"A hunter's claws are sharp, and his mind shsrper, but his heart sharpest of all."
- A Zangoose proverb
Zangoose had fur as white as snow. Zangoose was a proud warrior, strong and brave. But one day, he met Seviper, a black serpent in the grass. Seviper wanted to test his strength against the hunter.
When Seviper lunged, his fangs sliced at Zangoose's fur, letting the red blood stain his white fur in jagged stripes. And from that day on, we white hunters have been at war with the black serpents.
My name? Heh, you don't need to know my name. The only ones who need a name are lovers and assassins. You're not my type, and my claws could rip your throat out before you blinked. But sure, I'll tell you my story...
There's this place below the mountains, a cozy little valley where you can find wildflowers in the spring. For all the fire and smoke the mountain throws up, our home stays lush year-round.
Humans live on the far side of the lake, but there aren't too many of them, and they haven't really done anything to bother us. There isn't even a paved road on this side of the river, for the love of whatever-you-believe-in.
"Sorry, Sands! It was just a little splash," said an Azumarill hastily as a Sandshrew glared at him. "Just a little joke!"
"A joke?" repeated Sands, his little teeth clenched. "You call that a joke, Foam? You almost killed me!"
Annoyed, I sat up. "Behave, you two," I growled. "Foam wasn't thinking, Sands is exaggerating, now drop it." Jeez, I could hear them all the way from the shade of my favorite tree.
The humans like walking through the grass and climbing the slopes, I suppose. They like doing that. It's nice that they aren't tearing up the earth to expand their roads, thought I've heard some humans would do that.
It gets loud and annoying when the humans cut down trees for firewood. That's fine, they never touch my napping tree. And less trees means fewer Zigzagoons hiding on the branches.
"Go away, Tuck," snapped a Mawile from the shadow of a boulder. "This is my shade. Go find your own. Shoo."
"Aw, no fair! You always hog this spot, Kate," protested the Nuzleaf, waving his arms. "Maybe I wanna be in the shade for once, huh?"
He hopped back as Kate's black jaws gave a warning snap at his arm. "Too bad, wood boy!" she hissed, a nasty gleam in her eyes. "If you want this spot, you've gotta take it!"
"Ugh, you're alwsys so unreasonable," grumbled the Nuzleaf, crossing his arms. "I bet Zangoose agrees." Turning, he cupped his hands around his mouth "Hey, Zangoose! What do you think?"
"No concern to me," I replied with a yawn, rolling over onto my side. "Just take turns or something." Why are they asking me, anyway? Are they really so helpless that they can't settle their problem without dragging in bystanders?
Really, most humans just stick to their roads and leave us alone. Most don't try to screw up the whole place. Not that we could stop them, if they really wanted to.
There is one human who lives on this side of the river, actually. She almost never comes out of her house, but there's a lot of electrical currents inside her house for some reason.
On the mound next to her house is a little berry garden, which we go rummaging through every so often. It's not even fenced off, for crying out loud. Mostly, I know because I sometimes find food in there. Once, I caught an Oddish. I love those tasty blue turnips.
Once, I found something in the berry garden that wasn't food. Something shiny. It was this small thing made of metal, with these little legs and round blue eyes. Okay, it wasn't a "thing", it was another Pokemon. An Aron, to be exact.
"Don't eat me!" he cried, running around in a panic. "I'm not food, I swear!"
Food? Yeah, I was confused too. "Why would I eat you? You're made of steel and you weigh more than a mountain."
"Huh?" He stopped dead and stared up at me with his wide, blue eyes. "You m-mean... you weren't going to eat me? Truly?"
I rolled my eyes. "Of course I wouldn't." I've tried eating an Aron once before, and boy, did my jaw hurt for weeks. Some things just aren't meant to be food.
He let out a sigh of relief. "Um... I'm Barrel," he said nervously. He lifted a little steel paw, which I shook. "You?"
"Just call me Zangoose," I told him. He nodded obediently. "What're you doing in this parts?"
"Oh, I... I got lost," he stammered. "My mom and dad were heading to the red mountain and we got separated in a rainstorm, see?"
