3: king of the hill
3: King of the Hill

Spring was giving way to summer. No one had seen any humans yet.
But as Chad soared high on a cloud-patched afternoon, his eyes scanned the grass-furred ground with its warts of rocks not for humans, but for Cherilla. He found her crouched on bare stone finishing her kill--a smattering of dark red, bones, and furry tails. A Vulpix--but not Vixen. The wave of horror blew over; as he folded his wings beside Cherilla he forgot all about some fox in its den.

"Charr," he rumbled a soft greeting.

Cherilla's slender neck guided her head to glance around, before looking at him sternly. Her hands fidgeted. "Chiffy told me all about it."

"Hnh?" He stepped back.

"Spying on the meeting? Chad, really!"

He should have guessed Chizmo wouldn't have kept quiet when there were better ways of punishing him.

"There were so many rumors--" He shut up before he said Vixen's name. Did Cherilla know about her too now? "And Chizmo said some not-so-sacred things about me in that meeting. I'd say he's the one who needs to be roared at."

"All right, Chad, I'm telling you straight." She took a breath, let it out trembling. "Chiffy said I'd better, or you'll never stop bothering me."

"What did I--"

"I'm not--Stop coming up to me like I'm going to do the mating dance--" She looked further down, boxed inside her wings, and blew a flaming sigh at her feet. "Please--stop following me."

"Chiffy follows you."

"Chiffy and I are close friends."

"I thought we were too."

"That was years ago. Chad. I don't want you to take this personally. But you're--not my type."

"We could be friends. I never asked for anything else."

"After this meeting thing, I'm not sure. I just don't want trouble. Any time you're there, things change, like at Chubren, I know you didn't mean to start anything. . ."

"Cherilla I would never cause you trouble."

Cherilla, near tears, flung her arms out. "But you do. And I'm sick of it. Please. Goodbye." She spread her beautiful wings and flew, leaving him standing among the picked bones.

"It's Chiffy, I know it! He's pushing you around!"

Cherilla circled back and landed in front of him.

"Chiffy does not tell me what to do! You don't know anything about us."

"So what have you two been doing huh." He swallowed a lump in his throat.

"None of your business. Grow up." She flew away, faster than before, though she glanced back a few times. Each time, Chad was looking at her.

Flaming the sky till his throat hurt, he glided on cool tides of wind down to old Chah's rim, high above his lair, among the highest points on all the island. What better place to go than the Ancient One, Himself?

Chad's feet gripped the black, crusty rim of the Old One, where boulders of cracked lava rock lay piled up. He sat on his haunches, letting his tail loll down the slope, burning weakly. Clouds were gliding in to fill the sky, heavy billows like the bellies of huge gray charizards hanging down. Many smaller volcanoes, Chah's first children, were nestled nearby, built on the foundation of their maker. This year Chubren was the only one waking for air. They're gods. But all they do is sleep.

Tears filled his eyes. "All you do is sleep," he growled into the volcano's hole, hanging on his echo. "I'm on the edge of despair, where are you."

Someone's wings flapping, and talons crunching in the rocks, made Chad whip his head up, puffing orange.

"Talking to himself and crying. If it isn't Chad on a good day."

Chad snapped his head over at Chiffy and growled a warning, then squinted down again. A tear fell on the rock between his feet. He stared at it with hatred.

"Looks like Cherilla gave you her message."

"Eat tail."

"And you had your hopes up." Chiffy kicked a pebble into the maw of Chah. "You thought she would do the mating dance with Mr. Metapod? Huh?" He picked up another pebble and pelted Chad's left haunch. "Answer me."

White noise drowned his thoughts as Chad whipped to his left, tail tip engorged with flame. He flung himself headlong into Chiffy, butting him in the chest. Chiffy gave a whoop, hand swiping air. Grasping the other male's arms Chad slammed him on the rough stones and flamed his face.

