This story is a bit of an experiment for me, based in a small part upon 'The Hyperion Cantos', by Dan Simmons. Fair warning for those more squeamish readers --it contains content which traverses some rather dark spaces. I hope this will not discourage you from reading, however, as I believe journeying into these dark places can help us both understand them better, and attain a greater appreciation for the light. As always, thanks to my proof readers, Guri, Cetacea, and Six.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Part 1 - The Lover
Til Death Do Us Part
Rock climbing was never a skill of mine. My forelimbs were too short, and I somehow always managed to pick the footholds that would betray me, causing me to yelp and grab frantically for the rope tying me to my partner to steady myself.
“Easy, girl, we’re almost there,” Greg said, looking down at me with a smile. “Remember, the climb is always in the legs, your arms are just there to brace yourself.” I returned his grin with a with a glare and a huff, securing myself to a better stance on one of the pitons Greg had driven into the rock. It wasn’t just the rock climbing itself, nor his insistence that we climb as a team -despite my general lack of competence- rather than ferrying me along inside my pokéball. No, it was the fact that he enjoyed choosing the most challenging route possible!
“Easy for you to say,” I muttered as I pulled myself upwards with a grunt of effort. “You have hands, not paws.”
He couldn’t understand it of course, even if he had heard, which didn’t seem likely as he was busy scrambling up to the top of the blasted cliff. Honestly, he was like an aipom with a new tree to climb. A moment later, I felt the slack in our belaying line disappear, and sighed with relief as he took up part of the battle.
The remaining meters of rock face went much quicker than the preceding stretch, and maybe I took a bit too much pleasure in letting him support my weight. As I clambered up onto the plateau, his face was turning a delightful shade of red, and his breathing now matched my own.
“You are so going on a diet.”
I didn’t feel guilty anymore. I socked him in the shoulder.
“Ow! Okay, maybe I deserved that.” He chuckled, while winding up the ropes and unclipping the carabiners binding us together. I nodded fervently, holding my arms wide so he could undo the harness clips across my chest. “Don’t worry though, we’re in the home stretch now. From here, the path is easy”
I peered cautiously over his shoulder, examining the so-called ‘path’ we’d just taken. The sight of the sheer drop -several hundred meters at least- made my head swim, and I edged back from it with trepidation.
“Please tell me there’s an easier way back down.”
Following my eyes, he chuckled. “What, worried about another climb? Don’t worry, there’s a trail on the other side of the peak. But, what’s the fun in that, right?”
I groaned, shaking my head. Of course there was a trail, where everyone else would go, but not my Gregory! Resigned, I fell in behind as he set off upwards once again, following a faint animal track. He’d picked up that familiar spring in his step, and I needed to almost jog to keep up with him. Where did he get all his energy? It wasn’t all from being in good shape. Everything we did was as partners, and yet, despite my own brand of physical prowess, I always seemed to lag a step behind. Maybe it was the spirit of the thing like he claimed.
I did have to admit -this segment of the hike was rather pleasant so far. As I trundled along behind Greg, a sense of peace came over me. Muted birdsongs trilled in the distance, but otherwise, all that could be heard was the sound of Greg and I breathing in lungfuls of clean, mountain air, and the soft breeze that ruffled through my fur. It was almost like we were the only two people in the world, claiming this landscape for the first time. I snuck a glance at him, feeling my muzzle curving upwards.
Much as I complained at times, I did enjoy these hikes. Perhaps it was Greg’s passion spilling over. It didn’t hurt that those shorts complimented him quite nicely. Call me a sucker, but this was definitely another reason not to belly-ache over trailing behind, considering that lovely-
With some difficulty, I tore my gaze away from his rump, feeling a heat rushing to my face that stood out even against my normally high body temperature. Arceus, what if he’d caught me drooling like that? Shaking my head viciously to clear it, I pinned my eyes between his shoulder blades, which promptly cost me a barked footpaw as I failed to check where I was stepping.
