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The Worldslayers

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by Sike Saner, May 22, 2017.

  1. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    The journey continues! There's a nice sense of exhaustion all the way through this chapter; I don't know if it's intentional or not, but you find yourself as a reader constantly waiting for something to happen, wondering what the Thing is that this chapter's about, and then you reach the end and still nothing has happened, and you realise that the Thing was the exhaustion itself, the travelling, the rain, the mud. Interesting stuff.

    Although I guess there was a more tangible Thing, too, with the shady kecleon and all. Clearly things (as, uh, opposed to Things, I suppose) are starting to happen, and obviously that's pretty tantalising. Neither of the kecleon seem like much of a threat, given the strength and composition of the party, but of course there's always the possibility of them being part of something more.

    I do also like this kind of awkwardness you've got going on between the pokémon partnered with Ren the old-fashioned way and those who aren't; especially in that bit near the end with Acheron cradling Ren, you get a sense of that relationship – the one at the heart of the whole Pokémon franchise in some ways – being very distant to Syr. It's a nice touch, especially given the history of your world.

    A minor quibble:

    It almost always ends up really awkward when you put dialogue in the middle of a clause like that – I'd group up the narration and the dialogue, so it goes either 'As if it already were, Karo said, “Yeah, no, I'm not walking in that”' or '“Yeah, no, I'm not walking in that,” Karo said, as if it already were.” You do the same thing a bit later on, when Ren says they'll find somewhere else to stay, and I think I'd recommend the same alteration. Other than that, I don't think there's much I really want to take issue with. I look forward to Chapter 4!
     
  2. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    I don't know whether or not I intended it either, but in any case I'm glad to know it's there. Sounds like a sign of decent immersion, you know? :D

    Also good to hear! The dynamic between Ren and his actual pokémon should be different from the one between him and Syr. Syr, after all, is basically the new guy. Everyone on the team, barring Karo, has only known him for a few days, and vice versa. Meanwhile Ren caught Karo years ago--as in, years before The Tube--and the twins have literally known Ren and Karo their entire lives.

    Ooh, I'm liking that second fix. :eek: Flows hella nicely.


    Thanks for the read 'n' reply! :D
     
  3. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 → follow your fire.

    cross-posted

    Interesting little tidbit on ditto there. Not only does it serve to show just how cautious the group has to be as a whole, but also it adds some depth into the worldbuilding. I dig it. 8)

    B-But I want to know more about the secret bases. ;_;

    Lolrekt.

    I haven't had too much to comment on because not much has happened so far. But the subtle tension between everyone despite the fact that they have to stick together is really well written as well as the obvious emotional strain they're all under for both similar and different reasons. The pacing does risk moving along too slowly in the beginning if this keeps up, but for right now, I think it's working in your favor.
     
  4. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    Oh there are certainly more out there, loads more. Some of them are pretty much bare (like mine in Omega Ruby, pffff). Others look more along the lines of the one the protags stumbled upon. Still others have likely been repurposed into homes or larders or whatever else by pokémon.

    A couple of bases, in especially remote locations or places where the local pokémon don't like to disturb the dead, contain their previous owners.

    Who needs roar when you have creepy-*** whisper? 8D

    Thanks for reading and reviewing! :D
     
  5. Chibi Pika

    Chibi Pika Stay positive

    Caught up now! Was probably for the best that I took a break from this to read through The Origin of Storms.

    As with your other fics, you do a really good job here at setting up the relevant emotions in a thick, almost tangible way. Part of this is due to us having Syr as the pov character this time around, as he's a lot less... steadfast than Solonn, shall we way? What I mean is, things get to him, and they stick around, and they torment him. And there have been a lot of disturbing things in his life lately.

    If I could offer one piece of crit, it was that these two chapters didn't quite feel like they needed to be separate. While there are a fair number of interesting things in each one (the secret base in ch2, the kecleon encounters and the massive downpour in ch3)... thematically they're both very similar, transitional sort of chapters that focus on moving characters around and exploring their feels. Later in the fic, it might not hurt to have two slow chapters in a row, but I'd avoid it early on when the story still has yet to kick into gear.

    In any case, speaking of the secret base scene... chills. I don't know why, but it was the moldy Lapras plush that really did it for me. And Ren's reaction.

    Also, Karo's complete and utter indifference to the kecleon was hilarious.

    That's all for now. Laters!

    ~Chibi~;249;;448;
     
  6. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    Or a lot less inner focus :V

    The great thing about writing a character like Syr, who's trying his derndest to hold it together through this mission, is that he's fun to work with whether he succeeds OR fails in that endeavor. :B Guess that goes for reading him as well as writing him, then.

    They probably didn't need to be separate, nah. I think what we're seeing here is the result of me just really, really not wanting to write long chapters anymore. XD; That kicked in... mm, around when I made the current Communication thread. In the original thread, there were significantly fewer chapters but not terribly much less in the way of actual content. What we had there was sort of the inverse of this situation: a bunch of chapters with no business being bundled up as one.

    So if I had to take a guess, I'd figure that I've sort of... overcorrected here. XD; Whoopsy doopsy!

    There's just something distinctly Not Right about a child's room that shows no signs of recent life. Ren was probably helplessly imagining how very extremely dead its former owner was and the likelihood that yeah this place was the work of a dead child.

    As for Karo, there are effective methods to get him to give a ****. Fuming uselessly (and dishonestly) from behind a barrier is decidedly not one of them. :B

    Thanks for the read and reply! :D
     
  7. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    Chapter 4 – Bound to Happen


    Jen gazed out the window, idly watching the passing cars as well as the people in the park beyond. He hoped, as he’d done more than once since waking, for a flash of light in the yard—for Solonn and Grosh to arrive early. They’d be a good source of conversation, judging by the time he’d spent with them previously. They could talk about Sinnoh, about the nation of snorunt and glalie and froslass that lived there and the tree-people they called neighbors. They could help him piece together more of his past. They could discuss a number of things that, Jen hoped, would help take his mind off his father’s current whereabouts, if only for a while.

    He’d tried not to worry too much about Syr in the time since the arbok had left for the south, but it was proving much too difficult. After all, his father was going up against the killers of an entire species.

    The possible killers, Jen told himself yet again, hoping as before to make Syr’s task seem rather less insurmountable. Less dangerous. I really shouldn’t jump to conclusions, he added this time around. His father and the human and all the rest of them had seemed convinced that the deranics had pulled the figurative trigger, but for that matter, Jen had been convinced that Anomaly was nothing but an ordinary gardevoir.

    Jen winced. His latest effort to calm his worries had just backfired. Now he had another concern on the brain: the fact that the same creature who’d abused his trust, tried to murder him, and destroyed his home was technically accompanying Syr on his mission. There was nothing between the nullshade and the arbok but a metal sphere and the strange process that converted people into portable energy.

    Unconsciously, he lifted a claw to his mouth, gnawing at it as he wondered how inescapable those things really were. Anomaly’s prison was one of the stronger models, according to Solonn and Grosh. But he knew firsthand how strong that creature was, and how ruthless…

    Gah.

    The unexpected noise startled Jen, causing him to accidentally nick his tongue with that claw. He hissed at the pain and stared confusedly at his hand for a moment, vaguely wondering when it had gotten anywhere near his face.

    He turned toward the speaker and found Babs heading for the kitchen. “Did you fix it?” he asked as he followed her in.

    “I wish, but no. I’m just remembering to take a break and eat for once,” Babs responded. She swung the cupboard wide open and pulled out a half-empty bag of tiny, dead insects. “…Want any?” she asked as she removed the clip that held it shut.

