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The Fall of a Leader - Part III: Love

XI

It was evening when Stormblade finally returned to the old oak, filled with a fuzzy, warm sensation that made him feel oddly invincible.

“What happened to you?” Shadowdart said, looking at him with suspicion as he came up to the tree. “You’re all cut.”

Eying Shadowdart’s slightly more mangled left scythe, Stormblade sat down. “Nothing.”

Shadowdart paused and looked over towards the other tree, sighing. “You were with that female again, weren’t you?”

“So what if I was?”

“Stormblade!” Shadowdart said angrily. “What did I tell you yesterday? You didn’t mate with her, did you?”

“You’re just jealous because you’re not getting any,” Stormblade replied coolly without looking up. It surprised him how calm he sounded and he found himself smiling.

Shadowdart snorted. “Jealous? Why would I be jealous? All I see is you being corrupted by a wandering female who you’re beginning to care about more than the Code itself. This is dangerous, Stormblade. Don’t let her ruin you.”

“It’s none of your business.”

“It will be once I’m Leader.”

“Well, that will be a while from now,” Stormblade replied, again surprising himself with the cool malice in his voice. “I’m starting to doubt there will be anything left of your scythes by the time he gets weak enough to lose to anyone.”

Shadowdart was silent. It had hit a little too close to home, and Stormblade was already regretting that he’d said it.

“I’m sorry.”

“Will you distance yourself from her?”

“No!” Stormblade answered angrily, wishing Shadowdart would stop caring. Why did he have to be so concerned about who he was mating with?

“You have to, Stormblade. You care too much about her already. This will all end badly.”

“Why don’t you mind your own business?” Stormblade asked desperately. “You can’t control me. You may be trying, but you’re not the Leader. Leave me alone.”

Shadowdart looked at him, anger at the open defiance flashing in his eyes. He opened his mouth to speak, but apparently changed his mind at the last moment, closed it and then simply walked to the other side of the tree and lay down to sleep.

Stormblade got the message and lay silently down on his side. He felt strangely cold as he closed his eyes.

XII

Shadowdart woke up early the next morning – something he did usually, but not for this reason.

Because now he was going to do something about the situation from the other side.

Stormblade was blinded and unintimidated by Shadowdart – basically beyond help. The female, on the other hand, could perhaps be persuaded. After all, the entire Scyther swarm had gained some respect for Shadowdart, and although of course his reputation had been hurt by the two failed attempts to defeat the Leader, he had shown himself to be both determined and strong nonetheless – the Leader had never thought things far enough to realize fully why Leaders tended to kill the opponents they defeated. That way, they eliminated the competition before it could learn from its mistakes or become a hero idol to the swarm. While cutting a piece out of the scythe worked very well indeed to humiliate the challenger for the first time and discourage him while maintaining the size of the swarm, a challenger who was not discouraged could challenge again. And it was in the nature of sentient beings to be unable to help admiring the persistency of someone who took humiliation with dignity and refused to give up. Sure, he would be the epitome of failure if he continued to try without any success until the day he died – but he would do it the third time. He had already decided he would save the next Leader challenge to the next spring so that he would have plenty of time to train before it.

But at least the female might have a little respect for him, and so he figured he had a reasonable chance of accomplishing something as he walked over to the lone tree that the female slept under.

“Hello,” he said to announce his arrival. She sleepily opened an eye.

“What are you doing here?” she asked with annoyance as she recognized him. “You woke me from a dream. About your friend.”

“I wanted to talk,” he said.

She raised an eyebrow. “Talk, then.”

“How close are the two of you?”

She seemed surprised by the question; she blinked a few times and sat up. “Why do you ask?” she asked groggily.

“Just answer me.”

“We love each other,” she said coldly. “Do you have a problem with that?”

“Yes. I want you to stay away from my friend.”

She looked at him. “Well, that’s certainly an interesting stance on it. Why do you care?”

“Because of the Code,” he said. “You are aware that it condemns relationships that become too deep, I expect?”

“And I don’t give a damn,” she replied icily. “He’s told me all about you and your stupid quest for Leadership. You don’t care for him at all, just like your ideology orders, but he cares about you. He cares so much about you that he sleeps by your tree out of loyalty, even when offered to spend the night with someone who loves him back. You don’t deserve him.”

