Escalation

For 2022, I’ve been wanting to write more ‘creature features’ and generally improve my short story writing. My partner got me a Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual for my birthday so I came up with the idea of writing a story every week based on a different creature from that – All There in the (Monster) Manual. Hope you enjoy!

This Week’s Inspiration: Couatl

Wallécre handler Tosh is going to be the very best, like no one ever has been! But first, he has to get to Tangerine Town to defeat the local wallécre maestro, and another young handler, Richie, is standing in his way. His wallécre are going to have to battle right to the bloody, bitter finish.

Trigger Warning: Cruelty to (Fictional) Animals

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Tosh eased his way carefully through the tall grass. Wild wallécre hid in the strands and could attack at random. As a comfort, the young handler touched the six identical wallécre cubes attached to his belt.

Sensing movement, Tosh slowed and took even greater care to move silently. The brim of his blue cap helped shield his face. Ahead, the grass gave way to a large and vaguely round clearing. A bird-shaped wallécre poked around in the dirt, looking for bugs. Tosh crept closer until he could identify the creature.

Scaron was a flying wallécre almost as tall as Tosh himself. Thin and gangly, much of that height was made up by a pair of sticklike legs supporting a barrel of a body. Bejewelled blue feathers covered its head, serpentine neck, body and wings, brilliant in the mid-morning sunlight. Tosh froze. As if sensing him, the Scaron went completely still and its intelligent eyes scanned the tall grass. Satisfied it was alone, after a few moments the Scaron speared the ground with its orange sword of a beak.

Tosh reached for one of the wallécubes on his belt. Scaron weren’t particularly rare or powerful, but he remembered the wallécre handler’s common refrain. Have to capture all of them!

Before Tosh could throw the cube, something came crunching through the tall grass on the other side of the clearing. Sheafs of grass were batted indifferently aside. Scaron’s head shot upright, alert and afraid.

“Scaron! Scaron!” The wallécre squawked.

Spreading its razor-tipped wings, the Scaron took flight. Tosh straightened as if to give chase but there was nothing he could do. He watched as the flying wallécre disappeared into the blue and almost cloudless sky.

Across the clearing, another teenager around Tosh’s age emerged from the tall grass. Shading his eyes, he watched the Scaron take flight as well. Stocky, with bright orange hair, the other teen wore outdoorsy clothing and carried a large backpack like Tosh. Also like Tosh, multiple pouches and six wallécre cubes lined his belt. Tosh shoved his way out of the grass to confront the second wallécre handler.

“Thanks a lot! I was just about to catch that Scaron, and I need one for my collection!” Tosh said.

The ginger teenager looked surprised for a moment but quickly recovered. “Like catching a Scaron is so hard? Why don’t you have one already?”

“There’s none of them where I come from!” Tosh said. “I haven’t had a chance to catch one.”

“Where do you come from then?”

“Gradientville originally, I was heading to Tangerine Town.”

The other handler laughed. “Small town handler, huh? I just came from Tangerine Town, they didn’t stand a chance against me! My name’s Richie, Richie Face.”

“Good for you,” Tosh said.

“Hey, since we’re out here anyway, do you want to battle?”

Tosh looked Richie over. He didn’t look that experienced but he wore a big, smug smile.

“No thanks, I’ll pass.”

“Come on, what are you? Chickenkurri? Or maybe you’re just smart enough to know your wallécre could never beat mine!”

Tosh’s eyes narrowed. He seemed to run into handlers like Richie, wanting to battle any time of day or night and not taking no for an answer, everywhere he went. Tosh preferred to preserve his roster for capturing other wallécre, and for legal tournaments, but he burned with annoyance over the way Richie had screwed up his chance to capture the Scaron.

“Okay, let’s do it!” Tosh said.

The two young men faced off across the grassy clearing. Clipped to Richie’s belt was a kind of personal sound system. He turned it on and battle music started to pour from the small speaker. A little ostentatious but Tosh had to admit it added atmosphere. He waited for Richie to make the first move, in order to judge how he should start.

“Rattack! You’re my pick!” Richie said.

