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  #41  
Old 05-01-2016, 03:49 PM
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Default Re: Communication

Chapter 40 – Lightless Flames


Solonn never did get to finish his story about the night before. Not when an uproar from a not-too-distant part of town seized his attention, as well as that of everyone else around him.

“Oh, no you don’t…” Grosh snarled before charging toward the source of all the noise and chaos, tearing up the sidewalk in his haste.

“Wait!” Solonn shouted. Alij did likewise. But barely any sooner than the cries had left their mouths, they found themselves along for the ride, rushing forward at the steelix’s sides and evading the debris he flung about.

Solonn heard a voice calling out from somewhere unseen, begging the terrified citizens to flee. He saw a burst of flame shoot across the street from around the corner and was all too ready to join the pokémon thundering past him and the others.

But then he saw the source of that voice.

He didn’t know what he was looking at, exactly. He doubted anyone with him had, either. But there was enough similarity to Solonn’s own kind—the huge incisors, the glistening armor, the glowing eyes—to make him stop and wonder.

Was that…?

The strange pokémon met his gaze for a fraction of a second. Then: “What are you doing, go! Go!” he shouted, gesturing wildly with his long-clawed hands, barreling over an abandoned vehicle as he surged by—pursued by a red-and-pink magmortar, albeit not closely. But the fire pokémon didn’t need to get close. Not with that range.

As if of one mind, all of the glalie present threw shields up and tried to take the assailant out in an instant, the air shattering into noise as they attacked in near unison.

But the magmortar stood unaffected, and he quickly turned his flamethrowers toward Grosh, whose roar of pain was muffled as he plunged into the asphalt as if it were liquid. Water from a burst main erupted skyward in the wake of his dig attack; the magmortar winced and hissed as it came raining down on him, and he began to rapidly dissolve—

—only to reform.

“A ditto!” Viraya noted aloud, firing an ice beam at the darkening, shifting mass. Several more converged on the transforming pokémon, including one from the strange, black, serpentine creature. Within an instant, the ditto was encased in ice.

Grosh exploded from beneath the ditto, hurling the frozen pokémon into the air. The ditto crashed heavily through a nearby second-story window, the glass shattering noisily.

Oth ascended and entered the building, shining with cosmic power, a mass of conjured stones floating around them as they charged. Torrents of water exploded from inside the destroyed apartment, pushing the claydol right out before they could land a hit, their ancient power stones dropping to the sidewalk below. A purple blastoise emerged and swept another hydro pump across his field of vision. Grosh took the attack right in the face and toppled over, plunging back underground with a loud crashing noise, and the pressurized water blasted several of the glalie into cars and other pokémon before Viraya managed to freeze it in midair.

The ice must have run all the way up and deep into the blastoise’s cannons; he bellowed in pain and jerked backward, and the frozen stream broke free and went crashing to the sidewalk. The ditto in disguise barely dodged a gunk shot from the unfamiliar ice-type, then turned to retaliate.

A dark mass suddenly materialized in front of him, darting forward and sinking into his flesh before he could react.

The ditto immediately lost their assumed shape. Howling and keening, they tried to take on a new one as the strange shadow that had infected them darkened further, but none of the transformations remained stable for more than a split-second.

Nearly every pokémon in the vicinity took the opportunity to launch a concentrated assault on the helpless shapeshifter, but none of their attacks seemed to have any effect. Still, they pressed on, beams colliding with the quivering flesh.

They abruptly cut off when Grosh burst back onto the scene. The steelix grabbed the ditto in his jaws, then flung them to the soaked and shattered street with a violent, wrenching motion. Roaring, he slammed an iron tail into the dark, shapeless mass, and then another, and another—

Then Grosh pulled his tail back sharply, wailing. Its end had been dissolved clean off, black blood seeping from the stump.

“Get back, get back!” Moriel screamed hoarsely as Solonn stared at his father’s injury in horror. But he heeded her advice, even as he stared; everyone in the area did, save for a single vigoroth, whose entire body glowed a fierce orange as he flung himself claws-first at the ditto.

He never made contact with their disintegrating aura. The ditto exploded into a burst of silver light an instant before impact, blowing the vigoroth away. Solonn cried out in pain, temporarily blinded, his ears ringing. He kept on hurtling backward nonetheless, trying his damnedest not to hit the ground. Something crumpled against his back, gouging into his flesh with a jagged metal edge.

The first thing he saw once he could see again was the sight of an oddly dull gray beam, almost more like a blade, howling past Oth. The claydol shuddered in midair and fell, minus one hand and a few of their eyes.

Before anyone could react, another gray beam burned a hole between Alij’s eyes, shooting out of the back of his head with a burst of mist.

A third tore through the air, and this one was aimed right at Solonn. He felt it explode against a shield he very nearly didn’t raise in time, its strange, lightless energy dissipating like dust in his face.

