The Fall of a Leader - Part V: Leader
Eleven years before, a then-five-year-old Scyther, already rumoured to be the strongest Scyther to grace the swarm in living memory, had defeated the Leader of the time and acquired the position for himself.
He had always been somewhat of a wonder child: he had hatched already with the first traces of forming scythes; he had evolved early, in the middle of the winter, when most Descith evolved in the spring; and he had easily killed the very first Pokémon he’d caught during his First Prey – a Pidgeotto. Immediately after that graceful confirmation of his adulthood, he had begun to train for Leadership, having been told multiple times already that his natural talent was unmatched. He had won the fateful duel with remarkable ease considering his youth, but when it came to killing the fallen Leader, he had hesitated. It was just such a waste. Were they not taught to treat death as a part of life? A defeated Leader ought to suffer, be humiliated. He was all for allowing the Leader to avoid being challenged multiple times by the same Scyther until the challenger won by sheer luck, but there were other ways to do that – such as crippling defeated Leaders and challengers. He had always been very fond of his spontaneous idea to cut a piece out of the Leader’s scythe. It was visible and obvious, showing every Scyther who cared to look that they were looking at a failure. Most of them didn’t want to live with it and killed themselves anyway – the old Leader had – but not before having their weakness demonstrated for all to see. The collection of scythe pieces that lay in a neat pile by the Leader’s rock had to him been a symbol of his power, a cheerful reminder that there were none who could pose a threat to him.
But in the past couple of years there had been a challenger who was different. The Leader remembered that Scyther’s First Prey like it had happened yesterday; he had taken nine tries before killing a Rattata. Never had the Leader imagined that this seemingly pathetic little runt would ever have the kind of guts needed to attempt to make a reality of his desire for Leadership - but something was different about him, and it had given the Leader quite a surprise.
The young Scyther had trained with vicious rigor, even to the point where the swarm began to believe that his aim was even better than that of the Leader himself. He had begun to be wary at that point, but the time of his first challenge had still managed to surprise him.
And he’d been strong. Of course it had been a fairly easy defeat – they all were, and he had made so awfully many technical mistakes – but he’d been the most talented challenger the Leader had faced in all of his years of power. It had given him… a scare. And scares weren’t something the Leader experienced very often. He had defeated him, actually feeling thankful that the young one had been so rash to challenge him, and cut from his scythe, thinking he’d be rid of him.
But he wasn’t. The young Scyther had come back later for another challenge, despite his mutilated scythe, and this had been when the Leader had truly begun to fear that if he continued to be so persistent, he might one day lose his Leadership to him. It had been quite a consciousness-raiser to realize that he was not quite as invincible as the previous eleven years had led him to believe. And even though he had defeated the young challenger again, he had later begun to train a little for himself, something he had never felt the need to do before to any significant extent – the hunts had always maintained his shape well enough for him to feel satisfied that his skills weren’t rusting.
And the young Scyther had come a third time, which had finally convinced the Leader that he would not give up. For the first time it seriously struck him that perhaps he should kill him after the duel after all – but what kind of message would that send to the swarm? That he was afraid of the challenger? He could not do that. And anyway, if he cut a further piece from his left scythe, it would become difficult to utilize in the way a Scyther would normally use it, which would surely discourage him from further challenges.
But no, yet again that strange young Scyther had challenged him, and although he couldn’t use his left scythe much offensively, he had employed it well in defense. And the Leader’s victory had been much too narrow for his standards – so narrow that he had for a moment in the duel been honestly afraid that there was a chance he would lose. But eventually he had succeeded and cut a further piece from the challenger’s scythe so that it was close to unusable.
The swarm had lost faith in the young Scyther. While initially they had supported him and thought he would perhaps even be able to win, they had now been convinced that he would never succeed, and that he would die before ever managing to become Leader – surely the biggest humiliation of them all.
The Leader, however, did not delude himself by assuming that the challenger considered himself beaten. No, he would come again. He had such persistence that the Leader could tell that no matter what happened, this Scyther would never give up.
And this thought scared the Leader very much indeed, because he knew that if the challenger remained so persistent, he would eventually succeed. The challenger was young, but the Leader was in the upper years of his prime now at sixteen years of age, and if the young Scyther – seven years old now, if his memory didn’t fail him – maintained his shape for a few more years, he would be sure to win eventually simply on account of the Leader’s aging.
He was faced with a great dilemma: should he retract his former policy and kill the young one after the next challenge to stay on the safe side, or should he simply hope that he died in some other way first? On a hunt, perhaps, or in a true duel over a personal dispute? And what if, after all, the challenger was ready – what if he was strong enough to win on his fifth try? Then the Leader would suffer a humiliating defeat, and he had no means of preventing it before the fifth duel but to rely on sheer dumb luck getting the challenger out of the way before then.
Murder. To kill an unprepared Scyther, like any other prey, sneaking up on him and cutting his throat without giving him the opportunity to defend himself, perhaps even while he was sleeping. It was one of the most abhorrent actions a Scyther could commit, and to find that it had even crossed his mind made the Leader shiver with conditioned disgust at himself.
