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[One-Shot] In Exile

Negrek

busy dizzy lazy
Staff member
Warnings: Mild violence, strong language

Author's Notes: Have you noticed how Butterfree's birthday keeps getting later every year? It sure is annoying! Thankfully my knowledge of astrological charts allowed me to divine that Butterfree's birthday this year would be June 10th and thus to post this right on time.

Happy very very late birthday, Butterfree! I hope you enjoy this one after all this time. Take a break in the middle to grab some really stale birthday cake; this is a long one.

Also, point of clarification: there are multiple female geodude in this story, but none of them are in any way related to Nate's graveler.

In Exile

Ten Thousand Rivers Meet in Darkness Where Even Bright Armor Must Dull and Time Unrolls Into Dream, Where the Echo of Making Has Yet to Subside, and In Meeting Flow Through Endless Corridors into Halls of Legend, Where the Shells of Great Ones Slumber Ageless, etc., etc., was overwhelmed.

He'd known the surface would be loud, and bright, and cold, but in the safety of home he hadn't even known what those words meant. He'd dug up, and up, stopping now and then to listen. Every time he'd thought he must be less than a length from the surface, that surely it couldn't get louder, could never be colder than this. Always he'd been wrong. Ten Thousand Rivers had actually been surprised when his horn broke through into the empty air of a tunnel. He'd gotten so used to constant noise that he hadn't properly heard the surface until it broke over his head.

Ten Thousand Rivers stayed in his tunnel simply trying to make sense of it all, feeling the new world against his armor. Everything here was so small, so fast, and so high-pitched. So many kinds of pokémon he'd never seen before, shimmering with electricity, glowing with internal heat, and most wondrous of all, pulsing with inner rhythms, each one containing a song.

There were familiar pokémon here, too, even other chosen nearby. Ten Thousand Rivers could hear their digging, their singing, and took comfort. This was a strange place, but not so dangerous; Ten Thousand Rivers' kindred were unhurried and relaxed, singing of industry, of feasting, of resting. For his part, Ten Thousand Rivers sang adventure-song, but quietly, shyly. He didn't want to attract his kin's attention just yet. He wanted to experience the surface for himself first, wanted to meet the locals rather than fall into the company of his own kind. He'd come here for something new, not the old in a new place.

"This is lovely sedimentation you have here," he said once he'd worked up the courage to speak to one of the pokémon he recognized, a geodude. Geodude ventured into the chosen's upper tunnels sometimes; they were sedentary folk, but very wise. "And very dry. Your speleothems must grow quite slowly."

"You're new here, aren't you?" the geodude replied, for some reason answering question with question, and then adding another: "Are you looking for a trainer?"

A trainer. There were stories about those. Stories about humans, a strange kind of pokémon that were horribly weak, but who could form bonds with other pokémon that would make the both of them far more powerful than others of their kind. Some chosen migrated to the surface to find a trainer, yes, and naturally Ten Thousand Rivers was curious. A heroic quest--of course it had allure. But he wasn't ready to agree to this bond sight unseen.

"No. Are there humans about?"

"Some. If you don't want to get caught, stay near the middle of the cave. We're too close to Lavender Town; plenty of day-trippers and local kids looking for early catches here."

"Ah. Yes. Thank you," said Ten Thousand Rivers, to whom "Lavender Town" and "day-tripper" and "early catch" meant absolutely nothing. "What does a human sound like?"

"Oh, they're loud," the geodude said with a chuckle. "Can't miss 'em. Well. You going to stay around here a while?"

"I think so, yes," Ten Thousand Rivers said, though what he wanted to say was that was in fact totally unhelpful because all the pokémon here on the surface were loud.

"Great. Well. I'll see you around, then. I'm going to move along and find an onix burrow that's actually empty, I think." She was gone before Ten Thousand Rivers could even make a proper farewell. Not rude, he had to remind himself. Just differently cultured. In exile. People living here were terribly far from the core of the world.

Ten Thousand Rivers waited, listening. With time, he began to understand the frantic liveliness of the surface. It all moved according to a pattern, a melody, of course; the pokémon's rituals were familiar: sleeping, fighting, foraging. The song was not so different from the one he was accustomed to, only its frantic tempo.

The geodude stopped by now and again and each time was warm enough, if largely incomprehensible. Ten Thousand Rivers came to recognize some of the local pokémon: a zubat with a gimped wing whose fluttering always had an echo, an extra stroke where she had to compensate; another pair of geodude who seemed to always be together, hopping along the tunnel in a rush like everyone else; and a two-legged creature who gathered rocks and then stood hoisting them into the air, over and over again, before dropping them and leaving them behind. A strange ritual; after all that effort Ten Thousand Rivers would at least have expected them to eat one or two.

At first Ten Thousand Rivers was content to wait and listen and try to understand the play of the strange new world around him, but it wasn't long before he grew impatient. It was his greatest vice, his impatience, and one his father had more than once warned might exile him to this very place.

"But where are the humans?" he asked the geodude the next time she passed by. He might have done better to have asked another chosen, but Ten Thousand Rivers was shy of them yet. After all, he had no idea why they'd come to the surface. Likely enough some really were in exile.

"You've been here how many months, and you haven't seen a human?" the geodude asked.

"No! What do they sound like?" And still Geodude couldn't give a straight answer. She said "loud" and "funny-sounding" like everyone in exile wasn't loud, with their own strange surface accent.

When even Geodude gave up and acknowledged they were talking past each other, she said, "All right, fine. I'll stay here and point one out when I see one. It'll probably be a while, though. It's nighttime now."

In fact, by the time they'd established that "nighttime" was what it was called when the strange surface-light grew dim, the tunnel had brightened again. Geodude stopped talking and leaned forward, stone scraping over stone as she took hold with rocky fingers. "One's coming now. Can you hear it? That's what a human sounds like."

Ten Thousand Rivers listened: the constant chatter of zubat, the grind of another chosen passing through the earth below, a faint omnipresent rumble that spoke of something large moving far-off. But what the geodude meant, presumably, was the light patter that many exiles made when they moved about on their lower appendages--a most absurd form of locomotion, like a steelix dancing about on their spines. Well, of course it was dancing, wasn't it? Exiles moved to the rhythm each carried inside.

"Maybe," Ten Thousand Rivers said, drawing the word out until it faded into a nervous hum. The noises stopped.

"Ah. Yeah. I think you scared it. Listen," Geodude said, like Ten Thousand Rivers wasn't already listening or like her talking didn't make it harder for him to hear.

What Ten Thousand Rivers heard was even stranger than the tap-tap noises the geodude called "walking:" short, rapid-fire bursts of sound, almost like singing but with only the loosest rhythm. It wasn't until after they'd stopped--and they were so brief and staccato that Ten Thousand Rivers had barely even caught them--that he realized they were supposed to be words. Or half of words, words that were only sounds.

"Nope. Scared it off," Geodude said. "Well, that was a human for you. Do you need me to find you another one? I can't sit around here all day, but it probably won't be long before one comes by."

