Chapter 9 – Light and Smoke
The ovoid room opened into a winding tunnel. The walls were the same, shimmery gray here, with green and red cables snaking along the length of the hall like veins.
Gliding effortlessly ahead of them was the creature who’d opened the door: bipedal, with two pairs of of tentacles trailing back from their sides—most of the time. Every so often one pair would retract, and much of the creature’s reddish armor would go with it.
Babs had harbored a hunch about the being’s identity from the moment she’d laid eyes on them, and their fluttering between forms only bolstered her certainty. She only knew their kind from pictures and articles, but she knew enough to give her a nasty suspicion about what had happened to Ren.
Jen was right, assuming he’d been thinking what it had sounded like he’d been thinking. Babs had arrived at the same conclusion herself soon after she’d materialized in this place: someone or another had messed with Ren’s head. And these beings, these deoxys, these psychics
, were looking like awfully likely candidates.
“We want answers,”
she’d demanded just before they’d left the room. “And we want
The deoxys at the door had said nothing at all in response. The psychic-type had jolted at her voice, their tentacles fretfully writhing. From the looks of it, the deoxys had been afraid of her.
she’d thought, and had whipped her tongue in the creature’s general direction. Paralytic toxins and a touch of faintly glowing ectoplasm had splattered against the floor just in front of the deoxys’s dainty, pointed feet. The spot she’d licked had quivered, as if in revulsion.
Meanwhile, despite hovering a couple of inches off the floor, the deoxys had reeled back in alarm. Then they’d turned toward the tunnel beyond and made beckoning motions with their left tentacles. Seeing as there’d only been one confirmed exit from that initial room, Babs had followed; after a brief hesitation, so had Jen.
Eventually their guide stopped, brushing tentacles against the wall to their right. Again the wall rippled and split, and the deoxys led the two of them through it. Like the previous entryway, its edges felt curiously soft as Babs brushed past them. And, just as before, she turned back toward it once she’d passed through to find it seamless once more. She pressed a hand against it—it was as firm as stone now.
The three of them had entered another rounded, graphite-gray room, much larger than the one they’d left behind. A couple dozen of those simple, round lights she’d seen before were embedded high above. The walls and ceiling alike were covered with more green and red cables, many more, which formed an impenetrable thicket at the far end of the room.
The mass of cables shifted, writhing in place with an odd whispering noise. Something bulged forward from its center. The cables unfurled from around it as it slowly emerged, until finally they revealed another deoxys.
This one was legless and considerably larger than the first, perhaps ten feet tall from the tips of their five horns to the end of their short tail. Their core took up their entire chest, an enormous purple sphere easily four times the size of their head. They drifted out to the center of the room, hovering some seven feet off the floor with all those countless cables—those tentacles
, Babs realized—sprouting from their sides and tethering them to the wall behind them.
Babs heard Jen slowly approach her side. His claws clicked and rasped against each other all the while. “Babs… this doesn’t seem safe,” he said under his breath. “At all.”
“Don’t worry about it,” she assured him. “I’ve got this.” To the larger deoxys, “All right. I take it you’re the boss around here?”
The voice that responded filled the room. Metallic droning and hissing sibilants and sounds she had no name for resonated from every direction at once.
Jen cried out at its volume. Babs winced, biting what little of her tongue she kept inside her mouth. “Yeah, no, didn’t catch that,” she said once the echoing died down. “Whatever that is, I don’t speak it.”
There was another, much quieter burst of the indecipherable language. The first deoxys moved forward and floated up to the other’s eye level. The two psychic-types conversed among themselves for a moment, forcing both their guests to cover their ears.
Finally, the guide turned to face Babs and Jen once more, then left the room in something of a hurry. The wall sealed shut behind them, trapping the greninja and cryonide alone with the huge deoxys.
“Hey!” Babs put herself squarely in front of Jen. “You can’t keep us locked up here forever!”
“Yes. I can.”
The voice wasn’t the deoxys’s own. It was Jen’s, albeit distorted and emotionless. Babs turned about in an instant and saw the cryonide surrounded by a pale blue aura. His eyes burned with the same color, and brilliantly at that; his pupils were washed right out of sight by the piercing glow.
