- Feb. 21, 2021: Prim no longer kills the zoroark, and merely scares it off instead.
Part I: Curtains
Part I: Curtains
I wouldn’t wish the almighty burden of saving the world on my worst enemy. Yet I must shoulder it all the same. Everything depends on it.
The journey to Laverre had taken five days, but it felt like a lifetime. Ferrycloth the lucario had grown dreadfully tired of sitting and waiting, and now that he’d finally made it to Laverre, he was sitting and waiting here too.
Waiting to meet the knight who would be his new master.
Before the clerk had stepped out to wait for the Wandersword, he'd ordered Ferry to sit down on one of the stools lined up against the wall. But Ferry wasn’t particularly fond of the idea of spending more time in a seat after having spent so long on the wagon, so as soon as the clerk was gone, the lucario had sprung up to stretch his legs. The room was cramped, though, divided in half by a counter, leaving him with only a few feet to pace around in.
The city of Laverre was just outside. The little window on the building’s front face was so coated in grime that he could hardly see out it, but he could hear the sounds of the street even through the walls: the clopping hoofs of a passerby gogoat, the hollow whooping of a vendor advertising their wares, or when people passed close enough to the building, even a few words from their conversation. The multitude of auras outside was overwhelming, and Ferry’s aura feelers had been aching dully since they’d approached the city walls.
He’d never been somewhere with so much life packed so closely together. His master—no, former master now—never had cause to take him to a human city. Ferry had been a hunting dog all his life, tasked with detecting game with his aura sense, and there was no hunting to be done in a place like this. The thought of making his way through the city alone, a solitary mon in a sea of humans, was a frightening one, but part of him still longed to explore anyway. It felt like some kind of punishment that he was forced to wait in here with only the inches-thick wall separating him from the sights and sounds of the city.
The Wandersword was supposed to be here by now anyway. “They’ll arrive a night before we do,” the Wandersword that had escorted him here had said when they’d set out. “Wanderswords ride alone. They have no wagons to bring, no passengers to carry. Compared to us, they’ll ride like the wind.” Yet here he was, stomach roiling as he waited for his new master to show up. So far they weren’t leaving the best impression.
Until the knight arrived, Ferry had only his thoughts for company, just as it had been on the wagon. He found himself unable to wrangle his mind as he sat still in the quiet. It loped to the strangest places and fished up the most obscure memories: hunts in the sunlight-dappled forest; petty arguments and play-fights with his brother; the savory delight of the luxurious table scraps he’d been allowed on feast nights, the hearty laughs of his master’s guests audible even from the dank kennels. He’d hated his life at the manor, but some of the memories had been good, and it was hard not to dwell on them. He’d even enjoyed the thrill of the hunt, odd though it felt to derive pleasure from his servitude. And at least he had been with others of his kind then. Ever since he left, he’d felt so small and alone.
More than anything he thought of the words he’d exchanged the night before leaving the manor for Laverre, the night before he’d left his family behind for a new, uncertain life under a new master. “My heart will ache for you every day,” his mother had said mournfully. Unlike Ferry, who had been born at the manor and had only ever known servitude, his mother had been born free. She remembered a time when lucario were a free people, and reminded him that things had been different, once. “But this is an opportunity,” she had added. “Take from it what you can, and become strong. Hold onto your anger. Don’t you forget for a moment what they took from us. Once you become powerful, you can shape the world to your will.” They were good words. He said them over and over in his head, trying his hardest to form them in his mother’s voice. He wondered how long it would be before he forgot what she sounded like.
Greyscar had spoken to him too. He was an old fool, but for once Ferry had been glad to hear his words. “When the time is right, you must climb Mount Molteau,” the elder had told him urgently. He was normally so mellow and even-keeled, but he had been dead serious that night, more serious than Ferry had ever seen him in his life. “I left an old relic there long ago, far and safe from the prying hands of humans… It goes to you now. It must.” When Ferry had asked him when the right time would be, the old wolf had just chuckled. “Would that I could answer that question for you, rio-lu.” Little one. “You will simply know.”
Ferry had always hated that hoary bastard, who spoke in riddles and urged them not to bare their teeth at their oppressors. His mother told him that before the Siege of Lucar, before the humans had taken their people as servants, Greyscar had been the chief of the lucario and the most powerful warrior in the tribe, but Ferry found that hard to believe. He didn’t see how someone with such a weak will could have ever commanded respect.
