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Communication

Praxiteles

Friendly POKéMON.
One of your posts just made me think there were only 32 chapters in Communication, which you can bet gave me a shock about catching up. Anyway I'm gonna read like a maniac; I love all of these scenes and characters.

“Well… what it does is it refines your appearance. These pokéblocks will help you look as healthy and as… er, handsome as you can look.

If she doesn't put him in a conical Snorunt tux I'm gonna stop respecting her as a coordinator.

<I understand that you and Ms. Yorke have a most unique relationship, yes?>

Morgan. ... I understand now.. if you choose not to put him in a tux because

<What do I think of… Hey! How are you using telepathy?> Solonn asked—then, with a jolt, he realized that he, too, was speaking telepathically.

It's a new technology called eXtended Markup Language

“Because they never asked,” she said simply, using her natural voice and the language of her own kind this time. The snorunt only stared at her in response, not quite knowing how to reply.

Sounds like a whooooole big can of pokemon human politics.


There wasn’t much Solonn could really do about it, other than to seek shade. Without delay, he made his way across the yard to stand under the large sitrus tree that stood tall in the backyard. Much better, he thought, satisfied.

Aww, I'm sure they sell snorunt sunscreen for pokemon like you!

But… do I really want to go through with this now?

He wouldn't be a child anymore!! :'(

Sighing softly, Solonn kept the powder snow blowing as he slowly expanded the vortex of snowflakes and hailstones around himself, the music swelling in a slow crescendo.

Ice is such a serene, meditative type. Frozen winds... white, blanketed forests..

If you can just get past this part, he told himself, then in just a short while, you can get away from all of them…
Oh, Solonn.

Alex sighed. “Well, I was really hoping we wouldn’t have to resort to this, but it looks like you guys have left us little choice. Attract, Kelly!”

“What? Ah, no… protect, Solonn! Hurry!” Morgan urged. It was a gamble; she knew that a protect aura could not always be counted on to successfully form more than once in succession. But there was simply no other hope for Solonn to avoid Kelly’s technique.

OH YES!!!

“Listen to me: you’ve got to keep your head! She doesn’t love you, and you don’t really love her.

Hard truths and forced institutionalized growing up right here in Morgan's Team.

The sableye chuckled weirdly, giving no other response to Solonn’s retort. He then sprang from the fence and onto the sitrus tree, clinging to the bark with sprawled limbs. He scrabbled up the trunk and sat upon one of its branches, letting his short legs dangle off the side.

Ha ha... Luv this Sableye.

The sableye left Solonn alone—for about five seconds. Then he gave an exaggerated groan of boredom.

How come I'd never realized that a Sableye from up close would be lovably a complete ***.

The sableye took a moment to consider the question. “Almost,” he responded. Then he planted a very juicy kiss right on the diamond-shaped patch of bare hide in the middle of Solonn’s forehead.

Oh Yeah!!!

Daron braced himself, forcing himself to stare unwaveringly right into Xi’s crystalline eyes.

That truly is scary.

He took a deep breath, then announced, “We’ve found one.”

Not a word issued from the receiver for a long moment. “…You’re quite certain?” the old man finally asked.

“One hundred percent,” Daron said with confidence. “Xi’s eyes don’t lie, and he showed me exactly what they showed him.”



The venomoth gave no further explanation for her next actions. Her wings made a dramatic shift from lavender to baby blue, and with a single, powerful flap, they tossed a cloud of pale blue sleep powder on a swift gust of wind at Solonn.

Taken by surprise, Solonn failed to do anything to avoid the attack and inhaled some of its dust before he could stop himself. He tried to retaliate at once, but his ice beam missed its mark; his eyelids had closed irresistibly just before he could aim it. He dropped to the ground, swallowed up in a profoundly deep sleep.

✨

“It was a mean look,” Morgan said hoarsely. “I found a sableye right out there.” She pointed at the thick, maroon curtain hanging at the front of the room; Solonn had assumed it was another wall, but now recognized that someone could just push it out of the way and pass right through. “He was using that technique to keep you within a certain distance of him—until I hit him in the head with this.” She raised the hammer, then let it fall to the floor. “He’s out cold now.”

That's metal.....

Delicate-looking metal fences lined the path on either side. Some distance beyond the fence on the right, a large, flat building stood. The fence on the left provided the sole barrier between the road and a treacherous drop off of a sheer cliff toward a sparkling expanse of water. Even though he could only see the scene to the south out of the corner of his eye, Solonn was in awe of what he could glimpse of the waters and the mountain that they embraced.

How beautiful, I love describing this route.

For minutes on end, they just sat there beside one another, neither saying a word. Nothing disturbed the silence save for the faint calls of distant seabirds. Even Morgan’s sobs had grown quiet, though they remained just as violent.

A Team That Suffers Together Stays Together

“Listen.” Morgan rose shakily to her feet, casting another glance eastward, then turned to face Solonn once more. With an obvious effort, she kept her gaze locked firmly into his eyes. “Since… since the others are gone…” she said with difficulty, “…well, I can’t have you teleported home, and there’s an ocean between here and there, so…” She swallowed hard, running a hand fretfully through her hair. “What you’re gonna have to do is just lie low for a while. I’m… I’m kind of scared for you to go back to Lilycove right now; the people who took you are still out there, and when they find out you got away…” She shook her head. “If they find you again, God knows what they’ll do.

Luv this plot... No journeyfic victory, it's a wandery, many-shocks-and-struggles medievalish life saga. Life is the experimenter.. And Solonn is the guinea pig.

Solonn sighed in resignation. There was the undeniable truth of the matter: his independent survival required him to embrace his predatory nature. There’d be no processed pokémon food where he was going. There would only be prey—lives he’d have to end for the sake of his own. He knew he’d ultimately have to accept it. But he couldn’t imagine ever liking it.

It's sad; the only belief system, cultural values whatever that can really support him as a young guilty predator are the ones that Glalie have developed in their own colony. But he's in exile from his culture right now.

Quite startled in his rather compromised state, Solonn spun around instantly to face its source. He found a swellow hovering in midair before him, his beating wings stirring the grass below. Solonn wondered how this creature had managed to sneak up on him.

It's Jal-tai!

“No, no! It’s not a human city, I assure you. You’d realize that very swiftly if you saw it for yourself. Oh, you’d be amazed at the things it has to show you…”

They really need to do a 3rd gen remake with only all the pokemon cities.

“Halt!” two voices shouted in unison. In nearly the same instant, a pair of stantler jumped out in front of Solonn and Jal’tai from behind two of the trees, landing gracefully on their dainty hooves. The stantler glared at them for a moment, lowering their golden antlers menacingly—then abruptly raised their heads once more and took a step back, looking alarmed.

How elegant....

“Welcome, my friend,” Jal’tai said, spreading his wings wide, “to Convergence, the city of a better future! Isn’t it magnificent?”

Sounds like the pokemon side of Hoenn is actually Unova!

Its driver was large and hairy—and an ursaring. The light turned green, and the truck went on the move again, heading their way. Solonn could hear country music issuing from the vehicle’s radio; the bear was nodding her head and growling along faintly with the song.

Even after all those years I still can barely believe that the story turned in this direction at this point. You really couldn't have guessed where Communication was finally planning to go; I still can't right now! Also, obligatory: Luv that country ursaring
 

Sike Saner

Peace to the Mountain
Praxiteles: Well, it is close to that. There's 42 chapters from the start to the end, so in about 22-25 weeks the last chapter of this thing should be up.(Technically the whole thing's already "up". Just not here. XB)

Pokémon/human politics, or at least Oth/human politics. I ought to write more about Oth. Even more than I already have, I mean.

Hoenn = super pretty. Visually speaking, I think it's still my favorite region, especially off in the eastern half--basically everything east of the desert. It's part of why I'm glad I have so much more stuff-in-Hoenn to write for the current project. :D

But enough about said project, lest I start spoiling it in earnest. Thanks for the read and reply. :D
 

Praxiteles

Friendly POKéMON.
Sike. I don't know if I said it before, but you are evil. What have Glalie ever done to you...

Pokémon/human politics, or at least Oth/human politics. I ought to write more about Oth. Even more than I already have, I mean.

Oth is truly like a whole culture to themself. What an enigma of a pokemon. You should really tell us more about this mysterious pokemon's life and dreams.

The hitmonchan beckoned them toward the back of the restaurant. They passed a table where a female human sat feeding small morsels of meat to a baby makuhita in a high chair that barely accommodated him. Solonn spotted an area off in one corner of the restaurant that was enclosed by slightly tinted, soft plastic walls with a zippered door flap. Inside, several koffing and grimer laughed around a pile of something slimy and rotten-looking beneath a large exhaust fan. In another corner, two magnemite contently orbited a peculiar, seven-foot-tall, towerlike structure that hummed faintly with electricity.

And all the makuhita get is a babysitter and a high chair. Tch...

“Ugh… that’d be nice, but…” He unleashed another yawn. “I don’t know… I’m just really tired all of a sudden. I feel like I need to get to sleep.”

It's going to turn you into a human, Solonn. That steak you just ate... It was human..

“Good, good!” Jal’tai responded merrily. “Now, listen, I doubt you’ll need anything overnight; your suite comes very well equipped, I assure you. But, if you do… Well, have a look at the little table by that green armchair in the den.” He gave the glalie ample time to find it; Solonn, in his present state, needed every second of it.

The real question is. Who's paying, and why?

Sighing, he opened his eyes once more, resigned to the likelihood that he’d be staying awake for a while whether he liked it or not. He turned his head and let it drop listlessly to his left shoulder, faintly regarding a number of long, black strands of hair that fell across his face. Past them, through the corner of his eye, he could make out the table he’d backed into.

This is the time where my wandering mind will wonder how many people have shipped Morgan with Solonn

Solonn was already disturbed to no small degree by what had befallen him. He was unnerved even further by the way the swellow’s steely raptor eyes took in his new form—his naked new form…

You're a prey animal now, Solonn!

Jal’tai followed one of those glances and then let out a chuckle. “No, no, dear boy,” he said. “That is a latias. I am a latios.”

Solonn is experiencing the cruel curse of the seas and natural ponds of Hoenn.

The human lay there, alone now but finding no comfort in his solitude. Jal’tai was gone for the time being, but in teleporting out, he’d revealed that he could return at any time, without any warning..

Hey Sike. I promise this is the last question I'll ask about this. How big is Solonn in human form and does he look attractive

“All right, then,” Jal’tai said with a clap of his talons, his voice having regained its former brightness. “Why don’t we take a little tour of this lovely little place, hmm? You’ll be living in this suite until you’re ready to take my office, so you might as well start making yourself at home here. Also, you’ll need to get an idea of how everything works around here; this suite has everything you need in your day-to-day life, but that does you no good if you don’t know where and how to get it all.

I was reading two stories about human transformation when I was 13. One of them was Anne Rice's The Body Thief, and the other was Communication. I can say that I prefer this one a lot more.

Jal’tai let it play for a few moments, smiling slightly as he listened, his eyes closed. Then he shut the music off, making certain to let Solonn see how he did so.

This Guy Puts Just Fifty Elevator Music CDs And Nothing Else In Every Suite... And He Enjoys It

Jal’tai then guided him into a walk-in closet. It was fairly long and wide enough to admit Jal’tai’s generous, rigid wingspan, albeit just barely.

Where did they get all this wealth from? I just get more and more suspicious about the true nature of Convergence.

The shower was quite large, with multiple spigots of varying shapes and sizes; in addition to the standard one that dispensed water, the others offered bathing options such as “mud”, “sand”, and “acid”, according to a large, yellow label affixed just outside the shower compartment.

Countless casualties have come out of fumbling for the wrong handle while you have shampoo in your eyes.

Short moments later,

Words can speak volumes.

Meanwhile, the video began. Rather loud, synthesizer-based music started blaring, and “Humanity and You” appeared on the screen in brightly colored letters.

It's the newest city in Hoenn... And it's called Hell

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.

If you transformed N into a chimecho it would be the exact opposite of me Rule 34ing Solonn, but still very cute.

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.

Awwwwww

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.

I'd forgotten for a long time, but Communication really reminds me why it's such a great idea to write about the physicalities of different pokemon doing everyday tasks. How cute

Taloned arms lowered, embracing Solonn and lifting him up off the floor. Grave, red eyes held his gaze. Solonn immediately wanted Jal’tai to let him go, but he simply lacked the strength to do anything more than shudder in the latios’s arms. Part of him wanted to scream, but he didn’t have that in him, either. All he could manage was a continuous stream of nearly voiceless protests, wordless save for an occasionally discernible “no”.

I love the old school melodrama of this whole part.

He let his head loll backwards over Jal’tai’s arm to see what lay at the other end of the room. He was greeted by a very different sight: no shrines, no flowers, no portraits. There was only a metal table, unremarkable and featureless save for a series of slots arranged in symmetrical patterns all the way down its length.

Oh ****.

With that, the black holes that were the latios’s eyes gave a single, massive flash of light that was even brighter than the rest of him, and Solonn knew no more.

That's terrifying

Solonn stared idly out the window during the ride, watching the urban scenery race past through a veil of autumn rain. As he did so, a peculiar notion came over him: a question of how he’d gotten there, how things had come to be as they presently were. He was briefly puzzled by it, but then dismissed the momentary confusion as a temporary malfunction of his mental faculties, some brief and harmless aftereffect of his recent malady that might never happen again. He gave it no further thought, just glad and grateful that the worst of it was over, and serenely let the wheels carry him home.

*Interpol - Pioneer to the Falls plays*

With that settled, he let Jal’tai suggest various human surnames to him, stopping the latios when he heard one that he didn’t mind. Michael Layne was his new name, and while he didn’t think nearly as well of it as Jal’tai did, he felt like he could have done a lot worse.

You should really have named yourself Michael Yorke.

That thought made something occur to him. “So, did you have a hard time choosing your human name?”

So fleetingly that it could have easily been imagined, a strange, inscrutable look appeared on Jal’tai’s face. “Actually, not really,” he answered with only the slightest delay. “I came by the decision quite readily.”

This is one of the strongest indications of how terrible Jal-tai's personality is.

The final night preceding Solonn’s first visit to the academy arrived, and he went to bed thinking exclusively of what would await him the next day. What he most certainly didn’t expect to be awaiting him the next morning was a latios holding a tray of hot, buttered pancakes, hovering almost directly over him.

“Rise and shine!” Jal’tai greeted him cheerfully—and loudly.

Jal’tai’s voice startled Solonn awake at once, and startled him badly. “Bwaaa!” Solonn shouted, flailing momentarily in confusion. He very nearly knocked the pancakes right out of Jal’tai’s talons; doing an admirable job at concealing most of his amusement, the latios backed up and watched patiently as Solonn untangled himself from the sheets.

I just had a glimpse of a slice-of-life fancomic where Jal-tai and Solonn are roomies

“It’s about to be,” Jal’tai said. “Anyway, you’ll need to get used to early mornings. You’ll need plenty of time each day for the lessons you’re to learn and the work you’ll be given, so the school day can’t afford to start late. You should be glad you’re going to be given such long hours. You’ll be able to get through your courses much more quickly than you would if you were taught at a more leisurely pace.”

Where Jal-tai is his Mom

I can absolutely imagine this ridiculous man (latios) like, coping with his abuser's guilt by writing doujinshis in his free time in which Solonn and him spend their lives in homely bliss. I can see it

“Is he gonna be our new teacher? Did you get fired?” asked Chibbles.

Good girl!

“Surprise!” shouted countless voices in unison.

For a very long moment, Solonn could only stare wildly at the mirage-human standing just inside the door. Then he shook off the black and gold flecks of paper covering him (most of them, anyway), spat out a few more, and demanded, “What in the world was that for?”

From now on there's no more self care in a mayor's life, my boy, only sycophantic socialisation with high society people. Get used to it!

“Sorry about the wait,” said a clefable with an acid-green fanny pack strapped around his waist. It was Cliff, who’d just entered the lobby from a nearby restroom; neither Solonn nor Byron had even known he’d been in there.

YES.

“Hello again, Zilag… and who’s this?” the man asked as his gaze shifted from Zilag to Solonn and lingered there, raising a single, ice-glazed eyebrow.

Your doom, step-father

I told you that I never really got to know your father. That wasn’t true, either; I knew him very well. His name is Grosh Argrosh, and

The shame of your father's name being Grosh Argrosh.

What they found there calmed their initial shock somewhat, but only increased their bewilderment. There, amid the debris of his explosive birth, a newborn male sat completely unscathed, nibbling daintily and serenely at a handful of the surrounding snow as though nothing out of the ordinary had just happened.

Little brother!

“We were hoping you could take him there when he’s ready so that your mother and I can go ahead to the temple. We’re wanting to get there as soon as possible so that we can get back and… try again,” Jeneth said, lowering his voice on those last two words.

Jen: O:^)

Solonn noticed a distinct look of unease on the snorunt’s face, which brought a concerned frown to his own. “Is something the matter?” he asked. He wondered if Jen had figured out that his parents were trying to give him a little brother or sister. Maybe the snorunt felt like they were replacing him or something. Maybe he just wanted Solonn to assure him that getting a younger sibling wasn’t the end of the world after all.

I love him

<Sadly, no,> Oth replied. <Though many have tried, none have succeeded in determining the origin of the Extinction.>

I don't know either, but I'm calling it. Blame Jal-tai for it

Side by side, Azvida and Jeneth entered the temple.

Glalie religious matters...

Their leader—the one who, according to Anzen, reprogrammed the minds of the children—is named Sanaika Val-Harka.>

Sounds like he never logged on to the real world.

He started berating himself silently for trusting them so readily when no one else in Mordial had been friendly toward him up to that point, but caught himself short. Come on now, don’t beat yourself up over it too much,he tried to placate himself. This might still work out. And you had to give it a try. You know you did.

He's just a big soft monster.

“I’m looking for someone named Valdrey,” he responded.

“Well, mission accomplished,” the aurrade said; Grosh saw the dark gray skin around her eyes crinkle in a way that made him wonder if she were smiling behind those faceplates. “Any particular reason you were looking for me?”

Badass...

This Valdrey sounds like an unexpected ally and, only Grosh would probably have thought to find her this way. Going around the island looking for someone who likes fighting so he can ask them for help.. When he himself is not such a small creature. I hope this region has good people who can still do things back at home.
 

Sike Saner

Peace to the Mountain
Praxiteles: Glalie have the misfortune of being my favorite pokémon. Bad Things tend to happen to my favorite characters/species. 8D See also: wobbuffet.

Funding for Jal'tai's ethically dubious experiments is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the financial support of viewers like you.

Really though, he's a psychic legendary and a master of disguise with, again, kind of loose ethics. He has his Ways.

Human!Solonn is up toward seven feet tall. I'm not going to disclose how "big" he is. I've put him through plenty. Whether or not he's attractive, well. That's very much in the mind's eye of the beholder. He's pretty sparsely described, so much of how he looks is up to the individual reader.

Granted, that'd be the case even if he weren't sparsely described. All my characters are open to visual reinterpretation.

This Guy Puts Just Fifty Elevator Music CDs And Nothing Else In Every Suite... And He Enjoys It

ACCURATE

"Old school melodrama" is one of the best phrases I've seen in a while and I'm very happy to have provoked it.

This is one of the strongest indications of how terrible Jal-tai's personality is.

Good eye. Very good eye.

I just had a glimpse of a slice-of-life fancomic where Jal-tai and Solonn are roomies

Oh my god fund it

I can absolutely imagine this ridiculous man (latios) like, coping with his abuser's guilt by writing doujinshis in his free time in which Solonn and him spend their lives in homely bliss. I can see it

FUND IT

And now it's chapter time. Onward!

______________

Chapter 32 – Allies


Crash.

A solid body was smashed against a stone wall. One of its horns snapped clean off, falling to the floor and rolling a short distance away. Ice cracked audibly, bits of it flying everywhere.

With the impact still ringing faintly in Solonn’s bones, he withdrew his horn from the side of his attacker’s head. He pulled back, panting, staring down at the broken form before him.

In the next moment, his victim dissipated into thin air.

“Well done,” Zdir said from nearby. “And that goes for you, too, as always.”

The other one she was speaking to was Oth. The claydol had been puppeteering the “glalie” against whom, or rather which, Solonn had been training, just as they’d been doing for him and the other fugitives in the months since Oth had volunteered the idea.

The ice dummies were conceived to reduce the amount of injury and need for recovery for the fugitives during their training, though they still included some sparring against one another to increase their elemental power. Though the glalie could manipulate the dummies themselves, Oth’s telekinesis was significantly stronger. It quickly proved better suited to making the artificial glalie move with the same speed and force as the real thing.

Oth was unquestionably grateful to be able to help out in this way. Solonn was glad for them, too, and not only because of their usefulness. Throughout all this time, the claydol still hadn’t regained the ability to teleport; being able to do another sort of good in the meantime was helping Oth finally stop blaming themself for that fact.

“I think that’ll do for now,” Zdir then said. “Back to the chasm, everyone.”

While Grosh had abandoned the place where he’d been waiting, the Virc fugitives and the claydol among them had stayed put for the most part, only venturing out of Grosh’s home to hunt.

They descended into the chasm a couple at a time as usual. Shortly after they’d all made it down, <I am receiving a report from Zilag,> Oth announced, at which everyone gathered around them, awaiting whatever news Oth had to relay this time.

Thus far, the news had largely been good. Zilag’s reports from Virc-Dho told that the Sinaji had stayed out of Virc territory since the initial attack. The Security Guild had indeed swelled their ranks, adding to the likelihood that the Virc would be sufficiently defended in the event of another strike. And while neither Zilag nor Hiledas were ready to assume the guild no longer monitored them, the authorities had avoided being overbearing about it.

After a few minutes, <A hunting party had an encounter with two exiles yesterday,> Oth told the others. <All of the Virc survived. Beyond that, there has been no trouble among the Virc.>

“That’s good to hear,” Zdir said.

“Yeah,” Narzen said. “Sounds like two fewer problems for us.”

The fugitives had dealt with some of the Sinaji themselves during their time up in Shoal Cave. They’d had a couple of run-ins with them during hunting excursions, which had left a couple among their number with some new scars and had partially depleted their already short supply of dried and frozen revival herbs.

On top of that, it had become clear that the chasm wasn’t as impervious to discovery as they’d hoped. A pair of Sinaji hunters, separated from the rest of their party and lost after a skirmish with a gang of walrein, had stumbled upon the hole in the ground and opted to descend into it. They’d been struck down almost as soon as they’d appeared, and once they’d been identified as Sinaji, their fate had been sealed.

Apart from Sinaji, the fugitives had neither encountered nor been visited by anyone. There’d been no run-ins with the Virc, guild members or otherwise, and no one from outside Shoal Cave had shown up, either. Questions of whether or not they could ever expect help from Convergence, from the ones who might still be holding one of the Sinaji in their custody, had come up more than once, but by this point no one really expected them to pitch in—assuming, of course, that they hadn’t already tried and failed.

Following the report from Zilag, the evening proceeded just as most evenings had since taking refuge in the chasm. The five glalie conjured ice for themselves and began conversing in lowered voices among themselves and with the claydol. At some point, “All right, let’s resume,” Zdir said. Everyone who wasn’t already hovering rose and gathered behind her to return to the cavern above for some more training.

She’d barely begun to generate the ice platform for them to ride on when she immediately dissipated it. No one questioned her actions. They’d all heard the faint voices coming from outside just as she had.

The tension in the chamber where the fugitives now warily and watchfully huddled together seemed to harden the air, making it difficult to breathe. Solonn stared into the adjacent room, keeping himself as still as he could manage, his heart pounding. Its pace only quickened at the sound of ice slithering down the walls of the chasm.

As every other glalie alongside him did likewise, he put a nhaza on standby, hoping to the gods that if it came down to his shot saving their lives, it would succeed. The rigorous training Zdir had put everyone through in the past several months was intended, among other purposes, to put the advantages of the elemental weapon into their figurative hands. They’d be likelier to withstand any attackers’ nhaza, and their own would be likelier to work. But since both the Sinaji and the Security Guild were well-trained, too, there was always the lingering doubt that it had been enough.

The fugitives waited for their uninvited guests to descend further, and Solonn disliked the suspense. He accepted it all the same, understanding well why they waited. It was better to get a clear line of sight before attempting to strike. Better to avoid knocking out whomever was generating the ice platform, in which case its riders could come crashing down before their innocence and what should be done with them could be determined. The intruders would be allowed to come down far enough to make getting back out—and taking knowledge of the fugitives’ location with them—more difficult.

A silver of deep blue light framing the lower halves of gray-and-white bodies lowered into view. The eyes watching it maintained their color, the turret-hands pointed toward the approaching intruders holding their fire. No sense in striking at shielded targets.

And then there the intruders were. Just a few feet away, three glalie in a triangular formation and a fourth actually sitting atop their heads were staring with wide eyes behind protect auras that were due to fade at any moment.

“Wait, don’t strike!” the foremost of them cried out. “We surrender! We don’t want to hurt you!”

“Oth,” Zdir prompted, not missing a beat.

<We must subject you to a psychic scan to verify your claims,> they said.

“What?” another of the intruders responded, sounding more than a little alarmed at that prospect.

But, “Fine, fine!” the one who was being carried said, nodding rather frantically, raising an unpleasant noise as the armor covering her belly scraped against that of the glalie beneath her. Then, as a few seconds passed with apparently nothing happening, “Are they done yet?”

“No,” Zdir said.

“Well, what are you waiting for?” the intruder who’d spoken first said, then winced as if she feared she might be pushing it. A second later, the intruders’ protect shields fell.

“That,” Zdir responded, at which Oth drifted forward. The rest of the fugitives kept staring at the intruders, ready to strike again at any moment.

Oth rose and stopped in front of the glalie who was still perched atop her party members’ heads, and said glalie made a valiant but not entirely successful attempt to conceal her unease at Oth’s presence. Solonn narrowed his eyes at her, hoping her discomfort wouldn’t lead her to try and attack the claydol.

Meanwhile a faint and familiar discomfort of his own reared its head, but it was fleeting. The scan was voluntary this time, after all, and the awareness that he still might have to strike in order to save Oth at any moment was taking up too much of his mind to allow much else to linger there.

Eventually, <Our visitors are Evane La-Zyar—> Oth pointed toward the glalie whom they’d just scanned. <—Viraya La-Zyar, Moriel La-Virj, and Alij Van-Zaria.> They swept a hand from left to right over the other three glalie as they named them off. <Evane intends no harm to any of us, and from her knowledge of the others, it appears unlikely that any of them do, either. They are all deserters. They have all fled from Sinaji territory, and all of them have expressed very strong disinterest in re-affiliating with them.>

Evane watched Oth as they moved backward away from her, then turned her gaze toward Zdir. “…Can I please come down from here?” she asked tentatively. “This is really rather awkward.”

The set of Zdir’s brows suggested that she was somewhat deep in thought, but nonetheless she spared a nod for Evane. Acknowledging this, Evane extended a sheet of ice downward between Moriel and Viraya’s heads, descending the ramp she’d just made toward the stone floor and then making it vanish in a cloud of vapor.

“You can come forward as well,” Zdir told the others, who did so a bit hesitantly.

“Will we need to have a scan, too?” Alij asked.

“Possibly,” Zdir said, “but probably not. For now, I’d like for you to tell me what finally convinced you to leave the Sinaji.”

“There’s something wrong with their leader,” Moriel said. Narzen made a derisive noise at her response; she ignored him. “He hasn’t been acting like himself. Not since they were invaded. Some enemies of theirs got in and out without anyone even noticing, and ever since then… I swear, the leader’s gone crazy. He’s been babbling something about ‘repayment for the blood of the Rannia’, whatever that means.”

“And something about the honor of the ‘Vanished Ones’. Maybe they’re the same thing,” Evane supposed out loud.

“Maybe,” Moriel said. ”All I know is that he didn’t even sound like himself anymore, and neither did the ones closest to him. And there near the end, before we got away, they were threatening us, threatening our lives. And they made good on it with some of us.”

“We’re not the first to try and get away from them,” Viraya said morosely. “Just the first to survive trying.”

No one said anything for a few moments after that. Then, “Understandable that you’d want to get away from such a climate,” Ronal said. “But I do find it troubling that knowing these people were involved in murders and kidnappings wasn’t enough to convince you that you should want nothing more to do with them.”

All of the apparent defectors turned toward him with what looked like genuine shock. “What… When the hell was this going on?” Moriel demanded.

“Right before that invasion you mentioned. Are you telling us you honestly weren’t privy to these doings?” Zdir asked.

“We had no idea,” Alij said hollowly.

“None whatsoever,” Moriel said. “You can have the psychic look in our heads again if you don’t believe us.”

“Sanaika and his gang have had a bad reputation in Virc-Dho for a long time,” Narzen said. “Surely you knew what kind of people you were involved with from the start.”

“Whatever reputation they had down there is news to us,” Evane said. “We haven’t lived in Virc-Dho since we were children. Not since the humans took us.”

“So that’s what became of you,” Zdir mused aloud.

“You knew they’d gone missing?” Solonn asked. But of course she’d had the means to know such things, he realized just as quickly. The Security Guild, and by extension the Council, had found out when he’d been taken. The same was probably true of all abductions.

“Yes. And I know the names of Virc-Dho’s exiles. None of theirs are among them. So,” Zdir said to the deserters, “I suppose when you finally got back here, you encountered Sanaika’s people first?”

“Yes,” Evane said. “A clefable brought us here—teleported us to just outside these caverns, under the sun. The Sinaji told us that Virc-Dho had become corrupt. That their leaders had been overthrown and anyone who acted against them was being attacked and driven out. There was a lot of fighting going on up in these caverns when we arrived, and the Sinaji told us we’d only be safe with them. Since no one else seemed to win when they took the Sinaji on, we believed them.”

