Snow fell upon the growing village across from the Pearl Settlement. This village, once known as the Icepeak Camp and founded by the Galaxy Expedition Team, held around two hundred people. Though immigrations into the Hisui region were still ongoing, most chose to remain in Jubilife Village, if not elsewhere, for the cold, harsh weather in Alabaster Icelands caused all but the bravest to be daunted by the task. Even those who chose to live there suffered from frostbites and enduring Ice and Ghost Pokémon attacks.
Yet, the village kept guard against such attacks, for they held Pokémon meant to counter the attacks. Not to mention that a few former members of the Galaxy Team chose to work in the village, protecting and maintaining it. As such, spirits remained high in the village.
Mara turned to her mirror for a moment, gazing at her worn-down blue attush robes, which faded to gray when they reached her thighs. The robes’ cuffs, which rolled up, were also gray and, as she twisted to the side, a gold symbol shined in the light, with the same logo on the opposite side, at the upper arms. Mara patted her white undershirt and blue pants a bit before putting on woven boots, tough enough to block falling snow from slipping in. Finally, she grabbed a red scarf and wrapped it around her neck, pulling up her silvery hair, and her purple eyes shined against the reflection.
“OK. Protective gear on,” Mara said to herself before slinging a large basket onto her back. She reached into her satchel and pulled out a red and wooden Pokéball, but she paused a bit before smacking her head and putting it back in. “Almost forgot.”
She turned to the windowsill, where a mask lay against the glass. Its yellow eyes gazed back against Mara, its disheveled mane extending onto the gray muzzle, starting white before turning blood red halfway through. From the top to the side, the eyes held a red outline with a white outline surrounding it, and a pair of white triangles below each eye. Its triangular ears extended upwards, with a dark gray inner and ending with a pink tip along with its nose holes.
“That’ll work,” Mara said, and she grabbed it and slipped it on. Despite the eyes looking solid, she saw through them just fine, and she turned to the mirror, having a proud grin on her face. “Looks great on me!”
At once, she pulled out her Pokéball and undid the clasp on it, snapping it open. At once, a burst of white and blue energy emitted out from it before landing before Mara, expanding in size. It soon stopped growing, showing itself as a dark red-orange Pokémon with black stripes on its back and legs. Its mane and tail, light gray, swayed with rock components within them, with the tail curled up like clouds. The bottom of its mane, which extended down the neck and chest, also curled up like clouds, with only its muzzle and ears exposed; even the eyes were covered up. It opened its tan muzzle and panted, with its dark red-orange ears wiggling, and Mara reached down to pat the Pokémon, minding the fragile horn on its head.
“Hey there, Growlithe,” Mara said, and Growlithe wagged his tail. “We’re heading out to the forest again. We’re running low on firewood, and Dr. Fukuda wants plants to make more medicine from. No Bugwort this time.” Growlithe wagged his tail faster and yipped. “Just Medicinal Leek and Vivichoke. Shall we go?”
Growlithe barked before springing over to the door, scratching against the wooden frame. Mara giggled a bit before she followed and slid it open. Growlithe hopped outside, stepping onto the snow, before turning back as Mara closed the door behind her. Clouds covered the sky, with more snow falling, but she turned toward the path out of the village and ran forward, the red scarf fluttering. Growlithe barked before following, his tail wagging.
A half-hour of jogging later, Mara and Growlithe stepped by the forest’s edge, south of the village. The trees were thick enough that, even if sunlight fell upon them, the leaves still would’ve left it dark. The wind blew hard enough that Mara stumbled a bit from the sudden force. Snow fell harder, and Growlithe barked.
Mara turned to Growlithe while giggling, only to stop with Growlithe facing behind her. His barks become more frantic, even whining a bit, and she frowned, turning behind her. Finally, the answer to his concern became apparent, and her eyes widened.
Standing behind Mara was a lady cad in pink attush robes, the snow gushing between them. Yet, the Pearl Clan member stood there, her arms behind her back even as her graying orange hair fluttered against the wind. Mara stood back up, wondering how this lady came up to her without making a sound, before shaking that thought.
“Um, hello?” Mara said, stepping forward as the Pearl Clan member nodded at her. “I’m Mara, a former Survey Corps member. I don’t think I have seen you in the Pearl Settlement before. Who are you?”
“Many know me as Yama,” the Pearl Clan member answered. “I am here to warn of doom. Turn back from the forest.”
“Huh?” Mara blinked even as the wind blew harder, her hair pulled along. “I’ve been through this forest many times. What’s so different this time?”
“My dear,” Yama explained, extending one of her arms upwards, exposing it to the elements. “There is a presence within the forest. I feel it whenever it comes to make its resting spot, for it wanders around the icelands.”
“What are you talking about?” Mara demanded, pulling her silver hair back. “If you’re talking about a Pokémon, I can handle it.”