"No, no, please," Ten Thousand Rivers said. "You have business. I won't keep you."

"Well, good luck," the geodude said. "But don't get your hopes up. Humans aren't all that interesting, really."

They certainly sounded smaller than Ten Thousand Rivers had expected. Furtive, almost. Had those strange words really come from one of them? What was wrong with their speech?

Ten Thousand Rivers now understood the geodude's surprise when he said he hadn't encountered a human. Listening properly, he could hear them all around. Sometimes alone, sometimes in groups, they passed back and forth through the tunnels. They glowed, like most other exiles, with a faint inner heat, and were often accompanied by another brightness, terrible searing light the likes of which Ten Thousand Rivers had never seen. Worse, the light was cold, unnatural. How could cold magma ever glow?

Faced with the reality of humans and their strange powers, Ten Thousand Rivers found himself once again shy. He watched and listened from his tunnel, trying to understand their strange language. Everyone on the surface talked fast, yes, dreadfully so, but at least they spoke true words. Without any substance behind the noise, how was Ten Thousand Rivers to make any sense of it?

He must try to speak with a human. Ten Thousand Rivers waited, humming adventure-song to himself until he realized that humans turned and moved away when they heard it. He waited further, silently now, until he heard just one human, alone, moving perhaps a little slower than most. He eased himself out of his tunnel as the pokémon drew near and said, "Excuse me, you are a human, are you not?"

That was what he'd set out to say, anyway. He only made it halfway through "excuse" before the human let out a burst of its odd language and retreated, with considerable speed. Ten Thousand Rivers was speaking to an empty tunnel.

Well. Disappointing. But there were other humans, and it was no time at all before Ten Thousand Rivers found one he felt comfortable approaching. "Excuse me," he said again, and like before the human moved before he'd even properly begun speaking. Another pokémon appeared, completely out of nowhere--a geodude.

Ten Thousand Rivers was perplexed. He couldn't imagine how rude one would have to be, to interrupt a conversation like that--a rather one-sided conversation, admittedly, for though the human spoke Ten Thousand Rivers still couldn't understand what they said. He was paralyzed, briefly, by confusion over whether he should address the interloper or carry on like she wasn't even there. Then the geodude hopped towards him, tearing rocks from the ground in what could only be aggression, and there was simply no way Ten Thousand Rivers could ignore her.

"Excuse me," he said, to the geodude this time. A couple hurled rocks bounced off his upper links. "I'm trying to speak to this human. If you want to fight, we can do so later."

"Speak? To a human?" The geodude chortled. "Now that's one I haven't heard before." She ripped another rock out of the ground and tossed it. "Come on, now. There's a battle on. Get lost if you don't want to fight."

The rock ricocheted from Ten Thousand Rivers' armor. "I told you, we can battle later." The geodude grunted and hurled another rock. "Stop that. Please. If you don't stop, I'll have to do something drastic."

"Something drastic?" the geodude asked. "Now that's what I'm talking about! Let's see drastic, then. Or do you want another rock throw first?"

And after that, of course, Ten Thousand Rivers had no choice but to demonstrate why it was unwise for an exile to fight a chosen. "Dreadfully sorry about that," Ten Thousand rivers began to say, but the human let out what could only be a cry of distress, one that sounded almost like "geodude," at that. The actual geodude's fists pummeled Ten Thousand Rivers' lower body, one to each side with the bulk of her crushed under his tail. Ten Thousand Rivers could barely feel the blows. Then, somehow, the geodude was gone. Ten Thousand Rivers' tail dropped to the floor of the tunnel, and the human, of course, ran off.

And so it went: Ten Thousand Rivers was at his most polite, and yet every human he approached ran, or they fought in their strange way, calling on other pokémon to aid them. From Geodude Ten Thousand Rivers was eventually able to understand that these were "trainers," and what he'd seen was the bond between human and fighting pokémon, the same one the stories spoke of. Ten Thousand Rivers wished he could learn more about it, could have a proper conversation with a trainer or one of the trained, but all they seemed to care for was fighting.

With time, he began to understand the humans' empty sounds. There was language there, and intelligence. What did it matter, though, when he could entice no human to speak to him?

It was to the point that Ten Thousand Rivers never approached a human without being ready to fight, in some ways excited to see what strange new creature might come to the human's aid, but mostly frustrated to be making no progress towards what he wanted to understand. And then, one horrible time, the pokémon the human called opened their mouth, and suddenly there was water. Water, on Ten Thousand Rivers, soaking and seeping its chill into all the cracks of him. Ten Thousand Rivers recoiled, roaring, but the water only followed him, until in panic he dove and dug and soon was deep, deep below the surface, and the strange pokémon did not pursue.

That water... It wasn't unheard of. A few pokémon in the rivers that bordered exile showed some affinity for that hated element. There were bound to be more of them in exile, where natural laws were perverted. Ten Thousand Rivers should have been prepared.

He stayed in his burrow for quite some time, singing himself soothing songs and preparing to return to the surface. Because return he must--he'd come too far to be deterred by even something so horrible as that water-spewing creature. He took his time, easing himself upwards, and listened for a human.

Here was one. Ten Thousand Rivers listened closely. There was another pokémon accompanying this one, which would surely attack if he approached the human. The pokémon went on four "legs" and was around geodude-sized, he would guess, but not at all rocky. Ten Thousand Rivers wished he could hear whether a pokémon had power over water, but all that he could say was that at least this one wasn't obviously sloshing or bubbling. That would have to do. He couldn't wait here forever. Ten Thousand Rivers hummed a couple bars of courage-song to himself, then eased his way into the main tunnel.

The small pokémon noticed him first and let out a sharp bark, a word Ten Thousand Rivers didn't recognize. "Hello," he said, to indicate that he had no intention of catching the two of them unawares.

"Jesus Christ, it's an onix," the human said. Thankfully that was all; no command for their partner to attack.

She seemed perfectly ready to do that on her own. "Stay back!" she yelled. "If you come any closer, you'll regret it!"

"I don't want to fight," Ten Thousand Rivers said. "I only want to talk with you. And with your human, especially."

"Here, leave it alone, Poochyena," the human said. "It don't look like it's gonna attack."

"Indeed. I was merely wondering if you could tell me about the sur--"

"Hey! Who said you get to ask questions?" The small pokémon growled, a hilarious attempt that wouldn't scare a hatchling. "You want to talk to my human? You're going to have to prove you're worthy! Let's fight!"

Ten Thousand Rivers stifled an immense sigh. "Again, I don't wish to fight. If you don't want to talk, I'll just be go--"

The small pokémon launched herself forward with a snarl and was up atop Ten Thousand Rivers' tail in an instant.

"Poochyena, are you really--? Okay, okay! Uh, sure! Bite it!"

