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The Worldslayers

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

  1. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    Cutlerine: This is absolutely a side of Karo I've been looking forward to showing for a long time. :D He's one of my favorite characters in this whole thing, and might still have been even if he'd literally only been a comic relief character. But in the end, he wasn't, and that's let me have all the more fun with him. Glad that side of him's going over well with others, too. :D

    Bravery is exactly that, and it's heartwarming, in a way, that Syr's is coming through to people other than myself and a few of the other protags. I wonder what Syr would think if he knew there were people both in and outside the story who believe in him. I suppose he'd have to get his head around the whole "people outside your reality" thing, wouldn't he.

    Negrek: Hugs for all! Part of me definitely worried that perhaps I'd laid the sap on a bit thick. But sap exists for a reason, I suppose, and it's good to know that it might not have been uncalled for here after all. Ultimately yeah, I can't help but agree that they were totally due for a hug.

    Something dreadful? Come on now, when have I ever done anything dreadful to my characters? :3

    What IS Ren's deal? Time may tell!


    Thanks to both of ya for the read 'n' reply! :D
     
  2. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    Heya! Thought it'd be a good idea to mention that this chapter, along with a couple of others (1 and 4) have received some largish edits. So yeah, in case you're wondering why two characters that were already there are only just arriving now, that's why. :B

    _____


    Chapter 11 – Away


    In the park on the corner on Bayberry Street, a shroomish shuffled through the grass. It had been a long night, and he wanted nothing more at that moment than a nice, long sit in his preferred thinking spot. There ahead of him was a large tree whose branches cast a lovely, deep shadow. The grass and soil beneath still looked good and soft and damp with dew. This, he thought, was going to be nice.

    Then his destination burst into golden light, and all of a sudden there was a very large glalie and an even larger steelix and… something he could barely see, let alone identify, all right in front of him.

    He decided right about then that he needed to go find a new thinking spot.

    The newly arrived pokémon, meanwhile, never saw the shroomish hurrying away behind them. Their sights were trained on the three-story house across the street.

    “And here we are,” said the smallest of the three. She was a mercirance: a red-furred, black-maned biped whose face resembled nothing so much as a bare skull. “Let me know when you’re ready to come back; I think I’ll have a look around town in the meanwhile.”

    “Of course,” said the glalie. He turned his luminous gaze upon her. “Thank you for the lift, Quiul. We appreciate it.”

    “It’s no trouble at all,” Quiul said with a wave of her hand. “Hopefully this visit goes more smoothly for you than the last.”

    “Wouldn’t have to try too hard to pull that off,” the steelix said.

    “It really wouldn’t, would it.” Quiul drew a breath and let it out on a rueful little sigh. “But at least you found what you were looking for, in the end.”

    “Yes,” the glalie said. His gaze drifted away from her and back toward that house. His brother was there… there, and genuinely interested in learning more about the family he’d once forgotten, judging by the conversations they’d had the last time they’d spoken. Genuinely considering them family now, rather than the enemies he’d been bewitched into believing they were.

    Jen might never wish to leave Convergence. But as far as Solonn and his steelix father were concerned, they’d gotten him back in a way that was much, much more meaningful.

    “I’d best let you two go, then. Take care, Grosh,” Quiul said. “Take care, Solonn.”

    “You, too,” the former responded as the mercirance began padding away along the sidewalk. He looked down at the glalie. “Come on,” he said. “No sense in keeping him waiting any longer.”

    Solonn gave a quick sort of nod of agreement. The two of them crossed the street, dodging a cordoned-off hole in the road that had been hastily filled with conjured rocks. Grosh hung back on the walkway while his son approached the front door and gently knocked with one of his horns.

    He hovered there in silence, wondering who would answer the door. Hopefully not Syr; the arbok was still visibly uneasy around him and probably didn’t need to open the door and find his face right on the other side. Solonn mindfully backed up a bit at that thought.

    But as the moments passed, no one answered at all. Solonn tried again, a little louder this time, and waited a little longer afterward. There was still no response.

    Had they all gone somewhere? He knew he couldn’t rule it out, even though Jen at least had known to expect a visit right around now. Even so… it seemed kind of odd, as he thought about it, for everyone to have gone. Wouldn’t Ren have wanted to leave someone to guard the house, seeing as it had been invaded twice recently?

    “Hello?” he called out. “Hello? Is anyone there?”

    Nothing.

    Grosh slithered up beside him. “They knew we were coming,” he said.

    “I know…” Solonn said. An all too familiar concern stirred inside him as he hovered there. He tried to tamp it down… but it was hard to quiet that fear so easily when it concerned someone who’d already been abducted once, and recently at that.

    He sighed. “We’ll just have to wait for them," he supposed aloud. He turned toward the park once more, figuring it would seem less suspicious to onlookers than loitering around in the yard might. Grosh followed, a couple of his segments twisting audibly, fretfully.

    The two of them stopped under the tree closest to the sidewalk. There they sat, waiting for an arbok or a cryonide to come slithering up to the house across the street, for a kwazai to come striding onto the scene, for any sign of any of its inhabitants.

    The sun climbed high into the sky, eventually dipping back toward the horizon. Apart from the yanma mail carrier, no one approached those doors during that time other than Solonn and Grosh themselves, futilely trying time and time again to rouse a response from someone inside. Those doors remained closed, the curtains remained still, and as it slowly grew dark, none of the windows lit up.

    The knot of worry inside Solonn grew and tightened. Maybe the people who lived in that house really were just out for the day. Maybe they were far below in those labs—a thought that was discomfiting for his own, personal reasons, but preferable to the thought of everyone simply being gone. But he fretted all the same, watching the dark, silent house through eyes that flickered with unease, praying that history wasn’t repeating.

    Jen… where are you?


    * * *​


    The room was dark, its cluster of ceiling lamps dimmed to a bare minimum glow. A low, distant thrumming was the only noise to be heard… until a loud, creaking yawn sounded from against one of the curved walls.

    Jen stretched where he lay, his arms extending out in front of him while his tail unfurled and flexed down its length. His eyes opened, and for a very brief moment nothing seemed out of the ordinary. It had just been a nice nap, that was all.

    A nap following an encounter with an enormous psychic stranger.

    He jolted upright with a yell and coiled up tight, throwing wild looks about. Where was the creature? Where was he? What had happened?

    Jen couldn’t even begin to answer the third question, but the others were somewhat more obliging. The huge pokémon wasn’t there, at least not at the moment. He remembered the last entrance they’d made, coming in right through the wall as if it were liquid, and he shivered. What if they were lurking just beyond his metallic gray surroundings even now?

    As for where he was, all he could be sure of was that he was still in the place the tube had taken him, just not the room he’d been in last. This one was smaller, and unless he was mistaken, the floor was rather softer; he could feel it yielding slightly to his weight, shifting about as he moved.

    And there, curled up on the opposite side of the room, was Babs. She was still alive; her body heat still formed a luminous aura around her, and she breathed slowly, calmly. As far as he could tell, she was merely sleeping, same as he had been up until a minute or so ago.

    The greninja stirred as he approached her, mumbling something incoherent as her brain started itself up. She then startled awake, much as he had, relaxing somewhat once she was satisfied that they were alone for the time being.

    “Urgh. Stupid damn deoxys…” she muttered as she sat back down, rubbing at her neck.

    “What did they do to us?” Jen asked, moving to coil beside her. “I remember the… the deoxys making all that awful noise, and then…” He half-shrugged. “Then I woke up here. What happened?”

    “What happened is that the big one took you over,” Babs answered, at which Jen’s eyes brightened and flickered in alarm. “Apparently that’s the only way they can talk to us—I’d have preferred it if they’d used me, but, well. Dark-type,” she said with a sigh, tapping her head.

    “And the psychic power knocked me out,” Jen supposed aloud.

    “Not right away. The deoxys was using their recovery powers to fix any damage they caused.” She shuddered. “It worked. At least while they were controlling you. Are you feeling okay now?”

    “Yeah,” Jen said. He hoped that would continue to be the case. For all he knew, there was a blood vessel in his brain that was liable to burst at any moment.

    That thought made him queasy. He swallowed thickly. “How’d we get here?” he asked, hoping to change the subject, if only slightly.

    “Don’t know,” Babs answered. Her hand rose to massage the side of her neck again. “The big guy let you go, and I guess they put you under on the way out. They knocked me out the hard way.” Her eyes narrowed under a furrowed brow. “Everything was going… fine-ish until I brought up the plague. Then they freaked out and attacked us.” She looked Jen right in the eyes. “If that’s not suspicious, I don’t know what is.”

    It was awfully suspicious, Jen thought. Why would these deoxys react so strongly, so violently to someone inquiring about the plague if they’d had nothing to do with it?

    He curled in even tighter on himself, not liking what this might mean for himself and for Babs at all. No, he hadn’t wanted his father to be en route to the lair of humanity’s killers… but he hadn’t exactly wanted to face them himself, either.

    That was assuming that he and Babs hadn’t been brought to exactly the place his father and company were headed. What if they were? What if “deoxys” was just another name for—

    A bright red-and-green head with a blunt crest on either side suddenly popped out of the floor, interrupting Jen’s thoughts and making him cry out in surprise. The deoxys cocked their head at him as the rest of their body showed itself, emitting a quiet little burst of indecipherable noise.

    “You!” Babs shouted as she sprung to her feet.

    The deoxys shrunk in on themself in response. They changed shape in an instant, taking on that mostly-gray, long-crested form Jen had seen one take before.

    “Yeah, you. I don’t su—hey, no, do NOT go back in the floor!” Babs said sharply, for the deoxys had begun doing that exactly. “Up. Now.”

    The deoxys complied, then shifted back into their previous form.

    Once she was satisfied that they’d stopped moving, “I’m not going to hurt you,” she said. “Not unless you attack first. Got it?”

