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Old 05-22-2017, 09:35 PM
Sike Saner's Avatar
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Default The Worldslayers

Hey all. It's chapterfic time again. 8D This is something of a sequel to both this fic and this one, especially the former.

I'm going with a T rating on this one. Count on there being violence; count on there being mild language; count on there being uncheerful things in general from time to time.

Updates will come monthly, give or take a few days.


Right then. On with the show...

______________

Chapter 1 – The Promise


The cemetery was quiet, nearly empty. Most people who weren’t working or sleeping were staying indoors, anticipating more rain. There was only Syr, a lone arbok slithering up the path between the gates.

The placard marking his destination glinted a faint bronze in the scant sunlight. Syr came to a stop, his eyes roaming over three names embossed in unown-script: ESSAX EVERGRAY. FARRUR URSH NONKU. DROSSIGON URSH NONKU-EVERGRAY. Syr could only hope he’d guessed how to spell them correctly. He’d never actually seen any of the names in writing before.

He inhaled, steeling himself. “Hi, Esaax,” he said quietly. “Hi, Faurur… hi, Drasigon.” Syr had never actually met the young koffing; even now, it felt a bit awkward addressing her. But leaving her out felt worse somehow. “I hope you’re well. Hope you’re at peace.

“Anyway, uh… well. I have news for you.” Mostly for Faurur, truth be told. But he figured anything that had mattered to her would matter to the others. “I’ve made some new friends. Friends who might be able to help me look into the deranics for you.” Syr gave a faint, sad smile, closing his eyes. “A promise is a promise, right?”

His next breath came in as a loud sniffle, surprising him. When he’d begun crying, he couldn’t say. Sighing, Syr brought the end of his tail around to wipe at the lingering tears.

“…I guess I’d better get going, then,” he then said. “We’ll figure this out. We’ll save your people. And… and I’ll be careful. I promise.”

The arbok took a deep breath and let it out slowly, flexing his cobra hood as his lungs emptied. “Goodbye,” he said on the next, then turned back toward the cemetery gates.

From there, home was about half an hour eastward. Insofar as he could call it home, anyway. His own house had been reduced to a blackened husk so recently that he could still smell the smoke when he thought about it. In the wake of its loss, his friend Karo had offered up his home, and Syr and his adopted son Jen had accepted.

But Karo wasn’t their only roommate.

Soon enough, the three-story brick house on Bayberry Street came into view. Syr went up the walkway and rapped on the front doors with his tail, to no response. He knocked again. “Coming, coming…” came a rasping voice from inside, accompanied by the sound of something heavy whispering over carpet.

One door opened, and there, holding the first third or so of himself upright in a very arboklike fashion, was Jen. Jen was a cryonide: black and bladed, humanoid above the waist, serpentlike below. Even now, Syr caught himself gawking at him, all but forgetting who he was. It was just that hard to believe this creature was his son—especially given how opposed the boy had been to evolving.

“I just didn’t want to become a glalie,” he’d clarified after Syr had seen his new form for the first time. “We found a way around that.”

“…Sorry,” Syr said, acknowledging his own stare. “Is everyone else downstairs?” he asked, craning his neck to look past Jen’s long shoulder spines.

“Ren is. He’s all the way downstairs. Karo might be with him.” Jen moved out of Syr’s way as he spoke; once the arbok was well and truly in the living room, Jen curled the end of his tail around the doorknob and pulled it shut. “Everyone else is out.”

All the way downstairs. That meant Ren was probably busy plugging away at a mystery of his own. For a moment, Syr wondered if maybe now wasn’t the time to have this discussion with him. No, he finally decided, unable to help himself. It’s been long enough.

He went to a nearby closet, opening the door with his tail, then drew an invisible pattern on its back wall with his snout. There was a click, and then a well-concealed door slid out of the way to reveal a roomy elevator. Syr wound his way in, then drew himself up into a tight coil.

“I need you to come down here with me,” he called out to Jen. The cryonide knew the winding halls beneath Ren’s house somewhat better than Syr did. Jen complied readily, maneuvering into the lift; both pokémon did their best to scrunch themselves out of each other’s way, mindful of Jen’s many barbs and blades.

Syr nudged a couple of buttons with his snout, and the elevator began its descent. He was concerned, however fleetingly, when it didn’t stop as soon as he’d expected; he was used to exiting at the Vault, home of Ren’s personal library as well as his valuables. Not this time, he reminded himself.

Eventually, the elevator’s rear door opened to off-white walls and clear, bright lighting, a far cry from the slightly old-fashioned décor above. Syr let Jen take the lead, following him through the halls, weaving around deep gouges in the floor, until finally they reached an open door.

In the room beyond, a smallish figure sat at the foot of a tall, presently-open tube of some sort. It resembled nothing more than an oversized aluminum can, but apparently it was some sort of stasis device. That was Ren’s theory, anyhow. He’d awoke within it earlier that week with no memory of the past fourteen years or so, including why he’d gone in there in the first place. Ever since, he’d made trips downstairs to try and make as much sense as he could of the thing, partly to see if he could get it working again, partly to try and jog his own memories about it.

Jen let himself into the room, at which Ren finally pried his eyes and thoughts from the tube. He turned to face the two new arrivals, regarding them through deep brown eyes, and for the second time that day, Syr caught himself staring.

It would be a long time, he imagined, before he’d get completely used to seeing a real, live human being in the flesh again.

Ren Bridges was the man’s name. He was short, entirely hairless, and wearing the same Kalos-flag shirt and black jeans as he’d been since awakening. Syr hadn’t even wondered why. He’d been too preoccupied with the fact that this man was alive at all when the rest of his kind had been extinct for more than a decade.

“Oh hey,” Ren said, shutting the toolbox at his side and hoisting it up as he stood.

“…Hey,” Syr responded after a beat. “So, uh… I was wondering…” The sense that he was wasting his words on this human, same as he would’ve been with any other, was still a little hard to shake.

But Ren had already proven that yes, he really could understand pokémon—yet another of the tube’s mysteries. He hadn’t been able to prior to emerging from it. “Yes…?” he prompted.

“About your library,” Syr went on. “Your books, your videos, anything you’ve got. I was wondering if there’s anything in there about der-an-ics…” That last word wasn’t one of his own. He wasn’t even sure it was part of any pokémon language. He wanted to make certain that Ren heard it clearly.

“There isn’t,” Ren said. He furrowed his brow and gazed upward in silent thought for a few moments. “Not by name, anyway. What do you know about them?”

“Not much,” Syr admitted. “But here’s what I do know: several years ago, off around Rustboro, these weird lights crossed the sky. I didn’t know what they were then, but I’ve since learned that those were the deranics. They came and enslaved some of the poison-types living in the area… including an old friend,” he added quietly. “She escaped a few days ago to warn me about them. She said they’d already done something to the world. Something big.”

He met Ren’s gaze again and found the human’s eyes wide and wild, his lips parted. “How many years ago?” Ren asked.

“It…” Didn’t feel so long ago at all, especially in the wake of all the reminders he’d gotten recently. Syr shook his head, trying to regain his perspective. “It was almost… oh my God.”

Almost fifteen years ago.

Syr didn’t say it aloud, hung up on disbelief that he’d never made this connection before. Or maybe he had. He couldn’t say for certain. He could barely think.

Nonetheless, Ren apparently pieced it together himself; “Don’t you think it’s a little strange,” he said, “that we’d get a visit from space invaders, or whatever the hell they were, right around the time when an entire species gets killed off?”

Syr had to fight through the buzzing in his brain to find words again. Suddenly the floodgates were open. Suddenly Faurur’s words made entirely too much sense. “That’s what they did,” he breathed. “Seter—Seterazu… augh…” More “worm-language”, as Faurur had called it. He hoped he’d remember the exact words sooner rather than later. “That’s what she was talking about. It was them. They’re the ones behind the plague, or whatever it was…”

“Maybe,” Jen spoke up. Syr gave him a questioning look, but the cryonide merely shrugged; apparently he had nothing more to contribute on the subject.

“If there’s any chance they were,” Ren said, “any chance whatsoever…” There was a tremor in his voice now. Whether it was fear or anger, Syr couldn’t tell. Maybe it was both. “I think,” the human resumed after a deep breath, “it behooves us to look into this.”

