Well firstly, Niana and Jex won’t let that happen. Heck, even Lord Hydreigon won’t let that happen! And all the trainees here’ll be too scared of him to pick on ya! He chose ya, right?”
Enigma shrugged and glanced towards the window, where orange rays were already leaking in from the rising sun.
“And… I’ll make a promise to ya,” said Kera. “If ya haven’t evolved by the Warming Season, I’ll keep trainin’ with ya late into the mornin’ until ya do. Okay?”
She punctuated it with a grin, and Enigma felt a smile spreading across his face.
“Thanks,” he said.
“Great!” Kera skipped backwards from him and clapped her paws again. “Now c’mon, throw some shadow balls at me! I wanna see whatcha can do when ya really try!”
Enigma twisted and tossed a shadow ball at her, and Kera leapt aside just as he expected. He did the same as last time, causing the sneasel to leap the other way. She shouted a taunt at him which fell on deaf ears. Enigma wasn’t slacking. As she tried to dodge his third attack he followed it up with a fourth, aiming for where Kera was leaping.
Her eyes widened and she staggered, but the attack hit her in the shoulder, bowling her ear over tail. As she leapt to her feet, a grin plastered on her face, she turned to congratulate him. But Enigma had vanished into the shadows. She turned just as he leapt from the floor behind her, and raised her arms. He struck her wrist with his horn and she flinched, flicking him aside.
Kera wiped a claw across her nose and laughed. “Not bad! Ya learnin’!”
“That’s because you’re predictable,” he teased.
Kera tutted, but the smile never left her face. She leapt forwards, raising her claws. Enigma tried to dodge, but she was too quick, landing a cleaving strike to his side. Tufts of grey fur fluttered into the air, dancing around the sneasel like grey snow. Enigma fixed her with a wide-eyed stare, his tongue poking out.
“Guess I’m not all that predictable after all, huh?” Kera laughed.
“That was a new move!” Enigma gasped.
Kera shrugged and folded her arms. “Not really. I’ve known feint attack for years. I just prefer moves like ‘beat up’ now. And I don’t really like hittin’ ya with dark-type moves. Doesn’t really seem fair.”
“If it’ll help me evolve, then hit me with all you’ve got,” he said.
“Don’t be a plank! Ya can’t take all that!”
“Then I’ll learn to dodge,” said Enigma. “Try me.”
Kera sighed, rubbing her paw down her face. Then she launched herself into another feint attack.
By the time they were finished, the sun was high in the sky. Kera called it to an end, too exhausted to keep training, and Enigma went to bed disappointed he’d not managed to evolve.
Days went past as the pair settled into a new routine of hard training, with the entire training room to themselves. Enigma got faster and stronger, and he was convinced he was close to evolving. But it really began to take its toll on Kera. The sneasel often overslept, missing breakfast, and Jex began to call her out on her regular mess-ups during their training classes. So Enigma and Kera agreed to alter their routine, reducing their personal training sessions to every-other-day. Then every three days, with the Warming Season drawing ever closer. Enigma began to wonder if he’d ever evolve at all.
Frantic barking and yelling invaded Enigma’s dreams, painting his memories of the Shadow Mountains a vivid red. He flung himself from his nest of stale hay, blinking his wide eyes as the chaos followed him into the waking world. He turned his head to the window where the makeshift blind allowed the dim afternoon light to leak into his room.
The Shadow Lands were in utter chaos. Soldiers raced towards the Border Woods, lead by the mightyena pack. Canine jaws snapped at the heals of a pack of terrified white pokemon. Their snowy fur contrasted with navy claws and dark faces, and as one looked back its ruby eyes flashed with fear and anger. Its crescent horn tore through the air, sending a blade of wind slicing through the mightyena’s troops.
The dogs fell back as black fur and crimson blood misted the air, giving the snowy pokemon a chance to advance further. But they were intersected by the Wildfires. The houndoom leader launched a flamethrower, scorching the earth ahead of the fleeing pokemon. Enigma pushed himself towards the window, his heart racing. What was going on?
He looked up at Kera. The sneasel stood in his doorway, her eyes as wide as his.
“What’s happening?” he asked.
“I don’t know…” said Kera. “Lord Hydreigon must blame them for that landslide yesterday.”
Enigma turned to look back through the window. Mounds of earth were still backed up against the breeding pens in the distance. It had been unpredictable. Pokemon had scattered, and those that were too slow had been crushed to death beneath it. Hydreigon had called it a freak accident, and many of his soldiers had spent the afternoon digging out the pens. The small shacks the soldiers resided in had been shattered, and the dark dragon’s troops had been cut by a third.
Enigma shook his head. “Why would he blame the absol?”
“I guess because they didn’t warn him,” she explained as she perched on his bed. “Absol can sense disasters. Didn’t ya know that?”
Enigma blinked at her, confusion clouding his mind. “I’ve never even seen them here before.”
“They lurk near the mountains, in underground burrows,” said Kera. “The landslide never even touched their home, yet there was no sign of them after the disaster. Lord Hydreigon is furious. It looks like he’s ordered them to be driven from the Shadow Lands and exterminated.”
Enigma’s jaw went slack. All he could do was watch as the leader of the absol was buried under the black pelts of salivating, barking canines. The absol’s crimson eyes flashed towards the barracks, and for a moment Enigma was convinced she’d looked right at him. He could almost hear the dark-type’s desperate plea:
‘You know this is wrong. Why don’t you do something?’
Then she was gone. Consumed by the vicious, writhing bodies of her enemies.
