Chapter 8 – Phasing Forward, Looking Back
The doors to DeLeo’s office opened, and the human ushered Esaax out.
Walking was requiring a bit more effort from Esaax than usual. His muscles were oddly tense, and his tail was flicking about restlessly. His bones, however, felt as though they could simply come apart and melt away. Esaax got the distinct feeling that he was starting to fall ill.
The voice from down the corridor drew Esaax’s attention. He looked, and there was Jen, bounding toward him with much more energy than he’d seen the snorunt exhibit thus far.
“It’s time to go,” Jen said once he came to a stop. “I heard that you got to talk with Mr. DeLeo in private. You’re so lucky! So tell me, then, did you like it?”
“…It was something.” That was all that Esaax could think to say under the current circumstances.
DeLeo smiled down at the snorunt. “It was great to meet your friend, Jen. And I think I managed to make a real breakthrough for his benefit. Thanks very much for bringing him.”
Jen gave an enormous grin and even giggled a little, apparently made giddy by the fact that his actions had pleased the founder of his beloved Hope Institute. He bade the human farewell and led an increasingly pale Esaax away.
DeLeo watched them leave, working his tie between his fingers with something of a faraway look in his mahogany eyes. It’s gonna be all right, Esaax, he thought. Soon you’ll have your old life back. Both of us will…
* * *
Esaax was riding back to Syr’s house with Jen, and he was now genuinely sick. It felt like someone was rearranging his insides, and clumsily at that.
Jen noticed Esaax’s condition at the next red light. “You don’t look so good,” he said.
“Nnnnrrrrrrr…” was Esaax’s reply, and it was the last thing out of his mouth until he and Jen were a block away from Syr’s house, when Esaax threw up over the side of the car.
“Oh dear,” Jen said as he pulled into the driveway, then exited the vehicle to inspect the mess. “Guess you’ll need to have that checked out… ewww…”
“Haven…” Esaax managed to croak out, “now…”
“Okay, okay, don’t worry…” Jen said. He was about to get back into the car when the front door of the house opened. Syr slithered out and looked about ready to say something, but before the arbok could say a word, Esaax was violently sick again.
Syr shot a distressed look at the wobbuffet, and then at Jen. “When did he get so sick?” he demanded worriedly.
“Just minutes ago,” the snorunt answered. “It just hit him out of nowhere.”
“Haven…” Esaax groaned again.
Syr nodded. “Don’t worry,” he said, as much for his own benefit as for Esaax’s, “we’ll take you there right away.” He leapt into the backseat, while Jen took his place behind the wheel. “Go. Now!” Syr commanded.
The three of them made a beeline for the Haven, with Esaax vomiting twice more and developing tremors along the way.
* * *
Forty-five minutes had passed since arriving at the Haven. Syr was coiled up in a waiting room, full of worry, anger, and a few choice words that he wanted to blast at the next person to enter the room.
Luckily he did no such thing, for the next person to walk in was Jen. The snorunt had just returned from getting the car washed. “Is he going to be all right?” Jen asked.
“I don’t know yet. I’m still waiting for the nurse to come back.” Syr’s tail lashed in outright fury. “Those idiots! They had to have seen this coming. Anything that happens to him is on their heads!”
“I told you that they and their human medicine failed him,” Jen said quietly.
“They didn’t just fail him, Jen, they betrayed him. And I’m telling you, they’d better not do it again this time. Either he walks out of here alive and well—for real this time—or so help me, I’ll—”
Teresa entered the waiting room, and Syr shut up in a hurry. He forced himself into calmer body language and a more even tone of voice, managing to stay aware that unleashing the full brunt of his anger would only complicate things for both himself and Esaax.
“How is he?” Syr asked.
“He’s stable, for now,” Teresa responded. “He actually came right out of that fit almost as soon as we’d gotten a hold of him. He might still relapse, though; we’ll need to keep him here until we can be sure of exactly what he’s experiencing. He’s in no hurry to leave anyway, trust me. He’s almost too weak to move at all.”
“So you still don’t know what’s wrong with him,” Syr said.