It blinded him for a moment, but Solonn knew what he’d see if he didn’t move. He dove out of the way, feeling glass shatter and bite into his hide, and kept going into the space beyond. Racks of clothing and accessories clattered and clanged and fell in his wake, draping fabric over his face and blinding him again until he stopped and shook it off.

Solonn rushed back to the broken window, praying silently and aloud that no one else was dead. From across the street, he saw the new form of their attacker for the first time. The thing was nearly human shaped and seemingly made of white, lightless fire, their head a towering plume of flames-that-weren’t, their body tapering into a ghostly tail.

The creature fired at another of the glalie—from this distance, and with so much dust in the air, it was hard to tell which—only to be foiled by protect again. That glalie promptly retaliated with a blizzard—and while they didn’t freeze this time, the specter’s hollow, anguished roar told that the impact hurt badly all the same.

Solonn charged back out onto the ruined street with an ice beam coalescing between his horns, but the specter surged out of the way before it could connect—only to smack right into a bystander’s psybeam. There, apparently, was another weakness; the creature howled again, gripping their head.

Their pitch-black eyes opened again, and they took on a look of deep concentration. Another gunk shot went hurtling their way, but they zipped out of harm’s way again with their trance unbreaking.

Only to come out of it themself in clear confusion.

“No…” they hissed in a voice like a rustling wind. They trembled in midair, faintly at first but then violently, angrily. “It can’t… my collection…”

Another volley of assorted beams forbade the creature to piece their thoughts together beyond that. Again they dodged, plunging into one of the tunnels Grosh had torn through the earth beneath the street.

Without so much as a moment’s thought, Solonn dove in after them.

He wasn’t alone. He could hear and feel other bodies rushing through the air behind him, along with long, loping steps. The tunnel sloped at a sharp but navigable angle, and it was wide enough for him, but only just; no one could hope to pass him—nor each other, in all likelihood. If the specter turned and fired again, only his shield would save him. And it could only save him so often, and for so long…

Ahead, the creature was burning away the earth before them using those gray beams, tunneling forward and downward, and they were doing so very, very quickly. Solonn fired on them again, hoping to catch them off guard. He succeeded, but still the creature endured. In a swirl of lightless fire, they spun and shot at him with one hand, the other still tunneling ahead with a sustained beam. Again, it hit his shield.

No sooner had the protect aura dropped than a fresh attack blossomed into being around the specter’s hand.

There was a rushing noise, energy cutting the air—but from somewhere behind him. A searing yellow hyper beam—Oth, Solonn wanted desperately to believe, but the last he’d seen of them…

The hyper beam and the specter’s attack collided, their energies dispersing in a burst that sizzled against the earthen walls, and against Solonn’s face. He hissed, fighting to keep his eyes open and his mind on the figurative trigger of a number of techniques at once. At his side, he could hear more tunneling sounds; there was a shout of “Move your ass!” followed by the sight of a swampert shoving his way past in the now-widened tunnel. With a wet, unpleasant noise, the swampert launched a mud bomb at the specter—

—which sailed past them into the vast room that the creature’s gray beams had just breached.

The mud bomb crashed into a terminal against the wall, sending a burst of sparks to the floor. Red lights filled the room, flooding out into the tunnel, the specter silhouetted against it like candle smoke, and a tinny alarm sounded again and again and again.

There was a hissing noise from somewhere out of sight, and the creature flew in toward it. The pokémon on their tail followed and renewed their assault. Still willing and able to put up a fight, the creature clapped their wispy hands together, and a shockwave burst out from between them, washing over the defending pokémon before they could react.

Solonn snarled at it, and he could hear pained sounds from those around him. But he wasn’t hurt badly, and he suspected that neither was anyone else. It was probably—he narrowly evaded another gray beam, some unknown, wall-mounted device imploding as he plowed into it—A diversion, he thought dazedly, spitting out a broken bit of something.

His eyes darted back to where he’d last seen the specter and found that they were already on the run, with a swampert, three glalie, and the strangely familiar, black serpent in pursuit. Solonn joined the chase, readying an ice beam, trying to get a bead on the now erratically-moving creature…

And then the creature suddenly stopped short, taken by surprise. So did everyone else, in spite of themselves. Solonn caught himself staring; he forcefully snapped himself out of it and let his ice beam fly. It hit its mark, alongside another ice beam and a mud bomb.

Leaving the specter a prone, shuddering heap at the feet of the apparently human being who’d just joined them.

The man, short and bald, let his gaze flick up to the other pokémon in the room with him for only a moment before returning it to the creature trying to lift themself up before him. In his hand, something that looked black and reddish-gold in the deep crimson light glinted for a moment before hurtling toward the specter—an ultra ball, Solonn realized.