    Jen almost declined her offer, but then reconsidered. He wasn’t particularly hungry, but it was a snack he hadn’t tried before. A potential distraction from the things on his mind, however small. “Sure,” he said, and slithered closer. He let Babs shake a few bugs out into his hand, prodded and examined them for a moment, then froze the lot of them and put them in his mouth.

    “…Huh. They’re not bad, I guess,” he remarked a couple of moments later.

    Babs chuckled. “Of course they’re not. And they’re loaded with energy, too. Which I’m gonna need, if that tube continues being such a stubborn little…”

    * * *​

    “Waaaake up. C’mon, sleepyscales.”

    It wasn’t the first time Syr had heard the light, breathy voice in the past few minutes. But this time, he realized that the voice was coming from outside his current surroundings. From outside his dream.

    He felt someone poking at him with what had to be at least seven fingers at once and finally finished waking up, lifting his head and releasing an enormous yawn that all but turned his face inside-out. His jaws popped back into place, and he rubbed the sleep out of his eyes with his tail so that he could assess the current situation.

    Still in the forest, just as before. The wind had died down a little more, and more of the day’s last light was filtering through the leaves than there’d been the past couple of evenings. It felt a bit warmer, too. Syr nodded in approval to no one in particular. If things really were clearing up, perhaps they wouldn’t get stuck hiding from another thunderstorm.

    The puddle was still at his side, though smaller than before. He lapped at it some more; it wasn’t as cold this time, and more sediment had accumulated in it. Ren had his canteen out again, and Syr didn’t doubt for a second that the human’s water supply was tastier. Still, he held his tongue. Filter or no filter, no human could handle potentially contaminated water better than a poison-type could. Syr figured that if anyone ought to be rolling those particular dice, it was him.

    Acheron was back in the ball, meanwhile, and Demi had taken his place in the clearing. “I’ll be back in a few,” she said, then strode off out of sight.

    “Still not joining her, huh?”

    Syr stopped staring off in the direction Demi had gone and met Ren’s gaze. “Oh… No, I’m not hungry,” he reminded him automatically. “I just ate last week.”

    “I know.” Back into the pack the canteen went. “You’re still not entirely comfortable with them, are you.”

    Syr was too embarrassed to answer at first. “Yeah,” he finally admitted. “I’m trying, though. I’m trying to see Demi and Acheron when I look at them and not… you know. I know they’re not going to hurt me. I know they had nothing to do with anything that happened last week. It just…”

    “Happened last week,” Ren said quietly. “Literally just a few days ago.” He stood and approached the arbok, stepping in the puddle beside him but apparently not noticing. He put a hand against Syr’s back. “For both of us. What I’m getting at is… I’m not taking it personally that you’re still getting used to the twins. Neither are they. We get it.”

    Of course. Of course they got it. Loss was at their tails as much as it was at his own—even moreso for Ren, who’d lost his entire race. Whose species would die out with him. And even though none of them had witnessed their personal tragedies like Syr had… God knew they could certainly imagine them. And sometimes imagining was a lot worse than knowing.

    Something rustled in the distant branches, growing louder by the moment. Syr had very little time to wonder about it before a small group of mankey and vigoroth launched themselves into the clearing from above, claws and fists already glowing on a collision course with—

    —Demi, who’d burst back out of the woods and thrown herself into the attackers’ path before they could connect with their intended targets. An orange aura exploded off her skin, forcefully repelling the horde; a couple of them smacked audibly into the trees.

    A mankey who’d avoided Demi’s counter trap rolled out of the way of those who didn’t, diving past the kwazai to charge at Ren. Syr lunged to catch the fighting-type, only to overshoot as an invisible force field caught the mankey short. He faceplanted into the damp soil, half-wondering exactly when Ren had found the time to let Karo out.

    Syr started to get up, but he flattened himself against the ground once more at the sound of a reflux beam roaring through the air. Something landed on his back in nearly the same instant, knocking the breath out of him and slashing at his hood. Syr twisted himself about on instinct, his coils wrapping around his attacker: a vigoroth, he discovered. Once he could actually see the thing, the fangs went in. He tightened his grip as the venom went to work; within seconds, the vigoroth passed out.

    Around that point, things became somewhat quieter. A quick look around told Syr that most of the attackers were down for the count, lying at the twins’ muddy, bloody feet. The mankey who’d crashed into Karo’s block field was the only one still awake, sprawled and groaning and cursing in front of the nosepass. Ren was crouching next to Karo, clutching him tightly.

    “All right. Shift the field over to that mankey,” the human said. “Don’t let her get up, but make sure she can still talk.”

    Karo did as instructed. The mankey’s eyes went wide. “Augh, no! Let go of me!” she screeched.

    “What, so you can put a crack in my nose? Not happening.” Karo leaned toward her, staring down his nose. He let a couple of sparks crackle over it as he chuckled ominously.

    “No, you’ve got some explaining to do,” Ren told the mankey. “What was that all about?” he demanded, indicating the fallen pokémon with a wave.

    “Oh, like it even matters what I say to you.” She rolled her eyes. “Stupid-ass human…”

    “It matters,” Ren said, earning a highly bemused look from the fighting-type, “because I’m sure you’d like to get this over with as soon as possible. Demi?”

    At his prompt, Demi stepped up and lowered one of her hands onto the mankey’s large, fuzzy head. Acheron joined her for good measure, bringing his head as close to their captive’s eye level as he could and growling deep within his throat. A dark gray aura pulsed around him: shadow tag. Even if Karo lost hold of the block, the mankey wasn’t going anywhere.

    “A-ah… I’m not scared of you,” the mankey said, and she couldn’t have sounded less convincing if she’d tried. “We knew you wouldn’t be alone. She said you had pokémon—”

    “She?” Ren cocked his head. “Wouldn’t happen to be a kecleon, now would she?”

    The mankey gave him no response other than a wild stare, sweat dampening her fur. Demi gave her a little squeeze. “Ack! Okay, yes, you typeless piece of crap, yes she was a kecleon. Said someone was running good people out of their homes around here—”

    “That was not her home,” Karo said, half-snorting.

    The mankey glared up at Karo. “Running good people out of their homes,” she repeated, “and scaring the locals. She wanted you out of the area. We all want you out of here.” Her eyes darted to meet Syr’s. “So why don’t you just go back south with the rest of the snakes and leave us alone?”

    Snakes? Syr could practically feel his trains of thought grind to a halt in unison, but his mind jolted back to work just as quickly. Suddenly all he could think of was the last time he’d seen snakes in the south…

    “We didn’t come from the south,” Acheron told the mankey. “And we’re not here to cause any trouble. We’re just passing through.”

    The mankey scoffed. Her eyes traveled from Syr back to Ren and narrowed. “I don’t believe you,” she said simply, coldly.

    “Okay,” Ren said, rubbing at his temple, “okay. Demi?” he said again.

    At this, Demi let loose a psybeam right in the mankey’s face. The fighting-type’s eyes rolled back, and she was out like a light.

    “Bound to happen sooner or later,” Ren muttered to himself.

    Syr didn’t follow at first, but then the rest of his mind began filtering back up through the stirred memories. No, he realized, he didn’t need any clarification at all. He’d heard the sorts of things coming out of the mankey’s unseen mouth.

    Now that the last of the attackers had gone quiet, his own injuries were vying for his attention once more. His back stung now more than ever. “Ren? Could you…”

    But Ren was already pulling max potions out of his backpack. He tossed one each to Demi and Acheron, then approached Karo with another pair of them tucked under his arm. “Need any?” he asked.

    “Nah. But I’d sure like to get out of this mud.” Karo grumbled wordlessly at the mushy ground for a moment before disappearing into the ball once more.

    “You?” Ren asked Syr as he returned the great ball to his belt.