“Alright back there, Haley?”
“Fine,” I grumbled. The genuine concern in his tone only made it worse, in a way. I needed to pull myself together. One of these times, I was going to make such a big fool of myself that even in his adorable obliviousness, he’d catch on, which was not how I planned for things to go. Surely I was smart enough and had sufficient self-control to pull that off, right?
Now watching where I was walking, I rolled a few half-formed ideas around in my mind. His birthday was approaching soon. Maybe that would be a good time to try my luck at telling him? Oh, there were the usual family obligations on the actual day, of course, but with a bit of planning and the help of an espeon friend of mine, I might be able to surprise him with a dinner at that fancy Sinnohese restaurant downtown. Just the two of us. Greg loved Sinnohese, but rarely ate it because he knew how much I hated it. Perhaps if I could prove that his interests were important to me, he might get the message?
The language barrier between us was frustrating though. He was good at reading me, most of the time, but it wasn’t the same as being able to tell him things in my own words. When it came right down do it, I might even have to pin him against a wall and-
Nature! Yes, soothing, calm nature. That was what we were here to experience.
“And helloooo, destination!” Greg exclaimed, scrambling up over a boulder in front of me and throwing his arms in the air. “My god, look at this view, Haley!” Whooping like an excited child, he vanished, jumping down to the other side of the obstacle. I hurried to follow, clambering awkwardly to the top of the boulder, then managing not to fall on my face as I slid to the safety of solid ground once more.
Greg turned around as I joined him, a huge smile lighting up his features, curly brown locks whipping about in a stiff wind. “See? See? We did it, and the summit always make the climb worth it. Don’t even try to pretend you aren’t loving this!” He gestured expansively at the vista before us, for all the world like a king surveying his domain.
I had to admit, it was impressive. From here on this little mesa, the sun peeking through fluffy white clouds sprayed the river valley below with shafts of light, dropping patterns of brightly lit rolling green and mysterious shadow. Patches of forest, farmer’s fields, and of course the winding snake of the river gave the effect of a vast quilt, soft as the finest pidgey down. Looking off to the other side of the ridge, I could see the path Greg had mentioned, emerging from amongst scraggly trees that thickened into true forest down this face of the mountain. It appeared to be a far, far easier journey, which was indeed a relief.
“You know, no matter how many times I see things like this, it never fails to be inspiring,” Greg was saying, once more looking out over the valley. “I should write a verse or two about this. What do you think?”
“Sounds like you already have one in mind.” He usually did if he brought it up in the first place. “Care to share?” I enjoyed listening to him compose his poems. It made me feel like I was a part of the process in some small way. How he came up with them, I would never know.
He shrugged. “I have a couple ideas, but they can wait until later. How about we have our lunch?” He glanced back at me over his shoulder, grinning. “Yes, I heard your belly rumbling, silly. Here, let’s get the sandwiches.” Shrugging out of his backpack, he began to rummage inside, pulling out a pair of plastic containers and two bottles of water. He tossed me one of each, before grabbing his own and taking a seat nearer to the edge of the mountainside.
I sat beside him, quashing my nervous twinge at our proximity to the sheer drop, and bit into the sandwich. The delicious flavor of liechi jam filled my mouth, making me sigh in contentment.
Greg nudged me with his elbow. “Haley?”
“Mmm?” I mumbled.
“I’m glad you’re here to experience this with me.”
I choked on my mouthful.
“Whoah, what’d I say?” He pounded my back as I coughed and sputtered for a moment, before finally clearing my airway. “You alright, girl?”
Yes, you adorable idiot, of course I’m here with you. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be. Somehow, even if he wouldn’t understand the exact words, it didn’t seem like an appropriate response, so I merely wheezed, “Yes, fine.”
“Good, because that’d be a pretty stupid way to go out,” he said, chuckling. “Old age is much better, don’t you think?”