    Again the deoxys spoke up, just as quietly as they had before. Jen wondered if one of the deoxys from the auditorium, or whatever it had been, had spread the word that their voices caused their guests discomfort. Or maybe this was one of the deoxys from the auditorium.

    Jen sincerely hoped this wasn’t just that big one in another form.

    “Okay,” Babs said. “I take it you can’t talk to us either, can you. Not without speaking through one of us.” She sighed, folding her arms. “Honestly, I’m not really sure why I’m even asking you. How the hell are you gonna answer me without going into puppeteer mode?”

    Very tentatively, the deoxys glided closer to Jen. They unfurled a single tentacle in his direction, at which he recoiled automatically. But the deoxys refrained from actually touching him. They knew better, he reckoned, what with Babs staring them down. They stared back at her, face unreadable as ever, and tilted their head again.

    She shook hers. “I’m not the one you should be asking. It’s his brain. His safety. His choice. You ask him… such as you can.”

    The deoxys did nothing for a moment, seemingly unwilling to take their eyes off her. They managed it in the end, looking into Jen’s eyes instead and pointing a tentacle at his spiked chest.

    Jen hesitated to respond. The thought of being psychically manipulated brought back that queasy feeling again, for more reasons than one. He knew it could hurt him. He knew that he’d be completely powerless while under the deoxys’s control. And he knew he wouldn’t remember a moment of it—and he’d already had his memory messed with much more than he would’ve ever wanted.

    But ultimately… ultimately, he thought with dismay, what choice did he have? How else were they going to get any answers from these creatures? They needed to know more, if they could. They needed to find out anything they could about this place—it might help them escape. And they needed to know what, if anything, the deoxys had to do with the plague.

    He pulled in a deep breath. He almost consented right then and there, but caught himself; the deoxys might have taken him over the instant he’d agreed to it, and there were a few things he wanted to say first.

    “When you’re in there,” he said to the deoxys, “…don’t change anything, all right? Don’t take out any memories. Don’t put any in. And don’t make me hurt anyone.”

    “Oh, I won’t let them do that,” Babs promised. She flicked the end of her tongue at nothing in particular, letting a few glowing droplets fly.

    “And you,” Jen said, turning to face her. “You’ll let me know everything they say, right?”

    “Absolutely.”

    “Okay…” Jen said, steeling himself as best he could—and then his consciousness winked out in a flash.

    Babs watched as, once again, the blue light surrounded Jen. The cryonide lifted his head, revealing the same burning blue eyes he’d sported last time. He uncoiled and slithered a little further away from Babs; the deoxys went with him. Under their psychic command, Jen gnashed his teeth a couple of times, clicking his fanged mandibles against them… and then giggled.

    What the… Babs watched in bafflement for a moment as he kept on chattering and snapping, with the occasional, fleeting charge of dark-type energy flashing off his silver teeth. Then she realized what she was seeing.

    “Okay, playtime’s over,” she told the deoxys. “He didn’t let you do this so you could experience the joy and wonder of having a mouth. He did this because I want to talk to you. You get it?”

    Jen stopped biting the air and bowed his head. “I’m sorry,” he said. His voice was somewhat more inflected than it had been when the curator had puppeted him; he actually almost sounded sorry. “What did you want to talk about?”

    “Well, first off: what was with the chokehold?” Babs demanded. “Why did you knock us out?”

    “Because you needed to be decontaminated,” Jen answered. “It’s easier and faster to decontaminate people when they’re sleeping.”

    “Decontaminate us…”

    “Yes. You were carrying the Red Hand’s virus. We had to scrub it off of you and take samples.”

    Maybe the virus she and Jen had been carrying and the plague that had wiped out humanity were two different things. Babs had a nasty feeling that wasn’t the case, however… “This virus… how serious is it? Serious enough to kill off an entire species?”

    Jen lowered his head again. “I’m afraid so. The Red Hand has eliminated many species this way.”

    Babs felt a chill spread throughout her and form a deep, cold pit in her stomach. If they really had been carrying the virus all this time… had Ren been exposed? Would he succumb?

    Had he already?

    “…Okay.” It was hard to speak, with her mouth and throat having gone so dry. “In that case, what you need to do now is send us back where we came from.” Maybe it was too late to get to Ren. But if it wasn’t—if there was any chance he could be brought here and cleansed of the virus himself—then she needed to get to him.

    If there wasn’t any chance he could be brought here and decontaminated… then she at least wanted a chance to see him one last time.

    “I… I know you want to go home,” Jen said. “I’d want to go home, too, if someone took me away from here. But we can’t send you back yet. Our transporter needs to rest.”

    “Rest? For how long?”

    “Another two cycles, at least,” Jen replied.

    Whatever that meant. Hours? Days? Babs almost demanded a clearer answer, but then suddenly remembered a couple things in particular that the curator had said: This vessel. Knowledge of our world.

    “And we can’t just get out of here on our own,” Babs said, “can we.”

    “No,” Jen said. “I know you probably don’t want to believe me, but… Here. Look.”

    The deoxys moved out from behind Jen, though the blue glow signifying their control remained. They glided over to the nearest wall and let a pair of their tentacles sink in. The wall visibly rippled… then seemed to vanish, revealing a corridor beyond. Three other deoxys passed by with fleeting glances at the newly-formed window. A moment later, the opposite wall turned transparent, as well, followed by several more beyond it—and then Babs found herself looking at nothing at all. Just an endless, black void.

    There was, she considered, a chance this could all be a trick of some sort. That the view to space was merely an illusion of some kind, meant to make her believe she was trapped when she actually wasn’t. But she recognized just as quickly that there was no real way to confirm it either way. If she shredded her way through those walls only to find that there really was nothing but a dark vacuum beyond, she’d be unable to help anyone at all anymore.

    She cursed under her breath as the walls went opaque once more. No, she couldn’t get to Ren from here on her own. Not with a very real chance that there was an unknown but assuredly vast expanse of airless nothingness in the way.

    “It won’t be long at all,” Jen tried to assure her. Babs looked his way once more. “We have the coordinates of your world from the beacon you sent,” he said. “We’re heading there now. By the time we get there, the transporter should be ready to send you back down.”

    “You had better be right,” Babs muttered darkly. “Otherwise a mouth isn’t the only thing you’ll be missing.”

    Jen quailed a little. For a moment, it looked as though he were crying… but no. No, that was blood, Babs realized, remembering the damage the curator had dealt to the cryonide. Jen’s kind had colorless blood.

    “You’re hurting him,” she told the deoxys. “You need to be using your recover technique while you’re controlling him.”

    “I… I know,” Jen said. Both he and the deoxys looked away, as if embarrassed. “I think I need to go now,” he said, closing his eyes. “I’m not sure I can keep healing him much longer. I’ve never done this before,” he admitted.

    “…That’s fine,” Babs said, though she didn’t entirely mean it. She still had questions, and she wished she could have them answered without anyone’s health and safety on the line. It is what it is, she thought, but not happily.

    The blue glow vanished. The deoxys slipped back through the floor, leaving Jen to sway on the spot.

    “Nnnnn…” he groaned, raising a hand to his head as he worked to regain his balance. His eyes opened, shining yellow once more. “Is it over with?”

    “Yeah. How’re you feeling?” Babs asked.

    “Kind of dizzy,” Jen answered. “But otherwise I’m fine. What did they say?” he asked.

    “Several things,” Babs said. She flopped back down into a sitting position with a sigh. “Some bad news… some potentially good news… and some unquestionably weird news.”
     
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2018
  3. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    Back to Solonn for a bit! Feels like it's been a while since we checked in on the home front; obviously there was that part where everyone got teleported into an alien spaceship, but you know, that feels like it doesn't quite count given the whole 'alien spaceship' thing. And of course, it wouldn't be one of your fics if we didn't have someone getting worried about a family member who's suddenly not where they're supposed to be. :p Anyway, as far as little diversions go, I quite like it: this is a world where people are connected, kind of messily, and that means there are consequences when someone is whisked off the planet by metamorphic space noodles.

    I think it's a little odd that Solonn doesn't mention (and Breanna doesn't ask) that he'd tried knocking first, though. Like, I assume he did, but if I was going to ask a stranger to help me break into someone's house, I think I'd want to make it as clear as possible to them that I was on the level and had exhausted all my other options before resorting to this – and if I was the someone being asked, I'd probably want to get that information out of the person asking if they didn't offer it.

    Anyway, the big thing here is that we're finally getting close to some more concrete answers about the apocalypse and the deranics! We've got a name, hints of previous (even habitual) bioweapon usage – and of course all of this has to be relayed to the dark- and poison-type, so that we can't get all the information in one go and have to wait for Jen to recover. :p But it's clear that the deoxys have encountered these people before, and I'm looking forward to finding out what they might know about it. That said, I imagine we're probably going to be jumping back to the away party next time, so I guess you're going to keep us waiting there! I'll be looking forward to it.

    Couple of notes:

    The way you've listed these actions makes them seem a bit backwards – I'd imagine she shuts the door and then locks it.

    This doesn't quite sound like a natural way of speaking – I think it's the 'being' that does it. 'Feeling' might work better. Or I guess you could cut it altogether.

    Two instances of 'then and there' within just a few words is a bit much, I think.

    Anyway, that's all from me. As ever, you keep it short and sweet and leave me wanting more – I will be watching avidly for future updates!
     
    Sike Saner likes this.
  4. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    Cutlerine: Looks like I've got a new slogan: "Displacing Loved Ones Since Kind of a While Ago" 8D

    Also "metamorphic space noodles" is easily the best deoxys description I've heard in recent memory.

    Said noodles really ought to invest in a more viable interpreter, shouldn't they? I kind of get the sense they've had very, very few encounters with actual aliens. Or with live ones, anyhow.

