Winter can't come soon enough
Chapter 21: Astonishing Goons Drawn Quick
Nikki jumped back, looking at Blipbug Cid like he was pure anathema. "Oh-ho no. No, no, no, no, no!" She hastily rounded the corner. "I like to think I was keeping a pretty level head through the freaking people trapped in poison cocoons, but a laser that reverses evolution? I'm out! So out!"
Chiaki was stiff as a board. "Nikki—"
"Zip it, Twiggy! I am not going back to being a toxel," Nikki cut in. "You wanna know what toxel are good for? Crying and drooling and spitting up!"
Yuna continued to stare at Cid in utter disbelief. Even in a realm where time wasn't flowing correctly, this defied any sort of wisdom. Was Cid's body the only thing de-aged? What about his mind?
"Somebody help me!" Cid's squeaky voice was even shriller than before.
"At least he still sounds, y'know, like he isn't a newborn. That's something, right?" Reshiram laughed nervously.
"There's another beam! Move, move!" Chiaki cried. Instinct took hold for Yuna and she melted into the wall. Nothing but solid silver surrounded the dreepy. Muffled rumbles sounded all around her. Was the wall shaking? Yes, that had to be it. Had their assailant blasted part of it away? Was it even safe to get out of the wall?
"Oh, enough with ze prattling! You are ruining my focus et my precious work!"
"That's gotta be him. The guy firing the devolution beam!"
And it sounded like he was in the area in front of the door. Yuna had to play this smart. She moved to her right, toward where she assumed Nikki still was. Assuming the toxtricity hadn't turned tail and tried to flee the tomb all together. Yuna really wanted to join her, but she needed that Needle.
… or the world needed the Needle. God, if only she could've been born a commoner instead!
"What the hell are you supposed to be?" Chiaki asked as Yuna freed herself from the wall. She was close enough to the corner to see her assailant: a slowbro with purple ooze crawling down his head, arms, and tail.
… tail? No, that didn't make any sense. There was supposed to be a shellder biting it! Where was—
His left arm!
Slowbro leveled his shellder-encased left arm at Chiaki. "It is moi who should be asking vouz such a question!" Purple and pink paint splotches glistened on the shellder. Similar splotches were smeared across a brown smock and a similarly-colored round, unusually flat cap. "You are trespassing, you… you trespasser!"
Chiaki crouched down. "Please. I'm helping the king of this land."
"Oh?" Slowbro's eyes glistened. "So, not just a trespasser, but an interloper! Very well. You et your little pest here will make fine additions to my lovely piece." He pointed his left arm at Cid, who screamed and tried to scuttle away with mixed results.
"Your… piece?" Chiaki said.
"But of course!" Slowbro brought his right arm to his head to tip his funny hat at Chiaki. "For you see, I am Jean-Claude Phillipe François Pierre Emmanuel Baptiste… the Thirty-Eighth! I am l'Paradigm's premier artiste!" He grabbed the sides of his smock and curtsied to Chiaki. "Well, technically I am its only artiste, but zat makes me tres impor— yeek!"
Baptiste jumped back. Lightning struck the ground where he just stood. Yuna looked up to see Nikki perched on top of a silver statue of Baptiste. It must've been the flamethrower from earlier.
"Dude, I can't make out a lick of what you're saying." Nikki's mohawk frazzled. Her voice had a nervousness to it Yuna hadn't heard before. "But even a street pinurchin like me knows nothing about this shithole is art."
Nikki had more lightning crackling in her right hand when a huge pink beam struck the statue. She tumbled to the ground with a startled cry. Silver rubble chunks slammed down all around her.
Yuna blinked. Baptiste had his left arm leveled at where the statue used to be. "Mon Dieu! Such a saucy tongue. But I am used to amateur critics. Zey are nothing before mois!"
Chiaki had his Leaf Blade at the ready. However, Baptiste vanished before Chiaki could even wind up. Yuna turned her head. Her gills shriveled upon seeing Baptiste looming over Nikki with blue energy gathering at the tip of his shellder.
Impossible! No one can move that fast unless they teleport. Yuna focused on the Soul Dew. She wanted to stay hidden, but not if it meant that Nikki would get devolved like Cid!
