The Fall to Redemption [PG-13]
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July 17th, 2012 (10:23 AM).
Chapter 5 - The Oracle of Rustburo
Running through the Oracle's library made me a sick with vertigo. Each floor was a massive cathedral with stained-glass windows and a tall, vaulted ceiling held up by columns. Bookshelves took the place of pews - towering wooden beasts whose upper contents could only be accessed by rolling stepladders. It was a shrine to the glory of written knowledge, but I couldn't find any faithful monks or devout worshippers with their heads bowed in a good book. My footsteps echoed across ten stories of empty stone.
I will find you, Little Miss Oracle,
and you will show me how to get back to Johto!
I could only take so much of the hot and stuffy air though, so I detoured to the nearest window to clear my head. My nausea only doubled when I pushed open the coloured glass.
I was only one story off the ground.
I pulled my head in. Ran back to the last stairwell I had climbed. Confirmed the fifty stone steps I had just mounted, identical in size and spacing to the last nine sets. "It's bigger on the inside."
I ran to the center of the room, to a plaza of reading tables set out for the absent scholars. I needed to sit down and catch my breath. Wild pokemon made from smoke; murderous pirate-hobos, and now buildings that defied all laws of spatial construction. How many more curve-balls did this continent have to offer? And why, from a bird's-eye view, did the temples of black stone with their copper roadways look like computer chips on a green circuit board? Just what made this city so 'sacred' anyway?
My confusion was observed by a giant statue residing in the middle of the study area.
Like the Minotauros at the center of the maze
, I thought. On previous floors I had seen sculptures of humans or legendary pokemon but this floor featured something more abstract: a giant polygonal block resembling a man's head. Its eyes were shut and two stumpy arms covered its ears. It could see no evil and hear no evil, but it sure could smell evil. The monolith was dominated by a gargantuan arrowhead nose painted bright red. The thing was massive - each nostril big enough to stuff with a human-sized booger.
Portrait of a man with a bad cold.
That was when I noticed the stacks of books around me, and heard the footsteps of a librarian approaching. A twenty-something girl in a white dress dropped a fresh stack of manuscripts on the table. Finally, someone who could take me to the Oracle! "Excuse me -"
"The records on the far end are ready for re-shelving."
She didn't even bother looking at me, just assumed I was a servant or something. Her nose was already wedged into the first book of her latest stack. "When you are finished, bring volumes 9832 A through J. That is all."
The girl took her seat and proceeded to ignore me.
Who on Regigigas' Green Earth do you think you are?
She may have been older than me but she was nowhere near the age of Barclay or the other monks I'd seen. Some stuck-up, preppy nun-in-training? No, if that were the case she'd have her brown hair tied up and hidden, not dangling in two funny, looping twin-tails.
I realized. Infinite loops.
Well, whoever she was, she certainly had a knack for speed-reading. In less than a minute she had absorbed all the data from her first book, stacked it on a 'finished' pile and proceeding to the second text. One hand held the spine of the book, the other swept across page after page.
Like a scanner lightbulb,
She's a reading machine!
And she kept reading faster with every book. No, not just reading - searching. She wanted to find something in these tomes, something important but each book only frustrated her more. With every futile scan her forehead scrunched a little further, her fingers flipped a little faster and soon she wasn't just stacking her finished books but slamming them angrily.
Finally she snapped - sweeping the books off the table in a fit and dropping her head on the desk. Defeated. Being the knowledge-hungry scholar that I was, I stepped over to inspect the fallen books.
Empty. Every page of every book was a blank sheet.
"Just put them back," the girl whispered, too tired to even look up. "It's the same every day: the silence of a thousand voices, the blindness of a million eyes. We are trapped in a net winding ever tighter."
Was I supposed to say something? Pat her on the back or tell her to keep a stiff upper lip? Yeah, that had worked wonders with Barclay. I figured the best option was to slowly inch away from this awkward mess. Too bad my shoes scuffed so obviously against the floor. "Did you hear me?" the girl asked. "I said put them -" Now she looked up and realized I was not one of the green-robed monks. Her moment of despair had been witnessed by a stranger. "You are not authorized to access this area."