“I do care,” Shadowdart said sharply. “Why else do you think I do this? Why else would I try to get you not to become too attached to one another? If you go on like this, you’ll become Code-breakers, and I don’t want that to happen because I care. I want to become Leader and guide the Scyther of the swarm more responsibly along the path of righteousness because I care. Do you think I enjoy telling him who he can screw for the hell of it? I’m a better Scyther than that.”

“You aren’t half the Scyther he is,” she said, her voice a spiteful growl. “You aren’t worth his left wing. Go away and leave us alone.”

He looked at her for a moment, surprised by the insult although he kept his cool. “I won’t,” he said at last. “You’re gravely misguided. I would never forgive myself if I allowed you to destroy yourselves in this way. I’m acting for your own good.”

“You’re wrong,” she whispered, shaking her head. “You’re so wrong.”

He merely gave her a cold smile and walked away.

XIII

Stormblade could tell that something was wrong the moment he came to see Pearl after waking up. Shadowdart had already left for training in Ruxido from the looks of it, but when he saw her sitting motionless by her tree, staring out into nowhere, he could tell that something was bothering her.

“What’s wrong?” he asked as he sat down beside her. She shook her head.

“Nothing.”

“There is,” he insisted. “Tell me.”

“Your friend came here. He wanted me to stay away from you.”

Stormblade could feel the wind stroking his armor, the grass blades tickling at his clawed feet. “What did you say to him?” he asked quietly.

“That I wouldn’t,” she said. “And that he should leave us alone.”

“What did he say to that?”

“That he was doing it for our own good,” she replied bitterly. “He’ll never let us live in peace. He is too convinced of his horrible ideals. He’s blinded – blinded by the Code.” She spat the last words with utmost contempt. Stormblade shook his head.

“I don’t understand him sometimes,” he muttered. “I care about him, but we’re so different and I just… can’t really put myself in his place. He’s obsessed with something I’ve never even really thought about, and doesn’t seem to understand any of the things that I care about.”

“He’s a jerk to you,” she said bluntly. “If he becomes Leader, I’m leaving this swarm.”

He looked at her. Her wings moved gently in the wind as she looked back at him.

“If you did,” he replied, taking a deep breath, “I think I would leave with you.”

Her eyes glittered and he felt a little fuzzy looking at it. “Let’s leave now,” she said. “Let’s go away together and never come to this swarm again. I mean it.”

Stormblade shook his head. “I… not yet,” he said. “I want to run away with you one day, but not now. Shadowdart isn’t Leader yet. He may grow out of it. Who knows?”

“I don’t think so,” she said, but didn’t press it. She paused for a moment. “Then… we’ll remain here until a better time to leave, I suppose.”

He nodded, feeling an odd tingle under his armor at the decision. He had never made major decisions in his life before, now that he thought about it. In his heart he’d defied the norm, but in action he had always gone with the swarm, done as he was told, followed the leader in whatever he did.

But not anymore. Even now he couldn’t gather the will for defiance to leave immediately, perhaps – but he had made a decision to go in the future.

It was something.

“I’m going to talk to him,” Stormblade said. “I’ll make him leave us alone at the very least. I’ll do it tonight when he gets back from his training.”

A smile flickered across her features. “Thank you, Loner.” She leaned up against him and he welcomed the gesture, leaning towards her as well. He nibbled at the beautifully formed spikes of her head.

“No. Thank you,” he said softly. “I’ve been letting Shadowdart walk all over me, but I won’t take it anymore. I only did it because I wanted to stick with my only friend, but now I have you. I don’t need him anymore. I can stand up to him.”

She nuzzled at his neck. “I’m not saying you need to cut yourself off from him, but you can’t let him control what you think and do or affect your better judgement. You don’t think of the Code the way he does. Don’t lie to yourself about that.”

He nodded, and for the remainder of the day no one existed but them.

XIV

Stormblade was already there to meet him in the evening when Shadowdart came back. He felt unimaginably nervous, but great at the same time – better than he had felt in years, it seemed at the very least.

“What are you doing standing around here?” Shadowdart said disinterestedly, looking at Stormblade out of the corner of his eye as he approached the oak. “Why aren’t you…” His voice became genuinely curious as he apparently remembered his conversation with Pearl that morning. “Why aren’t you running around with your female friend?”

“So I could talk to you,” Stormblade replied, realizing that his voice was trembling.

“Oh?” Shadowdart answered, unmoved. “What were you so desperate to talk to me about?”