"Chaaaa---"

Chiffy scratched him in the groin and wrenched free. He twirled in the air, tail spinning fire in an ember attack. Chad groped for Chiffy through the flames. Their bodies wrapping, they went rolling down the slope. The side of Chad's head struck a rock. Dizzied, he loosed his hold and Chiffy wriggled out.

"You wanna battle?" Chiffy bit into Chad's shoulder and twisted. Roaring Chad tore at the head, ducking to bite. Chiffy jumped back and rammed Chad's belly, his claws hanging him on the flesh like a turtle shell.

"RrrAAAAAArrrr!" Chad's greater weight smashed on top of the male attached to him, then retreated dodging a claw's swipe at his neck. He spun in an ember. Stripes of fire knocked Chiffy tail over feet. The male jumped into flight, swooped overhead. Wiping blood from his eye, Chad whirled just in time to leap, spread-eagled; their chests collided with a smack. Grasping, they rolled further down the hill in a ball of their fires. Chad dug his foot against the rocks, spreading his legs and halting the fall. Springing back, Chiffy swung his tail and hit him in the mouth with a loud pop. Blood spattered in the air. As Chad roared in pain, Chiffy made a gurgling noise; from his open jaws gushed a firespin. The flame-snake coiled Chad, his neck snapped back. Through the fire he glimpsed Chiffy.

"Yeah baby! Had enough?"

Chad flapped his wings and broke free, dripping blood from his mouth. Panting he breathed a fully powered flamethrower. Chiffy ducked it. "That the best you can do?"

Chad flew up, feeling bruises in his wings. He swooped in and kicked. Chiffy flipped sideways, scuffing down the rocks. As he bent over to get up Chad flew higher. Chiffy pursued him and they tore at each other in the air. Chad's foot swiped three parallel cuts in Chiffy's stomach.

"You're mine, loser."

Chiffy slipped above. As Chad spotted him overhead, shadow and flame against the overcast sky, Chiffy folded his wings and dived. His feet landed in Chad's gut.

Chad's back and horns smacked the rocks, the wind knocked out of him. Chiffy pounced on his front. Chad gasped once, then jaws closed on his neck. Everything went black.

A big cold raindrop slapped his eyelid.

"Huh, you're awake."

Cracking caked blood, Chad's eyelids opened. Chiffy, standing on the rim above, came into focus; a gory stripe streaked the left side of his face, from brow ridge to jaw. Chad struggled to his feet; he ached and stung in a hundred places, including his mouth where several teeth were a little loose. He looked down at himself; the pebbly skin was smeared with drying blood. Dirt and debris stuck to it.

Chad climbed painfully to the top of the rim and flew up onto a boulder higher than Chiffy. Raindrops hissed on his tail as he began cleaning himself. The flames stung his wounds.

As he sat down to groom his lower belly and tail, Chiffy joined him on the neighboring rock. "Maybe now you'll be polite and answer when I talk to you."

Chad stood up with his wings to Chiffy, preening the nasty shoulder bite.

"Chah, that battle was nothing." Chiffy brushed dirt off his belly. "You're bigger, I thought you'd be a match. But nah, you're pathetic, as usual. I'll just say this. If I see you talking to Cherilla again I'll beat you up worse. You're lucky I didn't carve your cock out while you were fainted."

Before Chad could check his entire body, he felt rumbling in his horns.

"Rrr. . .?" Chiffy was cut short as Chah's belly-deep growl rose. Lava rocks dislodged, tumbled into the volcano and down the slope. The rock Chiffy was standing on fell; Chiffy tumbled headlong into darkness. "Chaaaarrr..."

Chad launched himself up, wincing at the pain. He might hate Chiffy but he wouldn't watch him die in a rockfall.

On the upsweep of his wings, his legs--or the quake?(he would wonder for the rest of his life)--dislodged the boulder beneath him. With a giant crack it rolled out from under Chad's feet. As Chiffy came flying up, the boulder smacked him.

