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Dispatch Deferred [One-shot, Everyone, PMD]

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by unrepentantAuthor, Oct 3, 2019.

  1. unrepentantAuthor

    unrepentantAuthor A cat who writes stories

    Hi there, this is my cute short story originally written for the Bulbagarden Summer 2019 Oneshot comp about an expedited same-century amazon delivery, I hope you'll enjoy reading it.

    Content: homebrew PMD setting, multiple OC viewpoints, 6,200 words. Extremely mild swearing, light fantasy violence.

    The version below is slightly revised, with some chaff edited out and 300 words longer overall than the version voted on during the awards. The original version can be found here for posterity's sake.



    Dispatch Deferred

    Brisa, Luxio

    Mud clung to her paws, wet grass dampened her belly, and petrichor assaulted her nose with every breath. Morning patrols were a critically important routine but at times like this, Brisa envied bipeds.

    She was scouting out the ravine near her home, checking for changes in the terrain, opportunistic intruders or hapless wanderers, anything at all of note. There was always something to know, even if it was that everything was normal. It paid to be vigilant. The skies were clear now, and the winds had subsided from their recent gale force to their usual boisterousness. The night’s storm had left its mark on Brisa’s territory. Parts of her house needed repair, her scent would need to be marked in almost every place, and the surge of water had broken her water filter.

    She also noticed that the peculiar tree on the very edge of the ravine had finally begun tipping over. It was the only tree out here - something about the soil only permitted scrub and grass to grow upon it. Brisa liked to use it for shade when on patrol. This had been coming for a while; each storm washed away just a little bit more of the earth supporting its roots. Now at last, its fate was undeniable. Sooner or later, it would topple down the sheer slope, knock a few sun-burnished red rocks down with it, and coming crashing down in the clear river water at the bottom. As she went to take a closer look, Brisa noticed something glinting between the emerging roots.

    She approached the tangle and, yes, there was definitely something stuck inside. It was difficult to make out exactly what, under all the tree roots and damp earth, but the exposed parts were at least slightly reflective of the morning sun. Brisa put her paw to it and pressed firmly; it wouldn’t budge. Most of its mass was presumably still underground. She tapped it experimentally with a claw, and it sounded out a dull clink, much like a ceramic pot. Whatever it was, it was probably artificial. Maybe even a relic.

    There was no time like the present, and Brisa had precisely zero interest in letting someone beat her to a valuable dig. She shook off her satchel bag and found her protective gear, rope, and other tools. Trowels. Brushes. Handsaw. She laid everything out and selected fresh cloth wraps to protect her paws with. The townsfolk might make comments about her being “half-feral” when they thought she couldn’t hear, but here was proof she was like them in the ways that counted: tool use. A mind with the right know-how; paws with the necessary dexterity. She was civilised, no matter how she chose to live her solitary life.

    She started by clearing away rocks and earth, and soon found an efficient rhythm. It was soggy, dirty work, but nobody died from getting their paws muddy. Ugh, she was starting to sound like her father. Aphorisms aside, she could tolerate the discomfort for the sake of her prize. Her next task was to cut away obtrusive tree roots. Then came lifting up the larger rocks. A few sore muscles and some red cuts to her paws later, and she’d uncovered the upper surface. She wiped off the muck with a small towel to inspect her handiwork.

    The early light fell upon a hard plate etched with some kind of symbol — this was what had glinted in the sun. It was fastened with ancient leather or cloth straps to a central bulk of some kind. It was a solid, uneven spheroid, and slate-grey in colour. Careful prodding of the surrounding earth with a spiked metal peg revealed five connected masses, still buried. After clearing the ground a little further, one of those masses turned out to be a stubby arm ending in a clenched fist. Brisa levered it up, a seed of concern growing in her chest. It was fully articulated. Not a statue, then. Not exactly a relic. More likely, a pokémon. Maybe a rock type?

    A dead rock type.