Shadowdart turned his back to him, turning his gaze over the swarm and looking for Pearl, and Stormblade found himself gripped with sudden hatred. With a roar, he leapt at Shadowdart’s back, taking him by surprise and managing to bring him down for the first time in many years. He jerked his scythe up to Shadowdart’s throat and held him so he couldn’t move.

“She told me that you came to talk to her,” he growled. “Leave her alone.”

Shadowdart coughed. “What are you doing, Stormblade?” he asked, his voice hoarse. “It is against the Code to kill another Scyther after attacking him from the back…”

“I don’t give a damn about the Code,” Stormblade hissed, cutting him off. “Leave us alone. Stop trying to force us to conform to your standards. We’re not like you, and you have no right to dictate our lives.”

Shadowdart glared at him, struggling to get himself free again. “Fine,” he snapped. “Get off me and I will let you destroy yourselves, since you seem so bent on it.”

Stormblade paused for a moment and then released his friend, standing up. He was shaking. “You’re wrong,” he whispered and turned away. They were silent for a long while, the only sound their rapid breathing, the rustle of the wind in the tree, and the faint clang of some Scyther down in the swarm dueling.

“I’ve realized I must train much harder,” Shadowdart said finally. “It’s been a year since I first began my training. I should wait at least another year before I fight him again. Next spring, I will be Leader. And then I will be the one with authority in this swarm.”

Stormblade said nothing. He didn’t want to tell Shadowdart that he intended to leave the swarm if he were ever to become Leader. He shivered at the thought and realized with dread that he was becoming slightly afraid of his former friend.

And yet, some odd loyalty made him stay there and not want to leave. For now.

He went to sleep, feeling somehow suffocated. He wished in the cold night that he had Pearl by his side.

XV

The summer passed, and Shadowdart kept his word. He no longer criticized Stormblade and Pearl’s relationship.

However, he continued to give Stormblade the same dark glare when he returned from her with small cuts that announced recent mating decorating his body in wild patterns, and shook his head when he saw them go together up into the mountains to talk on their favorite rock or into the forest of Ruxido to hunt. And he distanced himself more and more from Stormblade, training longer, talking less and entirely ceasing to ask him to hunt with him or share prey. Stormblade now only slept near Shadowdart’s oak tree as a formality, as a last shred of their tattered friendship.

“Why don’t you just sleep with me?” Pearl asked him quietly one day in the winter as they sat on their rock in the side of the mountain. “It’s cold these days. Haven’t you ever longed for another body to curl up against?”

Stormblade shook his head, doubt nonetheless nagging at his mind. “If I did that… then I would be telling Shadowdart I don’t want anything to do with him anymore.”

“He doesn’t want anything to do with you,” she pointed out. “He wouldn’t care, Loner. If you want to sleep elsewhere, don’t cling to him out of tradition or loyalty. It won’t do you any good. Please think about what you really want.”

He sighed. “I want to sleep with you,” he muttered. “But I don’t want to sever the ties with Shadowdart. It’s the last thing we have. He’s distant, but… he’s a friend. He’ll remain a friend.”

She looked away, listening to the sound of the gnawing wind. “I think I’ll be laying an egg in the spring,” she said quietly.

Stormblade stared at her, all sorts of emotions flaring up within him. “You… you think so? An egg?”

She nodded. “I feel… strange. Nauseous. I’ve never had an egg before, but somehow I can tell. And… it would make sense, considering we’ve been…” She blushed slightly.

He inched nearer to her and gave her a reassuring nuzzle. “That changes things.” He took a deep breath. “When you lay the egg, I will have to be with you. We will be hatching the egg and raising the Descith together. There is no other option.”

She smiled and nuzzled him back. “Thank you, Loner,” she said softly. “I’m glad you’ll help me.”

He stared into space, stroking her body absent-mindedly with the blunt edge of his scythe. He would be a father. He had created new life. He felt a little dizzy thinking about it. Now what would he do about Shadowdart? He needed to stay with her. When the bond between them had established itself so physically, it didn’t feel right to make her sleep alone anymore.

“I will tell Shadowdart that I will be staying with you from now on,” Stormblade murmured. “I love you. It’s more important.”

He gave her another nuzzle and then stood up. “I’ll be back,” he said and jumped down to take flight. It took him only seconds to descend all the way down to their hill, where Shadowdart was practicing dueling techniques on the tree again. His slashes had now become much faster than they ever had been, and that was saying something, but now he was using almost exclusively his whole right scythe, leaving the mutilated left one as a way to keep the balance while he attacked.