But Yama shook her head. “It is true that this is a Pokémon. But this one is spiteful, holding great hate against any living being, Pokémon and human. It desires to be left alone, wandering through the land much like the seasons. But if someone disturbs its rest, it will destroy entire villages before its wrath becomes sated. So for the sake of your village, turn back and avoid risking its wrath.”
Mara’s fingers felt numb, wiggling them to bring in warmth. “I appreciate your concerns, but you don’t have to worry about me. Like I said, I was with the Survey Corps for a few years.” She pointed at the symbols on her sleeves. “I even learned from the hero who saved the Hisui region ten years ago. And even if I wasn’t, the village still needs supplies fast, or else people and Pokémon will die.”
Yama shook her head once more. “If you enter the forest and encounter the Pokémon of spite, you will die. Everyone you know will follow you to their graves. There is a forest up in the north where you can get your needed supplies. Turn back before it is too late.”
A powerful gust of wind blew by at the last word, knocking Mara off of her feet and almost taking her mask off. She shivered, the snow against her hands, and turned up. But Yama disappeared, and she blinked, getting back up and brushing the snow off.
She approached where Yama once stood, but no footprints remained, coming or leaving. Growlithe approached and sniffed the spot, but he shook his head and whined. The winds calmed down, yet Mara still felt a chill rolling down her spine, enough that even the elm bark strands that made up her robes couldn’t block. Her heart slammed against her chest, and she inhaled in and out in a rhythmic pattern, calming herself.
Growlithe whined one more, and Mara kneeled down, patting his head. His tail wagged a bit, though his ears lowered. She nodded before turning back to the forest, where the snow fell heavier.
At once, thoughts flooded her mind, wondering about this ill omen she had received. Perhaps it would be best if she did as this Yama suggested and went to another forest. After all, though this was the closest one within this snowy land, it wasn’t the only one. And yet, logs should be collected as soon as possible and any plants needed for medicine. If there was even one day delay, it could cost a life.
Mara closed her eyes while reaching within her satchel, feeling the Pokéballs within. Soon, she opened them, her resolve steeled, and she stood up. Growlithe yipped a bit, turning up at her while tilting his head.
“If it is a Pokémon,” Mara said while readjusting her Baneful Fox mask, “I can handle it. Especially with you by my side, Growlithe. Shall we?”
Growlithe wagged his tail before running into the forest, with Mara following him.
After an hour of wandering through the forest, Mara’s basket felt full and heavy, enough that her back felt some strain. She put the logs on the bottom before putting the Medicinal Leek and Vivichoke right on top. Part of her wondered how the Hisui region’s hero could carry loads more without issue before dismissing that thought.
Growlithe yipped every time he spotted something useful, approaching it and getting it for her without any prompting. Mara couldn’t help but laugh every time, even giving him a pet. And yet, even as she traveled between the trees, the warning Yama gave her still rang in her mind. Even so, if it was some kind of Pokémon—
Mara stopped in her tracks, her eyes widening behind her mask. Growlithe yipped a bit before running back and rubbing against her leg. It took a bit before she responded and petted him, but he whined, reaching up against her leg and arm. Even behind the Baneful Fox mask, he smelled fear from her.
“Sorry,” Mara said, shaking her head. “Just that I realized something. We’ve been in this forest for a while now, but I haven’t encountered any other Pokémon here. Have you seen, heard, or smelled them?” Growlithe paused, giving out a low rumble as his tail stilled. “Though, there really aren’t any other Pokémon here then.”
Even as she petted Growlithe, her heart pounded against her chest. Just last week, Mara knew that this forest was swarming with Pokémon such as Bidoof, Stantler, and Purugly. Yet, it’s like the almighty Sinnoh scooped them off from reality and any trace of their existence. Perhaps there was merit in that warning.
“We should get out of here as fast as we can,” Mara said, standing up, and Growlithe yipped in agreement.
Growlithe ran on, with Mara following as fast as she could, with the logs shaking behind within the basket. Growlithe darted through trees even as she pushed against the branches along the way. He barked some more, with Mara nodding with her heart beating faster.
But she slipped in the snow, and she fell, slamming her face against the snow. Before she could get up, the basket tugged her to the side, and she rolled down a slope. Growlithe spun back while barking some more. Yet, even as she stopped herself from rolling once more, she kept sliding until she fell down a hole.
Mara screamed, twisting herself in midair before landing on her left side. A crunching sound echoed, and she bit into her lip, stopping herself from screaming from the pain. She slid the basket off, her left arm limp, and more pain flooded her mind when she touched her upper arm.
Above, Growlithe stopped before the hole, barking down, and Mara turned upward, pulling her mask off. Growlithe whimpered a bit even as she wiped some tears from her eyes. She turned from side to side, yet all that could be seen was darkness.