Warmth pooled in her throat. God, it was really hot. Was this what it was like for her mom? No, she shot Flamethrowers from her horns. She briefly thought about how Reshiram's Blue Flare wasn't appropriate for a slowbro, but dismissed it. Blue flames streaked toward an unsuspecting Baptiste.
… except his beam shot toward Yuna's flames instead of Nikki. Yelping, Yuna dropped to the ceiling, sinking partly into the silver stone. The beam sailed past her. Nikki kicked her legs out, striking Baptiste's left leg.
"Augh!" He buckled to his right, giving Chiaki enough time to wrap the Tactical Toucher's spectral hand around the slowbro's right arm and tug. Baptiste's chin struck the ground. "Woomph!"
"Keep a hold on him, Twiggy." Electricity streamed toward Nikki's horns from her mohawk. "I'll give this dweeb some 'critique.'"
Yuna barely had time to pull herself out of the ceiling when Nikki and Chiaki went flying in opposite directions. She didn't even see Baptiste moving! One moment he was on his belly, the next he was upright with his arms thrust to either side.
"Imbéciles." Baptiste wrinkled his scaly nose. "True art is suffering. And life… it is ze only acceptable canvas for such artistic expression." He pinched his nose with his right hand. "I would not expect filthy roturiers to understand."
"There's nothing to understand. You're a freaking nutca— gah!" Nikki leaped up, narrowly avoiding a burst of boiling water that then splattered on the wall behind her. To the group's horror, the water didn't evaporate, but bubbled and ate away at the stone and tapestry. "There was… poison in there?" She looked to Baptiste. "What are you pulling?"
"It was all poison!" Reshiram cried. "… I think?"
But slowbro can't use poison techniques! Yuna protested.
"I think there are more pressing matters to attend to." Reshiram laughed nervously.
I know! But when Yuna tried to go and help her teammates, a pink energy beam blasted her. She tumbled across the hall and through the wall. By the time she collected herself, she was surrounded by silver once again.
"Are you okay?"
No! That hurt… a lot! She was trying to focus on staying invisible. Yuna had to. But this was beyond her. At least Seifer had Dynaforce. And Runerigus was a huge, slow, dumb target. Baptiste may have sounded freaky, but he had freaky speed to back that up. It was no good. Team Bastion was too outmatched.
Yuna was about to fall at the first hurdle of this stupid "save the world" affair!
"No, not yet. We can't give up here."
I need more than sentiments here, Reshiram! she growled. Grunts and shouts came from outside the wall. Yuna had to help her teammates out.
"Let them stay with Baptiste. Make a break for the Needle."
What? Yuna would've shook the Soul Dew if she wasn't preoccupied.
"If you really think you're outmatched, then we need to get Ray's power in our hands," Reshiram elaborated. "Then we can quite literally blow that loon away. Or at least get rid of his hold on the tomb."
That's a bold assumption, Yuna countered. Reshiram had no way to know that for certain.
"Well, I do know what we're doing now isn't working."
"Stand still, you dweeb!" Nikki growled.
"Hoh ho! Your frustration… zat is sweet, sweet sound of suffering!" Baptiste giggled excitedly. "Any simpleton can throw ze paint onto ze canvas and call ze splatter 'art.' But a true artiste takes life itself and turns it into his canvas."
Yuna heard rumbles and her mind was made up. Needle it is.
She just hoped her teammates could forgive her for seemingly skipping out on them. Yuna swam through the wall, heading toward where she believed the room Baptiste guarded was.
"I don't see any canvas," Chiaki countered. The spattering of Bullet Seeds accompanied, followed by plinks as they presumably hit the wall. "I bet the Qliphoth's energy has rotted your brain."
"Non! Vous are the one not seeing," Baptiste said. Loud splatters made Yuna cringe. He really was fighting with poison. "Eternatus… He has been trapped. But soon… He shall emerge from his captivity like ze beautifly from its cascoon prison."
Nikki snorted. "Beautifly? Cascoon? Those supposed to be pokémon or something? They sound like some little kid's made-up versions of butterfree and kakuna… which aren't even the same evolution family!"
"Keep going, Yuna. I feel Ray's presence even closer than before," Reshiram said.
Yuna felt it, too. No, wait, it was just the wall. Getting… colder? Yes, the silver was colder. Like someone was buffeting it with wind. The end of the wall was approaching, then. Yuna quickened her pace, tail darting back and forth.