Syr felt a trickle of relief run down his spine. There was his next question out of the way. The mission that lay ahead would be difficult—there was no doubt about that. Syr had little chance of accomplishing anything on his own, but with a former Apex League gym leader on his side…

“What about the pokémon?” he asked. “Karo and the rest… do they automatically come too, or…”

“I’ll ask them. Karo’ll wanna go at the very least. That said, I do kind of hope someone’s willing to stay and hold the fort, considering all that’s happened around here lately…”

“All that’s happened” being a break-in by smeargle vandals, followed by a rampaging monstrosity burrowing their way in from below. Much as he appreciated nearly any backup his new friends could offer, Syr couldn’t blame the human for wanting to keep an eye on things back home.

“I’ll stay,” Jen volunteered, raising a six-clawed hand. “And I’m sure Solonn and his dad will, too. There’s still a lot I want to talk about, and I’m sure they feel the same way.”

A faint, disapproving frown made it to Syr’s face, but he fought it back just as quickly. No, he still wasn’t entirely comfortable with Solonn. The man was a glalie, after all, and an abnormally large one at that. And he was claiming to be Jen’s lost and forgotten brother, brainwashed right out of the boy’s memories. He’d specifically come to Convergence to find Jen, in fact, and the thought of this nightmare creature stealing his son away didn’t sit particularly well with Syr.

But in spite of all this, Syr tried to tamp his misgivings back down. The glalie had tried, after all, to save Esaax. He’d helped free the former wobbuffet from his imprisonment, had reunited him with the one person in the world who could’ve possibly saved his life.

And there was still a lot no one had figured out about Jen’s background. They knew he’d been mentally tampered with at some point, in some way. His own memories, apparently unreliable, told him he’d been under the care of fugitives from a cruel, oppressive nation. He couldn’t put a name to anyone in his real family… but he believed Solonn. And truth be told, it was as good a lead as any other where Jen’s past was concerned.

“All right,” Syr said, and he didn’t have to feign the relief in his voice, nor did he have to fight hard to bring it back to the forefront where it belonged. He’d never wanted to drag Jen into this mess. The mission would be dangerous. Even if he could’ve known exactly what he was up against, Syr knew he wouldn’t have felt right bringing his son into harm’s way like that.

“Right then. Karo.” Ren plucked a great ball off his belt, pressing its button as he brought it forward. White light spilled out, and a moment later it resolved into a nosepass.

It took a moment for Karo to react to being let out. He made an odd little groaning noise, swiveling each of his arms in a full rotation, then pivoted to face Ren with an unpleasant grinding of stone on stone. “What?”

“How are you feeling?” Ren asked.

“Heh. Like I actually haven’t exploded in the past few days,” Karo responded.

Syr winced. The fact of the matter was that Karo had done exactly that. Syr recalled what had been left of his friend in the wake of the explosion, remembered crawling over scattered stones that used to be part of a living being, and shivered in discomfort.

“I’m glad you’re all right,” Syr said. It wasn’t the first time he’d said it since Karo had stepped out into the waiting room, whole again. But it came out every bit as earnestly. “Listen, there’s… well. We’ve made plans.”

“You told him about the things, didn’t you,” Karo said.

“Yeah… he didn’t know any more than we do,” Syr said, only to realize Ren hadn’t exactly confirmed whether or not there was any information about them in the Vault above. “Right?”

“Prior to now, I didn’t know anything at all. But now…” Another deep breath. His grip tightened on the handle of the toolbox. “I’ve learned enough to know this definitely warrants a closer look.”

“So we’re gonna go pay these deranics a visit?” More loud grinding as Karo turned to face Syr. “Count me in.”

No surprise there. Karo had insisted upon coming along the last time Syr was faced with a difficult task, as well. And he’d proven a valuable asset to the rescue party, even if the mission had ended in failure. “Just… try not to explode unless you absolutely have to,” Syr said. “Okay?”

Karo stepped forward, leaning back to look Syr right in the eyes. “Believe me,” he said, “when I tell you that I really, really frickin’ hate doing that, and if I make it out of this in one piece we are going to have a party, cake and all. I mean hey, we already owe him a welcome-back party, right?” he added, waving an arm toward his trainer.

“You don’t owe me a thing, Karo.” Ren closed the short distance to the nosepass’s side and patted him on the head. “I’m just glad to have you around.”

Jen craned his neck upward then, clicking his fanged mandibles against his teeth. “I should see if they’re back yet,” he decided aloud, and headed back toward the elevator. Hoping there was a glalie waiting for him up there, Syr reckoned. He sighed in spite of himself, but gave no further objection. All the same, he insisted on following his son upstairs.

Back in the living room, Syr saw no sign of Solonn, nor of his steelix father. But he could hear them conversing outside, could feel their deep voices resonating through the floor. The sounds retreated; the glalie was probably heading off to the shadiest patch he could find, clouds or no clouds. The three pokémon who’d actually come inside, meanwhile, weren’t going anywhere.

One of them was a greninja by the name of Babs. She had a large plastic grocery bag slung over one shoulder and was already heading for the kitchen with it. The other two… the other two were kwazai, and Syr felt a lump form in his throat at the sight of them. Even now, it was hard to look at them without wishing they were the last pair of kwazai he’d met instead.

But they weren’t, he reminded himself with a pang of regret as Jen excused his way past them and slithered out the door. They were Demi and Acheron, more of Ren’s pokémon. Siblings, if he remembered right. The former was a four-armed biped; the latter, a quadruped with very long limbs and neck and tail. Both were sky-blue, with black tails studded with eyes-that-weren’t. They’d been wobbuffet once, same as Esaax had. Unlike Esaax, they’d probably had a choice in the matter of whether or not they’d evolve.

It’s not him. He’s not Esaax. He had nothing to do with him.

“Just set those against the wall over there,” Ren’s voice sounded from somewhere behind him; Syr jolted, wondering exactly when the human had joined them. He glanced back and noted Karo’s absence; back in the ball, Syr assumed.

His attention was back on the two kwazai before he quite realized it. They were stacking long, thin boxes on the floor next to the sofa—save for one, which Demi began opening as she strode over to Ren on her stiltlike legs.

“What do you think?” she asked him, sliding out a wooden plank. “Nothing like what we had down in here before, I know, but I think it’s an upgrade.”

“It’s nice,” Ren said, and he couldn’t have sounded more preoccupied if he’d tried. “But the floor’s gonna have to wait. We have a more important job to do.”

“And that would be…?” There was Babs, leaning in the doorway from the kitchen. Her eyes shifted toward Ren’s belt. “Something to do with the nullshade?”

“Hopefully not,” Ren said, and Syr agreed, eying the relevant ultra ball with unease, all fangs bared. The creature within had tried to murder his son. Had succeeded in destroying their home. The nullshade, as they were apparently called, could just rot in that ball for all Syr cared.

Thinking about the nullshade turned Syr’s thoughts back toward Jen, and checking up on him suddenly felt like a good idea. “…I’ll be right back,” he said, and headed out to the park across the street.

There were those bottomless voices again, and this time Syr could see their owners. There was a steelix half-curled around one of the many trees. A large glalie sat next to him against the trunk, listening intently as Jen spoke.

Syr tried to pick up the pace and catch the tail end of what he was saying, but Jen stopped talking the moment he noticed his father approaching. The others noticed, as well, and Syr bit back the urge to flinch as enormous, glowing blue eyes turned his way.

“Hello again,” Solonn said. “Jen told us about your plans.”

So that’s what they were talking about. Syr wondered if that was all, but pushed the matter aside. “Are you planning on staying with him?”

“Well, yes and no.” The steelix—Grosh, that was his name—cast a glance back at the house. “We probably won’t go back indoors unless we have to—awfully cramped in there—but we’ll stick around. Anything that comes along trying to cause trouble will regret it,” he promised, with a flick of his segmented tail for emphasis.

“I’ll stick around, too.”

Syr all but leapt backward like a coiled spring. The unexpected voice had come from directly above him; looking up, he saw Babs hanging upside-down from one of the branches, the end of her obscenely long tongue dangling in the breeze.

“Please stop doing that,” Syr said wearily. “Please.”

“He doesn’t need a scare right now,” Solonn said sternly. “None of us do.”

“I… yeah, you’re right.” The greninja dropped out of the tree, righting herself mid-fall. “I keep forgetting what year this is,” she admitted, fully intelligible despite her tongue being wrapped around her face and neck like a scarf.

Syr relaxed a bit, turning a pitying gaze on her. He could only imagine what it was like to come out of the ball, same as countless times before, only to find that years had passed and billions of people with them. “It’s fine,” he said. “So you’re going to stay with Jen, too? Indoors?”

