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Pokémon Zoroark Stories

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Zoroark Stories

In the dark hours of the morning, a man and a boy make for the river. Everything you need to know about life is in the Zoroark Stories, if you listen.​


Content Warning: Light gore.


Night hung over the village like a raincloud before it burst. The half-moon slumbered behind slate blankets, a sentry asleep on her watch.

The air nibbled at Nayati's skin, infiltrated the thin spots between his hides. The month of the simipour was waning, and soon the condensation in the air would sharpen into snow. Each bootstep brought him closer to the small hut at the center of the village, until there were no more steps to take. He shivered as the wind whipped up. I should have dressed more warmly. But it was an idle thought. He couldn't turn back now.

Instead, he undid the hut's flap and stepped inside. The starlight briefly illuminated nests of cloth, tangles of moss, and in the back, a large heap of furs. From somewhere in the gloom came the steady rise and fall of breath.

"Speaker," he rasped.

A body shifted in the darkness. Then a startled voice, high-pitched and thin, called out, "What's happening? What's wrong?"

"It's Nayati. Speaker, I—" He needed to get control of himself. "The council sent me. Spirit Trappers have encircled the village. They will attack soon." His fist clenched. "The village will be taken. But not you, Speaker. You must not be taken."

The Speaker's breathing came fast and sharp. "I don't understand."

Of course he didn't. How did you tell a boy that his life outweighed the lives of a whole village?

"You must not be taken," Nayati said again. "We will make our way in secret to the Striped River. Friends wait for us."

No answer, only breathing.

"Two may do what many cannot. They do not know we were warned of their coming, so they will not be watching for us."

"You're telling me to run away," the Speaker said finally. "To abandon everyone. I can't do that."

"You must, Speaker. We all do what we must."

"Tokala. You don't always have to call me—I'm just Tokala."

He was only a few winters older than Nayati's youngest.

"They are here for you—the last Speaker east of the Arbok River," Nayati said. He brought home the blow as kindly as he could. "If you are taken, what hope do the seven hearths have?"

No hope. He couldn't dwell on it. No hope at all.

His voice wound on, "You cannot say any goodbyes. It might rouse the village, and we do not know—we believe there is a spy. A traitor. So we must leave in secret. I'm sorry."

Had he said that yet? It seemed worth saying again.

"I am sorry, Tokala."

There was a low snuffling sound. Was he weeping?

"Bring little. Dress warmly. The chill is worst in the dark hours of the morning."

He couldn't bear to listen another second to that horrible snuffling that wasn't quite tears. He stepped outside, where the wind moaned and the gray clouds swirled. He tensed as another hut flapped open—but it was just a badly secured hide, twisting in the wind. A few minutes, he waited, or a few hours. It could have been either, when the Speaker finally emerged. He had taken Nayati's words to heart and bundled himself thickly in dark furs. His small face seemed even smaller as it peered out from the frame of his hood.

Nayati's heart galloped in his chest. He placed a finger over his lips. Silent as a gliding swoobat.

They left the village without further words.



The chill had deepened into a bitter cold, but Nayati was drenched with sweat. Each rustle and twig crack sent fresh fire roaring through him. Pursuit. Not pursuit. He knew these woods better than he knew himself, but tonight they seemed as foreign as his heart.

He wondered if Mosi was awake. His darling girl, almost a woman now, with her mother's broad smile and her same restless sleep. How many nights had she tugged him from a dream, her chubby hands insistent at his shirt. She'd asked him once why the sun sometimes went away and he'd said, So we can sleep, dear one. When would we sleep, little pidove, if the sun always shone?

We'd never sleep!
she'd piped out proudly. She'd crossed her arms and smiled at her papa's lack of wits. We'd never have to sleep at all!

With effort, he pushed the memory aside and glanced behind him. The boy was keeping pace far better than Nayati had dared hope. For an hour they had travelled in silence. Now Nayati risked words.

"You've done well. My son could not have done better."

"Your son—"

"Nahele."

Nayati didn't blame the Speaker for not knowing. He was a boy, but he hadn't grown up like the other boys. His childhood had belonged to the forest. It had been given to the tribes of the sawsbuck and the stoutland, the unfezant and the scolipede. Nayati didn't blame him for it.

"You have other children?"

"I am thrice-blessed. Nahele is the youngest, my only boy. Mosi came first, then Manaba."

The Speaker caught the careful absence. "Your wife . . ."

"In the Battle of the Long Summer."

He couldn't say anymore. Even after seven years, the memory tore him in two. His feet continued to move, but his mind drifted into a dark haze. He watched the passing trees but ceased to see them.

He only came back to himself when the moon chanced to illuminate a tree scarred with acid. Even sleepwalking, he'd know a sign like that. They had strayed too far north, into the territory of the scolipede. Their poison made for a certain death, though not a quick one. He froze in place, swinging out an arm to halt the boy.

"Back the way we came. Quiet and quick, but do not run."

They had only gotten five steps when the ground erupted around them. Gray shells rolled out from beneath the eaves, spines flashing. Watchful yellow eyes burned in the center of each shell. Nayati's heart pumped painfully. They were surrounded, and his knife meant little against a pack of whirlipede.

If they died here, it was all for nothing. Mosi, Manaba, Nahele. He hadn't even said goodbye.