"As l'Paradigm's artiste, I knew that I had to celebrate His return with a piece zat exemplified ze raw beauty born from all His suffering," Baptiste continued. There were hisses and bubbling, too. Attacks colliding, perhaps? "So, I chose to give zis dusty tomb its own metamorphosis!"
"Is that why you're abducting people and putting them in poison cocoons?" Chiaki asked.
"Non! I would not sully my creative juices in such a way," Baptiste barked. Crackles and a thunderclap sounded far behind Yuna. "I whipped up a delightful creation to do ze dirty work in my stead. Perhaps vous have met it already?"
So, Ahemait is his fault. Which meant there was a possibility the whole Isfet tale Razim brought up was a fabrication. That would've relieved Yuna if her life wasn't in danger. Yuna heard rushes of wind then poked her head out of the wall. She gasped, then threw her hands over her mouth.
Turtankhamun's room was coated in a thick layer of purple slime save for the red and blue tapestry pieces, one of which Yuna thankfully found. However, his sarcophagus hadn't fallen to the ceiling when gravity reversed… because the Needle she was searching for was impaled through it. The ruby top carved to look like an eye had a distorted purple aura around it, with trails of purple energy heading out the door.
"Th… that's…" Yuna flew out of the tapestry, shuddering. "That's not a good sign, is it?"
The room thumped. Loudly.
"Uh, I'm going to go with 'no,'" Reshiram whimpered. "I don't suppose that was from the others, was it?"
The room thumped again. Yuna looked down. "Nope, it's coming from the floor! I mean the ceiling! I mean— ahhhh!"
Silver bricks splintered underneath her. Yuna charged toward the Needle with Quick Attack speeds. Seconds later, the ceiling erupted behind her, scattering silver chunks and purple slime in all directions. A slowking landed at the edge of the hole. His skin had a purple tint to it and his shellder crown had crown to completely cover his head.
Yuna's gills shriveled. "R… Razim?"
"Must… saaaave… grrooooooh!"
Razim rose into the air atop a pilar of poison. Yuna's eyes widened. She dove into the ceiling, then heard the poison crash over her like a huge wave striking the shore. It reminded her of Seifer's Dynaforce attack. How was she supposed to deal with something like that?
"The Needle! Focus on the Needle!" Reshiram pleaded.
"I can't do that safely!" Yuna hissed. She rose from the floor and smacked the Soul Dew. "You told Cid we'd have your power to rely on. So, put your money where your big mouth is!"
Reshiram popped out of the Soul Dew and faced Razim, who swayed side to side uneasily. "My mouth's not big! Bahamut told me it's an average size snout!"
"Not funny, Reshiram!" Yuna snapped. "Look, if he's been corrupted with poison like Baptiste, maybe that overtook his water-typing. So, fire away!" She pointed to Razim and her Soul Dew sparked.
"Oh, good thought." Reshiram's eyes and tail engine brightened. He turned and gathered a large fireball over his head. It descended toward Razim, who awkwardly rolled to his right. It wasn't nearly enough to dodge the blow. The corrupted slowking slammed into the wall, leaving an imprint in the slime.
"It is suffering zat gets my creative juices flowing!" Baptiste's obnoxiously shrill voice carried all the way through to the chamber despite the winds.
"Dude, nobody wants to hear about your creative juices!" Nikki shouted. Yuna spotted electric sparks at the edges of the doorway. Were the others holding Baptiste off or was he getting closer to the Needle room?
Razim rolled off the wall to his feet. His crown bristled with pink energy. Next thing Yuna and Reshiram knew, large pink rings were heading right for them. "Right!" Yuna shouted.
"And we of l'Qliphoth have suffered for too long!"
Yuna had enough time to flee into the corner of the room. But even with a powerful flap of his wings, Reshiram couldn't get away. He careened into the top of the needle and a burst of purple energy shot him into the floor. Reshiram gasped in surprised. Yuna looked down and saw pink energy spreading out underneath her. "Psychic terrain?" she squeaked.
"All because of ze traitor and her devil of a husband!" Baptiste continued. Yuna really wished he had an off button. Or the Needle could make the winds louder.
"Yuna, look out!" Reshiram wheezed.
She turned back to see a Shadow Ball sailing right toward her. Yelping, Yuna threw up her hands and prepared for the worst. Instead, a huge wall of heat enveloped her. She moved her right hand and found Reshiram hovering in front of her.