"I don't--" Ten Thousand Rivers began, but then the tiny creature did something, something that stabbed clean through his armor, a horrible piercing cold that skewered him to the core. Ten Thousand Rivers roared and instinctively rolled, trying to scrape the pokémon off. She leapt away, and Ten Thousand Rivers swung at her with his tail, in surprise and terror not softening the blow despite the size of his opponent. The tunnel rang with crashes as he struck again and again, but the small pokémon was quick and, after all, small--hard indeed to hit.

"Stay back!" the human said. "You know how this goes, right?"

The small pokémon barked, and then she made a curious sound, a creaking noise, and took a large breath of air. Ten Thousand Rivers, with the immediate terror of the biting cold over, hesitated. He could run now. There wasn't any reason to fight this small, annoying pokémon. Except then she ran at him again, and without thinking he slapped at her with his tail.

The pokémon dodged, but something was wrong. Ten Thousand Rivers was tired. More than tired, absolutely exhausted. His links were each as heavy as the earth itself, and his tail flopped about leaden and sluggish when he tried to swing it. He only barely registered that there must be some magic in this, that the small pokémon was responsible, before he found himself on the ground and in the blessed dark behind his closed eyelids.

"Okay, howl up and finish it off," he heard the human say from somewhere far off. A high keening noise played through the stirrings of Ten Thousand Rivers' unfolding dream, barely and lazily noticed, but then--but then that stabbing cold again. Ten Thousand Rivers tried to roar, tried to roll, but couldn't move. He couldn't even open his eyes. His dream was merging into nightmare reality, the cold piercing him over and over, but somehow he couldn't pull himself back to wakefulness. He must have realized he was asleep and tried to wake at least a half-dozen times, only for his horror to trail off into incoherent black. Impossible to say how long he was kept prisoner in his own mind before suddenly his thrashing efforts were rewarded by a twitch, the faint grinding of stone over stone. Then at last he could raise himself, turning on the small, treacherous pokémon with a roar.

"Oh, damn. Okay, stay back," the human said somewhere behind him, and Ten Thousand Rivers' foe retreated, one slow step at a time.

But Ten Thousand Rivers no longer felt he didn't want to fight. He hooked out with his tail, the pain that ran up the new cracks in his armor lending vicious energy to the blow. His opponent was boxed into the coil of his body, forced to leap over his tail to escape the tightening noose. Ten Thousand Rivers dove forward when she jumped, knocking her aside with a toss of his head. She bounced off the wall with a high-pitched noise of pain, and Ten Thousand Rivers slammed his tail down atop her when she landed. He raised his tail again, and the small pokémon barked, "Stop!"

And Ten Thousand Rivers did stop, tail jerking to a halt at the beginning of its downward arc. The tiny pokémon lay on the ground before him, and here he was, about to club and break a helpless opponent, a dreadfully small one, dreadfully fragile, one who had never been a threat to him in the first place. What had happened? How had he lost control so completely?

"Stop!" the pokémon cried again, and Ten Thousand Rivers shuddered. He did, he was, he wouldn't do it again. So what--?

"Don't be fucking stupid." The human's weird flat voice. "I ain't gonna stand around and watch you get your head bashed in by a fucking onix."

Ten Thousand Rivers cringed, and the small pokémon growled faintly. Slowly, she rose back to her... limbs. Hard to imagine how she could even move around on those.

"Okay. You can ask my trainer a question, I guess. But make it quick." Her tone was haughty, which only confused Ten Thousand Rivers further. A question? What?

"You said you wanted to talk to my trainer," the pokémon said. "Well, you fought pretty well. So you can ask. Just don't take forever."

Ten Thousand Rivers shook his head and hummed a snatch of thinking-song, trying to get his bearings. Yes. Yes, that was the whole point of being here, wasn't it? Where had the human gone?

The human retreated a short distance when Ten Thousand Rivers turned towards them. "Hey! The battle's over. You won already. Lay off."

"He didn't win!" The small pokémon was indignant.

"I..." Ten Thousand Rivers shook himself again. Why was everything happening so fast? Why did everything on the surface have to happen so fast? "Human. My kind tell stories of your kin. Is it true that your people know how to make pokémon stronger?"

"Of course he can, stupid!" the small pokémon yapped. "That's the whole point of humans! You didn't even need to ask him anything, you could have just asked me."

"I would hear it from the human," Ten Thousand Rivers growled without turning around. "Is it true, then, human? And is it true that your kind know how to make my people take on a form even beyond that of a steelix?"

"Uh, Poochyena, what the fuck?" the human said.

"He can't understand you," the small pokémon--Poochyena--said. "I can try to help him, but I don't know, either. What are you? What's a steelix?"

"What do you mean, can't understand?" Ten Thousand Rivers did round on Poochyena then.

"Humans can't talk right, and they can't hear right, either. He doesn't know what you're saying," she said. "How do you not know that? Everybody knows that!"

"I haven't been on the surface long," Ten Thousand Rivers said, stung despite himself. "I only have stories of humans to go by. Clearly the storytellers elided certain details."

"Okay, well, the battle's over, ain't it?" the human said. "Come on. Potion break. No reason for you to be all bleeding and shit while you're trying to have a conversation."

None of that made sense. What was a potion? When had it broken? Ten Thousand Rivers tracked the human's movements while they approached the pokémon, making some kind of rustling with their upper... limbs. Exiles had so many of these "limbs" and were always waving them about--exhausting. Why did they need to be moving all the time?

Poochyena kept talking while the human did whatever it was doing. Exiles never seemed to want to wait an instant. "Really? Where do you come from? Are you looking for a trainer?"

"I come from below. I doubt it has any name in your language. I came here because I wanted to learn about the surface. And, yes, about trainers. About humans. I was curious."

The human was at the small pokémon's side, making soft hissing noises towards her. "What are they doing? Your human?" Ten Thousand Rivers couldn't help but ask.

"He's using a potion. It's human stuff, it makes you heal fast. That's why pokémon want trainers. They make it so you don't have to worry even if you get really hurt while you're fighting, so you can fight a lot more and get strong fast. See? You hit me pretty hard, but I'm already better!"

Ten Thousand Rivers couldn't see, in fact; the two pokémon were hazy blobs, Poochyena so dark she blended into the dim of the tunnel. The hissing noise had stopped, at least. "You know, if you want a trainer," the small pokémon went on, "you could join my team. Maybe. You're pretty strong, I guess. But only if you like fighting, and if it turns out you suck my human will release you. We don't need weak pokémon."

Ten Thousand Rivers reared back. "Your human? Your human would be my trainer?"

"What're you two talking about, huh?" the human asked.

"Get a pokéball, Nate," the small pokémon said. When that didn't provoke the intended reaction--Ten Thousand Rivers could empathize with the human not understanding, because he certainly didn't, either--Poochyena pounced on the human, which yipped in surprise.

"Poochyena, hey! What--?" Poochyena bounded away again, and the human said, "A pokéball? What, you want me to catch that thing?"

Again with the "pokéball." What were they talking about? Poochyena dropped something, which clacked and bounced. Was that it? It was something ludicrously tiny, and round. Ten Thousand Rivers supposed it could be a ball, yes.

