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The Fall of a Leader - Part IV: Razor

XIX

When Stormblade returned to the oak tree, Shadowdart was still sitting there, staring into space with an inscrutable expression on his face. The younger Scyther looked dully at the older as he approached and asked, in a mildly surprised tone, “You’re back?”

Stormblade nodded. “I thought things over. Let’s have a friendly duel.”

He knew that the suggestion was odd in the situation. Shadowdart looked at him, his expression suspicious; he was clearly surprised at the idea, especially since Stormblade hadn’t initiated a duel in many years, but took a position a few steps across from him anyway, eying him warily.

Stormblade smiled and then kicked off the ground to fly.

Shadowdart looked up and frowned at him. “What are you doing up there?”

“Flying,” Stormblade replied.

“Why flying?”

“Well, it’s a strange thing, isn’t it?” Stormblade answered, his tone musing. “Scyther can fly, but they never really use it. Come on and let’s try some airdueling.”

Shadowdart shook his head and seemed to think it was a stupid idea, but took off anyway and, without warning, zoomed at Stormblade.

Stormblade almost laughed – Shadowdart’s flight, in comparison to Pearl’s, was very clumsy. He swooped easily out of the way, and Shadowdart swore as he missed.

“This is stupid,” he said, landing to rest a little. “Come down and let’s duel properly.”

“I like it in the air,” Stormblade insisted, zooming a little back and forth as a playful taunt. Shadowdart glared at him and then took off again.

This time Stormblade went in for an attack. He flew forward and Shadowdart dodged out of the way, but turning in the air was much easier than on the ground – Stormblade managed to follow him and get a powerful slash in across his chest. Shadowdart fell back to the ground.

“I can’t keep my balance up there while using my scythes,” he grumbled as he stood up. “Why are you insisting on being in the air?”

Stormblade actually laughed this time. “Can’t you see? You’ve been training every other skill in the world, but not your flight. Go train your wings and your movement in the air, and see if you can surprise the Leader with it next time you challenge him.” He landed and smiled, having finished making his point and not being overly interested in continuing. It felt oddly exhilarating to have managed to actually teach Shadowdart something again. It brought him back to the old days when Shadowdart was still a Descith.

Shadowdart looked at him in silence for a few seconds. “Good one,” he then admitted, sitting down while Stormblade did the same. “Thank you.”

It was as Stormblade has thought. Giving Shadowdart some reason to respect him and need him again made him ready to turn a blind eye to his breaking of the Code. Shadowdart would be willing to give him a second chance. And he needed that, because he was giving himself a second chance. None of the other Scyther would ever know that it happened. He was going to make an example of Razor and live with himself despite having broken the Code, and to live with himself he needed Shadowdart’s company.

“You seem a lot more confident all of a sudden,” Shadowdart said, turning to him. “More enthusiastic. Less depressed. What gives?”

I thought about Razor and was inspired to go on. No, he could never say that. Shadowdart had hated Razor. He would immediately lose that respect. And probably not train his flight, either.

“I just thought things over while I was washing,” he said instead. “And I realized I should put it all behind me. Forget it ever happened. It’s not who I really am.”

Shadowdart nodded distantly, and it occurred to him that of course Shadowdart would have his own experience of putting the past behind him and improving himself.

He would treasure the memory of Pearl. She had taught him many things. But himself during that period… he just wanted to leave that behind. Start anew. Remember Razor, who had given himself another chance at life. But Razor had used his second chance to be an outcast from the swarm. Stormblade would use his to reconcile himself with the swarm after a period of isolation from it. And especially with the only friend he had left.

Perhaps he would even be able to have some positive influence on Shadowdart – being rebellious, after all, had never made Shadowdart more inclined to listen to him.

The future was beginning to look brighter.

XX

Stormblade had left the body in the forest. The Scyther could not dig to bury their dead, nor could they burn them, and in fact they did not believe there was any reason to destroy the body of a dead Scyther so that scavengers could not feed on them.

A dead body had no meaning to them. A dead body had no purpose. A dead body was simply food – not food that the Scyther themselves would eat, as they always killed their own prey and preferred not to eat other carnivores, but food for countless other Pokémon nonetheless – and the act of preventing other Pokémon from getting that food was something they would have had a hard time seeing as anything other than an act of pointless malice. When a Scyther died in the swarm, they would move the body into the forest where the scavengers might feast on it away from the swarm, but when one died in the forest, there was no need to move the body from the place where it had died.

