She wonders what will happen next. Is there a next? Will there be a next ever again?
What she really wants to do, really and truly, is fly. But there’s no chance of that. She missed her chance, and she doesn’t know if she’ll ever get another.
Here, there is no concept of temperature. There is no north and no south - in fact, there are no directions at all.
But Skir remembers – she remembers that it’s getting colder, and the scyther swarm has been flying south, to avoid the biting cold and sluggish thinking and movements that come with it. Scyther like heat.
She loves it. When the swarm takes to the air, the sky is filled with buzzing wings. The feel of rising up into the air and seeing everything shrink beneath her, hearing the wind rush past…it’s exhilerating, unmatchable.
But right now, she's chasing a ledyba. She's been at it for a while - bounding over logs and swinging past trees, slicing the grass away as it blocks her path. It swerves behind a tree and she leaps forward, lodging her scythes into the bark and swinging them around. They carve through the wood as though it were flesh. She knocks the falling timber aside and steps –
–a cloud of uncertainty crosses her icily focused mind. There's a scyther behind her, she can hear it. It's bounding up to her.
She steps forward again, but the ledyba has flitted away. She whirls around.
"Go on, it's over there. Don't let me divert you!"
Skir growls at him, and leaps for the ledyba. Her scythe takes off its head, which Krin catches in his mouth. She falls back to the ground and crouches over the fallen corpse.
"Krin, why do you feel the need to do this?" she says with vague, teasing exasperation, expertly cracking the ledyba's shell and lowering her head. She digs her teeth into the insect’s flesh and snaps it up, licking up the juice.
"I wanted to try distracting you during a hunt and see what happened," he said.
"Again. It didn't work out for you last time."
"Don’t remind me. You nearly broke my scythes off."
"Well, how stupid did you have to be to get in front of someone's prey when they're chasing it? Hey, can I have the head back?"
"Pretty stupid, I guess." His mouth cracks open and he shows his teeth, and he makes a husking sound. He's laughing. "And no. I'm hungry."
She lets him have it, because he’s part of her swarm and mostly because she likes to have him around. "Oh, just give me an eye, then."
He carves out the ledyba eye, strings of fluid trailing behind it, and flicks it to her. She crunches it down.
"Anyway, we’ve got a bit of time until the swarm moves off. Let’s go flying and we'll see how you manage.”
"But we’ve been doing so much flying lately," he mutters, scraping his scythes together.
"That’s just because we’re on the move. This is for fun.”
Skir finishes off the remainder of the bug, chewing at the shell. Then she pulls Krin to his feet and then into the air with her, her wings whirring rapidly. The flurries of air pool under them and buoy her up, and her heart sings and then it all comes tumbling down.
The memory falters.
Where is she, again?
Skir’s first instinct is to fan out her wings and try to fly – but she has no wings. She tries to snap her powerful jaws, but she can’t. She tries to raise her scythes, but she can’t. She doesn’t have any scythes.
Does she even exist here? How long has this unbearable emptiness surrounded her?
She tries to summon up a memory of Krin’s face. The one that comes is filled with pain and fear. Skir, he is saying. She can hear his heart beating rapidly like a butterfree trapped in a small cave.
She curls back into herself, a ball of misery. There is nothing around her but cascading falls of white and grey. She tries to close her eyes and escape it, but she can’t. She’s part of it, and she has no eyes.
They went to a human place, she remembers, a place filled with trees and encircled by a high wall. It wasn’t the smartest idea to venture inside. But it was an area with a lot of bugs, which were easy prey.
The humans thought so too, apparently.
“Can you see that?”
“Yeah. Want to go down and check it out?” Krin says. He swoops down awkwardly to get a better look. They can see the humans in there quite clearly from this height, and they can hear the bugs.
Skir flits easily onto a tree and cranes her neck to see in, and listens as hard as she can.
“Krin. Can you hear scyther in there?”
“Yeah - can’t you? Let’s go in!”
“We could just ask them to join us.” Krin is so bloodthirsty.
He looks at her sharply. “I don’t want to see half-tame pokemon join the swarm! They’re inside that human place. If there’s scyther in there and they don’t belong to our swarm, we fight them.”
Skir yawns widely, baring her teeth. “Strength in numbers, Krin. I thought that was what the swarm was about.” All things considered, she’s not that keen on battling in the first place. She’d prefer to keep flying. “Anyway, what if those humans down there –“
“Oh, come on, Skir. It should be fun!” His mouth pulls back in a grin. He launches into the air and spreads his wings, falls onto the top of the barrier thing – then disappears from view.
Skir scrapes her scythes against each other nervously for a moment, worrying at a small chip in one of the edges – then shakes her head and follows him. It’ll be fun, he said.
Strength in numbers. If she’s with her friend, she’ll be okay.
But she isn’t anymore—
They drop into the tall grass. She listens hard. The scyther’s that way.
He turns out to be very young – younger even than Skir and Krin. He’s shivering at the foot of a tree. She scrapes at the chip in her blade, and steps forward tentatively.
The young scyther jumps up and raises his scythes, hissing, his heartbeat racing.
“It’s alright. I won’t attack you.”
Beside her, Krin hisses back.
“Can’t speak for him though. Look, it’s okay. Why are you so afraid?”
His scythes look like they haven’t even hardened properly yet. His shell is pale green like a new leaf. She speculates that if she so much as tapped it, it would crack like an egg.
“The…the contest,” he whines, shrinking back. “You’re here to catch me – you’re trained scyther, aren’t—“
“Don’t be ridiculous. We’re just stopping by. We know there are humans here, but…”
“Will they try to catch us?”
The young scyther just cowers and wails. He’ll be easy pickings, Skir thinks. It’s kind of sad. They back away from it.
