The Fall to Redemption [PG-13]
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July 17th, 2012 (10:20 AM).
I'm not dead quite yet! I've got a two-for-one update ready.
Chapter 4 - Through Forest and Water
I gladly conceded leadership of the Rustburo Expedition to Amon. The decision was a no-brainer: among the troop his nose and ears were clearly the sharpest, and so were his teeth. Arguing against his credentials would be painful, to say the least. So the little wolf took point, Beatrice hopped onto my backpack, and Megumi and I scampered after our black guide dog. Robin went straight back into her pokeball. I had no further use for her.
"You sure this is safe?" I asked as we entered the forest canopy, greeted by the angry stares of a thousand mummified corpses. Silkoons, Cascoons - I couldn't tell one from the other but they were everywhere, tucked among the tree branches like silk-wrapped security cameras, and their single eyes all looked plenty irritated over our intrusion.
Stepping into that forest made me realize the stupidity of my position. What was I doing? Placing my trust in a random, wild pokemon (a carnivore, to boot) just because he didn't immediately try to eat me? Maybe this mutt was just transferring us to his personal territory so he could avoid the zigzagoon competition. I planted my feet and ordered Megumi to heel. "It's a trap." Sure, pupae-pokemon were immobile, but I knew they kept their spinnerets exposed through evolution. One step further and we'd walk into a firing range lined by needle-spewing turrets.
Virgil was paralyzed! He may be unable to move!
Amon noted the widening gap in our party and turned around with a look of annoyance. That's right - I'm on to you, buddy. No easy meals today. "I'm going around the forest," I told him. The wolf snorted, and traced my eyes up to the treetop snipers. "I'll admit your trap was pretty clever. But I'm clever-er!"
Or was that 'more clever'? Clever-erest? Ah, whatever.
Clearly, my silver tongue failed to impress Amon. The wolf cub trotted over to a nearby tree and bucked his hind legs into the trunk, rattling its cocoon occupant from the branches. The pokemon crumpled against the ground like an egg shell, and that was all it was - a hollow shell.
"Wait, they're dead?" I reassessed my surroundings - those unblinking eyes were nothing but hardened lenses. I shook down another cocoon and caught it in mid-fall. An entry wound the diameter of a large carpentry nail had been punched through the whatever-coon's dorsal surface, continuing all the way through to its underside. Someone, or something, had deliberately killed each of these pokemon and left the corpses to rot in the trees.
I cast a wary glance at Amon, and the wolf pup just raised a padded paw.
I got short claws, moron.
"Right," I nodded. "My bad." Whatever had killed these creatures needed opposable digits to grasp a spiked tool, or an index finger with a long dagger of a nail to puncture the helpless carapaces. And wouldn't it be lovely to meet that murderous chap while strolling through the woods all by myself? "Shall we carry on?" I asked Amon.
The wolf just trotted further into the woods. He was either extremely forgiving or extremely indifferent to my opinions. "Whoa, wait for me!"
We continued on into the forest crypt, Amon's nose picking out a trail where my eyes saw only randomly scattered trees. I kept my ears perked for the sound of hunting animals and, when the foliage ahead shook with movement, I was ready to react.
A chubby little man in a forest-green robe crashed through the bushes. His face was hooded but he couldn't hide the panic in his movement. Amon and I ducked behind a thick tree and watched as a feral, crazy-eyed poochyena caught up with the fleeing monk. There was a brief stand-off - the monk started swinging a broken tree branch, the poochyena's jaws snapped the weapon in half - and then the hooded man kept running.
I glanced at Amon. "Friend of yours?"
Evidently not, considering the angry growl overtaking Amon. The dumb mutt pushed past me and chased after the pair.
This could have worked so perfectly - the green monk distracting the wild dog while we snuck through the forest, but clearly Amon had yet to appreciate the wisdom of helping others help themselves.
And he never let me tag him with a pokeball.
