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The Fall of a Leader - Part I: After Razor Left

I

It had been three months since Razor’s departure from the swarm.

Stormblade sat under the old oak, absent-mindedly chopping the petals off the nearby flowers while vaguely aware of the whipping sound of Shadowdart’s scythes as he practiced his slashes on the air. They had been friends for a while – they had first met two years before, when Shadowdart had been only a year-old Descith and Stormblade two years older than him. A duel with Shadowdart had helped him evolve. While they hadn’t talked much the first year, once Shadowdart evolved they had been – on a Scyther’s scale – on fairly friendly terms. But Stormblade had always been closer to one other Scyther, one he had known for a year longer, and it was to him that his thoughts were now wandering.

What, he wondered, was his first friend doing now?

He heard Shadowdart grunt as he swung his scythe powerfully. The blade cut smoothly through the bark of the tree, burying itself in the wood up to the evolutionary remnants of an arm that formed the blunt edge. The tree shook at the impact. Satisfied, Shadowdart pushed his clawed foot against the tree trunk and jerked his scythe out, sparing a look at Stormblade as he did so.

“What’re you thinking?”

Stormblade sighed, looking over the plains towards the forest of Ruxido. “I miss Razor,” he muttered.

Shadowdart looked at him out of the corner of his eye. “I don’t.” He examined the scythe he had chopped into the tree with, stroked the blade with his other scythe and then swung it experimentally again.

“Look, forget about Razor. I don’t get why you’re so upset.” There was a short pause as he looked at both of his scythes again. “I never liked him, anyway.”

“I did,” Stormblade replied, looking at Shadowdart.

“He was a weakling and a coward,” Shadowdart insisted while practicing a defensive position, looking in the other direction from Stormblade. “He was an insult to everything it means to be a Scyther. He was a Code-breaker. Stop remembering him.”

Stormblade shook his head slowly to himself, beheading a dandelion with a careless swing of his scythe. “She was much stronger and more experienced. He never… he never stood a chance, really.”

“Well, he shouldn’t have challenged her, then, should he?” Shadowdart said coldly, blocking the slash of an imaginary opponent. “And anyway, I don’t give much for her strength either. She didn’t even kill him afterwards.”

Stormblade looked up at him. “I wouldn’t have done it if it had been me fighting him, either,” he said, his voice slightly shaky.

Shadowdart stopped dead and turned his head, giving Stormblade one look of utmost disgust; then, without warning, he flew at him, knocked him backwards, pinned him to the ground in a series of quick moves and pushed his scythe tightly up against the older Scyther’s throat.

“I would,” he whispered, staring straight into Stormblade’s eyes. “Without hesitation, I would. And if you wouldn’t, you don’t deserve to be called a Scyther. I still have respect for you, but only because those were only words, and I will assume in your favor that you merely underestimated yourself. Do you understand me?”

He moved his scythe to allow Stormblade room to speak. “I suppose I did,” he muttered, and Shadowdart stood up, looking away; indeed, he looked in the direction of the Scyther swarm on the plains below, eying them with a distant mixture of determination and despair in the depths of his eyes. Stormblade crawled into a sitting position by the tree again, watching his friend. He sighed.

“I was just wondering where Razor might be right now,” he said quietly.

“It’s pretty easy to guess,” Shadowdart said, his voice filled with contempt. “Either he realized he was a disgrace to his species and killed himself, or he caught up with that female, they screwed, and once the fit of lust wore off and they returned to their senses, they killed themselves together – or each other, if you prefer.” He turned to face the older Scyther. “He’s dead, Stormblade! Either he’s dead, or assuming that he’s dead is the best thing you can do for his memory. Forget about him. Live in the present. Let’s have a friendly duel, all right?”

Stormblade made a reluctant sigh of agreement and stood up. Perhaps Shadowdart was right – the sensible part of him fiercely argued this position – but his other side, the side that wondered what the clouds were really made of and that had spontaneously taken a liking to Shadowdart that fateful day when they had dueled, made him feel a stinging ache somewhere within him. He longed to have his friend back, and whether he had broken the Code seemed like an empty, meaningless question.

