Peace to the Mountain
Chapter 14 – Anywhere but Here
During Jal’tai’s next visit two days later, Solonn looked at whatever he was shown, did whatever he was told to do, and managed to show no outward signs of resentment or indignation. As soon as the latios left, however, that veneer fell away, leaving behind a bitter, despondent man who mainly just languished through the hours, lacking the spirit to look after himself beyond the bare minimum needed to stay alive. He barely slept, didn’t bathe or groom himself in any way, and didn’t bother watching any more of the latios’s training videos. He ate only when Jal’tai was actually present to make sure that he did.
The self-neglect was beginning to take its toll on Solonn—which didn’t go unnoticed by the latios, as Solonn learned the very next evening on Jal’tai’s third visit.
Jal’tai materialized in the room, and Solonn met his gaze at once from the green armchair. From the moment the dragon appeared, Solonn knew this visit wouldn’t be like the others. The friendly, jovial air the latios had worn before was gone; his face was a hard-lined mask, the expression unreadable.
Lowering his head slightly and folding his arms in front of his chest, Jal’tai brought himself to hover right in front of Solonn. His feathered brows drew together almost as if he were wincing in pain. He held the human’s dark, flat stare for a long moment, then shook his head pityingly.
“Look at you…” the latios said quietly. He moved even closer to Solonn, his gaze burning upon the former glalie’s unshaven face from only a few inches away now. “Solonn,” he said, his tone heavy, “I know you’ve been neglecting yourself and your lessons. This won’t do, my boy. This won’t do at all.”
Though Solonn’s slackened features showed no sign of it, a spark of fear stirred and began swiftly growing deep inside him. Something not quite conscious. Something primal. Jal’tai knew he wasn’t getting what he wanted from his would-be successor, and Solonn feared that he was about to suffer for disappointing the latios—and perhaps this time Jal’tai would just give up on getting what he wanted from Solonn and decide to cut his losses. In silent terror, Solonn awaited the fuchsia blaze in Jal’tai’s eyes and the agony that would follow… but no such things came.
“I told you emphatically that you must find it in yourself to make peace with this life,” Jal’tai said soberly, “for it is something you cannot change. I told you this for a very good reason, Solonn: you can’t live a life that you don’t accept. If you keep on like this, you’ll waste away… I cannot allow that, Solonn. There’s too much at stake. I will not see the future of my city, my mission, simply fade out like this.”
He ascended higher into the air, nearly scraping the ceiling with his wingtips. From this height, he looked all the more imposing; Solonn was all too sure that this would be the end. But still the latios made no move to harm him.
“For the sake of your destiny, as well as that of Convergence and the most noble cause for which it stands, serenity will be instilled in you,” Jal’tai told Solonn firmly. “Fortunately, I’ve come across someone who should be of a tremendous benefit to that end. Her name is Neleng, and you’ll be having your first session with her tonight. She ought to be arriving in less than an hour.
“I dearly hope to see you improve, Solonn. There’s no need for you to make things harder for yourself than you already have.” With those words, Jal’tai left in his usual fashion, vanishing in a burst of golden light.
Solonn’s eyes lingered upon the empty space where Jal’tai had just been, resenting the latios’s ability to simply leave this place in a flash—he wished he could do the same. The way Jal’tai kept flaunting that ability only served to rub Solonn’s nose into the fact that he was stuck here. Solonn wondered if that was part of why Jal’tai always chose to teleport out.
As the minutes passed, Solonn just sat there, doing nothing. He wasn’t really anticipating Neleng’s arrival; he’d been too preoccupied with the fear that he was about to be punished or even killed to pay much attention to what Jal’tai had actually said during his visit.
At length, the computerized voice of the suite announced an incoming arrival. Solonn, expecting it would just be Jal’tai again, was faintly surprised to find someone and something very different there at the transport tile instead: a chimecho. He was a bit confused by the sight until he remembered Jal’tai’s mention of a visitor. It was someone with an “N”-name, as far as he recalled; he couldn’t remember the rest.
The chimecho made her way into the den at once, her tail trailing from beneath her as she drifted through the air. She stopped before Solonn and smiled.
“Good evening,” she greeted him in an airy voice. “My name is Neleng, and I’m here to help clear your mind. Are you ready to begin?”