“I’m afraid not,” Teresa replied. “We still have some tests to run through, the results of which will hopefully give us the answers we’re looking for. Unfortunately, that will take time. Even more unfortunately, all the signs so far seem to be pointing to something with which we’re entirely unfamiliar.”
“And why didn’t you see this coming?” Syr demanded in a tone that was suddenly cold, unable to stop himself.
Teresa stared at him, looking almost appalled.
“You had him here just this morning,” Syr pressed on. “You were supposed to be taking care of him, keeping an eye on his condition. It seems to me that you should have noticed this sickness setting in while he was in your care, and yet you didn’t. So why in the hell didn’t you see this coming?”
Now Teresa looked thoroughly appalled. “Whatever Esaax’s current malady is, it’s completely unrelated to the condition for which he was initially brought here. He gave no indication whatsoever that he would fall ill like this while he was in our care, and he was in excellent shape when we released him. There was no way this could have been predicted!”
“Well, that’s not all, though. What about that psychic sickness that he was in here for to begin with, huh? I saw it. I saw that multicolored aura just hours ago, and he’s been like the living dead ever since it appeared. How can you have thought it was all right to let him out when this sort of thing is still happening?”
Teresa’s expression softened somewhat; she now looked more troubled than angry. “That aura never appeared even once during his time here. Adn’s methods should have triggered it if it were still possible for it to be triggered.”
“But they didn’t,” Syr spat. “I think I want to have a talk with this ‘Adn’ person. It sounds like they’re the one who’s gone and screwed things up here.”
“I’m sorry, but he’s not here at this time,” Teresa said. “I will speak with him later, all right? In the meantime, please… I understand that you’re worried for Esaax. I really do. I’m worried for him, too. I hate seeing him like this, especially so soon after it honestly seemed like he’d finally gotten through the last set of hardships life gave him. But losing your composure won’t do him any good at all. It’ll only get you removed from the premises—I’m sure you don’t want that, and I don’t want that, either. Esaax needs you to be here for him and hold it together. Okay?”
There was a moment’s delay, but then Syr sighed, lowering his head guiltily. “You’re right,” he said. “I’m sorry. Just… please, take care of him. Please,” he said, looking imploringly into Teresa’s eyes.
“We’ll do everything we can,” Teresa assured him, then turned and left.
As Syr watched her go, he hoped dearly that everything that the Haven’s staff could do would indeed be enough.
* * *
Lying in bed with his eyes closed, yet still partially awake, Esaax was still suffering the nauseous, ache-inducing effects of his mystery illness. Though miserable, he was about to fall asleep out of sheer exhaustion.
He was almost disconnected from his senses enough in his current state to fail to notice the presence that entered his midst then, emerging from the wall just above his bed. A dark bluish-gray gengar now hovered over him, clutching a flat, black stone whose edges had a silvery sheen.
By the time Esaax’s presently-compromised psychic senses realized that there was a potentially dangerous, partly ghost-type creature nearby, the gengar had already vanished from the scene. The stone, however, had not—Esaax opened his eyes in a delayed and imperfect state of primal alarm just in time to see it drop from the air and land right on his face.
He would have shouted in pain and surprise, but the moment that the stone made contact with his skin, he felt a massive jolt fire through his body that took his breath away. An instant later, it was gone and replaced by an extremely unpleasant feeling in his bones. It was a stretching feeling, as if hands had seized each one of his extremities and both ends of his spine and were pulling on them as hard as they could. It genuinely felt as though every part of him were being stretched out of shape, as if his entire body were being forcibly and dramatically elongated.
There came a second shock, one much greater than the initial jolt that he’d received upon being hit with the stone, as Esaax realized in horror that it was.
* * *
Not far away, in a large puddle of recent rain, the reflection of a long, blue face gazed up at its owner: none other than Ntairow Fade, who was finally near the end of a very long search.
She had been forced by her clan’s leadership to leave Esaax behind with the rest of the Evergray, but had never accepted the choice that they’d made for her. Ultimately, she had broken free from her clan with the aid of a few fellow Fade whom she’d successfully convinced of the injustice that she’d been dealt.
Soon after she’d escaped, something had come into the picture that had made her all the more glad that she was free to return to the Evergray and reunite with Esaax. That something appeared now as another blue reflection beside her own, resting on his long arms as he peered into the water with a large, perpetual smile.
