Thread: In Progress The Worldslayers
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Old 09-22-2017, 05:19 PM
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Default Re: The Worldslayers

Chapter 5 – Normal


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah,” Demi answered.

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

Ren nodded, as did Demi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More silence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please let me see my son again, he prayed, and lay awake for nearly two hours afterward.

Last edited by Sike Saner; 02-13-2018 at 12:40 AM.
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