Babs nodded. “Ren wants me to keep prodding at that tube downstairs while he’s away. And there’s really only so much Jen can do around the house, seeing as he usually has to use his tail instead of those hands,” she said. “No offense, of course.”

Jen just looked at the long blades he had for fingers, the yellow light in his eyes flickering in what might’ve been embarrassment.

“And, uh…” Babs wrapped an arm around Syr’s midsection and shepherded him a few feet away; cottoning on, he leaned in close. “Considering that the last time he was in trouble, he ran out of the house… yeah. Kiiiinda wanna make sure there’s someone who’ll stay in and keep an eye on the place no matter what.”

“I heard that,” Jen said, a bit indignantly.

“And no one blames you for that,” Babs added quickly. “Nobody’s judging you. Okay?”

Solonn regarded her with a look that might’ve meant nothing at all. Those features could only be softened so much. But Syr interpreted it as, That’s right. We’re not.

“…I appreciate it,” Syr said, returning his attention to the greninja. “Thanks.”

“Don’t sweat it,” Babs responded, and returned to the branches above in a single bound.

Syr gave an acknowledging nod, then turned to eye the glalie and steelix for a moment more before turning back toward the house. He heard Jen start to follow him a couple of beats later. Good.

The cryonide caught up with him easily. “You still don’t trust him, do you?”

Syr fumbled for a denial, but only momentarily. “…Yeah,” he admitted. “It’s nothing personal, though. You know that.”

“I know. And besides, I used to be afraid of him, too, back when I thought he was the enemy. Back when I thought I knew everything.” Jen folded his hands, claws rasping against claws. “I’m still sorry about the Adn thing,” he added quietly.

Syr had to suppress another urge to embrace him. Not a snorunt anymore. He said nothing at first, watching a car go by, crossing the street once it had passed. “He—they tricked you. It wasn’t your fault.” Past the cordoned-off hole in the street, hastily filled in with conjured rocks. Back over the curb. Back up the walkway. “And anyway, it was just a house, right? And the things in it were just things.” It wasn’t the first time he’d said something along those lines. He figured enough repetitions would make it easier for both of them to believe.

“I guess so.” Jen backed up a bit to let Syr open the door, still quietly scraping his claws together.

Syr found Ren still in the living room, but the kwazai were nowhere in sight. “The twins are on board,” the human said before Syr could ask about them, absently patting the dusk balls at his side. “And I guess Babs told you what she’ll be doing.”

Syr nodded as he let Jen get past him again. “So… since we seem to have everything sorted out now, when do we leave?”

“Tonight.” There was restlessness in his tone, his gaze elsewhere. Possibly elsewhen, Syr considered. “Partly for the kwazai’s sake, but…” He rubbed at his bald head. “Demi spoke with the glalie yesterday, and at some point he apparently said something about anti-human sentiment—people who are glad we’re gone. People who don’t need to see me.” He met Syr’s gaze. “Is it true?”

It was Jen who fielded that question. “DeLeo was always worried about that… it’s why he asked us to be careful who we told about him.” His eyelight briefly dulled. “Then again, he wasn’t human after all…”

Syr’s gaze fell to the floor. No. DeLeo wasn’t human. He was… Syr hissed, unable to say the word, even in his mind. But the face, that all too familiar face, appeared in his mind’s eye as if summoned all the same.

He could accept that DeLeo wasn’t human. He just wished to God that he were anything, anyone else.

Uncomfortable silence hovered for a few moments more. Then, “Either way… no. Not risking it. I mean, sure, we can probably pass me off as an especially sentimental ditto at least part of the time, but the fewer folks we’ll have to fool, the better. So yeah, we’ll let the diurnals skip off to bed. The kwazai can ward off everyone else. Demi will be watching our backs for the first night.”

“Okay,” Syr said. He glanced at the clock… remembered it was broken, and turned to look out the window instead. The clouds made it hard to gauge the sun’s exact position, but it still looked far from sundown.

Part of him still worried about the mission—the danger—that lay ahead. But as far as the rest of him was concerned, the sun couldn’t set soon enough.

Last edited by Sike Saner; 11-22-2017 at 06:19 PM.
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Old 06-22-2017, 09:17 PM
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Sike Saner Sike Saner is offline
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Default Re: The Worldslayers

Chapter 2 – Adjusting


Off in the distance, the treeline loomed. The forest proper was still minutes away, but from the looks of things, it was intent on expanding its borders. Houses and shops here were largely abandoned, no clear sign of pokémon activity save for the occasional smeargle scribble, but they couldn’t be called dead. Vegetation covered the walls, spilling out of the broken windows.

Some part of Syr idly wondered if the entire city might one day look like this, and he supposed he wouldn’t mind too much if it did.

The sun had been down for an hour or so when he and his teammates had left home. There was only the occasional working streetlight shining on them as they headed for the woods. If anyone were hiding in the shadows, if anyone were watching, they’d only see a roughly five- foot-tall figure in an oversized gray hoodie, their face obscured. The shape might stir some memories, some suspicions, but it would be hard to be sure what one was looking at with a large, hooded serpent and a tall, many-limbed creature at the figure’s sides, partially obscuring the view.

Not that Ren really expected to go the entire distance unnoticed. Nor did he expect he could truly convince anyone and everyone that he was actually a ditto. According to him, ditto had to absorb a few of a target’s cells in order to transform into them in their absence. Many people weren’t aware of this, but there was always the chance that they’d run into someone who was.

No one else in the party expected differently, either. Sooner or later, someone would recognize what was in their midst.

“At least I can say I did something,” Ren had said.

Before long, they finally reached the forest. Darkness swallowed them up very quickly, at which they moved into single file. Ntairow led the way, her eyes allowing her to see as if in broad daylight, her other, stranger senses combing the trees and brush for anything that moved or breathed or felt. One of her arms was twisted backward in a way that might’ve hurt some other creature, holding hands with her trainer. Ren, in turn, held the end of a belt, which was knotted to another belt, which was knotted to a third. The last pair of these was tied around Syr’s chest.

The arbok was grateful. He could smell just fine, could feel the footsteps ahead of him, had a vague sense of his teammates’ body heat. Strictly speaking, he could’ve followed those alone. He wouldn’t have lost track of the others. But seeing as he couldn’t exactly see, he might have plowed face-first into a tree, or gotten himself snared in a bramble. This way, neither he nor Ren would go anywhere Demi wouldn’t.

The evening was quiet, save for a breeze stirring the branches. Last time Syr had been in the area, the ninjask had been out and singing in full force. He didn’t exactly miss the racket, but the near-silence was putting him on edge.

He thought he heard a noise, something cracking off to his left. “What was that?” he asked automatically.

“No one,” Demi answered, just as she had the time before. “We’re fine, Syr,” she assured him. “If anyone tries to start something with us, they’re the ones who’ll be in trouble.”

“Yeah… yeah, you’re right.” Gym pokémon, he reminded himself. Kwazai followed of its own volition, with the related memories. He knew what her kind could do. Knew, and wished he didn’t.

Hours passed without incident. A few more possibly-imagined noises cropped up, but Syr held his tongue. They’ll deal with it, he reminded himself. And so will you. He wasn’t helpless. He tried to keep that in mind rather than linger on the fact that he’d been utterly useless the last time he’d been in a fight.

No one’s going to use sheer cold on you. Most of the glalie went home.

“Anyone else getting tired?” Ren spoke up, interrupting that train of thought on its third or fourth go-around.

“Nope, not even close,” Demi said, but she stopped walking all the same.

“I… guess I’m not?” Syr realized he actually hadn’t been paying much attention to his own physical state. He flexed from neck to tail—nothing complained. “Yeah, I’m fine.”

“Right. I suppose this is what I get for being a nightsleeper this past couple of days,” Ren mused aloud.

“You needed the sleep,” Demi told him. “You’d already gone long enough without it.” She turned on the spot. “Shall I?”

“Yes,” Ren said, “and thanks.”

The next thing Syr knew, the belts around his chest were being tugged from a couple of feet higher. When Demi set off again, her footsteps alone resonated through the forest floor.

The three of them carried on in this fashion for a little while longer. Just as Syr was beginning to feel like maybe he could use a break himself, Demi stopped again, and when he tried to look past her he could see why.