No, I didn't see at all. See, I don't run into very many of his kind. Most Arons live much further south, down on Dewford, where the ground is rich in iron deposits. "The red mountain? Ridiculous. No one goes there."
He stared at me. Jeez, wasn't he listening? "Seriously. They say it's like a blister on the earth and it bleeds fire and smoke."
Okay, I hadn't been to the mountain myself, but my mama told me a lot of stories. Years ago, the mountain shuddered and spat fire and ashes into the sky. "Anyway--it's super dangerous. Forget about going anywhere near there."
Barrel was dismayed. "I can't do that!" he cried. "My parents are waiting for me. Please, tell me how to get to the red mountain!"
Ugh. Stubborn kid. I looked around the valley. Looked like Kate and Tuck were at each other's throats again.
No one would notice if I was gone for a few days, right?
"Tell you what," I said Barrel. "How about I accompany you there?"
The Aron was surprsed. "You'd do that for me? Th-thank you!"
"Yeah, no problem." I hadn't been out of the valley in a long time, but following my mother's stories, I was pretty sure I could figure out how to get to the red mountain. "I'll help you find your way..."
...Barrel stayed in my den for the night, and we left the valley early the next morning. The ground was rocky and sparse. These were the highlands that hardened my mother into a hunter, after all.
Around noon, we approached a cluster of boulders. "Shade! Glorious shade!" cried Barrel, skittering iinto the boulders.
"Wait, you idiot!" Scanning the area, I was pretty sure this was where my mom killed her first Seviper. "Come back! You'll get bitten--"
A shrill scream, followed by a rattle and a hiss. "Ah, damn." Racing forward on all fours, I leapt into the rocks to find a large Seviper looming over the Aron.
Leaping forward, I landed a slash on the snake's body, darting back as his jaws snapped at me. Claws, fangs, teeth, tail; iit was too simple to be called a dance, as natural as walking and breathing.
As my claws rammed into the snake's throat, ripping away his lower jaw, I heard the rattle of his mate. I whirled around as the other Seviper sprang at me with thick, bulging coils.
Her jaws clamped down on shoulder, injecting her venom into my blood. If I was anyone else, my flesh would be shriveling instantly, the poison shooting to my heart and slowing my pulse to a stop.
Ha, what a joke. The venom was like water to my body. As the fangs sank into my shoulder, I seized the Seviper by the head and crushed her skull in my claws.
"What a pity," I thought to myself, flaying the limp body against the ground for good measure. King and queen of predators? Ha! They were no match for me.
"Aaugh!" screamed Barrel from behind me. Snake meat dropped from my mouth. Over in the darkest corner, a third Seviper had my young friend in its jaws, the Aron's little legs wiggling frantically. The fangs were already poking into his back.
The Seviper's eyes filled with fear as I lunged. It released its grip on the Aron's body as I seized it by the throat, my claws squeezing around its head until its eyes and venom sacs bulged. But then, in that split second before my back paw smashed the snake's skull--
"W-wait! It's just a baby!" gasped Barrel. I froze, my back paw halted in mid-swing. How was he not dead? Seviper venom was extremely potent. Such a tiny body should already be cold and still.
You see, I should've realized it already. The armor of the Lairon family is very strong, strong enough to withstand a Seviper's fangs; an Aron like Barrel is pretty much immune to snake venom. On top of that, the third Seviper was much smaller than the first two, and confined to the safest part of the den.
In other words, not only had I killed both of his parents, but he couln't even hurt either of us. "You live for today," I growled, setting the Seviper back down before going back to check Barrel. "You okay?"
He nodded, though his eyes were still wide with terror. Certainly, his body wasn't wounded--well, maybe a little beat up, but that was it. "You know, you look scary, but you're really nice down inside, aren't you?"
Well, don't get the wrong idea. I already had two meals' worth of snake meat, and the little Seviper was barely a morsel. No point in killing him.
Anyway, we left the rocks and continued on our journey, up the craggy slope.
