Chapter Sixteen: Abeyance
“I can already hear their anguished cries, even as I try to shut out the voices while I writhe in my nightmares. I am in paradise, yet my kindred are still trapped in Erebus, my brother is lost. But, I still have to complete my mission. I am condemning them all to a fate far worse than the stockade. Millions will suffer. And for what? The survival of this world permanently stained crimson with its own blood? There is no hope for a brighter future, only one that can raise its head to see the sun and the stars on the fringes of Elysium.”
— Journal of Grovyle, Eastern Forest territory of the Kingdom. Recovered by Kingdom Intelligence Agency during the Time Gear Crisis
“I am one who laid you low. I deserve an answer.” Quiet. The gears spun on, greased by blood and clockwork. “You refuse to speak. All my works, my plans, you do not approve? You must see that I am trying to save the world. I only need to purge it of its sin.”
“You will burn before you burn this world. ”
“It matters not what you say. I will recover the Artifact and with you I will restore what was lost...”
The darkness clung to him. It took hold when he had faltered in the canyon, and it had yet to leave him. Sight was nothing to him now. Little more than a memory that haunted him like a severed limb. He felt the sunlight against his fur, yet the sun’s beauty was withheld from him. Jay let his legs dangle off the side of the barracks while he allowed the gentle breeze to blow through his faded fur. Sweet smells of food baking in the market below him entered his nose as he wistfully imagined what the delicious breads looked like.
As he listened to the Pokémon mill about the square beneath him, his mind returned to the events that had transpired two days ago. He remembered waking up in a bed while Quark’s monotonous tone calmed him. It told him not to be afraid and that he was safe, but he still felt afraid, blind, and disorientated. Within minutes, he broke down into hysterics. After Kelly had calmed him down, Quark finally gave his diagnosis. His eyes had atrophied, so they had to spend the coming weeks in near darkness in order to recover. While it was not permanent blindness, he didn’t feel good about being forced to tie a band of crimson cloth around his eyes.
While he had been rather opposed to the treatment, he found that it wasn’t bad after a time. The cloth was soft and smooth, yet it didn’t require constant adjusting. Quark had slipped it under his useless aura sensors and psychically fastened the knot. Fortunately, his injuries were the worst of the team. Leo and Noah only needed Oran-soaked bandages for their wounds, and Kelly spent the day wrapped in a blanket, sitting next to the Charmeleon to recover from the cold. While Jay couldn’t see it, Quark kept him constantly updated on the other’s conditions until the next day. Unfortunately, the freedom from the Alakazam’s care meant reporting to Torrent again.
Jay’s mind snapped back into reality as a gust of cool air rushed past him. He looked around, shaking away the uncomfortable memories of the general’s harsh interrogation regarding their escapade. For once Jay was genuinely glad Noah had been with them; the Dewott expertly presented their case. He could only listen while Noah showed Torrent a tooth he had supposedly knocked out from the dragon and the wounds they had from Blue Sun Canyon. It was only after Leo and Kelly told him of the Froslass —both omitting the Mismagius’s role— that the Feraligatr became convinced.
Jay stood on the roof, letting the cooling wind wash away his weariness. Torrent had debriefed them afterwards, revealing that they had been missing for three days inside the dungeon. The Feraligatr seemed to be at a loss of how to explain it. Noah’s story proved that hardly a day passed inside of the Canyon. None of it made sense to Jay.
The Riolu gingerly walked the eaves, letting the wind catch him every time his body shifted. He knew it was dangerous, he knew it was foolish to attempt it with his blinded sight, but he wasn’t going to let it stop him. He wasn’t about to let anything stop him. Jay concentrated on his feet to find the narrow path ahead while he felt the wind tell him when and where to lean. Despite the shouts from the villagers and soldiers below telling him to come down, he carried on. He had to try and see the tribulations ahead.
I have to think. I can still see ... It’s just different now. I have to see ... by touch, his thoughts reminded him, as if they too were determined to see him succeed. However, his mind raced elsewhere. Torrent’s meeting had revealed news. Silver City had come under martial law due to a riot in the city’s ghettos.
“That was hardly news,” Jay huffed.
Silver had always had a revolt going on, regardless whether it reached the public eye or not. The Federation usually kept a good handle on them until they were broken up or burned out. But this time, Torrent seemed to waver when he said that the riot hadn’t ceased. Jay had already let the crisis wash over him. It didn’t concern him, not anymore.
He found another ledge on the roof. After listening to the noise below, or rather the lack thereof, he was able to deduce that it was an alley. The Riolu vaulted over the raised edge of the store roof and landed with a thud among boxes.
He had to find his team once again. They were the only ones he belonged with. They would be the ones who would help him. They would help him see again.
Noah tossed the silver badge into the air and caught it in his paws. The circular object flipped over, glinting in the morning sun. He casually walked down the cobblestone path from the military barracks of Shiloh to the market. Since being released from Quark, he had taken to exploring the town of Shiloh and seeing what had changed since the company had last holed up here.