    “Yeah.” Syr turned his back to the human. Soon after, he felt the spray of medicine against his back. He hissed as the pain flared hotter for a moment, then relaxed as the wounds closed and it faded out completely.

    “Let’s get going,” Demi said, crushing her empty potion bottle before stashing it back into the pack. “Before those three wake up.”

    Syr hadn’t had time to count the attackers, but he could have sworn there’d been at least six. He tried not to dwell too much on what had happened to the other three.

    “Agreed,” Ren said, hesitating very briefly before recalling Acheron. He let Demi put the arbok’s leash back on, then grabbed up their supplies.

    Soon, they were southbound once more. But Syr’s thoughts had a head start on them all. The distant past felt far less distant, and the fields and faces he’d abandoned were as clear in his mind’s eye as if they lay right in front of him.

    Before, Syr could only wonder if the ekans he’d helped save had stayed where he’d left them. Now he was all too certain that they had.
     
    Last edited: Nov 30, 2018
  8. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    A brief jaunt back home this time around, I see, and while not a lot happens, it really doesn't feel that way – this fic is all about the atmosphere and the characters, and those slow conversations, full of pauses and difficult thoughts, really help build that. There's this thing I read once about an unrelated writer which talked about the way that his characters, in conversation, respond not to the words the other person says, but to what they think they're actually trying to say; I think that's a really … human is I guess the wrong word for a fic with mostly pokémon characters, but you know what I mean, it's a really human and natural kind of way to speak, and I really like the elements of that in your conversations here. It adds quite a lot to that sense of people trying tentatively to connect in the wake of something awful and not always being sure that they manage it.

    And then after that, a sudden explosion into action, which is cool because it both took me by surprise and didn't at the same time; I'd been expecting it when I started the chapter, after the hints in the last one, but like after the two long conversation scenes I'd kind of forgotten I was expecting a fight. And it's a fun one, too, with creative use of status moves and abilities that in-game are very transparently just game mechanics but which you make work in narrative fiction, which isn't easy at all.

    So – I guess this one isn't really a review, exactly, it's more of a "here are some things I thought while reading this chapter", but that's all right, sometimes that's what you come up with when you sit down to respond to something, I guess. As always, I look forward to the next instalment!
     
  9. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    I'm always so glad to hear/read/whatever that the dialogue is apparently going over well. ;w; Mainly because that's one of the aspects of writing I enjoy most. It kind of... amplifies that, I guess, to know that other people are enjoying it, too.

    (Now if only I could get the hang of conversation IRL. XD; )

    Things like block and shadow tag are so much fun to play with. :D The same goes for a lot of moves, really, but there's definitely something special about the ones that are all OH NO YOU DON'T, GET BACK HERE. :p

    Thanks for the read 'n' reply! Whether one calls it a review or doesn't, it made me happy. :D
     
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2017
  10. Chibi Pika

    Chibi Pika Stay positive

    Another slow chapter. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing! And after what you said in your previous response, I can definitely appreciate the merit of short but sweet chapters. I think it's made me more properly realize what sort of story this is, too. I think maybe the title is what got me expecting more of an adventure romp, but this is a much more quiet and melancholy piece. A story about trauma, healing, and the long, long road to seeking out answers that might not even exist. So I think realizing that will make it easier to properly judge the pacing of these early chapters without feeling like it's taking too long.

    I'd also like to echo Cutlerine's sentiment in that I really like the way you write conversations. They always just feel right for the characters, you know? Like there's a lot going on under the surface--subtext that doesn't get said outright, but more implied through all the pauses and expressions and reactions.

    Nice to pop back to the house for a bit with Jen and Solonn. Also, I think I just realized how I've been visualizing Jen: http://telefang.wikia.com/wiki/Sorghum Just with more blades. xD

    ~Chibi~;249;;448;
     
  11. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 → follow your fire.

    Echoing some dialogue comments here. Each piece of dialogue is oozing in tension and melancholy, I feel like, and no matter what's said, no matter if it's only a word or a whole sentence about something that should make me feel happy, I instead feel a pang in my chest instead because it feels so heavy. Even more tension comes in when you consider how almost none of the characters trust each other. But they do it anyway because, you know, they have to. Or they might not make it. And that's an extremely poignant group dynamic to write about, and you do it well.
     
  12. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    Chibi Pika:
    My first thought upon seeing that was oh man if he had those wing/fin/hood things he'd look even more like his dad. That in turn got me thinking wait holy heck he evolved into a SNAKE thus making him resemble both his adoptive father AND his brother's dad a little more. Which actually wasn't intentional, and so now I'm smiling like a dork because I love happy accidents. :D

    Also part of my mind spent a few minutes wondering why the heck a snake monster is named after a sort of grass and then the rocks came down on my head. Snake in the grass. Of course. I love it.

    diamondpearl876: There's definitely a measure of mistrust/reluctant trust going on with these people. Especially with regards to Grosh and Solonn, where Ren is concerned. Especially from the former. I think Solonn's somewhat more forgiving in general, and I think Ren agreeing to disable what he'd put in him in the first place did a considerable amount to prevent Solonn from outright hating him. But I think there's still a part of Grosh that'd absolutely be ready to give Ren a few more bruises (if not fractures) should Ren upset his son again.

    Thanks to both of you for reading and for replying! :D
     
  13. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    Chapter 5 – Normal


    “So. Snakes.” Ren slowed down in midstep, possibly to glance back at Syr in vain. It was too dark to be sure. “Anyone you know?”

    You knew he wasn’t gonna let that slip past. “Well… maybe,” Syr said. “I used to live with several ekans, down around Rustboro. Maybe these are the same guys, but maybe not.”

    “Around Rustboro,” Ren repeated. “You mentioned poison-types in that area being enslaved by the deranics.”

    “No, those were koffing,” Syr said. And at least one weezing. That part couldn’t quite make it out. “The ekans… I don’t know what happened to them,” he admitted. Very old guilt stirred somewhere in his stomach; he imagined it’d made it to his face, too. Certainly the kwazai in their midst was aware of it. He hoped she wouldn’t pry.

    “Well I sure as hell hope they made it out of there. For their sake and ours. They—”

    “Incoming branch,” Demi interrupted. “You’ll both need to duck.”

    There was a little tug on the tether as Ren followed her advice. “No doubt they’ve had to deal with the deranics on some level,” the human resumed. “They might know something useful.”

    Syr couldn’t argue with that, silent as he dipped under the branch himself. And he sincerely preferred the prospect of seeing those ekans again as opposed to finding out they’d been captured or eradicated.

    Whether or not they’d be equally glad to see him… that was another story.

    Eventually the stars came back into sight, the trees and clouds both thinning. Soon they were mirrored by lights in the valley below. Syr and the others had known beforehand that Mauville still had power, owing to its considerable electric pokémon population; the place made the news in Convergence from time to time.

    Even now, with the moon high overhead, there were signs of activity in the city below—not terribly many, but enough to reasonably assume they’d run into someone who knew the lay of the land. Someone who could guide them to supplies, and maybe even a roof to spend the coming day under.

    And maybe, Syr thought, someone else who knows about the ekans. Someone who could give him an update on his former charges, who’d actually seen them since…

    Since I left them to fend for themselves against the deranics.

    He hissed softly, the guilt spiking again. It had been the ekans’ decision to banish him. It had been his unwillingness to stand against Faurur that had convinced them he couldn’t be trusted, though he still wasn’t sorry for that, at least; he’d guessed, and correctly, that Faurur and her people were victims as much as anything else. And he didn’t doubt that, outnumbered as he was, the ekans could’ve forced him out if he’d refused to go willingly.