“Still want to fight?” Skir says grimly. Krin makes a clicking sound in the back of his throat.
“Let’s get out of here –“
That’s when they hear the human approaching them, rustling through the grass. A fire pokemon is accompanying it.
Skir freezes, unsure, but Krin hisses slowly. “Looks like we’ve got no choice.” He looks at her sharply. “Calm down.”
The footsteps are getting closer.
“Remember, don’t let yourself be weakened enough to be caught,” Skir whispers back. “If you pass out, their devices won’t work on you. They can’t take you then –“
“They won’t know what hit them.” The tip of one of his scythes is tracing small tight circles in the air. “I’ll win. Don’t worry. Pokemon that have let themselves be trained? They’re a joke. Their humans feed them special herbs and things, that’s why they’re so strong. It’s not real strength.”
He turns to look at her and pauses for a moment and she gets the feeling he’s going to say something else, something more, and Skir panics.
“Good luck,” she says quickly.
There is a jolt.
Skir would open her eyes in surprise if she had eyes anymore. The endless shifting gray-white-black freezes – stops – starts –
The words resonate through her, and she is terrified that she knows they are words - she knows what they mean —
She gets the awful feeling that something huge and all-powerful and terrifying is looking down on her, seeing straight through her, reducing her very self to numbers and categorising everything she is into neat orderly terms and it doesn’t care.
She curls in on herself, trying to ignore the feeling she’s being moved.
Krin had done his best.
Scythes raised, teeth bared, wings bristling, a hiss sounding from deep within his throat - he’d gone bravely into battle and it hadn’t been enough. The fire pokemon was a quilava. At a single garbled phrase from the human, the air had heated until it shimmered, and it had cloaked itself in flames and charged.Krin hadn’t stood a chance, but thankfully, he passed out.
He was lucky.
Then it was her turn.
Skir had wanted to run away.
“How lucky, Ember! Just after you accidentally KO’d that scyther, we found another one! Okay, let’s not mess this up…”
She doesn’t know what the sounds mean –
-but she thinks she does now –
–and now her limbs feel like they’re weighed down by logs. She’s nearly beaten, but not quite. She can’t…
“Krin,” she mutters. “Krin. Krin. Krin. Krin…“
He stirs behind her.
She turns around, tries to look him in the eye,
Will she ever see him again?
and is caught halfway.
There is a feeling of terrifying lightness and then it’s like the world is still there but she’s been dissolved and compressed and compacted into a singular tiny point in space. She can’t see, but she can feel the ground beneath her and hear echoes of sounds.
Panic blooms in her, and she tries to move, to expand, to break the shackles holding her but she’s so, so tired. It closes further, and then something that feels like the cage trickle into her head and stays there, a web of metal cooling around her mind. She tries to struggle but she can’t anymore.
“Gotcha!” she hears. “We caught a scyther! How about that, Ember? Reckon we’ll win the bug catching contest now?”
The cage in her mind burns icy cold and the raw meaning of the words filter through to her mind.
She lashes out feebly, one more time, and then sinks back into exhaustion.The cage surrounds her, welcomes her, takes her comfortingly into itself, and she can’t fight back anymore.
There is a voice.
“Welcome, SCYTHER. You have been compressed and placed in a capsule called a POKE BALL™ for the duration of your time with your new owner. You have accepted the POKE BALL™ software’s ventures into your brainspace. POKE BALL™ has now synced with you. This edition of the POKE BALL™ has installed: translation system, so you can understand your trainer. Accident prevention system, to prevent accidents. Status and capability reading system, so your trainer cand read your status and capability. ‘Leash’ system, to prevent fleeing. HM/TM installation system, so HM/TMs can be installed. Move categorisation system, for categorising— ”
Oh no. Please no. This isn’t real – she can’t be captured. The humans have her. They’re going to make her fight.
No, no, no, no NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO
She can’t - she won’t - she doesn’t - go AWAY! Where’s Krin?!
”I know just the name,” the human booms. “What do you think of Emerald?”
The cage’s voice starts up again.
“NEW DESIGNATION: Emerald. Emerald/SCYTHER, you have been notified of new designation. No room in party for Emerald/SCYTHER. Send to Someone’s PC? Yes. ”
Skir isn’t listening. She can only curl into herself in numb horror, as the cage dissolves around her into endless shifting white-grey-black.
When the world fades back into place, the first thing Skir does is open her eyes and gape at how beautiful it is. Colours, light, sounds – it’s an overload of sensation compared to the enforced nothing she’s endured for who knows how long.
She’s sitting in a field of flowers. There is a fence, and a house nearby. She gives a small start at knowing the terms. House – a human dwelling…
The second thing she does is open her wings and try to fly, far far away– but she can’t. The web of steel clutches at the back of her mind, prevents her from doing so. Nausea wells up in her until she gasps. It only recedes when she stops thinking about the very concept.
“Amazing, isn’t it?” It’s a pokemon’s voice, thankfully.
She freezes for a moment, then whirls around. It’s the quilava – no, he’s a typhlosion now. When exactly did it evolve? How long has she been stuck in…there?
“Where am I?!”
“We’re at the place Lyra sometimes takes us to relax and get stronger. Hey…being stuck in the box…it’s pretty tough,” the typhlosion says sympathetically. “I’ve been in there a few times myself. You’ve been in there for…how long? Months? I couldn’t stand a few days.”
“Months,” Skir echoes. “Months.”