Richie tossed one of his wallécubes into the centre of the clearing. It opened and vomited forth a gaping, black abcess that hovered in midair like a hole torn in the face of the universe. Richie’s Rattack was ejected violently from the hole, rolling and landing on its feet. The wallécube closed and withdrew back into Richie’s hand. Waist-tall with a dwarfish build, Rattack resembled a rat with an oversized head and teeth standing on its hind legs. Sharp quills rippled down the creature’s back, jutting from its deep red fur.

“Maimtis, you’re my pick!” Tosh selected a wallécube.

The wallécube opened another rippling, black gash and Tosh’s Maimtis was catapulted from the hole. Roughly the same height as Richie’s Rattack, Maimtis was much skinnier, insectile, but covered in an emerald green exoskeleton. Alien eyeballs the size of cantaloupes swivelled independent of one another above complex mouthparts. Maimtis looked like a giant praying mantis but its arms, tucked against its chest, ended in honed steel blades like twin katanas.

Richie’s speaker droned in the background as he pointed dramatically. “Rattack, use ‘Bite’!”

Richie, as he’d picked first, had the first move. Rattack bounded across the dirt, slavering jaws open wide to reveal a snarl of chisel teeth. Catching Maimtis around the chest, Rattack bit down hard. Maimtis’ exoskeleton let out an alarming crackling sound. The two wallécre grappled as Maimtis tried to break free.

“Maimtis, use ‘Slice’ attack!” Tosh said.

“Maimtis!” The wallécre shrieked.

Writhing, Maimtis wrestled free of Rattack’s bite with only minor damage. One of its bladed limbs flashed around, ripping through Rattack’s fur. Blood spewed out of the opening, splattering red across Maimtis’ green shell.

“Rattack, ‘Tail Whip’!” Richie said.

In spite of the blood pouring down its chest, matting its fur, Rattack spun itself in a tight ball. Its naked tail, wormy but thick as a snake and with a clublike bulge at the end, hit Maimtis with a meaty smack. Maimtis staggered sideways but wasn’t stunned.

“Maimtis, Slice!” Tosh said.

Maimtis’ bladed limbs flashed, scoring Rattack on the right shoulder. It hacked right through Rattack’s arm, severing it. Blood jetted from the neat slice, which revealed meat and muscle and a ring of snapped bone. Rattack stumbled, stunned.

“Maimtis, ‘Scissor Strike’! Tosh said, as Richie’s stunned wallécre was unable to attack.

Maimtis folded one of its blades over the other, holding them horizontally in front of itself like an oversized pair of scissors. Lunging, Maimtis caught Rattack in the throat and brought both blades together in a powerful slashing attack. The blades opened Rattack’s throat, hosing Maimtis with hot blood from both severed arteries. Rattack’s head flopped backward on loose or torn muscles like a sock puppet, further opening the gaping wound.

Richie looked frustrated, knowing he’d have to waste a turn or risk losing his Rattack entirely. “Rattack, ‘Heal’!”

A yellow glow beamed over Rattack’s body. Pink, tumorous lumps swelled from the edges of Rattack’s injuries, staunching the bleeding. They closed the gap in Rattack’s throat and down its chest. Overlapping one another, more growths sprouted from where its arm had been. An underdeveloped new arm in an embryonic sack emerged between the lumps. The healing left Rattack covered in bubbling growths and looking woozy. Tosh debated whether to double down, or to use the opening to exchange Maimtis for a fresh wallécre. He decided to keep Maimtis in the fight until he saw what Richie next had to offer, and to be merciful.

“Maimtis, Slice!” Tosh said.

Another slash, this time horizontally across the chest, opened up some of Rattack’s fresh, fleshy growths. Dark blood waterfalled down the wallécre’s chest. Retrieving Rattack’s empty cube, Richie withdrew the injured wallécre. The cube opened, creating another lightless vortex in midair which slurped up Rattack and his severed arm before disappearing.

“Okay, maybe I underestimated you, but not again!” Richie said. “Battarang, you’re my pick!”

