The Path of Destiny

Chapter 53 – Meetings

It was decided, after Snowcrystal and Spark revealed everything that Eve had said, that they would go to the library in the evening to see what the mightyena had to say. What they would do afterward, no one was quite sure yet. Most of the pokémon were very willing to sneak in to take a look at the books hidden in secret, and so were Justin and Damian, but Katie was unsure. It was morning now, and as soon as Justin and Katie returned from the trainer's hotel, they began discussing the matter once again.

"Well, Snowcrystal did manage to sneak in there once," Justin stated. "I guess it wouldn't be too hard."

"There were still people in the building when Snowcrystal was there," Katie replied, obviously remembering Snowcrystal talking about the time when a human had chased her in the library. "There'll probably still be janitors, or other workers…and that had to have been before they closed it down for the night…they must have alarms, or…or some other type of security system…"

"Maybe we could find a place to hide in there until late at night," Justin suggested. "Then we could open a window if we needed one of the wild pokémon's help, or just use our own pokémon, or-"

Katie sighed. "I…I don't like the idea of sneaking around the library at night. We should at least try and explain things…"

"Who's going to believe you?" Justin told her with a glare. "From what that mightyena said, there's no way they'd let us-"

"I really think we could pull it off," Damian began, "if we-"

"Look, Justin," Katie told him, cutting Damian off. "We shouldn't sneak around the library…unless we have to," she added with a sigh. "We should try and explain things first. Maybe they'll let us look at the books."

"I don't see why you're so worried," Justin muttered. "We've got pokémon! We were in that library almost every day for weeks. The only cameras they had were at the front where you first walk in the doors. They seem to only care about people trying to steal books while they're walking in and out of the front doors all day…"

"If what the mightyena said was true," Katie said with a glare. "The place with these rare books has got to have some sort of protection. Do you really think it wouldn't? And you don't know for sure that the library doesn't have any other ways of catching intruders. It's one of the biggest, oldest, and most renowned buildings in the entire Inari region. Surely it can't be easy to just-"

"Why don't we wait until the mightyena tells us more about it?" Justin asked. "Her trainer works there, so she should know what happens at night."

"Why don't we just try explaining to them?" Katie retorted. "We'll figure out what to do after that."

"We should all go today," Damian said before Justin could reply, picking up his backpack. "If Katie wants to, we could try talking to all the workers we see in the library, and-"

"What about the pokémon?" Katie asked. "Should we just leave the wild ones here?"

"I guess so," Damian replied.

Rosie growled. "I'm tired of waiting around here!" she shouted.

"Yeah!" agreed Inferno with a shake of his yellow mane. "Why don't we go and battle?"

The rest of the pokémon murmured something in agreement at the flareon's words, but they didn't loudly protest. As tired as they were of being stuck in one place, they knew that what the trainers were doing was important.

Last night, they had moved their camp to a different area further away from the city, after the wild pokémon had spotted a couple of trainers close by and became nervous. Their new camp was a small, rocky ravine with little plant life, and though it seemed more hidden and therefore safer, most of the pokémon didn't like it.

Snowcrystal sighed as she glanced along the dusty walls of the ravine that sloped gently upward, gently enough for even small pokémon to climb with ease, but high enough that they wouldn't be noticed from a distance. They had chosen this spot for that reason; it was hidden enough that trainers wouldn't be able to see there was anyone sheltering here unless they were close, and they were far enough from the city that it didn't seem to be an issue; most humans didn't venture past Stonedust in that direction at all. At first, moving to a new camp had seemed like a welcome change of pace, but now that they were there, the light brown boulders and dusty walls surrounded by a flat rocky plain were bleak and uninviting.

"I want to go to the city," Alex sighed in frustration as she drew patterns with her claws in the dust. "I hate it here."

This time, many of the other pokémon were more vocal in stating their agreement, some asking Arien if they could go with the humans to the library. Damian, who obviously knew what they were talking about through his link with the psychic pokémon, looked thoughtful. "I know!" he said in a cheery voice. "I know what to do! I can't believe I didn't think of it before!"

"What?" Justin asked, looking excited. "You know how we can get the books from the library?"

"No, not that," Damian replied, not noticing the disappointed, disapproving look Justin gave him afterward. "I know where the pokémon could go for the day! The Pokémon Park!"

"Damian…that's not for wild pokémon," Katie pointed out. "That's why we didn't use it before."

"Nobody has to know!" he replied. "They'll behave themselves. Trainers drop pokémon off there all the time. There are always trainers watching in case any trouble happens, and the people who work there will make sure the pokémon are safe!" He turned to the pokémon, who were looking at him with either interest or boredom. "Who wants to go to the park?" he asked them.

Several of the pokémon gave excited cries. Snowcrystal had no idea what a park was, but she knew that whatever it was, it had to be better than the place they were resting in now. To her surprise, Nightshade also looked eager to go.

"Damian, I don't think this is a good idea…" Katie began.

"It'll be fine," Justin shrugged. "Just let them know they can't eat any pokémon there and it will be okay."

"Don't worry, Katie," Damian assured her in a calm voice. "We can leave some of our pokémon there with them. They've been there before. They'll look after them."

"Okay," Katie sighed. "But you're going to be the ones answering to the park workers if something goes wrong."