    Tweaked the iffy bits mentioned, meanwhile, along with a couple of others I ferreted out in the process. I'm liking the results. :D

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

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    Chapter 12 – In Bloom


    The detour west had brought Syr and the rest of his party closer to Rustboro than they’d originally planned to go. In the morning, when they’d been seeking a place to camp, its south end would’ve been visible on the horizon—would have, if it hadn’t been for the fact that it had been more or less destroyed more than a decade prior.

    The sight hadn’t surprised Syr. He’d known for years what had happened there. Though the plague had apparently put most of its victims to sleep before snuffing them out entirely, humanity’s end had not been entirely peaceful. They’d passed out in their cars. In their planes. He’d heard some of the crashes from the woods south of Mauville, had felt the distant impacts rattle the earth.

    An especially large craft had gone down in Rustboro. In the end, the city’s survivors had not only elected against rebuilding at the crash site in any sense but had also chosen to raze what was left, leaving the barren site as a memorial to those lost there, humans and pokémon alike.

    There had been pokémon casualties elsewhere, of course. Their death toll had certainly been lower than that of the humans, but still high enough to make some pokémon fear that the world was ending for all of its peoples. The only thing that separated the pokémon survivors from their dead (or from most of them, at least), was having been in the right places when the Extinction had hit.

    If Syr had been in the wrong place…

    Those thoughts were no kinder to him than they’d ever been. He shivered as he tried to get his mind on a different subject. It helped, but only slightly, that there was now a stone wall between him and the view to the west. It wasn’t a cave, exactly; more of an outcropping, really. A wall and a half with a ceiling. It was the best shelter they could find in the area.

    Syr turned toward Ren, or toward his scent and silhouette, at least. The human was fidgeting with something, passing it back and forth between his hands. One of the other pokémon’s capture balls, Syr guessed, judging by the sound it made against Ren’s palms.

    Karo sat nearby, as well, facing northward and slowly rocking back on forth on his short legs, ready to block at any moment. Enemy territory was still too close for comfort, and for the time being, the three of them were alone, waiting for the twins to return from the hunt.

    Or from scavenging. God knew it was a lot harder to find anything living in those woods now.

    The human stopped rolling the ball around and sighed to himself, shaking his head at some unvoiced thought. Reminiscing about his brief, horrific time inside a similar device, perhaps. Ren hadn’t really had a chance to go into detail about exactly what he’d experienced in there (though Syr wasn’t so sure the human would’ve been ready to talk about it anyway), but judging from the way the failed capture had looked, Syr had a nasty feeling that it had been painful. Terrifying.

    He gave Ren a pitying frown, wondering what, if anything, he ought to say. “How are you feeling?” he finally asked.

    Ren just sort of grunted at first. “Dizzy,” he said soon after.

    Syr gave a sympathetic hum in response. “Because of the ball?” he supposed out loud.

    “Or because he skipped breakfast,” Karo said.

    “No, I didn’t,” Ren responded.

    Syr tried to recall if he’d seen Ren actually eat anything in the past couple of hours, but couldn’t. He bumped the human’s pack with his snout. “Maybe you could use something anyway.”

    Another grunt, but apparently Ren agreed; he took his mask back off, then swung his pack around and reached in. He kept digging through it for a few moments before letting out another sigh and simply shaking its contents out into the grass for easier access.

    Syr found himself looking over the supplies as Ren felt around through them. The pile probably wasn’t really much smaller than it’d been before they’d left Convergence in the first place. But looking at it now, with their destination so close at hand, he felt doubt creep into his perception of it.

    “Do we still have enough medicine?” he asked.

    Ren paused in the middle of popping a packet open. Dried fruit, from the smell of it. His head turned ever so slightly in Karo’s direction. “Probably,” he said. “We’re almost there, assuming the koffing haven’t strayed too far from where you last saw them. And it sure doesn’t seem like they have.

    “Once we’re in there… well. Hopefully we won’t need to be in there for long. If we can just get to this weapon of theirs...”

    “We can wreck it,” Karo finished, sounding almost gleeful about the prospect. Ren nodded in confirmation.

    “...And the koffing?” Syr asked. Getting to the deranics’ weapon was important. At this point, there really was no higher priority. He wasn’t about to argue otherwise. But he hadn’t forgotten why he’d proposed this mission in the first place. He still hoped that whatever else they had to do, whatever else came first… when all was said and done, at least some of Faurur’s people would be free. “What do we do about them? About helping them,” he clarified quickly.

    “Whatever we can,” Ren said. He paused for a long drink of water and a shake of his canteen afterward to gauge how much was left. “I think… if we disable the weapon, if we can take the deranics down or force them to surrender, that might convince the koffing that they’re not worth serving any longer. If they no longer see the deranics as godlike, they might be more willing to desert them.”

    “They might be,” Syr echoed, “but… I don’t know. It didn’t seem to take much to impress them in the first place.” At least, that’s how Faurur had made it seem. “The lights crossed the sky, and that was that. That’s all it took. They just… knew those were their gods.”

    Ren took another mouthful of his breakfast, or snack, or whatever it was, chewing in silent thought for a short time. “They just knew,” he said finally. “Without meeting them.”

    “Right,” Syr said.

    “And did they know the name of their gods?” Ren asked. “Without meeting them?”

    Syr’s frown deepened. “Yeah. They did.” The very first time he’d heard the deranics spoken of by name was mere minutes after the streaks in the sky had vanished.

    “Well that doesn’t seem weird at all,” Karo remarked.

    “What did they do to them?” Syr wondered aloud. “Did they just… beam the information into their heads? Why weren’t we affected?”

    “Different brains,” Ren said. “Their brains were compatible with the signal. Yours, I guess, were not.” Another swig from the canteen. “I wouldn’t be surprised at all if that little introduction wasn’t all they transmitted.” He lifted his hooded head. “Your friends could very well have been brainwashed.”

    Syr absorbed that silently. Then he hung his head. “I never doubted that they were victims in all this,” he said. “I just thought… all this time, I just thought they’d been lied to, and that was it. If you’re right, then they didn’t even get a choice about what to believe. They didn’t get to think it over. They just got taken. Taken all over again...”

    He lifted his head again. “We have to save them,” he said. “Otherwise… God, otherwise everything she and I did, everything we gave up… it’s all for nothing.”

    “I think we can,” Ren said. “I honestly think we can. I think they must have something or another still broadcasting that signal to this day. If we take that out, they’ll lose even more of their firepower.”

    A little spark of hope lit up in Syr at those words, so swiftly it surprised him. For the first time since they’d set out, he could actually, properly imagine what a successful outcome in all this might look like. Devices whose shapes he could only guess bursting into sparks and smoke and flame. The sky above darkening with the emissions of countless rejoicing koffing. Vague, wormlike creatures cowering in surrender or lying twisted in pools of—

    He shook his head briskly, rippling from neck to tail in a full-body shudder. He tried to steer his thoughts back toward the happier, less gory aspects of actually succeeding in their efforts, only to lose the threads when he saw Ren suddenly shoot to his feet.

    Syr whipped around to follow the human’s line of sight, or where he presumed it to be. He went stock still at what he saw, his eyes widening in surprise. The twins were headed their way. Maybe they’d finished feeding. Maybe they hadn’t. It was entirely possible that they’d been distracted by the things they now carried.

    The shapes were slightly murky in the darkness, but it looked as though Acheron had picked up something like a branch. There was a rustling noise as it swung in his grasp, suggesting leaves, and it gave off a very faint fruity scent. Demi’s cargo was silent, but less ambiguous all the same. The size, the shape, and the smell left no room for guessing. She’d caught a weezing.

    “Urgh…” Ren said softly. Syr looked back just long enough to see the human leaning against Karo, his hooded head buried in one hand; he’d apparently stood up too quickly.

    “You need to sit back down,” Demi told him as she and her brother stopped just outside the shelter, at which Ren readily did as she suggested.

    “You didn’t have to go all the way back for that weezing,” he said.

    “You’re right, and we didn’t,” Acheron said. “He came to us. Or tried to.”

    “Subtle as a blimp,” Demi said, “luckily for us.” She gave the weezing a little shake. He dangled from one of her right hands by his larger mouth. He was drooling something dark and glistening.

    “Be careful,” Syr warned. “Almost everything that comes out of them is toxic.”

    “Tell me about it,” Demi said. “Bleh. I think I’ve had enough pechas for a lifetime.” She let go of the weezing at this point; he hit the grass with a slight bounce and an unpleasant, watery noise.

    “There’s plenty more to choke down if need be,” Acheron said. He plunged the branch into the soil as if he were planting it, and at this distance Syr could see that it wasn’t a branch at all. The kwazai had simply uprooted an entire pecha plant.

    There’s pechas for some of us, at least, but... Syr cast another concerned glance back toward Ren. He was the only member of the party who had neither the immunity of a poison-type nor the option of simply washing away poison with a little fruit juice. All he could do was hope not to get poisoned in the first place.

    Karo will protect him, Syr reminded himself. He can protect all of us. Including himself. There was a tiny little twinge of guilt as he realized that he’d actually managed to let himself forget that the nosepass was a gym leader’s pokémon, same as the kwazai.

    “We figured you wanted to talk to him,” Acheron said, “seeing as you tried to catch him.”

    “You figured right.” Ren took a moment to finish off the fruit packet, then fished some more food out of the pile.

    “You gonna wake him now?” Karo asked.

    “We probably have enough revives,” Demi said.

    “Hmm,” Ren responded at first; then, “Give him a few minutes. Hopefully he’ll wake up on his own—you went easy on him, right?” he asked, facing Demi as he spoke.

    “I kept the beam on him long enough to knock him out. Not a second longer.”

    “Good,” Ren said. “Okay, then he might come around in a timely fashion. Again, we’ll give him a chance. If that fails, then we revive.”