An arm, surprisingly strong, pushed him back. The boy stepped out in front of him and started to Speak.

Nayati had never heard anyone Speak before. He was a scout, a tracker and a hunter. He did not sit in the main house when the leaders of the forest peoples came to renew their alliances. It had never crossed his mind to wonder what the Speech would sound like.

Guttural, was his first impression. Almost growling. It was hard to believe such low sounds could come from such a small form. But the longer he listened, the less alien the sound became. A rhythm twined beneath it like a lullaby he had heard a long time ago.

The yellow eyes ringed around them glowed in the morning's darkness. Then, one by one, the eyes blinked shut and the spikes tucked down. The shells rolled back into their hidden crevices, leaving nothing but stirn-up undergrowth.

Nayati's breath left him in a slow hiss. They stood in silence for several moments, washed in the weak moonlight.

"What did you say to them?" Nayati asked at last.

The Speaker cocked his head. "I reminded them of their promises. I reminded them of the curses that follow those who break their word."

Nayati shivered. "We must reach the river by dawn," he said.

He turned away, his feet crunching on dead leaves. The boy followed him, soundless.



This morning the current ran swiftly. Nayati stood on the bank of the Striped River and looked upstream. The river had been named for the schools of basculin that choked its waters. They were sharp-toothed and vicious, deadly to a child swimming alone. But they disliked the taste of wood, so boats passed unmolested up and down the watercourse.

"They'll be here soon," Nayati said aloud. "Once we cross the river, we'll be safe."

Layered over the melody of the rushing water, his voice sounded harsh and cracked. Let them come quickly, shouted his quick-beating heart, and in the same breath shouted back, Let them not come at all!

The Speaker squinted thoughtfully at the sky, now a pearly gray and growing lighter with each minute. He settled himself on the river bank, one leg crossed over the other.

"It's nearly winter," he said. "While we wait, tell me a Zoroark story."

Nayati hesitated. He was not in the mood for storytelling. But it would keep the boy's mind occupied, until—until dawn. Nayati sat down on the hard earth, facing the river, and cleared his throat.

"After the world was formed, after the Great Gods and the First Beings came forth, the lesser creatures were made and for all of them there were blessings." He was no great storyteller, but his mother had been, and the cadences came back to him easily. "But our ancestors were too eager to experience the beauty of the young world. They ventured forth before Meloetta had taught them the Speech. At first, this hastiness seemed good to them, for they multiplied and quickly took root across the lands. But without the Speech, they were an outcast tribe. Now, Zoroark—"

"If it's all the same to you," the Speaker interjected softly, "I'd prefer to hear a different story."

Nayati closed his mouth, stricken. The tale of the first Speaker was comforting in its familiarity, and he had chosen it without thinking. But of course the Speaker did not want to be reminded, now of all times, of that which set him apart.

"A different story? Let me think. Perhaps the story of how Zoroark outraced the wind."

"No," said the Speaker with finality. "Tell me the story of Zoroark and the Two-minded One."

Nayati's mouth went dry. "That's not a comfortable tale."

"Good," said the Speaker, his lip curling back. For a moment his eyes betrayed something that wasn't placid. "I don't feel like comfortable right now."

Nayati could guess the shape of his thoughts: Spirit Trappers stalking an unwitting village, a dawn that would rise blood red. Nayati wanted to reassure him, but what could he say?

Only I am sorry, and he had already said that. If he said it again surely he would unwind like a willow basket.

He fixed his gaze on the river and began once more.

"They say that after Zoroark outwitted Thundurus and stole the secret of sparking fire, the Thunder God's wrath knew no bounds. Forests burned under the force of his fury, yet quickly Thundurus tired of these tantrums. It was Zoroark and only Zoroark he wished to hurt. However, the god knew he could not slay Zoroark directly, for Zoroark is one of the First Beings. Their tricks and skin-changing are just as essential to the world spirit as Thundurus' lightning and storms. The god also knew he could not match Zoroark for wits and that to try would only court further humiliation. What, then, was he to do?

"As Spring warmed into the easy lulls of Summer, Thundurus chanced upon his eldest brother, skating low upon the wind and showering the lands below with blessings and plenty. Landorus, Guardian of the Earth, hailed Thundurus, and for a time the two floated on the breeze. Then Landorus said, 'Speak, my brother, for I see that you are troubled.'

"When Thundurus had poured out all his grievances, his brother spoke again.

"'Indeed, this season as I travelled to spread my blessings, I have seen small fires burning where no fire should burn. To my eyes it seems as if the very stars have been brought low. Truly Zoroark acted wrongly to share your secret, but it is in their nature to transgress as much as it is in the nature of the wind to uproot trees or the lightning to burn them. As for punishment, is that not the realm of Cobalion and his brutish ilk? Forget Zoroark, brother. The thunder must not heed what happens below.'

"Thundurus was greatly dissatisfied with his brother's answer and he made this known by summoning a storm, which devastated the new sprouts called up by Landorus' passage.

"'That was badly done, my brother,' said Landorus. 'Yet I forgive you, for I know well your hasty and destructive nature. Out of love for you, I will share how to take revenge on Zoroark. You must ask yourself: what is it you have that they have not?'