Enigma’s mind reeled with memories of his own home being ransacked, ghost-types driven out and killed. Anger burned inside him, but what could he do? One tiny ghost couldn’t face off against the Wildfires or the mightyena’s pack.
The rest of the absol fled, fighting to get through the Wildfires. The edge of the Border Woods was ablaze, but the absol leapt through the wall of fire with screams of desperation.
The big mightyena watched them with his canines bared, barking commands for his pack to scatter and double round to cut before the fleeing pokemon.
“That’s Kane,” Kera explained. “He’s ruthless. His pack’ll pursue those absol until they collapse from exhaustion.”
The smaller mightyena and poochyena faltered before the wall of fire. Kane barked louder, and his soldiers scattered. Some of the smaller ones yelped with confusion and fell into pace behind their larger comrades as they gave chase.
“Can’t we stop them?” Enigma asked.
Kera began to laugh then stopped as she met Enigma’s stoic expression. “Ya serious? C’mon, little ghost dude! What’re we gonna do? For all we know, Lord Hydreigon’s right, and his word is law.”
Enigma sank onto the windowsill, unable to look away from the chaos.
“C’mon.” Kera pulled Enigma back from the window, but the little ghost resisted. “We can get some trainin’ in before the rally.”
Enigma jerked his head towards her, his eyes flashing. The rally… how could he listen to Hydreigon after this? But Kera wasn’t looking at him. She watched the chaos continue as the Wildfires followed Kane’s pack around the fire.
“Please tell me you don’t agree with this,” Enigma said.
Kera looked at him briefly then shook her head. “The absol were loyal… Or at least we thought they were.”
“You don’t believe they caused that landslide?” Enigma gasped.
“I don’t know.” She shrugged. “They claimed to be loyal. But if they knew that landslide was comin’, why not say anythin’?” She watched the tail-end of the troops as the barking faded into the distance. “But yer right, in a way. He shouldn’t be drivin’ ‘em out without investigatin’ further. Our numbers are already so small. Least he could do is listen to ‘em, right?”
Enigma let out a small sigh and moved away from the window.
“But that’s just the way it is I guess,” said Kera quietly. “I was always told when I was little, ‘Never trust an absol. Their presence is a curse, and only brings disaster.’ Perhaps Niana was right.”
The absol leader’s accusing eyes flashed in Enigma’s mind and he felt a chill run down his spine.
“That’s just a myth.” He wasn’t sure if he was trying to reassure himself or not.
“Maybe.” Kera slipped from the bed. “But there ain’t nothin’ we can do about it. So, since we’re both awake, let’s train.”
Enigma gave one final glance at the window. The troops had long vanished, leaving those capable of ground and water attacks to put out the flames. Enigma slipped through the door after Kera and followed her to the indoor training room. The cold season was ending, the days growing slowly warmer. But all the snow had melted into the ground turning it into mush beneath their paws.
The training room was cold and draughty, biting through Enigma’s fur. Kera didn’t seem to care, in fact she seemed to relish it. Her smile returned and she spun to face him, clapping her paws together. Enigma’s eagerness didn’t return. He kept glancing from the window. Stiff leaves poked from the ground around the base of an ancient tree. Crocuses, waiting for the warm sun so they could break into full bloom. The tree’s gnarled branches were decked with tiny green buds. A constant reminder that, in a matter of days, Kera would be moving from his class.
“Hey, little ghost dude!” Kera clapped her paws, dragging him out of his own head. “Time is ticking! The sun will set in, like, an our or somethin’.”
Enigma shook out his fur, trying to summon the will to fight. He didn’t have much time to prepare. Kera flicked her claws, sending sharp blades of ice at him. He swerved to avoid them, but they clipped his horn, sending a jarring, freezing pain through his head. He hissed and bit his tongue, twisting towards the floor.
“Enigma!” Kera dashed towards him. “Yikes! Are ya all right?”
His head was spinning, but he forced himself up. He was fine. He’d prove to her he was fine.
She skidded onto her knees beside him, and he melted into the floor. A yelp of surprise left the sneasel’s throat, followed by a gasp as he rocketed from the shadows into her back. She sprawled across the dusty floor with a grunt.
Kera tinkled laughter and pushed herself up, flashing a grin at the shuppet. “Ya got me.”
A cloud of ice soared towards Enigma, and he twirled to avoid it. It barely skimmed his fur as he followed up his dodge with a shadow ball. One after another he tossed them towards the sneasel, causing her to race across the training room. The sneasel leapt against the wall and raced along it, trying to come at Enigma from the side. He faltered for a moment, trying to work out where she’d land. This manoeuvre was new to him, and she was getting very good at it. She kicked off from the wall as he threw another shadow ball, taking advantage of his miscalculation. She raised her claws and brought them down on his back, sending him into the floor.
Enigma rolled away as she followed it up with another and slipped into the shadows. He popped back up behind her, scoring her back with his horn.
Kera hissed and spun away from him, bringing her claws up in an arc. They flashed black and sliced through his fur. A scream left Enigma’s throat as he was tossed into the air in a cloud of shadowy fur. Kera’s eyes widened with shock and she recoiled back, watching the little shuppet as he thudded to the floor several feet away.
Kera dashed towards him and landed at his head. She checked over his body and cursed under her breath.
“Are ya okay?” she asked. “Argh, I shouldn’t’ve done that! I’m sorry! Think, Kera!”
Enigma’s face contorted in a grimace. His entire body throbbed. Kera’s attack felt like nothing more than a thorn prick in comparison. Pulsing pain radiated from his head down his spine in waves, growing more and more intense. He let out a loud scream, sending Kera reeling back from him on her bottom.