They did, however, prefer not to leave the bodies lying in awkward positions that did not dignify the dead, and thus Stormblade had laid her on her back on the ground – a rather messy affair for a Scyther, as he could not grab any part of her with his arms – and then, with considerable emotional difficulty, cut her throat. To do this was ancient tradition: they did not consider a creature to be truly, spiritually dead unless its throat had been opened, and until then, it was merely a trapped mind suffering in an irreversibly dead, decomposing body.

It was nonetheless very difficult, as Stormblade had discovered, to actually cut the throat of someone he loved, and he had been unable to shake off the eerie feeling that she was somehow still alive, that she could yet be saved but he was the one murdering her. It had fleetingly occurred to him as he knelt over her body, taking deep breaths to calm himself down, that he understood well where the notion that an intact throat left the spirit of the deceased still alive, trapped in the body, came from. He had felt like he could hear her scream for help, all the way until he had gathered the courage to silence her with his scythe.

When he returned to the site that evening, he could nearly hear her scream again, and was for a moment not sure if he had actually cut her throat correctly, but no, it was open, and blood was still leaking out of the wound to dry on the ground beside her. Some small scavenger Pokémon that had heard him coming and ran for it before he arrived had apparently found her body, because her eyes had already been torn out and eaten. The sight horrified him somehow, despite how used he was to seeing half-eaten corpses. It was just so much worse when he had known the corpse so well in life. So odd to see it no longer the living, thinking being it had once been. No longer the being he had loved so much.

“I’m sorry I didn’t manage to protect you,” he said quietly to the body, knowing full well she couldn’t hear him. “And I’m sorry I… did that to the Letaligon. You probably wouldn’t have liked it.” He took a deep breath. “But now I’ve become wiser. I’m moving on. I’m going to be a Scyther you would be proud of if you were still here. Goodbye.”

Then he wet his scythe in her blood, took a last look at what had once been Pearl, and turned away to fly back to the swarm.

He had told the Leader about her death, leaving out the part where he had tortured the Letaligon – that was a story for him and Shadowdart alone to know. And because he had needed to wash the blood from his body previously – and it had mostly been the Letaligon’s blood anyway – he had needed to return to the forest to retrieve the ritual blood that ordinarily, in the case of hunting deaths, was what came onto the scythe when the throat of the dead was cut.

The Leader had already called for a death acknowledgement ceremony, and the swarm had gathered by the stream by the time Stormblade returned with her blood. The Leader nodded as he came down to his side, just by the water’s edge.

“Tonight,” said the Leader in a calm but powerful voice, “we commemorate a Scyther who has left our ranks.”

Stormblade silently raised his scythe up into the air so that the bluish-black liquid on it was illuminated by the moonlight. A glistening drop fell from the blade into the stream, dissolving in a mere moment.

“She died on a hunt,” the Leader continued. “She was killed by a Letaligon she had intended to prey upon. She remained cool with her fate to the end. May she be an example to all Scyther from here on. Death is not to be feared, for it is the only thing that we all have in common.”

“Death is not to be feared,” said the swarm in unison.

“May her true spirit live on and her loss be put behind us.”

And Stormblade lowered his scythe into the water, letting the stream quickly wash off the blood and carry it away, put it behind them, prevent them from dwelling on it. Symbolically, she herself had been carried away from the swarm to bother the living no more.

It was a simple ritual; they could not set the dead off with mass mourning or elaborate ceremonies that might make a death seem like too significant an event. It was less to commemorate the dead than it was to remind the living not to dwell on their death. But that it did well, and as Stormblade raised his scythe out of the stream, he felt ready to move on.

She would live on in his memory, but not trouble him. He would make a new life for himself as a better Scyther.

XXI

In the next few weeks, Stormblade and Shadowdart’s relationship blossomed to better than it had been in years. Stormblade would advise him on flying techniques, something even Shadowdart had admitted to himself Stormblade had mastered much better than he had, and meanwhile Shadowdart taught him techniques for ground duelling so that they could more easily duel one another. Stormblade was still nowhere near Shadowdart’s general skill level, but Shadowdart mastered flying quickly and they would entertain themselves with air duels in between going on joint hunts.

“Where did you learn all this flying stuff anyway?” Shadowdart asked him one day after a session of flight training.

“With her,” Stormblade replied, even now feeling a light sting in his heart as he thought of her. “We flew a lot. Her favorite place was up in the mountain.”

Shadowdart just nodded, looking up to the mountains.