“Gah! I-I can’t move my arm!” Mara said, and Growlithe barked some more. “Growlithe!” He stopped barking and stood at attention. “Go to the village and get some help! Quick!”
Growlithe barked once more before running out as fast as he could. Mara sighed, her hair messy from the fall and pressing against the right side of her face. She pulled it back, trying to stand up, but the icy floor only allowed her to lean back against the frozen wall.
Footsteps then echoed through the area, and Mara twisted all around, her eyes widening. Her breath quickened, with frost forming even as the footsteps became louder and heavier. Ahead, some kind of dark shadow walked toward her through the darkness, yet when it stepped into the light, colors filled it.
This creature was massive, towering over at thirteen feet tall, with a red pupil poking out from its yellow eye, the right side of its face covered. Its light gray fur held several blood-red splotches all over its arms and legs, like old wounds brought out from the cold. It wiggled its black claws, with the light reflecting how sharp they were, and several strands of fur waved out behind the elbows, knees, and ankles. Finally, it crouched low, with the mane, white with several tips of it blood red, swayed in the still air. Red and white markings surrounded its exposed eye, which stared at her as though it was Death claiming her soul.
“A Zoroark!” Mara said, gritting her teeth before reaching out into her satchel. The Zoroark stepped closer, the eye narrow, even as she pulled out a Pokéball. “Take this!”
She threw it with her right hand, but the Zoroark caught it. It squeezed the Pokéball until it shattered, with stone, iron, and wood falling onto the icy ground. Mara gasped, pushing herself back with her legs, but the wall behind her prevented her from getting up. Instead, she whimpered, her leg catching against her scarf and pulling it off even as it rubbed against the Baneful Fox mask.
Soon, the Zoroark stood before her, opening its mouth and exposing its sharp teeth. Its eye narrowed even as it lifted its claws up, emitting purple energy. Mara panted, shaking her head and her heart slamming so hard that she thought her ribs cracked.
It stabbed its claws against her chest, ripping through the clothes and flesh as though they were hot knives. Yet, they felt frozen to Mara instead. Her throat clogged, and she coughed, her entire body becoming so cold and bitter. The Zoroark glanced at her mask before turning back at her, and purple energy flooded out, engulfing her.
The sky became clear and orange when Growlithe and three others came through the forest, each wearing a winter’s kimono and carrying a lantern. They yelled out Mara’s name, trudging along in the snow and stone. Growlithe’s bark became frantic as they went deeper into the forest, his ears folded back.
“Do you think she’s alright?” the leftmost man asked, standing behind the centermost one.
“I’m sure of it,” the centermost man answered, though it was tainted with doubt. “After all, she is a Survey Corps member or at least a former one. They have to be tough.”
“Even so, they aren’t invincible,” the rightmost man said, shaking his head. “How many lost satchels have been recovered in the Alabaster Icelands alone?”
“But they always come back alive,” the centermost one said, tipping his straw hat back.
They traveled deeper into the forest, with the shadows surrounding them as it became darker, and Growlithe sniffed and changed course. The men turned to each other for a moment before following. Soon, they spotted a shadow behind some trees, and they paused their trek. Growlithe whined some more, the shadow ahead vast, and one of the men approached step by step. The shadow shrank in size, becoming clearer and wearing a Survey Corps uniform. It stepped forward, with pointed ears poking out from the sides until light filled it up, revealing them to be the Baneful Fox mask’s ears.
“Mara!” the man said, and the other two approached closer, their eyes wide. Mara’s arms remained still by her sides even as she came, a smile poking out underneath the mask’s muzzle. Her silvery hair remained a bit messy. “We were looking for you! What happened?”
“I-I fell into a hole,” Mara answered, stumbling and one of the men catching her. “And when Growlithe left, a massive Zoroark, even larger than an Alpha Zoroark, approached. I-I thought I was a goner, but I somehow managed to climb out of that hole. Though I left the basket behind. Perhaps we should—”
“Don’t even think about it,” one of the men said, shaking his head. “Whatever stuff you were getting is not worth returning for them. You need to get back to the village and get some rest.”
“Village. Yes.” Mara’s voice was soft even as Growlithe approached. He sniffed against her leg before he paused, his fur ruffling. It then hopped back before barking at her, with Mara tilting her head. “What’s wrong, Growlithe?”
“I think he is just worried about you,” another man said, with Growlithe’s ears flattening back. “To be honest, we should keep you confined in your home until we see if anything is broken or not.”
“I’m perfectly fine. I promise.” Mara extended her left arm and turned it over before kneeling down. Growlithe took a step back, his tail between his legs. “It’s me. The same Mara you always knew.” Growlithe took a step forward even as Mara extended her hand, splaying her fingers. He poked his nose against her finger, sniffing it. “There you go. That’s a good boy.” Growlithe’s ears stood up straight, but his face remained toward Mara. “Perhaps the ice was covering my smell.”