“What’s wrong?!” she squealed. “Tell me, please!”
A sob thickened her voice, but he couldn’t see if she was crying. The pain reached a pinnacle as he felt as though he was being stretched towards all sides of the room. Everything was red and black as spots danced across his vision. It was so intense he wasn’t sure if he’d passed out for a moment.
Then it ended.
He lay, gasping for breath as a dull ache spread across his body.
“Enigma?” Kera’s voice was tiny. She crept towards him and knelt at his side, her eyes scanning up and down him. Her feathers quivered as she trembled from ear to tail. Her paws clasped around his silver bell and she hugged it to her chest.
He followed her stare to his own body and his eyes fell on a paw beside him covered in smoky grey fur. He flexed his claws and a gasp left his throat.
“Well…” Kera chuckled and wiped a paw across her eyes. “I guess I ain’t callin’ ya ‘little ghost dude’ anymore, huh?”
Enigma tried to push himself up, but his arms trembled with the effort. “I… I evolved?”
His voice was hoarse, and deeper than it had been previously. Kera placed an arm behind him to help him up, and he stared down at his new body. The sneasel seemed a lot smaller now. Her slender form trembled as she tried to calm herself from her fright.
“I thought it was me,” she said in a small voice. “I thought I’d really hurt ya.”
He shook his head and placed a heavy paw on her shoulder.
“I used night slash without thinking,” she explained. “Ya’d told me to use dark-type moves, but I never wanted to use somethin’ like that. I…” She paused and scratched behind her ear. “I want to apologise-”
“Don’t,” he said. “I don’t know if it was your attack or not, but something caused me to evolve.” He paused and shrugged. “Mission accomplished, I guess.”
Kera laughed and sat back on her paws. “At least we can now sleep more, huh?” She gave him a half-smile and Enigma felt his face flush. “I’m gonna miss our trainin’ sessions.”
A pang tugged at Enigma’s chest. He felt he was going to miss them more than she was. At least he’d evolved before she moved on up the ranks. He pushed himself up with a grunt, but his legs felt like jelly. He flopped back onto his bottom, knocking the wind out of himself.
Kera stood and tucked her shoulder beneath his arm, helping him to his feet. The sneasel huffed as she tried to hold him up, and she gave him a playful smile.
“Never thought a ghost would weigh so much,” she joked.
Enigma snorted back laughter. “I never thought evolving would hurt so much.”
“Eh.” She shrugged as she lead him towards the door. “Neither did I. But I suppose it makes sense. I mean… ya just, like, grew a whole new set of limbs.”
The pair staggered down the hallway towards Enigma’s room. It felt like miles. By the time he was back on his nest he fell back with a sigh.
“I’ll tell Jex yer ill today,” Kera told him. “Well… I explain ‘n’ stuff, but I’m sure he’ll understand and give ya time to recover, eh?”
Enigma’s paw flopped over his face. “I appreciate it.” He turned his head to fix one eye on her, receiving a small smile. “Thanks for helping me, Kera.”
“Ah, ya don’t have to thank me! I had fun!” She gave a dry laugh and set his bell down on the hay beside him. “Well… not countin’ that time I thought I killed ya.”
Her smile broadened into one of her familiar mischievous ones and Enigma’s heart skipped a beat. The pretty sneasel moved backwards to the door and grabbed the handle.
“I’ll check in on ya later, little ghost dude.” She paused, catching Enigma’s eye. Then she laughed and shook her head. “Nope. Doesn’t work anymore. I’ll think o’ somethin’ else.”
She slipped from the room, closing the door behind her.
Enigma closed his eyes, wondering if he’d even be able to rest. Sleep was rare, but he was absolutely exhausted. Just when he was about to give up, he was back in the dreamy world of the Shadow Mountains. But this time, Kera was at his side.
Enigma was bored.
Two days had passed since Kera had moved up in the ranks. She’d barely had any time to spend with him. The training must have been much more intense as she’d come back to her room exhausted and fallen asleep not even an hour later. She’d assured him she’d adapt and get used to it, but Enigma’s patience was lacking. He’d already maimed his mother’s cloak, which passed an hour. Being too large for him currently (and then much too small when he reached his adult height) it was impossible to wear, and it had taken on the scent of the stale hay. He’d hacked the length of it into a scarf and tucked the rest beneath his bed. The scarf was still too long, hanging down at his knees on either side. But at least that way he’d always have something of his mother close to him wherever he went.
He sat on his bed twirling his silver bell around his claws, waiting for night to fall. A stack of books stood beside his bed, all raided from the barracks. All about training and Hydreigon’s laws. All utter droll and boredom. Yet reading very rarely sent him to sleep, as much as he wished it would.
A strange noise drew his attention to the wall beside him. A shuffle, like scales rubbing up against the cold stone. He pushed himself up and crawled to the window, pulling the blind back enough to peer through. His view was blocked by a blue sloping muzzle. It turned to face him, causing Enigma to fall back from it.
Ripwing’s eyes widened briefly and the salamence stood back to give him some space. Ripwing wasn’t a pokemon Enigma was all that happy to see. He’d been the one to drag him to the Shadow Lands in the first place, following Hydreigon’s orders. But still, there was something about Ripwing that didn’t frighten him and he couldn’t put a claw on what it was.
“Well.” Ripwing’s voice cracked slightly and he cleared his throat, casting a glance back towards the Border Woods. “Looks like you’ve gone and evolved.”
“A week ago,” Enigma told him.
“Really! So soon!” The dragon’s muzzle split into a smile that to anyone else might have been unsettling. “I guess you show promise after all.”