“Get ready to open fire on ’em again,” the man said, and Solonn could have sworn he recognized the voice from somewhere. The face, too. “That thing’s not guaranteed to hold.”

No sooner than he’d spoken, the ball burst open, spilling its captive out in a flood of white light and golden sparks. Another barrage of attacks hit the specter the instant they rematerialized, and ice encased them once again, their lightless flames suspended in mid-flicker. The man threw another ultra ball; it sucked the specter in and clunked to the ground, where it shook, and shook… and shook…

And fell still.

The ultra ball held Solonn’s stare as fast as it held its new prisoner, but only for a moment. Then he looked back up at the man who’d captured the strange pokémon… and then, at last, he realized who he was looking at.

Either someone had cobbled together a very convincing disguise or illusion, or else Ren Bridges, once a member of the illustrious Apex League, had survived the Extinction.

Last edited by Sike Saner; 05-01-2017 at 10:19 PM.
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  #42  
Old 06-01-2016, 04:24 PM
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Default Re: Communication

Chapter 41 – Beyond the Glass


The human, or whatever he was, stooped to pick up the ball, minimizing it and tucking it away into one of his pockets. He swept a gaze over the dumbfounded crowd that shared the red-lit space with him, looking fairly nonplussed himself.

“Okay,” he said, sounding a bit shaky but managing to speak over the alarm regardless, “okay. What in the hell just happened?”

Silence. It was hard to do much of anything but goggle in disbelief—and suspicion. Yes, he looked like Ren. Yes, he sounded like him. But DeLeo had sounded and looked human, too. Solonn would have never guessed there was an ordinary meowth behind that façade.

What, if anything, was behind this one?

“Uh…” the swampert finally spoke up. “I could tell you, but you wouldn’t understand me, so…”

The human met the swampert’s gaze in an instant. His dark eyes were huge with alarm. “…Say that again,” he said.

“I, uh, said I could tell you what happened if you could understand me, but…” The swampert cocked his head at the human. “Are you telling me you can?”

The human didn’t respond right away. He glanced back over his shoulder for a long moment, his hairless brows tightening. Finally, “Apparently so,” he said, half-shrugging. “Apparently I decided to lock myself in a tube for some reason and came out of it able to understand pokémon.” He gave a strange little laugh. “Ordinarily I’d be celebrating. But again…” His hand rose to rub at his temple. “I can’t remember why I was in there. I can’t even remember building the damn thing.”

Solonn just stared, unsure what to think. Exactly what he was looking at was a question that still needed answering, and at this point he wasn’t even sure if it could be. But part of him was starting to sympathize with the man—he knew firsthand what it felt like to have missing memories. Missing memories and unexplained linguistic abilities.

Between that and the fact that the adrenaline was starting to fade, allowing the pain of his injuries to come to the forefront, it was getting a little difficult to care whether or not the human was as he seemed.

“And what the hell was a nullshade of all things doing down here?” the human went on.

“So,” Viraya said, “that’s what that was.”

The human stared at her mutely for a moment before nodding. He pulled the ultra ball back out and stared at it in consternation. “These things aren’t even supposed to exist anymore…”

“Neither are you,” Solonn thought aloud. The human met his gaze, the hand holding the ultra ball dropping to his side. Solonn bit his tongue, all but oblivious to the pain in light of all his other injuries. Even they were forgotten for a moment when he imagined flames shooting from the human’s hands, engulfing him and boiling his blood…

“What… Why the hell not?” the human asked.

“You… Your kind is extinct,” Evane explained softly. She sounded as if she didn’t want to believe it.

The human looked as though he honestly couldn’t believe it. As if he honestly didn’t know the Extinction had happened, that he should be long since dead and dealt with just like the rest of his people.

“That’s…” he began, the blood drained from his face. “No. That’s not possible.”

Evane started to respond, but a growing noise cut her off. It sounded like something heavy being dragged along, and it was coming from the tunnel leading back to the surface.

“More company,” Ren muttered. He stashed the ultra ball, readying a poké ball in its stead, and dashed toward the breach in the wall, just small and nimble enough to get past the pokémon.

Solonn was almost right on his heels, hope stirring inside him at the approaching sound—he was sure he knew exactly who was coming down to join them. That hope faltered when the noise stopped before its source could appear—Why’d he stop? Oh gods, please be all right, please…

The human stopped at the breach and unleashed a greninja. Solonn’s eyes went huge and his mouth dropped open, but not at the frog. He distantly remembered learning that Ren had one on his roster, though he couldn’t seem to recall anything else about Ren’s team. The greninja wasn’t much of a surprise.

The faces he saw looking back at him from the tunnel—two, when he’d only dared to expect one at the most—were another story.

“Wait, don’t!” he cried out as he came to a stop himself, looking up past the human with equal parts worry and astonishment. “They’re not enemies!”