“Let’s see ... There’s always the option of going through the Orb shop. I could try to convince them to take away that life-time ban. Besides, it wasn’t my fault they keep the Itemizer Orbs out in the open like that,” he muttered while pinning the badge onto his worn satchel.
Shiloh Town was small; the community’s population doubled when a new company came to occupy the barracks on the edge of town. Shiloh was nestled among the gently sloping hills and valleys of the southern Borderlands region—seemingly secluded enough to ignore the frontlines just to the north. Noah kept walking, cheerfully waving to Pokémon on their way to the fields. There was good reason for the Kingdom to protect this area with a fort; the regenerative berries they grew were the closest supply for the army.
Despite its remoteness and drawbacks, Noah enjoyed coming to Shiloh. In the two years he had been with Torrent, he had helped pave the town’s streets, tended the berry crop, and cleared snow in the winter, among other public works the general planned for them. He smiled to himself. He saw the town for what it truly was: Torrent’s personal kingdom. The towering Feraligatr always lovingly mentioned the town, and Noah had found entries upon entries in his journal about the farming village.
Unlike the other members of Team Salient, the Dewott felt amazing. The few gashes he received from the ice dragon were healed and the weariness was purged from him. The single trophy he claimed from his victory, a large pointed tooth, swung from the cord around his neck. He rubbed his paw along the serrated edges of the tooth, letting the pride that he had helped kill its ruthless owner rise again. He was glad he finally had a relic of his own to rival Leo’s odd key. Noah began thinking of the vendors on the black market of Silver City who might be able to secure a gold thread for it, and once he had that, Leo’s key wouldn’t stand a chance.
Within minutes, he reached the parlor of the humble Orb shop, its weathered roof shedding shingles like a tree in autumn. Bounding up the creaking steps, he peered through the dusty window and knocked on the slanted wooden door.
“Hey! Anyone in there? Look, I’m sorry about yesterday, I swear!” he shouted, hoping that someone would open up.
Nothing in his field of expertise in laying ambushes could have prepared him for what happened next. The door quickly snapped open, leaving barely enough space for the owner’s green paw to reach through the gap and toss a shining blue Orb down at his feet. The door closed with a slam as the crystalline artifact exploded into a thousand glittering fragments across the floor. Before he could brace himself, a cloud of rippling air shot towards him. The ball of wind smacked into his stomach, knocking the breath out of his lungs, and slamming him against the general store across the street. The hard clay wall met his back with an embracive hit into his spine. Noah slid down the wall as onlookers began to mill around.
“Excuse me! Move please! I said please!”
The shouting was unmistakably Jay’s. Noah shook off the dizziness clinging to the back of his skull and painfully pushed himself up. Sure enough, he could see Jay’s form shoving itself through the Pokemon The Riolu sidestepped a large, steel-plated monster and appeared at the forefront of the crowd.
“I thought I heard you. That is you, right? Noah?” Jay asked and held out an uncertain paw. Noah readily accepted the assistance and hopped to his feet, gradually losing the interest of the crowd.
“Thanks, mate. I appreciate it. So, how you liking that thing? Looks pretty sweet, I gotta say. Red looks good on you, man,” Noah replied with a grin he knew Jay could not see. The blinded Riolu didn’t say a word and only folded his arms.
“You can stop with the jokes, Noah. It’s not going to help me see any sooner,” Jay huffed. It was only the two of them now, the crowd had left
“A little humor makes life worth living, Jay. Come on, you’ll get your sight back. Don’t act like it’s the end of the world. Trust me, when that happens, then you have my permission to be depressed,” Noah countered jovially. But not even his heightened spirits seemed to do any good for his sight-deprived friend. He knew he had to find something that would snap Jay out of the haze. After a minute, Noah clapped his paws together and let out a celebratory whoop. “I’ve got it! Come on, Jay! Let’s all go on a mission! We’ll find one with a good reward, and we’ll have a grand time exploring a dungeon in the process! There’s nothing to lose!”
“The Cave.” His voice resonated within the hollow stone. “I chose the darkness to live without the guilt or sun. Be blinded by the light or see in the abyss. Questions. Questions. Questions.” Ian limped along the dark passage, holding the glowing blue shard in one claw and in the other, a piece of crimson clay. Runes. Depictions. Scribblings. Characters of unknown description. All of these stained the endless corridors of the labyrinth. He took a deep breath, his body shuddering. The pain was eating him, but he would not let it steal his soul. He would not let it pry away his stubborn mind again.
“Lost, damned, and beaten. They all are chained to the fire.” Claws brushed along the rough stone, scraping over the murals he had drawn. Long ago, when the whispers had just started, he had obeyed them without hesitation. His soul tied to their horrid mutterings. He had seen the exit more times than there were stars in the skies far above. Yet he remained in the dark. Searching, waiting, hoping for another way. One that ascended into the light. He often spent days gazing into it, wondering if the thoughts locked away in his mind would lurk in the oozing blackness.