Enigma huffed and looked away from him. “I need to get back to…” He waved a paw and sighed. “Whatever I was doing.”
“Sleeping, I’d imagine?” said Ripwing. “You are nocturnal, right?”
“Can’t.” Enigma shrugged but he didn’t look at the dragon. “Insomnia.”
Ripwing grunted and shuffled closer to the window. “We’ve all felt that blight. Have you tried counting mareep?”
Enigma turned to face him and narrowed his eyes. “Are you mocking me?”
“It works for some of us.” Ripwing returned the banette’s glare. “Perhaps if you keep provoking me like that I’ll knock you out cold and you could sleep for moons?”
Enigma let out a sigh and rubbed the bridge of his muzzle. “Sorry. I can never tell with you dragons.”
He didn’t want to bring up his home. He didn’t want Ripwing to think he still held hostility towards Hydreigon. Dying in the Shadow Lands was the last thing he wanted, and part of him still desired to find a way to escape. That desire was growing stronger now that Kera wasn’t keeping him occupied.
Ripwing raised his head slightly, peering past Enigma into his room. “I see you’ve amassed quite the collection of books.”
Enigma shrugged. “I like reading.”
“Not very interesting though, I’d imagine,” said Ripwing. “Battle Tactics, Assassin 101, Killing Blows and How to Deal Them… all old stuff written well before our brilliant lord took over.”
Enigma jerked his head up sharply, but Ripwing’s gaze was distant. Enigma was sure he’d detected a hint of malice behind those words, but nothing in the dragon’s expression gave it away.
“Well.” Ripwing shuffled back from the window. “I’ll leave you to it and hope you manage to catch some sleep.”
“Wait.” Enigma called after Ripwing as he turned away.
“What is it?” Ripwing swished his tail and Enigma began to doubt whether he wanted to engage him further. But a probing stare from Ripwing dragged his question out of him.
“Don’t you have any literature in the Shadow Lands?” Enigma asked. “Reading all this technical stuff is just so boring.”
Ripwing clicked his tongue and craned his neck to look behind him. “There is the library.” He turned back to Enigma. “But whether or not there are any books left is a mystery. Lord Hydreigon doesn’t like us to read fiction, so Kane’s been using it as a den for moons. Long before you were hatched. I’d bet my scales most of them have been shredded and left lying in tatters.”
Enigma’s heart sank and he fell back from the window.
Ripwing watched him and his expression softened. “But… you can always have a look?”
Enigma stared back at the dragon for a fleeting moment, then looked over Ripwing’s shoulder. One of the buildings stood taller than the others, rather out of place in the Shadow Lands. Its ornate roof rose into a pinnacle topped with a large spike that might at one point have sported a flag. Was that the library?
“Kane is away at the moment on a mission, but he’s expected back any day now,” Ripwing told him. “You wont get another chance like this in the near future.”
“I suppose it’s worth a look,” said Enigma. “It might pass some time at least.”
The banette reduced himself to a smoky mist and slipped through the wall, manifesting at Ripwing’s feet. The salamence raised a brow and gave an approving nod.
“Is that it?” Enigma pointed a claw at the old building.
Ripwing nodded. “You have a keen eye.” He paused, looking as if he was going to walk away. But his shoulders fell in a silent sigh and he nudged Enigma onward. “I’ll come with you. Just in case Kane decides to return. Word has spread that Lord Hydreigon has taken a ghost into his assassin ranks, but… Kane won’t take too kindly to finding anyone on his territory let alone a rogue like you.”
Enigma wasn’t sure how he felt about being called a rogue. But he said nothing, following Ripwing across the dusty ground towards the library.
The sun was beaming down on them, warming through Enigma’s fur. It was the first time he’d been out during the day for anything other than training. The Shadow Lands were unfamiliar past the barracks and he felt the fur prickle along his spine. Most of the pokemon were asleep, but in the distance he could see dragon-types sprawling over the warm ground or engaged in battle to hone their skills. He’d wanted to call them ‘friendly brawls’ but he had never once thought a dragon looked ‘friendly’. Teeth flashed and claws glinted, flames spewed from jaws, tails whipped and thrashed. Kommo-o scales clanged like cymbals, rending the air over the shouts and roars of garchomp and haxorus.
Very few trees grew in the middle of the Shadow Lands. They were concentrated along the borders, but a few were scattered here and there. Enigma scanned the branches, finding a small flock of murkrow with their heads tucked beneath their wings. A couple of flapple perched in another, huddled up in a way they could easily be mistaken for fruit. One of them cracked an eye open as Enigma and Ripwing strolled past, then closed it again as it returned to its nap.
It was a stark contrast to the dead of night. Everything seemed so… quiet.
“Here we are.” Ripwing stopped beside the library and sniffed the window. “Kane is still out. Not even a poochyena in sight. Knock yourself out. I’ll just stay here looking nonchalant.”
The salamence moved away from the window and flopped onto the ground. He rolled onto his back, wriggling on the warm ground.
Enigma raised his head, not taking his eyes off the dragon. “What are you doing?”
Ripwing fixed him with one eye. “Dust bath. Go on. Be quick. I haven’t got all day you know.”
Enigma stared up at the building, taking in its immense size. So a whole pack of mightyena called it home? Even if they were inside, they could be anywhere.
Enigma took a deep breath and pulled himself up onto the windowsill to lean inside. The glass had long-since been removed. Only a few sharp shards stuck out of the top, matted with black fur from the dogs that had leapt through over the years. Enigma squinted into the shadows. Nothing moved. Not even a whimper or a snore reached his ears.
