Chapter Three: Off the Rails
WallS that move,~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Doors that crAsh,
Don’t trust the fire or the gas.
Beware the marshes,
aVoid the snow,
Be wary of the rivErs that ebb and flow.
See past the visions,
Hear not the voice,
To live or die is yoUr own choice.
Seek not the treasures,
Nor abysSal might,
Stray not from the Path that Leads towards the light.
The dragon’s roar is the sign of doom,
FalsE promises lie inside his room,
DeAth alwayS is in his wake,
Preventing life and Escape...
Excerpt from the Scriptis de Incarceratus, the Ramblings of Prophet Isaiah Dusclops
Sam was the first to move, grabbing and shaking the prophet. “Silas! Tell it to go! Anywhere but here!” she exclaimed as the great laugh shook the walls and vanished without a further word.
She watched as Silas slowly seemed to return to reality and he took a quick look out the front window of the cabin. Wispy clouds of gas swirled around the train, not yet choking the air, but time was running out faster than the oxygen. Silas reached out and touched a small icon on the fizzling screen. The action caused the metal hulk to screech forward on the tracks slightly, but as soon as it started, the movement ceased.
The screen flashed a bright red as numerous runes and archaic words flashed across it in quick succession. Both Silas and Sam tried to keep up with the words and decipher them at the same time, but he was only able to catch portions of each phrase. “Jammed... Err... Tracks... Break... Poison? B-breaks... Emergency... Stalled...,” he read quickly as he tried touching the icons in the screen in frustration. The screen responded by angrily hissing and scrambling the images even further.
“For Arceus’s sake, just push a button!” Sam started touching any icon that looked remotely interactive. Her hand happened to brush against one of the icons, and another window popped up under the fizzling glass.
Sam gaped at the screen. “Enter authorization code? What in the nine-”
Silas pulled her hand away from the screen. “Sam, that’s not going to do anything! There is an issue with the brakes that needs to be manually fixed. Until that’s taken care of, we won’t be able to do anything,” he explained as he pointed to the small, oscillating model of the engine on the screen. Sam’s eyes were drawn to the small flashing circle targeting a small area near the wheels.
She sighed, and turned to Finn. “I’m sorry to ask this, but can you have a look?”
The Quilava took a quick glance out the window. Taking a deep breath, he nodded in her direction before approaching the steel chamber door. Sam watched as he twisted the access wheel and slipped out the exit. The door shuddered and immediately sealed itself behind him; its metal surface blocking any of the fumes from entering the cabin.
Finn stumbled out onto the surface of the engine and, still holding his breath, climbed down the series of railings until he dropped onto the final platform before he hit the wheels. The entire frame was shuddering madly as the power produced in the engine had no place to release itself. He thought he remembered seeing something like the icon the malfunctioning screen in the cabin above displayed on his way into the train initially.
His lungs were on fire and Finn was certain he couldn’t hold in his breath for much longer, lest they explode. He grasped the metal railing as he desperately searched for the panel that controlled the breaks. Suddenly, a particularly violent shudder ran through the engine, knocking Finn’s feet out from under him.
He slammed onto the floor, the breath being forced from his body as it recoiled from the impact. The bitter taste of the mixture of gas and breathable air entered his lungs as Finn tried to stand back up. His head swam slightly as the dull grey color of the engine blurred for a moment before clearing up. Finn shook the feeling away. It didn’t seem like there was enough gas in the air to kill him yet, so, holding a paw to his mouth, he continued forwards along the edge of the motor.
Tucked away in a corner of the vibrating frame, Finn saw what he had been searching for. The panel contained only a single switch that was set in the down position. It can’t possibly be this easy, can it? he wondered as he used his free paw to shove the switch upwards. Immediately, the giant wheels to his left shuddered as they rolled forward several inches before screeching to a stop once more. The jarring motions slammed Finn against the hard walls of the chassis, forcing him to inhale more of the toxic vapors as he tried to stabilize himself. His part of the mission complete, he began his climb up to the cabin as the poison gas swiftly followed.
Sam stared out the window, keeping track of Finn as he climbed over the railings back up to them. Silas interrupted her observation when he knocked his staff against the wall.
“I have an idea for getting the train started-- lay your hands across the screen,” he told her eagerly. Sam reluctantly looked away from Finn, and placed her hands on top of the console. A second later, the popup window vanished, and another replaced it.
“Are you sure that you want to head to this destination...” Sam trailed off. “...Silas- where exactly are we headed? Do you know?” she asked as she stared at the strange words that flashed impatiently on the screen.