Chalk ground itself into the wall, the fine powder catching along the ridges in the rock until it began to talk to him. Their voices were always the same, yet always changing, never stationary. Their melodious tones soothed his aching head and all the thoughts that raced within it. He knew he had to leave; this long abandoned corridor was playing tricks on his eyes. But the mural was not done: the story unfinished and characters undeveloped. They were merely colors on the walls, but soon they would be radiant; glowing with the power and light of the stars he longed to see.
They would be his saviors. But if they were to find him when judgement day came with its blazing dawn, then he had no choice. He had to finish or risk being left behind once the world would be incinerated under the wrath of the unchained gods.
“Just a little longer ... Just a few more lines ... A little bit of color here,” the Breloom’s voice whispered as he carefully applied the small remainder of the colored rock to the outline. He nimbly switched between colors in his tattered satchel, holding both crimson and blue in his dexterous claws. The crumbling material graced the eye of his savior, filling in the grey expanse with a gentle shade of light blue. He was fire. Ignis.
He moved on, the other characters could not wait. He produced yellow, blue, black, and aqua from his leather bag. His arms moved at a fever pitch before his dazed eyes. He could not think, he could not feel, he could only draw what the frenzied thoughts commanded. A language he did not know —or at the very least, one he did not remember learning in the endless night produced by this dungeon.
“The saviors: Ignis, Tonitrua, Animus, et Aqua... At long last,” Ian muttered and let the chalk slip from his claws. The drawing tool clattered to the stone and rolled along the ground. He had seen it in the fading light of the Luminous Orb. The work his broken mind had forced him to undertake was done. No more drawing, no more runes. He had finished it. They were there. Staring at him, yearning to be set free. His fists shook with rage. There had to be a mistake. They could not be here, for if they were here, they were trapped. They were trapped. After all that he did for them, the murals he draw upon the walls, the words he had carved, and stories he told himself were all for naught.
“No! No! No! No! No! No! No! No!” he exploded and spit shot from his mouth. His throat caught on fire, burning his mouth as the words flew at his imprisoned heroes. He slumped to the base of the fantastic drawing, wanting his tears to wipe away the painful reminder of his own insanity.
“Ian. Stop. I told you to stay away from the mural, did I not? Please ... Stop coming here. You never find what it is you’re looking for here.” Ian’s eyes snapped open. The voice of logic had returned. The voice of a friend. The quivering Breloom slowly turned his withered head to face the digital Pokémon hovering directly in beside him.
“Ian. Do not return here. No one is here for you. Not Sophie or these ‘saviors’ of yours. We have to find them elsewhere,” Vertex stated in a hushed tone. Somewhere deep down, beneath the troubled surface of his brain, he knew that Vertex was right. There was nothing for him here. He would only keep on destroying himself if he continued down this path.
“W-wait! Ver-Tex! T-there’s something here! I swear, I found it!” Ian cried, waving to the digital Pokémon, who was trying his best not to be alarmed by the sudden mood swing.
“Ian, there is nothing here. We have to go. I don’t want to see you hurt anymore,” Vertex whispered, his synthesized voice dropping even lower. Ian’s claws began to tremble. He had seen it in the abyss. He had seen the door to the end of the world. All he had to do was reach out and he would be free.
“This time. Please, Vertex. You have to help me reach it...” He straightened up and looked over at the unknown passage. It stretched open as the yawning jaws of a monster, vast and cavernous, and always craving.
“Ian ...” Vertex sighed while Ian anxiously eyed the Porygon2.
“Fine. We’ll go explore this passage. Let us hope it will not be like the last area. I will not be able to dig you out again,” the smaller Pokémon said, rising up off the dusty floor. The white, pixelated retinas became illuminated as twin beams of light flashed in the darkness. Ian crawled to his feet and gingerly followed behind his anchor to reality into the maintenance tunnel.
Pain shot through his crudely bandaged leg. Bright red blood began dripping through the filthy cloth, surely infected. His worn satchel beat against his emaciated side with each agonized step, and the thin shadow that followed him became a constant reminder to him to how long it had been since he had eaten. His stomach had long ago stopped crying out for nourishment and was silently burning away his insides for nourishment. However, none of these problems had caused him greater discomfort than his skin. The once cream and green colored patches were now dulled down until he was nearly bleached of all pigment, leaving him with the appearance of wrinkled paper. Tears bubbled in his eyes with each movement he made.
“There’s nothing here, Ian,” Vertex reported ahead of him while the artificial intelligence’s eyes sweep across the gloomy aisle. Ian continued to limp behind, wincing when the lurid wrappings about his right leg became soaked with blood. For once, he wished his mind would pass into the phase of disjointedness so that he would be numb to the pain until they found the door.
“You’ll find it. I know you will, Ian.” He hardly raised his head at the voice calling out to him. Sophie’s ghostly vestige was the sole being he could talk to in his madness, so hearing her was nothing new. It gave him hope that he was lapsing into the delusion he desperately craved as an opiate for the world.
