- Apr 30, 2013
- Reaction score
After Dusk Falls
P1.01 – Second Chance
The lights flickered throughout the off-white hall. The underground facility had no windows to let in the moonlight, so when the lights went out again, it became impossible to see anything.
"Figures," a gruff, female voice said. "That didn't last long."
"No, it didn't," replied a raspy whisper. "I don't know why I even bothered with the backup generator."
In a moment, a soft glow begins to emanate from one of them, revealing the silhouette of a Malamar. Eclipse, like all Malamars, looked a bit like a large, upside-down squid with a glossy black body. His head had several blue tentacles coming out of it, which, unlike normal Malamars, Eclipse kept his tentacles down behind his head. He had two large, dominant tentacles which served as arms. He also had a pair of fins he could use as legs, but he spent most of his time levitating. He had a crude satchel slung over his "shoulder."
As his glow became gradually stronger, it illuminated an ermine-like Mienshao. The two of them continued on, with Eclipse in the lead. Despite the weight and awkward size of the fossils she cradled in her arms, Lin hardly slouched. She was frightfully strong for a Mienshao, after all. Eclipse lead them to another flight of stairs. As they descended deeper underground, her large whiskers bounced with each step; they helped her maintain her balance, which was useful on these stairs, but even more so in the heat of combat.
Once they came to the bottom of the stairs, the two of them continued through the halls. Their footsteps echoed around blind turns and through yawning doorways. The Malamar would give a few of these unlit passages a glance, but he hardly slowed for any of them. His accomplice, on the other hand, was more concerned with stepping over the chunks of ceiling and the cracks in the concrete floor. Dropping one of these brittle fossils would be a disaster.
Lin wished Eclipse would find the so-called "Fossil Restoration Lab" soon. She was starting to get a little sore from hauling the rocks all day. And something about this place was giving her the creeps.
Eclipse came to a stop in front of a closed door. He used one of his tentacle-arms to push the door open. Satisfied with what he saw, he floated through the door. Lin sighed with relief; they found something.
The Malamar created a ball of light and suspended it in the middle of the square room. In the corner across from the door – the right-hand corner – a metal table and a few chairs were set up. A large device was pushed up against the left wall, running the length of the room. On the far end of the device, there was a large, metal box with a glass door. The rest of the machine was bristling with levers and buttons. A flat monitor was attached to the wall above the machine. As she looked over the strange machine, Lin noticed a pale shape behind the machine's glass door.
"This one appears to be in good condition," Eclipse said as he rubbed his two dominant tentacles together. "Much better than the last one. I think this'll get the job done."
"Uh-huh," the Mienshao said. "But what's that thing, behind the glass?"
"Hm? Let's see." He moved over to it, unlatched it, and swung the door open. A bony arm flopped out and its hand dropped to the floor. It landed with a clatter, and its fingers flew apart, scattering across the floor.
Eclipse flinched at the sudden sound. Lin's eyes widened. "What's a skeleton doing in there?"
"Good question, but not one we care about. Lin, get those bones out of there. I'll get the machine ready." He moved over to the side of the machine opposite to the box. Eclipse produced a square battery from the satchel and put it on top of the machine.
While he searched for the machine's cord and grumbled about faulty backup generators, Lin carefully set the rocks next to the table. Finally free from their heavy weight, she took a moment to stretch her stiff muscles. As she did so, her fire stone on her choker glistened in the light.
She grabbed one of her dangling, sleeve-like whips and began wrapping it around her arm. These whips that grew from her wrists were great in a fight, but they'd only get in the way here. Then she did the same for the other, making sure it wouldn't come loose on its own.
Then she got to work, scooping the bones out by the handful and placing them in a pile on the floor. As she groped around in the dark chamber, she found a large, round bone. This feels like a skull, she thought to herself. Once she pulled it out, she turned it to face her, hoping she might be able to figure out what this creature was. As she stared into the skull's hollow eyes, she let out a terrified gasp. "S-sir," she said with a quiver in her voice. "Look..."
The Malamar turned toward her, with a power cable in his grip. "Oh?! What an amazing find!"
"'Amazing'? Are you nuts?"
"Hmph, you're letting a skull bother you?"
"This isn't just 'a skull.' This is a human skull!"
"Yes, that's obvious."
"Haven't you heard the stories? 'He who disturbs the resting place of a human shall surely perish in the same hour,' or something like that."
"That's just a myth to keep children in check."
"No, it's more than... You know what? Fine. But you're cursed, too; it's your fault that its hand is on the floor."
"Quit complaining and get back to work." He turned back to the machine, picked up the battery, and plugged the cable into it. The machine's display immediately came to life, and a low hum began to fill the room. Messages came and went on the monitor faster than Eclipse could read them.