"Chiffy!" Chad swooped into the volcano as Chiffy's wings and tail wrapped the boulder, a comet flaming away. Chad tucked his wings and dived, but gravity outpaced him. The boulder slammed Chiffy down on his right wing. His pale underbelly whipped like a snake on the black rocks as the tremors stopped dead, all except for one long, bellowing noise.

Chiffy screaming. His face clenched, mouth stretched wide. Chad gained his wits and swooped forward to roll the boulder off the pinned wing.

"Chaaaarrr, no!"

Chad roared, putting the meat of his back into pushing the shoulder-high boulder, realizing he would have to break more bones rolling it off. He ignored the stray scratch of the panicked charizard's feet. The boulder tipped over beyond Chiffy's head, trapping the wing near the top spike. The boulder now lay on its biggest side. Chad dug his claws under it, but could not budge it. Screaming anew, Chiffy sprayed Chad with a flamethrower. "Fuck you!"

"Let me dig you out."

Chiffy's screams died to gurgling growls; Chad finally freed the crumpled wing, a wreckage of blood, bruises and bone.

"Don't touch it!"

"It's out."

"I know it's out--you--" Chiffy tried to stand up but collapsed, curling. "It's--killing me!" His tail lashed like a mad snake, swinging its flame in the dark. "Help me! Get my daddy! Oh, I want Daddeeeee!"

It was raining even harder when Chad emerged into open air. He called as he flew, his tail flame trailing vapor. Seeing Chad's condition, the first people he found didn't need much convincing.

"He's down here." Chad led Chizmo, Cherilla, and Chunder down into the deep chamber. Chiffy was lucky to have landed where he had. Any farther over he would have tumbled down a wide fissure to his death. Chah had stirred today. Had the Great Flaming One really done this on purpose, punishing Chiffy for his offenses?

Chiffy lay where Chad had left him; his head pressed down against his chest. "RrrAAaarrrr. . ."

"Chiffy!" Cherilla landed at his side, took one look at his wing and burst into tears.

"Cherilla--Daddy--"

Chizmo looked near tears himself as he shook his head at Chiffy's wing. Then he straightened his face. "That's some fall you took, even without the rock. We'll need to be careful flying you out. Just stay calm and fold in your good wing. Don't try moving the other one--"

"I can't, I can't even feel it--"

"Just stay still. You'll be okay. Cherilla, can you take him under the shoulders?"

Cherilla collected her composure, nodded and bent to help him. She started murmuring something to Chiffy but he cut her off with a hiss.

"Chad, you'll take his tail--"

"No!" Chiffy's tail whipped Chad's stepping foot; Cherilla yelped, wings opening. Chiffy's eyes lit in a Leer. "Get that murderer away from me."

"What?" Chizmo's eyes narrowed in their nests of wrinkles.

"What?" Chad's eyes popped wide.

"In the earthquake--he pushed the rock on me." Chiffy glared, his face pinched by pain. "You know you did it. You were looking me in the eye."

All Chad's pity steamed away. Flame squirted past his clenched teeth. "You liar."

"Aaahr!" Chiffy threw his arms up in front of his face. His tail curled between his legs.

"He's--" Chad looked from Chizmo, standing akimbo, tail waving; Chunder, taking a step back from Chad, and Cherilla, her mouth open in shock. She burst into tears again.

"He's lying!"

". . .And I had just told him all those things. . ." Cherilla blubbered in a squeak, her face in her hands. "Chad how could you. And in a sacred place. . ."

"I pushed that rock off you!" Chad lowered his neck below his shoulders, glaring down at the injured heap of Chiffy. "It was an accident! The tremor--it came out from under me--"

"I saw you push it!" Chiffy craned his head up at Chizmo. "Oh, Daddy, everything you ever said about him is true." Chiffy himself burst into tears.

"Get out." Chizmo stepped around his mangled son, toward Chad who was backing up quickly.