“They trained us,” Moriel said. “Trained us in case the Virc showed up and we had to defend our new nation against them. We made them regret it.” She smiled, but there was something rueful in it. “We had to use every last trick they taught us, plus spring a few surprises we picked up on the outside. It was just barely enough… well, mostly enough.” The light in her eyes dimmed considerably. “Wasn’t enough for Kanjara, but…”

“Well,” Zdir said at length. “We are willing to provide sanctuary to you if you’re willing to accept it.”

“Yes, yes of course,” Moriel said; the other three nodded in agreement. “Thank you.”

“Now, considering the training the four of you have undergone, we’d also appreciate it if you were to aid us in any future confrontations with the Sinaji,” Zdir told them.

“Of course,” Moriel repeated. She lowered her head slightly, averting her gaze. “It’s… the least we could do.” She shook her head and sighed. “I regret ever having anything to do with them.”

“We all do,” Viraya said. “I’d definitely have liked to have given them more of a… parting gift, but… well, there were only five of us against nearly three dozen of them.”

“Three dozen of them and some unseen mind-controller,” Narzen said.

“I suspected as much,” Evane said, and she sounded distinctly uneasy. Her eyes shifted toward Oth. “It would explain why some of them have been acting so strangely.”

“The fact that we know next to nothing about their psychic—or whatever they are—is still a strike against us,” Zdir said. “But the numbers of the Sinaji… that’s welcome news. I’d allowed for the possibility that there could be thrice the number you’ve reported.”

“It’s a good thing there weren’t. We wouldn’t have had a chance if…”

Alij’s voice faltered, a look of vaguely troubled confusion on his face as, from above, a strange, continuous grinding sound came rumbling through the stone overhead. Solonn, Oth, and Zdir, meanwhile, looked notably less perplexed.

Eyes wide, Solonn shot a look at Zdir, feeling a thrill of hope surge through him. “Gods, that sounds like…” He couldn’t quite dare to finish the sentence. “Is it… could it be possible?”

<Conceivably. Perhaps he found a way to return somewhere in Mordial,> Oth said.

“What’s going on?” Evane asked, sounding concerned.

Solonn stared up toward the wonderful, presently invisible possibility that had just reared its head, hearing the sound slowly grow fainter as its source kept moving onward. He’s not coming down here, he reckoned, all but certain at this point that yes, he was hearing exactly what he’d hoped he was hearing. He didn’t doubt that they’d be able to track the source of the sound by its sheer loudness and catch up with it easily if it came to that, but he wanted to know if he was right about what it was, and he didn’t want to wait. ”We’ve got to go check it out,” he said.

“Agreed. Come on,” Zdir said with a dip of her head toward Solonn, then led him into the chasm leading upwards. Solonn promptly generated the platform that would lift them out, his eyes blazing and his heart racing as he willed it to ascend as fast as it could.

Please let it be him, please let it be him, please…

The two of them reached the top, and the sight that greeted them halted Solonn’s thought processes at once.

There was Grosh… and there was a small, multispecies army alongside him.

For a moment, Solonn could do nothing but gawk at the sight. Then, “Father!” he greeted him.

The steelix turned his head immediately, as did most of those who’d arrived with him. His face lit up like the sun. “Oh my God, you’re all right!”

The pokémon accompanying him parted as he turned and made for his son as fast as he could. Solonn had begun rushing toward him in nearly the same instant and soon reached him. He buried his face against the steelix’s chest, shaking with joy and relief, and as Grosh gently brought his coils around him in an embrace, he felt tears fall upon his head from above.

“Father… how did you get here?” Solonn asked.

“That’s how,” Grosh answered, nodding toward a lanky, red-furred biped with a long, skull-like face and a black mane. “Quiul here was kind enough to help round up these people for us and bring us here.”

Solonn met the gaze of the mercirance Grosh had pointed out. “I can’t thank you enough,” he said sincerely, the light in his eyes wavering. He’d had legitimate reason to wonder if he’d ever see Grosh again, and now here the steelix was. And Solonn recognized that maybe now, he could also be reunited with other loved ones…

“Oh, it was nothing,” Quiul responded with as much of a warm smile as her face could manage.

“I do hope one of you will consent to a psychic scan,” Zdir spoke up. Solonn looked up in initial disbelief… but then he followed her line of sight. There was a pack of unfamiliar glalie there. None of them looked particularly hostile, but that didn’t mean anything.

“I… what?” one of them responded.

“We’ve been under threat of attack from not only our own kind but collaborators of an unknown kind for months now,” Zdir said.

“Those guys are from Sinnoh,” the aurrade who stood next to Quiul said. “They’re here for the same reason we are: to make your enemies wish they were never born.”

“Valdrey’s telling the truth,” Grosh said. “She and Quiul spent most of the past couple of days getting these people together. I was with them the entire time.”

“I don’t personally suspect them,” Zdir said, “or you. But it would be irresponsible of me to not seek confirmation.”

“That’s fine,” said another of the newly-arrived glalie, drifting forward a bit. “I’ll volunteer.”

“Very well,” Zdir said. She turned an expectant look toward Solonn, who followed her back to the hole in the floor and descended with her.

“So what’s the situation?” Narzen asked them once they reached the bottom.

“We may have just received reinforcements,” Zdir answered him, “as well as access to teleportation and a safer place to stay.”

“Ha, excellent!” Narzen responded. Several of the others mirrored his enthusiasm in some way, particularly among the defectors.

“So it’s really happening, then?” Moriel asked. “We’re really gonna take them on?”

“So it would appear,” Zdir said. “But we do need to have one of them scanned first, just to be certain of what we’re dealing with.”

Wordlessly, Oth moved forward, accompanying Zdir and Solonn as they returned to the cavern above. Zdir indicated the glalie who’d offered himself up for scanning, and the claydol went to work at once. <This is Roskharha Nharitas,> they eventually reported. <He is not of this region, nor has he ever been here before, and the same is true of the rest of the glalie with him. They are soldiers of the Hirashka people.

<These are allies,> they said, and there was distinct hope and wonder in the tone of their mindvoice. <All of these people—> They indicated the entire crowd of various pokémon gathered there. <—are here to try and deal with the Sinaji.>

Zdir looked back toward Valdrey and Quiul. “We’ll aid you in your endeavor,” she told the two of them. “We and our new associates. They used to be involved with the enemy, and they’ve already yielded useful information about them. They may have more to offer us all.”

Valdrey tilted her head back, making a faint, intrigued-sounding noise. “Sounds like your people and mine could do with a good chat.”

“Yes, we could,” Grosh agreed. “I’d like to know how you’ve all been holding up these past few months.” He cast a look down toward Solonn as he said this, one that told that he hoped for the best.

For Jen too, no doubt. Solonn tried to put on a face that suggested good news on that front—they had, after all, successfully delivered him from the Sinaji, and as far as anyone was aware, he was still somewhere very safe. But he didn’t imagine Grosh would be happy about Jen being left behind, and he suspected the steelix was hoping to see him tonight.

It’s all right, Father. We might still bring him back very soon. With a teleporter available, there was a chance they could retrieve Jen in a matter of hours—though not as much of a chance as he’d have preferred.

Valdrey swept a glance over the room. “This doesn’t seem like the best place for that, though. Mind coming back to my place? It’s safe and spacious.”

“That sounds fine,” Zdir said.

<I will go inform the others,> Oth said, at which Zdir nodded in assent. The claydol drifted down into the chasm, and soon after they re-emerged, glalie began filing up to join the pokémon gathered above a few at a time.

Once they were all up, “Gather together, everyone,” Valdrey instructed them. When it looked as though everyone had, “Are we all ready?” she asked, at which everyone gave some form of confirmation that they were. “All right then, let’s go!” And with those words and a burst of light, the small crowd vanished from Shoal Cave.
 
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Praxiteles

Friendly POKéMON.
Crash.

A solid body was smashed against a stone wall. One of its horns snapped clean off, falling to the floor and rolling a short distance away. Ice cracked audibly, bits of it flying everywhere.

With the impact still ringing faintly in Solonn’s bones, he withdrew his horn from the side of his attacker’s head. He pulled back, panting, staring down at the broken form before him.

In the next moment, his victim dissipated into thin air.

Well, that's an ominous way to start a chapter :D

Though the glalie could manipulate the dummies themselves, Oth’s telekinesis was significantly stronger. It quickly proved better suited to making the artificial glalie move with the same speed and force that real ones used.

It makes sense, I think glalie's cryokinesis isn't 'kinesis' in the movement sense at all.

And then there the intruders were. Just a few feet away, three glalie in a triangular formation and a fourth actually sitting atop their heads were staring with wide eyes behind protect auras that were due to fade at any moment.

“Wait, don’t strike!” the foremost of them cried out. “We surrender! We don’t want to hurt you!”

Ha ha, arriving in the most ridiculous way possible to declare your harmlessness is probably the tactic I'd use. Or I'd enjoy being carried by a retinue idk don't ask me

Acknowledging this, Moriel extended a sheet of ice downward between Evane and Viraya’s heads, descending the ramp she’d just made toward the stone floor and then making it vanish in a cloud of vapor.

I didn't quite understand the reason for the entrance. The other three came down on an ice platform, right? Why did Moriel have to sit on their heads?

The steelix turned his head immediately, as did most of those who’d arrived with him. His face lit up like the sun.

On a steelix, that sounds like a sight to see.

<These are allies,> they said, and there was distinct hope and wonder in the tone of their mindvoice. <All of these people—> They indicated the entire crowd of various pokémon gathered there. <—are here to try and deal with the Sinaji.>

I'd have loved to know the stories/pasts of these people. Although now it'll have to wait until after the war, probably.

Valdrey swept a glance over the room. “This doesn’t seem like the best place for that though. Mind coming back to my place? It’s safe and spacious.”

Ooh, excited for this story!
 

Sike Saner

Peace to the Mountain
Praxiteles: HELL YES I TYPED THAT CORRECTLY ON THE FIRST TRY

Anyway. Yeah glalie/froslass/snorunt on the brink of evolving can manipulate ice to a point. They can shape it, they can make it "dance", etc. But if you want real force behind the ice sculptures, you'll want to get someone behind them who's a little more purpose-built to push things around mentally--like an actual psychic-type.

The four defectors wanted to descend together. As in, literally all at once rather than in waves on separate platforms. Since the average glalie has an *** five feet wide, there wasn't enough room for all of them to sit next to each other. Someone had to piggyback, so to speak. While minding three pairs of horns. Sucks to be her. Sucks also to be whoever all but had her butt in their face.

I assume.

Thanks for another read and reply!
 

Rediamond

Middle of nowhere
...ok, so if this ends up with a fight against a bunch of Glalie in Shoal Cave, with Jal'Tai manipulating them then I will 100% forgive the seemingly meaningless angles of the plot. I still think you could've spent a longer time in some places but whatever.

Yay, fakemons and Grosh are here. I'm a little confused how Grosh could know what a Swasbuck is, but not Dugtrio, but whatever. Irrelevant details are irrelevant. Kind of weird seeing that there are only ten chapters left. That's simultaneously a lot of time to set up one last fight and almost not enough time to resolve all threads? Look forward to seeing how you handle it.
 

Sike Saner

Peace to the Mountain
Rediamond: Luckily you won't have to look forward too much further; the next update comes this week.

As for Grosh, he knew what the dugtrio were, though he could only confirm that's what they were once they surfaced. Before that, he sensed ground-types were headed his way, but that was as much as he knew for sure until he actually saw them. I guess I could have made that a bit clearer, heh.

Thanks for the read and reply! :)
 

Sike Saner

Peace to the Mountain
Chapter 33 – Safe


The fugitives and their new allies all reappeared under a night sky, but there was a degree of harsh, artificial light shining upon them from nearby. Solonn initially winced, but soon he’d adjusted enough to take in his new surroundings… insofar as he could. He was partially surrounded by other pokémon, some of whom were taller than he was.

But he didn’t have to see much before he realized that he recognized this place. This was the Wisteria gym in Mordial. He’d been here before, back when he was traveling the world to spread word of the Convergence project. The gym had been lit by sunlight back then rather than by the few of its lights that still functioned, and there’d been humans dotting the bleachers, watching as the gym leader’s pokémon raced each other for fun on the track that ran around the actual battle platform.

“Welcome to Wisteria,” Valdrey said as the rather tightly packed crowd began dispersing a bit, the eyes of some of the pokémon sweeping the alien environment in curiosity or wonder or mild wariness. She stepped out in front of Zdir. “This is my home, and for as long as you have need of it, it can be your home, too.”

“Thank you for your hospitality,” Zdir said. She settled herself at the edge of the racetrack, and the rest of the Virc fugitives, along with Oth and Grosh, joined her there. Many of the other pokémon clustered off into little groups, as well. “Of course, I do have to wonder what inspired you to come to our aid.”

Valdrey shrugged, spreading her arms wide. “It’s just the kind of thing we do. Me and most of these guys here used to do this kind of work all the time back in the days after the Extinction. I guess we just never got tired of being able to lend a hand. Or, well. A figurative hand, in some cases.”

What the aurrade was describing sounded awfully familiar… “You wouldn’t happen to know an alakazam by the name of Sei Salma, would you?” Solonn asked her.

“Hmm… no, can’t say I do. What about you?” she asked Quiul.

“I’m afraid not,” the mercirance replied. “Sorry.”

“That’s fine,” Solonn said, supposing he shouldn’t be too surprised. It wasn’t as though Sei and her group of psychics were the only ones who could’ve come together and aid people in the wake of the Extinction.

“So I take it you—” Zdir nodded up toward Grosh. “—found her, or the other way around, and she took it from there,” she surmised aloud.

“Some locals directed me toward her,” Grosh said. “But yes.” He drew in a breath and let it out on something of a sigh. “I… regret not seeking help sooner than I did. I was just worried about not being there if you came back.”

“It’s all right,” she assured him. “No real harm came to us or the Virc as a result of your timing. They’ve been lucky these past few months.”

No sooner were the words out of her mouth than her eyes darted almost imperceptibly toward where the defectors were gathered together, and there was a hint of guilt in her expression. Solonn remembered Moriel mentioning one of their own not making it away from the Sinaji. He could only wonder if that person could’ve fared better if help had arrived sooner.

<I would nonetheless have liked to have been able to come back for you sooner,> Oth said. <Unfortunately, I lost my ability to teleport shortly after we rescued the abducted snorunt. We have yet to determine what caused this, and I have yet to regain the technique.>

“Hmm…” Quiul approached the claydol. “What you’re describing sounds rather like a case of spontaneous move deletion.”

Solonn’s eyes widened. That was a phrase he hadn’t heard for many years, not since the days of his involvement with the IPL. He’d heard of humans inducing the loss of techniques via artificial means, and he supposed he must’ve been told of it happening on its own, as well.

“Can it be cured?” Zereth asked.

“I can’t say for certain,” Quiul said. “All I know is that it’s not within my capability to heal.”

“It might be within the capability of the people at the Haven,” Solonn pointed out. “And… we might be able to get Jen back while we’re at it.”

Grosh frowned. “You didn’t get them back?”

“We did,” Zdir said, “but Oth’s teleportation misfired and then failed altogether before Jen’s memories could be recovered. He was left behind at the Haven.”

“Well then we’ve got to get him back!” Grosh said, throwing a glance at Quiul.

Solonn sighed. “It… might not be that simple,” he said. “Considering how long it’s been since he was left there, they might’ve decided that we abandoned him. Even if they haven’t, they’re not necessarily keeping him there. And even if we knew where they were keeping him, it might not be a simple matter to get him back.”

Grosh stared down at Solonn all the while as the latter spoke, and Solonn knew that whatever was going on behind those red eyes, it probably wasn’t acceptance. Solonn wasn’t fond of the way things were, either, nor was he especially fond of the way Zdir had told him to approach these complications back when he’d first recognized and spoken of them. But ultimately, he’d come to understand her position and agree with it.

“If it is, it is,” Zdir said, addressing them both and holding the two of them in her gaze as best she could. “We’ll bring Jen here. He’ll be safe. If not… he is, as Solonn has said, safe there, too. Safer than the Virc are in their own homes. We should do what we can for them first. We mustn’t delay them that help for much longer, and we mustn’t squander the time and generosity of our new allies.”

“I’m ready anytime,” Quiul said. “Just say the word.”

“Would it be all right if we could bring Zilag’s family here as well?” Solonn asked. “It would probably be a single trip.”

“Sure,” Quiul answered.

“See if they’re ready to go first,” Zdir instructed Oth.

Oth nodded in their fashion. A couple of minutes passed, during which a couple of the groups of gathered pokémon began conversing among themselves; then, <They are.>

“Very well,” Zdir said, and nodded toward Quiul.

The mercirance made beckoning gestures toward everyone who’d discussed retrieving Zilag’s family and Jen. But only Solonn and Oth moved toward her.

“I… think I ought to stay here,” Grosh said, though he sounded fairly regretful about it. “Jen’s obviously been through a lot since he was taken, and even though he knows about me, it might be a good idea for you to let him know well in advance that I’m gonna be here before he sees me. And… I don’t need to be in Virc-Dho again. Not even for a second.”

Solonn almost tried to reassure him on the first point, at least, but decided against it just as quickly. It made sense, he realized, especially if, gods forbid, Jen’s memories still hadn’t been restored and he had to learn about the massive steel-type all over again. As for the second point, he didn’t even think of arguing against it. Grosh would probably never be safe in Virc-Dho after what had happened, nor would he likely be comfortable there ever again.

“I’m going to stay behind, as well,” Zdir said. “There are a few things I wish to discuss with Valdrey and with the defectors; I might as well get to them.”

“I guess everyone’s ready, then,” Quiul said. “I assume at least one of you has been to the places we need to go?”

<Yes,> Oth answered. <I will transfer the memories to you at once if you wish.>

“Please do,” Quiul said.

As soon as the memories were transferred, “We’ll see you all later, then,” Quiul said, and then teleported away, taking Solonn and Oth with her.

* * *​

Solonn, Oth, and Quiul appeared in front of the Haven. They’d already made their stop in Virc-Dho to retrieve Zilag and his family and dropped them off in Mordial.

Though the family had agreed well in advance to leave Virc-Dho someday, it was clear when the time had finally come that they had their regrets about it. Months ago, Oth had raised the possibility that they could still live among their own kind, in some other nation, in the hopes that letting them retain some familiar element in their lives would make the transition easier on them. The Hirashka were perfectly willing to give them a home in Sinnoh. But while the family and especially Hiledas had latched on to the idea, the fact remained that they were still leaving their home and their lives as they’d known them behind. As they’d sat there, all at once in this alien environment and surrounded almost completely by strangers, their faces told that only now was the change they’d chosen truly sinking in.

Solonn felt for them, and as he entered the Haven with the mercirance and claydol at his sides, he hoped his newly displaced friends would be at peace with their new situation soon. At the same time, however, most of him was focused on Jen and Oth and the hopes, however cautious, that he’d be leaving Convergence tonight with the former at his side and the latter in full possession of all their powers once more.

The three crossed the lobby to the front desk, where a chansey sat watching them approach. “Can I help you?” she asked when they stopped before her.

<Yes,> Oth said. <We came here several months ago with eight snorunt who had suffered mental tampering and a glalie who was involved with the tamperer. One of the snorunt was left behind when I involuntarily teleported before his treatment was finished. I subsequently lost the ability to do so, voluntarily or otherwise. We have returned to retrieve him, as well as to inquire about our captive and to perhaps have my lost technique restored.>

The last item on that list was even more of a longshot than the first, Solonn knew. He’d recalled that there were once humans who could restore techniques just as there’d been some who could erase them, but he didn’t know if anything of that art had survived the Extinction. And similarly to the situation with Jen, if they determined that it would take too long to restore Oth’s ability to teleport, that restoration would be postponed.

“…One moment, please,” the chansey said, and turned her sights downward toward something on her desk and out of sight. “Teresa?” she said to what was apparently some sort of paging device there. “Could you come to the front desk, please?”

Soon after, another chansey arrived on the scene. “You came back,” she said simply.

Solonn nodded. “We never meant to leave,” he said.

“They claim something went awry with the claydol’s teleportation,” the chansey behind the desk said. “Something that caused them to teleport away with the others involuntarily and prevented them from coming back.”

“Have you been trying to teleport without any success all this time?” Teresa asked.

<Yes,> Oth said. <It is as though I never even knew the technique.>

“Hmm…” Teresa’s mouth drew into a thin line. “We might be dealing with a move deletion here,” she said. “We can run a couple of tests to confirm it, but in the event that your teleport technique has deleted itself, I’m afraid there’s nothing we can do.”

<We had anticipated as much,> Oth said, though they still sounded disappointed all the same.

“Hopefully we’ll be able to work this out. If you’ll follow me, we can find out.” Teresa began leading the way out of the lobby, and Oth, Solonn, and Quiul followed.

When they reached their destination, Solonn was expecting to find the same gardevoir there that he and the other fugitives had dealt with before. Instead a hypno stood behind that door, giving them an inquiring look. Teresa explained the situation to her, then motioned Oth into the room with the hypno, closed the door behind them, and began ushering the others toward a waiting room.

“What about Jen?” Solonn asked as he and Quiul followed her lead. “The snorunt who was left here,” he clarified. “My half-brother. Were his memories ever successfully recovered? Is he here?”

“I’m afraid the answer to both of those questions is ‘no’,” Teresa replied.

Solonn’s heart sank heavily. He’d dearly wanted the tampering to be undone, and the thought that he’d be greeted with confusion or disbelief or even fear whenever he finally reunited with Jen was hard to bear. Especially since it seemed likelier than ever that their reunion lay further in the future than he’d hoped.

“Is—” He tried to remember the gardevoir’s name but failed. “Is the gardevoir here? Can I speak with him?”

“If you’re referring to Adn, then I’m afraid that’s another ‘no’. He’s not here right now and won’t be back before the weekend is over.”

Solonn sighed, vaguely wondering just what, exactly, he’d hoped to accomplish anyway by talking with Adn. “Could you tell me where Jen is, at least?” he asked as the three of them entered the waiting room, turning to face Teresa directly as he spoke.

Teresa gave no response at first. Then she took a deep breath. “He was declared abandoned,” she told him. “He was placed in another’s custody, and I’m sorry, but we’re not at liberty to mention whose.”

Solonn stared at her. Their decision didn’t exactly come as a surprise, but he hadn’t expected to be barred from him so completely. “Is anyone?” he asked.

Teresa shook her head, insofar as she could. “I’m sorry.”

For a moment, Solonn couldn’t respond. The light in his eyes dimmed, and his throat threatened to close up on him. Then, “But… he’s safe, right? He’s being cared for?” He almost couldn’t continue. “…He’s happy?”

“I can assure you that he is,” Teresa said consolingly.

“…Good…” Solonn managed, very quietly. “That’s good… Now, what about the glalie we brought in, the one you called the authorities on?” he then asked. “Are you at liberty to tell us how that went?”

“Yes and no,” Teresa said. “I can tell you they didn’t really get anything out of him beyond his name and the fact that yes, he was involved with whoever altered the snorunt’s memories. He passed away in their custody before they could learn more, apparently of natural causes. I’m afraid that’s all I can say on the matter.”

Solonn’s eyes went wide, his brow furrowing over them. He’d suspected that they wouldn’t be getting much more information about the Sinaji from Anzen than they already had. It had sounded as though Oth had already found everything useful that Anzen actually knew during their scan. The reason why they definitely wouldn’t get any more now was rather more of a shock.

He pulled in a deep breath and released it. “Well, it… sounds like they can’t tell us anything we don’t already know,” he said. “Could you send them our thanks for trying, at least?”

Teresa nodded. “I most certainly could.”

She then gave the two of them a quick rundown on where certain facilities were before departing. Solonn watched her leave, then sank to the floor.

He heard Quiul sit down beside him. “Hmm… sounds a little fishy,” she said. “The whole business of your captured enemy perishing before he really had a chance to talk, I mean.”

“It does, yes…” Solonn agreed. “Though I don’t suspect the authorities here of any foul play. I’m… not really sure what I suspect, honestly.”

“I wonder,” Quiul said, “if perhaps a killing mechanism of some kind was implanted. Maybe by whoever brainwashed those snorunt. It could have been set to go off if he was questioned too rigorously about what these people have been up to.”

“I don’t know… It seems like it would’ve been triggered by Oth’s scan if that were the case. They learned more from him than the police did, from what I gathered.”

“Hmm,” Quiul said again, then shrugged. “Maybe it really was just an unfortunate coincidence.”

“Maybe.” Solonn sighed. “More questions. I’d hoped to come back with more answers. And I’d hoped to come back with Jen.”

“I’m sure you would. But the way things have turned out tonight doesn’t mean you’ll never see him again, you know,” she told him gently.

“I know,” he said, though in a way it still sort of felt as though he definitely wouldn’t. “I just… wish I could see him with my own eyes. I wish I could really confirm that he’s all right… insofar as he is. And I wish I weren’t being treated like I can’t be trusted around him, for the gods’ sakes.”

Quiul laid a hand upon his back. “Someday this will be sorted out.”

Someday… Solonn drew in a breath that shuddered slightly, hoping she was right.

Eventually, Teresa returned with Oth beside her. Solonn and Quiul both rose to greet her.

“I’m afraid it was move deletion,” the chansey reported once she and Oth had entered the room.

<It is all right,> Oth assured everyone present. <I do not need to be able to teleport.>

Solonn supposed Oth was right, especially with Quiul on their side now. Still, he’d have liked at least some of the night’s endeavors in Convergence to have succeeded. “Thank you regardless,” he said, “and give the hypno my thanks, as well. At least now we know for sure.” Teresa nodded in acknowledgment.

“I suppose that concludes our business here,” Quiul said then. “Unless you’re wanting to retrieve that glalie?”

“You’d have to speak with the police department about that,” Teresa said.

“I don’t think we have time for that,” Solonn said. “Zdir wanted us back as soon as possible.”

“Then we’d best not keep her waiting anymore. Thank you for your time,” Quiul said to Teresa.

“You’re welcome,” the chansey replied.

Oth joined Quiul and Solonn where they stood, and then the three of them departed.

After they’d vanished, Teresa stood there for a moment, blinking the lingering flash out of her eyes, then turned and left for elsewhere in the Haven. As she walked, she felt a strange sense of something being off, and not for the first time in the past few months.

She frowned at it, wondering if she should see Adn about it. But that would have to wait. For now, she simply carried on about her business, as did everyone around her.
 
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Sike Saner

Peace to the Mountain
Chapter 34 – Behind Enemy Lines


“So. This is it, huh.”

“So it is,” Solonn said, watching the racetrack not far below. Already pokémon were gathering there. Soon he would join them.

The past few days had flown by, but they’d been incredibly busy. With the aid of the defectors, the force now assembling to move out had constructed their plan of attack. Already, he could see it coming together. There were Grosh and Oth, along with a small team of fighting-types, all pooling their efforts to gather boulders, both conjured and found. There were Zdir and Valdrey with Quiul, most likely reminding the mercirance of her own roles in the mission.

And here was Zilag, and Solonn was about as certain as could be of what he was up to. “They say our chances aren’t too bad.” They’d said it more than once. He’d clutched those claims like treasures.

“I know,” Zilag said. “They really do seem to know their stuff. And you’ve got some great allies on your side. But… well, this isn’t really about them. It’s about you.”

He circled around to meet Solonn’s gaze. “I… think you’re gonna do just fine. You, specifically. You personally. I’m not saying you could take them all on your own. I’m just saying… well, I just want you to know that I believe in you, all right?”

Solonn didn’t doubt his sincerity, not exactly. But he could see the quiver in Zilag’s eyelight. The reassurance was for them both.

But he smiled all the same. It was the least he could do. “Thanks,” he said.

The noise amidst the bleachers had almost entirely trickled down to the track by this point. The mission would begin soon.

Sure enough, <Your attention, please. Your presence is requested at the stadium floor.>

“And there it is.” Solonn knew that Zilag wouldn’t have heard it himself. Zilag, as well as Hiledas, would stay behind with the kids. This was mostly because neither of them had undergone anywhere near the amount of training as the ones who’d be heading out—they wouldn’t exactly be dead weight, but their chances of surviving the mission were less favorable all the same. And nobody liked the idea of orphaning their children.

Zilag nodded in acceptance. He moved back around to Solonn’s side, clearing the way for him to descend. “Go make ’em pay, all right? I’ll keep you in my thoughts.”

If it happens, I won’t forget you, that might have also meant. Solonn couldn’t keep the flicker out of his eyes—just how much concern was Zilag holding back for his sake? But again he smiled, and he gave an assuring nod, and with all the confidence he could muster, “Will do,” he said. “Take care, Zilag.”

“You too, buddy.”

Solonn drew and released a deep, steeling breath, then closed the remaining distance down the center aisle, taking his place at nearly the edge of the gathering. Over the heads of the people in front of him, he could see Zdir and Valdrey standing atop a winner’s podium that had been raised in the center of the arena, with Quiul waiting on the steps leading up to it.

“I trust everyone’s here?” Zdir spoke up. Even as she asked, her eyes were sweeping the crowd as they confirmed their presence; she’d know just fine whether anyone was missing, as well as if anyone wasn’t paying due attention.

Apparently satisfied with her findings, “All right. Now, I don’t need to tell any of you why you’re here. I don’t need to tell you what we’re about to do. But I do want to emphasize the value of your contributions today.

“The Virc, by and large, will never thank you. They’ll never know what you’ve done and will do for them. But no matter how their leadership might deny it, I am still one of them. I am still Virc. And on behalf of my people, I want to thank all of you in advance. For the lives we save, for the minds we put at ease, I thank you. Gods go with us all.”

