Through Chad's words Vixen shook her foxy head, which was crested by three curls of fur. "All that shows is you char's believe everything you're told." She sighed. "Don't know why I hang out with you."
"Don't know either." Flame-gas roiled in Chad's fire sack. Why didn't she go pester her own kind? She already did. That's why she hangs out with me. His stomach growled. He would be out hunting if not for Vixen calling him down. The charizard unfurled his enormous cerulean wings.
"I'm kind of sleepy," Cherilla had said earlier today, flowing down from a stance to lie on her stomach on the rock, blinking like the very sight of him could put her out. "And I have a stomachache? Too much Magmar."
"Oh, no thank you, I'm full."
But today he had other concerns. At twilight, as he squatted on a low, rocky cliff consuming his kill--a large Nidorino--he looked at the moon rising in the pastel sky. He cooked another piece of dripping meat with a few breaths and chewed thoughtfully. The moon would wax full tomorrow night. He knew what that meant, this time.
Vixen seated herself for some serious eating, her tails fanning out neatly behind her. "I'm not just here to sponge off you, though it's nice that you're making yourself useful. Ordinarily I don't waste time listening to char's, especially since they'd have me for dinner, but I heard a couple of them saying something mighty suspicious. About humans coming? Do you know anything about this?"
"Now ordinarily I wouldn't waste time wondering what they meant, since intelligence doesn't seem to be your species' forte--except I heard them say your name." Vixen's eyes widened to green globes and her tails quivered. "Are humans coming?"
"The humans come to this area, because it's overcrowded. The volcanoes are popular." He hadn't wanted Vixen to learn about this facet of charizard life. It would give her one more way to cut them down.
Vixen chewed another mouthful. "Think it was Chizmo and that other old one. He say yeah, humans coming any day now, then Chizmo said `Be a good way to get rid of Chad.' That's all--they aren't really big on words, mostly they just growl or grunt. If you ask me, it's bogus."
Chad swallowed the tough meat in a lump. "That's the way it is." His hands turned a bigger chunk over his tail flame; drops hissed in the fire. "Anyway they're coming in another few days. Chizmo's holding the sacred meeting about it tomorrow."
Around this time--spring--was when the humans, by air or sea or teleportation, landed on Chah's shore. The poachers would search for anyone not safely hiding in Chah's caves or volcanoes. Usually they took charmanders of several years; six years ago, Cherilla's young sister had disappeared. Who would have guessed the trainer would sneak in whilst they were away, hide in the caverns behind their lair, use sleep powder to put them all out at night, while they were already asleep, and kidnap her with a Golbat? Zubats and Golbats were common lair pests, but this trainer had had it all figured out. Cherilla's mother had awoken at the charmander's cry and chased the trainer, who got away on his Pidgeot.
Chad swallowed the last, stringy mouthful, having put aside a small portion to take home for the family. He studied the picked bones in the moonlight, and broke one open, wondering as he sucked the marrow if it would be one of the last kills he ever made.
Vixen gave a bone a last lick before ducking her pointed snout and flicking it away with her little black nose. "If I were you, I'd spy on that meeting, if only for a laugh. Meet me by Golem's Peak tomorrow, by the boulder this side of the chasm after sunset if you're coming to do the forbidden." She snorted. "I looked in on one last year--three old charizards babbling, making mudpies and gumming their kills. Real holy."
Golem's Peak was where the three elders would convene tomorrow to discuss the humans and their possible targets. Chizmo would read the future in a mud puddle, the same method he forecast eruptions and weather with. Fearing that Chah would bring the wrath of ice and sea down on him from four directions if he even tried to peek in, Chad folded his arms and shook his head.
"It's a sacred meeting. If--"
It was easy for Vixen to say all this. She wasn't a charizard. She could never understand. Chad would probably be the only one in the whole area daring to spy. There had to be something in what wise old elder Chizmo had once said to Chad's parents, unaware that Chad was in a back room listening: "There's something off about your son. That male is trouble."
Chad breathed in the refreshingly hot spring air, scooped up the treat for his family, and abandoned the remains, his great gold-orange wings with their deep cerulean underside carrying him towards the nearly full moon. The added weight of the meal hung in his stomach.
Chad flew over the dark landscape, passing a small, smoky grass fire on his way towards the thin pallor of steam and gases drifting from the volcano Chubren to the north, whose inner chamber bubbled lava at least once a day. He mused that if he'd really believed Cherilla was sick he would have rushed back more quickly.
Chad landed on the big flat rock on the cliff face where he'd left Cherilla. Alone, he sniffed the surface. Barely a trace of her scent was left, but the sweet smell filled his mind with her flowing figure. As Chad neared Chubren he knew, with a sickening feeling, that she would be there. And she wouldn't be alone.
Chiffy's squawking falsetto echoed through the huge gutlike chamber with murky ripples of laughter far below, as Chad peered over Chubren's rim. Chiffy cried out again; among the others laughing was Cherilla. He could pick her voice out of a hundred. He set the meat down--it wouldn't get cold here and he would only be a moment. He jumped head-first over the rim into the refreshing heat, in freefall before his wings caught the hot updraft.