-ooo-

After being absolutely sure that Snowcrystal's orange growlithe markings were spot-on, the three trainers and the wild pokémon who had decided to go to the park-Snowcrystal, Wildflame, Alex, Nightshade, and Redclaw-headed toward the facility. Snowcrystal had never been to this area of the city before, and when she saw the park itself, she was amazed.

The Pokémon Park sat in the center of a wide ring of buildings, an absolutely huge grassy field littered with large boulders and several strange structures which many pokémon were climbing on. There was a vast pool to one side, where she could see water pokémon playing. There were also many trees, which pokémon were climbing or running around cheerfully.

She was still staring at it in awe when Damian and the others approached the part of the large gate where the entrance was. Snowcrystal figured that the gate was more there to look nice than to serve any sort of function, because she was sure pretty much any pokémon could find a way over, under, or through it.

"We'd like to let these pokémon in," Damian explained, gesturing toward the five wild pokémon who had followed them on their journey. "And a few others, we-"

The person sitting at a table set out at the entrance looked over the edge of the book she was reading and at the pokémon until her gaze rested on Nightshade. It took Snowcrystal a moment to realize that she must have noticed his limp. "Well…" the strange human began in a monotone voice, picking up a small sheet of paper lying on the desk and staring at it. "If your pokémon is injured, you need a note from the pokémon center before entering the Poké Park. You should also-"

"He'll be fine," Katie said after a quick worried glance at Damian. "He just wants to climb the trees. He'll stay up in one the whole time. He won't get himself injured worse. Could he just-"

"Sure, whatever," the human said carelessly with a shrug. She threw the paper back down on the table and went back to reading her book. "Just send out the pokémon you want, and if you're leaving, please sign here and tell us when you're coming back…" She slid another paper toward Damian, who began writing something on it with a pen from a cup on the edge of the table. The worker human droned on. "Your pokémon are not allowed to take food out of the Poké Park. Your pokémon are not allowed to attack or eat other trainers' pokémon. Don't abandon your pokémon at the Poké Park. Ill-behaved pokémon will be kicked out and forced to wait in the park building for your return…oh, just read the rules over there," she muttered in an annoyed voice, pointing to a sign.

None of the trainers bothered with reading the rules-Snowcrystal assumed they knew them already-and the human working there didn't seem to care. Katie sent out her azumarill and shinx, Justin sent out Spark, and after Damian finished signing, he sent out Todd, Inferno, and Scytheclaw.

"Uh…" Katie began, staring after the scizor as he walked through the gate after the other pokémon had excitedly ran through it, but instead of finishing her sentence, she just shook her head and sighed, muttering, "Let's go."

Snowcrystal turned to watch the humans leave, when the voice of the book reading human made her jump. "Hey, puppy," she muttered, waving a rolled up piece of paper at her, "either get in or leave."

Nervously, Snowcrystal followed the others, seething. I am not a puppy!

As she walked through the gate, she noticed a few pokémon with blue collars patrolling the edges of the gate and watching the playing pokémon carefully. She thought they must be there to make sure the other pokémon behaved. She glanced at one, a tall mienshao who was watching near the gate, and he returned her glance before nodding toward the open field her friends were heading. She hurried to follow them.

As Scytheclaw veered off from the others toward one of the areas with trees, Snowcrystal caught up with the rest of the group. "So what are we supposed to do here?" she asked. "Do we…just do what we want?" She looked at the other pokémon cluelessly.

"Look at this!" Spark cried in delight. "Food!" He bolted over toward a group of small stands that held containers full of pokémon food. He wasted no time in shoving his head into one of them and gulping down as many of the brown pellets as he could.

"Uh…that's nice," Snowcrystal replied. She had never completely gotten used to human food. She turned to look around, wondering what area to explore first.

"I'm going to go over toward those trees," Nightshade told the others, a hint of sadness in his voice. When he was sure they had heard him, he turned and limped off toward the nearest tree group.

"Hey, Spark! Look at this!" Alex cried in excitement, pointing toward a strange construction that had several large tires hanging from ropes. A group of pichu were swinging back and forth on the nearest one, squealing excitedly. Without waiting for an answer, Alex bounded over toward the tires. Katie's azumarill and shinx glanced at each other and followed.

Inferno looked around at the remaining pokémon. "I think we can trust you guys to do what you're told. Go wherever you want. Just don't fight, be kind and respectful, don't leave the Poké Park, and you'll be fine." He and Todd then gave excited yells and bounded off toward one of the play structures.

"Well…" Wildflame muttered in annoyed voice. "So much for showing us around."

"Well, that means we get to explore the place," Redclaw replied.

"Great," Wildflame grumbled unenthusiastically.

Spark walked over to them, licking food crumbs from his mouth. "Do you think I'd get in trouble if I zapped the pokémon in the pool?" he asked mischievously.

"Yes." Redclaw gave him a cold stare. "Don't try it."

"I was only joking!"

"Well," Wildflame began. "I'm going to go over there." She angled her head toward a group of boulders. "I'll see the rest of you later."

"All right!" Spark called back, before turning and running toward where Alex was swinging on one of the tires, nearly knocking over a baby squirtle in the process.

Snowcrystal looked at Redclaw. The arcanine sighed. "If it's all right with you, I want to take a short nap first," he said tiredly. "I'll come and find you when I wake up if you want."

"All right," Snowcrystal replied. "I'll be fine by myself."