“But I won’t,” Jen went on; the words weren’t his own, Babs recognized. “We mean you no harm. And no. No, I am not in charge. I am only the curator of our collected knowledge.”
“No harm…” Babs scoffed, turning to face the deoxys once more. Their body, including their countless tentacles, was surrounded by the same blue glow as the pokémon they’d taken over. “You’re psychically manipulating a poison-type. You know
that’s a bad idea. You know
you could kill him.”
Puppeted by the deoxys, Jen slithered out from behind her. He came to rest on his coiled tail just below the hovering psychic-type, his arms hanging slack at his sides. “At this moment, he is an extension of my body. I can extend my regenerative power to his flesh as if it were my own. He will survive, uninjured.”
Babs was about to express her doubt, but the words died in her throat when the cryonide lifted a hand and raked his long, deadly claws across his own stomach. The deoxys’s unearthly voice rang out once more.
She swore sharply and launched into the air, straight toward the curator’s face. Her night slash connected; she heard the creature cry out again, felt their carapace splinter under her conjured dark-type blades. Tiny fragments of it fell with her as she dropped back to the floor. She sprang backward from her landing, looking up to assess the damage…
…Which was disappearing right before her eyes.
Her gaze fell upon Jen. His wounds were vanishing, as well… including a gash across his face that mirrored the one she’d inflicted upon the deoxys. Aghast, she looked up once more; sure enough, a set of deep scratches was closing up on the deoxys’s abdomen, just below their core.
“We mean you no harm,” Jen repeated.
Babs swore again, hands clenching into fists. Jen wasn’t just an interpreter in all this. He was a hostage.
She locked eyes with the deoxys again, tense as a coiled spring, and stared at them in furious silence for a moment. “I’ll hold you to that,” she finally warned them. “You and everyone else in this place. I know you can’t recover forever.” Especially not when so much of that power was going toward keeping Jen intact despite direct psychic manipulation. “You’d better let him go before you hurt him in ways you can’t fix.”
“I will,” Jen said; then, “You should hesitate no longer in asking your questions.”
“Fine. What the hell did you do to my trainer?”
“Nothing. We have no previous knowledge of you or anyone you know.”
Babs shook her head. “Not buying it. He entered that device without even knowing what it was. A device that would’ve brought him here
if it hadn’t gone on the fritz and spit him out beforehand.”
“Your device was transmitting a distress beacon matching the psychic signature of our kind. That’s the only reason we brought its contents aboard. We had expected other deoxys.”
“Which Ren isn’t! Something
made him go into that thing against his will. And something
made him build it in the first place. Yeah, he has no memory of that, either. It’s the one thing
, the one part
of his lab he can’t explain. So here we have a human being, unwittingly constructing some kind of transport pod that transmits deoxys signals, and I’m supposed to believe you had nothing whatsoever to do with it?”
“No one aboard this vessel had any knowledge of your world prior to receiving your beacon.”
Babs maintained her suspicious stare into the curator’s eyes. Even if the deoxys was telling the truth… The gap in Ren’s memory, the period of time he’d apparently slept right through, had begun roughly fourteen years ago—just prior to the Extinction. If the tube had begun transmitting its signal as soon as he’d gone inside…
Her lips curled in a snarl behind her tongue. “Billions of people,” she said, shaking in anger where she stood, “were killed by a plague of unknown origin. We still don’t know where the hell it came from. But we know when
it came, deoxys: right after
Ren built that thing. He unwittingly built a beacon to summon you—and then an entire species bites the dust.”
Dark-type energy bloomed about her arms, longing to coalesce into blades again. She indulged it, casting her own face in deep violet light, wishing dearly that she could put her elemental weapons to use without endangering Jen. “Tell me, deoxys: what the hell
do you expect me to believe?”
The curator said nothing at first. Then they emitted another burst of indecipherable noise, even louder than any that had preceded it. Jen trembled in their telekinetic grasp, the light surrounding him going unsteady. With a final flicker, it went out entirely, and the cryonide collapsed in a thorny heap.
Babs leapt to his side automatically. He didn’t look hurt, not on the outside… but there was no telling if things were all right inside his skull. He still breathed, but God only knew for how long. With a scream, she flung herself at the deoxys again, her conjured night slash flaring bright and trained right on the deoxys’s core—
—but never connecting. Something seized her from below, pulling hard; her gaze snapped downward and found thick, flattened tentacles pulling her back to the floor, away from her target. She slashed at them instead, again and again, but they wouldn’t break, wouldn’t let go. The wounds she inflicted healed just as quickly as she could deal them.