Stormblade shook his head and had a sudden, striking feeling that Shadowdart would probably never manage to become Leader. He was a cripple; he had rushed too much into the first challenge, and the weakening when his scythe was cut was outweighing the careful training he’d been doing. Stormblade shook his head slowly again as he approached the tree.

Shadowdart stopped momentarily and noticed him. “What are you doing here?” he just asked.

“I… I won’t be sleeping around the tree anymore,” Stormblade told him.

Shadowdart looked at him. “Oh? And why is that?”

Stormblade came up and sat down against the tree, trying to word it in his mind. Shadowdart did not sit down with him.

“She… she’s going to have an egg,” Stormblade finally said, warmth spreading through his body as he finished the sentence. Saying it made it so much more powerful. It was real. It was happening.

But Shadowdart merely looked at him. “So what?”

“I’m going to stay with her. We’ll hatch the egg together and raise it together. So I want to be with her now.”

Shadowdart paused, his gaze lingering on him for a moment, and then aimed at the tree to slash at it. “Only the weak raise their young in families,” he said as his scythe chopped into the oak. Stormblade twitched at the words, feeling almost as if the slash had hit him instead of the tree.

“Many of the Scyther in the swarm do,” he countered, his voice trembling.

“Yes, I’m glad you noticed,” Shadowdart said coldly. “For how long have I been telling you that most of the swarm is pathetic and weak? There are too many of them. Don’t you go become one of them too, even if you go around being romantic with some female.”

“I thought I told you to leave our relationship alone,” Stormblade growled.

“Well, it’s not your relationship I’m commenting on, is it? It’s what you’re planning to do with your kid.”

Stormblade didn’t answer. He just stood up, turned away and headed back for the mountain, to the one person who cared about him.

XVI

The short-lived winter was the happiest in Stormblade’s life, and indeed he wondered why it had taken him so long to pull away from Shadowdart. He didn’t need him anymore; at times he even felt a bit guilty for how little he missed Shadowdart’s presence. Time passed quickly and with the approaching arrival of spring, the couple was expecting the egg soon. Stormblade vaguely heard of Shadowdart being about to challenge the Leader again, but he didn’t even feel any longing to watch the duel.

So when Stormblade woke up one morning by Pearl’s side, saw Shadowdart walk down from the oak tree towards the Leader’s rock and realized it was that day, it only brought up unhappy memories and made him want to get as far away from the swarm as possible.

He woke her up with a gentle prod. “Are you hungry?” he asked her with a whisper.

“Mmm,” was her reply as she sleepily opened one eye. “Hunting?”

He smiled. “I’d love to, if you want.”

She rose up and stretched. The weather was nice and warm, only a few clouds drifting across the blue sky, a light breeze keeping the air fresh. “That would be nice,” she agreed, and they dashed together towards the forest.

“Let’s get something big,” she said excitedly as they entered Ruxido. “Something we’ll be eating for a while, until the day I lay the egg.”

He nodded, and they hid. They had become practiced enough at hunting together to think like one being on the hunt: they would hide at the same moment, move at the same moment, strike at the same moment; it was almost a game. They would wait for a few tense seconds, looking silently around in two different directions, and then move swiftly further into the forest. It wasn’t long before Pearl, crouching behind a bush, raised her scythe and motioned slowly for him to move closer. He snuck quickly to a nearby tree that he hid himself behind and then took a careful look.

There was a Letaligon just ahead – a Letaligon alone without its herd. The silver blades on its head gleamed in the sunlight as a warning sign that the creature could defend itself – but alone against two Scyther, it should go down easily. He looked at her, and she looked back at him. They had their prey.

They knew without further communication when to leap forward and attack. Stormblade darted out from behind the tree, aiming his scythe to strike the creature’s front leg, hoping to prevent it from running. He could see Pearl leap out of her bush, her blade raised in line with its neck.

The Letaligon let out a cry of alarm, and in the moment before they struck, the beast chose to block Pearl. Swinging its bladed head, the Letaligon slashed at her body and managed to knock her away and into the nearest tree before her scythe ever made contact. Stormblade’s heart jumped and he found his gaze drawn to her, but didn’t lose sight of his own target and slashed powerfully at the Letaligon’s shoulder. It roared in pain as crimson blood sprayed out of the wound, but Stormblade used the time he had bought himself to move over to Pearl’s side. She was unconscious, lying awkwardly against the tree in an almost sitting position. He quickly leant closer to her, his heartbeat speeding up, but felt faint breathing that confirmed that she was definitely alive.