She stepped aside as the Marowak looked at the small window. “Hmm ... This language is difficult to make out. It’s as if they used a separate dialect for every three words. How they ever managed to communicate is beyond me. Now, as for our destination, I have absolutely no idea. I can make out the words, but … It’s just … I don’t know!” he exclaimed as he suddenly looked back up at her. “Wait. Before, you said ... You said something about the destination. Can you really read this script?” he asked her hopefully.
Sam squirmed slightly as she fumbled for an answer. “Well... Maybe a third of it-- Or less... Probably what you can already read. That was based mostly on context clues and what typically shows up on computer interfaces when performing some operations,” she weakly explained as she ran her hand under a few of the odd words.
Silas bowed his head in exasperation. “No, that doesn’t help us any. Finn got the breaks, but it was a fool’s errand if we can’t get it to work for us, much less know where we’re going. Regardless of where the screen says we’re going to go, we can’t stay here,” he said. Leaning over the panel once more, Sam heard the old seer mutter a prayer to the prophets to help him understand the controls.
She nodded. “Right. What button says ‘yes’? This one?” she asked as she reached for a flashing green icon on the console monitor with all intentions of tapping on the symbol.
Silas’s eyes went wide as he blocked her hand from the screen. “No! Don’t press that! That button is for stopping all systems, not ‘yes’. That is the very last thing we need,” he explained as their gazes shifted across the sea of icons as they both searched for the correct button.
Both Pokémon were suddenly drawn away from their task as the steel door slammed open with a metallic clang. Finn emerged from the sea of yellowish gas as he stumbled into the cabin. The door slid back into position before too much gas entered the chamber. The Quilava took one step towards them before collapsing to the floor as a fit of dry heaving overcame him.
“Finn!” Sam dashed over to his side and tried to hold him upright. She spun around to face Silas, “Tell me how I can help him!” she screamed as Finn clutched at his throat in pain.
Despite the computer’s demands for his attention, Silas quickly knelt down over his apprentice as well. Without a word, he took his hand, felt under the coughing Quilava’s chin, and waited a few seconds before making a verdict.
“His pulse is still strong, so it’s unlikely the gas was some sort of stuntoxin, otherwise he would be completely unresponsive,” he reported as he stood up once more and went back to the screen. “The gas needs to exit his system; there’s nothing we can do except let him cough it out. And pray that it doesn’t have too many side-effects,” he said to her, muttering the last part under his breath.
“...Alright, then.” She seemed struck by a thought, and looked towards the back of the train. “Just get us moving. I’m going to check on our tagalongs,” she stated as she propped Finn up against a wall.
Silas looked back at her. “You’re serious? I can’t imagine why you would even... Anyway, if you are going out there, be quick about it and hold something against your mouth. You have no idea if their compartment is clean or completely flooded,” he warned her as he fished around in his bag for a moment before pulling out an extremely worn bandana. He balled it up in his fist and tossed it across the room to her.
She nodded as she caught it. “Thanks. I don’t like either of them, but I don’t think I want either of them dead. Just see if you can get this thing started.”
Tying the bandana around her head, she quickly opened the door into the next car. The foul air hit her like a punch to the gut. She couldn’t remember ever smelling anything this bad before. Even her vague memories of her life as a human said that the rotten smell was entirely new to her. Worse than expired milk, she thought as she tried to shake away the smell.
Balancing her way over the rattling couplings between the two cars, Sam grasped the wheel of the entry door. The smooth metal was not eager to turn in her leaves, but eventually it clicked to the left and the door swung open. Wasting no time, she quickly slammed the door behind her as she entered. She turned just in time to see Creon’s face inches from hers.
“Er, Creon! Hello, there! Um...” she stammered as the Mightyena let out a loud, pained cough. Her snout wrinkled in disgust at the black wolf’s hideous breath. It’s even worse than the gas!
“J-Just what exactly did you idiots do up there?” he wheezed. He bent his head down to blink away some of the tears brought on by the toxic miasma.The air inside the car seemed better than that outside, but only just.
Sam shook her head, and tried to explain. “It wasn’t us. There’s something out there- didn’t you hear the booming voice a moment ago?”
Creon nodded. To Sam, he still seemed unnerved by the mere mention of the event. “Yeah, we heard it right after the entire car started shaking like crazy. And as soon as we heard the demonic voice from the walls, we tried to shut the door. We figured we’d want something between us and the outside before everything went to hell on us,” he explained to her with a grimace as he coughed again. “We didn’t get it closed fast enough though, as you can tell...”