    She stared, the seed of concern blooming into a forest of dread. Dead bodies were an unusual discovery for Brisa, and her heart reminded her of this by drumming in her skull as she resumed clearing debris from the — crust? shell? — of the... the 'thing.' How long had it been here? Surely this thing she had found had lain buried for at least the age of the tree. Its roots made a kind of cocoon, or cage, for its body. That would have taken years, much longer than any hibernation. If it was a pokémon, it was very likely a corpse, and she was digging up its grave.

    The thought made her stomach clench, but what was done was done, and she hadn't realised the possibility until it had already been well-disturbed. Besides, if she didn't retrieve it now, it would very likely tumble into the ravine along with the tree come next storm. She kept working. Another arm emerged, as did a leg. Also short and stubby. Also articulated.

    What was that symbol, anyway? That could be a clue. She brushed away fallen leavings from the tree, and scoured the ancient filth that lay beneath. She couldn’t help but to growl softly as she worked on it. Despite the appearance of an archaeological excavation, she was reminded more of preparing a corpse. She tried to flatten her hackles. This was ridiculous. It wasn’t even flesh and bone! Flakes of ancient paint clung to the grooves, barely detectable beneath the grime. The fully uncovered symbol consisted of undulating curves. Nothing like footprint symbols, trail scratch, or even unown glyphs. What was it? Did it represent waves? Wind? A good question for later, she decided.

    Eventually, her shoulders aching and her paws cold and bloodied, she unearthed the final limb and the thing’s squat, lumpy, asymmetrical head. Two dull and featureless rectangular eyes, a faceplate with not so much as a mouth, let alone anything else. Its construction looked slap-dash, made either in haste or by an amateur. At least now it could be taken out of its pit. Right. Ropes, spiked pegs, the principles of leverage, and some physical effort: there was little you couldn’t achieve with that. Brisa heaved the lifeless creature up and out of its grave without too much trouble. With the absent ceramic weight no longer keeping it anchored, the tree lost yet more grip and lurched again, dangling into the ravine with only the bravest, deepest roots holding it up. There would be no more shade on hot days for Brisa.

    She placed an inquisitive paw on the inert body.

    "What kind of being were you?" she asked aloud, half-expecting a reaction.

    None came.

    She ended up making a trip directly back home to fetch a proper harness and trolley. It didn't take much time for a luxio in excellent health with a loping gait. With some equipment available, she was able to pull her discovery away with relatively little difficulty. Sure, she could have asked a favour from a heftier pokémon in town, and it was unlikely that anyone would steal her ‘treasure’ in the meantime, but she took pride in doing a job wholly by herself. Even if her hunter's limbs weren't made for hauling.

    She didn't take the shortest route, because that would risk meeting early risers heading across the outskirts. Instead, she took a circuitous route that would put her in town right near the junkshop. After all, if anyone could tell her what this thing really was, it would be the sketchy old spider who owned it. She passed around the western ridge, eyeing with distaste the rooftops of those absurdly characterful buildings which urban pokémon liked to construct. Such vanity. What sane person built a shop that looked like their own head?

    Soon enough, she was at the south side of Frontier Town, where the weirder, more esoteric merchants made their living. The noise of the town centre was an irritation even from here. She turned a corner and found her way to Al's Odds'n'Ends, a certifiable shack with blue awnings over the shopfront threaded to resemble galvantula legs. She could make out the workshop behind the front counter, filled with tools, scrap, gadgets and other nonsense befitting an ‘inventor’.

    "Alejandro," she called out, "you in today?"

    "What'd'ya need, youngster?" he rasped back, poking his head and forelegs out of the shopfront to greet her. He did so not from ground level, but upside-down from his shop's ceiling, a habit which most pokémon had yet to get used to. Brisa wasn’t bothered. She made sure she didn’t look bothered by licking down her raised hackles.

    "I might have something for you," she said, unfastening herself and rolling her discovery over with her muzzle.