So against my better judgement I joined the chase, blundering into my first encounter with the Cult of Aqua.
Norman had told me stories about the Cult - a group of lunatics who worshipped the ocean as a living god - and warned me to stay clear of any men or women wearing blue bandanas. "They're animals, Virgil. They won't rest until the whole continent is groveling before their altars, and they don't take 'no' for an answer." When I caught up to Amon, we found the little monk on the receiving end of this aggressive evangelism, cornered by the rabid poochyena and its master, a homeless man with a knife.
No, I take that back - a street person retains his basic human dignity and insists on wearing whole articles of clothing. This wild man with the long hair and bare feet wore pieces of cloth - a shirt and pants stitched together from random scraps of black, white and blue - and the thick, wobbly suture lines declared his total incompetence in the craft of needlework. The Cult, I presumed, kept its wardrobe department severely underfunded.
His head was pretty good looking - once you got past the crazy eyes and the hobo stubble and the seaweed hair, that is. His saving grace was the fancy bandana sewn from sparkling blue silk and emblazed with a nasty skull-and-crossbones emblem. Without it he'd be just a hobo, but that sash bumped up his cred to 'pirate hobo'.
, I guess.
"Defiler," he hissed at the monk. "You dare sully the Ocean with your heretic vessel? Emissary of a false idol, repent your wickedness!"
The monk squealed and hid his face. "Please don't hurt me!"
Well it must have been Opposite Day because the pirate threw a punch that tossed the poor monk off his feet! Then he straddled his prey, flipped out his knife and started with the stabbing. "Heretic! Defiler! Sinner!" The guy had a different name prepared for every thrust!
Now, as thrilling as it would have been to stay and expand my vocabulary, I did have to get to Rustburo. A stealthy retreat seemed in order, but Amon had confused "got away safely" with "angry, audible growling".
The pirate and his dog turned our way.
I grabbed Amon and clamped my hand over his snout. "Don't mind us. Just, uh, passing through!" Amon shook free and started barking outright. I didn't speak wolf-speak, but it sounded like there were a few choice words in that mouthful, considering how the pirate pooch snarled in return.
And the hobo? He just smiled and dropped to his knees to pray. "I thank thee, almighty Ocean, for this bounty I am about to receive. Let my blade strike true and deliver unto salvation this second heretic! Barnacle, seize the land-lover!"
Our poochyenas exploded at one another, tackling and biting each other in a tangle of black fur, and the pirate, obviously forgetting proper battle etiquette, licked his rusty blade and charged me!
I turned and ran, and god bless Linda for cramming my backpack with all sorts of useless junk because the first blow would have gone straight through my spine if not for her protective padding. Defense, check. Now it was time for her pokemon to deliver on the offense. "Do something!" I screamed at my zig and wurm duo. Megumi ran up a tree and Beatrice dived into the bushes. "I mean, do something to help me, you twits!" Didn't matter much, seeing as I tripped over a root and fell down face-first.
The pirate yelped. Amon had untangled from his dog fight and clamped his jaws around the cultist's hamstrings. "Vile cur," he growled, swinging his remaining foot into Amon's gut. The wolf cub went flying, out cold.
"Finish the others, Barnacle! The boy is mine!" His poochyena roared affirmative and dove after Beatrice. I heard her signature shriek and little else because now the pirate stood directly overtop me, grinning like a jack-o-lantern, his dagger ready for the plunge.
Somebody, help me!
An avian shriek accompanied the blow to my head, but it wasn't a piercing blow; not even a painful blow. Overall, being stabbed with a knife felt a lot like getting slapped by a smelly fish. I opened my eyes and looked up at the underbelly of the white seabird who had claimed my head as her nest.
My attacker gasped with reverence. "A wingull! A daughter of the ocean!"