A short distance ahead, the forest stopped rather abruptly.. So, it seemed, did the ground. Syr frowned; had they gone the wrong way? He moved forward a bit for a better look, peering down… and saw relatively flat stone just eight, maybe ten feet down. Oh. Here was a place he’d actually never seen before, a place Ren hadn’t seen fit to mention when he’d gone over the route they’d take. Which, Syr supposed, meant it wasn’t really noteworthy. Wasn’t really an obstacle.

He saw Ren drop the end of their makeshift tether, and in the next moment, Demi jumped off the edge, still holding the human in her arms, landing gracefully on her feet. She moved out of the way, then nodded toward Syr, at which the arbok let himself half-drop, half-slide down the slightly-sloping wall.

Demi made to pick up the end of the tether; but, “Hey, uh…” Syr said. The kwazai paused, slowly straightening back up. “Do you think we could take a break here for a little while? It’s, well. Starting to catch up to me,” he admitted, by which he meant more than the distance.

“We sure can.” Ren craned his neck back to look Demi in the eyes and pointed groundward; she set him down at her feet. Once he was on solid ground again, he unfastened the belts around Syr’s chest.

“Just as well,” Demi said. “Another dinner sounds good right about now.” She gazed off into the nearby bushes. “Wanna come with?” she asked Syr.

It took him a beat to realize what she was getting at. “Oh no, that’s fine. I’m not hungry.” He was thankful he’d fed within the past couple of weeks. He’d seen things recently that could easily kill his appetite if it tried to pipe up anytime soon.

They played across his mind again as he thought on the matter: a blackened corpse and bloodstained walls. Scattered stone, with chilling mist hanging heavily on the air. Sapphire pools spreading around an old friend.

Syr hissed, drawing in upon himself. No, he did not want to hunt right now. And he didn’t particularly want to watch anyone else do it, either. Especially since many hunters—kwazai included, from what he’d seen—preferred to devour their prey in pieces.

Demi merely shrugged in response, then strode off under the moonlight, eventually vanishing back into the vegetation. Syr watched her go, then turned his sights back toward Ren. The human was now sitting a couple of feet away, riffling through his backpack.

Getting his mind on some other topic felt like a very good idea right about then. “Hey,” Syr spoke up again. Ren looked up at him, his face shadowed by his hood. Syr realized all at once that he didn’t actually know what to talk about, so he just said the first thing that came to mind. “…Thanks again for coming with me.”

“Mm,” Ren said, with a dismissive little wave. He took a swig from his canteen. There was some sort of filter built into the thing, according to him, something that’d allow him to drink from any source along the way. A filter of his own design, apparently, adapted and improved from the models they used to sell at poké marts. “I could just as easily thank you for coming along with me. This business down south concerns me just as much as it concerns you.”

Syr didn’t respond at first, but then nodded in agreement. It was true for certain if they were right about the deranics.

Silence hovered for a minute or two. Then, “How long have you known?” Ren asked quietly.

“Wh…” Syr’s brow furrowed in puzzlement. “Known what?”

“About the deranics,” Ren said. “About what they did.”

The puzzlement increased. “I already told you, though. They came before the Extinction, and…” Oh. Of course. Syr sighed. “All these years, I thought the only things they’d done were to enslave Faurur and the koffing and force us to leave the area. Maybe I just didn’t want to imagine that they could’ve done even more than that. I don’t know.

“Then she came back, and… Ren, that was just earlier this week. And a lot’s happened since then.” He had to stop and stare incredulously at nothing in particular in the wake of such an understatement. “I just found out about the whole… Seterhath Zulo-Denvenda thing—” Right… that’s what she called it. “—and I haven’t really had much time to think about it.”

He bowed his head. “I’m sorry,” he added; it had just seemed prudent.

Ren’s hand went to his forehead, burying itself under his hood. “It’s fine. I just… wanted to make sure.” His own head lowered; Syr could see nothing of the human’s face now. A sigh hissed against his palm. “This has just been so damn much to take in.”

“It has,” Syr agreed solemnly. He thought to say something more, but nothing came to mind. “It has,” he merely repeated, and for uncounted minutes after, neither of them said anything else.

Eventually there was a rustling in the brush nearby. Syr immediately turned to face it and saw Demi returning to the clearing. He was vaguely relieved to find not a single speck of blood or gore anywhere on her person. Either she was a very tidy hunter or else she’d thought to wash up afterward.

The kwazai looked both him and Ren over for a moment, a frown slowly forming on her face. Then she stopped in front of them, dropped into an odd sort of kneel, and gathered both of them up into a hug.

Syr initially stiffened in surprise, but soon relaxed. Closing his eyes, he laid his head on her shoulder, unable to stop the tears from flowing. He tried to speak, but his breath hitched in his throat. The sentiment sounded in his mind all the same.

Thank you.

* * *

The sun was finally rising, sparkling on the surface of the river that flowed to their right. Demi was already grumbling under her breath about it. Soon, they’d need to camp for the day. It was just a matter of finding a suitable place.

“There should be a little cave around here somewhere,” Ren said, on his own feet again as he searched the surrounding area. “I spent the night in there once while I was making my way through Hoenn. It ought to…”

He trailed off. Syr followed his gaze and moved in for a closer look. There was an unnaturally symmetrical hole at ground level in the eastern cliff, the cavern beyond too dark to see into. “Is this it?” he asked.

Ren didn’t answer. Didn’t say anything at all for a couple of moments. Then, “Demi? Light it up.”

The human got out of her way; Syr figured he’d better do likewise and coiled off to the side. Demi approached the hole in the wall and folded her legs again, then extended a hand into the darkened space. A psybeam lanced from her open palm with a faint hum, filling the cavern with colorful light, pouring harmlessly into the far wall.

“Oh…” Ren said weakly.

It wasn’t a cavern. The space was too perfectly-shaped to have occurred naturally. No, this was a room, and it was filled with human-style furniture. It was hard to make out all the details past the dust and plantlife covering everything, but it looked simplistic. Cheerful. Like something out of a human child’s room. A moldy-looking lapras plush sat in one corner, its neck limp and doubled over.

He looked back at Ren and found him trembling again. The human’s dark eyes were wide and shining with tears. The room was vacant, but he looked upon it as if a ghost were staring back at him.

“This isn’t it, is it?” Syr asked quietly. He rather hoped it wasn’t, for Ren’s sake.

“No,” Demi answered, and she cut off the psybeam. “No it’s not.” She put a couple of arms around her trainer and shepherded him away from the hole in the wall.

It wasn’t long before they found the actual cave Ren had been referring to. Silently, the human waved Demi in first to see if anyone had claimed the cavern since he’d last been there. She walked back out a couple of minutes later, giving a thumbs-up.

“Okay,” Ren said, then recalled her into her dusk ball. He let Karo out in her stead.

The nosepass stared upstream for a moment after he emerged, then turned to face the cave. “Ah. This place again.”

Ren nodded. “We’re stopping here til sundown. I need you to block anyone who tries to join us.”

“Can do,” Karo said proudly, parking himself at the cave’s entrance.

Syr didn’t doubt him in the least. Judging by what Karo had told him about the battle that had left him in pieces, the nosepass had recently gained a lot of proficiency in the block technique.

That’s all he’ll do, the arbok tried to assure himself. Maybe a zap cannon, if it comes to that, he conceded. There’d be no explosion this time.

The cave was dark, almost nothing of the early sunlight spilling into it. But Ren was undeterred; apparently he knew its layout well enough to navigate without light, even after all this time. Syr heard the human stop after just a few steps, then felt the belts fall off once again. A moment later, he heard a rustling of canvas.

“Good night,” Ren said once he’d finished fussing with his sleeping bag. The fact that he was saying such a thing after sunrise didn’t seem to cross his mind.

Syr didn’t have the heart to correct him, all things considered. “Good night,” he responded, curling up on the floor next to the human.
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Old 07-22-2017, 10:41 PM
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Default Re: The Worldslayers

Chapter 3 - Wait It Out


No matter where he looked, Syr could only see two colors. Everything was charred a flat black, and a good portion of it all was dusted in powdery, light gray ash. Then something bright yellow walked into view, stepping around the debris surprisingly well for something with such short legs. Jen, Syr recognized. His son. A snorunt…

…Except no, he wasn’t a snorunt, Syr eventually remembered. Not anymore. That was when Syr realized he was dreaming and, by extension, that he’d actually managed to fall asleep.

Sleep… had been hard-won, even by the standards of the past few days. Syr remembered staring into the shadows for quite some time, struggling to keep his eyes closed and his mind quiet. He needed his rest for what lay ahead; he knew as much. It was just hard to get, what with the memories of his most recent nightmares.