Solonn didn’t respond, staring at the chimecho with uncertainty. How could he be ready when he didn’t really know what this creature had in store for him?
But Neleng was prepared to proceed regardless of his answer or lack thereof. She beamed at him as brightly as if he’d just agreed with the utmost enthusiasm to whatever she was about to do. “Very well, then,” she said. She rose until the golden suction disc on the top of her head met the ceiling and took hold of it, clinging tightly yet effortlessly.
The chimecho gave a few gentle ripples of her tail as she hung there, smiling serenely down upon Solonn. “Just relax… Float away on a breeze of music…” she said. She began swaying there where she hung, very slowly, very gracefully, and then she began to sing.
She began with only a single voice, but it gradually unfolded into a chorus of many, one voice at a time. Harmonies and countermelodies gracefully intertwined, weaving in and out amongst one another, merging, diverging, and reuniting in cycles.
The music surrounded Solonn, absorbing his thoughts as it seemed to swirl around him. Under the song’s spell, everything else within the scope of his consciousness was washed away. Soon, his world was comprised solely of the swirling currents of melody. Nothing else existed. Nothing else mattered.
He didn’t notice at first when the song finally ended, some twenty minutes later. Once he did, he looked about somewhat dazedly for the source of the music, briefly unable to remember where it had come from. Then the last of the psychic residue that the chimecho’s song had left within his mind cleared… and the swarming miseries that had plagued his mind during the past few days faded with it.
Not that he’d been entirely purged of them; hints of anguish and bitterness lingered, and would continue to do so as long as he remained imprisoned within this body and this suite. But Neleng’s song had tamed those thoughts and feelings, to a degree. They were now organized, in a sense, not perfectly but well enough that they no longer smothered him with their weight.
Solonn looked up at Neleng, who was still hanging there and swaying slightly. She appeared to be slowly emerging from a trance. She did something to me, Solonn reckoned, something psychic… Exactly what she’d done, he couldn’t be sure. He just hoped it hadn’t been anything harmful. It was, after all, Jal’tai who’d sent her.
The chimecho finally went still, sighing softly as her eyes slowly opened. She detached herself from the ceiling, smiling as she descended once more.
“I’ll see you again tomorrow,” she said. “Drift free until then…”
Neleng floated away, and Solonn’s gaze followed her as she went back to the wall between the suite and the hall outside. She brought the end of her tail up to reach the keypad there, folding its prehensile tip and using it to quickly input a sequence of numbers. The tile below her lit up, and she lowered herself onto it without delay. The lens scanned her, and a second later, she was gone in a green flash.
Solonn stared with a twinge of envy at the now lightless tile. Jal’tai had shared the codes with Neleng. He likely had no intentions of sharing them with Solonn anytime soon, or possibly ever. They were only for Jal’tai and those who gladly served him.
What did Jal’tai need with a transporter anyway? If he really wanted to make Solonn feel like he had nowhere else to go, no other choice to make, he could have just left those walls entirely blank. He could have brought in other teleporters to tend to his would-be successor. There was no need for a visible way out at all.
Yet Jal’tai had insisted on installing the transporter—and insisted on using it to get in every time. Why? Why not just teleport in? Teleporting out made sense, Solonn conceded, and not just because Jal’tai made him feel all the more helpless in doing so. It was quicker, it was more convenient, and…
And it kept anyone from seeing which numbers unlocked the tile. But Neleng… she didn’t have that option. She might have pressed those keys as fast as she could, but…
All of a sudden, the way from here seemed almost ridiculously clear. Neleng held the means for him to escape—he just needed to watch her closely whenever she used that transporter. If he could just see what she was doing—an almost painful thrill seized his heart—if he just could memorize the code…
The hope began to fade almost as soon as it had arrived. There remained the matter of what he’d do after he got out. Since he was no longer a glalie and had no way to prove he ever was one, returning to Virc-Dho didn’t seem like an option.
The only other familiar place he had to go was Lilycove… and it occurred to him that if Morgan had been successfully reunited with her other pokémon—or at least one of the psychics among them—one of them could psychically confirm that he was indeed what he claimed to be. If so… at least he could make a new home among some of his friends, even if he could never go back to his original home.
Then something else occurred to him, and it sent a chill straight into his heart. After he made his escape, Jal’tai would be sure to try and find him—and since Solonn had specifically mentioned fleeing from Lilycove, that was one of the places Jal’tai was sure to look.