"Look, I don't want any trouble; I just need to see the Oracle."
"Oracle," she sneered back. "That title smacks of idolatry. I am Roxanne, and I am the System Administrator of the 724+ Entralink Network."
I knew that name. "Wait, you're the Oracle?"
The girl glared at me but, like a movie star spotted on a street corner, she knew the game was up. "According to some ... overzealous admirers, yes, I am the so-called Oracle of Rustburo."
I was expecting someone prettier. You know, an exotic beauty adorned in silk and jewels. That or some hideous old crone who'd amassed the wisdom of ages. The Oracle was a college girl. Fancy that. "Well, now that that's settled, I have a super-quick question for you."
"You all do," Roxanne snorted. "And you all expect me to wait at your beck and call, dispensing divine guidance like some automated service machine."
"Well it's not like you've got anything better to do, sitting in a building full of empty books."
"Empty? I am monitoring vital -" she stopped herself, irritated by how easily she had lost composure. "Treat them as equals," she reminded herself. "Treat them as equals." She started over: deep breath, stand up straight, force a perky smile. "How may I be of assistance, good sir?"
I would make this quick. Her eye was already beginning to twitch and go bloodshot. "Well, it's like this - I'm not supposed to be here."
"Yes. Human self-righteousness."
Whatever that meant. "Look, I was kidnapped. Someone drugged me, wrecked my face and gave me amnesia before dumping me out in Petalburg Province. I want to know how I can get back home. I'm from Goldenrod City, in Johto."
"Johto," Roxanne repeated. "Querying. Please wait." She stomped over to a random shelf, yanked out a book and thumbed through the pages. "Johto. One entry found. Category: human settlements. Region-class. Location ..." She stopped. Raised her incredulous eyes at mine. "You retain memory from 724-Prime."
Well suddenly I was the most fascinating little specimen to ever bother the Oracle for knowledge. Roxanne walked right up to me, grabbing my chin so she could twist and look at my face from all angles. "Ow," I winced. Static electricity from her fingers made me flinch, and a hundred little images from my nightmare flashed through my mind. Had she ... made those images appear?
"This is highly irregular," Roxanne surmised, stepping away as though I was riddled with strange diseases. Maybe I was - that irritating itch was returning to my face, ignited by the sudden flush of memories.
"How about my question? How do I get back to Johto?"
Roxanne's reply was simple. "You do not."
"You were brought here with purpose, and you will remain here accordingly."
"Who brought me here? Why?"
"That information is classified under the Lethe Protocol. I've given your answer, now go away."
She was right; she had given me one important answer. "You did this to me! You brought me here!" It was all so obvious - my 'irregular' memories, her knowledge of Johto. She knew. Maybe she hadn't kidnapped me directly but she was in on the conspiracy. "You take me back this instant!" Roxanne merely turned away to pick up her books, calling, "Security." Two armored geodudes seized my wrists, pulling me towards the stairs - away from the Oracle, away from my answers.
"You can't do this to me!" The pokeballs at my belt - if I could just stretch my hand... "You took my face, you took my life; I'm not playing your sick game anymore!" My thumb just barely brushed the access button, and my white wingull materialized into the library. "Trisha, take her down!"
The mother seabird only flapped in mid-air and looked down on me with stormy eyes.
Blast, of all the capsules, why her?
"Come on, you're my pokemon - help me!" Instead, Trisha landed on a table and watched me struggle. Was she trying to make a point? Show me how Robin felt when she'd been dragged off by a stranger? Well we'd see whose heart could harden the longest.
I tried kicking at one of the geodudes - a useless gesture, but my struggling made the guards ramp up their tactics. They hit me across the back, forcing me to my knees. "Agh!" Trisha flinched.
Play through the pain,
She can't stand to see children hurt.