“We… we once flew up. To the clouds,” Stormblade began, not sure why he was telling Shadowdart about it. It had always been their secret, but now she was gone and he supposed he had to tell somebody.

“Why?” Shadowdart asked.

“To see what the clouds really were. We…” His stomach fluttered as he thought of it. “You know how they say that the clouds are Pokémon? That the rain is their blood?”

Shadowdart looked disinterestedly at him. “Yes?”

“It’s not true,” Stormblade said, feeling almost the same excitement as when they had first discovered it. “The clouds are just water. Tiny little drops of water. We flew through one and it wasn’t like touching anything. We just got wet.”

Shadowdart looked blankly at him. “That’s ridiculous. How would the water stay aloft? Why doesn’t it look like water? Why does it change color? What causes it to suddenly fall down, if it can stay airborne? Water doesn’t do any of that.”

“I don’t know, but it’s true anyway. We went there and felt it. It was amazing.”

Shadowdart shrugged. “What’s so amazing about it? It doesn’t matter to anyone down on the ground what the clouds are made of. A Scyther has no need to think about the clouds. Even if flying is a neat thing with some untapped potential to it, we won’t ever need to fly that high. Why does it matter so much to you?”

Stormblade thought about it. He was right – the clouds didn’t matter. Then why did he care what they were made of, whether they were Pokémon or just water? Why was he curious?

He didn’t know. But he didn’t think it was a bad thing. He had felt genuine joy in the discovery, and no one could take that joy away from him.

“I don’t know why it matters to me,” he said quietly. “But it does.”

Shadowdart shrugged. “Well, you’ve always been weird. Just don’t let yourself worry about it too much. Stick to things that are real and around you.”

Stormblade sighed. “I suppose.”

They still had their disagreements, but he had learned to just not bring them up.

XXII

Despite their improving relations, Shadowdart requested that Stormblade was not present during his fourth duel with the Leader that autumn. He said it improved his concentration when he didn’t feel compelled to look at one of the watching Scyther and could focus on the Leader. Stormblade didn’t know if he was being truthful when he said it, but didn’t particularly care. He felt that he was no longer clinging to Shadowdart in the way he had before. They were better friends now when they were together, and thus he didn’t feel as much of a need for them to be always together.

Pearl had always disliked what she’d seen of their relationship, and he could see why. They had a much healthier friendship now – in fact, their differences had never before seemed so small.

And yet, he still wondered what his life would have been like if he had raised a family with her.

A family…

Perhaps Razor had a family with Nightmare now, if he had caught up with her. Perhaps she had had an egg and they were happy somewhere off alone raising a Descith or two together.

The thought made him bitter. He sighed, stood up from the tree, glanced once towards the Leader’s rock – the small crowd that had gathered around him prevented him from seeing the duel – and decided to go hunting, just to get his mind onto something else.

And by a miraculous coincidence, just as he reached the edge of Ruxido, another Scyther with distantly familiar features was also nearing the forest for a hunt.

It took him only a moment to realize that it was a particularly strong-looking, tall Scyther that Razor had pointed out to him a few times in the swarm – Razor’s father.

Curiosity got the better of Stormblade, and he turned to stop the approaching Scyther.

“What is it?” Razor’s father asked, looking Stormblade up and down with a blank expression.

“You don’t know me, but I was a friend of your son’s,” he said awkwardly.

Razor’s father got an odd, distant gleam in his eye for a second, and then turned around. “I don’t have a son,” he said coldly, motioning to enter Ruxido.

“Yes, you do,” Stormblade pressed him. “He left the swarm.”

“He is no son of mine,” the older Scyther repeated. “It was a big mistake, all of it.”

“You’re being ridiculous,” Stormblade said, his temper flaring. “Of course he’s still your son. Having broken the Code or left the swarm doesn’t change that. Being your son is a matter of blood. You’re the one who screwed his mother, and that’s the end of it.”

Razor’s father turned around and looked at him, his expression mildly surprised at Stormblade’s bluntness. “Fine, I had a son,” he said. “Had. He’s dead.”

“How do you know that?”

“If he’s not dead, then I hope he is, or I will never forgive myself for having been responsible for bringing him into the world,” Razor’s father snapped. “Leave me alone now. I have prey to kill.”

Stormblade sighed and watched the older Scyther dash off towards the forest. He was the same as Shadowdart, then – putting the Code before life. Code before friends and family. He would rather have them dead in accordance with the Code than alive having broken it.