    But he hadn’t had to run so far. No matter how deeply he’d feared and dreaded the possibility of fighting his oldest friend to the death… he could’ve stayed nearby, out of sight. Close enough to know if they truly needed his help more than Faurur needed his loyalty.

    If anything had happened to them since, he couldn’t help but feel responsible.

    Ren undid the tether once more. Syr and Demi joined him at his sides, and together they descended the path to the city limits. An old visitor’s center sat at the edge of town, dwarfed by much of the skyline. Light shone through its windows and glass roof, though it looked as though no one was actually inside. Just piles upon piles of junk. That was new; the last time Syr had been in this place, it had been entirely empty. Empty, and smelling of smoke.

    The doors slid open, and the three filed in. Syr hissed as something prodded him sharply in the belly; scooting aside, he found a dull, spent revive crystal. It had apparently rolled free from a heap of the things near the entrance. Despite how cluttered the place was, his surroundings didn’t stink in the least.

    “Uh, hello?” Demi’s tail was fanned out, and she was staring at the desk to the left as if she could see right through it. “Oh, good grief…” She smacked a couple of broken toys out of the way and slammed all four of her hands on the desk. “Hey! Wake up; you’ve got some visitors!”

    “Hreh?” said someone out of sight. Demi stepped back, and a rather groggy looking linoone slowly sat up, eyes half-lidded for a moment before he snapped out of his doze. “Oh! Shoot, sorry about that. Must’ve forgot my midnight chestos. Uh… don’t tell my supervisor, okay?”

    “Not a single peep,” Demi assured him, drawing fingers across her mouth as if zipping it shut. “We’re just gonna stop here in town for the day, restock on a few things, and then be on our way. I assume that’s not a problem?”

    “Sounds reasonable enough,” the linoone said. He sprang up onto the desk, his bushy tail knocking a couple of tv remotes onto the floor. He hopped down after them in the next moment and began slowly circling the new arrivals. “Well, we don’t really have anything going on at the moment, and of course lots of folks are asleep… but hey, I think you’ll enjoy your stay noneth—”

    He paused right in front of Ren, his head tilted to the side. Sniffing the air, he sat back up, peering into the human’s hooded face. A couple more sniffs; then, “Holy heck, are… are you…?”

    “Am I what?” Ren responded. Though the linoone didn’t seem hostile just yet, Syr could see the human tense up a bit.

    The linoone shut his mouth, looking fairly disappointed. He slumped back onto all fours, averting his gaze. “…Oh,” he said, pawing at one of the remotes and trying to look nonchalant. He didn’t exactly pull it off. “Okay. Sorry; I just… never mind. It was just wishful thinking.”

    He looked back up at Ren. “Uh… word of advice: maaaaybe you should change outta that form, yeah? I mean, don’t get me wrong; you did a heck of a job on it. But… well… I’d just… hate to see a lot of people getting false hopes, you know?”

    Ren nodded, eyes closed. “I know. But… look, this is all I have left of him,” Ren said, indicating his entire body with a sweep of his hands. “All any of us have.” His voice cracked, and it sounded awfully authentic. “I know it’s been years now, but… please. Try to understand.”

    The linoone blinked, then looked away once more. “…I understand,” he said quietly, clawing the linoleum guiltily. “Just, uh… hooooo.” He shook his head a couple of times; his eyes were glistening with unshed tears. “Just be ready to explain yourself a few more times before all’s said and done, okay?”

    “Yeah. I’m used to that by now,” Ren told him.

    Another scrape at the floor. “Okay then, okay; I’ve held you guys up long enough. Looking for somewhere to stay a bit, yeah?”

    “Yeah,” Demi answered.

    “All right, well your best bet’s gonna be the old pokémon center. The doors are never locked and there’s always someone behind the desk, same as the old days…” For a moment, the linoone’s mind seemed to wander. “Anyway,” he continued as he caught himself, “do you remember where that is, or…?”

    Ren nodded, as did Demi.

    “Thought as much.” The linoone leapt back onto the desk. “Have a nice night,” he said, then disappeared behind it.

    “This way,” Ren said, turning to lead the others down the street.

    Some part of Syr’s mind lingered back at the visitor’s center. Just like that, the linoone had accepted that Ren was just another pokémon. Just a shapeshifter, preserving the legacy of their trainer any which way they could. He cast one more look back, then turned to Ren. “That went well.”

    “Yeah,” Ren agreed. He didn’t sound particularly happy about it.

    The street they traveled was quiet and, apart from the three of them, empty. Syr spotted a car or truck every once in a while, but none of them were occupied. Wordlessly, Ren crossed the asphalt to one of the derelict vehicles; the others followed. With an effort, the human wrenched one of the doors open. The interior stayed dark, and a strong smell of neglect wafted out.

    Ren leaned in slightly, frowning as his gaze fell to the floor. He bent to grab whatever he’d just seen and pulled it out. It was the steering wheel, or rather about a third of it, detached from its rightful place and riddled with chew marks.

    Sighing, he tossed it back in. “Yeah no, this is in no state to function whatsoever.”

    “Most of them probably aren’t,” Syr said. “Cars, I mean. Not just here, but everywhere. A lot of pokémon find it faster or more convenient to travel the old-fashioned way. The ones who do use cars and buses and the like are mostly just hobbyists. People interested in the machines themselves.”

    Like Jen had been, prior to his evolution. And still was. His old convertible had been torched along with the house, but even if it hadn’t been, it’d had a driver’s seat modified for a snorunt and lacked accommodations for those without legs. He’d been preparing himself to give it up for a long time, but under a belief that had eventually proved false.

    “Of course, Adn told me he’d get me a new car after I evolved,” Jen had said. He’d tried not to sound disappointed, aware that was the least of the ways the ditto-in-disguise had betrayed them all, but his head had sunk low all the same.

    Someday. Someday Jen would get that new car, tailored to his new anatomy. Syr had promised it to Jen’s face, and he promised it again, silently.

    As if he needed any more reasons to try and come back in one piece.

    The three set off again, passing plenty of lit windows with shadows moving inside; it seemed almost everyone was indoors at the moment, at least in this part of town. That was also new. Syr remembered the size of the crowd gathered around the pyres, all those years back. He doubted anyone in Mauville had gone indoors that day.

    Along the way, they passed Mauville’s gym, or what had once been the gym, at least. Now it was something more akin to a museum, a memorial, stocked with mementos and records of the city’s lost human presence. It was one of Mauville’s big draws, as far as Syr understood. Apparently it never closed, either; it was lit up right down to the old neon sign above the doors, through which a buizel emerged as they passed.

    Ren moved a little closer to Syr, all the better to obscure himself behind the arbok’s hood.

    “I don’t think he noticed you,” Syr said.

    “He didn’t. He’s too busy staring at you and me like he thinks we’re gonna make a meal out of him.” Demi craned her neck back to flash a smile at the buizel; Syr heard footsteps scurrying off into the distance in the next instant.

    At length, they reached the pokémon center. Like the gym-turned-museum, it looked well-kept, the glass clean, the interior lights still relatively bright. The front doors immediately slid out of the way to admit the new arrivals; Syr hurried through before they could shut on his tail.

    “Good evening,” said a soft voice from across the room. Syr turned toward it and saw a blissey behind the desk. No sooner than their eyes met, a concerned look crossed her face… but she wasn’t looking at Syr any longer. Her eyes were on Ren now, and she was already stepping out from behind her post to investigate further.

    The blissey came to a stop in front of them, her dark eyes wide. She hesitated a moment, then reached up with a shaking paw toward Ren’s face. “You can’t be…”

    Ren drew a deep breath. “I’m not,” he said somberly.