Every punch I took made Trisha wince in sympathy. My bones ached, but I screamed as though they broke. "Augh! Tri-Trisha... H-help ... me..." All the while Roxanne proceeded among her books, oblivious to the conflict welling up inside my wingull.
Trisha sprang at the geodudes, scrabbling her talons across their rocky hides while I fought to suppress my smile.
Trisha clawed until her flippers came away bloody but the boulders found her no more irritating than a fly. They couldn't even be bothered to brush her away. The seabird moved to a new tactic. She launched herself to the library's roof, fighting against gravity like a missile pushing back an elastic sling, and when her catapult went taught Trisha fired herself at the ground, at the master of the rock-men. Roxanne made it all the sweeter when she heard Trisha's shriek - "What now?" - and turned to meet the oncoming blade.
It was over before the first book hit the floor: Trisha cutting like a knife, Roxanne clutching her face, the geodudes gasping and crumbling to dust. That last part was unexpected, but followed a sort of logic: take out the Big Boss, the little guys fall too.
Trisha landed on my shoulder, panting heavily while she rested against the side of my head. The fight had winded her, and though it hurt her just to breathe she still forced herself to squawk, to coo out some sort of reassuring words to me.
My baby... Oh my baby you're all right.
I pushed away her smelly fish beak. "Lay off, mom. I'm fine," which was more than I could say for the great and powerful Oracle of Rustburo, huddled on the floor and covering her face with her hands. "Ready to talk, lady?"
I don't know how else to describe it. You know how your television picture, when the reception's lousy, will jump and twitch while it tries to update its signal? Or when your Internet video is buffering slowly and suddenly skips ahead a few seconds? Well that's what happened to her body. It flickered. One second she was sprawled on the floor, then
- she was standing up.
And she was pissed.
Roxanne touched her cheek, traced the wound Trisha had sliced from lip to ear, then
The blood vanished.
That... that was cheating! When Birch and Barclay had healed their wounds it had taken time for the tissues to sew up. This Oracle - her body was like a computer image. All she had to do was hit 'refresh' and she was good as new!
It was time to run.
But I couldn't leave the study area.
There were no more exits, just a solid ring of bookshelves. I pawed over the leather covers, trying to find a lever for a secret passage.
My hands hissed and blistered from the sudden heat radiating off the leather covers. The shelves glowed like beds of hot coal, and an echoing voice rang through my skull:
It's time your learned your place, human.
Roxanne stood atop a balcony overlooking the floor, an Empress surveying the gladiatorial field. On her chest, a rune like a blue triangle burned with a hot, blue light while she worked her magic over the building. The floor rattled from a quick earthquake and I turned to the blocky statue at the center of the arena. Its jaw had dropped open, shattering the floor tiles, and now black tar gushed from the statue's mouth like blood. I gagged at the stench of iron. Trisha tensed and spread her wings.
The tar didn't move naturally. Instead of pooling over the floor it grew thick, gained height; started shaping itself, and as it assumed a humanoid form I realized
it's not a statue, it's a shell.
The snail-creature pushed its snaky torso off the ground with two long, skeletal arms; a head bubbled up from the mass, blinked at me with two lantern-yellow eyes and bared its teeth.
Tentacles fired off the monster like harpoons, too fast to react. Too fast for a human, anyway. While I screamed, Trisha threw herself at the oncoming horde. The black tar snared her wings, legs, throat and slammed her into the ground.
Then they started reeling in.
Trisha struggled but the tendrils were too strong, too numerous to fight, and she'd been weakened already. With the last of her strength she flapped and flailed enough to flip her body around and she looked at me, cawing through her strangled throat.
Help me! Baby, help me!
I was too busy pulling a table towards the bookshelves. Maybe, with a little height, I could climb over. A spare tentacle put that plan to rest, hacking through the wood and sending me on my backside.
Our eyes met in the last moment. The abomination had her close enough to grab in its skeletal arms and it hugged Trisha into the black tar of its body, forcing her under. Trisha had her wing outstretched, forcing her feathers to push towards me even though I was across the room and sitting dumbfounded while the black monster slithered back into its shell. She didn't give up though, fighting and flailing and holding on to some hope that I would save her. Shrieking to the end.