And yet, it was so terribly tempting, to just get rid of him. He could do it in such a way that no one would ever know, no one would ever suspect him, no one would ever despise him for it. He could do it at night, cut his throat in his sleep, and no one would find out. Unless he woke up. And no, he could not risk that, even if it were not such a wrong thing to do.
The Leader sighed to himself. Never before had a challenger occupied his mind for any longer than the duel itself. Never before had he felt such an obsession with one individual. He had never fallen in love and never understood the concept; he had never had friends, never kept in contact with his family, never been anything more than simply one individual Scyther who incidentally was the most powerful Scyther in the swarm.
And now he was terrified that perhaps he wasn’t anymore.
Shadowdart sighed to himself, leaning against the oak tree with his scythes crossed. He was alone. Stormblade was upset and had gone hunting alone in Ruxido, ‘to clear his mind’.
Stormblade was just so terribly, awfully misguided. He was a nice enough person, a decent friend, certainly not a sickening hypocrite-and-proud-of-it like the Leader was. But he had been misled by all sorts of careless ideals that were dangerously close to sending him sliding down the slippery slope of hypocrisy and immorality. To be misled wasn’t to be integrally bad. Shadowdart didn’t believe in suicide of guilt unless one had decent reason to feel guilty. He hadn’t had a decent reason to feel guilty after his dismal failure at his own First Prey. He had been confused, clingy, stupid, not taught well enough. The Leader’s lessons had been awful. He had never explained the morality he was instilling in them in a way that made any effort to make actual sense. The Leader had thrown insults at them, called them pathetic, broken them down, all in all told them they were unworthy, instead of teaching them.
It was obvious to whoever cared to look at it that the Leader was deathly afraid of his own fall from power. The reluctance with which he declared a new adult to be eligible to challenge him for Leadership; the obvious disgust to his expression when he saw a Descith or Scyther who seemed to defy the norm; the delightful glee in his eyes when he had first destroyed Shadowdart’s scythe that had faded as he had realized Shadowdart would eventually beat him; it all made it only too obvious what the Leader was truly thinking. He was a hypocrite through and through, a pathetic, selfish creature blessed with natural power that he had never had to work for and never had the integrity to stop taking for granted.
So who was he to teach morality and integrity to young and impressionable Scyther? Who was he to teach them not to fear death, when he himself essentially feared it as well – feared his drop from power, from the position he had acquired through the sheer luck of the qualities he had been born with? It was not literal death, but it was the same concept. One who is not ready to die himself has no right to kill. One who is not ready to be dethroned by one more worthy than himself has no right to dethrone the one before him. To be a Scyther was about compassion: to recognize that what one inflicted on others could be inflicted upon oneself as well and to be ready to face that possibility. The Leader had none of this basic compassion. He was cruel exactly because he knew that he would never need to be subjected to his own cruelties. He delighted in his own superiority, in the knowledge that he was in a position to do to others just what he feared could be done to himself.
This made the Leader despicable, and it was he who, if he had any integrity at all, was the one Scyther in the swarm who truly ought to commit suicide of guilt. Stormblade, on the other hand, was not despicable. He was misled, just how Shadowdart had been in his younger days, by the Leader’s incompetence. No one had taught Stormblade when he was young why caring too much for the female would bring about his moral downfall, and because of this he had been unable to understand Shadowdart’s warnings until it was too late, until he had been burned by the fact. It was a shame that this should happen to him, but it did not change his moral integrity. Shadowdart could honestly not blame any of the Scyther for behaving in such a blatantly Code-defying way – not those who had been taught by this Leader, anyway. And he was fairly sure that included most of the ones that pained him so much to see dominating the general moral ideology of the swarm.
Shadowdart had learned what he knew on his own. During his First Prey, he had still been terrified of death, having picked up from the Leader – like all the others, he supposed – his true feelings more than his words. He hadn’t understood the true philosophy of not fearing death. It had been no more than an arbitrary rule, something he was meant to accept at face value and was knocked into his head with reasons he was never properly made to understand. Reasons that were just words. There had been no power to them, no belief, no passion. No generalization of what the rule was meant to be: a principle of life using death as an example. It was not death that they all had in common, as the Leader had told them. It was the fear of death, the hypocrisy, the instinct of desire for survival that overrode everything else. And, more importantly, the fact it was shared by both predators and prey. The prey you kill fears it too, and yet you kill it, because you have won the battle for survival. Death was a fact of life. Death was an ultimate truth. Death was not to be feared, because you inflicted it on others. Because they feared it too. Because you, too, would one day die, just like the prey that struggled with shining, begging eyes against your deadly scythe.
He had realized that after his First Prey. He had realized as he held the dead Rattata in his mouth, its neck split open, that it could so easily have been him, had the situation been different. That he had killed the creature anyway. That, despite what a terrible thought it was to imagine himself as the victim, the murder had happened. That if his mind remained convinced that his own death was wrong, bad, evil, his murder – because what was hunting other than murder? – of that Rattata was no less than a despicable act.
