Gentle Shadow | Snowdrift


Gentle Shadow

I stood, still as a statue on my fishing rock by the river. My piercing red eyes spying any movement under the water's surface. I had been sitting there for ages and seen no fish. Mum and Dad had caught three each.

I saw a tiny flick of orange under the surface of the chilled river. I trained my vision on it. It was a Seaking, the best tasting fish in the river. I waited for it to come up to my rock, then I struck. It was the first time I had moved my stiff muscles in at least an hour, and it was good to move them again.

I spread my wings and stuck out my claws. I gripped at the scaly fish. It leapt out of the water and flicked water in my face. I darted forward and clapped at it with my beak, but I missed. The Seaking splashed back into the water and powered its way through the water.

"Oh no you don't," I muttered to the fish, "You're not getting away that easily." I flapped in the direction of the fish and clamped my feet around it. I could feel it's slimy body wriggling in my strong purple claws. I flapped my wings and, gripping the fish tightly, I glided back to the riverbank. Just as I was about to drop the fish on the snow, it squirmed itself free of my powerful claws.

No! I could see it plop into the water and splash water up at me with its fanned out tail. The Seaking splashed through the frigid water and away up the stream. Dad, who had been watching along with Mum very earnestly, glided casually to where the fish was making its escape. In one swift movement, he grabbed the fish with his claws, drifted to the snow, landed and killed the Seaking. He made it look so easy.

I hung my head in shame. Why could I never catch a fish?

Mum glided over to me, a menacing look in her eye. "What's wrong with you, girl?" she hissed, "You haven't caught a fish in months, not even a Magikarp. What's up with you?"

"I-I don't know. Sorry Mother," I whispered quietly. I couldn't meet her gaze.

"Speak up, girl! Answer me!" she screeched. I could feel her icy breath on my face, but I dared not look up.

"Sorry, Mother," I said again, slightly louder.

"Look at me when I speak to you, child!"

I looked up. "Mother, I'm not a child any more," I said, almost silently.

"How dare you answer me back! You are still a child, Snowfall, whether you like it or not. And if you don't manage to catch a fish pretty soon, you'll be one for the rest of your life!"

I could feel tears stinging my eyes, but I blinked them back. Why was she like this? She blew an ice beam in my face and flew off, tail streaming out behind her. I brushed the ice from my face and sniffed. I took my position back on the rock. I'd show her. I'd catch a fish today.

It wasn't much longer before I spotted a flick of white and orange under the sparkling water. I drifted to the water and grabbed at the fish with my claws. This time, I made contact. I gripped the fish as tightly as I could and flapped out of the water towards the snow. I dropped the fish about ten meters from the river and landed. The fish was flopping about in the snow, trying to make its way back to the water. I shot an ice beam at it and froze it.

I grinned. I had done it. I had finally caught a fish!

"It's about time," Mum muttered, I hadn't really expected praise, but not an insult either. "Now let's see if you can get another one."

I didn't, not for weeks.

Months later, I had a baby brother. He was the cutest little Articuno I had ever seen. The ritual dance of the Jynx had me completely enthralled. Their flowing scarlet robes and shimmering golden hair rippled and moved so beautifully, their arms and bodies moving in perfect unison with one another, as though they were in a trance. Their eyes glowed blue, and the egg sprang into the air, shattering into thousands of pieces. Icicle had been born.

Mum and Dad had given up on trying to teach me to fish. I just couldn't do it. I'd have moved out years ago, but I wouldn't have been able to feed myself. Now, my duty was to watch my brother, and make sure he wouldn't try and fly for himself. He wouldn't be able to for at least a year yet. So, every day, I sat in the cave, unable to fly anywhere until my parents returned, and even then they most often wouldn't let me.

During winter, a storm blew up while Mum and Dad were off fishing. I huddled at the rear of the cave with Icicle securely in my wings. The poor chick was petrified. He gazed up at me with big, black eyes, filled with terror. He shivered uncontrollably against my chest. Every time a clap of thunder rang out, or a flash of light illuminated the cave, he flinched and buried his face in my feathers.