    As it turned out, it didn’t take long at all for the weezing to stir. He shuddered in place and vented a few acrid puffs of exhaust. Then he scoffed.

    “Hnrrrrrn… why?” he asked as he rose shakily. His voices were especially hoarse and quiet; Syr was helplessly reminded of how Faurur had sounded the last time she’d spoken to him.

    The weezing turned and rose a bit higher to meet Demi eye to eye, wobbling all the while. “Why did you attack me? I only wanted to talk.”

    “You attacked me first,” Syr reminded him.

    “I was still hungry,” the weezing said simply. “But then I thought, maybe I know you.” He descended and moved closer to Syr. “You’re Syr, aren’t you?”

    “Yes…” Syr answered.

    “She used to talk about you. A lot.” The weezing backed up again, still a bit unsteady in the air. “She liked you. She missed you, I think.”

    Syr felt an ache in his chest at that. She had only managed to reunite with him at the end of her life, but how long had she been trying?

    Would she have had to wait so long if he’d stuck around?

    “That’s why I looked for you,” the weezing went on. “To apologize.” He swelled with a deep breath, then let it out in a puff of smoke. “I’m sorry,” he said to Syr.

    Syr shook his head. “It’s…” He trailed off and shook his head again with a sigh. He couldn’t pretend it was fine well enough to say that it was. “Just… if you try to eat me again,” he said, “if you try to kill any of us, you could get hurt very badly. Very badly,” he stressed. He wanted to believe the others wouldn’t kill the weezing. But he was certain that any of them would rather do so than watch any of their teammates die. “Keep that in mind, all right?”

    “They’ll hurt me anyway,” the weezing said.

    “No they won’t,” Ren spoke up; his muffled voice told that the mask was back on. He stood back up; Karo shuffled into place to support him as fast as he could manage.

    The weezing turned slightly to regard Ren. Do you know what he is? Syr wondered. If this weezing had been one of the koffing that he and Faurur had rescued from the poacher, then he’d had experience with humans before. A bad experience, at that.

    Are you afraid of him?

    “Now, listen,” Ren said. “They could’ve left you back there in the woods. They brought you here for a reason.”

    “Yeah. We’ve got questions for you, weezing,” Karo said.

    “Ongzi,” the weezing corrected him. “Ongzi ursh-Ungem.”

    “Ongzi,” Ren said. “We need you to tell us about the deranics.”

    “They are holy,” Ongzi said.

    “They’re killers,” Ren responded, and stood up a little straighter, no longer leaning on Karo. “Look… I know you’re not going to want to hear this. And I’ll understand if you don’t believe it. But the fact of the matter is that they’re lying to you, one way or another. They might be controlling your minds, making you think they’re here for some benevolent reason when in reality they’ve murdered billions of people since they arrived.” He was visibly shaking now. “Humanity is extinct because of them.”

    “What? That’s what you think? No,” Ongzi said. “Humans were killed by someone else. By enemies of the deranics.”

    “Enemies.” Acheron folded his arms. “And who might those be?”

    “The deranics don’t speak their names,” Ongzi answered.

    “Snrk. How convenient,” Karo said.

    “Ongzi,” Ren said again. “We need you to be honest with us, all right? There are a lot of lives at stake here, maybe even yours. And no,” he added quickly, “no, that’s not a threat. We’re not going to kill you. We don’t want to hurt you any more than we already have. We didn’t want to have to hurt you in the first place, and I’m sorry we had to. We’re here to help you and the rest of your people.”

    “…My people don’t need your help,” Ongzi said. “My people have the holy ones.”

    “You really believe that, don’t you,” Syr said pityingly.

    “Of course I do. Why shouldn’t I? And why…” he asked Ren, “why should I believe you? Of course you lie. You are a lie. The deranics told us that there are no humans left.”

    Ren sighed. Whether it was frustration at Ongzi’s refusal to believe him about the deranics or relief at the weezing’s refusal to believe he was human, Syr couldn’t say. “All right. Okay. Believe what you will about that. We’ll move on to the next question. Do you know about their weapon? If they have enemies, surely they’ve come up with some way to defend against them.”

    Ongzi kept silent at first. “Maybe,” he conceded. “But I don’t know anything about that.”

    “You’re sure about that?” Demi asked.

    “Yes. I’m sure,” Ongzi said. “I’m telling you the truth. I haven’t seen anything like that. Maybe they keep a weapon in the small burrows. The places we don’t fit.”

    One word in particular stood out for Syr. “Burrows… they’re underground, aren’t they?”

    More silence. “…You still think they’re killers, don’t you,” Ongzi finally said.

    “They are,” Ren insisted, as gently as he could manage. He still shook a little as he spoke. “And not only of humanity but also all those people in the forest. Don’t you think it’s a little strange that… that…”

    “Ren…?” Demi said worriedly, for the human had begun panting. The ends of her tails gave a restless flick.

    “Sit back down,” Acheron urged him.

    “The enemies,” Ongzi was saying meanwhile, “it had to have been the enemies…”

    “Where,” Ren said, half-gasping. He was seated again, and Demi was holding him in place with a free hand. “W-we need to know—”

    Ren?” Demi interrupted.

    “Where… where is—”

    Ren went abruptly silent. So did everything else. All at once, all Syr could hear was a strange, shrill whine, a noise that came from everywhere and nowhere all at once. The human went rigid as a board, and both kwazai were laying hands upon him and shouting silently.
    Then Ren threw his head back, and an unseen force flung Syr onto his back like a rag doll.

    He lay there gasping for a short while, unable to think through the throbbing pain in his head at first. It worsened as he lifted himself up, leaving him heaving uselessly for a moment. The shrill noise was gone now, but there were little spots of light burning in the back of his eyes, which lingered briefly even after he’d opened them.

    Once those cleared, Syr righted himself with a groan. He gingerly turned his head toward Ren and found him standing at his full height, apparently steady on his feet. Both kwazai stood very close to him, as did Karo, but none of them appeared to be supporting him.

    “I’m fine,” Ren told them. “I’m… I’m genuinely fine. I feel better than I’ve felt in days. What the hell…” He shook his head. “What’s going on with me? What did I just do?”

    “Something psychic,” Syr said, his voice hushed with awe and lingering disbelief. If he hadn’t been on the receiving end of the phenomenon himself, there’d have been much more of the latter. But he knew what he’d felt. The particular, primal discomfort that element caused was unmistakable.

    “The closest thing I can compare it to would be a confusion attack,” Demi said. “A weak one, thankfully for you and the weezing, but… yeah. That was the real thing, Ren.”

    “Okay,” Ren said. “Okay. So what does that mean for me?” He swallowed audibly. “What am I?”

    “Human,” Acheron answered, but there was the slightest hint of uncertainty in his tone. “As far as I can tell.” He sent a questioning look Demi’s way.

    “I’m getting the same picture,” she said. “You’re human… but it looks like you’re also a psychic-type. Which isn’t exactly unprecedented.”

    “I know,” Ren said. He flexed his hands in front of himself. “And I know… I know that sometimes psychic awakenings take their sweet time to happen, but…” The human put a hand under his hood, at which it fell back with a soft whispering of cloth. He shook his head again, for longer this time. “I can still barely believe it…”

    “I think we’re all surprised,” Syr said, still fairly awestruck. “To say the least.”

    “Syr…” There was a soft shuffling as Ren turned on the spot. “I’m so sorry,” he said earnestly. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

    “It’s all right,” Syr said, and he meant it. “You didn’t really hurt me; it was just… sort of a push. She’s right; it was weak.”

    “Still…” The human shook his head again. “I don’t know. I can’t guarantee it won’t happen again. Or that it won’t be so weak next time. If… well, maybe this is a stupid question. I’d understand if you’re willing to take that risk, all things considered. But if you’d honestly rather not, I’d understand that, too.”

    Syr felt a stirring of guilt at the suggestion. No. No, I can’t do that. I can’t run away. Not again. “I’ll stay,” he said quickly. “If something happens, we have medicine, right?” He… he probably can’t hurt you worse than that, he told himself. The human’s abilities were only just awakening. He could barely pull off a simple confusion attack. Anything worse might be outside his capability altogether, at least for a while.

    “I… I will not stay.”

    Heads and tails turned toward the pair of voices that had just spoken in unison. Ongzi, it seemed, was only just getting up. He rose very slowly and shakily, and only got himself about two feet off the ground before apparently giving up.

    “I don’t want to spend any more time with you,” he went on. “I don’t want to answer any more questions. And…” He inhaled deeply, swelling dramatically, before letting the breath back out on a sigh. “I’m sorry. I can’t let you go there. I’m sorry, Syr. I’m sorry, Faurur.” He inflated again, emitting a blinding glow—

    — which cut out in an instant as its source fell unconscious to the grass below. A gentler, more colorful light shone around Demi’s outstretched hand for a moment more before dissipating.

    “I had really hoped he wouldn’t try that,” she said.

    Syr stared at the fallen weezing. He was grateful that the explosion had been thwarted, but he worried for their would-be attacker all the same. “Is he okay?”

    “He’s okay,” Demi assured him. “I promise you. He’ll wake up just fine after a while.”

    “And we won’t be here when he does,” Ren said. He turned southward. “Underground,” he said, apparently thinking aloud. “Around where you saw those streaks go, I’d imagine. I guess you’ll be leading the way from here on out,” he told Syr.

    “I guess so,” Syr said. He scanned the southern horizon. It was hard to make out much of anything at this hour. “It’d be easier to do during the day, but… ” But there was no telling, after all, how long it would be before the deranics fired again. “I can get us back to where I used to live. If we start digging westward from there… ”

    “That’s our plan, then.” Ren dropped into a crouch and began scooping everything back into the pack. Once he’d gathered everything and straightened himself back up, he recalled Karo.