"If you want to come with us, you have to get in the pokéball," Poochyena said. "You're way too big. You can't follow my human around the way I can."

"Please forgive me. I only wish to speak with your trainer. I'm not ready to commit to more than that."

"You can talk to him all you want after he catches you! We can't stay here forever. All you have to do is get in the pokéball."

"For real? Uh, Onix, you want to come with us?" the human asked.

"I need to think," Ten Thousand Rivers said. "Some time, please."

"You said you wanted to learn about trainers, didn't you?" Poochyena said. "How are you going to do that without one? And my trainer is the best. It's not like waiting around here is going to help."

"Maybe I'll want to go with a trainer eventually, but I'm not ready now. I've only heard stories. I want to know what humans are truly like before I travel with one," Ten Thousand Rivers said. He found himself humming worry-song, with no idea how he started, and broke off sheepishly. Perhaps Poochyena had a point. If humans couldn't even understand his questions, what good was speaking with them?

"I mean, sure, you can come along if you want," the human said. "Poochyena, don't be pushy. Let it decide."

"Well, fine. If you don't want to, that's your loss," Poochyena said.

Ten Thousand Rivers let out a gusty moan of frustration. "I'm sorry. I need more time to think."

"Okay, well, I guess you're not interested," Poochyena said. "We'll leave you alone, then. It's too bad. You're okay at battling. I bet my trainer could make you great."

"No, wait," Ten Thousand Rivers said as the small pokémon picked up the--ball?--the thing she dropped. "Please just let me think for a moment. I'm sure you trainer is excellent, but..." But what? He'd come to the surface to learn, hadn't he? For an adventure? For his own story to match the great tales? Had any of those chosen in those sat and questioned, or hesitated at an opportunity?

The human moved one of its limbs towards Poochyena, but she slid back from it. "I don't think so," she said, muffled by the thing held in her mouth. "I gave him an offer. A great offer. An offer that most pokémon would be dying to get. But he doesn't know if he wants in, so I guess he doesn't. If he couldn't even see what a good deal this was, he obviously isn't good enough to be on my team."

"Uh, okay," the human said as Poochyena trotted away.

"Wait!"

The human stumbled back and said something very rude. Poochyena whirled, barking curses, "pokéball" forgotten. Ten Thousand Rivers drowned them out with a quick bar of courage-song, willing himself not to be overwhelmed by their reaction. "Take me with you! I made up my mind. I do want your human to train me!"

"Say what? Poochyena, what's going on?"

"Too late!" Poochyena said. "Too late. I told you I wasn't going to wait!"

"I apologize," Ten Thousand Rivers said. "Things move very quickly at the surface. I'm not used to it. I do want to learn more about humans. I do want to become strong. If your human is as good as you say--"

"He is! Idiot. Can't you tell?"

"I believe you! I do. Please forgive me. This is a strange place, and I'm not accustomed to speaking with ex--with surface-dwellers. I did not mean to offend. Your ways are strange to me, that's all."

"Okay, so... Are we doing this?" the human asked. It had retrieved the fallen "pokéball" and kept it spinning between its limbs. Never idle, exiles.

"Maybe," Poochyena said. She was at attention by her human's side, braced as if for battle. "Maybe if he really means it. He'd better make up his mind fast. This is his last chance."

Ten Thousand Rivers wished the two of them would slow down and properly explain, but in even just this moment of hesitation, the briefest pause for thought, he could sense Poochyena growing impatient. A miniscule growl rose in her chest. There was no time to think, then--Ten Thousand Rivers had to be bold. He didn't know what would happen, but he was on an adventure, and adventure meant uncertainty, didn't it?

He drew himself up as far as the roof of the tunnel allowed. "Yes," he announced, to himself as much as the other pokémon. "I wish to join you. Use your... your 'pokéball.'"

"Okay, if you're sure," the human said. It made some subtle gesture with an upper limb, but that was all. A deep intake of breath, shifting weight--nervous? "Actually, did Poochyena tell you about--?"

"Throw the ball! Throw it!"

"Jesus, fine," the human said. "Here we go." He did throw something, and Ten Thousand Rivers ducked instinctively. Was that an attack? Why was the human attacking?

The attack, whatever it was, flew past Ten Thousand Rivers' face, bounced off the wall, and clattered against the tip of his tail. He could barely even feel it, and it took him a moment to realize that what the human threw must have been the "pokéball," that wretchedly tiny thing. But even as Ten Thousand Rivers opened his mouth to politely ask what was going on, a wave of energy radiated from the point where the "pokéball" struck. He had only a moment for revelation, for horror--human magic!--before the world faded into silence and all thought was lost.

--​

Ten Thousand Rivers returned to himself in the midst of blinding, burning light, light so strong that he couldn't see anything at all. It shone even through the cracks below his eyelids, so he curled and ducked his head instinctively, shielding it with the bulk of his body.

There was nothing that could protect him from the noise. It beat against his armor like a physical blow, louder even than the crash and scrape of battle. Ten Thousand Rivers roared and couldn't hear his own voice above the din. He could feel fissures opening, his boulders being forced apart, and roared louder yet. Still his voice was lost.

Ten Thousand Rivers couldn't remember how he'd come to be here or what might be happening. He knew nothing but the need to escape. He thrashed but struck nothing, and the noise was all around, without direction or source. He roared on and on, calling for help, and there was no chance anyone would ever hear him. He was dying. He knew nothing but burning light and endless sound.

The world fell away again.

--​

When the world resolved once more it was horribly light, and loud, but no more so than it ever was on the surface. Ten Thousand Rivers' eyes were closed, and he was more than content to leave them that way while he dove for the earth. He felt his way down, falling towards the earth's core through soil and stone alike.

After some lengths he forced himself to stop and take stock of the situation. Down was safety, but he had to know how badly he was hurt. He had to figure out what had happened, so he could be sure it never, ever would again.

Ten Thousand Rivers opened his eyes then, to blessed dark, and turned slowly in his tunnel, scraping his armor against the rocky walls. It was no more cracked than it had been after his battle. No links missing. Still he felt he'd been stripped bare, and even the smallest noise made him flinch.

From far overhead came the sound of human speech. "No, you fucking leave it alone! I don't know what you told it, but it very fucking much did not want to get caught. It ran away, for Christ's sake."

"You! Come out of there!" the strange, small pokémon was yelling down at him. She was right at the edge of the hole, limbs crunching in loose dirt when she shifted her weight. Ten Thousand Rivers shuddered and nosed deeper into the earth. Had she been "caught" by that human as well? How could she stand it? How could anyone?

"Let's go." The human again. "I said let's go."

"Get up here and fight! Coward!" Poochyena called. Ten Thousand Rivers growled to himself. Coward, was he? Insane was what she was.

"It's fucking growling at you. Leave the goddamned thing alone already."

"You useless heap of rocks. I didn't want you on my team anyway. Nobody wants a pokémon as weak as you!"