If he knew what Stormblade had done – yet again he felt a sting of guilt in his heart – he would despise him.

Stormblade turned. He didn’t feel like hunting anymore. He could vaguely remember Razor telling him that once upon a time, his parents had been in love, just like he and Pearl. Then they had drifted apart. They had been a family, but no longer were.

He wanted to find Razor’s mother now.

He could remember that she was more of a frail little thing, someone who wouldn’t stand out from a crowd. He looked briefly over the Scyther that he passed on his way back, but none of them was her. Either she was hunting, she was watching the duel, or she was drinking by the river.

Drinking sounded like a good idea in any case.

He walked down to the stream, and there was indeed a small female there, slowly lapping up the fresh water. He came closer. Yes, it was definitely her.

“Hello,” he said, having bent down beside her to reach down into the water himself. “I knew your son.”

She looked quickly at him and then shook her head. “I… I don’t want to talk about him. I’m sorry.”

But she sat down in the grass beside the stream anyway, looking up at the sky and the occasional clouds drifting past. Stormblade didn’t want to pressure her, but something made him want to talk to her anyway.

“Did you know,” he said as he stood up, looking into the sky with her, “that the clouds aren’t really Pokémon?”

She looked at him. “Oh?”

“They’re water,” Stormblade explained, his heart again twitching in odd excitement as he said it. “They’re not even solid. I flew through a cloud, and there was no resistance. I just got wet. I don’t know how they stay in the air or why it only rains sometimes, but they’re just water.”

She smiled. There was some warmth in it that made it seem sincere. “That’s interesting. I’d never really thought about it before.”

Of course she hadn’t. Stormblade and Pearl seemed to be the only Scyther in the world ever to have even wondered. A minute of silence passed. He sighed and stood up to leave.

“I still love him,” she suddenly muttered without looking at him. “I know he broke the Code. But I can’t help loving him anyway. I hatched him. How could I not?”

“Do you think he’s alive?” Stormblade asked quietly, turning back to her.

She shook her head. “I don’t know. But I hope so. I hope I’ll see him again one day.”

Stormblade smiled. “I hope so too,” he said before turning to walk back to the swarm.

XXIII

Shadowdart didn’t win that time either. He came back cut and bruised yet again, with a new piece cut out of his scythe, and swore that the next time, in the spring, he would win. The winter went into rigorous flight training, enthusiastic duels, and strategic planning. Shadowdart would occasionally practice the techniques they had been planning while they hunted, and it was on just such a hunt one day in the late spring, when they were in the forest looking for prey, that Stormblade stopped dead at the sound of an all-too-familiar voice.

“Shadowdart, listen,” he whispered, and Shadowdart stayed and waited. They heard a faint voice from some distance away – a Scyther’s voice.

“Razor,” Shadowdart realized, his expression darkening. “So he isn’t dead.”

“We have to go follow the sound,” Stormblade said excitedly. “We should go talk to him, shouldn’t we?”

“Yes,” Shadowdart said coldly. “I have much to say to him.”

They forgot all about keeping quiet and took off to fly between the trees, partly for practice and partly for speed. Stormblade’s stomach fluttered at the thought of meeting Razor again. He couldn’t wait to tell him all about Pearl, and maybe of what had inspired him to live on…

Finally they caught a glimpse of him between the trees, and realized that he wasn’t alone.

He was on the Ruxido road, walking beside a human boy and apparently engaged in friendly conversation with him. Two other human kids were walking a little ahead of him, seemingly unalarmed by his presence.

Humans.

Razor was with humans.

And just as Stormblade realized it, Razor stopped in his tracks and stared right at him.

“Come on, let’s hurry,” Stormblade said quickly and they sped up, avoiding a few more trees before finally landing in front of Razor on the road. The human boy he was walking with flinched; the others turned around in surprise.

“Razor… we never expected to see you again,” Stormblade said, looking the Scyther in front of him up and down to make sure it was really his old friend – he could hardly believe it. Razor looked healthy and strong after those three years. Where had he been?

Razor looked awkwardly at them, his face betraying slight revulsion as he eyed Stormblade’s empty eye socket. “Stormblade,” he finally said with a small nod of acknowledgement. “Shadowdart…”

Stormblade saw Razor fix his gaze in surprise at the remains of Shadowdart’s left scythe. Shadowdart, however, was already looking at the boy in suspicion.

