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The Quest for the Legends (ILCOE)

Author’s Note: This chapter brings up details that were only briefly mentioned in chapters 27 and 29 regarding Scyther’s backstory and Scyther society. Some of them could sensibly be recapped within the text of the chapter, but others couldn’t without some kind of extremely awkward as-you-know-Bob. This wouldn’t really be a problem if this were a novel published in one piece, since they could still be expected to at least ring a bell and the rest of what mattered could be deduced from the context. However, because this is serially published fanfiction and I am a slow writer, it has been several years since many of you actually read those chapters, and that means it would be wholly unreasonable to expect you to still remember any of these details (unless you read the spin-offs, in which they were more prominently featured; in that case, you can skip the rest of this author’s note).

So, to jog your memory and save you the trouble of looking for the explanation in ancient horribly-written inconsistent chapters from my dramatic-dialogue-should-end-in-an-ellipsis phase that I’d prefer nobody ever read again: Scyther swarms have a leader, to whom they refer as simply ‘Leader’; any member of the swarm who can defeat the leader in a duel can become Leader in the current one’s stead. ‘True duels’ are about life and death, but they also have friendly duels, which are not. Mark’s Scyther used to have two friends within the Scyther swarm, Stormblade and Shadowdart, and they called him Razor. And the Scyther have a very strict system of ethics (the Code), of which he has broken all of the five most sacred moral decrees.

This chapter also discusses the events of the spin-off The Fall of a Leader. It spoils many key plot points of it, so if you were planning to read that soon, this would probably be a good time to do it (though I apologize in advance for the frequently terrible writing in it). Otherwise, basically everything this chapter mentions as having happened since Razor left the swarm is shown in more detail there, so if you haven’t read it, that’s where you should look if you think it sounds intriguing.

Chapter 60: The Swarm

Razor drew his scythe across the Nidorino’s throat and held him down as his struggles became death spasms and then faded into dull twitching.

It felt good to hunt – freeing, really, after only being able to do it in secret for so long – and he wouldn’t have done it had he not been somewhat hungry, but just the same, the main reason he was hunting was to have something to offer as an excuse before approaching another Scyther. They had every reason to despise him, but food was food.

He ate half, sliced off the skull, spikes and thickened skin to reduce the remaining weight, and then picked up the rest of the carcass in his mouth, supporting it with his scythes as he headed towards the plains. If Stormblade and Shadowdart didn’t want to talk to him, perhaps they’d at least let him share his prey with them, and at this point that was all he could really ask for.

-------

That old oak tree on the hill had haunted his dreams ever since his departure; seeing it in the flesh again felt strangely unreal, like he might wake up and find himself back in the Gym with Rob any moment now. He felt a strange, tingling apprehension as he approached it, slowing from his flight-assisted dash to a hesitant walk.

Way back when, it had been chance that their favourite place was a bit apart from the rest of the swarm. Now he was kind of relieved that he didn’t have to come close enough to the other Scyther for them to recognize him; he might be able to just talk to his friends again and disappear without anyone else knowing he was even there.

The Leader’s rock, he noted absently, was unoccupied. Presumably the Leader was out hunting, then, though it was unusual for him to be doing so this late. He shivered at the thought; it meant he could have encountered the Leader in the woods, and there was no chance he would have been appeased by half a Nidorino.

Razor stopped, laying his prey onto the ground in front of him. He saw indistinct shapes lying by the tree, facing away from him, and had to gather his courage for a second before he said, “Stormblade? Shadowdart?”

One of the shapes rose up immediately, turning towards him. “Razor?” said Stormblade in disbelief, his one eye blinking sleepily. “What are you...?”

The other shape got to its feet more slowly, and something was immediately off about the way it moved; this wasn’t Shadowdart, Razor realized quickly, and then recoiled in horror as he noticed it was red and metallic, and then... “...Nightmare?”

She looked at him, meeting his eyes for just a moment, her expression inscrutable, and then lay back down as if he was never there.

“Razor, it’s been...” Stormblade was by his side now, but he didn’t care, because nothing made sense. “Are you back for good?”

“Why is she...?”

“A lot of things happened while you were gone,” Stormblade murmured. “Let’s just talk. We have a bit of catching up to do.”

