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COMPLETE: The Worldslayers (TEEN)

Post awards feedback!


Almost immediately, we are thrown into an almost PMD-like apocalyptic Pokeworld. While there are some glimpses of what exactly caused the Pokeworld to be like this, the journey here is not so much "be the very best, like no one ever was", but instead as the character's search for answers about the cataclysm. That said, it was hard to follow because of all the weird concepts and species ideas being thrown around. I would've liked some explanation about what all these species and concepts are, so I could better understand it.


We know we are in a nearly PMD-like world that got this way due to a cataclysm that wiped out almost all humans, but I mainly wanted to know more about the cataclysm itself, how it happened, and the beings that possibly caused it. I felt a little lost considering that this is part of a series and I haven't read much of the others.


I agree with dp on this one--there's so many characters to keep track of, it's almost a chore remembering who is who. It doesn't help that I haven't read much of the others in the series, so a lot of the references and development flew over my head.


This is the story's biggest strength, but it is a double-edged sword--it brings the world to life in what seems like a straightfoward manner, but there are so many intricate details woven throughout that it may take several readings just to understand it all. This comes at the cost of confusing those that aren't up to speed, or just haven't read the series in a while.


I didn't see any major spelling or grammar errors.


This is a very intriguing and interesting story, but it comes at the cost of a barrier to a new reader or a reader that hasn't read the series up to this point. It would help if the story slowed down and brought the audience up to speed a little, but I understand this is difficult to do without coming across as an infodump. That said, it has potential to be something great, and if you can overcome the entry barrier, it is worth the effort.

And Ren's feedback:


Ren doesn't really stand out very much. He comes across to me as a no-nonsense, resourceful kind of person, and isn't prone to many of the common "last of their kind" tropes, so there's that, at least. Other than that, he's pretty much along for the ride.


At first Ren is somewhat quiet and reserved, but lately he is beginning to open up to his Pokemon companions. Where this goes from here, only time will tell. I'm interested in finding out more about what he was like before the cataclysm.


"Last of their kind" characters have been done a million times before, but Ren thankfully does not fall into many of the stereotypical behaviors these characters tend to have. He is not overly optimistic, nor is he sad and brooding. He just seems to be "there."

Entertainment Value:

Having said that, just being "there" does actually work. He comes across to me as the straight man to everyone else's banter, which creates an interesting repartee and moments of levity in a dark and bleak world.

Contribution to the Plot:

As the last of the humans, of course Ren has some role to play, but what this role is isn't immediately clear at the moment.
Post-awards! Already reviewed before, obviously, but I've gone into a bit more detail here.


Not much has happened yet. This is character-driven piece, by and large. Syr, Ren, and co. are traveling in the hopes of eliminating some 'mons threatening them. Each chapter is short and succinct, focusing almost entirely on emotion. There's nothing wrong with that. The huge world ending plots have been reserved for other fics in the series, while this appears to be the aftermath and trying to pick up broken pieces. It works well enough in that regard.


There are no humans in the world; they've been wiped out. Pokemon are sentient to the point where they've built their own humanlike community, much like the PMD 'verse. Yeah, that means the Convergence from Communication is a thing here, and while that specifically doesn't seem to play as big a part, it does bring the world to life a bit more. It's an original spin on it, I think, though the finer details of the setting are going over my head what with this being part of a series.


I'm torn on this one. I feel like the characters are well rounded and distinct and whatnot... but not in this story. All the building blocks of each character's characterization seems to have taken place in the other fics in this series. I'm having trouble discerning who's who with the large cast, and I'm having trouble remembering what characters are like because references to past events are mentioned in dialogue or narration very subtly and in a way has impact only for readers up to speed on the series. I'm a fan of that kind of subtle style - I mean, I use it myself - but not if I don't already have an established connection with the characters.


Beautiful. I've always loved the author's writing style, honestly. It comes across as a tad awkwardly wording at times, but overall, it flows nicely and not a single word is wasted. Let's just say it's a huge step up from even Communication and what I've read of The Origin of Storms so far, and I thought the style was pretty good there, too. :p


Solid. I've got nothing else to say. Maybe there's a typo here and there, but I didn't notice any.


I'm in the middle of reading The Origin of Storms, which should bridge all the gaps, but that'll help me as a reader and follower of this story, not so much as a judge for the awards season.



There's actually not a lot that Ren has to offer here, from what I can see. He's a stoic and quiet and mysterious kind of guy. He's persistent, too, when it comes to getting answers out of people. But that's all I've really got from this fic.


The fic's not focused on Ren specifically in this department, but there's enough for a supporting character, sure. Ren, being the only human alive in the world of The Worldslayers, has to, well, act the part. Other Pokemon finding out there's a human left in the world is not on his agenda. Of course, there's some Pokemon who are bright enough to see through his facade, and slowly over the chapters released so far, Ren's let his guard down a tad by indulging in conversations about his humanness.


The only human left at all in a world of Pokemon just as sentient as humans is interesting to me for sure. As far as personality goes, there's something to be said about how confident Ren appears to be despite his... current situation.

Entertainment Value

Ren's persistence when interacting with others is amusing to read among all the bleakness of the rest of the story. There's also something about his character that impresses me, which is not something I can say too often.

Contribution to the Plot

Ren's certainly a huge contributor to the plot, both in the grand scheme of things and on a smaller level. He's got a ton of influence over anyone in the world, being the last of his species, and the group he travels with depend on him to be their trainer, even if "trainers" are technically a thing of the past at this point.
@LightningTopaz The cataclysm (that is such a cool freakin' word, incidentally) will certainly get its time in the sun... eventually, and not necessarily all at once. ;)

Good to hear Mr. Bridges is apparently doing something different with the whole "last of his kind thing", meanwhile. :D

@diamondpearl876 Yeah, at this point I'm definitely disinclined to recommend this one as a starting point for anyone new to the series. I think, on some level, I must have always been aware it wasn't the sort of thing that stands alone, but maybe I was just a little too self-conscious in the beginning to say anything to the effect of "hey go check out my other stuff first"? Like, concerned that it might paint this story as nothing more than a ploy to get people to read the others, I guess. Idk. XD

Also I may or may not have teared up a little at seeing something I made referred to as "beautiful". ;o;
Here's hoping you have a good time reading TOoS! Or uh, hoping you had a good time? Gosh dang I took a while to reply to these, didn't I. XD

Anyway, thanks to both of ya for the reviews! :D
Chapter 9 – Light and Smoke

The ovoid room opened into a winding tunnel. The walls were the same, shimmery gray here, with green and red cables snaking along the length of the hall like veins.

Gliding effortlessly ahead of them was the creature who’d opened the door: bipedal, with two pairs of of tentacles trailing back from their sides—most of the time. Every so often one pair would retract, and much of the creature’s reddish armor would go with it.

Babs had harbored a hunch about the being’s identity from the moment she’d laid eyes on them, and their fluttering between forms only bolstered her certainty. She only knew their kind from pictures and articles, but she knew enough to give her a nasty suspicion about what had happened to Ren.

Jen was right, assuming he’d been thinking what it had sounded like he’d been thinking. Babs had arrived at the same conclusion herself soon after she’d materialized in this place: someone or another had messed with Ren’s head. And these beings, these deoxys, these psychics, were looking like awfully likely candidates.

“We want answers,” she’d demanded just before they’d left the room. “And we want out.”

The deoxys at the door had said nothing at all in response. The psychic-type had jolted at her voice, their tentacles fretfully writhing. From the looks of it, the deoxys had been afraid of her.

Good, she’d thought, and had whipped her tongue in the creature’s general direction. Paralytic toxins and a touch of faintly glowing ectoplasm had splattered against the floor just in front of the deoxys’s dainty, pointed feet. The spot she’d licked had quivered, as if in revulsion.

Meanwhile, despite hovering a couple of inches off the floor, the deoxys had reeled back in alarm. Then they’d turned toward the tunnel beyond and made beckoning motions with their left tentacles. Seeing as there’d only been one confirmed exit from that initial room, Babs had followed; after a brief hesitation, so had Jen.

Eventually their guide stopped, brushing tentacles against the wall to their right. Again the wall rippled and split, and the deoxys led the two of them through it. Like the previous entryway, its edges felt curiously soft as Babs brushed past them. And, just as before, she turned back toward it once she’d passed through to find it seamless once more. She pressed a hand against it—it was as firm as stone now.

The three of them had entered another rounded, graphite-gray room, much larger than the one they’d left behind. A couple dozen of those simple, round lights she’d seen before were embedded high above. The walls and ceiling alike were covered with more green and red cables, many more, which formed an impenetrable thicket at the far end of the room.

The mass of cables shifted, writhing in place with an odd whispering noise. Something bulged forward from its center. The cables unfurled from around it as it slowly emerged, until finally they revealed another deoxys.

This one was legless and considerably larger than the first, perhaps ten feet tall from the tips of their five horns to the end of their short tail. Their core took up their entire chest, an enormous purple sphere easily four times the size of their head. They drifted out to the center of the room, hovering some seven feet off the floor with all those countless cables—those tentacles, Babs realized—sprouting from their sides and tethering them to the wall behind them.

Babs heard Jen slowly approach her side. His claws clicked and rasped against each other all the while. “Babs… this doesn’t seem safe,” he said under his breath. “At all.”

“Don’t worry about it,” she assured him. “I’ve got this.” To the larger deoxys, “All right. I take it you’re the boss around here?”

The voice that responded filled the room. Metallic droning and hissing sibilants and sounds she had no name for resonated from every direction at once.

Jen cried out at its volume. Babs winced, biting what little of her tongue she kept inside her mouth. “Yeah, no, didn’t catch that,” she said once the echoing died down. “Whatever that is, I don’t speak it.”

There was another, much quieter burst of the indecipherable language. The first deoxys moved forward and floated up to the other’s eye level. The two psychic-types conversed among themselves for a moment, forcing both their guests to cover their ears.

Finally, the guide turned to face Babs and Jen once more, then left the room in something of a hurry. The wall sealed shut behind them, trapping the greninja and cryonide alone with the huge deoxys.

“Hey!” Babs put herself squarely in front of Jen. “You can’t keep us locked up here forever!”

“Yes. I can.”

The voice wasn’t the deoxys’s own. It was Jen’s, albeit distorted and emotionless. Babs turned about in an instant and saw the cryonide surrounded by a pale blue aura. His eyes burned with the same color, and brilliantly at that; his pupils were washed right out of sight by the piercing glow.

“But I won’t,” Jen went on; the words weren’t his own, Babs recognized. “We mean you no harm. And no. No, I am not in charge. I am only the curator of our collected knowledge.”

“No harm…” Babs scoffed, turning to face the deoxys once more. Their body, including their countless tentacles, was surrounded by the same blue glow as the pokémon they’d taken over. “You’re psychically manipulating a poison-type. You know that’s a bad idea. You know you could kill him.”

Puppeted by the deoxys, Jen slithered out from behind her. He came to rest on his coiled tail just below the hovering psychic-type, his arms hanging slack at his sides. “At this moment, he is an extension of my body. I can extend my regenerative power to his flesh as if it were my own. He will survive, uninjured.”

Babs was about to express her doubt, but the words died in her throat when the cryonide lifted a hand and raked his long, deadly claws across his own stomach. The deoxys’s unearthly voice rang out once more.

She swore sharply and launched into the air, straight toward the curator’s face. Her night slash connected; she heard the creature cry out again, felt their carapace splinter under her conjured dark-type blades. Tiny fragments of it fell with her as she dropped back to the floor. She sprang backward from her landing, looking up to assess the damage…

…Which was disappearing right before her eyes.

Her gaze fell upon Jen. His wounds were vanishing, as well… including a gash across his face that mirrored the one she’d inflicted upon the deoxys. Aghast, she looked up once more; sure enough, a set of deep scratches was closing up on the deoxys’s abdomen, just below their core.

“We mean you no harm,” Jen repeated.

Babs swore again, hands clenching into fists. Jen wasn’t just an interpreter in all this. He was a hostage.

She locked eyes with the deoxys again, tense as a coiled spring, and stared at them in furious silence for a moment. “I’ll hold you to that,” she finally warned them. “You and everyone else in this place. I know you can’t recover forever.” Especially not when so much of that power was going toward keeping Jen intact despite direct psychic manipulation. “You’d better let him go before you hurt him in ways you can’t fix.”

“I will,” Jen said; then, “You should hesitate no longer in asking your questions.”

“Fine. What the hell did you do to my trainer?”

“Nothing. We have no previous knowledge of you or anyone you know.”

Babs shook her head. “Not buying it. He entered that device without even knowing what it was. A device that would’ve brought him here if it hadn’t gone on the fritz and spit him out beforehand.”

“Your device was transmitting a distress beacon matching the psychic signature of our kind. That’s the only reason we brought its contents aboard. We had expected other deoxys.”

“Which Ren isn’t! Something made him go into that thing against his will. And something made him build it in the first place. Yeah, he has no memory of that, either. It’s the one thing, the one part of his lab he can’t explain. So here we have a human being, unwittingly constructing some kind of transport pod that transmits deoxys signals, and I’m supposed to believe you had nothing whatsoever to do with it?”

“No one aboard this vessel had any knowledge of your world prior to receiving your beacon.”

Babs maintained her suspicious stare into the curator’s eyes. Even if the deoxys was telling the truth… The gap in Ren’s memory, the period of time he’d apparently slept right through, had begun roughly fourteen years ago—just prior to the Extinction. If the tube had begun transmitting its signal as soon as he’d gone inside…

Her lips curled in a snarl behind her tongue. “Billions of people,” she said, shaking in anger where she stood, “were killed by a plague of unknown origin. We still don’t know where the hell it came from. But we know when it came, deoxys: right after Ren built that thing. He unwittingly built a beacon to summon you—and then an entire species bites the dust.”

Dark-type energy bloomed about her arms, longing to coalesce into blades again. She indulged it, casting her own face in deep violet light, wishing dearly that she could put her elemental weapons to use without endangering Jen. “Tell me, deoxys: what the hell do you expect me to believe?”

The curator said nothing at first. Then they emitted another burst of indecipherable noise, even louder than any that had preceded it. Jen trembled in their telekinetic grasp, the light surrounding him going unsteady. With a final flicker, it went out entirely, and the cryonide collapsed in a thorny heap.

Babs leapt to his side automatically. He didn’t look hurt, not on the outside… but there was no telling if things were all right inside his skull. He still breathed, but God only knew for how long. With a scream, she flung herself at the deoxys again, her conjured night slash flaring bright and trained right on the deoxys’s core—

—but never connecting. Something seized her from below, pulling hard; her gaze snapped downward and found thick, flattened tentacles pulling her back to the floor, away from her target. She slashed at them instead, again and again, but they wouldn’t break, wouldn’t let go. The wounds she inflicted healed just as quickly as she could deal them.

More tentacles surged up to bind her, successfully pinning her arms to her sides and her tongue to her shoulders. She let a lick attack ripple along its length, and the red and green flesh shuddered, but it still refused to release her.

Jen, still insensible, was wrapped up in a snarl of tentacles as well. Babs saw a quartet of bulky, dome-headed deoxys emerge from the floor as if it were liquid; slithering sounds behind her told that something similar was happening on her end. She screamed in rage, muffled and wordless in the deoxys’ grasp until their grip tightened further—suddenly she couldn’t breathe.

She had a fleeting sense of being dragged away before everything went dark.

* * *​

The forest was blowing apart.

With a shout that was smothered in mud a split second later, Syr dove ungracefully into the soft earth just as a nearby tree went to splinters. A couple managed to stick in his flesh despite his efforts; they snagged painfully as he pulled the rest of himself underground.

He swallowed the screaming and spitting he’d have let loose on the surface, intent on holding his breath. It was hard enough with his hood compressed against his sides. Sooner than he’d wanted to, he was forced to erupt from the forest floor in a burst of mud charged with ground-type energy. He rolled clumsily out of the way when it came raining back down, falling short of the bellies of the koffing overhead as if repelled by an invisible field.

Hissing, Syr rolled into a nearby trench and huddled under the dead log spanning it. He folded in on himself and pulled one of the splinters from his belly—and cursed in immediate regret. All that had done was let the wound bleed more freely.

“Demi!” he cried out hoarsely, hoping as he dissolved into a coughing fit that she could pinpoint his location by sound alone. The smokescreen above was growing thicker by the moment, blotting out any moonlight that might have reached them otherwise. The kwazai didn’t need their eyes to detect their allies and enemies, but their higher senses would struggle to focus if it got too hard for them to breathe. He tried to shout her name again, but another explosion somewhere out of reach drowned it out completely.

Something heavy landed on two feet right in front of him. The rest of the creature hit the ground a moment later, smelling distinctly of kwazai. Demi!

A koffing burst through the smoke in front of the two, already blazing with the telltale glow of an imminent explosion—only to lose hold of it when Demi lunged and dragged him down to the rain-soaked leaf litter. The koffing bellowed and writhed underneath her, swelling menacingly. Pulsing pink-and-gold light surrounded the two of them… and the koffing stopped struggling, deflating as fresh tears opened up in his mantle. Demi’s wounds, meanwhile, were rapidly closing.

The branches of her tail rippled, their oculons briefly meeting Syr’s gaze in the fading light. Demi immediately turned to face him and called upon another pain split, partially healing his wounds at the cost of inflicting weaker versions of them upon herself.

“Thanks,” Syr said automatically as he felt new strength welling up inside him, but he was hardly relieved. Demi only had so much of her own vitality to give. Eventually there wouldn’t be enough conscious bodies around to replenish it. Another blast rang out, hurtling more wooden shrapnel through the smokescreen above. Another drainable target lost.

Without a word, Demi sprang out of the trench. Syr turned blindly in the direction she’d gone, steeling himself to jump back into the fray, filling his lungs with relatively clean air while he could. His fangs glowed a deep violet, ready to puncture the hide of one of their attackers—and then the light abruptly cut out, its maker startled into losing the charge as an enormous set of jaws closed over his head.

He screamed into the cavernous, reeking mouth as its owner began slowly lifting him off the ground. His own mouth lit up with dark-type energy once more as he plunged his fangs into the oily tongue attempting to smother his face. The attack drew a muffled, pained roar from two voices at once—a weezing.

His blood ran cold. With an effort that wasn’t entirely physical, he flung the rest of his body over the floating creature, wrapping tight around the junctures between their body sections. He squeezed desperately, but to little effect. His oxygen supply was rapidly dwindling, taking his strength along with it…

Then there was a deafening noise and an explosion of light behind his eyes, and the next thing Syr knew, he was free.

If he hadn’t seen the weezing dropping out of the air alongside him, he wouldn’t even have known he was falling. He couldn’t feel the air as it rushed past, couldn’t feel the impact when he hit the ground. He realized with a delay that he was breathing properly again, hearing and then tasting the breaths passing over his tongue. Another beat later, he figured out that he couldn’t move.

A strangled cry escaped him, but his mouth refused to form words. Slowly, horribly slowly, his gaze panned across the inverted and dimly-lit scene before him… and landed upon a nosepass several yards away. Ren was crouching next to him, wearing an air filter in the form of a small, gray mask that covered his nose and mouth.

There was a faint glow about Karo’s nose that was only just fading out. Zap cannon. Karo had been the one to take down that weezing. Syr had just had the misfortune of being in the line of fire.

“Syr! Hang in there, buddy!” the nosepass called out to him. Syr heard Ren grab something out of his pack as the two hurried to pull the arbok into the safety of Karo’s block field.

Relief spread through Syr as they closed the gap. He didn’t feel the force field envelop him this time, but he was sure it had; Ren was now moving freely at his side, in space he wouldn’t have dared to occupy if it weren’t safe.

“Man,” said Karo, sounding more than a little tired, “am I ever grateful to see you again.”

“Lll… likewise,” Syr managed, still slightly mushmouthed; the medicine Ren was administering was only just taking effect. The party had gotten separated very early in the attack; Syr had gone to ground as a reflex, and by the time he’d first emerged the smokescreen had gone up, thick and nearly impenetrable.

“Try not to dig again, all right?” Karo advised him. “I can only extend the block so far.”

Syr nodded in response as soon as he could lift his head again. He gazed out beyond the invisible barrier, taking in a moonlit view of shattered trunks and fallen bodies. Some of the latter belonged to koffing—none of which had gone to cinders, as far as he could tell. That… that’s good, at least. It meant those koffing were still alive. There was still a chance they could be free, if all went well enough.

The same… could not be said of most of the non-koffing lying in the moonlight.

He’d known to expect the dead. He’d anticipated coming across them under much calmer circumstances, but he’d known they were headed for a grim scene all the same. That made it no easier to look upon the victims now. Most of them appeared uninjured, but their bodies were contorted in a way that told him they’d probably spent their last moments writhing in pain. Syr helplessly wondered if that’s how his human friends had looked at the end; at that thought, he immediately wrenched his gaze from the fallen.