“I know, how awful!” He shudders. “You’re lucky she took you out –“
Skir screams. The sound is harsh and discordant, and occasionally verges on a really loud, strangled hiss. She rushes at him, eyes wild, and takes a swipe. Then she runs right past him. She has to get out of here. She has to get out. She has to find Krin and the swarm and fly away, fly away, fly –
She stops, her scythe trembling just a short space away from slicing through the pathetic little fence around the flower field, and then she doubles over and throws up, coughing. The chewed remains of a ledyba eye splatter onto the grass. Her muscles have locked up and she can’t move, though she’s straining every limb for escape.
Slowly, she relaxes her muscles, choking down the impulse to retch.
“I’m not going to run away,” she says softly.
“I won’t! I PROMISE!”
The nausea surges again, and this time it’s accompanied by waves of burning pain.
“I won’t – “
“You’ve got to mean it,” the typhlosion calls from behind her.
Skir takes a deep breath, and then, very carefully, doesn’t consider running away.
Trembling, she sinks to the ground.
The typhlosion approaches her from behind. “Lyra’s just gone on some human business. Um, she left us in the pokemon daycare for a rest…you know, I really think she wants you on the team. I think she’s going to train you. It’s a very great honour. Out of all the pokemon sitting in the box, she picked you.”
Skir doesn’t know what she’s feeling. It’s all new and frightening and complicated. It’s hate and terror and resentment, all rolled up into one and tinged with the tiniest hint of a flattered glow.
Why? she thinks. Why did the trainer pick me? How is that fair? What about those other pokemon trapped in the box who will never see the world again? Why did she pick me at all? If she hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here. I’d be on my way south for the winter and the trainer wouldn’t have a scyther, good riddance.
“She put us all in the box in the first place,” she growls. “That’s just like a human. Why did she have to imprison all those pokemon?”
The typhlosion shrugs. “I don’t really understand you. She’s not imprisoning you at all. She’s taken you out of the wild to make friends with you. You’ll be much better treated here. Even when you’re in the box, you don’t have to worry about hunting for food or fighting for survival –“
“I thought humans made you fight. For a living.”
“It’s not to the death.”
“How disgusting,” she says. “You…you trained pet. Have you ever had to live on your own?”
“I was hatched in the care of trainers,” he says simply.
She hisses at him. “I hate you. You pampered, weak, pathetic –“
His blow knocks her to the ground and she sees stars. The air shimmers with heat, and it’s coming from him.
“I nearly just knocked you out in one hit,” he says. And then, “Trained pokemon are better than wild ones.” That’s all he needs to say, because she knows in her bones he’s right. Skir crawls backwards rapidly, staying well out of his range, and glares at him. She’s pleased when he looks a little perturbed. A scyther glaring at you with full force is something to be reckoned with.
And then she realises, properly realises exactly what this whole thing means.
She’s going to have to fight. She’s going to be trained.
“Not if I can help it,” she snaps.
“I’m not going to be trained,” she says defiantly. “I don’t like battling. I want to go back to my swarm.”
“Why?” The typhlosion seems puzzled. “Do you dislike violence? You were a wild pokemon. How is hunting and killing other pokemon for your survival better than battling? It’s not to the death.” He says this in a calm, reasonable tone of voice and she hates him for it.
“It’s dishonest,” she says. “It’s so fake.”
She’s thought about this. Cut a rattata’s head off and eat it, and it’s dead. It won’t feel any more pain, but battling…it’s pretend fighting, it’s fake, and it still hurts. And how can it be for fun when you’re being ordered to do it?
“I’m Blaze,” he says. “She gives us nicknames. She cares about us, you know.”
“I’m Skir.” She blinks and looks at him suspiciously. “I thought you were called Ember…”
“Lyra changed it.”
“And you just…went along with it? Just like that? It was your name!” She shakes her head. “Blaze isn’t a real name, anyway.” It’s like if she was named after the colour of her shell, or after the fact she has blades on her forelegs that cut things.
“It is my real name,” Blaze mutters. “Lyra gave it to me. How more real can you get?” And then, quietly – “I don’t have anything but what she gives me.”
“Well, I do,” Skir says. No, wait…she did.
Every time she even thinks about the possibility of escape, she’s punished. She isn’t allowed to think about it, and that means she can’t. It’s hopelessly demoralising.
“You are named after the colour of your shell, anyway,” says Blaze. “She called you Emerald, remember?”
“Oh, so she did.” Skir snorts. “Well, I won’t accept it.”
“Skir’s a weird name.”
“It’s my mother’s name,” she snaps. And her grandmother’s, and her great-grandmother’s. If she has a daughter, her name will be Skir. “I’m not…throwing it away, just because some human—“
“How can you be so ungrateful?”
He says it quietly but it stops her short.
“She’s going to make you everything you are. You’ll see.”
Then he gets down on all fours and lopes off into a corner to sit by himself. Skir just shakes her head in disbelief.
You’ll see, he had said, and now she’s terrified at the thought that she will.
She remains awake long after Blaze has gone to sleep, trying everything she can to thwart the steel web until she’s completely exhausted. Nothing works.
She can’t stop dwelling on her talk with him earlier. Why are wild pokemon always captured or knocked out, always weaker and scrawnier? What, are they just nothing without the calm, guiding hand of a trainer, a human, to make them worth something? What kind of an existence is that? She longs for the swarm, and to see Krin again.
Skir receives her first proper look at the trainer the next day. She is very nice, and very friendly, and Skir can almost forget this is the human who had put her in the box and left her there.
“Emerald! I’m Lyra,” she says happily. It takes a moment for Skir to realise the human is addressing her. “Have you been getting to know Blaze? I’ve decided to bring you onto the team. You’ll have to catch up with everyone else first, of course, but I know you’ll be a great battler in no time!”
Why are you doing this? Skir wonders.