"We're leaving, Poochyena. We need to get back to base anyway."

"Fine. If I ever see you around here again I'll make you regret it. You made me look like an idiot in front of my trainer. I'm way stronger than you'll ever be!"

Ten Thousand Rivers growled again. She'd make him regret it? She make him regret? After what she and her human had done to him? If he ever heard her around here again, he'd be the one to make her pay. Anyone would have been scared of that terrible noise, the light. He was only lucky that his eyes still seemed to work.

"Well, whatever. Stick around here barking if you want. I'm leaving."

"Still hiding?" Poochyena asked. "Good. I'm going to go away with my human who loves me and who's going to make me the strongest ever. You can stay in your hole and rot for all I care."

"I said I'm going, Poochyena! I'll fucking leave you if you don't get moving."

For all she kept saying she was going to leave, she didn't seem to be in any real hurry. Ten Thousand Rivers tilted his snout up towards the surface. If he concentrated he could feel the delicate impacts of her limbs while she circled his burrow. What had happened? All that talk about trainers, and becoming stronger, and why Ten Thousand Rivers ought to join with that human--had it all been a trick? Had to have been. They'd sought to capture him. Kill him. Why?

The stories said that surface-dwellers were full of wickedness. Exiles were exiled for a reason. Perhaps those two had seen some value in abducting one of the chosen. They couldn't have been expecting ransom, but maybe there were some on the surface who would desire one of his people for their power, or simply for their rarity.

And why let him go after? Perhaps they'd expected their assault to kill him immediately and had lost their nerve when he survived. Or maybe they expected him to seek out his kin for aid and hoped he'd lead them to more chosen.

"What did you do to me?" Ten Thousand Rivers growled, expecting no answer.

"What are you even talking about?" Poochyena asked.

Distantly: "Poochyena! I mean it!"

"The light!" Ten Thousand Rivers roared. "The noise!" Even now she denied it, even now she pretended as though there were something wrong with him. "You tried to kill me! You and your--your human!" He'd almost called the human quite a vulgar name. Now that his shock and fear were ebbing, now that he understood the full import of the situation, Ten Thousand Rivers' wrath was building like an earthquake.

"What light? All Nate did was let you out of the pokéball. There wasn't any light."

"Liar!" That, at least, made Poochyena recoil. Ten Thousand Rivers could hear her pathetic small growling as the echoes faded. "It was some attack, wasn't it? Not one that I recognize, but don't think I'm such a fool that I wouldn't notice I was being attacked."

"You are a fool!" Poochyena yapped down into the burrow. "Who gets scared by a little light? Why would we even attack you, anyway? Nate just caught you. You were on our team." She was right on the edge, leaning out. Ten Thousand Rivers began to uncurl, stealthily, grinding the edges of his links ever so slightly against the sides of the tunnel. It was roughly dug, and it would be easy to scrape free a hunk of stone, hurl it up and send Poochyena tumbling.

Poochyena resumed pacing around the edge of the tunnel. After a moment she said, "Were you talking about the sun? Is that it? Was the sun too bright for you?"

"Sun?" Ten Thousand Rivers knew of Sun, the great ball of magma that hung from the ceiling of the surface-world like a fiery stalactite. The consolation, the only gift She Whose Tail Stretches Nine Thousand Lengths (&c.) had been able to leave for the exiles, that they might know some pale imitation of the warmth of the world's core. Sun was another fixture of the great tales, and here this obnoxious little exile mentioned it as though it were nothing.

"Yes, you know, the sun? The bright thing in the sky?"

Ten Thousand Rivers couldn't even think of what to say, torn between curiosity and indignation. The sheer disrespect. Then, swift impacts overhead and incredibly loud breathing. The human returned.

"Poochyena, what the fuck? What the hell is going on over here?"

"Nothing. I was just leaving." The small pokémon spat the words directly into the burrow, and Ten Thousand Rivers couldn't suppress a growl.

"Jesus Christ. Let's go already. You can't catch a pokémon that don't want to be caught. That's basic shit. It has every reason to want to rip your fucking guts out."

"He wanted to be caught!" the small pokémon snapped. "He did! I don't know why he freaked out, either!"

"Sure, sure. Let's talk about this somewhere far away from the fucking thousand pound rock snake that wants to kill us, okay?"

Ten Thousand Rivers twisted against the side of his tunnel and then, reluctantly, stilled. The hostile pokémon moved off, voices raised in argument. Surely he could have caught Poochyena off guard and humiliated her in battle, but the human was a factor he still didn't understand. He remained weak and achy, his armor cracked; it would be three repetitions of resting-song before it healed. Yet Poochyena had received healing from her human, and by the way she moved, she no longer hurt at all. It was too much risk to fight them both, at least right now.

He wouldn't forget this. Rest, and heal, and then wait. Should those two return, he'd be prepared. They'd tried to kill him--him, one of the chosen. All the stories said exiles were deceitful, but he hadn't imagined that they'd be stupid as well. Ten Thousand Rivers was chosen. His wrath burned like world's core, and for as long. He curled at the bottom of the burrow, and now he sang, if softly. Seething-song. If he ever encountered those pokémon again, they would take him to Sun, on his terms this time. If they managed that without deceit, perhaps he'd even let them live.

--​

Ten Thousand Rivers had only sung two rounds of seething-song and one and a half of resting-song when he felt the familiar tramp of that human in the upper tunnels. He surged up from his burrow, anger reignited in an instant. Insolent! They thought he'd let his guard down as soon as that? Again and again the wretched creature underestimated him.

Poochyena had appeared from somewhere by the time Ten Thousand Rivers reached his target. Perhaps he'd simply missed her light four-limb prancing. It hardly mattered. Ten Thousand Rivers came roaring out of the wall, making no attempt at stealth, and the pokémon leapt aside.

"You!" Ten Thousand Rivers howled. "You dare return to this place? You will answer for your crime!"

"Are you still talking about that?" Poochyena asked. "I barely even remember you."

"I wish to see Sun," Ten Thousand Rivers said, ignoring Poochyena's retort. "Your human will take me to it."

"Another fucking onix," the human said. They moved slowly to the right so that Poochyena was between Ten Thousand Rivers and them. Wary, Ten Thousand Rivers thought. As it should be. "Well, I'd say this one wants to fight. Ready?"

"Go see the sun yourself if you want to so bad," Poochyena said. "You had your chance to be on our team, and it turns out you suck, so you're not getting another one."

She made as if to leave, and Ten Thousand Rivers leaned forward, growling out a bar of battle-song. "Do I need to crush you again? Then will you permit me to speak to your human?"

The tiny pokémon growled back, a hilariously pathetic noise. "You got one lucky shot. And we never even finished the fight."

"Don't tease it too long, Poochyena," the human said. "Go on, you got this."

"This is your last chance," Ten Thousand Rivers started to say, but halfway through Poochyena leapt at him.

