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Old 05-17-2019, 03:16 AM
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Default Re: The Worldslayers

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 by Sike Saner; 08-17-2019 at 11:16 PM.
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