She left Redclaw as the arcanine went to find a place to sleep and headed toward the tree covered side of the park. Up close, she realized that there weren't as many trees as she had first thought, just several big ones for pokémon to climb on. It seemed a bit more inviting than a real forest. She couldn't see any snow covered place in the park, and the only ice type she saw was a glaceon who seemed to be in a race that involved leaping across boulders with a couple of other eevee evolutions. She also noticed, for the first time, that there were a few trainers here, playing and interacting with their pokémon and any random pokémon who happened to pass their way wanting human attention.

She headed toward a place near the trees which seemed to have the biggest collection of boulders, for that reminded her most of her home. As she walked, she heard a human shout toward her.

"Hey, look at that growlithe!"

She froze, and then slowly glanced down at her fur, but it still looked convincingly orange. She turned around to see two young male trainers. One of them was pointing at her.

"It's really small, isn't it?" the other trainer asked. Snowcrystal relaxed a bit.

"Yeah…" the first one said, narrowing his eyes at her, not in a hostile way, but merely a curious one. "Wonder why her trainer didn't get a quality one bred…"

She started to walk away from them, and barely heard another trainer beginning to argue with the two that it didn't matter where a trainer got their pokémon from. As their voices faded away, she wondered if this was what Nightshade had talked about, about many of the humans in Stonedust City wanting pokémon from breeders. It wasn't of much concern to her, but it still struck her as a bit strange.

She still hadn't reached the clump of rocks when another trainers' conversation reached her ears, but this time it wasn't about her.

"…as usual there are eevees everywhere," one of them was saying. Snowcrystal stopped to listen, not sure why, but thinking of Spark as the humans continued talking.

"Pretty much every trainer has them now," the trainer's friend agreed.

"And they're breeding so many of them that there's still some on the streets. Of course, most of them get picked up by trainers, but it's still a nuisance. Some of the breeding centers simply produce too many."

Humans breed pokémon without knowing if they'll be wanted? Snowcrystal thought, bemused. Of course, she didn't know much about how humans bred pokémon at all. Damian had told her that some trainers raised their pokémon's offspring and found new trainers for them, but this sounded like something different. Something more like whatever Nightshade had hinted at when she'd talked to him. Spark had told her a little while ago that he had come from a breeding center, and that Justin picked him out himself. He had told her that the center he'd come from had been nice and eevee who weren't picked out were sent to pleasant pokémon ranches, and she wondered if there were other centers that weren't so nice. If anything, she thought, those two humans should be focusing on trying to stop the humans who were abandoning eevee in the streets. They were humans themselves, so why didn't they do something?

Quickly losing interest in the trainers' conversation, she headed on toward the rocks. Upon reaching them, she noticed that the area was a lot bigger than she'd thought it was. There were several groups of pokémon here. She spotted a graveler talking to a gloom by one rock close to her, and a few marill hopping about on another. And beyond them…was Scytheclaw.

Snowcrystal stopped in her tracks. She hadn't expected to find the scizor here, and she knew he probably wouldn't want to see her around. After a moment's hesitation, she decided to stay, but to keep her distance from him.

Snowcrystal spent the next few minutes climbing about on the rocks. Some of the pokémon stopped what they were doing to watch, some congratulating her and telling her they'd never seen a growlithe jump like she did. She enjoyed the attention; it was nice to not have to hide all the time, but soon she grew tired of it, and she climbed down and began idly walking among the rest of the boulders, watching the other pokémon.

As she wandered, she noticed Scytheclaw again, standing beside a boulder not far from where she was. She was about to head in the opposite direction, when she noticed he was looking at another trainer. Standing beside the trainer was another scizor. This scizor was a female, and unlike Scytheclaw, she looked healthy and well groomed. Scytheclaw was looking at her warily, and when her trainer walked away toward where a lucario, presumably one of his other pokémon, was sitting, Scytheclaw approached her.

Now that Snowcrystal could see Scytheclaw compared to another scizor, the only other scizor she'd ever seen, she noticed that he looked a bit different. He was a somewhat darker red than the other scizor, who certainly didn't have that odd sharp looking edge on the insides of her pincers. She had known that Scytheclaw was different in that respect; he would often spend hours a day making the inside edges of his pincers as sharp as he could.

The strange scizor looked up as Scytheclaw approached. When Scytheclaw spoke, his voice sounded surprisingly gentle and kind.

"So it happened to you too?" he asked.

The other scizor seemed confused. "What?" she asked.

"Your trainer forced you to evolve," Scytheclaw replied.

"What? Oh, of course not!" she replied, looking more confused than ever. That was probably nothing, Snowcrystal thought, compared to how confused Scytheclaw would look. She couldn't see his face, as his back was turned towards her, but her suspicions were confirmed with Scytheclaw's reply.

"You mean you choseto evolve?" he replied, his voice filled with disgust.

"Yes…" the scizor replied.

"Hey," a voice from near the two scizor cried, "believe it or not, not everyone wants to stay in their first form forever." Another pokémon had apparently heard Scytheclaw's outburst.

Scytheclaw didn't seem to be listening. As he began asking, or more accurately, yelling, at the other scizor about why she would choose to abandon her scyther form, Snowcrystal decided that she'd had enough of his nonsense and decided to go see if she could find any of her friends. A few seconds later, she noticed Scytheclaw storming away, looking both confused and angry. She had no idea why he wanted to go screaming at random pokémon, and part of her wondered where the calm, collected leader she had seen in the canyon had gone. She watched the scizor head toward a group of trees before turning back toward where she was pretty sure Redclaw had gone.