"You can't believe--"

"Never touch another member of my family again! You attacked me, now you've ruined my son! Get out of here you shame on Chah's flame! How dare you even fly within this chamber."

Chad took a last look at Cherilla crouched by Chiffy crying, and with all his might flapped his wings up toward the light. But before he left into the rain, he looked again. He could have sworn he'd seen Chiffy give a subtle nod of the head--and a teary look of Serves you right.

He flew home to his family lair and hid in his bedroom. But Chizmo and the other two elders--and Chunder, and Cherilla. . . gathered and perched outside, waiting, next morning.

". . .And now, Cherilla," said Chizmo in the shortening shadow of Golem's Peak, "will you tell your story."

Cherilla stood up beside Chiffy, who sat propped against a rock. "Well, I had been talking to Chiffy on the day of the. . . accident. Chad liked to follow me around but I was getting nervous that--something would. . .happen." She glanced around. "I told Chad we'd be better off as--staying away from each other? And he kind of took it the wrong way--I said not to take it personally. He was very upset."

Beside his parents, Chad crouched, feeling his credibility fraying.

Chizmo nodded sagely. "And now, my son shall tell his side of what happened."

Chiffy shifted against the rock, squinting with pain. A day later his wing looked worse instead of better, bloated and bluish well beyond the breakage points. "I'll tell my side all right. I was flying along, and I stop to rest by the edge of Chah. For a little meditation. Then comes Chad, huffing and puffing up the sky. I say whoa, slow down, what's the matter--and he says you're the matter, and then he just pounces--"

"You liar I was there first!"

"Order!" Chizmo bellowed like a tired horn. The other adults--Cherilla, her parents, and Chunder--regarded Chad with disdain. Cherilla's mother snorted and tossed her head.

"Continue, son," said Chizmo.

A day's passing had apparently nurtured Chiffy's tall tale more than his wing. "So Chad jumps me. What can I do? I can't turn down a battle. So I jumped to the side--I hold him back--"

"All right, son, what happened at the end of the battle," said Chizmo.

"I whooped his ass again, like always. I know he looks bad, but he just wouldn't quit. I had to defend myself. Then Chad wakes up. Now. . ." Chiffy looked at the sky, then at Chad, then back at his dad. "The earthquake started. I got thrown from the edge, but I got my footing. Then Chad pushed me over. I'm falling, but I catch the wind, then, that was when it happened. Chad pushed the rock on me."

"How do you know Chad pushed it, that it didn't simply fall?" asked Chalderon.

"I saw him, I just barely saw him kicking it."

Chad couldn't stop the fire that stemmed out his mouth.

"He kicked it one more time and it fell. I had no idea what he was doing then a boulder was on top of me and smashing on my wing! Then he got down and tried to help me--cause he realized he hadn't killed me, and I guess he didn't have the balls to finish off the job by himself."

"You are so full of it--"

"CHAAArrrrr!" Chizmo glared at Chad, who tried very hard to keep himself from breathing fire or just flying away from this whole stupid thing. "Chad. Now, you may tell your story."

Though Chad knew his words were all truth as he told, he felt awkward explaining himself. "I admit I started the fight. But only after Chiffy began yelling insults and he wouldn't leave me alone! Now Chiffy," said Chad, turning to the crippled lizard, "I want to know how if you flew high enough above the rim to see me kicking that rock from behind, how you then slipped under it as it fell over the edge?"

"I turned to fly away, when I realized what you were doing!"

"So you flew back into the volcano to get away from the rock."

"Yes."

"You beat me in battle but you didn't know how to get away from a falling rock that you say you watched me push over the edge."

"You're easy as shit to beat in battle, and I was in a panic--you killer! Plus there was blood in my eye from where you scratched me."

"Well. . ." Chad thought again. "Wait! If you were flying away from the rock, how come it pinned you belly up?"

"It did get me the other way around, at first." Chiffy moaned, shifting position again. "I was turning around to get out from under it, I was almost out when I landed."