"Fire at him again," the dreepy pleaded.
The Soul Dew glowed again, as did Reshiram's eyes. Another fireball gathered above his head, but Razim was faster. Bright pink scribbles struck Reshiram's chest. Though he stood tall, his eyes widened as his fireball shrank over his head. Yuna glanced at Razim. What had Baptiste's crazy energy done to the slowking?
"My attack!" Reshiram broke off as it looked like Razim was readying another poison wave. Yuna's eyes darted around the room. She looked at the Needle again and recalled its… reaction to being struck by Reshiram.
It's worth a shot if it means an end to this nightmare!
Yuna flew up to the top of the Needle and spread her arms out. "Hey, hey! I'm right here. T… take a shot at me!"
Razim tilted his head. "… muh?"
Reshiram turned around. "What are you doing?!"
"S… ave. I will… save!" Razim's crown glowed. More giant pink rings formed around him. Yuna hastily flew behind the Needle and sucked her tail up into her head.
The rings struck the Needle. Each blow created gouts of shadowfire. One got Yuna, shooting her into the floor. The dreepy yowled from the blow. It was like someone poured ice water on her. God, it hurt so bad. Yuna just wanted to stop. To sleep. To forget any of this was happening.
"Yuna… the Needle! Something's happening with it!"
Reshiram's cry forced her to open her eyes. The distorted aura was gone. Razim had fallen to his knees, clutching at his shellder crown.
"You little vermin! You tried to trick me!" Baptiste shouted from what sounded like the hallway. He must've been about fifteen meters away. "Me, ze great Jean-Claude Phillipe Fra—"
Too much noise. It was too much noise. Why couldn't it stop? Why couldn't this all stop? Why couldn't… everyone… just…
Yuna's small torso lurched. Black, inky tendrils shot out and grabbed the head of the Needle, pulling her toward it much like Chiaki's Hooker arm. Moments later, the Needle's warmth shot through Yuna's body and her vision went white.
"Don't you dare!"
The purple Moongeist Beam cut through the deep blue-black that marked the edge of the stratosphere, but the distance between her and this deoxys was simply too great. It popped over to her right in a blink of blue light.
Then its orange and purple body twisted upon itself. Its frame thinned. Two of its arms vanished, replaced by a large spoke from the back of its head.
Great. The speed form.
She brought her wings together to make herself a smaller target, but Deoxys was zipping back and forth too fast for her ESP to keep up. She conjured a blue Protect barrier in desperation. Relief flooded her when a Dark Pulse struck the barrier and shattered it. She whipped her right wing around, blindly hurling a Shadow Ball.
"Damn it, why isn't anyone helping?!" she snarled. Bahamut had trusted her to keep Etherium safe in his absence. Why did this have to happen now? And in a spot where the Luminous Sages couldn't reliably reach? This planet was his home. No, their home. She wanted to keep it that way.
"You are a fool to think you can fit in among these meatbags."
Deoxys popped up in its base form fifty meters in front of her.
"I made my choice. I'm not going back to Eternatus."
Its eyes sparked red. "Master Zodiark will not accept that answer."
The gem in its chest sparked an identical red. Its tendrils wriggled as layers of orange and blue split off its body. More and more copies spawned from Deoxys. Crackled darkness bristled in their collective tentacles.
One Dark Pulse she could handle. Maybe even two or three. But three hundred? And they had her surrounded.
No. Please. Not like this! Her crimson eyes darted around.
"Have no fear, for Rayquaza is here!"
Deoxys and its clones glanced down in union just in time to see an emerald comet charge straight through them. The streak made an abrupt right turn and plowed through the clones, which burst apart into blobs of slime.
"Ray!" Jubilance spread through her chest.
The last of the clones dispatched, the emerald comet faded into a transformed Rayquaza. His delta sign and golden tassels were brilliant beacons shining in the twilight of the planet's edge.
"Sorry for the delay, Lady Chiron! But a knight always knows how to arrive at the right moment!" He threw his triangular head back for a hearty laugh.
Chiron would've joined him, but there were other matters to attend to. Deoxys' core floated listlessly, trying to pull back any nearby goo to reform a body. And she couldn't let that happen.