Voices sounded from just outside, causing Ferry’s ears to prick and snapping him from his reverie. One of the voices was feminine and low. The other he recognized as the voice of the clerk—suddenly panicked, he scrambled back to the stool and seated himself hurriedly. He very rapidly became unbearably nervous as he waited for the door to swing open, heart suddenly hammering and blood rushing hot. He struggled to keep his tongue from falling slack in a pant.
The clerk entered first. He looked slight compared to the Wandersword behind him, whose wide, towering silhouette occupied most of the doorframe. Ferry blinked rapidly. As his eyes acclimated to the light, the Wandersword’s features came into view.
Her pale blue eyes were sunken into a face creased with worry lines and marred with a single pale scar that ran from her left cheek to the edge of her square jaw. Some of her wavy blonde hair was tied back, and some of it fell in locks that framed her face, accentuating the rectangular shape of her head. Boiled leather armor covered her body, all straps and gleaming buckles, and a huge sword was slung over her back, its brass hilt visible over her shou lder. Ferry thought she looked like a woman who had seen many battles and had spent many nights beneath the stars. Her aura was like a graveler, weighty and impenetrable. In those instants, although he found himself unable to read through her impassive facade, he knew that she was sizing him up just as much as he was her.
“A lucario, huh?” she said at least, her voice bold and deliberate as a terrakion. Something about the words made Ferry feel small and angry at once. “Yeah, okay.”
“Yes,” the clerk said, shuffling his way around the counter and producing some paperwork from beneath it. “I hope that’s to your liking.”
“My liking?” The knight grunted. “It would have been to my liking not to have to lug another body around at all. But yes, he’ll do fine. Er, he, right?”
It took Ferry a moment to realize she was speaking to him. “Yes,” he said. “He. My name is Ferrycloth, of Lucar.”
“Yeah, I pretty much figured you were ‘of Lucar,’” she said, making an amused-sounding grunt that wasn’t quite a chuckle. “Right, names. I’m Primeveire. Just Prim’s good.”
“Primeveire,” Ferry echoed. It was hard for him to pronounce. He was glad she’d allowed him to shorten it. “You can call me Ferry.”
“Ferry,” she said, drawing the name out as if testing it. “That’s cute.” Heat rose to Ferry’s face, and his aura feelers prickled. He couldn’t decide if he was embarrassed or indignant—probably both. Before he could formulate a response, Prim turned to the clerk. “So that’s it, then? We can go?”
“Well, nearly,” the clerk said, shuffling the papers he’d retrieved. “Record-keeping and all that. If you could just sign here…” He offered her a quill. “Yes, good. And Ferrycloth—can you spell?”
“No,” he said. He wasn’t sure why he was ashamed to admit that. What need did lucario have for markings on a page? Letters and writing were irrelevant to a pack in perfect aural sync; maps and figures had no use when one could sense the environment and all things in it. His tail swished in irritation.
No matter,” the clerk said. “I’ll give it my best guess then. F… A… I… R…” He fell silent for a moment, then set his quill down. “That does it. Let it be known that I have officially borne witness to the transfer of ownership of one lucario called Ferrycloth to Ser Primeveire Wanderling, on this twelfth of September… and so on, you get it.”
Prim pressed her lips into a line. “Great, thanks,” she said. “If that’s everything…”
“Yes, that’s all. God with you,” he said with a bow of his head.
“You too,” Prim replied, waving a hand dismissively. Then she turned her attention to Ferry. “Let’s go then. I’ve got a few things to pick up now that you’re coming along, but I don’t plan on sticking around here. Never been a big fan of cities. Hopefully we can get some distance behind us before the sun sets.”
Ferry nodded and stood, legs a little shaky, then followed her out the door. He looked back at the dingy little building as they walked away from it. The waiting was over; this was really happening now. It was real.
“You coming?” Prim asked.
He managed to pry his eyes away, heart fluttering, and they made their way into the city.
It was hot for a September day, but the sun was perched behind a cloud, so it at least less bright and warm outside than it had been before. The cobblestones were still unpleasantly hot, though, and he winced when his paws made contact with them.
“Are you hurt?” Prim asked. The question caught him off guard. Why did she care? His master had always left it to him to heal up, and the Wandersword that had accompanied him on the wagon during the journey to Laverre had hardly made so much as small talk once the wagon was in motion, much less expressed concern for his wellbeing.
“I’m fine,” he said. “The cobblestones are just hot.”