All at once she realized that there was another commotion happening on the other side of the park. She wasn't close enough to hear what it was about, but several pokémon were fighting and a few trainers, one of them one of the ones that had been talking about eevee in the city, were shouting orders to them. A few humans and pokémon ran toward them, telling them that battling in the park was not allowed, and Snowcrystal started to walk the other way.

"Hey, Snow!" a cheerful voice cried, and she turned around to see Spark. Before she could even reply with a greeting, he said, "all the workers are distracted by those fighting pokémon over there! We can do whatever we want! But we have to hurry!"

"Hurry for what?" she asked, perplexed.

"We can have battles on the rocks!" Spark replied happily. "Or around the trees! I used to play this great game with Justin's other pokémon. It'll be even more fun with lots of us. You see, we split up into teams…"

Spark went on with his description of the game, but Snowcrystal wasn't really listening. She was starting to wish she were back in the dusty new camp, instead of here around all these strange pokémon and humans.

"And then we all try to attack each other!" Spark said loudly. "If a pokémon makes it to the other side without getting hit by an attack-"

They were both suddenly interrupted by the sound of some sort powerful pokémon attack nearby, as well as the angry shout. "You leave him alone!" the pokémon screeched. "You hear me?"

"I heard you!" an equally angry voice shouted back. It was Scytheclaw's. Snowcrystal and Spark gave each other a curious glance and then ran toward the noise. It didn't take long for them to reach the scene.

Scytheclaw stood facing a furious looking feraligatr, while a scared looking totodile hid behind the branches of a tree. "The little brat walked right in front of me!" Scytheclaw snarled. "I nearly tripped over it. Really, do you think I wanted to touch that disgusting pokémon on purpose?"

"Scytheclaw has such a way with words," Spark said in a mock admiring voice, a huge grin on his face.

"Uh…maybe we should go…" Snowcrystal began to back away. Several other pokémon were now approaching the scene; some of them looked like friends of the feraligatr, and others like merely curious bystanders.

"Stop lying! You hurt my son on purpose!" the feraligatr growled. Scytheclaw only responded by calling him a very rude name. With a roar the water pokémon lunged forward.

Snowcrystal expected the powerful pokémon to slam Scytheclaw into the ground, but before he even got close, Scytheclaw darted away, and Snowcrystal was suddenly reminded of how he had moved so quickly during his battle with Nightshade. Even after a while of wandering in the wilderness and an even longer time recovering from injuries, Scytheclaw was still a formidable battler.

Without losing any speed, the scizor turned and rammed into the feraligatr, knocking him off his feet and sending him plowing into the ground several yards away. A few of the watching pokémon cried angrily, and some of them stepped forward.

Suddenly several of them – all fire types, Snowcrystal noticed – leaped into the clearing and flung their attacks at Scytheclaw, who dodged the whirling arcs of flame and tried to fight back, only for several more to jump into the fray.

Snowcrystal watched in complete horror, wondering why Scytheclaw was still so determined to attack. The scizor fought whatever pokémon came in reach, slashing at them with his sharp pincers, but he was quickly tiring, and the other pokémon showed no such fatigue. Still, it seemed like he was doing a fine job of holding them off until one of them managed to score a direct hit with a fire attack and knock him off his feet. The pokémon, a female typhlosion, pinned him to the ground. "I saw what you did, you bully!" she snarled. "Tell the truth and apologize!" Scytheclaw's only response was to spit in her face. Enraged, she threw him across the ground and launched another fire attack.

Scytheclaw leaped to his feet and managed to avoid the worst of the blast, but by now, several more pokémon had come in to defend the ones he'd been fighting before. Scytheclaw struck out at several of them, but they kept him turning around by attacking him while they had him surrounded. Once he tried to strike at one pokémon, several more would attack him from behind. Scytheclaw suddenly didn't seem to be able to fight as well as she remembered. Maybe he was still injured, or maybe it had simply been so long without practice. Nevertheless, he stubbornly struck out at the other pokémon regardless of his disadvantages. Snowcrystal noticed the female scizor from before watching the battle with and alarmed look. "Stop!" she tried to yell at the pokémon. "Stop this!"

"This wasn't the sort of battling I had in mind…" Spark muttered beside Snowcrystal. "We're supposed to be having fun."

By now there was no way for Scytheclaw to dodge or defend himself without putting himself in the range of more attacks. He looked almost panicked now, but he kept on fighting.

"Just give up!" one of the pokémon shouted to him.

Scytheclaw's eyes hardened. "No," he hissed. He continued to battle hopelessly against the mob of pokémon surrounding him. Snowcrystal had no idea why the park humans and pokémon hadn't come to stop the fight yet. Were they still too distracted?

When Scytheclaw wasn't paying attention, an electrike, who had been waiting for his chance, ran up to the scizor and touched a paw to his leg. Sparks leaped over Scytheclaw as his whole body went rigid, and Snowcrystal realized that the electrike had used thunder wave. Then the whole tide of the battle changed. The pokémon were no longer trying to subdue the scizor, but were simply taunting him with small attacks while he desperately tried to swipe at any of them that came close enough whenever the paralysis could wear off for a second.

