1: Metapods Can't Dance
1: Metapods Can't Dance

"In the beginning. . .there was no light. Not even a moon. Only black, like a cloudy night. Then the black took a breath and blew, and out shot the first flame. The flame burned brighter and brighter until it became. . .the great Chah.

"Through the cold blackness Chah blew a huge breath of fire up from his great belly, a bush of flame unfolding in the dark, and he created all the things. He swung his mighty tail. Hundreds of sparks shot out and these became the stars.

"Then Chah's fires got tired and weary. Chah looked around at the world he'd made, and lay down on the middle of the sea, to cool off. Laying on the water, his belly to the sky, he roared out blazes of lava that hardened into black rock, a shell protecting his heat. Grass grew on the volcano as he dived deep into the world and slept for thousands of years. But sometimes he stirs, and whiffs out a little flame in his sleep, to remind us he's alive. He is our island of Chah. And someday, when the world cries out for help, he will wake up, to breathe his great fire again. He will roar for those he loves."

"Yeah right. Gag me with a Squirtle." Vixen stuck her tongue out, pointed a brown paw to her mouth and rolled over laughing on the sunlit grass. "But you told it pretty well, I'll give you that."

"He really will, someday." Chad's jaw jutted out as he watched the Vulpix laugh at his Poké God. He had felt proud remembering those fancy phrases. "I didn't make that up."

Vixen rolled her eyes. "You believe all that? Come on! You charizards are so self-centered."

Chad growled and lashed his golden orange tail. "My parents told it to me, my grandparents told it to them, and so on, through 1000's of years ago."

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.

"Going so soon?" Vixen followed him on little brown paws. She hopped on a rock in front of him. "Let's have another story."

"I'm hungry, it's getting late. And you didn't seem to appreciate the first one." He brought up his foot to scratch an itch on his side.

"Oh, I'm sorry, thanks, Chad. Forgot it's an effort for char's to speak so. . .eloquently." She hopped down and walked away, waving her bushy tails behind her. "Bye."

Chad's breath fanned her fur, warming into red flame. Vixen flicked one tail.

"You wouldn't dare."

Chad crouched, flapped his wings and leapt, vaulting all 200+ pounds of himself into the air. He sighed a plume of orange fire. Once again, she had been right about him.

"Bye, you big lug!" she hollered from a rock, rapidly shrinking away with the landscape as he flew up. Don't let the Rattatas bite!"

Ever since he'd had the bad luck to oversee Vixen being roughed up by two Ninetales who'd had it with her mouth, and had no will to stop himself from snatching her out of their grasp, Chad had stuck with Vixen. He didn't have many friends to choose from. He was alone right now, in fact, because lovely, pumpkin-orange Cherilla had turned down his offer to come with, again. Small consolation Vixen was for that. Charizards usually hunted alone, but often scouted for prey in pairs. Cherilla had never seen him make a kill. He was trying to hunt better; it was what she was waiting to see. But so far the only witness to his successes was Vixen.

"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."

"I hope you feel better," he'd said, adding that he'd be down near the shore, and if she wanted he would bring her some meat. She had politely shaken her head.

"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, not a moment late, came padding out of the grass behind him onto the rocks. "Hey there fireface. Wow, what a hunt. Did you get stung again?"

Chad felt the sore spot on his left knee where the Nidorino's poisonous horn had grazed him before he had battled it to the ground. It still tingled, but he would get over it. "No."

She darted forward and snapped off a piece. "Mind if I have a bite?" she said with her mouth full.

"No, no."

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?"

Chad took a breath to quell the wave of butterflies in his stomach before stripping more meat off the carcass.

"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?"

"What did they say?" He stood up, practically hopping like a charmander.

"Sit down before you get a cramp, you look ridiculous. Now tell me if humans are coming."

Chad put his hands on his hips. "Once every six years, poachers come. They take one or two of us and leave." He swallowed back flame. "Now what did they say about me?"

"Poachers don't come to Chah."

"Only every six years."

Vixen mouthed the word 'oh,' nodding her big-eared head. Vixen hadn't been born the last time. "So this is year six? Geez, what did you do to get them talking of offering you?"

"They said that?"

"Well kind of! Of all the thousands of charizards on this land--Chah!" She ducked her head and ripped off another bite. "I guess you are special."

"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.

"Offerings to humans. Charizards are insane."

"Stop making generalizations. I never heard anyone say anything about "offering". What did you hear, and who said it?"

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 reached for a thigh portion. "It's real as rain. Humans really are coming."

"Well you can't seriously think humans are that honest! If they wanted to they would come all the time."

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."

"Nothing sacred about him."

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.

"He swallowed up my baby in a tiny rock," Chad had heard her say of the tragedy.

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.

"They post a guard."

"I found a place they can't know about, through this rock tunnel. I'll show you tomorrow. Like I said, meet me by that boulder."

"I need to think it over."

Vixen cocked her head, bugged her eyes and breathed a pop of fire. "You're going to just sit politely while they decide your life? You have every right to eavesdrop if they're talking about you!"