And that same day, by a miraculous coincidence, Razor had left.
Ah, Razor. He came nowhere near the Leader in pure hypocrisy and cruelty, but he was pathetic and not to mention a general jerk. Like Stormblade, he had been misled, but unlike him, he had been arrogant about it. Razor had treated Shadowdart like dirt, mocked him, terrorized him, indeed been part of the reason Shadowdart had been beaten down into that mindless, unideological acceptance of the Leader. Razor had been older and his insults had given Shadowdart the constant feeling that he was inadequate and pathetic. Razor had, essentially, violated the Fourth and Fifth Rules of the Moral Code: he had manipulated and he had tortured, if not in a physical manner. And throughout all of it he had been a hypocrite. He had broken down in shame after realizing that he was infinitely more pathetic himself, but instead of realizing his mistake and vowing not to repeat it as Stormblade had done, he had brushed it off and simply thrown Shadowdart another insult for a much lesser crime.
And then there was the scene at the ritual that night… oh, the irony of the suicide of guilt! Only those who deserved the second chance would ever do it. Only those who did not deserve it would fail to do so. And Razor had, predictably, placed himself firmly in the latter group by making a rebel of himself and running away to find his female. He had stubbornly stuck with his Code-defiance through every reason to leave it behind, and even three years later he had still not realized his wrongdoing: he had cleanly broken the other laws of the Moral Code and left himself under a human’s control, seemingly happy about it.
There was some shred of hope in him – there had been visible embarrassment to his manner as he had responded to his former friends’ questions and seemingly at least asked himself why he was doing what he was doing. But he had blocked out the voice of sensibility, risen to defend himself and the female he had never been anything other than a nuisance to, and thus established himself as irredeemable. Razor was a rebel through and through. He did not understand the philosophy of the Scyther. He did not belong among the true Scyther of the swarm.
Shadowdart knew that Stormblade had always liked Razor. He even suspected that Stormblade had liked Razor steadily up until now when they had met and he had realized what a worthless being his former friend had become. It was presumably the reason Stormblade was now in such distress. He assumed that the reason Stormblade had liked him had simply been that Stormblade had never been present for most of the times Razor had shown himself for the manipulative jerk that he truly was. Or perhaps it was just that they had, after all, been friends – and Stormblade had always been big on friends. Shadowdart hadn’t; he had realized the shallow nature of friendship right as he had realized that Razor was a bastard – the time he had returned from his First Prey to a Razor upset by the moral suicide awaiting him and been received with an insult. It had been a moment of revelation for Shadowdart; he had looked at the Rattata and realized the true meaning of the Code, and just that had at the same time allowed him to see what Razor truly was.
In a way, no Scyther had ever been as profoundly affected by his First Prey. No Scyther could as truly call himself an adult after the experience. No Scyther had understood so much after the experiences of just one day. And that day he had realized who the Leader truly was, as well. That day he had decided that he would become the strongest Scyther in the swarm, and nothing would stop him from becoming Leader. That day had defined who he was now.
And he, Shadowdart, once he became the Leader, was going to make sure that their First Prey would be an equally enlightening experience for every young Scyther to grow up in his swarm for generations to come.
Stormblade returned that evening and looked like he had calmed himself down. Shadowdart had yet again been practicing his aim on the flowers growing around the oak, and strewn petals littered the ground at his feet.
“I admired him,” Stormblade said quietly as he sat down. “I admired his defiance. And now I’ve realized he was… nothing but a worthless hypocrite all along.” He paused. “I gave my eye for her, Shadowdart,” he said bitterly. “Although I took it too far, I gave my eye to protect a Scyther in need. And here Razor comes along and… watched the one he claimed he loved get caught. And then got caught himself, and seems perfectly friendly with the human… It’s like I never knew him.”
“It didn’t surprise me,” Shadowdart just said, and they sat in silence for a while.
“I don’t know. I knew how he treated you, and I knew he could be a jerk at times. I just… I didn’t think he’d ever be anything worse than that. A jerk. Not a… human slave.” Stormblade spat the last words. “I don’t get it. He killed a human for his First Prey. A human took his Nightmare away from him. How can he be so friendly with them now?”
“There is a chain of events resulting from repeated breaking of the Code,” Shadowdart said. “You start doing it and then keep going down the slope of hypocrisy and moral indecency. You escaped from it in time, but he didn’t and ended up where he is now. You could have ended up like him, if she hadn’t died and you hadn’t tortured the Letaligon. It made you realize what you were.”
Stormblade shook his head. “It’s not right. He was never like that before. He couldn’t have turned into… into that.”
“He did,” Shadowdart said. “It happened. You saw it. It started with being a jerk, went on into refusing to admit he did anything wrong or even stupid by challenging that female, then on to leaving the swarm to chase her despite that she wanted nothing to do with him, then on to realizing this only when realizing how furious she would be if she saw he was following her, then to not daring to risk that and watching her get caught instead, then on to getting caught himself and eventually accepting it, probably figuring he’s broken the rest of the Code already and left the swarm anyway so it doesn’t matter anymore. It all leads to corruption in the end.”