He collapsed to his knees and I picked myself up, flinching as the wingull dug at my scalp to keep her balance. The pirate and I stood there for a bizarre eternity, both of our faces freaked out beyond reason. We might have remained as statues, but then the gull spread her white, ribbony wings to their awesome length and the sun hit the forest canopy at just the right angle to cast an ominous shadow over the pirate.
He snapped. I'm not kidding; I seriously heard the little cracking noise that accompanies a human brain bursting into confetti. All that crazy, evangelical stabby-stabby business flew out with a scream and he melted into terrified mush "Mercy!" he wailed. "Mercy, oh daughter of the waves! I knew not this child was chosen. I - I must be punished! Punish me!" and when the two of us just continued staring, he took it upon himself to thrust his knife into his belly - once, twice, three times!
A second bird shrieked from the treetops and a navy bullet nicked past the pirate's head, ripping off his bandana. Mortified, he clutched at his nakedness. "My robe!" he screamed, and we both looked to the flighty little taillow dancing through the air with the blue sash in her talons.
The hobo didn't know what to do - he certainly couldn't call himself "pirate-hobo" anymore, not without his sea-scarf. I could see his mind in action: he had to grab the bird, but if he stretched a hand after it, he left his head naked and exposed! He certainly couldn't use his other hand; how else would he be able to stab himself for his transgressions? Maybe if he got up and tried hopping on one leg he could use his foot to swipe at the low-flying bird!
The taillow just chirp-giggled started flying higher. The hobo howled and started hopping after the little bird. "Barnacle, seize that beast! Retrieve my robe!"
Oh crud. I remembered about his mutt just as the enemy poochyena dragged itself out of the bushes. His eyes were unfocused, his legs struggled to keep from flopping over and his chest sported a bloody gash dripping with purple ooze. Barnacle gave a wimpy 'yip' to his master and staggered like an alcoholic after the retreating pirate.
"Return, you demon crow! Give it back!"
I glanced up at the wingull, still perched on my head and quite possibly preparing a 'sky drop' attack if you get my drift. "Um, thanks?" She gave my head a swift peck and flapped over to the bushes.
Oh shoot, Beatrice!
I jogged after the bird and pushed back the thicket to retrieve the corpse.
We found Beatrice's cowardly body stiff as a railroad spike, and I laughed out loud. A ring of black dog hair was caught around her horn like a crown of laurels. "No way, he jumped right onto your stinger?" Beatrice peaked open an eye, seeming every bit as surprised to be alive. Megumi joined us and started yipping at her long-time companion. I'm not sure what Beatrice squealed in return but it was probably something like,
"Are you dead too?"
Megumi barked back.
"Girl, you beat his sorry butt."
Beatrice cocked her head, clearly disbelieving. The wingull landed by the wurmple's side and nuzzled the bug in a very maternal way. A woof from behind, and Amon - still smarting from his kick to the gut - gave the little worm a nod of approval.
Not bad, kid. Not bad.
Well, you wouldn't believe how proud that little larva looked - puffing up her chest and standing on her hind-most legs as though she was queen of the world! Linda's cowardly little worm was gone, and in her place stood Beatrice the Mighty, Destroyer of the Darkness.
The four of us returned to the forest trail where we found the little taillow standing guard over the green-robed monk. "Um, you okay?"
"W-water," he panted. I looked to the wingull, wondering what part of her belly to squeeze in order to turn her into a seltzer bottle. The glare on her face kyboshed that plan. So I knelt by the man's side and begrudgingly handed over my water canteen. The monk drank it up greedily, tipping back his head until his hood fell. Underneath his cowl, he was a middle-aged man with brown hair styled into a bizarre antenna. His was also bleeding badly, with one eye swollen and black. I only had to endure his ugliness a short while, as the magic of the land shut off his leaky faucet nose and pressed his stab wounds shut, good as knew.