“Oh. I guess it would kind of hurt to walk around barefoot in this weather.” She looked down at her own feet, which were clad in sturdy leather boots that reached halfway up her knee. “We can do something about that. I doubt they sell any shoes that’ll fit feet like yours around here, but I can put something together. I’ll just need a few things from the apothecary.”
Huh? Ferry almost stopped in his tracks. “You’ll… Really?” He thought of his former master’s brother, who had visited the manor to hunt a few times a year and always gave treats of jerky and bone to the lucario he borrowed. He and his peers had appreciated his kindness but also thought it strange. Perhaps it wasn’t so strange after all…?
Prim looked down at him, an eyebrow arched. He felt her aura squirm slightly with befuddlement. “Yeah, it’ll be a few silver, it’s not a big deal. Why are you looking at me like that?”
A human has never looked out for me like this, he wanted to say. But he thought of his mother and her warning words. She had known the hearts of humans better than he did. She’d seen their violent, callous nature firsthand. He decided to remain cautious and said, “It’s nothing. I just wasn’t sure where you would find shoes for me at first. But what you say makes sense.” He paused for a moment. Then: “Thank you.”
“Don’t sweat it,” she said despite the doubt he felt emanating from her, and they pressed on.
Their visit to the apothecary was quick. She came out with a roll of bandages and a small vial of rawst salve; she applied the stuff liberally to the bottom of his paws, which was a little embarrassing, then wrapped them thickly with the bandages, leaving the end open so he could wiggle his toes. At first, he found the slimy feeling of the salve at the bottom of his new makeshift sandals offputting, and they threw off his balance slightly, but before long he was walking confidently, and his paws felt strangely cool. He felt his chest swell with gratitude.
Was Mother wrong about the humans after all? He pushed the thought away. Time would tell.
Prim effortlessly navigated the sea of bodies that flooded the merchants’ district, and it wasn’t hard to see how—people gave the towering armored woman a comfortable berth. Ferry had a bit more trouble making his way, however. He only came up to the average person’s chest and no one seemed to have any reservations about pushing him out of their way. One shove would cause him to stumble forward into the another passerby, who pushed him again in turn. His anger climbed with each successive shove, and it wasn’t long before he had half a mind to shove someone right back, but he could scarcely imagine what hell would befall him if he were to try something so foolish. Fortunately, Prim was tall enough that her head bobbed above the crowd, so Ferry was able to make his way back to her easily even when the roughness of the crowd caused him to lag behind.
They stopped at a few more shops after the apothecary. When they came to the butcher, she let him pick out a jerky, and he thought of his former master’s brother again. At all the other stops he waited outside for her, chewing on his new jerky and soaking in the sights and smells and sounds of the city. A massive tree loomed in the distance, casting the rooftops in its shadow, and the roads were littered with its gilded leaves. Prim explained to him that the tree was older than the city itself and that some revered it as a nature god. It was only early autumn, she said, but at the season’s peak the streets were flooded with the tree’s huge golden leaves.
He found himself staring at the tree blankly while he waited for her outside the shops, losing himself in the myriad auras, so loud and numerous that the air around him seemed to tremble. So many people poured through the streets, and there were mon abound, too. He spotted more than a few people walking their dogs—boltund and furfrou—and countless pidove hopped on the cobblestones and nestled on windowsills. He was unable to latch onto any single aura in the cacophony—the chaos of auras washed over him as one. As he acclimatized, the roar subsided into an ambient buzz, almost pleasant. But as the hours slipped by the edge began to creep back. When Prim said she was done shopping and it was time to go, he was all too ready.
Her gogoat was waiting for her at a stable near the city’s outer wall. It had a strange odor, like the earthy smells of soil and manure speared through by the sharp scents of basil and mint. Prim dumped a handful of bronze coins into the stableboy’s cupped palm, then took her gogoat’s reins and scratched the animal behind the ears.
“Hey, Scout,” she said. “Thanks for waiting up.” The gogoat bleated softly in response. “Listen, this guy here is joining us now.” She gestured at Ferry. “He doesn’t have a steed of his own, so you’re going to have to carry both of us for now, okay?” Scout snorted—Ferry felt his aura flicker with irritation. “I know, I know. I’m sorry. But I know you’re strong enough for it, right?” The gogoat tilted its head to the side and then shook it, curling its lip. “Yeah, that’s what I thought.”
She loaded her new purchases into the saddlebags hanging from Scout’s sides, then put her foot into a stirrup and swung her leg over the gogoat’s back in one fluid motion.
“You too,” she said to Ferry. “Up.”