Spark glanced at Snowcrystal, a somewhat alarmed look crossing his face as the battle neared them. "Well, I'm not sure this is-"

"Stop this!" a voice cried, loud enough for several of the watching pokémon to whirl around and see who had spoken. Others however, continued to attack, just out of the furious Scytheclaw's range.

Snowcrystal had turned as well, seeing that the speaker was Nightshade, and he was looking over all the fighting pokémon – Scytheclaw included – with a stern glare. A few of the other attacking pokémon backed away once they realized their foe was not moving, leaving Scytheclaw paralyzed on the ground and glaring at them menacingly.

The pokémon who had been attacking seemed ready to turn on Nightshade when a slowking and a houndoom suddenly arrived, both wearing vests that told Snowcrystal that they must belong to those helping to keep peace in the park.

"What's going on here?" the slowking asked, and immediately, nearly every pokémon in the area pointed their hands, claws, and paws at Scytheclaw.

"He started it!" one of them exclaimed.

"He attacked my son," the feraligatr from before accused, still pointing at Scytheclaw.

The houndoom stepped up to the scizor, who glared at him through narrow eyes. "Is this true?" he asked.

"Yes," Scytheclaw replied with a hiss.

Snowcrystal couldn't help but give the scizor a shocked look. She had expected him to deny it, to put the blame on the other pokémon, but instead he had admitted to it, and was now staring at the houndoom as if he was daring him to do something about it.

The houndoom gave a frustrated sigh. "As if that other fight wasn't bad enough," he muttered, before lifting his head in a howl.

The slowking stood behind Scytheclaw as if waiting for him to make a run for it, but he didn't move, and probably couldn't, due to the paralysis. The houndoom ordered the gathering pokémon to go back to whatever they were doing, and about a minute later, a few humans and more pokémon arrived, presumably to take Scytheclaw to the park building like the trainer at the entrance had stated, but she didn't see much else, as she, Spark, and Nightshade had turned and left, baffled by the events that had taken place.

They spent the rest of the afternoon wondering what would happen when the trainers returned and if Damian would be held responsible for Scytheclaw's actions. Spark was sure that none of them would be allowed to go to the park again, leaving them to spend their days in the dismal, rocky new hideout from now on. Near the end of the afternoon, Snowcrystal and the others who had been dropped off had gathered together near the entrance, waiting for the return of the trainers.

"I knew he shouldn't have brought that idiot along," Wildflame muttered. "Now we're going to have spend our time in that rotten hole in the ground, waiting for the trainers too-"

"Not if we find something in the library," Alex replied. "If we find something about the Forbidden Attacks…find out how to stop them, we won't have to wait here anymore. We can move on."

Snowcrystal was grateful for the floatzel's optimism, as hopeless as finding something soon seemed at the moment. The rare, locked away books in the library were still a chance they could take, and if they did manage to find something, to find out who or what had created the Forbidden Attacks and if they could stop them, or even if there was another way to stop them, they could continue to move forward again, instead of simply spending day after day looking for a lead.

"That's if we can get into the library at all," Wildflame replied. "We don't know what Eve's going to say or if it'll even be much help to us."

"Yeah," Alex started, "but-"

She was interrupted as Spark leapt to his feet, facing toward the entrance to the park. They all saw the trainers approaching and hurried to meet them. As soon as they stood beside their trainers, they could hear one of the park managers sternly talking to Damian about his scizor. Scytheclaw was soon returned, guarded on both sides by some of the working park pokémon, and Damian was told that his pokémon were banned from entering the park in the future. Damian hastily tried to apologize, making a big show of it, which only irritated the park workers further and they were all told to leave.

"Well, that went well," Katie muttered sarcastically as they walked through the city streets, the sun beginning to set and tinting the sky with bright orange and yellow.

"At least he didn't kill anyone," Damian replied without thinking, earning him a glare from the two younger trainers. "Wait…no! I didn't mean that he would!" he quickly said, and the other two simply turned away and kept walking.

"We're going to go to the hotel for an hour or two," Justin said after a few moments. "You can keep walking to the camp."

Damian only nodded in reply, and Katie and Justin, along with Spark and Katie's two pokémon, walked off, leaving the rest of them standing there. It was clear to the pokémon, without having to ask, that the humans had had no luck being granted permission to look at the books. After a moment of silence, Damian turned to the remaining pokémon, seeming to realize that it would look odd with him walking around with more than six, and returned Todd and Scytheclaw. He stood silent for a moment, his flareon moving to stand by his side, before he looked back at the others. "I don't want to go back just yet," he said. "Do you want to go for a walk? See parts of the city?"

Inferno leaped up in excitement, nudging Damian's legs with his head as if wanting to get going right away. Alex nodded her head, as did Redclaw and Nightshade. He then looked to Snowcrystal and Wildflame, asking them if they minded, and in answer they shook their heads.

"Eh, if it makes him happy," Wildflame muttered. "I guess I could use some time to think before we try sneaking into the library."

"If we end up doing that," Redclaw reminded her, and followed Damian as the trainer set off in a random direction.

Snowcrystal was surprised to find that in the fading light, the city streets looked almost…beautiful. She had never thought she'd think such a thing about human buildings, but there was something about them that captivated her in a way. She almost felt wrong for thinking so, after hearing what humans had done to Nightshade, but she quickly reminded herself that not all humans were bad. Some were capable of great good, like the ones who were helping her, and like pokémon, each one was different.