    Al dropped down and climbed over his counter to examine the thing more directly. He prodded at it carefully with his sensitive pedipalps, and gently brushed dirt and debris from its surface. Brisa watched wordlessly as he worked, trying to glean a hint of recognition in any of the galvantula’s several eyes.

    "Looks like a golett t'me," he said at last, in his breathy, ear-scraping spider-voice. "S'a living being like you or me, though this one looks like it passed on a long time ago. Who's t'say? I haven't seen a pokémon like this up close, after all."

    Brisa rolled her head to one side and regarded the thing again, this time as an expertly-confirmed corpse. ‘Golett’. Not a word she remembered hearing before. It sounded earthy. Diminutive. Maybe this was a pokémon meant to evolve into something much larger. Maybe it was rare.

    "So... do you want it?" she asked.

    "Whaddaya mean?"

    "Alejandro, I'm trying to sell you this thing."

    "A trade? Hrrm."

    Al always took a great deal more time than strictly necessary to consider a trade. Brisa had always wondered if this was just for show, but interrupting him invariably lead to a refusal to deal, so she waited, shifting her weight impatiently from paw to paw.

    "I guess so," he concluded, tapping the golett's body. "I kinda want t'see if I can get the darned thing up'n'at it again. Golett are ghost types, you never know when scoundrels like that are gonna spring to life ‘n’ surprise you. But it's as likely as anything to wander off after'ards, so I can’t be certain it’ll be of any value. Still, it’ll be interestin’. Say, Brisa, I'll give you a doohickey for it."

    "I'll take a new water filter. Mine broke in the storm last night."

    Al consented to this trade, Brisa left his shop with a new filter part in her satchel. Only once she got home and thumped it into place did she wonder if she'd see the golett again, and what it might think of her for selling it, should it wake up.

    Alejandro, Galvantula

    Brisa paced off like the town’s air itself was out to get her. She always did.

    Al took no offence; anyone who paid him proper for his goods and services was worth forgiving a few quirks. He had plenty of his own, after all. He absentmindedly put a thin roll-up between his palps and lit it with a spark of electricity from his foot-tip fur. Then he put it to his left breathing slit, near the front of his abdomen, and let his lungs go to work. Terrible habit, to be sure, but good for soothing the nerves. Mammals gave him funny looks if he did it in their company, so he was always ready to shove his smokes in his mouth if a customer walked by, even though he couldn’t use his mouth for breathing. Somehow, it just bothered ‘em less. That was mammals for ya.

    He looked at the funny little pokémon from every angle. Sure wasn’t showing any signs of life now, but that could change. Certain pokémon could live thousands of years, so who knew? But if a critter wants waking up, a critter needs the right stimulus. What did golett need to come back from a slumber like this, if there was still a spark left in there? Maybe that bookish feller in the Guild would have some old tome with the answers. Or maybe his ol’ reliable was worth a shot. It couldn’t hurt. He rolled the golett into the workshop, wheezing through his abdominal slits. He was getting old. Now to see if a boost would revive the little guy.

    Al rubbed his legs together until they sparked.

    Well, maybe it could hurt, actually. The golett for one, but also himself if it had some fancy energy redirection ability. Probably not. But maybe. To hell with it, it was worth a shot all the same! Zap!

    Gil, Golett

    This new environment was unexpected for Gil. They had lost consciousness near the river, far from any settlement, yet this was an indoor location. A pokémon was tending to them, though not a species they recognised. Possibly this one was a medic. Gil peered at their caretaker. Squat body, with bristly fur, but also arthropod limbs and multiple eyes. An arachnid. Its energy signature was type seven - ‘bug’ - which would seem to match up well. There was something else in the signature, too, maybe type-

    The bug's ‘fur’ sparked and lit up before jolting Gil with a powerful surge of electrical energy. They sat straight up as their vision span out of focus and their head crackled with it. When the shock ended, they could detect smoke caused by light singing on their straps. Oh dear. An electric type as well, for certain, and apparently defending itself from them.

    "Do not be alarmed!" recited Gil. "I am a courier golett and I mean you no harm!" The standard greeting rarely failed.