Realising Ripwing’s nose hadn’t lied, Enigma slipped inside and landed on a mass of torn papers and binding. He frowned down at it and shifted a paw from a mangled cover.
‘Before the Sunrise.’
The synopsis was impossible to read, gnawed to bits like the bookshelves around it. Many of the shelves had been pulled from the walls, and the larger bookcases lay like dominoes against each other, their contents scattered along the floor in a blanket of destruction.
Enigma crept carefully over it towards the precarious shelves. Like Ripwing had said, they were empty. The books were nothing but hollow shells. Torn and shredded and lying like confetti around him. Kane and his pack had done a thorough job. The banette’s heart sank as he took it all in. Any hope he’d find a decent read was rapidly fading.
He moved around the shelves, sticking close to the wall like a rattata. Shelves lay at odd angles, forming a maze towards the library’s rafters. Enigma followed them with his eyes. They were covered in claw-marks, small ones like a hatchling’s. Not a single part of the library was untouched by Kane’s pack.
His paw caught on wood and he stopped, turning towards a lopsided bookcase. It lay propped against the wall, crushing another smaller shelf beneath it. The splinters were gummed up with fur and what Enigma desperately hoped wasn’t blood. He made to move past it but something tugged at him to investigate. He crouched down beside the shattered shelf and pawed through the shredded books around it. A small opening appeared and his heart lurched. Was there a part of the library the dogs hadn’t got to? He scooped more of the paper aside, tossing it into a pile beside him. The large bookcase beside him creaked as its support of paper was removed and it jerked towards the ground, stopping as the shattered shelf refused to give way any more.
Enigma pushed himself onto the ground to peer through the gap. It was a narrow opening, leading to a separate room with more bookcases. Many of them were still standing but the low light made it impossible to see if any of them still held any books. The floor was littered with paper, but the standing shelves gave Enigma a surge of hope.
He slipped through into the room like mist. Dry paper crunched under his paws as he approached the shelves. The windows had been barricaded by shelving units, but a faint trickle came through a dirty skylight above him. He followed the light towards one of the book cases standing proud against the far wall, and his heart soared.
He rushed towards it, hoping he’d find its contents undisturbed. A thick layer of dust covered the spines of hundreds of books, and he smoothed the dust away from the sign above it. ‘History of Estellis’.
Well, it wasn’t literature. But it would undoubtedly be more interesting than mindless training manuals.
He swiftly swiped the spines clean so he could read each one: ‘The Short Reign of Queen Felicia’, ‘The Missing Herbs’, ‘History of the Seas’, ‘Yveltal’s Fall’…
Enigma faltered, reading the last title a second time. Yveltal? He’d never heard that name before. He tugged the book free and wiped his paw over the cover. On it was a large ‘X’, and circling it were two pokemon he didn’t recognise. A stag, and a draconic bird.
A thud snapped him from his thoughts and he looked up with a start. Voices. Gruff, barking voices, followed by Ripwing’s.
Enigma’s heart pounded. Kane had returned! He scurried back towards the gap and cursed under his breath. He couldn’t turn invisible or warp his way through while holding a book. He pushed it through the narrow hole until it wedged in place between the shelves and splintered wood. Another hefty shove and its spine scuffed along the sharp splinters, snapping them free. The shelf creaked again and the splintered shelf complained until a loud crack echoed around the library. Enigma slipped through the wall and scooped up the book as the large bookcase crashed down onto the remains of the ruined shelf, blocking the entrance to the room.
“What was that?!”
Enigma didn’t recognise the voice, but it was followed by whines and curious barks.
“It sounds like something fell over,” said Ripwing. “Perhaps you need to investigate?”
Enigma swore loudly and dashed towards the window. His heart galloped and his pulse sounded loudly in his ears. Scuffling came from the wall outside and a muzzle appeared at the window. Enigma hurled himself at the wall and dropped the book, standing on it as he turned invisible. The muzzle sniffed, turning left and right. Then another smaller one appeared beside it, mimicking.
“Get back!” barked the mighteyena. “All I can smell is your flea-ridden hide!”
The poochyena growled and dropped from the window.
The mightyena sniffed again and its lips pulled back from two rows of sharp teeth. “Someone’s definitely been in here. It stinks of hay and sweat.”
“I can assure you, Kane, I saw no one come in.” Ripwing appeared behind the mightyena. “Something has obviously just fallen over. I mean, look at this place! It’s little wonder it’s not come down on top of you!”
Kane growled at the salamence then dragged himself through the window, landing a mere foot away from Enigma. Kane raised his head, sniffing loudly. Enigma’s heart hammered, and he feared the canine’s sharp hearing would notice. The mighteyena was still for a long, painful moment. Then he lowered his head to the floor, following Enigma’s scent trail towards the hidden room.
Enigma didn’t dare breathe. He turned his head slowly towards the window. Ripwing’s face obscured it, but the dragon’s eyes were filled with concern. Enigma edged towards it as slowly as he could, hoping his bell would remain silent and not betray his presence. He lowered himself to the floor and let himself solidify enough to pick up the book. His paws trembled as he raised it to the window. It was taken gently from his paws by the dragon, and Ripwing fell back letting light into the room.
Kane raised his head sharply, turning to the window. Enigma melted through the wall, but he spotted Kane’s ears prick and swivel towards him. The banette reduced his density, vanishing before Ripwing’s eyes. But the salamence stepped over him and placed a large paw over the book.
Kane leapt up at the window, growling until saliva peppered his lips. “Where is it?!”
Ripwing met the mightyena’s scowling face. “What?”
“That ghost! Don’t play dumb, dragon, I saw it! Lurking by the window!”