“How’s the grouchy bast-- I mean, Kaligo? You seem to have taken a faceful, but how’s he?” she asked as she looked about the spacious room for the cook.
The Mightyena turned his head to his left shifting Sam’s attention to the Togetic slumped on the floor. “He got a lot more than I did, but he’s breathing. We’re both alright back here for now. The gas won’t get inside that quickly and hopefully by that time our ‘all-seeing’ leader will have gotten us out of here,” he said, his voice barely having the strength to put emphasis on the sarcasm before he descended into a series of choking coughs. He turned his head to the side and spat out a sickly yellowish glob of phlegm onto the steel-plated floor.
She ignored the disgusting action as best she could. “Okay, as long as you guys are surviving.” She paused a moment before looking towards the front of the train. “Come to think of it, how long does it take to start this thing?”
The Mightyena looked up from his small pile of discolored saliva. “Hell if I know, human. I figured Silas just read it out of a magic book somewhere. I suggest you go and tell him that he’s not getting rid of us that easily and to get this thing moving,” he ordered, nodding his head towards the chamber door. As Sam curtly turned around, Creon spoke up once more. “Don’t think I forgot about earlier, my dear, because I haven’t,” he said darkly, nearly spitting the last two words at her.
She sighed, and turned back around. “Creon, take a good long look at me. Now look at Kaligo. What do you think should be more of a concern right now?”
Creon stared at her for a moment. His mouth moving slightly, but the words refusing to form. He heaved as another coughing fit came over him. Without answering her, he slowly walked over to the collapsed Togetic and sat down on his haunches beside him.
Sam nodded. “Make sure he’s okay, and I’ll see about maybe dealing with the events of earlier, later.” She stopped for a second, about to try and rephrase her statement to be less confusing. Taking note that Creon did not seem to be listening to her, she shrugged, and returned to the cabin.
The passage to the first car was choked with an even thicker layer of gas, but Sam dashed over the narrow coupling and twisted open the chamber door as fast as she knew how. In less than ten seconds, she was inside the control room. She coughed slightly from the little gas she had inhaled.
Silas called over to her from his place at the screen. “They still alive back there? Hopefully they had enough sense to close the door,” he inquired as he hesitantly tapped another set of symbols and buttons on the panel in front of him.
As she crossed the room, she noticed with a small sigh of relief, that Finn was now leaning against the wall beside him instead of collapsed on the floor in the pitiful state he was in earlier. His eyes were closed and his breathing looked shallow, but he didn’t seem to be coughing his lungs out anymore. Hang in there, Finn. We’ll be out of here soon.
“Well,” she said as she stood next to the prophet in front of the transparent screen. “Kaligo’s down for the count, but Creon...” Sam fought to suppress a small chuckle. “He’s mostly okay. He’s looking after the grouchy bastard.”
Silas nodded in reply. “That’s fine. A little choking gas won’t kill them. I figure that means they closed the door?” he asked as he pressed a few symbols on the screen. The train shuddered once more, but still refused to move forward.
“Yeah. They managed to get it shut before it killed them, but the gas will eventually leak in. How are we for starting this thing?” she reported, quickly shifting the gears of their conversation. Before she got an answer Silas suddenly slammed a fist against the console and let out a frustrated yell.
“Blasted thing! I try to get the correct sequence to move forward, but it keeps resetting before I can complete the circuit!” he exclaimed as he looked over at her. “Sam, I’ll need your help. This is a job for two Pokémon. Finn’s still out of it, so a former human will have to do.”
“What do I do?” she asked, eyeing the screen. “It seems that you have a better idea of what you’re doing than I do.”
Silas cracked his fingers. “Alright, when I start the sequence. I’ll need you to press these six icons in the order they flash. Once we do that, we should be moving,” he said as he gestured to clustered myriad of small symbols on her side of the screen. Sam just hoped that her ‘hands’ would be able to reach the indicated icons in time.
There was a small hissing noise from above them. Both she and Silas looked up and, to their horror, saw dull yellow vapors beginning to seep in through the pipes and vents. Silas looked to the Servine. “There’s no time to waste,” he said as he pressed a flashing icon in the center. The action started a chain reaction of separate icons, all of which Silas tried to keep up with.
Sam nodded, and tapped at the icons that Silas had indicated. Once she finished, the entire screen flashed a bright blue before fading to reveal a small set of transparent arrows and a series of speed gauges. A digital map of the tracks and station around them flashed into existence along the entire left of the monitor.