"It's okay, Icicle, Mummy and Daddy will be back soon, everything's going to be okay." I wished those words were as truthful as they sounded and glanced out the cave at the cold, hard sleet streaming down from the sky. I hoped Mum and Dad were okay.

I placed the three-week-old chick on the floor and he stared worriedly up at me, wrapping his tail around his trembling body.

"I'm not going anywhere, Icicle, I'm just seeing if Mum and Dad are okay."

I turned and stepped slowly to the cave entrance. The sleet changed to cold hard pelting hail. I could see at the river where Mum and Dad were, diligently staring, unmoving, into the river. How could they stand this weather?

I stared up at the dark grey, almost black evening sky. A bolt of lightning cracked through the sky, turning it bright white for a few split seconds. I turned and made my way back to the quivering chick. He reached his stubby little wings out to me as I walked to him.

A great, chilling gust of wind whipped up from nowhere. It almost knocked me over. But Icicle wasn't so lucky. The wind grabbed his open wings and hoisted him out of the cave, dragging him with its unforgiving icy hands into the storm.

"Icicle!" I screamed. I tore to the cave entrance and with no hesitation dived headfirst into the storm. It wasn't going to have my brother. Icicle seemed to be the only one who loved me, I wasn't letting him go. I scanned the mountains with my well-trained vision, but I saw no sign of the blue feathers of my brother.

I wheeled around in the hail, searching and searching for my baby brother, but I couldn't see him anywhere. I searched all night, right into the morning. The storm had passed on by then, but my wings were aching from the pelting hail and sleet. I refused to let my vision be blurred by tears, and I kept going. I couldn't go back until I had found him.

Just when I was about to give up hope, I caught a glimpse of blue in the snow, far below me. I spilled the air from my wings and dived down, hope in my mind. When I landed, I rushed to the long blue tail feather and tugged at it, pulling it from the snow. I scratched away some of the snow and lifted out my brother.

Although it seemed an impossible thing, he had been frozen to death. Icicle, my brother, gone forever. I wept and wept over his body. I couldn't bear it. How could I go home now? I sniffed and stood up. It would be best if they knew what had happened to him, rather than spending their lives worrying about it. I wasn't the kind of bird who wished bad on her parents, even if I had never gotten any praise from them.

I wiped the tears from my eyes and flew back up to my mountain cave, which I was quite certain I'd be thrown out of. I thought over how I was to tell them that I had lost their son.

When I flapped into the cave, I saw my mother weeping, something I rarely saw, and Dad comforting her, even rarer. Maybe they did care about me. When they saw me, I smiled weakly. Mum continued to wail, Dad looked stern.

"Where's Icicle." It was more a demand than a question. I guess they didn't care about me. I hadn't exactly expected hugs or anything, but even a smile or a 'glad you're okay' would have done me fine.

I cleared my throat. "He, um, he's," I couldn't say it. I broke into tears. I couldn't bear the thought that I had lost the only living creature who had ever cared for me.

"Well, say it girl, he's what?" my father stormed.

"Dead," I wailed, my face in my wings. "Last night I was really worried about you and I went to the cave entrance to see whether you were okay and then a big gust of wind came up and blew him away and I flew off to try and find him but when I did he was frozen and I'm so sorry, I'm really, ow!" I felt a sharp pain in my chest. I looked down to see shards of ice.

"You killed your brother," Dad whispered, his voice full of a rage I had never ever heard before.

"No, no, I didn't mean -"

"We gave you specific orders to look after him, and you deliberately disobeyed us!" He was screaming now. I looked up to him and gasped in horror. His crest and chest feathers were fluffed out. His tail was fanned, to make him appear even bigger than he already was. But most terrifying of all were his eyes. There was no word to describe the fury in his eyes. They were literally glowing with rage. I had never seen anything like it before in my life.