His attention shifted back toward Karo. “Are you all right?” he managed, at which Karo grunted inconclusively. That… wasn’t comforting. Syr couldn’t see any damage to the nosepass’s person, but…

The kwazai. Something turned to ice inside him. “Where are the twins?” he asked, panic rising in his voice. “Where are they?”

“Don’t know, buddy,” Karo said. “But they’ve gotta be all right.. They’re not pushovers. They’ve never been…”

Ren, meanwhile, was silently, shakily rising to his feet. He took a step forward, toward the boundary of the block field; noticing this, Karo and Syr moved with him.

The arbok followed the human’s line of sight and picked out the deflated form of the weezing, still lying helplessly in the leaves and scattered debris. The poison-type groaned very quietly as the three of them approached. Another pair of voices, just as weak, echoed in Syr’s memory, and he swallowed hard against a lump in his throat.

Wordlessly, Ren knelt before the weezing. There was a poké ball in his hand—the one from Mauville, Syr realized. Not taking his eyes off his target for even a second, Ren swept his free hand downward, at which Karo made an acknowledging noise but nothing else appeared to happen. The human adjusted his grip on the ball, cocked his arm back—

And dissolved into a blob of red light.

Syr recoiled in alarm, falling backward; the shield was down. Karo gave a shout as the ball clattered awkwardly to the ground, still partially open and trailing light. The light quivered and then withdrew sharply into the capture device, which promptly snapped shut. The nosepass and arbok could only stare at it, both at a loss for words. Then the energy surged back out and snapped into the shape of a human body with a horrible, distorted noise.

Ren stood there among the leaves and the dead, panting and sweating and trembling so hard that it looked as though he could fall apart at any second. His hood fell back over his shoulders as he shook.

Somewhat gingerly, Karo reached up to prod at the human’s side. “Hey… hey Ren?” he spoke up. “Are you—”

Ren drew in a deep, shuddering breath. Then he crumpled to the ground.
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@diamondpearl876 Yeah, at this point I'm definitely disinclined to recommend this one as a starting point for anyone new to the series. I think, on some level, I must have always been aware it wasn't the sort of thing that stands alone, but maybe I was just a little too self-conscious in the beginning to say anything to the effect of "hey go check out my other stuff first"? Like, concerned that it might paint this story as nothing more than a ploy to get people to read the others, I guess. Idk. XD

Also I may or may not have teared up a little at seeing something I made referred to as "beautiful". ;o;
Here's hoping you have a good time reading TOoS! Or uh, hoping you had a good time? Gosh dang I took a while to reply to these, didn't I. XD

Anyway, thanks to both of ya for the reviews! :D

Understandable! It's fair enough to say it's advisable to read the prequel beforehand, though, if readers want to understand everything!

I did finish TOoS recently, just gotta gather my thoughts into a review. :3 I'll catch up on the stuff here as soon as I can, too!
Chapter 10 – Belief

The kwazai came thundering in, heedless of any bodies in their path until they arrived at their trainer’s side. Both dropped to the filthy ground next to him as swiftly as their oddly-jointed legs allowed. Both their tails were lashing, and Demi was uttering a stream of prayers and profanity under her breath. Being the faster of the two, she was the one to gather Ren up in her free arms, though both kwazai grabbed for him.

Syr coiled frozen before the siblings, all but biting his tongue in worried anticipation. He couldn’t tell whether or not Ren was even alive. He hadn’t had the wits to see if the man was breathing before the kwazai had shown up, and now Demi’s arms blocked the view. He’d have to get the verdict from her or her brother secondhand.

His jaws parted to ask. But before he could get a breath out, “He’s still with us,” Karo spoke up. “…Right?”

“Right.” Acheron certainly felt some relief at that fact, but there was none of that in his voice. His tail had snaked around his waist to inspect the human and continued to do so; Demi’s was doing likewise, two branches over each shoulder.

“What happened?” Demi demanded, half-hissing. Her sharp teeth were bared. “What the hell happened to him?”

Once again, Syr made to speak. Once again, Karo beat him to the punch. “He caught himself,” he said, and he sounded… excited, almost. “That’s what happened.”

Acheron made a noise that might’ve become a word if something hadn’t plainly caught his attention then. “There,” he said in the next moment, meeting Syr’s gaze and pointing a short distance to the arbok’s right.

Syr glanced in that direction and thought he saw something reflecting a fleck of moonlight. Closer inspection revealed the ball, or what was left of it. It had been blown open, from the looks of it, its hinge bent backward so that the two halves touched. He scooped it up in his jaws but promptly spat it back out; it tasted burnt, and there were other, worse flavors to it that he feared to contemplate.

“It’s fried,” he said. “I guess this means he definitely won’t be catching that weezing.” Another rightward look told him the pokémon in question was still down. Alive, but possibly unconscious and therefore immune to a fresh ball anyhow. But they could’ve waited. Now they had no such option.

“Nnnn…” came a small voice from in front of him. Ren’s voice. The human wriggled feebly in Demi’s hold, lifting his hairless head. “Where…” Apparently that was as much of a sentence as he could manage at the moment.

“Still in the forest,” Acheron answered. “The fight’s over.”

Ren made a faint, wordless noise and shook his head. “Somewhere else…” he said, his voice slightly muffled by the mask, “now…”

“Yes,” Syr agreed at once, almost automatically. The koffing could start waking up at any time, and here was Ren, at his most vulnerable thus far. But there were additional reasons to get out of there, and Syr suspected the human had at least some of them on his mind.

Maybe Ren had been able to brave the sight of this place before. But in the wake of his impossible capture, there was no telling what he could handle.

Demi took Karo’s capture ball and recalled the nosepass, then passed her trainer to her brother and gathered Syr into her many arms once more. The two kwazai took off, leaving the clearing and the carnage behind and weaving their way into a part of the forest that hadn’t been withered or blasted away.

But as darkness fell over them once more, the fear of unseen dangers rose anew. It didn’t help that Syr could still smell the smoke and the koffing still lingering back in the clearing. The odors clung to him, furthermore, and to the rest of the party. It made it all the harder to be sure they’d really shaken them off for the time being.

“Water,” he thought aloud. “We need to find water.” Even if it couldn’t mask the smell entirely, it’d weaken it. His nerves would be grateful. His throat would be, too, after all the smoke and exertion.

“We will…” Demi muttered. Her mind was plainly on other things.

Syr realized then that he hadn’t heard a single sound out of Ren since the clearing. He almost asked about him, but no. That wasn’t necessary. If his condition worsened, the two empaths in their midst would give it away.

The sound of running water eventually caught his attention. “There’s a creek up ahead,” Acheron announced soon after. The taste of fresh water on the air arrived soon after, followed by the sight of moonlight sparkling off the water’s surface.

Demi stopped, setting Syr down alongside the creek. The arbok dipped his snout in for a drink, then let himself slip entirely underwater for a moment. When he raised his head above the surface to breathe, he saw a burst of light in the shape of a nosepass. Syr rippled his way through the shallow water, crawling over the stones until he reached the bank once more.

“Shield, right?” Karo asked. Nobody answered aloud, but someone must’ve nodded; there was that brief, full-body pressure again. “You awake, buddy?” he then asked.

“…Yeah.” Ren’s voice suggested an unspoken “barely”. He inhaled audibly; then, “The ball… it pulled me in. How…?”

“We don’t know,” Syr told him, wishing he had an answer. It only occurred to him after the fact that he could really only speak for himself on the matter.

“Oh, I think I know,” Karo said. There was that odd, giddy sort of tone again. Heavy footsteps reverberated through the rocks as the nosepass moved in closer to his trainer. “Congrats,” Karo said. “You’re officially one of us.”

“Not in that sense,” Acheron said. “You’re still human, Ren.”

“And yet the ball got him,” Karo pressed on. “I mean, yeah, it couldn’t hold onto him, but.” Stone scraped against stone, the familiar sound of arms swiveled into a shrug. “So what? Sometimes we break ‘em. Doesn’t mean a thing.”

“It could have been modified to catch humans,” Acheron said.

That hadn’t even crossed Syr’s mind as a possibility. Now that he thought about it, “There’d be people who’d try it. People with an anti-human agenda.”

“Or people with a pro-human agenda,” Demi offered, “wanting to capture them and lock them away for their own safety. Or people just curious as to whether or not it could be done.”

“Guys. Guys. Please. Do you not hear yourselves right now?” Karo was actually starting to sound a little agitated at this point. “Why are you jumping through hoops like this when there’s a much simpler answer right in front of you?”

“Because,” Demi said quietly, “if he were anything other than human, we’d know. We’d feel it. I know you know this.”

Karo didn’t respond at first. Then he averted his gaze with a small sort of huffing sound. “…How can you be cool with that?” he asked. “How am I supposed to be cool with this, when for all we know that virus or poison or whatever could still be floating around? I mean…” There was a moment’s silence, and then another’s. “We just got him back.”

Oh. Syr felt a sudden weight in the vicinity of his heart. Karo really couldn’t accept that a human could’ve survived the plague. Convincing himself that Ren was a pokémon was apparently the only way to stave off fears that it would come for his trainer after all.

Wordlessly, Syr emerged from the water and gently wrapped himself around Karo in an embrace of sorts. It occurred to him in nearly the same moment that he was sopping wet; he let go immediately, though he wished he hadn’t had to.

Meanwhile Ren squirmed in Acheron’s arms. “Let me go,” he said, but not harshly. He sounded as though he’d got a bit more of his strength back.

Acheron hesitated for a moment, then set him down on his feet. Ren immediately hugged the nosepass, and both kwazai embraced the two of them in turn.

Syr gave a faint, grateful smile. Now he won’t get wet, he reckoned, and encircled the rest of his friends.

“Can’t lose him again,” Karo murmured to himself in the middle of it all.

Part of Syr wanted to assure Karo that no, he wouldn’t lose Ren anytime soon. The rest… couldn’t bear to lie to him. He wasn’t sure Ren would be all right. Even if there was no trace of the plague anywhere now, even if Ren was entirely immune to it anyway, there were still innumerable things that could go wrong during this mission. They were facing a relatively unknown and uncounted enemy. There was no way of knowing exactly what sort of danger they were in.

This was, after all, quite possibly a one-way trip. But Syr had the sinking feeling that somewhere along the way, Karo had taken to refusing—and continued refusing—to truly acknowledge that.

“We know you’re worried,” Demi said. Acheron nodded in assent.

“We all know,” Ren put in. “I’m worried, too. Of course I wonder if… if maybe I’m living on borrowed time. I hope I’m not. I don’t wanna leave you, either. But…” Here he raised his head, looking over one shoulder and then the other, meeting the gaze of each of his pokémon in turn. “…whatever happens, I think you’ll be all right. You’re all strong. All of you.” He nodded toward Syr. “That includes you.”

Syr took on a funny sort of surprised expression for a moment before a hint of guilt settled into it. It was nice of Ren to say such a thing, but believing it… wasn’t so easy. “I don’t know about that,” he admitted.

The human kept one arm around Karo but turned to face Syr, or tried to; recognizing this, the pokémon surrounding him loosened their grip and backed up a bit. “You’ve already been through a lot,” Ren told Syr. “And a lot of it was recent, very recent. Anyone—anyone with half a heart—would’ve understood if you’d needed some time before taking this on. I would’ve. Your old friend probably would’ve. And yet…” He spread his free arm as far as he could. “Here you are.”

Syr’s gaze drifted groundward as he absorbed that. He still wasn’t altogether sure he agreed with the human’s words. In the end, all he could think to do with the information was to try and prove Ren right. Maybe, he supposed, he’d convince himself in the process.

At this point, Ren got around to healing the twins. Syr tried to take stock of the kwazai’s conditions in the moments before their injuries vanished, but it was difficult in a number of ways, what with so much blood and filth smeared over their bodies.

“Okay,” Ren said. “Time to get moving again. We’ll detour west a bit, just enough to put more space between us and the koffing.” He reached for one of his capture balls then, only to find an empty space.

“Oh whoops, here,” Demi said as she handed him Karo’s ball.

“Ready?” Ren asked Karo, pointing the lens at him.

“…Yeah,” Karo said. “But hey. Be careful, all right? We still haven’t had that party.”

“I will be,” Ren assured him, then recalled him and nodded up at the kwazai. They scooped up the slower members of their party and set off, splashing through the creek and disappearing into the dark woods beyond.
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Heya, so here's a surprise, with me being here instead of, uh, elsewhere. I'm happy to cross-post this, if you wish, of course.

This is a much quieter chapter. Really just centered on the aftermath of the previous one's explosive ending... aha ha. But even with a tiny chapter, there's plenty of character-laden concerns going on here. Syr's nerves calm down a bit, sure, but now he's directing them on Ren's situation and the effect it might be having on his Pokémon team. Initially, I had chalked Karo's behavior up to using humor as a coping mechanism for everything going on around him. But this chapter's revealed there's an even higher level of coping he's going through. A delusion, essentially. Really, Syr's thoughts about the whole thing kind of sum it up. It's heartbreaking seeing that Karo has created a lie and so thoroughly managed to convince himself it's true... all because the alternative is too heartbreaking for him to deal with. What was once a character I liked mostly just for his comic relief and slight cloudcuckooland tendencies now has a greater degree of depth toward him. Yes Syr, you're totally right to want to hug him! He needs all the hugs. Just don't go swimming next time before you do it.

One other bit from me. I may be misremembering things, but Syr thinks about the possibility their trip could be one-way. So, what does that mean for his adopted son, then? I know he was freaking out about it a couple of chapters ago. Are those thoughts gonna intensify? You don't have to answer if it's spoiling something, of course. ^^;
@Ambyssin : I had been looking so, so forward to doing this with Karo, let me tell you. Looking forward to it for a long time, basically ever since I came up with his whole "yeah nah Ren's totally not human" thing and his Reasons for it. There's just something fun about letting the cracks show in a comical character. Good to know it works on the other side of the screen, as well. :D

Syr's thoughts intensifying is always a distinct possibility, because Syr. :B

Thanks for the read 'n' reply! :D
Here for chapters 9 and 10! Sorry for the wait!

The ovoid room opened into a winding tunnel. The walls were the same, shimmery gray here, with green and red cables snaking along the length of the hall like veins.

The veins imagery here is a powerful one, especially with the colors contrasting each other to make the cables stand out.

We still don’t know where the hell it came from. But we know when it came, deoxys: right after Ren built that thing. He unwittingly built a beacon to summon you—and then an entire species bites the dust.”

This scene really hits hard for a variety of reasons, namely because you really get the sense of how daunting everything is... I mean, there's so many different versions of stories floating about, and so many memories missing, so many gaps that anyone can fill in with anything and distort their own and others' perspective on the world. Yet we still see the characters push on through, trying their best to figure it all out. I like that a lot. And it's kinda cool to feel like I'm trying to solve a puzzle right along with them.

Ren, meanwhile, was silently, shakily rising to his feet. He took a step forward, toward the boundary of the block field; noticing this, Karo and Syr moved with him.

For as important as Ren is to this chapter, though, I'm surprised he didn't make more of an actual appearance.

Somewhat gingerly, Karo reached up to prod at the human’s side. “Hey… hey Ren?” he spoke up. “Are you—”

Ren’s mouth worked silently for a moment. Then he crumpled to the ground.

Nah, I think he's okay.

The kwazai came thundering in, heedless of any bodies in their path until they arrived at their trainer’s side.

Mmm, I like the subtleness of showing how much they care for Ren here. This certainly isn't a group that takes the deaths of others very well, but here? They just want to get to Ren's side ASAP, everything else be damned.

Oh. Syr felt a sudden weight in the vicinty of his heart. Karo really couldn’t accept that a human could’ve survived the plague. Convincing himself that Ren was a pokémon was apparently the only way to stave off fears that it would come for his trainer after all.

Poor Karo. D: I really like the idea of pokeballs being modified to catch humans, though. For a world with humans extinct and the one human left causing a bunch of ruckus, it makes sense they'd try to contain him. Or even before it was just Ren, really, 'mons seemed perfectly capable of trying to accomplish such a feat depending on their "anti-human" or "pro-human" agendas.

“We all know,” Ren put in. “I’m worried, too. Of course I wonder if… if maybe I’m living on borrowed time. I hope I’m not. I don’t wanna leave you, either. But…” Here he raised his head, looking over one shoulder and then the other, meeting the gaze of each of his pokémon in turn. “…whatever happens, I think you’ll be all right. You’re all strong. All of you.” He nodded toward Syr. “That includes you.”

Syr took on a funny sort of surprised expression for a moment before a hint of guilt settled into it. It was nice of Ren to say such a thing, but believing it… wasn’t so easy. “I don’t know about that,” he admitted.

Oh, Syr, anyone who's surviving this world has gotta be strong in their own way somehow. :p In general, they all do a fairly good job remaining calm and composed in the face of everything. I'd give 'em all a lot of credit for that, too.
@diamondpearl876 :
The veins imagery here is a powerful one, especially with the colors contrasting each other to make the cables stand out.

Veeeeeeiiiiiins :D Gotta love creepy organic stuff!

This scene really hits hard for a variety of reasons, namely because you really get the sense of how daunting everything is... I mean, there's so many different versions of stories floating about, and so many memories missing, so many gaps that anyone can fill in with anything and distort their own and others' perspective on the world. Yet we still see the characters push on through, trying their best to figure it all out. I like that a lot. And it's kinda cool to feel like I'm trying to solve a puzzle right along with them.

Number of characters who have literally 100% of the picture: 0. :B I think the reasons why I personally made it that way were 1.) it just seemed likelier to be the case and 2.) having some characters know things while others can only wish they did for the time being? Is fun. >:D It never occurred to me that doing so would also help lend a sense of scale to the matter, so finding out it's had such a neat side effect is a very nice surprise. :D

Mmm, I like the subtleness of showing how much they care for Ren here. This certainly isn't a group that takes the deaths of others very well, but here? They just want to get to Ren's side ASAP, everything else be damned.

Ain't no mountain high enough, ain't no valley low enough, ain't no corpses gross enough...

Anyhoo! Thanks lots for the read 'n' review! :D
Heya! Thought it'd be a good idea to mention that this chapter, along with a couple of others, have received some largish edits. So yeah, in case you're wondering why certain characters no longer appear in this story, that's why. :B


Chapter 11 – Away

The room was dark, its cluster of ceiling lamps dimmed to a bare minimum glow. A low, distant thrumming was the only noise to be heard… until a loud, creaking yawn sounded from against one of the curved walls.

Jen stretched where he lay, his arms extending out in front of him while his tail unfurled and flexed down its length. His eyes opened, and for a very brief moment nothing seemed out of the ordinary. It had just been a nice nap, that was all.

A nap following an encounter with an enormous psychic stranger.

He jolted upright with a yell and coiled up tight, throwing wild looks about. Where was the creature? Where was he? What had happened?

Jen couldn’t even begin to answer the third question, but the others were somewhat more obliging. The huge pokémon wasn’t there, at least not at the moment. He remembered the last entrance they’d made, coming in right through the wall as if it were liquid, and he shivered. What if they were lurking just beyond his metallic gray surroundings even now?

As for where he was, all he could be sure of was that he was still in the place the tube had taken him, just not the room he’d been in last. This one was smaller, and unless he was mistaken, the floor was rather softer; he could feel it yielding slightly to his weight, shifting about as he moved.

And there, curled up on the opposite side of the room, was Babs. She was still alive; her body heat still formed a luminous aura around her, and she breathed slowly, calmly. As far as he could tell, she was merely sleeping, same as he had been up until a minute or so ago.

The greninja stirred as he approached her, mumbling something incoherent as her brain started itself up. She then startled awake, much as he had, relaxing somewhat once she was satisfied that they were alone for the time being.

“Urgh. Stupid damn deoxys…” she muttered as she sat back down, rubbing at her neck.

“What did they do to us?” Jen asked, moving to coil beside her. “I remember the… the deoxys making all that awful noise, and then…” He half-shrugged. “Then I woke up here. What happened?”

“What happened is that the big one took you over,” Babs answered, at which Jen’s eyes brightened and flickered in alarm. “Apparently that’s the only way they can talk to us—I’d have preferred it if they’d used me, but, well. Dark-type,” she said with a sigh, tapping her head.

“And the psychic power knocked me out,” Jen supposed aloud.

“Not right away. The deoxys was using their recovery powers to fix any damage they caused.” She shuddered. “It worked. At least while they were controlling you. Are you feeling okay now?”

“Yeah,” Jen said. He hoped that would continue to be the case. For all he knew, there was a blood vessel in his brain that was liable to burst at any moment.

That thought made him queasy. He swallowed thickly. “How’d we get here?” he asked, hoping to change the subject, if only slightly.

“Don’t know,” Babs answered. Her hand rose to massage the side of her neck again. “The big guy let you go, and I guess they put you under on the way out. They knocked me out the hard way.” Her eyes narrowed under a furrowed brow. “Everything was going… fine-ish until I brought up the plague. Then they freaked out and attacked us.” She looked Jen right in the eyes. “If that’s not suspicious, I don’t know what is.”