He nervously approached the gogoat and watched as its flank rose and fell, the lush foliage on its back matted beneath the weight of Prim and the saddle.
“He won’t bite,” Prim assured him. Ferry placed his foot in the stirrup and then paused, nervous. Prim extended an arm, and he reluctantly grabbed it; she pulled him upward with some difficulty, and after a bit of struggle he was seated safely on its back. He concluded very quickly that it was not a saddle made for two.
“Arms around me,” Prim instructed. Ferry winced, embarrassed by the odd embrace, but did as he was told. To his surprise, she barely felt like a living thing—her solid frame and suit of leather made it feel more like hugging a barrel.
Prim steered Scout away from the stable and away from Laverre, onto the road. The city’s cobblestones eventually gave way to packed dirt, and the road seemed to unfurl endlessly before them, disappearing into the horizon like an infinite ribbon of twine wrapping up the world. As they traveled further and further from the city walls, the wilds came to life—fletchling darted between towering pines, skwovet dashed up the trunks, and even the odd fletchinder could be seen roosting in the upper branches. Much to his chagrin, Ferry quickly discovered that riding a gogoat was far worse than riding on a wagon pulled by one. Each step sent a jarring shock through his bones, and it took no time at all for soreness to invade every part of him.
After a while, Prim spoke up. “There’s a small village I know not far from here. We probably won’t make it there today, so we’ll have to make camp, but we’ll get there tomorrow for sure. I don’t think we’ll have trouble finding work there.”
“Find work?” Ferry cocked his head. “Are you not a knight already? A Wandersword?”
He felt a jolt of surprise bounce from Prim. “Huh? I mean, yes, but… Well, that’s not how this works. They really didn’t tell you anything, huh?” She looked over her shoulder at Ferry, and he shook his head. “Well, basically, we’re really good at dealing with mon. People pay us to do it.”
“Dealing with mon…?”
“Sure. Like taking down a rampaging haxorus, helping a snorlax give birth, taking care of a skorupi infestation, whatever. It’s all part of the job.”
A prong of discomfort stabbed at Ferry. He was a mon.
“And you just wander around, hoping you bump into someone who needs help?” he asked.
“Yeah, pretty much. It’s more common than you think. We’re the only ones who know how to do most of the stuff we do, and there aren’t many of us, relatively speaking. Fewer and fewer by the day.” She let those words linger for a moment. “Most folks go a long time without seeing a Wandersword. By the time one of us makes our way to a town, they’ve stacked up a whole list of shit they need taken care of.” Despite the harshness of her words, she didn’t sound frustrated. “‘Course, not all of us really live up to the ‘wander’ part. Lots of Wanderswords, especially the younger ones, set up shop in a city and suck up all the jobs there forever. But for me, exploring the country is part of what makes the job exciting. All that ‘settling down’ business was never for me. Didn’t used to be, anyway.” Ferry expected her to say something else, but she didn’t. He sensed a twinge of longing and decided not to press the matter further.
“So what do you need me for then?” he asked.
Prim scoffed. Ferry couldn’t help but feel a little offended by that. “Need? Any Wandersword worth half their salt doesn’t need anyone for anything. That’s the point.” She paused, then added, “But the folks at headquarters like pairing us up with mon when they can. Say it ‘augments’ our abilities. You lucario are supposed to have some kind of aura sense, right? That’ll probably be useful. I’m sure that’s what they were thinking.”
Aura sense. Useful. Ferry felt something inside him sink. Back at the manor, his job had been to accompany his master on hunts and detect prey with his aura sensors, then either retrieve it or lead his master to it. That didn’t sound too different from what Prim was describing. So this would be more of the same, then. He wasn’t sure what he’d expected.
This is an opportunity, he could hear his mother saying. Take from it what you can, and become strong. There was more to this than being used as a tool again, he thought. Prim was a highly experienced warrior. He could learn from her.
“When does my training begin?” he asked meekly.
“Training?” He felt the confusion radiating off her, but it quickly reshaped into revelation, tall and rigid. “Oh.” She pulled up on the reins, bringing Scout to a stop, and turned around to face him best she could. The sky was waxing indigo now, and a few stars had twinkled to life. The mournful song of a distant kricketune broke the silence first.