"With these words, Landorus left Thundurus pondering. All Summer he pondered, but could make no sense of his brother's riddle. At last he exclaimed, 'Pah! What do I have that Zoroark has not? All I have is a foolish brother!'

"Yet as he spoke, Thundurus understood. Zoroark was one of the First Beings, and though they may have lesser children, they do not have equals. Thundurus had two brothers, but Zoroark had no one like themself. Why else would they have bestowed the gifts of speech and fire on a tribe of lowly humans?

"Zoroark, realized Thundurus, was lonely."

As Nayati paused for breath, the boy nodded. He had closed his eyes and his mouth was pursed in concentration as he listened. The river still showed nothing except for the occasional spiked fin of a basculin.

"Now, there was a man called by the name Solosis, for wherever he went, he went alone. Bold, he was, and quick of wit, with a form that pleased every eye. One night as he travelled, a mighty storm arose. Then Thundurus appeared to him, swathed in blue and gold. In a thundering voice, he promised Solosis great gifts. Both awed and terrified, Solosis agreed to carry out Thundurus' will.

"The story of how Solosis and Zoroark met is its own tale, as is the many years they journeyed together. They covered themselves in leaves to learn the secrets of the whimsicott, wisest in weaving. They shaved the rainbow plumage from the evil mandibuzz—even now her neck is naked and her descendants do not forget her shame. Together they brought down the fearsome Darmanitan and so saved the world from a death by fire. But in the tenth year of their journeying, a great storm arose. For ten days and ten nights the thunder did not cease. Then Solosis knew that the time had at last come.

"The next morning, Zoroark woke alone. Their fur had been shaved and they were bound in ropes of flame. They flinched as these flames licked their naked body, and sought to cloak themselves in a new skin so that the world would not witness this humiliation. But the fire belonged to Reshiram, and it would allow no deception. As Zoroark twisted in pain, they became aware that they were no longer alone. Around them were gathered all the gods of the greater pantheon, summoned to bear witness to Zoroark's disgrace. Thundurus flitted among them, smirking mightily, for this revenge was all he could have wished for. The air rang with the crashing laughter of the gods. But Zoroark had eyes only for a figure almost hidden under the forest eaves. It was Zoroark's friend, and they knew then that they had been betrayed."

Boats.

Three boats on the river. Nayati's words evaporated in his mouth. The prows were sharp, not smooth, and they cut the water like bisharp blades.

At his long silence, the boy opened his eyes. He saw the boats.

Did he understand? With a sudden, overpowering urgency, Nayati needed to know if he had understood. Curse me, hate me, hit me, try to run away! Why don't you run?

But the Speaker lifted his chin and said, "The story?"

"What?"

"A story's like a promise," the Speaker said in the tone of a teacher chiding a student. "You can't start one and not finish it."

Hysterical laughter crept up Nayati's throat, and he had to press his lips shut to keep it from spilling out. This is the least of the promises I break today.

But every moment the boy sat and listened was a moment he didn't run.

"Zoroark knew that they had been betrayed," Nayati said hollowly, abandoning all the flourishes of tale-telling. "He cried out, 'Once you loved me, but now you turn upon me. Hear my curse, for you shall always be in two minds!'

"No sooner had Zoroark spoken, then Solosis felt a great pain, as if he were being torn in two. He screamed. They say his screams were so loud that even the voices of the gods seemed small.

"At last, Meloetta of the gentle heart took pity on Solosis and granted him a new form, one that could bear the torment Zoroark had unleashed upon him. But his descendants still wander the world, always pained, never whole. And we —"

The boats touched land. Nayati faltered.

"Finish the story," hissed the boy, in a voice that hardly seemed human.

Nayati whispered, "We name traitors as Zoroark did: two-minded, and Zoroark's curse forever follows them."

One by one, the Spirit Trappers disembarked. They could have been mistaken for normal men, if not for the staff their leader bore, topped with a blue crystal.

Nayati stood, pulling the boy to his feet. He set his hands on his shoulders the way a father might, in comfort. The boy was trembling —or was it only Nayati's hands that were trembling? The voice of the river rushed in his ears.

The leader of the Spirit Trappers pointed his staff at the boy.

"This one speaks with poke-mon?"

He spoke Nayati's tongue badly, tripping on the rolling consonants. The last word was foreign, but Nayati had heard it before. He knew what it meant.

Ever since the Spirit Trappers had learned of the Speakers' power, they had feared it.

"Yes," he said, just that.

The man struck his staff against the ground. Light flared suddenly, so bright that Nayati threw down his eyes. When he looked back, a stoutland towered over them. Nayati tasted the rank odor of its breath.

"You say, we see," the man said. "Back. You back. Just the boy."

The first step backward came from instinct, the second from cowardice. Only the third was a choice. It's too late now, Nayati told himself. You knew what you were doing, you knew .

Alone now, the boy clutched at his furs. Before the massive stoutland, he looked very small. He could have been Nehele, he could have been any man's son, but he was not. He belonged to the forest, and one life was not worth three, it was not worth a whole village, it was not

The Spirit Trapper shouted a command in his own language, and the stoutland roared. It pawed the ground, once, twice, then charged forward. At the last moment, the boy darted to the side, forcing the stoutland to dig in its heels as its charge went wide. Now the boy's back was to the river. He stood there, his head held low and his eyes full of challenge. The Spirit Trappers loomed behind him, the stoutland in front.