Stormblade was silent. “It makes sense, I suppose. But… he was my friend. It’s hard to see it happen to him. I thought he was better than that.”
“He wasn’t,” Shadowdart said, and that was the end of it. Stormblade didn’t deny that. Razor had, after all, proven himself not to be better than that. He had proven himself to have sunk well below what any self-respecting Scyther would have committed suicide of guilt for without actually doing so. From the looks of it, there was no hope for him.
Forget about Razor. The best thing you can do for his memory is to assume he’s dead.
But he wasn’t. He was alive, which was exactly what permanently poisoned his memory. Now, more than ever, was it a time to forget about Razor.
“I’m going to challenge the Leader again tomorrow,” said Shadowdart to change the subject. He chopped at a daisy that was still standing, slicing the petals neatly off. “And you can watch,” he added after a short silence.
Stormblade looked at him. “Why? I thought I distracted you from the duel.”
And it was true, somewhat. Shadowdart had been afraid that his gaze would be drawn to Stormblade, that his concentration would fade, that he would lose the duel thanks to Stormblade’s presence. But he had also deep down always worried that he would lose, and he hadn’t wanted Stormblade to witness the humiliation of having his scythe mutilated. Some remnants of his childhood, with Stormblade the older, wiser one, had kept him from wanting Stormblade to see him humiliated. But he had thought about this now and realized it, and he had to face it. And he did not want Stormblade to remain the kind of friend he had to fear, at any level at all. It was not a good mindset for a future Leader.
“I have more confidence now,” Shadowdart said. “I think I will win this time. You won’t have to watch him cut my scythe now. Not if I can help it. I’ve practiced my flight.”
He took a deep breath. “I didn’t use flight in the fourth duel. I haven’t been using any of the techniques I’ve been practicing with you. I’ve been duelling as if I were just another Scyther. Using traditional techniques. I wanted to lull him into a false sense of security, make him think he knew what to expect of me, but then at some point unleash everything I had at once. Play it clever. I think the time to do that has come.”
Stormblade stared at him, his eyes wide. “So all the duels until now have been… practice? Preparation? You never intended to win?”
Shadowdart shrugged. “I intended to win, of course. The first time I thought I could win that way, and the second I just didn’t want to risk it, thinking it could end up putting me at a disadvantage. But then I began to realize he was far too strong for that. I need to surprise him. Do something he couldn’t do. And then I couldn’t waste all I had on one duel. I had to wait until I had enough, and still challenge him regularly so he wouldn’t think I was up to something. Now I’m going to surprise him with all I’ve got. Make it sudden. And I’ve made him nervous, too. He’s getting afraid of me. He’s starting to realize I’ll win eventually, and it’s breaking him down. I know I’ll do it this time. All this time I’ve been figuring him out, but meanwhile he’s been uselessly chopping away at my left scythe without even an inkling of the things I have in store for him. I don’t need my left scythe to beat him.”
Stormblade was still looking at him as if he’d only just realized that Shadowdart had a brain. He chuckled. A Scyther could mature much in three years. Shadowdart had been confused, scared and aggressive, but developed into a cold, calculating strategist who was about to give the Leader of the swarm a nasty surprise. Sometimes he amazed even himself.
He would kill the Leader, that disgusting failure of a Scyther. He would look the Leader in the eye, see the fear shine from his pupils – because he knew there would be fear; there were few things more predictable than that the Leader would be deathly afraid in his last moments – and then draw his scythe across his throat, putting him out of his misery.
Because he didn’t humiliate fallen Leaders, no matter how disgraceful to their species they had been. He was better than that.
That night, Shadowdart lay awake. He kept his eyes closed, his body still, his breathing slow, but his mind was racing too fast for him to be able to sleep. He was planning out the battle, the reactions he expected of the Leader – he had become predictable after four duels, after all – and how he would counter those reactions, how the Leader might perhaps pack some surprises as well – although he didn’t expect it – and how he would react to that. And living the imaginary moment he longed for, the moment he had brought the Leader down, looked him in the eye, and killed him, taking the Leadership.
At the same time, he listened to the wind rustle the leaves of the oak tree above him, the faint sound of the hoots of the Noctowl in Ruxido, Stormblade’s content breathing and slow heartbeat as he slept on the other side of the tree. He felt the grass blades lightly touch his armor by the ground, almost stroking him. It was all very soothing, and had he been in a different state of mind, he would probably have been unable to keep himself awake.
He would definitely not have noticed the quiet footsteps in the grass that were drawing nearer, the nervous, heavy breathing that came all too close, the distinct heartbeat that was far too fast to be Stormblade’s.
He flicked his eyes open and saw the tall form of the Leader standing above him, staring down at him, a dangerous gleam in his eyes, fear in his expression.
He sprang up before the Leader managed to realize that he was awake. “What are you doing here?” Shadowdart asked in a quiet hiss, raising his scythes defensively. “What do you want?”