“Okay, do you know what that means?” she asked as she watched the screen transform from the complex maze of incomprehensible runes to the new simplistic interface.
“We got it! It’s running! I can’t believe it!” he exclaimed as he jumped in the air in excitement. “Now, let’s get this thing moving before we all die, shall we?” he asked as he pressed the illuminated red arrow that faced forwards.
The wheels screeched as their gears and components let loose their war cry as they battled against centuries of stagnation and rust. Their movement jarring the entire body of the train as it inched ahead ever so slowly on the tracks.
Sam stood back from the console, and nodded. “Okay, so which way are we headed?”
“Forward. Now let’s hope that we move out of this gas cloud before … well, before we die,” he said as he carefully tapped the speed gauge on the screen causing the numbers to increase with every touch. The machine shuddered as its stiff joints began moving faster and faster. Sam could barely see the platform beneath them move by through the thick layer of gas.
Sam looked back towards the front of the car, where the gas seemed to be not as thick. She was about to sigh in relief when the voice returned from the depths of the Abyss.
”Did you really think that you are beyond my range? The sound blasted throughout the station. Sam covered her ears as the voice and the Abyss continued to roar. Not two hundred feet ahead of them, a large steel wall descended from the entrance of the tunnel on the tracks in an attempt to seal off the station.
“No. we’re not giving up that easily!” Silas yelled at the seemingly omnipresent demon that haunted the station. Sam watched as the Marowak slammed his paw against the gauge. The entire engine threatened to shake itself to pieces as the gears and wheels turned even faster. The gas that surrounded the train seemed to thin somewhat as the growing wind swiftly pushed it away. The tunnel was almost within reach.
Suddenly, a noise like thunder shot from above them. They couldn’t see it from inside the control room, but they felt the entire station quake as the demonic voice screamed once again.
“No one leaves without my permission. No one! Rules cannot be broken. Disobedience will not be tolerated.”
Sam watched as the distance slowly closed between the front of the train and the closing barrier. She nervously pressed her hand against the vibrating wall of the room as she desperately willed the train to move faster. Silas pressed the gauge even harder. In response, small jets of fire blasted out of the vents on the engine as it surged forwards.
The titanic iron plow of the train slammed into the bottom of the metal bulkhead, firmly wedging itself between it and the tracks on the floor. All three Pokémon in the control room were slammed around by the cruel force of inertia. Sam was propelled into the wall of the room. Even through her dazed vision, she saw that Silas was not as fortunate. His helmeted head slowly lifted away from the thick glass of the window; leaving a small web of cracks as he shook off the impact.
Sam picked herself up slowly, stumbling over to the prophet. “Hey! Silas! Are you okay? Still conscious?”
Holding his head, the prophet looked in her general direction. “Yes... I am all right. My helmet has taken much worse than that before,” he told her as he rubbed his neck and plucked several shards of glass out of the surface of the helmet. “I’m just happy I’ve held up this long,” he told her as she saw him wipe away a small trickle of blood from under his chin.
A tremendous grating noise from the engine interrupted their conversation. The steel door shot a shower of sparks into the air as it scraped against the anterior of the train; the bulkhead gradually giving way to the pressure.
“You think we’re getting out of here, Silas?” she asked as she observed the struggle of machine verses wall outside of the window. “I mean, while it seems like the train’s winning this one, I’m not too sure if that thing outside could just lock us in again...”
“It’s quite possible, but we should have disabled whatever that thing did to the controls, so it can’t interfere again anytime soon,” he said as Sam continued to watch the barrier slowly fold upwards over the plow of the train. “Has Finn snapped out of it yet?” he asked.
Sam looked over to Finn, who seemed to be unsteadily rising to his feet at the mention of his name. “Looks like it.” She strode over to his side. “How do you feel?” she asked, putting a hand on his shoulder.
Finn glanced up at her. Sam could see the exhaustion of the day wearing down on him just by seeing his eyes. Man, he looks horrible, she thought as the Quilava attempted to summon the energy to answer.
“I’m … just perfect. Couldn’t be better,” he wheezed, coughing out a small puff of yellow gas. He vaguely glanced through the window over at the steel door peeling up over the straining engine. “When did that get there?” he asked Sam as he weakly waved his paw at the barrier.
She leaned down next to him. “Shortly after you got back in. You want to lie down again for a while?”
He shook his head in response. Without verbally replying, he placed his paws on the rattling wall and attempted to walk over to the window where Silas was urging the engine onwards with a series of muttered prayers. The Marowak stopped his plea to long-forgotten deities when he saw Finn stagger next to him as Sam made sure he did not fall again.
