A/N: Thank you for all the wonderful reviews and constructive criticism last chapter. I plan on finishing the story before I go back and attempt to edit past chapters, but I will take your words into account. My usual beta FirebirdXoX was wonderful catching a bunch of typos and mistakes this chapter. So props to her!
Ian felt like he had been running much longer than he had expected to and tried not to think about how he had just sprinted off the beaten trail with only a mental flag on which direction he had gone to guide him back. They were almost always reliable, but still….
By the time Ian heard the sounds of clear activity ahead, he was breathing heavily and his cheeks were flushed. He wasn't unfit or anything but the weight of his backpack tugged at him and the additional energy afforded him by the brief adrenaline rush was nearly spent. He bent down to catch his breath, and as he sucked in air the smell of scorched earth assaulted his nose; the faint, more unpleasant, scent of burning fur or hair lingering beneath it. Ian wrinkled his nose up a bit at the smell, but as he brought his mind back into focus he became far more intent on trying to figure out the scene he was hearing before him.
There was a large circle of smoldering grass where the lightning had struck, a few tenacious little streaks of grass still abalaze. Ian had ended up on top of one of the grassland's gentle, sloping, hills, and below him lay a large area where the grass had been flattened and trampled to form a vaguely circular arena bordered by the taller grasses. In it stood several pokemon, clearly separated both by sight and sound into two distinct sides.
On one side, a grizzled looking raticate crouched with fangs bared, ready to leap into action. Its fur hung off it in ragged patches, exposing various wounds, large in number but rather shallow looking. Around the raticate several electrikes lay in the dust gently moaning, only identifiable to Ian because a few of them happened to moan their name out as many pokemon did. The smell of burning fur could be attributed to the raticate, as it had apparently barely dodged being hit by the deadly lightning that had scorched the earth around it, and its left side was charred a darkened brown. The rapidash lay behind it, not collapsed on his side like he'd been before, but legs curled under it. The flames along its body were small and weak, but it managed to hold its head up defiantly and glare.
Across from the two of them were three pokemon: a manectric, and two ragged looking electrikes. The manectric sat calmly, returning the heated gazes of the raticate and rapidash. Its companions paced restlessly around the manectric, a slight worry spoiling their otherwise fierce and battle ready expressions. The manectric had no such expression on its face, but didn't need one to be intimidating.
Its fur was matted with blood everywhere possible, its blue and yellow fur sticking up at odd angles from the dried bits. Its face was completely concealed by the gore and where it had dried around its mouth it was so thick it had begun layering and clumping. This gave the manectric the appearance of sores and old scabs covering its face where none existed. A few blue flecks of fur showed up where pink foam and drool from its mouth dripped off its face. Its legs were covered in a similar fashion close to its claws, but its actual claws and teeth were sharp and free of any dirt or blood congealing upon them. Somehow, its most disturbing feature remained its eyes. It must've had a shiny ancestor, as its eyes were blue, if one could call it blue. They were so pale as to be almost white, leaving its pupils to stand alone like two dark scars. The manectric seemed casual, relaxed even, but it eyes held a burning brightness that made any expression uncomfortable to look at. The fire behind its cold eyes was disturbingly turbulent rather than warming. It gave a lopsided and somehow malicious grin as it stared at the raticate; the raticate staring right back, its own eyes blazing with a determined fire.
The standoff lasted for several long, stretched out seconds as Ian desperately scrabbled for sensory info, seeming only capable of realizing the wrongness of the situation before him. The manectric suddenly gave two sharp, succinct barks. The two electrikes next to it flinched, but immediately dashed off in opposite directions towards the taller, untrampled grasses. The raticate gave a desperate shriek and took one step towards the closest one, snarling. The green hound took a quick glance back at the furious rat. At the sight of the snarling, blood streaked face pulled back into a snarl, the electrike shivered and faltered, realizing it was the blood of his incapacitated comrades decorating her fangs. He paused, glanced back at what could only be his leader, and then continued into the grasses at a much slower, cautious pace with his tail between his legs.
Meanwhile, the face off between the manectric and the raticate and rapidash continued. The wounded rapidash struggled to its feet, refusing to break its furious eye contact with the hellhound before him. Its mane suddenly blazed larger as it found its footing and stood up, teeth bared in a very unhorse like fashion. The fire burning across its body began to twist and swirl, and slowly, flames twisted away from their source and began to twirl and spin across the rapidash's entire body.
