The Beginning Of The End

This is the first chapter of Shadows of Legends. Enjoy!

The cold was absolute.

Never, not in a single day of Collin's life, had it absent. It was a constant presence, always creeping, always choking, and though fires and blankets could offer some reprieve, it was never really gone. Collin had grown used to it, though, as used as you could get to temperatures the human body wasn't made for.

He and his brother and sister were about to make the next step in their lives. For five years, they had trained to be squires, along with sixty other children. They had worked with swords, longstaffs, bows and other weapons, and had learned everything there was to know about the mechanics Pokémon battling. Now their efforts were about to be rewarded-or thwarted to nothing. If they passed the challenges, they would become Squires-if not, they would be barred from the test, and forced to take up other lines of work.

So, it was with great excitement that he braved the world outside, and stood with his siblings as he bid his family goodbye. His father stood, tall and cold as the land in which he lived, as he shook each child by the hand and bid them farewell. Collin noticed the man melt a little as he came to his only daughter, Evana, and he knew he was thinking of how much the girl resembled her mother, and how he wished things were different.

Ameilia Hanger, their mother, was absent. She had been for twelve years, dying at their birth. Despite the risks, death was relatively rare whilst giving child, but even the best Lifegivers could not protect Amelia from the sheer strain of three children at once. Their had been considerable talk at their birth, because The Wall had written of a band of Triplet Warriors who would play vital importance in the days to come, but it soon died down when they realised one of the triplets was a girl: thus, only two warriors, and the prophecy was not referring to them, in fact, it probably wouldn't come around for generations.

Collin bent down to his Houndour, Religant, and rubbed his black fur one last time. The Pokémon licked his face, happy in the false knowledge that his master would be coming back. Collin sighed, and tried to explain that no, he wouldn't be coming back, but the words caught in his throat, and instead he said nothing. Squires could not have any other starter than the one given by The Wall, and so he would have to leave his beloved friends behind.

"See you, boy" Collin said, heavy in the knowledge that it could be years before his words came true.

He slung his bag over his shoulder and rejoined his siblings. His older brother of ten minutes, Sensa, stood waiting for him.

"We'd best be of now, Dad" the elder boy said, and his father nodded.
Collin gave his sister Evana a quick look, and she gave only a slight nod to show that she had seen it.
"Father" she said, quietly. "I think I'll go with my brothers, just to see them off at the end of the road"

The cold man nodded, and turned his back on his children, whom he would not see again for years, without a word.

"That was painless" Collin voiced, once they had gone out of earshot.
"I know!" his sister said, clearly relieved. "I thought he would try to keep me here. I was sure he knew!"

"What, Dad?" Sensa asked. "Of course not. He never payed attention to any of us. How could he notice?"
Evana shrugged. "You have my things?"
Collin nodded, and tapped his bag. "In here". There was a moments silence, before he said 'What did you say in the letter?'
“Just the truth. That I wouldn't be coming back”.

The three siblings trudged in silence through the ankle-deep snow, thinking of the events that had led up to this day. The dull sun finally broke over the hills, and filled the ice not with the sparkle that was depicted in paintings, but the transparent blackness that showed you which patches to avoid. Each sibling was remembering different pieces of the story.

Sensa was remembering how, five years ago, it had been his only wish to become a squire. He remembered how the three of them had asked their father, who had given his consent for them all to go-except for Evana, of course, because she was a lady. He remembered feeling pity for his sister, but this was outweighed by the sheer thrill of his own life becoming built by his command, and of the bright future that seemed to be looking his way.

Collin remembered the three weeks of mine work, on top of the training that he and his brother had undergone, how he nearly gave up many times when he came from six laps of the course straight to five hours of labour for minimum wage. He remembered, too, the warm smile and the overwhelming gratitude of his sister as he showed her the helmet he had bought for her, the helmet he had toiled for, the helmet that allowed her to hide her femininity and train with her brothers, the helmet that gave her her dreams.

Evana remembered the excitement of finally training with her brothers, and how quickly she took to the training, besting many of the boys with a surprising nack for swordplay. She remembered the constant anxiety that one day her father would check up on those 'Quilting Lessons' she had supposedly been taking, coincidentally at the exact same time as the boys' training, but he never did.

They were laughing and joking again when they came to the border line, where home ended and the road to the next chapter of their lives began. It came in the form of a large wooden gate, which's hinges often went unused for the more pleasurable method of climbing it. Each of the children stopped and took a breath here, and looked back, thinking of all the times in their home, all the happy memories, and they all suddenly felt very young, and small, far too young to leave forever.

When Collin saw that both of his siblings were waiting for someone else to begin the first step away from home, he knew it would have to be him. He placed his foot against the wood, and began to clamber up. When he had swung one leg over the top, Sensa and Evana began to follow-and Collin saw something.