“All right, let’s go kick some ass!” Valdrey said, smacking her hands together with a loud clank of armor on armor. “Split up, folks; it’s time to go…”

At her instructions, the crowd parted swiftly. For the most part, the teams were already assembled, but fitting everyone into the general vicinity of the arena below had required some strategic positioning of some of the larger pokémon.

Consequently, Solonn had to pick his way through the crowd to join Zdir’s group. Grosh had been assigned to her team, as well, as if Solonn needed any help figuring out where to go. He took his place at the steelix’s side and soon found himself crowded against it as the rest of their team gathered close together in the loose semicircle marked by Grosh’s half-coiled body.

“Hey,” Grosh spoke up, at which six different faces turned toward him before following his own line of sight and figuring out whom he was actually addressing.

“Hm?” Solonn responded, still keeping his eyes trained upward as best he could; his horns and the close quarters made leaning too far back unfeasible.

“You’re gonna make us proud,” Grosh told him, a smile playing about his eyes. “Me and her both.”

Solonn’s eyelight flickered at the mention of his mother, and he averted his gaze. “I’ll certainly do my best,” he promised, and not only to those who were physically present.

“Of course you will,” Grosh said. “You’re your mother’s son. You’re gonna have not only your own strength on your side today but hers, too. She’s not gonna let anything else happen to her boys. And neither am I.”

The flickering intensified… but a smile, however faint, formed around it. Solonn didn’t doubt Grosh’s dedication in the least… and he was sure that if it was truly possible, Azvida would be lending her figurative hand in their mission, as well.

Solonn met his father’s gaze once more. “Thank you,” he said earnestly.

With the departing pokémon now divided almost cleanly in half, Quiul descended from the podium and insinuated herself into the group on the far side of the arena, taking her place next to Valdrey. In the next moment, a golden aura swelled around the other team and took them away in a flash of light. Seconds later, Quiul returned for the rest.

As she squeezed her way in among his team, Solonn caught himself counting the passing moments. Counting his heartbeats. He tried to treat it as a countdown—not to their departure, but to their eventual victory. Soon, he told himself silently, it would be over. Or this part would be, at least.

We will win, he told himself as he took one deliberate breath after another. We will make it. Still, as he and the rest of his team left Wisteria behind, those heartbeats grew no softer.

* * *​

The sunlight was more than a few minutes in the past now, replaced by the cold, blue glare of dozens of eyes. Most of their owners hung back, Solonn included, as Grosh, a gurdurr by the name of Thuras, and a pair of machoke siblings named Daran and Kala worked to block off one of the exits to the Sinaji’s territory with their gathered boulders.

This was just one of four such exits. Each of the teams had already sealed one apiece; separately, as before, they were tackling the last pair.

They’d encountered little resistance to speak of thus far: just a trio of guards at each of the exits they’d hit, all of whom now lay lifeless at their posts. But the team’s current task was not silent work. Stealth was hardly a priority in this venture. Avoiding confrontation was not their goal, not this time. It wasn’t a matter of whether or not they’d be noticed by Sinaji further in, but rather when.

There was nothing to do about that other than wait and keep a watch out for approaching trouble. Each of the teams was large enough to deal with being discovered, provided that the Sinaji didn’t bear down on either of them en masse—or so they hoped. So Solonn hoped, as he mindfully kept his eyes glued to the path leading inward rather than on his father, making a conscious effort to breathe steadily, holding a quick nhaza at the ready all the while.

Don’t jump the gun, he reminded himself. Fire when you have a reason to. No sooner.

Minutes passed, and no such reason came. Before long, “Got it,” Thuras announced. There was a momentary scraping of metal against stone as she retrieved her steel beam from wherever she’d set it down.

A few seconds’ delay; then, “So have they,” Zdir reported. With Zilag no longer reporting from Virc-Dho, Oth’s telepathic connection with him had been severed, and their connection to Zdir had been re-established.

“Come on,” she said, and began moving away from the now blocked exit. Her team filed out with her: nine glalie in the lead, herself included; the three fighting-types; Lirimi, an azumarill; and Grosh grinding his way along from the back, his heavy head looming above the procession. Quiul presently accompanied them, as well: a member of both teams, poised as she’d been all the while to teleport to the aid of either if needed.

The tunnel ahead of them came from the same place as the one leading to the fourth exit. There, they’d join the other team, and from that point they’d move forward as a unified force, able (they hoped) to withstand the full brunt of the Sinaji’s forces in a worst-case scenario.

Even though they could still only guess just what, apart from glalie, comprised those forces.

As they continued onward, Solonn gazed out over the heads of the ones before him, scanning for signs of life, friendly or otherwise, hoping his team would reach the meeting place soon.

The enemy reached it first.

The deep blue light of protect auras flooded the room. A volley of nhaza split the air, innumerable shots fired in unison—but not by Solonn, and as far as he was aware, not by anyone else on his side. He heard one body topple over, saw another—gray and muscular and roaring her lungs out—hurtle through the air on her own power—

—But never saw her land, forced to dodge a speeding glalie barreling right toward him. He wheeled about, his horn catching her as her shield fell; she hissed in pain and shrieked in fury. A number of other voices—one bottomless and all too familiar—cried and screeched and bellowed out in nearly the same instant.

There was no time to turn and find out why. His attacker returned the favor immediately, her horn slashing at his temple, narrowly missing his eye. He roared, and a fresh protect shield came to his summons as she tried once more to blind him. She shielded herself again in the nick of time, too.

Solonn caught her third strike with his horn, and for a few moments after, the two were locked in a fencing match, trying to get their horns past one another.

Then someone slammed into him from behind—he felt and heard something crack apart against his back, accompanied by a short, gurgling cry—and the force drove his horn deep into the eye socket of the glalie before him.

A burst of yellow light filled his vision as he wrenched himself free of the now-dead Sinaji. Nothing and no one caught him as his momentum threw him backward. He spun about in midair, regaining control of his levitation just in time to avoid plowing face-first into the glowing, segmented tail that fell to earth like a hammer before him, splitting the skull of the glalie below. Blood splashed against him, turning into a briefly-obscuring cloud of mist that cleared to reveal a torrent of flame roaring across the opposite end of the chamber.

Valdrey’s team had arrived.

Solonn didn’t stop to gawk at them or at what had become of the glalie hit by the rapidash’s flamethrower—not that he wanted to find out. He’d spotted Alij with a small horde of Sinaji all bearing down on him just as Alij’s aura failed him; without hesitation, Solonn charged to the rescue—only for the pair of glalie in his path to disappear into thin air as he struck them. Illusions!

Alij recognized this at the same time; he dealt a sweeping strike against the “multiple” Sinaji as they closed in, destroying a pair of double team clones and revealing their maker in one stroke. Solonn wasted no time in driving the identified enemy straight into the nearest wall. The Sinaji fell to the floor and didn’t rise again.

As Solonn leaned in to make sure the illusionist wasn’t playing dead, his massive frame glowing deep blue all the while, he noticed that the shouts and shots and cracks of colliding bodies were dying down. He turned and was met by a scene that calmed right before his eyes. The fight, it seemed, was over.

Easily more than a dozen glalie lay before him, their blood-mist heavy on the air. Some quivered slightly in place, still breathing, while others were plainly dead—some more plainly than others. He caught sight of one who looked as though they’d tried to swallow a bomb. He ripped his gaze away in an instant, retching in spite of himself.

Lirimi and Kala were down, too, against the wall near the Sinaji Grosh had smashed, their strange, opaque blood smeared across the floor. Quiul knelt before them, healing their injuries, while Daran watched her work, muttering to himself all the while. A prayer, Solonn supposed.

“Will they be all right?” Grosh asked from somewhere behind Solonn; the latter couldn’t help but glance back to make sure the steelix was all right. To Solonn’s immense gratitude, he was, from the looks of things. But the golduck standing at his side, with medicine-filled pouches belted to his waist, left Solonn wondering how long that had been the case.

Said golduck then offered Solonn a few berries for his own injuries, which he readily accepted. Within moments, he could feel the damage being undone.

Meanwhile Quiul wasn’t responding to Grosh’s question just yet, clearly focused on her work. When the multicolored aura surrounding her and her patients finally dimmed and vanished, “Yes… and no,” she answered. “You’ll live,” she said to the machoke and azumarill, “and you’ll heal. But not if you do any more fighting anytime soon.”

“I’m fine,” Kala insisted. She tried to push herself back up, but could barely get more than her upper torso off the ground before pain distorted her features and brought her back down with a snarl.

“No you’re not.” Daran laid a comforting hand on her shoulder. “Look sis… I know you’re worried about me. But I’m gonna be okay. I mean, look at us: we didn’t even lose any of our guys.”

“That’s… not true.”

Ronal’s voice carried a distinct and chillingly familiar gravity. Solonn didn’t need any further clarification on what had happened. It was only a question of just who had fallen.

The answer, he found, was Zereth. He lay face-up before Zdir, whose already dull eyelight was muted further still as she held him in her gaze. There was another dead glalie just a couple of feet away, whose face had been gouged so many times that they were completely unrecognizable.

“His killer,” Ronal identified; it seemed he’d followed Solonn’s line of sight.

Solonn looked away from the dead Sinaji, letting his gaze sweep across the room again in helpless, dreading curiosity over whether or not any of his other allies had suffered the same fate as Zereth. Oth thankfully hadn’t; they hovered near the center of the chamber with the luster of half a dozen cosmic powers making their dark hide glitter like the night sky, and no injuries that Solonn could detect. But they were only one of the people he was concerned about. “Was anyone else…”

“No,” Quiul said. “No one else but theirs…” She went quiet for a moment, staring into space. “Eight of theirs, to be exact,” she determined aloud. “And the ones still breathing have a long nap ahead of them.”

“There’ll be more.” Zdir turned to stare down an adjacent tunnel leading deeper into Sinaji territory. “This isn’t over yet.”

“It’s about to be,” Grosh said, and his spiked segments rotated restlessly. He shot a glare that seemed to burn despite its lightlessness at one of the still-living Sinaji, baring his teeth at him.

Solonn wondered just how many of the Sinaji had already fallen to Grosh alone. Not enough, no doubt. At least not as far as the steelix was concerned.

Even after all was said and done, even if they made it out of this alive and triumphant and none of their enemies survived, it might never really be enough for Grosh.

Quiul disappeared then, taking a very tired-looking Lirimi and a none-too-happy Kala with her.

Right before another rush of light filled the tunnels beyond.

Zdir and Valdrey’s forces promptly moved to intercept the incoming wave, to keep them bottlenecked at the entrances to the chamber. Several Sinaji poured in regardless before they could stem the tide, and a couple of them promptly burst into multiple illusory copies.

Solonn took out three of these in succession, then veered sharply out of the way as Haex the bisharp slashed a fourth into nothingness. His next target was solid; he felt the other’s armor shatter against his skull. Someone tore into his side as they rushed past; he hissed sharply but held his ground against the threat that chose to stick around.

The Sinaji he’d engaged lunged at him again at the first opportunity. Solonn lowered his face and took the impact in his heavily-armored head, then pulled back just far enough to rake his attacker’s face with his horn and fling him a short distance away with a toss of his head.

Solonn heard the Sinaji hit the nearby wall, but saw him come back for more. He spotted another pair of them coming at him from the right, but an ancient power barrage pummeled one of them into submission just as quickly. He threw himself out of the way of them both, then fired a nhaza at the already-injured Sinaji as he came to a stop. The attack hit its mark, its target dropping from midair at the impact.

<They are breaking through!> Oth called out. They launched more stones toward one of the tunnels, catching one of the newcomers square in the face, but she endured the assault well enough to unleash a parting shot before a steel beam upside her head brought her down.

Her ice beam caught Grosh in the midst of another iron tail attack. The silver glow faded from around the lower third of him, and he came crashing down, forcing Solonn and several others to scatter in his wake.

He’s alive, Solonn frantically assured himself, he has to be… He couldn’t afford a glance to confirm it, not with jets of something deep purple and foul-smelling peppering the floor bare inches away. He threw his shield up—only to take a toxic shot from another source somewhere behind him the moment it fell.

His hide tingled where it struck him, then burned. He hissed, then groaned as the poison started to kick in. Shaking it off to the best of his ability, he spun about to ram his assailant, hoping to spot Quiul somewhere nearby in the process. Had she even returned yet? Had she tried, only to be deflected back from whence she’d come by a body thrown or charging into her path?

Solonn felt the breath explode out of him as armor—both his own and his target’s—shattered at his heavy impact. The other glalie fell, eyes rolling back, and Solonn was sure he’d be following suit before too long if no one neutralized the poison, all too certain of what the attack he’d suffered had been. He let out a ragged breath, biting back a surge of nausea. His body wanted nothing more than to try and purge the sickness out and sleep off the rest… but the fight still raged on all around him. He was still needed…

He shook his head, trying to clear his mind, but to avail. Facing forward again, he saw two glalie—or one glalie and an illusion—charging him in tandem, horns first. In his delirium, he reacted on instinct, trying to raise a shield—but none came.

Then a powerful burst of water blasted the copy out of existence and its maker yards away. The golduck responsible dropped to a three-point stance in front of Solonn. Barely any sooner than he’d landed, he’d whipped a handful of berries out of his pouch.

He rapped on Solonn’s teeth with his free hand. “Open up, b—” He broke off mid-word to give the glalie he’d hydro pumped moments ago a second helping. But Solonn managed to get the message through the growing pain and illness, albeit barely. His jaws parted, but shuddered all the while; the golduck barely managed to get the berries past them before they helplessly slammed shut.

The last thing Solonn felt like doing right now was eating, but he had just enough sense left to force the medicinal fruits down. Their effects, while not instantaneous, were swift nonetheless; in no time, he was back off the floor, alert and well once more, his wounds no longer bleeding.

He saw something huge and reflective swing back up into view, with something blue darting away from him—Grosh had been revived. Hope welled back up inside Solonn, putting all the more fight back into him—he charged the next Sinaji he singled out full-force. Another caught the business end of his horn soon after.

The din began to fade out once more, and individual shapes became more readily discernible amid the chaos once again. Solonn dared to wonder if maybe it was all nearing an end. Then something new crept into his vision: snaking branches of ice invading the space surrounding them, growing and fanning out and dancing rhythmically.

He wasn’t responsible for them, and he doubted anyone else on his side was, either. Not wanting to find out what the enemy had in mind with the display the hard way, he tried to will it out of being. The branches began withdrawing quickly, very quickly, suggesting more minds than his own trying to override their conjurer’s control… but then halted in their retreat. They quivered, as if uncertain… and indeed, Solonn found himself no longer sure that he wanted their dance to end. A breath later, he was completely convinced that he didn’t.

As he stared, transfixed, at the hypnotic ice formation, he began to want something else altogether. Something far less benign.

His will to fight transformed. Vindictive anguish took its place, and it pulled his gaze away from the ice branches at last and redirected it toward the rapidash a short distance away until the brightness of the flamethrower erupting from the latter’s mouth forced him to close his eyes. But no matter. He was already locked on to his target, already blindly speeding toward the alien creature whom he now viewed as the enemy, as one of those responsible for the death of countless fellow Virc, the death of his mother…

And then his barely-thought notions of vengeance blew apart, and he could have sworn the rest of him was doing likewise.

He screamed so loudly that his voice gave out almost immediately, leaving him gasping and choking. His eyes screwed even more tightly shut, but he could still see blazing orange light stabbing into them. He dropped involuntarily, rolling onto his back and shaking uncontrollably, still fighting to breathe, his heart racing painfully. Only one coherent thought endured the onslaught: the raw, primal, terrifying certainty that he was dying.

Until it, along with all the pain, all the terror, and everything else, simply fell away.
 
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Sike Saner

Peace to the Mountain
Chapter 35 – Remnants


From out of the nothingness, a gentle pulsing came, nothing at all like the panicked hammering of his heart before everything had gone black.

A couple of beats later, Solonn realized that the sensation was coming from somewhere outside him, not within.

He subsequently realized that yes, he was still alive.

He opened his eyes—or tried to. They still stung terribly, making him hiss weakly.

“No,” a gentle voice instructed him. “Not yet. Let me finish with you first.”

Solonn fumbled about mentally for a moment, still very dazed, trying to remember just whose voice that was. The image of the mercirance it belonged to finally answered the summons. She made it… Even in the midst of all this chaos, she’d found her way back in.

Except… where had the chaos gone? He could no longer hear any signs of battle, couldn’t hear anything at all except scattered mutterings and the occasional pained sound from someone or another.

“There,” Quiul said, sounding a bit winded, “there. That’s the best I can do, I’m afraid. But you are stable, rest assured.”

At her words, Solonn dared to try and open his eyes again, and this time he managed to keep them open. No fighting greeted them, no colliding bodies, no stones or beams in flight.

“Is it really over?” he asked, his voice still terribly hoarse.

“Don’t know,” Quiul responded.

“God, I hope so. You had me worried out of my mind there…”

Solonn looked up, grimacing at the wave of dizziness that accompanied the motion. His expression softened as much as it could at the sight of his father looking down at him from above with tears shimmering in his crimson eyes.

The steelix’s expression, meanwhile, did nearly the opposite as he cast a glance across the room. More gently than he’d moved before, Solonn rolled to face forward and follow it, and he saw that rapidash there, talking to Valdrey about something. She was reassuring him, from what Solonn could hear of the conversation.

Quiul looked off in that direction, too. She sighed faintly. “Grosh… you do realize it wasn’t his fault, right? It wasn’t anyone’s fault but the one who hijacked his brain.”

Hijacked his brain… Just the same as what had happened to him, Solonn recognized. “They did the same to me,” he said.

“And to half of the rest of us. At least.” Valdrey’s voice and hoofbeats drew Solonn’s attention; he found the aurrade striding in slow circles around another glalie who was lying on the ground—a glalie like none he’d ever seen before. A row of spikes ran along each of the stranger’s brows, and while it was hard to tell for certain with their light extinguished, the eyes beneath them didn’t look blue.

“I see you’ve noticed our late arrival here,” Valdrey said. “We think he’s the one who made you turn on each other.” She gave him a little kick with one of her forehooves. “Fried his own brain in the process, though.”

“He was dead inside his own skull,” Quiul said, and she almost sounded pitying. Almost. “The rest of him just hadn’t cottoned on yet.”

That likely answered the question of what, and who, had killed the stranger. But a multitude of questions still lingered about him. He was a hybrid of some sort, Solonn suspected… but what sort of parentage could have possibly given him abilities like those?

Solonn gave the slightest shake of his head, sighing bitterly to himself. They’d known to expect a mind-controller among the Sinaji. They’d been prepared to prioritize any non-glalie they saw who wasn’t on their side. He would’ve never guessed that such a threat could come from one of his own kind.

And apparently he wasn’t the only one who hadn’t. “I’m so sorry,” Moriel said quietly. “I had no idea they had any such thing on their side—I’ve never seen a glalie like this in my entire life.”

“I don’t think any of us have,” Evane said. Alij and Viraya both shook their heads, confirming it.

<You are not at any fault,> Oth said. <There is much your leadership did not see fit to tell you.>

“That… that’s true,” Moriel acknowledged. But the way she still frowned uneasily at the hypnotist, guilt dampening the light in her eyes, told that she wasn’t entirely consoled just yet.

Solonn turned his attention away from the glalie with the spiked brows, and though his body and especially his head protested, he rose from the spot, intent on finding out just how much that oversight had cost them—more to the point, if it had cost him anyone he was close to.

The first such question he had in mind came with a welcome answer, at least. Once again, Oth had made it through all right. They leaned in midair against the wall near the tunnel Zdir’s team had entered through, their levitation a little shaky, but otherwise they looked just fine.

Solonn moved over to join the claydol. “How many?” he asked. That was as far as he could stand to elaborate on the question, and not only because his throat was still so sore. He hoped that the claydol and their many eyes could assess the situation, or had already done so, more quickly and thoroughly than he could or wanted to at this point.

<All but eleven of the Sinaji who entered this cavern have now been slain,> Oth reported, though their tone made it sound almost as much like a confession, <as well as five among our number.>

Solonn fought back an urge to do a quick head count. Too many bodies. Too much mist, drawn into his lungs on every breath… He tried to shake off the unbidden, imagined sensation of it seeping into his veins, consuming him from within. It came right back.

He shuddered hard. “Who?” he managed to spit out.

<Three of the Hirashka: Arkhiah, Ahsrishasa, and Ghirath. Alisari and Daran were also slain.>

Solonn felt his heart sink at that last name. He thought of Kala, waiting back in Mordial for her brother… who would never return. The preceding name clicked soon after, and the weight in his chest grew even heavier—Alisari was the golduck, the one who’d likely saved his life by neutralizing the poison. And the Hirashka soldiers, so willing to put themselves on the line for foreigners they didn’t even know—such a far cry from what the Virc forces would have offered them…

<Three others among us have been put out of commission,> Oth went on. <Zyuirilziurn, Taldira… and Zdir.>

Solonn abruptly turned to face the claydol. “How serious is it? Will she be all right?”

<Quiul gave a favorable prognosis,> Oth replied, <but her recovery is expected to take a considerable while due to her age.>

Her age. The shock drained out of Solonn almost all at once. Of course… of course she’d taken a beating. It was a wonder she hadn’t been killed outright, really. But with all she’d done for them, with all the time he’d spent training under her… even now, some tiny part of him was surprised at the reminder that no, she wasn’t invincible.

He spotted her across the room: she was sitting up with a visible effort. Zyuirilziurn the cryogonal and Taldira the feraligatr were at her sides, both looking worse for wear. She met his gaze—her eyes still glowing, thank the gods—and nodded toward him weakly, as if to silently confirm that she would indeed be just fine.

“Heads up, we’ve got company,” Valdrey called out, and nearly every eye in the vicinity turned toward her. Past her, hesitating just outside the chamber, there hovered another of those thorn-bearing glalie. This one’s eyes still burned bright, though their light flickered at the sight before them, and there was no question about it this time: they were green, luridly so.

Hooves were thundering and glalie were surging and a bellowing steelix was lunging toward the new arrival in an instant.

“No, stop!” she cried out, barely audible over the horde closing in on her. “Please, I surrender!”

“Hold it!” Valdrey shouted, and her voice was far louder and clearer than usual. A glance in her direction told Solonn that her faceplates had retracted, revealing her gray, humanoid face.

One of Haex’s armblades split the floor in front of the newcomer, making her dart several inches backward. Grosh brought his head very, very close to the green-eyed glalie, growling deep in his throat.

Valdrey began striding closer, waving pokémon out of her way, her luminous sword at the ready all the while. As she moved forward, Oth began following close behind.

“You’d best be telling the truth,” Valdrey warned the newcomer, her head tilted back to peer down at her. “Otherwise it’s gonna get a little hazier in here.”

The newcomer nodded, her whole body shaking as she met the aurrade’s gaze once more. “We’ll all surrender, I promise you. Just… please…” She tried to look at some point beyond where Valdrey stood, but it was clear that someone was in the way. “Let me see him, just one more time.”

“We will,” Valdrey said, “after Oth is done with you.”

“Oth? What…” Her green eyes flitted about, trying to determine who Valdrey could mean. “What are you going to do?”

“Oth’s just gonna have a little peek into your head.” Valdrey tapped at her helmet with her free hand for emphasis. “Just to make sure you aren’t trying to pull a fast one on us. I can’t speak for anyone else here, really, but personally, I’m not a big fan of liars.”

The newcomer’s eyes widened, and her mouth dropped open slightly. “I’m not lying,” she insisted, sounding more than a little offended. “There are so few of us now, and so many of you and your… your monsters…” Grosh snarled in warning at that, at which the newcomer flinched, but then she resumed her affronted stare at Valdrey.

“If that’s true,” Valdrey said evenly, putting a hand to her waist, “then you’ve got nothing to hide.”

“It’s in your best interests to allow this,” Ronal told the newcomer. “Your safety—your life—is on the line.”

Her face twisted, her eyelight wavering all the more as she hung there in place, still quaking. Finally, she closed her eyes and nodded in acquiescence.

“Have at it,” Valdrey said, extending an arm toward the newcomer.

Oth placed themself before her, silent and still in their work even as their subject hissed and shuddered. She only stopped doing so once they backed off, but even then she looked no more comfortable than she had since arriving there.

“So what’d you find?” Valdrey asked the claydol.

<Sathir is being sincere,> they confirmed.

Valdrey held the newcomer in her gaze for one last moment before sheathing her sword. “Then today’s your lucky day,” she said, “relatively speaking.”

The discomfort in Sathir’s expression turned to something distinctly bitter. “Can I see him now?” she asked coldly.

“He’s all yours,” Valdrey said, and stepped out of the way.

Sathir drifted forward, casting distrustful looks at the unfamiliar creatures among the small crowd of glalie. She soon came to a stop, sinking to the floor before the dead hypnotist. A hiss shuddered through her gritted teeth, then gave way to sobbing.

“Someone you knew?” Narzen asked. His tone told that he’d already guessed the answer.

Sathir looked to him with disgust written all over her features. “I don’t owe you any more answers,” she said, her voice hitching mid-sentence. But then she sighed, turning back to face the fallen glalie again. “But you’ll just take any answers you want from me, won’t you.”

Before anyone could affirm or refute that statement, “My mate,” she informed them, “and the father of my child.” She sighed again, more bitterly this time, lowering her head. “There are so few of my people left in this world. Even fewer now, thanks to you.”

“Hey now. It was his bright idea to try and brainwash all of us at once that landed him in that position,” Narzen said.

Sathir’s gaze shot back up, and she leveled the sort of wild, furious stare at him that suggested she wanted to call him a filthy liar. But it quickly faltered. “Damn it, Averin…” she said almost voicelessly to her lifeless mate. “I told you not to try it…”

“Well, he didn’t listen, I’m afraid,” Valdrey said. “He really should’ve kept that little trick to himself.”

“You all should have,” Solonn spoke up. “Why?” he demanded. “Why did you do this to my brother? He doesn’t even recognize me now.” The lines of his face hardened with anguish, his eyelight going shaky. “He’s been stranded across the ocean, and if I ever see him again…” He drew in a rattling breath that turned to stone in his throat. “…I’ll have to tell him that both his mother and his father are gone. Because of you. Why?” he hissed again, his eyes momentarily blazing.

Sathir wilted almost imperceptibly under his gaze. She swallowed audibly. “It was never supposed to go this far,” she said in a brittle voice. “When we sought refuge with the Sinaji, we had no idea how dangerous they were… They were outcasts, like us. We thought we were one and the same, or almost the same… We were stupid,” she spat.

She lowered her head again. “We began bewitching a few of them, their leaders… just enough to make them safe company. We used their territory as sanctuary from the Virc, with the Sinaji as guards… but at some point, that ceased to be enough. We became resentful of the Virc for making us live the way we do, the way we have for generations… the fact that so many of us never hatched and so many have been born sick and stayed sick… All at once, we were waging war on the Virc, using the Sinaji as our soldiers. The Virc children they captured for us… would’ve joined them.”

Solonn just stared agape at her as she sat there shaking, at a loss for words in the wake of her confession. Those children could’ve been sent to kill members of their own families, or to be killed by them. He might have been forced to take Jen’s life—and with the latter having surely evolved in that scenario, Solonn might’ve never known that the blood on his horns was his half-brother’s, that it would’ve been his fault that he and Jen would never truly reunite.

The thought of what his mother would think of that came to mind, and he snarled. “Where are the rest of your people?” he demanded.

Sathir hesitated to answer, still shaking.

“We will do them no harm, provided they agree to surrender as you have,” Quiul said. It sounded as though she were genuinely trying to sound reassuring, but her tone was missing a little of its usual warmth.

“Whereas you’ll harm me if I don’t give them up,” Sathir surmised aloud.

“No,” Valdrey said, shaking her head. “You surrendered, fair and square. We won’t change our minds unless you do.”

Sathir looked from one alien face in the crowd to another, still silent as she assessed the situation. Then she rose. “Follow me,” she said quietly, and began to return from whence she’d come.

Everyone else present began filing after her immediately, with Valdrey directly behind her. Solonn could see her hand move to hover near the hilt of her weapon as he moved out himself.

They proceeded in this fashion for some time, finally arriving at a very thick, opaque ice wall. Four Sinaji hovered before it, and wasted no time in shouting in alarm at the approaching pokémon.

“Silence,” Sathir commanded wearily. “They’re allowed to enter, all of them.”

The guards didn’t argue. Nothing about them suggested that any of them even thought to disagree. Most likely “bewitched”, Solonn guessed.

The four of them moved aside, lingering against the walls. “Stay there,” Sathir ordered them; then, “Remove the barricade,” she called out to whomever was beyond it, “and don’t be alarmed.”

There was a delay before the barrier showed any changes. Muffled, uneasy-sounding voices could be heard*from the tunnel beyond. Then, slowly, the wall came down.

“There they are,” Sathir all but whispered. “The last of the Rannia.”

Within the chamber that was now revealed, two other glalie like Sathir huddled against the far wall. A very small snorunt, her eyes as green as the rest of the Rannia’s, leaned against one of them, looking very listless. A third Rannian glalie hovered a bit closer to where the barrier had stood, but the look on her face suggested that she’d forgotten why she’d come forward.

And with them, staring in bewilderment, were Sanaika and Kashisha, with a number of blue-eyed and plainly frightened snorunt hiding and shaking behind the two of them and another pair of Sinaji.

Not taking his eyes off the strangers for even a second, “Sathir… what the hell is going on here?” Sanaika demanded.

“Party’s over,” Valdrey responded. “Your forces are down, save for you—” She swept a hand across the room, indicating the entire enemy presence therein. “—and those four out there. Your hypnotist friend here has surrendered unconditionally. I’d follow suit if I were you.”

Kashisha gawked openly at the crowd, shocked or furious or both. Sanaika just stared in silence for a moment, an unspoken dare to contradict Valdrey etched into his features.