He started walking menacingly towards me. "We give you food, shelter, we teach you to defend yourself, to fly, to attack, and, who knows why, but we teach you to fish, and this is how you repay us? Get out! Get out, you ungrateful child! GET OUT! NOW!" he screamed, then blasted the strongest ice beam I had ever seen right at me.

It hurt more than anything could possibly have hurt, but not nearly as much as his words. I dove off the edge of the cliff and flew for the whole day, neither knowing nor caring where I was headed, not that I could see anyway. My vision was completely clouded over with tears. Tears I had been longing to cry for a decade, but had never been able to, tears that had built up from years and years of resentment, anguish and failures. Tears that would last for weeks to come.

It had been three years since I had been kicked out, and during that time, I had seen no Articuno at all. I had, however, perfected my fishing skills. With no pressures from my parents, and the need to please them, I was able to go at my own pace and catch all the fish I needed with ease.

One night when I had just bedded down to sleep I noticed a soft orange glow from behind a boulder. I had never seen a glow like that in my life, save the sun's orange fire. I carefully walked around the rock and saw a big yellow bird, about my size, with a long, drill-like beak. But oddest of all, its wings, tail and crest were made entirely of fire.

The bird was lying on the snow, puddles of water forming where its flames touched the white powder. I sensed that, since the flames were barely flickering, that the bird was in danger. Why would a bird of fire be in the snow? I grabbed its scrawny legs with my claws and did my best to drag it to the cave in which I was going to sleep in, avoiding the scolding flames on its tail.

I dropped the bird at the back of the cave and rested a while. I guessed the first thing I should do was to get the snow out of the cave. Melted snow wasn't good for fire, and cold wasn't good for a bird with fire for wings and tail. I flapped my wings as hard as I could, blowing away the loose snow that had gathered. I scratched away some of the harder snow, then flapped that out too.

When I was sure every flake of snow was out of the cave, I flopped down for a rest and looked at the bird. Its flames seemed lower than before, not a good sign. I flew out of the cave and grabbed a fish, in case the bird awoke, then moved onto phase two. How would I keep the bird warm?

I piled snow and ice up at the entrance of the cave, hoping maybe to trap some of the heat the tiny flames made inside the cave. I left a small opening so I would be able to get in and out, and so that when the ice melted, it would drip out of the cave, rather than to the back where the blazing bird lay.

I was sweltering in there, but I stayed with the bird for the time it took to recover. Each day I could see the flames were brightening. On the third day, I wriggled out of the hole and searched for a tree. I found one. It was ages away, but I couldn't just let the bird die. I struck a strong ice beam at a branch of the tree and broke it off, then hauled it the whole way back to the cave.

I dropped it outside and broke it into smaller pieces with my ice beams. I carried each piece into the cave and piled a few against the fiery feathers of the bird, the rest over to the side. Even with such small flames, the wood caught alight.

I let out a whoop of joy and watched as the fire slowly consumed the wood. I dumped more wood around the bird, warming it up as much as I could, and keeping a close eye on the ice wall. I nipped out to get a fish, as I was almost sure that the bird would awake soon. I placed the fish down and watched.

After about fifteen minutes, the bird's eyelids fluttered open. It rolled its head and groaned.

"Ssh," I told it, "don't say anything now, just rest."

"Who are you?" The bird's voice was so weak I could just barely make out the words.

"I'm Snowfall, an Articuno, but you have to rest now."

"Thank you," the bird smiled, then fell asleep. I smiled to myself. It was good to help save a life.

The next morning when I returned with more wood, the bird was awake and had its eyes open. The flames on its tail, wings and crest were stronger now, but still nowhere near strong enough. I smiled as I piled the wood on the fire.

"Feeling better now?" I asked it.

It nodded, "Much better," her voice was still very weak, but I didn't have to struggle to hear it. "Thank you for saving me, Snowfall. I'm Inferno, a Moltres. I've heard about you, but never really known."