"Many thanks, traveller," he sighed, returning my much lighter canteen. "Resetting -" he stopped, as all people did when they took their first good look at my face. To his credit he recovered remarkably fast. "Well, resetting always leaves a terrible thirst in my throat. I am all right, though. I'll be fine so long as my Mish-Mush is safe."
"You're what now?"
" came a little voice from the trees. A slimy, brown mushroom with beady eyes and tiny feet dropped into its master's arms, and the monk squealed in delight like a little girl who'd just been gifted a ponyta.
"Oh, your Shroomish." Now I knew why the monk looked so familiar to me - two pudgy faces, two sets of beady eyes and two odd tufts of hair sprouting off the tops of their heads. He was a mirror match to his pokemon.
"My one and only," the monk beamed. "I dread to think of what might happen if I lost my little Mish-Mush." The mushroom pokemon
ed in agreement. "Mish-Mush and I are in your debt, kind stranger. How can we ever thank you for your timely intervention?"
"Uh, no thanks needed." The monk's face was fresh with mushroom slime from nuzzling his pokemon, and I didn't dare accept as little as a handshake. "I really need to keep moving. I'm trying to find my way to Rustburo."
"Then fortune smiles upon you, dear rescuer! Mish-Mush and I travel to the sacred city as well! Let us be your guiding light through this place of darkness. Barclay, envoy to the Lady Roxanne, is yours to command!"
No, no, no.
No more tagger-ons, no more mouths to feed, no more creepy pokemaniacs with uncomfortably close relationships with their grass-type monsters. That's what I wanted to say, but somehow my brain slipped out a question first. "Um, who's Roxanne?"
Barclay was all grins. "Ah, perhaps you know my Lady by her formal title, the Oracle of Rustburo?"
And suddenly I was all grins myself.
Barclay shared his life story as we trekked through the woods. He'd awoken on the continent in a much more precarious situation than I. Instead of a kindly band of villagers, his welcoming party had been the darkness of the Petalburg Woods, and he'd stumbled blind and hungry through the forest maze for days.
"It was the Lady Roxanne who found me, parting the trees from my path and leading me to the sacred city. Words cannot describe the kindly face that cast aside the forest - a countenance robed with such radiance that I knew her to be an emissary of light!"
Barclary worshipped his rescuer and quickly joined the religious order that served the Oracle. From there it was years of sweeping floors, preparing tea and thanklessly slaving after a beautiful lady like a grade-A nerd. Since the Emperor's rise to power, though, Barclay and his brethren had been assigned greater responsibilities.
"The Lady Roxanne is forbidden from passing beyond the walls of the sacred city. As such, my brethren and I travel the land in her stead, reporting on what has become of her beloved realm. I am sorry to say that, more often than not, I am a bearer of bad news."
Barclay and his brothers had been returning from the island of Dewford when their ship had been ambushed by the Cult of Aqua. The other monks had been captured; only Barclay and his shroomish managed to escape to land, and even then it had seemed a futile effort until a wonderful boy had appeared, summoning his magnificent winged pokemon to cast the horrible demons back to the darkness.
Barclay, you may notice, had a penchant for poetic exaggeration.
We stopped to make camp once the sun dimmed. Barclay showed me how to clear the ground of flammable moss to construct a fire pit. While he rummaged through his pockets for matches, I summoned Robin and stood her atop our collection of twigs until her body heat forced combustion.
"Most magnificent," Barclay beamed. "Fire without the need for flint or matches! What a wonderful companion!"
It was the first time I'd released Robin since entering the woods and I capsuled her as soon as her job was done, tossing the pokeball over to the monk. "She's a useless piece of junk and you can take her if you like. She's blind."
I shared my own fanciful story, explaining how a monstrous snorelax of a man had conned me into taking a cross-country hike through zigzagoon country with the promise of protection from a noble warrior of fire. "Oh, Birch must be wetting himself with laughter right now. A dumb kid in the middle of the forest hedging all his bets on a bird with dead eye sockets."