He looked quickly back at the Letaligon, which seemed to have realized it was unable to run and had instead opted to defend itself to the last drop. It had limped forward with rage in its eyes and now swung its blade at him.

Stormblade could have dodged and dealt the final blow, but he didn’t – because on the other side of him was Pearl, unconscious and vulnerable. Instead, he leapt up to take the slash, shielding his head with his left scythe.

The scythe blocked the Letaligon’s top blade, but he had neglected to factor in the other two, and Stormblade felt a searing sting in his left eye as one of them slashed across the side of his face. He screamed in pain, slashing blindly, and heard the Letaligon roar; as he opened his other eye, he saw that he had hit the Letaligon’s other front leg, nearly slicing through it, and it was losing its balance. It made another attempt to swing its blades at him as it fell, but missed.

Stormblade hurried back to Pearl. “Are you hurt? Are you all right?” he asked quietly and gave her body a push. “Come on, wake up…”

He felt blood leaking from the remains of his left eye, into the corner of his mouth and then onto her body and tried to close the dull, throbbing pain in his eye socket away from his conscious mind. He had better things to worry about. He prodded her gently again.

And she moved her head and her eyes began to open. He felt a smile break out on his face, but his joy was cut off by a roar.

He looked quickly up, back towards the fallen Letaligon, and was met with a white blast of energy – a Hyper Beam that he had foolishly allowed the Pokémon to charge while he was thinking about Pearl.

And because he had looked up, it narrowly missed him. Instead, it blasted straight into Pearl’s body, crushing her into the tree with earth-shaking force. He saw her eyes open wide in shock and her mouth in a silent scream.

The Hyper Beam faded, and Stormblade saw in horror that her entire upper body had been crushed. Her eyes pointed to him, looking unfocused, and a strangled sound escaped her mouth before she simply stopped being alive. He could see the way the life faded from her eyes as he watched.

Stormblade realized that something warm was leaking down from his right eye as well, but it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered. Nothing except her death and the creature that had killed her.

He turned to the half-dead Letaligon that had collapsed onto the ground, his mind burning with rage and despair, and raised both of his trembling scythes with a roar of hatred.

XVII

Stormblade returned, covered with a crust of dry, red blood, to find Shadowdart sitting by the oak tree yet again with a new piece cut out of his scythe. He felt lost, confused and blindly, terrifyingly angry, and needed somebody to talk to – and he couldn’t think of anywhere to go but to Shadowdart.

“You,” Shadowdart said shortly in acknowledgement as he sat down at the tree to stare blankly into space. A second passed before the younger Scyther actually looked at him.

“What happened to your eye?” Shadowdart asked. “And what’s with all the blood?”

“She’s dead,” Stormblade said hoarsely. “She’s… she’s dead. And the egg. Killed by a Letaligon while we were out hunting.”

Shadowdart looked at him. “What?

“We attacked it together and it slashed at her… took my eye too… and then Hyper Beamed her while I was trying to see if she was all right. I’d brought it down, I’d prevented it from running, but I wasn’t thinking to kill it before it…” His voice broke and he took a few deep breaths, trying to calm himself down with little success. This wasn’t what he wanted to tell Shadowdart. He knew he wouldn’t care.

“I tore it apart,” he whispered, his voice shaking with anger. “Limb for limb. Piece for piece. It screamed until I’d torn its lungs apart. And I liked it. It felt so damned good to hurt it, that murderous…”

“Listen to yourself!” Shadowdart said with disgust in his voice, cutting Stormblade off abruptly. “Can’t you see what you’ve become? A hypocrite! A Code-breaker! You set out on a hunt, intending to kill and eat a Pokémon, but look at what you did when one of your own was killed! Look at yourself saying that the prey deserved to be tortured for doing the very thing you do every day to survive!”

Stormblade looked at him with his one eye and said nothing. He had known it, in a way. Known what Shadowdart would say. Even known, deep down, that he had done something sick and wrong.

“This is what I’ve been telling you all along!” Shadowdart went on. “Look at what happens to you when you let yourself care too much about someone. It’s a direct path to hypocrisy, nothing more. Look at yourself. You tortured prey, Stormblade. Did you even eat it?”

He hadn’t. Stormblade stared down at the ground.

“You disgust me,” Shadowdart said and shook his head. “Look what your precious love did to you! Give it up, Stormblade. You have to see now why I’ve been telling you all along not to become so attached to her. Can’t you see now that I was only trying to help you?”