She curled her wings up by her crescent moon head. Her third eye flared to life. Purple light coalesced around it. "Here's my parting gift, Qliphoth scum!"
The Moongeist Beam swallowed Deoxys' core whole.
"Well put, m'lady!" Rayquaza snaked up to her, clapping his tiny little hands. "Art thou sure thee weren't a knight in a past life?"
Sighing, Chiron shook her head. "Doubt it, Ray." The fatigue finally caught up with her. Her wings drooped. "Let's just… get back down to the surface, okay?"
Yuna sucked a sharp breath in and fell onto the floor seconds after a huge wind burst dissolved away the slime. She flopped around like a benched magikarp. Ah, my head! The vision was even more frightening than the last one. What was that sinister-looking creature? Deoxys?
"Bonté divine! B… but how is zis possible?!"
Baptiste stood in the doorway, his trembling shellder arm trained on the black serpent floating in front of him.
… wait, black? No, that couldn't be right! Rayquaza's scales were a brilliant emerald. She had just seen them. And Reshiram looked equally confused. Unless…
"One of this planet's old guard accepted Natus' love while in his stasis."
Yuna's ectoplasm went cold. Was Xeromus telling the truth? Had she just made the wrong decision… and given backup to Baptiste? She looked up at Rayquaza, but couldn't see his face. Was he looking at Baptiste with anger or elation? He hadn't seemed to notice Yuna. But what about Reshiram? The dreepy looked at him, gesturing to Rayquaza, but Reshiram looked as baffled by his appearance as she was.
"You!" Baptiste raised his right hand and shook it at Rayquaza. "Stop floating zere menacingly et say something! Or destroy zese stupid interlopers!" The slowbro pointed to Yuna.
Rayquaza quickly glanced her. Yuna momentarily squeaked at his crimson eyes. But her ectoplasm stopped quivering when his expression softened slightly. He briefly smiled, then turned back to Baptiste.
"Thou art the scoundrel trying to poison me from the outside." Rayquaza slammed his tail in front of Baptiste, who jumped back with a squeak. "Your misdeeds end here and now, daemon!"
Emerald light flared around Rayquaza.
"Non… non! Zis is a mistake! Zere has been a big misunderstand— eeeeng!"
Baptiste's attempt to flee was met with an electrified fist from Nikki. He tumbled back in front of Rayquaza, whose emerald tail was raised high. The slowbro meekly shielded himself with his shellder arm.
"Aha ha… perhaps we can talk zis out like genteelmon instead?"
Rayquaza hammered Baptiste into the floor. His shellder arm shattered, releasing a stream of black and purple smoke. The slowbro screamed but soon sounded as squeaky and depressing as a deflating balloon. Yuna's face paled as Baptiste's body shriveled away before Team Bastion. Nothing but a collection of floating purple lights remained.
Yuna was tempted to inspect them closer, but they instantly broke apart. "Whoa!" Nikki threw herself against the doorway to dodge them, as did Chiaki. One of the light beams flew into Razim's chest. Soft blue light spread over him and, when it faded, the slowking looked exactly as Yuna remembered him.
She flopped onto her back. A weary laugh escaped her lips. "H… how did we pull that off?"
"I dunno." Nikki walked over, frowning as she dusted off her coat. "You tell me, Princess. Because from my point of view, it looks like you hung us out to dry against that loon."
Yuna was about to answer when Rayquaza dropped down between the two of them, coiling around himself. "I thank thee for expunging that cursed evil from my system." He thumped his right fist against his chest and bowed. "As a layperson, I was Sir Gallian the Bold. Now, I am Sir Rayquaza, Sage of Perseverance. As thou art my rescuer, Lady Dreepy, I pledge my fealty unto thee!"
Nikki's initial anger bubbled away. She doubled over laughing. "Oh. My. God. I… I'm gonna need a minute." She dabbed at her eyes. "Y'know what? That stupid shit right there?" Nikki pointed to Rayquaza. "Almost makes all this nonsense worth it."
Chiaki's mint sprig dropped from his mouth. He turned away, covering his face with his good hand. "I need a freaking drink," he muttered.
"Ray, old buddy, old pal!" Reshiram fluttered over, tail engine whirring with excitement. "Good to have you back."