“It’s true,” Sathir said sullenly. “We have to cooperate. If we don’t… Look at them, Sanaika. My family can’t defend themselves against such creatures. They’ll slaughter us.”

“Maybe they can’t,” the Rannia who still hovered in the middle of the room said. Her eyes were wild and blazing, and her jaws quivered in the gaps between words as if itching for something to sink their teeth into. “But I can, and you can, and…” She shook her head fiercely. “No, I… I can’t give in. I won’t give in!” A snarl of erratically-twitching ice tendrils burst into being around her, forcing nearly everyone around her to leap or dart out of the way. “I won’t—”

There was a sound like a small thunderclap, and down she went, alive but insensible. Her ice sculpture vanished into vapors in an instant under the control of another now, any hypnotic command it might’ve carried extinguished before it could really take root.

Sathir gazed upon her with pity for a moment, then moved toward Sanaika. “I need to know if you’re going to do this of your own accord or if I’ll have to make you do it. I don’t want to, but I will if you leave me no choice.”

“I’m not answering that question,” Sanaika said. “Not until I know what’s going to become of us if we surrender. We die if we keep fighting; do I understand correctly? The kids, too?”

<No,> Oth said. <The snorunt pose no appreciable threat. They will be relocated, as will any of you who agree to our terms.>

“Speaking of the snorunt… were these stolen, too?” Narzen asked.

“No, they most certainly were not,” one of the other Sinaji said. “How dare you even insinuate such a thing; these children belong to our people and always have.”

“Mind letting us confirm that?” Valdrey asked, signaling Oth to move forward once more.

“Just say yes,” Sathir said wearily.

The Sinaji who’d spoken hesitated at first, but then nodded, closing her eyes. Moments later, <These children were not kidnapped,> Oth said.

“That’s good…” Moriel said.

“So you’re… going to take us away… Where?” the fourth Sinaji glalie in the room demanded. “Do we get any say in the matter?”

“You can come with us to the Hirashka nation, if you wish.” Roskharha came forward, at which a couple of his surviving countrymen cast uncomfortable looks his way. Solonn did likewise—the thought of these mind-controllers and dangerous exiles headed for the same destination as one of his best friends and the family thereof didn’t sit very well with him at all.

“Captain… are you sure that’s advisable?” one of the Hirashka asked.

“They’re few enough that we can handle them. Yes, the green-eyes, too,” he answered preemptively; Sathir glared and hissed at him in response. “We’ll involve the Sisterhood if need be.”

“Hopefully that won’t be necessary,” another of the Hirashka said, and gave a faint shudder.

“It’s up to you,” Valdrey said. “Do you wanna move to Sinnoh with these nice, gracious glalie?”

<You may not get another opportunity to live among your own kind in the foreseeable future,> Oth pointed out.

“…I’ll go,” Sathir said. “And my family will go with me.”

Sanaika exchanged glances with Kashisha, at which she gave a melodramatic sigh that made her opinion of the circumstances all too clear. Nonetheless, she nodded in assent.

“Fine,” Sanaika said, “fine. And I suppose we have to leave right this instant?”

“Sounds good to me. What does Zdir think?” Valdrey asked.

There was a brief silence as Oth consulted with Zdir—if indeed she was still in any fit state to respond at the moment. Apparently she was; <Zdir is in favor of this course of action.>

“Roskharha?” Valdrey prompted next.

“I’m ready,” he responded.

“Quiul? You up to another jump right now?”

“I’m up to several more, if it comes to that.”

“That’s good—I think it’ll take at least two. Wouldn’t want you working yourself to a twitching heap,” Valdrey said. “Thuras? Go tell the boys back there to round up the live ones so we can head out.”

The gurdurr gave a quick nod and headed back down the tunnel at Valdrey’s request.

Sathir, meanwhile, had drifted off to join the three Rannia who were still awake. “Mother? Father? We have to go with them.” She spoke very slowly and deliberately, as if concerned that they wouldn’t understand her otherwise.

“Have they returned?” her mother asked, her somewhat pale eyes unfocused, her tone awed. “They’ve come to deliver us; the Vanished Ones have come to…”

Sathir held her tongue, apparently waiting for her mother’s ramblings to resume, but they did no such thing. “No… no, this is someone else. Our… our new saviors.” She didn’t bother to conceal the bitter sarcasm that accompanied those words, but it seemed lost on both of her parents.

“Oh… all right,” her mother said, then began moving unhurriedly toward the invaders along with her mate; not missing a beat, Sathir conjured a cradle of ice to catch the infant who’d been leaning against the former. The cradle rose on a stalk like a sprouting plant, then moved forward to lay the child down on top of Sathir’s head and shifted to secure her there.

Sanaika moved forward next, with Kashisha grudgingly following. The other Sinaji glalie in the room shepherded the snorunt along to join them, with some difficulty; some of the children were still too terrified to move at first. Solonn couldn’t help but regard them with pity—they hadn’t asked to be here, and they’d had no hand in the Sinaji’s crimes. They probably weren’t even aware of them.

It’s over, he told himself. They don’t have to be afraid anymore. None of us do.

Or so he hoped. Trusting it… was harder. He wanted to believe that yes, the Hirashka and their “Sisterhood”, whatever that entailed, could keep them in check, and that the Sinaji who had yet to wake up would cooperate just as the ones in this room had. That Zilag and Hiledas and their daughters would be safe. But with no way to know with absolute certainty that they would, true comfort eluded him.

To say nothing of the effect that a certain loose end remaining in Convergence was having on his ability to really, truly feel as though the struggle were over.

It was then that Thuras returned. “Job’s done,” she reported.

“Good. Go back and stay with them, all right? We’ll be back for the rest of you here shortly,” Valdrey said.

As Thuras departed the scene once more, “Gather together, everyone,” Quiul instructed, motioning toward everyone present to draw closer. The Sinaji and Rannia complied, though not quite in unison; a couple of the children resisted up to nearly the last moment. Once they and everyone else were finally corralled, the former territory of the Sinaji disappeared from view in a golden flash.

* * *​

“And you’re sure that’s all of them?” Hiledas asked.

“All of the survivors, yes,” Solonn confirmed. “Oth made sure of it.”

Across the field in a snowy valley in Sinnoh, the remnants of the Sinaji—minus two of the survivors of the initial battle, who’d refused to be taken alive and who’d subsequently been dispatched by Sanaika himself—muttered to one another and surveyed their new surroundings with varying degrees of apprehension.

“I’m sure they’ll be kept in line just fine,” Zilag assured her. Even as he spoke, however, he eyed Kashisha uneasily. That, Solonn imagined, was a reunion his friend would’ve rather avoided.

“So now what?” Zilag asked. “Are you gonna stay here with us, too?”

Solonn’s thoughts briefly drifted elsewhere, his eyes following soon after. His geographical knowledge was a bit rusty after so many years between him and his schooling, but he suspected that Hoenn lay in that direction.

He and Zilag were of very different minds when it came to seeing their siblings again.

“Ultimately,” he finally answered. “But first… I have to go back to Convergence. I have to find him.” He didn’t bother to elaborate. He knew he didn’t need to. “Even if we have to live apart from now on… I want to try and give back what was taken from him. He deserves to know that there’s something left of his family, his real family.”

Zilag smiled. “I had the feeling you’d say that. I wouldn’t mind going with you and getting a better look at that place, you know? From what I remember, it was pretty crazy, heh. In a good way,” he clarified quickly. “But… yeah. I’d really feel better sticking close to my family right now, all things considered.”

“Of course,” Solonn said, nodding in understanding. He rose. “I’ll go find out if and when Quiul’s ready,” he said, “and let the relevant parties know where I’m going. I suppose this is goodbye, for now.”

“Suppose so. Goodbye, and good luck,” Zilag said, at which Hiledas echoed his farewell and Ryneika attempted to do so.

With that, Solonn set off in search of Quiul. But before he got very far, “Um… hey. I overheard what you were talking about there, and…”

Solonn turned and saw Moriel there behind him. Alij, Evane, and Viraya were with her. “Yes… what of it?” he asked.

“We were wondering if you’d be opposed to us going with you,” Moriel said. “I mean… from what I understand, there has to be some sort of funny business going on where your brother’s concerned. First he mysteriously can’t be cured of his bewitching, and then the Sinaji you brought over there mysteriously dies? Something’s up.”

“Something is very likely up,” Solonn agreed, and as he zoomed out from his goal in this endeavor and looked more intently at the process that might be involved in getting there, having these people accompany him started to look like a good idea. Possibly a very good idea. Having very many more than that was probably ill-advised—the Hirashka nation would do well to have at least a little more than a skeleton crew keeping a watch over the Sinaji and the Rannia, Sisterhood or no Sisterhood. But surely, or hopefully, they could spare a small handful.

“You’re absolutely welcome to join me,” he said. “Thank you.”

“It’s the least we can do,” Moriel said. Evane nodded in agreement, while her sister and Alij looked on in silence but showed no signs of dissent.

Solonn began leading them away, but not toward his original target. He was all in favor of having the defectors accompany him back to Hoenn for a bit, but a bad idea was a bad idea, and on the chance that pulling them away from here counted as one, he decided to seek a second opinion.

When he reached the person he’d had in mind, he found a potential third opinion there along with her. Good. Roskharha sat there by Zdir’s side, the latter still looking somewhat weak but clearly stable and on the mend.

“Yes?” Zdir inquired hoarsely, taking in the small pack of glalie that had come before her.

“We want to go back to Convergence for… well, for an indeterminate length of time,” Solonn told her. “But… only if the people here can spare us.”

Zdir gave Roskharha a questioning glance. He sized up the would-be rescue party for a moment, seemingly in thought. “I’d say so,” he finally decided.

“Go and get your brother, then,” Zdir said.

Solonn lowered his head, relieved. “Thank you,” he said, and resumed his search for Quiul.

By the time he caught up with her, he’d run into both Oth and Grosh. Upon informing each of them of his plans, they’d requested to go with him and insisted upon going with him, respectively.

After confirming that the Hirashka nation and its new citizens could afford their absence, too, he’d agreed to their wishes, and now the lot of them hovered or coiled before Quiul, with Solonn ready to ask for her assistance.

But she beat him to the punch. “Let me guess: you’ve all got somewhere you need to go, right?” she asked a bit playfully.

“Yes,” Solonn said. “We need you to take us to Convergence, if you would. Jen’s still there, and he might still need help recovering his memories.”

“Well… I’m afraid I’m not much use to you where the latter’s concerned,” Quiul admitted. “But as far as the former goes, sure thing.”

<If I might make a suggestion…> Oth spoke up. Everyone turned to face them. <I think we would do well to establish a link between the two of us,> they said, pointing a turret-hand toward Quiul. With less need for Zdir to dispense orders to her forces now, the claydol was no longer telepathically connected to her, thereby freeing up the link for another. <We would thereby be able to call upon you when we are ready to return.>

“Was just about to suggest the same thing, actually,” Quiul said. “And don’t worry: I can keep the ghostliness to myself just fine,” she assured them.

<I had no doubts that you could,> Oth said. If they actually did have any, they concealed that fact very well.

Quiul made a beckoning motion, and Oth apparently interpreted the prompt correctly; <It is done,> they announced.

“Okay then, away we go…” Quiul said. And with that, she transported them all to Convergence, and to the hope of undoing the last lingering crime of the Sinaji.
 
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Sike Saner

Peace to the Mountain
Chapter 36 – What Was Lost


It wasn’t the first time Solonn had been in Convergence in recent memory, but it felt like it all the same. Possibly because, for the first time in years, he was out in the open, looking upon its streets and landmarks directly rather than through a window.

Directly, and with his own eyes.

“Okay, this… this is not what I expected somehow.”

Solonn turned toward Evane and the others who were now left alone with him, their teleporter already back in Mordial. That’s right, he acknowledged, they’ve never been here before. The issue wasn’t an unfamiliarity with human civilization; he knew that much. If anything, it was the familiarity of the place that was throwing them off.

“Weren’t expecting it to be this human, were you?” he asked.

“Well… no,” Evane said. “I mean, from the way you described it, with pokémon wandering about and doing human jobs… it didn’t really sound like any human place I’d ever been.”

“It’s not like most other human places in general,” Solonn told her. Which was still true, he suspected. This city was being maintained by the pokémon trained to work here, but the majority of human cities probably looked more like Wisteria, or worse.

He heard heavy metal armor grinding against the pavement and turned to regard Grosh. “Guess we might as well start looking, right?” the steelix said.

“Guess so,” Solonn replied, though he had no solid idea of where to begin.

Echoing his thoughts, “Where should we start?” Alij asked. “Where you left him’s probably out, I’d imagine.”

“Probably,” Solonn agreed; Jen’s new keepers had almost certainly taken him home by now. Or keeper, if the suspicions that he and the others shared were true. The more he’d thought about it, the harder it had become to believe that the gardevoir from the Haven had truly been unable to restore Jen’s memories. Why he’d chosen not to, however, was still anyone’s guess. “We’ll come back to the Haven if we must, but I strongly suspect he’s elsewhere.”

“Right. So I guess here’s as good a place to start as any,” Moriel supposed aloud. She swept a glance down the avenue. “This way, maybe?” she asked, nodding toward one of the closer streets.

“You can go that way. I think the rest of us would do well to split up,” Solonn said. “But we won’t go alone, any of us,” he quickly amended. “We’ll go in pairs, and then the remaining three can go together.” Not that they’d be much less vulnerable if they were cornered that way, of course. But they’d be less conspicuous than they would in a unified search party, and possibly quicker and more effective. Which would likely do Jen a favor, as far as Solonn was concerned. The sooner his brother was extracted from this mess, the better.

“How does that sound?” he asked the others.

Grosh made a rumbling sound. “I don’t know,” he said, rotating a few of his segments. “I don’t think I like the idea of leaving you alone with God knows what going on around here.”

“Then you can come with me,” Solonn suggested.

“I meant all of you,” Grosh said. He looked down at the small crowd of glalie and the lone claydol with unease. “After all you people have done for me, and for her memory… I’d just hate for something to happen to any of you that I could’ve stopped, you know?”

Solonn didn’t respond, other than to avert his gaze slightly. Yes, he understood. But…

<We do have a better chance of finding some sign of him if we split up,> Oth spoke up, unwittingly sparing Solonn a few breaths and a bit of guilt. <If the ones who are keeping him see us coming all at once, they will most likely anticipate an attack and flee. With all of us moving in the same direction, they could simply keep fleeing.>

“By that reasoning, we should all go in separate directions. No pairs, no trios,” Viraya said.

“Huh. All right, then. We’ll have a vote,” Moriel suggested. “All in favor of each of us going alone?”

Viraya nodded without hesitation. Alij followed suit soon after.

“All in favor of all of us sticking together?”

“Aye,” Grosh said.

“All right, and all in favor of us splitting into small groups?” Here Moriel cast her own vote, inclining her head. Solonn did likewise, and shortly after he did, “That’s four in favor of small groups. The majority wins.”

“Hold it,” Grosh said. All eyes shifted his way. “You’re talking about pulling random people off the street and questioning them. How do you know you can trust what they say if you don’t have them to confirm it?” He dipped his head toward Oth.

That, Solonn had to admit, was a valid point. Especially with the possibility of a rogue psychic in the picture, who could be making people believe things that weren’t true. Oth could not only detect lies but also signs of mental tampering. Their abilities might prove vital in obtaining actual leads.

But a solution, or the closest thing to one that he could think of, occurred to him quickly. It occurred to Evane, too; “We’ll just have to bring anyone who’ll cooperate to a meeting place,” she said. “Oth can scan them all once we’re finished for the day.”

“It’s not ideal,” Moriel said, “but I think it’s going to have to do.” She glanced around, thinking; then, “Let’s meet back here when we’re done, okay?” she suggested. Most of the others nodded in agreement, and almost no one raised any objections.

Almost no one. Grosh grumbled again, louder this time. But he circled around the crowd to Solonn’s side all the same. “Take care of yourselves,” he pleaded with the others. “Please.”

“We’ll do our best,” Evane promised. “Come on, sis,” she said, and Viraya began following her away. Moriel and Alij paired off soon after.

<I will be accompanying the two of you, then,> Oth said to Solonn and Grosh, <assuming neither of you mind.>

“It doesn’t bother me at all,” Solonn said. Nor did it surprise him, really.

Beside him, Grosh shook his head in reassurance, and Oth took that as their cue to move the rest of the way forward. With that, the three of them took off, avoiding the streets the others had chosen.

Traffic was light, relatively speaking. Lighter than Solonn remembered it being during this time of the evening. He wondered how many of Convergence’s surviving citizens had given up driving since the Extinction. Or for that matter, how many had simply up and left the town.

There were still plenty who hadn’t, though. Some were presently strolling or floating down the street by their own power, and nearly all of them stopped in their tracks to take note of the noisy metal serpent grinding along past them. The three took those opportunities to ask the locals if they had any leads where Jen was concerned, but thus far, none of them did.

They seemed less unnerved by his presence than the Virc had, at least. Considerably less unnerved, in fact. Only one of them actually had any noticeable adverse reaction to Grosh’s presence: a joltik who took refuge in a nearby trash can.

“You don’t think…?” Grosh began, letting the question hang.

“No, I don’t.” Odds were the poor little bug*really was just terrified of the relatively gigantic creature who’d just shown up on the scene.

<I will check regardless. The joltik may still know something valuable.> Oth waited for an opening, then drifted across the street to speak with the frightened bug. Solonn saw tiny blue eyes and a bit of yellow fuzz poke out from under the lid after a few moments. Shortly after that, Oth returned.

<The joltik has seen no one of your kind prior to our arrival, nor does she know anything about a shiny gardevoir,> they reported.

“We’ll keep asking around,” Solonn said. “This isn’t exactly the biggest city in the world. There’s probably at least someone around who’s seen something.”

Whether they realize they do or not. Oth hadn’t found any signs of tampering in anyone they’d questioned thus far. But that didn’t mean they wouldn’t. In fact, the more Solonn thought about it, the more certain he was that if they did find someone who knew anything, that fact would only come to light after digging through a pile of implanted memories.

With one last glance back at the trash can—the joltik was finally emerging, and noisily at that—Solonn carried on, as did the others. Fewer people than he would’ve preferred crossed their path as they continued their search, but it was a large enough sample that at least one of them should’ve been able to help out. So he figured, at least, as he finally signaled to the others, with no small measure of disappointment, that it was time to call it a night. The streets were only growing emptier by the hour. There was little else to do for now.

As they slowly neared the meeting place, the fact that they had nothing to report was plain before any of them even said a word. The same was true of the other two teams already waiting there for them.

“No luck, huh,” Moriel surmised aloud.

“None,” Solonn confirmed.

“If it’s any consolation, we didn’t have any, either,” Alij said. Then he grimaced a little. “What am I saying; of course that’s no consolation.”

“We’ll find your brother eventually,” Moriel assured Solonn. “And that gardevoir. I swear it.”

Solonn met her gaze, trying to show at least some comfort at her words. “Thank you,” he said, and managed a weak smile. She had a point, really. The search had only just begun. They still had a chance.

“Hey!” a familiar voice called out from somewhere behind the party. It was Evane, and her sister wasn’t the only one at her side. A sceptile was jogging alongside them, looking slightly winded but still managing a strange, placid smile.

“You found someone,” Solonn said, eyes wide. So he hoped, anyway. There was still one last thing that needed doing to confirm it.

“We did,” Viraya said. “This is Sylvan. She works at a place called the Hope Institute… and according to her, Jen is a frequent visitor.”

The sceptile nodded. “He hasn’t missed a meeting in weeks,” she said, sounding a bit breathless.

Solonn had never heard of the place in his life. It must’ve come up at some point after the Extinction, he figured. “If Jen goes there regularly…”

“We’d do well to hang around the place,” Grosh said, sounding more than a little eager.

That eagerness proved infectious; a tentative sort of smile made it to Solonn’s eyes. “Yes. Yes we should.”

“But first things first,” Moriel said, and she glanced meaningfully at Oth.

Oth parted from the rest of their team and moved toward Sylvan. <There may be a psychic pokémon interfering with our search,> they told her. <I will need to check your mind to ensure he has not interfered with you.>

“You certainly may,” Sylvan said, with a dismissive wave of her hand and no signs of trepidation on her face. “I’ve nothing to hide.”

Oth got to work with no further delay. Before long, their eyes opened and they moved back. <Her memories and perception have not been altered,> they assured the others, <and her words have been truthful.>

Hope welled up inside Solonn. “I think we have our lead, then.”

“I think so.” Moriel turned to face Sylvan. “Would you mind if we went back to your… institute with you? We want to check it out for ourselves.”

“And we want to be there when Jen shows up again,” Grosh added.

Sylvan clasped her hands together and smiled warmly. “I would be delighted to have you around. Our president would be more delighted still.”

Several icy brows rose at this. “Your president?” Solonn said. Who could that be? And why would he be so glad to have them in his institute?

The possibility that somehow, the gardevoir was involved with this place—that he might even be the ‘president’ Sylvan spoke of—reared its head, and Solonn felt a good measure of his hope turn to unease.

Oth, it seemed, was having similar thoughts. They rattled inscrutably to themself for a moment, half their eyes closed. <We wish to learn more about your president,> they said. No one contradicted them.

The sceptile nodded toward the claydol. “Very well. You were bound to discover the truth eventually.”

Now what did that mean? Solonn eyed her warily as Oth initiated another scan. The sceptile was being incredibly complacent about all this, even moreso than anyone else they’d encountered. Was she leading them into a trap?

Oth jerked back suddenly, all of their eyes snapping open. They made a sound that would have probably come out as a gasp if they actually breathed.

“What is it?” Solonn asked, concerned.

<It… it is not possible… and yet…>

“What isn’t possible?” Alij asked.

Moments passed before Oth could pull words together. <Her memories tell that the president… is human,> they said, and were instantly met with incredulous and skeptical looks and astonished gasps. <Nothing at all within her mind contradicts it.>

No one responded to that right away. No one could. “That can’t be possible…” Evane finally said, nearly whispering.

“But it is,” Sylvan assured her. “And it’s the reason why he needs you. There are some who would do anything in their power to purge the last remnants of humanity from the world. He will ask you to guard him and his beloved institute.”

The glalie all exchanged looks. Disbelief was still plain on many of their faces.

<We would do well to investigate,> Oth said. Whether or not they kept that message from Sylvan, Solonn couldn’t tell.

At any rate… he had to agree with them. Whether or not there really was an actual, live human at the Hope Institute, the fact remained that Jen frequented the place. This was the sort of opportunity they needed. Especially if the president hadn’t always been human.

Solonn shuddered hard, hoping with all his heart that they weren’t dealing with someone who could forcibly change a person’s form. Gods knew he didn’t want to go through that again. And he wanted Jen to go through it far, far less. “We’d like to speak with the president,” he said, his voice cracking a bit mid-sentence. He swallowed, trying to relieve his dry throat. “Can you take us there now?”

Sylvan nodded again. “Of course. Right this way…” she said, then turned back from whence she’d come. Evane and Viraya flanked her as she left, and the rest moved to follow with next to no delay.

As they followed the sceptile through the streets of Convergence, Solonn couldn’t help but look around to see what else about the city had changed from what he’d known. The answer, as far as he could tell, was nothing at all, apart from the reduced traffic and lack of human presence.

“Oh, wow… Have a look at that.”

No sooner were Moriel’s words out of her mouth than Solonn saw exactly what she was talking about. In the middle of the plaza they were now crossing, a rather large bronze sculpture stood conspicuously, shining in a way that told that it hadn’t been there long. Certainly not before the Extinction.

Solonn knew for a fact that he’d never commissioned a statue of his human self, alongside one of Jal’tai’s mirage and another of a porygon2, during his time as mayor.

He looked away from the sculpture, feeling oddly self-conscious of a sudden, and tried to fix his sights on the path ahead, with no real success. His eyes, or at least his wishful thinking, kept catching glances of suspiciously-sized, conical shapes here and there. He couldn’t help but shoot them second glances. But most of them revealed nothing, and the only exception had nothing but a pylon to show him.

Just as Solonn was beginning to wonder when they’d arrive at the institute, another unfamiliar sight came into his vision: a sprawling, single-story building that frankly looked as though it had seen better days. As they drew closer, he could make out the writing on the crude sign plastered above its large, metal doors; “HOPE”, it read, in hand-painted unown-script.

Is this really the right place? Solonn couldn’t help but wonder, only to feel his doubts weaken just as soon as they’d come up. Of course their president would be conducting his work in the most unassuming place he could, if there truly were people who’d object so strongly to him. Of course he wouldn’t want to draw too much attention—whether he was truly human or not.

Sylvan rapped on the door a few times; seconds later, they slid open, pulled aside by a hitmonlee waiting within. “It’s them,” the sceptile told him. “They’ve come to meet with the president.”

The hitmonlee sized them all up, his eyes finally traveling up the length of Grosh’s neck. He whistled, though how was anyone’s guess. “That’s some crew.”

“Yes,” Sylvan agreed, nearly grinning. “He’s sure to welcome them.” She turned to face the visitors once more. “Come, right this way,” she said, and motioned for them to follow her into the hall beyond.

The path they took was long, much moreso than Solonn had anticipated. The building was even larger than it appeared on the outside, it seemed, and its internal layout gave him the impression of something designed to confound intruders.

Eventually, “And here we are,” Sylvan said as she stopped before a pair of doors. At her words, they opened of their own accord. Beyond them was a sizable lounge, at the far end of which was an armchair presently facing the wall.

There was a click, and a number of tiny, red lights came to life on a number of devices encircling the perimeter from above. Cameras, from the looks of them—or turrets, the thought occurred to Solonn, at which his unease and suspicion spiked.

It seemed he wasn’t the only one to take it that way; “Mind explaining why you’ve got guns turned on us as soon as we show up?” Grosh growled from the hallway outside.

“They’re not guns,” came a voice from the general direction of the chair—a voice speaking a glalie-language, Solonn realized, and the alarm bells went off inside his head once more.

“They’re cameras, and they’re only gonna be a problem for you if it turns out you’re actually a pack of terrorists bent on keeping our world human-free,” the voice went on. “I trust that’s not the case?”

<That is correct,> Oth assured him.

“And I trust your agent has been honest about what you are?” Solonn countered, trying to sound composed despite his growing fear. He didn’t quite pull it off.

The person in the chair gave a laugh. “‘Agent’? Sylvan’s just a greeter. I just didn’t happen to have anyone else on hand at the moment other than Cain and Skrekt, and those two have their hands full around here.”

“Anyway…” Here the speaker turned the chair around with an audible effort. “Whew… I really need to see about getting a better chair. Anyway, Skrekt told me you’ve got a claydol with you… and yep, that’s a claydol, all right. They can check me out if you still need proof I’m on the level. Just try not to go poking around in my dreams, all right? Some of those are kinda embarrassing,” he said with a self-conscious little laugh.

Solonn just stared at him and kept staring, his jaws parted, his eyes very wide. Yes, he still needed proof that this man was as he seemed. Moreso than ever, now, with what looked for all the world like a human face, a human being, standing before him: a person with chin-length, reddish-brown hair and wide, bright brown eyes that almost made him look eager.

Almost. There was something a little off about the man’s expression, as if he weren’t accustomed to making that face.

Wordlessly, soundlessly, Oth moved toward the impossible creature. The human—if indeed that was what he was—sat back down, giving the claydol the go-ahead by way of a thumbs-up. Seconds of silence passed, followed by a faint and distinctly awed-sounding utterance from Oth as they drifted slowly backward from their subject.

<Sylvan was right…> they confirmed, and their mindvoice sounded every bit as amazed as their true voice. <He is human. He has always been human.>

“Sylvan’s not really the lying type,” the human said. “and neither am I. At least not where friends are concerned. Or potential friends.”

Solonn relaxed visibly, letting out a breath he’d been unwittingly holding. At the same time, part of him wondered what had compelled Oth to make certain the president had never been anything else. Even after all this time, Solonn still hadn’t told them about what had been done to him in Convergence, about the body he’d been forced to wear for nearly half a decade. After all these years, he still hadn’t felt like talking about it. He’d barely wanted to think about it, though of course he’d done so regardless.

They might’ve suspected that he was wearing a mirage of some kind, the thought occurred to him. Or that he was a ditto. Though the latter seemed unlikely, if memory served him with regards to what he’d learned about ditto during his own time as a human. Apparently ditto could only maintain a perfect disguise in the presence of the person they were copying. The president probably hadn’t seen another human being in a long time.

Probably. Solonn shook his head, trying not to get caught on that question. Maybe other humans had survived. He couldn’t know for sure yet. But thanks to Oth, he could at least trust that there was one such survivor here—one who hadn’t been forced into that form.

The president stood once more and offered his hand to the claydol, who floated nearly stationary in place for a couple of moments before letting one of their own hands float free for him to shake. “The name’s Sylvester DeLeo,” he said, “and I’d like to think we’re gonna be real good friends from here on out.”

“I think we’d all like that,” Moriel said, “but… well, I think I speak for everyone here when I ask: how? How the hell are you still alive?”

DeLeo shrugged. “Don’t know. That’s part of what we’re here to find out. If whatever killed off the rest of humanity is still out there, it won’t do us any good to bring ’em back if we can’t provide them with some kind of immunity. We think I’m the key to that, some way or another. We just haven’t figured out how yet.”

For a short time, all Solonn could do was sit there and digest what he’d been told. It was almost too much to make sense of at once. But Oth’s vision had never steered them wrong before. What they saw was certainly true…

But wait. Wait. The rest of what DeLeo had said finally clicked properly, and if Solonn weren’t already goggling at him, this would’ve done it.