“I’m sorry to stop using Pearl, but she was falling behind.” Her tone is deeply sorrowful all of a sudden. “And, well – I had you, a scyther, in the PC…so I thought, why not?”
“Pearl was a furret,” Blaze says sadly from beside Skir. “Lyra’s second pokemon. We were good friends.”
“What happened to her?”
“She’s in the box.”
Skir hisses with anger. “Why?!” It’s bad enough to be caught, and trained – but after all that, this Lyra betrayed a loyal pokemon and put her in the box, for who knows how long?!
Blaze shrugs. “She couldn’t keep up. Though she’s got the same amount of experience as the rest of us, she was weaker and slower, and wasn’t doing very well against stronger opponents. It would have been too hard on her to keep her on the team.”
Skir snorts and starts to scrape her blades together, niggling at the small chip in one of them. She wants to fly, but knows if she does she’ll try to escape, and the steel web will clamp down and send the horrible nausea again if she even flaps her wings.
“Okay, Emerald, let’s have a look at your moves,” Lyra says. Skir looks away, unwilling to answer to the name Emerald, but then Lyra goes on to say, “Okay…so you’ve got focus energy, pursuit, false swipe and agility. Let’s try them out. Emerald, use agility!”
Skir chokes, scythes trembling. She’s been trying to ignore the trainer, but the command is powerful. It shudders through her and brooks no argument. It makes her knees want to straighten and stand to attention.
…Agility. What’s that?
—Agility – special –affects status – psychic type – the user relaxes and lightens its body to move faster – it sharply boosts the speed stat—
Oh, she realises. So that’s what…she knows how to do that. With a pang of misery, she recalls doing it with the swarm in unison before taking off for the day. Here, it’s been categorised and labelled so that a human can tell her to use it.
She concentrates on relaxing and limbering herself up, then runs in a quick circle just for the fun of it.
“Great work, Emerald!” Lyra says happily. “Here, you deserve a nice treat.” She extends her hand out towards Skir. She is holding some berries.
Skir regards them suspiciously. What’s this for? She steps back a little.
“Why aren’t you taking them?” the trainer asks in confusion. “Aren’t you hungry?”
Oh, Skir realises. She’s trying to feed me. Nausea rolls through her and this time it isn’t from the pokeball.
She hisses and backs away. She’s not going to just eat out of a human’s hand! She’d rather bite it, but then her jaw would probably seize up.
Lyra shrugs and gives the berries to Blaze instead.
How would using agility help her fight, though? She had assumed that battling was just hitting the other pokemon as hard as you could until they passed out. That’s how Krin did it. She says this to Blaze, but he doesn’t really explain.
“Lyra’s very good,” he says. “She knows what she’s doing. Just listen to her and do what she tells you, and you’ll win every battle she sends you into.”
Skir looks away.
She needs to escape.
She can’t quite believe she hasn’t managed it yet. She hates everything about this. Lyra keeps her in the pokeball most of the time, where all there is to do is run through the in-depth manual that comes with it, bump against other balls and the sides of Lyra’s bag and think about things she’d like to be doing rather than be stuck in here. It’s remarkably thorough in explaining to her just how complete her conversion to trainer’s pet will be.
So far, she hasn’t figured out a plan. The problem is, she can’t. Every time she seriously tries to work out how, a mixture of nausea and pain wells up in her until she backs away from the thought, very carefully and slowly. It’s training her to not even consider the thought and she’s terrified it will work.
She has to wear a strange human device around her neck, even in the pokeball. Apparently it’s called an ‘experience share’. When when the team is battling she feels strength and knowledge that isn’t hers pouring into her from Blaze, and from Lyra’s espeon, gyarados, pidgeot and ampharos.
Their names are Amethyst, Sapphire, Tsubasa and Inazuma. This makes Skir laugh to herself – apparently Lyra has some strange obsession with colourful rocks and fancy words Skir can’t decipher.
She hasn’t had a chance to speak to any of them but Blaze yet, but she knows they’re far stronger than her. She’s far behind them. Lyra is helping her catch up. She’s being nice and caring and nurturing right up until she sends Skir out to fight.
She wonders when she’ll get a chance to fly again.
Once, when Lyra lets her out for a breath of fresh air, Skir tries to destroy her pokeball. Even when she’s not in it, she is left with the sense that part of her is still rolling around in Lyra’s bag, and she hates it. The cursed thing stops her in her tracks easily and then Lyra sees, and tells her off sadly. Then she puts her straight back in it.
Skir is left feeling guilty and hating it. She doesn’t owe Lyra anything – but she feels like she does. The trainer didn’t have to let her out.
Skir is hungry.
She really doesn’t like to admit it, but she really, really is. She hasn’t eaten for months, technically, and though the pokeball seems to preserve her in the state she was in when she was put in it – that is, not dead – the hunger is building up and leaving an aching gnaw in her stomach.
The next time Lyra lets her out of her pokeball she is faint, sick with hunger, and too tired to choke down the gratitude. She wanders around vaguely, snuffling in the grass to see if she can find any sunkern to crunch up.
“Hey, Emerald. What’s gotten into you?”
She doesn’t respond, just gasps and stares at the ground.
“Are you sick? Tired? Hungry? I’ll take you to the pokemon centre…”
Skir hisses and snaps at the air. If only she would just let her hunt.
Lyra takes her into a house with a red roof.
“I think something’s wrong with my scyther. Is it ill, or just hungry?”
“Hungry, I’d say,” says the nurse. She’s been poking Skir, and stretching out her limbs, and sticking glass rods into her mouth, all while she’s too weak to cut her arms off. “It’s not really showing any signs of other illness. Haven’t you been feeding it?”
Lyra blushes. “Well, I’ve…it refused food last time I…”
“Don’t worry. Just keep offering it.”