It was awfully suspicious, Jen thought. Why would these deoxys react so strongly, so violently to someone inquiring about the plague if they’d had nothing to do with it?

He curled in even tighter on himself, not liking what this might mean for himself and for Babs at all. No, he hadn’t wanted his father to be en route to the lair of humanity’s killers… but he hadn’t exactly wanted to face them himself, either.

That was assuming that he and Babs hadn’t been brought to exactly the place his father and company were headed. What if they were? What if “deoxys” was just another name for—

A bright red-and-green head with a blunt crest on either side suddenly popped out of the floor, interrupting Jen’s thoughts and making him cry out in surprise. The deoxys cocked their head at him as the rest of their body showed itself, emitting a quiet little burst of indecipherable noise.

“You!” Babs shouted as she sprung to her feet.

The deoxys shrunk in on themself in response. They changed shape in an instant, taking on that mostly-gray, long-crested form Jen had seen one take before.

“Yeah, you. I don’t su—hey, no, do NOT go back in the floor!” Babs said sharply, for the deoxys had begun doing that exactly. “Up. Now.”

The deoxys complied, then shifted back into their previous form.

Once she was satisfied that they’d stopped moving, “I’m not going to hurt you,” she said. “Not unless you attack first. Got it?”

Again the deoxys spoke up, just as quietly as they had before. Jen wondered if one of the deoxys from the auditorium, or whatever it had been, had spread the word that their voices caused their guests discomfort. Or maybe this was one of the deoxys from the auditorium.

Jen sincerely hoped this wasn’t just that big one in another form.

“Okay,” Babs said. “I take it you can’t talk to us either, can you. Not without speaking through one of us.” She sighed, folding her arms. “Honestly, I’m not really sure why I’m even asking you. How the hell are you gonna answer me without going into puppeteer mode?”

Very tentatively, the deoxys glided closer to Jen. They unfurled a single tentacle in his direction, at which he recoiled automatically. But the deoxys refrained from actually touching him. They knew better, he reckoned, what with Babs staring them down. They stared back at her, face unreadable as ever, and tilted their head again.

She shook hers. “I’m not the one you should be asking. It’s his brain. His safety. His choice. You ask him… such as you can.”

The deoxys did nothing for a moment, seemingly unwilling to take their eyes off her. They managed it in the end, looking into Jen’s eyes instead and pointing a tentacle at his spiked chest.

Jen hesitated to respond. The thought of being psychically manipulated brought back that queasy feeling again, for more reasons than one. He knew it could hurt him. He knew that he’d be completely powerless while under the deoxys’s control. And he knew he wouldn’t remember a moment of it—and he’d already had his memory messed with much more than he would’ve ever wanted.

But ultimately… ultimately, he thought with dismay, what choice did he have? How else were they going to get any answers from these creatures? They needed to know more, if they could. They needed to find out anything they could about this place—it might help them escape. And they needed to know what, if anything, the deoxys had to do with the plague.

He pulled in a deep breath. He almost consented right then and there, but caught himself; the deoxys might have taken him over the instant he’d agreed to it, and there were a few things he wanted to say first.

“When you’re in there,” he said to the deoxys, “…don’t change anything, all right? Don’t take out any memories. Don’t put any in. And don’t make me hurt anyone.”

“Oh, I won’t let them do that,” Babs promised. She flicked the end of her tongue at nothing in particular, letting a few glowing droplets fly.

“And you,” Jen said, turning to face her. “You’ll let me know everything they say, right?”


“Okay…” Jen said, steeling himself as best he could—and then his consciousness winked out in a flash.

Babs watched as, once again, the blue light surrounded Jen. The cryonide lifted his head, revealing the same burning blue eyes he’d sported last time. He uncoiled and slithered a little further away from Babs; the deoxys went with him. Under their psychic command, Jen gnashed his teeth a couple of times, clicking his fanged mandibles against them… and then giggled.

What the… Babs watched in bafflement for a moment as he kept on chattering and snapping, with the occasional, fleeting charge of dark-type energy flashing off his silver teeth. Then she realized what she was seeing.

“Okay, playtime’s over,” she told the deoxys. “He didn’t let you do this so you could experience the joy and wonder of having a mouth. He did this because I want to talk to you. You get it?”

Jen stopped biting the air and bowed his head. “I’m sorry,” he said. His voice was somewhat more inflected than it had been when the curator had puppeted him; he actually almost sounded sorry. “What did you want to talk about?”

“Well, first off: what was with the chokehold?” Babs demanded. “Why did you knock us out?”

“Because you needed to be decontaminated,” Jen answered. “It’s easier and faster to decontaminate people when they’re sleeping.”

“Decontaminate us…”

“Yes. You were carrying the Red Hand’s virus. We had to scrub it off of you and take samples.”

Maybe the virus she and Jen had been carrying and the plague that had wiped out humanity were two different things. Babs had a nasty feeling that wasn’t the case, however… “This virus… how serious is it? Serious enough to kill off an entire species?”

Jen lowered his head again. “I’m afraid so. The Red Hand has eliminated many species this way.”

Babs felt a chill spread throughout her and form a deep, cold pit in her stomach. If they really had been carrying the virus all this time… had Ren been exposed? Would he succumb?

Had he already?

“…Okay.” It was hard to speak, with her mouth and throat having gone so dry. “In that case, what you need to do now is send us back where we came from.” Maybe it was too late to get to Ren. But if it wasn’t—if there was any chance he could be brought here and cleansed of the virus himself—then she needed to get to him.

If there wasn’t any chance he could be brought here and decontaminated… then she at least wanted a chance to see him one last time.

“I… I know you want to go home,” Jen said. “I’d want to go home, too, if someone took me away from here. But we can’t send you back yet. Our transporter needs to rest.”

“Rest? For how long?”

“Another two cycles, at least,” Jen replied.

Whatever that meant. Hours? Days? Babs almost demanded a clearer answer, but then suddenly remembered a couple things in particular that the curator had said: This vessel. Knowledge of our world.

“And we can’t just get out of here on our own,” Babs said, “can we.”

“No,” Jen said. “I know you probably don’t want to believe me, but… Here. Look.”

The deoxys moved out from behind Jen, though the blue glow signifying their control remained. They glided over to the nearest wall and let a pair of their tentacles sink in. The wall visibly rippled… then seemed to vanish, revealing a corridor beyond. Three other deoxys passed by with fleeting glances at the newly-formed window. A moment later, the opposite wall turned transparent, as well, followed by several more beyond it—and then Babs found herself looking at nothing at all. Just an endless, black void.

There was, she considered, a chance this could all be a trick of some sort. That the view to space was merely an illusion of some kind, meant to make her believe she was trapped when she actually wasn’t. But she recognized just as quickly that there was no real way to confirm it either way. If she shredded her way through those walls only to find that there really was nothing but a dark vacuum beyond, she’d be unable to help anyone at all anymore.

She cursed under her breath as the walls went opaque once more. No, she couldn’t get to Ren from here on her own. Not with a very real chance that there was an unknown but assuredly vast expanse of airless nothingness in the way.

“It won’t be long at all,” Jen tried to assure her. Babs looked his way once more. “We have the coordinates of your world from the beacon you sent,” he said. “We’re heading there now. By the time we get there, the transporter should be ready to send you back down.”

“You had better be right,” Babs muttered darkly. “Otherwise a mouth isn’t the only thing you’ll be missing.”

Jen quailed a little. For a moment, it looked as though he were crying… but no. No, that was blood, Babs realized, remembering the damage the curator had dealt to the cryonide. Jen’s kind had colorless blood.

“You’re hurting him,” she told the deoxys. “You need to be using your recover technique while you’re controlling him.”

“I… I know,” Jen said. Both he and the deoxys looked away, as if embarrassed. “I think I need to go now,” he said, closing his eyes. “I’m not sure I can keep healing him much longer. I’ve never done this before,” he admitted.

“…That’s fine,” Babs said, though she didn’t entirely mean it. She still had questions, and she wished she could have them answered without anyone’s health and safety on the line. It is what it is, she thought, but not happily.

The blue glow vanished. The deoxys slipped back through the floor, leaving Jen to sway on the spot.

“Nnnnn…” he groaned, raising a hand to his head as he worked to regain his balance. His eyes opened, shining yellow once more. “Is it over with?”

“Yeah. How’re you feeling?” Babs asked.

“Kind of dizzy,” Jen answered. “But otherwise I’m fine. What did they say?” he asked.

“Several things,” Babs said. She flopped back down into a sitting position with a sigh. “Some bad news… some potentially good news… and some unquestionably weird news.”
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Chapter 12 – In Bloom

The detour west had brought Syr and the rest of his party closer to Rustboro than they’d originally planned to go. In the morning, when they’d been seeking a place to camp, its south end would’ve been visible on the horizon—would have, if it hadn’t been for the fact that it had been more or less destroyed more than a decade prior.

The sight hadn’t surprised Syr. He’d known for years what had happened there. Though the plague had apparently put most of its victims to sleep before snuffing them out entirely, humanity’s end had not been entirely peaceful. They’d passed out in their cars. In their planes. He’d heard some of the crashes from the woods south of Mauville, had felt the distant impacts rattle the earth.

An especially large craft had gone down in Rustboro. In the end, the city’s survivors had not only elected against rebuilding at the crash site in any sense but had also chosen to raze what was left of it, leaving the barren site as a memorial to those lost there, humans and pokémon alike.

There had been pokémon casualties elsewhere, of course. Their death toll had certainly been lower than that of the humans, but still high enough to make some pokémon fear that the world was ending for all of its peoples. The only thing that separated the pokémon survivors from their dead (or from most of them, at least), was having been in the right places when the Extinction had hit.

If Syr had been in the wrong place…

Those thoughts were no kinder to him than they’d ever been. He shivered as he tried to get his mind on a different subject. It helped, but only slightly, that there was now a stone wall between him and the view to the west. It wasn’t a cave, exactly; more of an outcropping, really. A wall and a half with a ceiling. It was the best shelter they could find in the area.

Syr turned toward Ren, or toward his scent and silhouette, at least. The human was fidgeting with something, passing it back and forth between his hands. One of the other pokémon’s capture balls, Syr guessed, judging by the sound it made against Ren’s palms.

Karo sat nearby, as well, facing northward and slowly rocking back on forth on his short legs, ready to block at any moment. Enemy territory was still too close for comfort, and for the time being, the three of them were alone, waiting for the twins to return from the hunt.

Or from scavenging. God knew it was a lot harder to find anything living in those woods now.

The human stopped rolling the ball around and sighed to himself, shaking his head at some unvoiced thought. Reminiscing about his brief, horrific time inside a similar device, perhaps. Ren hadn’t really had a chance to go into detail about exactly what he’d experienced in there (though Syr wasn’t so sure the human would’ve been ready to talk about it anyway), but judging from the way the failed capture had looked, Syr had a nasty feeling that it had been painful. Terrifying.

He gave Ren a pitying frown, wondering what, if anything, he ought to say. “How are you feeling?” he finally asked.

Ren just sort of grunted at first. “Dizzy,” he said soon after.

Syr gave a sympathetic hum in response. “Because of the ball?” he supposed out loud.

“Or because he skipped breakfast,” Karo said.

“No, I didn’t,” Ren responded.

Syr tried to recall if he’d seen Ren actually eat anything in the past couple of hours, but couldn’t. He bumped the human’s pack with his snout. “Maybe you could use something anyway.”

Another grunt, but apparently Ren agreed; he took his mask back off, then swung his pack around and reached in. He kept digging through it for a few moments before letting out another sigh and simply shaking its contents out into the grass for easier access.

Syr found himself looking over the supplies as Ren felt around through them. The pile probably wasn’t really much smaller than it’d been before they’d left Convergence in the first place. But looking at it now, with their destination so close at hand, he felt doubt creep into his perception of it.

“Do we still have enough medicine?” he asked.

Ren paused in the middle of popping a packet open. Dried fruit, from the smell of it. His head turned ever so slightly in Karo’s direction. “Probably,” he said. “We’re almost there, assuming the koffing haven’t strayed too far from where you last saw them. And it sure doesn’t seem like they have.

“Once we’re in there… well. Hopefully we won’t need to be in there for long. If we can just get to this weapon of theirs...”

“We can wreck it,” Karo finished, sounding almost gleeful about the prospect. Ren nodded in confirmation.

“...And the koffing?” Syr asked. Getting to the deranics’ weapon was important. At this point, there really was no higher priority. He wasn’t about to argue otherwise. But he hadn’t forgotten why he’d proposed this mission in the first place. He still hoped that whatever else they had to do, whatever else came first… when all was said and done, at least some of Faurur’s people would be free. “What do we do about them? About helping them,” he clarified quickly.

“Whatever we can,” Ren said. He paused for a long drink of water and a shake of his canteen afterward to gauge how much was left. “I think… if we disable the weapon, if we can take the deranics down or force them to surrender, that might convince the koffing that they’re not worth serving any longer. If they no longer see the deranics as godlike, they might be more willing to desert them.”

“They might be,” Syr echoed, “but… I don’t know. It didn’t seem to take much to impress them in the first place.” At least, that’s how Faurur had made it seem. “The lights crossed the sky, and that was that. That’s all it took. They just… knew those were their gods.”

Ren took another mouthful of his breakfast, or snack, or whatever it was, chewing in silent thought for a short time. “They just knew,” he said finally. “Without meeting them.”

“Right,” Syr said.

“And did they know the name of their gods?” Ren asked. “Without meeting them?”

Syr’s frown deepened. “Yeah. They did.” The very first time he’d heard the deranics spoken of by name was mere minutes after the streaks in the sky had vanished.

“Well that doesn’t seem weird at all,” Karo remarked.

“What did they do to them?” Syr wondered aloud. “Did they just… beam the information into their heads? Why weren’t we affected?”

“Different brains,” Ren said. “Their brains were compatible with the signal. Yours, I guess, were not.” Another swig from the canteen. “I wouldn’t be surprised at all if that little introduction wasn’t all they transmitted.” He lifted his hooded head. “Your friends could very well have been brainwashed.”

Syr absorbed that silently. Then he hung his head. “I never doubted that they were victims in all this,” he said. “I just thought… all this time, I just thought they’d been lied to, and that was it. If you’re right, then they didn’t even get a choice about what to believe. They didn’t get to think it over. They just got taken. Taken all over again…”

He lifted his head again. “We have to save them,” he said. “Otherwise… God, otherwise everything she and I did, everything we gave up… it’s all for nothing.”

“I think we can,” Ren said. “I honestly think we can. I think they must have something or another still broadcasting that signal to this day. If we take that out, they’ll lose even more of their firepower.”

A little spark of hope lit up in Syr at those words, so swiftly it surprised him. For the first time since they’d set out, he could actually, properly imagine what a successful outcome in all this might look like. Devices whose shapes he could only guess bursting into sparks and smoke and flame. The sky above darkening with the emissions of countless rejoicing koffing. Vague, wormlike creatures cowering in surrender or lying twisted in pools of—

He shook his head briskly, rippling from neck to tail in a full-body shudder. He tried to steer his thoughts back toward the happier, less gory aspects of actually succeeding in their efforts, only to lose the threads when he saw Ren suddenly shoot to his feet.

Syr whipped around to follow the human’s line of sight, or where he presumed it to be. He went stock still at what he saw, his eyes widening in surprise. The twins were headed their way. Maybe they’d finished feeding. Maybe they hadn’t. It was entirely possible that they’d been distracted by the things they now carried.

The shapes were slightly murky in the darkness, but it looked as though Acheron had picked up something like a branch. There was a rustling noise as it swung in his grasp, suggesting leaves, and it gave off a faint, fruity scent. Demi’s cargo was silent, but less ambiguous all the same. The size, the shape, and the smell left no room for guessing. She’d caught a weezing.

“Urgh…” Ren said softly. Syr looked back just long enough to see the human leaning against Karo, his hooded head buried in one hand; he’d apparently stood up too quickly.

“You need to sit back down,” Demi told him as she and her brother stopped just outside the shelter, at which Ren readily did as she suggested.

“You didn’t have to go all the way back for that weezing,” he said.

“You’re right, and we didn’t,” Acheron said. “He came to us. Or tried to.”

“Subtle as a blimp,” Demi said, “luckily for us.” She gave the weezing a little shake. He dangled from one of her right hands by his larger mouth. He was drooling something dark and glistening.

“Be careful,” Syr warned. “Almost everything that comes out of them is toxic. Or wait, do you still have—”

“Safeguard? Yeah,” Acheron said. “But I figured I ought to grab these regardless.” He plunged the branch into the soil as if he were planting it, and at this distance Syr could see that it wasn’t a branch at all. The kwazai had simply uprooted an entire pecha plant.

There’s pechas for some of us, at least, but… Syr cast another concerned glance back toward Ren. He was the only member of the party who had neither the immunity of a poison-type nor the option of simply washing away poison with a little fruit juice. All he could do was hope to avoid getting poisoned in the first place.

Karo will protect him, Syr reminded himself. He can protect all of us. Including himself. There was a tiny little twinge of guilt as he realized that he’d actually managed to let himself forget that the nosepass was a gym leader’s pokémon, same as the kwazai.

“Anyway, we figured you wanted to talk to him,” Acheron said, “seeing as you tried to catch him.” He folded his legs underneath him, then began plucking berries off the pecha plant and dropping them in among the other supplies.

“You figured right.” Ren took a moment to finish off the fruit packet, then fished some more food out of the pile.

“You gonna wake him now?” Karo asked.

“We probably have enough revives,” Demi said.

“Hmm,” Ren responded at first; then, “Give him a few minutes. Hopefully he’ll wake up on his own—you went easy on him, right?” he asked, facing Demi as he spoke.

“I kept the beam on him long enough to knock him out. Not a second longer.”

“Good,” Ren said. “Okay, then he might come around in a timely fashion. Again, we’ll give him a chance. If that fails, then we revive.”

As it turned out, it didn’t take long at all for the weezing to stir. He shuddered in place and vented a few acrid puffs of exhaust.

“Hnrrrrrn… why?” he asked as he rose shakily. His voices were especially hoarse and quiet; Syr was helplessly reminded of how Faurur had sounded the last time she’d spoken to him.

The weezing turned and rose a bit higher to meet Demi eye to eye, wobbling all the while. “Why did you attack me? I only wanted to talk.”

“You attacked me first,” Syr reminded him.

“I was still hungry,” the weezing said simply. “But then I thought, maybe I know you.” He descended and moved closer to Syr. “You’re Syr, aren’t you?”

“Yes…” Syr answered.

“She used to talk about you. A lot.” The weezing backed up again, still a bit unsteady in the air. “She liked you. She missed you, I think.”

Syr felt an ache in his chest at that. She had only managed to reunite with him at the end of her life, but how long had she been trying?

Would she have had to wait so long if he’d stuck around?

“That’s why I looked for you,” the weezing went on. “To apologize.” He swelled with a deep breath, then let it out in a puff of smoke. “I’m sorry,” he said to Syr.

Syr shook his head. “It’s…” He trailed off and shook his head again with a sigh. He couldn’t pretend it was fine well enough to say that it was. “Just… if you try to eat me again,” he said, “if you try to kill any of us, you could get hurt very badly. Very badly,” he stressed. He wanted to believe the others wouldn’t kill the weezing. But he was certain that any of them would rather do so than watch any of their teammates die. “Keep that in mind, all right?”

“They’ll hurt me anyway,” the weezing said.

“No they won’t,” Ren spoke up; his muffled voice told that the mask was back on. He stood back up; Karo shuffled into place to support him as fast as he could manage.

The weezing turned slightly to regard Ren. Do you know what he is? Syr wondered. If this weezing had been one of the koffing that he and Faurur had rescued from the poacher, then he’d had experience with humans before. A bad experience, at that.

Are you afraid of him?

“Now, listen,” Ren said. “They could’ve left you back there in the woods. They brought you here for a reason.”

“Yeah. We’ve got questions for you, weezing,” Karo said.

“Ongzi,” the weezing corrected him. “Ongzi ursh-Ungem.”

“Ongzi,” Ren said. “We need you to tell us about the deranics.”

“They are holy,” Ongzi said.

“They’re killers,” Ren responded, and stood up a little straighter, no longer leaning on Karo. “Look… I know you’re not going to want to hear this. And I’ll understand if you don’t believe it. But the fact of the matter is that they’re lying to you, one way or another. They might be controlling your minds, making you think they’re here for some benevolent reason when in reality they’ve murdered billions of people since they arrived.” He was visibly shaking now. “Humanity is extinct because of them.”

“What? That’s what you think? No,” Ongzi said. “Humans were killed by someone else. By enemies of the deranics.”

“Enemies.” Acheron rose back to his full height and folded his arms. “And who might those be?”