This time, at least as far as he could recall, he’d been lucky. No blood, red or blue or any other color. No bestial roars or cries of agony. No stench of the newly dead. Just his poor old burnt-out house. It was downright cheerful compared to the last few dreams.

Syr would’ve nodded off again, as a matter of fact, if it hadn’t been for the loud, shrill voice at his back.

“Hey! HEY! The heck are you doing in there; this is mine, mine!”

Groaning, Syr lifted his head. A look back at the cave’s entrance showed him nothing but Karo, still standing guard, and the cliffs and vegetation beyond.

“Get out, get out, you stupid boulder!” the newcomer shouted. Syr could hear and feel a series of light thuds as the creature spoke; apparently she was hopping up and down in her rage.

“Hmm…” Karo rocked back and forth on his stumpy legs a couple of times. “…Nah.”

The unseen visitor gasped. “Ooh, now you’ve done it. Now you’ve done it! I’m gonna—” Do nothing, as it happened; Karo had his block field up, and nothing was getting in past the invisible barrier without a hell of a fight. As it stood, the newcomer merely smacked into the empty air with a noise as if she’d hit a wall. But the failed entry accomplished something, at least. It brought a strange, jagged red line into view, seemingly hovering in midair.

Oh. Syr had heard that this area was kecleon territory, though he’d never actually seen one about. Apparently it still was.

The arbok finally lifted his upper body off the ground and began moving toward the kecleon. He noticed Ren stirring as he slithered—She doesn’t need to see him, Syr decided quickly, and mindfully blocked off any view of the human with his coils and hood.

“…Wait a minute, how many of you lousy squatters are there?” the kecleon asked. “Augh, this is ridiculous. All of you, get out—ack!” A little burst of electricity, aimed at nothing in particular, had startled her right out of her near-invisibility.

“Go on,” Karo said. His nose was still glowing faintly. “Shoo. We’ll come out when we’re good and ready.”

The kecleon stared at him indignantly for a moment, hands clutched into tight, scaly fists. “No, you’ll get the heck out of my home right this instant!”

“Hold on.” Syr came to a stop next to Karo, his tongue flicking out for an especially long taste of the air. He met the kecleon’s gaze, or tried to; her eyes, swiveling independently, kept darting around. Following them was a bit dizzying. “If this is your home, why doesn’t it smell like a kecleon’s been living here?”

The kecleon huffed, plainly flustered. “Because I bathe!”

Syr shook his head. Her hygiene was irrelevant, and not only because he doubted the river could wash all of her scent off. “If you lived here, Demi would’ve picked up on it somehow.”

“Demi?” The kecleon strained to see past Syr’s hood, to no avail. “Don’t tell me there’s even more of you…” Both eyes turned toward Karo. “…Unless that’s Demi.”

“Bzzt, wrong!” Karo’s nose lit up again, brighter this time. “But here, have a consolation prize.”

The zap cannon didn’t actually hit anyone, as far as Syr could tell. Generally speaking, people saw that attack coming from miles away and got out of the way if they could, and the kecleon was no exception. He could hear her scurrying away through the bushes outside once the ringing in his ears had stopped.

Karo turned around to face Ren, nose held high in pride. “See? Told you I’d keep ’em out.”

“Didn’t doubt it for a second,” Ren said. He stood, his backpack in hand. “Now let’s get out of here in case she comes back with reinforcements. It’s nearly sundown anyway.”

“I’ll take your word for it, I guess,” Syr said. The clouds were thicker and darker than ever; he was a little surprised it wasn’t already pouring.

As if it already were, “Yeah, no, I’m not walking in that,” Karo said. He turned and started waddling back toward Ren. Light spilled out of his capture ball and drew him in before he got very far.

“After you, then,” Ren said, waving the arbok onward.

With a slightly delayed nod, Syr faced forward once more and slithered out into the open air. A moment later, Acheron materialized next to him. Syr realized he was already starting to inch away from the kwazai and forced himself to stop, but his upward stare lingered.

If Acheron noticed, he didn’t show it. His gaze swept over his surroundings, his tail waving lazily. He licked his lips. “Hmm. The coast is clear, far as I’m aware.”

“Good.” Ren emerged, wearing his pack once more.

Now that the human was back in the light, Syr could see the bags under his eyes. The arbok gave him a pitying frown. Surely an all-nighter spent on the road had tired the human out—hadn’t he gotten any sleep at all?

Ren didn’t seem to notice the look on Syr’s face as he uncoiled the belt-tether. He wrapped it around the arbok, same as he’d done the evening before, and with that, they were off.

The last of the daylight faded, and the clouds finally burst. In no time, the ground was soft. Ren prodded one of Acheron’s already-muddy legs; “He’s definitely strong enough to pull himself out of the mud if he gets stuck,” Ren explained as the kwazai crouched to pick him up. “I might not be.”

“I know,” Syr said without meaning to. The arbok could guess Acheron’s strength just fine. Even without evolving, wobbuffet were physically stronger than they had any right being, for all the good it did them. “…I don’t mean you’re weak; I mean…”

“I know what you mean,” Ren said. “It’s okay.”

Do you? Syr wondered, but kept the question to himself.

The three continued southward, with a sheer dropoff into the river not too far to their side all the while. He’s keeping us from going over, Syr told himself in an effort to dispel some of his unease around the kwazai. The heights weren’t an issue; Syr hadn’t been afraid of falling in and of itself for a long time. But the river ran fast, churned up all the more by the heavy rainfall and burgeoning winds. Getting swept away and bashed into rocks was a very real possibility.

That possibility loomed all the larger as they approached a rather long log bridge. It looked sturdy enough, anchored in such a way that it didn’t sway in the slightest… but there were no guard rails, not even so much as a rope to lean against. As far as he could remember, it had always been this way, nothing to either side of him as he’d crossed it en route to Convergence all those years ago. But the weather had been a lot milder then. Now the logs were damp—possibly slick—and either he was imagining things, or the wind was picking up by the minute.

Acheron trusted a single pod to the bridge, leaning into it. Maybe it creaked under his weight. Maybe it didn’t. The noise of the downpour made it impossible to be sure either way. At any rate, the kwazai looked back, nodded at Syr, and continued forward with apparent confidence.

Strapped to the rest of the party as he was, Syr had little choice but to follow. Already squinting against the rain in his eyes, he shut them altogether for a moment as the wind howled past. His muscles tensed of their own accord, and he hissed through his teeth. It’s safe, it’s safe, it’s safe, he tried to assure himself. “It’s safe…”

“It’s safe,” Acheron confirmed, speaking loudly over the rain.

Syr might’ve been more surprised to learn he’d begun saying it aloud if he weren’t so focused on the weather. “I’m not so sure,” he admitted.

As if to underscore his doubt, thunder rumbled in the distance. A flash off to the south caught Syr’s eye, and the thunder sounded again.

“…Hm. I think,” Ren said, half-shouting over the noise of the storm, “we need to pick up the pace.”

“Right,” Acheron agreed, and looked back toward Syr again. “Get ready to scoot.”

That was all the warning the kwazai gave before taking off at a gallop. Syr gave a strangled yelp as the tether yanked him forward, pulling himself back upright a beat later. Keeping up with Acheron at full speed was harder than he’d expected; the arbok was already panting, and the logs were bumping along under his belly so hard now that he was sure it’d leave bruises.

He was all the more relieved when they finally left the bridge behind—at least for a short time. Then lightning blinded him for seconds on end, and the accompanying thunder cracked so loudly and suddenly that he thought he felt his heart stop.

“We need shelter, now!” Ren said.

Acheron kept on running, and through the rain that stung his eyes, Syr noticed that the kwazai was headed for something that looked an awful lot like a solid stone wall. Hurtling toward it. Syr panicked in spite of himself, struggling against the tether, and shouted when a hollow roar sounded over the storm.

“You can open your eyes now,” Ren said.

Syr did so, only realizing then that he’d shut them. He looked up and saw the human slung over one of Acheron’s shoulders. The kwazai was standing stock still with his free hand extended, and…

Syr promptly looked away. He didn’t need to watch the black beam, bizarrely dark and bright at the same time, as it bored through the rock. Didn’t need to think about what that energy did to flesh.

But he thought about it all the same.