It took a weak step forward, stumbled, and nearly collapsed again. He regained his footing and took another few stumbling steps, slowly gaining speed. His momentum carried him forward as he charged towards the manectric, the fire twisting about him until he more closely resembled a horizontal tornado of fire led by his horn than a beast of flesh and blood.
The manectric watched this with insane calm, a vicious smile spreading on its face and delight dancing in its crazed eyes. As the rapidash raged towards the yellow and blue monster, the manectric's mouth parted in glee as it crouched down low as if to brace itself for the impact.
There was no impact. The moment before the rapidash hit, the manectric jumped nimbly to the side and the rapidash's frenzied, fiery, tackle met with nothing. Its momentum too much and muscles too weak from blood-loss, the unicorn toppled head over heals, and it skidded to a stop in the disturbed dirt. Its flames quickly sputtered away. Perhaps the mighty stallion would've normally overun the manectric before it could blink, but it had been too weak and slow from its injuries. The manectric had waited for the attack without any worry and now nimbly landed as the horse lay wheezing in the dirt.
The fiery tackle had been a last ditch effort by the stallion, all its rage and energy pulled into one last attack, and now its legs worked weakly and uselessly against the ground, pawing at the grass as it struggled to get up again. The manectric smirked as it shuddered on the ground, helpless. The maddened hound paced around the fallen body, its blue eyes gleaming. The raticate had been staring, stunned at the rapidash's failed attack, but suddenly her eyes flicked to the scorch mark on the ground and then back to the manectric, eyes widening.
Ian had only been following the battle by ear, and was struggling to follow along. This was different than the battles on TV, but he was keeping track of the hits, and quickly and efficiently sorting cries into anger and pain and aggression and drawing his internal map. He was confused for a moment by the sudden lull, until he felt the hairs on the back of his neck prickle and realized what the raticate had as soon as the electric hound began laughing. It was an eerie sound, disturbingly close to a human laugh, but at the same time entirely inhuman as well. The surprisingly high pitched cackle from the hound turned into a sadistic snarl, and Ian's hands dashed to cover his ears just as the raticate let out a despairing wail and tried to charge the manectric.
Too late, lighting streaked down from the sky, splitting the air with its pure fury.
Ian had managed to cover his ears before the otherwise deafening thunderclap reached him. It didn't do all that much good, the thunder still ringing strong in his ears and the shockwave very nearly toppling him over. His heart lurched with the mighty pulse and was sent racing, leaving him breathless. He blinked, for once grateful for his blindness as he did not have to see the lightning flash at such a painful range, but was still disoriented for several seconds.
When Ian uncovered his ears, the sounds of a vicious battle raging between the raticate and manectric met his ears. There was thumps, scrapes and shrieks as the two engaged, Ian only able to discern which sounds went to which pokemon because the raticate sounded furious while the manectric sounded like... well it sounded like it was having fun.
Ian finally came to the realization that he was standing a mere 250 feet away from a battle between two very dangerous pokemon, and that he was extremely lucky that they were ignoring him. Usually humans were viewed as a common enemy between wild pokemon. It gave him time to ask why? Why were they so hell bent on each other's destruction?
Why were the raticate and rapidash fighting so vehemently? If it had been a single, weaker opponent Ian would've understood defending one's territory or ridding the grassland of a menace, but the manectric was extremely strong, and had a pack to back it up. Ian faced the sudden certainty that the rapidash had received its grievous wounds fighting off other electrikes that belonged to the manectric preemptively. Why would it willingly seek out conflict? And why didn't it simply run away when things got out of hand, the raticate too for that matter! Both raticate and rapidash were known for their uncanny ability to escape battles at a moments notice if they so wished, to the bane of trainers everywhere, so why stand and fight?
The manectric was clearly either insane or maddened by the pokerus, but it showed a disturbing intelligence Ian had not learned to associate with infected pokemon based on the news reports he had watched. The electrikes were a mystery to Ian in their part in all this, other than they had distributed themselves into the grasses… shoot!
One of the electrike that had been sent away suddenly burst out from the top of the grass, leaping into an attack and snarling and baring its fangs in the air. Ian instinctively whipped his cane up in retaliation, the hound so close he thought it was attacking him. He leapt back, ditching his backpack in an instant to keep his dexterity in case he needed to run and cane coming up defensively. Before his feet had hit the ground he heard both the panicked cries of several young rattata, Ian taking in all of it in a flash. Ian's cane whistled emptily through the air, as a tan blur streaked out of the grass and landed a heavy blow to the underside of the dog's jaw, smashing it closed. The electrike's eyes rolled back and the electric hound fell to the ground with a sharp whimper. It didn't get up again.