More tentacles surged up to bind her, successfully pinning her arms to her sides and her tongue to her shoulders. She let a lick attack ripple along its length, and the red and green flesh shuddered, but it still refused to release her.
Jen, still insensible, was wrapped up in a snarl of tentacles as well. Babs saw a quartet of bulky, dome-headed deoxys emerge from the floor as if it were liquid; slithering sounds behind her told that something similar was happening on her end. She screamed in rage, muffled and wordless in the deoxys’ grasp until their grip tightened further—suddenly she couldn’t breathe.
She had a fleeting sense of being dragged away before everything went dark.
* * *
The forest was blowing apart.
With a shout that was smothered in mud a split second later, Syr dove ungracefully into the soft earth just as a nearby tree went to splinters. A couple managed to stick in his flesh despite his efforts; they snagged painfully as he pulled the rest of himself underground.
He swallowed the screaming and spitting he’d have let loose on the surface, intent on holding his breath. It was hard enough with his hood compressed against his sides. Sooner than he’d wanted to, he was forced to erupt from the forest floor in a burst of mud charged with ground-type energy. He rolled clumsily out of the way when it came raining back down, falling short of the bellies of the koffing overhead as if repelled by an invisible field.
Hissing, Syr rolled into a nearby trench and huddled under the dead log spanning it. He folded in on himself and pulled one of the splinters from his belly—and cursed in immediate regret. All that had done was let the wound bleed more freely.
“Demi!” he cried out hoarsely, hoping as he dissolved into a coughing fit that she could pinpoint his location by sound alone. The smokescreen above was growing thicker by the moment, blotting out any moonlight that might have reached them otherwise. The kwazai didn’t need their eyes to detect their allies and enemies, but their higher senses would struggle to focus if it got too hard for them to breathe. He tried to shout her name again, but another explosion somewhere out of reach drowned it out completely.
Something heavy landed on two feet right in front of him. The rest of the creature hit the ground a moment later, smelling distinctly of kwazai. Demi!
A koffing burst through the smoke in front of the two, already blazing with the telltale glow of an imminent explosion—only to lose hold of it when Demi lunged and dragged him down to the rain-soaked leaf litter. The koffing bellowed and writhed underneath her, swelling menacingly. Pulsing pink-and-gold light surrounded the two of them… and the koffing stopped struggling, deflating as fresh tears opened up in his mantle. Demi’s wounds, meanwhile, were rapidly closing.
The branches of her tail rippled, their oculons briefly meeting Syr’s gaze in the fading light. Demi immediately turned to face him and called upon another pain split, partially healing his wounds at the cost of inflicting weaker versions of them upon herself.
“Thanks,” Syr said automatically as he felt new strength welling up inside him, but he was hardly relieved. Demi only had so much of her own vitality to give. Eventually there wouldn’t be enough conscious bodies around to replenish it. Another blast rang out, hurtling more wooden shrapnel through the smokescreen above. Another drainable target lost.
Without a word, Demi sprang out of the trench. Syr turned blindly in the direction she’d gone, steeling himself to jump back into the fray, filling his lungs with relatively clean air while he could. His fangs glowed a deep violet, ready to puncture the hide of one of their attackers—and then the light abruptly cut out, its maker startled into losing the charge as an enormous set of jaws closed over his head.
He screamed into the cavernous, reeking mouth as its owner began slowly lifting him off the ground. His own mouth lit up with dark-type energy once more as he plunged his fangs into the oily tongue attempting to smother his face. The attack drew a muffled, pained roar from two voices at once—a weezing
His blood ran cold. With an effort that wasn’t entirely physical, he flung the rest of his body over the floating creature, wrapping tight around the junctures between their body sections. He squeezed desperately, but to little effect. His oxygen supply was rapidly dwindling, taking his strength along with it…
Then there was a deafening noise and an explosion of light behind his eyes, and the next thing Syr knew, he was free.