"Ah, Sir Reshiram!" Rayquaza wrapped his tail around Reshiram, who made a sound not unlike a squeaky toy. "It has been far too many moons, friend." He paused. "At least, I think it has been. Pray tell, art thou with Lady Dreepy, too?"
"I… I am…" Reshiram struggled to free himself from Rayquaza's tail. "We can catch up… later. For now… we need to take Razim… and get back to his palace."
Orange, metallic doors slid open. In floated a flailing poipole with a gray headset awkwardly fixed around his bulbous head.
A naganadel looked up from his tablet. "What are you doing away from your station?" he barked. The Eternatus Troopers on either side of the door each raised one of their maces at Poipole. They crackled with psychic energy.
"I… I… I have an update, sir." He saluted to the naganadel, then pivoted the salute toward the other side of the room, where the lights faded and only the outlines of a metal desk with a high-arched chair and small deoxys figurine were visible under the dim glows given off by two dozen holographic screens.
The chair swiveled around and two beady white eyes peered back at Poipole.
"Archbishop, I'm so sorry." Naganadel floated toward Poipole, pushing the Troopers away. "I'll get this overeager desk jockey back to his station and dock him a day's salary."
"… no, Sticky. Let him speak." The deep voice reverberated around the room. Paradox's eyes tilted forward slightly. "After all, he wouldn't disturb me for a trifling matter. Isn't that right, boy?"
Tiny bits of purple ink spurted out of Poipole's two side needles. His face reddened. "Y-Yes. Of course, sir. It's um… well…" His arms trembled. "We, y'know, kinda sorta maybe… lost Baptiste's signal."
Silence, broken when Sticky pointed his massive stinger needle at Poipole. "You would dare come to the archbishop over a technical glitch? I'll dock a week's salary!"
Poipole threw his arms up over his face. More ink dribbled out of his head needles, coating his headset. "It's not a glitch, I swear! I double-checked with my supervisor and her supervisor. Not only did Baptiste's signal go out… the light source he had found is gone, too!" He squeezed his eyes shut. "We believe that Baptiste has been… exorcised."
Sticky lowered his stinger. He looked toward the other end of the room. "Sir?"
The archbishop's chair creaked. "I see. Thank you for bringing this to my attention. You're dismissed."
Poipole's eyes widened. A relieved grin spread across his face. "R-Really?"
But as Poipole tried to leave, Paradox's eyes turned bright blue. A psychic field caught Poipole and dragged him toward the archbishop's desk. His eyes widened in fear. "No! No, please, sir! I… I'm begging you! I was just following protocol! Please, I—"
Two tentacles — one blue and one orange — spawned from the shadows of the archbishop's desk and wrapped themselves around Poipole's neck. They forced his mouth open.
Paradox sighed. "I know you were following protocol. But if you had spoken at greater length with your supervisors, they would've told you that I couldn't care the slightest bit about Baptiste and his 'art projects.'" Several tsks echoed around the room. "Instead, you've gone and delivered me bad news. And I do so hate bad news."
Poipole's struggling lasted all of a second before Paradox plunged his tentacles into Poipole's throat. He burst apart in a flare of purple and red energy. The tentacles retreated back into the shadows, revealing an unown-P floating in Poipole's place.
A glass tube dropped from the ceiling to silence P's screams before they even began. Paradox's eyes leaned forward. "Perhaps you will be of more use to me as a Trooper than you were as an analyst. Nos vera Natus!"
Sticky bowed his head as the glass tube sucked P into the ceiling. "Nos vera Natus!" He straightened himself up. "So, what now, Archbishop? Should I send Troopers to investigate?"
"It matters not."
Sticky frowned. Another lost Paradigm sounded like a serious matter to him. "But sir—"
"Now is not the time, Sticky. After all…" Paradox's chair swiveled back. All the holographic screens merged back into one, which showed an irate ponyta stomping back and forth across a carpeted floor while a flygon tapped its claws together nervously.
"… a wonderful show is just about to start."
~Il Paradigma, Canto C: Baptiste~
He took the latest planet's ruler upon His knee and said, "Forget not the starving artists, for they find beauty in the most unlikely places. It is with their hands that Eternal love will flourish."
~Il Paradigma, Canto C: Baptiste~
He took the latest planet's ruler upon His knee and said, "Forget not the starving artists, for they find beauty in the most unlikely places. It is with their hands that Eternal love will flourish."