“When you say ’bring them back’… what do you mean by that, exactly?” he asked tentatively.

DeLeo gave a strange, sort of wistful smile. “Do you believe in the afterlife?” he asked.

Solonn felt his heart skip a beat. He can’t be suggesting what it sounds like. It’s not possible… “…I do, yes…” he finally responded.

“Well, that makes two of us, and then some.” His smile grew both wider and shakier. “We’re not just trying to whip up a fresh new batch of humans. We want to bring back the old ones, too. After all… don’t they deserve another chance?” He swallowed audibly. “I think they do,” he said, softly but resolutely.

A heavy silence hung over the room and the hall outside for several moments. “…So do I,” Grosh said, his bottomless voice cracking like split stone. “I’d be honored to help protect you and your mission.”

Solonn finally pulled his gaze away from DeLeo to look up at his father. Tears were already shimmering in those red eyes, ready to fall at any moment, and Solonn got the immediate, heart-wrenching impression that Grosh hadn’t had humans in mind when he’d voiced his support—and he immediately sympathized with the steelix.

It was very, very difficult to believe that anyone could raise the dead. But gods knew Solonn wanted to believe it. He wanted to believe, difficult as it was, that he’d be able to tell Jen that yes, he’d see his parents again someday.

“So would I,” Evane spoke up. Her tone was hard to read. Her sister nodded at her side. Gradually, the rest of the party gathered their wits again and voiced or otherwise showed their own agreement, Solonn included.

DeLeo’s cause was almost certainly hopeless. But defending it would get them close to Jen, at least.

DeLeo took a deep breath, his eyes glued to the floor for a moment. “I’m glad to hear it,” he said as he lifted them again. “You’re not just gonna be guarding this building, you know. You’re not just guarding me, either. You’re gonna be guarding the future of humanity. The future that should’ve been. Thank you,” he said earnestly. “From the bottom of my heart.”

“Thank you, as well,” Solonn felt obliged to return. Gods, if there’s any chance at all this could work… All the faces that he, and Grosh, and Jen, and who knew how many people might see again swam before his mind’s eye, making the light in his own eyes flicker.

He tried, but failed, to shake them out. Don’t get your hopes up, he warned himself, feeling a knot build in his throat as he spoke silently. Not all of them.

“So… when do we start?” Alij asked.

“When do you start? Right now, if you’re ready. Of course… we do have some very sensitive research material here. Including but not limited to yours truly. What that means is I have to stay here twenty-four-seven. And as my guards, well… so will you, for the most part. Are you up to that? Got anyone you wanna spend a little quality time with before you move in?”

Solonn averted his gaze awkwardly. Most of the living people he’d want to touch base with were so far removed from his life at this point that they’d just miss him more if he suddenly showed up on their doorstep only to promptly leave. The rest were either right there in the room with him or could be reached via Oth and Quiul. “I don’t,” he said.

“None of us do, unless I’m mistaken,” Evane said, and no one argued with her.

“So I take it that’s a ‘yes’, then,” DeLeo said, at which he was met with a wave of affirmative responses. “All right, then. I’ve got a few rooms that, combined, ought to be able to hold you all. Yes, even you,” he said, pointing to Grosh. “And don’t worry: I’ll keep the AC running for you,” he added with a wink. “Sylvan, if you could show them to their rooms, please?”

“Of course,” the sceptile said, then began to turn back toward the corridor behind them.

“Wait,” Viraya spoke up before anyone else could follow her. “One more question.”

DeLeo spread his arms wide. “Shoot,” he prompted.

“…How in the hell do you know our language?” she asked. “In all my time among humans, none of them could speak it. They couldn’t speak any pokémon language.”

“Even she couldn’t,” Evane said quietly, and her tone and eyelight told that a part of her had drifted elsewhere and elsewhen.

DeLeo gave another smile; this one seemed less sad and more proud. “I’ve got years and years of studying under my belt,” he answered. “I practically busted my brain trying to cram it all in. But it was worth it, in the end, to be able to talk to anybody I want. Or, well, almost anybody,” he added, and that smile turned slightly wistful again.

Solonn raised a brow at him but said nothing. Oth had proven that DeLeo wasn’t a transfigured pokémon. And it sounded as though the human had learned whichever pokémon languages he happened to know the hard way rather than by the Speech—if his words could be taken at face value. Solonn reckoned that if push came to shove, Oth could investigate things again. They could make sure DeLeo had never been in league with a certain latios or anyone else with similar ambitions.

For the time being, as Solonn finally followed Sylvan away with the rest of the party, he silently reminded himself to keep his own linguistic talents under wraps.
 
Last edited:

Sike Saner

Peace to the Mountain
Hello and welcome to February's one and only update!

That's right: from here on out, this will update monthly rather than biweekly--even I think the latter was too darn often. So yeah, look for the next on the 1st/2nd of March.

The next after this one right here, I mean.

______________

Chapter 37 – Easy Come, Easy Go


Training for the job was remarkably light: just a tour of the place, really, with restricted areas pointed out so the new security staff would know where to keep the public from going.

Keeping them from entering about half of these areas were voice-activated doors, which only DeLeo could open. Or so he thought, of course. But Solonn had no intentions whatsoever of enlightening him, nor much of a need to sneak in. He knew what was behind those doors—they all did. DeLeo had shown them, with assurances that all of the unfamiliar equipment therein would help bring about the revival of humankind in some way or another.

Said equipment included a holding cell of some kind: a large, round platform that turned into a transparent, glowing tube when activated. “For detaining troublemakers,” DeLeo had explained. Which, Solonn had supposed, was a sufficiently digestible answer. But something about the cell still made him uneasy, and it didn’t take him long to figure out what.

Solonn had his own memories of a holding pen made of energy. A time when he’d been judged a “troublemaker” himself, to put it very mildly.

He hoped DeLeo had a milder punishment for anyone who landed themself in that tube than the pokémon center back in Lilycove had intended for him.

As the first assembly he’d be working at approached, thoughts of his personal mission began crowding out all others; he all but forgot all about DeLeo’s cell. When that evening finally arrived, the possibility of an imminent reunion intruded upon his thoughts to the point where he vaguely wondered if he might forget to do his job.

Said job would have him watching the youth assembly, keeping an eye out for people who didn’t belong there. He was to escort any such people to the adult assembly, or to DeLeo’s feet in an unconscious heap if necessary. He was also charged with informing Cain about the hitmonlee’s own tasks for the evening.

To that end, he headed toward the room set aside for the youth assembly, rounding the corner that would take him backstage. The space beyond the curtain was quiet, for now. At any moment, the children would start filing in.

And he could very well be among them.

Solonn shook himself back into the present with an effort. He soon found Cain with one hand holding a cup of something orange and the other flipping through a stack of papers. The hitmonlee put both down when he noticed the large shadow looming over him from behind.

In the blink of an eye, Cain turned on his heel to face Solonn. His eyes were wide, but whether or not he was actually startled was hard to tell. “Shouldn’t sneak up on people,” he said. “Just because no one here would split your skull for it doesn’t mean the same’s true everywhere else.”

“Noted,” Solonn said, wincing a bit. “Sorry about that.” He glanced at the papers on the table—from the looks of them, at least some of them detailed tonight’s lesson plan for the kids. Does he already know?

Just in case he didn’t, “I take it you’ve already gathered that you’ll be addressing the crowd tonight,” Solonn said, nodding toward the curtain.

“Yeah, that hasn’t been news since this morning.” Cain reached back to retrieve the cup, then drank from it. Or appeared to, anyway. He held it more or less where Solonn would expect a mouth to be, and it certainly sounded like he was taking a sip, but as far as Solonn could see, there was no mouth there.

Solonn had yet to raise any questions about that, and wasn’t about to start now; both he and the hitmonlee had better things to do. “Were you aware that you’ll be doing so alone?”

Cain lowered his cup once more. “…No. No I was not.” He ran a hand back over his head with a faint rustling of short fur. “So are we skipping the puppets tonight, or…?”

“As far as I’m aware, no.”

Cain sighed, but not heavily. “I’m never gonna be free of ’em, am I.”

“Can’t say. But I’m sure you’ll do fine,” Solonn assured him.

And not a moment too soon. The doors beyond the curtain opened audibly, and chattering voices could be heard alongside footsteps and flapping wings and slithering bodies. Automatically, Solonn peeked out into the audience, hardly daring to breathe as he scanned the small crowd of pokémon for snorunt.

Five such scans later, Solonn got the sinking feeling that Jen wasn’t going to be showing up tonight after all. Disappointed, he slipped back behind the curtains and slunk off to the side of the stage, concerned that maybe Jen was home sick.

He saw Cain step out onto the stage, the stack of papers now clipped to a board under his arm. Seconds later, the hitmonlee leaned back through the curtains, gesturing for Solonn to join him. Nudging his way out past the side of the curtain, he glided over toward where the hitmonlee stood looking over his papers again.

“Yes?” Solonn called out to him from a couple of yards away to avoid sneaking up on him this time.

Cain tore his eyes from the page. “Closer,” he said, half-whispering. “Don’t need them hearing.” He threw a glance into the audience.

Solonn complied, wondering what Cain would want to keep a secret from the kids. Part of him began to mildly dread an awkward discussion. Can’t that sort of thing wait?

“Okay,” Cain said in the quietest voice he could muster, “okay.” After casting another furtive glance into the audience, “…Do you think I could get away with cutting the puppets from the program?”

That… was not what Solonn was expecting. “Er… that depends on who you’re trying to sneak the changes past. Is it Mr. DeLeo or them?”

Solonn looked at the crowd himself on those words—and then all but forgot what he was talking about. There, toward the doors, a snorunt and a wobbuffet were making their way further into the room. And even at this distance, Solonn was sure he recognized that snorunt.

“It’s him,” he whispered, eyes bright with joy and relief.

“Uh… were you listening there, buddy? I said it was the kids I was asking about. But…” Cain sighed again. “It really probably isn’t such a good idea to just spring that on them. ‘Hey kids, no more puppet pals!’ Yeah, that’d go over real smoothly…”

Cain, it seemed, had made up his mind. Good. “If that’s all you needed, I’ve got something else that needs my tending.” Though not the something he’d prefer. Not yet, anyway. He still had a job to do, and he imagined it was in his best interests to do it well… just in case. Much as he hated to consider it, there was a chance, however slim, that he was wrong about that snorunt’s identity. And even if he wasn’t, there was no guarantee he’d really get a chance to rescue him tonight. He didn’t want to lose his job here, not when it made it that much easier to keep track of his brother.

Not when there was a chance, however small and distant, that DeLeo’s vision could become a reality.

Solonn descended into the crowd, which gave him a wide berth as he approached. He came to a stop before the snorunt and wobbuffet—before Jen. Something hitched in his chest. There was no doubt about it at this point.

“Blessings,” he said. The greeting nearly slipped his mind; it hadn’t become habitual yet. Not to mention he was more than a little preoccupied at the moment.

“Blessings,” Jen and the wobbuffet returned in unison. It sounded rather more automatic coming from the former. How long has he been coming here…?

With an immense effort, Solonn turned his attention more toward the wobbuffet. “Pardon me,” he said, “but could you come with me, please?”

“…What for?” The wobbuffet had worn an apprehensive look ever since their eyes had first met, but now he looked and sounded legitimately frightened. He was even shivering as he stood there, and Solonn knew he was doing a perfectly fine job of keeping his chill to himself.

“I’m sorry, but this is the youth assembly. You’ll want our adult group.” Which was the truth, and one reason why Solonn wasn’t tending to Jen directly yet. The other was concern that his brother would react poorly to some of what he had to say, much as he had back at the Haven.

Though the fact that Jen wasn’t acting as though he were face to face with one of his kidnappers this time was… promising…

The wobbuffet nodded, with a wordless noise of acceptance. He was ready to go. Solonn… suddenly wasn’t so sure himself. Had Jen been cured? Had this place perhaps done what Adn couldn’t—or likelier wouldn’t do? Solonn turned back toward him, helpless to resist, momentarily paralyzed by indecision.

He snapped out of it. Not yet, he told himself, though with little force. There was no way to be certain that Jen’s bewitching was undone at this point. Or that Adn hadn’t simply replaced it with programming of another sort. He couldn’t risk making a scene. Let the crowd thin out first.

So he instructed himself, as he began leading the wobbuffet away at a rather faster clip than he’d meant to. But even then, he only hoped rather than knew that he was doing the right thing.

Solonn didn’t slow down as he proceeded through the corridors of the oddly labyrinthine building. He could hear the steady pattering of the other’s feet behind him, and no panting accompanied them. The wobbuffet was apparently keeping up just fine.

“Excuse me, uh, sir?”

Solonn slowed, though barely. Maybe the wobbuffet was having more trouble than he’d thought. “Hm?”

“What’s your name?”

Oh. Satisfied that he wasn’t leaving the wobbuffet in the dust after all, Solonn sped back up. “Solonn,” he answered, “and you?”

“I’m Esaax,” the wobbuffet responded.

“Ah, all right, then. Pleasure to meet you, Esaax.” And it was, really. It wasn’t Esaax’s fault that Solonn had left Jen behind for the time being.

All the same, Solonn was more than a little glad that he didn’t have much further to go before he could turn back.

“I’m afraid we’re already a little late,” he said, “but the good news is that I know a shortcut through the building that’ll keep you from missing too much more of the assembly. We’ll just go right around here, and—”

Solonn stopped halfway around the corner and midway through his sentence. The doors to his right had opened rather abruptly, catching him by surprise. When DeLeo stepped out through them, the surprise turned to a current of worry.

Don’t be nervous, he told himself. You’ve got no reason to be. After all, it wasn’t as if he were wandering aimlessly. He was doing his job.

Meanwhile, it seemed DeLeo was not, and in spite of himself, Solonn took open notice. “Sir… don’t you have a client to tend to at the moment?” From what he understood, DeLeo generally devoted meeting nights to one-on-one sessions with particularly troubled Hope attendees.

“He didn’t show,” DeLeo responded. “And I suspect he’s not gonna. He was doing an awful lot of sniffling last time. So I thought I’d take it easy and grab a bite to eat instead.”

It was then that he properly noticed Esaax. His eyes and smile widened. “Hey there! Haven’t seen you around here before!” He stooped slightly and offered his hand to the wobbuffet, who took it after a moment’s delay. “The name’s Sylvester DeLeo, and I’m the president and founder of this fine establishment. And you are…?”

“…Esaax,” the wobbuffet replied.

“Glad to make your acquaintance, Esaax,” DeLeo replied, still smiling. He certainly seemed happy to meet this person, Solonn thought. “Say… do you mind if I ask a quick question?”

“Uh… No, I guess not,” Esaax said.

“Okay, then. Tell me, what clan are you from?” DeLeo asked.

“Evergray,” the wobbuffet answered.

“Ah.” DeLeo straightened his posture. “All right, Esaax, if you’ll just follow me, I’ll take you to my private counseling office,” he said, gesturing toward the room from whence he’d come.

The wobbuffet matter, it seemed, was now securely out of Solonn’s figurative hands. “If you’ll excuse me…” he said, though part of him had to wonder, as he departed, if DeLeo had actually heard him. There was definitely something about Esaax that was commanding the human’s interest. Hoping he was right in assuming he wasn’t needed there any longer, he swiftly made his way back to the youth assembly to check on Jen again.

Only to find that he wasn’t there.

Solonn tamped down the panic that threatened to arise. He’s probably just fine. He probably just went to the restroom. He’ll be back any minute.

But countless minutes passed, and he sat there with Cain’s puppet act and the audience’s participation in it going on at the very edge of his attention until, to his dismay and discomfort, the hitmonlee announced the end of the meeting. Another scan of the crowd confirmed the bad news: Jen still hadn’t returned.

Solonn’s heart sank. Suspicions that Jen hadn’t been cured of his bewitchment after all returned, stronger than ever. The snorunt might well have been concealing his fear, or at least most of it, acting unaware of the “threat” he faced until he had an opportunity to escape. And escape he had, apparently.

With a sigh, Solonn picked his way through the departing crowd, heading backstage once more.

“Hey, how’d I do?” Cain asked him as he passed. Solonn didn’t stop, though, already too keen on doing a sweep of the building just in case Jen hadn’t completely left the scene. “Come on, man, wait up!”

Might as well, Solonn finally figured, though in truth it wasn’t as if he were making any real effort to shake off the hitmonlee behind him. Nor was Cain having any real trouble catching up; he’d be at Solonn’s side for sure at this point, were there room. Solonn barely needed or bothered to cut his speed at all.

On the chance that Cain might’ve seen Jen leave, and might at least be able to tell him when it happened, “Did you happen to notice when the snorunt left?” Solonn asked.

“Yeah, I did; it was just a little after you left,” Cain said. “Around the time I brought ol’ Billie and Barry out. Hence why I was… kinda worried they left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth, heh. What did you think?” he asked again. “Was keeping the puppets in a bad idea after all?”

“I… wasn’t really paying much attention to the show,” Solonn admitted. “I had a lot on my mind. And still do.”

“Hm. Fair enough, I guess. Ah well, I’m sure I’ll get enough votes against to drop ’em eventually.”

Solonn had nothing to say to that, really. The hitmonlee’s puppets and weariness of them weren’t exactly top priority at the moment. Keeping an eye out for yellow shells and glowing eyes was.

“Say, that kid you’re asking about… That wouldn’t happen to be the one what’s-her-face mentioned to Sylvan, would it? Now why the heck can’t I remember her name,” Cain mused aloud. “Elaine or some such, wasn’t it?”

“Evane.” At least Solonn thought that’s who he was talking about. “And… yes. That’s exactly who that snorunt was.”

“Ah, okay. No wonder you were distracted.” Cain sounded rather disappointed to have come to this conclusion. “Well, if it’s any comfort, he shows up every week, without fail. You’ll have another shot at your little family reunion sooner or later.”

“I hope so.” But the hope was rather dimmer now, and grew moreso as his search continued to yield nothing.

Maybe he was wrong about why Jen had left, he conceded. But from what he could see, the evidence told another story. And if he was right, the snorunt would likely book it the first chance he got next week, too.

One of the others needs to talk to him first, he determined. Jen might never have seen any of the Sinaji defectors before. And if he had, and was still bewitched, odds weren’t bad that he saw them as the good guys.

Best to arrange for this now, he decided, and went off in search of DeLeo.

He found the human in much the same way as he’d found him last time: a door opened right next to him, and DeLeo very nearly bumped right into him on the way out.

“Whoops!” DeLeo ruffled his hair, looking slightly embarrassed. “I probably oughta give a little more warning before I do that, huh?”

“Oh, I heard you coming,” Solonn assured him. Then it was his turn to feel a little embarrassed. “Maybe I should warn you.”

“Ah, it’s fine. We didn’t crash; that’s what matters, right? Oh hey!” He clapped his hands together abruptly. “Just thought of something. I’m gonna take the opportunity to chill in my study for a little while. Why don’t you join me? You and all your buddies. I know I’ve told you quite a bit about me and my institute, but I wouldn’t mind getting to know you guys a little better, you know?”

Uncertainty briefly flickered in Solonn’s eyes; he knew there were a fair few things about himself that he’d rather the human didn’t know. And given the other glalie’s former affiliation, he doubted they’d want to go into too much detail, either.

But, ultimately, what they shared or didn’t was up to them. “I’ll go see if they’re interested. But… first, if it’s all right, there’s something I’d like to ask of you,” Solonn said.

“It’s as all right as all right can be. What do you need?”

“A reassignment. Some position where I’m… less likely to be seen. I think I frightened one of your young attendees away earlier.” It wasn’t the best feeling, admitting a thing like that. Put mildly. “At the very least, it might be a good idea to assign me to the adult assembly instead.”

“Hmm… yeah, I suppose you’ve got a point there. See, I’d thought the kids’d be safer with the likes of you around. Anyone there who wasn’t supposed to be would’ve taken one look at you and said ‘nope, I’m outta here’. Now, I figured sending the steelix in there would’ve probably resulted in some puddles to mop up, but you…” He shrugged. “Guess I underestimated how scary you were. No offense, of course.”

There wasn’t offense, but there was something a lot like guilt. It wasn’t your fault, he reminded himself. He never feared you before they got a hold of him.

“So… will I be reassigned, then?”

DeLeo nodded. “Consider it done. You’ll be on patrol next week. Sound good?”

“Yes,” Solonn responded, with one unspoken caveat: Provided I can slip out of sight if he wanders…

“All right. Guess I’ll be seeing you later, then?”

“I suppose,” Solonn said, then left to meet up with the others.

He ran into Moriel first. Before he could say a word, “Did you see him?” she asked.

Solonn sighed. “Yes, but only briefly. He fled as soon as my back was turned. It seems he still thinks I’m one of his abductors.”

The light in Moriel’s eyes dampened. “I’m so sorry.”

Solonn shook his head. “Don’t be. You didn’t bewitch him. And you’re not the one who sent someone he was likely to distrust into the room with him.”

“That… wasn’t the smartest arrangement, no. DeLeo should’ve thought of that.”

I should have thought of it.” He sighed again. “I was just… too excited to see him, I guess.”

“I think I would be, too, if it were my family on the line.” Moriel began to turn at this point. “Do you want to talk about it with the others, maybe? Or at least with your dad?”

“I do, but…” This seemed as good a time as any to bring up DeLeo’s proposal. “Do you suppose they’d be interested in doing so with DeLeo in his study? He offered to share his downtime with us. Apparently he wants to get to know us a little better.”

“…How much better?” Moriel asked. She sounded slightly apprehensive.

“I don’t know, but he gave us a choice in the matter. We don’t have to go if we don’t want to. And presumably—hopefully—we don’t have to tell him anything we’d rather not if we do go.”

Moriel mulled it over in silence for a moment. “Okay,” she finally agreed. “Maybe we’ll get a little extra information about him and his mission while we’re at it. It might give us a better idea of whether he actually knows what he’s talking about.”

She set off then, and Solonn followed her. They located the rest of their party in clusters who were chatting amongst themselves when Moriel and Solonn found them. While Evane showed similar misgivings to Moriel’s at first, ultimately she and all the rest decided that yes, they’d be joining DeLeo later in the evening.
 
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Sike Saner

Peace to the Mountain

Chapter 38 – The Nexus of the Crisis



When the time came, the five glalie and the claydol filed in, forming a near-circle around DeLeo where he sat waiting for them in his chair. Said chair had been moved forward a bit to allow them to nearly surround him rather than having to bunch up in front of him, presumably to allow him to make eye contact with any one of them just as easily as with any other.

Grosh, meanwhile, lingered in the hallway with his head hanging over the threshold. There was just no fitting any more of him than that in the room beyond, not unless everyone else traded places with him.

“Glad you could all make it,” DeLeo said once everyone was settled. “Sorry we haven’t had a chance to just shoot the breeze before now. Last couple of days have been pretty hectic on my end.

“But enough about me! You guys have the floor this time.”

There was a moment of awkward silence; then, “So… what do you want to know?” Moriel asked.

“Oh, lots of things! Where you come from, just for starters. I’m guessing you’re not from the same place, originally speaking, right?”

<We are not,> Oth confirmed. <They are all from Shoal Cave. Grosh and I have our own separate origins, and we met these glalie separately.>

DeLeo nodded, absorbing that. “Now, of course, I’ve gotta wonder about the circumstances involved. You know, seeing as Shoal Cave is an island and all, and I don’t take either of you ground-types for swimmers. I’m guessing humans had something to do with your meeting up. Am I right?”

“…To a degree,” Grosh answered from the doorway. “They weren’t the only ones who had anything to do with it, but..” He rumbled to himself in apparent discomfort; a restless rotating of some of his segments could be heard over it.

DeLeo raised a hand. “Now, now. If you’re not comfortable going on, you’re free to stop anytime.”

“…I appreciate that,” Grosh said, relaxing his posture a bit. Solonn couldn’t blame him for not wanting to continue, given the direction the conversation seemed to be taking.

“I will remind you, though: if it’s talking about the humans that’s hard for you… that might not be the case forever,” DeLeo said.

“You say that, but—” Viraya broke off. A growing, approaching noise had caught her attention as well as everyone else’s—it sounded like a car headed their way. That noise abated almost as soon as it had arisen, only to be replaced by plodding footsteps, followed by a loud, hollow roar and the sound of something crumbling just outside the room.

In an instant, the room filled with deep blue light, and DeLeo dove for cover in the space between the now-shielded bodies surrounding him. Solonn moved back, tightening the circle as the rest of the glalie did likewise and Oth joined DeLeo behind them.

The wall before them blackened and began to disintegrate, as if it were rotting. A huge, gangly, blue creature stepped through it, head slung low, with sharp teeth bared and an arm outstretched—

—for about a second and a half. Then a crack rang out, and down the intruder went. Solonn stared down at him, trying to make sense of the pokémon who now lay sprawled out and unconscious before them. The thing had four very long legs; he must have stood at least eight feet tall. He had a long neck and tail, too, the latter of which was jet black from end to end. Solonn had never seen such a creature before, neither in person nor during any of Exeter’s lessons.

But he knew what the pokémon reminded him of. That sort of creature… that, he’d seen within the past few hours.

Was this a coincidence?

He felt Oth move up and out of the ring through the air. In nearly the same instant, he heard DeLeo getting back up to his feet.

The human let out a sigh. “You could’ve just knocked, Esaax.”

Solonn felt something inside him go deathly cold, even by his standards.

No. This was no coincidence.

“…Okay, what the hell was that? What just happened?” Alij demanded. He broke from the ring to circle the insensible pokémon, clearly trying to make sense of him.

“That right there? That’s a kwazai,” DeLeo said, “and an unsatisfied customer, so to speak. But I’m gonna see what I can do about the latter. Grosh?”

“Yes?” The steelix’s eyes pulled away from the kwazai and locked onto DeLeo’s with a bit of an effort.

“Come with me. You and… oh, you.” He pointed at Solonn. “I’m gonna need you to help get this guy to the tube. Can’t carry him myself, and I don’t wanna leave him out of there. And neither do you. These things pack a punch.”

Solonn didn’t doubt that, not after seeing what the intruder—the same person he’d spoken to mere hours before, who’d seemed utterly harmless then—had done to the walls. Not after seeing those teeth—they paled in comparison to his own, of course, but he still knew the teeth of a predator when he saw them.

He nudged Esaax closer to Grosh using a small, rolling wave of ice. The steelix carefully scooped the kwazai up in his jaws and dragged him out into the hallway and out of sight. Solonn and DeLeo left the room behind him.

Once there was enough room to do so, Grosh craned his neck backward and draped Esaax over his back, slowing his pace further as he carried on from there to reduce the risk of catching the kwazai’s long limbs and tail underneath himself.

To that end, “Father? Would you mind if I used some ice to secure him to you?”

“Not in the least,” Grosh said. “That’ll give me one less thing to think about.”

Solonn went to it straight away, pinning the gangly limbs to the steelix’s sides with shackles of ice.

“…Did you say ’father’?” DeLeo asked him once that was done.

“Yes…”

“Wow.” DeLeo shook his head a little, his eyes wide. “Guess I really do have a lot to learn about you guys.”

Grosh made an inscrutable noise at that, but no one else had anything to say until they closed the remaining distance to the room with the holding chamber. They stopped before the doors; then, “This is Sylvester DeLeo, requesting entry,” DeLeo said.

Voice recognition confirmed, a computerized voice responded. Please state password.

“Password,” DeLeo said.

Password valid. Access granted.

Solonn had raised an eyebrow at DeLeo in an unspoken really? every other time he’d presented the password, and this time was no different. “Sir… may I make a suggestion?” he asked as the doors parted.

“Sure thing.”

“You… might want to consider something harder to guess. For the password, I mean.”

“He’s got a point there,” Grosh put in as he slithered into the room beyond with the kwazai still affixed to his back.

“But see, that’s the beauty of it,” DeLeo countered. “Someone trying to bust in would assume I’d know better. The answer’s hidden in plain sight. Besides, the system only responds to my voice anyway, so.”

“If you insist…” Solonn couldn’t say he had much confidence in DeLeo’s reasoning where the password was concerned, but let the matter drop for now. There were plenty of other things vying for his attention, and they had no real trouble wresting it from the previous topic.

“All right, get him on the pad,” DeLeo said, then crossed the room to a terminal awaiting him against the wall. “Make sure none of him’s spilling out or else the field won’t activate.”

Solonn sublimated the ice restraints. Apart from automatically sprawling out over the steel surface beneath him, Esaax didn’t make a move; he was still down for the count. Grosh carefully brought him over to the pad, rolling over to tip him over onto it, then pushed the head, limbs, and tail onto it with his snout.

With the click of a button, the terminal’s control board lit up in an array of colors. DeLeo’s hands danced over the keys, faster than Solonn had ever seen anyone type before, and with a steady hum, a column of light flickered into being, trapping Esaax between the two pads.

“All right,” DeLeo said, “all right.” He sounded short of breath, and his fingers began drumming against the plastic wrist guard as he spoke. “Grosh: I want you to go back and guard that hole in the wall. Tell the others back there to split up and start patrolling in case anybody else decides they can’t wait til business hours to have a word with me. Got it?”

“I got it,” Grosh said, then slithered away noisily.

DeLeo watched him leave; then, “You stay here, okay?” he said to Solonn. “Just in case we need to knock him back out in a hurry.”

“All right,” Solonn said, watching the kwazai who still lay folded in a heap on the chamber’s floor. He doubted Esaax would be getting back up anytime soon, but he put a sheer cold on standby anyway, ready to unleash it at a moment’s notice. He didn’t know what Esaax was capable of now, neither with regards to his techniques nor his temperament. Evolution could do strange and sometimes terrible things to people’s minds.

So he considered, and he hoped that was the only motive behind the kwazai’s violent break-in. Hopefully Esaax didn’t have a bone to pick with DeLeo or his cause after all.