Richie tossed a second cube. A Battarang belched out of the cube onto the bloody soil where Rattack had been standing. The evolved form of Bittybat, Battarang was a hulking, almost chimplike Flying wallécre that hunched forward on the points of its leathery wings. Fangs the size of fingers bristled from its open mouth. Small, gleaming eyes squinted in the sunlight as its satellite dish ears twitched.

“Battarang!” Battarang screamed.

“Maimtis, Scissor Strike!” Tosh said.

Maimtis shot forward, small wings buzzing on its back, folding one blade over the other. The attack missed, however, as Battarang shot sideways. Richie’s Battarang was clearly on a higher level than Tosh’s Maimtis.

“Battarang, ‘Sonic Scream’!” Richie said.

Jaws unhinging, Richie’s batlike wallécre let out an ear-splitting howl. Tosh could see the air ripple, and grass and dirt was torn up in a path that led from Battarang’s mouth to Maimtis. The Insect wallécre fell backward. Its exoskeleton cracked. The move was almost a guaranteed stun.

“Sonic Scream!” Richie repeated, further stunning Maimtis. “Sonic Scream!”

Battarang’s screams rocked Maimtis, leaving it unable to fight back. On the final shout, both of the wallécre’s eyes exploded. Chinks in the creature’s exoskeletal armour squirted green juice. Finally, Richie allowed Tosh to withdraw the barely alive wallécre before it could be finished off entirely, looking smug.

“Frogowar, you’re my pick!” Tosh yelled over Richie’s music.

Tosh’s next cube birthed a squat, powerfully built, frog-like wallécre. Neon orange and blue patterns covered the wallécre’s slippery skin. Organic blades jutted from its wrists and elbows. A slug of a tongue appeared from the Frogowar’s bucket mouth and lapped one of its eyeballs, bulging from its socket.

Richie told Battarang to use Sonic Scream again but Tosh’s Frogowar was of too high a level to be stunned and the damage was minimal. Tosh ordered Frogowar to use ‘Poison Arrow’. Frogowar’s mouth yawned open and launched a barrage of bony darts, trailing poisonous fluids.

“Battarang, ‘Wing Shield’!” Richie added quickly.

Battarang hurriedly coiled its wings around its body. Frogowar’s poisoned darts punched into its wings and stuck, quivering. Damage was minimal but the poison would drain Battarang’s health and Richie had wasted a potential attack with the shield.

“Use ‘Acid Spit’!” Tosh said.

Frogowar bounded closer, gagging. Mouth open, the wallécre vomited a wad of green acid. Battarang kept its wings raised and the vomit splattered across them. Acid ate holes in the leathery membrane stretched between Battarang’s elongated fingers. Other patches exposed bone as they were eaten away. Battarang writhed and cried out in pain as smoke rose from its wings.

“Battarang!” The wallécre shrieked.

“Battarang, use ‘Flight’!” Richie said, trying to make his wallécre a more difficult target.

Battarang unfurled its wings and tried to take off. Its limbs were too damaged, however, from Frogowar’s acid attack. Instead the batlike creature wobbled sideways and collapsed in the dirt. Acid continued to singe the edges of the gaps made in its wings’ membranes. Battarang keened its own name repeatedly.

“Acid Spit!” Tosh said mercilessly.

Frogowar bounced after Battarang again and hacked up a torrent of greenish bile. Acid splashed Battarang’s face and ran onto its chest. Instantly, the skin on Battarang’s face began to bubble and burn. The wallécre screamed. Smoke rose from its head and chest. More bone appeared, the shape of Battarang’s skull becoming evident as black and grey flesh simply melted away in gooey streamers.

“Battarang, return!” Richie said, withdrawing the wallécre and reaching for another wallécube. “Okay, you want to play rough, huh? No more kid stuff. Stonetaur, you’re my pick!”

Another rippling portal ejected Stonetaur, a towering, centaur-shaped wallécre made of roughhewn rock, face featureless and limbs ending in blunt clubs. Tosh quickly withdrew Frogowar, knowing it would get flattened by the high level Stonetaur. His hand hesitated over his wallécubes but he really only had one choice, knowing Rock types were vulnerable against Paper.