The maw snapped shut and the library fell silent.
My heart beat double-time through my chest while I waited for the monster to return and lasso me. Waited, and found myself disappointed.
Was ... that it?
My breathing slowed, I wiped the sweat from my face and looked to Roxanne, expecting to see a grin of sick delight. The Oracle just looked down on me as though waiting. "Are we done here?" I asked. She wanted to scare me, right? Put me in my place? Pretty lame monster, if you ask me, eating a bird but not finishing off the trainer.
Roxanne's lip curled with disgust. She motioned for one of the bookshelves to slide open. My exit. "You horrid little thing," she whispered. "Get out."
Gladly! I started backpedaling for the exit, keeping one eye on the statue, just in case. That, of course meant that I couldn't scan the floor for debris. I slipped magnificently on something round and whacked my butt a second time. What was that?
Wait a sec, when she'd reached out to me had she meant for me to -
Sharp talons dug into my head. "Ahh!" What was this? I'd never felt pain so hot, so intense, not from the worst of my nightmares. My skin burned, my bones buckled; my eyes were ... leaking? Why was I crying? Over Trisha? Hey, I didn't force her to fight; it was her own damn choice to jump at that thing!
To protect me.
She wanted to protect me.
And I could have saved her.
The talons ripped into my chest now. I couldn't stop it. I clawed at my skin, begged the magic of the land to work but the invisible claws wouldn't stop their rampage.
Was this what Trisha felt?
Had these same talons raked through her chest when she'd seen me hurt?
My baby... Oh my baby...
I let her die, and what for? So I could run away? Get out safely and crawl back to Littleroot? Back to square one? Up on her balcony, Roxanne was growing impatient. "I gave you a command, human, now get out!"
And I snarled back, "No."
The statue's maw dropped and the creature slithered out again, grabbing me by the throat with its sticky hands. "No," I coughed.
Not while I still have questions.
The gooey fingers kept squeezing but I forced myself to roar, "No, I'm not getting out!" and a black wolf cub matched my roar with its own.
Amon, what was he doing here?
The tar monster dropped me, repositioned its tendrils to strike the snarling pup at the open bookshelf. Amon crouched low, peeled back his lips and bellowed out a roar that shook every bookcase in the library. The monster howled back in its shrill voice but it was impossible to match Amon's ferocity. We had a standoff, and while the tentacles outnumbered the dumb mutt a dozen to one, Amon's every bark sent the monster flinching and inching back to its shell.
That was enough. Roxanne flickered down to the battleground and pulled me up by the neck with inhuman strength. "Another pawn to throw away?" she hissed. "I can eradicate you from existence, piece by piece, and yet this arrogance persists. Why?"
I couldn't speak for Amon; couldn't fathom what brought him to save me. I only knew myself. "I just want to go home," I wheezed.
"Pic, pic!" Amon hadn't come alone. A fiery torchic trotted into the fight, now sporting a cool pair of half-moon spectacles. "Robin?"
"I'm sorry!" Barclay wailed, his footsteps banging through the room. "I tried to stop them, my Lady, but after I put on the glasses, she -" He stopped, spotted the giant tar monster and gave a little squeak before turning tail.
The Oracle looked over my pokemon. I don't think she even once registered them as credible threats but she seemed intrigued by their ferocity, and by how many capsules lined my belt. "You have strength," she murmured, scanning me like a book to be deciphered, searching for some elusive data in my features. "Ah." She'd found it. "You have something to fight for."
Roxanne said no more, but that smug and otherworldly voice resounded inside my head.
You could prove useful.
At the Oracle's signal, her abomination retreated into its shell. "Provoke me again, human, and I will labour with great pleasure to recreate the horrors of the Inferno. I'll say it again: you cannot go home. Now put your talents to some greater purpose besides irritating me."
to their original positions and Roxanne dropped me. I'm sure she did something to alter the angle of my impact because I fell on my arm and twisted it to a most unnatural angle. "Augh!"