Hopefully DeLeo didn’t have it coming.

“You know… given his current state, I am kinda glad he didn’t wait til we opened back up to drop by,” DeLeo said. “We need to have a talk, him and me. He probably had a lot racing through his brain when he busted in. And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t in the same boat.”

The human’s fingers went still, only to flutter back into motion to punch in a few more keystrokes. There was a whirring sound that pulled Solonn’s attention up toward the ceiling—and what he saw there made his thoughts freeze in his head.

A compartment under the chamber’s lid had slid open. A long, spindly, robotic arm was emerging from within.

In his mind’s eye, Solonn could see an identical pair descending toward him, and he remembered the utter helplessness he’d felt when he’d seen them coming down.

He almost didn’t hear the footsteps passing him on the way to the glowing tube, still fixated on the robotic arm as it lowered a revive crystal toward the insensible figure below. Once DeLeo crossed into his field of vision, he automatically tore his gaze from the device and moved to join him in front of the kwazai, just for the sake of reminding himself that he could move.

Before them, the kwazai finally stirred. He lifted his saurian head, groaning faintly. His long, eyed tail rose with it. Esaax looked up; the arm was retracting with another bout of whirring. Once it disappeared, he turned his attention to the people on the other side of the glowing barrier.

His reaction was immediate.

He rose to his full height alarmingly quickly, his eyes and tail locked onto DeLeo. With a snarl, he began snapping at the force field and clawing at it with his long, spidery fingers. The wall of light held, but flashed whenever he struck it. The flashes only got more frequent by the moment.

Then there was a hiss, one that didn’t come from the furious creature held prisoner before them. Within seconds, Esaax’s posture relaxed, his arms dropping to his sides. Soon after, he dropped to his knees.

He’d been gassed, Solonn realized. Something had been pumped into the tube to make the kwazai more docile.

But he still looked angry. Both his eyes and the eyelike organs encircling his tail remained firmly fixed upon the human face beyond his cell. He wasn’t smiling. Not even close.

“Shh… it’s all right, Esaax,” DeLeo said. “You’re exactly where you need to be right now. I’ll bet you’ve got a lot of questions about what’s happened to you, and I’ve got all the answers.”

He walked right up to the tube, stopping directly in front of it, and leaned against the glowing wall as if it were ordinary glass. It glowed all the brighter where he pressed against it. “You probably didn’t know you could evolve, did you?” DeLeo asked. “I know most wobbuffet don’t. So I’m gonna tell you a little story, Esaax. One that’ll explain why this has been kept from you—and why you shouldn’t be scared of it. No, you should be anything but scared…”

There was a distinct note of awed excitement in DeLeo’s voice. Not only did he apparently know more than he’d let on about Esaax’s kind, he also seemed legitimately happy about what had befallen the former wobbuffet.

Why, Solonn wondered, should DeLeo care so much?

DeLeo took a step back from the containment field and clasped his hands in front of himself. “There’s a legend,” he began, “hundreds of years old, about a king of the Mordial region named Asotura. His reign was glorious but short—he was killed by an assassin who was never found.

“The king’s body was discovered by his most faithful pokémon friend. And that friend was a kwazai, Esaax. Just like you are.

“Anyway, according to the legend, this kwazai refused to let the king be taken from him, and so he called on his ‘ultimate inner power’—and actually raised Asotura from the dead.”

Solonn’s eyes went wide. So… that was why DeLeo was so happy about a kwazai breaking into his building.

Maybe a little too happy.

Maybe a little too prepared.

Solonn’s heart sank, his throat going dry. No…

“Now, that was the good news for the king. The bad news was that the people decided they didn’t want his reign to continue. They didn’t exactly like the tale of Asotura’s resurrection, you see. They called it unnatural, and they called him an abomination.

“And the kwazai became demons in their eyes. The ancient Mordialans decided to just slaughter every kwazai they could find. And they did the same thing to wobbuffet and wynaut, too, in order to make sure the kwazai were exterminated completely. Asotura’s own army even sided with the public. They went against the king’s orders to put an end to the killing and instead joined in the effort to eradicate your species. Doesn’t it just make you sick?”

Whether it did or didn’t was impossible to tell. Esaax neither said nor did anything in response. He just kept staring.

“Well, anyway…” DeLeo resumed, “as for Asotura himself, there wasn’t anyone around who didn’t want him dead—and permanently this time. But when they stormed the castle, he wasn’t anywhere to be found. Nobody knows how he got away, but he did, and he also managed to rescue a handful of your kind along with himself.

“After he escaped from Mordial, he looked for a place where your people could continue to be protected for generations to come. Apparently one was provided right here in Hoenn by a legendary pokémon—nobody knows which one. Whoever they were, they gave their home to the refugees. Then they used their legendary powers to hide the refugees’ new sanctuary before taking off for who knows where. You might’ve heard of this sanctuary, Esaax. These days, it’s known as Mirage Island.

“Anyway, the people of Asotura’s former kingdom tried to keep his story and the secret of your people’s final evolutionary form from surviving the ages. But their efforts ultimately proved useless, because that story was recorded—supposedly by Asotura himself—on a little something called the Tablet of Asotura. The tablet went missing for centuries, but it was eventually found by a human explorer from Pacifidlog. But before he could go public with his discovery, well… you know what happened fourteen years ago,” he said quietly.

“Luckily, though, one of the explorer’s pokémon bothered to take care of the tablet after the explorer passed away. That pokémon eventually decided he wanted to see kwazai brought back into the world, and ultimately he found us and sought our assistance in that matter. Once he told me the story of Asotura and what his kwazai could do… well, there was no question about it. None. I knew I had to help him.”

DeLeo stepped back up to the containment field. “Do you remember what I told you earlier, Esaax? About why I founded the Hope Institute? This—” He gestured toward Esaax. “—ties into that. We turned you into this for a very special purpose, Esaax. A very, very important one.”

The weight inside Solonn sunk further, and his jaws parted in dismay of their own accord. There it was—DeLeo had admitted it. He was responsible for Esaax’s evolution. For forcing him to evolve against his will. To change into something he never asked to be in the name of someone else’s cause without asking for his consent.

With sympathy and horror all mixed into one, Solonn stared at the imprisoned kwazai. I could’ve stopped this, he realized. I could’ve prevented this if I’d only known…

DeLeo pressed his hands against the force field once more. “You’ll see,” he half-whispered, sounding slightly crazed, his smile spreading wide across his face. “It’s gonna be just like the old days. Only better.”

He then turned away from Esaax and headed for the exit, striding past Solonn along the way. The glalie watched him in silence for a moment, still in shock. Then he sent an apologetic glance back at Esaax and turned to catch up with DeLeo, his eyes burning with anger.

DeLeo opened the doors with his voice command once more, then motioned for Solonn to go on ahead of him. Solonn did so automatically, too preoccupied to question it, but he did at least think to shoot the human a vehement glare as he moved past him.

That glare stayed fixed on DeLeo as the human began making his way back down the hall, and Solonn remained stuck where he hovered, quivering with outrage.

“How could you do such a thing?” he finally demanded, sounding equally angry and hurt.

DeLeo stopped in his tracks and turned to face him. “…What? What are you talking about?”

“You did this to him,” Solonn said, still shaking as he spoke, “without his consent? Without even so much as his awareness that he could be changed in such a way?”

DeLeo blinked at him, bemused. “What… what’s it to you?”

Solonn’s eyes narrowed. “You have no right to inflict a change on someone who doesn’t ask for it first.” He moved forward, causing the human to take a step back. “No one has that right. You disgust me, DeLeo.”

Fear, or something resembling it, began showing through DeLeo’s expression. “Look… I’m sorry you don’t like how we’ve gone about this whole kwazai business, okay? I really am. But… don’t you understand what we’re trying to do here?” he asked, pained frustration in his voice. “Were you even paying attention to anything I said in there other than the parts you didn’t like? We’re trying to restore lives, Solonn! And let me tell you something: once we’ve restored certain lives in particular, I promise you Esaax is gonna be so happy that he’s not gonna care that he didn’t have a say in whether or not he evolved.”

“And what if this legend you spoke of is just that—a legend?” Solonn asked. “What if it turns out you’ve just been chasing a damn rumor all this time? Did you consider that possibility for even a second? Did you consider what it might do to Esaax if he were told that he can bring back people he cares about when in reality he can’t, to find out that he was subjected to a change—one that has obviously upset him very much—for nothing?”

DeLeo only stared at him at first. Then his face twisted in as much of a look of anguish as it could produce. “…It’s more than a legend,” he insisted. “I’m sorry you can’t see that… and I’m not gonna let you get in the way of our proving it!”

With an inhuman speed, DeLeo’s hands swung out at Solonn, and each of them split down the middle with a faint click. They opened like the covers of a book to expose dark, metallic nozzles. In nearly the same instant, jets of fire came roaring out of the newly-revealed weapons—Solonn only narrowly conjured a protect shield in time to deflect the flames, hissing and recoiling in fear from the attack even as he thwarted it.

His eyes then blazed a bright white, and the sound of the sheer cold attack he released in retaliation echoed through the hallway. The attack hit its mark; DeLeo immediately passed out and dropped heavily to the floor.

Solonn looked down at him in lingering disbelief, still shaking in primal fear for a few moments, then called out with the full force of his voice to his co-workers in the Hope Institute, not comfortable with the notion of leaving such a dangerously augmented human unguarded despite DeLeo’s present condition.

He couldn’t undo what DeLeo had done to Esaax. But he could at least see to it that the human paid for his crimes.

Alij was the first to arrive. His eyes went huge at the sight of DeLeo lying prone there. “Whoa, hey, what happened here? Who did this?”

“I did.” Solonn watched the rest of the glalie filter in shortly after Alij’s arrival, with Grosh and Oth taking up the rear.

“What… but why?” Evane asked.

The hurt in her voice made Solonn wince slightly. She won’t want to believe this. Gods knew he didn’t, either. “He’s a crook,” he told everyone gathered there. “That pokémon who burned through the wall, that kwazai… DeLeo forced him to evolve. It’s driven him mad.”

“I…” Evane began hesitantly. Her eyelight wavered as she stared down at DeLeo. “…I don’t know. Are you sure he forced him? Why would he do such a thing?”

“For his goals,” Solonn answered. “For his plans to revive humanity. He seems to think kwazai can raise the dead.” He couldn’t have sounded or looked more skeptical if he’d tried.

“Well… what if they can?” Moriel asked quietly.

Solonn met her gaze with dismay in the color of his eyes. You can’t be siding with him. Please. But… in spite of himself, and with a snarl of disgust turned inward, he realized he couldn’t blame her. Not entirely.

He sighed, frustrated with a number of things at once. “I don’t know,” he said finally, honestly. “But… ultimately, I think whether or not Esaax uses those powers—if he even has them,” he stressed, “—should be up to him.” His gaze shifted unconsciously, in the general direction of a towering hotel that, as far as he knew, still stood near the edge of town. He swallowed hard. “That much, at least, should be his choice.”

“We should try to convince him it’s the right thing to do, at least,” Evane said. “If there’s any chance we could see her again…”

Whether or not there was going to be more to that sentence, Solonn couldn’t say. Once it had been left hanging long enough for him to doubt she’d continue, “You can talk to him. But you can’t force him. Please.

“I would never…” Evane assured him.

“None of us would,” Viraya said seriously.

Then something at the floor caught and held her eye. “Sister, look…”

Evane followed her gaze. So did everyone else. “His hands…” she remarked, bemused.

“Artificial,” Solonn said. “With flamethrowers hidden inside. He turned them on me, but he wasn’t quick enough.”

Grosh recoiled slightly, then shook his head. “Well I’m glad you’re all right, more than glad… But this is crazy. Oth… are you sure this guy’s human after all?”

<All evidence I found during my last scan indicates that he is. There was nothing to suggest otherwise.>

“Maybe he’d found a way to hide the truth from you,” Viraya said, “just as he kept his weapons hidden.”

That… wasn’t a comforting thought. At all. Solonn had trusted Oth’s psychic perception for a long time. He’d known it wasn’t infallible; the claydol couldn’t scan dark-types. But now… now he had to wonder what else might be able to deceive them.

“I’d heard rumors that some humans weren’t typeless,” Viraya went on. “Do you think… is it possible he’s actually a dark-type?”

<No,> Oth said. <That much, at least, I can confirm. A true dark-type would have ejected me from their mind. Painfully.> They rattled to themself once more. <At this point, I can only suspect he used a device of some kind—an implant, perhaps—to control what I could detect within his mind.>

Solonn realized he’d begun shaking and stilled himself with an effort. He looked down at DeLeo for signs that he might be coming around sometime soon and found none, but even that much was difficult to trust at this point. He let out a held breath. “Something needs to be done about him. The city’s authorities need to know what they’d been harboring.”

“I’ll go,” Moriel volunteered. “I think I know how to get to the police station from here, and if I’m wrong…” She gave a quick tilt of her head. “I can find someone, I’m sure.”

“…All right,” Solonn said, at which Moriel sped off without delay. “And… I think it would be best if we got DeLeo away from here. Away from Esaax.” He didn’t want to give the human—or whatever DeLeo was—an opportunity to turn those flamethrowers or any other secret weapons upon Esaax. DeLeo had done more than enough to the kwazai already.

“Leave it to me,” Grosh said. “Someone needs to go back and guard that breach anyhow. Might as well be me.”

“Father…”

“Come on, now. I’m made of sturdier stuff than the lot of you. No offense,” Grosh added quickly.

Alij grunted irritably, but no one else had any objection.

“Just… be careful, all right?” Solonn said.

“Will do,” Grosh assured him, then lowered his head over the unconscious human and plucked him up off the floor by his shirt.

As soon as Grosh had left the scene, Alij moved past Solonn to the double doors barring access to the holding chamber. “We should have a talk with… Esaax, was it? Just to see if he’s as mad as you say. If he’s not, well… I’d kind of like to find out for sure whether he was duped into this or not. From his own mouth.”

He looked the doors up and down, then frowned. “…These are some of those voice-doors,” he remembered aloud.

“Yes,” Solonn confirmed.

“…All right, then how are we supposed to get Esaax out of there?”

Solonn knew a way. He could open those doors right there and then. But if it could be avoided… He swallowed audibly. “I’m sure the authorities can get in without any—”

BOOM.

Four faces instantly turned to face the source of the noise.

“Moriel…” Evane whispered, and Solonn thought he felt his heart stop for a moment. The sound—the explosion, he was all too sure—had come from precisely the direction she’d gone.

No one gave the command. No one had to. In an instant, all five of them were off to investigate. Please, let her be all right… Solonn prayed silently as he pushed through the air.

Even in the worst-case scenario, she might be fine, some other part of his mind dared to point out.

He hissed at it. I can’t expect that of him.

To say nothing of the fact that he really didn’t want to find her in the kind of condition that would necessitate that.

He soon discovered heat signatures up ahead. Varying temperatures. Varying species, though he couldn’t guess which.

But he didn’t have to. An arbok had just rounded the corner—and looked very sorry to have done so—with a… Solonn squinted at the pokémon striding along behind the arbok, trying to identify her, but couldn’t. But she did look suspiciously like a wobbuffet, he thought; she had the eyes and the blue skin and the black, eye-bearing tail of one. Or four tails, from the looks of things. She was rather taller, though, with twice as many arms, half as many legs, and a more humanoid face. Evolved, he suspected, at which something inside him went sour.

Was DeLeo responsible for another one?

The… whatever-she-was set something down on the floor with a heavy thunk, drawing Solonn’s eyes to it. To him. A nosepass, Solonn recognized, albeit barely; several portions of the rock-type were simply missing.

Solonn had a very unpleasant notion as to why.

“Stay put,” the unfamiliar pokémon hissed to the plainly-nervous arbok as she stepped up to stand beside him, “and try to stay calm. Please.”

“What are you people doing here?” Alij demanded as he came to a stop a few feet away from the three strangers; the rest of the team did likewise. He moved a few inches to the side, peering past the arbok, and his eyes narrowed as they found the broken nosepass there. “Actually, never mind that. I think we’ve already got our answer,” he said, and nodded toward the unconscious rock-type.

“You were responsible for that explosion?” Solonn asked the pokémon who’d been carrying the nosepass.

“Yes,” the blue pokémon answered evenly, “but we hadn’t intended to cause one. It was all just a misunderstanding. We ran into one of your people unexpectedly; he—” She gestured toward the arbok. “—attacked her out of panic; and things just sort of escalated, unfortunately. Don’t worry—she’s still alive, although she does need to get some medical attention soon.”

All of the glalie’s eyes widened at the news, and Alij swore aloud. “Where is she?” he demanded.

The blue pokémon pointed back toward the room from whence she’d come. Alij and Solonn rushed off in that direction at once, as did Oth.

A hole in the wall caught Solonn’s attention the moment he entered the room, and he made for it at once. Rushing over the littered floor, with only the occasional bit of rock scraping his belly—bits of a person, he helplessly reminded himself—he hoped dearly that the strange pokémon had been telling the truth about Moriel, and that she wouldn’t be hurt too badly to save…

“Oh gods,” Alij murmured, already at the breach and looking inside. “No…”

That… wasn’t promising. With dread, Solonn joined him to see Moriel’s condition for himself. What he found was, thankfully, not quite as bad as Alij’s tone had led him to expect. But it was still rough, seeing her as she was: a horn broken, half her armor missing. And gods, the blood. No more of it was escaping at this point—Alij had already patched up the wound, Solonn guessed, if the fact that the armor was now regenerating by a will that was neither Moriel’s nor his own was anything to go by—but the pool that still lingered there and the amount of mist that hung over it still told a grisly tale.

He heard the sound of something slithering into the room then, something much lighter and less craggy than the serpent he knew personally. Solonn turned to regard Viraya, the arbok, and the latter’s two companions for a moment before drifting forward to meet them. Oth moved forward, as well, and Evane went past the two of them to look in on Moriel herself. Alij and Viraya stayed put.

“Why did you come here?” Solonn asked of the intruders, his voice heavy.

“Because someone here desperately needs help,” the blue pokémon said. “I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but there’s a pokémon here who’s been forced to evolve. He’s elementally unstable—he needs a psychic-type of his own kind to serve as a vessel for his excess darkness. Please… you’ve got to give me a chance to balance him out. He won’t survive otherwise.”

Oh gods… DeLeo’s crimes, it seemed, were worse than he’d realized. A fresh bolt of sickness shot through Solonn at the fact someone’s life could be in danger because he’d failed to see this coming.

“Do you mean Esaax?” he asked. The question came out of its own accord.

“Yes, I do. You’ve got to let me see him,” the blue pokémon—another kwazai, apparently—said urgently.

“She could still be lying,” Alij pointed out.

Solonn sent a glance back toward Alij and Evane… or only toward the former, he found, and he hoped that was because Evane had gone out for help. He looked away, frowning. He wanted to believe the kwazai. He wanted to just rush to Esaax’s aid then and there.

But he’d already been fooled once today, with grave consequences.

He sighed. “Would you consent to a psychic scan in order to prove that you’re telling the truth?” he asked the kwazai. Even as Solonn spoke, however, he remembered how Oth’s last scan had been tricked. He bit back a hiss. Please let me trust this, at least…

The kwazai didn’t bother to keep herself from scowling. “Will it be quick?”

<Yes,> Oth assured her, <and it will be painless.>

“Fine, then,” she said.

Without hesitation, Oth brought themself to hover right in front of her, lowered their head, and closed all but the foremost of their eyes. Soon afterward, <She is completely truthful in her claims.>

Solonn hoped to all gods that was the case. Especially since he didn’t have the heart to obstruct her any further. Not when there was a chance that Esaax really was in mortal danger. Not when part of him still blamed himself, and what trust he’d given DeLeo, for the wobbuffet’s forced evolution.

“All right,” he said quietly. “If you’ll follow me, I’ll take you to Esaax.” He made his way past the strangers to the corridor that led back toward the holding chamber. “I hope for his sake that you succeed,” he said earnestly as he heard the sounds of slithering scales and dainty feet following him out. “He’s already been through enough that he didn’t deserve.”

“I hope I succeed, too,” the kwazai said, her tone subdued.

Before they’d gotten far, Solonn heard a voice in the distance. A loud, furious voice—a roar, really. He couldn’t make out what, if anything, its maker was saying, but he was sure he knew who it was. The direction it came from made it all too easy to guess.

Thud.

The origin of that sound was a lot closer. Solonn turned at once to see what was going on and found the nosepass on the floor, with the kwazai standing unnaturally still, her tails—or rather the branches of a single tail, he realized—fanned out wide.

“What is it?” the arbok asked.

“Esaax,” the kwazai said in a voice filled with pain and fear. “He’s returned to my perception—and he’s in pain…”

What? How bad is it?” the arbok demanded worriedly.

“It’s horrible… Dear Night, it’s like his own body is rejecting him…”

Oh gods, not good. Not good at all… “We’re almost there,” Solonn told her. He tried to sound confident, assuring. He fell short of both.

No sooner had he spoken than the kwazai rushed out in front of him, staggering slightly and clutching her head in obvious pain but still moving very fast. The doors, Solonn recalled, and hastened to join her. Maybe she could open them by force, but maybe she couldn’t. She’d need him in the latter case.

He caught up with her just in time to see her double over in front of the doors and let out a terrible scream. He rushed to her side to keep her from pitching over, and she took the hint, leaning against him readily. She fixed her posture, for the most part, and her scream died out almost as quickly as it had come. But a hand still gripped her forehead, her sharp teeth bared in a grimace.

There was no more time to lose. The rest of the pokémon were arriving on the scene now, Viraya helping the arbok carry the nosepass… but Solonn shut them out just as soon as he’d spotted them. How they’d react to what he was about to do… was a concern for another time. Right now, the only thing that mattered was the tormented creature beyond those doors.

“This is Sylvester DeLeo,” he spoke up, “requesting entry.” The voice wasn’t his own. The language wasn’t his own. But it was just what the computer keeping the room closed off wanted; it prompted him for a password just as it did for its true master. “Password,” Solonn responded, still using the borrowed voice and words.

The doors slid open. Solonn and the kwazai entered first, with Viraya and the arbok bringing in the nosepass behind them as Oth drifted at their side. And there before them all, still encased in a column of light, Esaax slumped against the barrier, panting and groaning with his tail lashing and his hands gripping his head tightly.

The female kwazai ran to him at once, pressing all four of her hands against the wall of energy, weeping openly all the while. Without taking her eyes off of Esaax, “How do you get him out of this thing?” she demanded.

“Over here!” Solonn called, and made for the control panel. She followed him without delay.

“I don’t know how to use this!” she told him.

“It’s all right; I do.” At least, he hoped he recalled the sequence correctly. “Just do exactly as I tell you, and we’ll have him out in no time.”

“You’re… you’re going to be all right,” a soft voice sounded from somewhere behind them as Solonn relayed his instructions to the kwazai beside him. It was the arbok, no doubt, most likely trying to console Esaax.

But it seemed to be in vain; Esaax cried out again, his voice deep and howling like the wind. At the same instant, the other kwazai convulsed hard, echoing Esaax’s scream. She staggered, and Solonn moved quickly to break her fall.

“Dear Holy Night, he’s tearing himself apart!” she cried.

“You’re almost finished!” Solonn told her, trying to assure them both.

Sure enough, the containment field soon vanished with a faint humming sound. The female kwazai ran back to Esaax, dropping into as much of a kneeling posture as her stiltlike legs would allow and throwing her arms around him.

“Ntairow…” Esaax said as she cried into his chest, his voice hoarse and quavering. “I’m—” He broke off momentarily, giving a pained groan, at which Ntairow embraced him all the more tightly. “I’m glad you’re here. I’d… given up on us ever finding each other again.” He closed his eyes, lowering his head.

“I should’ve found you sooner…” Ntairow lamented, her voice barely above a whisper. “Dear Night, look at you… you’re so broken…”

“I don’t think you can fix me now,” Esaax said quietly. “I’m… I’m not gonna make it.”

“No,” Ntairow responded, her voice suddenly charged with a fierce resolve. “You will survive this… and your son will finally get to know the father he’s been missing all these years.”

Esaax just stared at her for a moment, his eyes filled with disbelief and wonder. Then a smile spread across his muzzle in spite of his pain. “…You’re serious?”

Ntairow nodded. “He is called Zerzekai. And unless I’m mistaken, he’s just begun his life as a wobbuffet.”

Esaax managed a faint but earnestly joyous laugh, then wrapped his arms around Ntairow, hugging her as hard as his rapidly-waning strength would allow.

Ntairow, meanwhile, took on a look of deep concentration. She’s doing it, Solonn guessed. She’s balancing him… He willed her to succeed. He prayed for her to succeed, for Esaax to be wrong about his chances.

Her expression changed right before Solonn’s eyes. Suddenly she looked another sort of troubled altogether—more than anything, she looked confused.

No one got a chance to wonder why.

A dark aura flared around Esaax as he roared in a voice as vast and hollow as the depths of space and fired a black beam at the other kwazai, striking her with devastating force. A bright pink aura flashed around her at its impact, an autonomic and completely futile mirror coat response, and she collapsed on the spot, scattered black patches forming on her skin as she hit the ground.

With a hollow howl, the black aura around Esaax suddenly tore free from him, allowing an erratically-flashing, bright orange aura to surround him instead. The shadow took flight, rushing through the air, leaving the screaming kwazai behind.

Whether or not the shadow was truly a separate entity, Solonn couldn’t say for sure. But he wasn’t about to chance it. He fired an ice beam at the dark mass, and a hyper beam and a volley of poison sting needles flew forth in an attempt to stop the shadow, as well. But none of them connected, nor did the nhaza set off in the same moment. The disembodied darkness evaded all of the attacks effortlessly, destroying electronic equipment and killing the lights as they dodged every attack. Before anyone could strike again, the shadow smashed into the far wall and promptly burned through it, letting early morning light come pouring in. Once outside, the shadowy mass seemed to dissipate entirely.

Shaking, with no real idea as to what in the hell just happened, Solonn turned back toward Esaax. The kwazai was crumpled in a heap on the floor, orange sparks flickering all around him for one last moment before ceasing. Esaax then toppled over onto his side, panting arrhythmically, dark blue blood flowing from his eyes and mouth.

“…Esaax?” the arbok spoke up tentatively in a very faint, cracking voice.

Solonn felt something nudge his side. “Should we go?” Viraya asked.

Solonn was at a loss for an answer at first. “…You should,” he said finally. “Go see if the paramedics have arrived. Tell them they’re needed here, too.”

Viraya nodded, insofar as the nosepass on her head allowed, then lowered the rock-type to the floor and left the room.

Solonn, meanwhile, went right back to watching the two kwazai, his attention wrenched the rest of the way back toward them by the arbok who continued to call out Esaax’s name. Esaax was still alive, and he’d lifted his head ever so slightly. The arbok tried to get his attention again, but his cries seemed to fall on deaf ears.

It was easy to guess why. Esaax’s gaze had fallen upon Ntairow, at the sight of whom he gave a very faint, pained sound. She wasn’t breathing, Solonn realized. Esaax had just slain someone he loved… all because of DeLeo’s ambitions. Ambitions that may very well have been in vain.

But gods, did Solonn ever hope they hadn’t. If DeLeo was correct—Solonn couldn’t think of him as “right”—then at least the worst of this could be undone. Esaax couldn’t have his old form back, but Ntairow could have her life back. Maybe they both could.

With an immense effort, Esaax rolled over onto his belly and pulled himself up to lie beside Ntairow. He lifted a shaking hand, reached for her, and laid it down upon a still-blue patch on her arm.

A soft, multicolored glow surrounded him, then spread from the point where he touched her until it radiated from every square inch of her skin, as well.

Solonn’s jaws parted of their own accord, his eyes bright and flickering and very, very wide. It’s happening… he realized, or decided. He really couldn’t think of anything else it could be. His breath halted inside him, and he watched with a stream of prayers flowing through his mind, begging the phenomenon before him to succeed.

The glow surrounding the two kwazai suddenly grew to such an intensity that Solonn had to shut his eyes and turn away. Even then, some of the light made it through his eyelids. Once it was gone, he turned back toward Esaax and Ntairow just in time to see their shared aura burst into a cloud of tiny, colorful sparks, which fell in a brief, luminous shower over the two kwazai.

As the last sparks fell, Esaax looked down upon Ntairow. She was completely restored, at least in appearance; all of the strange burns were gone. He smiled gently, weakly, and kissed her forehead. Then he lay down next to her and quietly exhaled.

He didn’t breathe in again.

Ntairow inhaled suddenly and sharply, awake in an instant. She sat up abruptly, then immediately rolled over onto her hands and folded legs, her shoulders heaving as she coughed and sputtered uncontrollably.

As soon as she caught her breath again, she started looking about frantically, confused. Her eyes fell upon Esaax, who was surrounded now by no colors other than the deep sapphire of his own shed blood.

Her cry of sorrow rang out for a very long moment.

Solonn stared in silent disbelief at the scene before him, his heart going leaden. No His eyes screwed shut, his teeth bared all the further and quivering, and he shook in midair with the force of his dry sobs. The kwazai did have the power to raise the dead, just as DeLeo had believed. But that power, it seemed, came with a terrible cost.

“What… What’s going on?” a concerned voice demanded from somewhere behind Solonn as Ntairow’s voice faded out; Evane, he recognized through the fog settling over his mind. “What happened?”

“He saved her,” Solonn managed weakly, and that’s all he managed. He turned away, moving past Evane and Viraya and a team of chansey who’d just arrived in the corridor. In spite of their efforts, DeLeo’s desperation had cost Esaax his life, and Solonn could bear to look upon the scene of their failure no longer.
 
