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Scyther's Story - Part IV: Nightmare

XIV

A year later, it was finally time for Shadowdart to take the final step into adulthood.

“I’m going to see the Leader now,” Shadowdart told his friends as he walked past that familiar old tree. It was in full blossom, just like the wild flowers growing below it which Razor was currently practicing his accuracy by beheading. Cut petals were scattered all over the ground around him.

“If I were you,” Razor commented without looking up, “I’d have been there already. The Leader likes when you’re there on time.”

Shadowdart’s expression betrayed a hint of nervousness for a second. “I’m not that late – you guys were just up ridiculously early.”

Razor didn’t reply to that. “How many tries do you think you’ll need? Six? Seven?”

Shadowdart never responded well to taunts of that sort. He looked even more nervous for a second, but then replied with surprising confidence, “I’m going to match you. First creature I’ll find, I’m going to kill. Well, actually,” he added snidely, “I’m going to top you, because that creature is going to be edible.”

Razor shrugged. It was true; his human the previous year hadn’t tasted very good at all, although the swarm had seemed somewhat impressed by the size, and the Leader had actually looked proud when the witnesses testified that the human had been the first thing he had attacked.

“So what’re you planning to catch, anyway?” Stormblade asked casually. “I’m curious.”

“A Tauros,” Shadowdart said stubbornly, reminding Razor all too much of Shadowdart Descith self.

Stormblade chuckled. “Now… isn’t that aiming just a little bit high?”

“I’ll… I’ll show you, both of you,” Shadowdart just said before storming off in an attempt to look determined.

Stormblade sighed.

“Think he’ll actually do it?”

“Him? Not a chance. Hey, look at those females over there…”

Razor pointed with his scythe in the direction of two female Scyther talking some distance away from them. Stormblade peered at them.

“What about them?”

“See the one to the right? I’ve had my eye on her for a while. Look at those scythes!”

Stormblade glanced at her. “Yeah, she’s nice,” he agreed with a shrug. “Not the greatest around or anything, of course, but nice…”

“Well, she is one of the better ones, don’t you think?” Razor asked without taking his eyes off the female. His slitlike pupils had widened to circles.

Stormblade peered better at the female. “I guess so.”

“I actually mated with the other once a while back. Never really got to know her, though. Didn’t know they knew each other,” Razor said before he looked back at Stormblade. “Come on. Let’s go talk to them.”

The older Scyther rolled his eyes, but followed him anyway towards the two females. They looked uninterestedly up as the males approached.

“What do you want?” the one that Razor had his eye on asked shortly.

“Hello there, ladies,” Razor said, trying to sound attractive. Stormblade giggled behind him.

“So who are you? Newly-evolved freshman?” asked Razor’s target. “Sorry, but we’re off-bounds.”

“I had my First Prey a year ago,” Razor said defensively. “I was the one with the human,” he added for the opportunity to gloat a little.

A look of familiarity crossed the female’s face. “Ooh, that was you?” she asked with a giggle. “Most ridiculous First Prey the swarm has ever seen, wasn’t it, Sickle?”

The other female, the one she had addressed as Sickle, nodded with a smug grin.

“It was the biggest in a long while,” Razor countered, a little sore that Sickle hadn’t made any attempt to stand up for him.

“Ha! Size doesn’t matter!” the mysterious female answered with an emphasizing swing of her scythe. “It’s strength that matters. Humans are some of the most pathetic creatures around, you know.”

Sickle looked at Razor and then glanced unsurely at her friend. “To be fair, humans carry other Pokémon with them, and they might be strong.”

Razor didn’t jump up to catch this opportunity to redeem himself, mostly because knocking out a Growlithe wasn’t the most impressive thing a Scyther had ever done. He hadn’t even really had the heart to kill the puppy – well, at least to the point that he had had no longing to finish the job after the boy was done with, so he had left the Pokémon on the road. That wasn’t anything to be particularly proud of, and in the end, he didn’t want to lie. Not to her.

“What did you catch, anyway, since you’re so wonderful?” he asked instead, beginning to feel more competitive.

“Stantler,” she replied calmly.

His eyes widened. “A… a Stantler?” he asked, dumbfounded.