    “Give them directions,” the human said, as Demi picked him up. Acheron scooped Syr up at roughly the same time.

    “Okay. South for now,” Syr said. The kwazai took off immediately, leaving Ongzi behind.

    Syr looked back over Acheron’s shoulder as they departed the scene, trusting that Demi was truthful about Ongzi’s condition but hoping he’d be all right regardless. It seemed as though the weezing was still under the deranics’ sway for the time being… but hopefully, hopefully, that wouldn’t be the case for much longer. Only once he was free would Ongzi well and truly be all right.

    We’ll fight for you, Syr promised as he turned back toward their destination. I promise, we’ll fight for you. We won’t run.

    I won’t run…
     
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2019
  6. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    Chapter 13 – Kindred Spirits


    Jen was officially missing.

    Many hours had passed since Solonn and Grosh had arrived in Convergence. Hours largely spent waiting for someone to return to that house on Bayberry Street, or to leave it. No one had.

    When Quiul had come back around to teleport the two of them to Sinnoh once more, they’d had her warp them into the house instead. They’d searched all three floors, searched the labs, searched the library of sorts that apparently lay between the two. They’d found no one, and no sign whatsoever of a struggle.

    Just like that, Jen was gone again. Gone, when they’d only just gotten him back.

    “We found him before,” Grosh had said, in a cold, rumbling voice that had promised certain doom for whoever had taken the cryonide this time. “We will find him again.”

    At the very least, they would sure as hell try.

    But they weren’t about to do so on their own. Whoever, whatever had taken Jen might very well have also taken an entire Apex League-level team. In that event, they could be up against a very, very dangerous enemy. They would need whatever support they could get.

    So it was that Solonn, Grosh, and Quiul now made their way into a cave system at the edge of Hirashka territory, in the far northern reaches of Sinnoh. With them were four other glalie: Narzen, Evane, and Viraya, who’d accompanied them the last time Jen had gone missing; and Roskharha, one of the Hirashka authorities. A claydol drifted along near the back: Oth, one of Solonn’s closest friends.

    Others might join them, before all was said and done. Quiul had connections in many regions, with a wide variety of pokémon. But she had suggested that they seek out volunteers closer to home first. In particular, she had recommended the beings who called these caverns home.

    The walls surrounding the party glowed, emitting an eerie, blue-green light. Ectoplasm was woven into the ice that glazed the stone surfaces, forming intricate patterns. This was the work of the Sisterhood, the froslass of the Hirashka nation. As ghost-types, like Quiul, their abilities could prove highly valuable in the likely event that the enemy had a teleporter on their side; there was a very good chance said teleporter would be a psychic-type.

    Whether or not they would lend their support remained to be seen.

    As of late, the Sisterhood had been kept fairly busy. In addition to their own rituals, their own roles within Hirashka society, they had also taken upon themselves to keep the Sinaji glalie in line.

    The Sinaji had once been dangerous enemies of Solonn’s former nation, and no one was about to argue that devoting resources to making sure they caused no further trouble wasn’t prudent. But the Sisterhood had unearthed another lode of dawn stones just a couple of days prior. They had swelled their ranks.

    If they still couldn’t spare at least one of their number… Solonn would understand. But if they could

    At the edges of his vision, pale shapes drifted in and out from behind the cover of the icy columns that lined the halls. He heard the froslass whispering among themselves but couldn’t make out a word of it, not over the grinding of steel on stone as his father followed along behind him, nor over the sound of the steelix’s armored segments anxiously turning.

    Solonn’s eyelight dampened and wavered in sympathy. Grosh considered Jen family every bit as much as he did. Hopefully… hopefully, neither of them would have to fear for him for much longer. And hopefully no one would have to fear for him ever again.

    One of the froslass finally approached them. “Hello,” she said. “I suppose you’ve come here for a reason?”

    “Yes,” Roskharha said. “We need to speak with Khirika.”

    “Of course,” the froslass said, then swept off into the shadows.

    Solonn barely had time to wonder how long she’d take before she returned, this time with another froslass at her side. The first froslass excused herself, leaving the seven of them with Khirika.

    “Ah,” she said, “it’s you again. The newcomers. I’m told you have need of me?”

    Roskharha nodded. “An honorary member of our nation has been abducted,” he said. “Vanished without a trace.”

    “That’s not all,” Quiul added. “Several other people might’ve been taken, too. Including what might very well be the last member of a dying species.”

    Khirika’s eyes swept over each member of the party in turn. Trying to gauge their sincerity, perhaps, a notion which bothered Solonn in spite of himself.

    She folded her hands. “And you believe this requires our aid, specifically?”

    “Not specifically,” Quiul said. “But ideally. We might have a psychic culprit on our hands. Considering that the ones who’ve gone missing are ordinarily quite capable of holding their own, from what I gather, we might have several. Either way, we suspect they’re not pushovers.”

    The froslass held her gaze for a long time. Then she unclasped her hands. Two tiny, green wisps of light hovered between them for a moment before shooting off toward deeper caverns.

    “I’m afraid we don’t quite have the resources you may have hoped for,” Khirika said. “But these two, I think, will be more than willing to assist you.”

    Soon after, another froslass arrived on the scene, followed by yet another. “You called?” the second of them said.

    “I did,” Khirika said. “Newcomers, these are Ashika and Rhasiras.” She indicated each of them in turn with a wave of her hand. “Why don’t you tell them what you’ve told me?” she prompted the party.

    Once the summoned froslass had been briefed, they shared a brief glance. Rhasiras nodded.

    “We’ll do it,” Ashika said. “When do we leave?”

    “Immediately,” Grosh said. “As it is, we’ve got other stops to make.”

    “Take care, you two,” Khirika said as the two volunteers moved forward to join the party.

    “Of course,” Rhasiras said, before she and the others were teleported off to their next destination.

    * * *​

    Jen hadn’t known what to expect ever since he’d found himself among the deoxys. Certainly he hadn’t expected to be served dinner. Or breakfast, or whatever it was. There was no telling time in a place like this.

    But sure enough, there was a table raised in front of him and Babs, or rather what passed for a table. It was more of a pillar, really, quite a bit wider than it was tall, and made out of the same, metallic gray material as the surrounding walls and floor. In fact, it had literally grown up from the floor, fast and fluidly. He’d watched it happen. The odd sort of shifting-sand noise that had accompanied the process sounded in his mind once more as he remembered it.

    “It’s almost like this place is alive,” he’d said to Babs after the table had formed. She’d agreed with him. He’d been kind of hoping she wouldn’t. Knowing that the two of them were apparently stuck in outer space was unsettling enough. The idea that they might furthermore be inside a living creature was even worse.

    Sitting right in front of him, in a small indent in the table, were several pale green lumps of… something. Grown from the “ship”, if it could be called that, same as the table. The deoxys had told Babs that the food they had to offer was safe, carefully assembled on a molecular level to be compatible with each of their guests’ chemistry. They’d probably meant that to be assuring.

    Babs had not managed to sound quite as assuring when she’d relayed that information to him. She didn’t seem to trust the food herself; there was none of it in front of her. The only thing filling her bowl (such as it was) was a generous helping of water—melted snow, which Jen had personally provided. The deoxys apparently had their own water to offer, but she’d declined that, as well. She cupped some more of it in her webbed hands as he watched, drinking some and deliberately spilling the rest over the top of her head.

    He might have turned down the deoxys’ offerings, as well, except that he was feeling genuinely famished, as if he’d gone several days without eating anything at all—which, for all he knew, he had. Another part of him wondered if maybe this was some side effect of being used as a psychically-operated translator.

    Either way, he didn’t feel as though he had the luxury of turning his figurative nose up at the food he’d been given. Hoping the deoxys were right about them being safe, and hoping his poison typing would protect him if they were wrong, he speared one of the strange, green nuggets on a single claw, froze it there, and delicately nipped off a piece.

    His eyes widened. The green stuff was delicious.

    “Babs?” he said once his mouth was clear. “Are you sure you don’t want to try any of this? It’s actually really, really good…”

    The greninja was staring into the water. Without a sound, without looking up at him, she shook her head.

    Maybe there was more than mistrust quelling her appetite.

    Jen returned his sights to the food, but not his attention. He munched away at the nuggets, freezing and biting chunks off them on autopilot, all the while trying to decide exactly what he should say to help ease her mind.

    He faced her again. “They said we’ll be home soon, right?”

    Babs pulled in a long breath and let it hiss out her nostrils. “Yeah. They said that. And maybe they were telling the truth; who knows.” A hand disappeared into the folds of her tongue to prop her head up. “But hell, who knows what these guys consider ‘soon’?”

    “I don’t even know how long we’ve been here,” Jen admitted.

    “Same here. It feels like it’s been at least a day.” Her free hand clenched into a fist. It trembled, in rage or worry or both. “God, it could already be too late. Days too late.”

    “Or maybe it’s not,” Jen said quietly. He couldn’t be sure either way, of course. All he knew for certain was that Ren had survived this far. The human had been living in the same house with Jen and Babs and their contamination for days before leaving Convergence, breathing air that might have carried the plague. Had lived for years and years prior to that, and who was to say that the metal tube had actually kept the virus out?

    “Maybe he’s just immune,” the cryonide speculated aloud. “And maybe he’s not the only one.” A sentiment he hadn’t heard spoken aloud in a while, he realized. Not since the last time he’d visited the Hope Institute. A prickle of doubt made his eyelight stutter.

    Just because he was lying about some things doesn’t mean he was lying about that, he told himself.

    Babs took another drink. “He’d better be,” she said. “Nobody has the right to take him from us.”

    There was another shifting noise then, as the material forming one of the walls (its flesh, Jen thought, at which he shivered) parted to create a doorway where none had been before. A deoxys hovered just beyond it. They seemed to beckon with their tentacles.