“The deranics don’t speak their names,” Ongzi answered.

“Snrk. How convenient,” Karo said.

“Ongzi,” Ren said again. “We need you to be honest with us, all right? There are a lot of lives at stake here, maybe even yours. And no,” he added quickly, “no, that’s not a threat. We’re not going to kill you. We don’t want to hurt you any more than we already have. We didn’t want to have to hurt you in the first place, and I’m sorry we had to. We’re here to help you and the rest of your people.”

“…My people don’t need your help,” Ongzi said. “My people have the holy ones.”

“You really believe that, don’t you,” Syr said pityingly.

“Of course I do. Why shouldn’t I? And why…” he asked Ren, “why should I believe you? Of course you lie. You are a lie. The deranics told us that there are no humans left.”

Ren sighed, perhaps in frustration at Ongzi’s refusal to believe him about the deranics, perhaps in relief at the weezing’s refusal to believe he was human. “All right. Okay. Believe what you will about that. We’ll move on to the next question. Do you know about their weapon? If they have enemies, surely they’ve come up with some way to defend against them.”

Ongzi kept silent at first. “Maybe,” he conceded. “But I don’t know anything about that.”

“You’re sure about that?” Demi asked.

“Yes. I’m sure,” Ongzi said. “I’m telling you the truth. I haven’t seen anything like that. Maybe they keep a weapon in the small burrows. The places we don’t fit.”

One word in particular stood out for Syr. “Burrows… they’re underground, aren’t they?”

More silence. “…You still think they’re killers, don’t you,” Ongzi finally said.

“They are,” Ren insisted, as gently as he could manage. He still shook a little as he spoke. “And not only of humanity but also all those people in the forest. Don’t you think it’s a little strange that… that…”

“Ren…?” Demi said worriedly, for the human had begun panting. The ends of her tails gave a restless flick.

“Sit back down,” Acheron urged him.

“The enemies,” Ongzi was saying meanwhile, “it had to have been the enemies…”

“Where,” Ren said, half-gasping. He was seated again, and Demi was holding him in place with a free hand. “W-we need to know—”

Ren?” Demi interrupted.

“Where… where is—”

Ren went abruptly silent. So did everything else. All at once, all Syr could hear was a strange, shrill whine, a noise that came from everywhere and nowhere all at once. The human went rigid as a board, and both kwazai were laying hands upon him and shouting silently.

Then Ren threw his head back, and an unseen force flung Syr onto his back like a rag doll.

He lay there gasping for a short while, unable to think through the throbbing pain in his head at first. It worsened as he lifted himself up, leaving him heaving uselessly for a moment. The shrill noise was gone now, but there were little spots of light burning in the back of his eyes, which lingered briefly even after he’d opened them.

Once those cleared, Syr righted himself with a groan. He gingerly turned his head toward Ren and found him standing once more, apparently steady on his feet. Both kwazai stood very close to him, as did Karo, but none of them appeared to be supporting him.

“I’m fine,” Ren told them. “I’m… I’m genuinely fine. I feel better than I’ve felt in days. What the hell…” He shook his head. “What’s going on with me? What did I just do?”

“Something psychic,” Syr said, his voice hushed with awe and lingering disbelief. If he hadn’t been on the receiving end of the phenomenon himself, there’d have been much more of the latter. But he knew what he’d felt. The particular, primal discomfort that element caused was unmistakable.

“The closest thing I can compare it to would be a confusion attack,” Demi said. “A weak one, thankfully for you and the weezing, but… yeah. That was the real thing, Ren.”

“Okay,” Ren said. “Okay. So what does that mean for me?” He swallowed audibly. “What am I?”

“Human,” Acheron answered, but there was the slightest hint of uncertainty in his tone. “As far as I can tell.” He sent a questioning look Demi’s way.

“I’m getting the same picture,” she said. “You’re human… but it looks like you’re also a psychic-type. Which isn’t exactly unprecedented.”

“I know,” Ren said. He flexed his hands in front of himself. “And I know… I know that sometimes psychic awakenings take their sweet time to happen, but…” The human put a hand under his hood, at which it fell back with a soft whispering of cloth. He shook his head again, for longer this time. “I can still barely believe it…”

“I think we’re all surprised,” Syr said, still fairly awestruck. “To say the least.”

“Syr…” There was a soft shuffling as Ren turned on the spot. “I’m so sorry,” he said earnestly. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“It’s all right,” Syr said, and he meant it. “You didn’t really hurt me; it was just… sort of a push. She’s right; it was weak.”

“Still…” The human shook his head again. “I don’t know. I can’t guarantee it won’t happen again. Or that it won’t be so weak next time. If… well, maybe this is a stupid question. I’d understand if you’re willing to take that risk, all things considered. But if you’d honestly rather not, I’d understand that, too.”

Syr felt a stirring of guilt at the suggestion. No. No, I can’t do that. I can’t run away. Not again. “I’ll stay,” he said quickly. “If something happens, we have medicine, right?” He… he probably can’t hurt you worse than that, he told himself. The human’s abilities were only just awakening. He could barely pull off a simple confusion attack. Anything worse might be outside his capability altogether, at least for a while.

“I… I will not stay.”

Heads and tails turned toward the pair of voices that had just spoken in unison. Ongzi was lying in the grass, still trembling slightly in the wake of Ren’s psychic attack. The weezing began to rise, slowly and shakily, but only got himself about two feet off the ground.

“I don’t want to spend any more time with you,” he went on. “I don’t want to answer any more questions. And…” He inhaled deeply, swelling dramatically, before letting the breath back out on a sigh. “I’m sorry. I can’t let you go there. I’m sorry, Syr. I’m sorry, Faurur.” He inflated again, emitting a blinding glow—

— which cut out in an instant as its source fell unconscious to the grass below. A gentler, more colorful light shone around Demi’s outstretched hand for a moment more before dissipating.

“I had really hoped he wouldn’t try that,” she said.

Syr stared at the fallen weezing. He was grateful that the explosion had been thwarted, but he worried for their would-be attacker all the same. “Is he okay?”

“He’s okay,” Demi assured him. “I promise you. He’ll wake up just fine after a while.”

“And we won’t be here when he does,” Ren said. He turned southward. “Underground,” he said, apparently thinking aloud. “Around where you saw those streaks go, I’d imagine. I guess you’ll be leading the way from here on out,” he told Syr.

“I guess so,” Syr said. He scanned the southern horizon. It was hard to make out much of anything at this hour. “It’d be easier to do during the day, but…” But there was no telling, after all, how long it would be before the deranics fired again. “I can get us back to where I used to live. If we start digging westward from there…”

“That’s our plan, then.” Ren dropped into a crouch and began scooping everything back into the pack. Once he’d gathered everything and straightened himself back up, he recalled Karo.

“Give them directions,” the human said, as Demi picked him up. Acheron scooped Syr up at roughly the same time.

“Okay. South for now,” Syr said. The kwazai took off immediately, leaving Ongzi behind.

Syr looked back over Acheron’s shoulder as they departed the scene, trusting that Demi was truthful about Ongzi’s condition but hoping he’d be all right regardless. It seemed as though the weezing was still under the deranics’ sway for the time being… but hopefully, hopefully, that wouldn’t be the case for much longer. Only once he was free would Ongzi well and truly be all right.

We’ll fight for you, Syr promised as he turned back toward their destination. I promise, we’ll fight for you. We won’t run.

I won’t run…
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Chapter 13 – Kindred Spirits

Jen hadn’t known what to expect ever since he’d found himself among the deoxys. Certainly he hadn’t expected to be served dinner. Or breakfast, or whatever it was. There was no telling time in a place like this.

But sure enough, there was a table raised in front of him and Babs, or rather what passed for a table. It was more of a pillar, really, quite a bit wider than it was tall, and made out of the same, metallic gray material as the surrounding walls and floor. In fact, it had literally grown up from the floor, fast and fluidly. He’d watched it happen. The odd sort of shifting-sand noise that had accompanied the process sounded in his mind once more as he remembered it.

“It’s almost like this place is alive,” he’d said to Babs after the table had formed. She’d agreed with him. He’d been kind of hoping she wouldn’t. Knowing that the two of them were apparently stuck in outer space was unsettling enough. The idea that they might furthermore be inside a living creature was even worse.

Sitting right in front of him, in a small indent in the table, were several pale green lumps of… something. Grown from the “ship”, if it could be called that, same as the table. The deoxys had told Babs that the food they had to offer was safe, carefully assembled on a molecular level to be compatible with each of their guests’ chemistry. They’d probably meant that to be assuring.

Babs had not managed to sound quite as assuring when she’d relayed that information to him. She didn’t seem to trust the food herself; there was none of it in front of her. The only thing filling her bowl (such as it was) was a generous helping of water—melted snow, which Jen had personally provided. The deoxys apparently had their own water to offer, but she’d declined that, as well. She cupped some more of it in her webbed hands as he watched, drinking some and deliberately spilling the rest over the top of her head.

He might have turned down the deoxys’ offerings, as well, except that he was feeling genuinely famished, as if he’d gone several days without eating anything at all—which, for all he knew, he had. Another part of him wondered if maybe this was some side effect of being used as a psychically-operated translator.

Either way, he didn’t feel as though he had the luxury of turning his figurative nose up at the food he’d been given. Hoping the deoxys were right about them being safe, and hoping his poison typing would protect him if they were wrong, he speared one of the strange, green nuggets on a single claw, froze it there, and delicately nipped off a piece.

His eyes widened. The green stuff was delicious.

“Babs?” he said once his mouth was clear. “Are you sure you don’t want to try any of this? It’s actually really, really good…”

The greninja was staring into the water. Without a sound, without looking up at him, she shook her head.

Maybe there was more than mistrust quelling her appetite.

Jen returned his sights to the food, but not his attention. He munched away at the nuggets, freezing and biting chunks off them on autopilot, all the while trying to decide exactly what he should say to help ease her mind.

He faced her again. “They said we’ll be home soon, right?”

Babs pulled in a long breath and let it hiss out her nostrils. “Yeah. They said that. And maybe they were telling the truth; who knows.” A hand disappeared into the folds of her tongue to prop her head up. “But hell, who knows what these guys consider ‘soon’?”

“I don’t even know how long we’ve been here,” Jen admitted.

“Same here. It feels like it’s been at least a day.” Her free hand clenched into a fist. It trembled, in rage or worry or both. “God, it could already be too late. Days too late.”

“Or maybe it’s not,” Jen said quietly. He couldn’t be sure either way, of course. All he knew for certain was that Ren had survived this far. The human had been living in the same house with Jen and Babs and their contamination for days before leaving Convergence, breathing air that might have carried the plague. Had lived for years and years prior to that, and who was to say that the metal tube had actually kept the virus out?

“Maybe he’s just immune,” the cryonide speculated aloud. “And maybe he’s not the only one.” A sentiment he hadn’t heard spoken aloud in a while, he realized. Not since the last time he’d visited the Hope Institute. A prickle of doubt made his eyelight stutter.

Just because he was lying about some things doesn’t mean he was lying about that, he told himself.

Babs took another drink. “He’d better be,” she said. “Nobody has the right to take him from us.”

There was another shifting noise then, as the material forming one of the walls (its flesh, Jen thought, at which he shivered) parted to create a doorway where none had been before. A deoxys hovered just beyond it. They seemed to beckon with their tentacles.

“We’re wanted for something,” Jen supposed.

Babs stood up. “This had better be good,” she told the new arrival, pointing at them for emphasis. She gave herself one last splash in the face, followed by a vigorous shake of her head and shoulders. “Come on,” she said to Jen as she began striding toward the doorway.

Jen started to follow, but paused at a faint, gnawing sensation in his stomach. With a flick of his hand, he skewered a couple more nuggets for the road, then hurried after her.

He sped through the red-and-green-veined halls, glad the post-puppeting dizziness had long since worn off; he doubted the deoxys’ offerings would taste as good coming back up. The deoxys eventually led them up a steep ramp, at which point he initially struggled a bit. He resorted to leaning forward and using his claws for added traction, hoping the surrounding vessel wouldn’t mind.

The ramp opened into a room barely larger than the one he and Babs had left but much, much busier. Deoxys of varying shapes and sizes lined the walls, all of their tentacles and some of their faces and chests buried in swathes of shimmering gray and panels of soft, glowing aquamarine. Others flitted back and forth across the room, some barely skimming the floor, some hovering higher overhead. They nimbly dodged around Jen, Babs, and their deoxys escort as they passed.

“All right,” Babs spoke up. “I’m going to assume we’re in here for a reason. Got something to show us? Or tell us, maybe? If it’s the latter, you know the drill. You run it by him first,” she told the deoxys firmly, gesturing toward Jen.

The escort fluttered the ends of their tentacles in a way that could’ve meant anything or nothing at all. They said something aloud, at which the rest of the deoxys cleared a space at the front of the room.

The wall there, formerly gray, darkened to black. A point of faintly blue light shone at its center. There was a shimmering of green in one corner, tiny symbols flashing by much too fast to have read even if Jen had known the language… and then the blue dot began growing. It began showing other colors: swirls and patches of white, strips and blotches of green and brown. Another, much smaller point of light appeared at its side as it grew.

Jen had realized what he was looking at before the image had finished zooming. He wasn’t entirely sure he could believe it. The same went for Babs, he imagined.

“I think they’re trying to tell us we’re almost there,” he said.

“Yeah,” Babs responded, her voice constricted. “I really hope you’re not jerking us around, deoxys,” she told their escort. “We’d better be close. And you had better be willing to send us back down there as soon as possible.”

As Jen stared at the dots in the darkness that represented home, he thought he saw a third point of light join them. Then he was certain he saw it. It was much smaller than the others. Dimmer. But not too dim for the eyes of a cave-dwelling predator.

“Wait…” he said, pointing a claw at the screen. “What is that?”

* * *​

Darkness. The smell of dirt. For more than an hour now, Syr had known little else. He was underground, burrowing through the remaining time and space between his team and their goal. Damp earth parted before him as he corkscrewed through, packed tight along the sides by the ground-type power that propelled him.

It petered out once again, and he took the opportunity to rest and allow the others to catch up, same as he’d done in the wake of each preceding dig. Ren and Karo were trudging along behind him. It was Karo’s innate magnetic sense that kept them on course now. It was the psychic signature of many, many lifeforms that had shown them the way in the first place.

The five of them had followed that signal above ground for a time. They’d stopped and gone to ground upon seeing, and smelling, the vast cloud of smog that utterly blanketed their destination. The less of that Ren had to breathe, the better. There was only so much that his air filter could take.

The kwazai were stowed for the time being. It was better not to force Syr to dig a wider tunnel than was strictly necessary, Ren had figured aloud. Syr hadn’t argued, and still didn’t; the work was demanding enough as it was without the extra effort that would’ve been required to make room for very tall beings with bodies ill-suited to crawling.

He gave his head a shake, casting off mud and small stones; he heard them bounce harmlessly off the walls. He craned his neck back toward the others. “I think I could use a leppa.”

“Already got it out for you,” Ren said.

Syr nodded in recognition; he could taste the fruit on the air, even amidst the competing scents of soil and poorly-washed human. He doubled over on himself a little awkwardly, his tongue flitting repeatedly toward the leppa smell until it made contact with the firm, waxy skin. One more flick to lap it up, and then it was back to work.

“Oh hey. Hey!” Karo called out, barely any sooner than Syr had resumed digging.

The arbok stopped burrowing, shuddering as he lost the elemental charge. “What? What’s going on?”

“Some kind of magnetic field flared up outta nowhere up ahead,” Karo said.

“They know we’re coming,” Syr said. It was more an assumption than a suspicion, and one the entire party had shared before they’d even begun tunneling. If the deranics really were worms, it was easy to imagine that they were natural burrowers. It would surely occur to such creatures that something could approach from underground.

“Of course they do,” Ren said. There wasn’t any surprise in his voice, but there certainly was tension.

“Uh… it’s getting stronger,” Karo reported.

Ren spat out a curse. “Shield, now!”

The pressure engulfed Syr in an instant and let up just as fast. He drew back, muscles tensed, bracing for… something. What was Ren anticipating? Some sort of beam or pulse? A long, thin hiss passed through his fangs. If it was the weapon, maybe he’d be unharmed—or maybe not, at this range…

Seconds passed. Nothing happened, or so it seemed. “Karo?” Ren prompted.

“It’s keeping steady,” the nosepass said. “Guess it’s not building up to anything after all.”

“Hm.” Ren didn’t sound especially convinced. He let another few moments pass. “All right,” he said finally. “Bring it down. Syr? Let’s get moving again.”

Hoping they weren’t letting their guard down too soon, Syr crept forward once more and tested the wall with his snout. The moment he felt yielding earth instead of an impenetrable field, he called up another dig attack.

Just as he was beginning to wonder how much further they had to go, the tunnel opened quite suddenly into empty space. For the first time since he’d begun digging, he bothered to open his eyes, but found the cavern—or whatever it was—just as dark as the tunnel that had led to it. He sampled the air and found it much less stale-tasting than he’d have expected. There was a strange scent to it, reminiscent of a summer storm.

He pulled back into the tunnel. “Guys? I think we’re here.”

“Okay,” Ren said. “How much space is there? Enough for the twins?”

“I think so,” Syr replied. “I can make it bigger if need be.” Assuming all the walls were dirt and loose rocks, anyway. Reminding himself that there was someone just feet behind him who could shield him at a moment’s notice, he returned to the hole in the wall and let himself emerge into the open.

He reared up as high as he could and found no ceiling, stretched out as far as he could and found no walls in any direction but behind. “Oh yeah,” he said. “There’s room. I think this place is pretty big.”

Ren and Karo followed him out into the hollow. Lights flashed as the two kwazai were unleashed, and for a split second Syr caught a glimpse of something dark and metallic overhead. It seemed that they were directly underneath the deranics’ base.

“Light it up,” Ren said.

Syr felt a prickle of awareness that psychic energy was building nearby; out of the corner of his eye, he saw colorful light swelling around at least two of Demi’s hands. Psybeams burst forth, rainbow searchlights sweeping harmlessly over the walls—

—gone in a literal flash, as a much brighter light suddenly flooded the room.

Syr tried to shout, but something punched the air out of him the instant he opened his mouth. He heard Acheron snarling and Demi swearing as he caught his breath.

He realized he was unharmed at around the same time as the searing, pink blankness finally faded out from behind his closed eyes. With a groan, he shook the last of the haze out of his head and finally took in his surroundings.

The five of them were now in a vast, oblong space. The walls were brown-black, packed soil, which was dotted with gray and white stone. There were thick, metal pillars embedded in it; one of them stood less than a yard from the tunnel’s opening. A few more had been raised in the middle of the room, supporting the structure above.

Some twenty feet overhead, there curved the belly of an enormous, rust-red cylinder. It was dotted with floodlights that cast a warm, white glow over its metallic surface and the five beings who gazed up at it from below.

That was just the part that they could see. There was no telling how far the base extended beyond the earthen walls. No telling how much lay beneath the curtain of smog beyond the surface.

A wave of dizziness washed over Syr, and he realized he’d been forgetting to breathe for who knew how long. He gulped in air and felt it lodge in his throat. There it was: his destination, his mission, now literally hanging over his head, closer than ever before. Closer, and much more daunting.

A roaring sound rang out at his side. He flicked a gaze toward it and saw Acheron trying to burn a hole through the ceiling above. The dark-type energy spread out over its surface, forming rippling, violet-black circles that dissipated into nothing at their edges. The kwazai bared his teeth and snarled again, lifting another hand to redouble his efforts, to no avail.

He let the twin reflux beams die out. “Damn it,” he spat out between gasps.

“Shielded,” Ren muttered as he fished out another leppa berry for the kwazai. “Thought as much.”

“It’s got to give out eventually,” Demi figured aloud. “Whatever’s powering that has to have a finite source.”

So does our power, Syr thought uneasily as he watched Acheron wolf down the proffered berry. How many of those were left?

As another pair of reflux beams plowed into the invisible shield above, the floodlights dimmed somewhat. At first, Syr wondered if the deranics were already running out of power to keep the barrier up. He hoped that they were. But then another, different sort of light bloomed on the underside of the base: a single point of a slightly cooler hue.

Another sudden wave of pressure came and took his breath away; he recognized Karo’s block field this time. He braced for a possible attack again… but as before, none came. The new light merely cast a small, blue-white circle on the floor a short distance in front of them.

Then the light turned yellow, and it resolved into the shape of a worm.

The first thing that struck Syr was how small the being was. He’d been expecting something bigger somehow. Closer to his own size, if not larger. Instead he found himself looking upon a creature who couldn’t have attained eye level with him even if they’d stood on the end of their tail. They were dark yellow and scaleless, with a short, pointed snout and six bright pink eyes arranged in a ring around their head.

“Hello, arbok,” the deranic said in a somewhat high-pitched, slightly buzzing voice.