“Yeah, a Stantler,” she said with a short glance at him. “What about it? It was just a calf, but a Stantler all the same.”

“Oh,” Razor just said. Stantler were often hunted by Scyther, but very rarely as First Prey. He didn’t know exactly how small a calf it was that she had caught, but it couldn’t have been particularly much smaller than his human.

“Aww, the poor guy is devastated that he’s not as special anymore,” the female mocked, addressing Sickle. “Well, surprise for you. You’re not special. You’re a typical, pathetic, shallow, idiotic male.”

The insults bounced off him.

“Can I give you a name?” slipped suddenly out of him before he could stop himself. The female now looked at him, raising an eyebrow at the bizarre suggestion – arguments were generally not the time Scyther decided to give one another names – before folding her arms.

“Go ahead.”

“I call you…”

He had a name in mind already; no, he didn’t have it in mind – it was just the first word that crossed his mind when he looked at her and seemed only more appropriate now.

Beautiful, but dangerous, frightening; terrible but fascinating. Negative – which was always a dangerous thing when giving someone a name – but so very fitting he couldn’t resist.

“…Nightmare.”

She showed no particular reaction to the name in her expression – it was still the same one of disdain, mild amusement, superiority. Perhaps only because she found that it was still appropriate.

“Well, then I’ll have to give you a name as well, won’t I?” she said calmly but with poison dripping off every word. She thought for only a fraction of a second before proceeding in a low, malicious hiss:

“Scizor.”

XV

Shadowdart was not doing well enough at all.

He had been wandering around for a while and seen quite a few small Pokémon, but they had all disappeared before he had had the chance to even begin to approach them. And in spite of himself, he felt utterly miserable and, undeniably, scared and nervous as hell.

This fact only made him feel more useless and pathetic, which did not help.

A Raticate snuck across the ground a few meters off. Raticate were very common First Prey – there was nothing awe-inducing about catching them. He didn’t really want to have a try at it, what with his rash promises to catch a Tauros earlier. Razor and Stormblade would laugh at him.

Although to do it in one try was still a formidable feat, large prey or not, and the Leader would be happier with some tender Raticate flesh than with that disgusting, sinewy human of Razor’s.

He had just made the decision to catch it after all when he realized that it was already gone.

Shadowdart sighed, glancing at the witnesses lurking in the bushes behind him. He crept silently along the forest floor, searching for another opportunity.

And that was when he eyed the small, plain, white mammal wandering confusedly around a short distance ahead.

Immediately, he crouched down so it wouldn’t see him. Leta weren’t the largest prey around, but they were difficult to catch thanks to the powerful Letaligon always watching over their young, and to boot, their meat was excellent. He kind of wanted his mouth to water at the sight of it, but it didn’t. Looking at it alive didn’t make him hungry at all; it just made him squirm uncomfortably.

The Leta looked carefully around; its behavior gave him the feeling it was a female. He guessed she had fallen behind and lost the herd. Her mother would most likely come looking for her before long. He would have to attack soon.

Shadowdart approached her with great caution, taking care not to alert her of his presence. So far he appeared to have been successful: even when the Leta ran her large orange eyes past the bush he was hiding behind, she didn’t seem to become the slightest bit suspicious. Finally she decided to walk quietly off in a random direction – which, by a miraculous stroke of luck, was the direction of Shadowdart’s bush.

Instinct told the Scyther to hold his breath while his target proceeded cautiously straight towards him. He could almost feel the hormones burning in his blood, fine-tuning his senses for the hunt and filling him with tense exhilaration. He even managed to momentarily forget that just earlier he had been a nervous wreck as the prey drew closer and closer…

He leapt out at precisely the right moment, just when the Leta was closest, before she would have seen him and dashed off. The small mammal let out a terrified shriek, fatally frozen in fear during the last fraction of a second that she had to escape before Shadowdart struck her to the ground and held her down where she struggled desperately, still shrieking at the top of her lungs.

“Prepare to die,” Shadowdart hissed, drawing his blade and positioning it by the little Pokémon’s throat.

It stayed there.