“What is the human doing here?” he asked sharply, narrowing his eyes at Razor and the boy. Razor’s hesitation confirmed what Stormblade had deduced already, that he had been caught…

“He’s… my friend,” Razor muttered uncertainly, his gaze shifting between Stormblade and Shadowdart.

“Your ‘friend’?” Shadowdart spat. “Since when did you make human friends?”

Stormblade knew he was thinking of Razor’s First Prey, a human boy who couldn’t have been much older than the one he was standing with now. And it surprised him, too; who would have thought Razor would be the one of them to be caught?

“That’s none of your business,” Razor replied quietly, the pain of the situation evident in his voice. What had changed in those three years? Just what had Razor been through? Stormblade found himself suddenly realizing that perhaps Razor had been far worse off than he had been.

“Well,” he said as he sensed Shadowdart was about to say something, “did you ever find Nightmare?”

Razor nodded, but his expression already told him something was wrong, that it hadn’t turned out right. “So how did it go?” he pressed.

Razor swallowed, nervousness evident in his eyes. “She…” he began hoarsely. “She got caught…”

“Caught?” Shadowdart sneered.

“How did that happen?” Stormblade asked in disbelief, the fateful duel still fresh in his memory. “She was one of the fastest I’ve ever seen…”

Oh, yes, she had been fast. How had a human caught her – a mere human, on two clumsy legs?

“He caught her in her sleep,” Razor replied bitterly, and Stormblade found himself nodding. Yes, it was the only way that the humans could catch a Scyther, by such low methods as attacking them while sleeping…

But something rang wrong with this, a pang in his chest told him. He looked sharply back at Razor. “How would you know? Were you there?”

He saw Razor sigh, nod, look down at the ground – how could he? How could he have watched her be caught without helping her and then stand there healthy and happy? How could he, when Stormblade had given his eye to protect the female he had loved?

“Then you didn’t do anything… you just watched…” he asked quietly, getting a sinking feeling in his stomach as he realized that of course Razor wasn’t the idol of defiance that he had been thinking of him as for the past year: he was just a Scyther, just a lost, confused, flawed Scyther.

But oh, so much more flawed than he had been the last time they had met!

He had stopped clinging to Pearl, but only begun to cling to Razor instead. He should have stood up for himself. He should have known better.

“I thought I knew you,” he muttered and shook his head. “I never thought you’d…”

“Screw that,” Shadowdart interrupted. “What are you doing with the human?”

There was a short silence during which Razor’s eyes flicked between Stormblade, Shadowdart and the boy. “He’s my trainer,” he finally said, and Stormblade couldn’t help feeling another little sting at the verbal confirmation.

Shadowdart snorted, his expression turning to one of somehow triumphant mockery. “You let a human stuff you into a ball? I thought you had some dignity…” He paused. “Then it’s probably true what they all say, that you begged for your life, too…”

“Don’t,” Stormblade said quickly, even though he wasn’t sure anymore that he should be defending Razor at all. “You didn’t watch the duel. I did.”

“Fine,” Shadowdart spat, still smiling poisonously. “Then she was just weak. I bet both of you just sit there with your trainers now doing whatever you’re told, like little slaves under their…”

“NO!” Razor shouted, leaping at Shadowdart and swinging his scythe at his face. Shadowdart had of course trained his reflexes to the point of easily expecting it and blocking it with his own. Razor attacked with hateful ferocity and more speed than Stormblade had ever seen in him; he repeatedly slashed with both of his scythes, only to have Shadowdart block each attack with an almost lazy lack of effort. It was occurring to Stormblade now just how powerful Shadowdart was.

Finally Razor let out a cry of hate, slashing forward with both of his scythes parallel, and Shadowdart blocked with his own. They strained against one another for a few tense seconds during which neither seemed to have an advantage: while Shadowdart was very skilled, they were about equal in the sheer force of their muscles.

They had realized it as well, and both leapt backwards, keeping their scythes upright and defensive for a second before lowering them in momentary truce.

“All right,” Shadowdart said. “Fine. Be a slave. You’re not worth duelling.” He looked at the boy, who was still standing there, pale and silent. “And your so-called trainer isn’t worth killing, either.”

Without waiting for Stormblade, Shadowdart kicked off the ground and flew back into the forest. Stormblade took a last regretful look at Razor, who had only days ago been such an inspiration to him – his first friend’s expression looked confused, pained and apologetic – but then took off to fly after Shadowdart. Part of him hoped that Razor would follow.

He didn’t.


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