    “We’re wanted for something,” Jen supposed.

    Babs stood up. “This had better be good,” she told the new arrival, pointing at them for emphasis. She gave herself one last splash in the face, followed by a vigorous shake of her head and shoulders. “Come on,” she said to Jen as she began striding toward the doorway.

    Jen started to follow, but paused at a faint, gnawing sensation in his stomach. With a flick of his hand, he skewered a couple more nuggets for the road, then hurried after her.

    He sped through the red-and-green-veined halls, glad the post-puppeting dizziness had long since worn off; he doubted the deoxys’ offerings would taste as good coming back up. The deoxys eventually led them up a steep ramp, at which point he initially struggled a bit. He resorted to leaning forward and using his claws for added traction, hoping the surrounding vessel wouldn’t mind.

    The ramp opened into a room barely larger than the one he and Babs had left but much, much busier. Deoxys of varying shapes and sizes lined the walls, all of their tentacles and some of their faces and chests buried in swathes of shimmering gray and panels of soft, glowing aquamarine. Others flitted back and forth across the room, some barely skimming the floor, some hovering higher overhead. They nimbly dodged around Jen, Babs, and their deoxys escort as they passed.

    “All right,” Babs spoke up. “I’m going to assume we’re in here for a reason. Got something to show us? Or tell us, maybe? If it’s the latter, you know the drill. You run it by him first,” she told the deoxys firmly, gesturing toward Jen.

    The escort fluttered the ends of their tentacles in a way that could’ve meant anything or nothing at all. They said something aloud, at which the rest of the deoxys cleared a space at the front of the room.

    The wall there, formerly gray, darkened to black. A point of faintly blue light shone at its center. There was a shimmering of green in one corner, tiny symbols flashing by much too fast to have read even if Jen had known the language… and then the blue dot began growing. It began showing other colors: swirls and patches of white, strips and blotches of green and brown. Another, much smaller point of light appeared at its side as it grew.

    Jen had realized what he was looking at before the image had finished zooming. He wasn’t entirely sure he could believe it. The same went for Babs, he imagined.

    “I think they’re trying to tell us we’re almost there,” he said.

    “Yeah,” Babs responded, her voice constricted. “I really hope you’re not jerking us around, deoxys,” she told their escort. “We’d better be close. And you had better be willing to send us back down there as soon as possible.”

    As Jen stared at the dots in the darkness that represented home, he thought he saw a third point of light join them. Then he was certain he saw it. It was much smaller than the others. Dimmer. But not too dim for the eyes of a cave-dwelling predator.

    “Wait…” he said, pointing a claw at the screen. “What is that?”

    * * *​

    Darkness. The smell of dirt. For more than an hour now, Syr had known little else. He was underground, burrowing through the remaining time and space between his team and their goal. Damp earth parted before him as he corkscrewed through, packed tight along the sides by the ground-type power that propelled him.

    It petered out once again, and he took the opportunity to rest and allow the others to catch up, same as he’d done in the wake of each preceding dig. Ren and Karo were trudging along behind him. It was Karo’s innate magnetic sense that kept them on course now. It was the psychic signature of many, many lifeforms that had shown them the way in the first place.

    The five of them had followed that signal above ground for a time. They’d stopped and gone to ground upon seeing, and smelling, the vast cloud of smog that utterly blanketed their destination. The less of that Ren had to breathe, the better. There was only so much that his air filter could take.

    The kwazai were stowed for the time being. It was better not to force Syr to dig a wider tunnel than was strictly necessary, Ren had figured aloud. Syr hadn’t argued, and still didn’t; the work was demanding enough as it was without the extra effort that would’ve been required to make room for very tall beings with bodies ill-suited to crawling.

    He gave his head a shake, casting off mud and small stones; he heard them bounce harmlessly off the walls. He craned his neck back toward the others. “I think I could use a leppa.”

    “Already got it out for you,” Ren said.

    Syr nodded in recognition; he could taste the fruit on the air, even amidst the competing scents of soil and poorly-washed human. He doubled over on himself a little awkwardly, his tongue flitting repeatedly toward the leppa smell until it made contact with the firm, waxy skin. One more flick to lap it up, and then it was back to work.

    “Oh hey. Hey!” Karo called out, barely any sooner than Syr had resumed digging.

    The arbok stopped burrowing, shuddering as he lost the elemental charge. “What? What’s going on?”

    “Some kind of magnetic field flared up outta nowhere up ahead,” Karo said.

    “They know we’re coming,” Syr said. It was more an assumption than a suspicion, and one the entire party had shared before they’d even begun tunneling. If the deranics really were worms, it was easy to imagine that they were natural burrowers. It would surely occur to such creatures that something could approach from underground.

    “Of course they do,” Ren said. There wasn’t any surprise in his voice, but there certainly was tension.

    “Uh… it’s getting stronger,” Karo reported.

    Ren spat out a curse. “Shield, now!”

    The pressure engulfed Syr in an instant and let up just as fast. He drew back, muscles tensed, bracing for… something. What was Ren anticipating? Some sort of beam or pulse? A long, thin hiss passed through his fangs. If it was the weapon, maybe he’d be unharmed—or maybe not, at this range…

    Seconds passed. Nothing happened, or so it seemed. “Karo?” Ren prompted.

    “It’s keeping steady,” the nosepass said. “Guess it’s not building up to anything after all.”

    “Hm.” Ren didn’t sound especially convinced. He let another few moments pass. “All right,” he said finally. “Bring it down. Syr? Let’s get moving again.”

    Hoping they weren’t letting their guard down too soon, Syr crept forward once more and tested the wall with his snout. The moment he felt yielding earth instead of an impenetrable field, he called up another dig attack.

    Just as he was beginning to wonder how much further they had to go, the tunnel opened quite suddenly into empty space. For the first time since he’d begun digging, he bothered to open his eyes, but found the cavern—or whatever it was—just as dark as the tunnel that had led to it. He sampled the air and found it much less stale-tasting than he’d have expected. There was a strange scent to it, reminiscent of a summer storm.

    He pulled back into the tunnel. “Guys? I think we’re here.”

    “Okay,” Ren said. “How much space is there? Enough for the twins?”

    “I think so,” Syr replied. “I can make it bigger if need be.” Assuming all the walls were dirt and loose rocks, anyway. Reminding himself that there was someone just feet behind him who could shield him at a moment’s notice, he returned to the hole in the wall and let himself emerge into the open.

    He reared up as high as he could and found no ceiling, stretched out as far as he could and found no walls in any direction but behind. “Oh yeah,” he said. “There’s room. I think this place is pretty big.”

    Ren and Karo followed him out into the hollow. Lights flashed as the two kwazai were unleashed, and for a split second Syr caught a glimpse of something dark and metallic overhead. It seemed that they were directly underneath the deranics’ base.

    “Light it up,” Ren said.

    Syr felt a prickle of awareness that psychic energy was building nearby; out of the corner of his eye, he saw colorful light swelling around at least two of Demi’s hands. Psybeams burst forth, rainbow searchlights sweeping harmlessly over the walls—

    —gone in a literal flash, as a much brighter light suddenly flooded the room.

    Syr tried to shout, but something punched the air out of him the instant he opened his mouth. He heard Acheron snarling and Demi swearing as he caught his breath.

    He realized he was unharmed at around the same time as the searing, pink blankness finally faded out from behind his closed eyes. With a groan, he shook the last of the haze out of his head and finally took in his surroundings.

    The five of them were now in a vast, oblong space. The walls were brown-black, packed soil, which was dotted with gray and white stone. There were thick, metal pillars embedded in it; one of them stood less than a yard from the tunnel’s opening. A few more had been raised in the middle of the room, supporting the structure above.

    Some twenty feet overhead, there curved the belly of an enormous, rust-red cylinder. It was dotted with floodlights that cast a warm, white glow over its metallic surface and the five beings who gazed up at it from below.

    That was just the part that they could see. There was no telling how far the base extended beyond the earthen walls. No telling how much lay beneath the curtain of smog beyond the surface.

    A wave of dizziness washed over Syr, and he realized he’d been forgetting to breathe for who knew how long. He gulped in air and felt it lodge in his throat. There it was: his destination, his mission, now literally hanging over his head, closer than ever before. Closer, and much more daunting.

    A roaring sound rang out at his side. He flicked a gaze toward it and saw Acheron trying to burn a hole through the ceiling above. The dark-type energy spread out over its surface, forming rippling, violet-black circles that dissipated into nothing at their edges. The kwazai bared his teeth and snarled again, lifting another hand to redouble his efforts, to no avail.

    He let the twin reflux beams die out. “Damn it,” he spat out between gasps.

    “Shielded,” Ren muttered as he fished out another leppa berry for the kwazai. “Thought as much.”

    “It’s got to give out eventually,” Demi figured aloud. “Whatever’s powering that has to have a finite source.”

    So does our power, Syr thought uneasily as he watched Acheron wolf down the proffered berry. How many of those were left?

    As another pair of reflux beams plowed into the invisible shield above, the floodlights dimmed somewhat. At first, Syr wondered if the deranics were already running out of power to keep the barrier up. He hoped that they were. But then another, different sort of light bloomed on the underside of the base: a single point of a slightly cooler hue.

    Another sudden wave of pressure came and took his breath away; he recognized Karo’s block field this time. He braced for a possible attack again… but as before, none came. The new light merely cast a small, blue-white circle on the floor a short distance in front of them.

    Then the light turned yellow, and it resolved into the shape of a worm.

    The first thing that struck Syr was how small the being was. He’d been expecting something bigger somehow. Closer to his own size, if not larger. Instead he found himself looking upon a creature who couldn’t have attained eye level with him even if they’d stood on the end of their tail. They were dark yellow and scaleless, with a short, pointed snout and six bright pink eyes arranged in a ring around their head.