“I know I will, Sophie. Thank you, m’ dear,” he answered, trying to put on a brave face and calm voice for the Mawile hallucination. Vertex merely sighed and returned to scanning the corridor
“You won’t find it like that. Do you even remember the time back in Darknight Relic? Do you remember that you, Chuck, and I wandered around for days before we found what we had to do to see? Same here.” Her words seemed real —they always had— but now was different. This time she was giving coherent advice. Relevant guidelines for him to follow. This was not simply the empty, sweet-voiced nothings she often uttered to him. These were real.
“Are you certain? We’ll be lost if not...” he countered, desperately hoping that the voice would give proof. He shot a nervous glance over at Vertex. He wanted, no, needed to be absolutely certain that this was the right course of action. Otherwise, he would certainly drop to his knees and die in the void.
“Yes, I’m quite sure, Ian. I know I haven’t been good for you before, but you have to trust me this time. You’re very close. Do this and you’ll find it,” she reassured, confidence and true emotion emanating from her words. Ian straightened his back, pain no longer an issue, and strode forward; silently closing the distance between him and his smaller counterpart. He knew he had to act now. He had to see.
Quicker than he thought was possible, the Breloom dropped into a crouch behind his friend, pulled his right arm back, and shot forward at the base of Vertex’s head. The impact held the force of an explosion upon detonation. Dialga’s heart, the pulse of time, froze. The Porygon2 crumpled to the force of gravity, his digital eyes flickering before shutting down. Ian dove to catch him in the same claws that killed him. Tears streamed down his face while he cradled the flickering Pokémon in his arms.
“I’msosorryI’msosorryI’msosorry...” he whispered to the fading sparks of his last friend. The trust that had saved both their lives countless times had blown away like seeds from a dandelion in a breeze.
“... W ... hy?” Vertex croaked through his slurred vocal processors. Dull eyes dizzily focused on Ian. Darkness began to grow around them in direct proportion to the AI’s dying glow. The tiny electric ember encased by smooth pink and blue finally burnt out after the months they had spent surviving. Together.
“You’ll see, Vertex. We’ll both see. I promise,” Ian choked out amid sobs. Regret shredded and tore away at his insides. He wanted it to stop, but there was nothing he could do. There was nothing in his satchel to repair the fatal damage to Vertex’s vital data processing areas.
Ian tore his gaze away from the falling star. His eyes feverishly scanned the walls. Feeling his mind slipping, his body contorted, and the cloak of opaque nothingness suffocated him. Its oozing tendrils crawled down his gasping mouth and squeezed his lungs shut. He was going to die. He foolishly had trusted the visions in the dark and now his beloved friend bled over his cold, trembling arms.
He heard the haunting swing of the scythe and the beat of the angel of death’s massive, grey-feathered wings above him. He had seen it many times before, standing there with the long-handled scythe in his hands, waiting for him. And now, after years of waiting, the reaper would win, and he would be reunited with his team in Elysium. He would be free to roam the eternally sun-lit fields of unending happiness. He would be with Sophie.
“Don’t look at him, Ian! You can’t go with him! Quick, look to your left! It’s working!” Sophie’s sudden outburst broke the trance. His eyes blinked, seeing the black-robed angel retreat back into the shadows. Ian slowly turned his gaze to his left, afraid of what he might or might not see.
Outlined in faint blue lines along the previously blank section of wall, the shape of a door, cleverly disguised in the unending tunnel. A slight smile etched its way across his cracked face. The Breloom stumbled to his aching feet, still clutching Vertex deliriously. Splintered claws clicked across the stone.
“There! I knew it was there!” Ian screamed in euphoria, tears of pain and joy running down his dried face. Vertex weakly groaned, the electrical synapses in his mind not yet dead. How long it had been there, hiding in the shadows, was something he would never know. He only knew he had to reach the end.
A rumble shook the floor; great masses of stone grated and cracked against one another in discontent harmony. Ian stumbled and slammed into the rock, desiccated flesh tearing from his left shoulder. Dust rained down upon the withered spore cap on his head, but Ian shook it off while he continued his walk towards salvation.
“Employee 286. How in Verus you managed to survive I don’t know, but well done. If you'd kindly return to us, then you’ll see that none of this is real,” the cold voice broadcasted over the unseen amplification devices far above. Ian’s heart dropped and his body nearly followed suit. A cold, jarring shiver slammed his form, sending him careening.
“S-shut up! You can’t see me! Y-You can’t see me!”
“Oh, but I can, little weed.” The great hall he had just left immediately became an orchestra of destruction. The ground thundered violently. Ian clutched the wall and struggled to keep his footing amid the rattling stone. Great machines groaned and creaked, their pipes aching at the pressure of the water and chemicals pumped through them. The vaulted ceiling, an architectural feat of the ancient ones, could not stand against the cruel engines of science.
“Celebi of the sacred glade, save me. Deliver my tainted soul and protect me from all transgressions. Celebi, watcher of the woods, I beseech ye to intervene, for I have done no wrong. Celebi, I plead my soul! Celebi, I implore! Celebi, hear me, your servant!” Ian cried, throwing himself to the floor. There was only laughter from the voice as the hall crumbled.