Shadowdart would later tell himself that it was just the hypnotic power of the Leta’s eyes, but deep down he always knew it wasn’t true. The Leta was too scared to think about trying to hypnotize him. What happened was simply that the precise flow of hormones that had granted him the instinctual ability to catch her had ceased, and now he suddenly felt scared and alone, about to murder an innocent little Leta that was scared out of her life and didn’t want to die.

He looked at her and couldn’t help empathizing with her. He saw himself in her place with a bigger, stronger Scyther (in his mind it was Razor, although that was to him not the point) holding him helplessly down, preparing to slit his throat.

He cringed.

He couldn’t do it.

You’re a Scyther, he thought desperately to himself. You’re a predator! Get a grip already and just kill the stupid thing like your species has always done!

Poor little thing…

Shadowdart closed his eyes. The Leta’s scream was still piercing through his eardrums. He would just have to move his scythe a little bit… just a tiny little bit…

He opened his eyes hopelessly. With the edge of his left scythe that he was using to hold her down, he felt the Leta’s heart beating rapidly.

Do it.

He tried again, but his scythe just wouldn’t move, no matter what he told it. He felt increasingly awful with every passing moment. The witnesses were probably snickering behind him.

Just do it already, damn it!

But he couldn’t.

XVI

Only a Scyther could grasp the extent to which she had just insulted him.

“Take that back,” Razor growled as Stormblade hissed menacingly. Even Sickle seemed shocked, but Nightmare stood her ground with a nasty glare at Razor.

“Why? You’re very much like one, as far as I can see,” she said mockingly. “You call those scythes? And you have just this pathetic Scizorlike clumsiness. All you need is the red coloration…” She smiled, clearly enjoying this enormously. “Oh, but it looks like you’re growing kind of red in the face already, aren’t you? I’m witnessing an evolution! I feel so greatly honoured!”

“You… you…” Razor began, nonetheless at a loss of words to express his fury. “We’ll see who’s clumsy and pathetic!” he finally shouted. “I challenge you to a true duel, right here and now!”

The last word had barely left his lips when he realized what a dumb move that had been. A true duel ended in death, and given that her elegant movements, quick reactions and beautiful way of handling her scythes had been what had made her stand out to him in the first place, he had very little hope of winning.

But he couldn’t take back a challenge.

Nightmare’s face broke into a grin. “A true duel, with you? Hah! Somebody’s suicidal! Been breaking the Code, now, have you?”

He ignored the taunt. “We’ll see who gets killed.”

Stormblade looked nervously at him, his gaze spelling out “This is not a good idea.” Razor ignored him as well, despite knowing he was right.

“Well,” Nightmare said and folded her arms, “since you’re serious, I’m all yours. You two can be witnesses to the duel.”

Stormblade and Sickle exchanged nervous glances and stepped back in opposite directions, allowing them to watch the duel from two different angles.

“Position yourselves, then…” Stormblade began, his voice not as calm as it perhaps should have been. Razor and Nightmare each took a few steps back and crouched down to the ground, watching one another carefully.

They had learned all the procedures of a duel backwards and forwards in their lessons with the Leader, so despite this being Razor’s first true duel, he knew exactly what he was supposed to do. His many friendly duels with Stormblade helped as well for confidence – otherwise he would most likely have been a nervous wreck.

But he would hardly have been more of a nervous wreck than Shadowdart was at that very moment.

XVII

Shadowdart, indeed, was in a state of such extreme despair and panic that if there ever was a moment in his life during which he wanted to break down and cry, it was this one.

The Leta he had caught had already been struggling and screaming for what seemed like hours on end but was in fact closer to fifteen seconds, and he still had not been able to bring himself to kill her.

It would perhaps have been of comfort to him to know that in fact this happened to nearly every young Scyther who went out on his first hunt, which was why cases such as Razor, managing to kill the first creature they caught, were exceptional. But he did not know that, and assumed, like most other Scyther except those who wondered unnecessarily about trivial things like Stormblade and those who had been witnesses to the most extreme cases, that this was simply because prey could escape easily from the arms of such an inexperienced hunter. Of course there was a gap in the argument – namely that in fact a Scyther’s hunter instincts had a much bigger part to play in the ability to keep the prey once it had been caught than ever did experience – but none of them ever thought about that, and they saw no good reason to start wondering about it. Shadowdart, at the very least, did not, and thus it was his assumption that the fact he was troubled was something particularly dirty, something that was majorly wrong with him.