After a little while, she realized that they had wandered to an even more beautiful area. The houses were cleaner, more intricate, and most of them very large. Most had many beautiful plants in front of them, and when Alex tried to dart into a garden, Damian stopped her, explaining that they had to be careful not to damage anything belonging to the owners.

"What is this place?" Snowcrystal asked, hurrying up to catch up to Inferno.

The flareon looked at her and smiled. "This is one of the upper class neighborhoods," he explained. "It's very pretty."

"A what?" she questioned.

"Where rich humans live," he said simply.

"Oh," she replied. "What makes a human rich?"

"Beats me."

They continued to walk, the sky now beginning to get very dark. Suddenly, Snowcrystal leapt in surprise as, in the nearest garden, dozens of multicolored lights turned on, transforming the garden into a luminous paradise like something out of one of the fantasy stories Damian sometimes read to them at the library. "Wow, that's beautiful!" she exclaimed, and for a moment she was reminded of the glowing crystals in her home cave, but she pushed the thought from her mind.

"I love coming here," Inferno was saying. "Lots of humans have gardens like that. It's been such a long time since I…"

He trailed off, for in one of the gardens, a bush rustled, and a sleek black pokémon walked out, the markings on its body giving off a glow that matched that of the lights that were starting to turn on in the rich garden it had just left.

But something was very different.

The pokémon was, quite obviously, an umbreon, but its rings weren't yellow. They weren't blue either; it wasn't even ashiny. They were a bright, royal purple.

The pokémon turned toward them, and Snowcrystal could see that its eyes were different too; they were a bright ice blue. The pokémon's face lit up as he saw them, and he bounded over, Damian and the rest of the group looking at the newcomer curiously as he arrived.

"Hey!" the umbreon cried as he stopped in front of Redclaw and Wildflame, his tail weaving back and forth almost like that of an excited houndour puppy. "I haven't seen you around here before. Where're you from?"

The two looked momentarily confused about the odd umbreon, but quickly shrugged it off, figuring, Snowcrystal assumed, that he must be from another land, like she was. "We're travelers," Wildflame told him, sounding annoyed. "We don't live in the city."

"Travelers?" The umbreon seemed, if possible, even more excited by this. "Where are you from? What sort of places have you been? Have you-"

"That's enough questions, thank you," Wildflame muttered before anyone else could reply. "Now if you excuse us, we'd better be going." She walked on ahead past him, and Redclaw followed, giving the oddly colored umbreon a strange look.

The stranger didn't seem to mind, and was quite content to sit there as Damian petted him and Inferno and Alex eagerly began to reply to his questions. Snowcrystal and Nightshade stood off to the side, watching as Redclaw and Wildflame waited up ahead for them, and after a moment, they told the umbreon that they had to get moving, he said his goodbyes, then left.

"That's odd," Snowcrystal said to Inferno as they walked on, glancing at the umbreon as he stared back cheerfully at them. "I didn't know there were odd-colored umbreon. The humans don't think it's weird?"

"No, of course not," Inferno replied. "The humans created them. You see," he continued, noting her look of shock, "he's one of those genetically modified pokémon. Rich humans here pay quite a lot for one. There aren't many around, as it's still a fairly new practice, but there's bound to be a lot more sooner or later and there's certainly a strong demand for them."

"Genetically modified?" Snowcrystal repeated. She'd heard about this sort of thing briefly from the books Damian and the others read, but she was still clueless about what it meant.

"Yeah," the flareon replied. "Human scientists can do all sorts of strange things. They've cloned prehistoric pokémon. They even cloned mew. And recently, the ones in Stonedust City begun breeding these modified pokémon to sell. They've created umbreon with all kinds of different colored rings. They have other species too. Like I said, there aren't many of them yet, but you see them around in these parts of the city sometimes."

"You mean, these humans could create their own white growlithe?" she asked hopefully, wondering whether she would be able to walk around with her natural fur colors and not attract too much attention.

"Yes, they could," Inferno replied, as if knowing what she was thinking, "but they haven't done that yet. There are no modified growlithe at all yet as far as I know. And naturally strange colored pokémon, like shinies, are sought after even more than the modified ones. If they saw you with your normal colors, and there was no proof that you came from a lab, you'd be in big trouble."

"Right," she replied, disappointment stabbing her chest.

"Only a select few are allowed to sell these types of pokémon," Inferno continued. "They keep track of what new colorations they create and they aren't allowed to pass them off as natural. So…yes, I'm afraid you've still got to be careful."

Snowcrystal sighed as they carried on, and after a while they turned around and started heading back to more familiar parts of the city, calmly enjoying the cool night air as they passed the brilliantly decorated buildings. They soon arrived back at a place with towering buildings, and as they passed a street corner, a couple of adult trainers and their pokémon sneered at them. Wildflame sneered back at them, and Alex did a much less intimidating imitation, and they continued on.

"I don't like this," Wildflame muttered quietly after a moment.

"Huh?" Snowcrystal responded, looking at the houndoom in confusion.

"Staying in this city," she whispered back. "We've already had to move our camp because someone came too close. If we don't find anything in the library's hidden books, I say we go somewhere else."

"Where?" Redclaw asked, striding forward to walk beside her. "To another city?"

"I don't know," she muttered irritably, turning away from him and picking up speed until she was further ahead.