“I certainly hope you are dead by now. Several hundred tons of granite and iron would be enough to kill you. Don’t you think that you should be dead by —” Ian couldn’t take it any more. The last time he had hesitated, he had ended up in the clutches Regice. Something inside of his mind swiftly rent in two, shooting to his feet.
“SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! I AM STILL ALIVE!” Ian roared, spit flying from his enraged mouth. Snatching up Vertex and satchel, the deranged explorer sprinted towards the end of the accessway. He would finally escape the lowest level of Erebus. The voice cackled within the cords that amplified it.
“There is more than one way to flush out pests. Chemicals can be quite useful when used in the right mixtures. Quite toxic.” With those words, the great beast of iron shuddered while chemical blood pumped through its veins. Stone and time screamed in protest as the might of the machine drove them away, now unchallenged in his rise to power.
There was a screech of metal on iron skin, the wakening monster slit its arteries, allowing the precious compounds to pour forth. The microscopic molecules met in the dusty air. The catalyst was activated, the energy supplied, the reaction swiftly begun, and the product flooded the pure air with its toxic clouds. Had there been light, Ian might have been able to identify the poisonous gas based upon its color, but as of now, he simply knew he had to escape its deadly effects.
With feet vaulted over the decay, Ian could finally see the end: a simple iron ladder. A spark raced through his heart. He smelled the faint memories of the Gracideas, their phantom scents invigorating his rapidly failing body.
Breathing was harsh and labored against the gas that was seeping in. His mind had to hold out until he had reached the top. His feet nearly slipped on pebbles on the ground, skidding at the base of the iron structure. His heart beating like a war drum against fatigue, he lifted the flap of his satchel, and carefully deposited the unconscious Porygon2 tenderly into the bag.
“We’ll make it out. I promise.” The words were hollow, and he secretly prayed that Vertex could not hear. His voice of reason and friend now secured, Ian hoisted the bag onto his shoulder, sliding the worn strap across the blistered skin.
Without another thought, he swung himself onto the first rung, his curved claws struggling to keep a solid grip on the rusting metal. The invisible gas swelled on the ground below, steadily contaminating whatever air remained. Ian raised his head up and forced his weakened arms to grasp and pull. Pain pounded against his head, shattering his final stronghold of coherent thoughts. The labyrinthine maze shuddered, jostling the Breloom on his precarious perch. His mouth silently moved in calming prayers to Celebi while he hugged the ladder.
He looked up at the distance he still had to go, eyes instinctively squinting at the sudden appearance of a bright light —not sunlight but still wonderful. Shaking away the temporary blindness brought about by the sudden burst of light, Ian forced himself up. Flesh on his wrists rubbed against the deteriorating iron and left raw patches of bleeding skin behind.
I can do this. I can do this! Just a bit longer... his mind repeated, beginning to grow fuzzy with the creeping tendrils of a psychotic fit approaching. The light grew brighter. Ian felt the chemicals leach through his skin, burning it away piece by piece while iron clanged on his claws.
Science, long the usurper of superstition and rumor, would win again here against his delusions. Ian’s shivering head fell beneath the noxious fumes with a deep gasp. He continued to climb, even as the gas rose above him. The Breloom glanced down at the curled form of Vertex in his bag. He contemplated letting the strap slide off his shoulder and allowing gravity to do its job on his dear friend.
Ian, please... Don’t... The voice sounded like Vertex, but it wasn’t. He had no explanation for it, yet he decided to heed its pathetic pleas just as he had blindly followed Sophie’s order to destroy Vertex. With tears in his eyes, he held the bag tight and scrambled up the final remaining rungs while his lungs failed. His mouth exploded in a hot exhale and breathed in deep the lethal fumes that began corroding his body from the inside.
His claws reached the top and for once in his time in his prison, he was happy that unconsciousness finally forced him into submission. The light consumed him as the gas shut down his heart. He felt the cold iron leave him behind while weightless took away his burden. There were voices, panicked voices, but they were only delusions of his dying mind. That’s all anything could be in the end. And this was his end. He knew it was.
“I’m so sorry...” he whispered to Vertex, the words barely audible in death as angels surrounded him. He closed his eyes on the cruel world that had taken away his team and sanity. He looked forward for the glorious arrival of the spirit of the moon, Cresselia, to ferry him across the stars to paradise, Elysium. He only had to wait for the light to take him away.
Sophie, I’m coming.
Leo stretched out his arms, letting out a content yawn. Soft, fireproof cloth of the hammock caressed his stirring form and rocked him gently. Leo lifted both of his clawed feet over the edge. His eyes opened slowly to morning light while the blurred world came into focus. Slides of sunlight streamed through the skylight built for the bird Pokémon who resided in the fort, including one covered entirely in light brown and dark red plumage diving towards him out of the sky.
Leo’s groggy eyes widened and he flailed in the confines of his bed to escape the creature’s flight path. The hammock promptly flipped over, depositing the Charmeleon to the scratched wood floor. From his position under the spinning bed, Leo watched while the missile with feathers swooped in. The Pokémon, a Pidgeotto, flapped its impressive wingspan, and perched on his empty hammock.
