In the depths of Shoal Cave, unknown to humanity at large and almost completely untouched by other species of pokémon, there was a place known by the snorunt and glalie who called it home as Virc-Dho. Here, in a cavern whose ice-covered surfaces glittered eerily in the glow given off by her eyes, a glalie by the name of Azvida Zgil-Al sat waiting for two different things.
She was watching, staring intently at a round, black, featureless egg that was now beginning to shake slightly a couple of times each minute. It was bound to hatch at any moment now. She was also listening, just as she’d been doing for months now, for the first sign of an approach that might or might not even come.
Invoking the power of her element, the glalie spontaneously generated a small heap of snow, which she arranged in a ring around the increasingly animated egg. The baby would be ravenous upon hatching.
A grinding sound in the distance caught Azvida’s attention. She winced at its volume, not only out of physical discomfort but also concern over others hearing it. She had told him emphatically that he needed to make as inconspicuous an entrance as possible… but, as she reminded herself, the very nature of just what he was made that especially difficult.
Keeping the egg at the edge of her vision, Azvida only turned partly toward him as he came to a stop in the shadows nearby. “Hello, Grosh.”
Grosh only grunted in response, his face looking almost ghostly in what little of Azvida’s cyan light touched it.
Azvida’s attention was quickly monopolized by the egg again as it gave an almighty lurch, rolling straight into the snow that had been piled in front of it. The glalie inhaled with a long, rattling hiss and held her breath, anxiously watching the event that was unfolding before her eyes. The egg gave one last rustle, and then, with a tiny crack, something small and pointed broke through the shell. With something of a drilling motion, the tip of a cone-shaped head continued to emerge from the hole it had made, cracking it open wider and wider until finally the egg simply fell apart.
Amidst the broken eggshells, there now sat a tiny male snorunt. He tried to stand up, only to immediately fall right over. His conical body rolled pitifully as he tried in vain to right himself.
Azvida couldn’t suppress the gale of hissing, elated laughter that came forth at the sight of him. He was here. He was finally here. She rose from the ground and descended upon the snorunt, picking him up very gently and carefully and then setting him upright once more.
Her son blinked up at her for a moment. Then he noticed the fresh, powdery snow that surrounded him, and he became oblivious to all else.
Azvida grinned brightly at her new baby. She then looked into the shadows at her side. “Look, Grosh,” she said, her voice alight with pure wonder. “Look at your son. Isn’t he beautiful? Why don’t you come closer? Don’t you want to see him?”
The shadowed form of Grosh stirred in the darkness. His gaze turned toward the newborn—then turned away. The rest of Grosh immediately followed.
“Grosh, wait!” Azvida called to him. But Grosh kept moving on, scattering numerous rocks and chunks of ice in his wake. Within seconds, he was gone, back into the shadows from whence he’d come—never to return, Azvida was sure.
The new mother sighed. “It’ll just be us, then,” she said as she set herself back down before her son. No surprise, she thought, yet she couldn’t deny the pang of disappointment she felt at Grosh’s departure. “We’ll have to be everything for each other. But I know we can,” she said, hoping to sound reassuring.
Not that it mattered to the snorunt. He was too focused on the snow, which he was devouring voraciously. Once he’d eaten his fill, he discovered that he could also play in the snow, and he quickly became fully engrossed in that activity.
Azvida smiled again. “Now, what to call you?” she wondered aloud. She thought about it for a little while, rejecting several potential candidates for her son’s name until one that felt right finally came to her mind.
“I know exactly the right name for you,” Azvida said triumphantly. “You shall be called Solonn.”
* * *
A little over seven years into his life, Solonn was deemed old enough to go up to the snowgrounds, where he could meet and play with other children. But to get there, one first had to make one’s way through a rather long series of tunnels, much to his displeasure. This was the farthest he’d ever had to walk; it was a little tiring, not to mention kind of slow compared to being carried in his mother’s jaws. But ultimately, he’d be too big to carry that way. He had to get used to walking everywhere, whether he liked it or not.
His weariness, combined with the fact that the tunnel they were taking looked practically the same through yard after yard, caused his patience to run out fairly quickly. “Are we there yet?” he finally asked, unable to keep himself from whining a bit.