Redclaw looked confused, and was about to follow when Nightshade, who had been walking behind him, placed his claws on the arcanine's leg. "Don't," he told him, "this isn't the time to…" He trailed off, looking off to the side at the opposite street, where the two trainers they'd noticed before were watching them.

Redclaw noticed them too, and looked to Damian, who was walking blissfully, completely oblivious. The arcanine felt the fur bristle along his neck as he bared his teeth and glared straight in the trainers' direction, and the two trainers, as well as their pokémon, a vileplume and a ninetales much older looking than Rosie, glared back but sauntered away. They did not encounter the trainers again, but Redclaw stuck protectively close to Snowcrystal until they reached their new camp again. He had not liked the way those trainers had looked at them, and he wondered if their pokémon had noticed Snowcrystal's fur was dyed, as Eve had. He was starting to realize that it was likely far more dangerous than they realized to take Snowcrystal into the city that way, and he wished they had simply gone back to camp. He was beginning to understand how Wildflame felt.

Once they got back to camp, the pokémon waited near the ravine for Justin and Katie to return, whispering excitedly amongst themselves about what the library could have in store. Redclaw's unease had rubbed off on Snowcrystal, and she was starting to have a bad feeling about returning to the city. Regardless, her determination to help her tribe back at the mountains made her determined to help out, despite how she might feel.

Damian had let the rest of his pokémon out while they waited, knowing that it wouldn't be long before they were meant to meet Eve in the library's circular room. It was decided that only a few of them would go to speak with her, and Snowcrystal felt lucky that Damian and Arien had agreed to let her go.

Looking around the slopes of bare rock, Snowcrystal spotted Scytheclaw a ways away from the others and tentatively padded over to him. "Scytheclaw?" she asked as she approached the scizor, looking up at him warily.

He turned to give her a sharp glare. "This isn't about healing your scyther friend again, is it?" he asked, his bright eyes narrowing.

"No," she answered truthfully. "It's…I just thought it was brave of you to stand up to those pokémon in the park."

"Brave?" he responded icily, giving her a suspicious look.

"Yes," she replied, feeling a bit silly as she noticed his reaction, but continuing anyway. "I think you are brave. You don't back down even when you know you can't win. I mean, I think those pokémon thought you were just a coward who would run away if someone stood up to you. But you aren't. You still stood up to them."

Scytheclaw rolled his eyes. "This is ridiculous," he muttered. "I'm not going to do anything for you, understand? I'm only helping you with this Forbidden Attack quest to search for answers for myself and help my trainer. I am not your friend, growlithe, so stop treating me like I am." With that, he turned and stalked away, heading out over the rugged rocky ground. Some of the other pokémon saw him go, but did not try to stop him, knowing that he would be back before they would make their plans for going into the library after hearing Eve's words.

Snowcrystal felt a bit disappointed. She hadn't wanted to ask him anything this time. She had only wanted to be more friendly, maybe try to help some of the pokémon be more of a team, but she now realized how silly that seemed, and she had to admit, some small part of her had still been hoping he would help Stormblade.

"Ah, give it up," a voice muttered from behind her, and she turned to see Blazefang walking towards her. "He's not gonna do it."

"I wasn't-"

"Oh, please," Blazefang muttered. "Why else would you have been nice to a pokémon like that?"

"I…I don't know," she replied, feeling a bit puzzled herself after listening to his words. "I just thought…well…I'm not sure. But I really did think he was brave. Don't you think that's the sort of bravery we need to-"

"Ah, I see," Blazefang responded. "You just want him to do things for us. It's not much different."

"I…I didn't mean it like that!" she cried, but even as she said it, she began to wonder if she had. She didn't like to think she expected every pokémon she met to help her, but what if she did? "I mean, I thought-"

"Don't worry about it," Blazefang replied. "I know what you mean. That'll be all that useless bug is good for."

"Scizor," she corrected.

"Yeah, whatever," the houndour said with a shrug. "You know, you're always looking at the good in others. And I don't mean that as a compliment…no offense. Some pokémon are just, well…not good. Take Cyclone for example."

"I'm sure the bad things Cyclone's done certainly outweigh the good," she stated.

"Well, that's a start," Blazefang muttered. "But who cares whether Scytheclaw is brave or not? We could do without him if we had to. Please, Snowcrystal, stop thinking that every pokémon we come across is going to be some great help. We can't be too careful who we trust these days." He turned and walked back toward the edge of the ravine, near where the others were waiting.

Snowcrystal realized that he had a point, and that she couldn't blindly trust any pokémon who seemed helpful. Yet Scytheclaw was a different story. He had a Forbidden Attack, if a strange one, and that made him a part of everything they were searching for. Still, Blazefang's words had unsettled her, and she decided to put it out of her mind for the time being.

It wasn't long before Justin and Katie returned, and Katie only hesitantly decided to come with them, curious to know what the mightyena would say, but still not liking the idea of sneaking into the library. She had her azumarill by her side, Justin had Spark, and Damian had Arien. The only other pokémon who came with them were Rosie and Snowcrystal, Rosie only coming because she wanted to see Eve again.

The library was almost ready to close as they walked through the doors, heading to the massive circular room where they knew Eve was waiting. As they'd hoped, there were only a few people or pokémon around. They quickly made their way to the massive room they had spent so much time in over the weeks, and as they'd expected, the mightyena was waiting for them in the center of the room, sprawled out on one of the chairs.