“‘Leo! What are ya still doin’ in bed? E’ryone else’s already up!” Leo winced as Icarus squawked at him. For the last two days, much to Leo’s chagrin, Icarus had taken to becoming his personal alarm to wake him. “Come on, Leo! Torrent’s gonna have a fit if he sees you like this! He’s already in a bad mood. Noah caused a disturbance in town. Not quite sure wha’ happened there, mighta been something to do with tresspassin’ or something like that. Anyways, you gotta get up!” Leo couldn’t help but suppress a chuckle while climbing to his feet.
“Since when is Torrent ever in a good mood?” Leo asked with a smile. There was no doubt about it; his spirits had rebounded massively from where they had been two days ago. He had been the unintentional center of attention when Noah began recounting their tale all over town. Leo quickly discovered that he didn’t like the spotlight, especially after Noah had equated his dumb luck with igniting the beast on fire to an act on par with ancient heroes.
“Good point, come to think of it. The general is hardly cheery, is he? I mean, in all the years I’ve been with ‘im, I’ve hardly ever seen him crack a smile at all! It’s downright eerie, if you ask me. I’ve heard rumors, mostly from Noah that is, that he’s actually the son of a king of an icy land beyond the Northern Reaches, ” Icarus spoke, rapidly wandering off on the tangent. Before his mind was polluted with more gossip and conspiracy rumors, Leo walked past the Pidgeotto and into the hallway outside their section of the barracks. “Hoy! Wait up, Leo!” his former client huffed as he broke away from his fantastic story and slowed to a light hover beside Leo.
The hallway suddenly opened up into a much wider lobby area. Bulletin boards, similar to the ones near the dilapidated Post Office in Loyalty, lined the walls while crowds of Pokémon eyed the updates eagerly.He had only experience with two types of jobs that a rescue team could do: rescue missions and item retrievals, both of which ended in relative failure. Apparently there were much more that could be offered if he knew where to look. Some of the jobs listed he had Kelly read off seemed fun.
Huh... Escort mission... That doesn’t sound too hard...
While it was true that a good portion of his spirit to explore dungeons had been crushed by Nexus’s steel claws, Leo still wanted to see the positive aspects, if there were any. The Charmeleon had briefly wondered what it would be like to escort a client to some secret rendezvous, or as his mind streamed through the possibilities, hunting down a group of Kingdom outlaws in the dark depths of a dungeon. Perhaps doing an espionage mission into Colonial territory like some of the high profile teams— Team Emerald was one such team that made the dangerous trip almost daily. Leo’s spirit rose after the Grovyle leader had personally praised him for killing Ira, the infamous “Witch of the Blue Canyon,”.
“Leo! Ya still there?” Icarus squawked, waving his tan-colored wings in front of Leo’s face.
“Yeah, I’m here. What’s up?” Leo asked offhandedly, trying to scope out any interesting jobs. However, he failed to do so; the strange runes they were written in were beyond his comprehension.
I was able to read them back in Loyalty. Do they simply write differently here? Leo asked himself, puzzled at the strange shift in writing. Leo twisted his key about his neck, letting the golden band loop over his claws as he surveyed the sunlit lobby in an effort to find his teammates.
“Well, I’ve been askin’ you what you’re planning on doing today. Remember, you’re back on duty at noon,” Icarus noted.
“I’ll be hearing into town. I need to find my team. I don’t see them here,” Leo mused as he began to push his way through the crowd of colorful species, quickly apologizing to the owner of each tail, wing, paw, and flipper he stomped on his way outside.
“Alrighty then! Good luck with that, mate! Now, I’ve got some deliveries to make before the sun falls back down. I’ll be seeing ya!” Icarus quickly blurted before swiftly flapping his wings and launching himself into the sky. The Pidgeotto circled around to another part of the outpost in order to pick up the cargo to deliver. While he didn’t mind Icarus, Leo couldn’t help but be glad at being alone among his own thoughts again.
Leo meandered down the roads, passing by house and shops, all bustling with some sort of activity. The General Store run by a golden sword with silken arms and a smith’s forge attended by a snail made of boiling magma both caught his attention. A strange thought occurred to him; the civilization they had carved out for themselves was quite astounding. Regardless of his previous existence, he found it impressive viewing it from a state of tabula rasa.
He was nearly lost in his thoughts when a loud voice from behind and a tap on his shoulder shattered his observation. Leo eyes widened as his body twisted around and, by instinct, held his sharpened claws at the ready to face up against the intruding stranger.
“Jumpy and quick to fight. You’re just the Pokémon I’m looking for.” The female voice came from a creature he had never seen before. Her arms, each ending in two pronounced claws, were held across her chest of fine black fur that made her body shine in the sun. From her feet to the pink feather behind her ear, she looked stunning amid the weathered town.