Then again, the side of him that wondered and formed bonds had never done him a lot of good among the Scyther.

The two mantids positioned themselves opposite one another with some distance between them and both prepared to strike or defend. Most duels between experienced Scyther began with a period of staring during which the duelers tested their focus and strength of will. The weaker would be first to become restless and eventually make the first move, allowing the other to defend and usually gain the upper hand.

Shadowdart ignored all of this and simply dashed straight at Stormblade with his scythes raised.

The older Scyther was caught off guard by the sudden deviation from the traditional procedure of a duel and only fast reflexes saved him from an embarrassingly quick defeat. He managed to meet Shadowdart’s blades with his own before they struck, throwing them to the side. In the moment that Shadowdart was turned, Stormblade quickly raised his scythes again to bring them down towards his opponent’s back, but Shadowdart rolled out of the way, leaping immediately to his feet with practiced skill. He positioned his scythes defensively in front of him, watching Stormblade turn around as he caught his breath.

“You’ve gotten good,” Stormblade commented. “All that training has…”

Shadowdart leapt at him again, swinging his left scythe and aiming towards Stormblade’s midsection. The older Scyther blocked it with his own, but the blow was more powerful than he expected and he was thrown off-balance and sent flying backwards. The wind was knocked out of him as he landed harshly on his back, and as he gasped for breath, he felt Shadowdart’s right scythe push up to his throat again.

“You need to do some training yourself,” the young Scyther said, stepping off his friend and former mentor and turning back towards the tree while Stormblade stood up. “You should have leaned more forward to take my last slash. And you shouldn’t have talked in the middle of the duel.” He sighed. “You just won’t do, Stormblade. I need a stronger partner to train against. I’ve trained much more than you now. Why don’t you have more friendly duels for practice? I haven’t seen you duel anyone besides me since Razor left. You always had considerable dueling skills, but they could rust in place if you don’t exercise them.”

Shadowdart wiped some grass blades off his dark green armor with his scythe, spent a second aiming and then drove it straight into the narrow rift in the tree trunk he had left before.

Stormblade looked at him, walking up to the tree. “Maybe,” he sighed as he sat down. “I suppose you’re right. You usually are.”

Shadowdart smiled for a moment, looking at the cut in the tree, but then turned around. “Well, I’m going to find somebody who can give me a challenge. I’ll be seeing you around, Stormblade.”

And with those words, he flew down towards the rest of the swarm. Stormblade was left sitting by the tree, accompanied only by the strewn petals of ruined flowers.

II

Shadowdart had always been a bit pathetic.

His unusually dark armor made him look odd – it was about the color that the females’ usually was, and although that difference was not particularly striking it was definitely noticeable to a Scyther – and it was this that had originally caused Stormblade to notice him. And Shadowdart, still a tiny little Descith, had asked him what he was staring at.

Stubborn he had always been. And rather strong for his age, too. But never calm or fearless, and certainly no one’s idea of a role model as a Scyther. He had broken down as he was catching his First Prey, unable to bring himself to kill any of the first eight Pokémon he had caught. The ninth had been a measly Rattata, and he’d had to close his eyes before slitting its throat. He’d been the subject of rumours and ridicule, contempt and disdain throughout the swarm in the time that had passed since.

If there was any Scyther Stormblade knew who feared death, it was Shadowdart. And fear of death, in the eyes of the Scyther, was a deadly sin. The first rule of the Moral Code, their ultimate rules of existence, was that death was not to be feared. If, they said, one feared one’s own death, it would be reflected in sympathy for one’s struggling prey.

And of course it was. The sympathy was justified. What right does a being terrified of its own death have to inflict death upon another creature?

But they were hunters, killers. They could not survive without eliminating their fear of death. And so that was what they tried to do. Some were better at it than others.

Shadowdart had gotten better.