“Glad to see you’re up, Finn. As you can see, we’ve run into a bit of an obstacle, but we’re almost through from the looks of it,” he reported despite knowing that the Quilava was probably still too exhausted to fully grasp his words. “Sam, just make sure he stays upright and awake. We can’t have him sleep until that gas is out of him completely, understood?” he ordered.
Sam nodded and turned to face Finn. “So, I have to keep you awake... Why don’t you talk to me for a while? Um... Who exactly was Tiresias?”
Finn groggily agreed although his eyes were only half-open. “Well... See, I don’t think anyone knows.” He yawned quickly as he tried rubbing the fatigue out of his eyes. “There are a lot of conflicting stories about him. Silas can’t even get an approximate type of his species. The guy is a complete mystery,” he thought for a moment before looking back at her. “Well, he did prophesize about you, so we can thank him for that,” he told her with a small grin. “Still, we know next to nothing about you,” he said as his grin faded.
“Well, to be honest, I know about as-” Sam’s reply was cut short as the steel barricade was torn from its foundation as the engine jerked forward. The car itself raising several feet off the rails before roughly landing back down on the tracks.
“We’re free!” Silas shouted as he tapped the screen and raised the speed and pressure exerted by the engine. The wheels sparked as they turned in place on the tracks shortly before catching on the grooves and pushed the machine away from the toxic gas that enveloped Erebus Station.
The yellow haze of the toxins blew past the window and was swiftly replaced by fresh air. Despite sporting a few new bruises from the train’s rough behavior, Sam took the moment to breathe in the cleaner air that now blew through the vents on the ceiling.
The violent vibrations that shook the car quickly subsided and were replaced by a rhythmic clinking sound of the wheels going over the tracks. The sound grew more rapid as the metal titan flew through the steel corridor; the engine humming contently at finally being able to move along the rails once again.
Sam watched in silence as the stark walls of the station disappeared and only the jagged swatches of rock and steel columns remained along the sides of the tunnel. She knew that somewhere ahead were the answers she wanted.
Time, as in measurements of hours and minutes, had no meaning here. The light never changed inside the walls of the Abyss. Stuck in a perpetual grey light that slowly filtered in from some unseen source in the ceiling far above. Finn knew he had missed at least one complete cycle from the time he jumped down the hatch into this maze, but he had no idea how long it had actually been.
He sat on the edge of the second car of the train, his short legs dangling off the side as he let the rushing wind clear out any of the poison left in his lungs. He thought back to a few short hours ago, or at least that was how much time he assumed to have passed since the train left Erebus Station.
The ride through the initially pitch-black tunnel was entirely uneventful except for when Silas, Sam, and himself went to the second car and reopened the large sliding door to air out the room. Creon and Kaligo came around soon after that, though, like him, both seemed on the verge of falling asleep.
Finn had taken it upon himself to count the grey support pillars they passed in an effort to keep himself awake while Sam and Silas kept the Mightyena and the Togetic from passing out from exhaustion until the gas cleared from their systems. Finn was around the five-hundredth pillar when he saw a dim red glow rise up from the floor beneath the tracks and felt a pulsing heat that seemed to press against his body.
He curiously looked down to see that in between the cracks of the metal floor a river of red sluggishly flowed. The tremendous raw heat generated from the glow of the molten substance warmed Finn up considerably from the dry chills of the wind. Finn let out a drawn out sigh as he tried to absorb as much of the heat as he could.
Ahhhhh, now this was what I was missing out on back in the forest, he thought as he let the gentle pulses of rising heat from below flow over him, dragging him into a rare state of bliss.
“Err … You enjoying yourself?” Sam’s voice snapped him out of his trance. He turned his head up at her while still letting his feet hang from the side to take in the warmth.
“I am. Seriously, you have to try this, Sam. It feels absolutely amazing!” he exclaimed as he poked his head out of the compartment, letting the heat rush over him again. He pulled his head back in and shook it.
“Hmmm ... I know I’ve seen some Pokémon sit on top of vents during the winter. I think I knew someone’s Persian who did that year-round.” She poked her head out, and immediately pulled it back in. “Okay, eyes are watering now.”
She blinked a number of times, trying to get her vision to return to normal. She seemed to notice that he was giving her an odd look, and she smiled a little. “I guess it’s not for me.”
He shrugged in defeat. “Oh well. I mean, I just never felt so much heat before in one place. The closest I ever came to this in the rain forest was the fire Kaligo cooked over. That woke me up a bit; I feel pretty good right now.” he inched forward along the edge to expose more of himself to the heat. “So, how are Creon and Kaligo holding up?”