Did he think they would spare him if he kept his silence?

"Speak!" Nayati pleaded. "Speak or you will die here!"

The boy shot him a contemptuous look, but as the stoutland lunged again he opened his mouth. He only Spoke a single word, but it was enough to freeze the stoutland in place. More words flowed from him, and where before the sound had struck Nayati like a lullaby, it now sounded like the punishing winds of a rising storm. The stoutland whined and settled back on its haunches.

The lead Spirit Trapper began to laugh.

"Good, very good." Ignoring the Speaker, he walked over to Nayati and clapped him companionably on the shoulder. "You—very good. Home, safe now. Children safe."

Nayati looked into the man's clear blue eyes and smiling mouth and wondered just how much time he had bought. Time enough for a boy to grow into a man, he thought. Time bartered for with blood.

The first Spirit Trapper murmured something to one of his comrades, who drew a long knife from his belt. A third man grabbed the boy by his shoulders, holding him in the same grip Nayati had employed moments before. The sight sent bile into Nayati's mouth.

You knew, he told himself furiously.

He stepped forward, all the same.

Their eyes bored into him. The Spirit Trappers didn't look hostile, only confused. The boy looked . . .

"You say bye-bye?" the leader asked. He spoke the last word with a child's inflection, sing-song and naive. A child must have taught him, some trader's son or daughter who hadn't yet learned to fear the men with the tall staffs.

"Bye-bye," Nayati echoed him. A step and then another brought him within an arm's length of the boy. Close enough to—what? His thoughts mocked him. Strike at them with your hunting knife? Lose a fight of one against seven?

"Tokala," he said. It was an apology, or it was a plea. I did what any father would do in my place. "Forgive me."

But the boy grinned at him, toothy and ferocious. Sunlight split the murky dawn like a spear, and Nayati's gaze dropped to the ground, where the boy's shadow was growing, sprouting claws and fangs.

"That's not my name," he said.

Before Nayati's frozen mind could comprehend it, the boy that was not a boy had moved. Red claws sank into the third man's stomach and came out glistening. The world descended into a haze of movement. The Spirit Trappers were all shouting, a desperate cacophony that cut off into gurgling silence as the dark figure flitted past.

And then it was over. The morning sun peeked curiously at the seven bodies arrayed beneath her. The lead Spirit Trapper still clutched at his staff. Grinning, the dark figure shattered its crystal tip. They barked something at the stoutland, who took off into the forest like a frightened lillipup.

Nayati didn't run. He watched as if witnessing a distant curiosity as the dark figure loped towards him, furs stained with fresh blood.

In a small and distant place in his heart, a bitter voice cried out, Where were you during the Battle of the Long Summer? Where were you when the first village was overrun? Where were you when my wife—

Nayati fell to his knees.

"Mercy," he said, lowering his eyes to the dirt.

"Mercy?" Zoroark spoke as if they had too many voices jumbled in their mouth, voices young and old, man and woman, gentle and terrible. "What mercy would you ask of me? The same mercy you would have shown the boy Tokala?" When they spoke again, Nayati knew the voice. "The same mercy the Spirit Trappers showed your wife?"

He looked up and she was there, smiling.

Everything went away: the loud river, the winter chill, the copper scent of blood. She wore a simple shift, dyed dark blue, and her braid coiled down her back. Nayati staggered forward.

Just as he reached out for her, the image changed.

Her mouth opened and blood ran out. Her lips clenched into a distorted grimace as her skin turned pale and waxy. Now she stood naked, half her chest gone. Insects nibbled at her gaping ribcage.

"My children," she rasped. "Mosi, Manaba, Nehele."

Nayati flung out his arms. "I did it for them," he cried frantically. "To save them!"

"Look," she commanded, and he did.

Seven Spirit Trappers surrounded a young boy. He struggled against their grip, but what could one do against seven? The Spirit Trapper laughed and drew his knife.

The boy fell to the ground, his hood dropping back. An involuntary cry tore from Nayati's lips.

"Nehele!" he screamed. His boy lay there, sightless and unmoving. When Nayati touched him, his cheeks were cold, cold like river water.

It hadn't happened like that. He hadn't—

"Do you see it yet?" the voice murmured. "They are all my children."

Nayati's vision went dark.



He knelt alone on the river bank, shivering violently. His son's body was gone, but the Spirit Trappers' corpses lay ringed around him. Mandibuzz circled above.

Nayati lay down his head and wept.

Mercy.

This is my mercy.
 
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WildBoots

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This review has definitely been a long time coming! I wanted to think it over and come to some kind of conclusion about when Tokala and the Zoroark had been swapped (or if there ever really was a Tokala!). I dunno if my theory is one you intended, but I've at least got one now.