Last edited:

Sike Saner

Peace to the Mountain
Chapter 39 – Come to Collect


In an alleyway that lay largely untouched by the midday sun, a cardboard box hopped and rattled about as if under its own power. Rustling sounds could be heard from within, had there been an audience. But no one was around to watch the box dance.

Just as well, as moments later, it toppled off of the small mountain of boxes it had perched on, emitting a very un-boxlike shriek as it fell.

Whumpf.

It wasn’t the most graceful landing, nor the most dignified. The nanab peels splayed out on his head like a bizarre wig didn’t help matters. But at least the rattata had finally gotten himself free from that box, and at least he’d finally secured the source of that enticing berry smell.

He shook the scraps off, then delicately took one of the peels in his front paws and sat back on his haunches to enjoy it.

Then a shadow passed overhead, and he forgot all about his own lunch, fearing he was about to become someone else’s.

Hoping and praying he hadn’t been spotted yet, he darted into the gap between two trash bins and waited anxiously behind one of them, ears and whiskers twitching at a frenzied pace. A sound like wind filled the alleyway, but the air remained perfectly still. Whatever the thing was, it was still around. Still prowling.

The rattata’s pulse quickened painfully. It was starting to look like he hadn’t escaped the hunter’s notice after all.

The shadow snaked its way into the rodent’s hiding place—a shadow cast by nothing at all. Maybe it was a ghost, the rattata thought, trying to calm himself. Maybe he could avoid the worst of their powers.

When the dark mass suddenly darted at him like a striking snake, narrowly missing, he decided he didn’t want to chance it.

He tore out from behind the bins, out into the open daylight, hoping desperately that the thing couldn’t handle the sun, or at least disliked it enough to decide against following him.

The shadow flew out into the light, seemingly undaunted, and lanced through the air at the rattata with a tornadic howl.

His blood ran cold, and that was the only reaction he had time to give before the dark mass struck and engulfed him, sinking in like a chill in the air.

The rattata’s fur darkened. His eyes flung wide open and filled with a piercing white light. He let out a distorted cry, spasming violently—and crumbled to powder, right then and there.

The shadow fled the scene, scattering the gray dust of their victim in their wake as they thinned out to invisibility once more. The search for a host that could handle them wasn’t over yet.

* * *​

“And remember: if it ain’t Nutten’s, it ain’t nuttin’!”

The television in the waiting room had been blaring the entire time, but no one there really paid it any mind. Solonn had checked out of whatever it’d had to offer once he realized they’d missed the news—not that he’d exactly relished the idea of being reminded about the night before. Nor did he really need reminding. He could still see that blinding rainbow aura when he closed his eyes, could still hear the strange, hollow roar of… whatever it was that had torn free from the doomed kwazai.

He was sure it all would’ve given him a hell of a nightmare, had he actually managed to fall asleep the night before.

All the same, the news might’ve shed some additional light on the Hope Institute, which might’ve made finding Jen a little easier. It might’ve also yielded more information about DeLeo—though odds were it had just focused on one of his most unusual traits, which they’d already learned about from the authorities earlier that morning. There in their cell, he’d admitted how he’d survived the Extinction: he wasn’t human after all. It turned out he was an ordinary meowth, one who’d been masquerading as a human being with the help of an elaborate animatronic disguise.

Why he’d been doing so remained unknown… though Solonn had his guesses, in the wake of some of the things DeLeo had said. “It’s gonna be just like the old days.” The disguise, much like his dreams of resurrecting humanity, was probably just another way of clinging to a past that DeLeo desperately missed.

Solonn might’ve felt sorry for him under other circumstances. As it stood… no. He couldn’t sympathize with him. Not after what DeLeo had done to Esaax.

Where thoughts of yesterday didn’t intrude, a more powerful sense than ever that Jen needed to get out of this town right now dominated Solonn’s mind—it was all he could do not to go tearing out of the Haven and resume his search right away. His surroundings weren’t helping matters. The gardevoir might well have been present, and a member of his party was in a potentially vulnerable position at the moment.

So it behooved Solonn and the rest to see to it that Moriel returned to them, safe and sound. What Jen’s captor could possibly want from her, no one could guess. But no one knew what the gardevoir had wanted with Jen, either.

Solonn heard chansey feet padding along in the hallway outside, as did everyone else; they looked and found the normal-type coming to a stop at the doorway with a familiar glalie in tow.

“I’m happy to report that your friend is as good as new,” the chansey said, smiling.

Moriel certainly looked the part; even her broken horn had been restored. Her eyes met Alij’s, and the latter came rushing past the chansey to hover before her. She glanced past him, giving the rest a smile, though she didn’t quite look happy to see them. Just relieved.

“So. I guess we’re done here…?” Alij sounded genuinely unsure.

“…For now.” Part of Solonn wanted to see if that gardevoir really was available this time. Part of him wanted to confront him. The rest was well aware of how much harder it would be to rescue his brother from jail, or from whatever remote corner of the world the gardevoir might decide to warp the meddling glalie to this time.

“Take care, all right?” the chansey said as the small group of glalie and the claydol who accompanied them filed out past her.

“Will do,” Moriel assured her with a quick backwards glance. To her companions, “I’m just glad none of you had to be let out with me,” she said, half-sighing. “What happened after I blacked out? What did you do about the intruders?”

Solonn bit his tongue involuntarily as he emerged into the open air outside the Haven, where Grosh was waiting to rejoin them. No, there really wasn’t any getting away from the previous night’s events. “It’s… complicated,” he said wearily. But she’d been taken in by DeLeo just as he had. She had every right to know what had happened, why she’d gotten into that fight in the first place.

He just hoped the rest of his friends were prepared to pick up the story if he found it too hard to continue.

* * *​

The house was empty, save for the snorunt in the living room.

Syr was out, off somewhere quiet to be by himself for a while. After what he’d heard about the night before, Jen couldn’t blame him. That made two friends his adoptive father had lost within a very short span. He could only hope the arbok would pull through all right, especially given his unwillingness to go to Hope meetings with him.

There was a knock at the door, at which Jen hopped off the sofa and made to answer it in no particular hurry. It was followed after a beat by six more in rapid succession—with wide eyes, he picked up the pace. It was him!

Sure enough, when he pulled the door open and turned his gaze upward, he was met with exactly the face he’d expected. A gardevoir stood there, blue-haired and orange-eyed, and he was smiling warmly. A whismur stood at his side, looking slightly apprehensive.

“Adn!” Jen greeted him eagerly. Before Adn could respond, Jen spotted the plain little bundle he carried. His eyelight brightened. “Is that…”

“Yes.” Adn into the living room, opening the parcel as Jen shut the door behind him. “I’m sorry I couldn’t find it faster. I know you’ve been fighting it pretty hard on your end.”

“That… is an understatement.” Jen dropped himself back on the couch, shuddering a bit as he recalled the last time his element had almost gotten the better of him. “You’re lucky you found it when you did. I almost evolved yesterday.”

“Oh dear…” Adn looked down at him pityingly. “Again, I apologize. I knew you didn’t have much time left, but…” He clasped his hands, the pouch quivering in his grasp, and took a steadying breath. “Hm. Better late than never, I suppose…”

Here he pulled the item he’d brought in out of its pouch. It was a black thorn, about seven inches in length, that came to a luridly purple and very sharp point. “And there you have it. One dire thorn, just as promised,” he said proudly, then handed the item to Jen.

Jen grasped it around the middle, turning it over in his hands a couple of times to see how the light caught its bright tip, mindful not to prick his palms on it. It contained venom; he knew that much. A very potent venom.

But that’s not all he knew about it. “Should we really do this here?” he asked, concerned eyes sweeping the room around him. The whismur shuddered almost imperceptibly at his words. “I don’t want to make a mess…”

“Hmmm… I really don’t think we should risk anyone seeing the thorn before you’ve had a chance to use it,” Adn said, frowning. “Raxxi can be careful,” he assured him, patting the whismur on the head. “And this shouldn’t take long, judging from what you said about yesterday.”

“Well… okay. But you’ve got to help me clean up if something happens. I don’t want my dad throwing a hissy-fit. And… please be careful,” he reminded Raxxi, but for a different reason. “We have some berries, but I still don’t want you getting sick.”

The whismur gave a quick nod. “I will,” he said.

Adn stepped back, and Raxxi stepped forward. The whismur took a deep breath, letting it out with a soft, whistling noise. “Okay,” he said. “Let’s do this.”

Jen gave him a nod. Then, with the dire thorn clutched in his hand, he launched off the sofa into a headbutt. Raxxi only stared back, and he took the hit without resisting in the slightest, though he did let out an “oof!” at the impact.

The snorunt and the whismur went sliding a short distance across the floor before coming to a stop against the wall. Jen frowned down at Raxxi as he stood, then looked up at Adn. “You didn’t tell me he wasn’t going to fight back at all…”

Adn shrugged. “And he didn’t tell me. I suppose he just wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible. At any rate, you did mention having berries on hand, did you not?”

“Yeah, but…”

“I’ll be fine,” Raxxi said weakly. “Just… don’t use the poison on me, okay?”

Jen inhaled deeply, still more than a little apprehensive about what he had to do. But the fact remained that time wasn’t on his side. If he didn’t make use of Adn’s gift soon, becoming a glalie would happen sooner rather than later—and he hadn’t forgotten a word of what the gardevoir had told him about glalie. About what not only their new bodies but also their society demanded of them. Jen would not let himself become such a creature.

He sighed. “All right,” he finally said. With his eyes screwed all the while, he headbutted the whismur again, and again, and again… and then stopped as a strange sort of energy, familiar and yet not, began pulsing through him from the hand that held the dire thorn. Even through his closed eyes, he could see the brilliant light he gave off as, once again, the process of evolution began. But this time… this time, he didn’t fight it.

This change would save him, not condemn him to a life of killing and servitude.

He felt himself elongating greatly, with numerous blades and spikes erupting from his hide. It hurt, and he couldn’t pretend otherwise. He cried out, only to lose his voice as he transformed fully into energy. He could still feel the embrace of the mother element… but there was a new one at her side. Something dark and earthly that brought a current of unease as it took its place within him but soon settled into something much more tolerable.

He’d never felt so safe, so powerful in his entire life.

The light faded out. Moments later, he dared to open his eyes, letting a sickly yellow light spill from them. They’d succeeded. He’d evolved into a cryonide rather than a glalie.

His snakelike lower body pulled into a loose coil, his long arms descending to carefully pick up the unconscious whismur lying before him. “Thank you,” he told Raxxi, his voice low and hissing at its edges. He had every intention of thanking the whismur again once the latter was awake.

Balancing him across his arms, too fearful of letting him come into contact with his long claws and spiked chest to do otherwise, Jen turned about and slithered around the table to lay him on the sofa. He bumped his head against one of the artificial stalactites hanging from the ceiling in the process. “Ow!” He looked up at it and gave an irate little click of his new mandibles. He’d have to be a lot more mindful of his size now.

Jen carefully placed his friend on the couch, hoping the armrest would suffice for a pillow—he didn’t dare try to move the cushions, not with blades for fingers. He frowned and made a faint chittering noise as another problem occurred to him: How am I going to get the berries?

“Adn?” he spoke up, turning to face the gardevoir—only to find him already headed into the kitchen. Jen let out a relieved sigh. “They’re in the cabinets,” he made sure to inform the gardevoir, but it sounded as though he’d already guessed that much himself.

Jen looked Raxxi over again before moving to the next step—and it felt like something had just ripped his heart right out. The whismur wasn’t breathing, and he was giving off noticeably less heat than before.

“Wh-what…” Dear gods, had he done this? He’d been reluctant to beat the poor creature into unconsciousness, let alone death… He stared helplessly at Raxxi in horrified bewilderment for another moment. Then, “Adn!” he cried out, his voice cracking. “Adn!”

Adn returned from the kitchen, but unhurriedly. He carried a box of oran berries, which he’d already opened. He popped one into his mouth as he approached the couch, regarding the dead whismur for barely a second before fixing his gaze on Jen. The gardevoir was smiling.

Jen’s confusion worsened at the sight of him. “Can’t you see what happened? I killed him. Oh gods, I killed him…” he said between panicked breaths, his palms pressed to his temples. One of his horns nicked his right hand, letting blood and mist seep out between his claws. He didn’t notice.

“Shhhhh… no. You didn’t kill him,” Adn assured Jen. He tilted his head backward a bit. “I did.”

Adn’s words didn’t register immediately, held back by Jen’s guilt and disbelief. But once they clicked, his jaws fell open and his eyes widened, their light brightening and trembling. “But… but why?” he asked weakly, genuinely confused. This wasn’t like Adn. This didn’t make sense, coming from someone who’d gone to such lengths to keep Jen from becoming a killer.

“Because the dead tell no tales.” And with that, Adn’s eyes went pitch black, his entire body turning a bright blue. Jen could only stare in horror as the gardevoir suddenly melted into an amorphous blue blob. A ditto, he realized as his wits clicked back into place.

Jen backed away from the ditto in a rush, knocking the table over in the process. His long tail got caught up in it; he twisted over himself in a brief tangle of black, spiky flesh in his efforts to free himself. He righted himself in a hurry, dark venom beginning to leak from the hollow tips of his mandibles.

“Who are you?” he demanded. “What did you do to the real Adn?”

The ditto chuckled in a high-pitched voice. “Silly boy. I am the real Adn. But most of the time, I go by Anomaly.”

It was hard to take that for an answer. Was the creature before him telling the truth? He couldn’t guess. He could hardly care at this point. Whether or not the ditto was lying now, they’d already lied to him today. Betrayed him. And now there was a murderer in his house.

If his father returned while the creature was still here…

Jen let out a piercing cry. His hand shot forward toward Anomaly, and he fired an ice beam from it. It connected, and the ditto warbled weirdly in pain, but wasted no time at all in retaliating. Long tendrils whipped outward from their amorphous body, and though Jen tried to dodge, they simply stretched and twisted and extended to match his every move and then some, and soon he could no longer predict their movements. A swerve to the wrong side, his spiked back bashing into the kitchen doorway and ripping up the frame, and the tendrils caught him, wrapping around his neck in an instant, their ends piercing effortlessly through his dark, icy armor and tough hide.

His mandibles darted out, stabbing into the blue flesh and injecting their venom, and he saw a sickly purple tinge spread up their length to the blob still sitting on the couch. They grimaced, but the signs of their poisoning soon began to fade, and the creature began to grow.

Gasping for air, Jen slashed at the appendages tightening around his throat, severing them with a spray of colorless blood. The ends still wrapped around his neck simply liquefied, while what remained of the tendrils withdrew back into their owner’s body—a body that was taking on the shape of another pokémon altogether, Jen realized, and he lunged and tried to slash the flesh apart as it changed from blue to a scorching red. Glowing blood gushed out over his hands, and he screamed in agony, hurling himself out of the way of what he now recognized to be a fire-type.

A torrent of flame erupted behind him, and without so much as a thought spared for the damage he was inflicting upon his father’s house, Jen burst out through the bay window, the glass slicing into his arms, the flames melting the armor off his tail. Struggling to maintain his coordination despite the terrible pain, he dashed away from the house as fast as his serpentine body could carry him.

He caught sight of one of his hands—the claws cracked, the flesh half-gone—and he nearly froze in horror for a moment before another burst of flame at his tail spurred him on all the faster. He threw a glance back over his shoulder—there was a magmortar chasing him, and while he wasn’t nearly as fast as the cryonide, his arm-cannons had an incredible range.

Whipping his head back around, he saw other pokémon starting to investigate the commotion from the intersection ahead. Some of them turned on their heels or kept on driving at the sight that met them, but others stayed put, transfixed and, in some cases, looking like they wanted a fight.

A couple of them looked like they could take on a magmortar. But there was no guarantee they could take on whatever else the ditto decided to become.

“Run!” Jen cried out to them, his voice ragged and strained. “Run!”
 
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Sike Saner

Peace to the Mountain
Chapter 40 – Lightless Flames


Solonn never did get to finish his story about the night before. Not when an uproar from a not-too-distant part of town seized his attention, as well as that of everyone else around him.

“Oh, no you don’t…” Grosh snarled before charging toward the source of all the noise and chaos, tearing up the sidewalk in his haste.

“Wait!” Solonn shouted. Alij did likewise. But barely any sooner than the cries had left their mouths, they found themselves along for the ride, rushing forward at the steelix’s sides and evading the debris he flung about.

Solonn heard a voice calling out from somewhere unseen, begging the terrified citizens to flee. He saw a burst of flame shoot across the street from around the corner and was all too ready to join the pokémon thundering past him and the others.

But then he saw the source of that voice.

He didn’t know what he was looking at, exactly. He doubted anyone with him had, either. But there was enough similarity to Solonn’s own kind—the huge incisors, the glistening armor, the glowing eyes—to make him stop and wonder.

Was that…?

The strange pokémon met his gaze for a fraction of a second. Then: “What are you doing, go! Go!” he shouted, gesturing wildly with his long-clawed hands, barreling over an abandoned vehicle as he surged by—pursued by a red-and-pink magmortar, albeit not closely. But the fire pokémon didn’t need to get close. Not with that range.

As if of one mind, all of the glalie present threw shields up and tried to take the assailant out in an instant, the air shattering into noise as they attacked in near unison.

But the magmortar stood unaffected, and he quickly turned his flamethrowers toward Grosh, whose roar of pain was muffled as he plunged into the asphalt as if it were liquid. Water from a burst main erupted skyward in the wake of his dig attack; the magmortar winced and hissed as it came raining down on him, and he began to rapidly dissolve—

—only to reform.

“A ditto!” Viraya noted aloud, firing an ice beam at the darkening, shifting mass. Several more converged on the transforming pokémon, including one from the strange, black, serpentine creature. Within an instant, the ditto was encased in ice.

Grosh exploded from beneath the ditto, hurling the frozen pokémon into the air. The ditto crashed heavily through a nearby second-story window, the glass shattering noisily.

Oth ascended and entered the building, shining with cosmic power, a mass of conjured stones floating around them as they charged. Torrents of water exploded from inside the destroyed apartment, pushing the claydol right out before they could land a hit, their ancient power stones dropping to the sidewalk below. A purple blastoise emerged and swept another hydro pump across his field of vision. Grosh took the attack right in the face and toppled over, plunging back underground with a loud crashing noise, and the pressurized water blasted several of the glalie into cars and other pokémon before Viraya managed to freeze it in midair.

The ice must have run all the way up and deep into the blastoise’s cannons; he bellowed in pain and jerked backward, and the frozen stream broke free and went crashing to the sidewalk. The ditto in disguise barely dodged a gunk shot from the unfamiliar ice-type, then turned to retaliate.

A dark mass suddenly materialized in front of him, darting forward and sinking into his flesh before he could react.

The ditto immediately lost their assumed shape. Howling and keening, they tried to take on a new one as the strange shadow that had infected them darkened further, but none of the transformations remained stable for more than a split-second.

Nearly every pokémon in the vicinity took the opportunity to launch a concentrated assault on the helpless shapeshifter, but none of their attacks seemed to have any effect. Still, they pressed on, beams colliding with the quivering flesh.

They abruptly cut off when Grosh burst back onto the scene. The steelix grabbed the ditto in his jaws, then flung them to the soaked and shattered street with a violent, wrenching motion. Roaring, he slammed an iron tail into the dark, shapeless mass, and then another, and another—

Then Grosh pulled his tail back sharply, wailing. Its end had been dissolved clean off, black blood seeping from the stump.

“Get back, get back!” Moriel screamed hoarsely as Solonn stared at his father’s injury in horror. But he heeded her advice, even as he stared; everyone in the area did, save for a single vigoroth, whose entire body glowed a fierce orange as he flung himself claws-first at the ditto.

He never made contact with their disintegrating aura. The ditto exploded into a burst of silver light an instant before impact, blowing the vigoroth away. Solonn cried out in pain, temporarily blinded, his ears ringing. He kept on hurtling backward nonetheless, trying his damnedest not to hit the ground. Something crumpled against his back, gouging into his flesh with a jagged metal edge.

The first thing he saw once he could see again was the sight of an oddly dull gray beam, almost more like a blade, howling past Oth. The claydol shuddered in midair and fell, minus one hand and a few of their eyes.

Before anyone could react, another gray beam burned a hole between Alij’s eyes, shooting out of the back of his head with a burst of mist.

A third tore through the air, and this one was aimed right at Solonn. He felt it explode against a shield he very nearly didn’t raise in time, its strange, lightless energy dissipating like dust in his face.

It blinded him for a moment, but Solonn knew what he’d see if he didn’t move. He dove out of the way, feeling glass shatter and bite into his hide, and kept going into the space beyond. Racks of clothing and accessories clattered and clanged and fell in his wake, draping fabric over his face and blinding him again until he stopped and shook it off.

Solonn rushed back to the broken window, praying silently and aloud that no one else was dead. From across the street, he saw the new form of their attacker for the first time. The thing was nearly human shaped and seemingly made of white, lightless fire, their head a towering plume of flames-that-weren’t, their body tapering into a ghostly tail.

The creature fired at another of the glalie—from this distance, and with so much dust in the air, it was hard to tell which—only to be foiled by protect again. That glalie promptly retaliated with a blizzard—and while they didn’t freeze this time, the specter’s hollow, anguished roar told that the impact hurt badly all the same.

Solonn charged back out onto the ruined street with an ice beam coalescing between his horns, but the specter surged out of the way before it could connect—only to smack right into a bystander’s psybeam. There, apparently, was another weakness; the creature howled again, gripping their head.

Their pitch-black eyes opened again, and they took on a look of deep concentration. Another gunk shot went hurtling their way, but they zipped out of harm’s way again with their trance unbreaking.

Only to come out of it themself in clear confusion.

“No…” they hissed in a voice like a rustling wind. They trembled in midair, faintly at first but then violently, angrily. “It can’t… my collection…”

Another volley of assorted beams forbade the creature to piece their thoughts together beyond that. Again they dodged, plunging into one of the tunnels Grosh had torn through the earth beneath the street.

Without so much as a moment’s thought, Solonn dove in after them.

He wasn’t alone. He could hear and feel other bodies rushing through the air behind him, along with long, loping steps. The tunnel sloped at a sharp but navigable angle, and it was wide enough for him, but only just; no one could hope to pass him—nor each other, in all likelihood. If the specter turned and fired again, only his shield would save him. And it could only save him so often, and for so long…

Ahead, the creature was burning away the earth before them using those gray beams, tunneling forward and downward, and they were doing so very, very quickly. Solonn fired on them again, hoping to catch them off guard. He succeeded, but still the creature endured. In a swirl of lightless fire, they spun and shot at him with one hand, the other still tunneling ahead with a sustained beam. Again, it hit his shield.

No sooner had the protect aura dropped than a fresh attack blossomed into being around the specter’s hand.

There was a rushing noise, energy cutting the air—but from somewhere behind him. A searing yellow hyper beam—Oth, Solonn wanted desperately to believe, but the last he’d seen of them…

The hyper beam and the specter’s attack collided, their energies dispersing in a burst that sizzled against the earthen walls, and against Solonn’s face. He hissed, fighting to keep his eyes open and his mind on the figurative trigger of a number of techniques at once. At his side, he could hear more tunneling sounds; there was a shout of “Move your ass!” followed by the sight of a swampert shoving his way past in the now-widened tunnel. With a wet, unpleasant noise, the swampert launched a mud bomb at the specter—

—which sailed past them into the vast room that the creature’s gray beams had just breached.

The mud bomb crashed into a terminal against the wall, sending a burst of sparks to the floor. Red lights filled the room, flooding out into the tunnel, the specter silhouetted against it like candle smoke, and a tinny alarm sounded again and again and again.

There was a hissing noise from somewhere out of sight, and the creature flew in toward it. The pokémon on their tail followed and renewed their assault. Still willing and able to put up a fight, the creature clapped their wispy hands together, and a shockwave burst out from between them, washing over the defending pokémon before they could react.

Solonn snarled at it, and he could hear pained sounds from those around him. But he wasn’t hurt badly, and he suspected that neither was anyone else. It was probably—he narrowly evaded another gray beam, some unknown, wall-mounted device imploding as he plowed into it—A diversion, he thought dazedly, spitting out a broken bit of something.

His eyes darted back to where he’d last seen the specter and found that they were already on the run, with a swampert, three glalie, and the strangely familiar, black serpent in pursuit. Solonn joined the chase, readying an ice beam, trying to get a bead on the now erratically-moving creature…

And then the creature suddenly stopped short, taken by surprise. So did everyone else, in spite of themselves. Solonn caught himself staring; he forcefully snapped himself out of it and let his ice beam fly. It hit its mark, alongside another ice beam and a mud bomb.

Leaving the specter a prone, shuddering heap at the feet of the apparently human being who’d just joined them.

The man, short and bald, let his gaze flick up to the other pokémon in the room with him for only a moment before returning it to the creature trying to lift themself up before him. In his hand, something that looked black and reddish-gold in the deep crimson light glinted for a moment before hurtling toward the specter—an ultra ball, Solonn realized.

“Get ready to open fire on ’em again,” the man said, and Solonn could have sworn he recognized the voice from somewhere. The face, too. “That thing’s not guaranteed to hold.”

No sooner than he’d spoken, the ball burst open, spilling its captive out in a flood of white light and golden sparks. Another barrage of attacks hit the specter the instant they rematerialized, and ice encased them once again, their lightless flames suspended in mid-flicker. The man threw another ultra ball; it sucked the specter in and clunked to the ground, where it shook, and shook… and shook…

And fell still.

The ultra ball held Solonn’s stare as fast as it held its new prisoner, but only for a moment. Then he looked back up at the man who’d captured the strange pokémon… and then, at last, he realized who he was looking at.

Either someone had cobbled together a very convincing disguise or illusion, or else Ren Bridges, once a member of the illustrious Apex League, had survived the Extinction.
 
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Sike Saner

Peace to the Mountain
Chapter 41 – Beyond the Glass


The human, or whatever he was, stooped to pick up the ball, minimizing it and tucking it away into one of his pockets. He swept a gaze over the dumbfounded crowd that shared the red-lit space with him, looking fairly nonplussed himself.

“Okay,” he said, sounding a bit shaky but managing to speak over the alarm regardless, “okay. What in the hell just happened?”

Silence. It was hard to do much of anything but goggle in disbelief—and suspicion. Yes, he looked like Ren. Yes, he sounded like him. But DeLeo had sounded and looked human, too. Solonn would have never guessed there was an ordinary meowth behind that façade.

What, if anything, was behind this one?

“Uh…” the swampert finally spoke up. “I could tell you, but you wouldn’t understand me, so…”

The human met the swampert’s gaze in an instant. His dark eyes were huge with alarm. “…Say that again,” he said.

“I, uh, said I could tell you what happened if you could understand me, but…” The swampert cocked his head at the human. “Are you telling me you can?”

The human didn’t respond right away. He glanced back over his shoulder for a long moment, his hairless brows tightening. Finally, “Apparently so,” he said, half-shrugging. “Apparently I decided to lock myself in a tube for some reason and came out of it able to understand pokémon.” He gave a strange little laugh. “Ordinarily I’d be celebrating. But again…” His hand rose to rub at his temple. “I can’t remember why I was in there. I can’t even remember building the damn thing.”

Solonn just stared, unsure what to think. Exactly what he was looking at was a question that still needed answering, and at this point he wasn’t even sure if it could be. But part of him was starting to sympathize with the man—he knew firsthand what it felt like to have missing memories. Missing memories and unexplained linguistic abilities.

Between that and the fact that the adrenaline was starting to fade, allowing the pain of his injuries to come to the forefront, it was getting a little difficult to care whether or not the human was as he seemed.

“And what the hell was a nullshade of all things doing down here?” the human went on.

“So,” Viraya said, “that’s what that was.”

The human stared at her mutely for a moment before nodding. He pulled the ultra ball back out and stared at it in consternation. “These things aren’t even supposed to exist anymore…”

“Neither are you,” Solonn thought aloud. The human met his gaze, the hand holding the ultra ball dropping to his side. Solonn bit his tongue, all but oblivious to the pain in light of all his other injuries. Even they were forgotten for a moment when he imagined flames shooting from the human’s hands, engulfing him and boiling his blood…

“What… Why the hell not?” the human asked.

“You… Your kind is extinct,” Evane explained softly. She sounded as if she didn’t want to believe it.

The human looked as though he honestly couldn’t believe it. As if he honestly didn’t know the Extinction had happened, that he should be long since dead and dealt with just like the rest of his people.

“That’s…” he began, the blood drained from his face. “No. That’s not possible.”

Evane started to respond, but a growing noise cut her off. It sounded like something heavy being dragged along, and it was coming from the tunnel leading back to the surface.

“More company,” Ren muttered. He stashed the ultra ball, readying a poké ball in its stead, and dashed toward the breach in the wall, just small and nimble enough to get past the pokémon.

Solonn was almost right on his heels, hope stirring inside him at the approaching sound—he was sure he knew exactly who was coming down to join them. That hope faltered when the noise stopped before its source could appear—Why’d he stop? Oh gods, please be all right, please…

The human stopped at the breach and unleashed a greninja. Solonn’s eyes went huge and his mouth dropped open, but not at the frog. He distantly remembered learning that Ren had one on his roster, though he couldn’t seem to recall anything else about Ren’s team. The greninja wasn’t much of a surprise.

The faces he saw looking back at him from the tunnel—two, when he’d only dared to expect one at the most—were another story.

“Wait, don’t!” he cried out as he came to a stop himself, looking up past the human with equal parts worry and astonishment. “They’re not enemies!”

They were anything but. A short distance up the tunnel, a claydol hovered unsteadily just above its muddy floor—a claydol missing one of their hands and part of their head. Somehow, incredibly, they were still alive. Further back, a steelix lay nearly motionless.