    “Hello, arbok,” the deranic said in a somewhat high-pitched, slightly buzzing voice.

    Syr didn’t respond, staring warily at them. His tongue flicked out, seeking the scent of the new arrival but finding nothing new. As he watched the deranic, they shimmered ever so slightly. Flickered a bit. He recognized the technology, though its name escaped him at the moment. The deranic was nothing but a projected image. They weren’t actually there.

    “We weren’t expecting any of your people to come back,” the deranic went on. Speaking the language of the koffing and weezing, Syr realized then. “We… had hoped you wouldn’t. We don’t want there to be any more fighting.”

    “No,” Ren spoke up. The tremor was back in his voice, the one Syr had come to recognize as anger rising to the surface. “No, wiping out the other side from a good, safe distance, giving them no chance to fight back… that’s more your style, isn’t it?”

    “We didn’t want it to be,” the deranic said. Their tone didn’t change in the least; it was impossible to tell if they were truly remorseful. “But we have no choice. The enemy is powerful. And there are so few of us. The only way to destroy them is to surprise them.”

    “They understand my language…” Ren noted, barely audible.

    “You’re not destroying a damn thing from here on out,” Demi said, taking a step forward; despite the fact that they weren’t actually anywhere near her, the deranic squirmed back a bit. “You’ve done more than enough.”

    The deranic’s head tilted ever so slightly to their left. A pair of voices spoke quietly, their owner somewhere out of sight, but Syr knew without a doubt what they belonged to: a weezing, repeating Demi’s words in their own language. An interpreter for a being who apparently only understood some pokémon, not all.

    “Sadly… we have not,” the deranic responded once the weezing fell silent. “Many more must die.” Dark membranes slid over all six eyes in unison. “Very many… including all of my people.”

    “Well, congrats,” Karo said. “You’re officially nuts.”

    Syr couldn’t help but agree. It was hard to imagine why they had destroyed humanity. Hard to imagine why they were apparently bent on destroying even more of the world’s peoples. But why, he wondered, would they want to destroy themselves in the process?

    “There is no other way,” the deranic insisted. “No other chance. Soon, they will come here. We must make sure they won’t leave. We will die. Many will die. But so will they. It’s a terrible, terrible thing… but it’s what’s right. This world will die, but many, many more will live because of this sacrifice.”

    Syr shook his head. “This doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “How is killing an entire world’s worth of innocent people supposed to save anyone? You’re talking about… about other worlds? We aren’t like you. We can’t even reach any other planet.”

    “No,” the deranic said, with no need for translation by the weezing this time. “No, you don’t understand. You are not the threat. You are not the ones who destroyed our people. The ones who destroyed the human people.”

    The rest of what the deranic had said finally reached Syr, finally made it past the promises of widespread death and destruction and slotted into place. “Soon, they will come here.”

    Was there someone else in the picture? Someone else who killed from afar, who had yet to arrive in person?

    “Humans were killed by someone else. By enemies of the deranics,” said a pair of voices in his memory.

    “Don’t trust them,” said another.

    “You are expecting a hell of a lot from us, deranic,” Ren said. His voice was quieter now, but still shaking with rage. “Here you are, asking us to believe in an enemy you can’t provide a scrap of evidence for. Expecting us to trust you, when at the very least you have certainly killed dozens if not hundreds of helpless pokémon. Expecting us to be all right with the fact that you’ve decided to sacrifice us all without giving us a say in the matter.”

    The deranic was silent for a moment. “Some of the koffing here think you’re in disguise. We had hoped not, but…” Again the deranic closed their eyes, in their peculiar fashion. “Maybe if you really were human, you would understand. We would be the same. The last of our kind. Survivors of the same enemy, wishing for an end to their evil.”

    “We are not the same,” Ren said. “Acheron?”

    The kwazai nodded, acknowledging the implied command. He looked toward the projected image. “See you soon, worm,” he said, then went back to trying to burn through the ceiling.

    The weezing spoke again. The deranic responded with a sound that might’ve been a sigh. “So it is,” they said, then vanished.

    The shield didn’t hold out much longer. Dropped on purpose, perhaps, which stoked Syr’s unease further. Were they being admitted into a trap?

    With a loud sizzling, the black beams finally broke through the metal barrier above them. Acheron let his arms drop to his sides for a short time, his shoulders heaving as he caught his breath. He extended an open, trembling hand toward Ren, closing it soon after on another berry, another max potion.

    “Up here, sis,” Acheron said once he’d rejuvenated himself, at which Demi leapt and vaulted herself up onto his shoulders with her large upper hands. As he held her steady, she reached up, seized the irregular edges of the hole he’d made, and ripped it open wide enough to make a usable entrance.

    With a grunt, she hoisted herself in. One by one, Acheron began lifting the rest of the party up to her waiting arms. As Syr’s turn came up, he wondered if the kwazai could feel his heart hammering away. This was it. Soon, very soon, this would all be over—one way or another.
     
    Last edited: Aug 18, 2019 at 12:13 AM
  7. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    Chapter 14 – Seterhath Zulo-Denvenda


    If Syr hadn’t known better, he might’ve sworn the deranic base was abandoned.

    There were others here, besides himself and Ren and the latter’s team. Many others. But not a soul among them was anywhere to be seen. They’d all apparently drawn inward, away from the hole Acheron and Demi had ripped out of the wall.

    Unluckily for the deranics, and quite fortunately for their enslaved pokémon, they couldn’t hide from the senses of the invaders. Syr and the rest of his party were moving toward them now, guided by the twins’ psychic abilities and the slowly building alien scent in the air. Every time Syr’s tongue darted out, he tasted that scent just a little bit more.

    He slithered along the cool metal floor, occasionally passing over narrow tubes that crossed his path. More like them lined the rust-colored walls and spanned the space overhead, forcing him to duck from time to time. He could only imagine what a nuisance they were for the larger pokémon among them to pick their way through.

    Things were quiet, for now. It might have been an opportunity to breathe, to collect himself for whatever was next, but he couldn’t take advantage of it. Couldn’t trust it. No one was getting in their way yet. The base had shown nothing in the way of defenses, not since the force field that had tried and failed to keep them out. The air was clean, breathable. The temperature was mild; the lighting, soft. Under other circumstances, it might have all seemed pleasant.

    Under these, it felt like a trap.

    But we have to keep going, he kept telling himself. After coming this far, after all he’d said and done, he could see no other course of action. None that didn’t make him sick to his stomach with guilt, at least.

    Something hissed in the unseen space above him.

    Syr froze. The human at his side and the kwazai at his head and tail did likewise, in imperfect unison. Karo was sent back out into their midst in a flash, materializing in a clear stretch of flooring somewhere ahead.

    He felt Acheron push him forward, herding him and Ren closer to the nosepass. The press of a block field came and went just in time for dark, dirty-green clouds to billow into the halls. The gas swirled against the invisible barrier, too thick to penetrate it. He could still smell it, but only very faintly.

    “There’s no one here,” Demi noted. “Nobody at all for… another thirty yards or so.”

    “There doesn’t need to be,” Ren figured. “They could’ve collected the gas ahead of time, saved it to try and smoke out intruders while the koffing and weezing stay somewhere else.”

    “Guarding the weapon?” Syr wondered aloud.

    “Or getting ready to power it again,” Acheron said grimly.

    “Pick him up, Demi,” Ren said. “We need to get moving again.”

    The moment the nosepass’s feet left the floor, the party proceeded toward the unseen signs of life. The going was slower than Syr liked despite his unrelenting trepidation, owing to the still-cluttered passageway and the fact that they now had less time to react to its obstacles, what with the koffing exhaust forming an impenetrable smokescreen outside their protective bubble and everything going dark in the spaces between the fluorescent lamps.

    “Bogeys,” Acheron announced before long. “Just a couple. Staying put.”

    And continuing to stay put, it seemed, even as the party approached. Exactly what they were, Syr could only guess; at the moment, it was hard to smell or taste anything other than the occupants of the block field and a hint of the smog outside. Maybe koffing or weezing, with their usual compliment of combat abilities—at the very least. Maybe deranics themselves, and who knew how they might be armed.

    Whoever it was, if they thought they were about to spring a successful ambush, they were probably mistaken. He clung to that thought in the hopes of steadying himself, bracing for a fight.

    His fangs flexed and his hood flared to its widest at a rushing sound just up ahead. There was barely a moment’s delay before Demi lunged forward toward it; Syr lunged after her, his figurative hand forced by the kwazai and the block field behind him. The curtain of exhaust parted around them, revealing a room that looked barely big enough to accommodate the lot of them and two small, yellow figures huddled against the wall.

    Another rushing noise sounded—a quick glance back told Syr that a door had shut behind them. His gaze snapped forward just as quickly and saw that Demi had lifted both of the deranics up to her eye level. Her upper hands were holding their heads up, while her lower hands supported the rest of their bodies. The color was rapidly draining from their faces, their pink eyes bulging.

    “Drop the field for now,” Ren told Karo. The nosepass was now standing at Demi’s side, peering up at the deranics. “Be ready to pull it back up, but let yourself recharge for now.”

    There was a whirring sound from above. The wisps of smog that had entered the room ahead of the party disappeared, sucked away by vents near the ceiling. The air now tasted even cleaner than it had above ground. Syr sucked it in gratefully, only now realizing just how stale the air had gotten inside that force field. Karo must have reinforced it, he supposed, and hoped that the nosepass hadn’t overexerted himself.

    Ren stepped forward, toward the captive deranics; Demi shifted to allow him a more unobstructed view of them. His shoulders rose with a breath that escaped his mask with an almost mechanical hiss. “You two. Can you understand me?”