Barclay listened cautiously, and when I'd ended my rant he sat Robin on the ground and ran some weird tests on the bird, panning his index finger across her face, left to right, up and down. "Her sight is weak," he concluded, "and the world must appear to her as a frightful haze. But surely you jest when you say -"
"I meant it. You can keep the lousy bird."
The idea horrified Barclay. "Good Virgil, my duties would place her in the line of danger! I could never abide risking the life of an innocent. No, this pokemon must remain by your side."
I grabbed my pokeball and aimed it at the bird. "Keep her or I toss her. Your choice."
"Virgil, be reasonable. The pain of losing a pokemon is ... unbearable."
Sure, for a bleeding-heart pokemaniac like you.
Barclay tried arguing some more but I was firm. Robin ended up in Barclay's lap, and though she couldn't see, the way she hung her head showed she had some appreciation that I no longer wanted her. What did it matter, anyway? I could afford to ditch one dud chicken after assembling my sizable menagerie of battle beasts.
There was the newly-courageous (or arrogant) Beatrice, regaling Megumi and Mish-Mush with the story of how she'd slain the pirate hellhound, complete with pantomime actions and battle cries. The wingull stood at the back of the audience, using her beak to groom Megumi's coat free of leaves and burrs. As soon as she heard Robin's mournful cheeps, Trisha - that's what I was calling her - hopped over to the chick's side, nuzzling and cooing to the little bird with motherly affection. Trisha eventually calmed Robin enough to eat, and guided the blind bird to the food I'd laid out, chirping at Robin if she ate too fast, or in bites to big.
The taillow, Winry, kept half an eye on Beatrice's showmanship, but the flames of our campfire drew her true attention. Human tools fascinated her. The minute she'd spied Norman's shiny pokenav, she'd snatched it up in her talons and started fiddling with the dials, chirping in delight when it released a beep or static crackle. She'd totally messed up the radio settings, but even after I'd shooed her away and yelled at her for ruining my link to Norman she was still eyeing the shiny gadget in my lap, probably waiting for me to fall asleep so she could tinker with the machine some more.
Amon sat at the edge of the edge of the fire's light, glancing at us only to confirm that no invaders had breached his perimeter. I had my hunting dog, I had my aerial bombers; I didn't need a third meat-shield.
"You have a most envious ability," Barclay sniffled, his sudden tears glistening in the fire. "To be able to live for yourself, to walk away from a companion without regrets. If only I had that strength." Then he started sobbing outright. "My brothers are gone - prisoners of the Cult. I could have saved them but I fled! I don't deserve to live! I'm a coward!"
While Barclay blubbered into the sleeves of his robe, Trisha and Megumi, and then the whole pack gathered at his side, nuzzling and pawing at the monk to calm him down. Back at the edge of camp, Amon glared at me.
Shut him up before he brings the whole forest over here.
"Um, hey," I coughed. "It's okay. I mean, no one expects you to fight a band of pirates with just a dumb old shroomish. It's his fault for not evolving into something strong!"
Mish-Mush's beady eyes warbled before my accusing finger.
. The mushroom sniffled, its lips trembled, and then it joined its master in bawling its eyes out. Then Robin started crying, and Beatrice started panicking, and Megumi had to work double-time, comforting all the trauma victims. Winry took advantage of the chaos to snatch my pokenav, and Trisha started pecking at my head for causing such a row.
Amon just snorted and wandered off into the darkness.
Merciful nightfall saw an end to our little sob party. Barclay pulled himself together, stamped out our fire and ordered us into the trees. Any zigzagoons out on the hunt would have to work for their meal tonight. Barclay's green robe left him perfectly camouflaged but I felt plenty awkward and exposed. It was impossible to get comfortable, and every shift of my body made the leaves shake noisily. I couldn't be more obvious if I'd hung a neon sign from my neck.
Beatrice growled out assurances to me, puffing up her body and declaring she'd watch all night for danger.