If he hadn’t seen the weezing dropping out of the air alongside him, he wouldn’t even have known he was falling. He couldn’t feel the air as it rushed past, couldn’t feel the impact when he hit the ground. He realized with a delay that he was breathing properly again, hearing and then tasting the breaths passing over his tongue. Another beat later, he figured out that he couldn’t move.
A strangled cry escaped him, but his mouth refused to form words. Slowly, horribly slowly, his gaze panned across the inverted and dimly-lit scene before him… and landed upon a nosepass several yards away. Ren was crouching next to him, wearing an air filter in the form of a small, gray mask that covered his nose and mouth.
There was a faint glow about Karo’s nose that was only just fading out. Zap cannon.
Karo had been the one to take down that weezing. Syr had just had the misfortune of being in the line of fire.
“Syr! Hang in there, buddy!” the nosepass called out to him. Syr heard Ren grab something out of his pack as the two hurried to pull the arbok into the safety of Karo’s block field.
Relief spread through Syr as they closed the gap. He didn’t feel the force field envelop him this time, but he was sure it had; Ren was now moving freely at his side, in space he wouldn’t have dared to occupy if it weren’t safe.
“Man,” said Karo, sounding more than a little tired, “am I ever grateful to see you again.”
“Lll… likewise,” Syr managed, still slightly mushmouthed; the medicine Ren was administering was only just taking effect. The party had gotten separated very early in the attack; Syr had gone to ground as a reflex, and by the time he’d first emerged the smokescreen had gone up, thick and nearly impenetrable.
“Try not to dig again, all right?” Karo advised him. “I can only extend the block so far.”
Syr nodded in response as soon as he could lift his head again. He gazed out beyond the invisible barrier, taking in a moonlit view of shattered trunks and fallen bodies. Some of the latter belonged to koffing—none of which had gone to cinders, as far as he could tell. That… that’s good, at least.
It meant those koffing were still alive. There was still a chance they could be free, if all went well enough.
The same… could not be said of most of the non-koffing lying in the moonlight.
He’d known to expect the dead. He’d anticipated coming across them under much calmer circumstances, but he’d known they were headed for a grim scene all the same. That made it no easier to look upon the victims now. Most of them appeared uninjured, but their bodies were contorted in a way that told him they’d probably spent their last moments writhing in pain. Syr helplessly wondered if that’s how his human friends had looked at the end; at that thought, he immediately wrenched his gaze from the fallen.
His attention shifted back toward Karo. “Are you all right?” he managed, at which Karo grunted inconclusively. That… wasn’t comforting. Syr couldn’t see any damage to the nosepass’s person, but…
Something turned to ice inside him. “Where are the twins?” he asked, panic rising in his voice. “Where are they?”
“Don’t know, buddy,” Karo said. “But they’ve gotta be all right.. They’re not pushovers. They’ve never been…”
Ren, meanwhile, was silently, shakily rising to his feet. He took a step forward, toward the boundary of the block field; noticing this, Karo and Syr moved with him.
The arbok followed the human’s line of sight and picked out the deflated form of the weezing, still lying helplessly in the leaves and scattered debris. The poison-type groaned very quietly as the three of them approached. Another pair of voices, just as weak, echoed in Syr’s memory, and he swallowed hard against a lump in his throat.
Wordlessly, Ren knelt before the weezing. There was a poké ball in his hand—the one from Mauville, Syr realized. Not taking his eyes off his target for even a second, Ren swept his free hand downward, at which Karo made an acknowledging noise but nothing else appeared to happen. The human adjusted his grip on the ball, cocked his arm back—
And dissolved into a blob of red light.
Syr recoiled in alarm, falling backward; the shield was down. Karo gave a shout as the ball clattered awkwardly to the ground, still partially open and trailing light. The light quivered and then withdrew sharply into the capture device, which promptly snapped shut. The nosepass and arbok could only stare at it, both at a loss for words. Then the energy surged back out and snapped into the shape of a human body with a horrible, distorted noise.
Ren stood there among the leaves and the dead, panting and sweating and trembling so hard that it looked as though he could fall apart at any second. His hood fell back over his shoulders as he shook.
Somewhat gingerly, Karo reached up to prod at the human’s side. “Hey… hey Ren?” he spoke up. “Are you—”
Ren drew in a deep, shuddering breath. Then he crumpled to the ground.