“You mean Enigma?” Ripwing raised his head until he towered over Kane, but the canine didn’t even flinch. “He’s in his room. I saw him earlier.”
“Mighty friendly with him, eh?” Kane’s eyes narrowed.
“You’re obviously exhausted,” said Ripwing. “That was a long journey. Perhaps you’re just seeing things?”
“Calling me deluded?” Kane spat. “I know what I saw, my eyes don’t lie. And neither does my nose. This whole place reeks of the barracks! Lord Hydreigon will hear about this, Ripwing, mark my words. I don’t care if you’re his favourite. I don’t want no filthy ghost wandering around in my den!”
More of the pack had entered the library, and moved back and forth sniffing the ground before the hidden room. Their whimpers and high-pitched barks echoed around the hollow walls.
“Tell him what you want,” said Ripwing. “It’s no scales off my snout. If you ask me, that entire building needs gutting. Good night, Kane.”
“It ain’t night!” the mightyena howled.
He dropped away from view and barked commands to his pack. Ripwing watched the window for a moment longer, then turned his muzzle towards Enigma. The banette relaxed, letting his body solidify once more.
“You found something then?” Ripwing asked.
He moved his paw away from the book and watched as Enigma picked it up.
“Peculiar title,” said the dragon. “Well… I hope it wasn’t a wasted trip and you actually find it interesting.”
“Anything would be more interesting than the drivel I’ve been slogging through.” Enigma tucked the book under his arm and gave one last glance back at the library.
Ripwing fell into step beside him as he returned to his room. Once there, the pair both turned towards the library. But there was no sign of Kane. No evidence he’d followed them.
“He won’t do anything,” said Ripwing. “And if he does, well… it’s up to Lord Hydreigon at the end of the day.”
Enigma felt a chill run down his spine. Ripwing sensed his anxiety and gave him one of his strange, unsettling smiles.
“I hope you sleep,” said the salamence. “See you around.”
Enigma clambered onto his windowsill, and Ripwing turned to leave. The ghost looked back at him and lifted his head.
Ripwing froze and craned his neck to look back at Enigma.
“For having my back,” Enigma added.
“Anytime.” Ripwing turned again to leave. “Enjoy your book.”
Enigma watched the salamence slink off towards the lake, then the banette dropped through the window onto his bed. What neither of them noticed was Yurlik sitting atop the roof of the barracks watching them like a sinister, feathery gargoyle.
Enigma was hooked.
With every turn of the page, the book just got better and better. He’d never seen anything like it. Perhaps that was because it was the only book he’d read that wasn’t a training manual or Hydreigon’s ideals? Or perhaps the story was just that good? Whatever the case, he read it all in one sitting. Before he knew it, he was opening it again.
The second time through he took the time to examine all the images. They were painted by a talented artist who had the eye for colour. They interpreted the war that took place in the story with such amazing skill the images contained just as much of the message, be it a peaceful vibrant scene or a battle filled with dramatic flair and danger.
Enigma paused on one particular scene - the Fairy Garden. Pokemon of all shapes and sizes were mixed together. An eevee raced along with a bagon and nikkit. Marill played in the water with sneasel and dratini. A gardevoir sat beneath the tree sharing a drink with a little shuppet. A gastly played hide-and-seek with a pair of pichu and a zorua.
In the distance stood a pokemon Enigma had never heard of before. A stag, his antlers radiating light onto the blissful scene. The writer called him Xerneas, and he looked after the Fairy Garden and all the pokemon within it.
It was a world so alien to Enigma. All his life he’d grown up believing dark- and dragon-type pokemon didn’t mix with the other types. Even the ghost-types had been wiped out, leaving him all alone in the world. Did the writer of the story have the hope that such a peaceful world could exist?
Sadly, the peace in the story didn’t last long. Another strange pokemon, Yveltal, didn’t like the existence of the fabled ‘fairy-type’. He sowed lies and doubt among the pokemon, tearing a rift between them that lead to a bloody war. Death and destruction filled the world, leading Xerneas’ armies to battle against it and bring an end to Yveltal.
Xerneas’ warriors were gifted strange stones that allowed them to unlock stronger powers to take down their foes. Gardevoir, mawile, ampharos… various pokemon were pictured wearing one of the stones around their necks or wrists, leading a small portion of the army into battle. It all built up into one final scene where Xerneas clashed with Yveltal, taking the rotten bird down.
The final page showed an egg-like cocoon sitting in a snowy wilderness, surrounded by statues of the pokemon that had followed the draconic bird into battle. Peace hadn’t quite returned. It had ended on an ominous note that Yveltal’s influence was still filling Estellis and one day the black bird would reawaken, resulting in his final fall - along with each and every pokemon that followed him.
Enigma couldn’t help but feel Yveltal was already back. The resemblance he shared with Hydreigon was uncanny - they shared the same belief. Dark- and dragon-types were held higher than any other, and those that didn’t share it were wiped out. Was he the inspiration for the story? Was it written to bring hope during the war? A metaphorical tale to spark hopes in the hearts of every hatchling it was read to? If so, then what was it doing in the Shadow Lands?
Enigma couldn’t understand it. The Shadow Lands had stood for centuries. How had this book gone undiscovered? Or hadn’t it? Hydreigon had kept the library standing. Kane and his dogs had clearly tried to demolish the books in the room that had been cut off from the rest of the library. It was fortunate that the shelves had collapsed, barring their entry to finish off their task. Could the book have triggered the ancient Hydreigon’s war in the first place?