“Almost,” Azvida answered, gliding along a few inches off the ground at less than half of her usual pace to let the snorunt’s tiny feet keep up with her. “I told you, you’ll know right away when we get there. It’s very different from this place, and from every other place you’ve seen, for that matter.”
Better be, Solonn thought rather grumpily.
Shortly thereafter, they finally arrived at the snowgrounds. Solonn saw at once that his mother had been right about this place—it was different. It was a huge, open space, nothing at all like the close confines of the winding tunnels and small caverns that made up the warren in which he lived.
What he found most remarkable about it wasn’t its size, however. It was the fact that the floor of this vast cavern was entirely blanketed in sparkling, white snow, just begging a snorunt to dive right in. Which is precisely what Solonn did.
Azvida laughed. “Have fun with the other kids,” she said, her son poking his head out of the snow at her words. “I’ll be back soon.” With that, she turned and left Solonn behind in the field of snow.
Solonn watched her leave, wishing that she would stay, wondering why she didn’t. He also wondered where those “other kids” she’d mentioned were. He didn’t see anyone else there…
POP! With absolutely no warning, something burst out of the snow, launching out right in front of his face.
“Aaah!” Solonn was scared right off of his feet. He tumbled over backwards and landed upside-down, his pointed head sticking in the snow, his short legs kicking uselessly.
He then heard a sound—laughter. Someone was laughing at him—and grabbing his feet. He screamed again as whoever it was started pulling on his legs just a little too hard. His ambusher didn’t relent until he suddenly pulled Solonn from the snow. Solonn went flying from his grasp, landing in the snow several feet away with a whumpf (and fortunately not landing on his head this time).
Solonn managed to right himself fairly quickly, and as he did, he heard footsteps approaching him. He turned to face the sound and found another snorunt, one who came to a stop a short distance before him. Was he the one who’d given Solonn that scare?
Solonn’s eyes flashed in anger. He lunged at the other snorunt, snapping his teeth and missing him by only a fraction of an inch.
The other snorunt jumped backward away from Solonn, staring back in surprise for a moment. Then he burst out into laughter once more. Solonn glared, looking as though he might try to bite him again, which made him fall silent in a hurry. He backed up a bit farther and held out his hands as if to keep Solonn at bay.
“Hey! It’s okay!” the other snorunt said. “I didn’t mean to scare you… well, not that bad, anyway…”
Solonn hesitated, frowning in uncertainty.
“I’m sorry,” the other snorunt said earnestly. “It was just a joke.” He approached Solonn again, albeit a bit gingerly. “I’m Zilag. Who are you?”
Solonn hesitated a moment before answering. “…Solonn,” he finally responded. “Are there any other kids here?” he asked warily.
“Yeah. They’re hiding,” Zilag answered. “Come on out,” he called out, “and don’t scare him!”
At Zilag’s call, twelve other snorunt popped up out of their hiding places beneath the snow. Solonn remained wary of them at first, but through the minutes that passed, they heeded Zilag’s advice; no one attempted to frighten him or otherwise make a joke at his expense. By the time his mother returned to take him home, Solonn had managed to shed his distrust and reluctance almost completely. As he left the snowgrounds, he actually looked forward to returning there.
* * *
Azvida brought Solonn to the snowgrounds almost daily from that point onward. As the weeks went by, he and Zilag became very good friends. Every time Solonn returned to the snowgrounds, Zilag was there waiting for him.
One day, Zilag gathered eight of his closest friends, including Solonn, to tell them how they were about to have the “best day ever”.
“I’ve found something so awesome, you’ll go crazy when you see it,” he said.
“And what’s that?” Solonn asked.
Zilag smirked. He rolled up a snowball, turned around, and chucked it with full force into the ground. The snow it struck crumbled away on impact, falling into the rather steep-looking, downward-slanting passageway that he’d just revealed. The other eight snorunt all drew closer to the hole to try and peer down into it, but they were all wary of getting too close to it.
“Right down there is a portal to another world,” Zilag said in a exaggeratedly grand tone.