Lyra takes some berries out of her bag.
“Emerald, don’t you want these?”
Skir listens to the trainer’s heartbeat. She seems worried. Well, at least someone cares about her now.
She salivates. The berries smell delicious and she’s hungry –but not hungry enough. She snarls, baring her teeth, and turns her head away.
“Nurse Joy, are you sure there isn’t something wrong with it?”
Of course there’s something wrong, Skir thinks. There’s everything wrong. Can’t you figure out that I might be making the choice not to take your stupid food? I’m not brainless! I’m not going to take it just because I’m hungry. If this is the only way I can beat you, then I’m sticking with it.
The problem is, when she decided not to accept food, she hadn’t counted on how painful the hunger would be. She’s experienced something like this before, but she’s always had the swarm and the knowledge she could count on herself to hunt if need be.
She lasts a few more days, hating every painful second.
On the third day, Lyra takes Skir out of her pokeball and she growls at her. She’d been imagining flying away and seeing Krin again, and going hunting, eating ledyba and rattata and pidgey and hoppip and spinarak, crunching past the shells and feathers and fur, into the dripping flesh… and it felt so real…
She’s very hungry. What is she hoping to achieve with this self-imposed fast, anyway? Does she really want to starve to death? All her grand intentions seem pointless now. She’ll waste away and die eventually if she doesn’t accept any food.
It’s to win against Lyra, part of her argues back. But how is that winning?
“Please – eat, Emerald, eat!”
The dream of Krin and the swarm evaporates in a second. She can hear Lyra’s bag rustling and then she withdraws – yes, food – and Skir’s entire consciousness comes crashing down to focus intently on what is now the single most important thing in the universe, the berries nestled in Lyra’s palm.
All her resolutions melt away in an instant, tumble down around her like they were never anything at all. She realises she is scrambling forward and snuffling the berries out of Lyra’s hand. She tries to swallow and ends up choking, so she bites down. The skin bursts and sweet juice floods her mouth, washing away the rank, bitter taste of hunger that has lingered there since the last time she ate. She gulps them down and pants. It’s not enough.
Lyra is smiling and hugging her, not even trying to avoid her scythes. Skir wouldn’t use them anyway. Right now, it’s not even occurring to her that she could raise her scythes and kill the human instantly – her mind flinches away at the thought, dreading the nausea that would come with it.
“More food,” she gasps, not caring that Lyra won’t understand. But she seems get the meaning anyway. She takes a box of something that rattles out of her bag and opens it. Skir sticks her snout inside it and laps them up. They’re dry and hard and they crunch, and she’s left curiously unsatisfied once she finishes them. She’s still hungry, but after a while she finds that the food has gone down and she isn’t anymore.
The next time she’s out of her pokeball, Lyra crouches down to her level and rummages in her bag.
“Emerald, want some food?”
Her first thought is no – I’m never taking food from you! Then she thinks, wait, but I already have.
Her third thought isn’t really a thought. It’s just raw fear at the prospect of starving. She never wants to go through that again, so she eats the food straight out of Lyra’s hand as quickly as she can.
She can’t really think properly about Krin anymore now. The thought of him is too intrinsically tied up with the concept of escaping.
Well, Skir thinks, she knew this was coming. She knew one day she’d have enough borrowed strength pumped into her that she’d have to stand on her own two feet and battle by herself.
Still, it’s a shock when Lyra switches her out of her pokeball and puts Blaze in the spot in the back of the party Skir usually takes, and lets Skir reluctantly follow along behind her, watching the world go by and wondering why Lyra runs so slowly. Usually she’s only let out of the pokeball at rest spots or pokemon centres or cafes. This time, if Lyra is challenged by another trainer, Skir will be the first pokemon she sends into battle.
And that’s exactly what happens.
“Hey, kid! You’re no match for my pokemon, I’ll bet.”
The trainer has a look of smirking confidence. He sends out an ursaring.
Skir looks at Lyra. She doesn’t reply to the other human. Her mouth is twitched upwards in a smile. It’s…polite, Skir thinks. She’s hiding her confidence, her arrogance. She’s not going to say a word. She’s going to beat him easily and make him look like a fool.
She feels a touch of grudging admiration.
“Emerald, go!” And she leans down and whispers, “Okay, this’ll be your first real battle. This guy looks tough, but I believe in you.”
Skir tries not to respond to being called Emerald, but she can’t not. Lyra’s ordering her, and Lyra thinks her name is Emerald, so Emerald it is.
What would her old friend do? He’d be aggressive, ready for action…
She settles into battle stance. Wings fanned, teeth bared in a hiss, scythes raised. She tries not to betray to the ursaring that her heart is beating wildly, that she’s terrified and doesn’t want to be here one bit. She glances up at the sky and resists the urge to scrape her scythes together, to chip away at that small crack.
Her attention is jerked back down to the ground.
Alright, she thinks. She knows how to do this. Better do it, but why, though? Wouldn’t it be better to just attack?
“Quick, Emerald! Wing attack!”
Skir realises she knows what to do. She concentrates and flaps her wings hard until they’re buzzing. Her feet lift off the ground and for a moment she’s euphoric, dizzy with joy –
The ursaring howls. Her attack hit, apparently. Skir’s wings lock and she comes crashing down.
Now the ursaring comes. It raises a mighty paw, claws outstretched. Skir screeches and then it catches her right across the thorax. Her shell splinters and caves inwards in places. Viscous reddish-yellow liquid oozes from the cracks. She staggers backward, reeling with pain, snarling and shielding her thorax with her scythes. It hurts – it hurts – it hurtsithurtsithurtsithurtsithurts
She misses Krin—and then she almost doubles over with nausea at the thought.