Enigma grit his teeth. It made no sense. If that was the case, then surely he’d have destroyed the book? He wouldn’t have kept a book that would give others hope of his downfall. It was true he’d been perceived as less of a tyrant than his abomination of a son, but still…
Enigma flicked backwards through the book until he reached the scene where Xerneas defeated Yveltal. The stag’s antlers clashed with Yveltal’s claws in a flash of light, obliterating the terrible dragon-like pokemon. One hit. That was all it took. Xerneas’ light sliced through Yveltal’s darkness like a hot blade. The evil bird didn’t stand a chance. He’d claimed the lives of those that had fought against him, and even some of those that didn’t. Xerneas destroyed him and brought back the lives of his loyal followers.
A pokemon that could defeat the Darkness… in a world filled with such evil, the pokemon needed a hero like Xerneas.
Enigma closed the book and traced his paw over the ‘X’ emblazoned on its cover. Even if it was written to give a little hope, it had sparked something inside him. Hydreigon had killed his family. He’d taken a lot from every pokemon across the continent, even the islands that surrounded it. Places were left barren and lifeless, much like the statues Yveltal left in his wake. The abhorrent dragon needed to be stopped, but pokemon were too afraid to stand up to him. He was much too powerful, and wielded too much fear over Estellis. Fighting against him with tooth and claw wasn’t an option. The pokemon needed a much more powerful tool. They needed to rally together like the pokemon who fought alongside Xerneas and hold onto the hope that Hydreigon’s reign of terror would come to an end. If he lost all of his followers he’d be as weak as a day-old hatchling.
Enigma felt a fire well up inside him as he stared at the book’s cover.
Estellis needed a hero.
Maybe he could be that hero.
A noise sounded outside his room and he leant over his bed to tuck the book beneath it, dragging the remains of his mother’s cloak over the top. It was just someone passing down the corridor, but his heart was racing. He wasn’t ready to reveal the book to anyone just yet. First, he needed a plan.
Light was flickering through Enigma’s window. He blinked his eyes open, waking from a light, dreamless sleep. It wasn’t daylight… so where was the light coming from? He pushed himself up on one arm, growing more and more aware of the voices filling the barracks. Was he late for training?
He rubbed a paw across his eyes and leant towards the gap in his window blind. His heart did a somersault and he pushed himself closer to the window. The library was ablaze. The Wildfires stood before it, their jaws gaping, spewing flamethrowers while Hydreigon stood behind them barking his orders. It was impossible to hear them over the roar of flames and the crack of wood and crumbling stone.
The library… why would Hydreigon want it torched?
Enigma’s stomach lurched. The book! The voices outside were growing louder, and he could hear the familiar squawking voice of Yurlik. The banette scrambled onto all-fours, dragging the book out from beneath his bed. Where would he hide it? There were no nooks and crannies in his room large enough for such a book. He turned on the spot, his eyes falling on the pile of books beside his bed.
Of course… where else to hide a tree but in a forest?
He tugged the dust jacket off one of the training manuals and smothered it over the book’s cover, his eyes lingering on the ‘X’ as he hid it from view.
Kane’s angry bark retorted something at Yurlik. Claws scraped over the handle of Enigma’s door, too heavy and clumsy to get a good enough grip. Enigma quickly buried the book near the bottom of the pile and flopped back onto his bed before the door staggered open. He met the blazing eyes of a mightyena as Kane glared through at him. A feathered wing shoved it the rest of the way, and Yurlik strutted in ahead of Kane, tailed by Niana and Jex.
Enigma’s heart was racing, but he gave the group a cheerful grin and tucked his paws behind his head.
“Wipe that look off your face, banette,” Yurlik warned. “This meeting isn’t in your favour.”
Enigma’s smile fell and he pushed himself back from the wall. “Have I done something wrong?”
“Wrong?” Yurlik clicked his beak with frustration.
Niana opened her mouth to speak, but Kane didn’t give her a chance.
The mightyena stepped forwards, his hackles bristling and his shaggy mane standing on end like quills. “You know full well what you’ve done, ghost!”
“I told ya!” Jex growled at the mightyena. “He ain’t done nothin’!”
“I know what I smelled,” Kane growled. “I always thought Lord Hydreigon had a screw loose takin’ on a sneaky ghost.”
“Now, now.” Yurlik’s voice was firm and he swept Kane’s muzzle away with a wing. The honchkrow never took his eyes off Enigma. “I’ll handle this.”
Yurlik strutted forwards and a smug smile tugged at the corners of his beak. “You can lie all you want, Enigma. I saw you and Ripwing only a few hours ago. You’d both been in Kane’s territory, and happened to be smuggling a book.”
“From the blocked off area,” Kane growled. “I know there’s stuff still there. None of my dogs have been able to get to it since it caved in on one of ‘em.” He lowered his head and bared his canines. “What was it?”
“Enigma wouldn’t have the gall to go in there!” Niana gasped. “Ya both deluded!”
“Shut up, wench!” Kane barked, bristling at the scrafty. “I ain’t talkin’ to you.” He turned his livid red eyes back onto Enigma. “I was talkin’ to him. Now tell me, ghost. What was it?”
Enigma shrugged and leant back against the wall. “I dunno. Some boring thing about a queen who used to rule the frost continent.”
Niana’s jaw dropped and Jex stuttered.
“So ya did take a book?” Niana gasped.
“Yeah. But I dropped it back off before dusk.” He waved a paw as if he was throwing something. “Posted it through the window. I heard a yelp, so I guess it hit someone. I didn’t hang around long enough to find out.”
“I heard nothin’,” growled Kane.
Enigma shrugged. “You were probably asleep.”