“Yeah, right,” Reizirr said.
“It’s true!” Zilag insisted. He grabbed her and pushed her face toward the hole, eliciting a very sharp little shriek out of her. “All you have to do to see it is to just go through there.”
“No, thanks!” Reizirr said as she managed to wriggle away from Zilag.
“You’re gonna miss out…” Zilag told her. He glanced about at the others, seeing a lot of uncertain faces looking back at him. Their clear trepidation did nothing to deter him from putting on a huge grin and going on to say, “Okay. Who wants to go first?”
The others all exchanged nervous glances. Then, in unison, they took a big step farther back from the hole.
“Oh, come on. It’s so cool, I promise… Sical, how about you?” Zilag asked.
“No way,” she said firmly.
Davron shook his head, insofar as he could.
Faroski just turned and left the small crowd, having decided he’d be better off just watching the others from the opposite side of the cavern.
Zilag sighed loudly in frustration. Then he turned to Solonn. “I know you’d love it. So come on, go for it.”
Solonn remained doubtful. “Uh…”
“It’s just a little slide and then a little climb,” Zilag said a little impatiently. “You’re not a wuss, are you?” he added.
“What? No!” Solonn said. He looked down into the hole, wondering just how deep it really was. “I guess I could…”
“That’s the spirit!” Zilag said cheerfully, and then he shoved Solonn into the hole.
“Aaaaaah!” Solonn screamed as he found himself rushing down the slide. The tightly-packed snow coating its walls made the ride smoother than it might have been otherwise—that is, until he reached the bottom and smacked right into a stone wall.
Solonn pitched backward and fell to the floor, little lights exploding in his vision, his face smarting. After a few moments, he came back to his senses and became fully aware of his surroundings. He was in a very small chamber made of stone. Before and slightly above him, he saw a hole in the wall, one that was more than wide enough for him to enter.
Solonn stood and stared with uncertainty into the hole for a short while, reluctant to enter it. He turned back around and looked back up the length of the snow chute… how in the world was someone supposed to get back up there? Zilag had neglected to explain that detail…
Sighing, Solonn turned back toward the hole in the wall—there seemed to be no other way to go. Resigned, he hopped up, pulled himself into the hole, and started crawling upward.
The climb through the secret tunnel was hardly enjoyable. At a couple of points, it was fairly steep; Solonn feared that he could easily slip and go tumbling back down the tunnel. Furthermore, the tunnel’s rocky floor was uncomfortable and more than a little worrisome to crawl over—one wrong move, and those jagged edges could slice right into a hand or foot.
Why, he wondered, had Zilag thought anyone would like this?
Quite a while later, Solonn finally reached the end of the tunnel and gratefully hoisted himself out of there. Exhausted, he just lay still for a short time, glad to be on smooth, level ground again.
Once he’d caught his breath, he got back on his feet and took a look around. He was in a very large cavern which, just as Zilag had promised, was like another world. For one thing, it was much brighter up here than it had been below. Solonn found the source of the light overhead: strange, pale rays were seeping into the cavern from cracks in the ceiling.
As Solonn explored with growing curiosity, he found snow, ice and rocks—all of which he could find at home, of course. Here, however, they were just scattered about; rocky, uneven surfaces abruptly gave way to vast, shimmering expanses of smooth, ice-coated floors, and mounds of snow rose randomly over both. This contrasted considerably with the way things looked back in the warren; there, every aspect of the environment had been adapted by glalie to conform to their tastes and purposes. Solonn wondered to what sort of people and purpose, if any, a place like this could possibly belong.
Right around the next hill of snow, he got his answer.
He didn’t move. He barely even breathed. The same was true of the creature that stared back at him through her dark brown eyes.
Her appearance was stranger than anything Solonn could have ever imagined, especially with regards to the fact that there was a peculiar, mesmerizing glow emanating from her entire body. He’d never seen anything like it; he didn’t have that glow, and neither did any of his friends. For that matter, neither did glalie.
“What… what are you?” Solonn finally worked up the courage to ask.
“What are you?” the creature countered.
Solonn was almost too bewildered to answer. This creature even sounded so different… “I’m a snorunt,” he said finally.
