AN: This was originally written for the 2017 Serebii Yuletide, as a gift for American Pi. She gave me a wide variety of prompts to choose from, but I immediately zeroed in on this one: A villainous team uses primarily Flying-types. What are they called, what is their motive, and why do they use Flying-types specifically?
"Peep! Peep! Peep!"
A scruffy ball of feathers hopped weakly across the ground, crying out from exhaustion, or hunger, or perhaps the simple fact that he was not currently warm and safe in his nest as he would have been had everything been right with the world. As it was, everything was not right with the world. The nest was gone. Torn to bits, along with his tree, the next tree over, and the entire hillside.
Sometimes he'd catch himself staring off at the edge of the forest as it grew closer every day, and deep down, he'd feel a prickle of anxiety. Like something was wrong, even though he had no way of knowing what. But Papa would nuzzle him and say, "It's going to be alright," and that had been enough to calm him, because Papa knew everything.
Papa had left earlier the previous day. Papa left often—he'd always come back soon with food, but this time he hadn't. He'd been agitated all day, muttering things to himself like, "This is not right." Or, "Barging into our territory like this." Or, "Those metal monsters think they can tear up our home and scare off all the prey?" Until finally he'd stood up from the nest, said, "I'm going to put a stop to this," and then flown off. And had the rufflet been old enough to understand, perhaps he'd have realized what it meant, that Papa had not yet returned, even after all this time. Instead, he'd stayed in the nest until the metal monsters came for him too, and now he wandered the wastelands alone
It began to rain. Cold droplets splashed down on him, soaking his feathers within seconds and turning the loose dirt into a thick, sludgy mud that weighed down his talons and made it difficult to walk. Each step took more effort than the previous one, and the waterlogged feathers made his body feel heavier with each passing moment. Until finally, the little rufflet found that he couldn't take another step—his claws were too firmly set into the mud, and even a few desperate flaps of his tiny wings couldn't budge him from the muck. After several minutes of fruitless effort, he surrendered to his exhaustion and collapsed—cold, hungry, and afraid.
Thousands of feet above the Unovan landscape, an airship soared to its destination deep in the mountains on the northern edge of the region. It was a sleek, metallic craft with an unmistakably avian design and a stylized "Z" logo painted to look like blades of wind. Inside the craft, a young man stood at a window, gazing down at the landscape below and absentmindedly stroking the prominent crest feathers on War, his braviary. He was dressed in a grey wingsuit—bearing the same stylized "Z" as the outside of the ship—with white boots and gloves, and he currently had a pair of blue goggles strapped to the top of his head, hiding within a mop of messy, windswept hair.
"I hate rainy missions," he said, more to himself than anyone else.
"No complaints, Jet. Boss want that drilling operation out of here tonight," his partner called from across the hold.
He glanced across the hold at Gale, a young woman wearing the same uniform as he was, who was busy fitting her swanna with a flight harness in preparation for the mission ahead.
Jet turned back to the window and gazed down at the ugly scar that had been inflicted on what had once been home to a wide array of wild pokémon found nowhere else. These lands were supposed to be protected. Once upon a time, that meant something. Now, the only thing that meant anything was the digits on the checks the fat cats wrote to get the people in charge to let them do whatever they wanted. No matter how many lives were ruined in the process.
"I understand that they don't care about the pokémon, but… the people of Unova don't want this either. How can they go just through with it anyway? No matter how many people are upset by it?"
It wasn't as though no one had spoken out against it. Most vocal of all had been Mistralton's own gym leader, Skyla. But of course, it wasn't in her nature to take arms against the system. That's why it was time to take matters into their own hands. Trash a couple hundred thousand pokédollars worth of mining equipment and maybe those rich bastards would think twice about drilling on protected land inhabited by endangered bird pokémon. Maybe. He had to hope it would make a difference, anyhow. It was all he had to go on anymore.
"You should know the will of the people doesn't mean anything these days. That's the whole reason our team is needed," Gale said dryly, giving him a sideways glance.
Jet knew that. It was why he'd joined Team Zephyr in the first place—because he'd realized he wanted to make that difference, even if it meant going against the law, because the law had already failed them. He just wasn't quite sure how he felt about the fact that people—bottom-rung employees just trying to get by—would inevitably get caught in the crossfire.