“That’ll do for now,” Ren said before too long, and Syr finally let himself look at the tunnel. It was too dark to tell how deep it ran… but at least he could be sure it was unoccupied, freshly-dug as it was. Unless Acheron had dug into a pre-existing tunnel or cavern. Syr hissed at himself. Not helping…

White light filled the tunnel ahead, briefly illuminating Karo’s silhouette. He turned himself around noisily. “Alre—” he began, but fell abruptly silent. A beat later, another loud peal of thunder sounded. “Ooh... yeah. Smart choice,” he said.

“I need you to put up a block field around us,” Ren said as Acheron carried him into the tunnel, Syr following close behind. “There’s no guarantee this place won’t collapse on us.” The tunnel lit up again, red this time, as he recalled Acheron.

“Got it. C’mere,” Karo said, and the others moved toward the sound of his voice now that Acheron was out of their way. He nudged Syr in the side. “Lucky you. You get to be awake for it this time.”

Syr thought about responding to that, but words failed him when he felt an invisible force pressing in on him from all sides, forcing his jaws shut and making it difficult to breathe. Moments later, just as he began to feel faint, the pressure abated.

“There you go,” Karo said.

“Thanks, buddy,” Ren said, then sighed. “And now… we wait.”

Syr wasn’t even remotely inclined to argue. The rain was an impenetrable sheet outside, and soon the sky was flashing almost continuously, forcing him to screw his eyes shut. He wanted to keep moving, but for the time being, there seemed to be no other course but to wait out the storm. So he lay half-coiled and listened to it, wondering if the weather was this nasty back in Convergence. I hope not.

By the time the thunderstorm finally ended, the sun had risen. “Guess we might as well go ahead and spend the night here. I mean day,” Ren said, though none too happily. The storm had cost them an entire night’s worth of travel, and his tone made it clear that he was anxious to get going again.

“Ah… about that,” Karo began, and he sounded more than a little exhausted. Pained, even. “I… really oughta kill the block. Now, I don’t think that ceiling’s gonna come down anytime soon, but.” His arms pivoted audibly; the nosepass was shrugging, insofar as he could.

Silence. Then, “Mm. No. We’ll find someplace else. Come on,” Ren said, getting up to leave—and promptly smacking face first into an invisible barrier. He staggered and tumbled over backward, falling in a heap on top of Syr.

“Ah crap…” Karo shuffled all the closer to his trainer. “I am so, so sorry, holy crap. You okay?”

“Yeah,” Ren managed, “yeah, I’m fine. If anything, I probably had that coming for working you so hard.”

“Yeah, no. No you didn’t. Now go find somewhere nice and take a nap. The block’s down,” Karo said. He pressed the tip of his nose to the button on one of Ren’s capture balls, then turned into red light and vanished.

Ren remained sprawled over the arbok’s side for a moment. Then another. And another. Syr began to wonder if the human had actually fallen asleep. Then he felt hands fussing with something at his chest. Right. The tether. He’d managed to forget it was even there.

Once it was off, Ren made for the exit, rolling up the belts and stuffing them into his backpack as he went. The arbok joined him outside, circling around to see his face past that hood. The human’s eyes still looked like hell.

“Karo’s right,” Syr said. “You really should take a nap.”

“Yeah.” Ren might’ve been agreeing, but he sounded too distracted for Syr to be sure. He reached for his belt, maximizing a dusk ball in his palm, then let Acheron back out.

The kwazai immediately pulled a face at the light gray sky. “Bit ahead of schedule, aren’t we?”

“Much the opposite.” Ren gazed southward for a moment, then shrugged off his backpack again. After briefly rummaging through its contents, he pulled out a small and very full cloth pouch. He shook out a leppa berry, then tossed it to Acheron. The kwazai caught it in his jaws and promptly swallowed it.

“I’m… gonna stop for the day,” Ren told him. “I promise. We just need to find a good spot to camp.” He waved toward the forest at the foot of the mountain. “Somewhere in there will probably do. We’ll need you to guard us. Karo’s earned a break.”

“Not a problem.” The kwazai turned and began lumbering toward the trees.

“Oh… but no secret bases,” Ren called after him.

Acheron stopped in his tracks, craning his neck back toward his trainer. Then he lowered his head. “No secret bases,” he said, as warmly and assuringly as his rather ghastly voice allowed, and picked the human up.

Back into the forest. The woods were thicker this time around, but rain still filtered through the leaves above. An especially fat drop landed on Syr’s snout and found its way right into his nose; he sneezed sharply, frightening something or another out of their perch nearby.

Gesundheit,” Ren said semi-absently.

“Go back to sleep,” Acheron told him.

First came mild surprise that Ren had actually let himself doze off. Then came guilt at having awakened him. “Sorry,” Syr said.

Acheron gave a dismissive wave. He began to slow down, eventually stopping at a clearing with enough open space for the three of them, provided they didn’t lie too far apart. While the grass was still damp, the area wasn’t as muddy as it could’ve been.

Not that Syr minded the mud all that much, provided it wasn’t too deep. It felt kind of nice, actually, and the whole place smelled pleasantly of earth and rain and trees. But he doubted Ren would want it all over his clothes. Or his sleeping bag, for that matter.

But the sleeping bag didn’t come out. Acheron slowly lowered himself to the ground, his legs folding underneath him, the human still cradled in one arm. “Shh,” the kwazai said with a finger to his lips, and nodded downward. Ren had fallen asleep once more.

Not wanting to disturb him a second time, Syr went ahead and made himself as comfortable as he could. He took a minute or two to drink from a relatively clear puddle near his head, then lay the rest of himself down and closed his eyes. Before he knew it, he was out like a light.


“There he is!” a voice hissed from above, an hour or so after the others had gone to sleep. Acheron looked toward it, though he didn’t need to. His tail had already detected two invisible pokémon up in the branches: a pair of kecleon, obviously intending to start something.

Whether the “he” the kecleon referred to was Syr, Ren, or someone else, Acheron hardly cared. For the first time since his gym days, he was awake at stupid o’clock with an important job to do, and damned if he wasn’t going to do it.

He looked right at them with eyes and tail alike, baring his rows of daggerlike teeth. When that failed to scare them off, he raised a hand and conjured a black vortex around it.

Leave,” he said very quietly, in a voice befitting the undead.

The kecleon left.
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Old 08-22-2017, 08:40 PM
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Default Re: The Worldslayers

Chapter 4 – Bound to Happen


Jen gazed out the window, his eyes trained on the park across the street and the tree that Solonn and Grosh had been favoring. As far as he could tell, Grosh was alone, coiled loosely around the trunk. The ice dome that he and his son had sheltered under the night before was gone, just like the storm it had been raised for.

For the past half hour or so, Jen had been waiting for Solonn to return. My brother, he reminded himself silently, reinforcing the notion. He could talk with Grosh alone, sure. It wouldn’t be the first time. But in previous conversations, Jen had always had more questions for the glalie.This time, he suspected, would be no different.

The large, gray-and-white shape he’d been looking for appeared soon, just as he’d anticipated. Neither of those two liked having Ren’s house out of view for too long. The glalie paused for a moment, gazing at the house—at the yellow eyes glowing from the window, no doubt—before addressing his father.

That was Jen’s cue. The cryonide slipped out, opening and shutting the doors as silently as possible, sealing them with ice bound to his will. Soon, he was on the other side of the street.

“Good morning,” Grosh greeted him warmly.

“Good morning,” Jen returned, even though it was roughly half past two. He exchanged greetings likewise with Solonn.

“So what brings you here?” Grosh asked. “Made a decision about Sinnoh yet?”

“Not that you have to visit,” Solonn reminded Jen. Like the last time he’d said it, he sounded more than a little conflicted. “It’s your call.”

“I do want to,” Jen said honestly. “I just don’t know when, other than only after my dad gets home.” He saw his eyelight flicker in the reflection off Grosh’s silver hide.

“Which he will,” Grosh tried to assure him. “He’s got a very compelling reason to.” He gestured at Jen with the end of his tail. “Trust me: he’s thinking about you just as much as you’re thinking about him.”

Jen nodded, disinclined to argue, given what he knew about Grosh. He hadn’t pried, but from what he’d gathered from previous conversations, the steelix had been separated from his son for a time and gone to considerable lengths to reunite with him.

Granted, he probably hadn’t been up against the killers of nearly an entire species.

The possible killers. Jen clung to that, just as he had from the start. It made Syr’s task seem rather less insurmountable. Besides which, he knew firsthand how wrong people’s assumptions could be. His father and the human and all the rest of them seemed convinced that the deranics had pulled the figurative trigger, but for that matter, Jen had been convinced that Adn was nothing but an ordinary gardevoir.