It's a little hard to tell where the Speakers come from, whether they're born or taught. Nayati does't get to finish that story, and it seems like he's pretty distant from those matters anyway both because of his role in the community and because of his disinterest (or maybe even distrust). He doesn't have much of a relationship with Tokala before the story's start. However, allusions to Tokala having a childhood with the pokemon and being a child of the forest suggest some sort of exchange program. (Though I might be thinking that in part because I've still got Kint's krookodile kid on the brain.) On the first read, I guess I thought that a zoroark had swapped places with Tokala right before the story starts, but that didn't quite line up for me the more I thought about it. Now, it seems very likely to me that either the village sent the forest a child and got a zoroark in return or that there was a never a child, just a zoroark who showed up one day in the guise of a child. Like, at the end, it's clear that the zoroark knows exactly who Nayati's wife and children are, even her hairstyle and face; it wasn't a distant observer. I think it's also important when Nayati asks where the zoroark was when they'd been attacked, implying it should've helped. And the zoroark's response is basically to refute Nayati's assertion that his three children were worth more than one Tokala: they are all the zoroark's children. That moment also left me feeling like the zoroark had probably been with them all along.

I also really enjoyed the way that the appearance of the zoroark at the end and the way that it speaks of the tribe of the Seven Hearths as its children is a doubling down on the myth logic. Like, when we look at creation myths now, it's pretty easy to say, "This probably represents XYZ. It's exaggerated. It's not meant to be taken literally." In the case of the solosis, that appears to be true; because we see scolipede acting more or less like regular pokemon that play a role in the forest environment, it seems likely that solosis grows and evolves the same way here that it would in the games, meaning that the "curse" isn't necessarily real. (Like, any individual solosis might not evolve into a duosion and become "two-minded.") But at the same time, Zoroark remains a demi-god figure, one Nayati sees as having abandoned him in a time of need. I enjoyed the shifting scale from mundane to godly in the pokemon we see here.

This story feels complete, but I would also be interested in seeing more in this setting if you ever felt inspired. It's interesting to imagine a world where some humans had a more harmonious existence with pokemon ... but who were on the verge of being overtaken by humans who saw pokemon as tools. We've walked in on a turning point in this world's history.

Overall, the language is really tight here. Some really lovely visuals, and the pairing of the character arcs and the telling of the myths is so smooth. Slam dunk. It's one I enjoyed on the first read but appreciated more on the second read because I could tease apart the layers of double meaning.

and soon the condensation in the air would sharpen into snow.
Excellent verb choice.

The Speaker's breathing came fast and sharp. "I don't understand."

Of course he didn't. How did you tell a boy that his life outweighed the lives of a whole village?
This transactional, zero sum thinking is interesting for how it kind of mirrors the Spirit Trapper ideology. Like, we can imagine the Spirit Trappers overtaking the Seven Hearths with stoutland and brute force ... but also there is evidence of a kind of seduction already taking place. Nayati is willing to weaken their connection to the forest and to the pokemon to save his family, slotting pokemon lower on his totem pole of values.

"Tokala. You don't always have to call me—I'm just Tokala."

He was only a few winters older than Nayati's youngest.
This kind of pacing strikes me as very you.

"They are here for you—the last Speaker east of the Arbok River," Nayati said. He brought home the blow as kindly as he could. "If you are taken, what hope do the seven hearths have?"

No hope. He couldn't dwell on it. No hope at all.
Again, I love how this takes on one meaning on the first read and another on the second. He knows exactly what the price of this will be.

He had taken Nayati's words to heart and bundled himself thickly in dark furs.
I didn't catch this at all on the first read, but on the second read I like the very subtle foreshadowing. I imagine the film/animation version of this story would have him in suspiciously zoroarky looking furs, maybe some ceremonial turquoise beading ....

He knew these woods better than he knew himself, but tonight they seemed as foreign as his heart.
Oof, hell of a line.

He wondered if Mosi was awake. His darling girl, almost a woman now, with her mother's broad smile and her same restless sleep. How many nights had she tugged him from a dream, her chubby hands insistent at his shirt. She'd asked him once why the sun sometimes went away and he'd said, So we can sleep, dear one. When would we sleep, little pidove, if the sun always shone?
This is so tender. I love "little pidove" as a pet name.

We'd never sleep! she'd piped out proudly. She'd crossed her arms and smiled at her papa's lack of wits. We'd never have to sleep at all!
She's a little bit of a trickster too! Children of Zoroark indeed.

"Your son—"

"Nahele."

Nayati didn't blame the Speaker for not knowing. He was a boy, but he hadn't grown up like the other boys.
Nayati's confirmation bias is excellent on the second read: he sees one reason that Tokala doesn't know this, but there's also another.

His childhood had belonged to the forest. It had been given to the tribes of the sawsbuck and the stoutland, the unfezant and the scolipede. Nayati didn't blame him for it.
Given. This makes me think he was sent to the forest to study the pokemon language and maybe even as a swap.

Nayati had never heard anyone Speak before. He was a scout, a tracker and a hunter. He did not sit in the main house when the leaders of the forest peoples came to renew their alliances. It had never crossed his mind to wonder what the Speech would sound like.
How interesting that he implies that Tokala should know him and his family ("He didn't blame him," as if Nayati is being magnanimous) but doesn't know jack about Tokala either. His work keeps him away from the main house, sure, but it sounds like he's also choosing not to. And it's also notable that, although Nayati presumably spends lots of time in the forest, he's not connected to it or aware of it in the same way Tokala is. Like, having a childhood in the forest implies that at least some parts of Speaking are learned, and Nayati has not been doing any learning of that kind. (Assuming there was a human Tokala at some point. If it was always a zoroark, presumably there was less learning and more socializing/politicking with the other pokemon.)