“Hey” he said, attracting their attention.
“Hmm?” Evana answered.
“What kind of Pokémon do you say that is?”. He pointed.
Evana clambered beside him, and whipped her head to remove the long brown locks from her eyes. The fullness of the landscape was revealed to her. From this hillside vantage point, she saw in full the icy conditions that she had lived her life in. Forest stretched all around, barren and white, perfectly still even though teaming with life. The trees stopped at one almighty clearing around the Snow Temple and its courtyard, where other youths who hoped to become Squires would soon be flocking. Instead of these children, however, there was something distinctly inhuman walking. Incredibly difficult to see, almost transparent, a Pokémon that looked like it was entirely made of ice was lunging forward, huge and hulking, it's legs looking unable to support it's frame. It looked so alien, and yet so familiar.

Sensa took a minute to see it, but instantly recognised it when he did.
“But that's...That's the statue in the Temple, isn't it? The one made of ice”
Collin nodded, remembering. “Yeah, it is. That's the Pokémon it depicts, all right. Paying homage, or something” He dismissed it, and threw his other leg over the fence, to fall against the hard snow.

His siblings followed as he made his way towards the thin path cut through the wood. All around them were the quiet rustlings of Pokémon, predators trying to sneak up on prey, prey trying to hide from predator. It was not the active noise one heard of in stories, but the reality of forest life; everything was trying to deceive everything, either to eat or avoid being eaten.

Many of the trees were long since dead, and those that lived never gave leaves, as the Winter was permanent, so their only source of nutrition was from their roots. They had specialized in taking life from the cold, deathly, ground, but there was very little to be had, so that they all looked unhealthy and on the verge of death. Many were so frost-covered that those who climbed up them seldom lived to tell the tale. They were stark, sharp and gnarled, with no foliage to shelter the three children from the unholy winds that constantly pressed this land.

They trudged through the dirt path, every footfall expertly landing so as to avoid a fall, which was easily the hardest part of living in Oviager:the ice meant travelling anywhere required one to risk a nasty slip. The Hanger triplets were all unarmed, and so made as much noise as possible; in this forest, everything was silent. Anything making this much noise would appear to predators as very sure of themselves. None but the strongest of Pokémon would dare to seek them out, and these were very rare-but by no means unheard of. It was, of course, a bluff, the Hanger triplets would have no means of defence aside from fleeing, if they were ever to be attacked.

Each was carrying a mixed bag of emotions. Evanna was sure of her fighting prowess, as she had rather taken well to the sword, but she feared being discovered, for though there was no specific rule against girls becoming squires, it was seen as unladylike, and it was taboo. They might suspend her just for her sex, and what's worse, make up a total lie about 'lack of ability'. She didn't think she could bare that. Sensa, likewise, was a skilled fighter, but he was often disqualified for being incredibly violent. If he was too brutal today-though this was hard to achieve, as the only rule was 'Do Not Kill'-all his dreams may fall around him. Collin did fear for his prowess. He was no great swordsman, competent, but certainly not the best in the class. He usually resorted to what he liked to call 'Combat Pragmatism'. Other called it cheating, or fighting dirty, and even if he did win by such methods, the people would not be kind.

Finally, they made their way to the clearing. They were the first there, by far the closest living to the Temple (aside from the Officials, of course, who lived within it) though the ceremony started within the hour, so they wouldn't be alone for long. Evana took her helmet, tied her hair with string and placed it on her head, completely hiding her femininity. Sensa prepared for the upcoming challenges by stretching, and Collin by mentally calming and focusing himself, and trying to think of creative ways to defeat opponents, as the rules were different in this game-there were none, so he could use much more....pragmatism, then usual.

Had any remembered the strange Pokémon they had seen earlier, they may have had the sense to check for footprints, though they wouldn't have found any. Though they may have found the fact that such a hulking and gigantic creature made it's way without leaving tracks odd, the world in which they lived had such a variety of strange and wonderful Pokémon that they could have explained it away as an extraordinary piece of ordinary existence. Had they looked harder, they would have found it anything but. But they didn't look.

Forty-five minutes later, the clearing had changed drastically. The once quiet and serene Temple Courtyard was a buzz of boisterous youths and officials. The Pages were excited at the prospect of being moved on up, and terrified of failing the tests and being sent home. Some brought their own sturdy wooden weapons and metal helmets, others simply didn't have the money and would have to rely on the cheap weapons provided.

An authoritative voice spoke out, and silence followed like the ripples of a pond after the stone has been thrown, travelling like a wave through the crowd until still was absolute. A tall man stepped from the small group of Temple Officials, and made his speech.

“Young Pages. This is the day that you have been training for for several years. The day where you take the step away from boyhood, and a step towards becoming a man”. He stopped for a moment, allowing the words to sink in.