“Well,” she began as she looked back at the makeshift camp they had set up for the two Pokemon in the middle of the room. “I’m fairly certain that Creon’s un-poisonable. He and Kaligo each took a face-full of the stuff, and he seemed fine.”
Finn looked toward them as well and noticed Creon glaring at them fiercely from where he was sitting. “Well, fine enough so that he was on his feet and confrontational. Kaligo’s in worse shape than you, but he’ll survive,” Sam continued, shrugging a bit as she did so.
He didn’t show too much concern for the two anymore. “They wanted to come along, so what happens to them is their own fault.” He stretched out on his stomach along the edge of the railcar. “So, you have any idea how long it’s been since we started moving? I can’t tell if it’s been two hours or two days in here. The light never changes,” he asked while he gazed down at the slow moving flow of magma far below.
“I think it’s only been a few hours. Truth be told, I haven’t been paying much attention.” She leaned against the door. Finn knew she was watching him, but he poked his head out of the compartment again regardless. “So, I’ve been thinking, and I think I remember a bit more. If I push at the amnesia, it lets small details slip out. If you ever want to know more about me, just ask.”
He pulled his head back inside. The heat felt so wonderful that his flame patches were glowing on their own for once and not consciously ignited. “Anything on your name? Sam is just a placeholder until we figure it out. So, any progress on that?” he asked her while trying to avoid falling asleep to the heat and rocking of the train.
“Not yet, but I’m not sure I’d mention it if I remembered. A name’s just a word you use to refer to things, and I like the sound of Samantha. Who knows- I may never remember my given name,” she told him as she seemed to verbally shrug her shoulders of the issue.
An idea seemed to strike her. “Hey, as long as we’re here, why don’t we do a back-and-forth question exchange thing? I’ll ask you something, and you ask me something, and then we repeat for however long it takes us to get wherever this thing’s headed?”
Finn readily nodded in agreement. “That sounds good. So, you want to start?”
“Sure. I mean, you just asked one, so I may as well... Can you tell me about your parents?”
Finn’s mood instantly darkened. Somehow, he knew that was going to come up. However, he managed to put on a brave face and forced out an answer. “Well … As far as I can remember, it was just my mom raising me in a small village in the mountains. She was a Typhlosion. She was a great parent: cared for me, sheltered me, and fed me when food was available, though in the winters it was pretty harsh.” He closed his eyes as he remembered their small earthen shack among the village of similar poorly built dwellings. “Until around two years ago, that is ... That’s when the plague struck our town ...” he trailed off as a different sort of memories flashed before him. The gaunt, pale faces of the infected, the blazing fevers, the nightmarish hallucinations, and finally, the slow, withering death that the disease wrought on most of its victims after only two weeks.
He gulped back the sickening feelings of guilt. “I barely got over the sickness. Somehow, my body survived it. But she …” Keep it together, Finn. It’s in the past, remember that, his thoughts tried to reassure him as he finished up his answer. “She … didn’t. She succumbed to the plague along with the majority of my village.”
Sam sat back, seemingly surprised at the fact that he had gotten that far into describing the memory. “Finn, how does this sound? If you don’t want to talk about something, you’re allowed to ask the other person to choose a different question.”
Finn shook his head in disagreement. “No. It’s not good to have repressed emotions. I’ve seen Pokémon drive themselves insane that way. I’ve come to terms with it for the most part. Just … It’s hard sometimes. I’ll try and answer anything you ask,” he told her as he took a deep breath to gather his thoughts. “So, my turn, I guess. Let’s see … I’m still curious as to how you got on top of a tree, but I’m certain you don’t remember anything of that, right? So, how do you feel about all this?” he said as he motioned to Silas tending to Creon and Kaligo and the train. “About everything that’s happened so far?”
“Well, it’s certainly a shock. I never expected to wake up as a Servine one day, nor to end up in a place like this. I had a few escapist fantasies that were kind-of-sort-of-not-really similar to this, but that’s the closest I’ve come to this. Anyway, I like you and Silas.” Her eyes shifted over towards the group in the back. “As for the tagalongs... Well, Kaligo’s not my favorite person on the planet, and Creon... The fun meter slides back and forth between ‘fun to screw around with’ and ‘avoid.’”
Finn chuckled a bit. “Yeah, I would feel the same way if I suddenly woke up as a human. I have had daydreams of the surface from some of the stories my mom told me when I was little; finding a way that somehow lead out. And yeah, Kaligo is someone I could live without. Ever since I stumbled into their camp after the plague, he’s taken every opportunity to call me a waste of food rations,” he replied as he gave a bitter gaze over to the two former gang members.