Razor took a deep breath and tore his gaze away from the barely-visible shape of the Scizor. He noticed the Nidorino by his feet, nearly forgotten in his general shock. “Are you hungry?” he said automatically. Stormblade nodded gratefully and started to eat.

“Where’s Shadowdart?” Razor asked after a moment.

Stormblade cringed. “Dead,” he whispered.

Razor was silent. Only six or seven months ago, when he had met Stormblade and Shadowdart in Ruxido, the latter had been suddenly fierce and dominating, bore the marks of having challenged the Leader, and called Razor unworthy. Dead seemed just one more bizarre descriptor, something that simply didn’t fit. “How?” he said eventually.

“Suicide of guilt.”

“Shadowdart?” That made even less sense. Shadowdart had never admitted to being guilty of anything, much less considered suicide over it. “Why?”

Stormblade swallowed and sat down. “After you left, he became obsessed with the Code,” he said.

Razor couldn’t hold back a chuckle. “Shadowdart?” he said again. “Nine-tries-to-catch-a-Rattata-with-closed-eyes Shadowdart?”

Stormblade didn’t appear to find it funny in the least; he just shook his head. “He’d go off on passionate rants about the moral decay of the swarm and our Leader’s hypocrisy, and he’d train obsessively so he could replace him and set things right. He became very strong – you wouldn’t have believed it. He lost the first few attempts, but then he said it was all part of some master plan to scout out the Leader’s techniques, and eventually he won. He became Leader.”

Razor chuckled again in disbelief: it was all he could really do. If he hadn’t had that one little glimpse of how Shadowdart had changed half a year ago, he wouldn’t have believed Stormblade at all. As it was, he didn’t protest, but that made none of it any less absurd.

“Then he just... started to go wrong. He got this idea that he should execute Scyther who failed to commit suicide of guilt when they’d broken the Code – I think it was all a way for him to get back at you, somehow. Eventually I left, too – that’s when I met Nightmare again.”

“Are you two...?” Razor asked, without really deciding to.

“No,” Stormblade said, shaking his head; there was pain in his voice that Razor couldn’t place. “Just friends.”

Razor nodded as Stormblade took a half-hearted bite out of the Nidorino.

“We went back,” the older Scyther went on at last, his voice faint. “When we got here, Shadowdart had gotten worse. He was killing Scyther for just talking about breaking the Code. And he’d done... things.” Stormblade shuddered visibly. “You don’t want to know. I guess after we got there and confronted him, the Scyther he used to be managed to claw through and realize what he’d become.”

There was a pause while this sank in. “And he killed himself?”

Stormblade gave a very small nod. “He used his left scythe, too. It was the one he used to kill the old Leader. Sometimes I wonder if that meant anything.”

Razor stared over the scattering of Scyther below them, trying to wrap his mind around all this – Shadowdart was gone, and not just gone but mad and Code-obsessed and tyrannical and that wasn’t Shadowdart – “You’re thinking about it too much,” he said firmly. “You always thought about things too much.”

Yes. That, at least, was static and still made sense. The first time they’d met, Stormblade had been a strange dreamer suggesting the clouds weren’t really Pokémon like all the other Scyther said, and even after that, he’d...

Something occurred to him suddenly. “You were actually right about the clouds, you know,” he said. “Humans researched them and found out they’re just a lot of tiny drops of water.”

Stormblade nodded again, slightly. “I know,” he said.

Razor wondered vaguely how Stormblade would know that, but it was silly and didn’t matter and he didn’t ask.

There was silence.

“Nightmare told me you dueled again,” Stormblade said.

Razor shouldn’t have been surprised Stormblade knew that, not when Nightmare was here, but somehow he hadn’t imagined she’d tell anyone. “We did,” he said. “And I won and spared her, so I guess we’re even.”

“Even?” Stormblade replied sharply, his voice suddenly hard. “You’re not even. You let her be caught. You stood there and let her be caught and evolved. She never got even for that.”

Razor winced. It had been a stupid thing to say, the moment he had said it. “I was scared.”

“That’s not an excuse,” Stormblade went on, that unfamiliar pain entering his voice again. “You kept saying you were in love, and then when it mattered...”