It was all too easy to picture Jal’tai in the Yorkes’ house, with both Morgan and Eliza lying unconscious before him as he scoured their minds for information that might lead him to Solonn. The thought of them having their minds violated in such a manner was disgusting, and the thought of what might happen if any of Morgan’s other pokémon were there to try and stop Jal’tai sickened him even further. Even if they all fought as a team, there was no guarantee that they could stand against the latios. And resisting him could cost them their lives.
He sighed heavily; it seemed Lilycove was out of the question, too, leaving him to wonder just where he could go.
Anywhere but here will do, Solonn decided finally, resolutely, anywhere he isn’t. Maybe Solonn couldn’t reclaim the life he’d once known. Maybe he’d never see any of his friends and family again. But he at least he could make his life his own again, taking it out of Jal’tai’s talons. He didn’t know what sort of future could possibly lie ahead of him now, but at least now there was a chance that it could be his future, his choice.
With a deep breath, Solonn rose from the chair, shakily but determinedly. He leveled a hard stare at the wall and the keypad separating him from his freedom. Soon, he told himself silently, he would surpass that barrier. Soon, he would take back his life.
* * *
From the moment he’d come up with his escape plan, Solonn carried on in a very different manner than he’d done in the days prior. He knew and accepted now that he’d have to prepare himself for the life he’d have to forge once he was free—a human life.
So it was that not long after Neleng had left him, he’d sat down and watched one of Jal’tai’s training videos. Though not exactly keen on watching something that Jal’tai had made, he’d determined that he’d just have to bite back his resentment where this was concerned. The videos provided valuable information and demonstrations that he’d need in his new life, and so he’d vowed to watch as many of them as he could before he made a break for it.
He’d also regained the will to take care of himself again, fueled by the hope of impending freedom. He tried to get at least a couple of hours of sleep each night and bothered to feed himself whenever he hungered, knowing that he’d need his strength for his upcoming escape. He’d learned how to prepare a small variety of meals, but still wasn’t quite brave enough to try making anything that required actual cooking—it wouldn’t do for him to burn more food than he ate.
The videos illustrated the importance of good hygiene and dressing well in human society, and Solonn took heed of those lessons. Though his first attempt at a bath resulted in minor scalding, and his first attempt at shaving left his face bleeding in no fewer than six places, he generally did a decent job of keeping himself tidy. He also began fully dressing himself rather than just lounging about in his underwear, knowing from both the videos and his time with the Yorkes that humans generally kept most of themselves covered at all times.
During his visits over the course of these days, Jal’tai noticed the improvements in Solonn’s well-being. As a result, the latios’s demeanor was even livelier than ever, devoid of that stern displeasure—it seemed his would-be successor was finally accepting and growing into the role that had been chosen for him.
Though Solonn’s temperament was definitely improving, Jal’tai still sent Neleng over each night to perform her mindsong therapy. Solonn reckoned that the latios had decided those sessions might as well continue since they seemed to be doing some good. Indeed they were, but not solely in the way the latios had intended. Neleng’s sessions helped keep Solonn’s mind clear, which in turn allowed him to stay focused and determined to achieve his goal of escape.
The chimecho was fulfilling her other role in Solonn’s endeavor nicely, as well. After turning that armchair ever so slightly toward the transporter, he’d been able to watch Neleng punch in the code out of the corner of his eye with relative ease. After the eighth session, eleven days after the morning when he’d first awakened as a human, Solonn was sure that he’d successfully memorized the sequence. He was ready to make his move.
Jal’tai had visited earlier that day, and Neleng had just left an hour or so ago, so Solonn wasn’t expecting either of them anywhere near the suite again anytime soon. If ever there was an optimal time to make a break for it, this was it.
He stood there before the keypad, his breathing shallow as his chest tightened. He raised a trembling, sweating hand to the keys, and one by one, his shaking index finger found each of the code’s eight digits: Seven… three… four… nine… zero… four… six… two…
The next second felt like it would never end. Then that second passed, and to Solonn’s immeasurable relief, the tile below his feet took on that familiar, green glow and the lens scanned him.
The tile gave a bright flash. He felt a tingling sensation over the surface of his skin, and then something rushed him through a brief nonexistence. When he rematerialized, he was on the other side of the wall.