Despite the words pouring from his mouth, Enigma’s heart was pumping like a piston. All four were staring at him in disbelief, although the scrafty siblings were probably more surprised the ghost had possessed the audacity to enter Kane’s den.
“Was there such a book?” Yurlik asked the pack leader.
“I dunno,” said Kane. “Probably. That place were full of Estellis’ history. We never got to destroy it all.” He narrowed his eyes at Enigma. “Now tell me… what were you doin’ pokin’ around my den?”
“I was bored,” said Enigma. “I wanted something to read that wasn’t some dull training manual.”
The mightyena tutted through clenched teeth and his mane managed to rise even more. “My den is being torched because you were bored?!”
“Well if you’d just let pokemon read-”
Kane’s jaws snapped and he lunged towards Enigma. The banette panicked, scooting backwards until he was part way through the wall. Yurlik leapt between them in a flapping, oily mass and beat the mightyena back with his wings. Niana stood beside the honchkrow, her fists raised ready to strike the dark dog pokemon.
Kane glared at the pair. “Out of my way!”
“Not a chance,” said Niana. “Ya prove he’s guilty first. I ain’t havin’ an innocent hatchling killed in my barracks.”
A low growl rose from Kane’s throat as he glared at the scrafty for a moment longer. His eyes flashed to her fists a couple of times, then he stood back, flattening his ears slightly.
“Niana’s right,” said Jex. “If he is innocent, then Lord Hydreigon will be pretty narked with ya for killin’ a ‘mon he’s chosen himself.”
“He’d be inclined to agree with us if he thought he’d stolen incriminating information,” growled Kane.
“Well we want proof,” said Niana. “Ya saw him steal a book, Yurlik. Didja see what it was? Or are yer old eyes failin’ ya?”
Yurlik fluffed out his feathers with indignation and Enigma had to stifle a chuckle. He’d never seen the bird so flustered.
“He claimed himself he took one,” said Yurlik. “My eyes work just fine. It’s his claim to have returned it I don’t believe.”
“I don’t either,” said Kane. “His stink around my den wasn’t fresh enough for that.”
“Then let’s search the place,” said Yurlik. “We look for evidence. Search the room. We believe he stole a book.” He waved a wing towards the mountain of books. “Search them. See if we can find it.”
Jex and Niana shook their heads and began to search through the books.
“They all look like training manuals to me,” Jex muttered.
“I’ll sniff under the bed,” said Kane. “Yanno… just in case he’s hidden it?”
“You do that.” Yurlik stood back and watched the trio, keeping one eye on Enigma.
Jex scoffed as he fired a glare at the honchkrow. “Don’t wanna get yer feathers dirty?”
“Watch your tongue!” Yurlik snapped. “You keep up that attitude then it won’t be only his eyes I’ll be eating.”
Jex paled and turned away, muttering as he helped his sister check through the books.
Enigma watched with bated breath, deeply hoping they wouldn’t start flicking through them. But the scrafty duo checked the covers and spines and set them aside.
“These all look like ours,” said Niana. “Just training manuals.”
“All boring,” Enigma muttered.
Niana fired a glare at him but Jex snorted laughter.
“C’mon, sis,” he said. “He’s got a point.”
Kane dragged his head and shoulders out from beneath the bed and shook dust from his fur. “Nothin’ under there except a stinky rag.”
Yurlik and Kane both turned to the scrafty siblings. The books lay in small, haphazard piles around them.
“Training manuals,” said Niana. “Just like I said.”
Yurlik swept a pile aside with his talons and narrowed his eyes. Silently he stood back and exchanged glances with Kane.
Jex’s shoulders sank in a sigh. “Ya wanna search the whole barraks, don’tcha?”
“He could’ve hid it anywhere,” said Kane. “I’ll turn the place inside-out if I have to.”
Jex shot a glance at his sister and she rolled her eyes.
“Fine. I’ll take ‘em.” She motioned for the two elites to follow her and they slipped from the room, leaving Enigma with Jex.
Once the door had closed, Jex waited until their claws faded into the distance. He turned to Enigma and folded his arms.
“Ya’ve got spirit, ghost,” he said, fixing Enigma with narrowed eyes. “Sneakin’ into Kane’s lair like that? Yanno what the problem there was, eh?”
Enigma’s spine tingled and he tried his best not to hug his knees to his chest. “I know I shouldn’t have done it-”
“That weren’t the problem, Enigma.” Jex flashed him a grin. “Ya got caught.”
Enigma stiffened and pulled his head back. “Eh?”
Jex laughed and slapped a paw on the banette’s shoulder. “An assassin shouldn’t get caught! Read ya trainin’ manuals. Either way, ya gave it a good shot. Keep it up. With yer courage ya could go far. Lord Hydreigon were right when he chose ya.”
“You don’t think he believes Kane do you?” Enigma’s voice wavered.
Jex’s smile turned into a confused frown. “What? Ya think he’d care? The only thing he cares about is if ya found somethin’ that went against him. All ya wanted was a dang book to read. If anythin’, this will only have impressed him. Ya ask me, if he wanted to destroy all those books he should’ve left it to the Wildfires a long time ago.”
Enigma let his shoulders relax and he sank back against the wall.
Jex gave him another pat on the shoulder and turned to leave. “Don’t worry about Kane. He’ll find another den for his pack. Maybe he can use the old absol lair or somethin’. See ya in an hour for trainin’.”
Enigma watched him slip through the door, leaving behind an unsettled air. Yurlik’s threat still hung heavily over him. The banette’s eyes wandered to the pile of books. He couldn’t remember which one hid Yveltal’s Fall. He dropped to his knees and quickly piled them all back up. Anything to make the room feel better again.