“Love is fake,” Razor said. “It’s just a stupid obsession. I didn’t –”

“Do you know how I lost my eye?” Stormblade interrupted. “I had a mate. And there was a Letaligon, and she was behind me, and I stayed in its way instead of dodging. Because I loved her. Don’t you dare talk to me about love. You don’t know what it is.”

Razor looked at him for a long moment, finally making sense of what was bothering Stormblade. “Is she dead, too?”

Stormblade nodded wordlessly.

“I’m sorry.”

The older Scyther was still silent. Razor looked at him, trying to work out how to answer. His practiced tirades against love, all the drunken speeches he’d made to Rob and Mark and the world about why it was empty or shallow or nonexistent, suddenly felt hollow and trite.

“You’re right,” he said eventually. “I didn’t love her. I barely knew her. I just cared about the fantasy of her. I should have helped her anyway – but yes, I was scared.”

Stormblade didn’t look at him.

“But if I really had loved her, I would have. And I would have done it for you. I would have done it for Shadowdart.”

This, too, seemed to hit a spot somewhere. Stormblade glanced at him, silently, and then looked back at the Scyther scattered in the grass ahead of them. “Would you?” he asked after a second had passed. “For Shadowdart?”

Razor looked at him, trying to read what he was thinking. “Of course I would have. He was my friend.”

“Was he?” Stormblade gave him a searching look that Razor had no idea how to respond to. After a moment he looked away again with a sigh and continued: “I always thought of him as a friend, too, but then I started thinking about it and realized we barely ever treated him like one.”

Razor opened his mouth to protest, but no words came out. On reflection, he’d never taken Shadowdart very seriously, had he? It had never quite occurred to him to question their friendship, per se, but looking back, he’d spent more of his time... well, ridiculing him, than showing he cared. Had he cared? He couldn’t tell anymore; the years he’d spent rambling drunkenly to Rob about his days in the swarm had cast things in a certain mold in his mind that might not be as accurate as he’d have liked.

He thought of his conversation with Mark after their last encounter. Shadowdart was always a wuss. He thought of how laughable the idea of Shadowdart as Leader had seemed just earlier. Nine-tries-to-catch-a-Rattata-with-closed-eyes Shadowdart. Ridiculous.

And now he was dead, and Razor missed him.

He sighed. “No, I suppose we didn’t.” (We? Stormblade had been perfectly decent as far as Razor could remember.)

They were silent. A lone Venomoth fluttered overhead; after those years of friendly battling with every manner of Pokémon, the instinct that wanted to leap up and kill it was just a dull tug at the edge of his consciousness.

“I still wanted to see him again,” Razor said quietly.

“Yeah,” Stormblade said, still staring unseeingly at the sky.

“Who’s Leader now, if he died?”

“It’s being decided by friendly duels, since he wasn’t killed by a challenger. In the meantime, Nightmare and I have been overseeing the rituals. It just sort of happened.”

Razor blinked at him in incomprehension. “Nightmare and you?”

“Yeah.”

“They... the swarm accepts... her?”

Stormblade chuckled, like it hadn’t occurred to him quite how bizarre that was. “It doesn’t take so long to get used to her,” he said. “And after Shadowdart and her part in exposing him, I suppose they were more ready to give her the benefit of the doubt. She still gets side glances and occasional hostility, but...” He shrugged. “For the most part, they don’t mind. They know she used to be just like them and that a human did that to her. I think they can’t help but realize on some level that the same could happen to them.”

Razor looked at him in astonishment, part of him weirdly relieved and part of him too baffled to be relieved. And some small part was ashamed, ashamed that here the swarm was tolerating Nightmare as a Scizor when he’d seethed at the very sight of the species and then rubbed it in her face when he’d met her and neglected to kill her.

“How is she?” he asked.

Stormblade let out a long sigh. “You should probably talk to her yourself,” he finally said, without meeting Razor’s eyes. “She deserves an apology, if nothing else.”

Razor’s heart stung. “Would she want to talk to me?”

“I don’t know,” Stormblade said quietly.

And that was all. Stormblade had changed; he was distant, cold, reluctant. Razor hadn’t imagined a happy reunion, exactly – well, perhaps he had imagined it, but he certainly hadn’t expected it – but Stormblade had always... cared about him. Sought his company. Considered him a friend.