“Listen, Ferry…” He felt his stomach drop at the sound of his name. Whatever she was about to say, he doubted he was going to like it. He’d tried to remain hopeful about this situation, tried to cling to his mother’s words, but he felt the cracks in his optimism beginning to form. “I don’t know who put it in your head that I was going to train you, because most Wanderswords don’t train their mon. You do the aura sensing, I do the combat. That’s how it’s supposed to work. Now, I’m not like the rest of them, and I admit that if things were different, I might think about teaching you a thing or two, but…” He felt sympathy spilling from her in waves. At first the tender feeling soothed him, but then he felt his anxiety ignite into anger. Why was she doing this to him? Why couldn’t she just train him? Then came the answer: “I don’t plan on keeping this up much longer. Not long enough to pass on anything worth knowing.”
“What?” Ferry demanded, the word coming out more forcefully than he’d intended. Speaking seemed to have opened the floodgates of his emotion; anger washed over him now. Anger at the injustice of his situation, anger at her apathy. Everything had been taken from him so he could serve under her, and his only solace had been the hope that he would learn from her. Only for her to now reveal she was planning on jumping ship as soon as possible? His vision blurred slightly, and his aura feelers burned hot. He felt a brief spur of fear flare off Prim, but it quickly solidified into stern resolve.
“I’ve been at this a long time, okay? Almost thirty years now. I’m ready to hang my sword up. And if I want do that, that’s my business, you understand? I don’t owe you anything just because the Wandersword Corps decided I needed another partner. Buying supplies to accommodate you has set me back a little, but all I need is a few more jobs and I’ll finally be able to afford to rest. So… I can’t train you.” She stared at him intensely, and he felt his hot anger transform into cool fury. “I’m sorry,” she choked out, and he could feel that she meant it, but it bounced right off him. She turned around and spurred Scout onward.
They rode in silence after that. Ferry wasn’t sure for how long—he felt frozen in place, his mind at once racing and perfectly still. The landscape blurred past him, nothing more than strokes of color in his periphery. He barely noticed when she led Scout off the path and into the woods. Eventually she dismounted, lit a torch, and began to set up camp in a small clearing. Somehow, a part of him still wanted to offer to help, but it didn’t outweigh the numbness, the inertia of sitting on the gogoat’s back and staring at nothing.
This is all for nothing, he thought. This wasn’t an opportunity. He wouldn’t become stronger. He’d just been handed off to another master, one with a softer tone but just as firm a grip. His mother, his siblings… He’d never see them again, and for what? To play servant for some defeated old knight who didn’t want him there, who didn’t even want to be there herself? He had nothing now, no future and no people and no home.
He was barely aware of anything but his thoughts until Prim spoke. She didn’t have a sleeping place for him yet, she explained after a while. He nodded, somehow extracting meaning despite barely hearing the words. She’d laid out some of Scout’s hay for him, which was better than nothing, she said. Some distant part of him wanted to thank her, but he didn’t say anything. Instead he dismounted the gogoat mechanically, landing harder than he’d expected on the makeshift sandals Prim had made him. By the time he had reached the ground, Prim was already laying in her sleeping roll, torch extinguished, eyes screwed shut.
Ferry looked down at his feet, and then at the hay she’d laid out for him, and his cool anger receded slightly. Prim had made him these sandals to protect his feet, and let him pick out any jerky he wanted, and had made this bed for him. All things considered, this was an improvement over his old life. He hadn’t realized it until now, but today had been one of the best days in his life. He was still being used as a resource, yes, but at least he was to some extent finally being treated as something more than that, too. It wouldn’t be everything he’d hoped for, but he could learn to live this way. Tomorrow would be a new day. It was painful, carrying so much anger. It was tiring. He could make amends and learn to find happiness in his new life, just as he had in his old one.
But once again he thought of his mother. He thought of her words: hold onto your anger. He thought of the stories she told him, stories of the humans laying waste to his ancestral home. Then he thought of his former master’s harshness, the years he spent in those dank kennels with his stomach growling, the hours he spent toiling against his will just for the right to live. His sympathy for Prim withered up. The sandals, the jerky—none of that mattered. They were nice gestures, yes, and he was grateful for them, but gestures couldn’t erase the thing that mattered. She was one of them, and he had been handed over to her like an object. I’m still being used as a tool, he thought, cold fury heavy in his chest. This anger, this injustice he felt—it wasn’t arbitrary, it wasn’t a mere reaction. Carrying it was his birthright, and his duty. The fact that his new master was somewhat kinder than his old one didn’t make her any less unjust. It didn’t make things different. His mother was right.
Nothing has fundamentally changed. I was a fool for thinking for even a moment that it would.