"It's a sacred meeting. If--"

"Sacred? They're not Chah! Listen to yourself talk!"

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.

"Where you going? To see Cherilla?" Vixen called from the bushes.

"Home." He held out the meat clutched in his hands.

"Bye then! Don't bump into anything!"

He tossed her a smile over his shoulder.

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.

"I'm a Magmar!"

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.

"Chiffy, you're drowning me!" Cherilla squealed as Chad descended in lazy circles toward the lava's orange light. They didn't even see him.

"--Mag! Mar!" Chiffy rammed his head into Cherilla's side.

"Charrr--"

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.

Cherilla stopped splashing and whipped her head up, blending with the lava in the heat-rippled air. "Chad? What are you doing here?"

"Easy," Chiffy said from the diving ledge. His gaze fell on Chad. "He wants another dunking."

Chad loved the feel of smooth magma flowing over his skin. But not when being held under. They had dunked him again just last moon.

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.

One of Chiffy's friends flew in behind Chad, who swung his tail, growling. "Guys!" Cherilla called from the lava pool. "Come on weren't we gonna play `Char, Charmander'?"

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.

"Guys stop--"

Under the surface, Chad fought though the viscous ooze, feeling at least two hands holding his head down. His lungs burned; his limbs thrashed. Stars swirled before his eyes. . .

The weight lifted. Chad thrust his head up, roaring as he inhaled. Still the hands grabbed at him.

"Let him go and let's play already!" Cherilla now stood across the pool, even farther from the chaos.

Chiffy laughed. "Chunder grab his legs!" Chad thrashed like a fish as they hauled him out. Two pinned him down while Chiffy began heaping lava on him. "Mr. Metapod, it's been a while!"

"No!" Chad raged, muscles straining. Chah, not this again! He whipped his head like grass in the wind. "No!"

A charizard's hands are poor at scooping, but Chiffy put both arms and shoulders into the effort. Wriggling beneath his captors, Chad watched patch after patch of lava harden over his body.

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.

"This one's for talking to Cherilla this afternoon." He looked back at his two friends, who laughed.

"Don't tell me who to talk to." From his black cocoon, Chad breathed fire on Chiffy's foot, bringing the youth's ice-blue eyes back down on him.

Chiffy's wide mouth curled up at the edges. He placed one foot to the side of Chad's neck. Maybe Chad shouldn't have said that.

But Chiffy had to be too old to stoop so low as to pee in his face. Chad squinted his eyes shut and flamed. But he could not flame forever. The instant he paused for breath--

"Chiffy that's disgusting!" cried Cherilla.

Chiffy finished and roared his fire. "Come on. Chad can evolve by himself."

Cherilla followed the three males flying up out of Chubren. She looked down and shook her head apologetically as he watched her leave.

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.

High above, Chiffy called. "Hey Chad, this your meat out here?"

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.

"Let's lay it down right next to him!" said Chunder.

"You squirtle's ass," called Chiffy. "Metapods don't need to eat anything!"

"Oh yeah, how silly of me! Bye Chad!"

Their laughter faded into a muddle of echoes as they flew off. Not a sound from Cherilla. What hurt him most was Cherilla, standing on the side, not trying. Not even looking.

"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.

"Where've you been? "Chigma, his mother, greeted Chad with a purrlike growl and a nuzzle as he swooped in. His father, and little brother's voices echoed from further inside their lair.

"Hunt was slow," said Chad, touching noses to his mother. He smiled to tell her he'd been fine.

Chigma touched his arm, growling softly in sympathy. "Well did you get enough for you."

"Yup." Chad rubbed his belly. He kept in mind that they knew nothing of his humiliation up at Chubren. He held his head high.

"I always told you you'd be a good hunter with practice. Well you are just in time for dinner. Sit down. Your father caught a Rapidash."

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.

"Feed Chaun," said Chigma, "since you already ate." After feeding Chaun, then nibbling at the tasty Rapidash meat, Chad felt no enthusiasm for another flight, or much of anything.

"I'm heading off to sleep." He trudged down the tunnel with a burp. "Goodnight."

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.

Though he was facing the rock wall, when he heard someone land on the ledge he knew it was his mother.

"Chad?"

Chad rolled over on his back, squinting his cerulean eyes half open as if he'd been asleep.

"They were picking on you weren't they."

"No."

"I know the way you hang your tail." She touched his wing. "Chad why do you fly around there? You know they're trouble."

"Cha," he grunted. He twitched the wing, but her hand remained on it.

"Remember this. You might think it's you who's the trouble, but it's not. Don't listen to Chiffy, or Chizmo."

"Mom. . ." Chad sat up. "Have you heard the rumors, and you do think they're true?"

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.

But he didn't remember a full-grown charizard being taken by humans. They usually picked charmanders, because, Chalderon had said, unlike adults the young could be brainwashed.

"What do they want us for?" Chad had asked his dad. "Why do they do it?"

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?"

Chad couldn't think of another reason.


To Part Two