<We…> Oth said weakly, voicelessly, <we…>

The human stared at them, frowning. The greninja refrained from attacking, but glared up distrustfully as if ready to shift gears at any moment.

Solonn winced as Oth nearly dropped from the air. “Please, we’ve got to help them!” he cried.

“Not us,” Viraya said from nearby. “Her.” She edged her way as close to the breach as she could; the human and greninja both helpfully stepped aside. “Oth! You’ve got to call Quiul here!”

<I… c-can… cannot,> the claydol said. Gods, they sounded like they were hanging by a thread… <Th—> They shuddered. <The… l-link…>

The human cast another glance back toward the hallway he’d come from. His mouth drew into a thin line. Then he recalled his greninja.

“I haven’t been down here in a while,” he said. He was starting to sound hoarse, presumably on account of the fact that he still had to compete with that alarm. “I think there might be medical supplies around here somewhere. I think I can remember how to get there. In the meantime…”

He produced and released another poké ball. There was a burst of light… and then, standing between him and the breach, was a kwazai.

For a moment, Solonn couldn’t help but wonder if it was Ntairow who’d just appeared in their midst. But no… no, this one was taller. More solidly built.

“Pain split,” the human instructed her, “for the claydol, at the very least. Try to fit in the steelix too, but only if you can handle it.”

The kwazai gave a quick nod, then dropped and scrambled up the tunnel on her many arms. Solonn looked past Viraya to watch the kwazai work. He should be concerned for her, some tiny part of him thought. Too much of the rest of him was worried about Oth and Grosh to allow it.

Pink-and-gold light shone around the kwazai and her first patient for a moment. The kwazai slumped, dark blood dripping from the side of her head and running off one of her hands, then wormed her way around Oth with a pained grunt and began crawling up toward Grosh.

As light swelled in the tunnel once more, Solonn took in the kwazai’s handiwork thus far. Oth… had still seen better days for sure. Their head was somewhat more intact than it’d been, but the eyes and hand on that side were still missing. Their levitation was a bit steadier now, and they proceeded down the tunnel with no further delay.

“Oth…” Solonn’s eyelight wavered as the claydol passed by. Though they were certainly in better shape than before, seeing their injuries up close in the pulsing red light made them seem even more horrific somehow. Soon Solonn could bear to look at them no longer, turning his gaze back toward Grosh and the kwazai.

“Oth,” Viraya spoke up again, “can you reach her now?”

The claydol gave a low, somber rattle. <The link was broken in the midst of my injuries. I am sorry.>

“It’s not your fault,” Solonn said quietly, still staring up the tunnel. The kwazai’s work was finished now, and Grosh was stirring. The steelix lifted his head, blinking blearily, and noticed the blue figure lying prone in front of him.

The human noticed, too. “Ah, Demi… I told you not to overdo it…” A red beam fired from out of sight to recall the kwazai.

Only to be deflected by the pile of dirt and stone that had suddenly dropped to block their view.

The human swore loudly, and he started to head up the tunnel himself—then backed right out as it continued to cave in, earth falling in a wave toward the red-lit room. The surrounding space rumbled, and Evane, Viraya, and the swampert made for the hallway beyond, but the room held.

The human stared at the resealed wall. “Come on,” he muttered, in a tone befitting a prayer, “come on…”

No sooner had he spoken than the breach burst back open again, a massive head flinging mud and small rocks all over the room and its occupants.

Once everyone was done flinching, and the last of the protect shields dropped, they took in the sight of the newly-arrived steelix. Most of him couldn’t fit into the room even if it weren’t occupied at the time; recognizing this, they began backing out of the way. Grosh let about a quarter of himself in, then lowered his head, opened his jaws, and let the kwazai he was carrying slide gently to the floor.

Demi was a mess. There wasn’t much of her that wasn’t caked in soil and blood that looked black under the emergency lights. It was clear she’d taken on more damage than she should’ve, and now the concern that had been absent finally made it to the surface of Solonn’s mind. “Thank you,” he said quietly, and bowed his head.

The light in the room intensified briefly as the human finally recalled Demi. That he’d managed to was a good sign. It meant she was still alive.

Grosh dragged a couple more feet of himself into the room; everyone else backed up further. He lifted his head, blinking in the flashing light. It shone off his armor as the filth began sliding away.

Then he spotted the human.

Grosh’s eyes widened, then narrowed. “You’re a fake,” he decided aloud, and began growling deep in his throat.

The human swallowed hard, looking up at the massive serpent looming before him. “No,” he responded, “I’m not. But listen: this really isn’t the time to argue. You’re hurt, all of you.” He started blinking rapidly all of a sudden, rubbing at his eye. It came away smeared with something dark. “All of us,” he amended, and as he turned back toward the hallway, Solonn could see more of the stuff beading up and running down the human’s forehead.

His thoughts skipped a beat. Could a robotic disguise bleed?

“Come on,” the human said, and he began jogging down the hall with a hand pressed to his forehead. There was a moment’s delay; then, the others began following as fast as they could. No sense losing track of him when there was still some doubt—albeit just a little bit less than before—that he was what he seemed.

There was no real risk of running him over. No one was in any fit state to proceed at full speed. Solonn suspected they were all at least as sore as he was.

“How much further?” Viraya asked from her place*near the back of the line.

“Not sure,” the human—it was getting harder and harder not to think of him as Ren—responded, without pausing or looking back. “But…” His head turned from right to left and back again, and he slowed at a fork in the road only to keep on moving straight ahead. “I think it’s not too far from here.” He took a left at the next fork, leading them down a slope. “I think… There. That might be it.”

He finally came to a stop in front of a tightly-sealed door—so tightly-sealed that it was a little hard to distinguish from the same-colored walls around it, especially in the still-pulsing light. The pad set in the wall next to the door was even harder to make out, but the human found it fast enough. He studied for a moment, silent save for his panting breaths, then pressed his hand to it.

The instant he did, the alarm finally, blessedly cut off. The surrounding light turned steady and white; Solonn and Viraya winced at the brightness, and Evane let out a hiss. Solonn forced his eyes open again and saw a green beam lancing into the human’s skull from a lens that had appeared above the door. The human (Ren, Solonn finally decided, however tentatively) stood frozen on the spot until the beam cut off; his free hand had dropped to his side, the fingers more blood-smeared than ever. The lens disappeared behind a metal iris, and the door rose out of the way with a faint hiss.

Beyond, there was an arched hallway, just barely wide enough to admit the likes of Solonn and Grosh. Another, less remarkable door lay at its end; there was no pad this time. Ren made for it, a hand reaching out to brace against the wall halfway there. Meanwhile the door behind closed loudly a moment after the last of the pokémon had passed through it; all of the glalie turned toward the noise in an instant, while everyone else but Oth craned their necks backward.

“Damn. Good thing that didn’t close any sooner,” the swampert said, glancing back at his own tailfin, then turned his attention forward once more. Everyone else did likewise.

Ren gripped the handle of the second door, then slid it out of the way with relative ease. He proceeded into the vast, white space beyond, making a beeline for something out of sight.

The pokémon followed him. They fanned out once they were all in the room, giving everyone room to move—to fight, if need be. Solonn had a protect shield on standby; he imagined the same was true of the other glalie. The same might also be true of that strange half-serpent. Solonn could see the creature more clearly than ever now—including his mutilated hand. He shuddered hard at the sight, hardly caring how his own injuries complained at the motion. He knew a fire-induced injury when he saw one.

He heard a chime then; turning, he found Ren standing near an active rejuvenation machine, its screen glowing softly as it healed its lone occupant. Meanwhile the human was pulling out a first aid kit from a cabinet at its side.

“You’ve done enough,” he murmured to himself as he threw a glance at the single poké ball nestled in the machine. Then he turned to the pokémon who were there in the flesh, blood still glistening on his face. “There’s max potions in here,” he said with a wave toward the open cabinet. Sure enough, one of its shelves was lined with distantly-familiar, blue-and-white bottles.

The swampert stepped forward—there was no one else around with sufficiently prehensile hands other than Ren, who was already busy tending to his own injury. He reached up and scooped out an armful of the potions, laid them at his feet, and began treating the other pokémon one by one. Only once everyone else had been taken care of did he mend his own cuts and scrapes.

<We are in your debt,> Oth said—gods, it was good to hear their mindvoice so strong again, <Mister…>

“Jarl,” the swampert filled in. “It’s Jarl. And you don’t owe me a thing,” he said with a dismissive wave, then settled back onto all fours. “If it wasn’t for you guys, I’d have never seen a real, live human again.”

“If that’s what he even is,” Grosh said, his voice rumbling through the floor. He edged closer to Ren, lowering his head until he was almost eye-level with him, and sniffed noisily. “You smell like the real thing. You look like the real thing. But I’ve been fooled before. Our psychic friend’s even been fooled before.” He lifted his head once more, staring down his blunt, metallic snout at the man before him. “So why, pray tell, should we believe you’re actually human?”

Ren fussed with his forehead a couple moments more, then turned to face Grosh. If he was trying not to look unnerved by the steelix, he was failing, albeit only just. He licked his lips. “You shouldn’t,” he said finally. “I have no way of proving it. What you’re assuming I must be instead, I can’t guess, but…”

With a sigh, he let himself slink to the floor. “My name is Ren,” he said, “and I swear to your gods and mine that I’m legitimately human. Whether or not you believe me… that’s fine. But just so you know: I don’t exactly believe you, either. About the humans, I mean.” And maybe he didn’t, for the most part. But something in his eyes told that on some level, he feared they might be right.

“You’ll see for yourself once we get back above,” Evane said.

At her words, Moriel turned and looked upward, more or less in the direction they’d come from. “Yes,” she said hollowly, and Solonn realized it was the first time she’d spoken since the fight against the nullshade had ended. Since Alij was… oh gods… Solonn felt a sharp pang in his chest as he watched Moriel look around, presumably for a way out that wouldn’t require anyone to tunnel through the earth and risk another cave-in. He followed her gaze…

And then froze, as his own landed upon something in the adjacent room, beyond a glass partition.

There, hanging from the ceiling, was a pair of white-and-silver arms. Beneath them was a padded platform with presently-open restraints and a presently empty steel tray to either side.

All at once, he swore he could feel that platform against his back.
 
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Sike Saner

Peace to the Mountain
Chapter 42 – Back to the Surface


Solonn trembled in midair for a moment. Then he sank to the floor. “I’ve… I’ve been here,” he hissed, his eyes wide, their light flickering wildly.

“Wh-what? When?” Evane asked.

Solonn couldn’t answer. Thinking back to it got him all but stuck in the memory, and he could feel the pain that had come the first time he’d remembered it threatening to creep back into his head.

“It was when you were a child,” Ren said quietly, “wasn’t it.”

Paralyzed. Helplessly watching through the weak eyes of a snorunt as the arms came down. The pain intensified, and his eyes screwed shut. A hiss tore its way past his teeth.

“You are remembering…” Slowly, Ren got to his feet, then stepped closer to Solonn. The glalie turned in an instant, still hissing, his eyes blazing with pain; the human jolted, but held his ground. He sighed. “I’m sorry,” Ren said, and he both sounded and looked the part. “It wasn’t supposed to resurface… and it sure as hell wasn’t meant to hurt you.”

“What are you talking about?” A growl immediately followed Grosh’s words, and before anyone could stop it, he drove his freshly-mended tail between Ren and Solonn, shoving the human away. Ren hit the counter behind him, his breath knocked out on a pained note. “What did you do to him?” the steelix demanded, brandishing his tail-tip like a sword leveled right at Ren’s chest.

Ren eyed the tail warily as he struggled to catch his breath. Once he’d succeeded, he pulled his gaze away from it to look its owner right in the eyes.

“I tried to give him the ability to speak to humans,” Ren said. There was noticeable guilt in his voice.

Solonn couldn’t see Ren past the steelix. But he stared all the same, teeth parted, shaking on the spot. The memory playing in his mind abruptly cut out. So did the rest of his thoughts.

“The nanites didn’t take,” Ren went on. “So I…” He hesitated a moment, then visibly braced himself. “I sealed his memories of the whole thing—albeit ineptly.” He sighed again. “I put him through all that fear and confusion for nothing… Just sending him back didn’t feel like enough. I wanted to prevent him from having to relive that nightmare.”

“But it wasn’t for nothing,” Viraya said.

Solonn abruptly turned to face her, looking alarmed. “No!”

But Viraya kept on. “He can speak human language. Your procedure was a success. There wasn’t any need to seal his memories.”

“No,” Grosh rumbled, “there wasn’t.” He jabbed Ren with his tail, hard enough to bruise but not to pierce. The human gasped in pain.

“Grosh…” Evane said worriedly.

“He’s—” Ren began, only to break into a coughing fit. “He’s already remembering,” he managed weakly. “I can… I can unseal the rest. It’ll be easy since it’s already lifting. Just give me a chance; I can undo everything.”

Here Solonn rose once more. He circled around Grosh; somewhat reluctantly, Ren tore his gaze from the steelix to regard him.

“Everything,” Solonn repeated.

Ren nodded slowly. Then the full implications of what Solonn was getting at clicked. He averted his gaze. “I’m sorry for the way things played out,” he said. “I never wanted to hurt you. I never wanted to scare you. I should’ve given you a choice. And I’m giving you one now: I’m willing to deactivate them, if that’s what you really want. I’ll deactivate them. All of them. I… could even attempt to extract them if you’d prefer, but I have to warn you: it’d be very risky. More invasive than putting them in was. I don’t want to hurt you,” he stressed. “And if you decide you want to keep them active…” Another sigh. “Humanity could learn so, so much…”

“No,” Solonn said heavily, “they can’t. Not anymore.” He met Ren’s gaze directly. “Deactivate them,” he said. Part of him wanted the nanites gone altogether. The part that didn’t want to risk Grosh losing his son and Jen losing his brother won out.

“All right,” Ren said, “all right. But if you ever change your mind… come to the big brick house on Bayberry Street. You’ll know it when you see it. I can switch them back on anytime, but I can only do it from here.”

Solonn couldn’t imagine himself changing his mind. Not in a thousand years. “Then go ahead and undo it,” he said, his voice threatening to crack. “Now. Please.”

Ren nodded again. He looked up at Grosh again, silently seeking permission to go free. Grosh scowled at him but withdrew his tail.

“If you doublecross us…” the steelix warned, “if he doesn’t make it out of here alive, I will personally end you. Painfully.”

The human swallowed audibly. “…I understand,” he said. “I’m not going to hurt him. I promise.” Tentatively, still sore from Grosh’s prodding, he started moving toward a terminal off in the corner. “You had better still work…” he mumbled as he tried to start it up. He let out a sigh of relief when it hummed to life.

Moments passed as he keyed in command after command, then minutes. Solonn began to fear that Ren wasn’t keeping his word. The agitated grinding of steelix segments, gouging the floor with their spikes, told that Grosh felt likewise.

Then the room and everyone in it suddenly vanished, and all at once Solonn was on the other side of the glass.

* * *​

Paralyzed. The arms descending. Strange, tugging pressure at his forehead. Rock-hard fingers effortlessly prying his jaws open. They tasted like nothing at all as they pushed his tongue out of the way.

The arms withdrew. Moments or minutes or hours later, they returned. One of them held something sharp. The hand drove it in somewhere under his jawline. It should’ve hurt. But it didn’t.

Elsewhere now. A strange, tall creature speaking to him, trying to get him to talk back. Correcting him every time he responded. Eventually giving up, a dismayed, regretful look on his face.

The other side of the glass. The platform where he’d lain just barely visible beyond. Apologies from the strange creature—the human—as something flashed in the corner.

Darkness.

The snowgrounds, with dozens of worried faces staring down at him. His mother, beyond grateful that he was safe again.

Safe again…


* * *​

The present reasserted itself. With a delay, Solonn realized that he’d dropped to the floor again. He rose shakily, looking over the small crowd sharing the room with him. His eyes found Ren and locked on to him.

“That ought to have done it,” the human said quietly. “Just one thing left to check. I want you to speak to me, the way I’m speaking to you right now. My voice, my language. Try as hard as you can.”

Solonn felt his throat threaten to close. Even now, some part of him was hesitant to expose his abilities. But he found the courage to go ahead. He inhaled deeply…

And nothing intelligible came out.

A chill ran through him. Had the human robbed him of his ability to speak altogether? A couple of the other pokémon looked on with concern—and in Grosh’s case, suspicion—as if they were entertaining the same conclusion.

He tried again. Still nothing. He knew the human’s words, could still see them in his mind’s eye. He knew the sound of Ren’s voice. But when he tried to replicate them, his mouth and throat wouldn’t cooperate. His eyelight flickering, he tried using the words of his own kind.

“What…” he said hoarsely, speaking Virc this time, sounding like no one but himself. His eyes went huge. “I… I think it worked…” He attempted other languages, other voices, but the words continued to evade him, and his voice refused to change. He met Ren’s gaze and switched back to Virc. “I think it worked,” he said again, more confidently this time.

Ren let out the breath he’d been holding. “Good,” he said, wiping at his brow, “good.” He shut the terminal down. “Again, if you ever change your mind… just let me know, all right?”

Solonn didn’t respond. Even though it had proven reversible, and even though it would be his choice the next time around, he still couldn’t imagine accepting the talent that had led him through so much ever again.

“Can we leave now?” Moriel spoke up, her tone still subdued. “Please… just show us the way out.”

Ren nodded and stepped away from the terminal. “This way,” he said. “Oh… except for you,” he amended with an apologetic look toward Grosh. “I promise you: it’s not payback for earlier. The elevator just can’t handle weight like yours, and since you can’t levitate… I’m afraid you’ll just have to burrow your way back topside.”

Grosh made a rumbling noise deep in his chest, still looking somewhat distrustful of the human. “Be careful,” he said to the rest of the pokémon, his gaze sweeping over them and lingering on his son. Then, with no further warning, he plunged headfirst into the nearest sufficiently-sized patch of the floor.

The crowd he’d left behind winced and turned away from the spray of dirt and plaster. A few tense moments were spent anticipating further repercussions, shields on standby, those without the ability to shield poised to dart for safety. But nothing collapsed, no mains burst.

“…I really should’ve specified where,” Ren acknowledged aloud. He brushed off some of the dust and dirt that had settled on his shirt; then, “This way,” he said again, and began to lead the rest of the group away.

Solonn cast one last look back at the glass partition as he followed the others out of the room. The arms hung motionless now, the terminal in the corner dark and silent. As he left both behind, once and for all, he finally dared to believe that chapter of his life was over.

* * *​

Ren’s home had seen better days, quite frankly. The nosepass who shared the house with him—the same one who’d been at the Hope Institute, Solonn discovered—blamed smeargle for the wrecked furniture and graffiti-covered walls, and no one questioned him, at least not as far as that damage was concerned.

The distinctly nose-shaped hole in the floor was another story.

Ren, the nosepass, and the swampert were off on their own, out of sight, the pokémon presumably trying to console the human. Ren had had a much easier time believing the nosepass about the Extinction, and he had not taken the news well. At all.

Moriel, Evane, and Viraya had not returned yet. Solonn imagined they’d be downtown for a long while. After a delay, his wits still pulling themselves back together, he’d begun to follow them away—only to stop dead in his figurative tracks when Grosh had emerged from under the street in front of Ren’s house.

The rage had more or less drained from the steelix’s features; Solonn suspected he’d taken it out on the earth deep below until he’d lacked the strength to do anything but surface. He’d slumped into a coil in Ren’s front yard, and Solonn had chosen to stay with him for the time being. Oth, meanwhile, had gone off in search of a teleporter to take the claydol back to Sinnoh so they could re-establish their link with Quiul.

As for when the party as a whole would be leaving Convergence… that remained in question.

They still hadn’t found Jen. At least, not for certain. The black, serpentine creature—a cryonide, Ren had called him—was indeed one of Solonn’s own kind, an evolved form of snorunt. And ever since learning this, he’d wondered if DeLeo had forced his half-brother to evolve. The cryonide had kept silent on the matter, pointedly averting his gaze.

The front doors opened. Armor and tough hide whispered over the threshold, and a breath later, the cryonide had joined them.

Solonn and Grosh turned to regard him. The question was plain in both their eyes, but only Grosh spoke it.

“So,” he said, as gently as he could. “Is there something you want to tell us?”

The cryonide didn’t answer right away. He was visibly shaking, the fangs at the ends of his mandibles clicking against his incisors. Finally, he folded his clawed hands and forced himself to look Solonn in the eye.

“I saw you,” he said. “Last night, at Hope. I… remembered you from the Haven—from when you took us. Or rescued us.” He shook his head. “Adn always told me you people were the enemy. That you wanted to force me into your army and make me kill anyone who got in our way. But then he turned into a ditto and tried to kill me. Now I don’t know what to believe anymore.”

The same ditto who’d become a nullshade, Solonn realized. That was Adn in that ultra ball.

More than ever, he was glad that creature had been captured.

Meanwhile he no longer doubted who he was speaking to in the least. I found you. Gods, I finally found you! But barely anything of the joy and relief that followed made it to his face, at least not at first. Pity stood stubbornly in the way. Even now, the Rannia’s lies endured.

“You can believe us,” Solonn said, his eyelight wavering. “Adn is out of the picture now.” The gardevoir-who-wasn’t was in the hands of an Apex trainer now. And while Solonn still wished to all gods that Ren had never experimented on him in the first place… the human had done the right thing in the end, at least. He still couldn’t trust Ren unconditionally, but he trusted him more than he had before his linguistic abilities had been put to rest. “You can trust us… we’re your family, Jen.”

The cryonide looked up at Grosh with uncertainty. Then he looked back over the length of his own serpent-tail. “There’s still a lot I don’t understand,” he said quietly. “But… I think I believe you.”

Solonn wanted nothing more in that moment than to move forward, to let Jen embrace him. But those spikes running down the cryonide’s chest gave him pause. As if on cue, Grosh stirred and loosely, carefully wrapped his coils around the other two, insofar as he could.

“You can come home with us,” Solonn said at length, as Grosh uncoiled somewhat reluctantly. “It’s not the same home you remember,” nor the one you should, “but… it’s nice. The people there have promised to take care of us.”

Jen mulled it over, but not for long. “No,” he said. “I’m sorry, but… I have to stay here. At least for now. My dad needs me. He’s been through a lot lately, and…” His eyes went huge as something occurred to him. “Oh gods, our house. I think Adn burned it down…” he said, and he sounded sickened by the thought. He crawled up and over Grosh’s tail. “I have to find out,” he said. “I can’t go anywhere else right now.”

Solonn watched the cryonide’s retreating back for a moment. “Then I think I can stay here just a little while longer,” he decided aloud, and slipped past his father to follow Jen.

“That makes two of us,” Grosh said, then came slithering after them, tearing up the lawn beneath him.

Jen stopped and looked over his shoulder, then turned away once more with what almost looked like a smile. “Okay,” he said, and carried on.

As he followed his half-brother, Solonn wondered if he’d ever leave Convergence behind for good. He decided, albeit not too readily, that maybe it didn’t really matter all that much. His family was as whole as it could ever be again. He was closer to normal than he’d been in many years. If this place would be his part-time home from here on out, memories and all… that was all right.

At last, insofar as it could be, it was all right.

FIN

______________

It's certainly been a long time coming, hasn't it.

Over the past decade, I've struggled quite a bit with this story, as well as with things that had nothing to do with this story. I can't easily express how happy and relieved it made me to finally reach the end of this road. Closest I can come to it is to say that it felt like this sounds.

Special thanks goes out to dA user caat and Tumblr user qhazomb.

Thank you all for reading. I'll see you next time.

Sincerely,
Sike Saner
 
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Chibi Pika

Stay positive
So I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to get around to reviewing! As you know, I read through all of Communication a couple months ago and enjoyed it greatly! :D So I think it’s about time I actually write down all of my thoughts on it.

I think the strongest parts of this fic, to me, were the characters and the worldbuilding. Solonn is nicely down-to-earth and steadfast in character, even in the face of adversity, but he still gets plenty of chances to be disturbed by all the events of fic. Another thing that stood out to me was his strong moral compass. Jal’tai was absolutely fascinating while he was around, the way he was so aggressively dedicated to his cause that he’d justify any means to do so, even doing unspeakably horrible things while remaining genuinely warm and well-intentioned the entire time. Megan was a cinnamon roll. :'< Oth did not deserve like half the stuff they got put through and their ability to remain such a calm and dependable friend to Solonn is admirable. Grosh was a joy to read, and I loved how he completely shattered all the expectations I had of him (also he is best dad, just saying.)

As for the worldbuilding, that was probably the most interesting part of the fic. I love how much detail was given to the different tribes of wild Pokemon, how they live, what they do, their views of the world and their prejudices, particularly with regards to psychic Pokemon. Their relationship with their elemental powers was especially fascinating. I really wanted to see Convergence succeed too!


I think then, for me, one of the weaker areas of the fic would be its pacing. The story arcs of the first half of the fic flowed nicely together (Solonn’s early life, his capture, contest career, kidnapping, and the entire Convergence storyline.) But after the human extinction event, the second half of the fic jumps between many different self-contained storylines that don’t quite build upon each other. Obviously, the main focal point is the treachery within Virc-Dho and I’d consider it the core storyline of the second half of the fic. But it gets resolved well before the climax of the fic, and also left me wanting to know more at the same time! What happened to that Rannia that led them to be this way! Why did they look like that? Is it at all related to there being another split evo of Snorunt? After the Virc-Dho subplot is resolved, we get introduced to a ton of new characters and subplots during the part of the fic I’d expect to be building toward a climax. A potential subplot about bringing back the humans? DeLeo’s secret! The strange abilities of the Kwazai! The search for Jen! HOLY CRAP ADN??! What was his deal? What was Ren’s deal? We learned how Solonn got his abilities but not why!

I almost think that rather than being one continuous novel, the events of Communication would work better as a series of anthologies—mini-stories about the various odd and remarkable events in the life of Solonn. The final seven chapters almost feel like a totally different fic, introducing countless more mysteries without solving the previous ones. We never learn why the Extinction happened or what happened to Jal’tai or why Solonn was given his abilities. There is so much more to this story, I can tell!

Now, I do know that Essax is the protagonist of another one of your fics. I suspect, then, that the majority of the events in the final arc are tie-ins to other fics, which would explain why the plot jumped around so much. I suppose it did accomplish the goal of making me want to read those other stories! ^^;

Overall, the characters and the world drew me in, and the strong themes of family, loyalty, prejudice, and consent held my attention throughout. I just had a bit of trouble following the end as the plot sort of jumped around, adding more and more subplots and mysteries instead of building to a climax and resolution. That said, congrats on finishing it after so long! It's always great to see many years of work come to fruition and I wish you success in any future writing endeavors. :)

~Chibi~;249;;448;
 

Sike Saner

Peace to the Mountain
Chibi Pika: If only you could've heard the noise I made upon seeing that post. Though maybe you did. It was pretty loud. :D

Right on the nose there with the tie-ins to other fics; that's exactly what's going on. Pretty much all my pokéstuff takes place in the same universe (Starlight's a bit more ambiguous on that front; it could go either way). Adn factors somewhat into TOoS, while the Ren-questions and Extinction-questions are slated for future stories. That's as much as I'll give away for now. ;)

Well, ok. One more li'l thingie: a li'l bit of additional information about the Rannia and related matters. I was going to link to where I'd posted it on dA, but nah. It belongs here just as much as it belongs over there, after all.

Anyhoooooo...

Me said:
WITH REGARDS TO THE VANISHED ONES: since they're really only marginally relevant to the rest of the story, I might as well go into a little detail here. The Vanished Ones are the non-glalie forebears of the Rannia race: sylphlike grass/fairy types called sylvaery, which can evolve into bigger, spikier critters called mystorne by leveling with a dire thorn. They're also an ancestor species to the budew line, incidentally.

A clan of sylvaery moved in with the Virc during a rather nasty cold spell after discovering that glalie could keep them from freezing without even trying. They shared their culture and their language--and quite possibly sapience itself with the Virc, who still unwittingly worship sylvaery deities alongside their mother element and still speak what is ultimately a derivative of the sylvaery's language to this day.

So what happened to their coexistence? A plague happened to hit around the same time the first Rannia, the first children of the two peoples, began to be born. For whatever reason--one suspects their leadership then wasn't any better back then than in Solonn's day--the Virc had an easier time believing these cross-species couplings were directly to blame rather than sheer unfortunate coincidence. Sure that they couldn't fend off an entire nation of ice-types, the sylvaery instead bewitched the Virc to the best of their abilities, aiming to make them forget that the sylvaery and the Rannia ever existed.

For the most part, they were successful. But the superstition toward interspecies mating stubbornly survived the purge, even though the story behind it was wiped from the minds of the Virc at large, and much of the knowledge of the outside world that they'd gained from the sylvaery survived, as well. And there were some sylvaery who weren't entirely on board with the memory-altering; they secretly shielded their Virc loved ones, then staged their own deaths and went into hiding right under the Virc's figurative noses with the last Virc allowed to remember their existence and the children they'd had together.

As for the rest of the sylvaery and Rannia, they fled up to the opposite end of the shoal cave and carved out a hidden place for themselves there. The sylvaery soon discovered the hard way that they'd overtaxed themselves in bewitching nearly an entire nation; eventually, it cost them their lives. The Rannia outside Virc-Dho, fearing discovery, kept to themselves, eventually reduced to a tiny clan, many of whom were in poor health due to generations of inbreeding. Those who remained in Virc territory made a slow, clandestine reintegration into the nation, interbreeding with the Virc until the Rannia bloodline was so diluted among them that one couldn't tell just by looking if their neighbors had sylvaery ancestry.

Their Rannian heritage can show itself in other ways. But that's a matter for another time.

Thanks, so, so much for reading and replying to this massive huge wad of chapters--glad you enjoyed it! :D
 
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