By sunset, ashes were floating in the air, covering the ground and sticking to my fur, coating the distant pine trees. Barrel yawned. "Maybe we should stop for the night," he suggested.
Gathering some branches, we managed to put together a decent fire in a small rock alcove. "So what's your family got to do that's so important at the mountain?" I asked before stuffing more Seviper coils into my moth.
"Well, you see, there's a mysterious power living underneath the mountain," chirped the Aron. "Some men in red uniforms tried to take the power, but other humans came and stopped them. So the earth-spirits told my family to come and help guard the power!"
A terrible power underneath the mountain, huh? The mountain like a blister on the ground, regurgitating the earth's blood. "Ha. I guess if you're brave enough to go, so am I."
A mysterious growl in the distance. "Knock it off," I muttered without thinking.
Barrel blinked. "Huh? I didn't say anything."
Whoops. "Sorry, reflex." I couldn't help it. That distant growl reminded me of Kate's groan whenever Tuck complained to her. Must've been an instinct.
I heard the growl again. My eyes narrowed. Could it be? Carefully, I sniffed the air. Yes, there was no doubt. That was the growl of the dragonlings of the white ridge, the terror of my valley. "Barrel, hide."
As the Bagon's scent approached, I rose to my feet and turned--but he was much closer than I realized. And much as I hate to admit it, I was worn out from the day, and my shoulder still hurt. I barely had time to raise my claws before the first punch knocked me flat on my back. Eagerly, the Bagon grabbed me and brought my neck to his open jaws.
Just before the Bagon chomped down, a sudden blur of steel slammed into him. "Hiya!" cried Barrel, waving his little paws at the dragonling. "Take that!"
I would've laughed if I hadn't just been an hair away from dying. Despite the Aron's weight, the Bagon seemed completely unhurt; if anything, his rage had intensified. Snarling, he smashed his fists against the tiny, cringing Pokemon relentlessly. But he had his back to me. This was my chance!
Pulling myself up, I shoved myself forward and struck with my good arm, claws digging into the distracted Bagon's back. The dragonling struggled to pull himself free, but I held my grip, holding him in place. Getting up on his hind legs, Barrel smashed his little iron skull into the Bagon's forehead repeatedly
Finally, in a haze of pain and rage, the Bagon wrest himself free. Howling, he scrambled away from our campfire, hands to his ridged forehead, tripping over fallen branches as he fled.
Letting out a long breath, I lay back, sprawling over the ground. "Hey! You okay?" asked Barrel, tottering over to me.
What a sweet kid. "Ha, just need to rest. My mom trained me for way tougher stuff." Mama had a wild childhood; she had to survive own. But before she snuffed it, she made sure I could live on my own so I wouldn't go through the same thing, bless her.
The Aron watched as I polished off one Seviper, pushing the snake carcass aside. "Did you learn anything from your dad?" he asked me.
I shook my head. "Dead. Sevipers got him before I was born."
His eyes went round. "I'm sorry to hear that."
I shrugged. "It was mom's fault for falling in love. Especially with one of his kind. She should've known a Sylveon would get killed in an instant."
Barrel was shocked by my words. "But that's not right! You never even knew your father? Never played with him, never rode on his back? That's too sad."
"Ugh, knock it off. He's dead now, okay?" Hell, I don't even know what he looked like. Maybe, if I could see his face, just once... yeah, I guess that'd be nice.
In the morning, we set out again. The fang wounds on my shoulder were starting to heal. The air was surprisingly fresh, clear of ashes. And I got my first good look at the red mountain.
It looked nothing like the way my mother described it. A bloody blister? No, this was a magnificent mountain of brave red, its peak wreathed in a ring of rising steam. "Wow," was all I could say. "It looks good."
By noon, we reached a human village at the foot of the red mountain. Barrel halted. "This is it!" he exclaimed, looking up at me in awe. "My parents are waiting for me at the hot springs. You should come meet them!"
Whoa there! Was this becoming a date or something? Ridiculous. But in all seriousness, I really was reluctant to meet his parents. The way Barrel talked, well, it was clear his way of thinking came from his parents.