“Origarmy, you’re my pick!”

A vast, shifting sculpture made of hundreds of folds of living paper, vaguely arachnoid, appeared from Tosh’s wallécube. It, too, had no face, but it radiated menace from its multicoloured sheets.

“Stonetaur, use ‘Stone Stomp’!”

“Origarmy, ‘Paper Cut’!”

The two evenly matched wallécre battled brutally. By the end of their bout, Tosh’s Origarmy looked ravaged and torn but was victorious. Rubble crumbled off Stonetaur in places, leaving gaping cracks. Richie withdrew Stonetaur and replaced him with Firesquatch, which made short work of Origarmy. Fire spread along the edges of the clearing, into the tall, dry grass.

Tosh countered, somewhat desperately, with Waterwail. Again the fight was closer than it should have been, with Waterwail winning but coming out of it exhausted. Firesquatch, its fur wet and matted, shrivelled in on itself. Veils of steam filled the clearing as well, dampening the fires. Richie came back with Sandsturm. Bitter sandstorm attacks left Waterwail raw and abraded as well as blind.

Tosh withdrew the wallécre. After Sandsturm, Richie should have only one wallécre left but Tosh worried he might be holding onto his most powerful for last. Tosh sent out his Flying type, Terrordactyl. He used the flying wallécre to harry Sandsturm repeatedly, doing little damage but avoiding any retribution. Soon, blood dripped down Sandsturm’s face, bruises covering its brutalised body as it lashed out more and more blindly. Richie withdrew the wallécre but the air of smugness hadn’t left him.

“Hicaliboar, you’re my pick!” Richie said.

Tosh’s stomach dropped. Hicaliboar was the fully evolved form of the popular beginner Gun type, Poppapig. Richie’s wallécube disgorged a hulking, piglike ogre. Twin cannons protruded over the wallécre’s shoulders. Belts of ammunition crossed its chest above a leather loincloth buckled with a silver skull. Huge tusks curved from the corners of Hicaliboar’s muzzle.

“Game over,” Richie said.

Tosh cursed and looked to the sky. “Terrordactyl, ‘Decoy’!”

Tosh’s purple, flying wallécre flapped its batlike wings even harder. Half a dozen illusionary copies of Terrordactyl suddenly filled the sky around the original. They whirled and swooped like cards in a sleight of hand trick until the original was impossible to distinguish.

“Hicaliboar, use ‘Heatseeker’ attack!” Richie said.

The twin cannons on Hicaliboar’s back thundered multiple times. Half a dozen mini-missiles shot from the barrels and screamed skyward. The heatseekers weren’t fooled by Terrordactyl’s decoys, zeroing in on the real wallécre. Explosions enveloped Terrordactyl, a bloated, orange fireball filling the sky as the decoys winked out of existence. Terrordactyl fell, plummeting straight down, unconscious and with one wing mangled. It fell to one side of the clearing, barely cushioned by the long grass.

“Darn it,” Tosh said.

“Give up yet?” Richie smirked.

Tosh hurried to withdraw the unconscious Terrordactyl. The battle had turned on him. There might only be one path left to victory. He shrugged the backpack off his shoulders and his hand returned to the wallécubes on his belt.

“Wumpwyrm, you’re my pick!” Tosh said.

Tosh’s wallécube opened a dark portal, and a fat, lumpish worm of a wallécre landed in the dirt with a splat. Tosh hurriedly rifled through his pack. Wumpwyrm’s body was scaly like a snake, with stubby wings too small for its body. Its face was flat and fringed, resembling an axolotl, and covered with a daft smile.

Richie let out a bark of laughter. “You really must be desperate! You know you can just surrender, right?”

“Wumpwyrm!” Tosh’s final wallécre gurgled.

“I guess I would be pretty desperate, if I didn’t have this!” Tosh replied.