“Oh. Never heard of that… Anyway, I’m a spheal.”
“I’ve never heard of what you are, either,” Solonn said. As he stared at this creature—this spheal—his curiosity gave rise to a compulsion. “Can… can I touch you?” he asked.
“Uh… sure, I guess,” the spheal responded.
Solonn stepped forward after a moment’s delay. His hand shook as it reached out toward the spheal. When he touched her, he gasped and pulled his hand back at once, his eyes wide. She felt strange, and in a way that was rather startling.
“What? Is something wrong?” the spheal asked.
“No… it’s just that you’re so… ” Solonn trailed off and stared with both fear and wonder shining through his eyes as he realized that he knew no word for the way that the spheal felt. He had no way of knowing it, but he’d just felt heat for the very first time. Though it hadn’t hurt him, it had definitely made him uneasy.
In spite of this, his curiosity led him to touch the spheal again, and he wasn’t so startled by her warmth this time. Something else soon caught his fascination.
“It’s… soft…” Solonn remarked, “and fluffy… What’s this stuff you’re covered in?” he asked.
“Er… that’s fur,” the spheal answered, giving him a funny look.
“It’s neat,” Solonn said.
“Uh, sure it is… Hey, could you stop petting me already?” the spheal finally demanded.
“Oh… sorry,” Solonn said, quite embarrassed, and took his hands off of the spheal in a hurry.
Just then, a voice sounded from not too far away—another strange, foreign voice. “Sophine? Where are you?”
Before Solonn could wonder about the voice’s owner, she came into view. Solonn didn’t know that it was a sealeo who had just arrived on the scene, but he could guess from her appearance that she was an evolved spheal.
“There you are! You can’t keep wandering away from me like that!” she scolded the spheal, though not too harshly. Then her gaze fell upon Solonn, and it froze there. “Sophine, get away from that,” she said tensely. “Now. Those things are dangerous.”
“What? I’m not dangerous!” Solonn protested, stepping forward with his arms outstretched. “Honest!”
“You stay away from my daughter, you little monster!” the sealeo cried, and then she lunged at Solonn.
But just then, Sophine screamed, and the sound jarred her mother out of her charge. Her mother looked to see what had frightened Sophine and then cried out in fear, as well.
Confused, Solonn followed the others’ gazes. Now it was his turn to scream—hovering there with an absolutely livid expression was none other than his own mother.
“Leave him alone!” Azvida spat. With a furious hiss, she darted forward. Her massive teeth snapped together with bone-shattering force bare inches away from the face of Sophine’s mother.
The sealeo gave a yelping bark as she turned away from the striking glalie. Then she gathered up her daughter in a single flipper and waddled off with her as fast as she could.
Solonn watched them leave. Then, very nervously, he turned and approached his mother. Azvida turned to face him in an instant, making him jump back in startled surprise. Then she opened her jaws and grabbed Solonn up in her teeth by the top of his head. Her hold on him was painful, and he cried out, but she didn’t put him down, carrying him in this fashion for the rest of the trip back home.
* * *
“For the love of all gods, what were you thinking?” Azvida demanded.
It wasn’t my idea! Solonn thought but didn’t dare say, fearing that doing so would mean betraying Zilag. “…I don’t know!” he finally blurted.
“Well, you’re not going up there again, that’s for sure,” Azvida said firmly. “In fact, you’re not going to be going anywhere for a long time, not even to the snowgrounds.”
“But… Mom, no! You can’t!” Solonn protested. Surely she had to be bluffing, or so he hoped.
“Oh, yes I can, and yes I will! It’s for your own good, Solonn. You have to learn that there are places where you don’t belong, places that are not safe!”
“Not safe?” Apart from the behavior of the sealeo he’d met there, the secret cavern above hadn’t seemed terribly dangerous, just strange…
Azvida lowered her face, staring right into Solonn’s eyes. “You think you’re the first who’s ever gone sneaking around up there? There have been plenty of kids before you who’ve had that bright idea. And you know what? Many of them never came back.”
“…What happened to them?” Solonn asked in a very small voice, though he wasn’t altogether certain that he really wanted to know.