    The deranics could do nothing but shake at first. Their plain fear only made them seem even smaller than they were; Syr was helplessly reminded of the ekans hatchlings back in Mauville.

    The one to the left regained their composure at first, or at least part of it. “I… I can,” they said, and they said it in Ren’s language. “Zaltaphi never really cared much about human studies. But I…” Their black tongue flicked out for a moment. “Sorry. I am Kiat.”

    “You opened the door for us,” Ren said. “You let us in. Why?”

    Good question… Syr thought, eyeing the deranics warily. The feeling that this could all be a trap grew even stronger.

    “We need to talk,” Kiat said. “We need your help. The captain’s going to kill us all… it’s madness. They must be stopped, but we can’t do it alone. We need you.”

    Ren considered that in silence for a moment. “What you need,” he then said, “is to tell us where it is. The weapon. Seterhath Zulo-Denvenda.”

    Both deranics’ eye membranes gave a rapid fluttering at those last words. Zaltaphi hissed something to Kiat in what Syr could only assume was their own language.

    “What…” Kiat said, with what might’ve been confusion in their tone. “We can guide you to the weapon, yes, but… Seterhath has been dead for a very long time, long before we came here.”

    Now it was Syr’s turn to be perplexed. He’d figured—they all had—that the name Faurur had told him before she’d died was that of the weapon itself. But in hindsight, she’d never actually said that was what it was. Something big done to the world… that was all she’d known about it. All she’d gathered about what it meant. The rest was merely an assumption on their part, the result of the way they’d put the pieces together since the attack on the forest. What if they’d been wrong?

    What else might they have been wrong about?

    Syr shivered. Don’t trust them, he reminded himself. She warned you. She warned you.

    “Seterhath…” Kiat went on. “They were the one who discovered this world. The one who brought knowledge of your people to ours. The truth is that…” Their tongue gave another nervous flick.

    What, Kiat. The truth is what?” Ren demanded.

    Kiat’s dark eyelids slid shut. “No… you deserve to know.” They met his gaze again. “The ones who destroyed your people were the same ones who destroyed ours. They learned of this world through our broadcasts. If it weren’t for Seterhath… they might never have found you.”

    “More talk about the ‘real’ killers,” Acheron muttered. “More talk, and no proof.”

    “None,” Ren agreed. To Kiat, “For all we know, this ‘enemy’ we supposedly share doesn’t exist,” he said. “Maybe you’re not the last of your kind. Maybe you’re just here to finish the job—a job started, deliberately, by deranics. We have no reason to trust you.”

    “We know,” Kiat said. “I wouldn’t, either, if I were you. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you destroy the weapon. The killers will come to this world soon, looking for survivors of their plague. The captain will fire the weapon at full power when they arrive. It may kill the enemy—but it will kill all of us as well.

    “The rest of us see it as atonement—that we should give our lives to stop the ones who murdered humanity, since it was because of us that the killers found you. They think it’s worth sacrificing what’s left of this world if it will save countless more. But we’re the last of our kind. Please… give our people a chance to survive.”

    “Tell us where the weapon is,” Ren said. “Make no mistake: we will find it regardless. But if you show us the way, we stand a better chance of finding it in time. And if you tell us the truth…” He gave an encompassing wave across the small room, indicating all of the pokémon who were on his side. “We’re a lot likelier to show you mercy afterward.”

    Kiat shuddered, insofar as they could in Demi’s grasp. “Of course,” they said, “of course. But… we can bring up a map for you. It would be easier, faster to show you the way than it would to try and explain it.”

    Their tongue came out again, and the end of it unraveled into four branches, which gestured toward the right side of the room. The appendage withdrew; then, “There,” Kiat said. “The console is there. If you would let… no. No, why would you let us go…”

    “We wouldn’t,” Demi said, but turned to face the console as she spoke. She bent forward and lowered her hands toward an array of buttons and recessed spots on the wall.

    “Can either of you reach it?” Ren asked.

    “Yes,” Kiat responded, and said something to Zaltaphi. The other deranic extended their tongue, whose branches immediately went to work, nimbly prodding at the console.

    “Bear in mind,” Ren said, “that if you do anything other than call up that map, you’ll be wasting your time, and she’ll be squeezing the life out of you.”

    Kiat didn’t respond, though they could have. Too frightened, perhaps. They were right to be, at least where their own life was concerned—the kwazai had left the koffing and weezing alive thus far, but Syr doubted they would extend the same mercy to deranics, especially when there was still a chance that they were, in fact, the engineers of the Extinction.

    Whether the rest of the deranics really had anything to fear, what with their still-uncounted hordes of servants and their weapon of mass destruction… that, Syr couldn’t say.

    The lights dimmed to near-darkness. A new light source flared to life overhead, and a moment later, a three-dimensional image sat in the middle of the room. Realizing he was in the midst of it, distorting part of it, Syr backed up out of the way; Karo and Acheron had to do likewise.

    Barring Demi and her two captives, they were now all looking at part of the base’s interior in miniature. Before their eyes, a glowing yellow line traveled from one part of it to another. The line vanished, then repeated its previous animation, again and again.

    “There,” Kiat said. “This route leads directly to the room containing the weapon.”

    Ren’s eyes traced the golden line, his brow knitted. “What about security? What can we expect on arrival?”

    “Some of our people are there at all times. They will be armed.”

    “Armed with what, exactly?” Ren asked.

    “Dart launchers,” Kiat answered. “Potentially lethal, if you’re hit by enough of them.” They made a soft hissing noise that might have been a sigh. “I would hope that you wouldn’t use lethal force yourselves… there are so few of us left. But… do what you must.”

    “Oh, we’re gonna,” Karo promised. His nose emitted a few stray sparks; both deranics visibly flinched at the display.

    “What about the koffing?” Syr asked uneasily. “There’ll be some of them guarding the weapon, right?” Part of him hoped there wouldn’t be, though he knew better than to expect that kind of luck. They’d be there, or they’d be en route, or both. As long as they remained under the deranics’ sway, he’d probably have to fight them. And if it came down to it… if some of them had to fall to save the rest…

    Hopefully it wouldn’t come to that.

    Kiat didn’t respond to Syr’s question; they, unlike the deranic outside, apparently didn’t understand his language.

    Ren, it seemed, had arrived at the same conclusion. “They’ll send in koffing and weezing against us, I assume,” he said.

    “Some of them,” Kiat said. “They won’t want to risk too many. The weapon has enough elemental energy in reserve to fire at full power with some docks unoccupied, but only some. Only a few. But if you can disable the system controlling them, they will be confused. And if they see your arbok, they may not be willing to fight you any longer.”

    Syr’s heart might have leapt at the prospect, but he didn’t quite dare to believe it. It had been more than a decade since he’d fled the area, and Faurur’s colony had greatly increased its numbers since then. How many of them would actually know who he was? How many of those who’d remember him were still alive?

    “And how do we go about doing that?” Ren asked. “Where do we go?”

    Kiat relayed more instructions to Zaltaphi. A few nimble tongue-darts later, the yellow line on the map began holding steady. A blue dot appeared at a point roughly two thirds of the way along its length and began pulsing gently.

    “The transmitter is there,” Kiat said. “It will be behind the wall, in a room that only deranics can access… normally.”

    Karo gave a chuckle. “Yeah, we’ll be able to access that thing just fine.”

    “One last thing,” Ren said. He turned to face the two deranics once more, though Demi still partly blocked the view of them. “How would we identify your captain?”

    “By scent… But none of you are familiar with their scent.”

    “Are you?” Ren asked.

    “...Yes,” Kiat answered.

    “Then you’re coming with us,” Ren said.

    Kiat made an alarmed-sounding noise and might have been about to protest. “…Of course,” they said instead. “But the smoke outside—”

    “Isn’t an issue. Karo? Put a block on the door.”

    “Got it,” Karo said. “Aaaaand blocked,” he reported a beat later.

    “Open it,” Ren said to Kiat.

    Kiat repeated the order in their own language. The door slid open once more, but none of the swirling murk outside encroached upon the room this time.

    “And now just bubble it out, right?” Karo asked.

    “Right,” Ren said, then drew closer to the nosepass. “Same formation as before,” he told everyone, “only Acheron carries Karo this time.”

    Demi adjusted her hold on the deranics, allowing them to drape their tails across her shoulders so as to free her lower hands. “Try to choke me and you’ll get the fangs,” she warned them. “And I’ll scramble your brains while I’m at it.”

    “She will, too,” Acheron said.

    Shivering, Zaltaphi whispered something to Kiat. The latter responded in kind, punctuating the statement with a flick of their tongue. Zaltaphi seemed to calm at this, but only slightly.

    Demi stepped past Karo, out into the clean pocket of air he’d created for them. The party resumed their single file procession through the darkened halls, now with a pair of possible allies.

    Syr looked up at the lithe, yellow forms slung over Demi’s shoulders like bizarre scarves, trying to figure out to what extent he trusted them. The answer seemed to be more than none, which bothered him, setting a prickling discomfort at the base of his skull. They seemed reasonable, helpful—or at least, Kiat did—but they’d been kind and helpful toward Faurur, too.

    And yet… nothing they were saying conflicted with what they’d learned about this place and its purpose from other sources. The deranic outside had made no bones about the fact that they intended a strike against their enemy that would cost countless other lives in the process, the deranics’ own included. Ongzi had said that the weapon was intended for the arrival of the deranics’ enemies, as well.

    And was it really unreasonable to think that the deranics wouldn’t all be of one mind? That someone among them would see their plan for the lunacy it was?

    Kiat and Zaltaphi had shown them the way to the deranics’ precious weapon. They’d even shown them the way to free the koffing and weezing from deranic control.

    Were they earnestly aiding Syr and the others toward their goals? Or were they just telling the party what they thought they wanted to hear?
     
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2019 at 3:33 AM

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