They were anything but. A short distance up the tunnel, a claydol hovered unsteadily just above its muddy floor—a claydol missing one of their hands and part of their head. Somehow, incredibly, they were still alive. Further back, a steelix lay nearly motionless.

<We…> Oth said weakly, voicelessly, <we…>

The human stared at them, frowning. The greninja refrained from attacking, but glared up distrustfully as if ready to shift gears at any moment.

Solonn winced as Oth nearly dropped from the air. “Please, we’ve got to help them!” he cried.

“Not us,” Viraya said from nearby. “Her.” She edged her way as close to the breach as she could; the human and greninja both helpfully stepped aside. “Oth! You’ve got to call Quiul here!”

<I… c-can… cannot,> the claydol said. Gods, they sounded like they were hanging by a thread… <Th—> They shuddered. <The… l-link…>

The human cast another glance back toward the hallway he’d come from. His mouth drew into a thin line. Then he recalled his greninja.

“I haven’t been down here in a while,” he said. He was starting to sound hoarse, presumably on account of the fact that he still had to compete with that alarm. “I think there might be medical supplies around here somewhere. I think I can remember how to get there. In the meantime…”

He produced and released another poké ball. There was a burst of light… and then, standing between him and the breach, was a kwazai.

For a moment, Solonn couldn’t help but wonder if it was Ntairow who’d just appeared in their midst. But no… no, this one was taller. More solidly built.

“Pain split,” the human instructed her, “for the claydol, at the very least. Try to fit in the steelix too, but only if you can handle it.”

The kwazai gave a quick nod, then dropped and scrambled up the tunnel on her many arms. Solonn looked past Viraya to watch the kwazai work. He should be concerned for her, some tiny part of him thought. Too much of the rest of him was worried about Oth and Grosh to allow it.

Pink-and-gold light shone around the kwazai and her first patient for a moment. The kwazai slumped, dark blood dripping from the side of her head and running off one of her hands, then wormed her way around Oth with a pained grunt and began crawling up toward Grosh.

As light swelled in the tunnel once more, Solonn took in the kwazai’s handiwork thus far. Oth… had still seen better days for sure. Their head was somewhat more intact than it’d been, but the eyes and hand on that side were still missing. Their levitation was a bit steadier now, and they proceeded down the tunnel with no further delay.

“Oth…” Solonn’s eyelight wavered as the claydol passed by. Though they were certainly in better shape than before, seeing their injuries up close in the pulsing red light made them seem even more horrific somehow. Soon Solonn could bear to look at them no longer, turning his gaze back toward Grosh and the kwazai.

“Oth,” Viraya spoke up again, “can you reach her now?”

The claydol gave a low, somber rattle. <The link was broken in the midst of my injuries. I am sorry.>

“It’s not your fault,” Solonn said quietly, still staring up the tunnel. The kwazai’s work was finished now, and Grosh was stirring. The steelix lifted his head, blinking blearily, and noticed the blue figure lying prone in front of him.

The human noticed, too. “Ah, Demi… I told you not to overdo it…” A red beam fired from out of sight to recall the kwazai.

Only to be deflected by the pile of dirt and stone that had suddenly dropped to block their view.

The human swore loudly, and he started to head up the tunnel himself—then backed right out as it continued to cave in, earth falling in a wave toward the red-lit room. The surrounding space rumbled, and Evane, Viraya, and the swampert made for the hallway beyond, but the room held.

The human stared at the resealed wall. “Come on,” he muttered, in a tone befitting a prayer, “come on…”

No sooner had he spoken than the breach burst back open again, a massive head flinging mud and small rocks all over the room and its occupants.

Once everyone was done flinching, and the last of the protect shields dropped, they took in the sight of the newly-arrived steelix. Most of him couldn’t fit into the room even if it weren’t occupied at the time; recognizing this, they began backing out of the way. Grosh let about a quarter of himself in, then lowered his head, opened his jaws, and let the kwazai he was carrying slide gently to the floor.

Demi was a mess. There wasn’t much of her that wasn’t caked in soil and blood that looked black under the emergency lights. It was clear she’d taken on more damage than she should’ve, and now the concern that had been absent finally made it to the surface of Solonn’s mind. “Thank you,” he said quietly, and bowed his head.

The light in the room intensified briefly as the human finally recalled Demi. That he’d managed to was a good sign. It meant she was still alive.

Grosh dragged a couple more feet of himself into the room; everyone else backed up further. He lifted his head, blinking in the flashing light. It shone off his armor as the filth began sliding away.

Then he spotted the human.

Grosh’s eyes widened, then narrowed. “You’re a fake,” he decided aloud, and began growling deep in his throat.

The human swallowed hard, looking up at the massive serpent looming before him. “No,” he responded, “I’m not. But listen: this really isn’t the time to argue. You’re hurt, all of you.” He started blinking rapidly all of a sudden, rubbing at his eye. It came away smeared with something dark. “All of us,” he amended, and as he turned back toward the hallway, Solonn could see more of the stuff beading up and running down the human’s forehead.