Yeah, good luck with that.
When I awoke next morning the trees held one more dead cocoon, and the sky held a golden butterfly reveling in the joy of flight.
Rustburo was unlike any city I'd seen. I could remember reading a book about the
Ancient Civilization of Alph
and looking at artist renderings of the once-mighty nation. Painters would analyze the skeletons of half-crumbled pillars and temples and imagine how the ancient but advanced metropolis might appear when whole and alive with people. Well imagine no further - I was in the thick of it!
The sacred city was surrounded by a wall of polished rock that curved outward like a bowl or a dish, and inside laid a paradise of green grass and trees. Every dwelling was a temple of smooth, black stone shaped into perfect cylinders or flawless prisms. I brushed my hands over the walls, looking for the edges of bricks, but every building seemed carved from a single, continuous boulder. The roads were paved from a shining, copper-like metal; it was like walking on bronze glass. Winry was looping through the air, overloaded by the architectural wonders.
But the grandest structure was a white tower that rose from the center of the city. "The Oracle's Library," Barclay beamed. "The seat of all knowledge."
A strange, alien monument hovered above the tower: a golden orb braced by four metal poles. The 'legs' connected into the dish-shaped wall so that the central 'body' floated just above the Oracle's library. It looked like a giant, metal surskit had claimed the city as its nest.
The curved walls, the library, the hovering monument - something about their design felt familiar, and behind the fog of amnesia I knew I'd seen this object so often as to make it trivial.
Barclay gave me an hour to roam the city. He had to report to the Oracle, debrief his disastrous expedition to Dewford, and explain about the wondrous champion of justice who had saved his life. Apparently the Oracle was rather selective about the people she met but my heroic deeds would guarantee me an audience.
We had a minor setback as Barclay left - Robin started wailing, a last-ditch effort to stay with me. "No," I snapped as the monk carried her away. "You're with him now."
The incident left my pokemon confused. Clearly, they expected Robin to continue with us. "She's gone," I snapped. "And if you guys don't pull your weight, I'll get rid of you too, got that?"
Megumi, Beatrice and Winry flinched and whimpered. Trisha snapped and dove at my face. Amon had to pin her down until I could find her pokeball, and the bird kept shrieking until the very last.
You selfish brat! How dare you abandon her, after all she's done,
or something like that. I didn't care.
"Any objections?" Racoon, bird and beautifly hid their heads. I zapped them all back to their capsules, satisfied with the chain of command. "What about you?" Something about the look Amon cast drove me nuts. Always judging; never angry or upset, just calmly observing what a complete and utter wreck I was. "If you've got a problem then you can just leave!"
Amon did just so, turning for the city gates.
I stomped through the city, pleased for once of my hideous face and how it kept people at a distance. Not that the people of Rustburo paid me much attention. Everyone looked so weary and tired, and while their city stood proud and beautiful, even the best-dressed had little more than rags to wear. When I poked my head into a random temple I found rows of sleeping cots, and green-robed monks serving soup to a line of hungry vagrants. These people, were they refugees from the Emperor's war, or something?
A familiar voice interrupted my thoughts. "Virgil!" It was Barclay, clearly exhausted and having run all this way to find me. I grinned. "About time, my man. So, when can I see the Oracle?"
The way Barclay wrung his hands and squirmed like a nervous wurmple should have tipped me off. "I fear the news of my expedition upset the Lady Roxanne far more than I anticipated. The Oracle will not be seeing outsiders today, or in the foreseeable future. Virgil, I am so terribly sorry -"
I didn't stay to listen. This is what happens when you help others - you get saddled with their baggage, clumped together with their failures and tossed aside like garbage. Well I didn't need Barclay's help. I could see the massive doors of the library. There were no guards to stop me, no locks to keep me out. If this Oracle couldn't schedule an appointment then I would book one by myself!
What was the worst that could happen?
Joined Aug 2010
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