Chad's arms flung out. "Great Chah! Doing acrobatics under a falling rock--Can't you all see his story is so full of holes?" Chad spun around to look at everyone. "Can't you see?"

"I can," said Chigma. "My son is not the immature idiot that some make him out to be. He can be impulsive but never would he try to commit murder. Not even to a rival. Chad is sweet and loving."

"And Chiffy's story is not ringing authentic," said Chalderon. Standing up to his full height, Chad's father towered over everyone else. "Tell me how a story about doing flips beneath a falling boulder can prove that Chiffy is anything but. . .mistaken."

"Trapped by a falling rock, anyone would struggle to get free. That Chiffy turned to face the boulder shows a normal way of maneuvering past an object," said Chizmo. "It's possible Chiffy was not completely accurate in his account, but in life-or-death situations we tend to act irrationally and have poor memories of the event later on. Now let us examine motives. Chad and my son have never gotten along. In addition, Chad is infatuated with Cherilla, and on the same day, she turned him down. Then Chad just happened to fly past his rival, and couldn't resist--"

"He flew past me! I was already there!"
"Interrupt me one more time and you will not be permitted to speak at all. Anyway, Chad challenged his rival then and there. Now we all know such tiffs over females are common among young bachelors. And Chad, losing, would no doubt be filled with enough hatred to kill his own kind. Add a bit of an impulsive streak, and the explanation is simple. When the tremor started, he decided it was the perfect moment to eliminate my son while making it look like an act of nature."

"This is not a fair trial," Chad mumbled at his belly.

Chizmo squatted and stretched his feet out, sitting with his tail behind him. "Now Chad, please tell us why you didn't do it."

"Because you just don't go around killing people you hate." Chad shrugged at his statement. "Well, I don't."

Chizmo folded his bony, yellow-clawed hands. "You don't just go around attacking elders, yet you did. You don't spy on sacred meetings, but you did. You don't befriend humans, or prey, but you did. I've watched you grow up; physically at least. All your life you've been making horrendous choices on the spur of the moment. This vile act upon my own blood--is just one more drop in the lava pit."

Chizmo leaned on his knees and rocked as he got to his feet. He blew a puff of fire into the air. "If you live in the company of other charizards, you must obey certain rules, and this is something you don't seem to understand. You're guilty of attempted murder, in a jealous rage."

"Chaaaaaahhhr!" Spewing flames, Chigma beat her wings; Cherilla's parents held her back as Chalderon raged beside her, fighting Chunder. Chad saw one of his father's hands shoot through the orange mob. "This is no trial!"

"You hate me!" Chad lunged toward Chizmo as clawed hands seized him. He twisted, ignoring the blur in his eyes. He managing to flame Chizmo in the face before Chunder boxed the side of his head. "You've always been hunting for a way to get rid of me! Why!" He fell on his tail, beating his wings to get free. "Why!"

Chizmo flew above the struggle and landed higher on Golem's Peak. "Chad, you are no more. You have forsaken Chah's way, so Chah has forsaken you. You are no longer Chah's child. You are exiled from these volcanoes forever; until Chah comes forth to speak on your behalf, your soul is condemned to suffer eternally in the Cave of Ice and Darkness." He faced the others. "Chad is now Untouchable. You may remove him from here, but beyond that no mortal being must touch Untouchable, lest they too be dragged into Ice and Darkness. Chad has died."

"I'm not dead!"

They dragged Chad from his screaming parents, sucked into the flaming grove of orange, red and tan bodies, blue wings. Over the trumpeting bellows wailed the siren scream of his mother. Chah had stirred only yesterday. How could he sleep now?

"You can throw me out but you can't kill me! You can't kill me!"

Chad kicked someone's belly, slapped away a hand, flamed Chunder's face and burst up in an ember, his wings and tail knocking them away. He flew, fast and furious, far over rocks and fields, just glad to get their hands off his body. Somehow, he wasn't as surprised at all this as he thought he should be.




To part 4