His thoughts skipped a beat. Could a robotic disguise bleed?

“Come on,” the human said, and he began jogging down the hall with a hand pressed to his forehead. There was a moment’s delay; then, the others began following as fast as they could. No sense losing track of him when there was still some doubt—albeit just a little bit less than before—that he was what he seemed.

There was no real risk of running him over. No one was in any fit state to proceed at full speed. Solonn suspected they were all at least as sore as he was.

“How much further?” Viraya asked from her place*near the back of the line.

“Not sure,” the human—it was getting harder and harder not to think of him as Ren—responded, without pausing or looking back. “But…” His head turned from right to left and back again, and he slowed at a fork in the road only to keep on moving straight ahead. “I think it’s not too far from here.” He took a left at the next fork, leading them down a slope. “I think… There. That might be it.”

He finally came to a stop in front of a tightly-sealed door—so tightly-sealed that it was a little hard to distinguish from the same-colored walls around it, especially in the still-pulsing light. The pad set in the wall next to the door was even harder to make out, but the human found it fast enough. He studied for a moment, silent save for his panting breaths, then pressed his hand to it.

The instant he did, the alarm finally, blessedly cut off. The surrounding light turned steady and white; Solonn and Viraya winced at the brightness, and Evane let out a hiss. Solonn forced his eyes open again and saw a green beam lancing into the human’s skull from a lens that had appeared above the door. The human (Ren, Solonn finally decided, however tentatively) stood frozen on the spot until the beam cut off; his free hand had dropped to his side, the fingers more blood-smeared than ever. The lens disappeared behind a metal iris, and the door rose out of the way with a faint hiss.

Beyond, there was an arched hallway, just barely wide enough to admit the likes of Solonn and Grosh. Another, less remarkable door lay at its end; there was no pad this time. Ren made for it, a hand reaching out to brace against the wall halfway there. Meanwhile the door behind closed loudly a moment after the last of the pokémon had passed through it; all of the glalie turned toward the noise in an instant, while everyone else but Oth craned their necks backward.

“Damn. Good thing that didn’t close any sooner,” the swampert said, glancing back at his own tailfin, then turned his attention forward once more. Everyone else did likewise.

Ren gripped the handle of the second door, then slid it out of the way with relative ease. He proceeded into the vast, white space beyond, making a beeline for something out of sight.

The pokémon followed him. They fanned out once they were all in the room, giving everyone room to move—to fight, if need be. Solonn had a protect shield on standby; he imagined the same was true of the other glalie. The same might also be true of that strange half-serpent. Solonn could see the creature more clearly than ever now—including his mutilated hand. He shuddered hard at the sight, hardly caring how his own injuries complained at the motion. He knew a fire-induced injury when he saw one.

He heard a chime then; turning, he found Ren standing near an active rejuvenation machine, its screen glowing softly as it healed its lone occupant. Meanwhile the human was pulling out a first aid kit from a cabinet at its side.

“You’ve done enough,” he murmured to himself as he threw a glance at the single poké ball nestled in the machine. Then he turned to the pokémon who were there in the flesh, blood still glistening on his face. “There’s max potions in here,” he said with a wave toward the open cabinet. Sure enough, one of its shelves was lined with distantly-familiar, blue-and-white bottles.

The swampert stepped forward—there was no one else around with sufficiently prehensile hands other than Ren, who was already busy tending to his own injury. He reached up and scooped out an armful of the potions, laid them at his feet, and began treating the other pokémon one by one. Only once everyone else had been taken care of did he mend his own cuts and scrapes.

<We are in your debt,> Oth said—gods, it was good to hear their mindvoice so strong again, <Mister…>

“Jarl,” the swampert filled in. “It’s Jarl. And you don’t owe me a thing,” he said with a dismissive wave, then settled back onto all fours. “If it wasn’t for you guys, I’d have never seen a real, live human again.”

“If that’s what he even is,” Grosh said, his voice rumbling through the floor. He edged closer to Ren, lowering his head until he was almost eye-level with him, and sniffed noisily. “You smell like the real thing. You look like the real thing. But I’ve been fooled before. Our psychic friend’s even been fooled before.” He lifted his head once more, staring down his blunt, metallic snout at the man before him. “So why, pray tell, should we believe you’re actually human?”

Ren fussed with his forehead a couple moments more, then turned to face Grosh. If he was trying not to look unnerved by the steelix, he was failing, albeit only just. He licked his lips. “You shouldn’t,” he said finally. “I have no way of proving it. What you’re assuming I must be instead, I can’t guess, but…”

With a sigh, he let himself slink to the floor. “My name is Ren,” he said, “and I swear to your gods and mine that I’m legitimately human. Whether or not you believe me… that’s fine. But just so you know: I don’t exactly believe you, either. About the humans, I mean.” And maybe he didn’t, for the most part. But something in his eyes told that on some level, he feared they might be right.