The Speaker cocked his head. "I reminded them of their promises. I reminded them of the curses that follow those who break their word."
I love how he gives Nayati a few chances to turn back.

"They'll be here soon," Nayati said aloud. Layered over the melody of the rushing water, his voice sounded harsh and cracked. Let them come quickly, shouted his quick-beating heart, and in the same breath shouted back, Let them not come at all!
I wanted something here about this spot being a good place to wait until it was safe or something. Like, it wasn't clear to me what he wanted Tokala to think was the plan—to return to the ruins of the village after it was sacked? He doesn't seem to be suggesting they're going to run away since they have no boat of their own.

He was no great storyteller, but his mother had been, and the cadences came back to him easily.
I love how for Nayati even just telling a story is a kind of deception by imitation.

But without the Speech, they were an outcast tribe. Now, Zoroark—"

"If it's all the same to you," the Speaker interjected softly, "I'd prefer to hear a different story."

Nayati closed his mouth, stricken. The tale of the first Speaker was comforting in its familiarity, and he had chosen it without thinking. But of course the Speaker did not want to be reminded, now of all times, of that which set him apart.
This is such a Werewolf power move: let's not talk about things that might out me, and instead let's keep the pressure on you.

"Good," said the Speaker, his lip curling back. For a moment his eyes betrayed something that wasn't placid. "I don't feel like comfortable right now."
Nice hint of his true nature, the curled lip.

He fixed his gaze on the river and began once more.
He can't even look at him while he talks. It's sort of natural in a conversation for the one who's speaking to have an unfocused gaze while they concentrate on their words, but this is so pointed.

It was Zoroark's friend, and they knew then that they had been betrayed."

Boats.

Three boats on the river. Nayati's words evaporated in his mouth.
The pacing here is so good.

"At last, Meloetta of the gentle heart
I love that this can be both a characterization of Meloetta as tender and sympathetic to the human cause ... and also an implication that this is only one side of her and that there is also Meloetta of the fierce heart who is not so patient.

He set his hands on his shoulders the way a father might, in comfort.
So comforting, holding him in place so he can't run. 🙃

he could have been any man's son, but he was not. He belonged to the forest, and one life was not worth three,
Like, on a fundamental level, he sees the Speaker as being other, just like the Spirit Trappers do. This also implies that Tokala is seen as being without parents, whether that's literal or just figurative.

Nayati looked into the man's clear blue eyes and smiling mouth and wondered just how much time he had bought. Time enough for a boy to grow into a man, he thought. Time bartered for with blood.
This is so sad and brutal, yet reassuring. Nayati isn't naive, and it makes him more compelling. He knows exactly how limited his bargain is.

Nayati's gaze dropped to the ground, where the boy's shadow was growing, sprouting claws and fangs.
Such an excellent visual.

"That's not my name," he said.
Tuna? That's not my name!

AHAHAHA HOW AWKWARD


In a small and distant place in his heart, a bitter voice cried out, Where were you during the Battle of the Long Summer? Where were you when the first village was overrun? Where were you when my wife—
Surely Zoroark couldn't have been among them all along, because otherwise Nayati would've gotten the help he was entitled to! Now, I think this is incredibly human, that he's dismayed by this belief that Zoroark abandoned them, could've should've stepped in. But it also seems to me that he's failing to see the help they were already getting from Zoroark in the role of Speaker. And Zoroark was living among them like family!

And in the end, he was left to live with the knowledge of what a dirtbag he was, the pointlessness of his betrayal. The zoroark wasn't taken or killed by the Spirit Trappers, but surely the Seven Hearths are still going to be without a Speaker from now on. The entire community will pay the price for his actions. Were three lives worth the wellbeing of MANY lives? Whoops, maybe not, my guy.

Really satisfying.
 
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SparklingEspeon

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Hello! I’ve had my eye on this one for a while, since Zoroark Stories sounds like something really high concept and cool and I wanted to check it out. Figured Review Blitz would be perfect for that, so I put in on my hitlist and here we now. Originally, I thought this was going to be an anthology of some kind with Zoroark as the main character—literally Zoroark Stories! In practice, it ended up being a bit different than that, but different isn’t bad.

There’s a lot of cool stuff setup from the outset, and then gradually over the course of the oneshot. Speakers can talk to pokemon, which presumably makes things easier for villages across the land and also holds some significance to them that we don’t learn about here. However, they’re targets for the Spirit Trappers, who fear the Speakers’ power and will happily raid villages and plant spies to get rid of them. There’s some cool mythology stuff involving Zoroark, who seems to have elevated status amongst the people of these villages and acts very lofty and judgelike in person. I think some of this was a little vague and it definitely left me wanting for more than the oneshot gave, but I’ll cover that a bit later.

I thought the mythology story with Zoroark was really cool—you hit the Greek Mythology vibes perfectly and really sold the idea that there’s just a bunch of these stories and they may or may not still be regarded as true by the people of the current era. I find myself questioning why zoroark sits up at the top of the mythological pantheon along with all the other legendaries, but given that mythology was always more like a soap opera than it was something that abided by actual logical systems, I can pass it tbh.