Pulling his hand out of his pack, wrapped in a fist, Tosh held it aloft. He opened it to reveal a Scarce Confectionary, one of a wallécre handler’s most powerful tools. Round and brown, it resembled a chocolate egg with a glossy coating but something about it glowed and appeared heavy with potential, as if impossibly dense and powered from within. Richie’s eyes widened. Before Richie could react, Tosh tossed the Scarce Confectionary to where Wumpwyrm writhed helplessly on the ground.

“No! Quick, Hicaliboar, do something! Fire! Uh, uh, ‘Straight Shooting’!” Richie said.

The brown sweet landed in the dirt in front of Wumpwyrm. Instinctively, Wumpwyrn’s tongue shot forward and claimed it. As soon as the Scarce Confectionary entered its mouth, Wumpwyrm began to glow. Its serpentine body swelled, bloating before beginning to lengthen. Bones crackled and popped, particularly in Wumpwyrn’s wings. Muscles grew, ripping open patches of skin before scales grew back over them. The process looked agonising. Wumpwyrm cried out, wailing and squealing as its body deformed. Scales changed colour and hardened. Its face distorted, mouth splitting open and huge fangs forcing themselves through its gums. As the creature evolved it grew, and grew, and grew, dwarfing Tosh and Richie, and Hicaliboar. Cries of pain became deeper, louder and angrier, filled with power and rage.

Hicaliboar finally reacted, and performed a Straight Shooting attack as Richie had ordered. Its cannons thundered and pounded Tosh’s new wallécre’s chest. It showed no reaction. The golden glow faded from its skin. Tosh’s famously useless Wumpwyrm had evolved into the famously overpowered Quetzalthrottle. Most of its body coiled around behind it but its front section lifted into the air like a striking cobra. Magnificent wings with feathers of every colour spread from just below Quetzalthrottle’s head and neck. Its features bore little resemblance to the Wumpwyrn it had been only moments before except for the feathery fringes that fanned out behind its head.

Tosh wasted no time on lesser attacks now that he had Quetzalthrottle on his side. “Quetzalthrottle, use ‘Fission Beam’!”

Quetzalthrottle’s jaws yawned open, and a sparkling ball of blue energy began to form at the back of its throat. It grew larger and larger, crackling with potential, but the move took time to charge and gave Richie and Hicaliboar a chance to react.

“Hicaliboar, use ‘Shock and Awe’!” Richie said.

Hicaliboar raised both cannons and both hands. Extra muzzles appeared in the wallécre’s palms and all four opened fire. Rounds erupted against Quetzalthrottle’s body and wings. The bigger wallécre writhed a little under the salvo but continued to charge its attack.

An immense blue beam, so bright it seared into Tosh’s pupils, fired from Quetzalthrottle’s mouth. It enveloped the field of fire coming from Hicaliboar, exploding projectiles in midair. Energy slammed Hicaliboar, sending it flying backward, pounded and roasted by the beam. Dirt turned to glass and grass disintegrated as the beam wiped it out. The beam cut a path out of the clearing and flung the other wallécre clear out of the fight. Smells of bacon and burnt cordite filled the air.

Richie stared in awe as Quetzalthrottle’s Fission Beam faded. The shockwave exploded over the surrounding fields. Quetzalthrottle ruffled its wings and settled backward, still coiled and powerful.

“Wow, okay, good battle! Good battle,” Richie said. “You win!”

Richie came forward as if to shake Tosh’s hand, but Tosh’s eyes narrowed. “Quetzalthrottle, ‘Tail Whip’.”

“Hey, wait, Tail Whip? Tail Whip what?” Richie looked back at him in horror.

Quetzalthrottle swung around in place, the end of its tail coming around and colliding with Richie. Tail Whip was Quetzalthrottle’s least powerful move but it lifted the other wallécre handler off his feet and flung him up, up and backward, up and over the tall grass. Crying out, Richie spiralled into the sky. Sunlight glinted off his belt buckle or some piece of his equipment and sparkled before he seemed to disappear entirely.

“Looks like Richie is-, taking off, for the first time, I guess,” Tosh said.

Calm settled over the battleground. Blood, burns, bits of rubble and other debris covered the dirt. For a few long moments, Tosh just basked in the victory. His freshly evolved Quetzalthrottle turned its huge, frilled head. Considering the damage they’d done, Tosh thought he’d better keep moving and get his wallécre healed at the next wallévet he came to.