    "Oh, begging your pardon!" replied the spider. It was an odd sound, like a sharp whisper. "I'm Alejandro, but you can call me Al. I was just testin' a theory o’ mine that you'd wake up with the right... stimulus. My apologies if I hurt you at all, feller!"

    Al made a gesture with his pedipalps, almost like a shrug. He seemed sincere enough.

    “I am Gil! It is a pleasure to meet you, Mister Al. Do not worry, I am hurt very little by electric type attacks, especially when inactive. You have done me no harm.”

    There was a silence lasting several seconds before Al replied.

    “Well, you’re an odd critter, aint’cha?”

    “Yes, sir,” said Gil. They patted around for their satchel. Gone. “Excuse me sir, but are you the one who brought me here?”

    “Huh, no. That’d be Brisa. She dug you up from a hole in the ground a ways nor’east o’ here. She didn’t find any belongings with you if that’s what yer fussin’ about. ”

    “Thank you, sir. Still, I would like to thank Brisa for their role in reviving me.”

    “Ah, you can find her west of the town, not far from the ravine. Don’t worry, she’ll find you soon enough if you hang out around there!”

    Gil considered this.

    “I shall do this once my task is complete, Al. My purpose is to make deliveries, and I wish very much to make no further delay of my priority package. I’m sure I can find my package, but I will need to take it to the residence of someone in a nearby village, Desert Knot. The intended recipient is a turtwig who goes by the name of Esther. Could you give me directions, please?"

    Al’s expression was unreadable, and Gil didn’t have any training in reading arachnid faces, but something gave them the impression that they’d said something wrong.

    “Turtwig, was it?” Al said, eventually.

    Gil nodded effusively. “Yes, sir.”

    “Not a torterra?”

    Gil shook their head. “No sir.”

    “You sure?”

    Nod. “Yes, sir.”

    Al rubbed his pedipalps over his face. Maybe that was like scratching your head thoughtfully for a spider.

    “Say, kid… do you remember how you came to be inactive in the first place?”

    Tamuk, Chesnaught

    Wind howled over the hills. Thin scrubland stretched around for miles, the little village of Desert Knot barely visible in the distance. If a storm picked up, it would lift enough sand and dirt that a person could get lost. There were no landmarks, not even so much as a tree, save for a ravine ready to swallow any wanderer with weak vision. This was truly a wretched country. Tamuk wanted to be rid of it, and he would be as soon as he’d collected the funds he needed.

    Looking up at him was the courier he’d been expecting. It barely reached his knees.

    “Don’t run, messenger,” he growled. “I’ll take your money either way.” He drew himself up to his full height, letting the shadow of his armour’s spiked pauldrons fall over his pint-sized target. This would be easy however it shook out. Easier if intimidation saved him the trouble of a fight.

    “Sir, I am a sworn courier and can make no surrender of any package entrusted to my care,” said the little golem, looking up at Tamuk without a hint of fear. Clearly a fool, the variety of which mattered not.

    “Do not misunderstand. I want your valuables, and if you won’t give them to me, I’ll beat you senseless without hesitation.”

    “You are at liberty to do as much,” came the reply.

    “I’m a chesnaught,” tried Tamuk. “Don’t you have any sense of self-preservation?”

    “I have a duty.”

    Tamuk sighed, raised a gauntlet-clad paw and bludgeoned the golett into the ground with a hammer blow. Grass type energy collided with a ground type body. The crunch was wince-inducing. It crumpled to the ground, and sunk into the earth several inches, a fresh crack visible on its torso like a wound. It was over before Tamuk had taken a breath.

    He plucked the golett’s satchel between two massive digits and pulled it away, breaking the straps in the process and ignoring some feeble utterances of protest from the owner. He turned it upside down and shook out the contents. Nothing. Or, nothing valuable, which was just as disappointing. Just some seeds held in a tiny cloth pouch, a one-page newsletter from the only major town for countless miles, and a few envelopes. None of the envelopes had a wax seal marking them as significant. He searched them anyway, and found only idle correspondence between distant friends and family. Worthless. He hawked and spat on the ground.