The themes of betrayal feel like they have a lot of hidden depth that I haven’t yet probed, but I did think it was interesting that the zoroark who is by nature deceitful according to the story is the one who judges others for betrayal—first Solosis, and now Nayati. Obviously these aren’t the same zoroark (unless they are??), but I found myself simultaneously intrigued by it and not sure what to make of it. Nayati is obviously a lot more pragmatic and deceitful, it feels—more deceitful than the Zoroark is, and I’m not sure if the story is going for a “who was the REAL monster here?” approach. It feels like it might be, given how it ended.

I think my biggest complaint is scope, really. Your stories are a lot like fairy tales—they have this large sense of mysticism to them, which makes them seem high concept and magical when they’re really more about people and feelings than they are that mysteriousness. Where I think this comes back to bite the reader in Zoroark Stories is that unlike the traditional fairy tale, the pieces of this story are a lot more intricate and involved IMO than they are elsewhere. I feel like the sheer scope here and the amount of things this story’s trying to set up with the broader world clash with the story of Nayati and Tokala. Who are Speakers, and why are they so important to villages? Who are the Spirit-Catchers? Clearly not human, and why do they fear the Speakers enough they’d slaughter entire villages for not giving them up? What are the status of Zoroark in this world, outside of mythological? What was the Battle of The Long Summer? The seven hearths? A lot of these questions are established and there are just enough breadcrumbs for the reader to brainstorm their own answers, but I had to read it twice to get all the details and was still left wanting for more explanations. This feels a lot like a world that could host a story similar to LOTR or The Dark Crystal, and we only see a tiny sliver of it here. And I’m left with a lot of questions that bring me out of the narrative wondering about the Large Scope when it feels like the story is pulling its weight to set up the mythology more than it’s focusing on the main characters.

But, FWIW, it’s a very interesting scope. Tokala being a zoroark at the end, after I had a little time to think on it, gives me the vibe that he wasn’t ever replaced/had one sent in his place to be the sacrificial lamb—he just always was one. There's clearly some Changeling/Fae inspiration here, which makes me think this was a test of character in particular. I wonder if that’s the secret of Speakers—they Speak to pokemon not because they’re magical humans, but because they’re all zoroark that took different forms to hide. If the Spirit Catchers fear them, it could be a fear rooted in ignorance, because to them they’re seeing a magic that shouldn’t be possible. And it is still magic technically, but it’s just a different type of magic. I’m not sure what that says about the Spirit Catchers themselves, since the narration seemed to imply they were also not quite human and they seemed only to be able to mimic human speech rather than knowing it already. The fact that they also seemed to not be expecting a zoroark makes me doubtful as well…

I think, overall, this was pretty interesting. Outside of the scope clash I mentioned above, it strikes me a lot as something akin to a children’s fable, the kind of thing you’d tell your kids to instill a moral of “don’t be selfish”—though probably if it were, it’d make a point of zoroark being frowned upon to emphasize Nayati’s fall at the end. It’s got a very distinct vibe, and what feels like a massive amount of depth I’ll probably have to think on for the next couple of days to really get an idea of. I’d say there’s a lot of good stuff here; and though this story seems complete, I’m curious to see if you’ll do anything else in this universe!
 
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Oh, this should be exciting. Zoroark is a perfect choice for a mythical/folkloric trickster figure, and after enjoying the carefully thought-out elements of religion in The Suicune's Choice I'd love to see your take on a trickster and their stories.

His voice wound on, "You cannot say any goodbyes. It might rouse the village, and we do not know—we believe there is a spy. A traitor. So we must leave in secret. I'm sorry."

Hm... wonder if that'll come back to bite them. Also, I love the choice of "his voice wound on", like it's being said without him/his input; really conveys the dissonance in what he has to do for the good of the Speaker vs. how terrible what he's saying to this child is.

He did not sit in the main house when the leaders of the forest peoples came to renew their alliances.

Ooh! Does "forest peoples" include some of the pokémon? Or do the human clans' Speakers do all their conversing in the Speech?

The Speaker cocked his head. "I reminded them of their promises. I reminded them of the curses that follow those who break their word."

Mostly a note to self, just for fun/to see where it goes: At this stage, seeing that the Speaker has the capacity to remind pokémon of "promises", I wonder whether he'll be able to call on those promises to help protect the village from the Spirit Trappers? Of course, it could just as easily be a "don't hurt us for no reason and we won't hurt you for no reason" sort of promise and the village is very much on its own, haha.

I like how Nayati still continues to think of him as "the Speaker", in spite of Tokala asking him to call him by name. The Speaker's position, his safety, tradition, the task Nayati has to see through to the end even if it means abandoning his family to the Spirit Trappers, all of that comes before treating the Speaker like a person who just wants reassurance and friends and normalcy in the middle of a scary situation.

"But our ancestors were too eager to experience the beauty of the young world. They ventured forth before Meloetta had taught them the Speech. At first, this hastiness seemed good to them, for they multiplied and quickly took root across the lands. But without the Speech, they were an outcast tribe. Now, Zoroark—"

That sounds like a fun take on the "why pokémon and humans are different/speak different languages" idea. Presumably Zoroark stole the Speech for the first Speaker?

As for punishment, is that not the realm of Cobalion and his brutish ilk?