“Speaking of the Ventus, how’d you end up involved with them?”
“Always the hard questions, isn’t it?” He grinned a bit. “Well, I was one of twelve in my village to actually survive the sickness. It fell apart after that. Any traders that used to bring food avoided our town like ... Well, the plague. So, we all left. That was a little over two years ago. After a few days of wandering through the forest, we came across the Ventus camp in the west forest desperate for shelter, food, and warmth,” he recounted to her as he recalled that day. “And besides, in the forest during the rainy season, it’s much harder to survive. You have to join a gang; otherwise, you’ll end up being much less than a slave if you’re caught. I was just lucky Silas was looking for a Pokémon to help him out at the time.” Finn casually looked over to the prophet in question. Silas had finally finished treating Kaligo and Creon of their mild poisonings and was walking towards the compartment door to go back up to the command room. Finn looked back at Sam.
“So, another question. What was your home like? You mentioned someplace called ‘Golden-rock’ before, right?” he asked, even though he knew he butchered the name somehow.
“Goldenrod. I have family there, but I came from a city one or two regions over called Veilstone. Busy place, but overall uneventful. A few years ago, there was a criminal organization that was headquartered there, but a mystery Pokémon trainer showed up, and booted them right out again. No one ever found out the details- I know one person who claims it was a young girl from Sandgem, but I know another who swears up and down that it was a boy with questionable tastes in headgear.”
She shrugged after a minute. “Basically, a lot of people, but not enough going on to justify it. Did you have any friends besides Silas among the Ventus?”
Finn drank in the details. “That sounds … interesting. Do all of the places on the surface have problems like that?” he asked as he tried to picture what sort of criminals could be taken down by a single human child. Everything about the surface is backwards, he thought. “Anyway, not really. Some of the Pokémon from my village were put into ‘D’ squad --the cleanup crew. I hung out with them on occasion whenever Silas didn’t immediately need me for something. They always used to trick me into doing their chores by having me lose bets against them,” he told her as he explained the last bet that involved eating five Cheri Berries without spitting out the incredibly spicy fruit. “It was a stupid move on my part, but if I didn’t lose, you might have never fallen on me out of that tree.” He could barely hear Silas’s voice from the first car beyond the noise of the train. Whatever it was he wanted, Finn couldn’t understand him.
“That’s true. I could have ended up dead.”
The train seemed to shake a bit on the rails as the river of magma faded from view and the heat along with it. They were back inside the grey light of the tunnel. Finn scooted away from the edge before the cold winds got to him.
He looked back at Sam as he wondered what to ask her next. I already asked her almost everything I’m curious about... he thought as he mulled over the small pool of questions he had left for her. Wait a moment. What she said earlier about Pokémon on the surface... The idea struck him like a hammer between the eyes. Part of him didn’t really want to know her answer, but the curious part of his mind wouldn’t let him forget about it if he didn’t ask her.
“Sam, did you …own any Pokémon as a human?” he slowly inquired as Silas’s voice gradually got louder and louder from the front of the train.
“Not for battles. My family owned a Porygon-Z, but he was around mostly to help my dad, who had a tech support job. I interacted with other peoples’ Pokémon on a daily basis, and I can remember owning... I think it was a Monferno.”
Finn raised an eyebrow. “Not for battling? What about before, when we fought Cedric? Your strategy for fighting him seemed like ones that an amateur tactician might use.”
“I don’t know why, but I have a memory of watching two opposing tribes of Weavile fight each other. That advice was taken from studying their tactics.”
“Oh, I see.” It was not as bad as he expected, though the fact that Pokémon were pets on the surface worried him. And where could she have possibly have seen two Weavile tribes fight?
“What was your Pokemon like?” The question still felt wrong on so many levels. As if he was equating himself with whatever slaves Pokemon on the surface had become.
“Well, he seemed to enjoy being a gofer. I couldn’t understand the Pokémon language, so I could never tell much about what he was thinking. I wonder what would happen if I ran into him now... What he’d really be like...”
Finn was thinking of a reply to her question when the metal compartment door slammed open behind him. Finn turned around to see Silas standing there; gasping for breath as small wisps of steam radiated off his helmet and skin. “Finn! Sam! Creon! Come here! We’ve got a problem!” he exclaimed as he tried to shake the heat off himself.