Lin turned back to the skull in her hands. She didn't want to continue piling these bones on the floor. Maybe, if she put the bones in a better resting place, her punishment would be less harsh. Maybe she'd just lose an arm or something. She found a cardboard box sitting under the table and started placing the bones in the box. She worked more carefully now, not letting the bones drop. It was tedious, slow work.
"Alright, it's ready," Eclipse said. He looked over at Lin. "How are you not finished yet?"
"Sorry, sir. There's a lot of small bones in here."
"At the rate you're going, our battery won't hold out. Hurry it up!"
"Yessir," she said. She started scooping up bones by the handful laying them in the box. Her cold sweat felt even colder in the frigid air.
A minute later, and the grim deed was done. She wiped her paws on the box and carefully nudged it back under the table. Then she picked up one of the fossils and slowly laid it inside the machine's chamber. It crushed one of her digits as she did so. She bit her lip as she yanked her paw free. Then she gently shut the glass door and closed the latch. She looked at Eclipse and nodded.
He turned back toward the console and began pecking at the keys with his tentacles. Several indicators appeared on the screen. Eclipse turned a few dials and watched as the indicators updated accordingly. Once he was satisfied, he typed a little more on the keyboard, and then stepped back.
Lin didn't understand anything Eclipse was doing, as she could not read the ancient, human language. But maybe that was a good thing. Resurrecting a fossilized Pokémon felt a little like black magic. Eclipse could deal with the gory details; she was just there to help carry the fossils.
At first, nothing seemed to change. Lines of text kept scrolling by on the monitor. Then the low humming got louder, and the fossil chamber began to glow with a bluish light. Then, with a sudden flash, the fossil vanished.
"Wha-?" Lin said, as her vision recovered. "Where did it go?"
"This isn't normal," Eclipse said. He quickly moved to the controls of the machine. He was about to start typing on the keyboard, but something he saw on the screen made him stop. "It's… fine? The books never mentioned this."
A few moments later, a red light flooded out from the chamber. It was hard to notice at first, but something strange began to happen: the red light began to fold in on itself, taking a shape of its own. At first, its shape shifted and was an irregular mass. As the light grew brighter, the shape started to establish itself. A shape with a head, a pair of wings, and a pair of legs.
Then everything went dark. Totally dark. The machine's display was off. The red light was gone. The machine’s hum disappeared.
"The battery!" Eclipse shouted. "It's out of power!"
At that moment, a shriek pounded the room. A loud clang followed.
"What? Who's there?" Lin called out.
"Hang on," Eclipse said. Eclipse's previous ball of light had faded, so he shaped another one and released it into the air. What the light revealed surprised them both.
Within that chamber wasn't a dead fossil, but a living bird. Eclipse’s light caused it to turn about and stare at its revivers. Lin thought it was a rather strange looking bird; its face was covered in scales, not feathers, and it had a few teeth protruding out of its round snout. From its neck down, it was covered in sand-colored feathers.
"It lives!" Eclipse said ecstatically. "The Archen lives!"
The Archen let out another loud squawk. It tried walking out of the chamber, but it walked head-first into the glass door. It had a puzzled look on its face, and began to thump its head against the door, trying to break through.
Eclipse and Lin chuckled. Lin moved towards the creature. "I'll let it out."
"Wait, we should... no, never mind. Go ahead."
As she reached for the handle, the Archen let out a continuous, ear-piercing squawk. Lin put her paws to her ears, and it immediately stopped. It went back to thumping its head against the door. As Lin reached out again, it shrieked again, and then stopped again when she backed away.
"Hey, I'm trying to help you! Stop being a little twit!"
Eclipse smirked. "It thinks it can break free of its egg. We'd better get it out before it damages the machine. Or itself, for that matter."
"I think you're right." She tried again, this time ignoring its protests. But as it started squawk intensified, its cry was replaced with a grating cough. It hacked up a large amount of blood.
The sight made Lin freeze. That was the last thing she was expecting. "Crap!" Eclipse shouted. He rushed over. "Open the door! Now!"
Lin did as she was told. The Archen tumbled out of the chamber, and Eclipse caught it within his tentacles. As he cradled the bird, it coughed up more blood, which got all over its feathers and Eclipse's chest. The Malamar didn't pay attention as he ran one of his tentacles across the bird's chest.
"Its vital organs are collapsing."
"When the power was cut, the machine hadn't fully formed the creature. See, it’s also missing some feathers, and I think it should have bigger feet. But, more importantly, its lungs aren't working right." It coughed up more blood. "It doesn't have much time."
"Can't we help it somehow?"
She frowned. She hated to admit it, but this was mostly her fault. If she had been faster...