"They know what they're getting themselves into," their boss had said. "Anyone who throws their lot in with corruption like that deserves the same punishment."
It still bothered Jet. More than he liked to admit. But being a grunt meant staying in line and following orders. Everything Team Zephyr was doing was necessary. He needed to remind himself of that fact.
"Ever wish there was another way?" he mused aloud.
"Get your head out of the clouds, Jet."
He smirked. "For us, wouldn't that be "get your head in the clouds?"
That got him a shoulder punch. It was worth it, though.
"We're at the drop site," the pilot's voice announced over the intercom.
With the loud, slow groan of moving machinery, the door to the cargo hold swung open. Wind and rain rushed into the hold, stinging Jet's face and ruffling his hair until he drew up the hood on his uniform and set his goggles over his eyes. His partner had already lowered her goggles and pulled up her face mask. Jet motioned to War, who stepped forward to the edge of the ramp, talons clicking against the metal floor. Both Zephyr grunts mounted their pokémon, then gazed down at the turbulent skies below.
"Ready for takeoff," Gale said into her radio headset.
The two birds gave a flap of their wings and the duo was off, shooting through the rain-soaked skies. They neared the drill site, a wide clearing on the edge of the mountains, stripped of trees and full of expensive machinery. Their flight slowed to a soar, or at least, the best soar they could manage in such rough winds. Though he'd complained before, it was the perfect night for a mission like this. With the storm this violent already, it was almost believable for the imminent destruction to be of natural causes. Almost.
By the winds of Tornadus, we will sweep the corruption from the land.
By the bolts of Thundurus, we will purge those who would stand against us.
By the bounties of Landorus, we will restore the gifts of nature.
We are the emissaries of the sky and the voice for all who ride the winds.
"Ready, Cygnus!" Gale called out. Cygnus drew her wings back, preparing to attack.
Most people weren't intimidated by swanna. Most people were wrong.
The snowy-white bird swept her wings forward at once, instantly whipping the air around them into a violent whirlwind that tore through the half-constructed buildings along the drill site like tissue paper, scattering metal beams and sheets of aluminum.
Even the fiercest winds couldn't shake the heavy machinery that had been used to clear the site. That's where War came in.
The braviary swooped down and dug his talons into the roof of a dozer before focusing a burst of energy into his wings and climbing into the sky once more, impossibly lifting the multi-ton machine. One-hundred, two-hundred, three-hundred feet in the air, then War released his grip and let the dozer plummet to the ground, smashing it to bits under its own weight.
They kept up that process, War demolishing the machines while Cygnus demolished the buildings and the structures, until finally the drill site was nothing more than a graveyard of scrap metal and mud flowing down the mountainside with the pouring rain. Jet gazed down at their handiwork, unable to keep from feeling a glimmer of pride.
And then a flash of white caught his eye.
"Hang on," he muttered to himself, pressing a button on his goggles to active the binoculars. His gaze swept over the muddied ground below, settling on a bedraggled ball of white feathers caught up in the mud flowing away from the drill site. He focused the binoculars further until he finally got a clear view of the featherball—and the fact that it was clearly flailing for dear life.
"There's a rufflet down there!"
What on earth was a rufflet doing on the ground in this weather? Not only that—he'd thought all the pokémon would have left the area when the construction started. Had this one been left behind?
He'd joined Team Zephyr to protect bird pokémon from those who would harm them. He could never live with himself if he brought harm to them himself.
"Dive, War!" Jet ordered, pointing down. The braviary folded back his wings and immediately launched into a steep dive, rapidly increasing in speed.
"What are you doing?!" Gale shouted, but he was already too far away to answer.
Wind and rain pelted Jet's face as he and War shot toward the ground, gaining in speed all the while. He kept his eyes firmly on the spot where he'd seen the rufflet, even as the mudslide threatened to carry the poor bird out of sight. War's wings strained. Jet's fingers went numb. The ground rushed up at them. Almost there—!
At the last second, War pulled out of the dive and the two of them shot forward horizontally, just barely skimming the surface of the mud. At the same time, Jet pulled himself forward and hung his arms down around War's neck, ready to grab the rufflet. The tiny ball of white in an otherwise sea of mud was quickly approaching. Just a few more seconds…
With perfect timing, Jet's hands clasped the soggy rufflet, yanking it out of the mud in one swift motion and bringing it to his chest. He held it there tightly with his right hand, then used his left to hold fast to War.