    Frowning, the blissey withdrew her paw. “Right,” she muttered, “of course… I shouldn’t have jumped to conclusions.”

    “Don’t worry about it,” Demi said, resting a hand on one of the blissey’s ruffled shoulders. “You’ve got rooms available, right?”

    “We do.” The blissey looked the three of them over for a moment. “One for each of you, or…?”

    “Just one for the three of us will do,” Demi said.

    “All right, then.” The blissey turned toward the hallway. “4-B is free—that’ll be the fourth door to your right,” she clarified. No sooner had the words left her mouth than she glanced at Ren, looking a little sheepish. Apparently she’d only just remembered that one of her newest guests had used human-speech just minutes before.

    “Thanks,” Demi said coolly, then led the way. They reached their designated room within seconds. “You two get some rest,” she said. “Someone should stay awake and keep watch.”

    “Someone should…” Ren agreed as he opened the door, though he was clearly leaving something unsaid.

    Their room for the night, and much of the following day, was very tidy. Paintings of seaside towns and harbors decorated the walls, free from dust and grime. There was a neatly-made bed resting near the far wall, with a presently-open bathroom door set across from it.

    Said bed was only really large enough for Ren, but Syr hardly cared. Even back at his own house (at what used to be his house, he corrected himself automatically), he’d preferred the floor, with its ample room to coil up or stretch out as he pleased. There wasn’t as much room here, but at least he didn’t have to worry about flopping off of the bed.

    Ren shut the door, then turned to face Demi, a dusk ball in hand. “You need your rest, too. I’ll have Karo on sentry duty again.”

    Demi shrugged with all four shoulders. “Works for me,” she said. One of her hands closed over her trainer’s shoulder, squeezing gently. “Just make sure you get at least some sleep, okay?”

    “I’ll do my best.” Ren recalled Demi, then let Karo out.

    The nosepass immediately crossed the room to investigate a wastebasket in the corner. “Yep. Plastic,” he said, sounding relieved.

    There was a flumpf from behind the two of them. Ren had just tossed himself onto the bed, from the sound of it. Sure enough, there he was, lying fully clothed on still-made sheets and staring at the nearest painting.

    “It’s so… normal.” The human gave a weak laugh. “Look at this place. It’s like…” He rolled onto his side, facing the wall. “…Like nothing happened.”

    Neither of the pokémon said anything in reply for moments on end. The silence was eventually broken by Karo’s heavy, muffled steps across the carpet. He stopped at Ren’s bedside. “Hey…” he said.

    More silence.

    “…Uh… yeah,” Karo said awkwardly. “I’m gonna be here all day, all right? To block if you need it. Like if somebody barges in and chucks a poké ball at you or something.”

    Now that was an image. “What? Why would anyone do that?” Syr wondered aloud.

    “To see if I really am a pokémon,” Ren answered, still huddled up and staring at the wall.

    “It’d be interesting to see how that turned out,” Karo said, and there was a definite eagerness in his voice.

    “It’d bounce off me and leave a bruise, and I’d tell them I kept my trainer’s ball,” Ren muttered.

    Karo gave another of his pseudo-shrugs. Syr was used to this sort of thing from the nosepass; as long as he’d known him, Karo had insinuated that Ren wasn’t human every chance he got. All the same, Syr was a little surprised that Karo was keeping up the act now that his trainer had returned safe and sound. Was it merely habit at this point, or did Karo genuinely believe that being human and being alive were still mutually exclusive?

    “Just don’t fall asleep, all right, Karo?” Syr hadn’t forgotten the last time Karo had done so. Although, he acknowledged, they did have more options this time; this was, after all, a pokémon center. There might still be a few old awakenings lying around.

    “Wouldn’t dream of it,” Karo responded. There was a moment’s silence. Then he burst out laughing, at which Ren and Syr both jolted.

    “Hey, keep it down in there, will ya?” someone demanded from the room next door.

    Karo’s laughter crumpled into indecent-sounding snorts and then died out entirely. “Sorry,” he said, though he didn’t quite sound the part, “sorry…”

    “It’s okay,” Syr told him. “We could probably use a few good laughs, to be honest.” He saw Ren lift his head from the pillow only to lay it right back down.

    For lack of any other ideas, Syr decided to do similarly. He nudged the wastebasket upright again, pushing it back into the corner to free up as much room as he could, then lay down, drawing his head in close to his side. As an afterthought, he groped around the wall with the end of his tail until he found the lightswitch. Off it went, plunging the room into darkness apart from the soft pink nightlight mounted next to the door.

    Syr curled up, shutting his eyes, but his mind kept going. Not for the first time, he kind of wished he could laugh things off as easily as Karo could. As it was, he was a captive audience to all sorts of reminders of his current situation—even the carpet under his scales made it impossible to pretend he was somewhere else. This wasn’t his own home, or even the floor at Ren’s house. Jen wasn’t in the next room, or the room after that, or anywhere nearby at all. This was a dark little room in Mauville, in the middle of what might be a one-way trip.

    Please let me see my son again, he prayed, and lay awake for nearly two hours afterward.
     
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2018
  14. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 → follow your fire.

    Can I, like, take lessons on writing perfect dialogue and emotions from you? Please? 5 dolla?

    But really, I thought this chapter did a good job highlighting how these characters react to their struggles internally versus externally. Syr here seems to have the harder time hiding what he really feels. Whatever he's thinking, someone else is able to pick up on it thanks to the bodily cues he unwillingly offers.

    Ren, meanwhile, appears as a perfect looking human and acts as if he's not human, you know, for the sake of his and his friends' safety. The scenes where the linoone and blissey ask if he's really human, albeit super reluctantly and bashfully, are wonderfully written. You can tell through subtle hints that Ren is uncomfortable lying to them, but he feels compelled to. He has no choice. When he says he's used to it, that just adds to the pain all the more.

    Another interesting thing I noticed on Syr. He tries to justify his feelings of guilty and responsibility, in any way he can, over things he had no control over whatsoever. And really, that's what pretty much everyone does, whether we realize/like it or not. Though no one absolutely controls another person's actions, we want to. We imagine what would've happen if we'd had control over a situation, and when the outcome of being in control is far more preferable, we feel guilty and responsible.

    tl;dr my ramblings: the depth of each character in this chapter was extra great pls post moar kthxbye.
     
  15. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    There are probably only so many ways I can say it, but it strikes me every time: I just love how heavily the shadow of the past falls over everyone and everything in this story, cosmic trauma paralleling personal trauma, in a world full of memorials, museums, people who intuitively understand and immediately accept the kind of memorialising that Ren pretends he's doing when he says he's a ditto. The whole world feels like it's somehow outlived its own death, and everyone is trying to cope with this and struggling, because how on earth can you deal with that? And it's so constant, so insistent – especially in Syr's perspective – that it's impossible to escape. Even the good moments feel like they've been snatched, like they're against the grain of this story's reality. It's some beautiful atmospheric and tonal work on your part.

    I'm also going to echo diamondpearl876 here and say I love the depth of character on display, too. There isn't much I can add that wasn't already said, but I definitely want to let you know that I'm enjoying it. Most fic here on Serebii tends to be very plot-driven, especially chapterfic, and it's a rare pleasure to find a character- and atmosphere-driven drama. Looking forward to whatever it is that happens next.
     
  16. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    diamondpearl876: If you were to take lessons, could I copy off your notes? Because I legit do not know how I manage to get it right. XD; All I know is that I genuinely like writing dialogue. Maybe that's a contributing factor?? Idk. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    Syr is most certainly an open book in the shape of a snake. And Ren is indeed quite uncomfortable lying about what he is, even though he knows why it's a good idea. (Partly because he knows, tbh.) He doesn't want to have to be doing that, on a number of levels.

