A/N: Shifting Game was the first thing I wrote when I got back into fanfic. Looking back, it's pretty embarrassing, even though I wrote it less than a year ago. After I posted the third chapter onto SPPf I decided to take a break from this fic to work on some other projects, such as finishing Broken Promise... and that ended up taking a lot longer than I expected. So this fic is still in progress, but hasn't had any progress for ages. Sorry about that. I promise I'll return to it though, as soon as I've finished Broken Promise.
The forceful, brutal punches and kicks rain down mercilessly onto my body. All the wind is suddenly knocked out of me. I cry out in pain as I soar through the air, shuddering as my white fur disappears and I transform into my Human Forme. The super-effective attack was enough to weaken me enough to disable my Pokemon Forme. I grunt as I hit the hard-packed ground with a jarring thud. I wince as I hear something break. I think it's my shoulder bone.
I try to ignore the pain in my shoulder and stomach as I sit up, getting ready to flee, but my opponent quickly tackles me down. The next thing I know, the Mega Lucario, her eyes cold and merciless, is sitting on my chest and confining my arms with her legs. I thrash, trying to push her off me, but she is too strong. I can't move. I can't breathe.
"Stupid Normal-type," the Lucario growls, sending a shiver through my spine with her piercing gaze. "This is almost too easy."
I'm really desperate now. I wince at the pure hatred in her piercing eyes, and suddenly the pain in my shoulder and everywhere else is too great.
"Okay, okay, you win," I whimper. All my energy is spent, I hurt everywhere, and tears are streaming down my face. "If you're going to kill me, do it quickly, okay?"
The Mega Lucario just sneers. "Pathetic," she spits, not loosening her hold. "Just what I'd expect from a wimpy Normal-type like you. One good Close Combat was enough to disable your Pokemon Forme, and I could kill you instantly right now, for good, with another Close Combat."
"Just get it over with," I gasp, almost fainting from the pain.
"Too bad, loser," the Lucario growls, grinning sinisterly as she looks at the short white spike on the back of her right paw. "You're going to die slowly and painfully."
As she brings down the spike to slice at my throat, I scream. My eyes fly open.
I'm sitting in my mother's lap. She has her arms gently around me and is sitting on my bed. My older sister, Christine, is holding my hand, and my older brother, Nathan, is sitting near my mother and singing a soothing song. My father stands at the foot of my bed, a concerned look on his face and a glass of water in his hand.
My heartbeat slows down as I realize that everything is fine and I just had a bad dream. I am in my Human Forme, and so is my family. We are all wearing pajamas - I must have woken them up with my nightmare. I am home, here in the Normal District of Koena, and I am safe.
At least for now, I think suddenly. Today is Choosing Day. I shake my head, reminding myself that I have nothing to worry about. My chances of getting Chosen are slim to none.
"Lila, you're awake," my father murmurs. He hands me the glass of warm water and I slowly gulp it down.
"Thanks," I say, handing the empty glass back to my dad.
"Are you okay, honey?" my mother asks, kissing me on the cheek. "You seem to have had a bad dream."
My cheeks flush with embarrassment. "Mom, I'm fifteen," I say, climbing awkwardly out of her lap. "You don't have to wait on me like I'm a toddler."
"You were moaning and crying in your sleep," my mother says, her concerned expression not going away. "Are you sure everything's all right?"
"It was just a nightmare," I say quickly. "I know it's not real." I look around at my family, feeling grateful that they all care for me but also a little annoyed. "Really, guys, I'm fine."
"That's good to hear," my father says, smiling. He checks the clock on my bedside table. "It's 5 AM. Do you want to go back to sleep, or do you want to make the rounds with us?"
"Dad, it's Choosing Day, remember?" Christine points out. "Usually everyone in the District sleeps in."
My father nods slowly. "Oh yeah, I forgot," he says. "Today, and in the weeks that follow, I need all of us to be extra kind, helpful, and empathetic. It's going to be a rough time for everyone, especially the families of the Chosen Ones."
"Don't worry, Dad," Nathan says. "We've been living in Koena since we were born. We know how important it is to stick together, look on the bright side, and never give up hope. Lila's maxims." He smiles at me. "They're a little cheesy given the crappy world we live in, but hey, they work."
Everyone is silent for a while. Then my mother says, "Well, it looks like everyone got up early today. Shall we get dressed and eat breakfast?"
"Good idea," I say. "I'll meet you all downstairs."