“That might be it,” one of the men said before shaking his head. “We should head back before it gets much colder.”
“I like the cold, but you’re right,” Mara said, standing back up.
The three men turned to each other before walking away, with Mara following them. The shadows grew longer, with the sun behind the mountains and the stars poking out. Yet, Growlithe remained still, staring at Mara while whining a bit. Finally, it turned from side to side before stepping through the snow, following the group.
Soon, the group returned to the village, with lights coming from the windows. They stopped before Mara’s place, with one of the men opening it. They then stood still, blocking any other way for Mara, so she stepped in. Growlithe followed, and the door shut behind them. But Mara giggled a bit, walking around the unlit hearth, and she stopped before the mirror, staring through the mask.
“I must say,” Mara said while giggling, “I didn’t think how much this mask suits me until now. I’m glad I brought this.”
Growlithe stepped forward slightly, his tail low even as he sniffed a bit. He stood behind Mara, with her grabbing her mask and twisting it behind her head. She grinned even wider as she pulled off her scarf and let it fall against the floor. But Growlithe growled, and Mara turned around, a shine in her purple eyes.
“What’s the matter, boy?” Mara asked, winking. “I’m the same Mara you always knew. But then, you can smell it, though.” Her pupils turned red, with everything else turning yellow. Growlithe took some steps back, barking. “It’s just a new makeover that I wish to share with everyone.”
“Uh-huh. I see,” Dr. Fukuda said, holding up Mara’s left arm, with her wearing nothing but a susoyoke and suteteko. “I don’t see any sustainable injuries. Are you sure you fell on top of your left arm? Heck, did you actually fall into a hole?”
“Yes, I’m sure as I’m laying here,” Mara replied, grinning wide even as she lay on a raised bed, with the room large enough to contain fifteen patients though she was the only one here. “I thought I broke my arm since it hurt so much.”
But Dr. Fukuda shook his head, pushing his glasses back. “If what you described is true, then it should have.”
Mara leaned back on the bed, with the walls lime green and the floor pale brown. Several candles lid up the room, filling it with a waxy smell. She turned all around the room, with each bed raised up with some bamboo even as Dr. Fukuda turned to a sink with a bowl filled with water, washing his hands.
“I don’t believe that you’re telling the entire truth,” Dr. Fukuda continued, his back against the frowning Mara even as she pushed herself forward. “You happened to fall into an icy hole without the impact causing any bruise marks, let alone any bone fractures. You happened to encounter a giant Zoroark that you managed to climb up and escape despite you thinking that you lost the use of one of your arms. And you happened to meet up with the rescue team without it following you. It doesn’t add up at all.”
Mara stood up, her head forward a bit even as she stepped forward, her bare feet not making a sound. Her purple eyes turned yellow with red pupils, and she opened her mouth, her teeth stretching far longer and sharper than could be contained with her lips. She spread her fingers up, with the nails turning black even as they grew longer and sharper.
Dr. Fukuda shook his head, drying up his hands even as he spun around. He then clicked his tongue at Mara, who lay on her bed, her eyes and fingernails typical, and frowned back at him. Finally, he raised his finger upward and wagged his finger at her.
“As such, I’m keeping you confined until you reveal what actually happened. Is that clear?” But Mara rolled her eyes at him, and he sighed. “Let me say—”
A hand with long black claws pierced through from behind, with Dr. Fukuda’s eyes widening even as his body became limp, his chest and back growing cold suddenly.
“I heard you the first time,” Mara said, her voice from behind even as the Mara on the bed waved at Dr. Fukuda before disappearing into mist. Dr. Fukuda gasped, the hand emitting purple waves that flowed through him. “A shame, really. I wanted to make you the last. But you’re the first instead.”
“Wh-what are you?” Dr. Fukuda asked, his voice a whisper.
But Mara only giggled.
The head of the village, Egil, stood up from his chair, his pale eyes wide even as the group of people shifted before him. None faced him, with one pulling her hair back until Egil slammed his hands against the desk. They jumped a bit even as various scraps of paper fell off.
“This is the fifth disappearance this week!” Egil said as he picked up some papers, the top one having the latest missing person case. “What is going on here?!”
“We-we don’t know,” the centermost man admitted, pulling his straw hat off. “All we know is that they disappeared during the night.”
“Any signs of break-ins? Destruction? ANYTHING?!” Egil’s glasses fell off as he shouted out the last word, and he readjusted them back on.
“The only sign of destruction is that, if they owned Pokémon, their Pokéballs were smashed. Other than that, nothing,” the leftmost man said, shaking his head. “It’s as if they walked out and headed into the wilderness.”
Egil growled between his teeth before he sighed and sat down, straightening out his pale hair. “And I thought that the worst we’ll get is Dr. Fukuda disappearing on us.” He pressed his hands against his temples. “But it seemed that we have a kidnapping case instead. Have you checked for footprints?”