Eclipse handed the dying bird to Lin. "Put it somewhere out of the way. We can still try the other fossil." He turned back to the machine.
Lin looked down at its frail body. It was shuddering and breathing irregularly. It tried to squawk again, but only more blood came up.
"Hush," she said. "You have to calm down." She held it close, and it instinctively snuggled up against her body. Though it smeared its blood all over her fur, she didn't pay attention to that. Its frantic, irregular breathing slowed a little as it stared into her eyes.
"That's right. Focus." Its breathing continued to steady. She hated feeling so helpless, but what else could she do?
Eclipse sighed. "Part of the machine’s chamber broke when the Archen was trying to get free. I'll need to find some replacement parts. I'll be back." He moved for the door.
He was leaving the bird with her? "Wait a second!" Her outburst caused the Archen to panic and start coughing again. As Eclipse left the room, his light faded and vanished, leaving Lin in total darkness with the panicked Archen in her arms. She tried to shush it, but it wouldn't calm down.
She saw a glow coming against the hallway. Lin gave a relieved sigh. So he wasn't just going to leave her in the dark after all. But instead of a Malamar, she saw the four-legged silhouette of a Sylveon. He was emitting a soft light, making it easy for Lin to recognize his many ribbons and his long, pink ears. His water stone necklace sparkled against the backdrop of its glowing owner.
"Lang!?" she said in disbelief. "Why are you here?"
Instead of answering, Lang bounded up in front of her. "What's wrong with it?" he asked, looking at the Archen with his bright blue eyes.
"It... Eclipse said something about a collapsed, err, lungs?"
"Let me see it." By this, he meant for Lin to bring it lower. Though Lin was a little short for a Mienshao, she was holding the Archen about level with Lang's face.
She got down onto her knees, trying to contain the struggling bird. He placed one of his ribbon-like feelers over its chest, and another on its head. The ribbons emanated a soft light, calming the bird instantly. Lang frowned. "Yeah, the guy's not doing so hot. I can only make him more comfortable." As he spoke, the Archen took a deep breath at long last.
"What are you doing here?" Lin asked, turning her attention back toward Lang. "How did you even find us?"
"Well... I knew something was up when you and Eclipse left with those fossils. So I followed you."
"You followed us? For two weeks?"
"Two weeks? Has it been that long?"
Lin took a closer look at Lang. It was hard to be sure, but she noticed he was thinner than normal. "Are you alright?"
"Yeah," he said as he looked down at the Archen.
That response was so halfhearted that Lin knew something else was up. "Lang," she said, "If you're hungry, I have—"
"What? You look like you haven't eaten for days!"
"How am I supposed to!? I've been worried sick!" Tears filled his blue eyes. "I thought you wouldn't go this far. How can you agree to this?"
"What? What are you talking about?"
"This!" he jerked his head towards the Archen in her arms. The bird stirred at the noise. Lin shushed it.
Lang continued in a quiet, hurried tone. "This child was resting peacefully, and you've just woken him from his slumber so that… so that he can die again. How are you okay with this?"
"You think I wanted this to happen? If everything had gone right, he would be alive and well! You got a problem with bringing someone back to life?"
"Yeah, if it means they'll be enslaved the whole time!"
"Enslaved? what are you talking about?!"
"You know exactly what Eclipse is planning! He wants to put these Archens in the coliseum. He wants to make them fight, just so those stupid spectators cough up more money!"
"That's not... Lang, stop. It's not like that."
"Of course it is! If Eclipse has been working so hard to bring these Archens back, and I don't think he's going to ask them what they want to do for the rest of their lives. After all the time and energy Eclipse put into this, is he really going to give them a say?"
"Do you really think we have a choice? A lot is riding on this! If we don't do something to bring those viewers back, there's not even going to be a coliseum!"
"Maybe that's not such a bad thing!"
The Archen wailed, but its cry was interrupted by more bloody coughing. Lang put his ribbons back on the bird, but its coughing continued. After one particularly violent cough, it lay limp and still, eyes glazed over.
"His life force..." Lang said after some time. He removed his ribbons from the creature. "It's gone."
They sat in silence. Lin felt a sickening mix of anger and regret. She knew that the Archen should have been alive right now. It was her fault that it was dead. Or, maybe if she hadn't been fighting with Lang, it might have been able to hang in there until they made it back to a full-fledged healer.
At the same time, she wanted to slap Lang. How could he say such a thing? After all this time, how could he not know how important Eclipse's coliseum was to her?
"I... this is my fault." Lin looked up, surprised. She saw more tears in his eyes.
You bet it is! "No, Lang, it isn't."
"I'm the one who shouted. And I'm the one who didn't confront you two before you got here. I..."