“I’d ask why you’re looking at me like a Swellow does a Wurmple, but I’ve got more pressing issues at the moment. I need a couple strong Pokémon to help me out, and fortunately I found you instantly,” she stated, carefully walking around Leo with a critical eye. Leo quickly gulped and moved himself out of the Pokemon’s inquisitive range.
“No, no! I wasn’t—! I didn’t —! Mean to ...” he stammered as her nimble form closed. Her clawed feet barely touched the ground with every light step she took.
“Save it, Charmeleon. Now, back to my point. I need a few good ‘mon to help with a small something for the Kingdom. You willing to be a nice guy help me out here and serve your country?” Her voice carried a small tone that chipped away Leo’s initial will to flat-out refuse. The dark creature’s eyes seemed to gleam, making his will waiver even more.
“Wait up, whoever you are. I’ve still got another few hours’ worth of leave from Torrent. Why should I help when you haven’t told me anything?” Leo asked, countering the strange Pokémon. He saw her eyes widen for an instant in surprise before taking a step back. He smiled, letting a few of his fangs show. He would have to remember to thank Noah for the lessons in twisting a conversation when he next saw him.
“You’re friends with Noah, aren’t you? I can tell. He’s already corrupted you too. What a shame,” she said, her charming stare becoming a glare of disdain. “Regardless, I still need another pair of arms to help my crew. I’ll ask nicely once more. Please help me?” she huffed, tapping her foot against the dirt path impatiently.
“You don’t know the half of it. Anyways, who are you in the first place? If you’re under Torrent, then why have I never seen you before?” he muttered the first sentence under his breath, before he pointedly asked her the accusatory questions.
“He taught you well. Damn him. Name’s Kinsliy, a Sneasel if you’ve never seen me.” She let out a slight chuckle. “Officers don’t usually have to eat or train with the freshies Torrent picks up from countryside,” Kinsliy stated. She nonchalantly examined the thin blood-red scarf tied about her neck and a gold badge pinned to it. She admired the stately accessory while making sure that Leo caught a full glimpse of the ornate badge. Crimson eyes glared at him, transforming into a piercing gaze. “So, it seems I’ll have to convince you to tag along.” Kinsliy took a step towards Leo.
“C-convince me?” he asked, a small shiver of fear shooting through him. The threatening Sneasel only grinned in response, which did nothing to quell the fear building up in hm.
“One: I outrank you.” She took a step closer, holding up a single claw. Leo’s breathing quickened. His claws instinctively dug into the clay wall.
“Two: I outrank you.” She lifted another claw and suddenly lightly pressed them into the center of his chest, right above his wildly beating heart. His body seemed to be stuck.
“And three,” Kinsliy began. In a flash, her claws swung up from his chest. He flinched as they brushed against his neck. When he opened his eyes, she was standing on the opposite side of the road. Kinsliy was smiling and dangling something from her outstretched claws —something that shimmered with gold and gleamed with a bright blue crystal. “This may be of some value to you, I think.” She dangled the artifact. His claws flew to his neck to ensure that the Sneasel wasn’t tricking him. They were met with the scale-covered flesh and nothing else.
“Give it back! That’s mine!” Leo snarled, taking a step towards her.
“If you come this way, I’ll give it back. After you’ve helped me finish a job,” she ordered as she began walking away. Leo felt like a dog on a leash grudgingly following the Sneasel.
He grew more and more worried about the job the closer he got. Kinsliy refused to say anything further to him. While exiting the town Leo ruefully saw Noah, Kelly, and Jay talking in the square, but never got close enough to speak. He opted to keep his mouth shut instead of cursing the officer. No words were exchanged between them, leaving Leo ample space his thoughts. The first one of which was of the riots in Silver City
Most of what he knew of the fabled capital city was from the mumbled curses that came from Jay. While never seeing it, the lengthy descriptions from the Riolu about the gleaming spires of the Royal Palace and the Rescue Team Federation danced in his head. They contrasted wildly with the crowded lower sections Blade told him about before the Grovyle left on a mission.
Team Emerald hasn’t come back yet. I wonder what happened to them... he mused. His thoughts were interrupted by the magnificent sea of lush fields. Leo barely managed to withhold the sudden desire to sprint into the field of berries and relax. For an instant, he wanted to wish away the flame on his tail so he could enjoy the simple pleasures of swimming or not lighting things aflame by contact. His tail seemed to flicker at his thoughts.
“You know I don’t mean that,” Leo softly cooed, holding his tail in his claws. The temperamental flame flared brightly in his claws, bathing them with warmth.
“I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that and say that we’ve arrived,” Kinsliy interjected. The voice caused him to quickly let the tail drop back behind him while the Sneasel gave a scathing glare. Before him was a crude camp set up in the woods. Other Pokémon milled about, carrying logs and tools. “Here’s the sit-rep: we need some timber to shore up the fortifications ‘round here. You’re to help with cutting and hauling. Understood?” Kinsliy briefly stated, pointing to the woods. “Afterwards, if you do a good job, I’ll give you back your key. Got it? Good. Get to work”
Above him, Leo could barely make out the forms of Pokémon he vaguely remembered seeing in Torrent’s company working. Some of them used saws and hammers while others felled the mighty oaks with their attacks. Leo even saw the occasional flying bird and bug creatures hovering around the harvest project in the bright sunlight.