    “You should have saved me the trouble of wasting my energy,” he growled. “If you had just shown me you weren’t carrying anything valuable, I might have let you be.”

    “All messages are valuable,” squeaked the golett, who was even now pushing itself to its feet and charging a tiny, pulsing spark of energy in its fist to fight back. How insulting.

    “Not to me,” said Tamuk. Then he hit the golett again. Hard, and again for good measure. This time, it didn’t get back up.

    Alejandro, Galvantula

    “More than a century ago?”

    Gil sounded as if they might cry.

    “Aye, lad. Tamuk was a notorious bandit ‘round these parts, extractin’ a toll from any and all travellers ‘n’ traders. He’s the only chesnaught in this region I ever heard of, he fits your description, and he’s surely been dead since before my gran’s time. Besides, Desert Knot is what this place was called before the Guild was founded, and tha’ was a long, long time ago now.”

    “But how can you be sure? Perhaps there’s been some confusion?” pleaded Gil, their voice breaking on half the words they choked out. Their eyes flashed blue and their little hands clenched and unclenched on loop.

    Al sighed, shook his palps, and reached for another smoke. He offered Gil one, but they just gravely shook their head. Of course clay automatons didn’t breathe, you stupid spider. Darn.

    “No, lad. You were found buried under a tree next to a ravine like the one you described, widened by a hundred years o’ weatherin’. You’ll find your Esther alright, but she’s a wizened old torterra now. She placed that order for delivery generations ago, and tha’s a fact. It’s too late now. But look, if there’s anythin’ at all I can do fer ya…”

    Gil lowered their head and closed their eyes.

    “I appreciate your kindness, Mister Al, but I really must be going. I have to make my delivery all the same. I will simply be unforgivably late, and there’s nothing to be done about it. My thanks to you.”

    “If that’s the way it is,” said Al, gently. He reached to place a reassuring pat on Gil’s shoulder, but they turned and walked straight out of his shop without a backward glance. What a strange pokémon.

    Well, the experience was worth the price of a water purifier, he supposed.

    Brisa, Luxio

    She felt her hackles raise before she even spotted the golett jogging along the hillside, one clay hand up to shade its eyes from the sun. She didn’t bother flattening them. She had, after all, seen a ghost.

    She took her time intercepting it, studying it all the while. It was almost comical the way it looked around, stopping and posing with one hand shading its eyes and the other outstretched behind it, like a child actor in a stage play. How to approach this resurrected being? She drew closer from behind it, and settled on a greeting.

    “Good day,” she tried.

    “Good day!” The golett’s head spun around to face her, its body following a moment later. Brisa very nearly jumped in fright, but dug her claws into the damp soil instead. Damn the thing.

    "Do not be alarmed!" it said. "I am a courier golett and I mean you no harm!"

    “I know,” said Brisa, a little more coldly than she’d meant to.

    “Ah, you must be Brisa! I am Gil, and it is a pleasure to meet you.”

    She nodded. Feeling something more was expected of her, she added “Yes. I suppose Alejandro sent you my way?”

    “That’s right. I’m here to thank you, and to ask for your help finding my missing package for delivery!”

    They couldn’t possibly be serious. Yet, that eager, bright-eyed expression of hope was evident even without a mouth. She tried to tell Gil to get lost, but what came out of her mouth was “Of course, that would be no trouble at all.”

    As Gil thanked her effusively, she padded off in the direction of their onetime grave. With any luck, this was the only favour they’d ask of her.

    It wasn’t a long journey on her own, but with Gil’s miniature stride to slow down for, it took half a lifetime. All the while, they asked her things, and she did her best to answer in as few words as possible. It wasn’t like Gil knew many people who could answer their questions about the century they’d missed out on, and they clearly didn’t get the hint that she didn’t care for conversation. Besides, she didn’t have the heart to tell them to keep their mouth shut, if they even had one.