"Hold on," she said as she stood up. "We need to find a better place for the bird. We'll figure this out after that, alright?"
"Yeah," Lang said, using his ribbons to wipe the tears from his eyes. "Alright."
Though they wanted to bury the Archen outside of the facility, neither wanted to risk getting lost in the nearly identical hallways. So, for the time, they settled on placing the bird's remains in a box they found a few rooms down. An actual burial would come later.
They walked back to the Fossil Restoration Lab in silence. Lin crossed her arms to keep herself warm, but it only reminded her of the dried blood encrusted in her chest fur. She glanced down at Lang, whose white and pink coat was still spotless. His glow was the only thing that kept them from total darkness.
She had no idea he would be so upset by all of this. And why did he follow them all this way? Eclipse hadn't told anyone else what they were going to do, right? Did Lang know that they were going to try resurrecting the Archens? And if not, then why did he follow them in the first place? Did he doubt... no, there wasn't any point in making wild guesses.
"You know we've tried everything else, right?" she asked as they approached the lab.
"Yes, but... is it worth that much? So much that we have to resort to this?"
"Lang, please stop. This... I don't know what I would do with myself if the coliseum were to go under. I thought you understood how much it means to me."
"But there's gotta be something else out there! Some other way you can keep working on your skills. Like maybe—"
She could tell what he was going to suggest. "We've been through this already. You're not sparring material."
"Wha— I wasn't going to suggest that!" he snapped. "Just hear me out!"
"Alright, alright, what is it?"
"What if you became an arbiter?"
"Ugh, what? And teach children how to stop crying? No."
"What!? But I could handle the younger ones, and you'd take on the older ones. Come on, how bad could it be?"
"You? Ha! A softie like you would give all the trainees a free pass." He turned a little red at this, but she continued before he could respond. "Sorry, but I don't want to. I just don't, alright?"
He opened his mouth to speak, but, out of words, he simply sighed and lowered his head. Silence filled the room. Lang's sadness was palpable. Was there something more behind this whole 'arbiter' idea that Lang hadn't said?
Lin knelt in front of him and put her hand on his cheek. "I'm touched that you care so much. But I'm not ready to just leave everything behind. Not yet. Alright?"
Lang sighed again. Lin pulled him in for a hug. He wrapped his ribbons around her, returning the hug. But she could sense that he was still gloomy.
She tried to think of something to say. Maybe something to do. She knew he was right. Eclipse wouldn't be kind to the other Archen. He'd force it into the ring. He'd take advantage of its novelty. He wouldn't let it leave his sight for a moment or give it an ounce of freedom.
"We could be there for it," she said, almost thinking aloud. Lang pulled away, confusion on his face. "Maybe we could make sure the Archen feels like it's important. We could raise the little guy."
"Raise him? This is sounding… almost like you want to adopt him."
"Does that bother you?"
"Of course not! It's a great idea!" He hugged her again, this time with an energetic warmth coming off his ribbons. "I just didn't think you'd suggest something like that." After pulling away again, she could see that he was glowing, and not just literally. "I can see it now. You can pass along all of the tricks you've come up with, and I'll help make sure it stays healthy and ready for anything."
He walked over to the fossil. "We can cheer it through the highs and lows. We can be there when it needs help. And maybe, one day, we convince Eclipse to give it its freedom. It's almost like… almost like a family of our own."
"Yeah," Lin said. As she rose to her feet, she couldn’t help but chuckle. Lang's enthusiasm was a nice change. "I just hope they'll get along." Her heart jumped. She didn't mean to let that slip.
"'They'?" He turned toward Lin.
Lin's ears flattened. "Uhh, I was planning on telling you when I got back, but I might as well tell you now, since you're here."
Lang tilted his head to the side.
"Let's just say that I-" No, no, she wanted to let him figure it out. "We'll have more than just an Archen to look after."
"'More than just...'" He trailed off, his brow furrowed. Then his eyes widened. "Wait, are you saying that we... that that..."
She smiled and nodded.
"S-so... I'll be a dad? As in, an actual dad?" She nodded again. He was silent, staring at her in a wordless amazement.
She smiled back. "We'll pick up the egg on the way back. Won't be much longer now before it hatches."
"I-I'm not sure what to say..." He was about to say something else, but his eyes were drawn to something behind Lin. He gasped and stumbled back.
Lin whirled around and saw a small, bipedal figure in the doorway. It wore a hooded cloak, and a candlelight danced behind the figure. However, the light was too dim and it was impossible to make out its features.
"Who the heck are you?" Lin asked as she shifted into a battle stance.
The candlelight held still and became brighter. The figure shifted their weight forward and down. Claws glistened in the dim light.