The Leader stood there for a fraction of a second, looking into his eyes, his gaze wild, fearful, staring. Mad. Then it vanished; he slipped into the authoritative look he had had plenty of practice with over the years and said in a smooth, calm voice, “I heard that you were planning to challenge me again tomorrow.”
“Yes,” Shadowdart told him, watching him carefully. “I will challenge you tomorrow. And I will become Leader.”
The Leader shook his head, and the fake confidence in his eyes was remarkably convincing. “You will not. You do not have the makings of a Leader.” He looked at Shadowdart’s left scythe, and a cocky grin spread over his features. “You are a cripple. A worthless freak. Would they want you as their Leader, even if you won?”
And it occurred to Shadowdart with a sudden, sinking feeling that perhaps he had been had; perhaps the Scyther would reject him; perhaps his victory would mean nothing.
Except the death of the current Leader.
And Shadowdart realized just then that it was worth it. If he killed the Scyther standing in front of him, it would be worth it. Because he was a sickening monster, a terrible creature that never should have been born, and he hated him, oh, how he hated him.
It would be worth it.
“I don’t care whether they’d want me,” he said in a low growl. “And you won’t care either, because you’ll be dead.”
He could see something in the Leader’s expression flinch at the words, at the confirmation that Shadowdart would not keep up the Leader’s personal habit of humiliating the fallen. The Leader was still terrified of his own death, and had merely separated himself so thoroughly from everyone else in his mind that it did not affect his view of the death of others. Because in his mind he was higher, better, stronger, faster, superior. More important. With a greater right to live.
Shadowdart grinned twistedly in the moonlight. “Oh, yes. You will be dead. Because I understand the law that you blindly picked up from the Leader before you without ever knowing what it meant. Because I believe in it. Because I do have the makings of a Leader, and know what a violation it is to humiliate a fallen opponent instead of granting him the dignity of death.”
The Leader’s gaze flickered to the sleeping Scyther all around, and he took a step backwards. He was scared. He was going to leave. He was nervous. He knew he was going to lose.
“Oh, but you don’t find much consolation in being allowed to die when I’ve beaten you, do you?” Shadowdart continued in a quiet, silky voice. “Because you never believed in it. You believe that your own death is to be feared, that it is a terrible thing and must not happen, but that the death of any other creature at your own scythe is insignificant. You don’t even find it interesting enough to do to the ones you defeat, because to you their fear of death is trivial but your own is justified. Because you, ultimately, are the most selfish, disgusting, unethical piece of unworthy Rattata shit to be born into this swarm in living memory…”
The words shot out of his mouth like needles, each and every one of them striking the Leader’s face and the suppressed terror hiding in the depths of his eyes. He relished the opportunity to tell the Leader what he really was, to tell him that he had been exposed, to explain the ideology – because he would not be making any speeches tomorrow. Tomorrow he would duel to kill. Tomorrow would be the Leader’s worst nightmare, one of ultimately self-induced torture, as he would struggle feebly to defend himself. He had been humiliated in private, humiliated by his own self, made to be despised not by a biased swarm but by his very own better side.
The Leader turned around and hurried back to his rock. Shadowdart looked after him to make sure he was not returning, and then lay back down under the oak.
Shadowdart had already won. Tomorrow the Leader would merely be stripped of the last shred of dignity that he had. He would die knowing his guilt in his heart. He would die knowing that he had approached a challenger to murder him – yes, to murder him, because Shadowdart was not stupid and knew well that there was no other reason the Leader had approached him unannounced in the middle of the night with a rapidly beating heart – out of fear that he would lose.
And Shadowdart would be crowned Leader of the swarm, and he would set things right.
Because he believed. He cared.
And the next day, after Shadowdart had told Stormblade about the events of the previous night, they walked together up to the Leader’s rock.
“Leader!” Shadowdart called, his voice calm but powerful. “I challenge you to a duel for the Leadership of this swarm!”
The Leader stepped forth in silence. There was no such thing as not accepting a challenge. A Leader always had to be ready. Even if he had been injured on a hunt, he was not exempt from the duty to accept every challenge: if he was severely injured enough to lose a duel, he was simply no longer the strongest Scyther in the swarm.
Shadowdart could tell that the Leader was still afraid, but he contained himself with dignity now that it was daylight and a fair number of Scyther had gathered to watch the duel. Most of the onlookers from the first duels had come to the conclusion Shadowdart would never win, but many of them thought it amusing anyway to watch it and see if there was anything at all left of Shadowdart’s scythe that could be cut out.
“I accept your challenge,” said the Leader slowly, walking down onto level ground to face Shadowdart as Stormblade and the rest of the spectators made room for the duel. Shadowdart looked into the Leader’s eyes. There was cold determination in them now, with only a hint of despair in the icy depths of the slitlike pupils. The Leader had clearly meditated a little on his position, convinced himself he could win, that he would be okay, that he was still in the right.
Shadowdart had expected that. He had observed the Leader’s personality too well to believe he would simply realize his hypocrisy and repent.
The moment they had positioned themselves opposite one another, Shadowdart rushed forward to strike.