Thirty minutes later, I've showered, brushed my teeth, and dressed in a comfortable pink T-shirt and black shorts. My relatively short red hair is in two fluffy pigtails. It was Christine's turn to cook breakfast today, and I sit with my family at the kitchen table, enjoying the delicious breakfast Christine made.
"I can't believe I fell down the stairs again - Lila, don't stuff yourself," Nathan says after he finishes his toast.
"I warned you about stairs, bro," I laugh. I swallow my mouthful of scrambled eggs. "And sorry. It's just that I'm really hungry."
"Don't forget that most of the District is going hungry while you get three nice meals a day," Christine admonishes gently. "Even with the help they get from us, they still have to take Rations because it's a big District. Try as we might, we can't provide food and happiness to everyone at all times."
I nod, feeling a little guilty of my self-indulgence. My family lives comfortably - my parents are doctors, so we're the third-richest family in the District - but most of the Normal District lives in poverty thanks to the fact that we have to give most of our goods to Plateau City. It was my idea for the family to spread joy around the District, but even with our help, some people still have to take Rations and struggle every day to stay alive.
I feel a flush of gratitude that my name is only in the Choosing Bowl four times. Every year in the springtime, Koena Chooses thirty-six Chosen Ones, a boy and a girl from each of the eighteen Districts, to compete in the Koena Games. They are, essentially, a brutal fight to the death that Plateau City forces everyone to watch. The Chosen Ones, who are between the ages of twelve and eighteen, are Chosen randomly from the Choosing Bowls to compete in the Koena Games. The whole horrible spectacle is just one of the many ways Plateau City oppresses the Districts of Koena.
Normally, twelve-year-olds have one slip of paper bearing their name in the Choosing Bowl, thirteen-year-olds have two slips, and so forth until eighteen-year-olds have seven slips. However, those of Choosing age can have their names in the Choosing Bowl extra times, increasing their chances of getting Chosen to fight to the death, in exchange for Rations. I suddenly appreciate my good fortune to be born into a well-off family, because I've never had to take any Rations before.
My family makes light morning chit-chat as we finish our meal. Just as I'm unloading the dishwasher, I hear the doorbell ring.
"Someone's here early," my father remarks.
"I'll get it," I say, leaving Nathan to finish up the job. I absolutely love social interaction, so I'm usually the one who answers the door. When I open it, I smile. My good friend Dana Berlitz stands at the doorway, carrying a basket of Bluk Berries.
"Happy Choosing Day, Lila," she says with an ironic grin. "Dinah and I have been picking wild berries in the woods at the edge of the District. I thought you might want to have some."
"For free?" I blurt out. Bluk Berries are one of my favorite foods in the whole world.
Dana gives me an odd look. "Nothing's free, pal," she says, catching me by surprise. She smiles, and I relax a bit. "But you've already paid for these. Thanks for helping me feel better when my mom died."
"Oh, Dana, that was so long ago!" I exclaim. "You've been repaying me for months." I laugh. "Really, Dana, I love Bluk Berries, but it's about time you picked berries for yourself."
"So… you don't want any?" Dana asks coyly.
"Of course I want some. Don't be silly," I say as I grab a handful of the dark berries. "But you should have the rest for your own family."
"Are you sure?" Dana asks. "You know how much my family owes yours. Thanks to your help, we haven't had to take any Rations for years."
"You don't owe me anything, really," I say quickly. "A good deed is its own reward as far as I'm concerned." I swat at a fly that has flown into the house. "Do you want to come in? We can play checkers. We haven't done that in a while."
"Thanks so much, but I've got more errands to do," Dana says. She starts to walk out. "See you at the Choosing, and may the odds be ever in your favor."
"See ya!" I exclaim, waving at her with my free hand. I close the door and go to the kitchen to set the Bluk Berries in the refrigerator.
"I'm going to go for a run," I declare to my family, who is finishing up cleaning up breakfast. "Christine, I want to see if I can beat you this time around."
"Exercise is seriously overrated," Nathan mutters, heading for the stairs. "Wake me up when it's time for the Choosing."
Christine and I stifle laughs. Nathan has always had a thing against exercise, which is given away by his chubby frame. He's quite clumsy too - he often falls down the stairs, which makes for a great inside joke in our family. I can't blame him though - he's a Jigglypuff in his Pokemon Forme, so it's only natural that he isn't as agile as Christine, a Furret, and myself, a Zangoose.
"Come back by eight, okay?" my mother says. "We need to get ready for the Choosing."
"All right!" Christine and I exclaim as we head out the front door.