Let's face it. No matter what sort of power lay under the mountain, it didn't sound like the sort of thing that would help get food. What could be so important that Barrel's family would travel across the continent and risk their lives to protect it?
THe Aron looked sad when I gave him my answer. "You sure?" he asked. "I'm sure my parents would love to see you. You helped me find my way, after all."
"Yeah. I'm sure. Nice meeting you." I didn't want to admit it, but I was pretty anxious. My claws could crush the greatest of hunters, but this, this was beyond me. What could be more important than survival? If something could exist without bloodshed, then... then what was I doing?
He started to pad away, then paused. "Thank you," called Barrel, his blue eyes bright and full. "You're the best hunter I know. You're brave and strong. But..." He hesitated, looking down at his paws. "I... I think it's lonely to have no family. Just killing and killing to stay alive. So... take care, my friend."
On the bluffs, I watched the little Aron trudge off down to the village. What a dumb, naive kid. And yet... And yet, I found myself smiling as I headed back down the mountains...
...Well, I thought I could leave the valley for a few days without too much of a bother. But everyone was waiting outside my den when I finally returned home.
"Zangoose! There you are!" cried Tuck, waving his knobbly hands. "We've been searching for you!"
An Oddish bounded up to me and buried its face in my fur, squeaking happily. I was shocked. I feasted on its kind; why didn't it fear me?
"Yeah, you made everyone worry," said Kate, crossing her arms. The Mawile--who I'd always thought put herself first--was looking indignantly at me.
A few Wingulls cawed their agreement before gently descending on my shoulders. "Hey, hey, no need to raise a fuss," I laughed nervously. "I was just out for a few days."
But I hugged them all anyway. Truthfully, I was glad to see them too.
"I'm just glad you're safe," said Foam, beaming. "Could you let us know when you leave home next time? Please? Just so we know you didn't get injured somewhere."
"Y-yeah. I... I'll do that. Sorry to make everyone worry."
I thought the rest of the valley considered me a nuisance, maybe a bully at most. But I was wrong. They asked me to hang out with them, every day. Heck, I could swear they even liked me a bit.
"I- I never said that!" protested Kate, her voice rocketing a few pitches up. The Mawile hid her flushed face behind her large back jaws. "I-- I just thought, it'd be nice..."
Anyway, that all happened over a year ago. That was the last time I stepped out of the valley, until that day--the day of Foam's warning.
"Everyone! Listen to me!" cried the Azumarill, climbing out of the river. "The Exile is coming!"
Kate, Tuck, all of us who lived in the valley--we listened in horror. Foam spoke of an ancient monster, once sealed in the opposite world by the hero of humanity. A monster who had escaped from hell, who ravaged the human cities with his armies, desiring vengeance.
We didn't understand, still don't understand. Humans weren't perfect, but Lanette was nice enough, and the people of Fallarbor left us alone for the most part. Why? Why does the monster slay humans? Why must the invasion happen?
Tthe answers don't matter anymore. The valley, our precious valley, will never be the same again. Not after the red Garchomp passed through. Even if the river no longer flows red, and new trees rise from the broken slopes, it won't be home.
We're almost to the village of the hot springs, we few survivors of the valley. The destruction of our home has changed the fight for me, because that loss is behind my every blow.
I don't know if Barrel is all right. I don't know if he can help us. But it's my last hope. I must find him and the mysterious power under the red mountain, no matter what.
When I was young, I never questioned why Seviper and Zangoose were mortal enemies. The cunning serpent and the wild hunter; we got a thrill from dancing with death. That's just the way it was.
But hell, maybe that's not the way the whole world should work. The harder you fight, the closer you get to death. And in the end, what's the point? It's just not enough to keep going. That's what Barrel wanted to tell me.
They must love this land, Barrel's parents. That's why they care about the mysterious power under the mountain. Because they don't want anyone to hurt the land they call home.
My name? Oh, right. The name's Razor. Razor the Zangoose... Razor of Hoenn. And I'll fight for this land with all my strength, no matter what.