As he stood up in silence and picked up what was left of the Nidorino, Stormblade didn’t even look at him, and ultimately that was what wrenched at Razor’s heart more than anything else.

He turned and walked heavy steps toward the old oak. Nightmare had risen while he was talking to Stormblade and was standing by the side of the tree, unmoving, her red armor gleaming in the moonlight. Her eyes met his, but she said nothing as he stepped in front of her and put his prey down.

“I’m sorry,” he said quietly, the words feeling empty and futile. Because of his cowardice, she’d been caught and evolved; an apology couldn’t make up for that.

She regarded him in silence for a moment. “What’s the point?” she said eventually. “It’s been too long. By now, if things hadn’t gone the way they did, I wouldn’t be who I am today, so what would it even mean for me to say I wish you’d warned me?”

He looked up and stared at her, so confounded by that train of thought that he couldn’t quite begin to formulate a reply. She picked up the carcass in her pincers, as if this was all perfectly normal, and tore a strip of flesh from it.

“So your trainer released you too, huh?” she went on after swallowing.

Razor shook his head numbly.

She glanced away. “Oh. Are you staying?”

“I don’t know,” he said.

“I know the feeling,” she said, without looking at him. She didn’t elaborate; the statement just hung there in the air, and it struck Razor suddenly, with a hint of irony, that now, more than three years after he’d left the swarm proclaiming that he loved her, they actually had something in common.

“So you...”

She turned towards him, a humourless chuckle escaping her. “You know what’s funny? I miss him. He caught me and turned me into a freak, and now here I am and I miss him.”

Razor thought of seeing her trainer at the Pokémon Frenzy Tournament, where that face had been engraved in his mind; of the blind hatred that had consumed him as he’d attacked him in the forest; of the grim satisfaction of staring him down at the League and knowing that the boy recognized him. “You liked your trainer,” he said slowly as it sank in.

“He was just a kid,” she said. “It had never even occurred to him that a Scyther wouldn’t want to evolve. He was devastated when I told him. He never stopped telling me he was sorry.”

He started to laugh. There was nothing else to do. She looked at him with a vague sort of curiosity.

“I tried to kill him,” he said; he couldn’t lie to her now, not after everything else he’d done. “I tried to kill him twice because I hated him so much for doing that to you. And when my trainer battled him in the League, he recognized me and...”

Nightmare blinked at him. Then another blink. “It was you?” she said, realization building in her voice. “Flareon said there was a Scyther and he had a breakdown and... it was you? He released us because of you?”

He giggled helplessly. He was the curse that had returned three years on to destroy her life yet again. To think that he’d been the one to name her ‘Nightmare’.

He expected her to lunge at him and tear his throat out then and there, but the appalled incredulity in her eyes just faded again; she looked away and sighed dully, putting the meat down as if she’d had enough. “In a way it’s for the best,” she said, a hint of bitterness in her tone. “Part of me always wanted to come back, but I never would have taken the chance of returning until I had nothing to lose. And now where would the swarm be without me? Still cowering under a mad rapist?”

Razor twitched as his understanding of Leader-Shadowdart jerked violently yet again, still further from any hope of being reconciled with the one he remembered. You don’t want to know, Stormblade had said.

“That Leader used to be my friend,” he muttered, but didn’t really know why.

“So I’ve heard,” she said. “Does that make it all better?”

He shook his head.

She looked away from him, staring over the plains and at all the other Scyther. “I’m going to try to become Leader,” she said suddenly; her voice had changed, its previous dull bitterness replaced with a resentful determination.

Razor looked sharply at her, puzzled. “Leader? Why?”

“Because for once,” she spat, “I wish a generation of Scyther could grow up without living in compulsive fear of breaking the Code. The others don’t get it; they’ve lived their whole lives knowing nothing else and would just regurgitate the same crap that their Leader taught them. But I’m different. Living with a human opened my eyes. Mistakes should be something you learn from, not a death sentence. I want to create a swarm where the Code is just a crazy myth and morality comes from common sense.”