This, of course, did not help him gain the confidence to finish his task.

It was almost a relief when he was snapped out of his despair by the roar of a Letaligon. As a huge armored mammal sprinted towards him, he was all but overjoyed to have a good excuse to release the Leta. As the baby dashed behind her mother, the adult leapt at Shadowdart, ready to swing the metallic blade at the top of her head. The Scyther was quick to leap out of the way and make it clear to the Letaligon that he was not planning to attack them again; resentfully, she trotted off with her child.

Shadowdart glanced at the male witness waiting close by, closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths. He had blown it on his first catch, all right. His only chance of outclassing Razor in those terms was lost.

But he could still beat Stormblade, who had according to rumour gotten his First Prey in three tries. He could get it in two. And he could get something much larger – a Pidgey was pretty pathetic after all! The thought cheered him up a little bit. He looked around and caught a glimpse of a Nidorina not too far off. He tried to concentrate, but his mind refused to stop worrying that it would only be the same.

He took a few more deep breaths.

Feeling slightly calmer, Shadowdart approached the Nidorina slowly, letting his armor blend in with the color of the thick foliage for camouflage. She was digging into the ground for food, far too concentrated on that instead of keeping an eye out for lurking predators. She was a woefully easy target.

He mentally prepared himself and jumped.

Within a bit of a second, the Nidorina was struggling on the ground with Shadowdart holding her still and fighting to get his blade up to the throat. They had been taught to kill their prey by slitting the throat, that supposedly being the ‘purest’ way to die, but it really made things more difficult. Finally he got his scythe into position, but hesitated for a moment.

That moment, he also unfortunately happened to lose some of his muscle power, and this allowed the Nidorina opportunity to squeeze out from underneath him and sprint into the nearest bush, disappearing.

Shadowdart sighed. He had failed again.

XVIII

Razor was the first to strike.

He knew that generally one didn’t want to be the first to strike, and striking too soon was a sign of rashness and immaturity, but she did not seem like the type to let herself be struck with such a label, and he was getting nervous and wanted to get the duel over with.

He dashed towards Nightmare, keeping his scythes in a defensive position anyway in case she counterattacked while he was still moving, and finally raised them for a slash as he was just reaching the female.

She jumped into the air, slashing gracefully at him so that he only barely managed to block it, and landed skillfully behind him. Razor quickly turned around with his scythes ready to block, which was just as well because another slash was already heading his way. The sound of clashing scythes got his blood pumping even faster than before. He concentrated, aimed and slashed, but was unsurprised when Nightmare effortlessly raised her own scythe to block it.

She spun around to attempt to slash him with both of her scythes, but he quickly blocked it with both of his as well. As he pushed her away, she pushed back.

They wrestled like this for a couple of seconds, neither gaining the upper hand, but then she unexpectedly kicked his leg, causing him to falter backwards. It took her only a fraction of a second to make use of this; she quickly pulled her own scythes back and then swung them powerfully towards the middle joint between his torso and abdomen. He was very nearly cut in half, but managed at the last moment to block it with the blunt edge of his left scythe before stepping backwards for a breathing break.

He quickly examined the deep cut on the green scythe edge. This was one of the hardest parts of a Scyther’s exoskeleton; to cut through it was a formidable feat in itself, but she seemed to have sliced into it as easily as a hot knife into butter. He had hardly felt any pain at all, but merely a sharp tingling sensation before noticing the blood.

She had no cuts at all yet. In fact, she didn’t look tired either. She had taken a couple of steps back as well, but had her arms folded and her expression mocking as before, her breathing stable and calm. It was clear that the situation did not look good for him at all so far.

“Giving up yet?” she taunted.

Razor pulled himself together, rose up and darted towards her in an attempt to catch her at least somewhat by surprise.

He watched, awestruck, as she jumped into the air with unnatural speed, dodging his slash, and swooped back down at him with the utmost precision before he had even managed to stop moving. It was only very narrowly that he managed to duck and block. She jumped gracefully backwards, landing steadily on her feet and ready to defend.