For once, I let my impulses take the lead, and pulled him into a hug. He didn’t resist, looping an arm around my shoulder as I cradled him to my chest, the sandwich temporarily forgotten. He was a good fit -just small enough for me to wrap my short arms around, and the extra couple of inches I had on him meant I could rest my chin on top of his head quite comfortably. Was this finally the time? Would he notice that the hug lasted perhaps a little too long for a mere friendly gesture? Would he hear how fast my heart was beginning to beat, and-
I let go.
He didn’t jerk away, but my ears flicked at the sound of him mumbling the word, “Silly.” I shot him an offended glare, but all the heat melted out of it as he gave a wink in return. Maybe I was a sucker, but if that wasn’t a form of progress, I didn’t know what was.
The sandwiches were polished off in relative silence. I could hear Greg mumbling under his breath, mentally composing rhyme and meter. After a few moments, he brushed the crumbs off his hands, and rummaged in his bag once more, producing his camera. He pointed it at me, swatting my paws down as I attempted to cover my face. “C’mon, at least one shot!”
With a sigh, I gave in, posing dutifully. No matter what he said, that evil machine did make me look fat, every time. Once he’d satisfied himself with enough horrible still images of his faithful partner, he stood and turned to the scenery, shutter clicking rapidly. I took that as a chance to slip away behind a boulder and answer the call of nature. As I squatted, a chill breeze kicked up suddenly, making my eyes water. It was a little eerie, the way it made the trees creak, a prolonged moan rolling through the mass of trunks. A shiver rolled down my spine, though from the cold alone, I couldn’t say.
Business concluded, I stood, about to make my way back to the comfort of Greg’s company, when my nostrils twitched with a sharp aroma. One moment it was there -all spicy cheri, sour aspear, steeped in a heavy musk- and then it was gone on the twisting wind. I frowned, puzzled, trying to catch the smell again. I couldn’t quite place my claw on it, but something about it felt inherently... wrong.
I moved towards the trees, squinting in an attempt to pierce the shadows beneath the boughs. Without question, the smell had come from that direction, beyond the sharp boundary drawn on the rock by the blazing sun. My hackles rose as I toed that line, nostrils quivering, my burners sputtering to life.
A soft growl rumbled from the darkness, warning against any who would dare impose their presence. I widened my stance, preparing to greet whatever was sneaking around out there with a flamethrower to the face.
A blur of brown. I barely had time to track the motion. Then, I was crashing to the unforgiving ground beneath the weight of something twice my size. My yell cut off as the air was driven from my lungs, and I flinched, instinctively throwing up my forepaws to protect my face as I was raked by savage claws.
The bitter, wrong scent was now an overpowering reek, fogging my senses as I desperately attempted to keep those snapping, foam-flecked jaws away from my throat. Thick, shaggy brown fur surrounded red-tinged eyes that didn’t contain a hint of reason left in them.
My forelimbs were shaking from the strain of holding it off me, and with a gasp, I managed to land a weak flamethrower on the beast. It snarled, recoiling from the heat, buying me a second to scramble away from it. I shot another blast of flame as I rolled to my feet. The wild shot barely grazed the ursaring, but it let out a furious bellow, standing on its hind paws and swatting the air as if to wave away a fly.
“Greg! Run!” I cried, hoping frantically that he would read the rising panic in my voice and not come over to investigate. The beast roared again, glaring at me with pure malice, its muzzle dripping saliva and foam.
“Haley? What’s happening?!”
A glance over my shoulder dropped my heart into my stomach. The stupidly brave, adorable idiot was running towards me, waving his arms and yelling at the top of his lungs. “Hey! Hey! Bear bear! Run away bear!”
Growling, I spun back to face my adversary, ready to strafe the monster with another flamethrower.
The mighty swat nailed me right in the side of the head.