This technique, this bit of unconventional strategy that he had practiced on Stormblade nearly three years ago, he had never used on the Leader before, and thus the older Scyther was taken by surprise, just as planned. He hesitated for a second, not having managed to prepare – Shadowdart was dimly aware of the intrigued expressions of the Scyther observing the duel as he darted towards the Leader with his right scythe aloft – but the Leader had fast enough reflexes to raise both of his scythes to block.
Shadowdart had enough momentum to knock him ever so slightly backwards, but what the Leader did best was to stay focused and balanced, remain on his feet, and push back with raw physical force. And that he did, pushing Shadowdart harshly back.
Shadowdart realized that regaining his balance on his feet might be a fatal mistake because the Leader was larger and bulkier and had recovered quicker, so instead he stretched out his wings and darted up into the air before he fell. The Leader did not seem particularly amazed until he realized that Shadowdart was ascending, staying in the air…
“What?” Shadowdart taunted. “Can’t you fly?”
“You make a mockery of duelling,” the Leader said with disgust, remaining firmly on the ground. “What sort of Leader would you make?”
But he kicked off the ground anyway – surprisingly quick to catch on, Shadowdart discovered with a pang of dread – and zoomed straight towards him. Had he had any less experience, Shadowdart would have been too distracted by the words to get away in time, but he was better trained than to stop expecting an attack while they were speaking. He darted to the left and kept going, but the Leader did not follow him, instead stopping abruptly in mid-air to turn around.
Shadowdart grinned triumphantly to himself. So there was something the Leader didn’t know.
He zoomed through the air at the highest speed he could manage, straight towards the Leader, and he dodged out of the way, but Stormblade and Shadowdart had spent months perfecting the skill to follow a dodging opponent in the air, and he turned smoothly towards his opponent again.
The Leader’s reflexes were still quick. He saw what Shadowdart was doing in a split second after stopping and pressed his wings to zoom away from him, but not until Shadowdart was right on his heels.
Shadowdart growled, slashing with his right scythe while maintaining his speed and managing to place a sharp cut across the back of the Leader’s leg. He hoped that the pain would cause him to falter somewhat in his flight, but he didn’t. The Leader was a better flier than Shadowdart had thought.
Better than he had thought, perhaps, but certainly not as good as he was. The Leader couldn’t have practiced flight with as much dedication as he had.
So he kept going in a straight line after the Leader, assuming that he had more endurance in flight and would be able to keep up the speed for longer to catch fully up with him.
The Leader realized what he was thinking and began to dive in a spiral towards the ground, and Shadowdart followed. As the Leader landed, Shadowdart slashed horizontally at him while preparing for his own landing, but the older Scyther blocked it with unexpected force using both of his powerful scythes. While the Leader had ground to support him, Shadowdart was in the air, and he was thrown helplessly backwards as his opponent leapt after him in the air with both of his scythes raised high.
While Shadowdart tried to change his direction of movement, the Leader slashed – not at the parts of his body he was preparing to block a blow to, but at his wings. Shadowdart felt sharp pain as the vulnerable wing membrane was shredded, but was quick to slash in retaliation at the Leader’s currently vulnerable body. He felt his right scythe slice into the Leader’s upper body while his left moved to fend the Leader’s away.
The Leader cried out in pain, shaking himself off Shadowdart’s scythe and landing on his feet on the ground while Shadowdart landed on his back. His torn wings still stung uncomfortably, but he had given the first major bodily wounds of the battle, which was something. He saw dark blood where the Leader’s right foot touched the ground, as well as leaking down from the deep cut in his side. While Shadowdart was standing up, the Leader winced in pain, catching his breath, and gave him a dark glare. Shadowdart could see that the Scyther around them were getting excited. The Leader was wounded, but Shadowdart could no longer fly. The Leader was worse off for the moment, but how long would it take for him to turn the tables now that he had the advantage of flight and Shadowdart did not?
Shadowdart decided the best solution would be not to let him use his flight to his advantage too much, and dashed towards him.
The Leader was obviously still in pain and would have a more difficult time dodging, but his scythes were as powerful and deadly as ever. As Shadowdart slashed with his right scythe, his attack was blocked with both of the Leader’s, their combined power easily shoving his one away.
And he used the opportunity to slash at the Leader’s middle joint with his left.
The jagged edges of the tiny remains of the blade cut into the soft tissue, causing the Leader to gasp momentarily in pain, but he was more skilled than to simply freeze in such a situation, and immediately drove his left scythe into Shadowdart’s abdomen while the right jerked Shadowdart’s mutilated one out of his body.
The pain was searing, biting, but the Leader made the mistake of grinning in triumph for a fraction of a second while he watched Shadowdart’s eyes widen, and he used the opportunity to raise his right scythe again and slash at the Leader’s left shoulder with all the power he could muster.
The Leader jerked his scythe out, and both of them staggered backwards, blood trickling down from their injuries. The Leader’s left arm was limp, seemingly immobile.
He stared at Shadowdart, his eyes manic and vengeful, and let out a roar as he kicked off the ground and dove straight at him.