The rattata turned to face Ian, its red eyes blazing, as it faced off against the human. He bared his teeth at Ian and protectively crouched in front of the small nest of dirt and grass that contained three smaller, younger looking rattata who quivered in fear. If Ian could see, he would've noted that the rattata was not purple like his siblings, but tan like his mother, and was battle scarred in his own right, two whiskers unusually sticking out of one cheek and only one gracing the other, a nasty dark scar running up his face where the second was supposed to be. But Ian did not notice this, merely the enraged defensive shriek of the rattata's call.
Ian panted, adrenaline rushing through his system. The rattata didn't give the boy a chance to rest, as he hopped forward and bit viciously at Ian's shoes. Ian stumbled backwards with a yelp. "Calm down I won't hurt y-" Suddenly it hit him. Young rattata in a vulnerable group, a raticate and rapidash standing ground they should by all rights be abandoning.- they were defending their family. As improbable as crossbreeding was in the wild, it had been proven in captivity to be possible so-
Ian's thoughts were interrupted when his sensitive ears picked up on the rustling of grass, slightly out of rhythm with the wind that swept the grasslands. There had been two electrikes sent into the grass! The second one leaped before the defending rattata could react. It looked like it was going to succeed for a split second, but Ian had begun moving on its sound not its attack. Ian had never once played baseball, but his instincts automatically set up his body in batting posture, his cane momentarily jerking backwards before following through in a smooth arc.
There was a dull thud as the cane made contact with the broad side of the electrike. It was thin and flexible, but that made it almost whip-like and the electrike yelped as it made contact. With a cry it hit the ground and streaked into the grasses, startled and wounded by the unexpected attack. The defending rattata was also surprised. He had been prepared to engage or drive away the human the whole time. After all, everyone knew humans were evil and would attack without provocation. Ian panted heavily, having been caught up the rush of the instinctual attack. He blinked and then came very close to looking directly at the tan rattata with his blue eyes.
"What?" he asked. The rattata stared at him dumbfounded. The two sized each other up in an uneasy silence, the babies squeaking restlessly as their mother battled and their sibling glared at the human.
An enraged howl streaked through the air as the manectric glanced up from the battle, temporarily pinning the raticate with its paw and staring right at Ian and the rattata. Both Ian and the tan rattata snapped to attention, its mere stare raising hairs on the backs of their necks. The nest was well hidden, there was no way it could see the rattatas but somehow the manectric's eyes fell to the grasses. It looked right at the children, its face twisted with hate as its prey avoided the pack's attack. It lifted its head and howled. Faintly, Ian heard a few respondent howls in the distance.
"Shoot!" Ian knew what those sounds meant. The raticate and rattata could not make a stand against more enemies Ian decided, even now hearing the tussle between the beast and the rodent becoming more and more one-sided in the manectric's favor. If the baby rattata wanted to survive, they had to run, now.
"C'mon! You have to run!" Ian frantically addressed the young rodents, waving them on in the opposite direction that he had heard the howls come from. This was irrational, stupid, directing and talking to wild pokemon, but Ian didn't give a single care at the moment. The tan rattata glanced over at his mother, obviously wishing to join her in the fight but also obviously determined to protect his siblings as well. He glanced back at Ian, taking in the tense and anxious expression angled somewhere to the side of the nest and then gave a sharp, "Ta!"
His siblings obviously knew the order well and they immediately evacuated the nest and started running in the direction of Ian's beckoning. Their brother-turned-protector paused, glared at Ian accusingly, and then followed them. Ian turned and ran a second later, wishing there was some way he could help the raticate as well but resigning himself to looking after the children instead. He wouldn't leave them in this situation if he could help it. The smaller rat pups of the litter clumsily threw themselves through the grasses, grunting and squeaking enough for Ian to follow well enough on his own. Ian gripped his cane like a sword, not thinking about what he was doing.
They had been running for what seemed like a long time, when the distant sounds of barking and a furious howl that could only be the manectric's sounded. Ian was panting and the babies crying softly as they ran, with the tan rattata keeping pace silently, and apparently easily, next to the group. The chase had started. Ian knew the head start wouldn't last long, the babies were tiring and so was he for that matter. The taller grasses had given way to the shorter, hardier grasses and Ian was sure the dogs could see him for miles.
We need to stop and find a hiding place... Ian silently thought, and prayed that there would be such an opportunity on the wild plains.
The forces that be and dumb luck answered his call, as Ian felt the earth give way abruptly beneath him and the startled rats. They fell…