"Good," she stated as they arrived, leaping down from the chair and running over to them. "You're here."

"Eve!" Rosie cried, running ahead of the others to meet up with the mightyena, whose eyes widened in shock as she recognized her.

Snowcrystal watched the two as they excitedly exchanged words and ran circles around a group of chairs, talking rapidly back and forth as they play-fought each other, just as if they had been friends for far longer than Rosie had described. Beside her, Arien folded his arms impatiently, while the trainers and Spark all watched with much happier expressions.

"So, where are the books hidden, Eve?" Rosie asked as the two walked back toward the main group.

"Shh…not so loud," she replied. "There are still pokémon here. Look, let's go in one of the hallways. It'll be quieter. I only told you to come here because it would be easy for you to find me."

"Hey, we've been coming here for weeks!" Spark interjected. "I think we know where everything is!"

The mightyena only shrugged, and they followed her into one of the side hallways, and then to a secluded place near a turn in the narrow passage. Eve sat down in front of a painting of Ho-oh rising from a writhing mass of flames. "Okay," she began, "listen carefully." She needn't have asked, because every pokémon present was listening, and the humans were impatiently waiting for it to begin so they could get a translation from Damian. "Okay," Eve continued, satisfied that their attention was on her words, "the books are hidden in a very small room. You must first go to the room where the battle strategies books are. There's a door behind the large lugia painting there. It's locked, but it won't be hard to open with a pokémon attack. They aren't exactly too worried about anyone finding it. They assume no one knows and they're busy worrying about protecting the rest of the library. Go through the tunnel that winds through the walls and you should come into another room. It's small and has a low ceiling because it exists between a room on the first floor and a room on the second. You'll probably see a lot of old books there – the workers in the library like to take them up there to read in private sometimes – but they're not what you're looking for. Look around and you'll see a door that's somewhat hidden, but there isn't much in the room and it's not hard to find. Open it and there will be a short hallway, then you'll reach the door that leads to the hidden room with the books. I'm not sure how hard it is to open without a key; I've never seen the door to the room itself. But that's how you get to it."

"Hm…" Spark began to muse as Damian relayed the information to Katie and Justin. "There aren't any…high tech security devices guarding this thing, are there?"

"In the secret rooms?" she replied. "Only the locks. You see, like I said, they know that only a few people know about them, so they won't be expecting that. Your problem, however, is going to be the rest of the library. You see, they are worried about books in the main library being stolen. They take it seriously…because if a book isn't checked out normally, they can't find the person who has it if it isn't returned, and there are many books here that are very valuable, even in the normal sections of the library."

"So, are there humans patrolling the library at night?" Snowcrystal asked, remembering her terrifying experience in the library at night once before.

"The janitors used to," Eve replied, "though recently they've started cleaning during the evenings when there are still visitors. It's unfortunate, as they'd be much easier to avoid, but you won't have that window of opportunity. You see…something else guards the library at night, and now, they do it immediately after closing."

Spark and Snowcrystal gave each other uneasy looks. "And that thing that guards the library would be…" Spark began.

"Ghost pokémon," Eve replied. "There's only one camera near the library entrance but they have eyes everywhere else. You're going to have to find a way to distract them before you try to navigate the library."

"Yeah, sounds realsimple," Spark muttered sarcastically.

"I'm sorry, but that's all I can tell you," Eve replied.

"Thank you," Snowcrystal told her, and the mightyena smiled.

"I wish you good luck," she replied, standing up. "I must find my trainer now. Remember, sneak in through a side window…have the ones who will cause a distraction go first…you can't be caught on the camera. But at the same time…don't make the mistake of thinking that being caught by the ghost pokémon is any better."

With that, the mightyena trotted out of the hallway, and the group was left with her ominous warning. Snowcrystal looked up at Damian after he finished explaining to the other humans. Katie looked back at him in shock, while Justin looked on with eagerness. They waited for Damian to speak, and as he turned and led them toward the end of the hallway, he said, "Let's get back to the ravine. We need to make a plan fast."

To be continued...


Author's Note:

The purple ringed umbreon and other genetically altered pokémon in Stonedust were actually inspired by a conversation a friend once had with someone on DA. This person was talking about people's pokesonas and insisted that umbreons that had colors other than blue or yellow rings were "breaking the rules" of pokémon. Disregarding the fact that she was completely missing the point (as pokesonas aren't always meant to be realistic or serious, and in the end, they don't have to be), it got me thinking about these "rules of pokémon" she seemed to be talking about. Were these boundaries really where she insisted they were? I decided to think about it and find out. I soon thought of the idea of having human-created altered colors. The pokémon world has shown that scientists can do pretty crazy things with pokémon, such as cloning them from fossils, creating Mewtwo, etc. So why not create ones with weird colors? When I thought of this, I assumed this would – in the timeline of most stories I'd write – be a fairly new practice, probably with several pokémon who ended up with weird colors in the wrong places or mismatched rings after they evolved before the humans could perfect it, and scientists would need a good incentive to do it, such as a lot of buyers who would pay large sums of money for one. It then suddenly occurred to me that Stonedust City from The Path of Destiny would be a perfect place for these hypothetical scientists to sell these altered pokémon, and I thought it would be an interesting subject to explore, possibly as a separate short story or in PoD itself. Either way, I thought it would be an interesting thing for the characters to come across to show them a bit more of what the city is like.