He stared at her; after a second he let out a surprised half-chuckle. Her ideas were huge, strange, radical; it was all too much to take in at once. “How are you going to become Leader like that?” he said; it was the only thing that stuck properly. “You’re not... you’re not a Scyther anymore.”

“You were the first Scyther I’d duelled in years, back at the Pokémon Frenzy Tournament,” she said. “I lost because I was trying to fight you like a Scyther. Since I got here I’ve been practicing, and now I know how to duel like a Scizor. And I’m good.” There was a fierce glint in her eyes as she said the last word. “I think I can beat all the other Leader candidates. And if I can’t, it doesn’t matter, because it’s all friendly duels. I have nothing to lose.”

He must have looked as sceptical as he felt. “I’m not a cripple,” she went on, her voice harsh. “I can show you.”

It took him a moment to catch on; his brain was still trying to process the fact that apparently she thought there just shouldn’t be any suicide of guilt, at all. “You mean a friendly duel?” he said warily.

She gave a scornful laugh. “I don’t do true duels anymore. I had a bad experience once.”

He nodded mechanically without thinking about it; he couldn’t think right now, not while his mind was still reeling with the fact she was clearly mad. At least a duel would be a distraction.

They stepped back from one another, his scythes at the ready, her pincers gleaming. He looked in her eyes and saw calm, deadly conviction. That was the thing: she didn’t look mad; she looked like she knew exactly what she was doing. The strangely alluring confidence that had defined her the day of their first duel was still there, even in this hideous, mangled body. The dissonance unsettled him, and he shuddered.

And suddenly, taking advantage of his distraction, she was flinging herself at him.

He let out a surprised yelp and raised his scythes in defense. A Scyther would have met his scythes with her own, but she simply barrelled straight into him, his scythes scraping uselessly against her stronger metallic armor without putting a scratch in it. Her greater weight easily knocked him into the ground; reflexively, he kicked hard at her abdomen to prevent her from landing on top of him, successfully throwing her over his head to buy time to scramble back to his feet.

He whirled around to face her; rather than having crashed as he’d hoped, she had easily regained control, turned around and planted her pointed feet in the ground. She hissed, gesturing tauntingly at him with her pincers; he lunged towards her with a roar, raising his scythes and aiming for her seemingly fragile arms.

He took a swipe with his right scythe – and it was suddenly stopped short as her left pincer lashed out and locked around it in a deathgrip. His whole body thrown off balance, he crashed into her from the side, but her feet dug firmly into the ground and absorbed his momentum. Still reeling, he swung his left scythe, only for her to clamp onto it with her other pincer and hold it still.

He yanked his right scythe towards him; pain shot through his arm as her grip only tightened around the blunt edge, drawing bluish-black blood. His left arm fared no better, and panic bubbled up within him as he realized he could not move his scythes at all. Crying out, he desperately tried to kick her, but her seemingly delicate metallic legs didn’t even budge. She smirked at his shock for a moment more, as if to give him time to comprehend his situation; then she leaned forward, wrestled him easily into the ground with her weight, and twisted his left scythe around to his own throat.

His heart hammering, his breath caught, it struck him suddenly that perhaps it had been a trap all along – her easy forgiveness, their conversation, disorienting him with her bizarre Leader idea (no Code), all to get him to agree to a duel so that she could finally finish the job she’d left unfinished three and a half years ago.

For the second time, he lay at her mercy, expecting or hoping or wishing to feel a blade slicing through his trachea, taste blood for the last time, and then fade away into a sweet, just nothingness.

And for the second time, she relaxed her grip, rose, and stepped off him.

He gasped for breath, the edges of his scythes still aching where she had crushed them. It took him several seconds before he could rise up and stumble back to the tree to sit against it.

“Still think a Scizor can’t become Leader?” Nightmare said, sitting down beside him; her tone was a little smug, but not spiteful. He shook his head numbly.

They sat there for a minute without speaking, listening to the sounds of the night. Her grotesque metallic body shone in the moonlight, like a scythe, like something beautiful when it wasn’t. It confused and frightened him, like she did in general. And yet...

“Thank you,” he muttered, finally.

“For what?”

“Sparing me.”

She snorted. “That was a friendly duel, you dolt.”