And he was right. Of course he was right. Stormblade realized with a sinking feeling that he had even disgusted himself with what he had done. He had tortured the Letaligon. He had let his love for her lead him to do something so horrible that even he agreed it was a just commandment of the Code. What had he been thinking?

“You’re right,” he whispered. “I was blinded…”

“Go wash that blood off,” Shadowdart said, sounding repulsed. “And if I were you, I’d spend some time thinking seriously about myself and whether I was truly worth being a part of this swarm anymore.”

Stormblade nodded, stood up and headed with slow steps down towards the stream.

XVIII

He had loved her, truly loved her, and he still did – but it had taken him too far. It had made him into someone he wasn’t and didn’t want to be. Now she was gone and he had to leave the past behind – leave the horrible creature that had mutilated his prey out of pure lust for revenge behind.

He wanted to remember her forever, but he did not want to remember himself.

As he walked shakily to the bank of the small river, he wanted to believe he could live with it, but there was guilt nagging him that refused to go away. The image of her crushed and dead and of the Letaligon’s ripped and bloodied corpse had etched itself into his mind, and for the first time in his life he felt like he had done something horribly, horribly sick and twisted. Something utterly wrong, Code or not Code.

He stepped into the stream, letting the cold water wash flakes of dried blood off his feet and claws. He dipped his scythes in as well and saw the water take on a reddish hue before flowing on and disappearing. The steady flow was calming and soothing, and he found himself to be trembling a little bit less, even though the water was freezing.

He submerged his head and felt stinging, pulsing pain in his left eye socket again as the water enveloped the remains of his eye. He knew he would never see with it again, but he had given it for her – and although he hadn’t managed to save her, he didn’t regret having done it. He would never have forgiven himself if he hadn’t.

He rose up and studied his reflection. A large, ugly cut ran along the side of his face, down through the bloodied left eye socket, but otherwise he was mostly clean. He shivered with cold, stepped out of the stream and decided that the right place to think over things would be Pearl’s favorite spot, the rock in the side of the mountain. He shook his body to dry it somewhat and then kicked off the ground to fly, realizing bitterly that in the end, he and Pearl had probably flown better than almost any other Scyther in the swarm – as much as Shadowdart had been training, he didn’t believe he had ever particularly trained his flight. Scyther just didn’t fly very much unless it was necessary, and flying during a duel was more or less unheard of.

He sat down on the rock, letting the cool wind stroke his outstretched wings, and now that he was there he realized how terribly lonely he was to be there without her. Living the rest of his life without her, living the rest of his life with Shadowdart as his only company – he dreaded the thought. Especially because he was now a Code-breaker. He had tortured his prey and even neglected to eat it, to give its death a purpose. He had committed an act of pure bloodlust in an emotional rage. The only friend he had left, Shadowdart, despised him for what he had done.

And he was no longer about to become a father.

He felt a sinking feeling in his stomach at the thought, and all of a sudden no longer really wanted to bother. There was only one ethical response to breaking the Moral Code, after all.

He raised his scythe slowly and looked at it, but the thought of turning it on himself was too horrifying, too painful. He lowered it again. Suicide through action was something he didn’t see himself being able to do, but suicide through inaction…

He stood up and walked over to the edge of the rock. It was a long way down on one side. If he just kept his wings folded on the way down, he wouldn’t survive the fall.

He took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and walked forward. His foot found solid ground. He moved his other foot, and again it came down on the hard surface of the rock.

Next he stepped into thin air, lost his balance in a fleeting second and began to plunge down towards the rocky ground, memories flashing before his eyes.

And one memory stuck.

He saw Razor, called up to the Leader’s rock, instructed to commit suicide – but he hadn’t. Razor had stood up to the Code. Why did Stormblade, who had never been too preoccupied with the Code, not have that kind of courage? Why was he falling like any pathetic prey to a death that would render his entire life a tragic failure?

She wouldn’t have wanted him to. She’d have wanted him to move on and try to find happiness in the rest of his life. She’d have wanted him to defy those pointless laws of the Code.

He opened his eyes and, with a sudden rush of adrenaline, spread his wings far out and began to flap them with increasing speed to work against the speed at which he was already falling. In the second before he hit the ground, he managed to slow himself down enough to manage to land in a roll, tumble down the gentle slope down the rest of the mountain and come to a rest with only a few bruises.

He stood up slowly, feeling oddly renewed, and headed back to the swarm.


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