Yet he had to become strong. That’s what his mother had told him. Once you become powerful, you can shape the world to your will. And that’s what he would do. He would become powerful, and he would create a world where his people were free.
If Prim—if this woman wasn’t going to help him do that, he would have to get there on his own.
His training could start now.
“Prim,” he whispered. No response. “Prim,” he said again, louder this time. Again, no response. She was definitely asleep.
Ferry felt oddly calm now, as though his anger had frozen over entirely into cool determination. He stood up and began to walk away from the camp and away from the road, further into the wilderness. Scout bleated at him, quiet but stern. Ferry felt the scorn rising off him. He answered with a scowl. Quiet, the scowl said. He knew the gogoat understood it. With that he took off into the forest, tail swishing behind him.
He walked in a straight line until he was far enough that he was sure Prim wouldn’t be able to hear him. Then he squared his stance, held his arms at his side, and took a deep breath.
A memory played out in his mind’s eye.
Greyscar used to wake up before anyone else. He would walk to the corner of the room and start in the same square, neutral stance Ferry held now. Then he would move one arm, slowly but so deliberately, and then the next. He’d lift a leg, hold it there, then gradually drop it. The movements were practiced and slow as anything, but at the same time fluid and intentional. He would inch along, almost imperceptibly slow but ever in motion, like an avalugg in migration. He’d had some strange name for it, something in the old lucario tongue, complicated and impossible for Ferry to pronounce. In Kalosian, he had simply called it “Agility.”
Ferry took another deep breath, trying his best to clear his mind, and then attempted to replicate the motions. He’d never memorized them and found himself regretting it now. He had no love for that old fool, but it would have been something to ground him physically and remind him of home. Instead he had nothing. Still, eyes clamped shut and breaths shallow, he tried.
The movements themselves had never been the impressive part. But after a few hours, something special would happen: Greyscar’s aura, so intensely focused and rigid, would leak from his body, coating his fists in iridescent blue flame. Some days he would let the riolu gather around and watch him with sparkles in their eyes, hearts aflutter at the spectacle. “Aura given form,” Greyscar used to call it. It never got more intense than the flames, and after a dozen times or so Ferry had become bored of the old wolf’s parlor trick.
But there was something more to it, Ferry knew. He’d grown up hearing fanciful tales of the “old magic,” of just a few lucario beating back armies of men, blasting them away with deluges of blue flame and swords made from aura. The old magic was mostly gone, his mother had said. There were only a few left who knew it. Greyscar was one. She was just a riolu when he’d challenged the chief at the time for his position. They’d dueled publicly in the town square, and they fought with blue flame and phantom blades and all the weapons and magic of legend. She’d never forgotten it. As a riolu, it had sounded just as fantastic as any other story Ferry had been told. It didn’t seem right that the spineless old wolf he knew Greyscar to be could wield a power so intense. It was the stuff of bedtime stories, not reality. But as he grew, he began to think it might be true. Greyscar had been the chief. And Ferry had seen that blue fire with his own eyes…
“The old ways cannot die with me,” Greyscar had said to him once. “They must live on. One day, when the time is right, I’ll pass them on to you and your siblings.”
When the time is right. The old fool was always saying that. Well, now the time was never. Ferry would never see Greyscar again, and whatever knowledge he might have had to pass on was as good as gone now.
Before long Ferry found himself lost in his physical motions, inexact as they were. At first, his mind focused solely on the gentle ebb and flow of his breath. In and out, like the endless tug-of-war of the ocean and the shore. But as his thoughts turned to what he’d lost and his feelings soured, the movements began to make his limbs feel heavy instead, and the peace was replaced with budding frustration.
Meditation was a powerful thing for a lucario, Ferry knew, but a volatile one too. Turning one’s aura sense inward compounded one’s own emotions many times over. For a mind at peace, this resulted in complete, all-encompassing tranquility. But the slightest falter could trigger a perilous downward spiral.
He’d simply wanted to calm himself down, but he should have known better than to try it when he was feeling so raw. The experience of being in his body, so deeply attuned to his flesh, suddenly became uncomfortable rather than soothing, and his discomfort was redoubled back on him through his aura sense. The negative feedback loop made his aura feelers feel itchy and somehow restless, the same way his legs had felt after hours spent sitting on the cart without a break.