He shook his head. “Back then. I always used to resent you for it, but you’re right – if I’d died that day, I wouldn’t even be here to think about it, and I’d never have grown up from who I was then.” He took a deep breath. “So thank you, for... letting me grow up.”

She smiled faintly. “That was the day I realized the Code was wrong. I didn’t understand it, then, but I looked at you and didn’t want to kill you, and that was the spark. I’ll never forget.”

The day I realized the Code was wrong. He twitched instinctively. So it was that simple, to her. The Code was wrong, so she didn’t need to feel guilty or twisted for breaking it. The Code was wrong, so she could – should – just stop teaching it to the hatchlings and come up with something better. The Code was wrong, even though it was the Code that defined right and wrong in the first place.

He had meant to conclude once and for all that her ideas were mad, but the thought didn’t seem quite as crazy as he’d intended it to once he’d actually thought it. It clung to his mind as he tried to dismiss it, squeezed into every available space and refused to let go. The Code was wrong. What if it really was that simple? Other Pokémon got on fine without the Code, and yet they got their morality from somewhere. So did humans. Mark had thought the Code was wrong, back at the League. What if he was right?

The Code was wrong. He tested the thought in his head, tentatively; it was strange, alien, but not actually that bad. The Code was wrong, so there didn’t have to be any suicide of guilt. The Code was wrong, so there was no need to even decide that you were too far gone for it to make a difference anymore. The Code was wrong, so there was never anything to feel guilty about in the first place.

The Code was wrong. It was such a simple, mind-boggling, blasphemous, freeing idea. And somehow... it had never even occurred to him.

His head spun. Part of him screamed this was a dangerous way to go, that the Code was sacred and whatever else you did you couldn’t just dismiss it wholesale or something terrible would happen, and another part was filled with the same soaring excitement as three and a half years earlier, the excitement of following her lead in some kind of crazy rebellion.

“So,” Nightmare said with a sigh, snapping him out of a trance, “in short, I liked my trainer fine, but I have a job to do, and if I weren’t here I couldn’t do it. I’m just not so sure about him, or the others on the team.”

Guilt stung at him, new guilt that had nothing to do with the Code and maybe didn’t have to. Even if he did see that boy again someday, he doubted he could do anything to help him – much less the other Pokémon he had released. But perhaps he could try.

“What about you? Did you like your trainer?” she asked after a moment, and he couldn’t shake the feeling she was trying to change the subject.

He considered telling her about Rob, who had saved his life and been his best friend for three years, and then it had all changed when his obsession with Mew had taken over – but his mouth was dry and the thought was painful, so he just nodded silently. She gave him a curious look, but didn’t ask.

“So have you decided yet if you’re staying?” she said after a while.

There was a part of him that wanted to say yes, wanted to stay here and continue to hear about her strange, liberating ideas and watch her become Leader and change the swarm – a part that had been childishly infatuated with her for four years and didn’t quite seem to be able to let it go even now that she was a Scizor.

But there was another part that really had grown up.

He took a deep breath, shaking his head, and rose to his feet. “I think you’ll be a great Leader,” he said, and he meant it. “But now that I think about it, I have a job to do, too.”

She nodded, and he could tell that she understood. He’d never before thought of himself as having a calling – he’d been too caught up in trying to distract himself from the fact everything he knew told him he was worthless and ought to be dead – but if the Code was wrong, it was obvious, really. Nightmare’s calling, the most worthy thing that it was in her power to do, was to change the swarm. But the most worthy thing it was in his power to do was to help his trainer stop the War of the Legends.

“Are you ever coming back?” she asked.

“Maybe,” he said. “If everything goes well.”

They looked at one another for a moment more. “Goodbye, then,” she said.

He nodded to her. “Goodbye.”

Three and a half years ago, he had blindly followed her in rebelling against the Code and leaving the swarm, without truly understanding why. Now, she had inspired him to go his own way and do something that mattered – not because it was the best available distraction from his own self-loathing, but because it needed to be done.

Whatever his life might have been like without her, he couldn’t help feeling that on the whole she had made him better.

“Don’t forget your Nidorino,” she said as he was turning to leave.

“Keep it.” He smiled faintly. “Consider it my thanks.”

-------

Stormblade was still sitting a short distance away, staring up at the stars.