“Your job is going to be over there, hauling logs back to here. I’ll be back later. Got another set of ‘mon to yell at.” With that, Kinsliy’s lithe form flitted away into the bustling forest.
She wasn’t lying when she said she needed more hands on this job... his thoughts realized after counting the Pokémon. There were only five others tackling this huge task with him. Leo let out a huff of exasperation, swearing to get even with the Sneasel somehow. Steam snorted from his clenched jaw as he bent his legs to lift the large log .
“Greetings, Leo.” The world instantly darkened, like the sun had been enveloped by a massive cloud. He suddenly felt the world become disassociated from himself.
Immediately, Leo knew this meeting between them would not be standard. The Mismagius was not floating over the Charmeleon. Rather, the ghost was hovering in a fashion that looked like he was sitting. The picture was completed with a blue scarf he had wrapped around his neck.
“Come here, Leo. Sit with me. We have much to discuss.” Leo froze while a shudder passed through him. While he was used to the calculating voice giving him cryptic orders, never had he heard it void of malice. It was sincere, as if spoken between friends.
“I’m not going to mince words here, Leo. I feel that it is time we have a ‘heart to heart’ conversation. There are things you must be aware of before the storm bursts. I will ask you abstain from asking questions until I am finished.” The tired voice resonated from the ghost. Leo did his best to hold his tongue as the Mismagius cast a knowing glare followed by a slight smile on the corners of his pressed lips. An unknown, slithering sensation moved inside his scales. Leo immediately tried to squirm away from the invisible lengths of rope wrapping about inside his body that were effectively tying his bones in place.
“You are among the last, Leo. Among the dead and dying. The others I enlisted are utterly eliminated from this realm. Now, it falls to you to be the catalyst that speeds this reaction along.” This Mismagius hovered in front of Leo. The Charmeleon caught a closer glimpse of the strange blue scarf bearing the insignia of a piercing crimson eye, but it wasn’t the new scarf that caught Leo’s attention the most. The ghost’s face seemed to have aged since the last encounter.
“To answer the questions most assuredly burning away inside your skull, I got it from a friend of mine long ago. And now to answer your second question, which I believe is rather imperative to the success of this campaign.” Leo leaned forward, intrigued rather than frightened out of his mind at the prospect of what exactly the Mismagius planned on revealing. The purple specter took a deep breath, struggling to draw air beneath the weight of the world on his thin chest.
“Let your doubts be finally settled. You were at one point a human, Leo. That has of course changed now, but that much, at least, is according to my own design.” The floor might as well have been yanked out from beneath Leo’s feet. His mind didn’t seem to register. He had contemplated it and dropped the subject of humanity. All of that changed with those dozen words. Leo swore he heard his brain audibly click when the information was finally processed. He wanted to speak but his jaw refused to move.
“I see you are taking it well. Dwell on that while I touch on a related topic. You were not the only human to come here in recent times— I had dozens under my wing, but now, by a cruel twist of Fate, they are all unusable...” There was nothing to say. First humanity, and now this grisly revelation had been forced upon him. He didn't know what to feel. There were humans who had struggled and pressed their shoulders against the burden of the world yet failed to withstand the pressure. He was one of them, connected by flesh and species. Yet, he was still alive while they had joined the ranks of the fortunate dead. He didn't deserve to be here in the sun; he was no different than those who failed.
[b][i]"You may be the last alive, but you are not special. You are simply the one who avoided all lethal misfortunes. Now, you are the only one who can carry on,”[\i][\b] the Mismagius said with a frustrated sigh. Leo’s mind was a mixture of confused hatred and eager realization. His thoughts seethed while biting his tongue to not blurt his protests outloud.
”So I am nothing to you, then? Why should I go along with your plans if I apparently mean so little?” The Mismagius turned, a discomforting glare greeting Leo.
“I saved you, Leo. Without me, your worthless carcass would have been mauled by intercrossing dimensions. I gave you a chance to live. My entire operation is on the verge of collapse, and all I have to work with is a few survivors, the least competent being yourself. Do not berate me for using you, as you owe me your existence,” the ethereal Pokémon snapped before sucking in a breath. Leo still stood in place, unable to move. When the Mismagius finished venting, he looked back at Leo. His bright yellow eyes shone with a softer brilliance than before. “I am sorry. That was unprofessional of me. The truth of the matter is that I am under an enormous amount of stress that correlates with the number of recent candidate deaths. Remember this Leo: there are forces within this world who actively wish to see it reduced to ruins and would gladly stab your back to see that goal come about.” The Mismagius looked out over the Pokémon frozen in their moments of toil. “Your team is what I have left to work with. Everyone else is too far gone to be saved, but with my efforts here, success can still be achieved.” He shifted his gaze to the side and Leo could only watch in forced resignation.