Syr didn’t respond, staring warily at them. His tongue flicked out, seeking the scent of the new arrival but finding nothing new. As he watched the deranic, they shimmered ever so slightly. Flickered a bit. He recognized the technology, though its name escaped him at the moment. The deranic was nothing but a projected image. They weren’t actually there.

“We weren’t expecting any of your people to come back,” the deranic went on. Speaking the language of the koffing and weezing, Syr realized then. “We… had hoped you wouldn’t. We don’t want there to be any more fighting.”

“No,” Ren spoke up. The tremor was back in his voice, the one Syr had come to recognize as anger rising to the surface. “No, wiping out the other side from a good, safe distance, giving them no chance to fight back… that’s more your style, isn’t it?”

“We didn’t want it to be,” the deranic said. Their tone didn’t change in the least; it was impossible to tell if they were truly remorseful. “But we have no choice. The enemy is powerful. And there are so few of us. The only way to destroy them is to surprise them.”

“They understand my language…” Ren noted, barely audible.

“You’re not destroying a damn thing from here on out,” Demi said, taking a step forward; despite the fact that they weren’t actually anywhere near her, the deranic squirmed back a bit. “You’ve done more than enough.”

The deranic’s head tilted ever so slightly to their left. A pair of voices spoke quietly, their owner somewhere out of sight, but Syr knew without a doubt what they belonged to: a weezing, repeating Demi’s words in their own language. An interpreter for a being who apparently only understood some pokémon, not all.

“Sadly… we have not,” the deranic responded once the weezing fell silent. “Many more must die.” Dark membranes slid over all six eyes in unison. “Very many… including all of my people.”

“Well, congrats,” Karo said. “You’re officially nuts.”

Syr couldn’t help but agree. It was hard to imagine why they had destroyed humanity. Hard to imagine why they were apparently bent on destroying even more of the world’s peoples. But why, he wondered, would they want to destroy themselves in the process?

“There is no other way,” the deranic insisted. “No other chance. Soon, they will come here. We must make sure they won’t leave. We will die. Many will die. But so will they. It’s a terrible, terrible thing… but it’s what’s right. This world will die, but many, many more will live because of this sacrifice.”

Syr shook his head. “This doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “How is killing an entire world’s worth of innocent people supposed to save anyone? You’re talking about… about other worlds? We aren’t like you. We can’t even reach any other planet.”

“No,” the deranic said, with no need for translation by the weezing this time. “No, you don’t understand. You are not the threat. You are not the ones who destroyed our people. The ones who destroyed the human people.”

The rest of what the deranic had said finally reached Syr, finally made it past the promises of widespread death and destruction and slotted into place. “Soon, they will come here.”

there someone else in the picture? Someone else who killed from afar, who had yet to arrive in person?

“Humans were killed by someone else. By enemies of the deranics,” said a pair of voices in his memory.

“Don’t trust them,” said another.

“You are expecting a hell of a lot from us, deranic,” Ren said. His voice was quieter now, but still shaking with rage. “Here you are, asking us to believe in an enemy you can’t provide a scrap of evidence for. Expecting us to trust you, when at the very least you have certainly killed dozens if not hundreds of helpless pokémon. Expecting us to be all right with the fact that you’ve decided to sacrifice us all without giving us a say in the matter.”

The deranic was silent for a moment. “Some of the koffing here think you’re in disguise. We had hoped not, but…” Again the deranic closed their eyes, in their peculiar fashion. “Maybe if you really were human, you would understand. We would be the same. The last of our kind. Survivors of the same enemy, wishing for an end to their evil.”

“We are not the same,” Ren said. “Acheron?”

The kwazai nodded, acknowledging the implied command. He looked toward the projected image. “See you soon, worm,” he said, then went back to trying to burn through the ceiling.

The weezing spoke again. The deranic responded with a sound that might’ve been a sigh. “So it is,” they said, then vanished.

The shield didn’t hold out much longer. Dropped on purpose, perhaps, which stoked Syr’s unease further. Were they being admitted into a trap?

With a loud sizzling, the black beams finally broke through the metal barrier above them. Acheron let his arms drop to his sides for a short time, his shoulders heaving as he caught his breath. He extended an open, trembling hand toward Ren, closing it soon after on another berry, another max potion.

“Up here, sis,” Acheron said once he’d rejuvenated himself, at which Demi leapt and vaulted herself up onto his shoulders with her large upper hands. As he held her steady, she reached up, seized the irregular edges of the hole he’d made, and ripped it open wide enough to make a usable entrance.

With a grunt, she hoisted herself in. One by one, she began lifting the rest of the party up to her waiting arms. As Syr’s turn came up, he wondered if the kwazai could feel his heart hammering away. This was it. Soon, very soon, this would all be over—one way or another.
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Y'know, I was reading Communication and I thought, man, I'm really behind on The Worldslayers, it's a shame I'm not on the same forum as it any more. And then I thought, but wait! It's probably out there on other forums! And, well, here I am. Following the Apocalypse Trauma Gang across the wilds of the internet.

And it's straight back into that sense of a world continuing past its own end, huh, with that striking image of the vehicles crashing as people blacked out. They're already gone, but everything is still moving, senselessly, towards nothing. That feels like a metaphor for much of what we've learned about this world. It's easy to forget sometimes how recent all that was, but then there are the parts like the one where Syr expressly remembers living through it and you realise that this all happened not just in living memory but pretty recent memory, too. That this is a shared experience that all these pokémon have in common.

But let's get more specific. There were a lot of questions when last I read any of this, and it seems like in the interim, we've started getting answers. First up, the ball thing: Ren's psychic, and I'm guessing that in this interpretation of canon, that means he has a weak or partly-expressed psychic typing, hence his accidentally almost capturing himself when he fumbles with the ball. So that's one mystery solved, even if it does raise more questions about what might have triggered his powers to emerge.

And of course, I can't not comment on the fact that we're face to face (ish, I know it's a hologram) with a deranic, after all this time. It remains to be seen who's really onto the truth here. It's clear that Ren and co. don't have the full story, but the deranics are obviously pretty sketchy, the deoxys are suspicious, and the weezing clearly don't know everything either. Despite all that, though … the gang made it. It's been a really long journey since Esaax left the hospital and we first heard Faurur talk about the deranics, but they're here. I'm excited to see what happens now that they are here – and whether the deranics are the Red Hand, or whether there's another, even worse kind of murder alien out there.

Getting even more specific still: it strikes me now, reading this in conjunction with The Origin of Storms, that there's such a difference between a kwazai with the training and understanding to use their powers properly and one who stumbles into it without thinking; refluxes are fired all over the place here and it barely fazes the users. I also just really liked the idea of someone dosing up on pechas in order to carry a weezing around, found it exceptionally sweet and heartening to hear Syr of all people promise not to run, and liked how dorky and awkward the deoxys were once Babs got past their whole 'weird virus aliens' thing.

That's about it! But, before I go, two typos:

then he'd had experience humans before.

Missing 'of' between 'experience' and 'humans'.

no one was about to argue that devoting resources to making sure they caused no further trouble was prudent.

I feel like that should be 'wasn't' prudent.
eld-oys: Apocalypse Trauma Gang. :D I love it.

Fun fact: I actually debated whether or not to keep the part about the planes going down and all while I was writing that chapter. In retrospect, I'm not really sure why I ever considered taking it out. It happened, because of course it would--Bad Things tend to go down whenever someone falls asleep behind the wheel, after all. Plus it was a golden opportunity to inject some horror, so yeah. :D

Yeah, Acheron is a better-trained kwazai than Esaax was by a good margin, and a more stable kwazai by an even greater one. It also helps somewhat that several of the things he's fired on have been inanimate; kwazai are empaths of a sort and consequently feel a degree of feedback (which varies, depending on a number of factors) when hurting another being (hence why it wore him down more noticeably when he fought the ghosts in Verdanturf).

That said, I might go back and have it take just a little bit more out of him when he blasts nonliving targets, as well, owing to reconsidering how reflux works in and of itself. Specifically, it's no longer exclusive to kwazai and still deals recoil regardless of what uses it, meaning that it's not just the empathic factor causing it.

Thanks lots for the read 'n' reply! :D
Chapter 14 – Seterhath Zulo-Denvenda

If Syr hadn’t known better, he might’ve sworn the deranic base was abandoned.

There were others here, besides himself and Ren and the latter’s team. Many others. But not a soul among them was anywhere to be seen. They’d all apparently drawn inward, away from the hole Acheron and Demi had ripped out of the wall.

Unluckily for the deranics, and quite fortunately for their enslaved pokémon, they couldn’t hide from the senses of the invaders. Syr and the rest of his party were moving toward them now, guided by the twins’ psychic abilities and the slowly building alien scent in the air. Every time Syr’s tongue darted out, he tasted that scent just a little bit more.

He slithered along the cool metal floor, occasionally passing over narrow tubes that crossed his path. More like them lined the rust-colored walls and spanned the space overhead, forcing him to duck from time to time. He could only imagine what a nuisance they were for the larger pokémon among them to pick their way through.

Things were quiet, for now. It might have been an opportunity to breathe, to collect himself for whatever was next, but he couldn’t take advantage of it. Couldn’t trust it. No one was getting in their way yet. The base had shown nothing in the way of defenses, not since the force field that had tried and failed to keep them out. The air was clean, breathable. The temperature was mild; the lighting, soft. Under other circumstances, it might have all seemed pleasant.

Under these, it felt like a trap.

But we have to keep going, he kept telling himself. After coming this far, after all he’d said and done, he could see no other course of action. None that didn’t make him sick to his stomach with guilt, at least.

Something hissed in the unseen space above him.

Syr froze. The human at his side and the kwazai at his head and tail did likewise, in imperfect unison. Karo was sent back out into their midst in a flash, materializing in a clear stretch of flooring somewhere ahead.

He felt Acheron push him forward, herding him and Ren closer to the nosepass. The press of a block field came and went just in time for dark, dirty-green clouds to billow into the halls. The gas swirled against the invisible barrier, too thick to penetrate it. He could still smell it, but only very faintly.

“There’s no one here,” Demi noted. “Nobody at all for… another thirty yards or so.”

“There doesn’t need to be,” Ren figured. “They could’ve collected the gas ahead of time, saved it to try and smoke out intruders while the koffing and weezing stay somewhere else.”

“Guarding the weapon?” Syr wondered aloud.

“Or getting ready to power it again,” Acheron said grimly.

“Pick him up, Demi,” Ren said. “We need to get moving again.”

The moment the nosepass’s feet left the floor, the party proceeded toward the unseen signs of life. The going was slower than Syr liked despite his unrelenting trepidation, owing to the still-cluttered passageway and the fact that they now had less time to react to its obstacles, what with the koffing exhaust forming an impenetrable smokescreen outside their protective bubble and everything going dark in the spaces between the fluorescent lamps.

“Bogeys,” Acheron announced before long. “Just a couple. Staying put.”

And continuing to stay put, it seemed, even as the party approached. Exactly what they were, Syr could only guess; at the moment, it was hard to smell or taste anything other than the occupants of the block field and a hint of the smog outside. Maybe koffing or weezing, with their usual compliment of combat abilities—at the very least. Maybe deranics themselves, and who knew how they might be armed.

Whoever it was, if they thought they were about to spring a successful ambush, they were probably mistaken. He clung to that thought in the hopes of steadying himself, bracing for a fight.

His fangs flexed and his hood flared to its widest at a rushing sound just up ahead. There was barely a moment’s delay before Demi lunged forward toward it; Syr lunged after her, his figurative hand forced by the kwazai and the block field behind him. The curtain of exhaust parted around them, revealing a room that looked barely big enough to accommodate the lot of them and two small, yellow figures huddled against the wall.

Another rushing noise sounded—a quick glance back told Syr that a door had shut behind them. His gaze snapped forward just as quickly and saw that Demi had lifted both of the deranics up to her eye level. Her upper hands were holding their heads up, while her lower hands supported the rest of their bodies. The color was rapidly draining from their faces, their pink eyes bulging.

“Drop the field for now,” Ren told Karo. The nosepass was now standing at Demi’s side, peering up at the deranics. “Be ready to pull it back up, but let yourself recharge for now.”

There was a whirring sound from above. The wisps of smog that had entered the room ahead of the party disappeared, sucked away by vents near the ceiling. The air now tasted even cleaner than it had above ground. Syr sucked it in gratefully, only now realizing just how stale the air had gotten inside that force field. Karo must have reinforced it, he supposed, and hoped that the nosepass hadn’t overexerted himself.

Ren stepped forward, toward the captive deranics; Demi shifted to allow him a more unobstructed view of them. His shoulders rose with a breath that escaped his mask with an almost mechanical hiss. “You two. Can you understand me?”

The deranics could do nothing but shake at first. Their plain fear only made them seem even smaller than they were; Syr was helplessly reminded of the ekans hatchlings back in Mauville.

The one to the left regained their composure at first, or at least part of it. “I… I can,” they said, and they said it in Ren’s language. “Zaltaphi never really cared much about human studies. But I…” Their black tongue flicked out for a moment. “Sorry. I am Kiat.”

“You opened the door for us,” Ren said. “You let us in. Why?”

Good question… Syr thought, eyeing the deranics warily. The feeling that this could all be a trap grew even stronger.

“We need to talk,” Kiat said. “We need your help. The captain’s going to kill us all… it’s madness. They must be stopped, but we can’t do it alone. We need you.”

Ren considered that in silence for a moment. “What you need,” he then said, “is to tell us where it is. The weapon. Seterhath Zulo-Denvenda.”

Both deranics’ eye membranes gave a rapid fluttering at those last words. Zaltaphi hissed something to Kiat in what Syr could only assume was their own language.

“What…” Kiat said, with what might’ve been confusion in their tone. “We can guide you to the weapon, yes, but… Seterhath has been dead for a very long time, long before we came here.”

Now it was Syr’s turn to be perplexed. He’d figured—they all had—that the name Faurur had told him before she’d died was that of the weapon itself. But in hindsight, she’d never actually said that was what it was. Something big done to the world… that was all she’d known about it. All she’d gathered about what it meant. The rest was merely an assumption on their part, the result of the way they’d put the pieces together since the attack on the forest. What if they’d been wrong?

What else might they have been wrong about?

Syr shivered. Don’t trust them, he reminded himself. She warned you. She warned you.

“Seterhath…” Kiat went on. “They were the one who discovered this world. The one who brought knowledge of your people to ours. The truth is that…” Their tongue gave another nervous flick.

What, Kiat. The truth is what?” Ren demanded.

Kiat’s dark eyelids slid shut. “No… you deserve to know.” They met his gaze again. “The ones who destroyed your people were the same ones who destroyed ours. They learned of this world through our broadcasts. If it weren’t for Seterhath… they might never have found you.”

“More talk about the ‘real’ killers,” Acheron muttered. “More talk, and no proof.”

“None,” Ren agreed. To Kiat, “For all we know, this ‘enemy’ we supposedly share doesn’t exist,” he said. “Maybe you’re not the last of your kind. Maybe you’re just here to finish the job—a job started, deliberately, by deranics. We have no reason to trust you.”

“We know,” Kiat said. “I wouldn’t, either, if I were you. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you destroy the weapon. The killers will come to this world soon, looking for survivors of their plague. The captain will fire the weapon at full power when they arrive. It may kill the enemy—but it will kill all of us as well.

“The rest of us see it as atonement—that we should give our lives to stop the ones who murdered humanity, since it was because of us that the killers found you. They think it’s worth sacrificing what’s left of this world if it will save countless more. But we’re the last of our kind. Please… give our people a chance to survive.”

“Tell us where the weapon is,” Ren said. “Make no mistake: we will find it regardless. But if you show us the way, we stand a better chance of finding it in time. And if you tell us the truth…” He gave an encompassing wave across the small room, indicating all of the pokémon who were on his side. “We’re a lot likelier to show you mercy afterward.”

Kiat shuddered, insofar as they could in Demi’s grasp. “Of course,” they said, “of course. But… we can bring up a map for you. It would be easier, faster to show you the way than it would to try and explain it.”

Their tongue came out again, and the end of it unraveled into four branches, which gestured toward the right side of the room. The appendage withdrew; then, “There,” Kiat said. “The console is there. If you would let… no. No, why would you let us go…”

“We wouldn’t,” Demi said, but turned to face the console as she spoke. She bent forward and lowered her hands toward an array of buttons and recessed spots on the wall.

“Can either of you reach it?” Ren asked.

“Yes,” Kiat responded, and said something to Zaltaphi. The other deranic extended their tongue, whose branches immediately went to work, nimbly prodding at the console.

“Bear in mind,” Ren said, “that if you do anything other than call up that map, you’ll be wasting your time, and she’ll be squeezing the life out of you.”

Kiat didn’t respond, though they could have. Too frightened, perhaps. They were right to be, at least where their own life was concerned—the kwazai had left the koffing and weezing alive thus far, but Syr doubted they would extend the same mercy to deranics, especially when there was still a chance that they were, in fact, the engineers of the Extinction.

Whether the rest of the deranics really had anything to fear, what with their still-uncounted hordes of servants and their weapon of mass destruction… that, Syr couldn’t say.

The lights dimmed to near-darkness. A new light source flared to life overhead, and a moment later, a three-dimensional image sat in the middle of the room. Realizing he was in the midst of it, distorting part of it, Syr backed up out of the way; Karo and Acheron had to do likewise.

Barring Demi and her two captives, they were now all looking at part of the base’s interior in miniature. Before their eyes, a glowing yellow line traveled from one part of it to another. The line vanished, then repeated its previous animation, again and again.

“There,” Kiat said. “This route leads directly to the room containing the weapon.”

Ren’s eyes traced the golden line, his brow knitted. “What about security? What can we expect on arrival?”

“Some of our people are there at all times. They will be armed.”

“Armed with what, exactly?” Ren asked.

“Dart launchers,” Kiat answered. “Potentially lethal, if you’re hit by enough of them.” They made a soft hissing noise that might have been a sigh. “I would hope that you wouldn’t use lethal force yourselves… there are so few of us left. But… do what you must.”

“Oh, we’re gonna,” Karo promised. His nose emitted a few stray sparks; both deranics visibly flinched at the display.

“What about the koffing?” Syr asked uneasily. “There’ll be some of them guarding the weapon, right?” Part of him hoped there wouldn’t be, though he knew better than to expect that kind of luck. They’d be there, or they’d be en route, or both. As long as they remained under the deranics’ sway, he’d probably have to fight them. And if it came down to it… if some of them had to fall to save the rest…

Hopefully it wouldn’t come to that.

Kiat didn’t respond to Syr’s question; they, unlike the deranic outside, apparently didn’t understand his language.

Ren, it seemed, had arrived at the same conclusion. “They’ll send in koffing and weezing against us, I assume,” he said.

“Some of them,” Kiat said. “They won’t want to risk too many. The weapon has enough elemental energy in reserve to fire at full power with some docks unoccupied, but only some. Only a few. But if you can disable the system controlling them, they will be confused. And if they see your arbok, they may not be willing to fight you any longer.”

Syr’s heart might have leapt at the prospect, but he didn’t quite dare to believe it. It had been more than a decade since he’d fled the area, and Faurur’s colony had greatly increased its numbers since then. How many of them would actually know who he was? How many of those who’d remember him were still alive?

“And how do we go about doing that?” Ren asked. “Where do we go?”

Kiat relayed more instructions to Zaltaphi. A few nimble tongue-darts later, the yellow line on the map began holding steady. A blue dot appeared at a point roughly two thirds of the way along its length and began pulsing gently.

“The transmitter is there,” Kiat said. “It will be behind the wall, in a room that only deranics can access… normally.”

Karo gave a chuckle. “Yeah, we’ll be able to access that thing just fine.”

“One last thing,” Ren said. He turned to face the two deranics once more, though Demi still partly blocked the view of them. “How would we identify your captain?”

“By scent… But none of you are familiar with their scent.”

“Are you?” Ren asked.

“...Yes,” Kiat answered.

“Then you’re coming with us,” Ren said.

Kiat made an alarmed-sounding noise and might have been about to protest. “…Of course,” they said instead. “But the smoke outside—”

“Isn’t an issue. Karo? Put a block on the door.”

“Got it,” Karo said. “Aaaaand blocked,” he reported a beat later.

“Open it,” Ren said to Kiat.

Kiat repeated the order in their own language. The door slid open once more, but none of the swirling murk outside encroached upon the room this time.

“And now just bubble it out, right?” Karo asked.

“Right,” Ren said, then drew closer to the nosepass. “Same formation as before,” he told everyone, “only Acheron carries Karo this time.”

Demi adjusted her hold on the deranics, allowing them to drape their tails across her shoulders so as to free her lower hands. “Try to choke me and you’ll get the fangs,” she warned them. “And I’ll scramble your brains while I’m at it.”

“She will, too,” Acheron said.