    Eventually, it clicked for her what was bothering her about Gil’s spirited interrogation.

    “Wouldn’t you rather ask a townie about all this?”

    “What’s a townie, Miss Brisa?”

    “Just Brisa will do. A townie is someone who lives in, you know. The town? Like a civilised pokémon.”

    Gil shook their head. “Where I come from, nobody lives packed that closely together. It’s too noisy in Frontier Town for me to think. It’s much better to be around one person at a time, then I don’t have to concentrate so hard.”

    Brisa considered this.

    “No towns?”

    “No, miss. I mean no, sir! I see no reason why civilisation should mean living in a town. Living alone does not make one feral, after all.”

    Huh.

    They continued. “I myself have a modest home in Little Scriven, many days’ travel from here. It is only small, but it serves my needs well.” Gil put a finger to their faceplate, and narrowed their eyes thoughtfully. “Of course, it might not still be there if I were to return.” Their shoulders sagged as soon as they uttered the words.

    Oh. Brisa wasn’t any good at this. Nothing she thought of to comfort them seemed appropriate. Instead, she said “Can you see up on that crest? That’s the spot.”

    She described her discovery of their body and the state of the dig site, which seemed to distract Gil from thinking about what their home would look like after a century of abandonment. They were an attentive listener, as it turned out. Brisa couldn’t remember being listened to like this before by another pokémon. It wasn’t unpleasant.

    When they got to the dig site, Gil pottered around, examining it from every possible position, even clambering into it and patting around the earth as if they would find something Brisa hadn’t. She waited soundlessly from the rim of the grave. It was disturbing, seeing Gil where they had been a corpse only earlier that day, but as animate and purposeful as she had been in her dig.

    “There’s nothing here!” they cried.

    “Seems not.”

    They climbed out, and gazed around at the landscape. “Brisa, sir, how can I know without a doubt that this is the same spot where Tamuk the chesnaught physically assaulted me?”

    “Ravine,” she said, flatly. “Moves west every year. That long ago, it would have been much narrower, and further in that direction.”

    She gestured with a paw towards the drop in the earth.

    “Oh,” said Gil.

    Recognition dawned in their ghostly green eyes.

    “Oh, and Desert Knot… was that way. It’s Frontier Town now.”

    “Yeah. Didn’t Alejandro tell you?”

    “Mister Al told me, I just didn’t understand.”

    Gil sat down on the edge of their grave, and looked as if they might fall backwards into it at any moment. Brisa positioned herself to catch them. They tore up a handful of grass and rubbed it between their fingers.

    “It was very nearly barren here, when I first arrived,” they said. “Which means it really has been a lifetime. My letters must all have decomposed, of course. I’ll never be able to deliver those. And the seeds…”

    They turned and looked at the tree.

    “That’s my package,” said Gil, firmly. “Please help me dig it up.”

    Gil started before Brisa could reply, trying desperately to haul a tree much larger than themself out of the ground. Brisa hesitated, but joined in anyway when she realised they might succeed only in helping the tree fall into the ravine. Gil grunted and strained, their fists glowing as they summoned elemental energy to lift their ‘package’. The final roots snapped or tore loose, and they hefted the tree overhead. They were triumphant for only a moment. Then they lost their footing, wobbled, and fell heavily onto the far side of the crater. The tree escaped their grasp, and tumbled over the edge.

    There were sounds of crashing branches and whooshing leaves from the ravine.

    “Good grief, what a blunder,” said Brisa. She instantly regretted it.

    “It was an accident,” said Gil, very quietly.

    “It doesn’t matter. It’s just a tree. The person who those seeds were for is either dead or doesn’t expect their package any more, it’s fine.”

    Gil shook their head mutely.

    “It’s fine,” repeated Brisa. “Don’t get upset about it, none of this is important any more. It all happened a century ago!”

    Gil thumped the ground, not getting up from their knees.