    Cutlerine: Yeah this is definitely as much a story about the past as it is about the present, or nearly as much so, at least. Which is probably a good portion of what makes it kind of, uh. Daunting, I guess, as installments go? Something that doesn't seem to lend itself particularly well to being the first-read installment out of the bunch, at least. Oops. XD;;

    But idk, even now it seems kind of like it was unavoidable, I guess? Like of course all this stuff is going to have a strong presence on the characters' minds. I really couldn't imagine it not cropping up all over the place--both the large-scale tragedy the world at large had to deal with, and the more recent and personal ones the main character has on his mind. Amd the fact that for some of the cast, the large-scale tragedy IS the more recent and personal one.

    Wow that was a ramble. XD; Idk, I've just been thinking a lot about the nature of the story, I guess. And as such I'm genuinely, pleasantly surprised when its quirks actually work in its favor. Especially since, again, I don't entirely know what I'm doing here. :B

    But yeah, good tone is hard to get. It's legitimately uplifting to think that, heck, I'm actually pulling it off. Both these reviews were uplifting af in general, really. ;A; Thanks muchly.
     
  17. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    It's more than time since I should have caught up with this! It's kind of an interesting three-chapter slice of the fic to look at, I think; I get the feeling that we're kind of transitioning out of the setup phase and more towards the real initiation of the plot. Syr in particular has been doing a lot of dreading over the course of the story, and I have a feeling we're going to be seeing that dread justified soon, is what I'm saying. :p

    I was somewhat more apprehensive about the kecleon showing up in Chapter 3 than Syr was--PMD has kind of trained me to think of kecleon as super dangerous critters, where if you piss one off all the other kecleon in the known universe will flock to its aid and absolutely kick your ***. Fortunately for the group here the kecleon was only able to summon one other member of her species and a small group of local pokémon. :p I thought it was interesting that the mankey they ended up capturing immediately assumed that Ren was really a human, and then was very hostile about it--the other pokémon that took him for human seemed much more excited/hopeful about the thought. But, as you've alluded to, not all pokémon are so positive on humans. I'm kind of surprised so many pokémon jump right to, "Yes, that human-looking thing is definitely human, even though they're all supposed to be extinct." It's got to be far more likely that Ren's appearance is, as he's playing it off, a transformation or illusion of some kind. Perhaps other pokémon's human attempts aren't generally as convincing?

    Ren himself is a very interesting character to me. He's someone I feel like I don't really have a read on yet, outside of a general kind of quiet melancholy. The most recent chapter brought that to the fore, with him repeatedly having to lie to pokémon who really, truly wish for him to be what he actually is. He hasn't been very expressive about how difficult this has all been for him, but I wonder if he's going to be able to keep up his kind of stoic, calm facade through everything this journey's going to throw at him. It's similar with the other characters, really: the emotions so far in this story have been kind of muted, more aching than acute. It'll be a lot of fun when things come to a head and people really kind of have to reckon with all the things they're trying not to think about right now.

    Popping back to Jen's POV at the beginning of Chaper 4 surprised me. I thought we'd pretty much be following Syr's group through whenever they finish up their task, but I guess we'll be seeing a bit of the Haven pokémon as well. I think Jen and his father definitely share some personality traits, heh; he sounds a lot like Syr to me in this section.

    All in all, this story hasn't been quite what I expected at the outset, but it's been a lot of fun to follow along with nonetheless. Or perhaps "fun" isn't quite the right word--nobody here's having a great time, heh, although you do a nice job of mixing in moments of comic relief to stop things from getting too depressing. This very much feels like an aftermath kind of story, where the characters are already walking wounded, reeling from past events, and now they have to figure out how to handle all that on top of the threat of the deranics and no doubt plenty of future trauma. It's been a melancholy story, and I only anticipate things getting bleaker from here, at least at first. Love it!
     
  18. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    Negrek:
    He's in for some Stuff, that's for certain. :D

    Probably not! Which puts some amusing images in my mind, let me tell you. XD


    There's definitely several different layers of guilt and sorrow there. Things he doesn't want to be true, lies he wishes he didn't have to tell. Being a sole survivor in a world where some people dearly miss your kind and others decidedly do not is pretty rough, I would imagine.

    Those two sentences in immediate succession are a beautiful thing. :D

    Thanks lots for the read 'n' reply!
     
  19. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    Chapter 6 – The Serpents Acknowledged


    There was a creak, then a click. With a delay, Syr registered light shining beyond his eyelids.

    “This should cover it,” Demi said from somewhere nearby. “Just let me know if it doesn’t.”

    Syr raised his head a few moments after, yawning, and found Ren sitting upright on the bed, munching on a granola bar and looking deep in thought. Karo still stood next to the bed and was now leaning back—the mattress had slipped a few inches closer to the wall as a result—and looking up at Demi, who stood in the open doorway with a stuffed cloth sack hanging off one shoulder.

    “Hrm,” Ren eventually said, with an acknowledging nod toward Demi. He soon finished eating and got up off the bed, crumpling the now-empty wrapper and tossing it in the trash on his way to the adjacent bathroom. The sound and smell of a running shower soon followed.

    “Poor guy’s wasting his time,” Karo said. “His clothes still smell.”

    “They don’t have to.” Demi set the bag on the floor, then carefully stepped over Syr and knocked on the bathroom door. “Ren?” She stood there listening for a moment, then knocked louder. “Hey, Ren!”

    “What?” he shouted over the running water.

    “They’ve still got the laundry room up and running. Mind if I go wash your things?”

    “No. Just a moment…”

    The faucet stopped, and Syr heard the human’s wet footsteps slapping across linoleum. A moment later, the door opened just a crack and a human arm emerged, clutching a wad of clothing.

    “I’ll be back as fast as I can,” Demi assured him, then left for the laundry room.

    The shower cycled on once more. Syr turned his attention to Karo, who was now nosing through the sack Demi had left behind. “Oh man!” the nosepass said. “Dude, she found belues!”

    Syr watched as Karo tipped the bag over, pulling it away from its contents with a featureless hand. The nosepass began greedily sorting the bulbous blue berries from the rest of the food. “I don’t think those were all for you, Syr said.

    “Oh, yes they are,” Karo said. “Demi knows I love these things. Besides, look: there’s plenty of other stuff, and it’s mostly just Ren that needs it, right?” Without giving Syr a chance to answer, “Right.”

    Supposing he couldn’t argue, Syr mindfully looked away. The noises Karo made while eating were bad enough. He didn’t need to watch it again.

    A few minutes later, the bathroom door swung partway open. Remembering that Demi still had Ren’s clothes, Syr averted his gaze a second time.

    Karo snorted in amusement. “Relax, man. He’s got a robe on.”

    Cautiously, Syr turned to confirm it. Yes, Ren was wearing a bathrobe. Syr was thankful, though much more for Ren’s sake than for his own. Syr had never known a human who’d liked to be seen naked.

    Before long, Demi was back with Ren’s clothes. The human dressed in the bathroom, returned to pack up the supplies, and then recalled Karo. It would be kind of odd, Syr acknowledged, if a pokémon left the room who hadn’t walked in in the first place. “Onward, then,” Ren said, pulling his hood back up over his bald head.

    The three of them emerged into the lobby to a view of the setting sun through the glass doors. Not long after they’d checked out, there was an odd sound, like something smacking against flesh.

    “Very funny,” Demi said.

    A backward glance told Syr that she’d caught a poké ball of all things, the distinctive colors peeking through her long fingers. In the middle of the lobby stood a chansey who was looking more than a little guilty.