He took in the sight of the hallway stretching to either side, and a giddy sort of disbelief spread through him. A beat later, he dared to believe what the sight before him signified: he had done it. He was out, and now he could finally make his bid for freedom.
In reverse, he replayed the memories of the last time he’d been out here, trying to remember how to get to the exit. It was hard to extract much detail from them; he’d been drugged the last time he’d been outside the suite, which had hampered his perception to no small degree.
Luckily, Jal’tai’s videos had included a segment on operating elevators. Solonn doubted he’d have remembered how to do so otherwise. Before long, he found the elevator for that floor and quickly pushed the button to call it up. When the doors finally opened, he hurried through them without a second’s hesitation.
Solonn chose the lowermost floor, and a breath later, a funny little plummeting sensation in his stomach signified the elevator’s descent. Soon after, it came to a stop and its doors slid open, revealing a view of the spacious lobby—and the exit beyond.
The lobby was relatively quiet at the moment, with no one there except for the swampert receptionist and a solitary primeape off in the corner, the latter half-watching cartoons on a wall-mounted TV. Solonn tried to hide his nervousness as he passed them, not wanting to draw too much attention to himself. As far as those two needed to be concerned, he was just a human being like any other, with no reason why he shouldn’t be in that lobby or heading out those doors.
Without a word, he crossed the room to the exit. Those last doors separating him from the way out of Convergence slid silently out of his way, and he stepped out into a starless, overcast night.
He cast one last look behind him at the towering Convergence Inn, the place where his identity and element had been lost, the place that had been his prison for nearly two weeks. He averted his gaze once more almost immediately, walking away from it at a brisk pace. He never wanted to see that place again.
Solonn had no choice but to stop at the next corner, where cars sped up and down the street in his way. He shivered as he stood there; the silk shirt and simple slacks he’d chosen to wear that day offered little protection against the chilly, late-September wind. Not terribly far away, he managed to identify the dark line of trees that represented the border between Convergence and its surrounding woods—that was his goal. The cars were currently barring his path… but seconds later, the way was clear once more. He took advantage of this at once, crossing the street before the traffic could pick up again.
His eyes locked onto the boundary beyond which the world didn’t belong to Jal’tai—the sooner he reached it, the better. He wanted to make a dash for the trees, but even now, he still wasn’t entirely used to his new legs. He was still wary of running on them.
He shook his head, trying to clear his mind of doubt. If you can walk, you can run, he told himself. Don’t think about it; just do it! Hesitating no longer, he broke into a run with a somewhat awkward start, stumbling over the first step and nearly overcorrecting afterward.
Once Solonn managed to stabilize himself, he silently told himself to keep running until he reached that forest. But he was unused to running for any great distance in any body, and exhaustion came on quite swiftly. Nonetheless, he ignored his body’s demands for rest, his sights and determination fixed upon his goal. He only stopped when another red light and another wave of rushing cars blocked his path.
Solonn gritted his teeth in pain as he waited anxiously for a break in the traffic, the cold, sharp wind tearing through his throat with each harsh, gasping breath. The forest wasn’t much further before him now than the Convergence Inn was behind him; the closer he got to it, the more impatient to reach it he became.
Finally, the path before him was clear and safe again. He hadn’t even finished catching his breath from the last dash, but with such a short way left to go before he could put this city and the latios it belonged to behind him for good, he just couldn’t wait to close that final distance.
Amber sparkles of light streaked past him: rays from the streetlights, distorted by the tears that the stinging wind and a number of other things brought to his eyes as he ran. Shooting pains stabbed into his ribs, and there was a burning ache in his stomach and legs. Still, he tried to keep running, desperate to escape Convergence no matter how it hurt. As far as he was concerned at this point, living free was worth any suffering.
Very nearly at the verge of collapsing, with his steps faltering and his heart hammering so violently that he thought it might explode at any second, Solonn reached Convergence’s limit at last. He was seconds from crossing the boundary—
—And then blazing jets of fire shot forth from either side with a loud fwooossssh and surged up before him. With an almost voiceless cry of alarm and surprise, he backpedaled at once from the burning line of flames in his path, stumbling and falling backwards in his haste. He tried to get back to his feet but failed. Realizing his legs wouldn’t support him again anytime soon after what he’d just forced them to do, he instead started scrabbling backward to escape from the fire, only to be stopped very soon after when he bumped into something.