"Would you like something to eat? I can go and grab a fish if you like," I offered. I felt great pride in being able to say that, but Inferno obviously couldn't know the story behind it. She just nodded, coughed and lay her head back down.

I grabbed a nice fat Seaking, perfect for regaining lost energy. I hauled the Seaking into the cave and placed it in front of the Moltres. She sat up and blew out a puff of flame at it, before going into a fit of coughs.

"Ssh," I whispered, "It's already dead."

Inferno laughed a hoarse laugh and coughed again. "I always cook my food before I eat it, makes it taste better," she explained, "Don't seem to have the puff for it right now though."

"Would it help if I put it on the fire?" I suggested.

Inferno shook her head, "No, that's okay, I'll just eat it raw." And with that she started pecking at the fish. I ducked out to get one of my own. When I arrived back, there was nothing left of the fish but bones.

"Thank you," she said again. Her flames were well up now, and her voice was much stronger. "I feel much better."

"What brought you to the mountains anyway? I would have thought a fire bird would want to stay with fire, not the complete opposite."

Inferno shrugged. "I wanted adventure, but I got lost. I had pretty much given up hope, then you found me."

"I'd help you home, but I have no idea where that is. You've probably got more of an idea than I do."

"That's okay, I may as well stay here. I can put up with it, now that I've got a friend." She smiled up at me. I smiled back. I just knew we'd be friends forever.

But a month later, we saw a group of humans. The humans had long metal sticks and a whole party of Blastoise, Dewgong and other powerful water types, along with I guessed a few electric types.

I suggested turning back, but Inferno wanted adventure, so I let her have it.

"If we can defeat all of them, then we'll be the most powerful Pokémon on the planet!" she insisted.

I sighed. "If we must, but it just doesn't look safe. Are you sure?"

"Course I'm sure!" she scoffed, and dove down to the humans, flames flickering out behind. I hesitated a bit, then followed her down.

Inferno landed behind them and screeched out loud. The humans and Pokémon whisked around, and let out gasps upon seeing the Moltres standing before them.

"I thought we were looking for Articuno," said one man, "Where's a God of Fire doing here?"

"Who knows, but how about we grab it anyway," replied another.

I decided now was the time to make my entrance. I glided down gracefully next to Inferno and copied her pose, then let out a soft coo.

"There's your God of Ice, boy, now get 'em!" the man ordered, and at once, shouts of attacks to their Pokémon brought the mountains alive. Hydro pumps, water guns and thunderbolts rained down on us.

Inferno opened her wings and blasted out fire so hot it would have had a Magikarp seriously charred, but these Pokémon were virtually unharmed. The water types just pumped the fire away before it even hit them. Even my blizzard took no effect.

"Inferno, we can't do this, let's just go, please?" I pleaded with her, flapping snow from my wings as best I could. I looked across at my companion. She was looking worn out but determined.

I decided that even if she was going to stay here, I was going. I flapped out a desperate mist and turned away. "Sorry Inferno, but they're just too much for us." And I spread my wings and took flight.

I looked back to the raging battle. I could see that Inferno was going to lose, and I could hardly stand it, but I knew that if I went down to help, I'd be defeated too. I hovered in the air and watched on. "Inferno, come back!" I yelled, but I don't think she could hear me over the noise of the water and electricity flying in all directions.

One man suddenly threw a red and white ball at Inferno, and she was reduced to red light, then nothing.

"Inferno!" I screamed.

Somehow, she managed to burst free of the ball. She looked up at me, hate burning deep in her eyes. "You're going to pay for this! Snowy!" she screeched, and was again reduced to nothing. This time, she didn't come back.

I drifted around those mountains for a further nine years, not seeing one other Articuno. In fact, the only Pokémon I saw I ate. One particular day, when I was around twenty-one, I was too exhausted to fly, so I just walked around the mountain, leaving imprints of my clawed feet in the snow. This was the day I met Glacier.

Old Fiction