Finn twisted around and pulled himself off the ground. Sam was on her feet an instant behind him. “What’s the problem, and how do we fix it?” she asked as she sprinted up the stairs, taking them two at a time.
“It’s not really something I can explain, except that the control room is now hot enough to boil water. Sam, I’m hoping you’ve at least heard of something like this before, and Finn, you are the only one among us who can possibly hope to fix it in those temperatures,” he said as he gestured for the Quilava to walk ahead of him back towards the engine. Finn heard him shout a warning to Creon and Kaligo before he shut the door behind them.
As soon as the door closed, they could feel the sudden rise in temperature. The waves of heat coming off the engine ahead of them were stronger than the ones Finn felt over the lava flow.
The second Sam was exposed to the heat, Finn saw her recoil as if she’d been hit in the gut. She took a second to compose herself, and nodded to Finn.
“I’m... fine. I’ll be alright.” Silas knocked his club against the walls to get their attention from the front car.
“So, Samantha, have you ever heard of anything like this?” he asked as he pointed his staff over to the first car, which was radiating waves of heat that distorted the air around it.
“Afraid not. Like I said, I know very little about how these things work.”
“Well, that leaves us little choice. Finn? We need you. Somehow, you have to find a way to cool down the car, or at least find out what is happening up there,” he explained as he handed Finn a small piece of cloth he took from his bag. “Just in case there’s any gas or fumes up there.”
Finn took the cloth and pressed it against his mouth. He walked forward up to the couplings; they seemed far less solid than they had felt earlier at the station. The twin hooks creaked and strained in protest as he slowly placed one foot in front of the other one on top of the link.
“Please, be careful. I would hate to lose my apprentice when I need him the most!” Silas called out over the ferocious breathing of the machine ahead of him. Finn nodded and took a deep breath to focus himself.
The engine looked like it had been dipped in the magma flow. The outside was a dull, pulsing red that gave it a demonic appeal. Sparks flew from the vents on top and the sides of the huge car. As soon as Finn stepped on the metal floor before the compartment door his feet were greeted with temperatures that made the coals of the fires he stamped out seem like a joke. The searing heat was uncomfortable to him, but he was able to endure it as he twisted the glowing handle of the door. His paws left dark, cooler patches on the red-hot wheel as it finally came apart and swinging open.
The heat was worse than Silas had said. He described it as boiling inside the room, but to Finn, it seemed as if it was hot enough to melt the entire room until it was only a puddle of molten steel.
He gasped in pain as the cloth he was holding to his mouth instantly ignited into flames from the superheated air. He dropped it with a yelp as he rubbed the slightly singed fur on his cheeks. The cloth curled and twisted into blackened ash as soon as it touched the floor.
Disregarding the now useless protection Silas had given him; Finn took several cautious steps inside the torrid control room. The wall of nozzles, valves, pistons, levers, and gauges seemed to be hanging from their sockets as the rivets that bolted them into place were dissolved by the heat. The floor was a maze of jets of skin-melting steam Finn was keen on avoiding and hot patches that made the grate a literal frying pan to his feet.
He quickly skipped and hopped over the sizzling floor, narrowly avoiding a blast of scalding steam that would have melted his entire head if he had been closer. Without any other close calls, he finally made it to the front of the room. He glanced out of the window; aside from the jagged patterns of the walls of the tunnel, Finn saw something in the haze of the rapidly melting glass that was far more worrying. The dim light of the hall revealed that the tracks they traveled were not as endless as they seemed: they seemed to abruptly cease at a massive wall of bolted steel.
Finn gaped at the huge barrier for a moment. It did not matter how impressive the train had acted earlier against the bulkhead. There’s no way we’re going to break this one down by brute force and stay alive in the process.
He remembered Silas’s orders. Alright, got to find a way to cool this thing down... The glass screen in front of him seemed to fizzle in and out of static as the picture rapidly flashed symbols and words that Finn could only guess were some sort of warning signal.
He watched helplessly as the runes, numbers, and gauges on the screen kept flashing and rising. Four hundred degrees … What does “K” stand for? his mind mused as the needle inside temperature gauge in question kept rising beyond the blood red “danger” zone on the circle.
Finn cautiously tapped his paw on the surface only to have the glass crack down the middle of the screen. He swiftly withdrew his hand just in time to shield himself when the monitor exploded in a shower of sparks and glass dust that sizzled as soon as it hit the floor.
Backpedaling from the newly formed crater that used to be the control screen, Finn barely had time to raise his paws to his face as the engine underneath him shuddered violently and his vision went entirely red as jets of fire engulfed the entire cabin.
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