No delicacy this time. The human hadn't held back when it had the opportunity to get at him, and now Ten Thousand Rivers wouldn't, either. He twisted aside from Poochyena's attack and brought his tail around, sweeping it in an upward ark to catch his opponent when she leaped out of the way. He missed, and she made that noise at him again, the one that meant she was using magic. Ten Thousand Rivers was already starting to feel tired, but Poochyena had to pause to make her attack, and this time Ten Thousand Rivers was able to grab her with his tail.

Poochyena wriggled straight out from between his links, his coils clacking together while she bounded away. Ten Thousand Rivers growled, fighting mounting fatigue but with no doubt that he'd soon succumb.

"Why do you want to see the sun anyway?" Poochyena yapped up at him. "You were too weak to take it last time. What makes you think it's going to be different now?"

Not even the flash of indignation that rocketed through Ten Thousand Rivers could keep him awake. But perhaps it allowed him to focus enough to ensure one thing: that his slumber wouldn't be to Poochyena's advantage. When he collapsed, it was square atop the little braggart, and the last he felt before the sleep-magic took him was her struggling between his armor and the ground, pinned with jaws snapping uselessly on thin air.

When Ten Thousand Rivers returned to himself it was with Poochyena making a high, wailing warble that shivered all up and down his armor. She had no sense of pitch at all. Ten Thousand Rivers twitched and grunted in annoyance, but he had enough presence of mind not to pull away and so release his opponent.

"Okay, it's awake!" the human said. "Wait for it."

Wait for what? Ten Thousand Rivers remained where he was, considering. What did the human expect him to do? He didn't want to let Poochyena escape, but he couldn't really attack from this position, either. In the moment it took for him to ruminate, Poochyena's squirming increased enough to become genuinely annoying.

"Are you just going to lie there all day?" Poochyena asked in a small, squashed voice. "Either give up or let me go!"

"Uh, okay, I guess we'll try something, then," the human said. "Can you start a bite but not, like, actually bite it? Just get some dark energy going?"

Everything happened so fast on the surface. Ten Thousand Rivers tried to plan more quickly, but Poochyena attacked before he could fully consider the merits of showering rocks from the ceiling versus trying to crush his opponent without actually moving. On her human's advice Poochyena gave a fierce shake of her head that sent gooey droplets flying. They landed all up and down Ten Thousand Rivers' armor, pinpricks of hateful wet, but that wasn't the worst part--after a second they began to burn, and Ten Thousand Rivers understood they were corroding his armor.

Poochyena shifted beneath him, preparing to, to dribble on him again, and a combination of instinct and sudden, vindictive inspiration, set his links spinning. Poochyena was ground against the floor of the tunnel and then hurled into the air, an easy target. This time Ten Thousand Rivers felt no remorse at all about slamming his opponent against the wall, or about slapping his tail down atop her when it looked like she would rise.

Ten Thousand Rivers gave his side a long scrape against the earth to remove the last of the Poochyena's foul attack, then raised himself properly, ready to strike again if she tried to get back up on her limbs. Instead she disappeared, and Ten Thousand Rivers froze, listening, expecting some attack from the shadows. "Jesus, you don't hold back, do you?" the human asked. Ah, human magic, then.

Then the human began moving away, as though their fight were over. They sped up when Ten Thousand Rivers approached, but where he'd unhappily resigned himself to letting humans flee if they desired, he wasn't about to let this one go. The human seemed to realize this, raising an upper limb and starting to say something, but they weren't nearly as fast as their pokémon companion, wherever she'd gone. Ten Thousand Rivers to wrapped his tail around the human and lifted them, yelling, into the air. Something small clattered to the earth below, bouncing like the "pokéball" that had sucked Ten Thousand Rivers up and spit him out into pain. The human kept on howling, and Ten Thousand Rivers shook them vigorously, which for a moment did actually end their noise.

Only for a moment, though. "What the fuck is your damage?" the human yelled. "You fucking won, so fuck off already! I ain't got nothing more for you!"

"No? You seemed to want something from me the last time," Ten Thousand Rivers said. He could feel the human's inner rhythm drum against his armor, their glowing warmth. Miraculous, but then the surface was rife with miracles. All exiles carried within them a piece of the home they'd never know, and what's more seemed entirely unaware of it.

The human struggled, but though small, they weren't nearly as small as Poochyena. No hope of slipping free. "I fucking yield, okay? Let me go and I'll get out of here. You can have your territory back or whatever the fuck."

"No," Ten Thousand Rivers said. "Poochyena told me that you tried to kill me with Sun. I wish to see it. Lead me there. Do not try to capture me again. If you do as I ask, I may consider letting you go unharmed."

"I don't speak fucking rock, okay? You want a fucking heart to heart, fuck off and find a psychic or some shit," the human said, long before Ten Thousand Rivers finished his sentence.

"No," Ten Thousand Rivers said again, as loudly and as slowly as possible. "Your... pokémon... told..."

"Oh my god, stop roaring at me. I said I don't! Fucking! Speak! Rock! Do you have a point, or did you just want to shake me around and yell at me for a while?"

Ten Thousand Rivers leaned closer to the human, squinting, trying to see. Maybe it was sight that helped them understand each other; certainly exiles seemed to care a great deal about their vision. Maybe Ten Thousand Rivers needed to see what was going on with this human. "You truly don't understand what I'm saying, do you?"

"Oh," the human said. "Oh, shit. You're that onix Poochyena wanted me to capture a while back, ain't you? That makes sense why you're pissed."

They really didn't. They were just rambling away about whatever came to mind. Ten Thousand Rivers held himself perfectly still, stricken, while the human blathered on. "Look, I'm fucking sorry about that. For real. I thought Poochyena talked things out with you and you were okay with it, but, uh, yeah, you obviously weren't. So, I'm sorry. And I ain't gonna try and catch you again or nothing. Promise."

"What good is an exile's promise?" Ten Thousand Rivers asked, without energy. How could it be that humans, the pokémon of legends, were as dim and mute as the slippery things that swam the underground rivers? Here this one was with no armor, no power with which to defend themself. What would it be like to go through life so weak and deaf and ignorant, never knowing the warmth of the world's core? What would it be like to be born in exile and live not even long enough to hear the end of one of the great tales, then die in exile without ever realizing there could be something more?

"Yeah, so," the human said. "Here we fucking are."

That didn't mean the human wasn't dangerous. They'd nearly torn Ten Thousand Rivers apart, for all his armor and his strength and his chosen-ness. It would be unwise to dismiss the human as below his notice, but there was no honor in harming a defenseless creature. Feeling ashamed even as he told himself there was no reason for it, Ten Thousand Rivers gently lowered the human back to the ground and slipped his tail free of their body.

Immediately they reached for their dropped "pokéball," and Ten Thousand Rivers leaned forward, fighting the sheer panic that demanded he crush the human.

"Whoah, whoah, hey! I'm just picking it up, I ain't gonna use it." The human moved with slow exaggeration, but Ten Thousand Rivers still didn't understand what it was doing. He waited, poised to move, and ultimately the human did whatever it set out to do with no more use of the "pokéball," no more dissolving away. "That one's full anyhow. Can't go leaving it behind. So." The human did something with its upper limbs. "Am I, uh, free to go?"