That thought led him back to another concern: Anomaly. The same creature who’d abused his trust, tried to murder him, and destroyed his home was technically accompanying Syr on his mission. Nothing between the nullshade and the arbok but a metal sphere and the strange process that converted people into portable energy.

Solonn and Grosh had faced Anomaly’s current form, he remembered. And they’d both had personal experience with humans and their capture devices. “And you’re sure they can’t escape, right?” he asked, looking at each of them in turn. “The nullshade, I mean.”

Both of the others hesitated to respond. “As sure as we can be,” Solonn finally admitted, averting his gaze ever so briefly. “It’s… technically possible to break out of most capture balls—possible, but very, very difficult,” he was quick to add.

“Ren had the sense to ultra ball the thing,” Grosh said. “And last I heard, he still hadn’t rejuvenated them--and hopefully won’t, unless it’s strictly necessary. The nullshade’s not in the best shape to bust out or to do much even if they did manage it.”

“That’s good,” Jen said. Still, it wasn’t the most comforting answer he could’ve received. He sighed, unconsciously scraping his claws together. “I wish they could’ve... dealt with the nullshade. In a permanent way.”

Grosh gave a short, rumbling growl. “I think we all do,” he said. “But Ren swears it can’t actually be done. That a thing like that’s not technically even alive to begin with.” A couple of his segments rotated in frustration, the spikes digging audibly into the dirt. “Unfortunately he’s currently the closest thing to a nullshade expert we’ve got right now, so I guess we have to take his word for it. But we don’t have to like it.”

“No,” Solonn agreed quietly. “No we don’t.”

Silence hung for a short while, heavy and uncomfortable. Jen glanced out at the house across the street, wondering if he should return yet. He determined fairly quickly that no, he wasn’t ready. He cleared his throat, his fanged mandibles clicking against his teeth a couple of times. His eyes flicked around as he fumbled for something to talk about, something to try and get his mind off Anomaly, and finally came to a stop on the tree trunk in the middle of the dome.

“…What were you saying the other day about tree-people?” he asked.

Solonn looked visibly relieved at the change of subject, his eyelight softening just a bit. “Snover,” he said. “Snover and abomasnow. They live in the woods and fields surrounding us, and apparently they get along well with the Hirashka. They don’t seem to fear our kind at all…”

Jen continued asking them questions about their new home and neighbors in Sinnoh for a little while longer before finally returning to the house across the street. He de-iced the doors and entered to find Babs sitting there with a bag of tiny, dead insects propped open in her lap.

“Did you fix it?” he asked as he shut the doors with his tail.

The greninja shook her head, still crunching through another mouthful of bugs. Once those were out of the way, “I wish, but no. I’m just remembering to take a break and eat for once,” she said, with a self-deprecating snort. “I was gonna ask if you wanted anything, too, but…” She trailed off, shrugging, and then held the bag out for him.

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

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

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

* * *

“Waaaake up. C’mon, sleepyscales.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Still not joining her, huh?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Before, Syr could only wonder if the ekans he’d helped save had stayed where he’d left them. Now he was all too certain that they had.
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Old 09-22-2017, 06:19 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 himself 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.
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Old 10-22-2017, 06:30 PM
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Default Re: The Worldslayers

Chapter 6 - The Serpents Acknowledged


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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?” he shouted over the running water.

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

“No. Just a moment…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Very funny,” Demi said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then stopped anyway.

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

Snakes.

His own kind, moreover.

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

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

“…Syr?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It wasn’t you,” Iph insisted.

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

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

“Of course it was.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Nope,” Acheron said.

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

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

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

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

…Other than the fact that she apparently hated him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Vela…” Iph groaned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Rumors? What rumors?” Ren asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Damn right, we would,” Acheron said.

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

“Thank you,” Ren said, followed by, “Come on.” He turned away from the seviper and her friends, waving for his teammates to follow. Syr glanced back at the serpents in the playground more than once as he complied, Basath’s somewhat backhanded endorsement still echoing in his head. Some part of him couldn’t help but think that maybe she’d have had just a little more faith in his party if it hadn’t included him.
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Old 11-22-2017, 06:18 PM
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Default Re: The Worldslayers

Chapter 7 - Verdanturf


It was close to midnight before the three of them left Mauville behind. The path to Verdanturf would be rather shorter than the road to Mauville had been, and what awaited them at its end remained a mystery. Basath and the arbok hadn’t seen the inhabitants of Verdanturf for themselves. All they’d had to go by was a rumor, one that had meant potential danger for the serpents at the time but potential hope for everyone now.

The tethers were back in the pack for this leg of the journey. They weren’t needed—the route connecting Mauville and its neighbor to the west was almost as well-lit as the city behind them, at least for the time being. Local volbeat and illumise had apparently chosen that night for a get-together; their lights, though flickering, were enough for the entire party to see by.

Syr and Acheron immediately tried to flag them down for information about the rumored psychic presence ahead, but not a single one paid them any mind, no matter how much noise they made. Acheron plucked a volbeat right out of the air and the bug-type simply kept beating his wings, apparently unaware that he wasn’t actually moving.

The kwazai shook his head. “They’re dead to the world,” he determined as he let the volbeat go. “The air’s too thick with their pheromones. If we were all volbeat and illumise, we might be able to grab their attention for more than a split-second, but as it stands…”

Syr glanced at the disused daycare center as they passed it by, presently covered in ivy and flashing insects. For just a moment, he wondered what the buildings of Verdanturf would look like. Then it was right back to contemplating its inhabitants.

“They might not be psychics,” he thought aloud.

“No, they might not,” Acheron agreed. Ren nodded in concurrence.

“They could be ghosts,” Syr went on, with a frown toward the part of him that perked up in hope at the possibility. Psychics can deal a bigger blow against the koffing. You know that.

“Ghost, dark, fairy,” Acheron said, counting each type off on his fingers. “Possibly fighting, or even dragon. And those are just the likeliest suspects after psychics.

“We can probably handle them, though, whatever they are,” he added. “And that’s if they decide to give us a hard time. Maybe they—”

Another volbeat practically divebombed the party, whooping and shouting and clearly oblivious to the presence of anyone outside his own kind. “Watch it!” Acheron snapped. He shook his head and sighed as the bug arced back into the air above.

Eventually, the flashing light of the swarming bug-types fell behind the three of them, replaced by the lights of the town as they closed the remaining distance. Verdanturf, it seemed, still had some electricity to its name, too, albeit markedly less than Mauville boasted. As they drew nearer, Syr could make out scattered functioning streetlamps, casting less light than was ideal but probably—hopefully—enough to keep the tethers packed away. Being able to move about freely—to dodge, to flee, as shameful as the latter notion felt—seemed like a very good idea under these circumstances.

There were no volbeat or illumise gathered on the rooftops here, but apart from that Verdanturf was highly reminiscent of the daycare he’d seen earlier, and then some. More leaves and vines covered these walls than any others he’d seen; he suspected that grass-types, first and foremost, had inherited this town.

Which could mean good news about the psychics—if that’s what they were. Most of the grass-types he could name were also poison-types. If they wanted anything to do with this place, surely they weren’t getting a hard time from their psychic neighbors.

That was the best-case scenario: psychics he could tolerate, like the twins.

Like Esaax.

Syr didn’t have to battle the thoughts that brought on for long. Something dark caught his eye from a couple of blocks down the street, something bobbing in midair. A very familiar scent reached him, burning his nose and tongue, and alarms went off inside his head.

“Koffing!” he shouted. “There’s a—”

No. Not one koffing, he realized in horror. Dozens of them, filtering in from around the vine-covered houses. He only had a moment’s glimpse of them before the smoke and smog they emitted blotted them from view.

They’ve found us. They’ve already found us!

Syr’s mind raced, threatening to distract him. His eyes stinging badly, he drew himself into a coil, flexing his jaws and letting his fangs swing forward, ready to strike. One of them could burst out of the smokescreen at any moment…

“Acheron?” he called out. He couldn’t see or smell either of the others through the pollution. He couldn’t even feel their movements through the ground. There was no way of telling where they were or if they were all right. “Acheron! Ren!” He broke into a momentary coughing fit, feeling his eyes flood with tears. “Anyone!”