"I've got it, now climb!"
War beat his wings, just narrowly avoiding the sudden wave of mud that swept over the spot where they'd just been. Cold, wet, and tired, the three of them ascended into the air until they joined Gale and Cygnus. Gale stared at her partner with a mixture between admiration and pity.
"Come on, let's get back to the ship."
Gale couldn't help cracking the tiniest bit of a smile. The moment they'd made it back to the airship, her partner had run to the washroom to retrieve and towel and a basin of warm water, and he was already hard at work washing the poor, mud-soaked little bird. She'd had her doubts about him when they'd been assigned each other as mission partners. He seemed… hesitant. Afraid to do what needed to be done. And maybe time would tell if he had what it takes to fight back against the destruction of Unova's wilds. But for now, one thing was certain: her partner had the passion that Team Zephyr needed.
"How's the little guy doing?"
"He's finally stopped shivering," Jet answered, lifting a corner of the towel to reveal the now dry—and considerably more fluffed-up—rufflet. "I'll have to find him some food when we get back to HQ."
War gazed curiously at the young flying-type. It had been a long time since he'd been a rufflet himself.
"What do you think, War?" Jet asked, holding the fluffy bundle out to him. "Think we can handle taking care of him?"
The braviary leaned forward to rest his head on the smaller bird's.
Jet smiled. "I'll take that as a yes."
The young rufflet blinked slowly, taking in the details of his new surroundings. The cold and the wind and the rain were gone, and he was now swaddled by some kind of strange soft thing that was not quite feathers, being gazed at by a strange creature that reminded him of the humans that Papa had told him about. But the humans were supposed to be bad. This one had saved him? What did that mean? There was also a strange bird that somehow looked so much like Papa and yet was obviously not, and this was all so confusing.
But now, for the first time in a long while, he felt warm. He felt safe. He felt secure. And for now, that's all that mattered.
So, my first idea upon reading the prompt was the fact that, in the real world, birds are often the first animals to suffer from drastic ecological changes. This is especially apparent on islands where invasive species have been introduced. So I decided to have Team Zephyr be dedicated to the preservation of bird Pokémon. My first idea for the fic was set in Alola and involved a Pikipek. But the more I thought about it, the more problems I found with that premise. Passive extinction is one thing, but for Team Zephyr to become an actual villain team as opposed to just a conservation group, there needed to be something like active habitat destruction for them to fight back against. For one, the people of Alola are pretty laid back and in-tune with nature, and while there have been incidents to the contrary (the abandoned Thrifty Megamart and the destroyed Tapu Village) Alolans don't really seem to do the whole "thoughtless overdevelopment" thing much. The other problem was that I needed the team to have some kind of endgame goal, and in true villain team nature, I wanted it to center around Legendary Pokémon. Alola doesn't have any flying-type Legendaries.
But you know who does have an entire trio of flying-type Legendaries? Unova. You know who does have a penchant for thoughtless overdevelopment? Unova. My only concern was that I obviously couldn't just swap the regional birds because Pidove likely do very well in urban environments. But then I noticed that Unova does have Rufflet. And Braviary have a tendency to never back down when their friends or family are threatened, which was perfect for the father character that left to strike back against the invading humans and never returned. And many eagles are endangered due to habitat loss, toxins in their prey, ect. Moving the one-shot to Unova fixed everything.
It also resulted in a lot of fun thematic parallels the more I thought about it. Unova already had Team Plasma, a team that prioritized Pokémon welfare. And while Team Zephyr does as well, they're distinctly different because they take no issue with humans owning Pokémon, and are more concerned about wild Pokémon welfare. Also, like Team Plasma, Team Zephyr's biggest problem is their black and white way of looking at a problem. I imagine the conflict will escalate until they manage to get their hands on Tornadus, Thundurus, and Landorus and basically start an all-out war against the corporations they view as most responsible for Unova's dwindling wilderness, until their inevitable defeat at the hands of the newest Pokémon Champion. Except this trainer will have a considerably harder time finding a favorable resolution to the conflict than Black/White did for theirs.