“The only footprints that were found were Pokémon,” the rightmost lady said. “None of them were human unless our kidnapper walks through walls.”
Egil shook his head. “Alright. This is unprecedented, especially for a village of this size. Yesterday, I sent a couple of people, one to the Pearl Settlement and the other to Jubilife Village, to get help as soon—”
The double doors slid open at that moment, and a man clad in heavy clothing stomped in, his heavy boots making a thudding sound against the dark brown wooden floor. The others turned to him, with Egil standing up even as the newcomer stepped onto the lime green carpet, with snow falling off him. He pulled back his hoodie, and the lady gasped at him, with the man pressing his gloved hands against the desk.
“A blizzard was just starting by the time I got back,” the man said, with a couple of the men helping to take off his outer jacket.
“Jeremoth,” Egil said even as one of the men grabbed a wooden chair and helped push Jeremoth onto it, with him panting. “We were just talking about your journey. Though I was expecting you sooner.”
Jeremoth panted, pushing against his leg so he remained upright. “I spent all of last night and this morning arguing with a couple of Pearl Clan members. But they refused to let me in to see Irida. Instead, they told me that the borders are closed.”
“WHAT?!” Egil’s fists balled before slamming the desk, which cracked even as the ones standing took a step back. “They closed their borders!?”
“Yes. No one can get in or get out,” Jeremoth said, shaking his head.
“What is Irida thinking?!” Egil said, tearing up some papers before tossing them at Jeremoth, who glared back. “We can barely start a farm here, something that she and the others helped show what can and can’t grow here! We’re still new to this environment, and now that she decided to close their borders in our greatest need?!”
“I don’t know, I don’t know!” Jeremoth stood up and grabbed Egil’s kimono by the neck before pulling him forward, with Egil gasping. “All they said is that ‘doom’ marks all over this village, whatever that means!”
“Everyone, calm down!” the lady shouted, grabbing onto Jeremoth’s grip and making him release Egil, who slumped back in shock. “We can’t resolve anything as long as we’re fighting each other!”
Jeremoth sighed and sat back down, shaking his head. “You’re right. I-I lost myself.”
“Same here.” Egil straightened up the kimono before taking one of the paper scraps and setting it against a lit candle, watching it burn. “All we can hope now is that Mara reaches Jubilife Village in time.”
Snow fell upon the shrinking village, with most villagers keeping their distance away from each other. A kid extended one of his arms at a passerby with a Rufflet on his shoulder, only for his mother to pull him back, pushing his arm back down even as his Eevee yipped out. Several of the buildings were empty and dark when they were filled with life and light just the month before; a couple of them were even boarded up. Indeed, almost everyone who had captured a Pokémon let them out instead of keeping them in their Pokéballs.
“Everyone is so paranoid,” Egil said, standing in front of the largest building in the village.
“Of course, they are,” a lady beside him said, dressed in red. “We lost a fourth of the population in just two weeks. Everyone is afraid that they’ll be next.”
Egil bit his knuckles a bit. “Indeed. If this keeps up—”
A scream came from outside the village, and they turned to their left, confused. A man, Haruto, ran forward, his face as pale as the snow. His boots didn’t seem to touch the ground or snow as he ran, with his jacket falling off. Several villagers blinked at him even as Haruto kept on running until he was a few feet away from Egil.
“Haruto?” Egil asked even as Haruto collapsed onto the snow, and he came up to him, picking him up and feeling his rapid pulse. “What is it?”
“Z-Z-Z—” Haruto stumbled a bit, trying to regain his breath and footing even as some villagers approached. “ZOROARK! A swarm of them!”
“What?!” Egil blinked even as the lady helped Haruto stay upright, and the growing crowd gasped, chatting with each other.
“Was walking by the outskirts of the village,” Haruto continued, his body shaking even as he sweated. “Then I spotted them, hiding between the trees.”
“How many?” Egil asked, rubbing his shoulder.
“Didn’t count, but it was far larger than a mass outbreak,” Haruto answered, inhaling. “I thought I was dead.”
Haruto panted some more, his sweat turning into frost even as the lady offered him some water, which he drank. Egil stood there, thoughts spinning within his head. He pushed his glasses back before turning to the lady, who blinked at him.
“Those Pokémon footprints outside of the missing villagers’ houses,” Egil said, his voice low. “Were any of them from a Zoroark?”
The lady raised her eyes for a bit before she gulped and nodded.
Egil nodded before he turned to the loud crowd, his arms up. “Fellow villagers! It seemed that Haruto brought the answer to our disappearing neighbors! We all thought it was a kidnapping, but that was a mistake!” Some in the crowds gasped while others turned to each other. “The truth is that the real threat isn’t from within but from outside! For, you see, the Zoroark, which are part Ghost-type, have been sneaking in and killing us!”