"You will show me to Sun," Ten Thousand Rivers said. "I would see it." And then, perhaps, he would return home. What had he expected to find in exile, truly? His parents had been right. This trip had been no more than youthful foolishness. Perhaps this feeling would pass. Perhaps Ten Thousand Rivers would find more to marvel at, even among humans. But at the very least he needed to travel down, to where it was warm and quiet, and think for a good long time.

"Okay, yeah, so I'm gonna... Go..." The human backed away from Ten Thousand Rivers, facing him all the while. Ten Thousand Rivers was too tired to contemplate their strange behavior--or perhaps not so strange, if the human realized how close they'd been to death--and merely followed.

"Oh, uh, you're coming?" the human said. "Did you actually want to be caught after all or something?"

"No! Take me to Sun!" Ten Thousand Rivers roared in bald exasperation.

"Okay, Jesus, I won't. I don't have the first fucking clue what you want, and I need to go to the Pokémon Center, so that's what I'm doing. Come along or don't, I don't give a shit." The human turned, then, and truly started to move. Ten Thousand Rivers followed. He had no idea what a Pokémon Center was, and certainly no reason to visit one, but if it was a surface-place and under Sun, it would suit his purpose well enough. Once he had known Sun he could leave this place with a proper tale for those who would welcome him back below.

For some reason the human's path took them directly into a stalagmite. They made a number of rude noises while flailing their limbs, and Ten Thousand Rivers' spirits rose marginally. Then, suddenly, piercing light slashed from one of the human's upper limbs, a pure beam of it, impossibly bright. Ten Thousand Rivers jerked back, then leaned forward again, curious, as his vision began to return. The human moved off again, very clearly doing their best to pay him no attention.

"What is that?" Ten Thousand Rivers said.

"What? Don't like the light?" the human asked. "Tough. I'm going to fall down a fucking ravine and die without it, so if you want to fucking stalk me you're going to have to deal with it. Ain't like it makes any difference scaring away wildies when I got a fucking onix tailing me."

Ten Thousand Rivers didn't like it, but that wasn't the point. "No. What is it?"

"You want a look? Here, take a fucking look." Ten Thousand Rivers recoiled when the human thrust the light towards him, but the beam was turned away from his face, spilling light against the wall of the tunnel. Even so, it was terribly bright even just around the human's limb. "It's a fucking flashlight. Real goddamn exciting," the human said.

Ten Thousand Rivers leaned down, eyes nearly shut against the hateful radiance, until his nose rested against the "flashlight." He didn't recognize the material it was made out of--not metal, not stone, not scale or flesh. The amount of light that leaked from it spoke of something burning white-hot, but it was barely warm at all. How could an exile fit so much light into such a tiny thing?

The brief contact told him nothing, but Ten Thousand Rivers drew back again, unsure of what to do. "What, ain't you ever seen a flashlight before?" the human asked.

"No," Ten Thousand Rivers said. Were all human-lights "flashlights," then?

"So you ain't from around here," the human said. "Everybody's got a flashlight in Dark Cave because, you know, it's dark and shit. Unless they're into that or their pokémon handle it, I guess. Point is, you can't be from around here and not know a flashlight when you see one."

"I am not. I live at the world's core."

"Huh. So where, then? Some part of the cave where people don't go?"

They didn't understand. How could they speak, but find others' words incomprehensible? What was Ten Thousand Rivers to do now? At a loss, Ten Thousand Rivers leaned forward and scraped his snout against the floor, digging a shallow furrow.

"Oh, you mean, like"--the human scuffed one of its lower limbs against the tunnel floor--"down there? Underground? Umm, more underground?"

"Yes," Ten Thousand Rivers said, almost stunned by how pleased he was to have made himself understood.

"Have you never been up here before, then? Does that mean, like, you ain't never been outside? Or out of here, anyway? Like above... ground?"

"No. Never."

"So you ain't never seen the sky? Or like, clouds or birds or trees or any of that shit?"

The words tumbled out dizzyingly fast, and it took Ten Thousand Rivers even longer than usual to puzzle out their meaning. Even in the human's flat, empty tone, Ten Thousand Rivers thought he sensed the timbre of excitement. Perhaps that was only Ten Thousand Rivers' own sentiment coloring his perception. "I don't know what any of those things are," he replied, a humming rumble at his core that longed to become adventure, or wonder, or joy.

"Well, shit. I didn't even know there were onix all living underground who never came up into caves or nothing. Guess that makes sense. No wonder the pokéball freaked you the fuck out." They turned away from Ten Thousand Rivers, looking, he supposed, off in the other direction. "So you want to follow me outside. Okay. And then, uh, do you want me to, like, tell you what shit is and all? I don't have the first fucking clue what all the birds are that live around here and all that, but for sure I could be, like, yeah that's a fucking bush, you know?"

"I'd like that very much."

"Well, shit. Come on, then." The human set off, the brilliant beam of the "flashlight" sweeping ahead of them. In his impatience, Ten Thousand Rivers wished he could bull through the walls, carve his own tunnel straight up until he emerged wherever the human intended to lead, but that of course would be beyond rude. These tunnels were all old to one degree or another, and occupied. He couldn't go crashing around where so many creatures had made their home, not without asking first. It was a lull-time, the rhythm of the surface quieter than usual, but Ten Thousand Rivers could still hear life stirring all around.

"So why'd you come up here, anyway?" the human asked without stopping. "Looking for a trainer, I guess?"

How to explain? The human seemed to understand "yes" and "no" well enough, but the answer was nether. Ten Thousand Rivers didn't know how he'd answer that question for another chosen, even. "I came to learn," was all he could say.

"Mmm. Yeah, didn't catch that," the human said, but they didn't press.

Light seeped into the tunnel from up ahead. Ordinarily Ten Thousand Rivers would expect they were coming up on a magma chamber, but like the "flashlight" this light was much too cold for that. Everything on the surface was cold. Perhaps there was a gigantic "flashlight" ahead? Or perhaps a minute one; everything seemed backwards on the surface, so maybe the smaller the rock, the greater its light.

Ten Thousand Rivers began to hum adventure-song, and the human paused ahead, perhaps to ask another question. But it changed its mind and was on its way again just as quickly.

The tunnel emerged into a large cavern--a huge cavern, one absolutely soaked in light. The human kept moving, but Ten Thousand Rivers hung back inside the tunnel, wary of the vast open space, not to mention the blinding light above. Light above. Backwards again.

"You coming?" the human asked. They'd stopped about a half-length away, turned back towards Ten Thousand Rivers. "Is it too bright? The moon's almost full tonight."

Whatever that meant. "Yes," Ten Thousand Rivers mumbled. "Bright."