Shadowdart had no time to dodge, nor was he in any physical state to do so. Duels tended to start off being all about agility and avoiding being hurt at all, but they turned more physical once the injuries had appeared and they no longer had the energy or strength to dance around the opponent’s attacks, and this was no exception. He raised both of his scythes to block.
Shadowdart liked to block with the remains of his left scythe. Every time he did it he was shoving in the Leader’s face what a futile method he used to cripple his challengers, how aside from blatantly breaking the Code it didn’t even work, and he relished the implication that the Leader himself, to have thought this would get in a determined challenger’s way, clearly lacked inventiveness and foresight.
But now the Leader’s left arm seemed to be out of the picture, and Shadowdart saw him raise only his right – and then realized that he was nonetheless aiming not at the side closest to him, but at Shadowdart’s right side.
When the Leader knocked him down into the ground, Shadowdart met his flying right scythe with his own and tried to curl himself into such a position as to provide the most possible potential for rolling, but he miscalculated his location and was knocked into the slope of a small hill he hadn’t realized was behind him. The Leader landed on top of him, his more powerful right scythe slowly forcing Shadowdart’s backwards as a manic, triumphant grin filled the older Scyther’s features.
And Shadowdart almost laughed despite how his trembling, struggling right scythe was being pushed backwards by a clearly much stronger force and he would be dead within moments – because the Leader, in his arrogance, had carefully chosen to force him to block with his right on the assumption that his left was non-functional.
Shadowdart jerked his maimed left scythe upwards, to his opponent’s throat, and whispered with confident mockery: “So long, Leader.”
And for that split second where the eyes of the Scyther that had so nearly defeated him widened in shocked realization, it was no longer the Leader whose throat his scythe seemed to be threatening, but himself, his expression shocked and terrified in what he knew to be the last moments of his life.
Death is not to be feared.
Death is not to be feared.
Death is not to be feared.
And with the power of his faith in those words, the small and seemingly insignificant movement of his scythe that they inspired turned the face in front of him back into the Leader’s as his body stiffened and the pupils of his eyes dilated to circles. Dark blood splattered onto Shadowdart’s face as he felt the Leader’s body become limp and the life faded from his eyes. He jerked his scythe out of the dying Scyther’s neck and pushed the limp body off his own before standing up, slowly, and looking at his fallen opponent. The former Leader had landed on his back, his dying gaze fixed on the sky and his mouth slightly open, perhaps in surprise and perhaps in pain. One of his scythes twitched. Then he did not move any more.
Shadowdart looked around at the observing Scyther, who simply stood there in silence, looking at their defeated Leader. He realized that most of them had never known a different one; most of them had been born within the eleven years of his reign and probably found it almost impossible to think that he was dead…
In a way, it was impossible for Shadowdart, too. He took another look at the fallen Leader’s body and realized dimly that no, he was not even the fallen Leader: he was a nobody, a Scyther with no identity and no name. And he, Shadowdart… was the Leader.
The Scyther looked nervously at one another – and then Stormblade bent down in a bow, looking at the ground, supporting his weight with his scythes.
And slowly, one by one, each of the observing Scyther all around Shadowdart bowed to him as well. He looked at them and all of a sudden felt powerful. He felt great. He felt right.
“Let’s dispose of him,” were the new Leader’s first words as he raised his bloodied, ruined left scythe and pointed his right disdainfully at his predecessor’s blood-stained corpse.
Shadowdart had never killed a Scyther before.
Therefore, part of the exhilaration of the strange freedom that he felt as he led a group of volunteer Scyther that were awkwardly holding the former Leader’s body into Ruxido came from the knowledge that he had now faced the ultimate test of fear of death. Killing prey, he had figured out already, inevitably had to feel quite different from killing one of his own species, and it had been the primary matter to make him nervous before the duel. And for a moment he had been afraid he would break down just like during his First Prey and be unable to do it.
But he hadn’t. He had not only killed the Leader, but also his own imaginary self that was momentarily reflected in him. He had faced his fear, and he felt a strange relief in it afterwards – deep down he had been nervous and afraid that he wouldn’t be able to.
But he had, and that was the end of it.
The other part, of course, came from the knowledge that he was now Leader, which he was still getting used to. It felt strange to have all sorts of Scyther he barely knew address him as Leader – but good. Very good. He was already enjoying the role.
Well. Technically he was not formally Leader yet. But he would be that evening.
“Let’s just leave him here,” he said, stopping in a dark and damp part of the forest as they were passing through. The Scyther carrying the body lowered their scythes down in a manner not all too synchronized, and the former Leader fell awkwardly to the ground. Shadowdart looked at him for a moment and then shook his head.
“We have nothing more to do here. You can return to the swarm.”
The ones who had carried the corpse seemed relieved, took off and left. Only Stormblade was left by Shadowdart’s side. The new Leader looked with distaste upon his predecessor’s body on the ground.
“Old bastard,” he muttered. “I hope the Rattata like the taste of him.”
“Are you going to tell any of them about last night?” Stormblade asked him quietly. “About him trying to murder you?”