“They’re ready, Mother,” the wynaut said.
He was her son, named Zerzekai. Tonight he was going to take part in the ritual of evolution—for about the fortieth time. Zerzekai seemed to have a fear of evolving despite how earnestly he wanted to evolve; as such, every single one of his “transforming” battles thus far had ended the same way: cold feet and only two of them.
“The question is, are you ready?” Ntairow asked.
“Of course I’m ready! I know you’re gonna be proud of me if I do this, and I bet Father will be, too!”
“We will be proud of you no matter what,” Ntairow assured him. “And your father’s going to be absolutely delighted to finally meet you no matter what form you’re in.”
When she’d made it back to Evergray territory, she had been told that Esaax had left and was nowhere to be found. Upon learning this, she’d set out with her child in order to find him and bring him back to what she had thought of as her new clan ever since she’d first spent time with them.
“But we already met! …Oh. No, we didn’t. Not really…” Zerzekai reminded himself, sounding crestfallen.
The wynaut and his mother had made numerous return trips to the Blackthorn area in search of Esaax. On one occasion, while exploring and playing alone, Zerzekai had actually found him. He had realized almost as soon as he’d laid eyes and oculon upon Esaax that that wobbuffet was his father, but he had lost track of Esaax after running to tell Ntairow of his discovery.
“He should have recognized me,” Zerzekai said, and not for the first time.
Ntairow shook her head. “Different people’s senses don’t always work in the same ways. You know that.”
Differences in the way senses worked was a subject with which Ntairow had had a very personal sort of experience herself. Having already experienced a change in her own, she had chosen to subject them to another set of enhancing alterations in order to ultimately track down Esaax. She remembered that at the time, she’d found it oddly funny that she’d managed to find the fairly obscure thing that was required to provoke those changes so much more quickly and easily than she’d found Esaax, and she wondered if he would find that similarly amusing.
She also wondered how much it was going to take to convince him that she was indeed someone whom he’d known and loved before. Ntairow wanted to believe that it would be easy enough, but…
She loved the Evergray. She really did. Their laws were nowhere near as strict as those of the Fade. But there was a lot about not only the world outside their caverns but also about the secrets of their own kind that they had yet to learn. If, in his time outside of Evergray territory, Esaax hadn’t learned that the course of action that she had taken in order to find him was even an option, she would have to enlighten him about it.
“We’re ready whenever you are!” a voice called out from not too far away then. Its source was a linoone, next to whom there stood a zigzagoon.
“Go on, then, if you’re ready,” Ntairow told Zerzekai. “And remember: no matter how this turns out, we will both be proud of you.”
With a smile that was huge, even for a wynaut, Zerzekai rushed over to the linoone and zigzagoon and allowed himself to be led toward a larger clearing by them. The latter would be the one whom Zerzekai would fight (and defeat—the two normal-types had agreed to Ntairow’s request for the zigzagoon to throw the fight after having been paid handsomely in berries).
And after the battle, regardless of the outcome, they would go to reunite with Esaax. As a shout from the linoone signaled the start of the match, Ntairow found herself reminiscing about the last night that she’d spent with Esaax…
Ntairow’s reverie was abruptly shattered by something that seemed to explode inside her head, something that tore through the image of Esaax that she was holding within her mind and caused that picture to warp and twist.
Ntairow’s heart froze. “No… it’s not possible,” she whispered.
A horrid scream stabbed into her mind then—a psychic scream. It rose up, but then faltered and changed, distorted and corrupted in a way that could only have been achieved by…
“Dear Night, no!” Ntairow stood, reeling as she fought against the harsh brain-noise of the psybane that had so suddenly and impossibly blossomed into being. “Don’t follow!” she then called out to Zerzekai. But she could only hope and pray that her son had heard her and would obey, for she was already running full tilt toward Esaax and the horror that was befalling him. She suffered all the while as she ran, trying but failing to bite back cries of pain and clutching her head in her hands—in all four of them.
Next time: In the wake of his being struck by the strange stone, a bizarre and terrible experience befalls Esaax, one whose results deeply trouble his caretakers at the Haven. See you then!
- Sike Saner