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Prologue: A Fistful of Stars

"When you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you." - Friedrich Nietzsche

Below, all is dark, one thousand shades of black tinted green and brown and blue by the stars, the gems set into the velvet blackness of the space between the worlds. The moon has waned to nothing for this night. Creatures of the shadow, of death and decay, of strange deeds done by starlight… tonight is theirs. The stars shine down on the ancient forests, the endless plains, the volcanic beaches, the trackless deserts and the mountains, old as time and jagged as a boneyard.

The view goes lower, focusing on one such peak. It stands above its fellows, the fang of some long-dead stone beast. It is robed in pines, white with snow… but its summit is as bare and stony as a northern beach. Not even the snow would dare to fall in this place.

It is a clear night, a rare occurrence on this area of the continent, but on the mountain, every night is like this. The stars shine down, glittery as diamonds and twice as cold. The peak is the focal point of a massive eye in the perpetual storms that roar along the mountains. The furious clouds circle the peak like hungry wolves, waiting for the day when they will break free and collect—oh, it will be sweet—a debt fifty years in the owing.

A woman stands on a small outcropping of rock that looks almost like a huge plinth, tall and vaguely rectangular. Behind her, the stone has been ground into a flat, rectangular field, forty by one hundred feet. At the other end is another column of rock, similar to the one she stands on.

She is tall, taller than most men. Her gown is long and flowing, a midnight blue edged with silver. The bodice is the same shade, but the lines of silver—or perhaps it is iron—are vaguely reminiscent of the breastplates of old, when battles were fought with muscle and metal and blood. She is pale, almost grayish in the starlight. Her breath does not fog. Her arms and shoulders are bare, despite the fact that it is cold enough for a tub of water, flung into the air, to freeze solid before it contacts the ground.

Her face is old and young at the same time, the freshness of youth obvious while simultaneously giving the appearance of a wisdom that preceded life. Her hair is green and blue, streaked with silver; her lips are bluish, though not with cold. Her eyes…

It is said that, while shapes can be changed, one's eyes cannot, for they are the outward manifestation of one's true nature.

Her eyes are as black, entirely black, as the void between the worlds. It is difficult to hold her gaze for long, but occasionally a star seems to fall across the blackness.

"Lady?"

She smiles, then, teeth white and perfectly straight. She turns, takes a step off the short pillar. She leans forward as she slowly glides to the stone floor of the arena. Her bare feet are visible for an instant before being swallowed by the folds of her gown. It makes a gentle, swishing sound as she moves across the bare, smooth surface.

Two weeks ago, on the night of the half-moon, a star fell from the sky. It landed on the northern flank of the mountain, shattering stone, melting snow and igniting trees. It had cooled, by the time they found it.

"We are having problems, Lady."

The speaker is another woman, flanked by a red-eyed wolf, his salt-and-pepper pelt similar in color to the stones around him. He gives an involuntary shiver, looking at the tall woman's eyes.

An involuntary whine escapes from between his clenched jaws; his trainer puts a hand between his ears and scratches him affectionately.

Her hair and eyes are as black as obsidian. She is not tall, but holds herself with a certain grace—a dancer's, perhaps—that gives the illusion of height. She is dressed in thin, but clearly very warm coal-black skins and wears the snow-white pelt of a wintris around her shoulders. Her boots are heavy, fur-lined, but her hands and face are bare, and are already starting to blue in the cold.

"Ah yes." The tall woman speaks, her voice as rich and melodic as a choir. "Your forge is not hot enough."

"Exactly, nothing I have can even make it hot! I—"

"Patience, child."

Nocturna swallows. She is powerful, in more ways than one, but there is something about the other woman that makes her ill at ease.

"I know what fire you need."

"Then, Lady… what is it and how may I obtain it?"

She tells her.

"I… cannot!" Nocturna is breathless, terrified by her own open rebellion; she focuses on the method of obtaining the fire as her mind shuts down in the face of its source. "I have a duty… I cannot leave! There is no-one to take my place."

"Then we will wait, because it will eventually come to us." The woman smiles again, but her eyes do not.

Nocturna regains control of herself, hiding her relief. "How long will that take, Lady?"

She tells her.

"But… you have been waiting so long…"

"You are frightened by me, Nocturna," says the woman, smiling. "You want to complete the thing you have promised me, so that I may leave as soon as possible. Fear not, my dear… put the star-iron away somewhere safe. Continue with your life, for now. I will leave you until it is time."

She smiles once again, but her body has become transparent, and she melts away into the stone and starlight.

Nocturna gives an involuntary shudder as her mightyena runs toward the door in the rock, baying with terror.

The view recedes until the peak is one among many, once again. The continent is ringed by ocean, iron gray in the north and sparkling turquoise in the south. Abruptly, there is a distinction in the darkness—the velvet sky and black earth are separated by a curving band of gold. The sun rises slowly, illuminating the continent from east to west: Gaiien, greatest of regions.

The region is a twisted, mutated sort of circle of land, reaching from the cold, dark north to the tropical equator. The majority of its mass lies in the south, east and northeast. In the west and northwest, beyond the central sea, countless islands are to be found, and on the largest of them… the elites of the league.

It is tempting, but our attention must be turned to a more unremarkable portion of the land. We focus in on the grassy plains on the eastern quarter…

The grass is long and dry and wild, baked already by the early summer sun. The breeze rustles the stalks idly, dusty green or tawny-colored in the sunlight. The plain stretches far into the distance to the north and south. The mountains are visible to the west, the forests a dark green smudge beneath them. To the east are Port Littoral and the Seawoods.