“Fine, you’re better than you look,” she admitted. “Not that that’s saying much.”

This time it was she who attacked, and unlike him, she did manage to take him by surprise: he was still taking in her words when she knocked headfirst into him, causing him to fall backwards onto the ground with her on top of him.

He desperately used the momentum to keep them rolling, hoping he would end up on top, but she had much the same intentions and a great deal more skill to carry them out with. Within seconds he was lying helplessly on the ground, unable to move, with her scythe tightly by his throat.

And he knew that this was it, that she would now kill him. It struck him again what a stupid idea it had been to challenge her, because it would either mean his own death, or having to kill the most beautiful, accurate and fast Scyther with the sharpest scythes in the world…

But what a perfect way to die, by the scythe of such a goddess.

He smiled and closed his eyes, waiting for death to sweep him away.

XIX

But death never came.

Razor opened his eyes after a few seconds. She was still there, exactly where she had been before, her scythe still only an inch from killing him, but she didn’t move it.

He looked into her eyes, not sure what the meaning of this was. It came to mind that it had to be some sort of a joke.

She looked back.

Her expression changed to one of bitter pity.

And slowly, right before his astonished eyes, she removed her scythe from his throat and stood up.

She looked at him with an inscrutable expression, then turned her head, closed her eyes and walked away. Her friend Sickle, after looking oddly at both of them, followed.

Razor stood up in astonishment.

Stormblade came over to him with a puzzled expression. “Why – why did she spare you?”

Razor shook his head, looking after her. “I don’t know…”

Stormblade looked at him and then away. “Then… well, you lost, so… you know the Code…”

Razor nodded absent-mindedly. He knew it only too well. To lose a true duel made your life worthless. He should not still be alive, and it was up to him to fix that.

“But why did she do it? There has to be some kind of a loophole in this. Some exception… something that changed the duel. Why else would she have…?”

Stormblade shook his head. “I doubt it…”

“The Leader will judge it tonight if I’m not already dead by then, won’t he?” Razor asked a little louder, finding to his horror that his voice was shaky.

Stormblade nodded. “I guess so.”

Razor could have told him how scared he was. Stormblade would have understood it and perhaps made him feel better. But Razor had no reason to believe that his fear was anything but unnatural, and so he kept quiet and pretended to be cool with his fate.

He was not.

XX

Shadowdart was getting consumed by despair.

Seven Pokémon he had caught now, only to have them escape thanks to his hesitation or some silly mistake. And the more Pokémon that escaped, the more desperate he got, and the more mistakes he made. He was beginning to have panicky thoughts of spending the whole day and whole night – which was the maximum technically allotted time for First Prey, although never as far as the oldest Scyther could remember had anyone needed it – but still failing, and being condemned to exile and starvation. He had even noticed now, to his horror, that even the precise balance system that ordinarily allowed a Scyther to stay still as a statue was failing him now, giving in to his terror: he was trembling, something that he was very grateful the judges were too far away to notice.

The day he had dreamt of for a year and a half was becoming a nightmare.

He looked around, taking a few fast, desperate breaths. All hope was leaving him; if he hadn’t managed to kill the first seven he caught, why would he manage the eighth? He eyed a Caterpie sitting on the trunk of a tree – some of the lousiest First Prey in existence, but what did it matter now that his reputation was just about unredeemable already? He didn’t bother to be cautious at all and just ran over with his scythes aloft. He cried out in some mix of frustration and despair, driving the blade carelessly into the tree trunk just above the Caterpie’s head.

He had missed.

As the little bug crawled, terrified, up the trunk and disappeared into the thick roof of leaves, Shadowdart jerked his scythe out of the tree and collapsed on the ground.

What was wrong with him? Why was he so pathetic and weak that he couldn’t even bring himself to aim properly before attacking a Caterpie?

He had a strange burning feeling in his eyes, but didn’t know why. He stared at the soil below him, then closed his eyes and breathed in the earthy smell to calm himself down.

Slowly, he rose back to his feet.