Here in the rich outskirts of the District, the spring air is fresh and clear. Our front lawn is lush green and neatly trimmed, and birds sing merrily as Christine and I walk down our suburban street. In the distance I can see the dense, dreary city where most of the Normal District's residents live - toiling in the old factories and sleeping in the filthy slums.
"Where should we go?" Christine asks as soon as we reach the end of our cul-de-sac.
"Let's take the Poison Loop," I suggest.
"Good idea," Christine says. "We haven't taken it in a while."
"Readysetgo!" I yell immediately, wanting to catch Christine off-guard. As I run, I transform, feeling the warm glow spread through my body as I grow white fur, a bushy tail sprouts behind me, and my hands and feet turn into paws. I am now a Zangoose. As I drop onto all fours and pick up speed, I notice that Christine has transformed into a Furret.
Christine is faster than me, but I have more stamina. My heart races as I focus on the swift movements of my feet. As we reach the scraggly woodland that nears the border between the Normal and Poison Districts, I can see that Christine is running out of energy and trailing behind ever so slightly. With a final burst of speed, I reach the tallest tree in the woods and and scratch my claws through the bark.
"I win!" I call out.
Suddenly every hair on my pelt stands on end, and I stiffen. My blood begins to boil as I look at the other side of the tall, electrified chain-link fence that separates the Normal District from the Poison District. A tan-skinned teenage boy with dark purple hair stands on the Poison District's side of the fence. When he sees me, he suddenly and seemingly involuntarily transforms into his Pokemon Forme. The boy, who is now a Seviper, hisses menacingly at me, and I growl back at him. He seems poised to attack me, and every muscle in my body itches to do the same.
A voice sounds behind me and Christine scampers up to me, still in her Pokemon Forme. "What's wrong?" She follows my gaze and tenses, understanding the situation. "Let's go back."
I shake my head in frustration, forcing my fur to lay flat. I take a few deep breaths until my heart rate slows down. Though a part of me still wants to slash my claws across the Seviper's body, I suppress it and transform into my Human Forme.
"I'm fine," I say quickly. "Zangoose and Seviper are hard-wired to fight each other. I guess my Pokemon instincts took over when I saw that guy, and so did his." I glance quickly at the Seviper and see that he has transformed back into his Human Forme. Suddenly the boyishly handsome face and soft violet eyes bring back a memory.
"Zane?!" I exclaim.
"Hey, it's Zane!" Christine exclaims in surprise. "We haven't seen you in months! What are you doing here?"
"I was having Choosing Day anxiety so I went to take a walk," Zane explains. He kicks a pinecone. "I don't normally come here, because there's nothing really useful here in these scraggly woods, except for the occasional berry bush that everyone else always seems to get to first. But it's good to see you, Lila and Christine. Even though it's technically illegal."
I laugh. Interactions between Districts are rare and usually only happen for business reasons, but there are so many Districts that Plateau City forgot to watch every border.
"Look, it's not funny," Zane says, his gaze darting around. "Here in Koena you never know when you're being watched. I'd better be going." His gaze softens. "But thanks for saving my life months ago, both of you. My life seems a little better now." He turns to me. "Sorry I tried to attack you, Lila. It was just my Pokemon instincts."
"Saving your life was the greatest deed I've ever done, so it was also the most rewarding one," I say. "And don't worry about those dumb Pokemon instincts. I had them too."
"Goodbye, Lila. Goodbye, Christine," Zane says, turning away. "May the odds be ever in your favor."
"You too!" I exclaim.
Christine and I turn away from the fence. "Race you home," I say. "Let's get ready for the Choosing."
"All right," Christine says. "Threetwoone go!"
Christine dashes off, already fast because she never transformed out of her Pokemon Forme. As I run after her and transform, the image of Zane lingers in my mind, and I smile when I realize that he looked happier and healthier than when I first and last saw him a few months ago.
It happened only last winter. Christine and I were in our Pokemon Formes and on one of our runs, and we had decided on the Poison Loop. We reached the tall tree at the same time, which was an odd occurrence, and were about to loop back to our house when what happened today happened. Behind the fence separating the Normal and Poison Districts stood a skinny teenage boy with messy dark purple hair and tattered clothes. He carried a rope in his hand, but when he saw me, he dropped the rope and immediately transformed into a Seviper, hissing menacingly at me. At the same time, I saw him and growled.
Thankfully, Christine was with me, or I would have stood at that electric fence bristling at the Seviper for who knows how long. She reminded me gently that the passerby boy was not going to hurt me, and that it was my personal nature to be nice to everyone.