Cherilla gave Chiffy a playful but warning growl telling him that the Magmar thing was getting old, as Chad landed on a spire of volcanic rock above the four young charizards. He folded his wings and watched them play. This was one of the only places on all Chah, that Chad had heard of, where charizards grouped together, compromising personal space to enjoy the rapture of bathing in fresh lava. Cherilla squeezed out of Chiffy's grasp and climbed out of the pool, flapping glowing globs off her lava-repellent skin. Chiffy flew up and dived off a ledge into the syrupy rock; the other two locked hands and wrestled in the shallows off to the left.
Nothing like a frisk in the bathing pool to cure stomach pain; it had worked miracles on Cherilla. Chad shifted his weight from foot to three-clawed foot, feeling his stomach boil with tension, a tug-of-war--hoping and not hoping someone would see him. He fanned his wings and gave a short roar.
Chad gazed down at Cherilla, his mouth opening to speak. He wanted to ask her why she was here, was she feeling better, had she eaten. (Why had he really carried that meat here?) But he knew she was fine, and she knew he knew. "Chad, you'd better get out of here," she said.
As Chad whirled around he faced Chiffy full in the face. Chiffy whipped him with an ember, knocking him backward. Chad nearly stumbled off the spire. "I'll see you later, Cherilla," he said as he moved from anger to fear. He spread his wings. Chiffy's friend grabbed his arm from behind and pulled. Chad whipped his tail and swung his arms out, scratching at the male's chest and face. Chiffy pushed bodily from the other side. All three tumbled in a tangle of limbs and wings into the orange pool with a plop. Chad's head burst up, snapping at the grab of clawed hands. His roar shook the cavern. The third male spiraled down through the net of arms and laughter, landing on his shoulder to push him under. Chad threw his head back and his roaring mouth received a glob of lava. Beyond the mayhem Cherilla whined.
His struggles had exhausted him by the time Chiffy plopped the last handful on Chad's neck. The rock fused with the floor. Standing triumphantly on the coated belly, Chiffy leaned in close to Chad's head.
Chad flamed white-hot fire till he was sure the urine was gone. He stared up at the lava-lit chamber, trapped in his black shell with only his head, wings and tail free, listening to the glop and bubble of lava.
Chad flexed his muscles and broke the crust. Their handiwork wasn't up to usual standards. He spread his wings, curled his fists, but as he bunched his legs for takeoff, a second thought relaxed them. If Chiffy found him free now he might call everyone down for round two. At any rate Chad wouldn't get the meat back. He sank into the peacefully bubbling pool for a wash, and surfaced hearing their voices again.
"She couldn't." Chad hauled himself out and picked a piece of lava rock out from between his toes. "Chiffy might have hurt her too." Relief washed over him as he broke past the heated air of Chubren into the night sky, glad to be out of there. His throat sore from screaming, Chad aimed a halfhearted ember at two Spearows tugging on a scrap of the now-gone meat (and missed). His tail hung limp as he glided home.
Growling proudly, Chalderon dragged the fresh carcass in, and he and Chad sniffed noses in greeting as Chad's little brother, only a couple of years old, ran into the room. "Char charmander!" he shouted the one word he knew, his face alight with an open smile as he gazed at dinner. Chad scooped him up and growled into the baby's stomach, making him giggle. Thank Chah that Chaun was too young to be a poacher's target.
Chigma waddled up behind him. "Are you feeling okay? You barely ate--What's that?" Chad felt a pinch as she peeled a hardened wad of lava rock from under his right wing, which had stuck to a scratch in the skin. "Oh, you're bleeding. Chad, were you up at Chubren again?"
Chad shrugged. "Just having a dip." He gave Chigma a goodnight nuzzle and shuffled up the corridor. He flew up into his cavernous bed area, gave himself a quick groom of flames, and stretched out on his belly. Cherilla. Grunting he rubbed his head against the smooth rock, then curled up to sleep, wishing he was some other male.
Chigma's eyes glistened. "Oh, Chad, I wouldn't know what to say! We just know what you know--humans are coming. But that rumor's probably something Chiffy started." She licked his cheek. "We'll all be nervous till the poachers go."
After Chigma left, Chad curled up again and tried not to think that his life was a trend building up to being kidnapped. From charmanderhood, those other males had picked on him. Then, he'd made friends with a human child, when she had come here with her family and bumped into a Rhyhorn. Many years had passed since those lackadaisical afternoons in the sun with that little girl, but leave it to the rest to hold a grudge against him for "siding with the enemy." He wasn't sure what had always made the other youths bully him. But likely it was because, as his mother put it, he was a late bloomer.
He had been the last one of the five charmanders (himself, Chiffy, Cherilla, and two others the far side of Chubren) to gain fire breath, though he was the oldest. When he finally scrambled over to the ledge by Chiffy's lair one morning with his head high and chest out proud, breathing fire for all to see (and more powerfully than Chiffy could) they had all said So what, it's about time. Flamethrower, ember, had all come late to him. . .and now, he could not fire spin at all. It was looking like he never would.
Chalderon shrugged his big shoulders sadly. "It's said that they train those they catch to be quick and strong and obey them on command. These Pokémon defend the humans against some evil, because humans are weak." Another shrug. "Why else would they train Pokémon?"