He knew there were most likely Metapod in the trees somewhere, but they were hardly edible and he would most likely be even worse off catching a Metapod than nothing at all.

He’d have to keep searching.

Shadowdart fixed his gaze in one direction and walked in it as quietly as he could, trying to exclude all his previous attempts from his mind. The forest was thick in these parts, allowing him easy cover from potential prey, but it also made it more difficult for him to find anything to catch.

He thought he heard something.

Staying as still as he could with the slight trembling, he listened for more. He heard it again. His eyes scanned the forest floor carefully, and finally he detected a movement in a shadow near the roots of a huge tree.

He crouched down, still trying to fill his mind with everything other than his previous failed attempts. He wondered what Stormblade and Razor were doing, what species of Pokémon it was that he had heard and seen, what time it was anyway, how the other Scyther who would be having their First Prey in the coming days would do, whether it would rain…

He saw movement again. Instinct fixed his eyes on it and caused his muscles to tense up. He focused his mind absolutely on the movement, preparing to strike…

A tiny purple rat Pokémon emerged from underneath the tree, looking quickly around.

He forcibly ejected all disappointment and the knowledge that Rattata were also pathetic First Prey out of his mind before he jumped.

The Rattata let out a piercing shriek, but he managed to bring his foot down on its tail just before it ran away. The little rat shrieked again in despair, scratching the ground in futile attempts to pull itself loose.

“It will all be over now…” Shadowdart whispered, turning the Rattata over and pinning it down with the blunt edge of his left scythe. He was still trembling, all right – but he would do it anyway.

He closed his eyes before silencing its cries of terror for good.

XXI

It was drawing close to sunset when Shadowdart returned with the dead Rattata in his mouth.

He was surprised to find both Stormblade and Razor still sitting under that familiar tree, saying nothing and staring emptily at the ground. They were equally surprised to find him trembling, down and miserable.

“Why are you so late?” asked Stormblade.

Shadowdart sat down in the grass beside them and shook his head. Stormblade hadn’t really needed to ask, however, because he already had an idea why it was.

“Shadowdart, how many tries did it take you?”

At first Shadowdart didn’t answer, but finally he opened his mouth.

“Nine,” he whispered.

Razor chuckled. Stormblade looked at him in surprise; he hadn’t made a single sound for hours.

The chuckling became hysterical, ironic, joyless laughter.

“Nine fucking tries?” he finally chortled in the middle of it. “God, that is the most pathetic thing I’ve ever heard. It takes you nine tries to kill some tiny fucking rodent? Go away. Cut up some grass field. Get the fuck out of the tattered remains of my life before I snap and cut off your head.”

And he turned towards the tree, curled up in the fetal position and continued laughing hysterically.

Shadowdart looked at him for a second.

“Fine,” he whispered, stood up and walked away. Stormblade looked doubtfully between the two, but then walked after Shadowdart.

He glanced back at Razor. He was still chuckling uncontrollably.

Or perhaps crying.

XXII

“Tonight,” boomed the Leader’s mighty voice, “we witness a young Scyther’s journey into adulthood come to an end. He has faced death, conquered and inflicted it – though, as I understand it, with some difficulty…” He narrowed his eyes at Shadowdart, but made no more of it. “Let him join the swarm with full privileges, be eligible for true duels of life and death, and hunt on his own! Let him be able to challenge my Leadership, should he be more fit for it than I. Let him now honor the Code, since he now understands it, and be a valuable member of the swarm. Step forward, Scyther.”

Shadowdart stepped forward and looked nervously around before proceeding with his part.

“I… I offer the meat of my First Prey to our Leader,” he began with a casual nod in the Leader’s direction, placing the Rattata on the rock. The Leader nodded suspiciously back and tore a piece of flesh from the rodent.

“And to my only friend, Stormblade,” Shadowdart said quietly. He had been filled in on what had happened in the duel. Razor was not eligible for any honours such as to be offered the meat of a First Prey – although Shadowdart doubted he would have done it even then. If he had, it would only have been repayment because Razor had offered his to him.

Stormblade stepped up. His expression was still troubled, but he bowed respectfully to Shadowdart and ripped some meat off the Rattata’s corpse to eat.