Throwing a fearful glance over his shoulder, Solonn saw two houndoom, the golden badges affixed to their collars glinting in the light from the flames. Their jaws dripped with glowing embers as they stared him down, and both of them growled ominously.
“Hold it right there,” one of them snarled. “You’re not going anywhere.”
As if to emphasize the point, the blazing line suddenly advanced at either side, forming a burning circle around Solonn and the two houndoom. The flames roared as they danced on all sides, but they didn’t touch him, as if something were holding them at bay.
That something—that someone—seemed to drop right out of the air in front of Solonn in the next moment, landing without a sound. A medicham in a police uniform now stood before him—Solonn had been so focused on the path directly before him that he’d failed to see her perched in the trees up ahead.
Her eyes glowed bright fuchsia; she was using her psychic powers to manipulate the two houndoom’s flames and keep them in check. But Solonn feared that it meant she was about to subject him to the same kind of telekinetic punishment Jal’tai had used. As it was, he couldn’t move at all now, and he was sure his exhaustion wasn’t solely to blame.
The circle of flames simply and abruptly vanished, and the medicham stepped forward. She took hold of Solonn’s arms, and using a combination of her telekinesis and her own physical strength, she brought him back to his feet. Solonn wanted to struggle but found, to no real surprise on his part, that he still couldn’t move of his own accord.
The houndoom stepped aside as the medicham moved to stand behind Solonn. Once there, she took both of his wrists in her hands, gripping them tightly.“Start walking,” she commanded him, her voice soft but her tone unmistakably serious.
Tentatively, not quite daring to believe that the medicham could have loosened her psychic hold on him enough to let him walk, Solonn tried to take a step forward and succeeded. He tried to pull himself out of the medicham’s grasp, but it was much too strong for him to break, especially given how very little strength his dash from the Convergence Inn had left him. Resigned to the fact that there was nothing he could do to resist her, Solonn allowed the medicham to drive him onward, dreading whatever lay at their destination as he walked.
The cops brought him back into town, the medicham telekinetically keeping her captive from collapsing outright. The houndoom nipped at his feet whenever he faltered too much in his steps, their fangs only missing him by a hair. At length, they arrived at a very tall, brick building downtown. A brass sign hung over its entrance, lit from below by bright lights; “CONVERGENCE TOWER”, it read.
The houndoom pushed the doors open, and the medicham shoved Solonn into the building, still holding on to him tightly. She steered him into an elevator, which made a long ascent before letting him and the cops out into a short hallway with massive, wooden doors at its end.
The doors filled Solonn’s vision as his captors came to a stop before them. A speaker mounted in the wall to his left came on with a brief crackle of static, and then the last voice in the world that Solonn wanted to hear at that moment spoke through it.
“Bring him in,” Jal’tai said. The cops responded to the order at once. The two houndoom pushed their way through the doors and held them open as the medicham brought Solonn into the room beyond.
Solonn now stood in an enormous, richly furnished office. Seated before him at a very large and tidy desk was none other than Jal’tai, currently in the guise of Rolf Whitley. He leveled a stare at Solonn that was forbiddingly stern but unmistakably saddened at the same time.
“That’ll do, madam, gentlemen,” Jal’tai said without inflection to the medicham and houndoom, dismissing them. The three cops nodded, and the medicham released both of her holds on Solonn before walking out of the office. The two houndoom followed her away, and the doors swung shut behind them.
Solonn, still drained of most of his strength and no longer supported physically or psychically by the medicham, had dropped to his hands and knees almost immediately after she’d let go of him. He’d remained in that position since, his head hanging toward the hardwood floor. A winged shadow fell over him as soon as the cops were gone, and a second later, a talon descended upon his head, lifting his face.
No longer wearing his human mirage, Jal’tai stared right into Solonn’s eyes with a look of distinct sorrow. “I’m very disappointed in you, my boy,” he said gravely. “I told you not to make things harder for yourself than they had to be, but you just wouldn’t listen…”
The latios sighed heavily, and his eyes began shimmering with tears. “I never wanted it to come to this,” he said, his voice quavering as if threatening to break, “but you’ve left me no choice. I’m afraid that I must now take drastic measures to ensure your cooperation and the preservation of this city’s noble mission…”