Shivering, Zaltaphi whispered something to Kiat. The latter responded in kind, punctuating the statement with a flick of their tongue. Zaltaphi seemed to calm at this, but only slightly.

Demi stepped past Karo, out into the clean pocket of air he’d created for them. The party resumed their single file procession through the darkened halls, now with a pair of possible allies.

Syr looked up at the lithe, yellow forms slung over Demi’s shoulders like bizarre scarves, trying to figure out to what extent he trusted them. The answer seemed to be more than none, which bothered him, setting a prickling discomfort at the base of his skull. They seemed reasonable, helpful—or at least, Kiat did—but the deranics had been kind and helpful toward Faurur, too.

And yet… nothing they were saying conflicted with what they’d learned about this place and its purpose from other sources. The deranic outside had made no bones about the fact that they intended a strike against their enemy that would cost countless other lives in the process, the deranics’ own included. Ongzi had said that the weapon was intended for the arrival of the deranics’ enemies, as well.

And was it really unreasonable to think that the deranics wouldn’t all be of one mind? That someone among them would see their plan for the lunacy it was?

Kiat and Zaltaphi had shown them the way to the deranics’ precious weapon. They’d even shown them the way to free the koffing and weezing from deranic control.

Were they earnestly aiding Syr and the others toward their goals? Or were they just telling the party what they thought they wanted to hear?
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Chapter 15 – Extraction

“Left at the next junction,” Kiat called out over the sound of several heavy bodies making their way through metal-floored halls. “Then left again, and up the ramp and to the right.”

It was, perhaps, fortunate that they all had Kiat there to remind them of the course to take. Syr didn’t trust his own memory of the map he’d been shown, of the glowing line that had illustrated the way to the weapon. There was simply too much on his mind to keep that picture clear. Had it been entirely up to him to get where they were going, they’d have been lost.

He hoped that one of the others recalled the route better than he did. If so, they’d be able to call Kiat out on any contradictions. If not… in that case, all they could do was hope these two deranics really were on their side and not trying to lead them off course.

The smog filling the halls had begun thinning shortly after he and his party had headed further into the deranic base with Kiat and Zaltaphi in tow. By this point, the air was clear once more. Maybe the deranics had actually run out of the toxic smoke, Syr had considered, though he’d been reluctant to get his hopes up on the matter. Or maybe there was equipment housed in the deeper reaches of the base that would be harmed by it.

Either way, Karo had dropped the block field, allowing them all to move faster and breathe fresher air. Syr was grateful, in a vicarious way, that the nosepass was getting a chance to rest the part of himself that was responsible for that technique. Karo would probably have to raise that shield many times more before all was said and done, and the party was down to their last couple of leppas.

Down a long corridor. Around a bend, and then another soon after. Another long, straight path opened up before them, with a well-lit ramp extending up out of sight.

“Incoming!” Demi shouted, briefly giving off a lime green glow as she activated a safeguard.

She was already running ahead as she spoke, forcing Kiat and Zaltaphi to hug her shoulders all the tighter to avoid being shaken off. Syr hastened to catch up with her, ignoring the way the narrow tubes running across the floor bumped harshly into his belly as he rushed over them.

A foul smell filled the air as they drew closer to the ramp. Dirty green smoke came rolling down from the floor above, swirling wildly as bodies pushed through it. Demi fired twin psybeams into the cloud, and a pair of koffing dropped heavily to the floor. A reflux tore through the air overhead and took down another, which rolled to a stop at Demi’s feet, looking half-charred.

“Keep moving!” Ren shouted.

Demi pressed on, blasting anyone who got in her way. Syr followed, holding his breath as he wound his way alongside Karo, anxious to get past the koffing Acheron had struck. He bumped face-first into something as he reached the top of the ramp and almost reflexively extended his fangs in a bite attack. They met tough, leathery hide and an acrid flavor. With a sharp jerk of his head, he flung the koffing away, hearing them collide with an unseen wall.

Two more beams of rainbow light seared past, and he found himself stumbling over one of their victims. As he rolled onto his side, he saw the smog beginning to clear again, fanned off behind them by Acheron’s large hands. He blew out a stale breath and sucked in the clean air gratefully, hearing some of the others doing likewise.

Syr looked ahead and behind for more assailants. He could just make out several koffing strewn at the foot of the ramp, none of which were moving—or burning, he noted with gratitude. All alive, and none in any fit state to harass them further anytime soon.

Moments passed, and no one else approached them from any direction. But he doubted the reprieve would last forever. This hadn’t been the first time they’d been accosted by the deranics’ servants since they’d set off to destroy the very thing that was controlling them. He doubted it would be the last.

“The transmitter,” he said, half-panting. “We’ve gotta get there…” The sooner they could get through to the koffing and weezing, the fewer they might have to fight. And the fewer they had to take down—the fewer chances for them to fall and never get up, bursting into flames where they lay—the better.

“We’ll get there,” Demi said.

“At this rate, we’ll reach it soon,” Kiat informed everyone.

The news might’ve been more comforting, coming from someone Syr trusted a little more. “Can anyone confirm that?” he asked.

“Yes,” Acheron said.

“Good,” Syr said, “that’s good…” And, unspoken, Thank you.

Still, when Kiat finally indicated that they should stop, it didn’t feel soon enough for Syr’s liking. Every moment in which the koffing and weezing were still under deranic control was a moment too long, a moment added to more than a decade’s worth.

“It’s there,” Kiat said, nodding toward the wall to their left. There was no door there, at least not of any sort that most of them could use. The only way in—or the only intended way—was beyond a circular hatch less than a foot wide, which was set in the wall near floor level and accessible via a tube too narrow for Ren and the pokémon to pass through.

Acheron lifted a hand that was surrounded by the telltale swirl of a reflux beam in the making. Syr expected this wall to give them as much trouble as the one outside had done, only to find the metal blackening before his eyes within seconds of the black beam hitting home.

The kwazai cut the attack as short he could. The moment he had, his sister lunged for the wall and tore it open. Shaking metal flakes from her hands, she stepped aside slightly, revealing a small space with a narrow steel cone at its center. There were three luminous bands near the pointed end, all glowing a cool shade of blue.

“Is it shielded?” Ren asked.

“Ordinarily,” Kiat said. “But you depleted the power allotted to the shields when you broke in. If they haven’t managed to build it back up yet, the transmitter will be exposed.”

“Ren? Let me try something,” Syr said. Maybe I can spare Acheron a reflux.

Seeming to cotton on, the human stepped out of his way. Syr let an acid attack well up inside him, then ducked his head and spat the dark fluid out at the transmitter. There was a hissing sound as it struck, and he thought he could see tiny bubbles fizzing on its surface. He was certain that he smelled the dissolving metal.

“Looks exposed to me,” Demi said.

“I got this one,” Karo said. “Put me down and give me some space.” Once Acheron complied, the nosepass backed up to the wall opposite the transmitter. Then he rammed himself directly into the small space, meeting the cone nose-first with a loud crashing sound.

He backed out of the hole in the wall. The transmitter was snapped almost cleanly in half and no longer emitting light.

“So that’s step one dealt with, then?” Demi said.

“Yes,” Kiat responded. “The signal will have stopped. It may now be possible to—”

A long, high-pitched note rang out.

Now they sound the alarm,” Karo remarked.

“No...” Kiat breathed.

The siren dwindled, only to rise again. Down, up. Down, up. The lights, already rather soft, dimmed further.

“It’s happening,” Kiat said. “It’s happening!”

“Oh God, no, no…” Was there time to get to the weapon? Was there time to destroy it, or at least disable it? Syr couldn’t believe there was. Couldn’t think straight all of a sudden. He threw a wild, pleading glance around; it was met by a surge of red light. The sensation of strong arms hoisting him up by the middle followed, and their owner went hurtling forward.

The thundering footsteps rattled in Syr’s skull, stoking a headache that pounded in time with his heart. They reached the next ramp as the siren faded once more, and this time it didn’t sound again. This time, a soft and vaguely familiar voice filled the air, a deranic voice speaking deranic words.

“They’re killing us,” Kiat said, all but sobbing now. Zaltaphi really was sobbing, unable to speak at all through hitching breaths. “They’re killing us all...”

All the while, the twins never stopped for even an instant. They ran faster, harder than Syr had ever seen them go, panting like wild beasts as they fought to close the remaining distance. He felt Acheron’s heart hammering so hard he thought it might explode against his head.

“My children,” the voice over the loudspeakers said, in the language of the koffing and weezing this time, “we are in terrible danger. Our psychic enemies have come at last. They are attacking our minds… but we are strong. You are strong. You have served us so well. Together, we have the power to save us all.

“The earth will open up to you. Come down and go into the nest below. There is a place within it for each of you. Together, we will be free of their evil forever.”

“They won’t listen,” Syr said, desperately hoping it to be true. The transmitter was destroyed—but was that really enough? Would the deranics’ words break through the confusion and sway them even without the signal to control them?

“We can’t count on that,” Ren said from a short distance ahead. His voice was brittle, shaking. He sounded like he might be in tears.

Syr was crying at that point. Demi and her deranic and human cargo were a blue blur ahead of him. Syr blinked rapidly, shaking his head and swallowing his tears to the best of his ability. His vision cleared just as the kwazai staggered to a halt before a wall in their path. Numerous tubes snaked into this one; he saw a couple of deranics rush through them into the unseen room beyond.

His stomach dropped as Acheron fell to his knees. Syr tumbled out of his long arms and onto the floor, rolling to a stop next to Ren and the two deranics. The human was back on his own feet, scrambling to get the supplies that the twins needed out of a pack that was nearly empty at this point.

Once treated, Acheron rose again. His sister stepped away from the wall, no longer needing its support. Both were still trembling, however, if only very slightly—they were afraid, Syr realized. As powerful as they were, they were still afraid.

Of course they were. Of course, when for all anyone knew they were already too late. The weapon could be powering up right now, could fire any second—

Dark energy cut through the air and his train of thought in one roaring instant: a pair of reflux beams merged into one, burning the barrier to pitch blackness in seconds. No longer held back by her passengers, Demi turned a pair of shoulders to the darkened metal and rammed into the wall and the now-crumbling tubes alongside her brother as both kwazai put up their safeguards.

And then… there it was. Resembling nothing so much as an enormous berry or seedpod, the weapon loomed beneath a ceiling open to the dark, toxic clouds above. The dark gases seeped into the space below, only to be caught by powerful vents just inside and sucked out of sight. From outside, in tens and dozens, koffing and weezing were falling into the room, hurriedly taking their places in the pits that marred the weapon’s metal skin.

Still listening to the deranics. Still obeying their instructions. There just hadn’t been enough time to get through to them before all hell broke loose.

Syr could only hope now that there would be time later.

Colorful light strobed across the weapon’s surface as Demi leapt forward, firing psybeams from all four hands. She ran in a circle around it, dodging bursts of darts from the deranics’ chest-mounted launchers and jets of sludge from the koffing and weezing to the best of her ability as she poured the mind-addling energy into their ranks and the weapon’s occupants alike. Acheron and Syr kept on the move, as well, the former concentrating his fire upon the vast seedpod itself, the latter just desperately trying to hit whatever he could in the midst of all the flying attacks.

The arbok flung himself out of the way of another volley, clenching his jaws tight to keep the acid attack he was gathering inside himself from bursting out prematurely. He righted himself and let the corrosive fluid erupt from his throat, splattering a deranic and earning a horrible, piercing scream in return.

Syr dove and lunged across his own tail as another of the deranics retaliated. He saw Karo near the door, free from the ball, while Ren, Kiat, and Zaltaphi huddled close to him. There were three deranics in front of them, firing darts in vain against a block field.

He rushed toward their assailants while the trio’s backs were turned and began peppering them with poison sting shots. One of them took the brunt of it and went down at once, wailing in pain, but the other two swiftly turned toward their attacker, only to hit the floor in a daze as Demi rushed past and caught them both with a single, sweeping psybeam.

Meanwhile Karo took advantage of the moment and charged up a zap cannon. He dropped the block field just long enough to let the electric orb fly into the ring of consoles surrounding the weapon—

—only for it to sizzle harmlessly against a force field.

“No!” Syr cried hoarsely. The shields were back up. His eyes darted toward the weapon and found Acheron’s dark blasts being foiled in the exact same way as Karo’s attack had been.

There was a jabbing pain at Syr’s side, at which he yelped and automatically lashed his tail in the likely direction of his assailant, feeling it smack hard into something small. He looked and saw a deranic lying on the floor several feet away.

A roar of frustration seized his attention. Acheron was pouring everything he had into the weapon’s shield, even as his legs buckled beneath him. Syr followed suit, spraying burst after burst of needles charged with poison-type energy. He heard another zap cannon launch and explode against the barrier.

It had to come down Had to. The holes dotting the seedpod were filling with light, every single one, regardless of whether or not their occupants were still conscious. The weapon was beginning to hum loudly as it slowly rose toward the open ceiling.

He thought he heard Ren cry out, but there was too much noise to be sure. A moment later, “Fall back!” Karo shouted, his much louder voice overcoming the din. “Over here, over here!”

The arbok complied immediately. Demi strode alongside him, supporting a shaking Acheron. Both had several darts stuck in their skin like burs; Syr could only hope that their safeguards would protect them from whatever poisons might have been injected, just as he could only hope his typing would protect him from the pair of darts he’d caught himself.

He wrapped his body around Karo and the three people the nosepass was already guarding, having to make a conscious effort not to squeeze too tightly in his terror. “Bring it up, bring it up!” he begged Karo as the two kwazai joined them. Maybe… maybe the field could protect them. It was too much to hope, had to be. Too much to ask of Karo. But it felt like all he had left at this point.

Something flew through the air and struck the floor in front of him. It split open with a burst of sparks like tiny, golden stars, releasing a specter made of white, lightless fire.

Syr stared at the creature with wide eyes. No…

The instant the nullshade was free, they let loose a dull gray shockwave. It didn’t touch Syr or the rest of his party—Karo had raised the block field again—but it knocked down the pack of approaching deranics, leaving them motionless on the floor. The nullshade then threw a confused glance about for a fleeting moment before their empty black eyes fell upon Ren.

You!” they cried, their face contorted with hatred. A gray beam exploded from their hand into the force field and lingered there. The nullshade’s attack hissed and whined against it, and for a terrifying moment Syr thought he could feel some sort of burning energy beginning to seep in.

Then it cut off abruptly, while the nullshade cried out in pain. They turned in an instant to face their assailant; Syr followed their line of sight and saw that a weezing had broken free from the weapon, both mouths dripping with sludge.

With a scream of rage, the nullshade retaliated. Syr involuntarily averted his gaze, his eyes streaming with tears as he screwed them shut. The nullshade might actually have the power to bring down the shield and destroy that weapon… but they might very well destroy most if not all of Faurur’s people in the process.

Please, please don’t kill them all, please

Shouts and cries and roars of pain and anguish filled the air. Something exploded on the far side of the room, followed by something else, all too near. There was a sizzling sound, followed by a heavy crash just inches away that made Syr scream and fall back against a sweat-drenched kwazai.

“Hey, it’s working!” Karo shouted. “They’re destroying that thing!”

With a monumental effort, Syr forced himself to open his eyes, to try and confirm that at least some part of their mission wasn’t going wrong. Through the tears and the smoke, it was hard to see anything at all apart from the occasional burst of light as another piece of equipment fell victim to the enraged specter and the hordes of koffing and weezing now fighting for their lives.

Then another light, soft and seafoam green, swelled into his vision.

“What…” The light, Syr realized with confusion, was coming from himself. Everyone else within Karo’s block field was emitting that glow, as well. “What’s happening now?”

“It…” Demi began, sounding winded. “It feels like we’re—”

Everything went green. There was a split-second of deafening noise, followed by dead silence and darkness and the sensation of being nowhere and nothing at all.

A very shrill tone broke the silence, stabbing deep into ears that felt like they were stuffed with cotton. The darkness gave way to a dull red glow. It was then that Syr dared to believe that he still existed.

Groaning in pain, he opened his eyes. The residual light from the bright flash drained out, and he realized immediately that he’d been transported somewhere else. He, along with Ren, the gym leader’s pokémon, and the two deranics, were now in a much larger space, whose gray walls were studded with bright, luminous, green and purple crystals. There was no sign of the koffing and weezing, no deranics apart from Kiat and Zaltaphi.

There was, however, a large crowd composed of strange, red-and-green, almost humanoid-looking beings surveying Syr and the others from all sides.
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Chapter 16 – As Below, So Above

There was something strange in orbit over the world Babs and Jen called home. Something that most definitely did not belong there.

It had looked for all the world like a meteor of some sort, a big lump of rock hanging over the planet. But it had simply popped into existence in a way that ordinary celestial objects didn’t.

Babs had called for the deoxys to stop the thing at once. Whether natural or not, its size alone gave it the potential to wreak terrible destruction simply by falling out of orbit. The deoxys had appeared to do nothing at all in response to her demands apart from speaking in their incomprehensible manner, even as Jen had raised his own pleas and Babs had conjured her dark blades.

Then one of the deoxys had seized Jen, completely without warning, and had used him to tell her that they believed the meteor to be another vessel of their own kind.

“We are trying to communicate with them,” Jen’s puppeteer had said. “We have yet to receive a response.”

The deoxys had kept trying, allowing some time between attempts for an answer to make it through the dimensional shortcut they used to carry their messages. At first Babs had thought they were wasting their time, that the craft—if that was what it actually was—was dead in the water, so to speak. But then it had undergone a dramatic transformation. It had expanded, its shell breaking free in a burst of tiny, shattered stone fragments, and taken on a polyhedral shape. Countless tentacles had sprouted from its red-and-gray surface, waving languidly in the airless void.

Once transformed, the thing had moved. Almost too fast for her eyes to track, it had crossed half a continent, coming to an unnaturally clean stop over a landmass whose shape looked worryingly familiar, even with the view zoomed out.

It had stopped, and then it had opened fire.

A spear of white-hot light. And then another. A third. A fourth. And by this point Babs was sure, sickeningly sure, that the meteor was indeed a ship, its every action fully intentional, and that it had just rained death over part of southwestern Hoenn.

Babs hadn’t gone with her trainer, all those days ago. But she’d been there when he and the rest of his team had plotted their course. She’d known where they were headed. And now she had just seen that area blasted into a deep, dark crater.

She screamed in anguish and frustration. The deoxys around her could have stopped this. Surely they could have stopped it. Why had they wasted their time trying to talk to the thing? Her dark blades reformed in an instant and slashed through the viewscreen, spraying her with dark fluid as it tore like the flesh it was.

No sooner than she’d destroyed the screen, dome-headed deoxys rose from the floor, their broad arms ensnaring her, regenerating faster than she could cut them away. They pulled her down, pinned flat on her back with her limbs and tongue restrained. Another, heavier body hit the deck at her side; she couldn’t turn her head, but she could just make out the form of Jen lying there, no longer surrounded by the blue light that indicated deoxys control.

Then everything gave a monstrous lurch, and for what might have been a single moment or a million on end, nothing her eyes showed her made any sense at all. She then recognized the ceiling above her, same as it had been—but also the many floors above, and an even greater number below her.

Every deoxys occupying the vessel that carried her.

Herself, and Jen, and every last nerve and vein and fiber of muscle that comprised them.

The core of the ship, of a vast deoxys looking every bit as much like an ordinary meteor as the craft on the screen had looked, and the very thoughts and processes darting through it in tiny arcs and flashes.

Too much. All too much. Her own mind went dark, beaten down under the waves of information by their sheer volume.

Eventually she became aware of something touching her face. Propping her up. The off-white lighting of the room she’d last seen on the other side of the rift pressed into her eyes. A groan escaped her, while choking, retching noises sounded at her side.

“Oh gods,” Jen sputtered once he was done being sick, “what… what just…?”

“I don’t…” Her brain was still putting itself back together, it seemed. She shook her head. “Some kind of…”

It was then that she noticed the viewscreen in front of her. A beat later, she remembered destroying it. The ship had grown a new one.

“Whoa, wait, what the hell is that?” Jen asked, sounding very much alarmed despite how hoarse he still sounded, pointing at the now much larger, much closer deoxys-craft on the screen.

“It’s…” Oh God. He doesn’t know. Jen had been in use as an interpreter while the “meteor” had transformed and carried out the orbital strike. He had no clue that down there, in the part of the world that might well have contained his father… her trainer, her friends… there might be nothing left alive.

But he must have managed to tear his gaze off the writhing mass that hung over the world and looked past it to the planet below. He must have seen the shoreline and recognized it and put the pieces together, because his eyes grew wide, their light unsteady, and for a moment he swayed as if he might collapse.

Babs felt a thick knot form in her throat. She swallowed against it; it remained firmly in place. Inhaling a shaky breath, she lay an arm across Jen’s shoulders. One of the blades sprouting from them nicked her hand. She didn’t care.