“Then he is accepted,” the Leader said calmly, but with a hint of disdain. Shadowdart nodded towards him again, picked up the Rattata in his mouth and walked down into the swarm with Stormblade to finish eating it.

“Now let us turn to more serious matters,” the Leader said coolly. “I understand that a true duel took place today… I would like the Scyther involved to step up.”

His eyes scanned through the swarm for movement and found it. Razor walked slowly up to the rock and stopped to face the swarm by the Leader’s side, his face empty.

“Where is the other?” the Leader asked sharply.

“She has left the swarm,” said a voice that Razor recognized as that of Sickle.

“I see,” the Leader replied shortly. “Let us hope she had the decency to kill herself unlike this pathetic swarm member I am unfortunate enough to be standing beside.” He spat the last words, glaring at Razor with resentment. Razor didn’t respond.

“Well,” the Leader began, turning back to the swarm, “to clarify the details, as they were told to me…”

He glanced at Razor, but then looked at the swarm again.

“This Scyther and the one who has now left had a fair true duel this morning. When she had defeated him, however, she failed to do as tradition dictates and kill her opponent, out of cowardice.”

“She’s not a coward,” Razor muttered, but the Leader ignored him.

“And then, apparently, after she left him alive, he failed to carry out his fate on himself, also out of cowardice.”

Razor did not protest this time. He just looked away.

“So now,” the Leader said, a little louder, “he is – I hope – going to correct this stupid mistake before he reduces himself to anything more pathetic than he is already, hm?”

He looked at Razor with disdain. Razor looked expressionlessly back at him.

“I guess so,” he replied emptily.

Razor hesitantly raised his scythe. He stared at it for a second, then looked up to expose his neck and jerked it up to his throat.

“Well?” the Leader said impatiently. “Do I need to help you?”

“Oh, shut up,” Razor mouthed inaudibly. The words caused his throat to quiver just enough to touch the sharp blade very, very lightly, not enough to cut through the skin.

It was a horrible, creepy feeling.

Razor took a few deep breaths. The Leader considered assisting him with public suicide ‘help’. It seemed just too ironic.

He closed his eyes with another deep breath. His scythe didn’t want to move.

And a certain female crossed his mind…

“No,” he said and slowly lowered his scythe. “No,” he repeated and shook his head.

To the astonished looks of the Leader and the swarm, he turned towards the forest and dashed off towards nowhere in particular.

Incidentally, it was the same direction as Nightmare had dashed off in a couple of hours earlier.

XXIII

“Wait, Razor!” he heard a familiar voice shout behind him.

He stopped and turned sharply around. Stormblade was flying after him at great speed in order to catch up; Shadowdart was following doubtfully, but apparently he hadn’t known where Stormblade was off to when he decided to follow him, because as soon as he saw Razor, he turned back.

“Shadowdart, I’m sorry!” Razor shouted. “I didn’t mean that! I was just feeling like crap, okay?”

But Shadowdart either didn’t hear him or pretended not to; he walked slowly back towards the swarm.

“Razor,” Stormblade panted. “What… where are you going now?”

“After her,” Razor said, his voice shaking but this time with exhilaration. “I can smell her pheromones. I’ve picked up her trail. I’m going to follow her.”

Stormblade looked blankly at him. “Why?”

Razor’s eyes were shining as he looked back at his friend. “Because damn, she’s the fastest, most amazing Scyther with the sharpest scythes in the world, and I can’t live without her.”

Stormblade blinked. Then he chuckled.

“Ooh, Razor is in love.”

“Yes,” Razor replied excitedly. “Yes, I am.”

Stormblade looked sadly at his friend.

“Well, you can’t exactly return to the swarm from now, can you?”

“I don’t give a damn about the swarm!” Razor shouted, grinning widely.

Stormblade smiled. He couldn’t help it.

“Good luck, Razor,” he said softly. “Perhaps we’ll see each other again one day.”

“Take care of Shadowdart,” Razor answered. “It’s been great knowing you.”

“Goodbye, Razor.”

“Goodbye, Stormblade.”

And Razor turned around to follow the faint trail of feminine scent that was the only thing in the world that he cared about anymore.

-------

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