    “It is important!” they said, barely raising their voice even now. “It’s my life! That was the only thing left from it! My home, my friends, even my colleagues will all be gone now. I don’t know what happened to them, if they looked for me when they realised I was missing… I don’t even know if Little Scriven exists any more, the whole country is different now, from every patch of soil to every person in it. This was…”

    They paused to sob into their ceramic hands.

    “This was going to be the one delivery I could make. If I could only deliver my priority package, it would have been a little tiny bit worth it. Now I’ve messed it up, and even the tree is gone, I can’t get it back alone, I have nothing left, and I may as well still be buried in the ground!”

    Brisa bit her tongue. Why did she always say the wrong thing?

    Gil wasn’t moving. Say something, Brisa.

    “Uh, you’re sure there’s someone to deliver it to? It might have survived the fall, you know.”

    “Yes, Mister Al says Esther still lives here,” said Gil. “It would have gone to next-of-kin if she had passed, or to the local government if there was no will to execute. But I doubt I can recover it, especially if it’s been caught up in the river.”

    “Alright, well, it might still be salvageable. I have my own tools. I know a safe way down.”

    Gil looked up, hopeful.

    Brisa sighed.

    “Let’s get that tree.”

    Gil’s turquoise eyes widened in surprise and silent gratitude, and Brisa had to look away. She’d accept thanks when the job was done.

    Brisa sunk a spiked peg into the ground, secured a rope to it, and tossed the other end over the edge. Gripping the rope hand over hand gave Gil much-needed help balancing as the luxio guided them down the slope of the ravine, avoiding loose scree and pointing out firm footholds. As it turned out, the fall had been merciful to the tree. It had merely rolled for most of the descent before it hit the river, then been carried downstream until it came to rest against a jutting rock. Besides some snapped branches and a coating of silt, it was otherwise intact.

    Once they’d located the ‘package’, Brisa directed Gil in assembling a raft from riverside trees and the last of her rope, and they carried out the task with brisk efficiency. The river passed through Frontier Town further downstream, Brisa explained, and after strapping the tree down they could transport it straight into town, with her walking along one riverbank and Gil on the other, each clutching a rope to guide it along. Brisa couldn’t talk with her mouth full of rope, so she listened to Gil’s recollections of a century ago with weary patience. By the time they exited the ravine and were heading along the eastern bends, (from which the view of the area’s rolling fields, great forests, and distant mountains beyond was truly peerless) Gil’s babbling had become rather soothing, and she was almost sorry to hear it stop when they finally reached town.

    The kricketune watchman on the riverbank perked up when they came into view, then sat back down in his deckchair. He recognised Brisa despite the distance, and when she was close enough he flicked his antennae at her to signal her to go on by. He continued his keening singing and high stridulations as they passed, and Gil stared with wide-eyed wonder, their pace slowing as they listened. It was a mournful folk song, but not one Brisa knew well.

    “What’s so interesting?” she asked.

    “It’s sad and beautiful,” said Gil, as if they’d never heard a tragic tune before. “Both at the same time…”

    What kind of sheltered life did Gil have before they wound up here? Brisa just kept walking, unsure how she felt.

    They found Esther’s house by means of Brisa interrogating passers-by, keen to avoid anyone taking too great an interest in Gil, who would surely be only too happy to tell their story in full to anyone who asked. They learnt that the torterra had saved wisely in her long life, and purchased a riverfront property near the edge of town. It was a single-storey building, with well-kept flower baskets along the walls and a broad garden patio along the riverside. To Brisa’s great relief, they’d be able to get the tree directly from the river onto Esther’s property. Brisa hadn’t come up with a real plan for transporting a fully-grown tree through the main thoroughfare. She might have even had to ask someone for help.

    Gil stood at the doorstep, their fist raised to knock on the (frankly enormous) double front door. They were motionless, a miniature figure against the height and breadth of doors meant for a torterra.

    “Something wrong?” called Brisa from the riverbank, the raft’s ropes firmly trapped beneath her paws.