“Emerald! Fury cutter!”
What? No…she can’t – she wavers, uncertain of what to do. She’s in pain and feels so, so alone. She doesn’t want to fight. She just wants to run away.
But there’s some kind of undeniable force in Lyra’s voice, a force that makes her rush forward and strike at the Ursaring, slicing at its fur, drawing blood, though her thorax is burning with pain. Her voice is a continuous sobbing growl as she does it, cut after cut after cut, scythes moving at blinding speed, lacerating the ursaring’s chest. Blood mats its fur. She never goes for the kill, though. Never goes for the throat.
This is so fake, she thinks. But it’s real enough to hurt…
“Emerald, great work! Keep going!”
She continues, too fast for the ursaring to react – or maybe it’s just slow. Her scythes move swiftly, jerkily.
She’s inflicted worse injuries than this, she reminds herself. She’s sliced off the heads of small pokemon and gouged out their organs and ate them. This isn’t…this isn’t that—
“Ursaring, fight back! Faint attack!”
—she’s out of time.
The ursaring roars and barrels forward, sending her crashing into the ground on her back. Something cracks in the region of her shoulder and her wings crumple beneath her. It looms over her. She flinches away, winded by the attack and momentarily unable to move.
“Emerald, get up! Use wing attack!”
Every muscle in her body strains to do it, but she can’t.
“Ursaring, again! Slash!”
The claws catch her across the face this time. She cries out pitifully, feeling her strength ebb away. Pain shoots through her whenever she makes the slightest movement. She closes her eyes.
“Emerald, that’s enough!” Lyra’s voice is panicked. Her footsteps thud on the ground – she’s running closer.
Emerald. That’s her, isn’t it?
“I don’t think you should battle anymore. You’ll have to sit the rest of this one out. But that’s okay, you’ll win plenty of battles, just you wait.” The voice is soothing, kind, but she can sense the crushing disappointment. “I’ll finish this battle off in no time and then we’ll get you healed up.”
Lyra runs back out and sends out the espeon, Amethyst. He defeats the rest of the trainer’s pokemon all by himself. He barely needs to move – just cripples them with bolts of energy from his mind.
Lyra had said she believed in her and she’d lost. She doesn’t want or need to care about the human’s opinion, not at all, but something about that stings. If she’s not even good enough for a human, what is she good for? She’s lost at everything. At being a wild scyther, at going hungry, at defying Lyra’s commands, at battling...and the things she actually likes are all gone now.
There is a voice. “Okay, Emerald, sorry to keep you waiting.” But she isn’t really listening. She’s lost against a trained pokemon not once but twice now. She really is a failure.
Something cool sprays against her thorax. It stings and she hisses, trying to curl up and away.
“Just stay still now…it’s okay…”
Slowly she relaxes, letting the pain wash over her. It sprays over her face and her shoulder. The pain starts to recede, and she opens her eyes. The pain is gone completely and her shell is as good as new.
“You did great out there,” Lyra says.
She wants to believe it. Why is the trainer being so kind? Maybe she really does care about her. Maybe she does want to be her friend.
There’s still no reason to accept that, but she’s tempted anyway.
The next time she fights, she makes sure to win. And it hurts, it really hurts, and she doesn’t particularly enjoy it, but when it’s over and done Lyra is so pleased with her that she feels a kind of grim satisfaction. Even as the trainer heals her injuries away, smiling, she feels like she’s still winning – but this is a different kind of battle.
One day they’re walking through through a forest when she hears a growlithe cowering in the grass beside them. She stops walking, uncertain, and looks in its direction, reminded of another day and another field of grass.
Lyra stops in front of her. “What is it, Emerald?”
That awful name. She can’t escape it – but no one calls her by her old name anymore. It’s getting lost, buried under all that pain.
“Is there something in those bushes? Let’s have a look…”
She unwillinglly follows her into the grass. They find the growlithe curled up in the corner, shivering.
“Alright, a growlithe!” Lyra exclaims. “Awesome, I love arcanine. Emerald, use false swipe!”
Oh – oh no. Oh no. She isn’t…
…but she is.
False swipe. Lyra’s asking her to hit the growlithe hard with just the flat of her blade, so that it’s badly hurt but not quite enough to pass out.
She knows what her trainer wants her to do. She knows what’s in store for this pokemon.
“What are you doing?” the growlithe whines. It’s very young.
“I’m…” She can’t quite bring herself to say it. “I’m so, so –“
She trembles for a moment, frozen, then lunges forward.
“Great job, Emerald!”
The pokeball bounces on the ground. Once, twice, three times – and then it stops – and Emerald closes her eyes even though there’s nothing to hide from.
It’s like an endless cycle of pain. Hurt others, be hurt, be healed, be hurt again. Emerald goes bravely into battle, obeys Lyra’s every command, and she’s losing the sense that she’s only doing it for herself, to win another kind of battle. She likes being praised.
When Emerald does get hit, Lyra whispers kind words to her and gives her potion after potion, takes her to the pokemon centre and lets the nurse patch her up. Sometimes she even wins without getting hit.
And one day, during a particularly tough battle with a nidoqueen, the revelation hits her. Her shell is smashed to pieces and her wings torn to rags, but the nidoqueen is slow and Emerald is fast. So she dashes forward, ignoring the deep shuddering hurt, and beats the nidoqueen, slices her tough hide into shreds, and that’s when she finally realises that there is no pain. Perhaps there never was. It’s all just a kind of thrill, a wild tangle of sensation that is always, always infinitely superior to the blank nothing of the box and the pokeball.
She can’t deny it now - she likes Lyra. No, she admires her, loves her, because Lyra actually does care about her, she’s proven that so many times, and she really is very good. Emerald finds herself looking up after every successful battle to see Lyra’s proud smiling face, and hear her voice.