Roxanne found my mewling quite disgusting. "Why do you humans insist on making those awful noises? That distortion won't terminate a soul, and there is no pain but what you imagine."
I'd had enough with her clinical detachment. "I can feel my bones shifting, lady! That's a lot of pain to imagine!"
Counterpoint: "Any sensation of physical distress on your part is merely a by-product of your time spent interfacing with a flesh and blood container. You react to nerves that no longer exist. Steven referred to it as 'Phantom Pain'."
The Oracle knelt by my side, speaking slowly so she wouldn't have to repeat herself. "Human souls respond ... poorly to the loss of their physical sensory array. To negate this stress, Realm 724+ adjusts human consciousness to assume the last recorded form of your physical body."
"The 'form' of my body?"
"Yes. The body you left behind -"
I could finish the rest. "- when I died."
She didn't contradict me.
"When I died." I said it again, felt the revelation roll over my tongue. "I died. ... I'm dead." The words came out so naturally, they made so much sense. My face, Birch's stomach, Linda's arm. Killing blows. The ability to reset any wound - the dead couldn't get any deader. "And this continent - no, this world is ... the Afterlife?" No, something wasn't right - if this was paradise, why did people know pain and suffering? Why was there an Emperor robbing villages of food and treating his subjects like slaves? "Am ... am I in the Good Place?"
"You are where you deserve to be. The righteous rejoice in the Enlightenment; the wicked perish in the Inferno. As for your kind, those without dedication, without decision; you who waver between allegiance - for your kind there is
"I'm dead," I repeated for the millionth time. "And I've been judged. I'm not good enough to keep, but not worth the bother to burn. So I'm stuck here in this ... purgatory? I have to stay here forever?" Roxanne only walked away to her books, tired of our conversation. I thought of it: forever in Littleroot Village. Never aging, never dying; never progressing. An endless limbo.
"I can't be dead. I ... I shouldn't be dead! I'm only sixteen! What about my family, my friends? What about all the things I wanted to do?" I couldn't remember any of them, but I'm sure I dared to dream great dreams! I crawled after Roxanne, tugging at the hem of her dress. "Please, you have to send me back!" If the Afterlife was real, then surely second chances existed too? "I'm begging you!"
"I noticed. Perhaps you'll notice how little I care. Transfers are not my department."
Ah ha! "So there is a way. A way to go back? Please, I'll do anything!"
A sigh. Had I finally worn her down? "The only way to move beyond this realm," Roxanne explained, "is to conquer the seven sins."
Her dress flickered from my grasp. "Now leave, human. I have work to do." Maybe the stress of a dislocated shoulder caused me to hallucinate, but as she turned away I swore I saw a pair of red wings unfurl from her back and glisten under the window's light like a cloak of rubies.
The image buzzed through my eyes long after her the Oracle left my sight. Left me to face the undeniable truth.
I was dead.
My hand curled around Trisha's empty pokeball.
I'm just somewhere in-between.
Obviously some species didn't have that luxury.
"Glad you made it," I mumbled to the poochyena at my side. Amon just gave his trademark snort and scratched behind his ear. Seems we both had trouble dealing with gratitude.
"And you're back too," I said to Robin. She cheeped happily as I picked her up to inspect the spectacles wrapped around her head. What had Barclay said the other night when he ran his weird tests? Her sight is weak? But not completely gone, I guess. "Maybe you can stick around," I conceded.
I glanced back at Amon. "So, did you bring her here, or did she have to convince you?" The wolf's ears went stiff and he quickly turned away, pretending not to hear. Robin started to cheep a reply but Amon's growl shut her up.
Hmm, touchy subject.
"Well, we can't stay here," I said, picking myself off the ground and motioning for the duo to follow. "The Oracle said there's a way back, and I'm going to find it."
There was just one thing to figure out.
"What's a sin?"
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