Everyone who heard the speech gasped, and the chatting resumed. Yet, despite this dire news, they were more relieved, with a few of them patting each other’s shoulders and hugging. But Egil raised his arms out higher, and the crowd turned to him.
“Indeed, it was an injustice to suspect each other! And to think it took us until now that we found the real threat! But the danger is not yet over, for the Pokémon that come like Death are near the village! So we should drive every last Zoroark and Zorua nearby as far as possible! Who will accept this mission!?”
Many in the crowd raised their hands out, and, with a cheer, they marched out from the village. Haruto blinked, with Egil turning to him and patting his shoulder even as the villagers recalled their Pokémon and carried them in the Pokéballs. Each one held a ferocious grin, sensing that the crisis would end soon. Some even sang some marching song as Egil crossed his arms, having a proud grin as the mob left the village.
“There they are!”
One of the ladies within the mob pointed at the forest’s edge, where many Zoroark and a few Zorua stood within the tree’s shadows. One Zoroark blinked even as a Zorua waved on top of another Zoroark at the crowd. But they received a savage cry in response.
A man wearing a pale red uniform and straw hat threw one of the Pokéballs towards the forest. The clasp got undone and opened upon landing, with pale blue light coming out from it—
Only to return back into the Pokéball.
The mob became quiet suddenly even as the Pokéball flew back at the thrower, who blinked. A couple of others threw their Pokéballs at the Zoroark, grunting. Twice more, the latch got undone, pale blue energy coming out from them, and twice more, they returned back into their Pokéballs. The savage cheer that once came from the crowd turned into fear as the Pokéballs returned back to the throwers, and one of the Zoroark stepped forward.
At that point, the crowd dispersed and ran back, each one screaming. The Zoroark stepped out into the light, tilting its head before lowering it. Another Zoroark stepped out to grab its shoulders, and, with a nod, they returned into the woods.
“I’ll be honest with you. We’re in serious trouble,” Egil said, his hair untidy and glasses smudged up. Night has come, with the only light within the building being a couple of candles on the desk and a couple more in lanterns. He shook his head and drank a cup of water before continuing. “Since the crisis began, we lost over half the population. Meanwhile, the Zoroark responsible for this have only grown in population. I fear that, eventually, they’ll attack us all and wipe us out to the last. We would do it ourselves, but our Pokémon refused to come out for unknown reasons. So, I’m begging you to go out to the Zoroark and stop them.”
Mara grinned behind her Baneful Fox mask. “You can count on me. And I’m sorry that I couldn’t reach Jubilife Village.”
“It wasn’t your fault.” Egil took his glasses off and cleaned them up a bit. “After all, from your report, you did everything you could to get past the avalanche.”
Mara nodded and, with a salute, she turned to the double doors while grinning. Egil turned to the papers, with a stack of deceased villagers growing ever taller. He took a blank document and wrote some notes onto it. He lifted his head up a bit, but Mara had already disappeared. He wondered how he didn’t hear the door sliding open and shut, but he shook his head and wrote some more.
“It seems that doom is near for our neighboring village, Yama.”
Two Pearl Clan members, each clad in pink, stood before a stone bridge. The moon shined upon them, yet one of them raised up his hood over his head. Yama nodded to herself, her arms behind her back.
“Indeed, Thana. It is a shame.” And yet, her tone held something more to it, and Thana turned to her.
“What is on your mind?” Thana asked, patting her shoulders.
“This attack felt different,” Yama answered, brushing some of the snow off of her robes. “The songs and what I witnessed in my youth showed that the wrathful Pokémon causes disappearance. Yet, nothing was said about Pokémon refusing to battle, even a fruitless one, against it. Not to mention they told nothing about Zoroark growing in population.”
“So, this is different then,” Thana said, and Yama nodded, with a gust of wind blowing hard against the two. Thana covered his eyes for a moment, and when he turned to Yama, she had disappeared already. But he nodded and remained standing at the watch, with clouds coming over the mountains.
Egil grabbed onto his head tight, pulling against his pale hair. Two months passed, with more villagers disappearing in the meantime with only twenty-five remaining. Several of his hair strands turned from pale to gray, and rumors about how bad his job was kept returning to him. Yet, what else could he do?
The Pearl Clan refused to assist them, and the path to Jubilife Village was still blocked by an avalanche; they were cut off. And despite Mara being gone, the Zoroark’s population kept growing, yet there was no attack from them. Perhaps, even without using her Pokémon, she kept them from making a mass attack with other tools. Yet, that doesn’t change that they were still coming in and killing the villagers off.
Egil lifted his head up for a moment and sighed to himself. Mara stood there just when he thought of her, still wearing that mask. She grinned at him, but he growled in response and lowered his head.
“Please take that blasted mask off your face,” Egil said, clenching his head tighter.