So I transformed back into a human. A few seconds later, the Seviper did the same and hastily picked up the rope. That's when I realized that the rope wasn't just a rope - it was a noose. My blood turned to ice.
"You can't kill yourself," I blurted out.
The boy set his violet gaze on me, and a pang of sympathy shook me as I saw the hollow, defeated look in his eyes.
"I'm an orphan," he sighed. "Nobody would miss me."
"I'm sure there's someone who would," I said, panic rising in my throat. I had been unable to prevent a suicide once in my life before, and I wasn't going to fail again. "Don't you have siblings? Or a grandparent or uncle who cares about you?"
"They're all dead," the boy said flatly, "and I'm all alone. Even with the Rations I'm hungry all the time, and when I turn sixteen I'll have nothing to look forward to besides a life spent working at the garbage dumps. There's nothing worth living for."
I looked toward Christine, but the Furret shook her head, indicating that I was on my own. My sister seemed to be paralyzed with fear, her eyes wide and her tail stiff.
"That's not true," I said firmly to the boy. I looked around and spotted a Kelpsy Berry bush on the Poison District side of the fence. "Look at those Kelpsy Berries over there. Those are so rare, I thought only the Grass District had them. Aren't they pretty? Look at that lovely shade of blue. I heard they improve your mood if you eat them. If you weren't alive, would you be able to appreciate them?"
The boy followed my gaze and studied the blue berries carefully. "I guess I wouldn't," he said.
"Think. Fluffy white snow that makes any landscape sparkle, even a garbage dump. Sunsets that paint the sky with beautiful colors. People who will care about you, if you let them into your heart. There are plenty of things worth living for, don't you think?"
"Wow… I never thought of it that way," the boy murmured.
"Stay strong," I said quietly. Then I began to sing: "Sometimes it's hard to know, which way you're supposed to go…"
"Oh my gosh," the boy muttered in annoyance, but I could see a faint glimmer of amusement in his eyes. "Singing, really? Nobody does that-"
"I do," I said nonchalantly. "You should try it. It's fun." I continued singing. "But deep inside, you know you're strong. If you follow your heart you can't be wrong."
"Lila, I love you, but we both know you can't sing," Christine said, exasperated.
"Excuse me, but I'm trying to help this guy here," I said. I continued singing: "Sometimes it's hard to see, just what's your destiny. But when you find the path that's true, you'll know that's the one for you."
"Thank you," the Seviper boy said hastily, "but-"
"Oh, I'm not done yet," I interrupted. "The good part's coming up." I continued: "Stand up for what is right! Be brave! Get ready to fight! Hold on-"
"Thank you, and stop," the boy said suddenly. His cheeks flushed, embarrassed. "Uh, sorry! Sorry. But… but I think I'd better be going now. I'm scared that someone will catch us." His gaze darted around. "But I'm thankful for your help! I really am. You're right. There are still things worth living for."
"Aw, you're leaving already?" I asked, disappointed. "But you haven't heard all of the song yet!"
"Listen, Lila, you saved his life," Christine pointed out. "I don't think it matters whether or not he hears the whole song, as long as you've inspired him to keep on living. Right?" she asked, glancing at the boy.
"Right," the boy said with conviction. He turned to me, gratitude shining in his violet eyes. "Um, uh, sorry for cutting you off. And thanks for all of your inspiration and help."
"Promise me you won't ever kill yourself, okay?" I asked.
"I promise," the boy said. He glanced at the noose in his hand, and his face wrinkled in disgust. Without warning, he threw the noose as far away from him as he could. "See? It's gone. I'm going to walk back to the orphanage and enjoy the sunset. Thanks for saving my life, both of you."
"A good deed is its own reward," I said, smiling brightly.
Christine gave me an odd look. "You know, Lila," she said, "you're so positive I worry about you sometimes." But there was warmth in her words. She turned to the boy. "Goodbye, and take care."
"Goodbye, and thanks again," the boy said, turning away. He walked away from us with pride and purpose, and I smiled when I realized that I had succeeded. He was going to keep his promise.
"Wait!" I exclaimed suddenly. The boy turned toward me, and I said, "I'm Lila, and this is my sister Christine."
"I'm Zane," the boy said, "and I'm going to live. Thanks, Lila."
Without another word, Zane turned and continued walking. Christine started to run back home, but I stayed and watched him until he was out of sight, suddenly wishing that he would stay.
You don't just forget a person whose life you've saved.
End of Chapter 1