“They vanished,” Azvida replied simply. “Taken away by the creatures from above, we suspect,” she elaborated.
“You mean the spheal? Spheal took them?” Solonn asked incredulously.
Azvida shook her head. “Other beings. Stranger beings.”
What could be stranger than a spheal? Solonn wondered, rather amazed by the notion.
But that wasn’t all he wondered about. “Mom?”
“That spheal’s mom… she called me a monster,” Solonn said quietly. “She said I’m dangerous, but I’m not dangerous at all… am I?”
“What? No, of course you’re not,” Azvida said. “And you’re not a monster, either.”
“But… then why would she say that?” Solonn asked.
Azvida sighed. “It’s all right, Solonn. She meant nothing against you personally. It’s just that… well, her kind fear ours. They always have.” She sighed again. “To be fair, they do have a perfectly good reason to.”
“Well… what is it?” Solonn asked, a little afraid of the sort of answer he might receive.
Azvida broke eye contact with Solonn. This wasn’t a discussion she’d been in any hurry to have with him—she’d dreaded it as much as the eventual discussion of how eggs were made.
Reluctantly, she sat down beside him. “There are certain things that every living creature has to do to stay alive,” she began uneasily. “We have to breathe. We have to sleep. We have to eat. When creatures are different, the ways they keep themselves alive are also different. The spheal and their evolved forms, the sealeo and walrein, are different from us, and so they have their own ways that are right for them. Likewise, glalie are different from snorunt. And we have our own ways.
“Now, one of the ways that creatures can have different needs is that for some, like snorunt, the things they need to eat in order to live are not alive themselves. But for others… like glalie… well, the things that creatures like us need to eat in order to live are alive.”
Solonn absorbed that. Then his heart froze. “You… you eat the spheal?” he ventured in disbelief, his voice cracking.
“Yes,” Azvida answered honestly, “sometimes. But not usually. Usually, we take the winged creatures instead; zubat, they’re called.”
“It doesn’t matter what they are. You still kill them!” Solonn shouted.
“Yes,” Azvida said, sounding very flustered. “Yes, we do, but we do it quickly. We do it gently. It doesn’t hurt them. They just… they just stop. It’s just like going to sleep, only permanently.”
“How can you know that?” Solonn countered. Azvida didn’t answer. Solonn said nothing more for several minutes, just sitting and shaking silently. Then, with barely any voice at all, “Why can’t you just eat the snow? Why?”
“It’s just not enough for us, Solonn,” Azvida said quietly. “Someday, once you’ve evolved, you’ll understand.”
“No, I don’t want to! I don’t want to grow up and eat people!”
“Listen, I know how it sounds, but there really isn’t anything wrong with it!” Azvida tried to assure him. “It’s just part of how nature works. And a lot of creatures live this way, too, not just glalie. Even the spheal you met and her people; they feed on creatures called magikarp…”
But Solonn wasn’t listening anymore, and Azvida knew it. She sighed and fell silent, and neither of them said anything to one another for the remainder of that day.
* * *
After the long weeks separating Solonn from the snowgrounds were finally behind him, he returned there to find Zilag just sitting there by himself.
Solonn was immediately wary. “Where is everyone hiding?”
“There’s no one else here,” Zilag said gloomily.
Solonn walked over to him, frowning. “You got me into huge trouble, you know,” he said.
“Hey, I didn’t get away with it, either!” Zilag shot back.
“Well, I didn’t tell on you!” Solonn insisted. “I swear!”
“You didn’t have to,” Zilag said grimly. “My big sister came in and saw me trying to get Dileras to go down that hole. She went straight home and told Mom everything.” He sighed. “And then everyone else’s parents found out, too. Now no one wants to hang out with me cause they’re all scared of getting into trouble again.”
“Oh…” Solonn sat down beside Zilag. “Well… I’m not really worried about that,” he said, although a small part of him was. “I’ll still hang out with you.”
Zilag’s eyes widened, and he broke out into a huge grin. “Really? Thanks!”
It was then that a strange sound caught the attention of both snorunt: a sort of fluttering noise coming from above. Zilag and Solonn looked up and saw its source flying about overhead. It was yet another creature that shone with that strange glow—the glow of heat, Solonn now knew.