The hopelessness gnawing at his mind expanded and rapidly engulfed him. He thought of the things that the humans had taken from his people, and the fact that he had been divided from the others too, forced to serve a new master alone without the comforts of family, of community. He would never hear his mother’s voice again, never hear her stories, never learn the old ways, never engage with what fragments of his culture still existed. He was a lone individual with no home to return to, only a prison, and with no family by his side. He had been born a slave, he had lived his whole life a slave, and now he was going to spend the rest of his life a slave, too. And why? What had he, what had any of his people done wrong? Was he brought into the world only to be used and die?
The rush of thoughts just kept coming, so quick that they were indistinct and barely formed, rapid punches of emotion. He caught a fragment here and there—his mother, Greyscar, the smell of smoke on the air, his master’s wrath, Prim’s words, stolen memories of constellations and fairytales.
He tried to take a deep breath to calm himself down, but his chest was too tight to allow it. His failure to even breathe the way he wanted made him feel worse. When it all became too much to bear, his fist went flying toward the tree in front of him. A shower of bark exploded from the collision. A dagger of pain shot up through his hand, and he pulled back reflexively. His knuckles were striped red, little hot beads of ruby blood collecting on the fur like condensation.
The pain coalesced all his muddled emotions into anger, twice as strong and bright and dense as the sum of its parts, and then he heard a voice.
"Are you okay?"
The voice spoke in the old lucario tongue, rough but not rougher than his own. His old master hadn't liked it when they spoke in a language he couldn't understand.
Ferry whipped his head around to view the speaker. It was a lucario, sure enough, standing there between the trees, tail wagging slowly just a few inches above the ground—a friendly, cautious stance. Confusion and relief whirled through his head at once.
“Are you okay?” the lucario repeated.
“I… Who are you? How did you find me here?”
The lucario grimaced. “Lucario, like you,” he said, language fragmented. “Sensed your aura.” Ferry suddenly became aware of his heart pounding in his throat. The moment didn’t feel real. “Are you okay?”
“Yes, I’m fine.” It wasn’t true, but even as he said it, he felt some of the tension leave his body. His arms stopped shaking. “What are you doing out here?” he asked, switching to the old tongue. “Are you with a blade-walking, too?” Wandersword was a human designation, and a recent one too. There was no analog for it in the Lucario tongue. He hoped the other lucario would understand.
“Mm.” The lucario looked thoughtful. “Yes. Blade-walking, like you.” Then he held out a hand. “Come here. Something for you.”
Ferry squinted at him and took a cautious step forward, then another. The other lucario just stood there, unblinking and smiling slightly, hand suspended in the air. Something seemed off about his appearance, Ferry thought. It was the eyes—from another tribe, perhaps?
But as he approached more closely, he realized that wasn’t it. Ferry hesitated. It wasn’t the shape, or the color, but the way they flickered at the edges, and the smile too. “What—,” Ferry began, and then the lucario’s form slanted into nothing, gone entirely like a candle’s flame extinguished by a sudden gust.
Crimson claws thrust forward in his place, glinting silver. Ferry didn’t register what was happening until the claws had already dug triple trenches into his shoulder. He felt the blood before he felt the pain—warm and slightly uncomfortable, then white-hot and screaming. A shout escaped him, equal parts surprise and anguish.
Blue eyes flashed at him from where the other lucario had stood moments before. Ferry realized with a start what he was facing.
The impostor lashed out with their claws again, so swift and furious, but this time Ferry tumbled out of the way in time. Of course they’re a zoroark, he thought as he reoriented himself. Why would there be another—
The zoroark swept his legs out from under him. All his breath was squeezed from his lungs in a single puff as his back slammed into the ground, his vision swimming. Then the zoroark was descending on him, all knotted black fur and ruby claws, eyes like a moonlit pond, aura like a violet flame.
He tried to scramble out of the way, but the zoroark pinned him by his wrists in no time. They were two heads taller than him, and their limbs seemed twice as long as his. “So lonely, your kind,” they said, blasting him with its hot breath. Their voice was different now, icy and venomous where it had been warm and inviting before, but they still spoke in the old lucario tongue, which felt obscene. “So trusting. And so foolish.”
The words barely registered. Ferry resisted with all the energy he had in him, bucking and scratching, but it was little use. The zoroark was lithe but sturdy, slender but powerful and tall—the finely-tuned body of a solitary predator. Ferry had the build of a pack hunter. One on one, there was no contest between the two. He was feeling that disparity now as he squirmed and kicked desperately at the zoroark’s ribcage. The blows earned nothing but grunts from his assailant, not so much as breaking their gaze. “You don’t fight like they used to. Disappointing.” They stared right into him so intensely Ferry wondered if they could read his aura, too, feel the way it was flickering and oscillating.