“You all know how this day will play out. The first challenge here will be the final challenge for many of you. Their are exactly seventry-one Pages here today, Only Thirteen may be allowed to take the next step on their journey. Each and every one of you will take place in two fights, and those who lose them both will be asked to leave. Each and every one of you, bar one. There needs to be an even number of competitors, so the weakest among you will be asked to vacate. Our Jynxes have been performing mental examinations for some time now. Agnius Crow, you may now leave”

There was a unanimous hush of pity from the boys, and a group stepped aside, leaving Agnius in plain view. He wore a look of pure disbelief on his face, which slowly changed to a crumpled sadness, before finally becoming a scowl of indignation.

“I had no chance!” Agnius cried. Collin felt for him, but it was too late. The man, Elven Tusk, had spoken, and though he was kind, he was also firm. Agnius would not become a squire today, nor any other day, no matter how much of a stir he created.

“Leave, now, Agnius”, said the elder, firmly.

“Bastard”, cried Agnius in an audible whisper, and he stormed towards the elder, intent on giving a piece of his mind. He made ten steps before the Jynx made it's move, and soon his mind was in pieces. He gave a short, sharp cry, before falling. A thin trail of brood flowed from his left nostril, and stained the ice red.

“Remove him” said Elven, without a trace of emption, and the Jynx swooped it's hand, and the unconscious, broken boy slid aside, into the trees, where he lay, quivering and very much beyond recoverery.

As Elven continued with his speech, a group of several Glalies came in, gently pushing people back into the corners of the courtyard. When a sizeable space had been reached, each flowed upside down, horn scaring the ice, and carved a perfect circle into it's centre.

“The challenge will be a series of short one on one battles. To win, you must make your opponent forfeit, leave the confines of the circle, or make him unable to fight, If you have not brought a wooden weapon, one will be provided for you. Only wooden weaponry is allowed. The opponents have already been randomly selected. Would Kevin Costello and Micheal Hadverr please step into the circle”

Collin swooped around to the other side of the circle to get a better view. He was acomponied by about half the crowd, until it encircled the ring, with the team of Glalies keeping them from pressing too close. The too boys headed into the ring, one with a huge wooden club and a bronze helm, the other totally unarmed. Elven asked the unarmed boy his name, and finding out that it was Micheal, asked him what weapon he would like. He thought about it for a minute, than ordered a longstaff.

He was intelligent, thought Collin. Kevin was bigger, and stronger, and his weapon was lethal at short range. Which was probably why Micheal had chosen the longstaff, to keep the brute at bay. A wise move.

Kevin eyed Micheal with a smile, obviously thinking this would be an easy fight. Micheal looked at Kevin, face portraying the exact opposite connotations. The second Elven shouted “Begin!” Micheal made his move. He brought the staff in a wide arc, smacking the wood against Kevin's cheek. There was a second where Micheal revelled in his triumph before Kevin looked him in the eye and chuckled.

The bigger boy swung his wooden club, and the smaller one leaped backwards. For about thirty seconds, Kevin pressed Micheal backwards, swinging the club in wide, lazy arcs. Collin could see he was just making a show, trying to frighten Micheal into fleeing the circle, and so did most of the crowd, but by the look on his face Micheal didn't think of anything but escaping the club.

When the smaller boy was mere inches from the outside of the ring, Kevvin made his move. He charged at Micheal, a mad sprint, club held high overhead in a massive battle cry, as he prepared to either force him outside or bash his foe's brains out . Micheal's brains, however, were much to quick for him. He darted aside, and stuck his longstaff out, jabbing it into the hard ice. Kevin ploughed into it and broke it in two, and it sent him stumbling.

The brute scrambled to a halt, just centimetres from the circle's edge, and for a moment it looked like Micheal had failed, and what's more, he was stuck with a broken weapon. But then the smaller boy rammed the splintered edge of his staff into Kevin's backside, and the brute gave a cry of pain as he was forced out of the ring. A Chimecho flew into the ring and shook itself violently, the ringing signalling Micheal the winner. The crowd laughed, and Kevin shot a murderous look at the winner, but resigned to humiliation and walked back to the crowd, determined to win his next match. The applause were roarous.

That was by far the most exciting fight of the morning. Others were simple beatings, with the occasional ring-out or knock out. Collin was too excited to be bored, wary of his name being called out, but the matches were getting tedious. As Tobious Renwood literally threw Cassed Nightshadow, from the ring, Elven stood and recited the next names.

“Evan Chambers and Eddith Corn”,

Evan Chambers was Evanna's male alias, and Collin gave her hand a quick squeeze.
“Good Luck” he whispered.

“Thanks”, she said. “But I won't need it”.