“What’s wrong?” Mara tilted her head. “It’s just a—”
“That mask held the face of the Pokémon responsible for this crisis!” Egil slammed his hands against the table and stood up, his glasses hanging on his right ear. “I won’t tolerate that mask anymore! Do you understand?”
Mara frowned, but she nodded and removed the mask, her eyes shining yellow. Egil blinked and put the glasses back on, but they were purple instead. Egil sighed, crumbling some blank sheets of paper.
“This village is doomed,” Egil said, sighing. “Whatever those Zoroark are plotting, they succeeded. They’ve been sneaking into our homes, eating us up. Do you know that?” Mara lifted her head up, only for Egil to continue. “No, of course not. You’ve been away while everyone suffers.”
Mara blinked, shifting her eyes away. “All I’ve been doing is do what you ordered, nothing more.”
“And I’ve been doing everything I can.” Egil turned around, gripping onto his chair. “Yet, nothing seems to slow the disappearing problem. In fact, it is happening faster than before.” Mara stepped forward without making a sound, her eyes turning yellow and pupils red. “We can’t even battle them! Our Pokémon refused to face them!” Mara’s fingernails grew longer and turned black. “Our Pokémon are terrified of them! But why? Now I’m thinking about it; why are the Zoroark smashing the Pokéballs anyways?” As he turned around, he asked, “Do you—”
He paused and opened his mouth, only for a pale hand with black claws stabbing him in the chest, his body turned cold and with purple waves flowing out.
Snow fell upon the empty village, with the lone survivor, Jeremoth, slinging a basket onto his back, filled with any tool and food he could carry. Then, with a tug, he opened the door and shut it behind him, his eyes red with black bags under them. Soon, he stepped onto the snow, his heavy boots dug into them, and his breath frosty. Finally, he gripped onto a long wooden stick and stepped towards the exit.
“Hey there, Jeremoth! Where are you going?”
Jeremoth’s brow furrowed as he turned around, tipping his straw hat up. Behind stood Mara, the only other person here and still wearing that blasted Baneful Fox mask. Her smile poked out from underneath its muzzle, stepping forward even as his grip against the stick tightened. But he swallowed and shook his head.
“I’m heading back to Jubilife Village,” Jeremoth answered, his voice like a low growl. “Don’t bother telling me about the avalanche. The late mayor already told me. I just don’t care.”
“But you’ll die,” Mara said, holding her hand up. “At least let me come alo—”
“Screw your useless help!” Jeremoth pointed at her even as she gasped, flinching back. “You’ve proven to be useless waste anyways!”
“Wh-what?” Mara took a step back.
“Don’t you ‘what’ me!” Jeremoth’s eyes lit up as though a fire had broken out. “Despite your so-called ‘attempts,’ the village is dead! Everyone is dead except us!” Something snapped, and he stomped towards her, ripping the mask off of Mara’s face and tossing it. “All because of those monsters you idolize since you refuse to take that off despite knowing the threat they pose to us!”
“Th-they’re just misunderstood creatures,” Mara said, her eyes wide. “I said—”
“Yeah, I know what you said the day after the mayor was EATEN by those ‘creatures’!” Jeremoth slammed his stick into the snow. “But you’re wrong! You’ve FAILED!” Mara frowned, her expression darkening. “While doing your ‘missions,’ we were killed off one by one! And when the folks at Jubilife Village find out about this, despite you supposedly trained under the hero of—”
“You know, you were intended to be the first,” Mara said, her voice darkening as Jeremoth paused. “But I’m glad that you were the last.”
Before Jeremoth could complete the word, Mara’s fingernails grew long and dark, emitting purple waves. She then flung her right hand through Jeremoth’s chest, piercing to the other side. His eyes widened even as his body turned cold and bitter, and she lifted him up. More purple waves flowed from her arm, with her eyes turning yellow with red pupils and her teeth growing long and sharp as she grinned at him.
Jeremoth’s hair grew longer as it turned white, with the strap straining against the neck until it snapped, his straw hat flying off. His hair thickened and disheveled even as the tips turned blood red, his eyes widening. His fingernails thickened and turned black even as the fingers themselves shortened. The black claws soon replaced his former hands within seconds, with pale gray fur sprouting up his arms.
His robes felt tight around the chest suddenly, with thick red ruff with white tips poking through. Soon, they ripped through the robes and snapped the straps holding the basket against his back, with it falling off and its contents spilling out. As a part of his hair, more like a mane, covered the right side of his face, his ears grew longer and triangular, moving up his head. His pupils, once black, turned red, with the rest of his eyes becoming yellow while his nose and mouth moved forward at an acute angle. Pale gray fur grew on his face even as the growing coat reached his shoulders, and his chest and back felt itchy. His nose shrank until they were nothing more than a pair of red dots on his muzzle, with his teeth growing longer and sharper and red and white accents forming around and behind his eyes. Even as the fur grew down his neck, with his ears covered in fur with blood-pink tips, a pair of white triangle fur patterns formed underneath his eyes.