Ten Thousand Rivers heard pokémon rustling in the delicate mineral formations growing up from the floor of the cavern, but none gave any sign of attack. The human waited for him, defenseless and apparently unafraid. Ten Thousand Rivers emerged from the tunnel one link at a time, squinting against the punishing light.

"So this is grass, I guess." The human kicked at the feathery crystals. "And you ain't, uh. You ain't never seen it before?"

Grass. Ten Thousand Rivers could barely feel its brush against his armor while he eased his way forward. "No," he muttered, distracted. "I have never encountered grass."

"Huh," the human said. Even stopped as they were, they were doing something with their upper body while they waited for Ten Thousand Rivers. Exiles were to terribly fidgety. Even when otherwise still, their breathing never ceased. Their rhythm ran through them all the while.

The farther Ten Thousand Rivers went, the more he realized how truly massive the cavern they'd come into was. Certainly it was far larger than any he'd ever encountered. Even when he raised himself up, he couldn't feel its far side. He couldn't feel the ceiling. The horror of exposure crept over him. He was used to having solid walls around him, nothing to worry about but the path ahead and the tunnel behind. Now emptiness stretched in all directions. No protection. Nothing familiar.

Ten Thousand Rivers raised himself up, and up, wavering on the end of his tail. He roared as loudly as he could.

"Ow, fuck," the human below groaned. "No, no, that's fine. Ain't like I needed my ears or nothing."

Whatever an "ears" was, Ten Thousand Rivers didn't care to speculate. He waited, and waited, and waited, and not a single echo came back to him. He thought of his roar flying ever onward and outward with nothing to catch it, nothing to stop it, until it was lost forever in emptiness. How big was this cavern?

Ten Thousand Rivers was not a large onix, but he'd never felt small like this before. He hunched, curling in his tail, and fought the urge to rush back into the tunnel. This was the surface. This was what he'd wanted to learn about.

"Like, well, this is outside," the human said. "And that, up in the sky, that's the moon. And the stars. And I mean, you gotta--you gotta've heard of the moon, right?"

"Yes," Ten Thousand Rivers said faintly. Moon. Hung next to Sun, the paler cousin. Overhead, then, that was Moon? There was light, yes, altogether too much of it, but Ten Thousand Rivers could feel no warmth from it at all. And wasn't it supposed to give the exiles warmth?

"Right. Yeah. So. But you ain't never seen it before?"

"No."

"Holy shit." The human turned in place--looking? Ten Thousand Rivers was distantly fascinated, and annoyed. What good was sight beneath the hellish light of Moon? He brought the end of his tail up to shield his eyes, which helped, if only slightly. The human didn't even notice. "So, yeah, that's a tree, and that's a bush, and that's umm, that's a sign, oh, and, listen. Those are crickets, like, the chirping things. Do you know what bugs are?"

Listen. There at last the human spoke sense. "Yes," Ten Thousand Rivers replied. Insects lived in some of the shallower caves, some even that made those short, high-pitched bursts of noise. These here were much louder, but what on the surface wasn't?

The low rumble that permeated the surface was louder here, too, sounding for all the world like a herd of chosen tunneling on and on. To think that all the space between him and the origins of that sound might be empty, filled with nothing but gas, put the shivers through the whole of Ten Thousand Rivers' body.

"That over there's Lavender Town," the human said. "You can see the radio tower from here pretty well. It's not super far away, only about fifteen minutes. You coming?"

"Where is Sun?" Ten Thousand Rivers asked, staring futilely towards where the ceiling ought to be. Shouldn't Sun be next to Moon?

"Oh, it's, like, this really big rock that's super far away."

Far away? Ten Thousand Rivers had thought that Sun was visible from anywhere on the surface. It was a poor gift indeed if only some exiles could enjoy its warmth. He had found Moon, though, and felt its strange, cold brightness. That was enough for a story.

"Yeah, well, I guess that's pretty much it around here," the human said. "If you come back in daytime there'd probably be more going on. You could head into the grass and try to scare up some pokémon, I guess. I have to get back, though. It's late."

"I understand," said Ten Thousand Rivers, who did not. He certainly didn't want to fight anyone, and in any case couldn't convince himself to move farther. He felt sure that if he did he'd lose his way in the horrid vastness of the cavern.

"So, you gonna stick around here, or are you going other places, too?"

"I may return home." Ten Thousand Rivers ducked his head to further block out the light of Moon, which had begun to feel truly oppressive.

"Because if you want, I could come back tomorrow afternoon or something. Like I said, there's a lot more going on when it ain't ass o'clock at night. Even if you don't want to go to Lavender, there's still stuff to do. I mean, you ain't ever seen the ocean, right? You even know what the ocean is?"

"No," Ten Thousand Rivers said. "Is the ocean far? Like Moon?"

"Well, shit, I mean you gotta see that," the human said, voice aglow with delight. "And Poochyena'll be there, too. She can help with translating."

Ah. How... wonderful. The human went on, "I ain't never met a pokémon from way underground before. There's loads of cool shit down there, right? Like all kinds of diamonds and metal and shit. And gold! And how the fuck do you even get around? I mean, it's fucking dark all the time, right?"

"It is dark," Ten Thousand Rivers said. A song itched at the inside of his armor, wishing to rise up to match the human's enthusiasm.

"Right. Yeah. So, tomorrow?" the human asked. "You want to go to the ocean?"

"Yes," Ten Thousand Rivers said. "I do."

"Sick," the human said with bizarre enthusiasm. "Right. Well, uh, I'll see you tomorrow, I guess. Sorry again about the whole capture thing. I didn't mean to scare you, for real. And if you only ever been underground, Saffron City would probably be, uh, kind of a lot."

Ten Thousand Rivers had forgotten all about that. Was it unwise to follow the human to "the ocean," in light of what they'd done before? Undoubtedly. But nonetheless. "Not to worry," Ten Thousand Rivers said, but the human was already headed south, towards the far-off rumbling and a smear of light even brighter than Moon.

Ten Thousand Rivers turned and ducked back into the tunnel. Even after the cool, soothing dark enveloped him, it took a long time for his sight to fully return. He needed rest after all that excitement. Down and down he went, through the steepest and oldest tunnels he could find, until the clamor of the surface was pleasantly far off and no light at all could reach. There Ten Thousand Rivers curled, chin on tail, to relax.

When was "tomorrow?" How long would he have to wait? Exiles marked time differently, and no wonder; they had so little of it. No matter. Ten Thousand Rivers would rest a while, and when the human returned, he was sure to hear them. Until then he could try to understand what he'd found here on the surface and daydream about "the ocean." And so he did, and the gentle thrum of dream-song filled the whole of the dark, in the deep underbelly of the cave.
 
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Sandstone-Shadow

A chickadee in love with the sky
Pronoun
she/her
Oh wow, this is fantastic! Nice work Negrek, I hope Butterfree likes it :D There's so much life and world in this!
 

Negrek

busy dizzy lazy
Staff member
Thanks, I'm glad you enjoyed this! I haven't written a ton of onix POV, and it presented a lot of fun challenges.
 
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