“You’ll see for yourself once we get back above,” Evane said.

At her words, Moriel turned and looked upward, more or less in the direction they’d come from. “Yes,” she said hollowly, and Solonn realized it was the first time she’d spoken since the fight against the nullshade had ended. Since Alij was… oh gods… Solonn felt a sharp pang in his chest as he watched Moriel look around, presumably for a way out that wouldn’t require anyone to tunnel through the earth and risk another cave-in. He followed her gaze…

And then froze, as his own landed upon something in the adjacent room, beyond a glass partition.

There, hanging from the ceiling, was a pair of white-and-silver arms. Beneath them was a padded platform with presently-open restraints and a presently empty steel tray to either side.

All at once, he swore he could feel that platform against his back.

Last edited by Sike Saner; 08-24-2019 at 11:41 PM.
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Old 07-01-2016, 05:55 PM
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Default Re: Communication

Chapter 42 – Back to the Surface


Solonn trembled in midair for a moment. Then he sank to the floor. “I’ve… I’ve been here,” he hissed, his eyes wide, their light flickering wildly.

“Wh-what? When?” Evane asked.

Solonn couldn’t answer. Thinking back to it got him all but stuck in the memory, and he could feel the pain that had come the first time he’d remembered it threatening to creep back into his head.

“It was when you were a child,” Ren said quietly, “wasn’t it.”

Paralyzed. Helplessly watching through the weak eyes of a snorunt as the arms came down. The pain intensified, and his eyes screwed shut. A hiss tore its way past his teeth.

“You are remembering…” Slowly, Ren got to his feet, then stepped closer to Solonn. The glalie turned in an instant, still hissing, his eyes blazing with pain; the human jolted, but held his ground. He sighed. “I’m sorry,” Ren said, and he both sounded and looked the part. “It wasn’t supposed to resurface… and it sure as hell wasn’t meant to hurt you.”

“What are you talking about?” A growl immediately followed Grosh’s words, and before anyone could stop it, he drove his freshly-mended tail between Ren and Solonn, shoving the human away. Ren hit the counter behind him, his breath knocked out on a pained note. “What did you do to him?” the steelix demanded, brandishing his tail-tip like a sword leveled right at Ren’s chest.

Ren eyed the tail warily as he struggled to catch his breath. Once he’d succeeded, he pulled his gaze away from it to look its owner right in the eyes.

“I tried to give him the ability to speak to humans,” Ren said. There was noticeable guilt in his voice.

Solonn couldn’t see Ren past the steelix. But he stared all the same, teeth parted, shaking on the spot. The memory playing in his mind abruptly cut out. So did the rest of his thoughts.

“The nanites didn’t take,” Ren went on. “So I…” He hesitated a moment, then visibly braced himself. “I sealed his memories of the whole thing—albeit ineptly.” He sighed again. “I put him through all that fear and confusion for nothing… Just sending him back didn’t feel like enough. I wanted to prevent him from having to relive that nightmare.”

“But it wasn’t for nothing,” Viraya said.

Solonn abruptly turned to face her, looking alarmed. “No!”

But Viraya kept on. “He can speak human language. Your procedure was a success. There wasn’t any need to seal his memories.”

“No,” Grosh rumbled, “there wasn’t.” He jabbed Ren with his tail, hard enough to bruise but not to pierce. The human gasped in pain.

“Grosh…” Evane said worriedly.

“He’s—” Ren began, only to break into a coughing fit. “He’s already remembering,” he managed weakly. “I can… I can unseal the rest. It’ll be easy since it’s already lifting. Just give me a chance; I can undo everything.”

Here Solonn rose once more. He circled around Grosh; somewhat reluctantly, Ren tore his gaze from the steelix to regard him.

“Everything,” Solonn repeated.

Ren nodded slowly. Then the full implications of what Solonn was getting at clicked. He averted his gaze. “I’m sorry for the way things played out,” he said. “I never wanted to hurt you. I never wanted to scare you. I should’ve given you a choice. And I’m giving you one now: I’m willing to deactivate them, if that’s what you really want. I’ll deactivate them. All of them. I… could even attempt to extract them if you’d prefer, but I have to warn you: it’d be very risky. More invasive than putting them in was. I don’t want to hurt you,” he stressed. “And if you decide you want to keep them active…” Another sigh. “Humanity could learn so, so much…”

“No,” Solonn said heavily, “they can’t. Not anymore.” He met Ren’s gaze directly. “Deactivate them,” he said. Part of him wanted the nanites gone altogether. The part that didn’t want to risk Grosh losing his son and Jen losing his brother won out.