There’d never been any guarantee that Ren and the others would survive their mission. Deranics aside, there was still the threat of the Red Hand’s virus catching up with him after all. She’d tried, with only partial success, to maintain some tiny measure of hope, even against the straining impatience that she couldn’t help but feel with so much empty distance between herself and the answer to whether or not her loved ones were all right.

Now most of that distance was gone. But she was certain that any chance for a good outcome had vanished, as well.

* * *​

One moment, Ren had been in the heart of the deranic base, hunkered down alongside four pokémon and a pair of wormlike aliens behind a shield while reality itself seemed to be blowing apart at the seams.

The next, they were out of the fray and surrounded by more deoxys than he would have ever expected to see in his entire lifetime, let alone all in one place.

Rescued? Possibly. But he wasn’t about to assume that meant they were safe.

One of the deoxys drifted free from the crowd. As they approached, spreading their tentacles wide in what looked like an attempt at a welcoming gesture, they emitted a series of bizarre sounds that seemed to buzz and scrape at the inside of his head. He winced, gritting his teeth.

“Wow. That’s, uh, one heck of an accent there,” Karo said.

“We can’t understand you,” Demi told the deoxys.

She sounded so tired, Ren noted. He glanced her way and saw her nearly doubled over as she continued to support her brother’s weight. Acheron, meanwhile, looked like he was on the verge of passing out.

Ren’s arm twitched slightly, old habits compelling it to pull medicine from the pack, but he tamped down the urge. There were too many eyes upon him. Too many eyes, and no way to be certain what their owners would do if they saw him make that move.

The deoxys paused in their approach, tilting their head to the side. They resumed moving just as quickly, finally coming to a stop directly in front of Ren.

“Don’t touch him,” Demi warned, her voice thin but menacing all the same.

The deoxys gave another quirk of their head. They spoke up again, more droning, more static, more crawling and clawing in Ren’s head…

“—never harm children of the elements unless it’s absolutely necessary. The five of you are safe here.”

Ren held the deoxys in a wild stare, his mouth hanging open behind his air filter. Their voice sounded exactly the same as it had from the start. But it made sense now, same as every other pokémon’s voice had ever since he’d emerged from that tube.

More changes. Still coming, even now.

What the hell is happening to me? he wondered yet again.

He licked his lips. Swallowed uncomfortably against a dry throat. “Safe,” he echoed. “Why should we believe that?” He was trembling as he spoke; he clenched his fists as if that would hold him together. “Why did you bring us here? How did you find us?”

“We detected a sudden surge of non-elemental life,” the deoxys said. “Power and intellect much greater than any mere, harmless animal would possess. We thought a surviving pocket of humanity might’ve detected our approach and was attempting some sort of counterattack.”

“It’s them,” said a very small, fearful voice, familiar yet not. “The killers…”

Zaltaphi, Ren realized with a detached sort of surprise. Another language, suddenly intelligible, and possibly not even a pokémon language this time.

“We also detected the presence of one of our own kind,” the deoxys went on, seemingly disregarding the deranic’s interjection for the time being, “along with a great deal of other elemental creatures. We would have loved to have saved more of you, but…” They sounded genuinely sorrowful somehow. Their eyes lowered to the floor, their tentacles knitting together in front of them.

Most of the deoxys’s words failed to take root properly, crowded out by the rest. The fact that Zaltaphi had called their kind killers, and the deoxys’s own words corroborated that accusation. The claim that there was a deoxys among those they’d pulled from the deranic base.

The implications of that claim.

“We can only hope they’ll find peace and fortune in the next life,” the deoxys said somberly. Their eyes lifted from the floor and fixed on the pair of deranics wrapped around Demi’s shoulders. “Just as we must hope for the two of you.”

They extended a tentacle toward the deranics, who shrunk back in plain terror. The tentacle brushed against an invisible barrier.

“Leave them alone,” Ren said, cold sweat running down his temples. The tremor was still there, but its source had transformed. He still feared these creatures. He’d read all about them, knew what even a single one was capable of—and here were many. But now… now he hated them. Hated them for all that they’d done and for the fact that there was almost certainly not a damn thing he could do to stop them from doing more.

The deoxys peered at him in silence for a moment, their face as inscrutable as their voice had once been. There was a faint shuffling sound, almost like footsteps across sand—and the deoxys dropped into the floor as if it were liquid.

Green-and-red tentacles shot up from under Karo’s feet. They dragged him under faster than even Demi could react.

The nosepass rose up from the floor in front of Ren with the deoxys looming behind him. Blue light surrounded his body and shone brightly from the dark recesses where his eyes were.

Dark blurs shot toward the others from both sides. Ren saw Demi’s hands fling out to intercept the one hurtling her way, but her senses were no match for that speed, especially in her current state. In an instant, she’d taken on a blue aura of her own, the work of a speed-deoxys at her side. Another speed-deoxys had taken hold of Syr.

“Let them go!” Ren shouted.

“They won’t be harmed,” the deoxys in front of him said, speaking through Karo in the nosepass’s own language. “Even now, we’re healing their injuries.”

Refusing to believe them, Ren stole a quick look for himself. The darts embedded in Demi’s skin were falling out, the wounds they left behind closing swiftly. The same was happening to Syr.

Acheron suddenly dropped to the floor, no longer supported by his sister; Ren flinched at the sound of the heavy impact. No aura shone around the unconscious kwazai. He had no puppeteer.

“We cannot extend our power to your dark-type friend,” one of the speed-deoxys said, using Syr’s voice.

A strangled cry sounded to Ren’s left. He turned his head in an instant. Demi had pulled Kiat and Zaltaphi off her shoulders and was now holding them by their necks. Their tails were wrapped tight around her arms, their tongues lolling out and trying to pry her fingers from their throats… but it was all in vain. She snapped the deranics’ necks with faint, sickening pops, then let the two of them fall limply to the floor.

Ren stared at them in shock for a moment. If Demi knew she’d been used to murder innocent people in cold blood, without having any say in the matter… A sickening, vicarious fury pooled in his stomach.

“You shouldn’t be troubled by the extermination of such wretched creatures,” the other speed-forme deoxys said through Demi. “Despite your appearance, I know you’re not one of them. You’re not an aberration.”

“And while that is an impressive transformation,” Karo’s controller said, “it’s time to let it go. You’re among your own kind again. You can be yourself once more.”

Ren said nothing. Didn’t want to acknowledge the deoxys’s words. Didn’t want to believe them. I’m not one of you. I am not one of you!

Yet he understood pokémon, as if he were one of their own.

Yet he had been trapped in a capture ball, however briefly.

Yet he had developed psychic abilities, even if it had taken decades to happen.

Something, something, had caused the deoxys to sense the presence of their own kind in the deranic base.

He wanted to throw up. Damn it all, he was not one of them!

But maybe… if he let them believe he was…

The idea of playing along with them when all he wanted to do was will them all to hell did nothing to calm his heart or settle his stomach. But it was the only way, the only course of action he could conceive of to buy himself and the pokémon who’d joined him on this mission some time. The only way they might ever be free of this horrible place and these horrible people.

He hung his head. “I don’t know how,” he said morosely. “After all this time… I don’t know how anymore. But… I do know that if I can’t put my friend in here—” He gestured carefully toward one of the dusk balls at his belt. “—he could die.” Best to let Acheron rest for now, he reckoned, lest the kwazai do something that might get him killed.

“Then yes,” said the deoxys puppeting Syr, “please do.”

Slower than he liked, still none too keen on making overly sudden movements with the eyes of so many powerful beings trained upon him, Ren recalled Acheron. His hand brushed the other unoccupied capture balls at his side as he reattached the kwazai’s dusk ball, lingering for a moment upon Demi’s, and an idea crossed his mind. He gave Karo’s controller a questioning look.

“The others are fine as they are,” they said.

They don’t trust me, Ren noted. Not entirely. Even if they believed he was one of their kind, he wasn’t really one of their number. He was just some castaway they’d picked up, one who’d already expressed disapproval of their behavior.

“You’ve spent too long among them,” the normal-deoxys went on. “But I can help you find yourself again.”

A real deoxys would agree to it, Ren suspected. But actually acting on that suspicion proved very difficult. His throat seemed paralyzed, unwilling to let him actually answer one way or another.

The deoxys didn’t allow it, either.

In an instant, the blue aura surrounding Karo was gone. The nosepass toppled over and stayed down. His former controller’s tentacles lashed out and seized Ren. They wrapped themselves around his arms, two to each, and then the tips pierced the skin.

Ren gasped, more in shock than anything else. The pain came in, stinging deep, when he began struggling in spite of himself. Large hands descended upon his shoulders and clasped around his ribcage, while a thick tail wrapped itself about his legs, holding him still.

Something stirred inside him. His stomach heaved, and a foul taste filled his mouth. There was a sudden, hideous pain just below his sternum, a tearing pain that forced the breath right out of him. When it came back, he screamed, crying out in agony as tears flooded his eyes and something warm poured out over his abdomen.

“It’s all right.” Demi’s voice. “The pain won’t last.”

It didn’t. Already, it was beginning to recede. The deoxys was healing him… or he was healing himself. He didn’t know. He didn’t want to think about it.

But even though the pain was nearly gone, something wasn’t right. Something was there, below his heart, radiating a gentle but distinctly foreign warmth.

The floor next to the normal-deoxys rippled. Another one emerged fluidly from its surface.

“The craft that has been trying to contact us has drawn nearer,” they said. “They demand to know why we’ve fired upon the planet.”

The words were perfectly clear—Ren understood all deoxys now, not only the one who’d first spoken to him. But their ramifications took a moment to sink in properly, raising a cloud of questions in their wake. Craft? What… what kind of craft? A spacecraft? Who…?

Murmurs arose from the crowd of deoxys onlookers, their voices too soft for Ren to make out their words.

“Those sorts… they’re incapable of understanding our mission,” Syr’s controller said bitterly. “There’s only one message worth sending them…”

* * *​

“Maybe they hadn’t made it that far yet.”

Jen, still trying to reassure himself. He didn’t sound as though he believed his own words, nor did he look the part. His head was lowered; it was clear he could no longer stand to look upon the screen any longer. His arms hung limp at his sides.

Meanwhile Babs stared at the ship on the screen as if it were the ugliest thing she’d ever laid eyes upon.

“Come on,” she muttered. “Stop talking. Start shooting.”

The ship she stood aboard was a deoxys. Surely they were capable of fighting, same as any deoxys was. Surely they could pay the other craft back in kind for what they’d done to the planet below—for what they’d done to her closest friends.

She wanted to get her hands on those murderers herself. Seeing them burn from afar wasn’t the same as feeling her conjured blades severing tentacles and shattering crystalline cores. But it would have to suffice.

The screen filled with blinding white light. Jen shrieked in pain, and Babs flung an arm up to shield her eyes. No sooner than she’d done that, the entire room quaked, threatening to throw her off balance.

“We’ve been hit!” Jen cried.

Babs widened her stance, bracing herself in case of another tremor. “Fight back!” she shouted at the deoxys who shared the room with her—only to find them all disappearing into the walls and floor. “Hey! Get back here, damn it!”

An ominous rumbling and creaking reverberated throughout the room, followed by a sound like crashing thunder and a jolt that flung her onto her back despite her efforts.

“Gh!” she cried out as her head hit the floor, bending her crests back. She sprung to her feet once more, cursing at the way the sudden motion took her head from sore to screaming. Her eyes found the viewscreen again and saw chunks and flakes of rock shrinking into the distance, as well as green-and-red tentacles flexing in and out of view. A number of them merged together, forming long, scimitar-shaped claws pointed directly at the enemy craft.

“I think they’re taking your advice,” Jen said.

“About damn time,” said Babs.

* * *​

I’m awake…

It almost sounded like one of Ren’s own thoughts. The mental voice was like his own, but there was a sort of distance to it. It was almost as if he were being spoken to, silently, by a copy of himself.

What… we’re awake?

The pain was gone, but the normal-deoxys’s tentacles were still buried in his arm, still trying to coax him out of a human shape. He couldn’t feel himself transforming at this point, but here was his brain apparently talking to itself. Speaking independently. Something was being done to him.

I can’t see… why? Human? Human! Why can’t I see?

…Can’t you hear me?

He could, in a manner of speaking. But he couldn’t respond now, silently or otherwise. His entire body refused to heed his commands now, limp and powerless. His head had fallen to his chest; if it hadn’t been for the pokémon holding him tight, he would’ve crumpled to the floor.

“This shouldn’t be taking so long,” the deoxys controlling Syr said.

“The core has reformed, but the flesh is unchanging,” Demi’s controller noted aloud. “The human brain persists, but why?”

The deoxys in front of Ren kept silent, seemingly too absorbed in their work to respond. Their tentacles bristled, creating a faint tugging sensation in their patient’s arms.

The floor gave a jolt that nearly flung Ren up out of Syr’s grip. Demi stumbled where she stood, nearly toppling over onto the deoxys behind her. The sudden motion yanked the embedded tentacles out of Ren’s arms, causing the deoxys who’d been working on him to cry out in several discordant tones at once.

We’re under attack!

Ren tried to lift his head to see what was happening and found it responding to his wishes again. The normal-deoxys before him was shuddering, staring at the damaged tips of their tentacles as they swiftly mended.

“We’ll come back to you,” they promised, and then everything went black.

In near-unison, Ren, Syr, and Demi collapsed in a loose, unconscious heap. Ren’s pack fell open, its contents tumbling out over the arbok’s side and clattering against the floor and the nearby nosepass, as the deoxys filling the room slipped away through its metallic gray flesh.

* * *​

It was a direct hit. So were the two that followed. Babs might’ve cheered if it weren’t for the fact that none of the attacks appeared to do any actual damage to the enemy craft. The thing was shielded.

She’d expected that much. But she snarled and swore and punched the screen all the same.

“They can’t keep it up forever…” Jen said, almost inaudible. Talking to himself again, Babs assumed.

“You’re right,” she responded all the same. “They can’t. No shield lasts indefinitely. As long as they keep pounding at—”

Babs broke off, covering her eyes once more. The room lurched again, hard. Another impact came right on its heels. She’d anticipated this sort of thing, but the jolts still nearly brought her down.

She spat out another curse. Hopefully their own shields would outlast the enemy’s.

Their own ship was changing position. The view of the other deoxys-craft was rotating, the curved arms no longer bearing on them. The enemy ship’s mass of tentacles, waving in the nothingness like something aquatic, all flexed toward them, following their movement as if watching them. Some of them formed a new set of scimitar-claws while the previous set unraveled themselves. Points of light formed at their tips.

Babs and Jen’s ship was quicker on the draw. A piercing ray cut the darkness, and a multitude of tentacles floated free from the opposing craft, severed. One of the enemy’s shots went wild, flying toward nothing for a short distance before petering out. The other three found their mark, and the last made the floor leap up beneath Jen and Babs and sent a sound like a thunderclap throughout the room.

The lights flickered and almost cut out completely. They stabilized quickly enough, but they were dimmer now.

“Oh gods, I think the ship’s hurt,” Jen said. His eyes were practically strobing with fear. “The shields, they’re—”

“Down. Yeah,” Babs said tersely. Her heart was hammering, stoking nausea. The image on the viewscreen wavered. The screen itself rippled as if it wanted to lose its shape. “But so are theirs.”

She tried to sound more hopeful than she felt. It helped, if only somewhat, that their last shot had inflicted actual damage upon the other deoxys-craft. But for all she knew, that was only a flesh wound. Maybe the enemy had landed a vital hit, and she and Jen wouldn’t know it until they found themselves suddenly unable to breathe.

Come on, she willed the ship, watching as the view of the enemy shifted once more and the claws of their own ship charged up for another attack. There are a lot of people counting on you.

* * *​

The floor was shaking. It took Karo a moment to realize that he wasn’t dreaming, wasn’t imagining it. His eyes opened to flashing lights and the sight of a spent max revive crystal lying just inches from his face. Beyond it, his trainer was lying draped over Syr, with Demi a tangle of limbs beside them and two small, yellow shapes half-buried beneath her.

“Hey! Hey!” he called out to them. No reactions from anyone. He tried to stand, levering himself up on one arm—which folded right back underneath him as everything dipped sharply to the left. His friends went sliding. So did he.

Karo tried to focus on them as hard as he could despite the way the wall-crystals flashed and flared. He could feel the strain behind his eyes. Multiple targets. Not impossible to lock onto that many, but definitely not easy. He buzzed in frustration as the tension built further. Then a sharp, white outline suddenly surrounded his insensible allies, and everything else seemed to slow and desaturate for a moment. The lock-on was successful.

He cast a block field out like a net. It caught, and the five beings within it came to a less-than-gentle halt.

Five. Where was Acheron?

The floor beneath Karo leveled out. He took the opportunity to finally right himself, getting back to his feet with a grunt, and immediately set about scanning the scene for the missing kwazai. There was no sign of him. No sign of any deoxys, either. He, along with most of his allies and the two deranics, were all alone in the vast room.

He waddled his way over to the others—slower, so much slower than he wished he could. The floor still rattled ominously beneath him. Geez, what’s going on here? he wondered. Once he finally caught up to his friends, he expanded the shield to include himself, reinforcing it and making sure to cover the floor as well, making the pile of unconscious bodies shift slightly as the force field slid underneath them. Nothing’s gonna touch you. Nothing—

An almighty blaze of light ripped across his vision, momentarily blinding him. In its wake, an endless black expanse opened overhead and soon surrounded him. He felt his feet leave the floor of his conjured bubble, felt his back leave the wall he’d created behind him—he was floating. A weightless, hard-edged rock, trapped in a bubble with soft-bodied creatures whom he was utterly helpless to avoid crushing against the invisible walls.

Karo swore internally, at a loss for what to do. He felt himself bump into the block field again—and an idea hit him. With an effort, he conjured a second block field, just a small band across himself that pulled him flush against the barrier at his back. He could only hope it would hold. His head was already killing him.

Ren floated free of Syr’s already-loose coils and bumped gently into Karo’s forehead. His trainer’s shirt was covered in blood, fresh and revoltingly damp. But Ren was still alive, still breathing. At least a couple of the others were. Karo could hear them. He’d managed to trap some air along with them.

But it wouldn’t last forever, much as he dearly wanted to believe otherwise. And sooner or later, his stamina would give out, and the force field with it.

“I’m sorry,” he said, his voice cracking, and not solely from the strain of maintaining the blocks. “I tried…”

* * *​

“We got ‘em…”

Babs stared wide-eyed at the screen, scarcely daring to believe what it showed her. But it was true. The Red Hand’s spacecraft was torn wide open, the vast deoxys-ship’s orbit slowly beginning to decay. Another volley of searing beams shredded the wounded vessel into smaller chunks, some with still-flailing tentacles.

“Oh my god, we got ‘em!” she said, with more confidence this time.

More shots were fired, breaking the destroyed ship down further and further until nothing remained but clouds of dust. Some of the sweeping rays caught free-floating deoxys in their path, disintegrating their bodies and leaving behind small, violet spheres that glittered in the light reflected from the bright disc of the planet.

“So… I guess it’s over, then.” Jen sounded relieved but not satisfied.

Babs understood all too well. On a grander scale, this might have been a tremendous victory. There was no telling how many lives they had just saved.

On a personal level, it still felt an awful lot like a loss.

As she watched another swath of enemy deoxys get reduced to their crystalline cores, she spotted an odd shape among the debris, something blue and gray and purple that almost looked like…

No. Not almost.

Dad?” Jen extended a clawed hand toward the screen as if he could pluck the impossible sight out to safety. “Oh gods, Dad! How? How did he get out there?” he demanded, panicked.

That question could wait. The people out there couldn’t. Maybe it was already too late for them. But she could see how closely clustered they were, when she figured there ought to be nothing stopping them from drifting apart. Karo had wrapped them all up in one of those block-shields he’d learned to make. If those unseen walls were thick enough, and there was enough air in that thing…

“Hey! Hey!” she shouted to any deoxys who might be listening. “I know at least one of you can hear me. There’s people out there! People who aren’t deoxys! You gotta get ‘em on board right now! Hurry!”

Holding her breath, biting her tongue, she watched the screen for signs that someone had indeed heard her. Her heart skipped a beat when she saw her friends take on a familiar seafoam glow and then vanish altogether.

Don’t you die on me, the greninja willed the new arrivals. Don’t you dare.
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Chapter 17 – The Future

Syr awoke to nearly featureless, uniformly gray surroundings. The walls had a faintly metallic property to them, and the floor beneath his face was fairly soft and slightly rubbery.

His mind, upon catching up with his last waking moments, provided a picture of dozens of humanoid, oppressively psychic beings dotting walls like these, and he startled awake with a yelp.

Instinctively coiling, Syr looked around. The room was much smaller than the one he’d remembered; it couldn’t have held even a quarter of the creatures he’d seen before being knocked out. At the moment, it appeared to hold no one at all other than himself.