    “…Sorry.” That wasn’t the chansey, but rather the blissey behind the receptionist counter. Her paw was as close to her face as it could get, embarrassment all over her expression. “She just… wanted to be sure.”

    “It wouldn’t have worked,” Ren said hollowly, without looking back. He was already stepping through the doors. “I still have my poké ball.”

    Demi still had the one the chansey had thrown, meanwhile, and was examining it between two fingers. “Hmm. I wonder if this thing’s unregistered.”

    “Unlikely,” Ren said. But he held out a hand all the same, collecting the ball from her and stuffing it into the pack as he passed through the front doors. Once they’d left the pokémon center well and truly behind, Demi returned to her dusk ball, and out came Acheron.

    The streets were a little busier this time around, though still devoid of any moving vehicles. As Syr had expected, it was mostly electric-types running about; he counted more electrike and manectric in particular than anything else. Some of them stopped what they were doing to watch the strangers go past, but none engaged them directly.

    Soon the sun dropped completely out of sight, and the streetlights began shining down on them. After days of traveling through near total darkness, it was a nice change, at least as far as Syr was concerned. That luxury would likely be left behind in Mauville, though. Then it’d be back to the tethers.

    “Hm,” Ren spoke up. “Sounds like the fountain’s still running.”

    Sure enough, Syr picked out the sound of running water over the songs of bug-types and the crackling of electric-types at play. He could smell the water, too, very fresh and inviting. River water and puddles of muddy rain were fine and all, but the fact of the matter was that the clean sort tasted better.

    We’re not stopping for a drink until we need to, he chided himself.

    And then stopped anyway.

    There was another scent on the air. A familiar scent.

    Snakes.

    His own kind, moreover.

    The others noticed he’d stopped and did likewise. “What…” Ren began, but fell silent once he’d followed Syr’s gaze.

    Across the expanse of grass between the fountain and the three of them, a dark shape was slithering closer. Another arbok was staring at the three of them now, her brow furrowed with uncertainty as she approached. Then her eyes widened.

    “…Syr?”

    Syr searched the face before him, trying to put a name to it, to no avail. She must have evolved after I left. “I’m sorry, but…” he began awkwardly.

    Thankfully, she seemed to pick up on his unspoken question. “I’m Iph,” she told him. “Do you remember me? I remember you.”

    Ah. Syr had never known her all that well. She’d been one of the younger ekans; as such, she’d mostly kept to those her own age. “Yeah,” he said anyway. “I remember.”

    “I’m surprised to see you again,” Iph said. “We saw you head north, but…” She shook her head, perhaps trying to clear it of something unwelcome from the past. “I’m just thankful you’re all right.”

    A laugh escaped Syr, surprising even himself. “You’re glad I’m all right? I could say the same thing about you!” It was as if a dam had broken. All at once, the relief and gratitude and realization of just how much he’d missed his old charges came rushing in. Tearing up, he moved forward, bowing his head. He felt another scaly forehead join it after a beat.

    “I’m just so, so glad you’re all right,” Syr said, feeling tears slide down his snout. Then something fell into place within his mind, something heavy and cold. This was only one arbok. He lifted his head once more. “Wait… where’s everyone else?”

    Iph sighed. The relief Syr had seen on her face all but drained out. “They’re with Basath,” she answered, “watching the kids and the nest. Syr… only four of us made it out of there alive.”

    The weight in his mind fell into his stomach, hard. Only four. There’d been more than twice that many when he’d left them. There might still be if he’d gone back south sooner.

    Sick with guilt, he averted his gaze. “I’m sorry,” he said, his voice shaking. The tears kept falling, running down his chest and into the grass. “God, this is all my fault; I shouldn’t have—”

    “It wasn’t you,” Iph insisted.

    Hesitantly, Syr met her gaze again. She was looking at him with more pity than sorrow now.

    “It wasn’t you,” she repeated. “It was the deranics.”

    “Of course it was.”

    Ren’s voice immediately grabbed Iph’s attention. It honestly seemed as though she’d only just properly noticed the unfamiliar faces flanking Syr. More to the point, she’d finally noticed the uncannily human figure in her midst.

    She gawked for a moment, her mouth hanging open. She shut it again with an effort, then leaned in toward Ren; Acheron responded with a warning growl. Iph flinched, but didn’t pull back, merely flicking her tongue out a few times, all but licking Ren at that distance. If the human was bothered by this, he gave no indication.

    She finally withdrew, her eyes flitting about as if seeking an explanation. Finally she relaxed, resigned. “Vela always said there had to be at least some of you left,” she said.

    “You mentioned the deranics,” Ren pressed on. “Have you seen them? Have you fought them?”

    Iph twitched in surprise again at the sound of the human voice, the human language, but composed herself more quickly this time. “Not directly. Their koffing and weezing tracked us down, swarmed us, tried to take us by force. They didn’t take any of us alive. We didn’t let them.”

    More leaden guilt. They’d stood their ground, same as Syr once had… before the enemy’d had his friend’s faces. Laid down their lives, when he hadn’t even been able to raise a fang against Faurur and her people.

    “We’re going to deal with them,” Ren said. “We’re going to make them pay.”

    Iph smiled at him, however weakly. “That’s very noble of you. Mad, maybe, but noble.”

    “If there’s anything you can tell us about them,” Ren said, “anything that’ll prepare us for what’s to come…”

    Iph inhaled deeply, flexing her hood. “Right, of course… Follow me.”

    Off she went, deeper into the park, leading them past benches and bicycle racks that were covered in leaves and vines and a few stubborn flakes of paint. Soon, they reached a large playground. Apart from the fountain, this was the only part of the park Syr had seen so far that wasn’t overgrown. Monkey bars and twisted swings and a multi-tiered metal cage in the shape of a rocketship stood in an island of gravel, free from ivy…

    And there, coiled around or draped over the playground equipment, were three other arbok, none of whom Syr recognized. There was also a pair of very young-looking ekans, who were peeking out from inside a crawl tube, plus a lone seviper.

    The seviper was the first to notice they had company. She rose to attention at once; the rest of the serpents followed her gaze, and one of them gasped as the arbok all hurried to the seviper’s sides. The two ekans tried to join them; a fretful hiss from one of the arbok sent the hatchlings back into hiding.

    “You’re Syr, aren’t you,” the seviper said.

    Syr blinked stupidly for a moment, wondering how she knew his name; as far as he could recall, he’d never spoken to a seviper even once in his life. But his ignorance extinguished itself before he could ask. The other ek—the other arbok must’ve told her about me.

    Imagining their talk of him must have been unfavorable, “…Yes,” he admitted.

    “Hm.” The seviper craned her neck, trying to meet Acheron’s gaze. “And you…” There was a note of amazement in her voice. “…Esaax?”

    “Nope,” Acheron said.

    Meanwhile Syr’s mouth had gone dry. He could explain how the stranger knew him just fine, but how in the hell

    Basath. With everything else on his mind, he’d almost failed to register the fact that Iph had used that name. Now it clicked firmly into place, raising a cloud of recent memories.

    “You never got to meet her, though, did you?”

    One of the old crew, Esaax had called her. One of Jessie’s pokémon, then, or James’s, caught after Syr and Faurur’s departure. Esaax hadn’t said much else about Basath…

    …Other than the fact that she apparently hated him.

    That sick feeling intensified, dread joining the guilt. Syr dearly hoped that Basath wouldn’t delve any deeper into the Esaax topic than she already had. If she goes off on him…

    “Excuse me,” one of the arbok next to Basath said, “but am I the only one who notices there’s a human over here?”

    “No, you’re not.” One of the other arbok was staring at Ren with tension written all over her posture. “Basath, we need to go,” she said.