The trainer is dazzling, in a way. Her eyes sparkle and her every word is bright and clear. She’s almost painful to look at, like a diamond catching the light.
And now she’s called Jade. Lyra got bored of ‘Emerald’.
It’s no better than the first name, but she should probably just get used to it. Without complaint, her identity shifts and settles into the mold of her new name.
Lyra’s dropped her and Blaze off at the daycare again. Why does she keep doing that? She keeps checking back like she’s expecting something.
Blaze gets very awkward during these times. He often just sits in the corner and stares at his paws, while Jade paces around, refusing to talk with the other pokemon. This place is just too small. Every time she completes a circle the area the fence encloses seems to get even smaller.
“Hey,” the typhlosion says after a while. “Jade…”
“What?” she snaps.
“Aren’t you bored?”
“Of course I’m bored. Why does Lyra keep leaving us here?”
Blaze looks away.
Two days later, she feels heavy and tired and swollen.
Three days later there is an egg. She nestles around it, with the vague sense that she should be keeping it close, but the old man human takes it from her and keeps it. She wants to protest, fight, take it back, but she’s still confused.
Honestly, she’d always assumed that if this was going to happen, it would be with an old friend of hers. But no matter.
Lyra picks them up from the daycare.
“You do like each other, then!” she says enthusiastically, and gives them a berry each in the flavour they like best. “I’m so happy.”
She takes the egg from the daycare man and holds it carefully.
No, that’s mine, Jade thinks fiercely. For a moment she just wants to rush up to Lyra and slice her into pieces and take back what’s hers – but then the now-familiar nausea threatens and she subsides, feeling ashamed.
She watches as Lyra puts the egg away in her bag.
When the egg hatches, Lyra lets the whole team out to see.
The baby is a scyther, born keening in the mess of eggshell and mucus scattered around her. She snaps her jaws and scrapes her still-soft scythes together, clumsily trying to fan her sodden wings.
Scyther are born hungry and seeking heat. Jade rushes forward, wishing she had a bit of food to give her, perhaps a sunkern or a caterpie.
The small scyther warbles loudly. Her shell is the palest green, like a new leaf. It looks like it would crack if Jade so much as tapped it.
Then she pauses, remembering another young scyther, another pale green shell – and another name.
She gently gathers the small scyther close to her, awkwardly but also with a kind of tenderness she hasn’t felt for a while. She’s not sure what else to do but this, to continue a tradition said over her at birth and over her mother and her grandmother too.
“Your name,” she says quietly, “is Sk–”
Then Lyra comes up and picks the baby up.
“Oh, how cute!” she exclaims. “What would be the perfect name for you…hmm, how about Crystalwing?”
Jade nearly chokes. Crystalwing?! No matter how much she admires Lyra…
But she forces the feeling down.
Lyra grins. “Awesome. I know we’ll have fun together.” She takes out a spare pokeball, and calls the baby pokemon into it.
Jade bows her head.
Lyra trades the baby scyther away once it’s old enough to fight. It apparently knows some rare ‘egg moves’, which gets her a rare pokemon in exchange. The rest of the team explain to Jade and Blaze very thoroughly why exactly this is completely okay, and what else could she have done with the baby? Trained it, when she already had a scyther? After a while, Jade accepts this, because she really can’t do anything else.
Blaze comes up to her afterwards, looking miserable. He seems like he wants to say something, but then he doesn’t, so neither does she.
Jade is hit with the incredibly strange sensation that she’s in the air, hurtling downwards through space. But she can’t be, because she’s in the pokeball.
She recalls seeing Lyra’s excited face as she fastened a collar with a round metal container on it around Jade’s neck, then gave her a friendly pat and put her in the pokeball. She wonders what’s happening. Has Lyra dropped her?
There’s something in the sensation that’s kind of like flying. Her heart soars. Is this it? Is she getting the chance to fly again? Her wings are rather unused these days, except for performing certain attacks, though she’s finally managed to disassociate flying from escape and now it’s just a matter of getting an opportunity.
-Take care of Jade!-
The ball hits a flat surface, which sends a jolt through her. Then it bursts open and the world fades into existence.
Her first thought is where’s Lyra? And she looks around and can’t see her. Panic blossoms in her throat. She hisses and looks around wildly.
“Ahh, you’ll be Jade,” says a human voice. Friendly, but not Lyra. She backs away from it.
The human crouches down to her level. “Why’s nothing happening yet? Okay, so you’ve got the metal coat…” He peers at the metal tub around her neck. “And you’ve been traded –“
The feeling of betrayal, like a scythe twisting under her shell, sends Jade reeling.
She’s been what?
How could she…after all this? She doesn’t even know what to feel. This goes far, far beyond hurt.
Traded. Given away, another pokemon in her place…she can’t…they were meant to be friends.Is this what friendship means, then, to a human?!
She feels like she’s about to burst out of her shell. Pain and betrayal race like flames through her body, making her itch all over. The hurt and shock trickle down her back like ice-cold water, leaving a deadened feeling in their wake. All the pain she’s suffered – and she still isn’t good enough.
She screams. It’s a choking, wailing sound, and then it gurgles into nothing when the deadening cold reaches past her throat –
This isn’t just a feeling.
Jade looks down. The collar and metal container are gone. In their place is cool metal, sliding inexorably down, covering green shell with silvery steel.
She gives a screech and stumbles forward, scratching wildly with her scythes at the cold, hard liquid metal covering her body – but they shudder and burst and shimmer in front of her eyes, and she doesn’t know what they are anymore. Panicking, she scrapes at her face. The metal is sliding down her snout, covering her eyes and nose and mouth. It crawls into her mouth and presses back. Her very being shifts, glows, reshapes.