No longer being surrounded by psychics was a relief, however distant. But he couldn’t trust that none of them were watching him remotely. Overhead, there was something small and round that emitted light. For all he knew, they could see him through it, or sense him in some stranger way.

More troubling still, none of his allies were present. These creatures had managed to pry him away from the others despite Karo’s force field surrounding them—they’d slipped right under it, he recalled. Slipped right under and taken its maker. He hadn’t been able to stop them. Neither had the kwazai.

Maybe the others were being held alone, same as he was. Or maybe their captors had decided that the other pokémon, at least, were too dangerous to leave alive.

The tightness left his coils as a feeling of defeat spread throughout him like cold water. He could scream. He could thrash. He could fight… but what was that going to accomplish against an enemy that outnumbered him many times over?

There was a noise at his side, faint but undeniable. Motion and light followed. All his tension returned at once, and he swung about in an instant, hood flared and fangs forward, to face—

Jen?” The initial shock at the sight of the cryonide in the arched doorway faded quickly, replaced by dawning horror: They got him, too. “Oh, God… how?” Tears brimmed in his eyes as he moved toward his son. “How did they find you?”

“It was the tube,” Jen said. “The one downstairs. It brought me and Babs up here.”

Syr’s brow furrowed as he absorbed that. It sounded as though that tube was, in fact, some sort of transporter. Something meant to bring Ren here. He’d escaped somehow… only for the psychics to find him anyway.

“Are you feeling okay?” Jen asked him. “They said they helped you recover, but…” He shook his head. “When I saw you out there, I was really scared that… that that was it. That I wouldn’t even get to say goodbye…”

Nothing hurt at the moment. Syr didn’t feel sick in the least. The deranics’ darts were no longer stuck in his skin. “I’m fine,” he said, wishing he sounded the part, for Jen’s sake. “But… what do you mean, ‘out there’? Where was I? Where were you?”

“You were outside this ship.” Jen waved a hand, indicating some unseen point beyond the far wall. “Out in space. You were on the other ship, and when these guys destroyed it, you guys came flying from the wreckage.”

For a moment, Syr just gawked at him. “That… is a lot to take in,” he admitted. “Ships? We’re on a ship?” he asked, at which Jen nodded. “And this isn’t the one we were on…” He looked up, scanning the ceiling, his gaze encompassing the unseen masters of the vessel he apparently occupied. “These people rescued us?”

“Yeah,” Jen said. “I think Ren might know more about the whole situation,” he added. “He can actually understand the deoxys.”

Syr blinked in surprise. “…Huh,” he said. Someone whom humans could understand, but pokémon couldn’t. He’d never met anyone like that before—except he had, he recalled. The creatures who’d surrounded him before he’d awoken here. Ren had spoken as though he understood them, when all Syr had heard from the beings was noise.

Unintelligible beings, aboard a ship whose interior was similar to this one’s. Both deoxys ships, he supposed. A new thread of worry uncurled within him: had he, along with his friends and family, gotten caught up in the middle of some sort of deoxys war?

He shuddered. “Yeah, I think I need to go talk to Ren about all this. I’m still not entirely convinced we’re safe here.”

“I wasn’t either, at first,” Jen said. “But these are the good guys.”

I hope you’re right, Syr thought, partly for his own sake but mostly for Jen’s. God knew he’d never wanted him to get wrapped up in all this. Jen was supposed to be waiting back at home, waiting for his father to return…

…Or not. Maybe now, at least, Jen would no longer have to wonder if Syr would make it back alive.

Maybe. Hopefully.

“Come on,” Jen said, backing up further into the hallway outside the room. “His room’s this way.”

Out of the room, into a corridor that appeared to be made of the exact same material. Jen moved with apparent confidence through the ship, which made Syr wonder just how long the cryonide had been here. When had he and Babs gotten that tube working?

For that matter, “How long was I unconscious?”

“I don’t know,” Jen said. “Not exactly, anyway. But not too long. Maybe a couple of hours. The deoxys work pretty fast, huh?”

One of said creatures breezed by as they hung a right. Syr felt a chill run down his back. “…I guess so,” he said.

Jen stopped at a blank, gray wall, no different from any of the others Syr had seen. The cryonide prodded it a couple of times in succession, and an entrance to a large room opened to them, the doorway’s edges rippling in a disconcertingly organic manner.

There was Ren, reclining on a long platform that was nothing more than a raised section of the floor extending from the far wall. His pokémon flanked the makeshift bed: the twins to one side, Karo and Babs to another.

“Hey, look who finally decided to come join us!” Karo said.

“Yeah,” Syr said automatically as he and Jen entered the room. He took in his new surroundings more thoroughly, seeing a group of people who all looked at least a little tired but apparently unharmed. The latter certainly hadn’t been the case when he’d last seen most of them. Both kwazai stood tall again, with not a single dart on their persons. No blood. No sweat. No filth.

Almost no filth. Ren had shed his shirt and hoodie, as well as his shoes and socks, but he was still wearing the same pants he’d worn all this time, and they most definitely needed a wash.

Deciding it was neither polite nor a priority to bring that up, “I’m glad everyone’s okay,” Syr said instead.

Ren averted his gaze. Demi growled faintly to herself.

“What? Who’s…” Syr began. But then he realized who was missing. “Those deranics,” he said. “Are they… here? On the ship?”

Ren shook his head. “No,” he answered. “Well… technically they are,” he amended, “but…” He sighed. “The Red Hand wouldn’t let them live.”

There had been a time when Syr would’ve never imagined himself mourning any deranic. But there he was, feeling something sink inside him at the news. Looking back, those two really had been on his side. They’d done nothing but help his party and their mission, and now…

He closed his eyes and shook his head. “They deserved better than this,” he said softly. Meeting Ren’s gaze once more, “The Red Hand… You mean the other ship?” he asked “The other deoxys?”

“Right,” Ren said. “They couldn’t abide by the deranics. By any intelligent species that wasn’t affiliated with any element—even if some part of its population was.” His jaw tightened. A deep frown line formed between his naked brows. “That’s why they murdered my people.”

“The killers will come to this world soon...”

“Our psychic enemies have come at last.”

Syr had figured the enemy deranics and their servants must have been lying, or at the very least misled about who had actually destroyed humanity. But in the end, the deoxys, the psychic enemies they’d spoken of, had arrived just as they’d predicted. And here was Ren, who’d certainly been as skeptical of the deranics’ claims as he’d been—if not moreso—attesting to their innocence in the matter.

But not innocent altogether. Regardless of their motivation, the deranic leadership had still tried to destroy the world, and in fact, they had nearly succeeded. If it hadn’t been for the nullshade…

His heart froze in his chest. Oh God, the nullshade. The last he’d seen of them was a nightmare, a scene of indiscriminate destruction, koffing and weezing fighting the specter in vain…

“Ren?” Syr spoke up, even more quietly than before. “What happened to the koffing and the weezing back at the base? Do you know?”

Another guilty aversion of those dark brown eyes. Syr felt a cold hand lay itself very gingerly upon his back.

“Ren had the deoxys scan the area in case the nullshade was still kicking around there,” Babs said. “The first scan… didn’t find anything. No signs of life whatsoever.”

Syr had guessed that answer before she could speak it. It dropped on him like a stone all the same. He slumped over and felt the tears start up again.

“However,” Babs continued, “the second scan picked up several koffing and a single weezing poking around the site about an hour later.”

“The ones from the forest,” Acheron said, “coming back home only to find a smoking crater.”

Almost cautiously, Syr lifted his head. “So… there were some survivors after all?”

“Not many,” Ren said. “Not enough. I know how important this was to you, and I know why.” His gaze dropped to his hands, which were folded in his lap. “I was hoping it wouldn’t come down to using that thing. I’d seriously considered leaving that ball back home. It’s a good thing I didn’t; I’m not saying otherwise. But, all the same… I’m sorry, Syr. I really am.”

The tears fell. Syr tried to respond, but his breath hitched hard in his chest. “I know,” he managed at last. “And… you’re right. We had to destroy that weapon.” A nasty little possibility crossed his mind. “…It was destroyed, right?”

“Thoroughly,” Acheron assured him.

“That’s… that’s good, yeah.” Syr sniffed loudly, doubling upon himself for a moment to wipe at his eyes with the end of his tail. “But wait… what about the Red Hand?” The misguided deranics were no longer a threat, but if there was still another force out there bent on wiping entire species off the face of reality…

“Gone,” Ren said. “The deoxys here made certain of it. They probed the surviving cores, confirmed that the Red Hand didn’t have any other ships anywhere. They were a single, small band of extremists, and now, well… now they’re nothing.”

“Small band or not, they ended a lot of lives,” Demi said. Both pairs of arms were folded, the ends of her tail curled inward. “How many worlds did you say they hit?” she asked Ren.

“Hundreds,” Ren said. “I don’t remember the exact number. Ours was the last.”

“Yeah, but give him the good news,” Karo said, sounding eager.

Good news? “I could definitely use some more of that,” Syr said.

Ren took a deep breath and released it. “It’s… tentative. But the deoxys said that they might be able to create a new human population using my genetic material. Might,” he stressed. “They’re hoping to do the same for the deranics, using Kiat and Zaltaphi’s.”

Syr’s eyes went wide. “They can do that?”

“They can try,” Ren responded. “The deoxys are profoundly gifted geneticists, but even so, they have so little to work with that there are no guarantees. Even if they’re successful, it’s going to take them a long time to produce the next generation.”

“Hopefully, by that time, the world’ll be ready for humans again,” Jen said.

“Hopefully,” Ren agreed. “If nothing else, well. They’ll have the deoxys on their side, at least. And if this world ultimately proves to be too hostile, the deoxys will try to find them another. But hopefully it won’t come to that.”

Syr nodded in understanding. Being driven out of one’s home wasn’t a fate he wished on anyone.

“Anyway… even if the new batch of humans could be finished tonight, the deoxys still need to get the planet scrubbed of the Red Hand’s virus,” Ren went on. “They’ll be making a vaccine, as well, but they’d rather be safe than sorry.”

That made sense, Syr thought. Losing a species to extinction once was bad enough. It would be all the more tragic for them to slip away again after being given another chance.

But wait… “You’re immune to the plague, right? Couldn’t they just give the new humans whatever you’ve got that made you that way?”

Ren frowned. “I’d prefer if they didn’t,” he said. He looked down again as he spoke, tracing a somewhat large, irregular scar over his upper abdomen. The scar, Syr noted, looked fairly fresh. “The deoxys agree with me, given the circumstances. And I think the new humans would, too.”

A troubled look came over Syr’s face. “What was making you immune, then?” he asked, almost afraid of the answer.

Ren was silent for a moment. “There was a deoxys in me,” he finally answered. The hand hovering over the scar trembled. “They’d been there for a long time, even before the Extinction. A traveling scientist of sorts, according to the core probe. They abducted me when I was young and performed some kind of experiment that went wrong. Most of their physical form was destroyed. The rest… merged with me, somehow.”

“Apparently that thing took him over from time to time,” Babs said, and she didn’t sound pleased about it. “Always while he was alone. I guess, on some level, they knew better than to show themself around us.” She smacked a fist into her open palm for emphasis. “That’s how they built that tube. They worked on it while they were in charge, and when they weren’t? He was none the wiser, and the same goes for the rest of us.”

“The tube was sending a beacon for other deoxys to come and collect us,” Ren explained. “It was also working with what little of their physical self was left. It was turning me into a deoxys,” he said, with a wild, fearful look in his eyes. “It would’ve taken… who knows how long on its own, but other deoxys could speed up the process. And they did, on the Red Hand ship.”

“The scar…” Syr said aloud without meaning to.

“Their core,” Ren said. “It emerged on its own.” He shuddered hard. “After the deoxys brought us in here, they took it out before it could inflict any more changes. But some of the changes… they’ll be here forever. I can still understand pokémon—including the deoxys. I could understand the deranics’ language there at the end, too—maybe I could also understand human languages that I couldn’t before; who knows? And I’m still a psychic-type.”

“But you’re also still human,” Acheron said. “And always will be.”

Ren gave a very faint smile. “Yeah. That’s true.” He sighed again. “Anyway… here’s the thing: I might still be immune to the plague. Maybe. But the deoxys really don’t want to chance it. I don’t want to chance it, either. So I’m staying here, at least until the vaccine’s ready.”

“And we’re staying with him,” Demi said. The rest of Ren’s pokémon nodded or made noises of assent.

Syr felt a twinge of disappointment at her words, which surprised him just a little. It wasn’t as though they would definitely never see one another again, after all. He supposed that on some level, he’d been taking for granted that if they lived through all this, they’d all be coming home together.

That train of thought, in turn, led him to wonder if he could go home whenever he was ready. Which, truthfully, was right then and there. Maybe the deoxys here were on the level. Maybe this place really was safe… but he felt uncomfortable here all the same.

Too many psychics, he supposed. Just too many. Maybe under other circumstances, he could get used to it more easily, just as Jen had apparently done. But after all he’d been through, it just seemed like too much to ask of himself.

What was more, he missed Convergence. He needed to see those familiar sights again, to feel the grass underneath him. Only then, he imagined, could he really begin to feel like this whole ordeal was truly over.

Still… if the others needed his support at the moment, he couldn’t exactly bail on them in good conscience. He considered how to word the question; then, “Should I stay, too?” he asked.

“Only if you want to,” Ren said. “I can’t imagine this is a particularly comfortable environment for you.”

“It’s not,” Syr admitted. “But I’m willing to stay if you need me.”

“Nah, we’ll be fine,” Karo assured him. “You go on ahead. Someone’s gotta see to it that nobody else scribbles any more crap on the walls,” he added with a crackle of electricity around his nose.

“Wait, though,” Jen spoke up. “They transported you guys in from outside. When they transported us, they had to wait and recharge before they could send anyone back.” He put a claw to his chin. “Then again, they brought us over from a much longer distance. Maybe they’re already recharged.”

“I can find out for you whenever you’re ready,” Ren said. “Just say the word.”

Syr took a deep breath. “Okay. I think I’m ready to go home now.” He turned toward Jen. “How about you?”

“Yeah,” Jen said.

“All right, then.” Ren swung his legs over the side of the platform and carefully stood up. “Come on. Let’s go flag someone down.”

“We’ll come with,” Demi said. She was on the other side of the bed in a single stride, whereupon she laid a hand on Ren’s shoulder. The two of them left the room, and Syr and Jen went after them. The rest of Ren’s pokémon brought up the rear.

It didn’t take long to find a deoxys to question; one of them was just a few yards away from the door. From the looks of things, they were just milling about, as if waiting for them to emerge, or maybe debating whether or not to come in themself.

The deoxys approached them with seeming eagerness. They spoke very quietly, wringing the tips of their tentacles.

“They want to know if we’re leaving,” Ren said. “Specifically you,” he said, with a point and glance over his shoulder at Jen, “and Babs.”

“Huh,” Babs said. “Well, I’m not, but the kid is.”

The deoxys looked down for a moment, their upper tentacles lowering to their sides. Their head lifted once more, and they spoke again.

“They hope you’ll come back again someday,” Ren said. “They enjoyed getting to know you two.”

“…Okay, admittedly, I still kind of suck at telling these guys apart. But I think… we know you, don’t we? You’re the one we met at the start,” Babs guessed.

The deoxys actually gave a nod before elaborating in their own language.

“And the one you spoke to after your meeting with the curator,” Ren translated.

“I guess you think this makes us friends, huh,” Babs said. “Well, you know what? Maybe it does. But don’t go thinking this means the rules have changed, all right?”

The deoxys steepled their tentacles and responded.

“They understand,” Ren said. He looked to the deoxys. “All right, then. Two of us need to go back down. Is that possible, or do they need to wait a while?”

Another nod. The deoxys must have realized what an ambiguous response that was; they provided vocal clarification a beat later.

“You’re good to go,” Ren confirmed.

Syr felt a wave of relief wash over him. It was finally happening. He was going home, alive and well… and, in a sense, successful.

“Oh, uh, one more thing,” Jen said. “Could you just put us back in the room? I don’t think either of us would fit in the tube.”

The deoxys nodded again. They moved ahead a short distance, then made a beckoning motion. Everyone else followed through the winding, rising, falling halls, until finally the deoxys compelled another wall to open.

The room they revealed wasn’t terribly large, just an ovoid space with a single light source overhead. There didn’t seem to be anything special about it. “Here? Really?” Syr wondered aloud.

“Yeah,” Jen said. “This is where me and Babs appeared after the tube activated.”

Syr leaned forward, flicking his tongue out to investigate the space further. It didn’t smell any more noteworthy than it looked. “So this is it, huh.” He turned to face the others. “I guess I should say goodbye, then. Goodbye… and thanks.”

He looked to each of them in turn. “Thanks for looking out for me. For saving my life—several times over.” He shook his head in astonishment. God, I came way too close…

“Hey, don’t mention it,” Karo said. “I wasn’t about to let you kick the bucket when home was right there within sight. Granted, it was like hundreds of miles below us, but still.”

“We all wanted you to be all right,” Demi said. “We wanted that for all of us. And I guess we succeeded… more or less.”

Syr could feel his eyes watering again. “I don’t think any of us could’ve done this alone,” he said. “I know I couldn’t have.”

“And we might’ve never gone on this mission without you,” Ren said. “And if we never had, my people and the deranics’ might’ve never gotten a second chance at life—even if it is just a small chance. So… thank you, Syr.” The human’s eyes had gone misty, as well. “Thank you.”

At that, Syr well and truly began crying, moved beyond words. Next thing he knew, he was caught up in a group hug. Though the tears kept flowing, he smiled earnestly.

Eventually, the embrace ended. Everyone moved mindfully out of the way, allowing Syr and Jen to enter the ovoid room together.

Syr turned one last time to take in the sight of the rest of his friends, seeing smiling faces, some streaked with tears. He smiled again. “I hope we’ll see each other again someday,” he said. “Until then… goodbye, friends,” he said.

“And good luck with the new people,” Jen added.

The others gave their own farewells in return. Then the wall reformed between those who would leave and those who would stay, and the room filled with seafoam light.

* * *​

Evening was falling over the cemetery. Syr crossed the field of stones and placards on his own; Jen had stayed behind, watching over the house that was, for the time being, theirs alone.

When Syr reached the grave that Faurur, Esaax, and Drasigon shared, he noticed a few small stones lying in the grass before the bronze plate. Those hadn’t been there before; the plot had been pristine the last time he’d visited. He wondered if he ought to nudge them aside, but ultimately decided against it. Taking anything away from those three didn’t seem right somehow, even if the stones had just wound up there randomly.

It took a moment for Syr to find his voice. “Hi, Faurur,” he said once he had. “Hi, Esaax. Hi, Drasigon.

“Well… I’m back.” He shifted uneasily. “I… we… did what I said we were gonna do. Or… we tried.” He closed his eyes in shame, bowing his head. “Most of them… didn’t make it.” Tears carved warm paths down his snout. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. This isn’t the way I wanted things to turn out…”

Syr realized he was on the verge of sobbing. He inhaled deeply, trying to steady himself. It took a few tries before he managed. He had to hold himself together the best that he could. There was, after all, more to the message he’d come to deliver than just the bad news. And it was clear that Faurur and the others weren’t the only ones who needed to hear it again.

“Anyway…” he resumed, “the ones who did make it… well… they’re free now. They’re free. The deranics are gone.”

He felt a slight pang of guilt as soon as the words were out of his mouth. They might not be gone for good. But, as he reminded himself, any deranics who might be brought to life aboard that deoxys ship would not be the same ones who had enslaved her people. They’d have a chance to do good, just as Kiat and Zaltaphi had done.

“The bad ones are, anyway,” Syr amended. “The ones who enslaved your people are all gone. So are the people who destroyed humanity,” he added. “And maybe… maybe someday, humans will live in this world again. They won’t be the same humans, but still… it’s something, right?

“And, you know… in a way, it’s all thanks to you, Faurur,” he said. “I probably would’ve never known about the deranics if it wasn’t for you. I probably would never have gone back there again,” he admitted. “So thanks,” he said, and for the first time since entering the cemetery, he smiled.

A yawn escaped him, catching him off guard and embarrassing him slightly. All the time since he’d last slept, and the sheer amount and magnitude of what he’d done since, seemed to have caught up to his body at last.

“Guess I’d better be on my way,” Syr said. “You guys take care of each other, all right? Goodbye, for now.”

With that, he turned around and headed back toward the bus stop to await his ride home. Now, at last, it truly felt as though the mission was over. Though he hadn’t quite lived up to the letter of his promise, it was getting a little easier, at least, to believe that he’d fulfilled the spirit of it.



And there we have it. With that, not only this story but this series as a whole has reached its conclusion.

It's been a long road, and it hasn't always been easy, but there have been some great memories along the way that I'm glad to have made. Thanks to all of you who have dropped in and given this (or any of the preceding stories) a read, to all of you who have replied, and to everyone else who has been here for me in any other way during the process of putting this series together.

Sike Saner
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