Cobalion and the Swords, brutish? Heh, I'd love to hear why Landorus thinks that way.

"Thundurus was greatly dissatisfied with his brother's answer and he made this known by summoning a storm, which devastated the new sprouts called up by Landorus' passage.

"'That was badly done, my brother,' said Landorus. 'Yet I forgive you, for I know well your hasty and destructive nature.'

While overall I loved the story of Zoroark and the Two-minded One—you've really nailed the feel of someone telling an origin myth from their culture—this part felt a bit unnecessary. Maybe the full version of the story makes something of Thundurus's hissy fit, maybe Zoroark manages to escape their humiliation and flaming bonds by playing on Thundurus's short temper or something, but as is I'm not really sure what this adds to the telling.

The story of how Solosis and Zoroark met is its own tale, as is the many years they journeyed together.

Little nitpick: I understand that "as is" in the second half of the sentence is referring back to "its own tale" (singular), so it's probably more correct than "as are", but I can't help but feel like "as are the many years" would sound better. Maybe there's a way to reword to avoid that entirely? Likely not worth worrying about, though!

Did he understand? With a sudden, overpowering urgency, Nayati needed to know if he had understood. Curse me, hate me, hit me, try to run away! Why don't you run?

And there's our traitor. I suppose that explains the earlier let them not come at all!

(And now we see the truth of why he kept that impersonal distance—"the Speaker" is a role, probably easier to trade away to the enemy in exchange for his children's safety; "Tokala" is a child, a person, a young boy with a future ahead of him like Nehele hopefully has, and how could a good father trade that away?)

"This one speaks with poke-mon?"

Oho. So presumably if they're calling the creatures some equivalent to our "pocket monsters", then the "spirits" that they're "trapping" are pokémon that they store in apricorns/something similar? Clever!

It's too late now, Nayati told himself. You knew what you were doing, you knew .

There's an extra space before the period here. Was there meant to be another word or so there as well? Granted, "you knew" stands well enough on its own, so maybe not.

But the boy grinned at him, toothy and ferocious. Sunlight split the murky dawn like a spear, and Nayati's gaze dropped to the ground, where the boy's shadow was growing, sprouting claws and fangs.

"That's not my name," he said.

<Michael Jackson eating popcorn.gif>

"Mercy?" Zoroark spoke as if they had too many voices jumbled in their mouth, voices young and old, man and woman, gentle and terrible.

God I love that sort of multiple overlaid voices effect. Even here, just in prose, I can hear it, and imagining "Mercy?" in that chorus of voices is chilling.

I admit, the ending's perhaps a bit ambiguous for me: I'm not entirely sure what's happened to Nayati. If nothing else it's clear that he's going to have to live with the knowledge that he was so ready to sell everyone else out, but is he somehow trapped there or something? Are the mandibuzz going to get him, with no Speaker to remind them of their promises? Are there still more Spirit Trappers who are going to attack the village anyway (perhaps some who would have been called off if only the others had returned with Tokala), such that there's a chance Zoroark's vision of Nehele's death might come true?

Granted, I'm super bad at picking up on subtlety, so it may just be that I'm missing something. Or maybe it's meant to be ambiguous, which is also fine. Whatever the case, the whole sequence leading up to it was haunting and effective, and overall very well done.
--

So I was quite a ways off regarding whether Tokala might somehow convince the pokémon to help, haha. I loved the ending we did get, don't get me wrong, but it does leave me wondering how that version might've played out! That would have been more of a story about what it means to be the Speaker, and about the relationship between humans and pokémon in this world. It might also perhaps have been a more effective use of the Spirit Trappers concept, since their relationship to pokémon is obviously quite different. But that ultimately wasn't what this story was meant to be about, so oh, well! I'm definitely here for stories where the trickster gets one over on someone who attempts to trick them, and the chilling, ambiguous ending is plenty effective and satisfying (for some value of "satisfying" given the uncertainty) as it is.

I wonder at what point Tokala was "replaced" by Zoroark? Was he always actually Zoroark, or did the switch only happen recently? (Did the real Tokala, if there ever was one, play any part in this decision?) At the very least we can safely assume that it was Zoroark who asked for the story, because presumably he chose the story of Solosis's betrayal deliberately to spook Nayati. And now that I think back to the way he was described when he finally left his home, in "dark furs", that was probably foreshadowing something, haha. But prior to that, hm...

The one thing I feel might be missing, and that's assuming I'm interpreting Zoroark's lines at the end correctly, is maybe a slightly stronger sense of how Zoroark considers all people (or at least all of Nayati's people, since they seemed fine with killing the Spirit Trappers) their children. Obviously we don't have time for Nayati to tell every story, and we do get a hint from Thundurus wondering why Zoroark spends so much time among the humans, but I feel like I wanted just a little more before the ending to really drive that home, to make it clear that Zoroark more personally is hurt by Nayati's betrayal of everybody.

But! This was a real treat. You've given us a glimpse of a fascinating world and group of cultures here (the pokémon as well as the two tribes of humans! What promises?!), one I'd be more than happy to read more about if you're ever inclined to return to it. And the scope, style, and cadence of the myths were spot-on, and delightful to read just on their own. Thank you so much for sharing this!
 
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