Distantly, I heard the impacts -first of that heavy paw hitting me and snapping my head sideways, then of my body hitting the ground. The second seemed to echo, though I realized dully that it was my ears ringing. My cheek felt numb. I could taste a copper flavor, and something hard and sharp was poking my tongue. I spat out the tooth, trying to bring my muddled thoughts together.
Gotta save that. Maybe get it re-attached at a pokécenter.
Someone was yelling at me. I wanted him to stop. My head hurt. A gust of air. Something large rushed past me, its shadow briefly blotting out the sun.
Get up. Get up. Get up. Get up.
A yelp. Someone in pain.
Pulling on a previously unknown reserve, I tottered to all fours, vision beginning to clear. Who was yelling? The ursaring, where did it go? My gaze fixed on the massive form, several yards away from me, one paw upraised. A smaller form beneath it, prone.
My lips formed the syllable. I drew in air, my burners sputtering to re-ignite. That paw fell in slow-motion. Down. Down. My chest hurt. I was too slow, too far away. Greg screamed a terrible, gut-wrenching scream.
Red sprayed into the air, across the rocks. The ursaring roared, its paw rising again, covered in gore. Painted red. Greg’s scream turned to a gurgle.
Red. Everything I saw was red. The immolating flame gushing from my maw was red. The fires blooming in the monster’s fur were red. Its bellow of agony even seemed to turn the air red. I struck with every ounce of strength and speed I possessed, roaring my own battle-cry and crashing into it. The infernal beast staggered away, snarling and trying to bite at the flames licking its coat. Its eyes met mine, glazed with hatred.
I screamed wordlessly at it, and rushed again, spewing flame. It reeled, losing its balance. Pebbles scraped and cascaded away beneath its shuffling feet. Its hind paw slipped into nothingness. The beast scrabbled wildly for purchase, front paws clinging to safety. Once more, it matched gazes with me, and for a moment, I thought there might have been a silent plea there.
Red. I met the plea with fire.
Abruptly the beast was gone, dropping away over the edge of the cliff. For a moment, I stood, panting, listening to its bellow fading into the distance. Then, agonizingly slow, I turned, hardly daring to look.
He was still there, one leg bent at a stomach-wrenching angle, the rocks around him stained crimson. I rushed to his side and dropped down, my voice all but stricken from my throat.
Cold logic took over. I had to fix this. The fleshy ropes were sticky when I grabbed hold and tried to stuff them back inside that gaping wound. Yes, pack them in tightly. Why was there so much of them outside?
Red. My paws were getting covered in it, but that was alright. I had to make it better. I was too slow, too weak. This was my fault. I pinched together the lips of a gash, sealing together a deflated bag of flesh. The yellowish fluid inside it burned my paws, but I barely felt it. There were still more of the pink ropes to fit inside. They all had to fit for this to work. With one red paw, I began to massage his chest. I’d seen something like that on TV once. Wasn’t that how you got someone breathing?
“Oh god, oh god! Mark, that guy is dead! Oh god, what is that typhlosion doing to him?!”
“Sally! Don’t get any closer! Back away slowly.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see a pair of humans, standing at the edge of the trees. They must have come up the trail Greg had mentioned. Good, they could go get help while I fixed this. I kept working. The squishy ropes kept slipping back outside, dammit!
“Call the rangers! Oh god, oh god...”
“Sweetie, come on, I’ll call them. We need to stay safely away from that monster...”
They were leaving, backing away. Why weren’t they helping me? My bellyfur was beginning to stain red, but that was okay too. A good bath for both me and Greg once we got home, and we’d be good as new.
I don’t know how much time passed before they came for me. I was too exhausted to fight when a machoke and a zangoose pulled me away from Greg, and the men in red uniforms jabbed me with a needle. I smiled at them, though my vision was growing dark. Finally, someone had come to help Greg! He’d probably think their hats looked funny, and those obnoxious red outfits! Why would anyone want to wear red?