“All right,” Ren said, “all right. But if you ever change your mind… come to the big brick house on Bayberry Street. You’ll know it when you see it. I can switch them back on anytime, but I can only do it from here.”

Solonn couldn’t imagine himself changing his mind. Not in a thousand years. “Then go ahead and undo it,” he said, his voice threatening to crack. “Now. Please.”

Ren nodded again. He looked up at Grosh again, silently seeking permission to go free. Grosh scowled at him but withdrew his tail.

“If you doublecross us…” the steelix warned, “if he doesn’t make it out of here alive, I will personally end you. Painfully.”

The human swallowed audibly. “…I understand,” he said. “I’m not going to hurt him. I promise.” Tentatively, still sore from Grosh’s prodding, he started moving toward a terminal off in the corner. “You had better still work…” he mumbled as he tried to start it up. He let out a sigh of relief when it hummed to life.

Moments passed as he keyed in command after command, then minutes. Solonn began to fear that Ren wasn’t keeping his word. The agitated grinding of steelix segments, gouging the floor with their spikes, told that Grosh felt likewise.

Then the room and everyone in it suddenly vanished, and all at once Solonn was on the other side of the glass.

* * *

Paralyzed. The arms descending. Strange, tugging pressure at his forehead. Rock-hard fingers effortlessly prying his jaws open. They tasted like nothing at all as they pushed his tongue out of the way.

The arms withdrew. Moments or minutes or hours later, they returned. One of them held something sharp. The hand drove it in somewhere under his jawline. It should’ve hurt. But it didn’t.

Elsewhere now. A strange, tall creature speaking to him, trying to get him to talk back. Correcting him every time he responded. Eventually giving up, a dismayed, regretful look on his face.

The other side of the glass. The platform where he’d lain just barely visible beyond. Apologies from the strange creature—the human—as something flashed in the corner.

Darkness.

The snowgrounds, with dozens of worried faces staring down at him. His mother, beyond grateful that he was safe again.

Safe again…


* * *

The present reasserted itself. With a delay, Solonn realized that he’d dropped to the floor again. He rose shakily, looking over the small crowd sharing the room with him. His eyes found Ren and locked on to him.

“That ought to have done it,” the human said quietly. “Just one thing left to check. I want you to speak to me, the way I’m speaking to you right now. My voice, my language. Try as hard as you can.”

Solonn felt his throat threaten to close. Even now, some part of him was hesitant to expose his abilities. But he found the courage to go ahead. He inhaled deeply…

And nothing intelligible came out.

A chill ran through him. Had the human robbed him of his ability to speak altogether? A couple of the other pokémon looked on with concern—and in Grosh’s case, suspicion—as if they were entertaining the same conclusion.

He tried again. Still nothing. He knew the human’s words, could still see them in his mind’s eye. He knew the sound of Ren’s voice. But when he tried to replicate them, his mouth and throat wouldn’t cooperate. His eyelight flickering, he tried using the words of his own kind.

“What…” he said hoarsely, speaking Virc this time, sounding like no one but himself. His eyes went huge. “I… I think it worked…” He attempted other languages, other voices, but the words continued to evade him, and his voice refused to change. He met Ren’s gaze and switched back to Virc. “I think it worked,” he said again, more confidently this time.

Ren let out the breath he’d been holding. “Good,” he said, wiping at his brow, “good.” He shut the terminal down. “Again, if you ever change your mind… just let me know, all right?”

Solonn didn’t respond. Even though it had proven reversible, and even though it would be his choice the next time around, he still couldn’t imagine accepting the talent that had led him through so much ever again.

“Can we leave now?” Moriel spoke up, her tone still subdued. “Please… just show us the way out.”

Ren nodded and stepped away from the terminal. “This way,” he said. “Oh… except for you,” he amended with an apologetic look toward Grosh. “I promise you: it’s not payback for earlier. The elevator just can’t handle weight like yours, and since you can’t levitate… I’m afraid you’ll just have to burrow your way back topside.”

Grosh made a rumbling noise deep in his chest, still looking somewhat distrustful of the human. “Be careful,” he said to the rest of the pokémon, his gaze sweeping over them and lingering on his son. Then, with no further warning, he plunged headfirst into the nearest sufficiently-sized patch of the floor. Everyone winced as chunks of it went flying in his wake.

“…I probably should have specified where,” Ren acknowledged aloud. He brushed off some of the dust and dirt that had settled on his shirt; then, “This way,” he said again, and began to lead the rest of the group away.

Solonn cast one last look back at the glass partition as he followed the others out of the room. The arms hung motionless now, the terminal in the corner dark and silent. As he left both behind, once and for all, he finally dared to believe that chapter of his life was over.

* * *

Ren’s home had seen better days, quite frankly. The nosepass who shared the house with him—the same one who’d been at the Hope Institute, Solonn discovered—blamed smeargle for the wrecked furniture and graffiti-covered walls, and no one questioned him, at least not as far as that damage was concerned.