“Come on, Quetzalthrottle, time to go!”

Tosh threw the wallécube he’d previously used to release Wumpwyrm. It bounced off Quetzalthrottle’s side and the portal inhaled, trying to suck the giant wallécre into its dark domain, but failed. The wallécube fritzed and fell to the ground. Of course, Tosh realised, now that the wallécre had evolved it was too powerful for a normal cube. Unfortunately, Tosh didn’t have any higher level wallécubes on him.

Quetzalthrottle’s steady gaze studied Tosh. Rage burned behind the giant wallécre’s eyes. Tosh suddenly felt very aware of the size difference between himself and the enormous, winged serpent. He looked like a mouse next to a python. Fangs as long as Tosh’s arm grew from the corners of Quetzalthrottle’s mouth. It loomed closer and closer.

“What are you doing?” Tosh said. “I own you! I’m your handler! Back up! Back up!”

Quetzalthrottle came closer. Tosh could see down its dark gullet. The creature sensed Tosh’s lack of power over it. It was of too high a level for him to control.

Suddenly, as if by magic, a couple of feathered darts appeared in the side of Quetzalthrottle’s neck. The wallécre reared up, letting out a keening wail. Drugs delivered by the darts went to work immediately. Quetzalthrottle wavered, tipping from side to side with eyelids fluttering. With a grunting collapse, it fell on its side and slipped into unconsciousness.

Tosh twisted around to where the darts had originated. Several uniformed police officers threaded through the tall grass. Two of them carried tranquiliser rifles while the others had pistols or Tasers at the ready. Several police cruisers were parked on the side of the nearby road although Tosh had failed to hear them arrive.

“On the ground! Get on the ground!” One of the cops yelled.

Tosh turned pale under his blue cap. “What? Why? What did I do?”

“You’re under arrest, get on the ground!”

Tosh sank to his knees and then lay flat on his stomach, hands spread. Two of the police officers holstered their weapons and piled on top of him. His backpack and wallécubes were swiftly removed. Handcuffs snapped closed around his wrists.

“I didn’t know battling was illegal here!” Tosh lied. “He started it! I’m from Gradientville!”

“Battling? That’s the least of your problems! You’re being charged with the transport of rare and exotic animals, cruelty to wallécre, wallécre fighting. Oh, and murder!”

“Murder? I didn’t murder anyone!” Tosh protested.

“You just used your wallécre to launch that guy into the stratosphere! What do you think happens when he comes back down? How could you think anyone could possibly survive that?”

“You can’t do this to me! I’m a minor! I’m going to be the very best, like no one ever has been!”

“With charges like this, you’ll be tried as an adult. You’re going away for a long, long time, punk.”

Wrists cuffed behind his back, Tosh was hauled to his feet again. One of the cops checked on the health of the unconscious Quetzalthrottle while others scanned Tosh’s wallécubes to assess the condition of the wallécre inside. Seeing the injuries suffered by the battling creatures, another cop staggered to the edge of the clearing and vomited. The two officers marched Tosh through the grass, toward their cruisers and an uncertain future.

======

Sean: In case it was too subtle for you, I was going for a Pokémon parody with this one. Loved the first few seasons of the cartoon when I was a kid but it did always bother me how Team Rocket could get launched into the clear blue sky again and again, and then they were just, fine? Where did they come down?

Worked a bit backwards on this one. Saw someone playing Pokémon Go on the train and had the idea. Remember Pokémon Go? Remember when people were everywhere, filling streets and parks trying to capture virtual Pokémon wherever you went? I’m sorry to tell you, that was over twenty years ago now. That craze took place in 1998, that’s how old you are. From there though, I did need some ideas for my “Wallet Creatures” and went looking for inspiration in the Monster Manual. Rats, bats, frogs, pigs, they’re just some of my favourites to make weird mutants out of but the Couatl, or its original inspiration, looked perfect for a suitably overpowered final wallécre.

Next Week’s Inspiration: Night Hag

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