It was as if the experience of his First Prey – and perhaps Razor’s departure, which had coincided with it – had changed him. Shadowdart had come back from the hunt miserable, lost and confused, having suddenly realized his own incompetence, but in the next few days he had begun to train with newfound rigor and determination. While the swarm whispered behind his back, he had ruthlessly taken out his anger on the oak tree and developed skills that had gradually replaced the insults with awe. Many believed he had the most precise aim of any Scyther in the swarm now, and his reflexes were becoming quite renowned as well among those he had dueled. Nobody spoke of the small, dark-colored Scyther who had let eight Pokémon go before managing to kill one anymore. Anyone could tell that Shadowdart was past that, and the Scyther never worried much about the past. He had become an idol to the young and admirable to the older. His focused efforts to improve his skills had earned him popularity and respect throughout the swarm in a remarkably short time.

And in that same time, he and Stormblade had drifted apart. Shadowdart spent most of his time training now, and although he did not mind Stormblade’s presence while he did, the conversations were usually half-hearted and tended to quickly degenerate either into hostility or friendly duels, which Shadowdart won with increasingly less effort. By now they never had much to talk about, and thus were usually silent.

This was why Stormblade found it rather unexpected one late autumn evening as he was standing in the pile of dry leaves under the oak tree, bent over the body of a Stantler he had caught, to see Shadowdart walk up to him and actually sit down beside him.

Stormblade glanced at him in vague surprise and then gestured for his friend to take as he liked. Shadowdart nodded silently and ripped a strip of flesh from the Pokémon’s side.

“Nice hunt,” he commented after swallowing.

Stormblade shrugged, tearing some more meat from the carcass. “I got lucky.”

They sat in silence for a while, eating.

“Have you… have you ever felt… restless? Like you couldn’t stand the swarm and desperately wanted to change something in it? Like you didn’t have enough influence?”

Stormblade stopped eating, licking the blood quickly from his mouth. He thought for a moment. “No,” he replied and resumed.

“I’m tired of being an underling, Stormblade,” Shadowdart pressed. “Of being the young, stupid Scyther. Of being second. Our Leader… he…” He swallowed.

“He what?”

“He’s a hypocrite!” the younger Scyther blurted out. “He doesn’t kill his defeated challengers. He cuts a piece from their scythes to cripple them and let them live with the humiliation. He tortures his victims, he… he breaks the fifth law of the Moral Code, and nobody… nobody even notices it.” He looked away for a moment, like he was afraid that Stormblade would answer it harshly, but he didn’t. In fact, Stormblade had never really thought about it before. He had never been very interested in what the Leader did.

Shadowdart looked back at him. “It’s not just that. He’s far too lenient. I look at the swarm, and half of them are weak cowards. They don’t break the Code explicitly, but the spirit is there. Nobody seems to take it seriously in what it is really saying. They just avoid doing anything direct. The whole swarm is corrupt. And the Leader does nothing about it. And of course he doesn’t, because the only reason he wants to be Leader is that he wants all the other Scyther to submit to him. He doesn’t care about any of it. He just wants to be considered important because he’s… he’s now the most powerful Scyther in the swarm.”

“Well, the Leader is supposed to be the most powerful Scyther in the swarm.”

“I know,” Shadowdart said quietly, looking away. He paused for a moment before continuing. “That’s why I’ve been training so much. He is not a good Leader. He doesn’t deserve the position. I’m going to challenge him and defeat him.”

Stormblade looked at him. “I thought it was to prove yourself.”

“They respect me already, but I keep going because I’m going to become Leader.” He swallowed and waited for a few moments. “I’m going to challenge him tomorrow.”

Stormblade looked at him. Yes, he had come a long way, the small Descith that had once upon a time attacked him upon a joking invitation to a duel. But he could not see him as the Leader of the swarm.

“Are you sure you’re ready for it?” he asked. “He isn’t considered the most powerful Scyther in the swarm for nothing.”

“Even if I lose,” Shadowdart said quietly, “he won’t kill me.”

Stormblade didn’t say anything for a while. He looked over the swarm, all the Scyther that Shadowdart seemed to find so immoral, and just couldn’t see it. He had never been overly fond of the Leader, perhaps, but hadn’t ever given it much thought.