The distinctly nose-shaped hole in the floor was another story.

Ren, the nosepass, and the swampert were off on their own, out of sight, the pokémon presumably trying to console the human. Ren had had a much easier time believing the nosepass about the Extinction, and he had not taken the news well. At all.

Moriel, Evane, and Viraya had not returned yet. Solonn imagined they’d be downtown for a long while. After a delay, his wits still pulling themselves back together, he’d begun to follow them away—only to stop dead in his figurative tracks when Grosh had emerged from under the street in front of Ren’s house.

The rage had more or less drained from the steelix’s features; Solonn suspected he’d taken it out on the earth deep below until he’d lacked the strength to do anything but surface. He’d slumped into a coil in Ren’s front yard, and Solonn had chosen to stay with him for the time being. Oth, meanwhile, had gone off in search of a teleporter to take the claydol back to Sinnoh so they could re-establish their link with Quiul.

As for when the party as a whole would be leaving Convergence… that remained in question.

They still hadn’t found Jen. At least, not for certain. The black, serpentine creature—a cryonide, Ren had called him—was indeed one of Solonn’s own kind, an evolved form of snorunt. And ever since learning this, he’d wondered if DeLeo had forced his half-brother to evolve. The cryonide had kept silent on the matter, pointedly averting his gaze.

The front doors opened. Armor and tough hide whispered over the threshold, and a breath later, the cryonide had joined them.

Solonn and Grosh turned to regard him. The question was plain in both their eyes, but only Grosh spoke it.

“So,” he said, as gently as he could. “Is there something you want to tell us?”

The cryonide didn’t answer right away. He was visibly shaking, the fangs at the ends of his mandibles clicking against his incisors. Finally, he folded his clawed hands and forced himself to look Solonn in the eye.

“I saw you,” he said. “Last night, at Hope. I… remembered you from the Haven—from when you took us. Or rescued us.” He shook his head. “Adn always told me you people were the enemy. That you wanted to force me into your army and make me kill anyone who got in our way. But then he turned into a ditto and tried to kill me. Now I don’t know what to believe anymore.”

The same ditto who’d become a nullshade, Solonn realized. That was Adn in that ultra ball.

More than ever, he was glad that creature had been captured.

Meanwhile he no longer doubted who he was speaking to in the least. I found you. Gods, I finally found you! But barely anything of the joy and relief that followed made it to his face, at least not at first. Pity stood stubbornly in the way. Even now, the Rannia’s lies endured.

“You can believe us,” Solonn said, his eyelight wavering. “Adn is out of the picture now.” The gardevoir-who-wasn’t was in the hands of an Apex trainer now. And while Solonn still wished to all gods that Ren had never experimented on him in the first place… the human had done the right thing in the end, at least. He still couldn’t trust Ren unconditionally, but he trusted him more than he had before his linguistic abilities had been put to rest. “You can trust us… we’re your family, Jen.”

The cryonide looked up at Grosh with uncertainty. Then he looked back over the length of his own serpent-tail. “There’s still a lot I don’t understand,” he said quietly. “But… I think I believe you.”

Solonn wanted nothing more in that moment than to move forward, to let Jen embrace him. But those spikes running down the cryonide’s chest gave him pause. As if on cue, Grosh stirred and loosely, carefully wrapped his coils around the other two, insofar as he could.

“You can come home with us,” Solonn said at length, as Grosh uncoiled somewhat reluctantly. “It’s not the same home you remember,” nor the one you should, “but… it’s nice. The people there have promised to take care of us.”

Jen mulled it over, but not for long. “No,” he said. “I’m sorry, but… I have to stay here. At least for now. My dad needs me. He’s been through a lot lately, and…” His eyes went huge as something occurred to him. “Oh gods, our house. I think Adn burned it down…” he said, and he sounded sickened by the thought. He crawled up and over Grosh’s tail. “I have to find out,” he said. “I can’t go anywhere else right now.”

Solonn watched the cryonide’s retreating back for a moment. “Then I think I can stay here just a little while longer,” he decided aloud, and slipped past his father to follow Jen.

“That makes two of us,” Grosh said, then came slithering after them, tearing up the lawn beneath him.

Jen stopped and looked over his shoulder, then turned away once more with what almost looked like a smile. “Okay,” he said, and carried on.

As he followed his half-brother, Solonn wondered if he’d ever leave Convergence behind for good. He decided, albeit not too readily, that maybe it didn’t really matter all that much. His family was as whole as it could ever be again. He was closer to normal than he’d been in many years. If this place would be his part-time home from here on out, memories and all… that was all right.

At last, insofar as it could be, it was all right.


FIN

Last edited by Sike Saner; 08-24-2019 at 11:44 PM.
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