    “What if she’s mad at me?” replied Gil, turning to look over their shoulder. “What if she doesn’t want the package?”

    Brisa closed her eyes to avoid visibly rolling them. “What if she isn’t mad, what if she does want it?”

    “But-!”

    “Just knock, already!”

    “…okay!”

    Gil knocked once, very quietly. Then they rapped the door a few times, much harder. They waited.

    “Maybe she’s not home?”

    Brisa growled under her breath. “She’s older than Frontier Town and the size of a building. Be patient.”

    Gil nodded and stood demurely in stoic silence.

    At length, the left-hand door creaked open and a craggy, beaked head poked out.

    “Who’s there?” asked Esther, in a voice with enough bass that Brisa felt it in her bones.

    "Do not be alarmed," said Gil, haltingly. "I am Gil the courier, and I have a package for you!"

    “Oh? I’m not expecting any deliveries,” murmured Esther, nudging the other door open with her massive flank. Someone could build a house on that back. Presently, there was only an unassuming rock garden and some small shrubs atop her shell.

    “I’m terribly sorry for the delay,” said Gil, their voice starting to quake, “but this package comes… one hundred and seven years late. It used to be a pouch containing several seeds but as you can see…”

    They stepped to one side and gestured to Brisa, the raft, and the tree.

    “I’m afraid it’s been… damaged in transit. It’s a tree now. That tree. Um.”

    They clasped their hands together in a silent plea for forgiveness.

    Esther’s brow furrowed for several seconds. Then her beak widened in a grin. Then she laughed.

    “Oh my!” she cried. “It’s a perrin berry tree! How marvellous. I sent for a perrin seed delivery when I was just a little one! Oh my.”

    She plodded down from her house to the riverbank, still grinning and saying things like “simply marvellous,” and “bless the day.”

    Brisa offered Esther the ropes, somewhat awkwardly. After a minute’s subdued inquiry from the torterra, she agreed to cut the tree free from the raft. Esther herself lowered her considerable mass into the river. With a bit of creative shoving, the tree was levered onto Esther’s back, whereupon the tree’s roots and the shell beneath Esther’s mobile shrubbery began first to glow, then fuse together. Soon enough, the tree was securely joined to her body, growing quite happily on one flank of the shell-top garden.

    Gil jogged down to join them, hands still clasped together.

    “Is everything suitable?” they asked.

    Esther turned to smile indulgently at them. “This is ever such a lovely tree,” she said, in a soft rumble. “My great aunt used to grow one when I was just a hatchling. The berries were a real treat. I’ve wanted to cultivate one ever since.”

    “You don’t seem disappointed by the wait, Ma’am,” ventured Gil.

    “Certainly not!” she boomed, climbing steadily out of the river. “I’m very grateful to you. They take ever such a long time to mature, you know, and they’re dashedly prone to withering when young. It must have found the perfect spot to grow. Remarkable. Thank you so much, young one. I’ll be able to have the grandchildren round and share some with them in the spring…”

    As Esther headed back up to her house, water pouring off her shell, Gil slowly sat down on the paved part of riverbank.

    “You doing okay there?” asked Brisa.

    “Yes, sir. Mostly I’m glad that the delivery turned out alright. I’m not sure what to do next, though.”

    Brisa put out a paw and patted their shoulder. Her claws clinked gently on their clay.

    “You can do what you like, Gil. But if you don’t care for the noise of the town, and you want to stick around a while…”

    “Yes, Brisa?”

    “I have a spare room for emergencies. It’s yours for a while, if you need it.”

    “Oh! Thank you, many many thanks! I’ll do chores, I’ll take messages, I’ll-!”

    “It’s okay. I just reckon you deserve a second chance at… living a life.”

    Brisa shook herself dry, spattering the patio with river drops, and loped off towards home. She looked back at Gil, who still had a hand to their faceplate in apparent embarrassment.

    “You coming?” she called.

    Gil nodded fervently and jogged after her.

    “Let’s go home.”

    FIN



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