“A zubat,” Solonn guessed aloud in a hushed voice as he gazed up at the newcomer. “What’s one of those doing here?”
“I don’t know… I’ve never even seen one before,” Zilag said.
“I bet your parents have,” Solonn said darkly. “My mom told me that glalie eat those things.”
Zilag turned to face Solonn at those words and stared incredulously at him for a moment. Then he broke into laughter. “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard! They do not!”
“Oh, yes they do,” Solonn said as he continued to watch the zubat flit around, seemingly without direction, near the ceiling of the cavern.
“No way!” Zilag said, still laughing. “I know! Let’s ask the zubat if it’s true! HEY, ZUBAT!” he shouted.
The zubat steadfastly ignored the snorunt below, just wanting to focus on getting out of that place. It was bad enough that she’d gotten herself lost there—she didn’t want to add to her troubles by getting herself mixed up with the locals.
“The zubat’s not listening,” Solonn pointed out.
“Well, maybe this’ll get that thing to listen.” Zilag made a snowball and chucked it into the air, but missed the zubat entirely. His second shot missed, too. “Come on, hold still!” he urged his target, throwing a third snowball. That one very nearly didn’t miss, whizzing past the zubat’s face just a hair’s breadth away.
The zubat shrieked, then turned on Zilag. Chittering angrily, she fired a spiraling, sparkling confuse ray at him. It struck him before he could do anything to avoid it and instantly and severely disoriented him, leaving him staggering around and screaming intermittently in a spontaneous panic.
“What did you do to him?” Solonn demanded of the zubat, both scared and angry. The bat responded with a wing attack, forcing Solonn to duck in a hurry to avoid her as she dove at him, her wings glowing.
As the zubat arced back up toward the ceiling, Solonn got back up onto his feet, gathered a number of snowballs as fast as he could, and began throwing them at the zubat, but to no avail. The zubat soon wheeled around for another wing attack; he only barely ducked out of the way in time.
At this point, Solonn decided to give up on the snowballs. He began to gather ice-type energy… then lost hold of it as Zilag, who was still confused, came stumbling right into him and nearly knocked him over.
“Hey!” Solonn shouted as he got himself out of the way of his brain-addled friend. He tapped into the power of his element once again, and this time he managed to summon a powder snow attack. It scattered snowflakes all about as it whistled toward the zubat on a small gust—but before it could connect, a similar but much stronger attack—a blizzard—came howling in and blew the powder snow completely off course.
The blizzard was the work of Azvida, who had apparently just arrived and was clearly quite displeased. “Solonn Ahshi Zgil-Al!” she shouted. “You stop picking on that poor zubat right this instant; she’s obviously lost here and needs help, not harassment!”
Azvida’s shouting brought Zilag back to his senses. “Ahshi?” He exploded into giggles. Both Azvida and Solonn glared potently at him—he shut up at once.
“But Mom, she did something to Zilag! She made him freak out—I couldn’t just let her get away with it!” Solonn said. “And what do you care what anybody does to her, anyway? She’s just meat to you!”
Azvida’s eyes widened greatly, and their light intensified. “How dare you say such a thing,” she hissed, appalled. “I would never think of such a creature as ‘just meat’. They give us life; they’re to be honored and respected!”
To the zubat, Azvida said, “You’ll certainly die from the cold if you stay here much longer. If you’ll follow me, I’ll lead you back up where you belong.”
The zubat made no response, no sound at all other than the faint flapping of her wings as she hovered warily in place.
“It’s all right,” Azvida said, trying to sound as pleasant and soothing as possible. “I won’t even touch you.”
The zubat hesitated at first, then flapped a short distance forward. She hesitated again, for longer this time. Finally, though still obviously very uncertain about the whole thing, she descended and began to follow Azvida out of the cavern, albeit at a healthy distance.
“Please stay put until I return,” Azvida instructed her son as she left. “Please.” She and the zubat then vanished into the tunnels of the warren.
As Solonn watched them leave, he was no longer sure which was stranger: other species or his own.