“Why would I?” Shadowdart asked back. “It would only rouse suspicion if I started spreading slander.”
Stormblade shrugged. “It’s the truth.”
“A lot of things are true that nobody will benefit from knowing,” Shadowdart just said. “Let’s just hurry back for the ceremony.”
Stormblade did not reply. The two Scyther flew up and zoomed between the trees back out of the forest.
“I’m surprised, actually,” Stormblade murmured, continuing their earlier exchange as they landed and walked towards the stream. “I didn’t really want to tell them, but… I thought you might.” He paused. “You said you hated him. It made me think you’d want to tell them what you thought he was.”
“What he was, and no. I don’t humiliate fallen opponents.”
Stormblade was silent for a few moments again. “So you don’t want to… ‘expose’ him?”
“Why?” Shadowdart just said. “I know what he was, and he’s dead now, and that’s enough. Why would I care what they think?”
Stormblade looked at him, but said nothing as they approached the stream. The swarm had gathered there already, all eyes on the two of them.
“Today,” Shadowdart said, taking a position on the bank, “our old Leader was defeated in battle and killed.”
He raised his left scythe, still crusted with dark blood, and felt momentary anger flash in his mind. “Death is not to be feared!” he shouted, startling some of the Scyther standing nearest to him with the volume of his voice. “He never knew what that meant. Neither do most of you. I plan to change this.”
Some of the Scyther looked unsurely at one another. A few of them eyed his mangled scythe and started whispering.
“Death is not to be feared, because if any one of you allows himself to fear death, he is a hypocrite. We survive only by hunting other Pokémon, and those Pokémon, too, fear death.”
He looked over the swarm, realizing that he had been waiting to make this speech for almost three years. “What right do you have to inflict upon another being what you fear most will be inflicted upon yourself? None! None at all! To be worthy of killing another creature, one must be ready to be killed at the hands of another creature, too. To be worthy of killing another creature, one must be ready to accept it when the prey kills others. Do not grow so close to another Scyther that his death will strike you as an injustice. You may and should help a Scyther in need, but should he die, that is that. Do not kill without calmly realizing and accepting that one day it will be you who is killed. Do not seek to humiliate or to hurt, because all of us know that you do not wish for the same to be done to you.”
The Scyther looked stunned and watched him in silence. Again, glances drifted to his left scythe, still raised above the stream.
“Let us put our former Leader behind us. Now is the rise of a new era.” Shadowdart lowered his scythe slowly into the water, letting it wash the blood from his scythe and carry the last remains of the old Leader away from the swarm. He felt a shiver of warmth at the thought that the Leader was now gone forever.
“Having been the one to defeat him,” Shadowdart said, his voice again louder, “I hereby declare myself the new Leader of this swarm. Until a stronger Scyther rises to challenge and kill me, you shall follow my guidance and obey my commands. You shall learn from me the Code. You shall respect me as you did my predecessor without personal bias. You shall reserve the name of Leader to me and me only, unless you know me already by a name.” Here he glanced at Stormblade.
“The Descith that evolve this spring should attend lessons with me, where I shall educate them in the details of our rituals and customs and the true philosophy of the Code.” He glanced at some of the nearby Descith, who looked as if they might be close to evolution. They were staring at him with particular admiration and none of the fear and confusion he could see in some of the faces of the adult Scyther – those old enough to have learned the Code from the previous Leader, but too young to have known the one before him. He gave the new generation of soon-to-be-Scyther a slight nod of approval.
He took a deep breath, raising up his whole scythe so that it gleamed in the light of the setting sun. He held his left scythe forward and placed his right by the joint on the arm. “Finally, I swear by the blood of my scythe to protect the swarm from assault; to maintain the swarm’s unity; to keep it from corruption; to wisely guide the young on their path to adult life; to set an example and an ideal for the youth to follow; to lead the swarm to new locations should this one prove unsafe or a less than ideal place to live; to accept a duel with any Scyther who wishes to challenge my Leadership; to lead our traditional rituals. I swear to refrain from bias and personal commitment. I swear to father a new generation of Scyther to inherit the qualities that have granted me Leadership.”
He pressed his right scythe down on the soft joint tissue and opened a cut in it. It was deeper than he would need for most rituals in the future, but the sharpness of the blade minimized the pain. He felt the bluish-black liquid drip down from his arm, into the grass. The swarm watched it in silence for a few moments before Shadowdart lowered his scythe.
And each and every Scyther and Descith of the swarm bowed to him, heads drooped low. “Hail the new Leader,” they murmured in unison. Shadowdart felt a tingling, fluttery feeling in his stomach as he looked over them. It was his swarm now.
As the Scyther swarm stood up to return to their daily lives, Shadowdart looked at Stormblade. “Thank you,” he said quietly.
Stormblade gave him a smile, a slightly troubled one, but a smile nonetheless. “Congratulations, Shadowdart.”
Shadowdart thought of the old Leader, and realized that no matter what a Leader had to swear about personal commitment, he was glad that he did, after all, have someone willing to refer to him by a real name.
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