It was true, Evanna's (or Evan's) reputation as a skilled swordsman was legendary in the Page classes, and Eddith was looking nervous. They walked into the circle, both unarmed but sporting identical steel helmets. She ordered a sword, and he did the same, and soon the shout “Begin!” echoed across the frozen courtyard.

Eddith was looking more scared by the minute. His boots were slipping on the cold ice, and he couldn't remember how to hold his sword. He scrunched up his left fist, took a deep breath, and then made a decision:he would make the first move, land the first blow, and then play it from there.

Collin saw this train of thought on Eddith's face and he knew what would come next. Eddith would sprint and attack first.

And he did just that-accept when he moved first, Evan/Evanna was already there. She smacked his helm with alarming force and speed, and Collin merely frowned when the others gasped: surely Evanna knew she couldn't really harm him through the helmet?

She did know, and as the horrible clang of wood on metal echoed inside the helm, rendering Eddith useless, she flicked her wrist twice, each flick sending the wooden blade into the clasps of the helm and shattering them. She flicked her wrist a third time, sending the helmet high into the air. She brought her wooden blade smashing into the poor boy's face. He was unconscious before the helmet had touched the ground. The applause were deafening. Collin smiled as he saw his sister's happy, relieved grin.

Elven scribbled down the name, and called for order through the applause. He called out the next two names, Alvin Ferns and Ekwin Shiekshadow.

Alvin Ferns was a tall, strong boy. He had black hair, shoulder length, and he was surprisingly tan for someone who lived in Oviager. Ekwin Shiekshadow was unusually pale, as white as the ice he stood on, and his hair was in stark comparison with his skin. Neither had armour, neither were armed.

Elven asked them for their names, and what weapons they would prefer. To everyone's surprise, they both asked for none. The Elder asked many times if they wished to reconsider, but neither did. Elven shouted 'Begin' half-heartedly, and by then it was almost over.

The fight took all of five seconds, and there was exactly four steps involved. The first was Alvin's, and it was his last. He swung a fist at the pale face of his opponent. The second was Ekwin's, his hand moving up to block this fist. It was his only defensive move. Thirdly, he moved his left hand, slipping it across Alvin's shoulder, grasping his hair and tugging it back sharply, sending Alvin's chest skyward. Colin knew what was coming, but still was surprised at the sheer force of Ekwin's first and final blow to his opponents throat. Alvin stumbled back, clutching his throat. For all those in the crowd who hadn't been watching carefully, a mass of confused mumbles came in a wave. Ekwin waited for a moment, as if waiting for applause. But there was only silence. As Alvin collapsed, suddenly bloody, he stalked out of the ring. Elvin blinked, but scribbled down the name and motioned for his cronies to take care of the injured boy. He called out the next two names-Sensa Hanger and Charles Crux.

Their match was a short one. Charles got some very good swordstrokes in, his speed and skill surpassing Sena's. But in the end, it turned out he had brought a blade to a club game. Though the sword was a very versatile weapon, he was using it to defend against a club like he were defending against a blade, when the weapons were just too different. When Charles blocked Sena's swing badly for the sixth time, his blade snapped in two. Then, granted, he fought well, creatively, even. But it was all for not. Sena's powerful swing struck him in the head, and he submitted as the older boy was lashing his back. He crawled from the ring. Collin knew he had learned the lesson, and would fare better in the next match, provided he was given time to recover.

Matches went on, the day stretching longer and longer, until finally it was Collin's turn. His opponent was a small Chuck Abe, who requested a blade and wielded it like a club. Heart pounding, Collin asked for a longstaff. He saw Micheal, the boy who one the first match, nod approvingly. He faced his opponent, studying him. Chuck was similarly sized to himself, with aubern hair and blue eyes. His face was freckled, his teeth black. “Begin!” Elvin cried.

Conor shivered with fright. Nothing happened for a second, except for the pounding in his ears reaching a crecendio, and then Chuck ran. Collin ran too, and the boys met. Afterwards, Collin found he couldn't remember what had happened. Sensa told him that, in the beginning, he had grounded and disarmed the brute expertly. Then, however, Chuck had rose, rained down fists and kicks, and knocked him from the circle. Collin hung his head.

Evana played her second match three battles after Collin's first. She was met by the boy who had been defeated by Sensa. Both chose wooden blades, attacked well. It was the greatest match so far. The combatants had attacked, whirling, slicing, chopping, checking, blocking, swinging, anything to keep the other at bay. Evana finally finished her foe with a savage slash to Charles' right ear, finishing him. The boy slinked away. He had lost both battles. He was doomed to be failed as a squire, to never return. Collin felt for him. He could be in a similar situation after his next match...

The day dragged on, and Collin slinked to the woods to pass water. When he was done, he was met with the impatient glances of sixty-nine Pages.

“Collin!” Evana shouted. “Your on!”

“With who?”

Her face was grim.
“With Sensa!”