His heavy boots felt tight suddenly before thick claws ripped through the front, with his feet growing longer and becoming digitigrade. Red splotches formed all over his arms and legs even as pale gray fur grew up his legs, and he gripped against Mara’s arm. But she grinned even wider, and, with a burst of purple waves, Jeremoth’s clothes froze. They then shattered off, with waves of fur growing from his ankles, knees, and elbows, each tipped with blood pink. Finally, he opened his jaws, exposing his sharp teeth, and Mara tossed him through a door, with him phasing through.
Jeremoth rubbed against his face, his eyes wide even as he could only emit growls. He got up but found that his stance became a slouch, and he opened the door. Mara giggled outside as purple waves engulfed her, with pale gray fur covering her body. Her hair grew just as large, with the silvery hair turning into a white mane with blood-red tips, even as her robes turned pale gray fur. Her body grew, towering over even Jeremoth as her stance became slouching, with thick claws on her hands- and feet-paws. Finally, her muzzle formed along with her ears while grinning, and she stopped growing, becoming a Zoroark.
Jeremoth fell back, his jaws opened in horror, but Mara pulled him out of the house and put him back on all two. Jeremoth blinked, but Mara lifted her head up, roaring out so loud that it was heard for miles. He covered his ears for a moment, but she grabbed his arm and pulled him towards the largest building in the village.
Soon, they stood before it, with Mara holding her arms up even as Jeremoth shifted around. Minutes later, pawsteps came, and when he turned to the source, a massive pack of Zoroark along with Zorua came into the village. His fur stood up, and he turned in the opposite direction, but she grabbed his shoulder and kept him from running. Yet, they didn’t attack the two, and Mara raised her arms higher, grinning. But Jeremoth tilted his head before he blinked, the pack numbering the same amount of villagers he thought died from attacks at night.
Mara turned her head to him and winked.
Snow fell upon Snowpoint Town, formerly known as the Pearl Settlement. Various townsfolk walked down the road, laughing and sometimes throwing snowballs at each other. A child, along with his mother, walked down a street, holding a book about the history and folklore of Snowpoint Town.
“Did you know that there was once a village near where we are?” The kid asked, with the mother nodding along. “How about they were all cursed to become Hisuian Zoroark fifty years ago?”
“Yes, darling,” the mother said, standing before a store. “Only the eldest of townsfolk remembered that village. But all that was known was that the villagers disappeared, nothing about them turning into Pokémon. In fact, when some Pearl Clan members went over after not hearing from them for so long, especially after hearing a roar, the village was gone.”
“But Zoroark can use Illusion! So, they could still be there!” The kid tugged against his mother’s arm. “I want to go there and see for myself!”
The mother laughed a bit before saying, “That sounds something like your dad will do. However, even if there was some truth in that folklore, we’ve driven all Hisuian Zoroark out from Sinnoh, back when it was known as Hisui.” The kid moaned a bit, and the mother sighed. “But since you like them, perhaps we can get a Baneful Fox mask.”
The kid cheered from that, and the two stepped into the store. The mother waved at the store clerk behind a desk, who wore a Baneful Fox mask. They went through the shelves until they spotted one that contained all the masks, and the kid picked one that was his size. They then took it to the desk, where the clerk pushed back her silvery hair even as she grinned underneath the mask’s muzzle.
“Will that be all for you?” The clerk asked, and the mother nodded, handing over the money. “Must say, that is an excellent choice.” She turned to the kid, who grinned at her. “That mask certainly suits you.”
The clerk put the money into the register and handed back the change even as the kid put the mask on, giving out a wide grin. “Thank you, miss!”
“Indeed, thank you, um,” the mother paused, turning from the desk to register to the clerk, who giggled.
“It’s Mara,” the store clerk replied.
Ten years have passed since the Space-Time Rift was sealed, with new immigrants coming to the Hisui Region. Some settled into a village, once the Icepeak Camp, since it was near enough to the Pearl Settlement. And despite the harsh, icy conditions, the village was growing.
Until Mara, a former Survey Corps member, encountered a Zoroark, with doom falling upon the village.
The background with this story is that a friend in a Discord channel shared an idea regarding a horror story involving the player character themselves being a Hisuian Zororark and turning everyone in Jubilife Village into Zoroark. I liked the idea that he shared and even suggested that he writes it, but he encouraged me to do so instead. And after some discussions and refining the story, especially since many of the characters in the game are ambiguous ancestors to many modern-day characters, here is the final story.
Must say, this story was a lot of fun to write. Though I confess that this story wasn't supposed to be created this soon, my friend was eager for it, and the story I was working on at first wasn't jelling as well as I thought. And since I've opened for more commissions (I still have one slot left, BTW), I doubt I'll be writing it anytime soon.
In any case, enjoy!