Her wings are still intact, still free from the encroaching metal. Desperate, she fans them out and flaps them, floating up on the pools of air. For a second, a single shimmering second, she is alive, and she thinks maybe it’s for the first time in a very, very long time.
The metal advances up her wings and they whir faster, desperately. The twisting scythe of hurt and betrayal glows red hot, and the metal now completely encasing her body does too, for a single beautiful blazing second. Then it cools and hardens, sets into place.
Her wings slow. They flap once, twice, take a final beat, and then they freeze, and it’s finally over.
She crashes into the ground but it doesn’t hurt. Actually, she feels like nothing will ever really hurt again.
She tries to move, and the first thing she notices is that she is slow. She moves sluggishly, without the bright sparkling swiftness she’s used to. The world seems to have sped up around her, when it used to be much slower than this. She’s never really noticed being particularly fast. It’s just what scyther are. So, she thinks, she must not be a scyther anymore.
Now her body is heavy, weighted down by the hard, cold shell of metal surrounding every inch of her. Moving isn’t a chore, strangely. She looks down, and she’s now the colour red. Her scythes are gone, replaced by ungainly pincers. She gives them an experimental flex. She feels like she could crush rocks now.
Her wings won’t flap. All she can do is retract them so they aren’t there, and that’s when she realises she can’t fly anymore.
-Congratulations! Your SCYTHER has evolved into SCIZOR!-
Jade opens her eyes to see Lyra smiling, and the sickening feeling of betrayal melts away like it was never there, just at the sound of her voice.
“Look, you’re a scizor now! You’re so pretty and strong. I think I’ll have to give you a different name. How about Carnelia?”
Carnelia keens, dropping to her knees at Lyra’s feet. She tries to scrape her scythes together but she doesn’t have any, does she? Her pincers tremble, opening and shutting involuntarily.
“Never do that do me again!” she wails. Lyra won’t understand her. But she doesn’t care because it’s okay for the moment. Lyra really is all she has. Did she ever have anything else, ever at all?
Garnet’s much better at fighting now. Her steely exoskeleton can take a lot of punishment before it even starts to buckle, and the sheer power contained in her pincers makes her feel giddy. She feels invincible, untouchable, as she grinds her enemies down, and takes a savage joy in it.
And Lyra is proud of her, and that’s all she needs.
And then, one day, Lyra enters the bug catching contest again. The prizes are useful, she says. They even give you moon stones! She takes Ruby along, because she knows false swipe.
They’re walking along in the forest when Ruby hears a heartbeat in the long grass, and her head snaps to the side.
“What is it, Ruby?” Lyra whispers
She points at the grass.
“Is it a butterfree? A pinsir?”
She snaps her pincers urgently.
Ruby dashes into the greenery, and Lyra follows. Scyther are hard to spot, because of their colouring, but she’s got very good hearing.
He’s not cowering when she finds him, which surprises her. His scythes are raised defiantly, and his wings are fanned out, and he’s hissing, a guttural sound that’s coming from the back of his throat.
Ruby settles into ready position and flexes her pincers.
“My turn, then,” the scyther whispers, almost to himself. “I suppose I’ve been too lucky. I’ve been fleeing for a while now, but I guess it’s time I stood and fought.” He seems determined, and kind of sad.
“Get ready,” she growls.
He looks up sharply, their eyes meet– and he lets out a long, slow hiss.
“Is – is that you? Skir?”
She stumbles back, blindsided.
“Ruby! What’s wrong?”
“Krin,” she says. “Krin…”
The nausea she hasn’t felt in so long washes over her, and she shakes her head disbelievingly. The berries she was fed yesterday threaten to resurface.
“I…waited for you,” he says. “I left the swarm. I stayed in the nearby woods all winter and survived. And now you’ve come back. Aren’t you going to come with me? Did you evolve?”
She doesn’t know what to do. She doesn’t know who she is.
“Ruby, snap out of it!”
“Do you take orders from a human now, Skir?” Krin says angrily. “What’s happened to you?”
“It’s too late for me,” she says, because it is. “I’m sorry about this.”
“I can’t believe this,” he snarls. “You gave in? The Skir I knew—“
Oh, Krin. Do you remember that time when you charged a trained quilava? You were so brave. And you snuck into a human park because you thought it would be fun. And you waited in a forest in winter, all alone in the cold, because you wanted to find me again. She shakes her head and for a moment she’s not trapped in a suit of cold metal, and she can feel the sun’s heat on her wings.
Oh, Krin. I’m sorry.
I’m so, so sorry.
“Go, Ruby! Use false swipe!”
She raises her pincers – looks at Krin again - and teeters on the edge of everything.
She has to use it, she has to pull back at the last second. She has to let Lyra catch her best friend. She hasn’t got a choice. Her pincers quiver.
She can’t knock him out. She can’t let him escape and go back to the swarm. She just can’t, she doesn’t have the ability to even think about letting him go. The thought of disobeying Lyra brings the old nausea rushing back. The pokeball – the badges – the undeniable authority vested in the human’s voice, that reaches straight inside her and grips her heart and moves her when she can’t do it, can’t move herself -
“Come on, Ruby,” Lyra says urgently.
She doesn’t have a choice!
She looks at Krin – and then she looks back at Lyra.
This is her best friend, too. Lyra took her in and cared about her, when she never had to. Lyra’s made her everything she is.
The tide of nausea washes over her – recedes – washes over her – recedes again –
She leaps forward, claws outstretched.
In that moment, she extends her wings so she can feel the wind rushing under them. If she closes her eyes it almost feels like the real thing.