Razor walked up to his side and stopped. “I’m going back,” he said when his friend didn’t acknowledge him.

“I heard your conversation,” Stormblade said, without looking around. For a moment, it seemed as if that would be all. Then, he turned his head and said, “You said you had a job to do. What did you mean by that?”

Razor took a deep breath. “My trainer... is on a kind of quest. There are legendary Pokémon involved. Many difficult battles need to be fought, and... I’m one of the team.”

Stormblade looked at him for a long second before nodding. “You really need to go, then,” he said, and Razor realized he sounded disappointed.

“Were you hoping I’d stay?”

Stormblade sighed heavily. “I don’t know,” he said. “I used to think I was angry with you on Nightmare’s behalf for not helping her, but she’s never really cared. Thinking about it, that probably wasn’t ever really it.” He paused. “I think the thing is that you ran off. And in the meantime Shadowdart went...”

He looked away, uncomfortably. “I didn’t mind at first. I kind of admired you, you know – for defying the Code for the sake of love, and all that. And then we met you again there in the forest and you’d just... you’d left her to get caught. And you were trained.”

That disdain for trained Pokémon seemed almost alien now, but Razor remembered it from his swarm days: Pokémon that willingly went with humans had given up, lost their independence, and lived the lowest sort of existence – spending their days manipulated by another, fighting for them, living for them. The very opposite of any kind of defiance.

“Trainers aren’t...” Razor began.

“I know,” Stormblade said in exasperation. “Nightmare says that too. But I don’t understand that. I don’t think I can understand it. All I know is you left and Shadowdart’s dead and Pearl’s dead and...”

Razor had never heard the name Pearl, but he guessed she must have been Stormblade’s mate. “I’m sorry,” he said again.

“Now it’s just me and Nightmare,” Stormblade said with a sigh. “But it’s not the same. We’re friends, but there’s so much she’s been through that I could never get my head around.”

Razor looked at him in silence. “Would you like to come with me?” he said suddenly, on an impulse.

Stormblade looked up sharply. “What?”

“You could come with my trainer, help us fight. It’s something worthy to do.”

Stormblade stared at him, his gaze turning distant; a few seconds passed before he shook his head. “No, I don’t think I could do that,” he said quietly.

“Because it’s a trainer?” Razor guessed.

“Because I want to help Nightmare, any way I can,” Stormblade said, his voice hardening. “Ultimately it was the Code that took you and Shadowdart away. I want it gone.”

Razor nodded numbly. Only an hour earlier, that comment would have confused and disoriented him; now it seemed almost routine, in a strange, detached way. They were all rejecting the Code. He could almost imagine it was the normal thing to do.

“Do you think she’ll make it?” he asked after a moment. “Become Leader, I mean?”

“I think she will. She can beat them all in a duel. All I’m worried about is...” Stormblade hesitated. “Even if they can take having a Scizor in the swarm, I don’t know if they could get behind having a Scizor as Leader, especially if she’s trying to make radical changes.”

“But the purpose of the Leader is to be the strongest member of the swarm,” Razor pointed out, doubtful.

“Yeah, I hope they think so, too,” Stormblade said, sighing. “But it doesn’t matter. If worse comes to worst, we’ll just leave again. She always says running from a lost cause isn’t cowardly, just smart.”

They stared over the swarm for a moment. Razor wondered if the Scyther that were scattered there were loyal enough to the Code to revolt against an attempt to make it irrelevant, and he was struck with a sudden, overwhelming sense of futility: why were they so attached to the Code in the first place? Why had he been? It had never occurred to him to even ask himself that.

But now he was free, and if Nightmare succeeded, soon they would all be.

“You should go,” Stormblade said quietly. “Your trainer needs you.”

Razor nodded silently. “I hope it all goes well for you.”

“Good luck to you, too.” Stormblade paused a moment. “So you’ll come back when you’re done?”

“I promise,” Razor said.

Stormblade exhaled, gave him a small nod, and then actually smiled. “Goodbye, Razor,” he said, the same way he had said goodbye three and a half years ago.

Razor smiled back at him. “Goodbye, Stormblade.”

And for the second time, he turned around to dash back into the forest of Ruxido, set on a new purpose.


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