He continued jerking his body violently against their grasp, but the zoroark just tightened their grip, eventually drawing blood as their claws sank into his wrists. Eventually they released one of his wrists, and he pushed his palm into their face frantically, trying with everything in him to push them off of him, but they didn’t seem deterred. They brought their hand to Ferry’s face as if in kind, unflinching despite Ferry’s kicks. They looked almost curious. “The things hunger drives us to… Hunting another hunter. How strange,” they remarked casually. “The hunter of all hunters rises.”
Then they dug their claws into his cranium and dragged them downward, across his face.
Ferry screamed as hot blood trickled into his eye, blurring his vision. He thrashed harder than ever, still to no avail. The zoroark’s claws seemed to penetrate through his skull into his very being, his very soul. They were playing with him. Helplessness and fear and anger and shame and desperation all whirled madly in his core like a wild tempest.
And then it all exploded from inside him.
He gasped as he felt his raw emotion become real, every hair on his body standing straight up on end, his breath suddenly cold and crisp—and his fists cloaked in blue flame, so brilliant it was almost white, bathing the trees in soft ethereal light. He was somehow profoundly angry and wholly calm at once, both detached from and fueled by his fury. The zoroark’s face slackened with disbelief or fear, not a moment before Ferry’s flaming fist slammed into it with such force it sent the zoroark tumbling.
And then, just as suddenly as they had appeared, the flames evaporated. Everything was very dark again, save for the stars twinkling overhead, and the wan glow of the zoroark’s eyes. They burned with unadulterated fury. Ferry suddenly felt very small, and so empty his heartbeat seemed to echo.
The zoroark was really going to kill him now. He was going to die.
Not quite paralyzed with fear, he scooted backward frantically, kicking up a storm of crunchy leaves and soft detritus as he did. The zoroark lunged at him, their ruby claws held forward as they leaped, their white teeth flashing.
But they never reached him. Instead a boot collided with their body mid-leap, and their trajectory was cut short; they hit the ground suddenly with a shrill yelp. Ferry watched as a towering figure lowered its leg drew a blade, moonlight dancing off the metal. “I’m giving you a chance to fuck off,” Prim said, her voice almost a whisper but radiating authority, “before I kill you.” The zoroark didn’t need a second warning. They faded into the night in the blink of an eye.
The sound of Prim’s sword being re-sheathed snapped Ferry back to his senses. His whole body throbbed, sharp pain biting into his wrists, his skull, his neck. He groaned involuntarily. The sound barely made its way through his constricted throat.
“You just couldn’t stay put, could you?” Prim chided. Leaves crunched as she moved toward him. “Damn it, Ferry. It’s only been a day and you’re already a pain in my ass.” Despite everything, he felt something inside him shrink. “Come on.” She bent over and stuck her hands under his armpits, then hefted him over his shoulder. Pain lanced through every part of him. His head felt like it was being struck by lightning. He groaned loudly in anguish. “Oh, stuff it. You’re fine. Just scratched up. Kind of a mess, though. Hmm.”
He felt very small and pathetic, being carried through the forest, and very hurt. But through the humiliation and exhaustion, there was relief too. Relief that it was over, and that he had been rescued. A pang of gratitude for Prim pulled at him, but the thought of her dragged up his anger at her too, and the defeat, and the hopelessness. The powerful negative feelings battled with his relief and gratitude on some level of his consciousness, but Ferry was too tired to follow it. He just stared at the ground underfoot as Prim approached the camp, suppressing a grunt as a new round of pain stabbed him with each step.
“About what I said earlier,” Prim said at length. Ferry screwed his eyes shut. “I’ll do it. I’ll train you.”
He wrenched his eyes back open. “What?” he croaked.
“I said I’ll train you,” she repeated, not unkindly. “What just happened can’t happen again. I can’t come running to your rescue every time you get yourself into trouble.”
I don’t expect you to, Ferry thought. I never expected you to. But he stayed silent.
“I’ll train you so shit like this doesn’t happen again.”
So it wasn’t all for nothing. He would become stronger. The seeds of hope took root deep within him once more.
“And I saw what you did back there,” she added. “Whatever that was… it was something. We can talk about it later.”
Somehow, he’d nearly forgotten about that. The emotion, the clarity, the fire. The night painted blue. The old magic, like from the stories. He’d made it real.
Perhaps he could do it again.
here's some lovely art that some community members have made for the fic—thank you guys so much!