With his vision blurred, he could only just make out a disturbance in the smoke in front of him. Something big, at least compared to the koffing. There was a moment’s hope that it was one of his allies… but the shape that emerged from the dark clouds was unmistakably a weezing’s.

“Syr…”

He could have sworn his heart stopped dead, right then and there. He knew that pair of voices.

“Don’t make me hurt you. Please.”

No… This wasn’t possible. Faurur had burnt down to smoke and cinders right before his eyes. “You’re… you’re not real…” he managed, his chest tightening painfully. “You’re not real!”

With his eyes screwed tightly shut, Syr lunged. His jaws snapped shut on empty air—

—and just like that, the smoke was gone.

But so was Verdanturf.

His surroundings were far more artificial now. The plantlife blanketing the walls was replaced by flashing readouts over illuminated keyboards, and there was still no sign whatsoever of the others. His hands were shaking in front of—Hands? He stared at them in utter disbelief. A kwazai’s hands. A kwazai’s body. His now.

Syr saw his skin turn pitch black… and then it wasn’t his skin anymore. The kwazai collapsed as Syr rose above him—and then Syr was flying, shooting through the room like a bolt of lightning amid showers of sparks and ice beams lancing past—

A dead, sudden stop.

It was brighter now. The walls were partly crystalline. He was lying on his back, on something cool and soft… he had a body again. But it still wasn’t his own. He had legs again. Shuddering, he tried to raise his head and look at himself… but he was too weak to do anything but lie there and shake.

He felt something approach at the head of his bed, or whatever it was. Sensed it, in a way he couldn’t even name. A red hand moved into view, descending toward his chest—

—He was upright again. Surrounded by glalie. Terror struck deep, and he tried to scream, but no sound came out. He couldn’t even open his mouth to strike as the glalie rushed around him, hissing and snapping their guillotine teeth, their eyes burning blue…

A tremor started somewhere deep inside him. It intensified rapidly. Painfully. He still couldn’t scream.

There was a blinding glow, and a deafening noise, and a fleeting sense of being ripped apart from the inside—

—and just like that, reality returned, so hard and so fast that he didn’t dare believe it at first. But as his heart slowed, his breaths no longer stinging, he finally trusted his eyes, his nose, everything else. He was back in Verdanturf. Back in his own, limbless body.

And he was no longer alone.

There was Ren, visibly shaken. There were also a number of unfamiliar shapes scattered about—misdreavus, Syr realized a beat later, all lying unconscious on the cracked pavement. There was a mismagius, as well, pinned under one of Acheron’s pods despite looking semi-incorporeal, glaring weakly but balefully up at the kwazai.

Ffffeh. You are no fun whatsoever,” the half-translucent ghost croaked, before Acheron silenced him with a reflux attack. The kwazai stepped back from the mismagius, his shoulders heaving as he panted. He took a moment to spit on the ghost, then went back to grimacing in pain as he strode over to his trainer’s side.

“That had better be the last of them,” Acheron said, sounding winded, before his legs crumpled underneath him.

Meanwhile Ren had managed to open his pack despite how unsteady his hands were. One of them emerged clutching a bottle of max potion. He set about treating Acheron, all while trying to calm his own breathing.

With something of an effort, Syr joined the two of them. “I think… that might have been them,” he said, lowering his head in dismay. “I think they were the ones Basath and the arbok heard about.”

Ren nodded, but he looked distracted. His hands were under his hood, massaging his temples. “It felt so real,” he murmured. “Too real.”

“Some of those weren’t even our memories,” Acheron said. “I saw you through my sister’s eyes. I had her hands.”

“They put me through one of Karo’s memories.” There was no doubt about it. That had been the glalie they’d faced in the Hope Institute, her and all her double team clones. That had been the explosion that had finally banished her illusions, experienced from a first-person perspective. If he hadn’t already hoped that Karo wouldn’t need to explode again, that would’ve done it.

As for the other foreign memories… those, he couldn’t even begin to identify.

Ren took another deep breath, then another, and then motioned for Acheron to help him up. “We should get moving,” he said, “before the ghosts wake up.”

No one argued with that. As soon as everyone was back upright, they were off down the street once more. Half expecting another ambush, another reality shift, Syr’s gaze swept back and forth over the silent, green city, staring as deep into the darkness as he could. His tongue flicked in and out rapidly, again and again and again, tasting the air for smoke or anything else out of the ordinary.

But nothing of the sort came. None of his senses reported anyone around, indoors or out. The kwazai gave no indication that he sensed anything, either. Not a single soul crossed their path, ghost-type or psychic-type or any other, and before Syr knew it, the sky was beginning to lighten and the entrance to the tunnel out of town was right there in front of them.

There’s still hope, he told himself. Maybe they’re in the tunnel.

The tethers came back out. Acheron took the leading end this time, and the three of them proceeded into the tunnel.

It smelled like it always had, as far as Syr could remember: cold, damp, and populated by whismur. Maybe a loudred or two. Nothing stood out.

He could hear hushed conversation coming from the shadows. The locals knew they had company. The rational part of Syr’s mind knew that he and his companions could certainly take on a bunch of whismur, loudred… probably even exploud, if it came to that. The rest’d had quite enough action for one night.

Faurur’s faces flashed across his mind. An image of Esaax followed, from the same top-down perspective as the time before. A shudder ran from his head to his tail, and a tug at his chest told him he’d stopped in his tracks.

He’d had quite enough action for a long, long time. But he had to keep going.

Thankfully, the tunnel’s inhabitants kept to themselves. The light at its end grew closer, brighter, until finally Syr and the others were standing under a clear morning sky.

Not far ahead, there was a small building with relatively dark and broken windows. A break room for people who’d worked in the tunnel, if Syr remembered right. Now… well. Now it could be serving any purpose.

Ren let go of Acheron’s hand and waved the kwazai forward. As quietly as he could, Acheron approached the house, peering through the windows with eyes and tail alike. Moments later, he turned to face the others, giving a thumbs-up.

Ren murmured something that sounded more or less like, “Good.” He made his tired way to the door, which Acheron was holding open for the two of them.

Syr followed the human into the dimly lit space beyond. The smell of dust was thick in the air; it drifted in the sunbeams, and Syr could feel himself carving a path at least a quarter-inch deep in the layer that covered the floor. A wooden table, minus one leg, sat slightly off-center in the room, surrounded by a few dirty cushions. In the corner behind it, there was an open refrigerator, and Ren was staring at it.

“Acheron? The fridge.”

Acheron strode past, stepping over the table. With a grunt, he pulled the refrigerator from its corner, cords trailing behind it, and dragged it outside.

“Those cabinets, too,” Ren added.

Bowing his head, the kwazai re-entered and removed more of the offending furniture; the reason why finally registered in Syr’s brain as he watched Acheron work. This was being done for Karo’s sake.

“What about the sink, though?” Acheron asked on his second return trip.

“That…” Ren sighed. “Well, I know where I’ll be sleeping.”

Acheron merely shrugged at that, then nodded toward his dusk ball. In went the kwazai, and out came the nosepass.

The moment he materialized, Karo made an odd, lunging motion toward the metal sink as if pulled by an invisible hand. He forced himself still with a shudder. “Uh… Ren?”

“I know,” Ren said. “Don’t worry about fighting it this time. I’ll bring this over.” He stooped and grabbed a cushion. “Just focus on the block.”

The nosepass made a contented sort of humming sound. “That is such a relief. You have no idea.” With that, he waddled over to the side of the room. He turned to the left—involuntarily, from the looks of it—and the right side of his nose plastered itself to the sink with a clang that made both Ren and Syr wince.

“Wow. That was loud,” Karo remarked, then snorted. “Heh, don’t worry, though. I’ll keep the whismur and whatnot at bay.”

Ren nodded silently. He sat down next to Karo, laying the dusty cushion on the floor.

“…Wait.” Syr circled the table and carefully grabbed the cushion with his lips, careful not to let his fangs pierce it. His snout scrunched up around it—it tasted nasty—but he resisted the urge to spit it back out just yet. He bashed it against the wall, again and again and again, a gray cloud bursting from it each time. Once it seemed as clean as it was going to get, he gave it back to Ren.

The human murmured something else, presumably thanking him. He lay down and seemed to pass right out the instant his head hit that cushion.

Unable to fend off his own exhaustion anymore, Syr collapsed into a heap… but his mind kept going. He silently begged it to shut down, even though he doubted his dreams would be any better than the memories of Verdanturf replaying unbidden again and again.

By and large, they weren’t.
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