    “Vela, don’t.” Iph’s tone suggested that she had to say that often. She mindfully put herself between Ren and Vela. “He’s not like the ones who caged us, all right? He wants to help us.”

    Basath finally pried her eyes off of Syr, locking onto Ren as Iph moved out of the way once more. “Help us,” the seviper repeated. “How so?”

    “The deranics need to pay,” Ren said. “For what they’ve done to my people and to yours.”

    Two of the arbok exchanged glances. Vela was busy shooing the ekans away. (“But I wanna see the human!” one of them protested.) She hastily shepherded the children toward a large, fake tire lying on its side; once they disappeared into the middle of it, she went right back to eyeing the unexpected guests with clear distrust.

    “Is that really what this is about?” Vela asked. She looked Syr right in the eye with such fierceness that he momentarily feared she was trying to paralyze him. “Or are you headed down there to join forces with him?”

    “Vela…” Iph groaned.

    “He was never willing to stand up to that nasty old weezing before,” Vela went on. “If he makes it down there and tells Farrer where we are, he’s going to come up here with the rest of his gasbags and—”

    “Faurur is dead,” Syr blurted out. Vela’s mouth closed with a delay. Syr’s own words rang in his mind and settled thickly in his throat, making it hard to continue.“She had a xatu bring her up—” Iph and another of the arbok visibly shuddered at the mention of the psychic-type. “—to say goodbye to me.” And Esaax, he almost said, but caught himself short.

    “She also came to warn us about the deranics,” he said, at which Vela openly scoffed.

    “Enough,” Basath said, glaring pointedly at Vela; the latter drew back a bit, very slightly embarrassed. “Now. Let me get this straight: Faurur turned tail and deserted the deranics?”

    “Yes,” Syr said. The end of his tail flicked about irritably; it was all he could do not to launch into an earnest tirade about his late friend’s trustworthiness. “She found out they’ve been lying to her colony. Hiding something… something big. Something that’s already affected the entire world.”

    “Something that happened about a decade and a half ago,” Ren said. “I should hope I don’t need to spell it out for you.”

    Basath and her friends kept silent for a few moments. “You’re going to take on a bunch of creatures who destroyed almost an entire species.” She went back to staring at Syr as she spoke. “And the living bombs who serve them. You.”

    “They do have a psychic-type on their side,” the small male to Vela’s left said.

    One psychic-type,” Vela countered. “Singular.”

    “Look,” Ren said. “We’re not planning to rush in, guns blazing. We know we’re outnumbered. We know we still have no idea what deranics actually are, let alone every single kind of technology they might have at their disposal. What we do know is they’ve developed some kind of superweapon, or something similar. That’s our target. We need to get whatever it is out of their hands before they can use it again. If we’re successful…” His voice trembled with something barely restrained. “Maybe we can turn it against them.”

    “And then destroy it,” Acheron put in quickly, before anyone could jump to conclusions about their further intentions for the thing.

    Basath shook her head. “Look. I don’t like to say this to anyone, but. Honestly?” She shook her head again. “You don’t have a chance in hell.”

    “Basath. What about Verdanturf?” Iph said. “If the rumors are true…”

    Vela snorted. “Good luck with that,” she muttered.

    “Rumors? What rumors?” Ren asked.

    “Talk of weird things happening in those parts,” Basath answered. “Possibly psychic things. We don’t know for sure—we’ve given the area a very wide berth, just to be safe. We can’t risk the eggs and children.”

    “If there are psychics there,” Iph said, “and if these guys can get them on board…”

    “Two ifs,” Basath said. She looked to be deep in thought. “At least.”

    “It’s worth investigating,” Acheron said, folding his arms. “More psychics on our side would tip the odds a little more in our favor. And if they turn out hostile, well.” Black vorteces whirled around his fists for a moment. “We can handle them. I can handle them.”

    “And you said they were around Verdanturf, right?” Syr asked. There was hope in his voice and his eyes despite the fact that if Iph was right, he’d be crawling right into a den of creatures whose mere presence could be sickening, depending on the species. Verdanturf was right there on the route they’d planned to take. If the psychics were willing to join them…

    “Right,” Basath answered him. Then she sighed. “Syr?”

    Syr flinched; was she about to lecture him on how awful another of his dead friends was? “Yes?”

    “I wasn’t there when you bailed on these guys before,” she said. “Maybe I’ve had no right to judge you for it… but that hasn’t stopped me from doing so.” She leveled another hard stare into his eyes. “I just couldn’t stand the fact that not only one but two of her pokémon turned out to be such cowards. She deserved so much better…”

    “I…” Syr faltered. He bowed his head. “…Yeah. Maybe you’re right about me. But Esaax wasn’t a coward.”

    “He abandoned us when she died,” Basath went on, and there were tears at the corners of her eyes. “Right when we all needed each other the most, he just… ran away.” Another shake of her head. “But… look, this isn’t about him. It’s about you. I wish you’d had the guts you have now back before you left these guys. Back before the koffing started breeding out of control. But… well.” She gave him a rueful expression that was almost a smile. “Better late than never, I guess.”

    She moved back a few feet, then inclined her head toward the southwest. “Go check ’em out,” she said. “We’d join you ourselves if we didn’t have a nest to look after.” Another jerk of her head, toward the tire this time, where the ekans sat watching the adults; Syr supposed the eggs were hidden there. “After that…”

    Basath trailed off, apparently uncomfortable with sharing their plans beyond that. She looked to Ren again. “I don’t suppose there’s anything I can say or do to convince you to stay with us, is there.”

    “I can think of a couple of things,” Ren said. He nodded toward her long, red-tinged fangs, then toward her bladed tail. “My friends would make you regret it, though.”

    “Damn right, we would,” Acheron said.

    The seviper gave another of those sad near-smiles. “I wouldn’t even consider it. Just… watch your back, would you? All of you, but especially you, human. Best of luck to you,” she said. “You’re gonna need it.”

    “Thank you,” Ren said, followed by, “Come on.” He turned away from the seviper and her friends, waving for his teammates to follow. Syr glanced back at the serpents in the playground more than once as he complied, Basath’s somewhat backhanded endorsement still echoing in his head. Some part of him couldn’t help but think that maybe she’d have had just a little more faith in his party if it hadn’t included him.
     
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2018
  20. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    It's interesting – and refreshing – to come back to this after revisiting The Origin of Storms as I did; I think it adds to the already overwhelming weight of history on the story, and it also really emphasises the stylistic contrasts between the two: that story's still character-heavy, but it's driven at its heart by the quest to find and stop Esaax, while in this one, the plot very much takes a back seat to the characters and the atmosphere, both of which you evoke with a much surer hand.

    None of which is all that closely related to the current chapter. So! Let's get down to it. I like how you're slowly expanding on that central idea of things surviving or re-emerging from the past; you began with Ren and the legacy of the deranics, and since then you've focused more sharply on individual characters and what it is about their pasts that is returned: Ren's experience of being the Last Human, for one, and now in this chapter people pretty much literally start walking (or slithering, I guess) out of Syr's past into his present. It's cool, and of course it very elegantly intertwines with the goal of your protagonists too. I guess what I mean is that it's super cool the way you've put all this together.

    Speaking of those goals! Things really start to pick up on that front this time, don't they? Leads to chase and hints to ponder aplenty. I feel like we're a step closer to seeing the deranics in action rather than hearing about their exploits second-hand, and I don't doubt that that's going to occasion some deliciously bleak segments. Looking forward to that, for sure.

    Also, one other little thing:

    I'm sure this is a real thing and I'm just exposing my ignorance here, but what's a fake tyre when it's at home? I've been thinking about that since I read this chapter and my mind is turning up a whole lot of blanks.
     

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