A girl collapses into a clump of violets growing in an unused bulbull wallow, panting and sobbing. She draws her legs up to her chest and proceeds to cry with frustration and anger. A pokémon approaches. If he were older, it would be entirely appropriate to use words like 'sleek' or 'muscular' to describe his catlike body. As it is, one can only describe the sparkat as being gangly and adolescent. It is apparent, however, that the young pokémon will eventually evolve into a big raigar—his paws, eyes and ears seem enormous compared to the rest of his body.

He sits down beside the girl, whose sobs have lessened in frequency, and nudges her with his snout. She looks up, eyes red-rimmed and her face surrounded by the dusty tangle of her dark green hair. Her eyes are the bright yellow-orange of mango flesh; the unusual color puts the people she sometimes meets in mind of some predatory animal.

Her eyes are the source of her success with befriending the sparkat and her failure with other children. It is unjust, as she is a friendly, lively eight-year-old, but such is life.

((What's the matter?)) asks the sparkat. Sometimes he fancies the young human can actually understand him.

She sniffs and runs a slightly grimy hand down his furry back. Along the back of his neck are the beginnings of a violet mane, and the spots—the vestiges of his babyhood—in his tawny fur have almost faded. His claws and teeth contain poison, but he has been an agreeable playmate so far.

The pokémon was merely uttering a variety of sounds, growls and mews and chirps that should not have meant anything to the human girl. But somehow, some semblance of their meaning came across, enough for the girl to guess what he was asking. "I have to move. To the city. I have to live with my aunt and uncle…"

His tail twitches as he ponders this. His mother had moved her kittens once or twice; he sees nothing wrong with that, new places are always more fun. He does not understand "aunt" and "uncle"—there was only his mother and his littermates. Humans did not always broadcast their meanings very well, he had found; they seemed to rely too heavily on words.

It is obvious she is upset by having to move. Perhaps the thought of leaving him behind is making her distressed?

He is confused by this, does not understand the attachment. Others come and go; there will always be someone else.

He remembers seeing her running through the grasses for the first time, after leaving his mother and siblings for good. He had been warned about humans and their spherical prisons, but this one had looked young and harmless. Her eyes had put him in mind of his siblings, although his own eyes were beginning to develop flecks of violet. They had played together every day after that, the girl sometimes bringing him strange pieces of flesh; he brought her a mouse once, but she hadn't been hungry.

((Perhaps… perhaps I shall come to the city,)) he ventures.

She looks at him, wide-eyed. "But… you're a wild pokémon. Why would you want to come to the city?"

He is young, and the plains hold no surprises for him. Going to the city would be an adventure, and if the girl was… fond of him, there would be no danger from the red-and-white prisons his mother had warned him of. ((I will stay with you, if you want,)) he says.

The girl almost smiles, but starts, surprised, as she hears the voice on the wind.

"Moriko… Moriko?"

"My uncle…" she says. "Okay, but… I might… have to catch you. You know… put you in a pokéball."

He feels the fur on his tail puff outwards with apprehension, before willing himself to relax. Something about the human girl suggests that she is not a danger to him. It would be all right, and if something were to happen, it would be easy enough to escape.

((I will be fine,)) he says.

She throws her arms around his neck happily, surprising him, but she doesn't seem to be attacking so he relaxes. The girl stands up and walks out of the depression in the plains. He follows her.

"Uncle Max? Uncle Maaaaax," she calls.

The man hears her, and runs toward her. He comes to a stop, panting slightly, and runs a hand through his chestnut hair. "Moriko! We were so worried after you ran off… hell's bells, what is that?" he says, suddenly, noticing the sparkat.

"This is Sparky. He's my friend," she says brightly, looking up at her uncle.

'Sparky' winces. He wishes she could understand him properly so he could tell her his name.

"And he's coming with me," Moriko adds. "He said he wanted to."

Max opens and shuts his mouth a couple times before finding a few words. "Absolutely not."

"No!" responds the girl, immediately. She stamps her foot. "He's coming with me!"

Her uncle crouches down so he is level with his niece. She glares at him, her face dirty where she had wiped away tears with a grimy hand. He feels a slight chill, looking at her amber eyes. The gaze is dangerous, going straight to his hindbrain and calling up ancestral memories of eyes beyond the circle of firelight…

He dismisses the thoughts as pure fancy. This was an eight-year-old girl, for heaven's sake! "Moriko, sweetie, he's a wild pokémon. I'm sure he'd be happier here in the wild."

"He said he wants to come with me," says Moriko, her eyes filling up with tears again as she begins to sense defeat.

Max sighs. Admittedly, it was horrible, with his brother and sister-in-law dying… abruptly he remembers his first pokémon, a meowth, back in Kanto. "Fine. But if he can't behave… clawing the drapes and so on… then I'll take him right back out here. All right?"

Moriko smiles suddenly, like the sun coming out from behind a cloud. She looks at the sparkat, who nods. "Okay," she agrees.

Max smiles also and takes the child by her hand, the pokémon following close behind.

x.x.x.x.x

(04/09/05) This is the second version of this chapter. It's not that much different, but a few things have changed, namely my official rejection of pokémon speech being the pokémon's name repeated over and over.

I'm still not completely happy with this chapter being in present tense, but it seems sort of right… oh well.