Finally, he replied with, “Weren’t you saying it was wrong of him not to do it?”

“Sometimes you have to do something that is wrong so that you can do what is right in the future.”

“But he’ll cut a piece out of your scythe!” Stormblade protested. “It will take years to grow back, and weaken you for further duels!”

“I don’t care,” Shadowdart whispered. “I need to become Leader, even if he removes my left scythe and half of the right before I beat him. He’s at the peak of his strength, and will weaken as he ages now. I’m still young. I’ll only become more powerful. Even it if takes me ten years, I know I’ll beat him and then I’ll become a far better Leader than he ever was.”

Stormblade stared at him. “Why are you so desperate to be Leader? Why does it bother you so much how the rest of the swarm behaves?”

Shadowdart looked back at him in disappointment. “I knew you wouldn’t get it,” he muttered, shaking his head. “Thanks for the meal.”

The younger Scyther stood up and walked aimlessly off towards the swarm.

Stormblade looked after him and sighed.

III

In the end, they were very different, Shadowdart and him.

As Stormblade watched his friend walk slow, nervous steps over to the Leader’s rock, he could, in a sense, understand why Shadowdart had told him he wouldn’t appreciate his presence at the site of the duel. Come to think of it, they had never really been the best of friends to begin with.

They had met so spontaneously – and iconically, it had been only because he and Razor had been snickering at his coloration. And Shadowdart had been all too eager to prove himself to be powerful, then just as now. They had dueled, and although Stormblade’s size and experience had given him a definite advantage and allowed him to win, he had immediately realized that Shadowdart would be a powerful fighter.

Stupidly, he had offered the young Descith he had barely known a name – something that was ordinarily a sign of great respect among the Scyther. He had been young and naïve, ready to trust that the Descith he had pinned down in a duel would be worthy of the name.

It had worked in reverse – ordinarily, names were given because the Scyther in question were friends or respected one another already. They had become friends because he had given Shadowdart a name.

And now, looking back, he realized that they never really should have.

He and Razor had never really been the greatest of friends to Shadowdart. Stormblade had more or less shunned him after his First Prey, and meanwhile Razor had been making constant snide remarks at him. Dueling with Shadowdart to try to trigger his evolution had become a dutiful chore more than an act of any particular enthusiasm – why spend their time fooling around with a Descith when they could be together dueling someone their own size or discussing the beautiful scythes of whichever females they had their eyes on for the moment? And even after Shadowdart’s early evolution, they had always liked to be around one another more than around him, looking down on him for not having had his First Prey yet.

Shadowdart’s whole life had been marked by the way they had treated him. He had never truly had a friend in them – he had been a loner with acquaintances that he had named as his friends without ever truly having experienced friendship. Looking back, Shadowdart and Razor had been closer to bitter rivals than friends, and Stormblade himself… it was first after Razor’s departure that he had begun to seek Shadowdart’s company to any degree. Only after the friend he preferred was gone had he ever truly looked at Shadowdart as his friend.

Shadowdart had clung to him while he was ridiculed and despised. Now that he had earned himself respect, he simply didn’t need Stormblade anymore. And in fact, having Stormblade nearby probably simply made him nervous and lessened his focus. It certainly wouldn’t help him while fighting for Leadership – a fight that Stormblade, with his unconventional mind, could not even for the life of him fully understand why Shadowdart was taking on at all.

It made him depressed, because he, in the end, was a loner as well. He had lost his one true friend, and the only replacement was drifting away from him. He felt horribly, terribly alone.

To the Scyther, it was a virtue to be without personal relations, but Stormblade, like many other Scyther, found this demand impossible to meet. He had a natural need for sharing his feelings with someone, caring for someone and knowing they cared about him, loving someone and being loved back. He knew he couldn’t survive without friends, and wasn’t going to try. There was no meaning to life if its wonders couldn’t be shared with another being who could sympathize and provide his own input.

There was nothing for him to do but to resolve to try to patch up his relationship with Shadowdart at first opportunity.

At worst, he would end up an acquaintance of the Leader.


Next chapter


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